There was nothing but news and reports on TV about the singing contest gone wrong. With hundreds of injured, several of them critically wounded, and having for suspects a couple of guys way too similar to the ones who had been terrorizing the town, it didn’t take long for people to start speculating about their connection and also suspecting the Angel Warriors to be related to them. Some even started to build conspiracy theories about failed experiments with humans to form a super human army to enslave mankind, wearing armors and helmets to hide their mutations.

It was ridiculous. But no more ridiculous than the truth if they found out about it.

If she had the remote in her hands, Marianne would have changed the channel or turned off the TV right away, but she was in the hospital’s waiting room, which at the time also served as an emergency room for the hundreds of people who had been transferred from the Music Center, with the most serious cases being treated in E.R.

“You shouldn’t feel guilty,” Samael said, sitting next to her. “This would have happened whether or not we were there. It would have even ended in disaster if it wasn’t for us.”

“We would have prevented all of this if we had acted right in time.”

“We had no way of knowing another demon would appear to help him. He was alone until now.”

“I’m sorry,” Lucianne said, feeling terrible. “I didn’t arrive on time to my spot. If only I had . . . ”

“Take a number and get in line. We all are to blame about what happened.”

Lucianne hushed. She knew everyone must be feeling just as guilty, but she couldn’t help thinking it was her delay that ruined their plan.

Mitchell and Kristania were approached by their mother nearby, a bundle of nerves with gesticulations so pronounced that anyone would guess she was thanking god, heaven and all the angels they were both unharmed.

The automatic doors opened and Belgina’s mother showed up along with her assistant, with an unshaken temper. She hugged her and after confirming she was okay, the woman beckoned her assistant and they went out of the hospital together.

“Dad, I told you I’m fine!” Angie insisted while her father tried to convince her to go for a check-up, next to a woman standing by his side.

When Lucianne saw the woman, she supposed it was Frank’s mother. Maybe it was the way her dark circles matched those he recently had. She then remembered not having seen him since chaos ensued. Maybe he was among the wounded and she soon found herself feeling distressed by the thought.

Officer Perry appeared at the door, desperately looking around until finally finding Lucianne. He ran towards her as if his soul had returned to his body and hugged her tightly.

“I went to the Music Center once I heard the news. When I arrived, they had already transported all the injured to the hospital and I had to stay to check if there was still anyone in the rubble,” the young officer explained breathlessly. “You have no idea how afraid I was. If something would have happened to you, I . . . ”

Lucianne looked askance at Marianne, who raised her eyebrows and turned away, as if pretending not to watch. She knew the meaning of that expression.

“Thank you for your concern, Perry. I’m fine as you can see,” she said, patting him on the back and softly pulling away. “There are more people we should worry about. Have you seen by any chance . . . the injured list?”

“I was given a list before coming here, of all the people brought to the hospital. I saw your name and I freaked out.”

“Did you see by any chance . . . Frank’s name?”

Perry’s face immediately darkened after hearing that name.

“He was there?”

“I think I’ll go pay a visit to my mother, excuse me,” Marianne said, leaving while she had the chance. Samael did the same and followed her.

“He was at the event like any other person was. But if he wasn’t on the list, well, that means he’s not hurt then. So let’s not talk about it anymore,” Lucianne said, trying to cast the subject aside to avoid any discussion about him.

“If he was in the event, then I’ll have to question him.”

“Now you believe he had something to do with it? Why don’t you stop blaming him for anything you come up with?”

“The guy who caused everything, the one who suddenly appeared on the stage . . . he’s the one I saw him talking to,” he revealed with a somber face, leaving Lucianne frozen.

“It can’t be. Maybe you confused him with someone else. You said you saw him from afar, you can’t be sure.”

“I would never be able to forget those red eyes and sharp teeth,” Perry reaffirmed, leaving her struck mute. “Listen, I’m not saying he’s guilty, okay? But following that meeting it’s absolutely necessary to interrogate him. We could avoid any other incident like today’s and his collaboration is very important, so please, if you get to see him again, let me know. But above all, I have to repeat this . . . please, be careful.”

Lucianne didn’t answer. In her mind, she kept reviewing over and over what Frank had said during the event, his urgency to take her out of there, as though he sensed something was going to happen. Or maybe . . . because he knew it already. But why? She didn’t understand. She couldn’t think clearly at the time. Why him? And then she remembered what Marianne had said, ‘shadows created from human beings’. The knob and the melted lock. Her father’s disappearance . . . Could it have been him?

Marianne was considering going to see her mother just like she said, but as she crossed the waiting room, followed closely by Samael, she saw her father coming in along with her brother, so she immediately pushed the angel away.

“Quick! Get to the other side! Loui shouldn’t see you!”

Samael seemed momentarily disoriented until he walked to the first corridor he found. Once he was out of sight, she just had to wait for her family to approach her. Noah seemed very much in control despite the news, but once he was in front of her, he hugged her in relief.

“Are you okay? Did you get hurt?”

“I’m fine. Seriously.”

“Who were you talking to?” Loui asked, seeming to evaluate her, and she tried to stare back at him, like she had nothing to hide.

“Well, there are, like, a hundred people here walking back and forth in this makeshift emergency room, so choose one.”

The kid just wrinkled his nose and squinted.

“We were going to see your mother too, but if you prefer we could go home, you must be tired.”

Marianne turned her face to the back where she still could see Lucianne on one side, Angie arguing with her father and Mitchell listening to his hysterical mother with a bored face. She couldn’t go home just yet.

“I thought of maybe . . . staying a little longer.”

Noah just smiled understandingly and squeezed her shoulder.

“You know where to look for us,” he said, posing his hand on Loui’s head and turning towards the elevators. She just nodded and waited for them to be out of sight. She decided then to head for the emergency hall.

A lot of people with more than bruises were being treated in that area. There were broken bones, open wounds and they were just the ones outside the rooms. Inside they had under observation everyone directly attacked on stage: the contestants. After asking for some directions, she finally got to the room she was looking for. Lilith was lying there, staring at the ceiling while her mother injected her with a sedative and said something to her, but she didn’t seem to pay attention. Once the woman saw her standing in the doorway, she seemed relieved to see her.

“Glad you’re here. I need to attend more patients. Could you . . . watch her for a while? I hope you get her to talk at least.”

The woman walked out of there and Marianne approached the bed cautiously, playing with her hands. Lilith didn’t avert her eyes from the ceiling or say anything. She seemed to be in shock.

“Are you . . . ?”

“It was me, right? He took my gift,” Lilith said levelly and Marianne just nodded lightly, a gesture the blonde saw out the corner of her eye. “What was it? The gift I had.”

“The Artistic gift,” she replied, not daring to look at her, but she thought she heard a groan following her answer.

“So, not only did I not win, they also took away the only talent I had.”

“We’ll get it back!” Marianne said, trying to give her courage and convince herself at the same time.

“We always say the same thing,” Lilith snapped with a raspy voice. “And so far we haven’t done anything but fail miserably.”

“Don’t say that, Lilith. This isn’t over.”

“It is for me,” she finished with a choked voice and turning her back to her.

Marianne knew she wouldn’t talk anymore, at least to her. So, she turned around and began to walk slowly down the corridor. Her feet felt heavy, and the tightness in her chest grew whenever she saw injured people from the event, bringing clear memories of what happened in that place hours before: persons trying to flee in a stampede, crushing themselves, people being thrown several feet away by the red-eyed demon and then the appearance from the one with silver eyes. The failure of their plan lay in the basis that they were facing just one demon and their inability to cope later with two of them was their ultimate doom.

It had been a series of chained events in which each of them had failed to do what they were meant to. Lucianne hadn’t shot at Hollow once he appeared, so Marianne didn’t get to cut his hand or hold the gift while he tried to regenerate. She could have taken the lead when she saw her cousin wasn’t around, but stubbornly waited for her signal which ultimately led to both Mitchell and Samael’s failure too. Belgina did what she could, but with the original plan ruined she didn’t know how to proceed in their confusion. And Angie just seemed to have lost all her power. ‘Useless Angel Warrior’, that was what Hollow called her after pushing her away when she tried to hold on to any uncovered part of his skin. Then the silver-eyed demon made a motion, and a negative barrier divided them from all. They took the time to collect the gift and confirm satisfactorily that it was the one they were looking for. Hollow smiled down at them and started shooting beams that crossed the barrier.

They could have died. And it wasn’t just to say it, those demons could have really killed them if they wanted, but for some reason didn’t. When Hollow was pretty much going all berserk on them, the other demon suddenly stopped him with a gesture, and even though he seemed upset, still obeyed. The silver-eyed demon had told him something to make him stop, but they had no way of knowing what it was.

Once they disappeared, the stage began to fall apart and they immediately tried to rescue the contestants that were still there. When the police and ambulances arrived, the place looked like the aftermath of an earthquake. And now there they were, helpless after not being able to do anything for the hundreds of wounded, and especially for Lilith.

Marianne kept walking down the hall, glancing at everyone around when she thought she saw a familiar face in one of the rooms. She came to a halt and went back to the room for a better look.

Demian was lying unconscious on a stretcher. She went inside without permission and stopped in front of the stretcher, looking for any perceptible wound, but other than a bandage on his head, he seemed unharmed. She turned sideways looking for a doctor or a nurse that could give her information and intercepted the first resident passing by.

“Excuse me, the boy on the stretcher . . . what happened to him? Is he hurt?”

“A severe head contusion. He’s okay, just hasn’t reacted yet. He was already unconscious when they brought him.”

Marianne thanked him and got back to the room, standing at one side of the stretcher. Perhaps she could tell his father, but didn’t have his number. The time he called her had been from Demian’s cell. What if she for his number on his cell? The only problem: it wasn’t in plain sight. Maybe he had it in one of his pockets.

She winced at the thought. Perhaps, she could ask a nurse or someone to help her check his pockets, but they were all busy going from one side to another, so she had little to no choice. She took a deep breath to muster up her courage and began to feel his first pocket. She did it carefully, as if he were a sleeping lion. The pocket seemed empty, there was nothing bulky there, and her mind immediately started to point out it was better that way.

She shook her head and glanced at his face to confirm he was still unconscious. She then jumped to the next pocket and felt something. She removed it carefully, but it was only his wallet. She was about to return it when the same curiosity that had led her to check on her father’s documents once, induced her now to check its contents, perhaps hoping to find a contact number or something.

She found only the expected: money, cards, his student ID —Date of birth: November 30, seventeen years. She rummaged a little more and found some pictures. His family: his mother, his father, there were even some with his sister as children. She was a little girl with light brown hair, vigorous eyes and elfish features. They must have taken it before their mother’s death. In the back, she also found a picture of him with Lucianne, posing with a basket ball as if they had just played a match. They should have been ten at the time.

She felt a slight pang, which she chalked it up to be checking on other people belongings when the owner could awake at any moment, so she put everything back in the wallet and returned it to his left pocket. Then she laid eyes on his jacket. It also had a couple of pockets where he could well keep his phone.

She reached out, lightly feeling both pockets until coming across something solid inside one. She slowly placed her fingers at the entrance of the pocket when suddenly a hand grabbed her wrist tightly, causing her a mini stroke.

“What are you doing here?” Demian asked with a sleepy voice and narrowed eyes.

Marianne only managed to stammer. He tried to get up, looking like a dragon that had just woken up and watched her as if not fully reacting yet.

“Stop appearing in front of me!” After saying this, his eyes became blank and lost consciousness again, falling back on the stretcher and loosening her arm.

She blinked in utter confusion and her only reaction was to pull away her arm and run out of there. She didn’t stop until she got to the waiting room, bending and gasping for air. She didn’t understand what had happened or why he had reacted that way, but he’d rather not think about it. She didn’t even notice she’d lost the bracelet tagged with her name. Then she felt the weight of a hand on her shoulder and turned around with a start, only to discover it was Samael.

“Did something happen?”

“Nothing. Everything’s fine,” she replied with a sigh while taking several deep breaths to regain her composure. She noticed Demian’s father was at the reception, trying to talk to someone. “Wait here.”

She approached, a little hesitant. The man had a hand on the desk, drumming his fingers impatiently while holding a phone on the other.

“Excuse me . . . ” The man immediately turned to her, making her nervous. “If you’re looking for Demian, he’s—”

“Oh, thank god! I was starting to agonize here!” he said, hugging her effusively. “How’s everyone? Is anybody injured?”

“We-We’re fine, thanks. Demian is in the emergency area. He had a concussion, I think, but I’ve been told he’s gonna be fine.”


Marianne showed her the way and after giving her a grateful gesture, he ran over there, as any other concerned parent would. Not that her father wouldn’t worry about her, but sometimes she wished he’d display it as most parents she had met, but instead he was always stolid and pleasing.

“What was that?” Samael asked, and she merely shook her head.

“Nothing. I’m going to see my mother. Maybe you should go home.”

He nodded and Marianne paused for a second, her eyes fixed where Demian had grabbed her. Samael watched her, trying to figure out the meaning behind her expression, but it quickly faded from her face.

“I’ll see you later, okay?”

Samael followed her with his gaze until she went into the elevator and was out of his sight. Only then he decided to leave.

Franktick walked erratically through the dark streets of the town. Sometimes he hobbled or leaned on the walls as if about to trip. Each undetermined number of steps he stopped and began to pant. He used to have a good physical condition, so it wasn’t normal for him to gasp after having walked just a few blocks.

He finally got to the abandoned building he frequented lately and once he entered, walked up the stairs with unsteady steps. He didn’t bother to check if the elevator opened, he was convinced it wouldn’t this time. Going up the stairs under that unfortunate state was physically torture for him, but still he resorted on all his strength to get it done.

However, he didn’t intend to go up to the top floor. When he got to a middle point, a deserted area that seemed to have been an office once, he entered in one of the rooms and sat on the floor with his back against the wall, exhaling as he reached his destination. He breathed in as much air as he could, keeping his eyes closed, and began to rub them as if they stung.

“What should I do? What should I do?” he muttered to himself, still rubbing his eyes. “I got into this. I must solve it myself.”

He lowered his hands and began to blink rapidly, to avoid tearing up in the process. His eyes had the appearance of stalagmite, its cinnamon color looked striped in different shades and his pupil was red, but he didn’t seem aware of this. He put his head against the wall and folded one leg while leaving the other lying on the floor.

“I have to solve it. You know it. You know why I did it, right?”

A few feet away from him, a motionless bulk lay between a rickety desk and a disemboweled sofa. It was commissioner Fillian, both hands and feet tied up. He seemed unconscious, so he couldn’t hear anything Frank was saying, but he continued despite knowing he was practically talking to himself.

“You shouldn’t have tricked me. You jeopardized the trust Lucianne has put in me. And now I have to take you back where you belong. I don’t know how, but I must do it.”

He suddenly hunched, a wave of pain making his way throughout his body, and for a moment he even thought the floor was shaking, or perhaps it was only involuntary spasms. It eventually stopped and he felt his body loosen.

“What’s happening to me?”

“Isn’t it obvious? Your body is starting to absorb the demonic energy.”

Franktick lifted his face and saw Hollow at the door, arms crossed and leaning on the doorframe in a casual pose.

“I told you there would be consequences from the moment you started to handle the kind of power I have, especially after asking for a higher dose than usual to locate that man,” he said, pointing with his eyes at the lump that was Lucianne’s father. “I warned you that it could’ve been short-term side effects. You’re human and it’s normal that it affects you.”

Frank said nothing, just flinched again after a new surge of spasms roaming down his spine and nerve ends.

“Am I dying?”

The demon smiled as he watched him double up with pain.

“Think of it more as a rebirth.” Saying this, he straightened up and stepped forward. “ . . . I can make it stop.”

“Like a detox?” the boy asked with hunched body and eyes like slits. His breathing was ragged and several cold sweat beads formed on his face. Hollow crouched in front of him and brought his face closer so he would hear him clearly.

“Just give me what I want.”

Franktick looked back at him, knowing what he meant, and despite feeling his bones, tendons and muscles like being liquefied inside him into some kind of organ frappe, his twisted sense of humor prevailed.

“I had no idea demons had that kind of taste.”

Hollow smiled in response, but his smile had a hint of latent threat.

“Don’t play with me, brat.”

Frank coughed for several seconds and glared back at him.

“I don’t. I just think that if your intention from the beginning was to endanger my life this way, you can start preparing the coffin because as I said the first time, I don’t care what happens to me,” he replied undaunted.

The demon kept his gruesome warning smile. He stood up and glared at him from his position, as if looking down at an ant.

“Very well. I admire your boldness and courage, boy. You would undoubtedly be a good addition to the Legion of Darkness . . . but there’s a problem.”

Franktick waited for the demon to finish talking. His body felt increasingly heavy, but he still was curious to know what he would say.

“A demon doesn’t care about others, and that’s not the impression I got from you with that girl.”

Frank’s expression changed and his body tensed. He was talking about Lucianne.

“What is it? Did you think I wouldn’t find out? You now possess demonic energy provided by me, so I know your every move and also know for a fact that you’ve been frequenting this girl in particular.”

Franktick felt a heat wave overlapping the pain besetting him.

“Stay away from her.”

“Or else? What will you do?” the demon asked with an amused tone and a wicked glint in his eyes. “I thought maybe . . . I could pay her a little visit and find out what kind of gift she has. Just out of curiosity.”

Frank muscles clenched, and, tossing aside the unbearable pain he felt at the slightest movement, he jumped up like powered by a spring and tried to punch him, but Hollow dodged him with a quick motion and stood behind, holding him easily by twisting his arm behind his back.

“You really think you can fight me? I must admit you’ve got some guts,” he whispered to his ear in a festive tone and smiled, showing his shark teeth. He was certainly enjoying the moment. “So, what do you say? Will you give me back that gift or will I have to pay a visit to that girlfriend of yours?”

Frank was aware that he couldn’t go against him, his strength was far superior and even if it wouldn’t have mattered to him in any other situation, things were different now that Lucianne was at stake. So, he swallowed his pride and eventually nodded while gritting his teeth.

“Very good decision. I knew you’d have some common sense,” Hollow said, patting Frank’s face, and then pulled him up through a black hole.

In a trice, they appeared in an open place, and after being thrown to the floor, the boy lifted his face. They were in front of the camp lake, the Tokenblue.

Without the slightest consideration, the demon took his shirt and dragged him to the lakeshore, forcing him to enter the lake with a shove.

“Now get in there and get me what belongs to me.”

As Franktick came in contact with the water, he felt like an electric shock running through his nerves. It burned. It was like being in a deep fryer. He couldn’t help but let out a scream as much as he tried not to show pain.

“Move! What are you waiting for? You won’t be out of there until you bring back the vessel, understood? So, move forward already!”

He went further inside. At each step, his skin felt like burning, and a tight feeling pervading his chest and stomach, like he was about to throw up anytime.

As he got deeper in the lake, the water bubbled like boiling, and shone along with those mysterious lights arising from inside. In more than one occasion he seemed to feel something trying to pull him under the water. Either he would definitely end up with his skin burned or would die drowned. When he reached the point where the vessel was buried, he took a breath and submerged, he could almost feel his facial skin raw. He remained under water about a minute until coming out with an object in his hands.

Hollow drew a twisted grin on his face. It took Frank another five minutes to go back to the shore, feeling completely hammered from head to toe.

Just getting out of the lake, he fell headlong to the ground, sucking all the air his lungs allowed him to. His skin wasn’t burned as he thought, but it was all reddened as if he had spent a lot of time under the sun.

Hollow snatched the vessel from his hands and watched it enthralled. He had finally regained the gift he had lost in his neglect.

“It was a pleasure doing business with you,” the demon said mockingly. He had finally gotten his way. He had broken his will.

He pulled the boy like some sort of bundle and dragged him to another hole that opened in front of them, getting back to their starting point. Franktick turned on his back and looked at him. He could only wait for his certain death now.

“You got what you wanted. I don’t care what you do to me, for surely I won’t get out of here alive . . . but stay away from her.”

The demon averted his eyes from the vessel and now rested his gaze upon him. He didn’t say a word, but all of a sudden, he smiled in the darkest way possible. He then approached with a swift movement, and placed a hand on his head. All Frank managed to do was to let out a scream that tore his throat before darkness fell down on him.

Marianne came back home late at night. She had many things on her mind and didn’t know which one to focus on. Upon entering her room, she saw Samael on the floor beside her bed. He must have been waiting for hours until finally falling asleep, like a child. His expression was peaceful, as though he weren’t dreaming. Perhaps angels wouldn’t have anything to dream about.

She decided not to wake him up, just took a blanket from her closet and wrapped it carefully around him. He must have been in such a deep slumber that he didn’t even feel the sheet, but as soon as she rested her hand on the floor, he suddenly grabbed her wrist.

Maybe it was a simple impulse or an automatic response, but she reacted with a jolt, reliving the moment Demian had held her in the hospital. However, Samael’s grip was soft in comparison, and within seconds, he slowly released her again, returning to the same position.

She stepped back, her arm against her chest. Yes, he had taken her by surprise, but what most amazed her was how vividly she had evoked that moment in the hospital. If she looked closely, she could still see some slight marks on her forearm, the one Demian had grabbed. A small set of fingerprints.

“Stop appearing in front of me,” he had said. It sounded like a claim, but she still didn’t get why. Perhaps because they’d been running into each other everywhere? It was possible. Maybe he was tired of seeing her that often. But it wasn’t her fault that they were both in the same school or frequented the same places. In fact, she was the one who should be fed up, after all, he was still the guy from the accident. At what point had he become part of her group of friends? Or more specifically, when had they officially developed a friendship?

Until then, she didn’t remember settling their differences and becoming friends, it was more like an implicit agreement they had gradually achieved. Although she sometimes lost her temper around him and said hurtful things —which he had done too— she didn’t think he would be so annoyed by her presence.

But he had said it. That was what his words suggested, and it made her feel upset. She scowled and unfolded her sleeve to cover her arm. Well, then, she didn’t want him near her either from now on.

She closed the window and dropped on the bed.  She didn’t even have the mood to put on her pajamas, just rested her head on the pillow and closed her eyes, so tired that she fell asleep instantly.

She was aimlessly running around again. At her sides, several silhouettes were coming together. Her friends. Falling one by one before she could do anything. If she tried to touch them, they would crumble in her hands like sand. Then she looked back. A shadow followed her, devouring everything in its path.

She ran as fast as her legs allowed her, but it was as if she were on a treadmill, unable to go forward. The shadow eventually hovered over her, swallowing her entirely.

A pair of hands pressed her arms, shaking her, and soon she heard a voice saying her name over and over again. She opened her eyes and found Samael’s light blue eyes watching her with concern.

“Are you okay?”

She sat up, confused, rubbing her eyes at a loss.

“Did you wake me up?”

“I had to. You were very disquiet and mumbling something.”

Marianne blinked several times to clarify her sight. Sunlight streamed through the window, so she tried to cover her eyes, forming a brim with her hands.

“Were you watching me in my sleep?”

“No. Not this time. I woke up when I heard you whisper.”

“Did you just say ‘not this time’? Do you mean you have done it before?”

“When I can’t sleep,” he replied in a casual way and she looked incredulous at him for a few seconds, but choosing to let it go. “You’re usually very still and quiet, so after a few minutes I get sleepy. But today you moved quite a lot and began to say something under your breath. You seemed about to scream, so I thought it was better to wake you up.”

“A nightmare. It must have been that.”

“Do you remember?”

Marianne thought about it for a moment, but despite feeling overwhelmed, she couldn’t remember what had caused it, and just shook her head.

“I guess it wasn’t important,” she concluded, but Samael wasn’t convinced. He had clearly heard her saying ‘Get away from me’ and several ‘No’s in desperation.

He had wanted to get into her mind, but he wasn’t sure if it would work when she was sleeping. It might not hurt to try some other time. Anyway, Marianne was already standing up and checking her wardrobe.

“Are you going somewhere?”

“I’ll go back to the hospital. Lilith’s still there and I don’t want to leave her alone for too long. Not after what happened to her.”

“Can I come with you?”

“Hmmm, I don’t know. My family will also be there, and we should avoid any contact with them. Maybe it’s best for you to wait here. At least until they return home.”

“Okay,” he agreed reluctantly while she picked out some clothing and left it on the bed, giving him a look to get out.

He seemed to grasp the meaning of her gaze and immediately disappeared with a flash. She took the chance to check her phone and was surprised to see a message from Demian. She felt a strange flinch inside.

She opened the text and it simply said ‘Thanks for telling me. He’ll be fine. Hope you’ll visit soon’. Her shoulders loosened instantly. It was his father who had sent it, not him. She wanted to laugh at how ridiculous she felt, closed the phone and continued her original purpose. She practically had her day planned, but didn’t rule out any occasional change throughout, just like any other normal day to her. Yet she was aware that the concept of normal was getting farther away from their everyday lives, so she had to be prepared for any event. That was the real normal for now.

After the first rays of light hit his face, Franktick came to his senses with a spasm. Disoriented, he looked around, realizing he was still at the abandoned building. Commissioner Fillian was also tied up in the same position as the previous day.

He had flashbacks of the day before: the attack at the Music Center, his attempt to get Lucianne out of there. Had he knocked someone down? He seemed to remember so, but wasn’t really sure. All the pain he had felt, growing within the passing hours, had clouded part of his memories.

What he was really sure about was that Hollow had appeared before him. He had demanded to give him back the gift in exchange for sparing Lucianne. He no longer had his life insurance. He actually thought the demon would kill him and yet he was still there, alive, and no longer felt pain. Perhaps he had stripped him of the demonic power that was shredding him apart from the inside.

Better that way, he thought. He got up, his body still heavy, and thought he heard Commissioner Fillian starting to move. He walked a little dizzy towards a door stuck to the bottom of the office and got in without hesitation. There was a small bathroom inside. The only toilet didn’t work, but miraculously the sink had water.

He washed his face and threw some water on his head, thinking it would help him clear out his mind. He kept his hands gripping the sink and his head down for several seconds, gasping and breathing to regain control over himself and then lifted his face to the mirror.

The reflection stared back at him with an image he wasn’t expecting. His skin was so pale that his veins were visible and ploughed through his face, making it look like the skin of a dead person. But it was his eyes what caught his attention. Its natural cinnamon tone seemed dissected by different prisms of color, like a geode.

Then he heard Commissioner Fillian groan underneath his gag. He had finally awakened. Without saying a word, he grabbed a glass that rested next to the faucet and filled it with water, after which he searched for something below the sink and pulled out a ski mask. He put it over his head and looked again at the mirror. His face was completely covered, leaving only his strange geode eyes visible. ‘Let’s go’, he muttered to himself, taking a breath and getting out of there with the glass of water.

Marianne wasn’t exactly a big eater at home, she ate the usual, but never doubled rations. So, it was expected to raise suspicion when Loui discovered her making another sandwich after already having breakfast.

“Are you eating again?”

“Uh . . . no. I’m just making something to bring to the hospital . . . in case I get hungry. You should do the same, you’re always eating,” she replied, a little hesitant at first, but quickly regaining control.

“There’s a cafeteria there,” he said, folding his arms.

“So? Have you seen the price they tag on everything? As if their patients were all millionaires. We have to save as much as we can. That is, of course, if you’re planning to go to college someday. Otherwise start practicing how to juggle because your only option will be working at the circus as a clown.”

Loui grunted and went out of the kitchen again. She let out a sigh of relief and put the sandwich in the fridge so Samael could take it once they left.

“Everyone ready? You’re not forgetting anything?” Noah asked, waiting at the door.

“Oh, wait!” Loui exclaimed, running back to the kitchen while Marianne leaned on the doorway. About a minute later, the child returned, carrying something wrapped up that he gave to Marianne. “Here, you forgot it in the fridge.”

Marianne unwrapped it, realizing it was the sandwich she had prepared for Samael. Loui smiled as if he knew he had ruined her plan, and she just gritted her teeth and tried to smile back.

“Thank you. You saved my snack, you’re so kind,” she muttered.

“It was a pleasure,” her brother replied, without erasing his smirk.

“It’s good that you two are getting along. Your mother would be so happy to see you. Let’s get going now,” Noah said, completely oblivious of what was really happening there.

Not far from there, Mitchell waited at the Retroganzza counter, rattling his fingers impatiently until Mankee got out of the kitchen.

“Hi. Are you looking for Demian?”

“No, I came to see you this time.”

“Really?” he asked in astonishment, and Mitchell let out a laugh.

“No, sorry! But you should have seen your face when I said it. You don’t get many visits here, do you?”

Mankee twitched his mouth indignantly and simply set out to clean some glasses.

“Well, I’m sorry, Demian didn’t come today. I heard he’s still in the hospital, so I don’t think he will be coming.”

“Oh, did he also end up there after yesterday? Why did nobody tell me? We could have visited him after seeing Lilith.”

“Lilith? Is she in the hospital?”

“That’s right. Yesterday wasn’t her day at all, not only did she not win the competition, her favorite singer didn’t see her performing and she was also stripped from . . . ” he realized he was about to slip some sensitive information, so he quickly stopped. The boy waited for him to keep talking, but he decided to finish right there. “ . . . And so on. She was jinxed.”

“She must feel . . . shattered.”

“Yeah, well, hopefully she’ll recover soon. It’s Lilith, in no time she’ll be jumping around going crazy for a new boy band or something like that,” Mitchell said casually, but Mankee didn’t seem convinced.

“Well, I . . . gotta get back to work. If you want to order something . . . just tell me.”

“I could use a milkshake before going to the hospital. Double whipped cream, add some chocolate chip cookies and put it to my account! Someday I’ll pay, I swear.”

Mankee said nothing, just glanced at him as if knowing he wouldn’t and got into the kitchen again.

Lilith spent the whole night in the hospital without even a single wink of sleep. The voices didn’t allow her to sleep anymore. She kept hearing over and over things she didn’t want to hear and started to surrender to it.

“Lilith?” Marianne lightly knocked on the door, opening it ajar. “Do you feel any better? Your mother said that everyone from the event would be discharged today. That includes you . . . Are you ready to get out of here?”

“Out?” Lilith repeated faintly. “Why would I want to go out? I have nothing left.”

“Lilith, please! Stop talking like that!” Marianne protested, getting closer and taking her by the shoulders. “What about us? Don’t you care? We’re your friends!”

“I don’t see anyone here but you right now,” the blonde said in a monotone, not even looking at her eyes. Marianne didn’t know what to tell her anymore to change her attitude.

“Listen! The others are coming soon, so you better wipe that suffering face of yours and be ready to get out because you can’t stay here. Got it?” she commanded her, trying to be bossy, but she didn’t pay much attention. “Now I’ll go and wait for them to come, so you better be clean-cut by then.”

She then left the room, closing the door behind her and leaning against it, feeling that she had been too harsh, but didn’t want to patronize her either. She pulled out her cell and quickly began to type while walking down the hall. She noticed that the room where she had seen Demian the previous day was open. It was closed minutes before so she had taken it as a sign that she wouldn’t have to see him.

She stopped by the door and peeked a little. Inside, Demian was sitting on the stretcher, trying to take some bandages off his head while his father, by contrast, tried to keep him from doing so.

“I told you I’m fine! I don’t need them!”

“And I already told you I won’t allow any child of mine to risk his health just because he doesn’t feel comfortable with something,” his father retorted, slapping his hand to stop playing with the bandages.

Demian paused once he noted Marianne’s presence and his father also turned around, causing her to startle and look for a way out.

“Marianne! How nice of you to come visit! But come in, don’t stay out there!”

“Uh . . . thanks, but . . . I was just passing by, and I . . . ”

“She came to see her mother, that’s why she’s here. Don’t waste her time, let her continue.”

“Oh, I’m really sorry! I hope it’s nothing serious and she recovers soon.”

“Thanks, I hope so too,” she replied, feeling a pang of remorse after remembering the words she had said to Demian. She had been unnecesarily cruel, and until then she hadn’t had the chance to make amends. So, she bit her lip and averted her gaze. “I’m glad you’re okay . . . Excuse me.”

And then she left without waiting for an answer. She quickly walked along the hallway, her eyes fixed on the floor, so it was no surprise when she bumped into someone when she made a turn towards the elevators.

She looked up and saw Samael in front of her.  She immediately pulled him away, fearing her brother would suddenly appear and see him.

“What are you doing here?! I told you to wait until I came back!”

“I know, but I couldn’t find anything to eat in the fridge.”

Being fair, it was already Sunday and that was the day to buy provisions, but with everything that had happened, she had no time to think about it. So, she sighed and led Samael away from there, trying to check any area before entering, in case Loui was around.

They went to the opposite end of the hospital where the cafeteria was. It consisted of a huge bar displaying the stew of the day with some additions and other goodies with a large blackboard on the wall with the prices.

“Go ahead. Pick whatever you want,” said Marianne while watching around.

Samael looked at everything with interest, but undecided.

“What do you suggest?”

“Eating elsewhere since everything tastes like cardboard in the hospital,” she replied with a huff, and noticing Samael was looking at her dubious, she rolled her eyes and leaned against the bar to order for him. “Salad and cookies, please. Orange juice too. And add some penicillin if you can, prevention is better.”

“Sorry. I didn’t want to cause any inconvenience,” Samael said, feeling that he was interfering with her plans somehow.

“Of course not! You’re not!” she remarked, pushing him to the end of the bar so she could pay. “Sorry if I seem rude or something, it’s just . . . I have so many things in mind right now. I’m worried about Lilith and there’s also that other demon . . . ”

“And the human with demonic energy,” Samael added.

“ . . . And the human with demonic energy,” she repeated, feeling exhausted. “It seems that everything’s just getting worse.”

“Have some faith. When you think all is lost, sooner or later it will be solved,” he said in a reassuring tone.

“Cookies and tea, please.”

Marianne froze upon hearing that voice. She pushed Samael around the bar until he bumped into the wall and she turned to glance over her shoulder.

Loui was walking away with a laid-back attitude, a pack of cookies in one hand and a bottle of tea in the other. She turned back to the front, looking desperate.

“Did he see us?!”

Samael glanced towards the door where Loui was getting out.

“He would have said something in that case,” he said to calm her down.

“You’re right. Maybe he didn’t, if not I’m sure he would have made some comment,” she said, trying to convince herself. However, she couldn’t just let it go. His apathy over the last days was really getting on her nerves. She feared that he was hiding or planning something, nothing could take that idea off her head.

Unable to rest at night, but for different reasons than Lilith, Lucianne couldn’t stop thinking of what Officer Perry had told her. She couldn’t believe Frank was involved with Hollow, so there had to be some sort of explanation, and refused to judge him until she could hear his side of the story. Although she had no idea how anyone could openly admit to having some kind of conection with a demon. She knew she was being naive, but couldn’t help it, she preferred to expect the best from others.

Officer Perry visited her that morning like usual, filling her in with the latest news. She thought he would bring up something about Frank again, but he didn’t and she was silently grateful for it.

“I must go back to the hospital. Lilith will be discharged and I heard Demian also spent the night there. So, I would like to see them,” Lucianne said while picking up the dishes.

“Want a ride?”

“If you don’t mind, please.”

“You know I don’t. I’ll gladly take you,” he agreed with a smile that showed far more than Lucianne could reciprocate, so she turned forward as she washed the dishes and tightened her mouth.

Then they heard the knock on the door. Lucianne’s heart skipped a beat at the thought of the only person who had been going to her house frequently besides Officer Perry. She left the sink running water without even pulling out her hands, either to settle the dishes or close the faucet. Another knock, her heart was now running wild.

“Aren’t you going to open the door?” Perry asked, as if he already knew what was going through her mind. She came out of her reverie and closed the faucet to head towards the door.

She stopped right there to catch her breath and finally opened. There was a person with a black coat in front of her, a hood over his head and sunglasses sticking out underneath. He looked like a criminal hiding his face, and yet she could recognize him.


“Sorry for showing up like this. I need to talk to you,” he said with a sense of urgency, his voice low and his movements hasty. He even had his hands inside his pockets like he was hiding something.

“What is it? Why the glasses?” she asked, reaching for his face with the intention of taking them off, but he stepped back.

“We need to talk,” was his only answer. His serious tone alarmed Lucianne, but she still tried not to show it.

“Let me get my coat and I’ll be right back,” she said, getting back into the house while Franktick waited impatiently at the door, moving one step forward and another backwards, watching the tiny garden decorating the entrance, gardenias and vines intertwined, giving it a homey look.

He thought of how they would look like crushed, with the soil stirred and ruined, but immediately shook his head to push those thoughts off his mind. He didn’t understand why he was all of a sudden thinking of that.

“You don’t look very good, boy.”

Franktick turned around. Officer Perry was at the door, watching him warily.

“You look as if you’ve got yourself into something serious. Is that what the hood and glasses are for? You don’t want to be recognized because of that?”

“It’s none of your business,” he replied, feeling his blood boiling just to see him, so he pulled away without taking his hands out of his pockets.

“Anything that affects Lucianne is my business, so I’ll ask you once, what did you get yourself into with the guy who attacked the Music Center?”

“Have you been following me? Despite not having any legal reason to do so?”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

“Neither mine,” Franktick replied, clenching his hands inside his pockets. Perry let out a snort, his cynicism was just outrageous.

“I follow whoever looks suspicious to me. And turns out my gut was right about you. You were working for that guy, you can’t deny it. I saw you.”

Franktick didn’t answer, just stared at him through those dark glasses hiding his eyes, starting to get into the young officer’s nerves.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you,” he snapped, losing his patience and trying to take out his glasses.

That moment was like lighting a wick inside Frank, completely blinding his reasoning in the next few seconds, a spark exploding in his brain. The glasses fell to the ground and his vision turned completely red, as if his eyes were injected with blood. When he realized, he was already on top of Officer Perry, punching him repeatedly, crushing the gardenias and vines, which made him smile. He didn’t understand what was going on, but it felt good. As if the tightness inside him were suddenly released, causing a pleasant feeling. It was better than adrenaline, it was . . .

“Frank! What are you doing?! Release him!”

Lucianne’s voice brought him back to reality. He realized his hands were stained with blood, and saw Officer Perry with his face beaten, chapped lips and broken nose. He got up unsteadily as Lucianne knelt before Perry.

“Why did you do it? What’s wrong with you?!”

He couldn’t answer. He didn’t know why, it was just a surge he couldn’t control. And the way Lucianne was watching him now, like a monster, confirmed what he had been refusing so far. He had been indeed detoxified, but from his humanity. That demon had transformed him into one of his kind.

Slowly, he started to step back, letting her take care of the officer, and quietly turned around to leave the place.

“Wait!” Lucianne called him, realizing he was leaving. She set one foot on the stirred soil from the garden and tried to stop him by grabbing his jacket. “Frank, stop!”

His body turned with a push, and he was unable to avoid making eye contact with her. She came to a standstill after briefly glimpsing what was beneath the hood. Veins streaking his face and eyes that seemed a mixture of different minerals, devoid of any human trace.

Franktick pulled his arm and once he was free, lowered the hood again to cover his face and ran away to Lucianne’s astonishment.

She no longer could deny it: he was the human with demonic energy.

Standing in the middle of the reception, like a child lost in a fair, Mankee watched doctors and nurses going back and forth, not daring to ask around, as if expecting the answer would miraculously reach him, and to his luck, the miracle seemed to come in the form of Marianne and Samael crossing from one area to enter another, now that Noah and Loui had gone back home.

“Wait . . . ” Marianne said, puzzled to see him over there. “What is he doing here?”

“Maybe he came to see Lilith?”

“Or Demian,” she added, and without making any more guesses, she approached him with curiosity, followed by Samael. “Hello. Are you . . . lost? You don’t seem to know where you are standing.”

“Hello!” he said, doing a little bow. “I know where I am, it’s just . . . I don’t know where to go.”

“Are you here to see Demian?”

“His father called a while ago. He said he was at home and would take the day off,” the boy explained, watching people come and go. “I came here because . . . I think I owe it to Lilith.”

“You owe her?” Marianne repeated at a loss.

“Maybe . . . I should have warned her as soon as I saw the signs . . . ”

“What are you talking about?”

“Hey!” Mitchell shouted from the other side of the hall, running towards them. “You have to come, something’s going on with Lilith.”

They didn’t stop to ask, just ran after him, including Mankee, as hesitant as he was. In front of her room, Angie and Belgina looked inwards not daring to enter. Lilith’s mother was inside, shaking her daughter desperately as she stood in some sort of catatonic state.

“What’s wrong with you?! Say something! Don’t do this to me!”

“She’s spaced-out,” Belgina commented with a frightened expression when the others arrived.

“Ma’am, you should bring a doctor,” Angie advised, who seemed the only one who kept calm under the circumstances. Lilith’s mother reacted and ran out of the room.

“I’ll be right back, don’t let her alone, please!”

The guys finally decided to enter and cautiously approached the bed where Lilith lay motionless with eyes open and a lost stare. Her pupils were so dilated that they looked opaque. Behind them, Mankee peered undecided.

“What’s happening to her?” Marianne asked Samael in an anguished tone. “It’s too early for her to enter the gift crisis, what’s going on?”

“It’s not that,” Samael replied, staring at the bed.

The others didn’t seem to notice, but there was a dark, transparent layer clinging to Lilith like a second skin. Like forming a cocoon around her.

“ . . . Nonuma!” Mankee exclaimed, recoiling with a terrified expression. The others looked confused at him, but before they could ask anything, he bolted.

Samael glanced at Marianne to let her know without words that he was going after him and left the room, followed closely by her after catching his intention.

“We’re going to see what’s up with him. Watch her, okay?” she said before leaving. They reached the boy down the hall, he looked pale and scared. “Could you tell us what was that? What were you supposed to warn Lilith about? And what’s with that word you said? You’re acting weird.”

Mankee urgently looked sideways, feeling cornered by them, and finally took a deep breath. There was no other choice than talk.

‘Nonuma’, the soulless. My people have the belief that there are evil spirits that lack soul and free will. They roam the world looking for creatures that could serve for temporary shelter and feed on their energy until completely consuming them. Even controlling them sometimes,” he explained, reluctantly at first. “The only way to combat their influence is to prevent the change of mood, to cheer up, otherwise they can be very persuasive, and once they break their host’s will . . . ”

Marianne and Samael exchanged glances. It sounded too familiar. The very action of a demon.

“And that’s what you suppose is happening to Lilith?”

“I don’t suppose. I know,” he said with total conviction. “ . . . I’ve seen it. In her eyes. And now . . . they’ve completely wrapped around her.”

“Wrapped around her? Can you see it?” Samael asked, astonished.

“Why are you so sure?”

Mankee looked around again, preventing any prying ear.

“In my town, there are especially trained people to detect them. They learn about it through symptoms. It’s not a thing that happens so often anyway. But when it happens, it’s necessary a ritual to stop it.”

“Like an exorcism?”

“They call it ‘unnumanize’. I’ve witnessed some, but not that strong.”

“You’ve seen it. That was what you really used to do in your old town, isn’t it?!”

The boy kept silent. He didn’t seem willing to admit it or deny it. Marianne took him by the sleeve and pulled.

“You gotta help Lilith, then! You said you owe her, right?! Well, you have to do it!”

“But you don’t get it . . . What I saw there . . . it’s too strong. I had never seen anything like that,” he excused himself, hardly swallowing, but she wasn’t willing to accept a negative answer. She pulled harder on his shirt and gave him an intense look.

“Then make the effort,” she muttered menacingly and he just looked frightened at her.

She almost dragged him back to Lilith’s room where the guys watched her with concern. She was no longer just lying still. She kept her lost stare, but now her body seemed to suffer from spasms that made her bounce on the bed.

Samael could see the second skin growing, and it wasn’t only covering her body now, but also the space above her. Like an oily cocoon throbbing at each spasm.

“Oh, no . . . It’s grown,” Mankee said, fighting the urge to run away. Samael gave him a wary look. He could see it too.

“What do we do?” Belgina asked, clinging to the doorframe.

“Close the door. Stay outside and distract anyone trying to come in, even if it’s Lilith’s mother.”

Angie, Belgina and Mitchell got out as Samael said, closing the door behind them. Lilith’s body had stopped bouncing spasmodically and now her back was arched in a rather uncomfortable angle, as if about to levitate at any moment.

“What are you waiting for? Do whatever you have to do!” Marianne pushed Mankee towards Lilith. He stepped forward, terror reflecting in his face, and began to shakily recite sentences in another tongue while trying to raise his hands, but his limbs seemed too stiffened.

Samael lost no detail of what he was doing. He looked carefully at Mankee and at that oily mass of energy expanding in front of him, into Lilith’s mouth or perhaps emerging from it, he had no idea, but Marianne didn’t seem to notice any of this.

The boy kept conjuring those words in an unknown tongue. He didn’t look convinced, but at least he was trying, and the cocoon seemed to react to it, shaking like jelly. And then the unexpected happened: the energy warped, molding into some sort of tentacles that caught the boy by his arms and legs, pulling him inside the mass, right above Lilith.

“What’s going on? What do we do?” Marianne asked, bewildered.

She coul only see the boy floating above the bed, as if something invisible were holding his limbs. Samael didn’t say a word, only watched, unwilling or perhaps unable to do anything else. But Marianne couldn’t stay there and do nothing. With a motion of her hand, her sword came in a flash and she wielded it, taking a blow in the air, trying to cut through whatever was causing it. However, when the blade touched the outer layer, it was like impacting the surface of a balloon. A very strong one. The sword bounced back, throwing Marianne away.

“We can’t do anything,” Samael said after holding her.

“Have you even tried?!”

He put his hand on the cocoon’s surface, invisible to Marianne’s eyes, and sparks flew at the slightest touch.

“See? Negative energy. A very thick layer. It would hurt us a lot.”

“Then I’ll tell Mitchell! He could neutralize it!”

“The only thing he’ll manage to do is to neutralize the outer energy. The problem lies inside Lilith.”

“But don’t you see it’s already affecting Mankee too?!”

Samael looked at the boy and realized he couldn’t breathe in there, like caught in a huge bubble of black water. He went back to the cocoon and started to hit it despite the sparks coming out from his fists.

“Concentrate!” Samael yelled, trying to get to him.

Mankee heard it as if through a tunnel, a very long one. He half-opened his eyes, even when they burned, and then saw Lilith’s face right in front of him. Her eyes were open and staring like a wax figure. He looked through her dilated pupils and there was a flash, growing inside and latching on to her. He knew what to do. Theoretically at least, but now he also had an implicit certainty that maybe came from a part of his ancient memory. He tightened his muscles, trying to move his hands forward, as if his arms were attached to a very powerful rubber band, until he finally managed to touch her face, in a way that his thumbs touched above her nose, framing her eyes with the curvature formed by his hands. He couldn’t breathe and wasn’t sure he could even speak, yet he opened his mouth and more spells came out of it, silent ones, but expressed loud and clear in his mind.

The mass of energy began to back off, like a deflating bubble, loosening the boy’s limbs until leaving him on the floor. Soon the layer adhered again to Lilith’s skin like varnish and kept retreating until it finally released her. Her body rested on the bed in a relaxed position. It would seem it was over, however he had to make sure first. He posed his thumbs now on Lilith’s forehead and drew some kind of symbol with them. A slight tremor shook her body, but within seconds she calmed down. Her pupils returned to normal size and then took a deep breath. Mankee stepped back exhausted and did the same.

“Lilith? Are you okay?” Marianne approached cautiously. At that moment, the door flew open and Lilith’s mother came followed by a doctor.

“Keeping me from seeing my own daughter, you’ve got to be kidding me!” she said in a tone of complaint while the others entered right behind them. “Oh, Lilith! You’re finally awake! You almost gave me a heart attack!”

“Did everyone come to see me?” Lilith muttered with a strained voice, realizing she was surrounded by her friends. While they all approached her, Mankee seized the moment to get out of there.

“He really did it. I can’t believe it. Just when I think I’ve seen it all . . . ”

“He left,” Samael announced in a whisper, noticing the boy wasn’t in the room. “We have to talk to him.”

“He must be exhausted. And no wonder, how many people could do what he just did? It’s extraordinary.”

Samael gave Marianne a look she understood after a few seconds.

“Are you serious?” she asked and almost instantly her eyes distended with a sudden wave of realization. “He was drowning. He couldn’t breathe under the negative energy.”

Samael nodded solemnly.

“We need to talk to him,” he concluded, emphasis in the ‘need’.

“You really should go to the hospital,” Lucianne suggested while treating Officer Perry’s battered face. After cleaning the wounds and blood, he still had a swollen eye and lip, plus some bruising on his cheekbones and a crooked nose, but his face didn’t look as shattered as it seemed at first.

“I’ll be fine. Some painkillers and tomorrow I’ll be like new,” he said, though it sounded more like ‘I me bine’ with the swollen mouth, however he slowly began to recover his normal speech, perhaps with a slight lisp.

“Will you arrest him for this?”

“Is there a reason why I shouldn’t?”

Lucianne remained silent. If Frank was being controlled by the Legion of Darkness, it meant the sudden violent outburst he had was out of his hands. She wanted to convince herself of this, yet she couldn’t tell Perry, he wouldn’t understand.

“He wasn’t . . . being himself,” was all she managed to say, not daring to meet his eyes.

Perry, on the other hand, stared at her, at least with the eye that wasn’t swollen. He seemed hurt that she would defend him despite all.

“You may be right. He was definitely under the influence of something,” he concluded with a sigh. “But even if that were the case, I’ll have to detain him. Since he’s a minor he’ll just spend a few hours in a special room, have a bail and most importantly, he’ll be imposed psychological treatment and will be imperative for him to go through it, otherwise his freedom might be revoked. You know he needs it, right?”

She was quiet again, but nodded. Maybe it really was the best for him. She got up and picked up the bowl where she had put all of the gauzes stained with blood.

“You can stay in my father’s room. I’ll go get some aspirins.” She left the kitchen, carrying the bowl to throw its content to the trash, and then she heard a knock.

She stood still, bewildered, wondering what she would do if it was Frank. She steeled herself and opened the door, but there was no one outside, only the cold wind blowing.

She was about to close it when she paid attention to the floor. There was a gift-wrapped package. She picked it up, baffled, looking for a tag, but there was nothing written in it. She decided to open the package and was perplexed to see a golden flounced dress. It was beautiful, but she still didn’t understand where it came from, until finally finding the note that came with it.

‘Go to the botanical garden’s entrance on Tuesday at 6:00 pm.

Wear the dress.’

Her heart stopped. It had no signature, but she was sure it had to be Frank’s.

“Is everything alright?” Officer Perry asked from the kitchen and she reacted with a slight jolt.

“Yes! I’m . . . going to get the aspirins!” she answered, putting the dress back into its wrapping along with the note and taking a last look at the street. Then she came back in and closed the door.

Nearby, lurking in the shadows, Hollow outlined a twisted smile.

The fish had taken the bait.