What he saw almost made him run screaming in terror, but his body wouldn't move. His legs seemed to be fixed to the spot and his limbs didn't seem to have the sense to leap into action.
Floating behind him was a naked human body, so deathly pale it was glowing pale blue in the darkness. It had no hair or distinguishing gendered features, no genitalia. It was simply a floating, grotesquely malformed human shape. The face of the creature was sunken and drawn, the skull underneath completely visible. The lips were pulled back over desiccated gums, the lips themselves dry and cracked. The eyes were barely visible, glowing pale blue circles in black pits. It's features were only vaguely human but Brian thought the creature looked slightly Asian in nationality. The neck was far to thin, barely the size of a couple fingers. It was from here the rasping cough emitted. The body was as drawn as the face, all fat melted off the bone, revealing all the contours of the skeleton beneath the glowing flesh. The only part of the creature not skeletally thin was the distended stomach. It made Brian think of late night television ads to feed third world children, which had shown their malnourishment quite plain. The worst part of it were its hands and feet. They contrasted horrifyingly with the pale flesh of the body by being a dark blue-black color.
These hands now raised themselves into claws, reaching out toward the immobile Brian. From the creatures mouth came the low guttural moaning scream Brian had heard before. His brain seemed to be firing at an expanded rate, screaming at his body over and over again to run, to move, to do something, but his body remained unhelpfully still. All he found himself doing was gazing transfixed into the bright blue circles surrounded by utter darkness.
The creature's hands were about an inch from his face when Brian felt something knock his knees out from under him. Not that it had taken any sort of monumental force as his legs had been trembling for minutes now. He crumpled to the floor just as an astoundingly loud blasting sound exploded above him. A second later the monster's scream escalated in both volume and pitch, until Brian was clutching his ears protectively and all visible glass in the area began to vibrate nastily. Brian was able to look up just in time to see the creature, floating with a conspicuous new hole in it's chest, screaming to the heavens, mouth distended beyond anything a normal human could have achieved. The hole was strange, it didn't seem to bleed or indeed act as any sort of hole in a solid body ought to. It was as if someone had punched a fist sized hole in a gaseous cloud. The seemingly solid image of the monster became fuzzy and vapor like around the edges of the hole and it seemed to spread out in ripples to the rest of the creature. As Brian watched from the floor, the creature dissolved into wisps of blue-white vapor and vanished.
The silence that fell was somehow more profoundly horrible than the monster's screaming had been. Brian scrambled to his feet, able to move once more and his body seemed determined to shoot as much adrenaline as possible into him as if to make up for its moment of inertness. Looking frantically around he could see Sharice, holding the smoking shotgun still aiming at the place the creature had been.
“Okay,” She whispered, and Brian saw her face break into something he never expected to see; embarrassment. “I guess you were right. Sorry.”
“No worries,” Brian said, his heart still frantically trying to escape his chest. He was visited with a horrible urge to laught. It was only through force of will that he was not fleeing the building screaming in his highest register. “What the hell was that thing? And what did you shoot it with that made it back off?”
“This,” She said a note of pride popping back into her voice. “Shoots rock salt, thats been soaked in rose water under the light of the full moon. Its a pretty potent anti-ghost and ghoulie weapon.”
“You can kill ghosts with a gun?” Brian asked astounded.
“Oh hell no!” Sharice corrected. “No all it really does is hurt them enough that they fuck off for a little while. But they can always come back.”
“So how do you kill them?” Brian asked.
“Assuming you're dealing with a ghost or anything else not too solid, you can't kill them because nine times out of ten, they're already dead. You have to make them move on, and this all depends on the culture.”
“The culture?” Brian asked. He was pacing in short lines back and forth. He was utterly admiring the matter of fact way Sharice seemed to be handling the experience.
“Different people die different ways.” Sharice commented vaguely and unhelpfully.
Shaking his head Brian looked cautiously around. He still had an uncanny feeling that he was still being watched and did his best to locate the feeling's source.
“Do you think there are more out there?” He asked teeth chattering. Sharice gave him a look that was incredulity bordering on pity.
“Yeah.” She uttered dryly
“Why...why don't we get somewhere more defensible? Rather than standing out here like a neon sign for a buffet.”
“Not a bad plan” Sharice said, and she began backing up toward the bedroom door, shotgun leveled at the menacing darkness. They both eventually managed to fumble their way inside the room and slammed the door closed with wholly too much force. Bentley had been noticeably subdued since the attack of the creature and he went and curled up in the space underneath the desk in the suite's living room. Sharice had also disappeared but was back within few minutes carrying a small box of chalk and a bundle of greenish-white herbs, the end of which was slightly burnt. Brian busied himself with turning on every light in the place and trying hard to keep his trembling to a minimum. In truth he felt very much like joining Bentley under the desk. Sharice, however, was showing no such inclination and his masculinity dictated that he needed to at least show slightly more grit that an admittedly gritty seventeen year old girl. She was now drawing symbols on the wood of the door, and burning the tip of the herb bundle. She was waving the smoke back and forth before the door, chanting something under her breath.
“Is that magic?” Brian asked when she had finished and put out the head of the burning herbs. The smell of them lingered in the air, pungent but not wholly unpleasant.
“Not really.” She said slowly. She concentrated for a moment, as if she were thinking of the best way to say something. Then she held up the bundle and pointed to the symbols. “Its like salt and roses. These things have a supernatural element to themselves and normal people can use them for supernatural purposes even if they're not witches. Its not the people who have the magic but the things they’re using. Does that make sense?”
“Seems to.” Brian said. He was following the explanation but he also had several hundred questions now about cosmology and how the world worked. He put them on the back burner in the interest of not having to concentrate so hard when he was bone tired. “So we're safe?”
“For the moment,” Sharice sighed looking back at the door, critiquing her work with a trained eye. “It won't hold longer than tonight though. We should think about getting out of here in the morning.”
“Do we even know what those things were?”
“I think their some kind of ghost but I'm not sure which kind. What did you turn up?”
“Nothing too productive,” Brian admitted. “I couldn't find any sort of pattern in the victims.”
“That makes sense,” Sharice said letting her self fall into a chair by the window. “I think these things are just trying to....feed.”
“Do ghosts normally need to...feed?”
“Not on people...” She looked pensive. She wasn't looking at him but staring off into space seemingly thinking of something. He posture was changed from her usual cocky strut. Her arms were crossed and her back was straight. She frowned viciously at a spot on the wall several feet away, her brows creased in concentration.
“So what's the next step?” Brian asked sitting down on the couch and running his hands over his weary eyes.
“We get out of here in the morning and poke around.” Sharice shrugged, then she sighed deeply and walked back to her room. “Try to get some sleep, we're leaving pretty early.”
With a jingle of tags, Bentley leapt up to follow her into her room and they both disappeared behind the closing door. Brian was left all alone and he had never really been so scared in his life. Dismally, he made his way back to his room, wrapping the blankets tight around him and curling up in a ball on the bed. He did his best from his position to sort of clear off the bed without tossing evidence all over the floor.
He folded up the written testimonies and the autopsy reports, packing them again into their folders. He filed them into the box slowly and quietly not really wanting to be here anymore. When all the paperwork was put away he turned to the laptop still running and paused at the last thing he'd been watching. It was the security footage of one of the last victims to be taken right before the distortion would wipe the screen and let him blink out of existence. Brian was about to close the video out and unplug the hard drive when he noticed something he'd not seen before.
Floating in midair several inches behind the man's shoulder, was a floating pair of blue circles.