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Bird and Roman brought out a small native drum, something that looked like incense holders, matches, little wooden bowls and baggies of earth-colored herbs and plants. Roman looked up at Dex and Ada and said, “We have to set up for the ceremony. You wil have to leave the room.”

Dex tore his eyes away from mine with effort and shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

Bird got up, one leg at a time, and placed his hand on Dex’s shoulder. “I know you care about her. But she’s not going anywhere for now. We have to cleanse the room.

Then you can come back in.”

Roman said something to Bird in the native language and Bird nodded sharply. He looked back at Dex with imploring eyes. “Please? We must hurry.”

Dex and Ada sighed and left the room, both of them throwing a glance at me over their shoulders before they went out the door. Bird went over and closed it after them. It felt so final. I know he said they could come back in after, but I had no idea what was in store.


With Ada and Dex gone, Bird lit up some sage and started waving it around in all corners of the room. It reminded me a lot of the ceremony we did in the sweat-lodge with Rudy.

Rudy, the last shaman I had come in contact with. He had gone missing during that ceremony, presumably kil ed by the skinwalkers. I wondered if Roman knew how dangerous I seemed to be. I wondered if he was ready. Though the thought of him using physical force on me was scary, I was become desensitized to the way my body was treated, and if he had to hurt me to free me, then he could hurt me all he wanted. I’d welcome it.

Roman lit a few candles around the room, then pul ed shut the thick curtains so the room was dark except for a bare lamp in the corner that created haunting shadows on the wal . Bird continued to wave the sage, then he lit another sweet-smel ing herb and started all over again, this time chanting. At first to himself, but Roman would join in at odd times while he burned something in a wooden smudge pot.

After the last herb died to smoldering ashes and the room was thick with blue haze, Roman gestured to the drum. Bird eased himself cross-legged on the floor and brought the drum to his lap while Roman went to the door and stuck his head out, cal ing down the hal way.

Dex and Ada appeared in the doorframe, coughing and waving at the air.

“No,” Roman said, firmly grabbing Ada’s hand in mid- wave. “Don’t move it. It is to help us. Breathe it in. It wil help purify you both.”

He shut the door behind them and told them to stand at the foot of the bed; then he came around the other side and stood beside me.

“Tel me how this all started,” he said.

Ada and Dex looked at each other. Ada stepped a bit forward and started rehashing everything that had happened, leaving out a few things like the miscarriage and Abby.

“And where do you come in?” Roman asked Dex.

Dex coughed and cleared his throat, looking strangely sheepish. “The little one cal ed me. I was the only one who believed what was wrong with Perry.”

“What was Perry’s state of mind before all of this happened?”

Dex opened his mouth to speak but no words came out.

He clamped his lips shut and looked at Ada with a pained face. She raised her brow at him and gave Roman a sadly sardonic smile.

“Perry’s state of mind?” Ada repeated. “She was emo as shit.”

Roman shot a look at Bird, who shrugged.

Ada stuck her finger underneath Dex’s scruffy chin. “This asshole broke up with Perry in November. Broke her poor fucking heart right in two. I’m only tolerating him because he was the last chance we had.”

Dex didn’t protest but he did look away at some imaginary spot on the floor. Roman mused that over, looking bothered.

“I see,” Roman said slowly and with a heavy sigh. I wondered if our history was going to complicate things for him. I hoped not. Things were already complicated enough.

“Yeah,” Ada continued, not done yet, “basical y slept with her and ditched her, used her...”

“Hey, OK, wait a minute,” Dex said, stepping away from Ada’s finger. “That’s not exactly what happened.”

If I could have control ed my own eyebrows, I would have raised them.

She glared at him, her eyes hard in the low light. “Oh yeah, perhaps you better explain what happened. Why Perry cried in her room for days wondering what the hel went wrong. You weren’t there. You didn’t have to help her day in and out, hoping that one day she’d come out of it and realize what a goddamn asshole you are. You didn’t see the way you left her. You didn’t have to help her pick up the pieces.”

She looked at Roman with conviction. “Plus, there was the whole him getting her pregnant and miscarriage thing.”

The words miscarriage hung heavily in the air.

Roman sucked in his breath.

Bird froze.

And Dex...he looked like someone had backhanded him with a shovel. He swal owed hard and his eyes went immediately to me. They held a wealth of regret and sadness in them.

I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, I thought, staring across at him.

But then again, when would have been a good time? It was over and done with and none of his business, real y. We had other, bigger things to worry about than sex gone bad. I didn’t have time to worry about his feelings in this, though from the stunned, almost blue look on his blood-crusted face, I could see he was taking it hard. Harder than I thought he would.

“You didn’t know,” Roman said, stating the obvious.

Dex’s chin dropped and he broke eye contact with me.

Ada watched him, her face growing increasingly guilty for the way she just dropped it on him. I guess she, like me, had no idea how he would have reacted.

She placed her hand on his shoulder. “Hey, sorry. I’m sorry.”

He shrugged her hand off of him. “I need to get some air.”

“No,” Roman said. For a skinny, young guy he had quite the commanding voice. I guess you had to have that if you were commissioned to command demons out of people.

“You’re not going. We have to discuss this, all of this. It wil help me figure out what happened. What’s in her.”

“What’s in her?” Dex’s head snapped up. “A demon, that’s what.”

Roman shook his head. “No. You’re right, but it’s not just that. There are three entities lying there.” He pointed over at me. “One is Perry. One is demonic. The other is another entity. It is weak and is has no power anymore. But it is a spirit, a vengeful one. And if my guesses are correct, there was something haunting Perry before. Something that was wronged or ignored. It made a powerful pact, deal if you wil , to gain Perry’s soul. But was lost before it could even happen.”

He looked to Ada. “And this miscarriage. Perry would have been at her lowest, most vulnerable. It’s times like that, or pregnancy, when something foreign can grow and latch on with the baby. Even if the baby was eventually lost.

Though you can bet it was because of this spirit.”

At the mention of baby, Dex had let out a hot puff of air and turned around so his back was to everyone, leaning on his hands against the wal .

“It was Abby,” he said quietly, almost to himself. Roman had to take a few steps closer to him to hear.

Dex continued, “She was haunting me when Perry was with me in Seattle. She’s an ex...she died. Years ago. But she comes around every now and then. You know, she died because of me. And I don’t think she’l ever forget it.”

“She wil now,” Roman said. “The demon gained access to Perry through her, played on her fears through her. To get to you. This spirit is no more. Demons don’t keep their bargains.”

Dex stil didn’t turn around. He shook his head from side to side so his hair flopped back and forth. y,“So that’s it. It has one ex-girlfriend of mine. And it’s not satisfied. It wants the only person left on this earth that I...that I’d do anything for. Just throw her into the pot, who cares. I lost her once, I cannot lose her again.” Dex’s voice cracked and split with anger.

“Life is unfair for a lot of people and for a lot of reasons,”

Bird spoke up from the floor, his fingers tracing circles on the taught drum top, his voice steady as a tree. “This isn’t about you Dex, though I know from experience your intentions are good. This is about Perry. This is about what we can do to help her. We can’t waste time placing blame on each other or being angry. That’s what it wants. We need to help her. And we need to hurry. You can deal with everything else afterward.”

There was little sound or movement from Dex for a few beats. Then he raised his head up and turned around. He walked through the smoke, which stil hung in cloying clouds, and stopped beside Ada. His eyes were wet and wide but held a fierce determination that brought out a rise of hope from somewhere inside me. He offered his hand to her.

“I’m extremely, unrelentingly sorry for what I did to your sister. To Perry. And, by default, to you. Little fifteen.”

Ada eyed his hand like he had cooties. The reluctance didn’t last long. She stuck out her hand and they shook firmly. She even managed a smile.

“Good,” Roman said, looking from one to the other. “We need a united front against this. Even with Bird acting as my helper, I wil need you both to be strong and to have no fear. You have to believe that we can beat it. We are superior to this beast and we wil get out. But you must have conviction in your beliefs. To doubt is to endanger all of our lives, and especial y Perry’s.”

He nodded at Bird, who began a steady, rhythmic beating on the drums, using only his hands, while Roman brought up a small wooden bowl from the floor. He came close to me, looking deep into me with the most ruthless, determined angle. He wasn’t looking for me. He was looking for it, the thing, the beast.

“And so we begin the sacred ceremony.” He was talking to me, talking to everyone. “An exorcism is a battle. I wil lead it until the end”

He raised up the bowl and started yel ing in his native tongue. Simple, two-word sentences that bounced around the room like a stone in a cave.

The thing inside me did not like it.

I started writhing back and forth underneath the straps, panting hard as if I were simultaneously trying to throw up and catch my breath. It grew hot, then more hot, and steam began to rise off of my body in tiny whispers.

Roman kept repeating the words and the heat in my body grew to an unbearable level. Whatever the beast was feeling, I was feeling too. It was exquisite agony; I felt like I was being burned alive.

Roman kept going, relentless in his quest to purge me.

He dipped his thumbs into the wooden bowl until they were covered black, then came forward for my face.

I swung my head back and forth, trying to get out of his way but he managed to get one swipe down my cheek. It felt like an acid burn. I turned to him, mouth open, and bit his hand. Hard. I felt the crunch of bones and the taste of blood fil my mouth and spil down my chin.

Someone in the room let out a yelp but it wasn’t Roman.

He pushed his other thumb, also anointed with the black ash, straight into my forehead, knocking my head back with enough force to knock a normal person out. Then he calmly removed his injured hand from my mouth.