Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis.
(The times change, and we change in them.)
You come up out of the basement, and the house is full of the smell of fresh blood. You don't like to think about that, how you've learned over the past few days to tell the difference between old blood and new, between recent death and the first taint of corruption. But your wife is still in the basement with your daughter--is it your daughter again; or was it never truly your daughter at all?--with your daughter weeping in her arms, and all you can think is, There is no amount of counseling in the world that is going to get us past this.
For a moment you think that you're the only living thing in the house. Then you see movement in the shadows at the end of the hall. You'd run, if you still believed that running would do you any good; maybe if you stand and let it come to you, it won't go look in the basement.
It sees you; stops its forward motion; speaks. "You live here?"
You don't relax, not really. They seem human, you've learned that from experience, and this guy might be another one of them, no matter how much he looks like somebody you'd phone if you needed your house rewired or your car towed. But he has kind eyes, and his gruff voice doesn't sound like it's going to demand anything unspeakable, so you decide --tentatively-- that the two of you are on the same side.
"Yes," you tell him. "And my wife, and my daughter." You don't choke on the last three words, which is good. You can't let yourself have any doubts, not out loud where anyone can hear you.
"What about the others?"
The dead, he doesn't need to say. Because there's no way anyone could have come this far into the house and not know, not have seen.
"My parents," you say. "They were visiting." The words hurt in your throat; they have weight and edges to them, like blocks of wood. "We picked them up at the airport--my wife and I did--and when we came back the sitter was--our little girl had--"
"It wasn't your daughter," he says. "Not by then."
"The demon," he says, and you think, Of course, a demon, and your next thought would be crazy, if the normal world hadn't already tilted off its axis for good before he ever showed up. But his voice is steady and patient, like he's explaining a wiring problem or that funny noise the engine makes when you downshift, so instead you think, This is a guy who knows what he's talking about, and you listen to him when he says, "They possess people. Wear them like hand puppets, to have a body that can move around outside of Hell."
There was a time, only a few days ago, when you didn't believe in Hell. "Why us? Why my daughter? What did any of us do to deserve--"
"Not a damned thing," he says. "Not a single god-damned thing, and that's the truth."
You want to ask him who he is, what he's doing here (if he knows about these things, why didn't he come here sooner?), but you don't have the nerve.
He steps past you and goes on down the hall, moving like a man with a bad job waiting for him somewhere up ahead. You follow, unwilling to be left behind--this is another thing you have learned, how it feels to be afraid in your own house--and the smell of fresh blood gets stronger as you go.
You find three people in the breakfast nook--the blonde woman and the man who clocked you and shoved you into the basement and the tall young man with the bloody knife. The woman is dead; so is the man who took the time to push you out of harm's way before going on to meet whatever left him slashed and gutted on the floor of your house. The knife-man kneels beside him in the puddling blood.
"Sam," your guy says, low-voiced and steady, like a man talking to a hurt dog he's not sure won't bite. "Sam, I know it's bad, but we can't stay. We've got to do the cleanup and get out."
"Not," the other man says, and you can hear how grief makes his throat close up, how he has to fight to get words out past the heavy hard edges of it. "Not yet, Bobby. Please."
"We can't be here when the cops and reporters show up," your guy--Bobby; and isn't that a hell of a name for a grown man--says. "There isn't any story you can tell them that they're going to believe."
Sam doesn't answer, just holds tighter onto the dead man and hunches over so that his hair falls across his face. You wonder what the two of them were to each other, and what Bobby was to them both, and what brought them all to your house after the demon came. You know better than to think that they did it for your sake; nobody is that altruistic, and if saving your family had been their purpose, they would have shown up earlier and done a better job.
"Nobody's going to believe me either," you say. You don't really expect to get an answer; as far as Sam and Bobby are concerned, you're pretty sure you're just another civilian casualty. "No matter what story I make up."
In fact, you realize, the police will probably decide that you're the guilty party, even if the forensic evidence won't let them prove it. Better that, though, than having them find out those parts of the truth that they will believe. Your daughter doesn't deserve a lifetime of whatever the law and the psychotherapists will do to a little girl who has her family's blood on her--on the demon's--hands.
"You're pretty much fucked," agrees Bobby, and while the words sound callous, his voice is not. "Up to you, though, whether you want to stay here and try to ride it out, or do something else."
Think fast, he doesn't say. You both know that the clock is hurrying on toward sun-up. It isn't much time in which to decide how to live the rest of your life.
Maybe the best answer actually is for you to confess to everything. The police will like the easy explanation; your wife will go along with it for your daughter's sake. When the outcry dies down the two of them can move away, change their names if they have to. Keep themselves safe. Forget, if they can.
"Other people who've had the demon in them," you ask Bobby. "Do they remember it afterward, what they did?"
"Not usually. Which is probably a mercy, considering."
"People are going to want us to talk about what happened." You can see it in your head right now, the parade of concerned law enforcement officers and social workers and grief counselors and psychologists, all of them as ignorant as you were only a little while ago. The Devil's greatest triumph was convincing most people that he didn't exist. You can't remember who said that, but the guy was right. "If my daughter says that she can't remember, they're going to think that she's repressing something."
"Yep." Bobby's voice doesn't give away what he's thinking; you're going to have to make up your own mind without any more help from him.
"They'll try to help her. But they won't know the truth, and they wouldn't believe the truth even if somebody told them, so they'll get it all wrong."
"Could happen that way," Bobby says. Sam still doesn't say anything; you're not sure he even knows you're here. Neither Sam nor Bobby is paying any attention to the dead woman, and you wonder for a moment how she came to be a part of all this, and why the thing that tore up the man left her body untouched, before going back to your own problems.
"What if the demon tries to come back? What happens then?"
"There are a few things you can do," Bobby says. "Signs you can look for, precautions you can take . . . they don't always help, but they're a damned sight better than nothing at all."
You already know that the police and the social workers and all the other representatives of the system in its sincere and hardworking glory aren't going to look for the signs and take the precautions, because the only evil they know is the ordinary human kind. Which is, you suppose, the answer you were looking for to the question you hadn't asked.
"We need to learn those things in a hurry, then," you say. "And we can't learn them by staying here."
So easy it is, to change your whole life with a word. You suppose that the hard parts will come later.
Bobby pulls a pad of paper and a stub pencil out of his shirt pocket and starts writing things down, talking as he writes. "Take your wife and your daughter and as much cash as you can pull together before daybreak--it won't be safe to use any of your cards or accounts after that. Then get in your car and drive as far out of town as you can before stopping."
"Where to?" Considering that you've just agreed to walk away from everything--and committed what's left of your family to going with you without bothering to ask them first, which is another thing you suspect is going to be one of the hard parts later--you probably shouldn't care about the answer, but you do. There's something out there that has used your family unspeakably and inflicted harm upon them that nobody could possibly deserve, and while the terror you felt in its presence has subsided, the anger that stirred to life after its departure has done nothing but grow.
"Right now it doesn't much matter which direction you go." Bobby tears off the top slip from the pad and hands it over--it's from a block of invoices, light green paper lined in darker blue, with SINGER SALVAGE printed in red ink across the top and a couple of names and phone numbers scribbled underneath. "But as soon as you can get to a pay phone, call one of these numbers and say that Bobby Singer gave them your name. I'd try Turner first--he's a cranky bastard, but he knows his stuff. Ellen Harvelle's a bit more soft-hearted; she's had some hard times lately herself, though, so it might be best to keep her in reserve. Either one can teach you enough to get started."
You're already making plans in your head, estimating how many cash machines you can pull money out of before you need to throw away the cards like the last of your old pre-demon life, trying to decide whether a ski mask or a nylon stocking or just the shadowed brim of a hat would work best for thwarting the security cameras. Not exactly the sort of questions you're used to dealing with--but having a problem with a solution to work on feels good, after spending so much time trapped inside a problem with no solution at all.
"What are you going to do?" you ask Bobby. "You and--" You make a gesture that takes in the still-unspeaking Sam and the dead man who has the exclusive claim on his attention.
"Salt the bodies and burn the house down around them," Bobby says. "You'll want to be away from here before that happens."
"Yes," you say. "I suppose we will."
You leave them there--Bobby talking to Sam in a low urgent voice, and Sam answering him in choked monosyllables--and head back to the basement for your wife and your little girl. Outside, beyond the curtains, black night still presses against the windows, but the cover it provides won't last forever. You have work to do, and a long way to drive before morning.