1. Part One
Jason tried to work saliva into his dry throat. He felt his hands shake. The Southern California night was a bit warm. The crescent moon high in the sky. Why didn’t Helga come? Dammit. He looked around the empty field of Long Beach. In the distance was an oil derrick pumping away with a soft, mechanical drone. A keening broke out from his left in the field. Jason bolted towards the streetlight on Bellflower. The light was the only thing that could protect him, even for a moment.
Behind him, he heard the thump-thump-thump of bare feet pounding. Jason’s heart hammered in his chest. Dammit, how did this happen? Fucking ghouls. He was twenty yards from the light, ten yards, five…
“I’m going to eat you, Jason,” Thomas howled. “I’m going to eat you!”
He felt something slam into him from behind. Jason and the thing pitched forward, into the pool of light from the lone streetlamp.
The wretched thing loomed before Jason for a moment. A howl went up from the ghoul as it was burned by the light. Stooped shoulders with a jaw too long for its once-human skull were the first things Jason saw. The flesh was dark as though the thing’s skin had sucked up some of the tainted soul’s darkness. A ghost made flesh by evil. It ducked out from the pool of man-made light, the eyes glinting like an animal. “I’m going to eat you, Jason,” the ghoul said again. Thomas the ghoul waited outside the light, his jaws shutting with a clack that reverberated in Jason’s chest. Jason fumbled for the revolver in his pants pocket.
“You think that will do anything to me?” Thomas asked.
“Salt and iron usually works,” Jason said. He fired into the chest of the ghoul three times. Each round caused the creature to be driven back a step. For a moment, it looked like it worked.
Thomas started to laugh. An inhuman, coughing laugh that made Jason’s blood run cold.
“My turn,” Thomas said, his hands came up revealing long dirty claws that clicked together. The light of the street lamp started to flicker. Thomas grinned and started to clicking his claws faster, the sound grating in Jason’s ears.
“What happened to you, Thomas?” Jason asked, the revolver hanging useless at his side.
“And the Order—”
“The Order? What did they ever do for me?”
Jason realized that the sounds of the clicking had intensified, chilling him more.
“The Order… humanity itself is a disease,” Thomas continued. “We will destroy it.”
“Who is ‘we’?”
“Friends,” Thomas said, spreading his arms outward.
Jason fired again and again, three more of his Order’s rounds. The salt-and-iron-infused bullets stopped Thomas for a moment, then the claws started to click again. The sound started to get louder and louder, and the light started to flicker more and more.
“I’ll see you in Hell,” Jason said, pulling out a small dagger, getting ready to launch himself at Thomas.
That was when the sound of clicking increased again. Jason took a look to his left and right. He saw two, then three, then five, and then ten pairs of eyes, all reflecting the light from the waning street lamp. “How man-”
“We are many,” Thomas started. “For we are Legion,” the chorus rang out. The street light went out and Jason felt a claw rip into his leg. He swiped outward, but another claw gouged his exposed side. Then they were on top of him. The silver dagger he had was useless as the ghouls started to devour him, bit by fleshy bit.
&Cameron Hunt woke& up and looked at the alarm clock. There was an odd tingling along his arms. He was still ten minutes ahead of the alarm. He looked around to see Michelle standing over him, and she smiled down at him. “Hey, glad you’re up.” Her dark brown mohawk was spiked up straight today, he noticed. There was also something about the look in her blue eyes. He didn’t like it.
He let out a sigh. “Morning to you too.”
“Morning,” she said, then stuck her tongue out.
“Why’re you glad I’m up?” He looked at her and felt a bit of morning wood start to emerge. He forced himself to think about something else… anything else than her. That didn’t work. Finally, he started to do math in his head, and that did it.
“Needed to talk to you,” she said, moving away from him.
“About what?” he asked, sitting up in bed. He scratched at his hair, knowing it was a mess. “I still have ten minutes until I need to get up for school. Why did you wake me?”
She sighed. “Told you, I needed to talk to you.”
“About what?” Cameron asked, rolling his hand a few times to get her to continue.
She walked backwards a few steps to jump up and sit the dresser. She sat between the two big piles of semi-clean clothes. “Look, I think we should go back to that house today. Skip school and just-”
“No. I can’t miss more school, Michelle. You know that.”
“Ugh, you and school.” She reached up and touched the spiky hair of her mohawk. It caused a slight tinkle of her ten bracelets on one arm. “Come on, it’ll be fun.” She gave him a wide smile.
Cameron looked at her, “Why are you so keen to go?”
She looked away for a moment. “Cause I want to help you help other spirits move on.”
He looked at her. For two years, he’d known her. She’d never once wanted to go to any of the ghost sighting before. He had seen ghosts for years, since he was seven. He pushed the reason away why he could and instead focused on when he had first helped one cross over. Now he did it a few times a week, and never had Michelle wanted to go.
“Why?” He asked.
She grew more insubstantial for a breath. Cameron thought she was going to disappear for a time to sulk. Like she does all the time.
“Why can’t you move on?” he asked, walking up to her, pulling out the top drawer of his dresser that passed through her legs.
She let out a small grunt of pain. “Dammit Cameron, you know that fucking hurts!” She grabbed at her legs, and then leapt through the air to land on the bed. She moved and floated in a slow arc, her body growing more insubstantial to allow the movement. Cameron thought it was weird how ghosts could interact with some things yet could still go through other things. Michelle said it had to do with the mind of a ghost, but that didn’t make complete sense.
“Then don’t sit there,” he said, pulling out a t-shirt and snapping it out. He smiled at the logo of the Kool-Aid man breaking through a wall. He was full of green liquid and had a tentacled face shouting “Hey Cthul-Aid.” He pulled it on and looked at Michelle. “What do you think?”
She turned away from him. He could almost hear her eyes rolling.
“Fine, be that way,” Cameron said. She’s gonna disappear again. He looked at her, seeing the furniture and the door through her, though it was hard. He thought about pulling open the shades to let in more light, which would allow him to see through her more. That didn’t hurt her, not like solid objects did, though she was a bit reluctant to be in the open sunlight when he wasn’t around. She said it made her feel “weird.”
Instead she moved closer to him. “Can we please go?” Michelle asked, turning around and giving him her puppy-dog face.
He sighed. He hated when she used it. It was weird, seeing a twenty-something ghost-girl begging him to do something. Though, she had been dead for almost twenty years, she looked like she did when she died, about twenty. Michelle had explained that it had to do with ageing and death. “Just because you die doesn’t mean you stop ageing. Unless you move on.”
“What is in it for you?” He asked. Something’s up.
She gave a sigh, her hair no longer spiky and straight. When she was happy or angry, it spiked, when she wanted to be quiet and sullen, it sagged to one side or the other. It flopped to her right, and she looked down, not quite at Jason. “I… I want to help,” she said finally.
He reached out and touched Michelle on the shoulder. Michelle was one of the few ghosts he could touch, if he concentrated hard enough. His contact made her look at him. “Is that all?” Michelle was a bit of a troublemaker, but he liked to have her around, and if she was going to help, then great. He just needed to make sure this was on the up and up. There had been that strange tingling when he woke up to her staring down at him. Something didn’t feel right about today.
She avoided looking at him for a long moment. “I think that there might be someone else there, ok? Someone I might know.”
“Was that so hard?” Cameron asked.
“Yes,” she said, her hair rising up a little before flopping again.
“I’m sorry, Michelle. Yeah, we can go. Just need to skip breakfast.”
“Your sister is gonna hate that.”
“She’s twelve, what is she going to do to me?”
&“How &&dare& you try and leave without breakfast!” Stacey shouted, slapping the counter with the metal spatula. She glared up at him, all four-foot-three of her small frame. “You are not leaving here without something in your stomach.” She turned quickly to pick up the frying bacon with the spatula and sat it on a napkin-covered plate, adding to a growing mound already there. “Besides, you are wasting away.”
“Stacey, I’m fine.” Cameron grabbed his sister by the shoulders and pulled her into a hug. He kissed the top of her dirty-blond head. “I know; you think I’m wasting away. I’ll be ok. Here, I’ll take some bacon, ok?”
“And?” She asked, a sniffle starting to come into her voice. She looked up at him with big brown eyes. “What else?”
“I’ll throw some orange juice in the Thermos, ok?”
She smiled and petted his arm. “Good boy,” she said with a smirk.
There was a roar of laughter from his father, who was reading the paper at the kitchen table. “She has you trained well.”
“She has you trained as well, Pop.”
His father, Derek, didn’t say anything. He only stuck his tongue out, then grabbed at the pile of bacon that Stacey brought to the table. “But, I also do what I’m told.”
Cameron shook his head as Stacey tried to bat her father’s hand away. “Wait until I get your coffee and your soy.”
When she turned around, Derek made a disgusted face, and Jason couldn’t help but laugh. “Obey? Yes. Like it? No.” Derek said, looking at his son with a glare.
Cameron filled his Thermos and headed out with Michelle. It was nothing to hide her, since no one saw her but Jason. He grabbed the keys to his Accord and said, “Be home for dinner.”
“You better!” Stacey screamed at him as the door closed.
&Maggie ducked& under the yellow tape of the police.
Maggie stopped short. “Ma’am? I’m twenty-five!”
“Alright, miss. You have to stay behind the-”
Maggie rolled her eyes and flashed her wallet at him. The patrolman jerked back and allowed her through. Maggie smiled to herself. Have to thank Maurice for the perception paper. Worth more than its weight in gold. She didn’t want to rely on it too heavily though.
The place was a mess. The body of Jason was gone, only the tape outline of his broken, torn body was left. Maggie bit back a tear. Fucking Thomas. How many does he have now? She pushed the thought aside as a woman in a CSI vest came up to her.
“You’re gonna ruin the evidence here,” the CSI said, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Please. He was torn apart. How hard for you to get forensics?” Maggie asked, gesturing around the scene.
“How do you know?”
“I just do,” Maggie said, moving closer. She looked up at the street lamp. What happened? How was the light not effective? “Any idea what is wrong with the street lamp?”
“It shorted out? Don’t know, not many people come to this part of town. The streetlights aren’t exactly high on the priority list.”
Maggie frowned, more to herself than the technicians. Then she saw a small pool of black that a tech was trying to collect. She moved closer to watch. The stuff was tough to get off the little spatula he was using.
“Problems?” Maggie asked.
“Talk to my supervisor,” the tech said. “I don’t talk to people.”
Maggie knelt down next to the tech. The guy was focused on the task, couldn’t seem to get the stuff off. “You need to be a bit more careful with that. It could-”
“Look lady, I’m doing my job. Fuck off.” The tech then just shoved the utensil into the baggie, stood up, and walked off.
Maggie looked around, saw he was heading towards the woman with whom Maggie had spoken. They were both starting to walk over. Maggie hated the fact she didn’t have time to ground herself more. She held her hand over the black ichor, closed her eyes, and opened up her third eye.
A confusing melange of images, smells, sounds, and thoughts assaulted her.
Thomas, clicking his claws, and the light starting to die.
Ten other ghouls, killing Jason. Then they devoured his very essence.
The smell of death, of decay filled her nose, making her want to puke.
The howl of the ghouls as they ate the last of Jason’s blood, each growing a little bit more substantial from it.
Fuck, he has a full pack now. What the fuck are we going to do!
“Lady, I don’t care what kind of crackerjack badge you have. But you need to the fuck out of my crime scene. Comprende?”
Maggie stood up, a bit shaken from her vision. She looked at the woman tech supervisor. “Fine, I’ll go.” Maggie started to walk away, drawing her hands into her pockets. In her right hand, she held the small ball of ichor she had gathered thanks to the small bit of a gift she had been blessed with. She made the ball fall into a small vial and sealed it with her thumb and forefinger. Now to get this back to the Order to see what is going on.
&“Come on&, let’s hit the house, please.”
Cameron looked at Michelle. They were close to the neighborhood with the old house. “What about school?”
“Come on, what is one more day off?”
Cameron squinted at her. “What is your obsession with that place. It is-”
“I just think that you can help that poltergeist is all,” Michelle said with a smile.
He rolled his eyes. “Fine.”
He steered his beat-up Honda towards the broken-down house. It was a largish house, one that was always part of the neighborhood that no one really ever went to. Kids would dare each other to touch the doorbell, or the doorknocker, on Halloween, yet Cameron was always different. He knew what was in the house. He had talked to it once or twice.
And the spirit was just lonely.
But, the last time Cameron went to talk to the kid, he felt something darker there. Something was wrong. It was why he didn’t go and see the little poltergeist anymore.
Michelle was right though. If he really tried, he could go and get that kid away from whatever malevolent energy was there. He stopped the car across the street, opened the door, and looked at the place. A thick gable at the apex of the roof loomed down at Cameron and Michelle. He held open the door for her. She thanked him with a thumbs up and, “Thanks, sweetie.”
He watched her start to cross the street, knowing that he would look a little funny talking to someone that only he could see. He followed after her, trying not to stare at her butt in the tight jeans and the sway of her hips. Not like he could actually do anything with her. Plus, there was age difference. He was seventeen, and she was thirty five.
Enough, Cameron thought to himself. Let’s get this going.
The front door was rusted shut, but he thought the back door would still have some give to it. He made sure no one was looking around before making his way to the rear entrance. The last time he hadn’t been as careful, and Mrs. Kowoliski had called the cops. Had it not been for pure luck, Cameron would have been in jail instead of getting back into the house.
Now that he was here, he could feel that presence again. It was darker than before. He felt a cold hand press into his soul for a second. “I really don’t know about this, Michelle.”
“Just feels off. You are telling me you don’t feel that?”
“No,” Michelle said. “I’m not one of your kind anymore, Cameron. I’m just dead.”
Cameron tried not to roll his eyes and kept walking after her. He did wonder if anyone else was like him. He had heard of people “speaking” to ghosts and spirits, yet he had tracked down two, and neither of them were real. Just fakers who would take money from those who wanted to talk to their dead loved ones. He felt sick thinking of trying to capitalize on his gift.
Michelle waved her translucent hand in front of Cameron. “Earth to Cameron, you there?”
“Yeah, sorry,” he said.
“Well, come on, you know how I feel about going through shit.”
Cameron sighed and looked at the door, wondering if it would be locked. He took the big doorknob, twisted it, and it pulled right open. There was a creak that made him wince, but then he quickly slipped inside with Michelle. She hissed a little when he closed the door too fast.
“Sorry, don’t want to get seen.”
“Don’t worry, I know,” she said, casually waving her hand. “You didn’t do it on purpose.”
They started in the kitchen, pipes exposed and walls shredded where people broke in to steal the copper wiring inside. It smelled of mildew and decay.
“All right, you know where he is?”
“No. I’ll go check out the basement; you check the second floor,” Michelle said.
“Sounds good.” Cameron turned and headed up the main staircase of the house. It was in the front room, and for a moment he marvelled at the architecture. He wondered what it would have looked like had it not been vacated all those years ago.
Once white marble was strewn with trash and garbage from teens using the place as a crash spot and fuck pad. A few homeless used the place once and again, yet they never stayed very long, since Alfredo didn’t want them to.
He plucked up his courage and started to head up the stairs. It started almost as soon as his foot hit the first step. A few pieces of trash started to rustle. “Alfredo? It’s me.” Trash started to fly around, hitting him in the shoulder.
“Come on Alfredo, you know who it is.”
More trash started to swirl around, hitting all over his upper body. Then, Cameron heard the rattling of a bottle being dragged across the floor before it flew towards him. He ducked and the thing exploded over his head.
“Fuck’s sake, Alfie, it’s Cameron!”
The trash kept whirling around, and Cameron moved up the steps. “Yeah, I’m sorry, I didn’t come to see you sooner. But, hey, I’m here now.”
There was silence except for the rustling of the paper as it swirled around like a miniature tornado. Then, Cameron thought he heard something else.
“Said you’d be back!”
A rock came hurtling towards him. It clipped Cameron in the shoulder and caused him to lose his footing. Cameron grabbed the banister and felt his stomach drop when it started to come apart in his hands. It held, and he jerked to a stop when the banister’s collapse stopped. He got his legs under him and started to walk up the steps again.
“Alfie, I’m sorry, man. Trust me, I wanted to come and see you.”
He was close to the top of the steps and was able to see that the tornado of paper and bottles was obscuring something: something about the size of a ten-year-old boy.
“Alfie, come on. I’m sorry,” Cameron said. He sat down at the top of the stairs, his back to the curved wall. He let out a held breath. “Come one, let’s talk a little.”
The tornado started to subside, and the sight of Alfie came into view. He wore shiny shoes and a pair of pants that were old-fashioned and a bit too small for him. Suspenders of a dim red, holding up the shorts and a white and grey pinstriped shirt. His hair was slicked back, except for a single strand than hung in his eyes. The ghost pushed the hair out of his face. “You broke your promise.”
Cameron nodded. “I know buddy, I’m sorry.” He held out a hand, “Forgive me?”
Alfie turned around, “I should keep throwing things at you. Scares everyone off. Everyone always leaves.” The ghost’s shoulders sagged, and Cameron heard a sniffle.
Cameron grunted. “Alfie, I’m here. I promise I won’t leave until you say, okay?”
Alfie turned around, smiling. “Ok.”
He moved forward and gave the sitting Cameron a barely-felt hug. “Where have you been?”
“School, homework, helping with my sister. The usual.”
“That girl around?” Alfie asked, looking around with a sneer.
“Michelle, yeah, she’s downstairs, looking for you.”
Alfie’s face blanched, which was hard for a ghost, Cameron thought. “She needs to get away from there. There’s a bad thing there.”
“What is it, Alfie?”
“Don’t know. Was never allowed in the basement. Never went there… scary.” Alfie trembled a little.
Cameron wondered what his parents did to dress him up like Buster Brown. Alfie had only died three years ago, when he was seven. He looked a bit older now. Why do the dead still age?
“Huh?” Alfie asked looking at Cameron. “What are you thinking about?”
Shit. Cameron had forgotten that sometimes ghost and poltergeists could pick up surface thoughts. “Nothing kiddo. Just thinking about random stuff.”
“Am I dead?” Alfie asked, looking frail suddenly.
_Shit, shit, shit. _ Cameron put his hands out. “Alfie, look at me. It is going to be ok. No need to freak out.”
“But, I’m dead. You said so yourself. How? How am I dead?”
Cameron groaned as he felt the tornado of paper and bottles start to swirl around more. Damn it, this kid is gonna lose it. Cameron focused as best he could and grabbed Alfie by the hands, holding on to Alfie for a minute. “Just calm down, Alfie. Listen to my voice. Everything is going to be ok. You are going to be ok. I promise.”
Alfie wailed. The tornado engulfed both of them. Cameron was struck again and again by sharp glass, rocks, and paper whipping by. He gritted his teeth and bit back a curse. “I am here, Alfie, relax and calm down.”
Cameron felt for his ability and nodded as something responded, a warmth that opened from out of nowhere. He opened his eyes, blinking back the grit that swirled around him. Alfie was there but not looking at him. He was looking at the light to his right. A light too bright for Cameron to look through.
"I- I can hear my parents," Alfie said with a faint smile.
“Yeah, they’re waiting for you, Alfie.” Cameron said. He slowly let go of the child apparition. Alfie turned and gave Cameron another hug. “Thanks, Cameron.”
“No problem, kid,” Cameron said. He watched, beaming a smile as Alfie scurried into the light. The kid ghost and the light disappeared, and Cameron was alone on the landing. “Well, that went better than I expected,” Cameron said to himself. He then shouted, “Hey Michelle, we can go now. Got Alfie to cross over.”
&Cameron went& to the door of the basement. The smells of rot and mildew was even worse. He tried the light for the basement, the switch had a button for on and one for off. “Weird,” he thought, when he couldn’t get the thing to work. “Well, that sucks.” He peered down the stairs, seeing a hint of sunlight from the basement window, yet it was pretty dark. He took a breath and called out for Michelle, but she wasn’t there. She didn’t answer him at all.
“What the hell! Michelle?”
He started to walk down the steps, holding onto the railing and moving with a slow, surefooted pace. “Damn it, Michelle, you bring me out here, beg me to skip school so I can come here with you, and then you disappear?”
He got about halfway down when something grabbed him by the ankles and jerked. Cameron slammed into the wooden steps and slid down them, hitting his chin on each rough-hewn board. He hit the stone floor and felt horrible. He groaned, unsure if he was seriously hurt. He gingerly moved, found nothing broken, and stood up when there was a hiss of laughter from the darkness of the basement.
“Welcome, boy. You seem to know how to make an entrance.”
Cameron turned his head and regretted it. He saw a humanoid form in the dim light, though it was stooped over and something was wrong with its jaw. Cameron moved back towards the stairs. “Umm, sorry. I didn’t know-”
“Shhhh, boy. You are going to be all right. I promise. Things will be over very quickly for you.”
Cameron was ready to bolt up the steps when the door above slammed shut. Cameron turned to see the thing lunge towards him. Inhumanly large jaws open filled his vision.
Cameron ducked and bolted way from the creature, the thing hitting the wall and giving a hiss. Cameron struck several things on his run, finally slamming into a wooden shelf with rotten boards. He fell through it and felt jars hit him on the shoulders and legs before he heard the shattering sound. Then the smell of fruit in the air was thick and rich.
“Getting into the preserves, are you?” the voice asked with a mocking laugh.
Cameron pushed himself away as best he could, cutting his hands on the broken glass. He felt the dark unnatural presence was thicker here, denser and far uglier that he thought was possible. The sense grew as the thing neared him, closer and closer.
“Mmmmm, you smell exquisite. I am sure your blood is going to be very helpful for me in the coming days.”
Cameron’s hand reached out and found a metal handle. He grabbed it and fumbled with it. It was an old Maglite. His thumb hit the rough, broken rubber button, and the light sliced through the darkness.
The beam struck the thing, and it screamed. Cameron got a good look at it, and his hands dropped the flashlight. It was a dark reddish-brown thing, looking something like a man, but naked, and its jaws were filled with rows of nasty, sharp teeth. They looked dirty and stained with old blood. Cameron scrambled for the light again, but the thing kicked it away.
“Not a second chance for you, little meat,” the creature said.
Two shots rang out at that moment, striking the thing in the back.
Cameron didn’t ask nor care, for the thing was stunned by whatever hit it. He zipped past the creature and found an old man on the steps, a revolver in hand. He also held a flashlight and aimed it at the thing.
“Doyle! So good of you to show up,” the creature growled.
Cameron ran to the old man’s side. “Up the stairs, get outside. Now!”
Cameron did as instructed, though he lingered on the steps when he heard the thing speak again.
“Too bad you can’t protect him forever. Or do you think you can watch over him the way you did Jason?”
“What did you do, Thomas?”
“Your little Order doesn’t even know?” Thomas laughed.
Doyle looked at the creature he had called Thomas. “I knew it was you, before Maggie said anything.”
“I look forward to destroying all of you. And feasting on your blood especially, my old friend.”
Doyle turned to see Cameron was still at the stairs. “Run!” He then turned back and fired three more shots at the thing.
Cameron was stunned. He didn’t know what to do. The creature was moving closer and closer to Doyle. The old man’s hands were starting to shake. The light wasn’t held on the creature. The gun slipped from his grasp. Cameron moved at the same time as the monster. He rushed down, grabbed the flashlight and swung, striking the creature in the jaw.
There was a keening from the creature as it was sent sprawling by the blow. Cameron grabbed the old man by the jacket and pulled him up towards the doorway. It tried to close, but Cameron was there in time and kept it open. Doyle was gasping for breath, his face red and his breath coming in shaky gasps.
“What is going on?”
“Out…side…get…out…side,” was all the man could muster.
The creature let out a howl and started to run up the steps. Cameron pulled the half-conscious man towards the front door. It was locked. He twisted the lock and tried to open it, but corrosion was keeping it closed. He looked behind him and wished he hadn’t. The creature, Thomas, was getting closer and closer.
At the last possible second, the door was finally forced opened and Cameron and Doyle fell out of the house, into the bright California noontime.
“Get to the sunlight!” Doyle gasped.
Thomas reached out to grab at Doyle’s leg, but the canopy of the front porch was full of holes and spots of sunlight poured through, hitting and causing Thomas’ skin to crisp and smoke. He backed away looking at Cameron as he pulled Doyle farther away.
“You won’t live long enough to defeat me. The Master is coming. The Master is coming.” The thing then receded into the house, smiling its inhuman smile.
&Doyle rested& on the park bench, pulled out a gold cigarette case, and took out a black, slender cigarillo. He lit it and took a long draw off it before looking at Cameron.
“Welcome to the real shit, boy.”
“What the fuck was that?”
“That was a ghoul. A ghost that eats human flesh and blood.” He stopped, coughed for a long moment, then pulled out a small orange pill bottle. He knocked out a tablet and jammed it under his tongue.
“How is that even possible? What was that really?”
The man looked at Cameron and gave a smile. “How is it that some of us can see ghosts, but others can’t? How is it that salt and iron affects them? How is it that artificial light can keep them at bay while sunlight is poison? Fuck if I know.” He let out a small sigh. “That was nitro for my heart.”
“And you are smoking?”
“Don’t get indignant, boy. I saved your ass. I can indulge.”
Cameron looked at the man and took a breath. “Ok, so you are saying that that thing was once a ghost?”
“And he ate human flesh and blood and now can interact like a human?”
“And he is stronger, faster, and wants to eat more?”
“Well, probably developed a taste for it, and he wants to convert others as well.”
“There are others?” Cameron asked, throwing his hands up.
The man nodded. Then he began to cough again, longer and harder. “And you are not alone either. Others of your kind and all that shit. Come along.”
Cameron looked around. “Where’s Michelle?”
“Who?” Doyle asked.
“Ghost that came in with me.”
Doyle shrugged. “Only saw you and Thomas. C’mon, we need to go.”
In a daze, Cameron followed.
&Cameron followed& Doyle to his car, a black Cadillac that looked like it was held together with hopes and bailing wire. Cameron looked at Doyle. “Really? You drive this?”
“There isn’t much money in what we do, boy. Now get in the fucking car. Now!”
Cameron pulled open the door, sat down, and slammed it shut. Doyle grumbled and gave Cameron a few looks that made Cameron feel afraid to be alone in the car with him.
“So, how long have you been able to see ghosts?”
“Most of my life,” Cameron said. “About seven or so. Why?”
“Curious. Few people are born to it. And, if you are born with the gift, you have other powers as well. Like Maggie. Others… Well, others have some traumatic event happen that causes it.”
Cameron looked outside. Watching the houses roll by, he realized they were heading towards an industrial complex off Anaheim. They passed the old West Coast Choppers and turned into an alley on the edge of the L.A. River. “Where are we going?”
“Told you, to meet the others. So, what happened to you? Who died?”
Cameron felt his blood turn to water. He tried to clear a sudden lump in his throat. “I don’t want-”
“So, close family. Dad?”
“I’m not playing this-”
Cameron was quiet. Very quiet. He looked at Doyle, who was smiling a little, pulling out the lighter of the car to spark up another cigarette. “At least roll down the-”
Doyle pulled away from him, “No.” He then lit the thing and started to smoke. Cameron sniffed the air a few times. “Is that pot?” He shook his head not realizing how out of it he was that he couldn’t recognise a joint.
““Yep,” Doyle said. He took a big pull and held it for a few moments. “Glaucoma…”
“Uh-huh.” Cameron leaned back in the thick leather seat. The car was plodding along, and though it wasn’t fast, it was nice and cozy. He felt his eyes start to close on their own accord. “Hey, why is it so warm in here?”
“The AC is blasting. What are you talking about?”
Cameron looked at Doyle, and his vision was hazy. “It is so hot.” He pulled at his t-shirt, feeling it was wet and sticky. He looked down at his hands, and they were red with blood. “Oh…”
“Fucking shit,” Doyle shouted. He yanked the car over to the side and reached for Cameron. The last thing Cameron saw was Doyle groping for him, his tobacco-stained teeth and breath jumped to sharp focus for a second. “Lord, don’t take this boy. You hear me, you prick?” And then Cameron was out.
&Maggie looked& up sharply from the makeshift desk as her grandfather brought in a bundle of something.
“Dammit, we need a healer. Where is Helga?”
“Out,” Maggie said. She stood up and started to walk over.
“Stay there, you need to keep looking for info on Jason and what-”
“Doyle, Jason’s dead. Thomas killed him.”
“Fuck,” Doyle said, laying his burden down. Maggie was beside him, looking at the youth.
“Thomas happened. That fucking, sodding ghoul. I swear I’m-”
“Doyle, shut it,” Maggie said. She put a hand on her grandfather’s shoulder. “Let me do what I can.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Doyle moved away from her, sat down heavily, and put his head in his hands.
Maggie turned to look the boy over. He was bleeding from a thick cut along his back. She peeled back the ruins of his shirt and saw the thick, ragged gash of a ghoul claw. It was already festering. “Dammit Doyle, why didn’t you check-”
“He was fine, and I had to tangle with Thomas by myself. Helga was supposed to be my backup, but no. She had to deal with that other ghost.”
“She is doing something vital as well,” Maggie said. She was at the cabinet of the healing herbs, putting together a list in her head. [_If we only had some meds as well, these herbs will… _]She stopped that line of thought. She wasn’t a med student now. She had seen what Helga could do with these herbs and knew that they worked. Yet, Helga wasn’t here and this kid was going to die.
“You have to do something, Mags. Without him, we are fucked,” Doyle said.
“Thanks, Doyle, no pressure right?”
She risked a look, heard the spark of his zippo, and sighed. “Really, with your health?”
He waved her off and kept smoking. Then he got up and walked away from the two.
Maggie turned her attention to her patient. She pulled a few of the herbs and started to grind them together in a mortar and pestle. She pulled off the shirt, tossed it aside, and got out holy water and bandages. She dribbled some of the blessed liquid on the wound. The was a hiss of steam, and some of the blackness turned into untainted flesh. She wetted a handful of bandages and took the kid’s shoulder. “This is going to hurt,” she whispered to the unconscious youth. She started to scour away the black with holy water and the bandages. The kid woke up screaming. Then he fell back asleep as the herbs worked away at the wound.
&He was completely surrounded& by gray. Like he was in a fog. Cameron looked around, smelling something strange. Something off. There was stuff in the air that choked him, yet he wasn’t sure what it was. He held up a hand and felt flakes of ash fall onto his skin. Ash? Where am I? He started to look around, realizing that the fog was actually a thick layer of ash he was walking through. He coughed more and more as he kicked up clouds of it as he moved.
“Hello?” he called out, searching for something to grab onto. Something to look at besides the gray. He kept moving forward, his footsteps kept kicking up even more ash. He looked behind him to see a trail of footprints left in the three-inch-deep layer.
“Cameron!” he heard someone cry out. He moved toward the sound. “Cameron!” The voice sounded familiar. He moved a bit faster, though he felt like he was trying to run through mud.
“Cameron, I’m here.” It was the voice of his little sister, Stacey. She was half buried in the ash. She was waving her hands about, trying to flag him down. Now that Cameron saw her, she looked gaunt. He helped her stand up. Something was wrong with her. She got to her feet, and he saw she was stooped over, and her jaw was elongated.
“What in the Hell is going on?”
Stacey smiled a wicked, evil smile. Then she pointed away from her. Cameron followed her finger, which was capped by a dirty claw. He saw on the ground a thick rim of red that he hadn’t before. It looked like something was making the stone and asphalt glow. He moved a little closer to see a thick billowing cloud shooting up from a hole in the ground. Something moved towards him. It was the same figure that had attacked him in the basement.
“So good of you to join us, Cameron. You have done a wonderful job. Freeing the Master.”
Cameron looked up at the rising column. It took on a visage of something quasi-human. It opened its mouth, and a molten heat hit Cameron as the thing screamed his name.
&“Damn it&, boy, wake up!” Doyle shouted at Cameron.
Cameron’s eyes popped open, and he tried to sit upright. He wished he hadn’t. The move made his shoulder protest in pain. He groaned and looked around. He was surrounded by five people. Two women, one with dark brown hair and wearing all black except for a white lab coat on over her clothes. She pushed at a pair of glasses and smiled. “Glad to see you are awake.” The other woman was six feet tall, with close-cropped blond hair that looked like a severe form of a pixie cut. She gave him a smile and nod, then turned and walked away. There was Doyle, who moved away when he saw that Cameron was awake, pulling on a cigarette and smiling. “Told you he’d wake up.”
One man was thin and gaunt, his face plain and eyes were magnified by thick Coke bottle-like glasses. He had on a priest collar and a tight smile. “God has given us a small miracle.”
“Fuck God,” Doyle said.
“Father Archibald, that’s blasphemy!” the priest said, turning around to look at Doyle.
Doyle is a priest?
The last guy leaned in a bit closer to Cameron. He stank of weed and had a three-day growth of beard. “Don’t worry about it, kid. Those two love to get into it often. Name’s Henry, what’s yours?” He stuck his hand out and pumped Cameron’s.
Cameron wished he hadn’t, grimacing at the pain from his shoulder. “What is… the name’s Cameron.”
“Glad to meet ya,” Henry said. He pointed to the priest who was starting to yell at Doyle. “That is Father Benedict. Nice guy, but a bit, well… Catholic.” He pointed to the blonde who was holding a length of wood and moving around in what had to be some kind of fighting form. “That Amazon is Helga. A bit on the quiet side. But a great woman and warrior. And that,” he said pointing to the woman in the lab coat. “That is Maggie. Welcome to the Order of Heretics.”
Henry smiled as though he knew the question was coming. “The Order of Heretics. Though, I prefer my own name for us. The Heretics”
“Oh, come now, Henry, don’t fill his head with silliness,” Maggie said. She was at a makeshift desk, a wooden door being held up by cinderblocks. And it looked a bit uneven.
“Come on, doll. He has to know.”
“I still think he shouldn’t get into this,” Maggie said.
Doyle turned from his fight with Father Benedict. “Mags, he fought against Thomas. Has been attacked by Thomas. He is deep in the shit now.”
“Language,” Father Benedict said with a small gasp.
“And fuck you too,” Doyle said, looking at Benedict and smiling. Then he patted the near-apoplectic priest on the shoulder, turned, and walked out the door.
From where Cameron sat, he saw it was almost evening. “Dammit, I have to get home. My family will be worried-”
“Wait a sec there, slugger,” Henry said, holding his hands out to stop Cameron from getting up. Cameron didn’t and then fell to the ground, boneless.
“What, what is going-”
“The stuff Mags and Helga used on you. Stinks to high heaven, numbs the body, and leaves you weak for a while. But it did save you from the taint of Thomas.”
“Yah,” Henry said. “He’s a major thorn in the Heretics’ side.”
Cameron, with the help of Henry, got back down onto the makeshift bed, which turned out to be another wooden door propped up using wooden barricades. “Okay, can you explain why you call yourselves the Heretics?”
“Well, you know how the Church doesn’t think anything supernatural happens… anymore,” Henry said, holding a hand to keep Benedict from chiming in.
“Yeah, but they use to believe they did,” Cameron said.
“Well, yeah. But, now ghosts and the like are almost impossible to be credited. Hell, they took their sweet time with Mother Teresa.”
Benedict looked as though he had bitten into a lemon.
“Anyway… we know for a fact that shades, ghosts, wraiths, and all kinds of other nasty things exist. And do more than go bump in the night.”
“So, you guys fight them?”
“As best we can,” Henry said with a grin.
Just then, Doyle rushed back inside, slamming the door. “Shit, shit, shit.”
“What?” Henry and Maggie both shouted at the same time. Cameron saw Henry’s hand go to his belt, where he saw the grip of an automatic pistol.
“Thomas is outside. And he has a white flag.”
“A what?” Everyone said. Except Helga. Cameron heard the wooden sword drop. He turned to see her grab a real, long, two-handed sword and walk towards the door.
“He has a white flag, can’t go out like that,” Doyle said while stepping towards Helga, touching her arm.
Helga glared at Doyle. For a moment Cameron thought she would cut him down.
“Flag of truce. You can’t break something like that,” Doyle said.
Helga nodded, sat the sword back in its stand with a loving touch, and turned back to wait for the rest of them to do something.
Henry and Maggie both went to the door, and Maggie saw that Henry was behind her. Cameron noticed how she stepped away and sneered at him. Henry looked like he wanted to say something, then looked outside and shook his head.
“I think he wants to speak to Cameron,” Henry said.
“Why do you say that?” Cameron asked.
Cameron felt some feeling coming back to his legs and moved unsteadily towards the door. He saw Thomas, along with three other ghouls. He held a banner of white in one hand, and in the other, he held Michelle. Cameron was almost to the door. Henry stopped him with a gesture.
“Cameron, don’t go out there. You aren’t warded. He could-”
“I’ll keep the truce, as long as I can talk to the young Hunt,” Thomas said, his voice causing a chill to run up Cameron’s back.
“Don’t trust this thing,” Doyle said.
Thomas gave a hacking cough and laughed. “Shut up, old man.”
Doyle blanched when Thomas said that, but he kept quiet, sat down, and started to smoke again.
“What do you want?” Cameron asked from the doorway.
“I want you, Cameron. I want that sweet meat and soul inside you. But, I will settle for her if I must.” Thomas moved his thumb that held Michelle, and Cameron saw the thick nail slice into Michelle’s arm. He had never seen a ghost bleed. It was a pale pink that glowed very slightly.
“Stop. There has to be something else…”
Thomas stopped. He looked at Cameron. “Oh, there are several ways for this to end. Have any dreams recently?”
Cameron closed his jaws with a click.
“Cameron, what is he talking about?” Henry asked. He grabbed Cameron and spun him enough to look him in the face. “What is he talking about?”
Thomas laughed. Then he let go of Michelle. “Good. The little Dreamer is dreaming… this little tramp isn’t even worth the energy to kill.” Once she was released, Michelle quickly disappeared.
Cameron tried to call out to her, but he was stopped by Henry. “Don’t say anything else.” He then slammed the door closed as Thomas and his ghouls started to move away.
&“What was that about a dream&?” Maggie asked.
“Before Doyle screamed at me to wake up, I had a dream. I was in this rain of ash. Ash was everywhere. And then my sister was there,” Cameron explained and continued relating his dream. When he finished, they were all solemn. “What did he mean by Master?” Cameron asked, looking at Henry and then Maggie and Doyle.
“No idea,” Henry said. He kicked at a table and sent it flying across the room. “Shit! Dammit. That prophecy was right.”
Maggie touched Cameron’s hand. “There is a prophecy that talks about spirits regaining the ability to walk amongst the living and that a great rain of ash would herald it. And then the spirits would control the world.”
“Could control the world,” Henry said. “If the Dreamer doesn’t awaken.”
“Your Aramaic is fucking awful, Henry,” Maggie said. “I don’t trust your translation farther than I can throw you.”
Cameron backed away from the venom in her voice.
“Sounds like Revelations,” Benedict said.
“That book is nothing but-”
Benedict rounded on Doyle before he could finish. “Do not speak of the good book like that!” The amount of anger and power in Benedict’s voice caused Cameron to literally freeze. He noticed everyone had stopped dead in their tracks, quivering. After a moment, the effect passed.
“No fair using that,” Doyle said.
“What?” Cameron asked.
“Father Benedict has a way of speaking. He can command people at times, if he puts enough will into it,” Maggie said.
“The voice of-”
“This ain’t a twisted comic, Father,” Henry said. He looked back at Cameron. “All of us have some kind of gift. Helga is able to wield that enchanted sword. Mags and Doyle have a head for a touch of magic here and there. Benedict… well, you heard.”
“And what can you do?”
Henry smiled and touched the gun at his waist. “I’m the pretty one that can shoot.”
“Of course,” Cameron said. He smiled at Henry, who gave him a wink back. Cameron then remembered what time it was. “Shit, I have to get home. I have to tell-”
“Whoa, whoa there. You can’t tell your family” Henry said. “And you might as well stay here. There is no way Thomas won’t follow you back home. You are unwarded there.”
“I can’t just leave my family,” Cameron said.
“You have to,” Maggie said. “You can’t pull them into this. They aren’t gifted like us. And we can barely handle what is going on.”
“Boy, come here,” Doyle said. Cameron walked over and took a seat when Doyle pointed to a stiff folding chair. Doyle looked at Maggie and Henry. “They are just going to worry and worry. Benedict, well, he is just a worrywart so…” Doyle cut Benedict a look, who frowned at the old man and then went back to reading his Bible. “And Helga, well, she doesn’t have much to say about anything.” Helga stopped long enough to grunt and then went right back into the fighting form she was practicing. Doyle pulled a small stone and a metal compass from his pocket.
“Doyle, you can’t-”
“Mags, let your grandfather do what he does,” Henry said. He reached for her hand, but she pushed it away and went back to her workstation.
Henry sighed, then walked off towards a corner of the warehouse.
“What are these?”
“These are things you can use to get home. At least for the night. And say goodbye to your family.”
“I can’t, I have—”
“You have to. It’s the only way,” Doyle said.
“But I’m just a kid.”
“A kid who can see ghosts and is a Dreamer. You are much more than just a kid.” Doyle placed the round smooth stone in Cameron’s hand. “This is a warding stone. It will protect you for about twenty-four hours. And this little beauty will point towards any ghoul or maligned thing that is within twenty yards of you.”
“How am I supposed to get home? I left my car-”
“I’ll give you a ride,” Doyle said. He turned to Helga. “Blondie, you coming?”
Cameron saw Helga smile, put down the wooden sword she was using, and take up the metal sword again. It glinted in the light more than just reflecting, Cameron thought. She then pulled on a coat that had something twinkling in the inside lining.
“Coat is made of chainmail, the outside looks like a normal trench coat. Blondie doesn’t like to walk around without some kind of armor.”
Doyle looked at Helga, who just shrugged. “Not my place to say,” Doyle said.
The car trip was a quiet one. Cameron was still stunned by what had happened. He was still taking it all in.
“I know it is a lot to process right now. But, trust me, this is for the best.”
“How am I going to leave them? They are all I know.”
“You’re a smart boy, you’ll think of something,” Doyle said with a grin.
&He was back home&, and he was thankful. Doyle gave him a few last minute instructions then took off. Cameron felt the day drag on him. His shoulder hurt from where Thomas had cut him and then Helga and Maggie had used the strange poultice on him. The stink of it was only now starting to wear off, and he could almost hear his bed calling.
He felt a yawn crack his jaws, and he didn’t even try to stifle it. He pushed open the back door, glad he had a key that worked. He was about to sneak upstairs when he saw the small form of Stacey waiting for him, a book in hand with a flashlight.
“What are you doing up?’ Cameron asked.
“Waiting for you, brother.” She looked up at him with a firm set to her jaw. “You were supposed to be home hours ago. Where have you been?” She put the book down and sat stiff and straight, staring at him with big brown eyes.
“Out,” Cameron said. He wanted to tell her, but he was sure that it would cause problems, as the Heretics had said. He put his hands on her shoulders. “Look, sis, I’m fine.”
“Uh huh, what is that smell?”
He looked at his shoulder and winced. “I hurt my shoulder, friend of mine patched me up.”
“Let me see,” she said with a much put-upon sigh. She didn’t take “no” for an answer, dragging him to a spot at the table and pulling his shirt away from the gauze. “Well, looks like whoever did this knew what they were doing.”
“Well, yeah, she is a doctor. I mean-”
“Who is this friend?” Stacey asked, hands on her hips. “How come I only am now hearing about her?”
“Geez, just someone I met today.”
“And she is already a friend?”
“You’re not my mom.”
Stacy stopped moving for a moment. “I know,” she said in a measured monotone voice. “If mom were around, you’d have been back instead of ‘out’ and with some stranger who… who…”
Cameron looked up at Stacey, even in the poor light he saw her face was shiny. “Hey, sis come here.” He pulled her close even though she resisted at first. “I’m sorry. I know you’re doing your best.”
“You’re a jerk,” she said, punching him in the shoulder.
“So,” she asked with a sniff. “Who is this ‘friend’?”
“Well,” Cameron said with a small smile. “Her name is Maggie, she’s pretty, and has a wonderful… head full of knowledge.”
Stacey slapped Cameron upside the head, though there wasn’t much force to it.
“Easy, sis. What was that for?”
“Having impure thoughts,” she teased. She then went to the cupboard and came out with a white paper plate and a can of cat food. “Could you feed Madge? I promised her you would feed her when you got home.”
“Ugh, why? Can’t you-”
She looked up at him as he tried to push the can away. She sniffed a little. “I was so worried about you, bro. I didn’t have time to think about feeding Madge. And I was waiting for you and she was yowling and… and…”
Cameron sighed and dropped a hand onto her head. She looked at her brother with a bit of anger. Cameron wanted to tell her right then. About everything. From the Heretics, to Thomas, to Michelle and the weirdness… with everything. He wanted to, but then he thought of what Maggie had said. And what Doyle said in the car ride home. “Your family will become targets if they know. Better to keep them in the dark… better they think you are an asshole than some savior. Run off tomorrow, and just let them think you are a jerk.”
“All right, I’ll feed the cat.”
“Thank you,” Stacey said, clapping her hands once and then grabbing her book. “And, when you are done, you can finish reading me my bedtime story.”
“You’re twelve-years-old, Stace, when are you-”
“Never.” She ignored his protest and walked up the kitchen stairs to her room.
Cameron groaned, shook his head and turned around to go outside. He found Madge, the black alley cat that had quasi-adopted them, waiting with a dead bird in her mouth. She yowled at him, dropped it, and looked at him expectantly. Then at the bird. Then at Cameron again.
“I know, thank you for the gift.”
Madge turned her head up, walked a few feet away, and settled on the step. Her black ears perked and turned towards him when the can was popped open. Cameron dumped the smelly contents onto the plate and offered it to her.
He sighed, sat down, and reached out to scratch her head. Sometimes she let him do it. Other times she tried to scratch him instead. This time, as she ate, she allowed him to touch her without repercussions.
“I tell you Madge, today was the weirdest day I think I have ever had.”
The cat stopped eating for a second and sat back until her yellow eyes were staring up at Cameron. For a moment, the teen thought there was a flash of intelligence or something. He shook his head.
Then Madge spoke. “No Cameron, today was only the first of many, many days of strangeness.”