The First Delivery
It was a cold, rainy summer evening in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. On this damned weather, a young man was supposed to do his job.
His job involved riding a motorcycle through the streets while carrying a precious cargo of pizza. On any day when the weather wasn’t giving him a cold welcome outside the pizzeria, he would enjoy doing his job. However, this day was going on his list of “Days when I’d rather call in sick and stay home.”
Sure, he had a helmet and a leather jacket to equip himself with, but going through the shower that the streets had become was still going to give him a few inconveniences during his bike ride.
He went outside and put two pizzas in the red box that occupied the back of his motorcycle. Once he was sure that they were sealed inside and protected from the rain, he took his place on the bike’s seat.
Starting the engine, he muttered something about annoying clients and shitty weather. Then, off he went, driving away from the safety under the pizzeria’s roof and onto the hostile streets ...
Somewhere, two guys were watching the news. Their room was quite spacious, with furniture placed here and there. There were two desks, each with four drawers on the right side of its front, three screens on top, and a desktop computer underneath. Near them, to their right, was a wooden door, which was closed.
On the opposite side of the room was the flat screen TV, which was the only source of light there. In front of it, there was a long table. About two meters away from the TV, there was a big, red couch covered in a velvety material.
The guys sat leisurely on it as the news unfolded before them. The slim one on the right side of the couch was apparently in his late teens. His hair was black with a green sheen, held back in a ponytail. Two strands were peculiarly standing firm, forming something similar to small goat horns which started from the center of the scalp near his forehead.
His eyes were obscured by goggles with squarish, red lenses. They seemed a bit too big for his face, as well as unnecessary in such a dark room. Their straps were connected to the headphones that completely covered his ears. His eyebrows and his mutton chops - soul patch hybrid of a beard matched his hair.
He wore a dark gray T-shirt and rested his hands on the knees of his legs, which were both mechanical and colored like charcoal, decorated with green lines on the sides leading to wheels at knee and ankle level. He was resting his feet on the table.
The man next to him seemed older, although not by much. The fauxhawk on his head, as well as his lumberjack beard and mustache, were bright pink. While he had a visible right ear, his left one was covered or replaced with a device similar to the ones that his couch mate had. He had a brawny body and wore a white shirt with sleeves that reached his elbows. While his legs were completely natural, his arms ended in gray mechanical arms.
Their time of leisure ended when they flinched, as if something had startled them.
“I’ll get it. Must be the pizza guy. I told him to wait for us near the Fitzroy Park,” the slim one said. He touched his right headphone and then he began speaking. “Hello?”
A male voice fitting for a narrator of movie trailers replied to him. “Good evening!”
The slim guy’s expression changed from a poker face to that of a scowl.
“Oh. It’s just you!” he said.
“Now, now, Spirit. That is unprofessional behavior,” the voice said calmly.
“Yeah, well, fuck off!” the slim guy said, louder this time.
Seeing that his buddy was unwilling to hold a civilized conversation, the pink-haired guy stared at his left palm and activated the projector from its center. The words “MISSION BRIEFING” appeared to float above his palm.
The “voice” decided to switch its attention towards him.
“Hello, Ghoul! It is nice to know that at least one of you is listening to what I have to say.”
“I’ve ordered pizza, so I’m expecting a call from the pizza guy. I don’t need you blocking the line! You didn’t even give us any actual phones!” Spirit said while gesticulating wildly with his arms. He knew that the camera from a corner of the room was watching him and his friend.
There was a long sigh coming from their boss.
“Spirit, are you aware that I am the one who is technically paying for that pizza?”
Spirit calmed down slightly.
“Are you aware that, if it were not for my tech, you would be worm food right now?”
“He’s right, you know,” Ghoul said while looking at Spirit, who was unsure how to feel after hearing all of that.
A few seconds of silence had passed before the boss spoke again.
“I would gladly continue to support you guys for as long as you and I are alive, but money does not grow on trees. I barely make enough to cover the bills, which have taken a lot out of my pocket recently due to all the electricity needed to power the tools for your surgery. You know, the surgery that pretty much brought you back to life.”
Spirit gritted his teeth as regret seeped into him.
Ghoul gave a small smile and then said, “We could get a job so we could repay you for everything you did for us, boss. How much do we owe you?”
“Oh, about two million dollars,” the boss said.
“What?!” Spirit said.
Ghoul frowned and stared at the projection.
“Finding a job that will accept cyborgs will not be an easy task for you two.”
“I could get a job easily! Just watch me!”
“Spirit, you scare children just by looking at them and you cause adults to keep a safe distance from you every time you walk through a crowd.”
Those words deflated Spirit’s ego fast.
“Ghoul, you still need to get used to your new strength. You might hurt somebody. Your strange choice of haircut and the fact that you have dyed your red artificial hair pink might also limit your chances of getting a job. Worst of all, neither of you has an identity card, so getting hired might be nearly impossible.”
Ghoul frowned. “Then how could we repay you, boss?”
“I have a plan,” the boss said with confidence.
“We’re listening,” Spirit said.
“Now that is something unexpected coming from you. Anyway, here is the deal. I will give you missions and you will carry them out. I have been thinking of various ‘get rich quick’ scenarios and this one popped in my head one night. After doing some research ...”
Spirit and Ghoul were listening attentively.
“It seems like there are no legal repercussions if you steal from abandoned houses,” the boss said.
Ghoul was the one to scowl now.
“But boss, stealing is morally wrong!”
“After the owner of a property is dead, if no one else takes ownership over it, then it is fair game. Ghosts don’t need objects.”
Ghoul began pondering while rubbing his beard with his left mechanical hand.
“If it’s fair game, then what are the odds that we will find any objects of value in an abandoned house?” Spirit said.
“Well, you see, we will be targeting houses that are said to be haunted,” the voice said.
After looking at each other, the cyborgs directed their attention to the projection that floated above Ghoul’s palm.
“Okay ...” Spirit said, not really wanting to believe that there is such a thing as a haunted house. A dilapidated house made entirely out of wood was displayed by the projector from Ghoul’s hand.
“This is the closest haunted house. You will receive the coordinates and other necessary information inside your respective devices. Your mission begins right now, so prepare yourselves. It is raining outside,” the boss said.
“Aw, maaaan! What about the pizza?” Spirit said.
“You may grab it on your way there. Now go get dressed! I wish you guys the best of luck! Over and out.”
Spirit muttered something that Ghoul was sure contained profanities addressed to their boss.
Spirit put on a gray hoodie and Ghoul equipped a black leather jacket. On his way out of his room, Spirit said, “Remember to take your night vision goggles!”
“Alright!” Ghoul said as he came out of the adjacent room and headed for one of the desks in the basement. He took his goggles from the first drawer and shoved them into the large pockets of his jacket. Then, Ghoul sprinted away through the hallway.
Outside, the rain kept pouring heavily. There was only an open field of wet grass and mud, with any houses being pretty far away.
A big flat rock began to move from between a pile of more rocks. Once a suitable opening was made, a dark-blue umbrella rose from inside. The hand that held the umbrella opened it and another hand began pushing the giant rock further away.
“Alright, your turn!” Spirit said as he climbed out of the hole.
Ghoul followed him and opened his scarlet umbrella. He looked around and could barely see anything, save for the distant lights coming from the nearest houses. The night vision goggles would be useful in this case, so he fished them out of his left pocket and put them over his eyes. “Too bad they only have limited batteries.”
“You’re better off with those. Trust me,” Spirit said and then stared off into the distance.
He seemed lost in thought for a moment, but then he spoke again. “Alright, I see the path, so let’s go! I’ll race you!”
“Ah, come on! I still have real legs, you know!” Ghoul said.
“Which is why you need to keep them in good shape. If my legs get broken, they can be fixed right away. If your legs get out of shape, it would take weeks or months until you’ll be able to run again. So put those muscles to use, you giant couch potato!” Spirit said and then dashed away.
“Good point. Well, here I come!” Ghoul said before giving chase to the enthusiastic runner.
The pizza guy was waiting for his clients to come for the pizzas. He didn’t expect to see two weirdos equipped with cybernetics and umbrellas rushing towards him. “Holy mother of—”
Both of the strange guys stopped in front of him and looked up and down at him as if to scan him.
He didn’t know what to say.
“Hello, you must be the pizza guy. We’re the ones who placed the order number ... uh ... 23,” Ghoul told him.
“Right. I’ve got your pizza right here. That will be $28, sir.”
Ghoul paid for both of the pizzas and gave the delivery guy a tip of $10. “Thank you and have a nice day,” he told him.
“Thanks, have a nice day too,” the pizza guy said in a slightly shaky voice, still not believing his eyes what kind of people his clients were.
“Come on, Ghoul! Let’s get to that house so we can eat these!” Spirit said as he already sprinted away with the pizzas under his right arm.
“Wait for me!” Ghoul said as he trailed behind.
The pizza guy just kept staring as the two cyborgs disappeared into the rain.
They finally made their way through a lot of tall grass and reached the wooden house they were shown by their boss.
“This is it!” Spirit said while inspecting the frail, aged door.
“Yeah, but it’s locked,” Ghoul said.
“Heh. Watch this!” Spirit said while passing the pizzas over to Ghoul.
He knocked three times. The first time he knocked normally, the second with a bit more force, and the third was an all-out punch that sent half of the door flying right in.
“That makes you a vandal, you know,” Ghoul said.
“It’s abandoned! Nobody lives here! So who cares?” Spirit told his friend. He grabbed the pizza boxes from Ghoul’s hands and said, “Now let’s dig in!”
As they were enjoying their pizzas sitting on the floor in the first room, a faint orb of blue light appeared out of nowhere. It morphed into what appeared to be a jellyfish and then headed towards the duo.
“So, the history of this house seems like something you would see in a horror movie’s story. From what I can read here, there was this old lady, Eloise Carpenter, who used to live here. Apparently, she was one of the many suspects in the case of the disappearance of her husband, Doug Carpenter. Some say that she had committed suicide, others say that someone had killed her or that she had left the country. They never found her. People have reported paranormal activity in her house and no one has had the courage to go see for themselves ever since a camera crew managed to film a swarm of books attacking them,” Spirit told Ghoul.
Ghoul finished eating his last slice of pizza and then asked, “Do you believe in ghosts?”
Somewhere behind Spirit, on a wall, a shadow shaped itself into an old lady hanging by a noose.
“Well, nah. The way people describe them seems too exaggerated. How would they know where they are if they are incorporeal? Photons would never even reach their eyes. In fact, how do they even possess stuff? Plus, there’s no scientific evidence that ghosts exist!”
The shadow faded away and the jellyfish-like creature appeared again near the wall.
Ghoul had a smile of smugness on his face when he pointed at something behind his buddy. “Then what is that?”
Spirit seemed to scowl at him. It was pretty difficult to tell what his eyebrows were doing behind those big goggles he had, but since they were completely hidden from view, it was most likely a scowl. “Are you trying to piss me off?”
“No, seriously! It’s right there! Look, it’s now going to your right side! I’m not kidding, man!” Ghoul said.
“I’m not falling for that. If I’ll look away, you’ll just steal my last slice of pizza, you glutton!” Spirit told him while grinning.
The jellyfish-like entity was indeed floating next to his right shoulder. It began changing shape once again, gaining eyes and an evil, jack-o-lantern grin. A tongue of goo seemed to spew out of its mouth.
Ghoul burst into laughter. “Seriously! Look at that silly face it’s making!”
“You’re still not getting my last slice of pizza, Ghoul! Give up!”
The voice of an old woman growled behind him. The entity then turned into a semitransparent lilac human head with long tentacles coming out of it. Its nose seemed unusually long, making the ghost head look similar to that of the folklore representation of a witch.
One of its tentacles touched him on the shoulder as the ghost tried to grab his attention.
Spirit turned his head to the side to look at her and lifted his goggles over his head, revealing that his eyes had been replaced with two cameras with infrared LED lights. He then proceeded to holler as the thunder and lightning struck simultaneously.
“Whaddya want, asshole?”
The ghost was so shocked that it gasped while staring wide-eyed at the monstrosity it had just seen. It zipped away screaming through the house.
“Dude, that really was a ghost,” Ghoul said.
“Is this all that ghosts are? Just floating jellyfish with big noses? Is this what people get reduced to after they die? This shit’s ridiculous!” Spirit said.
Ghoul shifted his eyes left and right. “Do you think it’s safe to continue our mission here?”
“If that is the creature we’re dealing with, then we have nothing to worry about. Let’s just go look for the stuff that the dirtbag asked us to get and we’ll leave the old hag to her haunting business,” Spirit said while putting his goggles back over his artificial eyes.
The house was full of old furniture, all covered in dust and desaturated. Every time the wind blew, the walls of the house creaked. Every now and then, a flash of lightning lit the whole place up, and then the roar of thunder echoed through the large rooms.
Out of curiosity, they entered the kitchen. There were two cupboards that have given into the pressure of their contents and had fallen, now lying broken on the floor. Most of the dishes that they had once contained were now in pieces.
The sink’s faucet was rusty and dry. Water had stopped flowing through this house’s pipes a long time ago.
There were three stacks of plates on a table to the left of the sink, and a grease-covered gas cooking stove to the sink’s right side.
On a smaller table near the wall on the left side, there was a wooden support filled with all kinds of knives, and a wooden box filled with forks and spoons.
“This house is disgusting,” Spirit said.
“Of course it is. It’s been abandoned for at least a hundred years. Did you expect the mice to clean it up or something?”
Ignoring Ghoul’s question, Spirit said, “Let’s go find those paintings and get out of here. The dust is starting to tickle my nose.”
As they walked out of the kitchen, the knives began to slide out of the wooden support.
They finally entered the dining room. They were welcomed by more dust, more old furniture and various paintings going in a straight line on the walls.
“Look at all these artworks! No wonder they’re worth so much money!” Spirit said while looking at the paintings.
One of them was dark and macabre, showing zombies walking the path to hell. Another one illustrated a blue sky with a flock of crows. The next one seemed to be a galaxy or something. It definitely looked like the Milky Way.
There were three surreal paintings as well, one of them having a sunflower warped into a carpet on which an old man, apparently a peasant, walked. The second one had a fish head which continued into a bird’s body and wings, and ended in lizard legs and tail. The third one was difficult to make sense of. It appeared to be a creature with plenty of confusing parts that Spirit could not tell exactly what they were. Something looked like a foot but it could just as well be a nose, and then there were several mouths - or eyes? Some stuff that looked like tentacles - or maybe tails? He gave up trying to figure it out and looked decided to take a look into the mission details.
Spirit could see some kind of computer screen overlay on his visual feed. It allowed him to mentally search through the mission information and quickly retrieve the pictures of the paintings that his boss needed. “Alright, let’s see ... The douchebag wants us to retrieve only three paintings. They’re ... Oh man. Are you ... Are you fucking serious?!”
Three paintings were listed. The first had nothing but a squiggly line on it and was mostly white. The second had three cuts made randomly into the paper, and neither reached the other edge of the sheet. The third one was just a line made of a series of dots, mostly concentrated near the left and right side. The line was interrupted at the center, where there were no dots.
Spirit made the three pictures disappear somewhere into the lower area of his visual field and noticed that the three paintings were on the wall at the opposite end of the room. The wall seemed dirtier than the rest, being filled with what seemed to be masses of dust.
“What is it?” Ghoul said.
“Is this the kind of art that sells for nearly half a million bucks a piece? This? Is this guy pulling my leg or something? These aren’t even paintings!” Spirit said.
“Maybe he wants them because of their innovative ideas,” Ghoul said.
“I kind of feel like this is a slap in the face to all those who have made the other paintings. I mean look around you! Look at all this—”
He was cut off the moment he realized that something had hit him straight in the back in various locations. He felt a sharp pain coming from each spot there.
“What the ...?” Ghoul said, almost in a whisper.
Spirit twisted his left arm in an attempt to check his back and even turned his neck as much as he could so he would be able to get a good look at what was going on behind him. He saw five knives pinned on his back. “Fuckin’ hell, get them off! Get them off of me! Get them off!” he screamed at the top of his lungs, moving chaotically while spreading blood drips everywhere.
Ghoul calmly approached his friend, grabbed him by the right arm and said, “Hold still. I’ll get them out.”
He noticed two things. One: the knives were pinned in a pentagon pattern. Two: they all barely had one centimeter of their tip sunken into the flesh. He pulled all the knives out and then rubbed his buddy’s back. He realized that the back was too flat to have actual ribs. It all seemed to contain an armor of some kind. The armor had saved his friend’s life.
“I think our boss put more stuff inside you than he admitted, Spirit.”
“What do you mean?”
Ghoul patted him on the back and said, “It seems like there’s an armor plate underneath your skin here.”
Spirit frowned. “That’s ... very nice of him, I guess.”
The bloodied knives just lay there on the floor, next to their feet.
“I think we should grab the things and get the fuck outta here before that tentacled bitch tries to kill us again,” Spirit said. “Oh, and grab the knives too. She won’t be able to use them against us if we have them.”
Ghoul nodded and followed his friend’s advice, gathering the five knives and putting them into his jacket’s right pocket.
They quickly took the three artworks off the wall and stacked them up. Spirit decided to take them since he was capable of sprinting faster than Ghoul.
Out of thin air, the blue orb materialized between the two cyborgs and began to extend its tentacles, making it look almost like the head of the mythological monster Medusa. It was faceless, but then it changed into a familiar face and grinned crazily at Spirit. The lightning and thunder struck at the same time.
“What is this shit?! It’s horrendous!” he yelled while backing off.
Ghoul frowned as his gaze switched between the ghost and his friend. He then asked, “Uh, Spirit? When was the last time you’ve looked in a mirror?”
“What's that supposed to ...? Oh. Fuck that!” Spirit said after noticing that the ghost had actually taken on the appearance of a phantom duplicate of his face. “This is getting out of hand! Let’s dart away from this beat-up shack!”
Ghoul glared at the mocking ghost. It then turned into the witch head again and started making funny faces at him while shaping its tentacles into a mohawk bigger than his. It giggled copiously at him.
Ghoul decided to eliminate the ghost, so he swung his right fist at the apparition, shouting, “Hyah!”
True to his and Spirit’s knowledge about ghosts, his fist went right through the ghost and ended up stamping the wall behind it and making the dust balls from the wall fall over him. The phantom laughed and made herself invisible. Then there was silence.
When Ghoul pulled his fist away, the wall crumbled. From inside, a skeleton fully punctured with needles fell and got sprawled on the floor.
“Needles?! What kind of sorcery has this old hag been doing here?!” Spirit said.
“I think this was her husband,” Ghoul said.
“I don’t care who that was! I want out now!”
Ghoul looked at the skeleton with a morbid curiosity. He could have sworn that he heard some noises coming from its mouth.
A gray spider that was half the size of a tarantula emerged from between the corpse’s jaws.
“This is too much! I agree! Let’s get out of here! Aaaah!” he said and then ran.
Seeing himself alone, Spirit put his legs to use as well. “Wait for me!”
“What’s with this itch?” Ghoul said while scratching his arms as he continued to rush. He then realized something. They were tiny spiders. “Oh shit! Not spiders! No!”
As if to mock him, more spiders began to pour from the cracks in the ceiling. Some of them fell over him and others fell on Spirit.
“They’re just spiders! I almost got impaled, dude! This is nothing!”
“I’m scared of spiders! Squash them, please! Please, please, please, please, please!” Ghoul said with a shaky voice.
They stopped on the long hallway so that Spirit could get the spiders off his friend’s jacket. Ghoul panicked even more after realizing that there were some gargantuan spider webs all over the top of the hallway. When they both looked at the ceiling, they realized that they were about to face a spider avalanche heading their way.
“I was not prepared for this one,” Spirit said, staring at the vast amount of arachnids.
“I just want my mommy!” Ghoul said, covering his eyes and shaking.
Spirit heard a loud buzz coming from behind them and turned around to notice a floating, active chainsaw.
Without giving the situation too much thought, he grabbed the chainsaw and tore it away from the ghost that became visible as soon as it lost contact with the machine. He then proceeded to scream like a madman and cut through the spiders with the chainsaw.
“Follow me, Ghoul! I’m cuttin’ us a way through!”
“But ... spiders!”
“They’re dead! Now get over here!” Spirit ordered.
Ghoul ran after his friend, trying hard not to think of the masses of spider corpses he had to walk over. Just when they thought they could escape, the floor of the hallway collapsed, taking them with it.
They found themselves in what seemed to be the basement of the old house. Dust was floating everywhere, causing them both to cough uncontrollably. The chainsaw was still on, buzzing somewhere among the wreckage.
“My goggles are out of battery,” Ghoul said. “It’s so dark in here!”
Spirit looked around. His infrared LEDs allowed his camera eyes to see in the dark perfectly. “You really wouldn’t like to see all this. Believe me. This is the creepiest shit I’ve ever fallen on top of,” he said.
They were right on top of several corpses of which only the bones remained. Most of them were fractured and had cracked skulls. There were rats the size of adult cats scurrying everywhere and squeaking.
“Oh my God! Are those ... rats I hear?” Ghoul said with a shaky voice.
“Um, yeah. But that isn’t important. Let’s get out of here. The stench of these cadavers is making me sick.”
“Cadavers?!” Ghoul said.
Spirit grabbed Ghoul by the hand, collected the paintings from a pile of dead rats, and then he proceeded to guide his friend towards the stairs that would lead them out of the basement.
Ghoul punched the wooden lid of the basement open and they both darted out immediately. The small amount of light he could see calmed him down a bit. Then he remembered. “Are there any spiders?”
“Nope. Nothing’s moving anywhere. But I really don’t want to stay here long enough to see anything moving, so come on!” Spirit said and then grabbed his friend’s hand to guide him again. They could hear the chainsaw still running in the basement.
They were almost at the exit, but then the ghost decided it would be funny to shove a torch in front of Spirit, who wasn’t scared at all. He just stared at it with a bored expression and then grabbed and confiscated the torch from the ghost.
“I’ve had enough of your shenanigans! So fuck you and this stupid house!”
He threw the torch at the phantom, but it went right through, landing on a couch and setting it on fire.
“Oh, damn. That was a good couch,” he said.
Ghoul nudged Spirit. “Dude! The fire is spreading!”
The ghost let out a scream of terror once she realized what was happening and she put her tentacles over her head in exasperation.
“Shit! Shit! So much shit!” Spirit said as he and Ghoul burst through the exit, leaving behind a trail of smoke.
The old, wrecked wooden house started to shake and squeak. All of its windows began to shine a fiery orange, and black smoke began to seep through its cracks.
Within just one minute, the house turned into one gigantic torch that could be seen from the other houses near the road. It didn’t help that the rain had stopped. The cyborgs decided to leave the area fast, before the police could spot and arrest them for arson.
Back at their hideout, they finally presented their capture to their boss, in a small, dimly-lit room where only a desk was positioned at the center.
“Thank you for bringing me these important pieces of art,” the boss spoke to them through their comlink.
“ ‘Art,’ ” Spirit said while holding his hands up and forming air quotes with his index and middle fingers.
“These are valuable paintings, Spirit,” the voice said.
“ ‘Paintings,’ ” Spirit said.
“Only an artist like me could appreciate these valuable masterpieces. I am sure that some art lovers will be willing to pay a lot for these,” his boss said.
The tone told Spirit that he was getting on the guy's nerves. “ ‘Artist,’ ‘valuable,’ ‘masterpieces.’ ”
“Get out! You are dismissed! For now,” the voice said as the floor tiles began to sink rapidly, dividing the cyborgs from the desk.
They had no choice but to leave the room.
“Well, let’s go get some rest. All that crap that went on today simply drained me,” Spirit said.
“Do you think that the fire has spread to the other houses?” Ghoul said.
Realization dawned upon Spirit.