94 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO Mrs. Claire’s looked much the same as it had not so very long ago when I’d been there last. The burn marks on the floor had been cleaned up and the lights replaced, but other than that it still had the slightly overdone psychic’s feel to it with that ever comforting glow of the neon pink light coming in through the window.
On first glance, nothing leaped out at me. Everything looked more or less as it should and there was no sign of either John Smith or his previously-late brother. Part of me had been hoping that one or both of them would have been here. It would have been nice to get some answers. Then again, the answers that I was seeking may not have been the best ones to find come to think of it.
Mrs. Claire suggested that I take a look around the place, to just ‘see what I could see’ as she put it. I couldn’t tell exactly what she was expecting–I had told her that I was neither trained nor had the supplies to perform an exorcism, I know that I had–but it was easy enough to follow along with her suggestions when they were what I would have done anyways.
Circling the room, I became lost in the detail that Mrs. Claire had put into her decorations. She had all manner of strange looking artifacts around the room, some displayed carefully for all to see, others that looked as if they had been half-haphazardly tossed onto shelves, more to fill space than anything else.
Thinking back on the sole reason that she’d bought that piece of pottery so familiar to me–she’d said that it looked neat, that was all–the latter explanation seemed all too likely.
But nothing to indicate any sort of supernatural pretense, nothing to give me the slightest idea what I was doing here.
“He doesn’t seem to be here now,” I said as I was finishing my lap of the room. “When does he usually make an appearance.”
“Well, he doesn’t *exactly* appear.” Which I of course new. She’d certainly repeated that part of her story often enough. “It’s more of an ambiance thing.” Her voice trailed off, her last words barely more than breaths. Her gaze had grown unfocused, as if she were concentrating on some problem that only she could see.
I just stood, waiting for a long moment, wondering what in the world I was doing here, why this one case had forced its way so deeply into my consciousness that I couldn’t let go.
I didn’t really have a good answer for that, but a crashing sound from the front door prevented me from needing one–at least for the moment. I turned, at once hopeful and apprehensive. Was this Alex, returned to finish his work of the previous night? John, with a gun and only a loose grip on reality? The former would have been optimal, but the latter would work in a pinch.
But no, it was neither of the Smith’s. Instead it was a young girl, perhaps an early tween, bewaring as much makeup as the average rodeo clown–albeit all in black–loose black cargo pants covered with silver chains, and an equally black band-shirt with a symbol on it I couldn’t hope to identify.
“Amanda dear–” Mrs. Claire swooped by me, her momentary lapse gone as quickly as it had come. When she was close enough, she reached out to take one of the newcomer’s hands–Amanda’s, I assumed–in both of her own. “–it’s been far too long since you last came to visit. Please, come sit down.”
It was as she had completely forgotten that I was there.
Amanda hadn’t forgotten however. She was staring over Mrs. Claire’s overly enthusiastic greeting, watching me with overlarge eyes, ringed with eyeliner. Looking me once up and down, wearing enough that I was starting to get self-conscious only halfway through.
She looked up at Mrs. Claire and said. “Right. Who’s the preacherman?”
95 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO I could have taken offense at being called ‘preacherman’ but all in all, it seemed a relatively accurate assessment of my position. So I just stuck out a hand and introduced myself to the newcomer.
Her full name apparently was Amanda Sinclaire and she was something of a regular here at Mrs. Claire’s–or at least the latter knew the former by sight and had gone bustling off into another room to prepare. I wasn’t sure what it was that she was prepared, but neither Mrs. Claire nor Amanda seemed to be the slighted bit surprised to see the other, giving the whole situation a feel of habit.
With that, I had mostly exhausted my collection of small talk. There just wasn’t that much in common between a barely teen-aged girl of the sort that went to a psychic’s shop and an ex-military priest more than a few years out of the seminary.
Luckily, I was saved by the reappearance of Mrs. Claire. She didn’t look any different and hadn’t come back with anything. She looked at the two of us standing there awkwardly and I could almost see her putting together a relatively accurate assessment of the hole situation. She smiled slightly before saying “Why don’t you come on back, Amanda? We can let Father Thomas here do his thing.”
Amanda nodded her acquiescence, never once asking just *what* it was that I was doing at a place like Mrs. Claire’s in the first place, let alone what I was doing once she’d gone that, let alone why I would have been there in the first place.
But she went, the two of the disappearing into a back room I hadn’t really seen before. Her reading of me and all of the interactions with the Smiths had taken place out here in the main room.
I stood there in the middle of the room, wondering what in the world I was going to do next, when I heard a small crashing sound come from immediately behind me and down towards the floor. I spun, trying to see what had caused it, but at first glance nothing was out of place. Then I looked down at the floor, finding myself looking face to face with a tiny ceramic statue–or rather the various pieces thereof at this point. It was blue and white and had at one point been a person, but now it was so much shattered ceramics.
I took a step closer, trying to figure out what it was that had cause the piece to fall to the floor. Two steps after that, more than halfway across the room, I heard another sound behind me. This one was deeper and more solid than the first, followed by a short cyclic pattern for a few seconds.
This time it was a four inch metallic statue of the Buddha, draped in heavy looking robes of the same material. Bronze, I thought, or perhaps copper. But what was more important was that the statue had previously had a shelf all to itself with a small lip on all sides. So how had the statue ended up on the floor?
Even while I was looking at the statue, another sound caught my attention. This was a breathier sound, like a cross between a faint breeze and someone whispering. I couldn’t make out the words at first, turning in spot, trying to figure out where they were coming from and what they were saying.
Halfway between one turn and the next, there was a faint increase in the murmurs of the breeze along with a certain smell I’d grown all too familiar with: wet leather and fur. And just like that, Alex was standing there, no more than two feet away, directly in front of me.
“Good day, Father. Looking for me?”