Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice: 1
"Savannah? Honey? Explain this to me again, would you?"
"A lot of things, truth be told, but honestly, I'd settle for whatever the heck we're supposed to be doing."
Frowning, Savannah raised one hand to tuck her hair behind her ear, then fiddled with the gold Anubis charm she wore around her neck. "Jes, it's Halloween."
"Yeah, no, I got that - and can I just say that I am loving the power boost as per usual - but, seriously honey, what the hell are we doing here?"
Here was an old abandoned house - the kind that screamed HAUNTED so loud even the most hardcore non-believers would give it a wide berth. Savannah, being, shall we say, at the opposite end of the spectrum, tended to avoid all things ghostly like the plague, especially when Halloween came around and thinned the veils. Usually, at least for the past few centuries, our Halloween celebrations had consisted of scary movie marathons in dark basements with lots of candy. Venturing out to obviously haunted areas was reserved for any other day.
Savannah glared, then hugged herself and scanned the area, biting down on her lower lip nervously. "Did you know that black cats - because of their whole bad luck, black magic reputation - are more likely to have ill befall them at mortal hand? Particularly on Halloween?"
"Um, random much? Not that animal cruelty isn't the pits and all, but pretty sure it will still be here on the morrow. You know, when the veil's back to full strength and all the jeepers creepers are back under kiddies' beds where they belong."
"I can't...I can't wait for tomorrow, Jes," Savannah murmured, tears pooling in her eyes. She gave me a pleading look, one of those heart-zingers that beg for help, for understanding. I hated that look; I was fairly certain it classified as a weapon of mass destruction. Anything that packed that much of a punch ought to.
She closed her eyes, shuttering her pleas, her pain. "Jes," her voice broke, her head whipping back and forth until she snatched it between her hands, her palms covering her ears, her fingers curling, no, digging into her hair. "I...the voices...so many voices calling, calling, calling. So much pain, so much anguish, so much rage, rage, rage. They're...they're screaming, all of them, screaming, shouting, crying, gasping, calling, calling, calling. In...in the house, Jes, in that house but...but she's...she's in there too, Jes. They put her in there, and she...she's so frightened and alone and...Jes, the voices..." And then, whispered, "...make them stop, please, oh please, make them...make them stop."
I moved to help her, comfort her, but, as always, Dumitru was there first. Glaring death in my direction - he really didn't like me much, don't ask me why - he took her in his arms, turning her so she could burying her face against his chest, and murmured to her in some language I didn't understand, probably Romanian. She shook her head and twisted to look at me, that teary, pleading look back in full force.
"Jes, could you...please...I...I need you to find...find her."
"Honey, I'd love to, but I'm not even sure who SHE is."
Dumitru growled. No, I don't mean he spoke all rough and growly; I mean literally, he growled, the rumble rolling from his chest to do any bear or wolf proud. His eyes flared (and again, I mean they literally flashed with light) and his lips peeled back to expose long, sharp fangs, his angry face the sort that had sent many a mortal fleeing with newly dampened breeches.
I sighed. As if this whole sordid mess was somehow my fault. As if, when Savannah had come to me and said there was someplace she wanted to go, I could have just told her no and let her go off on this little mission solo.
I made a mental note to talk to Keeley about releasing some sort of "How being a wraith really works" pamphlet. This unjust persecution thing was becoming tiresome.
Savannah shook her head. "I'm...I'm sorry...I'm sorry. I'm sorry. the voi...the voices...the voices...they won't...they won't stop. They won't stop. Make them...make them stop. Oh, gods, make them stop, make them stop! Please. Please...the pain, the...pain...p-p-pain...Angry, so, so angry...I don't know where...dance...dancing in the rain, twirl and whirl, but Mama can't know, can't know, can't know...light...the light won't burn if you touch it but she's...she's alone and...I...I...I...MAKE IT STOP!"
So, needless to say, that was how I ended up inside a haunted house on Halloween looking for a female...something that may or may not actually exist. Somehow FML doesn't quite cover things.
In a bid to do the unexpected, I'd started my search in the attic and was working my way downwards, for the most part finding noting but cobwebs, rotting furniture, and trash. Dozens of ghosts, none of them of the Casper persuasion, wandered the house, so at least I'd learnt its haunted vibe was merited, but unless the "she" was a lady's portrait, I was finding nothing. Which I was sure would go over just swell back outside.
I jumped, summoning a power to my hands even as I spun around to find Keeley standing behind me, his expression mildly amused.
"Dude, uncalled for much?" I groused. "Fi and I are going to have to have a little chat about putting a bell on you."
One eyebrow went up. "Uh-huh. Good luck with that. Did you find whatever has milady so upset?"
I winced. "No, not, um, as of yet. This is the last floor I've left to search but so far it's just old ghosts and even older trash. There doesn't seem to be anything alive in here, Keeley, and I've even checked inside the walls. Nothing."
Keeley looked around, his power radiating from him in probing waves. After a moment, he sighed and nodded curtly. "I sense nothing here as well. Unfortunate; milady won't be pleased at this news."
Another wince. "Don't suppose you'd mind..."
I sighed. "It was worth a chance. Is she still upset?"
"Hm, possibly more so. She's jumbling her languages now so it's harder to understand what she's trying to say, although Fiachra and Khardeen are with her and trying."
Savannah and stress - or any high emotion for that matter - were never a good combination; like throwing water on an already slippery slope, it tended to...let's say exasperate existing problems.
Rubbing at my face with one hand, I looked around and groaned. There was no one in here, no one except the dead and Savannah would never get this upset over a ghost. Alone was their default setting, after all; it would be like getting upset over an ice cube being cold.
"Did she actually say the female...target was in the house?" Keeley asked. He had moved to the window and was looking out over the backyard, his expression pensive.
"Not exactly," I told him, thinking back. "She said, quote, 'they put her in there' after talking about the ghosts in the house. I assumed the house was the 'there' she was referring to but, no, she was never that specific. Or lucid."
Keeley sighed. "There's a structure out back - a large shed or perhaps a small barn. I'll finish searching the house. You will go and search that building. And I would advise you are on guard for the 'they' milady referred to."
You ever see those horror movies about a group of idiot teenagers who find themselves trapped in an isolated area where some monster or other systemically kills them off? Rule number one is always to never let yourself end up on your own; that's always - ALWAYS - when the villain cuts you down.
Want to take a wild guess who doesn't watch horror movies?
...Except that Keeley actually does watch horror movies on account of Savannah's annual Halloween ritual but, you know what? Never mind. You get the point I'm trying to make.
I didn't argue though - you don't really argue with Keeley unless you're Savannah or have no particular attachment to your limbs - just nodded and slipped out the back door. I suppose I should count my luck that it was still twilight, the last throes of dying light a fading pink haze in the west, and not full dark or, worse, a full moon night.
THERE AREN'T ANY MONSTERS HERE, JES, Savannah informed me, her voice a tired murmur in my head. THEY LEFT.
GOOD TO KNOW, I replied, not bothering to hide my relief. YOU'RE SOUNDING BETTER.
TRU TOOK ME HOME. DISTANCE IS HELPING. I'M WATCHING HIM AND RAV ARGUE OVER WHAT MONSTER MOVIE WE SHOULD WATCH. KHARY'S SITTING WITH ME. SORRY FOR THE FREAKOUT.
I shrugged, despite knowing she couldn't see me. NO BIG, HONEY - I UNDERSTAND AND IT'S NO BIG. ANY CHANCE YOU COULD TELL ME WHAT I'M LOOKING FOR?
NOT A WHAT - A WHO, she corrected, AND THERE'S ONLY THREE THINGS SHE COULD BE. WHAT'S THE NAME OF THAT MOVIE I LIKE? THE SPOOF IN BLACK AND WHITE...
I loved Savannah - I loved her no matter what name she used, what titles she had tacked on, what degree of sanity she chose to embrace. We'd been friends before...she went away and, when I'd gotten in trouble, she'd risked everything to help me and then had spent decades gluing my puzzle pieces back together again, making me back into a real boy so to speak. I might be her servant in the technical sense of the term, but I was also her friend, no, more than that, we were family. Had been family for centuries. Regardless, there were times when her mood swings left me with whiplash.
Sighing, I rolled my eyes and slipped inside the...barn-shed or whatever it was. YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.
OH! YES, THAT'S IT.
Inside, I found moldy hay, rotting barrels, and a selection of rusting tools. WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME ANYONE LIVED HERE? I asked, side-stepping...something I'd really prefer not to dwell on.
LIVED? COUPLE DECADES, BUT SOMETHING'S BEEN USING IT AS A LAIR OF SORTS RECENTLY.
I froze. LAIR?!
DON'T WORRY, Savannah reassured me. I ASKED KHARY TO TAKE CARE OF IT BEFORE WE CAME HOME. THE, UM, RESIDENT WON'T BE BACK FOR AWHILE. YOU HAVE MORE THAN ENOUGH TIME.
UH-HUH. Reassurance, something else that wasn't Savannah's forte.
I started looking inside the barrels, some of which were less rotted than others. Actually, once I'd started really looking at them, I realized that many of the barrels were still sound enough for use and, in one of those spine-tingling, horror movie cliché moments, I followed up that realization by recognizing someone HAD been using them. We won't get into what the barrels were being used for because, frankly, I'm trying to blot the memory out, but suffice to say the contents were furry, bloody, stinky, and dead. I could see why Savannah had been flipping out.
I ASKED KHARY TO TAKE OF IT BEFORE WE CAME HOME, Savannah repeated quietly.
HOW, MIGHT I ASK, DID HE DO THAT EXACTLY? I asked, replacing the lid on the barrel.
DO UNTO OTHERS.
I shuddered, but it was no less than the perpetrator, who it was, deserved. Savannah was a grandmaster when it came to the vengeance game, with the power to ensure that not even death could spare her targets their due suffering. It was actually rather quite frightening when you thought about it.
I tried hard not to.
I finally found what Savannah had sent me to find not too long afterwards, half hidden under a pile of decomposing corpses. Again, not thinking about it, not delving into it. The important part here is that I found it. Her.
Remember that random line Savannah spurted about black cats? Turns out, not that random.
The "she" was a kitten, a tiny ball of black fur so matted and dirty she was almost impossible to distinguish amongst all the dirt and grime and gunk. In fact, the little thing was barely alive. Hell, if she'd been a normal cat she probably would have been long dead by now but, fortunately for her, she was Fae; it gave her something extra, something more than her natural spunk and grit to fight with.
THERE'S MY GIRL, Savannah murmured, her energy running through me to brush against the kitten, healing her, cleaning her, reviving her as much as she could from this far away.
CAN WE COME HOME NOW? I asked, holding the kitten against my chest in a bid to offer it what warmth I could, all things considered.
I could actually feel Savannah's smile, its touch like sunlight, warm and golden, against my mind. YES, she said, COME HOME. WE'VE DECIDED ON DRACULA'S DAUGHTER AND RAV IS POPPING POPCORN. DO YOU THINK WE SHOULD DO A MUMMY MOVIE NEXT OR WOLFMAN?
I sighed. The mood whiplash that one sets off, I'm telling you...
Without further comment, I went home, our new charge in tow.
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