Friday flash fiction – All of Us are Haunted

Everyone has ghosts. All of us are haunted.
Everyone has demons. Our secrets wait to strike.
Everyone’s a vampire. Our desires destroy the ones we love.
Everyone’s a werewolf. We all have that other side.

– All of Us are Haunted by Ophelia Vernon

Ophelia Vernon’s almost reached her limit.

Since her fifty-city ‘Find My Way Home’ tour began seven weeks ago, she has brokered a peace between the Hikashi mantisfolk and the great wyvern Gnivus, recovered the Beringian Diamond from a secret vault beneath Westminster Abbey before it hatched, and led the rite of spring for a cult of Demeter based out of Otter Creek, Colorado. On top of that, her bass player quit, her costumer designer broke three fingers in a door, and she’s learned her best friend is a spy for a quasi-legal international espionage agency called the Concourse. Gina doesn’t know that she knows.

Tired as she is of the constant demands – the grinding travel; the petty necessities of a new stage in a new venue in a new town every few days; the never-ending parade of weirdos who need her and only her to complete some quest, challenge or final confrontation with the forces of shadow and malice – Ophelia won’t stop. All she’s ever wanted is to perform. If she gives up now, will she ever get it back?

“Worried about the gig, boss?”

Gina hovers as close as armour. She has shown herself ready, time and again, to join Ophelia at a moment’s notice in the event of a ‘Situation Chosen One’. This may be just another black ops assignment for Gina, but Ophelia is grateful for the backup.

She puts a brave face on her anxiety, good enough to fool most people. “I have this nagging feeling, like something’s coming.”

After three cancellations to recruit a new bassist, tonight’s gig in Slipjack, Alabama will be double length. She shouldn’t worry; she’s survived this long on inhuman doses of caffeine, protein bars and stubborn optimism. It hasn’t helped her relax.

“You killed a basilisk last night,” Gina reminds her, slapping the pouch on her hip which holds two foil-wrapped, monstrous stone eyes. “The buyers might try to make contact during the show.”

Ophelia rubs the bridge of her nose. “No, that one’s covered. The manager has kept a dressing room free. He probably thinks I’m a diva or doing drugs, but it’s better than having desolation warlocks running around backstage.”

“Listen, you’re just stretched thin. What you need is a holiday.” Gina holds up a hand to forestall protests about career momentum. “I’m serious. You’ve got three more days on this tour. As soon as it’s done, you’re going somewhere nobody knows you and nobody can ask you for anything. A mystery destination. I’ll book the tickets myself.”

Something snaps. Too tired to hold the words back, Ophelia snarls, “It’s about time!”

Gina’s finger hovers over her phone screen. “What is?”

“The Concourse finally want their piece of me, do they? Where am I going, Gina? Defusing concept bombs in Morocco? Special envoy to the court of Queen Titania? Or is it just the damn moon again?” Ophelia’s frustration boils over. “I don’t get it. Why didn’t you just ask for my help like everyone else? Why the undercover act? Why the secrecy? Why pretend to be my friend?”

Unshakeable Gina looks like she’s been kicked. “I…wasn’t pretending.”

“Don’t act like I’m not your assignment, Gina. Don’t lie to my face.”

“Ophelia, I know what you’re thinking but you don’t understand. The Concourse didn’t assign me to recruit you.” Gina shows her the concealed pistol, the knives, the warding scars, and the garrotte in her exercise monitor. She displays the cuts and bruises healing on her palms, elbows and fingers. “I’m here to protect you. With my life, Ophelia. I swear it’s true.”

When Ophelia stares at her, saying nothing in reply, Gina slides her phone into a pocket and leaves, mumbling an apology.

A song jumps into Ophelia’s head; an old unrecorded piece she never got around to finishing. “All of us are haunted,” she remembers, but she can’t remember who she was when she wrote the words. They probably came to her as she waded through some noxious swamp or while swinging on a rope across a flaming ravine. Something like that.

“Excuse me. Miss Vernon? I’m Kelly Valdez. Is this a bad time?”

Ophelia wipes her eyes before she turns to greet the timid twenty-something with a beanie, reading glasses and a camera bag. She’s been petitioned by people wearing this expression before. She forces herself to be polite. “I’m sorry. Have we met?”

“You…er, you helped my grandmother once. In 1968. She told me all about you.”

She remembers; Ophelia hasn’t done much time travelling. “The Mexico Olympics?”

Nodding, Kelly speaks quickly. “I’ve followed your career since the beginning. Since before it began, really. There’s something I want to ask you and if you say no, I’ll understand. I just-”

The show starts in twenty minutes and Ophelia isn’t sure if Gina’s coming back. “I won’t say no,” she says. “I never do.”

Kelly holds up a digital camera. “I’m from Network Zero. I want to make a documentary. About you. About the work you do. The music and – and the other work.”

The Network Zero webcast. Millions of viewers. An instant audience. All she could ask for and more. Ophelia feels slowed down. Freeze-framed. “You know about the, er, other work?”

“You have a lot of fans. Other fans, I mean. Word gets around. You’ve helped so many people. This would mean a lot to them.”

She stands like an unanswered question. Something inside her is shaking.

“It’s…it might be dangerous.”

“I know.”

“Some of my…clients aren’t, um-”

“Human? I know.”

Ophelia knows she can’t run from her fate. It never occurred to her she didn’t have to hide either.

“Okay, I’ll try it, on one condition. The first thing you’ll film is me, apologising to a friend.”

I honestly don’t know if this one stands on its own or not, but if you want to know what Ophelia Vernon’s deal is, she previously appeared about this time last year in Over Chosen, at which time I claimed to have no immediate plans for a sequel. I reckon just shy of twelve months is a fair interval for that to have been true.

If (as I suspect) the story is all over the place, well, it’s just a reflection of my head right now. I’m trying to gather myself to start work on a big new project, but nothing has quite started to take shape yet. I suspect this woolgathering may continue for some time yet…

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