Jessie Lynn was unconscious when the EMT’s carried her out of the bar on a stretcher. Bodhi made sure the team knew the stunned girl sitting beside the injured woman was her daughter and that the girl should ride with her mother. Bundling her into the back of the ambulance, Bodhi buckled Jolie in like she was six and going to grandma’s alone for the first time.
“We’ll see you there,” he told her in a tone of gentle confidence. Jolie looked at him and nodded, tears welling in her eyes. Bodhi was a pain in the butt, but he was good under pressure. Hugo surged forward and grabbed Jolie’s hand, squeezing it as if he could give her some of his own new found strength.
“It’ll be okay, Jo,” he promised.
“Stop hovering, Hugo.” Bodhi pulled Hugo back to stand with Brutus and himself. “She’s fine, she’s strong, aren’t you, Jo?” he prompted.
Jolie just stared at the three of them, not knowing what to say. She had always considered herself strong, but the veil of subterfuge had torn, revealing a profoundly troubled girl, who was not nearly as tough as she pretended to be.
“We’ll meet you at the hospital,” Hugo repeated as the EMTs moved the Fus out of the way and closed the ambulance doors.
The red flashing lights, the siren, the trucks engines whirring: it was all background noise to the war inside Jolie.
The demon was triumphant, excited by getting to act in the physical world. Axel was psychotic. The parasitic spirit’s emotions fought Jolie’s own relief over Rick going into custody and her concerns for Jessie Lynn. The flashing lights spinning outside the ambulance windows and blaring siren jangled her already raw nerves.
Focus. Get it together, Jolie scolded herself. Cautiously, she reached over and lifted the edge of the sheet that covered all but her mother’s face. A dark red stain was soaking through the gauze bandage taped to Jessie Lynn’s thigh.
“Don’t do that, kid.” The EMT beside her said.
“How bad is it?” Jolie asked. The man hesitated, not wanting to answer. “She’s my mom. Just tell me.”
“There’s a bullet in her thigh,” the man acquiesced. It’s too close to the artery, Jolie heard him think, but he didn’t say it. “She’s got bruises, maybe an internal hematoma, and her arm is broken.
“But she’ll be okay, right?” Jolie prompted him.
“She’s going into surgery as soon as we get to the hospital,” the EMT replied. “Is there someone you should call, your dad? A grandparent?”
Jolie shook her head. “No. It’s just Mom and me.”
“I’m sorry.” He seemed to mean it. “Don’t worry, it’s a good ER. They do this kind of stuff all the time.”
Of course, they did. It was Las Vegas; playground to the rich and the desperate; home of the con, a garden of expectations where dreams were manufactured in plastic that evaporated when exposed to too much sun. And there was always plenty of that.
Jolie could feel the Axel-demon entity peeking out through her eyes, voracious for more of what it had tasted.
"What about him?" it asked, focusing on the EMT as a possible new victim. Jolie felt the creature’s malicious intent like a lump in her belly.
“That’s not the way this is going to work,” she warned, speaking out loud. The EMT glanced at her uncertainly and she turned her head to look out the window, hoping to change the demon’s focus.
Looking out the backdoor windows, Jolie could see an elderly woman at a bus stop, carrying an oversized shopping bag.
“What about her?” the demon suggested. ”No one knows or cares where she is. No one will even notice that she’s gone.”
“Stop,” Jolie snapped back.
The EMT checked to see if Jolie was talking on a blue tooth. She ignored him, focusing on controlling the creatures inside her.
They passed a skinny teenager on a bicycle.
“We could take him out with just a swerve of the car,” the demon played its perverse game.
“I can’t drive,” Jolie reminded it. “I don’t even have a license.”
“You will have soon.”
“I don’t have a car,” Jolie refused to give in.
“We’ll steal one.”
“The world is lucky you’re dead, Axel,” Jolie derided him.
“We could--” it started to make another suggestion.
“Shut up,” Jolie shouted. The EMT was getting seriously worried now. Jolie’s stomach rolled and jerked. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“There’s a sick bag by your right arm,” the guy told her. “Don’t worry. It happens all the time.” He tried for a reassuring smile, but Jolie could see that he was nervous, ticking off her symptoms and questioning what action he should be taking. Axel and the demon were toying with the hypothetical killing of others, but the EMT was within reach. She could not let them get control again.
It had been so easy to give in to them when things got tough at the bar. It was not so easy to get the damn things back into their box.
The ambulance slowed, then stopped. The siren went silent. The doors were thrown open and stranger’s hands pulled Jolie’s mother out and took her away.
Jolie climbed out onto the dock and watched Jessie Lynn being swallowed up by the hospital’s double doors. The ambulance lights went off. The driver came around the back and closed the doors, then got back in and pulled away. Jolie stood outside the hospital, alone.
A brilliant sunset of reds and oranges brushed the lavender sky as the sun sank behind the Spring Mountains to the west.
The weather isn’t right. If this was a movie, it would be rainy and bleak, Jolie thought. That was how she felt inside.
“Jolie!” Remy called from across the parking lot, she turned from the bright sunset to Remy, and then she was his arms. “It’s okay, I’m here. I’m here, Jo.” Jolie stood as stiff as a stick, numb and unresponsive. Remy held her out at arms’ length to look at her. “Are you alright?”
Slowly, as if the air was Jell-O, Jolie reached a hand up to Remy’s face and tried to press the worry lines out of his skin with her fingers.
“You shouldn’t worry, Remy,” she whispered. Her voice was eerie and unconnected. “You’re face is too pretty to be all scrunched up.”
Remy gently cupped her hand in his, holding it against his heart. “Boys aren’t pretty, Jo. They’re handsome... or not.” He gave her a crooked smile.
“You definitely are. You could be on a magazine cover.”
“How pretty would he be, lying dead in a box,” the demon inside her muttered.
“Shut up,” Jolie ordered it, feeling her awareness split, rejoin, then split again. When she looked back at Remy, the worry wrinkles were deeper.
“What’s going on, Jo? Why are we talking about my career options?” he asked, troubled.
Jolie looked around the parking lot. Hugo and Bodhi were there.
“What?” she frowned. Unable to remember what they had been talking about.
“Brutus couldn’t come. How’s your mom?”
Jolie stared at him, not comprehending.
“Your mom just went into the ER, remember?”
Jolie squirmed under her friend’s knowing eyes.
“He wouldn’t be hard to kill,” Axel suggested. “He’s soft, trusting, and unaware. He wouldn’t even see it coming.”
“Don’t touch him! Get out of my head!” Jolie began to hit her head with her fists. Remy grabbed her hands.
“Whoa. Who are you talking to?”
Jolie stopped and blinked. She saw the hospital’s double doors and reality stampeded her.
“Mom...” She ran. Pushing through the doors, Jolie threw herself at the receptionist’s desk. “Where is my mother, Jessie Figg?” she demanded.
“I’m sorry, honey, but you aren’t allowed in this area,” the nurse sitting at the desk told her. She looked like a doctor’s wife in the making, tight uniform stretched across her breasts, too much makeup, perfectly straightened hair. “The waiting room is over there.” She pointed.
“Where is my mother?” Jolie repeated as if the woman hadn’t spoken.
“Is she a patient here?” The words were polite, the attitude was not.
“They just brought her in an ambulance.”
“Ah.” The nurse glanced at one of the trauma rooms. “Her condition is being evaluated. If you’ll just wait in the waiting room, over there.” She pointed again, impatiently, “We’ll send someone out as soon as we know something.
“What about her?” the demon suggested. “You’d like to kill her, wouldn’t you? Perky assed and so full of herself.”
What were you before you died, Axel, a mafia hit man? Jolie demanded.
“Oh come on, Jo, we could do her and be out the back before anyone knew anything had happened.”
“There’s cameras all over this place,” Jolie disagreed, out loud. “I’m not going to prison just so you can get your jollies.” The nurse looked up from her computer.
“Hey kid, you can’t stay here. It’s hospital policy. Go to the waiting area. Just down the hall and through those doors.” She stood up and came out from behind her desk and reaching for Jolie’s arm.
“Don’t touch me!” Jolie warned her. The woman was too close, too tempting. Jolie pulled away. The demon’s energy was rising like molten lava inside her: dangerous and invigorating.
“It’s okay. Calm down. No one’s going to hurt you,” the nurse assured Jolie, looking around for help.
“Why would you say that?” Jolie demanded. “You know it’s a lie. Everyone is going to hurt you.” She began to pace back and forth like a caged animal, her breath shallow and fast. “That’s all they do is hurt you, over and over again, and there’s no way out of it.”
“Do it now,” the demon urged her. “I know you want to. We’ll wipe that smug look right off her face.”
“Stop talking to me,” Jolie shouted. “I’m not listening to you.”
“Yes, you are, and in another minute you’re going to let go. You’ll feel so much better, I promise. You’ll feel alive and free--”
“And perverted. Shut up!” Jolie grabbed her head with her hands and pressed hard against her temples.
Remy came running in, followed by Bodhi and Hugo.
“I’m sorry, gentlemen, but you can’t be in here,” the nurse started to repeat her spiel.
“I’m with her,” Remy explained, approaching Jolie.
“Oh.” The nurse stopped, obviously okay with someone else taking charge of the reckless teen.
“Jo? Jolie?” Remy tried to get Jolie to look him in the face. “Where are you, Jo? What’s going on?”
Jolie shook her head back and forth like a pendulum.
“What’s wrong with her?” Hugo pushed the others aside to get to his friend.
“I don’t know,” Remy muttered.
“You need to leave,” the nurse repeated. “You can’t--”
“We know: we can’t be in here,” Remy interrupted her. “We’re trying to figure out what’s wrong with our friend. As soon as we do that, we’ll go. Okay?” The woman seemed willing to back down for the moment and Remy turned his attention back to Jolie. “Jolie?” He tried to take her arm and pull her along the hallway. She twisted away from him, her face red with fury.
“Let go of me.”
Hugo joined Remy. “Jolie?”
Jolie dropped her head and looked up at him through the tops of her eyes.
Alarmed, Hugo backed away. “What the crap, Jo?”
“Jolie.” Remy grabbed both Jolie’s arms and tried to force her to look at him.
“No. I won’t do it!” She flailed against his grasp. “I won’t do it!”
“Settle down, Jo. Settle down. It’s just me, Remy.” That seemed to mean something to her because she stopped trying to get away.
“Remy? You’re alive?” Jolie’s face changed from violent anger to confusion and sadness.
“Yes, that’s it, Jo. Just take nice deep breaths,” Remy coached her.
“She seems pretty upset,” the nurse hedged. “I’d better call someone.”
“No, she’s fine,” Remy assured her. “I think we have her under control now.”
“You won’t call anyone,” Jolie growled in Axel’s baritone, his anger blazing. Twisting from Remy’s grasp she closed her fingers around the woman’s neck.
“Jolie, no!” All three boys jumped forward to pull the women apart. “What are you doing?” Remy tried to stop her. “This isn’t you. This isn’t you!”
“Maybe it is,” Bodhi piped up. “She was kind of like this at the bar, too.”
Hugo stared at the scene, completely undone. “I don’t understand any of this: people getting beaten up, shot--trying to kill each other. I’m an extra in a horror flick.”
“Get him out of my way, or I’ll tear his heart out of his chest while he’s still breathing,” the demon roared.
“Jo! Jo!” Remy got hold of Jolie’s shoulders and shook her. She growled and spat at him like an animal caught in a trap. He did not let go. “Listen to me, Jolie. It’s Remy. It’s Remy. Stop this.”
The world stopped moving like etch-a-sketch granules, and recognition flickered in Jolie’s eyes.
“Get away from me, Remy. I’ll hurt you,” she gasped.
“You’d never hurt me. You’re going to save me, remember?” he reminded her.
“Save you? Save you from what, Remy?” Bodhi demanded, staying close enough to intervene.
“It wouldn’t be me,” Jolie admitted. “But “he” will hurt you.”
“‘He’, who, Jo? Who are you talking about?” Remy grilled her.
“I can’t control him. I can’t hold him back anymore. All the pieces keep flying apart.” Jolie’s eyes lit on Bodhi. “You have to look out for Remy, Bodhi. You have to watch over him when Hoke can’t be there. Keep him safe. I thought I could do it, but I’m just putting him in danger. Protect him, Bodhi. Promise me. You get clean and protect Remy. Promise me!”
Bodhi positioned himself in front of Jolie, stiffened his hand and in a move almost too fast to see, gave her a chop to the neck. She collapsed at his feet.
“What did you do that for?” Remy began to gather Jolie up into his arms like a bundle of rags. “That was a little extreme, wasn’t it?”
“I don’t think so. I think it was necessary. You heard her rambling on.” Bodhi turned to the nurse. “We’re really sorry about this.” He oozed charm. “Our friend’s had a really rough night. Her mom just got shot and she was right there.” He touched the woman’s arm. “She saw everything and she was trying to stop it but....”
The nurse nodded. “Everyone handles trauma differently. Look, I really should call someone.”
“No,” Remy stopped her again. “We’ve got this.”
“We do?” Hugo looked around, dismayed. Bodhi silenced him with a look.
“Yeah, we do. She can call here and check on her mom later, right?” Remy asked the nurse.
“We should know something in a few hours,” the nurse agreed. “Are you sure you’ve got her under control?”
“Absolutely,” Bodhi jumped in to dissuade any doubt.
“There’s a lady she sees--a counselor,” Remy explained. “I know the place. I’ve taken her there before.” He hiked Jolie up higher in his arms and carried her from the hospital. Hugo swept up Jolie’s fallen backpack and followed, trailing behind Bodhi who remained close to Remy.
“What was that?” Hugo demanded as they walked across the parking lot.
Remy chuckled. “Which part? Jolie going all Exorcist or Bodhi using his special powers to bewitch that nurse into not calling security?”
“Either... both. I don’t know. I’ve never seen shit like that before, except in the movies.” Hugo’s eyes were as round as a Japanese anime character.
“Welcome to the world of a Spiritual Warrior, Grasshopper,” Bodhi mocked a Chinese accent. “The Force can have a strong effect on the weak minded,” he added, dropping it.
“And you call “them” geeks,” Remy laughed.
“It worked, didn’t it?” Bodhi defended himself. “Sifu says that lots of the stuff in Star Wars was based on Taoist practices.”
“Sifu understands that this generation doesn’t read philosophy books, they watch movies,” Remy countered, stopping at the edge of the parking lot. He looked both ways along the street.
“Did anyone bring a car?”