Here’s the first part of a story I’ve been working on set in the Ghost Punchers world. Not a whole lot of punching in these first 600 words, but you can smell the impending spectral violence from here.
Carly had picked the diner because she’d heard the apple pie was a fat slice of awesome. She offered a bite to the woman sitting across from her in the corner booth.
“Really. It’s amazing. Here — you can use your own fork.”
“No. Thank you, but… no.”
The woman whose card identified her as “Gabrielle Deyes, Security Consultant” didn’t look like the type to stop into Charlie’s All-Niter a little past midnight for a slice of apple pie. Her black pantsuit was stylish but severe. Her hair was locked down into a no-nonsense bun. Even her smooth ebony nails spoke of cold, corporate efficiency.
The two men in suits failing to look casual as they sipped their Cokes weren’t helping her fit in either.
Carly shrugged. She popped another forkful of pie into her mouth and motioned for Gabrielle to continue.
“He’d been complaining of nightmares for weeks, but thought nothing of it — none of us did. It’s a high-stress industry. Nightmares, insomnia, panic attacks? They come with the territory.
“But then he reported things moving in the house. Furniture wasn’t where he’d left it. Lights turning on and off by themselves. Doors opening the middle of the night. And then he felt –”
“A presence?” asked Carly.
“And cold spots? So cold they took his breath away?”
“Yes. You know this… type of phenomenon?”
Carly put down her fork and clasped the oversized crystal pendant that hung from her neck. She stroked it with the index finger of her other hand. She sighed deeply and nodded.
“Such things — such hauntings — cast ripples throughout the spirit world. People like me, we hear things. About strong men brought to exhaustion and tears, trembling at shadows in their own homes. Has he suffered the physical wounds yet?”
“What? No.” Gabrielle shook her head. “No, nothing like that.”
“Not yet,” said Carly. “They come later. When he’s too tired to fight, too exhausted to put up any real resistance, that’s when his haunter moves in for the kill.”
“Oh yes. It’s a slow process. And your client might actually go mad before it’s over, but this sort of thing only ends one of two ways.”
Carly took another bite of pie. It really was a slice of awesome, she decided. She’d have to get another piece to bring home with her.
“What? What are the two ways?”
“One: Your client succumbs to the ghost. Maybe physically, maybe mentally, but either way, he loses his life.
“Or two: We sever the link between your client and whatever’s haunting him.
“If it were early in the process — like when he started having nightmares — maybe your client could have just moved away from the house and left the ghost behind. But at this point it wouldn’t do any good. He’s been marked. Now we need to eliminate the angry spirit before…”
Carly grimaced sympathetically.
“Before you lose your client.”
Carly saw Gabrielle’s eyes flicker over her, taking in the crystal necklace, its matching earrings, the thrift store jacket that might have been worth something once, and the baggy white blouse that gave off a distinct “Earth mother hippie spiritualist” vibe that Carly specifically cultivated. She let Gabrielle take her time.
“Brian Harrison speaks highly of you and your team,” Gabrielle said.
“We did some good work together,” said Carly. They’d also sworn to never again mention what happened in the attic of the old mansion on Elmore Street, but she wasn’t about to bring that up.
Gabrielle sighed. Carly tried not to smile.
“All right,” said Gabrielle. It sounded like surrender. “You’re hired. I’ll transfer the deposit to your account in the morning, and e-mail you the client’s information tonight. I need you and your team on this ASAP — no later than tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay. I do have one question, though.”
“The client. Who is he?”
“Doug Hawkins, senior vice president of Blurbl dot com.”
“Ah,” said Carly with a slow, knowing nod.
“So you know how serious this is.”
“Absolutely,” said Carly, who had no idea. “Seriously serious.”