By Jamie August
Sarah took a swig from the Jack Daniels bottle in her hand and laughed to herself at the other two girls. Jacki and Sandra thought they had dragged Sarah here. 'Here' being the old Fairwater Sanatorium, scene of fourteen deaths involving Patricia Anne Bradley and Johnny Bartlett. Sarah shook her head in amusement. Her friends thought they had talked her into bringing them here. In reality, she had only agreed by virtue of her own reasons.
Reasons that didn't include the Ouija board her companions were currently setting up. Sarah stretched her legs in front of her and shifted her weight to the chapel door behind her back. She watched as Jacki pulled several long black candles from a duffel bag. The whole idea of a seance was terribly laughable to Sarah, but her roommates had insisted. They had also insisted that it take place on the fourth floor, outside the chapel. A fact which Sarah suspected Sandy was quickly coming to regret.
"Is it safe up here? Maybe we should do this downstairs." Sandy stared pointedly at the splintered boards and holes in the floor.
Jacki lit a candle and sighed. "Coming up here was your idea. Besides, this is where that weird FBI guy bought it. And you know that spirits haunt the scene of their deaths."
Sarah raised an eyebrow. "FBI guy? You mean Dammers? Actually, he bought it right. . .here." She slapped her hand down on the floor about a foot from where she sat.
"And just how the hell could you know that?" Jacki demanded.
"Bloodstains." Sarah widened her eyes innocently. "I saw the bloodstains. How else would I know?"
"Yeah, well, whatever. Are you going to join us here, or what?" Jacki indicated the Ouija board where Sandra sat opposite her.
Sarah smirked and took another nip from her bottle. "Do you really think any spirit is going to waste its time talking to you? You ought to just go home."
* * *
Milton Dammers; whose spirit had been more or less loitering around the sanatorium since that bitch Patricia Bradley had blown his head off; agreed with the young woman sitting by the chapel door. He was protective of his current haunt, and didn't take kindly to people invading his territory. Especially female people. Especially young female people. The one by the chapel door (the only halfway smart one, in his opinion) looked the oldest of the three, and even she couldn't be more than nineteen or twenty, Dammers guessed. Glaring at them, he reared back and screamed at the top of his ghostly lungs,
Of course, they couldn't hear him. Or see him, for that matter. Oblivious, they continued their quest to speak to the spirit world.
"Are there any spirits present?" Jacki asked.
Sarah laughed when the planchette moved to 'YES' and Sandra jerked her hands away from the board.
"You moved it!"
"I did not." Jacki pulled her own fingers from the planchette.
"Maybe the ghost did it," Sarah offered. "That is what you came here for, isn't it?"
Jacki shot her an irritated look and began to reply, but Dammers chose that moment to hurl the planchette against the wall. Jacki pointed and exclaimed, "There, Sandy, do you think I did that?"
Sandra stared wide-eyed as Sarah retrieved the planchette and tossed it back onto the board. The second it touched down, it started on a deliberate path through the letters. Sandy gasped. "Jacki! It's spelling something. Take this down!" The girls watched as the planchette moved from one letter to the next.
As he stopped on the 'Y', Dammers knocked all the candles over, sending quite a few rolling across the floor.
Snorting derisively, Sarah shook her head. "Maybe you should take a hint. I wouldn't piss off the ghost if I were you." Greatly entertained by this ridiculous charade, she wondered how long it would be before the other girls turned and ran.
"Shut up, Sarah," Jacki muttered, relighting as many candles as she'd managed to save from falling through holes in the floor.
Sandy tentatively danced her fingertips over the planchette and whispered, "Who's there?"
"Maybe it's Casper."
The girls ignored Sarah as the indicator first jerked from their grasp, then began to spell again.
F-B-I A-G-E-N-T D-A-M-M-E-R-S L-E-A-V-E N-O-W B-I-T-C-H
Dammers once again picked up the planchette, this time opting to throw it at the little blond twit. The girl, Sandy, shrieked and clutched her head where the plastic triangle had struck. He sighed. On reflection, it had probably been a mistake to respond to them at all, seeing as how it had only served to encourage the redheaded bitch that was running the show. But on the other hand, perhaps it had worked to his advantage, since the blond was now whimpering that she wanted to go home, and the redhead was reluctantly giving in.
"Fine, fine. Are you coming, Sarah?"
Sarah shook her head and drew her legs up. "No, you wait for me in the car. I want to check something out before I go."
Dammers rolled his eyes and began to pace as the two girls packed up and left. Great. He wondered how long this one was planning on staying. He supposed he could go elsewhere to get away from her, but this was his place, dammit! Besides, he was unsure of this girl's motives, and that disturbed him. She evidently had no interest in the seance, so why had she come? He briefly stopped pacing to glance at her. She was staring directly at him, seeming almost to meet his eyes. Spooked, he resumed his pacing.
"Would you stop that? I'm getting dizzy just watching you."
Dammers jumped and let out a shriek. He whirled around to find the girl still staring at him with a peculiar little smile on her face. "You, aah . . . you can see me?" He asked haltingly, ready to run and hide at the first sign of aggression from the girl.
Sarah chuckled and gazed curiously up at him. "Of course I can see you. How could your pacing make me dizzy if I couldn't see you?" She watched as Dammers nodded and nervously shifted from foot to foot. Against all rationality, Sarah found herself undeniably attracted to the man. Hmm, she mused, I wonder what sex with a ghost is like.
Finally Dammers raised his head and met Sarah's eyes. Frightened by the predatory gleam in the green irises, he gulped uncomfortably before attempting to speak again. "So, uh . . . what . . . ahem . . . What do you want from me?" He managed to stammer.
Smiling reassuringly, Sarah leaned forward and stared at him innocently. "I want to help you, that's all. I can restore you to your body. Your body before your head was blown off," she quickly added.
Dammers, who had backed up as the girl leaned toward him, now cautiously edged forward to within four feet of her. "How . . . what . . . ?" Steeling himself, he at last settled on a question. "You can do that?"
"Mm-hmm." Sarah nodded and regarded the ghost soberly. "If you want me to."
Dammers trembled in barely contained anticipation, momentarily forgetting his uneasiness. "Of course I want you to. I don't enjoy being dead. It's been five years . . . five years . . . after Bannister's wife . . . five years after forty-one murders . . . five and forty-one . . . no, I was the forty-first . . . or was I forty-second . . . "
Sarah allowed the ghost to mumble to himself while she planned her next course of action. Weighing things very carefully, she had come to the conclusion that the next phase of the plan would be the trickiest. But she was almost certain that the lure of being back in corporeal form would be enough to convince him to do her bidding. And what fun I can have with him in corporeal form, Sarah thought wickedly.
Dammers suddenly derailed his own line of incoherent rambling to glare down at Sarah suspiciously. "What's in it for you?"
She studied his narrowed brown eyes and slowly nodded to herself. The best way to approach this is with honesty, she decided. "There are a few things I'd like you to do for me first. But believe me, they won't require much effort from somebody in your current . . . state of being. A few simple little tasks, that's all."
Dammers backed halfway through a wall before sidling forward just enough to stay in the room. "What simple little tasks?"
"Well - -"
"Sarah! Are you coming?" Jacki's voice floated up the stairs.
Sighing at the interruption, Sarah climbed to her feet and walked to the top of the stairwell. Tossing the car keys down, she told the other girl, "Just go on without me. I'll walk home when I'm done."
"You'll walk back? It's ten miles!"
"Whatever. What are you doing up there, anyway?"
"I'll explain later. Go on home."
After Jacki left, Sarah returned to the hallway outside the chapel, where Dammers had taken up his restless pacing again. When he saw that she'd returned, he stopped and stood twitching nervously. Now that they were standing face to face, Sarah noticed with mild surprise that Dammers was only an inch or two taller than she. Crossing her arms over her chest, she realized with further surprise that she was a bit apprehensive about the upcoming portion of her plan. Taking a deep breath and forcing herself to meet his eyes, she plunged ahead with her interrupted explanation.
"Well, first there are a few people you'll have to . . . get rid of . . . for me." Sarah paused and waited expectantly for his reaction. She didn't have to wait long.
"Get rid of . . . ?" Dammers' eyes shot wide open and he jerked away violently, as if he'd been struck. "I am not a murderer!" He exclaimed, horrified.
Sarah called upon all her mental reserve to continue. She raised her eyebrows and feigned surprise. "Aren't you? Or is it standard practice for an FBI agent to shoot an unarmed man with an Uzi?"
Dammers stared at the floor and grimaced. "Bannister," he muttered.
Sarah nodded. "That's right: Bannister. Now, are you really trying to tell me that you're above sacrificing a few people to attain your goal?"
Restraining himself from edging away again, Dammers swallowed the lump in his throat. "And if I do these things for you," he pronounced carefully, "you can restore me to my human form? Just as I was before death?"
She nodded. "You'll be good as new."
Dammers considered this. "And can you remedy other physical . . . uhm . . . afflictions . . . I suffered in life?"
If Sarah didn't know any better, she'd think the ghost was blushing. "Yes. Good as new, like I said."
Dammers fidgeted, then finally offered a guarded smile and nodded. "Well, uh, I suppose . . . When you put it that way, I suppose it's an acceptable deal . . . "
* * *
The walk home was interesting, to say the least. Because of certain vengeful spirits Dammers felt sure were out to get him, he opted to make the journey to Sarah's apartment inside her body. The joining of their senses was a distracting experience, and more than once Sarah felt his panic pervade her body and mind. As they entered the apartment, she felt an overwhelming sense of relief, but whether from herself or him, she couldn't be sure.
Once inside the girl's bedroom, Dammers withdrew from her body as if she were on fire. Although, if he were to be perfectly honest with himself, occupying her being for the two-hour walk hadn't been as unpleasant as he'd first feared. If nothing else, it had presented him with the opportunity to sense her thoughts, and he now had a clearer picture as to her motives. His biggest fear had been that she would use him as her personal assassin, then not follow through on her end of the bargain. However, after seeing into her mind, that particular worry was, for the most part, laid to rest. Now he had a new neurotic anxiety.
He'd felt Sarah's attraction to him, and hadn't been able to hide the fact that it scared him shitless. He knew she'd sensed his alarm, and he could only hope she hadn't been able to perceive the reason for his dread.
Truth be told, Dammers found himself inexplicably drawn to the girl. He had tried several times to explain it to himself and failed. He was certain she wasn't being entirely honest with him. He had questioned her many times on the walk home; questioned her on the particulars of restoring him to life; questioned her about whom he was to kill; still she refused to give any satisfactory answers. He'd even tried to pluck the information directly from her mind, but she had successfully hidden that part of her mind from him.
The remainder of the night passed relatively uneventfully, not counting the numerous times Sarah was awakened by Dammers' incessant pacing and mumbling. A couple of times she could have sworn he was trying to get into her thoughts, but she was too drowsy to say for certain. My own pet ghost. He followed me home; can I keep him? She thought sleepily, before drifting into slumber for the third time in an hour.
Aside from pacing and mumbling, Dammers spent a good portion of the night snooping through Sarah's room, concentrating the majority of his attention on the books stacked on every available surface. One in particular piqued his interest; a thick black leather-bound volume with no visible title. It was book-marked with a playing card, and when he opened to the marked page, the words nine of hearts and dead restored to life immediately jumped off the page at him.
After reading the entire chapter by the light of his own ghostly glow, Dammers at last understood how the girl planned on restoring life to him. He shook his head dismally, doubting the method. According to the ritual described in the book, he was to kill nine people over the course of nine days, taking their hearts with him. On the ninth day, which must be a full moon falling on a Friday, a ritual ceremony would be performed, involving the ghost being bathed in the heart's blood of the final victim. Dammers found it extremely ironic that the cult activity he so despised was the very thing Sarah would use to help him.
Staring down at the sleeping girl, he was struck by how innocent she looked with her eyes closed and strands of dark hair falling across her features. Resisting the sudden urge to brush the hair from her face, he quickly backed away from the bed, flustered and irritated with himself. This is how weak, stupid men get in trouble, he reminded himself. Oh, sure, they all look sweet and innocent when they're asleep.
It's when they wake up that the trouble begins. Even so, he couldn't entirely repress the feeling of kinship he had developed for her. Disgusted by the situation, and especially with himself, Dammers went back to pacing anxiously.
* * *
Sunlight streaming through the open curtains woke Sarah in the morning. Not hearing the sounds of Dammers' pacing, she slowly opened her eyes and glanced around the room, finally spotting him sitting on the floor at the foot of the bed. Upon closer inspection, she realized he was paging through one of her ritual books. Pulling herself to a sitting position, she smiled at the back of his head. "Good morning."
Dammers, who had been too involved in the untitled book of rituals to notice the creak of bedsprings that should have alerted him to the girl's awakening, gasped and slammed the book shut. "Don't do that!"
"Sorry," she muttered, rubbing her eyes. God, he sure is jumpy, though, isn't he?
Dammers dropped the book on the foot of the bed and pointed to it. "Tell me, do you really expect that ritual to work?" He demanded.
Sarah stared at it blankly for a moment, then attempted to shake some of the fuzziness from her head. "Give me a break, Dammers; I just woke up."
Sighing impatiently, he slapped his hand down on the cover. "But will it work? Have you done it before, or seen it, or. . . or are you just . . . just . . . bullshitting me?" He sputtered.
Exasperated, Sarah held up her hands. "Just calm down, will you? Yes, the Nine of Hearts ritual works. All right? Trust me," she added, eyes and voice growing ice-cold, "it works."
Dammers backed away nervously, chilled by the sudden change in the girl's demeanor. He didn't trust her, and she hadn't really answered his question to his satisfaction, but after taking one look into her eyes, he decided that this line of questioning could wait. Glancing at the clock, he thought of something else. "It's eleven eighteen . . . eleven eighteen . . . " he repeated to himself, then quickly snapped back to attention.
"Shouldn't you be at work? Or do you conjure your money out of thin air?"
Studying the contemptuous frown on his face, Sarah wondered if the man was actually trying to test her patience. And what is this thing with numbers, anyway? It reminds me of fucking 'Rain Man' or somedamnthing. Choosing to ignore his tone of voice, Sarah allowed a touch of warmth to find its way back into her own. "I work at a bookstore. I don't usually go in until one."
"Oh, let me guess," Dammers said, sarcasm dripping from every word, "it's an occult bookstore."
Now Sarah grinned, but the ice never melted from her eyes. "That's right, Dammers. It seems you're still getting all the fruity cases."
Astonished, he gaped at her speechlessly. "Fruity cases . . . how . . . how did you . . . ?"
"Nevermind that," said Sarah with a secretive smile. She had rather enjoyed throwing that particular loop his way. "Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get ready for work. We'll discuss the specifics of the ritual when I come home."
* * *
While Sarah was at work, Dammers decided it would be the perfect opportunity to run a background check on her. Switching her computer on, he hoped he wouldn't be interrupted by her insipid roommates, who invariably would think the computer was running by itself. However, a quick survey of the apartment revealed him to be alone. After gaining access to the FBI computer database, Dammers stared at the screen for a long moment. Five years I've been dead now, and they still haven't revoked my access codes. That figures. He shook his head scornfully while bringing up the desired menu. Only then did he realize that he had no clue as to the girl's last name. Pawing through her desk drawer, he eventually unearthed an envelope addressed to Sarah Vega.
When the results of his search came up, Dammers carefully scrutinized every detail. Sarah Ann Vega; twenty-two years of age; born in Fortuna, California; currently residing in Fairwater, California. Nothing out of the ordinary, at least until he came across the more involved records. After inspecting driving, medical, bank, and job records, he discovered that Sarah Ann Vega did not seem to exist until four years ago. Not so much as a social security or library card was in evidence for the first eighteen years of the girl's life.
Familiar with this phenomenon, Dammers searched the database for a death record in the name of Sarah Vega, nodding to himself when it appeared on the screen. Cross-checking the dates on both the birth and death certificates, he softly snorted in derision. My, she certainly is lively for a girl who's been dead since she was two days old. He tapped his transparent fingers on the desktop and shifted uncomfortably in the chair. So, who was 'Sarah' up until four years ago? Standing up, he began to stalk restlessly around the room, mentally running down the list of reasons a person would falsify an identity. At the top of the list was the idea that the girl was hiding from the law. Briefly wondering if she would give him a straight answer on the subject, he flinched when he recalled the icy look in her eyes before she left the apartment.
"Just so she doesn't yell . . . I can't stand it when they yell," he muttered. Although, when he thought about it, he really didn't see Sarah as the yelling type. Still, the look she'd given him had made him almost as sick as yelling would have.
Turning off the computer, he meditated on his next course of action. Since the girl wouldn't be returning for another seven hours, Dammers decided that a bit more snooping was in order. After several minutes of searching through the dresser (and quickly slamming the underwear drawer shut when he happened upon it) and finding nothing of interest, he peered under the bed. Underneath, he found a shoebox full of newspaper clippings. On closer examination, he discovered that they all were about the 1964 Bradley-Bartlett murder spree and the subsequent 'unexplained' deaths. For that reason, he wasn't surprised in the least to find the articles pertaining to the death of one Special Agent Milton Dammers among the others. What did surprise him, however, was what he found under the newspapers. She's been researching me, he realized, stunned. He paged through the printouts of his personal and professional history. The little bitch ran her own background check on me. How the hell did she get access to these records? He wondered, feeling extremely violated. She had his medical history, bank transactions, even the results of the psychiatric evaluation he'd had before joining the FBI. "Shit, even I never saw this," he mumbled.
Suddenly, Dammers understood that the questions he'd been asking were insignificant. He couldn't believe that the most important question of all hadn't occurred to him until now. Really, how she planned on helping him was beside the point. He should have thought of it much sooner. Why me? Of all people, why did she specifically search me out?
* * *
Deep in the woods off Holloway Road stood a tree as eternal as time. It grew tall and proud despite the fact that it had never been touched by even a drop of sunlight. In spite of its great height, it was curiously gnarled and hunched over. It ensnared a bird briefly in its branches before dropping it to the forest floor, dead. A drop of blood oozed down the trunk like sap, staining a crimson trail along the rough bark before running out of momentum a foot from the ground. The tree stood patiently, encased in shadow, waiting. Pulsing. Expecting.
* * *