O, Death: Part VI

by Matt P.

They ended up at a small restaurant and brewpub nearby called ‘Bottles’, Siobhan settling down in to the seat next to her father after she returned from using the restroom. Walter was still dressed from his day at the office, his gun bulging out slightly from under the jacket he wore and snow still clinging to his hair. It made him look older, a picture of the man he would be in fifteen or twenty years—at least from the scalp out.

Bottles was attached to a fancy restaurant in the trendy Old Market area of the town. Bottlesworth & Sons served upscale French and English cuisine and was apparently a popular spot for the fanciest of occasions; the attached restaurant was decorated like an apparently more authentic English pub, rather than one of the more tourist style ones all towns (including Border) sported.

“I’m still not quite sure why your Dad insisted on coming…” Paul said, running a hand back through his fair hair. Siobhan considered them, and decided Paul really was Paolo’s opposite—still handsome but more traditionally, fair skinned and eyed and haired to Paolo’s darker complexion.

“Two men want to take my fifteen year old daughters out for a drink after work, and you have to ask why I’m here?” Walter offered with a raised eyebrow, reaching out for one of the waters the waitress had dropped off to claim it.

“Did you have to come with a gun?” Paolo asked, his eyes falling to the bulge in Walter’s jacket. “Isn’t that a little cliche?”

Walter grunted as he sipped water, lowering it down after a healthy swallow. “Only if you’re telling me that you want to date them. I came from work, I work with guns, ergo I have a gun. Before we go around in circles about why I’m here, I’d remind you the last time my daughters were involved in odd town happenings, they ended up in a shoot-out with gang members at their High School.”

Paul and Paolo were quiet about that as the waitress brought a round of sodas, full strength for Walter and diet for everyone else, as well as coffee for the coffee drinkers. Walter gave his daughters each a little bit of a side-eye as the coffees were set in front of them, but ultimately turned away with the air of a an who knew he had lost that particular battle.

“Ok, so you know there was a…sickness in 1986?” Paul asked, looking mostly at Walter, who gave a slow nod—he had been filled in on that particular fact in the car ride over. “Well, in 1986 I was the same age as Matt and Nat were. There were a bunch of us that ended up in pediatrics together for whatever reason. I broke both of my legs skateboarding, and ended up laid up next to them.” Paul took a moment to sigh, covering up a little more emotion with a drink of coffee. “They were good kids. They were in for some kind of illness I think, they walked around a lot talking to the other kids. Their parents were shit, some rich jerks that booked them in hobbies so they never have to deal with them. They only visited like…once in the two weeks Matty and Natty were there with us.”

Siobhan looked to her father to see if he was going to say something, but Walter only opened his mouth to sip on some coffee. The gesture looked disinterested, but his eyes were sharp and focused on the nurse as he spoke. There was nothing idle or bland about the look in his eyes, and Siobhan remembered the basics of interrogation: Let them keep talking. She didn’t think her father knew she had read both of his books on police interrogations, but what did he expect when he left them in the bathroom?

Paul considered his coffee, like he was trying to find some truth in the swirling steam coming from it. Paolo reached over and put a hand on the man’s shoulder, squeezing gently. “Kids started getting sick really quickly, but they didn’t think it was contagious at first. Matty and Natty went around reassuring everybody, until they came down with it themselves.”

Siobhan was about to burst with questions, but surprisingly it was Antigone whose dam broke first. “But…that just sounds like they were sick with something. What about ghosts and them screaming?” She looked a little bit surprised that she had spoken, but she also focused intently on the man. “Sorry, but…that just sounds normal,” she reiterated softly.

Paul continued to stare in to the coffee, his shoulders hunched over the table and his reflection dancing in the inky little waves within the slightly chipped mug. “It started at night first. Nightmares, the other kids claiming that they were seeing something in the night. Then the fevers started getting worse and they started seeing things during the day. They described…a cloud of darkness rolling through the hallways. And things started happening,” Paul continued, his normally confident voice growing softer and more withdrawn. “As we got closer to that last day. Systems started shorting out. First the sprinkler system went off, and then there was a fire. Things started disappearing. It got worse and worse, and Matty and Natty were trying to find out what was causing it.”

“They were 11, why were they doing it?” Antigone asked, her eyes wide and voice sounding affronted at the thought that children should be the ones to investigate a supernatural terror.

Siobhan smirked, a cynical little slash of the lips. “Sometimes kids are the only ones who can do it, Annie, didn’t you realize that? The cops all show up late,” she finished, giving her father a sweet and sarcastic smile that was only completed when she fluttered her lashes at him. He gave a snort that seemed to contain a whole world of responses within it, and looked to Paul to prompt him to continue.

“No one believed us, so Matty and Natty did it. That’s just who they were,” Paul said with a shrug. “I like to think I would have gone with them, but I couldn’t walk. Kids started dying from fevers toward the end of the week, screaming for help and crying as they…they boiled,” Paul explained, swallowing to choke down a rising tide of emotions and memories. Paolo’s hand never left his shoulder. “And then on Friday…it was like the scene of a horror movie. People screaming, people dying, there was a fire…people couldn’t get in to pediatrics, and the people in the beds on both side of me just died. In agony.” Paul lowered his head, and Siobhan could see tears making slow tracks down the side of his face. His shoulders shook underneath Paolo’s hand and he took a moment to regain control of himself.

“What do you think happened?” Walter asked after Paul was able to breathe evenly again, his voice gentle but probing.

Paul shook his head again, running a hand back through his hair and leaving it fluffed up and out of place. “I don’t know. I wish I did. I had the fever, and I don’t remember much of that last day—I was just afraid I was going to die. I remember feeling like I was boiling, and then like I was freezing and everything was going dark…and then I felt this…” He paused, trying to describe it. “A pulse, like it pushed fingers away from my heart. Suddenly I could breathe again and the lights were back on. They were able to get the fires under control again, and the other kids and I started to get better.” Now there were tears standing in his eyes, and he made no move to reach up and wipe them away.

“They did something,” Antigone said with a voice so soft it bordered on reverence. “And it…killed them?” This was still soft but questioning, asking the man what he thought happened.

“I knew it was them before I even woke up. Whatever it was that pushed away the darkness it just…felt like them. Like I could hear Natalie laughing, or see that little smirk on Matt’s face when he had just the right tool for the job on his little multi-tool. And I knew they’d be gone,” He confirmed to the first part. “They never found the bodies, but I knew they were gone. Sometimes I could almost hear them in the hospital, and I felt like maybe they were at peace. Maybe when a kid recovered miraculously, it was them—or when they just smiled at nothing.”

Antigone smiled at the beautiful thought, but Siobhan frowned. “So if we saw them in their old room—presumably—screaming at us to run away…that would be bad,” Siobhan stated.

Paul nodded slowly. “I don’t know why or how, but whatever took them out…is coming back.”