The-Unfortunate-Death-of-Casey-Sennet

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					    John Larson Ph.D     /   Casey Pierce Interview     /   Session #1    /   8 May 2012

      “ I’m speaking with Casey Pierce, wife of Inmate #231, Vincent Pierce. How are you,
Casey?”
      “Fine, I suppose. What are we here to talk about? Has he done something?”
      “No, no, he’s fairly stable. You’re here to help me make sense of some claims he’s been
making.”
      “What sort of claims?”
      “Mrs. Pierce, your husband seems to believe he’s, ah… a monster.”
      “I’d assume there are a lot of patients here who believe that, Mr. Larson.”
      “A literal monster, ma’am. The kind that lives under the bed and eats small children.”
      “Oh. I see.”
      “You see? Is this an ongoing delusion?”
      “No.”
      “Then it’s a recent development?”
      “No, it’s ongoing. I meant to say it’s not a delusion.”
      “You... you mean to tell me that your husband is actually a monster?”
                                              2
        “Yes. You’ve seen him, haven’t you?”
        “Of course I have. While it’s obvious that Vincent is… well, very odd looking, his
appearance isn’t enough to make me believe that he’s anything other than human. As far as I’m
concerned, he’s so convinced of this monster fantasy that he’s gone through the trouble to have
body modifications. There are surgeries for such things.”
        “But he hasn’t had any of those surgeries. Everything about him is entirely natural; you
can prove that, can’t you? Have a dentist or something look at his teeth, you’ll see—”
        “Mrs. Pierce, you really believe that your husband is not human?”
        “Well, yeah. I lived with him long enough before you snatched him up. I know him.”
        “As convinced as you may be, let me assure you that there is no such thing as a monster.
Your husband is either the psychological find of the century or the greatest actor the world has
ever seen, but he is certainly not paranormal.”
        “Has he told you his story?”
        “Pieces.”
        “And?”
        “Anyone can make up a story, Mrs. Pierce, especially one as far-fetched as what he told
me.”
        “So you didn’t believe it.”
        “Certainly not. Do you?”
        “Yes.”
        “You mean to say that you also believe this nonsense about ancient curses?”
        “Yes, because I was there. For some of it, at least.”
        “Really? And he’s had this delusion the whole time?”
        “I told you, it’s not a delusion. Look, I can tell you all about it, the whole story, all that I
was there for. Then will you believe him?”
        “Probably not.”
        “Well, I’m not lying. I’m not insane, either, before you ask.”
        “I wasn’t going to.”
        “Good.”
         “How about this, Mrs. Pierce: you tell me what you think I should know about Vincent,
and I’ll give this monster issue a bit more thought. Is that alright?”
        “Sure. I— I’ll start with the year we got married.”
        “So you’ll be telling me about how you fell in love?”
        “Kind of. To be more specific, sir, I’ll be telling you how he killed me.”




                                                   3
         There was once an unassuming young woman by the name of Casey Sennet.
         As you may have guessed, she is going to die.
         The whole affair began on a Sunday evening, when she broke her streak of seclusion to
visit the corner store. Rolled up in a coat and scarf to fend off the vicious November sleet, she
had already locked the door and popped open her umbrella when she saw it. At first glance, her
mind washed over it as an unimportant detail. Stray dog. No problem. But she took another peek,
just in case, and found herself unable to look away.
         The monster stared back.
         Its large canine body was normal enough, but the horns curling from behind its ears and
the five-fingered hands on the ends of its four legs were certainly not those of a dog. She could
just make out needle-like teeth crammed at odd angles into its long jaw and what seemed to be
signs of decay littering its fur.
         They stood there, girl and beast, gazing into one another. Some inconsequential voice in
her mind was screaming fortheloveofgodRUNAWAY, but the rest of her remained oddly attracted
to the unearthly thing at the corner of Willow Avenue and Church Street. Moth to the flame, she
stepped closer to the curb, closer to the thing. It cocked its head, ears perking. Casey’s heart
hitched, and her lungs tightened, and her stomach rose toward her throat, so that she knew
something very powerful had just filled her, but she couldn’t quite apprehend what it was. The
monster drew a step closer, closed its eyes, nodded like it knew. Like it understood.
         Then it was gone.
         Casey remained rooted to the concrete for some time, gaze fixed on the vacant street
corner. She wanted to feel something, perhaps the tingle of onset insanity or a buzz of panic, but
everything in her remained still. There was a crooning in the seat of her sentiments which
said, It’s okay, this is normal, this is normal, and she listened to it. That couldn’t be good. She
should have been freaking out. But you’re not, because you’ve seen them before. She couldn’t
disagree; she had seen monsters before, perhaps even the same one.
         How could that be? She raked her mind for a solid bit of information, maybe a movie
she’d seen with the creature or a nightmare she’d had before, anything. But there was nothing.
The lack of answers set her teeth on edge, leading her into a harried dash across the street. She
stepped around the street sign, seeking evidence and finding none. Not a handprint or a single
hair. Nothing. Had she imagined it? No, she was certain she’d seen it— she just didn’t know
exactly what she’d seen.
         So she did what any normal person would do: she went to the library to google
“paranormal investigator.”
         Sitting at computer #6 with the scent of moist books heavy in her nose, Casey turned the
monitor toward the wall, away from prying eyes. She had to cock her head to actually see the
                                                4
screen, sending strands of hair like watery coffee spilling out of her ponytail, but bad hair was
worth the privacy. If she was crazy, the whole library didn’t have to know.
        After waiting a moment for her fingers to thaw, she began her search. There were several
pages about young adult novels and online fiction, but after a bit of scrolling, she found a
fascinating article about a psychologist-turned-paranormal investigator named Zachary Kheft
who believed he’d discovered an invincible man. Another search yielded a number of similar
claims and sightings, but Kheft seemed to be the only one who had actually made contact with
the supposed superhuman. Therefore, he was the most likely bet for helping her make sense of,
and perhaps even contact with, the object of her own sighting— after all, if he could track down
an elusive supposed super human, how hard could it be to find a creepy dog-thing?
        Ten minutes later, she was grinding the ignition of her ’91 Nissan with a Google Maps
print-off in one hand, muttering, “This is unreal.”
        Once the car finally sputtered to life, she followed the map into a town several minutes
from her own but just as run-down. Apartments loomed with scattered windows lit from within,
and trees reached overhead with limbs stripped naked by the cold. The whole thing made Casey's
gut churn, her partially-numb fingers clinging to the steering wheel as she turned into the
apartment complex indicated by her map.
        “Alright, 26C, where are you?” A slow cruise through the rows of buildings finally led
her to the apartment in question, which was unfortunately on the second story. Uttering a curse
beneath her breath, Casey parked, pulled her jacket tighter, and leapt into the sleet. Her journey
up the stairs resulted in a few near-fatal slips on the icy metal, and by the time she reached the
top, she had to cling to the railing for a few dizzy moments before pressing the buzzer. There
was a rush of feet then a squeal of hinges as the door opened a few inches, stopped by a chain
attached to the door frame. In the narrow opening was an overabundance of freckles, bright red
hair and eyes mirroring those of a deer in headlights.
        “Zachary Kheft?” Casey ventured.
        He shook his head violently. “No, no, I’m Arthur.” His jittering fingers appeared, too-
long nails pressing into the doorframe. “I’ll get Zach, though, you just— just wait.” The door
closed, remaining thus for roughly three seconds before inching back open to reveal Arthur
again. “Do you want to come in?”
        Though the prospect of entering a stranger’s house was a little more than unwise, Casey
was losing the feeling in her outer extremities, and if worst came to worst there was a can of
mace in her purse... “Yes,” she admitted, trying to produce an assuring smile but succeeding only
in a shiver.
        “Okay then, just—” He disappeared momentarily, and the chain slid free, the door
opening fully to reveal a pale-skinned, slight-bodied man of some twenty years. “Your feet, wipe
them please?”
        “Sure, of course.” Casey shuffled her feet against the threshold as she bowed into the
gloriously warm room. Arthur shut the door behind her, assuming a nervous fidgeting with his
hands.

                                                5
         “Well, I’ll get Zach now, if that’s alright.”
        “Right! Go ahead, I’ll wait.” This time she was able to smile, and Arthur responded in
kind, albeit a bit lopsidedly.
        “He hasn’t had a girl over in a long time,” Arthur observed.
        Awkward. In an unsuccessful attempt to conjure a response, Casey opened and closed her
mouth a few times like a fish. Seeming to recognize his blunder, Arthur cleared his throat,
peeped, “Right,” and vanished through a door beside him.
        In his absence, Casey stole a gander at the interior of the apartment. It was, for lack of a
better term, a bachelor pad, complete with a half-eaten sandwich in a paper towel on the arm of a
beaten-in sofa. Slightly less-standard was the heart defibrillator on the opposite end of said sofa,
and what seemed to be alfalfa sticking from the sandwich. Okay. Odd. Perhaps paranormal
investigation called for a paranormal lifestyle. Or maybe—
        “Can I help you?”
        Casey jumped at the voice, hand jerking to her heart. A new man stood before her, much
taller and sturdier than Arthur, defined by snarls of unkempt hair, dark skin and a stubble-
roughened jaw with a goatee. Overall, he had the appearance of a crazed jungle animal. “Is this
about those dorm payments?” he continued, something foreign— maybe African?— apparent in
his baritone. “Because obviously, I’ve moved out, I don’t want to have to write another letter—”
        “No, no,” Casey said. “I’m actually here because...” She fidgeted with the strap of her
purse, face growing increasingly hot. “I think I’ve got a monster infestation.”
        Zachary Kheft stared at her for a fleeting moment before tossing his head back in a roar
of laughter. “You read that article, didn’t you! By that, uh,” he rolled a hand to supply for some
imaginary adjective, “journalist. Mysteries of the Human Body or something like that, yeah?”
        Casey nodded. “That’s the one. Your work seemed impressive, and it said you were
doing full-time paranormal investigations now, so I thought—”
        “Hold up, there. Not to crush your hopes and dreams, but you’ve got the wrong guy.”
        Crap.
        “I’m so sorry!” Casey stepped backwards, waving one hand in a gesture of apology and
reaching for the doorknob with the other. “When I looked up the name, this address was all that
came up. I was so sure you were the right person; I didn’t mean to—”
        “No, it’s fine. You wouldn’t believe how many times it’s happened.” A disdainful
crumple of his brow indicated that no, she probably wouldn’t believe it. “Actually, it’s a bit of a
funny story; the guy who wrote the article got our names confused. The investigator’s name was
John something or other, and I’m the one he was investigating.”
        Casey stilled with the knob half-turned in her hand, brow raised. “You were?”
        “Yeah. It was all in his mind, though, if you’re wondering. I had this close call a few
years back when I fell off a high scaffolding and walked away with no injuries, and someone
caught it on video, so every paranormal fanatic in the world came out of the woodwork calling
me the ‘Invincible Man.’ The guy you’re looking for was the only one I couldn’t shake off.”


                                                 6
         “Oh.” It seemed stupid, but something in her just had to know: “How high was the
scaffold?”
         Zachary Kheft was silent a moment. “Four stories. But stuff like that happens, you know.
Tornado victims are thrown miles and survive.” He shrugged. “Just lucky, I guess.”
         Casey stared. “Uh, right. I guess it does. Well, I— I don’t want to bother you anymore,
but thank you for understanding, Mr. Kheft.”
         Stepping past her to open the door, he produced a surprisingly charming smile for
someone so scraggly. “Zach, please.”
         Nice as he seemed, Casey’s insides were thrumming with the anxiety of being in a
stranger’s house, so she smiled in reply and stepped back into the cold. But just as she reached
the first stair: “What kind of an infestation did you say?”
         She turned back to see him in the doorway, the tilt of his head indicating curiosity.
         “A monster infestation.”
         “What kind of monster?”
         Hesitating, she cleared her throat. “It’s really not important. I don’t want to bother—”
         “No, no, I’m just curious. I mean...” He scratched at his jaw, squinting. “People usually
have some kind of name for it, you know. They say they’ve seen a ghost or a vampire or the yeti,
but you’re just calling them ‘monsters,’ ‘cause you don’t know what to call them. You seem nice
enough; you’re not a fanatic. You’re just some girl who saw something she can’t explain, yeah?”
         She nodded.
         “What did you see?”
         Another moment of hesitation passed before Casey described the creature, depicting its
horns with two devil-like fingers by her head and its unsettling hands with a wriggle of her own.
“And it had these teeth, so many teeth— maybe it was just a stray dog, but I swear, I really
thought it was more than that.”
         Zach stared at her, his eyes widening with something akin to obsession. He had cat’s
eyes, hazel and a tad wild. Casey didn’t like them at all. “How many?” he inquired.
         “J-just one, actually.”
         “That’s not much of an infestation.”
         He had a point. “You’re right. I don’t know why I said—”
         “It’s always like that, though. You see one and you feel like you’ve seen them before,
like you’ve seen them everywhere, yeah?”
         “Well... yes, actually.” Pins and needles nibbled at her heart, made her spine tighten. “Do
you know what it was I saw?”
         “I do.”
         “What?”
         He opened his mouth as if to speak, made an inarticulate sound, and clenched his teeth.
With an exasperated curl of his lip, he snarled, “I can’t tell you.”
         “What do you mean!” She was so close to an explanation, how could he just—?


                                                 7
        “I’m not allowed. But I’ll tell you this:” he advanced until he stood nearly toe-to-toe with
her, all intensity and energy and just a smidgen of terror, “you know how you feel like they’ve
infested?”
        “Yes, but—”
        “They have. Don’t go back home. Find someplace to stay, and if you see them again,
move someplace else. I don’t know what they want with you, but it’s not going to be good.
Avoid them as much as you possibly can. If you don’t have a gun, find someone who does and
keep it on you.”
        “What?” Casey was lost to adrenalin, breath coming so quick that it scrambled her
thinking. “What are you talking about?”
        “I already said I can’t tell you. But they’re real, and they’re dangerous, and if you value
the way your life is right now, you will not let them get to you. Understand?”
        “I-I guess?” She pulled her coat tighter around herself and swallowed a few times to try
and steady her breathing. “I’m just confused— this isn’t normal—”
        “You might be done with normal if you’re not careful,” Zach warned. “Now go, get out
of here. We’ll both be in trouble if they see you here.”
        Casey spun, taking in the street below and the neighboring apartments, as if she’d see
monstrous silhouettes in every shadow. Then, turning back to him, “Do you have an infestation,
too?”
        An ironic sort of chuckle escaped him. “You’re already getting the hang of it... what was
your name?”
        “Casey. Casey Sennet.”
        Zach gave a nod and a pat to her shoulder that was likely supposed to console her, but
didn’t. “Good luck, Casey. You’ll need it.”




                                                 8
         Casey didn’t move out right away.
         She was scared, but given the amount of blood and sweat she put into paying her rent and
the fact that the only place she had to go was back to her parents’, it didn’t seem worth it—
especially not on the advice of a man who might or might not have been crazy. But as every
fleeting shadow began to resemble a monster and the creak of the shifting foundation sounded
like death on the prowl, she started to wonder if he’d had the right idea. Paranoia made sleep
elude her, and the creeping night hours were giving way to increasingly unpleasant workdays.
         “Listen, ma'am, I swear to you, these sunglasses will look good with anything you wear.
What color? They're black, with, uh, a little orange... What do you mean, you don't wear black?
Ma’am, everyone wears black sometimes. I’m wearing black right now... Well, if you ever attend
a funeral, and it’s sunny outside— No, ma’am, please... Alright. Thank you for your time, we
look forwa— Or you can hang up on me. Thanks, thanks so much for that.”
         Casey’s forehead dropped to her desk, the phone following shortly with a clatter. Every
day she allowed to slip through her fingers as a telemarketer made the ideas of bankruptcy and
homelessness seem just a little less unwelcoming. Food was a pleasant and necessary part of life,
however, and she wasn’t willing to give up her ever-blossoming friendship with Chef Boyardee
to go live in a cardboard box with an empty stomach just yet.
         “The Man getting you down, Casey dear?”
         “Oh.” Casey turned her head to gaze up at the woman beside her, right temple still glued
to the desk of her half-cubicle. “Hey, Margaret.”
         Margaret was an older woman with two grey braids, one over either shoulder. Casey had
never seen her without her braids, probably because they were one of the many aspects of
Maggie’s ongoing campaign against “The Man,” and the war He’d started in Vietnam that had
taken her son from her years ago. The war which was, according to Margaret, still going on in
secret.
         “I haven’t made a single sale tonight. I think I’m going to try and slip out early soon.”
         “Don’t blame yourself, dearie. You just go home and rest. Sales will get better when the
government pulls out of ‘Nam and they give my boy back to me. The economy will be fixed in
an instant, you know.” The woman pushed her thick glasses up on her nose and examined her
call list for the rest of the night.
         “Alright, Maggie. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
         “No, you won’t.” Maggie batted Casey’s arm with the call list. “It’s your birthday
tomorrow, dearie! Stay home and make that herbal tea I gave you— stuff’s mighty strong, you
know.”


                                                9
         Casey had no sooner registered the suspicious comment about the herbal tea than the full
meaning of Maggie’s words hit her: tomorrow was her birthday.
         She had entirely forgotten.
         “Oh, but I’m sure you’re having a party.” The old woman’s braids leapt as she nodded in
the affirmative. “Tell me all about it when you get back, won’t you? And don’t stay in bars past
midnight. That’s where they abduct all the new recruits.”
         Casey put a hand to her temple. “That— that can’t be right.”
         “It’s true! There was this man—”
         “No, not that.” Casey waved a dismissive hand, ignoring Maggie’s conspiracy talk purely
out of habit. “What’s tomorrow?”
         “The first of November, of course.” Maggie said, glancing at her call list for verification.
“I never forget a birthday. But dearie— did you forget?”
         “Well… yeah. I did.” There was no use lying to Margret. The woman may have had a
few screws loose, but she was suspicious enough to smell a lie from six miles away.
         Breathing a low tsk tsk, Maggie shed her glasses with a stiff movement, as if taking off a
hat out of respect. “You’ve been working too much, dearie, spending all day around these
computers and their radiation. Go ahead and get home early like you said, and you call up all of
your hip, young friends to have a party tomorrow, you hear? Have fun!”
         “Right,” Casey murmured. “I will. Thanks.” She stood, dragging her coat and scarf from
underneath the desk. “Bye, Maggie.”
         With a sagely nod farewell, the woman reapplied her glasses and turned back to her own
desk.
          The first item on Casey's list, after wrapping herself in the blue scarf Margret had kindly
knitted her, was a trip to the store.
         As she walked to her car, she took extra care to step in every puddle that presented itself
on the rain-soaked Colorado pavement, reflecting that the blue of the scarf was probably her
favorite color. And her elderly, half-senile coworker was probably the only person who had
remembered her birthday. It was still alarming that she’d forgotten it, herself, but she attributed it
to all of the craziness with monsters and paranormal investigators. Obviously, she was too
stressed. She needed more sleep, more social life, and less work. She needed to do something
productive with herself before she lost it and started seeing flying monkeys.
         Sliding into her car, she briefly wondered who, other than Maggie, she could invite over
for her birthday, but decided to save those thoughts until later. Surely, by the time she got home,
she could think of someone.
         When Casey stepped into the grocery store, she tugged off her scarf and couldn’t help but
smile as she melted into the people. A couple holding hands, a mother pushing a fussy child in a
shopping cart, two teenagers messing around by a rack of sunglasses… this was real life. She
needed more of this.



                                                 10
         A few minutes later, she stood in the pharmaceutical department, a can of ravioli in her
hand and her eyes on the sleep aids. Perhaps tonight, with the help of a pill or two, she was going
to remedy her sleep troubles and keep the fitful dreams away. Maybe—
         Whap!
         Casey jumped, yanked from her thoughts by the sound of a box of bandages hitting the
floor. She cast an absentminded glance down at the box, returned her eyes to the sleeping pills,
then promptly looked back again. Was the man who had dropped it barefoot?
         She followed bowed legs up to a bony torso wrapped in gauze, from there to a spindly
neck and finally a head. On this head was a nest of long black hair, and beneath the mess he
seemed more-or-less Asian, though it was hard to tell, as medical patches completely obscured
half of his face. Only one eye was visible for the bandages, and it was so wrought with cataracts
that she couldn’t divine its color. It stared at her like something ungodly had just grown on her
face.
         “So…” She drew out the word, swallowing and backing away a bit. Given that he was
built like an emaciated pile of sticks, she shouldn’t have been very intimidated, but he was tall—
six and a half feet, if she had to guess. Was this what serial killers looked like? She was in a
Wal-Mart at ten at night… “You dropped your Band-Aids.” She nodded at the abandoned box,
crouching to retrieve it when he made no move to do so himself. He continued to stare at her,
expression thoroughly unchanged. “Do you… want them back?”
         She held out the box to him, and the eye flickered to her hand. When her peace offering
didn’t elicit any other reaction, she shook the box a little, succeeding only in shifting his
attention back to her face.
         “F-fo-forgive me,” he gasped, lips quivering. His accent was odd, confirming his Asian
ethnicity but clipped at the edges by something almost English.
         Casey’s brow lowered a bit in wonderment as she stared at this strange, unfortunate
creature. Just as it began to occur to her to offer some kind of help (a couple dollars or some
employment advice; she wasn’t sure exactly what she was going for) she found herself staring at
an empty aisle. The man had vanished, leaving her with naught but a box of Band-Aids, a can of
ravioli, and the feeling of a hit-and-run.
         After a moment of thought and a long exhale, she returned the Band-Aids to their shelf
and picked up two bottles of sleeping pills, just to be safe. As she made her way to the checkout,
she glanced about, craned her neck around corners, and asked if others had seen the strange man.
No one had, and she didn’t catch sight of him again.
         The walks from the store to her car and from her car to her house shocked her full of
miserable shivers and left her scarf dripping with sleet, making what would have been an
inconsequential sack full of groceries into a bit of a burden by the time she reached her doorstep.
         Her house was shabby-looking at best, but well-insulated and armed with a security
system, so she couldn’t ask for much more. Though the oven sat nestled rather uncomfortably
near the sofa, if she turned it on the lowest heat and left it on for a few hours, it would warm the
house nicely. Her television had finally given up the ghost but still resided on the coffee table she

                                                11
had neglected to move it from, and she brushed the back of it idly with her fingertips as a matter
of habit when she passed by, heading to her bedroom with the sleeping pills in hand.
         Once in her room, she peeled off her wet clothes and changed into warm sweatpants and
a t-shirt. She then stepped into the bathroom, where she cast a glance at herself in the mirror—
slight bags beneath her eyes, hair twisted into a lost cause of tangles— before setting one bottle
on the counter and holding the other for examination. Having skimmed the label and made sure
of the dosage, she tossed back two pills with a handful of water.
         It was then, on her way back to the kitchen to unpack the groceries, that she thought of
someone to invite for her birthday: Abbey Graves. Of course! Abbey, from human resources at
work, was a lovely girl, always interested in how Casey’s day was going. She’d been transferred,
but her cell phone number would still be the same. Grinning, Casey pulled a notepad and a pen
out of a kitchen drawer and flung Abbey’s name across the top.
         When she began to write the phone number, however, it occurred to her that she had
never actually asked for Abbey’s information. They’d talked at the office, but never exchanged
any contacts. Frowning, Casey took a seat at her table and crossed out Abbey Graves. Who else
could she possibly—?
         “Oh!” The gasp came on the coattails of a grin. Biting her lip, she wrote Jacob Surley at
the top of the list. She’d met Jacob at the library, and he’d seemed interested in her— No. Wait.
His phone number had been disconnected; she’d found out when trying to call him a few months
ago. He hadn’t been at the library recently, either. “Shoot,” she murmured, resting her cheek on
her palm. She drew a strike through Jacob’s name.
         Over the next few minutes, Casey wrote down and crossed out a dozen more names. She
didn’t know anyone from high school well enough, her string of jobs had yielded people she
merely tolerated, and her family… Well, she didn’t want her parents arguing about her dad’s
gambling, or worse, him showing up drunk at her house. She briefly contemplated inviting only
her mother, but they didn’t get along well enough for that. Besides, her mother was never
pleasant during the month of November. Since Casey’s younger brother, Tyler, had passed away
that month a few years prior, her parents had gone so far as to stop having Thanksgiving. Casey
definitely did not want that kind of gloom on her birthday.
         Her chest grew heavy the moment she had that thought. She’d spent the majority of her
young life jealous of Tyler, the honor-roll son, the one her parents introduced first at parties...
She hadn’t even been able to completely share the grief her parents had felt at his death. Her
mom had fought depression, her dad’s drinking addiction had extended to gambling, and Casey
had said, “Well, that sucks, guess I’ll move out now,” and essentially estranged herself from
them out of shame. She currently sent them extra money each month to help out, but she felt
crumby every time she did, like a disinterested father sending off child support.
         With a frown, she scribbled Family off of the list.
         Blessedly, the sleep aid chose that moment to kick in. Putting the thoughts of a lonely
birthday behind her, Casey relinquished to the vague dizziness of the drug and forced herself to
put away a few groceries before wandering back to her room.

                                               12
        Through her fluttering eyelashes and the last moments of awareness, she could have
sworn she saw a figure shifting in her open door, but before she could lend much thought to it,
sleep stole her away.




         The alarm that flung Casey headlong into the world of the conscious each day never
ceased to be painfully loud. This particular morning, it tore her out of medicated sleep and was
therefore more detestable than usual, causing her to strike out at it with a particular vehemence.
Her attempt to slap the “quit making that awful racket” button ended in the raucous thing falling
onto the floor beside her bed. Casey reached down to grab it, but instead knocked it away,
leaving it screaming and just out of her reach. The thought that this was going to force her to get
out of bed at six in the morning irked her slightly, but she’d get over it.
         Happy birthday, Casey, she congratulated herself as she captured and disarmed the
clock, you’re officially old enough to drown that throbbing in your head with a bottle of vodka.
         In the bathroom a few moments later, she brushed her teeth and showered. Her hair
refused to calm itself, so she resorted to throwing it into a loose ponytail as it dried. A few
moments were spent investigating the finer aspects of her face in the mirror; she couldn’t wait
until summer came and bronzed her pale skin, making all the flaws just a little harder to spot.
Finally, she slipped on a tank and a pair of shorts, ready for a day of solitude in her warm house.
Party or not, she deserved the day off on her birthday. Perhaps she’d even invite Margret over
later.
         She stepped out into the kitchen and grabbed her phone to call in, then dropped it
promptly to the floor.
         He was in her house.
         Enigmatic Six and a Half-Foot-Tall Possible Serial Killer Man from Walmart was in her
house.
         “Stay where you are!” she shouted at the intruder who sat cross-legged on her couch,
reaching behind herself and fumbling in a drawer until she found a knife. “I-I don’t know what
you’re doing in my house, but…” She had no clue where she was going with this. She had the
knife, it was pointed at the guy...
         And the next moment she was in her bedroom, sitting on the floor with her back against
the locked door. She crouched there, trying to figure out some way of getting out of the
apartment without engaging him and attempting to recall every self-defense tip she’d ever heard.
Judging by his health (or lack thereof), she could probably overpower him pretty easily, but did
she really want to take the chance of getting into a fight with someone who had broken into her
house? What if he was stronger than he seemed, or worse, armed? What if—


                                               13
         Her entire body lurched when her phone rang outside of the room. Why on earth had she
left it on the floor? Stick-man was definitely not going to call the police for her. It rang again,
closer this time. Then the doorknob rattled, and Casey nearly swallowed her tongue.
         “I have a knife!” she reminded him, her pitchy voice not as fear-inducing as she’d
intended. The knob ceased to rattle, and there was a light knock. The phone rang again. Was he
bringing it to her?
         “Just leave it outside!” Casey shouted through the wood, taking the knife up in her hand.
She heard him place the phone on the wood then step softly back into the living room.
         Turning over onto her knees, she ventured to open the door a crack, knife poised to strike.
He wasn’t outside. Eyes skimming what she could see of the kitchen and living room, she didn’t
find him. The phone rang again and she snatched it up— if the man was capable of getting up
and walking to her current position once, he could do it again— and slammed the door, locking it
as she answered the phone.
         “Excuse me, ma’am, do you have time to consider buying a pair of sunglasses?
Guaranteed to deflect any brainwashing laser beams the government has on those satellites in
outer space.”
         Casey sighed in relief, rubbing her forehead with the back of her hand. “Hey, Maggie.
Actually, it’s really great that you called— can you so something for me?
         “At your service, birthday girl. Hey, though, this man came in a minute ago and said
you’d be out for a few days— something about an unexpected trip. What happened? Are you
with him or something?”
         Casey frowned. “What? No, I’m not with anybody. What did he look like?”
         “He was wearing some pretty fancy clothes, business formal and all that, and his hair
was really curly, black with some grey bits. He had funny eyes, too— coulda been blind, but he
was handsome.”
         Handsome and well-dressed. Definitely not the man currently in Casey’s living room,
then. This was getting freaky.
         “Okay, look, Maggie, there’s a man in my house right now, and—”
         “Oh, my heavens! Is he trying to arrest you over conspiracy? Because if they’ve found
out I know about ‘Nam, you don’t have to say anything! You have rights—”
         “No, no, he’s not trying to arrest me.” Casey pinched her temple, releasing a sigh through
her teeth. “In fact, he hasn’t tried to do anything. I’m not sure if he’s even dangerous, but
somehow he got into my house, so—”
         “You-you di-didn’t arm your security s-s-system.” Casey nearly leapt out of her skin at
the soft, oddly accented voice just opposite the door.
         “Casey, are you alright? Just hit him where it counts and run, dearie!” Margaret’s advice
fell on ears otherwise engaged, for the intruder was speaking again:
         “A-and I’m s-sorry— you didn’t he-hear me knocking, s-s-so I-I j-just p-picked the lock.
I didn’t m-mean...”


                                                14
        He picked the lock? There went the last three years of feeling secure in her own home!
 Just beyond Casey’s panic, Margaret was continuing her babble of defense instructions, garbled
now by static. The incessant noise was certainly not helping.
        “Maggie, I’m fine, I’m fine, just one moment—” Casey pressed a hand over the
mouthpiece and twisted so that her face was flat against the floor. In the crack beneath the door,
she saw long-fingered hands nicked by an array of scars, and beyond them a pair of bony knees.
“Hey, you, listen: I’m not sure why you’re here, but my friend is going to call the police if you
don’t get out, you hear me?”
        “N-no! You ca-n’t!” Then the crack filled with half a face, eye wide and mouth peeled
back to reveal— oh, God, were his teeth filed to points? “P-please, don’t call the-the police—
the-they they’ll kill you—”
        “The police aren’t going to kill me, but I can’t speak for you, so—”
        “N-no, n-not the poli-police! I mean them. Th-the monsters, C-Casey.”
        Casey’s spine went cold. “What are you talking about? There’s no monsters here, I—
how do you know my name? No, okay, look; it doesn’t matter, because you need to get out right
now. My— uh— my boyfriend will be here soon, so even if I don’t call the police, you’re going
to be in trouble, you hear me!”
        What remained of his eyebrow lowered in a gesture of confusion. “B-but you do-on’t
have a b-boyfriend.”
        Okay, this man was officially a stalker. “Fine, but I’m going to call the police!” She
pressed the phone against the crack to prove her point.
        “No, d-don’t! You can’t! I-it’s f-for your own g-ood, p-please, just—” And his fingers
came scratching after the phone like great spider legs, the last vestiges of what might have been
nails scraping alongside Casey’s hand. She shrieked and leapt back from the door, taking a
stumble into her bed. Immediately she went to dial 911 and found her phone missing, looking to
the door just in time to see the elongated fingers snatching it away.
        “Hey, no— you can’t do that— stop!” She fell to her knees and pressed her face against
the crack, but he seemed to be gone. “No, no, no no no no...” Casey collapsed back onto her rear,
a hand to her chest as if that would impede her impending hyperventilation. The knife still lay by
the door, but did she want to chance it? And even if she did, would she have the strength of body
and will to actually fight someone off, maybe even stab them? “Oh, God— help, help me—”
        Swiveling to look for some other source of protection, she kicked herself for not taking
her mother’s advice: “You’re moving to the ghetto,” she’d said, “buy a gun. You’ll be thankful
you did!” She had no such assurance, now, only the vague hope that this stalker was as flimsy as
he looked. Or maybe...
        “Oh, please be in here, please be in here...” Casey leapt up and into the adjoining
bathroom, where— yes! There was her purse, and inside, her trusty can of mace. She’d never
actually used it, but it didn’t seem too complex: shake the capsule, spray, run like heck. Easy
enough. Hopefully.


                                               15
        Rushing back to the door, she dropped to her knees and looked through the crack again.
Still nothing. “Hey, hey you! I’ve got a home phone in here. I can still call the police!” A rush of
bare feet, and he appeared, knees then hands then face.
        "No, y-you can't! I-it’s for your own—” Casey leapt back and sprayed him. An inhuman
sort of shrieking ratcheted up in the hallway outside, the kind of noise Casey associated with
demons in scary movies and pterodactyls from children’s shows. Flung into sheer adrenalin, she
threw the mace aside, unlocked the door and kicked it open, flattening him behind it like some
huge, home-invading stick bug.
        Then she was running, snatching her coat as she passed the rack with a silent prayer that
her car keys were in the pocket. A familiar jingling when she threw on the garment nearly
brought tears of relief to her eyes, and moments later she was in her car, gunning the ignition,
praying this would be the day the old hunk of metal would actually start. Her prayers were
answered again with a strained growl from the engine. Peeling out into the street in defiance of
every defensive driving class she'd ever taken, Casey had only one place to go:
        Home.




                                                16
        “Mom? I know you're here! Please answer me!” Casey pounded flat-palmed against her
parents’ front door, simultaneously thrumming with energy and losing feeling in her limbs.
“Come on, I think I might be in danger! Please!”
        Finally, with a reluctant squeal of hinges, a familiar face appeared in the doorway. The
woman was a wisp of a thing, Hispanic and short with graying hair all pinned up like something
had died in it. She scrutinized Casey for a moment before inquiring with a hint of a Mexican
accent, “What are you wearing?”
        Casey looked down at her tank top, shorts and socks, then back up. Any explanation she
had was impeded by her teeth, which chose that moment to take up a violent chattering.
        “Well, get inside before we both catch death,” her mother hissed, and Casey obeyed,
stamping her sock-feet to remove the snow before escaping into the dwelling’s warmth. The
house of her youth remained unchanged since her last visit, still littered in unpaid bills and
picture frames from the dollar store. The chair customarily filled by the hung-over mass of her
father pleaded vacant, leaving Casey to assume the man was off gambling away the grocery
money. It reeked of off-brand air-freshener.
        “Happy Birthday,” her mother offered in flat tones, avoiding eye-contact. “I assume
they've come for you.”
         “You knew about this?” Casey dropped into the couch and began to strip off her frigid
socks. “Mom, I swear, if this is some kind of joke, it isn’t funny—”
        “No, there’s nothing funny about this at all.” Her mother sat in her father's chair,
lounging into one of the arms with a few fingers to her temple in exasperation. “You know all
about it, then, or you wouldn't be here.”
        “Know all about what?”
        “About your husband, Cassandra.”
        Casey sat in stillness and stared at the woman adjacent her, tried to apprehend why
someone so avidly no-nonsense would say something so ridiculous.
        “I'm sorry, what exactly are you talking about?”
        Her mother looked her straight in the face, expression hard. “They really haven’t told
you?”
        “No. Mom, seriously, what does that mean?”
        The woman pulled a frown and averted her eyes. “It means exactly what it sounds like.
You're getting married.”


                                              17
        Brow folding, Casey made an awkward noise and shifted in her seat. “Look, Mom, if this
is some kind of cultural thing, let me tell you that I have no intention of getting married. The
Quinceañera was great, but—”
        “I told you this isn’t a joke, Cassandra! Be serious!” her mother shrieked, shooting to her
feet with intensity uncharacteristic of such a slight thing. Casey flinched back, eyes wide. The
woman’s heavy breathing tapered into small gasps, and abruptly she fell back into the chair,
sobbing. At quite a loss for response, Casey shifted to her mother’s side.
        “Hey— don’t. I’m— um— I’m sorry, and I’ll listen to you, now. Is that okay, Mom?”
She went to place a consoling hand on one of the sob-wracked shoulders, but her mother jerked
away.
        “They— they’re going to kill you, Cassandra,” she whispered.
        Casey’s heart hitched. “What? What are you talking about?”
        “He’s coming for you— he— he’s going to make you marry him, and when you do...”
Again, the poor woman dissolved to tears.
        Her confusion rapidly maturing into fear, Casey took a seat on the arm of the chair and
folded her mother up in a firm hug. “Come on, Mom. That’s crazy. Even if something like that
did happen, it’s fine, because I could— hey, look at me—” she turned the graying head, looked
into eyes awash with tears, “I could just say no, right?”
        “No, then they’ll kill us. It’s— it’s no use. They see everything, they hear everything…”
Her mother’s words descended into unintelligible mutters, Casey cradling her tighter with palms
that had gone moist and shaky. She scrambled after some token of reality as the moment became
increasingly bizarre, but found nothing.
        “Look, Mom, I don’t even know what you’re talking about. How do you know anyone
would try to hurt you?”
        Her mother sniffled, holding the sides of her head between weathered hands and
beginning to rock. “Because they killed your brother, Cassandra. They ate Tyler.”
        Casey’s insides lurched and became a vacuum, everything going breathless and tight
against each other, all strained into a single, incredulous gasp: “What?” A hand went to her
mouth, images of murder and cannibalism creeping around the edges of approaching nausea.
“Mom, he was in a car wreck! I-I saw the car, I was at the funeral—”
        “It was all fake!” With that, her mother tore away and began pacing. Casey stared, lips
parted and jaw slack.
        “Wha— Mom, stop it. This… this isn’t okay.”
        Her mother didn’t seem to hear. “You weren’t there. You didn’t see— these men came to
the house, and they had these things with them, these— these demons with monkey feet and
horns and antlers and wolf faces, and they took us, Cassandra. They— they took us to this— this
garage or something and…” She went quiet, falling onto the couch and crumpling inwards.
“They… they ate him, right there in front of us. Th-the monsters ate him, ate him whole, a-and
then, the men made us swear— they made us swear never to tell the truth. A-and then they
arranged the whole thing, the wreck and the funeral and everything. It was a lie. They ate him.”

                                               18
        Casey sat with her hands on her face, trying to breathe around her knot of a throat, trying
to quell the tears, trying to shove down the sensation of vomit growing in her stomach. She
wouldn’t have believed it, but she’d seen it with her own eyes, right there on the corner of
Willow Avenue and Church Street. The monster had looked her right in the face, and Casey had
felt something that she couldn’t understand at the time, but now she knew: she’d felt her future
twisting away. And the monster had closed its eyes and nodded like it knew. Like it understood.
        She was going to die.
        “Why?” she whispered. “What do they want?” Peeking through her fingers, she saw her
mother composing herself, taking deep breaths. If Casey took a deep breath, she’d probably get
sick on her own feet.
        “I’m not sure. There… there was this man. The Smiling Man, we called him. God, that
smile...” Her mother paused to shudder. “He came to us years before you were born, and he had
the monsters with him. He threatened to kill us then and there, but he said he’d let us live if… if
we gave him our firstborn child.”
        Casey blinked. “What, like Rumpelstiltskin?”
        “Oh, I don’t know, but the point is, we were hammered and terrified and we agreed.
Honestly, after it happened, we assumed it wasn’t real. It was ridiculous, and we’d been so
drunk; how could it have really happened? But then, a week or so before they… well, before
Tyler passed on, The Smiling Man came again. He said…”
        She took another pause, closing her eyes. “He reminded us of our contract and told us the
terms. A man named Vincent Pierce would be coming for you when you were twenty-one, and
you’d have to marry him. Obviously, your father and I protested. We said he couldn’t have you.
He told us that in that case, he’d kill us, and we told him, ‘Fine, try it.’ He didn’t have the
monsters with him, and for all we knew, it was some kind of scam or hoax. How were we
supposed to know that-that he would—” And she began crying again. “I’m s-so sorry,
Cassandra, if-if I had known…”
        “You couldn’t have known.” Casey said it softly, her nausea given over to a debilitating
stillness.
        This was completely unreal. Some mysterious “Smiling Man” with pet monsters had
looped her into an arranged marriage and killed her brother because her parents resisted; how
was she to react to such a thing? Now that the initial sickness of shock had passed, she sat,
unbelieving, trying to get her grip around the idea only to have her fingertips slip off the edges.
        “Who’s Vincent Pierce?” she asked, because it was the only thought that would stick.
        Her mother shook her head. “I don’t know. We met him years ago in a mental clinic, but
he didn’t say much. The Smiling Man was there, and he did all the talking. Mr. Pierce just sat in
a corner with his eyes closed.”
        Casey’s eyes screwed shut as she let loose a long sigh. “A mental clinic?” That was
exactly where this whole situation belonged: an asylum. “This is…” She placed her face in her
hands again for a brief moment before looking back up. “Mom, why are you just now telling me


                                               19
this? You— you should have told me about it when Tyler died, or at least when you met this…
this Mr. Pierce.”
         Scoffing, her mother asked, “Cassandra, would you have believed me?”
          “…No. Probably not. But you could have at least—”
          “We weren’t going to talk about it ever again, your father and I.” The woman put a
jittery hand to her temple and released a groan. “I wouldn’t have brought it up today if I hadn’t
thought you already knew... Why would I ever want to talk about this if I didn’t have to?”
          Casey didn’t know what to say to that.
         It was then that the door entertained a knock so quiet that neither woman would have
heard it if not for the momentary silence. Casey’s mother rose warily and went to the door,
standing on her tip-toes to see out the peep hole. She gasped and pitched backwards.
         “It’s him!” she hissed in a whisper. “Vincent Pierce!”
         Casey sprang to her feet, entire body rigid save for her thrashing heart. Her mother
waited with a hand frozen on the doorknob.
         “What do I do?”
         “Open it,” Casey breathed, because she did not know what was happening or how she
would ever quite accept it, but she knew that there was no stopping it now. Her mother nodded
and threw the door open.
         On the porch stood a looming scarecrow of a figure, draped in gauze, half his face pasted
up in medical patches, one colorless eye staring.
          “You!” Casey screamed. She tried to back away, instead finding herself toppled over in
the arms of the chair behind her. Her lips parted to order him off, but midsentence she lost the
words to the realization that he wasn’t a stalker, as she had assumed before.
         He was Vincent Pierce, the man she was apparently supposed to marry, and he had come
for her on her twenty-first birthday, as promised.
         Shaking, Casey stood, trying to produce some sort of dialogue and succeeding only in
staring at him. The look on his half-a-face was painful; he was the most unfortunate creature
she’d ever seen. Finally, a few words made it to her tongue:
         “Um, hello.”
         “He-hello, C-Casey,” he breathed.
         Casey’s mother took the next moment to say, “I’m— I’m going to go make some coffee,”
leaving the girl and her alleged fiancé at an impasse, each too intimidated by the other to move
any closer to the door.
         “Alright, look,” Casey said, staring Vincent Pierce down as she tried to suppress the
panic in her tone. “I’ve just got one question— no, actually, I have a lot of questions, but I have
one very important one that I need to ask before anything else happens: why?”
         “Wh-why what?”
         “Why am I suddenly finding out that I’m supposed to marry somebody because of—” she
tossed a hand up in incredulity, searching for appropriate vocabulary and finding none, “—


                                               20
because of hellhounds and cannibals?” She drew in a gasp that threatened to become a sob.
“What’s going on? How—”
        “There were n-no cannibals,” Vincent interjected.
        Casey’s brow pinched. “What?”
        “C-cannibals. You sai-said there w-were cannibals, b-b-but there weren’t.”
        “Well— no, I didn’t mean—” She pressed a hand to her temple, drawing a deep breath
that trembled a bit at the base of her throat. “Look, I just found out that my brother, the brother I
thought died in a car accident, was actually eaten. And now I’m apparently supposed to get
married to you, a man who broke into my house this morning and just so happens to have some
kind of connection with the people who got my brother eaten. So I’m just a little on edge, here,
you understand?”
        “On edge” didn’t begin to cover it.
        Vincent stood with his eye unblinking for quite some time, mouth drawing open as if to
speak more than once, but never doing so. It was hard to gauge his emotions, what with his
default expression alluding to shock, but if Casey had to guess, she’d say he was more frightened
than anything. A man who’d whittled his teeth to points and come to claim her as his bride didn’t
really have much business being afraid, but the longer she stood there, the more Casey began to
realize that he was probably more scared of her than she was of him. He was a nervous wreck,
wringing his hands, glancing about, shifting his meager weight— though that may have been
because he stood in bare feet on the icy front porch.
        Casey’s toes had begun to go numb, and despite her self-preservation’s persistent
demands for caution, she had to ask, “Mr. Pierce, would you like to stand inside?” Because,
creepy man affiliated with monsters or not, it was hard to watch him shake in the cold. She’d
seen stray dogs that looked better.
        “N-n-no,” he gasped, waving a hand in a gesture of decline. “I-I don’t want to intr-intrude
—”
        “Then you can stand right inside the door. All the heat’s getting out, and you— well,
please, just come in.” She could practically hear his bones rattling.
        After an uncomfortable moment of neither party moving aside from shivers, Mr. Pierce
stepped inside and Casey closed the door behind him. He took up sentry just beside the door,
awkward with the rigidity of a person whose poor posture prevents them from standing straight.
        “I-I’m sorry yo-you’re on e-edge.”
        Casey blinked at him. Her first instinct was to snap— ‘You’re why I’m on edge!’— but it
seemed wrong. He really was sorry.
        “It’s, uh— I mean, it’s—” She cleared her throat. “Um— please sit!” He flinched a bit at
her sudden enthusiasm. Swallowing to calm herself, she gestured toward the sagging couch.
“Really, it’s fine. Let’s sit.” She collapsed backwards into her father’s chair, immediately
clinging to the armrests.
        Vincent blinked at her for a moment before moving toward the couch, finally taking a
seat and drawing those ridiculous legs up onto the cushion to sit cross-legged. For the first time

                                                21
since he’d come to the door, Vincent looked away from Casey. She released the breath she’d
been holding, deflating with relief.
        “So…” she began, hands kneading the armrests of their own accord, “…what’s the deal?
I mean, really, why is this happening?”
        “W-well, my…” Vincent gazed down at his hands, cracking the knuckles with a few
flexes of his fingers, “my fa-amily is… influential.”
        Casey frowned. “Family? You’re not— are you part of a cult or something?” She didn’t
know if there was much cult activity in Colorado, but it would be less shocking than other things
she’d encountered today.
        “N-no,” he shuddered. “No, we-we’re just…” One of his shoulders gave a loose shrug.
“It’s ha-hard to explain.”
        Sighing through her teeth, Casey brought a hand to her face. “Okay, different question.
What happens if I say no to this whole marriage thing?”
        Vincent lurched to his feet. “No! Y-you ca-can’t, they’ll k-k-ki-k-kill—”
        “Alright!” Casey cried, tossing up her hands. “Alright, I get it, I have no choice. Right.”
She drew a long breath, steeling herself as best she could. The only thing that could make this
worse would be losing her head. “Okay, okay, so… how is this going to go? What’s going to
happen? And— please, you can sit down again.”
        Vincent tensed a little and glanced over his shoulder at the couch, perching back on it
after a moment. Once he’d popped a few more knuckles, he said, “W-we’re supposed to… to g-
get… w-well, married, th-three months from now, I thi-think. Yo-you’re going to live with m-m-
me unti-until then.”
        Three months? That was awfully fast, but— Casey leapt to the edge of her chair. Wait a
moment. Did he just say— “Live with you?”
        His bony hands flinched up, waving in dismissal. “Oh, n-no, not—” he gulped, “not— I
mean, w-we wouldn’t be— I-I have a separate r-room for you, and-and you d-d-d-don’t even
have t-to—”
        “No, no, of course not. Of course not.” Breathe, Casey. Breathe. “Right, then. I get it. But
after we— um, get married, what happens? I mean, does your family have…” she cringed a little,
her insides clenching, “…expectations?”
        Vincent squirmed. “W-well, um, th-there are a few things, but I-I don’t think… You
won’t ha-ave to l-live with me, once w-we’re together. You-you’re free t-to go live wh-wherever
you like.”
        Mouth taking a downward turn, Casey sank back into the chair. While the idea of not
being indefinitely attached to this man allowed her a few easy breaths, this new amendment
made the whole thing sound… pointless. After all, if this crazy family had gone through the
trouble of binding her into a marriage, why didn’t they care whether she stuck around? Her
brother had died because her parents had resisted, but what had they even been resisting? Three
months of living close-quarters with a creep and one legal document that had little-to-no effect
on her day-to-day living? It didn’t make any sense.

                                                22
         But, were associations with marriage-arranging, man-eating monsters supposed to make
sense?
         “W-well, n-not to rush you, but we…” Vincent gazed pointedly at his feet, wringing his
ankles, “…w-we should g-go.”
         “Um, look, Mr. Pierce— Vincent.” He looked up at her use of his first name. “I’m just…
I’ll go with you, but I need to know why. Why is this happening? I get that you have a crazy,
‘powerful’ family, but what do they want with me? And, for that matter, why me?”
         For a long moment, he gazed at her, his face pinched by sadness. He looked down. “I-it’s
not you. It cou-ould have b-been anyone. You just… y-you were unlucky.” Rising from the
couch, he stepped to her chair and reached out, almost as if to touch her. His hand recoiled,
however, and he stepped away, though not before Casey had caught his smell— a somewhat
overwhelming mixture of mildew and turpentine. Her joints stiffened.
        “I-I don’t know why thi-this is happening,” he continued. “He chose th-this, and He sees
everyth-thing. There’s a-a reason— there always is— b-but I-I don’t know what i-it is.” His eye
pulled shut, hand drawing to the bandaged side of his face.
         Casey’s joints unwound, her heart drew tight, and something not unlike compassion
welled in her chest. “You… don’t have a choice in this either. Do you?”
         A slight gasp left him, and for a moment she thought he’d begin crying, but he didn’t. He
murmured, “N-no.”
         Hardly thinking, Casey stood and reached to touch his arm, but he flinched away. She
pulled back, staring.
         How sad he looked.
         “I’m sorry,” she murmured.
         He blinked at her. “I-I’m sorry, too.”
         And Casey was no longer afraid of Vincent Pierce.




       “So, that was how Vincent and I met.”
       “That’s… fascinating, to say the least. Obviously you’ve survived, though.”
       “In a way. Survival is relative after so many years with him.”
       “Oh, I know. I’m his psychiatrist, remember. But I’m afraid that your story isn’t making
me believe either of you. It all sounds, for lack of a better word, crazy.”
       “With all respect, Mr. Larson, I promise you: it hasn’t gotten crazy yet.”




                                               23
{Author’s note: Schedule permitting, this will become the first part of a series to be released on




                Amazon Books, for Kindle etc. Check back for eventual details!}




                                               24

				
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