View attachment 4022
Outside it was pouring. The gutters where filling up and flooding the streets with rippling puddles. What expanded there was an inch deep, citywide, lake. Outside was turned into a maze from which people fled, hazy with mist and filled with stark, shiny reflections that shuddered at the sight of color. Esther wandered.
She spread her arms and looked up. Silver streaks fell between the tall buildings, water was everywhere. It soaked her sneakers and fell on her shoulders, soaking the black to a new sheen of darkness; eager and new. Her hair dripped and as she shivered, she suddenly felt like she could breathe again for the first time in ages.
A little blood dripped from her nose but she didn’t notice. The rain washed it away in seconds.
Somewhere else, about an hour earlier. A group of men came in from the highway riding motorcycles. They entered the city from the other side of the river, from the road that winded along the sea and bled into the land. They had the side where the shops, the schools and the restaurants bloomed. But their homes stood further away from that living center. They lived in what could not be called a “respectable neighborhood.” Still, rent was next to nothing and they had what they had to themselves.
A collection of up to twenty bikers entered those grey, derelict blocks that most people shunned. Here where the gutters and the railway bridged. This was where the homeless found themselves flocking, like grey, non provoking pigeons. Those on the street when the bikers came by turned away. Not out of real fear, but more out of some kind of strange respect. Sleepy hookers went back inside and even a tailless dog went to tear at garbage bags somewhere else.
Everyone moved but the drifter in the dirty green raincoat. He carried his net with empty cans and shouted at the cloud. As the gleaming vehicles came by he stopped his shambling walk. His yellowing beard, the reddened nose and grey eyes turned towards the gang. ‘Wanderers!’ he yelled, shaking his fist at them, ‘Hellish daemons from the fields around the fire!’ They drove by, slowly; the rumbling from their engines seemed to shake the buildings. One of them slowly raised his hand and gave him a friendly wave. The drifter shook his head with little jerks and shambled on.
The leader who rode in front turned his black helmeted head to look at the biker who had waved. Then he steered his pack into a right turn and they accelerated again. They drove like they had done this a thousand times. Every individual adjusted to the movement of the group. They where a pack.
Underneath the leather and the concealed weapons they wore suits, comfortable sweaters and glasses with their concealed weapons. They had computers and drank coffee. Most of them had quite normal day jobs. They got paid and had to listen to ranting from costumers like normal people. They had families. But together they always were the pack.
They came along a tattoo parlor with bike repair shop. Smoothly some of the riders disconnected and went to the parking spaces around the back. As the housing blocks stared to thin out again, they could see their destination. Here the smog was further away and to the left in the distance, mountains and woods could be guessed at. There was a big, meshed wire gate, to keep the guard dogs in. The wooden fence was to keep people away from the dogs that where not for guarding. Because that’s what the bikers did; they bred expensive dogs.
As a fine rain began to drizzle the bikers dismounted on a wide asphalt space in front of a big mansion like house. It was a whitewashed, square thing with a large porch and a grey roof. Once, it had been a grand thing with a big garden, now it was sad with a more purposed look to it. More housed stood with it around the yard. Inside the fence was a total of five family homes. Outside the fence was a little neighborhood, like a second wall of defense. Those houses looked newer, with green grass and shiny rooftops. Sometimes there where community barbeques, now there was a meeting.
‘Shit!’ Alexis cursed and pressed his hand tight across his lower left arm. He’d heard the motorcycles and cut too deep. ‘Fuck!’ he winched. After a few moments of wiggling with his legs tangled and his arms pressed tightly between his thighs, he dared to take a peek. He had cut too deep. Already his arm and hand where a bloody mess. Downstairs there were voices and he heard chairs being dragged around. One of his father’s tea parties was beginning. He had to get out of here. Now. He would not be able to stand their laughter.
Panicky he looked around and grabbed a black shawl from the bedpost. His attic bedroom was spacious but a little dark. The rugged wood dominated the ceiling, the shape of the roof. There was one window, but he’d covered it with a black sheet. The only light came from the little lamp over his desk.
While wrapping his arm tightly he looked into the standing mirror that stood between his desk and double closet. He sighed. Why did he have to look so sad? Sad and hurt. He combed his dark brown hair over the side of his face a little. He would look so good in his new, dark rimmed glasses. But not here, he didn’t dare put it on where his dad might see.
A girl had opened the door. Dark hair and a pretty face. It made her annoyingly confident.
‘Fuck off, Sam.’ He growled.
‘It’s Samantha!’ she shrieked. A thing that could always reliably piss her off.
‘Your birth certificate says Sammie,’ he teased her while pulling his sweater down over his arm.
‘Oh yeah, well yours say permanent failure!’
He turned around to look at her then. Only fourteen. Short shorts and a white tank top. Her hair shiny and styled with a curling iron, her cheeks dotted with silver glitter. Pink lip-gloss and fake eyelashes. She blinked in an attempt to look sexy, arm on her hip. A little lamb all dolled up.
‘Don’t let dad see you’re wearing make-up.’
She made an annoying gesture with her hand and showed him his palm. ‘Destania and I want to practice magic.’
‘Destania?’ he smirked. ‘You mean Joy from next door?’
She shrugged, ‘we didn’t think it was witchy enough.’
She entered the room and closed the door. Alexis sighed, ‘and what did I tell you about entering my room? Knock!’
‘Didn’t you hear me come up the stairs?’, she grinned mischievously, ‘I sneaked!’
Then she saw the razorblade on his desk. He wanted to dart towards it and swipe it in a drawer. But that would make it worse. She looked worried, then tried to hide it. ‘Are you cutting again?’ he asked with an unaffected sigh. These things were a part of this world now. So mature of her.
‘No,’ he scoffed, ‘just cutting up the table. I was bored.’
She shrugged. Luckily he did cut the table as well. The ancient leather was riddled with scratches.
Actually that was kinda sad.
‘Checking yourself out again?’, she smirked. He noticed that he was still standing in front of the mirror. ‘Just go,’ he waved her away and enjoyed the irritation that cause on her face. She was more like their father than he was. Strong and confident. There was even a little muscle, hidden away in the puppy fat that had not disappeared completely. They were half sister and brother. Her mother was somewhere downstairs, probably cooking. But unlike him, Samantha didn’t have a spark of the supernatural about her.
That’s why she tried so hard.
And she wasn’t leaving. ‘What do you want?’ he sighed exasperatedly. His arm was stinging and he felt a little dizzy. Was his sleeve soaking up blood or was that just a feeling? Luckily he was wearing black.
‘I want the Ouija board but I can’t find it,’ she complained.
‘That’s because your mother hid it.’
‘Yeah, but do you know where she hid it?’
‘Make your own board, Google it and stuff.’
‘We did, but it has to be more special than that!’
‘Whatever, I’m going out for a jog.’
‘A jog!’ she laughed, ‘you! You won’t make out of the yard!’
‘And you won’t be talking to any ghosts.’
‘Fuck you!’ she said softly.
She crossed her arm with a childish pout. ‘I get to say what you get to say.’
‘Yeah, but can you pull it of? I don’t think so, Sammie.’
‘I’ll tell mom I saw your razor again and she’ll tell dad.’
He stopped, doorknob in hand. The light from his desk casting his shadow in the door, on the dented wood. ‘You would do that?’
‘N-no,’ she said, suddenly sounding small. ‘I wouldn’t.’
‘Then have fun, it’s on the closet where the washing machine is.’
She hugged him in a quick dart of affection, then he was opening the door and she bounded down the stairs. You dress like a whore, he wanted to yell after her.
It was sad he didn’t love her anymore.
‘Run for the parking garage!‘, the voice said in her ear, ‘they won’t let you go after that little gimmick you pulled.’
‘I only meant it as a joke!’
‘How many times? If you want to hurt someone, hurt them. Don’t fool around.’
‘I don’t want to hurt anybody,’ she hissed in her phone, ‘I just want them to leave me alone…and that they don’t steal my money!’
‘Then I have the solution, let me deal with them.’
Esther immediately shook her head. ‘No, that would be…wrong.’
She was pushing her way through the crowd again, a glance over her shoulder assured her of being pursued.
‘I know you want to beat them up, you hate them.’
‘They hate me! And you wouldn’t beat them up…’
The voice sounded amused. ‘I wouldn’t?’
Esther jumped a little bench, making a kid drop his strawberry ice cream. As it screamed Shana leaped and cleared it cleaner than Esther had done, she was gaining on her.
‘You would want to scare them!’ Esther said, feeling a chill.
‘Just a little,’ the voice whispered eagerly. ‘I hate it when they want to hurt you. You’re mine.’
Esther shook her head, always with the jokes and the flattery, this one.
Then she realized she was heading for the stairs. I really am going to the garage, she thought.
Yes, you are, the voice thought right back at her. She felt it grin in anticipation.
‘Where is she going!’ the boy yelled. His name was Marcus and he was getting tired. His fall from earlier already made his ribs hurt.
‘The basement!’, the blond girl yelled, as the followed Shana. Shana had a healthy tan and was more athletic than the two of them. She had a kind of grudge to settle.
‘Why are we doing this?’ Marcus asked while they watched a mother comforting a screaming toddler. They jogged past the fountain, an ornamental swan that puked water with four identical siblings.
‘You remember how much she had on her last time?,’ the blonde asked him with a painful gasp, ‘that’s why.’
‘Come on!’ Shana yelled at them. She was standing at the top of a staircase. They could hear Esther running down them. ‘There’s way too many places to hide down there!’ Shana exclaimed as she motioned them to follow her.
The three of them bounded down the concrete steps. Since there where elevators, the place was ugly and deserted. They rounded a corner and Marcus felt dizzy, three more rows of stairs. They went down in a steep spiral, with little platforms between them. But he didn’t dare let Shana think he couldn’t take it. That remark from Esther earlier still stung, more than his ribs and sides did even.
Shana was enjoying the hunt. ‘There!’ she pointed as they ran, ‘I saw her go in!’ And she was right. Esther had bounded for the first door into the parking deck. Pulling the heavy door open took her a moment and they gained on her further. When she darting in they where on the same platform.
‘She’ll be trying to hide,’ Shana yelled, ‘hurry!’ She grabbed the door before it could close and they streamed in.
Shana didn’t know why he’d felt like hesitating before going in until they were already through the door. The lights where out. It took only a second for the motion detection to be activated and there where glaring light blinking on. Shielding there eyes ,they stepped forward, disoriented for a moment and blinking to see.
‘Esther!’, Shana yelled teasingly, ‘we know you’re here and if you move I’ll hear you! Just make this easy and hand over your money!’
‘Yeah,’ the blonde yelled, her name was Tess. ‘Hand it over!’ There where cars everywhere, parked in absolute silence with no-one in sight. It was perfect.
‘Esther!’ Shana yelled impatiently.
‘There!’ Tess pointed. Esther had come out. She’d crept from behind a car a little ahead of them. Now she walked into sight and came to a standstill in the middle of the road. Her head sunken and shoulders sagging in defeat. Tess laughed and started forward. Shana felt uneasy. Why did this feel like some kind of trap? Marcus looked back at her questioning. Are you coming? Or are you chicken? He’d probably wanted to buy something to eat later.
Fine, Shana though and moved out after them. I’m no coward. This is only Esther the little freak, the weakest link.
‘Interesting fact,’ Esther suddenly said as they where getting closer. ‘Did you guys know that the parking garage is closed off?’
‘Yeah,’ Marcus said unimpressed, ‘all the better for beating you up.’
Esther nodded, still looking down at the floor, ‘You’d think that, you’d think that. It’s such a hassle for all those people, having to park somewhere else.’
‘Are you stupid and blind?’ Tess laughed, ‘there’s loads of cars here!’
Esther sighed regretfully. ‘Yes I know, but they won’t be going anywhere anymore….like the three of you.’ Then she looked up, Shana wondered who was screaming so terribly and had to clamp a hand over her mouth to stop.
‘Where did she go!’ Tess screamed. Marcus was having trouble breathing he pointed at one of the cars nearby. There was something in it. A mangled, white things slapped a broken hand against the window. Suddenly the whole parking lot was filled with the sounds of things trying to get out. ‘They’re dead!’ Tess screamed, ‘dead!’
The moment Shana looked over her shoulder for the door the lights went out. All there was, was a black shadow that stood in the last light of the hallway. It was inhuman, skin over long bones. Hips and elongated legs tuned to them and a thin, skeletal hand with only four fingers, waved sadly. Then it was gone and the door was falling shut. Shana felt sweat on her whole body, she’d never been this electrified with terror. It made her muscles jangle with tension.
‘Run!’, she screamed with a tensed up jaw that threaded to bite her tongue off.
A car door opened and they heard a moan.
‘No! Nooo!’ Tess pleaded and Shana was already dragging them with her. Marcus was a surprise, Marcus could fly. He was pulling them as more doors opened and they’re exit was closing. The air was filled with a strange hotness and they could smell burning rubber that stuck to their tongues and in their noses. There was a shuffling sound behind them, dry and somehow…quick.
A train went by in the distance, they could hear it clanking by. The light was so small now, barely a ribbon. Shana reached for it as something behind them reached for her. Then the door fell shut and they where falling.
Not yet, someone pulled the door open before it could click shut and they where suddenly pulled forwards. Shivering, crying, they formed a pathetic heap on the floor. Someone looked down on them and ordered another to check the surroundings. “Try to catch it before it slips away!”
Shana lifted her head, she felt sick, a fever was blurring her mind. Shocking blue eyes, she couldn’t see anything else. The man that had saved them shook his head. ‘Rest,’ he said, and she did.
It was now a question of where to go first. There were only three options, really.
Fuells was closed. Esther felt a shock in the pit of her stomach that made her spine tingle. Shop closed, the sign on the door read, because of rat infestation. Her head made an involuntary move of disgust. Suddenly everything felt wrong; the sounds in her ears where muffled and she felt hot and tingly. Something was wrong. Every moment they could come out of the walls, eating people from the eyeballs into their brains. I have to go home and check if they’re still on my wall! I have to go home!
‘Hey! Hey,’ the voice came in from far away, ‘put your phone to your ear! I said put your phone against your ear!’ Esther yelped as her hand smacked the phone to the side of her head. It stung and for a moment her eyes where blurry with tears. Then she breathed in and did what the voice told her. ‘Now look, look and read it again. You see?’
She swallowed and brushed some stray hairs from her face. Then she read the sign again. ‘Oh.’
Shop closed. Nothing more. Esther knuckled her forehead and sighed, shoulders heaving with hatred and failure.
‘Do you mind?’ the voice said, ‘I’ve already eaten.’
‘W-what now?’ Esther stammered, she felt lost and disorientated.
‘You are going to eat something.’
She groaned. ‘No, please, I don’t want to.’
‘We’ll get you something see-through. Okay?’
Esther laughed mockingly. ‘Like soup, or ice cubes?’
‘Something like that. There’s a nice Chinese restaurant here, on the upper floor.’
‘No, just no.’
Suddenly she was whirled around in strong, cold grip on her shoulders. ‘You are going to die if you don’t eat,’ the voice growled in her ear. It was an unpleasant growl and the thin little girl in the mirror in front of her really did look ill. Esther blinked and looked away.
‘W-why do you care anyway!’ she hissed in her phone, people where staring and she tried to keep a pleasant smile on her face. It still looked a little strange because she was leaning backwards into something that wasn’t there.
She decided to shake loose and walk on, but something made her stop. His voice was soft now, a little vulnerable even. ‘Because, if you’re not here,’ he said with a slight touch on her shoulder blade, ‘I can’t stay here anymore. I’ll have to go back.’
Esther never really asked where “back” was. But she’d imagine it sometimes and that only made him snicker.
‘Okay, but you’ll have to help me.’
‘Gladly.’ Together they went back into the main crowd.
‘God, Esther you’re such a loser!’
Esther turned around. Right behind her where some kids from her class. She could never remember their names. Two girls, blonde and brunette, and a boy with prickly brown hair. What did they want?
They came closer but before the blonde could grab her, Esther dove into the crowd and entered a random shop. Clothes.Racks and racks of them in all the colors of the season, rainbows that she would never wear.
‘Stay where you are!’ the brunette called. Annette? Jay? Something like that.
Esther went around a naked dummy and shook her head. No, what was it? ‘Is your name Shay?’ she asked, barely out of reach.
‘Oh, you freak!’ the girl fumed, ‘I’m Shana! I sat next to you in class almost all of first year!’
Esther was baffled. ‘Really, what happened?’
The other girls came from the other side of the rack, the boy was nowhere to be seen.
‘What do you guys want?’ Esther asked, slinking out of Shana’s purple fingernails and diving underneath the clothes rack.
‘We want your money,’ she head the other girl say, then there was nothing. She crawled through a maze of clothes and saw the boy’s ankles running. Esther tripped him up and giggled as he hit the shiny floor. She couldn’t help it, it looked so funny; he jiggled!
‘Esther!’ the blond girl said with vengeance in her voice. Maybe this was why she always got into trouble?
‘Fat boy in aisle two!’ she said loudly as she emerged with her black sneaker on his back. ‘Somebody clean up in aisle two!’
Then she ran.
The bridge. A giant's arm of dark metal, reaching across the deep and unruly waters of the river.
Cars crossed it in double lanes, cyclists picked their way and Esther unsteadily walked the pedestrian strip. There where tourists, there where always tourists and all where bent double in the strong breeze rolling in from the sea further up. Esther watched the double networks of x's that reached out above her head. Strong and steady, glinting here and there in the harsh sunlight. The size of it made her breathless.
And all the way there was something following her.
There where people everywhere suddenly. Esther swayed and almost fell against one of the potted plants. Here there was a blue and yellow light that dazzled in from above. A dome covered the huge shopping center that looked like a glass beehive. Shops; tiny and "getting lost in in" big, where positioned at the edges.
In the center, where she was now, there was a resting area. Spread out between the potted plants an little tables, a few pillars reached up and where surrounded at the base by thick pillowed couched.
Esther always found a seat, even in this thankful, resting crowd of tired people. This time it was a heavy bodied woman with dark, curly hair and a sweat stained purple T-shirt. The moment she saw Esther a crushing look of pity stole across her face and she immediately reached for her many bags, herding them like plastic sheep around herself, and got up. Esther sat down and felt her bones creak. The woman looked over her shoulder a few times before she was swallowed up into the noise and the crowd.
She watched the people and saw that the light did not meet them all the way down. There where other levels, in rings above her head, that got the filtered brightness in abundance. But here, there was mostly shadow. There was shape now, darting and gliding between them, Esther knew what it was. When it was done playing it sat down beside her. There was nothing to see, she just knew.
'Why do you do that?', she asked.
'What did I tell you about public appearance?', a somber voice said, suddenly clear again beside her. Normally she only heard it as a kind of thought, an imprint of some kind. Now it was of actual speaking quality. But she knew she was still the only one hearing it. That looked a little strange because her end of the conversation was all too human and audible to everyone.
Grumpily she reached in her pocket and took out a lumpy, blue and grey phone. 'It's stupid,' she complained.
'What?,' the voice said, 'I can't heard you.'
There was ever the tiniest clicking of class, Esther knew this was because of it's teeth. With a tired sigh she put the phone against her ear. 'Why did you that, what did you do?'
'I get tired, I need their energy.'
Esther felt a chill. 'Does it hurt them?'
'No, that's why I need a lot of them. I take only the tiniest bit. They will be more tired when they get home, believe me, but noting serious.'
She nodded, reassured a little. 'Now...You where going to tell me about last night.'
'I worry about you sometimes; you forget things. You see life a ghost, in glimpses of what impresses you most. That's no way to go, dearest.'
Esther hugged herself, she suddenly felt cold.
'And then there the refusing to eat bit,' her companion continued. 'We wouldn't have to come here this often of you where healthier.'
'I know. It just disgust me. I can't do it.'
'Is it the old problem?'
Esther nodded. Was it ever anything else?
'We'll deal with that later. Now get up, we're going shopping...for clothes.'
People stared at her and Esther pressed the phone harder against her ear, huddling in on herself. 'No, I don't want to. I hate it.'
She imagined a gleam in stealthy, slits of eyes. 'You don't want to obey you mothers wished?'
The thing beside her nodded. 'That's where the money came from. You found it this morning, on your dresser?'
Esther shook her head, uncomprehendingly.
'I'll give you a complete recap of things while we walk. I don't like staying in one place too long. It draws attention of those that take notice. We don't want a repeater of three weeks ago, do we?'
Esther got up, he was right.
Moving in the crowd was it's own thing. It was like being in the deep end of a wave pool sometimes. Esther felt like making swimming movements with her arms, she was a good swimmer and could swim to safe her life in a high tide out at sea. This was different. Noise, smells, people shouting, laughter, little kids crying. She held her phone and in one perfect moment, she was aligned with all the businessmen doing the same thing.
'You got beaten up after school,' she was being told, the voice a pleasant constant in her ears. 'Those girls, you know them, they're from your class and somehow like to torment you.' Esther had been walking up a small, deserted stairway, between the stuffed rows of escalators. Suddenly there was a skinny, sad looking girl walking towards her. Ashen grey hair in a random ponytail, sunken cheeks and black, sad eyes. It was her. She walked towards one of the many mirror of the place and touched the glass. 'It's because you look weak,' he whispered in her ear, 'fragile. And they hate what it reflects on them. They can't tolerate you like this.'
'I...' she swallowed. Since when was she this...emaciated? She touched her cheek, or the little hollow it had become. Grey, grey and pale and saddened black. It hurt her to see herself like this.
She felt the littlest touch on her shoulder. 'You can't avoid every mirror for the rest of your life, ghost girl, you need....a make-over.'
She nodded slowly.
'And black...is not your color. I'm sorry, but you're too pale right now. Get a bit of sun on your face and we'll see.'
'Tell me the rest,' she whispered, phone in her hand beside her black, wide pants, 'I'm starting to remember.'
After they had beat her up she had limped home, defeated like the weakest dog of the pack. She'd taken the long road. The one that led around where the other kids hung out and lived. It had been a rainy day and it hit her just after she'd left the bridge. The path next to the river had been deserted as the drops made the surface a blur, misting over the grass and then the road, drenching her soft sneakers. They'd taken her bag and flung it in the trash, she'd left it there. It didn't matter, she didn't need it anyway. Her back hurt and her shoulders and head where hanging, a miserable picture of self-absorbed suffering. walking the white road that went beside the tracks and bent where industrial began.
And then she'd tripped. The lukewarm rain of the spring splashing in the big puddle around her. She'd stared at the water beside her, still a strong current that led out to sea. It would be cold in there. I want...
I want to...
'Hey, I know you,' someone had said. She'd looked up, startled, and there was the dark cheerleader. Also drenched, but less so. She'd offered a hand and she'd taken it. Dark streaks of mascara covered the pretty face that was now talking about things they had in common. They went to the same school, they hated the same people, "everyone", ...well, maybe they where hated by the same people as well. Then there had been the dare. They had been talking about Alicia, the girl that swallowed a pin and died. Her bigger sister had been in her class, Kimmie had explained, and after the accident they had moved out. This had all happened a few years ago and now the house was abandoned...haunted. Esther had laughed there, she knew the house and there where no ghost there.
And so it had been a dare and later that evening, after the rain had stopped, they'd met there.
'Spelunking,' she giggled into her phone. 'We watched it and she scolded me for looking away when there was blood!'
'You did miss most of the movie,' the voice retorted.
'I know, but I still love it.' Esther nodded. 'I remember now, why did I forget? She went home after that and I watched the shopping channel. ...in the morning Stella came to clean and I stayed out of the way...She found the bottles but said nothing. The money! It really was on my dresser! But...mom, I didn't see her.'
'She even talked to you!', the voice said with an audible sake of the head. 'She told you to buy clothes and you agreed.'
'Fine, whatever. We're here now and that's what counts. I'll remember it later, I'm getting the hang of it.'
'You're strange sometimes.'
'Says part of the strangeness.'
Separate names with a comma.