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By Jean Cabot

This is Dene. Tall, black, failing to be mysterious. She loves to share about herself. She runs her own private detective agency, no case too paranormal. She has no employees, but she does have a sword and business cards calling her a professional dragonslayer. She hands her cards out to pretty much anyone she meets. You can find stacks of them on the counters of small businesses all over town.

She lives in Vancouver. One of the great things about a multicultural city like that is all the people with varied backgrounds that bring their vast wealth of knowledge, experience, and terrifying monsters to the community. There are over a hundred individual types of vampires, incidentally. The grossest, if you ask Dene, is the vampire that presents itself as a floating head that trails organs from the neck.

She has a lot of opinions about it.

There’s one trying to bite her face right now.

“Shit, damn, hell, gosh, darn, HECK!” yelled Dene, racing underneath the head of what had been, during the day, nice Mrs. Sandha. Mrs. Sandha ran the daycare in Dene’s clients neighbourhood. Dene hit the gooshy organs with a stick. The stick had been specially chosen. The stick had several branches and thick, nasty, thorns. Dene wore gloves to help with that last bit.

There was a method to the madness. If she could tangle up Mrs. Sandha’s entrails in the branches, she could wind them up and pin Mrs. Sandha’s head down. That was the plan.

Meanwhile, most of what Dene was accomplishing was getting viscera on her new hoodie. This hoodie, like the one before it, was going to need burnt.

“I dislike this as much as you, Mrs. Sandha!” she yelled again, doing another swipe. “If you weren’t trying to eat Mrs. Majid’s baby so hard we wouldn’t have to do this! Reconsider your afterlife choices!”

The head snarled and swooped. Dene ducked in time to get splatted in the face with a wibbly wobbly bit of human intestine, but not suffer fangs to the skull.

Therapy, she thought. Mom’s going to tell me to get therapy again.

Her clients were new Malaysian expats to Vancouver. The Majids were a nice couple, here for the Canadian dream. They’d opened a small restaurant, joined a curling club, and then the problems had started.

Mrs. Majid had come to Vancouver pregnant. Visits to the doctor indicated she would be having a healthy bouncing baby girl.

She was a working woman, so daycare was essential. While pregnant, she’d checked out the nearby day-cares that would take a newborn. The most promising had been Erra Sandha’s. Mrs. Sandha operated her daycare as a side business, she said, to keep busy while her husband spent most of his time on business trips. Her prices were low and her house looked ‘so cozy.’

Then Mrs. Majid had given birth and on the first night, a head rose out of the hospital floor and tried to drink her blood.

Fortunately for Mrs. Majid, she was a light sleeper. She’d screamed the hospital down. The head, deciding the better part of valor was not getting surrounded by angry nurses, fled out the window.

Mr. Majid had contacted Dene Surma immediately after. He’d seen her card while picking up a new prayer mat. She was in the phonebook, under both ‘dragonslayer’ and ‘detective’. She had yelp reviews. As people willing to take you at face value about a vampire went, Dene was high on the list. And she was local.

“Penanggalan,” Mr. Majid said. He’d laid out his evidence.

“Another,” Dene replied. “They’re a real problem.”

The Majids house had smelled of fresh cut plants. Mr. Majid had called on his friends and neighbours to supply the family with as many thorny plants as they could buy. Said it was just something his wife would like, on the birth of their daughter.

“Do you need my help?” said Dene, looking at the cacti big and small, and other plants not easily touched.

“Yes. I don’t… I don’t want to leave my wife’s side,” said Mr. Majid.

That morning and afternoon was occupied with placing as many spiky plants as possible in hollow between the basement and the first floor bedroom. Dene was covered in filth and small dead bugs. She had thorns in her hand.

She got some tweezers, a cool glass of water, and went to check on all three Majids.

“I’ve got your floor booby-trapped for the vampire,” she said. Taking a seat in the corner of the bedroom, she placed her cup of water on the floor beside her. She began plucking the thorns and spines out of her hand. “Your husband knows his stuff, ma’am. I need to take a visit to a garden I know for some special equipment, but I’ll be ready tonight. Your little’ll be safe on my watch.”

Dene flashed a big white smile.

The baby had no idea it was under any protection. Just two days old, it was more bologna sausage than person. She snoozed in her mother’s arms, eyes closed tight and tiny mouth opened just a fraction.

The whole ordeal had left her exhausted. Mrs. Majid hadn’t slept since the head appeared. The strengthening food she’d been eating helped, but not as much as sleep would have.

“If there’s anything you can tell me about what you saw,” said Dene as she plucked out a particularly deep thorn with a hiss. “That’d be much appreciated.”

“I… I saw… You think I’m crazy,” said Mrs. Majid.

“Let’s skip that part. Get to where I already believe you and we’re problem solving. These things, Penanggalans, they’re people. Did it look like nursing staff? Someone you saw outside the hospital?” Dene took a long drink of water. She kept her distance from the baby, the last thing she needed to do was give the baby a mouthful of dust and dead bug from her encrusted clothes.

That and she had a foot of height on the Majids themselves. It was less intimidating for her clients if she sat on the floor at a distance. She hadn’t brought her sword. She tried not to, on cases that involved living members of the community. And scared new parents.

“She was a monster,” said Mrs. Majid. She paused, then continued. “But she was so beautiful. It was wrong. Everything was wrong. The head kept coming up and then there was those things hanging below! And no body! She had no body!”

The baby started to stir and Mrs. Majid forced herself to calm down. “There was no body,” she whispered.

Her husband held her shoulders. “The thorns will catch it,” he said to her, kissing her forehead.

“I don’t want it to come here at all,” she hissed.
Dene worked at a another cactus spine with the tweezers.

“That’s where I come in. When it comes by for seconds, I’ll be waiting. Can you tell me every beautiful woman you’ve seen since you got pregnant?” asked Dene. “Not, you know, for my own personal reasons. This is business.”

Mr. Majid looked guilty and awkward instead of spitting out a list of gorgeous women. His wife, on the other hand, had no such problem.

The retelling lasted a while.

“The librarian! Her hair is perfect! Her face!” enthused Mrs. Majid near the end of the list. The sun was approaching the west by then. “And then there was…” she stopped to think.

Dene had a notebook out and was marking down possible ethnicities beside women cited. It was stereotyping, but often monsters came from the same culture that knew them first. “What was the librarian?”

“Oh. Indian? I think,” said Mrs. Majid. “Oh, and Mrs. Sandha! Malay like us. So pale, hair long and straight. But she takes care of children. I checked her, no children hurt under her watch. It was why I was going to hire her.”

“Uh huh,” said Dene, looking up the daycare on her phone. “And were any of these people the face you saw?”

Mrs. Majid looked down. “I don’t know. I don’t know if they were white or black or anything. I just remember thinking beautiful. Beautiful and dead.”

She looked so ashamed, Dene took pity on her. “Kind of a lot going on in bad lighting. Don’t beat yourself up.”

Mr. Majid had been silent for a while, stunned by his wife’s near total recall of all women beautiful.

Dene gave a low whistle as the daycare’s page loaded. “I’ll give you this, Mrs. Sandha is one heck of a looker. She’s the only Malay you’ve mentioned so far that’s, you know, in this country so maybe we’ll get lucky tonight and it’ll be her. It means we’ll have an address already.”

“Why do you need an address?” asked Mr. Majid. He rubbed his face between the eyes, as if to banish a headache.

“Well, plan is, I take a hawthorn branch to her while she’s hunting, and while she’s sorting that out, I find her body and take it hostage. Then we negotiate. This is assuming she still thinks you’re a tasty treat. You might get lucky and she’s decided you’re too much trouble for her,” Dene said, then tapped her chin. “‘course, then I have to keep an eye on the hospital if she goes for another new mom.”

“You can’t really think she’s the Penanggalan,” said Mr. Majid, brow furrowed. “We checked her credentials closely. We’d notice if she was an undead monster.”

“You know how it goes. Extremely beautiful woman, likes children and new moms, she’s got a lot of the signs. I’m stereotyping, but I’m waiting until tonight to be sure. I’m not going to go to her house and burn it down, if that’s what you’re worried about,” said Dene, getting up and dusting off her knees. “Your kid’s cute. I’ll look out for her. And you.”

She made her way out of the small house and stood outside in the cooling twilight air. Now that she wasn’t inside, it was time to vigorously shake her clothing to get as much dust and bugs as possible off her.

“Urgh,” she muttered as something with lots of legs fell off her shoulder. It wasn’t going to be worth it to change clothing, anything with its organs on the outside was an outfit ruiner. So all she had to do was fetch her thorny branch, borrow some gardening gloves, and play the hero. All before night took hold.

In the business of dragonslaying, monster hunting, what have you, instincts were extremely important. You had to be able to tell who wasn’t right within seconds. Dene had seen something unnatural in Erra Sandha’s photograph. Now, with Sandha’s head dive bombing her with a mouth full of razor teeth, Dene felt a surge of pride in said instincts. And terror. There was a lot of teeth.

Winding up a bunch of entrails on a thorny stick (and Dene wondered if it would have been easier to cover a baseball bat in nails) was tedious. Even with the excitement of the biting. The thing about Penanggalans was this: They may be able to pass through floors and walls, but they were surprisingly weak to sharp things inserted in their organs.

For undead ghost heads.

Not in general. Everyone was weak to that in general.

Step number 2, after subduing said head with the hawthorn branch, was to keep it in one place. From that point, Dene sprinted across the neighbourhood to Erra Sandha’s house to steal her body. She didn’t bother taking off the thick gardening gloves she’d used to hold the branch. Useful as she punched through the glass window of Mrs. Sandha’s door to unlock the house from the inside. This was around the point cops might show up. Sometimes they knew her, sometimes they didn’t. But it was a delay she didn’t want so she moved fast.

The house screamed respectable. Little relics of Mrs. Sandha’s homeland decorated it sweetly. The walls and carpets were sedate and the furniture was imminently sensible. The section devoted to the daycare was clearly delineated. The sedate turning into bright and cheerful, perfect for children.

The body was in the living room. Headless and hollow. Beside it was a plastic tub full of vinegar. To shrink her organs to fit back in, right, thought Dene as she tried not to inhale too deeply. Vinegar was an unnecessary scent, as far as she was concerned.

She pulled duct tape out of her hoodie’s pocket and covered the open neck with two wide strips of tape. To keep anything from falling out while she carried it. She hefted Mrs. Sandha’s body over her shoulder, sparing a glance at the pictures of happy children Mrs. Sandha had cared for at her daycare over the years.

Dene wondered how many more pictures would be on the wall if Sandha hadn’t almost certainly been picking off expectant mothers that came to her honeytrap.

Now that I look like a murderer, Dene thought to herself. She ran even faster, body tossed over her shoulder like a gory sack of potatoes, back to where she’d trapped Sandha’s head. Now was the worst time to get spotted.

“Let’s talk,” she said to the hissing head. “Or the body goes in the nearest bonfire.”

“Negotiations did not go well,” said Dene the next morning as she sipped tea with Mr. Majid. “She felt she needed the sustenance of babies and new mothers for survival. I felt she should be burned with relevant evidence sent to the police to avoid an investigation. I don’t think her husband even existed.”

“They just let you do that?” said Mr. Majid, eyes wide.

“Oh yeah, it’s so they don’t have to deal with the weird shit, pardon my french, that comes across their desks. Sometimes they even hire me. First tip you get for setting up in a new city: Make a police contact. The last person or current hunters around will usually give you a letter of introduction. How’s your wife doing?” Dene blew on her tea to cool it a bit more.

“Better. The oddest thing, we’re disappointed that we lost a really good daycare deal.”

“Let me tell you about the time I lost my favourite thrift store to red caps,” answered Dene.

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