Sunday Serial: Giving up the Ghost Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-One: The chapter wherein Hero learns more about Preternatural History.

Jenny returned from where ever she’d disappeared to. I was guessing that her quitting smoking may be at an end. Thankfully she arranged places for everyone to sleep, and between her and Kyle they’d figured out someway to guard the house. 

HP and I were banished to bed. And it was weird to be in my old room, again.  A room where not so long ago, I’d finally had an opportunity to talk to my dead mother. I tossed and turned, certain that I’d never fall asleep. Tomorrow was Dee’s funeral and I had no idea who killed her or even why. Tomorrow I had to say goodbye.

I woke up with a heavy, warm weight on my legs. The room was dark, and for a moment I panicked. At least until HP whined at me. Once again, everything came flooding back to me. I allowed myself a few minutes to wallow in my grief and my confusion. when I got to anger, I decided to get out of bed. HP padded around after me as I headed downstairs.  I crept past Kyle sleeping on the couch and tried to make coffee as quietly as I could. The sky outside the kitchen window was just past the riotous colors of sunrise, but it was still far too early for me to be awake.       

I filled HP’s bowl, grateful that someone had made a late-night run for dog food. I hadn’t considered what he may eat, but he didn’t seem upset by regular dog food. As he crunched away at kibble, I sipped at my coffee. I needed another list. I grabbed the magnetized pad of paper that Dee always had on the fridge.  #1 call Aidan. I wanted to make sure bringing HP wouldn’t be a surprise, and now that I knew a little more, I wanted to ask him more questions. He was my last link to Dee if I could believe my mother and the lemuria handbook. Both had warned me against trying to contact her yet. #2 figure out what to do with Vic-the-bounty-hunter. Ok, that was mostly Jenny’s department, but I wasn’t sure about leaving him at the house versus taking him with us. Maybe if whoever had sent him saw him with us, that would scare them off. It was probably wishful thinking, but if I looked like I had more allies than the bad guys, maybe they would back off. #3 Learn everything I could about the Gate.  Even writing it down made me hunger for it. I still wasn’t sure if that was a normal lemuria response or not, maybe I could try calling my mother again? Thus, I decided to make “Call mother?” as number 4.  

Once HP was done eating, I headed back upstairs. I figured once I’d gotten dressed it would no longer be too early to call Aidan. I peeked into the guest room, to check on Kate. She was sprawled out on the bed, sound asleep. I knew that Jenny was in Dee’s room, with Vic – but not I was hoping with Vic. I decided to leave them alone. I briefly recalled hearing them talking before I drifted off to sleep, and it hadn’t sounded nice.

Once I was showered and dressed, I found Dee’s bedroom door open and assumed that Jenny and Vic had gone downstairs.  A glance at my phone showed no missed calls, from the living or otherwise. I called Aidan.

He answered promptly and with a precise professional tone. 

“Good morning, Aidan, it’s Hero.”

“Hello, my dear. I hope you’re not worried about any of the arraignments. I can assure you that everything has been taken care of. I’ve heard from a lot of Dee’s acquaintances already.  She will be missed.”

Again, I heard the genuine sadness in his voice.  “I have total faith in you, Aidan. Actually, I was wondering if you had time to meet with me before the services?  I wanted to talk to you about some extra concerns I have?”  I paused, “Not about the service or anything, about the preter stuff?”

He paused, “Of course my dear, I can make time for you. I can always leave Travis in charge of things. It’ll do the boy some good to have additional responsibilities. When did you want to come by?”

I glanced at the clock. It was 9 am. I wondered if that was pushing impolite? “Um, I can come by now, if you’re free?”

If he was annoyed, he hid it well.  “That would be fine.  I’ll be sure to put the kettle on.  It’s such a quick drive, I’m sure you’ll be here before it whistles.”

I thanked him again and hung up. I headed downstairs, followed by the clicking of HP’s paws on the floor.  I was a little surprised to find Kyle alone in the kitchen. 

“Where’s Jenny?”

Kyle shrugged.  “She and her new friend left before I got up.  I guess she figured the house would be safe during the day.”

I could tell he was annoyed with her for leaving, but I ignored that. “I’m sure she thinks whatever she’s doing is important.”  I wondered if her leaving with Vic was a bad sign.  She had said she wasn’t sure how her enslaving-mojo would work on Vic.  I sat across the table from Kyle, “Do you think something went wrong with her Jedi mind trick?” 

Kyle looked at me blankly for a moment, “Oh, you mean her song of enslavement thing.”  He waited for me to nod, “I don’t know.  It certainly didn’t work on him the way it works on humans.”  He described the once experience he’d had with an enslaved human.  It sounded a lot more like Officer Garcia’s behavior than Vic’s.  Vic had still seemed to have some free will. It was like he knew what she’d done, and had to do what she said, whether he liked it or not. Officer Garcia didn’t seem to have a choice or even an interest in what he was doing.

“Huh, do you think she took him out to try and let him go?”

Kyle smiled, “He’s not some wild animal.  She can’t take him out in the woods and say run free.”  He ran his hand through his hair, “She’s going to be stuck with him, maybe forever.”

I really didn’t like that idea at all.  The idea of a surly bounty hunter following Jenny forever sounded terrible. I found myself smiling at the idea of her putting him to work for her business. I burst out laughing picturing him learning the ins and outs of the wedding world.  I managed to sputter an explanation to Kyle.

He joined me in laughing, and for a moment, I felt normal again.  I realized that I’d been sitting with Kyle longer than I planned. 

“Damn, I’ve got to go,”  I said standing.  “I need to go by the funeral home.”

Kyle started to rise, “I should go with you.”

I waved him back to his seat, “I’m going to take HP, and someone needs to stay with Kate.  Remember what Vic said, she’s on someone’s hit list too.”  I knew he didn’t like the idea.  I could see the emotions play across his face. 

“Hero,” his voice was low and dangerous, “You’re asking a lot of me.”

I nodded, suddenly unable to find my voice.

He glanced at HP, “Cerberus, you’d better take care of her.”

HP cocked his head at Kyle and yipped.  In puppy form, it was comical, but I knew that laughing wouldn’t help.  I also saw that Kyle was gripping the coffee cup so hard, it was liable to break. 

“I’ll call you when I leave Aidan’s,” I said grabbing my purse.

He nodded stiffly and watched me leave. 

Even outside, I could still feel his gaze. His overprotection thing suddenly started to feel a little creepy. I was trying to understand his whole, prey versus date mentality, but mostly it was leaving me thinking about every stalker movie I’d ever seen.  I tried to shake off the feeling, after all, this was Kyle.  Kyle who’d proven time and time again that he really did want to help me. I glanced back at the house, half expecting to see him at the window watching me.  I was relieved to not find him there.

HP jumped in the car docilely enough.  As we neared Aidan’s, I realized that eventually, I’d need to get the dog a collar and a leash. “HP, how do you feel about a collar?”  I glanced at the dog lying on the passenger seat. “And a leash, but it’d just be for show.  Dogs aren’t supposed to run around without them.”

HP glanced up at me and bared his teeth a little.

I sighed, “I’m not going to have a choice HP.  People get freaked out by free-range dogs.”  I patted his head. “I’ll let you pick out the collar and leash,” I added hopefully.

He made a very human-sounding harrumph and lowered his head back down. 

“After I finish with Aidan, we’ll stop by the pet store.” I was pretty sure that the mega-chain pet store let people bring animals into the store. I hoped they wouldn’t notice HP’s unleashed state and have a fit.

I finally reached the mortuary. I parked and headed upstairs.  I reached the landing and before I could even knock Travis came barreling out the door. 

“Oh, hi Hero. Sorry.” He muttered and started storming down the steps. I watched him go. I looked at HP, “Kids,” I said and shook my head. Since Travis hadn’t closed the door, I stuck my head in and called out hello.

Aidan poked his head out of the kitchen, “Ah, Hero come in. I’ll be right with you.” 

I noticed that he was wearing a spotless white button-down shirt covered by a mickey mouse apron.  I tried not to snigger. 

Seriously, a mortician in a Disney themed apron? Of course, the warm breakfast smells emanating from the kitchen made my stomach rumble. Maybe I was finally getting too old to consider coffee a balanced breakfast. 

Aidan stepped out of the kitchen burdened by what looked to be a heavy tray loaded with covered plates.  “I thought we could share breakfast, that is if you haven’t already eaten?”  A look of concern crossed his face.

“That sounds wonderful, can I help?”

He smiled, “If you would be so kind as to get the door, I thought we could eat on the veranda.”

I opened the door for him and followed him outside, with HP right behind me. 

Aidan set the tray down and turned back to me, his mouth was open to speak, but his eyes fell on HP and his mouth simply dropped open.

“Yeah, Aidan this is HP.” I nodded at the Cerberus.  “He’s one of the things I wanted to talk to you about.”

He jerked his eyes from HP back to me.  “Y-you called him over?”

I nodded slowly, “I figured if I looked really powerful, that would scare off whoever was after Dee, just in case whoever came to the funeral. You know the whole returning to the scene of the crime thing.”  I was babbling and I knew it, but I couldn’t seem to stop. “So, I’m bringing HP with me today.”

Aidan sat heavily in his chair.  “Oh, my that is a lot to take in.”  He sat stunned for a moment, then looked chagrined, “Please excuse my manners. I’d stand, but I’m not certain that my legs would support me, just yet.  Please, sit.”  He waved at the other chair.

I sat across from him, alternating between concern for the older man and my desire to dig into breakfast. 

Aidan took a deep breath, “The cerberus’s presence will certainly send a message, but I am concerned that it is not the one you hope for.” He seemed to calm down a little and began setting out plates and gestured for me to help myself to breakfast. 

As I loaded my plate with some sort of vegetable-laden omelet, Aidan turned his attention to HP. 

“It is an honor to meet you, cerberus.” He nodded his head at HP.

HP wagged his tail and cocked his head at Aidan.  

“I had never expected to see one of you, at least on this side,” he continued to the dog, “It is truly an honor.”

I watched the exchange between bites of breakfast. HP wasn’t nearly as friendly with Aidan as he had been with Kate, or even Kyle and Jenny. He didn’t seem threatened by Aidan and was acting calmly enough. But I noticed that he stayed at my side and shifted away from Aidan anytime the man moved. I reached down to pet his head and reassure him.

Aidan noticed the gesture and turned back to me. “Hero, how did you call him?”  He asked nodding at HP.

I swallowed the piece of omelet, “I used the manual.” At his blank look, I continued, “Dee left it for me. It’s a book about lemuria. It mentioned calling a cerberus.”  I took a sip of tea, “I didn’t think that it would work.”

Aidan choked on his tea.  He cleared his throat, “For most lemuria, I think you are correct. It takes great power to pull something over.” He glanced at the dog, “And he is solid enough.”

Huh, so HP could have been a ghost dog? I considered that a ghost dog would be easier to deal with unless I had to feed him ghost dog food. I let myself consider the biology of the underworld for a moment – did HP need to eat in the underworld? Did he need to eat now? “So, you don’t mind if he comes to the funeral?”

Aidan blinked, “Of course not. And I don’t think he would let you attend alone.”

I glanced at HP and passed him a piece of bacon. Great, now I had two men who were desperate to protect me. If that was the case, HP and I were going to have another chat about the rules.  “Thanks,” I glanced back at Aidan, “Do you think having him around would make whoever was after me back off?”

Aidan had a hint of a smile, “I certainly would hesitate to cross you, knowing that you had the skill and power to call him.”

I smiled, happy to know that my plan seemed to be appreciated by someone. But no matter how pleasant Aidan tried to make breakfast, I needed to find out more about Sosostris. “I also wanted to ask you more about Sosostris.”

Aidan’s small smile faded.  “That is a dark part of preter history, and one that is closed.”

I bit my lip, not wanting to freak him out and tell him about the necklace that Vic had used. I didn’t want to tell him about Vic. He’d become a sort of kindly uncle, and I didn’t want to worry him. “I know, but what if some of them survived?  What if like their kids or grandkids are looking for revenge?”

Aidan seemed to be considering this idea, “I guess it is possible. I was certain that we had incapacitated all of them, but maybe some of the children survived.”

I frowned a little, wondering why Aidan didn’t know about the Wasteland Kids. From what Kate said, it seemed like everyone knew about them. But maybe it was one more thing that I had misunderstood? 

“What do you wish to know?”  He finally asked.

I smiled thinly, “I don’t think we have time for everything, but could you tell me about their breeding program?”

Aidan sipped at his tea a moment, “I don’t think it was as disturbing as a program. Many preters at that time sought to empower their offspring. Some believed that our gifts were being diluted with human blood. There are very few of us, after all.”  He sighed, “Many of us had married humans. So Sosostris and others decided to make certain preter children had the best parents possible.”

I nodded slowly. It still sounded creepy to me, but hadn’t I just read an article about genius sperm banks – enough people were using those to make designer babies, “Okay, so they choose better parents?”

Aidan nodded, “Yes, for example, a very powerful lemuira, like you, would have sought an equally powerful lemuria to have children with. Of course, Sosostris was also interested in mixing bloodlines.”

I could hear the disdain in his voice and was reminded of Jenny’s mother. She wasn’t so hot on mixing bloodlines either.  I held back my questions letting him go on.

“It would make sense in some cases. If no powerful lemuria was available, someone like you may choose to bear offspring with a moirae, for example. We have similar talents and the bloodlines could potentially be strengthened.”

I nodded again. Maybe I was being too romantic, but the more we talked about it the creepier I found it. I mean what about love?  What about having kids, ‘cause well you wanted them – not because of how magical they’d be?

Aidan shook his head, “Sosostris tried mixing strange bloodlines…” He let the words drift off lost in thought, “In many cases we bred monsters.”

“W-what do you mean, monsters?” I asked thinking of Kate.

“Children with uncertain powers, sometimes far too powerful to be controlled. Sometimes with no powers at all. And sometimes, with strange abilities that none of the races had ever seen.”  He grew quiet.

I wondered about that.  What would happen if someone like me had kids with someone like, Kyle? Ok, maybe that was getting ahead of things. But our abilities weren’t particularly compatible, would our kids be monsters?

We both sat lost in our thoughts, and let our breakfasts grow cold. Finally, Aidan broke the silence, “But that was long ago, and those that fought against Sosostris destroyed all of those lines.”

I shuddered, wondering what the preter community would think if they knew that those lines still existed? “Okay,” I nodded, “But Sosostris’s ultimate goal was to find the Gate?  Why?”

Aidan blinked at me, “Because of its power. It could make a single preter the most powerful of us all. Pardon the cliché, but with the Gate, Sosostris could have ruled the world.” He smiled, “While the humans were busy trying to keep Hitler from accomplishing just that, people like Dee and Lenore fought to keep Sosostris from accomplishing the same goal.”

Well, that confirmed what Kate had said. “So no one ever found it, the Gate?” I felt my mouth grow dry thinking about the Gate again.

Aidan shook his head, “No, Dee and Lenore stole all of the research Sosostris had gathered. Dee always claimed they destroyed all of the records. She and Lenore would have been the only ones who ever saw all of the research. Most of the members of Sosostris didn’t trust each other. They all compiled their research, with promises of sharing it. But I don’t believe they ever did.” 

“And Dee and my grandmother destroyed all of the research?”

Aidan shrugged, “Dee always said that she had. But this was after Sosostris was destroyed, so there was no one left who would remember everything.”

I nodded.  “So, it wouldn’t be Sosostris who was after Dee?”

Aidan shook his head, “I don’t see how that would be possible.  And I thought that the young officer Smyth was supposed to be investigating this.” 

I could see the suspicion and concern in his face.  “He is, I’m just trying to understand every,” I said, a little surprised at how quickly the lie sprang to mind. I don’t know if it was just a desire to avoid one more man trying to protect me, or if it was instinct. Either way, I didn’t want to tell Aidan everything. HP seemed to agree with my decision because he padded over and rested his head on my feet. 

Aidan smiled and patted my hand, “Let him investigate.  His family is very good at this sort of thing.”

I smiled and nodded.  “Thank you, Aidan,” I said, “You’ve helped me understand a lot more than I did before.”

Aidan smiled back, “Of course, my dear.  If you ever need anything, just call me.”

I nodded and rose, thanking him again for breakfast and the information.  HP and I made our retreat back to my car.

I glanced at the dog in the passenger seat, “Was it just me, or did Aidan seem kind of okay with some of the breeding program ideas?”

HP yipped in response. 

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’  Maybe it’s just a generational thing, but um eww.”

HP yipped again. 

I smiled, “Well, let’s get some shopping done.”

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