Danse Macabre: Eight – The Dark Side Of The Moon
Alone With The Dead
by Andrea Speed
Eight – The Dark Side Of The Moon
The ice crunched beneath his feet as Gryphon approached the door, and the air got so cold he could feel his cheeks and nose go numb. The door didn’t want to open, but Ruby telekinetically kicked it open, and they stepped into the lingering illusion of the room.
Of course the room was an illusion. In the real world it was as old and desolate as the rest of the house, but as he crossed the threshold, he crossed into someone else’s world. Miraculously, sunlight was pouring through the window, revealing a tidy room with a small, narrow bed in a black metal frame, the covers pulled so tightly across the mattress they looked stapled on. The walls were covered with oatmeal colored wallpaper with a tiny pattern that turned out to be dainty sprigs of violets between thin, pale ribbons that looked like faded stripes from a few feet back. There was a cedar chest at the foot of the bed with several metal toy soldiers lined up across the top, as shiny and clean as if they were new, and a small desk and shelf combination on the far side of the room that also looked new, but whose style betrayed it as astonishingly old. Gryphon got a sense that his target was here, but still hiding from him.
“I don’t want to fight with you, I’m here to help you,” he said, looking around. Under the bed? No, it was too easy to see. There was a wardrobe on the other side of the door, and he figured they were hiding in there.
Please don’t open the closet door, Ray said. That’s when the killer jumps out and puts an axe through your forehead.
There ain’t no killer I can’t kill first, Ruby snapped.
“There’s no killer,” Gryphon replied, exasperated. “Just an angry poltergeist. What the fuck do you think you guys are?”
I wasn’t angry, Mr. Aronofsky protested.
Gryphon opened the door to the wardrobe, which was full of coats and suits, all old yet new, and remarkably small. He was pretty sure he saw someone hiding in the far corner. “Please come out so we can talk like civilized people.”
“This is my house,” a small, angry voice said. “Get out.”
It’s a kid?! Ray exclaimed. How can a fucking kid do so much damage?
I take it you’ve never had children, Mr. Aronofsky noted wryly.
“Son, it’s not your house anymore,” Gryphon told him, not unkindly. “It hasn’t been your house for a very long time. Please come out and I’ll explain it to you.”
“You’re a liar! It is my house! Mummy and Daddy will be back soon!”
“No they won’t. They’re dead – just like you.”
Finally the boy climbed out of the wardrobe. He was wearing long sleeved pajamas, so pale blue they were technically white. He had short brown hair and a round, wan face, with small blue eyes radiating nothing but the type of unbridled fury that kids actually were very good at. “They are not dead! You’re a liar! I’m not dead, I’m here! Where’s Mummy?!”
Gryphon crouched down to be more at eye level with the ghost. How old was it when he died, eight? He knew just by looking at him that his name was Phillip Chapman, and his death was due to prolonged illness, which might explain why his pajamas looked so baggy and he seemed so ashen. Ghosts weren’t really white, not unless their deaths involved it somehow (illness, wasting, blood loss). “Phillip, what’s the last thing you remember? When your Mummy and Daddy were here? Think hard.”
He pouted, his bottom lip jutting out, but he did comply with his request. His brow scrunched in thought, and he looked away, at his neatly lined up toy soldiers. “I was sick. I couldn’t get up and play.”
“And then what happened?”
His scowled deepened. “I … I woke up and I was … fine. But I was alone.”
“You woke up dead.”
His look was both evil and confused. “You can’t wake up dead. When you’re dead you can’t wake up at all.”
“Normally, yes. But sometimes, for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom, people who honestly can’t conceive of their own death remain here. Do you wonder why your parents are gone? Do you wonder why there’s strangers constantly coming in and out of your home? It’s because time has moved on even though you haven’t. Your parents are gone and they’re not coming back, because they can’t. It’s time for you to go too, Phillip.”
Phillip squinted his eyes angrily, but they were starting to water. “You’re lying!”
He sighed. “Why do you think I can see you and talk to you? Why do you think others couldn’t?”
He bit his lower lip and looked around the room as if appealing for help. “You’re saying you’re dead?”
“No, not quite, but all my friends are.” He reached out to touch Phillip on an impulse, belatedly remembering he was dead and he couldn’t, but as he touched his shoulder he did feel … something. Not quite a physical body, but something cold and semi-solid that didn’t give at slight pressure, but felt like it would if he pressed. “I’m sorry, I really am, but you can’t stay here anymore.”
Gryphon had no idea why Phillip believed him, but he did, and tears started streaming down his cheeks. It was that weird kind of understanding that existed between two things that equally shouldn’t have existed but did anyways. Somehow they lived in the world with others but still lived apart – they were monsters who hid in plain sight, mainly because no one wanted to see them. But they could still make their presence known; they could destroy and disrupt and turn their little pocket of reality upside down.
“Where will I go?” he sobbed, his voice breaking.
“I don’t know.”
“Will my parents be there?”
“I don’t know.”
He found the time to be pissed off in spite of still crying, and Gryphon felt that was fair enough. “What do you know?”
“You won’t be lonely anymore.” It was really the only thing he could offer him. He could have made up stories about heaven or even reincarnation, but at the end of the day, he didn’t know anything. Heaven just felt wrong, and while reincarnation made more sense – energy not being destroyed and whatnot, and what were ghosts but energy, as his interruptions of electronic equipment proved – it didn’t feel any more right. The only thing that felt right was an ending, a peacefulness where you simply stopped. Stopping wasn’t so bad, especially if you’d gone on too long.
“How do we go?”
Gryphon slid his hand down the boy’s tiny, semi-corporeal arm. “Just take my hand, and we’ll walk out the door.”
The boy seemed doubtful, but Gryphon could sense his exhaustion. He’d been haunting this place for what, seventy years? More? And with such constant rage. Probably only the young could keep up with that kind of energy output.
Phillip took his hand, though, a semi-solid, cold feeling, but there was no need to even make an attempt to walk out the door, as quite suddenly Phillip disappeared and Gryphon felt something like a cold wind pass through him, making him drop to all fours on the floor. It wasn’t like one of his passengers leaving him, but he felt a minor variation of it, a sense of leaving.
He wasn’t in the daylight room anymore, with its toy soldiers and fancy wallpaper, but a bare, dusty room with black specks of mouse droppings scattered about like fallen commas. He was alone in the house, and the window let in only early evening gloom. That went much easier than I thought, Hugh said.
“He’s a kid who must have seen nearly a century of disjointed weirdness pass him by. No matter how much he denied it, I think he suspected he was dead. He just needed someone to tell him.” He stood up, feeling momentarily woozy, and then left the bedroom, sneezing the inhaled dust.
By the time he was downstairs, Clay and Shane were in the front doorway, just shutting down their ghost hunting equipment. “Who was it?” Shane asked first.
“An eight year old boy named Phillip Chapman. He died of either flu or maybe tuberculosis, some illness that made him malinger, sapped his strength and made it progressively harder to breathe. I have a feeling he died approximately around 1935 – ish.”
They both just stared at him in that mock deadpan way they always did when he surprised them. They’d been at this long enough that they had all developed visual cues. Clay and Shane exchanged a look, then Clay admitted, “He wasn’t on our shortlist. Or long list. He wasn’t on the list at all.”
He shrugged as he reached the bottom of the stairs, almost knocking over the bell jar on the last step. “I wasn’t expecting a kid either. But we never do.”
“It didn’t take you too long,” Shane prompted, clearly wanting to hear a gory story.
Gryphon couldn’t indulge him, even if he wanted to. “He was ready to go. He just didn’t know how.”
They headed back out to the van, Shane and Clay discussing the buttload of money they’d get for “cleaning” this place up, and to celebrate they all stopped at this Vietnamese restaurant they all liked for dinner. Gryphon was starving, probably because he’d used – well, his passengers used – a lot of psychokinesis today, and while Clay and Shane were happy he was eating (they both thought he was too skinny), even they looked at him funny when he ordered a second dish of green curry and a third bubble tea.
By the time Shane drove him and Clay back home, it was full on night, stars in the sky fighting to be seen through an uneven layer of wispy clouds, but as they drove up, they saw a red sedan parked in the driveway. “Someone you know?” Shane asked, as a man got of the car and gave them a friendly wave.
“No,” Clay replied, sounding confused. “Gryph, you know this guy?”
Gryphon looked over the back of the seat, and saw the guy wasn’t very tall – five eight, tops – and fairly lean, with a boyish face and a neatly trimmed head of dirty blond hair. He was wearing dark jeans, a Henley style olive green top, and a brown J. Crew jacket, average clothes, but Ruby said, Oink oink, I smell bacon.
I swear to god you say that about every other guy, Ray complained.
I do not – I only say it about the cops. And this guy’s one.
“No, I can’t say I do,” Gryphon told them, as Shane brought the van to a stop. Clay got out, and asked, “Can I help you?”
“Yes, you surely can,” the man said, in a friendly, laid back drawl. “I’m Deputy Police Chief Jason Varner, and I’m looking for Gryphon Ashmore.”
“Oh shit,” Gryphon muttered, crawling to the van’s back door.
Told ya, Ruby said.
How the hell do you develop a sixth sense about cops? Sylvio asked.
Be a hooker long enough, and you can tell just by the way they carry themselves, she replied.
“What for?” Clay asked defensively.
“It’s about the bodies he found near the river.”
Gryphon peered around the back of the van. “You a friend of O’Leary’s?”
The cop grimaced in a way that suggested he was trying to hide an eviler expression. “We’re acquaintances.” Only now did Gryphon see that the black shadow on the hood of his car was a soft sided messenger bag.
“Should we call our lawyer?” Clay asked, continuing to be vaguely hostile.
Varner shook his head, and gestured at his wardrobe. “I’m here unofficially. Gryphon is not in trouble. I just want to talk.”
Both Shane and Clay looked at him, awaiting either confirmation or the order to send him away. In the odd dynamic of their business relationship, both of the guys were very protective of him. Maybe because he was the cornerstone of their entire business, or maybe because he was younger than the both of them and possibly unstable, maybe all of the above. I can fuck this guy up. Ruby said.
He’s kinda cute, Hugh said.
Oh for fuck’s sake, you’d find a hole in the wall cute! Taneesha snapped.
“Fine, we can talk,” Gryphon finally said. “Clay, can we use your kitchen?”
Clay gave him a look that clearly communicated his displeasure with all of this, but after a frown he said, “Yeah, sure.”
Varner gave them a tight, professional smile, and grabbed the messenger bag off his car. Gryphon led the way inside, followed by the Deputy Chief, who looked no older up close, and had a faint whiff of cologne about him. It wasn’t obnoxious, though, which was a point in his favor. “Aren’t you a bit young to be the Deputy Chief of anything?”
He smirked painfully. “You know how many times I’ve been asked that? Even by other cops. It’s sad.”
They took seats at the small kitchen table, and Varner zipped open his messenger bag. “I know you’re dying to know why I’m here, so I’ll just get right to it, shall I? I know O’Leary said you spotted body parts by the river, but I also know that’s complete bullshit. Those teeth that were initially turned up were only found by a dog; they weren’t visually apparent to anyone. They were buried in mud.”
“I thought you weren’t here to arrest me.”
“I’m not. I’m here to ask for your help.” He pulled a thick sheaf of files out of the bag and plopped them on the table.
What the fuck is this? Ruby asked.
“I don’t understand.”
He sighed wearily, sorting through the files. “I know about you, Gryphon. May I call you Gryphon? I’ve read up on the Stanhope incident, and I know there’s more than you simply trashing an interrogation room without lifting a finger. You identified a cause of death for all of the children with more accuracy and detail than the coroner was able to, since the bodies were so badly decomposed. You even knew the family had a black cat, which Louis Stanhope also killed. There’s no way you could have known any of these things.”
“I was too young to have killed the family myself.”
He gazed at him wearily. He had dark brown eyes the color of mud. “I know. Louis Stanhope is the only suspect in the slaughter. Quizzing O’Leary, he told me you claimed to know the names of the victims whose parts we‘ve been pulling out of the river, that you saw them and talked to them. True?”
Gryphon scowled at him. “Of course it’s true. Sheila, Rita, Amber, Jessica, Vanessa.”
He rifled through the files with his thumb. “There might be women with those names in here, I’m not sure. “ He shoved them towards him.
Gryphon looked down at them, confused, but didn’t touch them. “What are these?”
“Missing persons reports from Portland and the general vicinity over the last ten years, involving Caucasian women running the gamut from seventeen to thirty five. That is essentially the victims profiles, yes?
“Um, yeah … you’re saying you believe me?”
He met his eyes fearlessly, and nodded. “Yes, I do. I realize this has earned me the nickname “Mulder”, but I honestly believe that there are some odd things in the world. I mean, I know most psychics are con artists or delusional people seeking publicity or better medication, but every now and then there’s a person with a genuine gift. I think you’re the most genuinely gifted person we’ve ever encountered.”
Gryphon studied him for a minute, then glanced around the kitchen. “I’ve passed out, haven’t I? I’m asleep in the back of the van.”
“No, you’re not. I’ve checked up on the work you’re doing with these ghost hunter guys, and everyone seems to be of the opinion that you guys are the real deal. The Oregon Historical Society was really pleased with your work.”
This was all incredibly weird, and he felt that he wasn’t quite up to this today. “I’m not a psychic, you know that, right?”
“Yes. You talk to dead people, right?”
“No, they talk to me. Some, not all. I’m … I’m like a bridge, in a way. I’m half in the world of the dead and half in the world of the living. I don’t know the mechanics of it, I can’t explain it in a way that sounds remotely sane, but it’s not really in my control. I don’t want to do this – if I could make it go away, I would. It’s not a gift; it’s a nightmare.”
Gee, thanks, Hugh said sarcastically.
“Not for the families of the missing it isn’t.”
Is this some weird variation of good cop/bad cop? Ray wondered.
Gryphon dry washed his face, and decided to give this another shot. “Let me get this straight. You want me to look through these and see if I can identify the river victims?”
“What if they’re not all here?”
“I’ll find them,” he said simply. “Give me all the information you have on them. I’ll bring in a sketch artist.”
“And you don’t think your boss is gonna find this odd?”
He settled back in his chair, slumping slightly. He looked tired. “He might, but if I bring you in as a special consultant, there shouldn’t be a problem.”
“A special consultant? Are you saying you want to hire me?”
“If you’re the real deal, you’d be worth the money. And I think you are.”
Holy shit, kid, Hugh said. He wants you to go legit.
Gryphon had no idea why, but he found this concept very scary.