The rest of the night had passed without further incident. Danson and Erin had arrived, been filled in, and immediately gone to work. Danson in trying to track down the missing people in Nelle’s group, the occult student Cal in particular, and Erin in trying to figure out what paranormal thing was happening. Egs and Nelle were ordered to rest, and after a token protest only, they curled under a blanket each on Egs’ queen-sized bed.
Nelle, exhausted, fell asleep almost immediately. Egs drifted slightly, troubled by strange dreams and breathing problems, a feeling of desperate panic occasionally bringing her up from the edge of rest, gasping for air, her heart pounding as if the beast’s fist rested on her chest again, before settling once more into the grey fog between waking and sleep.
As the dawn light began to creep through the edges of the curtains, Egs left Nelle to rest and went to see what Erin and Danson had discovered.
Danson had fallen asleep on the sofa, arms and legs akimbo, mouth open and snoring gently, leaving his notes on the coffee table. He had, it seemed tracked down a friend of Cal, or at least a name and a place he was likely to hang out.
Erin was hyper, almost thrumming as she paced the room. Whether this was on coffee, lack of sleep, discovery, or all three, Egs was unsure, but the doctor did have some news.
“There is definitely something,” she confirmed, speaking at high speed, “I don’t know what I missed by not being here when you had your visitation, but all around the house there is something pressing, like something trying to crush it’s way in, or keep you in, I’m not sure. Look!” She showed Egs a number of handheld instruments and calculations, none of which meant anything to her but seemed important to Erin. “And when I checked you and Nelle and Danson over, I found out some interesting information. Nelle is covered in…whatever it is that’s outside, like a bunch of goop just all over her, while you and Danson have something like a layer of shielding which seems to protect you. So it – whatever it is – needed to bring someone in, in order to get to you.”
“Ok…” Egs ventured, “So what can we do about it? I’m not sending Nelle away until I know she’s safe.”
“Oh, no, of course not. We need the book. The ritual book. Find that, and we can probably find a way to reverse whatever ritual they did – or at least I’d know where to start looking. “
“Looks like Danson has a lead on that, but it won’t help until tonight,” Egs sighed. “I guess we’re waiting the day out, then.”
Erin yawned, hyperactivity suddenly replaced by weariness at the mere thought of time to rest, “Then I will get get some sleep, if that’s alright?”
Egs nodded and gestured down the hallway, “Take the spare room, it’s pretty comfortable and the bed’s made up.”
With Erin gone, she plumped herself down in her armchair, watching the day brighten from the window. Eventually she, too, fell into sleep.
By the time evening rolled around, everyone had slept – at least a little – and fed. Nelle and Erin remained at the house, with orders to stay put, stay quiet, and call if anything happened.
Egs drove, on Danson’s directions, to a bar they both recognised on the edge of the city. Outside hung a slightly grimy pride flag, swaying gently in the breeze. A clump of people dressed in combinations of everything from sparkles to leather stood outside smoking in the chill air.
Paying to enter, their police cards hidden for now, they made their way through the crowd of dancers and drinkers to the three-person-deep queue at the bar. Edging around to the side, Danson’s size and ruddy demeanour helped them gain the attention of one of the staff, a short lady in a backwards flat cap, bright red hair and freckles on pale skin peeking through underneath. She gave them a cheery smile as she came over, skin sheened with sweat under the lights.
“What can I do for you two?” she leaned over the bar and shouted.
“Looking for Elliot, he here?” Danson shouted back, his naturally booming voice easily reaching her ears.
“Aw man, that boy in trouble again?” she shook her head, smile fading, “Yeah, he’s here, check by the arcade machines. But don’t hurt him too badly, okay? He’s had it rough.”
“Not here to hurt him, don’t worry,” Danson gave her a reassuring smile, “Just need to talk to him.”
“Oh! Good!” The bartender seemed genuinely happy on Elliot’s behalf, “Can I get you two drinks while you’re here?”
Danson shook his head politely and they set off through the crowd to the far corner, where stood some old, mostly disused, arcade machines.
“Stay here?” Danson asked Egs, “Lemme try him first, back me up if I signal.”
Egs nodded her agreement and leaned up against a pillar, within sight but far enough away to not be connected with Danson.
“Hi there,” a tall brunette with a perfectly applied mask of makeup approached Egs.
“Hey yourself,” Egs responded, “Not here to meet someone, but thank you.”
The woman smiled her understanding and disappeared, only to be replaced by another, more Egs’ height this time, with dark red lips and black hair in a short quiff, fake tan smell clear even above the scents of the bar, “Hey good lookin’. You-“
Egs cut her off with a handwave, “Not tonight, but thank you.”
The woman retreated into the crowd, shrugging.
Mentally willing Danson to be done soon, Egs missed the approach of a tall, stocky man with perfectly even teeth beneath a too-wide smug smile, dressed in a shimmering blue button-down shirt that did very little for his sallow, sightly grey, complexion, “Hey beautiful, saw you turning those women away, you wanna real man, right? That’s why I come here, looking for ladies like you.”
“Ladies like me,” Egs responded, deadpan.
“Yeah, you come here, figure you’ll avoid the meat market, but you want it, really.”
“That so?” Egs turned to glare at him, with zero effect.
“So answer me one question, honey.”
“Alright,” Egs reached under her jacket and unclipped the hidden telescopic baton, palming it easily, “Give me your best line.”
“Did it hurt,” he was grinning now, shoving himself closer to Egs, one hand now resting on her hip, his beer-breath in her ear “When you fell from heaven?”
Egs leaned closer, putting her lips right next to his ear and flicking out the baton behind her in one swift move, “Well it didn’t fucking feel pleasant!” she shouted.
The man reared back slightly, his drunken brain working out that he had just been rejected, “You fucking bitch!”
He made a grab for Egs, who brought around the baton, the length of it hitting him in the upper thigh. It was enough to make him yowl, and those closest enough to hear it above the music turned to see – and to laugh and cheer drunkenly when they realised what was happening.
Egs placed the baton, point first, against the man’s chest as he clutched his thigh, tears of pain filling his eyes, anger filling his face. With her free hand she showed him her police badge, preventing anything that might have come next.
“Get the fuck out,” she told him, “And if I hear you’ve ever come back here, or anywhere else, trolling for women who aren’t interested, be sure I’ll find you. And the next time I use this, it won’t be your thigh.”
Another drunken cheer followed the man as he limped out of the bar and Danson’s voice spoke from behind Egs, “Stood up just in time to watch that show. Good job on that pile of garbage! Guess our secret’s out, but that’s alright, Elliot wants to talk properly. Let’s get us all out of here.”
Together they pushed back through the crowd, some of whom insisted on thanking Egs for removing the cockroach in their midst – they’d seen him or his type plenty of times before. She took this with typical equinamity, giving out her name and which station to call if they ever needed help.
In a nearby all-night cafe, they ordered coffee that was more scald than taste and sandwiches that were more bread than bacon, and Egs finally got a good look at Elliot.
He was skinny, which made him look taller than he actually was, but Egs guessed him at around 5ft 9. His pale, greenish complexion might be due to the lights, but the bags under his eyes, the hollow cheeks, and the constant gnawing of his top lip suggested otherwise. Clearly he worried constantly over something. As he ate his sandwich with gusto, Egs noted the ragged ends of his sleeves, and the sunken collarbone poking through the top of the torn top of his thin sweater. It looked like it had been some time since he’d been able to buy anything new. It could be a fashion choice of course, but, Egs instinct said otherwise. It looked like he was barely on the edge of starvation.
“So what can you tell us?” Egs prompted, once Elliot had finished his sandwich and begun eyeing her half-eaten one. She looked at what was left and placed it on his plate, “Talk to us, we’re only trying to help. Tell us about Cal.”
Elliot picked apart the sandwich as he spoke, “We were friends. Which was weird, he was smart, super smart, and I’m not, but we knew each other in school and he didn’t dump me when he went to Uni. I figured he would, but he never did. He’d text me after being at the library or whatever and we’d hang out. I think he liked being with someone who wasn’t always tryna to prove how smart they were. He didn’t tell me much about what he did, but I know there’s some freaky shit in it. He told me it was all rubbish, just studies, but I never liked it.
“So, this one day he showed me this book, and he was proper excited, like it was this huge deal, said he’d translated it and it was gonna make him a big name. Asked me if I wanted to come try somee ritual or whatever out with him and some friends. Told him fuck no, don’t mess with that shit, but I never saw him after that so I guess he did it anyways,” he looked up at Egs and Danson, “You might think I’m nuts but that shit wasn’t right. It got him, I know it did, I dreamed about it.”
“Firstly, Elliot, believe me when I say we know you’re not nuts,” Danson leaned forwards, jolting the table slightly as he put his hands down, then lifting them out of the surface of grease with a slight grimace, “We know something happened to Cal after that ritual – and to Cal’s friends. And it’s happening to us, because of something in our past. I don’t think we can get Cal back safely, I think it’s too late for that, but you can help us to save some others. Please, tell us your dream.”
Elliot closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them, staring at the table as he recounted, “It was back at school, where we first made friends. I was quiet, and poor, and queer, and I didn’t have many, but he wasn’t ever ashamed to hang out and he stood up for me. School sucked, but there were some people like Cal that made it ok. I dreamed we were back in class, Mr Engells tryna teach us geography, both of us bored to shit like always. The bell went and we ran outside for break. I was ahead a bit and when I looked back, he was being dragged away by this…fuck, this thing. Fucking huge, giant arms, all hairy, so many teeth, and it was dragging him backwards into this circle of darkness, like a door or something. I tried to get to him but I wasn’t fast enough and he was gone.”
Elliot was crying now, and Egs handed him a sheaf of paper napkins, “You’re doing fine Elliot, we’re almost done. Can you tell us when you had the dream?”
“A few nights after he asked me about doing the ritual.”
Egs and Danson nodded together, the answer was as they expected.
“Thank you, Elliot,” Danson said gently. If we have any more questions, can we contact you?”
Elliot nodded, “Best at the bar, I don’t really have…best at the bar.”
As Danson went to pay, Elliot used the bathroom and Egs raided hers and Danson’s wallets.
When Elliot returned, Egs proffered a hand for shaking, “Thank you, Elliot, for your help. I really hope things improve for you, and if you need our help you know where we are.”
Elliot nodded and looked at his shaken hand as Egs and Danson exited the cafe. He now held as much cash as the two of them had carried, and sat back down at the table, eyes once again filling with tears at the knowledge that, at least for a day or two, he could eat.
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