She was the kind of girl that attracted looks everywhere she went, but not exactly in the way most people wanted. Mismatched colors, carefree smile, eccentric tastes in stores, and a high-pitched giggle that brought the city streets to a standstill. It was only natural that everyone knew her, or at least of her. The only problem was, she was always being called down to government offices to fix the "errors" on her paperwork.
Nobody believed her when she said her name was Harold Falk Cross.
And listing yourself as a self-employed paranormal investigator was always a recipe for trouble, since it wasn't really a "legitimate" occupation since there was "no such thing" as ghosts/vampires/zombies/everything else Harold dealt with on a regular basis. But skeptical looks about her gender and occupation aside, Harold felt that her life was more or less complete. She had a fun, but utterly useless job, and a part-time job that actually brought in money. No boyfriend, not even any friends-that-were-boys, but who needs that anyway? And she did have her own (admittedly terrible) apartment, and a laptop, and a set of magic skills better than most people she'd ever met. And so what if she didn't really have any friends? Going out and getting drunk every Friday night was overrated.
Maybe her life did have some room for improvement. So maybe it was a message from God that a certain someone knocked on her door that fateful day. And hey, if it wasn't, at least it was a good change of pace.
The first thing she noticed about her visitor was the fact that she was not the ever-disgusting Mr. Blaney. The second thing was the glowing orange eyes, and the third was the ridiculously oversized scarf.
"Woah. I think you're dead!" Harold said, eyes wide, as she pointed at the green, emaciated, and deadpan woman in front of her.
Once again, Harold had to put up with the confused looks of "I was looking for Harold but you are clearly a woman".
After a moment, the zombie said, "Is Harold Cross here?" At least she was polite about it.
Harold sighed and pulled the most-likely-a-customer into her apartment. "I'm Harold, and yes, I know it's not a girl's name. People keep telling me that, which I think is ridiculous because, um, hello? It is my name. I have known it my whole life, and if it's not a girl's name, then why do I have it? But, sorry, excuse me. What's your name? And how do you know who I am?"
"Well, I picked up one of your business cards some time ago," she said, and handed Harold a pink and white card, bent and stained from ages in a traveler's pocket. Harold held it delicately and put it down on the kitchen counter reverently.
"Wow. That's crazy, I didn't even know people actually looked at these things. I thought everybody just threw them away. Where did you even get it?" She leaned against the stove, black and pink skirt swishing on her knobby knees.
The zombie looked around, not daring to touch anything. The whole place seemed like it was in a delicate balance, and if she disturbed a single paper everything would tumble down. Harold seemed to have her own method of organization. "I don't really remember how I got it. It's been ten years, and after a while events just sort of blur into one another."
"Really? Ten years? What, did you rise out of your grave all like 'braaaaaiiiiins'? Or is that just a myth? I don't know, I've never really encountered a zombie before. Do you remember your life at all? Do you eat? Oh! Sorry, I'm being rude. I should only ask one or two questions, I know, everyone tells me I ask too many. But if I don't ask them all they never get answered! Anyway, what do you need? Harold Cross, Paranormal Investigator at your service!" She pointed to herself with a fat magic marker.
"Well, I don't have the urge to eat brains, or even kill anyone at all. I don't remember my life at all, or my name. I haven't tried eating but I expect it wouldn't work very well. And I'm here looking for employment. Are you possibly hiring? I mean, I have experience with the paranormal, being a member of the group myself, and I think I'm physically equipped to deal with monsters and such."
Harold stared at her for a minute, grinning. "Oh man, this is so cool. Yes. Yes. We are so totally hiring as of this minute. Oh look, you're the only applicant welcome to the job! You start immediately!" The redhead raised her arms to the whole apartment. "Kitchen, bathroom, room-with-all-my-stuff. And a closet with even more stuff. That's the office, except it's also my bed. And
that's about it." She flopped down onto her office/bed. "Do you have a place to stay, nameless employee of mine?"
The zombie shrugged. "Not really. Could you sugge-"
"You can stay with ME!" And with a huge, excited grin like that, who could resist her?
The rest of the night dissolved into thinking of names, trying to braid short black hair, watching "The Notebook", excited ramblings on how AWESOME it would be to have a roommate, and a contest to see who would fall asleep first. Seeing as how Gretchen/Ophelia/Sacagawea was physically unable to sleep, Harold lost pretty quickly.
It seemed every night might be as strange as this one with Harold Cross.
Harold woke up the next day to the most glorious thing in the entire universe to ever be woken up to.
The unexpected sound of crackling bacon.
At first, it was like it was a dream. The heavenly smell, the luscious sounds coming from somewhere in the kitchen
But as Harold became more and more conscious, she realized that it was true, there really was bacon being cooked! In her apartment! But why? Had she died in her sleep and gone to her eternal reward? Had an angel been sent down by God to give her her dues for 24 years of hard work?
If so, this angel looked suspiciously like Thalia.
In what was probably record Harold-waking-up time (the previous was held by ten minutes of Mr. Blaney screaming outside her door for some overdue rent), she was up, somewhat decent, and in the kitchen, bouncing at Aemilia's shoulder.
"Are you making bacon for breakfast? And eggs? Oh my God what did I do to deserve this? You are seriously the best roommate ever. Ever." She didn't leave her roommate's side until breakfast was entirely ready.
"I just thought to thank you for everything you've done, really," the zombie said, setting a plate in front of the overexcited redhead. It was gone in a few seconds.
After breakfast, Harold sat down with the laptop, looking up all sorts of things about reanimation, and yelling them out to Elisa as she did her best to clean up the kitchen of its random papers and week-old Chinese food.
Harold was just yelling out something about Pokémon ("Maybe they used a Pikachu on you, Alyce!") when somebody knocked on the door. She was up, laptop clattering to the floor, and looking out the peephole in only a few seconds, but it took a lot longer to actually open the door. Warily, she stuck her head out, only to have the man on the other side push it open instantly.
And there, in the middle of Harold's disaster area of an apartment, was the ugliest creature ever to walk the Earth. Behind the monstrosity came a rather pissed-off looking, decently dressed, black-haired girl.
"H-Hello Mr. Blaney," Harold said, managing to cough up a smile for the greasy man currently taking in her baggy pajama shirt lecherously.
He took a long drag from the cheap cigarette in his hand before answering. "Hello Falk. This young lady was yelling and wanted to know where you lived, and I couldn't let such a pretty thing like her be lost, huh?" Harold was actually sort of glad of the new distraction. It made her feel maybe slightly less likely to get raped.
Ursula peered out from the kitchen, which was probably not a good thing to do. Mr. Blaney grinned (yellow teeth, of course, and a few missing) and pointed his thumb at her. "You sure do get some odd ones around here, Harold
"Um, hello? If you're done pervving on every single girl in the room I have an actual emergency to take care of!" the girl said from behind him, pushing him aside. "Look, I heard you're a Paranormal Investigator, right?"
Harold nodded. "Yes! Oh wow, you actually want to hire me?"
"Yeah, yeah, I will. Buckets of cash. If you'll just get rid of that God damned thing in my apartment." She shivered, holding the torn sleeve of her polo. Light scratches shone red underneath her fingers. "And quickly?"
"Oooh, what happened? Is it like some huge behemoth of a monster?" Harold was, inexplicably, excited for facing down a very likely deadly monster.
"It's a vampire! In my apartment! It's terrible!"
"REALLY? A real vampire? Was it vicious?"
"Well, I mean, it was in bat form
Harold considered that for a minute. "Then how do you know it was a vampire? It might have been a regular bat. Or maybe a kitten." She lowered her voice conspiratorially. "They can be vicious."
Mr. Blaney sighed, obviously disappointed in the loss of the attention. "Well, I'll leave you pretty girls to it. Don't bother to keep it down for my sake if it gets naughty!"
With that shudder-inducing comment, he was gone, and Harold breathed a sigh of relief. "So. If you'll just wait, I'll get dressed, and then we can go!" She turned around, took two steps, and suddenly she had taken her baggy purple nightshirt off. In front of her two guests.
"WaitwaitwaitwaitWOAH!" The black-haired customer spun around, face red. "You could, you know, go into a different room!"
Harold pulled on her "work jeans" and an orange and green tank top. "But I'm already done, come on! We're all girls here. We all know what we look like naked, I'd hope." She turned around, picking up a magic marker and hammer off the dirty floor. "Ready to go?"
Maybe she wasn't the most qualified person to trust with your paranormal problems. "My name is Connie Achenleck," the customer said as they half-ran to her apartment. "And I really do have a vampire in my apartment. I would know because it keeps talking. And
hitting on me." Connie didn't really sound pleased about that.
"Hey, there are tons of girls who'd kill to have a vampire hit on them!" Harold pointed out, practicing her "mad vampire-hitting hammer skills" as she ran down the street.
"Well, I'm not one of them. I am no Twilight-obsessed fangirl." Connie pointed at the building at the end of the block. "There it is, but I'd be careful going in. He's horrible!"
Harold, Connie, and Marion ascended the stairs, two of them wary, one of them convinced a hammer would defeat even the worst monster. Harold opened the door, the others following behind her, and looked around.
"Well, I don't see anything
" she said, only to be proved wrong seconds later by a voice from the kitchen.
"Oh look, she brought a couple more tasty morsels," it said. "It" was a bat, hanging upside down from the Pier 1 chandelier on the kitchen ceiling.
Harold pointed at it with the butt end of her hammer. "Hey! You! Oh, wow, you really are a vampire!"
"Well, duh. But what are you?" he said, his bat face surprisingly expressive. Currently it was showing "creepy smile".
"I'm Harold Falk Cross, Paranormal Investigator and Magic User Extraordinaire! So you'd better get out of Connie's apartment or I'll be forced to use all of my awesome powers on you!"
The bat laughed, which was strange to hear a bat do, and fluttered down to see Harold at eye level. His tiny bat-fangs were bared in a grin. "Well, you could try, I guess, but I'd much prefer to stay here. But you don't have to leave, all three of you could stay here right with me
Of course, if you did a little something for me, I might consider it."
Connie picked up a broom and swatted at the bat. "Shoo! Get out of here!" It laughed and flapped its way back up to the chandelier.
"That won't do very much good, you know," he said, tapping one claw on the metal. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I would actually like to talk to the "magic user extraordinaire"?"
Connie began to protest. "Hey, this is my own apartment! How dare you-"
Harold pushed Connie out the door. "Come on, I'll get him to leave. Wait outside." Delma, after a glance from Harold, followed after her.
Once those two had left, Harold turned to the bat. "Alright, where do I start?"
Outside in the hallway was immensely boring. Connie stared at the zombie intensely for a minute before leaning over and asking, "So are you a dead chick or what?"
"Well, yes. But I do seem to have been reanimated, though I have no idea why." She tapped her green fingers on her thigh. "But I guess it's alright, really. I don't remember much about my life-"
The gap under the door blazed pink for a few seconds, then died down. The two stuck outside stood up in alarm, ready to break down the door to help, when somebody broke down the door for them.
Framed by fading pink light, a pale man stood, wearing only low-riding jeans, sweeping his dark hair back like he was on the cover of some trashy romance novel. "Disappointed you rejected me yet, Connie?" he said, and grabbed her by the waist. She screamed, pounding her fists on his back as he slung her over his shoulder.
Luckily, Stella was more physically capable than Connie.
She swept her leg out, knocking his knees out from under him. He fell flat on his back, releasing his grip on Connie, who scrabbled her way to her feet. She only made it a step, though, before he grabbed her by the ankle, and she fell hard on her right shoulder. She had the brief image of Harold looking pale and sickly in the apartment before she was dragged back into the vampire's arms. Claudia grabbed him, almost forcing Connie out of his grip, before he twisted at her arm and, with a sickening tearing sound her arm fell to the floor. Connie held back a scream.
The zombie lady picked up her severed arm, looking about as distressed as she usually did, which was to say, only mildly. She turned around just in time to see Harold spewing blood all over the rune-covered floor.
"Harold!" she said quietly and strode over to her side. She smiled up at her new buddy feebly.
"No, man, it's fine. I'm totally good. Come on, we need to go after Connie and that hot vampire guy!" She stood up, the zombie steadying her arm so she could regain her balance. After a bit of swaying, she grinned, holding out her hammer, ready to go.
"He went up the stairs," Aristomache provided, and Harold ran up them two at a time.
On the rooftop, there wasn't much but the smell of blood and suspicious-looking shadows. But then, crumpled in a corner, was Connie's apparently dead form, bleeding slowly onto the concrete. Her neck was pierced by two small holes.
Harold blanched at the sight, rushing over to her side. "Oh no, oh God, oh man, oh God, oh man, this is not good. This is so not good at all." She clumsily checked the girl's pulse. "Okay. A vampire bit her. I can fix this." She stood, looking around. "Alright, Avelina, we need to be careful now. He's somewhere on the roof, but he could be anywhere. I just need to get him with the hammer, but don't let him jump you, especially not with that arm of yours." Harold gripped the hammer in her hands tightly. "Now just watch out for him
"Harold, look out!" the zombie called, and suddenly Harold was pinned to the ground by the vampire. He grinned at her, wrinkling his nose.
"You're cute, you know. I like drinking from pretty girls like you. But you smell like shit!" he said, his hand sliding up her side, taking her shirt with it. Harold grimaced, freeing her arm from under him and whacking him across the head with the pointed end.
He snarled, blood spurting out from his cheek. "Now look what you've done!" he growled, retreating away from the pissed-off redhead. She stood, pulling her shirt back down to its regular position.
"Get the fuck out of here before I do even worse and mess up that pretty face of yours," she said levelly, brandishing the bloody hammer at him. He eagerly complied, without even a promise of return, though they both knew it wasn't quite over between them. She ran over to Connie's side, running her pointer finger through the vampire's blood. "This should work
" she said, sticking out her tongue in concentration and smearing the blood on Connie's lips and tongue.
A few seconds of anticipation, and Connie was sputtering and swearing just like normal. She glared up at Harold and swiftly slapped her across the cheek. "Oh hells yeah! I did it, did you see? I fixed her! That was awesome." Connie swore at her, perhaps not agreeing with how awesome it was.
The zombie walked over to them both, helping Connie up with her one good arm. "Are you alright?" she asked, looking the bloodstained woman up and down.
"Well, I seem to be alive, at least. That's probably the only good thing I have going right now."
"Hey, we got rid of the vampire!" Harold said, but then her face fell. "Except, well, there's kinda another vampire in your apartment."
Connie frowned. "Who?"
Harold grinned sheepishly. "Um, well
There really wasn't much to say to that, but Connie tried to find the appropriate words for a while before just settling on "
Hanna laughed feebly. "Well, um, you were dead, but I saved you by turning you into a vampire
Connie looked blank for a moment. She turned angry, then a little bit sad, then decided on furious. "Why? Why would you turn me into a vampire?! That has got to be the worst idea I've ever heard."
Harold put her hands on her hips defensively. "Hey, it was the only way to make sure you weren't dead."
Connie shook her head. "Whatever. This is so stupid. I can't believe I came to you for this stupid bat. There must have been some shit in the water, thinking it was talking, and all this shit about vampires now, and this woman's dead
" She sat down on a ledge. "I need to get some sleep, really. My work schedule must be fucking with me."
"Now, I know it's hard to believe, but trust me. It's not a hallucination or a dream or whatever. Not even an elaborate prank," Harold said, but it was hard to take a blood-spattered spazz seriously. "Let's go get you some food!"
Connie rolled her eyes. "I'm just going to pretend that you mean chicken."
Harold giggled. "Why would you drink chicken blood? No, no, it's human blood. In a bag, I guess. Don't worry, I have connections!"
The three women sauntered out of the building, the zombie content to just watch as Harold chattered away and Connie rubbed the bridge of her nose. They walked for a few minutes, the streets getting darker and dirtier by the step, until they were firmly in the Wrong Side of Town.
Harold turned into a Dark and Scary Alleyway.
"Oh hell no, I am not going down some suspicious alley with some chicks I hardly know!" she yelled, but followed anyway. Harold opened an inconspicuous door, and light flooded into the alley.
"Doc? Doc Worth? Where are you?" she called, looking around the apparently empty room. An examining table gleamed under the hard yellow light, crusted with blood and some mysterious yellow goo. There seemed to be an inordinate number of scalpels. A battered medical license hung on the wall, but it was doubtful it was legitimate.
A door opened from the back of the room, and an impossibly long-legged woman strode in. She wore a short off-white dress, a mockery of a nurse's outfit, smeared in blood. Over it was a longer lab coat, trimmed in dirty fur. Her legs went on for miles before reaching her white stilettos. She grinned crookedly at Harold. "What, you get yerself beat up aga-" She spotted the other two women. "Who are they? Dammit, Harold, I told ya, I don't want you bringin' random strangers here."
Harold stepped aside to present her two companions, and the doctor, without heeding Harold, strode forward to inspect them. She stared at the zombie for a minute before turning to Harold. "Why the fuck'd you bring some dead broads in here?"
"Hey! I am not dead!" Connie protested, and Worth looked her up and down. She placed one bony, scarred hand against Connie's breast, and after a moment of consideration, nodded.
"Well, seems you have no heartbeat. Last time I checked my medical texts, that means YER FUCKING DEAD, YOU MORON!"
Connie harrumphed and turned away. "I also believe that it's impossible to walk and talk whilst being dead, last time I checked."
"Well that's part of why I'm not sure what's going on. Harold? Did you kill these poor girls?"
Harold looked offended. "Hey! Of course not! Dimana here was dead when I met her. And Connie
just, sort of, got turned. Into a vampire. So I was wondering if you had any blood she could have? Because she's hungry, I bet."
Worth sighed. "So yer a vampire now?"
"No I'm not! It's all some stupid delusion!" Connie screamed, snarling in the doctor's face. Worth pushed Connie away.
"Don't get in my face! Keep t'yer own personal space before I don't give you any food at all."
"Why is everyone referring to blood as 'food'? I. Don't. Eat. Blood." Connie was shaking with anger, possibly from all the events of the day. Dying can take its toll on you.
Worth rolled her eyes. "Look, I'm no paranormal expert like Harold 'ere, but I'm pretty sure a main feature of being a vampire is drinking blood. And I do> have blood. I'm not usually a handout service, but just this once." She turned to Harold, hand on her hip. "Ye owe me."
"I'm not a fucking vampire! Stop saying stupid things like that!" Connie yelled, pushing Worth aside to get to Harold. "Look. I'm no vampire, and you're crazy for saying soAAARGH!"
Worth grabbed Connie by the arm, twisting it around behind her back. "I don't like being fucking pushed, ye pussy. Fight me for real or lay yer hands off me." Connie almost hissed and kicked her leg out wildly, trying to take the doctor's long legs down. She just laughed at the vampire's efforts. "Come on, I'm not an idiot."
Connie slumped. "Fine, whatever, just let me go." Worth dropped her arm, and Connie whirled around, leaping on top of her. She screamed and slapped the woman, knocking them both to the ground. Worth just laughed hysterically and only made a slight effort to fight back. Connie raked her fingernails into Worth's cheeks and arms, just making her giggle louder.
"Jesus, you're sick," Connie said finally, pulling away. "It's so pointless to fight you, you idiot." She stood up, knees quivering. Worth laughed and, legs spread wide apart, bent over to lick up a particularly bloody scratch in her thigh. Connie shrieked. "Oh my God put on some panties woman!"
Worth cackled. "No thanks, I'm perfectly fine as is," she drawled, grinning crookedly. "Want some?" She shoved her bloody arm towards Connie. She recoiled, but her eyes were wide with interest.
"I'm pretty sure that shouldn't smell as good as it does," she said, and tentatively ran a finger through a trail of red liquid. She stuck her finger in her mouth and, with a disgusted moan, spat it out. "That is definitely not normal. That tastes
good." Connie grumbled in annoyance and dipped her finger in the blood again. "Fuck, does this mean I really am a vampire?"