**Anita Novák-Tihor: Negotiated Life
Chapter 5: The First Step
Oldwood’s office was in the city center, in an early-century, three-floor building, the top floor with glass canopies. On the façade, the gates’ wrought-iron grid, the balcony and the stair railing was garnished with as much flower ornaments as their simple material could bear. What made it the most outstanding were the huge stained-glass windows in the turns of the main stairway. Even the door was framed in carved stone, its antik crest unknown to me, but the nameplates installed into the stone frame finally reminded of the twenty-first century.
As I recall, I left you home with your monster - I thought covering my feelings of being trapped and despair with cinism.
With YOUR monster. We are bound by our contract. A mere door cannot seperate us.
I hesitated to push the doorbell. I didn’t want to bring him along into such a conversation. I didn’t want to take him anywhere. I wanted to be alone for a normal hour and connect with a normal human.
Where’s Rel? - I asked intentionally forcing myself to call the dog sized thing that was born in my home by name.
Where you want him to be.
At least something is up to compromise. - I rang the doorbell. - Look, if the detective sees me crazy I’ll get locked up in psychiatry with you and if you continue there too, I’ll die in ten years. Is it worth it?
I do not know. Is it?
What is, if you let me play the normal, get a job, work because I have to live by something, and I doubt you’d be satisfied with a nervewreck - the Für Elise rang long until the reply came from the speaker.
- …come in. Third floor, the first on the left - compared to the original schedule, he didn’t sound to fancy seeing me this soon.”
The plaster was peeling off from the wall, the stairway was humid and the twirling wrought-iron grid was undeservedly covered in dust. The demon shut up in my head and luckily his prescence became only slightly sensable in the backyard of my mind.
The first door on the right corridor of the third floor which had Detective Oldwood’s nameplate had the number thirteen. I knocked and by the inviting reply, I entered and without looking around closed the door behind myself right away.
The studio apartment had only two rooms: the one which I stepped into and another on the right. The inner height, approximately six meters, was filled with bookshelves arranged along the walls, packed with books. A huge desk was in the middle, which was more tattered than a well-preserved antique piece, papers scattered all over it. The window was shaded, and the warm yellow light didn’t really compensate the dark colors.
The detective stood up from his desk, walked to me, shook hands and offered me to take a seat in one of the two armchairs facing the desk. The one on the right was a bit askew, slightly turning to the door so I chose that one.
- I didn’t expect you to show up today, pardon me for the mess.
- I’d like to get this over as soon as possible, my apologies for the sudden visit.
Oldwood grabbed a bunch of papers and threw them into one of the drawers, than took an IC recorder from the other and the Q&A started. Approximately the same things came up like in the hospital just more detailed, and I did my best playing the good girl in answering every question as if I also wanted the culprit caught, or close the case with their death. When we finished I had to sign a statement about what the records contained were fitting reality the best I could recall and he stopped the recording.
- What do you intend to do now?
- Get a job and try starting over - I answered with a sigh. I was exhausted, which probably showed on my face and I didn’t wish for a better incognito. - I have to pay my parents’ burial and live by something now that I survived. I’ll try to treasure my life.
- That’s really admirable, but shouldn’t you rest and pay a visit to a psychologist?- That must be payed for as well - I shook my head - I’d like to do as much… normal as I can. Things that keep me busy.
- Like your non-existant cat?
For a moment, I just stared at him, but he seamlessly continued.
- They recorded and took pictures of everything during the scene inspection. The Everlast family had no signs of owning any pets. Not a mouse or a cockroach, so I prefer you try not to inflict wounds on yourself, or I’ll have to put you under medical supervision.
- I have no intention in doing myself harm, Detective. I just said, I want to get a job and survive all that happened to me with a steady mind - I looked back hurt and seriously into his deep brown eyes. He analyzed my expression for a long time searching for the weakness in my statement, then put the papers and the recorder into a large envelope and closed it.
- I hope I can believe you.
- Do you happen to know what killed the culprits? - I asked just to divert the topic.
- The investigation is still in progress.
What trace do they track anyway?
- I understand. Not if I could identify that thing - I sighed. All in all, how would I name or explain the legless creatures taking form from the dark? I could almost feel them twirling around my neck just by thinking of them. - If there isn’t anything else I can help with, I’d take my leave home and pull my life toghether. What is left of it - I stood up to shake hands and thank my welcome and leave his office. I started to feel uncomfortable about the atmosphere of questions, though I didn’t feel like going home to the newborn otherworldly nightmare.
- To be honest… - he stood up as well - I need an assistant, as you can see - he pointed out the papers on the desk while scratching his nape with the other, embarassed - I’m not on good terms with administration. Naturally, I’m not going to make you hurry, also it’s not mandatory and I’d seal your case from you, but think it over. I think the offer is handy.
I sat back to the desk.
- A well-kept archive, overseeing my schedule, handling phone calls. You know, I’m not always in the office. Keeping contact with different supervisory authorities is a nightmare while I’m at a crime scene, too.
- You’re not a private investigator - I frowned.
- I do practise as one, too. Officially I don’t work on cases from both sides.
- Is this legal?
- A legal job. I can’t say its only five workdays in eight hours, it depends on the schedule too. Paperwork. If you spare me the energy spent on this part of investigations and put complete work in front of me, I can also work with a fresher mind to do my part.
I took a note from the pad lying on the corner of the desk and put my e-mail adress on it.
- Send me your detailed offer and provide me three days to reply, rest and think about it. That’s all I ask - I said standing up again, not waiting for the detective. We shook hands, said goodbye and I left.
The job sounds good, only the employer is problematic. I doubt it would be smart working for him being a culprit.
Luck is a rare blessing to a cursed one.
Should I take the job, or search for a safer one? The worst that can happen is he puts me in an asylium. Or he dies.
I will not take responsibility for your decisions.
Oh but you really could do something for this nightmarish future of ours - I thought cinically foreseeing the punishment for my effrontery.
By the time I left the detective’s office, it was already dark. The steps echoing on the streets reminded me of normal lifes: people hurrying home to their families on their busy weekdays.
I recalled my mother coming for me to school, taking my hand, smiling at me on such autumn days, taking me home, cooking spaghetti, doing homework.
The memories that warmed me up, along with the hurrying sounds of people under the streetlights I just happened to intentionally stomp on a shadowling that slid out from my shadow, which crashed on the cobblestones under my foot and turned back into a black slop with a last squeek.
I don’t get any more nice experiences like those. I only have these left. What a nice life - I growled and started to go home offended, joining my own echoing steps into the stream of others.
I almost feel sorry for it.
Is this how you show graditude to those who helped you survive?
And what almost killed the nurse, the taxi driver…
It is terrible how you get caught up on details.
Terrible will be if Rel destroyed the house or worse: escaped.
You are too worrisome.
Tell me one thing that should make me feel at ease since I woke up in the hospital! ONE!
The detective is alive.
I’m so indebted to you - I snorted. - What good did you creating Rel do anyway?
I did not create him. He is yours.
You’re telling me that that thing is my creation?! - I stopped at the crosswalk, surprising even myself how natural my discussions with a demon in my head became in comparison of what I experienced at home a few hours ago, and how the normal world around me eased the pressure of accepting my state. Maybe only obstinacy works in me still.
As the streetlight turned green I took my first step to cross just when a car with screaming wheels broke next to me.
- Look where you drive, bastard! - I angryly kicked the city-jeep’s bumper, which banged loudly and got dented both to my but the two-winged-wardrobe sized driver’s surprise as well, who got out from the car right away and started yelling at me insisting I should pay for the damage I caused immediately.
- Who would you deal with if you hit me and stand infront of a judge? - I asked back glaring straight at the man, who seemed to be a mobster at first sight.
- I said pay the damage you caused, bitch! - he screamed full-throated. By the time, the streetlight switched back to red, and the people around averted their attention back to their way, ignoring the uproar we casued. - You think I’m scared of a pair of red contacts?
The last sentence didn’t even reach me. With one hand on his chest I pushed him back behind the wheel inside the car. Some deep, unrightful feeling of insult took over me and ignoring his protest, I leaned into his puffed face. - I’ll pay for the damage right now - my mouth spoke but my brain was full and from the darkness of the car, my hand grabbed out a hissing shadowling that I dropped in his lap, shut the door on him and left them some privacy at the crosswalk.
I just waved to the honking other car, apologizing for crossing its way while I definitely had no place on the road by now.
I didn’t have to look back at the jeep to know what was going on inside: the whole vehicle rocked from the fight. But this is not my problem anymore - I thought still when the screen and windows got splattered with blood, until I got home and opened and closed the door behind me to face Rel.
WHAT THE HELL DID I DO?!
I killed a man!
Just because he behaved hostilely!
Meanwhile parallel thougths answered my agony: He’d have hit me. He was unfair. Unpure.
I questioned my actions from every aspect. How was I able to summon a shadowling? How was I able to turn back such a huge man? How did I dare to stand up against him? Why did I do it? Why do I feel right about it?
Rel just stared at me with his six yellow eyes, alerted on his six feet and suddenly I didn’t know if he’ll attack me, or was just waiting for me to let him come closer. He had no readable expression, being just frighteningly neutral, frighteningly motionless.
With my back to the door, I slid down, embraced my knees and stared back at him.
- I killed a human - I confessed aloud, even though the creature didn’t react and I didn’t dare to lose sight of him. - I’m normal in no way. I’m not human. I don’t even feel sorry for his death. What scares me is the lack of remorse. Why don’t I feel remorse?
This was the first time Rel moved. The pupils in his lashless eyes narrowed and he growled at the shadowling that slid out from behind my waist, which hissed back and searched for safety in my shadow.
He’s jealous - I noted not even knowing how I did know his thoughts.
- He is part of you. As are the shadows. According to our contract we share: life, power, death. - He again took form in a body of a grown man, leaning to the kitchen’s doorpost. - You will live with it.
- I search for a piece of normal in my new life in vain, don’t I? - I asked but didn’t look up at him.
- Now that you realized, it is time to use what you got.
- Why didn’ you just simply save me from the car? Or made it hit me? That way you could gorge up my soul right then - I mumbled, still staring at Rel.
- Since the moment I saved you, I started to feed on your purity. The more power you get from me, the more tainted your soul gets. If you die in an accident that would not break you, there would not be anything for me to infect, nothing to parasite on. I only have time for that while you live. I absorb you into myself. Slowly digesting you as we share my power, I get everything you have, by replacing them with my own energies. Do you understand now? What you call a demon, is not entirely the same what the word holds.
- Is this why the lack of my remorse scares me?
- You have nothing to feel guilty for. As I said: our pact contains nothing pure, only truth.
I sat there silently for a while, then slowly looking around I saw the net of veins which were pounding with the murdered victims blood and negative energies a few hours ago dried on my house’s walls. The cocoon completely disappeared from the corner.
I glanced back at Rel, who licked his horse skull’s sharp teeth with his long tongue. He grew bigger since I left him here. A big New-Fundland’s size.
- You sucked up everything you found, didn’t you? - I asked not so satisfied that in a few hours he grew this big. Meanwhile I liked the fact that the walls stopped pounding and the smell of rot faded as well.
- A Berehs is just like that - the demon shrugged, casually pushing himself off of the doorpost, patted Rel’s head and reached out with the other to me to help me up from the floor.
- Berehs? - I reluctantly accepted the cold hand’s help and stood up.
- A creature of necromancy, very weak in mind, but phisically more skilled. Feeling no pain or fear, merciless and fast.
- How did this appear here?
- A Berehs is either summoned or born on cursed lands. In this case…
- … the last. - I rolled my eyes.
- Rather both. If you are adept enough, it can evolve into a Duruph.
- Do I want to know what it is? - I didn’t, but the poetic way of my question was taken as a springboard of the topic.
- Berehs is the best soldier of common demons. The Duruph is the hunter. Very intelligent, but pretty rare on the phisicaly plane - he gestured casually acompanying his explanation like a teacher to me: the simple student. And since I really didn’t want to know more, I diverted the topic back to my former problem.
- The shadowling that I summoned in the car did what I wanted him to do. So by sharing and increasing the power I get closer to losing myself? Is this what you tortured me for?
- You had to be broken to be able to accept and embrace it. For the first step, this was the fastest way.
- You’re disgusting!
- Thank you - with a smooth and elegant step, he theatrically bowed, patted Rel’s head once more and turned his back to both of us. - Bad dreams with your new kitty. We will continue tomorrow.
- No night-terror? I can go to sleep just like that?
He even winked at me as he threw a meaningful glance at the beast that was still staring at me.
- If you can.
If I can… I touched the creature’s nose and his nostrills and pupils widened and I caught my own reflections in all his six eyes. Will I be unable to sleep because of you, or the thought that this time I didn’t witness but did the killing?
(Published with permission of the author. Republishing is prohibited!)