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Chapter XIX: Seeing Things
Chapter XX: Crime Scene
Chapter XXI: With Much Ado

 
 
 




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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 Massacre.

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 Channel 15.

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 mountain.

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 things.”

“That’s been going around.” The goth cabdriver shook her head at Patrick’s changed expression and folded her arms. “Tell me what you saw.”

“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 asked.

“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?” Patrick asked.

“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.

 
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