Authors: Morgan Blayde
Tags: #Dark Fantasy, #Horror, #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction
“Not pink?” I’d guessed wrong.
“I’m saving that one for my, uh,
with you. You’re going to have to rip it off my body—but, uh, leave the mask, and boots. I have to protect my secret identity.”
“Heavens! Can’t wait.”
the things I do to complete a mission...
I headed back to the cafeteria. There was a poker game to finish.
“Ah, the fresh smell of
dead bodies; so relaxing.”
Hours later, much richer, I awoke from a brief nap and activated the
tattoo on my upper back and shoulders, I paid the usual price for using dragon magic in human form—intense crippling agony. I managed not to piss my pants. My liver flip-flopped, tying itself in knots. The sensation faded in moments as the
The usual theory behind a
tribal pattern was that seeing them, a demon spirit would leave you alone, thinking you were one of them since you had your own demon wings. My tat took this one step farther, extending the cloaking spell to everything I might encounter. Touching someone, I could pull them inside the effect, letting them see and hear me. Christie had her little override box. I had this.
I left Shiva and Holy in the room, asleep on their cots, and stepped out into the second-story hallway. I made my way to a staircase and took it down to the first floor. It was close to midnight. I ghosted through the shadows of the great hall, heading for the back of the building. The place was full of whining winds and shadow. Floorboards creaked. I heard the scurrying of rats in the walls. I was just one more ghost, unseen, invisible.
I found the back door and went through it. Christie was waiting for me. She stared at the door that—to her—looked like it opened by itself. I closed the door and watched her back up several steps.
I waited, judging her nerve.
After a moment, she advanced, one hand fanning the air between us, her other hand resting on the full-tang hilt of a sheathed katana. She looked cute in a skintight black Power Ranger costume, the mask pushed up on her head like a hat.
She said, “Could have been a draft, I suppose.”
I walked past her and slapped her ass in passing.
She spun, one hand covering the impact point. “Freakin’ hell! This defies all laws of nature.”
I waved a hand she couldn’t see past her face, a few sparks of darkness danced at my fingertips. The shadow magic unspooled into the air, threads that coalesced into an imitation butterfly. My raw magic fueled its pseudo life. The simulacrum fluttered into her hair like an accessory and perched there. Connected to me, the butterfly exempted her from the
spell I used. I expected to run into more ghosts, and I wanted to see if my magic could mask me from their peculiar perceptions.
I watched her eyes widen as she saw me. “Don’t freak out. Things around me always get bad before they totally go to hell.”
“Caine, what are you, some kind of ninja?”
I smiled. She thought I’d just faded in, not realizing the butterfly had tuned her to me. “Don’t try to figure it out, just go with it. Lead on. I’ll be right behind you, where it’s safe.”
She gave me an uncertain look, but moved on, leading the way across a brown weedy lawn. At a right angle to the back of the school, a small building jutted out. It was white brick and two-story with ten-foot, stained-glass windows, and a steeple on a peaked roof. We approached the chapel’s side door, climbing three stairs. Christie needed no key, just the flashlight in her hand which threw out a strong, white beam. She turned the door latch and entered.
Inside, the light of a crescent moon spilled past a gap in the roof where a number of boards had fallen in. The cavernous space held half-rotting pews waiting in silent ranks on either side of a center aisle. A dusty, hardwood floor showed evidence of recent traffic. The air was dusty as well. To the right, leading back into the school, the far wall had double doors that
were nailed shut from the inside. The way we’d used seemed to be the only avenue in or out.
Christie moved toward the front, left corner of the chapel, bypassing the raised stage and its lonely pulpit. I’d been in graveyards and other consecrated places. There was no sanctity left here. Instead, I sensed a slumbering darkness, the echo of ancient evil. Something bad had happened here, leaving behind a curdled aura.
An open doorway revealed a hallway. We took the hallway, and it turned right, into another. Floorboards creaked under our weight. “You guys did check these floors? We’re not going to fall through, right?”
Christie said, “It’s safe, probably. Knock on wood.” She wrapped knuckles on a wall. The sound echoed ahead of us.
Another board creaked beneath my steel-toed boots. “Okay, if I fall through and break my neck I’m never going to speak to you again.” I wasn’t really that worried. Being half dragon, half slayer, I had more than human strength, heightened reflexes, and I tended to heal rather quickly. Fear of damage didn’t hinder me as it did humans.
In the middle of the hallway, an open door revealed stairs leading to the basement. We went downstairs. The flashlight beam splashed across concrete flooring and walls. There were cracks in the foundation from water damage. Overhead, the large wooden crossbeams and wooden boards smelled of dampness and mold. I thought a loud sneeze might bring them down.
Christie went forward until she was directly under the chapel’s center. A wall stood there. The basement seemed to be half the size of the chapel above, however, a four-foot hole in that wall disproved this theory. Fallen bricks littered the floor. The debris revealed what had once been a hidden space.
“How cliché,” I said. “Bodies behind a wall?”
“Old bodies,” Christie said. “From the personal possessions and the clothing, these people have been here for about a hundred years. A very cold case.”
Having left a lot of bodies lying around in my time, I knew a little about forensics. I pushed past Christie and peered through the hole. The place had aired out a little but still smelled of decay. The wall beyond the bodies was brick, possibly protecting yet another secret space. I’d have to look into that.
She offered me the flashlight.
I waved it off. My inner dragon trotted out of the back shadows of my mind, using my eyes to see with. The darkness shifted into a silver-gray wash with greenish highlights. I counted five bodies in rotting clothes. From the tilt of the pelvic bones, these were all girls. Skeletal damage—especially necks that had been bitten through—indicated violent deaths.
I saw a body gripping a ceremonial dagger. The metal was discolored and pitted, as if it had been used to stab something with acidic blood.
In the nest of bones, I saw the remains of a baby. The child’s teeth were broken out, missing. So were the legs. Instead, from the waist down, was a snake’s spine ending in a rattle. The baby hadn’t been entirely human.
Naga, or nagi for a female. They were a supernatural class common to India and Africa, giant snakes that could take on human form. I knew there were colonies in the U.S., but I didn’t know exactly where. They kept to themselves, considering other supernaturals to be of an inferior class.
This is turning into a very interesting case.
Above the baby skeleton, a greenish yellow light formed. It wobbled in place, not quite perfectly round.
Christie made an “Eeek!” and jumped back, whipping her katana from its sheath with a scraping sound. She gripped the hilt in both hands, ready to fight for her life. I really hoped she wouldn’t stab me by accident.
I stayed where I was as the light zoomed past me, nearly clipping me. It continued on, blurring across the basement, arcing up into the ceiling where it vanished. I wasn’t sure if it had seen me or not. The test of my
tattoo was inconclusive.
“Another ghost,” Christie said.
“Not a human one,” I said.
“Huh? What’s that mean?”
I shrugged. “I doubt it will play well with the other spirits. I’m sure things are going to get more chaotic.”
“Teresa will be happy. Drama means good ratings.”
“Then why hire me to come in and fix things?”
“That’s not what she hired you for. It’s just an excuse to get you on her program. She says you’re an urban legend, the ‘Red Moon Demon,’ whatever that means. I’m not supposed to tell you this, but there are ‘ghostly’ lights rigged up to turn on and off, spooky sounds on hidden speakers you’ll hear, and special boots have been made so the rest of the crew can go around the building and leave ‘monster tracks.’”
I snorted. “As if I’d fall for that stuff.”
Actually, maybe I would have. I knew better than anyone else that freakish, supernatural things existed. I, myself, was proof.
Christie said, “It’s not about what
believe. It’s about scripting an ‘unscripted’ reality show that will get picked up by a major network. You’d really be helping us out by playing along.”
“Hmmm.” I started toward the stairs, and she fell in close behind. “Let’s go see what the baby ghost thing is doing now that’s awake, too.”
We retraced our path, passed through the sanctuary, and out the side door. Running across the weedy lawn, I heard a blood-curdling scream echoing from the third floor. I quickened my step.
“That’s not … real!” Christie called. “It’s prerecorded ambiance.”
I reached the back entrance and waited for her. “Good job.” I held open the door. Another scream pealed out. “Even better.”
“That was real,” Christie huffed, a little more out of shape than I would have expected of a Power Ranger.
We ran through the halls, following the screams. Malevolence stumbled into the hall from a classroom, a hammer in one hand. Rooster followed her out, carrying a baseball bat.
“Beethoven’s bones!” he said. “Who’s dying?”
“Sounded like Deedee,” Christie said. “She’s been staying with Clifford in the principal’s office.”
“I didn’t hear him scream,” Rooster said.
Might be dead. No, there he is.
I saw the black man backing into the hall, belting a plaid bathrobe around himself. His feet were in fuzzy slippers. He stared the way he’d come from, horror on his face. Abruptly, he turned our way and ran at us, feet pistoning furiously.
I dodged around him, still cloaked by my tattoo magic so only Christie could see me. She called after me. “Caine, be careful.”
What fun is that?
I entered the room and skidded to a stop. The ghost lights were back, a whirling cage. Inside, from the waist up, was Deedee, breasts on proud display. From the waist down, she was a snake, a nagi—which I knew to be wrong; she’d smelled entirely of fey before. I could still see some of the woman she used to be despite the new puffy cheeked, spade-shaped head. Her upper jaw bone had rotated, allowing hollow fangs to swing down from the roof of her mouth and face outward to bite something any size and inject more venom than snakes with fixed fangs.
She hissed at the lights and clawed at them, doing no damage. Her lower body coiled, tail tip sticking out, a rattle in evidence. Her snake half was a muddy green. She had the coloration of a Mohave Green viper. Her tail trembled, making a
sound. Her eyes were unnatural, yellow-green stars in her morphed face—eyes the same color as the escaped baby ghost light.
It’s possessed her, somehow tapping fey magic to produce this change. It’s the only thing that makes sense.
A quick scan of the walls revealed a new clock. My enhanced dragon vision zoomed in on the center where the hands met. There was a lens there. A hidden camera, catching all the action. But not me.
I moved up to the whirling cage of lights and generated a dark spark of shadow magic, zapping a rust colored ghost. They were impervious to my dragon fire, but shadow magic appeared to get their attention. The rust colored light detached from the cage and zipped around randomly. Unable to find me, it returned to the rest of the swarm.
I had confirmation:
ghosts can’t see through my Demon Wings magic. So, okay. What do I do about Deedee? Can’t let her new instincts take over—she’ll eat someone. Hey, wait a minute… Why haven’t the ghost lights lost interest and left? If Deedee and Clifford were fooling around, that would explain them coming, but nothing’s going on now. Ah! Of course, the fact that all these spooks share a mass grave means they have a history.
The nagi lunged into the side of the cage made by the swarm. There was a crackle of pastel energies, colors that would have looked better on Easter eggs. Her body in pain, Deedee thrashed and shrieked, displaying a whipping garnet tongue. What the baby ghost-thing inside felt—if anything—I didn’t know.
Deedee threw her head back and screamed. This time, the yellow-green ghost sphere of Baby flew out of her throat. The dazzle of light was brighter and overall more jagged-surfaced than the human spirits. They couldn’t keep it in the cage. Baby zipped away and the swarm chased after her.