Dark Arts and a Daiquiri
“This is really nice,” I gushed, unconcerned by the apartment’s lackluster finishes. Beggars couldn’t be choosers, and having spent the last ten months sleeping on my brother’s sofa, I was ready to overlook anything less than holes in the walls.
Which, unfortunately, had been included in all the apartments we’d viewed so far, along with complimentary mold, cockroaches, and suspicious odors. That wasn’t including the batshit crazy landlords. Did normal people not dabble in real estate investment, or did all the well-adjusted landlords have tenants already?
“It’s clean,” Sin observed. “Running water. Heat. Wait, does it have heat? It’s cold in here.”
“Well, it is a basement.” I flapped my printout. “It says all utilities are included in the rent. How sweet is that?”
Sin wrinkled her nose suspiciously. “It’s too cheap. There’s got to be something wrong with it.”
“Maybe there’s a hobo living in the crawlspace.” I pointed at a half-height door tucked in a corner of the living room. “That’s a crawlspace, right?”
We crossed the room and I crouched at the door, Sin leaning over my shoulder. I pulled it open. Inside was nothing but impenetrable darkness.
“Use your phone’s flashlight,” Sin suggested. “There must be a light switch or—”
Chill air whispered over my skin and all the hair on my body stood on end—then arctic wind blasted me in the face.
I recoiled, crashing into Sin’s legs. She landed on her ass as the wind howled out of the crawlspace, whipping dust through the room. My printouts went flying and we scrambled backward on our butts with the papers spiraling toward the ceiling.
The darkness in the crawlspace leaked out from the doorway and pooled on the floor like ink. Shadows writhed and something pale materialized in the threshold—a skeletal woman on her hands and knees, toothless mouth gaping, empty eye sockets dribbling black blood.
I took one look at the moaning specter and screamed like the sissy girl that I am.
Sin let out her own terrified shriek as the ghostly woman dragged herself out of the crawlspace, her long hair trailing on the floor. She stretched a hand toward us, blackened fingers curled like claws, and icy gusts lashed at our faces. Still screaming, Sin grabbed my arm, her fingernails digging into my skin. Sharp pain cut through my panic.
I jammed my hand into my pocket and whipped out my trump card—yes, a literal card.
My trusty Queen of Spades was more than it appeared: a sorcerer’s artifact embedded with a spell that reflected magic. Was there any magic here to rebound? I had no idea. Would it work on a ghost? Also no idea. I wasn’t a sorcerer. I was a crime-of-convenience thief and I had only the vaguest notion how to use the card.
But it was the lone magical defense I had, so I thrust it at the phantom and shouted, “Ori repercutio!”
The air rippled and the gale-force wind reversed direction. It slammed into the woman, flinging her back into the crawlspace. Her head hit the door frame with a whack.
“Ow!” she squeaked.
Sin’s scream cut off. In unison, we launched to our feet. We weren’t screaming anymore, but I for one was even more freaked out. The woman was too solid to be a ghost, but holy freaking shit, that body did not belong to a living being—papery skin clinging to bones, empty sockets for eyes, stringy hair down to her knees.
The ghost woman sprang up, raising her hands like claws. “Begone from this place,” she moaned. “Begooooone … or else!”
I tilted my head toward Sin, not daring to take my eyes off the not-a-ghost. “Hey, Sin. Is that … a vampire?”
“No.” She pulled a handful of vials with colorful liquid contents out of her purse. “Not even close.”
Selecting a bottle, she dropped the others back into her bag and unscrewed the top. A hideous smell like burnt iron singed my nose.
“No!” the woman shrieked—except she didn’t sound like a woman anymore. Her voice was two octaves higher and painfully nasal. “Don’t!”
Sin held out the bottle threateningly. “Show us your real form or I’ll drench you!”
“Noooo! Go away!” The woman stomped her foot. “Stupid humans! This is my house!”
Raising her hand higher, Sin started to tip the bottle.
“Uuuuugh. Fine.” The woman threw her hands up—and her body melted. It lost solidity and shrank, then reformed into something new.
The creature was dark green with skin the waxy texture of pine needles. Even with twigs sprouting off its large head in place of hair, it barely reached my waist, and a mixture of spruce branches and pine cones hid its torso. Thin arms and legs stuck out of the twiggy mess, its hands and feet comically oversized.
Its eyes, narrowed angrily, dominated its face, the crystalline green irises unnaturally bright and entirely lacking pupils—just giant green orbs.
The creature pointed an accusing finger at us. “This is my house! Leave or I’ll turn you into bean sprouts!”
I cleared my throat. “Okay, not a vampire,” I said to Sin. “What is it?” “This,” Sin replied grimly, “is a faery.”