Two more false eyes glared red across its dragonfly wings. Another hideous little soul turned demonic, yearning to grow into something far worse. It made good on its threat and lifted into the air, but its terrifying modification only made my task easier and my beak closed around it. The poison leaking from its crushed body spread warmth as it slid down my gullet.
The first time I ate one of its kind that poison made me quite sick. I underestimated how sick. Then I drove to work at the fabric store, nearly crashed my car just trying to park, staggered inside and barely made it to the bathroom stall, dry heaving over the toilet while my manager clucked behind me, Leeanne, are you okay? You need the hospital? And the kind of poison a tainted soul puts in you, no doctor can help with that. So I sucked it up and went to work. And then I found out something else about that poison.
When the nausea subsided, a euphoria kicked in, not far removed from the time I mixed Flexiril and peach schnapps, a lava lamp glow oozing through me. All day I fought the urge to take my blue jay form right there in the store. But when I returned to earth again, I still needed to pay for my classes, to cover my rent, to eat. That sad weight kept me grounded that first delirious day of spider poisoning, but the sensation was addictive. The very next time I was asked to cleanse a house, I found another spiderling. And the next one I found, and the next one, and the next and many nexts since.
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And this time too. The urge hit my brain straight away, to stay as I was, shift completely into the spirit world and rise up through the floors and ceilings of this rambling house as if it were mere mirage, and soar at the noonday sky like an ocean dive in defiance of gravity. But I had already collected my upfront fee from the charming elderly couple that lived there, and now I needed to collect the rest of it.
Classes, rent, normal non-ghosty food. Emma Manderley was a frequent customer at the fabric store who knew about my specialty in clearing malevolent influences—the word gets around, you know, among those who care about such things—and the Manderleys had just enough sensitivity between them that they would know the thing that had bedeviled their sleep was gone without my even saying so.
They were waiting in their station wagon, sitting in the driveway with the radio playing. I had told them I only needed a few minutes.
My magic never took more than a few minutes. I looked forward to their relieved smiles. I climbed the spiral stairs out of the musty basement, traipsed through the slightly-less-musty ground floor and glanced out the front window as I crossed the living room. The station wagon was completely blanketed by a substance like dense strands of shimmering gauze. A slender woman in slate gray business attire, knee-length skirt and matching jacket, was striding up the front walk.
I leaned to spy through the front door peephole. She taught me how to be who I am, and to be wary of others who do what I do. Filled with predators. No laws, no one to make the cruel reign in their appetites. Ghosts are our natural prey in our animal forms and they can be dangerous enough though before I started finding the spiderlings, it used to be that if I rooted out a ghost, I could just order it to leave and it would flee, because it knew what I was and what I could do.
I could tell right away this woman had a spirit shadow. It loomed dark around her in my second sight, even though the day was bright. Grey flared from the temples of her pageboy to frame a narrow face split by sensuous, disproportionately wide lips.
She could have been twenty or sixty, her features smooth but not youthful. Behind her a single strand of blue spiderweb rose straight into the sky, and behind that I recognized the same webbing, cocooning the station wagon and the poor couple inside it. The woman stepped onto the porch, raising her fist as if she intended to knock. Then her dark eyes narrowed and I had a second to realize she was staring right at me through the door.
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