By Patrick O’Connell
“You. Are going to die,” said the Elvis impersonator, and the two eyes lunged towards me.
Fortunately for me, my window exploded. Glass fell to the floor in an arc around the windowsill, shards embedding themselves into my carpet.
Elvis drew back mid lunge, flattening himself against the wall barely a foot from me.
A shadow filled the open window. A shadow with white teeth and yellow eyes; pointed ears that were flattened in anger. The features of a cat. The same cat that had rubbed against me in my garden and met me on my front step. As if its sudden appearance wasn’t strange enough, the cat spoke to me.
“Play the tune, Bill!”
I felt entirely numbed. It was as if my brain had simply given up, glutted on an oversized meal of stimuli. Elvis remained against the wall. The longer it stayed there, the more its form flattened, squashing itself like clay.
“The harmonica, Master Fisher!”
I looked over at the desk, where the harmonica sat atop a sheet of paper with a note written in red.
“I! Eat! Your souls!” howled Elvis, unhelpfully.
A harmonica with ten holes.
Numbers written in red.
2. 1. 3. 1. 4.
Play the tune.
I twisted sideways over the bed and snatched the instrument off the table. Elvis lunged for the cat, who rose up on his legs with a caterwaul. Time slowed. And I blew.
The tune itself was simple enough, and a heart thumping with adrenaline pushed me to get it right on the first try, stumbling between the notes.
2. The second hole from the left. Elvis shrank back mid lunge, and made a harsh, broken whistle. 1, then 3. The creature turned to face me now, still whistling. As it opened its mouth, its lower jaw sagged like raw pizza dough and flickered a rainbow of colours. Its skin puckered in places, drawing in on itself as if poorly fitted to the skeleton underneath, cheeks sucking in between the bones and eyes bulging from shrinking sockets. 1. 4. Elvis crawled across the sheets towards me, stretching out a hand. I dropped the harmonica into my lap as I hit the final note, and covered my face with my arms.
But the thing’s touch never came.
I squinted over my trembling forearms and found that it was disappearing. Piece by piece, it melted into itself. Little curls of smoke rose from its surface as it shrank smaller and smaller. At the size of a grain of sand, there was a bright flash of light and a pop-like air decompressing. The dot that had threatened my life vanished, and I was left sitting in the dark, my heart threatening to drill its way out of my chest.
The cat hopped gracefully from my windowsill to my bed, and I fell back against my headboard with an embarrassing whimper. He blinked amiably at me, and started to clean between his claws as he spoke. I could have sworn he looked almost bashful.
“Apologies for the window, young master. My mistress seems to loathe the very idea of entering buildings sensibly.”
“Your… what are you?”
“I am Mortimer.”
“I think I’m going insane,” I croaked out loud.
“You’re not, Bill, but you are making a fool of yourself,” said a new voice, from beside my window. I turned to see the person who had stood on my front step yesterday afternoon and handed me that envelope. How had she gotten in so quietly? “I’m aware that tonight’s events have dropped you out of your depth. But things are about to get far, far deeper. So – pull yourself up by your bootstraps and listen, real close like.”
She stepped away from the wall, and I shrank back, instinctively. There was something about this woman, in the way she carried herself, that made me scared of being on her bad side. One side of her mouth twitched upwards in a smirk.
“I’m not going to hurt you, Bill. Not unless you turn out possessed, like the man you just banished. Nice work, by the way.”
“What happened to him?”
“The same tragedy that befalls many decent folk. He was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and the wrong eyes set upon him. By the time you met, he was already half-eaten.”
“Yes. A monster – from another world – stalked him, chewed at his soul until it peeled away, and then proceeded to use his body as a vehicle.” She paused. I noticed, abstractly, that her eyes were faintly violet. They held me in place. “Does that frighten you?”
A breeze had picked up, and was starting to lift up my curtains, flickering moonlight in shattered beams across my room. The glass on my floor sparkled like fallen stars, and I felt cold.
Mortimer made a noise that might have been a chuckle.
“That is good, young master, where monsters are concerned. Your fear will keep you alive.”
“Why did it come here? Why did it want me?”
Siobhan snorted and shared a look with Mortimer as if to say “This guy, right?” before turning back to me and pointing at the harmonica that sat in my lap.
“Lad, it didn’t want you. It wanted what you had.”
“The… but you gave this to me!”
She shook her head.
“No. The day you accepted it from our busker friend, you signed a contract. I was simply returning to you what was yours.” I opened my mouth to say that that felt like a cop out, but she held up a finger. “Hush. I promise you – there will be time for all of your questions to be answered. But not here. Now, get up.”
I hesitated, and she rolled her eyes, emphatically.
“I’ll close my eyes while you clothe yourself, if it bothers you. But be quick. Oh, and you might want to put on a coat.”
I obliged, feeling helpless, and picked my way across the glass-strewn floor in my underwear to grab a pair of joggers and a jacket. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought:
That bloody window is going to come out of my deposit, isn’t it?
Siobhan cracked an eye to check that I was dressed, then swept over to my desk. She picked up the key she had given me yesterday and the harmonica from my sheets, and held them out to me, one in each hand. I looked at them, then at her, quizzically.
“Oh, for god’s sake, Bill. Just take the damn things, will you?”
Begrudgingly, I took them from her hands, and stuffed them into my jacket pockets. She held out her hands again, open-palmed. Mortimer leapt from the bed to her shoulders, curling around her neck like a fur scarf.
“Take my hands and hold tight.”
I hesitated again, but fearing rebuke, did as she asked. Her hands were harder than I’d expected; calloused like those of someone who’d done much work with them.
“I’d keep your eyes closed, if I were you,” said Mortimer, sympathetically, from her shoulder. “Helps with the nausea.”
She grinned at me, and I realised that we were both glowing. Emanating from where our hands touched, and spreading up our arms, was a flickering violet light. I could see our veins faintly illuminated beneath our skin; a grim map.
“You said we were… going somewhere?” I asked, nervously.
“Yeah, boyo,” she said. “Home. Are you ready?”
I shook my head, fervently. She laughed.
And then we dropped through the floor.
Image via @yourlocalbreadman on Instagram