Time. I’m running out of time. I can feel it.
Cassie closed her eyes and tried to imagine she was back in her old bedroom. Come on, come on, come on. I have to do this again. As soon as the thoughts passed through her weary mind, she sighed. Now wasn’t the time. If she wanted to creep into her old body without the girl--Helen--knowing, it needed to be at night.
In the three days since she tried to warn her mom to leave and not look back, desperation took hold of Cassie. She had met with Dr. Winslow twice. He had made his displeasure over her spending so much time with James known, had tried to warn her off him. Randy said the good doctor had told him likewise, but he hadn’t heeded the doctor’s advice.
“What the hell does he know?” Randy repeated whenever Cassie raised her concern.
Cassie knew Randy was right. She sought comfort and reassurance--and something more?--in his arms, for she had nowhere else to go for the gentle warmth that was her balm. The dread of losing, though she tried to believe she would win this war, was her every waking thought. She needed Randy by her side more than ever.
She closed her eyes again and tried not to let her worry over the worst case scenario play through her mind. Instead, she focused on pretending to be back home.
Home. A smile lilted her lips.
Her grandma’s floral quilt covered her quivering body instead of the hospital-grade blanket. The roughness of the sheets and the pillows could be explained away as her mom buying the wrong thread count. The smells of bleach and mould proved harder to drive away. She tried to inhale the scent of the roses her dad brought her mom every Friday, the fragrance wafting down the hallway from the dining room. A tear escaped.
Randy’s arm rested heavy on her side, his breath even on her neck. For a moment, she wondered if he’d fallen asleep. Then he spoke. “What are you thinking?”
She sniffled. “How did you know I was still awake?”
“You shifted. Danielle used to do the same thing when I held her.”
“I never had anyone to hold me in his arms as we fell asleep.”
Randy laughed softly. “There’s a first for everything.”
Cassie turned onto her back and gazed into his lined face in the near-darkness. “Dr. Winslow would have a heart attack if he saw us just now.”
“Screw what the doctor thinks. We’re not breaking any rules.”
“But he’s concerned our being together is interfering with our treatment. He may make a special case, and what if he moves one of us? Maybe...maybe this isn’t such a good idea.” She shifted. “I don’t want to be apart from you, but--”
He shushed her with a kiss. “Can we, for a moment, pretend it’s just us? That the rest of the world doesn’t exist?”
Cassie cast a rueful smile at the stained ceiling, afraid to meet his eyes. “I was thinking about my room...at home, I mean. I was trying to pretend I was back there.”
“And you could be if you wanted.”
She snapped her eyes to him, then traced his rough jaw with her finger. “And leave you alone here?”
“I wouldn’t blame you.” The withdrawal, the easy willingness to release her coated his raspy voice.
She rested her hand on his cheek. “I wouldn’t do that. Couldn’t do that. I’m not like the monster who’s taken away so much from so many people.”
He placed his hand on top of hers, cradled it, then kissed it. “After Danielle died...”
Cassie pulled him close. “I’m so sorry, Randy.” Danielle’s nearly severed head soaking in a bath of blood water surfaced. She pushed down the memory. Danielle, smiling, kissing her and telling her--him--that they’re going to have a baby replaced the nightmare.
“Not your fault.” He shook his head and withdrew, sitting on the edge of the bed.
Cassie sat up as well and regarded him, wanting to reach for him, but she held back. What can I say to comfort him? I violate him every time we kiss, by being in his body, by sharing his memories, especially of Danielle.
“When this is all done, you will have your body back. I mean it.”
Randy stiffened, then slumped forward, resting his elbows on his thighs and burying his face in his hands. He shook his head. “So you’ve said before, but I can’t ask that of you. You must destroy your own body to stop that monster. Isn’t that enough? You’ve given me hope. A reason to feel alive again.”
Cassie wrapped her arms around him.
He dropped his arms and turned toward her. “You could die. I don’t just mean your old body, Cassie.”
“But this needs to stop.”
“You don’t need to be the one to stop it. I won’t let you--”
“You won’t let me?” Cassie recoiled, as if struck.
He stood. The mattress shifted, then settled. “I should go to my room.”
Wait, Cassie longed to say, but she watched him go. The door shut. She blinked until the threatening tears subsided.
Cassie closed her eyes and willed herself to be back home for real this time. Consequences be damned. I need to see my parents. I need to know if they’re alive.
The sheets softened beneath her. The rosy fragrance manifested. She opened her eyes to her old room, knowing she had precious time before her nemesis booted her out.
She left the room. She longed to take the time, the time snatched from her, to gaze upon every book on her shelves, to touch her friends’ faces in the little frames on her desk, to hold Grandma’s quilt to her nose. But time didn’t stop, so neither could she. The floor creaked in the usual spot where the hallway ended into the living room. In the kitchen, her parents argued in hushed voices.
Dad’s back. She took a deep breath and crossed the threshold.
“Cassie,” her mom said, turning her face from her husband to her daughter. “I didn’t expect you. I thought you went out.”
“Shouldn’t you be with that boyfriend of yours?” asked her dad.
Cassie squirmed, feeling five years old again. Dad never speaks like that.
“I just wanted to say…I’m sorry. Remember what I told you that other night, Mom? Why didn’t you leave?” My God. She choked and sobbed. Her knees threatened to buckle. She steadied herself by placing her hands on the doorframe. “I-I didn’t mean to hurt you, but all this stuff that it looks like I’ve been doing, I haven’t been doing it. I’m not who I seem.”
Her mom’s brow furrowed. She took a step toward Cassie, extending her hand like she wanted to check if she was running a fever. “You said the same thing that other night. Honey, what’s going on?”
“She seems more than all right to be with what’s-his-face all the time,” her dad said with a wave of the hand, like shooing her out the door. “If you’re so in love with him, if he understands you so much, why don’t you go live with him? All you tell us anymore is what idiots we are.”
“I don’t want you to leave, honey,” her mom interjected.
Cassie trembled, feeling she might fall apart, piece by piece right in front of her parents. How can I make you see the truth? “You have to be careful. Please. Y-you shouldn’t be around me. I’m dangerous.”
“Do we need to get you medical help?” her mom asked, taking Cassie’s hand.
Cassie felt the push on her mind, like a red-hot poker. She winced.
The burning blackness invaded, shoving her into a void. When she came to consciousness, Cassie was back in the hospital bed. She gripped the sheet on either side of her. “N-no. No… No!” She tore the sheet from the bed and flung it to the floor. She paced the small room. Her fists made contact with the wall. Again. And again. And again. “Why did I do it? How stupid could I be? Why did I risk it?!” She screamed.
The door barged open. She hoped to see Randy, but a nurse and a pair of orderlies entered.
“Mr. Davis, get control of yourself,” said the nurse.
“You don’t understand. I need to get out of here. She’s gonna kill them, can’t you see? If I can’t stop her, she’ll kill again and again and again!”
Cassie screwed her eyes shut, trying to return to her house, to her parents. Come on, come on, come on!
As hands grabbed her, she thrashed, kicking and hitting...anything to be free.
* * *
The girl released the mom’s hand, recoiling. Fuck! What the hell? She did it again! She stepped away from the parents, holding her spinning head. For a minute, she had been in a small, dank room in a mental hospital, but she had changed all that fast enough.
“Cassie?” asked the mom in a tentative voice.
“Just shut the fuck up,” the girl said, her head pounding. She willed herself to calm, to gain control. Turning from the parents, she ran toward the front door.
The dad’s voice called after her, “I hope you’re going away for good this time! I shouldn’t have to leave my own house!”
The girl got into her car. She glared at herself in the rearview. “What’s the matter with me? This has never happened before. It’s that fucking Cassie girl.” With a growl, the girl pounded the steering wheel. Her black nails dug into her palms, drawing blood. She closed her eyes and willed herself to slow her breathing.
She started the engine and backed out of the driveway. “You’ve got this. You’ve got this. You’ve got this,” she murmured like a mantra. When she reached the end of the street, she turned right and proceeded through the downtown Hurston, until she reached the old Lutheran church on Main Street. She slammed the door with more force than necessary and surveyed the small building.
How many times had she driven past this relic from her past? The white siding peeled in places. The black front doors were closed as she ascended the steps. She jiggled the handle, but the doors were locked.
Just as well. Like I’d ever want to step into a place of nightmares. I should’ve burned this place down like I did with the house.
The girl made her way down the steps to the side door, where her father had entered and exited. She shook her head as his black form seemed to come through that door now, making its way through the dying flowers to the cemetery. Leaves crunched underfoot as she trudged across the grass to the cemetery. She hadn’t been here since her own funeral. With all the death in 100 years, most of it in Hurston, she hadn’t crossed the threshold to the place where the poor souls she tormented finally found peace.
Her fingers skimmed over the tops of tombstones, but she didn’t read the names. She stopped only when she reached her own grave next to her parents’. Overgrown grass surrounded the weathered stones.
Born May 3, 1900
Died November 15, 1916
Forever in Our Hearts
As it propelled by some outside force, the girl knelt in the damp grass in front of the stone. She traced each letter and number, shuddering. The very bones from her body rested six feet below her. Six feet and a little over a 100 years separated her from her body.
But it’s a million things more than time and distance that comes between a body and a mind. A million things I can’t name, so why am I suddenly sitting here wondering what it would have been like to live one life like everyone else?
When a tear slipped past her eyelid, she bared her teeth and dashed the tear to the earth. “My life was hell!” She stood, kicking grass and dirt at the tombstone.
She stepped a few paces to the left and glared upon her parents’ graves. “Two more parents will be joining you before long, dear Mother and Father. I always finish what I start.”