The voices stirred Justin Christopher Bird from the shadows. He could feel them as they tromped onto the front porch, not even trying to be sneaky. There were four of them – two boys, two girls. They were young, teenagers, their energy ripe for the picking.
He pulled the scattered pieces of himself together, forming in the kitchen at the back.
Wait – they were trying to come in through the front. No one ever came in through the front. Slipping through the wall, he re-formed there, frowning.
“Do you seriously not know how to pick a lock?” one of the girls was demanding.
“Jo! Shhh!” was hissed.
“Right, because someone’s going to call the cops in this neighborhood,” the same girl muttered darkly.
There was a sigh, and the handle turned. “Or we could just see if it’s open,” the other girl pointed out. The door was stuck from age and misuse, but a shoulder to the frame, and the thing squeaked open. “Ta-da…” She sounded less than enthusiastic. “Why are we here again?”
The first to enter was a tall girl, nearly as tall as he had been when alive. Mousy brown hair was pulled back into a braid, a few wisps escaping here and there to frame plain features. She wore baggy blue denim trousers, and an oversized shirt that practically swallowed her whole, but the black material was thick and no doubt kept her warm, but she had a peacoat thrown over it for an added layer of warmth.
There was a quiet, steady strength to her, something he could taste on the very air as she moved further into the room, peering about.
“Because it’s haunted.” This was from a bear of a boy, but with him topping out at 6’4”, could he really call him a ‘boy’? The man was broad of shoulder and looked as if he should have been the one to have gone first, though the girl had beaten him to the punch. The same denim pants, the same long-sleeved, thick shirt, only his jacket was leather with the words “St. Agnes High” embossed upon the breast.
His soul had been injured along the way, not yet fully healed. A sure sign he had a run in with another spirit.
Despite his size, he should make easy pickings, and Justin found no little sense of glee in taking down such a worthy foe. This would have been someone he would have hated while he still drew breath.
And no doubt would’ve hated him in return.
“It doesn’t look haunted,” the girl muttered, scuffing a foot through a chalk outline on the floor that some would-be witch had sketched out.
“Oh, I’m not so sure about that…” These thin, tremulous words came from the second boy who had stepped just inside. He wasn’t quite as tall as the brute, but still had some height to him, but was far more lanky in appearance. He was going for all black – pants, shirt, even the longcoat he wore over all of it with the occasional glitter of silver.
And he was staring directly at Justin, blood draining from his features.
He swallowed hard, refusing to look away. Even as Justin drifted from one side to the other, the boy’s gaze followed him. He smiled slowly at the boy, displaying a flash of teeth, and he saw the other’s knee start to buckle.
But that’s when the last girl stepped inside, flashlight in hand.
Even without the beam, she glowed brightly.
She was smaller than the others by several inches, but her aura was brighter than all of them combined, making it difficult for him to make out the details. It was a whispered promise of power and violence, something he had not come across before.
“You know,” the taller girl said suddenly, turning to face the newcomer. She lifted her hand with a hiss. “Not in the eyes, Jo,” and sighed as the beam was dropped to the floor. “Most people would want to spend this weekend with family. You know, Thanksgiving and all. I thought you were visiting your folks in New York?”
“Been there. Done that. Would’ve got the t-shirt, but they were sold out,” ‘Jo’ intoned cheerfully. “’sides, the ‘rents had far more important things to do than fake any more family-time than is absolutely necessary for publicity. We did Turkey-Day, then me ‘n Rich booked it back up here this morning while everyone else was off at Black Friday sales…” She cleared her throat. “Now time for ghosts. Whatcha got?” This time she flashed the beam into the bear’s eyes.
The young man grunted, lifting a hand to shield his eyes. “There’s lots of stories about this place,” he assured her. “There’s one about a girl who was getting married off to some guy, but she was already in love with someone else. This place was already abandoned, and the lovers used to meet here. It was the middle of a nasty winter, and the girl had made it inside, but was all upset because her love never showed. She paced back and forth all throughout the storm, but nada. She kept thinking she heard him calling her name, but couldn’t find him. Two days later, when they finally dug her out, they found her boyfriend frozen and dead on the front porch – he hadn’t been able to open the door. Or… something…” he trailed off, flushing bright.
The light had wandered away, and Justin felt himself shrinking back, trying not to be noticed.“When was that?” Jo asked.
“Uh…” he scrunched up his face. “Dunno…. Late 1800s?”
Justin frowned – he had built this place in 1923.
“There was a family living here in something like the ’50s,” he continued on. “The dad lost it one day – thought his wife was cheating on him. Killed her, the three kids, and himself. Turns out? It was his lover who found them the next day. Secretary.”
The large man shrugged as he wandered in a different direction from either of the girls, but all three ranging about the living room. It was a small house, all told – the living room, bedroom, and then the kitchen.
It wasn’t large enough for a family of four to have ever lived there, and he frowned after the bear.
“Then, in, like, the ’70s, there’s stories about some parties going on over here. Some girl who had never done any of that hard stuff was pressured by her friends – ended up ODing but no one noticed until the next morning that she had kicked it. Her ghost is supposed to be lurking here, punishing those who think to coerce their friends like what was done to her.”
Justin scowled at the bear, anger causing him to clench his fists. There had been no such party, no such death. They usually got too bored to do more than drink a few beers and draw on his walls. Most left soon after, the general feel of the place grating on their nerves.
That was usually his doing.
Taking a nip here and there, it wore them out and sent most on their way. Not enough to bring more to investigate – he never answered to the calls of the witches who showed up – just enough to keep himself fed and leave the trespassers feeling generally drained.
“I didn’t find news articles about any of that stuff,” the smaller one muttered, moving further into the room. “’Hey, all this stuff – does anyone know if any of this stuff is real?” She pulled out her phone – he had seen those enough over the past several decades to recognize that – and pointed the thing to the floor. She began snapping shorts of the designs, humming a few soft notes under her breath.
“There’s always been rumors about this place being haunted,” called the taller girl who had found her way to the hall that lead to the back bedroom. He could hear her moving about back there, her voice raised enough to be heard even in the front. “There’s always stories abut people coming out here to try to contact some spirit or another. Not sure if it ever works, but they keep trying.”
That story was true. Justin enjoyed scaring off the little witches whenever they tried.
“Hey!” the bear had just stepped into the kitchen, but suddenly poked his head back around the corner. The exclamation was enough to make Justin jump. “Did you say there weren’t any articles?”
The shining girl grunted, snapping a few more shots. “Well, yeah. How else are you going to sift through all the urban legends and get to the places that are actually haunted? This place was built by one J. C. Bird back in ’23 or ’24 – the deeds to the place are a bit fuzzy as to when the house was actually built.” She toed an empty can out of her way. “He died a few years later. Drank himself into oblivion. Apparently, he took the whole Prohibition thing as only a suggestion, and was brewing his own- Oh! I wonder if his still is stashed somewhere…”
“Jacy? What kinda name is that?”
“J-period-C-period,” the girl corrected, popping up on her toes to give herself a couple of extra inches. “Couldn’t even find the guy’s full name. Records back then kinda sucked.” She dropped back flat-footed, rocking back onto her heels.
“You really are a nerd, aren’t you?” the bear mused, disappearing into the kitchen.
Clicking her tongue thoughtfully, she ignored the jab, her gaze roaming over the room only to pause. “Hey, you holding up okay over there, champ?”
The beam had made its way over to the dark-clad boy who still had not moved an inch from the entrance where he had spied Justin.
And he was still staring hard at the spirit, mouth agape.
The black-clad boy swallowed hard, giving a small, emphatic nod. “Huh?” So much for answering the girl’s question.
Justin bared his teeth, taking a few steps towards the boy, hands lifting-
But the girl was suddenly there, putting herself between him and his prey. Even with her back to him, Justin shrunk back. It wasn’t that she was overtly threatening or anything, but something about her spirit hinted that he would not win this fight so it was best not to try.
“You look really bad, Thane,” Jo said, shining the light up at him, making him look that much paler. “Did you have some bad turkey yesterday?”
“She’s right,” the tall girl said, having rushed back at some point – Justin had dismissed her as soon as she had left the room – and lifted a hand to touch her wrist to the boy’s forehead. “Damn, Thane! You’re freezing. Jo, we need to get him out of here.”
The bear had wandered back to the other three, shoulders slumped. “I think this is a bust anyways. Looks like a bunch of kids only come out here to party once in a while and tell ghost stories.”
The boy – Thane – was still staring at him as the trio dragged him back out the door and away.
* * * * *
The creek of floorboards drew Justin back to consciousness the next morning.
It took but a few moments for him to bring himself, fully formed, to the living room, and there he paused.
The woman knelt in the very center of his living room, head bowed over her work. She was drawing something on the floor in chalk, and the last arch was completed with a flick of her wrist. Just like that, whatever she was doing was done. She straightened slowly, dusting her hands off with bits of chalk falling to the ground. Her skin was dusky, speaking of her mixed heritage, and her tall form was covered in a patchwork longcoat, one which had seen better days. Her hands settled into her pockets as if she were preparing to wait.
Her aura was the same as that girl from the previous evening, a bright, vivid thing in an otherwise dull world, one which clearly told him that she had more power than he could hope to face, and he sunk back into the darkness.
But more, her pale eyes were settled on his spot by the wall, and as he moved, they followed him, one brow arching towards her hairline.
At last, she sighed at last, giving a small shake of her head as her as she bent forward once more. He could hear the flick of a lighter as he pulled himself away, letting his being scatter-
Suddenly, he was there once more, standing before her as she straightened to her full height. Looking down, he found himself in a chalk circle, so similar to others he had seen over the years, but this one held actual power, and he found he could not fade away.
“Justin Christopher Bird,” she intoned, her hand disappearing once more into the deep pockets of her coat. Her accent was an odd mix – distinctly southern and, what was that? French? “Ya should not be here, sir.”
She knew his name.
She knew his name and she was able to call him back.
“How-” he started, a scant whisper, but she was already shaking her head, holding up one hand to cut him off.
“You should not be here,” she repeated, carefully enunciating her words this time. “I get that yer angry ‘n all, and after seein’ what kids have been doin’ t’yer place all these years, I can’t rightly blame ya,” she continued, letting her accent slip back in. “But it’s high time ya be movin’ on.”
He scowled before he could remind himself that she could see him, and took a step forward-
But stopped. He couldn’t move any closer to her.
That damn circle. “Witch,” he hissed, baring his teeth as if that would do anything at all.
A corner of the woman’s mouth flitted briefly upwards. “Not quite,” but she didn’t bother elaborating. “So ya have a choice here. Ya either go the easy way, or we do things the hard way.” He started opening his mouth, but she held up one hand to stop him. “I’m not the hard way,” she added, tilting her head just enough as if looking over her shoulder.
And Justin felt himself grow cold.
Jeans and a black leather jacket, the man leaned a shoulder against the door jam, attention settled upon him, dark eyes peering through a fall of black hair. And while he looked harmless enough – if Justin had come across the man while he had been alive, he would have been dismissed as too pretty to be any real threat – seeing him now, he could see so much more than he once could.
He was a predator, the visage of a beast superimposed over his own, and Justin somehow knew this man was a very real threat. Where the other auras had promised power, this aura promised annihilation.
“I see I have yer full attention,” the woman drawled out lightly. “Shall we begin?”
* * * * *
Hunter yawned, stretching arms overhead as he arched his back. He had done absolutely nothing for the past three hours other than play watch out as Ve worked whatever ritual it was that not only helped that stray spirit move on, but also cleansed the house as a whole. “And why did you need me here for that?” he asked as he followed after Ve as she trotted towards her car. “We both know you could’ve gotten rid of that thing without me.”
“That man,” the cop corrected, popping the trunk of her green Buick and dropping her pack within. “He was once a man.”
“Then he died and became a ghost. One who scared the piss out of our friendly, neighborhood goth-boy.”
“He’s still learnin’,” she corrected, slamming down the trunk and heading around to the passenger side. “He knew ‘nough t’send me here, didn’t he? That’s sayin’ somethin’.”
Hunter grunted, dropping into the passenger seat and sprawling out there. He didn’t answer as she fired the great beast to life and they started down the road, his attention swinging out the window. “How pissed you think she’d be?”
“Jo. Knowing there was a ghost right under her nose, but she missed it.”
“Prolly best if we don’t go sharin’ that bit,” the woman answered lightly. “She’d prolly try t’make us bring him back so she could ask him questions.”
He grunted again, bobbing his head. “So why’d you bring me?”
“’cause you’re still learnin’, too.”
Another grunt, and he rested his chin in his palm. “Oh,” was all he had in response to that, keeping his attention focused out the window.