On the way home, Zoe was very careful of her surroundings. The new apartment wasn’t in a good place such as an environment where old women would bake pies and children would play. It was somewhere in between districts, in a back alley. The apartment building seemed to be mysterious and mostly empty. Besides a suspicious woman and her boyfriend living above and two women living below, she had the entire floor to herself.
She placed her hands in her pockets and walked faster. It was dark outside and the whispers of dead people were making the atmosphere really tense and creepy. She was ready to go around the corner and get home when she felt a strong need to stop and glance to the side. Her eyes widened when she saw a small person writing something on the wall. She walked closer and realized it was a kid.
“Hey, kid. That’s not nice. Your parents will-“
Her breathing became heavier and she noticed how cold it had gotten; she could actually see her breath in the air. Her eyes snapped to the kid before realizing that he had disappeared.
Child ghosts were the scariest. They were evil even if they weren’t intending to be.
She glanced over her shoulder when she felt someone tugging on her shirt. The kid looked distorted; his face was all messed up and she was pretty sure he died in a car crash. His left elbow was turned back and so was his right knee, blood was dripping from one side of his head and his face looked squished.
“Can you take me to mummy?” He asked innocently, staring up with the creepiest puppy eyes she has ever seen.
That question was used a lot in scary movies however, real children ghosts did want to genuinely see their mothers. But something was telling her that the mother of this kid wasn’t alive either.
Zoe jumped in surprise when Mehrdir appeared out of nowhere and pushed the child away. Afterwards, he checked her condition, which wasn’t what he expected; she wasn’t even scared.
“I told you. Demons of different levels are getting here through the hole. Now, do you believe me?”
She was ready to give a negative answer but the kid ghost launched at her. Thankfully, Mehrdir pushed her aside and casted the lower demon back to Hell.
“Oh.” She was speechless.
Mehrdir raised an eyebrow and stared at her like she was the dumbest person in the world.
“Oh? Is that all?” From his tone, Zoe could sense how annoyed he was, “What about thank you almighty Mehrdir? Even though I am a greed demon, I helped you,” he continued.
“Why are you protecting me, anyway? I wasn’t in danger until you came and pushed him away harshly,” she commented.
Zoe didn’t seem to have any reaction to his words. Moreover, she was not even grateful. Mehrdir blinked in astonishment. He couldn’t even find words to describe how much she pissed him off.
“Are you for real? Are you even human? What happened to the kind and innocent trait that humans usually have?” he asked.
“Died a few centuries ago. Maybe it wasn’t even there in the first place. How do demons label humans anyway? We’re not all the same.”
She grabbed her bags and started to make her way home. The alley was deserted so she didn’t really have to keep her voice down.
“The same way humans label demons: naive, stupid and slightly smarter than the rest.”
She stared at him blankly, waiting patiently for a serious label of the demon world.
“There are five ways to label a demon, five levels including the rebels. F comes from Fearless, which is the highest level a common demon can achieve; I am a level F, as you know. A comes from Abnormal; practically the preferred demons in whom the Princes entrust information of high importance. B comes from Betrothed, demons who are incredibly loyal to their master and their domain. And there’s level V, every demon outside a domain’s premises trying to work their way up the ladder.” Mehrdir explained as vague as he could, knowing that if he were to give her details, she would use them in that stupid web comic of hers.
“Right,” she muttered, spinning towards her apartment building and already walking towards it. He couldn’t really understand what was going through her head until he saw her eyes glistening in the dark.
“You are forbidden to use this in your work.” He said, pointing a threatening finger at her. She started to laugh loudly for a few seconds before she stopped abruptly and turned her body to him.
“No,” she responded quickly before she smiled cutely and entered the building.
Mehrdir sighed and rubbed his head, black substance dripping from the corner of his eyes to the iris, the pupil suddenly turning yellow.
That human Zoe was really annoying. Why was he the one in charge of her, anyway? Why wasn’t Eneizar doing the bodyguard work? He had his own special way with humans.
While the demon kid went back to Hell, the words he had written remained on the wall. Not many people were able to understand the meaning behind those words but some people were lucky enough, or maybe stupid enough, to venture into details.
“Corruption of the soul/ Corruption of the heart/ First you fall and then you rise,/But still a blind you are.” A boy hummed and tilted his head to the side. "Is this supposed to be a riddle?"
He rubbed his chin and thought deeply about that sentence. It sounded stupid at first but he was sure there was something more to it, an answer that had to clarify everything. The letters were written by shaking hands from what he could remark, probably in a rush.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He wondered, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.
He took a picture of the wall and left. He had enough time to think about it later.
The next morning was literally Hell for Zoe. She worked the whole night and drew until her hand became sore. The editor was going to come somewhere in the afternoon so she took a nap for a few hours. Unfortunately, she didn’t get to rest because someone started banging on the wall next door.
“Probably someone moved there,”
Her eyes widened when she realized what she said. She wasn’t alone on the floor anymore; she was going to have normal neighbours.
Zoe got up and ran into the hall. She stumbled around, hitting her leg a few times while she was getting dressed. She didn’t expect the doorbell to ring, she was still in her pyjama pants and her shirt was inside out. Zoe sighed and tried to make herself look presentable before she cracked the door open.
“Good morning!” She exclaimed joyfully.
On the other side of the door was a man in his mid-twenties with blond hair spiked up and a smile brighter than the sun. Next to him was another guy that looked like he wanted to be anywhere but in front of her door; moreover, he was ginger and Zoe could faintly see freckles on both his cheeks.
“We just moved next door. I’m Mark and this is my room-mate, Luke.”
The smiling guy looked like a dinosaur, maybe because he had a square face. His happiness was blinding. Zoe’s eyes moved slowly on the other guy who seemed alright, nothing out of ordinary but he did look like he had something better to do with his time than visiting his neighbour with his roommate.
“Mark and Luke got it.”
Mark nodded enthusiastically, eyes taking a glimpse at how messy Zoe was dressed.
“Um, we’re art students. This building is really close to our university and the rent is really cheap.” He continued, waiting patiently for the moment their neighbour will invite them in for tea.
But Zoe’s mind could only concentrate on how two easy-going boys could so easily see her apartment building as a ‘good for now’ place to live in. Looking at both their faces, she wondered if it wasn’t only her that was so paranoid about the neighbourhood.
“Well, welcome to the neighbourhood!”
The brunette artist had no choice but invite them in, eventually. The living room was slightly cleaner than her room and she just redecorated the kitchen and bathroom so they were crystal clean. The only mess in that apartment was she: having just woken up, her blue eyes were swollen and her dark hair was wrapped back into a tight ponytail accentuating her round face, making it seem chubbier than it really was.
“So you two, how did you end up choosing this building?” She started a subject before they could notice the weirdness in some of her apartment stuff.
“We’ve seen the announcement on the internet. Well, I did and asked Luke if he wants to move in with me. We packed up and moved as soon as possible.” Mark explained, looking up at Zoe with limitless joy, “What about you? Have you been living here for long?”
“No. I moved here a few weeks ago or so. I’m not originally from London. I’m from Essex,” Zoe explained the boy nodding as they caught on to the slips of accent in her voice.
As the boys sat down around and got comfortable on her couch, the brunette decided she might as well prepare tea for the two boys and act like a normal, boring British adult. Thankfully they didn’t go snoop around while she was gone but they did notice her notes on the coffee table.
“You draw?” Luke seemed genuinely interested; or at least, he made it sound so.
“Yes but it’s more of a hobby. Those are only sketches,” she added, knowing those sketches were not important for work thus weren’t confidential.
“What are you working on right now?” Mark asked growing curious.
She hummed and wondered if she should tell them or not. Luke got up and saved her from responding.
“Where is the bathroom?” the taller boy asked. She pointed at the end of the hall. When she turned around, Mark was still waiting for her response.
“Well, I draw stories of people that do things…” she trailed. Mark’s eyes were shining, expecting more details than she was willing to give.
Thankfully, she was saved by Luke’s loud scream which immediately alerted Mark.
“When I looked into the mirror, I swear I saw someone else! And he winked at me!” Luke sounded really scared.
“Well, it was just a matter of time, wasn’t it?” she mumbled and hit an imaginary stone before walking into the bathroom.
Mark was being funny by jumping in front and aside the mirror. His reflection was the only thing he could see, to Luke’s disappointment.
“Nothing happens. Maybe you imagined it.”
Luke stared incredulously at his roommate. He just called him crazy in a subtle way.
Zoe bit her lip and watched with pity, deciding to interfere at that point.
“It’s the light.” The two boys turned to her, “When you move fast in front of the mirror, the reflection gets a little dispersed; like an illusion. It was probably you blinking. But the image only caught one of your eyes so it looked like someone winked at you when it was you all along.”
Somehow, her messy explanation seemed very logical to the guys. Luke was feeling much better about himself; that was obvious.
“Yeah... That was it.” He smiled thankful.
“Maybe you should go home and stay in bed for a while. It might happen again in your own mirror,” she joked with a smile on her face.
Luke and Mark were really nice guys and she just lied to them. They left and promised they would come and visit again. As soon as she closed the door, the real perpetrator made his appearance.
“You’re Zoe Lestrade, aren’t you? I need your help.”