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I grinned what was sure to be a bloody grin.

And the most vile, primordial voice, like the ones I’d heard commanding me in my head, roared out of me.

“Think she’l be so lucky this time?” After what you did to little Jim?” The depravity dripped out of me like the blood onto my chest.

Roman paid me no attention, he kept repeating his phrase, his voice become stronger and I felt a wave of shock, pain and heat rol through me. I started screaming and banging the back of my head against the mattress.

The drum beat of Bird became louder, faster and I felt the synergy of the room intensify. The temperature climbed and climbed until I was soaking wet and the bed was too.

The straps were becoming slippery and I was forced to use them to my advantage. I wriggled and moaned and tried to escape.

“Dex, Ada!” Roman yel ed. “Get a hold of her legs.”

My eyes were rol ing back in my head so I couldn’t see them but I felt them. Briefly.

They both let out a whimper and withdrew their hands immediately.

“She’s burning hot!” Dex cried out. “You’re kil ing her!”

“Do it!” Roman yel ed, and I felt their hands once more, Dex’s long fingers and Ada’s slight ones. They were both hesitant but their grips intensified as my thrashing continued.

“United front, Dex,” Roman said through gritted teeth as he came at my arms with more smudge matter. “You can’t let your feelings get in the way. We must do this. You too, Ada.”

I heard someone sniff like they were crying, but I didn’t know who it was. It didn’t matter. The more Roman pressed his marks into me, the more I felt like dying. The pain was excruciating; it was like being branded with a hot poker.

“You kil ed him. The mother kil ed herself shortly after.

You ruined a town,” the beast said through me in scathing, panting secretions. “You’l ruin her. I wil ruin her. You are powerless, foolish and weak.”

I burst into horrible laughter and started thrashing again, more strange, foreign and unbelievable sounds emanating from me. It sounded like whole room was one entity and I was coming out of the wal s, throttling the room with my abhorrent threats.

“You can do what you want to her,” Roman said forceful y, “but I am stronger and I wil win this battle. I wil get you out and send you back to where you came from.”

There was no time to reflect anymore, no effort for thoughts. They were meaningless. I was at the mercy of my captor and at the strength of my exorcist.

The drums got louder. The room began to dim as the candles all went out and the lamp in the corner faltered.

Suddenly the area around the bed erupted in flames that rose from the floor in a thick line. Dex and Ada screamed and let go of me, stumbling back and out of the fire. Roman had to inch back as well , and Bird stopped drumming.

“Keep going!” Roman screamed at Bird over the roar of the flames.

Bird snapped to it and continued, his hands slapping steadily on the drum.

The flames grew higher until they provided a barricade between me and everyone else. Dex had his arm around Ada and was holding her tight to him, both of their faces lit up by the flames as they watched me in absolute horror.

I sat up in one swift, violent motion, breaking the straps around my arms. I grinned at Roman and said, in the voice of a little boy, “Why did you have to be so rough? You hurt me. You broke my bones.”

“No!” Roman yel ed, and then bel owed a string of harsh- sounding native words.

I tossed my hair from side to side.

“Yes, you did,” my little-boy voice said in a sing-song manner. “You broke me in a mil ion pieces. You told me you had to hurt me to free me.”

Roman kept reciting his mantra over and over again but was unable to get to me through the flames. He watched me steadily through the flames, his eyes never leaving my horrid face.

“And you,” I said, my head turning to Dex. My voice melted from that of a child’s to that of a woman in a light French accent, “Let’s not forget what you did, Declan.”

Dex’s arm slumped off of Ada. His face went slack with fright.

I laughed, bitter and rich, then tilted my head, eyeing him with disdain. “Your little secret. You don’t want anyone to know about what happened to your dear old mother. I’m in here now. In here with your little tramp. And I wil do to her what you did to me.”

The other straps on the bed broke apart and I was thrown back by an imaginary force, my head striking the back of the wal .

Dex screamed and tried to run through the fire. The flames were more than real and they caught onto his sleeves, setting him alit. Ada pul ed him back and pushed him onto the ground, trying to get him to rol , to put them out.

And my head continued to bang backward until it felt soft and wet and blood was running down it. If the beast was going down, he was sure to take me down with it. I was only a useless vessel for his destruction.

“Dex!” Roman yel ed. “It’s testing you, don’t listen to it. It wants your fear, it feeds on it!”

Roman approached me, sputtering his words, and that’s when I began to lift up, my feet leaving the bed. My back against the wal , I slithered up it like a snake until the top of my head grazed the ceiling, feet dangling, and I was staring down at the room, down at the fire that burned contained around the bed, down at Roman, who was stil staring at me tirelessly, down at Dex who was getting to his feet and ripping off his burnt cargo jacket, and Ada, who was helping him while watching me in complete awe, and Bird and his steady heart, who kept drumming even though his eyes glimmered with fear.

I didn’t know how I could possibly hang on. I was already out, out of control, out of power but I was stil conscious. I didn’t think it would last for long and that was fine. I couldn’t take any more of the physical pain on myself or the emotional pain I was inflicting on others.

I started to move. I floated slowly away from the wal and then when I was in mid room, I was tilted up so my back was now flush against the ceiling, my hair hanging straight down the sides of my face. The thing in me laughed and laughed and laughed.

“I wil do to her what you did to me,” and this time, it was Abby’s voice that was coming out of me.

Dex looked at Roman in adrenalized panic and screeched, “Take me! Let it take me. It needs a soul, it can have mine!”

Roman ignored Dex’s wild eyes, and shook his head. “I can win this battle.”

“No, you can’t,” I said, back in the voice of torture and depravity. “You can’t win. I’l kil her before you even get a chance. Then I’l take him.”

My eyes shot over to Dex and I smiled sweetly.

Then I was dropped.

I fel from the ceiling straight to the ground, face first.

I saw a shimmer in the carpet before it rose up to my face.

Then I heard the impact of my fal , my cries that came from me and no one else. But I felt no pain. I was fal ing, sucked into a black shimmering abyss and the world I knew was left behind completely.


I expected to fal through the black vortex forever, my screams never ending, just repeating for eternity.

But it didn’t work out that way.

The fal ing came to an abrupt stop as I felt my body shift from the feeling of fal ing downwards, to gliding sideways.

Then I felt earth under my feet, dust in my lungs and the black curtain around me lifted to reveal a distinctly de- saturated world.

My world.

Or perhaps not.

I was standing about fifty yards from the back of Roman’s small one-level house. The curtains to the exorcism room were closed, but flashes of white-hot light poked through at sporadic moments. I could only wonder what was going on in there, if I was stil in there and being thrown around by my possessor. I was somewhat glad to be somewhere else, even if it was outside in land where everything was black, white and a mil ion shades of grey.

So, where was I?

“You are in the Thin Veil, the Black Sunshine,” a voice said from behind me.

I whirled around to face Pippa and the rol ing grey landscape behind her.

“Are you behind this?” I asked. My words sounded strangely dull and flat.

She walked a few steps toward me, her dress ruffling and shifting around her. It was probably magenta or some other bright color but here, in what she cal ed Black Sunshine, it was a grainy deep grey. Even her face was done up in varying shades of monotone.

She smiled at me and for once I didn’t find it creepy.

There was something almost maternal about it, like she actual y cared. Maybe I was just real y seeing her for the first time. Maybe it’s because I was obviously in her element.

“I did not bring you here, Perry,” she said delicately. It was odd to hear her speak outright rather than have it rebound inside my head. “But I knew you’d come eventual y.

I had hoped it would have been your choice, not that of another’s.”

“You mean the Devil?”

She shook her head ever so slightly. Her pin curls bounced from the movement. “It is not the Devil, only one of his minions. If the Devil himself ever got a hold of a mortal...No, this is a demon and all demons report to a higher entity.”

I looked around me at the world, which was my world, once removed.

“What is this place?”

“This is where I stay. It is a world of transition. all the dead pass through here to get from one plane to another.

The dead and...other beings as well .”

“So you are dead?”

She smiled again, sadly. “Yes. Come for a walk with me.”

She held out her aging hand and I grabbed it. She grasped mine tightly and said, “You’re too much here, Perry. I shouldn’t be able to grab your hand like this.”

I looked down at it in wonder and she led me toward the rancher, toward the window with the bright sprays of light.

“What is supposed to happen?”

She gestured for me to peak through a crack in the window, where the curtain inside had bil owed. “Can you see them? Can you see you?”

I looked through. It was hard to make out shapes in between the blasts of light that burned my eyes, but I could see Bird on the ground playing the drums. The silhouette of Dex on his knees. I saw Ada standing by the wal and a flash of Roman yel ing, arms wide open like a manic preacher. I also saw me, floating above the bed. I was the source of the white light. It was coming straight out of my mouth and eyes, like some ultraviolet angel.

I swal owed hard, surprised to stil feel worry and pain. It was scary to see myself like that; I could only imagine how Dex and Ada were feeling.

“I see them,” I said softly.

“I see them too. I’ve always been able to see you. Most people, when they die, they pass through here on their way to what you would cal Heaven or Hel . This isn’t purgatory. It is simply a place of transition. A place to let go of your life.

Many people, many who you think are ghosts, stay here because the wal s are thin. You look around, it looks the same as your world. It’s one layer less. But that layer is thin and at times it grows thinner. It holds many, many secrets.”

She pul ed me away from the window and we started walking away from the rancher. In the distance, on the top of a hil two giant wood bugs went scurrying, just like the ones I’d seen in my hospital delusion. I was vaguely horrified.