Garrett followed me for days. I knew he was there. My senses were abnormally alert the past few weeks. He smelled like death and rotten carcasses. When he showed up at the hotel where I lived, he hadn’t realized I’d set a trap just for him.
I accidentally left the door open a bit and turned the shower on, then sprayed perfume all over the room to disguise my scent. I hid in the closet knowing Garrett would walk past it toward the bathroom. I heard his footsteps as he crept by and popped him once on the head with the butt of my .45. He went down cold.
“And you’re supposed to be the tough one,” I giggled.
I injected him with a supernatural-grade anesthetic to keep him asleep and restrained him with steel shackles and cuffs.
Garrett was a ghoul: a nasty, rotten-human scavenger. Most couldn’t tell the difference between humans and ghouls unless they knew the person. It’s what made the world a bit harder to navigate now that they’d come out of hiding. Their features changed, somewhat. They looked harder, more worn in a way. Ghouls were as intelligent as humans but were immortal and lived on human flesh. The one noticeable difference was their green eyes: muddy, murky green.
A year ago, Kris turned ghoul. Two weeks later my best friend and I found my parents with their hearts ripped out. Ian was the one constant in my life. We’d been friends since we were kids, his blond curls and Big-Wheel and me with my long legs, scraped up knees, and ponytail. I was still all legs and had that ponytail but was twenty years older.
Six ghouls had come for me over time. They gave me a choice: turn or die. I refused to do either and, instead, decided to get information from them to find my brother. The last ghoul had almost gotten the drop on me, but Ian showed up after a premonition he’d had of me dying. We realized that making changes to my routine was imperative if I wanted to find Kris. He was the only family I had left in this world. I didn’t love him any less because he was a ghoul.
Those weren’t the only ghouls I’d had to contend with, however. Folks paid me to find their loved ones: alive, undead, dead, or really dead. Most people tend to get a little upset when their newly-deceased family members go missing from their graves.
Ian had explained that humans could change by feeding them bits of ghoul flesh every few hours over several days. Everything I knew about ghouls I'd learned alongside Ian. I’m not sure I would have lived this long without him.
Ian was a Psi…Psychic Vampire. They were rare, and Ian was rarer still: he was born, not made. He only needed energy to survive, no blood, but he was immortal. Ian could read minds and had premonitions. Psi abilities were as unique as human DNA. The only exception was the eyes. They turned bright blue when feeding off human energy, getting angry, or using supernatural powers. They called it “the shine.” All Psi were different, but Ian was the best.
Now that I had Garrett, I silently thanked Ian and went to find a luggage cart. I loaded Garrett onto the cart and rolled him out to my Jeep. He was a big guy but unusually light. I didn’t even break a sweat loading him up. After climbing in the front seat of my Jeep, I texted Ian, then drove to the interrogation site.
I pulled up to the detached garage that sat next to my parents’ house. It was hard going out there after they died, but it gave me the fire I needed to get the job done. I opened the door and was hit by a smell that was a mix between Valvoline 10W30 and GOJO hand cleaner. My dad's old workshop was now my interrogation room.
I set my keys down, grabbed the gurney, and rolled it out to my Jeep. Garrett was still knocked out, but I didn’t want to take any chances, so I restrained his right arm and leg before removing the shackles and cuffs. Once his left side was secured, I pushed him into the garage next to a stainless-steel table holding a mini-fridge and a cabinet stocked with supplies, cigarettes, and liquor. The adrenaline was wearing off, and I was getting antsy, so I uncorked a bottle of Pendleton and lit up a smoke.
I waited for over an hour, chain-smoking my Kamel cigarettes, occasionally sipping from the bottle of whiskey I held as I paced. It was going to take a lot more than sips and cigarettes to get through this night, so I upended the bottle. Some of it ran down my chin, and I wiped it away with my sleeve.
I peered at Garrett. The knot that had formed where I’d popped him with my gun had almost disappeared. This guy was old. Not old in human years, but he wasn’t a spring chicken in ghoul years by far. His hair was dirt brown, and his nose looked like it had been broken one too many times.
"You really are one ugly sonofabitch," I said, cramming a washcloth in his mouth and then duct taping it. He would wake up soon. When my Psi arrived, I would start the interrogation.
My phone buzzed loudly and skirted around on the table. I set the bottle down and pressed the button to answer on speaker.
“Where are you?” I asked.
“On my way. I had to do something first. Be there in five,” Ian said.
I ended the call and looked over at my captive; the hunter captured by the prey once again. I pulled a cigarette from the pack and lit it, never taking my eyes off Garrett, then took another swig of whiskey. I didn’t enjoy my interrogation techniques, per say, but I did enjoy the results. Every ghoul got me one step closer to finding Kris; killing them was a bonus. I didn’t want to kill Kris. He was my baby brother. My one weakness. I would do anything I could to save him even if that meant both of us dying.
I bent down closer to Garrett and flicked him in the nose. He was out. I put my cigarette out as Ian’s headlights reflected on the wall, then walked to the door smiling.
Ian and I were like night and day. I was olive toned with dark brown hair, and he was blonde with light skin and the softest blue eyes. My heart always fluttered a bit when I looked at him.
“You’re late…again. I’m gonna have to start docking your pay,” I said as I opened it.
“Humph,” Ian said, “then I suggest you find yourself another Psi.”
He kissed me on the cheek and followed me into the room. Ian put something in the fridge and turned on his laptop.
I grabbed a bottle of cold water.
“Okay, Garrett. Rise and shine!”
As I poured it over his nose, he opened his eyes and growled through the washcloth and duct tape.
I pulled an empty syringe and a leather pouch with wire cutters, a saw, and a propane torch from the cabinet. I never used the torch and saw if I could help it. Ghoul blood smells terrible enough when clipping off digits. Sawing off body parts or burning them is even worse. That smell doesn’t come out of clothes or nose hair for weeks.
I reached in the fridge and grabbed two full syringes, each equipped with a needle, and a vial of fresh blood. Garrett’s eyes popped open wide when he saw what I laid out on the table next to him. I drew the blood into the empty syringe and placed it next to the others. The ghoul community thought they knew my tricks. Since all they had was a body and no one lived to tell about it, it was all speculation. They'd dubbed me "The Interrogator."
I used to be a nurse and loved chemistry. The first ghoul that came was my test subject. We tried everything on him. I'd taken Ian's blood and combined it with mercury that I found in an old thermometer my parents had. It only took one cc of Ian’s blood mixed with one cc of mercury and five ccs of holy water to take him down. It didn’t kill him, but he wished he was dead. Alone, Psi blood acted as anesthesia.
Later, I’d figured out that five ccs of fresh human blood would kill them instantly. Ghouls could only eat humans who were over twenty-four hours dead. Anything newer would kill them.
There was always the bottom of the barrel grave robbers: ghouls that either didn’t want to kill people or didn't have the smarts to. However, the rest would whack a human and let them sit until rigor mortis stopped. That usually happened around the fifty-four-hour mark, but from what I’d found during my search for folks’ family members, those nasty ass ghouls let them sit for closer to seventy-two. I guess they liked their human steaks marinated in disgusting a bit more.
I only used the fresh blood at the end of the interrogations. I needed information; ghouls needed to die. They weren't trying to protect their anonymity anymore. I didn't understand their reasoning. Eventually humans would die out, and ghouls would have nothing to eat, but apparently, someone was a bit power-hungry, and I had the head guy on the gurney right in front of me.
I glanced at Garret, not sure if it was sweat or water that poured down his face, but the tape was falling off his mouth.
“Here, let me fix that,” I said.
He spat out the washcloth.
“Wait—” Garrett started.
Ghouls became pretty feral when they knew they could die. The fight or flight instinct was strong with this one.
“No, no. None of that,” I said, shaking my finger at Garrett.
Ian’s laptop dinged, and he glanced at the ghoul. “I’m surprised you still have to go through all this. They should line up at your door, tell you what they know, and kill themselves."
I laughed, shoving the washcloth back in Garrett's mouth and re-taping it. I reached in Garrett’s pocket and handed Ian his phone. Ghouls were smart as hell, even the ancient ones. They’d learned technology just as well or better than humans. However, they didn’t count on my Psi being such a tech-geek.
“Just get to it,” I said.
“GPS is a wonderful invention,” Ian smiled.
I grabbed the whiskey and downed more, then turned and pointed the bottle at the ghoul.
"So, here's what's gonna happen. I’m gonna ask you yes or no questions. If you answer honestly, I won’t hurt you. If you lie, Ian will tell me, and then I’ll hurt you bit-by-bit. You’re gonna die, but it’s up to you how fast or slow that happens. And please, don’t make it slow. Ian’s a bit squeamish.”
Garrett stared at me, resolve in his eyes.
I crossed my arms. “You know where my brother is?”
He looked at me, cold eyes piercing my soul.
"Oh. You don't want to answer? Okay." I picked up the wire cutters and tapped them on Garrett's nose. "Hmmm, I think we'll go with the thumbs. They’re pretty useful, and it's fun to make you think about all-the-little-things-you-can’t-do-without-them,” I cooed.
Ian rolled his eyes. “Dramatic much?”
I cut my eyes at Ian, half amused, half irritated. I was a bit dramatic, but I’d learned that the mind is a powerful thing. If I mess with their heads enough, I don’t always have to do the dirty stuff.
Garrett flailed, rocking the gurney.
“Funny. You still think you’re going to get away.”
I grabbed his left hand and clipped off his thumb. Garrett screamed, his agony muffled by the cloth and tape.
“Now, before I get to the right hand, are you sure you don’t want to answer?”
Garrett's face flushed and sweat poured from his forehead. He wasn't going to give in easily, so I skipped around the gurney and clipped off his right thumb. He squeezed his eyes closed but didn’t make a sound. Blood dripped from his hands. It stank like death.
"I don't think dismemberment is gonna work with this one," Ian said.
He had turned an awful shade of grey, and I knew he was about to need one of the trusty barf bags I kept for him.
“Open the cabinet, Ian. There’s a fresh pack of bags for you in there.”
He made the mistake of turning to look at me and gave it up right there in the garbage can.
“You’re cleaning that up,” I said.
He lifted his head and looked at me through watery eyes.
"Oh sure, you'll chop off body parts all day long but no way you're going near vomit," he said, and then another wave of nausea hit him.
"I clean up my own messes,” I said. “I pay you to get information, not give up your lunch.”
I glanced at Garrett’s thumbs. They were already growing back. Ghouls regenerated body parts faster with recent meals. I stifled a shiver as I imagined him snacking on a “person-pop.” He was watching me like a hawk, and I refused to show any weakness.
I grabbed a syringe and held it to the light.
“See how pretty this is? It’s what I like to call a neurological cocktail.”
I showed him the syringe and popped the cap with my thumb. It landed on his chest, so I brushed it off.
“Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to drop that there,” I said, smiling sweetly.
His eyes followed the syringe. He seemed more interested than fearful. I turned to check Ian's progress.
“I’m getting there,” Ian said.
I turned back to Garrett.
“Those little blobs are Psi blood and mercury in holy water. Cool how when the two combine they make this blue color, huh?”
I held the syringe to his face. His eyes crossed as he tried to focus on it.
“Mercury causes neurological problems. Psi blood keeps it in the system longer. It won’t kill you because you’re a ghoul, but it’ll hurt like hell for about twenty minutes: muscles seize up, no control over your body, and then you just jerk a bit.”
Garrett quickly looked from me to the syringe. I was getting to him.
“Well, are you ready to tell me where my brother is?”
He looked up at the ceiling.
As soon as I jabbed the needle in his thigh and injected the cocktail, he started convulsing. I sat down, lit a cigarette and drank the rest of the whiskey.
“Almost!” Ian growled.
“Sometimes, your Psi-ness, you drive me crazy with that mind reading shit.”
I finished two more cigarettes and opened another bottle of Pendleton before Garrett's convulsions slowed. Ian smacked his hand down on the table.
“And what exactly did you find?” I looked at his screen.
"The GPS location he came from today. As long as nothing has changed, this is where we can find them. However, if I'm using his GPS, they're probably doing the same thing."
Ian disabled the GPS and looked up at me.
“Get what you can.”
I grabbed the second syringe and took the last drag off my cigarette before putting it out. I leaned over Garrett and blew the smoke in his face. He was pale and clammy now. That meal he’d eaten had burned off. The neurological cocktail saw to that. It was time to get serious.
I placed my elbows on his chest, resting my chin on my hand.
"Look, dude, I don't want to use this on you. It’s not fun for either of us. Arsenic and holy water...yikes."
I twirled the syringe in my fingers.
“It’s aptly named Number Two because you’ll lose everything in your gut, mouth to rear. Hurts like he—"
Ian grabbed my arm and yanked me off Garrett.
“Kate, we’ve got a visitor.”
I turned around just as my brother walked in the door and depressed the plunger, spilling my only defense right there on the floor. My instincts kicked in and I backed away from the gurney. It was weird to see his soft features and dark eyes muddled with the harshness of a ghoul’s.
“Hey, Kate. Bossman tell you anything?" Kris asked.
He walked around the gurney releasing Garrett’s restraints, never taking his eyes off me.
“Cat got your tongue?”
“I just…I didn’t expect you.”
Kris placed a hand on Garrett’s chest then walked over to me. Ian scrambled to the fridge. He was trying to get a syringe...any syringe.
I'd spent the last year trying to find my brother. Now he was here, and his eyes weren't the only difference. I froze as Kris walked toward me. He grabbed my neck and shoved me against the wall knocking the breath out of me.
Garrett jumped off the gurney and hesitated. I saw Ian nod just as Garrett threw a right hook. Ian dropped the syringe of blood and fell into Garrett's chest.
The grip on my neck became too much to ignore. I focused on Kris, and a tear escaped from my eye. He watched it run down my face and onto the hand he had wrapped around my throat.
“Tears? Come on, Kate. Have you gone soft on me?”
I couldn’t respond, so I narrowed my eyes at him and kneed him in the nuts. Ghoul or not, that shit hurt. Kris bent down but didn’t let go of my throat.
Bursts of lights shown in my eyes as everything started to go black. I fell to the ground, and Kris lost his hold. Ian had knocked him away from me. I stood up and saw Ian's eyes shine bright blue. He was having a premonition.
“Ian, stop!” I hissed. “This is not the time for that.”
I heard the gurney fall over and a body hit the concrete. We both turned and saw Kris standing over Garrett, the needle of the syringe planted firmly in his neck and the plunger depressed.
“Well, that’s over. Now I can take care of you two,” Kris said.
He wore a wicked grin as he stepped toward us.
“See, Kate…Garrett was a mess of a leader. Can you believe that asshole was two thousand years old? Weak…just weak. He refused to kill you. Said it was more important to keep our anonymity instead of taking what was rightfully ours.”
Ian pulled me back with every step Kris took forward.
"I put the hits out on you. You're good; I'll give you that. I sent some of the best. When I heard Garrett was coming to talk to you, I decided to sit back and wait. I knew you’d think he’d decided to come for you himself. Truth is, he was on your side.”
I cut my eyes at Ian. He was calm, but his brow was furrowed. Kris took another step, and Ian pulled me back. My heart was racing. My brother, my baby brother was trying to kill me.
“He’s lying, right? Tell me he’s lying,” I whispered.
“Trust me,” Ian whispered and pulled my hand to back me up a step.
Ian knew something.
“So…you killed Garrett to take his place? To fully out ghouls?” I asked.
“Well, yeah. After I got rid of Mom and Dad and you decided to start interrogating,” he said using air quotes, “I knew I had to do something about you. Garrett didn't want to see my point of view. The ancients don't have the same views we do.”
I lunged at Kris. Ian gripped my waist.
“You! You killed our parents?”
“Hey,” Kris said putting his hands up, “I gave them a choice. They said they’d rather die, and Kate would, too. Good ol’ Kate. The perfect child, always up on that pedestal. I showed them, though. I expected you to be home when I came but you were out running around, being…Kate. I left you their bodies as a present. I wanted a snack, so I took their hearts for later.”
Kris took another step. I was so pissed my body was vibrating. I felt a sting in my eyes. Everything began to have a blueish hue to it. The look on Kris’ face was all shock. He knew my secret now. He saw the shine. It was no holds barred.
“After the last ghoul, Ian and I talked about my human weaknesses. I didn’t want to be immortal. They seem to have twice the targets on their backs.”
I tugged my hand out of Ian’s and crossed my arms at my chest. I had nothing on me and only my ability to flash to defend myself. After everything I’d gone through to save Kris, he was the target all along.
"I figured I already had a massive target on my back, so why not? But there was no way I would ever be a ghoul, so I accepted Ian's offer. He turned me into a Psi.”
I felt a gust of wind as Ian flashed past me, catching Kris off-guard, and shouldering him right in the chest. Kris wasn't expecting two against one; I wasn't sure if I could kill him.
Taking me by surprise, Garrett stood and made his way to Ian, a syringe of blood in his hand. Ian looked at me and jerked his head toward Kris. It was a set-up, and I wasn't the only one in the dark. I knew what had to happen. I only had one choice.
In one swift movement Ian spun Kris around, Garrett threw the syringe, needle deep, into Kris' chest, and I flashed to Kris. I held his face with my hands; Garrett and Ian were restraining his arms.
“Before tonight, I would have died to protect you. It’s fitting that we’re in our parents’ home. I wanted to save you. You are my blood. Now, you’re just a power-hungry murderer with an agenda.”
I let go of his face and looked away as I depressed the plunger. My brother, my only family left in the world, sank to the ground and died instantly. I dropped with him.
I flinched as Garrett patted me on the shoulder. He looked at Ian.
“How did you know what he would do?”
Ian pointed to his head.
"Psychic, remember? I dropped the syringe of my blood on the floor when you punched me. There was just enough in there to knock you out for a bit. He thought it was human blood, but I gave that to you, then I stalled.”
I sat there with Kris’ head in my lap patting his hair. The whole reason I did all of this over the past year was for him. I didn’t have a purpose anymore.
“He didn’t leave me a choice,” I said.
“I am so very sorry it came to this. It is not what I wanted,” Garrett said.
I nodded my head but didn’t look at him.
“Me either,” I said as tears escaped my eyes.
Ian sat down and wrapped me in his arms. I lay my head on his shoulder and cried. I heard Garrett leave, the door quietly shut behind him. I didn’t go after him.
“Hey,” Ian said, “I’m your purpose now. You’ve always been mine.”
I sagged into Ian’s chest and cried even harder. As awful as tonight was, I knew he'd never let me go. Ian would always be there; he always had been. No matter what I decided for the future, I'd have him forever. Rethinking ghouls was the first thing on my list, but for now, I was tired.