Pulp Friction 2015: Altered States
Jack of Spades #2
In the two months since Dr. Sabine Brusilov and his ghostly lover Bart discovered the curious brass circlet while investigating a haunting in an apartment building, Sabine focused on recovering from his accident. Now, his health restored, his mind returns to the mystery of the circlet. Even a commission to appear on a television show can’t distract him from its allure.
After nearly two centuries of resistance, it takes an exorcism for Bart to come to terms with being a ghost…and learning that everything in the other realm isn’t quite the way he had figured. As he grows more comfortable in the spirit plane, his abilities on the earthly plane evolve. Even though he feels the circlet’s evil, he can’t help but connect his growing strength with it.
Life and death are two sides of the same coin, but the circlet blurs lines for both man and ghost
A fan of red and black cards lay on the scarred tabletop…smoke and laughter and raucous piano music tainted the air. Every fiber of his being focused on the neat little derringer held oh so casually in an elegant white hand.
“Let’s not be hasty.” The scarlet-clad tart clutched at her lover’s shoulder, wrinkling the black fabric of his coat.
“He’s a cheat.” The man’s attention never wavered. “I can’t abide a cheat.”
“You keep it.” Bart gestured negligently at the pile of bills and coins in the center of the table. “No hard feelings.” The money was his…legitimately won. A year ago the slur on his honor would have had him reaching for his own piece, but now, he’d learned life was more valuable than honor.
“You know.” The gambler leaned forward, dark eyes glittering maliciously. “I think I will.”
His heart tripped in long, slow, painful thumps, sweat ran like ice cold rain along his back. Bart stared down the barrel of that pistol…and even though he expected it, the sound of its report shocked him.
“Fuck.” The painful thumps burst outward…spears of fire raced through his veins. He might have screamed…he definitely cursed. Scattered in a hundred directions at once, pulling back together, seeking something to anchor him, to draw on. In the all-encompassing darkness, he found it…a pinprick of light, of familiarity. Ignoring the cluster of brightness that called to him most strongly, knowing that cluster represented Sabine, represented a home grown uncomfortable. Zeroing his consciousness on the chosen spot, Bart didn’t care where it took him, as long as it was somewhere where his own death didn’t whisper to him so pervasively. Since Sabine’s accident, he hadn’t been able to escape that constant, chiding reminder of mortality.
“Fuck.” His atoms coalesced again…coming together more solidly than he’d planned. Where was he? Somewhere not Sabine’s apartment. Somewhere that held its own darkness, but more the darkness of sorrow than the strange unsettling feeling that seemed to have followed them home from Mrs. Carew’s apartment.
“What am I supposed to do with this?”
Jet’s voice… He’d found the wolf in the frenzy of darkness. The Alpha sat slumped over a desk littered with paper and ledgers of some kind. His strong dark fingers clutched Bart’s pocket watch tightly. He bore very few reminders of the battle for pack leadership that Bart had witnessed two weeks earlier, rapid healing was apparently a boon to the curse of the wolf.
Not that Jet or any of his family seemed to consider being wolfen a curse. From the perspective of death, Bart could well believe that it was, in fact, a blessing.
A hundred seventy-five years ago, had he possessed the agility and instinct of the wolf, he might not have ended up at the bottom of the river.
“I can…sense you, you know.” The wolf didn’t raise his head, but Bart, whose senses seemed to have sharpened along some sixth plane not related to sight, sound, or hearing…since technically he supposed he couldn’t actually do any of those things anymore, was aware that the man’s heart rate had increased, that his nostrils flared, that he was exercising an iron control over his emotions and responses.
Garnering some control of his own, Bart called on a newfound talent and materialized completely. “I didn’t know that you could. So, last week…”
“You were on the hill above the encampment, then spent a good twenty minutes sitting in a tree. If you weren’t already dead, I’d have been tempted to kill you myself. What good did they think it would do? Or was it sheer nosiness? Did the self-proclaimed paranormal expert want to know how the wolves choose a leader?”
Pure emotion rolled off the wolf…anger and hurt and that deep abiding sorrow that Bart himself had never felt, alive or dead. For a man whose own downfall had been his blindness to the emotions of others, it was unusual and unnerving to Bart to pick up on these feelings. Even stranger, though less unsettling, was that Bart understood those emotions. Jet was angry, and in pain…and like a wild creature, lashing out. This man was so intense, so primal in his emotions. “Sabine didn’t think you’d notice me.”
“I might not have noticed you, if I hadn’t had this in my possession.” Jet finally sat upright, the watch dangling from his big hand. “Their intentions were pure, I’m certain.” His glance became sharply disapproving. “But misguided.”
“They wanted me to report back…I guess they thought Laurant could intervene if necessary. I don’t know. I do know that if I’d had a group of friends like that, well…I might not have spent the better part of two centuries at the bottom of a river.” Having had enough of the uncomfortable emotions, Bart crossed the room and sat gingerly on a spindly straight-backed chair. He looked around the gloomy space with interest. Several boxes of liquor were stacked in corners, a few chairs with broken bits were shoved against a wall. The spider that wove that web must have been a long-time resident. “Where are we?”
“My office at Fangs. Why are you here?” Jet dropped the watch on the desk where it clattered. Bart reached out and touched it…really touched it for the first time since his death. The metal retained the heat of the Alpha’s body. The watch itself felt alive.
Snatching his hand back, Bart shrugged, amazed he could feel embarrassment still. “Well, I…um…”
“Did you come to take it back?” Jet nudged the watch closer. “Go ahead. Sabine says it won’t do what I wanted it for anyway.”
“No.” He shook his head regretfully. The watch was special, and he’d have dearly loved to take it with him if he could, but… “I can’t. I… How much do you know about the way this works?”
Jet snorted, amusement chasing away some of the sorrow in his expression. “About as much as Sabine has told us. Which is probably a lot less than you know.”
“I’m not really here. So when I leave, I can’t take anything with me. Where I go…it’s not physical. I can pull myself into the physical world, but I need a solid object with which I have an affinity to serve as an anchor.”
“In this case, yes.” He sighed. “And I don’t know, really, why I’m here. I had a bit of a…accident. When I scattered, I pulled back to this plane, but I couldn’t go to Sabine’s, so I just… Usually I end up at the bottom of the river.” His resting place…so much of him was still there. “It draws me.”
“But not today?” Jet pushed back his chair and stood, bones creaking and snapping as he stretched. “Why couldn’t you go to Sabine’s? I didn’t call you here, did I?”
“Nah. I’ve been looking for him, you know.”
He nodded. “Over there…it’s different. I haven’t found him, but I have learned that not everyone from here goes there.”
“That makes sense.” Jet’s eyes narrowed with interest. “Did you find any wolves there?”
“Well, no. But that doesn’t mean… I really only found about six individuals. Believe it or not, most of them don’t want any contact with each other. Paranoia seems to be a common problem.”
“That shyness Sabine mentions.” Jet hooked his hands in the pockets of his jeans and rocked for a minute. “You know, if you see him…”
“You have a message to pass?”
Strong white teeth dug into Jet’s fat lower lip, his eyes glinted suspiciously. “No. No message. Just… Have you ever been in a blood bar?” His head jerked toward the door.
Now that was a defense he recognized, one his own generation had grown up with. The polite lie, the deliberate ignorance. They both knew he’d been present weeks earlier, on game night, when Naked Twister had been firmly rejected, and they were both about to pretend that it had never happened, just so they could let the emotional moment go.
“Are you going to give me the grand tour?” He rose from his own chair, eager to accept any excuse not to go home, where for the first time since he’d moved in, he felt increasingly unwelcome.
“Yeah. I can do that. Just one thing.” Jet eyed him expectantly.
“How anchored are you? I just need to know if the rest of them can see you, or I’m going to look like a total loon talking to myself if I speak out loud.”