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Protect the flock! From JP and Hachette!

“So? What’s the case?” asked the Father, who was in the driver’s seat. As he drove, we sat in our seats uncomfortably. While we’d grown accustomed to having to sit in The Hearse for long periods of time, but ten hours was, quite frankly, ridiculous.

I rested my hand on Tengoku no Tokkou, my Tsurugi, gently cleaning it with a washcloth as I sat in the far back of the hearse, all alone. The seating arrangement was as usual-Father Scratch driving, with Ms. Aku riding shotgun. Luke was sprawled out on one of the seats, mismatched eyes closed, acting as if he was asleep. And Tengoku and I were sitting in the back, keeping ourselves company.

Luke smiled, his hidden eyes still closed. “It’s simple, really. We received a call from a Doctor Acula Lugosi Card, asking us to investigate his manor in Transylvania, North Carolina. It seems that he has a problem with all the poltergeists trying to kill him. Which is understandable…I guess. Anywho, it seems that his house is the victim of several dozen noisy ghosts, as they say in Germany.”

The father blinked in surprise. “I…beg your pardon. Several dozen?” He turned to Luke and stared at him with obvious surprise. The father was new to our operation, and as a result had never been involved in any of the larger cases. Aku and I simply ignored our leader. We’d grown used to the absurd exacerbations of the various victims—people exaggerating the numbers and actions of their ghosts, their poltergeists, and—frequently—their own imaginations.

“Quite,” replied Luke meekly. “Well, probably. He didn’t sound like he was on any drugs, but we’ll have to double check once we get there. If he is on drugs, though…he’ll regret the day he saw our name in the phonebook. I swear to whatever god happens to be listening, if we have to deal with another stoner, I am going to exorcize the soul out of whomever said stoner happens to be.”

“Remember what happened in Salem?” Aku asked. “With the woman who was simultaneously on painkiller and acid and anti depressants and opium and pesticides? I didn’t even know that humans could take pesticides without dying!”

“They can’t,” Luke said grimly.

Aku and Father Nick turned to look at Luke, then each other. After a beat, they simultaneously shrugged.

“In any case-” Aku began, before getting cut off by Luke. “-Now, now. This guy’s a doctor. I highly doubt he’s making this up, or imagining it. It seems we’ve got the real deal, here. For once.

“That’s the exact same thing you said about Sister, ‘Morphine,’” Aku mumbled. Luke ignored her, and loudly said, “Besides, he’s not the only one seeing them. He’s got a son. Alphonse Ulysses Card. Don’t ask about the name, because I don’t know. He’s probably named after his grandfathers. No wife, it seems, or, regrettably, cute daughters. We’re going to be staying at his manor for as long as he’ll pay us. With dowsing rods and EMF’s in hand, we shall prevail! Also, let us stop now! I am craving hamburgers!”

“Ham is right,” Aku mumbled again. Luke continued to ignore her. “We’re actually almost there,” said Father Nick. “But we can stop. I’m fairly hungry myself. Aku? Ray? How ‘bout you?”

Silently, we both nodded.

After a few minutes, the priest pulled off the highway and into a fast food joint-one of the typical ones you’d find away from nowhere. We stepped out of the car, and I wrapped up Tengoku. I picked her up, and prepared to bring her inside. Our resident psychic walked into the restaurant ahead of us. After a beat, he walked back out, and headed straight for me.

He sighed, and pulled off his sunglasses, revealing his blue left eye and green right one. “Ray, you can’t bring your sword in there. It’s a sword.

As if resisting him, I wrapped my arms around it tightly. Luke stared at me blankly for a second, no smile on his face. Finally, he sighed again.

“Whatever. Just…bring it in the guitar case, would you?”

I nodded silently, and went back to The Hearse to grab my guitar case. I undid the guitar case’s clasps, and put the sword in. I don’t actually own a guitar-and if I did, I wouldn’t have the time to play it-but I keep the case around for storage purposes. See, I hide Tengoku in it-that way, I can both keep my sword on my person at all times without violating any laws. Technically, I have a license to carry it, but most people tend to react badly to my carrying it around. People are strange.

We walked inside, and Luke, his sunglasses now on his face, cheerfully skipped to the serving line. “Ah, it has a really small menu! Places with small menus tend to be really good!”

Aku stared at him like he’d just declared himself the king of the cheese people. I didn’t exactly blame her. “…On what logic are you basing that conclusion on?” She asked suspiciously. He ignored her, as usual, and ordered a simple hamburger after waiting in line. The rest of us followed suit.

I frowned, and looked back at the door-only, to my surprise, to find it covered in a variety of posters, each displaying the picture of a small child-the youngest was probably around three, and the oldest couldn’t have been a day older than eight. I walked over to it, and placed my hand on the door, staring at all the fliers.

“Missing children.” A voice suddenly appeared from behind me, and I turned around. “All from Transylvania. Nobody know’s where they’ve gone, or if they’re still alive.”

Behind me was a somewhat attractive man, probably in his forties. He walked with a prosthetic leg, and I remember wondering where he got it-or, rather, how. Dressed in a flannel shirt and dirty looking jeans, there didn’t seem to be anything unusual about him. Which just proves how wrong first impressions can be.

“I see…” I spoke softly. I’m not too good around strangers. I’m a bit better now than I was before, but the fact remains that I can’t communicate too well with others, and frequently prefer to never speak at all. A bit of irony, I suppose-who’d expect someone like me to write a book, describing my feelings? Regardless, I had never really liked other people enough to hold a conversation. Some people call it Avoidant Personality disorder-or AvPD. What it basically means is that I’m socially inept, and tend to avoid social interaction, for my own reasons.

This man smiled at me-unthreatening and kindly, if it makes a difference-and said, “Theory is that they’re all already dead. Depressing, isn’t it? I swear to god, if I find the man who did it I’m going to strangle him…but enough of this depressing talk. You and your friends seem new here. Where’re you all from?”

“Colorado,” I responded simply. Something about this man put me off-I wasn’t quite sure what it was. He smiled a bit like Luke, to be honest.

“Oh?” The man replied, and his grin broadened. “And what brings you to our humble little county?”

“I suspect you already know,” said Luke, suddenly walking up, grinning. “Doctor.”

Doctor Acula merely smiled.

“So, Ray, how the hell did you find him anyways?” Luke asked, laying down in the car again. He was sipping a bottle of iced tea, refusing to drink it until he poured quite a bit of sugar in it. He would have preferred milk as well, but Aku would probably have killed him if he brought a cooler full of milk into The Hearse. For now, he’d just have to settle for the bottled stuff and sugar packets.

I stared at him quietly for a few moments, before simply saying, “He found me.” That seemed to satisfy Luke for then. Luke grinned at me, before saying, “He sounded nice. Shame about the kids. Y’know, if this were a Scooby Doo mystery, it’d probably turn out to be the fry cook who was murdering the children-or, better yet, the doctor himself. And it’d be done to get his kids to stay off his property.”

“Christ, Cypher, you need to calm down,” Aku said as she flipped the page of a magazine. “Don’t try to pin crimes on our clients. Besides, I, unlike someone, checked this guy out before coming here. Kids play on his property all the time. He even has a playground for them. A friggin’ playground. Also, he’s a doctor. Does he sound like a mass serial killer to you?”

Luke frowned for an instant, before his grin resumed it’s dominance over his face. “Ah! He’s clearly a pedophi-“

“-What the hell did I just say about pinning crimes on our clients?!” Shouted an interrupting Aku at Luke. Luke raised his hands defensively-despite laying down on the couch.

Father Nick chuckled. “Please, you two, settle down. In any case, we’re here. Luke, please don’t accuse the good doctor of being a pedophilic murderer to his face, it’s bad for business.

“Well maybe I wanna call him a pedophile,” muttered Luke under his breath. He sat up, unbuckled his seatbelt, and exited the car. Aku and Father Nick exited out of their respective doors, and I followed after Luke, sword in hand. I rested the huge thing on my shoulder as I stepped out, and stared at the incredibly vision before me.

The doctors manor wasn’t just a summer home. It was an actual mansion.

I don’t recall being that interested at the time. To me, it was-and still is-just a large house; nothing more, nothing less. Suffice to say, it didn’t impress me. If only I knew the dark secrets held inside…

I turned my head and was surprised to see that the front yard was huge as well. This man…he didn’t just have a big house, he had a huge estate as well. I thought I saw a well in the distance. This man actually had a well.

Luke whistled. “Impressive place ya’ got here, pops. Real fancy. Like something from the East Egg. Pretty perfect for ghosts, too.

The doctor nodded, before frowning as he looked at me. “Why does she have a-“

“Long sword? Simply put, she never goes anywhere without it. Think of it as a…security blanket, I suppose. That’s the best way to put it. Oh, and I would not suggest touching it. It’s cursed, ya see. Cuts souls in half, even when they’re still attached to the body. Real messy affair, I’m afraid. In short, don’t cross her-despite her looks, she’s the best and most ruthless fighter I’ve ever met. And that includes me, and beating me is pretty much impossible.”

The doctor stared at me with surprise. “Wha-“

“Yes, her. Yes, yes, I know that she looks scrawny and as innocent as can be, but if you try to do anything to her you’ll soon wish you were dead. Come on, look at my face. Would an honest face like mine dare lie to you?”

“…Probably.”

“Good call. Well, we’re going to spend the next hour and a half unloading, investigating, setting up our equiptment and raiding your fridge. I trust you’re ok with the timeframe?”

The doctor laughed. “By all means, go ahead. Except…fridge is off limits.”

“…Damn it.”

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