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The pub where I’m meeting Raff is his favourite. I guess it tickles his sense of humour. It’s an inner urban bar which was renovated to the very core of chic back in the mid 1980s, and it hasn’t been altered since. There are traffic signs hanging on the walls, an old motorcycle suspended over the bar, and lots of faux exposed brickwork. The barstools are fake tractor seats and there are hot pink and bright orange fluorescent tubes scattered for no discernable reason across the ceiling. It reminds me of Charlie Sheen’s apartment from ‘Wall Street’, only with beer.
The pub would have been packed circa 1986, with people knocking back wine coolers and cutesy cocktails and dancing to Huey Lewis songs. But in 2001 it’s virtually empty. The motorcycle is dusty and half the fluorescent tubes have gone dark. The bartender could have played Tom Cruise’s character in ‘Cocktail’ when the bar was popular, but now he’s 40 and tired and wearing a mullet. The pub was ‘trendy’ back when ‘trendy’ meant ‘cool’, and now it’s ‘trendy’ when ‘trendy’ means ‘lame’ and ‘lagging behind the times’. I feel sorry for it, but Raff loves its ironic, unintentional anti-fashion.
Raff and his friends are already there when I arrive. They’re lounging in knockoff Bauhaus chairs made of scuffed black vinyl and chromed steel that has become chipped and rusted over the years. Martin the computer programmer is buying everyone drinks because he’s landed a contract to debug a game that he swears will be bigger than EverQuest in twelve months time. His girlfriend Laeticia is explaining her latest project to the group. She is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met. She is also a performance artist. I have no idea how she manages to be both.
I sip on my beer and try to listen to the conversation. Would it blow their minds if I told them I’d been seeing mysterious creatures who vanish into thin air? Or would they just accept it, in their off-centre artistic way, and thus blow my mind, tight and scientific as it is? I weigh up the options and run with silence.
At least the bar seems to be creature-free. Occasionally I think I see something move on the ceiling, or creep along the bar, out of the corner of my eye, but it’s just shadows and my jittery nerves.
I was at the university most of the day and didn’t see anything unusual there; or at least nothing more unusual than Fine Arts students and Hari Krishnas. The brief time I spent at home in the morning was as ordinary as it was the day before yesterday, before the menagerie put in an appearance. Maybe they were only in town for one day? Or can you be delusional for just one day?
I start out of my thoughts as I hear my name. It’s Laeticia. ‘Carrie, that girl who was murdered last night; did she live anywhere near you?’
Suddenly everyone is looking at me and I don’t know what to say. ‘Murdered girl? What murdered girl?’
‘Didn’t you read about it?’ Martin asks. ‘It was on the front page of the afternoon paper. And on the radio this morning.’
‘I’ve been in the lab all day.’ I look helplessly at Raff for more information.
‘I tried to call you when I found out, but you must’ve been at uni,’ he says, which is comforting but doesn’t tell me anything.
‘A girl was murdered last night in Parambah,’ Laeticia is slightly more helpful. ‘That’s where you live, isn’t it?’
‘Yes,’ I reply, and I’m starting to get a grip on the conversation. ‘Did they say where in Parambah?
‘Belleview Street, I think.’
‘That’s the next street down from mine,’ I reply. ‘Sorry, I hadn’t heard anything about this.’
‘Shit,’ says Laeticia solemnly, and she takes a deep drag on her cigarette. ‘This girl was a student like you. Apparently it was about 3am last night, and the whole neighborhood wakes up to this excruciated screaming. They work out it’s coming from this girl’s house and they break down the door to get in, but by then it’s too late.’
‘She was in bed, sliced open,’ says Martin’s creepy friend Ross, and he draws a line with his finger from his throat to his groin.
Laetecia ignores him. ‘The weird thing was that the killer had vanished. She was still screaming when they were breaking down the door, but when they got to the bedroom, there was no one there. The police said he must have hidden himself in another room and slipped out of the house when the neighbours were all in the bedroom. Can you imagine? It’s so cold-blooded. It’s like something out of some sick goth fantasy.’
‘Are you okay, Carrie?’ Raff puts his arm around me. I can actually feel the colour draining out of my face. I remember last night, hiding in the corner of my bedroom as one of the misshapen creatures rattled the window trying to get it, then watching as it suddenly gave up and followed the others down the street. That was around 3am. They must have followed some sort of call over to Belleview Street, tried another bedroom window, got in, and carved open a girl in her bed. That girl could easily have been me. I was just luckier.
They all just assume that I’m shaken by a murder occurring so close to my house, and Laeticia considerately steers the conversation into other areas. I want to tell them about what I saw, but I can’t find the words. The girl was murdered by freakish withered monsters that I saw out of my bedroom window? The words make it sound like something a scared child would say after a nightmare.
After a few more rounds Raff takes me home. The others kid him about being gallant. He smiles and jokes about just wanting to see that Mondo is safe.
We get home. The house is empty, quiet and absolutely normal. Mondo is overjoyed to see Raff as only an old dog can be. Argyle glances at me momentarily then goes back to cleaning himself.
I make coffee, and Raff and I sit on the verandah, talking and watching stray jacaranda flowers float down on the breeze. It’s cool and silent – the suburb seems to have turned to stone.
Eventually Raff takes my hand and leads me into the bedroom. He smiles at me playfully and says, ‘I’d be a pretty low guy if I made you sleep alone tonight.’
‘Well, I don’t want to stop you doing the right and honourable thing,’ I reply, and I consciously let go of my problems to enjoy the feeling of his tiny kisses on my neck and shoulder.
We fall onto the bed, and shoes and shirts and pants are shed onto the floor. As his fingers tickle my thigh, Argyle saunters into the room and leaps gracefully onto the dressing table. He sits with prim feline precision, and watches us with an expression which is grave, and yet also faintly amused.
‘Sometimes,’ Argyle says, ‘I’m actually glad you had me neutered.’
I frown at him.
‘Raff, did you hear the cat just say something?’
Raff pauses mid-caress, and pulls back to look me in the eye.
‘I’m making love to you and you want to know if the cat just said something?’
I mentally hit myself for forgetting the fragility of the male ego. ‘Well, I just wondered if I was… hearing things...' I trail off lamely.
‘Hearing the cat meow,’ he says.
‘I get it,’ he says. ‘This is some ironic pop-culture reference about mediocre foreplay.’
‘Er… maybe,’ I reply, hoping that this is an escape route.
He nods thoughtfully. ‘I can dig that,’ he says. A mischievous look comes over his face, and he applies himself to the task at hand with renewed vigour.
‘No, please, don’t let me stop you,’ Argyle says in a tone of condescension that’s dosed with elegant sarcasm. ‘It’s not like I have anything better to do with my time. By all means, carry on with your… diversion.’
But with Raff driven by a perceived challenge to his masculine prowess, within a few minutes I couldn’t care if the cat got out his music and started singing a medley from ‘Oaklahoma!’
I wake up close to 1am. Raff is fast asleep beside me. Argyle is curled up on the dressing table. As I get up his eyes open a crack, then he uncurls himself and stretches. I slide out of bed and pull on a robe, never taking my eyes off him.
He returns my look. ‘What are you staring at? Have I got salmon in my teeth?’
‘How is it that you can suddenly talk?’
‘Just because I never said anything up to now doesn’t mean I can’t.’
I shake my head. ‘This is insane. Or maybe it’s just me.’
‘Don’t worry about your sanity,’ Argyle advises as he drops to the floor. ‘You’re perfectly fine. And frankly, worrying about your mind all the time is just a little bit tacky, if you ask me. It bespeaks insecurity.’
‘So you really can talk.’
He rolls his eyes. ‘Obviously. I hope you’ll be able to accept this quickly so that we can move on to more important matters.’
‘We’ll see,’ I reply. I go into the kitchen and pour myself a glass of milk. I glance at Argyle. ‘Do you want some?’
‘Well duh,’ says Argyle. ‘I’m a cat, aren’t I?’
‘I’m not so sure about that,’ I reply, as I pour some milk into a saucer. ‘Just exactly who are you?’
The cat sighs. ‘My name is Argyle. I’m five years old. My turn-ons are being scratched behind the ears, drinking fresh milk and sleeping in sunbeams. My turn-offs are having my stomach rubbed, getting wet, and eating that so-called ‘food’ you give me…’
‘Oh give me a break,’ I mutter.
‘So what am I supposed to say? Do you think I’m Argyle’s evil twin? Do you think I’m possessed? Well, sorry to disappoint you, but I’m just a cat.’
‘A cat who can hold an intelligent conversation?’
Argyle’s tail is beginning to swish. ‘Look, I’m a talking cat. Deal with it. I think it’s safe to say that we have slightly more pressing issues for discussion than the mechanics of communication.’
‘Ooh, say, such as your life being in mortal danger? That pressing enough for you?’
I give him his saucer of milk and sit down next to him on the kitchen floor. ‘Okay, I’m listening.’
‘Tsk tsk, and me without my celebratory champagne,’ Argyle snorts.
‘Just tell me, will you?’
‘Hmm, where to begin…’ Argyle muses.
‘I take it you noticed the strange insects in the garden the day before yesterday?’ Argyle asks.
‘Of course,’ I reply. ‘Them and the three-eyed monkey and the six-legged lizard.’
Argyle raises an eyebrow. ‘Really? I must have missed them. That’s a lot of activity.’
‘They were nothing compared to the mutant dwarf things on the front lawn.’
‘Pale skin, no eyes, black robes?’ Argyle asks.
‘Yes. You saw them too?’
‘No, but I sensed something, and your description fits. That would also explain why you mauled me like some ghastly toddler when I came into your room that morning.’
‘I was hugging you! And those monsters wanted to kill me!’
‘Actually, they just wanted to find you and clear a path to you. That’s what Minions do.’
‘Is that what they’re called? Minions?’
‘Well, actually the name doesn’t translate well into English, or indeed verbal language. It’s close enough.’ Argyle says thoughtfully. ‘I take it they didn’t get into the house?’
‘No. Something seemed to call them away.’
‘One of them had located an alternative victim.’
‘The girl who was murdered on Belleview Street?’
Argyle’s eyes widen. ‘A girl was murdered on Belleview Street? Why didn’t you tell me?’
‘I thought you knew.’
‘And how exactly was I supposed to know? Are you under the impression that when you leave the house in the morning, I make myself a latte and crumpets and read through the morning paper?’
‘Hey, you’re the talking cat. If you know about Minions and weird insects you could know about anything!’
‘Touche,’ he says philosophically, and perhaps apologetically. ‘This girl; do you know how was she killed?’
‘She was cut open,’ I say. ‘Down the middle.’ The thought of it makes me suddenly nauseous.
‘Ah yes,’ says Argyle gravely. ‘That sounds like a Vile.’
‘A vile what?’ I ask.
‘Just a Vile. Again, the real name doesn’t translate well.’
‘I thought you said these Minions killed her?’
Argyle makes an impatient noise. ‘No, I said they located her and cleared the way to her. The Vile they serve killed her.’
I massage one of my temples. ‘Okay, this is just getting too weird.’
‘Granted, it’s a lot to process,’ Argyle says gently. ‘Perhaps it’s time to give you a little background information. Or, of course, we could just continue this in the morning?’
‘Yeah, right. Like I could sleep after this. Tell me everything.’
‘Well then.’ Argyle wriggles to make himself more comfortable. ‘Where to begin? Do you believe that people have souls?’
‘I haven’t really thought about it. I guess so… in a way.’
‘I suppose that’s about as exact as I could expect,’ Argyle says tersely. ‘People do have souls, Carrie, and far more besides. Your physical body is a manifestation of several metacorporeal beings.’
‘You, as a person, are a corporate entity. The person you are is a combination of a number of, well, ‘souls’, to use a grossly inadequate word.’
‘I have a bunch of souls inside me?’
‘You’re being far too three dimensional,’ Argyle chides. ‘They’re not inside you; they are you. One is your soul – that’s one of the more ascendant ones. Then there’s your spirit, which is similar but certainly not the same. There’s the one the Chinese call the qui. And there are others you couldn’t even begin to comprehend. What they have in common is your physical body, and the personality and mind that they generate with that physical body.’
‘Okay. Go on.’ I say.
‘Do you understand?’ Argyle gives me a suspicious look.
‘Not necessarily,’ I admit, ‘but I’m trying my best.’
‘I suppose that will have to do. These souls or essences come together at conception, or rather slightly before conception… it’s a little messy and chaotic. When the physical body dies, the corporate entity unravels and the individual essences go their separate ways. Some, like the soul, move on to another plane. Others become incorporated into new people. Still others take on different roles, or reproduce, or simply cease to exist. It’s all a rich tapestry of existence.’ He sits back and looks pleased with himself.
‘And how does this relate to the animals and the Minions and the Vile?’
‘Ah. Yes. The animals, and the Vile and his Minions, were non-corporeal spirits forced into corporeal forms by the demands of three-dimensional, physical space. I think those insects in the garden were a swarm of goongu, who are… well, it can’t really be explained what they are, but they’re benign. The Vile and the Minions are anything but benign, and their physical forms were the best analogies for their essential nature that they could contrive for a physical plane.’
‘Which explains the horrible ugliness.’
‘Indeed. And if you thought the Minions were ugly, just wait until you see the Vile.’
‘No thanks. You still haven’t explained why that girl was murdered.’
‘Ah. This is where it gets unpleasant. People are junctions, often the only junctions, of the various planes of existence. If you want to travel from one plane to another, the easiest way to do it is by going through a human being. Somehow this Vile opened up a rift between planes to get here, and he left through that girl on Belleview Street.’ He winces. ‘Literally.’
‘Oh, so now it’s weird AND gross. I don’t get it, Argyle. Why is this happening?
This is starting to overwhelm me.
Argyle gives a funny little shrug that makes him look momentarily human, and says, ‘Viles are vile – it’s not a literal translation of the name but it is highly apt. They live to… well, to do something that doesn’t really have a physical analogy. It’s something like rape without the sex, and devouring without destruction. It’s inutterably awful. The spirits they attack are damaged forever. If one of them finds a way to travel to the physical plane, he can jump from there to any one of fifty or so planes and rape/devour hundreds of beings.’ He shudders in distaste.
‘What happens then?’
‘That’s where things start affecting you and me,’ Argyle says gravely. ‘It takes a day or two for the link between the physical plane and the spiritual ones to completely fail. He will maintain that link as long as he can, then return here. All he needs to do then is find another victim, perform a similar murder, then go to another plane and attack a new and different race of spirits.
I frown. ‘So he’ll be back, and he’ll kill again?’
‘It’s what he lives for,’ Argyle murmurs sadly.
‘But why here in Parambah?’ I ask.
‘In some rare people, the link between the physical and the spiritual is so strong that even death cannot break it. If a Vile kills one of these people, he has an eternal conduit to all the dimensions involved in that person. Only two Viles have ever managed to do this, but those two have been responsible for destruction on a scale you can’t even hope to comprehend. This Vile that murdered the girl on Belleview Street wants to become the third.’
‘And there’s someone like that in Parambah?’
Argyle stares at me. ‘There’s someone like that in this room.’
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