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Creepy America, Episode 7: Alone

Creepy America

Episode 7

“Alone”

Wilmington, North Carolina


I know it was pretty naive, but neither of us thought that there would be any long-term consequences when we started “Creepy America”. Short term emergencies, yes, but nothing that would follow us back. We wouldn’t even think about it being a possibility until North Carolina. The seeds were there for some; we had learned about the existence of Iris Broadcasting and started down the road that would pit us against Archangel. But Sam was the first time I found something that I knew would come back to haunt us later.


***


When I woke up and opened my eyes that morning, they fell on the cheap wall clock we had hanging up in the kitchen. It was 10:00, but as my mind began to energize, I noticed that there were no other sounds in the R.V. Zoey was still asleep. That wasn’t unusual; Zoey enjoyed sleeping in, sometimes until noon. I also didn’t mind, because I tended to enjoy these quiet moments alone.


I got up from my spot on the couch, stretched, then found the small camcorder sitting on the floor. Turning it on, I left it on the table and started my morning routine. This was something we were trying to get into a habit of doing: keeping the camera recording all the time. Neither of us really knew when something weird was going to happen, so best to be prepared. It sat there, recording the living space as I microwaved one of the breakfast sandwiches from the freezer, took a quick shower, got dressed and started the coffee maker. As I did, I noticed the clock again.


10:00.


I furrowed my brow at it. That couldn’t be right. It had said that when I woke up this morning and at least fifteen minutes had passed since then. I tapped it to see if something inside was stuck.


The hands didn’t move.


Must be out of batteries, I thought. I shrugged and filled up a cup with coffee, then stepped outside to enjoy it; December in North Carolina apparently meant a crisp fall everywhere else. As I sat there and savored the fresh air, I noticed the camp was mostly silent as well. The usual chorus of playing children and grumbling parents messing with camping equipment was gone, with only the whispers of the wind to take its place. I appreciated it; after the Hotel California and Red Like Roses, I could use some peace and quiet.


Once the coffee was gone, I thought about what I should do. The only thing we had planned today was leaving the campsite we were staying at and heading out on the road again. Because of that, Zoey would have no guilt about staying in bed, so it would probably be a while before she was up. I didn’t particularly feel like just waiting around, so I decided to go to the front office and check out.


I hesitated, then went back inside and grabbed the camera before heading out.


It was almost dead silent. The rows of other R.V.s were still, with no people inside moving about or talking. The same was true for the tents, cabins, and even campground facilities like the pool and arcade room. That was extremely unusual. Normally, these places would be swarming with activity, with kids running around and staff doing daily maintenance stuff. It was strange for there to be nobody in sight.


“Everyone else must’ve decided to sleep in too” I joked to the camera.


The strange silence continued. I couldn’t even hear birds.


Unnerved, I continued inside to the large building that served as the main office area. There was no one there. Just a large building with a front desk, a small gift shop, and doors leading to other areas, all quiet and abandoned.


I loudly cleared my throat. “Hello?”


Nothing.


“Hello!” I said, louder. “Front desk?”


Still nothing.


I walked around the large desk to the employee side. Behind the counter was a computer and a cup of coffee, just sitting there like someone had left it for a second and was going to come back. But the cash register was also there, wide open, full of money. Alarm bells went off in my head. No way does an employee just willingly leave a full drawer of money open and unguarded for anyone to walk by and steal.


“Hey!” I moved over to the gift shop. Shelves of knick knacks and various minor supplies were in the room, but no people. I ran to the pool area. No people. I ran to the arcade. No people. I tried the “employees only” door. It was unlocked. Inside were desks, offices, rooms and closets with supplies. But in every one of them, no people.


A horrible thought entered my mind.


I ran out of the building, across the parking lot, back to the row of R.V.s. “Zoey!” I yelled. “Zoey!”


I flung open the screen door and bolted to the door of her room, pounding on it. “Hey Zoe, Zoey! Open up.” I didn’t hear anything on the other side. “C’mon, Oxenfree, this is important.”


I stopped and just listened, straining my ears for any sign that she had heard me. When I didn’t find any, I pounded on the door again. “Zoey, if you don’t open up this door, I’m going to break it down!”


Silence.


“Alright then.” I shoved against the door with my shoulder, throwing my weight onto the cheap frame over and over. The material began to creak and crack, and with only a few more shoves, it broke, swinging wide and showing me the inside of the room.


I could see the hallmarks of Zoey using that room. The blankets on top of the bed were mussed up and scattered. Her phone was sitting on the bedside table, plugged in and charging. The clothes she had been wearing last night were in a heap in the corner and the bags containing all her other things were sitting in the room.


But Zoey wasn’t there.


I headed back to the living area and dropped onto the couch, stunned. For a few moments, all I could do was sit there in shock, then I turned the camera towards my face. “Alright… Hello everybody, and welcome back to Creepy America. We’re in, um… we’re in Wilmington, North Carolina today. Well, I say we, but I guess it’s just me, because… because I can’t find anyone else. Everyone here in this campsite is gone. Including Zoey. It looks like… I’m alone.”


***


I spent some time searching around the campsite, just to confirm that there really was no one. And there really was. I forced my way into several R.V.s, and in each one I could find evidence of people sans people. There were breakfasts half-eaten, suitcases that looked like they were in the process of being packed up and then stopped, and a multitude of phones, wallets, and other valuables lying about without owners. The tents told much of the same story. Everywhere I looked, the place was abandoned, as if the people just up and evaporated into thin air.


I started our car up and tried to leave, but there was a large minivan pulling into the entrance, empty and standing still, and no matter how I angled the car, there was no way to get around it. I drove it back to the R.V. and, after a bit of searching, I found a bike large enough for me to ride. Putting the camera in the metal-wire basket, I rode out and onto the road.


A few hundred feet up, there was a car stopped at a stop sign.


“Oh thank goodness” I breathed. “Hey! Sir! I need…”


I rode up to the driver side window and stopped. There was nobody inside the car.


I started up again and pedaled harder. I passed another car, this one just sitting in the middle of the roadway, once again abandoned. Another empty car. And another empty car. I kept going until I hit a road named “Market Street”, a big four lane highway that ran right through the center of town.


There were lines and lines of cars, stopped, still and emptied, as if some giant had just carefully set them there to give the illusion of daily life without any life, like living in a diorama.


“It’s everywhere, isn’t it?” I whispered.


All I heard was the complete silence. It was answer enough.


***


I wasn’t sure of what else to do, so I kept going down Market Street, slowing down every so often to weave around a cluster of cars. Eventually, I began to feel tired, so I turned into a large shopping complex area, Mayfair, I think it was called, and stopped. The stores were large, popular chains, I could see a Marshalls, a Gap, and a Micheals just from this angle, but like everything else I had found so far, it was empty and deserted. It seemed like a good enough place as any to stop, so I parked the bike and walked about.


It was surreal, being in such a public place with absolutely no people about. I could walk into any store and be the only one in the entire building, no customers or employees to interact with whatsoever. I don’t know if you’ve ever been truly alone like that before, where you’re in a large space and know that there’s nobody around but you, but it’s a very bizarre feeling.


I messed around with stuff, of course. I think we’ve all had a few fantasies about having the whole world to ourselves, like being the last survivor in an apocalypse, so I indulged a bit. I went to the fancier outlets and tried on clothes that were way too expensive. I grabbed high-tech remote control cars and drones and tried them out on the street. I found one of the golf carts the mall security used and I drove it into the mall displays, knocking over carefully-placed products and fashionably-dressed mannequins.


I also broke some stuff. I was still recording and I wanted to prove that I hadn’t somehow gotten permission to wander around after-hours and pretend like everyone was gone. I needed to show that I was actually alone. So I set a few of the drones on a fire. I also took a metal baseball bat from a sporting good store and smacked some of the windows with it. They didn’t break, probably so that morons couldn’t walk around breaking their windows with baseball bats, but I did manage to make quite a few long cracks and I was sure to show the camera them.


It quickly got boring after an hour or two, so I started trying to figure out what was going on. The first thing I noticed was that the time was all wrong. Every clock, no matter the model or what it was attached to, all showed the same time: 10:00 AM. They refused to acknowledge any time passing. You could set them to different times and wait, but then it’d just show the new time forever. My phone also insisted it was 10:00 AM, and even more bizarre, the other clock apps didn’t work. If I started the stopwatch, it’d just sit there at zero. Same with the timer and any time I set it to count down to. I even managed to find some analog pendulum clocks, but even with the pendulum swinging, the hands refused to move.


That didn’t quite mean that time didn’t pass, though. The sun was still moving in the sky. And when I grabbed an apple from a nearby restaurant, bit into it, and let it sit in the open air, it browned and rotted like any apple would. So there was some kind of time, just one the clocks didn’t recognize.


Or any electronics for that matter. The electricity worked in every store, even well into the night. My phone and camera also had a full charge on them, seemingly forever. No matter how much I used either, the battery would not go down. It was confusing, but I was grateful for it.


It was something I continued to ponder as the sun began to set in the evening. I was in the Micheals, squeezing paint onto cardboard to see if it still dried, when a shadow caught my attention from outside.


It was a person, dressed in a puke-green hoodie and dark, dirty jeans. Under that were what I think were work boots. He shuffled forward with this jerky gate and his shoulders were hunched over, giving his spine the curve of an old man.


I got up and approached the window. I wanted to shout, to yell in victory. Here was another person, finally! We could work together, but just as I was about to bang on the glass, I stopped.


When I was six, I went to the zoo with my dad. The last place we went to see was the polar bears. They were enclosed in this little rocky area surrounded by plexiglass, and I walked up to the clear surface and put my face up to it. Something about that must have angered the polar bear inside, because it immediately charged forward, jaws open, slobbering, right at me. I didn’t know what was going on, didn’t even know what a polar bear was, but watching an angry predator running right at me triggered something in my brain. A primal something. It knew what danger was, and this, it told me, was it.


The bear was stopped by the plexiglass, of course, and nothing more came of it than a story. But I’ve never forgotten that alien intrusion of fear from ancient memories.


It was the exact same feeling I was getting while staring at the person outside.


It turned, saw me frozen at the doorway, nodded, and shuffled off.


***


“That was fucking stupid of me.”


I was in some huge department store called “Belk”, preparing to camp out for the night. Fortunately for me, there was a section in the back for bedding and mattresses, so I was in the process of shoving things off of a giant display bed so I could sleep on it. Across from me, on a small wooden nightstand, was my camcorder, still focused on me.


“The only person I see all day and I don’t get their attention because what? I got creeped out?” I sighed and threw a plastic sign with a price written on it across the room. “I mean, it was human. Certainly didn’t look like anything else. And he obviously wasn’t hostile. In fact, he was pretty calm, all things considered. Maybe he could have told me how to get everybody back. I mean, he certainly didn’t seem bothered by this. Right?”


I turned. For a brief moment, I forgot about what was happening, and I expected to hear a voice respond; maybe even Zoey.


Obviously, there wasn’t one. All that was there was the camcorder.


I shook my head. “I need to get everyone back soon, before I go insane.”


***


The next day, I tried to find the figure again, hunting everywhere I could think of in the mall complex. I started with a systematic search of each building. When that failed to turn up anything, I drove the cart into each parking lot, looking for the man. I even managed to climb to a rooftop and look out, trying to spot him. No luck. I considered leaving the complex to go search for him, but I decided against it. Seeing as how he knew I was here, I could miss him if he decided to come back.


Not sure what else to do, I headed over to Barnes and Noble and gathered a huge supply of books to light a signal fire; it was the only other thing I could think of to bring him back. While gathering armful after armful of poorly written romance paperbacks, my phone vibrated in my pocket. Turns out that the free wifi from the Starbucks inside was still working. And the internet was perfectly accessible, though there was nothing on there posted since yesterday at 10:00 AM. Everytime I tried to post something, I would just get an error message. Even so, I spent most of my time in there from that point onwards, researching my predicament.


It didn’t help. Admittedly, I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be searching for. Just googling “where is everybody?” didn’t seem like it would help. I found a few things online: the colony at Roanoke, the Mary Celeste, a couple of Indian tribes. But nothing like this.


While I was doing this, I had the camera on and pointed at me. Every so often, I’d say something to it, like “hey, what do you think about this?'' or “I want your opinion on something”. I could try to justify it as talking to the audience, but in reality, I was just lonely. Talking to the camera helped, though looking back at that unblinking lenses always crumbled whatever comfort it brought.


I was in the middle of reading another article, curled up in a chair in the corner, when I heard the sound of the doors swinging open. I jumped to my feet, ready to call out… then stopped.


The sensation of danger was back. I could feel it increase with every bootstep I heard.


I was torn. On one hand, my rational brain, lonely, wanting answers, and fed up with silly superstitions, was screaming at me to yell out, to make myself known before he just walked away again. But my lizard brain was telling me just as loud to go hide, stay quiet before it finds you.


I should say something. I was just being silly. There was a perfect counterargument to every single point the fear center of my brain was telling me.


But the feeling of uneasiness only grew.


The “thump thump thump” of the boots were getting close. I could see the sickly green of the hood in the next aisle. All he… it… whatever, had to do was turn a corner and he’d see me.


I needed to make a decision now.


I dived behind the chair I was sitting in, curling up my body and trying not to breathe.


The “thumps” were behind me now, moving about the small cafe. My hiding place was bad. All he had to do was walk a little closer and he could see me. I needed to do something.


Close your eyes the lizard brain told me. If you can’t see it, it can’t see you.


I shook my head. That didn’t make any sense. That was a child’s solution. It wouldn’t do any good.


There was another loud “thump” behind me, indicating it had taken another step closer.


All thoughts of trying to be rational left my mind. I squeezed my eyes shut as hard as I could, like my very life depended on not being able to see.


Behind me, I could hear him climbing up to kneel on the chair, the fabric protesting. I could feel him lean over my shoulder and hear the deep sniffing he gave to the air. The smell of old dirt and cold night wind filled my nostrils, mixed with something sour and acidic. It spoke, and I didn’t hear it with my ears as much as I heard it echo in my mind, and before you say anything, yes, you can hear the voice on the episode. But I’m telling you what I experienced.


LIAM, the creature said in its strange echoes, I CAN SMELL YOU. STOP THIS GAME.


I tried not to gag as his face inched closer and closer to mine. I just had to keep my eyes closed.


The seconds hung in the air for an eternity.


Finally, the chair creaked again, and it left, the “thumping” fading into the store. After waiting another minute or so, I slowly opened my eyes.


CRASH!


The sound of something falling caught my attention and before I realized it, I turned my head to the source. There, at the end of the cafe, was the thing, standing over a knocked-over table, arms still outstretched in the shove that toppled it over. As soon as I saw it, it turned to me, and inside the black of the hood, I could see the two small dots of impossibly bright light that were his eyes and white, almost glowing needle-like teeth, turned up into a smile of absolute madness.


THERE YOU ARE.


I panicked. I grabbed the camera and bolted, sprinting outside. The thing didn’t try to follow me, didn’t try to stop me. It just threw its head back and laughed. And laughed and laughed. I could hear the cruel sounds echo out the store, into the parking lot, and across the empty world.


***


“May-maybe I got this all wrong.”


I was sitting in the parking lot. The sun was setting, but I hadn’t moved from this spot since my encounter with the thing earlier in the day.


“So far, I’ve been thinking that something happened to everyone else. That everybody in the world disappeared.” I looked back at the camera staring in my face. “But what if I’m the only one who disappeared?


“I mean, think about it. Every so often, you hear of people just vanishing. Gone without a trace. And sure, while some of them are found, most of them are just gone forever.


“I think that this is a space between seconds and that, somehow, I slipped between the cracks while the rest of the world ticks on. It would explain the time, and why it looks like everyone’s just gone.


“But that brings up a problem.”


I swallowed. “There’s 90,000 people missing in the United States at any given time. Even if only some of them have ended up here, that’s still a big enough number for me to see someone, or at least, the evidence of someone. But there isn’t. Which means that… thing, whatever it is…


...it’s probably the thing that got them.”


***


I spent the entirety of the next day trying to get back.


I conducted frantic experiment after frantic experiment to get myself unstuck. I went back to the R.V., fell asleep there, re-did everything I did that morning, checking the video recording to make sure I didn’t forget a single detail, down to tapping the wall clock. That didn’t work. I tried going to the office, walking around, searching every square inch of the campground for something. I pedaled back and forth, back and forth, from the mall to the campground. I tried undoing as much damage as I could to the mall and then destroying more things when nothing happened.


None of it did any good. Nothing changed, and I was no closer to figuring out how to reverse it than I was my first day here.


By the time evening came around, I was out in the large Main Street, pacing back and forth, staring down into my camera. “C’mon…” I muttered to the device. “There has to be something. Think, damn it, think!”


There was a sudden flapping sound, like fabric in the wind, from behind me. Without thinking, I turned to look at it.


The thing was back. I swerved away from it, squeezing my eyes shut, but even as I did so, the split second look gave me enough time to sear the image into my memory:


I saw him, same as before, only now the flat white circles of his eyes were as large as spotlights and he was using one hand to pull the hood off, and I swear, the darkness was spilling out. The inside of that hood didn’t look black because the hood was making shadows. No, that hood was somehow holding an infinite amount of void back, and now that it was down, the void inside was eager to rush out.


With my eyes still closed, I turned away and tried to run, but I immediately felt its fingers on my face. They were groping and grabbing at me, as if it was blind. LET ME IN it shouted in its echoing voice. RECEIVE MY BAPTISM. TAKE YOUR RIGHTFUL PLACE AMONGST THE DISEASED THINGS, LIAM.


I put my arms up and struggled back. It was like fighting a statue. Its hands were too strong to pull away. Any attempts to pull back its fingers refused to do so much as budge them. All I could really do was bat at them, confusing his grasp in the search for my face as we continued this blind grapple.


STOP FIGHTING ME! It sounded frustrated. THIS IS YOUR DESTINY. JOIN THE ACID-ETCHED FLOCK AND DENY YOURSELF NO MORE!


The hands shot forward faster than I could react. I felt each one grip around my eyelids, pulling the skin back with a painful amount of strength. I grabbed onto the hands and pushed, but I might as well have been pushing a mountain. I tried to force my eyelids closed, so hard I thought they might tear, but bit by agonizing bit, he opened them wider, and wider, and wider, until I saw. Not my attacker, but a horrible darkness, filled with eyes and teeth and chattering voices for eternity.


WITNESSSS….


I screamed. I felt faint. My vision clouded over, not with the skin of my eyelids, but the shutting down of my brain in the face of overwhelming insanity.


I could feel a foreign “click” somewhere in my mind, and the sensation was suddenly too much. I collapsed into unconsciousness.


***


“You alright, buddy?”


I opened my eyes, but it took me several seconds for them to focus.


I was on the ground, in the parking lot of the mall complex. The sun was out. I could feel the bright rays on my skin.


I struggled to get up, wiping drool away, and a hand offered to help me up.


A human hand. A human hand attached to a large, slightly fat, red faced… human.


I grabbed onto it and pulled myself up, embracing the man in a hug. As I did so, I saw more people, moms and kids and bored adults of all kinds, walking the sidewalks. They were staring at me. I’ve never felt so happy to be judged.


“They’re all back” I whispered.


“Yeah, great” the stranger I was hugging replied. “Do you…”


“Where’s the camera?” I broke away from the grasp and looked around. There it was, only a few feet away. I grabbed it and looked it over. Seemed fine.


“Wait a minute.” I turned and ran over to the nearby GameStop, a store I know I had cracked the windows of. No cracks. No evidence of repairs either, as I ran my fingers over the glass.


“Hey!” I grabbed the arm of a passerby. “What day is it?”


“Get the hell off of me!” he exclaimed.


“What day is it?” I insisted.


“Tuesday.”


“The date!”


“The 8th, you fucking psycho.” He shook me off and hurried away, glaring.


I pulled out my phone. Sure enough, it read “10:03 A.M., December 8.”


I blinked. That couldn’t be right. I had spent at least three whole days in that other place and no time had passed.


“Yeah, that’s the guy.” I turned to see the gentleman I had hugged earlier talking to someone in a mall security uniform. I grabbed a random bike leaning against a building and started to pedal; now seemed like a good time to leave.


Besides, there was one last thing I needed to check.


I didn’t let up on the speed the whole way there, going as fast as that bike would let me. Once I reached the campground, I shoved it to the side and weaved through people as I ran back to the R.V.


“Zoey!” I yelled. I unlocked the door and flung it open. “Zoey, are you in here?!”


She was standing in the living area, pajamas still on, hair a mess. She winced when I yelled. “What’s wrong?”


I didn’t reply, just embraced her in a long hug. She stood still for a bit, stunned.


“It’s way too early in the morning to be dealing with this shit” she mumbled, but she reciprocated the hug anyway.


***


I showed Zoey all the footage. She was silent as she watched it, eyes glued to the screen. (As an interesting side note, she later told me it was “a bitch to edit.” Even though there were over twelve hours of recording, the timestamp for every single frame was at 0:00, and according to the metadata of the files, the recordings were all zero seconds long. She had to do some strange edits to the metadata just to be able to work with it.)


Once the video got to me running back to the R.V., she turned it off. “I’m sorry you had to go through that.”


I shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. I don’t think it worked.


“I feel bad for you.” She shook her head. “First ‘Worlds of Wonder’, now this. You have some real shit luck, Liam, you know that?”


“Yeah.” I tapped the surface of the table. “Do you think… maybe the ‘Worlds of Wonder’ was what allowed me to get knocked loose?”


She shrugged. “Maybe. But that still doesn’t explain what happened in either case.”


“I guess.” I was quiet for a moment. “So what now?”


“Well, we missed check-out time, so I guess we’re staying here for another day. I’m gonna start editing this, you just enjoy existing again.”


“Hey Zoey, do you think… do you think I could sleep in your room tonight?” I could feel myself blushing. “Just for tonight. I’ll sleep on the floor, I just… want to make sure people are still around.”


She sighed. “I won’t make you sleep on the floor. Just tonight, though. And don’t make it weird.”


I nodded. “Thanks.”


***


For those of you who remember the episode, this is where it ended. But that wasn’t the end. At least, it wasn’t for me.


I was on the mattress, scooched as far away from her as I could without falling off. She was asleep, but I was wide awake, just listening to the gentle sounds of her snores and appreciating the way her weight curved the mattress. I was just about to drift off, when I heard the sound of flapping again.


I turned and looked out the window, and there it was. Same hoodie, same jeans, same shoulders hunched up over the neckline. But its hood was back up, and the eyes and teeth were no longer visible. Just infinite black inside.


“Zoey!” I reached over and shook her, not taking my eyes off the thing. “Zoey, wake up!”


SHE WON’T WAKE UP LIAM.


I got out of bed. “What did you do to her?”


ME? NOTHING. I AM THE EMPEROR OF DREAMS. MY SUBJECTS ARE DETAINING HER UPON MY REQUEST. Zoey whimpered and shifted, and I felt the thing’s crazy smile even though I couldn’t see it. LOOKS LIKE A FEW OF THEM ARE GETTING A LITTLE OVERZEALOUS.


“If you hurt her…”


RELAX, LIAM. SHE’LL BE FINE. I’M HERE FOR YOU.


I took a step back. “Me?”


YES. I AM SAM THE AXEMAN, LOVER OF JAZZ AND MUSE OF MORTALS, AND AS SUCH I COME TO INSPIRE THOSE I DEEM WORTHY. I CAME TO BERKOWITZ IN THE FORM OF A DOG, I CAME TO GACY IN THE FORM OF A CLOWN, AND I COME TO YOU NOW, TO INSPIRE AND ASCEND YOU TO GREAT WORKS AS WELL.


“Th-those are serial killers.”


I felt his smile again. YES.


I became dizzy. I backed away to the far wall, feeling cold and nascuous. I wanted to vomit.


COME NOW, LIAM. REJOICE! ANYONE CAN BE BAPTISED BY THE GOD OF LIGHT. HE IS A TWO BIT WHORE. BUT TO BE BLESSED BY A DARK GOD, TO RECEIVE THE DARK BAPTISM I HAVE GIVEN YOU, THAT IS A DISTINCTION FEW OTHERS CAN CLAIM.


My teeth were chattering. I couldn’t tell if it was from the cold or the fear. “Wh-what are y-you going to d-do to me?”


NOTHING, YET. YOU ARE NOT YET READY. YOU ARE AN ABRAM NOT YET GIVEN A COVENANT, A SAUL BEFORE THE BLINDING LIGHT, A JAGER WITH NOSE STILL VIRGIN OF COKE. I WILL WATCH YOU, AND WHEN I SEE THAT YOU ARE READY, WHEN I CAN SMELL THE FRAYING OF YOUR MIND FROM THE ACID-ETCHED BAPTISM, I SHALL COME BACK TO GIVE YOU A DARK PENTECOST. AND ON THAT DAY, YOU WILL BE TRULY TRANSFORMED.


I wanted to protest, to tell him no, but I couldn’t. My mind felt… wrong. I couldn’t think. My attempts to formulate words ended up unraveling before they began. My back hit the wall and I slid to the floor, until I could no longer see him. I felt fuzzy. I smelled worms.


He laughed. SEE YOU SOON, LIAM. AND KNOW THAT I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS, ‘TIL THE VERY END OF THE AGE. There was a fluttering sound again, and it all stopped. Zoey was no longer writhing and I could think again.


I was afraid. This… Sam, had followed me back. And he was going to keep following me. I had no idea what he meant by baptisms and pentacosts, but I was sure I didn’t want to know. And now, even though I was back in the land of the living, even though I was safe, I couldn’t help but realize a terrible fact:


We had lost this one, and the consequences were only just beginning.

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