I've left Maryland. Things just got too weird back there.
I don't even know how it happened. Celeste had been quiet for most of the night, the others had been out and about, and I was laying in my bed looking at that cross and wondering if such a thing as a “constant” actually existed and doubting it every time the possibility arose. Stuff like that happened on TV, not in situations like this.
It suddenly hit me that it was very quiet in that place...a bit too quiet. Normally Celeste or Violet or someone was making noise in the kitchen, but this night...nothing. I knew Celeste was still here, unless she had stepped out...I pocketed the crucifix and went to check.
She was out on the porch, sitting in one of the chairs. Not doing anything, just sitting. She was looking out at the sky but she wasn't really seeing it, at least, not from what I could tell. I stepped outside to talk to her. And then things just got weird.
“There you are. Quiet tonight,” I said. She didn't answer. The thought crossed my mind that she was angry at me, and I tried to remember if I had done anything other than not wear that crucifix, but nothing was coming to mind.
“You alright? You look kinda-”
That stopped me dead. She had yelled at me plenty of times in the last couple of months, but flat-out say I'm pathetic? And in such a calm manner? That was a first.
“You heard me.” She turned to me, this cold look in her eyes. “You're pathetic. Do you even realize it? You parade around with this hero act, claiming to save lives, and at the same time you line people up to get sacrificed to what you're trying to kill. People like Lizzie.”
I felt my anger rising, but this time I did my best to suppress it. Something was wrong here...something was very wrong.
“Celeste-” I went to put my hand on her shoulder, but she jerked it away.
“Don't touch me,” she commanded. Not a plea, a fucking order. Not a normal Celeste fashioned order, either.
She stood up, and I tried to stop her, but she just repeated that order in an even more harsh tone. And then I realized she was burning up; her skin felt like it was on fire. I wasn't even touching her and I could feel it radiating off of her. We moved into the kitchen. She placed her hand on the counter and I saw it jerking at random moments like crazy.
“Why do they do it?” she asked, not necessarily to me, not necessarily to anyone. “Why do they run? Why do they fight? They know it's a lost cause, they know there's no hope, and they keep fighting this pointless battle. And their only reward for their stubbornness? Death.
“I don't understand any of them. I understand myself, but not them. I cannot understand why they condemn themselves-”
“Celeste, knock it off,” I demanded. I couldn't figure out why she was acting like this; this wasn't her, not one bit. For however annoying she could be at times, she didn't have an evil bone in here...and she wasn't this haughty...
And then it hit me. It was staring me right in the face; a bare neck where normally rested her beads.
“Where's your rosary?”
She ignored me. “And the best part about it? They all flock to you to save them. And you're just as lost and confused as they are. You, I understand you all too well. I see right through your front that you keep up-”
“Celeste,” I demanded, “where's your rosary?”
I thought I sounded angry, at least, that's the tone I had in my head, but upon reflection I think I had a little fear mixed in there with it. I think she knew it too, because for one moment, just one, she snapped out of whatever the hell was happening to her. What I got next, though, wasn't much better.
She suddenly started screaming and almost fell, but didn't...and I realize how stupid that sounded, but it was like she couldn't fall. If that makes sense. It doesn't, I know. But it was like something was keeping her up, keeping her from falling down. Like she was being held up by strings or something.
She looked up at me, tears in her eyes, and I realized that she was back, and that she was in pain from whatever was taking over her.
“Help me,” she pleaded, her voice a whisper. “I understand. I see them. All of them, from before, from now, into forever. All of them, forever running, forever chasing something they don't understand, not being allowed to escape it, not being allowed to die, not truly, not completely. Over and over and over, the cycle never stops...”
I ran over to help her, though how I planned to, I have no idea. Slender Man, or Practical Cat, or someone related to one or the other, had taken control of her, possessed her, brainwashed her, something, somehow. It wasn't new news, that Slender Man could do something like that, but this was different, this was something that I hadn't seen before. What did that indicate? That he was getting stronger? Not a pleasant thought.
By the time I reached for her, whatever had taken over had regained control, because she was suddenly thrashing wildly and screaming at me not to touch her again, even more violently than before. And then...I don't know what possessed me to do it, maybe a hunch, maybe her words, hell, maybe it was just the years of Catholic teaching as a kid, I don't know, and I suppose it doesn't really matter, because I grabbed my cross necklace whatever out of my pocket and forced it around her neck.
She suddenly let out the most shrill scream yet; she hadn't even screamed this loudly when her stitches has broken in that hospital months ago. She writhed and struggled but it wasn't enough that she could break out of my hold, me being a cop who was used to putting down guys a lot bigger and heavier than her. Probably the worst bit was when her nails raked across the back of my neck, deep enough to draw some blood, but as bad as that was I didn't let go, or weaken, not for one second.
Eventually- I don't know exactly how long- her thrashing stopped. Her body went slack. She passed right out.
At that point Violet and Riley came through the door, hearing what sounded like a horror movie and seeing what probably looked like Armageddon as soon as the door was open. Of course I got bombarded with questions right off the bat. Of course I ignored them as I made Riley help me carry Celeste back to her bed and tucked her in.
I know what you're thinking: after that, no wonder I bugged out of there. Well, as bad as that was, I would've been fine sticking around a little longer. Hell, especially after that, I would have stuck around to figure out what had happened.
But my fun night didn't end there.
As soon as she was tucked in, I could feel my cell phone vibrating in my pocket. I took it out and answered it.
“Zee, it's me.”
That was all I needed to hear. I left the room and headed out onto the porch.
“Where the hell have you been?” I hissed, keeping my voice low so the others wouldn't hear me. “You don't call me for almost two months, how the hell am I supposed to know you're alright-?”
“I found her.”
I froze. At first I thought I had misheard him. But then he repeated himself and it was confirmed.
“Vermont. Some family resort, outskirts of a town called-”
“Stowe,” I finished for him. I knew exactly where he was. It seemed almost fitting that this adventure would take me back up there. “Okay, give me a week and I'll be up there-”
“A week? Zee, I don't know how long she's staying, and it's not like I can stop her from going if she wants. You want her, you need to get up here now.”
“Wren, Celeste just got attacked, possessed, I don't know what you call it, but she was just reenacting the Exorcist and freaking the fuck out. She's unconscious in her room right now. You really think I can just bug out of here right now?”
“Aw, my heart's breaking for her, truly. I'll make sure to send her a fruit basket with a Virgin Mary statue in it.”
“I'm not in the mood to deal with sarcasm right now-”
“And I'm not in the mood for your bleeding heart sympathies right now. You wanted this girl, you wanted to know what she knows, then you get up here. Otherwise, you can stay down there taking care of your pedophilia clause and she takes off, and then I'm not even going to bother finding out where she goes next, because I gave you your opportunity and you didn't take it. So what's it going to be?”
I cursed. Of course he was right, I had been searching for this girl for eight months with no leads and now I had her right in the palm of my hand. And Celeste would be okay with Violet...right? Of course she would. Violet wouldn't let her get hurt. Probably better than I would. Celeste was going to college. And I still had a job to do elsewhere.
My summer vacation was over.
“Alright, I'll leave first thing in the morning. Just give me tonight to make sure she's okay.”
He didn't like that. I know he didn't. But it wasn't like he had much of a choice.
“Fine. But get up here quick.” And then he hung up.
I stayed that last night in a sleeping bag in her room to make sure she was alright. I don't think I slept much, if at all. In the morning, I told Violet I was leaving (she didn't like that one bit, and made it very apparent), packed my stuff, visited Celeste one final time, and then was almost home free when Violet stopped me one more time.
“Don't you dare leave her, Zeke.”
I almost didn't. I almost stayed. It would feel right, after all, to stay and make sure she was okay. But I had stayed long enough.
“Listen, if I can do this, if I can find out if she knows anything about a weakness or something, we may all have a ticket out of this. I have to go,” I told her.
She didn't bother arguing. We're both way too stubborn for that, we realize that at this point. But she came up to me and put my cross back into my hand; the same one I had just used to save Celeste.
I shook my head. “She needs this more-”
“She gave it to you,” she said. “She wanted you to have it. That may not mean anything to you, but if you care about her at all, you'll take it.”
We had also been around each other long enough for me to know that she could be kind of terrifying when angry. Especially when she was right. So I pocketed it, said farewell, and left.
It's funny, during my months here in Maryland, I've come to view this place almost like an alien world that had slowly become home. Now I truly was going home, back north, back to familiar territory. And in this case, back to territory that was very near and dear to me.
This very well may be my last hurrah. If this plan doesn't work...it has to work.