The day felt longer than usual for Zander when he finally walked through the threshold of his house late into the night. Nate and Adam stopped pestering him about showing the footage, finally accepting it as a new episode. They moved on to speculations about Pope. Even if he hadn’t seen her after the encounter in the bathroom, it was like she was in the editing room with them from the way Nate and Adam kept talking about her. They peppered him with questions like who was she, what were her capabilities, could she really perform an Exorcism. All the answers were “I don’t know” until Zander got fed up and snapped at them that if they wanted to know more about her then they should hunt down the Pres and ask. That shut them up for about two seconds. Realizing Zander was in a fouler mood than when he’d arrived that morning, Nate and Adam kept to themselves. Not that Zander minded being left alone. He was actually relieved for it.
“Kara,” he called out. He closed the front door behind him and removed his cap, allowing his scalp to finally breathe. He wasn’t used to wearing any sort of head gear, only choosing a cap on bad hair days that not even generous amounts of gel could fix.
In the foyer, he caught his reflection in the mirror as he dropped his keys on the wooden bowl he used for that purpose. The containment symbol was still there. He was so busy that he’d forgotten he had it.
His doubts of Bishop returning in time to perform the Exorcism resurfaced. Maybe he should take a chance on Pope?
The moment the thought occurred to him, he dismissed it, shaking his head.
“What’s got you all shaken up?” Kara glided down the stairs, more specter than solid today. At the bottom step, she stopped short and gawked. “Where did you get that?” She pointed, unashamed.
Zander instinctively covered the mark with his hand. Realizing what he had done, he dropped his hand and crumpled the cap he held in his other hand.
“Something definitely followed me home from work,” he said.
“You’re possessed?” Kara hissed then clucked like a mother hen, hovering around Zander.
He waved her off. “It’s fine. The containment symbol can hold whatever it is back until Bishop comes back.”
He moved to the kitchen to start dinner only to remember he had nothing in the fridge to make dinner with. He quickly turned around and collided with Kara. Technically, she passed through him. Goose bumps rose all over Zander’s body. He hated the sudden electricity that zinged inside him every time a paranormal entity touched him. It came with the job, but it still gave him the creeps. He shook off the feeling of eerie and stomped back to the front door.
“Where are you going?” Kara asked, at his heels like a dog. “You just got home. And from the looks of it, you need to lie down.”
“Just grabbing some groceries. I forgot to restock.” He grabbed his keys, patted his pockets for his wallet and cell phone, and jammed the cap back on.
“Why not just order pizza? You’re gone half the time anyway to have anything in the fridge.”
Zander cocked an eyebrow at her.
Kara sighed. “Alright, alright. You like to cook. Go.” She shooed him away with both her hands.
“I’ll be back in half an hour.” He pointed at her. “No boys while I’m away.”
She stuck her tongue out at him and vanished.
Zander shook his head. He loved teasing Kara. It may seem cruel, but he couldn’t help himself. He promised to apologize later by buying her a couple of batteries to drain.
He locked the door behind him and froze on the porch. The lights of his car were on and all the doors including the trunk were open. He rushed down the front steps and slammed all the doors and the trunk closed. The demon in him must have been stronger than he thought. Manifestations of a possession like items going missing or things being moved or opened usually happened well into the process, not the day after.
Zander got into the driver seat and stared at the steering wheel, just as he did that morning. Things were progressing too rapidly for his taste. But, then again, it could have been a fluke. He shut the door and started the car.
Ten minutes later, he entered the local grocery store. Its glass doors parted for him followed by a gust from the air curtain. He hated air curtains. Why they were needed was beyond him. He checked the digital clock by one wall. Half past nine. He still needed to pack for their next job in the morning. Maybe Kara was right about ordering out instead. But on the job, it was always fast food and the occasional diner. The only time he could have a home-cooked meal was when he was home.
He grabbed a basket from a stack and strolled through the aisles. Maybe pasta, he thought. Or meatballs. He went through the list of what he could cook on the fly. Nothing too complicated, and nothing that required too many pots and pans. He’d have to clean up everything afterward. It might mean not sleeping a wink if he made too much of a mess. He always had to make sure he left the house clean or his OCD wouldn’t let him concentrate on the job.
His phone vibrated in his pocket as he moved to the frozen foods section. He reached into his front pocket and pulled it out. Adam’s goofy expression flashed on the screen. Zander had to suppress a groan. He tapped the screen and waited.
“Hello? Hello?” Adam said. “Z, you there man? Hello? Hello?”
Annoyed that Adam would just keep saying hello if he didn’t say anything, Zander sighed. “What’s up?”
“Where are you right now?”
“Buying groceries.” He picked up a carton of milk and read the expiration date. He would be on the job for a week. The best before said two weeks.
A pause. “You’re aware that we’re leaving tomorrow for a job, right?”
He put the carton back and walked away. He didn’t need milk for now. “Yes, Adam,” he said exasperatedly. “I was there at the staff meeting, remember?”
The thing Zander loved about Adam, no matter how annoyed you sounded at him, he still had a smile in his voice. He was that kind of guy. “What do you want, Adam?”
“Nate told me to remind you to set your alarm.”
Zander rolled his eyes. “Tell him I don’t need a babysitter.” He ended the call.
An elderly woman pushed a cart into the canned food aisle. Zander watched her disappear between selves taller than her hunched frame. It didn’t surprise him that someone, who must live alone, would prefer to wonder around a grocery store at night. His grumbling stomach reminded him why he was there. He opted for his fail safe food of choice: spaghetti and meatballs.
He quickly assembled his needed ingredients: pasta, ground meat, bread crumbs, tomato sauce (the bottled kind since he had no time to make some from scratch), onions, garlic, organic eggs, and several condiments. On his way to the counter, he double checked the contents of his basket. He grabbed a pack of batteries for Kara at the last second. Satisfied he had everything, he smiled at the sleepy high school grad that had the misfortune of getting the late shift.
“Paper or plastic?” he droned. Zander half expected him to yawn from the way he blinked lazily.
“Paper,” Zander said. He heaved the basket onto the conveyor belt and let the clerk ring up his purchase. “You see that old lady?”
The clerk paused in swiping the jar of tomato sauce through. “Dude, I don’t know what your on, but you’re the only one who’s come in since I started my shift half an hour ago.”
The blood in Zander’s body froze. It wasn’t everyday that he encounter a ghost at his local grocery story. He scanned the aisles and they did seem devoid of humans, let alone a grandma pushing around a cart.
“That will be 25.56,” the clerk said, snapping Zander back to the now.
He fished out his wallet from his back pocket and paid. Then he balanced a paper bag in each hand and thanked the guy, who had since returned to his catatonic state.
Arriving home by ten, Zander set about his cooking while Kara floated around, being no help at all. He boiled water for the pasta, chopped the garlic and onions, mixed them in with the ground meat and bread crumbs, cracked an egg, added a pinch of salt. He washed his hands, dumped the pasta into the boiling water and added olive oil to another pan for the meat balls.
“I love watching you cook,” Kara said from her perch on the counter. “It’s like a ballet, only you’re in jeans instead of tights.”
“Of course you’d want to see me in tights,” Zander said while he formed the meatballs with his hands.
“With those chicken legs, no thanks.” Kara lifted her nose in the air.
“And to think I went out of my way to buy you batteries.”
Her eyes lit up. “Batteries! You bought me batteries!” She floated to his shoulder. “Where, where?”
Zander set the meatballs he formed on the hot pan and pouted at Kara. “You called me chicken legs. How can I recover from that?”
Kara bobbed like a dribbled basket ball. “You have the nicest, longest legs in the whole wide world. Not chicken legs at all. That kid in that vampire movie can’t compare.”
He had to smile at that. He knew how much Kara loved those vampire movies. She practically threatened to go full poltergeist on him if he didn’t get her the DVDs. Saying the kid who played the werewolf in those movies couldn’t compare to him was the closest she would get to an apology.
“They’re in the bag.” Zander tilted his head toward the paper bag he’d left on the table.
Kara zipped and squealed when she peered in. She couldn’t really remove the batteries from the bag, but she didn’t need to. In seconds, Zander knew they were drained, judging from the bliss etched all over her face.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!” She clung from his neck from behind like a monkey while he worked.
Zander shook off the goose bumps as he fished out the meatballs from the pan and added the tomato sauce. A pinch more of salt and pepper then he let it simmer. It was insane how much he enjoyed the domesticity of the situation. Being in his kitchen, inhaling the aroma of tomato sauce and cooked meat, couldn’t compare to anything. He’d cook every night if he could, but the show kept him on the road more days than he was home. He was about to strain the pasta when a crash had Kara shrieking.
“What happened?” He turned off the stove before heading for the living room.
Kara floated over a picture frame that had fallen from the mantel. “I didn’t do it. I swear.”
The guilt on her face was proof enough that she had nothing to do with the fallen frame. Giving the mantle a quick glance, Zander knew which frame had fallen before he picked it up. He flipped it over and frowned. It was a picture of him, Nate, and Adam during their first successful investigation. The epicenter of the break was concentrated on his chest and spread out in lines that mimicked spider’s legs, like someone had taken a shot at him.
“That’s creepy,” Kara said from behind him.
“It’s just a coincidence,” he said over his shoulder. “I must have placed it too close to the edge. Even the slightest breeze could knock it over.”
“Right. Keep telling yourself that.” Kara floated up and through the ceiling.
Zander followed her with his gaze. “You’re not joining me for dinner?”
A pang of loneliness pinched Zander. Just a little one. It was quickly replaced by uncertainty as he stared at the cracked glass again. He swallowed and sent a silent prayer asking for fortitude. He had a feeling he’d need it.