The Reluctant Psychic Ch. 08byonly_more_so©
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* * *
I stepped across the threshold of my home and heard Stefani driving away. I looked back and gave the car a small wave. Marie smiled and blew me a kiss from the back seat as the car disappeared from sight.
The heavy oak door emitted a long squeak as I swung it closed. I stared at the door in confusion since I had never noticed a squeak before. Eventually, I shrugged my shoulders and headed across the foyer towards the stairs. The heels of my shoes clicked loudly on the marble flooring, another sound that I didn't remember.
I stood in the middle of the foyer, cocking my head from side to side, listening. The house was still and utterly silent. "Hello?" I called out. My voice sounded loud and harsh to my ears, and the following silence seemed even louder. Where were the girls whose laughter and activity filled my home with the sounds that masked clicking heels and squeaking hinges? Maybe they were outside enjoying the sun, I hoped and took a step towards the back of the house.
The loud click of my heel on the floor sent a shiver down my spine. I tried to ignore the foreboding and quickly removed my shoes, tossing them away from me. My socks felt slick on the marble and I removed them as well. I realized I was shamefully afraid of cracking my skull when no one was around.
That's when it really sank in, I was alone. The air felt heavy and listless around me, as if the house had been abandoned for years. Even though I had just watched Marie and Linda hurry out, my home felt abandoned. I tried to reach out with my powers to find someone, anyone, but they hadn't recovered.
I padded towards the back door, hoping to find one of my girls asleep in the sun. I tried to ignore the loud sounds my bare feet made as they stuck briefly to the cold marble floor. I crossed to the back door and slid it open. I hurried across the deck, to the railing overlooking the pool and the yard.
The sun's glare was unexpectedly harsh as it revealed that the grounds were as empty as my home. One of the poles for the volleyball net had been blown down and left there. An air mattress and an inner-tube hung in one corner of the pool, where they had been blown by the same wind that had knocked down the volleyball net. A wind that was also gone.
I noticed that there were half finished drinks at tables around the pool, and a salad with a fork still in it. I went back inside and saw the same sort of thing everywhere I looked: half-eaten plates of food, books left open face down, lights left on, doors left ajar. It was as if everyone had dropped everything and left. I could understand that if they were going to visit Betsy at the hospital, but not if they were going shopping.
I swept through the dining room, but was grateful to see that it had been cleaned off since breakfast. As I walked past towards the stairs and my room, I let my hand slide along the smooth polished surface. The slight warmth that the morning sun had imparted to the wood felt comforting to the coldness that was creeping into my mind.
It took forever to climb the stairs and reach the master bedroom. The scrunch of the carpet under my bare feet echoed loudly, mocking my loneliness. I hadn't been alone since I moved into the house. I hadn't been this alone for years, not since I had put Anna into her coma and fled.
I tensed as the thought entered my mind, but Anna didn't respond. Had even the voice that haunted my thoughts left me? "Anna!" I called into my head, but my thoughts echoed as hollowly as my footsteps in my cavernous home.
A giggle escaped my lips. It was a giggle of pure terror. I was crazy, just like grand-dad had been. No, I decided as I slammed the door to my room and kicked my suit-pants into the corner, I won't go crazy. I can stand being alone for a couple of hours. The girls would be back soon, they always came back.
I ran a bath, and let the hot angry sounds of the flowing water drown out the silence that had fallen over my home. I sat in the enormous tub and curled my arms around my knees as the water slowly filled in around me. The heat from the water caused a sweat to break out on my face, but I found that I shivered in spite of that.
* * *
My self-pity had faded enough that I began to realize the water surrounding me had grown cold. I was stiff and my fingers were severely pruned which told me I had been in the bath a long time. I pulled the stopper and as the water drained I took a quick hot shower to wash off the feelings that had leached into the bath water and seemed to cling to my skin.
I dried myself quickly and pulled on my bathrobe which I realized was just as appropriate for a man alone as it was for the Hugh Hefners of the world. As I walked into my bedroom, I scowled at the unmade bed. I didn't particularly care that it was unmade, except that it was a sign that none of my fastidious girls were around. I hated myself when I realized that I didn't know which of my girls usually made my bed, or if they all took turns.
As I walked down stairs, I realized I didn't know who vacuumed the carpets or swept the floors, only that it always seemed to be done. For all I knew the girls could have hired a maid who came while I was at work. When I caught a shimmering glimpse of the pool through the window, I realized I could even have a pool boy who comes by while I'm out.
The girls ran my entire life and I never really noticed until they were gone. I truly understood this as I headed for the dining room for lunch. I was hungry and whenever I was hungry there seemed to be a meal ready in the dining room. But the dining room was silent.
I could barely remember where the kitchen was. I had been in there before, part of the christening of the house that the girls insisted on, but I had little idea where the actual food would be in the enormous kitchen or if I could find anything I could even cook. Maybe I would starve to death before I slip on the marble floor.
I was halfway across the dining room heading towards the dimly remembered kitchen, when I heard a faint scotching sound. I quickly turned towards the sound and saw Gwen sitting alone in the chair at the head of the table. She was slowly turning the plate in front of her, softly humming to herself. She had been so still that I hadn't even noticed her as I walked into the room. It also reminded me that my powers hadn't returned.
As I approached, Gwen's gaze slowly raised from her plate to my face. As her liquid gray eyes met mine, a delicate smile formed on her lips. It was like watching a flower blossom open and I would have been mesmerized even if I wasn't starved for companionship. Of all my girls, Gwen was the most beautiful, with skin as pale and smooth as the finest porcelain. The smile she was now gracing me with barely thinned her lush pink lips and revealed the hint of her straight white teeth.
"I fell asleep," she said, without preamble. "Besides, it was my turn."
Gwen never quite made sense, and it wasn't just her enthralling French accent. In many ways, talking to her was like talking to a five year old. She answered questions in her own time, sometimes unexpectedly, hours later, other times she made statements without bothering to provide the pertinent context.
"Your turn for what?" I asked, taking the easier of the two statements first.
"To sit next to you, silly."
"Where is everyone else?"
Gwen either didn't hear my question, didn't want to hear it, or decided she needed to think about the answer and would tell me later. She continued her own train of thought and said, "I only know how to make peanut butter, but it's both of our favorites."
I knelt beside her and took hold of one of her hands that was still adjusting the position of the plate in front of her. "Gwen, where is everyone?"
"It is still your favorite, right? You remember how you taught me to make them? With the little smiley face?"
I knew Gwen well enough to know that she was upset or worried about something. Nothing ever showed on her face, except for her delicate smiles, but her hands were restless and her eyes kept straying to the plate in front of her. She also seemed to have an even more difficult time keeping a conversation in context when she was upset.
"I remember, Gwen," I said as I kissed her hand. She looked at me and I could see tension leaving her body.
Her smile was back and she used her free hand to pat the seat next to her. "Hurry up, or they'll get cold."
* * *
Paris has some of the worst slums in the world. Well, some of the worst slums in a supposedly first world country. I didn't intentionally go around touring the world's slums, but I went were the gambling was. For high stakes, high risk, off the record gambling, you need to find a beautiful city and then find its underbelly. In Paris, there are places where the sun never manages to shine, alleys so narrow and deep that it feels as if the city was swallowing you whole.
It was my third trip to Paris and I knew I could find what I needed. The daylight seemed to burn me with its accusations, the civilized people looked at me with eyes full of accusation. But in the slums of Paris, I could find darkness, and people who were as damned as I was. I hadn't killed the man in the Czech Republic, but I could feel his blood darkening my soul. The money I threw at his family didn't assuage the guilt I felt. But if I dwelt with the other shadow-dwellers, my soul didn't feel so dark.
On this trip, I wasn't looking for gambling, I was looking for a hole to crawl into, or perhaps a bottle of absinthe or pernod, or the arms of a comely woman. I sought the very vices that would weaken my control, rob me of my powers, leaving me defenseless and vulnerable. I didn't even realize I was suicidal.
I was staggering through a particularly narrow alley, bouncing from one wall to the other, when I first saw her. A veritable angel was peering down at me from a small window two floors up. When she saw my eyes on her, she quickly ducked back inside.
The gasp that escaped my lips brought on a coughing fit. I fell to my hands and knees in the unthinkable muck of the alley and coughed until my body hurt all over. In between coughs, I also managed to expel most of the bottle of absinthe I had guzzled earlier in the day, or perhaps night.
Eventually I staggered back to my feet, leaning heavily against the masonry wall for support. I scrapped the muck from my hands onto the wall, as my breathing became normal. I looked back towards the window from which the angel had peered down at me, but couldn't seem to find it. So I reached out with my powers, looking for a pretty girl.
I found drug-dealers and whores aplenty, but there wasn't a girl like the one I'd seen. I widened the search and felt a young child, two floors up and behind me. I whirled around, nearly slipping in the muck. Somehow the window I'd seen had gotten behind me, and behind the window was a girl's mind. At least, I thought it was a girl's mind. Whatever mind it was, it was terrified in an unusually primal way.
I reached up with my mind and entered hers. The first thing I felt was pain, followed by weakness. She was hungry, thirsty and trapped. I saw through her eyes the small broom closet she was locked in, I felt the bed of rotting mop-heads that made up her seat and her bed. But no matter how long I waited in her mind, I didn't heard a single word, only a sort of music.
From reading people's minds, I've learned that everyone speaks to themselves. People don't do it all the time, but if I listen for a couple of minutes, everyone says something to themselves. Well, maybe not those meditating freaks, but I steer clear of their minds since they usually start shrieking. But this girl was different. She seemed to think in pictures and actions. The few sounds in her mental dictionary were like Pavlovian bells, triggering fear, hunger, or temporary reprieve from her cage.
I heard the squeak of a door followed by uneven footsteps. That was the sound of terror, and anticipation of pain. I saw an image of a hulking man with large meaty hands that smelled of piss and alcohol. I was so terrified that I pulled out of her mind and back into my own. My terror doubled when I smelled the same piss and alcohol on myself. The power of the girl's terror caused by those scents had spilled into my mind, leaving me afraid of myself.
A part of me suddenly burst into flames. I would not be a man like that, and I knew that if I stood here and allowed him to continue doing what he had been doing, I was exactly the same as he was. I went to the door beneath the window and banged against it. I tried the handle but the door was locked. I backed to the far side of the alley, took a half a step and slammed into the door. There wasn't enough width to get up any speed, so I braced my feet against the far wall and pushed the door with all my might. I walked my legs up the wall until I bridged the alley, straining and panting as I felt the door struggle against me.
I was lying on shards of the broken door. A darkness deeper than that of the alley. It was just as filthy but it was a dry filth. I labored to my feet and looked for stairs that would lead upwards. Luckily they were only a few feet away, since my drunken mind could barely remember what I was trying to accomplish.
Upwards, I thought, and pulled myself up the stairs as much as climbed them. My hands left fresh filthy stains on the walls, to join the countless others that had already dried. The stairs emptied into a hallway littered with porn flyers, pizza boxes, needles and broken bottles. Upwards, I remembered, and looked about for more stairs. Staggering around, I soon found stairs behind me that went down which was the wrong direction. I staggered down the hall and nearly missed the other set of stairs. They were even narrower than the previous ones and recessed behind an empty door frame.
My shoulders brushed both walls as I staggered further upwards. There was another hallway that was nearly as filthy as the one below. The only difference was the boxes were for Chinese food instead of pizza. I stood there in confusion, no longer remembered why I was here.
I heard a little voice say, "hurry." It was the same pesky voice that had been giving me nightmares. I turned quickly to try to grab the person who must be following me, only to trip myself, ending up on the floor.
Getting back to my feet was growing exhausting. I thought about crawling, but the broken bottles and rusty needles that glittered along the floor persuaded me otherwise. With grim determination I pushed myself to my feet. I felt that I had to hurry to, so I started walking quickly. I came to the end of the hall and realized this wasn't where I was hurrying, so I turned back the way I had come.
I was nearing the other end of the corridor when I passed the last doorway. The floorboards squealed as my foot settled in front of the door. I felt a sudden terror seize me again, the same terror I had felt before. No, I realized, I hadn't felt the terror: the girl!
My mind reached through the door and quickly found the beast of a man who was terrorizing the girl. I reached into his mind and would have thrown up, if I hadn't left everything back in the alley. The man hadn't kidnapped her, he had raised her! I could feel the cruel thoughts boiling away in his mind, the torments he had rained down on her.
Under all the cruelty, he thought one thing over and over, "Soon, you little bitch, soon I'll sell you and get out from this hell hole I'm stuck in because of you." I saw a picture of the man who had agreed to buy the girl, provided she was of suitable quality. I recognized the man, a white slaver who I'd won money and women from. I was horrified to think that this is the sort of place those women had come from. I had always released the girls when I won them, and saw that they got back home... Had I sent all those girls to hells like this?
Breaking this door down was surprisingly easy. I hurled myself at the thin wood and the dry rot riddled wood panels burst apart at their seams. My momentum carried me down the hall and I collided the man. He had turned to face the squeak I had made in the hall and so we smashed into each other face to face.
From the imposing image of the man I had gleaned from the girl's mind I thought I would be the one who would fall to the floor from such an encounter, but it was the other man who lost the battle with balance, momentum and gravity. He was below average height and extremely hairy with his face a mask of hate and fear. The fear quickly turned to rage as I saw how much he hated being afraid. That was one of the reasons he enjoyed tormenting the girl.
He snarled his way to his feet and attacked me. His blinding rage and my extreme inebriation offset each other, so that physically we were well matched for a fight. But even drunk, I had enough control of my powers that the fight wasn't fair at all.
I watched his first over eager punch land squarely on the wall. He quickly pulled his hand out of the hole and took another swipe at me. This time I made him punch the other wall. He must have hit something more solid than rotten plaster, since I heard a distinct snap and he wasn't so quick to swing again.
He held his broken hand against his chest and took a swing with his left. I was so surprised that he still had fight in him, that I almost forgot to make him miss me. His left hand shot past my face and his body crashed into me. I clamped down my powers and raised my knee swiftly into his groin. I heard the breath rush out of him as he bent double. I was glad that I remembered to pull back my powers as I watched him vomit onto the floor. I grasped his sweaty, greasy head in my hands and lifted my knee again, this time into his face. There was a sickening sound as his nose was obliterated by my knee and he sank to the ground.
I looked down at my hands and let the tuffs of his greasy hair drift to the floor. My hands were shaking violently as I rubbed them against my pants, trying to wipe away the thought of touching such a vile beast of a man.
I heard a very faint sound and felt tremendous terror coming from the doorway the man had been looming over. I reached a calming thought into her mind and felt her mind and body jump at the contact. I kept trying to send calming thoughts to her, but they were too alien for her to comprehend. So I did the humane thing and turned off her mind while I got her out of there.
I opened the door to see the girl curled up on the floor of a closet that I could barely turn around in. Her skin was pale and slightly waxy, and as I scooped her up in my arms I was surprised at how little she weighed. She was wearing a threadbare nightgown that might have covered her when she was three, but now left her stick like legs bare.
Even though I could make people who might see us forget her state of undress, I didn't feel right taking her out into the slums dressed like that. The second door I opened revealed a small sitting room with a hot plate, a beaten chair and a chamber pot. The third, and last door in the hall opened into the bedroom. A small pallet laid on the floor covered with oily, stained sheets and a coarse surplus army blanket. I set the girl on the pallet and wrapped the blanket around her before lifting her back into my arms.
I thought about kicking the man again on my way out, but knew that I would be lucky to step over him without falling. By the time I got back into the hallway, my adrenaline rush was gone, and the drunken stupor had returned. I didn't even realize I was carrying a girl in my arms as I staggered blindly down the hall.