LNH20/ACRA: NHOP # 3 [repost]

Tom Russell joltcity at gmail.com
Fri Oct 30 18:49:39 PDT 2015

Maggie's awake for about an hour before she wakes up. This sensation,
like sleeping naked in a cramped glass box, is something she's gotten
used to since her birthday. The first thing she got used to, in fact.
   That never made it any easier to explain to her doctors though.
What do you see when you're transformed? Nothing. Blackness, then? No,
not blackness, I don't see any colors at all. (No eyes to see them
with. No ears to hear. No nerve endings to feel.) But you're thinking?
Not with any words, no, it's like I don't have a brain anymore. Then
how can you possibly say that you're conscious?
   She struggled for an answer then. She still struggles now, long
after the doctors stopped asking questions. Every morning, when her
ooze sloughed off to give way to fresh, taut new skin, the next in
line of a parade of doctors would be waiting with their questions.
When her new eyeballs formed, bleary and glazed, she dreaded opening
them, because the first thing those eyes would ever see was some
strange, new, and wholly unsympathetic face that was pretending to
   Slowly, here and now, her body is remade. Her organs are formed,
then muscles and bone, then skin, and nerves: she feels the coolness
of the glass, and her new ear drums pick up the drone of cars coming
off of nearby ninety-four. The slime rolls off her body like water,
pooling harmlessly about her arms and legs, and for the first time
since midnight, she breathes, a hard fresh snort of air that fills up
new and aching lungs. She opens her eyes, and she sees a strange, new,
and wholly unsympathetic face. This one, at least, does not pretend to
   It's a woman's face, crowned in a mass of tight brown curls so dark
as to nearly be black. Blacker still is the eyeliner, so black that it
overwhelms the pale green of her eyes. The nose is large and angular;
the mouth small and tight. Over a black t-shirt hangs a vest made of
loose-mesh chainmail that doesn't hide the fullness of her breasts or
her fleshy hips. She's not a cow like Maggie, but neither is she a
stick-bug like Lily. Around her neck hangs a pendant in the shape of a
black metal pentagram.
   "Hello, roommate," says Michette in a soft high little squeak of a
voice. "We must be speaking now about the ghost."

 !!!!  !!! !!!   !!!  !!!!!!!  !!!!!!!!
 !!!!!!!!! !!!   !!! !!!   !!! !!!!  !!!
 !!! !!!!! !!!!!!!!! !!!   !!! !!!!!!!!
 !!!  !!!! !!!   !!! !!!   !!! !!!
 !!!   !!! !!!   !!!  !!!!!!!  !!! # 3
             ~IN WHICH~
 We meet Michette, and learn of dark things.

"Can I..." Maggie takes a hard swallow that lumps through her throat.
New mouth always feels a little funny. "Can I get dressed first?"
   "Oui," says Michette. She turns her head to one side and closes her
eyes, her nose becoming a sharp triangle in profile.
   "You just said 'oui'," says Maggie as she climbs out of her sleeping pod.
   Michette shrugs: "I am French. Sometimes I speak in French. It is
not so surprising."
   "It's just like something out of a TV show. To have the French
character say 'sacrebleu!' or something."
   "I did not say 'sacrebleu'; I said 'oui'. I thought you were
getting dressed?"
   "I am," says Maggie as she hooks the clasps of her brassiere. "How
long have I been unconscious?"
   "It was yesterday afternoon," says Michette. "Lilith retrieved you
from the bathroom but a few minutes after you went in. Why did you go
into the bathroom?"
   "We had pizza rolls," says Maggie.
   "It was stupid," says Michette sharply.
   "Did I say 'probably'? No. It was stupid. Not probably. You deal
with the dark forces, you cannot be stupid. It is not the luxury that
you can have."
   "I'll keep that in mind," says Maggie. "Did Lily put me in my box?"
   Michette's white cheeks flush red and hot. "No. She had put you on
the couch! You were there when I returned. Lily told me of your
condition a few minutes before midnight. She had forgotten. So we put
you in your... sleeping container."
   "My clothes..."
   "We did not remove them."
   Which means she'll be shitting them out later. Great. And she
really liked that blouse, too. "Fully dressed," announces Maggie.
   Michette turns and stares at her. Her skin is still flush, redder
than before, and her nostrils are flaring loudly. Maggie gets the
distinct feeling that she's about to be slapped, and hard. But
Michette doesn't slap her, doesn't move, doesn't say a word. She just
stares at her, fierce and angry.
   "I'm sorry about your saffron," Maggie says finally.
   "The saffron is nothing," says Michette.
   "Really?" calls Lily from the next room. "That's a relief."
   "No, not really," snipes Michette. "And I am not speaking to you."
   "I'm just saying, if she's not in trouble for it, I don't see why I
should be."
   Michette clenches her eyes, raises her palm close to her cheek with
fingers heaven-stretched, and takes a deep whistle of a breath through
the nose. She holds it a moment, her face moving from red to purple,
then releases it. She opens her eyes. "Deep, calming breath," she
says, but she does not look any calmer. She stares at Maggie again.
"The saffron is not important," she says quietly. "But you have
brought a darkness into my home."
   "I'm sorry."
   Michette does not appear to accept the apology.
   "His name is Tyler," says Maggie. "The ghost."
   "You know him," says Michette. "That is good, Margaret."
   Lily hollers from the other side of the door. "Her name is Maggs."
   "Maggie," she says in a low whisper.
   "It is a good thing, Maggie," says Michette. "For if you know him,
we can know why he haunts you. How you have wronged him."
   "Well, I kinda killed him."
   "That is not so good," says Michette. "Okay, so we go with Plan B."
   "I don't even know what Plan A is."
   "There are two ways to deal with the other world," begins Michette.
   "I thought there were three," chimes in Lily.
   Another "calming" breath. "There is a reason you are in the other
room, Lilith, and not in this one, and yet it is like you are still in
the room, because I can still hear your voice for some reason." She
turns to Maggie again, and smiles. "There are three ways to deal with
the other world. One that is kind, one that is not, and one that is
something else. Something of which we cannot be speaking.
   "The way that is kind, this is Plan A. To find what the spirit
wants, and to give it that thing. To put right what once went wrong."
   Lily says something.
   "What?" snaps Michette.
   Lily opens the door. "I said, that's totally from Quantum Leap. Hi, Maggs."
   "Don't you need to run to the store?" says Michette.
   "What for?"
   Michette finally snaps. "Saffron. Which is for demons, and not for
ghosts. Demons, saffron! Vampires, garlic! Ghosts, basil!"
   "Saffron also works for vampires. And for ghosts."
   "And garlic and basil do not work for demons!" says Michette.
"Saffron is the bane of all darkness, but is the only bane of demons!
Now, please, go! Before you make me angry and I begin to yell at you!"
   "You're already kinda yelling at me pretty fierce. Maggs, back me
up on this."
   "I am not getting into this," says Maggie.
   "The North remembers, Maggs," warns Lily as she closes the door.
   "I... what?"
   Michette rolls her eyes. "She has been watching the HBO, when she
needs to be going to the store."
   "I'm going, I'm going."
   Once she has left, Michette resumes. "Plan A, the way of kindness,
is to give the ghost what it wants, to finish its business. That is
not an option here, I am thinking." She stares at Maggie expectantly.
   "No," says Maggie, "it's not." Though part of her knows she deserves to die.
   "Plan B is unkind," says Michette. "And that is to banish the dark
powers with force. It is not always safe, and seldom easy, but it is a
thing that I have done many times."
   "You don't sound so sure," says Maggie.
   "You are observant," says Michette. "I said that you have brought
this darkness into my home, but I am not thinking that you fully
understand what that means. Lily has told you of my work?"
   "You hunt demons."
   "That is one way to put it, yes. Not entirely accurate. There is
more, much more, but that will serve presently. And it is important in
doing this work that I do not bring it home with me. For home is the
place of the heart, and the heart is where the children of men are
   "I didn't mean..."
   "You must let me finish," says Michette, not unkindly. She walks
over to Maggie's window, the links of her chainmail vest clinking
softly with each step. "The first thing I did when we came here was to
ward it." She presses one palm against the cold glass of the window.
Before Maggie's eyes, lines of gold are suddenly being etched into the
walls, shimmering, thin as filigree.
   "Powerful spells, Margaret," says Michette solemnly. "Powerful
enough to keep out all but the deepest powers of the other world. For
from them there is no protection. At the present, I am beneath their
notice, and so my wards have kept me safe. They have kept Lilith safe.
And the wards remain unbroken. Nothing from the other world can get
into my home. Ever. Are you seeing now what I am speaking?"
   "Tyler got in," says Maggie breathlessly.
   "And that is of concern. For the darkness must be strong in him for
him to cross this threshold. And that means that we are all in a
terrible danger. How did he die, Margaret?"
   Maggie wants to correct her, but she'll take Margaret over Maggs
any day. "The first time I... transformed. I... I absorbed him."
   "Are you certain?"
   "I don't know what else it would have been," says Maggie. "But I
couldn't see him when it happened. I don't have any... awareness when
I'm like that."
   "None?" says Michette.
   "Well, I..." Maggie stumbles, wondering if she even try to explain
it. It certainly never worked any of the other times.
   "You sense something," says Michette. "But it is not seen, or felt,
or heard, or even thought. But it is something, something ineffable,
   Michette nods, smiling. "It is the sixth sense."
   "With Bruce Willis?" says Maggie.
   "Now I am seeing why you and Lily get on so well," says Michette a
little sourly. "Yes, I am speaking about your uncanny ability to
always know the whereabouts of Bruce Willis, and possibly Billy Joel
   "So I have like ESP?"
   "Again, not entirely accurate, but it will serve presently," says
Michette. "And with this awareness, you knew you had killed him?"
   "I... I don't know," says Maggie. "It's hard to remember that
night. But in the morning, when I... when I had my BM, there were...
there were pieces of him..." She covers her face with her fleshy
hands, choking back the tears. If Lily was in the room, she would
probably be hugging Maggie right about now. But Michette just stands
there awkwardly. It's not that she's cold or indifferent, necessarily;
more that she just doesn't seem to know what to do.
   "Where did this happen?"
   "My bedroom. My parents' house."
   "At midnight?"
   "I think so. Near enough."
   "Were you loving?"
   "I'm... what?"
   "Were you in the... act of love?"
   Maggie's pretty sure that she's pinker right now than when she
turns into a blob. "No," she says.
   "You were not lovers, then," says Michette.
   "No, no, not at all," says Maggie hurriedly.
   Michette smiles with the left side of her mouth. "Oh, I know what
it is. You are the duck, yes?"
   "The duck," says Maggie flatly.
   "Oh, yes," teases Michette. "You are the duck."
   "I don't know what that means."
   "You know, the duck. The duck who loves the ginger girl."
   "You have completely and totally lost me," says Maggie, "and this
is really embarrassing. Can we get back to talking about the terrible
danger and the darkness? I actually think I'd be more comfortable."
   "Of course," says Michette. "After Tyler's death, was there
anything strange that happened?"
   "Like with the faucets?"
   "No, but... after I got back from the hospital, when I came back
from Netropolis to my room, it felt different."
   "In what way different?"
   "Threatening. Like it didn't want me there. That was Tyler, wasn't it?"
   "I think so," says Michette. "And this you felt for the first time
when you came back. Not at the hospital?"
   "When I came back," confirms Maggie. "And only in the room where he
died. When I wasn't in the room, I didn't feel it. Until I went into
the bathroom, here, yesterday."
   "And for how long did you feel this in your room?"
   "Months," says Maggie. "Six. Seven. I got so scared, I couldn't
stay there anymore. So I took out the ad, and I guess you know the
   "And it never tried to hurt you before yesterday?"
   "If it did," says Maggie, then she corrects herself, "if he did. I
don't know. He seemed mad and, yeah I wouldn't blame him, but he
didn't actually hurt me. Maybe he doesn't want..."
   Michette cuts her off. "This thing in my home reeks of malice. I am
sorry to say it, Margaret, but there is the truth, and you need to
understand this if you want to survive what is to come."
   Maggie nods soberly.
   "In your room, it was only a presence; it did not manifest itself
   "Just a presence," says Maggie.
   Michette steeples her fingers, pushing them against her lips. "I do
not want to say, 'this is how it is with ghosts', because ghosts are
not demons. With demons, there are rules. There are forms to be
obeyed. Demons are, if not natural, than at least a part of creation.
I can tell you 'this is how it is with demons', and that is how it is.
Ghosts are impossible things, things that should never be, and so each
one is different. You will be keeping this in mind."
   Maggie nods.
   "That said, this is how it is with ghosts. A ghost born of violence
is strongest in the violent place. This dark spirit, to share the room
with you for six months without so much as shifting a book around or
pulling at your hair, this is most unusual. It may be that it was not
strong there, but when it followed you to this place, it grew in
strength. The home of one such as I is a place of powers great and
dark, Margaret, and that is another reason why it must be warded
against the terrible ones. And so this possibility is most troubling."
   Maggie's hoping that Michette will say something after that,
something reassuring maybe, but she doesn't. Maggie stares at the
walls, and sees that the curling gold lines are slowly dimming,
dimming, fading. And it then occurs to her, really occurs to her for
the first time, that she is standing in a room with a demon hunter,
that the room is warded against demons by magic, that there are
vampires and ghosts, and that one of the latter is her best friend,
who probably wants to kill her. People in tights throwing buses at
each other, that's normal, but this...
   She is sitting on the floor now with her head between her knees,
but she doesn't remember sitting down. Everything's spinning around.
Michette's crouched down besides her and touching her shoulder. No,
not Michette; it's Lily; Lily's back from the store, the plastic
handles of a grocery bag wrapped about her slender wrist, and has been
talking for a little while now, but Maggie doesn't know what she's
been saying. Michette is standing, staring at Maggie awkwardly.
   "So what now?" says Maggie.
   "You have not been here long," says Michette. "The ghost is still
tied to you, and has not yet become attached to this place which may
be making it stronger. If you leave, it should follow you."
   "If I leave...?" blinks Maggie.
   "You misunderstand," says Michette. "It is just to sever its tie to
my home. To weaken it. Then we kill it. Together, the three of us. In
the violent place."
   "The place where it's strongest?" says Maggie.
   "The place where it is the most real," says Michette. "The most
concentrated. The room where Tyler died."
   The bedroom door slams itself shut. Maggie's sleeping box flings
itself into the air, and right at Michette.
   She touches her pendant and mouths two words in French. The
sleeping box shatters three inches in front of her as if it had hit a
wall. The fragments don't bounce backwards, but keep moving forward.
Not into Michette, but around her and past her, cluttering with a
strangely clunking metal sound against the wall.
   As this is happening, Maggie's burgeoning board game collection
starts to quiver and shake, the lids sliding off in a symphony of
box-farts, little pieces of wood and cardboard and plastic spilling
out into the air and onto the floor. Maggie thinks that if Tyler could
see this that he would be totally losing his shit. He was always very
precious about the board games and not getting the bits mixed up. But
then she remembers that this is Tyler doing it.
   Michette is pointing at the floor with her prime finger, and
tracing an imaginary circle around the three of them. The imaginary
circle becomes real, becomes two circles, gold and glowing, one
slightly smaller and inside the other. Between the two circles there
are letters or sigils or runes or whatever the hell, and they flash
like yellow knives, hurting Maggie's tender newborn eyeballs.
   Lily is standing up now, and shaking a spice container outside of
the circle, yelling with every shake, "Saffron! Saffron! Saffron!"
   The ruckus stops as quick as it started, and the door creaks open
just an inch, as if there was a slight change in air pressure.
   "Saffron! Saffron! Saffron!"
   Lily suddenly stops. "Huh. All gone."
   "That is the saffron you just went to the store to purchase," says
Michette slowly.
   "And you just dumped it all on the floor. In big heaping slops."
   "While we were magically warded against all harm."
   "A little bit, yeah."
   Michette rubs her palm against her own face for four full seconds
before letting her fingers slide down her chin. "I sometimes wonder
why I love you."
   Lily gives her a huge smile, then sticks out her tongue, the tip of
which extends to the bottom of her chin.
   "Well, there is that."

NEXT TIME: Three women and a ghost.


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