Touch. Touch is a major part of human interaction. We’re tactile creatures by nature and nurture, despite having forgotten our baser instincts in this era. The luxury and necessity of touch being tightly woven into each moment of intimacy is something I’ve never been able to fully enjoy. Those I have to touch are not the type of people I would ever want to lay hands on me. But, doing so saves lives. I guess moral obligation should be an important factor, but I’m more driven by how well I’m paid to do so. After all, there’s only so much local law enforcement and the FBI can handle in the realm of not-so-human. So, they require people like me and I require a living. I’m contractually obligated by Indigo Inc. to be standing in front of this murder house door. Love it.
I lifted my head at the sound of my name and brushed back one of my large twists to look at Special Agent Castle. Idly, I stared at his smooth chestnut colored skin made darker by the dim night and wondered for a moment how Shiloh would see his color.
“It’s twisted up, it’s not gonna fall anywhere.”
He was absolutely lucky I’d bothered to tame it at all. I rarely did. However, this was good hazard pay. I wasn’t going to argue over a hairstyle.
“Right. You gone be good? I already don’t like that they sent you. Diana’s more experienced in crime scenes and –”
“Wouldn’t risk contaminating the scene. Get off her clit for a moment. You’re stuck with me until further notice.”
He gave an exasperated sigh and rubbed his waved fade cut. The doubt crept into his dark eyes.
“Don’t worry,” I said, turning my eyes back to the door. “I won’t touch anything I don’t need to.”
He sighed again. “That is definitely not what I was getting at, but al’ight. Come on then, since you big and bad.”
Joseph Castle, lead investigator and liaison for Indigo Inc. Still too green as a chief investigator and even more so as a Clair Handler. I don’t think anyone could really fault him for it though. Up ‘til a few months ago, the extent of Clair involvement was strictly investigation, profiling, and footwork. The government itself had yet to declare us a viable tool for law enforcement. So we were more a means to tangible evidence than a reliable consultant that would hold up in court. Now, though…
Clairs were being brought on to intensive murder investigations. Diana – our lead claircognizant (debatable since Shiloh breathes the same air) – was usually the one to go headfirst. Joseph worried about us, all of us. Which was more than I could say about most handlers. He worried about me the most, which is too much at times and hinders my job. I am the only clairsentience. I’m automatically a liability for any handler because… I’m a high imprint risk.
Still, Joseph opened the door for me, avoiding the yellow tape. I walked with him following closely, making sure his team stayed outside and clear. I stopped in the entrance hall where the air thickened with iron and that sticky sweet but foul smell of viscera. It stuck to the back of my throat through my face mask and turned my stomach. I could feel Joseph watching me, waiting for an excuse obviously. I cleared my throat, straightened my back, and pulled my gloves off slow. Always best to do it slowly. I have to acclimate to whatever this place had to say and it was already screaming loud enough that it would deafen. I flexed my fingers, the joints popping as the first tendrils of fear and pain that couldn’t quite form images danced along their tips. I gripped the hem of my sweater and rolled it up my body as those same tendrils rushed to my skin. It followed the yarn up and over my head. Arms and chest bare, I was open in just a tank top and black jeans. Finally, I unhooked my mask from my ears and breathed in.
I wanted to throw up at the tingling taste on my tongue.
Joseph took my things, stepping back a reasonable distance. I inhaled deeply as the ants crawled along my skin. They wormed their way in until I was left with a low buzz just beneath the surface of my consciousness. I opened my eyes, steeled and as ready as I would be, and walked into the living room.
First thing I see is blood.
A playfulness lay in the splatter like the mess after a paint-balloon fight. The bodies lay strewn on the floor, only meager struggle from what I could deduce was the mother – difficult to tell under that much mutilation. She was reaching for the smaller body and a separate bundle on the floor. Another adult body rested in the armchair. I say rested because it was the only corpse that didn’t appear violently lain. Its head tilted back peacefully with its front blown out from forehead to pelvis. Black spots littered the floor and speckled the blood and bodies saved for the reclined corpse.
Found my compass.
I tentatively stepped forward, careful in my boots as I navigate the massacre towards the body in the chair. I found a place at its side that was relatively unscathed by the carnage and leaned over. A tingle in my skin began to burn with the tainted warning of “do not touch.” My hand trembled and even as I reached out, I already knew I’m going to pull back. And I did. Okay. In and out. I reached out again. My bare skin pressed against cold, leathered flesh. Barest shadow of life departed screamed through the pores of my palm and into my bloodstream. That dark energy left behind surged over my skin, hair raising in its path as it passed a thousand cries just like it to strike right behind my eyes. They rolled and my head knocked back as though I’d been punched. My mouth opened and a death rattled croaked in my throat.
My body feels strange.
I’ve been aching for days.
What’s happening to me!
Stop! You’re scared her. You’re scaring them.
The kids are scared.
I can’t even hold her.
HELP ME! I’M SCARED!
It’s nothing. It’s nothing.
Something’s inside me!!!
I just need a break. I just need to sleep.
It’s okay. It’s okay.
Let me sleep. Then we’ll go the hospital.
My body feels heavy. I don’t remember sitting down, but I can’t stay sitting up. I tilted my head back and found peace as something rips me open. I barely felt it. In the tranquility, I hear screaming.
I jerked, my head buzzing as I convulsed, my hand still attached to the corpse. The room tore away and I connected with my wife trying to get the children out of the room. To my son falling as his legs are ripped at. To my baby girl screaming as they eat her fa—
I gasped so hard the air cuts my throat. My body gives out as Joseph’s arms captured me and dragged me from the room. The tether snapped, but I’m trapped with the tearing of my flesh and meat and tendons right off my bones. Joseph cradled my head and suddenly there’s a solid order in the chaos that pushed in and walled around me. Kind hands. Warm Smiles. Children laughing. Love engraved this solid force and I’m pulled back into its safety. I blinked through the visions, just barely able to see Joseph’s face. Heh, that overgroomed beard came into focus first and I could see him preening over it in the mirror. I touched his chest, flooded with more warmth and stability until the dark violence calmed inside me.
“You al’ight, Shy? You here?”
I breathed deep. In and out. I nodded with clearer awareness. We were on the hallway floor. Joseph cradled me, body acting as a shield between me and the tragic accident in the other room. Cause that’s all it was…
“You saw him?”
“What?” I squint.
“The guy who did it. You must’ve, the way you fell out.”
“Oh, no.” I pushed him away gently and got up. “There wasn’t a him.”
“Uh? Her then?” He asked, getting up and brushing off his suit as well.
I kept my back to the living room. I used some hand sanitizer and wiped off my hands and arms before putting my gloves back on and rolling them up my forearms. I needed a cleanse badly.
“Wasn’t anybody, Joseph. You want the culprit? You need to check under the house and in the alleys behind it. I doubt you’ll catch up though. They’ve been dead for hours.”
“What the hell you talking about?”
I slid on my sweater, pressing the woven neck to my nose. Lover’s smell. Friend. The Gazebo. Shiloh must’ve put it on by mistake this morning. As much of a mistake anything they do is. I took in their scent, bergamot and clean winter snow. My skin settled. The tremble melted from my hands and I put my mask back on with more confidence. Once I was covered, shielded, I looked over my shoulder at Joseph.
“Check this kitchen or wherever the woman in the chair worked. That’s probably how it got in, if I remember—”
“Shut up. The woman in the chair is some sort of culinary artist. Works with a lot of food. If you find unnatural holes in either of her kitchens, that’s probably where she picked up a Rat King. It got in, it nested, and, as they’re wont to do, bred and busted out of their host to feed.”
Joseph gaged at the imagery. “You trying to tell me rats did this?”
“A specific preternatural rat, yes. A Rat King. Test the black spots. They aren’t clots; they’re rat droppings.”
Joseph swallowed few times trying to hold the bile in his throat. I didn’t want to be here when he blew chunks.
“S-so this isn’t a homicide? No one did this?”
I pushed my hands into my pockets and shook my head. “Just a case of not going to the doctor when you should’ve. She brought the plague into her house and it cost her the whole family.”
“You gotta quarantine the area and make sure everyone who worked the scene gets checked out. One of you might’ve caught a runt one.”
I moved to the open door.
“Hey now! That means you too!”
“No point. I’m a Clair, Joseph. Rat Kings find us uninhabitable. Too mentally and chemically unstable. We’d give them away too quick.”
“Yep. Goodnight, Joseph.”
As I stepped into the night air, I paused and touched my cheek, feeling the indention in my skin that hadn’t been there before. I could feel the rats tugging at the apple of my cheek. Bile bubbled just at my diaphragm and I gagged.
The baby died last…
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