On our way to the station, McLean and I put in some calls to Jing’s parent’s and closest family members. They claim they haven’t heard from Jing for some time. Overall, they seem forthright and cooperative, but we get nothing useful out of them. All were willing to come in for questioning.
When we get to headquarters on Clay and 14th, Reyes doesn’t get out of the car. She sends McLean to fetch a beat cop and a sedan so he could visit Jing’s parent’s place. If Jing was hiding somewhere in the city, it was most likely there. She also instructs him to file a Child Abduction Emergency (CAE) case so that an Amber alert could be issued.
As soon as he’s out of the car, she heads back out.
“Where to now?” I ask.
“How much do you know about demons?”
I stiffen. What’s this got to do with demons?
I squirm in my seat and finally decide not to say anything. What do I know about demons? Not much more than the average citizen, so just about nothing.
“Listen, Lorena,” she starts.
I almost jump at the name. No one calls me by my first name. It doesn’t fit. The name I chose for myself after my father disowned me does.
“I go by Tesserak,” I say.
She glances my way as she heads towards the I-980.
“Okay, Tesserak,” she starts again. “I know you were tested.”
My back muscles twitch and I find my hand on the door latch. What am I thinking? Jump from a moving car? I breathe in deep and my left calf cramps in response.
“It’s a terrible practice,” Reyes continues. “No one should be forced to endure a demon possession.”
Is that what she thinks the military PES test is?
It’s not. They just put you in a room with a demon. What happens between you and hell’s spawn depends on how much you can take. In less than a minute, if you start complaining about thoughts of murder and mayhem, they figure you’re not a spook and send you on your merry way.
The thinking being that the demon can influence your thoughts and, if given enough time, they would possess you and all hell, literally, would come loose. Only a spook can resist a demon.
But it is not easy.
Eight hours in that room, they found me curled up in the corner of the room gibbering like half my brain had rotted out. The bastards had wanted to see how long I could last.
Now I know I should have lied. I should have pounded on that door and screamed my throat raw to get out.
But I didn’t. Instead, I tried to ignore the demon, letting it wheedle and squirm its way into my head. Sometimes, I think it’s still there.
“This demon won’t try to possess you,” Reyes says. “I won’t let it.”
“I’m not afraid of demons,” I say.
We both know it’s a lie, but it leaves my lips before I can think better of it.
“You should be,” Reyes says. “They are evil creatures that will take everything from you.”
“Then why are we going to go see one?”
“All demons are evil,” Reyes affirms, “But some are more evil than others. And there are a few who will help – for a price. But don’t forget what they are. No matter what good deeds some might do, they’re parasites.”
She goes on to explain that this one, goes by the name of Blyrthek, has helped Reyes out in the past by providing information. Reyes thinks it’s a long shot, but seeing as there’s a missing kid involved, it’s worth a shot to ask the demon.
It’s got an ancient sounding name. I figure it must be European. Slavic maybe? Must have died at least a hundred years ago. As far as I understand, the longer a spirit resides between worlds, the stronger and deadlier they are. I’m not too sure what Reyes is getting me into.
We head east on the freeway and worm our way up to Claremont. It’s the sort of neighborhood my father always wanted to live in. Shit. That’s not going to happen. At least, not for me. It’s the sort of place I might be able to work at as a security guard.
We navigate through the hill homes, dense vegetation on either side of the road. We enter a neighborhood overgrown with Eucalyptus trees. The lots are larger up here with views of San Francisco and the bay bridge. While it is sunny and hot here, I can see thick, gray fog over the Marin Headlands. A shiver runs up my spine and Reyes parks the car in front of an empty lot. Blackberry snarls in clumps along a steep bank.
As we step out of the car, I say, “Let me guess. It lives in a tree.”
Reyes gives me a smirk but doesn’t answer. Instead, she goes back down the road a hundred feet and turns onto a path that leads up a steep hill. It’s not until I’m on it that I see a brick path beneath our feet. We climb up some pockmarked and ivy-covered steps to arrive at a gate. There’s an ornate, patina-green brass bell hanging on one side. Reyes rings it and we wait.
A teenage girl – black hair, pale skin, thick around the middle with knockers that would command attention from half the population – comes out of nowhere. It seems she just sprouted from the base of a tree, but when she opens the gate to let Reyes in, I see there’s another path around it.
Without a word, she leads us to a Victorian house that could use a coat of paint or two. The trees surrounding it dwarf the house, obscuring it from view and it from the view of the bay. The overgrown lot looks big enough to fit a small apartment complex or several high-end homes.
The girl leads us into the front door, the color of ash, and motions for us to wait in the foyer. The great room is to our right. There are a number of men seated around a coffee table. One looks over his shoulder at us and scowls when recognition washes over his face. He’s not happy to see Reyes.
Straight ahead of us is a short hallway that leads to a set of stairs. Beyond them is a dining room. The girl emerges from it with an older woman in tow.
“She’s been expecting you,” the woman says to Reyes.
The woman – older than the teenager, but not quite old enough to be her mother if she hadn’t started early enough – has dark circles under her eyes and a sharp aquiline nose. I’m thinking the family is Hungarian, but I’m not too sure.
“I promise we won’t be long,” Reyes says.
“She’s not invited,” the woman says.
Doesn’t even look at me. I can feel the waves of apprehension coming off her. It’s not hate. More like disgust. And maybe fear?
“Ma’am,” I say, “we’re just here to ask a few questions.”
Reyes shoots me a look that tells me to shut up. I do.
The woman of the house sneers at me and for a moment I think she may have growled.
“Detective Reyes!” a small voice says.
All eyes snap to a girl standing at the top of the stairs, top of her head level with the ceiling. She’s one of the clan – dark hair, pale skin. She’s got on a dress with a pink floral print that almost glows in the house’s interior gloom.
When she looks at me, my stomach drops and I have to clench my groin to keep from peeing on the floor.
Her eyes are blacker than sin.
The smile that breaks on her face shows the kid’s canines, which seem to grow as I watch the smile turn into a face-splitting grin. Hair sprouts on her cheeks, runs down her neck. Her shoulders hunch over and long, thin ears sprout from her head, ending into something like a bat’s.
Reyes touches my arm and the illusion fades. The girl is just a girl, but those eyes remain like two pools of oil.
“She can come up,” the girl says and turns around to climb up the steps.
A shudder passes through me and it takes all my concentration to follow Reyes up the stairs. The older woman comes hard on my heels. I hope she’s aiming to protect me, but I get a feeling she’s worried about whatever is in that kid.
Reyes leads us down a dark, narrow hallway. The walls are bare of pictures or any sort of decorations. There aren’t even any light fixtures. The girl disappears into an open doorway and we file in behind her. The room just fits a bed and us. There’s a window, but dark curtains keep any sunlight out. My hand goes to the butt on my gun. I release its safety, but I leave it holstered. What the hell do I think I’m gonna to do? Shoot the kid?
She’s standing on the bed so those dark orbs are level with mine and it makes my skin crawl.
“Thanks for seeing us,” Reyes starts.
I was hoping she would ask for a light.
A sigh as old as the wind comes out of that kid.
“We all do what is in our nature,” the girl says.
I’m not sure if she’s responding to Reyes’ statement or if that’s just a random piece of wisdom.
“There’s a boy–”
“Name’s Nicholas Merryweather-Jing,” I interject, my voice going up a notch on the last word.
My toes hurt. Looking down, Reyes’ foot is on mine. She presses down and I get it. She wants me to keep my mouth shut, but the kid’s eyes are driving me nuts.
“The boy is weak,” the girl, or Blyrthek says. “I don’t want him.”
“And we’d rather not give him to you,” Reyes says. “Do you know where he is?”
The girl shrugs and tilts her head to one side as if listening to something. Her neck is so smooth and thin, I could snap it with one hand. What would that do to the thing inside her? Would it just find another host?
The older woman moves from our side. She goes to the girl and frets with her dress, smoothing out the straight hem and plucking off imaginary lint.
“You’re taxing her,” she says.
“We just got here,” Reyes say, addressing her statement to the woman. Her voice is tight.
“The big one is scaring her,” the woman says, glancing at me.
I point at myself. Turning to Reyes, I mouth the word, moi.
Reyes motions for me to get out. I drop my shoulders in mock defeat and start to leave, and then stop when the girl says:
“You’ll find the boy when you accept your true nature.”
That face-splitting grin appears on the girl’s face again and for a moment, I can see the demon.
It’s huge. More insect, or maybe arachnid, than human. Eyes as big as saucers sit atop its bulbous head. Thin arms peppered with stiff, black hairs extend out towards me. A desiccated finger reaches for my chest. I want to move back but my feet are like stone. A shock of electricity jolts my body when it touches me.
The creature emits an ear-bleeding scream, shaking the bed and floor. The girl’s body is thrown into the air and flops onto the floor, spasms coursing through her tiny body. Her mother had tried to catch her, but they end up on the floor in a tangled heap.
“Get out!” she says. “Get the hell out of here!”
I look to Reyes.
“I didn’t do anything,” I whisper. “I swear.”
“Ma’am”, Reyes says to the woman, ignoring me. “Do you want me to call an ambulance?”
She already has her cell phone out. I can see the district’s dispatch number on its display. As Reyes moves the phone, it leaves light trails in the thick shadows. I blink and it clears my vision.
“Get the fuck out,” the woman snarls.
Her hands and arms are covered in blood and it takes me a moment to realize it’s coming from the girl.
* * *
“Well,” I start, “that didn’t go well.”
We are almost back to headquarters before I even dared say anything. Reyes had slammed the door to her car so hard; it must have busted a sensor. I can see the symbol on the dash indicating the driver’s door was open.
“It was a bad idea to go there,” she says.
I don’t remind her that it was her idea.
“Should we send CPS?” I ask. “I mean, that’s not right, right? What they’re doing to that kid?”
“No,” Reyes says, and rubs her face with one hand while we wait at a light. “No, that’s not right. But the demon has been in that family for a long time. If we send CPS, they’ll find a perfect daughter in a perfect home. It’ll be my word against theirs.”
“You’ve already tried?”
Reyes nods. “I found the demon while we were investigating another child abduction. The victim had been the girl’s playmate.”
“You think that family is kidnapping kids?”
The slave trade was alive and well in the Bay Area. Even our own were guilty of dipping into the kiddie pool. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had to deal with that kind of trash.
“No,” Reyes says. “It was just a coincidence, but I got to meet the demon and she helped with the case.”
“You found the kid?”
“We did,” she says. “I’ll let you read up on the case. McLean and I have a theory.”
We pull into Oakland PD’s underground parking lot and she says, “I’ll tell you after you read up on the cases.”
The State Paranormal Investigations office was a few floors down from where we parked the car. The elevators don’t go that far down so we take the stairs all the way past the six underground garage floors until finally we hit bottom. It smells of earth and damp concrete and something else I can’t put a finger on. I meant to ask Reyes if it was healthy but never got around to it.
Someone, probably McLean, has taped a hand-scrawled sign with ‘SPI’ on it and a thin arrow pointing the way down a corridor. A small light above a door was the only sign anyone works down here. When we get there, the door is open. McLean is at his desk next to an empty, water-stained aquarium on a bookshelf.
Reyes’ desk backs McLean’s and she goes to sit behind it. She boots up her computer while asking McLean if he’s found anything.
“Merryweather had a boyfriend,” McLean says, leaning back from his laptop. He glances at me. “What happened to you?”
“What?” I ask.
I pull in the slight beer gut I’ve developed over the past year and pass a hand over it, making sure my shirt is tucked in.
“You look like you seen a ghost,” he says, then slaps the top of his desk, laughing. “That’s a good one, huh?”
Reyes ignores him, concentrating on her computer screen.
I roll my eyes. “We got nothing,” I say. “How about you?”
“AMBER alert has been issued and the kid’s picture has been plastered on the usual channels and social media. I’ve called the extended family and friends. No one’s seen the boy or the father since Friday. I haven’t contacted the school since that won’t be open until tomorrow. Merryweather and Jing seemed to have been the perfect couple, but she had a boyfriend. He’s coming in for questioning.”
“Today?” Reyes asks.
“Tomorrow morning,” McLean answers. “Before his shift at the port.”
“Which terminal does he work at?”
“I don’t know,” McLean says. “Is that important?”
“I don’t know,” Reyes shot back. “We might want to visit, ask his mates some questions.”
“The Howard Terminal isn’t that far from Merryweather’s place,” I say.
“And what’s that got to do with anything,” McLean asks, leaning back in his chair and glaring at me.
I shrug, and Reyes shakes her head. She glances at her phone. “It’s been twenty-four hours.”
Now-a-days, most kids that go missing end up back home alive and well. But those that don’t get back in the first 48 hours generally don’t ever.
Half our time is up.
Thanks for reading thus far through ‘Possession’ of Ghost Stories.
Will the SPI detectives stop bickering long enough to find Niki? Find out in Part 4.