Raph turned to her, his face a mask of fear and confusion. He was afraid
to ask “what do you mean?”
she lifted one skinny arm, and pointed through the open doorway.
Raph crept forward hesitantly, skirting the spectre who stood before him. He pushed the door open further, leaning out, “mike? Leo? Do-“
his voice immediately caught in his throat, held there as if in a vise as he saw what lay before him.
“he was the first to go.” The light, seemingly innocent voice came from beside his ear.
He was too shocked to react. He felt weak in the knees and gripped the doorframe until the wood dug into his fingers.
“no. . .”
“believe it. or isn’t that your weapon sticking out of his throat? Perhaps someone else around here carries a three-pronged knife, hm?”
“mike. . .”
his brother’s lifeless hand still clutched one of his nunchucks.
“he didn’t have time to react, really,” Amy’s tone of voice suggested she might as well be commenting on televised sports, “he meant to defend himself, but hesitated. He couldn’t hurt you, could he?”
Raph gave a broken whimper.
“nice throw, by the way.”
he felt as if he might retch, yet somehow he seemed drawn to continue walking through the den, as one would be drawn to see the scene of a car wreck.
Donnie was in his room, sitting at his computer, head resting on the keyboard. Relief flooded through Raph. *he’s alright. He’s fallen asleep at the computer. He’ll sort this out. . .” Raph rushed forward and grabbed Donnie’s shoulder and shook him.
Donnie fell limply from his chair, his eyes wide and glazed-over. A ragged gash looked like a tattered red ribbon tied around his neck. Blood dripped from his keyboard and computer screen, which had switched to the screen saver: a cheerful collection of warping shapes, floating in space.
Raph staggered back, stumbling over the objects on the floor.
“he died easy, you know. Never saw you coming. Who says you’re not a ninja master?”
“Leo. . .” Raph replied instantly. He dashed into Leo’s room, but it was empty. Skidding on the floor in his haste, he made for the dojo, stopping so suddenly he almost overbalanced, as he reached the doorway.
“you had quite an extensive sparring session. You should be proud of yourself. You won.”
Raph shuddered, his mind screamed, but he couldn’t look away from where Leo lay slumped against the wall, Raph’s other sai buried in the back of his neck, protruding out underneath his chin.
“shit. . . no. . .” he sobbed as he saw the form that lay on the other end of the dojo.
“she tried to interfere. Stupid bitch.”
April’s neck was covered with bruises, her eyes wide, forever frozen in a mask of terror. Her tongue, purple and swollen, hung grotesquely from her mouth.
“she couldn’t please you the way I do. . .” whispered Raph’s companion. “one more left, darling.”
“splinter. . .” rasped Raph.
He rushed toward splinter’s room, though it more closely resembled a candle-adorned nest.
Splinter lay on his cushion, his eyes were half-closed, looking peaceful, even in death, even though his head was turned completely around, his fragile-looking neck broken all to easily.
Raph fell to his knees. He could feel the pain building inside him, starting in his gut and, like tendrils of fire, spreading throughout his veins.
“you did what you had to. you only acted out of your need to protect them.” her cold hands caressed his shoulders and his neck, “it worked. We can be together now. we have eternity. Just you and I.”
Raph screamed, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!”
Donnie jumped about a foot in the air as Raph sat up, his face twisted in terror, screaming.
“Jesus Christ, Raph! Calm down!” said Donnie, extending a hesistant hand toward his trembling brother.
Raph blinked and looked around him. He was still in the infirmary, bandaged up in half a dozen places. “D. . . Donnie?”
Donnie gave a nervous laugh, “yeah, it’s me. you nearly gave me a heart attack, there.”
Raph suddenly leaned forward and grasped Donnie’s shoulders in a painfully hard grip. He looked intensely into Donnie’s eyes, his own wild with terror, “don’t say that, Donnie. Don’t ever say that. I would never. . . I would never do anything to hurt you. I didn’t know what I was doing, it wasn’t me, I swear!” his voice began to take on a hysterical edge, “you have to believe me, Donnie, I wouldn’t hurt any of you! ever!”
Donnie placed his hands on Raph’s wrists, “it’s okay, bro, I know. I know you wouldn’t intentionally harm any of us. it’s okay. Everyone is okay.”
Raph released his death-grip on his brother and buried his face in his hands, “I can’t do this anymore. I feel like I’m breaking apart. She’s. . . she’s killing me. . .”
“it’s okay Raph. You’re going to be alright.” Donnie was all too aware that his voice carried no conviction. He just prayed that he wasn’t telling his brother an outright lie.
April walked hurriedly down the sidewalk. She was nervous in this part of town, one that she had never visited previously. It wasn’t that it was seedy, but it was different from the metropolitan glamour of uptown. The buildings, squashed up against each other, mostly chipped brick, held cramped collections of used book shops, dingy cafes and thrift shops. Sex boutiques rubbed shoulders with christian paRaphenalia stores. It was a motley association, with the usual street-sellers and homeless beggers staking out their space on the sidewalk. The air carried a heady scented combination of cigarette smoke, book glue and concrete. It was intoxicating as much as it frightened her. This was not her world, she just had a day pass.
She looked down at the address written in her slanted, precise handwriting on a sticky note she held in her hand. She scoffed to herself. Donnie had seemed just as dubious as she had when he’d called her after talking to Angelo. Apparently the vampire had talked to his vampire pals about the problem, and they had referred him to someone by the name of “Ghost.” She snorted. In all likelihood she was tracking down someone who ingested too many hallucinogens on a regular basis.
“he said this person Ghost knows just about everything about the paranormal there is to know, and how to deal with it.” Donnie had said over the phone, in a decidedly skeptical voice, “apparently this guy’s contact with his, quote-unquote, ‘clients’, works at this store. Angelo says they’ll deny knowing this Ghost person, but just keep asking, and drop his name if you have to. I guess they’re suspicious of anyone they havn’t known on an intimate basis for at least five years.”
“yeah, sure, I’ll see what I can do.” She had replied, sighing. “though, to tell you the truth, I’ve got my doubts about this.”
“no shit. Me too. But, what else can we do? It’s not like we’ve got a choice or anything. Raph is breaking apart at the seams, which were never too tight to begin with.”
April couldn’t help but wonder if that was what was really happening: Raph was finally falling over the edge, he was finally going crazy, and they were scrambling for another explanation so they wouldn’t have to face the truth.
April finally stopped in front of a store with dusty windows and a sign over the door that read “Luna Rising”. This was it. She paused for a moment, regarding the figure who leaned against the wall next to the door. April couldn’t tell if it was male or female, only that it wore dingy clothes, its head was shaved and it was smoking a cigarette with trembling fingers. Keeping her eyes to the ground, April walked hurredly past, opening the door and stepping into the dim interior. The store smelled of strange spices mixed with incense. Every surface was cramped with everything from crystals, to pendants to candles. Several jars held objects that April didn’t quite want to know more about. Hidden speakers softly played a local alternative station.
April walked cautiously between the tables and shelves, almost getting several wind-chimes tangled in her hair. She finally spotted the desk and hurried toward it.
sitting on the other side was a girl who looked to be anywhere between 17 and 25 years old. She wore baggy black pants and a tight black tank top, both articles bearing several bright pink stripes. Her hair was the same improbable color of bubblegum pink. she wore a spiked dog collar and cuffs, along with mismatched assorted jewelry. Her skin was tan with obvious olive undertones.
she leaned back in her chair, her sneakers propped up on the desk in front of her. As April approached, she saw that the reclining cashier was sucking on a lollypop, reading a book titled “Passion’s Inferno”, with two half-naked people on the front, held in a suffocating embrace.
“um, excuse me. . .”
“mm?” the girl didn’t look up from her book.
“I’m looking for Ghost.”
Without taking her eyes from the text, the girl popped the lolly-pop out of her mouth and pointed with it toward several book shelves, “Ghosts, sightings, seances and hunting guides on the second shelf from the right, three shelves up, under ‘supernatural’.” The lolly-pop made its way back into her pink-painted mouth.
“No, that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to speak with Ghost.”
The girl looked up from her book, “you’ll want a Ouijae board for that, sister. They’re by the books, over-“
“no. I need to speak with Ghost. A person. Some person. I don’t know him personally, I just have to speak to him.”
The cashier swiveled in her chair and removed her feet from the desk, setting the book down. “look, if you want to talk to a ghost, I can help you, but after that I’m afraid you’re going to have to try somewhere else. do you need directions someplace?”
April leaned down, placing her palms on the desktop. “look, I’ve got a problem, that needs this Ghost person’s input. Personally, I’d rather not be here, but a friend needs his help, and I’m not in the mood to take any bullshit.”
The cashier scowled at her, “hassle someone else, babe, I’m not paid enough to be harassed by the coustomers.”
April gritted her teeth, speaking slowly through them, “I know you know some person named ‘Ghost’. I was referred here by someone named Angelo, and his friend, Kali. I’ve got money that I’m more than willing to spend on this consultation. Take it or leave it.”
the girl lifted an eyebrow, “what on earth have you been smoking?”
April stepped back, “fine. Whatever.” she sighed, seeming to delfate, “I guess he’s beyond help anyway. Thanks for your time.” with sarcasm in her very stride, she spun on her heel and stalked toward the door.
“wait! Wait a second.”
She turned around, “what?” she snapped wearily.
The cashier walked around the desk and approached her, “look, I’m sorry about all that back there.” Her tone had suddenly lost the adolescent whine and petulance. She spoke in a low, hushed voice, “you have to understand that in this business, we get a lot of crack-heads and jokers in here. you’re the news-lady, right? O’Neil, right?”
“yeah, that’s me.”
“look, I don’t want to leave a bad impression on you, but this isn’t something the general public can know about. I’m sure you’ll understand. I just wanted you to know that before you left. I treat everyone like that who comes in looking for Ghost.”
April had a snappy retort for that, but held her tongue. “I’m not here to catch a news story.”
“what are you here for?”
“my friend. I told you, something’s wrong with him and I was told to come here and ask Ghost about it.”
the cashier stood back and regarded April for another moment, her lips pursed. “I think I believe you. come here and have a seat.”
April sat on the wooden chair beside the desk while the casheir sat in her own chair, once again propping her sneakers on the desk. “the name’s Liz. so, tell me about your problem.”
“um. . . if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to talk to ghost personally. this is a matter that requires exptreme confidentiality.”
“I’m Ghost’s secretary. You have to go through me to talk to him. Tell me what the problem is, and I’ll tell you if it’s a job for ghost, some less gifted individual, or a psychiatrist.”
April pressed her lips together and regarded Liz, who was once more twirling her lollypop in her mouth. “I don’t know if I can. . . look, it’s really important that no one, and I mean no one, hear about this. . .”
“hey, I’m the epitome of confidentiality. Hell, I work for someone who’s very existence is a secret. I won’t tell anyone but the boss, if you don’t tell anyone other than the concerned parties about Ghost or myself and the fact that I work for him.”
“agreed.” April hesitantly related the encounters to Liz who squinted into the distance the whole time, looking beyond the shelves to a thought that only she could see.
“well, that’s about it.” April finished and shrugged, looking at Liz hopefully.
Liz stood up, “the good news is, I think I know what’s going on. if your friend had had only one or two encounters, I’d say he’s had a certain sleeping disorder wherein the ‘victim’ actually wakes up before their body does, and the sensation is that of someone sitting on their chest, suffocating them. the symptoms for that and this encounter are very similar. however, based on your description of the variety of encounters, I’d say you have a succubus on your hands.”
“what the hell is a succubus?”
“the female version of an incubus.”
“like, the band?”
Liz snorted, “no, like a spirit who will target and victimize a certain person which they have fixated on. in this case, your friend.” She walked over to the bookshelves, pulling several volumes out and flipping through them as she spoke, “the first records of succubi and incubi encounters are from the middle-ages, though many of the cases are simply sleeping disorders and erotic dreams mislabeled as supernatural encounters.”
“um. . . erotic dreams?”
“yeah. Succubi and incubi are the sex offenders of the afterlife. They often have intercourse with their victims. It helps them to secure their power over the victim, until he or she is completely helpless. Of course, that’s just half of the story. There are several recorded cases where incubi and succubi have been welcome nightly visitors, especially if the ‘victim’ isn’t getting any. Sometimes they provide sexual lives for those who are lacking in that department. This includes neglected spouses. Succubi and incubi are not necessarily evil.”
“only this one is. . .”
“yeah, that’s what it sounds like. Your friend obviously isn’t enjoying himself, and the succubus obviously is, so I’d say you’ve got an evil spirit who wants your friend to be her bitch for eternity.”
“well, what can Ghost do about it?”
Liz sighed, walking back to the desk carrying several books, “the truth is, I’m not sure if ghost can handle this one. normally I’d send you back there with instructions to make a circle of salt around the victim when he’s sleeping, but this spirit sounds like a real hard-hitter, if you’ll excuse the expression. Succubi and incubi are not too common, and ghost’s knowledge of how to deal with them is definitely limited.”
“shit.” Mumbled April, sitting back in her chair. “does this mean I find someone else?”
“hardly. There’s only one person in this city who has the potential to banish a succubus of this power, and your talking to his public relations director.”
April set her forehead in her hands, feeling a migrane coming on. “so, what your saying is, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Liz sat down once again, “I didn’t say that. Hey, never say die when it comes to the supernatural. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll convey your problem to ghost, as well as the urgency. He’s hardly one to back away from a challenge, so I think you’ve got a good chance to get him on this job. if, for some reason, he can’t do it, I’ll collect all the resources I have on the subject and send them to you. I can give you a few contacts in certain circles that may have something to say about it. give me your phone number, and I’ll give you a call.”
April sighed skeptically, but wrote her name and cell phone number on the pad of paper. “when can I expect a call from you?”
“within the next couple days.”
April stood up and shouldered her pocketbook. She hoped against hope that she wasn’t making a big mistake. She headed toward the door.
“hey, for the time being, I’d keep an eye on your friend. You never know if he might go off his rocker.”
“too late for that. . .” mumbled April as she left the store.