There was no other word for it. Donavon J. Morstend, doctor of the scientific arts, was Pouting. No, not pouting; Pouting with a capital P. He was in his classic Pouting possession: sprawled out along the dusty bed, arms crossed on top of the pillow and his forehead resting where the arms crossed. He was muttering muffled profanities in Gaelic.
The doorknob turned and the door opened with a ear-piercing squeal. In stark contrast, the last of their trunks noiselessly floated into the room and came to rest next to the rest of the luggage. Florence followed not far behind and glided over to hover near Michael. “What ails your learned father?”
Mike was perched on the windowsill grinning like a cabbage-headed lummox. “Oh, the usual. He’s feeling a rather sharp pain in his budget plans.”
“Ah,” Florence chuckled “so the saucy little miss and those electromagical barriers keep the good doctor for relieving the rich of their financial burden.”
There was a pause in the antiquated Irish obscenities. Gleaming sliver eyes squinted at the bemused pair by the window. “Did I hear electromagical?”
Kneeling midair, Florence floated so that she eye level with Dr. Morstend. In an uncharacteristic display of true affection, she reached a hand out and made it solid in order to tweak his nose. “That is correct, darling leprechaun, electromagical. Now if you will be a good little Donny and help your son and I set up, I will brief you on the situation.”
The spring restored to his step and thoughts of investors temporarily forgotten, Dr. Morstend practically skipped as he bustled about setting up the numerous pieces of equipment they had hauled to the manor. He apparently had been deaf or forgiving of the leprechaun comment. “Flore, tell me everything! What a discovery... The ramifications of this... Michael! That scanner goes here, silly lad, not over there! And for the love of God, don’t drop it! Do you have any idea how much that costs?”
Michael was struggling desperately with five hundred pounds of what appeared to be a vertical full body scanner. If he would have been able to catch his breath, he would have been assailing his father with indignant retorts. As it was, his steely blue-eyed glare spoke volumes. The doctor took no notice of the look. Still babbling inanely, Donavon scuttled across the room and effortlessly relieved Mike of his load. Michael blinked rapidly while bending over trying to regain his breath. He wheezed out a few choice phrases on the theme of having a superhuman Irish hobbit for a father before returning to the lighter, three hundred pound pieces of equipment.
“What I have found,” Florence clearly enunciated, cutting through the doctor’s nervous chatter, “is that the said barriers are not what most would consider purely natural. That is to say that they can not be explained away by physics or electricity. It is clear that they are electrical in nature, but magic must also support it. First, the barrier appears to extend through the very walls around the guest area. Secondly, I can feel it. If it were normal electricity, I could pass through it. It has been assumed that ghosts feed off energy such as that. I do in a way.” She paused in the levitating of several computers and turned to Michael and Dr. Morstend. “It occurs to me that I have not informed either or you of this fact before. I beg each of your pardons. As I was saying, this assembly feels different. I am able to feed off of the electricity within the barriers, however there is also pure magical energy present. There is no other explaining it. Electromagical.”
Dr. Morstend clapped his hands together and rubbed them one against the other. An aura of evil creative energy permeated out from him. “Excellent, simply excellent. The rumors must be true...” He let out the most disturbing giggle. The doc was on the prowl.
Meanwhile, Mike collapsed onto his cot, groaning. The large, if dusty, storage room had been transformed. It now resembled an odd amalgamation of an alchemist’s lab, the S.S. Enterprise, and the CSI labs. The Morstends were right at home. They could have opted for a much more comfortable suite, but had scouted out an upper story storage room in the hopes that it would not easily be disturbed. Everyone needs a home base, after all.
After much muttering and tinkering, Dr. Donavon called it a night. Neither he nor Michael seemed to notice Florence huddled, shaking in a corner. In front of her was a fearfully battered rag doll. The one-eyed, yarn-haired plaything was suspended in front on Florence of its own accord. It’s not every day that a revenant meets with a phantasm of its own. An eerie childlike wail emitted from the doll. “Mama!”
Florence shuddered again before grabbing the doll and clutching it to her ghostly breast. “I remember you,” she whispered over and over. “I remember you...”
Altogether too soon it was time to prepare for battle. With a few mutters and only one shower of sparks, Mike fastened the final wire. Seven television screens flickered before beginning to cycle though the views from all the manor’s security cameras.
Michael was dressed in the spirit of things. Decked out in full hunting pink including riding crop, Mike could easily be mistaken for a member of the English gentry. Ever the character actor, he had even adapted a British accent. “Everything looks to be in tip-tip shape, my lord Pop. My lady, if you would care to step this way so that you may view the screens.”
Florence quirked a small sideways smile and sashayed over to observe. Most of the screens showed scenes of the manor or the grounds. However, three large Macintosh computers also took up a conspicuous amount of space. On the first screen was a spreadsheet showing the vital statistics of their crew. This was modestly titled “Team Morstend.” The second screen showed a similar spreadsheet for their appointments, and young man and woman team. The third screen featured...
“Google?” Florence turned and queried of the two men. “Of all the things in all the world... Google?”
Donavon grinned cheerfully. “It’s a very useful site. You can find anything if you know what you’re looking for.”
“We had thought about Wikipedia,” Mike confessed, “but decided that Google was a better route.”
“Yes, well... Let’s review who you and Michael shall be taking on, shall we?” Dr. Morstend turned and used a laser pointer to indicate the second screen. “Hitomi Onigiri and Noah Korinma, ages twenty and sixteen respectively. Their youth doesn’t have much affect on their skill, however. The two of them together will be difficult to beat.”
Micheal slipped into the second swivel chair and took over the third of the computers. His fingers flew across the keyboard as he brought up several tabs. (Mike’s typing speed: 128 words per minute thanks to a six week secretarial course.) “All the research I’ve done on them doesn’t bring up many definites.” Mike continued to type as he spoke. “There are just a few things that are certain. First, they always work in a pair. My guess is they need each other to function offensively. Second, they are some sort of exorcists. Even the skeptics' accounts admit that there are some seriously funky things going on. Seems as if the girl gains her power from demons... Like I said, the descriptions are pretty vague. Lastly and most importantly...” Michael gazed longingly at the displayed picture of the petite boy and girl duo. “... I need to get the name of her tailor. That costume is high quality work. If she did it herself I’d love to trade notes with her.”
Dr. Morstend removed his spectacles and cast an laughing look at his offspring. “Only you, Michael, could look at that and see the clothing and not what the clothing fails to cover.”
Michael pulled back from the screen and folded his arms in front of himself defensively. “Well, it’s a good sewing job. The design is an excellent imitation of the original character’s outfit, the fabric choice shows taste, stitching much be immaculate...”
Shaking his head, Dr. Morstend returned his spectacles to his nose and turned back toward the screens. “Whatever you say, son. Whatever you say.”
Florence stretched, a rosy glow surrounding her. “Well, darlings,” she spoke, the southern drawl heavily back within her voice “what is our course of action? Hit them over the head with clubs and deposit them over the garden fence?”
Dr. Morstend nodded. “Basically, yes. Of course, there will be a little more to it than that. Location, plotting strategy... By the way, here.” Donavon tossed Mike a small transmitter box with an earbud attached to it. “This will allow me to communicate with you. I’ll be staying here for quick research and to let you know where to go. That sort of thing.”
“Cool.” Mike shrugged, having easily caught the transmitter. Florence nodded slowly.
“Very well. If that is all the information at hand I feel it is best Michael and I depart and handle this in the quickest and most human way possible.” With that, Florence preformed a sharp ninety degree turn and marched toward the doorway. The bedraggled little rag doll from the previous night’s waking nightmares dutifully floated after her.
“Florence,” called Dr. Morstend, “is it really necessary to bring that child’s toy with you? I’m sure you don’t need it for the spook factor.”
The ghost paused in the doorway. “I am not controlling Tacita. She is following me of her own accord. She knows me.” Florence’s voice dropped to the barest of whispers. “And I know her. I heard once, long ago, that it is not unusual for doll’s to have souls...” Florence hurried out of the room, Tacita the rag doll close behind. The astounded men stared at the doorway where she had been. With a twitch, Michael put in his earpiece, jumped up, and followed her.
Michael and Florence stalked down one corridor and up another. The purpose was not so much to find their opponents as it was to find a suitable location before their opponents found them. For better or for worse, location was everything for Florence’s fighting style. The more projectile objects, the better. She could use her knives, but usually preferred to use what was at hand. Dr. Morstend’s voice crackled through the earbud, offering directions and suggestions.
Soon the pair-plus-plaything had settled on a medium sized breakfast room. The room would not have been particularly remarkable if it had not been for the eight china cabinets, two for each wall. As anyone who has been good old-fashioned melee knows, any sort of dinnerware is magnificent for throwing.
In true theatrical fashion, Michael and Florence were seated at one of the tables when Hitomi burst through the door, trailed by Noah.
“Good day,” Michael intoned, leaning back in his chair and tapping his riding crop against his boot. “I am sure it is a pleasure to make both of your acquaintances, despite the unusual circumstances. Now, I don’t suppose we could persuade the two of you into forfeiting? We could sit and chat, perhaps have a cup of tea...”
Hitomi smirked and grabbed a chair. She twirled it around so that she could sit astride it, resting her arms along its back. “I could sit and talk with you all day, gorgeous. We’re not going to forfeit though. As much as I love a pretty face, I think Noah would be angry with me.” Hitomi winked at Mike before turning and making kissy lips at Noah.
Noah was leaning against the wall nearest the door, casual but alert. It seemed like he was ignoring Hitomi, though in truth he was just used to her. His red converse shoes scuffed at the warn carpet. He just wanted to get down to business and get this over with. Florence caught his eye and gave him an almost imperceptible nod. A ghost of a smile danced in Noah’s eyes as he returned it. The two quiet individuals understood each other very well. They had a similar method of thinking. They also both suffered from having to live with oversexed individuals. All this was said and understood in those two nods.
Hitomi and Mike were getting on like a barn on fire. Flirting filled the air in between prodding conversation. At last, Hitomi stood. “This is nice, but we’re not going to drop out. Neither are you. I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to beat you two up now.” She cracked her knuckles and nodded to Noah. Noah sighed and stretched, getting into proper playing position. A light began to emit from his chest and quickly solidified into a violin.
“I don’t doubt it,” Mike murmured as he and Florence scrambled to their feet. Michael inched backwards, letting Flore take the center stage. He knew he was just her second. He may be good, but she was much better than him when it came to battle. Mike had never once won a fight against her. Now, despite his not being the most religious of individuals, a prayer was on his lips asking for the assistance of any nearby saints. He crouched behind a table as Noah placed bow against fiddle. There was no turning back now.
The sound of the violin rent the air asunder. It was all Florence to do to keep from clapping her hands to her hair and fleeing. It would not matter if she covered her ears of if she did not. The music was tearing at her whole being, as if it were a fierce and wily wind.
Even as the demonic presence became very evident within the chamber, Florence knew that this fight would be many times more difficult than any of them had imagined. For despite all the analysis, for all the careful plotting and planing, one very simple and important fact had been overlooked. Despite all the show, these people were exorcists... and she was a ghost.
As Hitomi’s started to swell and grow claws, Florence dived to the floor while at the same time telepathically hurling a chair at the demon wielder. Hitomi brushed the chair aside effortlessly. The delicate wooden object hit the wall and shattered into thousands of pieces. Before the splinters could hit the floor, Florence had picked them up with the power of her mind and was using them to attack the other girl. The splinters hummed like a swarm of hornets as they dived at Hitomi again and again. Despite the ferocity of the attack, the demon-girl chuckled and slapped at them as if they were nothing more than mosquitos. With her new, tougher skin, that might have been all they felt like. A few of the larger wooden barbs managed to piece and stick in their victim, drawing blood.
Florence could sense more than smell the copper scent of the blood. For a moment, she felt as if she was riding a horse across rolling countryside. Just as quickly, she returned to the situation at hand to find Hitomi charging at her. “Shit!” Flore screamed and became semi-solid. Hitomi’s attacked passed smoothly through her. At the same time, it burned. Florence let out a shriek of agony and flung herself to the far side of the room.
God, she should have know! She should have known something like this would bring back memories. Flashback after flashback after flashback. Florence didn’t know if it was the music or the demonic presences or just the scent of blood. Pictures flashed through her consciousness. A ballroom filled with dancers, a small child running through a field, a dark musty room, Tacita being held a curly headed child. And pain. She remembered pain. For the first time in however many decades she had been deceased, Florence was scared. The unknown is unnerving, but when the unknown is one’s self it is truly chilling.
Florence’s scream snapped Michael into action. He run and flung open the drawers to the fifth china cabinet. Tacita the rag doll joined him in emptying drawers and breaking the delicate dish wear on the wall and floor. “Flore!” he yelled while smashing a gravy boat. “Flore, snap out of it! Dad! We need help! Find some info, fast!”
Hitomi was quickly recovering from her surprise at Florence’s specterish nature. She smirked casting her mismatched eyes around the room in her excitement. Silently she communicated to Noah for him to switch to the second state. Accordingly the violin changed into a shamisen without missing a note and the second change began.
Michael’s cry as well the increasing demonic pressure in the room shook Florence from her mental spiral. It only took her an instant to see the the Hitomi situation was quickly getting worse. The broken shards of pottery floated into the air them shot toward the demon keeper with the force and accuracy of a hundred missiles.
Hitomi hissed as she was cut by the porcelain fragments. The hiss was more reptilian than human. Indeed, if Florence and Mike had not seen the change happen with their own eyes, it would have been almost impossible to recognize the girl. She had sprouted ugly, naked fox-like ears and a large reptilian tail. Her eyes were now only red and black. It might have been a trick of the light, but it seemed like the red of her irises glowed with the red fires of hell itself. Noah started playing the notes to the Song of Satan that would cause the weaker demons to form a shield for his partner, but Hitomi waved him off. Demonic instinct was kicking in to accompany her own pride. She was determined to win this fight and to win it without the hiding behind a shield like a scared little school girl! A growl issued from her throat.
“Well, if it isn’t a sweet little Ghosty.” The rasping voice issuing from Hitomi. It sounded like the voice of an old smoker whose mother had been a crocodile. “We haven’t seen one of your kind in a long, long, time, Ghosty. Little souls like you shouldn’t be wandering here all lonely on earth. Let us help you, little Ghosty. We will drag you down to Sheol, down to Hades, to Tophet, to Acheron, to Hell. We shall dance among the flames, little Ghosty. Or perhaps we shall just make you dance for us. Make you dance and writhe in the fire and sulfur and brimstone for eternity.”
As the demon continued it’s hissing rasping monolog, Hitomi grasped a table, now dwarfed by her massive clawed hands. She held it for a for seconds, til it was covered with demonic essence. With one hand she pitched it at Florence.
Florence braced herself as the table passed through her. It burned. It felt as if her very soul were being burn in a never-ending fire. The mere second that the table was actually passing through her body seemed to stretch out for eternity. As soon as the last particle of the table had lost contact with her, time snapped back into real speed. The table continued on the crash through the wall behind Florence.
“Michael! Sector six! Go!” Florence shouted as she barreled into and through the wall opposite the hole. Michael didn’t waste his time replying. He snatched the one-eyed rag doll and leapt through the newly created hole. Sector six was a medium sized garden close to the manor’s billiard room. If Florence wanted sector six, that meant some serious business. Michael flinched as he heard a loud crash. Apparently Hitomi was following Florence via the most direct route. The demonic juggernaut was crashing through wall after wall, followed by her faithful musician. Wait... The musician!
As if cued by Michael’s line of thought, Dr. Morstend voice crackled to life in the earbud. “Michael! Listen to me! You have got to get to Florence! We’ve been handling this the complete wrong way. Flore needs to attack the musician! I’ve been pulling up research files as quickly as I can. Noah’s music must send some part or Hitomi into a trance. Without the music, no trance. Without the trance...”
“No transformation! You got to help me get to sector six fast, Pop.”
With Dr. Morstend speaking ‘rights,’ ‘lefts,’ and ‘straight aheads,’ Michael raced through the multitude of manor rooms. He mouthed half forgotten words to the “Hail Mary.” He would have crafted a prayer of his own if he had the time to breath, time to think.
Florence burst a wall into the twilight air, Hitomi and Noah close on her heels. The instant Hitomi’s feet touched the ground, she signaled Noah to start the third stage. Noah hesitated for a moment. Hitomi growled low in her throat. The shamisen moved and flowed. Even more light poured out of Noah’s body. Shining brightly, the light molded itself into an exquisite grand piano. Noah began to play, standing up. He betrayed his anxiety by biting his lower lip.
The last physical appearance of a woman was lost as Hitomi’s body changed yet again. She grew larger as her muscles increased in volume. Foamy slobber dripped from her fanged mouth. There was no longer any trace of Hitomi’s soft and silky peach colored hair. The delicate costume she had worn was now in tattered rags, barely holding together. The beast that was Hitomi threw back its head and roared with the joy of its new strength.
Florence was trembling. That horrifying demonic creature was Hitomi. A voice in the back of her mind told her that that didn’t matter. The voice that was her own whispered that it would be much easier to just kill the exorcist. Florence agreed except... there was Noah. His fingers never hesitated as they danced over the keys of the piano. Yet he was still biting his lip. Florence recognized the emotion. It was the same as the one she felt whenever she had to dig Donavon out from under his own equipment after an explosion. It was the same emotion she had felt when she had held Michael when he cried himself to sleep after his last relationship had blown up in his face. And as suddenly as Florence realized this, she could put a name to the feeling. It was love. As startling as the discovery was, Florence filed it away for later. Now was the time to battle.
With a swish all Florence’s glass knifes left there scabbards. They swirled around her like a cyclone. Her silver hair whipped around her head. She looked like a long forgotten Valkyrie ready to lead her chosen warrior to Valhalla. The knives formed into a neat X formation and spun with righteous force toward Hitomi.
Hitomi was already bounding toward Florence. “We thought you had learned Ghosty, your little darts can’t hurt us. We are invincible, we are...”
The demonic voice stopped and shrieked an inhuman shriek as the knives pierced and traveled through Hitomi, killing the ‘unkillable’ demons as they went. Those knives had been forged by Florence’s own hands; cooled and strengthened by her ghostly tears. The tears of a pure soul, wrongfully murdered proved fatal to the demons fool enough to be in the knives’ path. Those knives had been created not only to cut bodies. They had been designed to slice souls.
Indeed, the pain from the lacerations was so great it had caused Hitomi to stubble and fall. Her breaths came in ragged gasps. She managed to choke out as the knives continued to attack her, “Fourth state.”
“Hitomi!” Noah spoke for the first time. “No!”
“Fourth state!” Hitomi and the hoard of demons possessing her howled.
Noah bit his lip hard enough for blood to stream down his chin. He closed his eyes as he painfully began to switch to the fourth state. The piano shrank and changed, becoming as electric guitar. The cord to the guitar ran directly into where Noah’s heart should be. Heartbreaking, scorching cords filled the air.
Florence froze, her knives returning to her, dripping with blood. Flore saw that Hitomi was going to go all the way, foolish emotional child that she could be. Florence had to do something. She had to do something quickly before the fourth state took complete hold. She looked toward Noah. His eyes where closed, tears streaming unashamedly down his cheeks. When did one the young grow so old? In that instant, Florence knew what she had to do.
In a shower of glass, a billiard ball was thrown out the window not twenty feet away. “Flore!” Michael yelled. Florence moved quicker then a cobra. In an instant, she had caught the ball with her mind and hurled it as gentle as she dared into the side of Noah’s head. It connected with a sickening thud and the musician slumped unconsciously to the ground. His instrument dissipated into light which was in turn absorbed into his body.
The instant that Noah had lost consciousness, Hitomi began screaming. The fourth state had almost been completely fulfilled. She was naked and closer to her true form, the rags of her clothing burned off from the immense heat of her body. Her skin glowed red and her eyes were no more that black pits. Hitomi rushed forward in a flash and seized Florence’s wrist. Florence cried out in pain. It was the worst feeling she had even experience. The Devil himself whisper to her.
“You meddling little soul. I almost had her. She and all her demon were almost mine!”
Florence used all of her courage and looked into those bottomless pits of eyes. “Yes,” she whispered. “You almost did. Almost. But never again.”
Using some of the very last of her strength, Florence used her telekinesis to fling Hitomi/Satan into the pond. A powerful hissing filled the air. All the water in the pound instantly evaporated into steam. When Florence gained the energy to float over to peer over the edge and into the dry pond, she saw Hitomi. It was truly Hitomi. The only outwardly evident signs of battle were Hitomi’s nakedness and the lock of her hair that was darker than black. Florence could tell, in the way ghosts can, that that hank of hair would always smell of fire, charcoal, and Hell.
Michael run up next to Florence he saw Hitomi and slowed. He slid down the side of the bank. Quickly he removed his jacket and used it to cover Hitomi’s form. “I’ll sew you a new costume,” he whispered. “I promise.”
Florence, blinking in and out of sight, turned to see to Noah. The little rag doll, Tacita had beaten her to it and had woken the boy. He turned his head slowly to Florence. “Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you.”
Florence nodded, slumping to the grass next to him, utterly drained. “You are welcome.”
“Will you be alright?” Noah nodded to Florence’s wrist. Where the Devil had gripped her had turned an ashy gray color, the handprint clearly visible.
“Yes. It will always stay there, but shall serve as memory.”
Noah nodded again, satisfied. They rested in comfortable silence until Mike carried Hitomi’s body from the pit that was once a lake.
As Hitomi’s unconscious body was hurriedly carried into the guest’s wing, Florence watched. She was flickering wildly, agitated as well as exhausted.
Michael put out an arm as if to wrap it around her but stopped himself and left it fall limply back to his side. “Come on,” he murmured. “Let the professionals handle it. We’ve done all we could. Looks like you could use a drink. Can you drink?”
Flore ran a diaphanous hand through her ghostly hair. “I wish I could. I can at very least pretend I am drunk. That will be of some small comfort.”
The duo turned and treaded up the long and suddenly dismal hallway. Tacita floated dutifully behind them. Florence’s hand involuntarily reached toward Mike’s. They looked at each other, understanding. Michael held his hand out so that it appeared to hold hers. It was just an illusion of comfort, but there is comfort in illusion. When they approached the door to the home base, Dr. Morstend opened the door. He opened his mouth, closed it again, and ran a hand through his graying hair. The group looked among themselves, no words needed. The two men, ghost, and doll entered the room. The door closed behind them.