Death Games : (Looking for Sally II)
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136 pages
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Description

At the end of a deadly roadtrip, Charlie sets out on a frantic search for her father left for dead, following a trail of breadcrumbs laid by an increasingly vicious demon on the verge of incarnation.
The countdown is on as Sally embarks on a dangerous experiment and the death toll keeps on rising…
A gory, disturbing thriller that takes us deeper and deeper into the darkness of the human psyche.
Readers discretion is advised.

Sujets

Informations

Publié par
Date de parution 27 décembre 2021
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9782312087948
Langue Français

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0300€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

Death Games
Stéphanie Munch
Death Games
( Looking for Sally II )
LES ÉDITIONS DU NET
126, rue du Landy 93400 St Ouen
© Les Éditions du Net, 2021
ISBN : 978-2-312-08794-8
When you know that your time is close at hands
maybe then you’ll begin to understand,
life down here is just a strange illusion









Readers discretion is advised ( Explicit content/violence)
Foreword
I have been a fan of reading & horror stories since I was a young boy, so much so that it has inspired and influenced many of the knives and weapons I’ve made over the years. I’ve been told that I’ve inspired many smiths over the years. Being an inspiration for not one but, two horror stories written by Stephanie was a thrill and an honor. Also, being able to help and advise on a few aspects of the books was quite a lot of fun as well. I hope you enjoy the Sally books as much as I have.
J. Neilson
ABS Master Bladesmith & Forged in Fire Judge
Into the darkness
– Do you believe in God, Charlie ?
Nate’s words were playing in a loop in Charlie’s head, already overwhelmed with crazy, uncontrollable thoughts, as the teenager was walking up the slightly sloping alley to Holy Trinity Church. A scarf was covering her lips and a hood the top of her face, but her fever-bright eyes were browsing the street like those of a hunted animal. Three days. It had taken her three days to get to Poughkeepsie, and sometimes Charlie thought that what kept her standing was also what would eventually kill her.
Her mismatched clothes had been through rain and wind, and her body was tired of walking the streets and hiding at the back of buses to avoid meeting the eyes of adults. Running away had been her only option. Now and then she still could see the three bodies lying on the carpet of her aunt’s living room, the blood splattered on the walls, and she still could feel the dizziness of the shock. It was as if pulling the trigger was like being crushed by a 8000 pounds truck at full speed. That’s it, Charlie , welcome on the dark side . Consciousness had returned to her right after that, along with her freewill. Her muscles had finally reconnected to her brain, but way too slowly, to obey her will alone again. Then Charlie had dropped the weapon and she would always remember the sound the metal made when hitting the ground. Bang .
That’s what he’d been trying to do all along, use her like a puppet. Satisfy his appetite for violence and murder through her hands and spew his hatred of this world out of her mouth. Even in the most remote places she could feel him deep inside her, like a rattlesnake about to uncoil and attack. You lost, Charlie .
She felt dirty, helpless. At dawn she had slipped into the locker room of a deserted gym and stood for long minutes under a hot shower, unable to straighten out her thoughts. Even the hot water on her skin hadn’t solved or washed anything away ; then she had put her soiled clothes back on, her sneakers which were loose as if they had been through hell, and set off again. But where was she heading to, she had no fucking idea.
Charlie’s only option was to run, run away from Boston , from the cops, and even from her mother. She didn’t want to hear from anyone or anything anymore, and she wanted to silence the voice that had irrevocably led her down the still-warm path of their bloody roadtrip. The last step before the end of all things. Yes , she had heard the journalist and these words felt like sharp pointed spikes driven deep into her flesh, so yes, she knew.
Did she believe in their fucking god, the god who took her father away from her ? Not anymore. Never again.
– Come on Charlie, why won’t you answer ?
Her memory was playing games as the silhouette of the church came into view up the street. The shrill howl of the beast and her feet being ripped off the ground as if she was a rag doll. The rage. The pain in her belly. And that haunting rattle music that grew louder as she was getting closer to her goal.
Charlie slightly lifted her hood to take a look at the building in front of her. It was a terrible risk, and she could already feel the shuddering inside. The doors opened almost effortlessly, as if the place had been waiting for her. Her heart clenched and her lips trembled as she walked through the central nave, trying not to look back at the bench where she had seen her father wake up, their last exchange before the creature infected her. See, I came back, Daddy.
Tears began to roll down her cheeks and mouth, leaving a sweet salty taste, and she pulled down her scarf. Just like a perfectly orchestrated play, the priest appeared at the back of the church, rising from the seat he had been sitting on. Their eyes met and he froze, as if the devil himself had just entered. The atmosphere in the church was terribly heavy, and the teenager felt as if a thin film had been set between her and reality, a light veil that darkened everything and dulled even the light through the stained glass windows. The transept was pitch black, and even the crucifix at the back of the church looked as dark as ebony.
Charlie could feel it, and sense the throbbing tension under the priest’s wrist. She could sense it, guess it ; the presence of the beast inside her had sharpened her senses. It was vibrating. Soon the silence would be broken, the sacred would be profaned, and there would be blood and fury. But Charlie needed her answer, she wanted a reason for everything she had been through and the name of whatever had been relentlessly tearing her guts apart since the night she had run away from her aunt’s house, leaving three dead bodies behind. She wanted a direction, a sign, anything. She wouldn’t leave that church without it.
– You’ve come back.
The priest’s voice echoed in the nave, almost monotone, slightly shaky. Charlie knew it, the impulse would soon be too strong to resist. She had to stop the beast from cutting the priest’s belly open straight away, to have a chance to get what she was here for. The rage was growing within like a carnivorous plant, ready to extract itself and spread its fury. Give me a little time, patience.
– You know why.
The man moved slowly forward, forced to stand on the altar to support his carcass, and stopped right in front of her. Exactly, eye to eye. He looked tired, and hesitant.
– You couldn’t save him. But you can save yourself.
– I refuse to believe what they told me.
– Charlie, your father is dead.
That’s what they want, the beast whispered. To make you cry, to take away your courage. Kill him, kill him . The creature was almost dancing in her belly.
– I know you’re lying.
– Look, it’s not too late. You’ve got to find your mother.
– She’s the one who stabbed him and I’ll kill her too.
– Kid, you need help.
– Help ? Where I stand no one can help me anymore.
There was that ominous, almost unbereable tension, and the words refused to come out at first.
– I killed my aunt, I killed two cops. No one will let me live after this.
– You can stay here. He’ll look after you.
Charlie wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve, avoiding Father O’Neill’s gaze. His kindness rekindled too many things, a strange and warm feeling. But that was precisely what the creature loathed and sought to destroy. It was like a click.
The moan was coming up her throat like a blazing fire and it was too late anyway. The impulse rose from her toes to the top of her head and was too powerful to resist. Charlie drew the knife from inside her jacket and her arm pounced with a terrible rage on Father O’Neill’s chest. The old man did not react. He did not even move. Not a flinch. As she stood close to his face, she thought she heard a whisper, though the priest’s lips were not moving at all.
– Wait…
The end of the sentence got lost in a cacophony of sounds and chants that emerged in her head like a scene from a horror movie, so deafening that it momentarily confused all her senses.
Then Charlie felt the wide blade dig in and readjusted her grip on the handle to cut all the way down to his lower abdomen, releasing a mix of guts and blood that dripped onto the priestly garb. Not enough , the creature growled. Still it wanted more. Charlie could feel the frustration, but the tears suddenly came back, blocking out her vision, and she pulled herself together. She had to leave, right away, not give them time to find her. In the fog, she withdrew the blade and wrapped it in the priest’s scarf then put it back in her bag. Her hands were trembling, her whole body was shaking. Everything seemed to be slipping away from her.
The song was gone, her father was gone, and she had just murdered a man of the Church. From the depths of her gut, what was left of little Charlie begged her to run.
Coma
Boston , three days earlier.
The sound of the gurney wheels rolled through the hospital hall like thunder.
– He’s going down, he’s lost too much blood.
Agent Harris’ gaze rose lazily to the medical team, who seemed to have lost faith in what they were doing. His head was still aching after the night spent in the field without a break, and the seats in the waiting room didn’t offer the comfort his sore joints required. Go, the chief told him, you’ll see, just a domestic dispute gone bad. Harris slid into a chair, wrapping his arms around his head trying to find a more comfortable position. Now he had to wait for the guy to die, or wake up, and he wasn’t sure which option was the best one.
At the other end of the hallway a little boy was playing and making faces at him between two runs on the slippery floor. His own kids had stopped doing that a while ago, but it brought a discreet smile to his face. There was a girl, in this case. And this wasn’t just another fucking domestic dispute. The more he’d unraveled the threads of this crazy story, the more he had regretted setting foot in it ; the wife had clearly tried to get rid of the husband by sticking a pair of scissors in his neck but the scissors narrowly missed their target, and the wife disappeared right after the murder attempt. The brief discussion he had had with the hotel staff hadn’t taught him much except that she probably was a junkie, a psychotic, or a bit of both, and that she hadn’t left her room during the whole stay.
Nothing very unusual so far. But then he had got that call from his colleague, in a state of total panic. Two agents had just been coldly shot in Back Bay by a fourteen year old girl, who also blew her aunt’s head off in the process. Plot twist : the girl was the daughter of the feuding couple. There were moments, like this one, when Harris blessed his peaceful family life and the routine of the office.
– Sir ?
He looked up at the young nurse, who gave him a vaguely apologetic smile. Tired as he was, the only thing he noticed about her was that she had very nice dimples and endless legs.
– It’s probably going to take a while, would you like a coffee ?
– I’d love one.
Harris went back browsing the notes on his cell phone to keep himself busy. He would have to contact Seattle later in the day. Maybe they could enlighten him and explain this collective breakdown. Nothing really made sense, and his eyelids were too heavy to think about it properly anyway.
– Vincent ?
The husky voice of his colleague startled Harris.
– Anything new ?
The old man sprawled in the chair next to him, obviously in no better shape than he was. His withered skin tone and the greyish dark circles under his eyes took on a strange hue under the neon lights of the hospital hallway.
– I have to wait for him to wake up – if he ever wakes up. Any news about the kid ?
– She fled. A neighbor said he saw her run away after the shooting, and since then, we lost her track.
– Sounds bad.
– They’re all twisted in that family, said the old man while playing with the cigarette pack in his pocket.
Old habits die hard , Harris mused. He remained silent for a while, his eyes wandering to the reception area where the employee seemed to be struggling with an agitated patient. The nurse passed by again in the other direction and handed him a paper cup from which steam was coming out. He thanked her with a nod before answering his colleague.
– Yep. A really weird story. I bet the father tried to bring the wife back home.
– Don’t think too much about it, Vincent. If he wakes up, you go talk to him, we’ll write it all down just like we always do and then go for a drink.
He had punctuated his analysis with a shrug of the shoulders before repositioning his 265 pounds in the plastic of the seat. Maybe it would be as simple as the old man intended, maybe not. Vincent Harris had been working for the Boston Police Department for too long now and he knew how to recognize a dirty trick when he saw one. He took a first sip of coffee that made him wince and probably ripped some skin off his palate, before putting it back down next to him.
– Go home, I’ll call you if anything happens.
The old man simply nodded, then stood up to give him a gentle tap on the shoulder. He was close to retirement and appreciated to be kept out of trouble.
– Don’t fall asleep on the chairs, Vincent, bad things could happen.
The old man’s advice was vain, and after an hour of boredom reading all sorts of unsavoury magazines, Vincent Harris had finally let down, his head wedged between the back of the chair and the wall. He even had a dream, one of those akward dreams you have when you fall asleep at an inconvenient time, in an inconvenient place. He didn’t usually dream much, but that day the thoughts had followed one another without a break, each one darker than the previous one. There was blood, screams, bodies piled up with a gigantic spade passed through as if to create a peculiarly sordid piece of art. And then, Vincent Harris saw the eyes. Two eyes like round marbles in dark, empty sockets, reflecting the dancing fires of hell.
He could have spent hours trapped in this nightmare if he hadn’t been woken up by a very annoying sensation of tiny, hairy insect legs roaming over his cheeks and mouth. The bug seemed to have a thing for him. Harris opened his eyes, brushed the bug away with his hand. But then it came back, bold and probably a little reckless. He waited patiently for the creature to stop its flight and land, vulnerable, a few inches away from his feet. Harris had his revenge. The heel strike echoed throughout the hall, and he felt an odd satisfaction. A second after this act of bravery, the nurse reappeared at the end of the hall, and she was walking toward him.
– Sir ? He’s awake.
Vincent Harris collected what was left of his thoughts and stood up to follow the young woman. The hallway had a turn beyond which you had the disturbing feeling to enter another world. As soon as you had left the sanitized and quiet waiting room you were drown into the surgical department whose every door seemed to open onto another creepy scene. The smell of blood mingled with that of ether and other equally sickening things. At the end of the corridor, the nurse pointed to the room where the patient was waking up.
– The surgery went well but he was given strong painkillers and I’m not sure he’ll be able to talk to you.
– It won’t take long.
Harris sensed a strange atmosphere as he pushed the door, probably due to the gloom that was reigning in that place. The man lying under the sheet still seemed to be asleep, and he had to come closer to realize that his eyes were wide open, bright and haggard, staring at the ceiling. The man flinched as Harris pulled out a chair to sit beside the bed.
– Don’t worry, everything’s fine. My name is Vincent Harris. I’m here to try to figure out what happened.
Abandon all hope
The smell of old leather and cigarettes wafted around him. But the first thing James perceived of the man sitting next to his hospital bed, from the depths of the fog, was a profound serenity, and an almost supernatural calm. And also, a vague notion of danger. Be careful what you say , man . Right now, James didn’t feel like he could say anything anyway ; the back of his throat was sore and dry, his joints frozen, and he could barely feel the position of his own body. Everything seemed heavy and painful, everything appeared blurry. Being unable to move was the worse part.
It felt as if he had just woken up from a long nightmare and the reality still escaped him ; his eyes seemed to be open but the forms remained indistinct and pale like in a dream. Only a discrete pinch was sending some kinds of intermittent signals in his neck, a pain that was for now still soothed by the drugs. His brain, however, seemed to be spinning in a wringer at full speed. What had happened ? Why was he kept here ? Rather than answers, he had sensations, frightening sensations. Complete darkness, rage, despair.
The man pulled the chair closer to him and he felt his warm breath on the back of his neck. The man gave off an oddly gentle and familiar energy.
– I don’t know if you can hear me, or understand what I’m saying.
There was a loud echo in his head but James understood perfectly, and he nodded.
– All right. I’m an officer from the Boston Police Department . I’m here because you had an argument with your wife, and she left you in pretty bad shape.
A fucking cop, J. Watch it.
– Do you remember that ?
James nodded again. Saliva ran down his dry throat, and he tried to whisper something.
– Don’t try to talk right away. You’ve just undergone heavy surgery.
James was trying so hard to understand and remember. But the connections were arduous and too slow, and he was struggling. Of course they argued with Sally, she didn’t believe him. The images were playing randomly in his mind, the fight, the hotel room and his crazy car ride through Boston. The sidewalk that had bitten the rims hard, the drunken feeling and the burning hood under his palm. Something, in spite of the fog, was trying to pull him back in time, back to the previous scene.
– Do you remember what the argument was about ?
– She left.
The whisper was very faint, almost inaudible. James made a terrible effort to put his finger on the real source of his anguish, and it wasn’t Sally. Yes she had hurt him, but there was something else. He wasn’t truly worried about her.
– We know that she left home and that you came to Boston to find her. We also know that she was not her usual self. Could it be that she was under the influence of any substances ? Did she do drugs ?
James just wanted the guy to shut up and give him enough time to remember. A moment of silence, an interstice, in which he could have rushed to seek the hidden message. A bizarre image came to his mind, totally incongruous, that of a heart beating at the bottom of a box. A heart that jiggled like an animal and whose valves palpitated letting out gouts of blood. Charlie .
A fever flared right under his skin and an icy chill ran down his spine. James felt on the verge of nausea. Worried, the cop backed away.
– My daughter. I want to see my daughter.
The two men’s eyes met, and Harris would remember that exchange until the end. Behind these blue eyes there was something disturbing, almost frightening. Harris swallowed, not sure if he should answer.
– We don’t know where she is, I’m sorry.
James felt a second surge of fever, and that wave was stronger than the first one. It was as if lucidity returned to him the hard way, in fits and starts.
– Her aunt.
Harris stared at him, struggling with his conscience. He had to find a way to reassure him. Calmly, he unscrewed the cap from the bottle of water on the table and poured himself a cup while his brain was making a risky calculation. He sensed the guy’s eagerness and his anguish, he also sensed something else, hidden, latent.
– She ran away last night. That’s all I know for now.
Vincent Harris , you’ll burn in hell for this lie . It’s not a lie, he corrected to himself, it’s just part of the truth. James looked away, and the tension seemed to ease down a bit. Harris took a sip of water before putting the glass down. Maybe it was better to give him some more time.
– I’ll let you rest for now. I’ll come back when you feel up to it.
James only heard the door open and close between two pulsating beats, after which exhaustion took over again, briefly silencing despair and anger. When his eyes opened again, probably hours later, another figure was at his bedside absentmindedly tapping the IV bag above him. Now the pain in his neck seemed more acute, and the sensation of the needle in the back of his hand was stinging in a very unpleasant way.
– Mister ? I am your doctor. The painkillers should wear off by now and we’ll give you some more. Do you understand me ?
James turned his head towards him and nodded weakly. His brain seemed to be banging against every bone inside his skull with every single movement.
– Your blood pressure is rising very slowly and you are under close observation for the next twenty-four hours. You had ten stitches but I could see that this was not your first scar, you’ll recover.
The doc had mechanically pointed to his hand, and James gently turned toward him the palm that barely had time to heal. The conversation with Charlie came back to him as clearly as then, when in the grip of another sleepwalking crisis, she had stuck the blade of her knife there. And while the memory of this evening was coming back, something else came back with it, more insidious, like a creeping sensation in his stomach. James felt its presence exactly like a phantom limb ; his whole body reacted as if he always had the thing in him. But James saw it, he saw it take his daughter back then in the church, and infect her just like it did with him.
James was convinced that the cop hadn’t told him the truth. If Charlie had finally woken up, then God only knows what could have happened – God or the devil.
– Can you take them ?
The doc pointed to a tablet pad left on the table, and James whispered a weak « yes » before carefully pulling himself up to sit down.
– All right, I’ll leave you to it. If your appetite returns you can eat later in the afternoon.
The doctor left the room without any further consideration, leaving James alone with his questions and the headache that was threatening to burst his brain. The world was spinning around him with no intention to settle down, and it was even worse inside. He gazed a long moment at the tablets left on the table and which seemed to whisper to him, take us, you will sink again in the voluptuousness, you will forget.
And yes, he was aware that the shooting pain would return sooner or later, James could feel it already. He could also feel the light fog of the anaesthesia lifting while the drugs effects slowly dissipated. He sighed, both with weariness and doubt. His body needed to recover, but if the cop stuck his nose too far into his business, it would be over. And then, Charlie , damn it. He had to find Charlie , then he’d have plenty of time to go look for his wife. Here we go again, uh ?
His left arm slid limply along the mattress, which was beginning to feel sorely uncomfortable, and the sensation of a piece of plastic under his fingers surprised him. Gently, so as not to pull on the IV stuck in his other hand, James moved to the side. His phone and car keys were winking at him at the bottom of a bag, along with the relics of his previous day’s trip. He struggled to grab the plastic with his fingertips and pull it up to him. With a total lack of faith, James pressed for a long time the button on the side of the mobile, and against all expectations the screen lit up again. What do you expect, J. ? A message begging for your forgiveness when she thinks you’re six feet under ? Seriously .
James raised an eyebrow ; the only recorded message was from the towing company that had taken his car away and sent him the bill. He had a moment’s hesitation, then a big jolt of adrenaline that restored some semblance of sanity.
– Shit.
His brain started on a wild run. What if they found the blade ? What if they finally figured it out and were coming back to arrest him ? An intense fever took over, and his head started spinning again. James couldn’t afford to pass out, he had to get rid of those damn pills before they forced him to swallow them and he lost control of the situation. James gritted his teeth and moved his legs to the side before slowly sliding them to the floor. Everything was hard and cold under his bare feet, a strange sensation after such long hours of blackout. The slightest movement started the merry-go-round again, and he still had to remember to take the IV with him. If he pulled it out now, someone would notice. Come on, man, get up and walk.
James was looking at the door and at the same time measuring his every move. One by one, the pills bounced out of the pad to the palm of his hand and his fist closed on them like a war treasure. He was staring at the bathroom door, and the six feet he still had to walk seemed an insurmountable challenge. But something was rumbling inside, something violent and evil, but at least it was keeping him upright. His hand finally reached the bathroom door with one last and sharp movement that rushed the IV stand against the wall.
– Fuck.
James had to struggle for the slightest movement, even peeing seemed beyond his strength. The tablets finally dissolved in the toilet water and the flush sounded like hell to his eardrums. He still had to go backwards and return in bed avoiding to fall flat on his face halfway. while turning around James crossed quite involuntarily his reflection in the tiny mirror above the sink, and he was unable to recognize himself. Painfully , he swung the IV around to retrace his steps, and the wheels spun with a squeak of protest.
– How the hell am I going to get out of here.
He was facing the door left wide open when a shiver, a very slight but icy chill like the finger of death, climbed his spine up to the base of his neck. A caress, a breath. Fear seeped through every pore of his skin and his heart began to beat wildly, threatening to stop completely.
– Don’t worry about that, man, I never let you down.
Bad trip
– Wake up.
The whisper came from right beside him and the breath had entered his ear, light but chilling. This time the pain at the base of his neck was stabbing, just as if the scissors were still stuck there, and the nausea was no longer caused by the drugs but by the pain itself, a surge that tensed every muscle in his body and sent his heart into a crazy rush.
– Stand up, now.
James struggled to open his eyes and regain some grip on reality. Something was moving in the shadows in the corner of the room, and at that moment he still hoped it was just his imagination, or plays of lights on the periphery of his blurry vision. He really wanted it, to get up. To get the hell out of that room. Of course he knew the cop would show up again eventually and the questioning would resume. But did he even have the strength to leave ?
The nurse must have come by while he was asleep ; the glass had been changed, the pills replaced. That damn IV was still flowing like poison from the swollen bag into his veins. The thought of being hooked up to that thing again was like a trigger : with a sharp tug, James pulled on the bandage and then on the needle, which slid like an electric eel under his skin. The sensation of a burning trail under his epidermis made him grunt, and once freed his arm violently pushed back the infusion stand, which crossed the room to end its race against the wall. The relief was brief, but the adrenaline discharge was life-saving.
– Do you remember now, J. ?
Oh yes, he remembered. The road. The murders. Charlie . With his fingertips, James picked up his clothes at the foot of the bed, nearly puking. The nausea was turning his guts inside out, but the urge to get out of that hospital room was overriding everything else. He wasn’t a fucking animal that could be locked up and kept tied up, and on the other side of these walls there was a world in which his daughter was now all alone and probably terrified. How would he find her ?
James pulled on his jeans with difficulty. Every single gesture required inordinate effort, just to grab his belt or button his shirt. Sweat was dripping down his temples, a sign that the fever had not yet subsided and that it would probably take days for him to recover. And he was thinking about Charlie.
– You’re not gonna cry, seriously.
For now he couldn’t afford to complain, or even try to understand where this whisper and this impulse were coming from because he desperately needed it. Once outside, it would be time to think about it and to let himself go. James stood up again, waited for a moment, motionless, until the scenery stopped spinning around. His blood pressure must have been yo-yoing in his arteries. Then he slipped his keys, his cell phone and his wallet into his pockets, and clutched the door handle.
The corridor and the elevator doors passed by like in slow motion. Everything had taken on an almost unreal hue. Even the voices seemed to float in the air like wool yarns in the wind, muffled and immaterial. James saw his finger press the elevator button without really understanding that it was his, and only the cold air of the outside started to awaken some kind of consciousness. The coming and going of cabs in front of the hospital made him realize that the private company that had taken his car was on the other side of Boston Common, and that was quite a distance to travel in such a bad condition. James decided to flag down one of them, which had no passenger and stopped right in front of him.
– Frontage road, please.
The driver let him get in, before glancing mechanically in the rearview mirror.
– Bad day ?
– Bad week, bad month, if you really wanna know.
The guy chuckled and shifted into second gear, much to James’ relief while the gray silhouette of the hospital was vanishing behind them and the cab was driving down street. The guy didn’t say anything but kept on glancing at him while driving. He probably wondered how a guy as pale as a sheet and without a jacket in the middle of November had ended up there.
– An argument ? Fight ?
James looked up and it was already too costly an effort ; he grumbled vaguely, hoping that the cab driver would be satisfied with that, otherwise he would be forced to stick his big ugly head in the door and finish the trip walking, and he wasn’t so found of that prospect. An electric shock, slight but strong enough to make the muscle in his thigh twitch, called him to order. Low profile, man . There’s too much to do .
The gates of the impound lot appeared just beyond the exit to the main road, and James mentally prepared himself. He was hoping it would be quick, and no one would question him. All he could think about was getting the hell out of there.
The towing company employee seemed to be in as bad a mood as he was ; he just checked the mail and the ID , before walking ahead to show him the way. The daylight made his eyes squint, and James was still struggling to stand. He was barely keeping up, and fortunately the guy didn’t really seem to be paying attention. The Ford was waiting quietly at the end of a driveway, and for a brief moment it seemed to him that its bodywork was gleaming under the late afternoon rays. It was totally stupid, but it was like finding a familiar presence, a strangely comforting feeling.
This getaway to Boston had cost him dearly, and the station wagon’s rims had retained traces of their hazardous encounter with the sidewalk. We all have scars, right ? But everything seemed to be in order inside, and he didn’t notice any signs of intrusion. No one had thought to search the car. Just as he swung the driver’s side door open to sit down, James had a noticeable drop in tension that made him sway and he almost fell on the driver seat.
– Are you going to be okay ?
– Yes, don’t worry.
– Just be careful.
James took a closer look at the employee, a young man with a cap pulled on his fringe. He looked genuinely concerned. Insignificant, too.
– She and I are going home, James replied.
Almost mechanically, he then played the keys in the ignition. The vibration of the engine answered him and he engaged the first gear. The employee had walked ahead to show him the exit and James tightened his hands on the wheel. Only a few more feet. The heavy gate standing between him and the road slowly slid on its track with a long creak, then the guy came back to him and motioned for him to roll down the window. James’ heart was pounding and his skull was threatening to explode.
– Hey, just one more thing.
James looked up at him, wondering for a brief moment if he would have to run over him to get out of this trap or choke him with his cap. At this point he was up for anything as long as he was left alone.
– Don’t take the tunnel to north, there’s been an accident this morning and it’s a mess.
– Got it, thanks for the advice.
James could feel the blood pounding in his veins at an ever-increasing pace, and his hand pushed the shift knob with just enough force to get through the second gear. The car shocks lifted slightly over the portal rail, after which James accelerated without glancing left or back. A terrible tension weighed on his ribcage and he felt unable to look anywhere but straight ahead.
The signs passed by for a long time without James being able to decide which direction to follow. He just wanted to drive, drive to death if possible. The weight that gripped his heart was now creeping up his throat, clenching his jaw and pulling on every stitch at the base of his neck. He was hurting, he was exhausted, and the feeling of emptiness was tunneling into his gut.
– Now what ?
James took the first turn to take an exit that looked like it might lead west, and after a few minutes on the two-lane road, it split again and he had to make a choice.
– I don’t even know how to do it, or where the fuck to go.
– But I do.
James had the sensation of a 2000 volt current flowing through him. It came from right behind him, somewhere between the back seat and the limbo, and this time he clearly perceived it. A man’s voice, almost too soft, accompanied by that freaking cold breath down the spine. He knew that if he only dared to glance at the rearview mirror, he would lose it. James pulled himself together and slowed his pace. A few hundred yards away, a mall sign popped up like a monster out of the fog. The Ford headed there almost by itself, stopping dead in the first parking space.
This time James thought he was going to faint never to get up again, with so much pressure suffocating his chest. His jerky breathing filled the cabin and he could count the drops of sweat beading on his forehead. He stopped the engine, almost by reflex. Of course the thing was there, even completely stoned he hadn’t just dreamed it.
– Who are you and what the hell do you want from us ?
His gaze finally fell on the empty passenger seat next to him, and the emotion got too strong to hold. Tears mixed with sweat, and James felt like he was about to pass out, because that was all there was left to do anyway, and he didn’t have the strength for more. If his heart gave out, in the middle of this parking lot, it was no longer a problem and certainly no one would miss him. As he felt himself slipping into the abyss, a breath crept under his shirt, up his spine to his neck like a caress, and it was both terrifying and sweet. James mused that if this is what the embrace of death felt like, then it wasn’t so hard to surrender to it. He was ready.
– This isn’t over, J.
Anger crawled up his windpipe like a fire snake, and his fist finally slammed into the steering wheel, getting the entire car to rattle.
– I want this to stop. I want my daughter back. I want you out of here.
As if in response to his plea, two glimmers of light, barely perceptible at first, began to dance like little fireflies on the rear deck. Then the lights became still, glowing like flames, and James thought he saw a figure looming around it, a figure darker than the shadows. The air in the cabin had become almost suffocating, so dense that he felt as if he could grab it and crush it between his fingers.
– What if I told you I can do that for you ?
James caught his breath and clutched the steering wheel to keep from fading. Doubt entwined with anger and rebellion and he felt like he was caught in a whirlpool at the bottom of which, deep down, he could glimpse something else. The creature had instilled just enough hope to make him raise his head, and tap his foot at the bottom of the sludge. James was about to answer but the lights went out as quickly as they had appeared, leaving him alone with his confusion. Tucked into the passenger seat, his phone began to vibrate, and another jolt of adrenaline hit him.
The screen had just lit up and was displaying a map, with a direction and a name.
– You want it to stop ? Then go ahead. Do one more thing for me and find this guy.
Silence returned, and with it a bitter taste in the back of his throat. James picked up his mobile, and wrote down the address in the corner of his head. Pennsylvania. He had no doubt about the nature of the service the beast was asking for, and especially no illusions about what would happen next. Of course he was thinking of his daughter, she was all he could think of, and he would do the right thing. As he always did. As you always did ?
The hood of the Ford rose with a roar, and James silenced all the voices that were mixing under his skull in a joyful cacophony. It had to work.
– Forgive me, Charlie. I got to try.
The woman in black
– Tea or coffee ?
Sally just shook her head to show the hostess she was not interested. Since she had run away from Boston , her body did not seem eager to ingest anything, and her ideas kept on colliding like billiard balls to wander in the most improbable directions. In order to keep up appearances and not draw attention to herself, Sally had taken to flipping through magazines and mechanically started filling in crossword puzzles. What if her husband wasn’t who she thought he was after all ?
The weeks of unwilling drug use had taken its toll, and although Sally felt she was finally over the withdrawal syndrome, there was still confusion, and paranoid thoughts coming back in waves. How long it would take for her to recover, she did not know. Was her husband dead ? She would find out soon enough, probably at the moment the police would come pick her up after the landing in Seattle . Sally had no illusions about that whatsoever ; she was not a trained fugitive. Somewhere , deep down, Sally hoped he was still alive, and they would eventually meet again.
The recycled air was beginning to blow a little cool for her liking, and Sally pulled the blanket up over her lap. At the same time a woman dressed entirely in black stepped forward from the front of the plane, and her attitude caught her attention. Discreetly , Sally watched as she walked up the aisle, slipping between the seats and the stewardesses. The woman brushed past her and there was a brief moment when her hand grazed Sally’s thigh and she caught a glimpse of her delicate face almost entirely hidden under a black scarf, right before she disappeared towards the back of the plane.
Sally had a moment’s hesitation, then went back to her crossword puzzle. Strangely, she didn’t remember writing the words she was reading now, and she frowned. Either the magazines had been switched without her noticing, or she was going completely crazy. Hell . Murderer . Death . The letters didn’t even fit in the boxes, and the whole thing made no sense at all. A long, cold shiver ran down her spine, and she felt she was about to break down nervously. This is your writing, Sally , no one wrote this for you, and you’re out of your mind, period.
Again, the woman in black walked past her, in the other direction, and she was able to meet her gaze, eyes black as night. Then the stranger disappeared behind a curtain and Sally thought that obviously she was travelling first class. And then something tickled her curiosity. A tiny detail. Without thinking, she waved to the steward who was serving the passenger two seats away.
– Please ?
– Madam ?
– I thought we weren’t allowed to travel with our faces covered. Do you know who that woman was who just passed by ?
– What woman ?
– The Asian lady in the black dress, with the scarf.
The young man looked at her for a moment, then mechanically started to tidy up his cart.
– I don’t know.
– She’s just joined the first class.
– I’ll check, but there’s only one female passenger in first class and she doesn’t fit that description.
He then had a somewhat conventional smile that made a strange impression on Sally . He must have thought she was crazy, or maybe she was messing with him. Sally sighed and sank back into her seat. There was only an hour before landing and she still hadn’t decided what to do. The closer she got to the finish line, the more she doubted she had made the right decision. Even if her daughter was safe at her sister’s house, and even if J.

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