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Bones do not burn well.
They really fucking don't.
"Come on," said Faust from his position on top of the trench. "Hurry up!"
"They're not lighting!" I said, struggling with the lighter. Stupid Bic.
We were at a cemetery. We'd just spent the last several hours digging up the grave of one Mr. David L. Gregoire, whose headstone insisted had been a loving father of three, lived to the ripe old age of forty seven, and would be dearly missed. Based solely on the age, deterioration, and random graffiti on the tombstone in question, I kinda doubted that.
"Don't put the lighter down, lift up the bone over the flame!"
Everyone's a critic. "You just keep that light steady and let me worry about this, 'kay? Not the first corpse I've torched."
All that happened was the bone darkened slightly. I grimaced as mud leaked into my sneakers.
"Use some hellfire."
I snorted. "Can't. Cutoff. You have anymore lighter fluid?"
"No. I only brought the one canister, and I didn't think you'd go and drop it-"
"Oh sure! Blame me."
"Will you just-"
The howling of sirens filled the air. The police were on their way.
Bossman looked like he was going to apoplexy. He tossed his shovel away. "Oh hell."
"There's nothing for it, then." I began throwing bones above me, out of the grave.
"Watch it. What are you-"
"We'll have to take them with us. Finish this back home."
I hefted up the pelvic bone and hurled it just right. There was a satisfying thunk.
"So sorry," I said. "Take it to the car before the cops get here."
I took off my jacket and started piling in as many as I could. We didn't really need all of them, did we? Just most of them could work, right? I tossed up the crude bag of bones and waited for the bossman to bring the car around. The arrangement of the Oakdale cemetery was convenient in that the entire campus was spiderwebbed with little roads. Probably to make things easier for mourners and the inevitable grave robbers like ourselves.
It wasn't a long wait. Bossman arrived a few moments later and came to a screaming stop at the curb. From the wrong direction.
"You drove through the graves?" I said, stashing the bones in the back seat.
"Just the low ones. What do they care? They're dead." The sound of sirens was getting closer. "They're here already, aren't they?"
"Ah." I closed my eyes and let my mind wander off. Yep, there they were. Two police cars at the front gates. A couple officers were talking to the caretaker who'd spotted us earlier. I couldn't hear what they were saying -the trick doesn't work that way- but I could guess. There was only one way in or out of the cemetery, and they had it pretty well barricaded.
"Yeah, they're here."
He thumped his head lightly against the steering wheel. "We're screwed."
"What's all this 'we' business?"
He shot up and glared at me with red-rimmed eyes. "If I'm going down, you're coming down with me, squirt."
"Literally or figuratively?" I said sweetly.
"You- I- Gah!" He fumed for a moment, then took a deep breath. "Okay," he said eventually. "No need to lose our heads."
"We just need a distraction."
"Where are we gonna- Oh. Oh hell no."
"Just get them to move out of the way. Dance around a bit- take off your glamour."
"No, no, and hell no. I'm not bullet proof." I unbuckled and unlocked the door.
"Where are you going?"
He groaned and sank in the driver’s seat. The sirens had stopped. I checked to see what was going on. Yeah, the cars were still blocking the gate. The cops themselves were being lead by the caretaker and- oh crap. They had a dog with them. A German Shepherd. Not a regular sized German Shepherd (though those are bad enough in their own right). No, this was one of those ginormous, tear-your-face-off, trained-specifically-to-hurt-you kinds. Lucky break, though: the caretaker was taking them along the roads rather than through the graves. We had maybe five minutes, tops.
"You rang?" said an oily voice from the shadows.
Hastofur is that guy. You know the kind. Knows everybody, everything. Has a hand in everything, whether it's up front in the open, or playing puppet master behind the curtain. Everyone knows Hastofur. You probably know him and don't even know it. He's not particularly powerful, as demons go, but he makes up for it by having the guys in charge be in a constant state of debt to him.
He was leaning against a large obelisk, arms crossed, his teeth glinting in the moonlight.
He snatched off his hat and made a swooping bow.
"What are you doing here?"
"Well it has come to my attention that you seem to be caught in a bit of a pickle." He nonchalantly examined his fingernails. "Perhaps I could be of some assistance."
"What d'you want in return?"
He put a hand over where his heart would be. "I'm hurt. Hurt that you would suggest that I, in my infinite good will, would-"
"Stow it, Hass. What do you want?"
He tried to keep the wounded puppy look on, but darn it if he just couldn't hold it. The usual smarmy smile returned. He put his hat back on and cocked his head towards the car.
"Well, I'll have to take the change from the dash first-"
"Not the car. The mortal."
"Sorry, no. not for sale."
The smile changed. He was still grinning it up, but now there was something else mixed in.
"So you'd rather get captured by mortal authorities, be horribly experimented on -or worse- and maybe even die rather than make a simple trade?"
I shrugged. "Yeah, well, there you go. Anything else you'd go for?"
"Well I have heard tale of a certain card. . ."
I almost broke. My hand almost shot to the lanyard around my neck, hidden beneath my shirt. To the laminated case I'd had made for the card. Hastofur saw it. I know he saw it; I could tell by the way his eyes flared up.
"Nope, sorry. Not that either. Anything else?"
He looked me over with that sleazy, knowing smile of his still plastered on his face.
"Interesting," he said eventually. "Very interesting." He turned away. "Well, I'd best get to it."
"You needed a distraction, correct? Well here I am."
"You'll do it for free?"
"Oh no. You'll owe me a favor." He held up a hand before I could protest. "Just a little favor to be collected at a later date of my choosing. No murder, nothing too unsavory. A level three favor, tops."
I thought about it. Favors come in different flavors. Level threes were about medium-small on the scale of debts. Whatever Hastofur wanted, it could range anywhere from helping him move a couch up a flight of stairs to robbing a small liquor store.
"Fine," I said. "Deal. Just get us out of here."
He stepped into a dark patch behind a willow tree and was gone. I went back to the car.
"Have you thought of anything?" said bossman. "We could always ditch the car and make a run for it-"
"They have a dog. Don't worry, I've taken care of it. Let’s go."
He pulled the car off the plot and onto the road. "Taken care of it? How?"
There was an explosion at the front gate. The car jerked as the ground shook. Bossman pulled to a screeching stop and stared at me. "What did you do?"
"You wanted a distraction? I got us a distraction. Come on."
When Hastofur says he's giving you a distraction, he means it. Both police cars had been incinerated, leaving nothing but two still smoking shells. They'd been kindly pushed aside so that the exit was clear. We didn't see anyone on the way out.
"Are they dead?" said bossman as he pulled out onto the road.
"Does it matter?" He gave me a look. I rolled my eyes and checked.
"They're fine," I said. "They weren't there when the cars blew up." Which was a shame, really. I wouldn't have minded seeing that dog get singed.
We pulled up the long, needlessly windy drive that lead to the house. Everything seemed calm enough on the porch. Nothing was on fire, nothing was coming to life and trying to kill us. For a second, I got my hopes up.
The front door slammed closed behind us once we stepped inside the house. Mr. Gregoire was still there, waiting for us. The wailing in the attic started up almost immediately.
"Damn," said bossman, heading for the kitchen's back door. "I was hoping he would have left on his own."
I went down to the study and dumped the load of bones into the fireplace. The study isn't a study. Not really. It's more like a workshop. Stone floors, weird signs on the walls, lots of organic looking things in jars. Sure, it has books in it, but they're all the kind of books that would've gotten him burned at stake a few hundred years ago.
Mr. Gregoire was a poltergeist. Somehow, he'd taken it into his head to haunt the bossman. I don't know how. I don't know why. Bossman doesn't seem to know, either. I just came home one day from visiting a friend of mine and found all the furniture flying around through the air, with bossman chasing after them. After an hour of cleanup, the walls started to bleed. Then all the light bulbs exploded. Then rats started crawling out of the toilets, and so on and so forth. Each time the ghost would wait until after we'd cleaned up the mess before starting a new one, laughing all the while.
In the time between the rats showing up and the fish tank boiling over, bossman had run to the study, summoned up an informational imp and learned that our new house guest was one Mr. David Gregoire. Unless he was spiritually bound to the new ficus or the the morning paper, neither of us had any idea how he'd gotten into the house. We didn't bother wasting time trying to figure out why he'd showed up and instead focused on ways to get rid of him.
Bossman came in a few minutes later carrying a gas can in one hand, a spray bottle in the other. They both reeked in two very different ways.
"Holy water? I said, reeling backwards.
He shrugged and set the bottle on a desk. "In case our new friend tries to interrupt." He started dousing the bones. The was a loud bang!. We exchanged a look.
"Stove?" he said. I shook my head.
"I hate that ghost." He struck a match. "Let's hope this works."
There was a great woomph as the fire burst to life. For the first time in ages, the house was silent.
Then out of nowhere, a scream.
"Yes!" I pumped my fist into the air. "Serves you right you son of-"
The study's walls started to bleed. The sticky sweet stuff oozed through the brickwork and made its way to the floor. Smoke reeking of rotten eggs and dead things poured through the cracks between the door and frame.
"Dammit, Fausty," I said. "What did you dick up?"
The smoke came together and formed the phantom of Gregoire swirled around the room, knocking books and clutter off of the tables, laughing all the while. A few loose-leaf pages flew up from wherever they'd fallen and floated towards the fireplace, All in a row.
Bossman choked and grabbed the spray bottle. Gregoire laughed and floated in front of me.
"No," I said, taking a step back, only to find myself against the wall. "Wait-"
He either didn't hear me or didn't care. Toss up as to which. The poltergeist screamed and vanished just in time for the bulk of the holy water to come my way.
I've been hit with holy water before. It's not pleasant. Getting burned by holy water is one of the most agonizing things in the world that can happen to a demon, right up there with exorcisms, silver, hallowed ground and Zen koans. It was going to hurt. It was going to burn like the lord Himself wanted to remind me of how utterly screwed I was.
Only. . . it didn't.
There was a splash and a definite sense of dampness. Other than that, though; nothing. I cracked open an eye, half expecting to see myself steaming. Bossman was staring at me, mouth agape.
"I'm wet," I said. The card suddenly felt quite warm against my chest.
"Really? I hadn't noticed." He set the bottle down.
"Damn," I said, looking down at my shirt. "I'll never get the stink out."
Gregoire had gone. The pages had quietly gone to ash while we were distracted. We could clearly hear the sound of furniture being tossed about in the other room.
"If he touches the piano-"
There came a terrible noise from the den.
"That was your own damned fault," I said, examining my card. The little figure of the monopoly guy on the front gave me a wink. "Your mouth to His ears."
Malicious laughter rang from above. Somewhere in the house, glass shattered.
"I find his constant hatred refreshing."
Bossman twitched slightly. "Alright," he said, dusting himself off. "We've tried your burning the bones idea and it hasn't worked. I believe it's time for plan B."
I grabbed the gas can. "Say no more, boss, I know just what you mean. Torch the cemetery. I'm on it."
He plucked the canister from my hands and set it up on the high shelf, out of reach. "No. It means we try my way." He went to the nearest bookshelf started sifting through the books, muttering off their titles as he went.
"You don't mean-"
"You don't know how to do an exorcism."
He picked one out and started flipping through the pages. "It's a spell. How difficult can it be?" He set it onto the desk and picked out another.
"You don't even have a god backing you."
"Ah! Here we are." He pulled out a book that looked like every other book he had in there. “This one doesn’t draw from them. It’s faerie make.”
“Faerie? Since when do you have faerie stuff?”
“Since none of your business. And. . . here. Got it.” He scanned over the page he’d found. “Bind and release: getting rid of unwanted pests.” He shot me a look that I chose not to acknowledge. “Yes, this ought to do it. Squirt, go get me some wolfsbane, some hemlock, some tulips and some thistle. I’ll set up everything else.”
It was all stuff we had in the garden. I was halfway out the door before-
He was rummaging around the desk, looking through all the bits and bobs there. “The red and yellow streaked ones. They’re in the side yard by the oak.”
I shrugged. Didn’t take more than a few minutes. When I got back, he had the whole summoning-circle-candles-everywhere thing set up. There were some key differences to the usual ritual, though. For instance, there wasn’t a single drop of goat blood, and all the candles were the pretty scented kinds rather than the black ones he normally used. He took the plants from me and tossed most of them into the fireplace, along with some red powder.
“Yes,” he said. “This will do. Now, Demon?”
I sighed and headed for the door. “I know, I know. I’m out.” It didn’t matter that I wouldn’t be the one getting the boot back to wherever, or that this was a faerie made spell. Exorcisms put me on edge.
I waited in the den next to the original bleeding wall. It wasn’t gushing or anything, but there was some definite seepage still going on. I wondered vaguely if it would stop once the ghost was gone when who should come seeping out of the floor other than Gregoire himself.
He grinned at me. I stuck my tongue out at him, which only made him grin wider, neatly splitting his face in half. He turned his body all the way around while his head stayed in one spot, leering at me.
“Pfft. Kids stuff.” I let my glamour slip off.
He went a few shades paler; I could almost see the furniture behind him. For a moment I was sure I had won.
No luck. He threw back his head and laughed. Then he floated up near the entertainment center, took the form of a skinless cat, and then walked along the top of the shelves, knocking over knicknacks.
I hoped Faust would hurry up.
"So," I said. "Why are you here? Did the meatsack spit up on your grave or something?"
The skinless cat flashed me a Cheshire smile and melted into a black puddle of ectoplasmic goop.
I sighed. Why do I even waste my breath?
That's the thing with poltergeists: they can't be reasoned with. Regular ghosts can be goaded on, can be talked to, can even be sent away if they're business gets finished up. Poltergeists? Nothin' but the urge to destroy. A fine quality, don't get me wrong, just not one you want running loose in an enclosed area.
The goop suddenly snapped back to the shape of Gregoire. He frowned and tilted his head slightly, like he wasn't quite sure what was going on, and then was promptly sucked through the wall. There was a loud thump from the study.
Huh, I thought. So the summoning part works.
I had just enough time to grab an umbrella and start tracing pictures into the still-dribbling wall when the house exploded.
Okay, I exaggerate. The study exploded.
I ran over and found green smoke leaking through the cracks in the door.
"What's wrong?" I shouted.
"Nothing!" bossman said. "Just fine! No problem here!"
Well I certainly knew what that meant. I threw opened the door. Mr. Gregoire flew out over my head, kicking me in the face as he passed. Bossman bolted out a split second later with a handful of tulips.
“Dammit, squirt!” he said, shoving me aside. “I had things under control!” He followed the poltergeist upstairs, trying to chant out the spell while running. I picked myself up and followed.
Mr. Gregoire, it seemed, was now continuously solid, whether he liked it or not. He flew along the upstairs halls, knocking down paintings and punching holes into the walls. He kept thumping into them, like he was trying to go through the plaster. All the while he wouldn’t. Stop. Laughing.
“Box him in!” said bossman. “Get him to stop moving.”
He tossed the tulips to me. “What the hell do I-? Hey, Gregoire!” For lack of anything better to do, I started waving the tulips around above my head. “Yo! Look over here!”
Against all logic, I ran towards the poltergeist. Gregoire laughed and transformed himself into a giant spider with over-long human arms for legs.
“Yeah yeah,” I said, still waving those tulips. "Lookee, you see the flowers? You want the pretty flowers?"
A long, dog-like tongue flopped out of his mouth.
"Right, look!" I tossed the tulips into the guest bedroom. "Go get the flowers! Go on!"
Both of them gave me Looks. Bossman was trying to sidle up behind him while spider-man had his eyes on me. If he hadn't been holding the book, I'm pretty sure he would have facepalmed.
Fine, then. I sidestepped into the bedroom to retrieve the tulips. Gregoire smiled and made like to follow me. Arms and spidery bits melted away until he was human-esque again.
He did, however, remain giant sized.
He came into the room, rolling up the sleeves of his shirt, the decidedly unsettling grin still plastered all over his face.
"Hey, whoa now." I backed up. "Nice poltergeist."
He kept coming at me, and I kept backing away. I could hear bossman starting up again out in the hall, but that took a bit of a backseat as I caught the heel of my sneaker onto the throw rug. I landed rump-first beside the tulips. Gregoire grew and grew and started sprouting spiked out of his arms and claws out of his hands. The wooden floorboards creaked beneath the new weight.
Oh sure. Make him solid. Great idea.
I grabbed the tulips and hurled them at his face, then scrambled towards the door. Either it had shut in the fracas or bossman had closed it himself. Either way, it was locked.
I rattled the knob. "Lemme out!"
"No, keep him busy! I'm binding him in."
"Oh you ass."
I ducked just as a large beclawed hand swiped overhead.
The next few minutes consisted of us playing tag, him alternatively growling and laughing, me alternatively sniveling and swearing. After a quick romp and some minor property damage, I finally managed to get him into the bathroom.
I slammed the door shut and leaned up against it. "He's in the bathroom! He's in the bathroom! He's-"
There was a blast of green light. Even with the closed door between us, the light that made it through the cracks was enough to bask the room in an eerie glow. It vanished in all of thirty seconds.
The doorknob rattled. The poltergeist howled and beat on the door.
Bossman knocked from the hall. "Is it safe?" he said.
I got up and stepped away from the bathroom. Gregoire was making some really heinous noises, but he didn't open the door to get out.
"I think so."
The hall door opened and bossman stepped in, looking a little windblown and entirely too proud of himself.
"It actually worked? Fantastic!"
"You mean you didn't know? You locked me in with that and you didn't even- and the tulips! Tulips! Why did you think tulips would stop him?"
He shrugged and held up the book. "Hey, I didn't write this thing."
The thumping in the bathroom got a little louder.
"What are we going to do about him?"
Bossman stretched. "For now? Nothing. I'm beat. I'll just slap a silence on it and deal with it later."
"Swell. That's the sort of familiar half-assery I've come to know and love."
"Do you have a better idea?"
"Well, no. But-"
Something inside the bathroom broke. It sounded like glass.
"Mirror or shower?" said bossman.
"Mirror, definitely. Shower would have sounded more-"
There was an appropriately timed shatter.
"Like that?" said Bossman.
"No, actually. I think that was the toilet."
Bossman pinched the bridge of his nose. "I think . . . I think I may need a drink." We headed out, leaving Gregoire to his tantrum.
So, to recap.
There's a poltergeist trapped in the guest bathroom. The house is thrashed and we'll probably be going without hot water for the next few days, the fish are dead, there's a high probability that bossman and I are wanted on some FBI list for blowing up some cop cars, and I still owe Hastofur a favor.
This is going to be one of those weeks, isn't it?
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