“Behave yourself, kiddo. They’re the school mascots. Do you want to go to Sir Winston Churchill or Westgate Collegiate? Apparently we’re close enough for both.”
I sigh. It doesn’t matter. I’ll take my classes and pass my tests, and then I’ll transfer out, just like always. I’m here to kill Anna. But I should make a show of caring, to please my mom.
“Dad would want me to be a Trojan,” I say quietly, and she pauses for just a second over the griddle before sliding the last pancake onto her plate.
“I’ll go over to Winston Churchill then,” she says. What luck. I chose the douche-y sounding one. But like I said, it doesn’t matter. I’m here for one thing, something that fell into my lap while I was still fruitlessly casting about for the County 12 Hiker.
It came, charmingly, in the mail. My name and address on a coffee-stained envelope, and inside just one scrap of paper with Anna’s name on it. It was written in blood. I get these tips from all over the country, all over the world. There are not many people who can do what I do, but there are a multitude of people who want me to do it, and they seek me out, asking those who are in the know and following my trail. We move a lot but I’m easy enough to find if they look. Mom makes a website announcement whenever we relocate, and we always tell a few of my father’s oldest friends where we’re headed. Every month, like clockwork, a stack of ghosts flies across my metaphorical desk: an e-mail about people going missing in a Satanic church in northern Italy, a newspaper clipping of mysterious animal sacrifices near an Ojibwe burial mound. I trust only a few sources. Most are my father’s contacts, elders in the coven he was a member of in college, or scholars he met on his travels and through his reputation. They’re the ones I can trust not to send me on wild-goose chases. They do their homework.
But, over the years, I’ve developed a few contacts of my own. When I looked down at the scrawling red letters, cut across the paper like scabbed-over claw marks, I knew that it had to be a tip from Rudy Bristol. The theatrics of it. The gothic romance of the yellowed parchment. Like I was supposed to believe the ghost actually did it herself, etching her name in someone’s blood and sending it to me like a calling card inviting me to dinner.
Rudy “the Daisy” Bristol is a hard-core goth kid from New Orleans. He lounges around tending bar deep in the French Quarter, lost somewhere in his mid-twenties and wishing he were still sixteen. He’s skinny, pale as a vampire, and wears way too much mesh. So far he’s led me to three good ghosts: nice, quick kills. One of them was actually hanging by his neck in a root cellar, whispering through the floorboards and enticing new residents of the house to join him in the dirt. I walked in, gutted him, and walked back out. It was that job that made me like Daisy. It wasn’t until later on that I learned to enjoy his extremely enthusiastic personality.
I called him the minute I got his letter.
“Hey man, how’d you know it was me?” There was no disappointment in his voice, just an excited, flattered tone that reminded me of some kid at a Jonas Brothers concert. He’s such a fanboy. If I allowed it, he’d strap on a proton pack and follow me around the country.
“Of course it was you. How many tries did it take you to get the letters to look right? Is the blood even real?”
“Yeah, it’s real.”
“What kind of blood is it?”
I smiled. “You used your own blood, didn’t you?” There was a sound of huffing, of shifting around.
“Look, do you want the tip or not?”
“Yeah, go ahead.” My eyes were on the scrap of paper. Anna. Even though I knew it was just one of Daisy’s cheap tricks, her name in blood looked beautiful.
“Anna Korlov. Murdered in 1958.”
“Nobody really knows that either.”
It was starting to sound like a crock. There are always records, always investigations. Each drop of blood spilled leaves a paper trail from here to Oregon. And the way he kept trying to make the phrase “nobody knows” sound creepy was starting to wear on my nerves.
“So how do you know?” I asked him.
“Lots of people know,” he replied. “She’s Thunder Bay’s favorite spook story.”
“Spook stories usually turn out to be just that: stories. Why are you wasting my time?” I reached out for the paper, ready to crumple it in my fist. But I didn’t. I don’t know why I was being skeptical. People always know. Sometimes a lot of people. But they don’t really do anything about it. They don’t really say anything. Instead they heed the warnings and cluck their tongues at any ignorant fool who stumbles into the spider’s den. It’s easier for them that way. It lets them live in the daylight.