“You son of a bitch!” a man’s voice yelled from out of nowhere.
A hard lump formed in the pit of my stomach as I spun around to face the source of the sound. It was him. The man we had kidnapped and Father Vincent tortured. The one whose corpse we had disposed of just a few hours before.
“How could you do this to me?” he continued, still shouting as he wildly gesticulated toward his bloodied body. Countless gashes were ripped into his skin and both his left hand and knee were mangled beyond recognition. If that wasn’t bad enough, his teeth were gone, too – pulled when we dumped his body. Miraculously, or perhaps through some sort of demonic power, he still stood, looking at me with eyes full of hatred and murder.
I tried to speak, but it was impossible. I couldn’t breathe. No matter how much I wanted to push the air out of my lungs and shout, they wouldn’t work. Neither would the rest of my body. I was paralyzed with fear, stuck in one spot as the gory horror slowly made his way toward me.
“I’ll kill you for what you did to me, you sick bastard. You look like you just shit yourself, but you haven’t seen anything yet. You’re going to pay.”
My blood ran cold as I dumbly stood there, willing myself to move. It was a bad time to freeze, but I couldn’t help it. The man’s bones seemed to crack with every uneven step that he took. Each time I thought he would fall but somehow he forced himself forward, toward me with one violent goal in mind. I needed to do something. Father Vincent had cut his throat. I’d helped dispose of his body. How was he alive? That’s when it hit me. “No,” I whispered, barely audible.
“Oh yes. You didn’t think you’d get rid of me so easily, did you? Go ahead and piss your pants, little boy. This isn’t over.”
I could feel him getting closer, the impending doom drawing nearer as he stormed forward. How he hadn’t reached me, I didn’t know, but I couldn’t let myself wait any longer. It took all of my will, but slowly I turned around and attempted to take a shaky step away from him. Instead, I fell.
The man laughed. “You can’t get away from me, you coward. How dare you try to run. Face me like a man.”
I wheezed and fought to regain what little courage I could. Try as I might, however, I was only able to lay there and tremble. “You’re dead. I watched you die.”
“No!” he screamed, rage mixing with grief in his voice. “I won’t die until I take all of you with me.”
I summoned every ounce of strength within myself and began to crawl away from the nightmare. I couldn’t breathe. The rising terror I felt threatened to overwhelm me at any moment. My body was too heavy. I wasn’t going to make it. I was moving slow, far too slow. He was almost on top of me; I could feel it without even looking back.
“I won’t rest until every one of you are dragged down into Hell,” he said before bursting into a fit of psychotic laughter.
“No,” I said, my voice barely above a whisper as I shot out of bed. A cold sweat clung to my body, but I ignored it and slowly looked around my room. To my right was my small, wooden desk. There were a few books and papers on top of it, along with my alarm clock, but nothing looked out of place. Beside it was my dresser, but it, too, seemed untouched. My gaze quickly shifted to my left, where my closet’s folding doors remained shut tight. Everything was normal. No one was there.
Dread swelled in my chest as I slowly turned around to look out the window above my bed. If I saw the man staring back at me from outside, I knew I would die right then and there. As I peeled the curtain away from my window, I realized I wasn’t breathing. Even so, I couldn’t force myself to start.
Moonlight illuminated everything as my gaze studied the yard and moved to the woods. The only movement came from the trees as they gently swayed with the wind. No one was out there, either.
I turned back around and took a deep breath as I wiped the sweat from my face. It had to have been a nightmare. While that was marginally better than having an actual corpse threaten me, it still wasn’t good. Our target was back. He was haunting me. I had hoped since I wasn’t the one who killed him, he wouldn’t come after me, but clearly I was wrong.
I glanced at the alarm clock on my desk once more. It was only three thirty in the morning. There was no way I could risk going back to sleep, though. Not until the ghost was taken care of. I couldn’t go through that again. I wouldn’t.
For a moment, I thought about trying to find Father Sebastian, but decided against it. I knew he’d help me, but if he wasn’t awake and working with Father Vincent, he needed to get his rest. While he’d never come out and said so, I didn’t think he slept well, either.
Although every fiber of my being just wanted to stay up for the rest of the night – with the light on, of course – I knew I needed to sleep. If Father Sebastian was right, Rue and I were both going to need it. That left me with one option.
Slowly, I got out of bed. The old, wooden floor was cold on my feet, but I was already wide awake. Since all I had on were boxers, I quickly walked over to my closet and threw the doors open. On the floor inside was a foldable laundry basket full of dirty clothes. It only took me a second to fish out a black shirt, cargo pants, and socks. Once I was dressed, I padded over to my dresser and opened the top drawer. Inside was my lock picking set, which I shoved into one of my many pockets.
Finally, with that taken care of, I opened my door. It was late enough that I wasn’t worried about one of the Sisters catching me in the hallway. Father Sebastian was a different story but, as long as I stayed on the boys’ floor, he wouldn’t mind.
That was the problem. I needed to go up to the girls’ floor.
For obvious reasons, the boys and girls weren’t allowed in each other’s sleeping quarters – especially at night. It was still frowned upon even if we kept our doors open during the day, but we didn’t get in a lot of trouble over that. Being found on the wrong floor after curfew was a much bigger deal.
It didn’t matter. The only way I was going to sleep was if I risked sneaking upstairs. Besides, as much as I may have wanted to, I wasn’t planning on having sex. The spirit of the rule would still be intact.
Father Sebastian was the one who had trained me to move without being detected. He had probably never meant for that skill to be used for anything aside from killing people, but it frequently came in handy for other things, too.
Silently, I began to make my way down the hall. It was almost too dark to see, but I knew where I was going. The bigger issue was the silence. It was quiet enough that any noise would be very noticeable. While the sound of a footstep may not have been enough to wake one of the other kids, Father Sebastian was another story. My only hope was to take things slow and carefully.
Including myself, there were seven boys who lived at Saint Helens. There were only four bedrooms for us, however, which meant the others had to share their rooms. That was fine by me, considering it made sneaking by them easier. As I did, I also passed the bathroom. Its door was open and the light was off, which was also a good sign. I didn’t have to worry about being caught by someone taking a pee.
Beside the bathroom was Father Sebastian’s room. As I crept by it, I saw that the door was wide open. It was hard to see anything through the darkness, but enough moonlight seeped through his curtain that I was able to tell he wasn’t inside. Father Vincent’s bedroom was much the same, which meant they were probably in his office investigating the scientists.
That wasn’t surprising, but it did make things more difficult. In order to get to the stairs, I would have to walk right past them. A part of me debated on just interrupting and asking for Father Sebastian’s help, but I knew that wasn’t a good idea. Father Vincent wouldn’t understand.
With a sigh, I turned down the short hallway after Father Vincent’s room and passed the double doors that led into the common room. The darkness seemed to swirl and threatened to choke me as I continued forward. Fear throbbed in my chest and I wanted nothing more than to run at full speed. I wouldn’t be able to handle it if the dead man’s ghost showed himself to me again. Even so, I forced myself to take slow, steady breaths and maintain my pace.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I made it to the door at the end of the hallway. I could almost feel something evil behind me, taunting me, but I refused to look back. Instead, I silently swung the door open and stepped through the threshold. Light streamed from beneath Father Vincent’s office door and helped burn away my fear. Across from the office was a small confessional as well as the door leading to the sanctuary. The man, or whatever other evil lurked behind me, wouldn’t come near the sanctuary. I was sure of it.
At the end of the hall, beside the sanctuary door, were old, wooden stairs. My destination lay beyond them but, in order to make it, I had to sneak past Father Vincent and Father Sebastian without being noticed. That, of course, was easier said than done.
As I gingerly walked down the hallway, I tested each step to make sure the floor didn’t creak before putting my weight down. I could hear muffled voices coming from Father Vincent’s office, but I couldn’t make them out, nor did I stop to listen. I just hoped they would help cover up any sounds that I inadvertently made.
When I reached the base of the stairs, I let myself breathe a sigh of relief. Then, rather than guiltily stand there, I took a deep breath and grabbed the handrail. The stairs were hard and cold but, thanks to the small lights that illuminated each of them, I was able to move quickly without the fear of tripping. I’d practiced enough that I knew to skip the squeaky third and seventh steps and to move from the right side to the left in order to avoid the fifth and ninth stairs’ creaks.
Once I made it to the top, I didn’t let myself pause. It wasn’t the first time I’d been upstairs after dark to get help exorcising a ghost. Instead, I pushed forward, a little faster and less cautious than I had been by Father Vincent’s office.
As I made my way down the hall, I passed the lounge where all of us usually did our homework. Its door was closed and the light was off, which was no surprise. Then, suddenly, as I neared the door that opened up into the rest of the upstairs, the floor creaked. I cringed and pulled my foot back like I’d stepped on hot coals.
My only hope was that because the creak happened upstairs Father Vincent and Father Sebastian would dismiss it as one of the girls getting up to use the bathroom. Regardless, I didn’t want to stand in the hallway in case they came up to check. I readjusted my path and softly walked the rest of the way to the door.
When I made it, I silently pushed it open and stepped forward. Directly across from me was Sister Martha’s room. Her door was open, as were each of the Sisters’, in case one of the girls needed something at night.
It was too dark for me to make out any details, but I was able to see her bulky form lying in bed. Whether the soft snores that echoed in the hallway came from her or one of the other Sisters’ rooms, I wasn’t sure, but it didn’t matter. What did was that I hadn’t managed to wake any of them up.
I turned to face the girls’ quarters and took a deep breath. There were five girls in Saint Helens, but only three bedrooms between them. The three Sisters’ each had their own rooms, too, of course. Luckily, since they were sound asleep, unless I did something to wake them, it wouldn’t be an issue.
Although Rue had her own room at the end of the hallway, I certainly wasn’t about to stop there. I didn’t particularly enjoy seeing her during the day, let alone at night. The room I wanted was on my left, sandwiched between Sister Mary’s room and the other girls’ room.
I cautiously moved down the hall, careful not to step on any more loose boards. When I finally made it to the room I was looking for, I quickly tried to doorknob. Not surprisingly, it was locked. It usually was at night. I dug the lock picking set from my pocket and got to work abusing yet another skill Father Sebastian had taught me. Within seconds, the door was open.
Carefully, I stepped inside and closed the door behind me. The curtain was open, which allowed the moonlight to spill into the room and gave me plenty of light by which to see. The room was a little bigger than mine, but had a similar setup. The window was directly across from me and the folding closet doors were to my right. Beside them was a desk with a Styrofoam head and a treasure trove of craft supplies. To my left was a cluttered wooden dresser, and beside it another small desk covered in books and bottles of various sizes.
Also to my left, beside the window, was a bunk bed with two sleeping girls. The one on top was a scrawny thirteen year old with long, blonde hair and stick-like limbs that were almost lost in the covers. Her name was Katie. She was shy and usually kept to herself either reading or making crafts. I didn’t know her all that well, but it didn’t matter. I hadn’t come to talk to her.
Sleeping on the bottom bunk was Meryl, the most beautiful girl I’d ever met. She was a year younger than me and had black, shoulder length hair and porcelain skin that rarely saw the sun. As she lay there, I couldn’t help but notice her breasts rise and fall with each breath she took. Her plain white nightgown helped accentuate them even more as it clung to her slender figure.
I shook my head, trying to force my hormones to leave me alone, at least for a little while. No matter how much I cared for her and wanted to take things further, we were just friends. Father Vincent would be furious if we were anything more. I needed to be careful – otherwise she’d be transferred elsewhere. He’d told me multiple times to focus on doing God’s work and not to let her distract me. I wasn’t so sure Father Sebastian agreed, but he didn’t often contradict Father Vincent directly.
Even if I was willing to risk Father Vincent’s wrath and chance him separating Meryl and I forever, which I wasn’t, it wouldn’t matter. She didn’t feel the same way about me. I was sure of it.
Silently, I walked over and sat down beside her on the bed. She didn’t stir, so I lightly touched her shoulder and gave her a gentle shake.
“Huh?” Meryl asked groggily as her eyes fluttered open.
I smiled at her, until her eyes got large and her body tensed. “Wh—”
I quickly clamped my hand over her mouth and leaned close to her. “It’s just me,” I whispered in her ear.
She relaxed and I took my hand away. “Sorry. I thought some creep had broken into my room or something.”
I smiled, but didn’t risk saying anything.
“Looks like I was right, huh?” she continued with a mischievous grin.
My shoulders sagged theatrically. “Gee, thanks.”
“What brings you here in the middle of the night?”
I couldn’t keep myself from glancing away. “I need your help.”
I only nodded.
“Okay. Are Father Vincent and Father Sebastian asleep?”
I shook my head, “They’re in Father Vincent’s office.”
“All right. Give me five minutes and I’ll meet you down in your room.”
I nodded again and got up, trying my best not to stare at her supple lips. Instead, I looked at her cleavage without thinking. Then, when I realized what I was doing, I felt my face turn red. I glanced back up and caught her eyes. The smirk on her lips told me she definitely noticed.
Before I could get any more flustered, I turned away and let myself out of her room. My heart was beating fast and my face felt like it was on fire thanks to the embarrassment. Even so, I couldn’t get the image of her lying there out of my mind. Just thinking about it made the entire trip back downstairs more pleasant.
When I made it back to the bottom of the stairs, the first thing I noticed was that the light was still on in Father Vincent’s office. Both he and Father Sebastian were still up working. I knew they probably would be all night.
I made it past them easy enough and returned to my room without a problem. Sure enough, five minutes later Meryl opened my door and stepped inside. She’d put on a fluffy, white bathrobe which was disappointing, but not altogether surprising. She also wore her black tourmaline necklace, as she normally did when she helped me with ghosts. The tourmaline was wrapped in a silver wire and connected to a thin, silver chain. It was simple, but beautiful, and fit her perfectly.
In her hands were a small, porcelain bowl, a bundle of sage, which she called a smudge stick, and a lighter. If the Sisters found the lighter, there was no question she’d be in trouble. They’d tear her room apart looking for cigarettes. Even so, she still kept it in order to help me with ghosts. How could I not love her?
“All right,” she said as she moved to close the door. Before she could, Toast, Saint Helens’ tortoiseshell cat, ran into my room and stared at us.
Meryl and I looked at each other for a moment and grinned. “Looks like we’re busted,” Meryl said as she finished closing the door.
I shrugged and bent down to scratch Toast behind the ears. “Better Toast than Sister Martha.”
Meryl laughed. “That’s for sure.”
“She won’t get in your way, will she?”
“No. Besides, if we put her back out in the hallway, she’ll cry and scratch at the door until she wakes everyone up.”
Meryl wasn’t exaggerating. Slowly, I stood back up and stared into her beautiful, blue eyes. “You’re probably right. Thanks again for coming down and helping me with this. I’m sorry it’s the middle of the night.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m always here for you. You know that, Drake. Before we start, tell me what happened. Did you see something? Hear something?”
I shook my head. “It spoke to me in a dream.”
“Are you sure it wasn’t just a nightmare?”
The man’s twisted face flashed in my mind. “Positive.”
Meryl didn’t know about what I did. No one outside of Father Vincent, Father Sebastian, Rue, and myself knew about the work God needed us to do for Him. They couldn’t know. They wouldn’t understand. “It’s hard to explain,” I told her. “The thing was evil; I could feel it in my dream and even after I woke up. It was more intense and more vivid than any regular nightmare.”
She nodded and gently touched my arm. “I’m sorry.”
A thrilling sort of electricity shot through my body at her touch. I couldn’t help but smile a little. If being haunted weren’t so terrifying, I would have done it more often just to be alone with her. “It’s okay. As long as you’re here, I’ll be fine. You don’t know how much I appreciate knowing I can always count on you.”
She blushed and looked away. “If you help me open your closet and dresser drawers, we’ll get started.”
I nodded and stepped over toward my dresser. As I slid the drawers open, Meryl walked over to my closet and opened the doors up. When she was done, she closed her eyes and fingered her necklace, saying a silent prayer to herself. As she did, I walked over to my desk and opened its one drawer up, too. With that, everything in my room, excluding the door and window, was open.
Toast, upset that neither of us was petting her, began to rub against Meryl’s leg. Meryl smiled and opened her eyes. I made my way toward her to grab Toast but, before I could, she bent down and picked the cat up. Then, still smiling, she handed her to me. “Would you please hold on to her while I work on smudging?”
“Sure,” I said as I took Toast and cradled her.
Meryl paused for another moment and took a deep breath. Then, once she was ready, she picked up the sage and set it on fire with the lighter. Smoke immediately began to rise from it.
After giving it a few seconds to really get started, she began to waft the smoke near the doorway and ceiling. “Spirit, it’s time for you to leave,” she said as she carefully collected the sage’s ashes in the porcelain bowl.
Toast wanted down and began to impatiently wiggle in my arms, so I scratched her belly. That seemed to appease her for the time being, at least, and she began to purr instead.
“It’s time for you to let go,” Meryl continued as she slowly made her way around my room, fanning smoke into the open drawers and over everything else she came to. “You need to cross over. You can’t stay here.”
It took a while for her to fan the sage’s smoke into every corner of my room, but as she did, all I could do was stand there and pet Toast. Had I actually killed the man haunting me, I doubted the sage would have been enough to get rid of him. Since Father Vincent had killed him, however, I thought it might just work.
Once Meryl was done, she smiled at me. “It feels better in here already, doesn’t it?”
I nodded and gently sat Toast down on the bed. It was still a little smoky, but I felt much less on edge than I had earlier. “Thank you.”
“We’re not done yet,” she said as she walked over to the window behind my bed and slid it open.
A slight breeze gently pushed the curtain toward us. I looked at it for a moment and then back at her. “It’s a little chilly for that tonight, isn’t it?”
She shook her head, “We need to leave it open for at least half an hour so that the spirit and any other negativity can leave. I really should have done the whole ceremony during the daylight, too, but waiting wasn’t exactly an option.”
“What else is left for us to do?” I asked. She’d performed the ceremony for me a few times, but I couldn’t remember all of the details.
“We can just sit and talk until it’s time to close the window. If we’re happy, it will help fill the room with good energy and make you feel better.”
Before I could say anything, she sat down on my bed beside Toast and leaned back against the wall. I was going to get to talk to Meryl on my bed in the middle of the night. How could I not be happy?
“You’re really a ghost magnet, Drake,” she said as I sat down beside her.
That wasn’t exactly the conversation I’d had in mind. “I guess,” I said with a shrug. “I’m sure I’m not the only one.”
“No, but you’re the only person I know who has these kinds of issues. In fact, out of anything I’ve ever read or heard, you run into this stuff a lot more frequently than most people.”
“Gee, aren’t I lucky?”
She bumped me with her shoulder. “Hey, you’ve got me here to help you. That’s pretty lucky, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I said as I glanced away and my heart began to pound. “That’s true.”
She laughed and shook her head. “Seriously, do you have any idea why they’re so attracted to you? If you could just get some evidence, we—”
“I don’t know,” I said, interrupting her. I felt bad lying, but there was no way I could tell her the truth. Father Vincent would kill me, and Meryl would never understand. She couldn’t.
Meryl narrowed her eyes and scooted closer until her right side was pressed up against my left. “Drake, you know something, don’t you?”
She sighed. “You know I don’t mind helping you, even in the middle of the night like this, but I don’t like it when you lie to me. If you’ll just tell me, maybe we can figure out how to actually stop this.”
I stared into her eyes. I wanted to trust her. I wanted to tell her the truth. If anyone could understand, it would be Meryl. Instead, I looked away. “I’m sorry. It’s not that I don’t want to tell you. I just—it’s complicated.”
“Fine,” she said as she abruptly sat back against the wall with a thud.
“Meryl, I’m sorry.”
If I didn’t open up to her at least a little bit, I knew it would cause a rift between us. Of course, telling her everything would likely just do the same. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm my nerves. “I promise,” I whispered.
“What?” she asked as she leaned forward again and I forced myself to meet her eyes.
“I promise, when I can figure out how to tell you, how to explain it, I will. It’s just, I don’t know how right now. That’s all.”
Meryl sat there for a moment, silently, and stared at me. “You promise?”
I nodded. “I promise.”
She smiled. “All right – deal. You’re a bad liar, but you’re telling the truth this time.”
I really didn’t think I was that bad at lying. Meryl just knew me too well. Still, that wasn’t a point I was about to argue.
“I’m sorry I pushed so hard,” she said. “Let’s forget about it tonight. We shouldn’t be creating more tension. We should be relaxing.”
“It’s fine,” I said with a shiver. “It’s getting cold in here, though. How much longer do we need to leave this window open?”
She rested her head on my shoulder. “Just a little longer.”
I fought the urge to wrap my arm around her and go in for a kiss. The last thing I wanted to do was ruin such a perfect moment. Instead, I only nodded. “OK.”
She let out a dreamy, tired sigh. “You know, it must be nice not having a roommate.”
“Absolutely. I don’t know how you do it.” I didn’t tell her that having one would be impossible for me, considering I was often out at various hours of the night.
“It’s so nice, just the two of us being able to talk like this. We don’t have to worry about anyone else listening or waking up.”
“Yeah, I like it a lot.” I took a deep breath and rested my head against hers. It wasn’t a kiss, but it was something. Her hair was soft and smelled faintly of lavender; it was as close to Heaven as I’d ever been. “It’s really comfortable.”
She let out a soft yawn. “Yeah, it is.”
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