Warning – spoilers for a potential future Seven Heroes novel, though the details are going to be changed quite a bit.
To my credit, I actually really liked the closing of this novel, and that really started with these chapters. The child ghost’s big reveal is one of my favorite WTF moments from the series, and it’s too good not to recycle into something I’ll eventually publish. All right, enjoy. Not too much left in the book now.
Two notepads lay on the table beside cups of hotel room coffee and a bag of potato chips. Garrett taped papers with each of the victims’ names on the wall and scribbled notes as Brianna read the details from Annalise’s emailed case files. Autopsy-wise, all the cases were similar, and a wave of numbness hit Garrett when he realized how close Brianna had come to death yet again.
“A sane person would’ve run a long damn time ago,” he said, standing back to examine the pages.
“Pbbbbft. Garrett, if you thought I was sane even before we met, boy, do I have news for you.” She got up to look at the sheets with him. There was one commonality between all but one of the victims – a rap sheet. They were all different crimes though, and in most cases, nothing more than misdemeanors – or summary offences, as they were called by the Canadians. A few had an indictable offence or two – roughly the equivalent of a felony, so they learned.
“Okay, so all these people had criminal pasts. She’s a… what, like a vigilante then?” Brianna asked.
“Yeah, but why you, then? Have you ever been arrested for anything?”
“I had a few parking tickets, but I don’t think she’s killing for those.” She paused, then scrambled for a notepad.
“Did you think of something?”
“No, but I had to write that down. I want to try to write a book someday, and that’s too damn good not to remember. The Parking Meter Slasher.”
Garrett tried to smile but his nerves were too on edge. He turned to the ghost child at the edge of the bathroom. “Why? What’s the connection between them and Brianna? Why leave her alive and them dead?”
The child just looked back. If it understood, it gave no reaction or change in expression.
They worked it over for another hour, but came up with nothing. Finally, Garrett sank into the chair at the table and grabbed up the chips. He munched on one, sighed, and said, “Are you up for a walk or a drive or something? I need fresh air.”
Brianna was silent, looking at the board intently, then back at the chips. “It’s… no, that’s impossible.”
“Everything about this thing is impossible. What are you thinking?”
“Okay. The club, we’re both feeling feverish, both feeling like our anger’s been ramped up a dozen times, right?”
“And it was with you the whole time? It was following you more closely than normal?”
“Yeah, the damn kid was right up on me. Why?”
“And she was right up on me when I went psycho on the road from Jasper?”
He chewed the side of his mouth, brow furrowed. “Uh, yeah. Yeah, it was.”
“My God,” she whispered. “It’s feeding on our emotions.”
“These people all shouted things they were guilty of, right? Blown up or not, it was shit they were carrying around inside. This thing’s drawing those feelings out. Anger. Lust. Guilt. Except it’s not doing it constantly. Look at the times, the dates. It’s practically on a schedule.”
“So when it gets hungry…”
“It’s sucking the emotion out of people, yeah.” She caught his look and shrugged. “Well, it’s a theory, anyways.”
“No, not making fun. Sorry. It’s just… weird. Why take on a ghost’s form then?”
“I haven’t figured that out yet. Or why she let me live. Or why she’s so attached to you.”
Garrett tapped a pen on the notepad. “Okay. Assume this is all true. If she let you live, maybe it’s because you’re not as guilty.”
“But Garrett, the things we’ve done-”
“Apart from us taking on Desmond and him possibly unleashing the tornados to spite us – and I still don’t think that’s true-” he did, but it wouldn’t help to tell her that “do you regret any of the criminal stuff we’ve done? A single bit of it?”
“I…” She frowned. “I guess I would’ve liked to have not killed anybody, but I sure as hell don’t regret it.”
“So the things you said to me, those were what you felt most guilty about?”
“Yeah. I mean, look, I look at guys very occasionally at a gym, but the place is a testosterone fest, and no matter how crazy bad our fights get, I really don’t think I’d ever cheat on you, no matter what I say or worry about. It’s just me carrying around the guilt of looking now and again.” She reached across and patted his hand. “And I know here in my head I’m your best friend as much as Murphy, but by the time I came along, you two were like peas in a pod, and I envy that all the time. And… I never hate you, Garrett.”
He smiled. “I know.” The words still haunted him at night, but then, so did a thousand other regrets and hurts. “So… I’m guessing it has some restraint. Or tries to, anyways. And when it fed on you, it didn’t find enough to hold it over.” He held up the bag of chips. “A snack, but not much substance.”
“All right, yeah, I like that theory. Doesn’t make me feel any less shitty about hurting you, but-”
“Stop. Okay? Stop. They were problems that might have come out eventually. We just sorta ripped the bandage off all at once.”
She drummed her fingers on the back of his palm. “Okay.”
“And as for why it attached itself to me, let’s assume it has something to do with my sight. Not necessarily that I see ghosts, but who knows? Maybe it just felt there was something different about me.”
She nodded enthusiastically. “Sure. That makes sense.”
“But why a ghost? And how do we stop it?”
That, they had no theories, no answers. For another half an hour, they shot back and forth theories, but nothing had the intense rightness of Brianna’s thoughts about it feeding. They finally cleaned up, and headed for bed.
“I’m sorry,” Brianna said as they cuddled together. “As sexy as I was feeling earlier, I’m not really in the mood tonight.”
“It’s okay, baby.”
“But I am gonna have a hard time sleeping tonight. Maybe… um, maybe tell me a little more of the story?”
“There’s only a little bit left. You sure?”
She nodded, and traced a finger up and down his chest. “Tell me how you and Murphy saved Francesca.”
He snorted. “Oh, you have no idea.”
* * *
Garrett got up to get a drink, filling and refilling his cup.
“Were Beaudette’s guys the ones who sent that sniper?”
“Uhhh. Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. See, Trevor’s chief of security had put together all this dirt on Francesca and…”
“…and they couldn’t let anything be traced back to Mr. Beaudette himself, so they hired outside shooters,” Brianna supplied for him, grinning.
Garrett knocked back the water and waved the empty cup at her. “That’s right!” He ducked back into the bathroom, filled it back up again, and rejoined her on the bed.
* * *
* * *
“…was just the son of a bitch to give it to them,” Brianna finished, falling back onto her pillow and giggling.
“Now you’re getting it.” Garrett wiped the sweat from his forehead, his smile fading just a little bit.
* * *
* * *
“Hell tore open its gates that day?”
“Hey, is this my story or yours?” His question was much more sharp than joking.
“All right, all right. Keep…” She glanced over at him and sat up. “Garrett. You’re flushed.”
“So I tipped over the couch and dove behind it. It was the best cover-”
“Brianna, it’s fine.”
“It’s not fine, it’s-”
“It’s making you sick!” she shouted.
“It’s what I deserve,” Garrett snapped. “It’s what I’ve always deserved. What I begged for down in that cavern in Hamber. I almost blew myself up because I thought I deserved it, did I tell you that?”
“Fuck the Blight. I knew what I was and I knew what I wanted. The Blight just pushed me towards it. I would fucking thank the Blight, if it hadn’t stopped me.”
“Stop it, Garrett, you’re scaring me.”
He did stop, panting as he stood up and found his pants. As he yanked his shorts down and pulled them on, hopping on one leg, he said, “You want to know the truth? About Francesca? She was a senile old pickpocket working a fundraising thing trying to earn enough money so she didn’t have to suffer through her dementia in a nursing home in a shitty part of Texas. I caught her on it, the guards thought I was in on the whole thing, and we were both kicked out. I drove her home, she stole my wallet, and replaced it with a gold cross. I have no idea who she took it from, but it was a bad time in my life when I didn’t believe much in God. I was depressed, I’d just killed a man, and here was a cross like a sign from heaven. That’s what fucking happened, Brianna. The whole boring story, right there.”
Through a haze of tears, she cried, “Stop, it’s not you, this thing, it’s pushing you to-”
“Did you know I don’t like when you go all hard body on me? It makes you look like a man, kind of. When you came back from living in Vegas, you were like a malnourished bodybuilder.”
“Stop it, stop it-”
“Those tornados? In another two minutes, I would’ve pulled the trigger. And then I probably would have eaten the gun myself. I would’ve killed you, Brianna, to save a bunch of methed out rednecks and lowlifes. That’s how little you’re worth to me.”
Brianna’s cries were more like screams of pain now.
“You think I’m clingy? You should see the real me. How jealous I am, how much I just want to lock you up forever. And I think I’m better than you too. It’s why I want to fix everything for you all the time. Brianna fucking Reeve, my little wounded bird. I love having you need me. I want to see you fucking beg for it. Me. My money. My protection. Everything I think you need. You’re like the whore from that movie and I’m the guy who wants to make you his pet fucking project. My little ghetto rat. You’re nothing compared to me. Nothing.”
Garrett leaned over the bed, eyes wild, hot breath steaming through his nose like a bull. Whatever words he was going to say next died on his lips when he saw her flinch away from him. His clouded mind cleared–
I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you sometimes
–and he took a step back and turned. The child was right there, hands out, waves of heat rolling from her.
“You want my guilt?” he whispered to it. “You want my pain? My anger? Eat my fucking sin. Choke on it.”
The child inched away, hands lowering uncertainly, but Garrett’s own hand shot out and through it – there was something there, something indefinable, but definitely there – like static in the shape of a person, he thought.
And then he was lost.
A spiky range. Scent of Christmas. Egg yolk flowerheads (dandelions, Garrett interjected, but this was not his dream and the vision paid him no mind). Long grass and thick weeds.
Logs. Crisscrossed. A small black screen (television, he tried to say and his voice sank into the nothing of ignorance). Fingers on a controller, making funny cartoons on the screen do something. White paper on the table. A book, opened.
People talking. Warmth mixed with sadness. Loss. White-hair-big-nose-dad. Big-emotions-cuddly-something-wrong mom. Hungry now, big big empty hole. Mom-Dad-scared-excited. Something is changing in her. Something awakening.
* * *
Serious-worried-excited-teaching-mom. A string of syllables that didn’t quite form right. Something broken. Words broken. Badly broken. Mom-help-belly.
Gnawing belly. A park. Shouting laughing children. A bench. Teaching-mom pointing. Showing her how to eat. To live.
Deep breath, closed eyes. Shaking her head. Try-it-again-mom. Time. Trickles of happiness. Slurping up happy. Warmth. A filling belly. Children don’t notice. Children still playing-shouting-laughing. Cheering-happy-loving-mom. Later, dad-hugs. Cold sweetness on her tongue. Fun music. Dad-dancing, mom-dancing.
* * *
Anger. Books thrown down. Laughing boys. Hurt. Tears. Embarrassment. Anger. Fury.
Closed eyes. Finds the laughing. Makes it more. More laughing. More. More. More. More. More. More. Eat the laughing.
Boys vomit. Boys keep laughing. Boys wheeze. Laughing stops. Boys slip into darkness.
Frantic-scared-angry-mom. Clothes in a suitcase. Harried-scared-frantic-dad pushing her into the back of a car.
Pavement. The yellow line.
* * *
This one is a little clearer.
Her mom’s fingers dancing on her knees in the car. Mountains in the background. Lots of questions, still no words make sense.
Her dad shaking his head, repeating something over and over. He is panicked. But he is trying not to be. Have to run have to run have to run.
The child, sorry. So sorry. Tears. But there is anger too. She wants them to hear. She yells at them.
They turn to face her. Her dad reaches a hand out to touch her face. Metal rushing towards them. Deafening horn.
The smash of metal and glass and nothingness.
* * *
This one is the clearest yet.
Her head lolls back. She can blink, she can move her tongue, but there is nothing below the neck. Nothing.
She is bouncing up and down towards the sunlight. Someone is carrying her. No. She is on something. A board. She is loaded into an ambulance and someone goes very fast.
She is staring up at lights. Then a face. Hands. She tries to make words, but she can’t. The man is thinking about someone he hates. Cannot get her out of his mind. How does she know this? Impulse. There is no trying. She simply knows. The child reaches without thought, drinks his hatred. He feels the heat, stumbles backwards.
The face again. He’s on a phone. He is satisfaction, smugness, wonder. He looks around, and she is lifted onto something and strapped in
She is staring up at nothing, but they are moving again. Fast. He is taking her somewhere. The music is loud. She cannot dance.
There is a ramshackle building. Dead animals posing. A sun-beaten man, tired and cross. He walks out, takes a look at her, shouts some words. The smug driving man responds. Then the new man takes another look at her. A long look. A necklace hangs off his neck, like a tooth. His face is wrong. It is a blur. There is a face and a not-face.
This man is Not Right. This man is a Wrong Man. She thinks about taking his emotions, but there are worms in his soul and when she tries to feed it makes her sick. His eyes widen and he smiles.
She is inside now, the two men taking her down a flight of stairs. She is lifted onto a table. The hospital man asks for something, the Not Right Man turns and digs in a desk drawer. When he spins back around, there is a gun in his hand and a too loud boom. The hospital man falls backwards. There are two more booms and then the Not Right Man is the only one left.
He is sliding her arm up, but she does not feel it. Wire in front of her, and rods. And a needle, full of a blue liquid that does not stop sloshing around. She makes a sound. He stops, smiles, and cinches another wire to her hand. No. Not to her hand. In her hand. More wires. Then he is standing her up.
She tries to fight him, tries to eat all of him the way Mom and Dad say she shouldn’t, but there is something there, something stopping her. She can’t touch him, can’t figure out why.
She is injected with the liquid. There is a fire in her mind, then darkness. She can still feel her heart beat. Slowly. Slowly.
Heart beating. Slowly. Slowly. Distant now as she walks towards town. She is hungry and she can feel emotions from the people she walks through. Happiness, lust, joy. These are there, but it is not what she wants. Not what is feeding her.
She finds the sorrow. Finds the rage. And she is sated.
For a while.
* * *
Garrett sat up, gasping for air. “Brianna!” he screamed.
Someone was pounding on the wall and yelling for them to shut up. She was there, kneeling on the carpet next to him, rolling a cold washcloth over his face. “I thought I lost you,” she said.
Garrett reached up, trying to pull her to him for a kiss, but she flinched away and he rose unsteadily to his feet. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…” He shook his head and sighed. “Meant some of it. But not…” Brianna flung her arms around him. There were no tears, but she was shaking. “I hurt you, I’m sorry I hurt you…”
“It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.” They stared into one another’s eyes. She tried to smile, but there was pain, too much pain, and he pulled away jerkily. “I guess the honeymoon’s over.”