Two dogs tear the woman’s flesh from her arm. You see this kind of thing in the movies, but in real life it puts a lump in your throat and makes your stomach rile. Making it worse, a young girl stands five feet away watching the scene. Jackson snatches the girl up, repeating over and over, “You’re safe, don’t worry.” He cradles her and puts her in the back of the patrol car.
Mace runs the dogs off, but only to the next corner. He throws a rock. One dog yelps, and they move a few feet further, pacing back and forth, waiting for an opportunity to return. A suicide is always tragic. Five years on the job had hardened him some, but the image of the woman with her skull splattered and the damage the dogs did will stay with him. He can’t imagine what it has done to the little girl.
Turning to check on Jackson, he sees the girl peering over the back seat. The pale face framed by her dark hair almost glows. Her eyes, so large, even from here they seem like deep pools of water. He can’t help but stare into them. A sense of serenity envelopes him. His body relaxes, his mind goes blank. The surrounding sounds become muted. Quiet engulfs him. He can hear voices calling to him.
Brett thinks, [Are her eyes getting bigger? Did I move closer?]
An involuntary jolt jerks his shoulders, revealing despair and pain at the bottom of the pool of serenity. A mere glimpse brings a tear to his eye. Then he senses the despair of the woman laying dead twenty feet away. He sees himself, spitting into the pool.
Jackson pokes his shoulder, making him jerk and inhale deeply. He steps back from the depth of her eyes. The pool of serenity is gone, replaced by anger.
“Man, this one got to you.” He points to the tear streak on his cheek. “The dogs took off. I think we should have shot them.” He studies him, “You alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” He rubs his face, then gives his head a little shake. “I hope Child Services gets here soon.”
“She said she was being strong because her step-mom told her to quit being such a fraidy-cat all the time. So far, she’s tough as nails, but there’s something odd about her.”
# # #
Half opened the garage door reminds him of a mouth waiting to be fed. It is an irrational fear and a boy his age shouldn’t believe such things anymore. Knowing that never stopped him from throwing the door open fully when he entered. The guys and his brothers are waiting for him to get the ball, so he ducks under it. Brett intended to dash to the shelf in the rear, grab the tube of balls, and rush out. Their garage, like so many others, will never see a car inside of it. It’s full of outdoor furniture, gardening tools, hoses, a workbench, and their father’s outboard motor locked in a closet in the rear. Locking the door never made sense to him, since the key hung off a nail next to the workbench. Their father had laid down the law that only he could open the door. A few years ago, his father whopped him in the head, reinforcing the rule when he picked up the key. The key remains hanging and no one ever touches it.
A noise in the garage’s rear draws his attention. He tells himself he needs to stop being a fraidy-cat, so he grabs the flashlight off the workbench and scans the back of the garage. Their garage is both a sanctuary and a scary place. It’s the only place he can be alone with his five siblings and their parents in the house. Sometimes, like now, the shadows and noises would run him out, but not today. Today Brett Dawson will not be a fraidy-cat! He runs to the rear, wielding the flashlight, expecting to see one of the neighborhood cats run out. Nothing stirs and the only noise is his heart and breathing.
He gulps, hearing the sound is louder and coming from inside the motor closet. If he got his dad or brothers, the teasing will be relentless if nothing is there. He squeezes the key, then unlocks the door. The noise stops. His heart pounds in his ears. The door creaks upon opening. Nothing. The sweat trickling down his temple is for nothing. A dark shadow squeezes past the closing door and just as quick something beats about his face and chest, forcing him backward into the stack of winter tires. His arms flail left and right, desperate to fend off whatever is upon him. He doesn’t stop until he sees the dark thing dart under the garage door into the light of day. The twang of the garage door springs make him bolt upright.
Turning left then right, he is in moon light bedroom and reaches out to feel for his wife. The familiar curve of her hip reassures him he is safe. Running his hand through his damp hair, he is relieved.
His wife stirs, “Is everything is okay?”
“It’s just a dream. I’ll tell you in the morning. Go back to sleep.”
She does, he sees the clock says 3:32 AM. Brett snuggles into his pillow, hoping he can fall asleep again.
# # #
“Yeah. I can’t believe I slept this late. I can hear them in the office now.”
“Don’t let them get you down, old man.” Cecelia laughs as she hands him a cup of coffee.
Halfway through breakfast, his phone buzzes. All the text reads is M-S (murder-suicide) and an address. He kisses his wife goodbye and rushes to his car. When he puts the address into his GPS, it looks familiar, but he doesn’t have time to dwell on it. He flips on his lights and pulls away.
Cecelia watches him from the window. He could have retired three years ago with three quarter pay, but they asked him to stay on as a Special Investigator. They said it would be fewer hours. She didn’t notice any difference from his regular detective duties. She can’t wait for him to retire, done his share. It’s time for him to turn a new page.
When he turns the corner and sees his old partner now, Captain Jackson Devereau standing there his gut tightens. It isn’t just Déjà vu. Twenty years ago, the two of them stood on the same corner looking at a suicide jumper being torn apart by two dogs.
Jackson talks fast, “Pretty standard murder suicide. It looks as if the husband threw the wife off the balcony and then killed himself. The officers first on scene had to chase two brown and black dogs away. They were afraid they would have to shoot them. They stood on that corner.” He point to it, but Brett knows which one. “They felt the dogs were watching them.”
Brett looks at the corner and back at Jackson, then looks at the patrol cars for signs of a girl.
“She’s already gone. And from the description,” he rubs his face “it sounds like the same girl.” Brett winces, looking at him. “I’m waiting for the coroner.” Jackson answers his question before he asks. “It’s Graham Lucas. He disappeared shortly after they took off with the girl. No one knows where he went.”
Brett says nothing, chewing his lower lip. The woman has a floral dress on similar to the one twenty years ago. He snaps several pictures with his phone before heading up to her apartment. It’s on the ninth floor. The same one. In the elevator he remembers those eyes, dark, endless voids, staring at him from the back seat of the patrol car. The elevator bounces reaching the ninth floor, returning his attention to the present.
Brett breathes deeply and steps into the controlled chaos of any crime scene. He dons booties and gloves while the crime scene leader assures him the husband died of a self-inflicted wound to the head. The signs of a struggle are consistent with the woman being thrown off the balcony. It annoys Brett, Jackson didn’t give him a heads up.
Gordon Reyes, crime scene leader, tells him Child Services were gone before they arrived. They had to send a tech to collect her clothes and samples. It completely disregarded protocol.
“Anyone here see her. The girl?” Surprised at his tone, Gordon points to the officer talking to two detectives.
Brett introduces himself and asks for a description of the girl. The officer describes her as having a pale face, larger than normal, deep dark eyes, framed by dark jet black hair.
“She reminded me of those paintings…”
Brett finishes the statement. “With the big sad eyes, but hers aren’t sad. They’re pools.”
“Yeah, exactly. How did you…”
Brett walks away and takes the elevator to street level.
Jackson meets him, “Freaky?”
“I’ll say. Where’s Graham?”
Jackson raises his shoulders and for a few minutes they stand there, hands on hips, looking anywhere but at the corner where the dogs stood watching them twenty years ago.
“Our girl was adopted four months before our woman committed suicide?”
“I think so. Neighbors say they started arguing a month after this couple adopted the girl. Husband, Steve Collins left for a month. He returned last week. The girl, Amanda,” Brett raises his eyebrows hearing the name, “was polite, quiet, but kept her distance from the other children in the building. No one knows anything about her. They all said she looked so pale and had enormous eyes. She went to school, came home and would be on the balcony looking down for hours.”
“It’s the same story then and now.” Brett looks around and overlaps the scene with the one from twenty years ago.
“Five of the neighbors worried she was going jump off because she was there so much. This is all too…” Jackson lets it trail off. “Yeah.” They both bob their heads saying nothing. Then, “Want to meet for a drink later. McFadden’s?”
“Sounds good. I’ll call you when I’m on my way. I want to catch up with Child Services and get a look at the girl.”
“If they let you. They will want to quarantine her until a shrink evaluates her. It isn’t like the old days.”
“I can try. Where the hell is Graham?”
More neighbors confirm the arguments started when they adopted the girl a year ago. None of them use her name. They refer to her as that big-eyed girl. Their descriptions fit the girl he saw twenty years ago. A memory he buried long ago and is trying to make sense out of now. The memory is so vivid he can overlap it with the current case. The corner, the dogs, her in the patrol car. It gives him goosebumps.
Jackson startles Brett by tapping his shoulder. Brett inhales sharply.
“You alright? I saw you looking, remembering.” Jackson is the only other person who knows what he experienced that day. They look at each other, refusing to say what they want to say.
Child Services refuses to even tell Brett which facility they’ve taken the girl to. He asks to have the area director to call him. The next day, a supervisor calls him, explaining Amanda has been through a terrible ordeal, etc, etc. Brett zones ignoring most of what she says. When he asks to speak to the assigned caseworker he’s told she hasn’t reported for work, but she will have her contact him when she does.
Brett and his partner Shane Kean interview the officers first on scene. Jackson is in the observation room. The three officers give the same impression of the girl, quiet, respectful, compliant. All three mention the girl’s gigantic eyes.
Officer Thomas (Tom) Webster, “After I put her in the back of the patrol car, I wanted to say a brief prayer to myself before engaging her in distracting conversation. I finished the first line when she says, ‘Prayer doesn’t interfere with the process. Sadness is always, well, sad.’ That’s when I noticed the white images at the edges of her irises. They looked like faces and it made me feel real uncomfortable. We didn’t speak again.”
The union rep interrupts at this point to determine why Brett is interested in this open and shut case. He lies, making up a rumor of possible gambling debts. The union rep raises his eyebrows and looks at the observation mirror, knowing Jackson is behind it.
Jackson is the officer’s captain and isn’t telling anyone what he thought really happened. It’s why he called Brett in to look at the case.
The similarities in the case aren’t obvious, but are overwhelming. Neither Jackson nor Brett want to admit this is paranormal or paranoid territory. Either isn’t good.
“You hear from Graham? The coroner’s office?”
“Not yet. He lives near West 47 on 13th street. I will ask the Captain of the 89th precinct to send a car over and check on him.”
Biting his lower lip, “Maybe you should. I want his impression of the girl since he spoke to her before Child Services arrived. Do you know why he spoke to her?”
“You can put a big question mark in your notebook, Brett. He had no reason to that I know of.”
The Captain of the 89th Precinct calls Graham Lucas’ house twice before sending a car. When the officer’s ring the bell, no one answers. An older neighbor tells them he forgot to leave his coroner emblem on the dash and got a ticket this morning. The neighbor buzzes them in the front door and they go up the two flights to his apartment. They bang on the door, no answer. They use the neighbor’s apartment to get onto the fire escape.
She’s near eighty and all too willing. Her life revolves around observing the comings and goings of her block. She tells them she knocked on his door yesterday, but he didn’t answer. The officers try his window and find it open. They announce themselves and enter. The apartment is silent except for a low buzzing in the bedroom closet. When they open the door, the rotten smell engulfs them. Graham is hanging between his shirts with his tongue out, eyes bloodshot, face waxy and purplish. His hands and feet tied so they choke him when he struggles to get loose.
While searching the apartment, they find a note, “It’s dark, so deep, so soothing.” It’s his handwriting and cements the designation of suicide for the assigned detectives.
Jackson asks the precinct captain for permission for Brett to look at the scene and officer’s notes. No one mentioned seeing a girl. The elderly woman told them Graham mumbled to himself when he came home. She laughed because she hadn’t heard anyone use the phrase fraidy-cat in years. When she called out to him, he didn’t say hello, and he always makes time for a chat with her.
Brett tenses a when he reads fraidy-cat in the notes. He knows the phrase well. It makes his head tingle with a bevy of activity. He holds his head in his hand at his desk. [What or who prompted Graham to use it?]
# # #
Dr. Everett Barrett, Chief Coroner, takes the lead on the three suicide cases. He has seen many coincidences unfold in his 30 years, but three suicides with a common element, that is intriguing. “What haven’t you told me, Detectives?”
Brett bends back, holding his heart, pretending to be hurt by the accusation. Hesitating, Everett cocks his eyebrow and opens his mouth to question them. Brett speaks first. “I do suicides at the same rate you do autopsies. It’s why we are both looking at these.”
Everett eyes him, “This is going to take me a while, so you two take off. You can pester someone else in the meantime.”
They aren’t surprised. With nothing else planned, they considered going to McFadden’s to discuss strategy. Outside, the rain has picked up and they decide to call it a night.
Everett ticks his head to the right and clicks his tongue when he discovers what appears to be a small branding on Graham Lucas’ right side, lower rear of his skull. It is an ‘F’. The skin is brownish-black scar tissue. He knows Graham, and he had no such scar. If it was done recently, it should be reddish or show signs of burning if done postmortem. There are none of those signs. He scrapes some flakes to be examined.
On Mrs. Evans’ skull he finds nothing, but on Tom Webster’s, he finds a branding of the letter ‘C’ in the same spot as Graham, with the same coloration and flaky skin. He takes a sample to examine and compare the two.
The microscope shows the flakes from the top layer of skin are similar to those that would separate during mummification. A larger microscope shows thermal injury did not cause the tissue damage. The thickened skin at its edges suggests it was live tissue when created. He records several notes on the tests conducted and those he wants done by the techs in the morning. Everett always leaves the recorder on until he has put away the corpses and cleaned up for the night. He learned early on questions and ideas often arise at this stage.
A click at the other end of the morgue grabs his attention. “Jason, is that you?” Silence. Everett looks around and glimpses some dark hair disappearing behind an empty gurney. He hits the alarm button and grabs the hammer and longest scalpel off his tool tray. When he takes a step forward, he hears.
“I came to see my mommy.”
Everett swirls around in the voice’s direction, but sees nothing. He feels a burning sensation on his hand. Her finger is turning his skin brownish black. For less than a second, he looks into her eyes. The overwhelming combined grief of a morgue weighs in on him.
He jerks his hand back and attempts to knock the girl aside. She is as rigid as a stone pillar. He does a barrel roll and swings the hammer. She blocks it, but he strikes her shoulder. He hears the crackle of glass. The girl leaps back and her enormous eyes become the tightest of slits.
The girl spoke so low he wasn’t sure he heard her correctly over the swish of his flailing hammer in front of him. Later, when he thinks about it, he is sure she said, “Ask about the garage. The garage.”
The door bursts open and two security guards rush in. Everett is swinging the hammer in front of him, his eyes wide, nostrils flared, and sweating profusely.
“Calm down Doc. It’s Jimmy and Stu.”
“I know who you are. Get her!” He points to the other side of the morgue.
Jimmy takes the hammer from him while Stu searches the morgue. He finds nothing. This is the kind of thing they expect from a new intern. It surprises them to have Doc Barrett with all his years of experience, acting like this. They will laugh at his expense with the oncoming shift about things that go bump. None of them will admit they’ve all had the heebie-jeebies at one time or another.
Everett calls Brett, “She was here! The girl. Here! In the morgue. I think she was going to kill me.”
“Whoa, slow down. I’m coming.”
Brett’s never seen Everett flustered before. He lets him tell what happened without interrupting to burn off some of his adrenaline. He walks around the morgue while he talks and finds nothing.
Everett shows him the patch of skin on his hand several times. Pointing out, “No mixture of chemicals I know of can do this to living tissue. How did the girl know her mother’s here? They brought her from St. Elmo’s hospital. Child Services wouldn’t tell her.”
“I don’t know a lot of things, Everett. What I do know. The girl is dangerous.”
Everett shows him his hand again and tells him about the letters ‘F’ and ‘C’.
“The lab will confirm my assessment. She mummified the letters and the patch on my hand.”
Another thing Brett doesn’t know is how the lab will determine the skin is mummified, but he’d be shocked if Everett is wrong. They stand looking at each other. Neither wanting to say what they are thinking. Shane enters and breaks the moment. Brett briefs Shane. When he gets to the part about mummified skin, Shane’s left eye eyebrow cocks a little. It’s the look he gets when a witness tells him aliens or monsters committed the crime. He asks Shane to give the place a once over in case he missed something.
Everett whispers, “Brett, one more thing. She said to ask about the garage.”
The room shifts. Brett grabs for the autopsy table but misses and stumbles forward. Everett steadies him and Shane leads him to a chair.
A sharp stinging smell burns his nostrils. “What was that?” He knows and doesn’t wait for an answer. “Something is wrong with the air in here. First you and now me?”
Everett doesn’t challenge him. He knows he is lying. He taps his skin patch and says, “Maybe we can step outside if we are done here. We can drop the samples off at the lab and, if you don’t mind, walk me to my car in the garage.”
Brett tenses up hearing garage, but not like before. He suggests Everett hold off telling his wife about tonight’s events until morning so he can do so without alarming her.
When they part, one wonders how the other knew and the other wonders what he should know.
Everett’s tossing and turning has woken his wife twice already. It’s 3 AM, and he doubts he will sleep. He gets up. After an hour searching in his books and online, he finds nothing that can account for the instantaneous mummification of tissue. None of what happened makes sense, but he has proof. The surrounding tissue on his hand is sensitive, almost erotically, while the patch itself is numb as fresh scars are. He writes a note telling his wife he went to the library downtown, sets the coffeemaker up for her and places the note in front of it.
The main library branch is open 24/7 and houses the rare books section. As a coroner, he has access to it without an appointment.
He finds nothing helpful with ancient embalming techniques. After two hours, coffee is calling. A new clerk is manning the access door. He tells her he will return shortly. He looks tired to her. She thinks about telling him to go home, but he is a Doctor and may be looking to save someone’s life.
He walks two blocks, passing several coffee houses until reaching his favorite, and orders two medium-sized coffees and an apple fritter. When he pops the lid off the first coffee, the person next to him at the window counter bumps his arm, causing some to spill onto his hand. If not for the tingling, he wouldn’t have noticed the patch on his hand throbbing. He pats his hand dry, and the throbbing stops. Then drops a drip of coffee onto the patch and the skin reacts again. This time, he has his glasses on and sees the skin throb up and become opalescent.
He notices rain drops do not have the same effect as the coffee did on his mummified patch. When he reaches the library, the guard stops him. No coffee or drinks. He ditches what remains of his fritter and explains the need to save this cup of coffee for an experiment later in the lab. After checking his ID, he agrees to hold the coffee for him. This time he searches for reactive materials, but can find none that account what he saw.
Frustrated science is failing him. He takes a wild leap and searches the occult section. The occult section is huge. He can’t believe he never noticed it before. The cross-referencing is different for this section and has to ask the clerk for help. Her widened eyes and spring in her step tell him she is excited. It doesn’t take her long to produce five books, two of which are in Latin, about ritual mummification and paranormal mummification. Everett grits his teeth at the idea of seriously researching Hoodoo magic.
“What going on, Inspector?”
Shane only calls him Inspector when he is deferring to his rank. “What? Nothing.” Shane’s lips tighten. Brett sucks air between his teeth. “Ok. I’ll tell you. I had a dream about my garage when I was a kid the other day. How the heck does the girl know that? And Everett, talking about instant mummification? He’s a science guy and has no explanation for what happened to him.” He pauses, then says it, “If you believe in heaven, then you must believe in hell and everything in between.”
Shane rolls his head around and rubs his neck. “It’s late. Let’s get some sleep tonight and tackle this in the morning. The girl isn’t in the building. She ghosted us.” He raises his hand acknowledging his poor choice of words.
Amanda watches them leave, hidden in a shadow. Angry she eyes the drunk sleeping in the alley and wakes him. He’s already killing himself. His stumbling in front of the late night bus is beneath her, but she needs a victory. She’s never had one slip away for decades, and certainly not scot-free. Storming down the alley, she weaves another plan.
Bethany has two exams tomorrow and wraps up her crunching session at midnight. As is her habit, she leaves the curtains with a small gap. This allows the street light to impart a golden glow into the room. She imagines sleeping in front of a fireplace as she snuggles into her pillow. It doesn’t take long for sleep to overtake her. She didn’t notice the eye peering through the gapped curtains.
Bethany finds herself in a backyard with a grapevine growing overhead in front of a garage. Someone is calling to her from inside the garage. She peers inside. It’s messy. Someone sounds trapped in the small closet in the back. She walks slowly, careful not to trip on anything. Half way in when she reaches the workbench, the door slams shut. It takes her eyes a second to adjust to the dim light, then she bolts to the door and tries to pull it open. She turns the lock release, but the door refuses to open. She bangs on the door and cries out for help.
Alisha wakes instantly when she hears Bethany yelling. She shoves Jackson half off the bed as she gets up. Jackson hops up and grabs his pistol before rushing to his daughter’s room. Alisha sits on the bed and attempts to comfort her.
Jackson has seen behavior a few times at the city mental facility, but this is different. This is his daughter, and she isn’t crazy. They were just talking about her exams. Her eyes are open, but she doesn’t see them.
He clears his throat as loud as he can to attract her attention, “It’s a dream, Bethany. You can come out of it. You’ve upset your mother. Snap out of it. Now.”
“Mom! Dad! I can hear you.”
The words both relieve and stun them. “We’re here baby. It’s a dream.”
“I am stuck in a garage. The door won’t open. Someone is stuck in a closet. They were yelling for help. I can’t open the door! Daddy, help me.”
Jackson pales at the word garage. “Honey, whatever you do, don’t go near the closet. Stay ready to exit the door.”
His expression isn’t unnoticed by his wife. Her jaw flexes and her eyes tighten. Something from work has followed him home. He brought this to their daughter. Her hand reaches out, pinching his skin as she crushes his tee-shirt. Her stony face screams, “Fix this.”
The clerk slides a sixth book titled Zephty Tractus de Anima Raptors Comedentes (Treatise of Rapturous Carnivores) translated from Aramaic to Latin in 1603. The clerk lets her sleeve ride up to reveal a tattoo with an eye with rays of light and three wavy lines under it. She pulls her sleeve down when she sees he has seen it. Then she puts her finger to her lips. It’s the same symbol on the cover of the book.
Everett shakes his head in disbelief he is reduced to the abyss of the paranormal, science fiction. Yet, here he is, part of a horror story become real. He opens the book to the first bookmark and looks at the page. This isn’t what he saw. The second one is a child but only attacks other children. The third book mark has an ink and pen drawing of a girl with long dark hair, a pretty pale face and large dark eyes in an old fashion nightgown. Before her, lies a body with what he presumes is the person’s soul being drawn into her eyes. He slaps the table. Teeth clenched, stretching his mouth and neck muscles distorting his face as the clerk moves into his view. She hands him a magnifying glass which reveals faces around the edges of her eyes.
“I know it’s hard to accept Doc. I didn’t believe at first either. I have seen this one. She took my mother. Who has she taken from you?”
His mouth moves, but no sound comes out. He can’t or doesn’t want to accept what she has just said even with proof on his own hand. He touches the patch.
In hushed tones, “She touched you!”
His hand drops to his lap to hide the mark. He’s being foolish and puts it back on the table. “I. Yes, she did. She hasn’t taken anyone from me. I know someone she is after. I think.”
“Do they know she is after them?”
“I’m not sure. I am sure he has seen her before. This is so hard, to swallow. This is anti-science, hocus-pocus stuff.”
The girl looks him in the eyes, and she points to his hand. “You normally see her when she takes someone from you. Her eyes are deep and warm at first. Beware, look at them too long and she will suck you in. Make you feel not only every wrong you ever committed, but those of the ones she’s absorbed to make you lose your desire to live.” He mouths suicide and she knows she has struck home. “Read the chapter on Amanhirlyss, especially how to ward her off and reduce her to an ineffective state. She is devious and has been around longer than anyone knows. I can help you. My name is Maria.”
Everett mumbles, “Ineffective state,” wondering what that means. Then mouths her name before shaking off his bewilderment. He thanks her and begins reading the chapter. The third page reveals how she is able to move so swiftly. Her body is capable of changing its density at will. He reaches the paragraphs that tell him how to stop her.
“Unlike many other succubi gold, silver, and running water have no effect on her. Maleficis Metallum (Witches Metal) all around us, but so hard a material it cannot be worked easily by the blacksmiths. It is found adhered to almost every bit of rock. The bits are collected and heated until forged together. Three terrible maces were made. She fears and runs from them. This material is the reason she cannot disappear through stone walls. Encountering one speck while doing so will cause her to destroy herself. Three men smite her into pieces numbering the stars. She was reduced to something similar to Vitrum, but shiner and more fragile.”
Everett taps his forehead with his finger whispering, “The cracking glass.” His autopsy hammer is made of Titanium, all the tools are. They are lighter, never rust and are nonreactive with any known substance. That’s why she ran away, not because Jimmy and Stu arrived. Even though it is against the rules, he takes photos of the book. He suspects the clerk will not enforce that rule today.
He reads the last sentence, “Beware for all the pieces, in particular the dark pieces, must be locked in a box encrusted with Maleficis Metallum.” Everett rushes out.
Brett arrives at Jackson’s, his shirt untucked and wiping sleep from his eyes. “Are you sure it’s her?”
Jackson frowns while looking at him sideways. “Who else would have her trapped in a garage dream. And what is the deal with this GARAGE? What do you know the rest of us don’t?”
Brett recounts the story of the garage, but it wasn’t a dream. It happened and something flew out of his garage that day. “My father grabbed me so hard I had hand prints on my shoulders for two weeks. He had something, her trapped in the motor closet. After, my dad never mentioned it again. He never relaxed until the day he passed away. His last words to me were, ‘The garage. Beware.’ He died an hour later. That’s everything. You were there twenty years ago and see everything that is happening now.” Brett’s phone buzzes, it’s Everett.
“We’ve got her! I know how to beat her Brett! Where are you? Never mind, get to the morgue. We have work to do!”
When Brett and Jackson arrive Everett goes into his spiel about his Titanium tools. “Her real name is Amanhirlyss. In demonology it helps to say their name, but the Zephty book said nothing regarding it. It may work as a distraction though?”
Jackson blows air out, muttering, “Bub, bub, bub.”
Brett snaps fingers, “That’s why he kept painting the closet. My dad didn’t want anyone to question why he wrapped the closet in titanium. It must have cost him a fortune.”
Jackson raises his hands in the air, “So how does this help my daughter?”
“We use Brett as bait. Agree to whatever plan she has. She wants the one that got away. That’s Brett. She missed him twice and can’t stand it. Bethany is a means to an end for her. She isn’t someone she would pick to take. Amanhirlyss is only after Brett because his father locked her up.”
“Are Titanium bullets a thing you can buy?”
“How in bat’s hell are you going to justify shooting a little girl? Do you two hear yourselves? Your going to be in jail the rest of your lives.”
“She’s not a little girl. If we don’t act? What happens to Bethany?”
Jackson’s jaw flexes, glaring at Everett because he knows he’s right. “In the meantime we wait for her to call us?”
“She will come for Brett, if not all of us soon. The girl from the library, Maria, said Brett is an itch in the middle of her back she can’t get to. It’s driving her crazy. She will make mistakes.”
They hear a whoosh and then scampering of feet. Brett and Jackson stop and listen. They do a back-to-back sweep of the garage and see nothing. They separate and continue to Brett’s car. Amanda steps out from the back of his car and stares at him. Her eyes beckon him, but he resists.
“This is such an appropriate place for you to join me Brett. They didn’t believe you. Called you a fraidy-cat.” Laughing, “You were a strong one, but none are strong enough. Your father took longer, but in the end he wanted to come to me.”
“I was with him when he died. You’re lying.”
Amanhirlyss smirks, knows making him replay his father’s last day will distract him.
Brett hears his neighbor’s annoying dog barking. He is standing in front of his garage, listening to the buzz of bees in the grapevine overhead. Those vines shaded the entire yard, and the grapes. Every kid on the block would stop by for some in late August when they were their sweetest. Those were good times. He smiles and tightens his grip on the garage door handle.
Jackson jabs him in the ribs, pulling him back from his dream. Then finds himself knocked to the ground and pinned. Her weight is oppressive, making it hard to breathe.
Brett draws his weapon. “Get off him. Now.”
She laughs and bounces on him. “I’m just a little girl. I don’t weigh much.” The sound of Jackson’s rib cracking puts a big smile on her face. She grabs his face, forcing his eyelids back, so he has to look at her. Her hands burn his skin.
“No, no. No!” Jackson struggles, but her grip on his head prevents him from moving an inch and the pain in his side is worsening.
Brett had the equivalent of an ice pick and a filleting knife from Everett’s office. He rushes toward her yelling, “Amanhirlyss!” He lashes out with the knife and as he hoped she reaches for it. It is enough for him to stab her in her back with the pick.
The pick pierces her back, and with each reach, more cracking occurs. She stands up and rips off her shirt, tearing the pick out amidst a showering of glass shards as she does so.
Jackson uses a scalpel to stab her leg and scoots away as fast as he can on his elbows. She uses the shirt to knock the scalpel free. Amanhirlyss is hurt, her weakness exposed. She remains dangerous, but he is sure he sees doubt n her eyes.
Her left foot is gone and the crackling of glass as she stumps around, pointing at Jackson and Everett, “You think you know something. You know nothing. I can just kill you and take you, anyway.”
Everett leaps from behind a car and strikes her from behind with his hammer. It was a solid blow and puts a significant dent in her head. She turns and blocks his second blow. His eyes grow wide. Amanhirlyss has hold of his arm and she smells his fear. It’s like an expresso to her. She tears open his shirt and puts her hand on his abdomen. He squirms and she releases him.
Behind her stands Maria with a huge nobby mace. Amanhirlyss collapses to the floor amid the sound of a hundred beer bottles being dumped.
Brett rushes in and stabs her deep with the large fillet knife, twisting it as he pulls it out. Before she can grab at him he stabs her again and pulls the knife up from her abdomen. On her knees, looking more and more like an old venetian doll as the cracks spread. Her eyes, still huge, but smaller, are beginning to change color. Engrossed watching her crack up, none of them notice Maria slink behind her until she strikes her twice more, shattering her to the ground.
Maria yells, “We aren’t done! Collect the pieces and be quick. We have about thirty minutes before she will begin to reform.”
Maria tosses Jackson a mess bag to hold open for the bits and pieces of glass. She’s brought brooms and dustpans. Everett rolls up the clothes and shakes the shards of glass into the bag. Brett sweeps whatever he thinks is part of her remains into a pile while Maria scoops it up, dumping it into the bag. The shards are as fine as a broken glass Christmas ornament, only hundreds of them, all glinting off the garage floor. There are thousands of tiny bits.
“She can reflect only what she sees except for her eyes. See the dark pieces. Those were her eyes and they are the most important part of our collection. We cannot leave even a speck of them behind.”
“What happens if we miss some?”
“It leaves the door open for her to escape. Even a bit of her eyes can work on the right person. As we have all seen, she can make people do things they don’t want to. It is how she escaped in the past.”
Brett sweeps the area again, scouring the ground to make sure they left no trace of her behind. He worries because whenever he breaks a glass, it seems he always finds a piece or two of it the next day. Maria and Everett search again too.
“This bag weighs more than all the glass you dumped in it. How did she weigh so much? She broke my rib.”
“She can change her density. We don’t know how. What we do know is Titanium or before the 1600s, Maleficis Metallum,” she grins at Everett for they share the knowledge of Latin, “Witch’s Metal, stops her. It doesn’t kill her. She is, for lack of a better word, alive, trapped inside the bag.”
They make another search before Maria seals the titanium mesh bag. Brett collects Everett’s tools. The heft of the mace Maria used on Amanhirlyss is substantial.
“It’s heavy because a lot of rock is mixed in with the titanium. They made the mace in the 1400s and this was the best the Smiths could do back then. It is recorded that Zepthy followers have used it twice.”
“She has been through this before, or are there others like her?”
“No, only her. She’s been captured before. The first time is what caused the Zepthy Treatise to be updated in the 1400s, the second time 200 years ago. They missed a piece and the right somebody came along to help her escape 50 years ago. From what the Doctor told me, your father captured her for a short while in your garage. Your father must have been an impressive man. Too bad we will never know how he trapped her.”
Everett, Brett, and Jackson look at the ground again. Jackson could swear he felt the bag move and hands it to Maria.
Maria chuckles, “Yes, the contents will shift. Amanhirlyss will attempt to reform herself for as long as she remains trapped inside. The titanium will continue to fracture her each time. Without outside assistance, it is impossible for her to escape.”
Jackson calls his wife Alisha, who tells him their daughter has snapped out of her dream. He promises to tell her the whole story when he gets home.
It hasn’t been a week, but Jackson felt compelled to return to the scene at the garage. He parks his car and walks the aisle using a flashlight to find specs of glass.
“The problem is there are thousands of tiny reflective specs in asphalt.”
Jackson whips around and has to hold his side. “You too?”
“Yeah. Everett finished vacuuming the entire area a few minutes ago. He is shifting through it in the lab. I offered to help, but he said not to worry. I think he found a new hobby. I won’t be surprised if he shows up with a tattoo one day.”
“You think we got all of her?”
“I hope so, Jackson. If not, Maria knows how to keep it under control. She has help from her group if she gets into a spot.”
Brett grabs his head and turns it left and right, looking at the splotches on his forehead. “They look better.”
Walking to their cars, “Everett told me the patch on his hand was fading. He thinks yours will too. Oh, I ordered us a couple of autopsy hammers, should be here in a few days. Just in case.”
Jackson eyes him sideways and gets in his car.