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A Grim Encounter

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“I already told you in the text message,” Georgie said, answering the phone. “You can get plain flour and we’ll make it work.”

“Uhhh,” replied Gerry. “Yeah, not why I’m calling. I kind of, have a problem?”

“What’s happening?”

“So… there’s a dog.”

“Okay?”

“Like, a really big dog.”

“I mean I’m still not seeing the problem?”

“It’s… Georgie it’s following me. And she won’t stop?”

“Huh.”

“Yeah...”

“She?”

“She feels like a she.”

“Does she seem angry or anything?”

“No? I mean I don’t think so. She looks happy? From what I know about dogs? It’s just…”

“Well, when you get home, she won’t be able to follow you inside.”

There was a long pause.

“Gerry,” said Georgie. “Are you planning to bring this dog inside with you?”

“Look, she’s really friendly? She won’t stop following me, and I maybe stopped and patted her a little bit and gave her some of our bread. Should dogs eat bread? She ate it. Anyway, it’s just…”

“What do you think the Admiral’s going to do? It’s bad enough I’ve had to adopt one stray!”

“Hey!”

“Tell me I’m wrong.”

“Fine… but, okay, Georgie, she was right outside our house. And she followed me to the shops, and um… inside Tesco all around the aisles… and now she’s following me home? She just feels… spooky. Wait, no, not spooky! She’s a really nice dog!”

“Are you saying it’s a supernatural dog?”

“Maybe…”

Georgie sighed.

“Alright. We’ll deal with it when you get home. But I’m coming down, it’s not coming up.”

 

Which is how, mere minutes later, Georgie found herself outside, staring at an enormous, shaggy dog. She’d have called it a wolfhound if not for the colour, the dog was jet black and she swore its eyes occasionally glowed a deep red.

“This is the not spooky dog?”

Gerry looked up at her from where he was crouched, patting the thing’s chest and grinning.

“She’s too nice! She hasn’t tried to bite me or growled or anything. I think she’s just lonely?”

“Gerry, it’s a huge dog with glowing red eyes. That’s not normal.”

“I mean neither am I,” he muttered into the side of the dog, now scratching behind its ears.

The dog wagged its tail happily, but Georgie couldn’t get over how wrong it felt. She wasn’t afraid of it, she didn’t get afraid anymore, it just grated on her nerves. If she was being honest with herself, it was how Gerry made her feel. The feeling that something should be dead and gone but instead was here, against all rational probability and universal laws. Gerry wasn’t as bad as he felt though. So, maybe this thing wouldn’t be either. Or maybe Georgie was going soft and a demon dog would eat them both in their sleep.

“Fine,” said Georgie, after a silence that had stretched for far longer than was comfortable. “One night.”

“Are you sure?” Gerry asked. “I can take her to the Archives and… I don’t know, sleep there again?”

“I’m not sure,” said Georgie. “It’s just… It isn’t right.”

“I can deal with the Archives for a day or two. It’s not fair on you.”

“Thank you. Do you need me to grab you anything from upstairs?”

“A change of clothes, and maybe my phone charger?”

“I’ll be back,” Georgie told him as she headed inside.

“Wait!” Gerry shouted, “I’ve got the groceries!”

She took them from him. Gerry was glad he’d remembered. Flour and eggs weren’t going to be much use in the Archives. Well, not unless he wanted to piss the Eye off by making a mess. Which was always tempting, but there were Plans for that flour. Georgie had promised to teach him how to make muffins. He busied himself petting the dog.

“You won’t hurt me, will you?” he said quietly. “You’re a good girl! We’ll get you some more food, maybe something that isn’t bread. What if we get you some dog food? That makes sense… that’s what dogs eat…”

Gerry’s rambling was cut off by the noise of the front door opening.

“I packed you a bag,” said Georgie. “Come round tomorrow for anything I’ve forgotten.”

“I will,” replied Gerry. “Thanks.”

“I’m sorry you have to sleep there,” said Georgie. “But that thing isn’t something I feel should be in my house.”

“It’s fine.”

Gerry absentmindedly ran a hand along the dog’s back before he sighed.

“Right, I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Georgie nodded and headed back inside as Gerry walked down the street, the dog close behind him.

~

Curled up on the bed in the Archives, Gerry had to admit it was better with company. The dog had draped herself over him like a blanket, and despite the heavy weight, he felt safer than he ever had in the Archives before.

“You’d better not be an omen of death,” he told the dog with a yawn. “Anyway, you’d be a bit late for that. Heh. Or rather I am. Late.”

He drifted into silence, painfully conscious of the fact that all the puns in the world couldn’t change the fact that one day, Jon had to wake up, and the dog may well be an omen for him. Because when Jon came back, Gerry would be gone, hopefully. Better the peace of death than being stuck again, unable to be heard in Jon’s mind. After everything that he’s endured, surely death would be nice.

Eventually, the soft snores of the dog drowned out his thoughts and lulled him into sleep.

~

Georgie met him in the morning outside her flat.

“Morning,” said Gerry cheerily.

“What’s gotten you all…” Georgie waved a hand at him.

“I slept… well? In the Archives? I think it’s thanks to Susan.”

“… you’ve named the dog.”

“She needed a name!”

“You’ve named the giant, clearly haunted monster that’s been stalking you.”

“Susan’s a good girl!”

There was a thumping sound as the dog’s tail wagged furiously and hit the side of a bin. Georgie buried her face in her hand.

“I was going to take her to a park for a walk?” said Gerry. “And maybe figure out what to do?”

“Good for you.”

There was a pause, and Gerry scuffed his boot against the ground.

“You want me to come with you, don’t you?”

“If that’s alright? I could use your opinion.”

“A less biased one that recognises your dog is haunted?”

“I mean yeah, I guess…”

 

Which is how they ended up walking in circles around a park on a freezing winter morning. Georgie wished she had insisted they buy drinks to warm their hands. She would have been glad for the caffeine. It might have helped distract her from the sheer stupidity of taking a monster for a walk. To her credit, the dog (and no Georgie was not going to use that ridiculous name), followed quietly behind them, seeming more interested in Gerry than anything else in the park. Georgie was almost able to put the feeling of wrongness aside.

Until it got worse.

Georgie looked at the dog, and then around the park. Her eyes settled on a man, sitting on a bench, and watching them intently. A shiver ran up her spine. They kept walking, and he kept watching.

“Gerry, do you know that man?”

He broke off from whatever he’d been saying, something about churchyards?

“No?”

“He’s been staring at us for at least the last twenty minutes.”

“Huh. I mean I don’t know why he would… oh.”

“Oh?”

“He’s uh, he’s very End.”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, like, you’re a little bit End. Because it touched you. And I guess so am I? Susan’s a lot more End. But that guy is very… It’s touched him a lot.”

Georgie tried to decide whether or not Gerry was aware of how that sounded. She chose to ignore it.

“So, what does that mean for us?”

“He… might be an avatar.”

“Right. Well. Let’s go ask.”

 

Georgie strode off and Gerry swore and tripped as he hurried after her, still not entirely at home in Jon’s body, for all that it had been six months.

He managed to grab her before she got to the bench.

“Don’t,” he panted. “You don’t want to mess with these guys.”

“I’m not going to put up with this. He can explain himself, or leave us alone.”

She shook Gerry off and continued. Gerry cursed the fact that for all he’d tried to get Jon’s body into better shape it still had none of the strength of his own.

You couldn’t have friends who feel fear like any sensible person?

Shockingly, after six months trapped in a never-ending cycle of nightmares, this thought failed to wake Jon up.

 

“What do you want?” Georgie demanded of the stranger.

“I’m… sorry?”

“I’m really not in the mood. It’s cold, we’ve got this dog to deal with and now, apparently can’t go for a walk without attracting someone evil."

“Ahhhh... Sorry about that?”

“What. Do. You. Want?”

“To help?

“And how exactly do you plan to do that?”

"Well,” said the man. “I can't help but notice you've got two people inside of one body, one of whom is sort of hovering around the edge of death, and the other who should have... already left. And you're with a dog who is also very much dead. You’re also… quite interesting yourself. But given that death is sort of my…” He paused, waving his hand around vaguely. “I thought I might be able to do something for him? It can’t be comfortable, being stuck like that.”

“Did you send Susan?” asked Gerry.

“Susan?”

“He named the dog.”

This got a laugh from the man.

“Is that a Pratchett reference?”

“It was late, and I couldn’t think of anything better,” Gerry said defensively.

“No, I like it. I think she does too.”

Georgie cleared her throat pointedly.

“Right, ah, no. I didn’t send the dog. It was more that I’ve been meaning to visit The Archivist, Jon? Can I use that name? Since he…”

“Got blown up?” suggested Gerry.

“Yes. But I’ve been… away.”

“And what exactly do you want with Jon?”

“I told you,” said the man. “I want to help.”

“Help wake him up?” asked Gerry.

“… Not, exactly? But that may be the result?”

“Oh.”

It started to rain at this point. In all fairness, it was winter in London.

“Why don’t we go find a café or something and talk there?” said Gerry. “We could all grab a drink.”

The man looked him up and down and Gerry met his gaze for an uncertain, lingering moment, staring, before looking pointedly away. Gerry very pointedly reminded himself that one, this wasn’t his body, and two, even if he was one of the most handsome men Gerry had seen in a long time, he wasn’t human, at least, not anymore. At somewhat of a loss for how to respond Gerry smiled awkwardly.

“Your old beard is... nice-was nice. It suited you.”

Gerry blinks a few times in confusion. " “Have we met before? I think I’d have remembered you.”

The man smiles a bit sheepishly. “Oh, no, sorry, it’s just that being an avatar of the End involves… well, seeing ghosts.”

“Oh. Huh.” Gerry says “So you can--” he waves a burnt hand, gesturing vaguely at himself, or at least, at Jon.

“Yes.”

“Huh. Thanks. I miss it. Jon’s-- uh, I don’t know how long I’ll...be around, so I figured I’d just--”

“Fine, you can help.” said Georgie, suddenly. “On three conditions.”

They both looked at her.

“One, you take the dog, so we don’t have to deal with it. Two, when this is done, none of us see you again. And three, knock it off with the flirting.”

“I--don’t know what you mean?” the man said, quickly.

Georgie glared at him.

“Alright, sorry, sorry.”

 

Which is how they ended up crammed together under the awning of a nearby café. Susan rested her head on Gerry’s lap and looked pleadingly at him, whether it was for attention or some of his croissant, Gerry wasn’t sure. Possibly both. Georgie on the other hand had her chair as far away from Susan and the man, they still didn’t know his name, as possible, while still being under the awning.

“What’s your name?” Gerry asked. “I realise we kind of… missed that.”

“Antonio.” he said after a brief pause.

“Sure,” said Georgie.

“I’m Gerry.”

There was silence. Gerry wasn’t sure why he’d given that name. Maybe he was getting too used to hearing it from everyone. Whatever the reason, it was too late now. He looked at Georgie.

“Georgie,” she said, reluctantly.

The man who was definitely not called Antonio nodded and sipped his coffee.

“So,” he said. “Do you want me to… uh…” He gestured at Gerry, and Jon’s body.

“Wait, right now? Oh. Depending on what happens that… might not be the best idea…” said Gerry. “Not that I don’t want him to wake up,” he hastened to add. “It’s just that, he’s not going to expect to be in a café, and I maybe have one or two things I’d like to take care of before I go if that’s ok… I know that I’ve already had longer than I should have but… Anyway, how would this work?”

“Well, I wish I knew, honestly. The spiders didn’t deem that worth saying, I suppose. I figured I’d give him my statement. See if telling him how I tried to escape my dreams lets him leave his. It should at least give him the ability to choose what he needs to. It’s a choice he has to make.” Gerry nodded in agreement.

“That’s all?” asked Georgie. “Don’t need to kill anyone?”

“Not yet, we’ll see.”

She frowned at him. Gerry took a chance and slipped Susan some of his croissant while they were both distracted. He still wasn’t sure if dogs should be eating bread.

“That was a joke, mostly,” clarified definitely-named-anything-but-Antonio. “Sorry, I don’t spend much time talking to people these days.”

“I remember what that was like,” Gerry said. “At least this time I’ll be gone and not stuck in some book.”

“That… doesn’t sound ideal.”

“It really wasn’t, I’d avoid it if I were you.”

“Thanks for the advice.”

“What do you mean mostly?” asked Georgie.

Like-fuck-was-this-guy-Antonio winced slightly.

“It might wake him up, or it, uh, it might kill him? That depends on what he chooses.”

“Excuse me?”

“He’s stuck,” said James? Harry? Edward? Bartholomew? Certainly not Antonio. “He needs to choose between accepting his death and dying or… well, finishing becoming what he was changing into and living.”

“Oh,” said Gerry weakly. “So, he either dies or becomes one of you lot.”

“Yes. Er, sorry I don’t have a better option?”

They all paused their conversation awkwardly at that point as a child ran up to pat Susan, and began crying when they were dragged inside away from the rain and the dog.

“Anyway…” continued Gerry. “Can you help me go away, end me, so I don’t get stuck in Jon’s head again? If he does choose to live?”

“Well, you’re already dead. You’re just tangled up with him, sort of… it’s a bit of a mess? But yeah, I can do that, I can... give you a hand.”

Gerry sipped his coffee and nodded. So this was it. He had a way out.

“I guess Susan was an omen of death after all,” he joked, unsure of what else to say.

“Do you mean of your death, or of me?” asked the man with a smile.

Georgie groaned at that and Gerry grinned, looking down at Susan in a terrible attempt to hide that he was doing so. He couldn’t help that he liked the guy. The fact that he’d be setting Gerry free of all this bullshit didn’t hurt either.

“So,” said Gerry. “When do we do this?”

“A weekend might help give Jon time to adjust,” Georgie said. “If he comes back it's going to be a bit to get used to, and it'll stop him rushing off to work. He... would do that...”

“Right, yeah,” replied Gerry. “I want to talk to Jon too, in case he survives. Make a tape maybe? Or at least… I don’t know, write him a letter? Say thank you for letting me… or rather… I just want him to know that I’m not angry for what he did. I don’t know… I’ll figure something out?”

“Why don’t I give you my number?” suggested no-really-if-this-man-is-named-Antonio-Gerry-will-eat-his-coat. “You could give me a ring when you’re ready. I’d appreciate it if it was sooner rather than later though, I could use a new dream.”

“That’s fair,” said Gerry. “Jon’s dreams are getting repetitive.”

Not-Antonio (but not like that) smiled at him and scrawled something on a napkin before he stood up. He patted his leg and Susan stood, knocking the table, and trotted up to stand next to him.

“Call me,” he said, walking away with a wave of his fingers and Susan at his side. He reached down to pat her head and her tail started wagging frantically. Gerry watched them walk down the street and might have sighed before Georgie interrupted his thoughts. Before Absolutely-Not-Antonio was out of sight, he paused, and turned. “What do… revenant dogs eat? Dog food?” he called back.

“Croissants?” Gerry suggests, returning his attention to his cappuccino.

 

“Are you done?”

Gerry hid his face by taking a large sip of coffee which he promptly choked on, still a little distracted. Georgie patiently waited for him to finish coughing.

“Sorry.”

“I can’t believe you’re so cliché.”

“What?”

“A goth flirting with Death? Come on!”

Gerry chose to not to respond to what was clearly slander, and instead picked up the napkin. In neat writing he found a phone number and the name Oliver. Now that felt more like it.