One fine day, in the middle of the night,
Two dead boys got up to fight.
Back-to-back, they faced each other,
Drew their swords and shot one another.
One was blind and one couldn’t see,
So they chose a dummy for a referee.
A blind man came to see fair play,
A mute man came to shout “hooray!”
A paralyzed mule passing by
Kicked the blind men in the eye.
Knocked them through a nine inch wall
Into a dry ditch, and drowned them all.
A deaf policeman heard the noise
And came and shot the two dead boys.
(If you don’t believe this lie is true,
Ask the blind man – he saw it too!)
– Author Unknown, Nursery Rhyme
11:52 PM, October 31st
The phone was answered part way through the second trill. “Ya know, ya don’t actually gotta call me every day, Doc.” Ve rested the phone between her shoulder and ear as she bustled her way around her kitchen. Midnight was drawing near, but there was no rest for the wicked. She had a few minutes left to let her mind drift, and baking seemed like the best answer to her restlessness. The pot of pitch black coffee was nearly finished, the rich aroma filling the air to mingle with the scent of the sugar cookies that were just starting to golden. No timer was to be found in the kitchen – she had never found a use for one.
“But it’s your birthday,” came the ever so proper British return without missing a beat.
Ve smiled to herself as she continued to bustle about the small kitchen. She was dressed for bed in old sweat pants and an oversized, long-sleeved tee. A terrycloth maroon robe was thrown over all of it – it may not officially be winter yet, but late October in Boston was a great deal colder than deepest winter in New Orleans. Even her feet were covered with thick, fuzzy blue slippers that allowed her to shuffle over the linoleum floor without freezing her toes off. Her black hair was pulled back in a sloppy ponytail, a few errant strands having escaped – enough to be a nuisance, but easily enough ignored for the moment.
“Not for another, oh, eight minutes yet.” There had been little point in actually going to sleep. This, sadly, was not going to be the only interruption to any would be rest she might hope to get that evening so it was best to lean into it rather than be pulled under by the rising tides. “How did ya know it was my birthday?”
She stretched upwards to pull a small, decorative bowl from one of the cabinets. She had only been living in the small, one-bedroom apartment for a few months, but she was well settled, and her shelves overflowing with what she had brought with her from back home.
“You’re a fellow Nasaru,” Charles said, tone indignant as if he couldn’t believe she would doubt his sincerity.
Or his stalking capabilities, for that matter.
The Nasaru – ancient, reincarnated warriors with powers beyond that which normal mortals could hope to obtain in order to fight some untold evil lurking in the shadows. It sure made her life sound vastly more interesting, but she still wasn’t sure how she felt about being included in this very special, very elite little club they had going.
“I haven’t come across many of our brethren yet in this life,” he continued. “As such, I am making it a point to learn as much as I can about those around me.”
All two of them.
The man’s ability was, apparently, to remember all of his previous lives, though it felt like there had to be more to it than simply that. He lauded himself as the mentor and adviser of each generation to be born, carrying with him their previous triumphs and, perhaps more importantly, their failures. It wasn’t even a perfect memory of all those events – he remembered and forgot just like anyone else. And with a few thousand years behind him, that was a lot for him to forget.
How did that work, anyway?
“Speaking of which,” he continued on, ignoring her silence. Since they started speaking regularly a couple of months prior, she found she had to do very little actual speaking – the man seemed to handle the entirety of conversations all on his own.
Maybe that was how he managed it all.
It was his turn to fall silent, and she recognized the uncertainty held in the crackle of the cell line. “How’s the little bit?” she asked his unvoiced question.
He emitted a sigh, and she could practically hear his nod.
“She’s fine.” Sugar cubes were dropped into the small bowl with faint tinks, filling it to the brim, and even then, stacking it neatly higher to form a small mound of sweetness. “I don’t think anythin’ could keep that gel down. She’s got more fire in her than is entirely healthy. Might want t’look into that when ya get back. Just sayin’, she mightn’t be so lucky next time.”
He drew a deep, quivering breath, another question trapped behind his lips.
“And if ya wanna know ’bout yer beau, maybe ya ought t’be callin’ the man direct.” She couldn’t quite keep the acid from her tone. “It’d be better than ya tryin’ t’sneak information from me.” She let that sink in as she turned to pull the cookies from the oven – she knew precisely when they were just right. “But he’s fine, too,” she supplied. “He’s suspended fer a couple more weeks yet, but I think, personally, he’s enjoyin’ the time off. Might be happier if his man weren’t off in Europe, runnin’ amok and doin’ God knows what.”
She fell silent again, her piece said as she began to scoop the cookies gingerly from the sheet to lay them on the plate – one which matched the bowl – in neat rows. She hadn’t been able to resist cutting them into skulls when she had rolled out the dough. They were small, bloated semblances, but they were enough to make her smile.
It was amazing the type of things that went on sale for Halloween.
“Is he really alright?”
She grunted an answer – there was no reason for her to actually speak. The Doc was a smart man, and she was sure he could piece that one together all on his own.
“I’m doing this for him,” the man continued on, tone hurried. “Well, not just for him, but for Jocelyn. And you, too, for that matter.”
That won another grunt. Wasn’t that the answer too often when someone was trying to explain their actions? They were doing it for someone else’s good.
“With the order of St. Jerome on our heels, it was important I go to Rome.” Clearly, he heard everything she needed to say in those low sounds. “I needed to find out what they knew. What they know, and how close they are to…” He trailed off, clearing his throat as if to cover whatever he had been about to say next. “Regardless, the Order is extensive. There is much to still learn-”
“How was Auschwitz?”
The question caught him off guard, and he fell silent. She didn’t poke, didn’t prod, but instead picked up a couple of water bottles on the counter and tucking them beneath her arms before grabbing up the plate and sugar bowl to carry all into the main room.
Bookshelves lined the walls, all overflowing with texts and old junk. She preferred to think of it as ‘organized chaos.’ A small table rested against the wall closest to the kitchen. She set the plate and bowl in the center, arranging them neatly. The two water bottles were placed against the wall, out of the way. There was already a box of cigars, uncut – the finest she could find – and an old bottle of rum she had brought with her when she migrated north. That done, she bustled over to one of the shelves, stretching up onto her toes to pull down a flat box that had been gathering dust since she had arrived. She blew along the top, swiping at it with the back of her hand as she headed back to the table to drop that on her side with a faint clatter.
There was complete silence on the other end of the line as his mind raced as to how she knew where he had been that day.
“Yer callin’ from a German number,” she explained at last.
To be honest, she wouldn’t be able to tell one country code from another – only the fact that it was international – but the lie fell easily from her lips. He had been calling from his hotel room rather than using his cell – she wasn’t sure if he was avoiding the roaming fees or trying to hide from his FBI significant other.
She still wasn’t entirely sure how much she trusted the shrink, and explaining to him how she simply knew, that the information quivered along the strings which bound them all together, seemed a bit much to go into until she was more certain of him.
Besides, if he were to be believed, he had met all of them in previous lives and was perfectly aware how each of their abilities worked, but she still couldn’t quite bring herself to so simply spill all the little details.
“But makes no nevermind t’me. I have t’go. I’m expectin’ company here in a tick. Call Richard.” She didn’t wait for him to respond before she signed off, setting the phone down on the table as she strode back into the kitchen for the coffee, just as it finished percolating.
From the living room, she could hear the deep, resonant tones as the grandfather clock began its low, midnight call.
It was officially the Day of the Dead.
The knock was a hollow sound, one which resonated unnaturally throughout the apartment. There was something to it that was felt more than heard, and it drove to the very core of one’s being.
Her grandmother had raised her to understand those things which went bump in the night. At least to understand all the things she knew about. For the most part, that meant dealing with the undead, witches, and demons. There were, of course, more to it than that, but those were the big ones. This meant her house was properly warded, and in order for a spirit to cross the threshold, it needed to be granted permission.
“Entrez vous, Padre,” she called without missing a beat. At the table, she began to pour two mugs of thick, rich, black coffee, humming to herself as she did so. There was a shiver in the air, and the old priest stepped through the front door. Three sugar cubes were dropped into each mug.
Not opening it to let himself in, but literally stepped through it.
He was dressed as one might expect of a priest from a bygone era. The robes were no doubt brown at one time, course and thick. They fit poorly, falling over his hands to hide the digits, and with a hemp rope cinched about his waist. She wasn’t sure how old he had been when he had passed, but he had lived a rough life, the lines etched into his angular features a clear indication. His head was entirely bald except for the thick black brows which, even now, were climbing higher over his forehead.
And entirely transparent. She had yet to come across a ghost who managed to be fully corporeal. They tended to be pale and translucent, washed of any vivid colors.
“Why are you dressed for bed, child?” he intoned, his lips not moving as the words echoed faintly about the room. Even in death, he retained a thick Spanish accent, but his words were still clear.
As was his displeasure at finding her in her current state.
“I thought we could chat for a tick,” she answered as she settled the coffee pot upon the heating pad before dropping comfortably into one of the seats. She took her time to adjust the thick robe around her, tightening it for a little added warmth before gesturing for him to take the seat across from her, offering a pleasant smile as one hand curled atop the flat box there.
Afterall, he had a mug of steaming hot coffee waiting for him as well, even if it did not provide him the same kind of nourishment.
His expression was suspicious, brows drawn tightly together, lips pursed to a thin, disapproving line, but he glided forward and settled into the proffered seat. She watched him, sipping at her own drink, though making no move to speak first, not yet. She had nowhere she needed to be.
The Father, however…
“You have a sacred duty,” his voice came at long last, the frown ever present. “Every year, your bloodline must take up the mantle and do what is right. Even now, your grandmother is working in New Orleans to do just that. You, here, must do the same. You were born for this. I read your soul the day you were came into this ear-”
“I’m glad ya brought that up,” she interrupted the familiar lecture, setting her mug firmly down on the table with a clink. She had been listening to the same spiel about her fate since she had been a little girl and knew it by heart. The man must have been reciting the mantra for decades, possibly even centuries. “It has recently come t’m’attention that ya may not have been entirely truthful ’bout everything ya’ve been sayin’ ’bout m’soul.”
Ghosts tend to be set in their ways. They were an echo of who and what they were in life, and sometimes traits were exaggerated from what they once were. The priest had been a staunch authority figure in his life, one which fell at the very crest. In life, he was not used to being questioned, even less since then. Even Ve had gone along with his teachings. Her Mémère had been raised with him in her life, and when Ve’s father had come of age, he had been haunted as well.
Until the priest had realized her father had no intention of following the ever so noble footsteps of his mother, and then he had returned his attention to her grandmother once more.
And once Ve had been born, he started following her.
Before she had been old enough to seek out the troubled spirits herself, she had been left to his tender ministrations. Not every child could claim to have a ghost babysit them, guaranteed, once a year. Her friends and schoolmates had thought she was crazy.
Mémère had explained how they wouldn’t understand, and it was best that she not try to explain.
But while he watched over her, he would whisper of an unseen war with fierce battles between the forces of good and evil. Every human being had that battle waging deep within their soul. Even after a person had passed, some remained on this Earth as that war continued. One could not simply destroy those spirits – it was possible, afterall, but that would achieve little, and could possibly be a mark on the wrong side of the scoreboard. It was best to cleanse the spirit, to find whatever it was that held it to this plane and help it move on. There were countless tactics to take, countless rituals to follow. Every situation was different, and she had to learn to read them and know the proper path.
Throughout it all, he made sure she understood it was her “sacred duty” to make sure that the measure was tilted ever towards good.
But at that very moment, he wasn’t saying much.
Black eyes stared at her through the rise of steam from his cooling cup of joe. His expression, for lack of a better word, was dead. Stony nothingness that did little to betray his thoughts, though there was an edge to the air, causing it to tremble.
The ghost was nervous.
“Your soul is strong,” he said carefully, not so much as a twitch visible upon his visage, his lips remaining pressed firmly. “I read it on the day of your birth. You were meant-”
She folded her hands neatly on the flat box before her, offering him a faint smile. “Doesn’t your book say somethin’ ‘gainst lying, Padre?” she asked softly. “I think we’ve known each other far too long for that. Now, tell me what ya know of the Nasaru.”
And there it was.
For a brief moment, she caught a glimpse of the terrifying visage so few likely had seen of the man. Skin chalk white, features elongated, jaw gaped open, and a piercing wail emitted, stinging her ears. Books flew from shelves, the lighter pieces taking to the air to swirl about the center of the living room.
She settled back in her seat, her expression one of boredom as she ignored his scare tactics and sipped again of her coffee. It was quickly turning cold with the spirit’s tantrums – kinetic energy had to be pulled from somewhere to be able to do things like lift books and knock knickknacks from shelves. That generally resulted in plummeting of temperatures, and why people could practically see their breath when faced with an active ghost.
She gave him a few minutes to posture before issuing a low sigh. “Hush now,” she said at last, clicking her tongue faintly. “Do recall who yer dealin’ with. And this little display?” She gestured about the room with her free hand. “This ain’t gonna do nothin’ but annoy.”
“You have a sacred duty-” the scream whined about the room as the ghastly form before her rose, one skeletal hand lifting in her direction to point accusingly.
Settling her mug back to the table, she reached into one of the pockets of her robe. A flick of the fingers, and an array of blessed herbs went flying through the apparition. The image scattered, the books dropping to the floor in a series of soft thuds.
“Mind yer manners,” she called to the empty room. “And if yer ready t’be approachin’ this as a civilized conversation, we can begin again. If not,” she snorted, jerking her head back towards her bedroom. “Well, I’m just as happy headin’ on t’bed ‘n callin’ it a day.”
She let that sink in, sipping again of her coffee. Even though it was cold, it was bitter enough to set fire to her taste buds. Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, letting her mind clear and her center to settle. It was a meditative, almost trance-like state, and her mind opened.
“What is it you wish to know?” There was ice to the words, but they were calmer. She opened her eyes to study the spirit across from her as she came back to herself. It had taken him nearly twenty minutes to re-materialize himself, and she was uncertain if it was because of her lesson in manners or if it took that long for him to simply calm himself.
“What do ya know of the Nasaru?” It was a simple enough question, and considering his reaction, he had to know something.
“There are more pressing-”
“Not fer me,” she cut him off, settling her now-empty cup aside so she could fold her hands neatly before her. “Ya either start givin’ me acceptable answers, or it’s beddie-bye time.”
He stared at her with those fathomless black orbs, not so much as a twitch showing. “Demonspawn,” he spat out at long last, a corner of his mouth lifting in a sneer of disdain. “Beings with power that use them only for their own benefit. Selfish creatures who only wish to see the world burn.”
That sounded personal.
She gave a slow nod, taking the time to pour herself a fresh cup. This coffee was still hot because of the heating pad, and she took a deep drink, letting it warm her. “Someone has convinced you to ignore your obligation, child.” The words were a faint whisper
“Someone,” she corrected. “Has opened m’eyes and pointed out that I may have been lied to by a priest the whole o’ my life.” Another drink. “What say ya t’that?”
His sigh shivered down her spine, and it took all she had not to shudder in response. “It was a Nasaru that had cursed me to this life,” he said at last. “It was a Nasaru that stole everything I had, everything I was, and in the end, even stole my final rest.” No wonder it was so very personal to him. Whoever the Father had met sure had done a number on the man. He shook his head, expression mournful. “Upon your birth, I saw that you had such potential, both for good and evil. Your early years are clear evidence of that.” Before Mémère had swept in and taken her in full time, her father had been using her gifts to his own end.
As he did with everything and everyone – why would she have been any different?
“I could only hope that, under the tutelage of myself and your grandmother, you would not fall sway to the temptation that was there. One for an easy life.” The guilt underlying the words was all too familiar, and Ve found herself nodding, though not in agreement.
“So we’re Demonspawn, huh?”
“Yes.” There was no hesitation as he uttered that word.
“So what happened to the Nasaru who caused…” she trailed off, hand lifting to gesture to his current state.
Even spirits could detect dry sarcasm if they were of a mind. “No need for that, child,” he chided. “He died at sea. Fire or drowning, I’m not sure which. But it had been too late for me to appreciate such justice.” Though his expression was a mask, there was an edge to his tone that said he was enjoying the thought of it far too much.
“Not very Christian of ya, Padre,” she pointed out softly.
“Considering my state, I believe that is the least of which I must make penance for.”
And it was true. Her nails drummed softly on the box as she studied him with narrowed eyes. “I will see to m’appointed tasks,” she said at long last. “But I want yer word that in twenty-four hours, I’ll be seein’ ya again. Right here. Ya have a great deal of explainin’ t’do.”
His expression remained impassive, the thoughts a whisper in her mind. “I do not need to explain anything to you, child.”
She was afraid he’d say that.
Sliding the top of the box aside, she settled back so he could clearly view the mummified hand within. Roughly three hundred years old, it had traveled half the world before she had found it years before. Wax helped preserve the blackened hand, strands of hair twisted together to form wicks at the head of each digit.
Creating a Hand of Glory was a gruesome process, but a coveted item by those who knew what to do with it.
And if the spirit lingered still, it stood as a bargaining chip to get a few more answers.
“Not entirely true, Padre,” she murmured. “See, I know ya were a thief ‘n a liar in life.” Her fingers stroked along the back of the Hand, a shiver of memories curling within her mind. “And a killer.” She looked up, brows arching high. “Pirate.”
Ice was forming along the top of her coffee.
His gaze was fixed upon the box. “Where did you get that?”
“Ya took the artifacts ya were entrusted with, and ya went t’sea. Willingly,” she continued softly, her pale gaze lifted to his features. Her hand flattened upon the mummified appendage, pinning it in place. “So when ya say ya have much t’repent, I believe ya. But I require answers.” She paused, features hardening. “I do not like bein’ lied to, Father.”
“Where…?” It was a breath of a question, shivering in the air.
“Online,” she answered honestly. “Seven years back. Not ‘xactly legal ‘n all, sendin’ ‘n receivin’ human remains through the mail…” she rolled a shoulder, dismissing the legalities of it all.
“You’ve known, all this time?”
Her lips twitched. “’bout yer fall from priest t’pirate? Oui. ’bout the Nasaru?” she shook her head slowly. “And that is why yer gonna be comin’ back in twenty-four hours.” She snapped the lid back into place. “Please don’t make me be callin’ ya back fer our chat.”
Silence fell, and the man offered a sharp incline of his head.
Just like that, he was simply gone. She could hear the heater in the distance, trying so desperately to warm the little apartment, but it would take a few hours yet. That was fine – she had expected nothing less.
Meanwhile, innocent souls were out there, mewling in the darkness, desperate to be heard on this one day of the year where it was a possibility.
She sighed, pushing up from her seat, stretching arms high overhead and arching her back. By the time she got back, it should be warm enough again in the small apartment that she wasn’t seeing her breath every time she sighed.
She shrugged out of her bathrobe, draping it over the back of her chair as she went to get changed.