“ What is this?” I asked as Joshua locked a rather bulky steel bracelet around my wrist, Joshua, being the Boss.
“Bry…” Joshua said as he turned from me. I looked over to Bry who had an amused smirk on his lips. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the thing on my wrist or the fact I was still trying to adjust the belt around my hips to keep the pants they’d given me on. Which, might I add, were a size or three too big.
“It’s a we don’t trust you bracelet.” He answered as he handed me my water.
“It means if you do anything we don’t like, we’ll kill you.” Bry’s clarification wasn’t even all that clear, which made me glad The Kid piped in.
“It’s a staged injection bracelet, SIB. In each little pod is a chemical, the first three are set to knock you unconscious for a few hours, the fourth and fifth pods will put you in a drug induced comma for up to three days. The last one, that one will kill you. They’re meant to give you a reason not to double cross us.”
“Lovely.” Sarcasm was all over my reply but I waved it off. It was too late now, what was I going to do? Demand they remove it?
I’m not terribly small, in fact I’d like to consider myself plush, but the only one who’s clothes were apparently clean were Elmry’s and he was one of the bigger of the men. I suspected Joshua’s clothing was clean too, but he just didn’t want me wearing them. With Elmry’s clothes on I realized he was the one who’d knocked me out and had me tied to the chair. How quaint.
Even though my clothes weren’t wearable, my sneakers were okay, so I found a chair and started to put them back on. When they’d taken my clothes, they’d removed my shoes too, leaving me tied to a chair in my unmentionables. I suppose it was a good thing I chose to wear a matching set. They were baby blue, not that its relevant. The pants looked a little ridiculous on me, and so did the shirt which was also too big; it happened to be black which made me look even whiter. As it is, I’m albino, which means my skin is white, and sometimes you can call it translucent. My eyes are red because there’s no pigment and it shows the oxygenated blood behind my eyes; my hair is ultra white also do to no pigmentation. Needless to say it makes me look like a freak, as if the things I can do didn’t do that already.
I stood up and walked to the table they were all seated at. The Kid sat to the left of Joshua who naturally had the head of the table. Bry had taken a seat next to the Kid with Elmry next to him. On the other side of Joshua was Watson, none to happy to see me, and then there was another fellow, who they referred to as Com. From what I could gather The Kid was their logger, he kept track of what they were hunting, how to kill it and so forth, Com was their tech, computers, communication and so on. Bry, Watson and Elmry were the muscle with Joshua as their leader. It was what you’d expect from an efficient Hekaad. I took the seat at the other end of the table across from Joshua, and when I did, they all turned to look at me.
“So what does this Phantom look like?” Joshua asked me.
“No idea.” I replied, which didn’t get me any votes from the rest of them. Especially Watson who I know was itching to kill me right there.
“Come again?” Joshua asked sharply.
“I told you, Phantoms are anywhere between and eight and ten on the your royally screwed scale. They can possess people, animals, and other apparitions which include the demons he’s currently manipulating and ordering around. I have no idea what the phantom looks like, but I know what he feels like.”
“What.. did you and the Phantom have a one night stand or something?” This, from Bry.
“I’m a Nekrosmantian, I can feel the individual apparitions. Just like I can feel the difference between each of your souls.” They all got really quiet, The Kid made it a point not to look at me again. “If we get within one hundred yards, I’ll know.” I added, trying to give them something else to think about.
“So does that mean you can tell what human is possessed by a demon just by being near them?” Com asked. He looked genuinely interested in my reply, rather stoic otherwise.
“Exactly.” For some reason, knowing that seemed to ease the tension out of the room. In honesty, you don’t realize how awesome it is being able to tell who’s possessed and who’s not until you can’t tell.
“That’ll be useful, since the Demons in town switch bodies like underwear.” Joshua even managed to say that with a straight face. Man these guys were too serious. Joshua was speaking again, this time orders. “ Com you’ll set up at the café, Bry I want you to stay with The Kid, Watson and Elmry, you’re with Nekro and I.” I thought about offering my name but something told me they didn’t care. So I was Nekro? That didn’t even sound right. Joshua concluded by adding, “ Grub is in the kitchen, get a bite then load up. You have ten.”
I was probably one of the first on my feet, I was hungry, and ten minutes wasn’t very long to get something to eat. I managed three steps toward the kitchen before a hand was placed on my shoulder rather roughly; stoping me in my tracks. When I looked behind me it was Watson.
“You eat last” He said.
“Get your hand off me.”
“Watson, cut it out, you’re acting like a child.” Bry didn’t have his charmingly amused smirk anymore, he looked quite serious, braided blond goatee and all. Watson shot him a look but let go of me and walked ahead as if to make sure I at least didn’t get to eat before him. Bry came closer to me and tilted his head my way. He stood a good three or four inches taller then me, and I’m five seven without shoes. His didn't whisper, but he did speak quietly, “He has a big problem with anyone that’s even questionably human. Your being albino doesn’t help.”
“Some people like walking around with a stick up their rear, who am I to judge?” Bry and I both cracked a smile.
“So, you can feel our souls? How does that work?” He was serious again, and very quiet, not wanting to upset the others I guess.
“It’s like an energy that prickles at my skin. Each soul feels different because it has different impact marks.” I told him.
“Yeah, everything you do that impacts your life, also impacts your soul. Everyone you kill, it leaves a mark. Changes the energy of your soul. If you regret anything, it leaves an even bigger mark. A dark mark.” Bry got quiet as he no doubt thought about the things in his life that probably left their mark on his soul. “Your soul feels pretty clean.” I said as I turned my redish tinted eyes his way. “It’s heavy with impact marks, but it’s clean. Meaning you had very strong convictions in the things you’ve done.”
“Does that mean I go to heaven when I die?"
“I don’t know about that. God refuses to come have a sit down with me.” Yeah, I make jokes when things start getting a little to serious or somber. It’s a defense mechanism. He and I walked to the kitchen in silence after that, small smiles on our faces. The food choice wasn’t great but when you’re hungry you’ll eat almost anything. I stuffed my plate with honey-baked ham and mashed potatoes. I was only halfway done when Joshua was calling us to move out.
I was following Bry’s lead, out of all of them, beside the kid, he seemed the most friendly and not apt to kill me the first chance they got. The SIB weighed down my wrist, which made it impossible for me to forget it was there. I know I should have been more weary but really, what was I going to do? When we got outside the cabin I realized it was still daylight outside and I felt my body sway with the shock of the light. A hand grasped my bicep and kept me steady until someone else handed me my sunglasses.
“You alright?” It was Joshua holding my arm and asking me.
“Yeah, I guess that hit I took to the head knocked out my internal clock. I thought it’d be dark out.” I wasn’t about to admit I just hadn’t been paying attention.
“You’re eyes are sensitive to the light? Your skin is too I assume?”
“Yeah, but I’ll be okay. As long as we’re not planning on sun bathing.”
“Let’s go.” He said releasing my arm with a small smile. At least I amused him a bit, that had to count for something right? I was pretty sure his concern for me started and ended with me being able to take out the phantom.
Joshua walked ahead of me and opened the back door to one of the two SUV’s, neither were black; one was white, the other a hunter green, which made me smile. When I slid into the back seat I saw Watson on the other side which made me very uncomfortable. After all, he wanted to kill me. Elmry was in the driver seat looking back at me. He must have seen the look on my face because he smiled and turned back to face in front of him. Joshua closed the door and then seated himself in the passenger seat up front. I kept myself as close to the door as I could, and as far from Watson as humanly possible.
“Would’ya look at that, big bad nekro-freak is afraid of me.” Watson said; a bit too pleased with himself might I add.
“No, actually, you just smell bad.” I quipped. Elmry stifled a chuckle while Joshua just smiled. I could see him through the side mirror enough to know he thought it was funny too, but that he had more control then Elmry did. I have to give Watson credit though, he didn’t say anything in return. I guess he knew he wasn’t the wittiest fellow and would rather stop the verbal assault before it started. I smiled to myself and looked out the windshield from the right side of the car, past the seat and Joshua who sat in it. We were following the white SUV into town, and as soon as we hit the town limit we broke off from one another.
The people on the side walks paid us no mind. It was a nice little town, big enough that it took some time to hear what had happened earlier; enough time that half the town still hadn’t heard about the strange occurrence in the office building near the Town Square. It also probably helped that those people who were possessed didn’t want to confess to what they’d really felt, and opted for amnesia. What I found was strange was the fact that I couldn’t feel anything out of the normal. The usual ambiance of souls but no extra spirits, no ghosts, no demons, and defiantly no phantom.
“What is it?” Joshua asked, peering at me through the side mirror. He must have seen the confusion on my face.
“I can’t feel anything.”
“What do you mean? Like your Nekro-stuff isn’t working?”
“No, I mean there’s nothing here. No ghosts, no extra spirits, demons or phantoms. It’s vacant of anything paranormal.”
“Maybe they’re on the other side of town.” He reasoned. I couldn’t blame him for trying to reason, but I had a feeling I was right, that not only did the phantom and the demons he was manipulating flee, but that so did every other apparitional being. I have that effect on them.
“Maybe.” I replied, thinking it better to agree and be sure. I was still on the we don’t trust you list after all; though I don’t think Joshua believed me, I think he knew I was pretty certain that wasn’t the case. He got on his phone to confirm that Com was set up at the café, no doubt to hack into the power grid and monitor any power fluctuations, which are usually a good sign of paranormal disturbance.
We past Town Square and it was every bit as dead as I suspected. Most places, small towns, big cities, there’s always a few random spirits or what have you, but I was getting nothing. They’d all cleared out. My abilities are often a two way street, when I used them to seek out the paranormal, the paranormal can feel me. As we found a place to park for a moment, I considered the apparitional shock wave, as I call it. Gathering that when I leveled the room of possessed people, it continued on and alerted all the apparitions to my presence, and as such, they fled. Hid. Made themselves unobtainable. The Boss got back on his phone to inquire with Com if he had anything. He too reported that it was a ghost town, minus the ghosts. Joshua turned in his seat to get a better look at me. His brows lifted in that silent question which got a silent reply with the shake of my head and shrug of my shoulders.
“Maybe you’re getting interference in here.” Watson suggested with a less then happy tone.
“I doubt it works like that” Elmry said.
“Could that be possible?” Joshua asked.
“No, it doesn’t work like that. What I could do, though, is reach out and see if I can feel anything beyond the general exposure. But you’ll have to let me out.”
“We’re not letting you out on your own.” Watson insisted.
“Why? I have the we hate you bracelet on.” I pointed out, even lifting it up in the air so they could see. “Besides, you’re not going to want to be right next to me when I reach out with my paranormal blanket.” It was the best description I could think of at the moment.
“We’ll be fine,” Joshua said, “ do it.”
Do it, like I was some kind of dog. I adjusted myself in my seat, to sit up more. I placed my hands in my lap, lightly clasped and I closed my eyes. I knew they were all watching me. I can always feel the souls of those around me, but when I reach out to search, it’s magnified. It’s like I can run my paranormal fingers across every impact mark in each soul. When I spread my mojo as it were just then, and it touched the three men in the car with me, I heard them all gasp. They started to fidget in the seat and one of them made a noise of discomfort. I close it off and opened my eyes again. I really wish I’d have kept my eyes closed because the looks on their faces made me want to fidget myself.
“Why’d you stop,” Joshua asked me, he even looked a bit mad.
“I told you, you don’t want to be right next to me.”
“I’m not asking Nekro. Just do it.”
Either he really didn’t trust me, or there was another reason I wasn’t aware of why they wanted me in the SUV. I sighed and closed my eyes again, reaching forth with that other part of me. It was hard to pass their souls, they were so close, so full of life, so warm. Joshua’s soul had the most marks in it, so many they overlapped and it was hard to distinguish the events. Watson’s soul was the darkest, full of bad things. Things he regretted, or things he saw as evil. People think if society thinks it’s evil, that means it is. But really, the mark on your soul relates to what you think. Watson played a bad ass, a hard core killer, but his soul was proof of his conflict between what was right and wrong. Elmry was the least warn. His soul was surprisingly untouched, which made me think his soul had been cleaned. Yeah, a soul can be wiped clean, it’s rare, but it can happen. We didn’t have time for me to inspect his soul further, I was supposed to be seeing if there were any demons out there. I could hear the men in the vehicle with me shifting in their seats again, fighting that feeling of total invasion. I’d never personally felt what it was like, but I’d heard from others it was a kind of violation that couldn’t really be explained with words. I felt bad but reminded myself Joshua had insisted and the other two hadn’t voiced against him.
The energy of my nekrosmantia spread out very much like a blanket over the town. Each new soul that came into contact with my blanket was coaxed and felt for anything abnormal. Those outside of the car wouldn’t feel the same violation as the three in it. Instead they’d get that –hair-on-the-back-of-the-neck-with-goose-bumps kind of thing. That creepy feeling you get when you think someone is there behind you, but no one is. When I touched Com’s soul I could almost feel him shift, he was more open to it then the rest. Some people have a natural ability to feel the paranormal. Com did, and I tried to focus elsewhere to save him the feeling of that kind of deep violation. My blanket extended over the entire town, every soul, every grave, every nook and cranny. Nothing. I sucked it back in all quick-like and heard the thee men gasp for air. Oops. I’d been told it could feel like a knife being pulled from your body, I imagine that’s what they all had just felt as I pulled my paranormal blanket back inside. I opened my eyes and they all had a slightly pained look.
“Sorry.” I whispered.
“What is it on or off with you? No in-between?” This from Watson who looked like he was ready to kill me again.
“Relax Watson,” Joshua said looking at him before he turned his tired blue eyes to me. “So…?”
“Nothing. There’s not so much as a lingering spirit over a grave. They all bolted.”
“So how are we supposed to track them, where did they go?” Elmry asked.
“Well, normally they leave a trail, but they’ve used something to cover it. I can’t get a lock. You’ll have to track them the old fashion way.” I replied.
“You’re coming with us.” Joshua added.
“Well can we at least go to my Hotel so I can get clothes that actually fit?”
“Yeah,” He made a motion to Elmry who pulled out of the parking space while Joshua called up Com and told him to go get Bry and The Kid from the cabin. He said something else which didn’t make sense to me, I chalked it up to code between the men in this Hekaad. I’ve never been in a Hekaad myself but I’ve crossed several and each of them seem to have their own methods and even their own language. Not like a made up language, but they use common words in certain sentences and so on which mean something to them, other then what it sounds like. A manner of communicating in the open without the public knowing what they’re talking about.
You see, what’s harder then hunting down these paranormal bad guys, is doing it without the publics knowledge. It’s an undercover war where the only satisfaction the hunters get, it knowing the world is a little safer. Most Hekaad’s are funded by their hacker’s ability to siphon funds from millions of accounts world wide. A dollar here and there doesn’t raise too many questions, but it sure as hell adds up. Other hunter groups rely on word of mouth and charging for their services, they usually don’t last long though. Then there are those that steal to fund their operation. Either steal the things they need, or steal items worth money to fence for funding. They tend to incorporate a skull into their vek which most assume has to do with their ideal of being modern day pirates. If I had to gauge how good Com was, I’d say he was a higher end tech guy then any of the other basement geeks I’ve run into.
You may wonder how I fund my expeditions... I’m a grave robber. I know it sounds bad, but really, those people don’t need those things! Besides, I’m not a techie, and I’d rather steal from the dead then the living. Not to mention, it’s not like anyone will know I’ve taken their goods, not unless there’s ever a court order to exhume the body, and even then, there’s no way I’ll get caught.... Fine. I'm a douche and I'm going to hell. When you deal with the dead as much as I do, you learn that they can be just as hateful and vindictive as the living. Half of them complain about the goods they were buried with. I'm insisting on being burned thank you very much.
“Right there, Blue Moose Inn.” I pointed to the not-so-pretty establishment on the left so Elmry didn’t miss it. Joshua shot me a look, which I ignored, as I watched Elmry a moment and then sat back to get ready to open my door.
“Stay here,” spoken as Joshua opened his door and motioned for the other two men to keep in their seats. “Keep it running, we’ll only be a minute.” We? He was going to chaperone me? How kind of him.
“I’m a big girl, I can do it on my own.” I said.
“It’ll be faster if I help you.”
“Okay, so you can throw my clothes in my duffel bag while I change out of these.” The look he shot me wasn’t a nice one but he didn’t argue. I guess he sympathized with me wearing a man’s clothing, more importantly, clothing thee times my size. Elmry was not a small man.
Inside my room I was reminded how much of a hurry I’d been in when I realized the demons had been gathering in a group. That kind of darkness centralizing is hard to miss. A bowl of Captain Crunch was on the little dinner table, half eaten and way to soggy to even salvage. The bed was made, looked like I hadn’t even slept in it; which actually, was because I hadn’t. Joshua looked at the bed then looked at me but said nothing. He scooped my duffel bag from under the bed –some things just make sense no matter who you are- and then opened the drawers to the dresser. I proceeded to empty the bowl and grab the box of captain crunch, stuffing it in my smaller duffel of munchies and food. Mostly beef jerky, chips, canned food, those sorts of things. I zipped it up and set it on the bed where Joshua was, grabbing a pair of jeans and a tank top from the duffel bag before I started to undo the belt around my waist.
“You’re going to change right there?” He asked with a brow raised and his body paused.
“You’ve already seen me half dressed, I didn’t think it’d matter. Besides, you’ve already demonstrated you don’t trust me by myself, thought I’d save you from protesting.” I shrugged a shoulder and peeled Elmrey’s pants off tossing them on the bed before taking off the ridiculously big shirt. When my field of vision was clear, Joshua had stopped completely and was staring at me. “What?”
“You could tare our souls out of our bodies couldn’t you?”
“Yeah, if I wanted to.” I said confidently. At least, I was pretty positive I could, not like I ever tried it with a human.
“And it would kill us?”
“Not kill you, but put you in a vegetative state. Everything that makes you, you would be gone.”
“And you let us put the SIB on you?”
I took a moment to look down at the Stage Injection Bracelet, which was more or less a huge steel bracelet as far as anyone else could tell. I looked back up at Joshua who finished stuffing my clothes in the duffel bag, and had found my revolver. “Yeah.” I answered, and then pointed to the gun, “It’s for home defense.” I said.
“Right.” He smiled a bit and took Elmery’s clothes off the bed along with both bags and handed me the gun in passing. “Hurry up.”
“Two seconds.” We both knew it would be a bit longer then that. I quickly kicked off my sneakers, since I wouldn’t be able to put my jeans on with them on, and got dressed. The back holster was looped in before the tank top, though I reminded myself I’d need to grab one of my jackets if I was going to conceal the honking Ruger. The softer colors of my clothes, faded jeans and baby blue tank top made me look a little less white. Though really, all I had to do was stand next to one of the guys and it would be night and day. Side effect to being an albino really. I hurried out the door and walked to the front office to turn in my key and get the remaining money for the time I didn’t spend there. Despite the fact that being an albino creeps some people out, I’ve been told I’m fairly attractive. This bit gets confirmed when guys like the one behind the counter, flirt with me. At least, until he saw the bulge at my back. When I exited the office Elmry and the rest of them were already waiting for me. I opened the back passenger door and slid in to see Watson taking an appreciative look. Yeah, I look a lot better in my own clothes.
“Is it just me, or do you have a thing for paranormal bastards?” I asked with total seriousness. Elmry again had to hold back his chuckle, and I was sure Joshua smiled. Watson tore his eyes off me and started brooding with his arms crossed over his chest. On the bright side, my duffel bags were between us, which made getting a jacket out a little easier.
“If you had to make an educated guess, which way do you think the Phantom and it’s minions would go?” Joshua inquired.
“It’s hard to say, I don’t know what they’re after. Do you guys have any idea?”
“The Kid did some reading up on Phantoms while we were gone. Mentioned most of them are out for world domination.”
“Yeah, most of the God Mythology, Greek, Egyptian, Norse… they come from Phantoms. Though the myths regarding soul eating… that a Nekrosmantian thing.” I heard my voice get quieter as I confessed our part in mythology. Thankfully, none of them made comment.
“So this one is probably trying to build an army, or at the least set the foundation for worship. Right?”
I thought about it for a moment, about the demons gathering in that office building before I barged in to break up the party and send them all back to hell. “The Phantom is going to need soldiers, they prefer demons and angry spirits because they tend to be more powerful.”
“Hells Kitchen.” Elmry, Watson and Joshua all said it at the same time. I would have argued, but I couldn’t. It was home to more demons then any other one place I’ve ever been to. It’s also the breeding ground for angry, vengeful spirits, and just thinking about it made me shiver in my seat.
“You afraid of Hells Kitchen whitey?” Watson was smiling, perhaps glad to have an opportunity to jump on me as I had him.
“Laugh it up tough guy, you only get the PG version.” I said with a clearly defensive tone. Watson’s smile faded some and he was about to say something when Joshua leaned in his seat and shot him a look. Watson glanced at me and then turned to stare out the window. Joshua looked back at me for a brief moment before he settled in his seat too.
I wasn’t sure, but it almost looked like sympathy in Joshua’s eyes. Like he felt sorry for me knowing what were heading into, and knowing how much of it I could feel. When someone like me goes into a place like Hells Kitchen, you feel like there isn’t anything in the world that can ease your mind and make you feel better. You either suck it up and tough it out, or you find another place to go. In this case, if the Phantom was going to be hunting for a bigger, better army, I agreed with them. He’d hit Hells Kitchen which was only a state away. I took a deep breath and settled back in the seat, leaning against the window and crossing my own arms. If I was going to get any sleep it was going to be on the car ride over.