I hated funerals, especially ones that required me to face death (again). The last wraith was a nasty SOB and I didn’t feel so ready to face one more—let alone a lot more.
I thought about the plan over and over again. Phil taught me to concentrate on a sole voice in the Channel in the middle of vast crowds–we’d stood in the middle of downtown Cathedral. The thing was harder to do than I’d expected. It took me a few tries and more than my fair share of aspirin to get used to the sickly feeling and burnt metal taste in my mouth—a few little side effects Phil forgot to mention when he gave me access to the Channel.
Facing crowds was different than facing a small group of witches. Part of the problem was the way humans were completely unguarded—their psyche a loosed hose set at the highest pressure. I had never been more glad about my gift, though. It helped me cover the cracks and let in what needed to be let in, keeping out what needed to be kept out. So in turn, my gift helped me conquer the Channel.
“Concentrate on her,” said Phil, pointing to a young woman as we walked inside the crowd. The flashing lights of the shops shone bright neon colors against the darkness of the streets. The air smelled wet from the rain, which sprinkled on us as we stood under the umbrella.
“See if you can hear her and no one else,” Phil would say, joining me in listening in on her. He asked me questions, quizzing me about her thoughts–I guess to make sure I wouldn’t cheat my way out. By the pounding on the left side of my brain, I was maybe willing to skip a few steps—it wasn’t easy having a constant migraine, and that’s exactly how it felt when you were inside the Channel too long.
But I did learn in the end. I still wasn’t perfect, but I learned how to hone in on the thoughts of my choice. After that, it became much easier and the insistent pounding became less irritating.
I even went back to show Ma what I could do. Her thoughts were mostly worries, centered on my line of work. She tried to shut me out of those thoughts, but couldn’t.
Although I hadn’t told her anything about the funeral and our plans, I could tell her motherly intuition was kicking in just right.
“You sure you okay, dear?” she asked, wrinkling her forehead and raised an eyebrow.
I nodded and smiled.
“Of course, Ma, why wouldn’t I be?” I said. She didn’t seem entirely convinced (I mean, she had seen me at my worst when Amelia was murdered) but she let it go and continued to be thrilled by the Channel. She would think something and I would repeat it and she would throw her hands up, smacking them down on her lap and laughing giddily. She even sang “Blue Christmas” in her mind and I joined her in harmony. She looked so proud and happy.
I hadn’t mentioned the fact that I’d died, either—Ma would have had a panic attack. All she knew was what she needed to know: that I work with the supernatural kind and I help out somehow—the fact that on the side I gave consolation for desperate people searching for solace after a loss wasn’t something I wanted to tell her. Ma couldn’t know everything, and that was okay with me—it kept this part of my life separate.
Before I left, she hugged me tight and gave my forehead a wet kiss.
“Be careful, son,” she said, crossing her arms. I could feel her heart racing within her, the ping of fear and frustration that her son was keeping something from her. I got into the car as quickly as I could, almost afraid she could read me, too. Just in case, I tried to mentally project to her that I was okay.
But I wasn’t okay.
I was terrified of what I had to face and was aching for a release from all this constant tension. Maybe a long vacation–though I had no clue how I could pay for one now. I thought about Tomas’s check and cringed. All those zeros faded away in my memory, and in their stead, the numbers for the light bill and the cable popped up. I knew I’d never see so many zeroes again, and that thought depressed me.
They had cut my cable, so I had to watch some DVD with Alice that night. My cell phone payment was overdue; I had actually crunched up the bill and thrown it in the waste basket. This had to be the driest spell I’d ever had in my supernatural career, but at least Cali had her cat food.
I had saved lives and almost gotten killed a few times, but I had nothing to show for it. It wasn’t like I could expect any upcoming consultations either—ever since the media had declared me the primary suspect in the case of the “suicide murders”, my clientele hadn’t exactly been on the rise.
Alice haunted the Cheeseburger Hut a few times, though the guys now knew her by name and had even learned her order, so they gave her food now less out of fear and more out of familiarity. So things weren’t so bad– I had cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This would probably sound good to a hefty 12-year-old, but I was beginning to detest the Hut’s special sauce and greasy fries—blasphemy, I know.
I refused to accept money from Fran once and she’d almost placed a hex on me.
Phil also bought groceries once, getting my disapproving look as he came in, arms full. He just gave me the finger as I stood there with my arms crossed.
“You don’t have to do that, Phil,” I said.
“I know I don’t have to, but you know how much I love helping the poor,” he chuckled.
“Ha-ha. Very funny.”
I just wanted things to go back to normal—or as normal as they were before.
But those days went by pretty quickly, and now we were all getting prepared for this god-awful night. My body ached just thinking about it.
Phil was going as Fran’s date and Alice was going as mine. Everyone in the supernatural community knew of dear little Alice and her attachment to stinky ol’ Simon, so they wouldn’t try messing with me if I had her by my side. Alice was swift to anger and no one was as ruthless as she when it came down to making anyone suffer.
I rubbed my hand on Cali’s throat, anxiously awaiting the funeral as she sat happily, a purring mess. Cali got up and licked my face with her rough, warm tongue and I rubbed my face on hers. The vibrations of her throat felt nice on my cheek. “Who’s a nice kitty?” I whispered.
“So, how do I look?” Alice asked from the top of the steps. She wore a black dress that with lace shoulders and black peep-toe heels. A white silk sequined wrap draped her arms while threads of hair from her soft bun brushed lightly against her shoulders.
“Wow. You look amazing,” I said.
“Really?” she asked, turning to look at me from over her shoulder.
“Yes. Really, really—I think Phil will drool in his pants,” I said.
It was unlike Alice to act so demure—she was practically shy.
“Can I ask you something?” I said as she floated down the stairs.
“This wrap doesn’t go with the outfit, does it?” she looked down at herself, worried. “It’s not like I want to look good for a funeral, it’s just…is this too much?”
“Alice. You look amazing,” I said.
“Thanks,” she said, shaking her head and smiling again. “Sorry, you were saying?”
I stood with Cali in my arms as Alice turned to look at herself in the mirror.
“There’s something that has been bothering me…” I searched for the right words. “Why did you stay like this?” I said.
“Like, with this body?” I asked. Cali pounced from my arms and landed softly on the rug, scampering away into the kitchen.
Alice stared at her reflection, not really fixing herself anymore, but just staring at this body. I knew Alice long enough to know she had never chosen any one body to stick to. Alice had gone through different changes over the years: red-headed cheerleader, blondie, and gothic punk rocker among many other kinds of girls. She was suddenly this Alice all the time—I didn’t mind, I just wanted to know why.
“I found her,” she began. “I found out who my mother was.”
I was caught by surprise and I had to place my hand on the couch to regain my balance. “But you said you barely remember anything. I mean, when you did talk to me about your past…”
“I don’t. But I think I’ve stayed on earth long enough,” she turned from the mirror, began touching her cheeks up with blush, “…to remember a little. This is why I acted so distant before—I was trying to stay focused because I was beginning to dream.”
“Ghosts don’t dream,” I said.
“I know,” she said grimly. “But I’m starting to feel more attached to this world the longer I stay here…the more I do, the more I feel human… And then I found her name—it came to me in one of my dreams. I finally began to investigate my mother. I was going to tell you, but I didn’t want to worry you.”
“Worry me? Why?” I moved closer and placed a hand over her shoulder, noticing our reflections in the mirror. The smell of her sweet hair was refreshingly cool, and her skin felt cold on my fingers.
“This is my mother,” she said, looking into her reflection. “I found a picture of her in a house that I can only assume was mine, too…and I—I thought I couldn’t possibly do it, that I couldn’t bear her image, but I tried to be strong. I uncovered one of the house’s dusty mirrors. The picture–” she reached into her dress pocket and handed me a little square.
A very beautiful young woman stared back at me. Her long, auburn hair cascaded down her frame in thick curls. Her eyes were intense and pale. The picture looked really old, but it was undoubtedly Alice’s newest shell staring back at me. I looked on the back of the picture and the name Natalia Masters was etched on the yellowed paper.
“This is how I want to stay,” she said, looking more and more like the woman in the picture as she spoke. “I can’t remember what I really looked like, but I want to remember her. I wanted to see her because I thought that maybe…maybe one day I’ll remember who I was…”
“I’m sure you will,” I said and turned her toward me by her shoulder. A tear trickled down her cheek. I brushed it away with the back of my hand.
“Your mom sure was beautiful,” I said.
“Yes. Do you think maybe I was? Beautiful?”
“I know you were,” I said. We stared at each other for a long time and I could have sworn I heard her heart skip within her chest.
Pop! “Well, looking sharp again!” Phil said, plopping himself down on the couch. I turned quickly from Alice, who turned back to the mirror and began touching up her hair.
Phil’s eyes fell on her.
“Jesus, woman. You look incredible,” he said.
Alice mouthed “thank you” from the mirror’s reflection. I was glad she was finally getting used to his old world charm.
Phil had slicked his hair back. His black suit and white tie were offset by some very shiny shoes. He’d even shaved. Phil didn’t look so bad—I could almost see some reflection of his younger years in his eyes.
“Why, thank you, sir,” he said, bowing at the waist.
“You’re reading me,” I thought.
“Yessir,” he said. “And I saw that.”
“What are you talking about?” I said.
I was suddenly filled with a thought, a picture of me and Alice, our faces so close to one another. My face burned hot.
“You saw us?”
“Been here for a few seconds,” he said through the Channel.
“That’s just…well…you know”, I began when the doorbell rang.
I shook a finger at him in warning and he grinned.
I went to the door to find Fran and her bodyguard, Fern. They both looked beautiful. Fern had let her hair down and it fell in long waves down a simple black dress with fishnet stockings and stilettos.
Fran’s hair was clipped into a tight bun, emphasizing her bare shoulders in her strapless black dress. Her skirt flowed behind her, so that she looked like a mermaid as she walked. Even at funerals, every witch and guest was expected to wear nothing but the best—I almost felt guilty about focusing so much on our appearances with a dead person nearby, but it was an unspoken rule, so I wasn’t willing to fight it. On the day of my funeral I want everyone to dress up like it’s Halloween.
“You two look amazing,” I said. Fran and Fern gave each other a look.
“Well, I guess he’s not too bad,” Fern said inside the Channel.
“Told you so,” Fran responded, winking at me. We kissed affectionately and she wiped a smudge of her red lipstick off my lips with a silky handkerchief. Fran and I had become closer since I almost died—we even went out on a few dates. We were still very much undefined, but I was enjoying the sex more than anything, and she seemed to be having a good time too, so we never really spoke about it.
“We have about an hour to get there,” Fran said, urging us out the door.
I tried to remain calm in the limo, though my palms felt icy and clammy and my heart insisted on ripping itself from my main arteries.
We rode down the highway away from the city. Fran sat next to me, cupping my hands in hers. Alice sat across with Phil.
Phil began to light a cigarette when Fran told him he couldn’t smoke inside the limo. He scowled at her, crushed the cigarette between his fingers, and turned to look out the window.
Fran and Fern chatted through the Channel. I could hear it in the air, like a buzzing, but couldn’t make out exactly what they were saying. Fran must have blocked me out of it now that she knew I had access to the Channel.
The curiosity was killing me. Fran sensed this and patted my arm with a gloved hand, smiling wickedly my way.
“You can only read what I let you,” whispered Fran. “You’re lucky I even agreed to let you into the Channel.”
“Fine,” I said. “It’s not like I wanna hear everything.”
She gave me a look.
I crossed my arms and said “Well, not right now, anyway.”
Then the limo made an abrupt turn. We all held on to whatever we could as the car made another turn and another, speeding faster.
Fran pressed the button to a small intercom and yelled, “What is happening?”
“Daryl?” she demanded. I guessed Daryl was the driver and I also guessed he wasn’t usually invisible as Fran and Fern gave each other horrified looks while the backseat window slid open to reveal an empty front seat.
“Oh shit,” said Phil.
“Oh shit?” I said. “What the hell’s going on?”
Suddenly the limo turned itself to the left, screeching into a curve that should have toppled the car over. Instead, the limo steadied itself on its side for a few moments, then fell right side up with such force that everyone but Alice collided against each other as we screamed like little girls (well, at least I did).
Our ride kept on roaring down the highway. I could swear the limo growled—no ’effing lie!
“What in Jesus’s holy name is going on?!” I pushed myself upright and accidentally hit Fern in the face with my elbow when I lost my balance again.
“Sorry,” I said as she pushed me away.
“Someone bewitched the car,” yelled Fern, who, like Phil, tried to gain control of the car by grabbing the wheel, but as they did, the limo just launched forward, slamming them back into their seats again. I couldn’t move—the last few days had made me weak and I highly doubted my pistol could do anything against a bewitched car, so I tried to hang on and said a prayer. Outside the window I could see the car was going up a steep road and on the side of the road, over the metal rails, there was a drop into a rocky valley. As the road went higher, the limo pushed toward the edge like it had a plan. I didn’t like it.
Fran crawled up to the window, her stilettos digging into the carpeted floor of the limo as she tried to gain access to the wheel, while Alice jumped up and through the roof.
The pressure from the momentum was almost unbearable, and then the limo did the worst thing it could have—it dove off the side of the road, crashing through the guardrail, and off of the cliff.
We screamed, the stone valley flying past our window as we plummeted toward the rocky bottom.
I grabbed onto Phil until suddenly, the limo halted in midair—just two or three seconds away from crashing.
We were suspended in the air. I looked at Fran and the rest, who all still hung on for dear life, their faces as confused and horrified as mine. The metal groaned as the limo hung in the air, its wheels still spinning furiously.
The limo made a screeching sound as the rear pulled upward and we began ascending. Soon I saw the side of the cliff dip below and we were back on the sweet tarred road.
“Get out!” said Alice from the roof. I helped Fran out first, then Fern, who looked shaken, but okay.
Phil climbed out next and I got out last. The wheels of the limo turned furiously and the headlights blinked rapidly. The grill was twisted down into a frown.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said, remembering the old cartoons when I was a kid in which the cars had smiling faces, though this one wasn’t quite as friendly.
The car’s bumper hung from Alice’s hands as if she were holding a simple toy.
“Kill it,” said Fran.
Alice lifted the limo. It writhed in her grip, twisting and grinding metal, wheels turning faster and faster as it fumed grey smoke.
Alice raised the car further off the ground. Then she shot upward and punted the limo, sending it rolling down the side of the cliff. I ran to see it toppling down and then a lick of fire ignited and it exploded. The heat wave hit my face so hard I instinctively blocked it with my arms. The car screeched horribly.
“A possessed car—seriously?” I said.
“Bewitched,” Fern corrected me.
“Oh, well, excuse me,” I said.
We stared down at the fire.
“Oh shit,” I said. “I just realized something.”
I walked up to the pavement. The sky was clear and a few stars peeked out at us.”If this car was possessed—”
“—Bewitched,” said Fern.
“Whatever,” I said. “That means they wanted to stop us from getting there.”
“That’s a given,” said Fran.
“No. But then I’m thinking…maybe the wraiths have been set loose already,” I said.
“Oh shit,” exclaimed Fran. It sounded weird—Fran wasn’t the type to curse.
Alice hovered back down.
“Alice, get me to the funeral,” I said. “Phil, Fran, can you teleport there?”
“Not without extra power,” he said, still dusting himself off.
“We just have to do it together,” said Fran, placing a hand on Phil’s shoulder. “If we combine our magic, we should be fine. And we shouldn’t expend it too much—we may need it.”
Phil nodded and Alice picked me up by the shoulders and cradled me like a babe in her cold arms.
I waved goodbye to Phil and the girls. “If you get there before me, stay low.”
We swept through the sky, above the trees and stretching forest. A few minutes later we landed near a trail lit by candles on each side. White stones dotted the path toward a ravine before crossing a small wooden bridge into more forest.
I could sense the wraiths. Their power was so incredible I could barely maintain my balance as it weighed down on my shoulders.
“Simon,” Alice held me close. My head was spinning just a little.
“Geez Louise,” I said. “These things are strong.”
We trailed over the bridge, following the rocks that led into the dark woods. The candlelight was the only way to see where you were headed at this point–the moon had gone missing and suddenly there were no stars above the trees.
I could feel us getting closer to the funeral. I asked Alice if we could fly there, but she wanted to keep walking, staying low in case the wraiths could see us.
Not far out, we began to hear twisting metal. A wraith cried out nearby and I heard screams.
I froze. Alice didn’t even flinch, and then I wasn’t sure if I’d heard the screams in reality or through the Channel.
“You hear that?” I cupped my ear with my hand.
Alice looked back at me, confused. “What are you talking about?” she froze behind me and looked around.
“It’s coming from over here,” I said and walked closer to where the sounds were coming from, my step quickening as the screams became louder. Alice and I hurried through a low patch of trees until we came out to a clearing.
There were torches in the four corners of the clearing, stretching their light into four lines that met in the middle. The lights stopped right before a giant stone amphitheater that was filled with stone benches cascading down like steps to a tomb. It all stood right before a large stone that sat where there should have been a stage. I thought about how odd the amphitheater looked in the middle of the clearing, a talland dark forest edging the corners and the massive stone like a giant.
The stone seemed to grow out from the ground. We walked closer to the amphitheater and I forgot for a second about the screaming inside my head, trying to take in this massive rock and this whole place. I realized that the stone itself had a hole carved into the front side, facing the benches like a cave. Before the cave’s mouth was a stone platform set high with a granite ramp climbing up from the middle passage where we now walked. Felipe’s fake casket was tilted on its side, near the mouth, on the platform, its lid open, revealing no body.
My eyes tried to focus, my vision blurry from the sudden bright lights of the torches. Rags of clothes were strewn about on every corner of the amphitheater.
“Oh my god,” gasped Alice.
I looked up and saw what she saw. There weren’t clothes, but bodies, laying everywhere. Blood soaked the stone benches and body parts were strewn everywhere: stretched out hands, clenched fists, eyes white and wide in fear, skin grey and cracked. All of them looked so still in the swaying fire of the torches.
Some bodies were twisted and contorted, with black holes where their eyes had been—the last thing they saw must have ripped them out. Suddenly I realized there were some who were still alive—theirs were the screams I could hear. Some were hiding in the forest, I heard their pleas and cries inside my head. Others were being killed by the wraiths at this very moment; eaten by their flies, their darkness. I stopped abruptly. I suddenly felt my heart clench inside me. It was my fault this had all happened this way—we should have done things differently.
“Alice—find the ones who are alive,” I said, pointing toward where I heard their voices.
Alice shot out and blurred past me, leaving a gust of cold wind behind as she did. I walked away from the stone, searching out another sound in the middle of the ruckus inside the Channel, a distinct sound that was familiar to me, getting closer as I walked away from the stone amphitheater and into the grassy ground of the field.
There was a screeching sound in my head and suddenly a white light flashed and Phil, Fran, and Fern all stood near the mouth of the tomb. I ran toward them as I felt something crawling over the trees of the forest a few yards behind me.
I turned to see the thousand-legged creature dash out and hit the grass with a crash. The screeching became more and more insistent, now no longer only in my head.
The creature was covered in buzzing flies. Its legs had spikes and its long, thin mouth had rows of fangs drooling something foul and green.
A low growl echoed from somewhere within the buzzing. Its ruby eyes found me, locking in on me hungrily.
“Simon!” Fran’s voice made me react and I began to run back toward the amphitheater as the wraith’s talons swiped down and almost caught me. Crashing onto the ground, it ripped the dirt and grass before coming back up for another swing.
I ran, and out of the corner of my eye I could see fireballs shooting from the amphitheater. They looked like a thousand stars blasting out and searing the beast repeatedly. Some were green or orange or blue. I heard the beast crash back before I looked over my shoulder to see it sprawled on its legs, patches of its skin still smoking from the fireballs, as it struggled to pick itself up.
Another low growl came from the other side of the trees and I saw a mammoth bear emerge, then hunker down. It stomped its paws down hard on the ground, knocking down trees with its sheer force.
Millions of buzzing flies gathered as a snake slithered from the east between large trees. The gigantic menagerie waited, enshrouded by the buzzing mist.
I reached Phil, Fern, and Fran faster than I thought possible. They were still flailing fire and lightning balls at the spider, who after having been hit with enough fireballs to wipe out a whole village, regained its strength and started speeding up our way.
“Let’s go this way!” I pulled Fran and Fern, and Phil shadowed behind us as we climbed the ramp up to the platform reaching the cavern.
“No, not in there!” said Fern. “That’s where our ancestors live.”
“Yeah,” I said. “And you won’t live for long if we don’t get our asses in here right now!”
The mouth of the cave blew out cold wind, the stone floor slipped down into darkness like a mossy slide. Tiny beads of water slipped down the rocky walls, into the curved angle. I briefly wondered what they would do with Felipe’s casket, but the wraiths were gaining ground.
“Let’s go!” said Fran. “They can’t come in here. This tomb is hallowed.”
Fern hesitated, but after she glanced back to see the wraiths coming, bolted in first. So much for opposition. She slid down quickly into the darkness.
“I have to go stop them,” I said.
“No, come with us!” said Fran. Her skin was seared and a misty film covered her arms and shoulders—side effects of using her fire.
“No,” I said. “I have to try and stop them! And you’re gonna burn yourself out. ”
“I’ll go with you!” Fran exclaimed. Her face was desperate, she was afraid I might die again, I could hear her through the Channel.
“Don’t leave me, Si”.
“Fran, you can’t think that. I promise I won’t die.”
“Swear it!” she said. The wraiths were gaining ground fast. The snake slithering quickly, hissing through sharp fangs and sliding tongue, while the bear crashed over the ground, its paws digging mounds of dirt and grass as it ran, fangs bared and its eyes red like blood. The spider led the pack.
I promised her I would be okay, and she brushed her lips hard on mine and my pants felt a little tighter.
“If you do survive,” she smiled, “you’re going to get it so hard later,” and she slid down the hole, the darkness swallowing her as she descended. Whatever was down there must have been safe, so I had to make sure they were all in. I had to stay—I couldn’t let anyone else die.
“Phil, you have to go with them,” I yelled through the crashing.
Phil shot out an arm and a lightning bolt exploded from his finger tips, stunning the bear and spider.
“You’re crazy if you think I’ma leave you.”
“Shit,” I said, taking out my gun and shooting at the snake. It licked its fangs and sped toward us with the bullets ricocheting off its scales like steel.
Phil began to speak, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying, it was more breathing than words, but suddenly the air stood very still and his hands shot out a massive bolt that struck the air white and I fell on my back.
“Simon!” I felt Phil’s clammy hand on my shoulder. “Get up. That wont stun ‘em for long!”
“I can’t lose you, Phil,” I said.
He looked down at me as he helped me up, lifting his upper lip and said, “I swear to God, Simon, if you don’t let me come with, I’m turning you into a sock puppet and feeding you to the flies myself! Now shut up and let’s go!”
“Fair enough,” I said.
“Come on,” yelled Phil as he grabbed my arm. We transported somewhere else deeper in the woods. I knew it still wasn’t far enough from the clearing because I could hear the screech of the wraiths.
Phil wasn’t looking so hot. His arms limp on his side, eyes sunk in just a bit. When he took off his jacket, his shoulders were fuming.
“Okay, bro, no more magic for me, at least not for a few minutes.” He wiped his face with the jacket and then added “I can’t believe we made those things,” as we moved swiftly through the woods.
“Don’t beat yourself up,” I said. “Let’s just stop these things and get it over with.”
I followed my instinct more than anything else, but as we approached, I could hear whispers again in my head, that voice that seemed so familiar within the screams. I focused on all the sounds and they seemed to be coming away of the tomb and the amphitheater. As we drew closer, my head filled up with screams that seemed louder and more acute this time. Phil could hear them, too, so that helped. While he focused on the screams, I concentrated on the single voice.
We came to another break in the woods, another clearing filled with patches of flowers. I’m sure would have looked beautiful if there weren’t wraiths trying to kills us.
There were a few rocks in the middle of the garden like tombstones. There was barely any light, but we could see three bodies thrown over odd-looking statues. One of the bodies was that of a small boy. I resisted the urge to run over and see if the kid was okay, sensing something else was going on here.
A group of witches stood in the middle of the clearing. They were lined up in two rows, standing stiff, like statues. As we approached, I realized their screams were running through the Channel. Tears escaped from their eyes and over their stiff expressions, all of them begging for help. Then somewhere within the screams I heard him, his familiar voice, just as maniacal as the last time:
“The witches will pay,
The witches will join or die.
It’s their choice.
It’s their only choice for what’s to come.”
Phil squeezed my arm, pointing into the crowd of witches. I realized Alice was among them. Her arms lay stiff to her sides. Her eyes cried out, but she, like the others, couldn’t move.
“Alice!” I ran to her. Her eyes glowed with relief, mouth quivering. Suddenly I heard Phil drop, his own scream cut short as he stiffened and fell as a statue on the ground, just like the rest of them.
“Phil!” I shook him, trying to get him to stand, but he was too heavy. Just turning him face up so he could breathe took the air out of me.
“Don’t,” he urged me through the Channel. “Watch yourself, don’t worry about me.”
I looked around at the witches’ faces: a little girl with a teddy bear clutched in her arms and a little boy with dark hair held hands, their desperate eyes screaming. I heard his voice again, but this time I couldn’t follow because it was coming from everywhere and everything, shouting so loudly that I held on to my ears.
Destroy them all.
From the trees I heard a buzzing approach and I saw the bear crane its neck over the trees, slipping out from the shadows themselves. He was followed closely by the snake and spider.
I felt a sharp, cold air suddenly strike my back, and then I couldn’t move my arms, then my legs. The numbness expanded until I was completely petrified and fell to the ground.
I lay face down on the grass, taking a hunk of dirt in my mouth. The only things I could move were my eyes at this point. My mouth locked shut, but my breathing seemed okay, though I was afraid I was gonna hyperventilate. I felt like I was stuck in a body-shaped box made of steel. I was beginning to suspect my OCD had a little sister named claustrophobia.
My body was suddenly flipped around and I found myself standing before a small silhouette. For a moment I thought Dr. Moreu had come back for revenge. A greenish light poured from his hands and I saw the little boy. He must have been no older than nine. His eyes were dark holes inside a fragile, pale skull.
I knew it was him. This was the same person I had seen in the dream, the silhouette that called the wraiths in the dark room, the one who’d killed Felipe, Alanna—and who had almost killed me various times.
He waved a small hand and I found I could move my mouth. I gasped for air, feeling like I hadn’t drawn breath in ages.
“But how…?” I said.
“How can a little boy witch call upon wraiths?” he said and let his head hang on his side, almost like a dog. His voice was sweet and calm. “You don’t believe a boy can do such a thing? Arrogance will be the death of you,” he said, a smile playing at his lips.
“No. You’re something else,” I said, trying to figure out what it was that was so familiar about him. The boy was wearing a small suit, a black tie, and shorts—it was all very “The Omen”. I shuddered.
“True,” he laughed in a throaty vibrato that made my skin crawl.
“I am a wizard,” he said. “I was sent here to recruit and to kill.”
“Sent from where? I thought all you bastards were dead.”
“Oh, dead, we are, but not quite so dead—nothing truly ever dies. We all go somewhere, wouldn’t you know that already?” He laughed again.
The wraiths watched us in the middle clearing. I could see them sitting, awaiting instruction, eyes set on their master.
“So, what, someone brought you back?” I said.
He entwined his hands as if in prayer under his chin and said, “You are smarter than you look.”
“Thanks,” I said. “It’s a special talent of mine.”
He suddenly growled and snapped his teeth at me, no longer the face of a sweet little boy, but a face chapped in dry, cracked grey “You will suffer for your irreverence!”
“I don’t show reverence to spirits, especially dirty ones like you,” I said, and then felt a sharp pain puncture my side. I began screaming. The pain scorched me from the inside. I wanted to die as fire pushed up my throat, but I still couldn’t move my limbs. I fell to the ground again.
I could see the witches from where I fell, could still hear them screaming. I wanted to tell them to shut up, that everything was gonna be okay, but I couldn’t guarantee that.
The little boy knelt to look at me closely. Suddenly I could feel my fingers twitch. The sensation was returning to my limbs, but the pain kept expanding in my veins like pure acid. I screamed and hoped to God that I would black out. Anything was better than this pain.
A bright light shot from somewhere nearby and connected with the boy, smacking him back against a tree. I fought the pain and took out my gun.
Fran and Fern stood close, open-mouthed, as they looked at the boy.
He stood up, his neck twisted at an odd angle. He popped it back into place, leaving a bone sticking out from his neck. I began to point the gun at the boy when it slipped from my hand. I felt like my body was losing control again. Then I found myself rising into the air, my arms and legs flailing at first, then stretching out to a painful ‘X’.
I saw Fran and Fern hurled back by the same power, which held them in midair before crashing them together. They knocked each other out with a force that sent them hurling heavily onto the ground.
I screamed to Fran, but her body wasn’t moving. Then from the darkness of nearby trees a man ambled out, his hand out.
“Mayfair?” I was getting very confused now.
“Mayfair had joined?” I thought.
“You’re wrong!” He said. “I would never join such filth,” he spat on the ground, his eyes too white, a twitch on his lip as he spoke.
“Dad,” said the boy to Mayfair, his voice like a sweet boy again.
I started to see the whole picture now. “That boy…he’s your son.”
“Yes,” Mayfair said, his eyes welling up in tears. The boy raised his hand up as he gripped me tighter in mid-air. Mayfair wrapped his arm around him. “This is my son!” he said.
The boy smiled, his eyes returning to the fierce blue they had been when the boy was alive.
“But he’s not,” I said.
“Shut up!” Mayfair pleaded. The boy’s power was trying to crush me like I was suddenly filling up with matter. I screamed again, my voice hoarse.
“Stop it, Luca,” pleaded Mayfair. “Please, just stop!”
The boy laughed, his face twisting back and forth between boy and monster. The wraiths made a sound almost like laughter as he crushed me.
“Please, Mayfair! You have to stop him!” I was beginning to feel like something would pop soon. The pressure pushed the air out of my lungs and I felt like my throat was crushing in on itself. I couldn’t even scream from the pain anymore.
“Please, Luca,” said Mayfair, placing both his hands on the boy’s shoulders. As I began to pass out, there was a bang.
The boy stood very still. Black blood spilt from his pale lips and onto his tiny clothes. A dark blotch ebbed through his white shirt. He touched the blood coming from his mouth, staring at his fingers in surprise as if it was the first time seeing it.
Another bang and the back of his head exploded, the warm splash hit Mayfair in the face and sprinkled me a little–and made me wanna hurl. His eyes cried out slits of blood before the boy fell to his knees and collapsed completely. The pool of dark liquid spread into a tiny pool around his body, which lay sprawled on a patch of flowers.
Mayfair screamed and fell. I fell from the air and tried to regain my breath, thanking the good Lord for His great mercy—Ma would have been proud.
I watched my gun smoking from Tomas’s hand and I smiled at him. He shook his head as if disappointed and hurried over to help me up.
“I thought you were gone,” I said, grabbing him just to make sure he was real.
“No. I am not gone,” said Tomas and he slapped my hands away.
“I thought you stopped caring about us, Tommy-boy!” I said. His face, even in the soft light of the reappearing moon, had turned a fuchsia.
“Oh, shut up,” he said. “You’re just lucky I am always fashionably late.”
The frozen witches suddenly fell to their knees or clung to one another for support. Tomas walked over to help out some witches, carrying the little girl in his arms as they left the clearing. Few of them looked toward me. Some thanked me, but others ignored me completely as they walked away. Witches were a very proud people—or as Phil would say it, they’re a bunch of assholes.
Mayfair cried for his son, his arms thrown over the lifeless body.
The wraiths remained nearby, watching all of this unfold. There was no one to command them, so they just waited. Some of the witches ran or speed walked out of the clearing, murmurs filling the quiet.
My access to the Channel seemed to have dissipated, although controlling one supernatural ability at a time was good enough for me anyway.
I helped Phil up. Fran had a knot on her head, but she was okay. Fern had black and blue under her eye. Alice was perfectly fine, though her pride seemed to have been hurt a little.
“I tried helping them escape,” she said, she sounded angry with herself. “But some of them wouldn’t listen—they were so stubborn and…and many of them died.”
“You did help,” said Phil. “Stop being so hard on yourself, my pretty lady.” Alice threw her arms around Phil and he patted her shoulders as she sobbed.
Fern helped Fran back out of the woods. Fran tried to insist on staying, but almost fell to her knees while doing so, her body still weak from the fight.
“You can go,” I told her. “I still have to take care of some things.”
This night had taken a lot from her, from all of us.
“Alright,” she said and hugged me tight before she left.
I thanked Fern for helping Fran back and she mumbled something in the lines of, “I don’t need to be thanked by no, what-cha-ma-call-it. My loyalty is with my sister…”.
I wanted to stay behind with Alice and Phil. This whole thing wasn’t over. I needed to know more. Before the spirit could leave the boy’s body, I would find out exactly what I needed to know.
We walked over to Mayfair, still clinging to the body, but he refused to let us touch his son. He raised his hand, a threat.
“Your son is dead,” said Alice coldly. “Get out. We need to ask the spirit a few questions.”
“I would rather die! You can’t touch my boy! No one touches him!” He went to swing his hand, but Phil was quicker than he was and tapped the old man’s neck with both fingers, knocking him out instantaneously.
“You’re lucky I don’t kill you, you son of a bitch,” said Phil, kicking the man off the body.
I looked at Alice, who picked up the boy’s head in both hands. She turned to me and said “It’s still there. It’s dwindling, but I can reach it.”
“Pull it out,” I said. Alice clutched the boy’s head tighter, shoulders trembling.
The boy opened his black eyes.
“What did you do to him?” I demanded to the wizard’s spirit inside the boy’s shell.
He spit black out of his mouth and said, “The boy was just curious. The most darling thing—he was easy to possess, too easy, I suppose—he had a feeble and weak little heart.”
“But why did you have to possess him? Of all people, why him?” I said.
“I knew Mayfair was weak and that he would be the perfect entrance to the witches’ world. Even when Mayfair realized there was something wrong with his boy, he just locked him up in his room, pretending his son was only having small tantrums—nothing to be worried about. But he knew there was something dark inside,” he hissed. “But he refused to admit that I had killed his son and that whatever lived in this shell wasn’t little Luca anymore. Like a good father he ignored the fact that his son was casting black magic—the worst kind of magic. And that his boy was using it to kill and to call upon dark spirits.”
Phil had his arms crossed, scowling at the boy, mouth twisted in disgust. I was hoping he would control himself while I spoke to the thing.
“You mean your little evil cooks we killed,” I said, pulling my shirt’s collar down so he could see the white gashes. “They scarred me. But I’m still here—you’re dead.”
His eyes narrowed. “Yes. You did escape my hand,” he said and turned to Phil. “Brother,” he said. “My brother, Merlin.”
Phil had been containing himself, but exploded.
“Don’t call me that!” he shook his head and clenched his jaw. “This is why I killed you. This is why I had to!” he said.
“Oh, yes,” said the boy. “You had to kill us in order to acquire redemption. How human of you. Do you remember me? My name is Daniel Magus, do you remember me?”
Phil spit on the ground “I remember how I killed you.” Phil looked down at his hands. “You were one tough son of a bitch.”
“Alright, guys,” said Alice. “It’s almost time to release. Hurry the hell up!”
“Who sent you?” I said.
“Oh, Simon, you know I can’t say. Even in death they can come for me, as they have already. I tell you this much, they will not be very happy about my report,” the boy’s voice was calm. I wanted to punch him.
“Why did the harpy come after me? Why was she watching me?” I snapped.
“He watches,” said the boy. “The one who sent me to you watches—he has spies everywhere watching you.”
I backhanded the boy and said, “Tell me why I’m having these dreams with Amelia?”
“Hehehe. You will find that she is more alive than you think,” said the boy.
My body went cold, the realization that my wife was still alive like an icy river through my veins.
“How about the list of names?” I said, inhaling deeply.
“You mean the lists,” said the wizard, his eyes becoming slits.
“Oh, Simon, you have much to learn. Yes, there were two. One for the witches…the other for the ones like you. He seems to hate your kind, so I never understood why he wanted to keep you alive,” he said and shrugged.
“Hurry up, Simon,” Alice urged. Grey crawled up her arms, spreading like veins.
“She’s alive…” I said, unable to think about anything else.
“Yes, Simon. They both live, your child lives,” the boy said, laughing. Alice pulled away and the boy became limp again. I felt the rush of the spirit leaving the clearing in a roar.
I held Alice in my arms as her arms regaining their color. We sat in the total silence of the clearing for a few minutes. Phil helped us both to our feet. Before we left I turned to the wraiths. What I had suspected about my family had become a reality and I felt like I could no longer hold on to myself, like my sanity could slip away at any moment. Alice held my hand and I fought back tears.
“You three,” I said pointing at the wraiths. “Hunker here.”
The wraiths stood and slithered closer, their heads craned down so I could touch them. Even the flies were dormant, and their buzzing died down a few notches. I wasn’t sure what I was gonna say next, but I couldn’t let these spirits go on like this—if what I had learned was true, then these spirits had done nothing wrong—they were just pure spirits that had been transformed into these dark creatures. I felt a weight on my fingers: the static of something familiar, yet new within me. The feeling surged up through me and I began floating up, the snake, the bear and spider floating along with me until I faced them in the air.
“Be free,” I said. The flies rose up into the air like a twister while the wraiths created a chorus of sighs that sounded like wind through a crevice. The darkness ascended into the dark sky, disappearing forever.
When the flies and the darkness were gone, three dying spirits stood in the middle of the clearing. Instead of a spider, there stood a woman in ancient clothes; instead of a bear, there stood a man in some kind of armor; instead of a spider, there stood the boy who had once been named Luca. I floated down, feeling the pressure leave my body, the static crackling just beneath my tired bones.
“Wake him up,” I told Phil, gesturing to Mayfair. “He needs to say goodbye to his son.”
Phil waved his hand and Mayfair gasped for air, flailing up his hands as if trying to keep from drowning.
I began walking away, Alice and Phil close behind me.
Mayfair looked at me and the fading spirit of his boy with suspicion.
“I’m so sorry about your son,” I said. “He won’t be there for long, so you better hurry and say your goodbyes.”
I walked out of the clearing, hoping to God that Mayfair could have some kind of closure after this. I willed his son to stay longer as I felt the other two spirits depart for the other side. As I left the clearing, I listened to Mayfair’s cries while I held back my own for my child and my wife, who were still alive somewhere.