Monday, January 20, 2014

Spirits of the Swamp, a Lily Anne Purga ficlet

I loved the south. I liked the food, I loved the city, I actually had even begun to like my corner of Zell's estate.

I did not nor have I ever loved swamps.

There is nothing at all good about swamps. They're filled with everything you could find in Louisiana that wants to kill you. Crocodiles, poisonous snakes, quick sand, mountain lions, swamp apes, mosquitoes, and now for my latest creature feature of my life, gator shifters.

Finn, bounty hunter and hill billy badass for hire, and I had rented a boat to cruise down Manchac Swamp in search of mother fucking goddamn alligator shifters. He wasn't much taller than me, making him not the biggest man on planet earth, but he wasn't pugnacious about it either. He was confident in the way that only someone who had never met an obstacle he could not avoid or kill easily possessed. Pound for  pound he out-weighed me in muscle town, and I had no idea what style of fighting he used, but it was dirty and brutal and I could count the times on one hand I had seen him take a hit.
We were dressed for the occasion, knives and guns galore, though Finn was carrying my piece since legally I still could not, not for at least another year.
It looked like we were in the middle of goddamn nowhere just ten minutes in, yet we were only thirty minutes out of the heart of New Orleans. Manchac Swamp sat on the western edge of Lake Pontchartrain, which Finn was certain was their main territory. Now, Manchac Swamp was dealing with four people missing in a week, veteran fishermen and hunters who knew their shit and could handle a gator if it didn't happen to also hold the intelligence of a human being. It wasn't even noon yet, and already my thin white tank-top was transparent. I was dying in my tank top and shorts and sneakers, and I could only imagine how bad Finn must have been in his blue t-shirt, jeans, and the same pair of boots who he always wore. The gun holsters don't exactly breathe well either.

Finn took his shirt off as we slowed around a bend, and had it dunked in the swamp water and tossed around his shoulders while navigating the boat in one effortless motion. I had no idea who he was or where he had come from, but he seemed more comfortable here than anywhere else we had worked together, and we'd traveled quite a bit already. I realized I was staring at bare chest and leather straps when he laughed at me.

"Eye's on the banks, Lily-Anne."

I flipped him off and went back to scanning for a 20 foot long american alligator that wanted to eat us.
"Just making sure you're taking care of  my gun," I yelled back over the loud air-fan of a motor. I held up my hand to slow down, but it wasn't a gator I saw. It was some sort of man-made structure that had long since been abandoned, but it was still in good shape. The walls looked solid, and the dock looked usable. There was no boat, and therefor no sign of habitation, because there was no way in fuck anyone was walking to this old ass shack in the middle of the swamp. The only way was by boat.

Or by swimming in the shape of a gigantic man-eating alligator.

I looked back at Finn, and he nodded that he understood, slowing down the motor with a grin, like a kid getting closer to the end of a long waiting line for the biggest roller-coaster in town. He was so eager he nearly bounced around the boat, adjusting the motor. I was gripping my biggest knife for dear life and praying the damn thing didn't surge up out of the water and tip our ten foot boat on our approach. If I was a killer alligator shifter, that's what I would have done.

Nothing came up to the boat, and we didn't say a goddamn word as we tied the boat off. Finn handed me my gun, and the moment my nimble fingers closed around the custom grip, I released a breath I hadn't known I was holding. The Beretta PX4 Storm was armed to blow shit to bits with an extended clip that allowed me to carry a devastating 17 rounds of .40 Glaser Safety, good for civilians who didnt want bullets going through their walls, bad for monsters who didn't want their limbs reduced to nubs.

The shack had a still intact metal roof, no glass windows, but the wood was hardly even rotting. The moment I stepped onto the small porch, which someone had strung a lantern onto, I clicked off the safety. There was a noise that wasn't animal of any kind. It was humming. I looked back at Finn, who didn't seem to be phased in the least. Finn thought now was a great time to hum a goddamn jaunty tune. Of course he did. I rolled my eyes, and my head, and stepped inside the one room shack.

Then the humming became words, the words were about drowning, and in the span of a breath an empty room was filled with the presence of a middle-aged Creole woman. I would have fired, but her clothing looked like something before even the 20's. The gun wouldn't do a god damn thing. I screamed for a second, and cursed myself after because if the gator shifter was around, I had either attracted it here, or scared it off. Both options sucked because I couldn't fight two things at once. Shit. I didn't even have my EMF detector. Zell would kill me right now, and would sure as shit give me a lecture when I came home again.

If I came home again.

"Lily?!" Finn hissed, running up to my side in just a few steps. My face must have been white as a sheet, and when I glanced at Finn, he was more confused than ever. "Lily, whats wrong?"

Of course. I forgot sometimes that not everyone saw ghosts. No, other people got to be normal supernatural bounty hunters and not hear voices in their heads that belonged to actual dead people constantly vying for your attention.

I lowered my gun, slowly. The woman looked slightly less terrifying, but it still didn't feel right. She wasn't just a spirit, she was a ghost with seriously bad rap. There was a hissing sound, and I was certain it wasn't any snake. I looked back to Finn who still couldn't see a thing, and I could see his breath. In August.

She was still singing a delightful chant about death and drowning and something that sounded like 'Frenire'.

"Mam," I started, trying to remember what the psychic had taught about being kind, "I'm sorry for trespassing."

"Lilly," Finn scoffed, smiling, because he must have thought I was playing some stupid joke, "What are you doing?"

I sighed and stared at the floor, and then remembered that I could not ignore the ghost, so I went right back to looking at her. Her face was drawn up in rage, and her hands balled into fists. Shit. The sweat on my spine was chilled, and I had to fight off a shiver. She was one powerful and pissed off spirit, and if she could shove the temp down 40 degrees, she could easily throw my ass into one of these fairly solid looking walls.


"There's a ghost Finn," I said plainly, like I was warning him about a poisonous snake on the trail ahead, or maybe a nest of brown recluse spiders. "Mam?" I spoke again, trying to keep my voice even and calm. "Do you know that you're dead?"

She nodded once, firmly. Great. She just didn't care.

"Okay. I'm sorry for disturbing your rest," Finn snickered, and she snarled, loudly. He stopped and stilled in that way he always did before he lunged into an attack, and I knew she had finally given off an EVP someone more sane than me could actually hear, "but if you can answer just one question we will leave your home in peace."

She didn't refuse me, and I could hear Finn audibly click off his safety.

"Where is she standing?" he hissed, as if she couldn't hear him.

"Right in front of me jackass, and put that away, it won't do a thing," I snapped, and the woman smirked for just a second. The next moment Finn's gun was pulled from his hand, and slammed him in the face before he could stop it.

"Hey!" I shouted, and the next words out of my mouth were not English. They were the first line's of the prayer for exorcism. A warm breeze went through the room, and she froze entirely, like a hologram having a glitch. We needed to get the fuck out of here, but we still needed to find that psychotic gator shifter before he or she killed anyone else.

"Yeah!" I boomed, my voice loud and raucous. I was done playing nice. "I will send your ass packing if you do that again, so help me. But I have other shit to do, and frankly, I haven't heard about any mysterious deaths in this shack. So here's the deal lady. I'm looking for a man that turns into a giant alligator. Supposedly, he's whats making people go missing around here. You point me in the right direction, and I'll leave you be. You don't and I'm going to be forced to believe there is no gator-man and it was you the
whole the goddamn time," I knew it wasn't, but she didn't know that.

She glared, and it didn't say a word. I said the second line, and the hem of her dress flickered like old rabbit ear reception. I could hear the crickets and swamp peepers loud in my ears, and I realized just then how much she was pushing out. She lifted one hand, and I tensed to roll in case she was going to throw me. She didn't. She pointed to the west, back towards Pontchartrain.

"He comes as gator, turns to man when he find a meal. He fakes distress, and shows his true face to all who get too close."

"Thank you. I won't disturb you again unless he comes through here. If you get in my way, I will remove you."

Her lips were pressed in a thin line matched only by the pulled together brows and glare that could probably kill on a bad day. I motioned to Finn to back up, so I could walk out without turning my back to her or walking into him. I stood at the dock and took a deep breath, never so glad to breathe in the sickly-sweet stench and more water than air of a Louisiana bayou more in my life.

Finn looked confused and amused, his gun back in its shoulder holster, plainly seen as he still hadn't put his shirt back on. He used it instead as a rag to blow his nose, and dislodge a delightful blood glob. He pinched and tilted his bed back, making some sickening cracking noise, and when he tossed the shirt back in the boat, all traces of blood and bleeding had ceased. Neat trick.

"Well, you sure told her," he scoffed. "What the hell was that?"

"That was a pissed off spirit of something nasty. Felt like voodoo, but I'm no expert. Don't go back in there. I don't have my salts or holy oil. My holy water is back in the car..." I trailed off and swore, thinking about how very wrong that could have gone if the spirit  hadn't took to Latin like that. Not all of them did, something about it frightened her. Good to know.

"You never told me you were a sensitive," he spoke quietly, like it was some sort of secret.

"I'm not, cept for that thing you do with your tongue," I grinned. He huffed his own sort of laugh.

"But you can see ghosts."

He didn't say anything. He just stared at me with those stupid honey colored eyes like salt water taffy and caramel and nice warm sweet things that had nothing at all to do with the man who they belonged to. That was good, because we wouldn't have gotten along at all if he did.

"God, I hate swamps," I said finally, breaking the silence. Finn just gestured with his eyebrows, and I knew I wasn't getting out of this one.

"My heart stopped for two minutes." I said, looking at him closely when I did. And I was glad, because if I hadn't, I would have missed the sight of his eyes growing wide and lips parting in surprise and something that might have been concern before he quickly forced it back down to his utter blank I'm A Hill Billy Badass face.

"In a swamp?"

"No. Close to one though, but that's New Orleans for you."

"You died?" he asked, eyes wide and tone frantic because apparently it had finally sunk in. His hands were on my shoulders, gripping just the the side of too tight. With Finn, it made me want to fight him or kiss him. Ours was a strange relationship of shifting boundaries and rules neither of us had ever bothered to figure out, and I doubted we ever would.
This sudden concern for my safety was a new one.

"When? What case?"

"Saving the Inculpati for Mikail, before I met you."
He drew himself up as he let go of my arms, but he didn't move away. His dominant shooting hand dropped, while the other lingered.

"How did you come back?" he asked, and he sounded concerned, but God help me I couldn't tell if he was faking it to get information out of me or not. Only those born with the ability were supposed to be able to see ghosts. People who came to the brink of death never truly died. I did. No one was supposed to die and come back and still be human, because no one should ever get a tiny dose of one thousand year old vampire blood to regrow blood cells faster and have their wounds licked by said vampire to keep your blood inside your body where it belonged.

"I had a blood transfusion," I said, because it was the truth, and any lie Finn would have spotted just as easily as I saw spirits.

"My heart restarted after that," I added, because that wasn't a lie either.
His hand squeezed my shoulder just hard enough to bruise.

"My brother's spirit has been haunting me for years," I said finally, because if I distracted him with grief he would leave that line of inquisition. It had nothing to do with wanting him to know about my problems, or wondering if he cared. It didn't.

"I'm sorry," he said, and his face was concern and his stupid warm eyes like David's favorite whiskey looked for all the world like he actually fucking cared.
I took a deep breath and let my self fall forward, resting my head on this sweaty shoulder. I had gotten used to the dirt and constant state of filthy, between our cases were always some degree of gore or filth or in this case swamp grime. You stop letting it bother you once you've seen a dead body or ten.

"Its not your fault," I was suddenly exhausted. It was too hot, too sticky, and that damned ghost had zapped out my energy to manifest, like they always fucking did, and then forced me to use mine up tell her what was what. Fighting spirits could be more exhausting than a tussle with something more physical and likely to rip my throat out.

"Drained out?" he asked, and I nodded, which was basically me rubbing my head into his shoulder. He must have known a sensitive, I had never heard the term from anyone else. I clicked the safety back on the Beretta, and shoved it in it's second shoulder holster around his back. Sleepy hunters were not allowed to carry loaded weapons.

"Come on," he said, with that same warm and easy southern roll of a voice that he always did, lifting my face up by the chin to look at him. "Lets get you something to eat."

He walked me back into the boat, and though I was normally not about showing weakness, especially to Finn who always made me feel like a proper badass killer that I was, a reputation I was not wanting to lose, I let him. I didn't sit down so much as collapse into a seat.

"There a restaurant out here?"

He grinned that big fucking smile of one who knows much more than you do.

"You're in it sweetheart," and the next sounds were the loud thwap thwap of the swamp fan motor. This morning it was loud and obnoxious, but now it was lulling me to sleep.

I was terrified for whatever hill billy swamp meal I would find when I regained consciousness again.
But I was smiling like an idiot because Finn threw his denim jacket over me.
If the gators and the vamps and the spirits didn't get me, this stupid grin on my face certainly would just as easily, and just as painfully, but like the gators and the spirits and the vamps, I didn't give two shits either way.

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