“You better come in,” I said, standing to the side and opening the door wider.
This could have been a mistake (yes, another one). She could be the leader of a gang of goth ninjas, tricking me into inviting them in. Although, ninjas wouldn’t need an invite, I was probably thinking of vampires. Goth vampires weren’t nearly as interesting and somewhat redundant.
Lillian swished into the hallway and turned around, a look of accomplishment on her round white face. I got the impression most people didn’t let her over the threshold, literally or figuratively.
“This is nice. You have a lovely home.”
“No, I don’t,” I said.
Her open, pleasant face withered into that of a nettle-biting bulldog. “I was being polite.”
“Please don’t be, I find it annoying. What else did Jenny tell you?”
Lillian took a breath through her nose, which she immediately regretted. The scent of a bachelor pad isn’t to everyone’s tastes, especially those who have any.
“She said you were a liar, a bastard and unrepentantly misanthropic.”
“Fair cop. Did she say I was a gambler, rambler and backbiter as well?”
“No,” she said with no acknowledgement of the reference I was making.
The counter to someone who’s always making obscure comments and in-jokes you aren’t privy to is to take everything literally. You can use the same approach to people who think they’re funny. If you relentlessly take sarky gits at their word, it forces them into speaking plainly. It also makes them dislike you, but that ship’s probably already sailed.
“This way, Wednesday Addams.” I led her into the lounge where my curry was quietly evolving into some sort of grease-based sentient lifeform, which would still be delicious, so doomed to never reach its potential. Join the club.
“My name’s Lillian,” she said as she followed me.
“Yes, I know, Lily Munster. Take a seat. Do you want something to drink? Hemlock tea?” Of course, the counter to the counter was to keep relentlessly pouring on the references, going even more obscure and obtuse. It turns into a battle of twits, which is where I have all the advantages.
Lillian sat down on the armchair which had a massager built into it. One of my first purchases when I got my flat. Used it about twice, I think. “Thank you, I’m fine. You don’t seem surprised to learn I’m a psychic. Most people are far more sceptical.”
“I don’t see why. Must be great. Are you very rich? I imagine you bet on a lot of horse races and stuff like that.”
“I can’t see the future, I’m not clairvoyant. I can speak to otherworldly entities, though. There is life beyond this small rock of ours. Other worlds, other planes of existence.”
“You don’t say. Who’d have thunk it?”
“You don’t have to humour me, I’m used to not being believed.”
“Oh, I believe in other worlds. I’ve been to a couple of them myself.”
Her eyes narrowed as she tried to work out if I was taking the piss. It wasn’t an easy thing to assess with someone like me. My secret was that I was always taking the piss, and it wasn’t much of a secret.
Lillian was petite, but not as small as Biadet. She had the big hair, not just teased into defying gravity but heavily bullied, and her clothes looked like they cost a lot of money.
Not the modern sort of expensive where everything is made to the same shitty standards by Asian slave labour and the price point is based on the label stuck on the collar, her clothes looked like they’d been put together by someone who had actually seen a human body before, not just the giant stick insects that inhabited their drug-addled art school minds.
She was in her late twenties, early thirties, although the thickly applied powder made it hard to be sure. She could have been even older, but her manner had an immature edge to it. Not that that necessarily precluded her being fifty.
“I’m not wearing makeup,” she said, catching me staring. “I have naturally pale skin.”
“Okay. Are you a mind reader, too?”
“No, I just have a lot of experience being around rude men.”
Mi-aow. The worst kind of insults aren’t vicious or dark or related to penis size, they’re the ones that are true (especially if they’re true about penis size).
“So the hair, the eye shadow, the black fingernails, it’s all natural, is it?”
“Yes. If you’d seen the things I’d seen, you would also be a little pale and dark-eyed.”
“Not daddy issues, then? No Celtic tattoos and pierced nipples?”
“I told you, I’m not a goth. When I say I can communicate with other worlds, that doesn’t mean the denizens of those worlds are sweet and gentle. I’ve had my fill of terrifying encounters. The darkness you see in me is nothing compared to the evil I’ve encountered.”
“You’ve spoken to Claire, too?”
Lillian gave me a displeased glare. “I don’t know who that is, but I assume it’s some sort of put down of a girl you don’t like.”
The other countermeasure to sarcasm is to deconstruct the reasons behind it and make the person feel mean and spiteful. Nice try, lady, but you can’t make me feel bad about my best qualities.
“Something like that. Could you tell me what Jenny actually said, word for word?”
“She was your girlfriend?”
“She still is, unless you know something I don’t.”
“Ah, that’s nice.” She smiled for the first time, bitter and condescending. If she really wasn’t a goth, the cosplay was exquisite. “You haven’t accepted her death.”
“She isn’t dead. Oh, you think you spoke to a ghost.” I realise it sometimes takes me a moment to work out what the hell people are talking about — occupational hazard when you ignore people for a living — but not having met many real psychics before, I didn’t have any context for this particular conversation.
“I spoke to her,” said Lillian. “She was on the other side.”
“I know. That’s where I left her. She wants me to go back and get her, but I’m having a few issues. Hey, can you get in touch with her and let her know I’m working on it? A seance or something like that?”
Lillian frowned and squirmed in her chair. “I didn’t think you’d handle it so badly. Have you sought professional help?”
“For what?” I asked.
“You lost your girlfriend. I understand how hard that must have been for you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean? Hard for me because I’m unlikely to get a new one?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Oh, I know what you meant. And I’m not even psychic.”
I think we’re all familiar with how well I get on with women, so relatively speaking, this was going quite well.
“Look, your dead girlfriend is going to come after you. I wanted to warn you, that’s all.”
“And how did you know where to find me? I assume she gave you my name and address.”
“Yes,” said Lillian.
Jenny knew where I lived because those are the sorts of things she had asked me in the past. I had no idea where she lived because who gives a shit? Yes, it would be good to know if for some reason we had been both brought back and needed to find each other, but there’s no need to be clingy about it. If we were meant to be together then I was sure she’d find a way to track me down and force me into a relationship, like any normal girlfriend who decided on the guy that’ll do.
“And why would she tell you that? What did she send you here for?”
“She didn’t send me. I told you, I’m warning you. My gift is very… it’s hard to explain. Basically, I can pick up signals in the ether.” She waved her hands around to demonstrate that the ether was all around us. If she broke into an interpretive dance, she’d be out on her ear. “Sometimes the signal is weak, other times it’s overwhelming and I blackout. It can be in strange languages or it can be terrifying creatures I couldn’t even begin to describe. In this case, I was able to hold a short conversation, which was amazing. It’s the first time that’s happened, I’m only sorry it’s because of something so sad.”
“She isn’t dead.” Some people are just so sure they know better that they refuse to look at any other evidence. Redditors, they’re called.
“I spoke to her. She was barely visible, in a dark, cold place. She said she had tried all the doors she could find, but none of them led to you. She seemed very determined to get hold of you.”
“Yes, she’s always been like that. And you can’t send a signal back the other way? What if we got some gel and shaped your hair into a point to improve the reception?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” said Lillian.
“I don’t see how you can know that without trying. Seems to me like you don’t have much control over your ability. Maybe I can help you fine tune it a bit.”
“You?” She seemed sceptical, particularly in the way she looked, sounded, dressed and breathed.
“I have some experience of these things. Jenny didn’t die, she travelled to another world full of fantasy creatures like out of a book.”
“Yes,” I said, “but not so homoerotic.”
“There’s nothing gay about the Narnia books,” said Lillian. “CS Lewis was actually a staunch Christian.”
“And your point?”
“Anyway, what you’re saying is ridiculous. She’s in a land of dragons and fairy princesses, is she?”
“So your crazy shit is real and misunderstood, but my crazy shit is just batshit crazy? Nice. Remember how it felt having people reject everything you told them? That is now you. Gothic hypocrisy at its finest.”
“I’m not a goth,” said Lillian. “I’m just trying to help. You don’t have the kind of experience with the occult and supernatural that I have. I can get you through this in one piece. I don’t want you to end up like me.”
“What do you mean? End up like what?”
“Look at me. I’m totally drained and exhausted. My body’s a wreck. I have no friends or family who don’t think I’m mental. No one believes me and half the time I think I must be going mad. I can save you from the haunting you’re about to receive, and my rates are very reasonable.”
I found myself smiling. I should have been a little more angry, perhaps, or annoyed, but she was doing her best to turn whatever life had decided to throw at her to her advantage.
It can’t have been easy growing up with this kind of useless ability. I believed she was a genuine psychic. Clearly, she had managed to get in touch with Jenny and most likely there had been others before that, maybe others in Flatland, but what kind of a job could you get with this on your CV?
Generally speaking, people had little use for a woman who could contact the dead. Most of us aren’t even interested in talking to their grandparents when they’re alive, who the fuck wants to spend a bunch of cash finding out what they’re up to now?
“You want me to pay you to protect me from ghosts?” It was an unusual offer, even for me. “How much?”
“We can negotiate a fair price once you see what I can do. If you don’t find my help to be of any value, pay me nothing.”
Not bad. She was willing to take whatever I wanted to pay, which showed a lot of confidence. Or a lot of experience being told to piss off.
“You do remember Jenny telling you I was a liar and a bastard, right? Maybe I won’t pay you anything even if you do turn out to be helpful.”
“I’m willing to take the risk.” Here was a girl who was desperate. “I know you’re going to need my assistance before this is over.”
“I thought you weren’t clairvoyant.”
“It’s not that. It’s the pressure in the air. The moment I turned into this street, I could feel the presence. There’s something here, something more powerful than anything I’ve felt before. Like a hundred eyes were on me.”
“Yeah, that’s probably all the guys keeping watch on my flat. You might have spotted the vans with tinted windows.” I went over to the window and peeked out. It wouldn’t have surprised me if there were a bunch of Orion’s goons out there keeping an eye on things. Actually made me feel quite safe. It could get quite leery round my way after last orders.
“This is real,” she insisted. “I know what I felt. It’s never been this strong before. I’ve visited all the famous haunted tourist attractions, spent the night in some of the most frightening places in the country.”
“So have I,” I said. “Fell asleep on the train once and had to spend the night in Leamington Spa. I still get flashbacks.”
“Stop talking shit and listen to me.” Lillian was on her feet. “You’re going to have a very intense experience tonight. I can feel it coming.”
I closed the curtains and raised my hands. “Easy, tiger, I’m flattered, but I have a girlfriend. Even if she’s dead, she’s not the sort to let that stop her from keeping her hooks in me, especially now that I have money. Not that I’d call her a gold digging whore, not to her face, anyway.”
“I’m serious. Please stop taking everything as a joke. There are powerful forces at work you can’t even begin to appreciate.”
“Oh, I can. Didn’t Jenny tell you anything about what we’ve been through? This has nothing to do with ghosts or death or heaven or hell. When I said there were men outside watching, I meant it. You see, Lillian, where Jenny is right now, I was there with her until recently. And then I accidentally found a way back here, and there are a bunch of people very interested in using me to go over there and take over, you know, in the best tradition of greedy little shits who want whatever they can get hold of. So, yes, powerful forces are at work, but only the usual shitty ones.”
“You think a lot of yourself don’t you?” said Lillian. “I suppose governments around the world are watching your every move. Well, let me tell you something — there are no weapons or gadgets to protect you from the supernatural world.”
“What about those proton packs in Ghostbusters?” I said.
Before she had a chance to answer, my front door burst open, and I mean into splinters. From where I was, I saw three men in tactical commando gear came running down the hallway as Lillian screamed. Bloody goths, always looking for attention.
“For fuck’s sake, why didn’t you just ring the doorbell?” I asked. It was very inconvenient to no longer have a door.
“You’re coming with us,” said the guy in front who I’d never seen before, but he spoke with an American accent, so most likely he’d been sent by Orion. He was also ignoring me and talking to Lillian.
“You want her?”
“Let’s go. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.”
Lillian looked confused. “What? Who are you? Why are you here?”
“Ohh,” I said, “you bugged my place. Or you’ve got snooping equipment in your van. Makes sense.” I turned to Lillian. “They heard you could contact the other side and think they can use you. I think you should go with them, they pay really well.”
“I’m not going with them, I’m staying with you.”
I would have been flattered, you know, if I enjoyed having a burden thrust on me without being asked first.
“No, seriously, go with them and tell them about the voices in your head. They love that shit, have a whole team of boffins ready to investigate your ability, cutting edge instruments, the works.” From the horrified look on her face, I probably wasn’t doing a good job selling Lillian on Orion’s R&D department.
“Quickly,” said the yank, beckoning Lillian to come while keeping his eyes on me. “We can keep you safe from this guy.”
“What the fuck? You’re the ones who smashed down my door like a bunch of thugs. I offered her a cup of tea. Cup of tea!” It’s amazing how thugs and weirdos can convince themselves they’re the reasonable moderates.
“Now!” shouted one of the men behind him, lunging towards me. It looked like he was going to shove me out of the way so the other two could grab Lillian, but he went right through me, landing on the floor.
I hadn’t done anything, but the attack had triggered my ability to not get involved.
“Do you people not understand the concept of please and thank you? Not everything has to be so aggressive, you retarded piece of shit.” I bent down and ripped the guy’s helmet off his head. He screamed. “And I’m keeping this. Now get the fuck out.”
He scrambled to his feet and stumbled backwards, his two colleagues joining him. A moment later they were gone, leaving me with a hole where my door used to be.
“What the hell kind of botched raid was that?” I said, turning back to Lillian.
She was sitting on the floor shaking tears in her eyes. “You’re… you’re a ghost.”
This was going to take some explaining, and quite frankly I couldn’t be bothered. “Yep. You’re right. Can’t fool you. Time for you to go. If you’re still here at midnight I have to drain you of all your blood and, ah, skin you alive. If you make a run for it, you’ll make the last bus.”
She was full on crying. “I’ve finally met one. I knew you were real, I knew it. Please, is he okay, is my father with you?”
I knew it. Bloody goths and their daddy issues.
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.Afterword from Mooderino