Ace Bleakley: Ghost Detective

one: nightmare

Ace Bleakely sat bolt upright in bed, scratching at her throat violently as the duvet pooled around her hips. She couldn’t breathe. Every time she opened her mouth to greedily gulp down some oxygen, her throat would constrict. Her chest burned with every heaved attempt it made to draw air from her surroundings. There was a darkness nipping at the edges of her vision, and the very atmosphere seemed to press upon her body, thrusting a weight onto her shoulders that was crushing her whole, and quickly. Her untrimmed fingernails continued to dig into the skin of her throat again and again as she attempted to fight off her figureless attacker.

“Ace? Ace, stop, you’re drawing blood. Jesus, Ace, calm down, you’re alright.”

A pair of calloused hands grabbed Ace by her bare shoulders, shaking her violently. There was a small thud as something fell onto the floor, before light flooded from a lamp by the bed. Ace looked up and into the wide, worried eyes of her boyfriend.

“Barry,” she gasped, throat still tight. The tears rolling down her cheeks barely registered as she buried her head into the crook of his neck and started sobbing; great, gut-wrenching wails that shook her whole body.

“Jesus, Ace,” Barry muttered as he stroked her hair gently, just like her mother used to do as a child. The motion was soothing, but the feeling of dread that she had felt since the moment she had awoken wouldn’t subside. It sat heavy on her chest, refusing to budge no matter how hard she tried to will it away. “What happened?”

Ace took a few big breaths as she sat back, hiccuping from the force of the air flooding into her lungs. She couldn’t explain it to him -- he didn’t know, wouldn’t understand. Wracking her brains for the easiest explanation, she looked at her chest and slowly mumbled, “nightmare, had a nightmare. M’okay.”

“Ace, that wasn’t a nightmare and you’re clearly not alright.” Barry sighed deeply, and shook his head, grabbing a compact mirror from the bedside cabinet and thrusting it in her direction. “Look, Ace, you’ve scratched your neck to buggery. That’s not a just a nightmare, and you’re definitely not okay.”

Ace took the mirror with a shaky hand, holding it up to her neck and examining the usually unblemished skin. Angry, red welts ran from her collarbone to her chin and in some places the skin had ripped open, leaving behind long, thin, jagged cuts. She traced the marks with trembling figures, feeling tears well up in her eyes again, more out of fear than pain. Lowering the mirror, she looked back at Barry, struggling to meet his gaze.

“I told you,” she said, silently willing her voice to remain steady, perhaps injecting a little too much force into it than she meant. “I had a nightmare. Scary one. I’m fine. I’m sorry for waking you up.”

Barry rolled his eyes, and for a moment Ace thought he was going to push her for the truth. Instead, he simply shook his head in resignation, lying back down and turning so his back was to her. “Whatever, Ace. Everything’s got to be a mystery with you. You won’t talk to me anymore. It’s fine, honestly. Let’s just go back to sleep.”

“Barry, I didn’t mean it like-”

Goodnight, Ace.”
“Ooh, scratches on your neck, chick. Kinky. Tell Mama Kathryn all about it.”

Even the brash warning tones of her best friend couldn’t prompt Ace to move her research out of the way before it became the latest coaster for an extra-large takeaway cup of coffee. Kathryn Hendry was as loud as she was blunt, which was what had initially drawn Ace to her. After almost two months of attempting to analyse the Doncaster native’s behaviour, she had eventually given up and just accepted her for who she was. Seven years, two degrees and one year of a PhD research degree later, and the two were virtually inseparable.

“That’s my research, Kat, thanks,” Ace said, stifling a yawn as she wiped tiny flecks of coffee from her writing. Kathryn picked up the papers without a single word, glancing at the title.

Caribbean Burial Culture and its Religious Undertones.” Kathryn raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow as she took a quick sip of her own coffee, leafing quickly through Ace’s paper without reading it. “Acacia Bleakley, your mum is going to kill you when she reads this. Isn’t she into all of that voodoo stuff? Like a voodoo witch lady?”

“No, not like a voodoo witch lady.” Ace rolled her eyes. Kathryn had never been the best at keeping her own thoughts inside her head. “That’s pure insulting, Kat. And for the last time, the only person who gets to call me Acacia is the ‘voodoo witch lady’,” she placed air-quotations around the words with her fingers as she spoke, “herself, so lay off it.”

Kathryn stared at Ace blankly for a few seconds, before beaming brightly. “Anyway! The scratches. Please do tell me what you and Barry got up to last night. In scintillating detail.”

“It’s not… keep your voice down, yeah?” Ace glanced around herself quickly, forcing a smile and nodding to the table behind her. “I don’t want people thinking I’m a raging slut.”

Kathryn shrieked with laughter. “I knew it! You two have got so much chemistry, I love it.”

“Yeah,” Ace chuckled weakly. She felt bad lying to Kathryn, but even as a child she didn’t trust anybody with her secret, aside from her mother -- and then, her mother had simply waved her daughter’s confession of hearing voices as harmless nonsense. Your thoughts, they have colours, she would say. They have different colours and different voices, and those voices are what you are hearing. Do not worry child, she would coo, you are not cursed. When Ace had figured out that the voices were actually the pleas of help from the undead, she didn’t even bother bringing it up to her mother -- she wouldn’t believe her, simple as that. And if she couldn’t tell her own mother, then how on earth was she meant to entrust a girl she had only known for the past seven-or-so years?

“ anyway, I’m going to need you to read over it for me because I don’t think I’m making a succinct point and honestly, I’m on my last -- hey, Ace, are you even listening to me?”

Ace jumped a little at the jagged tone in Kathryn’s voice and plastered a false smile across her face in reaction, but Kathryn didn’t look angry. Instead she looked concerned, her features softening. Ace’s smile faltered momentarily, and Kathryn grabbed at her hand, clasping it in her own.

“What’s going on with you, chick?” she asked gently, setting down her coffee with her spare hand. “You’ve been out of sorts for weeks now.”

“I’m just tired.” It wasn’t entirely a lie either -- she hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in almost a week. Her entire body felt lethargic and heavy, and it was becoming more and more difficult to keep her eyes open throughout the day. “Nightmares. I’ve not been sleeping well.”

Kathryn pursed her lips together, before tapping the table knowingly with her fingernails. “You need to relax. You’re working too hard on your research and doing too many hours at that stupid coffee shop. You’re off tonight, yeah?”

Ace nodded.

“Fantastic!” Kathryn beamed and nodded, as if everything had slotted perfectly into place. “Then we go out. Put on the gladrags and hit the town. The Garage?”

Ace shook her head, biting her bottom lip as she did so. “I’m not in the mood for a big night out. Besides, Barry has a gig tonight at Sleazy’s. I’ll need to show face. We could have a few drinks there?”

Kathryn’s smile dimmed for a millisecond before she rearranged her features and nodded, copper curls bouncing around her shoulders. “I’ll go wherever there’s alcohol, chick. Besides, if Barry’s going to be playing with that band then I am so there.”

Despite herself, Ace laughed aloud. Kathryn had been trying to get with Barry’s best friend for the past few months, and since Barry had started his -- by Ace’s own opinion, frankly awful -- post-hardcore band with Stephen, Kathryn had quickly emerged as the band’s one and only superfan.

Ace quickly checked her watch and cursed slightly, before beginning to gather her things. “I’m gonna be late if I don’t watch it. I’ll text you later, but do you wanna just meet at Charing Cross? Sort a time later?”

“It’s a date!”

“Yeah, I bet you want it to be. With Stephen.”

“Shut up, Ace.”

“Love you too, Kat.”
♠ ♠ ♠
[i would like to just point out that the Charing Cross in question is not the one in London]