Sitting on the edge of the stage, I gazed over the dusty tables in the dining room and strummed my guitar. I had tried playing my favorite tune, but it was like the notes worked against me. Strange, seeing how I had played like the devil at Red’s without much effort. Music usually came easy to me. It might have had something to do with the state of my mind. I practiced the basics, slowly moving through the chords until I played a quiet, half-forgotten song.
I began to wonder if I’d ever actually escaped my Purgatory Pain. Everything here in Roseland seemed real enough. It was the strange little details. How my roommate, Laura, remembered events unfamiliar to me, and how I recalled things in this former hotel unknown to her. And there’s the disappearing scar where I had bitten her. God, shit wasn’t supposed to work like that.
My guitar threw a fit, squealing over the speakers. After the dining room quieted down, I continued playing the song.
I thought I had left the wraith behind in purgatory, and it still seemed likely so. I felt a presence on this side of the shadows, right here in the restaurant. The more I felt him, the more I began to believe this was another wraith entirely.
It was time to get answers, know my enemy, and find a suitable weapon.
The front door opened and banged shut. Clonking in her most irritable fashion, Laura entered the dining hall with a bag over her shoulder and a long slender item tucked in the crook of her arm like an unused cane wrapped in loose, dark fabric. “Good evening, Kandy,” she said. Stopping at the nearest table, Laura set her bag down. “You’re getting better.”
No, I was playing irrefutably worse than I had in years. Like struggling at a lesson, I continued plucking my way through the song.
“I had no problems with your order,” said Laura. She slapped a loose piece of paper on the table and slipped the slender item from her arm. Tentative steps, head lowered, she approached me and held out the item in both hands as if she was offering a gift for peace.
As I set my guitar aside, my gaze roamed from one end of the package, passing Laura’s open palms, over a tented segment, and to the white chord holding the loose end of the cotton wrap closed. I knew what it was at once, but it couldn’t be.
I hadn’t asked her to fetch it yet.
Lifting the item with both hands, noting the heft, confirmed it. A sword. Laura backed away, turned and stomped up the stairs. I opened the sword bag, reached in, and wrapped my fingers around the chord-wrapped handle. Slipping it free of the bag, I took in the katana held snug in a black saya, exactly as I had ordered.
With a thumb pushing against the guard, I popped the sword loose. The waving pattern—the hamon— running the edge-side of the curved blade confirmed it had been hand-forged and folded. It wasn’t up to the quality of my old sword, but this would do nicely. Could it slay a wraith? That remained to be seen.
I snapped the blade back into the saya, and hopped off the stage. Snatching the sheet of paper from the table, I read, in my handwriting, the list of products including the katana along with the name and number of the merchant. But, I hadn’t given the list to Laura yet.
To the point, I didn’t remember presenting the list to Laura. Had the wraith struck recently, snatching a memory? More likely, Laura had spotted the list while I had slept the day away.
After dropping the shopping list on the table, I took the bag and put the supplies away. My katana took residence on an oak cradle within my bedroom. Returning to the stage, I set about giving the guitar another go. Music had a way of honing my thoughts. Although, feeling tired, I sat there for a minute lost in my own haze trying to find that spot where my music came from.
Clomping again, the stairs shuddered under Laura storming down into the dining room. She snatched the shopping list from the table and scanned it.
“No problem,” said Laura. She flashed a smile and stuffed the shopping list into her pocket. “I’ll be back with your sword in a jiffy.”
I stared absently at the young woman heading for the front door. Laura never returned that night. Well, she had. Beforehand.
Shit wasn’t supposed to happen like that.