This is the second entry in the Don Moretti series, check out the first entry before this.
I like starting these entries with monologues related to the subject matter; it helps me get my thoughts together. Usually, they’re spurred by something I’ve read on here; this time, it was all the accounts from former or current detectives. It shows how ill-prepared most are when dealing with shit from beyond the realm of logical reasoning. I don’t blame them entirely since not everyone can just look the incarnations of evil in the eye and walk away sane. But the biggest mistake they make is holding on to that shit; they fixate on what cannot and should not be understood. I’ve worked closely with PI’s for a long time now and even moonlighted as one. The number one rule we’re taught is to never carry a case with you. But I’m getting ahead of myself; I’ll start from where I left off in my previous entry.
Six days was what it took for the small black Nokia to finally ring. I answered, and I recognized the monotone as Daltons. He told me to meet him in the downtown center of the town with the “infected” building. I had been sleeping in Van for the last few days on the outskirts of “Lucky,” Wondering if there was any “right” choice to make, I wasn’t fazed by the deaths of team members. I had seen enough death by this point that I was desensitized, and I had no attachments and thus no reason to grieve. I was apprehensive about how little my life was worth to Dalton, how easily his employers had sent us to our graves, and how they would do the same to him. Despite all my worries, I still found myself in front of the antique store that he had asked me to meet him. “Bonnie’s Wonders and Curiosities,” It was a tacky storefront, skinny, only wide enough for a single aisle, but it stretched on for quite a bit. The scent of Dalton’s cigars preceded his arrival; when he finally approached, he greeted me with an emotionless “Hello.”
“What’s the deal with this place?” I asked
“Simple assignment, we’re here to pick up an item of interest.”
“Then why bring me here? Sounds easy enough.”
“This is a hub of sorts; There will be other fixers like me; I wanted to find someone to take you under their wing.”
I shrugged, I thought that Dalton would be my fixer, but I also was optimistic that I would find someone more emotive. We entered the store, and Dalton only gave the ginger-haired cashier a curt nod. She took us to the store’s end into a backroom that opened up into a bigger chamber lined with shelves and boxes. She rummaged through a box labeled “Unexplained Biohazards 1960s-1980s” and pulled out a plain Ivory comb. She wrapped it in plaid cloth, dropped it in a small cardboard box, and handed it to Dalton. She noticed my glare and spoke up.
“Is he new?”
“Yes, the only survivor of the recent expedition to the Oak Street building.”
“And he stayed? Came back?”
She turned to face me and spoke again.
“Got a death wish like Dalton here.”
“Just curious,” I said.
“Aren’t we all? Dalton tell you what exactly you’re picking up today?
I shook my head.
“Ever heard of cursed objects? Haunted objects even? Well, they’re real, you know, and quite common. That right there is one of them, killed its last three owners. Somehow it leaks toxins into the holder’s bloodstream when held; long periods of exposure always lead to liver failure.”
“And you verified this?”
“A collector did; an Australian man in the 70s made it, there’s nothing in its past that we can find that might be responsible for its anomalous nature. All we know is that every person who owned it for an extended time has died of the same causes. We even ran a few tests, hold the comb long enough, and your blood work comes back showing high levels of toxins when the blood was clean an hour earlier. We have no idea how or why, but we still have it in our possession. Everything in this room has some anomalous effect.”
“And you just sell them to people?”
“Well, a lot of places do, and most do so by accident; most thrift stores have a few in their stock; they just don’t know until it’s too late. We just make a little extra profit off of them; curation has its benefits.”
I tried to be more skeptical, but I had already seen things that dwarfed the existence of cursed objects. I asked what the purpose of selling the comb to Dalton was; he interjected before she could answer.
“It’s best not to linger on the reasons why. Theorizing only complicates transactions. Lesson number one, Don, never get too close to a case; it only harms you in the end. Do your best to move on and forget once the job is done; it might save your sanity.”
I shrugged and continued to ask the redhead woman, who I assumed to be Bonnie, about the stock in this room.
“Anyone can buy huh? What’s the wildest thing here then?”
“Uh, well, our stock is tame compared to other stores, and small for that matter. We don’t have anything handy for any plots to take over the world. But, we do have this necklace…”
She brought down a box labeled “Possible Charms 1970s+” from the top shelf and rummaged through it, pulling out a jewelry box. She opened it and pulled out a silver rosary; you could tell it was old by how tarnished it was, it’s shimmering surface now black and blue. It was beaded, and there was an intricate carving of Christ on the cross.
“Sorry, I guess this piece never got polished, but it is one of our most prized. Not sure of the origin exactly; it was given to us by a collector that didn’t want to hold on to it. As for its properties, it is protective. It repels most non-corporal forms, it can warn of tragic events before they happen, it attracts good luck on a small scale, and it affects your dreams in mostly positive ways.”
That last part caught my attention the most; I had been having issues with my dreams for a few years.
“In what ways does it affect your dreams?”
“Most commonly, it reduces the number of nightmares, it also makes it easier to lucid dream, it won’t make all your dreams pleasant, but it will occasionally improve them. I’ve tested it myself, but I’ve found more powerful charms since then and replaced it.”
“1200, but I’ll give to you for a discount, for what you’re doing, you’ll need every bit of help you can get, I’ll give it to you for 800.”
I accepted, trusting in the fact that these guys had worked with the paranormal for a while now. I didn’t have the money on me at the moment, but Bonnie said she needed to polish it first anyway and that I could pick it up later that day after 7. We were interrupted by the sound of the doorbell, indicating that someone had entered. Bonnie pocketed the rosary and walked to the front, Dalton and I following her. She greeted two people, a lean Asian man and a woman wearing a low cut top entered; both looked like they were in their early 30s. They introduced themselves as Sarah and Luke.
“So he’s the one?” Luke asked Dalton, who responded with a single nod.
“He’s young, isn’t he? Doesn’t look like the type that would have made it out of Oak Street alive.”
I glared at her, she shifted her weight, but her face remained unimpressed.
“I don’t want him, I doubt he’d last much longer, and I don't want to invest time into a wasted effort,” she continued.
“Rude, looks can be deceiving; he might be more capable than you think, the fact that he survived the most lethal of beginner expeditions is proof enough, isn’t it?” Luke spoke up
“Luck,” Sarah mouthed.
“So I’m guessing that you’ll be the one to take him?” Dalton asked Luke.
“I’m just sticking up for the guy, but in all honesty, I don’t have much confidence in him either; you’re the one that found him; you take him.”
“I don’t have the resources or the time, central has me on a tight leash these days,” Dalton spoke with the first flourish of emotion I had ever heard from him.
“He could always go solo, put his name and attributes on the list, and he’ll get called by fixers whenever they need to fill a spot.” Luke shrugged.
“That would definitely get the kid killed by the end of the week.” Sarah snorted.
I was starting to get irritated and was about to speak up when Bonnie intervened.
“I don’t doubt he can make it far. I mean, he watched his entire team die and faced off against the thing in the Oak Street building, yet is unfazed. Most survivors were broken by what they experienced there, and he’s already pretty open-minded, bought one of the charms.”
“If I recall Sarah, you had to be hospitalized and took several weeks’ leave to recover from mental trauma from your first assignment, yet Don hasn’t so much as flinched since his,” Dalton added.
“Oh fuck off, so he’s better at holding himself together, that’s meaningless in the grand scheme of things if he gets himself killed.”
“I’ll take him then,” Bonnie said.
“It’s been six years since your last one; you’re gonna come out of retirement for him?” Luke asked.
“Forget it, I can manage on my own,” I said
“Oh no you don’t; let me give you some advice at the very least, leave him here with me Dalton, you guys can run off and do your thing.”
With a nod, Dalton and the other left, leaving alone with Bonnie, she made a gesture signaling to give her a minute. I watched her take some chemicals out and start polishing the rosary.”
“So Don, have any idea of what we face daily? What do you know so far?” she asked.
“Jack shit, that’s the issue,”
“Was it a ghost or something, hear footsteps in your childhood home, and now you’re curious?”
“Ever hear of a town called Sunset Valley? It's in the heart of Ohio.”
“I don’t think I have.”
“See, that's the issue, no one has, it doesn’t exist, not anymore. I grew up there, but three years ago, the place was erased from existence, as if it was never even there, all its residents included.”
“Except for you? That would make you the only survivor then.”
“Well, there is one other, but I haven’t seen him in a while,” I said, trying to remain calm.
“How’d it happen?”
“That's what I’m trying to figure out… you actually believe me?”
“Yeah, I’ve seen stuff like that happen before, though it's more like a population being wiped and all that's left is the ghost of a town.”
“Do you know what could have caused it?” I said with ill-contained excitement.
“It could’ve been several things; there’s hundreds of scenarios that could lead to the extinction of a small town, it's more common than you’d think.”
“Do you think this kind of work could get me closer to the truth?”
“Not likely; if you're hoping to find anything logical and explainable, then you’re shit out of luck; why does it matter anyways?”
“The events of the night my town was erased still follow me to this day. I can still feel the presence of something… otherworldly, especially in my dreams. I dream of what happened and what will happen, and it’s not anything good.”
“Well, if that's the case, then you’re pretty fucked, but this line of work could be your best shot; it’s a flimsy ill aimed shoot, but it's better than nothing, right?”
Bonnie finished polishing the rosary and handed it to me, and I put it on. The metal was cool against my bare skin; there was a slight tingle as if there was static. I tried telling bonnie that I would have the money soon, but she told me not to worry about it, to think of it as a present of sorts.
“Lesson number two is that you don’t try to fit anything you encounter into a mold. We humans live in a world defined by numbers and logic, and the things you’ll encounter can’t be quantified or understood through reasoning. What we know about them is a drop in the ocean of their truth. Linger too long on anything using human logic, and it could drive you to madness, observe, document, move on, and forget; that’s your best course of action. But, if you’re willing to try to think on their terms, you might start to see patterns, a bigger picture, too vast to ever fully comprehend, but it might be enough to move closer to your goals. But the risk of insanity is at its greatest if you decide to try to do this. So what will you do, Don, willing to let me help you?”
“I like keeping my distance, but I don’t have much of a choice here,”
“I’ll take that as a yes; you know you can be somewhat independent, I’ll be around to help when I can. But that would increase your chances of dying by quite a bit. How about we strike a balance between mentorship and independence.”
I agreed, and she took the time to register herself in my contacts and registered my number in her phone. There were a few minutes of chatter between us, mostly about what to expect. When Dalton and the others returned, they were carrying an icebox.
“You missed out, big man,” Luke said to me.
“Biological hazard, sentient, subdued,” Dalton said.
“It was a bitch to bag and tag, but we did it anyways,” Sarah added.
“What is that,” I asked
Luke opened the box and revealed a human leg inside a ziplock, packaged in ice. The thing was severed several inches from the knee; I recognized it as Larry’s.
“You guys went back to the building?”
Larry’s leg hadn’t decomposed in the near week it had spent in the building. Instead, a strange growth had appeared at the severed end. It was bulbous, like a tumor, and multicolored, yellow, purple, blue. Bonnie let out a small gasp, and my chest tightened when a beady black eye blinked open from its center; it stared at us, its pupil shifting from face to face before it closed and disappeared. The leg jerked weakly as if trying to move; I guessed that the Ice had some pacifying effect on the creature. I didn’t know it then, but this thing would be the root of a cataclysm that would claim dozens of lives and one huge pain in the ass to deal with.
“The dead shall be defiled,” the phrase flickered in my mind, and I wondered if this was what it was referring to.
“This little guy was tucked away in a corner, it reacted to our presence, but it’s hard to move with no real means of mobility,” Luke said
“What is it?” Bonnie asked.
“I have no fucking clue, but it must be really gross for the centipede to ignore its leftovers,” answered Sarah.
“It appears to be a fruiting structure; it might be botanical in nature, so we’re planning on selling it to Dr.Hammond; he might have some interest in it,” Dalton said.
“It might also be some kind of parasitic strain that originates from the centipede’s realm; it must only affect dead since I’ve never heard of anything like this affecting survivors,” Luke added.
“The thing, the centipede, it just left you guys alone?” I asked
“No reason to hunt on a full stomach,” Sarah replied.
I glared at her, and once again, she shifted her weight onto her other foot as if trying to create distance without movement. I was beginning to understand things that should have been obvious from the start, but I never was a smart man. Bonnie, sensing the tension in the room, clapped her hands together and spoke.
“And the comb?”
“That’s going to the higher-ups, made a purchase on behalf of someone, they’re not interested in doing any of the leg work,” Dalton said
“Yeah, just signing the checks and getting their kicks vicariously,” Luke said
“Well, I guess that’s a day’s work; you can leave Don with me, I’ll take care of him.”
The group left me alone with Bonnie; she asked if I was hungry and then took me to a local dinner. We discussed things like the requirements for this kind of job, let me know that around 30% killed themselves within the first two months. I wasn’t worried; what I had experienced so far, while terrifying, paled in comparison to what I had seen the night Sunset had fallen. I still dream of the aftermath more often than I’d like, even see the hateful glare peeking out from a rift torn across the sky, the screaming, and the escape that wasn’t an escape. No, it still followed me; I always hear the whisper, spoken by cloaked agents, acting as the will of whatever lies inside the rift. Forces beyond control held me in their grip, and I was determined to break free. I returned to my van that night with the knowledge that I was walking the path towards salvation and with the determination to see it through to the end.
It would take a few more assignments before I caught a lead, believe it or not, the following immediate assignments where mundane compared to my first; things go downhill pretty quickly after. But, those stories will have to be told later, so until then, be a little more suspicious of previously owned items. Who knows the reasons as to why they had to depart from their former owner’s hands.