Prisoner

The first thing he was aware of was pain, specifically soreness permeating throughout his body.  Eventually opening his eyes, David found himself in a small room; the cot he was laying on was the only item present. He couldn’t tell where he was or how he got here.

A small panel towards the top of the door slid open, and a pair of eyes peered in at him. The opening shut again, and he heard a voice outside. “Get the Mistress. He’s awake.”

“Hello?” David called, but no one responded.

The trauma his body had been through had left him little energy, and he fell unconscious once more.

When he woke next, a familiar face sat beside him.

“Rebecca?”

She smiled. “Yes. Don’t exert yourself too much. You’ve been through quite a bit.”

“Where are we?”

“My family’s compound. You were found half buried in a pile of rubble. I can guess what happened.”

“Are you okay? Are they holding you prisoner?”

She laughed. It was genuine but sounded a bit cold. “No. Nothing like that. I assume you were looking for me thinking that, though. Yes?”

He nodded. Still disoriented from being knocked out, he was finding it difficult to understand what was going on.

“I explained this to Sarah, but this is my home. I am here because I want to be.”

“So . . .” This was a lot to take in.

“So you needn’t have gone to all of this effort.”

“What happens to me now?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well, I’m in this cell . . .”

Rebecca chuckled again. “This? Obviously my people wanted to secure an intruder. They didn’t know who you were or why you were here. Since I hope to have cleared up any misunderstanding, you can be on your way. I just ask that the next time you visit, you announce yourself.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it. I’m touched you were worried about me so much, but I’m fine. Do you need a ride somewhere? Were you and Sarah supposed to meet up?”

“I . . . uh . . . yeah.”

“Okay. I’ll make sure someone gets you there. I would take you myself, but I have other pressing matters to attend to. Please forgive me.”

David nodded as she stood to leave.

“It was good seeing you, David. Please take care of yourself.” As she finished speaking, she turned and walked out of the room, leaving the door open.

An Unexpected Meeting

Waiting for Marie was unnerving. Getting into the compound had been relatively easy for Sarah, but confronting the leader of this group again was unpredictable, especially after her previous visit. However, she wasn’t sure how much choice she had. Julia would almost certainly find Bailey, but they might not talk or even not know the answers Sarah needed. As risky as this visit seemed, waiting felt riskier.

When Marie entered the room, Sarah studied her closely from where she sat. The woman looked the same, but something was different about her demeanor; she was less confident, carried less authority.

“Hello, again. I’m sorry for coming . . .” Sarah stopped talking when she realized Marie wasn’t looking at her, hadn’t even acknowledged her. This woman, who had exuded power at their last encounter, simply stood inside the door, her whole body turned toward the entrance. She almost certainly could see Sarah in her peripheral vision, but she merely stared straight ahead.

Her confusion grew and mixed with shock when Rebecca walked into the room. Marie nodded in deference to her, but Rebecca ignored the gesture, instead rushing over to Sarah and embracing her.

“Rebecca! Are you okay?”

Rebecca released her and took a step back. “Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

That was not the response Sarah expected. “Well . . . you . . . you just disappeared so suddenly. We had no idea where you went. Or even how.”

“Oh. I would have thought Bailey would have told you.”

“No. She said she had no idea.”

“Hmm…” Rebecca looked over her shoulder at Marie, who gave a quick nod. “Perhaps she didn’t understand that I wanted all of this explained.”

“Wanted what explained?” All of Sarah’s assumption were melting beneath her. “What is going on, Rebecca?”

“I’ll tell you what I can. Some of it is private. Family matters. I’m sure you understand.”

Sarah was not at all sure she understood, but she nodded anyway.

“You already know that Marie had been left to take over when I ran away. When you described things to me, I didn’t realize how overwhelmed she really was. Bailey brought me a letter that made things clearer. With Peter gone, I came to realize how much I was needed. So I returned to help.”

Marie still wasn’t looking at them, but Sarah couldn’t ignore her presence. “Could we talk alone?”

Without turning around, Rebecca said, “Marie? Would you give us some privacy, please?”

Marie said nothing as she left. After the door closed again, Rebecca’s expression broke into a big grin.

“It’s so great being back!”

“Rebecca. It’s just us now. Tell me what’s really going on.”

“I already did. I just didn’t want to act too happy in front of Marie. My return has displaced her some, and I think she resents it. I don’t want to rub it in her face.”

“So you really do want to be here?”

“Of course. I told you before, this is my family. It’s good to be back home.”

“Why did you disappear from the cafe?”

“The letter contained a transport spell. Bailey should have explained all of this to you.”

“They didn’t.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“You’re not being held against your will? You’re not afraid of Peter?”

“Peter was exiled shortly after I ran away. He wouldn’t dare show up here now. This is probably the safest place for me.”

Sarah studied her, trying to read her body language. It seemed as though she was telling the truth, but nothing about this felt right. Still, Rebecca insisted she was here because she wanted to be. Sarah had no reason – other than an uneasy feeling – to contradict her.

“So you’re going to stay here?”

“This is my home.”

“Will you visit us?”

Rebecca smiled. “I don’t know if that will be possible any time soon. I’m very busy here.”

“Well, then, can I come visit you?”

“Of course! You are welcome here whenever you like.”

Sarah tried to think of something else to say, some way to draw Rebecca out, but nothing came to mind. She hadn’t expected to see Rebecca here, and hadn’t properly prepared. The best she could do was leave without arousing suspicion so that she might return later.

“I’m glad to have found you safe and happy.”

“Again, I’m sorry I worried you.”

“I suppose I’ve taken up enough of your time. Please reach out if you need anything.”

“I will. Thank you, Sarah.”

The entire way back to the car, Sarah braced herself for something to happen, but she was allowed to leave without incident. It was only after she passed through the gate when she heard an explosion back in the compound.

Reunions (part five)

Several hours passed before Marie – or rather, the Matron – came to Rebecca’s room. As if to make Rebecca’s situation clear, she entered without knocking. She crossed the room quietly and sat in the other armchair, across from Rebecca.

“Have things changed much since you’ve been gone?”

She must have heard about her walk earlier. “Not really, though you being in charge is different.”

Marie’s face smiled; the effect was unnerving. “I heard you ran into Phillip.”

Was that a threat? Marcus had said Phillip would get in trouble if he was seen with her. “It wasn’t his fault. I ran over to him; he tried to avoid me.”

“It’s alright; I know. He won’t be punished. We want him to stay away from you for your safety. We don’t want him to frighten you again.”

Would it help to explain that she had asked him for help? That her leaving wasn’t his fault? Rebecca decided it didn’t matter. Phillip helped her leave; who instigated it wouldn’t change anything. Did they really think he convinced her to leave, though? Did they really not understand that she had been trying to escape?

Marie said nothing until Rebecca’s attention returned to the room.

“Now that you’ve come back, when should we perform the ritual? I don’t want to rush you, but it wouldn’t do to wait too long.”

“What?” Even though she had expected something like this, it still surprised her.

“The ritual. You and I will join, and Marie can once more fulfill her role as your . . . excuse me, our assistant.” There was no pretense now; it was certainly the Elder’s voice.

“But why? You and Marie are already joined.” Rebecca felt guilty as soon as the words left her mouth. Her friend did not deserve this fate. But neither did she.

“She has been an acceptable substitute, but she isn’t really an ideal host. You and I will be a much more fruitful pairing.”

Rebecca tried to focus on all she had gained, all she had accomplished in the last decade. “I refuse. I do not want this. I will not become your puppet.” It was a resolve she had carefully nurtured for years, something the Elder would not recognize.

It did not take very long for him to recover. “I, I, I… You seem to have forgotten that we are all family. It’s not all about what you want. It’s about what is best for the everyone. You won’t be my puppet. We will guide our family together.

Rebecca had to bite back a humorless laugh. “Still… I am my own person now. I will not simply cave in to your demands.”

He considered her words for a moment. “You have changed. I wonder how much. For instance, do you still care about Marie? Or have you left your feelings for her behind, too?”

A knife appeared in the Elder’s hand . . . Marie’s hand. Slowly, the tip was pressed into Marie’s left forearm and drawn upwards to the elbow. Crimson followed as blood welled up along the cut. It didn’t look very deep, but the scene was horrible.

“Stop!”

Immediately, the knife pulled back.

“Yes?”

“What are you doing?!”

“A simple demonstration of what will happen if I remain in this girl. And rest assured, you will watch every moment.” Marie’s mouth smiled as the rest of her face was twisted with terror. The Elder was letting enough of her through to drive home his point.

“Why?” It was a plea, but Rebecca already knew it wouldn’t reach the Elder.

“I’ve already told you. You and I will be much better partners. I would prefer not to lose someone who has given so much for our community, but I need you to know what is at stake.”

There were many things Rebecca had prepared herself for in this moment. She had been certain she could resist the Elder. However, she was not ready to watch Marie mutilate or even kill herself. 

“Alright. I’ll join with you. Just leave Marie alone.” Her voice was little more than a whisper.

“Good girl. When you see everything we will do together, you’ll be glad you made this decision.”

With those words, any hope she might have had, died.

Reunions (part four)

Rebecca opened her eyes to find herself in a familiar room. At first, she was convinced it had to be a nightmare. This scene had invaded her dreams more than a few times over the last decade. However, the memory of meeting Bailey and the note they had given her attested to the fact that this was all too real.

She wanted to sink into the bed and jump out of it all at once. The room looked very much like it had when she had last been here, when she was preparing to become the Elder’s vessel. It was quiet and clean, as though the place had been kept ready for her return. There were no restraints, so she was able to sit up. That’s when she discovered her clothes were gone, replaced with a simple white shift. Her first and only goal was to get out before anyone could arrive. Halfway to the door, however, the sound of the handle turning sent her diving back under the sheets. The person who came through shut the door immediately and walked over the bed before sitting at the foot.

“Rebecca?”

She knew the voice better than her own. Peeking out from the covers, she saw Marie staring at her.

“Rebecca? Are you okay?”

“Marie? What is going on?”

“You’re home. Finally. I’m so relieved to see you again.”

“How?”

“Don’t worry about that right now. I’m just glad you’re back. I don’t know why you left.”

“Peter . . . He . . .”

“Peter is gone. As soon as we found out that he had threatened you, he was expelled from the community. If only we could have found you sooner and cleared all of this up. You didn’t need to be alone for so long.”

Rebecca looked at Marie with uncertainty. Had it all been a mistake? “So when Peter came to take me . . .”

“We didn’t send him. We didn’t know where you were. Or where he was. Now that you’re back with us, we can protect you from him.”

“And Phillip?”

Marie sighed. “Phillip’s betrayal couldn’t be ignored. We don’t know why he frightened you into leaving. He remains, unspeaking and disgraced. Rest assured, he also poses no threat to you.”

“But . . .”

“I know you have many questions. A lot of time has passed. Still, you are back and safe. I thought this room might make you feel a little more comfortable.” Marie stood and walked closer to her before bending down to embrace her tightly. Rebecca froze at her touch, but the other seemed not to notice. “I have missed you. Get some rest. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”

Before she could respond, Marie turned and walked out of the room. Except it wasn’t Marie. No matter how much time had passed, Rebecca didn’t think she could ever forget the Elder’s touch.

*     *     *

When Rebecca became conscious again, she kept her eyes closed for a little while. The thought that she might really be back in her old room frightened her, though refusing to look wasn’t accomplishing anything. Eventually, opening her eyes confirmed that it hadn’t been just a horrible nightmare. The Elder now inhabited the body of her oldest friend and had gotten Rebecca back.

Thoughts of escape flitted through her mind, but she knew she wouldn’t be allowed to leave again. The only thing she could do was to find out what the Elder wanted from her. Whatever it was, she expected to hate it.

Quietly getting out of the bed, she made certain that her shift was on straight and walked over to the door. To her surprise, the handle moved easily under her touch, and the door opened without a sound. Any glimmer of hope that the unlocked door might have given her evaporated as soon as a figure stepped in front of her from the side.

“Mistress. The Matron is otherwise occupied at present and will visit you later. She asked me to look after you in the meantime and provide anything you might need.”

The man’s face and voice seemed familiar, and after a few moments, a name rose to the surface.

“Marcus, right?”

“The Mistress honors me.” He bowed his head slightly.

“Marcus, knock it off. We used to play together as children. There is no reason to be so formal.”

His look gave the impression that he was trying to decide if she was serious. After coming to some sort of conclusion, he replied.

“Mistress, you’ve been gone a long time. Perhaps you have forgotten your importance, but we have not. You will have to forgive us if we treat you with the deference you deserve.”

Less formal, but clearly uncomfortable, he stood quietly. She didn’t have the energy for this fight on top of all her other worries.

“Fine. But when it’s just the two of us, keep it to a minimum. Please?”

“I will try.” He smiled, but it felt uneasy.

“So did Marie tell you to keep me here? Or can I go for a walk?” Before she could do anything else, she needed to figure out how short her leash was.

“The Matron thought it might be best if you rested, but she did not order it.”

“Why do you call her ‘Matron’? Why not ‘Elder’?”

That question took him by surprise.

“Mistress . . . Rebecca, you are to be the Elder. For now, she is merely filling in until you can take your position.”

“Oh.” That was unsettling. Was this really the plan? Or did Marcus just assume she would join with the Elder now that she had come back? Panic began to well up, but she forced it back down. “Well, some fresh air would be nice, so I think I will go for a walk.”

The shift was a little less clothing than she was accustomed to wearing, but she thought it might help her fit in with the rest of the community. As she headed downstairs, Marcus fell in step behind her. She was free, as long as she had a chaperone.

Outside, a few people were standing and chatting with one another while others walked with purpose on some errand or other. The faces may be different, but the village seemed largely unchanged. Any time they walked near any of the groups socializing, the talking stopped as the people stared at her. She smiled and nodded, but the feelings of awe – maybe even adoration – that emanated from them made her want to flee. That was impossible as long as Marcus was hovering over her. So she began trying to ignore the others as much as possible. Any feelings of belonging that she once had were gone; she had been away too long.

The walk was making her feel worse, so she decided to go back to her room. As she was turning around, a figure that she recognized disappeared around a corner. Without thinking, she ran after it. Marcus gave a surprised shout, and she could hear him chasing her. Upon turning the corner, she collided with Phillip. His head was shaved, and he wore a plain brown robe, but there was no mistaking him.

It must have been the years, but he no longer seemed as large and imposing as he once had. His face couldn’t hide his shock, and he seemed to be looking for some place to run. She grabbed ahold of his arms.

“Phillip! It’s me. Rebecca. I need your help.”

Still looking like he desperately wanted to be anywhere else, Phillip shook his head. Marcus caught up to them, and Rebecca turned toward him. Phillip took the opportunity to begin running away. She tried to chase him again, but Marcus prevented her.

“Stop. Let him go. If anyone catches him with you, he is likely to be punished again.”

“Why?”

“Because he made you leave and kept you hidden. I’m actually surprised they didn’t drive him away like his brother. Don’t make it worse for him.” Marcus sounded like he felt sorry for the older man.

Phillip was already out of sight. “Okay. Let’s go back.”

“Good idea. I wouldn’t want the Matron to think I had run off with you.” It sounded like it should have been a joke, but there was real terror in his voice. Rebecca began to wonder just how much had changed during her absence.

Reunions (part three)

Rebecca opened her eyes to find herself in a familiar room. At first, she was convinced it had to be a nightmare. This scene had invaded her dreams more than a few times over the last decade. However, the memory of meeting Bailey and the note they had given her attested to the fact that this was all too real.

She wanted to sink into the bed and jump out of it all at once. The room looked very much like it had when she had last been here, when she was preparing to become the Elder’s vessel. It was quiet and clean, as though the place had been kept ready for her return. There were no restraints, so she was able to sit up. That’s when she discovered her clothes were gone, replaced with a simple white shift. Her first and only goal was to get out before anyone could arrive. Halfway to the door, however, the sound of the handle turning sent her diving back under the sheets. The person who came through shut the door immediately and walked over the bed before sitting at the foot.

“Rebecca?”

She knew the voice better than her own. Peeking out from the covers, she saw Marie staring at her.

“Rebecca? Are you okay?”

“Marie? What is going on?”

“You’re home. Finally. I’m so relieved to see you again.”

“How?”

“Don’t worry about that right now. I’m just glad you’re back. I don’t know why you left.”

“Peter . . . He . . .”

“Peter is gone. As soon as we found out that he had threatened you, he was expelled from the community. If only we could have found you sooner and cleared all of this up. You didn’t need to be alone for so long.”

Rebecca looked at Marie with uncertainty. Had it all been a mistake? “So when Peter came to take me . . .”

“We didn’t send him. We didn’t know where you were. Or where he was. Now that you’re back with us, we can protect you from him.”

“And Phillip?”

Marie sighed. “Phillip’s betrayal couldn’t be ignored. We don’t know why he frightened you into leaving. He remains, unspeaking and disgraced. Rest assured, he also poses no threat to you.”

“But . . .”

“I know you have many questions. A lot of time has passed. Still, you are back and safe. I thought this room might make you feel a little more comfortable.” Marie stood and walked closer to her before bending down to embrace her tightly. Rebecca froze at her touch, but the other seemed not to notice. “I have missed you. Get some rest. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”

Before she could respond, Marie turned and walked out of the room. Except it wasn’t Marie. No matter how much time had passed, Rebecca didn’t think she could ever forget the Elder’s touch.

Reunions (part one)

A knock at the door broke Bailey’s concentration. It was loud enough to be heard over the background noise of the television. They put the pen down and walked over to see who it was.

Sarah stood in the hallway with a wide smile. “I found her.”

“Really? Where is she?”

“She wants us to meet her somewhere. I can take you.”

“Let’s go!” Bailey knew they were being impatient, but they had been in the house for over a week now, and it was starting to get to them. Only so much to do stuck inside.

“Tomorrow. We’re meeting her tomorrow. I just wanted to let you know that the waiting was over. Try to get some rest. I’ll come by at 10 in the morning to get you. Okay?”

Bailey nodded. “I’ll be ready.”

The next morning took its time arriving, and when it did, the knock on the door set Bailey’s heart racing. The two traveled to a small coffee shop several miles away. Rebecca, seated at a table in the back, was the only customer in the place. A lone barista stood behind the counter. Rebecca looked the same as the last time Bailey had seen her. When they approached, there was no smile to greet them.

“How did you find me?” She directed the question at Sarah.

“I have an old friend who specializes in finding things. Don’t worry; I didn’t draw attention to you.”

“It really is unnerving that it was so easy to locate me.”

“It wasn’t. And I’m keeping us hidden now. In fact, I can protect you better if you come back to the house.”

“No.” Rebecca’s tone was final. “I’ve already told you. I can’t risk it. I can’t risk everyone.”

“We can . . .”

“I said no.”

Silence fell over the three of them. Bailey didn’t know what was behind all the tension, and neither woman seemed interested in filling in the details. After a few minutes went by, they cleared their throat a bit.

“I’m sorry to break in, but can I talk to Rebecca alone, Sarah?”

Sarah looked at the other woman, who nodded. “Okay. I’ll sit outside and keep the illusion going. Please let me know if I can do anything.” She sounded resigned, defeated. Her failure to convince Rebecca to return with her seemed to weigh heavily on her.

After Sarah went outside and sat at one of the tables on the sidewalk, Rebecca turned to face Bailey squarely for the first time. “So you wanted to talk to me?” Her voice was a little softer than when she had spoken to Sarah, but there was still an edge to it. She was guarded.

“That’s the first thing you say?”

“Bailey . . . You walked away. Remember?”

That hurt, but only because it was mostly true. Bailey tried to ignore it and move on. “Who’s Marie?”

Rebecca’s face didn’t change expression, but some of the color drained out of it. “Are you jealous?”

“Rebecca . . .”

“No, seriously. Are you? I haven’t seen you in years, and now you track me down to ask about someone else?”

Anger started to rise up in Bailey’s throat, but they recognized Rebecca was trying to push their buttons and derail the conversation. “I’m not jealous. I was given a message to pass along to you . . .”

Rebecca grew even paler. “Who? Who gave you the message?”

“No one. It was left at my door. I don’t know who left it or how they even knew of my connection to you. It just said I was to give it to you. I didn’t know you were in hiding until I arrived at the address you left for me. It was signed ‘Marie.’ So who is she?”

“An old friend . . .” Rebecca was staring off into nothing, chewing on the inside of her mouth. It was a look Bailey had seen before. She was trying to figure out which way to run.

“Well it sounds like your old friend is in trouble. Are you going to help her, or run away again?”

Rebecca gave them a sharp look. “I didn’t run away from you.”

“Fine. Do you want the message or not?”

“Let me see it.”

Bailey pulled a plain envelope from their shirt pocket and handed it over. Rebecca pulled out the single sheet of paper inside. Bailey knew the message by heart and recalled it as Rebecca read through it.

Dear Rebecca,

A lot has happened since you left. I know you’re scared, and so am I. Peter is no longer here, but I really need your help. Please.

Yours,

Marie

Rebecca continued to star at the paper.

“See? She’s in trouble.”

“What are these symbols?”

“Symbols? There aren’t any symbols on . . .”

A terrified expression twisted across Rebecca’s face. “Oh no! What did you . . .?” Rebecca’s frantic voice was cut off by a bright flash of light that completely disoriented Bailey.

When their vision began to clear, she saw Sarah standing over them. “Where’s Rebecca?”

The words didn’t make any sense. “What?”

“Rebecca Where is she? What happened?”

Bailey looked around the room. No one else was in the cafe. Rebecca was gone.

An Unexpected Visitor

The house was well insulated against both the weather and noise from outside, but even so, the sound of rain was unmistakable in the foyer. The doorbell rang again. Sarah could not remember if she had ever heard it ring before. Both curious and cautious, she opened the front door.

The person standing on the front step of the brownstone was soaked. Their shoulder length hair, heavy with water, was plastered against their head. The small awning over the top step provided minimal protection from the seemingly endless downpour.

Half yelling to be heard over the sounds of the storm, the person asked, “Is Rebecca here?”

Sarah studied the visitor and tried to recall whether she had seen them before. They were young, early 20s probably, with soft features blurred by water droplets. Nothing stood out as familiar.

“Who are you?” Recent events had made her increasingly suspicious.

“Um, I’m a friend of hers? Well, she helped me out a few years back and gave me this address if I ever needed to find her. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

“Are you a member of her Family?” Would Peter or Marie have sent someone new after Rebecca, to bring her back? What sort of danger did this person represent?

“No. We’re not related. She was just . . . just helped me once.”

So either they really didn’t know about the cult, or they were prepared for the question. Sarah didn’t like feeling so paranoid, but it couldn’t be helped. Even telling someone that Rebecca had left the house might put her in danger.

“Unfortunately, Rebecca is not available at the moment. I will tell her you dropped by.” Sarah began to close the door.

“Wait!”

Sarah paused and looked at the visitor.

“My name is Bailey. Please. I .  . . I don’t have anywhere to go.” They seemed to be trying to hold back tears.

What should she do? it would be dangerous to let a stranger into the house, but turning them away felt wrong. Who would she be putting at risk, after all? Rebecca had left. Jason was dead. No one knew where Julia might be. Only she, David, and Thomas were left. Was the risk really worse than turning Bailey away?

Just as Sarah was resolving to take the risk, Thomas walked up behind her. “Who is it?”

Surprised, she looked back at him. “They say their name is Bailey.”

“Oh?” Thomas raised one eyebrow, appearing more interested than she had seen him in some time. “Let them in. It will be alright.”

That raised several more questions, but Sarah moved to let Bailey walk in. “Stay near me, or you will get lost. This place is bigger than it seems.” She led them to the living room. Thomas followed.

“My name is Sarah. Please, have a seat. Do you like tea? Or coffee? You look chilled to the bone.”

“Tea would be nice.”

“Okay, we’ll be back in just a moment. Whatever you do, don’t leave this room. Understand?”

Bailey nodded.

Sarah started heading for the kitchen and dragged Thomas along with her.

“You know them?”

“After a fashion.” He was as cryptic as ever.

“How?”

He didn’t say anything.

“Thomas, we’re not doing this again. What do you know?”

He gave a sigh that was heavy with resignation.”I saw Bailey’s arrival when I was observing the future. As far as I can tell, they aren’t the source of any trouble.”

“They said they know Rebecca.”

Thomas shrugged. “I cannot say. It was not something I saw.”

“But they don’t pose any danger?”

“Not that I could see.”

“Okay. Might as well become a halfway house.”

“That is not . . .”

“It was a joke, Thomas. If you think you can be appropriately social, you can join us for some tea.”

He nodded.

“Good. Let’s go see what we can find out about our new guest.”

Hotel Dying

“Please wake up.”

Erik’s voice sounded far away. A dull ache pounded against the back of her head as Rebecca slowly regained consciousness. She hadn’t opened her eyes yet, but she knew she was sitting. Her hands were bound behind her back. Attempting to open her eyes, she shut them quickly when the bright light intensified her headache.

“Erik? What happened?”

“Oh good. You’re awake.” His relief was obvious.

Squinting hard to keep out most of the painful light, she could just make out the desk clerk crouching in front of her. “What happened?” she repeated.

“Shh. Not so loud. You don’t want to draw attention.”

“Why am I tied up?”

“Be quiet.” He sounded . . . scared?

“Why? Are you going to kill me too?”

“What?” Confusion replaced fear.

Her eyes were starting to adjust and she could make out another blurry figure enter the room. An unfamiliar voice spoke. “You should have stayed in your room.” It was deep, masculine, and full of threat.

“Who are you?”

“Doesn’t matter. You won’t be alive long enough to bother explaining everything to you.”

“Don’t kill her!” That was Erik again. He was standing, facing the new person.

“What are you two doing?” 

“Two? I must have hit you harder than I thought.” The man seemed confused.

Erik turned to his head towards her. “I’m not doing anything. He attacked me, too!”

“There’s only me. Unless you’re counting the corpse you’ll be joining.”

Finally able to see clearly enough to get a good look at Erik, Rebecca understood.

“Erik, can you help me out?”

“I’ve been trying, but I can’t seem to do anything to the ropes.”

“Don’t worry about them. Just face him and start screaming and waving your arms.”

“What? How will that help?”

In spite of herself, she sighed. “I’ll explain later. For now, trust me.” It would take too long to help him come to terms with the transition. And the man was approaching her.

“I am going to enjoy this.”

“Now, Erik!”

Rebecca muttered a couple of short incantations as Erik began making noise and gesturing wildly. The murderer, who was standing right in front of him, yelped in surprise and stumbled backwards. He tripped over the body on the floor behind him and fell, smacking his head on the cement floor. He did not move again.

“That worked? How did that work?”

As Erik looked in disbelief at the man he had frightened, possibly to death, Rebecca felt the handle of a knife pressed into her hands. With it, she was able to make quick work of the rope that bound her. After she was free, she rubbed feeling back into her wrists and thought her thanks to the bear.

“Seriously, why did he seem startled to see me? I’d been here all along.”

Rebecca looked up at the translucent figure before her. “Erik, I’m sorry. You are dead.”

“What? No I’m not. We’re talking to one another right now.”

She nodded. “Yes, we are. I can see and talk to ghosts.”

“I don’t feel dead.”

“I know. Look at the other body on the floor. The one he tripped over.”

Erik bent down and looked at the face. Shock caused him to fall into a sitting position. He stared. “That’s me.”

“Yes, it is. I’m sorry.”

“I’m dead.”

She didn’t say anything. He needed to come to grips with this himself.

After a few minutes, he looked at her. “So what do I do now?”

“That’s something you have to figure out. You could stay here and haunt the hotel. Some spirits seem to enjoy that. Or you could move on.”

“To what?”

“I don’t know. The living aren’t allowed to know.”

“But you said you can talk to ghosts.”

“The ones I can talk to haven’t moved on.”

“Oh.”

Rebecca got to her feet slowly.

“Wait. What about him?”

She didn’t even glance at the second body. “He’s dead. That blow to the head was very hard.”

“Won’t he haunt this place?”

“No. After I made you visible to him, I made sure to trap his spirit. He’s stuck with his body.”

She waited until he said something.

“I don’t know what I should do.”

She really did feel for him. He didn’t deserve to die; few people do. He would get used to his new situation, but it would take time.”

“You will figure it out, I’m sure. And there are others like me you can talk to.”

He nodded, unconvinced. “Okay, Ms. Jones.”

“Erik, you can call me Rebecca.”

“Oh. Okay.”

*     *     *

The next night, she walked back into the lobby and was greeted by a new desk clerk whose name she had yet to learn.

Erik also stood behind the desk. “Hello, Ms. Jones.”

“Erik,” she thought at him, so as not to arouse suspicion from the other person.

“Sorry. Good evening, Rebecca.”

She smiled. “Better.”

Hotel Living

“Good evening, Ms. Jones.”

It took a moment for Rebecca to recognize that the night desk clerk was speaking to her.

“Hi, Erik. You’re on again tonight?” Somewhat scrawny, he looked like he could be a teenager.

“Every night.”

Rebecca had been at the hotel for a couple of nights already and had seen him every night so far. He was a bit odd, but friendly.

“Well, I hope you don’t get bored easily.”

“Not tonight. There is a Twilight Zone marathon on.”

“That sounds . . . rather creepy for a night shift.”

“Nah. It’s just fun. It’s too old-school to be really scary. You wanna watch some with me?” As soon as the question left his mouth, Erik’s face flushed, and he looked away. “I . . . I mean . . . You can see it on the TV in your room. It’s on channel 56.”

Rebecca smiled. “No, thanks,” she said gently. “That sort of show always gives me nightmares. But thank you. I hope you enjoy the marathon. I’m going to get some sleep.”

Upon hearing her answer, he seemed equal parts relieved and disappointed. “Okay. Goodnight, Ms. Jones.”

She gave him a wave goodnight and climbed the stairs to the second floor. Her room was halfway down the hall.  Back inside and away from the world, she threw herself face first onto the bed. The bear walked over to her and patted her head. She laid there for awhile, not moving and ignoring the food she had brought back with her.

The story Sarah had told her about Marie only served to reinforce the fact that she needed to leave. If her family hadn’t known where she was before, if Peter had acted on his own, they certainly knew now. She knew Sarah had been trying to help, but all she had done was make Rebecca’s departure more urgent. Now she was in a strange town, living in a hotel, unsure of where she should go next. All she knew was that she needed to get lost again before anyone else came after her.

Eventually, she sat up and ate the now cold fast food while watching an episode of the Twilight Zone. She actually loved the show, but the lie was an attempt to avoid, in a kind way, more conversation with Erik. She really wasn’t looking to make any friends right now. The television was still on when she drifted off. Her last thoughts before sleep were about Marie. At least she was okay.

*     *     *

After only a few hours, something woke her up. There was an entity in the room with her. When she had first arrived at the hotel, she had walked around looking for spirits. With all the people that came through them every day, and any number of accidents or more sinister encounters, haunted hotels were rather common, so she always checked. This one had been empty. Either this spirit was from somewhere else, which was unlikely, or she had missed it, which also seemed unlikely.

Whatever the case, the spirit did not show any interest in her. It simply exited the room by walking through the door. Even though it didn’t seem to harbor any aggressive intent, she followed it into the hallway. The entity walked towards the center stair case that led to the lobby. As it descended, Rebecca realized it was actually taking steps and trying to hold on to the handrail. Maybe it was a new spirit, which would explain why she hadn’t noticed it before. If that were the case, however, it meant someone had died recently, and there had been no news of any deaths in the hotel.

Down the stairs, it walked over to the front desk and disappeared into the office. It hadn’t been manifesting, so Erik would not see it, but she wanted to find out where it was going. She cast a simple spell to see if the clerk were around. There were no life signs in the immediate vicinity. He must be in the bathroom or something. The office door was unlocked, so she hurried inside.

The spirit had already moved on, but Rebecca noticed another door in the back of the room that was ajar. Looking through the crack, she could see a set of stairs leading down. It was foolish, she knew, but her curiosity was in charge so she went through the door.

At the bottom of the stairs, she saw large bright room to the left. Inside were laundry machines and folding tables. In the center of the floor was a person, laying face down in a pool of blood. Something hit her from behind, and the world went black before she finished falling to the ground.

On the Run Again

Her backpack was already full. Rebecca was surprised to discover she had accumulated so much stuff in her time here; proof that she had stayed in one place too long. Peter’s appearance had been a wake-up call. It was only a matter of time before he returned, and she intended to be gone long before he did.

Frustrated at herself for getting attached to so many things, she began grabbing things out of the bag. Discarding most of the clothes, she was able to make space for a few charms and other tools. This house, these rooms, had come to feel safe. No longer. Thomas couldn’t protect her. No one could protect her. 

The only thing now was to run. David was restored to his body. There was nothing more she could do here. It was time to leave. Running was all she knew how to do. Her magic couldn’t protect her; if anything, it is what got her into this situation. She just needed to find some place where Peter couldn’t get to her, wherever that might be.

Having reduced the contents to the bag to only the most essential items, she took one more look around the room before opening the door. The stuffed bear was staring at her from the entrance to the lab. Somehow its face, which never changed, looked sad.

“I’ve got to go. It isn’t safe here anymore. Not for me.”

The bear wasn’t like David in the rabbit; it only had rudimentary abilities to communicate. In this case, confusion.

“I can’t take you with me. I don’t know where I’m going, and it will be hard enough taking care of myself.”

Why was she explaining herself to this spirit? It was just a thing; it didn’t need her. It didn’t require nutrition or anything else. With or without her, its existence would remain the same. So why did she feel guilty for walking away?

“If you come, I can’t promise to look after you. Traveling will be hard, much harder than staying here.”

The bear gave the impression that it was shrugging.

“Fine. Let’s go.”

She opened the door just before Sarah could knock on it. Sarah looked at her bag and nodded to herself.

“I get it. Peter is after you. However, before you go, we have to talk. Then you can leave, if you want to. I won’t stop you. You need to hear me out first.”

Rebecca took a step back to let Sarah in. Whatever she had to say, Rebecca felt an obligation to listen.