Orpheus: The Taste of Ashes - Player Stuff - Teresa - Diary - Entry Four

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Stuck in the middle with you…

Goddammit, I could kill for a cigarette. And I don’t even fucking smoke. Why the fuck would anyone do this to themselves? No wonder Kate’s such a bloody bitch. Yeah, I know you heard that. Do I look like I fucking care? I know it’s not easy for you, but at least you chose it: you’re used to the cravings. I suppose I should just be thankful it’s not my lungs you’re messing up as well as my head. Oh, great. Now she’s yammering on again. This is going to last quite some time, I can tell. I suppose I should be thankful for small mercies, though -- she’s lighting up while she rants at me. About sodding time from the state of her nerves. At least that means I won’t have to put up with her nicotine cravings for a while. I don’t know how Annie puts up with it, or with her. Either she has the patience of a saint, or she’s just better at blocking it out than I am.

What? I am trying! Don’t let her wind me up, indeed. Like it’s a choice. Easy for you to say -- you’re not the one she lays into when she feels like being a cow. Hey, that isn’t my fault. Yeah? Well I didn’t ask you! I didn’t…

Oh no. No. No, that isn’t… I didn’t mean… But I didn’t say… That isn’t fair, Annie. Well, fine! Be like that, then.

Wonderful. Now I’ve pissed Annie off, too. What a fantastic day this is shaping up to be.

Interesting. I didn’t realise how much of those conversations -- well, my side of them -- had actually made it onto the page. That’s the problem with having my attention split like this, I suppose. It looks awfully… incoherent. Anyone who reads this is going to think I’ve completely flipped (to use a highly technical term of course). There is, however a, well, not rational, not precisely… There is an explanation for this apparently nonsensical rambling. It’s just a little difficult to put into words. I suppose simplicity is best, though, so here it is: I can hear the thoughts of Kate Dennison and Annie Harper. They can hear mine, and each others’. Basically, we’re all in each other’s heads now. We seem to have developed some kind of mental connection and it’s always fucking on. This really had better bloody not be permanent. I fucking mean it.

This connection didn’t just happen on its own, of course, and I plan to write about how this unusual -- now to mention unpleasant and unwanted -- state of affairs came about. That’s the whole reason I put pen to paper in the first place.

It started with an experiment, just like one of those schlocky B-movies I used to love when I was a kid. (Mum hated those movies, which may have been one of the reasons why I loved them so much. Although I’m not sure -- I was into them way before I hit the rebellious teen stage. Brian introduced me to them, of course. And Dad secretly liked them as well -- I figure that was the reason he actually stuck up for the pair of us when Mum complained about ‘inappropriate viewing’ and ‘bad influences’. But I digress.) When I used Forebode on the moment that the Southville Gazette spectre -- sorry, shadow-class entity -- was created, the result was interesting. It didn’t feel like a normal Forebode at all. (It’s amazing how quickly the human mind adjusts. I can’t believe I’m actually using the word ‘normal’ in conjunction with a Horror.) I’ve written about this before, but not in any way that really made sense. That’s because the whole thing didn’t really make sense. For one thing, there wasn’t a vision, as such: it was emotion and sensation, rather than sight and sound. A connection to… something. Something great and terrible and wonderful and awful. Love and need. Revulsion and desire; pleasure and nausea. Dying, or being born; maybe even both at the same time. Everything all rolled up into one confusing, dizzying experience. It’s hard to describe. The vision was muddled and unclear -- intriguing, but without any useful information as to what was actually going on and why it was so different to other Forebode visions. Naturally, it whetted my curiosity. I wanted to find out more.

Not being a complete idiot, I didn’t go haring off on my own. I recruited Kate and Annie. (Not that I really had to do any active recruiting -- they both seemed eager enough to come along, for their own reasons. None of which seems to stop them both blaming me for what happened. Oh, and now they’re denying it; on the surface, anyway. But what’s underneath tells a different story. Hey, it’s hard not to hear when you seem to be going out of your way to shout it loud and clear! Trust me, I didn’t exactly have to do any digging. Oh, that’s rich. Bloody hypocritical, is what. You’re certainly quick enough to throw anything you dig out of my head back in my face. Both of you! Oh, don’t you deny it; don’t you dare! You know what? Forget it. This isn’t helping. It isn’t helping any of us. How about I try not to comment on your motivations, and you stop interrupting me. Deal? Answer me: is it a deal? Fine. Good. Thank you.)

Sorry. This is still very distracting. We don’t seem to be able to block each other out very well. I was hoping that getting this down on paper would help me to focus, to try to filter the others out. Writing in my diary is usually a calming exercise. Still, I’ve never had to try to block out other people’s thoughts before. It’s bound to take some time.

So: the experiment. Annie revealed that she has the ability to link up to three other people together, so we could all experience whatever happened. (Normally, only two people can form such a connection, which can be used to share vitality, or for one to assist the other in something using one of their horrors. As far as I know, these connections aren’t usually telepathic, although there may be some spillover of sensation from one to the other. Presumably, that’s what happened with Ben the first time I tried this. He used a side-effect of Helter Skelter to reduce the energy threshold for Forebode, so I didn’t have to use enough energy to send out a pulse. Afterwards, he said he experienced something strange during the vision, but he didn’t want to talk about it. I can certainly understand that.) I did suggest that it might be safer for one of us to observe from outside but, let’s face it, which of the three of us was going to volunteer for that? The offers were conspicuous by their absence. An outside observer -- just in case things went horribly wrong -- was still a good idea, though, so we recruited Tom. (Bless his little heart, he’s so agreeable. I asked if he’d help out with a little experiment, and he agreed without even asking what it was. It wasn’t until Kate and I were ready to project that I actually explained, and he still said okay.)

Annie arranged for a driver to take us to Southville, so we could all go in gauze form. (Naturally, it was the ever-present Rodrigo. Does that man ever go home? I swear he must work twenty-four hour shifts or something. I know he’s married -- he seems to eye his ring an awful lot when he’s chauffeuring Annie, Zoë and I off to Chains -- so when does he ever see his wife? He surely doesn’t sleep at Orpheus. Maybe he’s just pulled a few extra shifts lately.) Once there, Annie did her thing -- linking herself, Kate and myself -- and, with a little help from Kate, I did mine. And it worked. We looked at the moment of the spectre’s creation.

What happened next is hard to describe: more so even than the first time, even though it was clearer in many ways. Hell, it’s hard to even think about. But I have to. I need to make sense of it, somehow. And I think that putting it down on paper will help. It has before. Okay, there hasn’t been anything quite like this before now, but I still want to try. Here goes.

With the first attempt, all I got was a confused wash of feelings and a general impression of something that was icky and unpleasant while somehow feeling good. Kind of. This was so much more than that. It was… This was more… concrete? Clearer. More real. Too real. It felt like I was -- like we were -- actually there, in the flesh. Wherever there is. But I’m getting ahead of myself, I guess. One minute we were in the basement of the Southville Gazette. The next, we were somewhere else. It felt like I was drowning. I couldn’t breathe; my lungs were burning. I didn’t… The shock of it seemed to drive everything else out of my head: I had no memory of where I had been, what I’d been doing. Even who I was. I knew that something about this was wrong, but I didn’t know what. It felt like I’d been drowning forever. And as for what I was drowning in… Well, it wasn’t water, that’s for sure. Like raw sewage, but emotional filth as well as physical. It was everywhere. Surrounding me. Pressing against my skin, slipping down my throat; into my stomach, into my lungs. It even felt like it was oozing into my pores, and filling up my blood vessels. Urgh. It’s turning my stomach just thinking about it.

And the others, apparently. Kate’s making her displeasure known. Annie… isn’t saying anything. Not in words. She doesn’t have to. I’m sorry. To both of you. I didn’t know it would come back so vividly. I’ll try to be more careful with the rest of it.

Moving on…

The emotional component was… odd. Confused. Not… It wasn’t all bad. Not exactly. But that only made it worse, especially in retrospect. It was like, well, it reminded me of one of the times when I was arguing with my mother and I said something cruel, just because I wanted to hurt her. It was mean and petty and spiteful -- I knew it was, and yet it still felt satisfying. That’s kind of what this felt like. The kind of pleasure you’re ashamed to feel. Things that you know you’ll regret -- or should regret -- but do anyway. All that and more, ramped up a thousand-fold. Agony. Ecstasy. Love and hate. It was… intense. I think it’ll be a while before I can sort it out in my own mind. For the moment, I just want to get the words out. I can analyse it when it’s a little less raw. And when I can think about it without distressing Annie and Kate. (Oh, apparently Kate isn’t distressed -- she just feels like she needs a shower. Just for the record.)

In retrospect, I think this was what I felt the first time. It was just more compressed then, I guess. Maybe the connection wasn’t as deep; maybe I just skimmed the surface, rather than being drawn in. Maybe it was something to do with there being three of us. I don’t know. Anyway, that wasn’t the end of it, not by a long shot. That was just the beginning.

After that reverse baptism -- being filled by sin, rather than being cleansed of it -- we were abruptly somewhere else. Specifically, we were in our memories. Well, sort of. In my case, it was the memory of a dream. My cousin Sam, the one who killed himself. Although I never actually saw the body, by God was it a staple of my nightmares for ages afterwards. So, that’s where I was: that nightmare. It still felt like I was physical, rather than in gauze form, but I could think again, even if my thoughts were still a little muddled. I was aware of where I had been and what had happened. I could act. So, I started to look around, to interact with the scene. It felt real; completely real. The horrible lighting, the sound of dripping water, the smell of blood in the air, the cold floor under my feet. All of it. Every detail. I didn’t know what to make of it. Had I passed out? Was I dreaming? But you don’t dream in gauze form. Could it be a Forebode vision? Maybe, but then don’t tend to be nearly so immersive.

A message from Kate: she thinks I should just “Stop waffling and get to the point, if I’m going to do this at all.” There were some very uncomplimentary things after that -- both about me personally, and about my profession -- but I don’t think I care to repeat them here. Clearly, she doesn’t understand the first thing about context, or making sure you have enough detail for future analysis. Or that the questions you ask at the time of an event are often a useful indicator of your state of mind, even if they don’t necessarily have any bearing on what actually happened. And she sure as shit doesn’t understand that, if you’re writing about something unpleasant, you sometimes have to work up to it by skirting around the subject a little first. No, why would the cast-iron bitch understand anything like that? Or anything at all about being a human fucking being!

No. I said I wouldn’t do this. It isn’t helping. Goddamn it all to hell and back, I hope this gets better. We have to find a way to break this connection. We can’t live like this, in each others’ heads all the time. It’s not even been a day yet, and we’re already snarling like rabid dogs. (Silence on that one. They agree, even if would rather blame me than admit we’re all as bad as each other.)

So. The scene felt real, and resembled my nightmare in perfect detail, even down to the body in the bath. I knew it would be as soon as I realised where I was. Even knowing that he was dead, and that this wasn’t real, not really, it was more or less inevitable that my first action would be to try to save him. Part of it is doctor’s instinct -- that doesn’t fade just because you retrain. Part of it was that I’ve always found it hard to walk away from someone in distress.

(No, Kate, I don’t want a fucking medal. Nor praise, nor an ego massage of any sort, That isn’t why I’m writing this. Context, again. Do you even have any concept of what ‘self-analysis’ means? Look, do you have some objection to me writing in my diary? Do you? Then shut the hell up and let me do this in my own way. I didn’t ask for your input, and I sure as shit don’t need your constant sniping. Let me write in my own goddamned diary in my own fucking way! No, you listen. You had your chance to object and you chose not to take it. Have you changed your mind? No? You have a problem with the way I write? Well, that’s just tough tits, honey bunch. I’m not writing this for you, I’m writing it for me. You could just ignore what I’m doing -- or make an effort, at least -- but you just can’t help being a fucking sticky beak, can you? Fine: I can accept that. I know it’s hard not to look, and I accept that this is relevant to you. So, look and listen to your heart’s content. But if you do, you will by God do me the common courtesy of not criticising every single word I write. I do not have to -- and I will not -- put up with you sneering at the way I express my own thoughts and feelings about what happened to me. Did you get that? Do you understand it? For Christ’s sake, woman, this is my diary! It’s not like this is intended for anyone’s eyes but my own, ever. So just butt the hell out!)

My God, I think it worked. For now, at least. I suppose I’d better make the most of it while it lasts.

So, anyway. As well as the generic drives to go and see I there was anything I could do, I suddenly thought: “What if this is really him?” His ghost, I meant. It wasn’t outside the realms of possibility that we’d somehow managed to find our way into some kind of… purgatory? A place for spirits who, for whatever reason, can’t coalesce into proper ghosts, but can’t pass on either. (Does such a place even exist? This wasn’t it. At least, I truly hope it wasn’t. But it’s not like anyone’s ever come back to tell us one way or another, is it?) Not that I really thought about it in any detail at the time. I just knew that there was a chance that it could actually be Sam in that bathtub -- or what was left of him -- and that I wanted to help him.

I checked for life-signs, even though I was pretty damn sure there wouldn’t be any. I was right: there weren’t. So it just about made me jump out of my skin when he sat up and grabbed my arm. (I really did jump. I don’t think I shrieked, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I had. Frankly, I think squealing like a little girl would have been a perfectly fucking valid option at that point.) I tried to pull away, but he was too strong. While I frantically tried to break free, he turned to look at me with dead eyes, and then he spoke. “Don’t run away, Teresa,” he said. (It always was Teresa with Sam. Never Terry. I wouldn’t have minded the diminutive from him, as it happens, but he always was a little on the formal side. I think I was the only one who ever called him Sam. To everyone else -- even his parents -- he was always Samuel. He never seemed to mind me shortening his name, though.)

He kept speaking. “Come and join me. Join us. Come to your family.” My wrist hurt where he had hold of me, and his voice made me feel strange. Sick and dizzy; slightly off-balance and out of focus. My teeth and ears hurt, like there was a sound pitched just too high or too low to be properly audible. Sam -- or the thing that had taken his shape -- kept talking. I don’t really remember his exact words, but it was more of the same. The importance of family, and that I shouldn’t run away from them. (After that first ‘me’ it was always plural. ‘We’ and ‘us’. Always. Even without the trappings, that would have been creepy as fuck: Sam never was much of a team player.)

The reason I don’t remember the words is because something else had got my attention. It seems kind of hard to believe that something could distract me from my cousin’s animated and Stepfordised (Stepfordified?) corpse, doesn’t it? But… The thing is… You see… Damnit, this is hard. The other two don’t want me to write this. They think… They’re not saying anything, but I can feel their reluctance and resistance. It’s like a weight pressing down on me. I can write this just fine, but when I try to go back to… When I try… When… I just can’t form the words.

They’re right. You’re right. That part isn’t mine to tell. It isn’t my story: it’s yours. Both of you. I don’t have the right. But that isn’t what I was going to do. Go on, take a look: you can see for yourselves. Trust me. Please, just… Trust me.

Thank you.

Okay. They’re not happy, but at least they’re trying not to fight me (as opposed to not trying to fight me, which isn’t the same thing at all, believe me). I appreciate it. I realise that this isn’t easy for you. For either of you. It’s strange… It’s not like my writing hand really was paralysed. It’s more that feeling their reluctance -- really feeling it -- just made it really difficult to continue with what I was doing. Not in a battle of wills kind of way, or some kind of mind control. In the way that knowing someone’s distressed -- or at least uncomfortable -- with what they think you’re about to do makes it hard to just carry on regardless. Sure, I could have just pushed through without trying to explain, but then I would’ve felt like a grade-A bitch. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to do what they assumed. (Apparently, there is still room for misunderstanding when you’re aware of someone’s thoughts and feelings. That somehow doesn’t actually surprise me.) In my professional opinion, this is bloody weird. True empathy, I suppose. Which, in a roundabout way, brings me back to where I was going before this little detour.

I guess being grabbed by a corpse triggered my “This really fucking can’t be happening” reflex, or something. (Yes, that’s a real reflex. No, that isn’t what it’s generally called. Look it up.) In the ensuing mental -- and physical -- flailing, I consciously realised something that I’d been subconsciously aware of for some time: I could still feel Kate and Annie. As soon as I focused on them, the sensations just flooded in, almost overwhelming me. It was like I was split between three bodies. Although I was receiving input from all three of them simultaneously, ‘my’ senses seemed more immediate. There wasn’t always that much in it, though, especially if I was specifically trying to focus on the others. It was quite easy to lose track. It was confusing as hell, and that was just the physical input. The emotions were something else again.

As far as I could tell, they were both trapped in their own scenes. I started trying to reach out to them, but then someone slapped me. Apparently the reel had been changed while my attention was elsewhere. Instead of standing in my aunt and uncle’s bathroom, I was in the middle of my parents’ kitchen. It was my mother who’d just slapped me. She was shouting at me, calling me selfish and irresponsible. The memory of that argument came flooding back to me: how she’d yelled and screamed and hit me; how we’d both said some very hurtful things and the whole sorry episode had ended with her disowning me. The things she was saying certainly followed her side of the script perfectly. Except that’s not actually how it happened. There was never any screaming match, and she certainly didn’t slap me. I don’t think she’s ever hit me; not ever. I knew this during that little scene as well. It was like I had two sets of memories about the event. Well, that little incongruity helped me to focus, so after that I could pretty much ignore what was playing out in front of me and concentrate on trying to get through to the others. (The next actor was Brian, and the next one I remember after that was Granny Rose. There may have been another one between them, but I don’t really remember. I don’t think they were important.) To cut a long story short, all three of us eventually managed to communicate with each other. (Wail really seemed to help with that, as it happened. I suppose such a focused burst of emotion was enough to break through the illusions we were trapped in.)

All of our experiences… They were mostly unpleasant. I got off lightly, which is something else I don’t think the others have really forgiven me for. (No comments from either of them. I’m almost surprised. It’s true, though.) I’ve been thinking about this, and I wonder -- could it be something as simple as the fact that I’ve had a fairly easy life? I mean, I’ve been lucky; I know that. Maybe it’s just that they had less to work with? I don’t… I can’t think of any other reason. Anyway, I’m not going to go into any specifics about the scenes but, as I said, they were unpleasant. In all of them, we were offered something. A way out. An opportunity. A heart’s desire. Something. But that wasn’t the whole story. We looked beneath the surface of those offers and saw what lay behind them. We saw the price we would have to pay. We could have perfect love, companionship, whatever, but we would have to give up everything that makes us who we are. We would have to give up ourselves, and become like them; no, become them. We would have to become spectres.

That’s what they were, you see: spectres. It seems so obvious, in hindsight. What had we been trying to do, after all? I mean, there’s no way we could have predicted what happened, but I suppose we could have twigged what it was we were dealing with. At the time, though, it took us a little while. What can I say? We were confused, overwhelmed and disoriented. It all felt so real. And they knew us; knew just what to throw at us to make us react rather than questioning. I should have realised that wasn’t Sam. But I -- part of me -- really wanted to believe that it was. I wanted that chance to be able to help him. I didn’t even think to question the how and why of it; I just gave in to hope. If Annie and Kate hadn’t been there, I don’t know if I would have known to question, and to reject it. So I have mixed feelings about the current situation and about the mind link. On the one hand, if they hadn’t been there, we wouldn’t be stuck like this, in each others’ heads. On the other, if I’d been on my own, there’s a good chance that I wouldn’t be here now. Not being able to walk away isn’t necessarily a strength.

God, when I think about what might’ve happened… But it didn’t. Once we realised what they were really selling, we turned them down: all of us. Their illusions ceased to have any power over us at that point, so they raised their game. The separate scenes were torn away, to reveal something else underneath. I knew -- we all knew -- that we still weren’t seeing what was really there: this was just another layer of illusion, albeit on a deeper level than the others. We were standing side by side in a vast hall of mirrors, all three of us. We couldn’t actually see ourselves reflected in the mirrors, just lots of shadowy, indistinct shapes. There was only one other person --- entity? Thing? -- actually there with us, though. All of us saw it differently -- it was Granny Rose for me -- and it spoke to us with the voice of whoever we saw. As for what it said… It made us all an offer, a different one to each of us. Something personal, something we wanted more than anything else. To me… I heard… It said I wouldn’t have to lose anyone ever again. If I accepted -- if I joined them -- we would be able to do such great things… Not even death would be a barrier. So many people in pain, in need of help; and I could help them all. We could help them. And nothing could stand in our way. It…

Seeing the words there, in black and white; they looks like lies. It makes what she --- what it -- was offering seem so very easy to reject, but it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. I could -- we all could -- feel how sincere they were. What they were offering was real and they meant it; every word. But there were questions that they couldn’t or wouldn’t answer. I don’t really know what they meant by helping people. I don’t know if they mean the same thing that I do. I’m not sure… I don’t think… I have a feeling that they don’t. And I couldn’t forget the fact that they first came to us with lies and deceit. Even if what they were offering was genuine, there was more to it than it appeared. Traps and hidden catches. We could sense that they were there, even if we didn’t know what they were. Even if there was truth at the core of what they believed they could give us, it wasn’t what it seemed. And then there was the price… Everything? It was too much. It is too much. So I turned them down. And as I did so -- as I thought about what they were offering me --I could remember every patient I’ve ever lost, every person I just couldn’t save. Every single fucking one of them. Those memories… God, it felt like I was living it all over again. It was hard to turn away. Hard to say no. If I’d been on my own… No, there’s no point going down that road. It happened how it happened.

I rejected the offer. Annie and Kate rejected theirs. After that, things just kind of hung for a few moments. The spectre didn’t say anything at first. Maybe it was thinking over what we’d said? Conferring silently? Who knows. In any case, I noticed something while no one was saying anything: a sound. It was a regular thumping noise, like a drum-beat, or a pulse. Slow and regular; quiet, but getting louder. (Distant, but getting closer?) We realised, then, that we’d been able to hear it all along. I asked what it was, and -- just like it really was Granny Rose, and she was asking me to pass the sugar or something innocuous like that -- it said: “Why, it’s the sound of drums, my dear.” I think it ran out of patience at that point, as it suddenly started talking again. Shouting, really: the same thing over and over again. It kept saying “join us”, repeating it in time with the drums, getting louder and louder. Other voices joined in, and it got so loud it nearly deafened us. We could feel ourselves starting to give way.

I’m not entirely sure what happened then. I think I greyed out a little. One moment it seemed like the pressure was just too much to bear. The next, the three of us were joining hands. I don’t know which of us moved first, but it felt right. I think we were acting more on instinct than on any kind of coherent intent. We joined hands, and then something happened. It was as if we were moving into each other: not physically, but on some other plane. Mentally? Spiritually? Who the fuck knows. It felt like we were somehow resonating together, synchronising. Something like that. Maybe that’s why the next thing we did was to sing. I almost said ‘scream’, but it was more controlled than that, more harmonic. It was kind of like a Wail, but it was coming from all three of us. (Annie doesn’t even know Wail!) All our voices combined into something greater than the sum of its parts. Constructive interference, maybe? Whatever it was, however we did it, it blasted away the hall of mirrors as if it had never been. In its place was a vast, howling storm that wasn’t any of our making. The storm shredded whatever the blast had left behind (or just revealed?), even the entity standing in front of us. But it wasn’t done just yet: it had time for some last words before it was torn apart. “Reaper,” it said. “Bring your wayward sisters home.” And then everything went black.

The next thing we knew, the lights came up again. I don’t know how much time -- if any -- had passed between us blacking out and then waking up. The thought uppermost in all our minds was something along the lines of: “Oh fuck, the Reaper’s coming for us!” I think we said something to that effect out loud. All three of us. In perfect unison. Which is when we realised that we could still feel each other, even though we seemed to be back in the real world. This was clearly very, very bad. We quickly realised that we were in the car, heading back to Orpheus. (We later found out that Tom had dragged our unconscious gauze forms out there and then told Rodrigo to hightail it back. Good thinking on his part. Also, we didn’t notice at the time, but as soon as we mentioned the ‘R’ word, he dived into Rodrigo’s cellphone and called Chet. Definitely a good plan. There wasn’t actually any sign of the Reaper, but better safe than dead. Or worse.)

After giving us a few moments to collect ourselves -- I’m guessing we looked fairly frazzled -- he delicately asked us what had happened. Almost before he finished speaking, Kate snapped: “We don’t want to talk about it.” Actually, she didn’t. She said “I”, not “we”. But we were all thinking it. And I think all three of us glowered at the poor guy. He didn’t ask us again. (I don’t blame him, really. Nor was I all that sorry. I mean, fuck, of course we didn’t want to talk about it! Even thinking about it is still hard. I think that writing this account is helping, though. Well it’s helping me, anyway. I’m not too sure about the others.)

Oh, I almost forgot! When we were properly aware again, we noticed a few other oddities as well as the fact that we were in each others’ heads. Kate’s blouse was undone, exposing one of her breasts which had turned completely black. Tom kind of stared a little. I’m not sure he was ogling, exactly, just surprised. When Kate realised, she buttoned herself up and glared daggers at Tom. Unsurprisingly, he looked away. I had a handprint on my forearm where Sam and Granny Rose touched me. It’s still there, albeit -- thank God -- only on my gauze form. It doesn’t hurt or anything, but it’s weird and creepy. I feel like I’ve been marked, or tainted somehow. I hate it. I can hide it with my sleeve, but I still know it’s there. I really hate it.

The other outward sign that something strange had happened to us was the fact that our gauze forms had gotten a little… mixed up. Kate’s hair and eye colour had changed to Annie’s and mine, respectively. Annie had my hair and Kate’s eyes. I had Kate’s hair and Annie’s eyes. (I actually saw myself through their eyes, without even meaning to. It was bloody weird, and kind of disorienting.) Annie concentrated and her appearance shifted back to normal. It was strange. (I know, I’m using that word -- and similar descriptors -- an awful lot. But it was. It really fucking was. And it still fucking is.) When she used her horror -- one that no one else at Orpheus has managed to learn in all the time she’s been there -- I could kind of feel what she did, and how she did it. Something just clicked into place. I felt that I might be able to do it myself, so I gave it a go; tried to change my hair and eyes back to what they’re supposed to be. Something happened, but it didn’t exactly turn out the way I intended. My hair and eyes did change, but the end result was like a badly drawn cartoon, or a child’s plasticine sculpture. I tried to refine it, but didn’t really have the fine control, so I let it shift back. (It looked kind of silly.) I’ve been practicing, though, and I think I should be able to get the hang of it sooner or later. Kate can do it too. (She’s maybe a little better at it than I am, which she’s quietly smug about. Luckily, I’m not the competitive sort. Well, maybe I am, just a little. I’ll keep working on it.) Also, Annie seems to be developing Wail, even though she hasn’t been able to learn it previously. Maybe there are some benefits to this mind-melding thing after all.

So, anyway, we hightailed it back to Orpheus. Chet, Craig and Alex “Arsehole” Pretorius were waiting for us in the underground car park. Craig barely even waited for us to get out of the car before asking why we thought a spectre was after us. Kate said that we saw it in a vision, which was quick thinking on her part. It was even technically true. Annie and I pretty much let her do all the talking. (You know -- she’s really good at stonewalling. Comes with being a cast iron bitch, I suppose. I jest! It’s all in fun. Luckily, she seems to be taking that as a compliment.) Craig did most of the talking, asking lots of questions which she either gave evasive half-answers to or outright ignored. I think he got quite frustrated with her, but he kept his temper admirably. Chet didn’t say very much, as always. Alex was an arsehole, only chipping in to mock or insult us (mostly Kate, but he’d happily snipe at any of us if the opportunity presented itself). What a vile little man. I’ve never really spoken with him before, but I do believe I could come to quite thoroughly dislike him. (I wonder how much of this strong feeling is due to the spillover from the other two. Unfortunately, there’s no real way to find out.) Anyway, regardless of how vague we were being, I guess Craig thought it was better safe than sorry. He put the Orpheus building on full alert status and confined the four of us to the premises.

That was a few days ago now. There’s been no sign of the Reaper, nor of any other spectres. The full alert only lasted for twenty-four hours. We’re still confined to the building, but if nothing happens in the next day or so that restriction’s going to be lifted as well. And then, I guess, as far as everyone else is concerned, things go back to normal. If only it was that easy for Kate, Annie and me.

Oh, I almost forgot: something did happen while we’ve been stuck in here. Apparently, the Southville Gazette burned down a couple of hours after we left. Four people dead and the building is a write-off. Is it connected? We don’t know. It could be a random arsonist, or even an accident. My instincts say not, though -- the timing’s just too much of a coincidence. Maybe it was a message.

Anyway, the three of us are still in each others’ heads, and our connection hasn’t shown any signs of weakening. Maybe it’s permanent. Maybe it’ll eventually start to fade on its own. Who knows? We’re going to have to find a way to deal with it, though, for as long as it lasts. Maybe we’ll be able to learn to block each other from our heads? Or even just to filter each other out? Maybe we’ll find a way to break it. We can’t leave things as they are; we just can’t. Only a few days, and it’s already tearing us apart. What’s it going to be like a week from now, a month -- God forbid -- a year? We have to end this, and soon. Unfortunately, none of us have the slightest idea how to go about it.

And the Reaper’s coming for us.

Could things possibly get any worse?