Authors: Basement Blues
Basement Blues and other stories
by J. H. Sked
Copyright 2011 J. H. Sked
This ebook is dedicated to Craig Sked - world class piper, great friend, and the best brother I could have asked for.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to an actual person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental
he woman sitting in my office chair was stunning. White blonde hair carefully slicked into a chignon, Dolce and Gabanna bag, scarlet nails, smartly tailored blue pants suit. She was also dead, which I was having a bit of an issue with.
Not that I'm prejudiced - my own partners are what you might call life challenged, and I have a little condition of my own - but the smell was getting to me. She'd sprayed some very expensive perfume over herself, and the average human wouldn't have noticed it through the scent.
I am not average. I'm also not human, and the scent of decomposition was growing stronger by the minute.
Eventually I lunged for the window, pushing the sill up and leaning out for great gulps of fresh night air. It was either that or throw up on our latest client, and I was fairly sure that suit was designer. I couldn't afford the bill.
"I'm sorry," Susan Armstrong said from behind me. Her vocal cords were starting to rot, giving her a husky, slightly grating voice.
"It isn't your fault," I said, still leaning as far out of the window as I could. I didn't have to turn around to know that she was crying. I could smell it.
Sunset had been nearly twenty minutes ago. Astrid was late and Ruth was in the field. I needed at least one of them here. I never know what to do with a crying woman. How to handle a crying zombie was so far out of my league I might as well be on Pluto.
A noise outside the main door caught my attention, and I started to relax. At least one of the girls was in.
A moment later, Astrid stuck her head around the door jamb and took in the scene.
"I think we need to go upstairs," she announced, and disappeared again. Vampires have a strong sense of smell- not on the same level as mine, but still acute. She would have smelled the corpse - now wobbling to her feet on 4 inch heels - from the lobby.
Our building has a roof terrace. It was late enough that nobody else was using it - no office drone in their right mind hangs out after sunset in this part of town - and although small it is open to the night air, which was a major requirement right now.
We sat Susan down at the little plastic garden table with the cracked white chair. Astrid produced a pack of cigarettes, and I almost pounced on her to get one. I hate the smell of tobacco smoke, but even in the fresh air Susan was pretty ripe.
"Hope you don't mind," Astrid said as she lit up. Her tone left little doubt that it wouldn't matter much either way. Never get between a vampire and her nicotine fix. Actually, never get between a vampire and anything they really want.
"Hell, go for it," Susan shrugged. "It's not like it'll kill any of us." She smiled bitterly.
"How did you hear about us?" I asked. Our agency wasn't known for advertising. The paranormal community is pretty small and very firmly in the closet.
Our walk-ins were usually humans who had no idea what we were.
"Your on-line ad." Susan rummaged in her bag while Astrid and I looked at each blankly.
"We have an ad?" I whispered.
"We're on-line?" Astrid whispered back.
"Here." Susan held out the print-out of a web-page.
""Human or superhuman - or just plain inhuman - we can solve your problem. Blue Moon Detective Agency." Seriously?" Astrid rolled her eyes and passed the sheet back to Susan. "Bloody awful tag-line."
"You do understand we can't cure you?" I said. That solve your problem thing was worrying me. I could imagine a number of ways potential clients could take that.
"I imagine a good splash of butane and a match would cure me just fine," Susan said dryly. "At least according to Hollywood."
Astrid shrugged. "That works on most things. The movies can't get everything wrong."
We both sniggered.
"So - you want us to find your killer?" I asked.
"I know who killed me," Susan said.
"Do you need help bringing him or her to the police?" I was groping at straws here, and knew it. Astrid sighed.
"Now that would be impressive." Susan raised an eyebrow. "Hello, zombie? I ate the bastard."
"Much as I'm enjoying watching Billy stuff both feet in his mouth," Astrid said, nudging me to shut me up, "Why do you need to hire us?"
"My basement is haunted. I need you to find out why, and what I need to do to stop it."
Okay. I didn't see that one coming.
"Are you sure this is a haunting?" Astrid asked. "A lot of the time people think they have a ghost and it really isn't one. Especially if you have an old house."
Susan sighed. "Look. I'm a zombie. I have a bit of a heads up on the supernatural. You are a vampire. You -" she frowned at me "are some sort of shifter, and whoever just popped onto the roof behind me is a ghost."
Ruth wiggled her fingers at us. "She's got me, there."
"My point is," Susan said, watching our partner saunter over the tarmac towards us," I know my basement is haunted. This isn't me freaking out over air in the pipes or the house frame settling."
Ruth flipped her red hair over her shoulder. "Why don't you show us the house?"
strid and I followed Susan in my car. Neither of us would be able to tolerate being in her car with her.
Ruth, not having the olfactory issue, rode with the zombie to get some more information from her. Susan had a nice little red BMW. I couldn't help wonder what the upholstery must smell like. Not even a human would be able to buy that car once she was done with it.
Our first technical difficulty started at the house.
Astrid couldn't go in. Since it had belonged to the guy Susan ate, and wasn't really hers, her invite didn't count. Apparently whatever governs that part of the paranormal law of reality didn't recognize ownership by eating your killer.
Since we'd never lived there neither Ruth nor I could invite her in either.
Eventually Astrid went back to the car to sulk, and Ruth and I followed Susan into the house.
The second technical difficulty hit me as we stepped through the front door. Houses smell, okay? They smell of the people who live there, and their pets, and the mud on their shoes and the deodorant they spray on every morning. They smell of wood and plaster and damp brick, and if you're really unlucky, mould and mildew. And those are the houses that haven't had a corpse occupying them for the past six weeks.
I took two steps into the house and bailed. Astrid strolled over while I was hanging off the porch, throwing up my last week's worth of dinner onto an unlucky rosebush.
"Vicks?" She shoved the blue jar under my nose.
"Whiskey?" I looked up at her hopefully, nostrils buried in the glorious scent of camphor and menthol.
She handed over the little hip flask without a word. I rinsed and spat, then took a large swallow. Mr. Walker, meet my tonsils.
"You going to try again?"
"Oh, hell to the no!" There wasn't enough whiskey on the planet. Ruth was on her own for this one.
he third technical hitch happened some thirty minutes after Ruth had gone into the house: it spat her out.
Astrid and I were sitting silently on the hood of the car, watching the house. Well, Astrid was watching the house, which was a plain white painted two-story clapboard. Susan had told us it was built in the 1920's, and while it looked good for its age it also showed the years in a settling foundation and bulging window panes.
I was watching the moon, just starting to rise fat and almost full over the down-town buildings. I'd be missing work for the next couple of days.
So I was starting to moon-dream, and Astrid was trying not to get twitchy over how long Ruth had been in the house, when a rumbling, coughing noise erupted from below the porch and a rolling ball of ectoplasm was forcibly ejected into the garden. On the bright side, she missed the rose bush I'd baptised earlier. As a negative, she brought with her quite a few dust bunnies, a number of centipedes, and a couple of large, extremely traumatised spiders.
"No."Astrid placed one hand firmly on the back of my neck.
"Billy!" Astrid bent over and hissed into my ear. "We are in a human neighbourhood. If I ever have to explain to another one why you are chasing the wildlife in human form, I swear I will put catnip in your underwear for the next fifty years!"
She hopped off the car as the front door burst open and Susan came running out, looking horrified and wailing. "Stay here. Calm zombie-girl down before we end up drawing attention."
"Astrid." When she turned back I asked, "Have you ever heard a noise like that?"
She nodded. "About once a month. You get hair balls, Billy. It's gross."
She went off to comfort Ruth, who was flickering - something she only did when either extremely frightened or angry. Catching a glimpse of her face, I was betting on the pissed off option.
I did what any sane man does when confronted with an angry red-head, and headed off to calm the zombie.
what happened," Susan said again."She wanted to see the house, so I showed her. Then we went down to the basement and everything went nuts."
"Nuts in what way?"
"The lights started flickering on and off. Then the washer lunged across the floor at us. I was running for the stairs when the main light exploded, and there was this big dark shadow and then something yanked Ruth through the wall."She sniffed. "I thought - I guess I thought she was dead."
"Susan," I said. "She's a ghost. Trust me on this, she's already dead."
She sighed. "I know. But she looks like a living person most of the time, and - and she was nice to me, okay? That doesn't happen very often nowadays."
"Okay. Why did you run? What scared you so much down there?"
"I told you," she said. "The washing machine tried to get us."
I must have looked as confused as I felt.
"Billy," she said. "I can't heal. If that machine had hit me and broken my leg, I'd be crippled as well as undead. "
"Has-" my throat was suddenly dry. "Has this thing attacked you before?"
She nodded. "I stopped going down there after the last time, and it wasn't as fast or as scary then as this time. I thought maybe nothing would happen with Ruth being there." She shrugged. "I guess it doesn't mind an audience."
I rubbed a hand over my mouth and stared at my client. "Susan, you aren't being haunted. This thing is trying to kill you." Permanently. Or even worse, trap her in the basement with it, as something to play with.