JWF. Jolly Well Fucked. I smiled as the comedian talked to the captive audience through a wireless microphone.
"You're definitely JWF," I whispered to the body on the floor. Yeah, body. Let's not give it a name, a face...well, there was a face a few minutes ago, but it was nicely wrapped and preserved in a box. I'd even taken a minute from my handiwork to slap on a FedEx label. All ready to go to my employer.
Because he required proof. They all did. And nothing said, "Look, Mom, what I did today!" like a twisted head in a box.
He was talking about Americans and their indulgence with food. The comedian, not the Icabod on the floor. Well, if Icabod really had met his demise at the hand of the scary, yet misunderstood, Headless Horseman. But the man by my knees, no, he was no Horseman. He hadn't even been the skittish school master.
No, the body belonged to a...wait, what was that?
I slipped the sword off the carpet -- slow, smooth, silent -- turning on the balls of my feet towards the small scratching sound emanating from the kitchen. The dossier played in my head like a webpage. Point with the mental eye and click with the brain. There wasn't supposed to be anyone else on the premises. No life partner, no kidlets, not even a damned cat.
I'd watched the house for two weeks, cautious and diligent, and the man – not good, thinking like he's alive – was a loner, almost stereotypically so. His life was so routine, so plotted out, he hadn't even flinched when I'd stepped up behind his recliner and dragged a sword edge against his Adam's apple.
"You know who I am."
He'd tried to nod, but alas, steel blade and all.
"Yes or no."
No fear, no trembling. Resignation? Nothing new in my line of work.
"Then you know what I'm about to do."
"And you know I can neither be bought nor dissuaded."
"I'll make it quick."
He'd sighed. I'd pulled. And, well, I've already mentioned the box.
So, if there was someone there, wouldn't they have showed up already? When I'd separated fiber, muscle and bone? I kept my profile low, as I moved around the island that separated the kitchen from the living room. The scratching grew louder, more persistent, like whatever was doing it somehow knew I'd heard them.
I scanned the wooden cabinetry, watching, waiting. There. Beneath the sink. I groaned and stood up.
Underneath that cabinet with pipe access and household cleansers. You wouldn't know it, but pipework can be used as a gateway from the Underworld to the human world.
Not any less dangerous than a scared human being with a crazed notion of vengeance, but at least I knew what I was up again. The cabinet doors shook as the scratching became pounding, and the pounding was now accompanied by an inane squealing. I stopped about two feet away.
I didn't have to open it. The gateway would shake and squall some more, but nothing would get in, as long as the doors stayed shut. The joy of planar shift. However, I still had ritual to do, and how in the hell was I supposed to chant with something trying to get my attention?
"Fine." I laid my sword on the countertop perpendicular to the sink. Easy access while still appearing non-threatening. I reached for the doors with one hand. "Open."
Blood poured out of the cabinetry, rushing over the tacky linoleum and the tops of my boots. Smoke followed the flood, and one dark, black hand shot out.
The voice was familiar, powerful enough to tickle my magic, yet...
"Nathaniel! Help me!"
A second hand emerged, matted with feathers and more blood. The scent of brimstone belched from the darkness I knew laid just behind the woodwork. "Oh my gods, I don't want to die! Brother, help me!"
I fell to my knees, the blood warm as it seeped through my jeans, and I grabbed the hands. One tug, then another, until the smoky fire spewed forth a body into my lap. Purple hair just a shade away from black lay matted and disheveled over the face. Her breath was shallow, shocky, and skin that should've been flushed, shivered.
It couldn't be. I brushed away the hair to reveal two dilated violet eyes. It just couldn't be. "Alida?"
"Father, he..." Her body jerked, and I looked up at the gateway. Pale blue fingers yanked on her ankles, and she latched onto me, eyes wide. "Natty, please!"
I pulled her closer with one hand and scooted backwards. Free hand extended palm up, I released a small green ball of fire at the intruder. He howled, shaking the windows, but he let her go and disappeared into the pitch. "Close! And seal!"
The doors slammed shut, and I was left holding her in the middle of a sea of drying blood.
"Alida." No answer. "Alida?" I shook her gently but still nothing.
My sister had passed out.
To be continued.