|Qebhet (coolwaters) wrote in nevermore_logs,|
@ 2021-03-05 17:53:00
WHEN Thursday, 4 March, evening, after this
WHERE Qebhet’s apartment, Harlem
WHAT Conversations with ghosts
Qebhet sat upright, unease prickling down her spine, as Vincent’s shade slouched through the wall, hood pulled low, fists shoved deep in his pockets. Without looking her way, he made for the offering bowl she’d set out for him, filled almost to the brim with golden beer.
At first, Vincent had taken to the idea of ‘ghost security detail’ (his words) with gusto. He was a talkative boy, bright and restless and very clearly starved for conversation. Watching over Kaden had given him both a purpose and a taste of intrigue, and each evening he’d bounded back to Qebhet, brimming with news of Kaden, his brothers, his school, his friends. He’d told her about the shithead at school who’d sent everyone diving for the floor with the bang of a baseball bat against a locker. He’d told her about Kaden’s trek across town to a crazy-fancy penthouse, where a goddess – a literal Greek goddess – had given him burgers and an iPhone 12 and told him he was under her protection.
After that particular day, he’d been bursting with questions, each of which Qebhet had done her best to answer. Was she a goddess, too? How many gods were there in New York? Could all of them see ghosts? Could Aphrodite see him? Could she make other people see him? What else could she do?
Over the second week, his reports had grown steadily more perfunctory. Yes, Kaden was still okay, he’d affirm, before veering swiftly into an anecdote about a brush with one of the mobster ghosts on Ruby Street, or an update on the wailing woman on the corner of Amber and Dumont (still wailing, no sign of stopping). There was a quiet defensiveness to his posture that had made Qebhet wonder, but she hadn’t pried. She had never wanted to spy on Kaden, after all, only to keep him safe, and she trusted that Vincent would tell her if he ever was in danger.
She’d still wondered, though.
And as January had turned to February, Vincent’s questions had taken a turn as well, growing wary and pointed. What kind of danger was she expecting Kaden to get into? Human-danger, or god-danger? What did god-danger look like? Would they curse him with cancer, like that girl? Could they fuck with his mind? How bad?
And why would a bunch of goddesses be so interested in a regular kid, anyway?
He’d been circling around something, but Qebhet couldn’t properly make out the shape of it and she hadn’t been able to answer the questions to his satisfaction. He’d spent the next couple of weeks in a resentful mood and his nightly visits had become fleeting, monosyllabic affairs. He’d shrug her off when she asked if something was wrong; when she’d tried to push it, he’d stormed off through the nearest wall.
Clearly, something was wrong, and Qebhet wasn’t sure if it was with Vincent or Kaden, or both. She could only wait, and hope, for him to open up to her.
When, on Sunday night, Vincent had offered her his first piece of spectral gossip in weeks – about a pair of feuding next-door neighbours who had carried their mutual grudge into the afterlife and were furiously haunting one another’s houses – she had felt something unknot in her stomach. Whatever had happened to garner his distrust, it felt like this was his way of putting it in the past. By Tuesday, he’d been chatting away again like an old friend.
But now, tonight, Vincent was arriving almost two hours late, his shoulders slumped as though under a great weight, and announcing that he was out.
“What happened?” Qebhet asked, standing swiftly.
Vincent only looked at her sullenly. Qebhet looked back. Close to two months of nightly libations had strengthened Vincent’s wandering soul; his shade was no longer quite so translucent and its edges had lost their earlier blurry quality. Still, Qebhet couldn’t read the warring emotions in the dead boy’s face. Was it anger? Fear? Something like the two? “Vincent? Is something wrong?”
Vincent’s fists clenched in his pockets. Is something wrong? he repeated her words with a quietly building incredulity. I dunno, you tell me. Gods who have everything and still wanna take, is that wrong? Treating people like pets, is that wrong? His form rippled with a furious kind of energy – too angry, too afraid, too something to keep still – and he paced the room without a care for the furniture, no barrier to his insubstantial form.
“Yes,” Qebhet said quietly. “Yes, it’s wrong.”
Vincent stilled a moment in his circuit of the room, shot her a searching glance, then went back to pacing.
She could only think of one thing that could have him this upset. She tried again. “Is Kaden in danger? From a god?”
Qebhet was prepared for Vincent to whirl on her. She wasn’t prepared for the hot flash of challenge in his eyes, a flicker of fire that singed his words dark and angry. If I say yes, what will you do? He advanced towards her. Will you bring him home and give him beers? Will you send more kids to spy on him? He stopped before her and— oh. Oh, no. Now she saw it. The look in his face, it wasn’t anger or fear. It was disgust. Will you give him a choice?!
“That’s not what I—” Qebhet stopped short, the words dying in her throat.
She had been to Kaden’s home without his knowledge. She had left him a gift – a benign one, but still unsolicited, left in secret. And while she had meant only to protect, never to pry, she had asked somebody to follow Kaden without his consent. The number of private conversations Vincent must have overheard, the number of times Kaden must have believed himself unobserved— it was spying, what else could it be called?
Qebhet brought her hands to her mouth, shame warming her cheeks. “You’re right,” she whispered. “I only thought of keeping him safe, but… You’re right. I’ve done this entirely wrong. Too many gods take choice out of the hands of mortals. They believe they know best. I don’t want to become one of them.”
Vincent gave her another searching look. Why Kaden? Like… you didn’t even know his name. There’s lots of kids in shitty situations. Why do you care about him?
Qebhet let her hands drop to her sides. “Because he cried,” she said, her dark eyes meeting Vincent’s. “His brother killed a stranger and he cried for her, and he fed her dog with what little he had to give. That gentleness of soul… I don’t want to see it crushed.”
Vincent was quiet. He seemed to be considering. Perhaps he’d seen for himself what a place like the Hole could do to a gentle soul. Perhaps he knew what it looked like, the moment a kid’s aspirations were squeezed out of them. Perhaps he’d felt something like it when the cop’s bullets tore through his body.
I’m still not spying anymore, he said with a stubborn jut of the jaw. His eyes were wary, but the anger – the disgust – had flamed out.
“I won’t ask you to.” No, she couldn’t go on as she had been. If she was to help Kaden, she would have to find another way – one that gave him a true choice in the matter. Her good intentions were no excuse to deny him that.
Well. Okay then. Vincent gave a decisive nod, but the look he cast about the room was anything but decisive. His gaze snagged on Pepi, who was batting a playful paw through his jeans, before he looked back at Qebhet. Then I guess…
“You don’t have to stop visiting,” Qebhet said quickly. “I, that is, if you still want to… I’ll pour a libation for you, if you ever want to come by.”
It was hard to tell, but she thought for an instant she saw the boy flush. He looked down at his shoes, scuffing the floor with toe, or trying to. His foot passed through the floorboards without resistance. I dunno. I mean, yeah, I guess, if I’m in the neighbourhood, I could… that, yeah. That’s cool.
Maybe I’ll see Kaden around sometimes, too. Not spying! Just… you know. Make sure he’s still doing okay.
A small smile nudged Qebhet’s lips. “When I meet him, I’ll tell him you said hello.”