Latimer, a young man in his early twenties, had been awake long before dawn came. He sat in the corner of his bed with his back against the headboard. His blue eyes stared right through the digital numbers on his alarm clock as if he were stuck in a trance. He wore solid dark gray sweat pants and a plain white t-shirt that had small holes forming near the seams. The radio clicked on once it hit 8 A.M., and he heard the end of a commercial that advertised the latest and greatest in plumbing services. When the station switched to upbeat music, he hit the snooze button. He had experienced another night of sleeplessness, and the happy sounds would only remind him of what he didn't have.
He reached over to grab a prescription pill container from behind the radio. It was supposed to keep his inner demons at bay, no matter how many nights it left him craving rest. A shaky hand popped the lid off and he tapped it against his palm until a capsule fell out. He swallowed it immediately as if his life would end in seconds without it. He leaned his head against the wall with an exasperated sigh as his eyes closed to give his body time to absorb the medicine. The sun's rays had begun to slip through the blinds. Its warmth soothed him and pulled him towards sleep. Just as he felt himself enter dreamland, the radio snapped back on and he jolted awake.
His mind and body begged him to ignore, but if he slept in nothing would get done today. He would become trapped in the dark parts of his mind, and if exhaustion was the price to pay in order to avoid it, it was worth it. Latimer shut it off as he struggled out of bed and made his way to the bathroom.
The shower's steam didn't even have a chance to stick to anything below the top of the mirror by the time he had finished. Latimer avoided eye contact with himself in the mirror as he brushed his teeth, then walked back to his room to get dressed. He pulled on a pair of faded blue jeans, a plain dark blue t-shirt, and a zip-up sweat jacket to go over it.
An old desk that had a rolling cover with a lock stood next to his closet. He lifted it up to expose various macabre items scattered about its compartments. A fake skull sat on top of a pile of papers, pentagrams of different designs were scattered all over, books about spirits were piled up in the middle, newspaper clippings of ghostly sightings sat next to them, and various adornments hung on a skeleton jewelry stand. From this he took two necklaces. One had small snake fangs that were held together by thin wire entwined in silver chain links. The second held a small pentagram that hung off a black silk cord. Small jade stones were in each corner of the star, and a larger one placed in the middle. The jade stone was meant to protect him from illness, and out of pure superstition he was afraid to leave home without it. Both were carefully tucked under his shirt so no one else could see them.
He sat down in his plain black office chair and began to look through some of the other papers thrown about. He dug out a planner and began to look at his appointments he had scheduled for the day. One was scheduled for later that morning. Latimer pulled out a small notebook and flipped to a page that held details of his meeting.
A man was determined that a demonic dragon was living in his closet, and no matter how Latimer tried to convince him dragon's weren't real, even in the paranormal world, the man insisted he drive it away. He wasn't supposed to be doing this kind of work since it agitated his illness, and because he was the last person on this planet who should be in a position to socialize in any manner, but there was no other way he could make money. He could only live off the small inheritance his parents left him for so long, and there weren't any family members that were willing to help him. Normal day jobs just stressed him out to the point he eventually decided it was better off without him. It didn't matter how many medications his doctor prescribed, or how many visits to a psychologist he made, Latimer knew he was doomed to this type of life. Yet putting his ability to deal with the supernatural was just a little bit easier, since it meant less talking to other people and managing a schedule he could be in charge of.
With any amount of luck this would be a short visit that gave him a decent pay and little trouble. Latimer grabbed his wallet and cellphone from the lap of a demonic-looking statue, checked to make sure he had money, then made his way downstairs.
On his way down to the top of the stairs he walked past a spare bedroom that looked like it belonged in an asylum with its pure white walls, single bed and general unwelcoming presence. He stepped into the kitchen which was spotless, but mainly due to lack of use. A stomach growl told him he should eat something, which he intended to do later, but a quick check of the cupboards and fridge diminished his appetite. Nothing looked good enough to eat, and there wasn't much of anything left to eat. Just a pack of bread, a carton of orange juice, and a few boxes of various crackers and pasta. He made a mental note to stop at the grocery store after his adventures with the invisible dragon.
Latimer slipped on his sneakers, grabbed a pair of sunglasses and threw on a jean jacket to keep out the crisp Fall air. He stepped out and locked the door behind him, then turned away quickly to avoid running back inside and hiding out in his room from reality.
The street he lived on had multiple joined sections of town homes just like his. Further down they began to dwindle in numbers until it looked like a normal neighborhood with cookie-cutter houses. Despite the lack of uniqueness, it was a calm and quiet community. Everyone kept to themselves, so he didn't mind the close proximity to his neighbors, either. At least almost everyone.
Latimer's body tensed up when he saw the single most hated person on his street. A tiny dog with a stupid grin on its face trotted alongside her owner, who instead of a grin had a scowl. His hair was dirty blonde, his skin had a sun-kissed tan, and thin framed glasses rested on his sharp nose. He had on a white long-sleeved button-up dress shirt with dark slacks and a pristine leather belt that kept them up. His shoes were brown and spotless. The dog noticed Latimer and became excited to see a familiar face. She tried to run up to him and share all the puppy love she could, but the leash, and her owner, held her back.
"Hello, Latimer." His neighbor's voice was cold and unfriendly.
"Godfried," Latimer growled. He tried to walk past him as quickly as possible before any more words could be exchanged between them, but he wasn't fast enough.
"Are you off to go sacrifice a goat, or are you trying to find a new place for your satanic worship?" Godfried held his nose up to look down on Latimer from under the rim of his glasses.
"Careful, lift your head any higher and your neck might snap," Latimer snarled back.
A cry of fear escaped his neighbor's throat. He quickly scooped up his dog and held her protectively.
"Let's go, Fluffy, before we become the victims of a killing spree!" Godfried hissed before he rushed towards his front door. It was by some miracle their buildings had a good forty feet of empty space between them, yet a curse their windows glared at each other night and day.
Latimer continued down the street. Instead of just dealing with exhaustion from lack of sleep, he was now also agitated, and now he had to use every calming technique he knew to get rid of that feeling. Once he arrived at the bus stop, he sat down on the bench and closed his eyes as he counted to ten. The drive would be long enough for him to think about something other than his extremely annoying neighbor's possible future death.
He began to regain a somewhat normal composure as he imagined all sorts of horrible ways for Godfried to disappear from the Earth. As he was about to orchestrate a particularly awful possibility, the bus was heard from down the street and, for better or worse, stopped him from finishing that thought. Latimer stood up and pulled out out his bus pass as it rolled up to the curb. The doors opened and he walked in to see the driver with a smile on her face.
"Good morning!" She was older, somewhere in her late 40's. Her hair had a few streaks of gray in it and was pulled back into a low ponytail. Her face was covered in makeup that showed an attempt to look younger, but the bright blue eye shadow and firetruck red lipstick had the opposite effect.
"Morning," Latimer responded. Despite her not-so-great make-up choices, he liked her. She was always nice to him, and he decided it was worthwhile to at least try to act happy on her route. The only problem was that he could never remember her name, and there wasn't a way he could discretely look at her badge to find out, either. He swiped his pass on the machine next to her, then sat down a few seats back. Today it was fairly empty. A good sign, he thought. Few people were around and his favorite driver was there. Maybe that meant the rest of the day would be better than his morning had been.
"Off we go!" She shouted as the shut the door and the bus lurched forward when she hit the gas.
Latimer arrived to the client's house with a bad feeling in his gut. Any hope of the day getting better had completely disappeared. He wasn't sure if it was the anxiety of coming face to face with someone who could be more unstable than himself, or because he was about to enter a complete stranger's home. Whatever the case may have been, he had a job to do, and he didn't want to quit without trying to see if he could help. There was always the option to turn back and delay the visit another day if he couldn't make his legs move forward. Fortunately, or unfortunately, they did.
The house itself was small, old, but taken care of. Some parts of the roof looked to be weathered but were still intact. The windows were aged and slightly crooked but had fresh paint. The porch had steps that had shifted a few inches from the patio, but were still sturdy enough to step on. The storm door looked to be from the days when the house was first built, but when he pulled it open, there wasn't a squeak to be heard. The one behind gave a good solid sound when he knocked, despite the cracked wood near the top. Latimer thought that this place would be a good representation of how the past and present worked together if it weren't for the butterflies turning into hornets in his stomach.
An older man answered, surprised to see Latimer standing there. His suit was clean, new, but clearly fashioned from a few decades ago. The jacket was a tan colored plaid with a deep red shirt underneath with matching pants. On top of his head was thin hair that was dark brown and had streaks of gray in it, contrasting the dark caramel skin. His winkled eyes were a dark hazel. At first the man wasn't sure who he was or what he was doing there, but after a quick glance at a watch that wrapped tightly on his thin wrist, his face brightened.
"Ah! Latimer! Yes, the lad whose uncanny sight will help me find some peace at last."
Latimer just nodded. He could feel an invisible barrier grow between him and the doorway. All at once his mind began to battle itself on how it should handle the situation: run, push through, do nothing. Or he could just collapse into a world of darkness until the police came to drag him away. It wouldn't even be the first time, but he didn't want to make it a second.
As he felt himself leaning towards the second option, his client clapped his hands together in excitement. Startled, Latimer's focus was pulled from his inner battle to the outside world again.
"Come in, come in," the old man said with sincere kindness. He motioned for Latimer to walk inside, and he did. Now standing in the entry-way, he began to inspect his surroundings. It matched the outside, everything was out of date but was still in top condition. Either this man never was home, or he kept a strict cleaning regime.
"Sit wherever you feel most comfortable," he began. Once Latimer was seated in the middle of a brown couch with matching pillows, the client sat in a chair covered in a dark green and brown paisley pattern across from him. Latimer thought the style choice in the room was hideous. For a moment there was silence, then he remembered why he was there in the first place.
"You called about...about a dragon Mr. -"
"Call me Duncan, no need to use formalities." Duncan smiled.
"Right," Latimer began again with a look of uncertainty, "Duncan, you called about a dragon in your closet. I...I don't understand how that's possible, but if you show me maybe I can point to another reason you hear odd noises." Latimer always felt like a hypocrite for trying to explain away people's experiences. It wasn't that he didn't believe them, but in most cases they were just lonely and their imaginations went wild. In the few instances where there was something else there, he tried his best to play it off like an everyday normal event to avoid scaring them. Most of his past clients appreciated that.
The old man grinned with excitement and stood up. Duncan motioned for him to follow as he walked towards another room. When he opened a bedroom door, Latimer expected it to be filled with the same ugly and oddly dated furniture, but it wasn't. Instead he saw an old tree trunk in the center of the room. From the base to the top, it looked as if someone twisted the trunk clockwise as it grew. The bark followed seamlessly. The top however was ragged and uneven, but the center had been rounded out. In the middle was an indentation where a large oval shaped stone rested, its surface rough and gray. Before he could ask what this room was, the old man turned to him with frantic excitement in his face.
"See? A real dragon egg! As instructed this room is dedicated to its coming birth." He waved his hand to bring attention to the random objects of nature around the room. "However, something else wants it, and it tries to come after me..." Duncan then looked towards the closet door, it's edges covered in what looked like black soot. "I just want protection from it, that's all."
Latimer stood in the doorway, his heart dropping through the floor beneath his feet. Someone had taken advantage of Duncan's increasing age and lack of sane judgment. At first he wanted to tell him this was all fake, but when the old man beckoned him to look at the closet door he decided to play along. He walked over slowly, then bent down and ran a finger along the blackened bottom. It wiped off easily, the door unharmed underneath. With little effort he wiped it all off with the edge of his jacket sleeve It was nothing more than decades old soot, he thought.
Latimer stood up and put his hand on the door knob. A pause to give the old man time to object lasted long enough to tell him there would be no issue if he opened it. When no objections came, he pulled it open. Inside he saw nothing but an eerie darkness. At first glance it looked normal, but Latimer knew better. Some of was creeping out and began to spread to the outside room like a thick, rolling fog. Duncan hadn't been losing his mind after all.
This would be the sixth time he had encountered it this year. It was a rare paranormal entity that would randomly appear, spreading it's presence in homes and temporarily affecting the sanity of those who lived in them. It wasn't the way this thing affected those that stumped him though, it was why they appeared at all. Most of his clients had their lives returned to their respective normals once he got rid of them. He had tried to do research about this phenomenon to learn more about it, but all he learned was how it all ended horribly if they weren't removed. It would latch on to a single person, and as their sanity faded, they eventually either killed themselves or wound up being killed in some bizarre situation they put themselves in. The general public, police, investigators, and anyone else involved in finding out what happened would never blame a supernatural element. Latimer assumed these fogs eventually disappeared once they had no one around to feed on, since the situations never happened in the same place twice.
He pulled the closet door all the way open and stood in front of the black fog. Latimer felt an edge begin to grow in his mood as he faced the darkness, but that was just the beginning. Duncan watched from behind, writhing his hands in anticipation of what would happen next. He opened his mouth to speak but then closed it, afraid that if he interrupted Latimer they would become this monster's next meal. The smoke began to reaffirm it's position and turned into a sticky mess. It clung to the walls of the closet, but had trouble keeping a solid form. Every few seconds it turned into a different state. Liquid was the first, then gas, then back to a gooey solid. It was as if it couldn't keep its own grip on reality. Latimer fought off the growing agitation he felt that was coming from the thing before him. At one time of removing this for another client, he had experienced a sense of happiness he had never felt before. He had great difficulty in removing it. This one hoped negativity and fear would drive him away, but as he lived in that type of mindset on a day to day basis, it would be easier to handle.
Latimer held his hand over it and focused on it. He took a deep breath and reached out with his soul to make a connection with it. It was easier than he expected, the thing didn't put up a fight. With closed eyes he began to push it away with his thoughts, to coax it back to wherever it came from. It responded with a sense of confusion, and did something he didn't expect; it growled. Latimer almost jumped back, but forced himself to stay put. His eyes opened to stare into the abyss. It was almost as if he could see something staring back. Was that even possible?
Once more he pushed it away, and it began to release its grip on the walls around it. It began to slow its pattern of switching from one state of matter to the next, eventually stopping so it became a mass of black smoke. Then it did something else unexpected. It rose up around his hand, and when it touched his hand it flared up into a ball of spikes. A loud screech sounded and Latimer instinctively covered his ears. Duncan yelled out in fear and ran from the room.
The ball of spikes floated at eye level, but refused to leave the closet. A different set of emotions lashed out at him. Fear, uncertainty, and pain. Latimer reached out again to it to reconnect. It took more focus this time, but when he finally succeeded a wave of memories and thoughts hit him hard. Whatever had caused this to appear, he was now seeing it. It all came through as a blur, but he heard the shrill voice of a woman, saw what he thought to be a demon with a scythe in its hand, and a sickening smell of blood filled his nose. Pain shot through his entire body as if something large hit him, but it lasted only for a few seconds. He could feel his legs weaken beneath him and his chest tighten. When he looked down he wasn't in Duncan's home anymore. He was in the streets. No, he was in a building, but the ground felt soft. Maybe he was outside. Latimer couldn't tell. The world around kept changing from one place to the next like he was moving. It was running! If this was the fog's memories, then it was running from something. Latimer tried to turn around to get a better look at what could possibly be chasing it but instead saw the shine of a blade come down on him. Just as he thought it hit him a woman's voice screamed his name.
Latimer gasped for air as he felt a sharp pain in his chest and fell to his knee. He clutched the area where he, or rather this thing, would have been hit. When he looked back up to see what had attacked, everything was back to normal. The room was empty, except for him and the fog. Sorrow filled his mind, and he thought he heard crying. Latimer looked over at the closet in pity. His usual tactics weren't going to work to get rid of this, and he knew why.
Latimer got up and took a few cautious steps back to the closet. It went silent.
"You...you don't want to go, do you?" He watched as a faint glimmer of light flickered inside it in response. "You can't stay here, though. You're scaring the person who lives here."
It retreated further back into the closet, ashamed. For a moment Latimer had half a mind to let it live here in peace, but he knew that it would only grow and endanger more people. He didn't want that to happen. As if it read his mind, it tried to send a soothing sensation. A faint noise of jingling bells met his ears as another light flickered inside the darkness. It was trying to communicate.
Latimer sighed and ran his hands through his hair in frustration. "Ok, you're not...not something that should exist and you have an affect on those around you because of it. The man that lives here is worshiping an egg-shaped rock, and thinks you're a dragon that's here to take it or something. He wasn't like that when you first came here right?" It sunk slowly down to the floor. It knew he was telling the truth. "See, you're harming him. And if it goes on he can put himself in serious danger. Life-threatening danger."
The movement stopped for a moment, then it erupted into dark mist. It moved in a snake-like pattern, thin and slow, towards the rock resting in the middle of the old tree stump. The rock seemed to intrigue it, and soon it surrounded it completely. Now it looked like a real lizard protecting its nest, only it was a transparent mass that held no real shape. The bells sounded in his ears again and light began to flicker rapidly in various sections.
Latimer's eyes widened when he learned what it had in mind, not to mention this thing was acting intelligently compared to the others he encountered. "You can't live in a rock! I don't...I don't know what that would do to him. For all I know he might regain sanity and throw it out, or if he gets worse -" He was cut off as it hissed. Solutions poured through his mind, but not of his own making. Noise of all kinds bounced about the room in a hypnotic rhythm.
If he let it stay in the egg, it would remain dormant and sleep. It would never seek out other people, or be afraid. If the man went near it, it would carefully reach out to him so that he still admired the egg and always keep it safe. Then a final promise surprised him. In return for the old man's care, it would protect him from harm if it were to appear. It would keep this home safe, just like a dragon that protected its treasure in stories.
For a moment Latimer thought about this. There was no guarantee it would work, but then again this was the first time he had come across one so alive and so aware. That alone was comfort it had a chance to keep its word. But how would it stay hidden when it couldn't even stay in a solid state for long?
Blood, it echoed in his head.
His head jerked up in shock at the sudden communication, then a wave of sickness overcame him. It wanted blood? Like a sacrifce?
"What do you mean?"
Latimer didn't understand, and before he could ask why it began moving rapidly towards him in its snake-like form.
"Ok, ok!" He took a step back as he took out a pocket knife. "Ok, hold on!" Never had one approached him like this before. It was determined and willing to do what it took to live. It didn't stop trying to advance, so he took another step back as he made a cut on his hand as quickly as possible. It was deep enough that the blood gushed out in immediately, dripping onto the floor.
Not that blood. It's mouth opened as if preparing to strike him.
"This is the only blood I have!"
Your other blood.
A chill run down his spine. This thing knew something about him he had never shared with anyone before. The blade met his skin a second time, and he slowly, hesitantly, ran it across his palm. Instead of red seeping out, it was black. He clenched his hand into a fist and watched as the thing shuddered with excitement.
It lunged at the drops that fell to the floor. Latimer staggered back out of its way as it began to absorb everything up. Its shape seemed to solidify.
Latimer frowned as he watched limbs began to form. A tail appeared and ended with a sharp tip, and wings stretched upwards from its back. Though small, it now looked like a dragon's shadow.
"How did you know about that?"
You are connected.
The odd fog, now a full fledged dragon, crawled up the tree stump as if it were as natural as breathing. It was then Latimer noticed it's color was changing from black to dark greens, yellows and reds.
"Connected?" He watched it move, half in curiosity, half in horror as he began to realize what this could mean.
To our world. You can give us form, life.
Life? Did that mean he killed the others that were like this thing?
"What...what happens if I get rid of you?"
We go back to our world.
"Is that bad?"
Silence was its response.
Latimer sat down next to the stump. Not once had he thought these black fogs had a possibility of being good, of being something that had to be saved and not destroyed, or even being remotely close to a living creature. Did that make him a murderer? Did that mean he was on a killing spree like Godfrey had said?
No death. Some are unhappy, some are happy. It's a strange world.
"If they're unhappy then that's my fault," he muttered. The fact they hadn't died because of him gave him minor relief.
"Many didn't want to live there, so we escaped here, but here none of us could retain our form. So we became shapeless, unable to truly communicate," it finished.
Latimer turned to look up at the dragon perched on the stone egg. It had talked, no longer was it communicating through his mind, but in a small voice that was neither male nor female.
"You can talk now?"
"I am gaining my strength, but I am tired now and need to rest. I will keep my promise." Without another word it disappeared into the stone egg.
It was as if it never existed. He sat there, going over what it had told him. Whatever brought these things into the other world, whatever that was, did it on its own accord. This other world wasn't evil, but enough were unhappy to leave, yet couldn't retain form by doing so. Did that mean this particular creature had always been a dragon? Is that why it came to Duncan's home specifically, with all of the fantasy elements? Latimer wanted to ask more questions, but it had said it was tired, and the last thing he wanted to was anger something that was doing its best to look and act like a dragon.
After some time of coming to terms with what happened, he decided it was time to leave. There wasn't anything else he could do now. When he stepped out of the room he saw the Duncan back in his ugly chair. He was sipping something hot out of a medieval patterned mug. When he noticed Latimer he quickly set it down and stood up.
"Ah! I-I take it y-you succeeded?" He was clearly shook up, which meant he was either coming to his senses or he still believed a dragon would be coming to collect the egg at any moment.
Latimer just nodded, finding himself unmotivated in discussing the events with him.
"G-good. Good. Yes." His mouth twitched into a smile that lasted for only a few seconds before returning to a faded stare. He then stood up and walked over to a decorative table against the wall. A drawer was pulled open and out came an envelope. The old man hesitated, then walked over to Latimer and handed it to him.
"Payment. Payment as agreed. Thank you, I think I can find some peace now." Duncan's two-second smile flashed at him again.
Latimer took it with a nod of thanks, feeling some guilt for being paid when he didn't really get rid of the problem. "Your...dragon's egg," he began, unsure if he should call it that. "Do you mind if I visit to take a look at it again?" If he was told no, he'd have to find another way to monitor this thing.
The man beamed. "Of course!" His fear quickly faded. "I would be more than honored to show it to you! It's not often I have someone who is as interested in high fantasy as I am." It was then Latimer noticed the collectible swords on the wall, the shelves lined with books about wars between elves and orcs, and the collection of movies of the same subject matter. Whatever that fog was, it would fit in well here as long as it behaved, and as long as the old man didn't lose his mind.
Latimer gave him a half smile and headed for the door without another word. Once he was outside and the door shut behind him, he opened the envelope of money. It was cash, a payment of three hundred. That would be enough for food and the rest he would save for his month's rent that was due in a few weeks. He put it back in the envelope and placed in a pocked inside his jacket. After a deep breath, he made his way back to the bus stop, wondering what his connection was to this other world, and just what was his black blood capable of doing?