I am dreaming again, returning to the old Victorian house I explored during my earlier nap. Once again, the house is welcoming, and I confidently make my way up the silent porch steps, remove my shoes, and enter. Briefly, I debate taking a new path, eager to know more, but I know the house would not approve.
I follow the footprints I left behind previously, first to the kitchen, and then past rows of offices until I find the one which is slightly more disheveled again. Nothing has changed.
The house wants me to keep going; there is so much more to see. Rudely, I ignore the wishes of my host and peer into the room, as if my eyes have the ability to find what calls to my heart. My eyes find nothing.
Come away, the house urges, doing its best to pull my attention elsewhere, but I do not follow its call. Desperately, I wish to enter the room, but no, I am not quite that rude. Not yet.
The house is nervous, unsure of whether I am still welcome and I spend the rest of the dream standing outside the office, staring at the books piled inside.
Harold wakes me fifteen minutes before my alarm would go off if I had remembered to set it the night before. His paw is pressing into the space between my collar bones.
"Good morning," I say, and he head-butts my eye socket with joy before settling himself onto my chest. His eyes are closed, and I can feel his purring in my own chest as I lazily rub the underside of his chin.
"Good morning," I say again, this time to Vincent who has apparently spent the night in the living room with me. "Thank you for staying with me." He nods in response, a small protective smile playing with the corners of his mouth.
I grab my phone off the coffee table, doing my best not to disturb Harold, who pauses purring only briefly to make a small sound of protest before shoving his entire face under my own chin. Perhaps he thinks it will keep me from moving around. Peering between his ears, I scroll through the local online newspaper, but find nothing referencing Judy Steinfeld.
I sigh, turn my head towards the window, and decide that I need to use a vacation day.
Five minutes after I E-mail my boss with an apology for leaving early yesterday, along with a vague follow-up apology for needing today off as well, glad that I have an excuse to avoid the man on the bus before I remember the same creature that seems to be claiming the bodies of its victims and is currently masquerading as Judy. And that's assuming there's only one.
I shudder as it becomes clear to me just how little I know about the creature. I don't even know what to call it. Briefly, I toy with the idea of calling it a vampire, but despite the unquestionable draw to its teeth, the name doesn't feel right. I have seen no fangs, it doesn't seem to be interested in blood and it clearly has no issue with daylight.
Frustrated, I decide to refer to it as the Body Thief for now, even though the name feels like it doesn't quite grasp the horror of the thing. I don't know what weaknesses the Body Thief has, if it even has any, nor am I even sure how to spot it, aside from its victims all having really great teeth.
I spend the entire day in my apartment watching reruns and the news. A small clip about a body found catches my attention when they flash the victims face on the screen. The man from the bus. His name was Jim Green. Married. No children. They ask for anyone with information to call the local tip line, and as they move to the next story, I can't help the wave of guilt that washes over me.
Until now, I have spent so much time being afraid for my own self, that I have completely ignored the fact that this Body Thief has killed at least two people. I was able to help Judy rest, but what about Jim Green? Will I run into his spirit one day on my way to work, only to have him follow me home as well? How many more people with this monster kill, and why does it seem so intent on finding me?
I have no answers, only a nagging sense of guilt. The day passes slowly. I bounce ideas off of Vincent, who listens intently, but as always, does not answer. Harold follows me from room to room until finally he becomes irritated with my pacing and leaves me to stare out the window instead. When night finally comes, I am grateful for my continued safety from the Body Thief, yet remain irritated with my own inability to find a more satisfying solution than hiding.
Sleep does not come easily.
When it does, I am back outside the Victorian house. For a moment, I debate turning away because even for me, the same dream three times in a row is odd. In the end, however, I make my way up the soundless steps, and through the front door, removing my shoes. The home is wary now. I have not been behaving well, and it does not want me near the disheveled office.
I follow my footprints into the kitchen, confirming once again that there is silverware, but not dishes. When I enter the hallway leading towards the offices, I force myself to keep a steady pace, not even looking at the office which calls to me.
The walls of the house sigh with relief. I am fully welcome and trusted again. There are more offices, none of which call to me in the same indisputable way and I pass them easily. The house shakes with joy beneath my feet.
I reach the end of the hall and turn left, startled to see Vincent waiting for me. The house is furious, and it creaks violently, as if trying to tear itself up from its own foundation, just as startled to see him as I am.
"Wake up." His tone is forceful, and I am so shocked that I nearly miss the twin daggers in his hands. They glow faintly with blue light, and instinctively I know that under no circumstance must I let them touch me.
Vincent takes a step towards me, and for a moment, I am afraid of the man I unknowingly call my friend. The house is practically screaming now, but his voice is controlled and forceful. "WAKE UP!"
I gasp, and my eyes fly open. Vincent is standing directly above me, leaning in so that his face is inches from mine, but when our eyes meet, he straightens and takes two steps back. "You spoke to me," I say, but he does not respond. Perhaps he can't now that I am awake.
A small, furious growling pulls my attention from Vincent and I realize simultaneously that Harold is no longer in bed with me, and that the growling is coming from him. Vincent leaves my side and walks into the living room until he is standing directly above Harold, his feet planted on either side, dwarfing my cat. I follow Vincent into the living room, pausing just behind the unlikely pair.
There is a knock at the door.
I do not answer.
Harold hisses and growls, his black fur standing on end.
The twin daggers Vincent held in my dream are back, and I cannot stop staring at them, baffled. I have never seen them until now, and I know that if he's showing them to me now, we must be in extreme danger.
Still I do not answer.
The lock turns.
I tense, expecting the door to open slowly, but instead it slams open with such force that it nearly comes off the hinges and the inside handle imbeds itself in the wall, ensuring it won't swing shut again.
The body of Judy stands in the doorway, a furious smile showing her unnaturally perfect teeth. "Hello again," the Body Thief says, and her eyes dart between Vincent and Harold for a moment before coming back to rest on me. "I see you have friends," she says, confirming she can see Vincent. Her smile shifts into something between joyful and demented. Silence settles between us, even as Harold continues to growl.
I struggle to find my voice, but fear has left me paralyzed and speechless.
The Body Thief snorts, nearly rolling her eyes. "Weakling. Claiming you will be easy." With that, she takes one step forward, and promptly runs into an invisible wall.
Harrold yowls and spits, and the woman who used to be Judy is forced back a step by the same invisible power.
"What is this?" she screams. Her eyes are wide and white and a line of drool is dripping from the right corner of her perfect mouth. With a snap, her mouth closes and she growls, sights set on Harold and I can feel her cold fury. "Oh, I see. Very clever…"
Slowly, methodically, she opens her purse and riffles through Judy's belongings before pulling out a set of keys. The corner of her mouth quirks up in a demented half smile right as she hurls the keys with as much force as possible at Harold.
Vincent moves to catch them, but they pass through his translucent fingers and strike my cat directly across his small face. He recoils, drawing back and turning away.
The Body Thief laughs, her mouth unnaturally wide, showing all of her perfect teeth. "I believe you'll find me quite welcome now." Her eyes roll to the back of her skull, her teeth begin to visibly dull, and then suddenly, the body drops to the ground, completely unmoving.
The Body Thief's true form is now left standing, and it is more hideous that I could have ever imagined. Translucent like all spirits, its fleshy, grey body is completely bare of clothing or hair. The skin under its arms and belly hangs loose and its legs are so thin, it is as if they have no muscle whatsoever.
The worst, however, is without a doubt its face. Like the rest of its body, there is no hair, but additionally, where there should be ears, there is a hole the size of my pinky. Its eyes are completely white, without even an iris. Its teeth are perfect.
Slowly, the Body Thief takes one tentative step forward. Vincent tightens his grip and steps in front of Harold, who hisses again, but it's no good. His concentration has been broken and whatever power he had is gone.
The monster steps into my living room. "First I'll kill your friends, little necromancer," it says with a voice like the call of a crow, "and then I will take your soul."