When Death Came to Sarah and Jane

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Fantasy Realm


A man in black stalks the streets at night. Who will be his next victim? Who is worthy enough? Join Sarah as she deals with the death of her girlfriend and takes revenge on the man who killed her
with help from her friends Floyd and Tony.

Submitted: July 14, 2018

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Submitted: July 14, 2018

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The night was dark–as most nights are. Wind filtered through the buildings like fingers pulling through a mass of tangled hair, and wispy clouds blocked out the sky. There were no stars to be seen. Cliché as it seems, this is where our story begins.

A man dressed in black prowled the streets between the buildings, looking for the right prey. The heels of his shoes clicked on the concrete. He spotted a young man walking in the opposite direction. After a few moments, the man in black turned. But no, this was not the right one. He was not worthy–at least not yet. The prowling man returned to walking, his mind drifting.

Up ahead, a woman stepped out of a dingy bar. The man was captivated by her. Drawn to her. He slowed his pace as to not give away that he was following her. He ducked into side alleys whenever he sensed that she would turn around, noticing that her keys were placed in between her long fingers. The man followed her home.

The woman’s fingers shook as she fumbled with her keys, proving that she felt something was off. She had good reason to. Her door begrudgingly accepted the key and clicked open. The woman stepped inside and shut the door firmly and locked it, sighing with relief.

The man dressed in black prowled up to the front of the house and opened the white door with a touch of his hand. As she turned to acknowledge the stranger, the woman felt as though all the air had been sucked out of the room. Her body felt vacuum-sealed in place, her vocal chords refusing to vibrate. She took in his clothing and ethnicity, hoping it would save her. If asked, she would have said that he was Asian. Japanese.

The man prowled closer. The woman’s purse slipped out of her hand, the contents spilling like blood over the floor. This brought the woman back to her senses.  She turned around and scrabbled for the phone on the wall. She dialed an emergency number. The man let her. And still she made no sound as the responder asked her questions. Where she lived. If she was in any danger.

It wasn’t until the man stabbed his long, lecherous knife through her back that the woman made any sound. A small cry escaped from her lips as she looked down at the blade through her stomach. The man cradled her down to the floor like a child. The phone hung lifelessly and smacked the wall a few times. He smoothed back her coily hair and soothed her by telling her that she was worthy. That she should not be afraid. That she would be with him soon. That she was going to a glorious place where she would soon have many friends.

“I’m here, Jane. Everything will be just fine,” he said. The woman’s body felt limp in his arms. He checked her pulse and found none. Then, he looked up into the sky, past the roof, past the clouds, and past the universe to the place where he reigned supreme. At the gates he saw her standing there–naked–like a lost lamb. He guided her inside with all the others mingling around and saw that it was good.

The man smiled upon his collection. All the people here were worthy to be with him.

He drew himself back into his body and reverently lifted Jane off him, reclaiming his knife. With a wave of his hand the blood disappeared. He strolled out the door, satisfied with his toll for the night; he would not collect another for a while.

Perhaps 10 minutes passed. The man was long gone and the house sat quiet, not betraying the crime that had just been committed inside it.

“Jane! Oh my God! Jane!” A woman, who was coming downstairs with an empty coffee cup, saw Jane at the foot of the stairs. The woman wailed, dropped the mug, and picked up the phone. The dispatcher was still on the line.

“Help! My girlfriend’s been stabbed!” An emergency team was on its way. The woman, whose name was common and easily forgettable–Sarah–frantically tried to help Jane, but all she could do was resign herself to refilling the purse and setting it down right next to Jane and saying, there, everything will be fine, as her heart pounded and her palms sweated. She took Jane’s hand and felt Jane squeeze.

“You’re alive!”

Jane gritted her teeth and told her girlfriend that she needed to get something to stop the bleeding.

“I love you so much,” Jane said.

Sarah came back with dishtowels and whiskey and did her best. She kissed Jane’s forehead three times.

“Does it hurt?” Sarah felt like an idiot. Of course it did.

“Yes,” Jane groaned. Sarah continued to fret as the sirens approached the house. She couldn’t bring herself to clean up the shards of ceramic; she wouldn’t have been by Jane’s side. Responders walked through the door. But when the time came for Jane to be lifted onto a stretcher, Sarah wailed again and clung to Jane’s body. The responders had dealt with hysteria before and calmly, firmly assured her that everything was going to be alright.

Everything was not alright.

 

 

Sarah swirled the coffee in the bottom of her paper cup. Hospital coffee at three in the morning was not the best for her. She tapped her foot incessantly. Jane shifted on her cot. Sarah jumped and took her hand. Still unconscious. Sarah always liked the sight of her hand in Jane’s. Together, they looked like coffee and cream. A perfect combination. She watched the morphine drip, drip, drip to pass the time. The hospital room had rhythms. Shifts of nurses and doctors. The sound of a gurney rolling down the hallway. Coughing and hand washing. The reassuring sound of the machine that told her Jane’s heart was still beating. She relied on this rhythm the most.

Jane moved again and groaned. She opened her eyes a fraction, wincing at the bright lights. She squeezed Sarah’s hand.

“Hey.”

“Hey.” Now Sarah began to cry. She hadn’t known if Jane was ever going to wake up. Now that she had, she was afraid of Jane going back to sleep. “I’m right here,” Sarah said.

“I can see that, sorta. Shit, why are these lights so bright?” Sarah laughed a little and Jane smiled. A nurse in yellow scrubs walked in. Another scheduled appearance.

“Oh, good. You’re awake!” He went for the doctor.

A doctor with a kind face pulled her out of the room. She told her, in no uncertain terms,

“Jane’s dying.” The words seemed to deflect off Sarah. Dying? Wasn’t that a thing for old people? The weak? Jane wasn’t weak. The doctor continued to talk, her purple-lipsticked mouth enunciating and pronouncing words carefully. It made her teeth look yellow. Sarah caught the end of a sentence. “...trying our best. We don’t know if she’ll pull through. Some chemical was on the weapon. It’s preventing us from stopping the bleeding effectively. We were wondering if you had any idea–”

“No.”

“What?” The prattle stopped; the doctor wasn’t expecting to be interrupted.

“She’s not dying,” Sarah said firmly. The doctor’s face filled with sympathy. The purple mouth stretched into a sad smile. She once again reassured her that the team was doing all they could for her, but miracles–Jane interrupted again.

 “I won’t let her die–” but the doctor seemed to ignore her. The doctor continued to say that sometimes only an act of God could help. Sarah, who was agnostic, got angry at this last comment. She stalked back to Jane’s bedside. The doctor twisted her blonde ponytail, sighed sadly, and went for coffee.

Sarah and Jane were alone again. Jane’s brow was sweating, and her dark skin was a few shades paler than usual. Sarah thought she did look weak. Was she dying? No, she can’t be, Sarah thought. The nurse busied himself at the other end of the room.

“Stop worrying about me,” Jane said.

“I can’t help it,” Sarah said.

“Well, at least stop making it look so obvious. You’re scaring me.”

“I’m scaring you?” Jane looked to the side, feeling guilty somehow for her injury.

“There’s something I need to tell you. In case I don’t make–”

“You will,” Sarah assured her.

“Okay but what if–”

“Jane, I won’t let you die,” Sarah said. Now she was ignoring someone.

“Alright! Shit, can’t you just let a girl speak from her deathbed?” Sarah opened her mouth to protest again, but a withering glare from Jane made her close it.

“I know the police are coming to question me, but I just wanted to tell you first. It’s about my attacker.” Sarah nodded, tamping down her anger for the moment. Jane continued, “he looked Asian and wore all black clothes. Probably Japanese,” she winced, “after he stabbed me, he said something about going to a nice place, and that I was worthy to go there. I think he must have been in a cult or something. God, I feel like such an idiot. The whole time he was walking towards me I couldn’t make a sound. I don’t know what it was. God–” Jane began to cry. She cried for herself, and for the pain, and for Sarah, who didn’t deserve this stress. “I’m sorry,” she squeezed Sarah’s hand again. “I just felt so helpless when you were right there and could have done something.”

“It’s not your fault,” said Sarah. Jane felt that it was, but didn’t want to press it.

“I think he followed me home, so he’s probably on security cameras. He opened the door when I was sure that I had locked it, so maybe he can pick locks. A spy or something?” Sarah thought that this might have been the drugs talking, but took Jane seriously nonetheless.

“I’ll find him, and then I’ll kill him,” said Sarah. Jane jerked upwards, clenching her teeth through the pain. She thought she felt her stitches rip. The nurse fretted and pressed her shoulders back onto the pillows.

“No! If you go after him he’ll kill you too. You are not dying on my behalf! I love you too much.”

“Who said anything about dying?”

“Don’t be stupid, Sarah. A few karate classes doesn’t mean you can go after a murderer.”

“He’s not a murderer. You’re still here.”

“Well,” Jane bit her lip, “I think he did actually kill me. First it was all dark, then I was–well I don’t know where. I was safe and protected. I think I was in heaven. Everything was white and fuzzy. There were others there too, but no one I knew...” Sarah was sure the drugs were talking now. “But somehow I felt your hand,” she raised their hands, “and I came back. When I woke up, I felt as if I had just died. Jesus.”

Another nurse came in with a policeman. The officer asked her to step out of the room while he questioned Jane.

Sarah paced the hall outside of the room, ignoring the second officer watching her. At least it wasn’t another man, she thought. She counted the minutes in her head. Four minutes.

Suddenly, shouts came from the nurse, calling for the doctor. There was a flurry of movement. Sarah tried to go in with the others, but the officer held her back. She heard the faint sound of the heart monitor flatlining and screamed.

Jane felt foggy. She didn’t know where she was. Everything looked and felt fuzzy. Insubstantial. Am I dead? This time, for real? She wondered. Deep down, she knew that it was true. This didn’t make her sad–not exactly. She just felt separate. Unattached. Like a kite that someone had released, left to drift up into the atmosphere.

There were others around her. They passed through her and she through them like cobwebs. It was a strange feeling. Jane tried to speak to them. Her voice was quiet; she couldn’t make more than a croak. Jane did not yet know that verbal language was unnecessary among the dead. She looked down and saw that she was naked, and then saw that everyone else was too. No one seemed to be bothered by this, and so she wasn’t either.

The ground was white and misty–Jane could not see her feet–but felt solid enough. She looked all around her and had a vague sense of déjà vu.

There was a central structure in this place. Jane walked towards it. She walked up the steps to the platform where many others were sitting and staring blankly out at the environment. There was a gilded throne on the platform. It was empty. A spotted dog slept next to it, a puppy really. Jane turned towards the person closest to her. It was a young girl.

“Where am I?” Jane asked. The girl looked at her, confused, and cocked her head.

There is no language here. Said the girl. We use thought to communicate.

Jane didn’t really know what she was talking about but tried it anyway. Like this? The girl showed no comprehension. Like this?

Yes. The girl smiled. A new voice echoed in her mind.

Where am I?

Nobody knows. But what does it matter? We are where we are. The girl said.

 How can I get out? Jane asked.

I don’t know if that’s possible. He keeps records of everyone. I’ve never seen anyone leave for good. Jane felt déjà vu again. Have I been here before? she wondered.

How many people are here? Jane asked. The girl shrugged in response. It was weird, using thoughts and body language to communicate.

I would say no more than a hundred, but more than fifty. The girl said.

And–I’m assuming–we’ve all been killed by the man in black? Clearly this was the wrong thing to say. As soon as Jane said the word ‘killed’, the girl’s eyes widened. Whether in shock or horror, Jane didn’t know.

Oh, no! We’ve been chosen! It is a great honor to be selected to spend eternity with Him.

Eternity? Jane’s heart began to beat very fast. At least, she thought it did. She felt like she still had a heart in this place but couldn’t be sure.

Well, of course. We’re dead. You should feel lucky that you died by His hand instead of how most go. The girl counted off on her fingers. Heart disease, car accidents, overdose, old age…  

How old are you?

I have no age here.

I mean, how old when you were chosen? The word felt wrong in her mouth. She didn’t feel lucky or special. She felt angry. Sarah. Her lover’s name was like a shock to her. It froze all thought and consciousness. Sarah would be waiting for her to come back. I have to get out of here, Jane thought to herself. She felt like she had left this place before. Maybe she could do it again?

I was eight. Very scary. But I’m happy now? Happy? Jane felt for sure that she would never be happy here.

The air vibrated. Jane felt more than heard the air molecules rubbing together–if there even was air. Everyone looked to the throne, which sharpened and stood out against all the fuzzy matter around it. A beacon stretched down from above to the seat of the chair. A figure materialized. Many knelt, while some bowed and curtsied. The girl genuflected like she was in church. Jane crossed her arms. It was the man in black. Her killer. The dog awoke and sat at the man’s feet. The man smiled, seeming pleased at her appearance.

You’ve caused quite the stir, little lamb. Here, let me take it all away. Jane took a step back. The steps were cold, which was strange for a place without many sensations. The man made a tutting sound. Jane’s feet could no longer move. She struggled and was reminded of the occasion of her death. She felt sick. He reached out and touched her forehead.

Her mind turned back to Sarah. A wave of sadness overtook her. Did she feel tears on her face? She concentrated on her sadness, not wanting to let it go. Her mind felt so muddled here, like she was caught in a spider’s web. She could already feel things leaving her. What was her mother’s name? Her favorite food? No, no! I will not lose Sarah! Jane thought.

The man snapped with his other hand. It drew her attention for just long enough for him to erase her sadness. To erase Sarah altogether from her mind. Jane would not trouble him again. Now, she could be happy here. The man lifted her chin and saw that she was good.

Floyd’s phone was ringing. He didn’t want to answer it; Tony was taking up too much of his attention. Tony broke the kiss when it rang again.

“Aren’t you gonna answer it?” he asked. Floyd shrugged.

“It can wait.” He poked Tony in the ribs. The phone rang again. Floyd tried to ignore it, but Tony insisted that foreplay could wait. Floyd picked up the phone.

“Floyd, I need your help.” It was Sarah. She sounded distressed.

“What’s up? Everything okay?” he asked.

“Jane’s dead.”

“What?!” This came out as more of a cry than a question. The world seemed to shrink to him, the phone, and Sarah. “How?! Are you sure?!”

“Of course, goddammit! She’s my girlfriend!” Sarah had not gotten used to using the past tense when discussing Jane. “Look, I just really need some support right now. I haven’t slept in three days and–” Floyd could hear Sarah sobbing on the other end. He turned to Tony, who had heard the conversation.

“Jane’s dead.” It didn’t feel real until Floyd said it out loud. The artificial coating around the words dissolved, their meaning resting upon him like a ton of bricks. Jane and Tony had dated a few years ago. They had still been friends after the breakup. Tony rested his head on Floyd’s shoulder and wept.

“Can you meet me for coffee?” Sarah’s voice again.

“Yeah. The corner place on Jackson?” Floyd kept his composure for Sarah.

“Sounds good. Look, Floyd I really appreciate this and–” her voice caught, “thanks.”

“I’ll bring Tony, 2:30. Yeah?”

“Okay.”

Both of them held the phone still for several seconds, listening to the silence, not being able to end the call. The pin had been pulled from the grenade, and now bits of sadness and pain were embedded everywhere. Tony untangled the phone gently from Floyd’s fingers and hung up.

For once, Sarah could not drink the coffee in front of her. Ever since Jane’s death, the taste made her gag and tear up with fresh grief, reminding her too much of the hospital. She had thought a frappuccino might have been drinkable, but it wasn’t. Floyd ordered her tea. Sarah burned her tongue immediately and cursed.

“We need to find him, the killer,” she said.

“Aren’t the police handling that?” Tony said, his voice higher than normal.

“The police can do nothing. They found no one following her on any cameras. Which of course implicates me more but–”

“They think you did it?” Floyd asked, incredulous. How could Sarah have killed her girlfriend? They were like a lock and key. He had been shopping with Sarah for possible engagement rings. Sarah was the one for Jane and Jane was the one for Sarah. That was that.

“Well, I was the only one in the house. Evidence is spotty at best. They’re saying she may have committed... ” Sarah couldn’t finish the sentence. She wrapped her hands around the warm mug.

“Suicide?” Floyd finished. Sarah nodded weakly. “Bullshit,” he said vehemently. Sarah nodded more vigorously.

“Well, what do we have to go on?” Tony asked.

“He’s Asian. Jane said he was Japanese, and he was wearing all black the night of,” Sarah swallowed, “of the attack.” Something clicked for Tony. He pushed up his glasses.

“Hey, I saw a guy like that that night. I was out buying weed,” he said. Floyd gave him a look. “What?” He looked sheepish.

“Aw, baby I’m just teasing,” Floyd said. Tony continued,

“Anyway, he gave me a weird vibe when I walked past him. Yeah, he could’ve been Japanese.”

“That’s great!” Sarah said.

“Maybe we can compare–” Tony started.

“You’re actually considering helping me?” Sarah asked.

“We both knew Jane,” he said, gesturing to himself and Floyd, who was frowning. “Of course we’ll help.” Floyd grabbed his arm and ushered him from the table. He spoke in a hush,

“Are you serious? This will not help! You’re making her worse.”

“Look, maybe when this goose chase is over, she’ll have closure. Jane was my friend too,” Tony’s voice shook, betraying his sadness. Floyd sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.

“Fine, but if we find any actual leads, we have to tell the police. Let them handle it. Deal?” Floyd proposed.

“Deal.”

“Ugh, this is taking us nowhere,” Tony said.

“Just keep looking, I’m sure we can find something,” Sarah snapped.

“In the next century?” asked Floyd.

The three of them were at Floyd and Tony’s apartment sitting on the bed. Sarah didn’t want to go back to her house yet despite the extra space; it reminded her too much of Jane. She had her laptop open while the others looked at books checked out from the library: Myths of Death and Asian Gods: A History of Japan and Other Significant Nations.

“Here, I found something,” Floyd said. He rotated the book. “In Chinese mythology, such gods exist as Emperors of Youdu, Kings of the Ten Underworld Palaces, and Judges of Fengdu. Furthermore, in Korean–”

“Did you really just use the word ‘furthermore?’ ” Tony teased.

“It–it’s in the book,” Floyd said, sputtering a little.

“Aw, my baby is educated.” Tony leaned over and gave him a kiss.

“Guys, focus. Jane’s killer?” Sarah said. She cleared her throat loudly.

“Maybe he thinks he’s the grim reaper or something?” Tony asked.

“Or he just likes to fuck with people,” Tony supplied.

“Or that,” Sarah said. She started to tune out their conversation, which devolved into a debate about coffin sizes. She typed in a new search query. Death cults. There weren't many results, and those she did find were of cults committing mass murder-suicides on their own members. She tried again, entering the circumstances of Jane’s death. Stabbed with poison knife demon. She wasn’t sure about the demon part but typed it anyway. The first link supported victims of rape and violence. She clicked until she hit the fourth page of Google. The first result was a confession site that allowed users to anonymously expel their grief. Sarah clicked on it. Some of the posts had names attached. She pressed the control and ‘f’ buttons on her keyboard and searched again for her keywords. A post near the middle of the page, which was slightly covered by other notes, was highlighted in blue. Sarah dragged the other comments out of the way and read the full post

There is a demon out there that hunts the streets and those closest to him. He stabs them and takes their lives. I know there have been others. I’ve ignored the signs for too long. Next time, I’ll be ready. I’m writing this to warn others in case I fail. The problem is that I don’t know where he is. If you have any information about an Asian man dressed in black, or if you have been personally victimized by him, please contact me at 805-494-8440.

Sarah’s heart stopped. This was what they were looking for. Floyd and Tony noticed her stillness and waited.

“Give me your phone,” she said, looking at Floyd.

“Did you find something?”

“Now!” Floyd leaned back and wrenched his phone out of his pocket. Sarah dialed the number. The phone answered back with: ‘You have reached the voicemail of Meredith Claybrook. After the tone…’. Tony slid the computer off her lap and read the post. Sarah called a few more times, but no one picked up. She left a short voicemail then hung up. She had a feeling everything was about to go sour.

“We need to find Meredith Claybrook.”

The man in black–who called himself Shin–was on the hunt. He had a dilemma. Jane no longer thought about Sarah, but she also no longer thought about anything. This made him angry. Shouldn’t she be grateful? She had no reason to be sad. He decided to cheer her up by bringing her a friend to spend eternity with. It had seemed to work with his wife, who had always wanted a daughter. Shin’s mind flew back to the previous week when he had taken Jane for his own. He remembered passing a handsome young man that he had deemed unworthy for collection then. Perhaps now was his time. Shin conjured up the boy’s face in his mind sharply. Instantly, he felt a pull in the direction of the young man. He was not too far away.

The phone in Sarah’s hand buzzed. The text read:

This is an automated message for anyone who calls this number more than four consecutive times. If your matter is urgent, you can find me at 1494 Sumater Dr, Stockton, CA. If I am ‘not available’ find the key at the front of the house. I hope you can help me. –Mery

Sarah tried directions for the address. Only an hour away. They would need a taxi. Floyd took his phone back and read the message.

“Sarah, maybe this has gone far enough,” he said. He tried to keep his voice gentle as to not awaken the sleeping giant that was Sarah’s anger.

“Nope, this hasn’t gone far enough. This will bring us one step closer to the killer, I know it.”

“Sarah.” Floyd put his hand on her shoulder. Sarah shrugged it off, interpreting the gesture as condescending.

“You’re not convincing me out of it, so are you coming or not?” Sarah crossed her arms.

“Sarah, I don’t think you can just leave the county when you’re under police watch, won’t that look suspicious?” Tony asked, the voice of reason.

“Let’s let the police handle this,” Floyd said.

“But she wanted me to do this. She told me first!” Sarah said angrily. She couldn’t believe they were trying to talk her out of this.

“Alright, alright.” Floyd held up his hands. He supposed this could go on a little bit longer. “We can go tomorrow. I have work today.” He shut the book and put his shoes on, ready to head out the door. He came back and kissed Tony on the forehead, “be back soon.”

Shin had located the young man. His name was coming to him. Tony. A good young man. Smoked weed, but that was alright. Bisexual, and that was fine. It wasn’t what really mattered. He had a strong heart. Determination. His soul would persist for thousands of years if culled at the right time. The only problem was that Sarah was currently with him, and he could not have her see him; it would only escalate her obsession. And if he collected her as well, that might even steal Jane away from him for good. He ground his teeth in frustration. His toll would have to wait. But, no matter. At this point, all the time in between now and Tony’s collection would only ferment his good nature. Like a fine wine, Tony would become richer by the second.

The taxi ride was cramped. No one wanted to ride shotgun with the greasy-looking driver who kept asking them questions about their luck with the lottery. Tony ate a bag of Fritos. Sarah had sat purposefully in the middle so she could see exactly where she was going. Cars had rhythms too. The pumping of brakes at every stoplight. The slow transition from stop to go. The rumble of the pavement as the car picked up speed on the highway. Floyd tapped her leg,

“Earth to Sarah.”

“Right here.”

For Floyd, all he could think about was how to get this adventure to stop. When would they cross the point of no return? How far could they go before there was no turning back? He stared out the window and let his mind glaze over.

“This is the place?” Floyd asked.

“Yep,” Sarah replied with confidence she didn’t feel.

The house had a wide front porch and was made of brick. An invasive plant crawled up the sides of the house. The porch light was burnt out. A car was covered in the gravel driveway. Sarah went up the creaky steps and rang the doorbell. Floyd joined her. Tony didn’t.

“Tony, come on man,” Floyd encouraged. Tony kicked his shoe in the dirt.

“What if she has cats?” Tony blushed. The others looked at him strangely. “Look, she has a freaking lion statue!” Tony pointed at the Chinese lion statue next to the front door.

“T, you’ll be fine.” Floyd took Tony’s hand and led him up the steps.

Sarah tried the doorbell again. She listened closely, but heard no chime from inside the house. She rapped on the door instead. They waited for a full minute.

“Well, I guess it’s time to go back,” Floyd said, shoving his phone into his pocket. Sarah saw this and called him out on it,

“Give me your phone.”

“This house is abandoned,” Floyd sighed, “don’t you think this has gone far enough? Jane wouldn’t want–”

“How would you know what Jane would want?” Sarah snapped. “Phone. Give.” Floyd reluctantly gave her his phone. She pulled up Meredith’s message again.

If I am ‘not available’ find the key at the front of the house.

“The key is here somewhere. Check the whole front porch,” she said. Floyd rolled his eyes to himself in response.

Tony reached up for a hanging flower basket. Dead leaves and petals sprinkled down on his face. He spat them out and made a disgusted noise. Sarah rolled her eyes. Floyd ran his hands over the top of the door and under the ratty mat. Nothing. Floyd looked up at her.

“Are you actually gonna help or just give orders?” Sarah blushed fiercely and started looking. The text clearly said that the key was at the front of the house. She examined the wooden steps and checked the cracks in the bricks.

Tony picked the leaves out of his hair and leaned on the railing. The porch looked exceedingly ordinary, if unkempt. The only thing out of place was the Chinese lion statue next to the door. He looked closer at it. He thought there might have been something under its paw but–no–there was no space under it.

“Hey, Floyd,” he said.

“Yeah?”

“Take a picture of me.” Tony stuck his head into the lion’s mouth and pretended that he was being eaten by it.

“Very funny,” Floyd said sarcastically. Or annoyed; Tony couldn’t tell which. Miffed, Tony noticed that one of the lion’s teeth was gold. Out of curiosity, he tugged on it. It wouldn’t budge. He yanked on it. A key slipped out with fragments of stone and dust. Sorry, he muttered. Sarah had seen this and hugged Tony. She took the key and opened the door.

Shin couldn’t believe where they were. Where Tony was. He was so angry. And he was afraid, something he did not like to be. What if they found out? He wondered. Who do they think they are, going to that house? His anger surged. Shin could hardly pull himself together as he ordered a taxi. He sharpened his knife. And he paced. And paced. And paced until finally his transport arrived. The man was not worthy, regrettably. A toll would have made him feel better at the moment. He grit his teeth and waited as the car drove, his fury festering.

The runner was dusty, and the chandelier wasn’t in much better condition.

“Hello? Meredith?” Sarah called out. There–of course–was no answer. There were what looked like bullet holes in the wall on the left. She traced them with her fingers. Something had happened here. The air smelled of dust and something musty she couldn’t identify. Mold, perhaps? She looked at the phone message again, but nothing more was revealed to her.

I hope you can help me.

What was that supposed to mean?

“Maybe this is like a test, she wants us to find something?” Sarah turned to the others. Tony frowned.

“Well, I’m hungry.” Floyd went in search of the kitchen.

“Great,” Sarah said.

“I’ll stay here,” Tony said. He shifted from foot to foot, clearly uncomfortable.

“Fine.” Sarah stalked down the hallway. She opened a door on her left. It was a bedroom. The bed was unmade, the blue duvet spilling off the mattress.

The fridge had little to offer. Floyd tried the cabinets. He found some stale Ritz crackers and ripped the plastic open. As he chewed, Floyd spotted the liquor on top of the fridge. He took a swig of the darkest liquid.

“Floyd?” It was Tony who called his name. The floorboards creaked as he entered the kitchen. Tony sighed when he spotted the bottle.

“You promised.”

“I know. It’s just…Jane.” Floyd could feel wetness in his eyes. He tried not to blink.

“Yeah.” Tony scratched the back of his neck and decided that, this time, it would be fine. “Well, at least use a glass.”

Floyd smiled and reached up. He found two shot glasses on top of the fridge as well.

“To Jane,” he said.

“To Jane,” Tony echoed.

“Let’s find this bastard.”

“Agreed.” They both drank.

Everything about the room felt sacred; Sarah felt like she was trespassing. There was a sticky note stuck to the mirror. Sarah didn’t remove it, though. It read:

Not here

Puzzled, she tried another door. This room was an office. An outdated desktop computer squatted on the wooden desk. Sarah sat in the chair and turned it on. The desktop background was a brown cat, or at least she thought it was; the screen was cluttered with documents and folders. Prominently featured in the center was a folder labeled ‘Video Log.’ There was a list of a four video files inside. The most recent one had been saved almost three weeks ago. It was titled ‘MY HUSBAND IS TRYING TO KILL ME.’ It was four minutes long. What did this have to do with finding the man in black? Unless...

There was a scream from somewhere else in the house. Sarah jumped and bolted out of the room. Floyd and Tony were in the living room.

“What? What’s wrong?” She was breathless. Tony pointed to the other side of the room, hand shaking. Sarah walked up beside Tony and followed his hand with her eyes, the feeling of dread nestling in her stomach like a cold stone.  Across the room–lying on its side–was the small body of a cat. The white rug had been stained brown from blood. It looked very stiff. What kind of owner would leave a dead cat in their house? Or abandon it until it died?

“I guess she had a cat,” Floyd said. He squeezed Tony’s shoulders. “I’ll take care of it. Take it outside. Tony,” he turned Tony’s face up to his, “you help Sarah, see if you can find anything useful.” Tony nodded and turned away as Floyd found a trash bag and lifted the cat’s body into it. Sarah and Tony returned to the office, shaken.

Sarah clicked on the video file. A pop-up appeared asking for a password.

“Shit,” she said. Sarah pulled open the desk drawer and found many pads of sticky notes. The green pad read:

HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME HELP ME

There was an arrow pointing down. Sarah remembered Meredith’s call for help and flipped to the next note:

Please read purple, behind com.

Code for video log h3lpm3r3d1th

Sarah gave the code to Tony. She stood up and looked behind the monitor. Stuck to the back of the screen were rows and rows of purple sticky notes written in black pen. She thought about all the time it must have taken to write and stick them in crisp, even rows. She started pulling them off the monitor and placing them on the desk, preserving the rows of text. She heard Tony say something like ‘Woah.’

“That’s a lot of sticky notes.” It was Floyd at the door. He put his hand on the back of the chair. “What do they say?”

“It’s a call for help. I guess Meredith is in danger from her husband, but…” Sarah shook her head.

“But what?” Tony asked.

“She sounds delusional,” Sarah continued, “she’s talking about her husband like he’s a demon, like…” Something clicked for all of them. They all stared at each other.

“Her husband is our killer,” Tony said. He scooted closer and read the second row:

...kills people by stabbing them. I’ve SEEN him do it. He says he’s doing it for us but i’m so scared. He’s been talking about this “other world” that he controls, and that’s where everyone is–the people he’s killed. He’ll be coming for ME next...

Tony couldn’t read any more. He felt sick. The others had been reading over his shoulder. Sarah pointed to the fourth row. The text was shakier.

“Here she says she has been stabbed and that she made it back?” Sarah was confused. “But how would that be possible? Back from where?”

“I guess the world he’s talking about,” Floyd said.

“So she dies, or at least thinks she does, and then comes back to life.” Sarah said this as more of a statement than a question. “Jane said the same.” Maybe there really was another place–somewhere after death, she thought. “And I didn’t believe her.” Sarah punched the desk. The sticky notes blurred as Sarah cried. Tears fell onto the ink. This is it. This is when I break down, she thought. Floyd hugged her as she shook with sadness.

Tony kept his tears to himself as he typed in the password for the video file. He paused it just before it began to play. The room slowly drained of its sadness like sand through an hourglass. Tony searched in the desk for a flash drive and copied all of the files from the desktop onto it, not knowing how long they’d stay here. He put it in his pocket. Floyd left at some point to get tissues and came back with toilet paper and the whiskey. He drank deeply and Sarah took a swig.

“Fuck.”

The video was of a frantic woman speaking into a headset, her face lit only by the monitor. She whispered the entire video.

“My husband, Shin, has finally cracked. I tried to look the other way before but–” Meredith bit her lip, “not this time.” She drank from the bottle of whiskey, fuller in the past. “He attacked me last night, but I came back. I kicked him out of the house, but there’s nothing stopping him from coming back. God, fuck-” she had shifted to the side, wincing in pain. She breathed quickly in and out. “I looked up defensive measures for demons and devils and all that crap and the best thing I could find is this,” Meredith held up a drawing on a sticky note–yellow. “It’s a trap to keep him in one place. Can trap anything. Apparently great for pests. I’m going to paint one under the rug tonight and see if it works. Augh!” she groaned in pain. “Next time he comes, I’m taking him with me. I won’t let him kill anyone else.” She hissed as she pulled up her shirt to expose the wound. The bandages were soaked in blood, and there were spidery black tendrils around it, pulsing with her heartbeat. “Shin already has me, but he won’t take anyone else. I’m pretty sure this,” she heaved a large gun up onto the desk, “will do the trick.” She drank again. Sarah remembered the bullet holes in the wall.

“Now, if this is being watched by someone who I’m not acquainted with, let me start by saying thank you and apologies. If you’re watching this–make no mistake–I’m dead. The runes on his knives poison any victim they pierce. That’s what he told me. He tells me all sorts of things when he thinks I’m not paying attention. He came up from behind–the coward. I probably have a few days at most.” Sarah saw tears in her eyes. And defeat. “Anyway, I’ve sent you here to help me kill this son of a bitch. Chances are, you’ve been affected because I failed, and for that I’m sorry.” Meredith took a deep breath, “I don’t know what goes on in his twisted mind, but he has to be put down. There’s no help for him, as much as I love him. You’ll find a folder on this computer labeled ‘Kill This Bitch.’ ” She giggled a little. “It has my notes and predictions for how to get rid of him. I’ve tried things like salt and garlic, but they don’t seem to have any effect. I know, silly. But I had to cover all the bases. What I’ve determined is that he’s just like any other man in every way except for one. There’s things he does that can’t be explained. He opens locked doors just by touching them. He can make you feel like there’s no air in a room, or that you’re drowning. Once, he pulled his own heart out of his chest to show it to me. He has magic. There’s no other way to say it.”

Meredith looked exasperated and as if she doubted herself; she knew what she was saying was crazy yet knew also that there was also no other explanation. There could be no other conclusion. Sarah believed her.

Shin examined the house. It was largely unchanged. He spent a moment readying himself, going over his reverent procedure in his head. There were three spirits inside. The others didn’t matter, only Tony. He grinned to himself. Soon his toll would be taken. Soon, Tony–a perfect heart–would be with him and Jane and all the others. He climbed the steps to the porch, his hand running over the rough railing. Shin viewed the lion statue with disgust. With one touch, he reduced it to rubble. Dust floated on his black shoes. Shin crossed the threshold and snuck down the hallway. A floorboard creaked.

Floyd thought he heard something and paused the video.

“Did you hear something?”

“No?” Sarah said hesitantly.

Tony was on high alert. The hairs on his neck stood at attention and a chill went down his spine. He felt something. A pull to walk out of the room.

“I’ll go see,” he said.

Shin made himself unseeable as he compelled Tony to walk out of the office. Truly, their hearts were linked. This was meant to be. He was worthy to join him. Shin heard Floyd–his boyfriend–protest.

“Floyd, I’m not helpless. You guys stay in here, look-” Tony picked up the heavy bottle, “weapon.” Sarah shrugged. Tony left the office, bottle raised.

He didn’t see anything in the hallway. Everything looked still.

Tony didn’t see the man in black creep behind him, matching his gait. How could he? Tony didn’t see the man’s arm as it clamped down over his mouth. Tony screamed. The bottle shattered, alcohol soaking into the carpet. Sarah and Floyd came out of the office to help their friend. Too late. Shin revealed himself and held a knife to Tony’s side. Sarah’s voice shook as she addressed him,

“Stop, please! You don’t need to take anyone else. Would Meredith have wanted this?”

The mention of his wife only angered Shin.

“You will regret mentioning her name.” He brought his knife up to Tony’s throat. The action was more for show. Sarah screamed.

“Wait, take me!” Floyd said, pleading. Tony wrenched the hand from his mouth,

“Floyd, don’t!”

“Quiet!” Shin squeezed harder onto his prey. He whispered into Tony’s ear, “this will be over soon, and you will be with me, Tony.” Just saying his name made Shin smile. Tony.

Floyd took his pocketknife out from his back pocket. It was feeble in comparison to Shin’s weapon. Shin only laughed.

“Put the knife down, Morrison.” If Floyd was unsettled by his last name in the stranger’s mouth, he didn’t show it. Floyd crouched slowly to the floor. He and Sarah were at the end of the runner. Sarah, sensing what Floyd wanted to do, surreptitiously edged off the carpet. Quickly, Floyd gripped the edge of the runner and tugged, hard.

The man in black and Tony fell to the ground. The knife clattered against the wall. Tony writhed out of the man’s grasp. The displaced rug revealed a small sigil painted on the floor in blue. The man in black was trapped. Floyd lunged with his small knife and stabbed him in the throat. The man laughed flat on his back. It was cold and high.

“You think this sloppy scribble can hold me? You think this toothpick can kill? You’re a fool. Just like Mery.” He got to his feet. Floyd staggered back with Tony. “Enough games.” He yanked out the pocketknife and crumpled it in his hand like tinfoil. Tony was behind Floyd and Sarah. Tony’s heart was like a beacon to Shin, and their hearts appeared dull compared to Tony’s. Shin knew he couldn’t take Sarah because it might awaken Jane’s distress, but now he knew that he couldn’t take Floyd either. Tony would never be his if he did that. He cursed under his breath. There was a high chance of Tony returning here. Shin decided it was worth the risk; he had never laid eyes on someone more worthy. He popped his neck.

The man walked right up to them. Sarah and Floyd couldn’t make a sound. Couldn’t move at all. Shin put his hands on their shoulders and parted them. Tony shook like a frightened lamb. Shin took his hand and led him through his paralyzed friends, smiling down at him.

“This will be over soon. You are worthy, Tony. You will be in my glorious domain soon. Do not be afraid.” There were tears streaming down Tony’s face. Shin smoothed back his hair and held his chin up. Tony didn’t see the knife as it ripped through the flesh of his stomach. Floyd wrenched out of the spell holding him and screamed. He rushed at the man but was sent careening into the wall with a flick of Shin’s hand. Sarah squeaked. Floyd didn’t rise. Shin cradled Tony like a child to the floor and hummed with pleasure. Yes, this was the correct thing to do. It felt right.

As Tony’s body became lifeless, Shin drew himself up to his domain. Sure enough, his new lamb was appearing at the gates. He returned back to Sarah and Floyd and the house. Sarah still couldn’t move; she wouldn’t be able to for hours. Shin lifted the body and cleared away the blood with his hand. Rising, he pocketed his knife, leaving the corpse. He addressed Sarah,

“A warning. Don’t come after me again. You would only wish I would collect you, for all the pain I can cause.”

He strode out the front door. Sarah cried silently as she stared at her dead friend, praying he would suddenly come back to life as Jane had done. She had never prayed for anything in her life.

 

Floyd roused from the floor. His first thoughts were of Tony. Tony’s body on the carpet. He let out a keening groan full of anguish. He crawled to his lover’s body, not noticing his own bruises. Sarah cried even harder; she had been stuck in the same position for four hours, and the man was long gone.

Floyd let out a silent kind of scream when he saw the knife wound. He wrapped his arms around Tony’s hips and shoulders and rocked him. The world shrunk to just the two of them. One dead and one alive. Floyd and Tony had not had a perfect relationship, but it had been close. He moaned for his friend’s life. Something was digging into his palm. Floyd stopped and reached into Tony’s jeans. It was a flash drive.

“T-t-tony...”

“Floyd.” It was Sarah calling out to him. Floyd looked up. He had forgotten about her. He got to his feet and stumbled over to her. He tried tugging on her arm to move it, but it remained stuck in place like it had been glued to the air surrounding it. Floyd settled for hugging her and squeezed hard. They cried together for a long time.

It was sunset when Sarah could move again. They carried Tony out of the house. Floyd thought he felt too light. Floyd’s fingers shook as he tried dialing for a cab.

“Don’t,” Sarah said. She gently took the phone from him. Floyd walked without looking where he was going, his head in his hands, tears squeezing out between his fingers. The ground changed from dirt to gravel. The crunching sound was nice. He sank to his knees, the small rocks digging into his legs. The pain gave him something else to focus on.

“Look.” Sarah put her hand on his shoulder. The covered car in the driveway. She pulled Floyd to his feet and tugged off the scratchy cover. The convertible was a few years old and pale blue. There was a plaid blanket in the floor. The engine sputtered to life. There was more than enough gas to get home. She guided Floyd into the passenger seat, who by now was lost in his thoughts. Sarah wished he would stay strong; all the emotional strain was getting to her and she didn’t know how much longer she could keep going. She laid Tony’s body in the backseat and draped the blanket over him. She choked back a sob as she entered her address into her phone. Stay strong. For Tony, she told herself as she drove them home.

Sarah walked on the beach, the waves silent. She spotted someone in the distance. She raised her hand to block out the sun. It was Jane. Sarah ran towards her, but the more she ran, the further away she seemed to be. She called out to her, but Jane didn’t turn around. She moved her legs more forcefully and still got nowhere.

“I’m sorry, Jane,” she cried. Jane turned around and appeared directly in front of Sarah, startling her.

“This is your fault. Where were you?!” Jane was livid.

“I know, I’m sorry Jane.”

“Don’t you love me?”

“Of course I do!” Sarah needed Jane to forgive her, desperately.

Sarah looked down and saw a blade through her stomach. Her body transformed into Jane’s, and then Tony’s as she screamed.

“This was all your fault,” Jane said. Sarah looked up, and saw hatred in Jane’s eyes. It broke her heart.

“Sarah, Sarah!” Floyd was shaking her. Sarah bolted upright. “Hey, easy,” he said.

“I’m fine. Just need some water.” She had fallen asleep on the couch. Floyd followed her into the kitchen.

“Was it Jane?” Sarah didn’t reply. “Cause I’ve been having nightmares too...” Sarah reached up into the cabinet.

“The sooner we find this asshole, the better,” she said.

Floyd smashed a glass on the floor. Sarah yelped.

“We should have let the police handle this!” He regretted it instantly. Glass was everywhere.

“What could the police have done?! He threw you against the wall with his mind, Floyd!” Sarah yelled.

“We didn’t know what we were doing!” Floyd screamed in frustration. For all he knew, the police couldn’t have done anything. “And now someone else is…” Floyd couldn't finish the sentence. Do not cry. Do not break down! He forced himself to breathe through the pain and loss.

“Fuck, Sarah. What have we done?” His face was wet. “What are we going to do?”

“I’ll tell you what. We’re going to drink. We’re going to grieve and then we’re going to get some fucking work done and kill this bitch.” Sarah’s voice sounded weak even to herself as she poured a glass of wine. She hoped Floyd believed her. She sure as hell didn’t. “Okay?”

“Yeah, whatever. Just so long as you get your revenge,” Floyd said icily.

“This is your revenge too!”

“Not anymore, I don’t want any part in it!” He turned away.

“Floyd–” Sarah’s voice was gentler. Floyd couldn’t take it.

“We’re dropping like flies!”

“Is this what Tony would want? For you to sit and do nothing?” she asked.

“How could you know what Tony wants?!” he snapped. “Tony’s dead! He would want us to get out! Before we make another stupid fucking mistake!” Floyd stormed out of the room, leaving Sarah to clean up the glass.

Where am I? Tony wondered. He stretched his fingers and felt his stomach, sensing some injury there. But there was nothing, the skin there smooth. He realized he was naked. The familiar lines of his glasses no longer pressed down on his nose. He took a step forward though he could not see his feet. A brown cat brushed against him. Tony didn’t feel any fear; he barely acknowledged it. It didn’t register that he had seen this exact cat before. Perhaps if he had, he would have known where he was. Everything felt insubstantial.

He looked up from the cat and saw that there were suddenly others around him; he had not noticed them before despite existing in this place for some time. He called out to one of them,

“Where am I?” Where am I?

That’s what we all say. Tony jumped. Where had that voice come from?

It’s a better place. The voice continued. It was the cat. Tony picked up the animal. He couldn’t feel its weight. We have been chosen by Him.

Chosen? What do you mean? I was killed!

Yes, that is generally the way of getting here.

So I’m dead? Tony guessed.

Who isn’t?

Isn’t this supposed to be all singing and God and angels for eternity or whatever? The cat hummed as if considering this.

It is what it is.

Who are all these people? Are they other chosen?

One can only assume so.

Is Floyd here? Have you seen him? What about Jane? Tony began to feel a dull ache. It was sadness. The cat seemed to sense this.

Don’t focus on what makes you sad, or else He will take it away. He does that to a lot of people, the man in black.

But Floyd… He thought he felt his heart breaking.

Forget about him. Our Shepherd’ll be coming soon...You asked about Jane; I’ve seen her. The cat jumped out of his arms. Follow me.

The cat led him some distance. Jane was sitting on the hazy ground.

“Jane!” he said, but she didn’t seem to hear him.

You need to use your mind. The cat reminded him. Tony touched her shoulder, and she swiveled around to look at him. There was a flicker of recognition in her face.

Tony?

Sarah settled into everyday rhythms with Floyd. Every morning, she ripped off the previous date on her calendar and missed the trashcan. Every morning, Floyd burnt toast for the two of them and attempted to scramble eggs. And they drank. Hardly any words were spoken in the following days. They went to work, and when they came home they watched TV together, not really caring what it was. It could have told them the world was ending; they would have believed it. Floyd had to call Tony’s mother. Sadness became a new form of communication. Their individual losses brought them together and tore them apart. One day, they’d be holding each other tight as they shook with tears. The next, they slammed doors and kept their distance. It wasn’t until the fifth day that something snapped them out of it.

The man in black was coming for the third time since Tony had arrived here. Tony was tired. Tired of forcing all his emotions down. He felt anger and hatred towards the man in black. Sadness and longing for Floyd and the life he had lost with him. It was bad enough that his physical senses were dulled; he didn’t know how much longer he could dull his emotions and pretend to be okay in front of his killer. He gritted his teeth as the air hummed and Shin materialized onto his gilded throne. Tony bowed with the others and kept his head low. Of course, the man approached him; Tony saw his black shoes.

How are you today? The man had asked him this before. Tony looked up into his face and smiled.

Happier now that you are here. Thank you. He said, trying to feel it with all his being. He was happy. Wasn’t he? Tony smiled through his anger, trying not to look passive-aggressive. He widened his eyes and lifted his eyebrows. The man smiled back.

I’m glad you have mingled with the flock. Jane has been doing much better since your arrival. Tony didn’t respond. He knew not to speak unless directly spoken to.

You are the most precious to me, Tony. Your heart is the most worthy. Your spirit practically glows when I look at you.

Thank you, my King. Thought Tony. The dog next to the throne growled.

No. The man slapped him. Tony found that it actually hurt. After having his senses dulled for a long time, this new sensation of pain was intense. Shin straightened and addressed all those in his flock at once,

 I am not your King. I am your Shepard. Merely the one who guides you and takes you under my arm. I am your deliverer from pain and suffering, and you will bask in happiness eternal.

Many glode closer to him and bowed. All was silent.

Tony slipped away as others passed through him stickily. He had done it again, fooled Shin, but felt even more tired than before. He wandered aimlessly for a while. A patch of white, fuzzy ground looked inviting. He curled onto it and let the pain on his cheek subside. It wasn’t long until he felt his eyelids droop. Maybe he needed rest.

We will protect you. Tony opened his eyes and saw people he didn’t recognize. The cat rested in front of him. Sleep. The cat said. Tony closed his eyes again and gave in to the call.

Tony woke in a place he’d never seen before. He was in a spare bedroom. Tony sat up and felt a vague ripping sensation. He looked down and saw that his body rested on the bed while he floated above it. He could see through his hands. It was dark outside.

Tony glided through rooms of the quiet house. Sarah was sleeping on the couch, the TV still on. If Sarah was here, he had to find Floyd. He floated up the stairs to look for him. A door was cracked open.

Floyd was in what Tony guessed was Sarah’s bedroom. It used to be Jane’s too, he thought. Floyd was sleeping restlessly, the covers kicked off the bed.

Tony reached out and smoothed Floyd’s hair. Floyd stopped tossing and turning. His breathing eased. Tony touched his face. Cheeks. Lips. Nose. And felt tears in his eyes. He curled up next to Floyd and rested his forehead on his boyfriend’s. Floyd’s eyes snapped open.

Floyd jerked awake and breathed out Tony’s name. He blinked, and Tony was gone. It must have been a dream. He could have sworn he felt Tony next to him. Saw him right there. He pressed his palms into his eyes and groaned.

Tony was jolted back into the place. It was disorienting and felt like being dragged through a strong riptide. The others around him were still there, the cat staring into his eyes.

What was that? He asked it.

It is home. We can go there in sleep, but it is when we are most vulnerable. Our Shepherd could easily cast you out and destroy your heart if he found you were somewhere else. Tony wondered if it would be better to not exist; his misery had only been increased at the sight of Floyd sleeping alone.

I myself am apathetic to existence in this place. The animal seemed to understand. But there are others who would like to rebuff our Shepherd’s invitation to eternity also. They stand around you. Tony looked at the others with new eyes.

Have you all been back? Can you directly interact with the people down there? Say goodbye?

Dreams are when soul travels and when the body is most vulnerable. A woman on his left. She had a Russian accent. I have been able to visit my husband in dream, but I think it scarred him. I do not think I should go back. She smiled sadly.

I talked to my little brother again. He had nightmares for weeks. A man who crouched in front of him. There was a sad smile on his face too. Sometimes it’s better to leave those we’ve left behind, but I sense there was something different about your visit.

Tony sat up and met his eyes, no longer fatigued.

The people I left might have a way of killing the Shepherd. His wife–

Don’t! Don’t say her name or He will come. A third person warned. They had a long horizontal scar on their chest. Tony continued his thought,

She had notes on her computer and predictions. I think she knew how to defeat him. The others simply stared at him. Past him, really.

Why don’t you ask her yourself?

Tony turned around. It was Meredith who had spoken.

Are you the one I asked to kill this bitch? She smirked. Well, it doesn't look like you got that far. There’s not much we can do up here without help from down there.

There were others with me. They might be able to help! Tony said.

Is that so? Meredith crossed her arms. Are they worth anything? Could they kill my husband?

They have enough reason to.

Don’t we all? She laughed in a way that wasn’t funny. I like you, kid.

My name’s Tony.

Okay, Tony. I’ll tell you what your friends can do to help.

“I think it’s time we search this flash drive,” Floyd said. He held it out to Sarah, who was sprawled out on the couch.

“What?” She checked the time on her phone. “Dude, it’s the middle of the night. Go back to bed.”

“I saw Tony,” he insisted. Sarah sat up.

“This isn’t funny, Floyd.”

“This isn’t a joke, Sarah!” He had raised his voice unexpectedly. “I felt him beside me. I opened my eyes, and he was there.” He needed to make her believe him. Sarah didn’t look like she believed him.

“It was probably just a dream.” She stood up and took his hand, “I had them too...”

“We can’t just abandon this! Let’s at least look at the files. Maybe Meredith was batshit, but we won’t know unless we look. We could avenge them both!”

“I thought you didn’t want to make any more mistakes?” There was hope in Sarah’s eyes even though she had doubt about Floyd’s vision. Finally, he wanted to do something about their deaths.

“Okay?” Floyd asked.

“Okay.”

Most of the documents that Tony had downloaded were a kind of diary. They echoed the same thoughts that Meredith had said in the first video that they had watched together:

He believes the heart is the source–heart, if you will–of everything. He rambles about spirits and how purity is essential to the afterlife.

Half of the time I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know how far he’s gone

Is he mad? Maybe. Delusional? Yep. Sure as shit.

 

He talks in his sleep sometimes. I recorded what he said last night with my phone. Really creeped me out:

“Heart chambers most pure...should collect some more...someone small...what do you think?”

I didn’t answer him.

 

He’s started wearing all black. What is that about? Maybe he’s depressed? He seems happier than ever…

 

I asked him about ‘his domain’ this morning. He described it like heaven. Does he think he’s God? I asked him about it and he almost throttled me. From across the room. Threw me against the wall without touching me and stormed out. Good. I’ve had enough of him today.

 

Is he cheating on me? He says he’s collecting people. Does he mean sex? Virgins?! I don’t think he’s the same man as when I married him…

 

I found a stash of knives in a shoebox. They’re covered in black diamonds and shapes. Nonsense, as far as I can tell. Somehow, I know they’re not collector’s items.

 

He came home with blood on his shirt yesterday and started doing his own laundry.

I did research on vampires, wondering if he had any relation. No such luck. Vampires I know how to kill. Sunlight and stakes. Fire and beheadings. What about demons? Daemons? Forget it, you know what I mean.

Salt? No measurable effect except dehydration. Wait, that’s normal. Nevermind. I found a sigil that might work.

 

All this is theoretical! I can’t find any concrete method for killing him...

I’d rather not shoot my own husband.

 

Maybe he’s just a man. An insane, delusional man with a crazy wife who sees things. Am I crazy?

 

He has magic. Has to. No other way. This can’t be happening!!!

 

Who is my husband?

 

Came home today and the cat was dead. There’s blood everywhere. I can’t bring myself to clean it up. He stabbed Miuk through the back. He said that he protected the heart. That it was fine! He said he was doing it for Frederick. I don’t know who that is! I’m so scared…

 

I’m kicking him out. I have to.

 

They watched the other video logs in the folder. The first showed Meredith drawing the sigil she theorized could be used to trap Shin. The others were more of the same rambling thoughts. Throughout the whole process of sifting through the information, it was sad to know that all this hard work had ended in death for Meredith.

“Maybe she needed help from the spirit realm and didn’t know it. Maybe a bullet wasn’t enough. I mean, how could she have known?” Floyd wondered.

“Okay, let’s say that’s what she needed. How would we contact them? I’m pretty sure there’s only one way. Death. And from what Mery was saying–” Sarah gestured to an open document, “you need to be ‘pure’ or ‘worthy’ for this bastard to kill you.” She spat out the words, her anger and grief bubbling dangerously close to the surface. She tamped them down with effort. “And if he wanted to he would have killed us already.”

“We’re not pure.” Floyd sighed and fell back onto the bed.

“Hypothetically.”

“I could just sleep again. Maybe Tony’ll come back.” It wasn’t necessarily a long shot, merely a shot in the dark.

“You don’t know what it’s like up there,” Sarah said. “For all we know, eternity is just time slowed down. A second up there could be twenty years down here.”

“No. He was still Tony. That’s all that matters. He was trying to contact me. And he’ll come again.” Floyd said this with such conviction that Sarah had no other choice but to take him seriously and hope he was right. They had no room for doubt.

“Alright. Well, you work on sleeping and I’ll work on killing this bitch,” Sarah smiled.

“Sounds like a plan, Stan.” Floyd rolled over and pulled the covers over his head.

How can I go back? Tony asked Meredith.

You have to be tired again. So tired that you can’t stand up.

When will that happen?

It varies. Less often the longer you stay up here. That’s what the others say.

Ok, well then knock me out. Tony straightened. Punch me.

Boy, does it look like I can hurt you here? She jabbed her arm through his chest. Tony felt barely anything. Only Shin can affect you, as I’m sure you’ve experienced by now.

Then I have to get him to hit me again. Tony said. He looked around for Shin, but didn’t see him.

He won’t hit you again. He’ll hurt others the next time you anger him. He wants you to be his friend, not his enemy. Meredith replied. She crossed her arms.

I’ll get Him to hit you, if that’s what you want. It was Jane. She had been listening to their conversation. Tony looked at her with surprise.

You would do that?

Of course, you’re my friend. It would be easy. All I’d have to do is ignore Him. You would have the harder part.

He could easily erase you from here. Said Meredith to Tony, her tone warning. She looked apprehensive towards their plan. Crush you like an ant.

He told me I had a purpose. To help Jane. Tony held Jane’s hand–his hand passing through her’s. He won’t erase me.

I don’t approve of our method, but I can’t deny that you need to go back and guide your friends–

Floyd and Sarah. Tony said. He looked at Jane and squeezed her hand. Her face was blank.

Guide your friends, Floyd and–

Floyd’s my boyfriend. And Sarah is Jane’s girlfriend. Tony supplied. Jane was confused.

Sweetie, I don’t care how they’re related to you. As long as they can help us, they could be werewolves for all I care. Meredith smiled. Was that hope in her eyes? But you will have to wait until he returns. There’s no telling when that will be. She sighed. Probably a few days. Until then, let’s figure out exactly what to tell them.

Three more days passed. Tony had still not visited Floyd, and Floyd was beginning to wonder if he had made it all up. An expression of his grief. He reasoned that wherever Tony was, it was probably difficult for Tony to contact him, and carried on.

Floyd smashed the pillow into his face, blocking out the morning sun. He needed a shower.

The cool water felt good on his body, and when Floyd got out he felt better than he had in some time. He looked at his face in the mirror and didn’t recognize the man he saw before him. This man had lost weight, and had bags under his eyes despite sleeping for days. Had slouchy shoulders. Floyd dried off with a small towel and put his clothes on, still damp from the shower.

“You’re dripping on the wood.” Sarah looked at Floyd with distaste.

“Oh, sorry.” Floyd moved over to the carpet. Sarah was on the couch, drawing in a sketchpad. “What are you doing?”

“It’s the trap circle Mery was talking about. I want to practice first.” She continued to scribble on the paper with the charcoal, looking at her phone for reference. Floyd stepped closer. The design Sarah had drawn was refined and more detailed than what had been under Meredith’s runner. There were hardly any stray marks.

“Does it work?” asked Floyd.

“Wanna try?” Sarah ripped out the sketch and placed the paper on the floor. The drawing was no larger than his foot. “Step on it.” Floyd did.

Once his foot was inside the circle, Floyd found it impossible to move out of it. He could twist and turn inside of it, but his foot would not leave the trap. Sarah let out an excited squeal.

“It works!”

Floyd reached down and ripped the paper through the drawing, disturbing the charcoal. He lifted his foot easily off the paper. Sarah jumped,

“Here!” She gave him a wet paper towel to wipe off the charcoal before he could step on the carpet again.

“What are you practicing for? Are you planning on getting a really big piece of paper under him?” Sarah threw a pillow at him.

“No. I’m going to engrave it into these,” she said. Reaching behind her, Sarah revealed a pistol and a handful of bullets.

“Woah woah woah woah! Where did you get a gun?!”

“Relax, Floyd. It was Jane’s. I found it under our bed. It’s a little scary, actually...” She rested the gun on the upholstery, pointing the barrel away from the two of them. “I figure if I engraved the design on the bullets, then they would trap him if we shot him.” She said this matter-of-factly, as if shooting someone was part of her daily routine. “And then we could, I dunno, rip his head off?” Floyd was speechless.

“That is badass,” he said. Sarah laughed nervously

“Yeah, honestly I have no idea what I’m doing and I figured I should run this by you just to check if–” she was stammering, which was unlike her.

“Sarah, it sounds great. But, we have no way of finding him,” he looked at the silver gun, “and can you even shoot a gun?”

“Well–”

“A few hours of duck hunt does not–”

“I was going to say!” Sarah cocked her head, daring him to keep talking. But what she thought was that he sounded like Jane. “That Meredith has something for that too.” She raised an eyebrow. Hearing no resistance, she kept going, “one of her entries mentions that she followed him one night. He goes out for walks on the street maybe twice a week, looking for victims. Not that far from here.”

“And you want us to go walking too? Nuh uh. Not a good idea. What if we went back to Meredith’s house?” he suggested.

“No, then he’ll know we’re after him.” Sarah shuddered, remembering his final threat. “We need to catch him by surprise.”

“How?”

“Find a pattern to the victims and then find someone who–”

“No! We’re not using someone else as bait. That’s not right. It isn’t what Jane or Tony would want.” Floyd crossed his arms.

“Fair enough.” Sarah weaved her hands through her hair and sighed in frustration. “But I don’t know what else to do.”

Floyd reached for the pile of documents on the coffee table.

“These Meredith’s logs?” he asked. Sarah nodded. He leafed through the papers. Sarah had circled and underlined in yellow highlighter lines of text. The stack was half an inch tall.

“I’ve only gone through about half of them,” she said.

“Gotta pick up the pace.” Floyd tsked teasingly and smiled at her. He started digging and picked up the highlighter.

I shot Him. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Right on the forehead. Nothing. Next time, I’ll aim for the heart, if I can even get there.

“Hey, did you know she survived? In the video, she said she was going to shoot him...and now,” he lifted up the remaining papers, “there’s all this after she shot him.”

“Really? I was just skimming for advice. If she survived then maybe...maybe she’s still alive! She can help us!” Sarah was happier than she had been in a long time. “Well, keep reading!” she encouraged. Floyd shuffled through until a phrase caught his eye.

“He seems to be the most vulnerable when he visits His domain. This must be the ideal time to strike. He goes whenever He needs to check on his victims or souls or whatever.”

Floyd highlighted the whole entry. Feeling impatient, he skipped to the last page and read,

“I have to get out of this house. I’m sneaking out tonight...I’ll try and leave no trail for Him to follow. I’ll lay out a way for others to find these entries and help me…

Okay P.S: Hello, stranger! Here’s how you can find me. HELP ME

“Wow, she’s really desperate here,” Floyd said.

“Wouldn’t you be?”

Floyd continued to read aloud.

“Every Friday night I’ll hang out at 4044 Medower St. between the hours of 11pm and 12am. It’s an old Fazio’s parking lot. Only come if you’re serious about killing Him. I’m counting on you, whoever you are...”

“That’s great!” Sarah said.

“Do you really think we should go? Don’t you think this sounds a bit too perfect?” he asked. Floyd didn’t want to be skeptical, but he didn’t want them to dig early graves either.

“I don’t know, what do you want to do, Floyd? Sit around and hope something happens? Wait for someone else to get killed?” There was a twinge of anger in her voice. Floyd held his hands up defensively. “Look, we won’t actually be doing any killing. We’ll give the gun to Meredith and she can finish the job for us. Besides,” she sighed, “she has more right to. And she seems like a woman who knows her way around a gun.”

“Fine. We’ll go,” Floyd huffed. “I wish I could see Tony again.”

“Well, maybe he’ll come tonight,” Sarah said. She was feeling optimistic.

“Maybe,” Tony conceded.

Sarah pushed him to the side playfully. “It’s Monday. We have four more days.” Floyd didn’t seem hopeful. She was trying to cheer him up, but sensed that she was not a very good replacement Tony.

“Go take a nap or whatever.” she said. When he still didn’t respond, Sarah went to the kitchen and fetched the half-empty bottle of wine and two glasses. She poured a small amount in each glass.

“To killing this bitch.” Sarah raised her glass.

“Killing this bitch,” Floyd echoed. They clinked glasses.

“Sweet dreams.”

Floyd muttered his agreement and walked back upstairs. He felt wide awake. The last thing he could think about was sleep. He gulped his wine–which was room temperature and stale–and crashed upon the bed, staring up at the ceiling.

Shin could not help himself. He was agitated and needed to release some of his anger. How? The only way he knew how. It would be time for another toll, he reasoned. His hunger was ravenous; the more he killed, the more victims he needed to sustain his wanton obsession. The hearts, they called out to him. Shin breathed deeply and went for a walk. He would not need many more to complete his collection, Shin thought, feeling as if his mission would finally come to a close soon.

Streetlights dimmed as he stalked past them; they’d rather not know what he was up to. They had good reason to shy away. Something about this night was different. The wind had uncharacteristically ceased to filter through the streets and paw through people’s hair. The people had stopped hailing taxis and preferred to walk tonight. The neon lights of the bars glowed brighter. It was the perfect atmosphere.

Someone bumped into him. Well, Shin had seen the girl walking towards him and had decided to let the collision happen. She had four piercings in each ear and stank of alcohol. Her name was Molly–no–Monique. Indian. With a distaste for children. But she was not worth his time. Her heart did not call out to him as so many others had. Not like Tony’s, who was still fresh in his mind. Shin believed in fate, and it was not meant to pass. He kept walking and put his hood up.

Shin didn’t directly interfere with the actions of others; he simply observed the world as it tore itself apart. Shin saw a man coming out of a Chinese restaurant. He was carrying a briefcase and graying. There was a faint pull towards him–thin as a single thread. It was enough. The man walked to his car and got in the driver’s side. Shin opened the passenger door and sat down like it was his own car.

“What the hell?! Get out of my car!” the man demanded. Shin merely smiled. The man softened and put a hand on his shoulder, mistaking Shin for a teenager. “Are you drunk? Do you need me to call someone? A friend to pick you up?” Shin said nothing, relishing the moments before the man would be his.

“Can you take me home?” Shin asked. The man was clearly still agitated. He rubbed his stubble and considered this. He checked his watch. The man’s name was Harold, though he went by Harry.

As Harry turned the key in the ignition, Shin reached over and stabbed him through the abdomen. Shin wrapped his arms around the man and rocked him back and forth like a child. He smoothed his gray hair and comforted him. And then Harry was dead.

Shin had found that as long as his chosen was in his arms, the person would go to his domain safe and sound. Where they were meant to be. He had discovered this when he was four years old. His parents had gifted him a dalmatian puppy for his birthday. But it was untrained. The dog chewed up Shin’s favorite stuffed animal. Stuffing was everywhere when he went into his room. For a four year old, this was a serious transgression. He flung the dog against the wall of his bedroom over and over in his rage. And then Shin was horrified. What had he done? He scooped up the dog as the life drained out of its small body. His parents were furious, but such a disgrace could not get out. Shin wept for days. Of course, he had stopped grieving over the animal’s loss once he realized that he could visit and play with it anytime. In his own private world. He hadn’t felt the urge to take anyone else to his domain for twenty years. It had been his little secret until twenty years later, when he shared it with Meredith. And now she was safe too. Shin let go of Harry and got out of the car, clearing the blood as he left.

Shin wiped his knife on his black pants and put it back in his pocket. He felt better, if only for a few minutes. He started to feel fidgety and restless and confused. The further he walked, the more this feeling grew. Why had a toll not satisfied him this time? he thought feverishly. He wrung his hands and scratched his scalp and went home.

Vibrations thrummed through the spirits of Shin’s domain, more violent and frequent than they had ever been. The air sizzled with anticipation. Jane looked to the throne and witnessed the beam of light stretch down from the sky and electrify the chair. Shin would not be in a good mood. His canine jumped up.

Jane positioned herself precisely far enough away that Shin would be irritated when he saw that she was not grouped with the others. If he was in a bad mood, then he would want to see Jane, which meant that he was already walking over to her. She turned away as she sensed him drawing near. She could feel his frustration, like a sticky cloud, surrounding them both.

Jane. She felt his hand on her shoulder acutely, its weight unfamiliar and pressing her down. Look at me. Her killer stepped in front of her. Jane looked him straight in the eyes and then–purposefully–looked away. This was the tipping point. Shin snapped his fingers and suddenly Tony was beside him. This is what happens when you make an enemy of me.

Swiftly, and with a paternal air, Shin, the Shepherd of his own domain, struck Tony across the face. Jane gasped as he fell. Upon contact a shockwave rippled throughout the domain, startling all the spirits there.

The next time you slight me, I will obliterate him. Shin stalked away.

Tony’s body was crumpled like a bird with a broken wing. His eyes were shut and he appeared to be sleeping. Jane hoped that it had been worth it.

Floyd was playing Monopoly. His eighth grade math teacher sat on his left. Floyd had dominated the entire right side of the board, but for some reason whenever he landed on one of Mr. Finnigan’s properties, he would always pay $64. His money was dwindling fast. And it didn’t help that he only got to use one die; Mr. Finnigan had three.

“Really, we haven’t unlocked your full potential,” said Mr. Finnigan as he revealed a second layer of properties.

“But there are no more houses!” Floyd said desperately.

“Hey,” a voice said. There was a hand on Floyd’s wrist. He looked up, away from Mr. Finnigan’s crazed expression, into Tony’s eyes. “It’s alright. We’ll just have to frack the neighborhood,” Tony said. It was weird having to talk again after being dead for so long. His voice wasn’t strong, but he hoped the line would bring Floyd out of the scenario. It was what he had said to Floyd when they were searching for apartments.

Floyd teared up. The board game disappeared and they were both in their own apartment. A drop of lucidity was added to the mix. He hugged Tony. He squeezed tightly. He couldn’t get enough of him.

“I missed you,” Floyd said, his voice muffled by Tony’s t-shirt. Tony shushed him and pulled away. Then he kissed him, taking his face with two hands.

Dream kissing was amazing. Floyd didn’t need to breathe or stop. Just feel. The spell collapsed when he tasted tears. He rested his forehead on Tony’s.

“I need to tell you something.”

“Me too.” They both smiled. Floyd let Tony go first.

“Shin has to be fought in both dimensions to be killed. Us spirits are going to rush him to break his connection to this place whenever you decide the time is right, and then it’ll be up to you to...” he swallowed, “finish the job.”

“How did you know we were still after Shin?” Floyd asked.

“Oh, like I don’t know you?” Tony asked.

“More like you don’t know Sarah. Hellbent, that one.” They laughed.

“What’s it like up there? Being dead?” Tony was taken aback by Floyd’s question. He stammered for a moment before Floyd took his hand.

“I don’t think I should tell you. Wherever I am doesn’t feel like the final destination, even though I am trapped here.” Floyd accepted this. He nodded.

“Does this attack have to be simultaneous?” he asked.

“Pretty much.” Tony bit his lip.

“How will we know when he’s lost his connection?”

“I’m pretty sure you’ll know. Look for bright lights,” Tony said.

“And then he’ll be killable?”

“From what we figure.”

“Okay...okay.” Floyd would make sure to tell this to Meredith. In the meantime, he couldn’t stop running his hands up and down Tony’s arms. He was crying. He was touching Tony. And Tony was dead. He would never come back to him.

“You know, you’re really making this hard for me.” And then Floyd was kissing Tony and hugging his small frame.

“You’ll live,” Tony said. He cringed at his own comment.

“Ooo, that wasn’t very good,” Floyd teased.

“No, it wasn’t.”

“We have a plan. Right now, it’s Thursday afternoon. I probably fell asleep at three...I don’t know what time it is now.”

“Let me check.” Before Floyd could say another word, Tony drew himself out of the dream fog and looked at the alarm clock. It was 4:54pm. He positioned his body over Floyd’s and fell through him again.

“It’s almost five,” he told Floyd.

“Okay,” Floyd was so happy that he could barely speak, “Friday at midnight. Sarah and I are going to meet Meredith. We’ll set a time and place, and then we’ll find him and… Anyway I’ll be–”

“I’ll be able to find you.” Tony assured him. Tony thought Floyd’s plan was hazy at best. He reasoned that maybe Meredith wanted to make sure everything went smoothly herself. After all, Sarah would probably take the spirit of someone she had never met more seriously.

“Would I have to be asleep to talk to you?” Floyd asked. Tony snapped out of his thoughts.

“I don’t know. Maybe I can talk to you without you sleeping, considering I’ve had some practice.” In truth, Tony had no idea if this could be done. But if Meredith could do it, he would try.

“Good. That’s good.” Floyd took a breath, “Jane should visit Sarah. I think that would cheer her up.” Tony looked down at his shoes.

“Jane doesn’t remember Sarah.” There was a short pause.

“What?”

“Everytime I mention her to Jane, her face goes blank. Shin must have done some memory thing to her. He does that to spirits who are especially sad. It’s been hard hiding it from him...”

“That’s awful. Will you forget me?” Floyd gripped Tony’s shoulders, making him look up.

“Shin angers easily. It’s possible. I’m sure if he knew I was here with you he would wipe my memories. Every second I spend with you is a risk.”

“Then you should go!” Floyd said.

“No, but–” Tony argued.

“Tony, if you forget me too, then we’ll have nothing left to fight for. Please, go,” he insisted.

And so–for Floyd–Tony willed himself away. As soon as he wished it, he was dragged back to Shin’s domain. The action reminded Tony of the claw in a prize machine. Always hovering over him, prepared to steal him away at a moment’s notice.

His heart serves as the chamber for all spirits. If we converged on him simultaneously we could break the dam and force him out of here temporarily. At least, that’s my theory. Meredith was speaking to all of the spirits. Shin was away for the moment. This was the perfect plan for when the time came, Tony thought. Now, all that was left was for Meredith to tell Floyd and Sarah.

What if it doesn’t work? Some said. Indeed, the scheme did seem dubious.

The worst he can do is get rid of us, in his mind. Lord knows, I would love to leave. A few of the other spirits nodded. Everyone be on their toes. I don’t want anyone left behind when we strike. That includes you, Miuk. Meredith addressed her cat. The crowd, feeling this was the end of her speech, dispersed. Tony wandered around and asked the spirits,

Does anyone know how to keep time? What’s the ratio is between here and the living world? He needed to make sure Meredith went at the right time. The spirit with the long horizontal scar on their chest acknowledged him.

The ratio is quadrupled.

It was almost five when I left.

If it’s five now, as you say, then we will need to wait only 7 hours and 45 minutes for 31 to pass there.

Then someone keep time. Right now! Tony shouted. He was not sure if many spirits heard him.

I’ll do it. It was a little girl. She had been hiding behind Meredith earlier. The girl sat and screwed up her face in deep concentration. Tony laughed goodnaturedly and patted her head.

Floyd jerked awake. He almost tripped down the stairs in his rush to tell Sarah.

“Sarah!”

“What? I’m right here. Don’t have to yell.” Sarah was in the kitchen.

“He came. Tony came!” Floyd said.

“That’s great! What did he say?”

“Meredith does need help from the spirits! They’re going to weaken him! Break his connection to his dimension. Then he’s vulnerable, just like anyone else.” Floyd noticed the bowls in front of her and the gloves she was wearing. “What are you doing?”

“Etching bullets. The ferric chloride will eat away at anywhere that isn’t covered in Sharpie.” Sarah put a bullet in her palm to show him. The trap was drawn in black Sharpie.

“Cool.” Floyd reached out for it, but Sarah pulled away.

“Don’t, the oil from your hands can screw up the process. I already have a few done if you want to clean them. Here,” she handed him a piece of steel wool, “clean those three,” she gestured to a few bullets drying on a piece of newspaper.

The design appeared as he scratched at the permanent ink. It was slightly raised from the rest of the bullet. It only took him a few minutes to clean them. Suddenly it all seemed very real to him. This was not some fantasy or game in his head; they were actually doing this.

“Who’s going to shoot him?” he asked.

“What?” Her tone was surprised. The reality of the situation was catching up to her too.

“Who’s going to actually fire the gun and kill the guy?” There was a long silence. It stretched time out like taffy until finally Sarah said,

“I don’t know Floyd. I don’t know.” But what she thought was: I’ll shoot him before we ever give this gun to Meredith.

The doorbell rang.

“Ugh, can you get that? It’s dinner.” Sarah said.

“Sure.” Floyd went to the front door. The bell rang again just before he opened it.

“Hey, large pepperoni?” The delivery guy was dressed all in black. A jolt of fear went through Floyd.

“Um, yeah,” Floyd said. The man looked up. He was just a kid. Floyd let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding.

“That’ll be $9.74.”

Floyd fished out a ten from his wallet, still shaken, and took the pizza. He shut the door very slowly as the kid stepped off the porch. Floyd watched him get into his car and drive away.

Sarah turned the key in Meredith’s car. The blue convertible purred to life. The gun was in her lap. The drive to the parking lot was tense. Sarah experienced the anticipatory feeling she got just before she rode a rollercoaster the whole way.

The parking lot was grubby and unkempt. Sarah parked Meredith’s car. There was one other car in the lot. She felt bad for stealing Meredith’s car when she could have used it to get here. Nothing to be done about it now.

“Take it.” she said, holding the gun out to Floyd. To be honest, Floyd didn’t know if he could shoot somebody. If he even had it in him. He was glad Meredith would do it. He remembered why they were doing this. Not just for Jane and Tony, but for Meredith and all others who were terrorized by him. Floyd wrapped the gun in his jacket and he and Sarah got out of the car.

“Nearly midnight, friends,” a voice called out.

“Meredith?” Sarah knew in her gut that it wasn’t her; the voice didn’t sound anything like Mery.

What’s the time? Tony asked the little girl. This was the fourth time he had asked her, he was so nervous. Tonight needed to go right.

Down there, it’s eight minutes to midnight. For us, only two. She said. Tony nodded and relayed this to Meredith.

Shouldn’t you be down there? Tony continued. Floyd and Sarah are expecting you. Midnight tonight, right? Her head snapped around, hair almost whipping him in the face.

What? Meredith’s eyes went wide. I didn’t arrange anything! She got up in Tony’s face. What exactly did they say?!

Floyd-Floyd said that he and Sarah were going to meet you at midnight! He was surprised thoughts could sound shaky.

I’m not who’s meeting them. She was pissed.

Then what should we do?!

I have a plan. Meredith said. Gather the others! Quickly, dammit!

The voice’s owner stepped around their car. It was Shin.

Floyd’s already fast heart rate jumped. Where was Meredith? Floyd thought anxiously. He checked his watch. 11:56pm.

Sarah stole the jacket and the gun from Floyd and exposed the weapon like a poorly kept secret. Now was her chance. Sarah tried to pull the trigger, but couldn’t. She had talked the talk, or at least thought it. And now she was a coward. And it didn’t matter that it was for Jane and Tony. She couldn’t do this, not even for herself. To save her own life.

“I thought I told you to not come after me?” Shin stepped closer. Floyd pulled Sarah behind him, taking the gun from her hand. Floyd raised the gun, his hand shaking.

“Don’t take another step! You’re not hurting anyone else!” he said. How had Shin known they would be here? And where was Meredith? Had he killed her tonight?

Shin took another step. Floyd couldn’t pull the trigger. He screamed in frustration. Shin smirked and laughed at him. Sarah reached out.

“For Tony and Jane.” She ran her hand up Floyd’s arm and curled her hand around his so that both of their fingers were on the trigger. “Together.” It was a command full of conviction. Floyd nodded. Together they were stronger. This was about more than just the deaths of their loved ones.

“Where’s Meredith?” Sarah asked. Shin shook his head, unable to control his laughter. It was now or never. Sarah pressed her body into Floyd’s back.

“Together!” Floyd said. He felt Sarah’s finger press into the trigger just as he did. The pistol kicked back as the bullet roared out of the barrel.

Shin fell to his knees and screamed, but not for long. The man clutched his heart where the bullet entered and continued to laugh. It was disturbing.

Had they failed? Sarah thought. Shin still looked very alive.

“You fools. You played right into my hands.” Sarah and Floyd looked at each other, not knowing what to think. “I wrote Meredith’s diary! At least, after she shot me. Then I just had to take her. You see,” he got to his feet. Floyd and Sarah stepped back. “I wanted to die! Now I will be in my glorious domain forever! With my multitude of friends!” He laughed his cold laugh again. He tried to take a step forward and found that he couldn’t move.

Specks of white light suddenly appeared like tiny fireworks. They were spread out all around them and sparked with white light. Shin was taken-aback. Sarah and Floyd were confused, but only for a moment.

“They’re here! The spirits!” Floyd shouted.

In the end, it wasn’t a gun that defeated Shin. Or blood loss. Or the bullet that penetrated his heart. Or his willingness to die. Dying was easy; defeat was harder. No, what really thwarted the man in black was spirits. They were the final nails in the coffin. The sparks of light no bigger than fireflies converged on Shin and lunged into his heart and the wound there. Almost all of them.

Jane halted for a moment. There was a woman in her mid-twenties. Sarah. It was all coming back to her. Their first kiss all the way up to the hospital room. Tony stayed with her.

Two stayed behind. Floyd and Sarah knew what they were. The sparks hovered there, glowing brightly. Then, they entered the hearts of their companions. Sarah and Floyd each saw flashes of memories with their beloved and experienced the essence of a spirit. It was light. Electricity. And love. They each heard it, loud and clear, a voice saying “I love you.” The spirits extricated themselves difficulty–for they too did not want to say goodbye–from the living hearts. They floated there for a few moments and then, with the grace of doves, joined the rest. Sarah could not help reaching out her hand, but she did not stop them as they too entered Shin’s heart.

Shin’s whole body shook and radiated white light. An animalistic scream came from him just before a beacon of light stretched down from above and shattered his body into a thousand shards of light. Floyd and Sarah covered their eyes.

86 new stars appeared in the sky for just that night. Reporters and newspapers called them ‘Short Stars.’ They said that a lightning storm had electrified particles in the atmosphere in a strange, new phenomenon. Over time, they gradually faded until scientific instruments could no longer detect them.

It was bright–as most mornings are. Sarah and Floyd watched the sun rise from Meredith’s car before the funeral. They hadn’t slept all night. The gun was locked away in the glove box. When it was time, they stood over Jane and Tony’s graves.

“We did the right thing,” Sarah said. Her eyes were red from crying.

“We killed that bitch.” Floyd sat down.

“All of us,” said Sarah. She sat on the grass next to him. It was prickly and made her legs itch.

“Love conquers all,” Floyd said.

“Oh, don’t be like that.”

“Like what?”

“All Disney movie and shit,” Sarah said. She wiped her face with the back of her hand. Floyd hummed the opening of ‘When You Wish Upon a Star.’ Sarah shoved him and they both laughed.

“Do you think they’re in a better place?” she asked.

“Definitely.” Floyd squeezed Sarah’s hand and sniffed.

They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes, feeling the weight of their sadness like an old coat. A little to big for them, but not unwelcome.

 

 


© Copyright 2018 Grayson01. All rights reserved.

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