A book cover, showing a man wearing a hoodie. The title is
Ashtar Deza
by Ashtar Deza
13 min read

Categories

  • Fiction

Tags

  • Ghost story
  • Horror
Content warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence, Self-harm, Death, Rape, Suicide Attempts, Alcohol Abuse/Alcoholism, Trauma

This is a ghost story. This means it’s a story about bitterness, regret and loss. A story about how sometimes our mistakes come back to haunt us.

This is chapter 16 out of 21. - I post a chapter per week.

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Previous Chapter


16

A million thoughts were racing through my brain all at once. This changed the whole plan. The moment she’d become fully awake, it was just a matter of time before I found myself locked in a cell. With John back, it wouldn’t be long before I’d be hanging from the bars by a sheet tied around my neck.

I felt sick. I swallowed hard a few times to prevent myself from puking. Geoff was giving me a look that held equal parts concern and annoyance. Finally, he broke the silence.

“What’s going on?”

“She’s waking up, and she’s been saying my name. We need to get over there right now.”

Before he could get a chance to protest, I put the car into gear and gunned the engine. My old car was hardly built for speed, but I pushed it for everything it had. Geoff was swearing angrily next to me, clutching his seat.

As we came up to an intersection, the light changed to orange, and I hit the accelerator. The light turned red right as we shot through. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a car swerve from getting spooked by us, and horn blared angrily behind us.

“Slow the fuck down, you’re going to get us both killed.”, Geoff growled at me.

I gritted my teeth, but did as he said. If we crashed now I’d be in even more trouble. I still pushed it, but I didn’t run any more red lights. I’m pretty sure my fingernails left visible impressions in the steering wheel from how hard I was clenching it, anxious to get there.

After what felt like an eternity, we finally got to the care facility. I parked and killed the engine. I needed to calm the fuck down. Slow, deep breaths. I leaned my head against the steering wheel for a minute, trying to get myself under control. I was so deeply caught up in my own head that when Geoff spoke up, I nearly jumped.

“So, what the fuck happened to the plan? We were going to go and collect the bones. What are we doing here now? We’re in goddamn civies, no uniforms, no stretcher, what the fuck were you thinking?”

“Look, just wait in the car. I need to see what’s going on here. I need to know how much of the plan is still salvageable.”

“Like fuck I am. RuneMaster would have my balls if I don’t help you, and that’s not a figure of speech. I’m coming with you.”

I really didn’t have time to sit there and argue with him, so I undid my seat belt and gestured for him to follow me.

The care facility looked bland and nondescript. A slightly faded sign said “Golden Hours”, with a logo depicting a stylised setting sun. Very subtle. The whole place was painted in pastel colours. Whoever had designed it had probably gone for soothing, but the effect was thoroughly depressing. Everything exuded the feeling that once you went in, you probably wouldn’t come out again. Not alive, at least.

I asked for Suzie’s room number at the reception, and the woman at the desk didn’t even bother to look up from her phone. She just gave me a room number and vaguely pointed down the hall.

When I got to the room, I almost ran into a short, plump woman who had just stepped through the doorway. It took me a second to recognize Deborah. It had been a long time since I’d seen her, and her dark hair had gone almost completely grey. Worry had etched deep lines into her face, but the wrinkles at her eyes still showed her nature. Caring, sweet, and quick to laugh.

I could see the confusion in her face for a beat, and then she recognized me. Completely unexpectedly, she pulled me into a big hug.

“Oh, I didn’t expect you to immediately come here! Thank you, that means so much to me. You always were a good kid.”

Taken aback, I just made some nondescript mumbling sounds. Meanwhile, she went on, obviously happy just to have someone to talk to.

“I debated for a while if I should call you, but I know how close you still were. And after what that monster John did to her… my poor girl.”

She choked up for a moment, and I awkwardly patted her back. Then, she regained her composure and led me into the room. I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I hadn’t seen Suzie since that night, and she looked so small, so frail. Her muscle tone was gone from lack of movement. Her hair looked clean but lacked its old lustre. Her eyes were closed, but I could see her eyeballs moving under the lids.

Deborah stepped closer.

“It’s a hard thing to see, isn’t it? I always thought John was a good man, but it just shows how wrong you can be. How could I have missed it for all these years?”

She let out a deep sigh and went on.

“You know, it keeps me up at night. How I didn’t see it. If only I had spotted his true nature earlier, my baby wouldn’t be like this.”

She deflated a bit, letting her shoulders slump.

“I’m sorry to unload on you like this. Hey, I was on my way out to run some errands. Since you’re here now, would you do me a huge favour? If you can, and you have the time, would you mind sitting with her for a bit? Talk to her for a while about old times? Maybe it will spark something.”

She gave me a tired smile and then seemed to notice Geoff for the first time. He’d been watching this whole interaction from a small distance, with a blank expression on his face.

“Who’s your friend? Never mind, where are my manners? Hi, I’m Deborah.”

She shook Geoff’s hand, and he just let out a gruff “Geoff”.

“We… we work together.” I supplied.

“Ah, I see. I’m sorry to impose on your time, Geoff, but this is my first spark of hope in a long time. I hope it’s OK to stay here for a little while? Even 30 minutes would already help so much.”

Geoff nodded assent, and I told her it was OK. I’d stay and talk to Suzie for a while. She gave me a warm smile that took 20 years off her face.

“Thank you so much. I’ll be back in about 2 hours. Text me if anything changes.”

After Deborah left, I walked to the other side of the bed to get a better look at Suzie. Geoff stayed where he was, but I could see his eyes scan over Suzie’s body.

“So that’s her, huh? I don’t see what the fuss is about.”

Anger flared in my chest, and I looked up, meaning to tell him to shut the fuck up. The words never made it out.

There, standing right next to Geoff, was John. I fucking knew it. I had been right that it had just been a matter of time before he showed up again. Seeing him made my blood run cold. What would he do? Was he going to try and finish what he had started, right here? I was wide awake and stone-cold sober, but with the protections from the runes gone, all bets were off.

He fixed me with that stare of his, then bent down to kiss Suzie’s forehead. There was an immediate reaction. Her eyes started moving more rapidly, and her breathing sped up like she was having a bad dream. Her lips moved, mumbling something over and over again.

Trying to keep an eye on John, I leaned closer to hear what she was saying.

“Please, no! Stop! You’re hurting John! Please, stop!”

My stomach sank. If anybody heard that, I was fucked. Panic gripped me. I needed to do something. Without thinking, my hand dropped to my belt. Ever since the rituals, I’d kept the hunting knife with me. I’d bought a sheath that connected to my belt, and I’d taken to wearing it at the small of my back, hidden beneath my shirt. It made me feel safe. Now, my hand dropped to the hilt almost by its own accord.

The plan was fucked, but I still needed her heart. John was here with me, I needed to strike at him before he had a chance to strike at me. Taking her heart here… it would be messy, and I’d need to get out of here, fast. What a clusterfuck! Goddamnit John, why did you need to show up now? Why do you always fuck everything up for me?

Then, I gave it some more thought and realised that wouldn’t work at all. Her heart was no good to me dead, I needed to smother her heartbeat in Wodan’s name. I couldn’t have her talking, maybe her tongue? Cutting it out completely would be a mess too, but maybe if I only severed the frenulum? That would prevent her from speaking, right?

As I was debating, I drew the knife from its sheath. Then, I saw movement. One second, John was still standing next to Geoff. The next moment, he stepped into him. At the same time, I saw Geoff’s (no, John’s!) eyes go to the knife and go wide. He opened his mouth to say something, and I just knew he was going to call the staff in here. Without thinking, I threw the knife at him. Hunting knives aren’t made for throwing, so it hit the wall harmlessly, hilt first.

That bought me a little time, since he reflexively turned his head to see where the knife had landed. Fuck! I had basically just handed him a weapon. Frantically, I looked around for something, anything, that I could use to stop him.

I spotted a vase of flowers on the night-stand. I grabbed it and threw it at him, hitting him square in the face just as he looked my way again. He doubled over and grabbed his head, blood gushing between his fingers. I rushed at him, rounding the bed as fast as my bum foot would allow. There was a wooden serving tray on the other night-stand, holding an empty coffee cup. Probably Deborah’s. I grabbed the tray with both hands and brought it down hard on his head. His eyes rolled back, and he collapsed on the floor in a limp heap.

I stood there panting and trying to process what had just happened when I heard footsteps and voices down the hall. I peeked into the hallway and saw two nurses approaching, chatting merrily. One of them was pushing a cart with dirty dishes and cups. I surveyed the scene in the room: Suzie in her bed, unconscious but talking, and Geoff on the floor in a crumpled heap, bleeding heavily from a scalp wound. And there, on the floor, the coffee cup that had been on the tray.

If she came in here to collect that cup, the game was up. I grabbed the cup off the floor and pushed Geoff as far up against the wall as I could get him. I heard the cart stop, and half a second later, the door opened. I stepped in front of it, blocking the doorway with my body. I gave the nurse my best attempt at a smile as I handed her the cup.

“Anything else in here?”

“No, we’re all good. Nothing in here except this cup.”

For a few heartbeats, I thought she was going to try to come in after all, but then she shrugged and turned around. She continued her round, chatting to her coworker.

What now? This was a close call, and I probably wouldn’t get lucky twice. I also had no idea how long Geoff would be out. For all I knew, he could wake up any second.

The plan had been to take Suzie out of here on a stretcher, but that was no longer an option. Then I recalled. Just now, while I was peeking into the hallway, I saw a wheelchair parked not far from Suzie’s door. Maybe I could sneak her out in that. It was a long shot, but it was the only thing I could think of.

Quietly, I stepped out into the hallway and closed the door behind me. Trying to act nonchalantly, I took the wheelchair and brought it back with me into the room. Geoff was still propped up against the wall where I had left him.

I quickly rolled the wheelchair to the bed, grabbed Suzie under her armpits, and awkwardly hoisted her into it. She didn’t weigh much, but she was all dead weight. I tucked a blanket over her legs and tried to make her look natural. She had just fallen asleep during a walk, that was it. Act naturally.

I wheeled her into the hallway, hoping that nobody would see the sweat running down my forehead. Luckily, the place was all but deserted. When I passed the reception desk, the woman was still deeply engrossed in her phone, smiling at the screen as she typed away.

Just when I thought I was home free, a commotion broke out behind me. Someone from the cleaning staff had gone into the room and found Geoff. People were rushing to the room, and it wouldn’t be long before someone figured out that Suzie was missing.

I pushed her through the sliding doors and got her into the back seat of my car as fast as I could. I gave the wheelchair a shove, got behind the wheel, and sped away.

Maybe the plan wasn’t fucked at all, I just needed to change the order of things. I had Suzie now. Once I got John’s bones, I could still do the ritual. I realised that in my rush to leave I had left the knife behind. That was OK, I’d make do without it.

The plan had been to stash the bones in the warehouse, and then get Suzie, but there was no reason it wouldn’t work the other way around. I’d bring her to the warehouse, put her in the circle with a blanket over her, and then go get the bones. She’d be OK for a few hours, and the chances of anyone finding her there were slim to none. It could work.

The police were probably already at the care facility by now, and the moment Geoff was coherent enough to tell what happened, the Sons would be on my ass as well.

I was surprised at how much that thought stung. I’d really only joined to gain access to the knowledge I needed, but damn, it had felt good to belong to something. To have someone to fall back on. Even being called “brother” had felt good, though I’d never openly admit it. And now it was all gone.

My brand hadn’t even had time to properly heal yet, and I already found myself on the outside looking in again. Even worse: I was now an enemy. Someone to be hunted and destroyed.

I shook my head to dispel the thoughts. Fuck it. Here I go again on my own. Fuck all of them. I had everything I needed.

Grimly determined, I drove to the warehouse. I was going to get rid of John for good.

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