Daniel McGahee sat huddled in the bathtub of a cheap motel bathroom, and wept.
Everything hurt. His head hurt because he'd been crying so long. His back hurt because he'd been hunched over so long. His chest hurt because that thing was digging into his flesh, probably burrowing in deeper that very second, and his heart hurt because--
Oh god, Jay. I'm so sorry.
There was an empty bottle of Jack by the tub; he'd been nursing it all night, and now it was empty. There was another bottle set on the nearby toilet, but when he reached out for it, his hand stopped before he could touch it. He fought for a moment, trying to grab the bottle, trying to press forward, but his arm wouldn't let him.
With a sob, he relented, and his arm relaxed. Instead of trying for the bottle again, he collapsed onto his side, sobbing harder.
This is it, he thought. This is my life now.
There was a knock on the door in the other room.
"Go away!" he tried to shout, but his throat was too choked up, and he had no idea if they heard him.
There was a crack and a splintering sound, and then footsteps coming into the room.
Oh good, cops, he thought, not able to muster up enough energy for fear. Maybe they'll shoot me.
But the stranger who entered the bathroom wasn't a cop, or at least not one in uniform.
"Hello, Mr. McGahee," he said, his accent might have been faintly British, but maybe it was just that accent rich guys had. "I believe you have something that doesn't belong to you."
The stranger was tall, probably. It was hard to tell through the liquor and from the tub. He had dark hair and a dark goatee. He wore some kind of suit. He didn't look like he had a gun, though, so Daniel let his head fall back.
"Leave me alone, man," Daniel said.
"I really don't have time for this," the man said. And then he snapped his fingers, and three creatures appeared in puffs of black smoke.
The first of the creatures was inky black, and nestled between the stranger's feet. It looked like something fished out of an oil spill, like it was covered in black grease. When it padded between the stranger's legs like an eager dog, its clawed feet made wet noises, and black gunk dropped off it and splattered onto the linoleum with every step. It's massive, frog-like mouth split the entirety of its bulbous head, and when it grinned, it revealed twisted, needle-like teeth.
The second creature looked more like a recognizable animal, like some kind of dog or wolf, perhaps. But instead of fur, or even skin, it appeared to have nothing at all; its organs, veins, and far more blood than any dog ought to have had loose inside of it were all visible, held together by nothing he could see but willpower. This one went to the tub and growled in Daniel's face, like it was moments away from attacking.
It was the blood that caught Daniel's attention the most. Maybe because it was the one solid fact his mind could grasp. Blood didn't work like that, he thought hysterically. Your organs didn't just swim around in it. There was supposed to be meat and muscle--
But there was none, and the dog didn't seem bothered by it.
The third creature was the least outwardly terrifying of the three. A black bat, and not even a large one. One of the small kind that looked more like mice with wings. This one hovered for a bit, then settled down on the man's shoulder like a pirate's parrot, and Daniel almost laughed at the absurdity of it.
"So the thing of it is Danny-- mind if I call you Danny?"
Daniel shook his head.
"So the thing of it is Danny, you and your partner stole something from my employer, and I've been hired to take it back."
“I don’t have it,” he croaked.
The dog-thing growled, and to Daniel, if felt as if all the energy had gone out of him at once. If he'd been standing, he would have fallen down.
“My hound says otherwise,” the man said.
He wanted to scream. He wanted to tell the man where it was, but couldn't. It wouldn't let him, the same way it wouldn't let him tell Jason about it. The same way it had made him--
Jason's face suddenly filled his vision. Jason, who he'd known since grade school, who'd been his best friend-- his only friend, after what he did to Lizzie. The only person in the world who'd even talk to him, and that thing had made him--
Daniel started to cry again.
"Oh come now," said the stranger. "I don't have time for this."
"I killed my best friend," he wailed. "I didn't wanna! It made me."
Sobbing, he pulled down his shirt collar, ripping the top two buttons in his haste. He couldn't bear to look down; he knew what he'd see:
A coin. the coin, embedded in his flesh, with metal, creeping roots burrowing deeper and deeper into him. Sometimes he was certain he could feel it growing, piercing and tearing its way through, winding around his ribs. It was the coin that had ruined everything, The one Jason and he had stolen from the lock box-- was it only two days ago? Three? It was hard to tell. Only two days since Jason--
Daniel squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to think of it, tried not to think of the surprised look on Jason's face when the gun went off. Like he couldn't believe Daniel would shoot him.
I couldn't believe it either, man, he thought tearfully.
The man didn't look the least bit troubled by the sight of it. He knelt down and said, "may I?"
"May you what?" Daniel said, half-hysterical.
"May I see," said the man calmly, like he saw this sorta thing every day.
Maybe he did, Daniel realized. Maybe this sort of thing happened all the time. Maybe he was an expert and getting these things out of people.
"I didn't want to," he said again while the stranger knelt down and poked at the coin in his chest. "I loved Jason like a brother. I never wanted to hurt him. It made me."
"Yes," the man murmured. "I suspect it was trying to protect itself."
The little bat-thing fluttered down the stranger's arm and sniffed at the coin. Then, it chirped at the man.
"Well," the stranger said, standing back up. "This is highly inconvenient."
He pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and started texting someone.
"Can you get it off?" said Daniel.
"We'd both be fucked if I did," he said. "It's bonded itself to you. If I remove it, you'll die and it will break. If I kill you, it will break. Whichever I do, it will try to stop me, and I'm not prepared to deal with that at the moment."
"Am I going to die?"
"Not until my employer has his say," said the stranger.
Daniel began to shiver. The stranger talked about his death like doing the laundry. Jason had talked like that sometimes, he remembered. But never about him, and never to the guy he was going to off. There was always a reason for it, too, like they owed money or slept his his girl.
Saying he wanted to die was one thing, but facing the reality of it was another.
The stranger suddenly looked up from his screen. "What are you doing?" he snapped.
"I'm not talking to you," the stranger said.
Before Daniel could ask what he meant, there was an electrifying pain in his chest. He looked down and saw the coin there-- except by now it had so many roots sticking out of it, it didn't look like a coin, more like a cancerous golden blob-- and it was glowing bright enough to hurt his eyes.
"What's happening?" he shrieked. Light filled the room.
"I'm not going to kill him!" the stranger said, raising his voice. "This is a gross overreaction--"
But then Daniel felt like he was falling. Like the tub had collapsed into dust beneath him, and he was heading down to some basement below the motel-- only he wasn't. There wasn't any basement, or anything at all, just an inky blackness that swallowed the burning light of the metal tumor on his chest. When he looked up, he saw the face of the stranger looking down at him, but his face was shrinking with distance, and soon, Daniel couldn't see anything at all.
* * * * *
Terence scowled at the empty bathtub and started texting his colleagues again.
Update: thief's gone. Coin bonded to him and warped him away somewhere. Going to need to expand search efforts to nearby outlying dimensions.
Whal was the first to respond:
God fucking dammit.
And after that the other five assorted security practitioners joined in, all contributing with about the same amount of eloquence. Terrence felt safe stuffing the phone back into his pocket and ignoring it, at least for the time being.
To the blood hound demon, he said, "Track him."
The demon barked, then vanished in a sudden explosion of blood and gore. To an outsider, it would have looked like the dog had suddenly burst-- which it had.
Terrence grimaced at the blood on his trousers, then turned to go. The slime demon rolled along beside him, cheerful despite not having gotten to do anything. On his shoulder, he felt the weight of the little bat as it clung to his shirt-- likely pulling threads as it did. He tried not to let it bother him, and instead tried to remember where the nearest homeless shelter was in this city, or perhaps the location of some train yard.
McGahee was bound to pop up somewhere, and when he did, they'd likely call him back in. But until then, it looked like he had some time to himself, and his little friends were hungry.