The Last Patrol

Mar 26, 2022, 7:27:04 AM

Natsumi pushed off of Catherine and stood up. She stretched her arms out and yawned. “Fine by me,” she said getting to her feet. Lying behind the bench was her Heartwing Staff. She plucked it off the ground and twirled the staff before letting it rest against her shoulder like an oversized baseball bat. She leered at Catherine while she stuffed her phone back between her boobs and zipped her dress up.

Catherine cleared her throat in response and Natsumi looked the other way. She took her time bagging the empty wrappers and cans from their midnight snack and carried the plastic bag with her as they continued their walkabout in the park.

“Where’d Spuddo go?” Natsumi asked as they made their way around Shiba Park.

“I don’t know I lost track of him. I hope he didn’t get…eaten or anything. I’d feel bad.”

“Let’s walk by the graveyard and call it a night.” Natsumi could see a light blue peeking over the visible horizon.

They continued their walk through the narrow pedestrian walkways winding through the park until they were close to a lone skyscraper, a hotel, on the opposite end from the graveyard. It shined a translucent white with a multitude of dark eyes staring outwards with unwavering and unblinking resolve. There was a balance having a container to hold living humans to offset the underground ones holding the deceased so close by. And now, in the dead of the night, the customers of the hotel and the denizens populating the field of tombstones were slumbering, some for an eternity while others for another couple of hours.

The moon cast a spectral glow off the white of the building. Purple dust whirled about and schools of skyfish darting this way and that. Those people (if they were still awake) inside the hotel would never know that they were surrounded by these cosmic creatures.

The night air was filled with the distant sound of cars traveling down the main roads that surrounded them and plenty of chirping from the trees above as birds began to wake up. To Natsumi’s left she also heard the soft scrunch of leather as Catherine kept pace besides her. If it wasn’t for her squeakiness of her dress, Natsumi could pretend to be alone. As they walked away from the hotel and back towards the street the sounds of cars zipping along drowned out everything else. There were workers busy cleaning before the day started for everyone else. The city was coming back to life.

A pair of men were busy near the entrance to Shiba Park picking up trash and doing general maintenance. One of the men glanced up and Natsumi knew him on sight, but then, she knew all of the folks who worked graveyard shifts. This man’s name was Hiroshi and under his white safety helmet, his hair was gray going white. Their first meeting was typical of any man Natsumi encountered in the city. There was plenty of leering at the beginning and then jovial humor when they learned what she was doing.

“I see you’ve brought along a pretty friend this time,” Hiroshi said with a chuckle. “Find any ghosts?” His grin twisted into a smirk.

"But do you really wanna see??"

"But do you really wanna see??"

Catherine nudged Natsumi in the arm and they shared a quick glance. She saw the ghosts around his feet too.

“Oh yeah, a whole buttload,” Natsumi said. She had never bothered to tell Hiroshi this but a lot of apparitions hung around him. Crawling around his feet were the afterimages of cats and pups swarming around like an invisible dust cloud. “You go to that animal shrine like I toldja to?”

Hiroshi scratched the side of his head and wrinkled his nose. “I haven’t had much time off lately for things like that. Plus, you know, its hard to get out of bed in the morning.”

“You still have cold feet?”

Hiroshi nodded. “Bad back, achy bones you name it.”

“Worse than before?”

He nodded again. “Say, does your pretty friend believe in these things too.”

“Urrr,” Catherine said. Without bothering to be coy, she asked Natsumi outright, “What should I say to him?”

“Whatever you want.”

“You,” Catherine paused and continued in Japanese. “You should visit a shrine.”

“You’re Japanese is terrible,” Natsumi commented.

Hiroshi laughed. “Her Japanese isn’t bad for a foreigner! You can’t be too hard on her. Seems like I should really go to this animal shrine, huh?”

“Yeah, you should,” Natsumi said.

“I think you should,” Catherine added.

“What do you see around me?” Hiroshi asked leaning on his broom.

“You have a bunch of cats and dogs at your feet.” The remnants of those furry friends overlapped one another and circled around Hiroshi. At times the multitude of legs reminded Natsumi of a millipede pacing circles around him.

From behind Hiroshi a shadow emerged enough to startle Catherine into grasping for Natsumi’s hand. They shared another pointed look before Catherine withdrew her hand and rested it on her hip.

“Cats and dogs?” Hiroshi glanced down at his boots. He lifted one up and shook it as if trying to remove something tangible, but no matter what he did the spectral remains of the animals continued to circle him. He shook his head. “You girls can’t fool an old man.” He laughed and continued about his work. “Well it was nice seeing you and please bring more of your beautiful friends around.”

“Yeah whatever, old man,” Natsumi said. “Come on,” she said to Catherine and continued on down the street.

Catherine remained to her side a little closer than before.

“Um so, those ghosts at his feet?”

“It’s part and parcel with his work,” Natsumi said. “He finds deceased animals around the city and cleans them up. The spirits cling to him.”

“And the shadow?”’

“His granddaughter died a year ago.”

“I see,” Catherine said.

“You’ll have to get used to it. There’s plenty of people with ghosts hanging around them. You know, he would be a good guy to ask about your lost pup.”