I pulled into a quiet neighborhood. The single story house had a quaint little atmosphere. It would have been a welcoming environment if there was anybody around. It was just past noon on a Sunday, and there was no soul in sight. Maybe having a serial killer live here was what chilled this place.
His house was the first one down the street. After turning the car off, I grabbed my phone, which still had the police at the ready.
“Hey! Wait!” A voice called as I walked up the driveway. I turned to see Will jogging from up the street. He was dressed casually in a t-shirt and jeans. He wasn’t wearing glasses, either. “That’s not actually my house.”
My face reddened and I quickly returned to the sidewalk. “You lied to me? Why would you give me a fake address?”
“Now, now,” he said, voice gentle as he held his hands up. “I had it all covered. I didn’t know if you would actually come or just send our dear boys in blue over. My place is close by.”
“Absolutely not,” I said, taking a step back. He halted, still about twenty feet away. I held my phone up so that he could see. “Give me one good reason not to call them over anyway. I have no reason to trust you.”
“Oh, come on. You wouldn’t do that. You’re already here. You do trust me.” His posture opened up a bit to seem less threatening, despite his argument.
“Humor me,” I said.
He sighed and stuck his hands into his pockets. “Fine. I’m going to be completely honest, here, I could kill you in this very moment and not only would your body never be found, but I’d get a free car out of it to boot. There would be nothing you could do about it. I’m not going to, but I could. If that scares you, you can get back in your car and drive off. I’ll delete your number from my phone, and our paths probably won’t cross again. But if you want answers, I can oblige.”
A breath caught in my throat. I could call the police with the push of a button, but if what he said was true it would be meaningless. Once again, I wondered what he really was. A vampire or werewolf could probably kill me pretty quick. Heck, maybe there were hundreds of things in the world that were even scarier. I was so lost I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. Of course, maybe he just had a gun. “What’s in it for you? Why not just kill me and take the car?”
He laughed at that. “Believe it or not I don’t just go around killing people for their stuff. That sort of thing gives you the wrong sort of attention. Plus, I have a reputation to uphold. I’d much rather have this chat indoors, though. We don’t know who could be listening.”
“Fine.” I grimaced at my phone one more time before putting it in my pocket. Or at least I tried. My skirt didn’t have pockets, and I was wearing sandals, not boots. Being so anxious about today left me grossly unprepared. I had nowhere to put anything. Not even the car keys I was still holding in the other hand. With a huff, I unlocked my car and grabbed my emergency purse from the backseat. It didn’t match my outfit at all, but when in need…
“Got everything?” he asked with congenial smile, no ridicule whatsoever on his face.
I closed the door and locked the car again. Making sure I was all set, I shrugged.
“Alright, it’s just a short walk down the street.”
He started walking. I followed behind, but not too closely.
“You look cute, by the way,” he commented.
“I know,” I muttered, closing the topic before it began. No way was I letting that happen.
I was half expecting him to guide me into a secret door hidden in a tree, or to a manhole cover that led to an underground world. Instead, we jaywalked across the street to an apartment complex. It was both relieving and disappointing. He unlocked the gate inside and led me up the stairs, but stopped once he got to the door.
“Before I let you in, I’ve got one rule.”
“No what?” Did he really think I had a jar of blood sucking leeches in my purse or something?
“The thing you had with you at the library?”
I scratched my head. “You mean Doc? The little spirit?”
“You named it?”
“Sure,” I replied. “I’ve got half a dozen back home. I make them do chores for me. They followed me around so I figured I could put them to use. Why do you call them leeches?”
He visibly shuddered at that. “That’s just what they’re called. Remind me to never go to your house. Just know that they’re not allowed in my place, okay?”
“I mean, I can’t really tell them where to go. It’s not like I could stop them.”
“Sure, whatever. But they can’t be in my place, got it?”
Was he not even listening to what I was saying? “Alright, I got it.”
He nodded and unlocked his door. I was again disappointed when I got inside. It looked like a normal apartment, even if it was a bit messier than most. The smell of dirty clothes and something burnt wafted through the air. “Sit down wherever,” he said as he continued into the room. “You want anything? Coffee? Water? Soda? Beer?”
“I’m good, thanks.” I sat down on the couch, which sunk much lower than I had expected. A surge of adrenaline rushed through me as the sensation of falling ended as abruptly as it began. From across the apartment I heard a refrigerator door open and close. He returned with a can of beer and a bottle of water. After a polite decline, he put the water on the coffee table and sat down opposite me on the couch. I shifted around, tucking my skirt underneath me to face him.
“So,” he began, cracking open the beer. “Ask away, but you gotta be okay with the answers I don’t give, alright?”
“Fair enough,” I nodded. “What are ‘leeches’? Why do you hate them? They aren’t so bad.”
“Well, they’re technically called fragments. Classified as spirits. Simply put, they’re ghosts that aren’t really people anymore. They’ve forgotten everything about everything and cling to any semblance of humanity they can find.”
“So they’re ghosts. The souls of the dead.”
“Yeah, of sorts. Or at least they were. The older a ghost is, the more it loses. Fragments are kind of like the final stage a ghost goes through before they’re gone forever. They’re called leeches because they soak up anything they can around them. They like getting attention from others, which is probably why they follow you around. You don’t know any better.”
I frowned. “Are they dangerous?”
“Nah.” He took another sip from his beer. “Just annoying, mostly. Not really useful for anything.” I had to agree with that.
“Okay, let’s go broader. Give me a rough image of the supernatural world. What is and isn’t real. How you and I fit into it.”
“Hm. That’s a big one. The short answer is that everything is real, just maybe not in the way you think it is. Unicorns, dragons, faeries. All real. Bigfoot? Sort of. The evidence around him is usually solid, but not the conclusion, if that makes sense. How do we fit into the world? Uh, hard to say. We all have different places. You’d call us both spiritwalkers as a general term, but that only means ‘supernatural human’, really. There’s a million and one different kinds of us.”
“Wait. You’re human?”
“Uh, yeah?” He smirked. “What did you think I was?”
“I dunno. A werewolf, maybe?”
He choked on his drink and had to put it down to swallow properly. “I wish. No, I’m what you would call an ‘Inkmaker’. The humans are divided into factions called ‘guilds’ in the supernatural world. We all have different skills and jobs. I basically use alchemy to make magic ink that does cool things. Like the stuff I used to write on your arm.”
“So we’re all magical? What can I do?”
“No idea. I don’t know your lineage. Pretty much all spiritwalkers can see supernatural creatures, and some beings of the supernatural can be seen by normal people, like werewolves. Things that strong are super rare, though. I’ve only met one myself. But speaking of the ink, I’m curious. Did you find out anything neat about me?”
“I found out you’re a serial killer,” I said, glancing down uncomfortably.
His brow furrowed. “Not really. What was the question that led you to that conclusion? What words did you use specifically?”
“Uh…” Remembering a sentence I had said a few weeks ago verbatim was tough. “I think it was “How many people has Will killed?”
“Oh, that makes sense, then. When you say ‘people’, the ink probably registered that as both humans and spiritwalkers. I’ve killed plenty of those.”
“So it’s true?”
“Sure. I’m sure it’s no surprise that there are evil spiritwalkers out there. My hands aren’t clean.”
“How would you have killed me?” I asked.
He shrugged, a weak smile on his face. “I have a few vials of ink that could kill you if it gets in the right places. Sort of like grenades, really. If you know any sort of martial arts you probably would have been fine had I attacked you. Or if I had just missed.”
“So you lied to me again.”
“Well, I could kill you. In fact, I still can. It’d be much easier now, especially since the door’s locked. But as far as ‘threatening supernatural powers’ go, I’m pretty low on the list.”
“What ‘guild’ are you in? What do you do?”
He shook his head. “I can’t tell you that. You might be in a rival guild.”
“I’m not in a guild!” I frowned. “I’m just learning about all of this!”
“Well, most people inherit their guild. Assuming your parents are spiritwalkers, then you’re most certainly already in one. Pretty much every spiritwalker is.”
“Then why are you helping me?”
“I’m not,” he shrugged. “This is basic information. The only reason I knew you didn’t have it is because there was a leech following you at the library, and no self-respecting spiritwalker associates with leeches. You should stop letting them follow you in public, by the way.”
“How do I even do that? I told you I can’t do anything about them following me.”
“Don’t let them feed off your energy. It’s what they crave, and you’re just giving it to them.”
“What if I like having them around?”
“Your choice, I guess. But the less you tolerate their presence, the less they’ll be around.”
“Okay, let me ask you something else. Several weeks ago I found a suicide note written on my kitchen counter, in my own handwriting.”
He raised his eyebrows at that. “Spooky.”
“You don’t know how it got there?”
“Nope. There aren’t many supernatural things that can do that, but the list isn’t small, either. Course, you could have also just been drunk and written it yourself.”
He held his hands up. “Okay, okay, relax. It was a joke. What did it say?”
“It was basically written to my parents. It had some weird code on it, and mentioned some sort of ‘foe’. It implied my body was in my attic, but when I went up there there was nothing.”
His expression darkened at that. “Do you still have the note?”
“Uh, maybe. I’d have to look.”
“No, too dangerous.”
“What? Going back to my house?” A chill ran down my spine.
He nodded. “There’s definitely something there. Something powerful. And it’s been watching you.”