It was a run-down thing, a crappy apartment that hadn’t been renovated since the 1970′s. It was falling apart, but it was cheap, and it was both a necessary step for Janna of the Kalderash– now going by Jenny Calendar– to fulfill her responsibility to her family, and also very, very far away from said family.
Her intention had been to settle in and start a new life, while still keeping an eye on the cursed vampire known as Angelus. He was keeping quiet, as he apparently had done for some time, and the few glimpses Janna– Jenny– had of him since her arrival in London had been of him looking miserable and filthy in alleyways, catching rats for their blood and avoiding humans like the plague.
She told herself that was good, that there was nothing to worry about from him like this. She tried to hold on the reasoning her family had given, that this was a punishment he deserved, but she was far removed from the original crime and looking at him this way just made her feel pity.
But then, what was more pitiable than a vampire with a soul?
Admittedly, Ja– Jenny was feeling less charitable than she perhaps would be otherwise, since it turned out this crappy apartment that hadn’t been renovated since the 1970′s had a very good reason for being so.
It was in fact haunted by a violent, screaming poltergeist.
Needless to say, Jenny hadn’t been getting much sleep.
It was terrifying at first, but she wasn’t some hapless muggle. She was Janna of the Kalderash, sworn to watch over a cursed vampire lest he ever lose his soul and end his torment. She’d learned of ghosts and what to do about them in her childhood lessons, and she set her mind on kicking this thing out.
“This is my crappy apartment now!” She declared to the room at large. “And I’m gonna exorcise your ass!”
A silly thing to do, really, and all it accomplished was getting a frankly ancient food processor flung at her head with startling force. But she wasn’t going to let that deter her– that or the entire drawer of cutlery.
(The cutlery always seemed to be clean and back in the drawer later, ready to be flung out again at a moment’s notice. Whatever this poltergeist was about, it at least picked up after itself.)
It was probably a bit much to hope for, but Jenny tried the standard Catholic incantation first before heading out to track down artefacts for full-on rituals. While certainly a violent poltergeist, this one seemed to restrict itself to throwing things and yelling, which was pretty low-key all things considered. Maybe it wasn’t as powerful as it liked to seem.
“Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus.”
Jerking back, Jenny stared wide-eyed at the human figure standing before her. Tall (6ft, maybe a little more), with ruffled brown hair that curled a little and greenish eyes. An undeathly pallor, scruffy green jeans, thick heavy boots and a striped t-shirt as dated as the apartment’s appliances. The only saving grace of the ensemble was a red check button down with the sleeves rolled back. He was standing with his arms crossed and looked wholly unimpressed.
Jenny pressed her lips together to keep quiet. It was just a simple little spell, a fleeting hope that it would be that easy, and instead she’d incited a visual manifestation for the first time that she’d seen.
“Your pronunciation’s fuckin’ awful. Who taught you?”
Immediately, any fear was overwhelmed by indignation. “Excuse me?”
“I’m sorry, I’m here trying to exorcise your annoying ass and you’re correcting my Classical Latin!?”
“Yeah, I know what it is love, I speak it. Better than you, evidently.”
Oh, she was so not letting this slide. “Oh, of course, I thought you wouldn’t be able to grasp such a complex language considering your lack of comprehension of English up ‘til now.”
The poltergeist’s face twisted into a sneer. A distant voice told Jenny she shouldn’t be provoking him. “I comprehend it just fine when you’re tellin’ me I’m not welcome in my own fuckin’ apartment.”
“Your apartment? I paid money for this shithole!”
“Oh what, you think I inherited it?”
Rather abruptly, the floor seemed to give way, and the next thing Jenny knew she was screaming as the fell onto the floor below. She made it out with a pounding heart, a bruised tailbone and a startled neighbour, but she was slightly more wary when she made her way back into the apartment.
Fortunately, the visual manifestation was gone, and the twerp didn’t make anymore comments. It was back to ear-splitting screams and dodging the usual paraphernalia. It probably wasn’t a good idea to antagonise him again.
Jenny had been remarkably patient with this poltergeist, all things considered. But he’d been fucking escalating. Getting creative, the bastard.
It started small. So small that she didn’t realise until some of it had happened a few times. Her coffee mugs being put on a higher shelf that she remembered, or the coffee itself behind things she was sure she put them in front of. Not life-threatening at all, but annoying as fuck and a hassle every time.
Then the drawers were rearranged. She’d just got used to where everything was, then suddenly she was opening the cutlery drawer and finding chopping boards instead. This was slightly higher on the life-threatening scale, since it meant when all the cutlery went flying her way, it could come from any part of the kitchen.
Appliances turning on and off randomly when she was next to them– the gas cooker in particular she learned to stay away from. Furniture getting dragged across the floor towards her. Rats in her cereal, cockroaches in her toiletries. She ran through doors lest they slam shut while she was still in the doorway, bought cheap and ate quickly so there was never food around the house he could tamper with. He ripped the curtains violently off the railings, which Jenny had deemed negligible until he started using them to trip her down the stairs. It had, admittedly, been stressing her out.
And then today. Today, she’d finally assembled all the of the various artefacts for a more complex ritual, only to quickly find them all unusable. Not only that, but they weren’t destroyed– they’d been slightly altered by someone who knew what they were doing, so that the properties she needed from them were no longer viable. And she knew exactly who it was. They’d all been fine when she bought them, but Little Mister “Your Latin’s Terrible” Poltergeist had a frankly alarming number of questionable magical substances, artefacts and occult books on black magic hidden around this crappy apartment, and she was certain that he absolutely had the know-how to fuck up the ritual like this. And what a fucking snobby way to do it!
“Fine!” She’d snapped, furious at the wasted time, effort and money. “Fine, have it your way. No exorcism today! Just let me have this one fucking shower, I swear to God!”
She should have known better.
“YOU FUCKING DICKBAG!!”
Seething, she stumbled out of the shower, cursing in every language she knew, covered in stinking brown sludge. After laboriously getting the crud out of her eyes, she turned to the mirror, still spitting in rage, to try and assess the damage.
What she saw was fresh, red blood. Dripping down the shining surface.
Really? Really? Words didn’t do Jenny’s fury justice at this point.
So instead, she slammed her middle finger under the message, leaving a gross brown smear in the shape of her gesture. Let him clean that, she thought in petty satisfaction.
The neighbour downstairs was very sympathetic. The plumbing in this building was often problematic, but her shower seemed to be working fine right now so why didn’t poor Jenny wash off here?
The water wasn’t hot, but it wasn’t cold and the awful stuff (don’t think about it) was coming off with some effort. God, when she went back upstairs–
When she went back–
A sob burst out of her, to her own consternation. She tried to keep quiet so the neighbour didn’t hear, but she couldn’t stop the shaking or the tears. She didn’t want to go back upstairs. She didn’t want to have to do battle with what seemed like every aspect of the apartment itself (but was really one dead douchebag). She was exhausted.
On the upside, the water temperature had turned up some. That was kind of nice.
Still, once she was clean, Jenny took a deep breath and headed back to her haunted apartment.
… And was met with quiet stillness.
The stairs creaked when she stepped on them, and she cringed at the sound, but there was no cold feeling or flurry of movement, the stairs didn’t turn intangible or into a ramp or splinter beneath her. No crashes or bangs or flying objects. No slamming doors or ankle-grabbing rugs. No rats, no roaches, no disgusting messes. Her mugs were in easy reach, her coffee unopened and unsullied where she’d left it, the spoons in the drawer they started in. A quick peek into the bathroom proved that he had indeed cleaned up his mess.
She paused outside her bedroom. There was another bedroom, and a tiny cramped study with a mattress on the floor. The study wasn’t completely shut for the first time since Jenny ducked in there to slam the door on her bed charging at her, and it seemed to be sucking the warmth out of the hallway.
He was in there.
Dreading whatever bullshit he was cooking up now, she tentatively peered through the gap in the doorway…
He had visually manifested again, in the same form. He was stretched across the nasty mattress on his front, legs crossed at the ankles behind him.
He was reading.
For a moment, Jenny just stared. But nothing changed; his pale eyes travelled along the pages at speed, but he seemed to be reading at a human rate, if quickly. He turned the page with his hand, not any otherworldly power. While she watched, he shifted position slightly and adjusted his hold on the book, though logically he had no physical body to become uncomfortable. As he moved, dogtags glinted in the light from the half-open door, and a quick look at his wrists showed her a few plain bangles and one black bracelet with silver spikes. There was a burst of brown in his left eye that she hadn’t noticed before, and she thought with despair that the jerks were always beautiful.
Shaking herself abruptly out of her thoughts, and praying that his interest would stay on the written word for the foreseeable future, Jenny quietly crept into her room, set down her coffee on the nightstand. Then, as she changed for bed, she had a brainwave.
Just as quietly as before, the pulled out the three thickest books she’d brought with her, then crept out and left them outside the study.
It wasn’t a peace offering. More of a bribe. She had no idea if it would work, but if a few books got her a few hours of uninterrupted sleep then she’d happily give them up.
Jenny woke at ten in the morning to a fire in the hallway. At first, she thought the poltergeist had finally run out of patience and intended to kill her. Then she realised it was one of the books she’d left out.
“You know what?” She told the invisible malevolent force, “That’s fair. It’s an objectively terrible book and I only kept it to laugh at it.”
The crackling pages of 50 Shades was her only answer.
Hopefully he liked A Game of Thrones better.
He was quiet through breakfast, and that gave her time to think. She was going about this the wrong way. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill spirit, this was a poltergeist with ties to the supernatural in life. If she was going to put this dickhead’s soul to rest and out of her crappy apartment, she’d have to figure out the circumstances surrounding his death.
Well, she already knew the apartment had been even cheaper because someone had died here… that was where she needed to start.
It would take a little digging, since it happened a good forty years ago at least. There were various things still littered around the apartment that hinted the death was supernatural in nature, which would certainly up the chances of poltergeist activity, but made it harder to find what she was looking for. On top of that, she didn’t have internet access yet.
Jenny had made a few token attempts to get WiFi into the apartment, but her poltergeist was being particularly aggressive on that front. (She was pretty sure she’d heard the whisper of his voice when she first tried setting it up, and she was pretty sure he’d called it “Star Trek bullshit”)
“God, of all the angry ghosts to move in with, I had to get a stubborn Luddite!”
Her head shot up from the broken mess of the modem she was kneeling in front of, a terrible cracking sound splitting the air after she’d finished speaking. Looking up at the wall above the table she’d put the modem on, she found VACUOUS NEOPHILE newly carved into the living room wall.
Big words for a petty dick. “Stubborn, stuck up snob!”
HI POT, KETTLE HERE
God, that sound was terrible, and watching the wall jankily snap in and out of new shapes was nauseating. But Jenny wasn’t backing down; she was outraged. The modem forgotten, she leapt to her feet, probably kicking a few components under furniture and into cracks never to be seen again (until the poltergeist saw fit to throw them at her).
“I’m not a snob, how fucking dare you!”
Quote marks and everything, was he for real? “You are!”
SO I’M LESS THAN YOU?
“Um, yes? You’re literally a disembodied spirit, you don’t belong on this plane anymore! Besides, I haven’t attacked you.”
YOU WANT TO REMOVE ME BY FORCE
“Hi pot, kettle here!”
THIS IS MY HOME
“Well it’s mine now too, poltergit. You’ll just have to get used to it.”
“… Wait, what? Ripper? What does that mean?” Before confusion could work it’s way into fear, voices sounded through the apartment. They sounded like they were coming from inside this room, but they also sounded far away– more ghostly whispers.
“Ripper, mate, come ‘ere.”
“Oh, don’t be like that, Ripper.”
“Lovely to meet you. I’m Ripper.”
“Ripper…” Jenny whispered. “You’re called Ripper?”
Silence and an unblemished wall answered her.
Ripper. What a ridiculous name– he probably picked it himself.
She didn’t say anything, though. Pots and kettles.
The ongoing WiFi dispute meant that Jenny had to venture out into the Soho area of London to track down an internet cafe if she wanted to scour the net for what she needed. It was unnerving, walking down roads that seemed claustrophobic despite their size, surrounded by masses of people and penned in on either side by buildings that made solid, unbroken walls in the same way that individual bushes made a hedge.
But she found a cafe with free WiFi surprisingly easily, and set up her laptop in a corner by the window. The computer was pleasantly unmolested by Ripper, but then without any internet she hadn’t exactly been using it in the apartment. She was certain that if his attention was drawn to it he’d take great satisfaction in smashing it to smithereens.
It was slow going. She kept having to go back to the cafe, chasing after hints and getting stuck in digital dead ends.
On the other hand, Ripper was being slightly less of a dick. It turned out he didenjoy A Game Of Thrones and had manifested in various places around the apartment, reading it quietly and not breaking anything. It was disconcerting to turn around and suddenly see him there, all casual and ignoring her. But less disconcerting than fearing for her life on a constant basis. He tended to only get really pissy when she’d been out all day, which was ridiculous because he’d been pretty adamant on her leaving forever. When she was feeling generous, she supposed that if ill-advised people trying to move in were his only entertainment for the past few decades it made a sort of sense.
It also made her laugh, picturing Ripper peering out the window like a sad dog waiting for her to get back, or peeking round the doorway with a plate held above his head, ready to kick off on her arrival.
When Jenny arrived back that afternoon, Ripper was already manifested. He was sat on the ratty couch, and when he turned to look at her he held up A Game Of Thrones.
“Has this bloke written more of these? I gotta see how Ned’s gonna fuck things up further.”
Shifting her laptop bag a little more inconspicuously behind her, Jenny raised her eyebrows. “What makes you think Ned’s gonna fuck up?”
He made a face like that was a ridiculous thing to say. “He’s fucked everythin’ up so far, ‘asn’t he? It’s a tragedy.”
“It’s not–” Jenny cut herself off. He hadn’t sounded mocking. “Like Shakespeare tragedies?”
“Yeah. Hero of the wrong story.”
After a moment, Jenny walked over to the coffee table and perched on it, trying to ignore the unidentified stains. “What do you mean?”
Ripper blinked in apparent surprise, and it took a few tries before he spoke again. “Well– Othello, for example. His problem was that he was gullible and acted too quickly. If Hamlet had been the protagonist of Othello’s story, he’d have stopped and thought about it first. He’d have picked apart Iago’s lies and actually talked to his wife about it, and probably Emilia and Cassio as well, savin’ a lot of lives.”
He wasn’t looking at her now, but over her shoulder, gesturing slightly with the book. “In Hamlet’s narrative though, it goes all to cock because he thinks about it too much and works himself into a paranoid state. Othello would’ve gone right ahead and stabbed Claudius the next morning, which probably would have had its own fallout but a much lower body count.”
Eyes focusing again, Ripper looked back to Jenny, still apparently confused.
Jenny just nodded. “I see what you’re saying. You think Ned’s not the right guy for the job, and there’s no way things’ll end well with him as the hero?” She couldn’t keep the smirk off her face. “A Clash Of Kings is the second book, and I think you’re gonna like it.”
And then, just like that, he was smiling. It was small, and a little hesitant, like he hadn’t smiled in a while or perhaps wasn’t sure if he should be. Jenny realised abruptly that Ripper hadn’t even smirked at her, and now she got to watch his whole face transform into something soft and nervous.
How old was he, when he died? He looked older than her, but not by much, and looks could be deceiving. He acted younger, but poltergeist personalities were tricky things.
“You… like books?”
Blinking in surprise, Jenny nodded. “Sure, I like books. Stories are important.”
Ripper sat up straight, and good Lord his shoulders were broader than she’d thought. “And you like… talkin’ about books?”
“Well, of course!” She answered, surprised. “The best stories are stories that breed discussion! Everyone has a different experience when reading a story, they see different things in the subtext and come away with different messages, and it’s great to share that sort of thing. Especially with George R.R. Martin’s series, where there’s so much going on.”
Snorting, Ripper looked at the book’s cover again. “Nicked that off Tolkien,” he muttered, then looked back up with excitement in his eyes. “Alright then, love. What did you take away from A Game Of Thrones?”
His smile was more confident this time. “Jenny, then. Go on, have at it.”
The following conversation was… good. It was fun, even when they disagreed, and there was a surreal moment where Ripper described Viserys as “all mouth and no trousers”, but they ended up sharing slang terms and having “a right laugh”.
When Jenny had yawned a few too many times to ignore, she had to extricate herself from the conversation (Ripper legitimately pouted, she couldn’t help giggling). She told him he could grab A Clash Of Kings before she went to bed and found out that he could, in fact, look even happier.
“You got it with you!?”
“Yeah, in my room, in a bag still.” She was about to offer to get it for him, but between one blink and the next, she was alone.
She felt like ice water had been dumped on her head. They’d been having such a good time, chatting and laughing and– and bonding, sharing thoughts and ideas and she’d been warming up to him, as a person–
She’d forgotten she was talking to a ghost.
When Jenny wasn’t keeping tabs on Angelus, she was in that internet cafe researching. She’d made a little progress, managed to find what she believed was the incident of Ripper’s death in 1976, but she had no names or details. Just a group of young people on drugs, and a tragedy.
(Though there was probably more than just drugs involved.)
But when she got back to the apartment, Ripper was manifested there, book in hand– only now, he would look up and pause his reading to talk about the book with her. And more; they talked about all kinds of books, and of other kinds of stories. She got him interested in a variety of Netflix shows then tempted him into letting her install WiFi, promising that she could show him all of them and more.
Unfortunately, even when he was willing to learn how to use a computer for his own sake, Ripper’s power didn’t mesh well with the electronics. No permanent damage, but it was clear that he’d be relying on Jenny for his daily dose of sitcoms. (Oddly enough, Brooklyn Nine Nine was one of his favourites. He claimed Jake was the best character because he was a “bloody ‘ilarious div, for a copper”, but after the first episode his face lit up when Holt came on screen.)
But that meant they spent a fair few hours every day sat next to each other, watching Netflix and laughing and talking. She got so used to being near him that she no longer remembered that he was the cause of the chill in the air, or the occasional buffering problems. She even offered him snacks once, only for him to blink bemusedly at the offered food and then at her.
“I’m sorry.” Jenny said sheepishly, pulling the packet back again. “I keep forgetting you’re dead.”
“So do I.” Ripper answered solemnly, and was gone.
“Why are you here, Jenny?”
She nearly dropped her coffee. “What?”
Ripper was leaning his elbows on the kitchen table, his head resting on one hand. The other reached long fingers out idly, stirred Jenny’s coffee without touching it. He didn’t usually do that– he never used his power while manifested anyway.
“Why’d you move into my grotty apartment and stay? You’re either ‘ere for a fuckin’ good reason or you’re absolutely barmy.”
“Of course I’m barmy.” It sounded even stranger coming out of her own mouth, the r sounding too hard without his accent to soften it.
“Barmy enough to know more than one effective exorcism?” His eyes left the mug, looking straight into Jenny’s instead. The spoon stopped stirring, instead swirling with the liquid but inwards until it stood up straight in the middle. “Don’t pull my leg, Jenny. You a witch or what?”
Sighing, Jenny put down her coffee. Somehow, she’d never expected this conversation. “Mmn, no. I don’t have that kind of power.”
The spoon clattered against the side of the mug, released from Ripper’s whim. “Got a little, though.” There was a pause, and Jenny studiously avoided his gaze. “Run in the family?”
“… Yeah. There was one notable witch at the end of the 1800′s, but I just… dabble. Small stuff, casting bones, minor wards– stuff like that.”
Ripper nodded. “Gran’s family were magic. Proper magic, powerful. Her sisters thought it was a gift, used it as they saw fit, but her… she thought it was dangerous, needed to be used responsibly, and my father agreed. The second I displayed any magical aptitude, I was packed off to study the worst things the supernatural can offer, so I could spend the rest of my life guarding against them. It was awful… so at sixteen, I ran away and did my own magic, here in my grotty apartment with my fucked-up magic mates.” He laughed bitterly. “Should’ve never left. Should’ve let it kill me.”
Jenny sucked in a sharp breath. Was this it? Was he going to tell her how he died? Was he ready to move on… ? (She told herself it was anticipation, not fear. Ripper was a poltergeist and didn’t belong on the couch watching Netflix with her.)
But those green-with-a-splash-of-brown eyes snapped up to her at the sound, and in the space of her blink there was only Jenny in the kitchen. She felt relieved and disappointed in equal measure.
She couldn’t get the story out of her head. She should have grabbed her laptop and headed for the internet cafe, where she could research uninterrupted by demands for her to check if One Day At A Time had updated, to piece together the mystery of Ripper’s death. It was more than clear that magic had played a part in it, which would continue to muddy the waters, but she had a sudden glut of personal information she previously lacked and should be capitalising on it.
Instead, she sat in the kitchen and drank her coffee. Then she made another coffee, set up her laptop and sat on the couch. He didn’t appear next to her, but the room got colder. He was there.
Jenny took a deep breath. “I was sent here by my family to watch a vampire.” Silence, stillness… but the cold remained. “That witch I mentioned? She was very knowledgeable, and very powerful. After he killed a young woman from our family, she cursed him– to have his soul returned to him, and all the guilt that came with it.”
The room felt even colder. She wanted to leap up and turn around, to face the phantasm she felt sure was right behind her. She didn’t. “I was sent here to watch him. To make sure he kept suffering. I don’t… he looks so pitiful, out there. Hiding, feeding off rats. But I… what else am I supposed to do? They’re my family.”
Taking a deep breath, Janna shifted slightly in her seat, only to be caught by surprise (every time) by Ripper’s manifestation.
For a few long moments, they sat in silence. “We’re a right pair o’ berks, ain’t we Jen?”
Jen. That was new. “Yeah. Guess we are.”
She risked a smile, and he smiled back.
Jen. She liked that.
She had it. She finally had it. Jenny had to slap her hand to her mouth to keep from shouting in victory and nearly knocked her coffee over. Even avoiding that, some of the other cafe patrons gave her disapproving looks. She couldn’t bring herself to care.
She had it! She knew how Ripper had died– she even knew what kind of forces must have been involved! All because of a picture… and a tattoo.
It was a group photo from an old newspaper. The image was grainy, and it was only a part of the article from the front cover, not the full thing. But she had a face, a mark, and a name.
The mark was striking, and it didn’t take much to find what– or rather, who– it was attached to. Eyghon the Sleepwalker wasn’t well-known, but he and his followers were frequently documented. Easy enough to find, if you were looking, which was probably his M.O. Hell, it was probably how Ripper and his ‘magic mates’ had found the demon too.
The demon that killed him.
It was all in that snippet of the article, when Jenny read between the lines. A young man physically torn apart by his friends in a drug-fuelled rampage… or a violent demonic possession. It seemed unlikely from the rituals she was finding in relation to Eyghon that he could manage multiple live possessions at one time, so it was probably that Eyghon either carelessly destroyed or inevitably burnt out his vessel.
That kind of death, trapped inside your own body while an entity you thought you could control used it as a puppet… no wonder Ripper was a poltergeist, that kind of trauma would give anyone baggage. And it went some way to explaining why he preferred to use corporeal methods of interacting with objects most of the time.
There wasn’t a full legal name, only a first (it had the same first letter and even syllables as the one he went by, dork), but despite the picture’s quality she could recognise Ripper’s handsome face, grinning all lopsided and half-lidded at the camera, probably aiming for cool while totally stoned. The group looked close, all pressed together with arms over shoulders and round waists. A tragedy relegated to a corner of the front page.
The burst of triumphant joy quickly fled, however. Jenny had been hurrying home to tell Ripper what she’d found, only to remember that the whole reason she kept going to that cafe was so that he didn’t know.
But… they weren’t adversaries anymore. She no longer had to fear violence from him, they were… roommates. Weird, unplanned roommates, but still. She spent more time with that dead man than any of her living, breathing, flesh-and-blood friends.
Maybe he’d even be pleased! Happy to leave the burdens of this mortal coil and pass beyond to his eternal rest. He deserved eternal rest, didn’t he? He’d already spent forty-three years bound to one apartment, completely alone– it would be cruel to keep him trapped there.
Jenny grimaced at the tightness in her chest. It was a result of the brisk pace she’d been walking, she told herself.
Maybe he wouldn’t want to go. He would have to at some point, of course, but he hadn’t finished Brooklyn Nine Nine yet and was still reading the A Song Of Ice And Fire books. Well, the series wasn’t finished, and he couldn’t exactly wait for Martin to write all the books, but he would at least want to catch up with the story so far. At least. And there were so many fantastic scenes with Captain Holt and Kevin still to come, Ripper wouldn’t want to miss that! (She wondered if he’d dated any of the boys in the photo.)
… But both of those depended on Ripper actually knowing that Jenny had done this research, and that was the part she struggled with as she stood outside the building.
Slowly, she made her way inside and up to their door. But already, something was wrong– the floor, the walls, everything was shaking.
Unlocking and opening the door as quickly as possible, Jenny braced herself for poltergeist aggression.
When she was just about five years old
You know my parents gonna be the death of us all
… That wasn’t any poltergeist aggression she was familiar with. That sounded like out-of-date music. But it felt like an earthquake. Looking up, she could see Ripper on his back on the floor by a dilapidated record player, eyes closed and oblivious to her presence.
It was an uncomfortable juxtaposition to the unearthly power trembling through the apartment.
Then one fine mornin’ she turns on a New York station
She doesn’t believe what she hears at all
Ooh, she started dancin’ to that fine fine music
You know her life is saved by rock ‘n’ roll, yeah rock 'n’ roll
“Ripper!” She tried to grab his attention, but her voice seemed to be carried away as if by a strong wind, and she realised the line between the rumbling in the structure and the beat of the music was very, very thin. Was he doing this by accident? Somehow, that was more frightening than anything he’d done to her with malicious intent. “Ripper, stop!”
Despite all the computations
You could just dance
To that rock 'n’ roll station
In the end, it wasn’t anything Jenny said that snapped him out of his musical fugue, but her stumbling past the couch and into his space.
His eyes snapped open and the shaking stopped like it had never been, and though the record kept playing the sound was less… invasive. (Less like it was creeping under her skin, into her brain.)
“Hey, Jen! You’re back early.” His smile faded briefly, and he tilted his head where he lay on the dusty floorboards. “Don’t tell me you don’t like The Velvet Underground. If that’s the case you can sling it, and you can take Netflix with you!”
She wanted to argue, like normal. Wanted to tell him that, actually, the music itself was lacklustre but the singing was awful. She wanted to watch him get mad about her ‘slander’, get passionate about the revolutionary progress that music made in the early 70′s, how breaking the boundaries were more important than a classically-trained vocalist, but she couldn’t muster the energy. She just felt cold.
She always felt cold with Ripper. He sucked the warmth out of any room. She had no idea how she’d managed to forget so often, now she was looking at that sallow, drawn face, still shaken by his unthinking power. How did she ever trick herself into seeing the light of life in those pale eyes?
Jenny was clinging to a ghost.
And it was alright
Well, listen to me now
And it was alright
Ripper didn’t understand why she was ignoring him. She knew because he kept manifesting in the corner of her vision, confusion and concern on his face.
Jenny kept going out to the cafe, kept doing research. But this time she was researching exorcisms, trying to find something for a poltergeist that could be put into play quickly enough that said poltergeist couldn’t intervene.
He was worried about her, which she knew because he followed her around the house, gently asking what was wrong and how he could help. He made her coffee, even cooked her breakfast, anxiously biting his lip when she took what he gave without comment– then stared in misery when she stopped taking them at all.
She’d been emailing and DMing her fellow magic-dabblers for ideas and suggestions, learning from the various examples and anecdotes they shared. Slowly but surely putting together a feasible plan to be rid of the spirit that lingered on the mortal plane.
He was angry with her. She knew because he was back to throwing things at her, but always manifested now, screaming accusations and insults. Demanding her attention, threatening to destroy her books, her laptop, swearing viciously that he would tear her apart unless she talked to him.
She couldn’t stand to be in the apartment any longer than she had to be. She was almost grateful for the violence, as it gave her every reason to leave. She spent all her time trying to find accurate incantations and small, discreet artefacts that she could smuggle in her laptop bag to keep from Ripper’s knowledge.
He was desperate, now. He still threw things, still broke things, but they were never aimed at Jenny anymore. He stopped demanding and started begging, apologising and promising to be better, that whatever he did to upset her he’d never do it again. He pleaded with her to look at him, talk to him, anything to indicate that she knew he was there, please, becoming increasingly scared that she didn’t. That he was alone again.
More than once, she found herself staring down an alley or manhole where she knew Angelus to be. He was much older than her, and more deeply entrenched in the supernatural world. If anyone could get rid of a poltergeist, surely he could? She kept chickening out, but she knew he’d seen her at least once– probably more. He’d confront her eventually.
Ripper gave up. He never manifested in any way, never moved anything or made a sound. Her books were back in her bag in her room, and he didn’t read anything anymore. She could see his shadow in the window when she approached the building, could see it under the door when she put the key in the lock, but although he was there the only clue was the cold.
She was always cold. Especially at night, it was impossible to sleep. Perhaps she could have adapted to the constant chill, but how could anyone rest comfortably with a ghost weeping bitterly in the corner of their room?
Jenny, he whispered brokenly between the sobs, through every hour of the night, Jenny, Jenny, Jenny.
She hated being in the apartment now more than ever. She’d take the violence again, happily. Ripper’s despair seeped into every part of the house and into her, and it followed her out of it, weighing her down with guilt.
Why shouldn’t she feel guilty? It was her fault. She’d thought he’d get bored and sulk, not…
He cried. He cried all night every night, even when he wasn’t in her room she could hear him. He was cold and silent during the day, but she had no doubt that he roamed the halls weeping when she was out as well.
Sometimes the cold would get more intense as he crept closer to her bedside, her back always turned away from the wall to hide her face, and he would whisper her name and quietly bargain with her, as if promising not to comment obnoxiously during Parks and Rec. would make things go back to normal.
He’d even sworn off the music he so loved, if only so she’d talk to him again. And she’d stayed silent and ‘sleeping’ as he choked on his words and retreated to sob in the hall, never knowing that she was crying too.
But… what was she supposed to do? Explain that she’d had some kind of crisis because the person she liked the most in all the world was a dead man? Admit that she’d doggedly caused him all this suffering because he’d spooked her a bit that one afternoon? She didn’t think she could if she wanted to.
Please, he’d breathed into her ear, we don’t ever have to talk to each other again, honest. Just please, please look at me like I’m here. I’m still here Jen, please, I’m still here…
He was right; he was still here. Ripper’s suffering wasn’t going to end because Jenny was discussing books with him. This exorcism was the only way to set him free and let him rest in peace.
But it was taking such a long time just to figure out how to go about it, and she didn’t know how many more anguished, miserable nights she could take. So here she was, wandering London after dark, procrastinating on going back home and feeling guilty for doing so.
Something she sorely regretted when she saw eyes on her from a side street. Trying not to panic, Jenny reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. Realising she didn’t have anyone to call, she faked it, greeting someone who wasn’t there and striking up a conversation in which she made it clear that she was heading home and would be there very soon. That should be a successful deterrent, unless it was a vampire.
(What if it was Angelus?)
She kept up the imaginary chat all the way back to the apartment building, where she chirped a bright, “I’m here!” into the cell and started jogging up the stairs. For the first time in days, Jenny was eager to be back within the apartment’s boundaries.
Just as she was fumbling with her key, strong hands grabbed her shoulders, holding her in place. She hadn’t heard them at all.
Oh, fuck, fuck fuck fuck fuck. It was a vampire. It was a vampire and she was going to die. Idiot, stupid, why was she out after dark!?
“Don’t move.” The vampire said softly. “I have some things to ask you.”
“Do you?” Jenny asked, heart in her throat.
Before she could say anything else, the vampire’s grip tightened. “Oh, sorry, you must not have heard me. I’m gonna be asking the questions, alright?”
She didn’t answer. She hated how scared she was, but she was frozen and couldn’t swallow. She was going to die. She was going to die. She was going to die.
“Better.” The strong hands turned her around, and the first thing she saw was the bleached hair and razor-sharp cheekbones. “Now… stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but a vampire with a soul moved into the sewer.”
She knew that one quite well, but still couldn’t get her tongue to cooperate. It felt thick and clumsy in her mouth.
“Proper pathetic he is now, and I knew him before. He was always a pretentious prick, but now?” The vampire shook his head. “Shame, really. Still, means I can go poke him with a stick now and then so I don’t mind that much, but I’ve got to wonder… what have you got to do with him?”
Jenny finally found her voice. “I don’t- I don’t know wha-what you’re talking about.”
She was shoved backwards into the door, sudden and painful. Her shoulders were going to bruise.
He tutted, shaking his head in a disappointment belied by the glee in his eyes. “Dear oh dear… wrong answer, I’m afraid.”
The door swung inwards, and Jenny fell back– while the vampire hit the boundary of the threshold and had his grip torn from her.
“What the bloody–!?”
The vampire shrieked and threw himself out of the doorway as an honest-to-God stake aimed straight for his heart flew just past him.
“I know what you are, demon.”
Fire suddenly sprung up from the floor outside the doorway, forcing the vampire back onto the stairwell. Jenny frantically scooted further back into her home as the vampire stared in shock. “Jesus Christ–”
“You are dust.”
The stairs cracked, and the vampire swore, then was gone with a distant thud. The door swung shut, and Ripper was there.
“What the fuck were you doing out at night!? Do you have any idea how many vampires there are crawling around London!? You could have been killed!”
His voice broke, his face crumpled, and Ripper sunk to his knees in front of her. “Jen– Jenny– you- you can’t– it’s not safe–”
“Ripper.” She choked out, grateful beyond belief. “Only– only you would just. Have a c-carved stake on hand.”
But Ripper’s beautiful eyes had gone wide, and he was staring at her like he’d never seen her before. “Jenny,” he whispered, intensely, urgently, like a desperate prayer, “Jenny.”
To her horror, Jenny sobbed, and Ripper lurched forwards only to hover awkwardly, just short of touching her.
“Can you–” His voice was thick. “Are you–” A ragged breath. “Jenny. I’m– I’m here. I’m here.”
Yes. Yes, he was there, and he’d saved her. No one member of the Kalderash would have known if she died today, wouldn’t even have cared, but Ripper was there.
She reached out and grabbed his arm with both hands. He was so cold and she was so glad to feel it. He went as still as a statue, but when Jenny pulled herself forward to wrap her arms around him, she felt him gasp as if he still had lungs in his chest to expand.
Then Ripper was hugging her back, and she wept into his broad shoulder. He was crying too, sobbing her name this time in relief, squeezing her in a way that felt strange and new, but good.
“God,” he choked out, “you’re so warm!”
She would be, wouldn’t she? The warmth of life must be so alien to him, she thought sadly, and she squeezed him a little more firmly against her, finding the chill of undeath not so unpleasant as she’d anticipated.
It felt good to touch Ripper, to feel him solid against her. He didn’t feel alive, but he felt real.
They were on the couch, as they so often were. Pressed together underneath a blanket, the two of them had been pleasantly surprised to find that while Ripper didn’t create heat, he could absorb it from another living being– which meant that a hot drink, thick wool and some cuddling kept them both toasty.
And Ripper was loving it. He was still a little wounded from the weeks spent ignoring him, and he did everything in his power to grab and keep Jenny’s attention. Now that they were hugging nearly constantly, that was pretty easy to do.
He even crept into her bed, just to lie close to her. She couldn’t deny him, not after the ceaseless, lonely misery she’d put him through. Not when he lit up whenever she rolled over and acknowledged him, like he hadn’t dared to hope.
But they were on the couch when things changed again.
“’Ang about, so ‘Rosa Diaz’ might not be ‘er legal name, that’s what you’re tellin’ me?”
“Might not be. I mean, I have no idea how Terry tracked down her school and favourite teacher if it’s not her real name, but it might be a retcon.”
Ripper frowned. “A what?”
“Retroactive continuity.” His expression didn’t change. Jenny rolled her eyes. “The people making it changed their minds.”
“Oh. That’s naff.”
‘Naff’ was one of those words she hadn’t got a concrete definition for yet, but it was definitely negative. She nodded in agreement.
“What’s a name, anyway? It’s a made-up word with an arbitrary meanin’, like every aspect of language.”
Now it was Jenny’s turn to frown. Ripper loved geeky shit like languages and etymology. He only usually sounded this grouchy about things like technology and Jenny leaving the apartment.
“’Real name’,” he continued, muttering, “Crock o’ shit.”
After a long silence, Jenny took a deep breath. “At birth I was named Janna.”
He immediately swiveled to stare at her, and she met his gaze head on.
The stare-down didn’t last long, to her disappointment. He seemed to get embarrassed, and sheepishly muttered, “Well, that’s alright, ain’t it?”
Ah. She smirked, deciding to have a little fun. “Oh, really? What did your parents name you, Tarquin? Oswald?”
Ripper chuckled. “No, it’s not that bad. But it is a bit…” He bobbled his head, with a faint grimace. Jenny bit back her grin, trying to imagine his legal name in his accent. She thought it sounded quite nice.
Shifting position a little, Jenny plonked her head on his shoulder. For several minutes, nothing further was said. Just when she’d resigned herself to pretending she hadn’t started this and trying again next time, he spoke.
“Rupert?” She repeated in surprise, head snapping back up to look at him. “Not Randall?”
He turned cold.
“Where did you get that name?”
Cold and gaunt with eyes like ice, eyes that saw through her. Jenny swallowed around the lump in her throat and lied by omission.
“When… I knew someone died here, then you were here being all… poltergeisty. I-I looked it up. I thought… I thought that was– that you’d been killed here. And that’s why you were still here.”
Had they misidentified the body? Mistaken Ripper for one of his friends? The thought was like a gut punch. He deserved better.
“Oh, I see,” he hissed, derailing that thought, “you thought I was the victim? Poor li’l Ripper, killed by his friends?” He was still under the blanket with her, pressed into her side; but he was sapping her warmth without keeping it, his unblinking gaze markedly unfriendly. Damn it, she thought, I’d stopped being scared of you.
“I’m not Randall– I’m not the victim.” He spat, leaning in dangerously close. “I’m Ripper. I’m the murderer.”
For one heart-stopping moment, he stayed there, green-and-brown eyes all she could see. Then he was gone, the lights and the laptop flickering. The cold lingered.
Heart pounding, shaking with adrenaline, Jenny bit her lip hard and fought back her tears. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.
He was gone. Jenny didn’t know where he had gone, if he’d moved on or was simply giving her the silent treatment. But it wasn’t right.
She found herself listless, constantly looking for Ripper, waiting for him to appear. She spoke to empty rooms and opened Netflix only to sit there staring at the login screen, waiting for a companion that wouldn’t arrive. She started saying incendiary things to piss him off, but still there was silence.
Was this how Ripper had felt, she wondered? Had he felt an ache in his ghostly chest, a craving for the sound of a voice? She could understand why he’d cried so much.
Maybe he had passed on at last. Maybe he was at peace. Or maybe he was here, lurking beyond Jenny’s perceptions, just as lonely as her.
Jenny should have been pleased. She would have been three months ago, thrilled to be rid of her violent poltergeist. But past Jenny would have easily believed said poltergeist was a murderer. Present Jenny couldn’t.
She threw herself back into research. She could have done it in the apartment since Ripper seemed disinclined to disturb her, but it didn’t feel right. Besides, she’d hardly leave at all otherwise. The fresh air and occasional shafts of sunlight kept her from completely sinking into despair with his absence hanging over her like a shroud.
She had more than a name. She had two. The name of the man who died, and the name of the man who was lingering in the apartment.
The man with pale green eyes (and a splash of brown). The man with loose curls and a long, straight scar on his forehead. The man who dressed punk and talked shit but cooed at Holt and Kevin’s dog and had random trivia facts about foreign flowers. It was so, so obvious to Jenny that his harsh exterior was a front, and he couldn’t possibly have murdered someone, not on purpose. He couldn’t have. He couldn’t even commit to properly being a poltergeist! All she’d had to do to soften him up was talk to him, and she hadn’t exactly been playing nice. He was playful and immature, and he was solemn and lonely, and he wasn’t a killer.
Jenny had just got used to attaching the name ‘Randall’ to him, but his voice saying Rupert played on repeat in her head. Rupert. Rupert. Rupert.
Jenny and Ripper.
Janna and Rupert.
Pots and kettles.
Morgan Le Fuck
you gotta be kidding me
it’s not that wild, morgan. it was almost 50 years ago and barely made the front page of the local paper. it’s hard to dig things up.
Morgan Le Fuck
no i mean i recognise one of the guys in that photo
WHICH ONE MOGRAN
Morgan Le Fuck
chubby beard guy. that’s my uncle phil
She’d barely slept the night before and had been at the usual coffee shop at opening time. She made it to Picadilly Circus Station in seven minutes, and boarded the underground. Ten minutes after that she was standing at King’s Cross station, waiting for a train to Cambridge.
An hour later Jenny was in Cambridge, running for the law firm on Hills Road.
She arrived at 7:39, gasping for breath, and was told by the unsettled lady at the desk that Philip Henry wouldn’t be there until eight that morning.
At six minutes to eight, a man in a crisp business suit walked in, and his face really did look much the same as the photo.
“Philip Henry!” She suddenly cried, startlingly loud after almost twenty minutes of silence. Jenny leapt up and ran to him. “You have to tell me about the murder from 1976!”
Philip was immediately guarded, and usually Jenny wouldn’t blame him but right now she needed him to cooperate. “I’m sorry, I don’t think I follow? Can I ask your name, Miss… ?”
“Jenny,” she snapped, “I thought Ripper was the guy killed but it turns out he’s Rupert, not Randall, and he said he was–”
“Stop!” Philip had gone pale and wide-eyed, and he glanced over Jenny’s shoulder before swallowing and saying, “Why don’t you join me in my office?”
Which, fair, she was on the verge of saying some things that would be very difficult to explain away if she hadn’t already, but for fuck’s sake this was important!
Jenny turned and stormed further into the building, before realising she had no idea where she was going. She grudgingly came to a stop and let Philip catch up so he could lead her.
The moment the door was closed, she was on the attack.
“What the fuck happened!? Ripper said he murdered Randall but I can’t believe that! I’ve been living with the guy and he’s a dick but he’s a sweetheart–”
“Stop, stop, stop!” That successfully cut Jenny off; he sounded mad as hell.
“I don’t know who you are, how you know about that, or what your game is. But I won’t put up with it. Ripper– Rupert is dead, he’s been dead forty-odd years.”
Jenny threw her arms up in exasperation. “Yes! He is! And he’s been in that crappy apartment ever since! But if he wasn’t the one murdered, then why the hell is he still there? Why does he think he’s a murderer?”
Finally, realisation seemed to be dawning on Philip’s face. She hadn’t thought he could get any paler, but now he was chalk-white. “He’s a ghost…?”
“Poltergeist.” Philip was starting to look like he might pass out. “A real piece of work too, terrorised me for weeks. Then corrected my Latin when I tried to exorcise him, the dick.”
Philip continued to be incredibly unhelpful, stumbling over to his desk and sinking into the nearest chair. Was he shaking? God, it was like he’d never dealt with a poltergeist before.
“I knew someone had been murdered in that apartment.” He was definitely shaking. “I found a photo and part of an article, but I thought he was Randall.”
“No,” Philip said at last, “no that… Randall was before.”
Jenny frowned, shifting her laptop bag further back across her hip. “Before 1976?”
“No,” he said again, not looking at her, “Ripper died after ‘76.”
“Okay,” Jenny said, not hiding her frustration at all, “so tell me what happened!”
Philip took in a deep breath, then let it out in a stressed sigh. Then a knock sounded at the office door, and without waiting for an answer the receptionist opened it and looked in.
“Phil, you’re due for– are you alright?” She seemed alarmed, and she should be Jenny realised. Philip still looked to be in shock.
“Yeah, I…” Another deep sigh, and Phil slowly dragged his hands down his face. “This young lady is a friend of my niece, and she raced down here to tell me about a family emergency. I’m afraid I’ll need to leave.”
Nodding sympathetically, concern in her gaze, the woman said, “Oh of course, Phil. I’ll let Julia know and we’ll get someone in to cover.”
“Thank you.” Philip answered, then looked at Jenny. “You’d best come in the car with me.”
There was a voice in the back of Jenny’s head telling her that getting into a stranger’s car was a bad idea. She acknowledged it long enough to note that it sounded like Ripper, and smile at how much of a worrywart he could be, then summarily ignored it.
The inside of Philip’s house, when they got there, was… ordinary to the point of dull. All neutral colours and matching curtains, a few photos on a few surfaces and a painting of a seascape on one wall. Nothing indicating magic at all. He’d clearly left it all behind.
He’d been frustratingly tight-lipped in the car, to the point where Jenny had pretty much explained the whole debacle from start to finish in his silence. But she was reaching the end of her tether, and if Philip didn’t stop bumbling about in the kitchen she was storming in after him.
But he did come out, and when he did it was with a tea tray with steaming cups and a little milk jug and sugar bowl, and it was much nicer than the breakfast tray Ripper had cobbled together but he probably would have loved it if he could see it. She let Philip bumble some more, just nodding or shaking her head as he doctored her tea, not trusting her voice as she tried not to think about Ripper geeking out over a tea tray.
After a sip of tea and a heavy sigh, Philip said. “Eyghon. The Sleepwalker. He was… ancient. We would summon him, our little group of try-hards, usually already high on something. We’d take turns, one at a time, to be possessed by him. And it was… incredible. I literally don’t have the words to describe it, but there’s a reason we kept doing it despite the danger.”
Jenny ignored her tea completely, staring at Philip with rapt attention. Finally, finally, she’d know the truth.
“In 1976… it was Randall’s turn. But… the possession didn’t proceed normally. Eyghon wasn’t just inside Randall, he was awake and in control. All of our summoning, our- our worship, had strengthened him. Ripper thought quickly– he always did– and managed to get Randall in a position where we could tie him to a chair, buy us time to try and… fix it. Exorcise Eyghon, somehow.
But… we didn’t know how. We tried everything. And you have to understand, not only did we have resources, but Ripper… he was like an occult encyclopedia. But like I said, Eyghon is ancient, from before humanity I think. Nothing was working. It was the first time we were completely stumped even with Ripper’s knowledge and all our books, and that was almost as terrifying as Eyghon using Randall.”
“That’s why Ripper thinks he’s a murderer?” It made an awful sense. “Because he didn’t know how to save him?”
Philip looked decidedly uncomfortable, and took another sip of his tea. “Ah… no.”
He spent several seconds staring into his tea, then said, “Nothing was working, so… Ethan had an idea. A reckless, stupid idea. His specialty. But we had no other options and Eyghon was breaking free, so… those two were the most competent spellcasters, so if anyone could have done it they could. But…”
“But it didn’t work.” Jenny pressed.
Philip made a face. “The Pelleris spell.”
She felt the blood drain out of her face. “That– that’s not meant for people!”
“It was all we had.”
Jenny was pulled out of her shock by the clink of Philip’s cup as he set it down again.
“We all came away different people… except Ethan. Untouchable, the selfish prick. We all went our separate ways after that. Tom, Diedre and I kept in touch, but not often. Ethan and Ripper just… evaporated, after an argument between them turned violent.”
Christ. No wonder Ripper had issues, something like that… Jenny could hardly wrap her head around it. But it proved her point– he’d been trying to save Randall, not kill him! That was an accident, not a murder.
“… Four years later,” Philip continued, more subdued, “I got a call from Diedre. Turned out the apartment was still empty, and she went back sometimes, around the anniversary. She, uh… she’d found Ripper.”
Jenny heard herself gasp, felt her heart start to pound in her chest. He had been killed in the apartment! The strap of her laptop bag was biting into her hands and she realised she was wringing it tightly, but she didn’t stop.
“He’d…” Philip swallowed thickly. “We had– there was this… stash. Under one of the floorboards, probably a few to be fair. Just… all kinds of drugs, magical and mundane. Turned out no one had found it, or just not wanted to deal with it, and he’d… Ripper… Ripper had taken the lot.”
It felt like ice water had been dumped on Jenny’s head, washing over her in an almost-painful prickling wave. Hot tears burned behind her eyes in visceral contrast, and she had to take a few deep, shaky breaths to keep from crying. She’d been so convinced all this time, but Ripper hadn’t been killed at all. He’d done it to himself.
"I… I have to admit, knowing Ripper’s soul is still on this plane is… deeply unsettling.”
Jenny glanced over, and felt an overdue welling of sympathy for Philip. All this had happened to his friends. Finding out that someone he’d cared for, lost, mourned and moved on from was still haunting their old apartment… she couldn’t begin to imagine how he felt. Jenny floundered for a moment, trying to figure out what she could possibly say, but he carried on without waiting for her to speak.
“Eyghon… he didn’t just possess sleeping people. He’d take the dead, though corpses don’t last as long. But…” Philip hesitated, picked up his empty cup and put it down again, eyes anywhere but Jenny. “You don’t just summon Eyghon. You have to– to mark yourself, for possession. You have to mark yourself as his. You have to give yourself to him. For Ripper’s spirit to still be here… why hasn’t Eyghon claimed him?”
And with that, Jenny felt sick. She’d wanted the truth, thinking she’d be prepared for it, but now came the realisation of what she’d tried to do. She’d been fighting to exorcise him, on and off for months… never realising that she would have effectively been handing him over to a demon.
It’s pretty difficult now, she thought hysterically, to be mad about the shower sludge.
Abruptly, Philip cleared his throat, and suddenly his demeanour had changed noticeably. He sat up straight, shoulders squared, his face set in quiet determination. “I need to try and contact the others. Then we can figure out what to do.”
Still reeling, and utterly at a loss, Jenny just nodded.
It was about twenty minutes past two in the afternoon by the time Philip actually got a viable contact, only for him to realise that Diedre wasn’t going to pick up the phone no matter how long it rang because she was probably at work. This was too sensitive– and supernatural– to leave in a voice message, so he recited his number and asked that she call back, then focused on tracking down Thomas instead.
Staring into long-cold tea, Jenny wondered what could possibly come next. Exorcising Ripper was completely out of the question until he was safe from Eyghon, but Philip and Ripper couldn’t even force him from a human host. What could they do to protect Ripper’s soul?
What if it was already too late?
It was too awful to contemplate, but Jenny couldn’t stop thinking about it. He’d been silent, absent, for weeks now. For all she knew, Eyghon could have him already, could have bypassed whatever had stopped him, swept in and claimed Ripper and their last conversation would have been fraught with anger and fear. She would never sit with him, never watch Netflix with him, never see his reaction to the end of A Storm Of Swords. She’d never get to call him Rupert, or argue with him, or cuddle in bed with him, or see his soft, dopey smiles ever again.
Curling tightly into the corner, acutely feeling the lack of him, Janna wept.
The next few hours passed in this lonely, guilt-ridden misery. Philip noticed, but seemed not to know what to do, and simply ignored her. She figured it must be pretty weird to have a random teenager come tell you your old dead friend was a poltergeist and then start crying in your living room.
“Tom!” Philip’s voice suddenly changed from its previous politeness, relief and familiarity shining through. “Tom, it’s Philip Henry… yeah. Yeah, that’s… it’s not a social call. No. No it’s… it’s Ripper. Yes– yeah, I know, that’s the problem. He’s a… a ghost. He’s still in the apartment.”
A ghost, Jenny noticed. Not poltergeist. She didn’t know what it meant, but she noticed.
After some more talking, Philip gave Thomas his address, so apparently this Thomas person was heading over. Was Thomas the thin dark-haired man from the photo, or the tall blond? She supposed she’d find out.
Almost immediately after Thomas hung up, Diedre called. Philip’s greeting to her was much more subdued, the conversation shorter. He gave her the address as well, and that was that.
“So,” Jenny croaked, trying to pretend she wasn’t sniffling, “what now?”
Philip was visibly startled by Jenny’s voice after hours of her being silent, but he rallied well, returning again to his more composed, determined state. “For now, we’ll have to wait. Once the others have arrived we’ll convene, and figure out a plan of action.”
Awkwardly, he gestured to the couch. “You can, uh, stay on the sofa tonight. It’ll be dark by the time you get back to London.”
Jenny shuddered, remembering the last time she was out after dark in London. “I… okay. Yeah. Thanks.”
God, she hated waiting.
“Have you got coffee?”
Philip glanced doubtfully at his watch. “Bit late in the day for a coffee, don’t you think?”
With a sigh, Philip shrugged and took the tray back out into the kitchen.
Resigning herself to yet more waiting, tired but dreading the thought of sleep, Jenny, glanced out the window. Not that there was anything to see.
People walking, people driving. Not many, what with the dwindling light, but a few. Most of them wholly unaware that ghosts were anything other than stories or metaphors. Jenny literally couldn’t imagine living like that– she’d always known.
She shivered, feeling suddenly cold. She looked back towards the kitchen, hoping Philip would arrive with hot coffee, and shrieked in surprise.
“Christ,” yelled Ripper, startled by Jenny in turn, “that the bloody thanks I get? I come all the way to fucking Cambridge– why are you in Cambridge!? It’s an hour and a sodding half away!”
Flustered, heart thumping, Jenny blurts, “That’s not that far!”
Blinking slowly, Ripper frowned, then turned about. Philip had come out of the kitchen (without coffee, Jenny noted) and was staring in abject… shock? Horror? It was hard to tell.
Leaning forward slightly, Ripper squinted. “… Phil?”
“… Yeah. Yeah it’s me.”
Still squinting, Ripper slowly looked around the room; at the walls, the carpets, the furniture, the seascape painting. “You married?”
“Uh… n-no. No I’m not married. Why…?”
“Living with relatives? Your sister?”
“…No. Just me.”
“Well then why the fuck is everything–?” Ripper cut himself off, and waved a hand around like the place was a mess.
Affronted, Phil scowled. “There’s nothing wrong with neutral colours.”
“You. You actually just said that to me. What the fuck.”
Jenny tried to interject. “Actually, Ripper–”
“Phil.” He carried on like he hadn’t heard her. “Philip. This place looks like my Gran chose the decor, and she remembers the 30s. What the fuck kind of lobotomy have you had?”
“It’s called growing up, Ripper!”
“Jesus, I didn’t realise adulthood was achieved by surgically removing your personality! Explains a lot.”
“My house is perfectly–”
“Your sofas match the curtains and both of them are beige!”
Finally, silence reigned as both men sheepishly turned to Jenny. “Ripper, how are you here?”
The question clearly confused Ripper, and he took a few seconds to think about it. “Well… you weren’t home, and it was gettin’ dark. Didn’t want a repeat of the last time,” he gave her a Look, “so I came to get you.”
“That didn’t answer my question.” She said firmly. “How did you come to get me?”
A longer silence. Ripper’s eyes were unfocused. “… You weren’t home. You were here. I knew you were here. So I needed to be here. So I’m here.” He suddenly jerked like an electric current had passed through him, and then pinned Jenny with a cold stare. “Why are you at Phil’s house? How are you at Phil’s house? How do you–” he turned to Phil, “why is Jenny in your tragically bland house?”
Phil immediately looked… wary. Sympathetic but on edge, like he was about to deliver bad news. “Well… she had concerns about, um. A poltergeist.”
That was annoyingly vague, and Jenny made sure to shoot him an irritated look, but it was true. She’d been pretty concerned about Ripper. “Right,” she affirmed, “and it turned out someone recognised–”
Cold, dead eyes. Piercing. Her voice died as well.
“Finally getting shot of me, then?”
“Oh my god, Ripper, are you serious? I was worried about you– !”
“Yes, you’ve made that clear,” he snapped, “and you tracked down someone who knew me then to do it properly. Well, go on!”
Ripper lurched towards Phil, throwing his arms wide. “Go on, do it! Fucking do it, get it over with!”
“We’re not giving you to Eyghon!” Jenny shouted, furious and terrified. She was shaking as Ripper turned back around, eerily slow.
“He told you, then.”
“Yes,” she answered, filled with urgency, “he told me you tried to save–”
Ripper scoffed in disgust and turned away again.
Phil’s voice was soft, so much so Jenny wasn’t entirely sure what she’d heard. There was a tense silence as Ripper stared at Phil’s gentle expression, before his own twisted in bitterness and guilt.
“Didn’t though, did I?” He spat with such venom that Jenny flinched. It nearly brought her to tears again, to hear how much he hated himself. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and tell him he was a good person, but that wouldn’t work. She felt more helpless now that she ever had when he was trying to drive her out.
“No,” Phil agreed, not unkindly, “but you didn’t kill Randall either.”
Again, Ripper flinched at the name. “I know we were all on drugs, but I’m pretty fucking sure I did, Philip!”
“Ripper.” He was imploring now, carefully stepping closer. “I was there. I saw you. I had our best spellbook in my hands, and I couldn’t find anything that might help. But every time I thought ‘this is it, we’re all dead’, you pulled something else out of that incredible brain of yours. And no, you’re right, none of it worked, but not for lack of trying. I honestly thought a couple times you were gonna drag Eyghon out of Randall with your own two hands. You did everything in your power to get us all out alive.”
Phil was right in front of Ripper now, and although he was shorter the balance between them had drastically shifted. Ripper looked so brutally young.
“That’s not murder, Ripper. If a surgeon loses a patient on the operating table despite his best efforts, he’s not a murderer. You just… couldn’t quite save him. And even then!” Phil smiled breathlessly, looking for all the world like he idolised the restless spirit invading his living room. “Even then, you saved the rest of us. Tom, Diedre and me, we all talked about it months later. How lucky we were to have you there with us.”
Ripper sobbed, and Jenny couldn’t wait any longer. She charged into Ripper’s back, her own tears streaming, squeezing him tightly even as they both collided with Phil, who was completely unprepared. They went down with a shout in a haphazard tangle of limbs, Ripper still sobbing and Jenny sort of laughing but with tears.
He was warm.
Angel had left the country, again.
And it was Janna’s duty to follow where he led.
Which was how she found herself stepping out of an airport into California sunshine. She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, basking in the warmth.
“Oh god,” said Ripper, “this is awful.”
Jenny sighed, glancing over to see him hunching in his leather jacket. “Only you would complain about such a glorious day.”
“In a busy airport under a blinding sun, slowly baking? I’d rather be dead.”
She bit the inside of her cheek. It stopped being funny months ago and she absolutely wasn’t going to encourage him by laughing.
Oh, but he had that stupid, adorable grin on his face, eyes twinkling with knowing, and she had to turn away. “You’re literally the worst.”
She could see him reflected in a nearby window, shifting his weight to one leg in a perfectly nonchalant slouch, with an artfully derisive “Pshh,” as he dug out his phone. His brow pinched just a little as he unlocked the touch screen like he’d been practicing, and started methodically doing whatever he was doing with it. Jenny was both surprised and proud at how quickly he’d got the hang of it.
“You texting Phil?” She decided to pretend to check how she looked in the window. Her favourite Ripper was the one who thought she wasn’t looking. The one who stared out of the plane window in awe while she watched over the rim of her book, who tucked her hair behind her ear when he thought she was sleeping. The one who stuck his tongue out a little as he tried to get the phone in the right position for a selfie, then grinned like a dork as he actually took it.
“Yeah,” he said afterward, which by then was true since he was carefully typing a message to go with his selfie, “you know what a fusser he is. And Diedrie’ll wanna know what it’s like here.”
The smile on Jenny’s reflection was starting to look a little too dopily adoring, so she shook herself and grabbed her luggage. “Well, come on slowpoke! If we miss that bus we’ll have to hitchhike, and you might be fine with getting stabbed in the woods but I’m wearing a new dress!”
She flashed him a grin before striding through the crowds with more authority than her tiny from and floral sundress would suggest.
She didn’t see the gentle warmth in the eyes that followed her, or the softness of the smile beneath them. She heard the scrape of bags being scooped off the concrete and the heavy booted footsteps striding effortlessly to catch up with her, but not the sweetly whispered words–
“So the spirit bows before thee
To listen and adore thee;
With a full but soft emotion,
Like the swell of Summer’s ocean.”