Memento Mori: Seven – Passive
Alone With the Dead:
by Andrea Speed
Seven – Passive
The first appointment of the evening took them to a pre-fab house at the end of a cul-de-sac in a Portland suburb, right where it slowly gave way to the rural. In the cul-de-sac were perfect lawns and cookie cutter houses, and just beyond it, as if there was some invisible demarcation line, were wide fields and spiky tangles of blackberry bushes, the smell of cow shit faint but quite prevalent in the air when the breeze changed direction.
Shane warned him they would refer to him as a “psychic”, as that was the term more people were familiar with – in a supernatural sense – than “agent”, and Gryphon honestly didn’t care. They could call him Patsy the Dog Faced Boy as long as they paid him.
The woman who had called in Spirit Guides was a middle aged, matronly woman with a nervous disposition, who was named Theresa Horne. Her house was done in early showroom, with a touch of kitsch including a cabinet full of collectible Hummel figurines that he ached to shatter into a million pieces, beat their big eyed, pasty, creepy little ceramic faces in.
All that anger for figurines? Mr. Aronofsky commented.
They’re a fucking crime against good taste, Hugh insisted, coming to his defense.
There were various pictures scattered about separate rooms, homely children who’d apparently grown into homely teens, fragments of a typical and probably unsatisfying life. A small yippie dog – probably a Chihuahua or a Pekinese or something – growled and yipped from behind a closed bathroom door, but as soon as he got close it started whimpering and retreated as far from the door as possible. Why he had that effect on animals he had no idea, but part of him just didn’t want to know.
He was walking through first to see if there were any dead here, while the guys set up equipment in a room he wouldn’t pass through again, and Shane talked to Horne. Clay and Shane already knew he would mucho fuck up the equipment if he got near it, and he would give them a false positive reading like they wouldn’t believe; like all the minions of hell had risen up in this woman’s living room, looking for a place to crash. While they would know it was just him, the client wouldn’t.
The tour didn’t take long, as it was a small split level. In the laundry room, he found a flickering light bulb, but the others insisted they weren’t doing it. Then Hugh pointed out a noise he almost didn’t notice, a very energetic hum. Gryph couldn’t help but chuckle, as it was too damn funny.
He made his way back to the kitchen, avoiding the living room where Clay was still scanning with his equipment.
Hangdog Shane looked at him with his sleepy eyes, and asked, “Anything?” Theresa looked at him, eyes bright beneath far too much make up, thick eyeliner making her look like a raccoon – or perhaps just an enthusiastic Goth.
“Yeah. You need to insulate your house, as there are many gaps where the draft is getting through. Also, you might want to get your wiring checked; faulty wiring is responsible for more house fires than you may believe. But there’s no dead here.”
He didn’t wait to see anyone’s response, he simply left, figuring Shane was man enough to handle any fallout.
He clamored into the back of the van and laid down on the thin carpet they had put down to cushion the equipment, wondering why he was so tired after a small house tour. Because you’re still sick, Mr. Aronofsky pointed out. True enough.
He looked around for reading material, and found a newspaper folded up into a small plank shape. He grabbed it and unfurled it, glancing at the headlines, wondering who they were bombing now and if anyone had even bothered to make up an excuse. But that wasn’t what grabbed his attention.
‘Local Psychic Dead’, read the small headline at the bottom of the page. There was a tiny thumbprint sized black and white photograph of a long faced woman with a nimbus of frizzy hair held back by a scarf in a pseudo-hippie fashion, her mouth a dark slash and her eyes too wide and too painted to take her seriously. The caption beneath the photo simply said Madam Paula.
Holy shit, Taneesha exclaimed. Ain’t that that bitch you wanted to go hassle?
Indeed it was; it seemed like he didn’t need to confirm that. The small article that accompanied the headline – which further claimed that she was a “self-professed” psychic, a clarification they probably should have stuck in the headline – said her car had gone off the road at around one in the morning the other night, and plowed square into a tree. There was no signs of another car involved or alcohol, but the investigation was continuing.
I wonder if she saw that coming, Hugh sniped.
But Gryphon felt a coldness settle in his bowels, climb up his gut like it was working its way slowly towards his esophagus, and he had no idea why. “We – nobody went out that night, right?” he asked. “River Road. Did anyone go out to River Road?”
You think one of us did that? Ruby exclaimed, sounding offended. Kiddo, if we wanted to ice the bitch, why do something as mundane as make her car crash? We’re usually more creative than that.
That was true, which bothered him even more.
River Road is, like, on the opposite side of town from your shitty motel, Sly said grudgingly. It’s pretty rural. If I’m thinking of the right one, it has kind of a blind curve, and a lot of people have wiped out on it. Why the county never does anything about it I have no idea.
“There’s more than one River Road?”
Sly snorted derisively. Fuck yeah. Isn’t that like Main and Maple? Every city has like six of ’em. It’s as inevitable as a street named after Martin Luther King always being in the worst part of town.
The article didn’t give much more information than that, except her true full name was Paula Gregeros, and she had been twice divorced, survived by her parents and a sister. She had written a book, ‘What The Dead Can Teach Us‘, but there was no word on whether it sold well, leading him to think that it didn’t. People generally didn’t like to speak ill of the dead in public, so no one would say ‘her book tanked; they couldn’t even sell it shredded as kitty litter’, so they just wouldn’t mention it at all.
Why did this bother him? Accidents happened all the time, especially car accidents, so what was his problem? Simply that he thought she was a fraud and wanted to expose her as such to her adoring public? (Which was probably about three and a half people, if he really thought about it.) Coincidence; all it was.
So why did he suddenly feel so scared?
He tried to put it out of his mind and read the rest of the paper, but he didn’t really see the words; they all slid past him like they were melting on the page. Although he eventually did get distracted when he reached the comics page, because he started wondering about something that had bugged him ever since childhood – who the hell read the Family Circus? It was never funny, it wasn’t even drawn particularly well, so why did he seem to see it in the comics section of every damn paper he picked up in any damn state? Why did everyone publish the same decades old crap? It seemed to be one of life’s unanswerable questions.
Clay opened the back of the van and started aggressively shoving the equipment back in, scowling at him like he’d taken a dump on the client’s patio. “Would it kill you to be more tactful?”
“What? I didn’t call her a liar, I just said she didn’t have a ghost.” He heard Shane getting in the driver’s side in the front, so he asked, “Was there a ghost or not?”
“We didn’t get a single sign of one,” he replied laconically. “We coulda stuck around, but when we hit the laundry room, I knew what you meant by the wiring. She has a surge in the line. I gave her the number of an electrician I know.”
Clay sighed, and shot a hard look at the back of Shane’s head as he continued loading in equipment, and then slammed the doors shut.
True believers, Hugh said. Watch ‘em.
There was an awkward silence that lingered, even after they got back on the road, headed for their next “client”, which he was sure would be as much of a bust as the last. Although he knew Clay was sulking, he decided to break the silence. “So, have you guys ever actually found a haunted house?”
“Oh sure,” Shane replied, as always helpful and yet strangely detached. He was so laid back that if he were any more relaxed, he’d be clinically brain dead. Or a reality television producer, whichever. “We’ve gotten are share of odd readings.”
“What did you do? You’re not exorcists, right?”
“Right. We just try to establish contact. We’ve had mixed success.”
This is such bullshit, Taneesha snapped.
“Did you used to have a psychic with you?”
“We tried people who claimed to be, sure,” Clay admitted hesitantly. “But usually they just thought they were.”
“Melanie was good, though.”
Gryphon shoved himself up to a sitting position against a case of equipment, and asked, “Melanie?”
Clay shrugged and looked out the window, while Shane continued. “Melanie Hu. She seemed to be the genuine article, as far as a psychic goes. She wasn’t like you, she wasn’t an agent, she was just … sensitive to things. She moved about three months ago, though, to Vancouver.”
It was Shane’s turn to shrug. “She said she was getting a bad feeling about things, and couldn’t stay in Portland anymore. She said she was having nightmares, that something was coming, but she didn’t know what, and she didn’t want to stick around for it.”
Okay, that’s creepy, Ruby said. Weren’t you having nightmares, kid? Something about some guy coming after you?
Oh please, he’s not psychic, Hugh protested.
Yeah, he just collects dead people like fucking bowling trophies, Ray snapped. Shit, where the hell do you draw the freak line?
That was a good point. But Gryphon couldn’t say anything without the Larry and Moe hearing him.
After a while, Clay futzed with the radio, but the reception was piss poor; whether it was just a cheap radio or the presence of him and all his passengers in the van he couldn’t say. But since it seemed like a hellishly long drive into the countryside, he finally had to ask, “You guys know where River Road is?”
Without missing a beat, Shane asked, “Which one?”
Damn it. Sly told him, Tell him the one near Adams Property.
That sounded like a funny and really specific direction, but he repeated it, and Clay gave him a sharp look out of the corner of his eye. “Ya mean where Madam Paula hit that tree?”
So everyone knew but him. Beautiful.
“You want to see if she’s still there?” Shane wondered.
“No, I was just curious. Did you guys know her?”
He got a stereo shaking of heads. “We knew of her,” Clay replied. “But we didn’t know her.”
“I flipped through her book in the library once,” Shane offered. “She came off with a sort of Ramtha vibe, which sounds like shit to me, and there were three obvious typos in as many pages, so I didn’t check it out. Things like that annoy me.”
“Have the dead taught you anything?” Clay was now looking back at him with a somewhat sardonic twinkle in his eye.
“Oh yeah. But most of it’s illegal.” The saddest thing was, that was the complete truth. He knew how to use almost every firearm and weapon imaginable, how to set a fire and make it look like an accident to even forensic investigators, the going rate for a blowjob, the best parts of town in which to score crack, prison etiquette, and many other things that had no purpose in his life, unless he wanted to become a criminal mastermind. And while that job undeniably paid well, he was honestly too lazy to embark on such a thing. It seemed like something you had to work up to, like cross country skiing.
After what seemed like an hour on the road, they finally started up a gravel driveway, and as they parked, Shane admitted, “I don’t know if we’re gonna get a hit on this place either. The house is brand new, and internet searches show the grounds was never used for anything as long as the records go back. But the couple insist so many weird things have been happening here they’ve delayed moving in.”
“And they’re loaded,” Clay said, as he opened his door and got out.
“Now, c’mon, that’s not the only reason I agreed to this,” Shane protested weakly. “They seemed sincere.”
Ooh, maybe they built their home on an ancient Indian burial ground, Ruby said, with far too much enthusiasm.
I refuse to believe anything that’s ever been in a Spielberg film, Hugh insisted.
What about Schlinder’s List? Mr. Aronofsky countered.
I refuse to believe he looked like Liam Neeson.
You guys are all fuckin’ nuts, Ray exclaimed.
He got out of the back and stretched, working the kinks out of his back as he looked around. Yes, it was a new house, and an impressive one. A three story Victorian style house with a huge wrap around front porch, complete with an old fashioned style porch swing that seemed straight out of the South, painted a robin’s egg blue with contrasting icing white trim. It was the nicest house he had ever personally seen. He bet it had marble counters, and maybe a chandelier, because rich people always had that kind of stuff, didn’t they?
The air was fresher out here, with nary a neighbor or a cow flop, and he looked around as he heard Shane tell Clay, “I don’t think they’re here yet. They don’t live here now; they were comin’ in -”
Gryphon had an undeniably eerie feeling come over him, a sudden chill, and heard a cat meow very loudly. He turned, and saw a fluffy black cat pacing in front of the high cedar fence that marked off the backyard. Also standing there was a woman in a very short black skirt and a red blouse, her bottle blonde hair long and wavy, starting to go black at the roots. He was about to call over Clay and Shane, figuring this was one of their clients, but then he noticed her legs.
There was blood running down her legs, pooling on the cobblestone walkway, and he slowly realized that her red blouse was torn – and not really red at all. The blood had soaked through, well into the fabric, and he imagined it had once been once been white, but there was no obvious sign of that anymore. The rips in her blouse, exposing nothing but blood caked flesh, were probably from the knife. The cat twined around her legs, kinked tail held high, but didn’t seem to notice the blood. How could that be? There was no way he could see a dead animal; he’d never seen a dead animal.
“Do you see?” she said, her eyes so pale they were virtually colorless, a shade of gray that seemed like an afterthought. There was blood running down her arms as well, dripping off her hands, splattering the sidewalk.
“I -” he began, and then found himself unable to speak, his throat seizing up.
“What?” Shane asked, getting equipment out of the back of the van.
Clay must have seen him staring, because he came over and tried to see what he was staring at. “What? What is it?”
The woman turned and walked into the backyard, leaving a trail of blood. Gryphon didn’t want to, but he felt strangely compelled to follow, and as he did, the cat sat in the middle of the path, waiting almost patiently for him to catch up. What was this?
“Do you see somethin’?” It was Shane’s voice, but it sounded strangely far away, like he was shouting from the end of the street. “Gryph?”
The cat led him into the backyard, on the off chance he didn’t notice the blood, and there, standing amid the nicely landscaped garden, where a rose arbor led to a burbling koi pond, was four people …
No. The woman, and her four children. The oldest was a girl, maybe about eight, dressed in what looked like pajamas, her straight brown hair hiding most of her face, but not the stab wound in her chest, that had marred her white and blue starred pajama top and gray pants with a wide swath of crimson. There was a boy too, maybe six, dressed in similar pajamas, his short hair a sort of ash blond, but he had some kind of Batman logo top on, and the black obscured the blood. He was holding a baby wrapped in a blanket, age unknown, and it wasn’t bloody, just had a bit of rope – or maybe laundry line; he couldn’t tell – tied tightly around its throat. There was a toddler sitting on the ground, a girl in a pink nightdress, petting the cat. Her pale blonde hair floated around her head as if it was underwater, and her skin had a bluish pallor.
Gryphon felt cold and ill, bile rising in his throat. The bodies were here; he could almost taste the sickly sweet decayed flesh in his mouth. He felt something brush against his leg, and looked down to see the cat. This made no sense – why was the cat here? Was it real? Or did one of the dead want it so bad it manifested here, a side effect of their own refusal to die?
“Do you see?” the woman said again.
He nodded, swallowing hard. “I see,” he croaked, barely able to speak.
“Do you see what he’s going to do to you?”