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She looked at me at that last word to see if she said it right. I nodded.

“Why is it going to stay?” he asked, total y nonchalant.

“We did the ritual. The candles went out on their own, we didn’t touch them. all you have to do now is bury them in the back yard.”

When I relayed the events to my parents, I conveniently left out the part about burying the Witch Bottle. Oh, and seeing a monster in the house. It was pointless to mention them, real y, and I didn’t want my dad digging it up, because he would have on account of it being all “black majick” and stuff.

“Or the front yard, real y,” he continued. “I’l make sure to empty the vacuum bag right away. The ritual wil stil hold.”

“How do we know that?” I asked. “You saw the photo.

The fireplace. That was after everything was said and done.”

“It’s not buried yet. Then it’s said and done. And then, well darlin’, you know the dril all too well by now. We just wait and see.”


The next morning I wanted nothing more to just sleep and sleep. Sleep for the next day, the week, the next year. After we had buried the candles (in the front yard now, away from my parents’ prying eyes since their bedroom looked onto the back), I helped Maximus in vacuuming up the smel y, powdery mess we created. Unfortunately, this meant having to go into my parents’ room while they were getting ready for bed but at least it was taken care of before my mother had a conniption.

When we said our goodbyes, somewhere just before midnight, he had gone in for a kiss. But I just couldn’t return it. His actions had rankled me, and even though he said he was doing it all for me, something just wasn’t sitting right.

Maybe it had something to do with what Ada had said, about how she couldn’t trust him. Whatever it was, it had me on edge and I was definitely in no mood to be amorous with him, even though there was something extremely sexy about the dominating and fierce edge I had seen during the rituals.

But that was just my lady parts talking. My head and gut told me to abruptly look away and say, “I’l talk to you soon.

Thanks for your help,” and shut the door. Perhaps I should have been a bit more grateful to him.

Needless to say, I was exhausted when 10 a.m. rolled around and I was rudely awakened by my phone.

I pried open one eye and was met with a grey, overcast gloom that appeared to seep in through the windows and settle in my room. I rolled over and grabbed the phone, eyeing the screen with my blurry vision.

Shit. It was Shay.

I cleared my throat and quickly answered it. “Hel o?”

“Perry,” she said in an oddly professional voice. “How are you feeling?”

“Um,” I rolled over onto my back and scrunched up my forehead with my hand. How to answer that? “I’ve been better but I’m doing OK.”

“Oh that’s great to hear,” she said, as if I had just told her I was feeling like a mil ion bucks. “Listen, would you mind popping by today?”

“To Port-Town?”

“Yes. This isn’t a shift. I just wanted to talk to you.”

Uh oh. I was suddenly overcome by a wave of nausea, fol owed by a stab of hol owness in my chest.


“Don’t worry,” she said but then didn’t elaborate. “Just come by before three.”

“I wil . See you then,” I said blankly and stared down at the phone as I heard her hang up. I gradual y pushed the button to end the cal and placed the phone beside me.

I’d been down this path before. I knew what was up. It didn’t matter that she told me not to worry. I knew what was coming.

Though, perhaps I was always too eager to jump to the worst case scenario. Shay just wanted to see me. She wanted to know if I was feeling better. Shay was a nice woman; she was almost a friend. She liked me, didn’t she?

She wouldn’t fire someone just because someone was sick. I mean, that was il egal, wasn’t it?

I let out a huge intake of air. She probably just wanted to see me in person and work out some sort of schedule, instead of doing it over the phone. Shay was personable like that.

I took in another breath and then got up to start the day.

I was a flaming pile of nerves when I parked Put-Put outside the store and walked in through the glass doors. Even though it was the busy lunch-hour rush, I stil felt like everyone was staring at me, whispering to each other “hey it’s that girl who went postal.” Of course, no one noticed me and I didn’t see any of the regulars who would have thought such a thing. Being in regular clothes and not a uniform helped.

But there was no hiding from Ash or Juan, a student from Columbia with whom I’d worked only a few times. I gave them both a small smile as I awkwardly made my way behind the counter. They were busy trying to handle the customers so they couldn’t real y talk to me but I preferred it that way. The less that was said, the better.

I observed Ash’s face. It was warm and casual, like it usual y was, but there was something different about the way he was looking at me. He looked at me like I was about to lose my nut again, watched me like a caged monkey in a zoo. My mother had watched me like that earlier as I made myself runny oatmeal. I should have figured Ash would change once he saw the “real” me. He hadn’t once cal ed or texted me to see if I was doing OK.

It stung but I tried to shrug it off and made my way to the back door, eyeing the bathroom as I went past, my nostrils flaring at the smel that was stil present, that now evil and foreboding scent of death.

I heard Shay’s muffled voice say “Come in” after I knocked, and I opened the door with anxious hands and stepped into the room.

She was unpacking a box of coffee that had just been delivered, bags of beans tucked haphazardly under her arms, and looked up at me with her dark hair fal ing in front of her face.

“Perry,” she said, straightening up awkwardly. “Hi, come in, have a seat.”

She gestured to the one folding chair and desk we had in the room.

I went and sat down as she shoved the bags on the shelves and wiped her hands on her apron.

“You seem much better.” She looked me over appraisingly as she perched her butt on the corner of the desk.

That wasn’t true. My face had taken on this gaunt look since I wasn’t eating much, and the hol ows under my eyes made me look like a walking skeleton. For once I didn’t give two shits about the weight loss.

But I knew she was trying to be nice and instead of refuting the compliment, I thanked her and then waited with bated breath for whatever was coming next.

It came first with a kindly smile, the type a mother gives to her crying daughter when she can’t have the Barbie she so desperately wants. Then came the drawn out, melancholy-inflicted, “Perry, we real y like you here,” and then it went into a whole humiliating spiel about company needs, my performance, my il ness and the bottom line.

Which was money. It was always money.

I just sat there, numb to it, and numb to everything.

I was being fired.


This time because I just wasn’t normal enough for them.

That’s not exactly what she said, but that was pretty much what she meant. Especial y when Shay brought up what Ash had told her. Apparently, he had stopped keeping his mouth shut about my little headaches, cramps and dizzy spells since I’d started. That was all out in the open now, cementing the idea that this wasn’t just a one-time incident, that this was what I was made of and that I, Perry Palomino, would always be a problem.

And how could I argue with that? I didn’t even try. I didn’t know what I could say because I didn’t know myself. It certainly seemed like for the rest of my life, I was never going to be normal. I would never have normal friends or hold a normal job, because someone, somewhere decided I was going to be a focal point for the afterlife. It wasn’t even a flaw I could talk openly about. I couldn’t go into future job interviews and say, “Wel , my worst quality is that I’m often haunted by ghosts. That and procrastination.”

I was numb until Shay was done talking. She looked at me with enough guilt in her eyes to say that she didn’t like the hand she was dealt either, and that was enough to start the water works.

The tears fel out of my eyes, hot and fast, streaming down my cheeks in mascara-ridden rivers. It was all too much.

Too, too much.

Sleeping with Dex, then being spurned by him (my best friend, the man I’d loved!) and having to cut him out of my life, the loss of friends and the show, the loss of my purpose, the depression that fol owed, the pains that plagued me, the bloody miscarriage, Abby fol owing me here, ghosts terrorizing me, getting involved with Maximus, having my parents threaten me with more psychiatric treatment, thinking a demon wanted to possess my very soul.

And now this. I was fired from a fucking coffee shop, of all places, for something that wasn’t my fault and would never be my fault, yet I was tethered to it like a dog on a short chain. No matter how hard I barked and growled and tried to run, I was choked back, chained for life, and would never ever be free.

I was only 23 years old. I never did anybody any harm.

Why me?


“I don’t deserve any of this!” I spat out in an ugly, wet cry.

I succumbed to convulsions and the feeling of drowning that only came with hysterical, throat-tearing bawling. I could sense Shay was stil there, with no idea what to do or what to say, but I felt alone in my grief, this terrible, debilitating grief that erupted out of my mouth like a dying scream. I dug my nails into head hard enough to draw blood and rocked back and forth on my seat until I heard one word out of Shay’s mouth.

It was faint and faraway and I couldn’t see anything but stars against wet blackness.


I snapped my head up and tried to see her through the haze, the smears of tears and makeup, the hair that clung to the dampness of my face.

“W-what?” I asked in between raspy gulps of air.

“I think you need a doctor,” she said. “I’m going to cal someone.”

She walked over to the office phone but I reached out and grabbed her by the wrist. It wasn’t rough but the surprise, and a bit of fear, showed on her face.

“No,” I stammered, trying to find my breath. “Please.

Please, no doctors. You just…you have to understand. You have no idea what I’m going through.”

She gave me a sad smile and let her arm drop.

“I know I don’t, Perry. I real y wish you the best of luck.

You’re a very likeable girl, we all like you, especial y Ash.

But you shouldn’t be worried about working or keeping a job. You’re not well and you need to work on yourself.”

“It won’t do me any good,” I muttered. I sniffed the snot up my nose and wiped my tears away with my hands.

“Promise me you’l try,” she said. She raised her hand as if she were to pat me on the back or shoulder but she hesitated and cleared her throat awkwardly instead. “I’ve real y got to get back to stacking.”

I nodded dumbly, feeling useless, rejected.