James stopped leaning on the shovel then scratched his head and said, “The cat hovered?”
Vincent nodded, “Yes. It was like I said, there are ghosts. I think a ghost picked the cat up. It walked off with it.”
“What would a ghost want with a dead cat?” James asked.
“Alright, so where’s the cat now?” He asked
Vincent shrugged and turned around looking at the ground.
There was a rustle of movement above James and he grabbed the shovel, weilding it as some sort of medieval two-handed weapon of war. Another rustle and the smell his his nose, rapidly approaching. He swung the shovel and it connected with a meaty clang. Whatever it was that he’d hit flew end over end for a solid twenty feet before landing.
“Vincent…” James called in warning.
It was too late. Whatever the thing was that he’d hit, it was approaching again at a run. James couldnt see or hear it but his nose told him everything he needed. Out of the grass a ferocious four legged monster appeared. It looked like the demented offspring you’d expect if a cat mated with some kind of demonic hellspawn. Its coat was patchy (at best) and the teeth too long for its mouth. The eyes flashed in the dark as it made for James. He could see where the shovel had connected – its tail was hanging limp and broken and one of its back legs wasnt moving quite right.
“Vincent, I think I’ve found your cat…” James called. There was no reponse and he didnt have time to look to see why, the cat was almost on him. It lowered at the front, back end rising and twitching to and fro. It hissed from a mouth that seemed to open too wide. Then it jumped. James swung the shovel wildly and there was another meaty clang and something wet splashed his face and hands. Two fragments of cat landed several feet apart, head separated from the body. There were a few moments of twitching then both lay still.
James stabbed the shovel into the ground and leaned on it, breathing hard. Demon cats as well as ghosts? All he’d wanted was a quiet time. He turned to look for Vincent.
The big man was leaning with his back against the tree. One arm was feebly waving, brushing at something, but the movements were getting weaker by the second. James rushed around to see if he was OK and wished he hadnt. He took a step back in horror. Vincent’s face and neck were covered with a writhing mass of insects. He’d fallen against the tree and as James watched he sunk lower. The insects spread downward into his shirt. As they thinned from the face James put a hand to his mouth to stifle a scream, skin and flesh had been eaten and there were scrape marks visible on the exposed skull underneath. One particularly fat mosquito crawled up from under the shirt-line and onto the hollow of Vincent’s throat. It chewed a small hole, turned around and inserted the rear third of it’s body. This proceeded to twitch and James could imagine what was happening: eggs were being laid. Two more fat females crawled out from the mass, one vanishing inside torn lips the other burrowing in behind the right eye.
James couldnt take and more and fled, stopping only when his stomach erupted at the horror of what he’d just witnessed. He ran again as though the devil himself was chasing him. Finally he found himself at home where he slammed the door closed and threw himself into the bathroom to wash the stink off himself.
After getting out of the shower he noticed the marks along the wall where the bookshelf had been. There was a twinge of pain, a pulling, a deep rooted desire to find his wife’s journal. After all the death and mayhem he needed that connection. He towelled himself dry and without bothering to dress wandered out of the bathroom and began rummaging in boxes.
Eventually it turned up, though why it was packed in a box containing old canning jars, three packets of pickling spice and eight old issues of “Sauce” magazine he had no clue. With journal in hand he retired to the bedroom and began flicking through the pages.
Magdalena slept fitfully during the night. She heard people around her groaning in pain and nurses doing their best to comfort them. At some point during her waking & sleeping cycle a nurse had covered her with a blanket. There was a shift change, new nurses coming on duty accompanied by thankful comments from the prior shift. The routine begain all over again. Magdalena slipped in and out of sleep. She woke up to a nurse speaking at her bedside.
“OK, Doctor just gave me this, said that the last shift forgot to give it to you.” a young blond nurse said, brandishing a large syringe, “He warned me there might be complications, especially in how it must be delivered. Im sorry, but this is going to hurt.”
With that she plunged the needle into Magdalena’s chest, injecting an off-white fluid directly into her heart.
Fire erupted in her veins. She screamed, her back arched. Every inch of her burned. She felt the broken bones in her leg being hauled into place as muscles spasmed. With her eyes closed she could sense the burning sensation concentrating in her lower extremities and she bit into her lower lip as new bone and sinew forced themselves out of the severed stump of her leg. It wasnt meant to hurt like this! The healing process should have been slower. The intensity of her body’s reaction to the injection frightened her. The doctor had known she was different and promised medicine, but she’d not expected this! Unable to take the punishment she blacked out.
James awoke to an insistent knocking on his door. He pulled some pants on and answered it.
Vincent stood there, grinning.
James stared at him with a slack jaw.
“Well, arent you going to let me in?” Vincent asked.
“But…” James said.
“But what?” the big man asked, smiling.
James looked at him, examined his face for signs of the three demonic female mosquitos. Not a mark. The flesh of his face was pink and clean, a first for Vincent, so James shrugged and waved him inside.
The big man stepped in and ambled toward the bathroom.
“Gotta go… back in a minute.” he said.
James took the time to go get dressed. When he emerged from the bedroom a smell wafted to him. Ugly and close by. There was a flushing sound and Vincent emerged from the bathroom.
“You look like …” Vincent paused, then laughed, “Oh, right… should be a health warning when I take a dump. Sorry man!”
James shuddered. The smell was bad, but far worse than he’d expected. Something wasnt right. There was something deeply wrong with how it lingered around Vincent despite being several feet from the bathroom door. Something was wrong but he couldnt put his finger on it.
“Come on. We have ghosts to visit!” Vincent said, then turned and walked out of the door. The smell lingered a few seconds longer then faded. James frowned, so the bathroom _wasnt_ the source after all. He pulled his coat from a nearby coat hook, grabbed a scarf, then followed the big man out of the apartment locking the door behind him.
“Hey Vinnie, you sure you didnt crap in your pants or something, you stink!” James said, adding a note of laughter he didnt feel.
“I sharted. Man, Im ashamed to admit it, but it’s true.” he replied.
James turned white as a sheet and stopped walking.
“What’s wrong?” Vincent asked, “Awww, come on, dont tell me you’ve never tried to squeeze one off and received an extra little gift that comes along with it?”
“No, no!” James said, “Never. Why are we _having_ this conversation!”
“You started it.”
“Yes, I did … but I didnt need the detail.”
“So what’s got you spooked?” Vincent asked.
“What you said.” James answered.
“I thought you said…”
“… no, not that. Well, yes … exactly that … only not. Its complicated.” James answered.
“Make up your mind. I mean, its pretty simple really. I …”
James interrupted him, hands waving, “Enough already. No, I was reading my wife’s journal last night. There was an entry in my own handwriting. Actually a whole bunch. I ran across this one where you came to get me and we were heading for the haunted railyard – that’s where we are going, right?”
“OK, and the entry mentioned you and your stink and that you used the excuse of sharting.” James finished.
Vincent looked perplexed, “So you’re telling me I’ve done this before?”
“I have no clue about the prior state of your underwear. I dont care. What Im wigged out about is that this is happening just like the diary. How is that possible? How could I have written it, hidden away in a journal I’ve not touched in literally months, and have it tell me what I do and say today?”
Vincent shrugged, “So what else did we do, according to this journal?”
James frowned, “It said we took a picnic and fell asleep after drinking wine.”
“Cool!” Vincent said, “Let’s go shopping!”
Vincent and James picked up enough food to feed a small army. Bread and strong cheddar cheese, ham, a huge jar of pickled onions, apples and a bottle of wine each. Vincent had insisted on getting a side order of eggs and a whole roasted chicken.
The railway line wasnt far from James’s apartment but they found that the railyard was considerably further away. They walked along the grassy bank beside the rails and finally stopped under some trees to take a rest.
James knew that Vincent had no manners, but there had been something in the journal entry that he wanted to check out, something he’d not mentioned to the big man when they’d been talking about it. Sure enough, he began eating the chicken and chewed his way through bones as well as meet. He’d always been an impressive eater but this was a whole new level. When he was done there was nothing but grease on his fingers and a satisfied smile on his face. He washed the chicken down with his bottle of wine. It was exactly how the diary entry had said. James drank his wine in silence. That meant an appointment at the railyard then. He nodded, tossed his empty bottle with the other trash and stretched out under a tree to snooze.
Magdalena woke up aching all over. She wiggled toes in both her feet, moved the legs, then kicked the covers off. Not only did they look fine but every other scratch and nick on the rest of her body was gone. It looked strange to see fresh, pink skin through rents in her dress, burned edges, yet nothing the matter underneath. She stood up and walked a few tentative steps. Healing from a wound like that should have been slow. It made no sense to her, she was used to bed-rest not an explosion of pain and everything being back to rights.
“So, hale and healthy I see!” the doctor said from behind her.
She turned, “Yes, that medicine worked wonders. I cant say much for the side effects though. Damn!”
The doctor laughed, “I could have warned you. Oh well, sorry. Now you need to come with me.”
He waved her forward and lead her out of the room, down a corridor and into a private office. Once inside he locked the door. From his pocket he pulled a small metal box with a numeric keypad on top, dialed in some numbers, then hit an activation switch. The rear wall of his office parted in the centre and slid back doubling the size of the room. The new space gleamed. Stainless steel cabinets and work surfaces, a high-tech operating table at the centre with robotic arms reaching down from the ceiling, each tipped with a different surgical implement.
“Hmm. Not victorian.” She said.
“No. But then, neither are you.” he said
“Touche. Now what the hell did you inject me with last night?” she demanded.
“Potent, wasnt it?” he laughed, making his way into the gleaming metal space, “Before I answer that, I need something from you.”
She frowned, “What?”
He waved her over to the operating table, “Put your hand on here a moment. That’s right, spread your fingers like so … good. Now hold still.” he pressed a button on the metal box and a robotic arm flashed down and cleanly snipped off her middle finger. She howled in pain and snatched her hand back.
“Thank you. That means a lot.” the doctor said, smiling broadly as he picked up the severed finger. He opened a cabinet and unfolded the front of a machine, dropped the digit inside, then closed it back up. “It will take a while to finish preparing it, and then the sequencing. Your contribution is greatly appreciated however.”
“What the hell?” she growled.
“Oh come now. Its not like you cant grow a new one. Here, eat this.” he said and tossed her a small grey cube he pulled out of a nearby drawer.
The cube was rubbery, like tofu. Much like tofu it didnt smell of anything, or taste of anything much, either. Seconds later she felt a familiar burning sensation as the finger begain reforming.
“You know too much you freak!” she said, “I have a mind to kill you where you stand!”
“Kill me? But you’d never get answers that way.” he said, with eyebrows raised.
Magdalena considered for a moment, watching the progress her finger was making. Its growth took her mind off the awful conundrum that stood before her. How did he know? What the hell was he injecting her with or feeding her on for it to have such a potent effect? Who was this man?
James stretched and got up. Vincent was already awake and watching the stars overhead.
“You could have woken me!” James said, “We lost so much time.”
“Its better if we get there after dark. The ghosts like the dark.” Vincent said, turning and walking off down the tracks.
James followed. The brisk walk helped wake him up and gave him time to think about the journal entry. It was all playing out the way the summary had said it would, details filled in now that he was living the moment. Or was he re-living the moment? He hadnt thought of that. Was he caught in a loop? Had he done this already once, failed to make some detail right, and been forced to do it all over again. He shook his head. Too weird.
They reached the railyard and waited as a train went past them.
“Over there – see the _No Entry_ sign?” Vincent pointed.
“Yes, what about it?” James said.
“That’s where we are going. See how there’s a rail line goes past there? There’s a tunnel up there too.”
“OK, lead on… you know where you’re going” James said, quoting back the line he’d read in the journal. Sure enough there would be a tunnel along that line. It would be pitch black and they would still venture inside. Five paces inside would be a solid black wall.
They walked past the sign and followed the rails as they curved gently. Ahead of them was a tunnel entrance.
James decided to try something, to deviate from the diary. He felt like reality was pushing him to walk slowly but the more he thought about the journal, the easier it became to defy reality.
“I hear someone!” he said through a mouth that felt like lead. He started to run. It felt like he was a child again, in the swimming pool, running against the water. They both picked up the pace and he could see the tunnel looming. Five paces? He counted them off as they entered the cool blackness and on three stopped. Vincent didnt know better and collided with the black wall with a grunt.
By rights it should be both of them on the ground, James knew that, but he stood beside Vincent and turned around slowly. He could hear a train approaching from the tunnel, could feel its vibration through the railway line. Last time around, according to the journal, he’d heard and felt it then nothing. The train turned out to be nothing but an illusion, a spectre. Vincent had been right: it was haunted.
The ghosts werent just manifesting in vibrating rails and sound, but also personally. They were there again. Silent and black. Two of them this time. No, these two were different. That would make three figures dressed in black that he’d seen. The smell of death accompanied these two as well. So. Three ghosts haunting him.
The two figures advanced, one couldnt have been more than five feet tall, the other was taller and moved with trained precision of a fighting man. They stepped up close the larger man reaching down to Vincent and tapping him with a small rod. The smaller figure reached down to where James should have been, her rod moving to tap him … and tore a hole in the world.
He couldnt describe it any other way, there was just a nothingness that spread from that point. He wasnt where he was meant to be – he’d changed it all thanks to reading the journal – the destruction of everything was his fault! He cried out as the tear flashed high an wide. It sucked everyone inside. He could feel himself falling and falling. His arms and legs flailed around and found no purchase. He was in black nothingness. Then there was pain from a dozen points around his body. He was still falling but the darkness had become grey and patchy. Ground loomed out of nowhere and he slammed into it, broke through it and sat up gasping for air in a brightly lit room.
“Oh crap, he’s awake!” a voice said from behind him, “Li, if you’re going to do something, now is the time.”