Personally, Vex would rather have done all of this alone. Except
that she also didn’t want to leave Patrick out of this part of her life—it was
a very, very large part of it—and she had discovered from past relationships
that it took a lot of explaining why she kept odd hours beyond her hack job.
Then there was also Megan, just a girl who had been whirled up into events when
the man named Richard handed her a Tarot card. A Tarot card that now seemed to
be more portentous than had been originally obvious. Of course, the fact that
Megan was now seeing visions containing the four dead kids that had set Vex
onto this wild ghost chase meant it was best she be kept close.
Dozens of magazine clippings covered Mary Beth’s door, featuring
different depictions of war zones and strife, sometimes with headlines—but only
those that listed numbers of dead. It all seemed rather morbid for how Patrick
had described her door earlier. Overlaying the carpet of human atrocity, as if
floating on an endless sea of reflected misery, were bumper stickers for
Amnesty International and Sun Devil Social Club. A small poster in the middle
held the picture of a red headed girl smiling and knocking a glass of champagne
with an older woman
“That’s her,” Patrick said, pointing at the poster.
Vex looked at Megan. The girl hugged her cat backpack and
The police hadn’t shut up the room with police tape like she
saw on TV and in the movies; instead a piece of paper sealed it against the
molding with orange strips on either side. The hallway was empty from end to
end, nobody was stirring, so Vex drew her athame and with a single motion she
sliced the paper at the doorjamb.
“Won’t they notice that?” Patrick asked.
“I’ll fix it when I’m done.” Vex kept her tone cryptic and
her words short; after cutting the seal she suddenly had too many things on her
mind to explain—the voices were there, lilting dusky whispers near her ear.
Patrick opened his mouth to say more, but she raised a silencing hand as she
tried to listen to their words.
Patrick shrugged, frowning deeply, and Megan cast a
nervous lopsided grin at him.
“This is so exciting,” she said. “I—”
“Quiet,” Vex snapped.
The voices were faint, but she could hear one speaking
from the other side of the door, like a man mumbling about what he saw. She
focused on that one. Megan and Patrick had gone utterly silent and she was
grateful for that; the uttering was almost too quiet to be heard. She strained
as much as she dared to listen, they had not noticed yet, and if she was
careful they wouldn’t.
Hematomancy, it said as if reciting out of a book. An
artery is preferable to the vein; the blood flows swifter, surer like a river
testing its banks. When the blade is covered, side-and-side, flick’d like
casting from the aspergillum. Once, twice, thrice, the aspersion
against any flat vertical surface—a wall, a stone, a mirror. The recitant
touches his closed eyes with the blood and imbibes from a specially prepared
chalice, then speaks the words…
After listening as long as she could without tempting the
things that lingered on the other side, she straightened up.
“You two stay out here and keep a lookout. I don’t want
anyone disturbing me. And I need to be alone.” She didn’t precisely need to be
alone—but she didn’t need either of them witnessing what might happen in the
room when she started what needed to be done.
A magickal ritual of staggering power had been acted out
in that room. The agitation and excitement behind the murmurs on the edges of
her hearing told her that much—some of them broke through the bubble of
meaningless conversation to offer secrets, suggesting an understanding of what
she could feel. Sacrifices were made in that room, blooded offerings to things
that she could barely recall how to pronounce after hearing the voices speak
their names. That power could be yours, the distant voices offered, listen
to us. She shut them out.
No temptation was worth the price of that type of black
magick. She’d seen it before, people who murdered other people for mystical
gain also murdered a piece of themselves—they never came back quite the same. A
corruption so damning that she feared its very touch. The mere presence of
sacrifice magick here, in that room, gave her the chills, and if she wanted to
know what happened there she had to go in.
She had to go in alone.
Back in reality, Patrick was speaking.
“…are you sure?” he said.
“From what I hear…it’s gory in there. On account of—”
“I know,” Vex said, lowering her voice to a hollow mutter.
“There’s blood splattered all over the walls, seeped through the carpet, and
soaked into the mattress.”
Megan looked pale. “I think I’ll stay out here, thank
“I’m not so sure…” Patrick began. Vex put a hand on his
“Trust me,” she said. Her fingers stroked down his arm
until they rested on his hand. “I’ve seen much worse. I have to walk into fire.
I must do this alone. I’ll be fine.”
Reluctantly, he nodded. “I’ll keep an eye out for you. I
think between the two of us, Megan and I can distract anyone who gets curious.”
“Sure thing,” Megan said absently. She had moved a few
steps away from the room and had herself pressed against the wall. “It’s
creepy. Seeing her.” She looked away. “I stayed awake after that nightmare
because when I close my eyes I can see them. Covered in black birds. Those red
beaks… She’s one of them.”
Patrick’s distressed expression gave Vex pause.
“Trust me,” she said again, but she knew she didn’t have
to. She could see it in Patrick’s eyes that he did.
For the scene of a crime that had occurred only a few days prior
the cops and their agents certainly cleaned up the place well. The room was
spare, totally devoid of any furniture on one side—the side where the murder
had happened—the other side had two ugly chairs propped on the bed. A heavy
dividing wall split the room into two separate areas, each one had a bed, a
closet (both empty), a desk area with a lamp, and a dresser full of drawers
beneath a scratched and marred mirror.
Murders, especially sudden and brutal ones, leave marks
that human eyes cannot see, human fingers cannot touch, but sometimes they can
be sensed. She herself was extremely sensitive to such things, but Vex could
not pick up on any of the emanations that would have been present after such a
terrible crime. All of the emotional energies—the blood dread, the terror, the
pain and agony of the victim—had been spent, burned like Hell money, and poured
into the ritual.
The metal box with wood paneling that the mattress would
have sat upon lay empty, it loomed like a vacant stretcher in the convalescent
ward of a hospital. Parts of the drab brown carpet were missing, cut away in
squares to reveal darkly stained concrete stippled with gooey lines of yellowed
glue. A chemical smell hung in the room like cheap perfume, mixed with an
aftertaste of long stirred dust. The paint on the wall looked as if it had been
scrubbed with metal bristles; the plaster had been raked away in numerous
places. The room certainly appeared to be in disrepair and disarray, but little
evidence remained of any blood, except the suggestive stains on the bare, bone
It wasn’t until she heard the door click shut behind her
that Vex let the voices return. Now that she was in the room they clamored like
a mob on the other side of a closed elevator. Growling, clawing, muttering
insensate commentary, they each had a piece to speak about the previous goings
on and every one wanted to be heard. This was the part she never really liked,
the part where she had to open herself up to them—just a crack, like a child
peeping through a keyhole into a room filled with gibbering madmen. For the
most part the voices mumbled only to themselves, shambling around in the dark,
unseeing and unthinking, but for some of them this was just camouflage. Like
the one that claimed to be her mother, it started out just like another one of
those mutters, but Vex paid it too much attention and in that attention it
blossomed into the threatening creature that could manifest itself into a
spectral echo of the dead flesh-and-blood woman.
Steadying herself, Vex opened herself that tiny crack—just
enough to let a glimmer of thought through—and reached. She could sense,
beneath the restless vocal excitement, the movement of something larger,
something gigantic and slumbering, as though a monster rolling over in its
sleep. Unhesitating, she focused on the lecturing voice that spoke about blood
divination, hematomancy, and listened again.
She plucked the words from the air, the memory of the
voice echoing them back to her:
“Damare naghti tavi.”
The room rearranged with a suddenness that stole Vex’s
breath and the voices rose up all around her. She shut them out and focused on
Clothing suddenly filled the closet, and some of the
drawers of the dresser had been pulled open, bloody garments spilled out of
them onto the floor. The carpet squelched wetly beneath her boots as she
shifted her weight to survey the surroundings. The only light came from the feeble
desk lamp beneath the overhanging shelves above the desk. In the dim
half-light, she could see that the bed was once again occupied.
A tall boy, blond and muscular, lay on the bed, pickling
in his own blood; he clutched the blankets, his hands turned to claws from the
agony of his wounds. His eyes open, he stared at the ceiling, shaking and
gurgling as bubbles of red frothed at his throat. She looked at her hands:
blood covered them from finger to elbow. In her left hand she held a curved,
bloody dagger covered in obvious Enochian lettering; and in her right hand a
heavy brush on a bending leather rod, strapped to her wrist like a riding crop.
Vex tried to turn towards the mirror to see who she was,
but her eyes would not move. Crumpled in a closet corner like a rag doll, she
spied a mass of clothing, damp with blood, that looked like a dress and a
nightgown of the girl whose picture adorned the doorway. As they were partially
hidden by the shadows she could not tell if she was alive or dead. Not that she
needed a better look to know, as a single alien thought lingered in her mind.
I’ve done it! I’ve done it. She’s dead and I’m still
Her eyes locked onto the wall. The boy’s blood had been spattered
everywhere with the haphazard manner of an abstract artist flinging colored
paint with a brush against a blank canvas. It splattered in clotting inky
blotches that drooled and bled into one another with strange symmetry. With
almost the same familiarity of seeing shapes in clouds, Vex could see what seemed
to be clouds in the murky blood Rorschach images. They
drew down out of the “sky” into a large letter ‘A’—the similarity of the
reflected scene to the images on the news did not escape her notice—and then
down, down, into an earthen eldritch dark. The ground drank the clouds into an
open rectangular doorway surmounted with grim architecture constructed of
impossible angles and optical illusion convergences of veins and insectile
And there were words.
A non-voice that rattled in her bones; it spoke in the
manner of a man dying from a crushed throat trying to recite his last thoughts.
She couldn’t understand any of the speech, but the message was clear. Obstacles
needed to be removed; a price needed to be paid; rewards would be tendered…
Distracted from the vision, Vex noticed that the boy on
the bed was looking at her. But, she realized, he wasn’t looking at the person
whose vision she was experiencing, he was looking at her. She could see
her own face reflected in his eyes; there she looked pale and stricken, the
makeup around her eye that protected her from the very vision she had summoned
floated on the pale bones of her face like a recent bruise.
“You…?” he said.
“Shit,” Vex replied. “You’re not entirely gone, are you?
Hang on. I’ve got you.”
A bit of him still did remain, and like the effect that
created revenants and ghosts, it lingered in self-pity at the place he had been
murdered. She reached for the scrap of his soul, sweeping her fingers like a
net for the astral stuff. She felt a tug and closed her hand around it. With
the proper magick she could ensconce his lifeforce in a makeshift soulstone,
and perhaps save him from whatever fate the ritualist in this vision had in
store for him.
The boy on the bed convulsed, his mouth opened to scream;
instead blood gushed out.
There would be no saving this boy: he was too far gone.
A presence entered the room, howling. The sound shook
the room like an earthquake, the walls cracked, the windows broke; the
diaphanous tendrils of spirit-stuff she grasped between her fingers tore away,
stolen into the bleak.
The door exploded open with such vicious force that it
slammed into the wall and stuck—the knob embedded in the plaster. Vex
backpedaled, shaken unexpectedly out of the vision. She summoned wards to
defend herself and dropped into a fighting crouch—lethal spells of every
variety filled her mind as she girded her armory of deadly magick. Her ears
rang, the room was blurry, and she could not make out the silhouette in the
doorway. She would only have to get past its wards—probably with her fist—and
she would end it.
The shadow resolved.
Patrick entered the room. He wore an intense expression on
his face and gripped a gun in his hands. He moved to her, sweeping the cramped
space with the gun. He did not lower it until he was standing right next to
“I heard someone else in the...” he said. “There was a
scream and something hit the wall.”
Vex relaxed; the wards faded.
Megan stood, pressed against the door of the opposite
room, her cat backpack hugged tightly to her chest. “Vex,” she said, “your
boyfriend is Rambo.”
“Put that away,” Vex said to Patrick through clenched
teeth. “We need to get out of here. Everyone is coming to my apartment. Now.”
She had expended too much energy casting about at wraiths
in the room. The wards the protected her against the intrusions of the voices
were brittle and almost shattered—she could feel them prizing at the cracks
like street urchins pulling at a grate to reach a dropped coin. It took all she
had to shut them out, but still she could hear them whispering.
After her boyfriend did something to the gun and then made
it vanish somewhere onto his person she pressed the taxi’s keys into his hand.
She didn’t even look back to see if they were following
her, she longed too much to emerge into the banishing heat of the sunlight and
be away from this place.