Dammers' stomach fluttered unsteadily every time he heard the front door open. Twice it had just been the roommates coming in; the third was Jacki going out again. Finally at a quarter past nine, Sarah entered the apartment. After saying a few words to Sandra, she walked into her bedroom to find Dammers sitting on the bed with his arms crossed, glaring accusingly at her. She dropped her purse beside him and sat at the other end to remove her shoes. He shrank as far away from her on the bed as possible and continued to regard her silently. She turned to him and beamed. "Hi, honey, I'm home." The ghost was not amused.
Pulling her feet onto the bed, Sarah leaned against the headboard and sighed. "All right, Dammers, I give up. What's wrong?"
He reached under the bed and came up with the sheaf of papers containing his life history. Tossing them at her, he watched wordlessly as she skimmed through them and looked back at him. She shrugged and smiled a bit sheepishly. "Okay, so I wanted to know more about you than what was in the papers. I did my homework, what's wrong with that?"
Dammers didn't even know where to begin telling her what was wrong with it. After planning for hours what to say to her, he was irritated to find that he was struck speechless when faced with the actual situation. At length he broke his reticence by asking, "Did you really think I wouldn't find out that you're dead?"
Sarah froze as her heart leapt into her throat. "What . . . what are you talking about?" She asked carefully, struggling to remain calm.
Dammers was a long time in answering, pleased at having caught her off-guard. Gratified at gaining the upper hand, if only temporarily, he infused his tone with unrestrained condescension. "Oh, come now. I did my own homework. Sarah Vega died two days after birth. Two days. . ." he began mumbling, "no, one day. . .eight hours. . .and twelve. . .no, thirteen. . .thirteen minutes..."
"Oh, will you stop with the numbers!" Sarah exploded, satisfied when Dammers squawked and cringed against the footboard. Regaining control of herself, she continued, "Yes, I falsified this identity four years ago. There is a reason, a good reason, but it's not something I'm prepared to go into right now. Now, do you want to focus on trivialities, or discuss the specifics of the ritual? We need to start it tonight, or you'll have to wait four months for another full moon Friday."
So much for gaining the upper hand. Dammers fidgeted and eventually made eye contact with the girl. "Why me? Why bother doing this for me? There has to be a catch. There must be something in it for you."
He gazed suspiciously at her through narrowed eyes.
Sarah had no idea what to tell him. Well, this was quite an oversight on my part. What now? After a minute, she decided to suck it up and be at least partially honest. "There's no catch. I mean, you don't have to give up your firstborn child or anything like that."
Dammers flinched, horrified at the mere mention of children.
"It's just that. . ." Sarah paused in her explanation, conflicted. "When I heard about your death, I did everything in my power to find out more about you. I was interested in the situation, and in you. Then I was told. . .then I found out that it wasn't really your time to die. So I decided to seek you out and try to set things right." She shrugged, upset at revealing more than she'd meant to.
"No, it wasn't my time," Dammers muttered speculatively. "The bullet was meant for Frank Bannister. . .it was his time. . ."
"No," Sarah interrupted his introspective mumbling. "It wasn't Bannister's time, either. The floor was supposed to give out under Patricia Bradley. She should have died in the fall to the first floor."
Shaking his head, Dammers insisted, "But it had to have been Bannister's time. If that psychotic bitch had fallen through the floor, I would have killed him," he emphasized. Suddenly realizing what Sarah had just told him, he jerked his head up to glare at her. "How do you know what was supposed to happen?"
Feeling like a trapped animal, she sighed again. "The ghost of Christmas Future told me. It doesn't matter how I know. Dammers, I promise that I will tell you everything. . .but not just yet, okay? For now you'll just have to trust me." She stared into his eyes imploringly.
Although highly skeptical at the girl's newfound sincerity, Dammers just nodded and allowed the subject to drop. If she was telling the truth about it having not been his time, then he was that much more eager to get on with the ritual. He listened avidly as she explained what he was to do that night and the following eight nights. Once he fully understood the procedure, he set out to the streets of Fairwater to perform the first sacrifice.
Choosing the first victim was easy enough. Sarah had told him that anyone would do, so Dammers simply walked into a house at random. Having ascertained that the home's only occupant, a middle-aged woman, was asleep, he took a deep breath and pulled out of himself the knife Sarah had given him. That, she'd explained, was the only way to transport corporeal objects without being detected. The ectoplasmic structure of his body acted as a cloaking shield, so he could carry any object within himself without the illusion of the object floating down the street on its own. This was the method he was to employ when bringing the hearts back to Sarah, also. She had given him a Zip-Lock bag for just that purpose, because as she'd told him, removed hearts tend to be messy.
Dammers stood at the side of the unknown woman's bed and inspected the dagger. The hilt was heavy silver, engraved down to the blade with symbols he had never seen before. The blade itself was a double-edged eight-inch long affair with nine symbols carved into it, four on one side; five on the other. He shifted his focus back to the task at hand, awkwardly placing the tip of the blade at the woman's throat.
As many times as he'd witnessed this sort of thing in over twenty years of undercover work, he was quickly coming to realize that actually performing the sacrifice himself was something quite different. Gathering his courage, he slowly drew the blade all the way across the woman's throat, simultaneously excited and sickened by the flow of dark blood that immediately stained the sheets. Extracting the heart, however, turned out to be slightly more difficult. He first cut a deep gash in the woman's back, then slid his hand in and grasped the heart. After a few experimental tugs, he realized that ripping the heart out wasn't that simple. He worked the dagger into the incision and clumsily severed the superior and inferior vena cava, hoping it would be enough to allow extraction. Giving a mighty yank, he was finally able to rip the heart from the corpse, with several pulmonary veins still dangling from the organ. It was slimier than he'd expected, causing him to drop the heart twice before managing to secure it in the Zip-Lock bag.
One down, eight to go, Dammers thought, relieved that the woman hadn't awakened as he killed her. Oddly, he hadn't seen her spirit rise out of her body. Stupid bitch doesn't know she's dead, he assumed disdainfully. He pondered the reality of having eight more hearts to take. This ritual had better really work. . . .
* * *
The woods throbbed with sinister energy. The tree trembled, the flow of blood down its trunk increasing with every expectant tremor. The earth around the tree was now swampy with blood, digesting the pile of dead birds that lay at the base of the trunk. Blood soaked into the ground, nourishing the roots. Several high branches moved aside, allowing a shaft of pale moonlight to illuminate the tree, seeming almost to spotlight it. Still it stood, vigilantly waiting for the night when it would be bathed in the light of the full moon. Soon, the whispering leaves promised. Soon. . . .
* * *
Over the course of the following seven nights, Sarah revealed more to Dammers about the ritual and the symbols on the dagger. The symbols were representative of the victims. The first symbol was chaos, thus explaining the random choice of victim. The second was innocence, and the only one that gave Dammers true pause. He finally conceded to taking the heart of a five year old girl. The third was the symbol of evil, and he had no qualms about sacrificing a man that Sheriff Perry had arrested for a bizarre ritualistic murder. The irony of this was not lost on Dammers. The fourth victim was to be of a religious order. He chose a priest, and was greatly unnerved when the man's spirit looked directly at him and said I forgive you, my son before ascending the corridor of light. The fifth was the symbol of healing; a doctor was the logical choice. Dammers considered Dr. Lucy Lynskey (who he had discovered was now Lucy Bannister), but Sarah warned him to hold off on that one. He reluctantly chose her colleague, Dr. Kamins, instead.
The sixth sacrifice was a bit harder. It was to be someone with psychic abilities, which meant somebody who could see him. Dammers agonized over this until he realized that most of his victims had been sleeping when he killed them, anyway. He voted to sacrifice Frank Bannister, but once again Sarah suggested he wait. Frustrated, he settled on a palm reader named Madame Zelda who ran a shop on Main Street. The most frightening experience thus far occurred as her spirit left her body. She began screaming at Dammers, who cowered in terror. After what seemed an eternity, she ascended the tunnel to the other side, leaving him trembling.
The seventh and eighth weren't assigned sacrifices. Sarah explained that anyone would do just fine, then suggested Sandra and Jacki. Dammers contemplated this for a while before looking up at Sarah. "Why do you want to. . .to get rid of your roommates?" Besides the fact that they're stupid little sluts, he added silently.
Sarah averted her gaze, considering her answer. After a long pause, she lifted her head and stared directly into his eyes, a look of utmost sincerity stamped across her features. "It's a vicious cycle," she said very softly and, Dammers thought, a little sorrowfully. "It's not even their fault. But this is the way it must be. It's destiny." She seemed to shake herself back to the present. "As I told you before, I will explain everything. But not tonight."
"When?" Dammers insisted.
"Soon," she promised. "Very soon."
Dammers eventually agreed to the killing of Sarah's roommates. He followed Sandra home from work the next night, performing the sacrifice when she reached a secluded stretch of road. On the eighth night, he noticed that his body structure was changing. He was no longer transparent, and stashing the dagger within himself was becoming more difficult and slightly painful. Ignoring the discomfort, he trailed Jacki to the library and boldly killed her in the bathroom. When the body was found, the police came by the apartment to talk to Sarah. She said all the right things and virtually charmed their socks off. They left with awarning for her to be careful, completely convinced of her innocence.
As Sarah lay in bed late that night, staring at the ceiling in the dark, she could hear Dammers moving through the apartment. When his blue glow lit up the hallway just outside her open door, she sat up in bed and called his name.
"What?" He peered around the doorframe hesitantly and reluctantly entered the room when she motioned him forward.
"Can I ask you something?" Sarah asked timidly, hoping it was too dark for him to see her anxious expression.
Dammers' stomach began to churn. In his experience, it was never a good thing when a woman wanted to know if she could ask you something. "What?" He repeated.
"Why are you so afraid and resentful of women?"
Dammers stared in her direction for a minute, then shook his head and backed wordlessly out of the room.
"Wait," Sarah pleaded after him. "I'm sorry; don't go. The fact is, I like you, and I just want to know why you're so uncomfortable around me," she said hurriedly.
He stood in the dark just outside the bedroom, not daring to come any closer. She wouldn't want to hear it, he thought. "I. . ." He swallowed hard, not quite knowing what to say. 'I blame my mother'? How
stereotypical would that be? "I have. . .issues."
Sarah laughed disbelievingly. "Issues? Yeah, and I suppose you do not play well with others, either."
Dammers was less than amused. Sarah was the one female he'd met that he actually wanted to be comfortable around, but damned if he'd admit it to her. He wondered fleetingly if the line it's not you, it's me would get her off his back, then dismissed the idea in disgust. Truth be told, he really didn't want her off his back, but he wasn't quite ready to admit it to himself yet. He had gotten very good over the years at denying his feelings. Especially sexual feelings.
Resigned to the turn he knew the conversation was about to take, Dammers surrendered to the situation and came all the way into the room. Taking a seat on the edge of the bed and regarding Sarah watchfully, he wished he could see her expression a little better in the dark. "Why does this matter to you?"
Sarah considered the best way to answer. Because I've got a fire down below and I need your hose to put it out. The thought jumped into her mind unbidden, and she had a hell of a time keeping a straight face. No, she mused, I think that would scare him off for certain. After a few moments of silence, she sighed and leaned toward him seriously. "Why do you think?" She asked softly.
To her surprise, Dammers reached out and gently touched her face. He's more solid than I expected, she thought dazedly. The ritual is already working on him. He started to let his hand fall from her face, but she grabbed it and held it between her own hands. He shifted uncomfortably but didn't pull away. She shoved the sheet and blanket off of herself and scooted up against him, gazing directly into his eyes. The intense look he was giving her paired with the surprising warmth of his body sent little shocks of electricity down her spine, and she moved his gloved hand to her bare thigh. After confirming that he wasn't inclined to draw away, she rested her head on his shoulder. Yes, he's definitely become more solid. He's not the least bit ectoplasmic anymore.
As Dammers lifted his hand from her leg and tentatively began to run his fingers through her hair, Sarah sighed. Enough of this, she decided, laying down and pulling Dammers on top of her. She almost laughed at his startled expression, but he made a quick recovery and started to kiss her. Hmm, now we're getting somewhere, she thought as his tongue slid against hers. She wrapped her legs around his waist and lifted herself up to meet him, a little amused at how hard he already was. Well, Mr. I'm So Uncomfortable Around Women, it would appear that at least part of you is raring to go. She moved her hands down to the front of his pants, intending to unfasten them, but he pulled away, pushing her hands back. Sarah started to sit up, disappointed, but Dammers shook his head and shoved her down again, sliding his hands up her legs; pushing her nightgown up to her waist. Momentarily flustered by the fact that she was naked underneath, he froze, then began urgently fumbling with his belt buckle.
Sarah gasped and cried out at his first sharp thrust, and Dammers slapped his hand over her mouth, giving her a taste of black leather. "No," he whispered insistently, "don't yell." She nodded and he removed his hand, replacing it with his mouth; probing hers with his tongue while frantically pumping in and out of her. She placed her feet on his ass and forced him in as deeply as possible, unable to restrain a low moan from escaping her throat. He moved his mouth down to her neck as she dug her nails into his back. Now also moaning, Dammers began drawing all the way out of her, then slamming back in with an intensity that caused her to bite down hard on her lower lip to keep from screaming. As every muscle in her body tightened, she released her lip and bit through his shirt and into his shoulder, rising up to him with every violent thrust. After struggling to maintain control, Sarah finally surrendered as she climaxed, clinging to him desperately as he finished her off.
Afterwards, they lay in each other's arms; Dammers wondering what the hell he'd managed to get himself into; Sarah still thinking of how alive he felt to the touch. She thought of the final stage of the ritual still to be performed, and lifted her head off Dammers' chest to gaze at him appraisingly. He stared back at her with an unreadable expression on his face. She lay her head down again uncertainly and sighed, coming to a decision. "I think it's time I told you the whole story," she whispered pensively.
* * *
In 1964, a girl who was then only seventeen years old lay in a bed in the Fairwater Hospital. She lay in a bed in the psychiatric ward, to be precise. Frightened when she began predicting their deaths, her relatives had recently had her committed. The doctors informed her family that she was delusional, possibly schizophrenic. She had just laughed bitterly and vengefully decided not to tell them of the imminent murder spree. She took sadistic pleasure in the knowledge that the doctor who had ordered she be restrained would be the first victim of the massacre. Lying in bed, she patiently awaited the inevitable.
When the first shotgun blasts rang out, she chuckled softly to herself and wondered briefly if telling someone before the event would have done anything to stop it. Pulling at the restraints, she dismissed the idea that the slaughter could have been averted. She was in the middle of counting all the reasons why it would have happened anyway when her train of thought was broken by footsteps entering the room. Craning her neck to get a better look at who'd interrupted her thoughts, she saw Patricia Bradley circling the room with a shotgun in her hands. When their eyes met, Patricia jerked back slightly, disconcerted by the sense of familiarity the girl evoked in her. She was certain she'd never met this particular patient before, but the feeling lingered. Not wishing to think about it any further, Patricia leveled the gun at the other girl's chest.
Hey, wait a minute, the girl in the bed thought as the shot entered her chest. Not me! This wasn't supposed to happen. Rising from her body, she ignored the tunnel of light that descended to meet her and watched as Patricia Bradley carved the number seven into her forehead. Seven? She whirled around to look down at the woman in the next bed. She was supposed to be number seven, not me.
She shook her head as Patricia exited the room without a single backward glance. Way to go, she thought bitterly, studying her new ethereal form. I wasn't supposed to die here. The Fates must've fucked up. Great, just great.
She suddenly found herself transported to a realm of pure white light. Startled, she raised her hand to shield her eyes and turned around in a slow circle. "What. . . the. . . hell. . .?
NO, a voice thundered. NOT HELL.
The girl jumped and peered into the blinding brightness, searching for the source of the voice. Finding nothing in the featureless void, she settled on directing her questions upward. "Um, hello?
WE ARE DESTINY. WE ARE FATE. WE ARE THE POWERS THAT BE.
Oh, that's helpful, she thought, exasperated. Abruptly she realized that not only were there several voices speaking as one, but they were also speaking directly into her mind. "Why did you bring me here?"
YOU HAD A GIFT. YOU SAW WHAT WAS TO BE BUT DID NOTHING TO STOP IT. HAD YOU SEEN FIT TO WARN SOMEBODY, YOU WOULD NOT BE HERE.
The girl slumped to the floor and cradled her head in her hands. "So you brought me here to scold me, is that it? Come on, if it was meant to be, then I couldn't have stopped it, right?" She wished
the Powers, or whoever the hell they were, would inflect some expression into their voice. Their current emotionless monotone was beginning to unnerve her.
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO UNDERSTAND THE PARADOX. WHAT IS MEANT TO BE WILL COME TO PASS IN THE END. YOU SHALL BE GIVEN ANOTHER CHANCE. YOU STILL HAVE
MUCH TO DO BEFORE YOU ARE REDEEMED.
After a moment of silence passed, the girl sighed impatiently. "Well? What is it that I have to do?"
PEOPLE MUST DIE AND PEOPLE MUST LIVE. SOMEBODY MUST MAINTAIN THE BALANCE.
She snorted resentfully. "Isn't that your job?"
IT IS NOW YOURS.
* * *
For twenty-six years, the girl made sure everything ran smoothly. The job the Powers had assigned her was easy work for the most part. Since the majority of deaths in Fairwater were natural, they required no assistance from her. There were a few murders and accidents which were necessary to oversee; the most satisfying being the car accident that killed her mother and aunt, the relations who'd had her committed. The prevention of certain deaths turned out to be little more than a glorified baby-sitting job. She was sometimes amazed at the stupid things people did over and over. She'd lost count of the times she'd stopped particular individuals from electrocuting themselves, or how many times she'd had to push someone from the path of an oncoming vehicle. Every so often she would question the Powers about her second chance at life, but they only spoke of it in riddles and innuendo.
In 1990, Patricia Bradley was released from prison and into her mother's care. The girl watched as Patricia immediately contacted Johnny Bartlett. She was chilled when the Powers informed her she was not to interfere with the new murder spree. Enraged, she watched the events unfold from a distance, but obeyed the order to not get involved. Her only consolation was seeing Bartlett kill her cousin, the daughter of the aunt who had convinced her mother to have her committed. Having no other living relatives, the cousin's two children were taken into foster care. In spare moments, the girl amused herself by watching them, occasionally communicating with them via a Ouija board.
Then in 1995, the Powers showed her the way the five year reign of terror was to finally end. They told her that an FBI agent would be attempting to end it his way. She was instructed to keep him from harm while also preventing him from killing Frank Bannister. The Powers were very emphatic on that point. If she succeeded, they went on, then she would be allowed to be reborn.
Reincarnation, they explained, was the only way she could be restored to life. Less than thrilled about the method of restoration, she reluctantly agreed after deciding there was no other way.
Which is how she found herself in the Fairwater police station a few days later, watching as a small man wearing a black trenchcoat and gloves peered around a doorjamb and said, "I get all the fruity cases." She shook her head and thought, Yeah, you think you get some weird ones? Try my job. She followed him all night, observing his every action; hiding whenever Frank Bannister came into view. At the sanatorium, however, it became necessary to come out of hiding. Bannister was too involved with his own quest to notice her, but at one point Patricia Bradley flew around a corner and came face to face with her. A few seconds later, Johnny Bartlett grabbed and restrained the girl, leaving Patricia free to make her way up to the fourth floor.
Attempting to extricate herself from the chokehold Bartlett had her in, she feared that she was already too late to stop what was undoubtedly happening outside the chapel at that very moment. As if to illustrate the point, she heard several machine gun pops, then the voice of the FBI agent shouting, "Get up!" After a pause, there was a loud bang which she recognized all too well as a shotgun blast. Defeated, she stopped fighting and slumped against Bartlett, who finally released her and smirked. "Hah! Looks like you're too late, sweetie." Gloating, he wandered off to find Patricia.
With a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach, the girl rose through the floors, coming to rest just outside the fourth floor chapel. Despite the multiple gunshots, there was but one body in the hall; she recognized it as the FBI agent. He had evidently ignored the passage to the other side, for his spirit was staring down at his own body, uncomprehending. She snuck away before he spotted her and arrived downstairs in time to see the tunnel of light open to Frank Bannister. Great, she moaned to herself. Now I've lost both of them. I really screwed myself over this time.
She watched as Bannister's spirit grabbed Patricia and yanked her spirit from her body. As Johnny howled and jumped into the corridor of light after them, she was struck with the urge to do the same. Launching herself into the tunnel, she was met with a brilliant flash of light. Opening her eyes, the girl discovered that she'd been transported to the featureless void of the Powers.
YOU HAVE FAILED US.
She sighed. "I know, I know. I lost them both, but - -"
NO. YOU LOST ONLY ONE.
"What?" She was taken aback. "But I saw Bannister - -"
HE LIVES. YOU WILL NOT. YOU HAVE FAILED. YOU SHALL REMAIN AN EARTHBOUND SPIRIT FOR ETERNITY.
"Now wait a minute! It wasn't my fault! Why the hell do you care so damned much about this one guy, anyway?" The only answer the Powers gave was to throw her unceremoniously back into the world, sprawled on the floor of the sanatorium. "Wonderful," she muttered. Hoping not to be spotted by anyone who may still be in the sanatorium, the girl snuck out to the streets of Fairwater, contemplating what to do next.
For a year she wandered aimlessly about the town, avoiding Frank Bannister and the spirit of the dead agent at all costs. From time to time she observed the lives of her dead cousin's two children, who were now nearing the age she herself had been at death. Sometimes she would spend hours at a small occult bookstore skimming through the rare tomes that were kept locked in a back room, out of sight of the customers. It was while here that the owner of the store approached her. To her surprise, he could see her, and he had been curious as to her situation. After she explained, the man told her of the Nine of Hearts ritual, offering to perform it for her. She readily agreed, having no qualms regarding the sacrifices. Once restored to life, it was necessary to form a new identity, which is how the girl became Sarah Ann Vega in the year 1996.
* * *