Read Broken Souls Online

Authors: Stephen Blackmoore

Broken Souls (10 page)

I struggle, try to push her off me, but it’s like she’s made out of concrete. I change tactics, root around my psyche for that power. I can feel blood trickling down my neck, soaking into my collar. She’s laughing, toying with me. She could just pop my head off here and now. Maybe she’s still thinking of that payday the Russian promised her and doesn’t want to kill me just yet.

That little bit of hesitation is all I need. I find the thread of that power and pull it like a ripcord. I feel it bloom within me and I throw it out. No direction, no focus. Just let it go where it wants to.

She screams as it takes hold of her, her skin blistering and flaking, disintegrating into dust. Her hands are husks blowing away on a wind that isn’t there. She unhinges her jaw to snap at me, one final desperate move to take me out, but when her teeth spring out they flake away before they can touch me. I push her body off of me. My hands sinking into her disintegrating body like it’s sand. She’s gone in the blink of an eye.

I fall to all fours, gasping for air. The pain has lessened somewhat. Now it’s just feels like I’ve been hit in the chest with a 2x4 instead of a freight train.

With the adrenaline wearing off I’m really feeling the fatigue and the blood loss, not to mention the bruising, cuts, and whatever the fuck she did to my neck. I try to stand, but my vision blurs and dizziness washes over me.

Goddammit. I really need to do something about all this passing out.

I wake up to someone yelling.
I jerk my head up, which turns out to be a bad idea. The room spins like a Tilt-A-Whirl and I almost throw up.

It takes me a second to remember where I am and what’s happened. I take stock. Beat to hell, covered in blood, my shoulder a ragged mess of torn flesh. In a room with the gutted corpse of a stranger where the walls have been painted in his own intestines.

“Eric? Holy shit, it is you.” An Asian woman kneels down next to me but she’s going in and out of focus. It takes me a second to figure out who it is.

“Tabitha?” I look up at her and she recoils. Man, I must look worse than I thought. “Hey. I’ve been looking for you.” I always thought she was cute, but right now she looks like an angel.

I think I might be delirious.

“Eric . . . Jesus. What happened to—Ya know, save it. We need to get you out of here. You look like a horror show. Can you walk?”

“I have no idea. Let’s find out together. Help me up. Or are you a hallucination?”

“I wish,” she says. She wedges herself beneath me and pulls me up until I can get my feet under me. I’m wobbly, but I can stand. More or less. “Come on. I’m parked in the alley.” She gets under my arm, the good one, thank god. The left is hanging dead at my side. She’s not tall, but she’s all compact muscle and she’s able to support me easily.

I can’t feel the power I’d tapped into earlier. Gone dormant, I suppose. I seriously doubt it’s gone. It felt as much a part of me as my limbs do.

And that scares the piss out of me.

The flood of magic returns once we get out of the room past the runes. It’s like that feeling when your ears pop and you can hear again. Tabitha must feel it too, because she immediately gets more relaxed once we’re past the threshold. I wonder if she even knows why.

She helps me through the store. The front is closed with a roll-up gate covering the entrance. Cheap electronics cover every surface. Flat-panel displays on the walls. I don’t see any sign of my straight razor, but I do find the Browning sitting on a countertop display of cell phones.

“Hang on,” I say. I grab the gun and slide it back into its holster. “Want a new phone?” She shakes her head, confused, as I grab three Nokia knockoffs and stuff them in my pocket. Can’t hurt to have a few more. I remember a time I did everything through a messaging service and payphones. I don’t know how the hell I managed.

“How’d you find me?” I ask.

She chews the inside of her lip, says nothing for a while, then, “Alex. Jesus, Eric, I saw Alex.”

I stop dead. “You saw him?”

“About an hour ago. He just popped up out of nowhere, yelled an address at me and told me I had to get here to save you. Then he disappeared again. Maybe ten seconds all told. I thought I was going crazy.”

“You’re not crazy,” I say. And apparently neither am I. “Wait, an hour ago?” When the hell did she leave home?

“I saw a fucking ghost, Eric. To normal people, that’s kind of a big deal. I freaked out a little, okay?” She gets me outside and helps me over to her Mini Cooper parked in the alley outside. I can stand a little better now, but I still need to hold on to the car to keep from falling over.

“I get it,” I say. Of course that would happen. Ghosts do that to most people. Talents, normal, doesn’t matter. Nobody likes ghosts. She opens the door, helps ease me into the passenger seat. “Thanks for coming to get me.”

“I almost didn’t,” she says. “I thought I was hallucinating.”

“Lot of that going around.” So Alex appearing isn’t me having an episode. If she’s seeing him, too, he’s not just inside my head. Good to know. I still don’t know what the fuck he is, but now I know something he’s not.

She pulls out of the alley. We’re still in Downtown. When the demons snagged me they didn’t take me far. Gabriela’s hotel is only a couple blocks away. The air smells of smoke and I can see the blue and red of police and fire truck lights flashing across the street.

I hope she made it out of there.

“We need to get you to a hospital.”

“Not a hospital.”

I wonder if the spell I put on in the subway tunnel actually worked against the cameras or if my face is plastered all over Los Angeles by now. Getting out of police custody is stupid simple, but I’m not really in the mood for it. Besides, being stuck in a cell or a guarded hospital room, even for a little while, would make it too easy for the Russian to get to me.

“Eric, you’re really fucked up. And your eyes—”

Ah, yes. The eyes. “Can we not talk about that just yet?” I test my shoulder. It’s moving better than it did when I was tied up and the pain is a lot less. The wound has stopped bleeding, so that’s something. Pretty sure the demon’s poison has run its course. Still dizzy, but that might be blood loss and exhaustion. I won’t know until I look at the wound if it’s infected, though. On the plus side, demons don’t usually have bacteria that can infect humans, so chances are I’m fine there.

“Fine. Let’s not talk about the eyes. But the rest of you is a mess. You need a hospital.”

“Trust me. Hospital’s not a good idea. Besides, it looks worse than it is.”

“Where then? What do you usually do when you get this fucked up?”

“I don’t usually get this fucked up. Look, just drop me off at a drugstore and I’ll grab some bandages. I’ll be fine.”

She shoves her hand in my face. “How many fingers am I holding up?”

“Three,” I say.

“Two, I’m taking you to the hospital.”

“Tabitha, if you take me to the hospital, they’ll try to take me to jail. And people might get hurt. People who won’t be me.”

She tightens her fingers on the steering wheel. Whether working hard not to be freaked out or pissed off, I can’t tell. “Fine,” she says. She pulls her phone out of her purse.

“Who are you calling?”

“Vivian,” she says. “She’s a doctor.” I grab the phone out of her hand. “What the fuck, Eric?”

“No. Fuck no. You really think she wants to see me? You really think she’s going to help me?”

She opens her mouth to say something, but stops. “Okay. Yes. But once I tell her about Alex—”

“She’ll freak the fuck out. You want to do that to her? You want to bring him up?”

“But he’s back.”

“Back is not back. Tabitha, he’s dead. Even if he’s a ghost, and I’m not sure he is, hell, I’m not sure what you saw was really him, he’s still dead. How do you think she’s going to take that news?”

She clenches her teeth, tightens her hands on the wheel. “Okay,” she says. “No Vivian. So where then?”

“Just drop me off wherever. I can grab a ride.”

She laughs. “You have no idea how bad you look, do you?” She pulls onto the 110 Freeway heading north. “You’ll scare the crap out of the first cabbie who so much as slows down for you.”

“Where are we going?”

“My place. I’ve got a first aid kit there. And then you can tell me what the fuck is going on.”

___

Tabitha lives in a Spanish-style bungalow in West Hollywood east of Fairfax. Red tile roof, weeds in the front yard. Jacaranda in bloom, its flowers an explosion of purple.

“Nice place,” I say.

“It’s a rental,” she says as we get out of the car.

“On a waitress’ salary?” I say. I’m moving a lot better. Sore as hell, but I’m not nearly as dizzy and the burning in my shoulder has reduced to a dull throb. We go in through a side entrance. The inside of the house is full of boxes, new Pottery Barn furniture, old Ikea crap. She’s still moving in but she’s already got some protections up on the house.

“I’m not waiting tables, anymore,” she says. “I’m running Alex’s bar, now.”

“Really?”

“You sound surprised,” she says. She goes through the house turning on lights. “Alex left it to Vivian. Left everything to Vivian, actually. She doesn’t have time to run it and she wanted somebody who knew what was going on. Somebody she trusted.”

Of course. I should have known when I walked into the house that Vivian hadn’t bailed on her. Unless Tabitha’s gotten really good in the last six months, the wards on the house aren’t hers. They’re subtle, misdirection spells mostly, things to make burglars think twice and to keep most supernaturals out. Hard to see, tightly woven, pack a wallop. Classic Vivian. So expertly crafted it’s almost a signature.

She leads me to the bathroom and I finally get a good look at myself. My face is covered in soot and blood, cheek swollen where the demon punched me. The front of my shirt is soaked through with blood, coated in ash.

“Jesus. I look like some nightmare clown.”

She pulls a towel and first aid kit from under the bathroom sink, helps me take off my jacket. It’s so covered in gore she has to peel it off.

“Thinking I should have hosed you down outside first,” she says. She helps me unbutton my shirt. Gasps when she sees the bruises on my chest, the bite wound in my shoulder. It’s not great, but it’s better than I expected. Mostly small, deep punctures where the teeth went in, but some patches of torn out flesh from where I ripped the hand off of me.

“Fuck, Eric. What happened to you?”

It’s hard to see all of them among the tattoos, but I point to the bruises and contusions I can see, sounding off as best I can recall. “Punched. Punched. Jumped off a train. Punched. Bitten. I don’t know what that one is. Punched. Ghost got me. You get the idea.”

She soaks a washcloth, looks at the wounds and shakes her head. “I don’t even know where to start,” she says.

I take the first aid kit and the washcloth from her. “Let me handle it. You got me out of that store before it got really bad. Thank you. I got it from here.” I shudder to think what could have happened if I’d been unconscious when the Russian finally showed up.

“But—”

“Not my first rodeo. Really. I got this.”

“Okay.” Relief and guilt fighting on her face. Don’t blame her. “Yell if you need anything.” She closes the door behind her. An hour later I’m clean, patched up and exhausted. The shower wasn’t fun. My shirt’s a total loss, my pants are torn in a couple spots, but they’ll last until I get back to my room to change. When I come out of the bathroom Tabitha is waiting for me in the living room on the couch with her legs tucked underneath her. She tosses a t-shirt at me. “This should fit,” she says. I pull it over my head. A little roomy, but it’ll do.

I sit on the other end of the couch, not sure what to do next. Ask for a ride? Call a cab? It’d be bad form to steal her neighbor’s car.

She reaches behind her and pulls a bottle and a couple glasses from a side table. “Remember this?” Balvenie ’78.

“Was wondering what happened to that.” Last I saw that bottle she’d stolen it from Alex’s private stock and suggested we have a party some time. It was a bright spot in my otherwise fucked up return to Los Angeles.

“I sneaked it out of your hotel room,” she says. “I figured I’d hang onto it and maybe we’d get a chance to share it. But then—”

“Yeah,” I say. “But then.” But then Alex died, I disappeared and Vivian . . . Vivian did whatever she did. For all my watching her I don’t know what she’s actually up to. I know she comes home. I know she leaves for work. I feel creepy and stalkery enough as it is just doing the occasional check on her. Everything’s been at a distance. I didn’t even know she’d inherited the bar from Alex. But hey, that’s my M.O., right? Things get rough so I do what I do best. Run. Nobody does it better.

Tabitha opens the bottle, pours each of us a big shot.

“I don’t know if I should be drinking,” I say. “I need to figure out how I’m getting back to my motel.”

“Eric, it’s two o’clock in the morning. You’re not going anywhere.” She hands me my drink. “So shut up and take it.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I say.

She lifts her drink in a toast. “To Alex.” We touch glasses and drink. It’s good scotch. I only wish Alex could be here to share it.

“What happened?” she says.

“Which part?”

“All of it? Alex dying, you disappearing. Vivian says his death is your fault, and I’m still not sure what happened. Then he shows up here in my living room and screams at me that you’re in trouble.” She puts her glass down. “I know the world’s full of freaky shit, and when I met you that got cranked up to eleven. I’m still trying to get used to it all. I mean, I didn’t even know any of this was possible before a couple years ago. But the thing that I’m really having a hard time with? Your eyes.”

I down the rest of my glass. “The eyes are just a reminder that I fucked everything up.”

“How? How’d you fuck everything up? The hell happened to you, Eric?”

“Can I get a refill?” She pours me another. I toss it back. “Let me start with Santa Muerte.”

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