The patio is sickly sweet with the smell of barbecue, and my Dad still hunched over the embers prodding at was probably once meant to resemble dinner, as I walk outside. A light rain has settled over the small country village of Longfarn again, just as my father decides to celebrate summer in the rising dark.
"Have an olive," Aunt Ruby says in her usual melodic tone when I find a dry patch of bench to perch on. She kicks off her sandals, rubbing her toes into the fast dampening patio slabs. Ruby always says you can tell a lot about the world from the water in it.
Her bracelets jingle against the bowl as she shakes it under my nose. I raise an eyebrow at her (as a general rule I try to stray away from eating anything with stones in it) but she just gives back her blankest expression. Brown eyebrows neither raised nor lowered, her lips are set in a straight line. She taught me that expression. It's hard to have it used against you.
"Don't you dare take a thing that woman is offering," Dad's voice is slightly muffled by the barbecue hood but there's no missing the panicked inflection. "You'll ruin your appetite for dinner, and then where will we be?"
Ruby probably told him it'd rain and he didn't listen. My father hates anything that defies his logic, and often that includes meteorology. I can't count the number of times I've caught him muttering at the TV about how there's no such thing as fifty percent chance of rain because a fifty percent chance is just chance.
My Dad's fear of the illogical is largely why we haven't told him about the small fact of the very large paranormal world yet — neither one of us wants to destroy his finely tuned view of things. Plus, there's that and then there's the whole letting his only child run around with vampires and whatnot thing. Ruby just clucked her tongue and shook her bracelets at me last time I pointed this out but I know she worries about it too. Problem is, I'm in too deep now to stop working for her. Or, at least, I hope I am.
My one very brief stint with the only takeaway service in the area, cycling asian dishes to our neighbours through the howling winds and driving rain to earn back the shortfall Gorman left me with, was a glimpse into a world I never want to be a part of. Bring me heartbroken gremlins, insane werewolves, and kidnapped tooth fairies any day of the week.
"Did your friend have a job for you?" Ruby says in hushed tones when my Dad scuttles inside though the open patio doors 'to get more fuel' and I turn to watch the patio lights cast shadows on her face. In the distance, far over her shoulder, shadows lurk in the night. I push them from my mind. I don't have the energy for ghosts tonight.
Both Ruby and I know 'getting more fuel' is dad-speak for rifling through his garage drawers until he finds lighter fluid but it looks like we're firmly entrenched in Barbecue mode tonight. There's no point resisting the process.
"You heard him?" I'm always surprised that Ruby can tell when somebody's visited me.
With some clients they're easier to hear than others. Werewolf claws sound like branches scratching on a window pane. Gremlins pad around a room with the weight of a large cat, our floorboards creaking occasionally. Vampires are largely silent.
"I smelled him," Ruby says, just as Dad returns brandishing a bag of coals. As if he's going to use those. Both of us clock the lighter fuel, red can peeking out of his back trouser pocket, but I nod and smile anyway. I even give him one of my rarer thumbs-up gestures.
To me, Gorman smells only slightly of mould. Chalky and damp. Not a scent I thought could travel far. Still, good to note for later. My aunt apparently has a nose like a bloodhound as well as the ears of a bat.
"Let me know if you need any help with your homework, yeah?" Ruby waves the olive bowl under my nose again, almost ceremonially, as she speaks. She picks out an olive and pops it in her mouth. I know what she means is with this new case Gorman has given me.
Ruby largely lets me do what I want with cases. Provided that it's not illegal and deadly, she's always saying. I've always taken that to mean it can be either, but definitely not both at once. Still, she offers me help if I need it. I appreciate that. Sometimes it's good to have another set of eyes on a case. Sometimes it's good to have somebody over sixteen and able to drive places too.
The sound of Dad scoffing is punctuated by the sound of charcoal rattling as he shakes the barbecue. We're coming to the end of the ceremony, at least.
"My dearest Ruby," he says when he turns back to us, hold up a fish knife as is it is a a gavel and he is a judge. "I think Lizzie's homework is a little out of your expertise. Human biology isn't particularly easy."
My dad has a lecturing position at a local college. It's in physics and that means anything not mathematical is either hokum or very advanced in his opinion.
My aunt has a presence about her like nobody else. She sometimes says my mum was the same. It's hard to imagine. As she sits, legs crossed, raising an eyebrow at my Dad she leans back against the bench. Her long dark hair drapes over the back of the wooden slats, one leg bouncing rhythmically. The only sound is the slight hissing of the barbecue as rain drops hit the grill. She may only be a post office worker to my dad, but she's an intimidating one.
"But it's very kind of you to offer help. You're very gracious. Thank you," Dad adds. He's frowning slightly and I know somewhere in the back of his mind he's wondering what just happened.
I glare at Ruby, nudging her with my knee. I watched her do the same to a gargoyle only a few weeks ago but it's different when it's my dad. We'd tracked the gargoyle to an abandoned churchyard, and she issued him with his court summons on behalf of the Paranormal Civil Service. Basically, a more paranormal version of the normal legal system. My dad, on the other hand, is not a fugitive on the run from PCS.
"Your fire's gone out." I say, pointing to the barbecue. Dad leaps around, prodding and shaking. It's too late but we must let the process be complete. The barbecue ceremony must continue.
Later, we'll order a curry from my (now) former employer and both Dad and I will agree that it was definitely the barbecue and not the user at fault this time as he flicks through TV channels.
For now, we simply wait. Ruby dances her toes in the rain water as it lightly drizzles from the sky. I pull up my hood, and take out my phone. I need to tell Addison about my aunt's enhanced sense of smell before he barrel rolls into my bedroom later tonight.
YOU ARE READING
Paranormal Investigation Society: Whispers of The ForestTeen Fiction
Lizzie Caster works after-school for her Aunt's investigation firm. Aunt Ruby says the firm is good for "reading, writing and numeracy!" but little does Lizzie's Dad know it's a lot more besides. Enveloped by a world full of vampires, moody werewolv...