The Sequence of Kai
“Please, make yourself at home.”
She gestures towards one of the chairs. From this distance, the scattering of candles barely gives me enough light to see that.
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.
“Do you like tea?”
The woman looks at me expectantly. She’s tired, just like me.
“No, but I’ll have some.”
The woman hobbles off to the kitchen to boil the kettle.
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.
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.
“Nice place you’ve got here.”
“Oh, it’s not mine, I live on floor 20 usually. This place… I’m just… borrowing it for a while.”
I could’ve told that without her informing me, she’s opening every cupboard in the kitchen looking for mugs.
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.
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.
“How do you like your tea?”
The woman comes out with a tray holding a teapot and two odd mugs.
“I don’t, just pour it how it comes.”
The handle of my mug is warm and wet when she hands it to me, her hands were shaking a lot. She’s nervous.
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.
I take a sip of my tea. Tastes like tea ever did.
Finally, the woman speaks, seems I made the right move not initiating things.
“…that thing… it’s not my daughter anymore, is it?”
Oh. That’s why the pictures stop where they do.
“What exactly do you think I am?”
“I- I don- I don’t know what to think. All I’m certain of is that you’re here to punish me.”
“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!”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
The woman tears begin to subside as I continue.
“Tell me a bit about Jasmine.”
“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.”
“And what about now?”
“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.”
She’s calmed down enough now that she’s started drinking her tea. I wonder how it tastes to her?
“Is that any way to live?”
“Of course it isn’t!”
“Then why let her live like that?”
“I can’t do anything about it, I’d do anything to have my daughter back! Please!”
“You can’t have her back.”
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.
“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?”
“You’re right, but it’s not that easy… could you kill a demon that stole a loved one’s face.”
The silence seeps back into the room. She needs a little push.
“What I’m asking is: Are you going to help me, or do I need to kill you too?”
I finish off my stale tea as I wait for her answer.
“…please, put her to rest…”
I take that as affirmation that she’s going to help me.
“What floor are we on right now?”
“The ground floor, I need to be close by for the deliveries.”
How did I get sent all the way back to the ground floor? It doesn’t matter.
“I can’t go past the tenth floor, do you know anything about that?”
“Jasmine… the demon can manipulate loose objects beyond that point, she’s stretching that area of control downwards by about a floor a day.”
“You say loose objects, but it felt like there were hands grabbing me.”
“There used to be a lot of people living above that floor.”
I inadvertently glance at my ripped clothes, more aware than ever that some of the blood on my jacket isn’t mine.
“One more thing, what’s your name?”
I stand up and brush my wet hands off on my trousers.
“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.”
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.
The embrace is quick, and she sits back down, looking a lot more content than she did before.
“Rosemary, could you do one more thing for me?”
“Of course dear.”
“Just sit there and leave those candles lit. Make yourself some more tea if you have to, this will all be over soon.”
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.
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.
Rosemary boiled me tea, that was an interesting detail.
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.
I repeat this process with every other apartment on the ground floor, letting the gas seep into the hallways.
Then, I make my way back up the blood slicked stairs.