Sunday Serial: Giving Up The Ghost Chapter Eighteen

Chapter 18 … The chapter wherein HP reminds Hero he is not a dog.

“He’s back” she hissed at us, as she locked the door behind herself.

“Who?” Kyle and I asked in unison.

Jenny peeked out the front window, “Officer Zombie.”

Kyle and I joined her at the window.  At first, all I saw was darkness.  I squinted and managed to make out what might be a person standing in the shadow of an oleander bush across the street.  “By the oleander bush?”  I whispered to Jenny.

She nodded.

Both HP and Kyle shifted. The puppy, changed from puppy to big-scary dog again, and Kyle… well he didn’t physically change, but he felt different, predatory.  Maybe it was just my imagination, but suddenly all of Jenny’s warnings seemed much more reasable. He certainly didn’t transform the way that Jenny had.  Which led me to wonder if he did transform, and if he did, what would he look like? Jenny mentioned that both of them were predators, but I didn’t see Kyle being bird-like. But then, I wasn’t sure how I felt about him transforming into something else. Would that be too weird?

I shook off the that train of thought, realizing Kyle was telling us his plan. 

“And, I’m going to go out through the back, maybe I can sneak around him.”

I noticed Jenny nodding in agreement.  I hesitated I didn’t want to admit I hadn’t been paying attention. 

“Hero, tell me you’re ok with staying inside with HP.”  Kyle said.

So, the plan was to leave me inside, all safe and out of danger, while they risked themselves.

Ok, so I wasn’t ok with that at all, but I had to admit that I didn’t know enough about my powers to even pretend I could offer any real help.  “I don’t like it, but I don’t think I have a choice. I can’t really be any help out there, can I?” I admitted, I was hoping that Jenny would suggest something I could do to help. Unsurprisingly, they both agreed that I should stay inside.

Jenny remained next to the front door, so I assumed she was going to go outside and be a distraction. She nodded at Kyle.

He took my hand, “It might be better for you to go upstairs.  It could get…” he paused, “unpleasant.”

I raised an eyebrow at him, “What don’t you want me to see?”  I asked quietly, my thoughts about his possible transformation still in my head.  Was it something he didn’t want me to see?

“Hero, we don’t know what’s been done to Garcia.  It might,” he met my eyes, “It might get violent.  And I’d rather that you didn’t see me that way.” 

He kept his eyes locked on mine.  I swallowed and found myself nodding slowly.  “Ok, I’ll take HP and hide upstairs, like a good girl.”

I turned away and heard him sigh.  I knew I was being a brat, and it wasn’t even his fault. Kyle hadn’t lied to me for my entire life. It wasn’t his fault that I didn’t understand anything anymore.  I turned back to apologize, but I heard the backdoor closing.

I hurried upstairs and out of habit went into my old room.  HP circled the room a couple of times, and finally sat in the door. 

I glanced at the dog, still in full cerberus mode, “You too?” I asked softly, “You aren’t going to let me out of this room are you?”

HP turned and looked at me, his violet eyes seemed intelligent.  He held my gaze for a few seconds, and I felt strangely cold.  He turned back, facing the doorway.

I wrapped my arms around myself and after a brief mental debate, went to the window. I knelt on the floor and peeked out the window.  Being on the second floor gave me a clear view of the oleander bush.  I watched Jenny puling bags out of her car, acting like she didn’t have a care in the world. But I could see the tension in her posture. Her normal, easy grace was gone.

I searched the darkness around the bushes, but couldn’t see if Garcia was still there, and I didn’t see Kyle at all. I let my eyes flit around the darkened street.  I wondered if Dee’s street had always lacked so many streetlights.  Other than a light at the start of her cul-de-sac, the only illumination came from the neighbors’ windows.  And most of those windows had their blinds drawn.  I continued to watch Jenny pull bags out of her car.  And the one drawback to their plan became clear.  If anyone other than Garcia was watching the house, whoever that was knew I was living here.  No one brought suitcases and groceries to a house, unless they planned on staying.

I cursed quietly, and something caught my eye.  I squinted at the shadows behind the oleander bush.  Something was moving there.  I was sure of it.  It was a vague, almost silvery… cloud?  I kept watching and remember what Kyle had said about lilus and ghosts.  “Kyle?” I whispered at the shape.  It seemed to glide above the ground, but when he passed in front of the windows of the neighboring house, I could see a human-like shape.

I realized I was holding my breath as ghost-Kyle glided closer to where Officer Garcia was supposed to be. The slight illumination from Kyle, let me see Garcia, at least for a few seconds. He was squatting in the shadows, his face fixed on the house or maybe Jenny.  Then, the silvery-glow diminished and I squinted at the shadows again.  I thought I saw two shadows; then, I saw Jenny sprint across the street.  From the window, she appeared to be just Jenny, but it was to dark for me to be sure.

It looked like Kyle and Jenny had Garcia held between them, but I was still squinting and straining to see when I realized that HP was growling.  It was a loud sound, almost a low rumble that I felt more than heard.

I turned to look at the same time he leapt from the door way, still growling.  A flash of light filled the hallway, and I was suddenly reminded of the night I’d been knocked out in Dee’s office.  I yelled for HP, when I heard him yelp. I stopped thinking and raced from the room.  I heard a series of thuds down the stairs.  It didn’t sound like someone walking or running, it sounded like someone falling.

I reached the landing, at the same time HP let out a yowl. This was the dog that I had heard the night that Dee had died.  I’d heard a cerberus then, but what did the yowl mean?  I looked down the stairs and saw HP, bigger and scarier than ever.  He stood over, or maybe on top of someone, and I was sure there was blood on his mouth.  The person under him wasn’t moving. 

“HP?” I whispered.

He swiveled his head to stare at me.  In his grown-up form, his neck seemed too long for a dog, for any canine really.  It was almost serpentine.  His eyes glowed and his tongue lolled out between his bared teeth.  I swallowed seeing blood on his teeth.

“Puppy, what have you done?”  I whispered.

He tilted his head at me, and turned back to the body underneath him. I stood staring down at him.  I didn’t recognize the person on the ground.  From what I could see around the bulk of HP, the person was male.  He had on a hat, at least he had.  A black baseball cap was sitting on the floor a few feet from him. Dark jeans and a dark sweater completed his outfit. He was big, tall and bulky and not someone I knew.  But I couldn’t get the image of HP’s bloody muzzle out of my head. It had been so easy to think of him as just a dog, but I realized that I had no idea what I’d actually called forth.  It started to slowly sink in, that everyone hadn’t been impressed with me figuring out how to get him out of the underworld.  They’d been awed by him, maybe even afraid of him. 

I tried to tear my eyes away from HP and from the… the body.  I didn’t know what to do.  Kyle and Jenny were still outside, and I had no idea who the person in the house was, but I was pretty sure whoever he was, he’d been up to no good.  The weird flash of light I’d seen in the hallway was too similar to the light I’d seen when I’d been knocked out. 

I sank down, sitting on the top stair. I felt the blood drain from my face. Whoever he was, might have been trying to kill me too. He had to be part of the group that killed Dee.  HP growled again, and I glanced at him.  The man’s hand twitched. I breathed a sigh of relief. HP hadn’t killed him. If he was moving, he was just knocked out, maybe hurt, but not dead. I realized then that Kyle was right.  I wasn’t ready to be involved in this battle.  The idea that HP had hurt someone made my stomach ache; the idea that he’d killed anyone had left me frozen on the stairs. 

I ran my hands through my hair.  I had to do something.  I couldn’t just sit here until Kyle or Jenny came back.  And I wasn’t sure what HP would do if the man tried to fight with him.  I forced myself to take a deep breath, and stand up.  My legs were shaky, and I still felt sick. I took my first step down the stairs. 

HP turned to look at me. His eyes glowed purple, and he let out a small yip and wagged his tail.  “HP, you were just trying to protect me.”  I whispered as I continued down the stairs, “You’re a good boy.”

He let his tongue loll out in a dog-grin, but continued to stand over the man.  The man, who I noticed was moving again, shifting his arms and legs a bit, as if testing for injuries.

HP must have noticed to, because he let out a warning growl.                       

          “Mister, I suggest you stop moving,” I was surprised at how much confidence I was able to get into my voice, “That dog’s a cerberus, and he’s still pretty pissed off.”

          “I know what he is,” the man growled. “Can you at least get him off of me?”

          HP growled his own response. 

          I’d reached the bottom of the stairs, “He’s not going anywhere, yet.”  I answered.  The man turned his head and scowled at me. Up close, I could tell that I’d been right.  This guy was big, and from his expression, pissed off. He had what I’d call a hard face.  A nose that had been broken at least once, and a strong jaw bristling with a day or twos worth of blond stubble. I met his eyes, and he gave me a rueful smile.

          That surprised me. I didn’t expect a smile.  I figured he’d try to intimidate me, or something. 

          “So, you’re Hero,” He said.

          I frowned at him, “You seem awfully cocky for the guy on the floor.”

          He shifted his arms, into what I thought was a shrug.  HP growled and planted his feet harder on the man’s shoulders. He grimaced at the added pressure.  I wondered how badly HP had hurt him. “So, you’re not gonna call off the dog?”

          I shook my head, “Hell no. You broke into my house!  And god knows what you planned on doing to me.” I heard my voice taking on a shrill tone.  I paused and took a breath. “You’re going to tell me what you’re doing here.”

          He smiled again, “Making a living, and brining you in alive, now that’s worth a lot.  The bounty on you woulda been my retirement.”

          Ok that surprised me. I wasn’t sure what I’d expected him to say, maybe like in the movies he’d spill the entire evil plot, or he’d lie about it being a misunderstanding or something. “A bounty? On me?”  I felt his dark eyes on me again, “You’re a bounty hunter?”

“Well I’m not the Avon lady.”  He snapped at me. 

Before I could say anything, HP yipped at him in response. 

“Look, I can’t tell you anything because it was a circe.”

He said it matter of factly, and I guessed it was one those preter things that I was supposed to know.  Why a circe being his boss prevented him from telling who that person was, well that was something I didn’t understand.  But to ask him, would be admitting I didn’t know.

“Your hecate friend is on their list too.”  He added, “I saw her leaving here tonight.  I thought about getting her first, but you’re worth more. And she’ll be around.”

I was taken aback at how casually he talked about all of this. As if kidnapping people was something normal. It was like he was reciting a shopping list or something.  “You’re not going after Kate or me,” I snarled at him. I pulled out my phone and angrily punched the buttons to call Kate. Her phone went straight to voicemail, and I felt my stomach sink a little.  Maybe someone else had taken the job too.  I left Kate a message, telling her to call or come back to the house as soon as she got the message.  Then I turned back to the bounty hunter.

I didn’t know what else to ask him, at least not anything that wouldn’t give away how little I knew about the preter world. “What does your boss want with me?”

He raised an eyebrow at me, “seriously, you’re not going to let me up?  We’re gonna have this conversation with me laying flat out on the floor?”

“If Kate doesn’t call me back in the next few minutes, I’ll be having this conversation with your ghost.”  I snapped back at him.  That seemed to get his attention.  He didn’t look scared, but at least I thought he looked more concerned about the situation.

He sighed.  “They said you had something that belonged to them.”  He looked me over, “I’d think a girl like you would be smarter than to steal from a coven.”

A coven?  But Kate and Kyle had both told me that there weren’t any covens left.  “I’ve never stolen anything, from anyone.”  I said, “When did they hire you?”  I already knew the answer and I already knew that the night I’d been knocked out was the first time someone tried to kidnap me.  Maybe even this guy.

“Monday.”  He answered, “The contract went out, and it’s generated a lot of interest.”  He narrowed his eyes, “You know someone else has already been here and tried, I can smell it.”

I let the weirdness of him claiming to smell anything slide.  It was probably something I should know.  He seemed arrogant enough to admit if he’d been the one to attack me, so it must have been someone else.  Now I was starting to get worried, Kate wasn’t calling back and Jenny and Kyle were still outside trying to catch Garcia.  I was trying to figure out my next move, when Jenny came storming back in the house.

It took her all of three seconds to notice the situation.

“Hero?” Jenny asked, glancing between me and HP. 

I shrugged, “He says he’s a bounty hunter.  Where’s Kyle?”

“Pissed off about Garcia.  We didn’t catch him.”  She then looked a little chagrinned at saying as much in front of the bounty hunter.  “What are you planning on doing about him?”  She pointed.

I shrugged and skirted around him, trying to stay out of his reach.  I locked eyes with HP, “Keep him there.” 

The dog seemed to nod.  My life was just getting weirder and weirder.

I pulled Jenny into the dining room.  I could still see HP and the bounty hunter, but I figured if we whispered the bounty hunter couldn’t hear us.  “I don’t know what to do with him.”  I hissed at her.  I finally started to feel panic setting in.  I had a guy pinned to the floor of my living room by a killer hell-dog.  “It’s not like I can call the cops and report him as a prowler or anything.”

Jenny glanced back at the man on the floor.  “I guess that’s not a good idea.”  She continued to stare at the man and her eyes grew distant.  “I can,” she paused, “I can make him work for us.”  Her voice was barely a whisper.

“What do you mean?”  I could tell that she didn’t like this option, that something about it made her upset.

She turned back to me, “It’s part of what sirens can do. I couldn’t make Zombie Garcia, but I could have made him loyal to me.  I could have made him think doing stuff I asked him too, was important.”  She paused, “It’s not exactly mind-control.  It’s like devotion.”  She drew the word out, as if unsure it was the right one.

I glanced back at the man and looked back at Jenny.  She’d gotten paler and looked nauseous.  She was chewing on her lower lip and looking at the floor.  “So you can make him like a love slave?”  I figured it was probably a worse choice of words, but I wasn’t sure what else to call it.

She shrugged, “Basically.  It’s complicated and has a lot of potential side-effects.  Especially when it’s done to another preter.”

“Jen are you worried about side-effects or actually using your powers like this?”

She looked at me, “It’s disgusting and horrible.  It takes away a piece of who he was.  And even if he is a bounty hunter, he’s still a person.  And I’d be taking part of that.”

She looked ready to cry or throw up.  “And once you do it, you can’t undo it?” I asked, even though I’d already guessed the answer.

Jenny shook her head.  “But it’s the only thing I can think of doing.  That guy,” she jerked her head in his direction, “Isn’t going to stop hunting you.  He’s telling the truth about not being able to tell you who hired him.  Circe do that stuff all the time.”

I opened my mouth to ask more about this enslaving, but HP yowled and growled.  I had my back to both him and the bounty hunter, but Jenny was still watching them.

She shoved me farther into the dining room and stepped in front of me.  I stumbled and landed sprawled on the floor.  I started to get up, but Jenny told me to leave.

Ok, maybe “told me” isn’t right.  In the span of a few seconds, she’d gone all bird-girl again.  I felt the power in her words, the longing to do whatever she said washed over me.  I heard HP continue to growl, and that cut through some of my desire to, well leave.

“Call the dog and go Hero.  You can’t be here for this.”  Jenny whispered.

The bounty hunter stood frozen, staring at Jenny. 

I swallowed my protests, and called HP and half crawled into the kitchen.  I glanced at HP, “Will she be ok?”  I whispered to him?

I heard Jenny start… I don’t know if I could call it talking, but it wasn’t quite singing either.  I was trying to puzzle out what I was hearing, but HP tugged on the edge of my shirt and started dragging me towards the door. It was either move with him, or he was going to tear my shirt. I stepped into the backyard and closed the door.  It was late and the yard was full of shadows, and not a lot of light.  I realized that I should call Kyle and let him know about the bounty hunter and Jenny.  And I realized that I still hadn’t heard back from Kate.

I dug my phone out of my pocket. The display told me no new calls, so Kate was still missing. I called Kyle, but his voice went straight to voice mail.  He’d probably turned it off when they went out to confront Garcia.  Then it occurred to me that I’d seen Kyle in his ghost form. Could he carry a phone if he was incorporeal?  Could he wear clothes that way?  My face grew hot at the thought of naked ghost Kyle, but I managed to stutter through a brief message.  I immediately texted him to meet me in the backyard as well.  Then I tried calling Kate – and still got voice mail. I sent her a text too.  Then I sat down on the top step with HP at feet.  I checked him for injuries.  All the yowls of pain I’d heard made me think that jerk of a bounty hunter had hurt HP.  The light wasn’t strong enough to see much on his black coat, but I didn’t feel any cuts or scrapes.  I absently stroked his head, and waited for someone to tell me what to do next. 


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