Talking to Janice when I called her back was almost impossible. She wavered between near hysterics and asking me why this was happening in a pained, pleading tone that cut through me even over the phone. She doggedly denied that her mother might have been involved with The Gathered and just loudly repeated that Josie couldn’t even talk about them, she hated them too much, Marcus must have been lying. Trying to get a word in edgewise while also trying to navigate back to the motel was a challenge and it took every ounce of dwindling reserve I had not to flat out tell her to shut up.
She also didn’t want to accept that Josie had had anything to go with her fiancé, Shane’s, death. She said it had to be someone setting Josie up, that her mom never could have hurt anyone, much less killed them.
If I hadn’t been so exhausted in every sense of the word, maybe I would have entertained her theory with more grace and understanding, but after the last week, I had no patience left.
“You not wanting to believe it doesn’t make it any less true,” I snapped after another go around in which she insisted it couldn’t have been her mom’s doing. “I didn’t want to believe that a monster killed my dad or that my mom…”
My voice hitched painfully in my throat. I wasn’t quite ready to say that she’d killed herself out loud.
“Look,” I started over, “there’s a lot of shit going on that I don’t want to believe either, but that doesn’t change anything; it’s happening and I want to help you, but you’ve got to work with me.”
“W-what do we do?” She asked quietly.
“Does the word Passit mean anything to you?”
Janice had never heard of Passit, Florida. They didn’t have any friends or family in the state, Janice wasn’t even certain her mom had ever been south of Virginia. Our only lead as to why Josie might have gone there had come from Marcus and his vague reference to a sect that had apparently fallen out of favor after something had happened in the 70s.
“The confirmation the cops found said she took Ben to West Palm Beach. Is that near Passit?” Janice asked.
“I don’t know, I never heard of the place before today.”
“I don’t have the money for a ticket,” desperate panic had seeped back into Janice’s voice. “I don’t know how Mom did. And the cops told me to stay here in case they heard any news…”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said.
Whether or not I could really afford two last minute plane tickets to Florida was up for debate, but I’d worry about that when the credit card bill showed up. The Gathered and Gorrorum had already cost me so much more. I couldn’t let them do the same, or worse, to Janice.
Once I got back to the hotel, I stayed on the phone with her long enough to book two one way tickets on the first flight out the next morning. She was sobbing when we hung up. I tossed my phone onto the bed, stripped down, and ran the hottest shower I could stand. Now that I was alone again, my thoughts turned back to the Daughter I’d met on the mountain. I was convinced I could still feel the her fingers digging into my skin, could still smell her, and I scrubbed myself viciously.
I should have followed her, I thought, but almost immediately was glad I hadn’t when I reminded myself that I’d had a single flare left and no other weapons to fight her with.
And there were supposedly two more of them, if Charlie was to be believed.
If Janice hadn’t called, I would have followed her. I would have run headlong down that tunnel, into whatever lair they’d built, wholly unprepared and unarmed except for my fury. How far would that really have gotten me?
Far enough to get myself killed.
It’s a sobering thing, to realize the extent of your own recklessness. If I died so stupidly, my mom’s years of suffering would have meant nothing. I’d have wasted all of her careful research. I’d have let her *and* Dad down. I knew I’d be going back, but next time, I’d make sure I was ready.
I sat on the end of my bed wrapped in a towel and my thoughts. I didn’t know what was waiting for us in Florida, not like I knew what was here, and it scared me even more than the Daughters. At least I knew they could be hurt. At least there was no child caught up in the middle of that fight.
It seemed the more I tried to uncover answers, the more questions I was left with. What should have been a simple trip home (as “simple” as a trip to bury your mother could be, anyway) had quickly spiraled out of control and I felt like I was just being dragged along whether I liked it or not. Even if I’d wanted to pack up and leave it behind, it was already too late.
The ever-shifting Shapeless staring down at me from the painting over the TV was evidence enough of that.
I flipped it around so that the cardboard back of the frame faced outward instead and crawled into bed.
I was back in the dark place almost as soon as I closed my eyes. The constant whispers, the rumbling thunder and crackling lightening, the bruised sky. Ibsilyth enveloped me. This time, I was standing on a craggy ledge overlooking a vast expanse of scorched, alien land. Below, I could see a slug like being, similar to the one I’d encountered before, writhing upon the ground.
Off in the distance, outlined against swollen clouds, the giant loomed.
I stumbled back, away from edge, and spun, looking for a way. It didn’t matter if it was up or down, I just wanted to move, to rub, to try and escape this terrible place. Behind me, the rock wall rose endlessly overhead, broken up only by a series of dark cave mouths, like so many pockmarks, upon its surface.
A face was staring down at me from one just over head.
At first glance, it appeared human, but the longer I looked at it, the more *wrong* it became. The eyes were too far apart, the mouth too small, the cheeks too sunken. It was an ill made mockery of a person.
It slid forward, little by little, its too-small mouth opening and closing soundlessly, like it was trying to call to me, to entice me closer, until it was dangling above me on the end of a long stalk. I scrambled backwards again, until my feet were brushing the edge, and I screamed.
More stalks, each tipped with a face ranging from recognizably human to unidentifiable monstrosity, stretched from the cave, and the bulbous beast from whose back they sprang followed after. It was a gelatinous thing, the only feature aside from the stalks rising from its flesh was its gaping maw, and it made an awful wet, sucking sound as it slid forward towards the lip of its cave.
Like an angler fish, it had tried to lure me in using the almost human face as bait, hoping I would blindly go towards another of my kind. Now that that had failed, it was taking a more direct approach.
It dropped down on to my ledge and lashed out with a few of its stalks. Two of the faces attempted to sink their teeth into me, but couldn’t get a good hold. A third tipped with a strange insectoid face grabbed my arm in its pinchers and yanked me forward, towards the creature’s wide and stinking mouth.
I was wrenched out of Ibsilyth and back into the waking world by my alarm going off.
I clutched the comforter in white knuckled fists and stared at the ceiling. My breath came in short, shallow gasps while I tried to disentangle myself from the dream’s lingering grasp, if it could even be called a dream. As soon as I was calm enough, I kicked the bedding off and ran to the bathroom, where I turned on the shower and let cold water run directly into my ears, first one, and then the other before shoving the end of a face cloth in and wiggling it around.
No specks of the Finger who must have visited me to deliver those visions of Ibsilyth came out.
In an angry flurry, I packed up all of my things and hurried to the office to check out. I had to get Janice, get to the airport, and get the hell out of dodge. I sped all the way to her house, where she was waiting anxiously just inside the front door with her bag. Neither of us spoke as she climbed in.
I didn’t know what kind of reach Gorrorum or his Fingers had, but I hoped he’d at least have a harder time finding me again after I went as far away as Florida.
Somehow, though, I doubted a thousand miles really meant much to a being that could slip through the cracks between entire realms.