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Fighting for the Other Side

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Chapter 1

1984 - The Murder House

 

You’re a part of my heart

And tonight you belong to me...

 

Tate was the one who found Rose, or, at least, the shell of what was once his twin sister.

It was Rose’s turn to hide and Tate searched for over an hour. He wasn’t worried at first, she had always been an expert at finding nooks and crannies he never would have thought of. But after Addie gave up, and Tate had searched every room three times over, he started to panic.

He found the ghost of Nora Montgomery in his mother’s bedroom, looking through a jewelry box.

“None of these are mine,” she murmured to herself. “Where did they come from? All fake. Where are my jewels? The beautiful jewels that Charles gave me…” She turned when Tate walked in. “How did you get in here? Are you the thief?”

“No,” Tate said. He had learned to be patient with Nora and knew she constantly had to be reminded of who he was. “I’m Tate. I live here. I’m looking for my sister, Rose. Have you seen her? She’s blonde and…”

“A lost child,” Nora said and placed a hand on her chest while her already bleary eyes filled with more tears. “Your poor mother. We must find your sister. Come along.” She took Tate’s hand and they left the room together. “Charles will know what to do.”

She led him to the basement door but Tate pulled away from her. There was something about the basement that scared him, something he couldn’t name. It wasn’t Thaddeus or Charles or Elizabeth or the nurses or any of the other dozen or so ghosts who allowed themselves to be drawn into the dark depths and languish there, Nora had taught him how to banish them whenever he needed. It was something else altogether: a presence behind a door that never opened, a presence that sometimes whispered his name. He had made Rose promise she would never go down there, especially while playing hide and seek.

“Don’t be afraid,” Nora said.

“She’s not down there,” Tate said.

“I’m afraid she is,” a voice said behind them. It was Moira’s ghost, another spirit Tate had never been afraid of. He had known her in life after all, but even though she had been a young woman when she died, he had only ever seen her as the old soul who stood there now, one eye clouded but kind. “I told her to hide somewhere else but she seemed resolute on making you search as long as possible.”

“See?” Nora said. “We will have your sister back in time for supper.” She held her hand out to him and he took it. She smiled and he knew he would always follow her into the darkness.

It only took the short journey down the stairs for Nora to become confused again. “Oh dear,” she said. “My baby. Have you seen my baby?” She let go of Tate’s hand and started calling frantically for Charles, who appeared and stumbled toward her. Sobbing, she threw herself at him, babbling incoherently while she beat his chest with her fists.

Tate watched for a moment, wishing there was something he could do to keep her from dissolving into one of her fits for good. But he couldn’t worry about her, he had to find Rose.

He searched every corner until there was only one place left to look. The always -locked door was hidden in a corner, largely ignored by every soul, living or dead, that had inhabited the house. Tate approached it and turned the doorknob. He was shocked when it opened, revealing a room that was completely barren except for the figure of a little blonde girl in a yellow dress. She stood in the center, her back facing the door.

“Rose?” Tate said. His sister turned slowly to him and Tate screamed.

Her eyes, usually big and brown like his, were yellow, like a wild animal. She snarled and leaped on top of Tate, knocking him down, and tried to scratch at his face.

Tate managed to push her off of him and scrambled toward the door. Rose grabbed his ankles and pulled him back until, suddenly, Moira was in the doorway, yelling a prayer.

Rose hissed and released her brother who jumped to his feet. Moira picked him up and ran as fast as she could, back up the stairs, to the seeming safety of the kitchen where Constance Langdon was pouring herself a drink.

“Jesus H. Christ,” she said as Tate ran to her. Moira had vanished, still not ready to reveal herself to the woman who had murdered her. “What on God’s green earth is going on here?” Tate hugged her, sobbing. “Tate,” she said, pushing him off her. “What have I told you about the constant crying? I can’t understand you. Pull yourself together. This better not be about your father.”

“It’s Rose,” Tate said.

“What about Rose?” Her composure melted as she instantly feared the worst. “What is it? What happened? Where is she?”

“I’m right here, mommy,” Rose said. Her eyes were back to normal as she watched her mother and brother with a look of complete innocence.

“Rose, darling,” Constance said, “are you alright? Tate said something happened.”

“We were playing,” Rose said. “I accidentally knocked him down. I’m sorry Tate, I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Constance sighed and took a long drink.

“Honestly,” she said, “as if I don’t have enough to worry about with Adelaide and Beauregard. Can’t the two of you manage to play quietly and not kill each other?”

“But mom,” Tate said, “there was something wrong with her. Her eyes-”

“I don’t have time for another one of your wild stories,” Constance said, pouring another drink. “Now make yourself scarce. I have a date coming over in half an hour.”

Tate knew there was no use arguing. She never believed him when he tried to tell her about the ghosts that lurked around every corner of the house. Still, he stayed away from Rose for the rest of the night, ignoring her pleas for him to play with her.

Unfortunately, they shared a bedroom, and the devil inside of Rose was not a patient one. The little girl did not suit him or his plan. He needed only to devour her soul and move on.

Tate woke to a low, growling sound coming from Rose’s bed. He sat up and turned on his lamp to see what was going on.

Rose was floating five feet above her bed. Tate didn’t scream or cry, he simply got out of bed and went to find his mother.

He walked swiftly down the hall, hoping that if he managed to convince Constance to go to his room quickly enough, she would catch Rose’s strange behavior before she returned to normal again.

“Mom,” he whispered as he opened her bedroom door. Constance wasn’t alone. Normally Tate would have avoided meeting one of her boyfriends at all costs. His father had disappeared less than a year ago, but Constance had already had half a dozen men in and out of her bed. But nothing about that night was normal, so he shook his mom awake.

“What is it now, Tate?” Constance said. “Haven’t I told you not to bother mommy when she is with a gentleman caller.”

“It’s Rose,” Tate said. “You have to see. Please.” He pulled frantically on her arm until she relented. The man next to her rolled over in his sleep.

“This had better not be another tall tale,” Constance said as she wrapped herself in a silk robe and followed her son down the hall. Tate opened his bedroom door for her. His relief was overpowered by terror when she stifled a cry with her hand and stumbled back.

Rose was still levitating above her bed, but now her head was thrown back, her eyes yellow and her mouth overflowing with blood.

“Oh God, no!” Constance screamed. Rose’s body dropped onto her bed and started writhing while she screamed.

“Help me, mommy!” It was Rose’s voice, but the eyes were still not Rose’s eyes.

“Tate, get help, quickly,” Constance said. Tate ran back to her mother’s room to find the strange man pulling on his pants.

“What the fuck is going on, kid?” the man asked. He didn’t wait for an answer but ran past Tate who followed. “What the fuck? What is that?” the man shouted before he ran down the rest of the hall and practically fell down the stairs.

“Wait,” Constance ran after him. “You can’t just leave me!”

Tate stared at Rose, her body suddenly still. Her head was hanging over the edge of the bed and she stared right back at him.

“Tate,” a voice said. It came from Rose’s mouth but it was not her voice. It barely sounded human at all. “Such a sweet boy. Such a fragile child. Tell me, what would you do to stop your sister’s suffering?”

“Get out of her,” Tate said.

“But I can’t,” the voice said. “I don’t have a body of my own. I need hers. Unless…”

“Unless what?”

“Unless you let me inside you. Would you do that, Tate? Would you let me live inside your heart? I promise you won’t even know I am there. Though we could be such good friends, Tate.”

“No,” Tate said, taking a step back. Rose started convulsing again and she spoke again, this time in her own voice.

“Tate,” she cried. “What’s happening? There’s something inside me, in my eyes…” Without warning, Rose jammed her fingers straight into her eyes, blood gushed out of her sockets as she screamed.

“Stop!” Tate yelled. “I’ll do whatever you want, just leave her alone.”

Rose lowered her hands, forcing Tate to stare into the gaping wounds. “Is that an invitation?” the voice asked.

“Yes,” Tate said. The last thing Tate saw before everything went black was Rose’s mouth, twisted into a smile.

***

Tate couldn’t remember a single detail from that night and his mother decided that was for the best. He recalled opening the door in the basement but everything after that was a blur, a nightmare that would visit him occasionally for the rest of his life. It was the first of many lapses in his memory, accompanied by visions he thought were only fantasies.

His sister didn’t remember how she died either. She appeared to Tate first, and when he asked her how she died, she couldn’t remember. Just like her brother, she knew she had opened the basement door, thinking it a perfect place to hide, and then nothing.

Constance remembered though she managed to convince herself that she had only imagined seeing her daughter floating above her bed. Doctors were able to provide her with perfectly scientific reasons for everything else and she readily accepted them. What other choice did she have? That is, until Rose appeared to her for the first time, the first ghost to do so in that hell of a house.

The basement no longer scared Tate. He still felt the presence that had once hidden behind that door, still heard it whisper, but now it followed him everywhere he went. It lurked in the shadows of his room and hid behind him when he looked in the mirror. Still, it did not need him yet and so it slept, waiting patiently, for another ten years.

 

October 31, 2021 - Outpost 3

 

She comes in colours everywhere

She combs her hair

She’s like a rainbow…

 

Mick Jagger’s voice echoed through the cavernous halls of what was once the Hawthorne School for Exceptional Young Men. The song rang out like a spell to summon the three women who walked into the foyer. Or maybe it was their presence that triggered the song to play - the radio had always seemed to have an uncanny knack for picking up on the vibrations of the building’s inhabitants.

“Find our sisters,” Cordelia Goode said. Myrtle Snow and Madison Montgomery nodded before setting out to find what was left of their coven.

“Is he here?” Cordelia asked when they returned with the lifeless bodies of Coco and Mallory. Madison knew she wasn’t talking about Michael, there was no doubt the Antichrist was there. They could all feel his presence and it was only a matter of time before he would realize they had arrived.

“Not yet,” Madison said. Cordelia made an unsuccessful attempt to hide her concern. “He’ll be here,” Madison assured her.

“Handing the salvation of our coven, of the whole world, over to the father of the very man who has destroyed it,” Myrtle said, “I still think you are too trusting, Cordelia.”

“He’s nothing like Michael,” Madison said.

“The choices he made in life, and in death, make him sound all too similar,” Myrtle said.

“Not his choices,” Madison said. “He was used the same way Michael used us and the warlocks. Worse.”

“I do hope you are right, my dear,” Myrtle said.

“Believe me,” Madison said, “I don’t take kindly to rapists.”

“Though in the past you have had no qualms with murder,” Myrtle said.

“Like you can talk,” Madison snapped.

“Enough,” Cordelia said. “It makes no difference without Mallory and Coco.” The Supreme closed her eyes and inhaled, her arms stretched out with her palms pointed towards the corpses in front of her. She exhaled sharply, her eyes snapping open. Mallory and Coco sat up, gasping.

As Cordelia and Myrtle tried to explain to the two newly resurrected and very confused witches who they were and why they were there, Madison returned to the music room, determined to find the source of the soft rock that had been playing since they arrived. Carefully stepping over corpses and around puddles of vomit, she found the radio. Just as Madison reached toward the volume dial to turn it off, the music crackled, cutting off Maureen McGovern, and a new song started playing.

...hello...hello...hello…

Madison tried to switch it off but it kept on playing.

...hello...hello...hello…

“That’s not creepy at all,” Madison muttered to herself as she tried not to think about how the school had always felt like something straight out of a horror movie. After making another unsuccessful attempt, Madison shrugged and walked back to the foyer just as another figure walked in from the main entrance.

With the lights off, it’s less dangerous

Here we are now, entertain us…

“You’re late,” Madison said to the ghost of Tate Langdon. “What are you wearing ?”

Tate looked down at himself and the antique infantry coat he wore.

“I think it is marvelous,” Myrtle said. “We may have need of a soldier before our work is done. What a sight we must be. Five witches and a soldier boy. The last defense against Satan’s son.”



Chapter Text

2018 - The Murder House

 

You’ve got to pick up every stitch

Must be the season of the witch…

 

Madison parked in front of 1119 Westchester Place but didn’t get out of the car. Instead, she rolled down her window and lit up a cigarette. Her eyes never strayed from the windows of the red brick house. She had just dropped off Coco and Mallory at a high-end salon and needed a moment to collect herself. With two witches under identity spells, her coven was down to three.

The hopelessness of their situation, and the precarious nature of their master plan, tugged at Madison’s survival instincts. Of course, this particular part of the plan had been her idea and she was determined to go through with it. Cordelia had offered to accompany her, but Madison had insisted on going alone. She felt a strange connection to the house, almost as if it was always supposed to belong to her. Or maybe it was just her narcissism that had convinced her that she alone would be able to persuade the inhabitants to help.

Besides, if any of her coven was going to stay alive, it needed to be the Supreme. Venturing out anywhere in public was dangerous enough as it was with Michael on their asses. Visiting the house where Michael grew up, and the coven now owned, was basically suicide.

Hell sure can change a person, Madison thought as she took a puff of smoke. Or maybe it hadn’t been hell. Maybe she wasn’t such a bad person after all. She just needed an Antichrist and the threat of a nuclear holocaust to show her that. There was something liberating about deciding to defend the world to the death, even to the point of dooming herself to returning to hell, probably forever. Attempting to absolve herself of her past sins felt better than therapy and a massage, and she knew someone who could use a better therapist.

After reapplying her lip gloss and checking herself out in the rearview mirror, Madison got out of the car, walked up the path to the house, and let herself in.

“Calling all happy haunts,” Madison said as she entered. “Remember me? Madison Montgomery?” She waited but no one materialized so she started walking from room to room, asking the air if anyone was home.

“Hello?” Madison yelled as she walked into Ben Harmon’s office. “Anyone here? I can do a spell if I have to, but I’m kind of in a hurry here.” A sudden chill froze her spine as a horrible thought occurred to her. What if Michael had returned and already destroyed every soul that haunted there?

“Why, Miss...Montgomery, isn’t it?” Constance Langdon greeted as she and Ben Harmon materialized in front of her. Madison sighed with relief.

“I was starting to think the house had been exorcised or something,” Madison said as she looked between the two of them. Constance was sitting on a leather couch, smoking a cigarette. Ben sat in a chair across from her, a notebook on his lap. “Were you two having a session?”

“When one has to spend all of eternity among ex-lovers and the charred, but surprisingly talkative remains of those they have spurned, it helps to have someone pretend to listen you.”

“We were just finishing up,” Ben said, standing.

“If I were paying you,” Constance said, pointing her cigarette in Ben’s direction, “I would say that I was being gypped. He rarely gives me a full half hour.”

“Can’t say I blame him,” Madison said. Constance gave a look that suggested she would like nothing better than to put her cigarette out on Madison’s skin. Madison ignored her and addressed Ben instead. “I need to talk to Tate.”

“Is it about Michael?” Ben asked.

“What else?” Madison said.

“You won’t get much out of him,” Ben said. “He doesn’t talk about Michael, even to me. He still has a lot to come to grips with.”

“As much as I would love the luxury of being able to wait while the Antichrist’s pubescent sperm donor works out his issues, I really don’t. It’s kind of a matter of life and death. Everyone’s life or death. So if you could try and convince him to talk to me for five minutes, that’d be great.”

“He’s not my son,” Ben said, looking at Constance. “I have other things that need my attention.”

“Have a pity date with your dick?” Madison asked, tilting her head.

“No,” Ben said. “I have an actual date, with my wife. But thank you for your concern.”

“Thanks for your help, doc.” Madison smiled with fake sweetness as he walked past her.

“I suppose I should thank you,” Constance said, putting out her cigarette.

“For what?” Madison asked.

“Helping my son.” Her tone softened as it always did whenever she mentioned one of her children. “Whatever little love spell you cast on the Harmon girl seems to have done the trick.”

“It wasn’t a love spell,” Madison said. “All it did was show her the truth.”

“The truth?” Constance said. “Honey, I’ve known the truth about this house for years. Of course, no one believes anything until a pretty, young witch shows up and blows pixie dust in their face. Now, tell me, what is this all about?”

“It’s really only concerns Tate,” Madison said. “Know where I can find him?”

“I think, as his mother, I deserve to know what the matter of discourse will be between the two of you.”

“I told you. It’s about Michael.”

“We have told you all we know about that...monster,” Constance said.

“There are some...details my coven needs to know in order to stop him,” Madison lied. “The sort of things only Tate would know.”

“If you are referring to what I think you are,” Constance said as she stood and drew close to Madison, “then you can march your perky little ass right back out the front door. Tate is...sensitive, when it comes to Vivien. I won’t have you unsettling the fragile balance of my house with your vulgar inquiries.”

“I think he can handle it,” Madison said. “Besides, I’m not leaving until I talk to him.”

“Guess we better talk then,” Tate said from behind Madison who spun around in surprise. “It’s ok, mom,” he said to Constance. “Rose and Beauregard are with Travis. They’re waiting for you.”

“Well,” Constance said to Madison, “I won’t lie and say I hope to see you again soon. Just make sure the mortgage gets paid, won’t you?” She swept out of the room, pausing just long enough to brush her hand against Tate’s cheek.

“Do you own another sweater?” Madison asked, sweeping her eyes over his green striped sweater and torn jeans. She was deflecting and she knew it. Now that Tate was in front of her, the thought of talking about what she was there for felt uncomfortable at best.

“Own anything other than black?” he asked.

“How do ghost clothes work anyway?” Madison asked. “Can you change them at will by thinking really hard or do you still have piles of Kurt Cobain’s cast offs laying around somewhere?”

“Did you want to talk to me or not?” Tate said. “Ben said you have some questions to ask me. I’d like to get it over with.”

“He also said you wouldn’t want to talk to me.”

“I figure I owe you one,” Tate attempted a shrug but it was more like an awkward squirm as he tugged on the cuffs of his sweater. Madison could tell he would have rather been anywhere else. “Where’s your friend?” Tate asked.

“He’s dead,” she said bluntly. Tate’s eyes widened before softening. “Actually, my whole coven is dead,” she continued quickly, waving her hand, as if no tears would come if she got the words out fast enough. “Well, almost. There are only five of us left. I can’t stay long, I’m sort of being hunted. So, you’re in luck. Let’s get this over with.” Tate was quiet for a moment, avoiding the question she knew he already knew the answer to.

“Michael?” he asked softly.

“Yeah,” Madison said. “Michael.” Madison expected Tate to vanish right then and there, or at least walk out of the room. But he walked over to the sofa and sank into it, his shoulders slumped.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

Madison felt the same tug of sympathy she had felt the first time she met Tate. She was annoyed at herself for it. It was her coven that had been destroyed after all. If she was going to feel bad for anyone, it should have been herself. But it was obvious by the way he was practically caving in on himself that the guilt he felt was almost too much to bear. So she sat on the couch, careful to leave plenty of room between them in order to avoid another ghost slobber situation like she had had with Moira. Playing supernatural therapist had not been in her plans for the day, but with what she was about to ask him to do, she decided she could spare a little compassion.

“I know this is hard for you,” Madison said, hoping the words didn’t sound insincere, “but we need your help.”

“I don’t know anything that my mom and Ben didn’t already tell you,” Tate said. “If there was something I knew, something that could help you stop him, I would tell you, I promise.” He looked imploringly at Madison, as if he was begging her to believe him. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”

“I know,” Madison said.

“You really believe it wasn’t me?” he asked. “That it was...the house or something? Violet said you showed her, somehow.”

“Don’t you?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “Sometimes I do. But it was still me. I can remember everything I did.” He chewed on a fingernail anxiously.  “I used to sort of...forget...ya know? Like everything was foggy and I could never tell if something was a memory or a dream or a... fantasy. Until that night, the night when Michael was born and Violet’s mom…well…”

“Died,” Madison finished for him.

“Yeah. That night, I started to remember the awful things I did. But I didn’t know why. I still don’t. Not really. What I do know, is that whatever evil you told Violet about, I gave into it. I made a choice and I destroyed everything I have ever cared about.” He knotted his hands together and looked down at his beaten up converse.

Madison could feel her resolve fading. Maybe this wasn’t the best plan, she thought to herself. She had felt so sure when she had proposed it to Cordelia. The surest way to stop Michael and the impending apocalypse was to prevent him from ever being born, and what better way to do that than to stop him from being conceived?

But as she looked at Tate, she wondered if he was strong enough to do what needed to be done. The house had already all but destroyed his soul. It had chewed him up, used him and then spat him back out when he was no longer useful. Myrtle had recommended herself to be the one to go back in time with the intent to kill Tate outside of the house so that he would never become a ghost, and therefore never able to fulfill his dark destiny.

Madison had a different idea.

“I have done some pretty horrible things,” Madison said. “And I know that I would do anything to take them back.” Tate looked back up at her.

“Me too,” he said.

“That’s why I came,” she said, taking a deep breath with the intent to get down to business. “Michael can’t be stopped. In fact, in just a few years, he is going to blow the world to bits and there is nothing we can do about it. Unless we turn back time.”

Tate gaped at her. “Are you bullshitting me?”

“No,” Madison said. “There is a witch in our coven who has the ability to send people back in time. Or, she will. It hasn’t fully developed yet. It’s kind of confusing.”

“So, what?” Tate asked. “You’re going to go back in time and kill Michael when he was a baby?”

“We thought about it,” Madison said, remembering Mallory passionately describing her plan to hit Michael with a car repeatedly. Madison had to admit that doing so would probably be massively enjoyable, not to mention therapeutic. “But it’s too risky. We need to go farther back, before he was even conceived.”

“So you’re going to go back and kill me ?” He stood up and started pacing, still biting his nails. “Did you come here to ask my permission or something? Just make sure you do it outside the house cause that’s what really fucked everything up.”

“Tate, no,” Madison said. “We need you to be the one to go back.” Tate stopped and looked at her.

“Why?”

“Because you are the only one who can make sure it doesn’t happen.”

Tate’s eyebrows drew together and he frowned. “But what’s to stop it all from happening all over again, the same way?”

“Because you’ll remember,” Madison said. “You’ll be the only one who will remember.”

Tate started pacing again. “When?”

“It won’t be for another few years. Like I said, Mallory needs time to…”

“No, I meant, what time would you send me back to?” Tate chewed on his lip and waited for the answer, as if everything depended on it.

“I’m not sure actually,” Madison admitted. “There’s another witch, Coco St. Pierre Vanderbilt. She is painfully annoying and found out she has powers by detecting gluten in baked goods, but when she meets you, she’ll be able to tell the exact moment when everything can be altered. She’s how we know when Mallory will be powerful enough to perform the spell.”

“But it would be before I…” Tate said, folding his arms over his chest. “I mean, before Vivien…”

“Yes,” Madison saved him from having to say it.

“And that means before Violet…” He stopped walking again and looked at the door, as if his girlfriend might appear at any moment.

“I know,” Madison said. She had been waiting for this. Every inch of the bitch she pretended to be wanted to roll her eyes at the idea of star crossed lovers, soul mates and teenage angst. But she remembered all too well what it was like to have her heart broken, including a couple of times by a guy who, she hated to admit, looked a lot like Tate. She remembered how after the first time she was brought back to life, she still felt dead, as if nothing would ever cut through the never ending numbness she felt. Nothing except Kyle. She wondered if ghosts felt that way too.

“I know that it means there is every possibility that you and Violet won’t end up together,” she said with fake disinterest. “But if all goes to plan, I’ll end up back in hell so we are all making sacrifices.” She pulled a box of cigarettes out of her purse and lit one. “God, I’ll miss smoking.”

“Ok, I’ll do it,” Tate said.

“You will?” Madison asked, coughing on the smoke she inhaled too quickly in surprise.

“Just tell me what I need to do,” he said, sitting in the chair across from Madison. “Wait, did you just you say you were in hell?”

“Yep,” Madison tossed her hair back with pride. “Michael, of all people, saved me. And believe me, you have a good thing going being stuck here.”



Chapter Text

1994 - The Murder House

 

And I’ve lost my light

For I toss and turn

I can’t sleep at night...

 

“No matter how much you want it,” Tate said to his mother, hoping every word stung with the venom he felt. “I will never be your perfect son.” He stood, relishing the silence he had created. Addie scooped herself a spoonful of potatoes and plopped it on her plate. Her unconcern would have been funny if he could ignore the rage that continued to build in his gut, rising up like bile into his chest.

He left the dining room without another word. As soon as he had slammed his bedroom door shut behind him, he jammed the play button on his stereo. Nirvana started playing and Tate cranked the volume until he could feel the bass shake the floorboards. After hurling his desk chair against wall, he sat on the floor, his knees tucked up to his chest, and pulled his hair until it hurt.

But the music did nothing to drown out the screaming voices in his head or dissolve the fury that pulsed outward from his core and into his fingertips. He swung himself onto his stomach and reached under his bed, his fingers finding a handgun.

He bought it the day after Kurt Cobain had been found dead, about a week and a half earlier. His only intention had been to use it on himself. After all, if his hero hadn’t been able to find a reason to exist in the disgusting horror show of a world, what chance did he have? He had felt strangely abandoned and betrayed, as if yet another strand of hope he had held onto had been ripped from him.

The weight of the gun felt good in his hand. It made him feel powerful and in control, two sensations he rarely felt. He took the magazine out and jammed it back in several times as his thoughts continued to dash around his brain. He pictured himself walking back downstairs and killing Constance and Larry right there in the dining room. They deserved it, didn’t they? No one would believe that Beauregard had been murdered. His brother would never have justice. Just like the rest of the ghosts in the house.

But Addie was downstairs. The thought brought Tate back to his senses. He could never kill anyone, he doubted he could even kill himself. But as he unloaded the magazine and put the gun back in it’s hiding place, the image of a bullet shattering his mother’s skull played over and over.

Closing his eyes, he tried to push it away. If only he could banish the visions for good, he thought. But they always came back in one form or another, along with the thought that maybe, one day, he would give into them and they wouldn’t just be visions anymore.

Tate jumped to his feet and ejected the cd. What had once been a comfort was now torture and a bitter disappointment. He snapped the disc in half, too distracted by anger and fear to regret it much.

The broken edges of the disc were jagged and sharp. Tate ran a finger along one of the sides before pushing his sleeve up. He pressed an edge against the skin on the underside of his arm. It was harder to draw blood with a cd than with a razor blade, but it also hurt a hell of a lot more.

Tate gasped in relief as the pain drove everything else out. There was no room for visions or guns. There was only the ragged sting and the blood that oozed out.

A lot of blood, he realized. He grabbed a t-shirt from a hamper and pressed it against the wound until it stopped bleeding. When it had, he picked up his chair and sat down.

“Sorry Hamlet,” he said to his pet hamster that lived in a cage on top of his desk. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” Tate stuck his hand in the cage and stroked the top of Hamlet’s head. He felt strangely calm, though a headache was blossoming at the back of his head. After a few moments, he pulled books and folders out of his messenger bag and plopped them in front of him. He had homework to do.

 

***

 

Tate tried to ignore the dip of his mattress as someone sat on the end of it. The throbbing headache he had gone to bed with hadn’t diminished. All he wanted was to be able to sleep, to forget, just for a little while, that his brother was dead and his mother was probably busy fucking the man who had killed him.

Raising his head just an inch to make sure it wasn’t his brother who had joined him, Tate saw the outline of Nora. He laid his head back down and squeezed his eyes shut. She probably didn’t even realize he was there. If he laid still enough, maybe she would go away.

But she didn’t. She mumbled to herself, as distraught and confused as always, between sniffles. The sniffling grew to weeping and then to sobbing until Tate’s bed shook with the weight of her cries.

He would never understand how Constance couldn’t hear Nora. His mother could never hear any of the ghosts, except for Rose, Beauregard and Moira, when they wanted her to. But Tate heard them all the time. Why they always came to him, he didn’t know. Most of the time he didn’t mind. He was lonely, and the ghosts replaced the friends he could never invite over out of fear of them being murdered by the creature in the basement or at least maimed by one of the twins. But that night he wished for the peace living in a non-haunted house would bring.

“Nora?” Tate finally sat up and touched her shoulder gently. She gasped and jumped to her feet.

“Who are you?” she demanded.  

“It’s me,” he said. “It’s Tate.”

“You don’t belong here,” she said. She was in one of her harsher moods, he noted, which meant she would be harder to comfort. It occurred to him that he could just tell her to go away. But he couldn’t do that to her, not to the woman who had held him when he was young and let him cry without telling him to shut up and act like a man. If he sent her away, would she ever forgive him?

“I live here,” he said. “You don’t have to be upset. Everything will be ok, I promise.”

“How dare you speak to me like that,” she said. “You don’t know what it is to suffer as I do.”

“Nora, please,” he tried again, but he could tell there would be no helping her tonight. He glanced over at his clock that read 1:05 AM. “I have track practice in the morning,” he said lamely, more to himself than to her.

“How can you be so unfeeling?” she said. “Get out.”

“Nora, I’m sorry, I…”

“Get out!” she yelled. Tate groaned but did as she asked, dragging a pillow and blanket with him. He walked into one of the spare bedrooms, only to find it already occupied by Larry. Pathetic, Tate thought, thinking of how Constance would go so far as to let Larry screw her but not let him sleep next to her. He couldn’t decide who disgusted him more.

The room where Larry’s wife, Lorraine, had burned herself alive with her daughters was still being repaired, not that Tate would have stepped foot in there anyway. Beauregard’s bed was still in the attic, but Tate knew if he tried to sleep up there, his brother would constantly pester him to play. As he walked down the hall, Gladys, one of the nurses murdered by R. Franklin, appeared in front of him, blocking his way.

“Look what he did to me,” she said, showing him her wounds.

“I’m sorry,” Tate said, fully aware of how pathetic he sounded.

“Help me,” Gladys moaned.

“I can’t,” Tate said. He had tried. After his family had moved back into the house, he had researched her and Maria’s deaths, discovering that Franklin had been arrested and subsequently died in prison of a heart attack. He told the nurses of their murderer’s fate with the intent of bringing them peace, but it wasn’t enough. Gladys wanted blood. She wanted to inflict the same pain she had suffered on others. It was only Maria who held her back.

But Maria was nowhere to be seen. Gladys started walking toward Tate, her arms outstretched as she repeated her plea. Tate closed his eyes. “Go away,” he said and opened his eyes to find the hallway empty again.

Tate made his way downstairs and into the living room where Elizabeth Short sat on the couch, her back straight as she nervously fiddled with a button on her top. When she heard Tate behind her, she stood and held her hand out to him.

“Are you the director?” She asked. “You look a little young. Are you his assistant?”

“I am,” Tate said. When it came to Elizabeth, playing along tended to be the best course of action. He liked it when he was able to successfully make her smile and send her away with her eyes full of hope. “You’re here to see…”

“Mr. Marshall.”

“Of course,” he said. “You must be Miss Short. Mr. Marshall is very excited to see you.  He thinks you can be a star.”

“Really?” Elizabeth said. “Me?” Her eyes sparkled as she smiled brightly. Something fluttered in the pit of Tate’s stomach and he smiled back.

“Yeah,” Tate said. “But he can’t see you today. He said to tell you to come back tomorrow.”

“Oh,” Elizabeth’s face fell. “Tomorrow?”

“That’s right, first thing in the morning,” he added quickly, trying to be reassuring. She nodded before wandering out of the room.

Sighing with relief, Tate flopped down on the sofa and curled up beneath his blanket.

Lorraine found him just as he was drifting off.

“Follow me,” she whispered in his ear. He did so in a daze, halfway between sleep and wakefulness, into the kitchen. She turned on the stove top and watched the circle of blue fire glow in the darkness. After a few moments, she took Tate’s hand and held it above the flames. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. Every night since the Langdons had moved back into the house, Tate had sleepwalked, led by Lorraine, to feel the fire she had felt. Each night she forced his hand lower until that night, when a flame licked his palm. He yelled in pain and jumped back, cradling his hand.

“Please,” Lorraine said, “I need someone to feel my pain. I need him to feel my pain.”

Suddenly, as Lorraine’s mutilated eyes bore into his, he began imagining what it would feel like to have fire licking every inch of his body, melting his flesh and reducing his bones to ash.

In his mind, he saw himself pouring gasoline over Larry as he slept, over his mother, over himself and the walls of the house before flicking a match and letting everything end in purifying fire. He saw it happen from outside his own body, could see the flames devour his flesh as his face, painted like a grotesque skull, leered back.

“Come away from there,” Moira’s gentle voice jerked him out of his fantasy as she pulled him away from Lorraine. She led him to the sink where she turned on the faucet to let cool water flow over his hand.  “Hold that there.” Moira vanished and returned a few minutes later with a First Aid kit.

“It’s ok,” Tate said when he saw it. “It doesn’t hurt bad.”

“Nonsense,” Moira said. “No use risking an infection. Make sure to clean it with soap.” Tate did so, unable to hide a hiss when the soap stung. After patting it dry, he sat next to Moira at the table.

“Moira, can I ask you something?” he asked as he laid his hand on the table, palm up.

“You may,” she said as she began to apply ointment to his burn.

“Why do you keep working? I mean, it’s not like you get paid.”

“And what would you have me do instead?”

Tate shrugged. “I don’t know. I sure as hell wouldn’t keep working for Constance.”

“It is important to have a purpose,” Moira said, now gently wrapping his hand with gauze. “Even if that purpose is just to keep the shelves free from dust. Without it, I am afraid I would be like the other miserable souls trapped here, repeating their traumas until the end of time.”

“You’re stronger than they are,” Tate said.

“Perhaps,” she said. “Or maybe I just haven’t been dead as long.” Tate didn’t know how she died. He had asked her once but she told him it was not for him to worry about.

“Isn’t there anything you want? Something that would bring you peace?”

Moira smiled sadly. “I’d like to be with my mother.”

“Where is she?” Tate asked. “I could bring her here.”

“It is not your calling to right the wrongs of the spirits here, Tate.”

“Why not?” he said. “Maybe it’s my purpose, like you said.” He had given this a fair amount of thought. There had to be some reason he had been able to see ghosts since he was young, why they came to him for help. It was the only thing that made living there bearable. He liked the idea of destiny pulling him there to help. But then he thought of Beauregard and of Lorraine and her daughters. The idea that the only reason he was there was the selfish cruelty of Constance and Larry overwhelmed him.

Moira still had Tate’s hand in hers. She pulled it closer before gently pushing up the sleeve of his shirt. Tate didn’t pull away even though he usually did all he could to keep people from seeing the lines running up his arm. Without saying anything, she began applying ointment to the most recent cut and a couple of others that he had picked the scabs off of.

“In the ten years I have spent here since my death,” Moira said, “I have seen the influence of this house destroy the people who have lived within its walls. But the power it has over you is like nothing I have seen. You are in constant danger living here.”

“What do you mean?” Tate asked.

“I mean that if you stay here another night, the consequences may be beyond what any of us can imagine. You need to leave, Tate. You need to leave and never come back.”

“Try telling Constance that.”

“You’re mother will never leave this house,” Moira said. “Its pull on her is strong and no matter how hardened she pretends to be, she is weak.”

“So what am I supposed to do?” Tate asked. “Where am I supposed to go? It’s not like I know where my dad is.” He wished he did. Not a day went by that he didn’t hope his dad would show up at the door, ready with an apology and a chance for a different life.

“It doesn’t matter where you go,” Moira said. “As long as it is away from here. Wherever you go, whatever you do, it will be better than what will happen if you stay here.”

Tate tugged his shirt sleeve back down over his arm. He had nowhere to go. He had no friends from school he could stay with and any relatives he had would send him right back to Constance. He had never traveled anywhere by himself, he wasn’t sure he even knew how.

But what really made him hesitate was the fact that as much as he hated it most of the time, the thought of leaving the house for good scared him. It was like his whole life was tied up in it. He had even felt that way when he lived next door and would sneak in occasionally to visit Rose. Moira was wrong, he belonged there.

No, he told himself. It didn’t have to be that way. He wasn’t about to let Constance control his life, why should a damn house be any different? He could do anything, be anything. Fuck Constance. Fuck high school. Fuck that damned house. He wasn’t going to get stuck there.

“Ok,” he said. Scared of losing his resolve, Tate stood up and walked out of the kitchen before bounding up the stairs.

Nora was gone, his room empty. He quickly changed out of his pajamas, shoving them in his backpack, and pulled on a t-shirt and jeans. Looking around his room, he realized how little he was attached to the shit he owned. Except for Hamlet. Knowing all too well that Constance would never remember to feed him, Tate poured a bunch of extra food into his cage and filled the water dish until it was almost overflowing. Maybe he could get Moira to take care of Hamlet while he was gone.

After filling his bag with as many books and cds as he could, Tate went to the attic. Beauregard bounded over to his brother and leaped on top of him, knocking him to the ground.

“Hey!” Tate yelled. “How many times have I told you not to do that?” Beauregard whined as he backed off.

“He only wants to play,” Rose said, emerging from the shadows. She had spent almost all of her time in the attic since Beauregard had died.

“I don’t have time to play right now,” Tate said.

“Because you’re leaving,” Rose said. It wasn’t posed as a question.

“Yeah,” Tate said.

“You don’t have to be sorry,” Rose said before he could. “I think you should go.”

“I need you and Beauregard to take care of each other, ok?” Tate said. “And Addie. She’ll need you.”

“We will,” Rose assured him. “Come on Beau.” She took her brother by the hand and led him away from Tate. He watched them for a moment before going over to the corner of the attic where he kept a collection of random things he had found around the house as well as a secret stash of cash. He used to keep the money he earned from his after school jobs in his room like a normal person. But after the third time Constance had raided his room for extra cash, he decided to hide it.

Swiping his mother’s credit card occurred to him, but it was probably maxed out anyway. All he had was $200 but it would have to be enough until he figured out what he was going to do.

He couldn’t bring himself to say goodbye to his deceased siblings, so he slipped away quietly. Rose turned to look at him just as he was descending the ladder, her eyeless sockets boring into his soul. Why did he feel like she could always see him better than anyone else?

Moira was waiting for him by the front door.

“I took this from Mr. Harvey’s wallet,” she said, holding out a few bills.

“Thanks,” he said, taking them.

“And I made you these,” she said and handed him a brown paper bag. Inside were a couple of sandwiches wrapped in plastic. “I wish I could do more.”

“You can take care of my hamster for me,” he said. They stood in awkward silence for a moment. Although she had always been in the background of his life - making him school lunches and cleaning his room - they had never been close. Tate felt suddenly odd thinking of how little he knew of her compared to the other spirits in the house, and now it was too late.

“Bye then,” Tate said, opening the front door and stepping outside. The spring night air felt pleasant against his face as he walked out the gate and down the sidewalk. He took a deep breath and exhaled, trying to feel the relief of escaping the house.

But he didn’t feel anything. The farther he walked, the more he felt the house’s presence at his back. There were even a few times when he looked over his shoulder, expecting to see the red bricks and stained glass windows still right behind him.

He kept walking. He didn’t know where he was going, his head was too full of ghosts to pay any attention. The sound of each footfall seemed to hammer against his temples with the oppressive thought that maybe it wasn’t just the house that made him the way he was. Maybe it had just been him all along.

After about half an hour, Tate let the shroud of darkness that was always hanging at the back of his skull pull over his eyes and let himself to be led forward by the demon that was always there, waiting to be allowed to take over.

“Can I help you?”

Tate found himself standing in front of a hotel reception desk.

“What?” he said stupidly. He had no recollection of where he was or how he had gotten there.

“You rang this little bell here,” the man - or was it a woman - behind the desk said. She was bald, wearing elaborate makeup, hoop earrings and a gold dress. “This little bell which signaled that a paying customer was waiting for me.”

“I did?” Tate said.

“I assume,” she said. “You also interrupted my book so I suggest you start speaking in sentences containing more than two words.”

“Sorry, uh, yeah,” Tate said. “How much is a room?” The woman slid a placard in front of him that listed the prices. “Just a standard room.” Tate dug into his pocket and counted out $25 which he slid across the counter.

“Running away from home?” The woman said, not touching the money.

“No,” Tate lied. “Vacation.”

“Sure you are,” she said, looking Tate up and down. “Let me guess, mummy and daddy don’t understand you?”

Tate bristled. “Just give me a room.”

“Hmmm,” she said. “Listen, kid. I understand the need to break out on your own, find yourself. But this isn’t the place for that. Take your milk money and find a nice little Motel 6.”

“Give him a room,” a voice said behind Tate. He turned to see a woman standing a few feet behind him. She was, without a doubt, the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, with white blonde hair that seemed to float around her head, eyes like a hawk and the body of a goddess swathed in a silk dress that clung to every curve. Tate couldn’t look away from her. She held his gaze as she walked across the lobby to the elevator. When she was gone, the woman behind the desk cleared her throat.

“Who was that?” Tate asked.

“My boss,” she said. “What she says, goes. Sign here.” She pushed a log book in front of Tate and handed him a pen. Tate signed his name, deciding it was incredibly unlikely anyone would think to look for him there. Besides, he planned on moving on before anyone even noticed he was gone.

“Thank you, Tate,” the woman said, reading the name off the page. “My name is Liz, if you need anything.”

“Liz? Tate repeated.

“Is there a problem?” Liz asked.

“No,” Tate said. “I was just wondering…ya know…what you were…”

“I’m the receptionist,” Liz said. “And the bartender. Not that you will get to see me perform that particular role for a few more years, at least.”

“Right,” Tate said.

“Shall we?” Liz asked and began to lead him to the elevator. “You will be in room 57. Welcome to the Hotel Cortez.”



Chapter Text

1994 - The Hotel Cortez

 

There's no particular place we are going

Still we are going

The lost boys and girls club

 

The room smelled of rot and decaying flesh. It reminded Tate of the basement after Thaddeus had made a kill and hid the carcass so that it took Moira weeks to find.

“What can I say,” Liz said in response to Tate’s sour expression when they entered. “It’s an old hotel. Not too late to turn back. The Cecil is just down the street.” But the clock on the side table flashed 3:16 AM and even though the bed was sunken in the middle and covered in a faded, stained bedspread, all Tate wanted to do was pass out on it.

“It’s fine,” he said and took the key from Liz.

“Suit yourself,” she said and let herself out. For the the third time that night, Tate gratefully laid down and tried to sleep. But sleep didn’t come. He stared at the ceiling, feeling every spring in the mattress and listening to every drip from the sink. Then he heard the bathtub faucet turn on.

“Fuck,” Tate whispered to the ceiling. He kept still and listened. Eventually the faucet turned off again and Tate closed his eyes. He could hear the slopping of water as someone crawled into the tub. Deciding he wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway, Tate begrudgingly got out of bed.

When he walked into the bathroom, he saw that the tub was filled with water, but void of any person inhabiting it. Sighing, he filled a cup with water from the sink and took a drink.

The water tasted worse than the room smelled. He spat it into the sink, gagging. When he lifted his head, the mirror reflected not only his face, but a woman standing behind him. Tate jumped and dropped the glass. It shattered against the sink.

The shock he felt faded almost immediately. He couldn’t believe he had let himself be spooked by a damn ghost.

He turned to face the apparition. She was no longer standing behind him, but was submerged in the bathtub, the water now almost black with blood. Tate watched as she rose slowly, her eyes wild.

“It’s a nice routine,” Tate said, “but I’ve seen better. What’s your name?” The woman’s face fell and she tilted her head in confusion.

“Cara,” she said.

“Well, Cara,” he said, “I’m sorry you died and all, but I paid for this room, It may be a shithole, but it’s all I have right now. So if you could get the fuck out, that’d be great.” Cara stared at him blankly for a moment before a manic smile slowly formed on her face. Tate didn’t see her do it, but suddenly she was right in front of him. She slammed him into the wall, her hand against his throat.

“Go away!” he tried to yell, but she didn’t. “Ok, ok, I’m sorry. I get it. I’ll leave.” She let go and vanished. The rules were different at the hotel, Tate realized as he rubbed his neck. He hadn’t bothered to change, so it was easy to just grab his shoes and bag before leaving. He made sure to slam the door on his way out.

His exhaustion had been replaced by adrenaline and he found he no longer had any desire to sleep. The hall felt like a maze but he was able to find his way back to the elevator and down to the mezzanine level.

He thought about trying to convince Liz to give him another room, but he had a feeling his wasn’t the only one haunted. All he needed to do was wait it out until morning when the world will feel just a little less off kilter.

The Blue Parrot lounge was situated above the lobby and Tate decided the spot was as good as any. He picked one of the chairs by the edge of the mezzanine and nestled himself in it. Shoes still off, he put his feet up on the railing, tucked his legs against his chest, and pulled a book out of his bag. He hadn’t finished a page when the click of manicured nails drumming on the table next to him interrupted his thoughts.

You don’t have an ID I can look at, do you?” Liz Taylor asked, standing above him.

“I’m not going to drink anything,” Tate said.

“Under California law, it is illegal for an unaccompanied minor to enter an establishment that serves alcohol,” Liz said, waving her hand to indicate that they were in just such an establishment. Tate looked around at the empty seats.

“There’s nobody else here,” he protested. “Can’t I just...hang out?”

She sighed and jutted her hip out. “Couldn’t sleep?”

“My room is haunted,” Tate said nonchalantly.

“Hmm,” Liz said. “I wouldn’t expect a refund. I can give you some sage to burn.”

“Sage doesn’t work,” Tate said, turning back to his book.

Evening in Byzantium,” Liz read the title out loud. “And I half expected it to be Catcher in the Rye.”

“You read a lot of Oscar Wilde?” Tate asked, annoyed at being pigeonholed so easily.

“Clever,” Liz said. “Or it would be, if I were gay.”

“Little advice,” Tate said. “If you’re going to stay in the closet, I would try not dressing in drag.” He slapped his book shut and stood to go, too sleep deprived to try and keep up with a quipping war, especially with someone his mom would have simply refused to acknowledge even existed.

“Leave him alone, Liz,” said a woman standing at the bar. Tate hadn’t seen her appear and it was easy for him to guess why. “Sit down, kid, I’ll buy you a drink.”

“Now Sally,” Liz said, walking back to the bar, “what have I told you about bothering guests, especially now that you are a permanent resident.”

“What the fuck else am I supposed to do?” Sally said with an unexpected rush of emotion. Her voice cracked as if she was about to start crying. “It’s easy for you. You can leave whenever you want.”

“You barely stepped outside when you were still able to,” Liz said. “I hate to break it to you sweetie, but I doubt your life would look all that different. I’m sure you’ll adjust.”

“Just give me a goddamn beer,” Sally snapped. Liz opened a bottle which Sally immediately took a drink from. Her eyes were trained on Tate who could feel the despair that leaked out, further blurring her already ruined makeup. She didn’t talk to him again, but slunked over to a corner table and sat alone.

Tate was instantly infected by Sally’s sadness. The all too familiar impulse to comfort her tugged at him, drawing him towards her by his gut, leaving his brain behind. Bad idea, he thought to himself. Hadn’t the whole reason behind running away been to get away from ghosts that begged for his help and dragged him into the black holes of their desperation? But the way she was still staring at him, coupled with the way her leopard print coat, blonde hair and mess of make-up reminded him more than a little of Courtney Love, convinced him to walk towards her.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Liz said. “To say that woman is trouble would be the understatement of the decade.” Tate ignored her, the comment just making him more curious.

“Can I sit here?” Tate asked. Sally’s eyes shone with new tears when he asked, despite the smile and nod she gave him.

“Got a cigarette?” she asked as he sat next to her.

“Sorry,” Tate said.

“Always worth a shot,” she said as she pulled out a box of her own. “I hate wasting mine.” She tried her a lighter a couple of times before Tate took it from her and lit it on the first try. When she leaned in toward him, he realized he had done just what she wanted him to. Not wanting to be played, Tate decided to show her he wasn’t as naive as she thought.

“How did you die?” he asked. She sat back and laughed, letting out a circle of smoke. It wasn’t the reaction he had hoped for.

“You’re a quick one,” she said. “I like that. Just don’t try any of that psychic medium garbage on me.”

“Mediums are full of shit,” he said, thinking of the half a dozen Constance had tried to get Rose to talk to.

“You got that right,” Sally said, taking a drag. “I got pushed out of window by a psychotic bitch, to answer your question.” She paused, waiting for a response. “Aren’t you going to ask why? Or if I deserved it?”

“I doubt you deserved it,” Tate said. “People usually don’t. The ones who do usually never get what’s coming to them.” Sally studied him intently, tapping her cigarette against an ashtray.

Tate felt awkward under her gaze and looked around to ease his discomfort. The lounge was no longer empty. There was a man sitting a couple tables away, alone. The man looked out of time, but fit in perfectly with the aura of the hotel. He wore a blue pinstripe suit, complete with silk cravat and a white flower pinned to his lapel. At first Tate wondered if he had overheard his unusual conversation with Sally before realizing that the man was yet another ghost.

“Sounds like you’ve met quite a few ghosts before,” Sally said.

“I grew up in a haunted house,” Tate said with a shrug.

“Tell me about them,” Sally said, leaning towards him.

“Who?” Tate asked.

“The ghosts,” Sally said. “I want to know about their pain, how they died. You know, small talk.”

So Tate told Sally about the nurses who would never feel avenged, the Black Dahlia who would never be a star, and Moira who would never be reunited with her mother. Sally clung to every word he said. Sometimes she interjected questions, urging him to describe their sufferings in more detail. Other times she remained quiet, tears streaming down her face.

“I just wish there was a way I could help them,” Tate said. “I keep trying to find a way to bring them peace so maybe they could move on, ya know? But I can’t. They’re just stuck like that, forever.”

“I know the feeling,” Sally took a swig from her fourth beer.

“Especially Nora,” Tate said.

“Nora?” Sally said. “Jesus, how big is this house?”

“Not big enough. Nora has been there the longest. She and her husband, Charles Montgomery. They built it.” Tate noticed the ghost in the pinstripe suit stir suddenly and when he looked at him, the ghost stared right back as if daring Tate to look away first. He did. “She is kind of like a mom to me,” Tate continued explaining to Nora. “Some of the time, anyway. Her baby was kidnapped and murdered.”

“That’s horrible,” Sally said, as if it were merely a juicy bit of gossip.

“Yeah,” Tate said. “She still asks where her baby is.” He didn’t want to talk about Nora anymore. He wondered if she would miss him and ask where he was the way she asked about Thaddeus.

“Then there’s the twins,” Tate continued to change the subject. “They used to break my mom’s shit all the time. Since she can’t see them, she always blamed us for everything.”

“Us?” Sally asked.

“My brother and sisters,” Tate explained. “Adelaide and Beauregard anyway. Rose died when I was six. Right after my dad left. She hung around though.”

“How did she die?” Sally asked.

“Some sort of infection, I guess. My mom doesn’t like to talk about it. For all I know, she killed her too.”

“Too?” Sally’s eyes widened with the question.

“She killed my brother. Well, not directly. She convinced the fucking bastard whose cock she has been sucking off to do it.” Talking about his family aggravated him and he could feel the all too familiar indignation bubble up in his stomach. He tucked his arms under the table and picked at a scab to help keep his voice calm.

“Jesus,” Sally said. “Did you tell the police?”

“Tried to. They said they didn’t believe me. But the truth is that they didn’t fucking care. No one cares if some retarded kid is murdered in an attic.” Tate blinked furiously to evaporate the hot tears forming. His throat ached from trying to keep himself together. “My mom called him a monster. But he wasn’t.”

Sally edged closer to him. “She sounds like the real monster.”

“Yeah,” Tate said. He didn’t want to talk about Constance either. He didn’t want to talk about any of it. He wanted to leave it all behind. But there he was, dredging it all up again.

It was the way Sally was looking at him, crying for him, that convinced him to continue sharing it all with her. She was far from being the therapist he had timidly asked his mom for once after a particularly intense vision. Constance had scoffed at the idea and told him he didn’t need therapy. Head shrinkers were for crazy people. He just needed to apply himself more. No one had ever listened to him the way Sally listened.

“Tell me,” Sally said. She folded her arms on the table and laid her head down.

“She always tells me I should be grateful,” Tate said, “that I’m not like Beauregard or Addie, that I escaped being born like them. But sometimes I wish I was. Maybe then I wouldn’t have these…” He waved his hand over his forehead, trying to think of how to explain the thoughts that worked their way into his head without sounding deranged. They weren’t just thoughts. They were urges.

“They would never hurt anyone,” Tate continued. “But Constance hates them. She thinks they were born to punish her.”

“But not you,” Sally said. “No one could ever think you were a punishment. Not with a face like that. You’re hot stuff.”

“That’s what my mom says too,” Tate said. “She never lets me forget it. When I was younger, she tried to get me to audition for movies and modeling and all that shit. It’s what she wanted to do, before she had Addie.”

“She needs you to save her,” Sally said. “She needs you to make her feel like her life has meaning.” Tate frowned. He had never thought of it that way before. It made it worse. Constance was yet another person he couldn’t save. Not that he would want to if he could.

“I hate her,” Tate said. He didn’t have room to add Constance to his list of people whose pain he carried with him constantly. She had added to that list herself.  “And I hate her boyfriend. You know what his wife did when she found out he was leaving her? She set herself and her daughters on fire. And the two of them act as if nothing happened. All they care about is pretending their lives are perfect while everyone else is literally burning themselves alive around them.”

Tate couldn’t keep it all in anymore. He put his elbows on the table and hid his face in his hands as burning tears finally escaped.

“Hey, look at me,” Sally said. She grabbed his arm, the one with fresh cuts, and pulled it so that he had to face her. “Look at me,” she repeated. Her face was inches away from his and he could see she was crying too. All she did was stare at the tears running down his face, not saying another word. She had no intent of comforting him, Tate realized. Her grip on his arm would have hurt even without his scars and her face was twisted into a smile.

“You cry beautifully,” she said and pressed a finger against his cheek to catch a tear. She put her finger in her mouth and sucked it like she was sampling some sort of soup.

“I should go,” Tate said and tried to pull his arm free.

“No,” Sally said. “Don’t go. Not yet.”

“Let him go, Sally dear.” It was the ghost in the pinstripe suit. Sally immediately let go of Tate’s arm and shrunk away. “That’s a good girl.” Sally glared at him but didn’t say a word.

Tate picked up his bag and shoes before the man put a hand against his back and led him toward the bar.

“I do apologize for that,” the man said. “It is so hard to maintain a respectable clientele these days. My name is James Patrick March. I own this hotel.”

“Tate Langdon,” Tate said. “Don’t worry about it. I should probably be on my way.” He glanced down at his watch. It was already past 6 AM, the sun was probably already rising.

“Nonsense,” March said. “You look utterly exhausted. I absolutely insist you stay another night at no charge.” He called over Liz to the bar. “See that Mr. Langdon has everything he needs for a comfortable stay, won’t you?”

“Certainly,” Liz said with a wry smile.

“Very good,” March said before thumping Tate on the back and returning to Sally’s table.

“I think you will find Cara won’t be giving you anymore trouble,” Liz said. “She only bothers people at night. And once she hears you are a special guest of Mr. March, she won’t be back.”

“You knew my room was haunted?” Tate said.

“Honey, the whole hotel is haunted. I gave you Cara’s room because she is harmless, never killed a soul. I thought she would scare you off. But I can tell you don’t scare easily.”

“Guess not,” Tate said and started to walk away.

“You might want this though,” Liz said and slid him a bottle of water. “Just because Cara’s ghost won’t be bothering you, doesn’t mean you won’t still be tasting her in the tap water.”

“Thanks,” Tate said, realizing that he was incredibly thirsty. He drank the whole thing as he rode the elevator back up to floor five.

Liz was right, there was no sign of Cara. Even the smell didn’t seem as potent. Tate peeked through the curtains of the window to see that the world was being covered in a gray dawn. The glass was so filthy that barely any light shone through, but Tate didn’t mind. He closed the curtain and returned to the lumpy bed. Finally, he would be able to sleep.

 

***

 

Tate woke from a nightmare. He had been in a hallway at Westfield High watching a lone figure walk away from him toward a flight of stairs.

“Hey!” Tate shouted. The figure stopped and turned until Tate was looking at himself, his face painted like a skull. The doppelgangers stared at each other for what felt like hours before a rumble started somewhere above them.

The rumble grew louder until a river of blood crashed down the stairs like a waterfall. The sound it made was deafening but the other Tate didn’t turn, didn’t flinch. He didn’t know what was coming.

“Run!” Tate yelled in warning. The other Tate turned away, slowly and deliberately. He opened his arms to welcome the surge that knocked him backwards and engulfed him.

Tate woke with a metallic taste in his mouth. For one terrifying moment, he thought he felt arms wrapped around his chest, pulling him into the mattress. But it was only the sheets that had tangled around him as he tossed and turned in his sleep. He frantically freed himself, pushing the sheets aside.

The room was still pitch black, so Tate tried to fall back asleep. But every time he closed his eyes, all he saw was the image of himself drowning in blood.

There was too much blood. It pulsed against his skin and throbbed against his temples. Still adrift in the borderland between sleep and wakefulness, Tate imagined evil spirits swimming through his veins, poisoning him. They had to be let out.

Despite the fog that clouded his vision and weighed down his limbs, he found the razor blades he had packed in his bag and walked into the bathroom. He looked in the mirror, half expecting to see his face painted in white and black. But it was just him. His hair was matted to his forehead and his eyes were red from lack of sleep.

He turned his attention to his arm and ran one of the blades just below the fresh cut he had made only a few hours before. The pain cut through the fog and sliced the vision of himself in half. Tate watched as blood dripped into the whiteness of the sink.

“Such a waste,” a voice cooed behind him. A pale hand gently took his elbow and guided his arm up toward a red mouth. “My poor boy.” It was the woman he had seen in the lobby. She licked the red stripe on his arm like candy. He was frozen in place, mesmerized, until a flicker of pain jolted his senses and he pulled away.

“How did you get in here?” he asked. She wasn’t a ghost, he could tell. But she wasn’t quite human either. “Who are you?”

“Your savior,” she said. “I want to help you.” She turned and walked out of the bathroom. Tate followed.

She sat on the edge of the bed as if she was sitting on a throne. “Come here, my child. Sit by me.” She patted the space next to her. Tate did as she asked, once again ignoring the sensible part of his brain “Your name is Tate, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” he said. “How did you know?”

“I make it my business to know about everyone who walks into my hotel.”

“What can I call you?” Tate asked.

“You can call me the Countess.”

“Countess of what?”

She smiled and reached up to tuck one of Tate’s unruly blonde curls behind his ear. “Whatever you need,” she said, her hand slid to his cheek where it rested. “I heard everything. I know why you ran away from home. Your mother doesn’t deserve to have a son like you.”

Tate wasn’t sure that was true. Sometimes he thought he was exactly what Constance deserved. But hearing her say it had the same effect as watching Sally cry for him. It was addicting.

“You deserve to have someone take care of you,” the Countess continued. “To love you like a mother should. I can be that person.”

“What do you mean?” Tate asked. “You want to adopt me?”

“In a way,” she said. “This could be your home. You wouldn’t have to worry about anything ever again. I would make sure of it.“

“Why would you do that?” Tate asked. Nothing she was saying made any sense. Normal people didn’t just walk into hotel rooms and offer permanent residencies. But Tate could tell the Countess was anything but normal from the moment he saw her. He found himself not caring very much. Her perfume was intoxicating and he allowed himself to believe every word she said.

“I have other children,” she said. “They were like you, born into abusive families until I saved them. You could help me look after them. You could be their big brother. Isn’t that what you have always wanted, Tate? To be able to protect your siblings?”

“Yeah,” he whispered, thinking of how he had failed to protect Beauregard and had abandoned Addie. The last thing Tate wanted to do was cry in front of a woman like the Countess, so he turned away and rubbed his eyes with heels of his hands.

“Don’t cry, love,” she said.

“I’m not,” Tate said. “I’m just...tired.”

“Of course you are,” the Countess said. “You should rest. We can discuss my proposition more in the morning.” She motioned for him to lay down and he did, though he felt a little awkward with her still being in the room. He expected her to leave but she sat on the edge of the bed next to him and stroked his hair as he drifted off into a light doze.

“I didn’t tell you about the boy just so you could feed off him,” Tate barely noticed the male voice that spoke from the end of his bed. The words floated above him but did not register in his mind.

“Don’t be a fool, James,” the Countess said. “I’m not going to feed off him. I’m going to turn him.”

“I am afraid that is something I cannot allow,” James said.

“And why is that?” the Countess said. “You’re not jealous are you? He’s just a boy.”

“Hardly,” James said. “He cannot stay here as one of your little beasts. His purpose lies elsewhere.”

“He isn’t like the others, all your deranged proteges you molded into killers.”

“I quite agree with you, my dear. This one has a far more magnificent calling. I envy him.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Can’t you see it it? When I first saw him, I noticed something remarkable about his aura. Or should I say, auras. He has two, you see. Most unusual. In fact, I don’t believe I have ever seen it before. One is sort of a muddy green, fairly common for a young man coming of age. But the other is jet black. So black that it is almost impossible to comprehend. It creates a void around him that extinguishes all light.”

“And what does that mean?” The Countess asked, sounding bored.

“It means that there are two souls dwelling inside this boy. One human and one demon.”

Tate felt the Countess quickly withdraw her hand from his hair. He didn’t want her to stop, but he was sinking further into sleep and could not make himself stir or speak.

“You’re sure?” she asked.

“Indeed,” James said. “I am sure because I have felt the presence of this very demon once before. I would recognize the stench of it anywhere. The very perfume of death. You see, Mr. Langdon was raised in the very house where our own Bartholomew was born.”

“The Montgomery Mansion? I was not aware you ever set foot in the place.” There was the sound of a match being struck and the smell of cigarette smoke wafted through the room.

“After you attempted to have our child murdered,” James continued, “I took it upon myself to exact revenge upon the man who did the deed. But as soon as I found myself in the walls of that house, I could feel how thin the veil was between hell and the mortal realm. I knew immediately I was not there by chance. Oh no. I was merely a pawn in a much more elaborate game. My plan had been simply to kill Dr. Montgomery and his wife, but I was struck by sudden inspiration. I stole his child and did to it what the good doctor had done to countless others.”

“You mean to tell me that you killed an innocent child?” the Countess said. “Every time I think I know the extent of your depravity, you surprise me yet again.”

“I did nothing that was not first done to me,” James argued. “It was the perfect execution of justice.”

“And this game that you claim to be a part of?”

“I am so glad you asked. Normally I would resent being used by a power larger than myself but in this case, I consider it an honor. By robbing the Montgomerys of their child, I set in motion a chain of events that will eventually culminate in the ultimate affront to God. Not even the completion of my Ten Commandments could compete with the perversion this boy will create.”

“How?” the Countess asked.

“While I try to stay away from religion as it is the epitome of hypocrisy, I must admit I have been drawn to discovering the many secrets that are kept hidden by leaders. One of which is a prophecy that claims that the end of times will be brought about by a child conceived through a union between human and ghost.”

“But how is that possible? I have been around ghosts long enough to know they can fuck the living as much as they want without fear of any unwanted surprises.”

“This is true, as a general rule,” James said. “Unless a soul has been chosen, one may even say ordained, by the devil himself to pass on his demonic seed. Such a spirit would have to be truly debased in order to be worthy of such a task. An antithesis of the Holy Spirit. It would have to be shattered and mangled beyond recognition.”

“Like yours?” the Countess said.

“Precisely,” James said, taking pride rather than offense. “Nothing mutilates the soul like the act of committing murder. And that, my dear, is what your dear Mr. Langdon must do.”

“He won’t do it,” the Countess said. “His sense of justice is too strong. Besides, he is still alive and I won’t let you kill him.”

“Morality can always be exploited,” James said. “He is on the edge of a precipice as it is. One little nudge and he will fall. You needn’t worry about me killing him. He cannot die in the hotel. His mortal form must expire within the confines of that house so that the essence of evil can break through and be born.”



Chapter Text

1994 - The Hotel Cortez

 

And you may find somebody kind to help and understand you

Someone who is just like you and needs a gentle hand to

Guide them along

So maybe I'll see you there

We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares...

 

“Mr. Langdon should be arriving any moment now,” Ms. Evers said as she walked into room 78. “Can you believe he was still asleep at this hour? Children these days have no sense of propriety. I had to practically beg him to get out of bed so I could change the linens. But I delivered your invitation as requested. He seemed inclined to accept.”

“Good,” Mr. March said from an armchair in the corner. The pipe he had lit was smoking, quite forgotten, in his hand. He watched Ms. Evers bustle around the elegantly set table in the middle of the room as she made sure everything was ready for the dinner she had prepared.

“I doubt his tastes are refined enough to appreciate my cooking,” Ms. Evers said. “Of course, he looks as if he barely eats at all. Skinny little thing, isn’t he? I hope the suit fits him. He doesn’t cut quite the same figure as you do, Mr. March.” She stopped her fussing for a moment to see if March noticed the compliment. He did, but chose to ignore it. His mind was occupied elsewhere. He didn’t have the time for Ms. Evers’ constant prattling. As much as he relied on her and was constantly amused by her manic passion for butchery and blood, she simply did not have the depth of character needed to understand the gravity of the meeting he was about to have.

It was not that he was nervous exactly, he was certain the boy would succumb to his dark impulses if fed the right counsel. But March was keenly aware of how dangerous it was to meddle with unseen forces. He would have to tread carefully.

A quiet knock at the door was answered by Ms. Evers who ushered Tate into the room. She had been correct in her assumption about Tate’s figure. He and March may have been the same height, but the suit March had sent him to wear for the evening hung loose on his shoulders, as did the bowtie around his neck. March supposed it was not Tate’s fault he looked like a drifter from off the streets with his basketball shoes and vagabond haircut. It was all in the upbringing. Gentility was rarely taught to young men anymore.

“Aw, Mr. Langdon,” March said as he rose to greet him. “I am so pleased you decided to join me this evening. I see you had a little trouble with your tie. No matter, no matter, allow me to help you.” Tate eyed him warily but did not withdraw as March deftly tied and adjusted it until it was just so.

“You’re the owner, right?” Tate asked. “Mr. March? You invited me?” March could tell by the way he said you that he was disappointed. It was easy for March to guess why.

“You were expecting my wife,” he said. “I don’t blame you. She is a divine creature, is she not?” The jealousy that frothed in his breast whenever another man spoke to or about Elizabeth never failed to make him perturbed but he had learned to hide it. The key was in making sure the other man knew who exactly was in control. March pulled out a comb and began trying to make Tate’s hair look somewhat presentable. It was a simple gesture, but one March had used several times before.

“Your wife?” Tate asked, flinching away from March’s first attempt to begin grooming the young man to trust him.

“The Countess,” March said, pocketing the comb again and turning his back on Tate to pour himself a drink. “You must think me fortunate that such a remarkable woman would marry a simple man such as myself. But I assure you, it is quite the opposite. Have you ever been in love, Mr. Langdon?”

“No,” Tate said.

“Good,” March said. “I highly recommend keeping it that way. Love only clouds one’s judgement, distracts from doing what needs to be done in order to become the person you were born to be.”

“Your wife said something about letting me stay here or something? Is that what you brought me here to talk about?” Tate asked.

“We discussed the matter at length and have decided to not offer you a permanent residency at the Cortez,” March said.

“Okay,” Tate said with a shrug. “Then why am I here?”

“We will get to that soon enough,” March said. “We must not disappoint Ms. Evers by allowing the pheasant to get cold. But first, allow me to offer you a drink. Have you ever tasted absinthe before?”

“Isn’t that stuff illegal?” Tate asked. “How did you get it?”

“I have my ways,” March said.

“Yeah I guess I shouldn’t be asking a guy who probably lived during Prohibition how he manages to smuggle in alcohol.”

March smiled wryly. “Indeed.” He poured two glasses of the green liquid, before diluting it with cold water and sugar cubes. “Some call it the drink of the divine and claim that it heightens the senses to a level of illumination unreachable by any other means.”

“Is that what made Hemingway such a great writer?” Tate asked as he took a glass that March offered and held it up to better see the cloudy green color.

“You are familiar with the popularity it has amongst poets?” March asked.

“Yeah,” Tate said but then set the glass down. “And thanks, but I don’t drink.”

“Come now, Mr. Langdon,” March said. “Surely you don’t think we abide by laws and rules here at the Cortez. There is no one to tell you what you can and cannot do. Even the laws of mortality don’t apply here.”

“I don’t drink,” Tate repeated. The conviction with which he said it told March that it was not just the illegality of it that made him abstain. There was something else, a fear that revealed itself in a barely discernible quiver in his voice.

“Very well,” March said. “Please, have a seat Mr. Langdon.”

“You can call me Tate,” Tate said as he sat at the table.

“Then you must call me James,” March said. “I can tell we have much in common, Tate. I am sure we will be great friends.” Ms. Evers set a plate in front of Tate and withdrew the cover with a flourish.

“Roasted pheasant is one of my specialties,” Ms. Evers said.

“Thank you,” Tate said. “It looks delicious.” March noticed the marked difference in Tate’s manner when talking to Ms. Evers. He was less guarded, more polite and eager to please. His obvious preference for talking to and trusting women struck March as being a slight impediment to his plan, but he was not worried. There were several women at his disposal if he needed them.

Ms. Evers seemed to notice Tate’s change in attitude as well. March could swear she was almost blushing in response to the smile he gave her.

“Since you are abstaining tonight, may I get you a soda pop? Perhaps a Coca-Cola?” she asked.

“Sure,” Tate said. “That’d be great, thanks.”

“I’ll ring Ms. Taylor and have her bring one up,” Ms. Evers said.

“Why don’t you fetch it yourself, Ms. Evers?” March said as she poured him a glass of wine. She took the hint and nodded.

“Of course, Mr. March,” she said and left.

“Please,” March said, indicating that Tate should begin eating. He did so with zeal, barely able to hide his hunger. March sipped his wine as he watched Tate, carefully deciding on how to proceed.

“So,” Tate said when he finally paused devouring his food for a moment, “I am guessing you want me to do something for you?”

“What would make you say that?” March asked.

“Isn’t that the thing with ghosts?” Tate asked. “They need someone to help them so they can move on and be at peace? That has always been my experience, anyway.”

“Yes,” March said. “I heard you telling Miss McKenna something to that effect. But I can assure you that I am perfectly content and at peace.” It was a lie, of course, but Tate was not the one to complete his Ten Commandment killings. While he may have had the rage and desire for justice that was necessary, he was too unfocused, too rough around the edges. The boy simply did not have the make up of a serial killer.

“Then why did you invite me here?” Tate asked.

“Because I want to help you, Tate,” March said, leaning forward. “And having been on this earth, both as mortal man and immortal spirit for nearly one hundred years now, I like to think I have gained some measure of wisdom that I can share.”

“Why would you want to help me?”

“When I look at you,” March said. “I see myself in your eyes. I see a young man with great potential who cannot find his way. Nothing happens by accident. I believe it was destiny that led you to walk into my hotel.”

“Right,” Tate scoffed.

“You are not a believer in providence?” March asked.

“Not really.”

They were interrupted by Ms. Evers’ return. She cheerfully opened a can of Coke and poured it into a glass for Tate.

“Here you are,” she said. “Ice cold. Apparently we no longer stock bottles.”

“That’s ok,” Tate said. “Thanks.”

“Are you enjoying your dinner?” she asked, hovering over him. “Everything to your satisfaction?”

“Yeah, it’s amazing,” Tate said.

“Amazing?” She beamed. “Well, I don’t know what you are used to eating at home…”

“This is way better,” Tate said. “My mom’s cooking usually tastes like garbage.”

Ms. Evers’ smile wilted and her eyes began to glisten. “I am sure your mother tries very hard. It isn’t easy, you know, being a mother,” she said as her cheerful attitude was replaced by agitation. “She is probably worried sick about you, the poor woman.”

“Thank you, Ms. Evers,” March said. “Your services will not be needed for the rest of the evening.”

“Yes, Mr. March,” she said, wiping at her eyes and hurrying away. Tate watched her go, his eyebrows drawn together in confusion at her sudden transformation.

“What’s her story?” Tate asked.

“It begins as a tragedy,” March said. “Her son was kidnapped and murdered. But she, like so many other lost souls, found her way to this hotel where she found a new sense of purpose and belonging.”

“How did she die?” Tate asked. March took a drink as he tried to decide how much of the truth would be prudent to divulge.

“Some would call it a suicide, I suppose. I prefer to think of it as a rebirth. She chose to shrug off the pain and restrictions of the material world in order to dwell here forever.”

“And the man who killed her son? Was he ever caught?”

“Caught and hanged. I believe she sleeps easier knowing that justice was served. ” Tate nodded, his eyes glazed over with thought as he silently finished eating until his plate was completely clean. His bearing had changed. Instead of sitting rigid and alert, his shoulders were slumped with weariness. It was clear to March that the shield Tate had walked in with had weakened. It was time to start applying pressure.

“Tell me, Tate,” March said, “why did you come here? I overheard you tell Sally it was to escape the spirits that haunt your house. Yet you happened upon the most haunted hotel in Los Angeles. That cannot be a coincidence. Perhaps it is not ghosts you are running from.”

“I didn’t run away because I’m scared of ghosts.”

“No. If that were true, you would not be here, talking with me.”

“I left because I couldn’t help them. Any of them,” Tate said.

“So you punish yourself for your shortcomings?” March asked. Tate tilted his head and lifted an eyebrow in confusion. “The Countess informed me of your self-flagellation.” March indicated Tate’s arm which the young man quickly pulled beneath the table. “Why do you punish yourself when you have done nothing wrong? Surely it is others who should suffer for their transgressions.”

“I’m not punishing myself,” Tate said.

“Then why?”

“I read about this Indian tribe one time, the Chippewas I think. They believed that bad spirits could live in their blood. So they would have a shaman let their blood to release the evil inside. I don’t know.” He shook his head and shrugged. “I read that and something about it just made sense to me. And it works. I have these...visions sometimes, and these feelings that I can’t control. Cutting helps them go away. It’s sick, I know.” He looked down and ran a hand over his arm.

March leaned back, caught off guard that Tate had some inkling, be it subconscious or otherwise, as to the unusual nature of his situation. It was imperative that he not fully realize the truth. Ipsa scientia potestas est. Knowledge itself is power. If Tate learned to recognize the demon inside him, he would be able to fight back.

“I bet you think I’m crazy now,” Tate said.

“I think you are perfectly sane,” March said. “Tell me more about these supposed visions, as you call them. What are they of?”

“Me,” Tate said. “It’s like I am outside my own body, watching, and there is nothing I can do to stop myself.”

“Stop yourself from what?”

Tate looked around, as if he was afraid someone else was around to hear. His eyes darted to March and away several times before he spoke.

“Hurting people,” he said softly. “I kill people. People I hate, people I like. It always feels so real. Which is why I am scared of…”

“Of losing control,” March finished for him. “Of course, that is why you fear intoxication. An admirable practice to be sure. But Tate, there is no evil spirit possessing you. These feelings you have, they are merely a part of you, part of your desire to bring justice to those who have been wronged. I believe by suppressing them, you are suppressing an integral part of your very essence. As William Shakespeare said, to thine own self be true .”

“You know that line is bullshit, right?” Tate said.

March tilted his head, intrigued. “Oh?”

“Yeah,” Tate explained. “I mean, it’s Polonius who says it and Polonius is a hypocritical asshole. He gives this whole speech about how Laertes should be himself but then he sends a guy to spy on him and make sure he is doing what he wants. And it’s not like he gives Ophelia the same advice. He doesn’t let her see Hamlet or be herself at all.”

March guffawed and slapped the table. “An astute observation.” March paused to light a cigarette. This was something he could work with. The boy considered himself an intellectual, a philosopher even. Well, he could pontificate with the best of them.

“I have always found the story of Hamlet to be an interesting one,” March said. “A young man whose desire for revenge is not only warranted, but justified. Yet he suppresses his righteous inclinations due to superficial moralistic reservations. Do you not agree that if he had acted out his revenge sooner, much of the calamity of the play could have been avoided?”

The spirit that I have seen may be the devil,” Tate quoted. “ And the devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape. Perhaps out of my weakness and my melancholy, as he is very potent with such spirits, abuses me to damn me. I’ll have grounds more relative than this. The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.” He smirked in response to March’s inability to disguise his admiration. “You don’t think he should have found out the truth first?”

“I believe he knew the truth even before he was visited by the supposed ghost of his father. If he had trusted his instincts, his passion, and killed Claudius, many lives could have been saved, including his own.”

“Maybe,” Tate said before falling quiet again, his eyes focused on unseen thoughts.

“In my experience, revenge is not something to be condemned,” March said. “It is merely another word for justice and justice is the only act that brings true peace.”  

Tate scowled, evidently unnerved by the claim. Pushing his chair back, he stood and wandered over to the phonograph in the corner. He carefully placed the needle on the record that sat on top and the whine of Benny Goodman’s clarinet echoed throughout the room. Tate watched it spin. March followed Tate, pouring himself an Armagnac on the way.

“You are not unlike the prince of Denmark,” March said, “driven to vengeance by ghosts of your own. You say that you cannot help them. I disagree. It was your mother’s lover who killed your brother, was it not? The same man who drove his wife to suicide?”

“She burned herself alive with her daughters,” Tate said blankly, not looking up from the record.

“Does such a man not deserve to pay for what he did? For the pain he caused, the sorrow?” Tate did not answer, but March noted with satisfaction that his hands were curled into fists.

“I would like to share a story about myself, if I may,” March said. “I believe we have a mutual acquaintance. A Dr. Charles Montgomery.” Tate finally looked up at the mention of the name.

“How do you know him?” Tate asked.

“Nearly seventy years ago, my wife sought him out in an attempt to have our child aborted without my knowledge. Dr. Montgomery performed the operation. He failed to kill my son but left him mutilated. Obviously I could not let such an atrocity go unpunished.”

“You?” Tate said, realization spreading over his face. “That was you?”

For the first time, March saw Tate’s eyes darken with the shadow of the demon inside until they were the color of ink. Tate’s green aura diminished, swallowed by blackness.

“It was,” March said with a smile. “I have no regrets, no remorse. Do you know why?” Tate did not answer, his lips were pressed together and he shook with the effort of keeping himself from attacking. “Because justice, perfect justice, had to be served. I had my revenge.”

He smiled and began to drain the rest of his brandy, but was interrupted by Tate seizing him by the lapels of his jacket and throwing him against the phonograph. The music cut off sharply as he crashed to the floor. Tate disappeared from March’s vision for a moment, only to return with a knife from the table which he brandished over March’s head.

Tate lifted the knife, his face twisted into a snarl. But just as he was about to strike, his eyes cleared and he fell back, breathing hard.

“What are you doing?” March hissed. “Do it! Have your vengeance for your beloved Nora. Let go of your petty reservations and feel the release that only inflicting death can bring.”

“No,” Tate said, tears beginning to brim over. The sight of him disgusted March. Why would the devil choose such a sniveling brat to sire his only begotten son? March stood and brushed himself off before walking over to Tate and slapping him across the face.

“You’re pathetic,” March said.

“I’d rather be pathetic than a psychopath,” Tate said, standing. “What does it matter? You’re already dead.” Tate started to walk away but March grabbed his arm and pulled him around so that they were standing face to face.

“But how did it feel?” March said. “In that moment before you came to your senses? I know what you felt because I have felt it a hundred times over. I saw you relinquish all control and feel the release, the freedom from pain. It can only be described as euphoria.”

Tate stared at him. At first he seemed repulsed, but March saw something else behind the revulsion. An understanding. A realization that what March said was the truth.

“Let go of me,” Tate said and yanked his arm away. March watched him leave, slamming the door behind him.

“Oh dear,” Ms. Evers said, appearing suddenly behind March. “It appears the evening did not go entirely as planned.”

“No,” March said. “But it is of no consequence. The boy just needs a woman’s touch. Find Sally for me, won’t you? And tell Ms. Taylor I have a few items I need her to acquire.”

 

***

 

March entered room 57, unseen and unheard by Tate who sat on the bed, still dressed in the suit March had leant him. The young man’s hands were gripping the edge of the mattress so hard that his knuckles were white and the muscles in his face twitched. March couldn’t decide if he was more exasperated or impressed by Tate’s continued efforts to remain in control. He certainly found it irksome that Tate would not break under his influence alone. The strategy he was now forced to employ was tawdry and far less poetic, but it would have to do.

After a few more minutes of struggling against his inner demon, Tate seemed to make up his mind. He stood and yanked off his bowtie as if it has been choking him before stripping off the rest of the suit and throwing it unceremoniously across the room. March suppressed a tsk of disdain as Tate pulled on a pair of trousers with holes in the knees, a ratty t-shirt and faded cardigan. He stuffed the rest of his belongings into his bag, slung it over his shoulder, and started toward the door.

A knock stopped him in his tracks. He wound and unwound the strap of his bag around his hand as he stared at the door, trying to decide whether or not to open it. After a second knock, he looked through the peephole. It took another moment before he decided to let Sally in.

“I didn’t have to knock, you know,” she said as she slouched into the room.

“I know,” Tate said, closing the door behind her. “Thanks for that.”

“You bet,” she said. Her eyes met March’s for a moment before she turned away from him and threw herself backwards onto the bed. She propped herself up by her elbows and crossed her legs. “You leaving?” she asked Tate.

“Yeah,” Tate said. “Sorry about splitting earlier. This place is…”

“Overwhelming?” She stuck a cigarette between her teeth and talked around it. “You got that right.” Lighting her cigarette, she nodded toward the discarded suit in the corner. “I take it March treated you to one of his sermons?”

Tate let out a half laugh as his shoulders relaxed. “Yeah he did.”

“That jackass is a son of a bitch.” She leaned her head all the way back until her eyes locked with March’s again and she blew a circle of smoke in his direction. “But we’re not all like him.” She jerked her head back up and smiled at Tate. “Some of us are just trying to dull the pain.”

Tate shuffled, still fiddling with the strap of his bag.

“Any success?” he asked. Sally’s smile widened until she looked like a jackal, teeth bared and ready for the kill.

“Oh baby,” she said, “I’ve had all the success you’ll ever need.”

It took surprisingly little coaxing before Tate allowed himself to be led over to the desk where Sally sat him down. She pulled out a small bag of white powder and poured some out.

“This is my own special blend,” she whispered seductively in his ear. She showed Tate how to crush it and separate it into neat little lines. Her hand rested on the back of his head, her fingers twisting in his hair, as he inhaled.

Sally snorted a few lines of her own as Tate leaned back, waiting to feel whatever it was he was supposed to feel. It didn’t take long.

“Fuck,” Tate said, grinning.

“What did I tell you?” Sally giggled and leaned her forehead against his.

“My face feels fucking weird,” he said. Sally responded by licking his cheek.

“Want some more?” she asked. He nodded and they each did another line.

At first, March could tell Tate was experiencing the usual euphoric effects of cocaine and whatever the hell else she had mixed with it, but after a short while, he became increasingly agitated.

“Do you think he was right about me?” Tate asked Sally. He had been pacing around the room and talking rapidly about the things March had told him, debating with himself more than Sally. She was more interested in making sure her high didn’t wear off, increasing her dose each time. March watched carefully to make sure Tate didn’t follow suit. Sally couldn’t overdose but Tate certainly could and it wouldn’t do to have him die in the hotel.

“I think he’s right,” Tate continued while Sally snorted more powder and rubbed it into her gums. “I moved back into that house for a reason. It’s like, my destiny or something. I’m the only one who can help them. They need me.”

“So what are you going to do?” Sally asked. Tate stopped pacing for a moment before stepping up onto the bed where he bounced lightly.

“I’m going to kill Larry, that’s for fucking sure,” he said.

Sally cackled. “You? You couldn’t kill anyone if your life depended on it.”

“Why not?” he asked. “I think about it all the time. I’ve dreamed about taking out my whole school about a hundred times.”

“Well shit,” Sally said. “If dreaming about killing people and actually doing it were the same thing, the bitch who killed me would be long dead.” Tate jumped off the bed and walked over to her.

“I could kill her for you,” he said. “Is she here? I swear to God I’ll kill her.” Sally laughed again and lit a cigarette.

“Jesus Christ, kid,” she said. “I don’t need to be avenged, if that’s what you think.”

“Then what do you want?” Tate asked. He bent over the desk to do another line and she watched him, her eyes filling with tears again.

“I don’t remember the last time someone asked me that,” she said. “You don’t mean it though.”

“Yeah I do,” Tate said, sniffing. “I want to help you. I mean, you helped me. I don’t think I have ever felt this good. I feel, I don’t know, free. Like, I could fucking climb to the top of the roof and fly if I wanted to.”

“Don’t do that. Believe me, it’ll hurt like hell. But I get the feeling. And it doesn’t have to stop.” She stood and drew close to Tate, her hand running down his arm. “You don’t have to go back to that house. You can stay here. With me.” She smiled as sweetly as she was able, although her eyes betrayed how terrified she was of the coming rejection. “I know what you’re thinking. I’m too old for you. But I won’t always be. You’ll catch up.”

Tate didn’t speak, but walked backwards, away from her. Sally followed until he bumped against the bed and his knees buckled.

“We could do this everyday,” she said as he looked up at her. “Forget about everyone you left behind. All they ever did was bring you pain. But I could make you happy.” She kissed him. He didn’t pull away but he didn’t kiss her back. His back was rigid and his face expressionless. “C’mon, baby,” she said and tried to push him back onto the bed. “Stay with me.”

It happened so quickly that even March was startled. Tate seized Sally by the throat, flipped her around onto the bed and straddled her. He remained impassive as he placed both hands around her neck and squeezed.

Sally frantically tried to free herself, completely forgetting she was a ghost in her panic. The pleas she tried to speak came out gargled until March heard her neck snap. She remained motionless, either out of fear or shock, as Tate searched her coat. He found another small bag of white powder which he pocketed before crawling off her.

Tate didn’t look at her as he shouldered his bag. Instead, he looked directly at March who could not shake the feeling that he was no longer invisible. March tried to think of something to say but found himself quite frozen. It was only after Tate left the room that March could name the unfamiliar sensation that had kept him silent. Fear.

“What the fuck was that?” Sally croaked as she sat up, rubbing her neck.

“An unfortunate side effect of the drugs you administered, I would imagine,” March said.

“Oh, please,” Sally said. “Don’t give me that bull. You set me up.”

“I merely gave you what you wanted,” March said. “A chance to convince the boy to stay with you. It was a valiant effort, to be sure. Unfortunate that he had such a violent reaction.”

“I’ve given this shit to dozens of guys and none of them have acted like that,” Sally cried, her voice breaking. “I am telling you, something happened. Something changed inside of him. It took over and it would have killed me if I wasn’t already dead.” Fat tears streamed down her face, dying her cheeks with black streaks. “What did you do to him?”

“Me?” March sneered. “You think this was my doing? It was all you, Sally dear. He needed to lower his inhibitions and give up his illusion of control. That is exactly what your powder helped him do. It allowed the beast inside him to take over. I cannot thank you enough.”

“You’re a bastard,” Sally spat out. “He doesn’t deserve this. You’re using him. You used me.”

“Come now,” March said, handing her a handkerchief. “Dry your tears. Weep not for the boy. You have done him a favor by helping him discover his true nature. It won’t be long before you are the same as him. The same as me.”

“You’re wrong,” Sally said, throwing the handkerchief back in his face and stumbling away. “You’re wrong about him. You’ll see.”

March clenched his jaw. He was glad to have her out of his sight.

The only thing left to do was make sure Liz remembered to give Tate his parting gift. He closed his eyes and opened them to find himself in the hotel lobby.

“Oh, Mr. Langdon,” Liz called as Tate walked past the reception desk. He turned back, his face uncharacteristically blank. “Mr. March wanted me to give you this.” She hoisted a black duffle bag up onto the counter.

Tate unzipped the bag to examine the contents. He appeared to approve as he rezipped it and carried it off without a word of thanks. As March watched him walk through the lobby and out the front door, he couldn’t help but feel a little grateful that such a malevolent entity would never pass over the threshold of his hotel again.

He was wrong. But it would be over twenty years before the evil would return in a new form to liberate one of March’s own victims from the Hotel Cortez.



Chapter Text

1994 - The Murder House

 

Take a look around you, boy, it's bound to scare you, boy,

And you tell me over and over and over again my friend,

Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction...

 

The sky was just beginning to lighten to a hazy blue as Tate stood in front of 1119 Westchester Place. Just as he could not remember how he had ended up at the Hotel Cortez, he had no memory of walking back to his home. The last thing he could recall clearly was Sally asking him to stay with her. He had been on the verge of telling her that yes, he would, when she kissed him.

After that his mind was blank except for a few flashes of Sally’s terrified eyes turning red.

It must be the drugs, he told himself as an explanation for the gaps in his memory. He was tempted to turn around and walk right back to the hotel to find out what had happened, but he was exhausted. The duffel bag he was carrying felt almost too heavy to lift and his nose was so filled with snot he could barely breathe.

He needed to sleep off the crash he was experiencing before deciding what to do next, so he reluctantly went up to the door and let himself in.

The house was thankfully dark and quiet as he tiptoed up the stairs as silently as he could. He managed to get to his room without waking anyone or running into any spirits. The first thing he did was open the duffel bag and saw two shotguns inside.

“What the fuck?” Tate whispered as he picked one up as if to make sure it was real and not just a figment of his drugged out imagination.

“Tate?” The voice was muffled, coming from down the hall. Tate quickly put the gun back into the bag and stuffed it beneath his bed before his door opened. “Tate, is that you?”

It was Constance. Instead of wearing a nightgown, she was still fully dressed though her hair was loose instead of in its usual beehive updo. She had bags under her eyes which were puffy and red. The tears that welled in them as she put her hand over her heart made Tate’s shoulders sag with guilt as well as relief. She had missed him and she was glad he was back. He realized he wasn’t entirely sure how long he had been gone, time had ceased to exist at the Cortez.

“Mom…” Tate said, taking a hesitant step toward her. He wanted so badly for her to hug him and kiss his forehead and let him cry against her shoulder.

“Where have you been?” she asked. Her hand dropped and she blinked back her tears. “Do you know the torment you have put me through? I didn’t know where you were or if you were alive. We spent all day with the police and you just waltz back in here?”

Her voice rose until it was shrill and suddenly words were not enough. She smacked the side of his head. “What were you thinking?” she demanded as she continued to hit him. “How could you do this to me? To your sister?”

At first Tate crumpled as he always did when she hit him and put his hands up to try to protect himself. He was as surprised as Constance looked when he suddenly grabbed hold of her wrists and stood to face her. The all too familiar anger that usually simmered in his chest had boiled over unexpectedly.

“You don’t get to do that anymore,” Tate snarled in a voice that felt unfamiliar on his tongue. His grip was so tight he wondered if her bones would snap. He wanted them to break, to know what it would feel like to be the one to break them.

“Tate,” Constance whimpered. “Tate, honey, you’re hurting me.” He relished the petrified look in her eyes as she tried to pull away from him. It was far more gratifying than the disdain she showed whenever he would merely lash out at her verbally.

But there was the smallest of glimmers somewhere in the back of his head that told him he needed to let her go before he did something he would regret. He un-curled his fingers with difficulty and Constance staggered away from him. Tate’s anger cooled at the sight of her straightening herself and brushing her hair behind her ear in an attempt to regain her dignity. Although he could not deny feeling a pinch of regret for hurting her, the rest of him buzzed with the small victory he had won.

Constance stared at him as if he was a stranger who had broken into her house. For the first time he could recall, she seemed to be at a loss for words.

“I’m going to bed,” Tate said.

“What about school? Constance said, trying desperately to regain her matriarchal authority.

“They can handle another day without me,” Tate said.

“Don’t think this is the end of it, young man.” She jabbed a finger in his direction but could not disguise the way her hand shook. When she finally left, Tate closed his door, wishing it locked, and fell onto his bed.

He thought he would fall asleep immediately. Instead he lay awake, staring at the ceiling, his mind unable to wander from the guns beneath his bed.

 

***

 

Tate managed to get a few fitful hours of sleep before giving up. He pulled the duffel back out and put it on his bed in the hopes that it would trigger some recollection of what had happened before he left the Cortez.

“Leaving again so soon?” Larry said, entering Tate’s room without knocking. “I thought you would give your mother a few days at least.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Tate said. He couldn’t decide if he was relieved or disappointed that Larry had come in before he had unzipped the bag. It would have been immensely satisfying to see the look on his face when he saw what was inside. Tate couldn’t help but think of how easy it would be to kill Larry right then and there. But the idea of having to live with ghost of his mom’s boyfriend dissuaded him.

“Tate,” Larry said, “what I want, more than anything, is for the two of us to get along. I think you and I should have a talk.”

“Did Constance ask you to talk to me?” Tate asked. “Because I know you wouldn’t give a fuck otherwise.”

“Language,” Larry said. He cleared his throat when Tate did nothing but glare. “Why don’t you come upstairs, to the attic. There is something I want to show you. Something I think you might find interesting.”

“What is it?” Tate asked. The only thing of interest in the attic was his brother’s ghost. Had Beauregard revealed himself to Larry? As far as Tate knew, Beauregard had still not shown himself to Constance, despite her efforts with psychics and seances. She thought his spirit had moved on to a better place.

“You’ll see,” Larry said with a weak smile. Tate followed him out of the room, curiosity getting the better of him. “Go on,” Larry said after pulling down the attic ladder, indicating for Tate to go first. He climbed to the top and was immediately greeted by Beauregard.

Maybe Larry was planning on showing Tate his brother’s ghost as a sort of bizarre attempt to appease his anger, Tate thought. But when Larry pulled himself up, Beauregard yelped and shuffled backwards in fear. So much for that theory.

“Have a seat Tate,” Larry pointed at the bed in the corner.

“I’d rather not,” Tate said. “Just show me whatever it is.”

“Have a little patience,” Larry said. Tate rolled his eyes but sat on the bed. “I found these old photographs of the house.” Larry handed Tate a box which held a dozen or so yellowed photographs.

“Woah,” Tate said, looking through them. Most of them were pictures of the house when it had first been built, but one was of the Montgomery family. He paused to study it closely, his finger sweeping over the image of Nora and her son. It was strange to think of her as once being alive and not constantly plagued by the trauma of her son’s death. She wasn’t smiling, people never did in old photographs, but she did seem happier. “Can I keep this one?” Tate asked.

“I don’t see why not.” Tate noticed too late that Larry was kneeling next to him and attaching a manacle around his ankle.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Tate yelled as he jumped to his feet. Larry backed away quickly until he was out of reach of the chain that was attached to the floor. It was the same chain Constance had used to restrain Beauregard when he was still alive. “What is this?”

“Now, Tate,” Larry stumbled over his words despite trying to remain collected. Tate realized Larry was scared, even though there was nothing he could do to hurt him, short of finding something to throw at his head.

“Get this thing off of me, you sick fuck,” Tate yelled.

“There is no need for that,” Larry said. “But I need to make you understand that I won’t let you tear this family apart.”

“What family?” Tate said. “Your family is dead. Or did you forget already?”

“I won’t let you come between me and Constance,” Larry said, ignoring Tate’s comment.

“It’s not me you have to worry about. I’m sure the two of you will find a way to fuck things up on your own.”

“No,” Larry said, his voice quieter. “You should have seen her when Adelaide told her you were gone. Not to mention that I had to call out of my performance. Opening night. I let a lot of people down because of you.”

“So you’re just going to leave me locked up here like Constance did with Beauregard?” Tate asked. “You think no one is going to find out?”

“Just until you have had a chance to think things over,” Larry said. “I trust you will come to the right conclusions. Constance has told me that some of your teachers have expressed concern over your self destructive tendencies. I would hate to see you succumb to them.”

“Are you threatening me?” Tate asked.

“Of course not, Tate,” Larry said. “All I am saying is that if you were to, shall we say, pass away unexpectedly, suicide would not be easily ruled out.”

Tate supposed he shouldn’t have been surprised. Larry had already killed one of his girlfriend’s sons. Why would killing another be any different? Tate knew that what Larry wanted was for him to cower and apologize. Instead, he smiled.

“Don’t worry,” Tate said. “I’ve been feeling much better.”

“Good,” Larry said, clearly taking what Tate said to be an agreement to the terms he had vaguely laid out. “I’m sure Constance will be happy to hear that.”

Larry left and Tate sat on Beauregard’s old bed which creaked under his weight. He was surprisingly calm as Beauregard rolled his ball over to him. The smile he had given Larry stayed on his lips as an outward manifestation of the secret he finally understood. Any doubt that Larry had to pay for his crimes fled his mind. It was replaced by a cool surety of what needed to be done. Larry had to die and Tate had to be the one to kill him.

“Did you forget something?” Moira asked as she materialized out of the shadows. She looked different somehow, younger. Tate wondered why he had never noticed how attractive she was or just how much of her legs her uniform showed. Her hips swung back and forth as she walked toward him. “I wish I could say I am glad to see you back.”

Tate sucked in a surprised breath when she knelt in front of him and traced her fingers down her throat to her cleavage.

“Don’t get too excited,” she said with a smirk and pulled out a small key from between her breasts which she used to unlock the manacle around Tate’s ankle. “You’re free to go.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Tate said.

Moira’s frown deepened. “What do you mean? What made you change your mind?”

“I thought a lot about what you said,” Tate said. “About having a purpose. I get it now. I think I found mine.”

“It isn’t here, Tate,” Moira said. “I don’t know what I have to say to convince you…”

“You can’t change my mind,” Tate said. “I’m staying.”

Moira looked hard at him, almost as if she was sizing him up and trying to see what he wasn’t telling her. “Then I guess you aren’t the man I thought you were.” Without another word, she turned and vanished.

Tate immediately kicked aside the chain on the ground and tossed Beauregard’s ball back to him before climbing back down the attic ladder.

To his relief, Larry had not snooped around his room. The duffel still sat, unopened, on his bed. He stared at it for a moment before quickly taking both guns out and setting them beneath his bed. Doing so felt like preparation, an affirmation that he was going to use them. At the same time, he wanted them hidden away, out of sight. Once they were, he felt like he could breathe a little easier as he checked on Hamlet.

True to her word, Moira had taken care of the hamster. She had even taken the time to clean his cage. Tate opened it up and lifted Hamlet out. The animal felt especially fragile in his hands despite not looking any different. If anything, it looked healthier than ever. But Tate was struck by how defenseless it was. The feel of bones beneath fur made him wonder once again how easy it would be to crush them.

Hamlet started trembling violently, something it hadn’t done since the day Tate brought it home. Tate began to squeeze. The image of Hamlet’s eyeballs popping out flashed across Tate’s mind, making him drop it onto the desk. It scampered away, jumping to the floor and running past Rose, who stood in the doorway.

“What were you doing?” she asked. Her arms were wrapped tightly around the doll she held in front of her.

“Nothing,” Tate said. His hands were shaking and his stomach twisted in revulsion at what he had almost done. Rose walked in cautiously.

“What is in the bag?” she asked.

“Nothing you have to worry about, Rose,” he said. “Go play with Beauregard. I’m busy.”

She didn’t budge. “What are you going to do, Tate?” she asked.

“What do you mean? I’m not going to do anything.”

“Then why did you come back?”

“You wanted me gone?”

“I missed you,” she said. “So did Mommy. But I wish you didn’t come back.”

“Why?”

“Because,” Rose said, pulling her doll even closer to her body as if it would protect her. Her voice lowered to a whisper. “I’m scared of you.”

Tate smiled. A rush of pride shot through him which was immediately overshadowed by distress. He didn’t want her to be scared of him. He loved her and would never hurt her. He almost told her so, but her confession that she wanted him gone had stung.

“Why are you talking to me if you’re scared of me?” he asked. He sat cross-legged on the ground next to his bed in an attempt to make her less afraid. “I can’t hurt you, Rose. You’re already dead.”

She twisted back and forth for a moment before sitting next to him. “Tate, do you remember the night I died?”

“No,” Tate said, surprised at the question. “Why? Do you remember now?” She shook her head.

“Only the monster,” she said. Tate nodded and looked down at his hands while twisting his ring around his thumb. Rose had told him and his mother about a monster when she first appeared to them after she died. At first he assumed she simply meant Thaddeus, but she insisted otherwise, describing the creature as having wings, horns and yellow eyes rimmed with red.

“Mommy still doesn’t believe me,” Rose said. “She says I made it all up. Do you believe me?”

“Yeah, of course I do,” he lied. He had never seen anything like what she described in the house. It had probably just been a nightmare. He had had plenty of his own that felt unnervingly real. “But you don’t need to be scared of it. I’ve never seen it anywhere. I searched the whole house, it must have left.”

“It didn’t leave,” Rose said. Tate looked at her to see that she was facing him. The wounds where her eyes used to be seemed fresher, as if they had just been gouged out. “It’s still here.”

A chill ran up Tate’s spine. He looked around the room. “Where? Is it here? Now?” Rose nodded.

“I think it is what makes you so angry,” she said. Tate sighed and shook his head while rubbing his eyes. If only he could still be a little kid who believed that the only thing to be afraid of were monsters under his bed. And though real monsters did live in the house, they were human.

“No, Rose,” he said. “It’s just me.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Rose said. “Tate, whatever you are thinking about doing, don’t do it.”

Tate didn’t answer. There was nothing he could say that would make her understand that what he planned to do was the only thing he could do. It was the only way to revenge Beauregard and Lorraine, the only way to show Constance that she couldn’t keep playing house and treating her children like dolls she could control.

The thought that it wasn’t enough flashed across his mind. There were still the other ghosts in the house he would never be able to help. The house was soaked in too much pain to ever be washed away. He wanted to find some way to release it all into the world, but he didn’t know how.

Tate picked at the hole in the knee of his jeans until Rose’s small hand covered his. “You’re a good person, Tate,” she said. “You don’t have to hurt anyone. I think maybe you think you do. But that isn’t you. Not really. You still have a choice and you don’t have to stay here like I do.”

The same glimmer that told him not to hurt Constance had returned and told him that what his sister was saying was true. But it was weak and struggled to overpower the gloom that enveloped the rest of him. It was easier, less painful, to ignore it. He pulled his hand away and stood up.

“Go away, Rose,” he said wearily.

“You don’t mean that,” she said, standing with him and reaching her hand toward his again. He hadn’t meant the words to banish her initially, but he suddenly realized that was exactly what he needed if he was going to go through with his plan.

“Yeah, I do,” he said. Rose gaped at him, her eye sockets dripping blood like tears. “Go away.” He blinked and she was gone. It was the last time he saw her for nearly eighteen years.

 

***

 

The last night of Tate’s life was also the longest.

He didn’t try to go to sleep again but sat up all night, wrestling with himself. As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t ignore what Rose had said. His resolve was failing. After all the years of desperately trying to quiet the voices and visions in his head, was he really going to give in to them?

But March’s promise that justice would bring peace returned to him. That was what he wanted, wasn’t it?. Still, he didn’t think he could really go through with it.

What he really needed, he thought as he ran everything over in his head for the hundredth time, was a release. He wanted to feel what he felt when he was with Sally: invincible, blissful and free from pain. It was then that he remembered the drugs in his pocket.

His alarm blared metal at 7 A.M. and he slapped the top to shut it up. Instead of getting ready for school like he normally would, he carefully prepared lines of powder and snorted them just as Sally had shown him.

He realized immediately that the high was different. It was more immediate and rushed through his body causing his heart to beat faster. He rode out the first half hour, thinking the high would fade as it had before. But it didn’t. If anything, it inflated, filling his head with grandiose ideas.

All his doubts had faded. His sister’s words were overshadowed by a clear and intoxicating certainty. The idea of only killing Larry seemed childish. There was so much more he could do, so much more suffering he could cause. He was about to set a noble war in motion and he had to dress the part.

The Union Army infantry coat was an heirloom passed down from his father’s side of the family. Constance’s ancestors had fought for the Confederacy, a fact of which she was proud. Tate relished the delicious irony as he pulled the blue coat out of his closet before removing his collection of firearms from under his bed.

Even then, the smallest of flickers struggled against the darkness that had overtaken him. But each bullet he loaded continued to smother the steadily dying flame until it was snuffed out completely and he knew no one could stop him. Not even himself.

 

2011 - The Murder House

 

“You’re all I want. You’re all I have!”

“Go away!”

Tate found himself in complete darkness. The only way he knew he was in the basement was by the damp, rancid smell.

“Violet?” Tate said. There was no response. He knew there wouldn’t be. She had banished him, the same way he had banished Thaddeus and Gladys and Rose. Is this where they all ended up until they were called again?

Stretching his arms in front of him, Tate walked slowly forward, feeling for a wall or a door. His fingers touched cold, rough brick and he traced it until he found a corner, then another corner and then finally, a doorknob. He tried to turn it, but it was locked.

A fleeting moment of panic passed over him before he remembered he was a ghost. But after he closed his eyes and failed to simply walk through the solid wood, the panic returned. He was trapped.

“Hey!” Tate yelled, banging his fists against the door. “Hey, I’m in here! Is anybody there? Help me!” He yelled until his voice was hoarse and his knuckles were raw. “Violet! Please, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Eventually he gave up and pressed his forehead against the door. He felt different, drained. He had noticed it earlier when he had been laying on Violet’s bed. Vivien’s screams had carried up the stairs and through the door and Tate had no choice but to listen.

One moment he was trying to figure out how best to comfort Violet if her mom didn’t make it. The next he felt his soul being ripped in half.

It felt as if tightly sewn stitches were being torn away, leaving the edges ragged and bloody like an open wound. Tate pressed his face into a pillow to smother a scream of pain.

Then it was over. The pain died away along with Vivien’s cries.

Far from feeling relieved, Tate felt weak. He didn’t quite understand it, or have the words to describe what had happened, but he felt it all the same. The stronger part of his soul, the part that acted as a barricade against the world and the memories of his past, was gone.

Then Violet was there and he thought that maybe everything would be ok. But when he touched her hand and she pulled away, panic flooded in.

As she began to accuse him of murdering Chad and Patrick, of raping her mother, of killing fifteen innocent kids, his memories began to solidify. What were once hazy visions that he constantly tried to expel to the back of his mind began to feel vibrant, real and inescapable.

He tried to apologize, tried to make her understand that the person he had been wasn’t the person standing in front of her. He couldn’t even remember why he had killed his classmates. His reasons for the rest felt suddenly shallow and worthless. But instead of listening, she sent him away.

The pitch black of the basement was unrelenting and the quiet of the room pressed heavy against his ears until a cry pierced the silence behind him. Tate turned slowly, afraid of what was in the room with him.

A girl sat on the floor in the center. Tate wasn’t sure how he could see her in the darkness. Maybe she was only in his mind. She was dressed as a cheerleader and stared at him with terror in her eyes. Her name was Chloe, he remembered suddenly. She had been one of the kids that had harassed him on Halloween. On that night, she and the others had seemed only vaguely familiar. They were only peers he had rarely spoken to seventeen years before.

But now the memory of the way she desperately asked him “why” before he shot her in the head played before him.

“Hey,” a figure walked in front of Chloe. Kyle, Tate put another name to a long forgotten face. “That’s enough. Get out of here.”

“I can’t…” Tate found himself saying, even though he knew it was just a memory.

He didn’t know the name of the kid who had tried to call for help, but he thought he might have borrowed a pencil from him once.

“No, no, please, no…” Another kid muttered. Tate did know Kevin. They had eaten lunch together once and talked about The Offspring’s newest album.

Someone was whistling. Tate turned to see who it was, but only saw Stephanie, crouched down and crying.

Tate’s mind continued to replay the murder of everyone he had killed that day. It was all real. The fantasies he had told Ben about had really happened. But this time, he couldn’t say that he didn’t feel anything.

A stab of pain hit him in the chest. His hand instinctively covered the spot where it hurt. Something wet soaked through his shirt and when he lifted his hand up, he smelled blood. The same pain struck him again and again. Fifteen bullet wounds, one for each of the fifteen lives he had taken, had reopened.

Tate stumbled backwards until he hit a wall which he slid down. Blood flooded into his lungs as he choked. But he didn’t die. He couldn’t, not again. So he sat against the wall, gasping, drowning in his own blood.

“Why did you do it?” one of the SWAT team had asked him. But Tate had no answer to give.

 

***

 

Tate didn’t recognize the boy who opened the door to the basement room, days, weeks or even months, later. He was around Tate’s age, handsome, wearing a striped sweatshirt and carrying a skateboard under his arm. It was obvious that he couldn’t see Tate as he looked around the empty room before shrugging and walking away.

The door was left open, so Tate quickly got to his feet and followed the boy upstairs to his old bedroom.

Violet was there. Tate watched from across the hall as she and the boy, Gabriel, talked. The jealousy and anger he felt faded quickly, replaced by dejection and then, strangely and unexpectedly, a sort of bizarre form of hope.

Meeting Violet had felt like a second chance, a sign that Tate could do something good with his afterlife. But he had fucked that up too. He knew now that he was a monster and that she deserved something, someone, better.

But when he was face to face with Gabriel, holding a knife against the boy’s throat, he couldn’t even give her that. He tried to mimic the way he felt when he had chopped Bianca almost completely in half, or when he had poisoned the exterminator. It had all been for Violet’s sake, just as it was now, but something was different. The violent, blinding rage that had always taken over and pushed him forward whenever he needed to kill someone, was nowhere to be found.

When Violet had left him yet again, and Gabriel had made his escape, Tate was alone once more.

He sobbed quietly, wishing he could disappear completely, when a small hand slipped into his.

“Rose?” he asked between sniffles. She squeezed his hand tighter. “How are you here? I told you to go away.”

“I think the part of you that sent me away is gone now,” she said. Tate nodded, realizing she was right, even if he wasn’t sure how.

“Don’t leave me again,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“I know,” Rose said.

They spent the night talking. Tate wasn’t sure how he would have made it through without her. There was no one else who still cared about him, he realized. Besides Beauregard, of course, but he wasn’t able to talk to him like Rose could. He doubted Nora would care much about him now that she had what she wanted, if she ever really cared about him in the first place.

It was Rose’s suggestion that he ask Ben for help.

“No, Rose,” Tate said. “He won’t want to talk to me. Not after what I did.”

“Maybe not,” Rose said. “But I think that, maybe, it’s the trying that counts. As long as you always try to be a good person, then maybe you already are.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Tate said. But the idea of talking to the man whose life he had completely destroyed felt next to impossible. Maybe it would be easier to sink back into the shadows as he had before the Harmons moved in. Forgiveness, as much as he wanted it, felt unobtainable, so what was the point in dredging up what he had done?

Still, Rose had been right before and he hadn’t listened. He owed it to her to try. So the next morning he found Ben in the music room, sweeping up what the Ramos family had left behind.

Tate watched him for a moment before taking a deep breath and stepping forward. “Got a minute?”



Chapter Text

2013 - The Murder House

 

Don't you tell me to deny it

I've done wrong and I wanna suffer for my sins

I've come to you 'cause I need guidance to be true

And I just don't know where I can begin...

 

Vivien quickly became accustomed to having an audience when she played her cello. The other spirits would wander into the music room, always drawn by anything that was different from the usual empty quiet of the house. Some, like Moira, would sit for a time and listen. Others would pass through, disinterested. Occasionally one would become agitated and yell for her to stop. But she didn’t pay them much attention.

Playing brought her peace. It reminded her of being alive while simultaneously reminding her that ephemeral things, like music or ghosts, could still be beautiful. So she learned to ignore the others and focus only on the feel of the bow against the strings.

But there was one spirit she could not ignore.

The first time she realized he was there, Violet was in the room too, nestled in a chair, reading. Vivien assumed that was why he was lurking about. She didn’t want to upset Violet, so she said nothing.

But soon she noticed him listening even when her daughter was elsewhere. He never entered the room completely, choosing to stand just outside. Most of the time she couldn’t see him, though occasionally she would catch a glimpse of his face peering around the corner of the doorway, always moving out of sight as soon as she looked his way.

More than once Vivien heard Moira shooing him away before she would come in to listen. But he was never gone for long. She knew because, even if she couldn’t always see him, she could sense him.

It bothered her more than she cared to admit. His presence was a constant reminder of why her family was trapped for the rest of eternity, of the pain she had felt when she lost yet another baby because of the creature he had forced inside of her, of her own life bleeding out. Whenever she caught sight of him, memories of a faceless, black monster holding her down flashed across her mind, sending her into a panic until she remembered he couldn’t hurt her anymore.

Vivien stopped playing. The music cut off sharply, sending a chill through the room. No one else was there to ask her why she stopped. She was alone. Almost.

“I know you’re there,” she said. There was no response. “I don’t know what little game it is you’re playing, but I’ve had enough.” She stood and began putting her cello away.

“I’m sorry.”

Vivien looked up to see Tate standing in the doorway. He always looked smaller, younger, than she thought he should, more so with the way he shied away from her as if he was expecting her to attack.

“I like Bach,” he said. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“You don’t scare me, Tate,” she said. “I want that to be very clear. Disgust me? Yes.” He flinched and looked down at her feet. “But you don’t scare me.”

“I’ll stay away from you,” he said. “I promise. You won’t even know I live here-”

“You don’t live here,” Vivien interrupted. “None of us live here.”

“I know,” Tate said, rubbing his chest as if a sudden pain was bothering him. “I just meant...don’t stop playing because of me. I won’t bother you again. I’m sorry.” He turned to go but Vivien wasn’t finished. She had dreaded the moment when she would have to face him. She knew it had to come eventually. But now that he was there, in front of her and not lurking in the shadows, she wanted to have it over with.

“Are you?”

He stopped and looked back at her. She could tell he knew she didn’t mean his eavesdropping.

“Are you sorry?” she said. “Or are you sorry Violet found out? Because I think that is what you are really sorry for.”

“I…” he started but failed to continue.

“That’s what I thought,” Vivien said. “Ben was right about you.”  She knelt down to continue putting away her cello as a signal that the conversation was over. But when she stood up, Tate was still there.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” he said.

“But you did,” she said.

“I know.”

“Then why did you do it?” As soon as the words fell out of her mouth, she wanted to take them back. She had heard Violet ask him the very same question the night she died. He had been unable to respond then and she knew he wouldn’t be able to now. The question had haunted her ever since. But she wasn’t sure she really wanted to know the answer.

Tate stared at her, but she had the feeling he wasn’t really looking at her, but searching for an answer somewhere she couldn’t see. The way his eyes were filling with tears and his hands were twisting his shirt sleeves only made her angrier. Ben had told her how manipulative he could be. Not just by the way he lied, but by the way he cried and begged for sympathy.

“I don’t know,” he said finally.

It wasn’t the answer Vivien was expecting. She had been sure he would come up with some pathetic explanation.

“Really?” she said. “You are going to stand there, in front of me, and tell me you don’t know why you raped me?” The way he recoiled only fueled her vexation as her voice grew louder. “Why did you do it? I deserve to know why. You owe me that. Was it revenge for Ben not wanting to treat you? Were you just bored from being dead for so long? What was it?”

“I don’t know,” Tate repeated, except this time he yelled it, matching her volume. She stepped back in surprise. “I keep trying to figure it out. Nora wanted a baby. She needed a baby in the house and I wanted to help her.” His voice continued to rise as he started to frantically pace around the room. Vivien backed away again, frightened by his sudden intensity. “But I knew you and Ben had made up. I saw you two fuck each other right here in this room. Ghosts can’t even have kids. Shit, I can’t even make myself come when I jerk off. So why did I do it?” He was close to Vivien now. He looked right at her, as if she was the one with the answer. “How the hell did it even happen? It doesn’t make any sense!”

His outburst had summoned a number of curious ghosts, including Ben who rushed to Vivien’s side and shoved Tate across the room. Tate fell backwards over a chair and scrambled to get back up.

“Get away from my wife,” Ben yelled. Tate looked at the two of them before running out.

“Are you ok?” Ben asked Vivien. “Did he hurt you?”

I’m…” she stammered. “I’m fine. No, he didn’t hurt me. He just…” She put a hand against her forehead. “I need to lie down.”

“Of course,” Ben said. “I’ll take you upstairs.” He put an arm around her shoulder but she shrugged it off.

“I don’t need your help,” she said. “I just need to be alone.” She left the music room under the watch of what felt like half of the inhabitants of the house, most of whom did not even attempt to look preoccupied. They all just stared as if her afterlife was some form of entertainment.

“Would you like me to make you some tea, Vivien?” Moira asked. “I think we may have some chamomile left from Marcy’s last open house.”

“That would be nice,” Vivien said. “Thank you Moira.” She knew she must have looked terrible. Moira only offered to act the part of a maid when Vivien was particularly upset.

As she walked up the stairs, she could hear Ben yelling Tate’s name, obviously with the intent to tell him off for coming near her. She wasn’t sure she wanted him too. Ben refused to talk to Tate as a general rule, though Tate would sometimes follow her husband around and have one sided conversations with the apparent hope that if he wore Ben down enough, they could resume their sessions. It made her wonder if Ben would be better off banishing Tate outright in the way Violet had told them they could. Vivien hadn’t felt the need to consider it since Tate had never shown himself to her directly and always vanished the moment she walked into a room he happened to be in.

I like Bach.

Tate’s comment played over in her head. It had sounded so simple, almost innocent. But to Vivien, it only cemented what Ben had said about him. He was selfish and self righteous with no ability to feel empathy or understand why his actions would hurt people. She would never understand him and trying would only cause her to go insane.

I don’t know.

Vivien laid down on her bed and closed her eyes. She knew she wouldn’t sleep, ghosts didn’t seem capable, but she had learned to sort of turn her brain off for hours at a time to retain some aspect of normalcy.

It doesn’t make any sense.

That was one thing she could agree with Tate on. Nothing made sense anymore.

“Here you are,” Moira said as she walked in and set a mug of tea on the nightstand. “Are you feeling any better?”

“A little,” Vivien lied.

“I’ll leave you alone to rest,” Moira said.

“Wait,” Vivien said, sitting up. “Can I talk to you about something?”

“Of course,” Moira said and closed the door.

“You probably think I am crazy for asking but-”

“Yes, I knew Tate when he was alive and no, he wasn’t always the way he is now. May I?” Moira asked, indicating that she wanted to sit on the edge of the bed by Vivien who nodded. “He used to be better and then he was worse,” she continued. “You know all the details, I assume?”

“Yeah,” Vivien said. “Ben told me.”

“Growing up he was a sweet boy, took care of Addie and Beauregard, kept to himself mostly. He grew angry as he grew older, as was to be expected from having a slattern for a mother. But I soon realized his was a different kind of rage. At times it seemed like he could barely control it. I thought it was the house. You’ve felt first hand the way it can toy with human beings. So I encouraged him to leave. He did. For a time. When he came back, I realized I was wrong. He returned completely changed, as if he had allowed the darkness he kept at bay to completely consume him. As if he simply didn’t care anymore.”

“And that’s when he killed those students at Westfield?” Vivien asked.

“It was,” Moira said. “I will admit, I still never thought he would take it that far, he just didn’t seem capable. But I suppose that is what they always say. My advice is to not give him another thought. I know that sounds impossible, seeing as we are trapped in this prison with him, but no good can come of trying to comprehend what decent people find incomprehensible.”

 

***

 

Over the following months, Vivien caught a single glimpse of Tate, and that was only because she happened upon him as he darted from the upstairs hall into one of the bedrooms to avoid Patrick.

“He’s downstairs,” Vivien said as Patrick walked toward her, checking rooms as he did.

“I’m not looking for Chad,” Patrick said.

“I know,” Vivien said. Patrick smiled and hurried down the stairs. Vivien hated knowing that Patrick had fallen into the habit of venting his frustrations about his relationship with Chad, and being generally dead, by beating up Tate. It didn’t really have anything to do with the two of them specifically. She hated the circular habits of all the ghosts and she would occasionally make an attempt to break them out of it if she wasn’t too preoccupied with making sure she didn’t fall into a cycle of her own.

So when she looked over her shoulder and saw Tate watching her with a confused look on his face, she hoped he hadn’t taken it as an invitation or, even worse, forgiveness.

He didn’t seem to, and Vivien was able to continue playing music, though she never played Bach. Until one day, she looked up to find she was being watched by a ghost she had never seen before.

Watched may have been the wrong word. The girl had no eyes. The sight of her sent a shock through Vivien’s whole body and she dropped her bow.

“Hello,” the girl said.

“Hello,” Vivien replied. “I don’t believe we’ve met before. What’s your name?”

“Rose,” the girl said.

“It’s nice to meet you Rose. I’m Vivien.”

“I know,” Rose said. “You have a daughter named Violet.”

“That’s right,” Vivien said. She set her cello down. “Do you talk to Violet a lot?” She wondered why Violet had never mentioned a little girl with empty eye sockets. Vivien was doing her best not to be too creeped out by Rose’s appearance. After all, it wasn’t her fault the child had died in such a horrific way.

“No,” Rose said. “I don’t like to talk to the others.”

“Well, I am very glad you decided to talk to me.” Vivien’s heart broke a little bit more for the girl’s fate. Being trapped with her family was hard enough. She couldn’t imagine being alone, especially as a child. “Have you been alone all this time?”

“No,” Rose said again. “I have my brothers.” Vivien felt slightly relieved but became suddenly determined to convince them all to come out of hiding.

“And where are your brothers?”

“In the attic,” Rose said. “One of them needs help. Do you think you can help him?”

“Of course,” Vivien said. “What’s wrong with him?”

“He’s sad,” Rose said. “Sometimes he tries to pretend he isn’t, but I can tell.”

“Let’s go find him,” Vivien said. “Maybe I can talk to him.”

Rose slid her small hand into Vivien’s and led her to the attic stairs which Vivien pulled down. Rose climbed ahead of her and disappeared into the darkness above. Vivien started up, a little slower than the sprightly child. She pulled herself up into the attic just as Rose was settling herself into Tate’s lap who sat cross legged on the floor across from Beauregard who was holding playing cards.

“It’s your turn Beau,” Tate said as he leaned his chin on Rose’s head and studied his own hand of cards.

“Fish!” Beauregard yelled. Rose laughed and Tate sighed.

“No,” Tate said calmly. “You ask me if I have any - hold on, let me see your cards-”

“Rose is your sister?” Vivien interrupted. The three siblings all turned to look at her as Vivien realized she had been played. “And you sent her to convince me to come talk to you. I won’t say it wasn’t smart.”

“I didn’t ask her to do that,” Tate said, looking back down at his cards. “Rose wanted you to talk to me?” Rose didn’t speak but her head was still turned toward Vivien, the two gaping holes piercing her more than any eyes ever could. Vivien was suddenly struck with the impression that Rose wasn’t sitting in Tate’s lap because she wanted him to protect her. She was protecting him. Vivien wondered if the little girl knew all the things her brother had done.

“Do you have any other siblings I should know about?” Vivien asked.

“Just Adelaide,” Tate said.

“Addie!” Beauregard cried out joyously.

“But I haven’t seen her in months,” Tate continued. “I guess she finally found out some of the stuff I did. She probably went to New York with Constance and...” He trailed off.

“Constance didn’t…?” Vivien began but stopped. She wasn’t going to be the one to tell him his sister was dead. It wasn’t her responsibility or her business. Besides, she was more than a little scared of how he would react.

“Didn’t what?” Tate said and he looked at her. But she didn’t need to say anything to trigger the understanding that spread over his face. He swallowed and cleared his throat to cover up the tears that he needed to hold back for Beauregard and Rose.

“I didn’t ask Rose to talk to you,” he said, his voice determinedly even. “And I stayed away like Ben asked me to. There are only so many places I can hang out.” Rose turned her head and whispered something in Tate’s ear which made him shake his head. Rose tried again. “No Rose, she doesn’t want to talk to me,” he said softly, though Vivien could hear him clearly.

“Do you have something to say to me?” Vivien said. Her voice was softer than she meant it to be. “I would say it now. I may not give you another chance.” Tate stared at his cards for a moment, shuffling them absentmindedly

“Can you play with Beauregard for a minute?” Tate finally asked Rose. She nodded before letting him get up. Tate stood slowly and walked a little closer to Vivien, still keeping several feet between them. Vivien braced herself for whatever he was about to tell her and all the accompanying waterworks.

“I have had a lot of time to think,” Tate said, “and I wanted to tell you, to make sure you knew, that I am sorry, Mrs. Harmon. And not just because of Violet. I was sorry the moment after I did it.” His eyes darted from her to the floor and back, waiting for and dreading a response.

“Ok...” Vivien said. “Is that all you have to say?”

“What else is there?” Tate said.

“You’ve spent all this time, thinking and self reflecting, and you still can’t tell me why you did it?”

“Why does it matter to you?” Tate asked.

“It matters,” Vivien said, trying and failing to keep her voice level, “because I have to spend the rest of my life - no - the rest of forever, stuck, in this place with the person who raped me. Just like how Chad and Patrick have to live with the person who murdered them.”

“And knowing why will...help?” Tate asked. Vivien was taken aback by the question. No, it wouldn’t help. What answer was she expecting that could possibly make what he did to her any less harrowing?

I thought it was the house, Vivien remembered Moira saying. Vivien wondered if that is what she wanted to be true. She had to admit that she felt the house’s power. It had kept her from leaving when she was pregnant, like it needed the baby to be born there. The countless murders that had been committed inside it’s walls couldn’t be a coincidence.

Violet had even told her about a medium that Constance had brought to the house who believed there was some sort of power trying to break through. It all seemed too fantastical to be true, until she remembered she had been haunted by ghosts until she became one herself.

No, it wasn’t easier to believe that the house had some sort of supernatural control over its inhabitants, not when there was no way she, Ben or her children could ever leave. It was too frightening to fully consider. And yet…

“Because I want to help,” Tate said, breaking the silence when she didn’t respond. “I do. I’m different now.”

She knew he already had begun to help frighten away potential buyers. His adeptness at it made her uneasy, though he had never left as much as a scratch on any of them. Once she swore she even saw him stop Thaddeus from attacking a boy Violet’s age who had wandered into the basement.

“I’ve tried telling Ben,” he continued quickly, as if he was afraid she would leave if he stopped talking, “I don’t have visions anymore and I don’t...I don’t want to hurt people. I promise.”

“But you used to,” Vivien said. She wasn’t sure if she meant it as a question or an accusation.

“No,” Tate said. “I never wanted to. But I felt like...like I had to.” He shrugged in acknowledgement that what he said didn’t excuse him of anything.

“Ok,” Vivien said, too exhausted to continue the conversation. She wasn’t sure she felt any better than when it had begun.

“Is there...” he started to say as she began to walk back toward the attic ladder. “Isn’t there anything I can do?” She wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by the question. If he was asking for forgiveness, she was far from ready, if she would ever be. If he wanted to prove something, she didn’t know what he could do besides continue to stay away from Violet as he had already done.

“I don’t know, Tate,” Vivien said. She began to climb down the ladder but paused. “I’m sorry about Addie.”

Tate gave a small smile. “At least she’s not stuck here, right? Maybe she’s someplace better.” Vivien nodded in agreement, thinking of how much she wished she could be as far away as possible from the boy who watched her leave.

 

***

 

“Where is Jeffrey?” Vivien asked as she walked into the master bedroom to see Ben, alone, and the crib empty. “Moira thought you had him.”

“I thought you did,” Ben said, his worried expression immediately matching hers. “Violet?”

“No, I just saw her downstairs.”

Ben sighed deeply, his hands on his hips. “Hayden?”

“Or Nora,” Vivien said. “Or Chad or Patrick or who knows who else…” Jeffrey had gone missing a few times before but it never became any easier to discover his crib empty. Vivien tried to suppress the panic that threatened to overwhelm her.

“Hey,” Ben said, putting two steadying hands on her shoulders. “We’ll find him. Remember, they can’t hurt him.”

“I know,” Vivien said with a sigh. “It’s just so exhausting. I wish they would leave us alone. You take the attic? I’ll take the basement?” Ben nodded and gave her shoulders a reassuring squeeze.

Vivien could hear Jeffrey’s cries as soon as she started walking down the stairs. She followed it until she heard other voices. Repressing the urge to immediately enter and sweep her baby up, she waited outside the room he was in and listened, hoping she was as invisible to its occupants as she believed she was.

“Honestly, young man,” Nora said while rocking a cradle. “I don’t know where this impertinence is coming from. I insist you leave me alone this instant.”

“I can’t do that, Nora,” Tate said. “Not until Jeffrey is back with his mom.”

“His name isn’t Jeffrey,” Nora said. “Just because that is what that woman has decided to call him doesn’t make it so. His name is Raphael and I am his mother.”

“But you’re not,” Tate said. “Vivien is.”

“No,” Nora said. Her voice became soothing. “It was your promise to me that made this happen. You gave me this child and I am so grateful to you, Tate.” Nora stood and brushed Tate’s hair out of his eyes, a sweet smile on her face. She pressed a kiss against his forehead before pulling away and returning to her seat to rock Jeffrey.

Vivien guessed what would happen. Tate would leave and Nora would eventually tire of Jeffrey’s screams. That is when Vivien would be able to convince Nora to let her take her son back under the guise of being the child’s nanny. All she had to do was wait.

But Tate didn’t leave. He stood silently for a long while as Jeffrey’s screaming continued.

“I promised to give you Michael ,” Tate clarified. “But he’s gone and even if he wasn’t, I couldn’t…” Tate sighed and rubbed his neck. “Nora, what I did was wrong. I should have never promised to give you a baby. I’m sorry.”

“No need to be sorry,” Nora said. “You did what you had to do.”

“I didn’t have to,” Tate said. “I shouldn’t have. And I can’t let you keep him down here.”

“What do you mean?” Nora said sharply. “You can’t take him from me. I already lost one baby, I won’t lose another.”

“Your baby is still alive,” Tate said. “Thaddeus is still here.”

“Do you honestly think I could still love him? Do you have any idea what it is like to be the mother of a monster?”

“You would have to ask Constance,” Tate said.

“Ugh,” Nora groaned. “At least that despicable woman isn’t still here to plague us all.”

“I guess,” Tate said. Without another word, he picked up Jeffrey and walked toward the door.

“What are you doing?” Nora called after him. “Come back here. If you walk out of this room, I never want to see you again. I will shut you out the same way that silly girl did.” Tate didn’t pause as he continued to leave, but as he passed by Vivien, who remained unseen, she could see him bite his lip in an attempt to keep from crying. “Charles!” Nora continued to yell hysterically. “Charles, come quickly, he is taking our baby!”

Charles did not come to her aid so Vivien followed Tate as he walked upstairs, careful to keep plenty of space between them.

“Shh,” she heard Tate whisper gently to Jeffrey. “It’s ok. I’m taking you back to your mom.” Jeffrey continued to wail but Tate didn’t seem to mind. He didn’t call for Vivien or Ben, but went straight to the master bedroom the couple had continued to claim as their own, and laid the baby back in his crib.

“There you go,” Tate said. “They won’t be gone long now. Tell Violet I said hi.” He turned away from the baby to leave, but froze. At first Vivien thought he could see her until Hayden walked past her into the room.

“If it isn’t Jonas,” Hayden drawled, “saving little Gabriel yet again.”

“It’s Jeffrey,” Tate said, his face hardened and his stance widened.

“You think I don’t know that?” Hayden said. “It’s hard enough trying to steal him from his parents without you constantly getting in the way. Why do you care so much? Do you think saving Violet’s widdle bwother will convince her to talk to you again? If anything, you should be on my side. They stole my baby from me.” She ran a hand over her stomach and moaned dramatically. “He would have been Violet’s brother and they killed him.”

“It was Larry,” Tate spat. “Larry is the one who killed you. Not Ben.”

“I’m sure Ben would have killed me eventually,” Hayden said, dropping her hand and the act. “And if it wasn’t Ben, it would have been you. So get out of my way.” Tate stood firm, blocking Hayden’s view of Jeffrey.

“What are you two doing in here?” Moira demanded as she walked in. “Get away from my godson. You should be ashamed of yourselves.” She picked up Jeffrey who quieted down. Hayden rolled her eyes and vanished. Tate held his hands up in surrender.

“I’m gone,” he said and walked out without explaining himself. Vivien watched him walk down the hall, only to meet Ben coming down from the attic.

“Hi, Dr. Harmon,” Tate greeted him, standing by the ladder as he climbed down. “Hey, remember what you said about me blaming my mom for everything? I think I might have had a kind of break through today.” Ben ignored him and started walking toward Vivien, though he couldn’t see her. Tate followed him and kept talking. “I just thought you might want to hear about it, ya know, for scientific purposes. Maybe we could talk some time? If you get a minute?”

“Not now, Tate,” Ben said.

“Yeah, maybe later,” Tate said, letting Ben walk on without him.

“You haven’t seen Jeffrey, have you?” Ben asked over his shoulder. Tate shrugged.

“I heard him crying in your room a minute ago,” Tate said before turning and climbing up into the attic. Ben hurried toward Vivien, who finally allowed herself to be seen.

“You found him?” Ben asked. Vivien shook her head and went to Moira to take Jeffrey from her arms. “Thank you Moira,” Ben said, sighing with relief.

“Of course,” Moira said. “He was right here, all along. No need to worry. If you will excuse me, I have more dusting to do.”

“Nora took him,” Vivien told Ben after Moira left. “And Tate brought him back.”

“Are you sure?” Ben asked. “I just saw him. He didn’t say anything.”

“I’m sure,” Vivien said, brushing a thumb over Jeffrey’s soft forehead. “I followed him.”

Ben ran a hand over his face. “I’m sorry, Viv. I should have been watching him.”

“It’s not your fault,” Vivien said. She sat on the bed and kept her eyes down.

“Is everything ok?” Ben asked, sitting next to her. “You seem distracted.”

“I think you should start treating Tate again,” Vivien said, not looking up.

“I’m sorry?” Ben said.

“I know, it’s a lot to ask. I can barely look at him without freaking out about being stuck in this house. But I’ve had this...feeling for a while now.”

“Feeling about what?” Ben asked.

“I don’t know how to say this without making you think I’m going crazy,” Vivien said. She was hesitant to admit her theories about the house. The last time she had tried to express her fears to Ben, she had ended up in a psych ward. But she was bolstered by the fact that she had been perfectly sane and dead right.

“What if it wasn’t just Tate?” Vivien said. “What if...it was this house? What if he wasn’t making his own choices?”

“So you think, what? That he was possessed?” Ben said with a scoff.

“I don’t know exactly,” Vivien said. “And I think that is why you should talk to him. If we are going to be stuck in this house forever, then maybe we should learn as much as we can about the forces at work here.”

“Forces at work?”

“After all that has happened, is it really so hard to believe that there is something unnatural, supernatural, happening? We’re ghosts, Ben, and something is holding us here. What if there is something, some clue, that could help us leave or at least protect us from something worse?”

“I think you’re projecting,” Ben said. “I think you are uncomfortable with the idea of being trapped here with the psychopath that destroyed our family and I understand that. But trying to vindicate Tate for what he did to us isn’t going to fix anything.”

“I don’t think he’s a psychopath,” Vivien said. “He seems remorseful and I think he wants to make things right. I’m not saying that excuses what he did…”

“He’s manipulating you, Vivien. It’s what he does. And he is very, very good at it.”

“Then why didn’t he tell you he brought Jeffrey back?” Vivien asked.

“He probably knew you were watching,” Ben said dismissively.

“I overheard Hayden saying he has done it before,” Vivien said. “Look, I am not asking you to forgive him or adopt him into our family. Just talk to him, at least once.”

“Alright,” Ben said. He turned to Vivien and brushed her hair behind her ear before kissing her cheek. “You’re the only person who could convince me.”

 

***

 

The next day, after she heard Ben asking Tate to see him in what used to be his office, Vivien went into the music room. She carried Jeffrey as she circled the room and looked at the mural on the walls. The wallpaper she and Chad had tried to cover it with never failed to peel away just as there was no covering up the evil that radiated from every corner of the house.

As Vivien looked into the grotesque eyes of the painted demon that whispered in a man’s ear, she felt suddenly sure that her intuition about Tate was right. She didn’t know exactly what that meant or how to move forward. She could only hope that Ben would be able to work with him to figure it out.

“Would you like to play?” Moira asked behind Vivien’s shoulder. “I can hold the baby if you would like.”

“I would,” Vivien said. She handed Jeffrey over before pulling out her cello. Ben’s office was close by and she knew that if she played, both he and Tate would be able to hear.

She played Bach.



Chapter Text

2015 - The Murder House

 

'Cause someday, baby, someday, darling

You're gonna miss me...

 

Tate always hated open houses. Strangers would wander in and out endlessly, asking questions that Marcy would skirt around answering. The realtor who took over the property after Marcy disappeared was just as bad, if not worse. The other ghosts enjoyed them, as they broke up their mundane routines and gave them a first glimpse of potential buyers that would have to be scared off. But all it did for Tate was remind him that the house was not really his home. He didn’t belong there. None of the ghosts did. Yet there they stayed, trapped for eternity.

He spent one such day outside where he found Rose kneeling on the grass. The doll she usually carried around was set to the side and all her attention was focused on something on the ground.

“What are you doing?” Tate asked as he walked over to her.

“I think it’s hurt,” Rose said. Tate knelt next to her in order to get a closer look at the bird that was hobbling around awkwardly. One of its wings was bent in a weird direction and it looked thin and sickly.

“Yeah,” Tate agreed. “The wing is broken. Probably has been for a while.”

“Can you fix it?” Rose asked.

“I don’t think so,” Tate said, thinking of the time he had tried to save a bird when he was around seven or so. Constance had wanted to just throw it away, but he had somehow convinced her to let him take it to a vet. Days after they dropped it off, he continued asking her what had happened and if they would be able to pick it up and keep it. She finally snapped at him that it had been too sick and all the vet had done was euthanize it.

“What if she has babies?” Rose asked.

“It’s a boy,” Tate said.

“How can you tell?”

“The top of his head is blue and his breast is pinker. Girls are more tannish all over.”

“Oh,” Rose said. “What kind of a bird is he?”

“A mourning dove,” Tate said. “You have probably heard him singing.” He tried to imitate the distinctive cooing noise which made Rose laugh a little but she was too distressed to be distracted for long.

“What are we going to do with him?” she asked.

“He’s probably going to die, Rose.”

“I know,” she said. “But we can’t just leave him out here all alone.” Tate sighed but took off the cardigan he was wearing and laid it on the ground.

“Come here,” he said gently to the dove. “It’s ok, I’m not going to hurt you.” He managed to catch it, grateful he didn’t need to worry about catching any diseases, and set it on his sweater which he wrapped around the bird snuggly. “Come on,” he said to Rose as he picked the bird up and carried it back into the house.

They decided to take it to the attic where they were less likely to be disturbed and found a shoebox to nestle it in safely.

“Boo!” Beauregard yelled, jumping out to scare his siblings. It was a new trick he liked to play on new owners to scare them away. The trouble was that he liked to do it even when there were no mortals in the house.

“Sshhh, Beau,” Rose said. “You’ll scare him.” Beauregard shuffled closer to see what was in the box Tate held.

“Careful,” Tate said, but he didn’t need to worry. Beauregard gently stroked the bird’s head while letting out a little murmur of approval.

“Bird,” Beauregard said lovingly.

“We should name him,” Rose said. Tate was hesitant to agree. He didn’t want Rose or Beauregard to get too attached since it was only going to die. The rules of the house didn’t seem to apply to the ghosts of animals. Otherwise Hamlet would still be around. Still, it wasn’t very often they had anything new to play with or do.

“What about Banquo?” Tate said, his mind still on ghosts and old pets. Rose wrinkled her nose.

“Who is that?” she asked.

“He’s a ghost from a play,” Tate said.

“A ghost?” Rose sounded excited. “Like us?”

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“Don’t worry Banquo,” Rose whispered to the bird. “We are going to take care of you.”

Later in the evening, after the last group of potential buyers had been ushered out and the front door locked, Tate and Rose took Banquo into the kitchen in the hopes of finding some food and something to keep the bird warm with.

“Mommy!” Rose exclaimed unexpectedly.

Tate froze when he saw Constance sitting at the table across from Vivien.

“Why hello, sweetheart,” she said as Rose ran over to her.

“I missed you,” Rose said and gave her mom a hug.

“And I missed you, princess,” Constance said, running her fingers through Rose’s curls. “I’m surprised to see you so soon. What has made you decide to come out of hiding?”

“She likes Mrs. Harmon,” Tate said. He meant it as a jab, but his mother didn’t seem to notice. She smiled when she saw him but he didn’t return it. “What are you doing here?”

“I wanted to visit my children, of course,” Constance said, waving her hands as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

“Constance has moved back in next door,” Vivien said. She looked nearly as disconcerted as Tate felt.

“Why?” Tate asked. All the work he had done with Ben to help him release the resentment he felt towards Constance was unraveling fast. It was so much easier to not hate her when she was far away, and moving next door meant she could wander in and out of her old home as much as she wanted while he was unable to escape. It didn’t help that the last time they had seen each other, she had given him a thrashing, probably the only one he had really deserved, he thought.

That was the real reason he was panic-stricken at the sight of his mother. If she was there, then Michael was nearby. He wasn’t ready to meet his son. He didn’t think he would ever be.

“I never planned on staying in New York forever,” Constance said. “How could I, when my family is here? I just needed to disappear until the authorities stopped caring about what happened to little Michael.”

“You’re not going to bring him in here, right?” Tate said. “You can’t.”

“I don’t think that is your decision to make, young man,” Constance said, nodding at Vivien. “I’m surprised that you two are so...convivial.” Tate darted a glance at Vivien before looking down at Banquo. He and Vivien had come to a sort of unspoken agreement. They didn’t usually speak to each other, but she didn’t protest if they happened to occupy the same room.

“He’s right, Constance,” Vivien said, though she seemed pained saying it. “It’s not just dangerous. I think it would be better if Michael never learns the truth about where he came from. You haven’t told him, have you?”

“Of course not,” Constance said. “He calls me Grandma, but I’m not sure he understands what that means. If that is the way you want it, then it shall be so.”

Tate nodded and set the shoebox on the kitchen island. He only felt a little relieved.

“What have you got there?” Constance asked about the box. Tate handed it to Rose who carried it over for Constance to see. “Ugh,” Constance said, pulling her head back. “Just what I need. Another dead animal.”

“He’s not dead,” Rose said. “See, he’s still breathing.”

“That thing is probably rampant with disease,” Constance said.

“Better not touch it then,” Tate said as he started boiling some water and gathering crackers from the cheese plate leftover from the open house. He crushed a few of the crackers into a corner of Banquo’s box, next to a little bowl of water. When he looked up, he saw Constance staring at him, a doleful expression on her face. “What?”

“You always did love animals, didn’t you?” she said softly. “Always wanted to help with the dogs. And of course there was that rodent you insisted on keeping. You wanted your own special pet you could take care of by yourself. I think it lived longer than any hamster had any right to live. As a matter of fact, you died before it did.” She looked away and sniffed, swatting her hand at invisible emotions. Her voice lowered, back to her usual assertive self. “Never would hurt a fly, I always thought. I was wrong, of course.”

“I think I should go,” Vivien said. Tate could tell she was almost as uncomfortable as he was at Constance’s divulgence. He felt like he had been punched in the gut by her final words.

“Oh no, no,” Constance said. “I should go. Check on little Michael.” She walked to the kitchen door when Vivien cleared her throat.

“How is he?” Vivien asked.

“Oh,” Constance said. “Just fine. Just fine. He’s healthy and bright, just as one would hope a little boy would be.” She was lying. Tate could tell by the way her voice rose in pitch and she flashed her hands dramatically. But he didn’t call her on it. He didn’t really want to know. “So different from his father.” She took another long, abstracted look at Tate before she waved absently and left.

The strained atmosphere that lingered around Vivien and Tate would have been unbearable if not for Rose chattering to Banquo about how happy she was that her mother was back.

“Did I just hear Constance?” Violet asked as she walked into the kitchen and picked a grape off the tray, popping it into her mouth. She couldn’t see Tate or Rose so she sat down at the table across from her mom.

“Yeah, she is moving back in next door, if you can believe it. I never thought we would see her again,” Vivien said. Her eyes darted to Tate who was about to leave when the tea kettle whistled. He froze, staring at it.

“Going to get that?” Violet asked.

“Yes, I am,” Vivien said. She got up, turned the stove off and sat back down.

“You weren’t making tea or anything?” Violet asked as the whistle died out.

“Changed my mind,” Vivien said as she took a sip of the tea she had already made.

“You’re losing it,” Violet said with a smile. Banquo stirred suddenly in the shoebox and caught Violet’s attention. “What’s this? Are we a bird sanctuary now?”

“I don’t know,” Vivien said. “Tate and Rose brought it in. I guess it’s sick or something.”

“Oh,” Violet said. Her eyes flicked to the kettle again and then around the room. Tate thought her gaze lingered on him for just a moment before she looked back to Vivien, but maybe it was just his wistful imagination. “You don’t have to protect me, you know. I can handle when Tate’s around. My life isn’t Twilight.”

Tate ignored the rush that ran up his spine when Violet said his name by finishing what he had come into the kitchen to do. He filled a small teapot with the boiling water and carefully nestled it in the shoebox, making sure not to get it too close to the injured bird.

“What is that for?” Rose asked.

“He needs to keep warm,”  Tate said. He picked up the box and dared to take one last look at Violet before leaving. This time he was positive she was looking right at him.

 

***

 

Despite Tate’s certainty that nothing could be done to save Banquo’s life, he stayed up with it all night. He, Beauregard and Rose had sort of claimed his old bedroom as their own after Vivien expressed concern that they spent too much time isolated in the attic. Violet had decided her memories of the room were too painful and used one of the other bedrooms when she needed to be alone.

As Rose and Beauregard lay on the bed, feigning sleep as best they could, Tate made sure the bird was always warm but not too hot and brushed up his knowledge on doves. The bird didn’t eat or drink anything, which Tate knew was a bad sign. Still, he couldn’t help but hope that it would hold on a little longer.

In the early hours of the morning, Tate returned to his room with fresh hot water to see Dr. Montgomery sitting at his desk.

“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” Tate said, terrified to see what horrible thing the doctor had done to his bird. But when he looked over Dr. Montgomery’s shoulder, he saw that Banquo’s broken wing had been skillfully splinted and wrapped with a bandage.

“My wife was complaining that someone had brought an injured animal into our home,” Dr. Montgomery said, unusually lucid. “So I took the liberty of fixing it so it can be on it’s way. Let it hop around a bit every day and keep it warm and fed as you have. It should be completely healed in a few weeks.”

“Really?” Tate said, still a little in shock that Banquo hadn’t been transformed into a bizarre rat-dove hybrid or at least been cut up into pieces and sewn back together. “Thank you.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” Dr. Montgomery said. “And I’m not a monster. It’s this house.” He looked around as if he was seeing the room for the first time. “This house twists everything. I loved my son and I loved my wife. But this house…” Although he still appeared sober and coherent, he was obviously distressed. Tate could almost see the sanity draining from his eyes.

“Yeah,” Tate said. “I know. It’s the house, sure.” He didn’t know that, though Ben had told him Vivien believed the same. But saying it seemed to calm the doctor who regained some of his professional demeanor.

“I will return to change the bandages when needed,” Dr. Montgomery said and left the room with a nod.

Before the sun had risen, Banquo had begun to eat and drink. WIthin a couple days it was well enough to move around on Tate’s desk. Dr. Montgomery made good on his promise and made sure it continued to heal. But it wasn’t just Dr. Montgomery who took it upon himself to look after the injured bird.

It started with Travis asking if he could borrow Banquo to show to Margaret and Angie. The two girls were ecstatic to simply watch over it as it hopped around and chirped back at it when it started to coo. Moira pretended to be annoyed by the mess it made at first but had been caught talking sweetly to it when she dusted the Langdon kids’ bedroom. It even made Chad whistle whenever he saw it, though he always called it “Tate’s damn bird.”

But Banquo did not belong to Tate, nor Rose. It belonged to the house, at least, for the time being. As the weeks passed, the spirits held on to the hope that it would eventually heal enough to do what they couldn’t - fly away.

Banquo was like a depressing metaphor for his life, Tate thought one day as he sat on the grass and watched the bird attempt to fly. The bandages had come off, now all it needed was to build back up its strength. He could have written a shitty poem about it.

Tate dared to look away from Banquo for a moment to watch Constance in the yard over. She was planting the latest in at least twenty rose bushes, all lined up in neat rows. Maybe she had finally lost her marbles, Tate thought. But he could tell his mom had been trying harder than ever with him since returning to LA. She had even bought him birdseed for Banquo and occasionally asked him awkward questions about what it was in his childhood that had turned him into a mass murderer.

When she was satisfied with her work, Constance stood and went back into her house. A few minutes later, Tate heard her yell a farewell to Michael before getting into her car and driving off.

The sun was beginning to set but Tate waited a few more minutes before holding out his hand to Banquo. The bird climbed up his arm, settled on his shoulder and nibbled gently on his ear.

Tate’s bedroom was empty when he walked in, but as soon as Banquo fluttered off his shoulder and onto the bed, he heard the door open behind him. He looked back casually, expecting Rose, but instead he saw a boy who was still very much alive.

He was younger than most of the kids who would wander in, curious about the house that was rumoured to be haunted. His hair was pale blonde and he was wearing a plaid shirt that looked vaguely familiar to Tate. He thought that he had worn a similar one as a kid.

“Hey, you shouldn’t be in here,” Tate said gently. “Where are your parents?” The boy responded with a wide grin and a giggle. He was cute, Tate had to admit. “Do you live around here? Somewhere close?” The boy nodded. Tate held out his hand. “C’mon. It’s not safe for you to be here. You need to go home.”

“I am home,” the boy said. “This is my house.”

“I don’t think so,” Tate said with a laugh. He knelt in front of the kid. “What’s your name?”

“Michael.”

Ice pulsed through Tate’s veins and his ears started to ring, but he managed to keep a smile on his face.

“Michael?” Tate’s voice quivered. “Are you Constance’s grandson?”

Michael just grinned at him again before his eyes caught sight of something behind Tate and he dashed to the bed.

“Is this your bird?” Michael asked.

“Yeah, kinda,” Tate said, following. “His name is Banquo. Do you like him?” Tate stood over Michael and quietly observed as his son watched the bird flutter about.

His son. The words danced around in Tate’s head and he tried to make himself believe them, tried to feel some sort of paternal instinct. But all he felt was apprehension.

Michael needed to leave before any of the spirits knew he was there. Not only was it dangerous for any living being to step foot in the house, but Tate was afraid of what Michael would learn. Knowing the truth could only make him messed up in the future.

“You need to go back to your house,” Tate said. “Flora is probably worried about you.”

“Flora?” Michael asked.  

“Your nanny,” Tate said, afraid he had given away that he knew more about Michael then he was letting on.

“Flora isn’t my nanny anymore,” Michael said. “She never let me play video games. Evelyn is my new nanny. She doesn’t care about me.”

“But your grandma does. She’ll freak out if she finds out you’re gone.”

Michael shrugged. “I like it here.” The boy climbed onto the bed and folded his arms, making it clear that if he was going to leave, Tate would have to use force.
Tate sighed. He needed help, though he didn’t know who to ask. The obvious answer was Ben, but the idea of letting Ben know Michael was there made Tate feel sick, as if he would blame Tate for everything all over again when faced with the physical evidence.

Vivien was out of the question. Tate assumed that if she saw Michael once, letting him go would be too painful. Maybe Moira would help, but he didn’t want to hear any of her snide remarks and Nora would probably just try to keep the boy as her own. Tate had promised him to her, afterall.

Travis was good with kids, Tate thought, and decided to seek him out.

“Ok,” Tate said to Michael. “You can stay here, but stay in this room.” Michael nodded and switched positions so that he was lying on his stomach, his head propped up by his elbows to get a better look at Banquo.

On his way to find Travis, Tate passed by Rose. “Hey,” he said to his sister. “Listen, Michael is in our room. Can you go play with him for a bit? Just make sure he doesn’t leave. It’s important.”

“Ok,” Rose said cheerfully.

Tate found Travis in one of the bedrooms, but he wasn’t alone.

“Heard of knocking, you psychopath?” Hayden asked dryly. She and Travis were lying in bed together, though they had clearly finished fucking quite a while before. She didn’t even attempt to cover herself with a sheet and smiled when Tate looked away. “Oh don’t pretend like you are all innocent. I know the shit you’ve done. Wanna join in?” she drawled.

“No way,” Travis said, equally unashamed of how naked he was. “I mean I am up for dudes, but he’s like twelve.”

“What do you want?” Hayden spat at Tate.

“I need to ask Travis something,” Tate said. “Alone.” He definitely did not want Hayden to know Michael was in the house.

“Yeah?” Hayden said, her interest piqued. She was like a bloodhound that could sniff out the smallest hint of drama. “What is it? You know you can’t ever really be alone in this house. Everyone finds out everything eventually.”

“Does Travis know you’re fucking my dad?” Tate asked.

“You have a dad?” Travis said. Tate rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, I have a dad,” Tate said. “Ya know, Constance’s husband? She killed him for having an affair with Moira.”

“Woah, that’s wild,” Travis said. “I don’t blame him. Moira’s hot and like, so good at sucking dick.”

“That’s disgusting,” Hayden said.

“Nevermind,” Tate said, agreeing with her, and left the room. He wandered downstairs, wondering if Maria would help him out. But Maria was painting her nails in the living room with Violet. Tate watched them for a few minutes, unseen.

“Tate,” Ben said from behind him.

“Sorry,” Tate said. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t being creepy, I promise. I actually wanted to talk to Maria but…”

“About what?” Ben asked. “About Violet?” It was true that the two young women had become close over the years. It was a relief to Tate that she had someone to talk to, even if he would have preferred it to be him.

“Uh,” Tate hesitated but decided he would rather have Ben think that than know Michael was in the house. “Yeah.” He tried a bashful smile but Ben wasn’t buying it.

“We haven’t had a session today,” Ben said. “Is there something we need to talk about?”

“Nope,” Tate said before realizing he had never turned down a session before. Ben’s eyes narrowed.

“Is there something you aren’t telling me?”

Tate was quiet for a moment, feeling guilty. He had made a conscious effort to never lie to Ben again. It was clear he was out of practice.

“Yeah there is,” Tate said. “But it’s not about Violet. It’s about...something else.”

“Tate,” Ben said, “what’s going on? Did something happen?”

“No,” Tate said quickly. “Why would you think that something happened?”

“Because you are acting like you’re trying to hide something from me.”

Tate was on the verge of telling him. He wanted to ask him for help in the same way he had tried to ask his dad for help as soon as he found out he had never really left. But the memory of Ben telling him that he had destroyed everything that mattered to him played over in his mind. Michael was part of that.

“I’m not,” Tate said. “I just...I have to go. But we should talk soon. Just not now. Because I have...to go.”

Tate turned and walked away as fast as possible, taking the stairs two at a time. When he reached the upstairs hallway, he was so distracted that he didn’t notice the chair that was laying on its side and tripped over it.

“What the hell?” Tate murmured as he got up.

“Sorry, I should have moved that,” Vivien said vacantly. She was standing nearby, staring at Tate’s bedroom door, almost as if she was in a trance.

“I’m ok,” Tate said. “Are you ok, Mrs. Harmon?” She didn’t answer, so Tate followed her gaze to see what she was staring at. It took several moments for Tate to process what it was he was looking at.

It was Banquo. The bird was hanging at the center of the door, it’s eyes pricked out and a nail hammered into each extended wing and through the heart.

Tate stared silently at it, too stunned to speak.

“Was it the twins?” Tate finally asked.

“No,” Vivien said. “It was our son. Our son did this.”

“What? Are you sure?”

“I saw him. He was standing on that chair. I asked him what he was doing and what his name was. He told me his name and then he ran off, laughing.”

“Where is he?” Tate asked. “I left him with...Rose.” His bewilderment was replaced by panic as he realized what he had done. “Where is she?” He opened the door to his room, yelling her name. But she was nowhere to be seen.

“I didn’t see her,” Vivien said, her own vacant expression now alert. They searched the attic but only found Beauregard who appeared to have no idea where his sister was either.

“What’s going on?” Ben asked when they continued to yell for Rose.

“Ben,” Vivien said. “Go check on Jeffrey, he should be in his crib.”

“Why? What…”

“Please, Ben,” Vivien said. Ben looked at Tate, who felt like shrinking under his gaze, before he nodded and walked away.

Tate and Vivien found Michael in the kitchen, sitting innocently at the kitchen table, kicking his legs.

“Michael,” Vivien said, her voice determinedly calm as she placed a firm hand on Tate’s shoulder to keep him from getting any closer. “Where is Rose?”

Michael shrugged. “Can I have a glass of water?” he asked.

“No, Michael,” Vivien said. “You need to tell us where you last saw Rose, ok? It is very important. Then you can have a glass of water.”

“We were playing hide and seek,” Michael said. “I think she is still hiding.”

Tate shook his head and turned to Vivien to avoid talking to Michael directly. “He’s lying. She hates hide and seek. Ever since…” He broke off and ran to the basement door.

He couldn’t explain exactly why he thought she would be in that basement room, the one that was always locked. It was something in the way Michael smiled. He had seen that smile on his sister’s face, moments before she died.

“Rose!” Tate yelled, ignoring the curious looks from the other ghosts that still insisted on lingering in the basement. He gasped in relief when he opened the mysterious door to see Rose in the middle of the room, her face buried in the hair of her doll. “Rose, are you ok?”

“Tate?” Rose said, looking up, but she was facing away from him. “Tate, where are you? I can’t see you.”

“I’m right here,” Tate said. “Turn around.” She turned, but too far. “Follow my voice Rose.” Tate didn’t want to step into the room. The darkness inside was almost palpable. He was afraid that if he stepped inside, he would be as lost as his sister. But when Rose continued to remain where she was, visibly trembling, he took a deep breath and dashed in. He scooped Rose up and turned to leave, but the light from the door had vanished. All he could see was darkness.

“Is the monster here?” Rose whispered into Tate’s ear.

“No,” Tate said. “No monsters. We just have to find our way out.” He stepped carefully in the direction he thought the door was.

“I saw him,” Rose said.

“It’s ok, he’s gone.” But Tate began to imagine yellow eyes leering at him from the shadows.

“Tate?” It was Vivien’s voice, calling from somewhere far away. “Rose?”

“Mrs. Harmon?” Tate yelled back.

“Tate?” Her voice grew slowly closer. “Oh, thank goodness, you found her.”

“Don’t come in here,” Tate warned. “Just...keep talking.”

“Why not?” Vivien asked. Tate inched closer.

“Am I walking towards the door?” Tate asked.

“Oh my god,” Vivien said, realizing that he couldn’t see. “Yes, yes you are. Just keep walking. I’m right here. You’re almost there.” Tate continued on until he finally found himself surrounded by the dim light of the basement. He collapsed to his knees but kept Rose pressed tightly against his chest.

“It’s ok now,” Tate said. “You’re safe now. Why did you go in there?”

“I was hiding from the monster,” Rose said. Tate heard Vivien close the door behind them, making Tate feel safer, until he heard Michael’s voice.

“Is it my turn to hide now?” the boy asked. Tate looked up to see him standing right next to him. Rose looked up too, before screaming and nuzzling her face into Tate’s shoulder.

“Shh,” Tate continued to comfort Rose as he stood, still holding her close. “It’s ok.”

“Michael,” Vivien said, crouching down in front of him. “Why did you do that to that bird?”

“It was a present,” Michael said. “For Rose. I thought she would like it better if he didn’t have any eyes, like her.”

“But why did you kill it?” Vivien asked.

“So it won’t fly away,” Michael said. “Now it will stay here forever.”

Vivien turned to Tate who returned her horrified expression. They were spared from having to explain to Michael that what he did was wrong by the click-clack of heels coming down the stairs.

“Here you all are,” Constance said. “And there is my darling little angel! Oh I have been so worried about you”

“Grandma!” Michael shouted and ran to Constance.

“What are you doing here?” she said as she leaned over and put both her hands on each side of Michael’s face. “Haven’t I told you not to leave the house while I am gone and especially not to ever come in here?” She straightened herself up again, a smile still on her face. “I do apologize for the inconvenience. Honestly this nanny is as hopeless as the last one.” Her smile slipped away as she realized Vivien and Tate were gaping at her. “Well, why are you both staring at me as if I was in my undergarments?”

“Constance…” Vivien started but she didn’t need to finish.

“What did he do this time?” Constance said, sounding exasperated.

“He killed Tate’s bird,” Vivien said, her voice suddenly strong.

“Again?” Constance said as if he had stolen cookies from a cookie jar.

“This has happened before?” Tate asked.

“Only a couple dozen times,” she said, looking down at Michael who smiled sweetly. “I have told him to stop more times than I can count but he will do what he will do. What can I say? I was put on this earth to raise little monster children.” She sighed before gently stroking Rose’s head. “Not you, my little beauty queen,” she said.

Tate suddenly realized he was right. His mother had finally lost her mind. He stepped away from Constance, who frowned.

“Come on Michael,” Constance said, taking her grandson’s hand and pulling him toward the stairs.

The silence that fell over Tate and Vivien felt heavy on his shoulders but he couldn’t think of anything to say that could possibly help. He carried Rose upstairs to their bedroom, only to find several ghosts gathered around the door to see what Michael had done.

“Don’t look,” Tate said to Rose as he pushed through the crowd, past the dead bird, and closed the door behind him. As he tucked her into bed, he could hear the ghosts talking about Michael in the hall.

“I’m not surprised,” Hayden said. “I guess the psycho-apple doesn’t fall far from the psycho-tree.” There was a murmur of agreement. Tate picked up the shoebox that had been Banquo’s home and and stepped into the hall. He stared down all the ghosts, Hayden, Chad, Patrick, Fiona and Gladys, until they walked away.

Michael had left the hammer in the middle of the floor. Tate picked it up and gently pried off the nails that crucified Banquo to the door. He held the bird for a moment, missing the feel of it’s heartbeat underneath the feathers.

He tried to arrange the bird’s wings nicely when he set it in the box, but no matter what he did, the creature just looked pathetic and dead.

The sun had set long ago but Tate went outside anyway. He began to dig a hole in the same spot where Rose had first found the injured bird but stopped when Constance suddenly appeared, holding a small rosebush.

“It makes it all seem a little less horrible,” she said. “As if something good will come out of this nightmare.” Tate realized the veneer she had been wearing earlier had been scraped away and her true feelings on the matter shone through. She looked wearier than he had ever seen her, and more lost than he felt.  “I’m sorry about your pet, Tate.”

Tate wondered if she knew it was the first time she had ever apologized to him. He finished digging the small grave, set the box inside and planted the rosebush on top. When he had finished, he remained kneeling on the ground until he felt Constance place a tender, but trembling hand on his head.

“When I decided to adopt Michael,” Constance said, stroking his hair, “I thought it was because I wanted another chance to prove that I could be a good mother. I told myself that he was a new start and that this time, I would do it right. But I have only just realized, I never really wanted a fresh start or a new baby. What I truly wanted, was my own beautiful boy back.”

“Mom...” Tate said as he stood and faced her. She pulled her hand back and delicately brushed a few tears away, but more followed after. “I’m sorry.”

“Oh,” she said, smiling. “Isn’t it wonderful?” She went to him embrace him, cautiously at first until Tate wrapped his own arms around her and squeezed. “Isn’t it wonderful?”



Chapter Text

These rose colored glasses

That I'm looking through

Show only the beauty

'Cause they hide all the truth...

 

October 31, 2021 - Outpost 3

 

Tate stood awkwardly in the doorway, looking around at the five witches who stared back at him.

“You must be Tate,” Cordelia said kindly as she walked over to him. “Madison has told me so much about you.”

“Yeah?” Tate said, looking uncomfortably at Madison. “How much did she tell you?”

“Enough,” Cordelia said, putting a gentle, but firm hand on his arm. “And we are all so grateful for what you have offered to do.” Tate gave a little shrug but allowed Cordelia to lead him into the room. “This is Mallory,” Cordelia said. “She is the one who can send you back.”

“Hello Tate,” Mallory said. She took one of his hands with both of hers as if to shake it. Something made her stop and look down at his palm. “I’m so sorry,” she said, looking up at him with tears in her eyes.

“What?” Madison asked and looked over Mallory’s shoulder. “What the hell happened?” She shoved Mallory out of the way and took Tate’s hand, pushing his sleeve up to reveal the scars of angry burns they were completely covered with. She checked to see if the other arm was the same. It was. “Oh my god,” Madison said as she realized what must have happened. Tate pulled away and shook his sleeves back down.

“It doesn’t matter,” Tate said. “I can fix it, right?”

“Yes,” Coco said, taking a determined step forward. “We are all going to fix this. Together.” Tate couldn’t help but smile at her innocent eagerness.

“This is Coco,” Cordelia said. “She will be able tell the exact moment in time that set the apocalypse in motion.”

Tate held his hand out for Coco, but she didn’t take it.

“I just have to…” she said as she turned bright red. “Ugh this is so awkward. It’s just that, I have to lick you. I know, I know, it’s like, so weird. I can tell how many calories something has just by looking at it but as soon as I have to tell the exact moment in time someone can save the world, I have to taste them.” She looked at him apologetically until he started to laugh.

“Where?” he asked.

“Wherever you are most comfortable,” Coco said. He thought for a second and then

pointed at his cheek with a shrug. “Ok, here we go.” They both grimaced until she had quickly stuck her tongue against his skin. As soon as she had, her eyes rolled up in her head and her eyelids flickered.

“Is she ok?” Tate asked.

“Depends on how you define ok,” Madison said.

“Got it,” Coco said suddenly, returning to herself. “But it’s not what I expected.” Her bright demeanor had dampened suddenly. She forced a smile. “Mallory is going to take you back to before you died.”

“But that’s good, isn’t it?” Madison asked.

“Well, yes,” Coco said, but there was something she wasn’t saying.

“Aw! Sheer poetry,” Myrtle said dramatically, a hand on her heart. “By saving the world, you will save your own life. What wouldn’t any of us give for a second chance at life, a chance to right the errors of our ways. I must admit, I see very little of Michael in you. He wouldn’t be caught dead in those jeans.”

“Well you’re right about that,” Michael drawled behind them from the top of the stairs, Ms. Meade by his side. He was smiling his sickly sweet smile as he looked down at them. “Though I did make good use of one of his hand-me-downs. Didn’t I, dad?”

 

2015 - The Murder House

 

The rubber suit was missing. Ben was certain he had left it in a drawer in the master bedroom, but it wasn’t there, nor a dozen other places he looked. He wasn’t sure why he was looking for it at all. But ever since he had put it away the night before, after chasing away a couple of teenagers, he felt an inexplicable need to know where it was. It wasn’t a craving, he tried to convince himself, only a benign curiosity.

Someone must have stolen it. Two suspects came to mind, but Ben hoped he was wrong about both of them.

“Is this room being used?”

The ghost of a man Ben had occasionally seen, but never spoken to, stood in the doorway. Moira was standing behind him.

“It appears to be occupied,” Moira said. The flirty tilt to her voice had always unsettled Ben, but it was worse now that he saw her as an old soul. He assumed the man she was with did not see her that way. “This house is too crowded.” She pouted and ran a hand down the man’s arm before leaving. The man stayed.

“That cock tease avoided me for years,” he said with a smirk. “Of course, as soon as my wife shows up and offs herself, she’s back to wanting to suck my dick every chance she gets. I guess cattiness can pay off occasionally.”

“Wife?” Ben said. He frowned as he slowly put two and two together.

“Constance,” the man said. “I guess we’ve never been introduced. Hugo Langdon.” He stepped forward and offered his hand, which Ben shook hesitantly.

“Ben Harmon.”

“Oh yeah. You’re my son’s therapist, right?”

“Psychiatrist, but yes.”

“Good luck with that one.”

“I didn’t realize you were…” Ben said, rubbing a hand over his chin. There were dozens of questions he wanted answers to, but only one he felt he had the right to ask. “Does Tate know you’re dead?”

Hugo scoffed. “Unfortunately,” he said. “Even when he was alive I swear that kid had a sixth sense for ghosts. I managed to avoid him until after the cops put him down. There was no hiding from him after that.”

“You didn’t try to talk to him while he was alive?” Ben asked. He couldn’t imagine how painful it would have been to watch Violet grow up without talking to her. He wouldn’t have been able to bear it.

“He was Constance’s son,” Hugo said. “She was always the one who wanted more kids. I wanted to stop after Adelaide but she wanted to try again, see if we could have a normal one, ya know? So of course we had twins.” He raised his eyebrows and shook his head. “Rose was cute, I guess. But Tate...well, you probably know how messed up he is more than I do.”

“You could have helped him,” Ben said, surprised at the emotion that slipped into his own voice. It wasn’t just Tate he was thinking of. Hugo reminded him of his own father, from the callous way he dismissed his own children, right down to the arrogant way he was leaning against the door jamb.

“What’s the point?” Hugo said. “Kid always was a lost cause. I thought he was a goddamn twink until he fucked your wife. Only time I ever thought he might be my son.” He started to laugh but stopped when he saw the disgust on Ben’s face.

“Look, I’ll level with you, Ben,” Hugo continued. “There are admittedly few perks to getting shot to death by a jealous bitch, but not having to raise a lunatic should be one of them.”

“Well at least now I know where he gets it from,” Ben said, shoving past Hugo. “Excuse me, I have somewhere to be.”

Tate was already sitting on the couch in Ben’s office. His arms were wrapped around his legs that were pulled up against his chest and his fingers nervously drummed against the bare knee sticking out of the hole in his jeans. He seemed on edge, even more than he normally had been ever since Constance killed herself and Michael started living in the house.

“Sorry to make you wait,” Ben said as he sat across from Tate.

“Not like I have anywhere else to be,” Tate said.

Ben gave a half smile as he scanned his notes. “Did you talk to Michael yesterday?”

Tate hesitated before answering and kept his eyes determinedly down. “No,” he admitted.

“Why not?” Ben asked. Tate shrugged and chewed on his lip. “The two of you have more in common than you think.”

“Maybe that’s why I don’t want to talk to him.”

“What happened to taking responsibility for the things you’ve done?” Ben asked. “Whether you like it or not, Michael is a huge part of that.”

“What am I supposed to do, take him fishing?” Tate asked. “Besides, you seem to have the whole dad thing under control. Have you asked Vivien what she thinks about all that? She agrees with me, you know.”

“You don’t have to tell me what Vivien thinks,” Ben said. He looked down at his notepad so he wouldn’t have to look at Tate’s smug expression. “But I am glad she has someone she feels like she can talk to.”

“No you don’t,” Tate said. He unfolded himself so he was sitting straight up and spread his arms out over the top of the sofa. “You fucking hate that she talks to me instead of you. Don’t you?”

“If I am honest, I am concerned that the two of you feed each other’s delusions about Michael.”

“Delusions?” Tate said. “So it’s a delusion that he somehow aged ten years in one night? Or that he murdered two people? What about the animals he killed? Were those delusions too?”

“He needs help,” Ben said. “Just like you.”

Tate continued to scowl silently, acting in a way he hadn’t since before Ben died. The icy silence lasted until Ben couldn’t take it any longer. His patience with Tate had always been short, but the two of them had been at odds ever since Michael had arrived.

“Fine,” Ben said. “If you don’t want to talk about Michael, then I think we should talk about the rubber suit.” He was hoping to shake Tate into admitting he had taken it. Ben knew that what he was doing wasn’t strictly ethical, but his psychiatry license was long expired and he and Tate didn’t exactly have a normal doctor and patient relationship.

“What about it?” Tate asked, tilting his head away. Ben could tell he was trying to hide that the question made him nervous. His arms, formerly relaxed, were suddenly tense.

“Why did you wear it?” Ben asked. “What was its purpose?”

“I wore it so your wife would think I was you,” Tate said, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion as if the answer was obvious. The air in the room felt suddenly thin. It was moments like these that made Ben question why he was still trying to help Tate, why he didn’t just banish him to a corner of the house and forget he existed.

“Not…” Ben shook his head. “I meant before. Chad and Patrick didn’t know who you were. Even if they did, what difference would it make after they died?”

“It’s hard to explain,” Tate said. He avoided looking at Ben, choosing to glance around the room as if he had never seen it before. “Can we talk about something else?”

“No,” Ben said. The way Tate reacted only made Ben more sure that he was the thief. “I think it would be helpful for you to articulate it.”

“Okay.” Tate took a deep breath and picked a spot just to the right of Ben’s head to stare at as he spoke. “I wore it because, when I did, it was like...like it wasn’t really me, ya know?” His eyes flicked to Ben and then down. “It was like I became someone else.”

“The whole idea behind wearing something like that is to be dehumanized,” Ben said. “To submit to someone else’s will.”

“Yeah, submit.” Tate leaned forward and wrapped his hands around his knees, making himself smaller. “It was like I was submitting to something else. Letting someone else take over.”

“Sounds similar to the drugs you said you took before the shooting,” Ben said. Tate nodded solemnly. “It also sounds like you are deflecting. I think you wore it as a defense mechanism, to protect yourself from having to take full responsibility for your actions.”

“Maybe,” Tate said, his shoulders deflating. He was quiet for a moment before shaking his head suddenly, his face scrunched up in confusion. “No,” he said. “No there was something else. You felt it, right? Last night? I know you did.” His eyes met Ben’s, asking for validation.

“What are you talking about?” Ben asked, though he had some idea. Tate sat up straighter.

“I saw what you did last night, with those girls?”

“I was just scaring them,” Ben said. “Same as always.”

“And that’s why your wife had to practically drag you off one of them to stop you from choking her to death?”

“I got a little carried away, but she was fine. I knew what I was doing.”

“Scared the shit out of Vivien is what you did,” Tate said, his eyebrows raised in an accusatory stare.

In truth, Ben had scared himself with how far he had gone the night before. But he didn’t hurt the girl. He wouldn’t have, he told himself, even if Vivien hadn’t stopped him.

“I’m not blaming you, Dr. Harmon,” Tate said earnestly, almost as if he were the one counseling Ben. “I know what it feels like to lose control like that. I don’t think it was you. It was the suit.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Ben said.

“Don’t lie to me,” Tate said. “I don’t lie to you, Ben. Not anymore.” Ben tapped his pen against his leg for a moment.

“Then explain how I met your father today,” Ben said to avoid responding to Tate’s accusation and regain control of the conversation. Tate’s dogged stare remained fixed except for a slight twitch in his jaw. “You never told me he was dead. You always said he left.”

“He did leave,” Tate said. “He left me and Addie and Beauregard to be raised by the woman who killed him. He could have talked to us, but he didn’t. It would have been better if he had left.” He sunk back against the back of the couch, sulking.

“So he told you he was murdered by Constance?”

“No,” Tate said blankly. “I found out later. He thought that if he told me, I would kill her in revenge or something. Apparently he didn’t want to be stuck in this house with her forever.”

“Would you have killed her?” Tate finally looked away for a moment, his face set in deep concentration. He shook his head. “Why not?”

“Because she’s my mom,” Tate said simply.

“So I take it things are better between the two of you?” Ben asked.

“Kind of,” Tate said with a shrug. “We’ve been talking a lot. I mean, I still think she is a giant bitch but I acted like a son of one so it feels kind of pointless to stay mad at her.”

“It sounds like you no longer blame her for your own actions. That’s progress, Tate,” Ben said. “I have to say, I’m impressed.”

Tate’s shoulders relaxed. “Really?”

“Yes,” Ben said truthfully. “I think it is a very mature way to look at things.” Tate smiled hesitantly and Ben was reminded of Tate’s last session before he learned the truth about everything Tate had done. Tate had seemed so much better then, too. The kid was so persuasive. How could Ben ever know if he was telling the truth?

“I’d like to know why you took the suit,” Ben said, hoping the small moment of positivity he had given Tate was enough to convince him to admit it.

Tate’s smile vanished but he didn’t deny it.  

“I know you took it, Tate,” Ben said. “I put it away last night and it was gone this morning. Just tell me why.”

“I didn’t,” Tate said. Ben shook his head in disappointment which prompted Tate to continue. “It was Vivien. She asked me to hide it, so I did.”

“You expect me to believe that?” Ben said. But he already did. It was just the sort of thing Vivien would do. Especially now, with her firmly held superstitions about Tate and Michael. Why wouldn’t she believe that the rubber suit was some sort of possessed entity? Every day Ben felt her slipping further from reality and further away from him. He wondered how long it would be until he lost her completely.

“Ask her,” Tate said. “She’ll tell you.”

“And why does she trust you with it?”

“Because I’m scared of it and you’re not,” Tate said.

“Does that mean you aren’t going to tell me where it is?” Ben asked. Tate’s unyielding stare was the only answer he needed. “Right,” Ben said, closing his notepad. “It seems we have reached an impasse.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Tate asked.

“It means that I don’t think we should have any more sessions together. Not until you can accept Michael as your responsibility and stop blaming inanimate objects on the things you did.”

Tate continued staring at Ben, dejected, but defiant. “He’s manipulating you, Ben,” Tate said. “There’s something not right about him. Why can’t you see it?”

But Ben refused to see it. He couldn’t deny the strange circumstances surrounding Michael, or the things he had done, but Ben refused to give up on the boy as Tate and Vivien had. He had helped Tate, hadn’t he? And despite Tate’s recent insolence, Ben truly believed he had helped him.

Which meant he could help Michael. Ben wouldn’t let him grow up without a father as he had, as Tate had. It had to end somewhere.

Chapter Text

Our day will come

If we just wait a while

No tears for us

Think love and wear a smile...

 

Or

 

Halloween, Part 1

 

October 31, 2015

 

A Church in Los Angeles

 

The church was nearly empty as Vivien walked through the doors and sat on a pew near the back. It was one of the very few churches she had entered in her lifetime and the place where she had first been told there was something demonic about her unborn son. She hadn’t believed it then, but she was ready to believe it now.

Moira had kindly offered to look after Jeffrey for the night, but Vivien had brought him with her anyway. Ever since Michael had destroyed the souls of two innocent women, and the bizarre so-called-Satanists had set up camp in her house, she had been unable to allow her defenseless son out of her sight. Besides, he was the only member of her family she was currently on good terms with.

Far from repairing their strained relationship, Ben’s realization that Michael was a lost cause felt like too little, too late. If it had not been for the way Ben had shown himself to Michael and encouraged him to stay, those women would not have been killed, Michael would have left, and the other spirits would not be existing from day-to-day in constant dread that they were next.

If Ben had just listened to her, she thought to herself. But instead he had dismissed her fears as paranoia, stopped treating Tate and, worst of all, ignored the needs of Jeffrey, his actual son, in favor of Michael. His actions still hurt too much for her to forgive him, especially with Michael still living in the house.

Violet was a different matter. Although her daughter put up a facade of detachment and indifference, Vivien could tell all was not well. She had asked numerous times what was wrong, but received only feeble assurances that everything was fine. That was when Violet showed herself at all. Most of the time she hid away for days at a time.

Not even Moira was particularly pleasant to be around. Vivien knew the other woman, along with most of the other spirits in the house, thought she was misguided, possibly even unhinged, for her continued civility towards Tate. The only reason Moira seemed to still put up with her was to help take care of Jeffrey.

“May I pray with you?”

Vivien was pulled out of her thoughts by a nun who appeared next to her.

“I’m not really praying,” Vivien said.

“May I sit with you then?” The young woman’s smile was so warm and unassuming that Vivien nodded and moved over a little to make room for her.

“Not many people come here on All Hallow’s Eve,” the nun said. “Which is a shame, really. At this time of year, the veil between this world and the next are the thinnest. It is the perfect time to ask the most pressing questions we have of God, don’t you think?” Her eyes glittered in the candlelight as she pushed a flyaway lock of blonde hair beneath her coif.

“I suppose so,” Vivien said. She thought it an odd thing for a nun to say. But then again, she didn’t really know enough about religion to say for sure.

“Did you come here for answers tonight?” the nun asked. “I don’t mean to pry, I only mean to help. If you would rather I leave you in peace, you need only say.”

When Vivien had first made the decision to spend a few of her precious hours of freedom visiting a church, she thought it was only to find some peace and feel safe from Michael. But she did want answers. She just didn’t think the innocent looking girl next to her would be able to provide them.

“Do you believe in the devil?” Vivien asked anyway. Being a ghost had made her bold. No need to be embarrassed or worry about appearing odd when one was dead.  “And I don’t mean the evil in human hearts or anything like that. I mean an actual being.”

“I do,” the nun said, her smile unwavering. “More so than most, I would imagine. I suppose you could say my dealings with him have been intimate.” She turned away from Vivien to look at a stained glass window across the room. It depicted a blonde, armour clad angel standing on the head of a dragon.

Jeffrey let out an unexpected shriek that rang throughout the chapel. Vivien started to stand, not wanting his cries to interrupt the other visitors. “I’m sorry, I’ll take him out.”

“It’s alright,” the nun said, turning back to Vivien and putting a hand on her shoulder. Her eyes were misty but still, she smiled. “No one else can hear us. May I?” She held out her hands to take Jeffrey. Vivien carefully handed him over and he stopped crying immediately.

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize…” Vivien said. “All this time and I still don’t recognize other ghosts. Did you die here?”

“No,” the nun said as she gazed lovingly at Jeffrey. “I died in an asylum on the other side of the country fifty years ago.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I’m here for you, Vivien,” the nun said, looking up into Vivien’s eyes. “I was sent to answer your questions.”

“You know my name?” Vivien said. The nun simply nodded as if it was natural that she would.

“I’m sorry,” she said, blushing. “How rude of me. I’m Sister Mary Eunice.” Vivien watched as Mary Eunice whispered sweetly to Jeffrey who smiled back.

“Do you mind if I ask how you died?” Vivien asked.

“It was him,” she said. “The devil.”

“You were possessed?” Vivien asked. Mary Eunice nodded.

“I think he would have lived inside my body until it decayed if I had let him. But I knew what I had to do.”

“An exorcism?”

“Exorcisms don’t work. Perhaps with lesser demons, but not with him. He would rather be dragged back to hell than leave a host alive.”

“You killed yourself?” Vivien asked in a shocked whisper. “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t think of it that way,” Mary Eunice said, her eyes as bright as ever. “It was a sacrifice, yes. But also a victory over evil. I don’t regret it.”

“But if you defeated him...” Vivien started, thinking of Michael and how both her ultrasound technician and Rose Langdon had seen him as some sort of beast.

“Not defeated,” Mary Eunice clarified. “I merely stopped him from using me as a tool to corrupt others. The battle against him continues, as it has since the world began. He is constantly trying to break free from hell and pervert mankind. And every time he does, he grows in power as he gains more knowledge about how to manipulate and control even the most righteous among us.”

“What do you mean?” Vivien asked.

“The only power I had when he controlled me was that I knew my actions were not my own, which allowed me to fight back. If I hadn’t known, if I thought it was just me, I wouldn’t have had a chance. I am sure he didn’t make that mistake again.”

Vivien thought of how Ben had told her Tate gave no indication of having been possessed and how he was still convinced his actions were entirely his own, even if he didn’t understand why.

“Still, no matter how powerful he became, he has always been limited by having to infest a body already occupied by a soul. He could never realize his full potential until he had a body of his own.”

“Michael,” Vivien said.

“Yes, he is the devil’s only begotten son,” Mary Eunice said. “Satan made flesh.”

“So Tate, I mean the boy who….he isn’t Michael’s father?”

Mary Eunice shook her head. “Tate was merely a conduit, a channel for the devil to pass through. Unfortunately, he had a hold over that boy for most of his life, and his afterlife.”

Vivien shivered. The walls of the church no longer felt as safe as they had before. Mary Eunice seemed to sense her discomfort and handed her son back to her.

“Why me?” Vivien asked. “I mean, why was I the one to give birth to him? Did I do something wrong?”

“No,” Mary Eunice said, turning to her and putting a hand on her shoulder. “You must not blame yourself. Everything about Michael is a subversion of our Lord. As Mary was willing, you had to be unwilling. As Christ was tempted by the debased nature of His human form, Michael is tempted by the best of humanity. As Christ saved the world, Michael is destined to destroy it.”

“Destroy it?” Vivien repeated, a cold fear consumed her and she stared silently at the crucifix at the front of the church. Her panic subsided, replaced by clarity. At least now she knew what she had to do.

“And Tate?” Vivien asked. Mary Eunice’s smile faltered and her eyes flicked to the altar before them.

“Sometimes, when I think of the things I did, such horrible things,” she said, “I find myself wondering that if I had only been stronger, if I had just fought harder, would I have been able to stop myself? Perhaps no one is ever completely free from blame, but so are none of us undeserving of forgiveness, even if it comes long after we have died.”

 

***

 

A beach near Los Angeles

 

Stephanie Boggs supposed there were worse places to haunt than a high school library. Over the last twenty-one years, she had read almost every single book on the shelves and been able to surf the web as much as she liked, especially after Amir had figured out how to disable the school’s filter.

But Halloween could still never arrive fast enough. This was especially true now that the other victims she had spent every hour trapped with for the last two decades, were gone. Which is how she found herself sitting on a beach, alone, save for the boy who had killed her.

Chloe had been the first to move on. It had been 2012, the year after they had finally found and confronted Tate about what he had done to them. They had gathered outside his house, somehow unable to pass through an unseen barrier that surrounded the brick walls, and waited to see if he would appear. Stephanie doubted he would, not with the way he had run from them the year before. But he did.

He was alone, which didn’t surprise Stephanie. She had seen his girlfriend wander around the library, looking gaunt and confused, a few days after they had taunted her for her choice in sweethearts. Stephanie always felt a little guilty for the way she had treated her. Not only had the poor girl not known, but apparently the shock of it had caused her to kill herself.

But being alone was not the only thing different about Tate that year. He didn’t run, he just walked through the front gates and stopped in front of them. Blood seeped from his chest, soaking the front of his shirt dark crimson. Anyone passing by would have thought he fit right in with the rest of them, costumed in gore for Halloween, but Stephanie thought it was a cheap attempt at garnering sympathy.

He didn’t say much that night after admitting to shooting and killing each one of them and offering an apology that they barely understood through his incoherent blubbering. The rest of the night he spent listening, silent except for his constant snivelling.

It was pathetic, Stephanie thought, especially when he still refused to answer why he had done it. But Chloe had apparently been convinced.

As the first glow of dawn began to appear, she pulled Tate away so they were out of earshot of the rest of the group. Stephanie still didn’t know what she said to him, but when Chloe walked back to them, leaving Tate to wander back to his house alone, the wound on her chest was gone.

“I’m going with her,” Chloe had said, nodding her head toward nothing in particular. “Are you coming?”

“Who?” Kyle asked, looking in the direction Chloe had indicated.

“You don’t see her?” Chloe asked. She paused, staring into the empty distance. “She says you aren’t ready yet. But you will be.”

“What are you talking about?” Kyle grabbed Chloe’s arm and pulled her close to him. “We have to go back to the library.”

“Not this time,” she said, smiling sadly. “We can’t stay there forever. Eventually, we have to let go.”

“You forgave him?” Stephanie asked incredulously as she realized what Chloe must have told Tate. “How could you? After what he did to us?”

“It’s not about him,” Chloe said. She pulled Stephanie into a hug. “I’ll see you soon.” Stephanie shrugged her off, disheartened by her betrayal.

Chloe said goodbye to Amir and Kevin, gave Kyle a lingering kiss, and then walked away. Her peers watched as she stopped, closed her eyes, and dissolved into the rosy sunrise.

Kyle did not take Chloe’s disappearance well and chose to take it out on Tate the next year.

“Where is she?” Kyle yelled at Tate as soon as he appeared. Kyle grabbed him by the collar of his wrinkled plaid shirt and shook him. “Where did she go?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Tate protested as he tried to get away.

“Don’t fucking lie,” Kyle said. “That’s all you do. You tricked her, I know you did.” He punched Tate in the face, sending him sprawling to the ground.

“Woah,” Kevin said, putting his hands against Kyle’s shoulders to stop him. “Calm down man, it wasn’t him. She just moved on, like she said.”

“Yeah?” Kyle said. “Then why am I still here? Huh? Why are we all still stuck here with this asshole?” He pushed Kevin off him and knelt down next to Tate. “What did she say to you?”

“That’s personal,” Tate said.

“Personal my ass,” Kyle said, “she was my friend. I deserve to know.” He shoved Tate back down as he was trying to get back up.

“All she said was that she didn’t hate me anymore,” Tate said. “I don’t know why. But I didn’t do anything to her. I know as much as you do.”

“So that’s it, huh?” Kyle said. “That’s the great secret? We just have to forgive you and then we, what? Get to go to heaven?”

“Well, that’s not gonna happen,” Stephanie said, folding her arms. She couldn’t imagine not hating Tate with every fiber of her non-being. How could she forgive the person who stole everything she had, and everything she could have had?

“Fine,” Kyle said. “I’ll forgive you. Just tell me why you did it.” Tate looked up at him, his face screwed up in pain. For a breathless moment, Stephanie thought he was actually going to say, but he looked away, defeated. “You’re a coward,” Kyle said.

They left Tate wheezing in the middle of the street. The rest of the night was spent wandering around the neighborhood, looking in the windows of the houses where they used to live.

Kyle was quiet the rest of the evening and walked behind the rest of them. In the early hours of the morning, he suddenly stopped walking. It took Kevin, Amir and Stephanie several paces before they realized he wasn’t following them.

“You ok?” Stephanie asked as they walked back to him.

“I miss her,” Kyle said. “Not just her. I miss my family. My dad died this year, ya know. I saw his obituary on Facebook.”

Amir put a comforting hand on Kyle’s shoulder and nodded.

“Maybe she was right,” Kyle said. “What’s the point of staying here?”

“What do you mean?” Stephanie asked. ‘What about Tate? He needs to pay for what he did to us.”

“How?” Kyle asked. “He’s already dead.”

“By making his afterlife a living hell, that’s how,” Stephanie said.

“Nah, man,” Kyle said, shaking his head. “I’m done. I’m done with him and I am done reliving the shit we went through over and over.”

“Well bully for you,” Stephanie said, throwing up her hands and walking away.

Kyle must have found Tate, because he was never seen in the library again.

“You could hide out in your house, ya know,” Kevin told Tate the next year. “Why do you keep showing up every year? What is it? Penance?”

“Yeah,” Tate said. “That and…” He shrugged, looking embarrassed. “There aren’t that many people who want to talk to me.”

Stephanie scoffed and rolled her eyes. But by the end of the night, Kevin and Amir were gone.

She thought about not showing up outside Tate’s house the next year. If it was just company he wanted, let him wander around alone. But then she realized he would probably think that she, too, had forgiven him and moved on, which was something she couldn’t allow. Reluctantly, she accepted that the two of them were linked, forever. He had made sure of that when he killed her. She would never be able to get away from him.

If she had been honest with herself, she would have realized that she was lonely, too. She would have shown herself to some of the current Westfield students for the sake of conversation if it weren’t for the mess of blood and brains plastered to the side of her head. So she stuck to reading and scrolling through social media sites.

“I found your fangirls,” Stephanie told Tate as they sat on the beach together. It was nearing the evening and the sun was just touching the ocean. They had spent most of the day in silence. Tate looked up from the pattern he had been drawing in the sand.

“What fangirls?” he asked.

“You seriously don’t know?” she asked. He shook his head and lifted his eyebrows, prompting her to explain. “There are dozens of Tumblr blogs devoted to you.”

“What’s a tumbler?”

“It’s a website,” she said. “All these girls, they love you. They think you’re cute and that you were, I don’t know, misunderstood or something. It made me sick.”

He gaped at her, speechless at this revelation. Well, that was something, she thought.

“So that’s not why you did it?” she asked. “It wasn’t to get your name in the news? Make sure everyone remembered who you were, forever?”

“No,” Tate said, his dark eyes full of a defiance she hadn’t seen since their first Halloween together. “That’s fucked up.” He looked away and continued his pattern in the sand.

“Then why did you do it?” she asked. The stick he was drawing with snapped in his hand from a sudden harsh movement. He stared at it for a second before throwing the pieces as hard as he could toward the waves.

“I don’t know,” he said, as he had so many times before. But this time he wasn’t crying. He turned to her and looked her right in her eyes. His voice was steady but had an undercurrent of desperation. “Why does it matter so much to you? What difference does it make? You think, what? That if I had a good enough reason you would be able to forgive me? That suddenly being dead wouldn’t be so fucking terrible? What could I possibly say that could make up for the fact that I looked you in the eyes and shot you in the head?”

He scrambled to his feet and walked away from her before she had a chance to respond. He stopped right at the edge of the water, turning his head to spit blood onto the sand.

As the shock from his outburst faded, Stephanie realized he was right. It didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because what he had done had nothing to do with her. She hadn’t done anything to deserve what he did, and her soul, her consciousness or whatever it was called, hadn’t ended with him pulling the trigger. In that moment, she felt finally separated from him and what he had done.

Was that forgiveness? She supposed it was close enough. Chloe was right, it wasn’t about him. Maybe he would have to live with what he had done for eternity, but she didn’t.

But there was something else that was keeping her there. It was fear, she realized, fear of what waited for her on the other side. She hadn’t been an angel when she was alive. What if she ended up somewhere worse? Or what if there was nothing at all? There was only one person around to ask, so she got up and walked to Tate’s side.

“Do you believe in God?” she asked. She didn’t mean it as a reference to the question he had asked her before he killed her, but he seemed to take it that way. He turned to her, looking wounded. “I mean, do you believe in heaven?”

“I want to,” he said. “I’d like to think there’s someplace better. Not that I’ll ever get to see it. But maybe that’s where the others are.”

“Maybe,” Stephanie said. “I think I am about to find out.” Tate’s forehead creased and he reached up to touch the side of her head. Her hand followed his, gently brushing where her wound used to be, but all she felt was hair and smooth skin that held no trace of a scar.

A figure walking along the shore behind Tate pulled her attention away. It was a woman dressed all in black with a veil covering the top half of her face. Stephanie thought her outfit was strange for the beach, as was the way she didn’t struggle walking over the sand in her heels.

“Do you see her?” Stephanie asked, looking past Tate’s head.

“Who?” Tate asked, turning. That was all Stephanie needed to know. The woman stopped when she was standing side by side with Tate.

“Are you finally ready?” the woman asked Stephanie. Her voice was sweet and her eyes were sad, but kind.

“I’m scared,” Stephanie admitted.

“Of what?” Tate said as he tried to see what she was looking at. “What is it?”

“Don’t be afraid,” the woman said. “You deserve some rest. Come with me.”

“What about him?” Stephanie asked. She wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t want to leave Tate there alone. Maybe she really had forgiven him.

“I wish I could take him too,” she said. “But the force that keeps him bound to this world is far more powerful than I. His time will come. Or maybe it came decades ago. Time is funny that way.” She smiled and held out her hand.

“Goodbye Tate,” Stephanie said, taking the woman’s hand.

“Wait…” Stephanie heard Tate say. But it was too late. The woman pulled Stephanie close and gave her a gentle kiss.

 

***

 

Streets of Los Angeles

 

Vivien took her time walking back from the church. There was no need to pay attention to where she was going. The house pulled her forward like a magnet, guiding each step and turn she took. Jeffrey slept soundly in his stroller. At least one of them could sleep, she thought to herself, though it made her sad thinking about how he would never grow old enough to appreciate being able to see the outside world on Halloween.

It was late and most of the trick-or-treaters had gone home save for a few groups of rowdy teens. Vivien watched them, thinking about how Violet had grown out of trick-or-treating at a particularly young age. She had preferred to stay home and watch horror movies snuggled between her mom and dad. Vivien hoped her daughter was finding some sort of solace with whatever she was doing that night. They all needed it.

“Tate,” Vivien called out when she spotted him as he turned a corner just ahead of her. He spun around, startled, but relaxed a little when he saw her. “You aren’t going back already, are you?”

“I’m tired,” he said. He looked more than tired. His eyes were hollow and his face more drawn than usual. The front of his t-shirt was stained with what looked like dried blood. He caught Vivien staring at it and quickly buttoned the flannel he was wearing to cover it.

“I’m glad I ran into you,” Vivien said. “There’s something I need to talk to you about.” A drop of rain splashed against her forehead.

“Is it about Michael?” Tate asked, fiddling with his last button to avoid looking at her.

“It is,” Vivien said. “And it’s something I would prefer to tell you outside of the house. We still have a few hours left until dawn. If I remember right, there’s a Norms around here somewhere.” It had begun to drizzle and thunder rolled in the distance. Tate nodded and followed after Vivien as she walked quickly to get out of the rain.

“I thought it was supposed to be clear tonight,” the waitress at Norms greeted them as they walked in, dripping. “Weathermen never know what they are talking about.” She led the three ghosts to a booth by a window where they could see lightning flash and the rain strengthening to a downpour. “Anything to drink?”

“Coffee, thank you,” Vivien said. “Tate?” He appeared to be distracted by the storm outside.

“What?” he said. “Oh, uh, coffee’s fine, thanks.” The waitress left and Tate pushed aside his menu.

“You should eat something,” Vivien said, noting how thin and pale he looked.

“Why?” Tate asked, lifting an eyebrow.

“I guess you’re right,” Vivien said. “I suppose coffee will be wasted on us too.”

“Patrick used to keep stockpiles of energy drinks,” Tate said. “This one time, I drank like, twenty of them to see if I could feel anything.”

“Did you?” Vivien asked.

“Nope,” Tate said.

“Well,” Vivien said, “I am going to get something anyway. I am thinking strawberry waffles. So you should order something so I don’t feel awkward.” Tate flipped open his menu. When the waitress returned with their coffee, Vivien ordered her waffles and Tate ordered a habanero jalapeno bacon cheeseburger.

“It won’t kill me,” Tate said in response to Vivien’s look of disgust. “Besides, the spicier it is, the more likely I will be able to trick myself into thinking I can taste it.” Vivien laughed lightly before leaning over Jeffrey’s stroller to make sure he was still asleep.

“Why are you nice to me?” Tate asked as she sat back up. He was tapping his spoon anxiously against the table.

“Because...” Vivien started, taken aback at the question. “Because despite what anyone else may say, I don’t think you’re a bad kid. I don’t see anyone else in that house trying to atone for the things they’ve done. And...” she took a deep breath and wrapped her hands around her coffee cup to prepare herself for all of the information she was about to lay on the already exhausted looking boy across from her. “After what I learned tonight, I can honestly say that I forgive you. For everything.”

Tate stopped tapping his spoon and frowned at her. “What did you learn?”

She told him everything about her encounter with Mary Eunice, racking her memory for every detail. He deserved to know the extent of what had been done to him.

Neither of them were able to eat their food when it arrived, though Tate did absentmindedly rearrange the fries on his plate.

“I don’t think I want to know any more,” he cut her off at one point.

“I know,” Vivien said, “I’m scared too, but…”

“It’s not that,” Tate said. “It’s just...if Michael really is the Antichrist, then what does that make me?”

“I asked the same question,” Vivien said. “But it doesn’t mean anything. The only thing singular about us is that we lived in that house. We were just tools, Tate. Vessels.”

As she said it, she realized she had moved past being shocked or afraid. She was angry. It felt somehow baffling to be angry at the devil himself, but she was. They were like his toys, dolls in a infernal dollhouse. To have been used as a puppet when all she had ever tried to do was fix her broken marriage made her feel weak and powerless. She hated feeling that way, so she decided to be angry instead.

“So what do we do now?” Tate asked.

“We have to kill him.”

Tate’s eyes widened for a moment before he shook his head. “I can’t,” he said fretfully. “I’m sorry, Vivien, but I can’t.”

“I know,” she said, reaching her hand across the table to cover his. “I’m not asking you to.”

Tate turned away from her to look out the window. Vivien followed his gaze when he suddenly sat up straight and squinted. “Violet?”

“Oh my god,” Vivien gasped.

Violet was standing underneath a streetlamp, staring in at both of them. Her hair was sopping wet, as was the white dress and costume angel wings she wore. But it wasn’t just rain.

She was dripping, from head to toe, with blood.



Chapter Text

In the land of gods and monsters

I was an angel

Living in the garden of evil

Screwed up, scared, doing anything that I needed…

 

Or

 

Halloween, part 2

 

October 31, 2015

 

The Hotel Cortez

 

Violet leaned over the railing of the mezzanine in the Hotel Cortez lobby, ashes falling from her cigarette. She was wearing a white dress and angel wings as she watched, disinterested, the crowd of people below her dancing to pop songs she didn’t know. It was not how she had expected to spend her Halloween.

She had impatiently counted down the days all year, but when Halloween finally arrived, she found herself at a loss for what to do with her twenty-four hours of freedom. She had assumed she would spend it with her family as she had the previous three years. That is, until Michael showed up.

Everything had fallen apart so fast, Violet thought to herself as she took a drag. All her parents seemed to do was fight, if they weren’t too busy ignoring each other. Her mom would tell her dad over and over again that Michael was pure evil and that he wouldn’t change. Her dad would insist he could. Then her mom would end the argument by claiming he was using Michael as a replacement for never having a son that could grow up. Which, Violet thought, was completely hypocritical, seeing as her mom seemed to be doing the exact same thing with Tate.

Even after her dad had given up on Michael, the fighting and icy silences continued.

Violet couldn’t decide how she felt about any of it except that it was all fucked up beyond repair. Her alliance was neither with her dad or her mom. Michael freaked her out. But he was Tate’s son, so she didn’t know why anyone expected him to be anything other than a monster.

All she was really sure of was how tired she was of being ignored. Pretending that it didn’t bother her by hiding in corners, chain smoking as many cigarettes as she could convince Billie Dean to buy her, did little to erase the hurt she felt by how rarely her parents checked in on her. Of course, the option to confront her parents directly was always there, but the stubbornness and pride she had been born with hadn’t worn off in death.

Tate was the only person who didn’t ignore her. Often she told herself that she wished he would, but that wasn’t entirely true. The rules of his banishment seemed to constantly waver depending on what exactly it was she wanted. For the majority of the time, he couldn’t speak to her and she couldn’t see him. On rare occasions she could feel him hovering outside of the room she was in, watching her. But those times, she had to admit, were when she was at her loneliest. It was like he could sense it.

And then there were the nights when she would lie on her bed in a half slumber, thinking about how Michael could burn a soul to nothing, and would be plagued by phantom flames. Her feet would begin to burn, then the sensation would travel up her body until a scream forced its way from her lips.

Tate was always the first person to appear in her room, the supernatural rules that kept him away completely brushed aside by her fear.

“What is it?” he had asked the first time. “What’s wrong?”

“It burns,” Violet cried. “He’s burning me.” She frantically scooted up her bed, away from the imaginary fire.

“Violet, you’re dreaming,” Tate said, his hands gently smoothing her hair. “You’re ok, you’re safe. I won’t let him hurt you.”

By the time Violet was lucid enough to be aware that she was not in any immediate danger, he would be gone, replaced by her mom and dad who would finally arrive and comfort her until she could convince them she was ok.

She wanted to be away from all of it, the house, her parents, Tate, and, more than anyone else, Michael. She wanted to remember what it was like to be a normal girl, one who didn’t have to worry about her psychopathic ex-boyfriend or her very existence being reduced to ashes. Which is how she ended up at the Hotel Cortez.

It had taken hours of persuasion from Maria for Violet to agree to tag along with Gladys, Elizabeth and, worst of all, Hayden, for the day. Maria had promised that they would do normal girl things, which Violet had assumed meant pumpkin spice lattes and massive amounts of Halloween candy. Instead, Hayden led them on a shoplifting spree where they used their ghostly abilities to steal slutty Halloween costumes from fancy boutiques to wear to a party in downtown LA.

Apparently the hotel had recently been bought by some fashion designer who decided to throw a party filled with B-list celebrities as publicity. To her surprise, Violet found herself drawn to the ornate art deco lobby. It had a sort of eerie quality that made her feel as if she had traveled back in time. It was a shame that it was currently filled with factitious people wearing tacky costumes.

Her costume may not have been tacky, but she regretted wearing it. She was supposed to be Juliet as performed by Claire Danes in one of her favorite movies. But all she could think of was the night she and Tate had read Romeo and Juliet out loud to each other.

“Did it hurt when you fell from heaven?” A guy appeared at her elbow and leaned casually against the railing.

“Clever,” Violet said. “Did you think up that one yourself?” It was ever so slightly more clever when she remembered the wings strapped to her back. He was dressed as a non-descript pirate, his white shirt intentionally too tight to show off his pecs and abs. His red hair and dark eyes were vaguely familiar to Violet, but she couldn’t quite place how she knew him.

“I’ve got better,” he said. “Want me to try again?”

“That’s ok,” Violet said, turning away from him to resume her people watching.

“You’re not a fan of dancing?” he asked. She shrugged.

“Not really.”

“Maybe you just haven’t found the right partner.”

“You think that’s you?” she asked, turning back to him. He was older than her, by ten years at least, though he probably figured she was at least 21 since IDs were checked at the door. Not that she had needed to use the door. “Do I know you from somewhere?” She immediately wished she had kept her mouth shut when he flashed her a puffed-up smile.

“Maybe,” he said smugly. He turned so that his back was against the railing, his arms stretched out. “You ever watch My Roanoke Nightmare?”

Violet had binge-watched all five episodes on one of the rare nights when the house had Wi-Fi. She squinted at him for a moment before realizing who he was.

“Oh yeah,” she said cooly. “You played that prissy ghost guy. I didn’t recognize you without the wig.” Of course the one actor she talked to that night would be most notable for playing a damn ghost.

“Prissy?” he said, clearly unflattered by the description.

“What was your name?” she asked.

“Rory Monahan,” he said. “Yours?”

“Violet,” she said.

“So what do you do, Violet?” he asked her, sliding closer

Professional haunter, anti-real estate agent, she thought to herself.

“I’m sort of in-between occupations at the moment,” she said out loud.

“Ever considered acting? I could get you an audition. Don’t tell anyone, but I hear rumours of Roanoke season 2.”

“I don’t think I’d be very believable as a ghost,” she said. She couldn’t believe he was playing out this whole routine. Too bad he wasn’t trying it out on Hayden, her whole purpose in going to this stupid party was to get laid. Rory wasn’t unattractive, in fact if Violet ignored his swagger, he was actually really cute with his dark eyes and dimples.

Maybe Hayden had it right. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to give in for one night and pretend she was someone else. She was dead, wasn’t she? What did laws and morals have to do with her?

“We should dance,” Violet said, reaching over to a table to stick her cigarette in an ashtray.

“Yeah?” Rory said, surprised.

“I like this song” she said as the music changed to something slower. She thought it might have been Lana Del Rey.

“Ok, you wanna go downstairs?” he asked.

“No,” she said, putting her arms around his neck. “Right here. Dance with me.” He

smiled and slipped his arms around her waist, pulling her in close. She had never slow danced with a guy before and didn’t really know what to do besides sway along with him. After a few moments of staring up into his eyes, she grew bold and put her head against his chest.

It was nice, she thought. Rory was warm and she liked the way his large hands rested on her hips. She closed her eyes, listening to his heart beat in the way Tate’s never had. At least, not since she had known him.

But as hard as she tried to enjoy being held by someone who was solid and real and alive, all it did was remind her that she wasn’t. She thought about kissing him, maybe even asking if he had rented a room in the hotel. Sex and murder seemed to be the only things that made the other ghosts feel anything. Obviously Violet wasn’t going to murder anyone. As for sex…

No, Violet thought. That wasn’t her. There had only ever been one boy she had ever cared enough about to sleep with. Besides, even if she could force Tate out of her mind long enough to enjoy being with Rory, it wouldn’t last. When the sun rose, she would be back, imprisoned in her house for another year.

She was not a normal girl and there was no use pretending otherwise. Tate was the only person who had ever seemed to not only understand, but appreciate that about her. Especially now that she was dead, he was the only one she could ever see herself being with.

Maybe her mom was right about him, Violet thought. She wanted it so badly, not a day went by that she didn’t wish her mom’s theories were true. Most of the time it felt like an impossible fantasy, but that night, she started to wonder.

Suddenly, all Violet wanted was to find Tate. She wasn’t sure what would happen when she did, if she would forgive him or uphold her resolution to not speak to him, but she couldn’t stay in the Cortez another minute.

“Thanks,” Violet said as the song ended and she pulled away from Rory.

“Can I get you a drink?” he asked. She considered saying yes so she could slip away without having to explain herself, but she hated being lied to so she decided to be straight with him.

“I’m gonna go, actually,” she said.

“Seriously?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow. “We were just getting to know each other.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I sorta have somewhere else to be. But it was nice meeting you. I’ll look out for Roanoke season 2.”

“Maybe I’ll see you around?” he asked, looking put out.

“Who knows,” she said. “Maybe next year. I only come out on Halloween.”

“You’re kinda weird,” Rory said with a smile. “I dig it.” Violet returned his smile before seeing Hayden out of the corner of her eye near the elevator.

“Hayden,” Violet called out, but the other girl didn’t hear. Violet yelled her name louder as she ran over to her. Hayden pulled away from the guy she was sucking face with.

“Ugh, what?” Hayden snapped.

“I’m leaving,” Violet said.

“Fine,” Hayden said, pulling the guy into the elevator as the doors opened.

“Will you tell Maria?” Violet tried yelling but the doors closed before Hayden had a chance to respond.

Violet returned to the edge of the balcony to try and spot Maria in the crowd below.

“Tragic for one so beautiful to die so young,” a voice said behind her. Violet spun around to see a woman standing close by.

“Who are you?” Violet asked. “How did you know?”

“I’m the Countess,” the woman said. “And I suppose you could say I am not quite human myself, which makes me more attuned to the spirit world. I like your costume. It suits you. An angel who can’t reach heaven.” She reached out and let a strand of Violet’s hair slide between her fingers.

“What are you supposed to be?” Violet asked as her eyes swept over the Countess’ nearly naked body. Besides a sheer black gown, the only thing that covered her breasts and pelvis was a bejeweled black snake, the head of which rested on her shoulder. Her white blonde hair was twisted up into two horns and her face was done up with heavy green eyeshadow and lipstick.

“Lilith,” the Countess said. “The first woman, a goddess. Or she should have been. Tell me, where do you come from? You’re not one of ours. They are all on the loose for Halloween. What unfortunate place do you haunt?”

“Just a house, not far from here,” Violet said, trying to keep her tone conversational.

“Ah,” the Countess moved closer to her. “Not the house Charles Montgomery built?”

“That’s the one.” Violet said. She wondered how many people knew of her house’s supernatural occupants.

“Fascinating.” The Countess leaned in uncomfortably close to Violet and inhaled deeply. “Of course. I smell him on you. He may have died long ago but I never forget a scent.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I saw what he did. All those children he killed. Such a tragedy.” Violet could swear she saw tears in the woman’s eyes. “I tried to save him, but it couldn’t be helped. Tell me.” She put her mouth right next to Violet’s ear and whispered. “What was it like?”

“What was what like?” Violet said, trying to inch away.

“Making love to the devil?”

With the way her stomach lurched, Violet could have sworn the railing behind her had disappeared and that she was falling in slow motion. The Countess stepped back, her lips twisted in a provocative smirk. Violet took her chance and bolted. She didn’t bother apologizing as she pushed past other guests on her way down the stairs.

With a sort of feverish wildness, she fought her way through the dancing crowd, desperate to get to the door. The lobby felt endless and for one hysterical moment, Violet thought she somehow had become trapped in the hotel. Finally, she broke free and ran into the street. Rain dashed against her face and she gasped from the chill. It hadn’t been raining when she had first arrived at the party. The night had been warm and the skies clear.

But she was too grateful for the air on her face to care much. In fact, she relished the way the droplets smacked against her skin. After taking a few deep breaths she looked around to see a few people eyeing her curiously as they hurried to get out of the rain.

Violet was in no hurry. She began walking down the street, her arms wrapped around herself. For a while she focused on walking in the opposite direction of the house, turning against her gut instinct at every intersection. But she soon gave up as she became lost in her own thoughts.

She wanted to brush off the Countess’ question as the raving of a lunatic. But Violet knew she had been talking about Tate. She hadn’t been the first to call him the devil, Violet remembered, thinking of Leah. What did that even mean?

Not that anything about Tate made any sense. Violet’s feelings for him had been chaotic ever since the day she first saw his reflection in her bathroom mirror. She once thought she had been in love with him, but now she wasn’t so sure. He had lied to her so many times, it was impossible to know if she had really known him at all. It was like being in love with someone who had never existed.

Her desire to find him had been washed away with the rain, replaced by guilt for ever wanting him at all. Violet often blamed herself for the things that had happened to her family. She had ignored all the warning signs about Tate, selfishly shoving it all aside because of her loneliness and the way he made her feel. If only she had told her parents as soon as she found out who Tate was and the horrible things he had done when he was living, maybe they would still be alive. She couldn’t make the same mistake again.

There were too many questions she would never know the answers to. Did he really not remember murdering fifteen kids? Had he really tried to save her life or had it been a trick? The Halloween night they had spent together haunted her the most. What was the real reason he hadn’t wanted to have sex with her? And if he had, would she have been the one to give birth to Michael?

The last thought made her feel instantly nauseous. She stopped walking and tilted her head up, letting the rain cool her face. As soon as she opened her eyes again, she saw her mom through a rain spotted window, sitting across from Tate.

Vivien seemed to be telling Tate something important. His eyes remained down and his back was hunched over a plate of uneaten food. Violet remained glued to the spot, unsure of whether she wanted to know the topic of conversation.

The rain felt strange as it fell against her bare shoulders. It slid down her back slowly, like sap. Her vision became blurred as it fell thick on her eyelashes and a metallic scent filled her nostrils.

It wasn’t until Tate turned toward her, his eyes narrowed and then widened in shock, that she looked down to see blood slithering down her arms. She suppressed a scream and tried to make herself run for cover, but her legs felt paralyzed.

“Violet,” Tate was suddenly by her side. She stared at him as his blonde hair became dark.

“Tate?” she said, her voice trembling. “What’s happening?”

“C’mon,” he pulled her underneath the awning of the restaurant he had run out of and tore off his flannel to put around her. But it, too, was now soaked red. She pulled it close anyway as she looked at the chaos around her. Blood pelted the cars in the parking lot and the living around them screamed, running for cover wherever they could.

Vivien joined them outside, holding Jeffrey close against her. Even though Violet knew there was nothing her mom could do to to stop whatever was happening, she felt a little calmer with her nearby.

“It’s Michael,” Vivien said. “We have to get back to the house.”

The words worked like a spell and all four spirits found themselves standing in the dining room of the murder house.

At first Violet was just relieved to be out of the downpour of blood. She pushed her hair out of her eyes and shook off Tate’s shirt. But her relief was short lived as she turned around to see the still body of a girl laid out on the table.

“Oh no,” Vivien whispered.

“Is she…?” Violet asked. She knew it was a dumb question. The girl’s white dress was covered in blood.

“Yeah,” Tate said. “She’s dead.”

Suddenly the girl let out a terrified scream and for a moment Violet thought Tate was somehow miraculously wrong until she realized the girl’s spirit had separated from her body.

“Hey, hey,” Tate said, springing forward to help the girl as she sat up. “It’s ok. You’re ok.” The girl tried looking around her but Tate firmly held her shoulders with both hands. “Just look at me, ok?”

The memory of Tate helping her out of the bathtub after she died played vividly in Violet’s mind as she watched him. He had been so careful to make sure she wouldn’t turn around so that she wouldn’t notice the corpse she left behind, just as he was doing with the girl now.

“Where are they?” the girl asked hysterically. “The people in the robes?”

“They’re gone,” Vivien said. Violet wasn’t so sure. They could still be there, she thought. But she supposed whoever they were couldn’t hurt the girl now. “You’re safe now.”

“My heart,” the girl sobbed. She tried to touch the wound in her sternum but Tate stopped her and held both her hands in his. “They took my heart. He...he…”

“It doesn’t matter now,” Tate said. “It’s over.”

“No,” the girl yelled, “you don’t understand. He ate my heart. I saw him.”

Violet couldn’t bear to hear any more. She stumbled backward before bolting from the room. It was too much. There was too much blood, too much pain. And there was no escape.

She ran outside, but stopped on the porch. The sky was still bleeding torrents. Even on Halloween she was trapped in her own personal hell. There was only one way out and Violet knew what she had to do.

Tate and Vivien’s voices floated from the dining room into the foyer as Violet stepped back inside. They were asking the girl what her name was and continuing to lie to her that everything was going to be ok.

Everything’s going to be ok, Tate had told Violet once. I love you. He had said it as if that was all she would ever need. As if the fact that he loved her would magically solve everything. But it didn’t. Somehow it made everything worse.

As she walked slowly up the stairs, Violet’s heart beat hard and fast. Except it didn’t. It was a phantom heart sending echoes of blood through imaginary veins. She wasn’t really there at all. She was merely a shadow, but a shadow that still felt agonizing pain and endless grief.

Michael’s door was partially opened when she approached. Why could she feel her legs turn to liquid and her fingertips go numb if she didn’t even have a body?

It would all be over soon, she told herself as she pushed the door open. Soon she wouldn’t feel anything at all. That was what she wanted, wasn’t it?

Her half-brother was asleep, his back turned to her. All she had to do was wake him up. Would he destroy her if she asked, or would she need to threaten him somehow? But what could she do that could possibly make him feel threatened by her?

She walked closer to the bed, her hand reaching out to shake him awake, when she felt an arm wrap around her waist and a hand clamp firmly over her mouth. Whoever it was dragged her backwards into the hall as she tried to protest.

“What are you doing?” Tate hissed into her ear, trying to keep his voice down. Violet bit down on his hand. He yelped and pulled it away.

“Let go of me,” Violet cried as she attempted to writhe away. But he held fast, his arms pinning hers to her sides. “Go away, Tate!”

For a moment, she thought she felt his grasp loosen, only for him to hold her tighter the next. “Go away!” she tried again before giving up and letting the tears she had kept back flow freely. Her legs gave way beneath her and she collapsed.

Tate sank to the ground with her. He didn’t say anything or attempt to comfort her with kisses as he had the first time he tried to save her from killing herself. The passing thought that she wished he would made her all the more desperate to get away from him.

“I don’t want to be here anymore,” Violet sobbed.

“Violet,” Tate said, his voice breaking, “please, don’t do this. I’ll stay away from you. I’ll do whatever you want, I promise. Just please don’t-”

“Hello?” Michael had walked out of his room and was looking down the hall toward Violet and Tate. Violet closed her eyes, wishing herself invisible and quieted herself with a shuddering breath. “Is anyone there?” Michael asked. Violet felt Tate’s chest relax in response to her continued silence. When Michael went back into his room, closing the door behind him, Tate unwrapped himself and moved away.

Violet shuddered, feeling suddenly cold and exposed without Tate around her. She looked over her shoulder to see him still there, watching her with enormous, wet eyes. He was waiting for her to tell him what to do.

Stay with me , she wanted to say.

“I’m sorry,” he finally whispered to her. He could say it a thousand times over but she didn’t know how she could ever believe it.

“Prove it,” she said. His lips parted as if he wanted to say something. When he just continued to stare at her helplessly, she managed to get shakily to her feet and walk into her bedroom.

The shower she took was cold since no one was currently paying for hot water. At one point she thought she heard a scream and a thud. She turned the faucet off, but when she heard nothing else, she turned it back on. She stood under the water for nearly an hour until she was certain the last drop of blood had gone down the drain.

When she was finished, she dressed in her pajamas and curled up on her bed. It all felt too familiar. She felt just as drained as the night she had swallowed a bottle of pills.

Violet’s door creaked open but she didn’t look. She wouldn’t let Tate crawl into bed next to her. Not this time.

Whoever had entered the room walked slowly toward her until they were standing right over her. She turned, ready to tell Tate to go away, when her eyes locked with Michael’s.

Violet almost screamed as she frantically moved away from him, but Michael pressed a hand against her mouth, pinning her to her headboard.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said earnestly. “I want to help you.” Violet scowled but didn’t try to pull away or make a sound. Michael sat next to her on the bed, his hand gently but firmly in place.

“I heard you come into my room,” he said. “I know what it is you want and I can give it to you.” He shook his head when Violet’s eyes widened in fear. “Not like that. I can give you what you really want. Freedom.”

The word was enough to keep Violet from screaming as he cautiously removed his hand.

“How?” Violet asked. “I can only leave the house on Halloween.”

“Not if I brought you back to life,” Michael said. He gave her a boyish grin, as if he was immensely proud.

“You can do that?” Violet said breathlessly, barely daring to believe it was true.

“I can. My father showed me how.”

“Your father? You mean Tate?” Michael didn’t answer but his smile grew larger until it was almost manic. “Why would you help me?” Violet asked. She had never spoken a word to him before. His smile wilted, replaced by a desperate sort of look.

“You’re all I have,” Michael said. “You’re the only family I have left. The only one who hasn’t rejected me.”

Michael’s blue eyes began to fill with tears. He was so much like Tate, Violet thought. Too much. It scared her.

A movement behind Michael drew her gaze away. Tate was standing in the doorway. He had changed his clothes and was wearing the green striped sweater he had been wearing the day they met.

Do something, Violet wanted to scream at him. Say something. Anything. But he just stood there silently, waiting.

“Please, Violet,” Michael said. “Come with me. You won’t regret it. I understand so many things now. My father, he has wonderful things planned for me.” Violet’s eyes flicked away from Tate and back to him. What did he mean, his father?

“You’re not ready yet,” Michael said before Violet had a chance to respond. “You still want to stay here, with your family. I understand. But you will be. Someday, you will want to go with me. I’ll come back for you. I promise.” He pressed a kiss against Violet’s forehead which sent a shiver through her whole being.

Violet watched in a state of shock as Michael slipped out the door and past Tate who could apparently only be seen by her.

“Why didn’t you go with him?” Tate asked. His voice was hoarse and his shoulders slumped with exhaustion.

“Why didn’t you try to stop me?” Violet responded.

“Because I love you,” he said. Violet frowned in confusion. How did that make any sense? Not that her reasons for staying made any sense either. Her family, yes, but there was something else. A tiny hope she didn’t quite understand. It was as if there was something she knew in her heart but couldn’t see.

“I’m tired,” Violet said.

“Me too,” Tate said.

Violet kept her promise to herself and laid down alone, pulling her covers tight around her. A few minutes later, Vivien walked in with Jeffrey and sat on the edge of the bed.

“Did Tate tell you about Michael?” Violet asked.

“He did,” Vivien said. “But he shouldn’t have had to. I’m so sorry Violet. I have been so worried about Michael that I’ve been blind to who really needed my help.” She stroked Violet’s hair. “I promise to be better. I’m here for you. Always.”

“It’s ok,” Violet said. “Michael was kind of a lot to handle.”

“He’s gone now,” Vivien said. “I don’t think he will be coming back.”

But he promised, Violet thought. She could only hope it was a promise he would break.

“Is that girl ok?” Violet asked. “I mean, did she calm down?”

“She’ll be alright,” Vivien said. “Or as alright as we are. Her name is Casey, she seems nice.”

“Can you stay with me?” Violet asked. “At least until the others get back?”

“Of course,” Vivien said. “Make room.” Violet moved to the edge of the bed so her mom could lie down next to her, Jeffrey between them.

Vivien had left the bedroom door open so that Violet could see out into the hall. It felt weird to have the house be so empty with all the other ghosts still wandering the earth. Except for one. Violet could see his jeans and chucks as he sat on the floor next to the door. Strangely, she didn’t seem to mind.

 

Chapter Text

2020 - The Murder House

 

There's got to be a morning after

If we can hold on through the night

We have a chance to find the sunshine

Let's keep on looking for the light...

 

The front door of 1119 Westchester Place swung open to welcome its son home. Michael Langdon strode in like a king, dressed in a burgundy velvet suit with a black cape draped around his shoulders.

“Welcome home,” Michael drawled to his companions, a young man and woman who were dressed in gray and carrying several pieces of luggage apiece.

“I thought we were going to an outpost,” the young woman said. “What are we doing here?”

“Believe me,” Michael said. “This is the safest place on earth.” He held up his hand and flicked his wrist. The door slammed closed behind them.

The first spirit to wander curiously into the foyer was Hayden McClaine. Michael knew little about her but could tell by the way her eyes swept over him that she was not only unafraid, but excited by his appearance. Of course, she hadn’t willingly shown herself to him. Otherwise, she may not have let her attraction to him be quite so obvious.

Michael’s powers had grown exponentially since he had last stepped foot in the house and he, therefore, had no need for a spell in order to see the ghosts without their consent. But he did not wish to speak to any of them, not yet.

It was not just he who had changed, the house had as well. It felt occupied. During the short time Michael had lived there, it had felt vacant, all but abandoned as it awaited an owner. Most of the furniture had been covered in sheets, the electricity and air conditioning functioning only sporadically. But now the furniture was uncovered, a sweater was thrown haphazardly over the banister, and an overall feeling of comfortable messiness permeated the atmosphere. The spirits imprisoned in the house had finally taken over and made it a sort of sanctuary. Well, it was a sanctuary, Michael thought, just not for them. 

Still, he decided to let them think they were relatively safe for the time being and ignored Hayden as he walked up the stairs.

The Grays, two expendable but mindlessly loyal members of the Church of Satan named Peter and Martha, followed with his luggage. Most of what he would need to survive the coming nuclear holocaust had already been delivered and stored in the basement by the Cooperative after they had purchased the house following the unfortunate demise of the previous owners. The luggage the Grays carried contained designer suits, shoes and various cosmetic and beauty products. Having front row seats to the end of the world demanded a certain splendor and he intended to savor every moment.

Ben and Vivien were in the master bedroom, casually reading by the window, as Michael strolled in and looked around. Unfortunately, Michael was not able to completely soak in their shocked faces since he was continuing to pretend he couldn’t see them. However, the two ghosts’ agitation was palpable as Ben stood and moved protectively in front of Vivien.

“Swanky,” Martha said as she dropped Michael’s bags unceremoniously on the floor.

“Not here,” Michael snapped. “My room is down the hall.”

“Can I take it then?” Martha asked.

“No, this room is reserved for someone,” Michael said as he walked out.

“I didn’t realize anyone else was coming,” Martha said.

“Stop asking so many questions,” Peter whispered urgently. “You’re going to annoy him.”

Sweet, submissive Peter, Michael thought to himself, if only the boy knew that he was the one in danger. Martha may have been annoying, but she was full of anger and bitterness at a world that had only shown her pain. Out of all his followers who begged to serve him, she was the one he truly believed wanted to watch the world burn. Her passion would be rewarded.

Michael walked into another bedroom, one he had only been in once before since he had been warned to stay out by its owner. It was a warning he was all too happy to dismiss now. The decor was not to his liking; not the turquoise paint, the posters on the wall or the dry and shriveled black rose that was propped up in a small vase on the dresser. It seemed to belong more to a teenage girl than boy, but he saw evidence of both.

“Begin unpacking my things,” Michael instructed the Grays as they walked in behind him. “I would say the impact is imminent and I would like a glass of champagne when the time comes.”

“Yes, sir,” Peter said.

Michael followed the music that floated softly through the house back down the stairs. The lyrics were in German. Mozart, he thought.

Nun so sey mein liebes Weibchen, a male voice sang. So now be my darling little wife.

Nun so sey mein Herzenstäubchen, a female voice replied. So now be the little dove of my heart.

Ah, yes, The Magic Flute. One of the few operas with a happy ending. Not exactly a fitting soundtrack for the end of the world. The Ride of the Valkyries would be more suitable, or O Fortuna if it wasn’t so cliche.

The source of the music came from the library. It was a record player which he instantly recognized as once belonging to his grandmother. The room was not vacant. Michael’s sister was reading on a couch, while his dad sat on the floor, flipping through records. They both looked up as he walked in, but remained frozen. Michael wasn’t sure if it was from fear or from a certainty that he couldn’t see them.

Either way, Michael ignored them and stood over the record player to watch it spin.

It is the greatest feeling that many, many Pa-Pa-Papagenos, Pa-Pa-Papagenas may be a blessing to their parents, Michael translated from German. With one swift movement, he yanked the record from the turntable and threw it across the room where it smashed against a wall. Violet let out a small shriek and jumped to her feet.

“Let’s leave,” she said to Tate who stood cautiously, allowing the other records to slide off his lap.

“He can’t see us,” Tate said. Violet pulled him close and clung to his arm. It appeared that all was forgiven between them. Michael suspected witches to be involved. He could smell their lingering scent, like lavender and smoke. He sucked in a breath and tried to not let his irritation show.

“What is he doing here?” Violet asked. Michael decided to answer her question by picking up a remote and switching on a tv in the corner of the room.

Most of the channels were playing their final news report on a loop. News anchors tearfully reported that missiles were on their way to Los Angeles. Some urged those who could to get to shelters. Others bid goodbye to their families with the hopes they were watching. Michael flipped through a few channels so that the spirits watching knew it was not just a hoax.

“Is this…” Violet said, her voice rising in panic, “is this really happening? What about us? What’s going to happen to us?”

“I don’t know,” Tate said and tried to draw her into a hug, but she pulled away. Michael could not resist a small smile when he noticed the hurt on Tate’s face.

“Mom?” Violet yelled as she hurried from the room. “Dad?”

“Vi…” Tate started to follow her but stopped, his focus firmly on Michael who turned off the tv.

Crouching down over the pile of vinyl, Michael began to sort through them, searching for the perfect record to play over the screams and chaos both outside the house and in. He could hear the spirits begin to panic, flitting down the halls in search of fellow ghosts to cling to in what they thought could be their last moments.

He decided on Ich Bin Elsa Mars, an old album he knew had belonged to his grandmother. Time was short and the missiles were drawing close, so he wasted no time slipping the record out of the sleeve and setting it on the table. Instead of playing the first song, he set the needle on the last groove. Elsa Mars’ throaty warble began to play and Michael turned up the volume to the highest setting so the whole house could hear.

Auf wiedersehen, auf wiedersehen...

Michael walked out of the room and back up the stairs to the landing. He unlatched the window so he could see out onto the street. Dozens of people ran about, screaming and loading things into their cars in a frantic attempt to flee the city. Two vehicles collided right in front of the house, causing more panic.

We’ll meet again, sweetheart…

Tate had followed and was standing on the stairs below, watching.

“Your champagne,” Peter had arrived with a glass of sparkling wine. Michael took it from him and sipped. It was burnt. What a shame.

This lovely day has flown my way

The time has come to part…

The anticipation was almost too much to bear and Michael noticed with some amusement that his hand was shaking slightly. He didn’t want Tate to notice so he set the champagne down on the windowsill and clasped his hands behind his back.

He felt no remorse, no guilt at what was about to happen. Any confusion or hesitation concerning his role in his father’s plan had long since been erased. It was simple, really. He may not have been given a manual, but the Holy Bible those morons at Kineros Robotics had given him contained all the instruction he would ever need.

All he had to do was follow the plan laid out for him by Jesus Christ, or, he supposed,  the opposite. He even knew he may die and be resurrected. Contingencies had been put in place in case of such an event. He had already selected the young man and woman who would give birth to him a second time and made sure they had a place in Outpost 3.

If Christ had been the human incarnation of God, then he, as the Antichrist, was his own father incarnate. He and his father were one, which meant all his desires were his father’s desires. He could do no wrong.

Don't let the teardrops start

With love that's true, I'll wait for you…

What he wanted was to destroy Cordelia’s pathetic coven. He wanted the world to burn in the way his Ms. Meade had.

His purpose was about to be fulfilled and it would be glorious.

Auf wiedersehen, sweetheart…

A white flash encompassed the entire world. If Michael had been human, he would have been blinded permanently. When his vision returned, he watched, a smile on his lips, as the city was devoured by fire.

 

***

 

Michael’s reasons for returning to the house where he was born were two-fold.

The first was that he had been shown by his father that it would be safe from the blasts. As a portal to hell, there were certain supernatural barriers that not even radiation could pass through.

The other was to decide which, if any, of the spirits trapped within the house were worthy of a second chance at life and a place in his new world.

So far, he was not impressed. After the bombs had fallen, most of the ghosts had retreated to the basement. Michael could feel their fear radiating upwards, keeping him warm. Some of the less cognizant ghosts would wander around the main floor, unaware or unbothered by the danger they were in simply by occupying the same space as Michael, but he was even less interested in them.

Still, he had high hopes for a few souls and he looked forward to interviewing each of them in turn.

There was still so much time, Michael thought, and there was so much he could learn just by observation. And besides, he wanted to relish in his victory before getting back to work. So he spent the weeks that followed strutting from room to room as if the house was a palace, drinking wine and ordering the Grays to prepare meals for him. He was quite comfortable, considering there was no power, no heat, and no water. The Cooperative had supplied him well and being on a Hellmouth meant that there was no lack of heat.

He slept in Tate and Violet’s old bedroom despite its tacky decor. The one thing that he did find satisfactory about the room was the plentiful supply of books Tate and Violet had somehow accumulated. Perhaps the coven had gifted them, or perhaps Constance’s friendship with Billie Dean Howard had continued to pay off. Either way, he spent many evenings perusing various novels.

The activity was practical as well as pleasurable since Tate and Violet both had the habit of marking up every book they read. A worn copy of Wuthering Heights was particularly enlightening. There were several passages underlined, clearly done by two distinct hands. One hand used rough pencil strokes and tended to favor the more passionate, dramatic quotations.

The murdered do haunt their murderers, I believe. I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always, take any form, drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss where I cannot find you!

The other used a purple highlighter to precisely mark favorite lines. One section, in particular, stood out to Michael:

I wish I were a girl again, half-savage and hardy, and free.

It was while he was carefully considering this line that he heard hushed voices in the hall, followed by the creak of the attic stairs being lowered and then raised. His curiosity was peaked, so after a few minutes, he transmuted himself into the attic, taking care to make himself invisible to whoever was there.

“Do you think they’ll notice we stole a shit ton of their candles?” Violet asked. She was setting candles all around the attic, followed by Tate who lit each one.

“I hope so,” Tate said. “I wonder when Peter and Martha are going to figure out that the house is fucking haunted.”

“Why hasn’t Michael told them?” Violet asked. “And why hasn’t he tried to talk to any of us?”

“I don’t know, Vi,” Tate said. “Maybe he just doesn’t care about us because we’re already dead.”

“Maybe,” Violet said. She set down the last candle before unfurling several blankets which she laid in the middle of the floor. “I just want to know why he is here. He has a laptop. I don’t know how the hell it works, but there must be important stuff on it. Maybe we could take a look sometime when he is busy bossing around the Grays.” The idea made Michael chuckle silently. He wondered what Violet would make of the intel on his computer, or if she would be able to decipher how much of it was false information.

“No way,” Tate said as he shook out the last match. The attic was filled with a comfortable, flickering glow. It was sort of romantic, which, Michael realized, was probably the intent.

“Doesn’t it bother you, not knowing why he is here?” Violet asked as she sat on top of the blankets. “Aren’t you scared?”

Tate shrugged and crossed his arms. “Not really. I mean, he already destroyed everything, what else is there for him to do?” Michael smiled, thinking about the grand plans he had for the spirits of the house and the world beyond. “Can we talk about something else?”

“Actually,” Violet said. “I didn’t risk getting incinerated by sneaking up here...to talk.”

Tate grinned and leaped over to her. Kneeling on the blankets, he kissed her. She returned the favor while pulling him down until she was lying on her back.

Michael was dimly aware that if he were a normal human, witnessing his dad fuck his sister would be a fairly traumatic experience. As it was, he looked on in a bored, disinterested sort of way. To him, sex was a tool, a temptation just like money or drugs. He used it to persuade people to do what he wanted them to.

But there was something unusual about the two teenage lovers. Neither appeared to be particularly skilled at lovemaking. They were awkward and clumsy, as if it were their first time, yet neither seemed to mind.

There was something between them that Michael couldn’t name. As someone who took great pride in having an almost clairvoyant understanding of humanity, it was irritating to not know what it was. But when they had finished, and Tate had laid his head on Violet’s chest while trying to catch his breath, Michael felt violently jealous.

Envy was not an emotion he was unaccustomed to, though he had not felt it in quite a few years. He had been envious of the spirits in the house who Constance chose to reveal herself to after she had died. He had been envious of Madison, Queenie and, especially, Misty, when Cordelia embraced them after he had brought them back to life. Now he was envious of Tate as Violet curled and uncurled his hair around her fingers. Somehow, even though the world had crumbled to ashes, she managed to look content to just lie there in the seeming solitude of the attic.

“I wish it could be like this forever,” Tate broke the silence. “I mean...not the world, but, you and me, you know?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” Violet asked, frowning.

Tate chewed on his lip for a moment as if he was debating whether or not he should say something. “Never mind,” he decided to say and switched positions with Violet so he could wrap an arm around her. “You’re right.” Violet smiled and closed her eyes.

“It’s you and me,” she said sleepily. “Together, for always.”

“Yeah,” Tate whispered, though he didn’t sound convinced. Michael couldn’t quite place why, but he assumed it was the same fear of abandonment that had plagued him since childhood. It was a fear Michael understood.

“Violet?” Tate said after a few minutes of staring at the rafters.

“Hmm?”

“What would you have done,” he asked, “if you hadn’t died?”

“Don’t be morbid, Tate,” Violet said.

“I’m not,” he protested. “I just want to know. You never really talked about it before. Please?”

Violet sighed. “I don’t know. I always said I wanted to be a lawyer or something, but I don’t think I was ever really going to. Maybe a psychologist.”

“Like your dad?”

“I guess,” she said. “Maybe it’s a thing for all fucked-up teenagers to want to grow up and help other fucked-up kids.”

“You’re not fucked-up,” Tate said. “What else?”

“What do you mean?”

“What else did you want to do when you grew up? You wanted kids, right?”

“Yeah,” Violet said. “Did you?”

“No,” Tate said with a little more force than Michael thought was necessary.

“I always wanted to travel,” Violet said quickly to alleviate the awkward tension. “Europe, especially Paris.”

“Me too,” Tate said. “I always wanted to go to Montmartre.”

“And the Louvre,” Violet’s smile wilted. “I guess it’s all gone now.”

“I’m sorry,” Tate said softly.

“It’s ok,” Violet said. “I mean, it’s completely horrible but, at the same time, it was going to happen eventually, right? If it hadn’t been Michael it would have been something else. Not like the world was exactly at peace anyway. And there have to be at least some survivors. More than the Grays, anyway. Eventually, they will have to rebuild and we will still be here to see it. The house will probably end up as a museum or something. How many people get to see a whole new world be rebuilt?”

“I never thought about it like that before,” Tate said.

No, of course he hadn’t, Michael thought. Tate lacked vision. He had only ever been able to focus on what was right in front of him, a weakness that had made him a valuable tool, but his usefulness seemed to be at an end. Violet, on the other hand, had potential.

“Your parents are probably worried about you,” Tate said with a sigh. “I guess we should go back down.”

“I hate cowering down there,” Violet said. “If I have to play one more game of Monopoly with Hayden, I am going to kill myself again.”

“Now who is being morbid.”

“Shut up. I just think if he was planning to kill any of us, he would have done it by now.”

“Maybe. But I think it’s safer to stay out of his way.”

“I hate hiding from him. And I hate that he sleeps in our room. It freaks me out.”

“C’mon,” Tate said and started to get up, but Violet pulled him back down.

“Not yet, please, Tate,” she said. “I’m not ready to go yet.” Tate relented and wrapped his arms around her. They lay like that for a while, not saying anything.

“Ok,” Violet said softly, but it was Tate’s turn to pull her back down.

“Just a few more minutes.”

In the couple’s last moments of perceived privacy, Michael began to realize that there was another presence in the attic. He could sense it, calling to him from a corner. But as he peered through the darkness, he could see nothing.

Eventually, Tate and Violet untangled themselves from each other and got dressed.

“I’ll blow out the candles, you go ahead,” Tate said. Violet lifted a quizzical eyebrow but left him alone to rejoin the rest of her family in the basement.

Tate made sure she was gone before picking up a candle and hurrying over to the very corner where Michael sensed the unholy manifestation. Kneeling down, Tate pulled a piece of the wall away to reveal a hidden nook. He used the candle to illuminate inside until he found what he was looking for.

It was a handgun. Tate stared at it for a few moments, looked around to make sure he was alone and removed the magazine. Satisfied that it was loaded, he put the magazine back and shoved the gun in his belt, tugging his sweater down to cover it.

So, Michael thought, Tate believed he could get rid of him that easily. It would be amusing to see him try.

Before Tate had a chance to blow out a single candle, Michael extinguished them all with a wave of his hand. Tate dropped the candle he was holding and spun around.

“Hello?” he asked. When he received no response, he ran, practically tripping, to the attic door and disappeared from Michael’s sight.

The secret place behind the wall had been left open and Michael walked toward it, now certain of what he would discover. Still, he had to sift through piles of hidden junk in order to find it.

Most of the items seemed to belong to Tate, a combination of past residents’ belongings he had collected, as well as his own possessions he hadn’t wanted to lose whenever the house was sold and cleared out. Michael opened one small box to find a stack of letters from 1994, all informing a Mr. Tate Langdon that he had been accepted into this or that university. Under the letters were exactly nineteen invitations to something called Devil’s Night at the Hotel Cortez. Michael wondered if Tate had ever attended or merely kept them as a reminder that someone outside the house was aware of his continued existence.

The box Michael was looking for was tucked in the very back, but he knew it was the right one as soon as he touched it. On top was an old military coat which he shook out to look at before refolding and setting aside. Underneath, all slick and black and seemingly harmless, was the latex fetish suit Michael had worn only once before.

But it wasn’t harmless. It never had been. At least, not since Chad Warwick had brought it into the house. Michael picked up the mask and rubbed the material between his fingers.

He wouldn’t wear it again, he decided. He had no need. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t make use of it. The suit was nearly sentient as it was, full of rage, trauma, and perversion. All he needed was a little help from his father to turn it into a weapon.

Scooping up the suit, Michael went to collect the rest of the supplies he would need for the ritual. It wasn’t much, just a knife and some candles. He carried them to the basement where he reveled in the way the spirits made room for him as he passed.

The door he approached had always been locked when he lived there before, but it opened for him now, revealing a small, bare room. Michael relaxed as he stepped inside. It felt good to be so close to hell, so close to his father. He could feel the devil’s presence all around him, though he still wished his father could embrace him as a physical being.

Michael was about to close the door when he realized he was missing something. In order for the ritual to work, he needed blood: a sacrifice.

None of the ghosts would suffice. Their blood was merely an illusion. He supposed he could have used one of the Grays, but it would be a pity to get rid of the help so soon. There was only one other being in the house that still breathed. Of course, Michael thought, it could be no one else but the Montgomery’s own child, the one whose death had been the beginning of the madness that infected the house.

“Thaddeus,” Michael called sweetly as he walked back out of the room. “Come here Thaddeus, I have a surprise for you.”

The creature crawled out from under a table. He looked even weaker and more sickly than usual due to the lack of rodents and other animals that used to find their way into the house.

“There you are,” Michael said as Thaddeus reached his clawed hands out to him like a needy child.

“Don’t,” Tate said to the creature as he stepped forward. Michael resisted rolling his eyes and kept them trained on Thaddeus’ hideous face. “Don’t listen to him Thaddeus, come back.” Tate reached out, but Thaddeus hissed and slashed at him, teeth bared.

“Leave him be,” Nora told Tate. “You know better than most how he can take care of himself.”

Thaddeus turned back to Michael, who picked the mutilated child up and carried him into the small room. Tate tried to follow but the door slammed shut before he had a chance to enter.

Michael set Thaddeus down in a corner of the room and ignored him as he set up the candles in a circle. They lit with another wave, making Thaddeus inch forward in curiosity.

“That’s right,” Michael said as he picked up his knife and tested its sharpness by slicing the tip of his thumb. Thaddeus met Michael in the center of the room and knelt in front of him, offering his neck. With one swift motion, Michael slit the creature’s throat and made quick work of smearing the blood into the shape of a pentagram before shoving the body unceremoniously aside.

There was no need to worry about Thaddeus’ spirit showing up in the house since he had already died outside as an innocent child. The spirit had long since departed, leaving the stitched up shell to be inhabited by the evil of the house. An evil which would now pass into the rubber suit that Michael laid out on the floor.

Michael stripped off his clothes and sat on the pentagram he had made. Rubbing the excess blood over his body, he chanted to his father, begging him to fulfill his request.

In the silence of the room, Michael heard it before he saw it. The rubber suit creaked as it slowly began to swell, filled by an invisible being. Soon it took on the full shape of a man and the chest moved up and down with breath. Michael continued to chant as the rubber man sat up and then got to its feet.

It stood over Michael and reached out a hand to cup his chin. Michael closed his eyes from pleasure at the touch. Tears squeezed out from under his eyelids.

“Ave Satanas.” 

Chapter Text

2020 - The Murder House

 

Come, if you're curious to see

Pull the tricks out of my sleeve

All you find is yours to keep

Brave, are you brave enough to meet

The desires that you seek

Hold my hand, I'll set you free

Welcome to the devil's playground

You can tread where demons play...

 

Out of all the ghosts in the house, only Tate seemed to care much about Thaddeus’ disappearance. Michael watched as the teenage ghost tried time and time again to open the basement room door where Thaddeus had last been seen, but it remained locked while the body decomposed as it should have long ago.

Even Nora suffered only one minor breakdown over her son’s disappearance which passed as quickly as the rest of her erratic moods. The rest of the ghosts seemed to take Thaddeus’ assumed murder as evidence that Michael was only concerned with the living. Not long after, the spirits began to wander freely about the house again, though most still had the good sense to leave a room as soon as Michael walked into it.

Despite their best efforts, each spirit inevitably fell into a day-to-day routine with very little variation. Vivien Harmon spent most of her day with her family, whether it be Ben or Violet. But there was one hour of every day she spent alone with Jeffrey. It was during this hour that Michael sent the demon disguised in the rubber suit to wreak havoc on her sense of well-being.

For the first few days, it stayed just out of sight. It passed by open doorways in the blink of an eye, lurked half-hidden in shadows and brushed its hands against her neck, only to vanish when she turned around.

Ben, predictably, reassured her that it was only her imagination. They were all on edge, he said. It was only natural that she would start reliving the worst experience of her life.

Soon, the demon began to show himself to her when others were around, though she remained the only one who could see it. Tate appeared to be almost as unsettled as Vivien when she told him about her visions. He checked his hidden spot in the attic, but Michael made sure the suit was always still there, innocently folded away, until Tate decided to cut it into pieces.

His efforts did nothing to help. Rather, they convinced Michael to allow Tate to begin to see the demon himself. As soon as he did, the boy became skittish, jumping at every unexpected noise. He also began to spend more time alone. Instead of playing games with his siblings or reading with Violet, he paced around empty rooms, checking and rechecking the gun he kept on him at all times.

As amusing as it was to watch his parents slowly drive themselves and the ghosts around them insane, Michael could sense his true father’s impatience nagging at him. Enough time had been wasted. There was work to be done.

Vivien was alone with Jeffrey when Michael walked into the master bedroom, still unseen. She sang to her child until he fell asleep in her arms and she laid him in his crib. Michael walked over and stood beside his mother to stare down at his half-brother.

The baby had been the first creature Michael had killed. He hadn’t meant to, of course, he hadn’t even been born yet. But it had been a harbinger of Michael’s destiny and it was with a sort of reverence that Michael watched the newborn sleep soundly without an inkling of the danger he was in.

Vivien sighed and sat in an armchair nearby. Propping her head on her arm, she closed her eyes. Michael closed his own and began to chant another incantation. It was a simple summoning spell which required very little effort on Michael’s part. The results were immediate as a faint hissing drew near.

Several snakes slithered toward him from every corner of the room. They circled around the legs of the crib before wriggling up and through the slats. Jeffrey woke but didn’t cry out as a viper slid over his tiny body and nestled its head against his cheek.

Vivien stirred and opened her eyes. As soon as she saw the nest of snakes, she shrieked and leaped to her feet. She seized the viper on top of Jeffrey without hesitation and flung it across the room. A nearby snake opened its jaw in warning but Vivien ignored it. She scooped her baby up and tried to carefully tread her way toward the door.

“Ben!” she screamed. Her husband didn’t appear, but Tate did. He ran into the room, halted, and stumbled back at the sight before him. Michael called for more to appear from behind, blocking the door.

“Fuck,” Tate cried out as he stepped backward on one. It retaliated by snapping at his ankles. Tate darted away until he was standing next to Vivien in the middle of the room. “Where did they come from?”

“I don’t know,” Vivien said.

“It’s Michael,” Tate said frantically. “It has to be.”

Right on cue, Peter wandered into the room, drawn by voices Michael had only just allowed the Gray to hear. Michael whispered another spell under his breath. It was a glamour spell, an illusion.

It had no effect on Vivien. She merely looked past Tate at the newcomer. Tate noticed her gaze and spun around. For just the briefest of moments, Michael made sure he didn’t see Peter at all, but a figure encased from head to toe in black latex.

A moment was all it took. Tate pulled the handgun free from his belt and aimed it at Peter’s heart.

“Tate, no!” Vivien yelled. But it was too late. A piercing shot rang out and Peter staggered back before collapsing.

Michael lifted the spell, his eyes not straying from Tate’s face so he could see the panic and disbelief set in.

“What have you done?” Vivien gasped as she hurried over to Peter’s crumpled form.

“I didn’t…” Tate said, his eyes open wide in shock. Peter gaped at Vivien and tried to speak before going still.

“No, no,” Vivien said. She pushed one hand against his wound while still cradling Jeffrey. “Don’t die.”

“Vivien?” Ben rushed into the room, summoned by the sound of the gunshot, followed by Violet and Maria. The nurse immediately went to Peter and took over from Vivien.

“Quickly,” Maria said to her, “go find Dr. Montgomery and Gladys. You should get the child out of here.” Vivien nodded and did as she was told.
“Tate?” Violet said quietly, looking from Peter to the gun in Tate’s hand. “What did you do?” Her question seemed to shake him from his daze a little and he took a step toward her, but she flinched back.

“Violet,” he said desperately. “I didn’t mean to, I swear. I thought he was Michael - I saw Michael or…” He shook his head and his eyes darted around the room. “The snakes....” But the snakes were gone.

“Snakes?” Violet asked.

“Give me the gun, Tate,” Ben said. Michael found Ben’s voice to be surprisingly, irritatingly, gentle as he put one hand on Tate’s back and pulled the gun away with the other.

“Ben, I swear…” Tate said.

“Not now,” Ben said. Tate stepped away as his shoulders caved in and his chest heaved with silent anguish.

Dr. Montgomery arrived, along with nearly all of the other inhabitants of the house. They were drawn like flies to the fresh corpse and began talking all at once, demanding to know what had happened. Constance was among them, leading the interrogation like a queen.

“Is he alright, doctor?” she asked. As if she cared, Michael thought. More likely she didn’t want her son to be accused of murder yet again.

“Nothing to be done,” Dr. Montgomery said. “He’s dead.”

“Well,” Michael said over the din that erupted. The other voices died out as dozens of eyes fell on him. He laced his hands behind his back and walked into the center of the room as he surveyed the ghosts. Constance shrunk back but didn’t leave. “Isn’t this a peculiar scene.”

“You can see us?” Hayden asked. Michael’s lips curled into a self-satisfied smirk. After all, why shouldn’t he be proud of his work?

“I could always see you,” he said. “I have been observing you all since the moment I arrived.”

“Why?” Hayden asked, apparently she was the only one brave enough to question him.

“I am so glad you asked,” he said. “And I believe this to be the perfect opportunity to tell you, seeing as you are all gathered here. I only regret that it is under such an unfortunate circumstance.”

He looked at Tate who stared, unblinking, back at him. His contorted expression was difficult to read, though Michael could recognize loathing and dread behind the tears that had begun to fall freely with the pronouncement of Peter’s death.

Something twisted and writhed in the pit of Michael’s stomach as Violet stepped close to Tate and slipped her hand in his. Michael didn’t understand how she could still trust him after what she had just seen.

“But fear not,” Michael continued, setting aside his irritation to deal with later. “For I bring good tidings of great joy.” Maria wrapped her hand around her cross and closed her eyes. It took all of Michael’s willpower not to incinerate her on the spot.

“You may have noticed the state of the world outside the walls of this house. As you may have guessed, I had no small part in its downfall. It has been cleansed by fire, which means judgment day has come. I am here to judge each of you, in turn, and decide who among you is worthy to live in my new world.”

“Live?” It was Patrick who spoke this time. “Wait a minute. Do you mean that you can bring us back to life?”

“I can,” Michael said. “Whether I will or not depends entirely on you. I plan on interviewing you each individually. If I find you worthy, you will go with me when I leave here. If not, you will remain in purgatory.”

“Is that what this is?” Chad asked.

“Not exactly,” Michael said. “Those in purgatory have hope of someday reaching heaven, if such a place exists. I can’t say the same is true for any of you.”

“And if we refuse to talk to you?” Tate’s voice was brittle as he asked the question.

Michael lifted his chin and smiled while sucking in a deep, satisfied breath. Just then, Peter’s spirit separated from his body.

“What is going on?” Peter’s spirit asked, trying to get away from the strangers who surrounded him. “Who are all of you? How did you get in here?” He spotted Michael, his eyes pleading for help. “Michael?”

Michael curled his hands into fists and Peter let out a scream as he was consumed by flame. He was gone before any of the ghosts had a chance to move.

“I trust I don’t have to explain myself further,” Michael said.

The silence that followed was broken by Hayden. “Can I go first?”

***

Michael realized Hayden had stolen some of his makeup and styling products to use on herself the moment he walked into Ben’s old office, purposefully late. She sat barefoot on the couch, her legs tucked to the side, an unrepentant smile on her heavily glossed lips.

“I was beginning to think you had forgotten about me,” Hayden said as Michael closed the door behind him.

“Is that a fear of yours?” Michael asked. Her smile flickered for a moment but it was barely noticeable.

“I tend to make sure I’m pretty unforgettable.”

“That’s how you ended up here, isn’t it? To make sure you weren’t forgotten?” Michael picked up a folder from a stack on the desk and began to flip through it.

“What’s that?” Hayden asked.

“Just your file,” Michael said. “I made sure to collect as much information on those who passed away in the house as possible in order to make a better-informed decision.”

“I feel like I am being psychoanalyzed or something.”

“I suppose you are, in a way.” He sat across from her but didn’t look up from the papers, even though he had already read through them and found exactly the information he needed.

“You would know all about that, too, wouldn’t you?” he said. “It says here you were a psychiatry student before you decided to move to Los Angeles, quite out of the blue. There doesn’t seem to be a clear reason why. Your grades were impressive and based on your social media posts, you had plenty of friends and a family who cared about you.”

“I know what you’re getting at,” she said. “But I’m not ashamed of anything I did. I had an affair with Ben and I got pregnant. So I came out here to try and convince him to act like a fucking grown-up and help me take care of our child.”

“Hmm,” Michael said, setting aside the folder and leaning back. “Why not get an abortion?”

“Because I, unlike some people in this house, actually wanted a baby.”

Michael narrowed his eyes, unsure if she meant the offense she had caused him by the statement.

“Is that so?” he asked. “It wasn’t to try and convince Ben to rekindle your relationship?”

“Of course not,” she said. Her tone was too keen, which made it all too easy for Michael to see through her lie.

“I just realized something,” she said. She sat up on the couch and put her feet on the floor. “I tried to keep you. I wanted to be your mother. I remember holding you in my arms and thinking you were the most beautiful baby I had ever seen.” She chuckled, her smile warm and easy.

Michael cocked an eyebrow and ran a hand over his chin. She was smarter than he had initially thought. Casting herself as a lost mother figure was unexpected and impressive. But it had no effect on Michael. He doubted she had truly ever wanted a baby, though it was likely she believed she did. The house had that effect on women, part of his father’s influence to make sure a son was born within its walls.

“I don’t know how you grew up so fast but,” she leaned forward to let her shirt dip open in front of him, “I’m kinda glad you did.”

The abrupt switch in tactics made Michael laugh. “Is that how you expect to win me over? By flaunting your sexuality?”

“Is it working?” she asked.

“I can tell that before you came to this house, you were used to getting whatever you wanted. But that changed, didn’t it? Ben rejected you. Tell me, how did that make you feel?”

“It sucked,” Hayden said. “But that’s part of life, right?”

“Most people’s lives don’t end because of a bad breakup. I bet you regret coming here.”

Hayden sat back and folded her arms. “What does this have to do with whether or not you are going to bring me back to life?”

“It has everything to do with it,” Michael said. “You had so much to live for, Hayden. So many talents, so much potential. But you threw it all away by fixating on Ben Harmon, a man barely worth the space in the ground where his body is buried. Now tell me, why would I choose someone like you to be a part of my new world?”

“I’m smarter now,” she said. “I was young and stupid but if I went with you, it would be different.”

“You’re the same age now as you were then. Do you really expect me to believe anything has really changed?” It was his turn to lean as close as possible toward her. “You may have tricked yourself into thinking that you could find purpose in motherhood or in fucking every last ghost in this house but can you truthfully tell me that you aren’t still as madly in love with Ben as you ever were?”

Hayden tried to keep his gaze but swallowed and looked down. Her pretense had melted away. She sat before him, truly exposed as the lonely wreck of a girl she was.

“But if I went with you…” she tried to say. Her voice caught in her throat.

“I don’t think so,” Michael said. “I need someone with vision and drive. Someone who knows their worth. Your worth, I’m sorry to say, is gone. You gave it away the moment you slept with your professor, just like the sad cliche you are.”

“So that’s it?” she said dully, despite the way her eyes were filling with tears. “That’s your decision? I can’t go with you?”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Then what am I supposed to do? I’m just stuck here?”

“Perhaps you should have thought about that before flying across the country to be with a man who will never love you.”

Hayden scoffed and batted her eyelashes to dispel her tears. “You don’t know the first thing about me,” she said. “Or Ben.” It was a pathetic attempt to regain some measure of dignity, but her determination was commendable. “It’s too bad Constance was the one who ended up raising you. Maybe if I had been your mom, you wouldn’t have ended up as a monster. Hell, even Vivien would have done a better job.”

The comment surprised Michael in the way it needled at his heart. He had half a mind to further punish Hayden for it, but he knew she was in far more pain than he. Destroying her would have been a kindness, so he dismissed her with a wave of his hand.

His impulse was to ask Constance in next, but he couldn’t risk being even slightly emotionally vulnerable so he resisted. There was someone he needed to talk to before he could face his grandmother.

***

Nora was already sitting rigidly on the edge of the sofa in the office when Michael walked in, a few minutes early this time. Her eyes were wet, untouched by the handkerchief she twisted in her hands.

“Mrs. Montgomery,” Michael greeted her. She stood abruptly, but Michael held up a hand. “There is no need for any alarm. Please, make yourself comfortable.”

Martha entered, carrying a tea tray which she set on the coffee table. Nora looked warily from Michael to the tray set with her own china that had not been used in decades, before gingerly sitting back down.

“Will you be needing anything else?” Martha asked.

“Not right now,” Michael said and waved her out. He sat across from Nora and began pouring her a cup of tea. “Sugar?” Michael asked.

“Just milk,” Nora said.

“You seem nervous,” Michael said as he handed her the cup which rattled a little on the saucer as she took it. “Why is that?” He asked gently, earnestly. Any desire he had to make the spirits in the house suffer did not apply to Nora and it pained him to think he was causing her any discomfort.

“I feel like I am a prisoner in my own home,” she said. “Hiding in that horrid, dank basement.”

“Then don’t,” Michael said.

“But the others,” Nora said, “they told me it was dangerous, that you…”

“The others misunderstand me,” Michael said. “They always have. They think I am here to cause them harm. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am here to save them. Those that deserve it, at least.”

“And,” Nora said breathlessly, “do you think I deserve it?” Michael smiled slowly and leaned forward.

“My dear Nora,” he said. “More than anyone.” The way she blushed and looked demurely down to avoid his intense gaze gave him a sort of childlike pleasure. She was so beautiful, he thought as he leaned back to examine her. A vision like her deserved to be exalted, not shunned to the basement to be ignored or pitied by the rest of the insufferable spirits in the house. Her house.

“You are the reason for everything,” he continued, “for all of this.” He waved his hand to indicate the room they were in. “This house was built for you, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” she said. “My husband built it for me. He designed everything to my liking.” A measure of pride returned to her demeanor. She lifted her chin and took a steady sip of her tea. “Not that the others care. They show me no respect.”

“They should,” Michael said. “They will, once they realize who you are.”

“Who I am? Whatever do you mean?”

Michael’s mouth went dry. He felt suddenly sheepish and stood to hide the unexpected bundle of nerves he felt. Facing away from Nora, he pretended to carefully examine the prosaic collection of objects that decorated the shelves in the office.

“Are you aware of who my father is, Mrs. Montgomery?”

“No...” Nora said. Michael could see her reflection in one of the glass cabinets. She set her tea down and pressed a hand to her forehead as she tried to sort out her memories. He wondered if it was being trapped in the house for so long that had addled her mind or if she had lost it when she was still alive. “Or...yes I do. That boy, the kind one, Tate. He promised me a child…But how…?”

“I am that child, Nora,” Michael said, trying to keep his emotions in check. “But Tate is not my true father. Just as Vivien Harmon is not my true mother. She proved that when she tried to murder me. It feels as if, ever since that night, I have been searching for the woman who truly deserves to be called my mother. A woman who would love me unconditionally.”

He circled around behind Nora and put a gentle hand on her shoulder. She flinched, but Michael did not remove his hand.

“I thought I found her,” he continued. “She was, after all, the most devoted servant of my father I have ever met. But I realize now that I was wrong. It was you, Nora. It was always you.”

“I don’t understand,” Nora said. Michael trailed his hand along her back before kneeling in front of her.

“Don’t you see?” Michael said. “Without you, I would never have been born. You were the one who wanted me. You were the one who this house was built for. This house that was built on the mouth of hell, a doorway to my father’s kingdom.” Nora shuddered and looked toward the door as if she wanted to flee. Michael grasped both of her hands.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “You have no reason to be. How can I help you understand what this means? You, Nora Montgomery, are a queen.”

“A queen?” Nora scoffed. “Of what exactly?”

“If Mary, the mother of God, is the queen of heaven,” Michael said, unable to refrain from grinning despite the tears sliding down his cheeks, “then it stands to reason that there should be a queen of hell.” Nora’s hands were tense beneath his. He had said too much, too quickly. It was understandable that she would resist. Nora was small-minded, even for a mortal, but he would help her see. Soon she would smile on him as her son. All she needed, just like any other human, was the proper incentive.

“Come with me,” Michael said and helped her to her feet. “There is something I wish to show you.” He offered his arm, which she hesitantly took, and led her out of the room and upstairs to the master bedroom.

“This was always my favorite room,” Nora said. “So very light and airy. If only it wasn’t always being occupied by strangers.”

“It is yours,” Michael said. “Only yours. No one else will be allowed to step foot inside unless you wish it.”

“It would be nice to sleep in my own bed again,” she said as she ran her hand across the top of the mattress.

“There’s more,” Michael said and opened the closet door.

“Oh my,” Nora said as she stepped inside. Dozens of elegant gowns hung on each side of the closet, all in various shades of purple. “Where did they come from?”

“I brought them,” Michael said, “for you. I must admit the idea of separating the classes using purple and gray was not my own. I have yet to meet the woman who came up with it, but I find it rather sensational. If anyone deserves to be a purple, it is my mother.”

“Your mother,” Nora said distantly as she admired each gown in turn. “Yes, perhaps I could be.” She turned to him, her eyes shining. “You did all of this for me?”

“I did,” Michael said. Nora reached out and ran a thumb over his cheek to wipe away a tear.

“Such a good boy,” she said. Michael allowed himself to enjoy the feel of her hand on his face for another moment before turning away.

“From now on,” he said as he walked back into the bedroom, “your every order will be obeyed.” He picked up a small silver bell and rang it before handing it to Nora. A few moments later, Martha appeared. “Martha is yours now, your own personal servant.” He turned to the Gray. “Why don’t you help Mrs. Montgomery dress for dinner?” Martha glared at him silently, but then lowered her eyes and nodded. “Good. Now if you will excuse me, mother,” he took Nora’s hand and kissed it, “I must be about my father’s business.”



Chapter Text

2020 - The Murder House

 

I want to hold you close

Soft breath, beating heart

As I whisper in your ear

I wanna fucking tear you apart...

 

Michael found the interviews that followed Nora’s to be maddening and tiresome. It wasn’t because he was disappointed that none of the ghosts proved themselves worth saving - he harbored no expectations otherwise - but they also failed to curb his ever increasing hunger for causing pain and suffering.

It had delighted him to see Hayden’s thin shell of confidence crack under the pressure he applied in order to reveal how frightened and wounded she was underneath. But despite the misery most of the spirits had languished in for years, they displayed surprising fortitude when faced with Michael’s attempts to expose their shame and weakness.

After Nora, Michael interviewed her useless husband. The doctor was heartened by his wife’s rejuvenated attitude, even after she dismissed him when he tried to rekindle their relationship. She told him he had failed her, while Michael had given her the luxurious existence she always craved. Montgomery merely nodded in agreement as Michael enumerated the doctor’s many failures, especially his wife’s disappointment in him.

“Yes, yes,” Montgomery mumbled, barely coherent as his eyes failed to focus on anything in particular. “Nora would have been better off marrying someone else. I don’t think I ever really understood her. She certainly never understood me. But, she is happy, you say? That is good, very good. That gives me some manner of peace, at least.”

Michael couldn’t understand how Montgomery could find any sort of peace or happiness knowing his wife no longer loved him. The man gave up far too easily, Michael thought. But he allowed the doctor to continue his pitiful existence. Montgomery’s lunacy was surely to blame. It was impossible to break what was already broken.

Patrick, on the other hand, was perfectly sane, though his weaknesses were clear as day. All Michael thought he had to do was seduce him and then deny him when he was at his most vulnerable.

It was all too easy at first. Michael knew he was physically attractive, one of the few useful things he had inherited from his biological parents, and it gave him a thrill to watch Patrick’s face flush and breath quicken as he leaned in close. As Michael described Patrick’s loneliness and claustrophobic, destructive relationship with Chad, the ghost nodded in agreement. He never looked away from Michael’s face but gazed confidently back, clearly expecting the evening to end with both of them in Michael’s bed.

Michael had not even finished the first stage of the interview when Patrick’s expression shifted suddenly. His eyebrows knit together and he cocked his head away.

“What did you just say?” Patrick interrupted.

Michael paused, confused. “I said that it must suck ,” he emphasized the word and let his mouth hang open for a moment before continuing, “to not have anyone to get a little strange with. Especially now that you don’t even have Halloween to find a stranger to fuck…”

Patrick laughed, interrupting again.

“You find something funny?” Michael asked.

“No,” Patrick said. “Not funny. I think I just realized something and it is most definitely not funny.” He stood and began to walk to the door.

“This interview isn’t over,” Michael said.

“It is for me,” Patrick said. “There is someone else I need to talk to.”

Michael couldn’t allow him to just leave. It was all about control and Michael would lose it if Patrick walked out the door.

“I said…” Michael said and telekinetically forced Patrick away from the door and back on to the couch. “We aren’t finished here.” Patrick’s terrified expression vanished all too quickly and he immediately stood again.

“I think we are,” he said. “Look, I’m not interested in whatever you’re trying to do here. I’m not going to sleep with you or whatever the hell else you want. And I know this means I won’t be able to be brought back to life and that’s fine. I don’t want to go to your shitty sanctuary anyway.” He walked to the door again and began to turn the knob.

“Oh don’t worry,” Michael said as he curled his hands into fists. “You won’t.”

Patrick’s scream was cut short by the flames that instantly engulfed him, wiping him from existence.

As irritating as Patrick’s interview had been, it was Maria who frustrated Michael the most.

She agreed to sit on the couch across from him when she was called for, but she did little else besides answer his questions in the briefest way possible. When he began to question her about God and why He had deserted her, she merely smiled.

“He never abandoned me,” she said. “It may be harder to feel His presence surrounded by the evil of this house, but He is still here. He is everywhere.”

Michael chuckled. “Hasn’t the evil, as you call it, that has transpired here been enough to convince you that God simply doesn’t exist?”

“It has done the opposite,” Maria said. “I have seen evidence of the existence of the devil, which can only mean the existence of his enemy.”

“And the apocalypse,” Michael said, “how could your God have allowed such a thing to happen?”

“Everything has its time. Even the earth. But I have not given up hope. I trust in God’s plan. He will save all of us, even if it is in a way that none of us can see.”

Michael realized he was gritting his teeth. He released his jaw with effort and tried to appear unruffled by her annoyingly persistent faith. He tried more questions, more ways to break through the walls she had built up so he could squeeze her soft, defenseless core.

“How will God save you if your soul no longer exists?”

Finally, her lips dropped their exasperating smile and quivered slightly. Now she would beg for mercy, he thought.

But she didn’t. Her quaking hands folded around the cross she still wore around her neck and she started to pray.

“My Lord God,” she began. “Even now resignedly and willingly, I accept at Thy hand, with all its anxieties, pains, and sufferings, whatever kind of death it shall please Thee to be mine.”

Prayers no longer physically hurt Michael to hear, but they pained him in a different way. As Maria repeated her plee, something scratched at Michael’s heart. Memories of killing rodents and cats came to the forefront of his mind. They were followed by more recent events: witches gunned down, warlocks massacred, and billions of humans incinerated in a moment.

The possibility that he could have, even should have, chosen a different path seared through him. He still could. Nothing was permanent, save for the few souls he had destroyed for good. The rest he could bring back. Every last human he had killed could be brought back to life.

The effort of it would kill him, but it could be done.

Michael closed his eyes and swallowed back a groan. As painful as the prayer was, the idea of turning against his father and his destiny was even worse. Doing so would mean admitting he had been wrong, that he was nothing more than the monster his grandma told him he was.

Destroying Maria took more effort than usual. When she was gone, her useless prayers silenced forever, Michael slumped in his chair and put a hand over his eyes.

“Father, forgive me,” he whispered. He had been tempted. He could only hope he had acted quickly enough to prove his devotion to his father yet again.

Still, he was shaken and decided to seek solace by finding Nora. He had an idea for something that would make him feel better. It was a gift he had been saving for a special occasion, perhaps their arrival at the sanctuary, but he supposed now was as good a time as any.

Besides, he wanted to see the envy in Constance’s eyes when she saw Nora wear his magnificent offering.

Martha was curling Nora’s hair when Michael walked into the master bedroom.

“Not quite so tight,” Nora scolded. “I don’t want to look like a schoolgirl.”

“I don’t see why it matters,” Martha said, slamming the iron down and brushing out a curl. “You have a bloody hole in the back of your head for Christ’s sake.”

“Language,” Michael said. “You know I don’t like that name mentioned in this house.”

Nora beamed at him through the mirror she was facing. “Michael,” she said. “How good to see you. I have been meaning to speak to you about the help. I should like to hire a new servant. One with more gentile training.”

“Good luck with that,” Martha said. “Not a lot of available applicants these days.”

Michael waved her out. “Go and prepare dinner,” he said. “I’ll help Mrs. Montgomery finish her toilet.” As soon as Martha left, Michael picked up the iron and began tenderly wrapping a strand of Nora’s glistening hair around it.

Nora chatted away about her day and the way she now ran the household. Michael knew she had become nothing less than insufferable toward the other ghosts. With great satisfaction, he had watched her take to her new status with vigor. She demanded the highest respect from the other inhabitants, especially Constance and Vivien. Years of watching other women take over as the lady of the house had taken their toll and Nora took her revenge by ordering them about.

“I suppose I should be grateful the Harmon woman has such strong maternal instincts,” Nora said. “She doesn’t seem to mind continuing to play nursemaid. That child never stops crying. The other woman is intolerable. She always was a horrible moth...Oh!” She cried out when Michael accidentally stuck a hairpin in a little too forcefully.

“Forgive me,” he said.

“I remember when her son was young,” Nora continued as she dusted blush on her cheeks. “Never paid him the slightest attention. Such a sweet boy, too. Is he still here?” She picked up a tube of lipstick. “I feel as if I haven’t seen him…”

“Not that one,” Michael said, eager to put a stop to the current topic of conversation. Nora paused, the lipstick an inch from her lips. “This one is my favorite.” He picked up another color. “It has been for quite some time.”

Nora read the sticker on the bottom. “Ravish Me Red. Well, that is hardly decent.”

“Allow me,” Michael said firmly. He knelt in front of Nora and began applying the bright red color to her pale lips.

“There,” he said when he finished. “It suits you.” Nora smiled, but some hesitation remained. “I have something for you, a gift.” He knew those words were all it would take to regain the sparkle in her eyes.

Michael withdrew a jewelry box from inside his velvet jacket and opened it. Nora gasped, her eyes wide.

“They’re real,” Michael said before Nora had a chance to ask. “I have always believed rubies to be the most glamorous of all.” Nora’s hand shook as she picked up one of the earrings and held it up to examine it. Eight rubies dangled from the hook like drops of glittering blood. “Do you like them? I must admit, they were not easy to find. But I knew that such beauty should not be destroyed.” He would not tell her how he knew of their existence or the morbid story of how they were passed from their original owner to a sadistic, yet pathetically weak-willed doctor.

“I love them,” Nora whispered and quickly fixed one and then the other to her ears.

“They bring out the roses in your cheeks,” Michael said.

He could barely take his eyes off her all evening. The earrings caught the light of the fire as they sat in the living room and her lips stood out, stark against her snowy skin. In that moment, he felt confident and secure in a way he never had before. He had a mother who loved him and he had made her a queen.

“Martha,” Michael said to the Gray who stood nearby, ready to refill his wine glass at any moment. “Find Constance Langdon. Tell her I wish to meet with her tomorrow. Nine o’clock, sharp.”

 

***

 

Even with his newfound self-assurance, Michael stayed up all night devising exactly what he would say to his grandmother and agonized over every word.

But when he walked into the office the next morning, it was not Constance, but Tate who paced anxiously around the room.

“I don’t recall inviting you,” Michael drawled, trying to sound as uninterested as possible. “Where is mommy dearest?”

“She doesn’t want to talk to you,” Tate said. His tone was confident, rehearsed even, but the way he fiddled with the ring on his thumb and looked anywhere but at Michael betrayed his fear.

“I’m surprised,” Michael said. “Not that she doesn’t want to talk to me - she made it perfectly clear she would rather die than speak to me again - but I thought her instinct for self preservation would be stronger.” Tate’s eyes flicked to Michael and away before he swallowed hard. “I suppose you have all figured out what happened to Patrick and Maria by now. That is why you are here, isn’t it? Come to ask me to spare her life? Why? I thought you hated her.”

“People change,” Tate said.

“Do they?” Michael asked, letting the question float between them for an uncomfortable moment. “Ben doesn’t think so. And of course, there was that unfortunate incident with my servant the other day. Doesn’t seem like you have changed much at all.” Michael noticed Tate’s jaw clench and his nostrils flare. “But, since you are here, we may as well have a little chat. Have a seat.” Tate looked from Michael to the door and shuffled uncomfortably for a moment.

“Ok,” he said finally and sat on the sofa, running his hands nervously over his jeans. It felt strange to see Tate look so nervous, frightened, even. Stranger still was the way Michael used to be intimidated by the boy he sat across from. The same boy who had rejected and banished him the way he could banish a common spirit.

“This probably feels quite familiar to you, doesn’t it, Tate? All your hundreds of sessions with Ben. Tell me, have they amounted to anything?”

“Yeah,” Tate said.

“They have?” Michael prodded. “How?”

Tate chewed his lip in silence, a hint of insolence in his eyes.

It was remarkable how much more connected Michael felt to Tate than to any other spirit in the house. More than any other soul, living or deceased, he had ever come across. Unlike his dealings with others, Michael didn’t have to guess anything about Tate’s tragic background. He understood Tate’s past rage, confusion and desires with uncanny clarity, more than Tate understood it himself.

They had much in common and there was just as much that Michael had learned since they had last seen each other, much he could teach the boy who looked more like a younger brother than his dad.

“Your silence hasn’t convinced me,” Michael said. “Not that I blame you. Ben probably needs the help of a therapist more than anyone else here.”

“He’s helped me a lot,” Tate said. Michael leaned lazily back in his chair and pressed his fingers to his temple. He nodded for Tate to continue, who exhaled nervously before doing so. “Yeah, he helped me work out stuff with my mom and all the crazy shit in my brain. The visions, well, memories I guess, of all the stuff I did, all the people I hurt. He helped me face it instead of just...repressing it all.”

“And that has brought you peace?” Michael asked.  “These people, they have forgiven you?” Tate squirmed a little in his seat.

“Some of them,” he said.

“But not all of them. Not, what is his name, Phil? The poor man still doesn’t seem to even realize he is dead. Chad seems doomed to only forgive one person over and over again. Well, not anymore. But Patrick gave no indication of extending you any mercy before I destroyed him.” The last bit was the only lie of the bunch. Michael had a suspicion that it was Tate who Patrick was rushing off to speak with in the middle of their interview.

“Certainly not Ben,” Michael continued. “He doesn’t seem to be the forgiving type. Yet you seek it anyway. Why is that? I can’t help but wonder what it is you are hoping to gain. The father you never had, perhaps?”

“I’m not hoping to gain anything,” Tate said. “I had to take responsibility for what I did and I have.”

“Have you?” Michael asked. “And doing so is what made Vivien forgive you? And Violet?”

Tate glared, silently accusing Michael for the power his father had exerted over him years ago. “No,” Tate managed to say through a clenched jaw. Michael chuckled.

“No,” he echoed. “They think you were under some sort of demonic influence, don’t they? That doesn’t really count as forgiveness does it? Who told them? Was it Cordelia?” He hated even saying her name and spat it out like it was poison. “Perhaps one of her minions? I know they were here. I could smell their paltry magic on Violet. Some spell, I presume?”

As he said it, he realized there was some of that same odor lingering around Tate. He couldn’t sense what it was exactly, almost as if there was something blocking his natural clairvoyance. There was something around Tate’s neck, Michael noticed for a mere moment before instantly forgetting about it all together.

“You don’t really believe them, do you?” Michael asked.

“I believe Violet,” Tate said. “And Vivien knew way before Madi...I mean, before Violet found out.”

“But what does that mean?” Michael uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. “If you weren’t in control, what does that say about you? Are you telling me that you didn’t care about Nora? That her heart wrenching desire for a child meant nothing to you? What about Beauregard? His death did not cause you great distress that stirred you to avenge his death?”

Tate’s forehead creased with uncertainty and he looked away.

“And then, of course, there is Violet,” Michael said, causing Tate’s eyes to snap back to his. “You killed people, not just to try to save her life, but to keep her from even learning the truth about her demise. You wanted to protect her from the same torture and bewilderment you went through after you learned you were dead. Your love for her was blinding, if misguided. What is the saying? You loved her, not wisely, but too well. Though, I suppose, if it wasn’t you who did those things, then maybe you didn’t love her so very much after all.”

“I did love her, I do,” Tate said. “But those things I did, even if I did do them for her, or Nora...it doesn’t make them right.”

Michael rolled his eyes and slumped back. “Did Ben tell you that? Or was it Constance? She certainly has a habit of being a hypocritical bitch. Right and wrong.” He laughed scornfully. “Do you honestly still believe there is any such thing? Tell me, Tate, aren’t you tired of being so sorry all the time?”

“Of course I am,” Tate said. “If there was any way I could go back and…”

“That’s not what I mean,” Michael interrupted. “I used to be like you. Always apologizing, always feeling as if there was something wrong with me. But then I realized, it was Constance who made me feel that way. And then it was Ben. It wasn’t until I met a woman who accepted me for who I was that I realized how much time I wasted feeling guilty.

“I destroyed the world for that woman,” Michael said, allowing the tears that had formed in his eyes to slip down his face. He was not ashamed of them, they were yet another testament to his great love for Ms. Meade. “I accepted my true nature, just as you can, Tate, just as you did when you were alive.”

Tate tilted his head away, his mouth gaping open slightly and his nose wrinkled in what looked like disgust.

“I used to admire you, did you know that?” Michael asked as he brushed the wetness from his cheeks. “I wanted to be just like you. It was the way you carried out your part of my father’s plan with such exuberance. It was Hayden who told me. Well, she filled in what I wasn’t able to gather by listening in on your sessions with Ben. I idolized you even before I knew your relation to me. Sometimes, I would imagine what it must have been like to take so many lives in the space of only fifteen minutes, the power you must have felt…”

“Stop,” Tate said, his shoulders drooping. “Please, don’t…”

“There it is again,” Michael said. “Guilt. How can I make you understand? What you did was part of a noble plan. You said it once yourself.” Tate squeezed his eyes shut and buried his face in his hands.

“Let go of your guilt, Tate,” Michael continued. “I can free you from it, and this prison. You may not be my father, but you played an important role in all of this. We are part of a trinity of sorts, an unholy trinity, I suppose you could call it. My father, his son, and you, a spirit. You and I will be rewarded in his kingdom that we will help create.”

Tate’s curved back shuddered. At first Michael thought he was still crying, but quickly realized with dismay that he was laughing. Tate looked up at him, his eyes still misty.

“You’re fucking insane,” Tate said. Michael looked down at him, making his face a mask. “You think your father cares about you? He doesn’t. You’re just a tool, like I was. He used me and when he didn’t need me anymore, he threw me away. Just like he will do to you, Michael. I promise.”

Any last hope Michael had to connect with Tate vanished. If Michael had not had the same doubts about his father, Tate’s words would not have provoked him. As it was, Michael had to resist the urge to throttle Tate right there. He wanted to make him suffer, to strangle the life out of him. It was a shame he was already dead.

But there were other ways to make him hurt. Michael smiled and tossed his hair over his shoulder.

“Is that what you think?” Michael asked. “I am sorry to disappoint you. You see, the difference between you and me is that in my father’s eyes, I am a Purple. And as for you, well...” He paused and licked his lips. “You’re just a Gray.”

“I prefer green, actually,” Tate said and stood. “Are we done here?” He started walking to the door. Michael didn’t turn around to see how far he got before he spoke again.

“Do you know why my father chose you?” Michael said, brushing a lazy finger over his lips. Tate’s footsteps stopped. “I know you must wonder. It’s not just that you are weak, you always have been, ever since you were a child. But it was what was already inside you that made you such a valuable asset. It was your narcissism and astonishing proclivity for violence. My father barely had to nudge you in the right direction and you destroyed everything that stood in your path. You may have been influenced, manipulated, or whatever you want to call it, but you made the final decision. You were in control when you made the choice to rape my mother.”

When Tate didn’t respond, Michael stood and walked over to him. The way Tate eyed him gingerly, like a wounded animal, told Michael he had hit a nerve.

“Do you wish to tell Violet?” Michael asked, stepping closer. “Or shall I?

“She trusts me,” Tate said. “The witches showed her…”

“They only showed Violet what they wanted her to see,” Michael said. “But you and I both know there is more to it than that. Do you think she will still forgive you when she sees the whole ghastly story? Witches aren’t the only ones who can cast spells that show the truth.”

“Shut up,” Tate said.

“It’s funny,” Michael continued, “with all the time I have spent watching the other spirits in this house, studying them to understand what will break them, I don’t even have to guess at what your greatest fears are, or your greatest shame. You are afraid that this charade of a family you have created will learn you truly are a monster after all. You are afraid they will abandon you, the same way they abandoned me.”

“I said shut up,” Tate said as he attempted to swallow back tears.

“And as for your shame, well, that’s easy. It’s me, isn’t it?”

Being so close to Tate caused Michael to remember the magical odor that clung to him. Michael sniffed and looked Tate up and down. At first his eyes passed right over the thing that hung from the boy’s neck. It must have fallen out of his sweater when he had leaned forward on the couch. Even so, it took great effort for Michael’s eyes to focus on whatever it was.

A glamour had been placed on the object, Michael realized. Not just any glamour. It was powerful and meant only for him. Cordelia must have cast the spell herself.

“What is this?” Michael asked as he took the thing in his hand. As soon as he had, it solidified and he could make out the details of what looked like an intricately designed pocket watch.

“It’s nothing.” Tate said. He pulled away and tucked the watch back under his sweater. “Just a stupid thing I found in the basement.” He turned to leave but Michael summoned the black latex demon to block the door. Michael was never one to get his hands dirty and he had a feeling things were about to get messy.

The demon immediately shoved Tate against a wall and ripped the watch free to hand to his master. Michael decided to watch Tate struggle a bit before examining whatever it was. The boy was clearly trying to use his ghostly abilities to vanish, but the demon had a supernatural control over him which left Tate desperately trying to wrench himself free.

The watch was clearly protected with several more enchantments, it even stung Michael’s hand slightly as he turned it over. One side was decorated with a V wrapped in elegantly swirling vines. He guessed that it was an heirloom of some sort, passed down through a wealthy family.

There was latch release, but pressing it did nothing. Michael tried to pry it open with his fingernails before realizing it had been locked with magic. He tried a few counterspells, but nothing worked.

“A witch gave this to you,” Michael said as he stood next to the demon. “Why?”

“She said it would protect me,” Tate gasped, tugging helplessly at the demon’s forearm the pinned him to the wall. “Obviously it doesn’t work.”

“If that is all it is,” Michael said, “open it for me.”

“I don’t know how,” Tate said.

“Don’t lie,” Michael said. “I am not sure you quite understand how precarious your situation is at the present.” He nodded at the demon who released Tate for a mere moment before wrapping its hand around the ghost’s neck. “All I need to do is think it, and you will be reduced to ash. So tell me, what does it do? Why has it been so carefully enchanted to keep me from being able to open it?”

“You’ll have to ask Cordelia,” Tate managed to say.

“Hmm,” Michael said with a smile. “But I can’t. She’s dead.”

“Then I guess we’ll never know.”

“Then you are of no further use to me.” Tate’s eyes widened as Michael curled his fists.

A gentle touch on Michael’s shoulder stopped him from going any further.

“You musn’t,” Nora said, turning him to face her.

“Nora,” Michael said in surprise. He wavered between being unsure of what to say to convince her that what he was doing was justified, and dismayed that she was asking him to spare Tate’s afterlife at all.

“Please,” Nora said. “For me.”

“You don’t understand…”

“I do,” she said. Her eyes glistened, yet Michael had never seen her look so determined and sure of herself. “But you said it yourself. You would have never been born if it wasn’t for my desire to have a child. Tate is the one who brought us together.” She tenderly pushed a tendril of Michael’s hair behind his ear. The gesture was enough to convince him.

The demon released Tate and the boy sank to the ground, gasping.

Nora immediately abandoned Michael to help Tate to his feet.

“There,” Nora said as she stroked the boy’s hair. “Didn’t I promise I would protect you?”

Her voice betrayed none of the hesitancy or fear that always lingered when she spoke to Michael. There was only compassion and something that sounded irritatingly like love.

“Nora…” Tate began. Michael suspected the two ghosts were about to embrace which was something he knew he could not stand. Destroying both of them crossed his mind, but he couldn’t bear the thought of losing Nora. Still, he needed Tate out of the way.

Michael waved his hand and Tate vanished.

“What did you do to him?” Nora asked.

“No need to fret,” Michael said. He made an attempt to hide his true feelings, but was unable to keep the disdain he felt out of his voice. “Unless you don’t trust me. I would never harm anyone if you do not wish it.”

“Then where is he?” Nora asked, not calmed in the slightest by his words.

“He is perfectly safe. I merely granted him the wish that all the spirits in this house share and cut him free from the invisible chains that bound him to this house. I wouldn’t worry, if he truly cares for you, I am sure he will find his way back.”

“Oh,” Nora said. “Yes, I am sure he will come back. If not for me, then for that girl…” She laid a trembling hand on her heart and wandered out of the room. Michael watched her go, his own hands trembling.

The suspicion that he had been wrong about Nora clawed at the back of his mind. He couldn’t understand why she still cared about Tate at all, not after he had gone back on his promise to give her his child. Michael had given her so much, yet she still withheld her love from him. It was this confusion that convinced him not to give up on Nora. It was clear she still did not comprehend what his love would do for her.

Constance had never understood either. He supposed he would face her soon, once she figured out her son was missing and came looking for him.

He didn’t have to wait long before someone did.

“Where is he?” Violet asked as she walked into her old bedroom without knocking.

Michael set his hairbrush down and stood to welcome her. He was in the middle of his evening beauty routine and all he wore was a silk robe tied loosely around his waist and the enchanted pocket watch around his neck. After focusing on breaking the numerous spells that protected it all afternoon, the silver no longer irritated him, though he was still unable to break it open.

“Who?”

“You know who I mean,” Violet said. If she had any fear, it was hidden behind determination. She was dressed simply, as she usually was, her slim figure masked by a loose sweater and baggy dress. There was nothing particularly striking about her, no reason for him to find her especially attractive. But the way she stared him down, with her arms crossed, enticed him.

She was brave, he thought, but also delicate. His father may have needed that bravery to help build his new world, but Michael wanted to possess her delicacy for himself. He just wasn’t sure if he wanted to crush or protect it.

“Surely you aren’t referring to the boy who raped your mother,” Michael said. “Why should you care?”

“I’m not going to play your bullshit mind games, Michael. Just tell me where he is.”

“His absence from the house has little to do with me,” Michael said. “I merely freed his spirit.”

“You’re lying. He wouldn’t leave without me.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Because he knows it would hurt me.”

“And he has never hurt you before?”

Violet paused a moment before answering. “Not intentionally.”

“Hmm.” Michael pulled the desk chair in front of an armchair and sat, gesturing for Violet to sit across from him. She blatantly refused by cocking her head so that her satiny hair fell over her shoulder.

“I will tell you where he is,” Michael said, “but only if you sit and talk with me for a while.”  

Violet held her defiant pose for a moment more before shuffling uncomfortably in the same way Tate had done just hours earlier.

“Fine,” she said and sat by practically throwing herself back into the armchair, her expression still fixed. “Just get to the point, ok?”

“What makes you think there is a point?” Michael asked. “Maybe I just want to talk to my big sister. We never had much of a chance to get to know each other before our mother tried to kill me.”

“You didn’t give her much of a choice,” Violet said. “She wanted to protect her family.”

“Am I not family?” Michael asked. Violet lifted her eyebrows and gave him the sort of exasperated look one would give a petulant child. With a sigh, Michael turned back to the desk and picked up a small vial filled with glittering black dust. “I heard of the little spell the witches cast. I’m disappointed in you, Violet. I thought you were smart enough to not be so easily beguiled.”

“It wasn’t like that,” Violet said, eying the vial warily.

“No?” Michael rolling it between his fingers. ”I’m curious then, what was it like?”

“It’s hard to explain.”

“I think it would be in your best interest to try.”

Violet let out an exasperated sigh before continuing. “It didn’t show me anything new, I guess. It just sort of clarified memories. Like, I was able to notice things I hadn’t before. That’s how I realized Tate saved my mom. From you.”

“And one good deed is enough to make up for an entire lifetime of evil?”

“Maybe not,” Violet said, looking suddenly pensive. “But I also saw Tate. Ever since the first day I met him, he was surrounded by this...shadow. I don’t know how I never noticed it before. When I looked up and saw him again after the spell, I realized it was gone, and that it had been since the night my mom died. It was just...him.”

“What does that prove?” Michael asked.

“It proves that it wasn’t really Tate who did those things,” Violet said. “He didn’t have a choice.” Michael smiled, breathing in her certainty that was built on false assumptions. Turning her against Tate would be easier than he thought.

“What a sweet thought,” Michael said. “It certainly makes it easier to rationalize your continued infatuation with him. Whatever helps alleviate your own guilt, I suppose.”

Violet rolled her eyes. “What guilt? Even if that witch hadn’t shown me anything, I would have figured it out eventually. This house has made everyone go batshit. My dad nearly lost his mind. Hell, even Chad was planning on murdering you and Jeffrey. Tate didn’t have a chance.”

“No, he isn’t nearly as strong as you are, is he?”

“Why do you care what I think about him?” Violet asked. “Why did you come back here anyway? You already destroyed the world. We’re dead. Why can’t you just leave us alone?”

Michael pressed his lips together and refrained from swallowing the ache in his throat that came with her comment.

“I came back,” Michael said softly, “for you.”

Violet twitched her head back, her eyebrows knit together.

“You can’t be that surprised,” Michael said, looking away from her for a moment to set the vial back down. He hoped doing so would calm some of her aversion to him. “Didn’t I promise I would come back for you? I want to help you, Violet. I want you to be happy and free.” She narrowed her eyes.

“What makes you think I’m not happy?” she asked after a moment.

“There is no possible way a girl as remarkable as you could be content living the same endless routine day after day. Not with all you could have been if you had lived.”

“Not a lot I can do now, seeing as everything worth living for outside this house is gone.”

“That is why I need you.” Michael could not contain his enthusiasm and leaned forward. Violet withdrew further into her chair in response. Perhaps she was more afraid than she was letting on. “I need you to help me rebuild what was destroyed-”

“What you destroyed,” Violet interrupted.

Michael suppressed a proud smile. “Indeed. But I did it with reason. If you come with me, you can help shape it into a utopia. Yours is the sort of mind I need. You were always an outsider, a free thinker. Whatever you want the world to be will be made so. No more war or pain, only peace. We can make sure of it. You will rule by my side in splendor, not just for the span of a mortal life, but for eternity.”

“Sounds like bullshit,” Violet said. “I’m not going with you. None of us are. We all decided it would be better to stay here than live in any world you had a hand in creating.” She crossed her arms and glared at him, her mouth set with a resolved smirk.

“Is that so?” Michael picked up the vial again. “You would rather stay here and watch your parents slowly lose their minds just as Charles Montgomery did? See them fight and despise each other? Perhaps your father will return to Hayden. Maybe your mother will grow weary of your little brother. Will you take care of him? As for your boyfriend, well, even if he was who you think he is, eventually you will come to resent him for what he did.”

Michael uncorked the vial and blew across the top of it, sending black dust into Violet’s eyes. It was only a slight variation of the truth spell the coven had used, though much more potent. Instead of merely clarifying events Violet had already seen, Michael was able to show her things that had happened before she was even born. But only the simple truth. Michael had a feeling she would be able to see through any attempts at deception.

“I wonder,” Michael said as he showed her Tate walking into Westfield, heavily armed. “If you had been one of his peers, would he have spared your life? Or would you have been gunned down with the rest of them?”

Michael made sure she saw Tate’s hesitation during the critical moments before he fired.

“Do you still think he had no choice?” Michael asked. “He once said he killed kids he liked, claimed he was trying to save them by taking them away from the grime and the hurt that comes with living. It seems to me that he knew exactly what he was doing.”

Violet shook her head. Her attempts to remain stoic proved futile as she flinched away from what Michael forced her to see.

“He couldn’t even remember what he had done,” Violet said. “It wasn’t him.”

“Couldn’t remember?” Michael said. “Or simply couldn’t face?”

Violet didn’t say a word but hunched over and drove the palms of her hands into her eyes as if she could shut out the visions of carnage.

“And then, of course, there was this particularly fateful night,” Michael said. Violet looked up, her eyes wide and unfocused as they stared, not at him, but at a reflection in a mirror. The reflection was not hers. It showed Tate as he pulled off a black latex mask and stared back at her, his expression vacillating between a sort of manic determination and wretched abhorrence at what he had just done.

Michael tried to make Violet’s mind move on from the vision, but to his surprise, she resisted and they both watched as Tate opened the cabinet to find the razorblades Violet had stolen from her dad. Violet followed him to the attic where he began to strip off the suit as if he couldn’t get out of it fast enough.

When he was finally free, he immediately began to slice into his skin, ignoring Beauregard’s confused howls. The wounds did not last, but when they had disappeared, Tate seemed calmer. His face was blank as he hid the suit, put on his normal clothes and sat in a corner of the attic with his legs pulled up to his chest and his hands tugging at his hair.

Beauregard continued trying to get his brother to look at him by rolling his ball against Tate’s tennis shoes.

“I don’t even know what is real anymore, Beau,” Tate said, propping his chin on his knee. “Do you still get nightmares?” Beau tilted his head. “Of course you don’t. You wouldn’t even be able to imagine the shit my fucked up mind dreams up.” Tate rolled the ball back and forth to his brother for a few minutes.

Michael jerked at Violet’s consciousness more forcefully. This was not what he had intended her to see. He began to panic when she pulled right back and remained with Tate in the attic.

“Mom wants me to talk to the psychiatrist who just moved in,” Tate continued to Beauregard. “She never wanted me to do that when I was still alive. I don’t even think he can help. He’s an asshole. You should have heard the stuff Violet said he did.”

“Violet,” Beauregard repeated eagerly.

“Yeah,” Tate said with a smile. “I like her too.” Violet smiled back. Michael’s hope that she would ever smile at him the same way was unraveling fast.

“I think your shitty spell backfired,” Violet said.

“Hardly,” Michael said and suddenly Violet was staring at her own body curled into a lifeless bundle on her bed.

“Vi?” Tate opened her bedroom door and peered in. “Are you asleep?” He walked in quietly, looking from the bed to the chalkboard where he had scrawled “I LOVE YOU.” Chewing on his lip, he tugged his shirtsleeve over his hand and quickly erased the words. He stood back with a sigh before turning to look at his girlfriend. His forehead creased when he noticed the pill bottle which he picked up and read.

“Fuck,” Tate whispered. He threw the bottle aside and started to shake Violet while calling out her name. “Please wake up, Violet. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. Just wake up, okay?” When she didn’t respond, he ran into the hall.

“Dr. Harmon!” He screamed as he stumbled down the stairs and darted in and out of rooms. “Ben? Vivien?”

“They’re out.” Moira appeared out of nowhere. “Do you want them to know you’re here? I hardly think Dr. Harmon will be pleased.”

“It’s Violet,” Tate said desperately. “She took these pills...all of them. You have to help me.”

“Hmm,” Moira said. “I’m not surprised. She always seemed like a weak little thing to me. Didn’t stand a chance in this house.”

“No,” Tate said. “She’s not going to die. I won’t let her.”

Tate vanished and reappeared in Violet’s room. He found her cellphone and frantically dialed 911.

“Hello?” he said. “It’s my girlfriend, she took too many pills...hello? Can you hear me? Hello?”

“Ghosts can’t call outside of the house,” Moira said. “I’ve tried. Poor girl. I suppose I will have to be the one to tell madame when she returns.

“I never understood,” Michael said as Violet watched Tate drag her body off the bed and into the hall, “if he loved you so much, why did he try to save your life? Dying meant you would stay together, forever. Why would he risk you growing up, leaving the house and living a life without him?” Michael waved his hand to clear Violet’s vision and sat back in his chair, completely sure she would be out of snarky responses.

“You really are evil, aren’t you?” Violet said. “Like, Voldemort and Sauron evil. Do you really not get it, or are you just out of tricks?”

Michael scowled, irritated that both were true.

“I did what you asked. Are you going to tell me where Tate is now?” Violet asked. “Or do you have another home movie for me to watch?”

“Tate is where he has always been,” Michael said. Maybe he wasn’t completely out of tricks. “Just a few miles away, six feet under the ground.”

“And his soul?” Violet snapped.

“I told you judgment day had come,” Michael said. “I did what was foretold. I reunited his soul with his flesh.”

Recognition of what he had truly done dawned slowly on Violet’s face and she gaped at him.

“Bring him back,” she demanded, though her voice shook slightly.

“Why?” Michael said. “It is more than he deserves and you haven’t given me any reason to do you any favors.”

“Please,” Violet said. “I can’t leave him there.”

“It doesn’t seem like you are in a position to decide.”

“What do you want me to do?” She said it with calm determination and Michael believed she was willing to do whatever he asked. It gave him pause as he contemplated what exactly she could do for him. The first thing that came to his mind was asking her to convince Constance to speak with him, but it felt too easy a task and unworthy of the reward she was asking for.

“It’s simple.” Michael said. “Come with me when I leave here with Nora.” Violet took a moment before answering, but her face remained impassive.

“Ok.”

Michael studied her as he considered her response. He was not pleased that it took a threat to convince her to join him. What pleased him even less was that she had been persuaded by nothing more than her desire to save Tate. Instead of a glorious gift, she saw it as a noble sacrifice. It was mawkish and nauseating, like one of the novels he had read in Violet’s bedroom.

“Very well,” Michael said, making up his mind. Tate appeared on the floor between them with a simple snap. He was lying on his side with his legs tucked in as close as a casket would have allowed and his arms covering his face.

“Tate,” Violet said as she slipped off the chair and onto the ground next to him. He pulled an arm away cautiously to look at her before quickly scrambling to his knees and squeezing her into a hug.

“I thought I was never going to see you again,” he mumbled into her shoulder. “How did you find me?”

“She didn’t.” Michael said. Tate turned, but kept his hold on Violet. “I brought you back.”

“Why?” Tate asked. Michael looked at Violet and waited for her to explain.

“I’m going with him, Tate,” Violet said as she gently touched his cheek to make him look at her. He winced in confusion, but didn’t protest. “I couldn’t let him just leave you there, under the ground, alone…” For the first time since Michael had returned to the house, Violet’s voice was thick as she tried to keep from crying. “I love you, Tate. I’ll come back, I promise.”

Her vow appeared to have the opposite effect than she had intended. Tate grimaced as he hugged her again, his eyes wide and distressed.

Michael stood abruptly which caused both teenagers to flinch. Violet helped Tate to stand, his legs apparently weak from the few hours he had spent trapped in his coffin.

“When?” Tate asked Michael.

“When what?” Michael asked, faking confusion.

“When are we going?” Violet asked.

“You’re not going anywhere,” Michael said. He turned away from both of them, his hands behind his back. “I’m afraid I have changed my mind. You have proven such a disappointment to me, Violet. Even my own sister has rejected me, if not in word, than in your heart. I suppose it is not a great loss. You may pretend to be brave, but you are as weak as the rest. Weaker, even. Choosing the coward’s way out by taking your own life…”

“Don’t talk to her like that,” Tate said.

“Some would say you were the one who drove her to it,” Michael said. “You were quite right, it is your fault she is stuck here. And so is this.”

Michael clenched his fists, not even bothering to turn around. He didn’t have to see to know what was happening. He heard Violet shriek in agony, followed by the sound of two bodies hitting the ground. It all played out as it had the night Michael had tried to destroy Vivien. But this time, Tate would be unsuccessful.

Tate did not give up easily. When Michael finally turned around, the ghost was still desperately trying to put out  the infernal flames that devoured Violet, even as his own shirt began to catch fire.

He was willing to be cremated alongside her, Michael realized with disgust. Maybe the two star crossed lovers deserved each other after all. But Michael couldn’t allow them to perish together. It somehow felt like a defeat, like they were showing him something he could never have one last time.

The black latex demon appeared, seized Tate around the middle and lifted him off Violet.

“Let go!” Tate screamed as he kicked and writhed. “Let go of me! Violet!”

Only a few seconds later, she was gone. Not even a single ash remained as evidence that she had ever existed at all.

The demon threw Tate on the ground and quickly covered him with a blanket to make sure the flames were out. Tate threw the blanket aside and got to his feet, letting out a cry of pain as he involuntarily pulled his damaged arms close to his body. They were blistered and bloody, but that didn’t stop him from running at Michael.

“Bring her back!” he yelled. Michael transmuted easily to the other side of the room and Tate crashed into a wall.

“I can’t,” Michael said. The weight of his own words dropped suddenly into the pit of his stomach and Michael realized destroying Violet had solved nothing. If anything, he felt more dismayed than ever.

“You have to,” Tate tried to stand again but his arms were shaking so violently that he fell back. “Please, Michael…”

“She’s gone,” Michael said more forcefully to hide his own grief.

“Michael?” It was Ben. He walked into the room and looked around with fake confidence. “What the hell has been going on in here?” His eyes fell on Tate. “What happened? Where’s Violet?”

Tate could do nothing but stare at Ben in horror, his mouth forming silent words.

“Tate? Where’s Violet?” Ben repeated, his voice breaking. He looked back to Michael for the answer.

“I am afraid her cooperation was...unsatisfactory.”

Ben shook his head wordlessly before his legs gave way beneath him and he sunk to the ground.

Tate managed to move toward Ben in a sort of half crawl. “Dr. Harmon?” he said. “Ben? It’s ok. It’s going to be ok.”

“How is this ok?” Ben asked. “She’s gone. Oh my God, she’s gone. She’s really gone.”

As they always did, more ghosts flooded into the room to find the source of the screams they had heard. Nora, Hayden and Beauregard were the first to arrive, followed by Constance.

Michael was so distracted by his grandmother’s presence that he didn’t notice Beauregard until he had been knocked to the ground.

“Michael!’ Beau howled as he held Michael down. Embarrassed, Michael shoved him off and got to his feet. He brushed himself off as if he had been attacked by a dog and looked around to see what he had missed.

Nora was standing apart from the others, her hands covering her mouth in shock, while Hayden was trying to convince Ben to get up.

“Come on, Ben,” she said. “We need to get you out of here. “Let’s find Vivien, ok?”

“I can’t tell her. How can I tell her?” Ben muttered, but allowed himself to be led out of the room.

Constance was on the floor with Tate, her arms wrapped around him as he convulsed with sobs. When she saw Michael looking at them, she gently pulled away, walked directly to Michael, and slapped him.

“Get out of my house,” she said.

Michael glared at her. He wanted to hate her the way he hated Cordelia. It had all been her fault, afterall. Being adopted by Ms. Meade, attending Hawthorne School, the apocalypse, none of it would have happened if his grandmother had not kicked him out of her house. And there she was, doing it again, without a hint of remorse.

But he couldn’t bring himself to destroy her. Not after he had just lost Violet.

His gaze flicked away, which was all Constance needed to turn back to her son.

“Nora,” Michael said, holding out his hand to her. “I believe we have outstayed our welcome. We leave tonight.”

She stared at his outstretched hand, motionless.

“Don’t go with him,” Tate said.

“I think that I must,” she said with a sad smile and took Michael’s hand.

Once Constance and Tate had left, Michael never saw another spirit while he remained in the house. They stayed hidden away as Martha packed up all the necessities for the long journey ahead.

A carriage for Michael and Nora arrived at midnight. Michael promised Martha a second mode of transportation would follow for her, but knew no such thing would happen. The Gray would live until the food was gone and then join the rest of the inhabitants of the house when her body expired.

As the carriage pulled away, Michael couldn’t help but look back in the hopes that someone would be watching him leave. What he saw made him shudder with a premonition of eerie quietus.

The house looked completely vacant, except for one window where a little girl with blonde hair and empty eye sockets watched the carriage vanish from sight.



Chapter Text

You don’t own me

I’m not just one of your many toys...

 

1994 - A cemetery in Los Angeles

 

Burying a third child wasn’t any easier for Constance Langdon than burying the first two. If anything, it was immeasurably worse. 

It wasn’t because Tate had been her favorite. Despite what she may have told him in futile attempts to urge him to live up to his potential, deep down she knew she loved all her children equally. But the circumstances of his death were so abhorrent that even a woman as sanctimonious as she was could not even begin to unknot the snarl of emotions that stormed inside her. 

Of course, she let none of her inner turmoil show on her face as she stood by her son’s grave. Not that there were many present to witness it if she had. She was alone except for the funeral director, who loitered under a nearby tree, and the comfortless pastor who rushed through a few generic scripture passages to which Constance paid very little attention.

There had been no funeral. Constance did not wish to sit as an open target for so many eyes, whether they be full of pity or blame. No relatives had been informed of the graveside service and Adelaide had been sent to live with some cousins for a while with the strict instructions she not be allowed to watch television, read a newspaper or do anything else that would risk her learning the truth about her brother. But despite Constance’s efforts to be left alone to grieve, she was approached by a woman carrying a bouquet of wilting flowers. 

“Excuse me,” the woman said, taking off her sunglasses, “are you Mrs. Langdon?”

“Who is inquiring?” Constance asked, looking the woman up and down without removing her own shades. 

“I’m sorry, my name is Eva Boggs,” the woman said. “I’m Stephanie’s mother.”

“Who?” Constance asked. Eva frowned and jerked her head back slightly. 

“Stephanie,” she repeated, her voice shaking. “She was one of….one of the…”

“Oh, of course,” Constance said, suddenly understanding. “I am sorry for your loss.” She didn’t mean to sound quite so dismissive but she couldn’t help but be irritated that the woman somehow expected her to know the names of all the children who had died in the massacre. 

“Thank you,” Eva said. “I brought these for you.” She held out the bouquet. They looked dreadful, as if they had simply been plucked from a flower pot at the last moment. 

“Violets,” Constance said. “How nice.” Eva’s hand trembled as Constance took them from her.

“I just wanted you to know that I don’t blame you,” Eva said. There it was, Constance thought as she tilted her head. Pity. “I know this must be harder on you than anyone. Your poor husband…”

“Husband?” Constance interrupted. “Oh, you mean Larry.” She laughed dryly. “He most certainly is not my husband.”

“How is he? Will he be alright?” 

“One can only hope, I suppose,” Constance said, attempting to sound concerned. She had not been to visit Larry in the hospital, nor did she have any plans to do so. Whether he lived or died meant very little to her, not when she had Tate to worry about. 

“I’ll pray for him,” Eva said. “And for you.” Eva waited a moment, clearly expecting Constance to reciprocate the sentiment. When she was met with silence, the woman walked away, leaving Constance alone again. 

“We’d like to get started, if you don’t mind.” The funeral director had walked up to her, followed by a couple of men she assumed were gravediggers of some sort. The reproach she wanted to give him for being so insensitive died in her throat as she looked at the casket. It wasn’t as if Tate was inside, not really. Just as his siblings were not beneath the stones he was about to be buried beside. 

There was no use standing there any longer. Constance set the shabby bouquet on top of the casket and walked away without looking back. She knew where Tate was. All she had to do was convince him to show himself to her. 

 

The Murder House

 

If she hadn’t known better, Constance would have thought the house felt empty and hollow as she walked in through the kitchen door. The only sign of life was Blanche, a white canary that chirped happily in its cage. The bird was just one of many futile attempts to coax Tate into talking to her. He had always wanted a bird, but she had always insisted they were too noisy. Now she was more than glad of the company it gave. 

Constance sat at the table in silence for a long while, puffing on a cigarette and downing several glasses of sherry before managing to rouse herself enough to pull out a brand new Ouija board from a shopping bag. 

Speaking to empty rooms and requesting Tate’s presence had proved unsuccessful. Constance had not been able to pick up a single hint that his spirit lingered, not even Beauregard or Rose could make contact, but she still believed he was there. The alternative was unimaginable. 

If it hadn’t been for Tate’s vocal disdain for spiritualists and mediums while he was alive, she would have sought the help of a professional. Instead, she decided to try something a little more potent on her own. 

Constance was disappointed by the cheap, plastic make of the board but laid it dutifully on the table and placed her fingers on the planchette. Ignoring how silly she felt, she asked Tate if he was there. The planchette remained stubbornly in place. 

“Tate, honey,” Constance tried again. “I just want to talk to you. I need to know you are still here, that’s all. Why don’t you want to talk to me?”

She didn’t really need him to tell her. He was punishing her, that much was clear. That was why he had done every horrible thing he had done, she was sure of it.  Whether or not she deserved it was not a question she had yet asked herself. But she was sure that if she could only explain herself and make him understand that she had only wanted the best for him, then the two of them would be able to make their peace. 

Just as Constance was about to give up, the planchette jerked beneath her fingertips. She gasped but didn’t dare say anything to interrupt the spirit making contact. 

H - E - L - P, the planchette spelled out before going still. 

“Yes, darling,” Constance called out, her eyes frantically scanning the empty room. “I’m here.” She was barely able to keep her shaking hands on the planchette as it repeated the word two more times. “I want to, but you have to tell me how.” 

B - A - S - E - M - E - N - T. 

Constance’s stomach felt suddenly heavy, drenched in something foul and nauseating. Most of the time she was able to ignore her constant gut feeling that there was something very wrong with the house. Afterall, her children were trapped there and she would be damned if anything succeeded in scaring her into abandoning them.

But there was something about the basement that terrified her beyond the eerie foreboding of the rest of the house. She knew it to be illogical, a baseless fear made all the more frightening by its intangibility. There was nothing for her to face directly, no one to scold or punish. There was only the dread that infiltrated the house from the ground up.

Even though her legs felt weak and her head spun from the sherry, she stood and walked resolutely to the basement. For a brief moment, she longed for Addie’s companionship. Her daughter may have been cursed with a simple mind and homely features, but she was blessed with naive bravery. Addie would have charged headfirst into hell if she knew her brother was in danger

The thought bolstered Constance somewhat as she peered into the dark corners of the basement, her hands clutching her elbows. Nothing about the dank rooms appeared to be different than usual, aside from the collection of artifacts that always seemed to be shifting and changing, even when she was sure no living soul had touched a thing. 

“Tate?” she said timidly, afraid of waking any other entity that may have dwelled there. 

She was answered by a loud bang. The sound came from behind a door she had never noticed before. It repeated itself, slowly at first, and then with increasing urgency. 

Constance forced herself to draw near the door. The knocking ceased as soon as she rested her hand against the wood. 

“Is that you?” Constance asked. 

She received a single knock in response. 

“Are you trapped?” 

Another knock. 

As much as Constance longed to throw the door open in the hopes of seeing her son again, something held her back. The instinct was separate from her fear. It was almost as if she knew that whatever was behind the door was locked there for a reason and if she let it out, all would be lost. 

The doorknob rattled and the hinges creaked from the pressure of an unseen force. Constance pulled her hand away and stepped backwards. The banging started again, louder and more desperate this time. 

At first she assured herself that it couldn’t be Tate. There was no reason he wouldn’t be able to simply appear to her as Rose and Beauregard had done before. Besides, whatever was behind that door filled her with dread and how could she ever be frightened of the boy who was afraid of the dark and wept over injured birds? But then the images she had seen on tv of students fleeing Westfield in a panic replayed in her mind. Perhaps there was reason to fear her son. 

Still, she climbed the stairs slowly, determined not to let whatever it was know she was afraid. 

Constance didn’t bother putting the Ouija board or empty bottle of sherry away before dragging herself upstairs. She heard movement inside Tate’s old bedroom as she passed by, but it was only Moira. 

“What are you doing in here?” Constance asked to hide her disappointment. 

“What I am always doing,” Moira said as she plopped a handful of rags into a bucket that smelled of vinegar. “You will want to refinish the floor. I’ve tried everything to get the stains out of the wood. Blood doesn’t come out easily, I’m afraid, and there was an awful lot of it.”

“Then I suggest you find something more serviceable to do with your time, Miss Moira,” Constance spat. 

“Oh I already serviced your husband, if that is what you mean,” Moira said sweetly. “Would you rather I start boxing up your son’s things? He won’t be needing them anymore.”

“Don’t play dumb, it makes you even less attractive,” Constance said. “You know perfectly well he is still here. He just needs time.”

“What makes you so sure? After the horrors that boy committed, I wouldn’t be surprised if we never see him again. More likely he is in hell where he belongs.”

“If that were the case, you would be there, along with my dearly departed husband.” 

Moira laughed and started to walk past Constance. “Then for your sake, I hope you die here too. Unless you want to know what the seventh circle of hell is really like.”

Constance waited until Moira had left before she dropped her sneer and started to adjust the blankets on Tate’s bed. Moira had done an impeccable job, but Constance was not satisfied. She ripped the blankets and sheets off violently before making the bed from scratch, careful to tuck the corners in tightly and make everything just so. 

As she stepped back to examine her work, she considered messing it up again, if only to pretend it had been slept in recently. 

“Have you found him yet, mommy?” 

Constance jumped a little in surprise. “Rose, sweetheart,” she said.”You must not startle mama like that.”

“I’m sorry,” Rose said. “I just thought, maybe…”

“No,” Constance sighed. “Not yet, darling.”

“I miss him.” Rose walked over to Hamlet’s cage and leaned in close so her nose was almost touching the bars. Hamlet had gone missing for a time, but wandered back to Tate’s room not long after its owner’s body had been removed. Constance hated the rodent, yet she was determined to keep it alive in order to avoid Tate blaming her for its death when he finally had the decency to show up. 

“So do I,” Constance said as she gently smoothed Rose’s curls.

Rose and Tate had been so similar when they were young, Constance mused to herself. Both generally sweet tempered but prone to emotional outbursts where they would cry at the slightest provocation. Rose had remained that way, frozen forever in her innocence. 

It was hard to imagine the young woman she would have matured into if she had lived to seventeen. Constance usually pictured an idealized twin of her own teenage self. Surely she would have been a beautiful, blonde belle on the silver screen as Constance would have been if she hadn’t allowed herself to be seduced and used by her highschool sweetheart. 

Or maybe Rose, too, would have been afflicted by Tate’s invisible maladies. 

Constance wondered if Lorraine had not been so very misguided after all. She had saved her own daughters by making sure they would never be harmed or broken by the world. And now all three were together, forever. It was almost enviable.

“Let’s go ask Beauregard if he has seen him,” Constance failed to say cheerfully. But Rose nodded solemnly and took her mother’s hand. 

Another morbid moment of gratitude flashed across Constance’s mind as she considered how Rose would never mature enough to fully comprehend who was responsible for Beauregard’s death. Her childlike trust in her mother had remained intact. Constance wondered if her trust in her twin brother remained as well. 

 

***

 

Days passed without a sign of Tate. Constance didn’t dare touch a Ouija board again and only ventured to the basement to tend to her kennel. 

There wasn’t much to tend to as there was only one occupant at the time: a nasty mongrel named Shadow. Word of Constance’s relationship with a school shooter had spread, making business hard to come by. But Shadow had been dropped off some weeks earlier by owners who never returned to pick it up. 

Constance couldn’t blame them. Shadow was an ugly, brute of a dog with black fur, yellow eyes and the temperament of a hellhound. It was nearly impossible for Constance to walk due to its massive size and strength so it remained in its cage, pacing and snarling, until she finally relented. She wasn’t sure which she was more afraid of, Shadow or the unseen presence behind the door. 

If it wasn’t for the promise of payment when the owners finally returned, Constance would have called the pound to take the beast away. But finances were growing ever tighter, especially with Larry being more useless than usual. Constance knew she was in his will, but that fact was futile if he refused to die from his injuries. The house did not belong to her and if her boyfriend was unable to pay the mortgage, eviction was not far off. 

Constance lay awake one night, unable to sleep as she tried to think of a way to stay near her family. She had been so close, she thought to herself, so close to securing the house forever. A relationship with Larry had been a small price to pay in order to make sure she could continue to live with Rose and Beauregard.

But Tate had been unable to understand what she was trying to do. He always had been a romantic, an idealist who couldn’t see past his own self-centered, naive notions of right and wrong. Everything Constance did that Tate judged her so harshly for, be it her relationships with men or the way she scolded Adelaide, had all been done for the benefit of her children. She had even saved Beauregard from a fate she thought to be worse than death, for what could be worse than a parent and child being separated forever? It wasn’t as if Beauregard would have had much of a future outside the house. 

Not like Tate. After Rose died, Constance focused all her motherly energies on trying to shape him into the paragon of a son she knew he could be in the way a sculptor chips away at marble. But he refused to be shaped and instead transformed himself into the exact opposite of what she imagined him to be.

The hypocrisy of Tate’s actions made Constance stir in agitation. He had always accused her of being the cause of his siblings’ suffering along with his own melodramatic angst. Yet he had caused more misery in one day than she could produce in a lifetime. Not that she spared more than a moment’s thought for his victims. Her focus was entirely on Tate’s wasted potential and her own heartache. 

As she stared at the dark ceiling above her, sorrow slowly gave way to indignation until she could not bear to lay still any longer. She impatiently pulled on her robe and stepped into her slippers so she could hurry down the stairs to the basement. 

Shadow’s bark greeted her, but she ignored it completely, along with any apprehension about what was behind the door. Her anger was stronger than her fear and her only intent was to find Tate so she could demand he explain himself to her. A dozen chastisements flit around her brain, ready to burst out of her as soon as she seized the doorknob and flung the door open wide. 

But the room beyond was completely bare. 

“Tate?” Constance inched inside and slid a trembling hand along the dusty walls. Shadow had ceased growling behind her and the silence of the room fell heavy on her shoulders, forcing her legs to shake and eventually give up completely. She leaned against the wall for support and covered her mouth to stifle the sob that escaped her. 

It felt like losing Tate all over again, but this time there wasn’t even a body for her to cry over. The reality that Tate was gone for good began to wrap around her heart, constricting her breath. 

She wasn’t sure how long she stayed in that room, minutes or hours or days. It wasn’t until her head began to ache from crying that she was able to drag herself out and back upstairs. 

Movement from Tate’s room made her pause in the hallway. It was probably just Moira again, she thought, and almost continued on to her own room. But all that would greet her there was an empty sadness, whereas Moira was someone she could scold. Anger always was preferable to grief, so she pushed the door open.

Every single light had been switched on and Tate was lying on his bed, his legs tucked close against his chest. He wasn’t wearing the bullet-riddled shirt he had died in, or the suit she had picked out for him to be buried in. Instead, he was wearing his pajamas as if nothing had happened, as if it were just any other night.

Constance stared and blinked a few times to make sure she wasn’t imagining him. 

“Tate?” she said softly. He lifted his head a little to look at her. 

“I had another nightmare,” he said, misinterpreting her shock at seeing him as mere confusion as to why he was trying to sleep with the lights on. The way he said it reminded her of all the times he had wandered into her bedroom as a child to announce that he had seen another ghost. Eventually, when he was around nine and realized his mother was never going to take his tales seriously, he stopped waking her in the middle of the night. Too young, she thought bitterly. She should have never dismissed his fears. 

“Oh?” Constance said. She walked hesitantly toward him. He sat up and rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes. 

“They’re getting worse,” he said. “This one, it...it felt so real.” She didn’t have to ask what it was about, not with the way he pulled his hands away to stare at them before turning to look at the exact place where his body had fallen.

“Well, it’s over now,” Constance said and sat next to him on the bed. Every harsh word she had for him, every question she had listed over and over in her mind instead of sleeping, dissipated as her son rested his head against her shoulder. 

“I don’t feel good,” Tate said. 

“Are you sick?” Constance wrapped an arm around him to put a hand on his forehead. His skin felt unnaturally cold to her touch. “You’re burning up,” she lied. “Perhaps it would be a good idea for you to stay home from school today.”

“Really?” Tate pulled away in surprise and studied her skeptically. She understood his suspicion. Ever since he was in primary school, Tate had constantly come up with excuses to avoid going to school. Constance quickly learned to be strict and sent him off even when she knew he was ill. 

It wasn’t the schoolwork he hated. His grades had never fallen below average, even in the weeks leading up to his death. It had been the other children, the “feeling of being alone in the middle of the crowd,” as Constance once read in one of his journals. But she had been unable to believe that a child as beautiful and charismatic as he was could possibly be ignored or bullied. He was simply too sensitive, a trait he had certainly not inherited from her.

“Of course,” Constance said. “Why don’t you lie back down and I will make you some soup.”

Tate continued to eye her suspiciously. “What did you do?”

“What are you talking about? Am I not allowed to take care of my son?” 

“Where’s Addie?” he asked. “Is she ok?”

“She went to spend some time with my cousin, Collette DeLongpre, don’t you remember?” 

“Oh.” Tate looked away, confused.

“You just rest now,” Constance said as she stood and walked to the door. Just before she left, she turned back to make sure Tate hadn’t vanished. She was hesitant to let him out of her sight for even a moment, but the way he got up to check on Hamlet was enough to convince her that he wasn’t going anywhere. 

Constance hadn’t bothered to go grocery shopping for weeks since she had only eaten enough to barely sustain her. However, she managed to find a can of chicken noodle soup which she heated on the stove. As she did, she stared, entranced, by the small, blue flames of the burner. 

Relief set in slowly causing Constance to blink rapidly. Tears of joy were even more useless than tears of sorrow. Tate was back which meant life could continue as normal. 

No, she thought, it would be better than normal. The worst was over. Tate had appeared more docile than ever before and if he had no memory of his death or what he had done, then she saw no reason to remind him. All she needed was to find a way to stay in the house so she could keep him safe forever. 

Tate was propped on his side, reading a library copy of A Doll’s House, when Constance returned. 

“Here you are,” she said, proudly. 

“I’m not hungry,” he mumbled without looking up. Constance rolled her eyes and set the bowl of soup down abruptly so that some of it sloshed out. 

“Well, it is there if you change your mind,” she said. 

“Okay.” 

Constance stood awkwardly, her fingers drumming on her collarbone. 

“What?” Tate peered at her over his book. 

“Hmm?” Constance cocked her head in response to his question. 

“You look like you have something you want to tell me?” 

Constance’s mind whirred as she tried to think of what to say. More than anything, she wanted Tate to trust her, to possibly even forgive her for all the things he hated her for. 

“If you want me to apologize to your boyfriend for dinner,” Tate said, returning to his book, “you can forget it. And I’m not going to his bullshit play.” 

“Neither am I,” Constance said, jumping on the opportunity Tate provided. He looked up at her again, his eyebrows raised in surprise. “Larry and I are no longer together.” 

“Why?”

“You were right about him and Beauregard.”

Tate sat up abruptly and set his book aside. “You believe me?” he asked breathlessly. Constance nodded. “So where is he? Did you call the police? Does this mean we are moving again?” His eyes were shining with hope at the thought. 

“Well, no,” Constance admitted. Her heart fluttered as she tried to think up another lie to explain why he wouldn’t be leaving the house ever again. “We came to an agreement.”

“What?” Tate’s eyes darkened. 

“I told him I would not alert the authorities if he signed the house over to me, and continued to pay the mortgage, of course. But you won’t be seeing him again.”

“No, mom,” Tate said, standing. “We can’t stay here. It’s dangerous.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Tate,” Constance said, though her mind flicked to the ominous knocking in the basement. “What about Rose and Beauregard? How can you want us to leave when you know they are still here?”

“I know you’ll miss them, I will too. But they’re dead, mom. You have to let them go.”

Constance, unable to contain the twinge of pain caused by his blunt words, slapped him. 

“How dare you speak about your family that way. We are staying in this house and that is the end of it.”

Tate’s jaw clenched as he swallowed, but he was unable to completely hold back tears. He glowered at her silently until she left. Music, if the racket of drums and guitars could be called that, erupted from Tate’s room moments after she closed the door. 

I'm getting edgy all the time

There's someone around me just a step behind

It's kinda scary, the shape I'm in

The walls are shakin' and they're closing in...

At first Constance rolled her eyes at his dramatic response before feeling a pinch of worry. How in the world was she going to keep him from learning the truth about his current state? There were only so many lies she could tell.

But she was determined to try, not just for his sake, but for hers. There was no telling what havoc he would wreak on the house when he remembered what he had done. Still, Constance was sure her heart ache was behind her. He was dead and trapped in the house. What was the worst he could do?

There's demons in my head

And it's more than I can take

I think I'm on a roll

But I think it's kinda weak

Saying all I know is

I gotta get away from me…

 

***

 

As much as Tate claimed to hate the house, he did not seem eager to leave it. Of course, he had always been a bit of a recluse, even when he was alive, so it was not much of a surprise. Constance was grateful for this continued habit since it made keeping his death a secret from him that much easier. 

Most of the time he seemed content to hide out in his room, reading or listening to music, though occasionally Constance would find him in the basement talking to spirits she still couldn’t see. 

He seemed to be stuck in a sort of loop, never remembering anything past the night before the massacre. His relationship with his mother may have been more civil than before, but there was still an icy distance between them that Constance feared she would never be able to breach. Rose, on the other hand, was apparently unable to see or speak to Tate at all. When Constance brought this up with him, he became so confused and agitated that she decided to never mention it again. 

Weeks passed and Constance began to grow confident that she would be able to keep Tate in blissful ignorance. She even began to make arrangements for Adelaide to return home. But her hopes crumbled when she walked into the hallway bathroom late one night to see why the light had been left on.

Tate was standing in front of the sink, his left forearm covered in stripes of red that dripped onto the floor. He made no attempt to hide what he was doing, but turned slowly to look at her. 

“What are you doing?” Constance gasped. 

“It doesn’t scar,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how deep, it doesn’t scar. They just disappear. It barely even hurts anymore.” His voice was calm and monotonous, matching the passive look on his face until it was replaced by sudden panic. “Why doesn’t it scar, mom?”

“Oh, Tate…” Constance made a move toward him but he vanished before she could reach him. “Tate!” she yelled. “Tate, come back. It’s alright, everything is going to be alright.” 

The front door opened and slammed shut, prompting Constance to run down the stairs, still calling for Tate. The back door blew open, followed by the front once again. The sequence repeated several times over until Constance yelled for him to stop.

All was still for a moment. Then a vase that sat on a pedestal in the hallway smashed against a wall. Constance followed the sound of breaking dishes into the dining room where she watched Lorraine’s china be dashed to pieces. 

“Tate, stop that,” she snapped as the destruction continued in the kitchen. Blanche was startled by the noise and fluttered manically against the bars. The cage unlatched itself and the bird escaped. It flew from corner to corner, tweeting wildly. 

“Now look what you’ve done,” Constance said, her patience gone. “Stop acting like a child and help me catch her.” There was no response. Besides Blanche’s nervous twittering, everything was suddenly quiet.

The reprieve was broken by the sound of barking and the thump of paws growing closer. Shadow hurtled into the kitchen, growling and snapping. With one leap, the dog caught Blanche in its jaws and shook the bird viciously. 

Constance was too afraid of the beast to try and stop it. She watched in horror as blood-stained feathers floated through the air. When the bird had been devoured, Shadow ran from the kitchen and out the back door that Tate had left open. 

Shadow was never seen again, while Tate remained invisible as long as Constance continued to live in the house. 

That isn’t to say he didn’t make his presence known. His music played in the middle of the night, loud enough to wake the neighbors, until Constance sold his stereos and records. Bottles of liquor would be smashed before they were even opened which led Constance to start drinking in her car outside the house. 

Dates that Constance brought home failed to stay throughout the night. They were constantly being scared off by visions of a shriveled, bald creature with a mouth full of fangs or a boy lurking in corners, covered in blood. 

Still, Constance was perfectly willing to live with a teenage poltergeist if that meant keeping her family together. Unfortunately, the law had other plans.

The house had already been sold by the time Constance picked up Hamlet’s cage, the last thing to be carried to the house next door. She lingered in Tate’s bedroom, now completely empty, with the faintest of hopes he would appear to her. 

“Are you going now, mommy?” 

“Yes, Rose,” Constance said as she leaned down to her daughter. “But I won’t be far. Never far. Just next door. I will visit whenever I can.”

“With Addie?” 

“Of course, darling.” Constance kissed Rose’s forehead before the two of them walked downstairs and as far as the gate where Constance was forced to continue on alone. She had only taken a couple of steps, however, before she turned back to look at the house. 

Tate appeared at the landing window, watching her. His expression was more confused than angry so Constance carefully shifted the weight of the cage in order to wave at him. He lifted his hand briefly in response, as if he was hardly aware of what he was doing or why. Then he turned away and disappeared into the darkness behind him. 

Chapter Text

2020 - The Murder House

 

To save us all from Satan’s power

When we had gone astray

O tidings of comfort and joy...

 

If Michael’s goal had been to break the spirit of every last ghost left in the house, he very nearly succeeded. Daily routines that once maintained the impression of normality gave way to endless cycles of grief where the ghosts acted as mere echoes of who they once were. 

Except for Constance. It could have been, as she told herself, because she was made of stronger stuff. Or it could have been because she still had what the other lost souls did not: a purpose. No one had seen Tate since the night Michael left, which meant Constance spent the seemingly endless hours searching for him. 

She would begin in the basement which, even though Michael was long gone, still remained the most crowded part of the house. 

Gladys languished there. Without Maria’s companionship, the nurse evidently found no reason to rise from the clawfoot tub she was murdered in while Dallas and Fiona stood nearby and taunted her. 

The exterminator, whose name Constance never bothered to learn, wandered from room to room, muttering about someone not allowing him to do his job. More pathetic still was Dr. Montgomery. He had discovered Thaddeus’ body and desperately tried to revive his son, even after the corpse began to rot. 

After thoroughly investigating every corner, Constance would return to the kitchen where she would find Chad carefully dismantling cabinets in what he claimed was an attempt to remodel everything in the way Patrick would have wanted it. 

“Is it Halloween yet?” he would ask Constance everyday after telling

her he had not seen her spoiled brat. 

Vivien always sat in the music room facing a window, her cello long forgotten and covered in dust. Her son slept silently in her arms, blissfully unaware of the hell that surrounded him. Constance could never bring herself to ask Vivien if she had seen Tate. But she would usually linger a while to watch the idyllic picture of mother and son, coveting Vivien’s luck for having an eternally innocent child she could hold and protect forever. 

In Tate’s old bedroom, Constance would find Ben perpetually rifling through Violet’s possessions, as if doing so would somehow bring her back. His hatred for Constance had only become more transparent since his daughter’s demise and he would brush her off before she even had a chance to ask the same question she asked of everyone else. 

Eventually, she would return to the attic where she would tend to her other two children until she became restless and would start searching again. 

Every possible explanation for Tate’s disappearance filled her with equal amounts of fear. Had Michael somehow found a way to destroy his soul from afar? Or had Tate, like Moira, found a way to escape the house and find a more permanent resting place?

Then there was the possibility that he was still in the house and had simply banished Constance from being able to see him which, to her, was the most unbearable explanation of all. 

It was not a surprise that it took Rose’s peculiar intuition to find her brother. Constance found her one evening, patiently talking to the exterminator who was babbling emphatically. 

“I must be allowed to do my work,” he explained, becoming increasingly agitated as he spoke. “How can I if I am not allowed near the source of the infestation? But first I must call the police. Yes, that is what I must do. They will know I am not the murderer. Can you believe it? He called me a murderer.” At this point he began to laugh hysterically.

“Come away from him, Rose,” Constance said, pulling her daughter back. 

“Wait.” Rose squirmed out of her mother’s grasp and back toward him. “Who?”

“I beg your pardon?” He was clearly surprised at being spoken to instead of ignored. 

“He is just spewing nonsense,” Constance said. “Leave him alone, he is clearly confused.”

“Can you show us where the infestation is?” Rose asked. 

“It is not pleasant to see,” he warned. “It may come as quite a shock, fatal even.” At this he ginned manically, but Rose only nodded fearlessly and started to follow him as he led the way. 

“Rose…” Constance tried again to deter further contact with the lunatic. 

“I know where Tate is,” Rose whispered. “We have to follow him.” 

Constance didn’t understand how Rose could have deciphered such a thing from the man’s ramblings but she followed after anyway. It wasn’t until they reached the entrance to the crawl space beneath the house that Constance realized how right her daughter was. She instantly scolded herself for forgetting about its existence and what was still hidden within. 

The exterminator led the way through the narrow passage on his hands and knees, followed by Rose and then Constance, who hoped Tate would appreciate the indignity she was going through in order to find him. 

“This is as far as I go.” The man stopped suddenly when they reached the edge of the passage before it opened up into a sort of hidden room. “ He doesn’t like it when I come any nearer. Always insists I not touch her….poor girl…” Constance rolled her eyes and seized the flashlight he was carrying to light the rest of their way. 

Rose forged ahead and looked down over the edge of the crawlspace and into the heart of the house. 

The corpse below had decomposed past the point of recognition and was little more than a pile of bones and tattered fabric. Still, it was easier for Constance to identify what was once Violet Harmon through the darkness than the huddled figure sitting over her. 

“Tate?” Constance called out. He turned and looked up, his eyes squinting against the light of the flashlight 

“Mom?” His voice was barely more than a whisper. “What are you doing down here?”

“Looking for you, of course. Have you been down here all this time?”

He nodded and turned back to look at what was left of his girlfriend. “Yeah. I couldn’t leave her alone.” 

Constance had to resist telling him off for acting so maudlin, especially when he knew perfectly well that Violet was gone, 

Rose was more sympathetic. She immediately slipped off the ledge and sat quietly next to her brother.

“Why don’t you come upstairs,” Constance said gently. “Everyone has been worried sick about you.”

“You don’t have to lie,” Tate said. “I know they all blame me for what happened.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Rose said. 

“Doesn’t matter.” Tate leaned his head back and stared vacantly off into the darkness. It was then that Constance realized why she could barely see him, even with the flashlight directed at him. 

The light shone right through him, revealing the brick he leaned against. What was left of him was translucent and gray as if he was on the brink of vanishing completely. 

“My God, Tate,” she said in alarm. “You look like a ghost.” Glancing at her and lifting a single eyebrow seemed to take all the energy he was capable of exerting. 

“That’s funny,” he said. 

“What is happening to you?” Constance asked as she lowered herself down to join her children. “You look like you’re fading away.” She quickly reached out to cup his face in her hands. At first she was relieved to find out she could still touch him, but began to panic when the skin beneath her fingers felt unnaturally hot. “You’re burning up. We need to get you some help.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he repeated and closed his eyes. 

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Constance shook him by his shoulders. “What do you mean it doesn’t matter?”

“He took the watch,” Tate mumbled. “I was going to fix everything, but he took it. I can’t find them without it…”

“What are you talking about? Come upstairs.”

“I can’t.”

Of course you can. Stop being so dramatic.”

“No, mom, I can’t.” Very slowly, Tate unfolded his arms, wincing as he did so. The burns he had received from trying to save Violet had not disappeared but had become infected. The skin from his hands all the way up to his elbows was mutilated, black and bloody. Constance closed her eyes and sucked in a deep breath to keep her head from spinning at the sight. 

“Can’t you just…sort of disappear and reappear upstairs like you used to?” Not that she had ever done such a thing herself. She always refused to do anything to reinforce the idea that she was anything less than human. 

Tate stared at her for a moment, his eyebrows creased in concentration, before shaking his head. He looked almost scared, which Constance decided was an improvement over apathy. Still, it was clear to her what was happening. Michael may have not allowed Tate to die with Violet, but somehow Michael had killed him all the same. It was only a matter of time before he succumbed to his wounds in the same way he would have if he was still alive. 

But there had to be some way to save him, some sort of supernatural cure for his supernatural affliction. The first thing she had to do was get him upstairs. She would have carried him herself if she was able, but unfortunately her physical strength was the same as it had been when she was alive. 

“Don’t worry,” she said as she pushed a damp lock of Tate’s hair off his forehead. “I’m going to get some help. 

“I’ll stay with him,” Rose said. 

Who Constance would be able to convince to help her son was another matter. The other spirits were useless as far as she was concerned and Tate was right, most of them did still blame him for their current misfortunes. 

“Give me one good reason why I should help him,” Ben responded after she explained the situation.

“Basic human decency,” Constance said. “Or have you been dead too long to remember what that feels like?” 

“I don’t remember you being incredibly concerned with it when you were alive,” Ben said. 

“This isn’t about me.”

“I don’t recall you warning us about what could happen if we stayed here. And you knew. You knew Tate was still here and what he had done, what he was capable of.”

“Even after everything you have seen, even after your own daughter was consumed by the evil of this house, twice, you still refuse to acknowledge that there are greater forces to blame. But if you did that, then you might have to admit the way you failed to recognize Michael for what he was.”

“Well, it looks like we finally found something in common.” He turned away from her to continue sorting through Violet’s books. Constance knew that meant the conversation was over. But if she couldn’t get Ben to help Tate, she doubted anyone would. 

“Dr. Harmon...” she said. Her voice faltered. Admitting when she needed help had never been easy for her, especially when she knew showing her inner weakness would be the only way to convince Ben to help her. “There is no one else in this house that I can turn to. Tate trusts you. I don’t know why, you’re a terrible shrink, but he does. And, he loved your daughter. That should count for something.”

“Of course he’ll help you, Constance.” Vivien walked into the room, still carrying Jeffrey. “Won’t you Ben? It’s what Violet would have wanted after all.” Constance had always been impressed by Vivien’s ability to sound unconsciously accusatory toward her feeble husband and that moment was no exception. 

“Doesn’t sound like there is much I can do,” Ben said. “If what you say is true, than he’s a lost cause.”

“That doesn’t sound like the Ben I know,” Vivien said. “You’ve never given up on anyone before. There’s always hope.”

“Not for Violet.”

“Maybe that’s all the more reason why you should help.” 

Ben moved in close to Vivien, wrapped his arms around her and Jeffrey, and kissed her on the forehead. Try as she might, Constance wasn’t able to hold back an exasperated sigh at the sight.

“This is all very heartwarming but can we please focus on what to do about Tate?”

“Where is he?” Ben asked. 

Constance hesitated, realizing she hadn’t completely thought through what Ben would be forced to see if he went into the crawlspace. 

“He’s underneath the house.”

“Lead the way,” Ben said and motioned for her to go on ahead. 

They passed through the kitchen where Chad asked what the two of them were doing. Constance was only too happy to ignore him, but Ben attempted to enlist his help.

“Seems to me like the little bastard is finally getting what’s coming to him,” Chad said with a satisfied smirk. “Thanks for finally delivering some good news.” 

He followed them into the basement anyway, making sarcastic comments as they went. But the gloomy sight of two ghosts guarding a rotting pile of bones shut him up and he watched from above with Constance as Ben joined Tate and Rose below.

“Are you here to help him?” Rose asked. She must have been truly worried about her brother if she was letting just anyone see her, Constance thought.

“You must be Rose,” Ben said. “Vivien told me about you.”

“Ben?” It clearly took a great deal of effort for Tate to open his eyes and even more to speak. He already looked so much paler than he had less than an hour earlier. “I’m sorry.”

“I know,” Ben said. “C’mon, we have to get you upstairs. 

Tate shook his head. “What about Violet?” Ben finally looked over at his daughter’s corpse but quickly turned away. 

“That’s not her, Tate,” Ben said. “She’s gone.”

Tate stared at him blankly for a moment before nodding. 

“Can you stand?”

“Yeah.” Tate carefully unfolded himself and tried to stand, but immediately slumped against Ben who held him up. 

“Chad, give me a hand.” 

To Constance’s astonishment, Chad nodded soberly and immediately began to help Ben lift Tate onto the ledge before the two carefully dragged him through the crawlspace. When they reached the other side, Ben didn’t hesitate to pick Tate up and carry him upstairs where he laid him down on the sofa in the music room. 

“Is he injured?” Gladys appeared in front of Constance, blocking her way and still dripping with bloody bathwater.

“He is,” Constance said. 

“Injured how?” Dr. Montgomery asked as he emerged from the shadows. “All my experiments have indicated that those who are already deceased do not suffer from wounds for long. Give it some time and he will be back to his usual self.”

“I’m afraid Tate’s condition is something more serious,” Constance said. The doctor’s eyes widened, his interest peaked. 

“Let me examine him.” He started to walk past Constance but she stopped him. Memories of Thaddeus and the last night of Vivien Harmon’s life made her more than hesitant to allow him anywhere near her son.

“I don’t think that will be necessary,” she said. “I doubt your medical training covered his particular ailment.”

“The Cooperative brought extensive medical supplies,” Gladys chimed in. “I would be happy to assist.” Constance wasn’t sure she liked the way both of their eyes were lighting up, as if Tate was nothing more than an excuse to pull out a scalpel again. 

“You should let them try and help,” Ben said. 

“I will decide what is best for my son, thank you.” She brushed past them all and sat at Tate’s side. Moving him upstairs had appeared to do more harm than good. He looked almost cadaverous aside from the droplets of sweat on his forehead and the way he shuddered with each breath. 

The day was coming to an end and the light from the windows was quickly fading. Vivien lit candles and placed them around the room to provide light before handing Constance a bowl of water and washcloth. 

“Thank you,” Constance said as she laid the cloth across Tate’s forehead. 

“Vi…” Tate murmured before falling silent. 

“What are you you all standing around for?” Hayden had entered the room, her shrill voice breaking through the quiet hush of the room. “Are you going to help him or not?”

“Hayden…” Ben said.

“Don’t Hayden me. Start acting like adults and let Dr. Frankenstein do his fucking job.”

“Why do you care?” Ben asked. 

“About Tate?” She scoffed. “I couldn’t care less. But if he dies, that means Michael wins. Again. Are we really all going to stand by and let that happen?”

Vivien took a gentler approach. “We want to help, Constance. All of us.”

“The way they helped you?” Constance replied. “We know how successful that was.”

“Nothing could have saved me. The house wanted me dead. Michael killed me, not Dr. Montgomery.” 

Constance turned back to Tate, whose breathing had slowed considerably. She thought of how it had been the convergence of the spirits in the house that brought Michael into the world to begin with. This was merely their way of trying to redeem themselves for the evil they had done and she resented them for it. 

Redemption was not her motive, but she knew losing Tate again would make her continued existence in the house a true hell. 

“Very well,” she said. “Do what you must.” 

“Move him to the dining room,” Dr. Montgomery instructed quickly. “The nurse has prepared the room for surgery.” 

Ben and Chad lifted Tate again and laid him out on the dining room table. Surgical instruments were arranged on a nearby pedestal, reminding Constance of a scene from a horror film. 

“You may administer the anaesthetic,” Dr. Montgomery told Gladys. “Though I am not sure if will have any effect. I have never performed surgery on a ghost. We are entering into uncharted territory.” 

Constance wanted to slap his eagerness off his face, but instead stood closeby, ready to put a stop to anything that looked out of place. 

“What are those for?” Constance asked as soon as the doctor picked up a pair of scissors.

“I must clean the burns and debride the infected tissue,” he said. “Now please, you must allow me to concentrate.”

Constance kept her anxieties to herself as she watched Dr. Montgomery and Gladys cut up her son, their brows furrowed with deep concentration. Tate did not seem aware of what was happening aside from an occasional twitch or whimper.

“Dammit,” Dr. Montgomery said after a long while. He slammed his tools down and took off one of his gloves before running a hand over his face. 

“What is it?” Constance asked.   

“The wounds continue to reopen and the infected tissue regrows. I can’t understand it.”

“Mortal tools can’t heal him in the same way mortal weapons can’t destroy us,” Gladys said matter-of-factly. Dr. Montgomery nodded, staring into space. His expression was not vacant as it usually was, but searching and determined. 

“There was a family some years ago,” he said suddenly. “Very superstitious. They tried to exorcise us from the house, do you remember?” 

“Yes, but…” Gladys said with confusion. 

“Their belongings, are they still here?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“If I remember correctly, they used Holy Water in one of their attempts. Do you think you could find it?”

“Holy Water?” Constance interrupted. “Doctor, do you really think…?”

“I never considered myself a believer, Mrs. Langdon,” he said, “but when one has seen as much irrefutable evidence of the supernatural as we have, one has to consider every possibility.”

The search for the long forgotten Holy Water began immediately. Unsurprisingly, it was Rose who found it. 

“Tate hid it,” she said, showing Constance a shoebox that held the small bottle along with bundles of sage, salt, and a crucifix. 

“Of course he did,” Constance said. She took the Holy Water to Dr. Montgomery who sprinkled some of it over his surgical tools before getting back to work. 

“It’s working,” he said after just a few minutes. “Yes, I believe it is working.” Constance sighed with a long breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding in. 

When Dr. Montgomery and Gladys had finally finished cutting and injecting and stitching, they applied ointment which they mixed with Holy Water and wrapped Tate’s arms in bandages. 

“We have done all we can,” Dr. Montgomery told Constance. “All there is to do now is wait. I will return to change his bandages in a few hours.”

Ben moved Tate back to the couch in the music room where Constance made sure he looked comfortable, propped up by plenty of pillows. He was not conscious, but no longer felt like he had a raging fever. Even his color was slowly returning. Still, Constance knew he was not completely out of danger yet, so she settled herself into a chair nearby in order to watch over him for as long as necessary. 

The rest of the night passed uneventfully. Tate continued to improve until he looked as solid and human as ever. A few ghosts wandered in and out to check on his progress, but only Constance, Rose and Beauregard stayed by his side until the sun began to peek through the curtains. 

Constance rose to peer out across the barren wasteland that surrounded them on all sides. It was a depressing sight, but she couldn’t help but feel anything but quiet relief as she thought of her three out of four children all locked safely inside the house. 

“Wake up, Tate.” 

At first, Constance thought she had imagined the familiar voice that spoke so sternly behind her. Her mind had wandered to her eldest daughter, after all. But then Beauregard began to yelp Addie’s name over and over, prompting Constance to turn from the window. 

Sure enough, there was Adelaide, gathered with the rest of her siblings. She was wearing, strangely enough, a dress that resembled Constance’s wedding dress, right down to the pearl necklace and lace gloves. 

“Adelaide?” Constance said breathlessly. “Oh, is it really you? How?”

“It’s Halloween,” Adelaide said. “The dead walk freely on Halloween.”

“But why have you never visited me on Halloween before?”

“You were with Michael,” Adelaide said simply. “And then you had Tate and Beau and Rose. You didn’t need me.”

“I always needed you,” Constance said. She decided to not hold back her tears, just to let Adelaide know she was telling the truth. “Why are you here now?”

“For Tate. He needs to wake...up…” She poked his face forcibly until he finally stirred.

“Ow, stop it,” he muttered as he came to and opened his eyes. “Addie?”

“I know ghosts don’t sleep,” Adelaide said. “Stop pretending.”

“How are you here?” The way he sat up, looking as lively as he ever had, was a great relief to Constance. She doubted anyone, besides Violet, could have prompted such a positive response in him as Adelaide did. 

“The dead walk freely on Halloween,” she repeated. 

“Where have you been?” he asked. “I thought maybe you didn’t want to see me anymore, because of all the stuff I did.” 

Adelaide went quiet for a moment before speaking very solemnly. “I didn’t understand at first, but I do now. Billie Dean didn’t understand either.” She turned to Constance. “She told me to say hello, by the way.”

“What about Violet?” Tate asked, his eyes suddenly shining with hope. But Adelaide shook her head. 

“She isn’t there,” Adelaide said. “I don’t know where she is.”

“Oh.” Tate slumped back and looked away. 

“You aren’t going to just give up, are you? What about the witches?”

“You know about that?” 

“I am visiting from heaven, I know a lot of things.”

“Know what?” Constance asked. 

“Michael took the watch,” Tate said, ignoring Constance’s question. “I don’t know how I am supposed to find them without it.”

“What watch?” Constance said, irritated. “What are you talking about?”

“Watch!” Beauregard yelled suddenly. “Watch!” He bounded suddenly out of the room.

“Does everyone know what we are talking about except for me?” Constance asked Rose, who nodded. 

“Yes,” Rose said. 

“I told Rose in case something happened to me. But it doesn’t matter anymore,” Tate said. “I just fucked everything up again.” 

Beauregard came back into the room, somewhat slower than how he left. This was largely due to the way he was holding something with one hand cupped over the other. Constance thought it might have been a bird or other living creature by the careful way he carried it over to Tate before uncovering what it was while breathing heavily from excitement. 

But it wasn’t a bird. It was, as Constance supposed she should have guessed, a silver pocket watch attached to a long chain. 

“Beau…” Tate murmured, his eyes wide, before absentmindedly throwing his arms around his brother. 

“Aach,” he cried out in pain and pulled his arms back, but his excitement did not diminish. “Do you have any idea what this means? I can save Violet...I can fix everything. How did you find it?” 

“Michael,” Beau answered and then laughed. Tate moved to take it from him, but stopped when he realized he couldn’t with his hands wrapped the way they were. Constance took it instead and turned it over in her hands. 

“So much fuss over this?” she said as she tried to pry it open. 

“Zoe. Queenie. Bubbles.” Tate said. The watch popped open by itself. “Those are the magic words. I dunno why.”

“Magic?” Constance said as she examined the watch’s face, only to find that she couldn’t read it. There were three hands, like a normal clock, but instead of seconds, minutes and hours, they seemed to measure something else altogether. 

One seemed stuck pointing in a single direction like a compass, though Constance was quite sure it didn’t point North. In fact, no matter which way she turned it, it pointed unwaveringly toward the door of the music room that led to the foyer. 

Another was positioned very close to the 11, as if it was 10:59 in the morning or evening, which it certainly was not. The last pointed to the 3. The colors of the numbers were also curious. All of them were inky black, except for 1 through 3, which glowed white, 4, which was silvery-gray, and 5, which was purple. 

“It appears to be broken,” Constance said. 

“It’s not,” Tate said. “You just have to know how to read it.” 

“I think you had better start from the beginning,” Constance said, sitting at the end of the couch. Beauregard and Rose led Adelaide out of the room with the goal of finding something or other, leaving Constance alone with Tate who reluctantly began telling her everything about what the witches had told him. 

He told her about Madison and what she had offered him. He explained how he could go back in time to stop everything from happening: Violet killing herself, Michael being born, and the apocalypse. 

“My eyes have been opened to a great many things,” Constance said. “But time travel?”
“I know how it sounds,” Tate said. “But I trust them. Look.” He gestured at the watch. “The compass hand points to where Mallory is. All I have to do is follow it when the time comes. This one shows the date. See, it is October 31, almost November. I have to leave on the 4th Halloween from when Madison gave it to me, which is when Mallory will be strong enough to send me back. That’s next year. And look, all the numbers are still glowing, which means they are all still alive. Michael said they weren’t, but they are.” 

Constance couldn’t remember a time when she had seen Tate look so passionate about something. There was no trace of his usual cynicism or pessimism. It had been replaced by hope and an innocent sort of selfless willingness to do whatever it took to save the world. 

He was still the naive child he had always been, Constance realized, and clicked the watch shut. 

“It’s a nice fairy tale, Tate,” she said. “But even with these witches’ powers, you know they are no match for Michael. If they were, then they would have stopped him before he destroyed the world. It’s for the best if you stay here.”

“Stay?” Tate said. “Mom, did you not listen to anything I just said?”

“I did,” Constance said. “And if I could, I would strangle each and every witch in that ridiculous coven for what they convinced you to do...traveling across that wasteland by yourself. You’re just a child.”

“I’m already dead, mom,” Tate argued. 

“And if you cross paths with Michael? What then? He almost killed you. I only just found you again and you expect me to let you go?” 

“You have to someday.”

Constance shook her head. “I forbid you from going and that is the end of it.”

“You can’t stop me,” Tate said. For a moment, his face was set with the familiar stoney expression that usually preceded one of his outbursts. But then it melted away and he swallowed before continuing.

“Mom,” he said, his voice soft. “I have to do this. The things I did…”

“Were not you,” Constance said. “It wasn’t your fault. Why should you have to suffer for it?”

Tate shrugged. “To save the world, I guess.” 

“And what happens to us when you change the future? What happens to this future? Do we cease to exist? Or will I have to spend the rest of eternity trapped here without you?”

Constance could tell by the way his eyes widened that he hadn’t even considered this repercussion. 

“I don’t know,” he said finally. 

“Well,” Constance said. “You are right about one thing, I can’t stop you and I know better now than to try. I know what you are like when you don’t get your way.” She stood suddenly and dropped the watch on the coffee table.

“Mom, wait…” Tate said. 

“I should find Adelaide,” Constance said with a wave of her hand. “She left heaven to be with me in this hell. I suppose I should spend as much time as possible with her before she leaves me too.” She swept out of the room without looking back. 

Constance found her other children in the attic, pulling out and rifling through boxes. 

“Look what we found, mommy,” Rose said, holding up a glittering Christmas angel. 

“How lovely,” Constance said. 

“Can we have Christmas today?” Rose asked. 

“It’s not Christmas,” Adelaide insisted. “It’s Halloween.”

“Maybe we should have Christmas,” Constance said. “We are all together after all, and I have spent enough time with ghosts and witches and skeletons to last a hundred Halloweens.” Beauregard’s enthusiastic reaction was all she needed to be convinced. 

An artificial Christmas tree was discovered, which Constance and Adelaide carried into the music room. Dr. Montgomery was already in there, changing Tate’s bandages as promised. 

“I don’t expect we will ever see her again,” Dr. Montgomery was saying as Tate listened intently. “Hopefully she is happy with Michael, wherever she is. That is all I can hope for now. I always wanted to make her happy. But when I tried, all I did was create a monster.”

“Me too,” Tate said. He glanced up and met Constance’s eyes for a moment before quickly looking away. She wasn’t sure which he was more ashamed of: creating Michael or trying desperately to please a woman who was not his mother. She hoped it was the latter. 

“Ah, Mrs. Langdon,” Dr. Montgomery said. “Your son continues to improve. His recovery has already surpassed my greatest expectations.”

“Thank you, doctor,” Constance said. “I hope he expressed his appreciation for all you did, for all everyone in this house did, to help him.”

“It was a pleasure,” Dr. Montgomery said. “For a moment, I felt like my old self again, before all of this happened. If only we could go back, what we wouldn’t change...” He twitched a smile before wandering out of the room.

Constance wondered if Tate had asked Dr. Montgomery to say the last bit, but when she looked at her son, he was watching his siblings begin to set up the Christmas tree.

“What are you doing?” he asked them.

“We decided to have Christmas instead of Halloween,” Adelaide said. “Like that movie you like.”

Tate watched silently as his family decorated the Christmas tree and the rest of the room with every ornament they could find. It was a hodge-podge of styles, not all of it to Constance’s taste, but she found she cared more about observing the way her children argued and compromised over what to put where than the garish end result.

The Harmons looked in at one point during the festivities, but did not pass through the door.

“Wait,” Tate called out just as Ben and Vivien started to turn away. It seemed to take a bit of effort for Tate to get up from the couch and walk gingerly toward them. 

Constance was unable to overhear their conversation, but she could tell by the solemn expression on Tate’s face, matched with the confusion on the Harmon’s, that he was explaining the witch’s whole cold-blooded plan to them. The realization of what it all meant dawned slowly and soon enough Ben was blubbering like the milksop he was. Vivien’s expression of joy was quieter, but no less maddening. She merely touched Tate’s face tenderly and smiled. 

The desire to smack all three of them was mediated only by Rose asking Constance if she would read them a Christmas story. 

“Not now, honey,” Constance said and gently set the book she had been handed aside. 

Her anger only grew as Tate apparently invited the three ghosts in to encroach upon her family’s celebration. Ben took it upon himself to build a cozy little fire as Vivien sat nearby, gazing lovingly down at Jeffrey. 

All they needed was a couple of sheep and a donkey and they would have their own life size nativity, Constance thought bitterly. The scene did not deliver any feelings of peace or goodwill toward her fellow spirits. She despised Ben and Vivien for the way they were encouraging Tate’s absurd fantasy. Even after their supposed efforts to save him just the day before, they were going to let him walk off to face who knew what and she would never see him again.

But she had a year, she told herself. One year to change his mind. 

For the time being, however, she had her whole family together so she did her best to expel her worries until a future time. Nothing truly lasted forever, not even in that house where time seemed to stand still. All she had was that night and she was determined to make the most of it. So she picked up the book Rose had handed her and opened it to the first page. 

“Marley was dead to begin with…”

Chapter Text

October 31, 2021 - The Murder House

 

This song here, is about not looking back,

Just keeping your eyes on the road ahead

Where's everyone going?

Nobody really knows

Don't go looking back

You’re all alone...

 

Tate spent the early hours before dawn on Halloween sorting through twenty-seven years’ worth of odds and ends that he had collected from countless families that had lived in the house. Books were the most common, each of them read several times over. But there were also photographs, records, cassettes, CDs, magazines, t-shirts, figurines and a variety of other useless objects that had struck his fancy at the time. As he sifted through them, he wondered how much of it would already be there when Mallory sent him back, and how much would be swallowed up along with the years about to be erased. 

There was nothing he was particularly attached to, but he paused as he unfolded the old Union infantry coat. An evidence tag was still pinned to the collar, detailing where and why it had been seized. 

He had thought of himself as a soldier when he wore it, fighting to bring about the desolate world he was about to venture into. He still felt a bit like a soldier. But he was fighting for the other side now and for a world that no longer existed. 

The idea had felt noble, almost romantic, when Madison first explained what he had to do, and what he would sacrifice. At the time, he had been happier than he had ever been in his life, or his afterlife. Violet had forgiven him, and he would have been content to spend the rest of eternity with her and the rest of his family. 

But Violet would never have been satisfied with such an endless, futile existence. She never said anything, and Tate could tell she did her best to appear happy, but he knew her. He knew what it meant when she stared vacantly out a window or disappeared for hours at a time. He knew that even though her wrists no longer scarred, there were deeper, invisible scars elsewhere that he doubted would ever heal completely. 

Sometimes he considered telling Violet about his secret mission, she was his best friend after all, and ever since he had regained her trust, he had confided in her about almost everything. But something held him back. 

It wasn’t that he was afraid that she would try and convince him to stay in the way his mom had. Even during the nights when he held Violet close, wondering how he could ever let her go when the moment came, he knew there was nothing anyone could say that would induce him to stay. 

Afterall, his relationship with Violet had always had an expiration date. From the moment he saw her walk down the stairs into the basement where he hid away while Marcy showed the house to dozens of potential buyers, to the moment she died in his arms, he knew he couldn’t keep her forever. 

Still, he couldn’t bring himself to tell her the truth. He was afraid that she would actually agree that he should go through with it, even if it meant being separated forever. Ben had always been right about him; rejection still frightened him more than anything. 

So he kept the secret to himself and tried to soak in every last moment he had with Violet. 

She noticed. How could she not with the way his kisses became a little more desperate, his apologies for even the tiniest of missteps more frequent? She pestered him to tell her what was wrong, but he managed to keep her in the dark. 

Then she was gone, and it was his fault. No matter what Rose or anyone else told him, he knew it was true. If he had never promised his mom that he would let Ben treat him, never spoken to Violet, never given in to the dozen dark impulses he had been plagued with his whole life, then the Harmons would still be alive, along with, he supposed as an afterthought, the entirety of the world’s population. 

He may not have known exactly what point in time Mallory was going to send him back to, but he knew what he had to do when he got there. As painful as it would be, he was determined to never say a single word to Violet. Sometimes he thought that silently watching over her wouldn’t be so bad if he thought of himself as a sort of unorthodox guardian angel, protecting her from afar. But then he imagined what it would be like to watch her suffer alone, unable to comfort her. 

She couldn’t stay in the house for long, he decided. Years of scaring families away, along with the knowledge he had of the Harmons’ darkest fears, made him confident that he would be able to drive them out before they even finished unpacking. 

With his mind made up, he pulled the evidence tag off the collar of his coat and put it on. It was still too big for him and always would be, but there was something about putting it on that felt like a giant “fuck you” to Michael, the house, the devil or whatever it was that had messed with his head all those years ago. 

He pulled the watch out from underneath his shirt and let it drop against his chest. It made him feel a little like Frodo Baggins, preparing to take the ring to Mordor. 

Before he had time to roll his eyes at his own mawkish comparisons, Constance called up to him while climbing the attic stairs. She stopped when she saw him, her face suddenly pale. 

“What are you wearing that for?” she asked breathlessly. 

“I just…” Tate flushed and ripped the coat off, embarrassed. “Never mind. It’s stupid.” He tossed it in a corner and passed by his mom, determined to avoid looking her in the eye. 

“Wait, Tate,” she said. “I have something I want to talk to you about.” 

He ignored her, but felt guilty as soon as his feet stepped off the ladder in the upstairs hall. If it weren’t for the fact that he knew exactly what it was she wanted to talk to him about, he would have gone back up, just to have someone to talk to. There was still an hour left until dawn and he had nothing left to do but pace nervously up and down the hallways. 

The sound of Constance’s heels on the ladder above him prompted him to dart into one of the bedrooms without thinking about which one it was. 

It was his own room, neglected and unused since the day Michael left. He had avoided it completely with the hope of banishing the memory of Violet’s last horrible moments, but her screams still seemed to echo against the walls.  

His eyes fell on the black rose still prominently displayed in a vase on the dresser. Violet had dried it out and kept it, refusing to throw it out even after she had broken up with him. Tate picked it up and twirled it between his fingers that were still red and mutilated from Michael’s flames. 

The door behind him opened and footsteps, too quiet to belong to Constance, approached. 

“What if she really is just gone?” Tate asked Rose. “What if I can’t bring her back?”

“You don’t think Michael is that powerful, do you?” 

Tate shrugged. “Seems like he is. He took out an entire coven of witches.”

“Not all of them,” Rose reminded him. 

“Unfortunately,” Constance said as she walked in. “I swear if anyone mentions those new age freaks again I am going to scream.” Her tone did not match the hesitant way she stood, holding Tate’s folded coat against her almost in the way Rose liked to hold her doll. “Though I have to admit I am not unimpressed by their plan to save the world, even if I disagree with who they chose to execute it.”

Tate scowled, trying to guess the subtext of her statement.
“Show me how to read that ridiculous thing and I will go instead.” She held out her hand and waited in silence. 

“Well, don’t just stand there gawking at me,” Constance said when Tate didn’t respond. 

“Why would you do that?” Tate asked around the ache that had formed in his throat. 

“So you don’t have to,” Constance said. “I can go back. I can be a better mother, now that I understand you better.” 

“That won’t matter,” Tate said. His stomach felt suddenly heavy as the truth of what he wanted to say struck him in a way it never had before. He had tried to convince Ben that he believed it, but he wasn’t sure he truly did until that moment. “The shit I did, it wasn’t your fault.”

It wasn’t that he had exactly forgiven Constance, not completely anyway. Doing so was difficult when some of his earliest memories consisted of being locked in a closet full of mirrors because he didn’t appreciate his own normal appearance compared to that of his siblings, or being sent to bed without dinner whenever he asked why she hadn’t tried to find out where his dad had gone. 

Yet he had been the one to decide what to do with the hurt she had inflicted on him. Trying to erase it by passing it on to others had only made it grow and doomed the rest of the world. 

“I never said it was,” Constance said, tilting her chin up proudly. “But I am still your mother and what sort of mother would I be if I let you put yourself in danger?”

Tate chewed on his lip for a moment. Maybe it was selfish to think he was the only one who could save the world. Ben had once diagnosed him with a narcissistic personality disorder. Maybe he liked the idea of being some sort of chosen one a little too much. Maybe Constance deserved to right her own wrongs as much as he did. 

“Mom,” Tate said thoughtfully, “do you regret killing dad? Or Moira?”

“My only regret,” she answered without hesitation, “is that they died inside the house.”

“What about Beauregard?”

“I did what I had to do, to keep my family together.” 

Tate nodded, his own conviction solidified. “That’s why it has to be me.”

“It was you, wasn’t it?” Constance said. Her voice was thick and her jaw tight as she struggled to speak. “You were the one who told those awful people about Beauregard. You wanted them to take him away from me.” 

“Yeah.” Tate averted his eyes away from his mother’s. Trying to help Beau had been the first in a long line of failures that ended in disaster. He tried not to think about what would happen if he went back in time only to make the same mistakes again. 

“Well,” Constance said after clearing her throat. She unfolded Tate’s coat and held it up. “I suppose you had better put this on. It is probably cold out there. I don’t think they call it nuclear winter ironically.” 

She helped him put the coat back on before brushing off and smoothing his shoulders. 

“I was right about one thing,” she said. 

“What’s that?” Tate asked. 

“I always knew I was destined to raise a truly great man.” She pressed the watch against his chest but couldn’t hide the way her hand shook. 

Tate stared at her. He couldn’t help but be hurt that this was the moment he had finally lived up to her expectations. At the same time, he felt like a great weight had been lifted from his chest. Maybe he would never understand his mom or why she did the things she did, but she loved him in her own screwed up way. Maybe they weren’t so different after all. 

“I should go,” Tate said as he awkwardly shuffled away from her. She nodded and pulled her hand away to place on her own heart as he swept passed her and into the hall. 

The house had never felt emptier as he slowly walked down the stairs thinking about how crowded it used to be. He thought he hated every inch of what had been his prison for almost thirty years, but he suddenly felt scared to leave.

 It wouldn’t be long, he told himself, and he would be back safe within its walls, even if it would be a decade earlier. 

“I can walk with you to the gate, if you want,” Rose said. She was the only ghost who appeared as he stood in the foyer, facing the door. He thought Ben or Vivien might have shown up to see him off but he didn’t blame them for not. May they had even forgotten it was Halloween. 

“Ok,” he said. Realizing he was still carrying Violet’s rose, he slipped it through a buttonhole on his chest before taking Rose’s hand. The door stuck for a moment, as if the house was trying to keep him from leaving, but he managed to wrench it open and they both stepped outside. 

Rose drew in closer to him and squeezed his hand tighter as they walked slowly through the eerie mist that surrounded them on all sides. 

“Are you scared?” Rose asked. 

“Nah,” Tate lied. “I’m already dead. What’s the worst that could happen?”

“Be careful.”

“I will.” 

Rose let go of his hand and Tate pushed against the gate. It refused to budge at all but Tate just shrugged and walked around it, waving goodbye to his sister. 

Out of the corner of his eye he could see Constance standing at the window above. He didn’t dare look directly at her, but popped open the watch and started in the direction it pointed toward without looking back. 

Chapter Text

I swear by the moon and stars in the sky

I'll be there

I swear like the shadow that's by your side

I'll be there...

 

The following is a selection from a larger collection of personal essays by Ozymandias Mayfair-Richards-Westbrook. 

 

A Traveler from an Antique Land 

 

When I was fifteen, I happened to have a very strange dream, the memory of which has stayed with me ever since. 

Now, I know what you are thinking, and it is almost universally true that dreams are never as interesting when related to another person as they are to the dreamer. But because the particulars and details have remained so vivid for so many years, I have decided to write them down. I find it especially unusual that though some of the specifics have faded, they have done so slowly and not all at once, as is usually the way with dreams. In fact, if I didn’t know better, and if the events of the dream were not so outlandish, I would think it to be a memory and not a dream at all. 

I am sure many will accuse me of lying and will believe I had no such dream, but made the whole thing up. The only defense I have for this is that what follows reeks of genre fiction, which my dedicated readership will know I detest and avoid at all costs. I have decided to publish this essay due to the way it illuminates my own insecurities at the time, as well as shows the curious way real life events and people can work their way into the subconscious mind. 

The dream began with my mother and I camped out by the side of the road in a post-apocalyptic version of California. How the two of us survived whatever cataclysmic event that all but wiped out the entire population of earth apparently had something to do with my mother’s position as a senator, and perhaps, more ominously, her association with the cult-like organization known as S.C.U.M. 

We sat silently, crouched behind an abandoned truck, waiting and listening for the sound of vehicles approaching. The frequency of travelers on the road must have been rare, but we soon heard the hum of an engine in the distance. 

“Go!” my mom yelled at me. I obediently jumped to my feet, ignoring the cramps in my legs that had developed from sitting for so long, and ran away from the road until I reached an outcropping of rocks that I threw myself behind. I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but I peered around the edge of one of the rocks to catch a first glimpse of whoever was coming towards us. 

It was a lone figure on a motorcycle who was clearly taking advantage of the lack of highway patrols by going at least a hundred miles an hour. The figure did not make it past the point where my mother still sat, hidden, as the bike hit her hand-made roadblock and flew into the air. 

I distinctly remember being unsurprised by this, but I still cringed and shuddered when the rider was flung head first onto the pavement and lay there, unmoving. 

My mother was even less phased than I was and immediately emerged from her hiding place to hurry toward the wreckage. I waited, unable to drag my eyes away from the dark mass I assumed to be a dead body. 

“Fuck,” I heard my mother curse loudly after examining the motorcycle. Hesitantly, I crawled out from the safety of my hiding place and tip-toed to my mom’s side, my eyes still flicking to the rider. 

“This is a complete loss,” my mother said of the beaten up bike. “He was going too fast. Stay here.” I didn’t obey this time, but followed her with a morbid curiosity to examine the corpse until I got close enough to where I could start to see the details of the dark blue, wool coat he wore. 

“He looks like he is from the Civil War,” I said.

My mom answered with an exasperated sigh. I was always saying odd things when I was young which she always attributed to an overactive imagination and a symptom of my traumatic childhood. 

She flipped the body over and started to rummage through his pockets.  

“He’s just a kid,” I said. Despite the bloody wound that covered most of his face, I could tell the victim was barely older than I was. 

“Oz,” my mom said. “What have I told you?”

“That no one who has survived this long could possibly be innocent,” I recited. 

“Except you,” she said. “And that is only because you have me to do the dirty work for you. Isn’t that right, Kai?” She looked up from the body for a brief moment before nodding as if she had received some sort of confirmation from the empty air. “At least we can agree on something.” 

Apparently there was nothing in the boy’s pockets, but a pocket watch that hung around his neck did catch her eye. She ripped it free and tried to pry it open for a moment before holding it out for me to take. 

“Here, see if you can open that.” 

I felt bad touching it with my dirt covered hands. It was an old, but beautiful, antique pocket watch, possibly made of silver, and decorated with a swirling V. 

“What are we supposed to do with this?” I asked. “It’s not like we can sell it. Maybe we should leave it with him.” I had always been superstitious when it came to the dead but there was something else about the watch that made me wary to take it. 

“He isn’t going to be using it anymore and there is nothing else on him. So stop asking so many questions and do as I say. Start heading back to the camp, I’ll be right behind you. I need to talk to Kai alone.” 

I took one last look at the dead rider, hoping he would forgive me, before turning and following my mother’s orders. 

“Excuse me,” a voice behind me said after I had walked for no longer than a couple of minutes. 

I spun around, my hand instantly pulling out the gun I always had on me but never used. The stranger was unphased by the weapon pointed directly at him, but continued on calmly. 

“Can I have my watch back?”

There was no way I could deny that the stranger facing me was the motorcycle rider I had just seen lying dead with his head smashed in moments ago. The coat he wore was identical, as was his shaggy blond hair and the black rose tucked in his lapel. 

“You’re dead,” I said. The stranger lifted an eyebrow in confusion or amusement. “I saw you. How did you…? Wait. Where’s my mom? Did you hurt her?”

“Was she the crazy woman talking to herself back there?”

“She’s not…” I paused. As much as I wanted to insist that my mother wasn’t crazy, I didn’t really know how to refute it. 

“It’s ok,” the boy said. “My mom is nuts, too. And I didn’t hurt her. She didn’t even notice I was gone.” I lowered my gun slightly. For some reason, I believed him. 

I would like to say my trust was due to some innate ability to accurately judge a person’s character within moments of meeting them. But the truth was that I, or at least the dream version of 15-year-old me, found him instantly attractive. 

I remember feeling guilty about this when I woke up since I was in a relationship with my first boyfriend at the time. Furthermore, the stranger had an uncanny resemblance to Kai Anderson, though over a decade younger than when I had known him. 

I am sure a variety of my readers, be they psychologists or oneirocritics, will have much to say about this particular detail. In my opinion, it is merely evidence of the theory that the slumbering mind can only conjure up faces that it has seen in real life and not due to any repressed feelings towards the man who murdered one of my moms and stole the sanity of the other. 

But in the fictional realm of my dream, it had apparently been a long time since I had seen another man, let alone one my own age, and this one happened to be particularly beautiful.

“Is it just the two of you out here?” the boy asked. “How did you even survive?”

“Us? What about you? You barely even had a face five minutes ago.”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Normally I would have been irritated by such a claim. My mother was always refusing to explain things to me because I wasn’t old enough or she wanted to shield me from ugly truths. But I fully believed that there was something unnatural, possibly even supernatural, about him. The idea excited me and I was determined to learn his secret. 

I didn’t have a chance to question him further because the side of his head suddenly exploded with a loud bang. He collapsed, revealing my mom standing a few feet behind him, lowering her rifle. 

“Mom!” I shouted. Blood had landed on my face and I dropped my own gun in order to try to desperately wipe it off. My mom leaped forward to pick up the weapon, forcing it back into my hands before grabbing me by the arm and pulling me away. “Ow! Mom, stop!” I yanked myself free. “He wasn’t going to hurt me.”

“How could you possibly know that?” 

“Did you even notice? He was the same guy, the guy on the motorcycle. He was alive.” 

“What?” she said. “Are you sure?”

I was surprised that she took my claim seriously. I had expected her to scold me again for making up stories. 

“Yeah it was him,” I said. “Come look.” But when we returned to examine the body, he

was gone. 

“Oh my god,” my mom whispered while looking frantically around. “Is he a rasper? Have they mutated to survive gunshot wounds?”

“No, he was normal looking.” Well, perhaps normal wasn’t the most accurate word to describe his appearance. “And he could talk.”

“Then how…?” She was interrupted by the sudden appearance of the stranger himself. He ran at my mom, wrenching the rifle from her grasp before she had a chance to realize what was happening. 

“Don’t!” I yelled as the stranger pointed the gun at my mom. She didn’t even put her hands up, but gave him a death glare that would have put the fear of God in me even if I was the one holding a gun. 

“Does she always shoot people before she gets to know them?” the stranger asked. 

“Who are you?” my mom asked without a trace of fear. “Where did you come from? Did Kai send you?” 

“Who?” 

“Never mind,” I jumped in, not wanting the stranger to know the full extent of my mom’s lunacy. “Here, this is what you want, right?” I held out the watch with a trembling hand which he glanced at out of the corner of his eye. 

“Yeah,” he said. He shuffled his feet a little, uncertain of how to take it back without losing his aim on my mom. 

“What’s so important about it?” my mom asked, her voice still steely and calm. “Where were you headed in such a hurry?”

“Now you decide to ask questions.” His eyes flicked to me again. “What’s your name?”

“Oz.”

“Ok, Oz. Put the watch in my pocket and then I’ll be on my way.”

I inched forward until I was close enough to slip the watch into one of the coat’s pockets. I made sure to let it fall heavy so that he knew I hadn’t tricked him before scurrying backwards away from him. 

“Thanks.” He immediately relaxed, lowered the rifle and took a step towards me. “If I give this to you, do you promise not to shoot me in the back?”

“Would it do anything if I did?” I asked.

“Not permanently. Still hurts though, and I don’t have a lot of time.” 

“A lot of time before what?” my mom interjected. “What do you know?”

“Here.” He tossed the rifle to me which I caught awkwardly as he turned and walked briskly in the direction of the road. 

I hurried after him, the weight of the rifle making it difficult to run. 

“Hey wait up!” He glanced over his shoulder but didn’t slow down. “Where are you going?”

“Somewhere dangerous,” he said when I caught up to him. I could hear my mom continuing to call after us as she followed. 

“Why would you do that?”

“I’m trying to find some people.”

“So are we. Or my mom is. She is sure there is some sort of outpost around here somewhere. Do you know anything about that?”

The way the stranger glanced at me made me sure he knew exactly what I was talking about. “You should go back with your mom.”

“I knew it!” I skipped with excitement for a few steps. “That’s what you are looking for too, isn’t it? You should stick with us, we can help each other.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Oz!” My mom grabbed my shoulder. “We have to head back to camp. Now.”

“But mom,” I argued. “He knows where the Outpost is.” 

I felt slightly guilty when the stranger scowled at me, but it was the only thing I could think of that would get my mom’s attention. Besides, my attraction to him had already started to grow into a crush. He was like something out of a comic book, roguish and mysterious, and I wasn’t about to let him wander off without me. 

We had reached the road and the stranger crouched down to examine the wreckage of his bike. 

“Is that true?” my mom asked. “How do you know about it? Are you part of the Cooperative?”

“You know about the Cooperative?” the stranger asked, looking up from the mess of twisted metal and smoke. 

“I made it my business to know,” my mom responded. “You look a little young to be a member. What’s your name?”

“Tate.” He stood up and looked around. 

“Tate...what?” My mom asked. 

“Does this thing run?” He ignored her again and started toward the truck we had been hiding behind earlier. 

“No,” I said, tagging along behind him. “But we have a car.” The truck may have still been functional, but we had siphoned the gas from it earlier that day. 

“Shut up, Oz,” my mom hissed. 

Tate apparently didn’t believe my claim about the truck. He opened the driver’s side door only to leap back when something inside growled. 

The creature must have been human once, but the boils and open sores that covered almost every inch of its skin made it almost unrecognizable. 

More horrifying than the way it looked, was the sound it made, as if it was struggling to breath. It lunged toward Tate, it’s mouth open wide. 

I fumbled with the rifle, but my mom had a better idea. 

“Run!” she screamed. The creature was not alone. Three more emerged, crawling over each other in the hopes of being the first to rip apart our flesh. 

My mom led the way and I wasn’t far behind, until I tripped. She stopped and started to turn back to me, but Tate was there first. He yanked me to my feet and shouldered the rifle so I could run easier. 

Our camp wasn’t far, but my lungs were burning by the time our car, a burgundy Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, was in sight.

“Get in!” my mom yelled as she started the engine. I jumped in as quick as I could, sliding across the seat to make room for Tate. He slammed the door behind him just in time for a rasper to ram against it, its hands clawing at the glass. 

“Go, go, go!” Tate yelled. My mom hit the gas and we sped away. I watched anxiously out the back window until the raspers disappeared into the fog. 

“That was close,” I said after a while and turned back to settle myself in my seat. “You should put your seatbelt on,” I told Tate as I buckled my own. 

Tate raised an eyebrow and I felt silly for suggesting it. 

“What were those things?” he asked.

“They’re the future of the human race,” my mom said, “the unfortunate result of over half a century of horrific experiments started by a Nazi war criminal in the sixties and continued by our own government.”

“Why would they do that?” Tate asked. 

“The aim was to find a way to make us immune to nuclear fallout. It seems they were successful. But the end of the world came before the scientists responsible were able to eradicate the unfortunate side effect of turning them into mindless, cannibalistic zombies.”

“We call them raspers,” I explained, eager to add my own expertise. “They move faster than zombies. At least the ones in The Walking Dead .”

“Once the bombs fell, they escaped from the facilities where they were being held, as if dealing with the devastation and nuclear winter isn’t enough.”

“How have you two survived this long?” Tate asked. “I didn’t think there would be anyone still alive outside the Outposts.”  

“You don’t recognize me?” my mom asked. 

“Uh…” Tate glanced sideways at me. “Sorry, no. Who are you?”

“Ally Mayfair-Richards,” she said. 

“She was a Senator,” I explained after Tate shrugged apologetically. 

“I have been investigating the possible existence of the Cooperative for years,” she continued. “I was so close to finding solid evidence. But more importantly, I had a hunch as to what they were planning. So I prepared.”

“We were on vacation at Disneyland,” I said. “But we were evacuated to a shelter before any of it was even on the news.”

“Why did you leave?” 

My mom and I were both silent for a moment. Months of suspicion and mistrust among the other members of S.C.U.M. that slowly built up into an outright mutiny passed through our memories. 

“It’s better not to trust anyone,” my mom said. “We were better off by ourselves.” 

She didn’t mention what I already knew. The moment we were forced outside the shelter, our life expectancy had been cut to shreds. The bombs may have fallen a year and a half prior, but the fallout would linger for years. It was only a matter of time before we succumbed to its effects. We only had a few years at the most, if we were able to continue outrunning the raspers and find enough food. 

“I guess that means you want me out,” Tate said. 

“That depends,” my mom said, slowing the car down to a normal speed. “Do you really know the location of one of the Cooperative’s Outposts?” 

“Yeah, I do. But it’s not what you think. It’s not safe there.”

“Safe is relative. It is of the utmost importance to the entire world that I get Oz to an Outpost. He has to survive.”

“The world? Why is that?” Tate asked. I sank further into my seat and avoided Tate’s confused frown, hoping my mom wouldn’t continue on one of her nonsensical rants. She looked at Tate through the rear view mirror. 

“I can’t tell you that. Not until I know I can trust you. You never told me your last name.”

“It’s Langdon,” Tate said. 

“That explains a lot,” my mom said. “Are you his son or something?”

“Who?”

“Michael Langdon.”

Tate was pale enough to begin with, but what little color was left in his face, vanished. 

“Never heard of him,” he said. My mom scoffed. 

“I have a teenage son, I think I know a lie when I hear one. So what did he do? Kick you out? It must have been quite a falling out if he left you out here to die.”

I wanted to point out that Tate seemed incapable of dying, but he looked upset enough as it was, so I kept quiet. 

“He’s not my father,” Tate said softly. 

“But you must have some relation to him. It is too much of a coincidence otherwise. I have to admit, he was a hard one to find any information on. No record of a family at all. The only thing I know about him is his name and that he was one of the ring leaders of the Cooperative.”

“You ever meet him?” Tate asked. 

“Can’t say I ever had the pleasure.”

“You’re lucky.” 

“So I guess that means you aren’t traveling to the Outpost in the hopes of meeting back up with him.”

“Not if I can help it.” Tate pulled what I thought was a watch out of his pocket and fiddled with it before holding it next to his mouth and whispering something I couldn’t hear. It popped open. “You’re going the wrong way,” he said after studying it for a moment. “You need to go south.” 

Tate’s apparent dislike of Michael Langdon seemed to be the first step my mom needed in order to trust him. The car slowed down as my mom turned us around and sped off in the opposite direction. 

I watched as Tate clicked the compass shut and suddenly noticed that his hands were covered in what looked like scars from 3rd degree burns. 

“Are you a mutant?” I asked. 

“A what?” 

“A mutant, like Wolverine. Do you have super healing abilities? Is that how you have survived so long?” It made perfect sense to me. If the raspers had been able to evolve to survive radioactive fallout, then maybe other humans had evolved from the radiation in a different way. Tate had already become a sort of superhero in my mind, solidified by the moment he picked me up and dragged me away from the raspers. 

“Oh, for God’s sake, grow up Oz,” my mom said. “You know there is no such thing as mutants.”

“I’m not a mutant,” Tate said before abruptly changing the subject. “So, what kind of name is Oz? As in The Wizard Of?”

“It’s Ozymandias, actually.” I said it with all annoyance I felt at having been given such a pretentious name. 

“Oh,” Tate said. “King of kings.” I caught my mom’s face in the rearview window just in time to see her attempt to hide how impressed she was. “Look on my works, ye mighty and despair. Nothing beside remains round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away .” 

“I always preferred the Smith over the Shelley,” my mom said. “ What powerful but unrecorded race, once dwelt in that annihilated place.” 

Shivers crawled up and down my back as I looked out over the wasteland we drove through. I had never been a fan of either poem, but I outright hated them after the bombs fell. 

“My mom named me after Sharon Tate,” Tate said. 

“The one who was murdered?” I asked. 

“Yeah. I always thought it was pretty morbid. She was my mom’s favorite actress. I guess it messed her up pretty bad when she was murdered by Manson so it was her way of keeping her memory alive or something.” 

“Manson didn’t kill her though,” I said. “He never murdered anyone, that we know of anyway. It was Tex Watson and Susan Atkins who killed her. Manson just manipulated them. He always got other people to do his dirty work.”

“Why do you know so much about it?” Tate asked. 

“I know a lot about cults,” I said. “You really never heard about my mom? She took down a whole cult from the inside. It was all over the news for months.”

My mom smiled proudly for a second before glancing over at the empty passenger seat. “We shouldn’t talk about that, Oz,” she said, frowning. 

“Why not?” I asked. “It was badass, mom. You saved so many people’s lives. You saw through Kai when no one else-”

“That’s enough,” my mom snapped. 

“Who’s Kai?” Tate asked. His voice was low as he leaned over to me. “You mentioned him before.” But I was afraid of making my mom mad so I shook my head and leaned against the window in a sulk. 

We drove in silence for a long while, the uncomfortable quiet broken only by Tate occasionally checking the compass and giving directions to my mom. Eventually I closed my eyes. 

I must have dozed off a little, if sleeping within dreams is even possible, because I remember waking to my mom having a fervent conversation with herself. 

“There is something not right about him,” she said. “He seems...familiar somehow. And it’s not just his last name. There’s something else.”

I looked over at Tate who stared back at me, his eyebrows raised as he silently questioned what my mom was on about and who she was talking to. I had a feeling he had been listening in for quite some time. 

“Yes, I know you like him,” my mom continued. “And that is exactly why I don’t trust him. What if he doesn’t really know where the Outpost is? It could be a trap.”

Now, I am not saying I believe in premonitions, but I must interject just how strange it is that this dream foreshadowed the decline of my mother’s mental health. I have not written in depth about her illness out of respect for her privacy but I will share that she has been plagued by hallucinations of Kai Anderson at certain times, just as she was in this dream. I must have had some suspicion of what was coming even then, perhaps because I still had my own nightmares that revolved around him. 

“You know who he is, don’t you?” I could tell she was getting more agitated by the way she gripped the wheel and continued to press on the gas. “I am not up for your twisted guessing games, Kai, just tell me who he is.” 

She was silent for a moment, apparently listening to whatever her invisible companion had to say. “1994? What happened in 1994?” she whispered, followed by another long pause. “Westfield.”

The car stopped so suddenly that my seatbelt locked and threw me back against my seat. Tate slammed into the seat in front of him but quickly fell back when my mom pulled out a handgun and turned to point it at him. 

“Get out,” she said. 

“Mom?” I said hesitantly.

“I said get out of the goddamn car or I swear I will blow your head off again.”

“What did I do?” Tate asked. 

“Oh, I think you know. Tate Langdon. I knew I had heard that name before. You’re that psychopath who shot up Westfield High School in 1994.”

“What?” I said. “Mom, that’s crazy. Just because he has the same name…”

“No, it’s him. He is even wearing the same fucking coat he wore.” Her hand shook as she jabbed the gun closer to his face. “I was traumatized for years because of what you did. I didn’t go to my own high school graduation because I was terrified there would be some sort of sick copycat.”

Tate stared at her, his face expressionless, but made no attempt to refute her claim. 

“Tate?” I said. He looked over at me and I noticed that though he was trying hard to remain stoic, his dark eyes were shiny.

“Sorry Oz,” was all he said. 

“Don’t you dare say another word to my son,” my mom said, her jaw tight. “Why are you here? I was right, wasn’t I? Kai sent you. You’re just another trick, another way he can manipulate me.”

“I don’t know who Kai is,” Tate said, his voice level with forced calm. “I told you, I’m just trying to get to the Outpost. I have to get there before nightfall.” 

“Why? What is it you are trying to do?” 

“I’m…” Tate paused, his lips pressed together. “I’m just trying to save my girlfriend.” 

I knew that I should have been repulsed by the horrifying revelation about Tate’s past, but I couldn’t help but feel a measure of disappointment at the mention of a girlfriend.

My mom laughed dismissively. “Is that all?”

Tate frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“The survival of the entire world hangs in the balance and I am supposed to be worried about your girlfriend.”

“What are you talking about?” Tate asked. His tone wasn’t one of incredulity, but genuine curiosity. “Are you part of Cordelia’s coven?” 

“Coven?” my mom lowered her gun a little in surprise at the question. “No, I’m talking about Oz.”

“Oz?” Tate’s looked at me skeptically. 

“Mom, please don’t.” I had all but disappeared into my seat at this point, my shoulders hunched in an attempt to vanish completely. 

“He is our only hope,” she continued on, despite my pleas. Her voice was thick with emotion. “He was chosen: born to save the world.”

“Oh.” I could tell Tate was trying to keep his face from betraying that he finally understood just how unstable my mother was. 

“She thinks I am some kind of Messiah,” I said, my exasperation getting the better of me. “But I’m not. You were right, ok? She’s crazy. She believes everything that Kai tells her. I keep telling her he’s dead but she won’t believe me.” 

I didn’t care much about being embarrassed anymore and made no attempt to hold back the angry tears that came with my outburst. 

“Oz…” my mom tried to say calmly but I wasn’t about to let myself be calmed down. Instead, I hastily took off my seatbelt, opened the car door and leapt out. 

“Oz!” I heard my mom shout and her own door open as I started running. I knew I was being dramatic, knew there was nowhere I could go to get away from her, but it was the only thing I could think of to get her to take me seriously. 

I hadn’t made enough of a head start to avoid my mom catching up to me and grabbing my arm to stop me. 

“Let go,” I yelled, ripping my arm free. 

“What is the matter with you?” my mom matched my frantic tone.

“Me? What about you? You’re the one who keeps talking to Kai. He’s dead, mom.”

“You think I don’t know that? I was there when he died, I saw it.”

“Then why do you keep talking to him?”

“Because he is trying to help us.”

“Why would he do that? He hated you.”

“Because you’re his son.” 

I stared at her, speechless at her claim. 

“He was right, about everything. You are special, Oz. I always knew it. I swore I would keep you safe, and I will. I promise.”

“I’m not his son,” I managed to say, though my voice trembled. “You know that. And I’m not some prophesied chosen one. You are just making it all up in your head because you know that we are going to die out here and there is nothing you can do about it.” 

The silence that followed was broken by the sound of our car’s engine starting. We both turned to see it speed off, leaving us in the dust. 

“No!” my mom called after it. She ran for just a moment before slowing hopelessly. “No, no! This can’t be happening.” 

I walked slowly to her side, but couldn’t think of anything to say. Not only had our means to survival just vanished, but so had my last hope of forming a human connection with someone other than my mom. I hadn’t realized just how trapped I felt with her and how hopeless I felt trying to cope with her hallucinations until that moment.

“Come on,” I said. “Maybe we can find another car.”

We walked in silence, neither of us able to think of how to comfort each other. I felt guilty about what I had said, even if it was the truth. Maybe it would have been kinder to allow her to believe that I was going to save her and the rest of the world, that there was hope at the end of the desolate road we traveled. 

Of course, we were not truly alone in that vast wasteland, and it was only a matter of time before we were greeted by other, less friendly travelers. Unfortunately, they came in the form of raspers. 

They must have been smarter than they let on since they were once again hidden among a group of abandoned cars, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting travelers searching for shelter and transportation. 

The first one attacked before we had a chance to realize what was happening. My mom was opening a truck door, cautiously, while I watched her back. But we didn’t expect one to crawl out from underneath and seize my mom’s ankle, tripping her. 

“Mom!” I managed to catch her and pulled her away as she kicked herself free and fired her hand gun, frightening the rasper back under. 

But there were half a dozen more awakened by the sound. They converged on us, snarling and gnashing their teeth. We managed to shoot down a couple before one grabbed my mom from behind and bit her shoulder. I froze, watching in horror as the rasper tore away a large chunk of her flesh. 

There was another gunshot that didn’t come from my gun or my mother’s. The rasper’s head jerked back from the force of a bullet before it released my mom and dropped to the ground. 

“Get in the car!” I turned to see Tate reloading the rifle and aiming it at another rasper.

“Come on.” I wrapped my mom’s uninjured arm around my shoulder and pulled her toward the car parked close by. More gunshots followed, but I ignored them to focus on getting my mom safely into the backseat. I ripped off my jacket and did my best to staunch the flow of blood from her wound, but it was soaked through in a moment. 

Tate jumped into the driver’s seat a moment later and hit the gas. 

“Is she ok?” Tate asked once we were back on the road. 

“I don’t know,” I said. “She’s bleeding. A lot.” 

“I’ll be ok,” my mom said, but I could tell she was lying. The wound was deep and the color was draining from her face. 

“The Outpost isn’t far,” Tate said. “Just a few miles.”

“How do you know?” I asked. 

“Because I found it.”

“You did? Then why did you come back?” 

Tate tapped the steering wheel but didn’t answer. 

“You felt guilty,” my mom said, her teeth grit together from pain. “I’m surprised. I didn’t think psychopaths could feel guilt.”

“How many have you met?” Tate asked. 

“Enough.” 

“Like Kai?” 

My mom paused, but her eyes remained focused on the back of Tate’s head. “Yes, like Kai.”

“Do you still see him?” Tate asked. Her eyes flicked to the empty passenger seat and back. 

“Yes,” she said. 

“Is he still talking about me?”

Another pause. “Yes.”

“What’s he saying?”

“It doesn’t matter,” my mom said. “I know he’s not real. He’s just a ghost. But you’re real, aren’t you? You really are here.” 

“I think so,” Tate said. 

“Then you have to be the one-” She sucked in a sharp breath and grabbed my hand.

“Just hold on,” Tate said as we sped up. 

“They will be able to help her at the Outpost, right?” I asked. “Like, they’ll have medical supplies and stuff.”

“I don’t know,” Tate said. “I don’t know what will be there.”

“But your girlfriend is there, isn’t she?”

“No,” Tate said quietly. “She’s not there.”

“But I thought…”

“It’s complicated,” he said. With one hand on the wheel, he popped open the watch with the other. “Just hold on a little longer.”

“Ozzie…” My mom squeezed my hand tighter and I squeezed right back. 

“It’s going to be ok, mom,” I said. 

I repeated the sentiment a hundred times over as we drove, but we were not destined to reach the Outpost. Tate’s decision to come back for us cost him the rest of the gas in the tank and the car slowly came to a standstill. 

“We’re only a couple miles away,” Tate said. He got out of the car and opened the back door. “Come on, we don’t have much time.”

My mom’s grip on my hand had gone slack and her breath was barely distinguishable. 

“I don’t think she can make it,” I told Tate, my voice breaking.  He looked from me to my mom, his expression betraying that he thought the same. 

“Oz, Ozzie…” My mom opened her eyes and pulled me closer to her. “You have to go with him.”

“But I can’t just leave you here.”

“Yes you can, you have to.” She turned to Tate. “Listen to me. You have to make sure Oz gets to the Outpost.” 

Tate turned to me, but I shook my head. “I’m staying with her.” 

“You have no idea,” she continued to Tate, “the horrible things I’ve done to keep him safe. I’m no better than you. But it can’t all be for nothing. This can’t be it. This can’t be how the world ends. If it is, then you might as well just kill both of us now.”

“What?” Tate said, repulsed by the suggestion. I could tell when he looked at me that he was waiting for me to argue against my mom’s deathwish, but I nodded in agreement. 

Any silly fantasy I had played over in my head about running off with Tate and facing the apocalyptic world together like a couple of superheroes had vanished as soon as my mom was attacked. She was right. There was no hope left in the world, and I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. 

“It’s ok,” I said. “You’d be sending us somewhere better.”

“Please,” my mom begged. 

Tate slowly unslung the rifle from his back and held it in both hands, staring at it. 

“Stop that,” my mom snapped. 

“What?” Tate asked, his reverie broken by the question. 

“Not you,” she said. “It’s Kai. He’s whistling.”

Tate’s eyes widened before he shook his head and set the rifle on the ground. 

No,” he said. “I’m not going to kill you.” He pulled the pocket watch off from around his neck and opened it. “Look,” he said, pointing at the watch face. “You just have to wait until this hand is at the twelve.” 

“What happens then?” I asked.

“A miracle, I think.” His skeptical tone was not exactly reassuring, but I nodded anyway and took the watch from him. 

“I believe you,” my mom said. “Even if Kai doesn’t.”

“I thought you decided he wasn’t real,” Tate said. 

“I guess some demons, once they have sunk their claws in you, never really leave.”

Tate nodded solemnly before picking up the rifle and setting it on the floor of the car below us. 

“In case there are more raspers,” he said. 

“Won’t you need it?” I asked. 

“I don’t think guns will help much where I’m going.” 

“Good luck,” my mom said. Tate nodded again and closed the door before marching away. We watched in silence until he had vanished from sight. 

The hand of the watch ticked slowly but steadily on as the sun sank below the horizon. My mom and I held each other and mused about what might happen when the clock struck twelve. Maybe the world would explode again, for good this time. Or maybe the sun would expand and swallow us up. 

Whatever did happen will remain a mystery to me, because at the very moment the hand touched the twelve, I woke up. 

 



Chapter Text

I thought about how it was

I thought about you because

I always think about you

An empty home

A vacant hell

I knew you in the harsh realm...



October 31, 2021 - Outpost 3

 

“I must say I am a little surprised to see you,” Michael continued as he and Ms. Meade stood above Tate and the witches. “And more than a little flattered. You have just one night of freedom each year and you used it to seek me out. Why is that? Come to beg for forgiveness? Decided you want to join me afterall?”

“He came to help us,” Coco said. “He’s on our side now.” She grabbed Tate’s hand and pulled him forward so he was standing right in the middle between the rest of the coven. Tate tried to trick himself into feeling as brave as the witches appeared to be, tried to think of something to say in response, but it was all he could do to just keep looking Michael in the eye and not shrink back behind Cordelia. 

“He’ll disappoint you, I’m afraid,” Michael said. “Don’t tell me he is part of your plan to defeat me?” He laughed when the witches didn’t refute his claim. “How can any of you hope to defeat me, when I’ve already won?”

“You haven’t won,” Cordelia said forcefully. 

“Perhaps you haven’t noticed the state of the world,” Michael said. 

“It’s almost as bad as your dinner jacket,” Myrtle quipped, “but at least the world can be saved.”

“By you?” Michael asked, “by him?” He nodded at Tate. “He’s the reason you’re all here. WIthout him, none of this would have been possible. The seventh seal has been broken. Wormwood has fallen from the sky and turned the rivers to blood and fire. The bottomless pit has been opened and my swarms of locusts and scorpions have ravaged humanity. The world has been remade in my father’s image. My true father.”

“Darling,” Myrtle said, “it seems daddy didn’t tell you the most important rule of bringing on the Apocalypse. If you want to finish the job, the first thing you have to do is get rid of all the witches.”

“I could annihilate all of you in a second,” Michael said, “and the world would go on without missing a beat. You and all your work will be forgotten in the rubble of the past. But I want to give you a future. Fall to your knees and accept me as your lord and savior and I will bring you to the table as my obedient subjects.”

“Like you did with Nora?” Tate said finally. “Where is she?”

“Is that why you’re here?” Michael smirked. “Would you be surprised to discover that I found her tiresome? We hadn’t even reached the Sanctuary before I realized she would never do as my queen. I don’t know how you put up with her all those years.”

“What did you do?” Tate asked, though he had already guessed the answer. 

“The same thing I did to my sister.” His gaze surveyed the rest of the group. “The same thing I did to your pathetic coven.” Coco’s grip on Tate’s hand tightened, whether in anger, fear or solidarity, he wasn’t sure, but he squeezed back. “And the same thing I am going to do to you.” 

Tate was suddenly, unbearably hot to the point where it felt as if his skin was beginning to burn. Coco must have felt it too because she pulled her hand free and stepped away. 

“Cordelia?” Coco said. 

Cordelia calmly recited a spell in Latin. The words had no effect on Michael, but Ms. Meade began to convulse violently, her mouth gaping open as she let out a sickening wail. 

“Ms. Meade?” Michael turned to her, distracted. Tate immediately felt the heat enveloping him disappear and he gasped in relief. 

Ms. Meade exploded, sending disgusting bits of metal and gunk into the air. Tate and the witches backed away as the force sent Michael flying off the staircase and crashing to the ground below. 

“Are you okay?” Coco asked Tate once the pieces had settled. 

Tate nodded in amazement. His attention was focused on Michael who lay in the middle of the white guts and goo that used to be Ms. Meade. “Was she a robot? She looks like the robot in Aliens. Was she a robot? Holy shit, are aliens real too? Why was she a robot?” 

“I find it best not to ask too many questions,” Coco whispered. “Are you sure you’re okay?” 

“Sure, yeah, I’m fine,” Tate said though his hands were shaking and he still couldn’t quite believe he hadn’t been set on fire or that Michael’s henchwoman was a fucking robot. It made sense to him in a way. Michael had destroyed everyone else he claimed to love as soon as they did anything he didn’t like. A robot, on the other hand, could be programmed to behave just as he wished. 

“Madison!” Cordelia called out as Madison crawled toward Ms. Meade’s disembodied mechanical arm. She picked it up and pointed it toward Michael. 

“Sorry about your little toy, bitch,” she said and fired multiple rounds into Michael’s chest until he fell and lay motionless against a wall, his eyes wide and vacant. 

“Bullets alone won’t kill him,” Cordelia said. “He’s become too powerful. We have to find a place to cast the spell before he wakes up.”  

“I’ll hold him off as long as I can,” Madison said. Cordelia briefly cradled Madison’s face in her hands before sweeping off up the stairs. Myrtle, Mallory and Coco followed but Tate fell back. 

“Madison,” he said. 

“What?” she snapped. 

“I just...I didn’t get a chance to thank you, for before...with Violet.” He had a feeling he wouldn’t have another chance to say it in the future. Or the past, for that matter.

“I guess none of it matters now,” she said, her eyes soft. “Don’t thank me just yet.”

“It did matter,” Tate said. “So...thanks.”

Madison smiled before looking suddenly annoyed. “Go. Now.” Tate nodded before hurrying after Cordelia. He did his best to ignore the way Michael seemed to be staring right at him as he ran past. 

Mallory was waiting for him on the landing, alone.  

“Where are the others?” Tate asked.  

“They went on ahead to prepare for the spell,” she said. “Do you think you’re ready?”

“I…” He hesitated, fully feeling the importance of what he was about to do weighing heavily on his shoulders. “I don’t know.”

“Me neither.” Mallory offered a nervous smile and held out her hand. “I guess we’ll find out.”

Tate took her hand and she led him up the stairs. They were hurrying down an empty hallway lined with doors and candles when a man leapt from the shadows. 

“I should have been on that plane!” the man yelled. 

“Who the fuck are you?” Tate yelled back. Instead of answering, the man pulled out a knife and stabbed Mallory in the stomach before Tate even had a chance to try and stop him.

“Mallory!” Tate tried to hold her up as she fell against the wall. “What did you do?”

“It’s payback,” the man said. “You get it too, you fucking fairy.” 

“What the fuck are you-” The man cut off Tate’s question by slitting his throat with the same knife. The shock of pain forced Tate to release Mallory as he instinctively tried to stanch the flow of blood with his hands. 

“Brock!” Coco appeared at the end of the hall.

“Coco?” Brock turned toward her. 

“I can’t believe I had sex with you,” she said. 

Tate took advantage of the distraction by vanishing and reappearing right behind Brock. 

“How are you alive?” Brock asked, still staring at Coco.

“You might want to ask him the same thing.”

Tate tapped Brock on the shoulder.

“How the fuck-?” Tate didn’t let him finish, but punched him in the face and twisted the knife out of his hands before swiftly stabbing him in the gut. Tate shoved Brock backwards and forced him over the railing. The crunching sound of bones breaking as Brock’s body hit the ground made Tate blanch. Luckily, he didn’t have much time to feel any sort of guilt for killing again as he hurried back over to Coco who was trying to revive Mallory. 

“I’m so sorry, Mallory,” she cried. “It’s all my fault, please don’t die.”

“Can you heal her?” Tate asked. “Like, with magic?”

“I can’t,” Coco said. “But Cordelia can.”

“Where is she?”

The distant sound of Madison’s voice made them both turn toward the stairs. 

“He’s coming,” Coco whispered. “Hurry, get her out of here. They are in the last door on the right. I’ll try and slow him down.” She stood up and took a deep breath before marching like a queen toward the approaching Antichrist. 

Tate could tell the life was draining out of Mallory fast, so he picked up her arm and started dragging her down the hall as fast as he could. 

“Don’t die on me, Mallory,” Tate begged, hoping he wasn’t hurting her and trying to banish memories of the last time he dragged the lifeless body of a girl down an empty hallway. “Please don’t die.”

If Mallory died, so did his last chance to save Violet. He had already failed to save her so many times, he was starting to wonder if he was cursed to lose her over and over again for the rest of eternity. Maybe it was his own karmic or divine punishment for all the pain he had inflicted. Or maybe Michael really was destined to win and leave the world in the state it was in. 

“What on earth...?” Myrtle asked as he finally pulled Mallory into the last room. 

Cordelia must have been able to tell that Tate was in no state to answer because she immediately flew to Mallory’s side and pulled her into her arms. 

Balneum infinitum ,” Cordelia whispered, passing a trembling hand over Mallory’s wound. She breathed slowly and deliberately into Mallory’s mouth, but nothing happened. 

“She’s fading fast,” Myrtle said. “We have to get her into the water before she’s gone.” 

Tate nodded and picked Mallory up under her arms while Cordelia lifted her feet. When they reached the tub, Tate fell backwards, landing in the water as he pulled Mallory in with him. She let out a gasp of pain. 

“I’m sorry, Violet.” Tate said the name without thinking, choking through the tears he couldn’t hold back. “I’m so sorry.”

“C’mon Mallory,” Cordelia said as she continued to try breathing life into her. “You can do this.”

“I’m sorry Cordelia,” Mallory murmured. Tate squeezed her tighter as he felt her continue to go slack in his arms. 

“It’s not working.” Cordelia turned to Myrtle. “She’s not strong enough.”

“It appears as though we’re fucked, my dear,” Myrtle said. 

Cordelia turned away and looked back to Tate. Her forehead creased for a moment as her eyes bore into his. It felt like she was sizing him up, judging if he was worthy of some unknown thing. He wanted to look away, but felt compelled to continue holding her gaze until she reached out and pushed a damp lock of hair off his forehead. As soon as she touched him, her expression changed. She twitched her head in surprise and her expression suddenly softened. 

“Madison was right about you,” she said. “Here.” She drew back to hastily pull something from her cape. “This will help you see the truth.” Holding her hand out flat, she blew sparkling dust into his eyes. His vision shimmered for a moment before returning to normal. 

“Thank you,” Cordelia said. She looked back up at Myrtle again. “I love you.”

The Supreme rose, looking every bit the queen of the witches she was, and strode out of the room. Tate remained still, unsure if he would ever be able to release Mallory again, but he could see Cordelia take her stance through the open doorway. 

“How did you think this was going to end?” Tate could hear Michael say. “Prophecy is inevitable. I was always going to win, Miss Supreme.”

“Not on your own,” Cordelia said. “You’ve been led by the hand, coddled, the entire way. By your father, the warlocks. I look at you and I don’t see a man. I see a sad, scared little boy so pathetic he couldn’t even kill me with a thousand nuclear bombs.”

Tate had never thought of Michael that way. Even as a child, Michael had always been a menacing, monstrous presence who threatened everything Tate fought to keep. Was Cordelia bluffing, or was that really what she saw when she looked at the Antichrist, the son of Satan himself? And if it was, had she really seen anything different when she looked at Tate?

“But I never expected to,” Michael said. “Like a cockroach, I knew you’d survive the nuclear fallout. I wanted you to.” Tate was pretty sure Michael was bluffing. Not that it made his threat any less frightening. “And now I’m going to have the satisfaction of watching you die, knowing you failed.”

“You still don’t get it, do you? Even now, you think there’s only winning and losing, success and failure. But failure is when you’ve lost any semblance of hope. You will get to watch me die, but you won’t find it satisfying.”

Cordelia held out her hand and summoned a knife that flew right to her. 

“Satan has one son,” she said, “but my sisters are legion, motherfucker.”

Without even a moment of hesitation, Cordelia lodged the knife into her own chest. 

“Cordelia!” Myrtle cried. 

Mallory gasped and sat up. The water began to bubble and turn dark. Tate released the witch in surprise as she turned to face him. 

“Are you ready?” she asked. 

“Yeah,” Tate said quickly. 

“Ok, deep breath,” Mallory said. 

“I don’t need to breathe.”

“That was for me.” Mallory put her hand on Tate’s head and sucked in a shaky breath. “ Tempus infinitum.” She shoved Tate under the water and he immediately felt himself being sucked away from her. He drifted away, deeper and deeper, his lungs filling with water as he blacked out.

 

1994 - The Murder House

 

Heavy metal blasted through Tate’s alarm clock, warning him that it was 7 A.M. He stood up from his bed and slapped the top to shut it up. 

The first thought that went through his head was that he was alive. His soul had been crammed back into his body, a shell of flesh and bone that ached and breathed. Everything, from the way his heart beat rapidly to the way he craved the drugs Sally had given him, felt overwhelmingly, excruciatingly real. 

His second thought was a question. He needed to figure out how to kill Larry Harvey because this time, he was going to do it right.  



Chapter Text

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?”

“How?”

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. 

“Not what?” 

“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.”

“Dad?” 

“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. 

Liar. 

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.” 

“Really?”

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.