The real estate agent they’d assigned to Cameron looked, just as Abel had, stereotypically Washingtonian. Loose, dark curls tumbled around her suited shoulders, her light brown complexion had been foundation-polished to a contoured, matte perfection, and her brown eyes sparkled with marketable good will.
Unlike Abel, she was clearly turning on the charm as high as it would go, and it was hard not to find it off-putting. Still, she was helping Cam find an apartment he could afford, and probably getting paid less for working in the public sector, so he was trying his hardest to respect that.
She was talking constantly as she led him along the sidewalk. “This next one is really affordable, and it’s lovely to boot! I have no idea how such a nice apartment is available for so low—you should jump on it right away, if you like it!”
“Sure, sure.” Cameron said, letting her lead him to the building, not saying no to anything till he had obviously, seen it first.
The building seemed awfully posh for a place that Cam might get to live. In his time since he was allowed into the city, he’d seen a wide variety of buildings from the outside, and this towering apartment complex was of the sort that he never got to see the inside of. There were not one, but two proximity-keyed doors on the way in, which the real estate agent called ahead to buzz them through. Once inside, he was greeted with the sight of an elegant, clean lobby with a front desk and easy chairs. It was a far cry from the cramped temporary housing hallway that led to the domicile he’d occupied for the past two weeks.
“Oh, and here’s your landlord, Mr. Prado.” The Real Estate Agent beamed.
Mr. Prado was a sweaty, nervous-looking middle-aged man, a bit pale for a washingtonian but possessed of thinning black hair and bushy eyebrows. He waved. “Ah. Hello. You’re here about the subsidized apartment, then.”
Cameron nodded, bringing a hand up to put two fingers near his forehead, something between a wave and a salute. “Yeah, This place is awful fancy though, why is it so cheap?” he asked, maybe a little bluntly.
He could almost see the sweat bead on Prado’s forehead. “Fancy’s a relative term, you know? Well, ah, let’s show you the room, shall we?” He led them to an elevator nearby and gestured to the open doors.
Cam tried not to let that smile make it’s way to his face, following as he followed, peeking around the elevator as they entered, noting the huge number of floors. “What number is it again?” he asked, wondering if the first couple numbers was the floor number.
“1408,” the landlord said, glancing furtively at the keypad as he mashed the button reading ’14’.”
“Cool, cool.” He said, fishing out his handshell to check the time, sitting back slightly, resting a little weight on the hand-railing that circled the back three sides of the elevator.
As the elevator doors slid open, Cam shivered. Why was it so much colder on this floor than it had been in the lobby? The hallway looked perfectly ordinary though: not as fancy as the lobby, but Cam was learning that the lobby was always the nicest part of an apartment. Still, the carpeting was clean, the walls were evenly painted a muted yellow-brown, and the doors were that weird wood-disguised plastic that Cam saw everywhere around here.
“It’s uh. Right this way,” the landlord said, leading the way.
The real estate agent seemed utterly oblivious to the icy sensation that Cam was feeling as she led him out into the hall. “Oh, it’s so well-maintained!”
Cameron shrugged off the shiver, straightening up as he breathed in a faint scent of oil and metal. He glanced at the floor, noting the carpet, noting the walls, not a single thing seeming out of place. “Yeah, it looks really nice.” he said, checking the wall for the thermostat, and not finding it. He shifted his shoulders, letting the sword strapped to his back shift in place. He wasn’t used to wearing a real sword, especially not one made of composite high-density polymer. Maybe when he had more money, he could spring for a steel one. Aren’t swords supposed to be made of steel?
Prado stopped in front of the door to room 1408 and hesitated. “Well, here we are.”
“Here we are!” The agent’s smile faltered slightly, unsure why the landlord wasn’t immediately letting them in.
Cameron stopped a few steps short, leaving plenty of room for whoever had the key to move in and let them in, glancing between the two semi-strangers. He tried very hard not to be impatient, but after a moment or two he sighed, shoving his hands into his pockets. He felt a weird surge of anger at the landlord’s hesitance, and Prado himself was sweating even more heavily than before.
Finally, he blurted: “Well let’s get inside eh?” Reached forward, and nervously unlocked the door with shaking hands, leading them into the apartment, which sent a strange and inexplicable wave of relief washing over Cameron.
The interior of the apartment was… nice. Really nice. Weirdly nice. It was a one-room studio and not very big, but it was bigger than the dorm that Cam was in now, which was certainly good enough for him. The floor was a polished plastic tile, the kitchen had cupboards all the way to the ceiling, the window looked out across the beautiful New Washington cityscape, and the shower even had a detachable head!
Which… Cameron knew, despite not having been in the bathroom yet.
That was strange.
“Um, take a look around,” Prado muttered.
He nodded, slowly circling the room, tapping one of his boots against the kitchen’s breakfast bar (seats three on each side, if nobody’s working in the kitchen!) and following his hunch into the bathroom, checking that showerhead, finding exactly what he expected.
It was all a little weird, is all. He came back out, peeking into the kitchen again, looking at all the cabinets.
“It’s very nice.” he finally admitted, when he finally turned back to the agent, then immediately meandered over to the closet to look at the weapon hooks.
Oh, there were weapon hooks there. If only he had a better sword that needed an elegant mounting solution. Maybe something that could hold an enchantment.
“It… is very nice,” the real estate agent said, her smile a bit brittle. “There’s… it’s interesting, that it’s so inexpensive.” Something seemed to be bothering her.
Cameron could almost hear the landlord sweating. It was becoming obvious that something intangible was bothering the other two, and it was the same thing that made Cam feel… at home, here. He didn’t know what it was, though.
He didn’t answer their discomfort, though, and instead meandered over to the section of the studio that held the bed dresser, and closet, if you could call a half size door with room to hang things that. Cam could put his bed right by the closet, and then it would be easy to reach his gear if someone broke in.
He really was tempted to take it. It was the best of the bunch so far, by far. He walked back to find them all facing him.
“So uh, does it uh, have like, Utilities and stuff? I heard that’s important to ask.” he said, smiling politely.
“Utilities would be covered by the program. It’s part of the subsidy…” the agent replied. “Listen, you don’t have to take this one. Should we keep looking?”
Prado sweated. Cam was already starting to distrust the man more than his sweat and eminently punchable face would normally warrant.
He finally let his frustration show, frowning visibly. “You still haven’t answered my question.” he said, bluntly, his voice nearly a growl, some scratchiness in there. By the spirits, once he had more certification, he wouldn’t have to deal with people like this any more.
“Utilities are covered,” the landlord mumbled, avoiding eye contact. “By the program.”
Cameron exhaled slowly, a sigh. “Look, I’m likely to take it, if you just stop fracking hiding something.” he growled, trying not to let it turn into a yell. “Tell me, please?”
“Psychic residue,” the landlord murmured. “Someone was kilt in this apartment, and the echoes of the murder make people nervous in the apartment. That’s all. It’s not haunted.”
Cam blinked slowly, twice. Who had said that?
He took a moment to act nonplussed, letting himself think and sort through what he’d seen, but he really couldn’t justify to himself that this was something he should pass up. “I don’t believe in ghosts.” he said, smiling to reassure the landlord. “How soon can I move in?”
Both of the Washingtonians stared at him for a few seconds.
“He doesn’t believe in ghosts,” the landlord murmured quizzically, turning to look at the agent.
“He’s not from the city,” the agent replied. “Maybe they don’t… have them…”
“Well uh if you want it,” the landlord said, wiping several liters of brackish slime from his forehead, “we’ll get the shellwork to you right away, and you could move in uh. Tomorrow, if you really want.”
Whiskers blinked again quietly. Wait, what? Cameron. The hell. “Let’s go for three days? Gimme some time myself.” he said, the smile fading at their incredulity.
“Ah, right. Three days, fine.” The landlord nodded. “We’ll send you the paperwork, just. Send it in within the week, all right?”
“We can keep looking if you’d like!” The agent said brightly.
Cameron shrugged. “Nah, this place is uh, laid out really nice, y’know?” he smiled to the agent. “Besides, my legs are getting tired.” It wasn’t really a lie; he’d need more training before this much walking stopped bothering him.
“Well! Good. I guess, we’ll just… take you back to your temporary housing, then? You should have the shellwork by the end of the day, you think over whether this is really the place for you.” The agent patted him on the shoulder then drew her hand back as if she’d just gotten a static shock.
Cam raised an eyebrow, tilting his head ever so slightly. He cursed the gods as he thought to resist his ears twitching curiously a moment too late. “You alright?” he asked.
“No! No. Let’s head on out, shall we?” The landlord and the agent scurried out as if chased, leaving Cameron alone in the apartment for just a few seconds as he walked toward the door. He felt stirrings of excitement, already running through plans of how he was going to organize the space. His first apartment! This was going to be such a great place to live. He finally followed them out the door, letting it swing shut, but catching the door before letting it slam shut, closing it softly, turning to find the two already walking toward the elevator.
“Right.” he murmured to himself. To them, this was some sorta haunted house.
THREE DAYS LATER
“Well,” the real estate agent said, turning that brittle smile to him again as they stood on the sidewalk outside the apartment, “I guess it’s happening! Were those things… really everything you own?”
Cameron looked back at them, smiled a little. He’d let himself pass as a country bumpkin, whatever it took to get them out of his hair. “Yeah. You know, they told you I’m not from town, not from around here.” He said, giving him a plain, simple smile and a blank face.
“Well! You, ah. Have… enjoy! Let me know if it works out. Or, really, let the program admins know, and they’ll let me know. Just… let… knowing happen.”
Cam could already see the sweaty man standing behind the second set of polyglass doors, inside the building lobby. He’d irritated the hell out of Cameron the last time he’d seen him, but now he mostly elicited a sense of pity.
He let his shoulders sag, the mixed feelings fading as suddenly as they had individually come. He was surprised how fast everything had gone, all things considered, and he stepped up to the building, shrugging the bag back onto his shoulder more, since it had slacked down as he shrugged. The elevator was same as last time, and he tapped button fourteen, leaning back to that same railing as last time. It really was perfect height to lean on.
He pulled out his phone, as the doors opened, wondering exactly how the handshell thing worked, still new to it, but when he reached the door, it was unlocked for him. Just that simple, he guessed, looking to his stuff mostly moved in, boxes still wrapped up.
Work to do.
He could already begin to imagine how he would organize–where to rest the boxes while he unpacked; where to put his bed; how much room he would have left over for furniture. It was a cozy space, and starting today, it was home. He started with his clothes, dragging two boxes into the bedroom, sitting on the bed with a sigh.
He opened the first box, and was suddenly overcome with the feeling that he really ought to own more clothes. This was not enough clothes. Weird, this had never really been a thought of his before, maybe it was the city talking, there were definitely much more fashionable things going around in his recent life.
He took out the first set of clothes, all folded, still on the hangers, for the ones he hung up in the closet, smiling as he finished the main chunk of his clothing, all his jeans, his jackets. All he had left was shirts, some underwear, and change. Kicking the empty box aside, he tugged the other one onto the bed and opened it as well. Started shoveling armfuls of clothing to the dresser, resting them on top as he tried to decide where to put individual things in the drawers. Was this the kind of clothing that people wore on jobs? Maybe he should get some stuff that was easier to move in. Like a good flexible business suit. Wait, was that a thing?
Someone knocked on the door.
“Shit.” he muttered under his breath, standing up quickly, brushing a little dust off his shirt, hurrying himself to answer the door. Maybe he could find like, a casual suit, he thought. He never did like to dress too fancy.
The woman behind the door was clearly orcblooded, her skin a brownish-grey and a pair of lower fangs sticking up over her upper lip. Her hair was made of tight reddish-brown curls and stuck in just about every direction, and she wore a pair of oilstained overalls over her t-shirt.
“Ha! I knew it!” She crowed triumphantly. “They sold the haunted apartment! Knew they’d find somebody with enough guts eventually.”
She stuck out one chubby, callused hand. “I’m Leesh. What’s yer name, neighbor?”
Cameron teetered on his feet, still trying to keep moving for some reason, and then took the hand, smiling slightly, trying very hard not to look silly in his seemingly unwarranted hurry. “Nice t’meet ya. Name’s Cameron.” He said quietly, shaking with a nice firm grip.
“Cameron! Well damn! Great to see another subspeesh minority up in here, this building is human as fuuuuuuck.” Her eyes strayed up to the hilt of his sword. “Ooh, a sword bearer. Faaaancy. You a merc?”
“No!” Cameron blurted without thinking. Why did he say that, he wondered, and shook his head softly, struggling to get his bearings. He stepped back, gesturing vaguely toward the counter, the kitchen area. Chairs.
“C’mon in, I gotta unpack. And uh. Yeah, I wanna be a merc, but I’m not one yet.” he said, apologetically, some of the tiredness of the day making it’s way to his face.
“Oh, well! You’ll get there!” Leesh sauntered into the apartment, looking around with naked curiosity. “You might wanna kit up some, though, that sword is cheap as all get-out. Nothing wrong with plastic, but I know that make, and it ain’t so good. Oh geez, and you ain’t even got a bulletshield. You oughta be carrying a pistol around if you ain’t got a bulletshield. Damn, you don’t own much shit, do ya.”
Cameron shrugged apologetically. “Don’t need a bulletshield outside of cities and shit.” he grinned slightly. “But yeah, I was planning on a bulletshield.” he said, feeling a sense of… pride? As he said it, then ripping open another box, finding his old wooden plates and dishes.
“Whaaaaat. Whaaaaaaaat.” Leesh hurried over and bent down over the plates, staring, then sniffing at them. “That’s real wood! That’s steelwood! Oh daaamn, you’re from out of town, ain’t you?”
Cameron struggled to keep the response a smile, offering one up to Leesh from his crouched position. “Yeah. I just made it in real recent like.” he said, dragging himself back up. “Honestly, I’m still feelin a little outta my depth.” He admitted, chuckling. “I keep forgetting little things like this are weird.”
“Oh yeah, the washingtonian lumber industry is real small these days,” Leesh crouched again, reaching toward a plate but then hesitating and deciding not to touch it, in spite of the fact that a steelwood plate was virtually impossible to break without tools. “Like there’s plenty of the stuff, but woodcrafters are thin on the ground, so getting real wood stuff is way more expensive than it should be by any rights. Especially considering how inexpensive and flexible polymers are.”
Cam raised an eyebrow as Leesh explained, groaning slightly as he stood up again, tossing the plate lightly at Leesh, forcing her to catch it, or let it drop, showing it wouldn’t break. She gasped and caught it, face reddening a little. “Y’wanna help?” He asked, a grin on his face, letting her decide if it was to be interpreted as joking or serious.
“I, uh. Sure!” She grinned broadly, displaying a huge mouth full of big teeth, the canines grossly oversized. “Why not! And maybe I can hook you up with some gear! I’m a pretty decent munitions tinkerer, for an amateur. Maybe I can even whip you up a bulletshield!”
Cameron let his eyebrows raise. “I ain’t got a good chunk of money to pay you.” He warned, fiddling with the rest of the plates, carrying them to the cabinets. “But I can like, buy you dinner a time or two, for your kindness.” he said, wondering just how much a bulletshield cost. And didn’t she say ‘munitions’? Guns, right? Not bulletshields. He kept that to himself, not wanting to judge her before he’d seen anything.
“Well, we’ll work it out! In the meantime, though—” she leaned in. “Have you seen it yet? The ghost.”
He restrained a laugh, wondering if she was serious, letting his eyes close as he leaked a chuckle, when she was still leaning in, he realized it was meant seriously. “No.” He said, nearly apologetically. “I don’t think I will, either.” he said, trying to let his smile do the talking.
Just then, a shiver went through both of them, as if an icy wind had blown through the room.
“You… sure about that?” Leesh asked, as a strange, eerie melody seemed to leak from the walls.
Cam shrugged it off, placing the dishes and opening the cabinet, glancing back at Leesh before lifting them to put them in the cabinet. “C’mon, it’s gotta be a neighbor..” He said, laughing quietly, clearing his throat. “Apartments don’t just Make Music.”
“Right! So! Hey, I just remembered there’s a thing I gotta go do, but—” Leesh shot him a pair of finger guns, “—I will hit you back and see if we can’t make a deal about kitting you up, yeah? Have fun with your Totally Not Haunted Singing Apartment.”
“Sure, sure.” he said, still smiling, putting up a single finger gun, then gesturing for a toss of the plate she was still holding.
Leesh was about to throw the plate to him, then seemed to think better of it, and walked it over to gently hand it to the morph. “Right. Cool. See ya!”
She closed the door behind her, and suddenly Cameron was alone in the apartment, which continued to hum a weird tune for the next twenty minutes.