Sirens wailed sullenly in the distance, whistling through Tempe
on their appointed rounds, as Vex and Patrick strolled through the ASU campus.
The sun had risen high, with no longer a single cloud visible from horizon to
horizon to mar the unbroken cornflower blue canvas. In the lead, Vex traced a
well-trod route that kept to the narrow spaces between buildings where the
shadows held back the heat of day. The sandstone browns of the various structures
stood square and blocky bringing with them tall and wide shadows and the smell
of desert shade.
Only a handful of students moved through the courtyard in
front of the Memorial Union, passing over the grey and red tiles without pause.
Vex ascended the few steps that lead up to a shallow dais that supported the
fountain in the middle of the courtyard. Of course, the fountain was empty, a
shell of smooth river rocks, covered with dust. Little shade could be had from
the stunted trees outlining the four edges of the dais. Patrick sat next to her
when she slid herself onto one of the sheltered benches.
After seating himself he regarded her with a raised
“So, what’s next?” he said. “Are we going to go cast a few
spells at your Tarot card? Go looking for a tower of bones? Difficult to hide
one of those, I’ll bet.”
“I thought we could talk.”
“I thought we were going to get a bite.”
She smiled in spite of herself. “Yes, that too.” Reaching
out, she took his hand in hers and lowered her chin slightly. “I feel like we
need to talk about last night. At first you were all…talkative, and this
morning suddenly you’ve clammed up.”
“It’s not every day you discover your girlfriend can
levitate,” he said, “and I don’t mean like from Ghost Busters. I must admit…it
was extremely strange. Not that I’m not used to strange things when
She just sat a moment, silent, trying to think of
something to say. Patrick took it as a cue to keep going.
“I apologize for the sarcasm, really. Levitation aside,
I’m still not sure how I can believe that Jamie was trying to sacrifice me…
What you did last night. That was amazing. This morning, though, I thought I
was maybe dreaming. I figured I’d wake up on your couch and—”
“But you didn’t.”
“No, I didn’t,” he said and squeezed her hand. “I woke up
next to you and I knew that was real. But, ever since I spent that night with
you at Denny’s my life has been strange. You don’t know how many times I
answered my phone hoping it was you just because of whatever new oddity you’d be
getting me into. New Age shops, gypsies, crystals, candles…all that doesn’t
really faze me.
“But until last night it was all safe and distant. And by
distant, I mean, I couldn’t touch it. I could imagine it was a movie or the
adorable quirk of a Goth girl that I happen know. This morning, for a moment, I
wasn’t sure what was real anymore.”
“I’m all real.”
“If I told my father about this he’d ask me if I was
dating David Copperfield’s daughter.”
Vex bared her teeth grinning, and shook her head. “You
should tell him that I’m one of those city girls he’s always warned you about.”
“I think you’d only be half right,” he said. “There’s no
warning anyone about you. You’re something else…” He leaned close to add,
whispering in her ear, “Do you think we can do that levitation thing again? You
know, now that I know you can do it. Maybe teach me how to do it? Just like the
next guy, I want to be the one who sweeps the girl off her feet.”
She kissed him and let it linger for a moment. “Sure,
“I’m okay,” Patrick said. Letting go of her hand, he
glanced across the fountain at the MU building and a patch of sky over her
shoulder. “I just need some time to digest all this. Speaking of digesting, up
for some cafeteria food?” He fished in his pocket for a moment and withdrew a
red and yellow card. “Lunch is on me.”
Patrick managed to open the door without letting go of her hand.
A few steps in, she whispered in his ear, and together they flipped off the
sentry camera simultaneously while skipping past, holding hands. Inside was
remarkably chilled compared to the outside. The MU smelled of floor polish and
day-old carpet cleaner. Vex’s boots clunked heavily as her swishing strides
barely kept ready pace with Patrick’s longer legs. Scattered students, milling
about, paused in their conversations to look and she smiled back at them with
her best “he’s mine” wolf grin.
“Do you really do that every time you walk past it?” he
“When I remember.” Vex shrugged. “I imagine that
somewhere, in their moldy old archives, is a sequence of me flipping that thing
off over and over and over, each time I’m wearing a different outfit. Like stop
The Memorial Union took a place at the heart of ASU
campus, providing the daily sundry things that any student might want: food,
company, and places to study. Downstairs had pool tables, video games, and some
fast food restaurants, which extended their reach onto the ground floor. The
upstairs contained mostly meeting rooms of various sizes, a few of which she
had seen when visiting various campus clubs and student friends. In earlier
times a room could be had with a simple deposit and a student ID card, but
recent times had restrictions closing.
The wall nearby caught her attention and she tugged
Patrick to a stop. A tall poster displaying a series of white on black symbols
dominated with the afterglow image of a girl’s face. The symbols edged slowly
outwards from the face and melted into a colorless rain atop some words: The Crüxshadows at The Bash on Ash. Featuring:
Torre de Huesos, Knucklecut, and Grim Ritual.
“Very nice,” Vex said. “That’s Tuesday.”
Patrick leaned back away from the poster, trying to take
it in. “You know them? Hey, Grim Ritual, sounds like it’s right up your alley—oof.”
She nudged him gently in the ribs. “Don’t know them,
sorry. But the Crüxshadows, them I know. If you’re going to have a Goth
girlfriend, you’re going to need an education in the music. Want to sweep me
off my feet?” She pointed her finger at the poster. “Busy Tuedsday night?”
“Baby, you are now.”
He stood for a moment, looking long at the poster as she
walked away, clomping down the hall towards the steps that would take her up to
the cafeteria level. Noticing that he wasn’t following, Vex looked back.
The “bite to eat” ended up resolving itself as some Taco
Bell. Barely defined bits of ground meat mixed with almost-vegetables and
wrapped in tortilla shells. Having totally skipped any form of breakfast—much
to Patrick’s dismay when he informed her that she had nothing left in her fridge—Vex
felt happy to be eating anything, even if it was from a place she oft referred
to as “Toxic Hell.”
The T.V. droned on in the background; she barely listened,
until Patrick spoke up.
“That explains the choppers,” he said.
“—the police have not made a statement at this time but
from what we can see here there are at least twenty dead in what will likely
become the most gruesome massacre ever to strike the heart of Tempe.” The
images of the screen flashed between the stupor-shocked faces of onlookers
behind police cordons on a street—it looked like Mill Ave—and helicopter shots
of the ‘A’ on A Mountain. The same sequences repeated over and over as the
toneless commentator rattled off names and numbers. “From what information
we have now, the Sun Devil Social Club may make up most of the victims, they
were scheduled to hold a morning vigil at sunrise at the ‘A’ on the mountain.
Back to you Ann.” “Thank you Frank, what a terrible tragedy, have the
police said anything about suspects?”
As she watched the screen flickered, all the rest of the
room darkened as if to allow the television more light. The dark-against-light
faces of the news anchors remained the same but the rest of the image wobbled,
afterimages peeling away. The commentators looked at one another, at profile to
the camera, as they spoke. One of the afterimages, a T.V. signal ghost, didn’t
quite match the woman it reflected. The broadcast went freeze-frame like
someone hitting pause on a VCR and the ghost turned to face Vex.
This is not your errand, daughter, it said.
She reached up and touched the Eye of Isis painted around
her left eye. It was intact. Her teeth clenched as a wave of anger rushed up
her spine, giving fire to her thoughts.
“What the fuck do you want?”
Images swept her then. A rushing deluge of dreadful
imagery: bodies strewn like so much chaff; entrails snaked, glistening like red
leather in the Arizona heat; limbs broken and shattered, bent akimbo into
ghoulish angles—some of the disembodied arms even held candles. Blood dripped
over faces slack with death, eyes clouded and white, mouths open, still
screaming. The bodies, she could not count them, were dismembered and
reassembled into a gristly diagram of twisted flesh.
Further, we cannot see. The single voice had become
a chorus, echoing into itself with an endless reverb. As it continued to speak
the multiple voices melded again into one melodic throat. You cannot save
them, those who were lost. Do not bear the burden of that grief. If you must
understand, go where I bid you. You must give up this path.
“I’ll do what I want.” Anger swelled in her chest like a
living fire, burning her insides as she reached for her power.
The ghost afterimage stared, a pained expression
stretching its features. It warped strangely over the face of the anchorwoman,
as if straining to remain corporeal. The eyes that were not eyes searched her
face; the lips that were not lips parted to speak.
You have all you need in your possession. Go to the
“I hate you.”
With those three words she let loose the hounds of her
power, the fury inspired force of her will unleashed thunder into the world.
The sound of a portcullis gate slamming boomed. On the TV screen, ghostly
vision ballooned outwards violently; the whole of the universe seemed to
suddenly expand, fiercely shoved away from her. The ghost’s chin dropped and it
vanished and the television screen itself disappeared into the ever-widening
distance. The darkness fell away.
In a blur, the world snapped back into focus like a
rubber-band snapping. Vex had dropped her food; and her ears rang like the
inside of a school bell on a Friday afternoon. Tears dripped down her cheeks in
part from the exertion and part from the content of the visions themselves. One
hand slowly extended to brace herself against the table.
“Jesus-fucking-christ.” Patrick had also set down
his food. His eyes were rapt on the television screen. “My floor RA…the girl
who got murdered in the room next door to mine, she was something big in that
club. Covered her door with their butt ugly bumper stickers.
“They were some sort of holier-than-thou social club that
did community service, knocked on your door on Saturday afternoons, and gave
most Sororities a run for their money…”
He trailed off, eyes descending from the screen to look at
Vex. Suddenly, she wished that she could hide. Absently, her hand lifted to
wipe away one of the tears. She didn’t touch the other eye; she couldn’t
remember if she’d used the waterproof makeup or not—a smudge now would have
“Jesus, I’m sorry,” he said, reaching across the table.
“Did you see someone you know?”
Vex didn’t have the heart to say that in fact, she did,
instead something he’d just said stuck in her mind. She hardened her heart and
“What did you just say?”
“Did you know someone in that club?”
She shook her head. “Before that.”
“Uh,” he said. “Well, this Sun Devil Social, the club they
just now mentioned on the news, the girl who lived next door to me belonged to
it. The one who was murdered… Her club.”
“Something’s not right about this,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry about what?”
“I’m amazed I never said this earlier.” Vex dropped the
napkin onto her tray. “Patrick, take me to your room.”