I can see the flickers
Over me the lanterns raised
Lift me up, lift me over it...
1994 - The Murder House
Tate pulled the stash of guns out from under his bed and examined each one as he formulated his plan. Mallory had given him a great gift, if inadvertently, by sending him back to that specific morning, and he was determined to make use of it.
There were a dozen ways he could kill his mother’s boyfriend. Setting Larry on fire was still the most poetic, though bashing his skull in with a shovel now had a certain satisfying ring to it. But simply putting a bullet in his brain would be the most thorough and serve as good target practice before he took the fight into his school.
The reason why he wanted to murder his peers was finally clear and justified in his head for the first time since he had faced down the barrage of gunfire from the SWAT team that took his life.
Westfield High was full of kids, despondent and miserable kids, who were just as confused as he was, with parents who didn’t give a damn, who let them wander lost and afraid instead of protecting them. He would show them. After he was done, no one would take their children’s lives for granted ever again. Instead, they would grieve and mourn, just as his own father should have when he was cast out of heaven.
Tate dropped the handgun he was holding, startled by how little sense this last thought made.
That’s because it wasn’t his own, he realized. Not completely, anyway. The delerius enthusiasm he had for slaughtering dozens of people lessened somewhat, leaving him scared and ashamed of how easily the devil had taken back over his mind. He tried to shake away the lingering desire to repeat the massacre that had destroyed so many lives, but the images of carnage, and the pleasurable anticipation he felt for the coming bloodbath, persisted.
“That’s not me,” he whispered repeatedly. But he wasn’t sure of the truth of his conviction. It was impossible to tell where the demon ended and he began, which thoughts were his and which were put there by Satan.
Tate couldn’t deny his hatred for Larry and how he wanted him to pay for what he had done to Lorraine and Beauregard, what he would eventually do to Hayden and Ben. Nothing changed the fact that Larry was a pathetic, vile excuse for a human being and deserved every horrid punishment Tate could imagine.
But thinking about the fifteen innocent kids whose lives had been restored by Mallory’s spell caused Tate to pause. He slowly sat back down on his bed, immersed in a fragile bubble of comfort. For a moment, his guilt was alleviated. Afterall, how could he feel guilty for something he hadn’t done yet?
But he had done it. The conflicting notion punctured his passing solace. Even if no one else on earth remembered what he had done, he did. And if he really believed that it had been the devil who forced him to do it, then what made him think this do-over would be any different? What was the point in resisting the inevitable?
“Get out,” Tate said out loud through gritted teeth. “Get out of my head.”
A razor blade glinted on his desk so Tate picked it up and instinctively lowered it to his wrist. The sight of a dozen or more fresh cuts made him stop before he made another. All his life he had subconsciously tried to release the demon through the blood he let out. There was no use repeating the same motion if it did little to help.
He needed to find another way, something more powerful and final, to fight back.
An exorcism, he thought. There was a church not far from the house. All he needed to do was convince a priest of the devil he was infected with. Maybe he could get rid of it for good, or maybe he would be institutionalized. Either way, he would be out of the house.
As he stood up to leave, the edges of his vision started to shimmer. He thought it was a migraine until the scene before him changed. He was still in his room, facing the bedroom door, but now it was open and a young boy stared at him from the hall.
At first he thought it was Michael. They both had the same blond hair and sweet, round face, but then a voice said his own name. It came from his throat, though it was not his voice, and suddenly he remembered the fateful night when his sister lost her life.
He was staring at his younger self from Rose’s eyes as the guttural and ungodly speech forced its way through her mouth.
“Would you do that, Tate? Would you let me live inside your heart?” he growled.
The young Tate took a step back, shaking his head.
If only the witches had sent him back to that moment, Tate thought bitterly, then he could have avoided being possessed in the first place.
But as Rose begged Tate to help her, and as he felt the pain she felt when she clawed out her own eyes, he knew it wouldn’t have mattered. He would have made the same decision all over again if it meant ending his sister’s torment.
His vision shifted again and he found himself surrounded on all sides by a black void. He couldn’t see or feel anything, as if his body had ceased to exist at all.
The darkness was shattered by a door opening, revealing Rose carrying her doll and searching for the perfect place to hide.
“Will you help me, Rose?” he whispered through the gloom in the same rasping voice.
“Who are you?” she asked. “Why can’t I see you?”
“I’ve been lost for a long time,” he said. “But you found me and I am so glad you have. Please, Rose, will you help me?”
No, Rose, Tate wanted to scream. Don’t trust him. But he knew it was only a memory, and not even his own.
“Just say you will, that is all I need,” he said instead.
And Rose, in her innocence, nodded. “Okay.”
Tate was pulled back further, lost in that realm of empty nothingness until he found himself somewhere completely unfamiliar and face-to-face with a man he had never met.
He was holding the man by the shirt, forcing him against a railing several stories up in a dark, circular lobby.
“ I gave you a chance, Timothy.” He spoke with a woman’s voice this time, though it had the same malignant tone as the voice that had come from Rose. “But, you've just pissed it away. I'm done with you, and your sweet little nun. I am about to devour the last morsel of her soul.”
Suddenly another presence thrust forward. The brilliant light of it scalded him as it took back control over the nun’s body he inhabited.
“I’m sorry, Monsignor,” she sobbed. “I’m tired of fighting. I want to let go.”
“Then let go of me, Sister,” the man said.
Tate could tell it took a great amount of effort on her part due to the way he struggled to keep his hold on the Monsignor, but she managed to let go and step back. As soon as she had, she, and Tate, were flung over the edge. They fell together as the Monsignor watched.
As soon as their body hit the ground, Tate knew he needed to find another vessel before it expired. But there was nowhere to go besides the Monsignor who he knew would never invite him inside.
A woman appeared above them as they lay dying. A black veil covered the top half of her face and a pair of magnificent black wings unfurled behind her as she leaned in close.
“Take me,” the nun said.
“I’ll take both of you,” the woman said before kissing them gently.
Tate closed his eyes, but opened them once again to find himself being strapped down to a bed in a small, dingy cell. The same Monsignor was there, as was a priest, a nun and a doctor.
He could feel the frightened heartbeat of the boy trying to force him out of his body. It was nearly futile to try to keep control over his flailing limbs and the way he cried out in fear for his mother. The boy was terrified, but strong, making it impossible to hide what was truly inside him. Still, Tate knew he could make him suffer.
The priest tried his best to expel him, but Tate refused to let go. He knew the strain of it would kill the boy, but he held on as long as possible until a young, beautiful nun appeared at the door.
Let me in, he whispered to her, silently. She agreed immediately, eager to help any lost soul in need. With the boy’s last gasping breath, he escaped.
Just before his new host lost consciousness, he saw the gaunt and lifeless shell of the boy he had just abandoned.
“Stop!” Tate yelled to his empty bedroom, forcing the vision away. He knew what he would witness if he let it continue and he had seen enough to understand what Cordelia wanted him to see.
The urge to take the razor blade and cut his heart open to release the devil inside was overwhelming. But there was no way to be free of it, not without becoming what that boy had become, not without dying in excruciating pain. Already he could feel a desperate, clawing pain begin behind his eye sockets and a convulsion throb in his chest.
“Not like that,” Tate whispered as he sank onto the floor, the image of the boy’s bloodshot eyes and contorted limbs still burned in his mind. Burying his head in his arms, he tried to push it all away.
“Oh my,” Nora said softly and stroked Tate’s hair. “What is the meaning of this?”
“Nora?” Tate looked up to see her perched on the edge of his bed. She smiled down at him and wiped away one of his tears. “You’re alive,” he said. “I mean...you’re here. You’re not…” He trailed off.
“Never mind. I just...I’m glad you’re here.”
“Of course.” She gently laid her hand on his head, weighing it down until he rested his cheek against her silk skirts. “I’ll always be here.”
Tate closed his eyes, breathing in the smell of her jasmine scented perfume and savoring the feel of her tender touch.
“I won’t be,” he said.
“What do you mean? Of course you will. This is your home. You belong here, with me, with all of us.”
“I can’t stay here.” But even as he said it, his desire to leave shriveled up, along with the ache in his head and chest.
“But you must,” Nora said. “I couldn’t bear to lose another child.”
Tate felt the barrel of the gun touch the back of his head just in time.
“What are you doing?” he asked as he leapt to his feet.
“Don’t be afraid,” she said, standing, his own handgun at her side. “It doesn’t hurt much, trust me. And then it will be over. You can stay here with me, forever. I can take care of you, isn’t that what you always wanted?”
“Yeah,” Tate said softly. The initial shock that she wanted to kill him faded, leaving behind a sort of melancholy yearning for exactly what she suggested.
If he stayed, if he died in the house again, he wouldn’t only be able to be with Nora, but he would eventually see Violet again.
Thinking about her made his whole body tremble. Madison had warned him that never seeing Violet again was a distinct possibility. He had even made the decision to never speak to her if he happened to be sent back to a time when she was living in the house.
But thinking and planning is always easier than doing and living, and, in that moment, all Tate wanted was Violet by his side.
It started with a soft pining for her presence. She would have known what to say, he thought, and would have helped him decide what to do. They would have searched for an answer together, just as they had when they tried to protect her unborn brothers from the hungry ghosts in the house.
But as the full realization that he would never see her again, never hear her sing in the shower when she thought no one was listening, never laugh at her when she lost at Scrabble, settled around him, his yearning grew to desperation.
Even if she hadn’t even been born yet, he would wait for her in that house, forever if he had to. She could never belong to someone else, she was his and always would be. He needed to feel her thin frame beneath him as he crushed her, devoured her, made her a part of him.
Such violent desires regarding Violet were not new to him. They had been nearly overwhelming since the day she moved in, but he repressed them out of a conflicting desire to protect her from everything, including himself. It was as if some premonition buried deep down had told him he shouldn’t go all the way with Violet while she was still alive, as much as he wanted to.
The terrifying realization that Vivien may have always been the devil’s second choice to mother his child brought Tate to his senses yet again.
He couldn’t die in that house. If he did, he risked becoming it’s pawn, the prophesied ghost destined to create the Antichrist.
Violet was his reason to save the world, she couldn’t be the reason he failed.
“Go away,” Tate said softly.
Nora tilted her head in confusion. “What did you say?” she whispered.
“I said go away.”
“How could you say such a thing to me? I, who have been nothing but kind to you, who cared for you when no one else did, when your own mother…”
“Go away,” Tate shouted and squeezed his eyes shut against the stricken look on Nora’s face. He jumped a little and opened his eyes, startled at the sound of the gun clattering to the floor.
Nora was gone, but Tate was not alone.
“I’m proud of you,” a voice said from behind him. Tate spun around to see a man he barely recognized leaning lazily against the doorjamb. “You’re better off without that harpie.”
“Hello, Tate,” Hugo Langdon said, standing up straight.
“What are you doing in here?”
“That’s not exactly the welcome I was expecting, not after I’ve been gone for...how long has it been?”
Tate stared at him, hating the smug smile that played so easily on his face as he lied. “Gone? You never left. You’re dead.”
“Hmm,” Hugo chuckled. “I should have known you would figure it out. Always knew you’d be a smart kid.”
“Yeah?” Tate asked sarcastically, lifting an eyebrow.
“I think it’s time you and I had a chat.”
“About what?” Tate scowled, trying to figure out why his dad was suddenly talking to him when he hadn’t done so since his death, and wasn’t supposed to until after Tate’s own.
Hugo shrugged. “Girls. Sex. What you want to be when you grow up. You’re my son, aren’t you? I may be dead, but I’m still your father.” The disdain in his voice and dull look in his eyes told Tate all he needed to know. Nothing about Hugo had changed, he was still as boorish and uncaring as he ever was.
The house, on the other hand, was desperate. It needed Tate to stay, to die within its walls, and it was pulling out all the stops in the way a spider wraps insects in a web. Hugo and Nora were merely caught in its strings, carrying out its commands like unknowing puppets.
“Fuck off,” Tate said, feeling none of the hesitation or regret he felt banishing Nora. He simply blinked and Hugo was gone.
The gun still lay on the ground, drawing Tate’s gaze like a magnet. He picked it up and turned it over in his hands, trying to decide what to do with it. He knew he needed to leave the house for good, but what he would do after still perplexed him. Maybe he would never be able to help Nora, not in the way she wanted him to, but he could still avenge his brother.
“What are you planning on doing with that?”
Tate looked up to see Moira walk in.
“I’m not sure,” Tate said truthfully as he shoved the gun in his belt. The air around Moira shimmered as she examined Hamlet’s empty cage. Her appearance changed, vacillating back and forth between looking as young as the day she died, and as old as she felt. “Maybe I should kill my mom, for what she did to you.” He didn’t mean it, but he wanted to know what Moira’s reaction would be, as if it would give him the answers he needed.
She turned to him so he could see her clouded eye. “As much as I would love to see your she-devil of a mother get what she deserves, I believe the correct response is to ascribe to the old adage that an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
“You actually believe that?”
“I believe that no good comes from dwelling on the pain of the past if one is able to move forward into the future, as you are. Attempting to exact vengeance, even on behalf of a miserable, lost soul, will do nothing but destroy your own.”
Tate could have sworn he head heard someone else say something similar, but it was buried so deep in his memory that he couldn’t remember where or when.
Nothing mutilates the soul like the act of committing murder, a heavily-accented voice echoed in his head.
Maybe that was why Mallory needed to send him back to that specific moment, the moment just before he gave in to the darkness. As loathe as he was to admit it, he knew he couldn’t kill Larry or he would risk shattering his own soul. That is, if it had even been sufficiently mended by Mallory’s spell in the first place.
“You don’t think it’s too late for that?” Tate asked.
“I think you give yourself too much credit,” Moira said, a hint of derision in her voice. “Teenage angst and rebellion may seem dire but it hardly means the end of the world.”
Tate smirked at the irony of the comment, but allowed himself to briefly feel relieved that Moira thought he was just a run-of-the-mill angsty teenager and not a psychopath, as she would in the future.
“If I were you,” Moira continued. “I would focus less on righting the world’s wrongs and more on your own family. Your sister has been crying in the basement all night.”
“Rose,” Tate whispered, remembering how he had banished her the evening before. He hurried out of the room and down the stairs to the basement. “Rose?”
The labyrinth of barren rooms felt even more ominous than usual. The lights flickered, struggling to cut through the oppressive gloom. It felt colder than Tate remembered, though he supposed that may have been another side effect of being alive again. The silence that greeted Tate’s continued calls for his sister felt unnatural, as if all the usual creaks and moans had been muffled.
A burst of popping noises fractured the stillness. Tate spun around, prepared to berate Troy and Brian for scaring the shit out of him with their poppers, when Thaddeus leapt from the shadows and knocked Tate backwards onto the ground.
The force of the fall knocked the wind out of Tate, leaving him unable to speak as Thaddeus snarled. The creature slashed at Tate’s face, slicing a gash in his cheek.
“Go...away...” Tate was able to wheeze weakly, but it was enough and Thaddeus scurried off him.
Tate barely had time to let out a groan of pain before he was hauled to his feet.
“Look what he did to me!” Gladys yelled as she dragged Tate backwards toward the old clawfoot tub that had been filled with water. With a burst of supernatural strength, Gladys managed to force Tate into the tub. She shoved him under the water and wrapped her hands around his throat.
Tate kicked and thrashed but couldn’t free himself. His mouth opened as water flooded his lungs, burning his chest.
A shrill scream pierced through the sound of his own gargled cries. One moment Gladys’ bloody face leered above him, the next she was gone.
Tate sat up, the breath of air he sucked in nearly as painful as drowning. He crawled out of the tub and landed on the cold cement floor.
After a few seconds of gasping on his hands and knees, he looked up to see Rose kneel down on the ground next to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Thanks,” Tate said, realizing that she must have been the one to send Gladys away.
“Do you believe me now,” Rose said as soon as Tate recovered his breath and sat up, “about the monster?”
Tate nodded. “Yeah I do.”
“I’m sorry, Tate,” she said, her lip quivering. “I should have never come down here. I didn’t know…”
“Hey, it’s ok,” Tate said as she began to cry. He pulled her into a hug and she buried her head in his chest. “It’s not your fault. I’m sorry I couldn’t save you.”
It wasn’t fair, he thought. He could leave but his sister and brother had to stay; trapped for eternity with the rest of the miserable, deranged souls. If only the witches had gone further back, before the house had even been built, before anyone had a chance to die there. Why had they sent him back at all if he couldn’t save his family?
“You did,” Rose said. “If you hadn’t been there, he would have kept me.”
The door to the room where Tate found Rose a decade before blew open with a bang and a low growl escaped.
“You have to go,” Rose whispered urgently. Tate hated the idea of leaving her alone, but she vanished from his arms before he had a chance to argue. The growl steadily grew louder as Tate stood and ran up the stairs, not daring to wait to find out what was lurking in the dark behind him.
He ran through the hall and out the front door, not even stopping when he was past the gate. He continued on down the street, savoring the way his heart pumped blood through his limbs and the feel of the breeze against his wet hair and clothes. Not even the sting of the still bleeding gash on his face bothered him at first.
But the further he got from the house, the more his head began to ache and his chest pulsated with something other than his pounding heart. It started to feel as if his arms and legs were attached to strings that pulled him backwards. He continued to struggle against the sensation, sucking in deep breaths in an attempt to clear his head.
Finally, he reached the beach he had escaped to dozens of times before, the same beach he had taken Violet to on a Halloween night seventeen years in the future. As he slowed to a stop, a curtain of blackness started to sweep over his vision. He bent over and pulled on his hair to push it back. The effort sent a wave of nausea through his body and he vomited onto the sand.
“Hey, man,” someone said. “Are you ok?” Tate’s head whipped around unnaturally fast to face the concerned jogger who approached him.
“ Daemon irrepit callidus,” Tate snarled, foam forming around his mouth.
“Holy fuck,” the jogger shouted and jumped back. “Hold on, I’ll go get some help.” He darted away, tripping as he looked back over his shoulder.
Tate fell back onto the sand. His neck twinged and his whole body trembled uncontrollably as he wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve.
Even outside the house, he still wasn’t safe. Maybe he wouldn’t die, wouldn’t sire the Antichrist, but there was no telling what else the devil would make him do. And if he wasn’t going to go along with the devil’s plan willingly, then the devil was going to make him. If he resisted, he was going to suffer and die for it.
Well, Tate thought as he remembered the handgun still tucked in his belt, he wasn’t going to give Satan the satisfaction. If he was going to die, it would be on his own terms.
He pulled the gun out and held it gingerly, as if it was likely to explode at any moment.
Had this been the witches’ plan all along? To give him back his life only for him to die again? Was that how little his life mattered?
It wasn’t fair, he thought again as he looked toward the ocean stretching endlessly past the horizon. There were so many things he could have been, so many things he could have done.
Suddenly all the expectations his mother had burdened him with didn’t seem so bad. Maybe he could have been an actor, a lawyer, a doctor, a politician. His own dreams that she disagreed with for what he wanted to be burned brighter than ever. But he was never going to write a novel or go to film school or start a band.
Constance was right, the witches had used him, the same way the devil had. He was destined to be nothing more than a pawn on either side of a war he never asked to be a part of. No matter which side he chose, he would lose everything.
But that isn’t true. I can give you everything.
The voice came from inside Tate’s head, but it wasn’t his voice. It sounded quite a lot like Michael and conjured an image of the Antichrist along with it. Tate set the gun on the sand and rubbed the palms of his hands into his eyes.
“Get out of my head,” Tate muttered.
No, I don’t think I will, Michael said with a smile. You see Tate, I believe I was wrong about you all along.
Tate tried to ignore the statement and pretend not to care about whatever he was getting at. But controlling his own thoughts proved impossible and he couldn’t help but ask, why?
I thought you were weak but I see now how strong you are, how willing you are to do what must be done. You were right, Cordelia has given us a great gift by allowing us to start over.
You know about Cordelia? Tate’s heart sank even lower.
Of course. I know everything you know. How could I not?
Then you know that Michael never stood a chance against her.
You’re quite right. The image of Michael disappeared, replaced by the nun Tate knew the devil had possessed in the past. She didn’t look as sweet or humble as she had in Tate’s vision of her. Instead, her mouth was painted in bright red lipstick and her head was cocked with an arrogant tilt.
Michael was a mistake, she said with a sneer. I thought creating a son of my own would allow me to take back what is rightfully mine without the petty morals and reservations of mortal men getting in my way. But Michael was weak: a child who cared more about being mollycoddled than fulfilling his father’s magnificent plan.
But you Tate… Her voice softened. There was something about her expression that reminded him of Nora and he suppressed a budding desire to convince her that he would not disappoint her in the way Michael had. Think of what you could do with me guiding you. You could do anything, be anything. I can help you grant your heart’s desire. What is it that you want, Tate?
For you to get the fuck out of my head. But the memory of Violet’s smile flashed across his mind.
Ah, the nun said. Of course. She hasn’t even been conceived yet, but we can find a way around that, if you are willing to wait a few years. Young girls can be easily taken in by older men, afterall.
Tate actually rolled his eyes at this ruse as he thought of Ben and Hayden. You may think you know me, but you obviously don’t know Violet.
You underestimate my power. I have swayed the hearts of humankind since the fall of Adam. You think your little girlfriend is stronger than Eve? Stronger than David who took down Goliath?
Yeah, I do.
She laughed before changing her form again. She shrunk down until she appeared as Rose, her brown eyes still intact and sparkling.
What about me, Tate? Rose said in her own, sweet voice. What about Beau? You wouldn’t just leave us alone, would you?
You’re not her, Tate told himself. She wanted me to leave.
Maybe. But you know something she doesn’t. You know I gave Michael the power to bring spirits back to life merely by leading them out of their ghostly prisons. I could give you that same power.
Rose grin grew wider when Tate failed to immediately decline the offer. How could he possibly pass on the opportunity to finally fulfill his purpose and free all the souls trapped in purgatory until the end of time?
You are the reason they are there in the first place, Tate responded after a moment’s thought. Why would you do that?
Rose disappeared, replaced this time by the boy from the asylum. He didn’t look sickly and tormented, but healthy and strong. Even so, he let out an exasperated sigh. To keep you from killing yourself. Isn’t that what this is all about?
And what would I have to do?
The boy smiled. That’s the easy part. Just let go. Let me take over while you rest and I will give you everything you have ever wanted.
Tate picked up the gun and cocked it.
So this is how you end it?
Tate stood and walked to the edge of the water, desperately trying to ignore the voice in his head.
Your grand plan is to take the coward’s way out? The same way your mother did?
His mother. The memory of Constance screaming his name as the SWAT team flooded into his room made him pause.
She loved him, he knew that now, no matter how terribly she had shown it when he was alive. Would she survive learning of his suicide?
Tate almost laughed at himself for even questioning it. Constance had survived his death before and she would do it again. It would break her heart, but it wouldn’t break her spirit. The only thing that had ever broken her completely was Michael. And even then, he had always seemed more afraid of her than she of him. She would grieve and move on just as she had in that other world he left behind.
Then I suppose you are weak. Just like those who lived in the house before you and who will live there after. You will end your own life just like Nora, just like Violet.
But it wasn’t weakness, Tate realized, thinking of Cordelia and the nun whose name he wished he knew. They hadn’t just killed themselves, they sacrificed their lives for the sake of light and love. He could do the same.
You think your pathetic sacrifice will harm me? The devil appeared as the nun again, her shrill voice rising in pitch as she spat out the words. It will be nothing more than a bee sting. I will feel the pain for only the briefest of moments, but it will destroy you. No matter how many hosts I use up and throw away, no matter how many timelines are made and remade, I will always come back and I will find a way to win.
Maybe, Tate agreed. But it won’t be because of me.
“Go to hell,” Tate said out loud and pressed the gun under his chin.
I’ll drag you there with me.
The devil mimicked Tate as he said it. His face was tattooed with a skull and he smirked confidently before retreating back into the deepest, darkest recess of Tate’s mind.
Tate’s finger quivered over the trigger. His eyes were squeezed shut and he held his breath until his head began to spin. With a gasp, he lowered the gun, feeling every bit the coward the devil thought he was.
It wasn’t the fear of pain that made him hesitate; it couldn’t be all that much worse than being shot in the chest over a dozen times. But Madison had told him just how horrible hell could be and he couldn’t imagine he was destined to end up anywhere else.
Aye, there’s the rub , Tate quoted silently to himself. For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come.
He looked out to the ocean again, out to the point where it met the sky, and wondered just what that undiscovered country would be like.
When he died in the house, he knew exactly where he would end up. It may have been a sort of hell of its own, but at least it had been familiar. Besides that, he hadn’t been alone in his final moments. The cops had been frightening, but he could also hear his mom on the other side of the door and see Nora watch in horror as the whole scene played out.
Even though Tate could feel the sun warm his back as it rose slowly higher in the sky, the beach remained empty. The jogger had not returned with his promised help, which was probably for the best, Tate thought. The last thing he wanted was for the devil to rip his way out and infect another innocent bystander.
Still, Tate couldn’t help but wish there was someone nearby. He didn’t want to die alone.
“But you’re not alone.”
Tate felt someone touch his back. He turned as a woman walked around to face him, her hand gently tracing across his shoulder blade and down his arm.
At first Tate thought she was a ghost, seeing as her black dress, birdcage veil and red lipstick seemed to come right from the 1940s. But he had seen her before in his vision of those who were possessed before him.
The feel of her touch was comforting for a moment before sending a white-hot spasm down his spine.
“Leave him be, cousin,” the woman said as Tate buckled over. “Your fight for this boy’s soul is at an end.”
The pain subsided immediately, allowing Tate to right himself.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Someone who wants to help you,” she said.
Tate grimaced and shook head. “I don’t think you can.”
“I can.” She said with a tender smile. “I only wish I could have come sooner. You have summoned me many times but always from inside a house I have been forever barred from entering. But out here, I am free to take you away.”
“Take me where?”
“Someplace better.” She continued to smile, but her eyes were sad, nearly to the point of endangering her immaculately winged eyeliner.
Tate let out a bitter laugh. “You don’t have to lie to me.”
“Why would I lie?”
“Same reason the witches sent me back,” Tate said. “To defeat the devil, I guess. Keep him from destroying the world.”
“The war between heaven and hell, mortals and monsters, has little to do with me,” she said lightly. “I merely come when I’m called. Whether you come with me or not is entirely up to you.”
Tate nodded and looked away from her, still feeling ashamed of his indecision. “It’s just that…it’s not fair,” he said, feeling childish and selfish.
“Life very rarely is,” she said. Tate looked back just in time to see her brush away one of her own tears with a black gloved finger. She did it efficiently, as if she was very much used to dealing with others’ tragedies but had never stopped being moved by them. “And my cousin has made quite a habit of preying on the innocent and vulnerable.”
“It’s not just me,” Tate said. “What about the ghosts who can’t leave?”
“It’s not your place to save the souls in that house, it never was. Their time will come. They will just have to wait longer than most.”
“Right.” Tate lifted the gun again, holding it awkwardly between himself and the woman in black. “I’m scared,” he admitted.
“There is nothing to be afraid of. My kiss will make it painless. The other side is clean and kind. You will be able to be at peace.”
Her choice of words made him wince. “But what about everything I did, all the people I hurt?”
“What things? It has all been undone, Tate, washed away by the witches’ spell.”
The woman smiled again in response to Tate’s tears of relief. She brushed them away just as she had done with her own. He felt suddenly weightless, as if the slightest breeze would be able to carry him out to sea.
“Are you ready now?” she asked. The question dampened his peace and sent a shudder of panic through him. He took a step back.
“Will it make a difference?” Tate asked rapidly. His survival instinct had kicked in, making his heart beat faster and his palms sweat. “Won’t he just come back? The world is going to have to end eventually anyway. Will it even fucking matter if I do this?”
“I suppose,” the woman said, her hand now caressing his hair in an attempt to calm him down, “that depends on what you are trying to save.”
The woman disappeared behind a halo of shimmering light as Tate’s sight was interrupted by one last vision.
He was in a cavernous hall made of cream-colored stone with a vast stairway stretching toward an archway in front of him. Slowly, he walked up the steps. His footsteps made no sound but dissolved into the din of a bustling crowd he could hear but not see.
A statue came into view at the top of the stairway. It was a woman cut from marble with two feathery, white wings stretching behind her but no arms or head.
“I like it,” a familiar voice said behind Tate. “But I feel like it’s missing something. Just can’t put my finger on what it is.”
Tate turned until he was face-to-face with Ben Harmon, flanked on either side by Vivien, who carried an infant boy on her hip, and Violet.
“Do you have to make dad jokes about all the art?” Violet asked, rolling her eyes.
“You were the one who wanted to go to the Louvre,” Ben said. “You brought this on yourself.”
“If I had known you were going to be so annoying I would have asked for a different graduation present,” Violet said. “Like a car.”
“You can have a car when you finish your Master’s.”
“It’s kind of sad, isn’t it?” Vivien said, ignoring her husband and daughter’s bickering. “That no one will ever know who sculpted it, or what she really looked like.”
“Maybe that makes it better,” Violet said. “He, or she, probably would want us to appreciate what they made and not their name.”
“Unless he was a narcissist,” Ben said. “Poor guy probably signed his name on one of the arms.”
“Not everyone is like you, dad,” Violet said.
“I think Jeffrey needs to be changed,” Vivien said with a sigh. “There was a bathroom by the cafe.”
“I’ll go with you,” Ben said. “I could use a coffee after all this existential pondering.”
“I’ll be here,” Violet said.
“Here?” Ben asked. “You aren’t going to move on to some of the other...art?”
“Some people actually know how to appreciate ancient masterpieces that have survived for thousands of years. I’ll be here.”
“Ok, ok,” Ben said and walked off with Vivien.
Violet continued to stare up at the statue, and Tate continued to stare at her. She looked quite a bit older, by half a dozen years at least, and her hair was cut short. Her clothes were different too, more form fitting and mature, but Tate didn’t mind. The way her mouth opened slightly and her eyebrows raised when she was deep in thought was the same as always.
A buzzing noise made her reach into her pocket and pull out what Tate assumed to be a cellphone, though it was larger and flatter than the phone she owned when he had known her. She laughed at whatever message she received before turning around and snapping a picture of herself with the statue, and Tate, in the background.
He assumed he was invisible to her, but as she leaned in close to examine the photo, her eyebrows scrunched together. She looked up and spun around, her gaze passing right through him. When she didn’t see who she was looking for, she lowered her phone without sending the picture and continued her study of the statue, her expression sadder than before.
“Ok,” Tate said, as the vision faded away and he found himself back on the beach. “I’m ready.”
The woman in black cupped Tate’s face in her hand and leaned in close. When her lips touched his, he thought he might have heard a loud bang somewhere far away and felt a muffled pain near the back of his head. But if he did, it was overshadowed by the sensation of his soul casting off its unwanted stowaway and the sound of wings being unfurled.