"You owe me, Bren."Brenna stared out at the passing streetscape, her head resting on the cool window. Her eyes itched from the tears earlier. Beside her, Missy drove, a destination in mind that she hadn't told her passenger yet. It didn't matter. Brenna didn't care where she was going, as long as she couldn't embarrass herself further.
"Matt! Small world!"
"You almost ravished him right on the spot."
"I suppose finding that body today didn't help."
"You know," Missy said, breaking the heavy silence, "you or Grace might have mentioned the body to me at some point."
"Body? Whose body?" Brenna sat up straight in the passenger's seat. "You mean Matt's?"
"You do have it bad." Missy shook her head. "I mean the dead one. The one Matt said you found? Ring a bell?"
"Oh, right, that body. Sorry."
Missy took a quick glance at the young brunette. "Focus, Brenna, focus. How often do people find a dead body?"
"I don't know." Brenna shrugged. "I run into ghosts everywhere I go."
"Okay, so the ghost of this body showed you where to look?"
"No." Brenna paused. "Actually, no. It was Bert who did."
"Bert? As in Ernie's roommate?"
Brenna giggled. "No. Bertram Stanford, a guy who worked on the building. He died before it was finished, but he's the building's caretaker. He came to get me."
"And he led you to the body."
"No. He wouldn't or couldn't go in the office. It was weird."
Missy tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. "Bren, talking to ghosts at all is considered weird by most people. Clarify the weirdness, please."
Brenna looked over at her blond friend. "You want me to translate what I see into words?"
"Were you using your normal sight or the other one?"
"The other one. Okay, let me think." Brenna brought to mind what she found in the office. "Okay, the building seemed normal for an office. You know how people can feel about work. The walls absorbed all that. All that through the hallway and the stairwell. But this one office . . . it was stark. Blank."
Missy thought over the idea. "Like it was brand new?"
Brenna shook her head. "More like it was put together by a robot. Even new buildings pick up the builders' feelings. A building with Bert in it shouldn't have been . . . sterile."
"Okay. How do you sterilize a building's emotions? Did I just say that?"
"Yeah, sounds insane. So, that leaves out a suicide. And Matt mentioned that there were other bodies."
"How many other bodies?"
Brenna shrugged. "He mentioned it while I wasn't as focused on what he was saying." She blushed.
"Nice tight jeans?"
"Or maybe his broad shoulders?"
"I don't believe this." Brenna turned away to look out the window. "Aren't you supposed to be helping me?"
Missy eased the Volvo on to the freeway on-ramp. "I am helping you. You just have conflicting desires."
"Conflicting desires." Brenna's flat tone conveyed her dubiousness.
"First desire: You want to find someone you love before you make love to him. You're a romantic at heart."
"Okay, yeah, sure."
"Second desire: You want to have hot monkey sex with Matt so much that you would have taken him there and then and damn the neighbors."
Brenna's ears burned at the memory of her lust. "I would have gotten him in the van first."
Missy laughed. "Yeah, you would have, too."
"It's not funny." Brenna smiled in spite of herself. "God, I sound like a teenager. I've scared him off, haven't I?"
"No idea. Look, Bren, even if you did, not saying that you did, but hypothetically, if you did, there's plenty of men out there."
"But they're not Matt."
"Oh, what's this? Actual interest?"
"Maybe I'm just remembering him from high school. Or maybe it's the uniform." Brenna paused as she pictured Matt in his police uniform.
"I am not!" Still, Brenna wiped her mouth with the back of her gloved hand. "Oh, God! Missy!"
"What if where all the other bodies were found were also sterilized?"
Missy shook her head at the sudden change in topic. "What?"
"Okay, whatever killed that poor person I found-- There wasn't a ghost there!"
"Let's try not to confuse the driver too much, okay?"
"Sorry." Brenna took a moment to compose her thoughts. "Okay, sterilized room and no ghost or spirit, and whoever's body I found had to have died violently. That means whoever the murderer is has to have a way to remove not just the emotions in the wall but the victim's spirit, too." The young brunette shuddered.
"That just sounds oh so very wrong, Bren. That sounds like something mean and ugly."
"Matt might be in danger!" Brenna felt around in her pockets. "Ah, crap!"
"Language, my dear."
"I forgot my cell phone at home."
"Screw the phone."
"Bren, Matt's a big boy. Mmm, is he ever a big boy."
Brenna scowled. "Your point?"
"Is that a note of jealousy I detect in your voice."
"Please." Brenna rolled her eyes. "He's not my boyfriend."
"Fine, yet. Your point, Missy?"
"No one is going to target a cop. That's a great way to get the entire police force gunning for you. Only thing worse to a cop is hurting a child. So, Matt's safe."
Brenna let out a sigh of relief. "Oh, good."
"Except around you."
"Ha. Ha." Brenna looked out the window again, this time noticing being out of San Diego. "Okay, where are we?"
"A couple of surf bums from up the coast a bit told me about a haunted beach house. Just what you need after today, a chance to loosen up your muscles and let loose on a danger."
"A dangerous haunted beach house?"
"Okay, so these guys weren't exactly the most reliable brain trust around. But, isn't that your job, to check on haunted places so no one gets hurt?"
"Job implies payment, Missy."
"Come on, it'll be exactly what you need. Use the Blade instead of letting it use you for its perverted pleasure."
"Oh, well." Brenna grinned. "If you put it that way, let's go."
Missy's journey took the young women north along the Coastal Highway, driving past signs announcing the approach of Cardiff -by-the-Sea around dusk. As the Cardiff State Beach loomed ahead the blonde took the Volvo off the road. She had to slow down to a crawl to avoid break the axles, but the aging station wagon held together. After another twenty minutes of driving, she let the Volvo coast to a stop before hitting the sand of the beach.
Brenna kept looking over her shoulder. "Missy, I really don't think you can take your car here."
"I don't think a beach house should be here, either. Relax." The leggy blond put the Volvo in park. "Come on. The guys said it was just down a bit."
Brenna scrambled out of the station wagon to keep up with her friend. She looked behind her one more time before dashing to Missy's side. "You brought a flashlight, right?"
Missy stopped mid-stride. "Wait here." She returned to the station wagon and opened the tailgate. After a few moments of rummaging, including tossing a few items over her shoulder. "Found it!" Missy raided the camping lantern over her head in triumph. She locked up the car again and re-joined Brenna. "Anything else we need?"
"Our heads checked."
"Bah!" Missy led off again, forcing Brenna to rush just to keep up. The women strode on to the beach, walking at a good clip as the sunset behind the ocean. Soon, the faint red light of the sun disappeared, forcing Missy to turn on her light. Brenna stumbled along behind, trying to match Missy's longer strides along the beach.
Both women had lost track of time by the time they found a run-down wooden house. The building's wood sidings had turned grey through exposure to the sun. Several boards were missing, through neglect or through vandalism. The windows were all without glass, letting the women shine the light directly inside.
"See anything yet, Bren?" Missy asked. She shone the light down on the remains of the wooden planks serving as the house's floor.
"Nothing." Brenna poked her head through a window. "Other than graffiti. Oh, I found some of the missing boards." She pointed at a fire pit set up in the centre of the main room.
Missy flashed her light where her friend indicated. "Does that look fresh to you?"
Brenna shrugged. "Not really?"
"Okay, let's think like those surfers."
"I never met them."
Missy turned the light towards Brenna. "Okay, let me think like them. Let's go inside."
"They're traveling. They need a place to crash. They find this place. What's the first thing they want to do?"
Again, Brenna shrugged. "Go inside?"
Missy found the door. "Yes. To get out of the weather."
"It's been nice the past few days. No rain at all." Brenna grabbed Missy's arm. "Let me go first, just in case, okay?"
Missy stepped aside. "Sure." She opened the door for the brunette.
Brenna took off her right glove and shoved it in her pocket. She stepped over the threshold, then paused. After a few heartbeats, she continued inside. "Okay, they came inside."
"They'd find some place to store their crap, probably shove it into a corner. Then they'd light up."
"Smoke?" Brenna sniffed the air. "I don't smell cigarette smoke."
"Wacky tabaccy, Bren." Missy chuckled. "Marijuana. They got stoned."
"If you say so." Brenna started walking in a slow circle around the room, noting the doors hanging off their hinges.
"These guys were the type, trust me."
"All right." Brenna looked up at the remains of the roof. "If they toked up, wouldn't they get the munchies?" A hole in the roof caught her eye. She tried to position herself so she could stand underneath it, but the fire pit got in her way. "Someone set up a cooking fire."
Missy joined Brenna. She passed the light to the smaller woman, then knelt down to examine the ashes. "Not fresh, but not ancient." Missy looked up at Brenna. "Okay, they got scared of something, grabbed their shit, and ran. Probably found a spot once they couldn't run any further and smoked the biggest spliff they could make."
"So who knows when they were here." Brenna stepped back a bit as Missy stood back up.
"Okay, their sense of time was altered." Missy took the light back. "See anything?"
"Nothing out of the ordinary."
"Your other sight, Bren."
Brenna concentrated for a moment, letting the real world fade away to reveal the world of emotions. Missy blazed with an inner intensity, a reassuring presence and a mix of wants and needs that coalesced into a uniform whole. The house was muted, the main emotion coming through being lust and desires, a veneer over a feeling of comfortableness and temperance. "Nothing weird."
"I'm going to light the fire." Missy knelt back down and pulled a book of matches out of her jean shorts.
"Is that a good idea?"
"I'm starting to feel the chill, so, yeah, good idea to me. Besides, those bozos did it, too."
Brenna looked up at the roof. She heard strike of the match, the hints of a fire lighting. Movement in a dark corner caught her attention. "Missy . . .."
The movement because a flash of color diving down. "Look out!" Brenna held up her right hand, willing the long shaft of pure light into existence. The color flash swooped back up, out of Brenna's reach.
"Defiler!" Now hovering, Brenna could make out details on the entity above her. Flashes of anger cascaded through its body, mixing in with a tainted love. "Get out!"
Brenna held her arms out, point the Soul Blade down to her side. "We're not here to break anything."
Missy picked herself up into a crouch. "Brenna, what's going on?"
Without looking at her friend, Brenna answered, "There is something here, something that doesn't like us."
"Defiler!" the ghost screamed.
"What should I do?"
"Get out, but don't run. I'll try to reason with it."
"Reason?" Missy started crawling towards the door. "Are you sure, Bren?"
"No." Brenna raised her chin. "Look, we don't mean harm. We're going to leave you in peace."
"You can't have her!" The ghost screeched, then dove down towards Missy.
Brenna raised the Blade to defend herself and stepped between the ghost and Missy. "Move!"
The ghost swung wide, not slowing down. It turned its head towards Brenna. "Mine! You can't have her!" It banked around, heading straight to young brunette.
Brenna grimaced. "I'm sorry," she muttered. With a flick of her wrist, she sent the Blade in an arc in front of her. The ghost ducked low. Before Brenna could counter, she was hurled backwards over the fire pit and through the weather-beaten wall. She tumbled along the deserted sand dune, the Soul Blade going out. From inside, she heard Missy shout in pain. Brenna pushed herself back up, breaking into a run to go back to the door. As she entered, she brought forth the Soul Blade once again.
Missy clawed at the floor, trying to find a purchase as the ghost dragged her along. Deep gouges appeared on her left leg. "Brenna!"
"Hey!" Brenna shouted. "You're not getting rid of me that easily!" She advanced on the ghost. "Let her go!"
"She's mine! She was never yours!"
"Son of a bitch," Brenna muttered. "Missy, it's stuck in a loop."
"Brenna, help me for fuck's sake!"
Brenna twitched her right hand. The color of the Soul Blade changed, a blood red flowing down from Brenna's hand. She calculated the space between the ghost's arm and her friend's leg. "Missy, don't move."
Missy's eyes grew wide as she took in the new color. "Jesus, Bren."
The ghost laughed, its eyes shining with a malevolent glint. "No one can have her!" Its laughter sent shivers down Brenna's spine. "She's mine, all mine!" It dug its claws in deeper.
"No, she isn't." Brenna sliced the Blade up, missing Missy by less than an inch. The Blade cut through the ghost's arm, causing the laughter to turn into a shriek. The amputated limb dissipated into nothingness. "Your time is over. Move on, or I will make you."
The ghost held up the stump of its arm. "You . . . you . . .."
"Bitch," Brenna completed.
Missy scrambled to get behind Brenna. She looked down at her wounds. "Bren, hurry."
Brenna ignored her friend. "Are you ready to move on?"
The ghost spotted Missy. "You can't take her!"
"Final answer, I guess." Brenna willed the color out of the Soul Blade, the red fading away. She slashed down, cutting the ghost from its left shoulder to its right side. It opened in a gush of color. The flashes of anger faded as colors not scene in decades poured out from inside. The ghost's face changed from being twisted from madness to serene just before the entity faded away.
Brenna waited a moment, then dismissed the Blade. "It's gone, Missy." She staggered as the adrenaline left her.
Missy stood up, ready to catch her friend. "Take it easy, Bren. Here, sit." She helped the brunette to the ground.
"My back just hurts."
"Let me look." Missy sat down behind Brenna. "You've got some scratches. Your shirt's a write-off."
"Damnit, I liked this one."
"Let me see your back." As Brenna lifted her t-shirt, Missy shone the camping light on her. "And you have splinters. Don't move."
Brenna winced as her friend removed wood shards from her back. "Yeah, just what I needed. Thanks, Missy."
"As if your back is worse than my leg. Damnit, since when did ghosts rip flesh like that?"
Brenna shrugged, then regretted it right away. "Ow. Normally they don't bother anyone else I'm with. I have no idea how long he was here."
"He was obsessed over a woman. There's probably some unsolved disappearance buried around here."
Missy tossed the last splinter from Brenna's back away. "Okay, done." She struggled to get back up. "I'm going to need help getting back to the car."
Brenna turned around. "Are you sure you can walk? Those gashes look nasty."
"The first aid kit's in the car. Besides, I got cut up by a ghost. They don't carry infections."
"I have no idea."
"It was a ghost. Unless there are ghost bacteria, it can't."
"Okay, okay. You're obviously the expert tonight." Brenna got back to her feet. She put on her glove then grabbed Missy's arm. "Lean on me."
"Don't go too fast."
"I've got shorter legs than you. I can't go too fast."
"It's nothing, Daddy. Just got tossed through a wall."
"Yep, she's now talking to living people not here."
"Matt, about yesterday--"
"Er, pardon my French?"