She couldn’t remember how long she’d been on the shelf. Memory is a funny thing when you don’t have brain. But then one day she walked in. Have you ever had that feeling when you first meet someone? Not even meet, when you first see someone and you know, you just know that you were supposed to be there, on that shelf, in that shop, just so that you could meet them. THE one. The one you would haunt, terrify, and possibly, if you were lucky, scar for the rest of their lives.
If Lily had a stomach it would have been filled with butterflies. She had it all. The slightly innocent look that was deceptive, the way she hung back in the group. She walked around the shop quietly as her friends ran around raucously. Her fingers trailed over the book spines, her eyes discerning, interested, engaged beyond a surface interest in the spooky side of the supernatural. Lily watched her anxiously.
“Pick me. Pick me.” She thought.
She felt the slight electrical crackle in the air. Most people would attribute it to the time of year — Mid October did lend itself to shocks from door handles and car doors after all — but Lily knew better. This was the feeling of fate in action, those moments when the universe pushes you, just a little bit, in to making the right choice. The feeling intensified the closer the girl got and lily felt it trickle down her nasal bridge, drip along her cheek bones and jump down to her jaw. The girl reached the shelf holding bundles of sage, amulets, rune stones, and most importantly, human skulls. Her eyes met Lily’s sockets just as two bouncy blond girls ran up behind her, giggling loudly and oohing at the bones and carvings.
“Oooooh what’s that?” cooed one pointing to Lawrence, the skull next to Lily.
Lawrence sighed quietly. He hated supernatural bimbos.
“Eew!” squealed the second one “That can’t be real!”
“Of course it is” Said Lily’s girl — because that was already how Lily thought of her — as she reached up and picked up Lily, turning her over, testing her weight, tracing the knitting of her cranial plates carefully.
“ Look at the cross section, there’s no way anyone would make that good of a fake” she said, pointing to the chip on the back of Lily’s jaw. Lily pressed against he magical impulse that had become almost magnetic as they stood there, pushing her energy in to it, willing it to be stronger. The two blond girls squealed.
“Eeeew, Jenny, that’s gross, put it down.”
They tried to grab her hands but Jenny — She had a name now — pulled away.
“No, “ She said quietly “she’s fascinating.”
Jenny ran her fingers along the jaw, across the eyebrow ridges, mesmerized. The other two walked away, saying something about creepy obsessions with bones, and looking for crystals, but Jenny didn’t notice. She turned quickly around, carrying Lily with her up to the counter, asking the price. The shop owner looked at Lily and smiled.
“For you? Twenty-five dollars.”
The man nodded and smiled again. She said okay, and started fishing money out of her wallet. While she was distracted by her purse Lily and the shopkeeper shared a smile.
* * *
Lily bounced slightly inside the paper bag under layers of tissue paper that she had been wrapped in. The anticipation made her giddy. The bag dropped on to a hard chair and a garbled voice announced upcoming stops. Jenny must take public transit.
“Too bad,” thought Lily “No chance for vehicular possession.”
She always liked those, they made her think of when she was a live, or she thought it did. Death is kind of like a rebirth, a new life. You sometimes get a flash or a feeling of a past life, but that’s about it, like remembering a dream you had when you were a child. Lily had loved to move in life, she knew that. She remembered it whenever she was carried or on the few occasions she had been able to possess a vehicle. When she moved fast enough she could almost remember what it felt like to have a body. She could almost feel muslces, skin, long hair on her back, somebody’s hand on —
The bag dropped again, this time on to a soft cushion. She had been so lost in half memories that she hadn’t noticed the train stopping or Jenny’s traversing of the stairs to her apartment. Lily hear keys hit a table, then felt a weight fall next to her with a sigh. A moment later there was a sudden rustle of the bag and she was lifted and roughly unwrapped. Jenny lifted her up to eye level and they stared at one another. Jenny ran her fingers over every inch of bone in her hand. Suddenly she felt something she hand’t noticed before. She jumped up, taking lily over to a desk, turned on a harsh, bright lamp, and grabbed a magnifying glass. She ran her fingers over the runes etched lightly in to the surface of the bone. Lily was immediately self conscious. What if it freaked Jenny out and she took Lily back? What if she threw her in the garbage or burned her? There was a light wave of blue powder blurring lily’s vision accompanied by an odd sensation at the top of her head. Jenny sat down the eyeshadow brush and compact in front of Lily. If lily could have smiled she would have been beaming.
Oh Jenny was a clever girl after all. As the makeup settled in to the engravings, Jenny grabbed a pen and paper and started sketching them. Now it was only a matter of time. Afternoon had turned to night as Jenny compared what she could write down to what she could find on the internet, comparing cross-referencing, trying to figure out the truest version of the various meanings she could find on the internet. Lily looked at the apartment while Jenny worked, or at least the parts she could see from the stand next to the desk. Eventually she would move her self around the apartment, learn all of its nooks and crannies, but she didn’t want to give away her arsenal before the war had even started. On thing was for sure though: Jenny was the one. To aid her furious flurry of research across from the desk sat a low four shelf book case. The top two shelves were filled with fiction, fantasy, sci fi, historical, a little bit of every genre. The bottom two shelves though, were filled with books on mythology, anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, anything and everything you could want or need to start deciphering creepy, weird, mystery runes on a human skull. Add a couple of stakes or a crossbow and you’d have your very own Buffy starter kit.
Lily was pulled out of her thoughts as Jenny started pacing, looking back and forth between her paper and Lily, muttering to herself. Muttering was good, muttering meant that she might start talking and if she started talking then maybe… .
Jenny put her hands on either side of the skull, staring in to its lifeless, hollow eyes. This probably wasn’t real, but it might be. She wondered if it was possible. She wondered how bad of an idea what she was about to do. Before she could finish the last thought she felt her mouth open and the words started to come out, awkward, alien sounding at first then they become easy, as if she had known this language before, as if she had spoken it a million times. By the time she finished reading the inscription from the skull she wasn’t even looking at the paper any more. She didn’t need to. She knew what it said already. How could she know what it said? When she opened her eyes for only a moment she thought that she saw a glimmer somewhere in the back of the eyes but she blinked and it was gone. She sighed. It was stupid. All of this time. Interesting research, sure, but stupid.
She turned off the light, stacked her pages together, shook her head and went to bed. She didn’t see the skull smile. She didn’t see the glow in its eyes flare like a candle newly lit.
* * *
A week or so after Lily’s initial arrival to Jenny’s apartment, she had surveyed every nook and cranny, every hiding spot, every corner to hide around. Jenny didn’t have any pets, which was a shame. Pets can always sense the creepy and supernatural far more easily than humans, so they tend to react to easy spells and pulses of magic. Humans get feared out by their pets’ actions, but can never quite put their finger on why it bothers them so much. This makes haunting them a lot easier, like having an antenna to help you broadcast a better radio signal. Lily would have only have to have done half of the work if Jenny had had a pet. As it stood, Jenny lived completely on her own though, and that was nearly as good. It meant that Lily wouldn’t have to worry about any boyfriends seeing her move or roommates moving her and making her own mobility plausible. Jenny was a graduate student, so she spent a lot of her time studying either away from the apartment or in her house. This also meant she was most often sleep deprived and slightly clumsy.
Lily could not have asked for a better set up. She stayed still, stayed quiet for several weeks. She let Jenny get comfortable with her being there, to the point that when people came over Jenny would introduce Lily to them. They always laughed, but Jenny always left a lingering glance in Lily’s direction. Once Jenny had gotten used to her, Lily started out small.
Jenny couldn’t explain it. It was something that just prickled at the back of her neck, like a memory from a bad dream that you can’t remember but it keeps bothering you. She started noticing things around the apartment, but finals were coming up so she was sure it was just the mixture of sleep deprivation, caffeine overdose, and nerves.
But she could have sworn that the skull looking at the seat where she sat to study, even though she distinctly remembered facing it towards the kitchen before she went to bed. Other times she would find it in places that she would never have put it like next to the kitchen sink, just behind the butcher’s block, or peaking out from behind her key holder.
I used to sleep walk when I was a kid she thought maybe the stress is making me do it again, and I’m just moving things around. Its not like there’s anyone around to notice.
She didn’t think that was really a problem, not having anyone around. Besides, who would she ? She didn’t have time for a boyfriend, and she liked the fact that she could have her living space to herself. Nobody to complain about her messy notes, or piles of books or laundry on weeks when she hadn’t been able to get to it. Being alone in the apartment though, meant that the sounds of it settling, the little creaks and cracks at night, could never be someone else, but considering that she knew she had no upstairs neighbors and the only other tenants in the building of the holidays were below and across the hall from her it made her wonder. She had started hearing something, a small scraping, scratching sound at night, like something was being dragged across a desk top. One night she had come out to check, baseball bat in hand, but when she turned on the light there was none there. She did find scratches on her desk a few days later, right next to the skull, but that couldn’t have anything to do with it.
About a month after she brought the skull home, though she wouldn’t notice how long it had been, she heard someone in the living room. There was none else home, but she heard it, a laugh. It was quiet, female, like someone chuckling to themselves while reading. She crept to her bedroom door by the light of her cellphone and pressed her ear to the hinges. She heard it again, the same soft laugh. She cracked the door and saw a light glowing from her desk. For a moment she wondered if she’d left her computer on, if there was a video or an ad playing. That had to be it. She walked out to the living room but as soon as she opened her door and took the first step out, the light went out and when she got to her desk the computer screen was dark, just as she’d left it. The skull stared at her in the dark.
That’s not possible. You’re just tired. Go back to sleep.
She moved to go back to the bedroom and out of the corner of her eye she could have sworn that she saw the skull turn to watch her. She snapped her head around, facing it full on. It sat there, smiling at her. She grabbed the skull and shoved it in a low drawer and went back to sleep. She got up the next morning and was running late for work. She grabbed a sweatshirt, a breakfast bar from the refrigerator, she didn’t even think about the fact that the skull watched her from its usual spot on the desk, the bottom drawer standing open, and that there were teeth marks in the front of the top drawer and on the handle. She didn’t notice any of this until she came home and it stared at her, focused on the front door.
Lily didn’t need to leave the scratch marks, but it definitely made for a better dramatic effect. She sat and waited for Jenny to get home after she’d set the stage. At first she was afraid that Jenny was just ignoring her. She came in, dropped her coat on the hook, threw her keys in to the bowl on the coffee table and dragged her bag behind her to the bedroom, tossing it in to the closet, letting it hit the wall loudly. She came back out and went to the fridge, pulling out a bottle of wine, quickly washing a glass and pouring the wine. Halfway through her first sip she froze. Her eyes connected with Lily’s, and the butterflies returned to Lily’s stomach. Would this be the night that Jenny realized? Jenny sipped her wine, never blinking, walking slowly towards the skull. She crouched down so that her eyes were level with the sockets. Lily just smiled back at her. Jenny’s eyes only moved to look at the scratches in the wood of the desk, her fingers tracing the long jagged marks. Tenatively she reached up to touch Lily’s teeth, as if she was comparing them. Lily tensed. If Jenny touched her, if she just made a little bit of contact, that would be it.
Jenny’s fingers brushed Lily’s teeth.
Excitement flashed through lily, as her eyes began to glow, this time like a forest fire in their hollow, boney sockets.
* * *
After Jenny fell to the floor, the wine glass falling with her and shattering to pieces on the, after Lily smelled the blood that was on Jenny’s hand from the glass, after the scream had faded, after the eyes had flared — but that was impossible, there were no eyes, there was nothing there, just bone — after the wine was cleaned up, and Jenny’s hand been bandaged, Jenny sat on her couch, staring at a human skull on her coffee table. She picked it up, turned it over in her hands. She inspected it, traced the runes.
When she had first bought the skull they were light, barely visible, she had only found them because she could feel them. Now they were heavily etched in to the bone, a reddish brown tint to them making them stand out against the yellow-white. She set the skull back down and went back to her desk, pulling open a drawer and sifting through pages of class notes, papers that needed to be graded, extra syllabi, and found a slightly crumpled stack of papers, slammed the drawer shut and sat back down on the couch. She started comparing her map of the runes to the skull in front of her.
“That’s not possible.” She said to noone.
She grabbed the skull, turning it over in her hands, tracing the gouges in the skull.
“No, no, that’s not possible.”
They’d changed. Some time in the last two months, the runes had changed, and there were more. Before they had just covered the top of the skull but now they ran along the jaw, and over the top of the head, like a gladiator’s mask. She grabbed the skull, sat it down next to her desk, the page with the previous set of runes propped up behind it. This time the research was faster, easier, she already knew a lot of the symbols, she just needed to look up a few in one of her books. Soon the new map was finished and she held it up against the skull double checking it. Without thinking she started reading it to herself out loud. Again the words flowed like water from her mouth, coming easily in this strange language that she had never heard before. She realized halfway through that her eyes were closed, she wasn’t reading from the paper any more, but her voice chanted along, her fingers tracing the lines of text as she spoke. She opened her eyes, and her mouth continued to form the words, she couldn’t stop, they just kept coming as the eyes glowed bright red, with deep black pits in the centers. Over her chanting there was a laugh, the same feminine, soft laugh that she had heard late at night in her living room. When she finished chanting the eyes still glowed. The mouth still laughed.
Lily jostled in the bag, wrapped deep inside of a blanket and shoved in to Jenny’s backpack. Maybe it was too much too soon. She’d probably come out of it. Well, she wouldn’t really have a choice would she? They were on their way back to the shop where Jenny had bought her. She heard a jingle and then the bag dropped on to a hard counter and she heard a muffled conversation. At first it attempted to be polite then she heard Jenny’s voice get shrill and frustrated. She was grabbed from the bag and thrust in the to the light just in time to hear her say
“ — AND TAKE THE DAMN THING BACK!”
“Miss, I cannot, look, here on the receipt, look: “no returns on items of human origin”
“I THOUGHT THAT WAS A JOKE”
“Miss, all sales are final, I’m sorry.”
There was a long, tense pause, then Lily was snatched up from the counter and shoved under Jenny’s arm. She smiled at the shop keeper who shook his head as the bell jingled and the door swung open. They got to the corner and with a frustrated grunt Jenny threw her in the garbage. Well, this wasn’t quite how she was hoping it would go. Jenny’s footsteps receded from the trashcan, muffled by the sounds of traffic and chatter. Lily waited a few minutes to be sure that Jenny wouldn’t change her mind, then started gathering her will. It wasn’t her favorite way to travel, since it took so much energy, but as she gathered all of her energy around her, she felt the air crackle and warm. She envisioned where she wanted to land and put one last force of will behind her thoughts. She felt the air compress around her. If she had still had a body she would have felt the air being pulled from her lungs, devoured by heat. She would have felt fire on her face as any observer would have seen her burst in to flame. She would have felt the bottom of her stomach drop to her heels, the ground disappear from under her feet then a hard surface come rushing up to meet her. She would have felt queazy as the world spun like a gyroscope, then settled. Instead, she felt a warmth on her cheek bones, and then a tingle up her cranial ridge, a slight rushing sensation beneath her, and then she landed on Jenny’s desk.
She turned herself so that she was facing the door and waited. A few minutes later the door opened.
* * *
Jenny couldn’t believe that the shop owner wouldn’t let her return the skull.
“All items of human origin” She muttered to herself as she fumbled with the keys.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean.”
She pushed the door open and threw her keys at the bowl on the coffee table. She heard them hit the floor and go sliding, but she didn’t care. Staring back at her from the corner of the desk was the skull. The skull that she had just thrown in the garbage on the other side of town. The skull that had lit up and laughed at her, the skull that had talked to her. The skull that talked to her from inside her own head, begged her to bring it to life, the skull that left teethmarks on the desk, and had told her how thirsty it was when it smelled her blood. It now sat across from her, smiling. Of course, all skulls look like they’re smiling, but this one was smiling at her. In two long strides Jenny was across the apartment and had grabbed the skull. With another she was at the window and a second later the skull shattered on the sidewalk below. She took a deep breath. Yeah, that might have been a little bit of a violent reaction but what would you have done? She turned around, made sure that it hadn’t reappeared on the desk and retrieved her keys from the floor. She went to kitchen, but just as she reached for a glass she heard a laugh coming from her bedroom.
“Jenny.” The voice called quietly to her.
“Jenny, just come talk to me. Jenny?” The voice pleaded from behind the closed door.
* * *
Police sirens had been turned off but their lights still illuminated the darkened alley behind Jenny’s apartment building. A group of cars had pulled up out front, the remaining two that couldn’t fit on the street having pulled in behind. Caution tape had been wrapped between lamp posts in front of the main door, and evidence had been taken out the back. The screams had brought the neighbors, the locked doors a 911 call. Knocks had gone unanswered, calls of her name brought none to the door, but screams from inside brought an officer’s foot to the lock. Once broken, they entered her apartment, ready for anything. What they found was an empty, messy apartment. At the desk were stacks of papers scribbled with strange symbols, scratches mauling the desktop and drawers, as if someone had dragged themselves up it by — what were those, teeth marks? They stopped when they heard movement from the bedroom, then laughter. They carefully tested the door, then turned the handle. When they entered the bedroom they found a young woman sitting on her bed, staring at the wall, alternately muttering and laughing.
“Miss? Are you okay? My name is officer Hayes from the — “
“Oh, you shouldn’t have come, she’s just fine.”
“Jenny, Jenny is just fine, don’t worry about her.”
The woman’s eyes stared at them without seeing. The dark centers of her eyes focused on them, the whites of her eyes completely red.
“Are you Jenny?”
The woman smiled, a too big smile that showed all of her teeth.
“Not any more.”
“Miss, if you’re not Jenniffer Rhector, I’m going to have to ask you to come with us.”
“Because this is her house and your’e tresspassing.”
“But she brought me here.”
“Are you her friend?”
The woman contemplated this for a moment.
“Yes,” she said finally, “we’re friends, very good friends. I’m house sitting for her. Here” She thrust a scrap of paper at the officers “Her instructions for me.”
Officer Hayes looked at the paper then handed it back.
“Well, the neighbors were worried, said that they heard screams?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I was watching a horror movie, I guess I had the sound up just a bit too high.”
The officers exchanged looks.
“Okay miss, well, make sure you keep the sound down. And please, answer your door.”
“Of course Officer.”
As she walked them to the door, the other officer gestured to a skull sitting on her desk.
“That thing real?”
The woman laughed, a soft, disconcerting laugh.
“Of course not! Who would keep an actual human skull?”
“Right, well, have a good evening. And I do apologize for the door.”
The woman walked them to the door then paused to inspect the lock. Officer Hayes paused at the end of the hallway then took a few steps back.
“What’s your name miss? For the report.”
The woman smiled the same, smile with too many teeth.
“Of course officer. My name is Lily.”