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Fell

By Eric Mee

“How fell the Fiend appears

In ev’ry Prospect, wrathful or serene?”

—John Milton

Ten years ago, Rochester, NY: Rachel

Rachel Cortes looked into Nutmeg’s eyes, and the cat looked back with a raw and pure longing of love. The cat splayed its paws around the left knee of the thirteen-year-old girl and gently clutched at her with needle sharp claws, purring warm beside her in the big soft bed. Rachel drew her fingernail along the back of the cat’s neck and behind its ears, and closed her eyes. From outside her window came a steady chirrup of crickets. Rachel’s breathing slowed and deepened into a drawn out, steady measure, as she lay sinking into the warm covers. A man sat beside her behind the wheel of a car. He was dressed in a dark suit with a wide brimmed black hat. His hair was pale blond and floated in feathery wisps around the stretched skin of his bony, deeply lined face. He was looking at her with wide eyes and a manic manner, rocking from side to side and forward and back, jabbering incessantly.

“They’re here, they been here, you know, long before us. Long. Christ, time is like a bath for them. In and out, anytime they want. How the hell could they not be in charge of the whole mess from the beginning? How could they not?”

Rachel was telling the man to calm down, to slow down, to slow it all down. And all the time she had been wondering where someone was, someone missing, only she could not remember who it was she was wondering about, or why she was wondering.

“They’re coming back for us,” he said as the wheels left the road. “They’ll be back for us, just wait. The time recycler will come around again, every other Tuesday, every fifth spin—”

They hit the bottom and Rachel lurched into the air. She fell back against the mattress, bounced, and there was an animal loose in the bedroom. A bird was loose in here, a big one, a heron, and it was shrieking as it flapped madly through the room. Books toppled from Rachel’s shelves, posters rattled against the walls, the lamp stood shaking on the bedside table and fell to the floor with a crash and a pop. The shade fell from the window and the glass cracked and fell in shards. Rachel squeezed her eyes shut tight and the bird’s shrieks resolved itself into her mother’s ragged screaming voice, pitched into hysteria. And then worse than that, much worse, there was her father screaming in the doorway too. Rachel hung in place long enough to see his frozen expression of what looked to her like rage. Tears dripped from his face and he screamed, and Rachel was spinning again, falling, tumbling, and still the screams followed her. Rachel bumped against the wall and opened her eyes, and saw her bed far below her.

She drifted and bumped along the ceiling like a balloon. The wailing of her parents had diminished to hoarse sobs. Her father knelt in the floor below her, his fists pressed into his temples. Her mother stood pulling at the skin of her own arms, leaving long coarse bleeding scratches. Rachel felt her bladder and bowels go in a sickening warmth that dripped down her legs to fall on the bed with a deep patter. She felt her guts heave and her mouth filled and then emptied down to the floor below her. Her eyes ran with tears, her nostrils leaked mucous. Her head pounded in fever and she heaved again and again, her throat burning with bile, again still more, a throb, and slick warmth, hands pressing into her, cords around her wrists, her legs bound together as her bowels let loose again. Hands and screaming and madness in orange and yellow.

Four years ago, San Jorge, Mexico: Jesús

The terrible heat of the day was long gone, leaving the small town to cool with the onset of a desert night. Jesús Diaz, thirteen and tall for his age, left his two brothers with one last sharp admonition not to follow, and slipped out the window of the bedroom he shared with them. Shirtless and barefoot, he trotted along the side of the house and crouched low as he passed his parents’ bedroom, music from a Selena CD drifting out of the open window. Pausing at the gate to the yard, he turned his face to the sky for a moment. The Moon cast a pale glow on his skin, bronzed deep from working every day in the sun, and his jet hair fell in scraggly loops and curls nearly to his shoulders. He was listening, listening to the Moon, the voice in the Moon.

por un velo . . . detrás de los contornos del mundo . . . usted verá . . .

Jesús padded swiftly through the tiny village, most of the sparse buildings dark and silent, some gaping empty and hollow on the brink of collapse.

When he reached the church the light spilling through the open doorway drew his attention, and he stopped as his gaze fell upon the image of la Crucifixión. He quickly knelt and crossed himself before rising a bare moment later and moving on and out of the village.

todo el sufrimiento en el mundo . . . detrás de un velo . . . usted verá el que se esconde . . .

Three quarters of an hour beneath the Moon he walked through the desert, until he reached the mesa and began to climb. As he neared the top he saw the flickering glow of their bonfire, smelled a pungent burning fragrance, heard the muffled bass of a drumbeat. It sounded mechanical, that beat, to his ears. It was in fact electronic, and as Jesús crested the ridge and the distorted treble joined the bass range, what had sounded tribal as he climbed revealed itself as a modern dance mix.

Jesús stepped forward, moving into the loose crowd of dancers around the fire. There were forty or more at first glance, young men and women, some of them nude. He stood very still among them, until the fluid movement of the dancers surrounding him had him swaying unconsciously with the rhythm of the percussive song. Jesús closed his eyes. He was listening, listening to the voices, the voices of the dancers. Their mouths were closed, their eyes lidded, their limbs moving only with the music, but he heard them. He heard their voices in the light of the fire.

así que hermosa la noche . . . venga a bebé viene a ángel viene el amor . . . viene el amor . . .

Some time later Jesús sat at the edge of the firelight, some distance from the dancers. Two others sat near him, one on either side. Their faces now were blotches of light and shadow, indistinct. “Ellos tenían razón sobre esa arista dura mes, como estrellas pequeñas,” the young man to his right said, and passed Jesús the pipe and a small Bic lighter. “Ocho de ellos, en un círculo, yendo quiere esto.” He made a circular motion with his hands, as Jesús took the glass pipe and put it to his mouth. Jesús placed his thumb on the rush and put the flame to the bowl. He nodded and grunted as he drew in smoke, held it, and then expelled it in a long gray stream. He could not hear his companion. He could only hear the voices now. More of them, speaking together, a susurrus of secrets and lies. But underneath it all, ordering the chaotic cacophony, was the one voice. The voice of beauty and truth and the ángeles. La voz de la Luna.

It rose now full above him, so bright. So bright, so large. Así que hermosa la noche.

Light of the fire. Rhythm, and beating heart and drum and ear. Dancers, and voices, and Moon. Cristo crucifado, su corona de espinas. Night and desert, and town. Bedroom, and Mama, and Pedro and Juan. “There were eight of them, in a circle.” Rushing, like a wind, like the wind in the morning over the rocky plains. Mama, her face. No le puede encontrar Máma, yo estoy en el desierto. No path, where. Firelight in a circle, moving like this, like little stars. Dancers and voices.

And Moon.

Seven months ago, Cutley, SC: Owen

“Lie down on your stomach. Hands behind your back. I caught you and I have to cuff you.”

The smaller boy hesitated. His name was Benjamin Vicarro. Benji. Nine years old and tow headed, Benji was four years younger than Owen Oliver. The two boys lived down the road from each other in a remote development of houses in Cutley. A smattering of residences spreading out around a quarter mile business strip in the mountains of western South Carolina, Cutley was about as country as you could hope to get.

“Come on. I have to take you to jail.”

Benji knelt down and stuck his arms out behind him, and Owen slipped the handcuffs around his wrists with a single adroit move. “Let’s go,” he said, helping the smaller boy to his feet, taking care not to pull him too rough. Owen was a broad, squat boy. His father had pushed Owen into football in middle school, and Owen had shown a strong aptitude, though little inclination, for the sport. He was in fact more interested in study than sport of any kind (except perhaps for the sport he was playing now with Benji, if you could call their game that). Owen read voraciously, and moved from hobby to hobby with an exhaustive obsessive desire.

Today was the culmination of Owen’s latest obsession.

“Here we are,” Owen said, pulling open the door to the shed at the back of his mother’s house (Owen’s parents had divorced the previous year; his father now lived in a trailer over in Liberty). He kept his other hand on the upper part of Benji’s right arm, a firm but not painful grip, and led the boy into the dark interior.

“I want a lawyer,” Benji said with a grin, allowing himself to be led.

Owen tightened his grip, just slightly, as he closed the door behind them and then fumbled for the chain pull to the light. A single hanging bulb came on, jiggled and swung above them and lit the tiny room. Sunlight coming through the one small dusty window at the end of the shed cast a dull aura around the lumber and paint cans stacked in front of it. There was a workbench, and a big stainless steel sink. Pegboard covered most of one wall, tools hanging from it: a trowel, a few saws, a screwdriver set, a hammer, gardening shears. Owen sat the boy down on a splintery wooden stool by the sink. He undid one of the cuffs, passed the chain around the drainage pipe, and fastened it back on the boy’s wrist.

“You have the right to . . .”

Owen had straightened up, and stood now frozen with his back to the younger boy. His eyes were shut tight, his head down so far that his chin touched his chest. Perspiration soaked his shirt, front and back. He opened his eyes and saw what Benji had not noticed yet, the marks on the floor. Carefully formed letters, in a language scarce few would even recognize, much less be able to translate. Concentric circles framed the blocky writing. And within the center, an intricate spiral undulated.

It is a face. Owen was breathing rapidly now, fighting down panic and nausea and terror. His understanding and insight, as he focused on the center of the pattern below, calmed him. He brought his breathing under control.

It is His face. It is His voice.

He became aware of Benji’s voice behind him, querulous now, approaching suspicion.

It is His voice. But I am His hand.

Owen plucked the hammer from where it hung on the pegboard as he turned to face the boy.

“I am His hand,” Owen breathed, and swung.

1

“Details, Bert. The devil,” Fische said, “lives in the details.”

A plain gray van sped along a highway in upstate New York. Two men were inside.

The driver was Armin Fische, tall, slim and narrow framed. Thick dark hair and heavy eyebrows, forty-three years old but with a smooth youthful face and dark complexion. He was wearing sunglasses. His partner, Herbert Zico, sat on the passenger side with a Macintosh iBook open in his lap. There was not much lap there on which to balance even so compact a computer, the lap having to contend with Zico’s short legs and large gut. Zico was two years older than Fische, with a receded hairline and a trim moustache.

“Not much to go on, detail-wise,” Zico said, patting his brow with a handkerchief and then returning it to his coat pocket. Both men were dressed in light tan suits just a shade apart. Zico’s hand emerged from the pocket now with a pack of Camel cigarettes, and with his other hand he produced a Zippo. He shook out a cigarette, got it lit, snapped the lighter shut, and lowered the window a crack. “The lady’s been in psych the last ten years with little outside contact.” Zico’s voice was a rough, gravelly tenor.

“Details are details, inside or out.” Fische’s own mellow tone always suggested there was no reason to be urgent or upset about anything, anytime, anywhere. Zico had wondered once or twice if Fische were on a steady prescription of tranquilizers, considered asking him about it, and decided instead to drop it. If his partner was a dope head, Zico preferred to leave that an unknown variable.

Zico blew out smoke as he pulled up a file on the computer, and Fische lowered his own window all the way down, letting the 70 mile an hour wind blast through the front seat. In dealing with Zico’s smoking, Fische had long ago chosen silent but passive-aggressive protest.

“From the top,” Zico said. “Rachel Cortes, 23, born Rochester, New York. Parents Hector and Lisa, younger brother Daniel. Committed when she was thirteen. Bright student, scored well on tests, near the top of her class. Aptitude in science and math. No sign of psychosis or any behavioral issues prior to that episode that led to her commitment at Barnard psychiatric ward. Two months at Barnard, tentatively diagnosed schizophrenic, transferred to Freiberg Facility for Mental Health, where she remains to this day. No evidence of drug use. Until she was inside, of course. Since then they’ve hit her with just about every antipsychotic ever made. Chlorpromazine, Haloperidol, then Clozapine. Most recently got her on Olanzapine. Her first year in she was prone to wild outbursts, crying fits, so on. A few violent incidents involving staff, one with another patient. She bit a chunk out of an orderly’s arm.”

“At thirteen?”

“Fourteen then. Uh, they increased dosage on her meds, mixed in an antidepressant. Says she became very withdrawn. Unresponsive to psychosocial therapy, uncommunicative altogether. When she was sixteen, that’s when they switched her to Clozapine, she showed, uh, ‘marked improvement.’ Came out of her shell for a while, worked with her therapist. Her thinking was still disorganized and confused, but she was talking. She read a lot too, any book she could get her hands on. When she was seventeen, they scheduled her for release to a halfway house.”

“Why not her parents?” Fische asked. “Where were they?”

“The father was dead,” Zico replied, tapping at the keys. “Killed himself shortly after our girl was committed. It’s in here someplace, hang on. Yeah. Shot himself in his car. Drove out to a hotel just over the border in Canada to do it, for some reason. The mother took the boy and moved to California a year later, to live with a sister. She never visited Rachel in the hospital, not once. They just washed their hands of her.”

Fische sniffed. “Can’t really blame ‘em. Considering.”

“I can blame them,” Zico said without looking up from the screen. “She was their kid, for Christ sake. They should’ve been stronger for her. People nowadays take no responsibility for their own, y’know? Families disintegrate, ‘cause they got no respect for tradition, for the old time values. No respect for what it means to make a family in the first place.”

“So what happened at the halfway house?” Fische asked. “She got sent back?”

“Never even made it there. Three days before her transfer, there was another incident. Details are sketchy, just says ‘violent episode involving staff.’ But from the way they doped her up afterwards, I mean big time, it must have been something, pretty bad. There might’ve been another manifestation. They kept her in restraints for a month, even doped like she was.” Zico scrolled down the page. “This shit just goes on and on from there. Your typical psych ward bullshit, it just loops. Insulin therapy when she was eighteen, yadda yadda. They were getting desperate. Shit, they probably would have gone for electroshock or a goddamn lobotomy, if there had been anyone around who gave a damn one way or the other. As it was, with no family, they just gave up on her after that last episode.”

“It says that?”

“Of course not, but you can read it in the subtext. They had her pegged as institutionalized for life. Firm diagnosis of acute schizophrenia, despite the atypical violent streak. There’s no cure, so they just treat her as best as they can to keep her quiet, and leave her to rot.”

“Alright then, enough of that,” Fische said. “You got Doc Froud’s report?”

“Heh. No.”

Fische glanced over. “What do you mean? Why not, didn’t he meet with her?”

Zico nodded, smirking. “Yeah, almost a month ago. Went there straight away from Mexico. Still there now. We’re to meet with him first on arrival at Freiberg. He’ll deliver the report personally.” Zico took a last drag on the cigarette and tossed it out the window. “This is top level stuff, Armin. Something big.”

“Maybe.”

“You can feel it in the air,” Zico said. “Like a storm building. Something’s gonna happen.”

Fische snorted. “You’re always saying that, Bert. You’re just paranoid.”

“Hard not to be paranoid, in our business, yeah. But we been dry for how many years? And then first there’s that kid in South Carolina . . . then they find another boy in Mexico, right after. And now this Rachel Cortes girl, and suddenly everything’s getting scrambled and the curtains come back down everywhere.” Zico shook his head, and reached unconsciously for another cigarette. “I know it’s hard on us, hard on the mind, spending most of your life preparing for something that might never come. I know you start to anticipate it so bad—worse as you get older—that you begin to see signs everywhere. I know. But I know something’s happening, just the same. I feel it, I know it.”

Fische said nothing. He hated to feed his partner’s paranoia, so he kept his own conclusions to himself.

But yes, something was happening. And though he kept his placid demeanor, Armin Fische was eager to see Doctor Froud. And eager to meet Rachel Cortes, 23, born Rochester, New York.

2

Rachel sat staring out the window, ignoring Doctor Froud as best she could.

It was not hard to do. For most of his sessions lately he just sat across from her, there in the blue room, saying nothing, just watching her. Perhaps the silence was meant to be uncomfortable. Other patients might open up in that situation, fill the void with ramblings, if nothing else. But Rachel was content to sit.

She was skinny and pale, with frizzy reddish-brown hair that would have done better on her if it were longer. She had dark eyes and a wide mouth. Rachel used to worry over her mouth, the way it looked in her face. A boy at school had called her frog-face once, and she had cried. But that had been a long time ago. Nowadays, Rachel gave it no thought.

Sitting across from her, Doctor Froud was tapping a pen against the corner of his own mouth. He was old, with a sagging wrinkled face and thinning gray hair. He sometimes smelled like baloney, although Rachel had never complained. As he sat there now in his chair, one leg perched on the other, he dipped his head now and again and wrote in his open notebook. Rachel could not see what he was writing, and could not imagine what he could have to write, considering that Rachel had said nothing, not even a simple reply to his mumbled greeting when he had joined her in the blue room. She was surprised at her mild tinge of curiosity. Normally she scarcely would have even noticed the doctor’s presence, much less cared what he might be writing about her.

It had been a month since Rachel had first met Doctor Froud. To Rachel that month was only an ambiguous stretch of time; she had long since stopped keeping track of days or weeks or months. Indeed these days she often had only the vaguest notion of what time of year it was. There had been a time when she would spend most of her day in the hospital garden, and could sense and anticipate the slightest change in the weather. The change of the seasons had been her only clock in those days, her only anchor to an evaporating sense of the world and her place in it. But in the last two years Rachel had begun a change of her own. She felt it in the depths of herself, an internal, nebulous awareness that long preceded her acknowledgement of it, that she was sinking. No, not sinking. Floating, but slipping away from the shore, drifting away from everything, until she could sit in the yard beneath the big willow tree and feel no warmth, no cold. No breeze, no rain. She was drifting away, yes, and losing sight of shore.

There was one thing Rachel had noticed, however, in the time since Doctor Froud had arrived at the hospital and begun his frequent visits with her. The hospital had changed her medication. Either her dosage or the medication itself, she did not know which, but she was sure of the change. After ten years she had become remarkably sensitive to any deviation from her fixed routine of meds. Even drifting out to sea as she was, Rachel was sure of this. She did not know when the change had occurred, and certainly not why, but there was no question that it had happened.

She was able to concentrate better now, that was her first indication of something different. She still felt disconnected, and so much of what she thought was still a jumbled mix of confused ideas and words that made no sense. Phrases came into her mind that seemed to originate from somewhere outside of herself. But part of her now was trying again to order these confused thoughts, and that was something she could not remember having done in a very long time. And her dreams were back.

That was bad. It was in fact terrible. And as Rachel sat in silence, staring unseeing out the long row of windows in the blue room, she felt again the sense of dread that had been building in her lately. An awful feeling that something horrible was going to happen to her.

Again.

3

“Federal Bureau of Mental Health,” Doctor Stephanie Harris said, reading the identification card the tall olive-skinned man was holding out. She frowned. “I’ve never heard of that agency before.”

Armin Fische returned his wallet to an inner pocket as he sat down. “We’re small, and relatively new.” As usual, he was doing the Public Relations work, Zico hanging back and casually looking around the doctor’s office. “We won’t trouble you much,” Fische continued. “We’d just like to see Doctor Froud, and then we’ll collect the patient and be on our way.”

Doctor Harris, seated behind her modest desk across from Fische, held her frown. Her graying hair was pulled back in a short ponytail and she was wearing a green sweater, her lab coat hanging up in a corner of the office. She pulled a file from a drawer, laid it down and opened it. “I guess you can see I don’t much like this,” she said. “You government folk coming into our facility as though you own the place, and taking one of our patients without any explanation.” She flipped through the file. “Rachel Cortes has been here for ten years now. She’s had a very hard time but has begun to settle down. I don’t think a change like this would be good for her now.”

Fische smiled and nodded. He had a folder of his own, and pushed it across the desk. “I understand your concern, doctor, of course. But as you’ll see, all our paperwork is in order for the transfer. I’m just here to pick up Miss Cortes. Grunt work. I’m afraid I’m not the one to address any questions you might have about it.”

“Who is, then?” Doctor Harris asked, and jerked a thumb at Zico. “Him?”

Fische chuckled. “I suppose you could speak to Doctor Froud about it. But I still need to leave here today with Miss Cortes.”

She made a face. “I’ve spoken to your Doctor Froud. He’s not much help.”

Fische shrugged sympathetically.

Doctor Harris sat a moment saying nothing, tapping her pencil on the file in front of her. Zico made a small noise of impatience, but Fische just sat unruffled. She bent down and looked at a part of her file.

“Rachel was only thirteen when they committed her,” she said. “She was incoherent, in a prolonged state of extreme agitation: either terror, or rage, or both. No trace of drug use, and no past history of behavioral problems. Something happened, something traumatic that led up to her sudden breakdown. But we don’t know what. The police report is vague, and her parents were completely uncooperative, possibly suffering from psychosis themselves, drug-induced would be my guess. There was an investigation into them, the parents, but I don’t believe anything ever came from it. There weren’t any signs of physical abuse on Rachel. She spent two months in the psychiatric wing at Barnard before they moved her here, and they had to keep her in restraints the whole time. Most of her first year here, too, she had to be restrained. She’s still not terribly functional now, in a social sense, but our Rachel has come a long way since then. She—”

“We’ve read her file doctor,” Zico interrupted. “There’s no need for this.”

“You’ve read her file,” she said back in a flat tone. “Well that’s just fine. And this Doctor Froud that you sent us, who we were forced to accommodate and to rearrange our schedule for, he apparently read Rachel’s report too, and made a beeline for her and has spent all of a single month with her. But we have spent years working with this patient, and I think I should have goddamn been consulted before some government boys come in here and try to pull her away from us.”

Fische nodded grimly, but inwardly he smiled. So here it was, then. He had been handling the doctor delicately, in order to read her temperament. He had been worried up until now. If Doctor Harris were genuinely concerned for the welfare of Rachel Cortes, she could cause problems for them. She might want to follow up and remain involved. She might ask a lot of troublesome questions, and worse, she might press for answers and make noise that would be a malingering nuisance.

But now he heard it in her voice at last. It was just a bruised ego. Doctor Harris was simply bristling at this intrusion into her territory. Fische knew how to proceed.

“I agree absolutely, one hundred percent,” Fische told her. “And I’m sure Doctor Froud relied heavily upon your notes. But you’re right, he certainly should have also consulted with you directly before making his recommendation.” Fische had learned long ago that in any confrontation, nothing worked better to end it than a convenient scapegoat. People were eager to claim victory by diverting their wrath toward a mutually agreed upon victim. “I’ll be sure to make a note of your concerns when I file my report,” Fische added, a finishing touch implying that their goat, Doctor Froud, would suffer some form of punishment.

Doctor Harris flashed a smirk, a quickly suppressed grin of satisfaction. “Very well,” she said. “I’ll get Rachel’s file in order. If you’ll please wait in reception, I’ll have my assistant page Doctor Froud.”

4

“Yes. Thank you. Tell them I’ll be right down.”

Froud gingerly replaced the phone in it’s cradle. He stared at it a moment, and then pressed the DND button that would send any further calls to the voice mail. He swiveled his chair and sat gazing blankly out the window at the bright summer day outside. He stayed like that a few moments until, with a sudden shake as though he had just woken up, he turned back to his desk and began to gather his papers together.

Froud’s file on Rachel Cortes was thick, thicker than the one Doctor Harris had in her own desk. He had copies of everything Harris had, of course, including all her notes. But he had added to it, just in these past four weeks, with extensive notes of his own, pages and pages written longhand in his curling, ciphered script, intentionally legible only to him. Froud distrusted electronics, he rarely used a computer. He knew that even the most secure system was an exposed, vulnerable thing. The old ways were still the best. For convenience, to appease our laziness, we sacrifice control. He knew this. Yes. There is no substitute for hard work. The old ways are still the best.

In addition to his notes, Froud had added to the file every scrap of information he could dig up on Rachel Cortes. He had copies of her school report cards going all the way back to kindergarten. He had her birth certificate. He had long printouts of her genealogy, tracing her family tree back seven generations. He had records from the Rochester library that showed every book she had ever checked out, from Frog and Toad are Friends right up through something called Golem in the Gears, by Piers Anthony. Golem in the Gears was still overdue.

And he had a copy of an unofficial police report of the incident that preceded Rachel’s commitment to the psychiatric ward at Barnard hospital. This last was in the form of a transcript of a series of sessions one of the officers had had with the police department’s own psychiatrist. At Froud’s request his superiors had produced this confidential material in their own miraculous way. Probably plucked from some highly secure electronically stored records, Froud speculated with a grimace.

The officer’s name was Meryl Stucci. She had been the first to arrive at the scene, alone, summoned by a noise complaint from one of the neighbors. A report of screaming, and banging.

“If I got there and there was no noise, I would have just rolled on,” Officer Stucci had told the doctor, according to the transcribed session. “But I heard it straight away.” A notation indicated that at this point in the session Officer Stucci began to cry. “I wish I hadn’t,” she had said. “I wish I hadn’t heard it. I wish I hadn’t gone inside.”

But Stucci had entered the house. Rachel’s little brother, Daniel, had opened the door for her, staring wide eyed up at the policewoman. Numb with fear, the little boy did not respond to her questions, and Stucci proceeded into the house. The screaming was coming from a room at the top of the stairs. It was horrible, it sounded like murder. Stucci had called it in and had then drawn her weapon and slowly climbed the stairs. Her heartbeat had begun to race. “The screaming, and something in Spanish, I don’t know what. These people, I didn’t know at the time how many of them were in there, but they were just shrieking, over and over again. I couldn’t even imagine what I was going to see in that room. But nothing, nothing I could have imagined could have prepared me for . . . what I saw . . .”

The door had been ajar. An idea of waiting for the backup to arrive had flitted briefly through her mind, but she had let it go. Another decision she would later regret terribly. She had quickly scanned the second floor hallway, and then turned her attention back to the bedroom door. She had been about to kick the door open, had just raised her foot to do it, when the door opened on its own and a man ran out, nearly knocking her down. It had been Rachel’s father, blind in panic, and she had very nearly shot him. (Of course, Froud mused, Mr. Cortes would live only another three weeks after this night before putting a bullet of his own through his brain, so she could have just saved him the trouble). After barreling into her, the man had stumbled past Stucci and gone tumbling right on down the carpeted stairs. Stucci had taken a second to regain her wits, and then turned to the now open doorway.

From the transcript of Meryl Stucci’s recorded session with the police department psychiatrist:

“The girl. She was. Her mother, was on the floor, blood on her arms. She’d. She’d cut herself, with her nails, I think, I don’t know. But when I saw her, it had bled so much, it was all down her arms. On her nightgown. And there was such a smell in the room. The girl, the girl had defecated, and vomited. The girl. I. This is hard. She was. Oh, man, I can’t even say it. Flying. She was. [laughs] She was flying around the room. [laughs] I mean, not really, you know. That’s crazy. Not like that. It was more like. I don’t know what was happening. She was getting tossed around, you know? I thought, I think I thought, if I thought anything, I don’t know, I can remember thinking it was an earthquake. That’s what I told the other officers, at first, when they arrived. I told them there was an earthquake, and I got some funny looks. I even remembered it like that, for a few days. Like, a mental block? I don’t know. But I know it wasn’t an earthquake. It was something, something else. It was, there was, there was something else in the room, something else that happened. I don’t know what it was, what I saw that girl doing in there, but now I. I just feel now like the world is just, a totally different place now. Like, I feel, everyday, like I could just be driving down the street, and, like, frogs could start raining from the sky. You know? Not that, but I mean. Anything. Anything could happen now. If what I saw was real. Where does it end? How do you tell yourself, things will be okay, things aren’t going to go crazy on you, if something like that is real?”

Doctor Froud closed the file and slipped it into his briefcase. He shut the case and turned again to gaze out the window. In a moment he would rise, carry his briefcase downstairs to the reception area, where he would meet with two operatives, Armin Fische and Herbert Zico. He would give them a summarized version of his report, just what they needed to know for now. Then he would summon an orderly to bring Rachel Cortes down, and she would go with the two men.

. . . there was something else in the room . . .

She would go with the two men. And then . . .

If what I saw was real. Where does it end?

Froud felt a sudden swell of empathy for Officer Stucci, wherever she might be now.

5

Rachel slept. Doctor Froud had given her an injection, after the two men helped her out of the wheelchair and into the back of the van. They hadn’t looked like doctors, these men. They had looked like a pair of rumpled businessmen. The fat one had been smoking a cigarette. It had fascinated her. Rachel had not seen anyone smoke in ten years, in all her time in the institution, since she was thirteen. She had never smoked herself, and neither of her parents had smoked. She had forgotten such things existed. So trivial a detail, but in that moment, seeing that heavyset man with his thinning hair and his moustache, a lit cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth as he helped lift her into the van, Rachel became acutely aware of how disconnected she had become from the world outside.

What else, Rachel had wondered as the sedative began to take effect, what else have I forgotten?

There was a man. It was the Skeleton Man, his blond hair, his wide brim hat. He told her about the weasels that had gotten into the furnace. They had to reach in through the grate, he told her, demonstrating, and pull them out. But when his hand came out covered in ash, it was her old Barbie doll he held. The plastic body melted and blackened and cold.

She came into groggy consciousness through a gradual progression of delirious layers. She was lying in a bed. Sunlight came in at a low angle through a window in one wall. It did not look like a hospital room. It triggered in her a memory from years ago. She had been, eight? Nine? When she had gone with her parents to Niagara Falls for a holiday weekend. They had stayed in a hotel room. It had looked like this. She rolled over in bed, and fell back into a sleepy delirium. She was there again, in that room. Her parents sleeping in the adjoining room. Her brother should be there in bed with her, her brother Daniel, where was he? She opened her eyes. The curtains rippled in a draft from the air conditioning unit humming in the corner.

Rachel sat up, now fully awake.

Where am I?

She wasn’t restrained. It wasn’t a hospital bed. There was no call button. On the bedside table next to a lamp there was a bottle of spring water. At the sight of it Rachel became aware of her thirst and reached for it. She swung her legs over the side of the bed, broke the seal on the bottle, and finished it one long gulp. As though the water had gone right through her, she suddenly felt a strong need to pee.

Rachel got up from the bed. Beneath her feet, rather than bare tile, was a soft, light brown carpet. And she saw that instead of the hospital pajamas, she was wearing a long white cotton nightgown. She looked around. On the other side of the bed were two sliding doors, a closet. There was a desk and chair in the room, with another lamp. There was no television, which only slightly dispelled the appearance of a hotel room, but there was a low, wide dresser against the wall opposite the bed, with a small stereo unit resting on it. She stepped to it, touched it briefly. It was another artifact of an older life, something else she had not seen in the last ten years. An abstract painting of geometric shapes in gold and green hung on the wall above the stereo.

Turning to her right, Rachel saw the door to the room, closed, and to the left of that was an open door leading into a small bathroom. She moved toward it, but paused at the door to the room. She tested the doorknob. It was not locked. Leaving it closed, she stepped into the bathroom, found the light, and attended to her need. There was a bathtub. She stared at it as she sat. A bathtub. She had of course showered regularly, but a bath . . . Rachel smiled. It would be so nice to have a hot bath for a change. So nice.

Rachel wondered again, where am I?

Outside her room was a hallway, the carpet soft under her bare feet. She moved down it slowly, cautiously. There were doors spaced along it, again like a hotel, but they weren’t numbered. There were three on each side of the hall, hers being one of the center doors. To the right of her room she saw the hall turned left, and there appeared to be a staircase going down. To the left it ended in an opening that led into a large room with chairs and tables and bookshelves, from what Rachel could see of it. It reminded her of the library at her old school. Rachel made for the stairs. She had just reached them when she heard voices, and footsteps coming up. She froze, feeling caught, although she did not know why she should feel guilty for having left an unlocked, unsupervised room.

Rounding a bend in the stairway was a group of three people. Rachel recognized two of them immediately, the two men who had picked her up from Freiberg hospital. The tall slender one with olive skin and thick eyebrows, and the pudgy man with the moustache and the cigarette, although he was not smoking now. They were dressed as they had been before, shirts and ties like a pair of businessmen, but they were not wearing their suit jackets. With them was a dark-haired man with a wide jaw, dressed in slacks and a button up shirt, but not wearing a tie. He had rimless circular glasses, and he looked up at Rachel as the trio ascended the stairs, meeting her flat stare with a disarming grin.

“Miss Cortes,” the man greeted her, and something in his voice and in the character of his face reminded her instantly of her seventh grade English teacher. It was a pleasing association, and Rachel’s tension over the strange surroundings eased slightly. She stepped back to make room for them as they reached her, and the man astonished her further by holding out his hand. “I’m Phillip Kelig. I hope you slept well.”

Rachel stared dumbly a moment more before she realized that he was offering to shake hands. She raised a timid hand and he took it with a brief gentle squeeze. “You’ve met these gentlemen here, but I’ll introduce you properly. This is Armin Fische, and Herbert Zico.”

“Bert,” the heavy man said with a quick, polite smile and a nod. He and Armin each shook her hand as well. Rachel took in their faces, bewildered. But she found her gaze drawn back to Phillip.

“You must be wondering where you are,” he said.

Rachel found her voice, although it came out weaker than she expected. “Yes.”

“You’re out of the hospital, as I guess you’ve figured out for yourself.” As he spoke, Phillip drew alongside her, taking Rachel’s arm in his with a manner so easy and natural that she hardly noticed it. “In fact, I’d like to be able to say that you’re done with hospitals completely.” He cocked an eye at her. “Would that please you, Rachel?”

Rachel could not answer. But he did not seem to find her silence disconcerting.

“There’ll be a period of adjustment, of course. It’s quite a hurdle.” He smiled, a squinting smile of commiseration. “We’ll have a few of those for you, I’m afraid. It won’t be easy, but you won’t be doing it alone. Also you’ll have us to help you, every step of the way. And you can take as much as time as you need. We’re eager for you to feel better and start working with us, but no one is going to rush you.”

They had reached the door to her room, and Rachel expected to be escorted back into bed, but he surprised her by pausing only a moment at the door before continuing past.

“So that’s your room. Right in the middle there. You’ll be able to remember that, find it again later?”

Rachel found herself nodding. What was happening? She was unable to lapse into her normal, withdrawn, insulated frame of mind. She looked down and tried to focus on Phillip’s shoes. They were brown loafers.

They had reached the room that Rachel had thought of as a library. Armin Fische and Bert Zico were still trailing along behind them. Rachel looked up as they entered, and saw that it was more than just books and chairs. It was a long room, stretching out to either side, with large windows at each end. There were couches and a television here, and a Ping-Pong table, and a dart board. A boy was sitting on the floor in front of the TV, playing some sort of video game. He was stocky with short blond hair, wearing a sports jersey, jeans, and socks without shoes. Rachel saw him and thought of her brother.

“This is our rec room,” Phillip said. “You can come here whenever you like. When you’re not in class, that is. But again, you don’t have to start classes until you feel ready to do so.” Phillip undid his arm from hers as they passed through the entryway, and he stepped toward the tall bookshelves. “We’ve got a pretty good selection of books here, but if there’s something in particular you’d like, and you don’t see it, just let me know, and I’ll try and get you a copy. I understand that you like to read. If it’s too noisy in here, you might prefer to read in your room, or out in the yard if you’re more comfortable.”

Again, although Rachel struggled to remain aloof, to remain behind the wall of silence that protected her from the bad things, the bad thoughts . . . Phillip’s words engaged her, drew her focus. She was used to being confused and befuddled by her own disorganized nonsensical thoughts, but the doctors at the hospital always made sense when they spoke to her, even if she chose to ignore them as she usually did. But . . . what was this man talking about? Simple curiosity had dragged her out of her routine shell of catatonia.

Rachel looked around the room, turning in a slow circle, and settled her timid gaze on the man.

“Who?” she ventured in a quiet voice.

“Phillip,” he said. “Phillip Kelig.”

“Doctor?”

“Just Phillip is fine,” he said, not quite answering her question. He gave her a moment to go on, but when she just stood looking around the room, he continued. “How are you feeling? Did you get enough sleep? You can lie down if you want, but if you’re feeling up to it, I thought you might like to get dressed, and I can give you a tour of the grounds.”

Rachel looked down at the gown she was wearing, and found herself saying, “I’m not sleepy.”

“Terrific. We’ve got some clothes for you in your room, you can pick something out.” Phillip caught her staring at the boy in front of the television. “Oh, gosh, I almost forgot. Let me introduce you to one of your neighbors here. This is Owen. Owen, this is Rachel.”

The boy looked at her without turning his head, and said nothing, as did Rachel. Phillip crouched down by the boy and looked at the screen. “Killing zombies? Cool.” He straightened back up. “We’ll leave you to it for now. You two can get to know each other later. Now let’s see what we’ve got for you in your closet, Rachel.”

A short while later Rachel was standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom, looking at herself. She had found underwear, socks and jeans in the dresser, and had picked out a striped short sleeve shirt from the closet. She ran a hand through her hair. It was a knotty mess. Her eyes had dark patches under them, and her skin had a waxy quality she had never noticed before. There was a vial of liquid soap and she took a moment to wash her face with a cloth hanging by the tub. She opened a drawer next to the sink and found a hairbrush. She spent several minutes pulling the brush through her curly hair until she had the worst of the knots undone. She looked at herself again. A mess. The hairbrush tumbled from her fingers and landed on the floor with a sharp clatter. Rachel lifted her hands and looked at them. They were shaking. She looked at herself in the mirror again, and felt a flash of dissociation, as though she were seeing in her reflection a stranger, seeing herself for the first time.

Phillip was waiting for her outside her door, and greeted her with a smile. “You look great,” he said. Rachel just looked down at her shoes, a pair of black and red lace-ups of a brand she did not recognize.

“These ss-shoes were in my closet,” she said. Rachel sometimes slurred her speech or stuttered, particularly sh and th sounds.

“Mm-huh, those are for you. Those clothes are yours too, to keep, but I’ve got some catalogs you can look through later, so you can pick some stuff out yourself. That shirt looks very nice on you, though. Come on, let’s go downstairs and I’ll show you around.”

At the bottom of the stairs was a large room with three couches around a glass coffee table. It was a bright, nicely decorated area, with big windows, and large black and white photographic prints of landscapes mounted on the walls, and plenty of plants. Several of the doors that opened into this area had fogged glass windows set into the doors themselves. Phillip indicated one and said that it was his office, and that she was welcome to drop in to see him anytime, if she needed anything. Rachel followed along mutely as he conducted this tour, nodding as he spoke. Need anything? Need what? What am I doing here? What kind of hospital is this? But she said nothing, and Phillip led her through a set of double doors, and she found herself outside under the bright midday sun.

A strong breeze was blowing in across the yard, which was well tended with pretty yellow flowering bushes and two big maple trees. There was a fountain and benches. A driveway ran up along either side of the yard, turning to cobblestone where it curved between the yard and the building. A sidewalk led in either direction and followed the drive on both sides, a tall hedge growing alongside it. Phillip was saying something, but Rachel was not listening. She looked first up at the sky, the few wisps of cloud drifting across, and then turned to look at the building they had come from. It did not appear to be a hospital at all. It looked like an enormous house, and indeed as Rachel came out of her reverie, she heard Phillip refer to it as the Residence.

He guided her along the path and they passed through the hedge, and Rachel saw that there were other buildings. There was a long three story brick building with dark windows, and a parking lot, and another smaller building off to one side. Phillip called the small building the Lab, and the larger building he said was the Assembly Hall.

They strolled along in silence for a bit and came round to the other side of the yard, where beyond this hedge was a pond, and at its edge was yet another large building, this one a structure of white marble, with a large opening running through a colonnade in the center. This, Phillip told her, was the Library. He was starting to tell her about it, when Rachel let out an exasperated gasp and pulled up short. Phillip turned to regard her with a raised brow.

“What,” Rachel began. She was looking down at the path, and shook her head. “What is this . . . place.”

She glanced up and Phillip was smiling gently. “I was waiting for you to ask. It’s a big change for you, Rachel. It’s not a hospital.”

“But what kind of place is it then?” The sound of her own voice gave her some confidence, and Rachel met Phillip’s eye. “Where am I?”

Phillip looked up, squinting at the sun. “Kind of warm out here, isn’t it? Let’s go inside and talk. You’re going to have a lot of questions, and this will take some time.”

“But what is it though? What is it called?”

Phillip was still smiling, but there passed across his face an expression she could not read, an esoteric flicker like a wink.

“We are the Eye.”

6

Phillip’s office was cramped and cluttered with stacks of papers, books, and various knickknacks, one of which Rachel held in her hand while Phillip talked. It was a paperweight, a smooth oval stone, somewhat larger than the palm of her hand, painted to look like a snowy owl. Rachel had picked it up to give her hands something to hold, and her eyes something to look at. She had found her voice, had spoken more words today than she probably had in the past six months, but it was still difficult for her to look very long into Phillip’s squinting blue eyes.

“It’s like a s-school?” Rachel asked. “A school for people like, like me?”

“That’s right. It’s more than that, but as it concerns you, for now that is, it is a school. Although, when you say, people like you: what do you mean by that, Rachel?”

Rachel shrugged. “Crazy people.” She glanced up and saw Phillip shaking his head.

“That won’t do. Because you’re not crazy. And I don’t just mean that I don’t like that term. I mean that you’re not mentally ill. You’re not schizophrenic, or bipolar, or whatever else your doctors may have diagnosed you as. You’re none of those things. You’re sane, as sane as any of us, at least.”

“I . . . you don’t know. What happened. I can’t . . . control myself s-s-sometimes. And I get confused. And . . . and scared.” In fact, Rachel’s heart was racing right now. But this fear was something else. It was nerves. She had not spoken of these things for years.

“I know you do. And we’re going to help you with that. I’m going to help you. But not with medication, you’re done with that. At least as far as the anti-psychotics go. I can still get you something to help you sleep, if you think you need it. And we should probably keep you on your anti-depressants for now, unless you decide that you want to try stopping them. But the point is, the main issue, you are not psychotic.”

Rachel made a noise. “Th-then what am I?”

Phillip drew in a long breath. “Let me start by going back to your first question: what is this place.”

“The Eye.”

“That’s right. The Eye. It sounds sinister, doesn’t it? Deliberately so, I’m afraid. But I didn’t name it.”

“What is it?”

“You’ve heard of the CIA?” Phillip asked. “Well, we kind of put the ‘I’ in CIA, although we have no association with that agency. The Eye, E-Y-E, is really just the letter I, as in Intelligence.”

“So you’re, like, the government?”

“No, but we work with elements within the government.”

Rachel looked down again at her owl paperweight, and set it back on the desk. “But then it sounds like . . . is this something secret? Your place here?”

“Oh, my goodness, yes.”

Rachel sat up. “But you’re just, you’re just telling me all this, you’re just going to tell me all your secrets here?”

“Well, not all of them, no. I mean there’s plenty of stuff we do that I’m not cleared for myself. And I don’t intend to hit you with everything all at once. Like I said, you’re going to need some time to adjust. But sure, I’ll tell you whatever I can.”

“Aren’t you afraid I would tell someone?”

Phillip scratched behind his ear. “Well, frankly, Rachel, who would you tell?”

She considered this. “You mean I can’t leave here.”

“Oh, absolutely.”

“I can leave if I want?”

“No, no, I mean you’re right, you can’t leave.” Rachel was gaping at Phillip’s candor, and he hurried on. “You’ve spent the last ten years in a place you couldn’t leave, Rachel, where they were trying to treat you for a disease you don’t have. The difference here is that we really can help you. We can help you make sense of things, help you learn to control these feelings you have sometimes. And we can help you understand what happened to you when you were thirteen.”

Rachel jerked her head down, suddenly breathing hard. She felt a sudden wave of dizziness and her throat tightened. She heard Phillip asking if she was okay, and she raised a palm. She heard him open a drawer and when she glanced up saw that he had a bottle of water for her. Rachel wiped her eyes and drank. She stopped, took a long slow breath, and then drank again. The panic attack began to subside.

“We can give you something for that too,” Phillip said after a moment, “if you want. I’m sorry I brought it up like that, what I said. That was stupid of me. I talk about you taking your time and adjusting, and then I do something tactless like that.”

“No, it’s okay,” Rachel said, and drank again, finishing the bottle. “Really.” She wiped her eyes again. “I feel . . . really different. I haven’t . . . I haven’t talked to anybody, like this . . . in a long time. It’s just kind of weird for me.” She was looking at Phillip directly now, and it was true. A moment ago she had felt as though she were dying, and now . . . Rachel felt as though she had just woken up from a long confused dream.

“I want to know now,” she said. “I want you to tell me now, what you know about me. About what,” she swallowed, “about what happened to me when I was a kid.”

7

Mother is screaming. Father is screaming.

Falling, tumbling. Lamp in corner, toppled over on its side in the floor. Floral pattern on wallpaper, ripples like water. Head pounding, throbbing, blood rushing through my ears. Warm and wet and sick. Arms stretched out before me, hollow sound as my fist strikes the wall, and I’m falling again. I’m sick. I feel sick.

A voice then, it buzzes in my ear, so loud, like a television with the volume up all the way. Guttural and fierce.

ZEH-NU-NAH!

I don’t understand. Please—

ZEH-NU-NAH HAH! U CHAH-RAH-NU-HAH SU-TEH-MEI KUH-RAH! KUH-RAH!

Please leave me alone, I don’t understand you, I don’t understand.

In a place, I don’t know where. Levels and ladders, a conveyer belt. Yellow and orange. Dim, gray. Naked. Men here, doctors. A room filled with worms, they show me through the glass I can look at them. The floor is slippery and cold. There are mice here too, I hear them in the ceiling at night. We go on the Ferris wheel, again and again. We go up and down and around and around. There are worms in the bed, too.

No please please please

KAH-NEI-NU! ZEH-GU-NU CHAH-RAH HAH!

I don’t, I don’t, I don’t know what you’re saying, please . . . please . . . I want it to stop. I just want to go home. I want Mommy, please, please, I want Mommy

GAH-ZEH-NU CHAH! PU-KAH-RAH NU SAH-KAH!

Can’t move my arms, it hurts. Can’t stop my own screams. I can’t stop, why don’t they understand? Why don’t they listen? I can’t stop my own screams, and they won’t listen to me. I can’t

Pounding, pounding in my skull. Hair flat to my scalp, slick with sweat. Salty taste in my mouth. So mad. I’m so angry. There’s a man in here, pressed against the wall, clutching his arm close against his stomach. He’s looking at me, his eyes are wild. Stop staring at me, I don’t like it. Where am I? There’s something in my mouth, a piece of meat, warm and rubbery. I spit it against the wall, I spit blood. Soon they are on me, their hands and their needles.

Out in the garden it’s cold now. The man with the whiskers is sitting under the willow tree. I like him, but I know he’s much too old. He told me he is fifty-five. I’m only seventeen. But I can sit with him under the willow tree, and read my book. It’s Pride and Prejudice, and I’ve read it many times before, and I’m reading it again now, under the willow tree, sitting on the grass next to the man with the whiskers.

Doctor Larchmont said I’ll be leaving next week. I’ll be living in a house, with some other people. I won’t be in the hospital anymore. I’ll miss you too.

I am reading. About Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. There are worms in the earth.

What? The man with the whiskers is asking me. I tell him again.

There are worms in the earth. There are bugs in the grass and in the bark.

I’m inside, I don’t remember going inside. I don’t know where the willow tree is, or the man with the whiskers. My head aches. I bend over in the hall and am sick. As I straighten up, I feel my bowels clench and then loosen and expel a watery mess. I’m crying, slumped against the wall to keep from falling. I don’t want it. I don’t want it, go away.

ZEH-NU-NAH HAH!

No, go away, go away, go away

8

“I want to know,” Rachel said. “If you’re saying I’m not crazy, then what am I?”

Phillip studied her a moment. “I’ll tell you. But in order for you to understand, I first need to explain to you a little more about the Eye. About what we are and how we came to be. Of course, when I say ‘we’ I don’t mean me. I’m only thirty-nine. The Eye has been around a bit longer than I have.

“The Eye formed in reaction to a growing awareness that there were unseen forces at work in the world. It germinated in the years following World War II. There was a small but important group of individuals—for the sake of simplicity I’ll call them Group X—and these people, through inadvertent collaboration and sharing of information, perceived that there seemed to be an invisible guiding hand behind some of the more horrible events that we, all of humanity, had recently experienced. With the advent of the Cold War and nuclear proliferation, we seemed to be rushing toward extinction. To Group X, based on certain things they knew, things that never made it into history books, this collision course with annihilation appeared to be the goal of some bizarre, incomprehensible plan. They saw it as such, believed it was happening, but they could not understand its purpose. And more importantly and troublesome, they could not identify the source.

“Group X decided that in order to stave off this approaching doom, they would need to form an organization dedicated to the gathering of information. To seek truth. They could not tell for sure if the threat originated within a particular country or government, so they knew the organization would need to be multinational and tied to no government’s authority. They needed to enlist agents from around the world, like-minded individuals whom they could trust. Naturally, because trust and secrecy were so important, the group needed to start out very, very small, and grow at a slow and cautious pace. And so they formed the Eye, a name with the double meaning of an eye that watches and searches for the truth, and the letter I, standing for intelligence: a global intelligence network.

“Group X, the founders of the Eye, were powerful and wealthy, and so they had at their disposal vast resources to devote to the organization. They had to keep the group small, and secret, so most of the people they employed in their operations never actually knew who they were working for, or in many cases the agents did not even realize that they were agents at all. A clerk working in a small government office, for example, might make reports to a superior on what seem like trivial activities, without ever knowing that he’s passing along vital pieces of a much larger puzzle. The Eye had to be very careful in those early years, with so much espionage going on in the climate of the Cold War. But because the Eye was not tied to any particular nation, and because the operations were kept so tight and delicately controlled, and most importantly because the Eye never tipped its hand by acting on any of its information, they managed to remain hidden and free from infiltration. The Eye operated in the background, gathering and storing information only. Seeking truth.

“By the sixties the Eye was still a very small operation, no more than a few dozen core members who knew of its existence. The Eye began to investigate and examine the phenomena of extrasensory perception, ESP. Some experiments in the 1930’s and 1940’s had suggested the existence of psychic abilities, linked to hypnosis: telepathy, the ability to read minds, and clairvoyance, an ability to perceive a person or object or place remotely. These early experiments were controversial, and skeptics debunked them as unscientific or outright fraudulent. The mainstream scientific community shunted these ideas to the side as pseudoscience, unworthy of serious research. But it caught the attention of the Eye, and we began our own investigation.

“The Eye’s experiments soon determined that there was indeed something there worth investigating, and what’s more, their information gathering exposed a clear effort by their invisible foe, still intangible and unnamed, to suppress serious inquiry and research into the ESP phenomena. Obviously that encouraged the Eye to exert most of its efforts towards understanding how psychic abilities worked.

“After more than a decade of research, the Eye not only proved the existence of psychic ability, we made the astonishing discovery that it is commonplace. The rarity is to have someone who does not possess ESP, like being born deaf, or blind. What we learned is that practically everyone is telepathic.

“We learned that people simply don’t develop this ability, because ‘hearing’ thought is not at all like hearing sound. It’s more like if you could hear radio transmissions without benefit of a radio to decode them for you. It would just sound like noise, like static. We hear thought all the time, it’s everywhere. But most of the time we don’t recognize it as such, because we’ve never learned to decode it.

“Once the Eye had proved that ESP was real—without going public about our discovery, of course—it opened up the door to a whole new realm of speculation about our enemy. We began with an assumption that the enemy not only knew that telepathy existed, but could probably use it effectively. So, we focused our experimentation and theories toward determining how this ability might be applied: how the enemy might already be using it. Of course there was the obvious use for espionage. The core group of the Eye immediately became extremely paranoid, as you can guess. But we found that one of the simplest uses of telepathy was for mind control. It was frighteningly easy. Once we taught a subject to decode and translate thoughts, they simply had to send their thoughts to another, unwitting person. The victim was completely unable to distinguish the alien thoughts from their own. Simple commands were immediately followed without question. For example, the psychic could project the thought, ‘I want a cheeseburger,’ and the victim would immediately go out to McDonald’s and get himself a cheeseburger. With repeated practice on a particular individual, the psychic could produce increasingly complex results. He could even cause a victim to harm himself. Even victims who resisted control remained unaware of what was happening. They just assumed they were arguing with themselves, the way any of us might have an internal debate over a course of action.

“Naturally the Eye kept its experiments ethical. We never actually controlled a victim to seriously hurt himself. But it was clear that a skilled and practiced psychic could control a person like a puppet, even to the point of making him kill himself, or commit murder. A terrifying discovery. Indeed the experiments indicated that with enough effort, a psychic could suppress the victim’s own psyche permanently, leaving him little more than a programmed robot.

“Further study suggested that with enough skill and training, a psychic could not only suppress a victim’s psyche, he could completely supplant it with his own. In other words, a psychic could effectively replace a person’s mind with his own mind, totally erasing all trace of the former individual, and inhabiting that person’s body as his own, leaving his own body in a comatose state. With someone to care for his own physical body, the psychic could remain in the body of a victim indefinitely.

“This discovery prompted a new question: to what extent is the mind tied to its own body? What are we after all, our bodies, our selves? Our bodies are in many ways just vessels for our minds. We are complex organisms, to be sure, but ultimately it’s just tissue, clusters of cells and DNA. So the question really was, does the mind need its own original body to survive? The answer, based on our research, was an obvious and emphatic, ‘No.’  We had demonstrated that a skilled psychic could replace another person’s mind with his own, and inhabit and operate that body indefinitely. There was no reason to believe that the mind should ever have to return to its own body, so why not let the original body die, if it was inferior? Aside from ethics, why not just remain in a superior body? Do you understand what that means, Rachel?”

She nodded, although she had been having difficulty following everything Phillip had said. “Sure. If a psychic were dying of old age, he could just transfer his mind into a younger and stronger body.”

“Exactly. And by moving from body to body, he could theoretically live forever. So with this newfound understanding of the potential of psychic ability, coupled with the reasonable supposition that our invisible enemies had already mastered this technique, it shed a new and ominous light on our situation. We now realized that we could very well be facing an enemy as ancient as mankind itself. For there was nothing technological about ESP, nothing to suggest that someone could not have achieved psychic mastery many centuries, even millennia, in the past.

“Our search for the truth began to stretch further back into history, looking for patterns, evidence of our foe’s existence and clues to their motives.

“And then something happened that changed everything. In June of 1984, one of our most powerful, most highly trained and gifted psychics, died in an automobile accident. His name was Kenneth Cassidy. He was a brilliant man, and something of a psychic prodigy. The Eye had recruited Cassidy into its ESP research in 1979, and he had taken to it like nothing we had ever seen. For most subjects it could take years to learn the language of thought. For Cassidy it had been a matter of weeks. His death was a devastating tragedy, a terrible setback for us.

“But three months after his death . . . Cassidy came back.”

Phillip paused, presumably for dramatic effect. Rachel granted that a remark like that warranted a bit of drama. “What do you mean, came back?” she offered.

“Three months after the accident, two of our psychics reported that they had received telepathic communications from Cassidy. Several days later they received further messages, as did three others involved in the program. From the nature of the messages received, they appeared to be genuine. The messages were mostly confused and incoherent, but somehow it was Cassidy, communicating telepathically.

“The assumption was that although his death had been sudden and unexpected, somehow he had managed to transfer his conscious mind into another person’s body, as we assumed our enemies had been doing for God knows how long. But if that were the case, we wondered, why had he not come to us in his new physical body? Our psychics began a search for him, telepathically. It didn’t take long to achieve contact, more through Cassidy’s efforts than our own. He was searching for us.

“Once we had reestablished contact with Cassidy, we worked to maintain the connection. That part wasn’t easy. Cassidy was disoriented, and seemed to remember who he was only part of the time. We assumed that he had inhabited another person’s body but failed to completely supplant the original psyche. We could not have been more wrong.

“As we began to bring Cassidy back to himself, to help him reorder his thoughts and maintain his consciousness for longer periods, Cassidy made to us a startling revelation. He insisted that he had not taken over a new body.

“He told us he no longer had a body at all.

“Most of us did not believe it at first. We were sure he must have moved his mind into another living person. But as Cassidy came more and more back into an ordered state of mind, it did appear to be true. Cassidy had died, but his mind had remained behind somehow. His consciousness remained in the network of telepathic minds, like a computer program stored on a hard drive. He had no body, no life. He simply was.

“Our enemies took on yet another terrible aspect in our speculation. Not only could our enemies be ancient, we now realized they could in fact be, like Cassidy, entirely incorporeal.

“In his new state of being, Cassidy was able to continue to work with us, telepathically. And as he continued to both master his own talents as well as greatly further the talents of our remaining living psychics, Cassidy began to explore the realm he now inhabited, as a being of pure thought. He began, cautiously, to seek out other incorporeal beings, entities of thought like himself. And he found them. He verified our worst fears and speculations. He encountered beings, some of them plainly malevolent, existing in the nether of the telepathic network of living minds but not bound to any corporeal form. Some of them were so alien in the arrangement of their psyches that they seemed, beyond their lack of physical bodies, inhuman.

“We reassessed our predicament. We had discovered the existence of intelligent, sentient, incorporeal entities that were both ancient and, at least in some cases, malevolent. It wasn’t hard to assign a name to these beings. The name for them had already been in use since the beginning of man.

“They were demons. Thee was no better word for them. We had discovered the existence of demons.”

Phillip had stopped again, and again Rachel conceded that his statement deserved its dramatic flair. “Demons,” she said. Her own voice struck her as surreal. “So then you’re saying, what happened to me was . . .”

“Yes,” Phillip said with a nod. “It was a demon, Rachel. When you were thirteen, you were possessed by a demon.”

9

The plane touched down, bounced, and came down again with a shudder that went through the small cabin. Jesús looked around in alarm.

“It’s alright, kid,” Zico said. “Tell him it’s alright.”

“No preocupe, Jesús, es normal. El avión ha aterrizado,” Fische told the seventeen-year-old. Fische’s Spanish was fluent. He could also speak Chinese, Japanese, Russian, French, Farsi, and German.

Jesús nodded, but kept an apprehensive watch from his seat by the window. Below them the runway raced by, and he could see flaps rising on the wings with a whir of hydraulics. Despite his trepidation during the takeoff and landing, Jesús had actually very much enjoyed his first trip on an airplane. He had never before thought that he would take a ride in one, never dreamed of it as a child, and certainly never considered it a possibility during the last four years he had spent at the asylum.

The tall man—he had said his name was Armin, the other’s name was Bert—leaned forward now and looked out the window with Jesús. The two men were sitting across from him, their seats facing his. They were the only passengers on the small jet. Armin asked him if he was excited to be in America. Jesús looked at him but did not answer.

As the plane continued to taxi along the private runway, Fische leaned back in his seat and favored the boy with a relaxed smile. Outside, the sun had just begun to rise on what was to be another fine hot day. Fische had slept a little during the flight, maybe half an hour or so, but it had not helped much. He had not gotten more than three hours of sleep in the last three days, since he and Zico had picked up Rachel Cortes from Rochester and driven her to the Eye’s main facility in Virginia. The plane was coming to a stop, and Fische stood up and poured himself a cup of now lukewarm coffee, downing it in a gulp. Behind him Zico got up and stretched, popping several vertebrae in his lower back with a satisfied grunt. Fische opened the hatch to the plane and lowered the steps.

As expected, Cheryl Quentin was waiting with the car, a nondescript blue Nissan Pathfinder. Cheryl was a slip of a woman, all of five foot two with brown hair and freckles, tiny next to the big SUV but as reliable and sharp as any agent Fische knew. And dynamite in bed, as he could attest based on a once-and-never-again-so-forget-about-it encounter the two had had three years ago (although of course Fische had been discreet and would attest Cheryl’s bedroom talents to no one if he wanted to go on breathing, which he did). She greeted them with a nod and opened the doors for them. They had no luggage, so the trio just climbed in. Cheryl slid back in behind the wheel, Zico copped the shotgun seat, and Fische got in the back with Jesús.

Fische watched the boy out of the corner of his eye, as Cheryl left the airport and started down the road towards the DC beltway. Jesús was sitting much as he had been during the flight: perched on his seat, face nearly plastered to the window. No sign of exuberance in his expression, no excitement, just an intense but reserved interest in these new surroundings. Fische had never felt as good about retrieving a new recruit as he did now with this boy.

On Froud’s instructions, Fische and Zico had not bothered with any phony paperwork when they had gone to fetch Jesús. They had taken the private jet to Mexico and rented a car to drive out to the asylum. Arriving early in the morning they had driven up to the gate and found the guard booth unmanned. Zico only had to get out, undo the gate, and then close it again after Fische had driven the car through. On up to the hospital itself, a beautiful old mansion that had been converted for its present use, the two men had parked, and then again it was a simple matter of letting themselves in. Not only did no one challenge their presence there, the pair had to wander around the halls for a good ten minutes before they finally found a member of the staff to help them locate Jesús. The man they did find had not offered any objections and had barely listened to Fische’s story about taking Jesús back to live with his family.

The man had led them to a set of chained double doors, opened the padlock, and brought them into a large dormitory. Zico and Fische had both pulled up short at the entryway, staring around in subdued horror. There were close to a hundred men and boys in the room, many of them either partially dressed or completely naked. They milled about the room, barefoot on a floor littered with human waste. The man that had let them in did not know which one was Jesús, and left them alone with the inmates, saying he would find a nurse. It was forty minutes before the nurse showed, and Fische and Zico had mingled with the patients while they waited, Fische speaking to them in Spanish. Most seemed mentally retarded rather than mentally ill. There were many adolescents among the adults in the room. One boy, surely no older than fourteen, was tied by his ankle to one of the beds. Aside from the inmates and the beds, and a single desk and chair, presumably there for a hospital supervisor who was not present, the room was completely empty. No books, no games, no TV, no music, nothing. Fische had certainly known such places like this existed, but it was something else to see it firsthand.

The nurse had not questioned them when they told her they were bringing Jesús out to stay with family, and they were out and on the airplane in a matter of hours. Jesús had spoken a little, responding in a soft polite voice to Fische’s direction. On the plane Jesús had taken the clothes and shoes they had provided for him and changed without comment.

This boy’s reticence was different from the girl’s, from Rachel’s, Fische decided now, stealing another glance at him. Jesús was withdrawn like her, but his eyes were so sharp. Not that Rachel was dull. On the contrary, they knew she was very bright. But Jesús, despite his four years in the perdition they had just pulled him from, seemed more alive. He was not animated, to be sure, but unlike Rachel you very much felt his presence. It was like you could almost hear his mind humming away behind his dark eyes. Though not in the literal sense, at least not for Fische. Armin Fische had no aptitude for telepathy whatsoever.

It was an hour trip from the airport to the Eye facility, and Fische had just begun to doze when Cheryl turned into the narrow private drive. Tall hedges lined the road, and about fifty yards along they came to the gate with its humble “PRIVATE PROPERTY” sign. There was no one there to greet them, no visible cameras. The SUV sat idling for a minute, and then the gate opened, sliding along motorized tracks, and they passed through. Another seventy yards down the lane they emerged into the compound with the Residence before them.

The facility had no official name, but all the agents called it the Node. The Node was the seat of most of the Eye’s research, and, aside from various safe houses, it was their only place of congregation in the western hemisphere. That is, it was the only place as far as Fische was aware, allowing that there were probably other facilities he was not cleared to know about. Fische had a pretty high security clearance for an agent, but with an outfit like the Eye it was hard to say just how many rungs were on the ladder of command, and how far up it went.

 It was still early morning as Cheryl stopped the SUV in front of the main entrance to the Residence, but someone was already up and in the yard, seated on a bench. It was Rachel Cortes, a book open in her lap. She looked up at them as they climbed out of the Pathfinder, and Fische gave a wave. She gave him a lukewarm wave in return and bent back over her book. Fische turned and saw Jesús staring at her with his placid, intent gaze.

“That’s Rachel,” Fische told him in Spanish. “She just got here a few days ago, from a hospital, like yours.” Although really not anything like yours, Fische amended in his mind. “You’ll meet her later today. Right now we’ll bring you upstairs so you can shower and take a nap if you like, and then we’ll introduce you to Phillip. He’s in charge here, he’ll show you around. You’ll like him.”

Jesús nodded, and they all went inside.

Rachel watched them go, still pretending to read her book. She had seen the woman before, but she wondered about the young man with Armin and Bert. He did not look like he belonged here. In other words, he looked like her. And she had overheard Armin speaking to him by the car. She spoke Spanish, a little. It had been a very long time since she had used it herself, but she remembered enough to catch most of what Fische had said. The young Hispanic man, Mexican from what Rachel could tell by his appearance, had been in a hospital, as she had been. Had something happened to him, too? Something like what had happened to Rachel, when she was thirteen, and again when she was fourteen, and at least one more time at seventeen?

And what was that, that had happened to her?

If she believed Phillip, it had been a demon.

Rachel closed her book and stretched out on the bench, closing her eyes to the brightening sky. She did believe him. It was crazy, but she believed everything he had told her.

“What is it?” Rachel had asked Phillip. “It’s the Devil? It’s Satan?”

“We don’t claim absolute authority on this stuff,” Phillip had replied. “We don’t know that these beings prove the existence of God or grant any credence to any ancient myth, biblical or otherwise. But we call them demons because the name just fits. Our scientists call them Incorporeal Psychic Entities—I.P.E.’s—but most of us just use the word, demon. And we certainly don’t have anything like an exhaustive catalog of them. We don’t know the name of the demon that possessed you, if it even has anything like a name. Most of the ones we’ve encountered don’t.”

She had had more questions, but Phillip had put her off, insisting that he had already given her enough information to digest for a few days, and that it was important for her to get back on the program he had originally envisioned for her: a period of transition and rest.

“But,” she had persisted before he escorted her back to her room, “what happens if it comes back again?”

Phillip had given another one of his squinty-eyed smiles (which Rachel had already begun to find both irritating and attractive). “You’re in good hands here, Rachel,” he had told her. “You are safer here than you have been your whole life. We’ll be ready for it if it happens again. Unlike the staff at the hospital, we know what the problem is, and you’ll just have to trust me for now that we know how to deal with it. We won’t let anything happen to you, that’s a promise. I won’t let anything happen. I’m going to help you, Rachel. We’re going to take care of you, and help you learn how to deal with this thing. How to control it.”

To control?

But he had ushered her out, and they had not spoken of it since.

She had actually seen little more of Phillip in the last two days. He had been in and out of the Residence, apparently working in one of the other buildings. Rachel had surprisingly felt very tired after their long talk, and she had gone back to bed and slept most of the rest of her first day in the Residence. The second day she had woken up early and made her way down to the dining room. It was another room that, like the rest of the Residence, seemed much too large for the few people it housed. In the kitchen, Rachel had met Anya. Rachel gathered that Anya was in charge of the general operations in the Residence, cooking, cleaning, and so on. The woman looked to be in her forties but slender and pretty, with a tight coif of blond hair. After Anya had cooked Rachel breakfast (a mushroom and cheddar omelet, toast, tomato juice and coffee, which Rachel honestly declared the best breakfast she had eaten in ten years), Rachel had surprised herself by offering to help with the dishes. Anya had accepted the offer with a smile and a nod, and before long Rachel found herself doing something else she had not done in a long, long time. She had chatted with the woman. It had happened so naturally that it was only after Rachel had gone to get the vacuum cleaner, having happily expanded her offer to include helping with the morning cleaning, that Rachel stopped and realized what she had been doing.

She had been acting normal.

On her way back with the vacuum cleaner, Rachel had to stop at one of the sofas and sit down and cry. Anya had come out to find her there like that. Rachel had thought Anya would tell her to forget about the chores and go back to bed, but the woman had just sat beside her on the couch and held her hand. When Rachel’s tears had finally slowed and then stopped, Anya gave her a hug, ran a hand through Rachel’s curly mop of hair, and had asked her if she wanted to start vacuuming in the parlor or in the hall.

Rachel smiled now, lying on the bench. It was crazy, yes, this place was crazy, the people were crazy. But, she thought to herself, I feel better here than I have in years.

And anyway, I’m used to living with crazy people.

10

Owen was being the Brat again.

“Owen, come on,” Phillip was saying. They were all gathered in the rec room: Phillip, Jesús, Owen, and Rachel. “Engage a little. There’ll be plenty of time for you to kill hookers and boost Jaguars later.”

In the three weeks since Rachel had come to live in the Residence with the Eye people, as she mentally referred to them, she had come up with seven different names for Owen. They were all based on his changing moods, and Christ almighty, Owen was a moody boy.

First there was the Lump, the name she had given him within her first few days in the Residence. During this time she was almost sure he had not budged from his spot in front of the TV, transfixed by a varying pageant of video games and cartoons. Anya had even been bringing his meals up to him there, and later coming in to clear away his dishes. Rachel had spent most of her own time out in the yard and couldn’t say for certain, but she was almost convinced that he hadn’t even been up to use the bathroom. Not likely, she admitted, but Owen had been planted in the same place every time she had come in, so she at least considered it a possibility.

Second there was the Curious Creep, so dubbed after the second time she had caught him in her room. The first time she had just given him an awkward greeting and he had walked out. The second time, a few days later, she had come in and found him standing next to her open underwear drawer. She had chased him out but had not mentioned it to Phillip, until a day later when she had caught him at it again. Then she had complained, and whatever Phillip might have done or said to him, she didn’t find Owen in her room again.

The third was a delightful surprise, after the other two: the Prince. She had overslept one morning and, coming downstairs to help Anya with the cleaning (this had become a comforting daily ritual for her) Rachel had found Owen washing the dishes. She had walked into the kitchen, and there he had been, on a stool by the sink. Rachel had stood in the door, goggling at him, and Anya had just tossed her a wink and a shrug. Owen had done the vacuuming that morning, and had washed all the windows in the parlor, inside and out. The next day he had been the Lump again, but the Prince had shown up on a number of occasions since then, always without warning or explanation.

Fourth was another good one, the one she liked best, even better than the Prince: the Giggle Beast. She had coined that name one rainy afternoon when she had been stuck in the rec room, feeling pent up with boredom. Jesús had still been keeping to his room most of the time, and Phillip wasn’t around, so she had been stuck with Owen. But Owen had surprised her again when he had turned off the TV and asked her to play a game with him. They had gone through the assortment of old games in the closet and picked out a card game called Munchkin. It was a silly game, and they were both feeling cooped up and punchy, and by the end neither of them could hardly speak nor even catch a breath between peals of laughter. Owen had tried to teach her another card game he had, called Yu-Gi-Oh, but it had made no sense to her and they had ended up making forts out of the chairs and throwing the cards at each other. Another day, when she happened to be feeling a little depressed and moody herself, the Giggle Beast had reappeared and soon had her laughing at his impressions of cartoon characters from the TV. Rachel didn’t know who any of the characters were supposed to be, but it certainly did cheer her up. She liked the Giggle Beast, liked him a lot.

The Spook, however, she did not like at all. This name she gave him (never aloud) one day when she had been walking along the path by the lake, and he had jumped out from behind the hedge with a yell. She had screamed, and he had grinned at her. She had treated it as a joke, even though he had frightened her badly. The next time it happened, when she had come up the stairs and he had popped out of one of the empty bedrooms, she had yelled at him. He had sulked away, and Rachel had hoped that would be the end of that, but the Spook had unfortunately reappeared a few times since.

The sixth one she called Mr. Gloomy, another name that she kept to herself. She felt guilty for disliking Mr. Gloomy, because she knew her dislike for him was terribly hypocritical. Mr. Gloomy was a lot like the Lump, minus the television set. Mr. Gloomy sat in one place, usually in the big black chair in the Parlor, and just stared. Not out the window, not at a painting or anything else. Just simply stared, blankly, into a middle distance of space. Rachel, who figured herself an authority on that sort of mood, having spent so much of her past ten years that way, always tried to snap him out of it when she saw him like that. She would invite him to play a game, go for a walk, or watch TV with her. She would try to start a conversation. But Mr. Gloomy had her familiar old routine down cold. No flicker of response showed in his expression. When Mr. Gloomy came around, he came with bags packed for a good long stay.

And now here was the seventh.

“Owen, please,” Phillip said. “I’m going to be gone for the next three days, you can shoot all the cops you want during that time. But right now I need to talk to you, so would you please pause your game, turn off the TV, and join us?”

At the moment, to the untrained eye, Owen looked a lot like the Lump, rooted in place in front of the TV, playing something called “Grand Theft Auto.” But Rachel knew better. This was the Brat, cleverly disguising himself as the Lump. And Phillip, exasperated and getting up from his chair, was about to find out.

Phillip stepped over to Owen, leaning an arm on the TV, and said, “Owen. We don’t have a lot of rules for you here. I know you like it a lot better here than in your old hospital. I’m sure you do. We’re happy to let you do whatever you want most of the time, to keep yourself happy. But right now, I want you to come and sit with us so we can all talk. So I’m shutting off—”

“NOOOO!!”

Owen was on his feet but Phillip had already switched off the power strip to both the television and the video game system. Owen roared and threw the controller at the screen, roared again and stamped out of the room, Phillip following close on his heels. Rachel and Jesús remained behind, seated on the brown sofa, and exchanged an uncomfortable glance.

“The Brat is back,” Rachel muttered with a nervous laugh. In the hall they could hear Phillip’s low earnest voice in-between Owen’s intermittent raging bellows. Rachel stole another glimpse at Jesús.

He didn’t talk much, and Rachel’s limited Spanish and his almost nonexistent English further hindered her, but she had been able to learn a few things about Jesús. He was seventeen, and she had been right that he was from Mexico. And like her, his parents had committed him to an institution when he was thirteen. She was hazy on what had happened, however, to prompt them to do so. Voces, he had told her. Voices. He had been hearing them, in his head. And she got the sense that he had done something, but whatever it was, either she couldn’t understand or he didn’t want to talk about it.

She had taken to him right away. That was natural, she supposed, considering the similarities of their backgrounds and situation, cultural differences aside. And it had been therapeutic for her, showing him around the compound and the kitchen, wily veteran of two days that she had been when he had arrived. With each day that she spent here, settling into the routine of life in the Residence, Rachel had begun to feel more like her old self. But that was wrong, she realized. How could she be her old self, when her old self had been an awkward thirteen year old girl? She was becoming someone new, a person emerging out of ten years of darkness. And she was finding that she liked that person. She was finding hope for a life she had long ago forsaken and given up on. For the first time in many long years, she was looking to the future with a heartening mixture of apprehension and excitement.

Phillip returned. He was alone. He settled into the chair across from them and let out a sigh. “Owen won’t be joining us today. I’ll meet with him a little later, before I leave.”

“You created that monster, you know,” Rachel said.

Phillip grimaced. “I don’t care for your choice of words.”

“I’m just saying, you let a kid like that do whatever he wants, you end up with the Brat.”

He sighed again. “I know. But Owen is . . . a special person. Like the two of you. He’ll be alright, though. He’s just had a hard time, also like you. Try to be patient with him.”

Rachel gave him a look. Phillip chuckled.

“I know. I know you’ve been a paragon of patience.” He tilted his head with a look of appraisal. “You’ve changed a lot since you got here, Rachel. Remarkably so.”

Rachel blushed. “I guess s-so,” she said.

Phillip studied the two of them a moment more, then spoke in Spanish, slowly so Rachel would have no trouble. “I’ll be gone for the weekend, back on Monday. You can see Anya if you need anything. Cheryl and Craig will be around, too, to check on you. Next week I’d like to start your training.”

Jesús and Rachel looked at each other, then back at Phillip. “What sort of training?” Rachel asked.

Phillip squinted behind his glasses, and smiled. “We’re going to teach you to use telepathy.”

11

The next night, Rachel woke to find the Skeleton Man in her room.

First she was back in the hospital, in Freiberg. From the window in the day room she could see the old willow tree outside. Its drooping branches whipped back and forth in the gale and gloom of an approaching storm. The lights were out, and in the day room the other patients wandered around her like shades in a dim underworld. Rachel looked down at her hands and her slippered feet, and at the hospital pajamas she wore. An overwhelming sense of heartache and loss hit her, and she sank into a crouch. It had been a dream, her new life with the Eye people. She had never left the hospital.

She woke in her darkened room, still trembling from the dream. There was no questioning of her surroundings; she knew immediately upon waking that she really was out of the hospital, she really was here in the Residence. But through her joyful relief there lingered remnants of the dream, and the shaky feeling that it was a flimsy reality, and that she might someday find herself back in that nightmare and unable to wake.

She felt a tingle at the base of her spine. Someone was in the room. Rachel sat up in bed with a prescient knowledge of who it was.

Through the darkness of the room she could make out his shape, standing by the curtains. His skinny frame, the hat that made him look like a character from an old movie. The feathery blond stray hairs that drifted around his skull. He moved and a shaft of moonlight lit one side of his pale face, his skin not sagging with wrinkles but creviced with lines and stretched tight around his cheek and jaw. Rachel recognized him at once. It was the Skeleton Man, though she knew not how or when she had named him that.

She sat motionless before him, her muscles locked tight in fear, with the blanket spilling around her into the floor. She wanted to scream, tried to, but could not force out a sound.

He gestured, an obscure motion with his hands, and took another step towards her. Rachel felt her muscles tighten even more, her pulse throbbing at her temples, and her chest constrict. He advanced again, and Rachel drew a sudden sharp intake of breath.

The Skeleton Man froze. His hat tipped to one side as he cocked his head. His face was still a mask of shadows and soft moonlight.

Rachel began to cry, warm and silent tears that slipped across her cheek, her face upturned and fixated by the apparition. Her breath quickened, punctuated by whimpering sobs. The Skeleton Man, looming above her, dropped to one knee at the side of her bed. His bony face was bare inches from her own.

 Like breaking through to the surface from the depths of a stifling pool, Rachel’s paralysis left her, and she released a long breath. She was looking into the eyes of the Skeleton Man, and he was looking back. Searching, she thought, not knowing where the thought came from or what it meant. He’s searching for me.

She saw that his lips were moving, forming words that she could not hear as he held her gaze. On impulse Rachel reached out a hand to touch his chest.

Something in her expected him to vanish. Something in her had been telling her, over and over, that it was still just a dream. It told her now that her hand would find only air and shadow, and her visitor would recollect himself into a rustling of curtains in a draft from the air conditioner.

But her hand reached him and he was solid beneath her touch. She felt the smooth starched fabric of his white shirt, and the sinew and bone underneath. The silk of his tie, hanging from his collar as he leaned closer, brushed and tickled her wrist. Rachel withdrew her hand with a gasp, but he remained still before her. She could see his face better now, and she reached out again. She brought her hand up to his face and ran her fingers lightly along his chin, feeling a rough stubble of beard.

He smiled at her, and she smiled back, and then he was gone.

Rachel remained motionless in bed, her arm still outstretched into the space where she had seen him. His disappearance was somehow more disconcerting than waking to find him there in the dark. Her mind reeled again, having already struggled to allow for the reality of the man’s presence in the room. She let her arm fall to her lap, and realized that she could not remember the precise moment he had vanished. It disoriented her to even try to recall it. She could remember him being in the room, and could remember touching him, and could remember realizing that he was no longer there. But her mind insisted that there was a piece missing, a forgotten fragment of memory that explained his disappearance.

Rachel sat up the rest of the way and turned on the light. She looked under the bed and behind the curtains, and then conducted a quick tour of the room, searching the closet and the bathroom, even checking behind the dresser as though she might find a secret tunnel. She repeated her search twice more around and then stood in the center of the room, scowling at her own bed as though it were to blame. She checked behind the curtains a final time and then pulled them closed. Returning to her bed, she shut off the lamp and lay back on her pillow.

What had he wanted? Why had he come, and why had he not spoken to her? Was he unable to speak?

Rachel rolled over on her side.

How did she know him? Who was he?

Was he real?

Rachel closed her eyes. Yes, she thought. Yes, he had been real, whatever my mind might try to tell me, he had really been here. But how had he come? And how had he vanished?

And would he come again?

Rachel vanished as well, into sleep and dreams.

12

“Don’t try to be right,” Phillip said. “And don’t worry about being wrong. Just think of me. Keep your eyes closed, think of me. Don’t think about my name. And don’t focus on a particular feature. Just see me, in your mind. Don’t think about my name, see me. Imagine me. Quiet your mind. Imagine.”

They were in an enclosed room in the Assembly Hall. Phillip was sitting at a table across from Rachel, with Owen and Jesús seated to her left. The walls were bluish in the light from the miniature fluorescent bulbs mounted near the ceiling in each corner. It reminded her of the blue room back at Freiberg, except that there were no windows here, and just the one door. Soft music played on a set of speakers set into one wall.

“Quiet your mind,” Phillip said again, his voice now low. “Don’t think of my name. Imagine me beside you.”

“You are beside me,” Rachel murmured.

“Hush. Keep your eyes closed, and imagine. Begin whenever you’re ready.”

In her hand Rachel held a pen, poised above a big sketchpad open to a blank sheet of paper. The only other object in the room was a tiny recording device Phillip had set up. Rachel kept herself very still, eyes closed, taking slow, even breaths, and then her hand began to move the pen across the paper in short strokes, creating a series of squiggling lines on the page. They had spent most of their first three days of training learning and practicing shorthand. She had never heard of this kind of writing before, a method used for taking dictation. It was made up of a series of simple symbols that represented sounds rather than specific letters, and it was a very fast way to write, once you were good at it. Rachel had shown an immediate aptitude for it. The rest of their time in the classroom they had worked on relaxation techniques, breathing and meditation. Rachel had thought they would right away be doing stuff with cards, Phillip holding up a card and asking them to guess what was on the card. But there had been nothing like that. Phillip had not even mentioned telepathy at all during the first three days. Today, Thursday, they had spent the morning reviewing and practicing shorthand and meditation, and then after lunch Phillip had brought them into this room and explained what they were going to do.

“We’re going to start with Rachel today,” he had told the three. “Her shorthand is the strongest right now. Rachel, you’re going to quiet your mind and relax like we practiced. You’re going to take the pen and paper, but you’re going to close your eyes, at least for now. You’re going to concentrate on me, picturing me in your mind. Try not to associate me with my name, though, or any ideas that you have about me. Like if you think I used to be a doctor, or if you think I’m from Ohio or something: put that out of your mind. Just picture me, imagine me as you’ve seen me. Don’t get caught up in a detail, like what my glasses look like. Just picture me in your head, and hold that image. Now, while you hold it, you’re going to continue to relax, completely relax yourself and quiet your mind of all your own thoughts. And then just listen.”

“Listen for what?” Rachel had asked.

“Whatever comes. Just let it come. Just imagine me in an empty space, and listen for whatever you might hear. Maybe it will be my voice, maybe it will be other people’s voices, voices you don’t recognize. Maybe it will be something else completely. But hold my image in your mind, and listen. And as you listen, write down whatever you hear. Whatever it is, just let your hand move, don’t even think about it. Don’t filter it at all. Don’t try to guess what I’m thinking, don’t try to anticipate. Don’t try to be right, don’t worry about being wrong. Just write whatever you hear.”

And so she was. Her hand continued across the page, writing blind. She felt silly and self-conscious, but brushed those feelings away, breathing slow and steady, staying relaxed. Cold in here, air conditioning too high, she wrote. That was probably from her own head, she thought, and then realized she was thinking and not listening and concentrated again on Phillip. She saw him in her mind, first squinting and smiling, now serious, now laughing at something. Quiet your mind, she imagined him saying, and after a moment’s hesitation wrote that down.

“Slow down,” Phillip said. His voice sounded further away than it should. She wrote it on the paper, slow down. She felt herself slip into a deeper state of relaxation, meditating on the image of Phillip in her mind.

It was at least three hundred, she wrote in shorthand, eyes still closed. It had been a woman’s voice. A man spoke, and she wrote: voluble indiscretion, indeterminate means of support. It was quiet then for a bit, and then she heard more voices speaking, rapidly, one after another. Her hand raced to get it all down, moving almost on its own. They sounded distant, the voices, but distinct. They were in her mind or imagination, unquestionably not real voices, not real sound, but they were quite different from her own inner monologue. It was like remembering something someone had said, like when you replayed a conversation in your head, but they came unbidden and unrecognized. They came and went now, and after a long pause in her writing, she heard Phillip speak.

“Okay. Good. Open your eyes.”

Rachel blinked. “That’s it?” she asked. “How did I do?”

“You did fine. I’m very pleased. Very relaxed, very fluid. How do you feel about it?”

“Well, I could hear voices. In my head, like, in my imagination, but they were real people’s voices. I mean, I didn’t recognize them, but they sounded like real people. Not your voice though, except maybe at the beginning, I don’t know. Is that what it’s supposed to be like, like voices?”

“It’s not necessarily ‘supposed to be like’ anything. It can be different for different people.”

“So did it work? Did I get anything right?”

“Don’t worry about that right now, about right and wrong. You’re on the right track.” Phillip glanced at his watch. “That’s it for today, I have to get to a meeting.” They got up from the table and Phillip pocketed the recorder.

Rachel hesitated, letting Jesús and Owen precede her out of the room. She touched Phillip’s elbow.

“Phillip,” she said.

“Yeah? Something the matter?”

She compressed her lips, struggling with it. Phillip pushed the door closed and leaned against the wall, giving her time. At last she told him. “Th-there was a man in my room the oth-th-ther night.”

“A man? When?”

“It was Friday night, maybe about eleven o’clock, I think. I woke up and he was in the room s-standing by the window.”

“What? Rachel, why didn’t you tell me?”

“You were away. I told Jesús a little, but it was s-so odd, I felt weird talking about it. I didn’t even know if it was real. I mean, I know it was real, I know it was. I touched him. But it was just so s-s-strange.”

“You touched him? What happened, what did he do?”

“He was by my bed, kneeling on the floor. I was scared at first, but then I th-thought I must be dreaming. I reached out to make sure nothing was there. But I felt him, his shirt.”

“And what did he do?”

She shook her head. “I don’t know. I didn’t see him leave, but he was s-suddenly not there anymore. I don’t know what happened.”

“What did he look like?”

“I don’t know. I’d never seen him before. It was too dark.”

Phillip studied her a moment, and Rachel surreptitiously pinched herself on the back of her thigh, trying to stop the flush she felt rising in her face.

“Well, I’m glad you told me about it. If anything like this, or anything strange, happens again, please, let me know right away. If I’m not around, tell Cheryl, or Anya. Whomever you feel comfortable with. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“We can keep you safe here, Rachel. I promise we can. But you have to tell us when anything happens, anything you don’t understand. Maybe this was just a dream—” Rachel was shaking her head, “—or maybe it wasn’t,” Phillip said. “But we’ll keep an extra eye on you to be safe.”

Outside in the hall, Jesús had been waiting for her. Rachel waved goodbye to Phillip.

“You told him?” Jesús asked her.

She nodded, falling into step beside him. But there was an uneasy feeling in her stomach. Because she hadn’t told Phillip, not everything. She hadn’t told Jesús either. She had told them about seeing the man, but she had lied and said she could not recognize him. She hadn’t told them that she knew his name: the Skeleton Man. And why, why had she lied? Why had she kept that secret? She had no answer for this herself. Phillip’s admonition echoed in her head, like one of the voices in the session. We can keep you safe, but you have to tell us when anything happens that you don’t understand. And here she was, not telling them.

Jesús and Rachel had reached the entryway and stepped out of the Assembly Hall and into a beautiful late summer afternoon.

“Do you want to go for a walk around the lake?” Jesús asked. “I don’t feel like going back inside yet.”

Rachel agreed, and they took their time strolling along the path. A steady breeze was playing at the young man’s longish dark hair and her own ruddy, unruly curls. Jesús was silent as they walked, and Rachel made offhand comments now and then as excuses to study his face. His expression was always the same, so intense, so distant. He had opened up to her some, answered some questions she had carefully put to him in recent days. She found herself wishing she knew more about him. She had never seen him smile, not once.

They reached the lake and stopped to look at some ducks along the bank. Rachel picked up a pebble and chucked it out across the water. She was trying to phrase a question in her mind that she could ask Jesús that would not sound too nosy or impertinent, with the added challenge of trying to translate it into Spanish.

“How long were you in the hospital?” Jesús asked.

Rachel looked at him. He was staring out across the water. “About ten years.”

“That is long. I was in four.”

“I know.” Rachel chewed at her lip. “What was it like for you?” she asked.

“It was bad. There was nothing we could do in there. Each morning they would bring in clothes for us, in a big bin from the laundry, but there were not always enough, and sometimes some of the men would be naked. In winter it was very cold. A man killed himself in there. He had a piece of glass, I don’t know where he found it. He cut himself, along his arms. And he cut his own throat and bled to death. He lay in the floor, in the room, all night until morning when they found him and took his body away.”

Rachel stared, not knowing what to say.

“At night I would get out of bed and go to the window. They had screens on the window, but I could see through them and look at the Moon. I’d listen to it.”

“What would you hear?”

“Its voice. The Moon has a voice. It is beautiful. It sings to me.”

Impulsively, Rachel reached out and took Jesús by the hand. He did not pull away, but he stayed looking across the lake.

“I can teach you some English, if you like,” Rachel said.

“Phillip is teaching me some,” Phillip said, in English. He gave her a brief look, with an even briefer smile. If she had blinked she would have missed it.

Still feeling impulsive, Rachel stepped close and hugged him. “This is a good place,” she said in his ear. “I like it here.” She let him go from the embrace and stepped back. “I’m glad you’re here too, with me.”

Jesús nodded. “So am I.”

They resumed their walk, passing a bush that was a favorite hiding spot of the aspect of Owen that Rachel referred to as the Spook. He was there now, and held his breath as they passed. Only after the two were gone did he step from his hiding place into the path. He stared at the place where they had stood together, standing for a long time in silence.

I hope you enjoyed this sample preview of Fell. If you want to know what happens next, please pre-order on Inkshares. Thank for reading!

-Eric Mee, 8/13