Chapter 4 - First is the Worst

I was told fieldwork was the best way to gain experience. When I first became a temp, my boss told me he would give me the lower jobs to see what my abilities are. Today, I learn how to gather information so I can be prepared to hunt my first "demon."
There are six students reported missing at Imma's college. While I wait for her to get out of class, I walk around the campus building. The entire place is made of concrete and feels as cold as it is quiet. It feels almost scarce to find someone else wandering the same hallway as you. It's not that this is a large place. Most students just prefer to spend their time in the cafeteria or the library. After being here so many times to give Imma a ride, I've found all the beautiful hidden spots. The bathroom near the theater is my favorite. People only stumble around the winding hallway by accident. It gives off a feel of silent comfort that few can appreciate. My other favorite hiding places are in plain sight. Desks that are inside holes in the wall at the library, chairs behind a hidden glass which overlook the cafeteria, and even a balcony that dangles me over a thousand students. They are my second refugee when a play is in the making. However, today I sit in the Dean's waiting room. The cushions on the chairs are stiff and refuse to cave under the pressure of my body. Not that there's much when you're 5'1” and weigh a hundred and ten pounds.
Two other people keep me company in this bland room. The secretary who diligently types away on her keyboard and a male student who anxiously bounces his leg. As the hands on the clock slowly twist on it's face, my mind plays along with it's sound. Tick-tock tick-tock.
“The Dean will see you now,” The secretary says. I nod and quickly stand up. I thank her and walk across the tan carpeted room. My fingers curl around the doorknob and I softly push it open. I peek inside and am welcomed in with a soft “hello.” I'm told to close the door behind me and to take a seat. I accept the terms and fulfill the contract.
“Hi!” I say, feeling nervous, “I wanted to ask a few questions about the people who have gone missing.”
“Is this for a newspaper of any kind?” She asks, her eyes staring daggers into me.
“No, ma'am,” I say, noticing her face twist when I call her ma'am, “I'm just looking for my friend.”
“What kind of questions do you have?” She asks, her face becoming a bit gentler.
“My friend's name is Emily Gardner,” I lie, “She's been missing for almost two weeks. I need to find her. Can you tell me where she was last found or anything really?”
“Sweetie,” She soothes, “This is a matter best left to the police.”
“I asked them,” I lie, “They told me not to worry about it but how can I not? She's my best friend and she's missing!”
“We have footage of her entering the sixth floor stairwell on the right side of the building,” The Dean sighs, “But the attacker must have messed with the cameras because there's nothing showing that she left them.”
“Was it like that for the other students?” I ask.
“Yes, but they were at other random parts of the building,” She says, “Not that you need to concern yourself with their cases too. The police have everything under control.” I thank her for her time and leave the office. I really wish Rolf had told me how to get information or at least hooked me up with his contact, Kegan. Instead it was more like a mother bird hurling her baby out of the nest.
Imma's class is on the sixth floor. The higher I go, the more I think my legs are descending into hell. I try to control my breath as I climb the stairwell, weary of others seeing me out of breathe heavily. It beats being jammed in an elevator with several strangers as we awkwardly try to avoid eye contact with each other. I run my fingers across the strange indents in the walls. Across the building, the outline of an eye is etched into it. Not just one eye. More like millions of them clustered together. Some manage to overlap, but there's always one of them wherever you look. My imagination has always gone wild about them. How did they get there? What are they doing? I've dreamt a thousand times on what they could be. I always look at them; I wonder if they look back at me.
Someone passes me on the stairs and they call me over. I reluctantly turn to see what they want.
“Do you know how to get out of here?” He asks.
“Excuse me,” I ask.
“Well, I just can't remember how to leave and I was hoping you could show me the way,” he suggests.
“Do you remember how you got in here?” I ask.
“Well, yeah,” He says meekly.
“Then that's how,” I say. He hangs his head and continues down the stairs. What just happened?
Imma waits outside of her classroom, her fingers typing away on her phone. The walls are made of glass, which makes me a bit uneasy. I can see who is inside, but they can also see me.
“How was your first day at being a ghostbuster?” Imma asks.
“I didn't cross the streams so I guess I did okay,” I say. As we walk, I start to hum the theme song to Ghostbusters. Imma laughs at me. I love making her laugh.
When we pull into the driveway, Derrick is outside smoking a cigarette. I never understood the appeal. He himself talks about how bad the cigarettes are for him, but he always takes it as a joke. Yet, there's always a hint of pride in his voice. Like he's proud of smoking. He's proud of the idea that he has an addition that is seen as grimy in the public's eyes. Is being so different worth the risks? There are other ways to be edgy.
“So, wait, are you two lesbians?” Derrick asks, “Asking for a friend.”
“I'm Pansexual,” Imma says, after we take off our helmets.
“I'm Demisexual,” I say, “But I'm kinda struggling on what I like. I think I'm Demi-Pan? Demi-Bi?”
“Can I take that as a yes?” He asks, then takes a drag from his cigarette.
“Well, Pan is when you don't care about gender!” Imma explains, “You love the person for them! Which is also kinda what Nah is. Except she needs a strong emotional bond in order to be with that person.”
“Bi, got it,” Derrick says, smoke trailing out of his mouth.
“Not like that at all, actually,” I say, getting off of my motorcycle. Imma and I walk to the door and head inside. Maude is in the kitchen making chicken nuggets and Rolf sits in the middle of the couch playing on his Nintendo DS. Why does this place look dirtier than when we left it? Dishes are stacked in the sink with layers of food caked on them. The dusty floors are covered in crumbs and hair. Empty bags of chips litter the couch area. I hope they don't expect us to clean for them.
“What exactly did you guys do today?” I ask.
“I've had the day off,” Rolf says, “Maude got home from work an hour ago and Derrick has been with his girlfriend.”
“And Gael?” Imma asks.
“At work,” Maude says. We still haven't met Gael and we've been living here for a week. It makes me uneasy living with someone I haven't even seen before.
“So when were you guys going to clean up this mess?” I ask. The guys look at me with slight surprise.
“What do you mean?” Rolf asks.
“The house is kind of disgusting,” I say, “It needs a thorough wash.”
“We don't really have any cleaners,” Maude says.
“Since we live here, we can help,” Imma says, “But you guys need to get into a routine of cleaning because we're not going to do it for you. Every day you need to do the dishes, tidy up your room, and sweep the floors. At least once a week, you have to actually mop, dust, do laundry, and all that other stuff. When was the last time you cleaned out the fridge?” The guys look down in embarrassment. How did they live before this?
“What did you guys gather when you were at the school?” Rolf asks, changing the subject.
“The students mysteriously disappeared,” I say, “We're making a cleaning schedule. It's going on the calendar.”
“We don't have a calendar,” Maude groans, burring his face in his hands.
“Holy shit,” I say under my breath.
“We're going to the fucking store tomorrow,” Imma says.
“What about tonight?” Derrick asks, coming in after finishing his smoke.
People always say that school looks creepier at night. Bodies rarely fill these hallways, but it's knowing that there is no one here is what's unsettling. The lights are off, darkness taking up the empty spaces. It masks our eyes, only letting us see the swirls it creates in the air or endless possibilities our imaginations have made for us. What's really terrifying is when the darkness messes with everyone's faces. Their eyes blackened and their smiles twisted under the guise of night. We rely on the small beam of light I hold in my left hand. Even then, it doesn't reach the end of this long corridor. Do you think the darkness could create a void? If so, would it take us? I think it already did.
We had split into two teams. Imma went with Maude and Derrick. I'm alone with Rolf. We walk through the halls, our footsteps echoing across the sixth floor. In my right hand I hold an iron sword, the blade resting on my shoulder. Holy water grenades swing wildly from my belt with each step I take. I keep wondering how we could explain this if we get caught. That's honestly the scariest thought in my mind right now.
“If you get scared you can hold my hand,” Rolf offers, outstretching his free hand to me.
“My hands are full,” I say dryly.
“Do you need me to carry something for you?” He asks.
“I got it,” I say. I feel him become slightly more awkward. Damn it.
“Any tips?” I ask, “This is my first official rodeo.” He perks right up. Fuck.
“We have to be very aware of our surroundings,” Rolf says, “We don't know where the ghost is, so we have to be on high alert!” I nod.
“I know you haven't had much combat training,” Rolf continues, “But I'll make sure you're safe.”
“Okay,” I say, feeling a bit irritated. Does he not remember I have martial arts training? Does he not remember the first demon I fought didn't lay a finger on me? I come to a halt and turn around, scanning the area with my flashlight to find something. Rolf stops too.
“Are you okay?” He asks.
“I thought I felt something,” I mumble. Rolf goes to put his arm around me. I tense up, my soul receding into the core of my body. He doesn't, though. He's pushed back into the hallway. My light can't reach him. I feel slightly relieved, but also nervous.
“Thank you?” I say. When meeting a negative spirit who saved you from an unfortunate circumstance, being polite seems to be the way to go.
“I've heard of you, empath,” A scratchy, echoing voice hisses.
“I'm already famous in the spirit world?” I ask, “I haven't even completed my first mission. The honor is all mine.”
“The walls have ears,” It croaks.
“I thought that was corn,” I say, “Will you settle for eyes?”
“Oh, they definitely have those,” It cackles.
“So the indents in the walls really were eyes?” I ask, “All that daydreaming, just to be the truth?”
“You've cracked the code,” It says, amusement in it's voice.
“I hacked the ghost,” I mumble.
I take one of the grenades from my belt, the pin being ripped from it, and hurl it at the spirit in front of me. It explodes once it reaches the inside of the entity. Holy water mist sprays inside it, causing it to lurch out in pain. I begin chanting Hail Mary in latin. The monster screams and charges for me. I unsheathe my iron sword and slice right through it. It dissipates and I keep chanting.
Staying alert, I make sure to keep track of my surroundings. Looking for a change, listening for a hint of where it is. Empath, was it? I'll feel for you too, bastard.
A voice whispers in the back of my mind that it's behind me. I whip around and swing my sword again, going on blind faith of my instincts. Again, it howls underneath my blade as I reach my third Hail Mary. It turns to smoke and falls to the ground. I plunge the sword into the ground and it disappears. Where do spirits go once they're exorcised? Rolf never really got into that with me. Is there such things as heaven and hell? Too existential for right now.
Imma, Maude, and Derek find me alone in the hall. Maude and Derek hold Rolf in there arms, supporting him up with their shoulders. Imma throws her arms around me and tells me she's glad I'm safe. Maude asks how I fought off the spirit and Derek scoffs at the fact that I fought him off by myself, again without being hit. We go home, ready to sleep before we all have to go to work tomorrow.