“Didn’t I tell you to leave her alone?! Now both of you will die, and it’s all on you!”
—Three days earlier—
He sat in his chair as the television ran a show that happened to be his favorite… Or, at least it was. He had watched so many re-runs of it that it started to bore him, he almost wished for the static to appear so that he had something to do.
He glanced at the bookshelf that was behind his TV, then quickly scanned it to see if another book had magically appeared since he last checked 20 minutes ago.
The popcorn had begun to become more than just teeth-shattering pellets of joy. He lived in the classiest mansion in his neighborhood but he found that his taste in food was simple. Popcorn and butter was his delicacy. Really, the popcorn was just a vehicle for the butter. He thought about skipping the vehicle altogether and just ingesting the melty goodness that is high cholesterol and, possibly, a heart attack.
Chuckling to himself he rose out of his chair and headed towards the kitchen on his… Left. That’s right, it was on his left. He had been so deprived of work and friendship that the days were melding together and he was beginning to disassociate from the physical portion of reality. Why did he have to eat to live, anyway? Why did he need sleep? And water? These things shouldn’t be necessary in a perfect world, he thought, because the only things that are perfect is love and enthusiasm.
He waited in the kitchen until the brown balls of love transformed into the fluffy white puffy clouds of enthusiasm. He really, really enjoyed making ordinary things dramatic and funny, at least, what he considered to be funny. “Huffy puffy beans and rice, I told her to be nice. She told me to screw a whore so I told her to bend over more.”
He doubled over in laughter at his crude and absurd poetry. After all, why should he accept the social norms of what was crude and what was not? He didn’t want to work with anyone who didn’t see past the boundries other people put in place, never mind the fact that the boundries he offered the world were cruel and tormenting, even though he didn’t realize it. Do as I say and not as I could was his motto, whether he liked it or not.
As soon as the puffy puffs were in his bowl he walked towards the television, only to find that static had replaced his regular program! He knew this would happen, so he went to go fix the antenna on the top of his roof.
As soon as he got out there it started raining, of course. More torture for the awakened soul, he grumbled, completely unaware that his lifestyle was an atrocious disgrace to anyone who was actually awakened. Perhaps he saw more than most, but his fear and his anger towards humanity gripped him on a level so deep that not even he couldn’t comprehend it. And he was the master of meditation, after all.
It began to rain harder and he yelled, “screw it! I’m going inside! Fuck this shit! I’ll just meditate some more…”
Once inside he ate his popcorn in silence. His mind travelled to fantasy, but why? Perhaps to escape the pain. What pain? The pain in his spine that came about because he sat around for too long. Wasn’t he supposed to keep his back straight? Yes, but he wasn’t doing that.
He straightened his back and closed his eyes.
That’s when the telephone rang.
“You’re saying there’s been… Another one?”
“No, Harry, I just like to give you courtesy calls every now and again. OF COURSE THERE WAS ANOTHER ONE!”
He pulled the phone away from his ear as his “partner” shouted into it. Were they partners? Not officially, of course, but perhaps on an emotional level, yes. But he wasn’t sure.
“They’ve been appearing non-stop and, frankly, I’m starting to become afraid of them. Where are they coming from, where do they go? How do they hide so well? It doesn’t make any sense, I don’t know of anyone who’s this good.”
“And you know a lot of people, Paul.”
“Right… Well, we’ll talk about it at the bar tomorrow. 5. I know you aren’t busy since you don’t take up any hobbies…”
“The hobbies I like aren’t accepted by-“
“The law? Yeah I know. You want to speed. You want to go exploring wherever you want. You want to grow illegal plants and give them to everybody…”
“To be fair, nature should never be illegal. Under any circumstances.
He hung up. A plan began hatching in his mind, of that much he was sure…
He woke up the next day after an absolutely wonderful dream… He wished the dream lasted forever so that he didn’t have to get up and face the day. He lay in his bed, still, staring at the ceiling, feeling like he was on top of the world, thinking about how good his life could be… If only everyone else was better.
The thought ruined his morning ecstacy. He audibly grumbled with disgust and used his neck muscles to pull himself out of bed and onto his feet. He knew that’s why his neck was in so much pain but he couldn’t help it – it was just a habit at this point. He had done it for… Well, ever since he could remember, and he figured he’ll just live with it for the rest of his life.
Harry arrived at the bar at 4:55, 5 minutes early, as per usual. Paul never did the same, he always arrived right on the dot, and it always made Harry grumble because he didn’t know what to do with the extra 5 minutes. Should be order a beer? Should he strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to him? Should he sit and pretend he was observing like usual?
He would. Nothing changed since the first time he entered the bar 20 years ago… The bar was still in the center of the room with barstools all around it. The tables were still middle-of-the-road as far as economics were concerned, made of wood but kept in good shape. The bartender was still loud, boisterous, and funny. It was mostly the same people who came in except for the one or two new faces. The glasses and the drinks were all in cabinets above the bartender’s head, which he always thought was strange since it’s more effective to keep the glasses pointed down to avoid potential germ growth. The many, many decorations still hung on the wall in the same place; his favorite was the rifle above the entrance/exit with the sign under it that said, “he who drinks will always pay.” He chuckled now that he was looking it.
He checked his pocket watch. 5:00. And there was Paul.
“Good evening” he stated as he simultaneously sat at the barstool next to Harry and took off his top hat. He was dressed well but not too well, as was Harry, because this had been their tradition for many, many years. How was it that Harry cared for tradition when everything he did was so unconventional? How could he even rationalize that to himself? Even he didn’t understand it.
“Say, we should change our dress every once in a while. The same drab gets to be a bit too much as time goes by.”
“I enjoy what I wear.”
“Good! But, do not be surprised if I don’t! This shirt is getting too old.”
“I will remember” Paul stated as he let out a silent sigh. Harry had been like this since he could first remember him, always trying to change things up, always trying to be different, odd, strange. But for some reason he went with the flow and did what everyone else did, at least when he was outside of his “humble” abode. He didn’t so much care about being different, especially now that something much more important was on his mind.
“Harry, you know we must do something. They’re getting to be too intense, and they’re doing more damage than I thought was possible.”
“Paul, I didn’t even believe in spirits until 2 years ago when… She died. I looked into her eyes as she-“
“No, it. It, Harry, it killed her. Stop saying she killed herself when it obviously wasn’t her. She did not pull the trigger… It did.”
Harry’s eyes were drawn to the floor for a moment before they were brought up to meet Paul’s. “Well, my point is I barely believe in them, much less know what to do about them.”
“I’m in the same position, but I have some new information.”
Harry’s eyebrows raised slightly.
“These spirits, demons, whatever you call them only began appearing 2 years ago. Why didn’t they begin appearing before then? What attracts them to this town at this time? Why now?”
“I asked these questions to the librarian and she pointed out that, when this town was first being built, a man by the name of Jeremy Futler was murdered while he was building his own house. Why, you ask? Because his sticks were too long.”
Harry crumpled his forehead for a split second before returning his muscles to their original position. “”His sticks were too long?””
“Yes, exactly. This is what the man shouted right before he murdered Futler, and it made me puzzled too so I inquired further with Gretchen. She told me that it wasn’t so much what he said, but it was how he said it.”
“Meaning… What, exactly?”
“Meaning the tone of voice was remarkably… Demonic. Almost as if he had power from another world. She told me that, apparently, this man had been in a cult 20 year prior to the murder, but the most important thing is this…”
He leaned so that he could whisper into Harry’s ear.
“Apparently, this guy infused some of his demonic energy into a small pendant. This pendant is supposed to be at The Place, and it’s the reason why the spirits have come about – they feed off of the demonic energy and see it as a source of survival, like how we depend on food and water.”
They leaned away and return to their original positions.
Harry thought about what he had just heard. It made sense and it didn’t make sense at the same time.
“So, theoretically, if that’s how it works then why haven’t they been showing up since the town was first created? Isn’t that when he infused the pendant with his… Demonic energy?”
“No, and this is where it all comes together… He infused the pendant on his deathbed and died shortly afterwards… Exactly 2 years ago.”
Harry leaned back and put his fingers to his chin. Yes, he could see how this is so, even if it sounded ridiculous to the average person. The town was still very new, which was why it still had it’s charm, and he could see where spirits needed a source of energy since some parts of the world had an abundance of them and some did not. Hmm…
“So we get the pendant and deal with it? That sounds like a better plan than what we’ve been doing, if I have to exorcise one more spirit or bless one more house I’ll go crazy, especially if it doesn’t help the town.”
“Honestly I don’t know why I didn’t think of something like this before” Paul said as he felt some anxiety rush through his body. “Usually I can think of effective solutions but, to my credit, the last 2 years have been very…”
Harry jumped in as he saw Paul was having trouble finding the words. “Terrifying? Intense? Ineffective?”
“I want to go into The Place and get the pendant. Are you in?”
“Yes, let’s meet at my place and we’ll begin to form a plan.”
“No, my place” Paul insisted. “I have the television that works.”
Harry laughed a hearty, quite laugh. “Of course, your place tomorrow at 9AM.”
“AND HOW ARE MY FAVORITE BOYS DOIN’ TONIGHT?!?”
Harry and Paul smiled as they turned to face the bartender.
“HOW ABOUT A MARGARITA ON ME, EH?! TO CELEBRATE ALL THE WORK YOU’VE DONE FOR THE TOWN! LET’S GIVE ‘EM A CHEER EVERYONE, HAVE AT IT!”
The entire bar gave a boisterous cheer and the duo couldn’t help but feel warm and fuzzy inside. They enjoyed their margaritas and mingling with the crowd, wondering how the next day was going to turn out.
Harry felt a sense of urgency as he arrived at Paul’s house. He loved being so busy that he didn’t have time to trifle with himself about petty moral issues that only he cared about. He would never admit this, of course, because his refined sense of morality was a large part of his ego and, frankly, it’s why he was loved by everybody else.
Harry never knocked on Paul’s door anymore, he just went straight in and made himself at home. He was the only one of Paul’s comrades who had this privilege due to their history as friends and, later, business partners. Well, if you could even consider detective work a business, it was more of a shared moral obligation by the both of them. Harry decided to stop calling them business partners because, after all, they were simply detective partners. Why didn’t he think of that before? He shook the question out of his head.
“I have already begun working on it” Paul stated, his back towards the front door as he wrote on a piece of paper attached to a wall. “We simply need to present ourselves as an essential service that’s provided by the government. Perhaps we check the house for gas leaks. Once we understand more about the house we can leave, observe the patterns of the people who live there, break in when it’s a good time, find the pendant, and retrieve it. How does that sound to you?”
“Well, you know the stories about The Place. It’s supposed to be the most haunted place in the entire town, not to mention the people who live there are just absolutely… Creepy. I shudder just thinking about it. I suspect we’ll go there, knock on the door, and either no one will be there or they won’t let us in.”
“If no one is there then our job is easy! We simply go in and retrieve it!”
“What about security systems? If they have a security system in place we’ll be caught as soon as we break in.”
Paul snorted before saying, “a security system? With people as bohemian as them?!” He started to laugh, and a grimace began appearing on Harry’s face. Even his friend was a bit much sometimes – he certainly wasn’t perfect by any means.
“Okay, okay, you’re having too much fun” he proclaimed, and rightly so.
Paul managed to say, “yeah… You’re right… It was just so funny” in between laughs, then he began to calm himself down and assume the demeanor he held not 2 minutes prior.
“Well, it’s a solid plan” Harry stated. “We may even be able to convince them they ordered our “service” and simply forgot about it. But the last question I have is, should we pack a lunch?”
Paul smiled as his friend showed the kind if humor that he enjoyed to hear. Of course two middle-aged men were going to pack themselves a lunch, if they didn’t stick to their eating schedule their stomachs would complain like hell. But Paul was in the mood so he jipped back by saying, “only if YOU want to.”
Harry smirked as the two of them set out to get some kind of worker’s outfits for their simple but brilliant plan!
“…And that’s why we want to borrow two of your extra outfits.”
“The best ones you have, please.”
His jaw practically dropped to the floor in disbelief! Never in his forty years as the owner of Simon’s Electrical, Inc had he EVER heard of a plan so outlandish and crazy.
“Oh, and you think this is gonna work, will ya” he questioned in his Irish accent. “You think you’re gonna just waltz in there and snoop around without them catching on, eh?
Harry and Paul both leaned closer to Simon to signify that they were, indeed, seriously about to try.
“Well, I love the cause, but I don’t think your plan is complete. Have ya heard the rumors of those people bein’… Smarter then they let themselves on to be?”
Paul and Harry looked at each other before turning back to him and saying, “of course we have, but we’re pretty smart ourselves! If anything were to come up we could handle it.”
“Aye, I know you can… Just take them and be careful, aight?”
Paul and Harry packed everything into their car and drove down to The Place. They didn’t take much with them since it was just an excuse to inspect the house, and since they didn’t actually plan on finding the pendant today.
It was the largest house in town. It was near the outskirts, run-down, trash was strewn all over the yard, and a vicious dog barked at them from the other side of the fence. It gave off the darkest, most eerie feeling that anyone in the town had ever felt – even the paranormal investigators didn’t have the guts to go inside of this house!
Paul and Harry got out of their car without saying a word, walked up the steps, and were about to knock on the door when a work truck came flying up. They stopped next to the car, and out stepped two workers dressed in gasline inspection uniforms, which was Paul’s original idea!
“Afternoon!” they shouted as they exited out of their truck. “Come down here I wanna tall to you guys!”
Paul and Harry gave eachother a confused look, but they wanted to know what was going on anyway. They were two young men, maybe in their late 20s, and they didn’t look experienced in their line of work whatsoever. They walked down to their truck and decided to lend an ear.
“Soooo, like, I don’t know if you guys know about this place but it’s really haunted man.”
“Really haunted,” the other guy chimed.
“You can’t tell anyone about this, but we’re paranormal investigators in disguise. We’re dressing up as workers so that we can sneak in and see what’s going on maaaan! Isn’t that super cool?!
“I think it’s so cool!” The other guy exclaimed with excitement! Harry and Paul gave eachother another confused look. Did they just drive here with the exact same plan as them, at the exact same time, with no coordination whatsoever?
That’s when the third vehicle rolled up.
This time two women stepped out of the car, and they looked like interior designers. Come to think of it, Harry had seen their office before, but he didn’t pay any attention to it since he had no intentions of making his house look any different than it already did.
“Sooo… Yep, this is the place” one of the women stated as she put down her clipboard. “Looks like we have a LOT of work to do…”
“Yeahhhh…” the other exclaimed. “I guess they called more workers too! All at the same time… We don’t see that very often. Well, up we go!”
Paul and Harry gave eachother a shocked look for the third time today! They were actually supposed to be here?! And at the exact time they decided to drive over?! Better just shake it off and accept that this was going to get interesting, they said to eachother without saying a word.
All six of them climbed the steps, some legitimate and some with hidden intentions, ready to see the inside of the infamous decrepit mansion…
The door slowly opened as the six stood on top of the rickety porch. There stood a pale, thin man with long, black, greasy hair.
“…Yes? Can I help you?”
One of the women spoke up. “Yes, you called us to redesign your home” she said in a cheery voice.
“We’re here to inspect your plumbing, the city informed us you’re long overdue” the young man spoke with a more serious tone.
Harry thought that was a good idea and said, “and the city informed us of your electrical problems. We’re here to fix it up, free of charge.”
The last three words must have rang in the man’s head as he pondered whether or not he should let them in. He slowly lifted his head up and said,
“Why, yes. We have been having some problems. And, yes. We do want our home to look… Nicer. Please. Everybody come in.”
The four men motioned for the women to step in first. Harry and Paul followed, and the “plumbers” closed the door behind them.
The house was massive, even larger than it appeared on the outside. Paul suspected there to be at least 30 rooms, some of them larger than his own house! There was a large staircase that went to the second floor, a smaller staircase that went to the third floor, and he couldn’t see much further than that. Creepy artwork was everywhere, the carpet looked very much like the floor – old, wooden, and dirty. The one redeeming quality about the house was, surprisingly, the smell – it didn’t smell too bad, so he suspected they must be using some kind of fragrance.
“Now, right this way ladies. I want to show you why I called you.”
They looked at eachother, believing it was self-evident, but they wanted to get paid so they followed him into one of the rooms.
“You know, Paul” Harry whispered, “for as creepy as he looks you’d think he’d act a bit creepier. But he doesn’t. He’s actually halfway normal.”
“Yeah that makes our job easier” he breathed a sigh of relief. “Now let’s…. “Inspect some wiring.””
They began in the main room. They stuck together, and found their first outlet. It was behind a desk, so their eyes slowly made their way from the outlet to the drawers. They slyly opened them up and began to look at their contents.
“I don’t see anything here” Paul mumbled as Harry was thinking the same.
“It makes sense to hide the pendant in a safer location” he mumbled back. They stopped and went into a room on the west wing, the opposite side of the house from where Mr. Creepy was telling the women what he wanted done.
Interesting. This room was full of bone carvings, almost as if it was a museum for the prehistoric. There was a giant bear rug on the floor, along with dark impressionist kinds of art hanging on the walls. Truly a sight to behold.
“What was that about him not being so creepy?” Paul said with a smirk on his face.
“Yeah, yeah…” Harry knew he had mis-judged him, and it was very apparent. “Let’s just keep looking.”
They found some drawers, tables, and desks within the room… None of them had anything resembling a pendant inside of them. They were about to go into the room north of where they were, when they recieved a sudden shock!
“Boo!” The young men jumped out from behind a wall to scared the older men, and to be honest, they jumped a little.
“Haaaaa! That was so funny!”
“Yeah, so funny!”
“Please keep it down, guys – we don’t wanna blow out cover, ya know?”
“Right right, sorry… Have you found anything yet?”
Paul and Harry gave confused looks. Were they looking for the pendant too?
“Not really. But we’re going to keep looking!” Harry winked at them, because he wanted them to think they were just ghost hunters like them – it was the perfect cover, they’ll never know they were actually searching for the infamous pendant! Paul shot him a confused look, but quickly caught on.
“Ooooohhh… Right…..” the young man winked back, then started to chuckle. “Hey, this rook looks haunted, let’s check it out next!”
Him and his “associate” went off into the room Harry and Paul just came from, and the two older men breathed a sigh of relief.
“Okay, let’s check this room out. I don’t think it’s here… It’s probably hidden away in some secret passageway somewhere… But it doesn’t hurt to check.”
“I agree – wait, I hear footsteps. Slow, creepy footsteps. Quick, find an outlet.”
They scrambled towards the nearest outlet and put their hands on their faces, as if they were seriously thinking about what was wrong with it. Creepy man walked in right after they got into their, quite frankly ridiculous poses.
“Yes Harry this one looks good.”
“I concur, I concur.”
The creepy man gave a look of confusion. “Did…. Did they tell you where our issue is?”
“Ahh, hello sir! Unfortunately the city is very limiting with it’s information. We don’t know what’s wrong, so we’re doing our usual routine check.”
“So… They… Told you to come here… But they didn’t tell you why?” He tilted his head upwards, almost as if he was in disbelief. Harry feared he was about to catch on.
“Why yes! This is a normal thing the city does, it withholds information under the guise of, “being too busy.” We know better, of course… They’re just being lazy.” He leaned in and half-whispered his last sentence, as if he would benefit from knowing such a secret.
“Oh… I see… Well… Follow me then.”
He turned to leave the room, and the two men quickly took suit. They did their best to secretly look around while they followed, but eventually, they ended up in the same room the women were in. Apparently he wanted the work done in that room, and the women were hard at work measuring and speculating what would look best and where.
“…And some ivory in the corner here…”
“Yeeees, of course…”
The man directed them to some writing behind a dresser. It had been chewed up by mice, and this was obvious to the two even though they weren’t professional electricians.
“So… I want this fixed. My desk lamp is important to me…”
“Why yes, of course. It looks as if some rodents got into it! We’ll be right back, we’ll go to our vehicle and bring out the proper equipment to fix this.”
Harry motioned to Paul to follow him.
“Well, you got us into a pickle. We didn’t bring any tools, we were just supposed to pretend like we were inspecting…”
Harry was holding his head in his hands. “I know, I know, I messed up. I was in the moment and I said what I thought he might like to hear. Now we need tools.”
“Right. So what do we do?”
Harry thought about it for a moment… Then a light flashed inside of his head.
“Maybe we don’t need tools. We can go back in there and tell him we forgot to bring them… We can say that one of our “other business partners” used them and didn’t put them back. We can even say they stole them if we’re calm enough. Then we’ll say we can come back. That’ll also give us a chance to snoop around another time!”
Harry always appreciated his own brilliance. He believed that’s what set him apart from the rest. Paul was about to confirm this belief.
“Brilliant. Alright, let’s go.”
They walked in the front door with all the confidence in the world and re-entered the room they came out of. The two young “plumbers” found their way inside and they appeared to be talking with the man about something.
“So yeah, we heard the house was really haunted. So, I mean, even though we’re here to fix your pipes, we’re really interested if it’s really haunted or not!”
“Yeahhhh, so interested!”
“Oh… I see. Well… Do you want me to show you boys something?” He was sitting in a chair with his legs crossed.
Were they talking about ghosts to the owner of the mansion, Harry questioned in his head?! That didn’t seem like a good idea. What if he caught them? That wouldn’t be any good.
“Yeah, we’d love to see it!”
The man lifted his hand. Paul and Harry walked in the room, and they were about to explain their case… When the door shut behind them.
They stood there, silent. Everyone else was silent as well. They slowly turned in unison and gave the door a single, hard nudge in an attempt to open it – it didn’t budge.
“That. Was. Awesome!” The young man exclaimed with enthusiastic excitement.
Without saying a word the man snapped his fingers. The lights went out, and a deep growling voice said, “Which shall I enter, master?”
“That one.” He was pointing to someone, but they couldn’t see who! If only Harry could see who he was pointing to.
“As you wish.” The deep voice exclaimed before all fell silent once again. No one peeped. No one made even the slightest noise as it would have been heard a mile away.
Something laughed in the dark. Then the lights came back on.
The man levitated out of his chair and spoke in an ethereal, dreamy voice:
“The four of you, I never called you here. These young women, I called them here, but I never needed their help. Well, at least with… Interior design. My house already looks amazing as it is.”
The two women exchanged a look that said, “really? Did he just say that?”
He walked into the back of the room and addressed Paul and Harry. He came into their personal space, and if the door wasn’t right behind them, they would have taken a step back.
“I have heard of your… Adventures. You cost me a lot of evil spirits, you two. I try to summon them and… You simply take them away from me. I suppose you want peace, to irradiate the evil from this town… But is that what you really want?”
He stepped back into the center and addressed the room as a whole.
“Here are the rules. One of you is possessed by my pet. One of you is no longer human, no longer one of you… You will blend in as well as you can, and when the opportunity is right, you will kill everybody in this room. Then I will take the evil presence away, only long enough for you to see what you’ve done… Then you will be the one who dies by my hand.”
He began to pace. “However, I will be gracious and allow for an opportunity to escape. If you come to me and tell me who it is, with accuracy, you and your friends will leave… Whoever’s left of you, that is…”
He turned to Harry and Paul once more.
“Oh, and one more thing – if you make it out alive… You’ll be rewarded with this.”
He took the pendant from beneath his shirt and showed it right to them. They stiffened up and gasped – if they obtained and destroyed that pendant… Everything would go back to the way it used to be.
“All of you are locked inside of these walls until the game ends. You will he fed, clothed, and you may cleanse yourselves. But you may not leave until… The game ends.”
He smiled a devilish, amazingly scary smile and he burst into laughter. Everyone felt disgusted by this… And when he stopped he said one more thing.
“I’ll be in the master bedroom upstairs. If you know who it is… Do not hesitate to come to me.”
He left the room, and everyone was in a state of shock. Everyone, that is, except for Harry.
This was his moment. This was his time. He had unknowingly been training for today his entire life. His brains, his smarts, his ability to think and problem solve will be pushed to the very limits, and a part of him did not mind. A part of him wanted this, a part of him craved this, and he was going to make it out alive no matter what he had to do.
“Uhhh, Mr. Creept Guy? This isn’t funny, you know!”
“Yeah… I’m scared!”
Paul and Harry put their heads in their hands. They knew they had some work to do, starting with these two knuckleheads.
They were sitting in a circle, shocked at what just happened! They were consciously acting as civilized as possible so that everyone else would see they weren’t a threat. But, everyone was suspect at this point, even those who weren’t infected with this demonic disease.
“So,” Harry offered, “the man did not offer any subtle hints as to who it might be. I have nothing, and that’s unusual for me.”
“Agreed,” Paul said. “I didn’t hear a yelp, I didn’t see who he was pointing at… I have no idea.”
“I just thought of something scary” one of the women chimed in, “what if the person who’s infected doesn’t even know they’re infected? What if they genuinely believe they’re still a real person?”
“Ohhhhh don’t say thaaaaat! That’s not cool, man!” The young man shivered in fear.
“Yeah, now I’m scared!”
“Okay, okay,” Harry said in a fairly loud voice. “We’re going to figure this out! I don’t quite know how yet, but we’ll do it.”
“Hold on,” Paul said as an idea struck him, “what if we all go to the man and say we found who it is, except we point out different people? That way we’ll win no matter what!”
“That’s great, except the demon knows the plan now,” Harry said as he shook his head. “It would just go to the man and tell him it’s somebody else. Next time tell me your genius plans in private, okay?”
“But what if you’re infected?” Paul cocked an eyebrow as he looked at his friend… Or maybe, his foe.
“I’d think I’d know if I’m infected…” Harry felt a mixture of anger and pain as he felt his friend already turning against him.
“But what if she’s right? What if you’re infected and you don’t even know?”
“Oh come off it. What if you’re possessed and you’re just trying to pin it on me?”
“Oh please….” Paul sighed. “I’m going to take a deep breath and calm down.”
They sat in silence for a moment, contemplating their next move. Harry was the one who was thinking the hardest since he wanted to win so, so badly. What kind of plan could he come up with? What kind of filtering system, process, or trick could he pull off? Did the possessed person have a weakness? A quirk? Maybe he could feel them out?
“Honestly, I’m starting to get hungry,” the other woman said. “He said we could eat, right? Why don’t we go cook something for ourselves.”
Everyone mumbled in agreement as they slowly began filtering out of the room.
“This is really good.”
“Yeah, thanks Elena!”
They decided to cook themselves a meal, but if they were honest with themselves, Elena did 80% of the work. They wanted to keep it simple, so they stuck with stir fry and soy sauce, but even then it was absolutely delicious.
They learned a bit about each other while they were working; the women’s names were Elena and Juliette, and the young men’s names were Duke and Luke. Harry and Paul were the oldest of the group, the women were in the middle, and the young men were the youngest… And, apparently, the most immature.
“I think I put too much sauce on mine. It tastes too salty,” Duke remarked.
“Yeah, me too” Luke claimed excitingly.
“I don’t see a whole lotta corn in mine,” Duke said in a sad voice. “I like corn… I really like corn.”
“Yeah…” Luke mimicked as he dropped his head.”
“Well, there’s more in the pot if you want some corn” Elena offered.
“Yeah but then I’d have to… Get up and get it. I’m not used to doing my own food, like, at all… So now I’m just sad.”
“Me too,” Luke said.
Juliette, apparently, had a sarcastic sense of humor. She was sitting next to Paul, so she leaned over and whispered in his ear, “should we kick them out so we don’t have to listen to them moan?”
Paul’s face twitched as he hid a smile from the rest of the group. Harry kinda already knew what she said and his face began to move as well. Elena didn’t find it funny, but then again, she was the most lively and cheerful of the group!
They bantered on for a while until they finished eating, then Harry stood up.
“Alright everyone, I have a plan. All of us except for one want to find out who’s harboring the demon. I believe the best path to figuring this out is to find the demon’s weakness by performing a set of tasks over the next few days… A different variety of things with the intent of drawing it out.”
He found a pen and a piece of paper on a desk in a nearby room, came back to the table, pushed his plate aside, and began to write.
“The first thing we should do is stay in separate rooms, by ourselves, for an entire day. The reason for this is to have the time and opportunity to observe any abnormalities that happen around the house, and perhaps find a clue.
The next day we should perform a variety of exercises, especially ones that test our balance. If we see any abnormal anxiety from any of us we’ll notice it right off the bat.
On the third day, and this one may sound weird, but I think we should fast. Why? Because what if the person with the demon inside needs extra nourishment to survive?
I have more ideas, but these three should keep us occupied for right now. Are we in agreement? Should we do this?”
“Hold on,” Duke said. “Luke can’t be by himself. He’ll, like, go crazy, and he’s always been like that – I don’t want you thinking he’s the ghost, he’s just weird like that.”
“Yeah, I wanna be with my brother!”
Harry rolled his eyes a bit and said, “Fine. You two can stick together. But that’s it! Besides that, are we all good here?”
Everyone nodded their heads in agreement and they decided they would start tonight by sleeping in separate rooms.
Juliette seemed to be the most comfortable out of everyone. She sat in her room, in the dark, looking at her nails and very unafraid of her situation. It was almost like she didn’t care, and if she was being honest with herself, the whole thing kinda turned her on… A little bit, anyway. She looked at herself in the mirror and imagined having this kind of room for the rest of her life, something she certainly wouldn’t mind doing.
Elena was having some fears and doubts. She paced in her room and gave herself a little bit of a pep talk. “You know what? I got this. I’m strong, I’m positive, and if it really came down to it I’m pretty. I’ll be okay. I’ll be okay.” After a while she convinced herself that she was going to be fine, so she turned off the light and went to bed.
Duke and Luke were busy fighting over the covers and who gets how much of what. Nothing new here!
Paul was philosophizing about the situation. He sat in his chair, his right leg crossed over the left, his hand to his chin. He found it enjoyable to be preoccupied with the general implications of his predicament, and he certainly wasn’t in the mood to try and solve it.
But Harry, on the other hand, was at work. He was writing with pen and paper, coming up with possible solutions and ways out, coming up with ways to expose the wretched demon that was inside one of his friends. He was angry but also determined. He was the last to fall asleep, and all of them had odd dreams before the sun rose and woke them in the morning.
They awoke the next day and mentally prepared for a day of solitude… Well, everyone except the two brothers.
“Duke, wake up! You were snoring practically all night!”
“…Hmph yes give me more mangos…”
“Duuuuke! Come on! Stop being such a heavy sleeper! I hardly slept at all last night!”
“…Mom I told you not to touch my stuff, stop it…”
Luke sighed before picking up his pillow and using it to hit his brother’s face.
“Wake, up. Wake, up! I don’t want to listen to your sleepy talk anymore! Okay? I just, want, to, sleep.”
Duke rolled over and opened his eyes. “…Huh? Mrvisplhhh…”
Luke had had enough! He got up and dragged his brother out of the bed by holding onto his feet! He hit the floor pretty hard and groaned in pain!
“Hey! Why did you do that?”
“I told you to wake up! You were talking too loud in your sleep!”
“What did I tell you about that, Luke?! Put in your earplugs instead of waking me up! Did you bring them with you?”
“No, I left them at the house…”
“Well you should have brought then with you!”
“Hey, don’t talk to me like that! You’re the one who was in such a big hurry to get over here!”
“What?! You wanted to check it out too! Don’t blame this on me!”
“Oh yeah?” Luke said as he took off his shirt, pretending he was tough. “Bring it on.”
His brother took off his shirt as well. “It’s on like Donkey Kong!”
“Stop it, that hurts!”
“Ohh, I’ll get you for that one!”
“How about you just give up already?”
Their grunts of pain could be heard throughout the entire mansion as they wrestled like how brothers do. They were alone in their rooms but they could tell that everyone else had the same exact feeling – that is, they were rolling their eyes and putting their head in their hands.
Harry was awake before this all started, and he took it better than the others. He chuckled a little bit, wishing he had a brother to rough house with when he was younger, but his mind wasn’t distracted from his plan, especially for that particular day.
When he woke up investigated his room, and he noticed that he could peep in on some of the people in the other rooms. There was a crack above and below the door that let him see the outside of Paul’s room on the other side of the house, and there was a window that let him see the outside of the brother’s room. In both cases he could see their silhouettes and determine whether or not they were in their rooms, but not much else. He couldn’t see the women’s rooms since they were on the other side of the staircase, but Paul was right next to them, and he trusted Paul with his life.
Paul, on the other hand, was completely uninterested in making a plan or observing his surroundings. He simply found today a good day to relax and rejuvenate a little bit! In his room were some books that interested him, so he picked one up and began reading. He would be ready to eat soon, but until then, Moby Dick would occupy his attention and give him some stimulation!
Harry figured he could use the time he was going to the bathroom and making food to check on everyone. A quick sweep of the eyes would be enough, even two. Maybe he’d even get lucky and someone would join him for breakfast! That would be the perfect opportunity.
The brothers had stopped arguing, but he heard something else. Was that… Whispering? Or was someone talking and he could barely hear them? Tension rose in his body and he pressed his ear against the wall to try and listen.
“…And… Not good…”
“…Tired of… But yeah…”
Oh. He couldn’t make out everything they were saying, but he could tell the two women were having a conversation. It made sense since they were in the two rooms that were right next to each other. ‘They must be talking to each other with the wall in between them,’ he thought.
“I’m sorry you have to go through this, Juliette. You’ve already been through enough in your life. You should get a break every now and then.”
“Yeah, I know. Tell me about it. Tell you what, I wouldn’t be so bad if these companies didn’t go bankrupt on me. I’d be in a mansion with a nice pension, just like they promised.”
“Well, you deserve it” Elena responded in her enthusiastic voice. “I’m going to get a bite to eat, I’ll talk with you later.”
“Ok sugarpop…” Juliette wasn’t feeling too great. She liked being alone, but not when she was pressured to be alone. Deep down she knew it was for their own survival, but she still didn’t like it since she had been autonomous from a young age, working hard to help feed a very poor family. She helped them get out of it, and she learned some valuable skills along the way, some skills that helped her survive in the world she lived in.
Elena was feeling better after their conversation. She loved talking to great people because she didn’t have any siblings while she was growing up. She had always been positive and enthusiastic, but at times she felt lonely and insecure, so she enjoyed their talks.
Harry could hear the sizzling from his room. Someone was cooking something! He decided he wasn’t hungry yet, but that…
His stomach gurgled to tell him the opposite.
‘Well shoot,’ he thought. ‘I guess I’ll just join her.’ He didn’t want to start spying on people this early, but maybe he didn’t have to spy… Maybe they could just hang out.
He got up and walked out of the door.
“Morning!” She said in a cheery voice. “You want some?”
Harry looked into the pan. She was frying potatoes and bell peppers. Interesting.
“I dunno, what are you making?” He spoke in a tone that was half-serious and half-playful since he was trying not to be a detective quite yet.
“Just eggs and potatoes! And toast. I’ve always loved adding a ton of things in my eggs. Do you want me to make you a separate pan with just eggs or do you want everything?”
He raised his eyebrows. ‘Wow,’ he thought, ‘not only is she offering to cook me breakfast, but she’s giving me options! Maybe there are some good people left in this world.’
“No problem, just give me what you’re having. I’m okay with anything.”
“Okay!” She loved cooking, especially for other people. And she sensed that this guy maybe didn’t get home cooked meals a lot, so she was more than happy to help him out.
He took a seat behind her and, strangely enough, felt like he was in the mood for conversation! Quite the rare occurence for someone like himself.
“So… Uh… How do you like the plan?”
“Hmm? What do you mean?”
“I mean… Doing the tests, giving us time to observe each other. Do you think it’s a good way to find out who’s infected?”
“Well, I’m not as good a detective as you are! I can tell that you’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m just an interior designer!”
“Well, you’re pretty smart, aren’t you?” He said with some confusion in his voice. Had he read her wrong?
“I mean… Kind of. See, I got really good grades in school, but I never really thought I was “smart,” you know? I just like living a simple life since I feel great all the time anyway!”
Harry looked away to process what she just told him. She didn’t answer the question, and he thought that was suspicious, but then again she had such a cherry tone… She couldn’t have meant any harm, he thought. He looked back at her.
“What made you choose interior design?”
“Oh I love it! I love making houses look beautiful and making them pop, you know? I used to work with another company out of state, but I was never treated right and something felt funny about them… It turns out they were paying some of my co-workers under the table to recommend the most expensive stuff to every customer they met. After I heard about that I was GONE! I came here, started my own business, and I’ve loved it ever since!”
She turned to look him right in the eye. “Now what made you go into detective work, Harry? You’ve been producing quite the buzz around here, you know!”
He thought about it for a moment. No one had ever really asked him that, but he had thought about it a lot. He knew what to say.
“Well… Paul and I have a “shared moral obligation,” if you will. Both of us were wronged by demonic spirits when we were children, they took his mother and my father. We decided to partner together and keep our hometown safe from them, and it’s turning out to be quite the task…”
“You can say THAT again” she said with a flirty grin. He smiled in return.
“Please sir, may I have some more?”
The Charles Dickens reference made Harry crack up in laughter! Paul had snuck up behind him and said it really close to his ear to call him out for letting her cook for him. Paul chucked as well and he turned to Elena.
“Whatcha making?” He said in a loud and confident voice.
“Eggs and potatoes. You want some?”
“Ma’am, I’d love some!” Paul had never turned down any kind of food in his life, and he wasn’t going to start today.
Juliette emerged from her room, raised her hand, and said, “I’ll take some too.”
“DID SOMEONE SAY EGGS AND POTATOES?!” The two boys barreled out of their room. They were distracted all this time up until Juliette emerged from her room. They ran up to Elena and said, “I’d like some! That would be great!”
Everyone laughed at them, and by the time everything was said and done, what was supposed to be “breakfast” turned into a meal that encompassed the entire morning! So much for everyone staying in their rooms, Harry thought.
It was late afternoon, and no one had shown any signs of suspicion whatsoever. Everyone was getting accustomed to each other’s personalities, and so far, no one suspected anything to be wrong with anyone. ‘Strange,’ Harry thought, ‘maybe the demon is laying low and waiting for the opportune moment to strike. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.’
But, right after he finished his thought, he could hear the man who owned the mansion talking to someone upstairs. Or rather, something. Harry didn’t want to give ‘the thing’ too much credit. A low growling answered his voice, but it sounded indistinguishable to Harry, so instead he listened for any potential clues he could pick up.
He casually looked through the crack in his door and out of his window. No one was really doing anything suspicious, although he had to admit, he couldn’t see anything very well.
But wait, what was that?! Harry heard a guttural noise, and he swore it came from the downstairs. ‘Shit, I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t pinpoint it’ he thought to himself. However, it sounded like it was coming from either Elena, Juliette, or Paul since it was produced in that general direction.
If Paul was the one who was possessed… Harry wouldn’t know what he would do. Would he have to kill his friend? Would he have to banish him from the house and never see him again? He didn’t care about very many people, but damn, he cared about Paul alright. He cared a lot… Maybe too much.
The talking from the upstairs stopped, and then something strange happened – Juliette emerged from her room, climbed the upstairs, and opened the door to his bedroom!
This caught everyone’s attention since it threw them completely by suprise. She initiated a conversation.
“This game of yours is pretty sick. I hope you know that.”
He responded by looking into her eyes and straightening his shoulders.
“But, I kinda like it. It turns me on knowing that anyone around here could be possessed, even me. And hearing you talking with that thing… I don’t know. Plus the levitating you did yesterday… That was a nice touch.”
He put his right leg over his left and clasped his knee with both of his hands. He sighed deeply.
“Tell me more, Ms. Juliette.”
She didn’t say anything, but she slowly leaned in to touch and caress him. Even though nobody could see what happening, they all suspected the same thing, and they were utterly disgusted by it!
Noises followed, and they got louder and louder as time went on. Everyone plugged their ears and imagined their happy place until they stopped, and boy was everyone happy when they did!
She left his room and went back to her own. Paul had a window looking directly towards the staircase, and he noticed that she looked a little… Happier. Almost as if she wanted to indulge like that for a long time.
Harry thought that this was mighty interesting. Two clues, back to back. He wrote them down on a piece of paper.
The rest of the night was uneventful other than Juliette and Elena talking. Harry figured he would talk to Elena tomorrow and have her tell him some things. He had gathered everything he could for the day, and he was happy with his decision all around. Tomorrow would be an exercise test, one that he had ready since early afternoon, one that may just give them a slight edge on who the infected person may be.