N is for No
After Miss L. Barber.
List blinks, astonished. The word just slipped out somehow – half of him wants to cram it back into his mouth and apologise. The other half? Well, he knows what he said, dammit. “No,” he says again, “I can’t.”
“It’s only an exorcism,” Melinda tells him.
“I know. And I can’t, boss.”
Even Mary is frowning at him now, far readier to slip out that door than he’ll ever be, half a coat hanging off her like a bat’s wing. “List?” she asks, ducking her head to meet his eyes. As if he’s a wounded animal. “Are you alright?”
It got into his head. It used his missing father against him. It… Shit. No, no more. “It just… got to me. Last time. I don’t wanna… I can’t.”
“It was the demon, wasn’t it?” Melinda asks. Her arms are crossed and her eyes are boring into him.
“I don’t… yeah.” He hangs his head. “No. Yeah. Kind of. It just… it got into my head.”
“List – ” She looks away, sighs. “I knew it was a terrible idea to drag you into this. Would you like to go back to your mother’s?”
His eyes widen. “What? No, I never said – ”
“List, there’s no need to worry. The work we do is dreadful, and if you need some time – ”
“You can return. No one here is condemning you.” Dear God, it’s the look of honest concern in Melinda’s eyes that does it.
“No. Shit, no, right, I’m coming.” He’s grabbing his coat, heading out of the door to lead the charge, before he even knows what the hell he’s doing. He’s an idiot.
“Nice work,” he hears Mary say quietly behind him. There’s a pause as she takes in Melinda’s expression. “Oh, you didn’t intend to do that?”
“Not exactly,” is Melinda’s bemused reply. A sigh. “That’s the sort of pride that’ll get him killed.”
He gets a block from the office before he halts, turning to the confused women that are his colleagues, and asks, “Got any directions?” Pause. “Actually, where are we going?”
Mary hides her laugh behind a delicate hand and tells Melinda, “Adorable in the meantime, though.”
O is for Oracle
“Beware of salads on such a fine day. The greenery taken in by your eyes should exceed that which is taken in by your mouth,” Mary reads, then lowers the magazine. “Honestly, Melinda, where do you find these crackpot rags?”
Miss M.R. Harrigan, in the kitchen doing something to the kettle that probably won’t end well for it, replies, “Here and there. I… find them amusing, mostly.”
Mary stares down at the horoscopes, taps scarlet-painted nails against the desk. Newly done, and she’s still multi-tasking. “I knew a girl who used to write these things for a little paper.”
“That was her day job?”
“Well, she was also the editor, and the main article writer…” She trails off, the silence speaking volumes. “You know.”
She hears Melinda’s little huff of a laugh – always like she’s just a little too reserved to let it all go – and the other woman says, “I see. How is she?”
Mary looks at her desk, her heart sinking. “Guess the paper got shut down, I don’t know. I was only knee-high, and there wasn’t much money around… I hope she’s happy.”
“Ah.” The sound of things being knocked over, clanks and clangs. Oh, Melinda. “I used to do a little of that sort of thing myself.”
“Mm. I think I even fooled myself into believing it, for a while.” Sometimes Melinda sounds ever so lonely – like she’s somewhere Mary’ll never find, never wants to be.
Mary wants to get up and see her, but settles for replying, “You stopped? I mean, I can understand why.”
“You can?” Now that surprised Melinda.
“Life is more fun when you have a choice, right?”
“‘Look after the moments and the hours’ll look after themselves.’ My Da said that.”
“I have a feeling that’s a misquote.”
“Yeah, probably.” Mary smiles, then sighs. “‘Aquarius…'”
P is for Pragmatism
Or: List, seeing his first ever death by demon. Rated D for Dark.
There is something terrifyingly cold in Melinda’s eyes, in her manner, as she stands over the dying man. “There is nothing more we can do. Now go.”
“Melinda, you can’t just leave him,” List protests. “He didn’t even do anything.” No-one deserves to go like this, in a sleazy little back alley in the dark and the rain – no-one. This guy’s innocent. “We can still get him to a hospital, we can – ”
“We can’t. He’s gone, List, or mostly gone. He’s dead but breathing, that’s all it is. Many more will die if we don’t find the demon that escaped him.”
“She’s right, you know,” Mary tells him, a hand on his arm. He angrily shakes it off, and her face falls. He can’t bring himself to apologise.
The guy watches them, sitting slumped against the wall with his eyes following them, panting out harsh breaths. For a dead guy, he looks pretty damn alive, and afraid. He hasn’t moved or spoken in all this time. List doesn’t think he can anymore. They don’t even know if he has any family, if there’s anyone they can call when this is done.
“We came too late,” Melinda insists. “He’s just an echo, and even that’s dying.”
“This is wrong.”
“This is necessary. I don’t want it to be.” Melinda sighs, glances at the dying man with pity-filled eyes. Then she turns and walks out of the alley, Mary following at her heels, and for a moment, List hates them. Hates them in a way that’s new, and scary.
List hesitates, there on the precipice of inaction, and then crouches, going through the guy’s pockets for a wallet; the guy watches him, eyes flickering down to follow his movements, the fixed, pained expression on his face never shifting. List feels like the worst kind of bastard, but he opens the wallet with shaking hands. “Robert Grey,” he reads, and then slips it back into the guy’s pocket, ignoring the money. It’ll get stolen later, probably – but not by him, and that’s important, somehow. “Sorry.” His voice is shaking. “Shit, I’m sorry.” He raises a hand, wipes hastily at his quivering lips. “I promise I’ll call your family.”
The pained eyes meet his, and something passes between them in that moment – some terrible flicker of understanding, of common ground. Then List is up, running to find Melinda and Mary, praying he hasn’t wasted too much time and thinking that maybe Melinda was right to say no when he asked for this job.