Original Fiction: ‘The Demon of Steveston’ by: Kristi Charish
Kristi Charish is an amazing author known for her “The Owl Series” and ‘The Voodoo Killings.’ Now, she’s gracing us with some original fiction that is absolutely worth reading titled ‘The Demon of Steveston’ and we’re sharing this story with you today!
The Demon of Steveston
by Kristi Charish
I crouched down over the white plastic bag and carefully teased it away from the baby formula bottles, all sealed, still filled with the greyish-beige liquid.
“The formula might be what did it,” I said, surveying the cordoned off docks for the fourth time, trying my best not to look at the body or the open dead eyes, lined with a smattering of heavy, dark eyelashes. “Unnerved them. I can’t see why else they’d leave the body here.” I stood with a small groan, my rubber shoe taps scuffing against the dew-laced dock. The plastic bags stirred with the morning breeze that buffeted the sea grass flats off the Britannia shipyards. “That or the milk stains.”
“Jesus Christ,” Murray whispered, more prayer than statement.
I shoved my hands in my pocket to keep Murray from seeing them fidget. I suspected he’d called me out here for charity more than necessity, but still I felt obligated to muster my best. I squinted against the sunlight coming off the water, only now high enough to sting my eyes, and tried remembering the last time I was up at daybreak. I didn’t feel the need to apologize for the cigarette I lit, stashed in my pocket there months ago for a rainy day.
Or a dead body.
“Runaway, prostitute – or a little of both?” Murray asked.
A long drag did wonders to calm my jitters. I forced myself to scan the woman’s meager possessions once again – and then her.
Young Asian woman, hair bleached within an inch of its life, small frame yet I’d guess athletic. Dressed in a vintage-looking cargo jacket, combat boots, and a matching canvass backpack lying off to the side. Her skin only now starting to lose colour. Not dead long.
On a hunch I turned her ankle to check the brand of her boot. It took a lot of money to look that disheveled. As I suspected it was expensive. I could see where Murray’s mistake had been made; the diaper bag could have been a backpack.
“She isn’t a street kid.” I indicated the embossed mark on the heel. “Not with these boots.”
He swore and stepped out of earshot before pulling out his phone.
“I banked on her being a heroin hippie or a fentanyl elf,” he said when he returned. “Figured she was Native.” As if that were explanation in of itself.
“Chinese. And you’re a racist asshole.”
Murray had the good grace not to argue. It was an unspoken rule that if a victim were an addict, runaway, prostitute, or combination of the three, no one blinked an eye if you phoned in the investigation. Murray had a full caseload, and with no ID he’d been hopeful. 999 times out of 1000 when a girl was found like this it was one of the three.
I glanced up at the tall lamps that overhung the docks. Most were still on, even with the morning light. “Those two are out.” I nodded at two dead lights overhead. “She probably didn’t even notice. Who sounded the alarm?”
“Night guard heard shouting. Stepped out of the shed and swears he saw someone crouched over her. Took off before he got a closer look.”
I frowned as something metallic glinted just underneath her jacket, where metal shouldn’t have been.
I motioned for Murray to hand me a pair of gloves. “Search the area yet?”
“Mike’s bringing the dogs. If she’s like you said, chances are there’ll already be a report.” He added something else about searching social media. I half-listened, gingerly pushing open the lapel of her jacket.
A few feet away on the dock stood an Asian woman, black hair done at the nape of her neck and wearing a calico print dress that would have been more appropriate on a woman in the twenties or thirties. She was staring straight at me. An exhibitor from the museum here early? I opened my mouth to interrupt Murray but the sunlight flickered with a passing cloud. The woman flickered as well.
I shut my eyes tight, willing the woman to disappear. I was lucky to catch it so quickly, especially since cutting my meds in half. They made me so damn sluggish.
“Ricky?” Murray had crouched down beside me. “You having one of your—episodes?” It was impossible not to miss the hidden distaste and suspicion. “I thought the doctors said you were better now?”
“They did, I mean I am–” I stopped my defense. The ghostly woman was back, this time hovering over the tidal flats, the edges of her old-fashioned dress tinged dark with water. She stared sadly, not at the strangled dead girl, but at me.
Best to ignore these slips. They couldn’t be helped, and worrying only made them worse. At best they were rabbit holes. At worst?
The woman vanished. I covered the momentary lapse with another drag from my cigarette, feigning concentration directed back on the body. If Murray suspected, he pretended not to. He’d always done that better than the other detectives. It was why I’d taken his call. That and my own curiosity.
I nodded at the strap and refocused the conversation. “Thing is, Murry, you aren’t asking the most important question.” I pulled the jacket the woman had been wearing aside, exposing the source of the metal glint. A strap, innocuous at first, unless you knew what it was. I glanced up at him. “If she was wearing a baby carrier, where’s the baby?”
Murry swore something foul but it was lost in the phone as he retreated to his car. I stole another glance at the tidal flats. The ghostly woman was gone.
I gave the dead girl’s possessions one last glance, but I already knew what was there – a mix of baby supplies – wipes, diapers, formula – all strewn across the dock and into the mud below. They held no more clues.
I paid attention to the docks instead, well lit for tourist season. Warm night, the watchman would have been looking for kids sneaking into the park. If it was premeditated, it hadn’t been well planned…
Opportunity? A chance encounter? Not impossible, but odd considering the remote location and the groceries. As if she was meeting someone.
Back to premeditated. But then why not dump the body in the water? Unless they intended for her to be found? An argument gone wrong? An accident? Or just inexperience.
Not something I was used to seeing. Not for the runaways, drug dealers, and trafficked prostitutes I consulted on. Without knowing who she was and why she was here, I had no motivation. A field full of rabbit holes.
“Ricky, I need you to do your thing,” Murray said, back from his call.
I swallowed and resisted the urge to take another drag. “I find teens and women. Missing babies are outside my social circle.” Verbalizing what it was I was good at always brought up a familiar ball of guilt.
“I’ll pay you the same rate as last time. Off the books.”
I bit back a hiss, taking in a mouthful of smoke. Of course off the books. There were some things you just couldn’t be forgiven for in the court of public opinion.
“No one finds people like you do, Ricky.”
Because I knew where they went.
“Get your forensics to canvass the docks,” I told him, avoiding a solid answer. “Then we’ll see.” I kept my eyes on the mud as I retreated to my car, an antique VW bug that needed a key to open its dulled yellow doors, the necessity of it ruining whatever ironic fashionable veneer it had once held. I didn’t bother searching the lot for the ghostly woman and whatever it was my mind imagined she wanted. Instead, I stared at my hands until the engine in my car turned.
No rabbit holes this time, Ricky.
Cigarette still lit and without saying goodbye to Murray, I peeled out of the parking lot before anyone else arrived to find me at the scene.
An hour and another cigarette later I arrived home at my condo in a refurbished heritage building on the edge of China and Gastown. My living space clashed with my income and what I alone could afford—or deserved. A peace offering from my father when he’d paid the deposit on an exorbitant North Van home, a wedding gift for my brother. Not wanting to break a streak in fairness, he’d purchased this place for me. The fact that it was now worth well over four times what he’d paid in the 90s just dug the knife in deeper.
I dropped my coat on the wooden stand by the front door and headed straight for my desk. I didn’t smoke inside – it was the one concession I’d made to my ex and the only lifestyle improvement I hadn’t been able to renege on. The ashtray was still out on the porch with a view into the gated alley turned garden two stories below.
I turned the coffee pot on, then headed into the shower, something I hadn’t had a chance to do before Murray called. It wasn’t until I was dry and had a warm mug in my hands that I checked my phone.
I was relieved not to see a text from Murray. Trafficked babies weren’t the same as trafficked girls. I had half a mind to go visit my brother for the weekend in North Van, just to avoid being useless.
The scrape of the metal gate outside distracted me.
Sliding my phone in my pocket, I took my coffee out to my porch, knowing who would be below.
Sitting on the rim of one of the large flower pots was a woman in her fifties, face framed in a brown bob with high cheekbones, tanned skin, and a slimness that hid or flattered her age well. I guessed First Nations, but had never gotten up the courage to ask, and she’d never brought it up.
This morning she had the same stroller I’d noticed last night squeaking down the sidewalk. Her other grandchildren had grown well beyond it, so this one must be new. I smiled as I leaned over the rail. “Marnie.” She was the only neighbor I knew by name.
“Ricky.” She offered me a warm smile and settled the baby on her lap. A girl in the pink outfit with black hair and expressive eyes that searched the courtyard.
The infant gave me a brief glance before fixating once again on her fingers, apparently much more interesting. I noted a darkened birthmark on her leg, exposed by bare feet. “Haven’t seen you in a couple weeks,” Marnie said.
She had lived in the building since the eighties, before it was fashionable to live in Gastown, than lucked out in the gentrification. I had no idea what her financial situation was, if she’d been married, widowed. I’d never seen a man or her adult children, though they must exist as she had grandchildren – three now. Two boys and now the girl. I had no idea what their story was. Marnie had never once asked me about the tabloid-like stories in the paper. Maybe that was why we were tentative friends—we didn’t bother each other with the usual details. Our acquaintance was centered around living proximity. No need to pollute it with the outside world.
“You going to show that coffee up in my face, or get your manners together?”
I headed back into my kitchen and filled a second mug, adding the cream and sugar Marnie preferred. She nodded in thanks as I passed it down.
Marnie and her grandchildren were the only ones who used the garden regularly. The rest seemed either ignorant or uninterested in frequenting an alley in Vancouver, however gentrified. Creatures of our environment. It took someone who knew what a dangerous alley looked like, to recognize when there was no danger. Maybe another reason we were friends.
Juggling the infant on one knee, Marnie took a deep sip, savoring the warmth. “How are things?” she asked. “More dead girls?”
That took me aback. Marnie had an unhealthy interest in my obsessions. There was something ironic in that – or comical.
She tsked. “The only thing that gets you out of your bed before noon is a dead girl.” The baby fussed and Marnie jostled her until she stopped. “Well?”
I shouldn’t tell her, in theory it was confidential with Murray…Screw it, I wasn’t even on an official consultant anymore.
“False alarm so far – not a prostitute or a runaway.” Though that didn’t make it more or less tragic. I sipped my coffee. “Missing baby though.”
Marnie made a cross sign over her chest and out of reflex held the infant tighter. “That’s much worse.”
“Depends on whether the baby is still alive.”
I inclined my head as my phone buzzed in my pocket. Murray. I excused myself from the balcony and closed the door before answering.
“We found the SUV,” Murray said. “Empty car seat, no sign of the baby anywhere.”
So much for finding the baby. “Who was she?”
“June Xian. Kitsilano housewife, first kid born five months ago, named Blossom. June was born in Hong Kong, the husband and baby here.”
Despite my reluctance, my brain churned through the possibilities. “Suspects?”
“Husband. House and most of the cash is in her name. Her parents used her to invest heavily in real estate.”
“Money for motive?”
“According to the neighbors and a slew of noise complaints, the two have been fighting. Apparently she kept threatening to take the baby back to Asia.”
Money and children, common enough motives. “Affair?” I asked, completing the trifecta of domestic discourse. Still not in my realm, but closer.
“That’s what the husband claims.”
Maybe some of my old vice channels would prove useful. More rabbits ducked in and out of their holes. “Whoever killed June might simply have gotten rid of the baby –” I froze. The Asian woman in the old-fashioned dress was standing in my kitchen, her translucence unmistakable in the sunlight. She lifted a finger and jabbed it at me, her face, almost featureless, twisted in anger.
“Shit,” I said to myself. No, not here, anywhere but here.
“Ricky?” Murray’s voice on the phone.
“Yeah.” I squeezed my eyes shut. “Where’s forensics at?”
“Waiting on the preliminary.”
“In the meantime I could tag my old contacts and dig up dirt on the husband.”
“Just – can you be discrete? We, ah, don’t need a repeat of last time.”
The professional thing would be to assure Murray there wouldn’t be a repeat. I decided not to jinx it and risked opening my eyes. She was gone from my kitchen. I stifled a sigh of relief as Murray carried on, as if my lack of my response were normal. “I really appreciate it, Ricky.”
My goodbye verged on rude. It was almost 8am now. I made my next call.
“You realize I’m Japanese?” A young, attractive man in his twenties slid into the booth across from me. Today he was wearing waxed jeans and an expensively cut leather jacket, tattoos visible under the cuffs. Yoshi was more fashionable than I’d had any chance of being, even a couple decades ago.
“You realize I like the tea?” I said.
He snorted but didn’t protest further. It was the same every time. He thought I invited him here because I couldn’t tell the difference between Japanese and Chinese. I always insisted it was because I liked the tea – which I did. We agreed to disagree. I wasn’t changing the spot, especially if I was the one buying.
“Did you bring my payment?”
“Depends. Do you have what I want?” I silently chided myself. I wouldn’t be that snippy if it wasn’t for the Asian woman following me. I’d spent the entire walk here searching for her in the faces of passersby.
Yoshi didn’t care. He nodded and slid a tablet across the table to me. I slid an envelope to him.
Phone records, bank statements, email, police reports highlighting domestic disputes, dates and times she’d crossed the bridge, locations where she’d opened her social media. All her life in painstaking detail. I glanced up at the preliminary autopsy report. “You’re not supposed to be able to access these.”
He shrugged. “I was already in their servers. Figured you’d appreciate it. Besides, I was curious. Girls like her don’t end up dead often.”
Death by strangulation, relatively healthy – I frowned at the mention of marks carved into her bare shoulder. Not a birthmark, not a wound. More like a brand, as if the skin had been filleted out. Three lines, too parallel and straight to be anything but deliberate.
I skimmed through the rest, but the symbol had my attention now. The rabbits didn’t want to let it go…
Credit cards showed she’d purchased the groceries at 11:30pm, then crossed the toll bridge at 11:50pm. Yoshi also confirmed the husband had been home, according to his phone and the voice-activated alarm system. I found the confirmation I was looking for in her email. “An affair,” I said.
Yoshi arched an eyebrow at me. “You should see the texts—and the pictures. I didn’t know pregnant ladies–”
I shushed him and he fell silent. Where you had money and marital discord, you usually had the third. Still, it left a dry feeling in my mouth. Couples were assholes to each other all on their own, they didn’t a third wheel catalyst.
Yoshi of course had included the catalyst’s details, his name, Victor Miller, and his work and home addresses. He lived right near the Britannia shipyards. Well, now I know what she’d been doing in the area. Miller worked downtown as a bartender. I finished my tea and tossed bills on the table.
“What’s your hurry, Ricky?” Yoshi said.
“To find out just what June saw in this guy.”
I tapped the bottom of my soda on the bar as I watched Victor restock the bar, it being early in the afternoon and slow.
He eyed me every now and then – in the mirror mostly, discretely. He didn’t recognize me but he knew what I was. Had been, I corrected myself. Once learned, you never lose the identifying affectations. No one does. Like a permanent scarlet letter—or brand, not unlike what had been carved out of June.
He wasn’t my type but I could see why June had chased him – roughly the same age if not younger, attractive in a surfer bum way. The opposite of the husband who looked at home in a three-button suit as he pleaded on TV and in papers for information on his daughter. Victor didn’t strike me as the kind of man a woman like June was serious about, more a tool to get a rise out of her husband.
I held up the empty soda glass and smiled as I figured out the best way to broach June and her baby, how to phrase it just right. It was harder when I wasn’t officially on a case.
I could lie, tell him I was one of June’s friends, or hired by her friends to find the baby. It was all over the news now. Usually Murray had these conversations, not me.
I’d half decided on lying when his eyes drifted to a spot behind me. Something about the way he frowned made me pause. He called for one of his coworkers to fill in before abandoning the bar.
Not wanting to give myself away, I shifted on the bar stool until I got a good glimpse of the doors in the mirror. Between the bottles of Grey Goose I made out two detectives, one of which I recognized, Mike. He’d called me a parasite and worse to Murray on more than one occasion. They flashed their badges at Victor and though I couldn’t hear details, I could well imagine the line of questions.
I watched his face carefully as he responded. Great boyfriend he was not, but he wasn’t a killer. He didn’t have the markers for violence. Those I could spot, my other talent from a previous life.
The other detective started scanning the bar, his eyes in the mirror falling on my back. I left cash under my empty glass and nodded at the bartender who’d replaced Victor, before heading for the washroom to slip out the back.
I was past the kitchen, almost to the back door, when she appeared. Not the Asian woman in the calico patterned dress, but June, wearing a white t-shirt over simple blue jeans. Her eyes were red, her expression angry. A grotesque welt, red and purple against her greying skin, burst across her cheek in the shape of the carved brand. She bared her teeth at me, like a wild animal.
I shut my eyes and counted to ten before opening them, but she was still there. They always lingered when my mind made them grotesque like that.
No, not now. I ran through her, hitting the door open with a bang. They aren’t real, they’re never real.
I raced the block back to my car and shoved the key into the lock. Come on. The door jimmied open before either woman reappeared. I slid behind the wheel and scrambled to open the glove box. It was still there. I swallowed two of the Risperidones, hoping the high dose would drown them out faster. I’d taken too few these last weeks, trying to strike a hard balance between crazy and vegetative. I shut my eyes and counted until the panic ebbed. The ghosts didn’t bother me here, not where I might kill myself driving. The ghosts had their own sense of self-preservation.
Once my heart stopped racing I opened my eyes. She was gone. I turned the ignition over and headed back home before the Risperidone made me drowsy. As I drove I focused on what I knew; the boyfriend wasn’t the killer.
I waited until I was through the front door before checking my email. It had been a half hour drive back, and I’d stopped twice to rest my nerves.
There was a single missed call from Murray. If Mike had recognized me, there would have been a lot more. Returning Murray’s call could wait.
The brand carved out of June haunted my thoughts. I searched my shelf for a yellowed plastic binder I hadn’t perused in years, one filled with details from a decade-old criminology class. The early West Coast had bred a different kind of criminal, specializing in vice: Shanghaiing unsuspecting travellers to fill crews, trading in Chinese slaves, gold rush scams of every which way and flavor.
I found it, and my fingers tripped over the pages until I reached the familiar passage. A group of Chinese shipbuilders and canners at the Britannia docks in the early 1900s had been some of the first victims. Later ones had included fisherman and cannery workers, Native and white. The murders had largely been ignored by the press at the time, only linked in later years by historians who found the circumstances curious. I remembered it vaguely, having piqued my interest in class when described as one of BCs first modern serial killings. The occult-minded of my classmates had been riveted by the circumstances.
I brushed my fingers along a grainy black and white photo. The same three parallel lines carved into June decorated the bodies in black and white display.
That’s why my mind must have concocted the ghosts, a long forgotten lecture resurfacing. Murray would have missed it. He hated the occult as much as he hated history. I snapped a picture and texted him. It’s not the boyfriend.
“That’s not what our guys think,” Murray said when I answered his call.
“Mike is a bigoted idiot,” I said.
He sighed. “He’d vehemently disagree.”
“I know what the brand is.” I filled him in on what I’d discovered, omitting June’s ghost.
“It’s interesting, and I’ll be the first to say it’s suspicious, but all it points to is that the killer is either into the occult, or a history buff.”
“Did you see the photo? Those carvings are the same.”
“They’re 120 years apart. And I didn’t hire you to look for a killer. I hired you to tap your old trafficking contacts and see if anyone was offloading a baby.” A slight pause. “Ricky, are you taking your meds?”
My meds. The only way Murray would talk about my condition, writing off my insights as an odd, useful quirk of a broken mind, not unlike the brand on the body. My finger paused over one of the pages, over a photo that stared up at me. The woman in the calico patterned dress, the same brand on her arm still distinguishable in the grainy image.
“Ricky? You still there?”
“I might have found something, just—this isn’t one of my mad goose chases.” I didn’t give him the chance to interrupt me before hanging up the phone, hoping my mind hadn’t tricked me into lying once again.
I stared at the photo and the caption underneath. A cook who’d worked at the cannery, one of the Chinese shipbuilders’ wives–
There was a rap at my balcony window. I turned but there was no one there. I swore and folded the binder back up. I wasn’t that high up…it could be a burglar.
“Hello?” I called out. No answer. I swallowed. It’s not real. I searched my drawer for the Risperidone, thinking I never should have quit.
Marnie. I breathed a sigh of relief.
She narrowed her eyes at me as I stepped out onto the balcony. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Just the case getting to me,” I settled on. I told her about the brand on June’s shoulder, and the historical connection – more to settle my own thoughts.
The glance she gave me was sharp as I passed her a mug of coffee. “Brands carved into the flesh? Like strips of bacon taken out for a frying pan?”
At the look I gave her she was quick to shake her head. “Just thinking about old stories- stupid ones, but,” she shrugged. “Your dead girl with that brand reminds me of one.” She jostled the baby again, who was also examining me now. “Ever heard of a Wechuge?” She pronounced it ‘way-chu-gay’.
I shook my head and her lip twitched as she tsked. “Didn’t suppose you had – but you never know. It’s like a Wendigo.”
I searched my Risperidone-addled brain. “North American monster. A demon or something, no?”
She half nodded. “A cannibal to be precise – with maybe a little magic thrown in– don’t look at me like that, Ricky. It’s not some mystical insight. I studied First Nations culture and legends as part of my anthropology course in the 90s. Was interested in the stories my grandfather used to tell me.”
Marnie coddled the baby. A bottle appeared from inside Marnie’s bag, the nib disappearing into the baby’s eager mouth. “Wechuge is the western, not so psychotic version of the Wendigo–if there is such a thing as a nicer, non-psychotic cannibal.”
I gave her a terse smile. “I’m pretty sure Murry won’t go for a cannibalistic First Nations monster as a murder suspect.”
Marnie shook her head. “Never said it was. One of the stories my grandfather told was about a Ukrainian fellow out in Saskatchewan in the early 20s. According to my grandfather, the Ukrainian fellow made a deal with a Wechuge spirit to get vengeance on the folks he thought wronged him–farmers, local police, even a priest even, though the priest probably deserved it, even if the others didn’t.”
I shook my head and braced as the Chinese woman in Calico appeared behind Marnie. She was a faded visage now, barely perceptible if I angled my head the right way so that the sunlight drowned her out. “Completely different from a dead Chinese woman.”
Marnie shrugged. “Wechuge or not, the man was real enough. Caught and hung him for murder—and worse.” Marnie tsked. “The Wechuge’s price was flesh from the victims. He ate a bit of all of them, strips of flesh, friend up like bacon with his breakfast. Farfetched, but still, my grandfather described those same markings. Three strips carved out of the skin. There’s even a public record. I found it a few years back. And you’re missing my point.”
“Which is?” I did my best to ignore the ghost’s grotesque pantomime of strangling Marnie. The figments of my imagination no longer satisfied with misbehaving, now acting out. I clenched my teeth and forced a smile as Marnie placed the baby back in the stroller, pocketing the bottle and accessories.
“If a crazy Ukrainian man a hundred years ago figured he’d made a deal with a devil to exact mystical vengeance on a whole town through consuming their flesh, who knows what your killer came up with? That’s the thing that doesn’t change about people. They always try to justify their craziness.” Marnie winced as she stood, betraying sore joints and stiffness. “And on that morbid note, I hope you find the baby.”
“You say that every time.”
She waved over her shoulder. “I mean it every time. And try to take care of yourself. You never do.” I focused away from the ghost on the baby fussing in the stroller, her bare foot with the dark birthmark kicking free.
I went back inside, and checked through the pictures that both Yoshi and Murry had sent me of June. None of my contacts had given me any inclination they’d heard of a baby being moved. It had been a long shot at best. I stopped the scroll of my screen on one of June’s social media images. A birthmark, dark and prominent on the baby’s foot. Very much like Marnie’s granddaughter’s.
My hands shook. It couldn’t be. I’d seen the baby with Marnie before…starting the night June had died.
Halving my Risperidone had been a mistake.
But what if it wasn’t? Marnie would understand if I just went to check.
I ran up the steps to Marnie’s apartment – 308 was what she’d told me. I banged on the door three times. “Marnie? Answer the door, it’s important.”
The door swung open before I could knock a fourth. The woman who answered was blond, late thirties early forties, Caucasian. It took a moment for my mouth to recover.
“Ah, is Marnie here?” I asked.
She stared at me as if I were crazy.
“I’m sorry, I live in the building,” I stammered. “She must have moved out. I’m sorry.” I hated my fluster, I’d had enough practice with this over the years, but when they surprised me…
I stumbled back and waved as she closed the door. My heart pounded the flight of stairs back to my own apartment that I barely noticed turning my lock.
I opened my laptop and entered: Marnie Wallace, 1990s. That was the decade Marnie had said she’d graduated in. There she was staring back at me from the screen. Marnie Wallace, Criminology, third year, survived by a daughter. Death, 1997.
I closed it, my mouth dry. My memory had conjured her from a case file I’d read. My mind had fooled me. Worse than last time.
Yet I’d seen the baby before I’d seen June’s body, the night before, the stroller creaking down the sidewalk.
It took me two tries to raise the phone to my ear.
“Ricky?” Murray answered on the fourth ring.
“Murray–I’m–” Where to start? I couldn’t get the image of the birthmark out of my mind.
“You don’t sound so good.”
I had to tell him, to say something. “I think I’ve got a lead. On the baby.”
“Won’t do much good, Ricky. We found her in the water an hour ago.”
“I know this is going to sound crazy–crazier than normal.” How to convince him? I wetted my lips. “Have you ever heard of something called a Wendigo?”
More silence, followed by a sigh. “I knew it was too soon to bring you back in.”
He didn’t believe me. My heart pooled into a dark pit. “No, I’m fine.” I ran my hand violently through my hair, longer than I should have let it grow.
“No, you’re not.” His voice was firm. “Just stay there. I’m coming over.”
“Murray, wait. Shit.” He’d hung up. I redialed but there was no answer.
“Don’t feel so bad, Ricky.”
I spun. Marnie was behind me, holding the infant. This time I could make out their feint translucence.
“You weren’t exactly coming into this with a full deck of cards.” She smiled at me, a glimpse of teeth that were darker, pointed, more menacing.
She nodded at the binder and laptop. “Was supposed to have a granddaughter but my daughter wasn’t so good with keeping to the straight and narrow. Little girl didn’t stand a chance. Died a few days after she was born, a poor sick little thing.”
I tried to speak but words caught in my mouth, dry from the medication.
“Reality is such a strange, fragile thing, isn’t it? And sanity. That’s something I suppose you value, though, Ricky, much like I value my grandchildren.”
June appeared behind Marnie, wielding a kitchen knife that she drove into her back, over and over. It made no difference.
“You can’t be real,” I finally managed.
Marnie arched an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t you like to know? That’s the problem with the sane nowadays, they never believe what’s possible until it’s too late.”
There was a knock on the door. “Ricky?” Murray called.
“You should get that,” Marnie said, but both Marnie and June were standing in my way.
I let the knocking continue. I didn’t plead for my life, didn’t beg to live. I still wasn’t sure any of it was real.
“You killed them,” I whispered.
She inclined her head and tsked. “Think of me less as a cannibal, more of a carrion cleaner. I take people’s burdens, the ones festering under their skin. June’s unwanted family, this woman’s guilt over not raising a child right, The Ukrainian man’s vengeance for a murder left unpunished. I take their despair.” Her eyes glowed with warmth. “Your madness. I’m not just a killer or a cannibal. I’m a release.”
“Ricky? Open the door!” The knocking continued but I was fixated on Marnie.
“You want your sanity, Ricky? To be free of the ghosts stalking you at every turn?” She nodded to the counter. Right beside the Risperidone was a plastic bag that hadn’t been there before. Something red and raw inside. Three strips of flesh.
“Taken in context it doesn’t seem like such a steep price to pay.” She nodded to the door where Murray still pleaded. “And time is running out.”
I swallowed. Sanity, something I’d never had, the lack of which had crippled my life. Both June and the calico woman were standing behind Marnie, shaking their fading heads at me.
“Will it hurt?” I asked.
A pointed, toothy smile. “Everything hurts.”
I picked up the bag of June’s flesh.
The banging continued. Baby on the hip of the younger, stronger body, I answered the door. The madness was still there, but fading into the background of me now.
“I’m still me,” Ricky said out loud.
The voice tasted strange on my mouth.
Yes, of course, I whispered. Now wipe your mouth before you answer the door.
Murray stood in the hallway, angry. His eyes drifted from my new face to the baby. “What the hell?” Confusion, and fear. That was a familiar smell.
Smile, just smile.
“Come on inside,” Ricky said. “I’ll explain everything.”
PRAISE FOR THE VOODOO KILLINGS
A BookNet Canada “Lone Stars” Pick A Canadian Living “10 Hot Canadian Reads” Pick
“The Voodoo Killings is such a spectacular mix of urban fantasy and mystery it kept me up to two in the morning. Give me more Kincaid Strange.” —Faith Hunter, New York Times bestselling
author of the Jane Yellowrock series
“Kristi Charish grabs the zombie novel by the throat and drags it back to square one, creating a voodoo zombie mystery that is a fresh and fantastic take on a whole genre. A must read!” —Peter Clines, author of The Fold, 14
and the Ex-Heroes series
“What a rush! Highly entertaining, original, and brimming with wit—and zombies in closets—I loved The Voodoo Killings. Can’t wait for the next!” —Julie E. Czerneda, author of This Gulf of Time and Stars
“This was an absolute delight to read. With a smart, cynical hero and zombies whose morals are as grey as the brains they snack on, The Voodoo Killings offers a fun and creepy new world—or two—to get lost in.” —Patrick Weekes, author of the Rogues of the Republic series
“If you’re a fan of Buffy Summers and Sookie Stackhouse, you’ll definitely like Kincaid Strange.” —Canadian Living
“A masterful urban fantasy ‘whodunit.’ It is one of the best, if not the best book I’ve read so far this year.” —One Book Two (blog)
“With an electric end and a dramatic cliffhanger that made me swear out loud in surprise, The Voodoo Killings manages to make magic accessible and scientific at the same time. It’s a fun ride with an original setting and good attention to world-building.” —All Things Urban Fantasy (blog)
Kristi Charish is the author of KINCAID STRANGE, a paranormal mystery series about a voodoo practitioner living in Seattle with the ghost of a grunge rocker, and THE ADVENTURES OF OWL, an adventure fantasy about ex-archaeology grad student turned international antiquities thief, Alix— better known now as Owl—a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.
Kristi writes what she loves; adventure heavy stories featuring strong, savvy female protagonists, pop culture, and the occasional RPG fantasy game thrown in the mix. Kristi is also a scientist. She has a BSc and MSc from Simon Fraser University in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry and a PhD in Zoology from the University of British Columbia. She specializes in genetics, cell biology, and molecular biology and gratuitously uses her expertise throughout her fiction. You can find Kristi with her laptop on Vancouver film sets, getting paid to write while filling in the background. More information about Kristi can be found at: Kristi Charish, Author
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Stuart Conover is a father, husband, published author, blogger, geek, entrepreneur, horror fanatic, and runs a few websites including Horror Tree!