It was high noon before they finally found the pile of dry brush that Thomas hid his motorcycle in. Thomas was tired and by then his mood had grown darker than Rhae’s typically was. He ripped the brush free from his motorcycle with grunts and growls until sweat dripped from his hairline. Panting, he rolled the motorcycle out to the dirt road and dropped the kickstand. Rolling her eyes, Rhae found herself a large rock to sit on while he tinkered with knobs and switches on the bike he had modified it with. Various lights flickered to life throughout the machine. It was going to be awhile before they got home. The heat from the sun and the rock had almost lulled her to a comfortable sleep while she waited.
“Vesta be damned,” Thomas said. He stomped on the side of his motorcycle with the heel of his boot.
Rhae sprung up from the rock as the motorcycle topple over and crashed into the dirt. Luminous blue runes sprung from it, forming a large sphere centered from the engine.
“What is wrong with you?” said Rhae.
Thomas scratched his head. “This place. This town. Those women. That guy. Everything,” he said, “It’s all wrong.”
She just stood there and watched him straighten up the motorcycle. The runes remained, orbiting the motorcycle’s engine with a soft hum. Their light gave his hair a robin egg hue that always made him appear magical, but today he didn’t have his usual glee. Today his face was overcast with an uncharacteristic pensive frown. He tipped his head back to face the sky and groaned.
“And like I said before none of this mess is our problem,” Thomas said. “Aunt Lynnie gave us a job to do and she’s already going to be pissed that we’re late.”
He mounted the bike and rubbed his face with his hands before looking back at Rhae. She climbed on, wrapping her arms around his waist.
“Then we’d better go before you change your mind,” she said.
Thomas nodded and started the engine. They sped off into the horizon as a portal enveloped them. With a sizzling crack, they disappeared.
“God damn cock sucking son of a whore,” Thomas said. His boot stomped on the motorcycle as the engine spewed black oily smoke. “Every time we come to Earth. Every. Time.”
Rhae ignored him as she calmly walked up to the door in the paved alley way and rapped on the steel door. As she waited for the answer, she turned to lean up against the brick wall with her arms folded. Thomas continued to abuse and curse the melted engine. Didn’t seem to matter how he designed his trans-dimensional engine, it would always melt and compress around the embedded crystal whenever they crossed over into Earth’s realm. She didn’t understand the magic nor science behind the process but assumed it was either a flaw he was missing or something to do with the nature of Earth. The other thing she knew was his tantrums about it were getting mighty old.
“Fucking man baby.”
“What did you call me?”
“You heard me.”
“Well it keeps breaking every time we come to Earth.”
“Then fix it or figure out a different way to travel,” Rhae said. She dropped her arms as he stomped over to her. She poked him in the chest. “Either way quit throwing the fits. It’s bullshit. You’re smart. Figure it out. You’re better than that.”
Thomas took a deep breath. His usual calm returning he said, “Sorry, I’ve been an asshole.”
“What was that?”
“You heard me.”
“No, I didn’t,” she said, cupping her ear and leaning down a bit.
The door opened to reveal a very short man. He stood only about three feet tall. Freckles kissed his rosy cheeks and his soulful gray eyes sparkled with delight to see them. He tucked strands of his silvered blonde hair behind his ear as he grinned broadly.
“Rhae,” he said, “You forgot your concealer.”
“Oh, that’s right.” She fished out a choker from her pocket and fastened it around her neck. After fiddling with the locket that hung from it, her body appeared hazy for a moment before solidifying into human form.
“Ah that’s better,” their small friend said, “We can’t attract too much attention.” He gave Thomas a pointed glance and waved them in.
“Thank you, Galen,” Rhae said and stepped inside.
Thomas followed behind her and Galen scanned the alley before closing the door. Galen lived in the back portion of his pawn shop. Even back here it was a maze of curios from the floor to the ceiling. The air held a comfortable mix of dust, books, and herbs to breathe in. Old fashioned oil wick lamps lit the room here in favor of electric bulbs. Tension melted away from Thomas’ body with each step he took and Galen led them to the parlor. They were home away from home and it was good to be here. His favorite chair scooted towards him as a small girl bearing a resemblance to Galen materialized just behind the head of it. Her ghostly essence gleamed in the lamp light and gestured with one hand for him to sit. Thomas sank into the chair’s lush cushions with a deep sigh. Galen offered the matching chair to Rhae, which she took with equal gratitude.
“Thomas,” the girl said. Her face now peering up over at him, upside down and mere inches from his face, “you broke it.”
Thomas removed his shades and rubbed his eyes before saying, “I break lots of things, Nessa. What did I break this time?”
Nessa floated around to the front of the chair to perch in his lap. “Experiment Number Five,” she said. She held up her hand with all five of her fingers splayed out.
He looked at her hand, smiled, and ruffled her curls. “Well now, you need to be more specific. There are lots of those, remember?”
“The bike,” she said and jumped down to the floor. “You broke the bike. Again. Ka-boom.” She threw up her arms wide in the air, nearly falling over. “What’s wrong with you? We worked hard on that bike last time.”
Still grinning, Thomas toyed with his sunglasses. “I don’t know,” he said. “It happens every time we come back to Earth through the trans-dimensional portal.”
“He kicked the bike over just to get the runes to activate this time,” Rhae said.
“What?” Nessa said, dropping her arms to her sides. She glared at Thomas.
Thomas looked at Rhae and mouthed the words, “What the fuck?“
Rhae just shrugged. Clearly she enjoyed throwing him under the bus. Nessa was now scowling at him, arms folded and tapping her foot in silence. Thomas gave Galen a pleading glance.
“You’re on own son,” Galen said, “When it comes to women, you need to learn how to dig yourself out of the grave.” Wiggling his fingers in Thomas’ direction, he waltzed into the kitchen.
He sank deeper into the chair and stared at the ceiling. “Yes, I kicked the bike. The runes wouldn’t activate and we needed to leave that place right away before those dog things and that white woman with their fog came back.”
“The what with the fog?” Galen said. As he returned from the kitchen, he carried two large steaming bowls. The smell of the stew made Thomas’ stomach growl.
Nessa sat on the ottoman as Galen gave Thomas and Rhae each a bowl. Then Galen sat next to Nessa in a small rocking chair.
“Eat first and then you can tell us everything that happened over there,” Galen said.
“And now we’re here with a busted bike,” Thomas said.
Night was creeping into the parlor now, casting broader shadows upon the room. Galen’s face remained somber throughout the tale as he stitched the hole in Thomas’ trench coat. Everyone watched him examine his handiwork before he returned the coat and tidied up the sewing kit. Once done with that, Galen paced between a set of bookcases for a time. Eventually he stopped to face Thomas.
“Tell me again what these dog creatures looked like.”
“They were black,” Thomas said, “and rotting without a scent, no aura, broken fangs and claws that dripped with something, green flames instead of eyes, skin hanging from places, and bones sticking out randomly.”
Galen looked troubled but nodded. He turned back to the bookcase. With a steady hand he selected a worn tome and brought to the light. About halfway through the book he pointed to a particular page and showed it to Thomas.
“Is this what you fought with in the fog at Prasiyawa?”
Thomas and Rhae got up to lean over and examine the image sketched into the book. Hand drawn with ink and aged by time, it still threatened to leap off the page. Gingerly Thomas touched the faint signature. Galen drew this, but when? Eyes meeting, Thomas saw the worry in Galen’s face. He suddenly seemed far older than those rosy cheeks and freckles gracing his youthful face suggested. There was no denying it, the drawing depicted exactly what they fought back on that desert world.
“Well?” Galen said.
“Yeah,” said Rhae, “that’s what we fought. And they nearly beat us too.”
Galen sighed and sat back down in his rocking chair with the book. A profound disquiet settled into his demeanor as the rest of them returned to their seats. He ruminated with one hand on the page and the other absently twisting his strands of his hairs around his index finger. Thomas and Rhae exchanged glances but a dark glare from her told him not to break the silence.
“What is it, Papa?” Nessa asked.
Galen released his hair and shook his head, as if to free himself from some kind of spell. He closed the book and walked back to the bookcase to return it to its spot. Taking a ridiculous amount of care, he dusted himself off before sitting back down.
“Those are the Soul Eater brood,” he said, “and they are a special kind.”
“The kind that ate Mama?”
“Yes,” Galen said, “but that isn’t what makes them special.”
Thomas remembered their middle man and the condition he was found in. The air took on a chill as the shadows snaked tighter around the edges of the room. Light sputtered from the oil lamps but held steadfast. Night finally claimed her star jeweled splendor outside but she hushed the evening into reverent expectation. Not even a frog dared to sing. The thought of more creatures like these lurking throughout the cosmos unnerved Thomas. How were they different from the ones they fought? What kept any of them in check?
Rhae’s hand on his shoulder broke him from his thoughts. “What makes these things special Galen?”
Galen met Thomas’ gaze, making sure he had his attention. “Normally these things move in mindless packs and just feed. They just go where the souls are and move on when the souls run out. These,” he said, “the ones that you fought and killed my wife, don’t do that. They come and go. They’re organized. They won’t wipe out entire cities. I’ve heard that they’ll go so far as to hunt down and herd families to who knows where. I assume to eat later.”
“It’s like they have a boss,” said Nessa.
“Yes,” Galen said, “They do behave like there is a pack leader or master of some kind involved. I don’t think this boss runs with the pack though. Doesn’t matter how many you kill, injure, or run off. They keep coming back and they learn from whatever you’ve done before.”
Rhae pulled her hand away as Thomas gave her a look. They had a lot of work to do if they were to return to that world. Even if they didn’t go back, now that they knew those things were out there they needed to be ready for them. It’s possible they could run into the brood on any world considering that white woman could conjure a portal at will without a device. For them though, they had a job to do that needed finishing then they could focus on planning ahead for future jobs. His aunt always hated it when they were late. In fact, she should have called by now demanding where they were and why they were late. Suddenly Thomas remembered something.
Such a lovely woman. Be a shame if anything were to happen to her.
“We have to go home now,” Thomas said. He stood up and hurried to the door.
“The weird priest with his burial rite?” Galen said.
Thomas stopped at the threshold leading into the main portion of the shop. “Yeah. Aunt Lynnie hasn’t called either.”
“I’ll take you home, come on.”