"You don't recognize it?"The next morning, Brenna awoke with a jack hammer trying to pound a way out from inside her skull. Her hands felt like they were wrapped in gauze. She rolled over, hoping that the tiny construction worker in her head would lose his footing. No luck, the pounding continued unabated. With a sigh, Brenna pushed herself up, She got her legs under her so she could sit. Blinking to clear her eyes of the morning fog, she tried to recognize the room she was in. Her fuzzy brain took several minutes to realize that she was in her own room. She looked down at her hands; it took another minute for her to realize that she had never removed lace gloves when she went to bed.
"Why do I have the feeling you're setting me up?"
With an effort, the young brunette slipped off her bed and stumbled to the door. Her purple bathrobe still hung there from the day before. She pulled the bathrobe over her pink nightgown, trying to remember if and when she had changed into it last night. Giving up on that question, Brenna shuffled downstairs and to the kitchen. The remains of her father's breakfast sat on the counter. Some coffee was still left in the percolator. Brenna poured herself a mug and took a sip of it straight. She shuddered and set the mug down. Needed sugar, she thought, and a lot of cream. Brenna added the missing components to her mug and sat down. She pulled the newspaper to her and tried reading it. She made out the headlines – another missing woman, the sixth in the past month – but had to squint, the paper just inches from her face.
"Use your glasses, Bren."
"Hi, Mom." Brenna kept trying to read the article.
"Brenna, your reading glasses."
"They're upstairs." Brenna set the paper down as her headache's intensity grew. She massaged her temples.
"You know you get a headache without them."
Brenna sighed. "Not today. I already have the headache."
Joni shook her head. "You drank too much last night. You better eat something."
"I know." Brenna took another swig of coffee before getting up. "Mom, is there a way to turn off the 'gotta get a guy' setting of the Soul Blade? It's getting ridiculous."
"It's called 'finding a boyfriend'." Joni sat as best she could on the island counter. "Probably why I'm still here."
Brenna opened the refrigerator. "Great." She grabbed an apple from the crisper. "How am I supposed to do that?"
"What about that Internet thing? Maybe there's a way to meet people through that."
"I still have to meet the guy." Brenna closed the fridge and sat back down with her coffee.
Joni turned to regard her daughter better. "And the doctor's prescriptions aren't working?"
"Not as well as they were."
Grace, completely dressed in t-shirt and jeans and going barefoot, entered the kitchen. "Morning, Bren." She waved in the general direction of the stove. "Hi, Mom."
Brenna looked over at the island counter and gave her mother a half shrug. "Morning, Gracie."
"Are you going to leave your hunk of junk in front of the house all day today?" Grace started rooting in the fridge.
"I could park it in your room if you prefer."
Grace stopped her rummaging to glare at her sister. "Seriously, Brenna."
Brenna shrugged. "If I can get it on the driveway today, I'll move it there. I've got a friend coming over this week to take a look at it. Why?"
"I suppose that will have to do." Grace brought out a couple of eggs and a package of bacon. "When can you move your van?"
"After I'm dressed." Brenna picked up her coffee and apple. "I'll be in my room if anyone calls."
The apple and the coffee helped ease Brenna's headache enough so she felt human again. She got changed, putting on her favourite skirt, full-length and made of denim, and t-shirt, with a purple heart over her left breast. A pair of purple cloth gloves sat ready on the night stand. Sketchbook in hand, she flopped down on her bed. What she remembered of Missy's idea still intrigued her. The web comic would give her something to do while in a cheap motel or camping out in her van when she had to drive out to haunted locales. The bar scene had never interested Brenna, even before taking into account the need for an heir the Soul Blade instilled in her.
Brenna pushed the thought out of her head. Right now, she wanted to focus on how whether she could come up with a drawn storyline. She flipped open her sketchbook to a blank page. Pencil in hand like she was born with it there, Brenna began doodling, letting her imagination wander to see where it took her.
"Bladekeeper." Brenna looked up at the sound. She was still the only person she could see in her room. The voice repeated, "Bladekeeper, you are needed." Brenna switched her sight. For as long as she could remember, she was able to adjust her vision so she could see spirits, ghosts, and even the core of living people. This time, she saw a man in worker's clothes. Brenna placed the man's outfit and hairstyle in the late Twenties.
Sitting up, she asked, "Are you lost?"
The ghost rolled his eyes. "Are you daft, lass? How many ghosts have sought you out before?"
"Oh, well, none, really."
"Get your ass in gear, if you will pardon my French. You're needed." The ghost started floating away.
"Wait!" Brenna called. "Where are we going?"
"How the hell would I know? I died before it got a name. Pardon my French"
"Okay, okay." Brenna jumped off the bed and slipped her feet into a pair of sandals. She grabbed the gloves from the night stand, putting them on as she walked to her door. "I just need to get a car. Mine shouldn't be moved."
"Make it fast, lass."
Brenna ran out of her room and downstairs. The walls of the house through her second sight showed a building infused with years of a family living inside it; all the quirks, all the arguments, all the love that had built up, piling on top of similar feelings by previous occupants. As a house, it was welcoming to all who were invited inside it.
Downstairs, Brenna found Grace on the phone in the kitchen. As usual, for reasons Brenna couldn't fathom, her baby sister appeared as a null zone, no hint at what she was feeling or what her inner nature was; she just appeared as a human-sized neutral grey area. "Grace, I need your car for a bit. Where do you keep your keys?"
"Sorry Mandy, can you hold on?" Grace covered the phone's mouthpiece. "What?" She noticed her sister's characteristic off-center gaze when using her second sight. "Oh, hell no, Bren. Not if you're going to be driving like that."
"It's an emergency."
Grace uncovered the mouthpiece. "Mandy? I have to go. My sister's having issues and I need to drive her somewhere so no one gets killed. What? No, nothing like that." She ignored Brenna's gestures to hurry up. "My sister's just dangerous on the roads. I know, but what can you do? I'll call you later." She hung up.
"About time." Brenna glowered at Grace.
"I could still say no, you know." Grace got off the stool. "Remember, my car works."
The ghost turned to Brenna. "Is she always like this?"
Brenna sighed. "Sometimes worse."
Grace fished her car keys from her pocket. "Is that Mom? Mom, Brenna knows better than to drive while looking at the otherworld and without her glasses."
"It's not Mom, Grace."
Grace stopped, then turned slowly to face Brenna. "Not Mom?"
"No, it's . . .." Realizing she hadn't gotten her visitor's name, Brenna paused.
"Bertram Stanford," the ghost supplied. "My friends call me Bert."
"Mr. Bertram Stanford," Brenna finished. "We really should get going, Grace."
Grace started walking, her focus still on her sister. "Since when did ghosts hunt you?"
"Since today." Brenna caught up to her sister and urged her to get moving. "I don't know why Mr. Stanford is here. Correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Stanford, but you probably don't know what you saw, either, right?"
"No, lass. If I knew, I'd have told you by now." A note of fear crept into Stanford's voice. "Something is just terribly wrong, like a minion of Old Nick himself stepped through to our world."
As the group reached the front door, Grace said, "Bren, translation. You see him, not me."
Brenna mulled over what the ghost said. "No, he doesn't know. Lucky me gets to go and figure it out."
The women got into Grace's gold Beetle. With Brenna navigating her sister downtown based on Stanford's directions, the drive took twenty minutes, with Grace taking detours to avoid congestion in the core. The Volkswagen stopped in front of a five-story office building on the outskirts of downtown. Brenna unbuckled and leapt out of the convertible, not bothering with the door so she could keep up with Stanford. The old ghost led the young brunette up the stairs, leaving Grace to finish parking.
"It's over here, lass," Stanford said as he crested the third floor landing. "This is as far as I dare go."
"That's fine. I think I can find my way." Brenna looked down the hall with her otherworldly sight. So far, everything checked out with what the young woman had seen in other office buildings; the effects of long nights, despair of the underpaid trying to make ends meet, the joys of projects finishing, the trail of the caffeine addicted going to the coffee machine. The only thing missing was the actual workers.
Leaving the missing workers to ponder in the back of her mind, Brenna walked further into the hallway. An odd door caught her attention. It had none of the colors that had seeped into the walls, floor, ceiling, and other doors over time. The door didn't even register as a grey null like Grace. Instead, it was a sterile white, all colors washed away, removed.
Brenna approached the door cautiously. She removed the glove from her right hand, shoving the covering into her skirt pocket. Without an effort, she brought forth the Soul Blade, a long shaft of energy extending from her right hand. With her current second sight, the Blade shone a pure soft white. She tested the sterile door; the knob turned, unlocked. Brenna pushed the door open. A foul stench assaulted her, made the bile her her gorge start to rise. She turned away, covering her nose.
"Lass?" Stanford called, his tone laced with worry. "Bladekeeper, are you safe?"
Her eyes watering, Brenna backed away from the door. "I'm good." She extinguished the Blade. "I'm fine." She held down the urge to retch. Pulling the collar of her t-shirt up over her mouth and nose, she pushed the door completely open. Even through her makeshift filter, the smell of death threatened to overwhelm her. The room itself was a soft brown now that Brenna used her normal sight. Furniture appeared to be untouched, the desk and chairs upright. A wooden door sat open a crack. Brenna held the Soul Blade ahead of her, letting it light her steps. With her gloved hand, the young brunette opened the door.
A body lay at an impossible angle, bent above the waist around an executive style desk. The industrial grey rug turned rust colored under the body. The smell finally got past Brenna's resistance. The young woman turned and ran back to the hallway.
"Brenna, where the hell are you?" Grace called as she reached the landing. Brenna waved her sister down, unable to talk. She slumped against the wall. Grace ran down the hallway. "You could have waited for me. And watch where you swing that thing!" As she got closer, she noticed that Brenna's tan had gone pale. "What is it?"
Brenna swallowed some bile. "Call the police. Someone died in there."
Grace looked into the reception area of the open office. "When? How?"
"I don't know. It's bad, though." Brenna dismissed the Soul Blade, the white shaft fading out of sight. "Don't go in there."
"I'm not." Grace pulled out her cell phone and punched in 911.
"Is Mr. Stanford still around?"
"How the hell am I supposed to know that? Oh, hello. I want to report a dead body."
"Over here, lass," the ghost called from the stairwell. "Is it as bad as it feels?"
Brenna pushed her self back standing. Her legs quivered under her, threatening to give out on her. Despite the potential rebellion, the young woman walked away from her sister to join Stanford. "Something's wrong. It looked like a violent death, but the room was clean." She slipped right glove back on.
Stanford nodded. "That's why I looked for you, lass. From what I've heard, you're the best damned Bladekeeper we've had in ages. Pardon my French."
"Please don't ask me to explain it."
"Yeah, I don't think the cops are going to let us leave."
"My sister is weird."
"That's right, Bren, keep talking to the Invisible Man."