(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Vincent was written by R. R. Virdi.)
Vincent cast a quick glance to his forearm and hissed. The black number emblazoned into his arm shifted down to eight. Eight hours left to solve the case. He turned back to regard Times Square, the technicolor blur of flashing screens and scrolling marquees. Something itched at the back of his skull, someone was watching him. He turned around, “The hell? Who are you?”
Kelly was extremely tempted to go all dark, mysterious, and foreboding but decided to play it cool, so she stepped out of the shadows with a smile. “Hello, Vincent. I’m Kelly–the Muse. I suppose you weren’t expecting me?” She raised her brows.
Vincent blinked, his posture tightening as he took a defensive step back. “Uh no, see when people are lurking in shadows, it sorta gives a guy feelings of consternation. See, in my line of work, monsters do that.” He arched an eyebrow, “Is that what you are? Last time I checked, only muse I know of was Calliope, she had a thing for ganking artists that upset her…Sort of like whats going on now…so…?”
Kelly raised her hand. “Relax, I’m not here to hurt you or anything like that. The worse I might do is make you think really, really hard.” She smirked at him. “I was invited here to talk with you, get to know you, and such. I’m from a different realm altogether. So…” She looked around. “What are you up to? You were looking at your forearm a minute ago.” She gestured to his arm.
“Oh that,” he cast another worried look to his arm, “it’s sort of my countdown timer, there’s only so long i can borrow a body to use it to track down the monster responsible for killing it. Long story. The best ones usually are though, right?” He let out a nervous laugh. “Short version, gorgeous, is that something is going around killing artists in NY right now, don’t know why, don’t even know how, just that they’re being ganked. Painters, poets, writers and more. I’ve got 8 hours left to find out what’s playing Pollock out there with only the color red. And so far, I ain’t got much.” He eyed her askance, “Church didn’t send you, did he?”
“No, he didn’t, and if something’s going around killing artists…my guess is that it just doesn’t appreciate the arts, so what would do that?” Kelly tilted her head. “We can walk and talk if you’d like. Would prefer you not to waste those eight hours while talking with me, so lead the way.” She motioned for him to take the lead. “So, are we in the real world or like a ghost dimension or something?”
“Far as I know, we’re in the real world,” he continued eyeing her obliquely. “What other worlds do you know of? And yeah,” he said, taking a few steps down the road, “let’s walk and talk. I got no clue what’s killing people, but it’s probably not artistically inclined, jealously can be a helluva thing haha. Never ran across a monster with penchant for offing starving artists. But there’s way too much lore out there to be sure.” He reaches into his coat and pulls out a leather bound journal, thumbing the cover open and flips through the pages
He asked what other worlds she knew of, and Kelly just arched a brow. Good thing she wasn’t the one answering questions here because that would take all night to answer. Instead, she watched him go through his journal. “So, you have a time limit at how long you can stay in each body, and if you don’t find a body, you just meander around like a ghost until you do?”
Vincent waggled his hand in a so so gesture. “I’m not a ghost, a ghost is an imprint of a person’s identity left behind, confused, broken, unsure. That’s why the longer they stick around, they get violent, they lash out and hurt people. They’re broken records set to replay, the longer they stay around, the more corrupted they become. I’m a soul, I’m all me, the person I was before…well sort of. I’ve picked up some new memories and personally traits along the way. But yeah, I got a timer, and if I fail, which I never have, I have to move on, I’m shoved into another meatsuit. That means whatever killed this stiff, goes free. Helluva incentive to not mess up though.” He looked to the ground for a moment, his face a pensive mask. Vincent didn’t like the idea of this being his first failure.
Kelly regarded him. “So you’re supposed to hunt down their killers and bring them to justice…and how long is this supposed to go on? When do you finally get your peace?”
He hung his head, “I don’t know good lookin’, I wish I did. I didn’t exactly sign up for this. I’m still trying to figure it all. I just got shoved into this shit show. I’m doing my best to do what and all I can. It’s not easy, but there’s no one else doing it, so,” he broke off and shrugged. Vincent turned to look up in the distance, admiring the New York skyline. “Trust me, I want my peace, but more than that, i want answers. And I’ll keep doing this if i have to, until i get ’em.” His jaw tightened, his fingers followed suit, balling into a fist
“Answers to what exactly?” Kelly asked with a quiet voice as she watched him.
“Why I’m stuck like this,” he gestured to his borrowed body. “What happened to me, what killed me…” his voice cracked, “who I was before.” Vincent blinked several times. “I mean, I had a life before this, I know I did. I just don’t know what it was…I’d like to.”
Kelly nodded. “So, you don’t remember anything?”
“Nothin’ been so long, I’ve got nowhere to start, but…that doesn’t mean I’ll not try,” Vincent kicked a can across the sidewalk, watching it tumble its way awkwardly up the street before it turned and fell onto the road.
Kelly watched the can he kicked before she glimpsed back at him. “Any idea how long you’ve been like this?”
He shook his head, “No really. Time blurs when you hop in and out of bodies. I live hours to a day at a time. But it’s hard to know how much time passes between the bodies I inhabit. So after this case, the next body I hop into…well I don’t know if days or weeks will pass. I have no way to gauge that passing. I’m not…aware when I’m not in a body. If that makes sense?” Vincent kicked the sidewalk, dragging the toe of the boot across it, scuffing it.
“Makes a bit of sense, and I’ve got to ask an awkward question. Have you ever had to inhabit a woman’s body?” When he looked at her, Kelly lifted her hands. “It’s an obvious question!”
He cleared his throat pointedly. “Ahm…well I mean, women are killed by the paranormal too, and uh…well I know I don’t remember who I was, but let’s say my soul identifies as a guy and uh…sometimes..there are times..in cases where..it’s more apparent I’m a guy because of…bodily,” he stopped and blinked. “Issues I’m not all too used to. Uh, next question.” A bit color tinged his cheeks.
Kelly had to chuckle. Well, at least that question was answered, but she decided to move on to another question. “So, someone dies by the paranormal, and you can inhabit their body. Do you have to avoid the next-to-kin of the person while investigating their death? Or how does that work? I mean, if I see someone I love died and then walk through the door of the coffee shop the next day or so, I’d positively freak out, so how do you counter this?” They continued walking down the darkened streets of the city. If this was back in Kelly’s own world, she’d know walking these streets at this hour was probably a bad idea, but since this wasn’t her realm, things were different here.
He let out a low, long whistle. “Yeah, it ain’t easy, a lot of times though, people don’t know their loved ones died. It’s more often that they are reported missing. Most of the times I inhabit a body, it’s damn near instantly after it’s been killed. And since monsters don’t call 911 or file police reports, no ones the wiser. I’m not much use if i hop into a body thats a week old and starting to break down, i hop in fast, and my bosses, whoever they are, make sure that the body holds together while I’m in it. so I’m not a zombie, I’m just a different personality in a different body if you will. But it can be awkward when I’m acting weird and differently than they’re used to. normally, I try to avoid them. I don’t have time for all of that.” His stomach panged as they walked past a bistro, the aromas of meats and spices wafting over him. He groaned, “Hell, I barely get time to eat…dead men get hungry too.”
Kelly arched a brow. “If you’d like something to eat, then by all means.” She motioned to it. “So you hop bodies and fight paranormal monsters. What’s the few consistent things in your…existence? You mentioned Church…”
“Yeah, Church…” he said, his tone unfocused as he licked his lips and gazed at the bistro. “Uh yeah, him…Uh, yeah can we,” he nodded to the shop. “Church is sort of like my handler, meets me at the beginning of every cases, throws me a clue, or help, and yeah, gives me my timer…and…no food.”
Kelly shook her head as they entered the shop. “You’ve got to hound him about that. Tell him to bring you food too. It’s only the nice thing to do. So, is there anyone you work with…anyone living who knows about you?”
Vincent stopped moving all together, looking down to the ground. “No.” The single syllable answer was all he felt like giving. It would have to be enough to Kelly.
Kelly regarded him. His answer was abrupt,but she understood this existence he was living was difficult. She softened her voice. “So it’s just you and occasionally Church and then all those monsters you face?” But then she realized they were near the counter of the shop. “Order what you want. I’ll get us a table, and we can continue talking there.” She smiled at him then moved to a table for two near the window and sat down.
“Thanks,” a thin smile crossed his face. “Yeah, it’s me and Church, I mean I meet people on my cases but they can’t get close. I won’t let them. That’s how innocents end up dead. I can’t let that happen. So I push them away, it’s safer for everyone. But there are some monsters…well creature’s that I guess I can call on. Talk to..I wouldn’t call ’em friends though.” He followed her to the table, casting a look around and salivating. Vincent blinked, “Right um, food,” he walked over beside Kelly and offered to pull her chair out. “Uh,” he raised his hand, trying to politely hail someone to take their order.
Kelly smiled and watched as he gave his order, and she merely ordered some water with lemon–rarely ever eating when on the job. However, she could tell how hungry Vincent was, so she glimpsed around to make sure no one was looking and then told him. “Here.” She gestured with her hand and conjured a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies, and she set them on the table and smiled. “To hold you over until your food gets here. I made them before I came here.” Then she set her elbow on the table, rested her chin in her palm and observed him. “So, it sounds like you have a very lonely job. How do you not go mad?”
Vincent eyed the cookies owlishly. “Oh yeah, I work with these, thanks,” he palmed a cookie and stuffed his face. “Oh yeah, its lonely, but I mean, I’m caught up in the work at times. It’s hard but…sometimes I wonder, what happens if I don’t do it? What happens to the people and their families being torn apart by these things…Its lonely, its hard, but its the right thing to do…and no one else is lining up to do it. Who would? And mad?” he rapped his fist upon his skull. “Who says I ain’t?”
“I’ve met some rather mad men, Vincent, so trust me when say, you’re not mad–at least not that I’ve observed.” She gave him a kind smile. “So what is one thing that really gives you satisfaction in this way of…life?”
“A little less aggravation, a little more satisfaction,” he sang off key. “Sorry, there’s not much of that in this job. But..sometimes when I have nightmares, I realize I have them so no one else will. That, all the things I have to do, means no one else has to. That helps a bit… Like I said, its a tough job. Hell, I don’t even get paid!” He eyed other tables, watching plates of food go by, and reached out for another cookie. “These are amazing by the way!”
She smiled at his response to the cookies. “You may keep them all, but your food is coming. You might want to put them on your lap to make room for your plate.” She nodded as the waitress came along, set down Vincent’s plate of food, drink, as well as Kelly’s water, and then left. Kelly then turned her attention back to Vincent as he began to dig into his food. “So the paranormal–I don’t know how it works and such, but is there a specific…monster that’s basically your rival–one that’s hard to pin down? Or are you pretty successful?”
“Not really,” Vincent reached out and shoved a spoonful of food into his mouth and chewed. He took a swig of soda and swallowed. “It’s case by case, different monsters every time, and yeah, so far I’ve been successful.” He gave a small smile. “There are some I’ve been forced to work with…” he shut his eyes tight for a moment. “But, they’re off the hook, for now…Ill deal with them though..one day.”
“Why would you have to work with one?” Kelly furrowed her brows.
“Let’s just say, some aren’t bloodthirsty. Some are smart, using their knowledge and long years to accumulate power, and us it. They’ve got a good hold in here. There’s some that work as freelance information brokers, in my line, knowledge is power. The more you know, the more things you can track, hunt and kill..or avoid being killed by. So I’ve had to make some bad calls to make sure good people didn’t die, or monsters didn’t go free. It’s not easy,” he swallowed another mouthful.
“I can imagine.” Kelly nodded then tilted her head to a side. “So, there’s no other…” she quieted her voice, “human doing the same job you’re doing? I mean, there should be a whole agency at least.”
“I wish,” he looked away for a moment. “I wish. It’d make my life..lives, easier. But I don’t know even know why I’m doing it. But maybe whoever put in this gig doesn’t trust more people to do it? I mean its sort of like a second handle on life. I’ll pitch that idea to Church though next time haha,” he took a break from the meal to return to the cookies. Vincent gave Kelly a shamed look. “I’ve got a sweet tooth built up from not having these,” he held up the treat. “Sue me.” And he took another bite.
“Enjoy the cookies.” Kelly smiled. “But realize once they’re gone, they’re gone. It’s unlikely I’ll be able to come back and visit. Maybe I can–sounds like you need some harmless company on occasion.” She chuckled but then looked at her watch. She still had time, which was good. “So, if you could do anything in life, despite the time limit, what would you do?”
“Thanks,” he hefted another cookie up before her, and took a bite out of it. “I’ll savor ’em. If I could anything…wow…I don’t know…” he blinked for a moment. “You know what, with all the noise, both that I make and from this life, I’d like something quiet for a bit. Fishing, maybe working on a car or two, somewhere far away, maybe even another country. Don’t get me wrong, I love this place, New York is like a home to me. But..to go away for a while, to peace and quiet and just have that? No monsters, no noise. That would really be something.” He finished the cookie.
Kelly thought back to her home in the middle of nowhere in the country with a sky full of stars easily visible to the eye. It made her smile. Peace and quietness were not something that could be bought. This then brought up another question. “Are you specifically limited to New York? I’m sure the monsters aren’t.”
“No, I’m not, I’ve bounced around all over the world, but I’m pulled to New York a lot. Something’s going down here, something bad. Church won’t talk about it, but the monster attacks are getting worse. I don’t know what’s up. But no matter where I go, it’s never quiet. I’d like to be. Maybe even for just one day. One long, slow, boring day.”
A smirk crossed Kelly’s face as she sat back in her chair. “But then you’d go positively mad because you won’t know what to do with that stillness.” Then her brows furrowed as she thought upon the mention of Church. “And Church?” She looked at him. “Is…was he human too? Or what exactly?”
“Church? That’s a good question. Far as I know, goldilocks is human, although he manages to pull off looking like an ambercrombie and fitch model, wearing geek chic, effortlessly…pretty boy douche…sorry. Some guys have all the luck..and he’s my boss. But yeah, i mean, he’s odd, silent most of the time, a bit of a wise ass. But he’s human as far as I know. He might be part batman. he has this nasty habit of showing up in perfect silence, and then vanishing just as easily. but even monsters leave trails and make noises when the veil or vanish. so he could just be a real light stepper. I don’t know?” he shrugged, looking down to the table as he thought. Vincent wondered about Church, he’d always acted human, looked human, and never done anything to imply otherwise.
“I see, so he’s Batman, and you’re Robin. See? I bet he’s trying to form a Justice League against all these monsters, so that agency I told you about probably isn’t too far away. Not sure who makes the rules around here, but for whatever reason he met the requirements,and so did you, so that’s why you both are stuck here, but it sounds like he’s at a higher level than you.” Kelly shrugged. This was her imagination working, and she was probably drawing the wrong conclusions, but it was fun to talk about.
However, she noticed the clock on the wall. “It’s almost time for me to go, but I have time for another question, so…” She glanced back at him. “What’s one thing you’d like people to really understand about you? To appreciate about what you do? I mean, if you could stand up and announce to the world what it is you do, and what you sacrifice, what would you say? What would you want them to take away from it?”
“Fuck that! I am Batman…I’m out there fighting, jumping and kicking…maybe screaming. And..well, i guess take away this…its bad out there, it can always be worse but so what? Theres good out there too! Hold on to it. I’ve seen a lot of bad things, and yet, better people. There just as much light, if not more, than there is dark. It can be rough and scary, but thats part of being human, so is staring down that fear, that darkness and kicking its ass back to the hole it crawled out of. Monsters are scary, humans are scarier. We’re capable of amazing things, people just need to realize it.” Vincent shrugged. “I guess that’d really be it.”
Kelly nodded. “I like that, and I’ll make sure people are aware of your words.” She smiled then rose to her feet to leave but then she paused and looked down at him. “And last time I checked, Batman never screamed., so I say Robin should be your middle name now. Vincent Robin Grave…” She smirked at him. “Well, I need to get going. Thank you for your time–knowing how limited of time you really have, I do appreciate it. I hope you find quiet sometime though–and peace.”
“Yeah, no problem, thanks for the meal and talk, cya, i got a monster to gank,” he waves
Kelly nodded her farewell then headed for the door, opened it, but a portal stood in the doorway. Kelly stepped through, and it vanished behind her, revealing the street once more. That was an interesting conversation.
R. R. Virdi’s book, ‘Grave Beginnings’ is available online at the following link, and be sure to follow him on social media!