23 - Bad Vibes

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Miriam was dressed conservatively, by her own standards: A simple old lady's pantsuit, its cut dated, all swooping lines and rustling fabric. The fox was absent from her shoulders, and she looked small somehow, diminished by its absence. The large hoops dangling from her earlobes made small sounds, like chimes, with the palsied nodding of her head as she stood in the doorway.

Nat had forgotten their appointment, and she stood in the door frame staring at the old woman in confusion for several moments as her brain struggled to provide context for this visit. It was strange, seeing Miriam outside of the store. Certain people seem tied to places and circumstances, and devoid of those surroundings seem like wholly new people — like a child seeing his teacher outside of school, a woman trading awkward smiles with her gynecologist at the grocery store.

"Did you forget?" Miriam asked, a shrewd smile touching her wrinkly features.

"Of course not," Nat half-lied, stepping back, and as she pulled away from the doorway she caught sight of the dog standing vigil nearby, and the memory came flooding back. "I just didn't think..."

"Didn't think the batty old lady would be true to her word?" Miriam suggested, with a hearty laugh that ended in a cough. "I've got nothing but time on my hands, girl. Careful when you invite an old widow to your house. I might decide to come dropping in for tea."

Nat couldn't help but smile at that. "Would you like some? Tea, I mean? Or...something to drink?"

Hospitality, like other domestic skills, was alien to her. She was still caught back in the mode of scrambling to pick up laundry from an apartment floor when someone knocked, even though there had been no apartment and no laundry for some time.

"That would be lovely, dear." Miriam's bespectacled gaze traveled downward, settling down on the hound by the door. "Is this him?"

"Yes." Nat hesitated, wondering if she should explain anything about why she felt so uneasy about the dog — its grisly backstory, the way she was certain it had moved. Fluff. The nightmares. She could not find the words for it, and she retreated instead into the kitchen to search for mugs and tea bags. If what Miriam had said was true, if she could feel the energy and memories stored in things, then she wouldn't need her explanations anyway. She would find out, soon enough, if the old woman spoke the truth or not about her abilities.

From the kitchen, she heard Miriam shuffle through the sitting room, setting down her purse. Fabric rustled, probably as she knelt beside the dog.

Natasha filled the kettle, setting it on a burner as she left to linger at the mouth of the sitting room, watching. Miriam stood bent over the dog, one hand pressed against the wall for support as the other trailed a wrinkled fingertip over the peak of its skull, between its ears, working its way down the line of its spine. The touch hovered an inch above the fur, as if reluctant to actually make contact. At a distance, Nat could see the shudder that rolled through her.

"He is...very, very old," Miriam said, finally, withdrawing her hand and rubbing it against the leg of her pantsuit, repeatedly, as though trying to remove something sticky and foul that clung to her skin. "Older than memories."

"What?" That didn't make any sense. How could something be older than memories? Much less a piece of taxidermy. "He can't be that old. The fur is still soft."

She shook her head, straightening with some effort. Her fingers curled, seeking purchase on the wall. "Not the body. The body is just a vessel. A clumsy attempt at a prison."

Nat felt her brow furrow, a frown deepening at the corners of her mouth. "Are you telling me it's haunted?"

Miriam shook her head, and her hand — drawn down as if by a magnetic impulse — dropped once more to the dog's head. Her fingertips lingered over the fur, then dropped, running over the glossy black fur. "No. Not haunted. Evil. Barely contained. Held in a cage, but crying out to be freed."

In the kitchen, the kettle began to whistle, and then to scream.

Miriam's fingers splayed over the dome of the dog's skull, hand pressing down harder into it, her expression frightened. Troubled. "I...don't like this. I have to go." She pulled away from the dog, struggling as if her hand did not want to release its hold on the hound.

The kettle's scream deepened, and Nat ducked around the corner to shut off the heat. Within the span of seconds, when she appeared back in the doorway, the front door was ajar. Miriam was gone. 


AUTHOR'S NOTE: This chapter, like the previous Miriam chapter, previously happened much later in the story, but I thought it was important to move it up. I apologize for any discombobulation the out-of-order-ness causes to those of you who have been reading! One of these days I'll get the hang of writing a linear story I swear. 

Also, yes, there are now two "chapter 22" and "chapter 23"s. It's a pain to go through and re-number all the chapter titles on the laptop I'm on right now. I'll swing through and fix them up later :) 

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