I’ve never been big on sleep.
Mostly because I don’t do it well. My sleep mostly consisted of periods of thrashing, followed by spinning and then the occasional waking in a fit of screaming terror.
Today was a screaming terror kind of day.
It could have been the flight. Maybe it was the humidity. Maybe I just hated New Orleans. Of all the cities I hated to visit most, New Orleans made it into my top ten. The supernatural seemed drawn to this place like moths to a flame. Any time I came here, I could see the spirits of the dead wandering in broad daylight as if they were just tourists on their way to a cafe by way of the afterlife.
I tried not to stay long because the longer I was there, the more of them I attracted. I knew it had something to do with my curse mark, the binding which, according to my family kept my dark gift under control. Personally, I thought they just liked to harass me. I could see them and they knew it.
After flying coach, wedged between two members of the unwashed masses I was only too happy to escape the claustrophobic aircraft. Seriously, I was not sure when soap went out of style but it was the longest flight I have ever had. After a quick cab ride, I was only too happy to pass out in my tiny hotel room. It was nice enough but I spent a half an hour etching wards on the walls, doors and windows. I didn’t think I had anything to worry about, but I had learned in this city, preparation was always worthwhile. It also meant I would not have to worry about some ghost waking me with a sob story in the middle of the night.
Or so I thought.
I was still healing after the Abrams case and was moving a bit slower than normal. I had just stopped using my cane full time last week, but I brought it with me just in case. I stood it by the bed, since it was already charged and took a long shower. It must have been what I needed because ten minutes after touching the pillow I was out cold.
I woke in a cold sweat and standing at the foot of my bed was a dark form. It stood with its back to me. I wanted to speak but realized I couldn’t. I was still dreaming. The spectre turned and walked to the edge of the bed and put out its hand. I reached out and took it. Cold and hot at the same time. It helped me up and gave me my cane.
This was a Seer. Or the representation of it. The Agency has two types of briefings. One they called you on the phone and told you to meet the police department in a local area and get the lay of the land. You did the detective thing, asked questions and when people there stopped being able to answer questions, you were on your way to the real problem, just good old-fashioned detective work.
And then there was this way. A spiritual representation of Seer creeped you out, took you to a crime scene and you were forced to feel the essence of evil personally. This usually happened when you got a case and there was no physical evidence to work with, no police who wouldn’t think you weren’t completely crazy even if they were willing to cooperate with the Agency. Exposing your soul to the taint of evil always risked corrupting those whose spiritual fortitude wasn’t up to snuff.
Guess which way I like least?
I looked back at my body and realized I was still there. So was my cane. This was an astral projection of myself. A spiritual representation of my psychic self. I stood and was garbed in my long coat and hat, a dark suit and my cane. My phoenix amulet stood out as a tiny star on my neck, tiny but impossibly bright at the same time. My curse mark shimmered along my right arm and across my body and down onto my left leg. It’s curls and twists wrapped impossibly in shapes which held the essence of the dead gods trapped within.
Once I was fully formed the spectre pulled me from the building and we snapped away from the hotel. Once outside the building, the necromantic energies of New Orleans were visible as a cloudy billowing fog with varying degrees of transparency. The spectre waved and drew me along with it.
We flew above the city and the shape of the spiritual energies were accented by particular buildings, sites established to harness the natural necromantic powers emanating from this location. There was an elegant design to the city which explained the spirits who were reluctant to leave. But after a few minutes, I had a distinct sense of something wrong.
Then I saw it. It looked like a shopping mall. But it was much more than that. It was a prison, a black box of necromantic energy bound into a shape like my curse mark, winding in upon itself, trapping energy there, keeping anything marked within it. This was not a natural thing. Someone crafted it lovingly, slowly over years, to ensure it was inescapable except by a master like its creator.
The spectre hovered over the mall and pointed. This was as far as it was willing to go. I dove toward it and my own marks pulsed in acknowledgement as I passed through the barrier and entered the mall. I drew a sigil using my cane upon the ground and could see the marks which created this prison. It was terrible. Many lives had been lost here. I could feel the souls trapped within it. But they were not what drew me here.
Those souls were trapped by the greater evil. Gnawed on like bones or spiritual chew toys. I saw them listlessly sliding through the mall, with no sense of self, no purpose, but one was recent. He seemed confused as if he wasn’t sure how or why he was dead. I would start with him.
I released a tendril of my spiritual power and wrapped it around him. In this form, I had only a fraction of the power I normally possessed but it would be more than enough to talk to this poor soul.
“Hello, friend. Do you know where you are?” His blank look told me he had not quite adjusted to his state and was still working it out. The initial shock of dying suddenly may have left him unable to deal with is death.
“I was shopping for something…I’m still at the mall, right?” His voice was quiet, tremulous, filled with fear. “Then I stopped to get some clothes for an interview I had tomorrow. I needed a new shirt. The interview was going to be my meal ticket. A promotion, new car, and a corner office… Then I turned to the mirror… And…”
He resisted, I could feel him actively trying to break free. Whatever it was, it was terrifying enough to give him an emotional response even without a body. He was filled with fear.
Then he put his hand to his mouth, and began to back away from me. “I can hear it. It’s coming. I have to go, let me go. Don’t you hear it?”
Hearing is not one of the senses that is reliable when you travel astrally. You can hear the real world but the undersound of the astral realm tends to drown out anything unless you really focus. But whatever he was talking about was getting louder. It was heading right toward us. I couldn’t pinpoint it. It seemed to be all around us.
“Oh, god. I’m dead, aren’t I?”
Now was not the time for philosophical debate. I could feel a pressure building, like a doppler from an approaching train. But I still couldn’t lock on to it. My tethered ghost started frantically pulling away. I released him and he ran slowly and I stayed close to him trying to figure out what I was feeling.
My curse mark flared violently and I fell to my astral knees. From the mirror next to me, I turned to see a pair of flame red eyes leaping out of the mirror. The creature connected to those eyes was misshapen, with elongated arms and legs. It ran on all fours covered in tattered rags. Its hair was long and wild and its face and jaws were contorted, expanded and filled with razor sharp teeth.
Its powerful leap took it right over me and allowed it to grab the ghost instead. Their interaction was as if both were made of flesh, the ghost little more than a lamb being torn by a powerful lion. It made short work of him flinging his limbs in every direction until only his core essence remained. This was the soul of a man, the thing that made him uniquely human. Heaven or hell, this was the thing that transmigrated beyond the mortal experience.
The creature fell upon the soul essence and within seconds, the light of the soul spilled out and the creature feasted until the light slowly dimmed. That poor bastard won’t know heaven or hell now. He is just gone. My curse mark stopped throbbing once the light from the soul went out.
Then the beast turned toward me. Did I mention in this form I was little more than a soul disconnected from my body?
A Man Who Wasn’t There © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved