Broommates: In Which Someone Smells a Rat
* * * *
“Can’t you hammer more quietly?” Miranda whispered.
Beatrice scowled at her. “They’re iron nails, Randy, not thumbtacks.”
Miranda glanced around to be sure none of their new roommates were coming to investigate. “At least try?”
“You know, for all that the inside of this so-called mansion is falling to pieces, the outside walls are like steel.” Beatrice stepped back to admire her handiwork. “There, last cross in place. We’re officially vampire-proof.”
They’d been up since dawn nailing crucifixes to either side of the various exterior doors and windows. Unfortunately for them, whoever had built the stately three-story brick monstrosity had put at least one window in every room, sometimes several small ones in hard to reach places. But there’d be no better time to get it done: Anthony was at the fire station for a two-day shift and Booker had gone on some kind of day trip to a convention in a neighboring city. The only one left in the house was Parker, and he tended to stay up late and sleep through the day.
“Right, then,” Miranda said. “Iron horseshoe over the door next, then we can–”
“What are you doing?”
They turned to see Parker leaning against the doorway to the sitting room, eating ice cream out of the carton. He was wearing the old t-shirt and gym shorts that apparently passed for his entire wardrobe. Miranda and Beatrice tried to hide everything they were holding behind their backs but ended up dropping most of it. Crosses and horseshoes joined miscellaneous branches and dried herb sachets and flowers and acorns and even wooden pins in a messy heap on the floor.
“We’re… redecorating,” Miranda said.
“Place needs a woman’s touch,” Beatrice added, crossing her arms so that her thick biceps strained the fabric of her t-shirt.
“Hmmph,” Parker said. “Thinking of painting while you’re at it?”
“No, no, the paint is…” Miranda looked around and realized that the walls were covered in a faded yellow paper that was peeling at the edges. She wrinkled her nose. “…fine. The paint is fine.”
A scream from upstairs derailed that train of thought. Beatrice made it to the staircase first and took the steps two at a time while Miranda and Parker trailed behind. They caught up to Beatrice as she was ransacking Kitty’s armoire. Kitty herself was sitting on the edge of her quilt-covered bed shaking her head in dismay.
“I’m fine, thank you,” she said.
“Are you all right?” Miranda asked.
“I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry.”
“You scared us half to death with that scream!”
Parker raised his eyebrows and looked back and forth between the two women as if processing the strange disconnect. Miranda and Beatrice shared a glance. Kitty’s eyes widened and she nodded, and then Miranda mouthed “Precog” at her.
“Sorry,” Kitty mumbled.
“What was all that about anyway?” Parker asked.
“I saw a gho–”
“A rat,” Beatrice interrupted. “Ran into the wardrobe. She’s deathly afraid of rats.”
Kitty frowned. “I’m not–”
“Oh, dear, you poor thing,” Parker said, sitting next to Kitty on the bed. “I’ll send Houdini in here chop chop. Ice cream?” He held up the carton and offered Kitty the spoon. Miranda and Beatrice gagged as she took it.
“Oh, strawberry, my favorite!”
“Why don’t you go find your cat, Mr. Parker,” Miranda said through clenched teeth.
He took the hint and stood, running a hand through his short black hair. “Yeah, I’ll just… be over here if you need me.” He paused in the doorway. “You can call me Parker, you know.” With a wink at Kitty, he left.
“I really am sorry,” Kitty said through mouthfuls of ice cream. “It startled me is all.”
“Wasn’t a dangerous ghost, then?” Beatrice asked.
“Oh no.” Kitty gestured at her white wooden dresser. “Look, it was just stacking the coins there. You know, putting them in order of denomination and date.”
“It’s to be expected at a nexus like this,” Beatrice muttered. “The energy’s great but it’ll take some adjusting.”
Miranda stalked over to the window and peeked through the white lace drapes at the garden below. The anise was coming in nicely, the morning glories were blue as could be, and…
“Looks like you’re above the catnip, too,” she said. “The ghosts probably love this room. Sure you don’t want to move?”
Kitty shook her head and smiled. “I’m a medium, Randy. Ghosts are my thing.”
“Well, yes, but there’s something to be said for keeping your work out of your bedroom.”
* * * *
Parker stood up quickly, hitting his head on the windowsill. He’d been poking around behind the sofa looking for Houdini, but cats being what they were, he’d had no luck.
“What?” he asked crossly, rubbing the emerging bruise. Looking around, he realized he was alone in the room. “Hello?”
“Parker! It’s me, Ambrose.” The voice sounded as if it was coming from the bottom of a well.
“Ambrose, gods below, don’t do that,” Parker said, flopping down onto the overstuffed green couch. “And stay invisible, for pity’s sake. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’ve got a gaggle of skittish girls about these days.”
There was a strained silence. “The pretty one saw me,” Ambrose whimpered. “The one with the many different hair colors. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize–”
Parker groaned. “Great. Fantastic. Scare them off and then it’s back to ramen and cold showers for all of us.” He buried his face in his hands and closed his eyes for a few moments, then opened them and frowned. “She said it was a rat,” he murmured. “No, the other one did.”
He stood up again and walked over to the forgotten pile of items in front of the door, squatting down to look at them more closely.
“I thought it was all right because she’s a witch,” Ambrose said. “She seems very nice.”
“Christ on a stick.” Parker tapped one of the horseshoes and it zapped him with a charge like static electricity. “Anthony is going to freak.”
Parker looked up at the three women–no, witches–staring at him from the staircase. They always came in threes, those girls.
“Rats,” he said. “He hates the little bastards.”
* * * *