“So…what can you do then?” Is that a rude question? I can’t tell if that’s a rude question. The look on James’ face says it might be. The way his eyebrows narrow inward so that he’s squinting at me makes me think neither one of us really knows what’s going on right now.
“Depends,” he says, shrugging. “On Mondays the wings come out and then on Wednesdays—”
“Some things are meant to be kept to yourself,” says Babysitter, plopping down onto the faded sofa, launching a cloud of dust into the air. She attempts to stifle a cough with the back of her hand, and it makes me wonder about the state of their house—its atmosphere of general disuse.
Pixie Elvis makes a clucking noise, like a small chicken, and nods his head. “Yes, yes. Do not tell them when you’ve eaten their sweets. Everyone wants a piece of the pie, but if you eat it they get angry.”
“What?” James’ eyes slide toward his brother who shrugs.
“He’s not good at colloquialisms.”
“Or talking in general,” I supply. “It’s best to just ignore him if possible.”
“I am underappreciated.” Pixie Elvis glides rather than walks toward Babysitter who shifts her position uncomfortably, the whites of her eyes growing wide as she tries not to make eye contact. “And you are lovelier than a midday sun.”
Desperation runs off her like perspiration (although it appears there may be some of that too). “What?”
Pixie nudges even closer to her until she’s sprawled backwards across the couch in an effort to get away from him. “I would beg and steal just to feel your heart beating close to mine.”
A hand, more firm than warm, presses against my back and William whispers in my ear. “It appears our human friends have something more entertaining planned.” He gestures to the open space where Randy and James used to be standing and now…
“Where are they?”
William smirks, and it makes his already lovely blue eyes shine with an alarming glint. “Let’s find out, shall we?”
“And what about—?” I point toward the Babysitter whose full focus is now on Pixie Elvis who continues to attempt to woo her with lyrics that no one actually knows. “Never mind.”
“Basement.” The words are hushed as he reaches out to take my hand and I let him. Oddly enough. His hands are not as cold as I thought they’d be. Not warm, certainly, but not cold either.
I’m suddenly concerned that my palms feel clammy. Is that even possible? Can a semi-ghost have sweaty hands? I hope not.
I don’t know how William finds the door to the basement since it’s buried in the seams of the wood-paneled wall, but when he presses his knuckles against the worn boards, a latch pops and a slab of wood the size of a doorframe slides into itself. Nifty. A set of spiraling stairs drops steeply down into a vat of dark space that makes my insides quiver. Interesting, since the last time I felt this way our vessel was being commandeered by a bunch of alien squirrel-fish.
This isn’t quite the same, but a pit in my stomach says it’s going to be almost as bad.
Will takes the lead which surprises me. Normally he’s the type to make anyone else go first—self preservation he always said—but his grip tightens as he pulls me after him, making sure that I can keep up in the sudden flood of darkness.
“Are you sure they’re down here?” I whisper, although it could hardly even be called that. Even so, he manages to hear me, squeezing my hand in confirmation. It’s then that I see the pale glow emanating from beneath a door that I cannot see in the blackness. At least, I assume it must be a door.
“Strange,” William says, pausing just outside the glowing frame. “Does the air seem surprisingly bearable to you?”
Something shifts behind the doorway, probably James or Randy (I hope), but we have no way of knowing what exactly it is they’re doing in there. Most likely: something that will permanently stop my semi-beating heart from fulfilling its wish to be whole again. It’s not as if Randy has any sort of good feelings toward either of us. We’re the pirates who sort-of, kind-of helped to ruin his life. Well, us and Mary.
“My lungs may not know what decent air is—at least they haven’t for quite some time—but doesn’t it feel oddly not stale in here?”
I shrug but the darkness absorbs it. “Maybe this is where he keeps the brig.”
William freezes and I attempt (with little positive result) to stifle a laugh. I meant it as a joke, but maybe…
The door before us slides open, and I can’t for the life of me tell if it’s from being pulled open, or being pushed from behind.
Randy just stands there and I don’t think he could appear any more apathetic if he actually became a heartless ghost-zombie-pirate. “Of course you had to follow. I should have expected it from the beginning. You two are as nosey as middle-aged, childless neighbors.”
“That’s oddly specific,” I say, stepping into the lightened hallway—no, not hallway, laboratory. The black and white tiled floors clash wildly with the mirrored walls and there are reflections of me everywhere. Reflections! I quickly avert my eyes. Two hundred years of not once seeing myself, and I’m not sure now’s the time to break that streak.
But I do not manage to look away fast enough. A large plastic bottle wrapped in a gaudy yellow and blue plastic label makes me cringe. I can practically taste the burn of the sweet liquid inside; like rum but much, much worse.
“What?” James, who has donned a white, cotton doctors jacket glances over at the clutters of chaos that coat his desk. “Ah, the Brisk?”
Beside me William inhales deeply, and I’m not sure if that lungful of air will ever come out. Even I can feel my half-working lungs constrict in discomfort.
“What’s the matter with the both of you?” Randy grabs the bottle off the desk, what remains of the deep brown liquid sloshing around at the bottom of its wave-textured core. “You’re from Britain. Aren’t you supposed to be, like, tea connoisseurs or something?”
“Not the kind that is chilled,” William hisses, “because that is disgusting. But that one…” He points but cannot finish the sentence.
“What’s wrong with Brisk?” James’ voice rings with a note of offense.
I purposefully meet Randy’s eyes. I have to make him understand in a way his brother won’t. Especially since James seems to be getting angrier, and I’m nearly certain his eyes just glowed.
“Remember that place we used to live?” I ask. “Before we met in London. The place where missing and unwanted things just kind of tended to show up?”
Randy nods; I think he understands what I’m trying to get at.
“There was a lot of Brisk there.”
“What are you lot talking about?” James’ hands are clenching and unclenching into fists, and I’m not sure if I’m really seeing green sparks near his fingertips or if the whole situation is just getting to my head.
“Ghosts,” William says and I bite down hard on my lip, the taste of blood coating the tip of my tongue. “They don’t even like Brisk.”
“Who doesn’t like Brisk?”
William smirks. “People who want a full set of teeth.”
“That’s ironic coming from a pirate,” Randy sneers, and for the first time since we’ve been to this odd place, the two brothers look irrevocably identical. The same formation of the eyebrows, narrowed over two sets of identical light eyes in frustration. The same willowy stance that, though the shoulders are slumped, appears to go on forever.
I sigh. “I’m going to take a guess and say this isn’t about potentially crappy iced tea.” None of the boys look up at me, but they don’t tell me to shut it either, so I continue to talk. Yammer, really. “In that case, then would someone be so kind as to tell me exactly what is going on down here, or why we’re here in the first place?” I wave a hand in James’ direction. “You claim to be a superhero, but what exactly can you do that’s so super?”
As if being pulled from a trance, James’ face slowly tilts until he is looking directly at me, though I’m not sure how many words he actually took in. “Oh right,” he says, tugging at the collar of his lab coat. What I had thought was a silver pen tucked into the front chest pocket, he pulls out to reveal one glowing red end that shoots some kind of light ray across the room. Pointing it at a section of mirrors, it lights up the entire room, one beam of light fracturing into many, until all around us red lights drag through space. I don’t move, I don’t breathe. Something in my decomposing gut says touching them is a bad idea, and I don’t need to sense that twice.
“The funniest thing about being a superhero,” he says slowly as a platform rises in the center of the room (where are these things coming from?) and I openly stare as his hands really do begin to spark. “Is that the superpowers tend to be overrated. It’s the gadgets that make the good guy.”
“Rose, what is going on?” William’s expression is determined as he glares across the room at James. I don’t know what his plan is, but I’m not certain picking a fight with the glowing man is our best option.
“Randy?” A wind springing up from who-knows-where whips my hair away from my face. The sleeves of my tunic slap against themselves, and suddenly it’s as if all breathable air has been removed completely. And then…
“What—?” But I don’t get to finish, because that’s when I notice the figure that’s suddenly appeared in the center of the room. Her eyebrow is cocked in unadulterated annoyance that is directed straight at me.
“Hello, Mary,” I say and she crosses her arms over her chest. I sigh again, louder, and match her expression with an equally peeved one of my own. Before she speaks, there is something I want to make perfectly clear. “None of this was my fault.”