Authors: Joseph Nassise
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For all the fans who have supported my work for the last ten years: This one’s for you.
I bolted awake in the shitty little motel room I’d been calling home for the last three weeks, with my heart jack-hammering in my chest and my skin coated with a thin sheen of sweat. The room was as dark as an oil slick thanks to the way I’d taped the drapes, already as thick as medieval tapestries, against the wall behind them to keep out even the faintest glimmer of light. In that darkness, however, I had no trouble seeing Whisper standing beside my bed, watching me with a flat expression on her usually animated face.
Whisper’s real name was Abigail Matthews. She’d been dead for a little over three years. Not that that was a problem for me; I can see the dead as easily as I can see the living.
Once upon a time, I was just an average Joe living the American dream. Life might not have been perfect, but you wouldn’t have caught me complaining. I had everything I’d always wanted. I was married to a good-looking woman who loved me as much as I loved her. We owned a house and a good-sized piece of property in a nice little neighborhood in Boston, not far from the law firm where my wife Anne had made partner and within easy commuting distance to Cambridge where I was on the fast track for tenure as a professor of ancient languages at Harvard University. We had a bright, precocious daughter, Elizabeth, who was the best of both of us combined into one. We were happy, content, and as oblivious to the reality of the world around us, to the dark things that move within it, as an ant is to the theory of relativity.
We were living the dream, so of course reality had to rear up and bite us on the ass.
Our daughter disappeared one day, just vanished without a trace from her second-story bedroom. I later learned that she’d been snatched by the supernatural equivalent of the man with a thousand faces: a doppelganger, or fetch, as they were sometimes called, that could take the form of any creature with which it came into contact. That took five long years and what felt like a lifetime, though. In the beginning there was just confusion, guilt, and a desperate need to find Elizabeth and bring her home.
In the aftermath of Elizabeth’s disappearance I’d tried everything I could to discover what had happened to her. When, after a few years, I’d exhausted the usual methods, I’d delved into more esoteric ones. Things like divination, witchcraft, and black magic. That’s when I met the Preacher.
To this day, I’m not sure what he is. Sorcerer? Demon? Something worse, maybe? I honestly don’t know. Not knowing hasn’t stopped me from bargaining with him for what I want, however. He’s appeared to me twice and each time his assistance has proved crucial in resolving what seemed like an insurmountable problem, but, like Faust before me, I always paid a price.
The first time that he appeared, the Preacher offered me a book claiming that its contents would help me find my daughter if I was brave enough to follow it. Inside that book I discovered an arcane ritual, one that was supposed to allow me to see that which was unseen. I performed the ritual, but it didn’t work out quite the way I’d expected. Rather than helping me locate my missing daughter, it altered my sight, changing it in a way I never would have imagined possible. From that day forward daylight has been like darkness to me, the light preventing me from seeing anything but endless vistas of white, like an arctic explorer caught in the whiteout of a winter storm. In the light I was effectively blind and was forced to learn how to navigate through a world I could no longer see.
What was even more terrifying was the fact that the change stripped away the Veil that keeps humans from seeing the true nature of the creatures that move among us like wolves among the sheep and revealed the supernatural world around me in all its hideous detail. The world is a cesspit full of creatures you can’t possibly imagine, all waiting to devour the hearts, minds, and souls of those careless enough to get in their way.
That night I discovered the monsters in our world and they, in turn, discovered me.
It was Whisper who rescued me from the near-paralyzing fear that the discovery had caused. She’s been my comfort, my rock, which is rather ironic given she’s no more substantial than a wisp of fog on a cool summer night.
I hadn’t seen her since the night I lay dying in a New Orleans drainage canal with an FBI agent’s bullet in my guts, when she and the ghost of my dead daughter, Elizabeth, had appeared to me in a vision, showing me the horror about to descend on the Big Easy.
She’d played the harbinger of doom that night, and, given my current reaction to her appearance and the expression of concern on her usually jovial face, I had to believe she had now returned for a repeat performance.
* * *
Whisper stared at me with those ancient eyes, eyes that had seen far more than I could ever imagine, and then she spoke.
“He’s coming, Hunt,” she said, in a voice that dripped omens and shook with an angel’s might. “Run. Run while you can.”
My mouth fell open in shocked surprise; in the three years that I’d known her, Whisper had never said a single word. I hadn’t even known she had the ability to speak.
The raw power in her voice had the hair on the back of my neck and arms standing tall in response, and I realized that in that moment I was afraid of her. The fear, her message, even her very presence had totally flustered me, and it took a few seconds to wrap my head around it all. I must have looked like an idiot, propped there on my elbow with my mouth hanging open, but finally my brain caught up with what was happening and her words registered.
I sat up and swung my legs out of bed, suddenly, irrationally afraid of the emptiness of the room around us, as I asked, “Who? Who’s coming, Whisper?”
She glanced toward the door and then back at me, a look of such empty sadness on her face that I wanted to weep at the sight of it.
“Too late,” she whispered and then abruptly faded from view.
No sooner had she vanished than the door of my hotel room was kicked open with a splintering crash.
There’s nothing that hones your reaction time like living with the constant fear of discovery, especially when you know that those chasing you are more apt to shoot first and ask questions later.
later. I left New Orleans with both the local authorities and the FBI gunning for me and had been waiting for weeks now for one or the other to figure out where I’d gone to ground, so I was up and moving before the remains of the door had time to bounce off the carpet. I snatched the baseball bat I kept by the side of the bed off the floor as I rushed past, headed for the bathroom and the window it contained. The early morning light was pouring in through the now-open doorway, stealing my sight away from me, and, even as I squeezed my eyes shut in a futile attempt to block it out, I watched the world in front of me disappear behind a gleaming curtain of white.
Thankfully, it didn’t matter; I didn’t really need to see to know where I was going. The motel room I was staying in wasn’t much bigger than a walk-in closet and I’d taken the time to pace out the room and the area outside it when I first checked in, mapping it all out in my head, just in case something like this happened and I had to make a hasty departure.
I kept expecting someone to shout “Stop! Police!,” but the fact that such calls never came didn’t slow me down any; I was getting out of there no matter what. Of course, that should have been my first clue that this wasn’t the U.S. Marshals come to drag me back to Boston.
As soon as I felt the bathroom tiles beneath my bare feet, I spun around and slammed the door, jabbing the lock button down with my thumb. Something heavy slammed into the other side half a second later, but I wasn’t waiting around to find out who, or what, it was. With barely a pause I crossed the room, felt for the window, and then used the bat to smash out the glass. I tossed the bat out ahead of me, snatched a towel off the nearby rack, and laid it over the sill to keep me from slashing myself to ribbons on any leftover glass that I couldn’t see. Preparations finished, I hefted myself through the opening headfirst.
Or, at least, I tried.
Hands suddenly grabbed me about the ankles with a grip as tight as a vise. I almost let go of the sill out of sheer surprise, as I’d been too wrapped up in what I was doing to hear the door give way behind me. One good yank was all it took for whoever it was to haul me most of the way back inside the room. I was stretched out over the bathroom floor, my hands latched in a death grip on the windowsill as my assailant steadily pulled me backward by the ankles.
I could hear several voices coming from the direction of the bedroom and knew that reinforcements were on the way. I had seconds, at best, to get free or I was going to be in a shitload of trouble. I had no idea who these people were, but it was a safe assumption that they didn’t have my best interests at heart; you didn’t kick in the door of a man’s motel room to invite him out for a venti caramel macchiato. In desperation, I began kicking and flailing my legs, trying to dislodge my would-be captor’s grip. To my surprise it worked; my left leg popped free. The person behind me was shouting in a language that sounded suspiciously like Russian as I brought my knee up and then sent my foot hammering back down with all the force I could muster, using the other’s voice to hone in on my target.
Something crunched beneath my heel as it collided with what I hoped was his face. There was a sharp yelp of pain and then my legs were free. I scrambled for a few seconds and then my right foot found the edge of the toilet and I used it as a brace to push myself forward.
I tumbled out the window, landing hard on the second-floor walkway outside. Countless little shards of glass, the detritus of the window I’d just smashed to smithereens, jabbed into my bare flesh, but I ignored them, compartmentalizing the pain to be dealt with at some later point, knowing that if I didn’t get my ass out of there I probably wouldn’t live long enough to bleed to death anyway. I scrambled to my feet and reached out with my hands, searching blindly for the rusty old iron railing I knew was there somewhere. When I found it a moment later it was with my left hand, which told me I was facing back toward my room. Given that was the last place I wanted to be, I spun around, put my right hand against the railing as a guide, and took off as fast as I could go down the walkway toward the stairwell at far end of the motel.