Chapter 23:

Candles, truths and tealeaves

The Sequence of Kai

“Please, make yourself at home.”Bookmark here

She gestures towards one of the chairs. From this distance, the scattering of candles barely gives me enough light to see that.Bookmark here

“Thanks…”Bookmark here

My seat creaks when I sit down in it. I can see from here that the chairs don’t match the table, nor each other. If I squint, I can see scuff marks creating a trail from here to the door.Bookmark here

“Do you like tea?”Bookmark here

The woman looks at me expectantly. She’s tired, just like me.Bookmark here

“No, but I’ll have some.”Bookmark here

The woman hobbles off to the kitchen to boil the kettle. Bookmark here

I look around the room I’m in. There’s a carpet underneath all those photo albums to my right. A widescreen TV with a games console hooked up to it further over. One of the bedroom doors behind me has ‘Abigail’ painted on the front, another has ‘Gavin, a third is blank.Bookmark here

I stand up to have a look at some of the photos on the wall. A family of four is in almost every frame, at least two of them smiling in each one. None of them are the woman making me tea right now.Bookmark here

“Nice place you’ve got here.”Bookmark here

“Oh, it’s not mine, I live on floor 20 usually. This place… I’m just… borrowing it for a while.”Bookmark here

I could’ve told that without her informing me, she’s opening every cupboard in the kitchen looking for mugs.Bookmark here

The photo albums are so misplaced. They’re clearly from a different home. They’re filled with pictures of a girl, sometimes with the woman currently making tea beside her. There are dozens of albums, filled with pictures of the girl from when she was a newborn up to her teenage years. Nothing after that though.Bookmark here

The whistle of the kettle breaks me out of my trance. I put the album I had picked up back on the pile and return to the table.Bookmark here

“How do you like your tea?”Bookmark here

The woman comes out with a tray holding a teapot and two odd mugs.Bookmark here

“I don’t, just pour it how it comes.”Bookmark here

The handle of my mug is warm and wet when she hands it to me, her hands were shaking a lot. She’s nervous.Bookmark here

She holds her mug in both hands, tapping her index fingers off it one by one in rhythm. She looks like she has something to say, I can wait.Bookmark here

I take a sip of my tea. Tastes like tea ever did.Bookmark here

“She’s…”Bookmark here

Finally, the woman speaks, seems I made the right move not initiating things. Bookmark here

“…that thing… it’s not my daughter anymore, is it?”Bookmark here

Oh. That’s why the pictures stop where they do. Bookmark here

“What exactly do you think I am?”Bookmark here

“I- I don- I don’t know what to think. All I’m certain of is that you’re here to punish me.”Bookmark here

“For what?”Bookmark here

“For letting that thing live. Letting it grow. For not doing anything when it trapped the top floor, and then every floor thereafter. But what was I meant to do! It looked like her, it talked like her! Even without life in her eyes, that was still my Jasmine!”Bookmark here

The woman breaks down into tears, many of them falling into her cup of tea. While she lets it all out, I decide to drink some more of my own. I take a sip. Same as it ever was.Bookmark here

She’s taking her time with this. Not that I can blame her, she’s wanted to cry for a long time by the looks of things, but sometimes the tears just won’t flow when you’re alone.Bookmark here

I can guess what happened. Her daughter, Jasmine, became host to an emotion reaper. She didn’t do anything about it, she even helped it, it seems. I need more information.Bookmark here

“I hate to break it to you, but I’m nobody. You and I, we don’t live in a world that punishes or rewards people. As much as we fool ourselves into believing otherwise, the world doesn’t judge us, that’s our job.”Bookmark here

The woman tears begin to subside as I continue.Bookmark here

“Tell me a bit about Jasmine.”Bookmark here

“She was the best daughter you could ever ask for. Beautiful, always respectful, always top of her class. She was outgoing too, everyone wanted to be her friend. She was my whole world.”Bookmark here

“And what about now?”Bookmark here

“Now she sits in her room all day. She won’t talk, sleep or decompose. She just sits with her knees to the chest and stares at the wall.”Bookmark here

She’s calmed down enough now that she’s started drinking her tea. I wonder how it tastes to her?Bookmark here

“Is that any way to live?”Bookmark here

“Of course it isn’t!”Bookmark here

“Then why let her live like that?”Bookmark here

“I can’t do anything about it, I’d do anything to have my daughter back! Please!”Bookmark here

“You can’t have her back.”Bookmark here

My words cut through those pleading eyes in an instant, and she starts sobbing again. She’s on the edge, floating between acceptance and denial. Bookmark here

“I’m here to put an end to this, not to give you hope. Your daughter is dead, you know that’s the truth. The thing in her room is just wearing her skin. Even if it wasn’t, even if we could somehow bring your daughter back. Bring her back to what? A world where she did this? A world where her mother allowed it to happen?”Bookmark here

“You’re right, but it’s not that easy… could you kill a demon that stole a loved one’s face.”Bookmark here

“Yes.”Bookmark here

The silence seeps back into the room. She needs a little push.Bookmark here

“What I’m asking is: Are you going to help me, or do I need to kill you too?”Bookmark here

I finish off my stale tea as I wait for her answer.Bookmark here

“…please, put her to rest…”Bookmark here

I take that as affirmation that she’s going to help me.Bookmark here

“What floor are we on right now?”Bookmark here

“The ground floor, I need to be close by for the deliveries.”Bookmark here

How did I get sent all the way back to the ground floor? It doesn’t matter.Bookmark here

“I can’t go past the tenth floor, do you know anything about that?”Bookmark here

“Jasmine… the demon can manipulate loose objects beyond that point, she’s stretching that area of control downwards by about a floor a day.”Bookmark here

“You say loose objects, but it felt like there were hands grabbing me.”Bookmark here

“There used to be a lot of people living above that floor.”Bookmark here

I inadvertently glance at my ripped clothes, more aware than ever that some of the blood on my jacket isn’t mine.Bookmark here

“One more thing, what’s your name?”Bookmark here

“Rosemary.”Bookmark here

I stand up and brush my wet hands off on my trousers.Bookmark here

“I’m sorry this happened to a normal person like you Rosemary, but at least it was only temporary. I want you to know, if I was an angel, I wouldn’t be here to punish you. You and your daughter are monsters of circumstance, there’s not much more to it.”Bookmark here

While I’m busy brushing dust off the bottom of my shoes, Rosemary abruptly stands up and hugs me. I don’t reciprocate. I got too comfortable, I knew this was a trap. She was just waiting for me to let my guard down.Bookmark here

“Thank you.”Bookmark here

The embrace is quick, and she sits back down, looking a lot more content than she did before.Bookmark here

“Rosemary, could you do one more thing for me?”Bookmark here

“Of course dear.”Bookmark here

“Just sit there and leave those candles lit. Make yourself some more tea if you have to, this will all be over soon.”Bookmark here

Rosemary nods at me with tears in her eyes. I can’t bear to look at any more waterworks, so I quickly take my leave.Bookmark here

I’m careful not to close the door over fully as I exit, I leave a slight sliver open so that the air can get in.Bookmark here

Rosemary boiled me tea, that was an interesting detail.Bookmark here

I knock on the door of the adjacent apartment and feel my way to the kitchen in the darkness. When I reach the stove, I try turning it on. There’s a hiss, gas is coming out. Thankfully it seems Miles didn’t think to cut it.Bookmark here

I repeat this process with every other apartment on the ground floor, letting the gas seep into the hallways.Bookmark here

Then, I make my way back up the blood slicked stairs.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.