I jiggled the doorknob on the basement level exit. Locked. Safe to say any other doors leading outside were locked as well. “Maybe this is being a bit too hopeful, but you wouldn’t happen to have faulty wiring in this place, wouldya?”
“I check the systems daily, and an electrician does monthly repairs. He was here just last week. So no, I’m afraid not.”
I sighed. Fuck me. “Let’s head upstairs, Sostene. See what’s up.”
I took a step forward, and immediately slipped on a puddle of beer, balancing myself by placing my hand out in front of me to catch something. Catch it did on the shredded edges of the tank nearest to me. The skin ripped silently on the sharp metal cooker, and I bit my tongue and sucked air.
“Hey Sostene,” I said, trying to sound as calm as possible, “mind sharin’ some of that night vision with us?”
“Hm? Sure. Not sure if I can do this many people though.”
“Just try.” I raise my voice so everyone can hear. “Everyone, my friend Sostene here is gonna use a little magic to help us out. If word gets out he’s doing this, the feds are probably gonna pinch ’em, so it would be a great help to us all, our organization included, if everyone here were to keep quiet about the particulars of this incident. We clear with each other?”
I let the unspoken threat linger softly in the air.
“Alright Sostene, light ‘er up.”
Sostene shared his sight with everyone present. A basic ability even children of the undead fathers could use, but one that would still earn them a harsh fine and maybe even time in the bighouse on account of it being a minus C-class clairvoyance magic. To think a guy could earn time just for helping out his mortality-challenged friends… World wasn’t a fair place sometimes.
I would reflect doubly on how that applied to vampires once we figured out how to fix the shit we were in. Speaking in an all around rational fashion, light or dark didn’t mean nothing to a poltergeist. What they could do to you in the light they could do to you in the dark. Speaking in the fashion of a guy stuck in the dark with one though, it meant the fucking world. Sostene was a godsend in this kind of environment.
Thank you, Marq. Thank you, you mad bastard. I promise never to question you or your decision-making ever again.
Making our way upstairs was rough business. Every noise felt like the invitation to an attack by the poltergeist, every door and every turn a hiding place for something that hated us very much. Something that wanted us to leave. At this point, I would’ve been happy to oblige.
Now don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t afraid of this thing. Not at all. I was just acutely aware of my odds if we were to get in a one-on-one confrontation. Poltergeists could tear up floorboards, bring down chandeliers, and bust open walls, all without the liability of a physical body that could hurt or bleed. Some of them could even summon storms if they were mad enough, almost like they were trying to hate you to death. They were supernatural powerhouses. I wasn’t. I’d seen mediums who could set shit on fire with their minds, kill a guy sitting in the diner from across town, and there was even that one guy I heard about who lifted an entire hotel into the air. On that sliding scale, I was just a John Q. Public who could remember things better. Strictly speaking, I was normal. I was vulnerable, and weak.
But that only means the weak have to make the best use of the tools they’re given. The first and most important of those being information. Information and the insight you got by having it. I’d ignored it when it told me this was a bad idea, more because I had to than anything else, and I’d probably continue to ignore it many times in the future, for many different reasons. But now, I was hoping I could still use it for something.
I grimaced as I heard one of the boozers bump into something, almost pulling one of the girls down with him. As I’d thought, Sostene’s max carrying capacity was six. Counting the boozers and the two girls who’d followed us to the cellar at the Madam’s behest, our group had come up to a grand-spanking total of twelve, meaning nearly half of us went without the benefit of Sostene’s night-vision.
I felt bad leaving ‘em down there alone without knowing what the poltergeist wanted with them and this place, so I had ‘em cling to the arms of people who could see. Myself included. Sostene was the only one who walked alone. No one wanted to risk being the one distraction that put us all back in total darkness.
Finally we found the bar again. Everyone gripped the wood eagerly, taking seats like they wanted to anchor themselves in case anything else happened.
“Madam, there are candles behind the bar, yeah? Or at the very least some rags and cheap booze we can burn?”
She nodded. In minutes we had light. Brilliant, fantastic light, flickering at the ends of red wax torches. Everyone took a deep breath.
“… it’s just light, you guys.” Sostene spoke up. “No need to get so emotional about it.”
That made me laugh a little. “You wouldn’t get it, Sostene. I guess you could say it’s not really for you.”
“Please don’t test me right now,” Sostene said, sounding more hurt and tired than angry. Was this what he was really like? The sensitive tough-guy? Or was that him when he wasn’t about to flip out over loose change? I didn’t know. I couldn’t figure him out. His emotions were just all over the place, like a minefield ready to go off.
“Ah, don’t sweat it big guy. Just a little fun is all.” I grinned reassuringly to let him know he was in on the joke. It was kinda funny when you thought about it. Sostene was right. For all we knew, we were still in as much danger as we ever were, but for now, we didn’t care. For now, we all felt just a bit safer, as foolish as it was, thinking our little sticks of light would protect us from that ever present terror in the dark. And because we felt safer, we could relax. We could think. We could plan.
Or so I thought.
It didn’t take more than a few passing words between the frightened and the weary to set the next chain of events in motion. The lights above us and around us started flickering back to life. I could tell from the looks on their faces that some of them thought this meant the manifestation had passed. Call it pessimism, but I knew better.
The temperature in the room began to drop, lights began flickering more and more rapidly, the gaps in the darkness becoming increasingly shorter until there was almost lasting illumination. Then, like the rapid flipping between on and off had just been too much for them to handle, the bulbs began to shatter and burst open like bombs, one after another. They detonated in sequence just like they’d started flickering, showering people with glass. Myself included.
I ducked beneath the bar, hands over my head and my back to any kind of light fixture or glassware. The glass whistled like shrapnel as each bulb burst with more intensity than any short-circuit. Some of it got through the thinner wood of the bar. Most of it didn’t.
Finally, it stopped. I opened my eyes. There cuts and lacerations everywhere, some deep and some not. The workers were the lucky ones. Even caught in the thick of it, they had been wearing thick cloth and leather gloves. They were pretty much okay. The waitresses, dancers and call girls were a bit worse off. Bleeding and heavy cuts almost all around. Non-fatal, but definitely scarring. Most of the girls who made it out of here today wouldn’t be quite as pretty as they used to be. It was even possible they’d take a hit to their popularity with the customers because of it. Occupational hazard of being professionally good-looking, I supposed. All in all, we could’ve been worse off.
All of us except for Sostene.
Sostene was on the opposite end of the spectrum, and the room. He was in a lot of places right now, actually. Being diced and filleted into little pieces by glass did that to a guy.
I looked around as bits and pieces of him started crawling back together along the paths they’d taken as they separated from his body. There was no way he took that amount of damage just by standing there.
That’s when I realized why we hadn’t been hit worse by that. Sostene took the hit for us. I mean it made sense on a technical level. There weren’t many things I knew of that were faster than vampires. I’d seen people catch bullets, deflect bullets, even dodge bullets. But I’d only ever seen a vampire outrun a bullet. Hell, they were so fast they’d catch you before the bullet even left the barrel. In this case, just replace bullets with glass, and you could easily start seeing what had happened here. The question was why.
Sostene finished putting himself back together like a talkie on rewind while some of the less weathered employees looked terrified, some disgusted. Even his clothes mended, which just spoke for how good the curse of restoration put on vampires was.
“I guess being a vampire can have its advantages now and then…” He shook the glass from his sleeves and pants, talking to no one in particular.
I brushed off my suit. “Guess so. Anyone get any idea of what the thing wants?”
The Madam looked at me, confused. “We didn’t know that when we left the basement, why would we know it now?”
“Poltergeists don’t tend to be subtle. They want something, they let you know. Maybe not in a way you’ll understand at first, but the language barrier between the living and the dead isn’t as huge as you’d think. They leave you little clues in the way they behave, you just gotta figure ‘em out.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m not seeing how that helps us right now.”
“If we know what it wants, we might be able to figure out who it was when it was alive. Once we know that, we can either burn their bones or whatever else belongs to them and get rid of ‘em that way, or…”
I trailed off as the temperature dropped again. The windows and the doors were all rattling. Finally, they burst open as a wind rushed through, extinguishing the candles we’d gone through all of this to light. Even without their glass casings, the wiring in the light bulbs started glowing just bright enough to illuminate what the poltergeist had wanted to show us.
Written in blood, whose I don’t know, the message adorned the ceiling and the walls once they’d been stripped clear of paint, repeating endlessly over a tapestry that had obviously been repainted in a hurry to hide it.
“Or we give it what it wants.” And it couldn’t have made it any more obvious for us. With its demands made plain, I did the only thing left for me to do. I dug in my heels, stood my ground, and with firm, unshakeable resolve said, “I think we should leave.”