Val limped her way through London's streets. They’d become very familiar to her since she’d moved here from Nowhere, Wyoming. No one noticed her, not even with the bruises or the scrapes on her face. Certainly, no one noticed the blood dripping from her injured leg. Her long black overcoat hid the majority of her injuries but nothing could hide the trail of blood she was leaving behind—nothing but indifference anyway. Though she limped, she did not falter in her purposeful stride. She found keeping up a brisk pace in the city helped maintain her anonymity.
The sunlight, what little penetrated the clouds and smog, was slipping fast. Val didn't mind normally. She did her best work after dark. But right now, she needed a safe place. She was hurt and needed to recharge her batteries and assess the damage.
Her destination was as grey and dingy as the city sky. Mitten's Diner was a place most people slipped past. The rundown building, failing neon lights, and discolored sign implied bad atmosphere, bad food, and bad service. And the implications were generally right. Still, Mitten's held a special place in Val's heart. She'd grown used to eating their bad food, drinking in the bad atmosphere, and the service... it wasn't really all that bad.
She stopped outside, just long enough to take in the comforting feeling of being safe. The building was among one of the oldest in the city, built with wards against most of the bad elements found throughout the world.
When she first arrived in London, she sought out this specific building because of some advice she received on her flight from the United States. Richard, the man who sat next to her on the plane, gave her the address. He suggested it would be a safe place to look for housing as well as work.
When she initially approached the building, she felt safe and protected. The feeling alone drove her to take the gentleman’s advice. She applied for a waitress job as well as acquired a flat above the business. She’d only lived in the building for a few days before she began snooping. She found wards carved into the stones from the foundation all the way to the roof of the building. They were so masterfully cut they looked as if they were decorative stones or only tool marks from the original crafting of the stone. Still, she put out her own wards every night.
Val only worked as a waitress for about a month before she established her own business of helping others research and ward off the supernatural. She hadn’t heard any signs of what hunted her since she arrived in London. At first, she wondered if it was the wards that were incorporated into the building, but now she thought the passage she’d read about spirits not being able to cross large bodies of water to be the cause of its absence. She was grateful for this because most of her work occurred after dark. Most of her jobs were low-level, consisting of disgruntled ghosts she needed to dispel. Every now and again, she’d be called in for something else. She’d had the pleasure of helping one woman cancel out the curse of a coven she’d angered. That one was tricky but taught her a lot in the way of witches.
Because of her chosen profession, this building was one of the safest in London for her and her lifestyle. She prayed gentrification wouldn't be coming to this neighborhood anytime soon.
As soon as Val crossed the threshold, her tension eased a bit. She took her usual seat in the back of the diner. Even though Val felt safe in the building, she still liked to keep her back to the wall and watch passersby through the tinted windows. After all, she'd left a nice trail of blood for whatever might be tracking her.
Sue, the night waitress, immediately brought over a steaming cup of coffee and went back to the counter without a word.
Val cupped the mug with both hands and brought it to her face to breathe in the heavenly aroma. She only managed a few sips of the brew before Sue returned with a stack of pancakes, heaped with butter, and a little tin carafe filled with maple syrup.
Val didn't waste any time drenching the cakes with the syrup and shoving a huge bite into her mouth.
"Wanna talk about it, Love?" Sue asked.
"Can't," Val said through a mouthful of pancake.
Someone always asked her what she'd been up to when she came into the diner all mussed up, but Val never confided in them. She figured they might actually believe her but she wasn't ready to take that risk. This city held enough people with delusions, she didn't want anyone to put her on that list. But this time, Val wasn't just holding back, she truly couldn't remember. She only had brief flashes of memory littering her mind.
Sue nodded and walked away to refill the cups of the two other customers who sat at the counter.
Val watched the crowd outside as they paraded past her window. The passing bodies were starting to thin out and none of them seemed to take notice of the blood trail she'd so generously left behind. She didn't know if she preferred it that way or if she'd rather see her attacker.
She'd woken up on a grave inside Highgate Cemetery with no recollection of how she’d gotten there. It was a tourist trap and not a good place to go hunting. She was so out of sorts when she awoke, she didn't even think to look at the gravesite she'd been resting on. That was something she'd been stewing over for most of her walk back to Mitten's. If only she’d paid attention, it might have given her a clue as to what she was doing there.
A twinge of pain coursed through her leg and almost made her choke on another huge mouthful of food. She instinctively reached down and clutched at the wound, which only sent another wave of pain coursing through her. She thought she felt something inside the wound. Val fought to keep her fingers out of the gash and shoveled her pancakes down.
Her leg was hot and felt swollen. This could mean something venomous, which meant she had to inspect it as soon as possible. She peeked at it between bites and was only rewarded with bloody hands and no real idea of the extent of the damage. She wiped her hands on some napkins and scooped the remainder of her cakes into her mouth, shoved the bloody napkins into her pocket, and left enough money on the table to cover the bill and a thoughtful tip. Then, she hobbled her way up to her flat.
The few minutes of inactivity while she ate had stiffened her leg considerably, so the stairs to her flat were a challenge. She managed the trek, but not without breaking out into a cold sweat as she accidentally led with the busted-up leg.
Inside her apartment, she immediately stripped off her black coat and tossed it on the couch. The sight of the bloodstain on her jeans and a clear liquid draining onto the floor brought with it a flash of memory. Her mind pulled her back to the moment she woke up and amplified everything around her.
A minty smell filled her nostrils and she felt a persistent sting in her leg. Val opened her eyes and took in the vegetation and then the tombstones. She sat up quickly and inspected her leg. There was a small gash in her jeans that was outlined in blood. Off to her left, she heard a loud rustling but was too groggy to see what was hurrying away. Instead, her mind went to the more immediate sensation of pain. She prodded at the gash and a hot, clear liquid oozed out of her leg and onto her pants. Her senses were still dull, but she knew she had to get home.
Val snapped back to the present and tried to pull off her jeans. It was no use. The leg had swollen to fill her pants so completely they were tighter than a wet swimsuit. Hobbling into her kitchen, she dug around in her drawers until slippery fingers closed around scissors. Starting at the waistband, she cut down her pants until she neared the gash. The cold metal of the scissors and the pressure caused a rush of fluid to splatter onto the floor. The pain of it made her lightheaded but the now-familiar minty smell wafted up to her and brought her back. Val thanked the powers that be it didn't smell as bad as it looked. She had no idea what had attacked her, but she did have an inkling that the hospital would have no cure for what ailed her.
She managed to finish cutting down the pant leg and then slipped out of her jeans. A folded piece of paper fell from her laceration and hit the floor with a wet sound. Val bent over to retrieve it and ended up on the floor with the paper in her hands. The room was spinning now, but she focused and opened up the paper.
It was a note and it simply read: Squeeze the leg until the liquid is no longer clear. Get a couple days of rest and you should be just fine.