The three of us sat with no small measure of tension in my hotel room. It smelled musty, unused, and everything had a drab-bordering-on-dirty look to it. Janice had perched on the edge of the bed, her bag still clutched like a shield on her lap.The blonde stranger, Sasha, had suggested we go talk somewhere private. Now she was standing in front of the door, her arms crossed over her chest.
Janice kept looking at me. I knew what she was thinking: what if this woman was part of The Gathered? What if she’d been sent to stop us? To hurt us? I’d positioned myself against the opposite wall, so the queen sized bed was between us and the nightstand with the phone was beside me. Even if I didn’t have time to make a call, I could always try to use the old, bulky thing as a weapon if need be.
“I’ve seen you,” Sasha said bluntly, breaking the crackling silence.
“Huh?” Janice jumped slightly.
“I don’t know, exactly.” Sasha paused, struggling to find the right words to explain herself. “I kept seeing both of you, just glimpses in a crowd of something. At first, I thought you were following me, but I’d always lose track of you. Then I started seeing stuff about this place, Okeechobee and the motel, in magazines and on brochures. I didn’t know what to think, it couldn’t all be coincidence, so I took a chance and came here.”
“You came here on a whim?” I asked. It seem so far fetched. Then again, what about any recent events had been anything but that?
“Not to Florida. Like I said, I’m looking for my sister, Nina. She accepted a vet job in Passit and after the first few weeks, she stopped calling. I haven’t heard from her since. Finding anyone who knows anything about Passit has been impossible, so when I started seeing you two everywhere and stuff about the motel, I decided I had to at least look into it. I’ve had…nothing else to go on since I got here.”
There was a tired, defeated note in Sasha’s voice. Despite my caution, I found myself beginning to believe her.
“But why?” Janice had lowered her bag slightly. “How?”
“I don’t know,” Sasha admitted. “I just had this feeling I was being pushed towards this place and to you. Like something wanted me to find you.”
That didn’t sound like Gorrorum’s M.O. to me. Not that I had a whole lot of experience in it. What I did know, however, was that he communicated through dreams and his Fingers, not these prophetic visions like Sasha was describing. Unless that was the next stage of his infection.
“Have you had any weird dreams, Sasha?” I asked. I’d rather know what I was in for than be surprised again.
But Sasha shook her head. “Weird dreams? No. This has all happened while I’m awake.”
That definitely didn’t seem like Gorrorum then. I frowned down at my shoes. I hadn’t realized one foot was anxiously tapping against the stained carpet. Another layer of riddles to add to the mix. Whatever had guided Sasha here didn’t seem to be the same power that had brought me and Janice.
“You still haven’t found Passit?” I heard Janice asking through the veil of my thoughts.
“No. It’s not on any maps that I can find and everyone I’ve asked said they’d never heard of it. It’s like some big conspiracy that everyone’s in on except me,” Sasha said.
“Or maybe something doesn’t want people to know about it,” I offered quietly.
Without knowing the full extent of Gorrorum or whatever else was lurking out there, it didn’t seem entirely impossible that there was some kind of…enchantment or something over Passit.
Not impossible, but certainly ridiculous.
At least Janice and Sasha didn’t immediately balk at the idea. They considered it quietly, gravely. I found that it made me feel a bit better about myself. Less alone. Now I wasn’t the only one caught up in this mess.
“Whatever’s going on, we have to either find someone who’s willing to admit they know about Passit or find the town ourselves,” Sasha said definitively.
“But how?” Janice was looking at her hopefully, like she expected Sasha to have the answer right then and there.
When Sasha hesitated, I spoke up. “You know all those ‘Florida Man’ news reports? About all the crazy shit that goes on here?”
The others half-shrugged, not entirely certain they knew what I was getting at.
“I read that the reason Florida seems like such a weird place is because of how open the government is with their records. Police reports, court filings, stuff like that. If we were to go to the town clerk —”
“Maybe there’d be something about Passit,” Janice finished for me.
“It’s a start, at least,” Sasha said.
“Find out where it is,” Janice was already on her phone. “We’ve gotta get moving.”
“You guys never told me why you’re looking for Passit,” Sasha quirked a brow with her realization and looked between us.
Janice’s fingers froze over her phone’s screen and the muscles in her jaw tightened. She hadn’t had to say it out loud to anyone but me yet and the surge of emotions that it stirred in her played across her face even as it was obvious she was trying very hard to keep them under control.
“My son is there,” she said quietly. “Or going to be. My mother kidnapped him.”
Instead of the crack in her voice that I’d been expecting, there was a dark undercurrent. The subtle growl of a maternal beast about to be unleashed. Sasha opened her mouth, perhaps to apologize, but she closed it again and nodded once.
“Then we’d better move fast. For your son and my sister.”
At the last minute, I sent the other two off without me. I explained that, while they were trying to get their hands on any public records having to do with Passit, I was going to stay behind and do some research of my own. If we hadn’t felt so pressed for time, I got the feeling they’d have questioned me about what I planned to do, but with the afternoon waning and the clerk’s closing time fast approaching, they had to settle for my decision with little push back.
They left in Sasha’s car and I was pulled out my phone.
Marcus answered on the first ring like he’d been expecting me.
“You’re in Florida,” he said. He sounded disappointed.
“Yup. I’m going to find Ben and Passit with or without your help.”
“Then why did you call?”
“Because you know what happened here and you’re the easiest place to start.”
Marcus tutted into the line. “I’ve already told you, we do not speak of those who fell from favor.”
“I don’t care about the cult. This is about Gorrorum. Is he going to start sending me visions? Making me see things even when I’m awake?”
The pregnant pause between my question and his answer was not lost on me. I’d struck some kind of nerve.
“No, the Father is not some kind of illusionist playing silly tricks,” he replied. His words were prickly.
“We met a woman here who claimed to have seen us before we’d even arrived. Something was driving her to us. If it wasn’t your beloved Father, then what was it?”
“You do not want to get involved with that business, Faith,” Marcus warned. “Do not stray from Gorrorum. Nothing good will come of it.”
“Nothing good has come from him, either, you delusional fuck wit.”
“Trust that He is guiding Matron Greer —”
“I trust that if you don’t at least tell me what’s waiting for us in Passit, I’m going to get in touch with the police and your school, maybe even a news station. You’re a librarian, aren’t you, Marcus? What would they think of a cultist educator being complicit in the kidnapping of a child? How much longer do you think you’d be welcome there?”
It wasn’t much of a threat. For the devout such as Marcus, their god often meant more to them their livelihood. I had a hunch, however, that Marcus believed he was meant to be at that school. He had access to young, impressionable minds, the kind that would eat up tales of Ibsilyth and a festering god-giant. Should he lose that connection and his standing in the community, would he still be so favored by Gorrorum?
“I’ve got nothing to lose here, Marcus. If people think I’m crazy, that’s fine. I can leave any time I want, go back to my real life. You, though? Even if I was brushed off, the doubt would linger. People wouldn’t be quite so comfortable with you. You’d be ruined.”
He was breathing harder. His nose whistled. I waited.
“T’svotil,” I could hear the tight clench of his teeth as he spit the word out.
“The Wicked Lure, the False Sight. He taints Gorrorum’s children, makes them see what they think they want or need. What isn’t there. He’s a vicious trickster. Whereas the Father offers truth, he offers nothing but sweetly painted lies and their doom.”
“And that’s what happened in Passit? This…T’svotil destroyed it?”
“He used them,” Marcus said bitterly. “They were meant to call Gorrorum forth, but…they were fools. And now they suffer. Anyone who goes to Passit suffers. You have to stay away from that place. You mustn’t fall victim to him like they did, Faith!”
“I won’t,” I promised. “Not to him or Gorrum.”