A/N: To anybody who is reading this that is familiar with my other works: this is very, very different from any of those. I hope you enjoy it anyway, but if you don't, I won't be offended. I think it's been a few years since I last posted something here anyway; I've changed a lot since then.
Warnings: Some language, unbeta'd. Feel free to point out any mistakes.
There's something in the room.
He can feel it, senses eyes on his form, watching him. He doesn't know where it was, doesn't want to find out and has wrapped the blankets tightly around him to keep himself from finding out, but he knows it's there. Part of him wants to believe it's just his mother coming to check up on him before she herself goes to bed, but he can't. The door isn't open and what's more, his mother never comes to check up on him, ever.
Pale blue eyes peek out from his sanctuary under the covers, scanning the room, but finding nothing. And yet he knows that there's something there, can feel it on his skin and all the way down to his bones. Everything is too still, too quiet. No noises from outside or from other parts of the house can be heard, and no light penetrates the darkness, save for the single sliver from the moon that has slipped through the gap in his curtains and is cutting across the floor. He shivers. It's unnatural.
He stays in his position for a while, keeps peering out at the unmoving, unchanging scene in front of him, until finally his eyelids begin to droop and he decides that maybe he's being silly, because how can someone be watching him if he can't even see them? Relaxing slightly, he moves the blankets away from his head, settling down with a sigh. He gives the room one last sweep, and, satisfied that nothing is there, closes his eyes.
Then something cold, sharp and molting touches his ankle.
Jared Ahlers has never been able to do much with his life.
It's not that he can't; Jared is extremely intelligent, cunning as a fox, has a massive ADD-driven creative streak, and he's completely batshit insane. If he wanted to, he could probably have almost any job he chose. The problem is that Jared is one of those people that can't be happy unless they're doing what they're passionate about, like the artist that has to paint, the writer that can only work on his own novels, the actor that needs to be on stage and not in a movie. And maybe his life wouldn't be so bad if he was one of those people, one of the normally eccentric, but he's not. Jared is completely over-the-top, far end of the spectrum, certifiably insane all-he's-missing-is-the-paper-that-says-so eccentric. And his passion is monsters.
Not the make-up and CGI kind in the movies, though. The real kind, the ones that hid under your bed as a kid, looking like they came straight from Hell itself and giving you nightmares that still haunt you to this day. The creepy-crawlies that lurk in the shadows and wait for the innocent and unsuspecting to pass by so they can pounce. The hellspawn with teeth like knives and massive claws that can rip your laughably weak flesh from your limbs and devour the rest of you in a single bite.
Of course, those kinds of monsters don't exist in real life, except maybe on Monster Quest, which Jared has been on but only in one shot, without any lines. So while he'd like to be out there studying werewolves the size of bears and vampires so bloodthirsty a single drop sends them on a rampage, he's stuck being a paranormal investigator, which is the only job on earth that can get him even remotely close to his dream. But the thing about paranormal investigators is they make jack shit, because most people in the world don't believe in things like ghosts, and the ones that do are too poor to be able to pay them much. So most paranormal investigators do what they do only because they enjoy it, and don't expect anything in return.
Jared's different. Unfortunately.
"Did you get the recorder set up?" Donnie asks him as he fiddles with the little video camera placed just inside the door so it can get a good view of almost the whole area. It's a bedroom, with pale blue walls and white carpet, and there's a very plain looking queen-sized bed in the middle; all in all, not very suspicious. But the woman who lives here swears that she wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of screaming, and manic laughter, and that sometime she thinks she's even seen bloodstains start forming on the walls. So now Jared and the rest of the team at Jeepers Creepers Inc. (and God, he doesn't think he's ever hated anything in his life as much as he hates their name, except maybe his brother) are setting up equipment such as video cameras and voice recorders to see if they can maybe catch this spectacle in the process.
"Yes," he answers.
Except that in the end, it's all going to be for nothing. The screams and the laughter won't happen tonight, and neither will the bloodstains. Jared can tell because, while there is a ghost at work here, it happens to be the deceased husband of the client, who is getting payback for, as he calls it, "Fifty years of a living hell with the She-Devil herself!" So he's creating illusions to scare the crap out of her and having the time of his life while doing it.
He's also not stupid enough to do it the night they choose to investigate, because that would take the fun out of everything and probably get him sent back to wherever the hell he came from. Jared's not sure because he hasn't had enough time alone with him to ask what kind of ghost he is. There are, after all, different kinds, and while a good majority of the ones that they check out end up being what most people think they are, souls that for whatever reason can't move on, some of them are quite a bit more complex than that. Jared knows this because he's been obsessed with monsters almost all his life and he's had a lot of time to do research.
He also happens to have a developed a very strong sixth sense over the course of his life, which is rather helpful too.
"Good." Donnie finishes setting up the video camera and steps back, surveying the work. "Then I think we're done here."
"What are you going to do?" the client, a Mrs. Julia Barker, asks. She's an old woman, probably in her late seventies to early eighties, frail and wrinkled, and, accordingly to her husband, "meaner than a rattlesnake!". She's standing a few feet from the doorway, looking timid and nervous.
"Don't you be fooled, boy!" the husband says next to Jared's ear. "She came from the pits of hell itself to spread her evil into the lives of the innocent."
Jared ignores him; he's been going on like this for the past fifteen minutes anyway. "We're going to see if we can catch the phenomenon on video, or hear it on tape," he explains. "Ghosts often make themselves more audible for machines than they would for human."
"So you might be able to catch it on film?" she asks.
"That's what we're hoping for," Donnie says. "You said you had someplace else to stay for tonight, right?"
"In the guest bedroom," she answers.
"Great." He smiles at her. "I guess we're all set, then. We'll come back tomorrow and see if we got anything."
The old woman thanks them graciously and makes them take some cookies before they head back to the cheap motel about ten miles away. Donnie talks most of the way, because he doesn't know how to shut up, and Jared just kind of tunes him out. He's thinking he'll go back early tomorrow to talk to the ghost a little more, find out what kind he is. He's also thinking that he wishes he could convince more non-trapped soul ghosts to show up on tape, because if they did, he'd be making a hell of a lot more money than he is now, and might not even have to work at Starbucks during his free time to make sure that his yearly income doesn't fall below the poverty line (not that Jared really mind working at Starbucks; actually, he really enjoys it. But it's the principle of the matter. He's not sure he wants to be making coffee his whole life). Jeepers Creepers Inc. doesn't do near enough business to be able to pay their employees much of anything, and most of what they do earn goes to equipment upkeep, gas for the van, and paying for lodging.
They pull into the parking lot of the motel and go to their room, which smells like old socks and doesn't have hot water, but it's the best they could get with their limited funds. Donnie goes to take a showers before going to grab some food from the McDonald's about a black away; Jared just collapses onto the bed and decides he's not moving for the rest of the night.
"Do you want anything?" Donnie asks him before he leaves. "I know you don't like McDonald's but Jess said there was a Taco Bell not to far from here too."
"No. Thanks though," Jared says. He's not hungry.
"Okay. See you later then."
Jared waits until he hears the door close before he sighs and rolls onto his side, staring at the other bed and the ugly colored mustard yellow wall behind it. He feels exhausted, not physically but mentally, like he's someone who is stuck in a rut and could get out if they wanted to but can't because something keeps holding them back, which, he supposes, he is. If he wanted to he could go back to college, maybe get a degree in something like engineering, find a job, and make enough money not to be on food stamps. But he can't, because as lousy as being a paranormal investigator is, it's still the closest he's ever going to come to being able to deal with real monsters, and, intelligent as he is, Jared is still too stupid to give up that dream.
He sighs again and closes his eyes, kind of feeling like he wants to cry. Because the thing is, and this is what gets to him the most, his job shouldn't be nearly as shitty as it is.
Jared sees monsters. The real ones. The werewolves and the vampires and the witches and the ghouls. The kinds of creatures with shaggy brown hair and glowing red eyes and razor sharp claws that eat children as snacks and adults as a main course. They live in the shadows and only emerge when they have to, but he sees them nonetheless. There's a vampire that always comes to feed in the alley next to his apartment building. A woman that rides his bus every Tuesday and Thursday is a witch. Gremlins live in an abandoned warehouse not to far from where he works. At least a third of all the ghosts that they investigate aren't ghosts at all, but poltergeists, wraiths, or specters, which don't sound like they're all that different but they are. Jared knows because he's seen them, and they've seen him; he's talked to them and they've answered.
They're there. The problem is, even if Jared knows they are, they don't want anyone else to. And he can't convince them to change their minds, to step out of hiding for even a few minutes so he can snap a few pictures and show them to the world, giving solid proof that monsters do, in fact, exist. He supposes he can't really blame them, because if people did know that they existed, they'd probably also want to hunt them down, since most of the world isn't near as accepting of the strange and bloodthirsty as Jared is.
But it still gnaws at him, the fact that if he could only find a way to make the rest of humanity see the world like he does, he wouldn't be a constant struggle to avoid bankruptcy. That maybe he could actually pay his heating bills for once and eat brand name crackers and cheese that hasn't been processed to the point where it's plastic in every aspect except name.
Jared sighs for a third time, and tries not to cry.
Times like these are the ones where he wishes he'd never tried to talk to the monster under his bed.
Agni surveys the little boy from his perch at the edge of bed. The child knows that he is here; he can see the way he has cocooned himself in blankets, only his honey-blond hair and eyes sticking out from under the blankets, peering out into the darkness to look for his watcher. The futileness of the precautions make Agni want to laugh; as if blankets could really protect the child.
He waits patiently for the boy to tire himself out, until his eyes began to slip shut of their own accord and he seems to relax, as though he has decided that there is nothing to be afraid of after all. Agni grins maliciously to himself; children, he thinks, are so naive, so easy to fool. If the boy had any sense he would run to his parents bed right now and refuse to leave; but he doesn't. He stays there, slowing letting his guard down, until he's at the point where he's about to drift off to sleep.
That's when Agni moves.
He reaches a hand out, slides it slowly under the covers until he can feel the heat of the child's body next to his hand. He grins wickedly and wraps his hand around an ankle and tugs, ever so slightly. That's all he needs, really.
The boy gasps and bolts upright, blue eyes wide and absolutely terrified as he catches sight of the monster at the end of his bed. Agni's grin widens, so wide that he feels his jaw unhinge to accommodate all of his large, sharp teeth. His hair, before black and sticky like tar covered rope, lights itself into blue flames and curls around his head. It casts a lovely shadow over the boy's horrified face, causing every line to become etched with fear.
Agni knows he's already finished what he set out to do, but he laughs, high, cold and evil, just for good measure.
The boy shrieks in terror and one of his hands flies out to the side, for what, Agni doesn't know. He laughs again at the boy's actions and begins to slither up the length of the bed, teeth still bared in a malicious smile, the scent of fear strong in his nose and making his mouth water. He's going to enjoy this so, so much.
And then the boy turns on the lights.
When they go back the next morning, there's nothing. No footage, no sound; Mrs. Barker says that she even got a good night's sleep, which apparently hasn't happened in quite a while. Donnie spend a little time talking to her, making her review all the details of the previous hauntings, trying to see if there's something they've missed, but it's a lost cause. There's nothing else they can do.
Mrs. Barker is scared, of course, but Jared and Donnie both assure her that there's nothing to be really afraid of. "Ghosts can't physically harm you," Jared says, which is true. They can't; it's the wraiths and specters that do that. "Are you a religious woman?"
"A bit," she admits.
"Then just take a cross to bed with you every night and maybe say a prayer. That should keep them at bay for now. And remember that most ghosts only do what they do because they want someone to notice them. If you ignore it, it should eventually just go away."
"And if it doesn't?" she asks, looking nervous.
"Then call us and we'll come back and see what we can do," Donnie assures her with a smile, and she seems to relax, if only a little.
She thanks them for trying, even if they didn't have any results. As she writes the check, Jared excuses himself to the bathroom, but really goes back to the bedroom, wanting to talk to Mr. Barker. "You couldn't have shown us anything?" is the first thing he asks once he finds him. "A moan, a grunt, a whisper, even?"
"Now, sonny," the old man says, looking at him sternly, "if you were in my position, and you knew there were people trying to track you down so that they could eventually get rid of you, would you show yourself?"
He sighs. "No."
"Exactly. So don't try and guilt-trip me. I got enough of that from the she-devil when I was still alive."
"I'm not trying to guilt-trip you," Jared protests, and when the other man just raises an eyebrow skeptically, he sighs again. "I'm not, really. It's just... It gets so frustrating sometimes, when I see what we're looking for right in front of my eyes, but then you won't show yourself to others. I just..." He slumps against the wall, a sudden depression washing over him like a wave. "I want people to be able to see the way I do, just once. Then maybe I wouldn't feel like such an outcast."
The old man doesn't respond right away, but after a moment, Jared feels ice shoot up his spine and he turns to see Mr. Barker has his hand on Jared's shoulder. "Son," he says seriously, "I can't honestly say that I know what you feel like, because I don't, but let me tell you something. When I crossed back over the veil last night, I asked around about you. And let me tell you, there were a lot of ghosts that had a lot of good things to tell me. Now I know it may not seem like much of a consolation, but the ghosts really like you, son. And do you know why?"
Jared shakes his head. The man smiles.
"It's because you respect us. You see that we're there but you don't try and make us come out of hiding like most folks. You give us our space. And we really appreciate that. So just remember, you may be an outcast here, but you're always welcome to come find us if you need someone to talk to. We'll be here for you."
It's not much, really, but it makes the blond feel better regardless. His lips twitch up into a small smile. "Thanks, Mr. Barker."
"Ah, you're welcome, son. And well... I know it may not be much, but I've got a little secret for you."
Jared blinks. Frowns. "What?" he asks.
Mr. Barker's eyes shift back and forth, like he's not quite sure he's supposed to be saying whatever it is he's going to, and then he leans in and whispers, "It might not be long before the world does see the way you do."
His frown deepens. "What?"
"Ah ah, can't say more than that, I'm afraid." He draws back and grins, and Jared imagines that if he were still alive, there'd be a twinkle in his eye. "But don't worry about it now, son. You'd best be getting back before they think you've gone AWOL."
He chuckles as his body rapidly becomes intangible, and soon Jared can't see him at all. He still stares at the stop where he was, though, confused. The rest of the world might soon see the way he does? What does that mean?
He continues to stand and ponder for a bit before finally shrugging, deciding it isn't worth it and heading back to the living room. Maybe the gremlins are finally going to make good on their threats to bring down a military jet. He wouldn't put it past them.
Of all the things Jared was expecting the monster to do when he turned the lights on, shriek like a girl and dive under the bed wasn't one of them.
He blinks at the place where the monster was a second ago, then looks at the large lamp next to his bed that serves to light the whole room because it doesn't actually have a ceiling light. Jared just reached for it on instinct, since all the monsters he's seen in movies and read about in books have all hated the light, but he wasn't actually expecting it to work. He thought real monster would be tougher than that.
He frowns, and throws the covers off himself before moving to lie on his stomach and dropping his head down to look under the bed. He doesn't see the monster, but the shadows are much darker than they ought to be, so he thinks it must still be there. "That was kind of pathetic, you know," he says.
Something spark in the corner; he thinks it's something blue. "What is, child?" a voice hisses. It's not nearly as scary now when Jared knows it's hiding.
"Being afraid of the light," he says. "I mean, I know that monster in movies always are and stuff, but I thought real monster would be stronger than that. Or are you all just a bunch of sissies that pretend to be tough by picking on people weaker than you?"
He hears the monster make an extremely high pitched shriek. "I am not a sissy!" it spits. "I could rip you apart with one hand, child!"
Jared raises and eyebrow. "How are you gonna do that?" he says. "You can't even come out into the light."
"It's not that I can't," the monster argues. "It is simply that I do not wish to do so."
The blond snorts. "Yeah," he mocks, "just like brother can run a mile four minuets, he just never wants to." He hauls himself back up and snuggles into the blankets. "You're nothing but talk. Goodnight."
"I am not—"
"Goodnight," he repeats loudly, and he hears the monster make another shriek and hiss, and it still scares him a little, but now that he knows the monster is afraid of the light, it's not so bad. It's nothing but a big, creepy looking bully now, and with that thought in mind, Jared manages to drift off to sleep.