Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. That’s my idiotic first thought as I look around the deserted wasteland that surrounds me. One second, I was on my way to the van to go find some real food, and the next… where the hell am I? I look up at the dreary sky and decide that I must have finally lost it. There are two moons. Or something. They could be suns, or maybe just planets. One is fiery red, the other nearly black. The sky isn’t dark, but it’s not exactly light either. It’s just gray. Everything is dull and dead. No grass. No green. There are trees but they look petrified, bare and sun-bleached.
Where are all the people? Using my new ability of being able to read minds from afar, I reach out, hoping to find something. Anything. After a few moments, I give up. There’s nothing living anywhere nearby. Okay. Alright, calm down. This is not the most terrifying situation I have been in before. Just the strangest. I’ll walk around and see if I can find anyone, hopefully figure out what’s going on. Maybe I took some weird drug and I just don’t remember it.
I turn in every direction, trying to decide which way to go. In one direction, there is nothing. Just miles of nothing. In another, there is a group of dead trees. Maybe it used to be a forest before everything went to shit. In another direction, there’s a looming mountain. A mountain seems more promising than a creepy dead forest or vast nothingness, so I choose that way.
After walking for a while, I realize that something isn’t quite right. It feels like something is watching me, but when I reach out again, I still can’t find anyone. My heart feels like it’s about to jump out of my chest. I start walking again and now I know what’s wrong; it’s too quiet. There’s no sound of wind, or trees, or cars, or animals, not even bugs. I’m starting to lose hope that there’s something living in this place.
Just when I’m about to give up and resign myself to the fact that I’m all alone here, I hear something in the distance. Thank God! There is someone else here! I run toward the mountain and see a cave in the side of it. Inside, I hear a chanting noise. Chanting is never a good thing. Last time I heard chanting, I almost died. I did die, but only for a few minutes.
Shaking, I creep closer to the cave entrance and peek inside. I can smell smoke, mixed with a stench that I can’t even describe. It’s so awful that I gag and pull away from the cave. I don’t think I want to meet whoever is inside. I turn to leave and come face to face with a hooded figure.
“What are you doing out here? Get inside! They’re waiting for you!” the hooded man hisses.
“Wait, what? Me?” I look around, thinking maybe he’s talking to someone else. Why didn’t I feel his mind? Or anyone’s? I still don’t!
The man pulls back his hood and looks at me strangely. As far as I can tell, he’s a completely normal human being. “Yes, you. You are the guest of honor, Avva.”
Avva? I look down at myself and nearly faint. I have boobs! Why the fuck am I a woman?! What is happening?! “Do I really have to do this? It’s just a stupid ceremony. I can become a priestess without going through it, can’t I?” Why did I say that?! I am a man! Men don’t become priestess’s! My legs start moving on their own, following this weirdo into the cave. Great. Just great. Hooded men, chanting, and a woman being the guest of honor. Sounds like a really bad porno.
Inside the cave, torches line the walls, lighting the way. The stench is stronger now, and I’m having trouble keeping my food down. Her food… I don’t know. I’ve relived the last moments of countless people’s lives, but I always felt separate from them. This is different. I am this woman. Also, I don’t remember touching a death memento, so why is this happening?
The chanting is echoing through the narrow tunnel and getting louder by the second. Ahead, the cave is glowing and so warm that I feel sweat dripping down my/her body. Rounding the corner, we find the source of the chanting. More hooded men, standing in a circle around an enormous fire. It doesn’t seem safe to have a fire in a cave. Where’s the smoke going? I look up and see the smoke billowing toward one spot in the cave. There must be a hole somewhere up there, but the smoke is so thick that I can’t see it.
As if I know what I’m doing, I step up to a man near the scorching flames. The chanting stops abruptly, and incredibly enough, the flames die down with the silence.
“Avva. You have fulfilled all requirements of becoming a priestess, except one. You must pass this last trial to earn your place among us,” the man said. He looks past me, at the man who led me in here. “Brother, where are your manners? Replace your hood at once!”
“Sorry, sir,” the man mumbles, placing his hood back on his head.
The attention shifts back to me. “Do you accept this last trial?”
Still unable to control myself, I hesitate. I’m afraid. I don’t know what will happen during this trial, but I want this. I have worked so hard for this, and its only one trial away. “I accept, my lord.” My lord? Are you kidding me?
Beneath the hood, I see a smile. Not a good smile, but a knowing, evil smile. This dude is Satan incarnate. “Good. After this, you will be able to call me ‘Brother’.” The happiness that I feel when he says this is sickening. It’s strange, feeling both our emotions at once. He motions to another man, who steps forward with a strip of black cloth. Oh hell no. A blindfold! I try to step back, run, anything, but I am no longer in control of this body. The man places the blindfold over my eyes.
“Avva Kinge. Upon completion of this last trial, you will become a sister of our community, and spend the rest of your life celibate in order to serve the god, Inus, when you pass into the afterlife. Do you agree to these terms?”
“I do,” I say. Are you fucking kidding me? Celibate for life so that she can be a virgin treat for some prick in the afterlife? Before I can even make an attempt to object, a cold metal cup is thrust against my lips and forces my head back. I swallow the bitter liquid inside and start to feel lightheaded. The chanting starts back up and someone shoves me forward toward the fire. A rough hand grabs my soft one and swipes a sharp blade across it. I whimper like the little pansy woman that I am. This pain is nothing. The actual me, Jude, not Avva, has been through way worse pain.
Just you wait, a voice whispers in my head.
The chanting stops abruptly and it’s so silent that all I can hear is my ragged breathing. Then something strikes the front of my knee with so much force that it breaks backwards easily. At first, I’m in shock. I feel nothing, although I can hear myself screaming. The pain finally hits, and I don’t even care that this woman is making me scream bloody murder, because this freaking hurts.
The great thing about my ability is that I relive a person’s death, but I don’t actually feel their pain. It’s a disconnected pain. I know that it’s happening, but I don’t physically feel it in my body.
Well, I feel this. It’s like a thousand swords lancing up and down my leg. I’m not even finished screaming from the first break, when hands force me to stand and the next knee is shattered into oblivion.
As I lay on the ground, moaning, someone grabs my face and whispers in my ear, “Say hello to Inus for me.” He cackles and shoves my face into the stone, breaking my nose. Now I understand. The last trial was just death. This girl was never supposed to be anything but a sacrifice to their disgusting god.
“Why?” I croak through painful sobs. “I thought…” Before I can finish, several pairs of hands grab me and toss me into the flames. Fire engulfs my entire body, and I try to scream, but I’m breathless. The heat sucks all the air from my lungs, and I suffer in silence. The pain doesn’t last as long as the suffocating. After a few minutes, the fire has burned up my nerves, but I choke on the heat and smoke for what seems like an eternity. Finally, everything goes black.
When I wake up, everything is blurry and distorted. I see my real world, but I can also still see parts of the other world. I blink, trying to bring everything into focus, but the light stabs at my eyes and makes my head pound. Haylee is leaning over me, saying something I can’t understand. Finally, the other world vanishes, and everything is clear.
“…fine, just back up and let him breathe. Jude, what did you take? Can you hear me?” Haylee says.
“What? Yeah, I can hear you,” I say in a shaky voice. I sit up and look past her. There are several people that I don’t know behind her, along with Toby, Hazel and Maria. Great. This is embarrassing. I look down at my chest to make sure that I’m actually me. No boobs. Good. “Why am I on the ground? What happened?”
Haylee looks at me, concerned. “We’re wondering the same thing. Did you take something? Toby said you had…”
I cut her off. “Oh my gosh, seriously? I didn’t take anything, okay? Don’t just make assumptions!” I stand up, wincing from the bruises starting to form where I fell on the pavement. “Can we just go, please? Talk somewhere else?” I gesture to all the strangers watching our little sideshow.
Haylee looks around. “Freaking vultures. They love to feed off of drama.” Now that I’m not dying or anything, people are starting to break off from the pack. Only a few people linger, waiting to see what happens next. I could give them something to talk about, but I’d rather not draw more attention to myself.
“I’m starving. I’m going to get food, like I was originally planning,” I announce, walking to the van and pretending like nothing just happened.
“Uh, what? No. You aren’t driving. What if you… you know, whatever just happened again?” Toby says, grabbing the keys out of my hands. I don’t argue. He has a point.
“Okay, fine. You drive me.” I climb into the passenger seat and wait for him to follow. They all follow, Toby getting in the driver’s side and the others in the back. We drive in silence for a few minutes, no one daring to ask the question.
“Okay, talk. What the hell was that?” Toby finally asks.
And there it is. How do I even answer that when I’m not even sure? “I don’t know, I was unconscious. You tell me. Was I seizing?” I ask.
Toby looks at me sideways, skeptical. He knows I know more than I’m letting on. “No. One of the neighbors said that you were walking through the lot and just dropped all of a sudden. Last time I saw that happen, you…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking, but I didn’t take anything. I swear.”
Hazel jumps in. “You’re not telling us something.” I glare at her, but she looks back, unfazed. Stupid psychics. Why are we all so nosy?
“Geez, okay. Stop looking at me like that. You’re freaking me out.” I hesitate, unsure of what to say. “It was kind of like when I touch a death memento. Except different.” I leave it at that. It’s really not something you can explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it for themselves.
“Different…how?” Maria asks.
“I don’t know, just different. Like, more real.”
“From the way you describe touching a death memento, it sounds pretty real to me.”
“Well it’s not!” I snap. I would rather forget the whole thing and never experience it ever again. The sooner they shut up about it, the sooner I can forget it. Seeing the hurt look on Maria’s face, I can’t just leave it at that. “I’m sorry, okay? When I touch a death memento, I feel everything and see everything, but it’s more like a dream. Hazy, and I don’t actually physically feel the pain. I just know that it’s happening, but I also know that it’s not real. This was different. I was literally someone else. I felt everything they felt, heard everything they heard, I knew their thoughts and emotions. I was them. And me. It’s confusing.” I sigh and lean back against my seat.
“Do you think it’s because of your abilities being boosted by the stone?” Haylee asks. “Maybe that’s how all of your… experiences are going to be from now on.”
“I sure as hell hope not,” I mumble. “The only thing worse than that was touching that possessed guy.”
“But wait, if it was caused by a death memento, then you would have had to touch one. As far as I know, you didn’t touch anything like that, did you?” Toby says.
“I don’t think I did,” I say. “Last I remember, I was just walking through the parking lot. Then bam! I was a woman and being tortured by guys in hoods.” Toby snickers. “Don’t laugh. It was awful. I had boobs and my dick was gone.” Everyone cracks up laughing, and I can’t help but smile.
“Well, we can add this to your long list of abilities I guess,” Hazel says. “Not that we really know what it is.” How many is that now? Mind reading, seeing the future, seeing ghosts, astral projection…” She keeps naming things, but I stop listening. Sarah, as far as we can tell, is a real person. Alive today. Olivia was killed a long time ago. I can see someone’s death and sometimes I can see someone’s future.
I interrupt Hazel. “Holy shit! I figured it out! Sarah didn’t die in the past! I was seeing her future! She’s going to die!”
Everyone looks at me dumbstruck, until they get it. “Fuuuuuuuck…We have to go! We have to make sure they don’t go back to the house!” Toby says. He wrenches the van around in an illegal, and very dangerous U-turn, causing the car behind us to blare their horn.
I pull out my phone and find the Harrisburg’s number. It doesn’t even ring, just goes straight to voicemail. “Don’t go back to the house. Your daughter will die if you do.” Simple and to the point. Hopefully they get the message and don’t do anything stupid. We already told them before that we would let them know when it was safe, but they wouldn’t be the first customers to ignore our advice.
“That is the worst thing to say. It sounded like a threat,” Maria says, going into her annoying cop mode. “If something happens, they will show that to the police and you’ll probably be arrested.”
“Thanks mom,” I say sarcastically. “Too late now. Whatever happens happens.”
“Do you ever think before doing something potentially life threatening?”
“Nope.” Of course I do. I just don’t always realize when something is life threatening. Duh. I’m not an idiot.
“Hold on a second,” Haylee says. “I’m not a part of your little ghost hunting company. Why do I have to go?”
Toby growls, legitimately angry. “A girl’s life is in danger, and you’re complaining about having to go with us?” Haylee shrugs.
“He’s got a point. That’s pretty selfish of you,” I say, avoiding eye contact. I know she’s glaring at me for agreeing with Toby. Despite her disagreement, she doesn’t say anything else about it, and quietly pouts in the back seat.
Meanwhile, we try to figure out when this potential homicide might happen. I shuffle through all of my notes and find the ones from the death memento.
Maria leans over my shoulder, her brown hair softly brushing my face. I freeze. It smells like coconut. I have to stop myself from grabbing her hair and burying my face in it. Or doing more than that. She’s distracting me.
“Do you remember anything significant? Were there any clocks or anything?” Maria asks.
“Maria. I was seeing two days overlapping. One from 1986 and one from whenever in the future. I can’t differentiate the two.” She nods, her eyes squinting.
“But maybe there was a calendar or something? What room was she in?”
That I can answer. I close my eyes, trying to remember everything. After the killer beheaded Olivia in her bedroom, he went to the front door to leave. On his way, he passed Sarah’s already dead body, which was… “The kitchen. Her body was in the kitchen.”
Maria’s eyes light up. “What else? Was there a calendar? A lot of people keep them on the fridge or near the fridge. Maybe a clock?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know. The killer didn’t stop when he passed by, he just kept going. I didn’t see much of the kitchen. I was more focused on the dead body on the floor.”
Hazel jumps in. “What if you touch the necklace again? Do you think you would see the future again or just Olivia’s murder?”
I throw up my hands. “Since when do I have any semblance of control over my abilities? I can’t just choose to see the future!”
“You might not have been able to before, but maybe you can now,” Haylee says. “You won’t know unless you test it out.”
“I don’t particularly want to watch a little girl get beheaded again,” I say, crossing my arms. No one says anything. None of them would want to watch that either, but I’m always expected to do it, because I’ve already seen it all. “Don’t just expect me to be okay with doing something like that.”
Maria puts her hand on my arm and gently squeezes. “No one expects you to do it, much less be okay with it. If you don’t want to, then don’t. But if you do, we might be able to catch this guy and keep anyone else from getting hurt.”
She has a valid point. Damn her and her logic. Everyone is looking at me, waiting for my answer. I sigh. “Shit. Fine. Let’s do this.”
“No way, seriously? I get to finally witness you using your psychometry?” Haylee says, clapping excitedly. She’s the only one who looks even remotely happy about it.
“Yeah, you get to watch him have a seizure, you dumb bitch,” Toby says angrily. “This isn’t something fun or happy. How would you like to experience someone’s death? Or in this case, experience killing someone.”
Haylee shrugs. “I don’t know, I’ve never done it before. It might be cool.”
I cannot even believe her right now. “You know what else might be cool? Tossing you out of the back of a moving van.”
“Calm down, sugarcakes, I was obviously just joking. It sounds awful, but I’m still interested in witnessing it. For educational purposes,” Haylee says, so matter-of-factly that I actually believe her.
“Can we stop talking about it and just do it before I decide I don’t want to anymore? This isn’t a decision that I like to dwell on,” I say irritably. I cross my arms to keep my hands from shaking. I’ve never touched the same death memento twice. It’s bad enough seeing it once. It’s a good way to test Toby’s theory though. He thinks that a death memento has a set start and end time and that my seizure will last the same amount of time for each memento. He always logs my seizure times and which memento it was from, and I always write down everything that happens in my vision.
Toby grips the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white. “Well, it can’t be worse the second time around, right? Where are we doing this at? Outside? Back of the van?”
Everyone starts talking at once, drowning out each other’s answers. “Wow, hold up, hold up. I’m pretty sure I’m the one who gets to decide, not all of you!”
“Okay, but hear me out,” Maria says. “If we have you do it in the back of the van, we can keep driving and we won’t waste any time if it doesn’t amount to anything.”
“Oh, so now you think this won’t amount to anything?” I snap. “One second you say I could save lives, the next you say I could be wasting my time!”
Hazel scoffs. “She didn’t mean it like that, and you know it! She has a point. I highly doubt it will be a waste of time, but in the unlikely event that you don’t see anything, at least we will still be moving.”
Of course, I know she didn’t mean it like that. I’m just trying to find a reason to not do it. It’s one thing experiencing someone’s death. It’s a million times worse being the murderer. However, if it will save other people’s lives, I’m willing to do it. Barely.
“Okay, fine, whatever. Pull over.” Toby wordlessly pulls over and Hazel gets in the driver’s seat while we climb into the back of the van. Being the only one with any medical knowledge, Toby is in charge of making sure I don’t die or something. The girls pass the necklace back to Toby.
“Ready?” he asks me.
“Nope,” I say holding out my hand and taking a shaky breath. He places the necklace in the palm of my hand, and I feel my body go rigid as my head starts to swim. The back of the van flashes out of existence, replaced by the Colton house. I blink until everything comes into a hazy focus. No, not the Colton house. Everything is newer. This isn’t Olivia’s death, this is Sarah’s. Apparently, I do have some control over what I see. I still have no control over the body that I’m currently in. Walking through the hallway, I catch a flash of pink out of the corner of my eye. Sarah’s ridiculous room. The killer must be headed toward the stairs. I wonder how he got upstairs in the first place? I don’t have to wonder for long.
“It’s a beautiful house, Mr. Harrisburg. I’m sure it will sell quickly. My associate is out by the car with the rest of the papers to sign. If you and your wife would like to meet him out there while I finish assessing the house…” I gesture to the front door. There’s a watch on my right hand, but it’s too far away for me to see the numbers and hands.
Mr. Harrisburg nods enthusiastically, reaching out a hand. I shake his hand. “Thank you.” He walks out the door, followed closely by Mrs. Harrisburg. I carefully close and lock the door behind them, and roll up my sleeves, looking calmly around the corner into the kitchen. Sarah is sitting at the table, eating a bowl of cereal and examining a business card.
This must be early in the morning if she’s eating breakfast. From the corner of my eye, I see a calendar on the wall, but I can’t see what month it is.
I reach into my pocket and pull out the wire, walking up silently behind Sarah. Nonononono! Not yet!
Sarah scoots her chair back and I freeze as she picks up her bowl and brings it to the sink. My eyes follow her, and I see the rest of the calendar, only briefly. July. It’s already July. Shit. It could be any day. Any minute! For all we know, it might have already happened!
Sarah turns around and jumps in surprise when she sees me. I feel my face pull up into a grin, and I rush her. She doesn’t even have a chance to scream before the wire is around her neck, sawing rapidly. I don’t want to watch this, but I can’t look away. I try to disconnect myself from the killer’s mind, bring myself out of this nightmare, but it doesn’t work.
“Inus thanks you for your sacrifice,” I growl as I feel the life drain out of her. Her body falls limply to the ground, her severed head lying next to it in a rapidly growing pool of blood.
I can feel myself coming out of the vision, my head swimming and my stomach clenches. I groan as the van comes back into sight, Toby staring at his watch and writing the time down in his logbook. He glances up when I start to sit up, his eyes widening.
“Your nose is bleeding,” he says worriedly.
I touch my hand to my nose, and it comes away covered in blood. Well, that’s new. Toby hands me a tissue and I hold it to my nose, soaking the tissue in less than a minute. He hands me another and this one lasts a little longer. I feel way more awake than I usually do after a seizure, but my body is still tired.
After my nose bleed slows down and Toby checks my vitals, the questions start. “So? Did you see anything helpful?” he asks.
I look to the front of the van. Maria and Haylee are looking at me intently, waiting for my answer. “Sort of. I know it’s this month, unless the Harrisburg’s just forgot to change their calendar. I also know it happens in the morning.” I try to think of any other helpful details, but all I can see is Sarah’s head falling on the floor and the look of eternal horror on her oxygen deprived face. I start gagging, and Toby hands me a bag and backs away from me. I don’t have any food in my stomach to throw up anyways. I cover my mouth and nose and try to think of something else.
Fluffy kittens, sunsets, Maria’s eyes… Okay, I’m good now.
“Is throwing up a normal thing for you after a seizure?” Haylee asks. She has a notebook out and is writing things down in it.
“Are you seriously using me as some sort of experiment?” I growl.
“Yes. It’s fascinating. Also, did you see Olivia’s murder again, or was it Sarah’s? Was it the same exact vision, or were there differences? Did you have any control over your body while you were in it? Could you read the victim or the killers minds by touching them? Can you force yourself to stop seeing it?”
“Please stop. You’re giving me a headache,” I say, holding up my hand. “I really don’t want to think about it right now.” In truth, I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s not just something you forget. Was there a clock that I missed? Maybe the calendar had days crossed off? No, I don’t remember either of those details. The Harrisburg’s must have been in a hurry to sell their house because of it being haunted.
“The killer got into the house by pretending to be a realtor. The Harrisburg’s are going to try and sell their house,” I say, thinking out loud. “Being such short notice, it would have to be a company close to their home.”
Maria’s face lights up. “And they would have to make an appointment with the realtor! We can find out when the appointment is!” I nod.
“But how are we going to convince them to just hand us that information?” Hazel asks. “Plus, it’s a pretty big city. How are we supposed to find out which realtor it is?”
“Would you get out of here with your pessimistic logic?” I groan. Sarah had a business card. I can only assume it would be from whatever company they were working for. I grab the notebook and pen from Haylee, who whines in protest. “Shut up.” I quickly sketch the logo that I saw on the business card. Sarah’s thumb was covering up a part of it, but at least it’s something. It looks like a circle with a key inside of it. Pretty generic, but hopefully there aren’t too many realtors in the city with a logo like that. “Here. This is the logo.” I hand it to Maria who immediately starts searching on her phone. After a few minutes, she yells excitedly.
“Aha!” She shows me the picture on the realtor website, and I nod. It’s definitely it. Unrealty.com is the name of their website. “What a stupid name,” Maria says, scrunching up her face.
“Okay, we have a company name, but how do we get them to tell us when their appointment is?” Hazel says, still being a grumpy person. “We don’t even know if they made the appointment yet.”
Maria sighs and rolls her eyes. “I used to be a cop, Hazel. I think I can figure out how to get them to give me information.” She dials a number on her phone. “Don’t worry, I got this.”