“There have been seven Amber Alerts issued for the Phoenix
Metro area over the weekend,” the woman on the flat-screen television told
the gathered students. “Increasing reports of disappearances has prompted
the Mayor to increase police presence on our streets. In a statement made to
the press, the Sheriff tells us that it isn’t uncommon for people to wander
away in the increasing heat. You should take care of yourself, stay
indoors—with air-conditioning—during the day and drink plenty of water as the
temperatures reach into the high one-twenties.
“We now return you to our continuing coverage of the Tempe
Megan tore herself away from the screen. She’d seen enough
images of that to last her a lifetime. Every news channel was running the
story, each trying to outdo the other with the amount of gore and shock they
could get onto the screen. The commotion at the mountain had pulled a lot of
students into the little dining area in the basement of the MU where the TV set
was. The crowd quickly usurped the remote and it was all anyone wanted to
watch—it was also all anyone wanted to talk about.
She put her fingers against her temples and tried to put
it out of her head. Unfortunately, all that did was punctuate the sudden hush
in conversation around the room. On screen, some girl named Julie Doty
stuttered out answers to questions as she sat, huddled in a blanket, in the
back of an ambulance. One of two survivors (the other had already been rushed
to the hospital), the reporters announced. “And you heard it all here on
Megan felt nauseous.
Outside, even in the shade provided by the side of the
building, the overbearing heat of day brought a sheen of sweat to her brow. She
had exited into a cement patio; it cut from ground level down to the basement
doors with a flight of shallow stairs. The doors closed slowly behind her,
cutting off the chilly air-conditioned building as she slumped under a canvas
umbrella at a metal table. Nearby, an empty wind swirled up some dry, crinkling
leaves around nearby benches like a child idly stirring an uneaten meal.
The telltale rattle of feathers brought Megan’s attention
to the neighboring table.
“You wouldn’t be here to tell me something, would you?”
she asked the chestnut colored bird, an Inca dove. It stared back mutely with a
beady black eye. No answer.
Nothing felt right about this world this weekend and the
whole “Tempe Massacre” simply topped it off. The animals back at home had been
restless and refused to eat—she had a small army of cats and birds to return to
for company but for the past few days they had become more and more agitated.
Almost as if they had expected the ghastly crisis now unfolding on the side of the
Her mother ran a rescue out of their house, taking in
wounded pigeons, starlings, grackles, and other birds to rehabilitate them for
release back into the wild. As wild as flying around the city, sitting on cars,
and stealing crumbs from roadside restaurants could be. The constant presence
of birds in her life had been reaching into her dreams of late.
Uncannily portentous dreams that sometimes struck her even
when she was awake, like the time she saw that boy, David, screaming for help.
The most recent involved him, and three other college aged kids, standing
around the ‘A’ on the mountain with candles in their hands. The ‘A’ writhed
with black birds of every feather; a cacophony of harsh birdsong rose from the
shivering mass of beaks and eyes. Starlings, ravens, crows, blackbirds, and grackles
crowded together pecking at the wet paint on the huge letter; the red dripped
from their beaks and speckled their feathers as they squirmed against one
another. She couldn’t see their faces, but Megan knew one of the kids with the
candles was David. They too were blanketed with pecking birds, but she doubted it
was paint that glistened redly on those beaks.
After that dream, Megan called up a friend and left the
house. She couldn’t bring herself to even look at the birds in their boxy
cages, peeping behind the thin chicken wire mesh. She didn’t want to go into
their room and imagine blood dripping from their little beaks. The roar of the
chirping and whistles only served to remind her of the gruesome dream. Her
parents were fast asleep, even though the birds weren’t. She avoided their
accusing eyes by leaving through the garage and sat on the edge of the sidewalk
to wait for her friend to pick her up during that midnight hour.
Now her eyelids drooped and her chest hurt when she inhaled
too deeply. Trying to sleep in the basement TV room hadn’t worked out so well. She
could feel the heat turning her already weary muscles into rubber, but she
didn’t want to go back in and deal with the television again.
So, when an extremely familiar black clad woman walked
past arm-in-arm with a swarthy, leather jacketed young man, Megan rushed back
inside to collect her cat backpack.
Vex turned to the sound of a voice calling her name and saw a
girl dressed mostly in grey with a disheveled look running towards her, a
familiar backpack shaped like the round face of a wide-eyed cat clutched under
one arm. Megan. Patrick had been talking about the girl, Mary Beth, his
neighbor who he barely knew anything about except for her haughty attitude and
terse “Welcome to Hayden Dormitory” speech when he’d first moved into his room.
She put a hand on his arm to catch his attention, he stopped in place. It took
the girl only a few moments to reach them and after she did, she bent over,
hands on her thighs, and tried to catch her breath.
“Am I glad to see you,” she said. “I was just thinking of
looking for you and there you were.”
Patrick raised an eyebrow. Vex shrugged at him, and said
to Megan: “Well, you found me.”
“Remember what you told me Friday night after we met on
Mill?” the girl said. She had regained her breath but struggled to find the
right words for what she was trying to say. “That I’m a witch? I know I totally
blew you off when you said that. Silly me. Anyway, I’ve been dreaming things—seeing
“That’s been going around.” The goth cabdriver shook her
head at Patrick’s changed expression and folded her arms. “Tell me what you
“Related to that stuff on the news.” She gestured behind
her, the cat backpack slid down her arm, and she hiked it back up to her
shoulder; then she made a gesture as if to say there was more. She took a deep
breath and kept on. “And before we met, last week, I saw someone I know calling
for help. He’s disappeared.”
She went on to describe the specifics of her vision
involving A Mountain and the birds. Explaining how she recognized one of the
four people standing around the ‘A’ as the boy who had vanished after the card
game: David. Vex remained grimly silent as Megan stumbled over descriptions of
feathers, blood, and barely seen features.
“There also were two girls and another guy,” she said.
“The dude was tall and blonde, built like a jock, Swedish maybe. One of the
girls had red hair, curly, and she was dressed like a schoolgirl. I knew it was
David, even with all those birds…eating them. Because I could see his glasses
reflecting like mirrors.”
Patrick looked very uncomfortable and by the end he broke
in. “Do you remember what that gypsy woman said?” he said to Vex. “‘His eyes
will be mirrors.’ With a tall and fair boy—I think she meant blonde—and a girl
with red, curly hair…”
“Yes,” she replied, “I remember that.”
“It’s awful,” Megan said. “I saw that happen the
night before it actually happened. When I’d heard David calling for help and he
didn’t show up again I thought it was just a fluke. I’ve never seen things like
that before.” She hugged herself. “I don’t know what to do.”
“I think you’re in good company now,” Patrick said, trying
to sound comforting.
Vex regarded the girl silently and frowned. The aura
around her suggested that she had access to much deeper resources than simple
visions and foretelling dreams—which had led to her original outburst about
Megan being a witch. Something she didn’t regret saying now that the shit was
really hitting the fan. The girl’s divinatory ability would probably come in
very handy while trying to determine what was going down.
“So, do you recognize anyone else from my vision?” Megan
“Yeah,” Patrick said, “except I think she’s dead.”
Vex heaved a sigh. “And if the other two are connected,
the second girl is the one who disappeared from Mill on Friday.”
“Would you recognize the redhead if you saw her again?”
“I couldn’t see their faces, quite,” the girl said, “they
were covered in birds.”
“There’s a picture of her on her door,” he said. “That is,
if the police haven’t taken down everything on her door. I haven’t been back…”
“You know where she lives?” Megan asked.
“She used to live right next door to me,” Patrick said.
“I’m so sorry.”
Vex walked purposefully past. Standing out in the sun
wasn’t doing them any good, and it certainly wasn’t getting them any closer to
finding out what was going on. Whatever happened to be going down, it seemed
broader and wider than anything she had encountered before. Certainly Phoenix
had its fair share of supernatural activity, stupid upstarts playing with magick—like
she’d suspected the four in Hayden Library a few days earlier had been;
although now she was beginning to change her mind on that—and the occasional
“big, nasty monster” but this was quickly getting out of control.
She wasn’t about to let anything get out of control in Phoenix.
Not in her city.
“Let’s go,” she said. “If this girl is related to all
those people killed up on the mountain I want to know now so that I can call
Madame Summer. These are too many coincidences.”
Patrick turned to follow. Megan hiked her backpack back
up onto her shoulder again and stalked after him, swaying momentarily from her
lack of sleep. He stopped to give her a hand to steady herself. Vex paused only
momentarily to allow the two to catch up, but she smiled inwardly at how much
of a Boy Scout her boyfriend really was.
Hayden Dormitory loomed ahead, wide-winged and constructed
of brown bricks stacked up to three, squat stories. The structure was garnished
with greenish metal staircases that matched the color of the low, square
windows set regularly into the walls. Every time she visited, it made her think
of a military barracks than a dormitory. The rooms, she recalled, were equally
reminiscent. They crossed a parking lot and once in the shade of one of the
stair wells, Patrick unlocked the side door. Chilled air that smelled of air-conditioning
and old carpets blew out behind the wheeze of the hinges.
The three filed into the dormitory and the door closed
behind them with a heavy clank. They didn’t notice, however, as they passed
inside, that someone had taken a magic-marker to the greenish flank of the
stairway behind the door. Drawn in black lines, angled diagonally with the
stairs, appeared the sketch of a centipede, legs akimbo and triangular head with
a pair of feelers extended.