Chapter 1: Mayweather Univeristy
Damien didn't expect the silence that came with the town of Mayweather, Massachusetts.
He had been driving for an hour or so by then, his foot already growing tired from pressing down on the pedal intermittently. Damien knew that he was an idiot for driving his dad's old Ford up to the university, his little Mazda was much more practical with its heated seats and cruise control that would've remedied the pain he knew that his ankle would be in in a few hours, but the Ford looked cool as hell. He knew it was dumb, but for some reason, he'd always been connected to the old car, like some invisible string had tethered him to it. His dad had always joked that it was because Damien had owned the car in a previous life, but Damien just blamed it on growing up with a mechanic for a father.
But his mind was staunchly elsewhere at the moment. He should've been stepping into the hallowed halls of Yale University right now, walking with friends to his law classes, buried deep in a book as he tried to memorize different laws and cases. Damien tightened his grip on the steering wheel, slamming his palm repeatedly into the middle as he drove down the empty road, letting the horn wail out his frustrations, a flock of birds in the trees ahead of the car took flight, creating a massive black creature that streaked across the skyline.
He'd gotten a call two weeks ago with a 'sorry, your financial aid has fallen through, will you be paying your tuition in full with cash or check?' . And his world had fallen apart.
Damien knew that the offer of a full ride was too good to be true when he'd been applying.
His family didn't have that kind of money, and if he went to Yale anyway despite that, he'd be completely broke by the end of the first semester. He'd had to scramble to find a viable option, he'd called references and friends, other colleges and universities, but by then most places had already closed any hope of applying late. Even transferring would be too complicated because he had nowhere to transfer from. But when he'd nearly given up all hope, a letter had come in the mail.
It was a university claiming they'd been contacted by the company he'd had his financial aid from before it had fallen through, and they had sent him an application knowing he'd apply. With nowhere else to go, he'd written his name on the form and had gotten a confirmation of his acceptance less than a day later.
Damien knew that he should've found it odd that they'd gotten all of it through so quickly, but he'd chalked it up to a scramble to fill classes that most smaller universities went through.
So now he was in the car, driving up to a university he'd only heard of once, alone. The last thing he'd wanted was his parents to see the shame he'd been feeling since he'd gotten the message from the financial aid office.
The long lonely backroads were a friendly comfort on a day like today. Trees stood like hundreds of silent giants, each of them taller than any tree Damien had ever seen before. Mayweather was a town hidden in a valley in the Berkshires. The allure of the mountains had been a big deal in the brochure he'd been given, and it seemed that the whole town's wellbeing was based off of it. It was an old town too, one of those that had been settled before the Revolutionary War had even had time to begin. Mayweather prided itself on being built and operated during the first war, which was not the Revolutionary War, but the one that had come before it. Damien didn't actually care that much about the location, but the school had been on his backup-backup list because it was a safety school that would give him the necessary credits and ability to attend Yale his sophomore year. He wasn't even entirely sure how the financial aid office had even gotten ahold of that list.
He was an idiot. He knew he'd get into Yale, he'd always been a bright kid, good grades, lots of extracurriculars, a personal essay that he knew could make people cry. He'd been stupid because he hadn't chosen a backup, another East Coast Laureate that would look just as good as Yale on applications.
Now he was listening to his dad's eighties mix as the trees began to part, and the first view of town appeared over the horizon. The town looked so small compared to the big city life he was used to. He hung his arm out of the window, feeling the hum of the car as he slowly pulled it down to the speed limit.
He had been surprised that such a small town could host such a big college. The brochure had boasted that the school enrolled 10,000 students a year, all of which came from all over the world to attend.
Mayweather was the epitome of a tourist town. There were dinky little toy shops sandwiched next to cafes, and a sign for a farmers market had been placed on the edge of the curb as Damien sat at the only stoplight in the entire town. Mayweather felt like a town that was passed through. It was one of those towns that you went through on a road trip. You looked out the windows at it, beginning your parents to buy you some sort of candy from the one candy shop in town with a candy-cane color scheme and a smiling candy maker as its logo. Extra points if it was a man with a mustache.
The only thing that seemed to make it stand out was how quiet everything was. He was surprised that on a Saturday afternoon, there was no one outside, no one taking advantage of a slightly overcast day that would keep the heat off of your back. Damien squinted, trying to get a better look inside the buildings, and saw shapes moving around inside, but he couldn't be entirely sure if they were people or if it was his eyes playing tricks on him. They had a habit of doing that.
Behind him, someone leaned on their horn, shocking his eyes up to the light to see that it had turned green. "Sorry, sorry," he mumbled more to himself than anyone else, and shifted the car into gear.
He drove for maybe another mile before a bright red sign with elegant writing pulled him off the road and down a well-paved path that slowly turned to gravel. Damien found himself in a small parking lot filled to the brim with cars. A few small groups of people sequestered themselves under large signs. He pulled his truck into a spot and hopped out, grabbing his ID and papers out of the passenger seat. Damien looked for the sign that read ' New Arrivals' and shambled over to it, getting into line behind a few students that looked like they knew each other already, and were nervously waiting to check in.
Damien made it to the front of the line to be greeted by a pair of smiling faces.
He set his ID on the table in front of him along with his papers, and the two checked his name off of a list. They handed him a key and a thick stack of papers that were barely kept together by the staple.
"Your room assignment is on there, and, oh! It looks like you're in Cardinal House!" The woman circled something on his map on the table. "This packet also has some other helpful things about campus. We've got a few cool clubs that have done a little spiel about themselves on there if you want to check those out too." She smiled, her eyes bright with excitement. It was clear that whatever club she was in, she was very into.
"There's an orientation meeting tonight on the quad followed by a big bonfire ceremony we do every year, you don't want to miss it." The second woman gave him a stern nod.
"Cool, sounds good."
Damien headed back to his car to get his things. He began unloading his suitcase and box of things from the back seat of the truck, making sure that he didn't forget anything.
Without warning, the hairs on his neck stood on end, and suddenly an odd feeling he hadn't felt in a long time began creeping up his back. It was like ice dripping down his spine, cold and unforgiving. Damien turned around slowly, scanning the parking lot for a sign of anyone looking at him. There was nothing out of the ordinary, only cars entering to lot and students hugging their parents goodbye. His eyes happened to land on a young man leaning against the back of his car on his phone. He sipped a coffee, shooting glares towards anyone that walked past him, but he looked relatively normal. The back of Damien's head started to hurt, right by the nape of his neck. It felt like somebody had pressed a red hot needle into the back of his head, and was twisting it around for good measure. He shut his eyes tight, waiting for the pain to subside.
He shook away his thoughts, trying to ignore the dark thing he'd felt. It was like some evil presence...no that was dumb. He wasn't going to start going crazy yet, it was only his first day. Nerves , he told himself, it's first day jitters .
Damien lugged his things across campus, which was surprisingly big for the size of the town. Every building was old and made of cobblestone, the walls thick with ivy. Damien dodged bikers and kids on skateboards as they whizzed by him. He hoped that he was following the map right as he pulled up in front of a large building that looked very similar to the others. The only difference was the gigantic set of cardinal directions inlaid in some sort of strange crest in front of the building. Yup , he thought, probably Cardinal House .
A bored looking guy with thick, shaggy black hair leaned against the doorway as Damien climbed up the steps.
"Uh," Damien looked at his paper. "257."
"Second floor, East wing, seventh door down."
"You don't happen to have an elevator, would you?"
"Nope, it's broken."
Damien squeezed past the guy and found himself in a beautiful library common area. The whole place smelled like coffee and old books, which to Damien, was heaven on Earth. There were two opposite stairwells nestled away behind two doors on either side that arched up to a balcony area up top with nooks for studying and reading. Damien was sold on the place before he'd even stepped foot into the stairwell.
Behind the door to the stairwell, there was a door with a pane of clear glass on it, underneath in golden letters were the numbers 150-199 . Damien looked up above him to see a winding staircase above him that seemed to go up for several more floors. He was suddenly glad that he was only on the second floor.
Damien managed to lug all of his things up the stairs, and pushed the door open to find the hallway busy with people. There were students coming in and out of rooms everywhere, and Damien had to be careful on to slam into one of them on accident.
He found his room, which was a considerable distance down the hallway. He maneuvered to push the door open when it opened for him, and a guy with the most striking blue eyes he'd ever seen blinked back at him.
"Are you my roommate?"
"Is this room 237?"
"Oh, um, let me help you with that." He picked up Damien's box of things like it weighted nothing, pulling it into the room and setting it on the ground next to the empty bed on the right. Damien set his suitcase down and let out a sigh as his roommate turned towards him. "Hi, um, I'm Shayne." He put out a hand and Damien shook it.
"Damien." Shayne gave him a nod and pulled himself up onto his bed.
It looked like Shayne had already unpacked, and all of his things were spread about. He'd made his bed, and had his laptop out open on top of it. "So, where are you from?"
"Boston," Damien responded quickly. He unzipped his suitcase, pulling it open and taking out his bedsheets. "You?"
"Here," Shayne nodded. "Lots of us are from here or the surrounding area."
"What made you want to come to Mayweather?"
"Why do you ask?" Damien turned towards Shayne, who was swinging his feet off the side of the bed.
"It's just that we're kind of in the middle of nowhere, and you don't seem like the type that just happened to know about it." Shayne gave him a cryptic expression and added to his statement. "Mayweather draws a certain kind of people, and I just didn't peg you for that."
"Yeah, you're surprisingly on the nose." Damien pulled himself up onto his bed so that he faced Shayne. "I was supposed to go to Yale this year."
"Fuck, really?" Shayne bit his lip. "Oh, I hope you're all good with cursing."
"Hell yeah man, free country."
"Alright," a genuine smile played across Shayne's lips.
"Yeah, financial aid fell through. Mayweather just happened to take my application late, and here I am now."
"Yep." Damien unfolded his blanket on his lap, smoothing out the creases. There was a brief silence before Damien spoke again. "So what about you?"
"I'm here to study psychology. My dad has a practice in town, and I've always loved studying how people think." Shayne sat back on his hands. "They've got a good program here, and I thought, why not. You?"
"Oof. I see why you wanted to go to Yale." He nodded slowly. "Mayweather's got a kickass law professer though, I think you'll like her, most people do."
Damien and Shayne talked for a while longer, and Damien was glad to have made a friend right away. Shayne helped him unpack and they were excited to find that they both had a love of video games. Damien was just going to use his computer, but Shayne revealed a tv he'd brought from home and a console they could use.
The two headed to the orientation together, which would take place during dinner. It was the normal spiel that Damien had expected, and he dug into his ravioli as the Dean droned on and on about rules and regulations and the boundaries of the school at night. He made Shayne laugh through about half of it, getting some looks shot at them from the people next to them.
The student body was roused from their seats after it was all over, and in small groups, people began to make their way down to the bonfire pit. Damien stuck close to Shayne, who had pulled him towards a group of kids they'd seen in Cardinal earlier.
After a good few minutes of mingling, a tall woman with bright purple hair got up on the elevated platform that had been moved just behind the bonfire pit. She was illuminated by the light of a single torch that had been lit next to her.
"Hello everyone!" Her grin was bright and wolfish. "I am Mari Takahashi, current Co-President of the Paranormal Club at the school, and the person that Dean Raub made the mistake of letting run this year's annual bonfire. But of course, no bonfire would be complete without a little twist. This year, you have been lied to. We aren't doing our normal bonfire, no, no. This year we're jumping right into HOUSE COMPETITIONS. For you freshman this is a competition held between the seven houses on campus, Krosby-" there was a loud cheer from one side of the pit-"Worthward-" a brutish chant of the name went up- "Oberon-" a similar house specific chant was shouted out- "Iovioc-" a cheer that was surprisingly musical flared up- "Lupine-" a bright howl pierced the air followed by the chant of the name- "Cardinal-" voices all around him went up in a woop preceded by four claps-"and finally Meritage." Mari wooted along with the others in Meritage, showing her clear allegiance.
"I guess we're with Cardinal then," he leaned towards Shayne.
"Yeah, I kinda pulled some strings to get put in Cardinal." Shayne grinned mischievously. "They usually win the House Competition, and are known for being an all around great group of people."
"Woah, really?" Damien grinned, drunk off the energy in the air.
"Hey, I wanted to run with the best."
"This year, we're spreading across campus-" she turned towards the Dean reassuringly- "within bounds of course, and we're playing a big game I like to call Search and Rescue." Mari pulled something out of her pocket. "As you know, Mayweather's mascot is Bille the Bobcat. I have given several of our teachers little plushies of Bille to hide out around the campus. There are 150 Bille plushies hiding around campus. If you find a Bille plush, you must bring it back to the bonfire and give it to your House Mom, Pop, or Parental Unit, whatever they prefer to be called. Each little Bille is worth one point, and whoever collects the most will be in the lead for the House cup at the end of the year."
From the crowd, a loud voice piped up. "What's the prize this year?"
"Always quick to the point, aren't we?" Mari turned back to Dean, who shook his head. "Looks like I can't tell you, but what I can tell you, is that it's something worth looking forward to."
A murmur shot through the crowd that bubbled up into a roar before Mari crossed her arms and the crowd went back into quiet.
"Make sure that you're aware of who your House MPP is, because the last thing you want is to give your point to the wrong House." Mari pulled her phone out of her pocket, looking at the time. "Alright, we'll start on my mark, okay?" She paused, reaching out to grab the torch from where it stood next to her. "The boundaries are the road onto campus, West forest border fence, witch rock, and the farm. The game ends when all of the Billes have been found, or when Bell Tower strikes midnight. You have three hours to find everything. Got that kiddos?" There was a resounding woop from the crowd. "Oh, yeah, I almost forgot." She gave the group bright, devilish grin. "There's a secret golden Bille statue hidden somewhere on campus that's worth twenty points. Ready, set, go!" She dropped the torch into the bonfire and it went up in flames almost instantly, the heat blasting forward, warm against Damien's cheek.
The surrounding area was a whirlwind of people as everyone scrambled to run at once. There was some semblance of order as people began hoisting shirts bearing a House's mark, or a flag with the crest, or even just the standard colors. Mari was gone, and Damien spotted her running towards a group of girls wearing deep royal purple shirts with silver lettering. It was chaos, and Damien loved every second of it. He scanned the crowd, and Shayne grabbed his arm, dragging him towards a large banner that had been hoisted above their heads. There was a giant star in the middle of a white background, and the words Cardinal were embroidered above it.
A young woman with long brown hair and sharp, determined eyes hoisted the banner above her head. She wore a bright yellow hoodie with the Cardinal crest on it. "Cardinal, form up!" She yelled. Around him, Damien watched as students began taking off sweatshirts and overshirts and even regular shirts to reveal different colors, either shirt or painted skin. A large group of yellow-shirted people swarmed around the woman in the middle as she barked out directions. "Upperclassmen and Sophomore, get out there, you know the drill. Freshbabies, I'm sorry we have to meet like this," she shot a glare in the direction Mari had run off in, "s omeone thought that it would be a good idea to throw you right into all of this. I'm Sarah Whittle, senior, and I'm gonna be your House Mum this year. Call me what you want, Mum, Mom, Sarah, Whittle, the big W, I don't care. Curfew is midnight, don't go and fuck around in the woods, and most importantly, obey House rules. I'll be by the bonfire when y'all bring me back the golden Bille." She stabbed the stake of the flag into the ground for emphasis, and everyone around her scattered.
Shayne pulled Damien in the direction of the parking lot, which he now realized was right next to the dining hall. They ran in tandem as they scoured the area, the flashlights on their phones already pulled out and at the ready. Damien listened to the hoots and hollers of people from around campus, counting each of the separate chants as they went up by the bonfire. They crossed through the parking lot and ended up behind one of the other House buildings, where a small gazebo sat covered in moss and vines.
Shayne dropped to the ground, grabbing a tiny Bille plushie that had been tucked underneath the seat. "We got one."
"Do we bring it back now?"
"I think, unless we want to keep going and then circle back later."
"Let's do that."
The two of them continued along the path in the woods behind the gazebo, dodging the flashlight beams of other Houses, and managing to group up with a few members of their House. Damien gave the Bille plush to one of the more excitable members, who sprinting back to the bonfire before he could even completely hand it to them.
He and Shayne circled around campus for a while, making their way across from where they were and towards what Mari had called the West forest border.
"It's probably full of them, the woods are already kind of scary during the day, but at night, it's terrifying." Shayne pushed back some branches so that Damien could squeeze through. "I wouldn't be surprised if Mari had told them to hide a bunch in their just for kicks."
A large group in silver and green that Damien had begun to recognize as the Oberon House pushed past them, arms full of the Bille plushies. He and Shayne followed their trail for a while before they hit the border fence, which was a simple chain link fence that ran on for what seemed like forever in opposite directions. They followed it for a while until Damien heard something in the woods.
"Hey, that sounds like a creek, is there a brook nearby?"
"I don't remember there being one," Shayne furrowed his eyebrows.
The sound of rushing water grew louder and louder in Damien's ears. "You don't hear it?" He stepped forward, trying to pinpoint where it was. "It's...it's really loud now."
"I just hear that owl off in the distance, what are you talking about?"
Damien took another step forward, and a pain unlike anything he'd ever experienced shot through his head. He tumbled to the ground, his knees buckling first, and then his body with it. Shayne managed to catch him before his head hit the ground. Damien could barely move, and he curled into a ball, shaking hands feeling where the pain was to make sure that he hadn't just been shot. He could hear Shayne screaming his name, but it was a dull roar compared to the sounds of the brook in the back of his mind.
Then the pain was gone, and Damien sucked in a breath, sitting up.
"Damien, oh my god, did you just have a stroke, holy fuck, are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, I must've just stepped weird, but I'm okay."
"Dude I thought you were dying, are you sure you're okay?"
"I-" Damien got to his feet, feeling like he wasn't in control of his body. "I don't know what's happening." The sound of the brook returned, and Damien cringed, waiting for the pain to come again. His vision was blurred, and he looked out into the distance, swearing he saw a shadow standing by a tree. It watched him for a second, and Damien couldn't help but feel like it was watching him with curiosity. He blinked and it disappeared, and his vision began to return in full.
Damien began walking towards the tree, like invisible hands were guiding him forward, pulling his body towards where the thing had been even though his mind didn't want to be anywhere near it.
"Damien, where are you going? We should head back to the bonfire, you should sit out for the rest of the night."
"No, there's something I need to see."
"Man, you're freaking me out."
Damien kept walking forward, towards the tree, toward where the thing had been. He stopped next to it, and placed his hand on the bark of the tree. The wind howled through the branches as Shayne came to stand next to him. Damien looked for the shadow, but it was gone. Shayne let out a yelp, and it was as if a spell had been broken. The woods came back into full focus, and Damien blinked, his eyes clearing.
"Oh my god." Damien looked over to see Shayne staring at something across from them.
"Oh shit." A chill shot down Damien's spine as he saw what Shayne was looking at.
Across from them, tied to a tree was the bloodied body of a young man. Damien realized, looking closer, that he knew who it was.
It was the boy from the parking lot, the one he'd seen earlier. The one that he'd felt the presence around. A presence that felt eerily close to the one he'd just seen.
"Is he...is he dead?" Shayne stepped forward, looking at the body closer.
"He is." The voice that came out of Damien was not his own, but it was spoken with his tongue.
Damien couldn't look away from the body. The young man's shirt had been ripped off, and lay in tattered shreds on the ground. His body was bloodied and covered in bruises that looked fresh. Most terrifying of all, a symbol had been carved into his chest.
A symbol Damien had been dreaming about for the past three months.
Chapter 2: The Smosh Paranormal Club
Damien and Shayne deal with the aftermath of what they found the night before. Mari fills them in on what's really going on in Mayweather.
Damien wasn't sure how long they kept him in the Dean's office. Time started to blur together after the third cop came in to question him. He told them everything that had happened the best he could, but he left out the strange shadowy figure and the sounds of the brook he'd heard before they'd found the body.
The door opened behind him, and he and the cop that had been interviewing him looked up to see another officer bringing in Shayne and sitting him down in a chair next to Damien. The detective nodded to the man as he closed the door behind him. He closed the file in front of him, looking up at the boys.
"We're all done with questioning for the evening."
"Can we go?"
"It's up to your Dean. He'll be here in a few minutes." The detective stood, pulling on his coat and hat. "Have a nice evening."
Shayne mumbled back some sort of goodbye, and Damien gave the man a nod as he disappeared through the door. Damien and Shayne sat in silence for a little while before Damien finally spoke.
"Crazy night, huh?"
"Hmm? Oh, yeah."
"I thought that I'd be coming out here for a normal college experience, and already something big's happened." Damien shifted in his seat so that he could turn towards Shayne. "It's a small town, this must be kinda out of the blue for you, huh?"
"Pretty much, but-"
Shayne held up a finger suddenly, and turned his head towards the door. Outside the room, there was the sound of two voices talking loudly, one more so that the other. One was clearly the Dean's voice, but the other was hard to place. Damien shifted towards it, trying to make out what they were saying.
"No, I can't allow you to do that. It is encroaching on a police investigation, and I won't let you make a mockery of the school by making these claims!"
"Please, Dean, one minute, I just need to check something and then I'll be out of your and their hair." There was a pause. "I won't ask you for anything else the rest of the year, scouts honor."
There was a long, loud sigh. "Fine. One minute."
The door swung open, and the girl from before, Mari Takahashi, rushed into the room, followed by Dean Raub, who looked appologetically at the both of them as he rounded the room to his desk.
"Which one of you saw it?"
"Saw what?" Shayne raised an eyebrow.
"Her! The woman. The shadow woman. The one who presents herself to the Witness."
"Ms. Takahashi, please, you're just wasting everyone's time with childish theories. He was a part of Worthward. This was clearly some sort of hazing gone wrong."
Mari's eyes were pleading with them to say something, looking from one to the other. Damien knew that she was telling the truth. He cleared his throat. "I...I saw something." Mari whipped over to look at him.
"I...um, I think so."
"The brand, the brand, where is it?"
"Brand?" Damien furrowed his eyebrows.
"She leaves a mark, she always leaves a mark. Some people feel pain or-" Damien remembered feeling the strange red hot pain in the back of his neck.
"You can't be serious about this, right?" Shayne laughed, raising an eyebrow and turning to look at Damien. "You're joking-"
"Check the back of my neck, left side." He turned and Mari stepped forward. She rubbed her finger over the skin, and Damien's vision became grainy.
He saw figure standing in the middle of the woods, everything was dark except for a circle of light around them. They stood over a body, a knife, red and thick with blood, in their hand. Damien felt himself draw closer, but shakily, like he was teleporting every few seconds. The figure turned, but Damien was only able to see their, which were pits of pure darkness. The curve of a smile drew his eye, and in a motion that was inhuman, they stabbed him in the gut. The pain roared throughout his body, his skin growing cold. He looked downwards at the wound to see that there was no blood coming from it, but instead, unearthly red roses were blooming from his chest in the shape of the symbol he'd seen before.
Damien's eyes snapped open as Mari's finger pulled away from his neck.
"Enough of this nonsense." Dean Raub folded his hands on the table. "Mari, please escort these two back to their House, and then have two people from Cardinal walk you to your car."
"Stick together, stay safe." He let out a long sigh as he stared out the window. "Goodnight. I don't want to hear anything more about this in the morning, understand?"
"Yes Dean Raub." Shayne and Damien stood, exiting the building with Mari at the side.
"What the hell is going on here?" Damien turned towards Mari. "What's this brand, the strange woman, and...just what the hell is going on?" Mari and Shayne shared a look. They must've known each other previously.
"She's talking about the legend of Mary Hester." Shayne shook his head. "But it's only bullshit made up to scare kids."
"You were probably pretty young last time this happened, right?" Mari lead them across campus.
"What do you mean 'the last time this happened'?"
"Ten years ago." Mari's face sharpened in the light that came from the streep lamps above them. "Six people were killed exactly like they're being killed right now. And ten years before that. And ten years before that, and so on and so forth throughout the entire history of our town. Ever since the college was built, people from here start dying every ten years in rapid succession. They're always from the college and it always happens in the span of a week. Sometimes it's only two people, but sometimes its over twenty."
"It's probably just coincidence," Damien posed. "Most of the time it's-"
"It's not coincidence. Everytime, someone gets that mark. And every time, they watch everyone die before they get blamed for it all, or get themselves killed." Mari stopped in front of the Cardinal House steps. "And something's different about this time. You're different than the last Witness, I don't know how, but you are." She banged on the front door of Cardinal. "All classes have been canceled tomorrow. Meet me at Howler Hall, room 113 tomorrow at 10 o'clock sharp."
Some sleepy eyed senior on door duty came trudging down the hall to open the door. Damien caught Shayne's eye, and the two shared a look as Mari stepped backwards slowly into the darkness.
"Unless you want to end up dead, I'd advise coming."
Shayne collapsed into his bed as Damien turned on the light on his desk, sliding into his chair as he rubbed the back of his neck.
Shayne looked over at him from where his face was pushed into the pillows. "Are you okay dude?"
"You know that she was over exaggerating, right?"
"Will you come look at my neck?"
Shayne rolled his eyes and tumbled off the bed. He crossed over to where Damien was sitting, pushing back his hair to looked at where Mari had touched his skin.
"You don't have, like, some weird tattoo back here, right?"
"No, take a photo."
Shayne pulled out his phone, snapping an image of the back of Damien's neck. He handed his phone to Damien, who studied the photo for a second. He tried not to drop Shayne's phone as his hands began to shake. It was like nothing he'd ever seen before, symbols, all strange and curving and beautiful in an off putting sort of way were now placed on his skin in black pigment. Damien ran his hand over the area, his fingers searching for any raised skin or something out of the ordinary, but it felt like it always had, like the brand had been their his whole life.
"What the hell man." Damien breathed, his back was tensed as he gave Shayne back his phone with shaking fingers. He rubbed his mouth, looking down at the floor, his heart rate thundering in his fingertips. "What the hell."
"Hey," Shayne grabbed his shoulder. His eyes were a comfort that Damien didn't know he needed. Shayne's hand rooted him to reality, and he almost didn't want him to let go, afraid that when he did, he might fall apart. "I'm with you on this."
"No dude, you don't need-"
"We're roommates man, we gotta stick together, you seem like a cool guy, and hell, we found a dead body together tonight, I'd say this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Shayne's eyes grew foggy. "And I think that Mari might be right."
"About what?" Shayne let go of Damien's shoulder, and leaned up against his desk.
"The deaths. I think she might be right about the ten years thing."
"Did something happen ten years ago?"
"My...um...my brother died while he was going here."
"Oh, sorry man."
"It was a long time ago, I'm...I'm better now." Shayne's voice was quiet. "We were told that it was an accident, but none of us ever believed that." Shayne rubbed his nose and mouth, turning away from Damien. "He had that mark on his back, the same one that kid had."
"You think it's connected?"
"I don't know. But I do know that Mari knows more than we do, and that she has the manpower to do something about all of this." Shayne pulled himself away from Damien's desk and went to sit down on his bed. "But it's late, and I think we should get some sleep before whatever Mari's got planned for tomorrow."
Damien turned off his light and crawled into bed, watching as Shayne did the same. He watched the back of Shayne's head for a while, listening to the sounds of him breathing. Some part of him knew that Shayne was making a mistake helping him, but another part of him was glad that someone had his back for the first time in a long time.
Damien dreamed about roses.
He was standing in an empty black room, the only light source coming from the very middle. Damien could only see in front of him, but he could hear his footsteps echoing around him as he drew closer.
He could also hear something else, the sound of the brook, but it was loud, like water was rushing through his mind.
Damien drew closer and closer, and by now he could tell that someone was lying on a bed of roses in the very middle. They weren't rose petals, he realized, but beautiful full roses, their petals as voluminous and vibrant as the billowing dress of a dancer.
Their stems reached out like hooked fingers that crawled towards him, their thorns were barbed, and red with the blood that spilled outwards towards him. The sound of the water was deafening now, it roared in his head as he tried to discern who it was lying in the rose bed. Damien's eyes were trained towards the floor, but the came across a hand, laying forlorn among the roses. On the palm there was the symbol, bright and red. It was new, and it scared him. Blood ran from the wound, and it trickled through their fingers.
Damien turned over, blinking at the sunlight coming in through the window. Damn. He'd forgotten to close it last night. He looked up to see Shayne cleaning up something off the floor. Damien grappled for his phone, grumbling as 6:00 am stared back at him.
"Dude, too early."
"Shit, Damien, sorry man." Shayne was hopping on one foot. "I was just getting up to go for a run, I didn't mean to wake you up."
"It's alright," Damien huffed. "I'm just gonna go back to sleep for now."
"Alright, I'll be back at 8:00, and we can go to breakfast."
"Go without me." Damien pulled his blankets over his head. "Just come get me at nine thirty, I'll grab something from the vending machine and then we can leave."
"Yeah, I normally don't eat breakfast anyway, so it won't be any different." Damien turned over, tightening his covers over him. "Have a nice run."
Damien heard the door shut behind Shayne, and let himself drift back into sleep, but by then, his dream was gone.
He woke up again at 9:15 to Shayne opening the door. The two got changed into everyday clothes and headed downstairs to the common room. There weren't many people up, and Damien guessed that most of them had slept in after the previous night's hecticity.
"Hey you two." They both turned to see the House Mother, Sarah Whittle sitting in a big wingback chair. She smiled at them, a big textbook on her lap, and her computer open on a table next to her. "Heard about last night. Are you guys okay?"
"Yeah," Damien answered. Shayne gave her a nod.
"We'll probably be better after a week."
"Yeah, sounds about right. Normally everyone'd be getting groggily out of bed for morning classes," she sighed. "It's weird seeing the campus this quiet. Kind of eerie." She clapped her hands together. "Anyway, because of all the stuff that went down, I'm supposed to be checking everyone that comes and goes from the House until all of this is sorted out." Sarah pulled out a clipboard and a pen, handing it to them. Shayne signed them out, and the two said goodbye to Sarah, who gave them a wave and a smile before disappearing back into her textbook.
Damien bought a To-Go Espressos from the vending machine as they left, and downed it before they had even left the building.
They walked quietly in tandem across the campus, the silence between them more because of nerves than because they had nothing to say. Damien tried to ignore the looks they were all getting from the students walking around the quad. It hadn't taken long for word to get out that they were the ones that had found the body the night before. They were looks of pity, or they were looks of relief. He knew many of them had been thinking, 'what if that had been me?'.
Damien was glad that he had Shayne with him. Shayne knew more about the campus that he ever would, and Damien would've been utterly lost without him. He still didn't know where he'd put his map after he'd been given it yesterday.
Shayne held the door to Howler Hall open for him, and the two navigated their way to room 113. It was a small classroom, but it was surprisingly filled with people. Mari sat on a desk, two guys, one with slick, product filled black hair and the other with silver hair that was cut long around his face, stood around her, drinking from mugs. There were a few others in the room who were crowded around towards the back, but the second that Damien and Shayne entered the room they seemed to come to attention.
Mari looked up at them, checking her phone. "You're right on time, perfect."
"This is the guy?" The man with black hair spoke, squinting at Damien. "He doesn't look like the Witness."
"He has the mark."
"Lemme see!" An excited voice from the back of the room piped up. Two girls dashed across the room, nearly jumping on Damien as they got right into his face.
"Boze, Courtney, please don't scare him off." Mari slid off the table and turned towards the black board at the front. She reached down and pulled it up into the ceiling, revealing a gigantic board covered in papers and string. "But you should let them see it before they rip your face off from excitement."
Damien crouched down, and they peered over him, snapping a photo. The one with the phone spoke. "Got it, I'll print it now."
"So you said it looks different than normal?" The silver haired man had gone over to a printer in the back of the room, pulling a piece of paper off. He looked at, his eyebrows furrowing. "Huh, you're right."
"Why would I lie?"
"Um-" Damien began, and Mari turned towards him.
"Oh, shit, sorry, got excited." She held up her hands, clapping them together. "Everyone, attention for one second before we all freak out about this. This is Damien, and his friend, Shayne, right?"
"Wonderful. Welcome to the Smosh Paranormal Club. I'm Mari, as you know, that's Joven-" she pointed to the black haired man- "Wes-" the silver haired man gave them a nod- "Boze and Courtney are the ones who nearly just attacked you, and that's Keith and Noah in the back, they're also freshman, but we know them from the high school." She shook her head. "Not important. What is important is you."
"Why exactly is that? I'm still really confused." Damien crossed the room towards Mari, looking at the giant board on the wall that the whole group had begun working on.
"There's a legend in this town." The whole group turned towards Shayne, who hadn't moved from the doorway, his eyes were fixed on a photo on the board. "Of a young woman named Mary Hester. She was killed for being a witch after she spoke out about religion at the university." He crossed the room, his fingers shaking as he touched a photo on the board. It was an grainy image from a postmortem of a man with skin grey with death. His face was soft and kind, and Damien could see where he resembled Shayne. "It's the legend they tell all of us as kids. I always thought that it was to scare us out of the woods, but now I'm not so sure."
"Did you know him?" Mari's voice was soft. It was clear that she'd dealt with the family of victims before.
"My brother," Shayne's voice broke. He blinked rapidly before stepping away and clearing his throat.
"You're Shayne Topp, aren't you?" One of the boys in the back spoke. He had wide eyes framed by glasses and hair dyed a multitude of colors.
"Yeah, what about it?"
"One of your family members was a Witness." He crossed the room quickly, his finger sliding over all of the photos until he came to one grouped with at least twenty photos. "Oliver Topp, he was the Witness in the 80's."
"My grandfather. I'd always thought he'd died during that storm trying to save people."
"That wasn't a storm." Mari lifted her hand, pointing at a shaky photo timestamped in orange lettering. "That was something else entirely. It was her." The sky was purple, and Damien could make out the shadow of a hulking creature above the treetops.
Something drew him forward. Wrong, wrong. A voice in his mind twittered. Find the truth. He reached out, touching the photo. His eyes fluttered shut, and he suddenly found himself standing on Main Street.
Wind whipped at his clothes, and rain pelted at his skin. His head turned skywards, and above clouds brewed and bubbled, roaring and snorting like an angered animal. Lightning flashed, and he could make out the shape of a giant creature swimming behind the layer of clouds.
"Witness." A ghostly voice called out to him. "Witness." His head turned without him, and directly in front of him was the shadowy figure. This time, he could see more of her, her face was ghastly and pale, and she wore black clothes that Damien slowly realized weren't black, but instead smoldering from fire.
"Mary Hester?" His voice echoed like he was underwater. The sound of a rushing water came again, but this time it crashed like ocean waves against rock.
"Witness . Find me ."
"You have to stop this." Damien turned, he hadn't said that. A man behind him, maybe in his late twenties, early thirties. He looked like an older Shayne, but more grizzled, with sandy-colored stubble and the same bold expression in his eyes. "Please."
The woman unhinged her jaw, extending her hand out. A bolt of electricity shot from the sky, impaling through the man's chest. He howled in pain before collapsing to the ground, singed on his chest was the symbol that Damien had on his neck, but the man's was smaller, and burned an angry red.
The vision crumbled around him, and Damien tumbled to the ground. Shayne caught him, and started pulling him to his feet, keeping his arm under Damien's for support.
"What the hell just happened?" Mari rushed towards them, helping Damien up.
"I don't know, it started a few weeks ago, I started having these vivid dreams, and then I've started having these...visions." Damien shook them off of him, adjusting his glasses as he massaged his temples. "I had one when you touched the brand yesterday, and right now when I touched the photo, I saw something." They had formed a half circle around him, and Damien steadied himself on the chalk tray of the blackboard. "I was standing on the Main Street in town during the storm. There was something in the clouds. I saw Mary Hester, and I think I also saw Shayne's grandfather. He was trying to talk to her, get her to stop, but then she shot a bolt of lightning from the clouds and killed him."
Shayne inhaled sharply. "That's how he died. He had a pacemaker, he was in Vietnam and got shot near his heart and survived, and they gave him one. They said the shock to it is what killed him."
"Oh my god." Joven spoke from where he'd been sitting on the side of a desk. "You're the one, aren't you?"
"You think he is?" Wes turned to Joven. "Other Witnesses have been able to see her before."
"No, you've been dreaming about the deaths too, haven't you?"
Damien's eyebrows knitted together, his voice slow. "How did you know that?"
"He's the psychic."
"What?" Damien was taken aback. "I'm able to believe a lot of shit, but psychic-"
"The one she was talking about?" Wes had crossed his arms over his body. "She's crazy Joven, we can't trust her."
Joven turned towards Damien. "There's a girl in town about our age. She knows more about this than anyone else, but she won't talk to me unless I bring her 'the psychic'." He put psychic in quotes. "I've tried three times now, but always no luck, maybe now..."
"Okay, okay." Damien shook his head. "I may be a lot of things, but I'm definitely not psychic." The universe seemed to like to prove him wrong, because out of the corner of his eyes, he saw a flickering black mass by the open door. Damien turned his head to see it move past the entrance, heading for the front door. "Oh no."
Then Damien was running, everyone else in the room was following behind him. He watched as it darted through the halls, the sound of rushing water loud in his ears. There was a soft laugh that echoed, bouncing off of the walls. Damien pushed the doors open, and saw the figure standing beside a rose bush. It flickered and disappeared as he looked over to find that there was a body lying in the roses. Damien recognized the woman's face, and felt a breath hitch in his throat.
It was Sarah Whittle, the House Mother of Cardinal.
There was blood everywhere, it covered the roses and dripped from the barbs of their thorns.
Her palm was turned downwards, and Damien pulled his sleeve over his fingertips, slowly reaching over and turning over her hand. On her palm, was the same symbol, ruddy and red, carved into her flesh. Blood dripped down her fingertips, and Damien pulled away quickly.
"No." He could barely breathe. "No, no no. I dreamt about this last night." He looked to Shayne, who was covering his mouth with a shaking hand.
"W-we just saw her less than twenty minutes ago. She was fine."
Wes reached over, placing two fingers on her neck. They all waited in silence for a painfully long time. "Nothing," he breathed.
"We need to get you out of here." Mari pulled out her phone. "If they know that you found another body, they're gonna bring you into the station downtown for more questioning." Damien hated how calm her voice was, but when he looked into her eyes, he could see the pain. She must've known Sarah. "Joven, take everyone into town, bring them to her house. I'll stay back here and let the police question me." She dialed a number on her phone. "Go. Now."
Joven turned towards the group. "You heard her, there's no time to lose." He made a motion with his hand, and they headed for the parking lot. It was clear that Joven was shaken, as was the rest of the Club, but he pressed on anyway. He stared at Sarah's body in the roses. Her hair was perfectly flared out around her body. He couldn't help but feel like she looked peaceful in death. A terrible sentiment for a terrible happening.
Damien felt Shayne's hand on his shoulder, pulling him away.
Damien stood, and crossed to the parking lot. "Can...can you drive stick?" Damien voice was a whisper as he reached his truck.
"Yeah, course," Shayne turned back.
"Do you mind driving?"
"No, not at all."
Damien handed Shayne his keys, which somehow he'd known to put in his pocket that morning, and got into the passenger side. He watched as students began to congregate near where Mari was standing. In the distance, he could hear the sound of sirens. "We gotta hurry," Damien whispered. "We gotta go now."
He looked into the rearview mirror as Shayne pulled out of the parking space, and could see the shadow of someone sitting in his backseat. Damien's heart rate quickened as he turned around to see the ghastly apparition of Sarah Whittle staring back at him.
"It's not too late." Her voice sounded muffled, like he was hearing her through an old radio. "You can send me back. You can save me."
"How?" Damien spoke out loud. "What do you mean? You're dead."
"Damien?" Shayne backed the car out of the parking lot. "Who are you talking to?"
"Dormant. Not dead yet." She shimmered as the light in the car changed as Shayne sped off after Joven's silver minivan. "I'm stuck between here and the After unless you send me one way or the other, and I'd really like to live out the rest of my life."
"What do you mean, what's going on?"
"I was killed, but I haven't died yet." She reached out towards him, the symbol on her palm glowing white. "This is keeping me from leaving. It wasn't finished, so I wasn't condemned to the place it sends you." As Damien looked closer he realized that she was right, it hadn't been cut in the downward stroke correctly. "You can fix this. Send my soul back to my body."
"Are you gonna be okay if I send you back? Will you be the same person?"
"Probably not. But it's better than being a sad memory."
Damien paused for a second, watching as Sarah fizzled in and out of clear view. "Who did this to you?"
"I can't say." Sarah's voice was growing more and more weary. "But it's not who you think it is. It's someone more. Someone who loved Mary Hester enough to kill for her." Her image began growing fuzzy. "I'm losing my window, you have to send me now."
Damien closed his eyes, and Sarah's body appeared in his mind. He reached out with his thumb, and pressed it into the middle of her palm. There was a groaning hiss and the growl of something he couldn't place, but it sounded unearthly.
In his mind, Sarah's eyes flew open, and she drew in a shaky breath. Damien opened his own, and Sarah was gone from the back of the car.
"Dude, what the hell just happened?" Shayne looked over at him in quick glances as Damien turned back around to look at the road in front of him.
"I don't think Sarah Whittle's dead anymore."
Chapter 3: Olivia
The crew visits the home of the strange and knowledgeable woman that lives in the woods outside of town.
Damien and Shayne turned down an empty road thick with trees, trailing behind behind Joven's car.
Damien had been silent the entire ride after he'd told Shayne about what he'd seen. Shayne had nearly pulled them off on the side of the road in surprise, but had kept his cool and sped up to keep up with Joven. They'd just pulled out of town and down Main Street towards the mountains, and Damien had watched the spindly fingers of the tree branches that had lost their leaves cast long shadows against the windows of the truck.
In front of them, the trees began to thin, and a giant stone mansion came into view. It looked gothic, like something out of a horror movie, with ivy that crawled up the walls and old glass windows foggy with age, their paint chipping to reveal the rotting wood underneath. The stone of the mansion might've once been cream colored, but most of it was now a marshy grey green, stained by years of rain that tore away at the facade. Trees grew wild and unkept around the property, and wild roses barely clutching on to the last of their life, lay crumpled in the flower boxes. There was a fountain in the very middle of the roundabout, the stone angel that was placed in the very middle had two stains down its face under each eye, its hands poised underneath, seemingly to catch its tears.
Joven parked his van, and Wes stepping out of the passenger side. Shayne put the car in park as Joven rounded the van, waiting with the others just before the steps up to the house. Damien stepped out of the truck, his legs threatening to give out underneath him.
"Just got a call from Mari," Joven called over to him. "Apparently Wes doesn't know how to take a pulse correctly. Sarah's alive."
"She is?" Damien whispered. Shayne turned to him, his eyebrows furrowed.
"The others are gonna head back and see if they can take her statement or something, see if she can remember anything." To accentuate his point, Courtney got out of the backseat and into the driver's seat. Joven tossed her his keys, and the van sped off into the afternoon light.
"Is that what you were talking about in the car?" Shayne's voice cracked as he turned towards Damien.
"What?" Wes raised an eyebrow. "What are you talking about?"
He looked up at Wes, and then over to Joven. "I brought her back."
"Again, what the hell are you talking about?"
"Sarah was dead...well, not quite, and she asked me to bring her back." Damien's head felt heavy on his shoulders. "I saw her in the back of my car, and she looked like a ghost...maybe she was a ghost, but she told me that she was trapped between here and the After, and that if I acted quickly, I could put her back in her body. At least, that's what I think I did."
"What the helllll," Wes grumbled.
"Well that's not normal," Joven said with mock enthusiasm.
The four of them turned to see a young woman standing in the entrance to the mansion. She was shorter than all of them, with dark black hair that was draped like fine silk around her shoulders. The woman wore a black tank-top and a matching skirt, a gauzy cloak fell over her shoulders like iridescent spiderweb. A large black hat covered her head and shielded her eyes, though they still burned a hole in Joven's head.
"Olivia, good to see you too."
"What the hell are you doing on my property? I told you, I can't help you unless you've brought me my-" Olivia took a single step down, her feet were bare on the cracked stone. She let out a soft gasp, turning towards Damien. "I can't believe it. You actually did it. You brought me my psychic."
"Can we talk now, Sui? You know why he's here."
"He's the Witness this time around, isn't he?" Olivia drew in a deep breath. "Gods, it's about time someone fixed this damn town." She motioned with her arm. "C'mon in, we'll have tea and chat. We've got a lot to discuss, and no time to waste."
"I've been waiting seven years for you to say that," Joven giggled as he ran up the stairs. Wes and Shayne followed, but Damien stalled at the bottom of the steps. Olivia watched him with a strange curiosity.
"What're you afraid of Damien Haas?" She asked, cocking her head to the side. Olivia grinned when he opened his mouth to ask how she knew his name. "You're in good company."
Damien swallowed slowly, nodding up at her as he climbed the stairs up and into her house. They stood in the foyer, which was made of a dark wood that swirled around him as his eyes adjusted to the change in light. Olivia shut the door behind them, and lead them into a small room in the den where tea, biscuits and sweets had been laid out on a tray. Wes, Shayne and Joven squeezed together on a large green couch in front of the tea and food. Damien took a seat in an off-green chair to their right, and Olivia sat the farthest away in a blue chair across from him.
"Tea?" Joven raised an eyebrow. "How'd you know we were coming?"
"I knew someone was coming, but I didn't know who it was. So I made tea and hoped they'd like it. Want any?"
Shayne took a cup to be respectful, and Wes took one so that he could eat the sweets without being judged, but Damien and Joven both passed. Olivia sat back in the chair and studied him for a second, her eyes fluttering as she watched him.
"You've got an incredibly strong aura," she noted. "It's very bright too. You're a very loyal and loving person, aren't you? Well, once you get to know someone."
"I'd like to think so," Damien smiled meekly.
"You're incredibly powerful too."
"He brought someone back from the dead." Wes tripped over his words through a mouthful of cookies.
"Really?" She furrowed her eyebrows. "I hadn't heard of that happening."
"It was an accident," Damien said quickly. "There was a spell, but it'd been performed wrong, so she was stuck between places, so she asked if I could just put her back in her body."
"How long did that take you?" She stirred her tea with interest. "What did you even do?"
"I kinda just closed my eyes and saw her body, and then felt myself like, push her back in."
"Just like that?"
"I think so."
"You think so?"
"I'm kinda new to this." Damien scratched the back of his neck, trying to forget the brand beneath his fingertips. "This has never happened to me before."
Olivia crossed her leg over the other, her eyes had such power behind them that Damien felt himself shrink in his seat. "There are two kinds of people, those who those who acquire their abilities, and there are those who are born with abilities." She smiled at his brightly. "You and I are both the latter."
"I wasn't born like this, this has never happened before. I could never-"
"Think back to when you were a kid." Olivia set her cup on a table next to her. "What do you remember about your childhood?" Her eyes seemed to glow in the soft light. "Who do you remember that no one else does?"
Damien furrowed his eyebrows, thinking back to when he was little. He was always a smart kid, absorbed in books. Damien had never liked the people around him much, they had all seemed too dim for him.
He'd liked talking to the old janitor, who was better at conversation that anyone else he'd ever met.
His eyes grew heavy slowly at first, but then it was too much, and he felt the vision come on stronger than any he'd had before.
"How are you today Damien?" The man in the grey jumpsuit smiled up at him as he mopped the floor.
"Hi Mr. Jones!" Damien grinned as he took a seat next to the man on the chair in front of him. "How have you been?"
"Oh," his voice sounded distant. "Same old, same old. How about you?"
"I'm doing just okay."
"What's wrong?" He twirled the mop around on the floor, polishing it until it glimmered.
"Those kids made fun of me again." Damien swung his feet back and forth, staring at the ground.
"Did they?" The janitor stopped mopping. "Well what for?"
"They said that I should stop talking to you because it makes me look stupid."
"Really?" He squatted down next to Damien, and Damien got a good look at his face for the first time."Well that's not very nice of them." The janitor's face was ghostly, because he was, in fact, a ghost. His body was completely translucent, from the shine on his boots to the wisp of his beard. His eyes were what haunted Damien. They were so blue. Bright and full of life that had been extinguished. "What are you going to do about it?"
"Tell them that that wasn't very nice. And that they should really get to know you before they judge you...At least that's what Ms. Addie says."
The man smiled sadly. "And Ms. Addie is very right." He took a breath, and pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket. The man coughed into it roughly. "Ms. Addie...would you tell her something for me?"
"Would you tell her that I'm sorry?"
"What are you sorry for?"
"That I...that I had to leave her and her brother that night." He shook his hand. "Tell her that her father is sorry for leaving so soon. That he wished that he could've watched her grow up." He looked up and away from Damien. Out of the corner of his eye, Damien could see a black figure standing a few feet away from him. "I...I have to go Damien."
"You have to leave for good this time, don't you?"
"Smart boy," the janitor smiled solemly. "Just promise me, you'll tell her, okay?" A single tear fell down the man's face, evaporating into mist as it dripped from his chin. "Goodbye."
"Good luck." Damien hadn't know why he'd said it, but it'd felt right in the moment.
Damien's eyes drew themselves open, and he realized that he'd been crying. He wiped away his tears messily, pulling the sleeves of his shirt up to clean the corners of his eyes. "What...what was that?"
"Your past, I'd assume." She shifted in her chair slightly as the three guys on the couch watched them with fascination. "What did you see?"
"A friend." Damien blinked quickly. "An old friend, who...I think he was a ghost." He looked up at Olivia. "I think I helped him cross over. I think I helped him come to terms with his death, and leaving his daughter behind."
"What else do you see?"
"I don't think I want to see anymore, I believe you."
"Really? Normally it takes more than that."
"With all the shit I've seen in the past two days, trust me, I believe you."
"Then if we've got the whole 'he's a psychic, you're a psychic, you're happy he's here' thing down, or whatever the hell that was, we should talk about the thing that's important here." Joven spoke pointedly, sitting forward. "The thing that could get us killed if we're not careful?"
"You mean Mary Hester?" Olivia said the name so plainly.
A cold shiver struck Damien's spine as he thought of what Sarah had said in the car.
"So it is her that's got the town in a vice grip," Joven nodded.
"No," Damien felt his voice in the back of his throat. "I don't think it's her."
"What'd you mean?" Joven turned towards him. "Are you getting some psychic vibe about it? Some sort of freaky-deaky vision or whatever?"
"Sarah said something to me, that it wasn't her, Mary Hester, but someone that loved enough to kill for her."
Joven turned to Olivia. "You're the expert. What's your take?"
"From all of the Witnesses I've ever spoken to, they've all referenced a female figure...one that looked like Mary Hester. There's never been any mention of man, or even another woman that might've been there. But-" Olivia stood slowly, stepping over to a bookshelf- "I've had this hunch for a few years." She counted the books, grabbing one and tipping it forward. There was the sound of gears clicking as the bookshelf began to slide away slowly, revealing the entrance to a dark room behind. She stood in the entrance, waiting for a second with her hand on the outside of the bookshelf. "Coming?" The four of them stood up at once. "Wow," she grumbled sarcastically. "Not eager at all."
Olivia lead them into the room, which looked more like a giant ball of paper covered in other papers more than anything else. The ceiling was covered completely, and only the floor gave any clue that it might've been an actual room once. "Watch your step." Damien lifted his foot over a large piece of red string that connected one side of the room to the other. They all found themselves in a small circle in the center of the room. "Welcome to my pet project of the last...well of my whole life."
"You have everything," Joven walked up to one of the photos. He reached out to touch it but Olivia slapped his hand away.
"You're going to mess it up."
Wes spoke up. "How long have you been collecting these things?"
"Long enough," Olivia straightened a photo that had gone lopsided.
"How far back do these records go?" Shayne stared down the photo of his brother before turning to look at the one of his grandfather.
"All the way back to the first deaths ever recorded in Mayweather. Most of those were natural, but as soon as Mary Hester died, they started getting freaky."
"I've never seen half of these deaths before on any sort of thing about this case." Joven ran his finger along a red wire. "All of them were related to fires, all of them, but I've never heard of them before."
"It's because of this-" Olivia maneuvered around Joven- "it all changes here. This is when the first Witness appeared." She followed the line along. "Then the second, and the third, and so on down the line."
"So you're saying that you think that everyone's got it wrong," Wes followed her hand with his eyes. "And you think that all of this was over before the 'official' deaths started up?"
"It's a hunch. But I need Damien to confirm it." She turned to him. "I'm going to need you to laser focus your ability."
"I don't think I can do that, I can't control it...it does what it wants."
"It doesn't control you, you're in charge of what you see. If it's cryptic, ask it to be clear. It's your mind Damien, you're in charge in there."
"Alright," Damien nodded, still unsure. "I'll try."
He moved himself so that he was standing in the middle of the room. Damien drew in a breath, he let his eyes fall shut. He stood there, feeling stupid for a few seconds, before he let the breath out. Show me what I need to see.
He found himself in the black room again. There was a desk in front of him. Dean Raub's desk. He kept moving forward, the view tipping him forward as he came to look over the desk down at the ground behind it. The Dean lay motionless behind it, his neck was bleeding, the symbol was complete this time. The man turned his head slowly, his eyes looking up and over at Damien.
"Is it too late to save you?" Damien's voice felt like it was echoing through water.
"Then show me what I want to see."
There was a breeze behind him as his vision shifted, and he found himself on a hill overlooking the town below. Damien squinted, realizing that the town looked older, smoke stacks puffing out bright barrages of smoke from their tops. The grass was lush and green beneath his feet, and as he turned, he saw that the craggy outcroppings of the rock next to him were supporting the weight of a young girl.
She was slight and tall, wearing a bright green dress that blended in with the thicket of trees behind him. Her bright bronze hair was pulled back with a red ribbon, and it was tossed by the wind as it blew through her hair.
"Isn't it beautiful?" Her voice was crisp and clear in his mind.
"Mary Hester?" His voice felt awkward compared to hers.
"That's my name." She smiled coyly at him. "Don't wear it out. Good to finally meet you Witness."
"Where are we?"
"Where I died." She looked down at the ground beneath her feet. "Where he tied his soul to mine." Mary clutched the outside of her arm. "As if I had ever wanted any of that." She stared blankly out on the town below. "They say that you could see me burning from the town square. My son, my only child, thought that I looked beautiful burning." The woman clutched her face, trying to hold herself steady against the rock.
"Mary, I know that you're innocent, you didn't want any of this-"
"I just want to be free. I know that you're the one who can set me free."
"I will, I promise, but first I need you to tell me who did this, and how I can stop them."
"He did this." Mary was fuming, her eyes brimming with tears that threatened to slip down her face as it grew redder and redder with every breath. "He claimed to love me, but it wasn't love, it was an obsession that went too far."
"What did he do?"
"There was a witch in Mayweather, but it was never me. It was always him. He always had a fascination with those things." She wiped away her tears. "When I died, of course I wanted vengeance, but I didn't want him to go around burning people up on my behalf. They found him out, the townspeople. They weren't as stupid as they seemed. On his dying breaths, he dragged himself up here, to where my soul had been watching the town below. He entwined our souls so that he could kill those he thought had hurt me even after the grave."
"But he started forgetting who actually hurt you, didn't he? He started killing who he wanted ."
"It was never love," she whispered. "It was always hate. Pungent, rancid hate. I thought it was sweet, when he burned those men who hurt me, a gesture...but when he kept killing and killing..."
"How do I stop him?"
"Break the curse. Break his bond to me."
"How do I do that?"
Mary turned towards him, her eyes were an impossibly familiar shade of blue. "He's coming."
"You're related to Shayne."
"Send him my love," she whispered. "You and your friends must get out of that house now. He's coming for all of you, and he won't be kind." She reached out, her fingertips brushing his forehead. "Go. My blessing will only get you so far."
Damien's eyes snapped open, and he tumbled to the ground, grappling for something to pull himself up with.
"Something's wrong," Olivia whispered. He stood to face her.
"We have to get out, now."
"Something bad is coming, and we need to get out of here before it catches up with us."
Damien ran out of the room with the others hot on his trail.
"What are you talking about?" Shayne yelled after him.
"Are we really going to question the psychic?" Joven yelled back.
Damien burst through the front door, his head arching up to see the sky beginning to grow dark. A bolt of lightning flashed and Damien could see that there was something in the clouds, and it was big. He could feel something strike the atmosphere around him, as the hairs on his arms stood on end.
"Keys!" Shayne grappled for the keys before tossing them to Damien. He clambered into the driver's seat as Shayne slid into the passenger side. Joven, Wes and Olivia piled into the back seat as Damien thrust the keys into the ignition.
"Are you going to tell us what the hell is going on now?" Joven barked from the back, panic in his voice.
"Big bad witch guy. He tricked Mary Hester, who is apparently Shayne's ancestor-"
"- and killed a bunch of people in her name, then kept killing people. He bound their souls together so he wouldn't die and could keep doing his stuff, and now he wants us dead." Damien slammed on the gas and truck flew out of the roundabout.
"That's bad. That's really bad."
"In short, we have to find away to unbind them and send them to the other side." Damien practically flew through the air as he drove.
"And how are we going to do that?"
"Here's some bad news-"
"Fuck," Wes groaned.
"We're gonna need all the back-up we can get." Joven pulled out his phone. "This is gonna be the longest night of our lives."
Chapter 4: It All Comes Together
Everyone prepares themselves for the worst as a storm descends on the town.
By the time they returned to the University, the room that the Smosh Paranormal Club resided in was packed with people.
There were small factions of students, all grouped off talking to one another in quiet, nervous voices. They were all people that Damien recognized from the previous night's festivities, and he knew from their expressions that Mari must've called in a lot of favors. Mari and the other members of the club all stood by the front board. Sarah Whittle sat on a table next to them, a blanket over her shoulders and a cup of what looked like tea in her hands.
She looked up when he entered. There was something in her eyes that tore away at him. She'd seen something, and she'd never be the same. Sarah raised her hand to wave at him, the ugly red scars on her palm were impossible not to stare at. Her fingers were curled slightly down, mangled from all of the nerves the blade that carved through her skin must've hit. Mari turned to face them, as did the others.
She looked from Damien to Shayne, and then over to Wes and Joven before her eyes landed on Olivia. They widened just slightly, but not enough to be completely noticeable.
"You're back. Good." Her voice got the attention of everyone else in the room. "Are you going to explain what the hell's going on?"
"In short-" Olivia spoke calmly and quickly- "the spirit that has been terrorizing this town for the past two hundred years isn't Mary Hester, and tonight, we're gonna stop 'em."
"What?" Mari furrowed her eyebrows, looking to Joven and then to Damien, who both nodded in tandem. "But the Witnesses, they all saw-" she drew in a breath, letting her eyes shut- "she was trying to warn them, wasn't she?"
"Yeah. I talked with her." Damien felt his voice grow stronger as he spoke. "Whoever's really behind this, they're powerful and smart, but driven by raw emotion. She said that there was this guy she knew when she was alive. He loved her, but I don't think she loved him back, and that made him mad, and he let the townspeople blame the witchcraft he was doing on her."
"Oh my god."
"And when the townspeople found out about it, and the fact that he was killing people on her behalf, they tried to hunt him down," Damien nodded to himself. "He tied his soul to hers, and has been using her to keep himself here."
"Why would he do that?"
"He wanted vengeance at first, for Mary, for himself, but now it's become something else...."
"So what's this spirit thing now? Can anyone explain what exactly is going on here?" The question came from a short man sitting backwards on a chair. "Hi, yes, I'm the one that spoke. Name's Sohinki, President-"
"Co-President-" a man with bright orange hair interrupted.
"Co-President of the Tin Foil Hat Club. Yeah, I was promised pizza in exchange for help."
"We're talking a life or death situation," Olivia's head snapped towards the man like a hawk. "Unless you want half of this town to be destroyed by the end of tonight, I'd advise shutting up and staying out of this until we've got it figured out."
"Sui..." Joven grumbled. "What Olivia means is that we are very appreciative of your cooperation. Thank you all for coming, we really, I really, didn't expect this kind of turn out." He crossed the room to stand in front of the board. "Most of you are from around here, and because of that, I know that most of you know the legend of Mary Hester."
"That witch that got burned way back when? Of course, everyone knows that shitty ghost story," Sohinki grinned. "Except, I'm guessing that you're about to try and convince me that it's not just a ghost story."
"Really?" Sohinki stood. "Joven I know that you're still sore about that prank the Tin Foil Hats pulled last year, but seriously dude, trying to say the death of that freshman and Sarah's accident was because of a ghost is pretty insensitive."
The loudspeakers in the classroom groaned to a start as Dean Raub's voice echoed through them. "Attention students, we have just been informed that a potentially hazardous storm has formed on the western side of town, and is slowly moving towards the University. I ask at this time that everyone please report back to your Houses, and enter the designated storm shelters in the basements. Thank you."
Damien and Olivia gave each other a look and crossed the room to the windows on the edge of the classroom. The sky had grown dark much too quickly as Damien craned his neck towards the clouds above that rolled like crashing waves. A single bolt of lightning illuminated the sky, revealing the shadow of a strange creature that spread itself across the sky.
"What the hell was that?" Sohinki ran to the window. Thunder rattled the windows in front of them, and Damien could feel the energy that hummed off of them.
"That's the spirit we're trying to stop," Olivia spoke.
Sohinki whipped out his phone. "Nah man, that was a UFO if I've ever seen one." The man with orange hair was at the window with them in seconds. "You getting this Corn?"
The lightning flashed again, and this time the creature was closer. "Holy shit, yeah."
"We're in, we'll help you catch this thing," Sohinki grinned maniacally. "Mayweather's gonna be the next Rosewell!"
"We don't have a lot of time before he gets here." Olivia wrenched herself away from the window. "We need to fortify this room, and secure the building as our headquarters. If I had my things..." She swore loudly as she pinched the bridge of her nose. "Think, think," she muttered to herself. "You don't happen to have a Grimoire or a black book, or any sort of casting supplies?"
"No, sorry." Mari shrugged apologetically. "Dean Raub made me get rid of our Grimoire after weird stuff started happening in the building."
"Unfortunate." Olivia shot Damien a look. "If I had some of my books or supplies this would be easy, but we're gonna have to wing it, and we have to work fast, we have fifteen minutes tops."
"What do you need?" Mari jumped into leader mode as the whole room began to descend into chaos at the windowsill.
"Um, charcoal I can write with, salt, black and red markers, a few other miscellaneous objects...and blood." Olivia raised her eyebrow. "Can you do that?"
"We're near a science room, I think they've got stuff I can make charcoal with, and they definitely have pigs blood." Mari turned to the mess of people. "Tanner, Tim! I need your help, round up a team, I'm making you a grocery list." She handed Olivia a piece of paper and a pen, and Olivia began jotting down ingredients. She handed it to the group of boys that had gathered and sent them off running.
"We need sigils, and lots of them."
"Ooh!" Boze leapt up from where she'd been sitting on the table next to Sarah. "I can do that."
"You know how to use sigils?"
"You know the sigils for protection and invisibility?"
"Like the back of my hand."
"Cover the room with them, we need this place to radiate with power."
"On it." Boze grabbed Courtney and Sarah, and the three snatched up whiteboard markers from the front and began drawing on the walls.
"Now the hard part," Olivia whispered. "We need to summon him in order to break his ties with the realm. And for that we need something that belonged to him."
"We don't even know who he is," Damien responded.
"You don't?" Mari whipped around.
"Mary never said who it was, I have no idea who it could've been."
"We need to figure that out quick, or else people are going to start dying," Olivia tried to say as calmly as possible. "You're going to need to find him, okay?"
"I don't think I can be that specific," Damien protested. "I might get a face, or a voice, but probably not 'here's my name and a map to my old belongings and or body'."
"I have photos of portraits of everyone that was important in the town hanging on the wall," Mari pointed to the corner where Mary's image was hung in the very middle. "Would that work?"
"I can try, but I can't promise anything." Damien pulled out a chair from behind a desk. He sat down in it, closing his eyes. Show me him.
He let his mind go dark. He found himself staring into a mirror, foggy and tinged with whitish-green and black speckles. Damien could make out a shape as he drew closer, at first he thought that it might've been his head, but the fog began to clear, and he could begin to see a face. A man with sharp features and black soulless eyes looked back at him. His skin was impossibly pale, and his hair, thick, dark, and curly, fell around his face, accenting the severity of his nose and chin.
The man narrowed his eyes, curling his lip up. He reached with his free hand, slamming it into the mirror so that it shattered and fell away. Damien realized that he hadn't been looking into a mirror, but across a pain of glass in the black room. The spirit was standing across from him. It reached across, grabbing at Damien's neck. He couldn't move as the spirit began to wrap its fingers around his throat. Damien couldn't breath, he couldn't move, all he could do was watch the eyes of the man in front of him. Stop. He felt his mind finally scream.
Damien's eyes snapped open, and he sucked in a breath, coughing wildly as he doubled over in pain. He rubbed his neck, his breaths coming in slow and short as he curled into himself.
"Did you see him?" Olivia stepped forward, her head moving to look at him fully.
"Damien, are you okay?" Shayne crossed from where he was standing with Joven and Wes. Damien turned to the board, his eyes searching it for the beady black eyes.
"I'll be fine," he croaked out. Damien hobbled over to the board at the front. He drew his finger along the red string, stopping at a photo of the man he'd seen in the vision. The man looked the same in the photo as he had in Damien's vision, so pale, with eyes as hollow as a feral creature. "Him. This is it, this is the guy."
The building was rocked by a clapping wave of thunder that buffeted the building. Olivia turned her head upwards as the lights began to flicker.
"We gotta move quicker, he knows where we are now."
"Damien, can I see that photo?" Mari held out her hand, and he unstuck it from the wall and handed it to her.
"Do you know who it is?"
"Yeah." Mari handed the photo back to him, but Damien set it on the desk next to him face up. "That's Jacob Renner. He was the town doctor, known for his strange procedures."
"And do you think there's something of his around here?"
"Luckily, there's a whole wing of things." Mari turned around, pulling a piece of paper from a desk. She clicked the back of a pen open and began to write. "In the Klingberg Building, there's a tiny medical museum dedicated to things created and used by the doctors around here. I think there's a pair of his glasses in there somewhere, and they should do just fine for the summoning."
"I'll go get them," Shayne stepped forward. The others raised their eyebrows, but before anyone could protest Shayne added, "besides, I know a shortcut to Klingberg, and I'm the only one here who can pick a lock."
"I believe him," Olivia's face had an odd look on it. She then spoke directly to Shayne. "You've got a rare aura to you, did you know that?" Shayne shook his head, and Olivia continued. "An aura of the Protector." She raised her eyebrows with delight. "Very rare, and very special. You could move mountains for those you want to protect."
"Thank you?" Shayne furrowed his eyebrows, and Olivia gave him a lopsided grin.
"I'll go with him to Klingberg," Damien interjected. "You all hold down the fort, and make sure that everything is ready when it's time. I have my phone on me, and I'll call if anything goes wrong."
"Go, and good luck." Olivia gave him the same half smile. "Listen to your mind, trust your instincts, and oh!-" she dug around in her pockets- "good I kept one on me." Olivia pulled out a tiny totem the size of a quarter. It was coin made of wood, with markings etched on it in black writing. She handed it to Damien , who held it out to the light to see it better. "This should give you at least a little protection, but it won't be perfect."
"Thanks," Damien returned the smile with a nod.
"Take an umbrella from the thing by the door, if this is truly a storm, you're gonna need it," Mari set her eyes on Damien and then Shayne. "And like Olivia said, good luck."
Damien grabbed a bright red umbrella, putting the wood coin in his pocket. He and Shayne stepped out into the hallway, watching as the dimly lit hall was illuminated by lightning for just a second, the roll of thunder shaking the floorboards. The lights flickered and flashed, threatening to go out for just a second before stabilizing. Damien saw something dark dart by out of the corner of his eye.
"We need to get moving." Damien grabbed the handle of the front door, wrenching it open. He was buffeted by winds and pelting rain, and barely had any time to open the umbrella before they were swept into the unnatural darkness of the storm. It should've been the middle of the day, and the sun should've been high above them, but the clouds blocked out any source of light. The streetlamps had been activated, and provided the only light for them to walk by.
Shayne and Damien clustered together underneath the umbrella's shield, but it didn't do much to protect them, Damien's legs were already soaking wet. A gust of wind hurtled through the open quad, threatening to knock them both over, but Shayne held them steady. A bolt of lightning touched down across the horizon, lighting up the sky with white opalescence. The creature in the sky was huge now, and Damien could make out the curve of what looked like a face, there were huge wing-like things too along its back. It looked almost humanoid in the way it appeared, but the way it moved, shifting and rippling like the clouds, wasn't human at all.
A wave of thunder exploded in his ears, sounding more like a roar than the regular growl that followed a flash of lightning.
Damien could feel something following them, it was dark and it wasn't human. He felt his knees grow weak as a red hot spike drew itself across his neck.
"Shayne," his voice was a whisper as he felt his body grow numb.
"Damien?" Shayne pulled his arm under Damien's, holding him up. "Damien! Shit, dude, what's going on?"
"He's here." Damien felt his throat constrict. "I think he's trying to stop us." He felt like he was floating, his body as light as air as the heat on his neck began to spread across his body, and his head numb and filled with cotton.
"Damien, c'mon man, fight this, we it's just a few more feet to the building steps. We're almost there."
Damien managed to drag himself forward, but it felt like he was walking through wet cement that was drying quickly around him. Shayne readjusted his arm, pulling Damien along. He let out an angry yell as he pulled them up to the stairs and under the overhang of the building. Shayne dropped the umbrella, and pulled the door open, carrying Damien through.
The two of them collapsed on the ground, and Shayne rested Damien against the wall, making sure he was alright. Damien couldn't feel his feet anymore, and he knew that he was slowly losing consciousness.
"Alright, you're gonna be okay." Shayne's voice was frantic. "You're gonna be fine, I'll call Mari-"
"Shayne," he coughed. "I'll fend him off. You find the glasses and run them back." Damien let out a hacking cough. "I can use the totem Olivia gave me, I can try to amplify its power. You go, now. You're our only hope of saving everyone right now-"
"Damien, no I'm not gonna leave you here."
"You have to." Damien drew in a shaky breath as he felt the presence of the man at the door. It loomed over him, and Damien watched as a shadow appeared, cast over Shayne's face in the flash of lightning. "He's here, go now."
Damien closed his eyes as Shayne squeezed his hand before taking off down the hallway. The door banged open, and Damien could see a ghastly figure enter, floating above the ground. Tendrils of smoky darkness licked the floor by his feet, wrapping him in a black cloak. He looked the same as he had in Damien's vision, expensive clothes, wild black hair, and eyes so deep and empty that they carved a hole in Damien soul.
"Hello Witness." His voice echoed in Damien's mind like church bells. "I always like talking to my Witnesses before I kill them." The man stood in front of Damien, a thin smile play across his lips. He reached out his fingertip, and Damien cowered away as it drew itself to touch his brand.
A bright white circle covered in strange writing and rotating markings appeared before Damien, arcing outwards and throwing the man back. He hissed, the smoky tendrils of his feet pulling away as the shield slowly dissipated. Damien felt his strength begin to return, and he stood, slowly and shakily, facing the spirit.
"How did you get that?" He cowered away, building his strength back up. "Where did you get that, who gave that to you?"
"Someone who knows that this is ending tonight Jacob Renner." The man growled, his lip curling up. "From now on, Mary Hester will be able to rest in peace, and you won't be able to terrorize Mayweather any longer."
"No," Jacob spat. "You have too much faith in your abilities Witness." He sneered, his eyes glowing in the dark. "You have no idea what's even going on here, do you?" Damien didn't respond, holding his ground firm. Jacob laughed, "I'm trying to help this town, I'm trying to keep it safe from those who tried to hurt Mary!"
"You're killing innocent people in her name!"
"You really think that's what this is all about?" The spirit hissed, his grin growing wider and wider. "You're not the only one who can bring people back."
"What?" Damien shook his head. "You're trying to bring yourself back to life?"
"No, you imbecile, I'm trying to bring Mary back so that she can live the life she deserved." He smiled dreamily, "our souls are tied, I will simply come back with her. And then we can be together forever."
"Is that why you killed so many people? For sacrifices?"
"Smart boy," he hissed. "I spent the last years of my life trying to figure out how to bring her back, and every decade for the last two hundred years carrying out that plan. I got so close, I had everything! But there was one ingredient missing. I thought that I had gotten it last time, but I got the wrong brother."
A chill shocked up Damien's spine.
"He may have shared a father with his older brother, but they have different mothers. His mother just happens to be the many great-granddaughter of Mary." Jacob Renner bared his teeth as Damien. "And you brought him right to me." Jacob turned as Shayne began running back down the hallway.
"Damien, I've got it!"
"Shayne no, don't come any closer, run!"
"What?" Shayne slowed down, but didn't stop. Damien felt the ground shift under his feet as Jacob stepped through the void, his body becoming solid and firm, the tendrils of smoke melting off of him.
"Oh god." Shayne stopped, his eyes were filled with fear as he looked from Damien to the man.
"Say goodbye to your friend." Jacob began walking towards Shayne, who was rooted to the ground. Damien tried to move towards him, but he was stuck to the ground.
"Damien?" Shayne's voice was weak, his eyes had begun to fill with tears. "Damien, what's going on? I can't move." His voice grew labored and panicked. "Damien, Damien help!"
Jacob plucked the glasses from Shayne's hand and placed them on the bridge of his nose. "There, that's better." The man's form began to solidize as he turned to Damien. "You can try to stop me if you want, but you'll fail. You know where I'll be."
He grabbed Shayne's wrist, and in a flash of lightning that illuminated the darkened corridor, they were gone.
Chapter 5: The Burning Rock
Damien must save Shayne from the ghost before he competes the ritual that will bring him and Mary back to life.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Damien had flown into a blind rage, barely registering the fact that he had run halfway across campus until he was standing in front of the door to room 113. He raised his hand slowly, watching as it shook as he pushed open the door.
Mari was drawing on the floor while Olivia who poured over a large, tattered book. Boze, Courtney and Sarah were drawing on the walls with a few others, and Keith and Noah were organizing a few jars of strange objects on the front desk. There were a few members of the Tin Foil Hat Club who were stationed at the window with cameras and other recording equipment. Joven and Wes were pushing desks out of the way with the help of some freshman.
"Damien?" It was Wes that noticed him first, soaking wet and very clearly without Shayne. "Where's Sha-"
"He took him, that bastard took him." Damien dropped into a chair, his breathing labored as he tried to focus on something to get his heart rate down.
Mari, Olivia, Joven and Wes had made a small circle around him, with Olivia at the very front. She had the huge book under the crook of her arm. "Damien...what happened?"
"We made it almost all the way the Klingberg, and then he did something...and I could barely move. Shayne and I made it inside, and I told Shayne to get the glasses and get out of there, bring them back to you. I said that I'd fend him off, but he came back for me, and Renner took him."
"Why? What does he want with Shayne?" Olivia raised a concerned eyebrow. "I'd have thought that he'd want you more than anything else."
"Renner wants to bring Mary back, and if he brings her back, he'll come back too."
"Oh my god," Mari whispered.
"I don't know for sure, but I think that he needs something from one of her descendants to complete the spell to bring her back, and...Shayne's related to Mary Hester."
"I remember you said that when we were all in the car..." Joven shook his head. "How'd you even know that?"
"She looked like him, it was her eyes." Damien shook his head. "And when I asked her, she told me to send him her love. I didn't know what that meant, but I think I do now."
"I'm afraid to ask," Joven responded quietly.
"I think that Renner's going to cut out his heart in order to bring Mary back." The silence around them was deafening. "A heart for a heart." Damien knew that everyone was trying to think of something to say.
"What're we going to do?" Wes spoke first. "We don't know where he took Shayne, and we don't have any way of tracking him."
"And if we do find the another belonging of Renner's, it might be too late." Olivia's tone was gravely serious, and it send cold shivers down Damien's spine. "We could try a spell with something of Shayne's but I can't guarantee it'll work that well. He's still alive, and all of the spells in this one deal with things that have passed."
"I know where he is." Damien didn't look at the others.
"You do? That was fast," Joven snorted. "Your visions usually take longer than that."
"No. Mary tried to send me a message when we talked earlier. I saw where she died, and I think that's where the spirit took Shayne."
"Then we shouldn't waste any time, we need to go now if we want to save Shayne."
"No," Damien stood slowly, his hands shaking. "I have to do this alone. He and I...I think there's something that connects us. The spirit, it had this...power...over me."
"It's a spirit, of course it had power, your minds are on the same wavelength," Olivia objected.
"It's different thought, when spoke with Mary, I could feel what you're talking about, it was like our energies were harmonizing...but with Renner, it was something completely different." Damien felt for the back of the chair to steady himself. "He had this...control over me-"
"Then you'd be an idiot to go alone," Olivia responded.
"No, no. I think it's a two way street, if I can focus enough, I think I can control him, send him away." He looked to Olivia who crossed her arms over her chest. The others followed suit, and Olivia seemed peeved that the decision had come to her.
"It's dangerous as all hell." She sighed, rolling her eyes. "And no matter how much you protest, we're coming with you, you're going to need us, whether you think so or not, because with pure dumb luck, it might just work."
"Joven coasts through life one dumb luck," Wes grinned. "I'm sure he'd be happy lend it to you for a little while."
"Oh shut up Wesley," Joven punched Wes's arm in a friendly way.
"I'll give you some protection sigils." Olivia pulled out a black marker from behind her ear. She turned to the rest of the group. "The three of you, load up Damien's truck with anything that we've gathered that looks like it might help, we're leaving now."
"On it," Mari grinned. She, Joven and Wes began scouring the room, grabbing jars of strange objects that the Tin Foil Hat Club had placed around the room. Olivia popped open the marker with her teeth, holding the cap between her back molars.
"Hold still." She lifted up Damien's shirt, and began marking it up in short, jagged lines. He didn't even seem to feel the cold wetness of the marker against his skin as he watched the storm brewing off in the distance. It had become a dry storm now, the clouds a threatening and bulbous purple, but the rain had stopped licking away at the ground of the campus. The lightning flashed, and Damien could see the creature in the sky just over the horizon, waiting just where he and Mary had stood in his vision.
Renner was playing with him, but Damien was determined not to let him win. He felt attached to this place now, as if he could feel the way it moved and breathed. These people, though he'd only known them for a day, felt like longtime friends that he'd just met after a lifetime apart. They felt important to him, and he didn't know why, but he was glad that they happened to fall into his life.
Damien and Olivia walked briskly from Howler Hall under the safety of an umbrella. Damien had felt bad for leaving one of Mari's two umbrellas in Klingberg when he'd ran back, but she'd assured him that she was happy because now the umbrella had a story to tell. Joven and Wes had climbed into the back of Damien's truck already, and Mari stood at the side, hanging off the side, watching for them. She swung herself into the car as Damien wrenched open the driver's side door, pulling himself in and starting up the car.
Olivia barely had time to fasten her seatbelt as he punched the gas and shot them out of the parking lot. They sped down the tiny country road into town, swerving to avoid downed tree branches and causing Wes to topple into Joven and Mari's laps more than once while Olivia hung on to the handle above her for dear life. None of them told him to slow down.
They sped through the town, saying nothing when Damien blew through the red light on Main Street. Damien pulled off the road and down a road that was barely visible in the darkness. He kept moving, not realizing that he had no idea where he was going when he found himself in a tiny parking lot.
"Where are we?" Damien asked.
"You're the one that drove us here," Joven countered. "Oh, wait, psychic brain, that's right." All of them stepped out of the car. "If we make it through this, you should psychically figure out the best pizza place and we should go there."
"Don't need to be psychic for that." Damien smiled, trying to continue Joven's light conversational path. "Regina's in Boston?" Damien kissed his pinched up fingertips, mimicking the motion he'd seen his very Italian grandfather do hundreds of times. "Mwah, best pizza you'll ever eat."
A bolt of lightning struck a tree in front of them, lighting it on fire. Damien, Wes, Joven and Mari jumped back, but Olivia pressed forward like nothing had happened.
"He knows we're here." Olivia spoke over the howling wind that whistled through. "We're gonna need to move faster." She turned to Damien as he made sure his car had been turned off.
"Where to psychic?" Joven spoke, the light of the fire glinting off his glasses.
Damien closed his eyes, drawing his power from the burning branches of the tree. He could feel a presence draw him forward, and he reached out his hand, whisking it through the air. Damien opened his eyes, and in front of him, he could see a wispy trail that had cut its way through the trees in front of him. "This way."
"Yay," Joven grumbled. "To the dark and scary path we go."
Damien pushed branches out of the way, listening to the sounds of the forest and the footsteps behind him. Every once and a while he'd check back to see that everyone was still following, and every time, they still were. Damien didn't know how he knew, but at some point, he knew they'd be gone, and he'd have to press on alone.
They followed the trail up the side of the mountain until Damien could see the flickering of a fire in the distance as it hit the leaves of the trees, turning them a deep orange. The wispy light began to wane, and Damien could see someone standing in front of their path. Mary, silhouetted in white, her hair flowing around her shoulders as she held her hands folded in front of her.
"Woah," Wes's voice came from behind her. "Is that?"
Damien turned back to see that everyone was watching where Mary was standing. "You can see her?"
"Yeah, no shit, we can see the glowing woman," Joven guestured.
Mari elbowed him, "keep your voice down."
"Witness." Mary's voice sounded strained like Sarah's had, as if she was speaking through a radio receiver. "You don't have much time, he's beginning the ceremony."
"Oh no." Damien began running up the hill, but just before he passed Mary, he stopped. It was lucky, but he noticed the line drawn in the sand before Mary's feet. "This is how far they can go, isn't it?"
"He'll know otherwise."
Damien turned to the others behind him, who watched him with confused expressions. "You can't come any farther."
"What? I told you Damien, no matter how much you protest, we're coming with you." Olivia stepped forwards, ready to barrel across the line.
"No, no, he'll know if you come any farther, and if he knows that we've gotten this far, we've lost our only leg up in all of this." Damien stepped back and pointed down at the ground. "Don't cross this line unless you hear my call for help. And I'd call the cops, and tell them to send an ambulance, I think Shayne and I might need one."
Mari pulled out her phone. "Alright, good luck."
Damien gave them all a strained half smile before stepping back across the line. The air felt immediately calmer, and as Damien looked up, he could see the swirling clouds above his head were considerably lighter in color that the ones surrounding. This was the eye of the storm.
Damien crouched against a rock, watching as flames licked around a large fire pit. He scooted closer, getting a better view. The rock he and Mary had stood at was in full view, cast in a yellow glow from the fire. Damien could make out two figures by the fire, one standing against the rock, and the other moving from a small table to the fire. The moving figure tossed something in it, and the flames exploded to twice their original size, glowing a greenish-yellow before fading back to orange.
Damien chanced running, and dashed across the clearing to press his back against the cool of the big rock. He inched around the side, turning so that he could peer out at what was going on in front of the rock. Renner was building up the fire, his body half-translucent half-stable as he transferred different measurements from the table next to him to the fire. The tendrils of black smoke that surrounded him licked across the ground, keeping the fire contained.
Damien moved his gaze from Renner to the other figure. He could see the outline of Shayne propped up against another rock next to the table. His whole body was bound, and his head hung limply against his shoulder. Damien felt his stomach squeeze with fear, what if Shayne was already dead? He watched Shayne's body, and felt his fear lessen as he saw Shayne draw in a soft and barely visible breath.
He felt frozen for just a second. What was he supposed to do? Just confront Renner? Damien waited in the darkness, not sure what to do.
"You must be pretty bored just sitting there psychic." Renner's voice hissed in his ear. Damien leapt up, feeling for Olivia's protection coin in his pocket. The spirit was at his side, his breath as rancid as death. He cackled, dissipating from where he was crouched next to Damien, reappearing behind the fire, his features pale and thin like a skeleton's in the light. "You are a brave one Witness. Braver than most. Though I would say that in this instance, it is more stupidity than bravery."
Damien held his ground, but he could feel Renner beginning to have that same grip he'd had on him earlier. His feet were slowly going numb, and he knew his brain would be too if he didn't act quickly. Damien hoped that Olivia's sigils would protect him for at least a little as he got his bearings, he knew what he had to do, but he didn't know how in the hell he was going to do it. Then again, he'd done a lot of things recently that he'd had no idea how to do with ease.
"I am going to take your mind, and I'm going to make you watch as I rip out your friend's heart, and bring back my love so that we can forever live together, just the two of us, in a place where no one can take her away from me."
"No." Damien took a tentative step forward. The fire popped loudly, and the hair on Damien's neck stood up, but he held fast. "I'm going to stop you and free Mary. You can't keep her here anymore."
"You think you can?" Renner took his own step forward, and Damien felt like he was slowly being pushed into a bucket full of ice water. "I have destroyed Witnesses over and over again, and all of them had something to fight for in all of this. Why should I believe that you, someone who had never even heard of Mayweather until a month ago, would even care about anyone here?"
"Because these people shouldn't have to suffer anymore." Damien could feel the air around him begin to swirl. "They've all lost friends and family, and they shouldn't have to do that ever again just because you're sad that a girl didn't like you."
"Liar," Renner spat. "Mary and I love each other more deeply than you could ever fathom."
"Does she?" Damien could feel a vision coming on, and he pressed it outwards. The sky turned black as it wrapped the two of them in its darkness. "You always loved her, didn't you?"
"She was mine." Renner tried to stalk towards Damien, but he was stuck where he stood.
The landscape spread out before them. The town was tiny below them, a fledgling compared to what it was now. The grass twisted around their ankles, and the wind whistled through the trees. The morning sun hid behind a blanket of clouds that swirled overhead.
"Jacob!" The spirit turned at the call of his name to see a tiny little girl running after a boy through the grass. "You're too fast, I can't catch up!"
"No," Renner spat. "No."
"Betcha can't catch me Mary!"
"You were childhood best friends, inseparable."
The children disappeared into mist, and teenagers took their place. Mary and Jacob sat in the grass, laughing and talking as the afternoon sun filtered through the trees, casting a glow directly above them. Mary braided Jacob's hair, laughing as she pulled it out again and again to make it perfect.
"You were children still, and you loved her, but she didn't feel the same. You dreamed of her every night."
"Stop this," Renner roared. "I do not want to see this."
The two teenagers disappeared, replaced by two adults. The sun was beginning to set, casting a golden glow against the gold of the autumn leaves.
"Mary?" The young Jacob approached Mary where she stood against the rock. "Is something wrong? Why are you crying?"
"I'm crying happy tears Jacob."
"Happy tears? What for?"
"The man I love has asked me to marry him."
"But I haven't asked you yet Mary."
"What?" Mary turned towards Jacob. "What are you talking about?"
"Witness, away with this torturous vision!"
Jacob got down on one knee, pulling a ring box from his pocket. "I came to ask for you hand."
"Jacob." The way Mary said his name broke Damien heart. "I love you, but you are as close to me as my brother, and I never wished for our relationship to be any different."
"Who are you to marry, I will duel him for your hand!"
"No, Jacob. Find a sweet wife. Marry her. I am not someone you want to keep close."
"But who, please, who is it?"
"The pastor's son."
"I must go Jacob, I'm due home now."
The scene around them changed. It was dark now, and the moon had begun to rise over the mountain side. A pregnant Mary stood across from Jacob, who looked much older than he had before.
"Jacob please, you must stop this." Mary's eyes were filled with tears. "This will get you killed!"
"I love you Mary, and I cannot be in a world where you are not mine." Jacob pressed past her. "This must be done."
"I love him Jacob!" Mary tore at Jacob's coat. "If you truly love me, then do not do this to me."
Jacob's face was severe in the moonlight. "He has poisoned you Mary, listen to yourself speak. He is a snake of a man, and deserves all that comes to him."
"I speak of my own free will!" Mary cried, her voice was growing hoarse. "You can't blame me for not feeling how I do."
"You will see Mary, his snare on you will disappear after this. You are a rabbit and he caught you in his trap."
The night changed, and the ground grew thick with snow. The moon hung high above them, and Damien could see torchlight in the distance. A procession of men made their way up the path where Damien had come. They held lamps and torches, guiding a man in a black mask that held Mary in chains. She was no longer pregnant, but there were tears in her eyes, which had aged since before.
The morbid procession came to a stop in front of where the fire Jacob had lit had been. In its place was a pile of tinders surrounding a large post. The man in the mask tied the crying Mary to post, who looked out on the several men that stood before her with a pleading look in her eyes.
A man in a blue jacket and white trim shirt read off of a scroll.
"Mary Hester. For crimes against the people of Mayweather, and usage of witchcraft to harm and torture innocent people, we sentence you to death by burning."
"Please," Mary whispered. "Please, Jacob, help me. Tell them the truth."
Jacob stood among the men, a grave expression on his face. The men looked to him.
"Renner, have you something to say?"
"She's a witch. And she must burn." He threw his torch into the tinders, watching blank faced as they lit. Mary began to scream, but her voice was drowned out by the sound of the flames that roared around her body.
The vision dissipated around them, and Damien stood above a crouching Renner. "Do you see?" Damien clenched his fist, and Renner's body contorted. "All of the pain you caused? The lives you destroyed?"
"No!" The tendrils of darkness shot out around Renner's body, grasping for Damien, but he waved them away.
"You're a child Renner. You are nothing but a child. You never grew up. You never moved past your heartbreak."
"And you channeled that into a false narrative. You killed for someone who you could've loved just as much as a friend. You tortured her for two hundred years."
Renner's head tipped back, and Damien could see that there were tears running down his face.
"Do you see it now?"
Damien raised his hands, and Renner's body raised with them. He clenched his hands into fists, and Renner began to glow, the darkness began to disappear as his body grew to light. Damien released him, and Renner opened his eyes, which glowed with white light.
The spirit stood, looking out at the town below him. He looked like he had as a teenager, his face young and full, and his eyes regaining the life they'd once had.
"The town is pretty like this, isn't it?" Mary's voice came from behind them. Damien turned, watching as Renner faced her, head bowed.
"Hello Jacob. You look better."
"Mary, I am so sorry." He looked back up at her. She watched him with a stern gaze. "Is there anyway you can ever forgive me? For any of this."
"No," Mary's voice was solid. "This isn't something you can be redeemed for." Her eyes softened as Jacob looked away.
"Of course. I deserve nothing from you."
"I can't forgive you Jacob, I can never forgive you, but we were friends once, and I would like to walk through this medow one more time with you. We can walk through it into the After." She turned to Damien. "Can you do that for us?"
"I can try," Damien responded.
Mary linked her arm with Jacob's, and the two began walking. They passed the fire, which slowly died as they got to the other side of it. Damien held up his hands, imagining a doorway of white light across from them. The doorway opened, and Mary and Jacob passed through it. Damien's hands shook from the sheer power he was holding as he closed the doorway behind them. A shockwave exploded out from where the doorway had been, passing through Damien's chest and across the mountain side. He watched as it spread outward, encapsulating the entirety of the town below.
The sky cleared above him, and Damien drew in a breath of the mountain air. The sun was just above the horizon, and Damien loved how the trees looked in its glow. For a second he stood there in the calm stillness, watching the sun as it touched the mountains across from him before where he was came flooding back to him.
"Shayne," he breathed. Damien dropped to the ground beside Shayne, who was bloodied, but breathing. He cut the ropes off of Shayne with a knife Renner had left on the table. Shayne drew in a shaky breath as Damien helped him to his feet. "How're you doing bud?"
"Damien, did you do it?"
"Is it over?"
"It's over." Damien felt his legs grow weak under him, but he managed to stand. Joven, Mari, Wes and Olivia ran up over the horizon. His vision began to grow dark, "we're safe."
^ - ^ - ^ - ^
"Alright everyone, let's try this again." Mari stood above everyone on the podium. The night sky wrapped around her head, making her look taller than she actually was. The bonfire pit in front of her was filled to the brim with sticks and logs, and she held a torch in her hand. "We don't want anything to happen like it did last year." This elicited a laugh from the older students and a confused look from the freshmen and the transfers.
Shayne and Damien stood out in the crowd in front of her, holding the Cardinal banner between them. After Sarah had graduated, she'd given Damien and Shayne the title of joint House Mother, and she claimed that there was no one better to look after a bunch of students in the House that the people who literally saved her the year previous.
The rest of that year had been eventful, but nowhere near as eventful as it'd been in those first few days. Damien had grown to love Mayweather, and more importantly the people of the Smosh Paranormal Club, who had become his second family. His parents were happy that he'd decided to stay out there, rather than getting mopey over his Yale scholarship falling through, and they were happy to see that he wasn't going to break the bank on student loans.
They didn't talk much about what had happened that night. Damien told Mari that he'd tell the story once, and he kept that promise. Of course, that didn't stop Joven and Wes from telling it hundreds of times over the course of the year.
Shayne healed up within a month, and was back to his joke-cracking self by the second. He never really talked about what had happened with Renner until one night when the Smosh Paranormal Club got very drunk and drove to where it all went down.
The townspeople had started calling it 'Burning Rock', after the fire that they'd seen the night of the storm. The fire had turned the rock, which had once been grey, a rusty-red-orange one one side, and when the light hit it just right, the colors seemed to dance. Shayne had spent a good half-hour sitting against the rock, a beer in hand. Damien had been there with him, the others having collapsed in a pile, all limbs and booze-stained breath.
"I don't remember."
"I can't remember what happened that night." Shayne's eyes were sincere. "Everyone keeps telling me that I went through this whole ordeal, but I don't remember a lick of it." Shayne took a sip of his beer. "I kinda want to remember what happened, just to see what was so bad, but I think that's just a mistake waiting to happen."
"Sounds like it," Damien responded with a smile.
Damien still had visions, but they were usually about the grade on his midterm, or the future of that gross couple he'd see around campus every once and a while. Once Olivia started attending Mayweather after a lot of prodding, she helped him train his brain not to latch on to every little wavelength. The black room stopped showing up in his visions, and he started being able to control what he saw.
Olivia stepped up to the banner next to them, her bright yellow Cardinal shirt catching Damien by surprise. "I thought you didn't wear anything other than black?"
She smiled, something she did more often now. "I'm starting to warm up to the color."
A voice from the crowd caught Damien's attention. "Hey Mari, shouldn't it be illegal for Damien to play since he's psychic?" Damien looked over to see Joven standing under the banner for Oberon. This got another laugh from the older crowd.
"Why do you think they made him House Mom?" Shayne yelled back, grinning at Damien, the scar on his check turning upwards. They could hear Boze and Courtney laughing their asses off under the Meritage flag.
"If everyone's done arguing about our favorite psychic-"
"Hey!" Olivia yelled back playfully.
"-our second favorite psychic, then let's get this show on the road."
Mari lifted the torch into the air, and lit the bonfire ablaze.
And Damien had never felt more at home.
Thank you all so much for reading! I'm actually surprised that I managed to get it done in time, and early, in fact. Crime Does Pay chapter 12 should most likely be out by either Thursday or Friday. If you haven't already, check me out on tumblr @thosedamnsmoshkids. Here you can check out more nonsense; the Ghost Hunters AU and more idiotic content; and get updates on when new chapters come out.