The Rosamund Trap
by Leighton Connor
part 1 of 2
A Ross Fulton Adventure
More than anything I remember the smell of the apartment. Not just the smell of old laundry, balled up and thrown on the floor and allowed to fester; not just the smell of pizza grease that had soaked into the walls and carpet; not any of the normal smells of a man who lived alone and didn’t get out much. The apartment had a harsh, dark, strangely seductive smell, one that made you think of tobacco and sex and innocent virgins burning at the stake. I’d never smelled anything like it.
“That... that’s not marijuana, is it?” I said, glancing at my host and the home-made cigarette he held between his lips.
“Don’t be absurd,” he said, violently exhaling a cloud of the pungent smoke. “I don’t smoke weed.”
I nodded. Why had I asked that? What kind of first impression did I want to make? After weeks of searching I had finally gotten a tip that paid off, had finally found his place of employment. Though I knew he was eccentric, I had expected something a bit more impressive, something more than a pizza delivery place in Marietta, Ohio. The teenager behind the counter had told me that it was against company policy to give out another employee’s address. Four dollar bills had changed his mind. And now, here I stood, inside the man’s apartment, accusing him of illegal drug use. I needed to say something, fast.
“Don’t smoke weed, of course, of course,” I said. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise.”
He looked at me with weary, bloodshot eyes. He ran his fingers though his long, unkempt hair, then stuck his hand back in the corner of his bathrobe. “What the hell do you want, anyway? Do I know you?” He took another drag off his cigarette. The smell made me nauseous but I tried not to show it. I stepped toward him — dramatically, I thought — and looked him in the eye.
“No,” I said. “No, you don’t know me, but I know you. You’re Ross Fulton, Occult Detective.”
He stared back at me, not happy that I had come, but not worried either. “Half right. I’m Ross Fulton, Pizza Delivery Guy.”
I glanced around his apartment. Surely he had to have some mysterious artifacts, or ancient runes, or skulls in bottles, or books of magical lore. All I saw, though, were his computer, his TV and video game systems, tapes of Japanese cartoons, and dirty socks.
I soldiered on. “Mr. Fulton, what’s a man like you doing delivering pizza?”
“Flexible hours. Plus I get a lot of free pizza. I like pizza.” He reached down and picked a box up off the floor, opened it, and held it out toward me. “Still got some ham and pineapple left over from last night. You interested?”
“No thank you. Mr. Fulton, I need help, and only you have the necessary expertise.”
“You need a pizza?”
“No! Your expertise with the occult! You’re Ross Fulton, aren’t you? The man who unraveled the mystery of Tesla’s ghost? Who saved Chillicothe from the Loctulla? Who thwarted —”
“Listen, buddy, maybe I did do those things. And plenty of other stuff just as impressive. You know what it got me? Death threats, heartache, and legal bills. Do you know why there aren’t more occult detectives? Because it’s the lousiest job in the world. Believe me, after a few years of that, you’d be happy working in the food service industry too. Now get out of my home or I’m going to have to kick your ass.”
“Mr. Fulton, you can’t just —”
“That’s it!” he said, and lunged for me. I ducked out of his way easily enough. He stumbled, turned around, rushed at me again, stepped on something that made a sharp CRACK, yelled, grabbed his foot, tripped, and crashed to the ground. He rolled around, clutching his foot and swearing for about a minute.
I leaned over to pick up the pieces of broken plastic he had stepped on. “What was it?” he asked.
“Looks like a video game. Crime Town VI: Murder-Rama.”
“I just rented that. Damn. I am so out of shape.” He patted the floor around him. “Where’d my cigarette go?”
I scooped it up and handed it to him. He inhaled deeply.
I helped him up off the floor. He didn’t seem to be angry any longer so I took a deep breath and said, “It’s my sister, Mr. Fulton. She’s mixed up with a bad crowd. They’re doing things, evil things, and now I can’t find her, and I’m worried, and you’re the only one who can help.”
He shook his head. “Figures. Is she cute?”
“Your sister. Is she cute?”
I’d never thought about it before. I pondered for a second, then said, “I’d say so. Yes.”
“Great. Because I’m such a nice guy, and I’m feeling generous, I’ll temporarily come out of retirement and take your case. You realize that I don’t work for free, right?”
“Of course. I brought money.” I pulled my money out of my pocket and showed it to him.
He sighed. “It’s never the rich ones, is it? Your sister better be cute as hell... What’s your name, anyway?”
“Your sister better be cute as hell, Ted. Tell me your story.”
We sat down on the worn old couch and he listened as I told him about Rosamund. How she had always been interested in Tarot cards and Ouija boards; how she had gone off to college and fallen in with a bad crowd, kids who were into dangerous magic; how the last time I talked to her she said that her friends wanted to create something, a monster of some kind; and how she disappeared after that.
As I talked he continued to smoke, and it got harder and harder for me to breathe. I started coughing, violent body-wrenching coughs, and had to step outside for some fresh air. A few minutes later I came back inside. “Mr. Fulton, I hate to be rude, but what is that you’re smoking?”
He smiled a slightly scary smile. “Powdered vampire. I can only smoke one a year, the things are so expensive.” I looked surprised, and that made him smile more. “The funny thing is, vampires are immortal, absolutely immortal. Grind ‘em into small enough pieces and they’re no longer a threat, but they still have just a tiny bit of awareness left. So even though this guy’s been reduced to a little pinch of powder he still, on some level, knows that he’s being smoked. Sucks to be him, huh?”
I nodded. “It sure does, Mr. Fulton.”
“We’ll start this off with a magic ritual. You ever done a magic ritual before? It’s real easy.” He led me into the kitchen. Dirty dishes and the trash from hundreds of fast food meals filled up every inch of available space.
Ross kicked some trash aside, leaned down, opened up a cabinet, and produced a colorful shrink-wrapped box. It said “Peeps” and contained little yellow marshmallow chickens. “Have you ever tried to eat one of these things?” he asked. I shook my head. “Absolutely disgusting. Do you know how to make Kool-Aid?”
A few minutes later we walked out into the parking lot. Ross carried a canvas bag. It had gotten dark and the temperature had dropped significantly. I shivered. He said, “If my landlord sees me doing this I’m pretty much doomed, so try to keep a low profile, huh?” I nodded.
He reached into his bag and pulled out a homemade plastic altar. He pulled a CD out of his pocket and placed it on the altar. “The thing you have to remember about magic is, it’s all symbols anyway. So why go to all the trouble and expense of killing a chicken when you can create the same effect for under five bucks, without violating any health codes? Peep, please.”
I handed him the Peep.
“Chicken, I hereby sacrifice you in the name of SOAD,” he said. He ripped the Peep in two and dropped it on the altar. Then, as an aside, “Kool Aid.”
I handed him the cup of Kool Aid.
“Chicken, I douse you in your own blood,” he said, pouring the Kool Aid over the ripped Peep. “This blood also I dedicate to SOAD.” He raised his arms up into the air and looked around. “Hey everybody, can I hear a big hand for SOAD?” He glanced meaningfully at me. I applauded, as hard as I could, for what seemed like five minutes. Finally he nodded at me and I stopped.
He picked up the disc. “Throw away the Peep, pack up the altar, and meet me inside,” he said. I did what he said and followed after him.
Inside Ross sat in front of his computer. The background image on the computer screen — some pornographic cartoon characters — disappeared as the screen turned red and shimmered. A logo appeared:
Spirit On A Disc Version 3.0. All Rights Reserved.
The logo faded, and the shimmering got more intense. I stared into it, and noticed that it had become an optical illusion of some kind. It looked like the screen had actually opened up, revealing depths beyond the computer, depths that plummeted away endlessly into a red abyss, an abyss that stretched out into all directions far beyond the confines of the room where we were sitting. I blinked, then looked around and didn’t see the room anymore; we were sitting in an endless expanse of red, surrounded by humming that seemed to change pitch every few seconds.
Before I could ask Ross any questions, though, the red expanse shifted into a face, and the humming modulated into a voice. “That was a pretty half-assed ritual,” SOAD said. I noticed he looked quite a bit like Ross Fulton.
“What, no welcome back?” Ross asked.
“I knew you’d be back,” SOAD said. “Swear it off as many times as you want, you’ll be back. What else do you have going for you?”
“This is why video games are better than the occult,” Ross told me. “They don’t talk back. Anyway, SOAD, I need some help. This guy’s sister is missing.”
“This guy, huh?” SOAD looked me up and down.
“Ted,” I said.
“What’s her name?” SOAD asked.
“Her name is Rosamund,” I said. “I have a picture.” I pulled it out of my pocket and held it up to the spirit’s face. Rosamund, with her perky round face and her reddish hair and her cute grin. My sister.
SOAD squinted at the picture. “Gotcha. I’ll take a look around, okay, I’ve got something.” I blinked; the search had gone quicker than I expected. “Here.” SOAD’s face disappeared, replaced by a grainy image of Rosamund standing in front of an ATM, seen from the angle of the security camera. She looked off to the side, nervous, grabbed her money and dashed away.
“That’s her!” I said.
SOAD reappeared. He looked pleased with himself. “That was in Columbus. Yesterday.” He gave us the address. “That’s the most recent lead I have.”
“Good enough,” said Ross Fulton. “End program.”
The floating face, the red landscape, the background humming all disappeared and we were sitting in the apartment staring at Ross’s computer, which flashed the words “Program Ended.”
“Why didn’t you tell me you had a picture?” Ross asked as he snatched the photo out of my hands. He studied it carefully, nodded, and said, “Yeah, she’s not bad. Come on, we may as well head out now.”
Ross said his car got plenty of wear and tear from pizza delivery and he didn’t need any more, thanks, so we took my car. He also insisted that we drive through Taco Town before hitting the road. We pulled into the drive-through lane, and when we made it up to the speaker, Ross leaned over me to yell into it.
“Two burritos without onions, nachos, two hard tacos, and a Mountain Dew,” he said. He turned to look into my face and asked, “What do you want?”
“Come on, you have to get something.”
“No, thanks, I’m not hungry.”
“Do you have any food allergies? Like, to beef or beans?”
“No, it’s not that, I just —”
“Great.” He leaned closer to the speaker and continued, “And I’d like another hard taco, and another Mountain Dew.” Still right in my face, almost in my lap, he said, “You’re buying.”
I sighed. We pulled around, and I handed the girl in the window a few dollars. She handed me some change, then a giant bag of food. I handed the bag to Ross.
“Give me the change,” he said. I gave him the change. As the car started moving again he rolled down his window and tossed the coins out. I could hear them bounce on the pavement.
“What did you do that for?” I asked, slightly miffed.
“We’re starting a journey. Good to give an offering to the gods of the road.” He started into his burritos. They offered little resistance, and about a minute later they were gone. He wiped some strips of cheese from his lips, said, “Don’t forget your taco,” and waved a greasy paper-wrapped object at me.
“No thanks, I don’t need it.”
“I bought it just for you.”
“You didn’t buy it, I did, and I’m not hungry. You can have it.”
“Huh,” Ross said. We drove along the highway for several minutes when out of nowhere he yelled, “STOP THE CAR!”
I screamed, hit the breaks, swerved, realized where I was, and pulled over to the side of the road. My heart raced. “What? What’s wrong?”
“We’re turning back around,” he said.
“What? Why? You yelled — is something —”
“I quit. Take me home.”
“Stop saying ‘what?’ It makes you sound stupid. I’m quitting. I offered to take on your case out of the kindness of my own heart, and now you won’t even extend me the simple courtesy of eating the taco I provided you?”
“But I bought the —”
“Damn it, that’s not the point!” Ross said. “I’m going to eat my taco, you’re going to eat your taco, and we’re both going to drink Mountain Dew! It’s going to be a beautiful experience! Either that, or you’re turning around and taking me home and finding your sister your damn self.”
I shook my head. My heart still pounded. Intellectually I felt enraged at him, but my body had started recovering from the sudden shock and I could feel the energy draining out of me and my head swirled and I only wanted to curl up into a ball. “This is ludicrous.”
“Yes. But it’s the only way.”
“Fine. Fine. I’ll eat the taco.” I grabbed the taco and pealed off the greasy wrapper. I bit into it. The shell had become soggy. The meat was cold and chewy and felt strange in my throat as I swallowed. Ross smiled as he munched on his taco. He finished his off quickly, and watched me as I ate mine. It took the better part of fifteen minutes.
When I had finally finished it he said, “Very good. My honor is satisfied. Continue driving.”
I hated him. I continued driving.
Copyright © 2005 by Leighton Connor