Curse of the Everlasting Relatives
One minute I was hanging onto Charley's outstretched hand as he hauled me to my feet. The next second I clutched my throat. It felt like drowning except for the lack of water, that awful awareness that although the atmosphere was too thin to feel, it was too solid to breathe. I tried to draw in breath and the effort left me so weak, I fell against Charley and clung to him.
His hands grabbing me under my arms were all that kept me from collapsing to the floor.
“Try not to breathe,” he whispered. “Hang on to me.”
Charley's guards coughed loudly and made choking noises. If it was a gas leak, I couldn't smell anything beyond the odor of the demons.
Albert Mortviner gave a shout of rage. Pulling a white handkerchief from a pocket, he covered his nose and raced across the room and past the receptionist area. He pulled open one of the doors that led to the elevator corridor, swung back, glared at the two men behind me, and shouted something else through the handkerchief that I couldn't make out. The door slammed behind him.
The guards rushed after Mortviner. They stumbled and bumped into each other and the door frames, coughing and trying to shield their noses with their hands, their faces screwed into deep lines. They were no more able to breathe than I was.
Again the door slammed as they ran toward the elevators.
I was so numb I couldn't think what was wrong or what to do. Try not to breathe? How could I do that? Holding my breath, not letting it out, lasted a few seconds and then I had to exhale and had to gasp for air that wasn't there.
Simone walked calmly now, not bothering to hurry. She stopped for a moment, standing with her back to the doors, staring at Charley. Her face was twisted into something halfway between demon and human.
My brain was twisting into something halfway between alive and dead.
I heard those numbered doors open. Was she still hissing? Who cared? I could not breathe.
I pounded on Charley's shoulders, shook my hand, coughed in his face.
He turned us together toward the reception area and dragged me that direction, saying, “Yes, hang on, sweetie, let's get out of here.”
I tried to walk.
He pulled me past the divider and the front desk, and I stretched my hands toward the pebble glass. The open door slammed shut. Some sort of stupid lock clicked in place, one of those sounds that you don't think about recognizing until you hear it at the wrong time.
We were locked in, even though it is illegal to lock a door so it cannot be opened from the inside in a commercial building, everyone knows that, and why was I worrying about that now?
Charley and I hit the door together. It was so heavy it didn't even rattle. Or I was so far past turning blue that nothing registered.
I slid slowly down the wall, my scraped hands leaving a thin trail of blood on the light paint, until once again I found myself trying to keep my face out of the carpet. It took all my effort to keep my eyes open and watch Charley dash around the room.
He ran to each of the four doors and rattled the knobs and howled with frustration.
I gasped, trying to find air to inhale. Nothing.
Charley rushed back into the main room as I lay on the floor watching him. As long as I could see him, I was alive, I figured. He grabbed a desk, dragged it a few inches, then let go of it. Next he grabbed a chair.
Lifting the chair to shoulder height, Charley swung it like a baseball bat at the nearest window. The chair bounced back, catching him on the chin and he sat down hard.
I managed to keep my eyelids half open. Wasn't doing as well with the breathing.
Charley jumped up again to grab another chair, one with heavy metal legs on wheels. He hoisted it, braced himself and beat repeatedly on a window. I knew he was trying to let in the outside air.
No luck. The windows didn't break easily. If that could happen, I would already be a messy dead spot on the street below.
Instead, I was going to be a messy dead spot on the sixteenth floor carpet. The world drifted toward black, taking sight with it.
I think he shouted something like, “Hold your breath!” I didn't have any to hold.
My trip toward death began the morning the realtor bugged me.
When I swung into my driveway, tires squealed behind me. The rear view mirror framed the realtor’s shiny-clean car.
I opened the door of my hatchback and swung my legs out. I have long legs, of no great advantage that I’ve ever noticed, but for some reason guys dumb out looking at them. The rest of me is no show-stopper, fluffy light brown hair, good skin, average features, not much in the curves category, so it is one of those use-what-you got deals. I have cut-offs when the weather permits.
Richard Hadley stood over me, staring at my legs. I stared up into his face and waited until he raised his eyes to meet mine. He blinked, embarrassed.
“Miss Royal, umm, yes, I have another offer.”
Brushing past him, I circled the car to open the hatchback. “Grab a bag, Hadley.”
He turned to look across the front lawn at my large sprawl of a two-story brick house with its small-paned windows and wide front entry porch. “Yes, of course.”
I let him make several trips, lugging grocery bags to the front door where I took them from him and set them down on the porch.
“Miss Royal, if I could come in?”
“Not a chance.”
He tried for a realtor’s smile, difficult to manage when he was thinking a scowl, and scratched his head. He wasn’t bad looking, Hadley, regular features, regular gym attendance body dressed in casual neat, probably a wife somewhere who thought he was hot, but he was aggressive, a major downer with me.
“This house must have at least four bedrooms upstairs and a couple more downstairs, and you live here alone. That’s a lot of maintenance, Miss Royal, and taxes rising. I could put you in something smaller, newer, better condition and have a million left over. You could invest it and never work another day.”
I squinted up at him, and matched his insincere smile with one of my own. Everything about Hadley felt wrong to me. Was he simply a used house salesman, trying to push a sale for monetary gain, or was there more than that going on here? “Hadley, I have a garden service, cleaning service, no trouble paying my taxes and I like my job. My house is not for sale.”
He looked disbelieving. “You could travel around the world.”
“I don’t even like the one hour drive to Tacoma,” I said, “but that’s got nothing to do with it. This property has been in my family for more than one hundred years.”
The frown won. “I know you told me that, but the county records show the building permit for this house was issued in the early 1970s, Miss Royal.”
“There were five previous houses,” I said. “All on this lot. All belonged to my family.”
“Really? Tear-downs every ten to twenty years? Why?”
“No, nobody tore them down.” I thought about asking why he was looking up county records on my home but decided not to extend the conversation. Every ten seconds that I gave him turned into ten seconds more of encouragement, he was that kind of man. Part annoying, part creepy.
“The last little pig used brick, Hadley. Go home and think about it and don’t bother me again, because believe me, this house is never getting listed. It stays in my family.”
I finished picking up grocery bags, turning and dropping them into the front hall, while managing to block Hadley from looking past me into the house. Stepping inside, I pulled the screen door shut.
He peered at me through the screen and said, “Name me a price. I’ll get it for you. Doesn’t it worry you, being all alone in such a big place, a pretty lady like you?”
That remark took him across the line of aggressive and straight toward harassment.
“Is that some sort of threat?”
He looked genuinely shocked and stepped back. The fear of lawsuits can be a girl’s best friend.
“No, of course not. I never -- look, I only meant, I have this great offer, I could get the buyer to go higher --”
“Or you could find your client a property that is listed for sale.”
“He’s seen this place. He drove by it, loved it, and he is ready to offer.”
“We’ve had this conversation before,” I said and kicked the door shut.
Picking up a bag, I headed for the kitchen, then had an ugly suspicion, went back to the dining room and looked out the window at the driveway. Right, there was Hadley standing on the lawn, scowling at a rear flat tire on his over-polished, overlarge realtor’s car.
Wasn’t it nice that nowadays everyone carried cell phones and so I would not have to let him into the house to phone his towing service?
The back door opened, clicked closed, and soft footsteps crossed the front entry hall. With sunlight streaming in the windows, the hall appeared empty.
The footsteps started up the staircase. I turned and looked up the stairs and waited.
“How did you do that to his tires?” I demanded.
Charley turned in the shadows on the upstairs landing. I could see him now, transparent, looking a bit like a movie projected in daylight on a dull wall, naked, uh huh, good body. When I was a child, he was careful to be proper around me, but he no longer bothered. Sometimes he has to disappear fast, which means stripping fast, and he dresses for it. Forget underwear.
Charley is a good-looking guy with dark red hair, square jaws, a short wide nose, and a cheerful, shiny-toothed grin, and the rest of him is equally attractive. After three centuries of living, he still looks fortyish.
“My secret, sweetie. I’m going to try for some sleep now.”
He moved deeper into the shadows, walking away from me along the upstairs corridor, not fading but never quite solid, turned left and opened his bedroom door.
Copyright © Phoebe Matthews
Sharing a house with five invisible relatives is doable. Until the demons arrive.