‘The Council! The council have got him, they have, the sisters told me.’
The knife paused above her cheek, close enough so she could see her eyes, reflected and distorted in the blade. She swallowed, dropping her head as he let go of her chin. She’d broken. All he’d done was wave the knife at her and she’d given in, just like that. She’d betrayed him.
Her palms were wet and she was breathing hard and the knife was still in front of her, and she didn’t care that she’d broken, he was going to cut her. Actually cut her. She started to shake, little tremors that became whole-body shaking. She was heaving and gasping and shaking her head and rat man stepped back, a look of disappointment on his face.
‘Alex, ‘es with the Council, bastards.’
The American wandered into the dining room, idly tapping on a phone. He looked at her, and raised an eyebrow. ‘What did you do?’
Rat man grinned. ‘Waved my knife at ‘er. Seems the agents aren’t as tough as they once were.’
Through the haze, what he said sunk in and she shook her head. ‘What do you mean, agents?’
Alex crouched down beside the chair, until his eyes were level with hers. He smiled, teeth showing. ‘You’re good.’ He glanced up at rat man. ‘Are you sure she was telling the truth.’
The other man nodded vehemently. ‘Oh yeah, no doubt. They get that look in their eyes, you know, desperation.’ He said it like Scarlet would have said chocolate, or Depp, and she squirmed. Alex turned back to her. ‘Who do you work for?’
She shook her head. ‘I don’t, I’m just looking for Martin.’
‘How convenient. Why are you looking for him?’
She dropped her eyes, mumbling. ‘He’s supposed to be teaching me, magic.’
His hand grabbed her chin, more roughly than Rat man, and pulled her face up. ‘I’m sorry, you might have to repeat that.’
‘I’m Martin’s, you know, student, apprentice, whatever.’
Alex stared at her for a few seconds, and she tried to relax her eyes, to see what he was thinking. Right, that was gonna work. He stuck out a hand and when it came back into sight, it held the knife.
His grip on her chin grew stronger, and he laid the flat edge of the knife on her cheek, pointing to her eye. ‘I can blind you faster than you can think. One simple movement. So tell me again, who are you?’
‘My name is… Joanna Slater.’ Better this time, quicker. ‘I’m a school girl, that’s all. Martin is teaching me magic and I haven’t had my last two lessons so I came looking for him, then you came in, so I hid, then I went searching and went in the Underworld, and then I met the sisters and then you found me and that’s it, that’s everything, I swear it.’
She sucked in a breath, and peered down at the blurred tip of the knife, then up to Alex. He was shaking, and the knife dropped away as he stood. The shaking became laughter, huge belly laughs that had her smiling, then not, then smiling again and wondering why. What the hell?
Alex turned, handing the knife back to rat man. When he turned back, she jumped, grabbed the seat of the chair. His face was blurry, shifting like the dodgy plasticine effects in Evil Dead. When the blurring stopped, he was changed. Still the same face, but the width was gone, and the menace, and he looked actually quite nice.
Rat man had done the same, and though he was still a little rodenty, his face was fuller and kinder. Alex was still chuckling when he pulled her from the seat. ‘Please, come into the kitchen. Would you like something to drink, or eat?’
She nodded and he rooted through the fridge, pulling out bread and cheese as rat man flicked on the kettle. When he shoved a mug of tea in front of her, she sipped greedily, ignoring the burning lips. Alex sat opposite her, resting his arms where her head had been only a few minutes ago.
‘I did think your disguise was particularly good.’ He chuckled again, shaking his head. ‘Now I know why. I’m sorry, Joanna, our mistake.’
She hadn’t had a chance to figure our what was going on, but as the tea boiled its way into her stomach, she raised a hand. ‘So, what the hell’s going on?’
‘We made a mistake. We are working for Martin. Our job is to find him if something like this happens. We thought you were from the Underworld.’ He turned and spat onto the floor when he said it. ‘Apologies, old habit.’
Huh? She’d preferred lying on the table, things were simpler then. ‘Sorry, so you work for Martin?’
Alex nodded. ‘We’re called Watchers. People hire us when they think something might be going a bit wrong. You must have noticed by now, things in our world are a little different to things out there. People disappear, more often than you’d think. Martin thought he was going to vanish, and wanted us to find him if he did. Turns out it was a good call.’
She nodded. It made sense, sort of. Right now, anyone who gave her tea and bread was a good person. She’d think a little more when she had time. She took another glug of tea, and placed it back on the table. Moments later, accompanied by a squeak from her, rat man took it, emptying it down the sink, and returned for the plate.
She grabbed at it, but he took it anyway. ‘Sorry luv, no time, we gotta go.’
‘What, go where?’
Alex looked at her, brow creased. ‘To find Martin of course. When I say people vanish, what I meant was, they vanish, and turn up in the foundations of the next Tesco express. Only they don’t actually turn up, of course.’
She went cold, and scrambled up. She pulled her t-shirt away from her stomach, aware of the cold clammy damp. Her jeans were chafing, scratching at her legs. ‘Um, are there any clothes here, wherever here is?’
Rat man nodded upward. ‘Go ‘ave a look. Think a teenager lived ‘ere, before.’
Wondering what ‘before’ meant, and not daring to ask, she climbed the stairs, and found the bedroom filled with Green Day posters. Whoever had lived here had at least had some taste. She opened the wardrobe, found something far too small, but at least vaguely cool, and stripped off, pulling on the strange jeans.
This was creepy. Not as creepy as the sisters, but creepy still. Who had lived here, and where had they gone? She hauled the jeans closed, sucking in her gut until the button closed, and threw on a baggy t-shirt and jumper. She found a jacket hanging behind the door and took that too.
Rat man was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. He looked so different now, but as he looked up and watched her coming down, the twinkle in his eyes was just the same as when he’d been holding the knife. What was she doing here? It didn’t matter, they’d find Martin and everything would be alright. Assuming he wasn’t already…
She swallowed, pushing past rat man and back into the kitchen. Alex was holding the door open, and they stepped out into the night, Scarlet clad in a strange girl’s clothes, with two men she knew nothing about, in search of The Council. If she wasn’t so terrified, it might actually be quite cool. This was a full blog post, maybe a couple even.
Next installment, Wednesday 11th December