Andrea Anderson fought against the visions and lost again.
Go away, go away, go AWAY! she shrieked in her mind but it wouldn’t go nor would the feeling of arthritis, sagging body parts, withered flesh, and the inability to move. They hit her every waking moment in her mind like a baseball bat to her back.
She tried her mightiest to get it under control but it could not.
She couldn’t even grit her teeth as she vainly pushed the sight of her true face with its blue eyes and blond hair staring down at her with Grandaunt Meryl’s cold, indifferent expression out from her mind. It came every minute of every day and she couldn’t even scream out her frustration.
Why can’t I just die! she shrieked in her mind. She fought yet again against her almost lifeless paralyzed body, pushing and screaming, her elderly heart pounding and almost breaking in her chest. Oh God, just let me die!
She wasn’t sure how long she had been in that retirement home on that dirty cot praying for death. Weeks, months, possibly years although the last seemed unlikely. She didn’t think she could make a year in her condition. Maybe months were unlikely as well.
Meryl had given had a potion that paralyzed her elderly new body like a stroke, leaving her mind perfectly clear, and that was just the second of the horrors awaiting her. The third, another vision that never left, came when Meryl turned Andrea’s head to the right, grabbed her handyman Arnold Patterson and then, on the floor beside her, used her body to have sex with him. She could not shake that sight, nor the final thing Meryl had told her when Andrea had tried to ask why.
“Better you than me,” she had stated simply.
Rage filled her and it, and the ghosts were all that kept her sane.
When she awoke in the hospital, wearing a diaper and unable to move, there they were. Young women from different periods, colorless and very faded at first, but soon much clearer. She couldn’t hear them, not awake anyway, but she sensed their sympathy and how much they genuinely wished to comfort her.
Most anyway. Some followed Meryl, even though she couldn’t see them anymore.
She needed the ghosts since the orderlies in the hospital were of no help and even cruel at times. They never spoke to her, sometimes left her for days in her own filth and one of them, a blond man in his thirties with a crewcut, responded to her barely managed groan by spitting right in her face. They left it on her cheek for days.
When Andrea was asleep, she had nightmares of the demoness who stole her body, but sometimes, in between those flashes of horror and memory, she dreamed of the ghosts who could speak to her then and give her tidbits of their lives and the enemy they shared. They knew her true name and hated her just as much as Andrea did and for the exact same reason.
“Black Mary,” was her name and words like “bitch,” “murderess,” “killer,” “deceiver,” “monster,” “backstabber,” “demon,” and “cunt” followed any mention of her. The ghosts had nothing, not even a body, and existed only for revenge even as the unlikelihood of ever achieving it grew greater as the days passed. She, their new “sister,” would understand that soon enough.
“Better you than me,” quoted Andrea. She had never wronged this Black Mary and suspected none of the girls had either, yet they were given this hellish fate that no Nazi or psychopath ever suffered. It was so infinitely cruel to ones so undeserving, that it shook Andrea’s entire sense of faith just thinking about it.
Who was this woman? She wasn’t Meryl, the real Meryl was in that room right there, another victim of Black Mary, her ghostly image in the form she had just before her life was literally taken from her. She sat in a chair wearing a white blouse with a plaid skirt and saddle shoes right out of the 1940s.
She had dark, slightly curly hair and beautiful dark eyes on a beautiful, narrow face. They all had beauty and they went back quite a distance. The earliest came from some England or at least she thought it was English. She looked a lot like a girl from the show The Tudors and called her the Tudor girl for the lack of a name. She wore a very pretty dress, the kind with a corset and stomacher, and had some kind of hood covering all her hair except the very front.
Andrea felt close to the end of her pain, which brought her no comfort. She sensed that the clearer the ghosts became, the closer she was to becoming one of them. Death would be no release of course, and five hundred years from then she might be just like that Tudor girl, sitting in a space station or on Mars, comforting yet another victim of Black Mary’s immortality.
She shut her eyes one night, had the usual set of nightmares and ghost conversations, and then awakened in the morning to find a man standing over her. He stood in the morning light, a dark silhouette whose face she could not see. Her elderly eyes weren’t very good but she could see the ghosts were desperately trying to get his attention, which was the first time they had ever done that.
He can see them, she thought.
He stood wearing a black and orange jacket with a black raglan shirt with orange sleeves and collar. He wore a black beanie over his head, black gloves on his hands, and had a black hawk on his shoulder.
When she saw that hawk, she knew who he was and, when he leaned down, the attractiveness of his face overwhelmed her. Oh fuck me, God, he’s so handsome, she thought and felt extraordinarily self-conscious.
“I paid an orderly twenty bucks to make sure you were cleaned up,” Ethan Bartlett told her.
Thank you, she thought, noticing her diaper was clean for once and she wanted to reach up and touch his face but couldn’t lift her arm. You’re so pretty. So goddamn pretty.
Several ghosts were trying to touch him, some wrapping their arms around his neck and body, and others on their knees around him begging him for help.
Ethan didn’t ignore them but he didn’t look at them either. Aside from the ghosts, he and Andrea were alone in the room together, his eyes entirely on her. “Look,” he told her. “I’ll cut to the chase. I know who Black Mary is and what she’s done to you.”
All of the ghosts in the room stopped talking in unison. Several stepped back and the ones on their knees stood up. Even the Tudor girl was staring at him intensely and she had shown almost no kind of emotion the entire time Andrea had known her.
“Look at her,” said the hawk whose name she recalled as Mickey. “Her eyes don’t match her age at all.”
“Yeah,” Ethan replied and then he asked, “Can you nod or shake your head?”
She could, barely, and she nodded to him.
“Did she give you something that made you unable to speak?”
She nodded again.
He reached into a knapsack he had at his left side, took out a blue-colored potion in a small clear vial, popped off the top with his thumb, and poured it down her throat. It tasted sweet, almost like candy and she almost instantly felt something unloose in her mind.
She tilted her head over, spat out purple liquid onto the pillow, and then gasped for air. He gave her another potion, a red one, and then all of her pain vanished although she was still old.
“Can you talk—”
Andrea grabbed him by the shoulder but he didn’t repel despite her appearance and expression on her face, which could only be a mix of rage, misery, loss and desperation at highly crazed levels. No words came out and her face almost violently twitched. She wanted to say, “Help me,” or “Kill her” or something but still, nothing came but tears and they poured down out of her eyes without control.
“Who are you?” asked Ethan.
“Andrea Anderson!” she told him weakly. “I’m only twenty-four years old!”
“Teri Anderson’s older sister,” he said. “This makes sense now.”
“Please don’t use that word,” she whimpered.
“Sorry,” he told her and his voice was bitter. “I should have killed Edward Courtenay when I had the chance.”
“What do you mean?” She looked over and saw all of them were looking at him intensely, especially the Tudor girl who was staring at him with serious curiosity.
“It’s a long story. Five hundred years long.”
“I don’t understand,” she told him.
“I know you don’t,” he said and turned to the ghosts. “Can one of you lead me to Black Mary?” All of them nodded very soberly. “Is she alone?” They shook their head. “With a couple lackeys or a large crowd?”
One from the seventeen hundreds stepped forward. She was wearing a wedding dress, which meant that Black Mary stole her life on her wedding day of all days and the rage in the woman’s eyes was greater than any of the others’. In fact, she was usually one of the ones that followed Black Mary around.
She held up one finger.
“One lackey?” She nodded. “In Bartlett Bay’s woods?” She nodded again. “Good.”
He reached back into his knapsack and pulled out a glowing white potion. Only then did Andrea remember Grace O’Brien and her heart soared. Suddenly, her life had meaning, and she was going to have something in her future. She understood she could manage more than being told the bitch was going to die and maybe even actually see it and live beyond.
“Black Mary’s long life is about to end,” Ethan Bartlett told her and then he leaned close. “But yours is just beginning, Andrea Anderson.” He poured the potion down her throat and she felt the most amazing feeling overwhelm her.
The greatest memory of her life would always be a combination of the feeling of transformation that followed drinking that potion with the feeling of a great weight lifting off her shoulder. She suddenly had hope, faith, and all the things that made life worth living in an instant.
She was suddenly alive again.
It flew by fast, just as it had for Grace O’Brien, and she experienced the strangeness of puberty in reverse with barely a notice. She was so beyond overwhelmed that everything felt like white noise.
When it was done, she kicked off the diaper, clambered out of the bed, and hugged him tightly at the waist with her naked, slender child’s body.
“God must be real to have sent you to me,” she whimpered.
“I don’t know if He’s real or false,” he told her. “In three lives, I’ve been three different religions and I’ve never found the answer.”
Suddenly, something made the hair on the back of her neck lift up and she looked over and saw Meryl’s ghost looking at her with a look of intense misery. Fresh tears slipped out of Andrea’s new dark eyes the instant she understood.
“I’m sorry!” she told her. The ghost of Meryl Davenport stared at Andrea Anderson then young, beautiful, and wearing her body. “I’m so fucking sorry!”
Ethan reached into his knapsack and pulled out some generic clothes only a man would pick for a girl, namely a pink dress, little shoes, socks and underwear. None of it fit right, the shoes were for too long, and he promised to take her shopping as he took her hand and started walking her out of the building as if she was a normal child.
It all felt surreal and she felt as great as she did guilty. She couldn’t meet Meryl’s eyes as she walked out and she looked around a world that now looked much bigger. Her eyes were also far better now, making the increased size all the more vivid.
Suddenly, she saw someone familiar approaching them, an orderly with blond hair cut in a crewcut. “Hey,” he told Ethan arrogantly. “I don’t recall you coming in with a—”
Andrea pulled her hand free and punched the orderly in the groin as hard as she could. She wasn’t very strong as a six-year-old but that little fist did the job and he the orderly fell over clutching himself in agony. “You—you little bitch! My sack! Oh my balls—” he groaned “—oh my fucking sack!”
“Screw you, you evil prick!” she cried at him.
Ethan and his hawk had burst out laughing. “Now, now, my dear,” Ethan told her, “I’m sure he had that coming, but we can’t go around punching orderlies in the dick if we want to be respected in high society.”
She laughed herself, a high-pitched, youthful sound she had never expected to have ever made again, and hugged him as they walked out.
He took her out to his truck, put in her the back seat since she was a kid, and took her to a shopping mall nearby called the Mall of New Hampshire in the city of Manchester, New Hampshire where the retirement home had also been.
There, he allowed her free reign to buy whatever clothes she wanted for herself. It took a few stores, all the ghosts offering suggestions every time, but in the end, she come out wearing a black double-breasted jacket dress, white pants, white gloves, black snow boots and a matching black hat.
Andrea found it was very therapeutic as a future fashion designer to pick her own clothes and she deeply appreciated the gesture. She doubted he even knew how much it helped her even though at six she hardly had much of a selection.
Every time she tried on something, she stared at her new face in the mirror. It was young, gorgeous and pale-skinned, but there the resemblances to her old self ended. Where once light, she was now dark. Her straight, silky blond hair had become a thick, slightly curly black and her light blue eyes had become so dark a brown they were almost black themselves. Her build was different too and, judging by Meryl’s ghost, she knew she was going to be a much curvier beauty than she had been.
“God, I’m sorry Meryl,” she told the last mirror. “It’s your so body so it should be you in here.” She wiped her tears away with her gloved hands and went back out to Ethan.
He had said very little, not until they stopped at a Sonic Drive-In for lunch on the way back to Bartlett Bay and bought her a chicken tenders Wacky Pack where she got herself a Scooby-Doo toy inside. It was a green lock thing that she played with for a moment before devouring her food. After a month of eating gruel, it had to be the greatest meal she had ever tasted.
He got himself a classic chicken sandwich combo and a burger wacky pack for Mickey who stood on the armrest and ate them as Ethan handed it to him piece by piece.
“It’s not your fault, you know,” she told him from her spot in the front seat and he looked at her. “Not killing a man doesn’t make you responsible for his actions.”
“I wonder if that was what Henry Tandey told himself,” he replied with a strange expression.
“Who is Henry Tandey?”
“A decorated World War I soldier who was said to have spared a random, seemingly unimportant Austrian soldier in the German army who would later turn out to be Adolf Hitler.” He shrugged. “I’m not like him. I knew Courtenay was bad but I fell for a romantic dream and all this came from that. Not just Black Mary. He destroyed my ex-wife Anne Chapman as well.”
She stared at him stupidly. “Your what?”
“When I was Lord Walter Kent, Viscount Emingforde.” The ghost of the Tudor girl leaned forward from the back looking utterly intrigued. When she looked, Mickey tried to see what she was seeing but couldn’t, and then turned back at her.
“You were, uh—”
“I was a courtier in the court of Henry VIII of England,” he told her. “I thought I told everyone.”
“Yeah, I’ve been kind of distracted lately,” she replied.
“I was also Thomas Bartlett who served in the Union in the Civil War.”
“Okay, neat, but what happened with this Edward Courtney?”
Ethan laughed bitterly and leaned back. “The short answer is that as Walter I married to a woman named Anne Chapman who did not love me. I annulled my marriage so she could marry Edward Courtney. I had an idea this affair was a cruelty aimed at me but thought I might have been wrong and I resisted dueling him. As it turned out, his interest was to humiliate me and when he was done with that, he abandoned Anne with child. She died in a broken woman in a convent years later.”
“You should have killed him,” stated Andrea. “Did you get him later?”
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “I raised Chapman’s daughter as my own so killing her biological father would have been ‘awkward.’ The thing most relevant to you is that he married his wealthy cousin, a woman named Mary Courtenay—” she straightened her back uncomfortably “—and blew through her inheritance.”
“She did this for my money!” hissed Andrea incredulously. “That’s why this—” her eyes darkened “Did she hurt my sister?”
“Pretty sure she did. A yeti went through a crowd of people aiming straight for her for some inexplicable reason. It ripped off half her face but she’s alive.”
“That bitch!” Andrea felt like screaming. “My baby sister, fuck!”
“The thing is, Andrea, if I had killed Edward, he would never have been able to force Black Mary to marry him and never squander her inheritance. Then she would never have sacrificed her daughter to the Ice Queen in exchange for the book that allowed her to steal the bodies of those innocent girls and yourself.” He shrugged. “Butterfly effect.”
Andrea understood that. Sort of. Too much was going on and reincarnation was a step beyond what her mind could handle right then. “What is going to happen now?” she asked. “With her.”
“You’re not going to like it.”
“If you’re going to kill that bitch, I think I will,” she retorted sternly. She felt her little heart beating in her chest strongly. “Tell me everything.” He hesitated. “I have a right to now. After what she did to me, I have a right to see the life leave that bitch’s eyes.” Her eyes darkened and repeated the sentence, “Tell me everything.”
He looked into her eyes for a long, steady moment and then said, “Okay,” before telling her everything he planned. He was wrong in his assumption, she noted.
Andrea did like it and very much. She liked anything that meant Black Mary was going to die.
So did the ghosts. They were the most animated she had ever seen them. Only Meryl was stiff and awkward but Andrea couldn’t blame her. After she ate, she looked into her eyes, deeply dreading what she would find there, but found something unexpected. She found Meryl smiling sadly and when she spoke, Andrea read what she said on her lips.
“Live well,” she told her. “Live for all of us.”
“I will,” she replied softly.
“How about more fries?” asked Mickey.
“No,” said Ethan. “Eat one of her tenders.”
“Are you demented? That’s another bird!”
“Hawks eat other birds all the time. Haven’t you heard of a ‘chicken hawk’ before? You just want to be so fat that you won’t have fly anywhere and I’ll have to carry you around like a baby.”
Andrea burst out laughing.
“Just give me more fries, slave,” Mickey told him.
“Here you go,” said Andrea. She handed him a few of her fries and he devoured them. “Awe,” she said. “You’re so cute.”
“Don’t encourage him,” Ethan told her. “He’s already on the verge of clinical laziness as it is.”
Mickey swallowed and said, “Blow me.”
Andrea laughed. “You two are fun. I love being around you guys.”
“Yeah, we’re awesome,” Mickey told her happily.
“Alright, lunch is over,” Ethan said. “In the back, you two. Airbags can kill a six-year-old.” They put all their trash into one bag, Ethan tossed it out, and then Andrea crawled in the back with Mickey on her lap while Ethan drove back to Connecticut.
He was very quiet the whole time, drifting into his own thoughts. She fell asleep, despite Mickey constantly prodding her for attention and petting, and when she finally fully awoke, she recognized that they were leaving Interstate 95 and heading down Worthington St. A few minutes later, he turned left on Charlotte toward that dreaded forest.
It came as no surprise the “woods” meant the Engelstad. God, I hate these woods, she thought as Ethan turned the car around and parked alongside a strange door-like entrance through the fence. She saw the ghosts were waiting for him by the trees west of that doorway near the Orange River, one of them the girl in the wedding dress.
“Wait here,” Ethan told her and then he and Mickey followed them into the woods.
Once out of sight, she left the car, rushed up through the doorway, and followed after. One of the ghosts, a girl wearing a form-fitting turn of the century dress and jacket, both matching with a large, ornate hat, had waited for her. She quickly led her into the woods.
As Andrea followed her, she noted that the girl was fading away. She thought that must be because she was no longer dying and, while that deeply relieved her, it made her feel guilty too. The question of, “Why was she the one to escape this nightmare while all the other girls did not?” flowed across her mind. That had no answer though and it was misery-inducing besides, so she put it out of her mind.
It took an hour and was agony on her tiny little legs. Aside from an out-of-place stone bridge across the Orange River, there was nothing resembling a trail. She moved through the trees beyond, then up a tall wooded hillside, and after a seemingly endless hike, came to the end.
It was a flat, open hilltop with trees to the south, where she was, and west to some hills up and beyond. To the north and the east, there were cliff sides with steep slopes leading down hundreds of feet. Near the eastern cliff, there was a small, solitary cabin right out of another time and twenty feet south of that was a small but steady river. That led down from the hill in the west, through the trees and then the west eastward across the top to a waterfall that had just broken from the ice and was pouring steadily down the slope beyond.
Spring is here, she thought.
Ethan had avoided leaving footprints in the snow by crawling below the cliff along a natural ledge, carefully maneuvering through the waterfall, and then back up beyond the cabin. She had arrived just in time to see him disappearing behind it.
“Couldn’t resist, could you?” asked a voice.
She looked up at Mickey and saw him in the branches in what seemed incredibly high above her although it couldn’t have been more than ten feet. He glanced at her briefly and then looked back out toward the western trees. “He’s brave to run in their blind,” she told him.
“Oh, he didn’t run in blind,” Mickey told her. “He can see out of my eyes and I found where both of them are.” He gestured to the trees beyond to the west with his head. “Look closely and quietly.”
Andrea moved up to the last tree before the open hilltop, leaned around it very carefully, and saw a ghost girl dressed right out of Gone with the Wind pointing her finger west and saying something to the others near the cabin. Andrea followed the Gone with the Wind girl’s finger for a moment, her eyes narrowing in concentration, and then saw what she was pointing at.
Black Mary stepped out of the tree line.
She was tall, lean and beautiful in Andrea’s original body. She was model thin, her face glamorous with full pouting lips, hair a solid gold and pulled back in a boring ponytail with eyes a vibrant, light blue. She was carrying a dead fox in her left hand, a hunting rifle in her right and was wearing a fur jacket, heavy pants, and tall boots an ugly shade of brown with a boring white blouse.
The sight of her filled Andrea with unfathomable dread and she slunk back farther behind the tree.
Oh God, I don’t know if I can do this! she whimpered internally and then she saw Black Mary stop in front of the cabin door and stiffen up. She sees something! She sees something and—
Ethan slipped out from behind the cabin and stuck a pistol into the small of her back.
“Hello Mary,” he said as he quickly checked her for weapons. He casually tossed her rifle and a bowie knife she had at her side into the nearby river and then placed the fox onto the windowsill next to the door casually.
“Hello Walter.” She turned around and faced him calmly. “It’s been a long time.”
“It sure has,” he replied. “Were you here when I was Thomas too or were you still haunting England then?”
“I was here,” she said indifferently. “You were a meddling little fop then as well.”
Ethan smiled in a dark way she hadn’t expected. “Well then, I guess we’re old friends. Come inside. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do.” He pushed open the door with his left hand.
Mary rolled Andrea’s eyes, curtsied to him in mockery, and then walked inside. As he followed, Mickey flapped off the branch. The ghosts quickly crowded in and or around the building to look at the events unfolding, barely visible then.
Andrea’s lips pressed together, gave it a moment’s thought and then rushed after. She slipped across a set of rocks over the river, her little feet making footprints in the snow, slipped around the cabin, and moved through the open back door. As she took a single step inside, she slapped her hands over her mouth to stifle a scream.
Arnold Patterson was dead. His body was lying on the ground, a nasty stab wound right through the chest, his eyes glazed over. He had stumbled into a table that would have been above her eye line and various vegetables and fruits half cut to pieces and no doubt intended to be served with the fox were strewn across the floor.
Jesus, everything seems so big now, she thought and then awkwardly stepped over Patterson, moved to the open door into the main room of the cabin and looked at Ethan and Black Mary facing each other off.
Black Mary stood ten feet away from Ethan who held his pistol steadily at her in his right hand. Mickey had landed on the windowsill next to the fox acting uncharacteristically quiet. In fact, everything was so quiet that only the sound to be heard was that of the burning wood in the fireplace crackling.
They said nothing for several minutes, their eyes locked on each other, the tenseness so thick one could cut it with a knife.
“You found me.” Black Mary shrugged. “What do you want?”
“The book, for starters,” he told her.
Black Mary smiled widely and, without a word, stepped back over to the wall, turned around, and then stood bathed in the afternoon light for a moment. She then lifted up her right hand, cast some kind of spell with her fingers, and various white-colored runes appeared over the wall in the logs just right of the window.
When she was done, there followed a clack sound and a perfectly hidden secret compartment door that opened wide. Even from down there, Andrea could see the book.
Ethan cast something too, his eyes narrowing in a strange, dark way, and then held out his left hand. “Bring it over,” he told her.
Black Mary took a hold of the book gingerly, loving it and smiling in a very disturbing, creepy way that seemed beyond description. Andrea saw a madness in the woman’s eyes that suddenly reminded her of the character Gollum from The Hobbit whimpering about his Precious. It was also the first time that Andrea ever remembered, “Grandaunt Meryl” actually smiling.
The book didn’t look particularly impressive or dangerous to Andrea. It was just a thin, plain, leather-bound square book. She was not deceived, however. Despite its mundane appearance, it contained the spell that ruined the lives of all those ghosts and Andrea herself. When Ethan took it, all the ghosts stiffened in unison.
That smile on Black Mary’s face never left and her eyes grew wider and crazier. “It’ll change your world, Walter. It’ll—”
Ethan tossed the book into the fire behind him without opening it and Black Mary let out a wail of horror. It was not a scream but an absolute shriek of dismay at the top of her lungs in a manner very much like that of a normal woman who had just witnessed someone murdering their child.
Black Mary jerked forward and he shot her in her left arm. She stumbled back, barely noting the pain, and still screaming at him.
Andrea felt no pain but adjusted her new left arm uncomfortably all the same.
“Do you have any idea what I had to do to get that book?” she yelled at him. She walked up to him. “Do you—”
Ethan pressed the barrel of his gun against her forehead, stopping her words, and then pushed the pistol against her skull to make her step back. She did so, several feet, her face distorting in countless, unreadable emotion. “You sacrificed your daughter to the Queen of Ice,” he told her.
Black Mary’s face rage suddenly dominated her other emotions. “The traitor!” she hissed. “The ungrateful brat! I sacrificed my beauty and youth to bring her into this world and this is how she repays me!”
“You’re kidding, right,” Ethan replied.
Andrea’s old face then filled with contempt. “She gets to live forever as herself and without ghosts. Hardly the most horrible of fates. And, considering what I’ve suffered—”
“She’s not herself and please tell me you are not still at the point of making pathetic excuses for your behavior.”
“You’ve been a fool in all three of your lives,” she stated.
“Have I? You’d only be able to know if you weren’t a fool yourself.”
“Do you have any idea what kind of power you just gave up?” she asked him.
“That book was dangerous and nothing within seen even once can be unseen. It—” There was an explosion, a wave of some kind of energy shot out of the fireplace as the magic in the book exploded.
It knocked Andrea off her feet and the door she was hiding behind blew wide open.
She squeaked, having landed against Patterson’s thigh, and quickly got back to her feet, and scrambled toward the frame to hide herself. No one seemed to notice she was there. Black Mary was leaning against the back wall in pain and clutching her wounded arm, while the table in the main room along with several chairs and various plants had all been knocked over. The head of a deer had fallen off the wall above the fireplace and its glass eyes seemed to stare at Andrea.
God, I hate taxidermy, she thought and looked over at Ethan.
He stood almost exactly where he was, his guns still pointed at Black Mary. Mickey flew back onto the window counter and shook off some snow that had fallen onto him.
“Do you have any true notion of how special that book was?” Mary hissed.
“Created by a man allegedly possessed by the devil. I don’t know if ‘valuable’ is the exact word I’d use. It was a piece of a goddamn real-life Necronomicon.”
“You don’t know a goddamn thing!” she hissed.
“John Valentine,” he told her.
Mary’s face turned very strange and even frightened. “Who told you that name?” she asked in a whisper of a voice.
“Does it matter?”
“You don’t know anything about any of that,” she said uncomfortably. “And you don’t want to.”
“There is something I do want to know, though,” he told her. “Who are the Saturnine? I want names.”
“You won’t kill me whether I refuse or not,” she said calmly. “Walter Kent and Thomas Bartlett were both men of honor. You’re no different.”
“The honorable thing would be to kill you,” he replied and then he pulled back the hammer of the gun. When he did that, the ghosts shifted slightly, and Black Mary’s eyes suddenly filled with abject horror. She could suddenly see them, all of them, and when looked back at Ethan, all that confidence was gone.
That was Andrea understood. Black Mary knew when might soon die and need a new body because that was when the ghosts appeared. Since she hadn’t seen them until that moment, she had simply assumed Ethan wouldn’t kill her,
“No!” Black Mary gasped suddenly. “No, no, no! This is not possible!” The ghosts around her were ready for something, their hands and bodies twitching with eagerness. “You know Andrea Anderson is still alive! You must know that!”
“Sure do,” he replied and gestured toward the door to the kitchen with his head.
Mary turned, saw her standing there by the door, and gasped. “You had another youth potion but you gave it to someone else who has no wealth or property or even a social advantage? Who would do that?” She looked at him. “Who would burn a book that contained the secret of immortality?” Her eyes narrowed. “What kind of creature are you?”
“The kind with bullets,” he replied and shot her across the right thigh.
“You brute!” she cried with a hiss. “You knave! You—you goddamned monster!” She was scared, scared out of her mind, but more than that, she was confused. Andrea wasn’t sure why but had an idea that maybe she was too used to being the automatic winner in every situation. She didn’t know what to do in a life or death circumstance with herself in the circumstance. “I will make your ending—”
He raised his gun up to her head and the ghosts faded further from Andrea’s vision.
“I’ll switch back with her!” Black Mary cried suddenly. “I’ll give Andrea her life back!”
“He told me you’d say that,” said Andrea.
“You can’t just kill me in Andrea’s body! It’ll kill her too!”
“He told me you would say that as well,” she replied.
Black Mary looked into Ethan’s eyes, saw the expression there, and repelled from it. She turned suddenly to Mickey and hissed, “You!” Mickey looked at her indifferently. “You want to protect your master, you had best do something!”
“Other than laugh?” he replied.
“Oh God!” gasped Black Mary as the visions faded yet more from Andrea’s vision. Andrea presumed they were becoming clearer in hers. “They’ll all around me! They’re everywhere!” She started to cast something and Ethan shot her in the right shoulder just above her good arm. She let out a shriek, stumbled back, and hit the wall. “You shot me thrice!” she whimpered. “You shot me thrice in Andrea’s body!” She sounded very surprised.
“Very good,” said Ethan.
Black Mary turned to Andrea suddenly. “You want this body, don’t you?” she cried. “I’ll take Meryl’s back! You’ll be yourself again and have your life back! You want that, do you not?”
“She knows she can never have her body back,” Ethan stated. “I didn’t dare learn a body-switching spell myself and we can’t risk letting you cast any spell from that book. You could kill us both, teleport us to the moon, turn us inside out; who the fuck knows.”
“You’re going to kill me?” She asked it in confusion as if the notion of it happening was beyond her wildest comprehension.
“Maybe,” Ethan told her. “Tell me some things I need and I might consider letting you live.”
“Tell me who the Saturnine are.”
Black Mary scoffed. “The Saturnine is just a modern name for—” her voice caught and she was deeply surprised. “They’re—” her voice caught again and she looked at him, horrified, and then fell forward onto her knees before him trying to speak. Her face began to turn red as she tried to force out the words out.
“Well, that’s not good,” said Ethan softly. He raised his gun toward her head once more.
“No!” she wailed. “I need more time! I need—” She looked down the gun’s barrel. “You can’t! Not you! Not honorable, Lord Walter Kent who raised my husband’s bastard out of kindness!” She looked up at him with pleading eyes. “He raped me! Edward Courtenay was a monster! Our son was a monster too! Edward made him that way and ruined him! Do you not remember him yet?”
“Who cares,” he replied. “The Saturnine. Speak.” She tried to but it didn’t work again. “Time’s up.”
“No!” she whimpered and tears filled her eyes. “No, you can’t!” The ghosts were only barely visible as the nearness of death left Andrea and returned to Black Mary. “You can’t do this!” she wailed with tears running down her face. “You don’t know what they’ll do to me and I’ve almost found a way to rid myself of them!” Tears flowed down her face. “They’ll hurt me! They’ll hurt me!”
“You know I read something like this in a Stephen King story once,” he told her. “Do monsters like you actually expect mercy? Like, am I supposed to suddenly—” Her right hand started to do something and he fired casually in its direction.
She screamed as blood splattered the ground and several fingers flew across the floor. Andrea squeaked at the sight of it and almost turned away. Almost.
“—care?” Ethan finished. “Am I honestly supposed to actually care about them hurting you? If you think that, you can add stupid as well as pathetic to your list of shortcomings. ” He pressed the gun to her forward head.
“Let me confess!” she added in a whimper. “I am a Catholic! I have a right to confess!”
“Nice try but I’m a Jew in this life. Jews don’t believe in forgiveness. We believe in guilt. I heard that in a movie once. I’m not a very good Jew.”
“I could give her back her body!” she cried in sudden horror, right back to square one. She was out of suggestions or ideas and Ethan was finished with her. Andrea could see it in his eyes.
“So, Andrea can die in your place with missing fingers and a body full of holes?” Ethan replied. “Yeah, that sounds lovely.”
“You can’t do this to me!” she hissed in a sudden rage. “I am not the one supposed to do!”
The ghosts faded to just the barest of visibility in Andrea’s eyes, deeply frightening Black Mary, and were preparing to rush her. All of them, even the Tudor girl, were ready to rip her apart. They had been waiting for that moment a long time and they were not going to miss it.
“Well, better you than her,” Ethan told her with a shrug and pulled the trigger. Black Mary’s brains splattered on the walls and she folded backward onto her lower legs, her eyes wide and full of horror. A split second before he fired, Andrea saw the ghosts leaping forward but now they were gone as if they had never been.
Andrea was alone in Meryl Davenport’s rejuvenated body.
“Oh fuck me gloriously!” gasped Andrea as she stared at the wall covered in what had once been her own brains.
“Died like a bitch,” said Mickey. “Shouldn’t she have cast a spell or pulled a dagger or something?”
“She tried but she had been advantaged for too long,” Ethan told him. “You know, advantages are like crutches and if you use a crutch without necessity too long, you forget how to walk.”
“Is that a veiled comment about my getting used to eating and then getting too fat to fly?”
“Could be,” Ethan replied and then stepped over Black Mary’s corpse as though she was a turd on a trail, looked around in her secret safe, and found something that interested him. Andrea was too short to see what it was and didn’t ask about it as he slipped it into his jacket pocket.
Ethan then grabbed her old body by the arm along with the severed fingers and started to drag it through the kitchen. He took it out the back door, to the cliff on the north side, and then shoved it over. He tossed the fingers afterward and then went back in and did the same for Patterson.
Andrea crept up to the edge very carefully when he was done, absolutely terrified of heights, and looked down. She saw no sign of them, the canopy below so thick that they disappeared beyond it. The only hint they had even landed there was that the snow was knocked off the branches they crashed through on their way down, leaving a green spot amid the snow-covered treetops.
“I hope you rot in hell, you fucking bitch!” She raised her eyes up and looked around a series of hills and mountains all around them bathed in the late afternoon light. This hill was a slope on a large mountain and beyond she could see thousands of feet downward. That meant they were at a much higher altitude, which made sense when she thought about how much colder it had seemed when they entered the forest. It made her dizzy and she quickly turned around and rushed up to Ethan.
He stood there, Mickey on his shoulder and looked down at her. She tried to say something but the words didn’t come and her face started to twitch uncontrollably again. She opened her mouth again but the words just didn’t come out. Her eyes filled with tears and she tried yet once more but could not.
He knelt before her, wrapped his arms around her, and she broke. She burst into tears, wailed into the sky, and wrapped her arms around his neck. She stopped her screaming, barely, but the tears kept going as he carried her the entire walk back to the car.
When he placed her down in front of the truck’s door, she wiped her tears and said, “I’m sorry.”
“Why?” he asked her.
“I’m not sure,” she told him. “For crying, I guess.”
“Why would you be sorry about that?” he asked as he opened the door for her.
She crawled onto the seat and stood on it to be closer to his height. “I don’t know,” she said. “I just am.” She looked into his face and saw something unhappy brewing behind it. “Are you okay?”
“I was hoping she was at the top. She was a five hundred body-swapping sorceress and should have been the head of the serpent but she wasn’t. Someone or something is above her. Something that could keep what she said or what she knew from me.”
“You mean there’s someone worse than her out there?”
He nodded soberly and said, “It sure looks like it.”
Andrea decided that it was the moment for such a conversation and said, “What happens now with me?”
“That is the question, isn’t it?” Ethan replied and at that moment, she noticed a very light snowfall come down around him. It was probably close to the last snowfall of the year. Ethan noticed it too. “I bet Francis is asleep now,” he told Mickey in a strange voice. “That is probably why Black Mary felt safe to return.”
“Where do I go?” Andrea asked him and when he looked at her, she added, “I’m nobody. I’m thankful and I’ll love you forever for this but I’m not Meryl Davenport any more than I’m Andrea Anderson. They’re dead. Black Mary killed us both.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” he told her. “I feel bad sending you through the system and I don’t think your part in this is over.”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“I don’t know,” he told her. “You still have a sister, you still have a stake in this and, dare I say it, you might even want to get even with the people who helped do this to you.”
“How do I do that? Just go into foster care Bridgeport, grow up and come back with an army?”
Ethan shrugged and said, “I could make you my ward—”
“Yes!” she said instantly. She held out her arms to be hugged but groaned when he just stood there thinking. “Come closer, dip!” When he did, she threw her arms around his neck. “You’re an angel, Ethan Bartlett!”
“I wouldn’t call myself that, exactly,” he replied.
“It’s confusing because she mispronounced ‘douchebag,’” said Mickey. They both laughed at that although Andrea did not find that particularly funny.
“I will never forget what you’ve done for me,” she told him.
“I owed you,” Ethan replied.
She let go and stepped back. “Because of Edward Courtenay? You’re not responsible for another man’s choices any more than Henry Tandey was and, believe it or not, just having a bad husband doesn’t give a woman the right to do the kinds of things Black Mary did.”
“I know that but God’s forgiveness or a solid understanding to relieve guilt doesn’t remove it from being my problem and does it really even matter in the end? Any way you shake this, I am the one in the best place situated for fixing this.”
“You really are a good man, Ethan Bartlett.”
“I guess,” he replied. “I’ll talk to my lawyer tomorrow but I think, because I’m rich and you come from nowhere, I should be able to pull this off.”
“That’s a relief,” she told him and it was. Possibly one the greatest reliefs she had ever felt in her life in competition with the last few she felt that day.
Looking at him then, she found Ethan Bartlett to be a reliable pillar of a man and in many ways was everything she thought a young girl needed in life. It made her feel happy and safe to have him close to her. He was, though only eighteen or nineteen, already more of a father than the womanizing drunk who had sired her before abandoning her mother.
She slipped into the backseat, put on her seatbelt, and felt tiredness overwhelm her. She had been incredibly energized by the horror and excitement of everything around her but now that Black Mary was dead and her fears allayed for the moment, the energy had left her. She recalled then that she was a child and children needed laps.
She shut her eyes as Mickey walked onto her lap she fell into a deep sleep that was, for the first time, without dreams or nightmares. She was also alone and it made her feel immensely comfortable to find the ghosts absent but not for her own sake.
It made her feel good because she felt certain they had found peace at long lost and the method of that peace, the slaughtering of Black Mary’s spirit, felt nice too.