Kenzie barks at my side, jerking me from the space of the Gazebo. I saw the wisp of Shy there, coming down from some violence that Joseph exposed her to. Shy is always careful not to make contact with me during those times. Still, I heard an infant screaming. She won’t let me see. I won’t try to peek. I’m not that masochistic. So I step off the elevator and enter the archives where work and sheets of rain wait for the next hour.
Shy left my texts on read. She alright?
Kenzie whines as he guides me around the room as always and sniffs spaces we both already know are clear. Still my mind doubts until he moves on. He looks up at me with brown and blue, tail wagging. It makes new low light streetlamps add a shimmer to his Blue Merle pattern. It’s kind of beautiful tonight. Kenzie and the rain. I take it in as a peaceful image to show Shy later. I’m too used to her. Should probably stop her visits so much. Garret already doesn’t like us being friends and coworkers. I don’t care either way. The work still gets done, just like it will tonight, and every night afterwards.
Kenzie barks again, pulling me from my tangent and I pet him as he stares me down. He’s been judgmental since he was a puppy. Though, he’s strangely silent today. I take the leash of his neck and he trots to the pile of plush covered beanbags arranged around a tea table. I go to the kitchenette attached and bring back a snack for myself and a meaty treat for him. I place my tray with already steeping tea on the table and settle in – Kenzie is served first, Kenzie is always served first. He didn’t eat yet though. We always eat together and we did once I poured my tea. I have fruit, Kenzie has meat. A file topples before I can take the first bite and slaps against the table. I wonder if Clairsentience is less inconvenient.
I take the file, letting the white noise of Kenzie’s quiet eating, the patter of rain, and the elevator whirling create the calm I need. It’s an old one. Unsolved and Unpaid because the Clairs upstairs couldn’t solve it. So it worked its way down here. Photographs. Coroner’s reports. Redacted. Questionable. Not enough. Not enough.
I close my eyes and breathe deep. I needed to think and I can’t do this with everyone else’s thoughts and ideas, and assumptions.
Clean slate. Only me this time.
I take the pictures and only the sterile reports given by forensics and autopsy and spread them out on the table and beanbags in a semi-circle. I sit and stare at each.
I fall back against the bean bags, eyes turning up to the blurred ceiling. Breath escapes me and my eyes roll. The sounds in the room blur into each other like reeds swaying in the flow of a stream. My fingers flex against the beanbags as the water rises to contour my body and soak my hair. With an inhale, I submerge. It washes against my ears.
“This one isn’t an easy death. This one wasn’t meant in mercy nor an apology in the form of swiftness. I already know. I can see it. It’s painful because it’s your first time. You didn’t mean to wake up in the middle of the night. You didn’t mean to hurt your sister. It’s okay. Where are you? I don’t have a reason to tell. It’s been years already. That house is gone. No one remembers you. No one remembers her.”
I open my eyes and I see a spindly shadow of a person eating at the innards of a young woman. She isn’t the girl in the pictures. This one is new. This one is fresh. She is a golden sun to his dark wood. I look upon him, not daring to cross the current between us and alert him to my presence. He is black, obsidian to my eyes as I can see nothing else of him. This is how he sees himself. This is how he wants to be seen. Unknowable. Untouchable. I can’t pinpoint this wavelength of arrogance and predatory aura. Strange. I’m sure it’s human. Or, I was sure. Perhaps it still is, but its not human hands. I observe it, trying to find humanity in it. Find its pause. Find its quiet.
I gasp, startled by the sound that echoes through my side of the stream. I slap my hands over my mouth, but I’m not naïve enough to believe it mattered. The creature on the other side of current looks at me, stares at me, bores into me with burning amber that glows against the perfect dark of its flesh. Red runs from its mouth as it holds her intestines in its teeth. My heart leaps out of my chest. The voices come as I’m held hostage by its gaze.
“Shiloh? Shiloh, you good?”
It’s titling its head at me. The shakes take over and I sob against my hand, unable to focus as the current between us slows. I’m already drowning. The voices loud. My brain buzzing. My skin crawls. I’m pushed down further.
Just fuckin’ die!
Everything you do is worthless!
I sob out. My mouth fills with the rush of the stream. The thing stands close now. Right there. The current dividing us is so thin. It’s slowing. He smirks. No smiling. Enjoying it. Enjoying watching me drown. Fascinated by it.
You don’t deserve to live…
I jerk and convulse as I’m yanked to the surface. My eyes are wide open and my head tilts all the way back in the bean bags as I breathe hard. In and Out. I can see out the window, the images distorted by both the rain and my own warped vision. Slowly, I can hear again. The droplets hit in deliberate tempo that harmonize with the chorus of nightlife scurrying about in splashes. I can see again. The shoes pass by at ground level in varying speeds of dissonance. I see a pair of boots that remind me clearly of Shy’s Doc Martins she insists aren’t a hundred years old. She won’t get rid of them as long they keep her feet dry. She left my text on read. She alright?
I can feel again. Kenzie burrows tightly against me and licks my face. On the other side, a broad hand is braced against my chest while another pats my face.
“You here? Can you hear me? Say something!”
I pat the scruffy face of Garret and smack him hard on the third pass. It forced him to back up and his hands came off me. He knew better than to touch me during an episode. I roll on my side and wrap around Kenzie, curling into a ball as tears flow freely down my face even though I’m not crying. I bury my face in the fur of his neck and hide there from Garret’s grumbling and husky breathing. I tell him every day he’s going to have a heart attack. Shy does too. I nuzzle Kenzie as Garret gets to his feet in a toddling stumble.
“What the hell was that! You workin’ or having one of your schizoid fits! Cause I can’t fuckin’ tell at this point!”
I cringe and push my face deeper into Kenzie’s fur.
“Both. What’d you want Garret?”
“Don’t brush that off! You set off the whole damn building. Sana almost went deaf through her mufflers! I let you work down here cause I thought you wouldn’t cause trouble this far down. Do I need to think twice?!”
I take deep breaths, matching Kenzie’s calm pattern and shush him when he growls and Garret’s raised voice. Garret steps back, raising his hands.
“Control the mutt, Shiloh. I only came down cause the other Clairs wigged. What happened?”
“Bad file. I… I got too close.”
Garret sighs rubs the back of his neck. “Fuckin’ work hazard. Stop letting your ability pick the files and we won’t have this problem. You keep it up, you’re gonna imprint and you’re the only Cleanser we have!”
I nod and push myself up, my hair soaked with sweat as it falls down my shoulders. It feels disgusting.
“Sorry.” I don’t have anything else to say. Nothing that Garret would understand.
“You solved it?”
I shake my head. “I was interrupted.”
“I told you why I came down here. Don’t act like I’m in the wrong.”
I finally look up at Garret, calmed now. “Yeah. I know.”
“What’d you see that messed you up?”
I lay back down in the bean bags.
“Shiloh?” he’s already suspicious. “What’d you see?”
Garret scoffs and rolls his eyes. “Go the hell home, Shiloh. You’re not stable enough to work.”
He leaves me. It’s quiet again. Kenzie stays close. I tilt my head back, eyes lidded. I see it looking me in the face.
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