Strolling on the sidewalk through the Park Blocks near the university, I watched college students heading home from the bars. I wore plastic sunglasses protecting my vision from the street lamps, but the shades also made it more difficult to see anyone possibly hiding within the trees. I doubted anyone would follow me, but I still couldn’t shake the strange feeling of someone tailing me.
Grabbing my attention the most, though, were all the tents pitched in the grass, some with bicycles connected to trailers parked beside them. Roseland had always been a popular home for vagrants due to moderate temperatures and supportive residents, but most of the homeless had always spent the night at shelters or under bridges. It felt strange walking among so many vagrants, and the smell of vomit and piss pushed me back onto the streets.
Heading north, I skirted around the center of town reducing my chances of bumping into the Itoril elite. I passed two Itoril boys. They didn’t show me their fangs, and I didn’t need to see them. Their scent alone told me they were thin on Ithuriel’s blood, practically human.
More bums. I smelled alcohol and feces before I spotted them. Within a stoop, two vagrants huddled under blankets.
Taking advantage of a street crossing, I checked behind me. Nothing followed.
Street crossings also provided ample views of the tall glass tower, Stratton Enterprises, rising above the other buildings. The top of the tower was home for the local magistrate, and I wondered whom currently held the position. While fighting a memory-eating vampire-wraith, I had accidentally murdered the magistrate, my former employer, Stratton. It seemed likely that whomever had risen to position of Magistrate of Roseland also took over as CEO of Stratton Enterprises. The company and Itoril politics were inexorably intertwined.
Itoril law required me to report to the magistrate about my return and operation within the city, but hell with that. I was supposed to be dead, and a phantom I would be.
Even with more litter, more bums, more broken streetlamps, Roseland still felt like home. I knew her curving form embracing the snaking Willamette River, the scent of her evergreen perfume, and more importantly I knew her ghosts.
At the location of my old record store, I stopped to look the building over. I could still see its ghost, clean mortar walls and a wood sign over the door with large letters proclaiming, Kandy Fangs. The name had been Zee’s idea, a joke at first, but the name had caught on. Now, walls darkened by neglect, Roseland Sisters of Sorrows Sanctuary appeared overrun by vagrants flowing onto the street munching on leftover turkey and potatoes.
As I approached a nightclub, I began bouncing to the muffled beat razoring up a steel fire escape, the club losing part of its soul to the building.
Turning at the corner, the bright Girls! Girls! Girls! sign at Red’s nearly blinded me even though it was on the next block over. With all the broken streetlamps, Red’s club stood out like a lighthouse guiding young men and their dollars to its shiny shore. Approaching Red’s, I walked along the brick wall avoiding the path of two men deep in conversation.
Catty-cornered from here, within a door stoop, a pair of vagrants slept within a bundle of blankets and trash. The building appeared abandoned, and the one beside it had a for-lease sign in the window.
The large bearded doorman nodded at me, and I smiled. The door stood open, and curious about my neighbor, I stole a peek. On the stage, a dancer grooved to the music. She wore nothing save sneakers, and leaning over she squeezed her breasts together to the delight of men seated at the edge of the stage. The look on the doorman told me the dancer was not on the menu, and that was fine with me. He asked if I wanted to come in, and I shook my head.
The scent of blood caught my attention.
Across the street, the two bums sat on blankets. The man with his back to the gated door held another twitching and jerking in his arms, and blood soaked their clothing. While he bit into the base of the neck of his victim, his iridescent eyes watched me. The vagrant in his arms fell still; dead.
Marching onto the street, I patted my coat and realized I didn’t have a weapon with me. It wasn’t my business, but more than anything, I couldn’t believe this Itoril had the nerve to kill out in the open. The Itoril man dropped his victim and stood revealing his blood-soaked clothes and a gun. I stopped in the center lane and sized up his weapon.
His handgun looked like a goddamn silver canon, and he had no problem holding a steady aim on me.
His eyes flinched, he pulled the trigger, and I leaned into the silent world. Color faded from him at first along with the buildings, but then he flowed into the stream following me into the ghost-walk.
A quick step to the side, I moved out of the invisible ghost-bullet’s path, and my opponent charged. Feeling as if I’d been suckered into a trap by a territorial blood junky, I did what most sane people did—I ran.
I barely noticed the car when it splashed right through me sending chilling tingles racing up into my head. Walking through the ghost car, I took the opportunity to glance over my shoulder. The murderer, half the distance closer, stopped suddenly sliding on the ghost-pavement and back into a world fading into an apparition. It didn’t make sense. It was as if he wanted to get hit by the car, and he did.
I watched the slow-motion collision, his legs snapping up and his torso landing on the hood of the compact car. I stepped back into the world, and the scene sped up. The sound of screeching tires and fracturing glass hit me like a punch, and I stumbled back nearly tripping on the curb. The Itoril bounced over top of the car and landed nearly head-first onto the pavement.
Pulling his head up, he grinned at me with a crazed expression. He seemed to recognized me, and the accident was some sort of ploy. There was so much blood on him, most of it belonging to his victim. All the red under the streetlights made him look dangerous. He still held his gun, and he used to like a crutch to climb onto his knees.
Two men from Red’s joined me on the sidewalk. An Itoril wearing a biker jacket tugged my arm, and the large doorman came around front holding out his arm as if to shield me. The killer turned away, so I let the muscle from Red’s rescue me.
The driver of the car popped out, and the killer aimed his gun at him. I almost felt like I was watching it on television, but I could smell the blood. The driver stood frozen staring at the blood-soaked killer, and for a moment I thought the driver had met his end.
The killer fled, and Mister Biker pulled me away.
“Let’s get you home,” said Mister Biker. His arm wrapped around my shoulder, and we began walking towards the restaurant. “Kodiak will deal with the cops.”
“Who was that?”
“Vasir,” said Mister Biker. “He thinks he owns the neighborhood now.”
“You should report Vasir.”
“Oh, we have,” said Mister Biker. “This whole Vampire Ice thing has been nothing but a huge clusterfuck for the neighborhood.”
Was Vampire Ice on the streets again?
At the restaurant, I pulled away and leaned against the door. Mister Biker stood close. He glanced down the street at the scene where a mob had gathered.
“What about the magistrate?”
“Nothing,” said Mister Biker. He shrugged. “Now that everyone knows there’s no Reaper, city’s in a mess.”
I always kept forgetting what they had called me on the streets in my former life. Reaper.
“Kandy, are you okay? You look out of sorts, mate.”
Looking at his bald head, his brown eyes, the fuzz on his chin, I searched for him within my memories, but found nothing. He knew me. I could tell by the concerned look on his face.
“Dylan,” he said.
I tried putting on my best reassuring smile and thanked Dylan.
“Have you seen Miranda?” asked Dylan. My blank expression must have answered, because he continued. “My boss. She normally checks in each week, but we haven’t seen her in over a month.”
“Sorry,” I said.
“Kodiak’s talking like we won’t get paid at the end of the month,” said Dylan. He shrugged. “Miranda will turn up at some point.”
After wishing Dylan a goodnight, I slipped inside the restaurant and removed my sunglasses. I sped over to the security console and entered the code. There in the gloom, I slumped against the wall.
Dylan had nailed it; I felt out of sorts.
My mentor, and friend, Steve Reynolds had taught me a great deal about the shadows between worlds. The quiet place, he had called it. At first I could only dip a toe in, but soon I could wade downstairs or the next block over. Pass through walls even, only they weren’t walls in the quiet place. Ghosts. Diving deeper into the shadows didn’t lead to a timelessness, instead it came out in world where creatures had a different view on time. I could never reach Purple Hell on my own, but my skill in ghost-walking made up for my small physique in this world.
Earlier on the street, I had been nearly overtaken by a street thug. An Itoril skilled in ghost-walking, but a thug just the same. Vasir had recognized me as the former Roseland Executioner, and instead of attacking me, he had taunted me with how powerful he had become.
I cursed at the empty restaurant, but it didn’t cure my angst.
As I marched up the stairs, I peeled off my coat. Feeling the need to clean my guns, I rounded the corner into the office and took a seat behind the desk. I didn’t bother with the lights, the glow from the computer monitor displaying shifting patterns was enough. My gun case sat on the floor, and leaning over, I snatched it by the handle.
Sitting up, I noticed movement in the hall. At first I thought it was the wraith, and I lurched. Recognizing the shape of a man standing still, I studied his form. Steve, I thought, but this man appeared shorter with a stronger build. He wore a rumpled white shirt and a tie hanging loosely from his neck. No scent, it was as if he stood at the edge of the quiet place.
I was in the silent shadows, I realized, at the edge where the walls and furniture still held color.
The man appeared familiar like he belonged here.
The man watched me.
I spoke, words lost to silence, You’re Peter Gray.
Like a ghost, he vanished.
Jumping out of the chair, I ran into the hall searching the stairs. Nothing. I crossed over to the other side, stairs and the second floor rippling away, and I found no sign of the man within the ghost restaurant. Back within the world, I sniffed the air discovering a hint of something different. The scent of Peter Gray.