Why, I wondered as I wake up, not for the first time, on cold tile flooring, is the floor sticky?
Peeling an arm off the floor with a disgusting schlock! I looked at my tanned skin, covered in crisscrossed marks of raised flesh that numbered in the thousands. Smears of red gel with strands of webbing come off the floor with my arm, showing me that my arm is covered not in cheap beer as it so often was, but in something far worse.
“Oh Hell …” I muttered as I forced myself up into a sitting position, repeating the same sucking noise as my nude frame is pulled from the tile of what turns out to be a windowless Victorian bathroom. My eyes have long become accustomed to darkness from years of work in the stranger fields of study, and as such allow me to see that the walls are covered in lettering written in thin strips, obviously painted on by a finger.
Slapping my hand to my face is a mistake despite my desire to facepalm, as the slimy trail of congealed blood leaves a coppery scent lingering in my nostrils. I spat out some of the clotted bits as I seek dry tile to push myself up to my feet with, a vain effort as it seems as if an entire calf was bled dry in this room.
“What did I do last night?” I wondered, thinking back on my drunken shenanigans.
Stumbling out of the back of the bar, I spat out a bit of bile as I forced myself to see straight. This was difficult as I’d already had my fifth shot of tequila by the time I’d started having Red Bull Vodka’s with the college boy’s that’d been looking me over like a freak they could add as a notch on their belts with.
“Chelsea Grinn?” Someone asked, their voice slightly concerned. Spinning, my switchblade was out of my wrist holster and flicked out. “Whoa there, now there’s no need to get rowdy!”
“Nobody but fucking ghost chasers know me by that name!” I growled, focusing my eyes on the man standing beside the dumpster, just beyond the corona of light shed by the bare bulb hanging in the alley.
The man was maybe thirty-five, with graying temples and crow’s feet clawing at the edges of his eyes. He had worry lines creasing down the sides of his mouth, with well-trimmed auburn hair and sideburns. He wore a simple gray sweater with brown khakis, a briefcase in one hand while the other was held up in a motion of peace.
“Well I suppose you could call me a ghost chaser,” the man said, a smile gracing his features in a cocksure fashion, “the name is Quentin Wilks. I teach Teratology at the University of Connecticut, and spend my spare time and money researching the nature of ghosts.”
“Nasty business, that,” I said.
“So, I’ve heard,” Quentin said, holding up his briefcase, “and I’ve heard you have talents that make such endeavors much safer. I’m looking to hire a little muscle.”
“Sorry to say I’m happy working the oil rigs right now,” I said, flipping her knife closed, relaxing her stance. Quentin relaxed as well, stepping into the light, his boots splashing in a puddle of garbage water leaking from a rusted dumpster. A smattering of roaches scurried into the night as Quentin’s boot crushed the Styrofoam container holding their temporary home and meal to the pavement.
“I have more than enough to make it worth your while,” Quentin said, bringing the briefcase around to tap with his open palm, drumming his fingers along the side.
I frowned, looking over at Quentin, up from the ground. “How much?”
“Enough to have you drinking away your days in a private resort for a few years instead of every few months in between jobs.” Quentin said.
I winced. “Been watching me, eh?”
“The man in charge of this makes it a practice to get to know everyone he wants to work with. He even vetted me out before I was approached.”
“That must’ve been fun,” I mused, thinking the offer over. “Whatever is in the briefcase, double it. If you have an employer, then you have backing. That means you guys are going somewhere big, and that can only mean dangerous.”
“Um, I’m certain you’ll find what we’re offering now to be more than reasonable Miss Grinn—” Quentin said before being cut off.
“—and I’m sure you’ll discover this part of Corpus Christi wouldn’t be too concerned with finding a dead man in an alleyway, got it? You go on back with my demands and come back when the offer is hot. I know you’ll be able to find me.”
Looking around the room at the intricate seal work, and the six slash marks I’d apparently done to my thigh with my walrus bone switchblade to get the blood for the necessary ground work, I knew that my price had been met.
“Fuck,” I muttered, running a bloody hand through my short pageboy hair, the blue dye standing out against the globs of red getting stuck in my locks, “can’t believe I’m playing muscle for another rich asshole who wants to contact the dead, again.”
Standing on shaky legs, I looked in the only of the mirror room, taking in my dark complexion. Born Chelsea Crane, I’d earned the title “Grinn” from time spent in the Laughing Skulls, a street gang out of Houston, acting as a medium. I contacted the recently deceased members of those we’d killed for information on where they’d stashed drugs or guns, or where we could find places where such stashes could exist.
The problem was each time I’d plunged into the Astral, I’d come back a little harder, a little colder, and a lot more detached. I’d taken to cutting myself, and finally snapped in a fit of rage that somehow ended in me slicing out both of my cheeks with broken shards of glass from a mirror in her high school bathroom. I still don’t remember how that went down, or what led up to it, just that there were several younger students hiding in stalls while I wrecked the room, shouting and screaming and destroying everything.
I spent three years in a correctional institution for psychics and mediums before the state had to release me on my eighteenth birthday, and I haven’t looked back.
Now, covered from neck to toe in scars, most self-inflicted, I know I’m an intimidating sight, as far as any four-foot eleven Hispanic woman can be. I’m strong from working pipelines, while lean from years of working out in different gyms. I found early on that while I trained I could drown out the voices screaming in my mind.
Not completely, but enough to where I didn’t need to take my medicine so often.
“Speaking of which,” I said, looking around the blood-spattered bathroom. I heaved a sigh of relief when I caught sight of my one vanity purse, a heavy alligator skin sack that held all my pills that I’m required to take for my dissociative mood disorders. Not one clinic had pegged me down with a single matching diagnosis. Most said I was bipolar schizophrenic, while others said I had multiple personalities. Others said it had severe mania, while one had gone so far as to say I was possessed.
I just nodded and took the medication that was prescribed, as it kept the voices to a dull roar. And when you heard the voices of the dead begging for help day in and day out, you wanted whatever succor you could find. Now, the dull roar is just a faint buzzing, the voices seem to have long since learned that I’ve managed to tune them out.
Hello Chelsea, came an unbidden whisper across my mind.
All except one voice, I thought with bitter remorse.
“Hello Grinn,” I whispered, looking around the room for something to drink before looking at the tap. Deciding it is just as clean as the rest of the blood-caked place, I pad over to it and begin sorting out my pills as the soft caress of the voice tickles my mind.
You’ve been busy I see, Grinn said, peering through my eyes, ancient Sumerian script … I would have imagined you would have forgotten all about that through your binge drinking.
“If only I were so lucky,” I mused, counting out my Monday pills. Eleven in total. Filling my hand with water, I toss them back before splashing handfuls of old tap water into my mouth,
swallowing as quickly as I can to get the hard lumps of medicine down my throat. Rasping, I wipe away the tears threatening to spill from the corners of my eyes before I growled. “What is it you want, Grinn? I’m busy and don’t have time for your shit right now!”
No matter, Grinn said with enough of a smile in her voice that I could feel it, those handy little problem solvers you took should chase the blues away and keep me from popping up for a good long while. I just thought you might like some company before you get the urge to start breaking things again.
I winced at the mention of breaking things. I only do that when I’m mad. “And why, pray tell, would I do that?”
Go check in your bedroom, in the dresser. Bottom one, to the left.
I rushed out of the room, padding across hardwood floor with bloody footprints as I crossed a lovely old bedroom done in pastoral scenes. Several older paintings, all faded with age, hang from the walls, where the paint peels from disrepair. The bed is a queen-sized mattress and looks soft, with a white duvet blanket and several pillows, along with several curtains that can be pulled shut to provide privacy should the sleeper need it. The curtains, stylized with intricate sewing of pearls and small princess cut clear gems, created clattering images of trees that I’d never seen rivaled in any other hotel before.
That meant I wasn’t in a hotel.
“Fuck, I’m already at the job site,” I groaned, my fears confirmed.
Why else would you have begun painting protection spells in your own blood all over the walls? Grinn teased from within my head, something I chose to ignore.
I reached the dresser, a truly historic piece of furniture made from solid oak that had four pull out shelves and a side cabinet that would likely have stored a minibar at one point in time. Knowing my luck, I opened the cabinet and frowned.
“Why?” I asked Grinn, who I can already feel snickering within my head, “am I looking at a safe and feeling as if I am going to hate myself for it?”
Because you already know the answer to the most burning question in this house lies within that safe, Grinn replied. And just so you know, the fool who hired you for this wanted the both of us. Specifically asked for me by name, in fact.
“He didn’t know any better,” I said, squatting down to look over the safe. It had a radial dial, and weighed an easy eight hundred pounds. How this dresser was holding it up was anyone’s guess, but old-world craftsmanship shone through till the end, I guess.
Funny, Grinn said, her voice becoming strained, seemed to me like he knew exactly what he was paying for.
I grumbled under my breath as Grinn’s chuckle slowly died as if breaking apart on a swift wind, my hands busy spinning the dial experimentally to see if I could feel if there were any old ticks to mark signs of wear and tear.
“Shit,” I said as discovered that the safe seemed to be the only new thing in my entire room. Standing up, I walk back into the bathroom.
“I need a shower, and someone needs to clean this mess,” I grumbled. “Here’s to hoping this dump has hired help, and that I’m not stuck cleaning up day old blood off the floor.”
A long, low hiss of the shower came from the stall as I stared in the mirror, prompting me to slowly turn my head to look over at the claw foot tub, surrounded by a plastic shower curtain. The shower rod is now spraying steaming water into the basin, as if I’d turned the knob myself and given it a moment to heat up.
“H-uh,” I said, staring at the enclosed tub, listening to the water hammer down on the stained ceramic of the tub. “Anyone there?”
The sound of the shower was all the met my question, the long seconds steam billowing out from the tub told me that that there wasn’t anything around me, at least to the point where I could detect.
“It’s been less than ten hours since I showed up and I’ve already made contact,” I grumbled. “This might be a tough job.”
I padded over to the tub, ready to pull back the curtain to step in when I heard a quiet voice whisper something just behind my ear, the breath tickling the hollow with a chill that seemed to send a shiver down my scar-laden back.
Spinning, I looked around. “Who’s there?”
A crinkling of plastic was the only warning I got, allowing me to turn in time to see the body pressing through the shower curtain, arms stretched out to grab at me to grapple me. A low moan echoed around the room, growing in volume as the figure slapped at me, forcing me to back step as quickly as possible.
I curse as I step in a puddle of congealed blood, slipping in the fluid in one painful motion as I tumble back onto my ass onto the tile. The plastic shower curtains now formed a cloak for the specter, the darkness looming beneath the sheets with twin yellow orbs glaring at me, a jagged cut of teeth glowing beneath the luminescent eyes in a sneer that seemed to pierce my soul.
“Leave while you can,” the specter rasped, motioning with a handless arm, “we won’t spare you a second time. Wait … soon, he will see …”
And with that the curtains fell back into place, fluttering back in a partially wrinkled mess to block the water from falling on the tile. Sitting in my own cold blood, ass aching from my fall, I glared at the curtains as I willed my heart to stop pounding.
“Fuck,” I growled. “I hate ghosts!”