She grinned, a million watt smile, figuratively brightening up the poorly lit roadside café. He was getting a headache, but not from the intensity of her smile. The dull throb was caused partly by a hard day at work and by the sharp, clear words falling from her bright red lips. A voice with such a high frequency it could have caused an avalanche, and it was getting louder by the second.
Out of the endless one sided conversation she was forcing James to listen to, things like her past boyfriends and small jokes, he managed to pick up a question. An invitation to join in and talk for a moment, words shaped in the most exquisite form.
"Do you want a coffee?"
Hell yes he thought. He nodded his head a little too quickly; the movement seemed to repeat itself like he was still moving even when he wasn't. He was thankful that she was at least providing a possible cure for the pain she wasn't helping in the slightest, because after all coffee was the answer to everything. Or at least the answer to everything was a lot simpler after a cup of steaming caffeine.
He praised the fact that she would leave him for a moment to order, a few minutes of blissful silence before the record started again. Her voice was a juke box, and his presence was the money to make it play.
James hadn't wanted to come to the café he was sitting in. With it's off white décor and peeling paint, employees that looked half dead and lights that flickered so much they gave the illusion that he was in a disco. He hadn't wanted to drive her to this hell hole, to pick her up outside her small slum of an apartment. He hadn't wanted to come out at all.
The powers that be, in the form of his two twin roommates, hadn't been happy. Atticus and Aiden had demanded the night off and had made him go to work in their place. As though he was their boss, a thought that made his insides want to turn inside out and his brain explode because if all their clients were like this he never wanted to help them out again.
The woman, whose name happened to be Karen, sat herself opposite him on the off white piece of moulded plastic that made up the cafes seats. She placed twin cups of coffee in front of them. They weren't black. He mumbled a thank you and sighed. He liked his coffee black, he'd forgotten to tell her that, she hadn't bothered to ask.
"So, I know that you probably can't do much seeing as you're not, you know, you don't have the gift, but I hope you could try and help me with my problem. Atticus told me that you live with him and his brother."
James forced a smile. He hoped that she would get the impression that he was trying to reassure her with his smile, to say that he would do whatever he could to help, but really a smile could mean anything. What his really meant was something along the lines of 'this smile is fake. I'm going to kill my roommates for dumping their career on me. I think this whole thing is bullshit.'
He attempted to clear his mind, to think like his friends did. Paranormal things defiantly did exist, he wasn't unsure about this, wasn't open minded, he knew they existed. The noises in her house were most defiantly not caused by a stalker, or her imagination. The misplaced items were not a result of her scatterbrain and carelessness.
"Well, having listened to what you've just said Karen, I think that it's possible that this ex boyfriend of yours; the first one you mentioned, not the one that kissed Casey, or the one that went to prison, is possibly haunting you." James responded.
Her face brightened up immediately, she'd looked doubtful a moment ago, but now hearing his apparent belief in all things paranormal it looked to James like she'd decided that he probably knew what he was talking about. This thought made him want to laugh, he had no idea what he was talking about. His friends and he never discussed their careers; it was an unspoken rule, like avoiding conversations related to politics, and religion. They always ended in arguments.
"So, you really think that? I thought that too. I'm scheduled another appointment with the twins, and I know you're probably not as professional about these things as they are so I don't expect too much of a definite answer to my problems. I just wanted someone to talk to you know? Get some of my problems of my chest."
James had to use every atom in his being to avoid the urge to laugh at this. Some of her problems? He thought to himself. She'd been talking non stop for the past hour and a half.
"That's fine, I like helping people. Do you want to finish now or-" He tried to remember what his friends had told him about dealing with clients before they left the house "Or I could look around your house? Make some notes and do some research? I could give the notes to Atticus and Aiden for your next meeting."
"That would be great, yeah." She said finishing her coffee, James had hardly touched his.
"Alright then I'll do that. I'm just going to go and use the bathroom. I'll be back in a moment ok?"
She nodded, affirmation that it was alright for him to leave. He'd been told that some clients were a bit jumpy; worried that something might happen if they're left alone during the meeting. He was glad that it didn't seem to be the case with Karen.
He walked slowly towards the café's toilets. He was sure it was just because he had a headache, but the walk seemed to take forever and the features of the café were blurring slightly.
He swung the door to the bathroom open; a quick assessment of how grimy that place looked told him that he did not want to use the toilets. He didn't need to anyway. He made a beeline for the sinks. He splashed his face with water, sure that he would regret it later, but right now he needed to stay alert. He looked up into the cracked mirror above the row of sinks. Someone had graffitied part of it with a black marker pen. He wasn't surprised, there was barely any room left on the walls for any more writing.
Suddenly, something in the mirror jolted him awake, adrenaline running through him. Reflected in the mirror, hanging from the inside of an open toilet stall, was a young man who looked a couple of years younger than him, rope around his neck, pale, with ghostly eyes and clearly dead. He'd looked away from the mirror for a moment, a split second, and when his gaze returned he realised that the toilet stall was now empty. He was seeing things.
He laughed softly and walked quickly out of the toilets. He really needed some time off of work, to relax. He was starting to go insane. He headed back towards the table, Karen smiled up at him.
"Ready to go?" She asked him.
"Yeah, defiantly, let's get out of here."
The walk to his car took another eternity, but this time it wasn't because he was feeling tired.
There was a loud beeping sound, ringing in his ears. He groaned and turned over, if he ignored it, it would go away.
Atticus danced around James's bed, performing a very good impression of his friend's alarm clock. The alarm clock in question hadn't gone off; it was a Saturday so James had the day off work.
"Come on sleepyhead, it's half eleven get up!" Atticus yelled right into his ear.
When he didn't respond, Atticus yanked on the blanket hard and pulled it off of him. It was suddenly very cold, and James missed the warmth. He wouldn't give in though. If his friend wanted him out of bed he would have to ask nicely.
Atticus seemed to realise this, and sighed softly before giving in.
"Ok, ok, please get up?" He asked with a voice feigning sweetness.
James sat up in bed thinking it was a damn good job he didn't sleep naked other wise his friend might have gotten a nasty shock. He rubbed the sleep out of his voice, attempting to make his bedroom seem less blurry. Finally his friend's face came into focus.
"What do you want?" He asked wearily.
"James, I'm hurt! I only wanted to make sure you didn't sleep the whole day away." His friend said tugging open the curtains covering his bedroom window "And what a beautiful day it is, you really should get up earlier. What makes you think I want anything?" He sat himself on the edge of the bed.
"Yeah? Well thank you very much but now I really need to get changed and have a shower. So please, fuck off out of my room." James said smiling.
"Wow you're touchy first thing in the morning. Here, you have mail." His friend said imitating the automated voice that sounded when you sign onto AOL and have email.
He chucked the bright white envelope onto his friend's bed before leaving the room. James picked it up and looked at it for a moment puzzled. The address was hand written, he didn't know anyone that would send him mail. He tore open the envelope carelessly in his rush to read it.
He didn't read it though, there was just a picture. It was dark red, black. It looked like it was a photograph of something zoomed in close. So close in fact that he couldn't make out what it was. There was no writing. He chucked it onto the bed sighing.
Half an hour later he'd finished in the shower and had gotten dressed. He was attempting to eat some burnt toast. The shower had been freezing, someone had used up all of the hot water, seeing as Aiden appeared to be out he assumed that he was the culprit. He could tell that it was going to be a great day; he could also tell that today he was in a sarcastic mood.
"So how did it go with Karen?" Atticus asked, looking up from the magazine he was reading for a moment, it was called 'ghosts among us.'
"Fine I suppose. I looked around her house, made some notes about the things she thought had moved, and about the noises. You and Aiden owe me for this." James tried not to think about the scene in the mirror as he recounted his evening from hell.
Atticus nodded and continued reading his magazine. James chucked the remaining piece of burnt toast in the bin. His throat was now very dry and he eagerly drank the coffee that Atticus had made for him. His face contorted into a disgusted expression when he realised the coffee was no longer hot.
"Atticus, this is cold. You said you made it five minutes ago."
"Yeah, at quarter to twelve," Atticus replied, not looking up from his magazine.
James checked his watch and realised that it was now quarter past twelve.
"Whatever… I'm going out ok? Please don't forget to lock the door behind you when you leave. I'm sure a burglar will find his way into the house to destroy my room and belongings anyway, but I don't want to give him an easy ride. The notepad with all the notes I made is on my bedside table." James mumbled, grabbing his jacket from the back of the chair.
He paused before the door to pick up his keys from the table by the front door. Not really remembering that he had left them on his bedside table the night before, and that they had moved a good ten metres since then.
James wasn't sure why he'd decided to come to the market. He'd just needed to get out of the house for a while, and after walking around by himself aimlessly for about half an hour, the quiet had begun to get to him. His thoughts kept going back to what he'd seen last night, and the large crowds of people, teenagers talking and shouting at each other, and toddlers screaming for their parents to buy them various toys, was distracting. That's why he'd come to the town centre, but he still wasn't sure why he'd gravitated towards the market, he didn't really like the market.
It was an outside market, so there were covers over the top of the stalls, in stripy red and white or blue and white. There were various stalls selling an assortment of items, everything from fruit and vegetables, to runes and spices that would no doubt have attracted Atticuss's attention, or Aiden's. They were both into that sort of thing.
He paused for a moment in front of a stall selling cheap phone covers. Some of them caught his fancy, one in particular. He didn't know how reliable they'd be though.
He was about to walk past when the woman behind the stall grabbed his arm. Rambling about how great the phone covers were. He apologized, saying that he was really only looking and practically ran out of the market. Now he remembered why he didn't like the market, Crazy old women desperate to sell phone covers. They wouldn't take no for an answer and the term browsing wasn't in their vocabulary.
He checked his watch; it was two o'clock. He hadn't really eaten breakfast and he felt really hungry. Something shifted in the back of his mind. Was he supposed to do something at two o'clock?
"Shit!" He mumbled to himself, as he broke into a run.
He was half an hour late for a meeting.
By six thirty James was not happy. In actual fact he hadn't been happy since Friday morning, but by six thirty, Saturday evening, James's mood was lower than ever.
He'd run through the town centre, arriving at his place of work in about fifteen minutes, out of breath, sweating with hair all over the place. Not that the latter was anything new to him, his hair was always all over the place. It was dark brown, jaggedly cut and varied in messiness depending on the time of day. It was at its worst in the morning.
When he'd got into the office everyone was already seated including his boss. His boss wasn't the boss. Hell, he'd never even seen the boss. His boss was just the head of the department.
He worked for a music magazine; he'd had the job for half a year now. He had a very small column on the second to last page. He had a small say in the design layout of the page his column was shoved onto. Other than that he spent most of his time working as a secretary, answering telephone calls and the like, because it didn't take long to write a couple of paragraphs a month.
All eyes where on him as he'd walked into the room. The meeting hadn't started, they were waiting for him, and it wasn't because he had an important role in the company. He didn't contribute towards the discussions at these meetings, he documented them. He was the one that made notes on what was discussed. So naturally they couldn't begin without him. Notes where important, apparently they weren't capable of remembering things.
The meeting had gone down hill from there. Half way through his pen had run out and he'd had to excuse himself to get another one. Only to find out, upon his return, that that pen didn't work either.
The meeting was incredibly boring, and there was one person who had such a quiet voice he had to keep asking her to repeat what she was saying, gaining him several frowns from various people. It wasn't his fault he couldn't hear her.
After the meeting was finished three hours later (there were a lot of mishaps,) he ran out of the building almost tripping down a flight of stairs, because, you know, the elevator wasn't working again. He enjoyed his job most of the time; the people he worked with were fun. It was just the meetings he hated, especially when they were arranged on his day off.
He decided he would get a taxi back to his house because he felt exhausted even though he'd done little but write throughout the entire meeting, and make coffee, because no one else could be bothered.
Finding a taxi proved difficult, and after walking around for about half an hour he was glad to finally find one. Only the taxi had taken him to the wrong place, and when he'd asked him to take him to his house the man had told him he would have to pay extra, so he'd gotten out deciding he'd take the bus. Busses never had problems like that, right? That's when he realised that there were no bus stops near by, and than it started raining.
He trudged around for a while getting soaking wet before he found a café. He sat down and got barked at by an overweight man in greasy overalls telling him that he either had to buy something or leave. He fisted through his pockets, and his wallet, and realised that he didn't have any money left. He'd used the last of it on the taxi, which also meant no bus. He groaned, shot the man behind the till a death glare and stormed out of the shop into the rain.
Which leads us to now, six thirty Saturday evening; James has seen better days, with better weather, and nicer people in cafes.
He looked around and realised that he actually recognized where he was. He was only about half an hour away from his home, things could have been worse.
He walked quickly down the road turning into an alleyway that he was sure led him closer to his house. He must have remembered wrong, it was a dead end. He turned back around and in the true fashion of someone who keeps having bad things happen to them, walked straight into an overflowing skip.
"Oh for fuck sake!" He roared.
"Jeez, you don't half take a while to crack. I felt sure you would have exploded at that shop keeper. Guess I misread you." A male voice commented dryly.
James turned slowly around. There was a man standing there, and for one moment he felt sure that it was the man he'd seen in the reflection of the mirror yesterday. Only that was impossible, that man was a figment of his imagination. Besides if he did exist he was dead, the man in front of him was alive alright. He was about five foot nine; he had messy blond hair that almost reached his shoulders and black thick framed glasses. He thought about what the man had said, he'd been waiting for him to crack? He narrowed his eyes and responded.
"Who, the fuck, are you?"
"Caiden. You're soaking." Caiden said smiling.
"Well, duh it's-"
He paused looking up at the sky, the clouds that had been threatening to rain all morning had vanished, in fact the sky was cloudless, and naturally the rain had stopped.
"Oh yeah, now it stops." James muttered angrily.
Caiden smiled at him for a moment, and than flicked his wrist in a circular motion. Suddenly he felt completely dry, and his clothes didn't feel crumpled. He stared in mute horror at the man in front of him.
"I- what- who- how?" He began confused.
"Yeah I know, it's all bullshit right? Guess you're friends aren't as wrong about paranormal activity as you thought. I mean, actually they are, but there more right than you are." Caiden said smirking.
"What are you?" James asked.
"What am I? That's so typical of people isn't it? They see something slightly weird, that they can't comprehend, and suddenly a person goes from a who to an it." Caiden said disgustedly.
"Look, I'm not going to stay here talking to you all day, I just wanted to give you something." Caiden said thrusting a crumpled looking leaflet into his hand.
He felt his hand brush his when he'd passed him the leaflet, so he wasn't a ghost right? He heard Caiden laugh, and he looked up could he read his mind?
"Yeah, I can read your mind. When I want to, sometimes I can't help it; you seem to project your thoughts at me, like when you ask a question about something like death and what not, it comes to me, and in answer to your first question just because I'm dead doesn't mean I don't have any matter. Jeez man, you have so much to learn."
Caiden was walking away back through the alleyway.
"Just so you know, I wasn't the cause of all the hell you were put through today, I was just made to watch, yeah?" Caiden called after him. He could hear the laughter in his voice. At least someone thought his last twenty four hours were funny.
"Hey, wait what the hell!" James called after him.
Caiden didn't turn around; James tried to run after him. He reached the end of the alleyway turned side to side and realised that he'd disappeared. As though he'd never been there in the first place. He sighed and began to walk home, slowly this time. He'd decided that rushing only got him into more trouble.
When he arrived home he practically collapsed onto his bed, planning on just falling to asleep, even though it was only seven thirty. He'd decided that if he was asleep nothing bad could happen, except maybe a nightmare or two. He was stopped in his track however by something pointy sticking into him. He shuffled around a bit until he found said pointy thing. It was the paper with the photograph from earlier, only now it wasn't zoomed in.
"I guess it must have finally developed." He mumbled.
He chucked the paper onto the floor, not even bothering to look at what the picture actually was. He couldn't deal with anything else right now.