Disclaimer: Death. Gruesome. Humour in poor taste.
The grey man would not shut up.
“Jess!” he called, hopping to her other side as she turned away from him. “I can prove that I exist and that you’re not crazy. You need to follow me.”
“Is following a delusion to prove its existence the less crazy option?” Jessica muttered, mostly to herself. She pivoted to face him, eliciting a huge grin from the ghostly guy. “If you’re real, why can’t these three see you?” she asked, waving towards her bemused companions. Thankfully, they had stopped freaking out when Jessica explained that this figment of her imagination did not mean them any harm. “Pixie, aren’t you supposed to be ‘attuned’?”
Pixie bristled. “I am. Of course I am,” she insisted haughtily. “Maybe he’s a fresh spirit or something? Maybe I can only see older ones. Yeah, that’s it, I can only see older ones.”
“Oh,” Yibbo sighed. “Yes, that makes total sense!”
Jessica shook her head. Nothing about this made sense.
“I am pretty fresh, but I think your shiny-headed pal here is talking bull,” Paul whispered, even though the target of his derision couldn’t hear him. “Although,” he mused, “If older ghosts are her deal, you can test that by heading on over to the vampire’s house – after you’re done helping me, course. Packed with ghosts, that place is. A whole crypt full of dead ‘uns.”
“What’s he saying?” Morag asked keenly.
“I really don’t know,” Jessica replied.
“Is he not speaking Simlish?” Yibbo asked, boldly stepping forwards. “Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Parlez-vous français? Spreekt u Nederlands? Um… Parli Italiano?”
“Is that Spanish?”
“He is speaking Simlish, insomuch as he’s speaking, which he isn’t because this is just a weird dream. I mean, he’s saying something about vampires and a crypt, for Gnome’s sake—”
“Vampires!” Yibbo said in a giddy squeak. “I knew it!”
“Is that what killed him?” Morag asked.
The hallucination calling itself ‘Paul’ nodded. “Yeah. Kind of. He’s like a vampire but with beast teeth. Those things smart. Hey now, that reminds me; I think there’s a piece of my gullet still up on the north pathway. I don’t think my entire body has to be laid to rest to get me out of here though, so we can probably leave that there. At least, I hope you don’t need to be intact to cross over because I’ve had my tonsils out, before this, I mean. And I was circumcised when I was a baby and heck knows what happens to my—”
“I think it was the victim-savaging monster that got him,” Jessica cut in, each word making her sound more and more loopy.
The words had a profound effect on her companions, though, as six wide eyes scanned the pitch-black space around them.
Morag swallowed, the only one to find her voice. “That… that thing actually exists?”
“Yeah, he exists,” Paul confirmed. “And he’s terrifying. He makes you live your worst nightmares, chases you through the trees and then, when you feel most helpless and alone, that’s when he strikes. A shrink would have a field day with him.”
“He exists. And it appears he… he kills for… sport?”
“We need to get out of this forest—”
“No!” Paul cried, passing swiftly through each fleeing girl and bringing them each to a shivering halt.
“W-what was that?” Pixie chattered. “It’s gone so c-cold!”
“Please, Jess,” Paul begged. “Please don’t go. Don’t let me wander this place forever in my pants. They’re not even my good pants.”
“Jess, come on!” Pixie called, trying to run against the feeling in her limbs. Jessica flexed her fingers, feeling the cool pins and needles sensation that prickled the skin on her palms. She looked at her fleeing friends; they each seemed to be having a similar reaction.
“But this is impossible. He’s… he’s not real,” she whispered to herself. “Maybe none of this is real.”
“I’m real, Jess.”
The three GliTS had made their back, gravitating towards the warmth of the fire.
“I think he is real,” Morag said quietly. “What’s he saying now?”
“That if we bury him, he won’t be stuck wandering the forest forever…”
“In my pants.”
“…Not fully dressed…”
“I’m 85% sure. Which is way more sure than I was when I chose the Sandymatic 4000 over the Abrasivator X3, and that wound up being the best choice of my life. Smoothest logs in the district, they were! Can’t believe I spent so long sanding by hand, like a pauper. Man, those were the days.”
“Um… something about… something,” Jessica relayed.
“We should follow him,” Morag said assuredly. “It’s the right thing to do.”
“It is?” Yibbo asked, with a whimper. “With a mean beastie roaming around?”
“I haven’t seen him for a week or so.”
“He hasn’t seen the monster for a week.”
“Oh great!” Yibbo huffed sarcastically. “So he’ll be extra hungry and bored when he finds us then. Brilliant!”
“Come on! This is what we’ve been working for isn’t it?” Morag said. “To prove that something stalks these woods? That we were right? Here, we’ll have a body with evidence on! We have an eyewitness! Jessica can speak to the dead – without a crystal ball! It’s like a dream come true!”
“You have weird dreams, Morag.”
“I do. I eat a lot of cheese before bed.”
“Morag’s right,” Pixie sighed.
“Huh,” Jessica pouted. “I thought the cheese thing was a myth.”
“I mean about helping your ghost, Jess. It is the right thing to do. It’s what we are here to do.”
“Nooo!” Yibbo wailed. “I’ve already seen one dead body this week – that’s enough! And it’s not fair! I’m outvoted again!”
“Not necessarily,” Morag pointed out. “Jessica is a full GliTS member now, so her vote could still swing it.”
This time, eight hopeful eyes turned her way.
“What do you think, Jess?” Yibbo asked.
“Yeah, what do you think, Jess?” Paul parroted.
“Should we follow the invisible pants man to the site of his decomposing body at the risk of all being eaten alive?”
“Should you follow the ginger stallion to the ravine and reclaim his soul, perfectly safely,” Paul paraphrased.
“Or shall we go back to HQ, adorn you with your bespoke Mind Assault Defence (MAD) hat and get cocoa?”
“My eternal purgatory versus tin foil and cocoa? Ooh, tough call.”
Lilith had pep in her step, despite being temporarily imprisoned in the flower shop for the night. Sage and Wyatt had been gone a while, but still had a while to go, and Lilith had been left in charge of her impetuous sibling, his fledgling and his bind.
This situation, on any other day, would have had her eye twitching and her hand reaching for the nearest spirit, but today had not been an ordinary day.
After a night of solitary reading, she and Broof had spent the day researching together. The old tomes offered neither of them much further insight into the old way of the witches that they hadn’t already garnered from knowing Broof’s grandmother. Most of the books had pages suspiciously missing where details of darker magic may have been. But there were a few interesting snippets in amongst the scribble and scrawl; some new information, some potential leads.
For instance, one of the coven’s witches had been quite the adventurer before he’d settled in Windenburg with his travel-weary daughter. There was one, scrawled out reference in the dusty volumes of his impending trip to the ‘Village of the Free’ – but any details of what he sought there, where this place was, how to get there or how he fared there if, indeed, he ever went were long gone.
The Village of the Free. Broof had never heard of it but he did have an idea who might have, he said.
Leave it with me.
Broof was a great host, very polite even a little humorous, but Lilith was not warming to him. He was as suspicious as hell. He had kept her fed, got her clean, socialised with her without being intrusive and gone about his daily chores as if he was comfortable in her presence, which was… unusual for Lilith – however, that wasn’t what irked her.
There was just something off about him that she couldn’t identify. Something didn’t fit quite right and it hadn’t escaped her notice that she had never seen him do any spells.
At first she thought it was because he’d worked in the company of mortals for a long time, even lived with them. Maybe he forgot she wasn’t human. As he took his time, carefully polishing every surface, she’d casually asked why he didn’t do it with magic.
She hadn’t missed the stiffening of his spine, his increased heartrate and the bead of perspiration that appeared on his brow before he replied.
But he hadn’t stopped. She’d considered that perhaps he genuinely enjoyed doing things the so-called ‘mortal’ way, but watching him trying to cook scrambled eggs had put paid to that theory.
The longer she’d studied him, the surer she’d become. For whatever reason, Broof could not use magic.
It was almost too perfect.
Lilith had left Caleb and the girls, momentarily, to grab herself a light drink. Like a shadow, Caleb followed; his words sure and clear in her head.
You can go. I don’t need a babysitter.
Yes. You need castrating.
He groaned. Can you blame me? Holy hell, Lil. Those shorts she’s wearing? That top? She’s doing it on purpose.
No, she isn’t. She glared at him as he pouted. Look; I know you’re restless and I’ll get you out of here, I will, but not yet.
Caleb blinked; she could see the cogs turning in his pretty head but, as usual, she couldn’t hear what he was thinking so she had to wait until he could structure what he wanted to say, wasting her valuable drinking time.
Why, if they want to cure us and protect us, are you so keen to get us out?
Lilith sighed. You wouldn’t understand.
Is this something to do with Seth? Caleb asked. That’s why I can’t mention him, right? Because he killed witches?
Or is this because of Faith?
Lilith growled. Caleb! Do you trust me?
He stiffened and nodded curtly. Yes. Of course I do.
Good. Then trust that I know what I’m doing, all right? We’ll get our lifeline; I’ll make sure of it. All you need to do is stay quiet and try not to fuck up so badly that Sage throws you out.
But… why can’t I know?
It’s in your best interest to know as little as possible while you’re here.
He hesitated. He wanted to challenge her more; she could see it in his face. All these years and all her hard work – undoing in a matter of days.
She was losing him.
She reached to take his hand but he predictably dodged. Cocking her head to her shoulder she waited for him to settle his mind, to form his argument. But with no information forthcoming and barely a foothold on what he did have, he defaulted to depending on her for his answers. She smiled as he pouted and looked up at her, lost.
Little brother; what happens when you ignore my advice?
You hit me with a spoon.
Other than that.
He thought for a moment, finally returning her shy smile. Things go awry.
So, I should always listen to you. He nodded, repeating a mantra drilled into him over many centuries. Because you will always do what’s best for us.
“OH MY GOD! WHAT IS THAT?!”
“WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!”
“It’s a bat. Geesh,” Paul laughed. “Are they always so jumpy?”
Jessica made a non-committal noise that was lost to the shrieks and starts from her overly-alert club members.
Morag had initially been more than happy to follow Jessica and her possible hallucination to a location deep in the forest. But as the trees began to knit tighter overhead and not even the moonlight crept through, as every tiny noise became a monster in the dark, she had joined her fellow GliTS in becoming a bundle of nerves that jolted at every slight movement.
Paul had stopped just ahead of Jessica and she motioned for her crew to halt. They froze immediately.
“OK,” Paul sighed. “We’re here. But to get to me you have to go past something kind of… grim.”
“Grim?” Jessica repeated.
“Grim?” Yibbo echoed, not the most terrified she’d sounded.
Paul scratched his head. “Yeah. You’ll see.” He moved forwards and Jessica followed with trepidation, parting the trees and allowing her eyes to adjust to scene that materialised before her.
Jessica was vaguely aware of the screaming and retching behind her as she stared up at the tree that became visible… and the man hanging lifelessly from it.
At first, her rational mind tried to tell her that she was seeing the man as if he was on a swing, a rope binding him from his waist to the canopy. But realisation dawned and, with it, that all-too-familiar reminder that the world was a horrible, horrible place.
“He’s dangling by his insides,” she said quietly, challenging someone to tell her she had interpreted the scene incorrectly.
“Yeah,” Paul confirmed. “Literally gutted.”
Jessica did not want that image burned any deeper into her mind, but couldn’t unsee it
“Who is he?”
“That’s Will. Biggest asshole this side of Windenburg.”
“How can you—?”
Paul scoffed at Jessica’s horrified face. “Save your sympathy; he’s the reason I’m dead. ‘Come on, Paul, you orange pussy!’” he snarled, in a clear mimicry of his former acquaintance. “’What are you afraid of? Teenage titties? The dark? The bogeyman?’” he shook his head as if dislodging a flea from his ear. “I should have ignored him and gone home rather than going into the forest with those girls. Everyone knows to avoid the forest at night. I should have let him call me whatever; he would have anyway.” He snorted and fell quiet, watching the lightly swinging corpse.
“Girls?” Jessica asked, her breathing laboured.
“Yeah. Three of them. Stunners. I knew that them being in our neck of the woods was odd. You know, I think they’re the ones who are rumoured to lure men to our deaths.”
Jessica drew a sharp breath and then nearly left her skin as Morag appeared at her shoulder.
“What’s Paul saying?” she asked and then paused looking up. “Wait a second… I know who that is! That’s William Wangshaft!”
“It is,” Paul confirmed.
“He says it is,” Jessica whispered, the thrum of noises in her head getting louder as the world around her started to sway. Wangshaft.
“I guess you should notify his family too. Although, I doubt they’d really care,” Paul said and Jessica only nodded meekly. “I didn’t care when the monster hauled him up there. I was laughing almost as much as he was. ‘Who was right to be afraid, hey dipshit?’ I said. It was great! I mean, terrible. It was terrible.”
“Is he a ghost too?” Morag asked, walking closer to inspect. She prodded Will’s boot lightly with her finger, eliciting gasps of horror from her shell-shocked comrades and a groan of protest from the weighted bough. “Well, this proves you’re not crazy, Jessica. Unless you did this… and if you did, how did you tie such a tight knot using intestines? Wow!”
“Morag. Please stop -ugh- stop poking the dead guy,” Yibbo groaned, her face a few shades paler than usual.
“He’s not a ghost,” Paul assured Jessica. “At least, I haven’t seen him if he is. Maybe you have to have a soul in order to be a ghost, though. Or some semblance of humanity.”
“Will is not a ghost,” Jessica repeated numbly.
“So, yeah, that’s Will. Now, my body is down in that ravine…” Paul urged, pointing towards the land’s edge.
“Paul’s body is in the ravine,” Jessica whispered.
Morag had stopped playing with her 220lb swing ball and was peering over the edge. “I can see something down there… but how are we supposed to get that? We need winches and stuff. Unless you’re suggesting we use Will’s natural rope—”
“No! No, I’m not,” Jessica sighed, rubbing her temples and finally diverting her attention. “We need to call the police.”
“And have it all taken away and hidden by the SBI? No way!” Morag protested. “I don’t trust the police.”
“If his guts aren’t long enough, he was always bragging about the size of his knob,” Paul joked, at least, Jessica hoped it was a joke. She ignored him.
“I am the police,” Jessica muttered. “And so is Beth – my boss? Will’s wife?”
“Right, yes wife. Forgot that part. Ah. My bad.”