Jamie had spent the last week in hell.
They were always there, either observing or interfering in her life, and she’d never realized how exhausting it was interacting with others. Now that she knew, she missed being alone even more.
And she missed her friends. Jamie knew they must have been lonely, left there without a single visitor day after day, slowly rotting away to nothing with only the old grave keeper for company.
But there was no way she’d bring her unwanted watchers with her to her haven, no way she’d show them the sanctuary she’d found at Ravensgate. There was no way Jamie was going to let them ruin the only home she had.
When the demons come for you… And they had, although in a different form than Jamie or that woman could ever have imagined.
“Come on.” Jamie had learned the day after her strange kidnapping that his name was Zack, but she was apparently expected to call him, just as with everyone else, some strange codename they’d invented for their nerd-war. And apparently he wasn’t always angry, didn’t torture small animals, and had voices other than monotonic hatred, not that she’d ever heard them. Or so Olivia had told her at great length and in extreme detail.
Why he would bother speaking to her at all, she had no idea, nor desire to learn.
Zack clearly read her hesitation, her confusion, as if it were painted on her face. Jamie figured it probably was, mostly because she’d only ever bothered learning to hide strong emotions: namely fear and pain. “Ace wants you to move in, so I’m collecting your personal effects,” he said, enunciating everything as if she were a child. “So we are going to get it from your house.”
“Awwe,” Blake moaned, joining his friend. He, at least, was less rude than some of his companions. Jamie thought that, if she was the type to have friends, if she was more outgoing and sociable, perhaps, she might have wanted to know him. But she wasn’t, and she didn’t. “Come on, T, we want to see your place.”
“Speak for yourself, moron.” Already Zack’s voice was noticeably lighter, his eyes less showed. “Some of us value our dignity.”
“No.” Jamie walked away before they could reply, hoping to take them by surprise and gain at least enough distance to lose them around a corner or something. Today was just not her day, she realized, as two pairs of very different footsteps kept pace with her. One, loud and stomping, the heavy tread of the morally unsound, the other light and swift, the sound as frail and sick as the walker. It hadn’t taken more than ten minutes with the pair to realize they were in fact as different as they looked.
When you naturally distrust humanity, have no friends or close family you care for, and avoid social interaction, it seemed that you gained disproportionate skill at reading people. That was what Ace told her he wanted. Jamie could go on with her life as she pleased, she just had to watch his friends and tell him if she had any epiphanies. Whatever the hell that meant.
In the end they did follow her home, but Jamie swallowed her irritation at the stupid car trailing a few feet behind her. The boys were years older and even Blake was so much stronger than her that there wasn’t even a contest. She stood no chance of fighting them, nor of losing them, so Plan C was giving them what they wanted and hoping that they left her alone after that.
“When they come,” she whispered as Zack slammed his elbow into the living room window. Thankfully the glass was thick enough that it didn’t shatter, but the way it rattled alarmed Jamie. She’d be dead as it was, inviting people over without asking her uncle, and telling him that they invited themselves likely wouldn’t fly.
Another stroke of good fortune: Jamie owned few enough mementoes, so it would only take one trip to remove every trace of her from the house. And it wasn’t like her uncle had bothered to take or keep any photos of her or her mother, so she would well and truly be gone. Strangely enough, or not at all strangely, depending on how she thought about it, she really wouldn’t miss this place in the slightest. There was no sense of relief, but also no sorrow, no longing.
“Wow, you really have a boring-ass life, don’t you?” Blake asked lightly as he walked back and forth through the kitchen, checking all of the cabinets.
It was Zack who responded. “Of course. I mean, the freak spends her free time desecrating graves. Why do you think Olivia liked her?” Blake laughed at that, but Jamie felt no malice. She really might not hate him after all.
And then the front door opened, and in strode her uncle, bundle of paperwork under his arm and cup of coffee in hand.
No one moved. No one breathed. They just stared, eyes moving back and forth amongst one another as Jamie’s uncle took stock of the situation with the calculating eye of a prosecution lawyer. “So Jamie, what exac-”
And that was as far as he got before Zack rammed a fist into his gut. Jamie screamed as he crumpled forward, coughing, and the boy’s elbow hit the base of his skull. He fell without a word, collapsing boneless to the wood floor, as if all of a sudden his skeletal system rebelled and refused to support his weight.
“Four minutes. Get everything you want to bring, kiss your dog, leave a fucking note for all I care, but we’re out in four minutes.”
Jamie didn’t hesitate. She had no connection to this place and she never had. And she didn’t have a dog.
It took less than two to collect a random bundle of clothes, piling it on the bed along with her only picture of her mother and the few figurines she’d bothered gathering over the years. Using the sheets, she made a nice little sack to carry everything in, tied it together, and left it on the bed. She’d come back for it.
Jamie did write a note, despite her reluctance. “Uncle Patrik,” she jotted on a scrap of paper, “I’m leaving. Staying with friends. Don’t try to find me. –JC.” And that was it. Zack carried her stuff out to his car while she used a magnet to attach her message to the refrigerator, and then they were gone.
Jamie barely cared that she would never see this place again. There were too many ghosts, too many scars, too much blood in the walls and echoing screams in every corner. Too many painful memories.
When they come, I want you to take a knife… The water ran red around her as she floundered against the solid grip holding her under. Jamie flailed, her stubby child arms powerless. Her lungs screamed, water filled her nose and mouth, tasting of copper and salt, and still those hands hand her.
“Hey, chill out grave-robber. Don’t vomit on my car.” It was Zack’s rude, angry voice that broke her from the memory, and for that Jamie decided she didn’t hate him as much as she thought. She might even care if he suffered some horrible accident and died. Or not.
A question occurred to her, the possible answers amusing in a twisted sort of way, and Jamie decided to at least attempt to learn something about her new acquaintances. After all, that was what was keeping her alive, if Ace was to be believed. Although, she was not in the habit of trusting anyone, let alone albino-dorks who thought they belonged to secret cult-like crime families.
“If you were in an accident, would you rather be paralyzed from the neck down or die?”
They both looked at her like she was insane. “Paralyzed,” Blake replied, at the same time that Zack said the exact opposite. Blake frowned at his friend, and Jamie felt a strange tension between them, as if she’d opened an old wound. And it was just so entertaining to tear open.
“Why would you want to be paralyzed? Wouldn’t that totally suck?”
“No,” he replied, glancing back at her as Zack studied the road, his hands tight around the steering wheel. “There are a lot of things worse than death, I think, and being that helpless would be one of them. Besides, I’m quite fond of my life and would be at loathe to give it up over something so trivial.”
“That makes sense, I guess.”
Jamie really thought she might eventually grow like Blake, maybe even become friends with him, if she wasted enough time and effort on it. Somehow he seemed familiar, comforting. As if she’d known him for a long time, even though they’d just met.
Take the knife. The lines across Jamie’s wrists itched and she scratched at them without thinking, digging her nails into the soft flesh until thin streams of blood trickled from the shallow gouges.