Enid Runa’s old life is officially over, and her new one is far stranger than she could have imagined. Ian Osman takes her on her first case as a paranormal detective, or at least one where she isn’t the client. The spectral spook proves difficult, but Ian has an idea to hone her skills as a mystic. He takes her to an old friend who isn’t what she appears. Sparks fly between Enid and her new acquaintance, and they aren’t the kind that impresses anyone. It leads Enid to wonder if she’s cut out for her new job, or even her new life. It takes a harrowing experience with the supernatural to point her in the right direction.
I'd gone far down the rabbit hole, and I wondered how deep I had to go to hit the bottom. It was the same harrowing night of the hags, and I still sat in my bed with Osman seated opposite me in the wooden chair.
"Let's just cut to the chase and you tell me the details about this paranormal mess," I commanded him.
Osman took a puff on his cigarette before he stuck it in the corner of his mouth. "All right. Cronus and I help people who have paranormal problems, especially ones who might not know they have them."
"You mean people like me?" I guessed.
"You, and others who are a little harder to convince that they're being haunted," he told me.
"Skeptics," I commented.
"Exactly," he confirmed.
"So how can a novice mystic like me fit into your agency?" I wondered.
"That depends on your abilities," he replied.
"And those might be what?" I asked him.
"Destroying phantoms with talismans, for one," he reminded me. "
And with some training you can probably sense their presence."
"And what's the pay?" I inquired.
"Sometimes there's pay, and sometimes there's not," he replied.
I gestured to the room around us. "It can't be that bad if you can afford this place."
He turned his head left and right and let his eyes wander over the room. "This was financed by my past life."
I raised an eyebrow. "So you haven't always been a werewolf?"
He shook his head. "No, only ten years."
"I'm guessing the change wasn't exactly your choice," I mused.
"Not exactly, but that's in the past and you don't want to hear about old stories," he commented.
I snorted and gestured down at my bruised body beneath the sheets. "I think I've got some time on my hands."
Osman shrugged and leaned back in the chair. He lit a cigarette and tucked it into the corner of his mouth as he stuffed his hands into his pockets.
"What I'm about to tell you took place ten years ago. I was a lot younger then. Had a job as a cop with a girlfriend I thought I might marry. Anyway, I was out on a beat with my partner when we got a call about a robbery. The suspect was near us, so we went after him," he told me. He leaned back and shook his head. "If we would've known it was a werewolf we would've waited for backup, but as it was we caught the suspect in the alley near the jewelry store. The thing came at us so fast we barely had time to fire off a few shots before it charged into us. It went for my partner first. His throat was sliced open. He was dead in seconds."
I winced. "I'm sorry."
He took a puff of his cigarette and shrugged. "It was a long time ago. Anyway, I shot at the beast, but the bullets didn't even slow it down as it jumped me and bit my shoulder trying to get at my throat. I managed to pry it off my shoulder and shoved the butt of my gun into its mouth. Steam rose up out of its mouth and I smelled burnt flesh."
"Silver," I mused.
He nodded. "Silver. Well, the thing screamed and stumbled back. I stood up and looked at my dead partner, and something inside me snapped." He ran a hand through his hair and bit down hard on his cigarette. "The next thing I knew the creature was dead, and it didn't stick in that form for long. Killing a werewolf means it reverts back to its human forms, and this one was no exception. There I was standing over the dead body of the suspect with a deep gash in my shoulder and my partner nearby with his throat torn open."
I cringed. "That doesn't sound good."
He shook his head. "It wasn't the greatest predicament I'd been in. Backup decided to come, and that's how they found me. I still had the murder weapon, my gun, in my hand." He leaned back and shook his head. "They had a hell of a time snapping me out of it enough to pry it from my tight fingers."
"So did they charge you with murder?" I wondered.
"No. There was enough evidence on me to justify self-defense, and my partner being dead helped my case," he explained. "I was taken to the hospital where I recuperated, but I was discharged from force for mental health issues because nobody would believe what I saw, and the only witness was my dead partner"
"So they thought you were nuts?" I guessed.
Osman nodded. "Pretty much. I went to counseling for a few weeks, but the doctors there were all quacks. Besides, I knew what I saw, and what made things worse was the stuff I started seeing and smelling."
"Werewolf perception?" I guessed.
He shook his head. "No, this was different. I started seeing shadows where there wasn't anybody, and I could smell death everything." He tamped out the short cigarette and his eyes flickered up to me. "You have any idea how many people die in a city every day?"
"A lot?" I guessed.
"Yeah, and some of those people don't go to the other side. They linger here and stink up the place with their rotting souls," he told me.
I wrinkled my nose. "Sounds delicious."
"It smells like a charnel house," he told me. He leaned back and furrowed his brow. "I found that I could see and smell these dead people, and I saw what happened when spirits stayed on earth a little too long. They'd start to change."
"Change into what?" I asked him.
"Into monsters," he explained. "Some would start off slow, and others would be quick, but they'd all change. Some turned into hags and poltergeists, and others got the pleasure of being the creature you saw, a phantom. Others got worse."
"Worse?" I repeated.
He nodded. "Yeah. They're called wraiths, and if you think those phantoms are terrifying just try meeting a wraith in an alley on a moonless night. It'll age you."
"So other than strange company, what's the catch?" I wondered.
"The catch was they could see me, too, and some of them weren't too keen on that," he revealed.
"Did you try telling anybody about this?" I wondered.
He pursed his lips and nodded. "Yeah, my girlfriend, Tiffany, but she didn't want to hear about it, not after I'd already lost my job and quit my counseling. I tried to get my act straight, go normal, but once you go into the paranormal world you never come out."
I cringed. "Comforting."
He sighed and shrugged. "That's the way it is for both of us. Like you said, we're both cursed. Yours is just natural."
"Doesn't exactly give me comfort," I retorted.
"Sometimes the cards we're dealt aren't that great, but we've got to make the most of it," he commented. He stood and half-turned away from me. "But I think that's enough of my story. You've got enough on your plate without hearing about my mess."
Wait." I reached out my hand towards him. "You can't leave in the middle of a story."
His eyes studied me. "You sure you want to hear the rest?"
"Why not? Is there that much left?" I returned.
He shook his head and turned to face me. "No. I came home from a job interview one night and found Tiffany dead on the living room floor with a wraith over her."
I felt the color drain from my face. "I'm. . .I'm sorry. I didn't know."
Osman managed a bitter smile. "It's fine. It's in the past, remember? Anyway, it'd taken her soul and all I could think about was destroying it with this curse I had. Maybe go out with a bang. Let's just say that even with my powers the fight was short, and I would've joined Tiffany if Cronus hadn't come out of nowhere and destroyed it."
I wrinkled my nose. "So he's like your guardian angel or something?"
Osman gave me that strange crooked grin of his. "Something like that. He's the one who taught me about the different kinds of dead and paranormal people like mystics and whispers. He also told me I was different from other werewolves. Very few can actually sense the dead."
"How'd you get stuck with that?" I wondered.
He shrugged. "Just the way the ball bounced for me. Now I'm stuck as a werewolf with this unusual job and a rather unusual partner. All because I wouldn't wait in the car for backup."