Hope. The name of the town seemed almost cruel, considering what Garrett and Brianna were researching. A pot of coffee between them at a diner near their hotel, they checked and rechecked Garrett’s research.
It didn’t make sense. None of it made sense.
Their waitress came by with their check. Garrett dug out a fifty, laid it on the table, and told her to keep the coffee fresh and hot until they left. When she told them her shift ended in fifteen minutes, he added another fifty and she immediately went to refill the pot.
“What do we know?” Brianna asked as Garrett stood up and paced back and forth, thinking it over. “If it’s a disease, it’s not spreading.”
“At least, not like a normal disease.”
“Do we know if I have anything in common with these people?”
Garrett stopped and turned Brianna’s laptop towards him. On the screen were pictures of all the victims in better times. Men, women. No kids. Nothing about them seemed overly similar, save for the circumstances of their deaths.
He sat back down again and called Annalise Fox. Despite the late evening hour, she answered as immediately and professionally as she always did. He soon had her filled in, and she was looking up information on her side. When he asked for medical case histories and autopsy reports on all the victims, she hesitated.
“I can pull some strings,” Annalise said finally. “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll look into it.”
His second call was to Monica. He asked her to put a note in the War Room for the ghosts to meet him sooner rather than later. She sounded harried and exhausted herself.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Dog attacks around the city,” she said. “One cop’s dead, a few teens, some adults. Weird shit, but it’s handled now.”
“Oh hell, I’m sorry. If I’d known…”
“If you’d known and you’d left your sick wife,” Monica snapped, “I’d beat your ass from here to Billings and back. Not an idle threat.”
Brianna caught that and brightened measurably.
Another pot of coffee later and they still had nothing. They returned to their hotel room, disgruntled and scared, but now that they had the scent of a case, and it had brought them back. Their lovemaking was frenetic and fun, drawing a hammering from their neighbors, which sent them into mad fits of quiet laughter, muffled by the sheets and pillows. After their post-coital whispers of love, Brianna slipped down into the brink.
Garrett was too wired on caffeine to sleep, so he slipped out of bed to grab a glass of water and sit near the window. He watched his wife sleep for a while, smiling, then looked out at the parking lot below. Neither of them paid much attention to the town coming in – it had been pretty enough, but the victims and the disease had their minds preoccupied.
The child stood out there on one of the cars, staring up at him balefully. He grimaced. That fucking hallucination could stop anytime it wanted to, he thought to himself. Ever since that damn Irisville, she’d been a pain in his…
“Shit,” he whispered. “Shit shit shit.”
He backed away from the window, mind racing. Hallucination? Or something else?
* * *
Brianna knew something was on his mind, but couldn’t pry it out of him. The child was always there, and he didn’t want to say anything to Bri until they were alone. Plus, when the ghosts came, he could maybe pin his theory down. In the meantime, he played at normalcy.
If he was right, though, what the hell did it mean? A ghost couldn’t manipulate the real world. Sure, Murphy had been able to rouse a response out of Brown Dog, but that animal had been extraordinary. Then again, if this child, this thing, wasn’t a hallucination but a real ghost, then she was an impossibility. Children her age didn’t stick around the afterlife. They just didn’t. He’d assumed his own broken mind had been responsible for her existence, but what if it wasn’t? What if she was as real as Murphy, Virgil, or Tibaldo?
And if she was, how was she doing this?
The thoughts swirled around inside him, nothing quite connecting. But in his heart, he thought he was right, or was at least on the right track. Could she be stopped? Just as the dead couldn’t interfere with the living, Garrett could do nothing so far as he knew to stop the dead. But something had drawn her out of Irisville. Something had connected them. What? Why was he special? His sight of the dead? Maybe. But she hadn’t used it to communicate with him. Hadn’t tried to talk to him in any way.
Brianna said something, then repeated herself. He jerked out of his near-slumber and asked her to repeat herself. Mildly exasperated, she instead pointed.
Lost in thought, he hadn’t realized how much time and distance they’d covered. There, far in the distance, steel spiraled up in the sky, gleaming in the late morning sun. It was beautiful, but all at once, a sense of dreaded finality struck him. This was nearly the end of their journey. With it would come the crashing realization that life in the Flats awaited them again, that soon his endless grind trying to take down the city’s worst would start up again. His heart ached to stay here forever with Brianna, but there was a part of him too that recognized he wanted back in the fight, that he was tired of putting it off.
Vancouver. For Brianna’s sake, he turned, grasped her hand, and smiled.
* * *
Still trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy, they picked their hotel based on a text message from Rose, who had stayed in Vancouver on a weekend business trip a few years prior. The Pinnacle Hotel sat right next to the harbor, and after Garrett checked on the availability, they rented a room overlooking the water. Brianna thought it was too much, but he insisted, walking backwards as he dragged her towards the front doors, making her laugh until she finally gave in and admitted it was a gorgeous hotel.
When they checked in, they went back out to the SUV to bring in their luggage and other necessities. The porter was a fast-speaking Vancouver native, young and enthusiastic, and he was genuinely thrilled – or at least very good at pretending to be – to hear about the places they’d been on their trip, and recommended several city hotspots. Garrett only had really one in mind, though, but he nodded along with the young man anyways, smiling and pretending like everything was just peachy.
Their hotel room was spectacular. The king-sized bed looked cozy and comfortable, and a chaise lounger next to the window was perfect for Brianna’s evening reading. But beyond that was the real prize – the spectacular view of the waters beyond. A little choppy from the wind that day, the harbor practically begged them to walk to it, and so they didn’t deny themselves after they’d arranged their things and tipped the porter.
Hand-in-hand as always, they meandered across the busy city street, and for a good hour, they walked down the sidewalk, taking in the view, the business district, and the jaw-dropping skyline all around them. Edmonton and Vancouver had a fight on their hands for which was the more beautiful city – Garrett said Vancouver, Brianna had liked Edmonton. Both, they agreed, were worth the visit.
There had been a second reason Garrett wanted that particular hotel – the library nearby. The child had disappeared, and though he maybe knew what that meant, a little electric thrill ran through him. Finally, privacy, and not for their favorite casual act. He leaned in and whispered into her ear, “Wanna go to the library with me and neck in the stacks?”
She gave him a curious look. In all their time together, he’d been to exactly one library, and that had been to fight a cartel drug lord. That said, she loved libraries and wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to see one. “Sure?”
He grabbed her hand and ran, checking the glass reflections of the buildings around them to make sure the child wasn’t following. If she was, he didn’t see her.
Outside, the library was a vaguely pyramid-like building with a flattened top. Its windows were tinted a dark steel color, roughly the shade of the crisscrossing beams. The entrance was four enormous sets of glass doors, and he led Brianna through, glancing around wildly for the ghosts.
A desk central to the room overlooked periodicals, racks of non-fiction, and a reading area where a couple of dozen people lounged around in armchairs under pleasantly bright lights. Further back was the fiction. To Brianna, he said quickly, “I think I know what’s been doing this. The kid’s not a hallucination. I think she’s real.”
Her lips puckered as she thought about this. “I thought you said kids can’t be ghosts. And ghosts can’t-”
“I know. That’s why we’re here. She’s gone, which… if I’m right, that means something bad.”
He nodded. “But we don’t know how to track her or who she’ll kill, so we have to use the time smartly. We need to find every book on folklore they have. Anything involving ghost children. We should probably focus it around Canadian stories. I’m going to take the nonfiction. Hit the fiction stacks.”
Her eyes were wide, but her strong jaw was set, and she nodded just once before shooting straight for the front desk. Smart to go to the source like that, he thought. He veered off into the nonfiction, pulling out his phone and searching for books matching his criteria on Google and Amazon. In twenty minutes, he had six books laid out in front of him at a table in a reading room. In another ten, Brianna joined him with four more and a stack of newspapers. He raised an eyebrow. “Every newspaper article I could find on the deaths,” she explained.
They set to work rifling through the books as quickly and thoroughly as possible. There were hundreds of pages dedicated to Canada’s water monsters, sasquatches, and werewolves, but frustratingly little about the undead or ghosts in general. Sightings, sure, there were lots of tongue-in-cheek entries about those – a husband and wife haunting a hotel in Banff, the Boot Hill graveyard and British Columbia Penitentiary, Seal Island… nothing pertaining to ghosts from Irisville or that area.
“Maybe we’re going at this the wrong way,” Brianna thought out loud.
“If you have ideas, I’m open to them.”
“What’s the weirdest part about all this? It’s not the deaths themselves.”
“It’s the confessions,” Garrett said, frowning.
“And if you’re right, remember our reaction at that nightclub? How, um, angry and frisky we got?”
“I like when you say frisky.”
“Yeah, of course I remember.” He smacked his head. “She was there. At least for the nightclub part of it. She wasn’t watching us afterwards, I can guarantee that. We haven’t, uh, done it when she’s around. Too fuckin’ creepy, her being a kid and all.”
Brianna nodded. “So she’s amplifying our emotions somehow. Our guilt, our anger.”
“Doesn’t explain the lust.”
“Residual effects. We were ridin’ high off her supply.” She started stacking the books. “There’s a word for that, kinda, sorta. Empathy.”
Garrett frowned. “Isn’t that just, you know, being decent and receptive to other people?”
“Yes, but no. I mean, that’s one definition. Psychically, it’s about feeling others emotions as your own. Trust me, if you’ve ever played a pen and paper RPG, this stuff’s one-oh-one material.”
He scratched the back of his head. “I haven’t. Wait, did I marry a Dungeons and Dragons nerd?”
“Got me through a lot of boring nights in high school and college. And Rifts, actually. You’d like it. Ooh, so would Murphy. It’s… you know what, never mind.” She looked up books on empaths in Canada. “Okay, yeah. Here we go.” She highlighted a few and sent him the names. They raced back out into the stacks, but this time could only find two of the books. One of them was a nonfiction scientific analysis of psychics and was of no use to them. The other was a fictional novel about a Canadian hitchhiker trying to make it from coast to coast and having all sorts of wacky, transcendental experiences along the way. Garrett dismissed it, as did Brianna, but she took note of the writer’s name. Worse came to worse, it looked like an entertaining read for their last week in Canada.
Defeated, they returned the books to the stacks, and headed out. Brianna wrapped her arm around Garrett’s waist. “We’ll figure this out,” she promised him.
“We don’t even know if I’m on the right track,” he muttered.
“Hey. Chin up. It’s the best idea we’ve got. And doesn’t it feel right?”
He let his own arm sneak around her too. “Lots of bad arrests happen because cops can’t let go of a hunch they think is right even when it’s wrong.”
“We’ll know soon enough, I guess. Either she kills someone, or the ghosts come and tell us she’s real.”
“Or not, in which case, square one.”
“Either way? We try to be here while we’re here. It’s gonna drive both of us crazy, but let’s try to see some things while we’re here. There’s not much more we can do.”
He drew in a breath and blew it out through his nose. “Yeah. Anywhere you want to go?”
“Aquarium, maybe? Dolphins and pretty fish would be pretty calming right now.”
“That sounds like a hell of a plan.”
* * *
The next morning, they saw the headline. Another person dead, this time a college student. His last moments had been seen by dozens of people, all of whom reported him shouting about fucking his roommate’s girlfriend when she was drunk and thought he was the other guy. There was more, too, and some of it was posted on YouTube. Though it was taken down before Brianna and Garrett could see it, their emails had a new message that day from a certain friend in the FBI.
They watched the footage together, all of it, right up until the boy’s end. His screams of pain turned into a dry wheezy gasp for air, as his hair went completely white from the roots on up.
“That could have been me,” Brianna whispered. “Why wasn’t that me?” It was the best question either of them had asked so far, and the one neither of them had answers to.