Patrick sat on the couch and listened to the shower run. It had
been running for what seemed like a long time now. When they arrived at her
apartment, Vex had gone straight into her room and closed the door a little
harder than was necessary. The act, he thought, punctuated his feeling that she
was angry with him—probably over his bursting in on her with gun in hand.
Still, he resolved as he stewed, he would have done it again if the
circumstances were the same.
Megan had moved across the room after their original
conversation had dropped into a lull. In spite of the seamlessly quiet drive to
the apartment she was full of mirth and conversation—mostly about the previous
events that had transpired, but also a whole lot of questions about Vex and
Patrick. If nothing else, she provided a welcome distraction from him fretting
over what was going on in the adjacent room; not that most showers weren’t
totally mundane. If anything, he had learned over the past few weeks that
nothing in his newly minted girlfriend’s life could be easily termed mundane.
“I don’t think anything is going to eat her while she’s in
the shower,” Megan said from across the room.
“Am I that transparent?”
Megan flipped her head back to glance sidelong at him; she
had one of the crystal skulls that made for bookends on the bookshelf in hand.
“No,” she said. “You just remind me of one of my ex-boyfriends, that’s all. He
was protective. I thought it was sweet, but he’d make himself sick worrying
“That’s not what I’m worried about,” he said, shaking his
head. “I think she’s pissed.”
“Does she have any other mood?”
That elicited a laugh. “Oh, yeah. It may not look like it
some days, but she definitely does.”
“I’m wondering, since you’re Vex’s boyfriend,” Megan said,
“do you have any experience with witchcraft?”
Caught off guard, Patrick said the first thing that came
to mind. “Not unless you count my ex-girlfriend trying to kill me with a curvy
“That’s fucked up,” Megan said and went silent, avoiding
He suddenly wished that he’d thought that one through
before replying. He started to tell her that he didn’t know what actually
happened, just what Vex had told him, but thought better of making any more of
a situation of it.
Accompanying him on the couch was Megan’s cat-faced
backpack. He glanced at it. It stared back at him with wide brimmed eyes. The
girl set down the newest object of her curiosity, a small man made entirely out
of straw and corn husks, and wandered back to grab her backpack and sit down
heavily next to him. According to the clock on the wall they had been twiddling
their thumbs for the better part of an hour. It was a strange cooling off
period for Patrick, as he was still a bit amped up from the events in the dorm
The ride back had been quiet mostly because Vex didn’t say
anything. She moved like a person bent under the crushing weight of a terrible
headache. Patrick thought he’d seen that same expression before on his mother’s
face; she suffered from dreadful migraines that sometimes rendered her sightless
with agony. The pained concentration stretching her features eased a little
after all the doors of the taxi had been closed, but when he tried to ask how
she was doing, or what was going on, he didn’t get any answers other than,
“Just drive. Take us home.” Obligingly, he did just that.
He couldn’t quite define exactly why he’d grabbed the gun,
that part was a blur, but the very real gut sense that something was wrong in
his neighbor’s room—where Vex happened to be—could not have been more clear. He
had told Megan that he needed to change his shirt, and his dorm room was right
next door anyway, so he left her in the hall to stand watch. After getting a
fresh shirt from the crumpled fresh laundry still sitting on his bed he’d heard
something that set unease in the pit of his stomach. The sound of a choked
scream, sobbing almost, floated through the wall that separated his room from
the next one.
That almost-indistinct sound went from “it could be my
imagination” to “someone is being murdered in here” within seconds when he
heard something strike the wall and the choked scream turned into a
wailing howl. The weapon, a heavy pistol he’d brought from home, happened to be
at the very back of the drawer—so, of course, he discovered it in his hands the
moment he kicked the door down. Once the door banged open he discovered the
room totally vacant, except for Vex, who had backpedaled and looked about ready
to take a swing at him.
Recalling the look she’d given him then and there Patrick
felt almost like he had been punched anyway. Shock? Anger? Disappointment? It
didn’t matter—all those emotions dissolved quickly behind the mask of pain she
wore the entire ride home. He was going to have to explain. Apologize maybe.
Some girls just didn’t react well to having guns drawn around them, although
Vex didn’t seem the type to care.
Next to him, Megan had fished a handheld game out of her
backpack. It blinged and dinged and beeped a few times
before she suddenly flipped it closed again and looked at her watch. He figured
that maybe she was just as bored, and probably as anxious, as he was. There
seemed nothing to do now than wait. The life of the party happened to be in the
“Patrick,” Megan said.
“Why do you have a gun in your dorm room, anyway?”
“Actually,” said a new voice from across the room. “I’m
wondering the same thing.”
Vex stood in the doorway, looking clean and curious. He
hadn’t even noticed the shower had stopped running. The pained mask had been
washed from her face and replaced with the fresh black curvature of wet hair
and the glittering dark lines of her eye makeup. She had shaded both eyes with
eye shadow, but the mascara around her left eye extended above and below,
almost like an Egyptian eye—a makeup design that Patrick had gotten used to
seeing on her—but this time it was subtly different. More intricate than
before, extra lines and curves laced themselves across her cheek.
“You look beautiful,” Patrick said after a long silence.
“Thanks,” Vex said. She moved away from the door, enjoying
the resounding clarity of his voice, and hers replying. The breach in her
defenses had allowed them through like a crack in a dam. Until she had gotten
within the better warded recesses of the taxi, it was impossible to tell the
difference between someone real talking to her and one of the voices muttering
in her ear. It was good to hear a solid human voice again and know who was
Her apartment, of course, possessed wards significantly
more able to provide proof against external intrusion. The moment she crossed
the threshold they evaporated from her like fog cut by sun; but the violation
had already been too much. Without much ado, she left Patrick and Megan by
themselves in the living room and threw herself directly into the shower, as if
she could wash the sensation of those clawed desires and their profound lust
from her very being. It had been over a year since the last time she’d let her
defenses crumble so far as to allow that to happen. It was impossible to be
Comfortable again from the shower, dressed up in silk, and
all of her makeup now back the way it should be. Vex tried her best to sound
affable and chipper. If for no other reason than to set Patrick at ease—she had
treated him rather unkindly, she knew, but there was nothing for it.
“But you didn’t answer the question. Last I checked, guns
weren’t allowed in the dormitory. You could get in a lot of trouble having
something like that in your room.”
He shifted uncomfortably on the couch, squirming under the
gaze of both Vex and Megan. “Well, it was a gift from my father…for when I went
off to college. I think you remember what I said about where I’m from? Everyone
is really big into gun ownership. I was no exception. I have another one in my
room. I have a permit, of course, my father helped me get it before I came out
here.” He paused, studying Vex’s expression, trying to gather what she wanted
him to say but her expression remained inscrutable. “Look. I grew up around
guns. I know how to handle myself. I thought you were in danger, I went in—”
Vex held up her hand and he stopped mid-sentence. “It’s
“It sure doesn’t seem that way,” he said. “You seemed
angry, I thought I’d explain.”
“I was mad because I almost killed you where you stood,”
she said. When he opened his mouth to say something else she cut him off,
“Patrick, with my bare hands I am better armed than you can ever be with a gun.
What I showed you back at the drum circle is nothing compared to what I can
muster in a pinch. Believe it or not, I could have exploded that entire side of
the room—and I almost did. Next time, leave the gun behind. Okay?”
“As you wish,” he said. For the first time ever since
she’d met him, Vex felt a momentary doubt of his sincerity. It didn’t matter if
he kept it with him or not, she mused, if they ever ended up in a situation he
would actually need to use it she knew she would be saving his ass—not the
other way around.
“And thank you for coming to my rescue,” she said.
“Just…next time, trust that I can handle myself.”
Patrick nodded curtly.
“You have messages on your machine,” Megan said, changing
the subject. Vex followed her gaze over to the kitchen counter where the
answering machine’s light blinked on and off with a rapid beat; the number
three glowed furiously on the display. It was probably her father calling. The
news reports of the massacre would have sent him into a panic of calls—she
didn’t look while she was in the taxi, but she guessed that the message light
on the radio would be glowing as well.
“I can get them later. Right now, I have something else in
“Like what?” asked Patrick.
“When I was in that room,” Vex said. “I found out that the
boy killed there was being used as a conduit for visions. Whoever killed him
used his life force to look into the future. Kind of reading tea leaves for a
serial killer. I tried to reconnect with what the person who killed him saw—and
I saw a lot of things. But, one thing in particular, I found out that the dead
boy is still there.” She paused a moment. “Well, part of him anyway.”
“He’s dead but he’s alive?” Megan said.
“Well… No, not exactly.” She gestured to Patrick. “A few
days ago I found the remains of a ceremony in the library complete with
soulstones. I’m still sure one of those kids was trying to trap the souls of
the others, and since these two are part of that group I have no doubt of it
now. I think, though, that when this boy was killed it stretched his soul
between his body and the stone he was connected to.
“When I took the soulstone I got from that candle I might
have disrupted part of what was going on. I might still be able to save the
souls of these kids from whatever wants them. They’re not entirely gone yet. If
a bit of his spirit still lingers in that room that means I can reach him.
Maybe I can learn more from him…”
Patrick and Megan stared at her, uncomprehending. Vex
looked directly into Patrick’s eyes wondering how far he would really be
willing to go to understand the nature of her second-life. This next step would
be a lot to ask of anyone not already steeped in the occult community. That
still struck her as a strange thought, even the last few times she’d told
herself she was letting him, letting him see more, she realized she had been
carefully shutting him out. Like how she’d left him outside the room while re-activating
the latent blood-magick in the walls.
That wouldn’t fly this time. Everyone involved would be
coming along for the ride.
“And, maybe I can set them free,” she finished.
Megan was the first to speak. “How will you do that?”
“I have a friend who can contact the dead,” Vex said,
letting a wolfish grin cross her lips. “Patrick met him at the drum circle.”
“I’ve said it before,” Patrick said, “you have some very
“You know a necromancer?” asked Megan.
“No, a witchdoctor.”