‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part Two, Chapter 1

Arlene and Jonas Frey gave up their search for Alexa after a week, leaving it to the police in exasperation.

One day, in the late afternoon when Alexa’s mother and father had both just got home from work and were hungry for supper, they felt a strange compulsion to go upstairs to their bedroom and close the door behind them. They sat side by side on the bed and stared at their reflection in the dresser mirror.

They just sat there and didn’t move, their stomachs growling.

It felt as if some outside force was controlling them.

After several minutes of doing nothing else, Arlene finally felt free to open her mouth.

“What…are we doing in here?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Jonas said. “We should be…cooking dinner.”

“It’s like…something is holding us here,” she said.

Something is holding you here, a hoarse voice said.

Arlene and Jonas yelped and jerked at the disembodied voice.

“What was that?” he said in a trembling voice.

Me, the voice said, revealing the speaker in the mirror reflection. It was a spectral version of Alexa, pale with disheveled hair and a menacing frown.

“Oh, my God!” Arlene said. “The stress of her disappearance is making me see things!”

“Alexa?” Jonas said.

“You see her, too?” Arlene asked.

You both see me because I’m really here, the ghostly apparition groaned. She wore a tattered black dress, and had dark rings around her eyes, the irises of which glowed red. Her parents no longer saw themselves or their bedroom in the mirror reflection: the background of Alexa’s ghost was a void of infinite black.

“What happened to you, honey?” her father asked.

“Did you kill yourself?” her mother sobbed, tears forming in her eyes.

I’m not your honey, the spirit said, scowling malevolently at both of them. You never gave me the love and support I needed when I was being tormented at school. Now, you two are receiving your punishment.

“Our punishment?” he asked, shaking.

You are to remain in your room without supper.

“What is this nonsense?” he said, then finally with all his freedom of movement returned to him, he got up and walked over to the bedroom door. “You don’t get to decide if we can–

On touching the doorknob, he got an electric shock so powerful it threw him across the room. He hit his head on the wall, just under the windowsill, so hard that it knocked him unconscious.

“Jonas!” Arlene screamed, shooting up on her feet like a rocket.

He isn’t dead, Alexa’s ghost said. But he will be.

“Alexa, you little bitch! You stop this now!

You’ll be dead, too…’Mother.’

“Stop this nonsense, right now! I’m your mother!”

How will you make me stop it? You were never a real mother to me. He was never a real father to me. If you had been, if you’d shown me some compassion, I’d be with you at home now, eating supper together. Instead, you both will do without food…’til you die!

Arlene went over to Jonas, seeing the blood pouring from the wound on his head. She got an old T-shirt from his dresser, one he rarely, if ever, wore anymore, and wrapped it around his head to control the bleeding.

Then she looked up at the window above him.

When she reached up to open it, the whole room transformed into a surreal structure without windows or doors. She screamed and jumped at the sudden change.

“I am seeing things,” she whispered to herself. “I’m going out of my mind.”

Instead of the bedroom being a cubic rectangular shape, it was now ovoid. The furniture had all disappeared. No longer was there the room’s original light blue paint and blue-and-white striped wallpaper with flower motifs; now it was white with swirling light brown stripes everywhere…and the curved stripes were slithering like snakes!

“I’m going mad,” she whispered in sobs. “Jonas!”

She looked down at him and shook him. Her stomach was growling more and more, as if her hunger was being sped up to feel more like a few days’ hunger rather than that of a few hours. Jonas wouldn’t wake up…but his flesh was beginning to look…tasty.

“No!” she said, slapping herself. “I can’t let myself think that way. That bitch-ghost wants me to.”

You will want to think that way, Alexa’s ghost hissed.

“You little bitch!” Arlene shouted. “I wish I’d never given birth to you. My pregnancy was an accident, you know. I wish Jonas and I had decided to abort you! You’re lucky we’re Catholic!”

That unmotherly attitude is why you must die, the spirit said. If you’d loved me, the way parents are supposed to, we could have all been friends.

Her stomach growled even louder. “Oh, God!” she said. “I’ve got to eat something. I’m dying of hunger.”

There’s meat right next to you…Mother, Alexa said.

“You shut up, Alexa!” Arlene shouted. “How could Jonas and I have produced such a little beast?”

By being beasts yourselves, of course, the ghost growled.

Arlene looked down at still-unconscious Jonas, whose skin was looking sweeter and sweeter. Then she looked at her ever-growling stomach, which looked as if it were caving in from emptiness and malnutrition.

“What the–” she began in sobs. “I thought starvation causes a swollen belly…or is that just in kids? What’s happening to me? What…black magic…are you bringing on me, you bitch?”

You’ve done it to yourselves, Alexa said. You two are self-destructing. Now, enjoy your meal.

Arlene’s stomach was caving in even more. Soon, a huge empty black hole appeared where her stomach should have been. The pain and discomfort from having no food was overwhelming.

And Jonas’s body was looking delicious.

A large carving knife and carving fork appeared by her feet.

She picked them up.

She looked at her unconscious, scrumptious husband.

Her eyes widened, she salivated, and licked her lips.

“I’ve…gotta…eat,” she hissed, her energy beginning to be drained away.

His eyes opened a few millimetres.

“No,” she said hoarsely. “My dinner…must stay still.”

She stabbed the carving knife into his throat.

His lifeless body slumped on the floor, a red river flowing from his neck. Not that she, in her hallucinating state, noticed–she removed the shirt off his back, then stuck the fork in his right arm to hold it still. Then she used the knife to cut off thin slices of his flesh.

She looked at the slices as if they were Thanksgiving turkey. She put a piece in her mouth.

She moaned with pleasure as she chewed on it.

Alexa’s ghost grinned as she saw her mother continue slicing off her father’s arm flesh, stripping it right down to the bone, and eating it all…both arms, eventually.

Now fully sated, Arlene came out of her hallucination and back to her senses. Eyes agape, she gasped. Shaking, she screamed over and over again at the sight of all that blood, the gash in his throat, and his bare bones.

“Oh, my God!” she sobbed. “Oh, my God…What have I done?!” Now that the bedroom had returned to its original inner decor, she looked through teary eyes at the dresser mirror and saw her gloating ghost of a daughter.

Did you enjoy your meal…Mother?

“You!” her mother hissed at the mirror image. “You…little…b–no, ‘bitch’ is not nearly a strong enough word. You’re a demon. You’ve been ruining my life…and your father’s…ever since your misbegotten life began!”

If you hadn’t thought of it as ‘misbegotten,’ this would not have happened to you, Alexa’s ghost said. Good mothers are supposed to love their children, not despise them.

“So, I was a bad mother, is that it, Alexa? Fine! This should make you very happy!”

The knife was still there. Arlene plunged it into her guts and fell to the floor beside Jonas.

Alexa just kept on grinning.

‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part One, Chapter 4

The Hamilton Spectator

Three St. Thomas More Schoolgirls Missing

by Tonya Mills

Alexa Frey, 17, Megan Fourier, 18, and Tiffany Ferry, 17, students of St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School, went missing as of last Sunday night. It is assumed they all ran away from home as a result of constant bullying at school.

Don Murray, 51, principal of the high school, asked some of those accused of the bullying, in particular Denise Charlton and Boyd McAuliffe, both 18, what they had done lately that may have provoked Alexa, their victim, to have run away. Though on Friday afternoon when school was finished, they’d shoved her into a mud and slush puddle, kicked her several times and spat on her (according to eyewitnesses), they denied having done anything else to her since then.

Those who’d bullied Megan and Tiffany also denied having done anything to those girls since they’d been reprimanded the previous Friday morning.

The girls’ parents have shown nothing but dismay at what they deem their daughters’ “wayward” ways.

“That girl has been nothing but one problem after another,” said Alexa’s mother, Arlene Frey, 52. “First, she can’t keep from provoking her classmates to pick on her. Then, she trudges slush and mud all over my carpet on Friday afternoon, and now my husband and I have to search all over the place for her. I’m at my wits’ end here!”

“That wayward girl is always getting mixed up with boys,” John Fourier, 55, said of his daughter Megan. “I’ll bet she’s run off with some boy, who’ll mistreat her and dump her. Then she’ll be lost. With any luck, I’ll find her soon enough. But she’s always been trouble.”

Tiffany’s mother, Alice Ferry, 49, had this to say: “That girl has always been a burden. She gets her classmates mad at her, they break a chunk of ice on her head, and I have to clean up all the blood on her. Now she pulls this on me. When’s it going to end?”

Disturbingly, the only traces left of the three girls before their disappearances were: a razor blade on the side of a filled-up bathtub in Alexa’s home; a bottle filled with John’s sleeping pills on the bathroom sink in Megan’s home, when her father hadn’t touched them Sunday night; and a kitchen knife in Tiffany’s bedroom.

Yet the three girls never used these items.

The girls just disappeared instead.

‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part One, Chapter 3

“You shouldn’t have antagonized them, Alexa,” her father said in their living room an hour after she’d gotten home. “They’d have left you alone if you’d kept quiet.”

“What?” Alexa shouted. “So, it was my fault? The principal made me tell him who did it, Dad!”

“Don’t you raise your voice at me, young lady,” he said.

“You side with my enemies, and you’re surprised at my shouting?” she yelled.

“Oh, go to your room, and without supper, if you’re gonna give me that attitude!” he shouted.

“Yes!” her mother shouted. “If you hadn’t provoked them, you wouldn’t have gotten slush all over my carpet! Go to your room and stay there–yes, without supper–’til you change your attitude!”

“You don’t love me at all!” Alexa shouted in sobs, then stomped up the stairs.

“Oh, listen to that melodrama,” he said.

“If your stamping of your feet makes marks on those stairs, you will be cleaning them, not me!” her mother shouted, just before the slamming of Alexa’s bedroom door.

She dropped on her bed, sobbing and sobbing. Then she looked up at her dresser mirror; but she got a shock when she saw, instead of her face in the reflection, a split-second flash of the red-skinned man.

***********

“You shouldn’t have finked on those kids,” Tiffany’s mom said in the bathroom, a half-hour after washing Tiffany’s clothes. Her mom took a wet cloth to the blood on Tiffany’s hair. “If you’d kept your mouth shut, I wouldn’t have to do all this cleaning away of your disgusting blood.”

“Your sympathy for my plight is touching, Mom,” Tiffany, sitting in the bathtub, hissed with a maximum of sarcasm.

“What did you say to me?” her mom said in a threatening tone. “Maybe I can leave you to clean yourself, you ungrateful little brat.”

Tiffany bit her tongue.

A tear ran down her cheek.

She looked over at the bathroom mirror. Instead of seeing her reflection, she saw a brief flash of the man with bright, devil-red skin looking back at her.

She yelped and jerked her head back.

“Tiffany!” her mom shouted. “Stay still! This is hard enough as it is!”

Another tear ran down Tiffany’s cheek.

*************

Megan had been lying on her bed, shaking and crying non-stop for almost an hour before her father knocked on her door.

“Supper’s almost ready,” he said. “Hurry up.”

“I don’t want any,” she sobbed.

He opened her door. “What’s this nonsense?” he said as he approached her bed. “I just cooked your dinner. Not get down there and eat it before it gets cold!”

“I’m not hungry,” she sobbed.

“Oh, I see,” he said. “You had some…meat…earlier today, and it…filled…you all up, didn’t it? Well, that serves you right for giving yourself up too easily.”

“Dad, I just got raped!” she screamed, getting up from her bed.

“Your punishment for being too easy. I warned you…”

“Oh, I wouldn’t expect my own father to sympathize, since you yourself raped me when I was twelve!

He smacked her so hard, she flew over to the other side of her bed.

“You were punished today for being a little slut,” he said, playing with his zipper. “As you were when you were twelve. Now, get downstairs and eat your dinner before you get punished again!” He left her room.

I’m a ‘slut,’ she thought, because Mom ran off with another man. You, Dad, didn’t have her around to call a slut, so you took it out on me. You can get it up only if you have total power over a girl…like me.

Her face soaked with tears, she looked up at her bedroom mirror and saw a split-second flash of the red-skinned man in the reflection.

*************

WE’RE GONNA GET YOU.

This is what Alexa saw on her computer screen when checking her email on Saturday morning. The sender was anonymous. Her heart thumped; she twitched in her chair.

“Mom! Dad!” she called from her room, a tear running down her cheek. “Please, come here! I’m scared!”

“Oh, what’s your problem now?!” her mom yelled.

“Can’t I watch the game in peace?” her father yelled from the living room as he watched a video on his computer of a hockey game he hadn’t had time to watch on TV the night before.

I guess only I can solve this, she thought, with a thought of her dad’s razor blades; then she twitched again to see the red face in the monitor reflection.

*************

YOU’RE GONNA GET RAPED AGAIN.

Megan read this on her cellphone early on Saturday afternoon. As soon as she saw the anonymous message, she dropped her phone on her bedroom floor; luckily, it hit a soft rug and didn’t break. She let out a loud yelp as she let go of it.

Her dad heard her from his bedroom. “What’s your problem now?” he barked.

Knowing she’d get no sympathy from him, she kept her mouth shut.

Luckily, he didn’t inquire any further.

She began sobbing. She looked in the mirror, and gasped at the sight of the red man.

*************

WE’RE COMING AFTER YOU.

Tiffany jumped in her chair at the dining room table when she saw this anonymous message in her email on an iPad.

“Oh, my God!” she sighed, then began sobbing.

Her mother–on the sofa in the living room, which was next to the dining room and without a separating wall, so Tiffany was in earshot–said, “What are you blubbering about now?”

“I wouldn’t expect you to care, Mom,” Tiffany snapped.

“What did you say to me?” her mom hissed.

Tiffany got up and took her iPad to her bedroom.

“Yeah,” her mom said. “You get out of here if you’re gonna give me that attitude.” She heard Tiffany slam her bedroom door. “That’s it, slam the door, ya spoiled little brat!”

**************

WE’RE GONNA GET YOU.

YOU’RE GONNA GET RAPED AGAIN.

WE’RE COMING AFTER YOU.

Alexa, Megan, and Tiffany respectively got these anonymous email threats repeatedly over the weekend, an average of about one every three or four hours each day until bedtime. Their parents continued to show no sympathy.

By Sunday night at about 11:00, the three girls were ready to end it all. Alexa was filling her bathtub while getting a razor blade ready. Megan swiped a bottle of at least sixteen or so of her dad’s sleeping pills from the bathroom medicine cabinet. Tiffany took a kitchen knife to slash her wrists in her bedroom; she wanted to give her mother a pool of red to clean up.

About to get in the water, Alexa looked down in it and saw the red man’s face again.

Megan closed the door to the medicine cabinet and saw his red face in the mirror.

Tiffany’s teary eyes looked in her dresser mirror and saw his face.

“Who are you” all three girls said…at the same time.

“I am a chthonic spirit,” he said.

The confusion on the girls’ faces indicated that they didn’t know what chthonic means.

“I’m a spirit from the underworld, the land of the dead,” he said.

“You’re a devil?” all three girls said, at once again.

“Yes, but that shouldn’t bother you,” he said. “You’re about to kill yourselves, which you know as Catholics will send you straight to hell. I’d say you’re emotionally prepared to deal with devils, aren’t you?”

“What do you want?” all three asked together again. It was as if their identities were fused.

“I want to help you,” he said.

“How?” they asked.

“My name is Furioso,” he said. “Since all three of you are about to commit the sin of despair, and give up the hope of salvation, perhaps you’d like it if I helped you get revenge on all your tormentors, including your so unloving parents.”

The girls, now seeing not only Furioso, but also each other in the reflections, were…for the first time in a long time…grinning.

“I can help you make them all share your pain. I can drag them all down to Hell, where you three, as demons, can torment them for all eternity. You will be their bullies, for a change.”

The girls’ grins widened.

“What’s more,” he went on, “I can make your exit from this world far less painful than the exits you were planning. Join me, and as a trio of spirits, you can unleash your fury onto the world.”

Suddenly, a crimson vortex appeared before each of the three girls, a portal into Hell. Alexa saw her bathtub water transform into a red whirlpool. Megan and Tiffany saw such bloody whirlpools form on their bathroom and dresser mirrors.

They each felt a tugging, pulling their trembling bodies forward, which they at first resisted. A swarm of moaning voices from the whirlpools seemed to be warning them, “No!…Don’t!”

“Whose voices are those?” the girls asked in unison.

“Don’t worry about that,” Furioso said. “Just let yourselves be pulled in, and be the spirits of vengeance, punishing the guilty of the Earth. The wrongdoers of the world deserve to be punished, don’t they? Aren’t you tired of evildoers getting away with their crimes? When have you known God to intervene, even after your most fervent prayers? You were going to kill yourselves and go to Hell, anyway. Now, stop hesitating. Come in!”

The girls continued to tremble before the vortices and the moaning of No.

“Come in, and claim your rightful revenge!” he called out.

“OK,” the girls said in a synchronized, tremulous voice.

They leaned forward and let themselves get sucked into the red hole, screaming the whole way.

They landed in a pit of infinite darkness.

‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part One, Chapter 2

There was no way Alexa could have hidden the bruises on her face, or for Megan to have hidden the green paint splattered all over her blouse. The teachers and principal were going to get an explanation, one way or another, and the girls’ reluctance to tell on their tormentors, for fear of reprisals, didn’t stop the school authorities from finding out who was responsible.

Tiffany, on the other hand, wanted to tell on her bullies. She wanted to share her pain with Fay and George, no matter what the consequences would be afterwards.

The teachers and principal paid lip service to how they’d protect the three girls from any revenge attacks from their bullies. The girls didn’t believe a word of these promises.

That’s because the promises of protection really were nothing more than promises.

The girls had never been protected before…why would they be protected now?

On the very day that Denise, Boyd, Lynne, Fay, and George were reprimanded–as well as given empty warnings of further punishments if any of them hurt the girls again, warnings so empty that not one bully even flinched–they all went to work on their revenge, each achieving it right at the end of school.

Alexa was walking outside when Denise and Boyd saw her from behind. It had just finished raining, melting away some of the snow on that late February afternoon, so slush puddles were everywhere, with mud and slush patches where students had trampled away the snow and grass on either side of the walkway outside the school entrance.

Denise and Boyd sneaked up behind Alexa. Just as she was passing a mud and slush puddle, they shoved her, making her fall into it and making it splash everywhere.

An eruption of laughter from students all around the area burned in Alexa’s ears. She hadn’t even had time to look up and see who’d pushed her before she felt a few kicks to her gut.

“That’s for splashing mud and slush on me, dyke!” Denise said after giving Alexa a third kick.

“And for getting it on me,” Boyd said, kicking her in the leg.

As Alexa was getting up, Denise aimed her fist at the muddy girl’s upper right arm. After punching it five times, Denise said, “Thank you. I feel so much better now!” She walked away.

Boyd spat on Alexa’s face before following Denise.

Alexa closed her eyes…and thought she saw a man with devil-red skin looking at her for a split second. First, I was hearing whispers, she thought. Now, I’m seeing things.

**************

Tiffany went out the way opposite where Alexa had left, for she was anticipating some nastiness from Fay and George, and hoping they’d go out one of the ways most everyone else went. The coast seemed clear: some teachers were walking about, too; so if those two were hiding out and planning a revenge, the teachers would be there to stop them…she hoped.

She went past where all the cars were parked, seeing no students (let alone bad ones) among any of them, so she assumed she was safe. She took a relaxed walk in the neighbourhood of houses nearby, dodging the piles of slush and ice that hadn’t yet been melted.

She couldn’t hear Fay and George behind her, for they were being so quiet and so good at hiding that they were able to make her hypervigilance useless. They found a block of ice on the sidewalk, where Tiffany had just walked by. They picked it up and followed closely behind her.

They raised the block of ice–almost brick-shaped and as big as their heads combined–inches above her head, then dropped it, hitting her on the top-back of her head. She didn’t hear them laughing or running away because she was unconscious, staying that way for about ten minutes, and lying on the slushy sidewalk with no one to help her.

In a brief dream, she saw the same red face watching her.

*************

Megan was late leaving school; in fact, she deliberately waited for Lynne and Herman to leave first. In gym class, she saw Lynne finish her shower, get dressed, and leave before Megan even began taking her own shower. While showering, Megan assumed that Lynne was hooking up with Herman and leaving school with him.

She was right about the first part.

No sooner had Megan, having finished her shower, wrapped a towel around herself, than she saw Lynne standing by the entrance to the shower area with a malicious smirk.

Megan let out a short, piercing yelp.

“Nobody’s here to hear you, bitch,” Lynne said.

“What d’you want?” Megan spat back in a shaky voice.

“To settle the score with you, of course,” Lynne said. “I don’t appreciate you getting me in trouble just because you’re jealous of me being with your crush…a guy who’d never want you in a million years.”

As Megan walked out of the shower area and into the changing area, she saw Herman standing in front of the locker where her clothes were.

She let out another yelp of terror, and held her towel tighter around her torso.

“Well…,” Lynne said, “maybe my boyfriend will want you…just this one time.” She grabbed at Megan’s towel, and after a struggle, she tore it off the dripping wet and shaking girl, leaving her naked and trying to cover her breasts and crotch with her hands.

“C’mon, Lynne!” Megan screamed in sobs as the other two laughed at her. “I don’t deserve this!”

“I don’t care whether you deserve it or not,” Lynne said smugly as Herman walked up to Megan. “I just wanna see him do it to you.”

“Lynne!” she screamed as he grabbed her and struggled to get her on the floor. “You’re a…fellow female! You can’t…sympathize…with a guy…doing this…to one…of us! Ugh! He’s your…boyfriend! You want him…cheating on you?”

“Oh, I won’t be jealous, like you,” Lynne said as Herman, now on top of supine Megan, unzipped his pants. “Your body is nowhere near as good-looking as mine.”

“It’s good enough for me, though,” he said, whipping it out. “Just this once. You wanted me, Megan? You got me. This is for getting my girlfriend in trouble.”

“I’ll indulge him this one time, Megan,” Lynne said, that malignant grin never leaving her face, “just to watch him traumatize you.”

Megan screamed from the sharp pain of his entry. She could hear Lynne laughing as he carried on inside her. She closed her eyes, seeing not Herman’s face, but a red one.

*************

Over the weekend, none of the three victims’ parents showed any interest in their daughters’ suffering.

The sight of Alexa covered in mud got one blunt comment from her mother as soon as the girl walked in the front door of the house: “What the hell happened to you? And now you’re getting that crap all over my carpet? Go take a bath!”

Tiffany’s mother was similarly annoyed to see her daughter’s clothes covered in slush. “Oh, look at what you did! Now I have to clean that all up! Get out of those clothes so I can wash ’em. Hurry!

In her annoyance, Tiffany’s mother never bothered to notice the blood spot on the back of her head.

Megan was still shaking when she got home. Her father saw her pass the living room, where he’d been watching TV, and go upstairs to her bedroom. Though he got a clear look at her frowning face, he didn’t consider it worth his trouble to see how wet it was with tears.

I’ll bet she’s just having more boy troubles, he thought as he turned his head back to the TV. The little slut just keeps asking for it.

Alexa lay in the bathtub, stunned. Why doesn’t anybody care? she wondered.

Tiffany sat on her bed in her underwear, stunned. Why doesn’t anybody care?

Megan sat on her bed, stunned. Why doesn’t anybody care?

All three girls saw repeated flashes of the red-skinned man before their faces.

I care, he whispered in their ears.

‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part One, Chapter 1

Boyd McAuliffe hated Alexa Frey so much.

Well, it isn’t that he hated her so much that he regarded her as not worth the tiniest bit of consideration or compassion.

Actually, if you were to trace his bad attitude to her right back to the beginning, you’d discover that he envied her for having gotten into the gifted students class back in Grade 8, when he hadn’t.

Sure, that was a good enough reason to hate her.

That was a great reason to regard her as non-human.

That was all the reason he needed.

That was the best reason in the world…

…wasn’t it?

Anyway, right now, in one of the science classrooms during lunch break, when Alexa was concentrating on a chess game with another, equally unpopular student named Sal Moon, Boyd was aiming a bottle-cap in his slingshot, right at her face.

And he had another excellent, perfectly honourable reason to be doing it.

He wanted to impress Denise Charlton, the pretty, shapely redhead who also happened to be one of the biggest troublemakers in St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School, in Hamilton, Ontario.

Alexa was debating in her mind which move to make. Should she trade pawns? Doing so didn’t seem to serve any purpose, except that Sal was just going to trade with her anyway, and that would have opened up her castle and exposed her king. What to do?

Meanwhile, Boyd was taking aim from the other side of the room.

Alexa could have moved her white queen diagonally two spaces to the front and right to put Sal’s black king in check, but he could have just moved it one square to his left and out of danger. It would have been another useless move that wouldn’t have helped her at all.

Boyd was steadying his hands; his aim was just about perfect.

Her knights, side by side, to the left and behind the centre squares, and with three of her pawns in front of them, were also useless. Her rooks, on the back row, had nowhere to go, either.

Boyd’s aim was perfect. Ready to shoot. Take a few slow breaths in and out, and…

Alexa thought, I’ll bet Karpov could figure out a brilliant way to proceed. With my mediocre talents at the game, though, I–

The bottle cap smacked her just under the left eye. The sting burned.

“Oh, Jesus Christ!” she shouted.

“I didn’t do it,” Denise said with a smirk that showed she was nonetheless entertained by it.

“Oh, sure you didn’t, you fucking bitch!” Alexa spat back, remembering the many other times Denise had been the one who ‘did it.’

“What did you call me?” Denise said, getting up and approaching Alexa. “I’ll kick your ass.”

“You heard me,” Alexa said, though avoiding Denise’s eyes.

“C’mon, Alexa!” Denise said, saying the name with mocking contempt and balling her fists.

“Oh, don’t be such a suck! Miss Dish-it-out-but-can’t-take-it.”

“I didn’t do it, ya ugly dyke!”

“Then WHO DID?!”

Boyd looked back at her, smiled, and waved at her.

“You prick!” Alexa shouted. “What did I do to you to deserve that?”

“You stayed alive,” he said.

“And now, you can apologize to me!” Denise said.

“Alright,” Alexa said, “I’m sorry you’re alive.”

Denise stomped over to her, her fists ready to swing.

“You stay away from…!” Alexa began, before getting a fist on her chin, knocking her off her chair.

As Denise gave her kick after kick to the gut on the floor, Alexa lying in the foetal position, Boyd walked over to get a better look. As he saw Alexa writhing in pain, he smiled.

Sal, too scared to get involved and thus become their next victim, got up and left the room.

As Alexa continued receiving kicks from Denise, as well as getting her long, wavy blonde hair pulled by Denise, she looked up at that smiling prick who’d started it all. All she could think about was how badly she wanted to get revenge on the two of them.

She was sure that the stress was making her hear things, because she would otherwise have sworn she’d heard a voice whisper, I can help you get them.

****************

Later that afternoon, in the halls, Megan Fourier was walking to her locker when she saw Lynne Hendricks, a pretty, curvy, and buxom brunette, but also one of the head mean girls in St. Thomas More, holding hands with Herman Schubert, one of the most handsome football players in their school, and also a guy Megan had had a crush on for years, though she was too shy to tell him or even hint at it.

Lynne knew how Megan felt, though. Megan had once confided in her about this.

The couple kissed before walking into art class together. Megan, frowning, followed them in.

As Megan walked through the doorway, she saw Lynne look back at her and grin, gloatingly.

Megan went red with rage.

“You bitch,” she hissed at Lynne. “You wrapped your legs around him on purpose.”

Lynne saw a big can full of green paint on a table. The lid was off. She picked up the can and turned to Megan.

“I can fix that red face of yours,” she said.

She threw the green all over Megan’s face and blouse.

Her eyes squinted shut from the paint; she heard a tidal wave of laughter all around her.

“She’s green with envy,” Lynne said.

The laughter continued. Megan opened her eyes.

Herman was laughing, too.

I wanna get that bitch soooooo badly, she thought. But what can I do?

A male voice whispered in her ear, I can help you get her…and him.

She looked to her left in surprise.

No one was standing there.

****************

Tiffany Ferry was in math class at about the same time as when Megan’s misfortune had happened. A short, chubby brunette named Fay Oliphant was walking by Tiffany’s desk when she looked down and saw her calculator lying by the edge.

Fay brought her fist smashing down on the calculator; Tiffany was too shocked by the suddenness of Fay’s action to get mad. Knowing no one in class liked her, Tiffany felt she could do nothing other than cower in response.

Mocking an answer she’d heard Tiffany give, with what seemed far too much pride, in their previous physics class, Fay said, “Force equals mass times acceleration!”

Those half-dozen or so students who’d also been in that physics class laughed. Tiffany, of course, didn’t laugh at all.

She’d wanted…but didn’t have the guts…to say, And you have plenty of mass, don’t you, Fay?

George Kelly, a boy sitting in the row of seats in front of Tiffany’s, looked back at hers and said to the kids sitting by her, “I feel sorry for you guys, having to sit next to a wimp.”

The math teacher entered the classroom. After twenty minutes of teaching, and having given the students a set of math exercises to do, he walked out of the classroom: Tiffany’s protection was gone again.

Focused on writing her exercises, she never bothered to look up and see George aiming a triple-A battery with an elastic band at her face. He’d heard of Boyd’s glory with Alexa earlier that day, and had hoped to emulate it here; he got her in the shoulder.

“Oww!” Tiffany shouted.

“Shit,” George said. “I meant to get her in the face. Well, at least I hit her.”

She heard an explosion of laughter from all directions.

“I’ll get her,” Fay said from behind. She had her own elastic band, with a marble aimed at Tiffany. “Tiffany Ferry, which should be spelled F-A-I-R-Y, called me ‘Fay Elephant’ last week. She’s gonna get this upside the head.”

Having had enough, Tiffany looked back at Fay with a scowl. “You know,” she said, “I was wrong to have called you an elephant. You’re really a shithead.”

Fay scowled back and fired the marble, but Tiffany ducked out of the way.

“Oh, well,” Fay said, getting out of her seat. “I’ll just have to get you upside the head another way.”

Fay punched her hard in the shoulder several times, then gave her a punch in the back of the head, and then returned to her seat just in time before the teacher returned.

“Tiffany F-A-I-R-Y,” she said when she got to her seat, “if you squeal to the teacher, you’ll get it worse, I promise you.”

I can make it even worse for Fay and George, if you let me, that same voice whispered in Tiffany’s ear.

I’m going nuts, she thought. I’m hearing things.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book IV, Chapter Twelve

A month had gone by. That look of stupid contentment on Peter’s face was still in stark opposition to how he felt inside. Yet if he even thought in opposition to the new way–critical thoughts, rebellious thoughts, conspiratorial thoughts–he would feel a sharp migraine that seemed to split his head open. He didn’t understand how Price and Hammond were able to endure such a painful death for the sake of ‘liberty.’

To feel comfortable, he had to repress his honest feelings and go about with that mindless grin…not something he was wont to do. His only consolation was that he had Michelle at his side…in body, if not in spirit.

“Years back, I complained about viruses, vaccines, and mask mandates,” he said. “Those were days of carefree happiness compared to now. Unh!” His splitting headache came back.

“Be content,” she said. “We have our homes back, and we’re sharing the extra rooms with the poor, as we should be. The Bolshivarians’ work will be all finished any day now, and they will leave. Then we’ll have our heads back.”

“I’m not…holding my breath…for that. Oh!

“Let’s turn on the news,” she said, walking over to his TV. “Maybe George will have a new speech.”

“Oh, yes,” Peter said, rubbing his head. “Our beloved dictator. Oww!

She turned the channel to CNN. “If you’d just stop thinking ill of them, the pain would go away.”

“I can’t help it. It’s in my nature…to rebel. Oh!

“George asked no less than four times to step down as leader,” she said. “They won’t let him resign because they love him so much. He’s a great leader.”

“You believe that bullshit, eh? Ooh!

“Here we go. He’s about to give us a speech.”

“Friends, comrades,” George began. “The time has finally come. Our work has finished. Your Earth is healed, democratic systems of government have been established around the world, and the gulf between the rich and the poor is no more.”

“Wonderful,” she said with a wider than usual grin.

“Hooray,” Peter grunted. “I can feel the…democracy…swimming in my head. Unh!

“You are free!” George shouted to cheers from his listeners.

Free? Peter wondered, with another stinging pain in his head. Could there have been some justification in Price’s opposition to the Bolshivarians?

“The time has come for us Bolshivarianss to say goodbye to you Earthlings,” George went on. “So this is the end.”

They’re going to kill us, Peter thought, his head throbbing in pain. I knew it. They’ve fixed up the Earth. They don’t need us anymore. They’ll split us all up into pieces, scatter our body parts everywhere, and they’ll enjoy our Earth without the need of human flesh for clothing. We’re all dead.

“We Bolshivarians wish to apologize to all the better Earthlings for having occupied your bodies for so long,” George said. “We know many of you have been bitterly opposed to our use of mind control, but with all the deaths we Bolshivarians have suffered, we were given no choice. The saving of the Earth was growing far too urgent for us to allow a protracted struggle with the likes of President Price. A shortened, but aggravated, struggle was necessary. But now, we will release you. We will let you go.”

Good, Peter thought. Kill us all and get it over with.

Oddly, though he didn’t feel a headache after those thoughts.

He and Michelle saw the little dots of light emerging from their bodies. They floated out and hovered before astonished Peter and Michelle.

“I knew it,” she said with a tear rolling down her cheek. “The mind control would only be temporary.” A grin lit up her face that to Peter could only be described as genuine.

“I don’t believe it,” he said. “I’ve got my brains back.” Now he was grinning.

On the TV, they saw the lights come out of all the people listening to George, and out of his body, too. The lights all floated up to the sky as everyone looked up.

“I’m free,” George said. “I can resign my position. I no longer have the burdens of leadership.” He let out a loud, triumphant laugh.

Peter and Michelle felt a gentle ‘farewell’ energy emanating from the Bolshivarian lights as they floated towards the living room windows. They were about to pass through the glass like ghosts and fly outside before Michelle stepped forward.

“Wait!” she said. “What about my mom and dad? I don’t wanna lose them!”

You will never lose us, Siobhan said in her mind. We will always be with you.

As will we, Peter, the energy of Peter’s parents vibrated throughout his body.

“But isn’t your energy linked with the Bolshivarians?” Michelle asked. “If they leave Earth, won’t you go with them?”

No, sweetie, Siobhan’s soothing energy buzzed in Michelle’s brain and heart. The Bolshivarians shared their energy and our energy with yours. So we’ll always be together, even after they leave the Earth. There is a common oneness that transcends all space and time, so we’ll always be together, no matter how far away the Bolshivarians are, even to the other side of the universe.

“Wait a minute,” Peter said. “That could mean that the Bolshivarians are still, secretly, controlling us.”

“Oh, will you stop with your paranoia?” Michelle said. “You have your mind back, don’t you?”

“It seems that way,” he said.

“Any headaches?” she asked, sneering at him.

“No.” In fact, he’d never felt better.

“Then stop worrying about it.”

“But what if, in some subtle way, the Bolshivarians are still–“

“Oh, please, Peter!”

The little lights were all outside now.

She rushed to the front door and went outside. Peter followed her. All of his neighbours were out on their lawns, watching the Bolshivarians floating up into the night sky. Soon, it became impossible to distinguish their alien visitors from the stars.

The people of Earth felt one last message sent into their minds: Remember, if you humans return to doing harm to each other and your world, we Bolshivarians will be forced to return and save you from yourselves again. Remember the lengths to which we are willing to go to ensure that salvation, so be good to each other and to your planet.

“How could they tell us that if they’re really so far away from us?” Peter asked.

“Through their advanced technology, of course,” Michelle said.

How does it feel to have a healed world, Michelle? her mother asked her in her mind.

“Like paradise,” she said with teary eyes and a wide grin.

“Yeah,” Peter said with a grin of his own. “It’s great to be free. I guess it was all worth it in the end.”

All of his neighbours were thinking the same way.

Every single person was grinning.

THE END

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book IV, Chapter Eleven

Peter and Michelle, having heard the breaking of the glass on the front door to the restaurant, shuffled over to the back door leading out to an alley. They heard the shuffling of feet entering the restaurant; the footsteps grew louder as they, presumably carriers, were approaching the back.

“They’re gonna find us in here soon enough,” Peter whispered, then listened at the door. “I hear nothing out there. Let’s sneak out before they turn on the light in here.” They went out the door.

In the alley, they hid between stacks of crates and garbage bags to the right of that door. They heard it open, a pause, then closing the door.

“What do we do now?” Michelle asked.

“We don’t wanna go in the direction of that door,” he whispered in her ear. “Any of them could be out there waiting for us. We should go in the opposite direction.”

One of us should go first,” she whispered in his ear. “Then, if the coast is clear, we’ll go out together.”

“OK, I’ll go.”

“Stop being so gallant. I’m smaller than you, so I should go. I can hide more easily than you.”

“OK, but don’t take long. I don’t like you going out there alone.”

“I’ll be super-fast. Don’t worry.” She kissed him on the lips, then went.

Shaking with worry, he peeked past the crates and garbage bags to see what was out there, but it was mostly darkness.

Thirty seconds of agonizing waiting passed.

I thought you were going to be super-fast, Michelle, he thought.

Finally, she came back.

He got up from his crouching position to see her better. “So?” he whispered. “Can we go? Is it OK?”

“Yes, it’s OK,” she said with a wide grin on her face. “Everything is just fine.”

“C’mon, Michelle. Don’t joke around. We don’t have to–“

“Join us, Peter.” She was still grinning. “It’s for the best.”

“Oh, no!” His heart sank with his lower jaw. “Please, God, no! Not you, too, Michelle.” He was choking up.

“Peter, just accept the new way. The Bolshivarians’ work is almost done. Just a few more months, and all the vestiges of our old, sick world will be annihilated.”

“With our souls,” He began weeping.

“No, Peter! As soon as the Bolshivarians are finished, they’ll free us and leave the Earth. I promise you.”

He just kept crying. “I love you.” He held the can of bug spray in his hands, but couldn’t bear to use it on her, for fear of even hurting her with it.

“I love you, too. And everything will be OK. Trust us. The souls of our parents are telling me, right now in my head, that all will be well.”

He looked at her and frowned. “Didn’t you tell me during our meal in there, that when I sprayed the lights coming from Sid’s hands, that our parents’ souls were destroyed, never to come back?”

“That was a white lie they told me, I must confess.”

“You Bolshivarians are all liars, like the ruling class here on Earth. You’re no better than they are.”

“The ruling class here is almost all obliterated. We had to lie about your parents. It was a desperate attempt to stop you from killing more Bolshivarians.” The lights were coming out of her fingers and were hovering before him.

“I remember when we lost our fear of these things.”

“I don’t fear them now, Peter.”

“They’ve taken your will, Michelle; but I know, deep down, you’re still in there, and I don’t wanna lose you.”

“You won’t lose me, Peter. They’ve reaffirmed my faith in them. Don’t be afraid.”

Peter, let them in, the voice of his father said in his head.

We’ll all be together again, his mother’s voice said.

As Don and I are with Michelle, Siobhan’s voice said.

“I can’t bear to lose you,” Peter said in sobs.

“You haven’t, and you won’t,” Michelle said, still with that grin that told him those words weren’t her own.

“Well, being a Bolshivarian slave with you is better than not having you at all.” He stretched out his arms to receive the lights in his body. “I guess this is my suicide.”

“Oh, nonsense,” she said with a laugh as the lights went inside him.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book IV, Chapter Nine

A week later, Peter and Michelle made arrangements to meet with Sid, this time in her house.

“He’s on his way, right from his home in Brantford,” she said. “So, we’re gonna go through with this farce again?”

“Yes, crazy as it sounds,” he said.

“Crazy as it is,” she said. “At the worst, he’ll be a carrier who we’re risking turning us into one of them, or one of us will kill him and we’ll risk–this time, my neighbours finding out, since we’re meeting him here this time. At best, Sid will be the way Wendy was acting: he’ll be one of us, but too scared to show his real self.”

“Or he will let his real self show. As tense as this is going to be, we have to try. I’ll go crazy if I have to live knowing only you and I are normal.”

“And what if he’s one of them, and he makes one of us into a carrier? What if I lose you, Peter?”

“I could lose you to them, too, Michelle. And that terrifies me. But that’s why we’ve gotta try to find allies. What’s going on around the world is like the zombie apocalypse, only it’s the Bolshivarian apocalypse. The more of them there are out there, the more desperate we’ll be to find any of us, ’cause we can’t do this alone.”

She let out a big sigh. “OK, let’s do this.”

They kissed.

**************

Five hours later, the doorbell rang.

They took a deep breath, clutched the bug spray hidden in their jacket pockets, and went to the door.

They opened it to see, predictably, a grinning Sid.

“Hi,” he said. “Long time, no see.”

“Yeah,” they grinned back, much better practiced now.

“Come on in,” Peter said.

They went into the living room and sat down.

“So, Sid,” Peter said through his bared teeth, “how are you coping with all of the changes going on?”

“Coping?” Sid said with a tinge of disbelief in his eyes. “What’s there to cope with? The improvements being made around the world are nothing short of miraculous. Schools and hospitals are being built all over Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Decent-quality housing is replacing all the slums, including those in Regent Park, as you both must know. The unemployed are being given work. The climate crisis is practically over. What’s there to complain about?”

“Oh, of course we know about all the improvements being made around the world,” Michelle said. “We’re more than happy about all that. It’s just…well…”

“Well, what?” Sid asked, his smile beginning to fade.

“We don’t…feel as free…as we used to,” Peter said.

“Don’t feel free?” Sid said. “What could be more liberating than the changes we’ve recently seen? No more war. No more poverty. No more wildfires, flooding, or pollution. The people want these changes. Don’t you?”

“Of course we do,” Michelle said.

“But at what cost?” Peter asked.

What cost?” Sid asked. There was an uneasy pause. “Has your loyalty shifted?”

Peter and Michelle couldn’t answer.

“You in your nice palace of a home?” Sid added.

There was another uncomfortable pause.

Then the dots of light flew out of Sid’s fingers.

Peter and Michelle pulled out their bug spray, but they then heard some familiar voices in their minds.

Michelle? Siobhan’s voice called to her.

“Mom?” she said.

Peter, what are you doing? his mother’s voice said.

What George is doing is for the best, Peter could hear his father saying in his thoughts.

“You’re not real,” Peter said, aiming his little spray can right at the dots of light. “You’re a Bolshivarian hallucination.”

Sweetie, you don’t wanna spray me, do you? Siobhan’s voice almost sobbed in Michelle’s mind’s ear. If you do, I’ll die a second time, and I’ll never come back.

“Mama,” Michelle answered in a sobbing voice.

“The voices aren’t real, Michelle,” Peter said.

“Oh, yes they are,” Sid said.

“Mom?” she wept.

“Don’t listen, Michelle,” Peter said. “It’s a trick.”

“If you spray them, you’ll regret it, Peter,” Sid said.

We don’t want to take you by force, Don’s voice said to Michelle, but we will if we have to, honey.

“Daddy, you won’t hurt us, will you?” she sobbed.

“Of course they will,” Peter said. “They’re not our parents.”

“Shut up, Peter!” she bawled.

“Fine,” he said. “Speak, can, for me!” He sprayed at the lights.

Michelle! the voices of Siobhan and Don said, fading out into oblivion as the little dots lost their light and dropped on the carpet.

“Nooooooo!” Michelle screamed.

Peter grabbed her by the hand, sprayed Sid in the eyes, getting a grunt from him, and the two ran out of the house.

Peter and Michelle ran down the sidewalk, almost reaching a corner when he saw a few people farther off, with their backs to them. He stopped running and tried to calm down.

“Bastard!” she hissed, hitting him on the shoulder.

“Stop!” he whispered. “They’ll see us fighting.”

She wiped the tears off her cheeks, gave him a brief scowl, then calmed down and imitated his grin.

As they continued slowly walking down the street, she whispered, “The carriers are all around your home, Sid is controlling my home. We’re homeless now, you know.”

“Don’t remind me,” he said through his grin.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book IV, Chapter Eight

“This is getting to be too much!” Peter said to Michelle the following day as both of them flipped through the channels on the TV in her living room. “Every politician and public figure we see on the news making statements on current affairs has that ‘pod people’ Bolshivarian face.”

“They really have taken over, globally,” Michelle said. “The heads of every city-state we’ve seen–London, Paris, Berlin, Shanghai, Tokyo, Riyadh, Ottawa, San Francisco,…”

“You name the city-state, the politicians and CEOs representing them all have that mindless grin, that far-away look in their eyes,” he said. “This is really getting scary!”

“I’m amazed we were able to pacify that neighbour of yours yesterday,” she said. “We barely escaped Toronto without being spotted as non-carriers. And there’s no way we’re risking going back. And again, I have to ask: why’d you have to kill Valerie? We could have run outside without you using your switchblade on her. I’m also amazed they don’t have Bolshivarian cops tracking us. I guess they’re more interested in turning us into carriers than arresting us for murder, they’re more upset about the loss of their own than of human life, and they know we’ll spray them if they try to apprehend us. Instead, they’ll be more cunning about catching us.”

“Again, I’m sorry about stabbing her. I acted rashly. We’re all going a little crazy here. But as you said, at least we got out of there without being chased. I guess our acting skills have improved. But we can’t stay holed up in your house forever. Is anybody out there still normal?”

“I got that message from Wendy Callaghan, which was just like Valerie’s. She claims she isn’t a carrier, and that she’s all tense and afraid of being absorbed by the Bolshivarians. She said she’d like to come here, all the way from Los Angeles, because life there is so hopelessly taken over, she wants to get as far away from the Bolshivarian carriers there as she can. Do you think we should meet her, or will it be too risky?”

“Everything we do every day is a risk now,” he said. “But I’m desperate for us to find someone else who’s normal. If she is, it will be well worth the risk. The more normal people we can find, the happier I’ll be. I’m going crazy.”

“Same here.”

***************

Three days later, Peter and Michelle were in the hallway of a hotel in Toronto, approaching the room Wendy was staying in. They were wearing baseball caps and sunglasses.

“She must be even more paranoid than we are to prefer a small hotel room to accommodations in your house,” Peter said.

“Yeah,” Michelle said. “For all she knows, we could be carriers, and she’ll have her can of bug spray ready for us.”

“As we have ready for her, in case she’s been made a carrier since our last communication with her. So we’ll have to guard our feelings and only let our real selves out bit by bit.”

“She’ll probably be doing the same thing.” Michelle rang the doorbell to Wendy’s room. “Have your dumb smile ready.” They took off their hats and sunglasses.

Wendy opened the door.

She was grinning from ear to ear.

Peter and Michelle mirrored her grin back, hoping she was putting on as much of an act as they were.

“Come on in,” she said, stepping aside for them. “It’s good to see you both again.”

Peter and Michelle entered.

“What a small room,” she said as she and Peter approached Wendy’s bed. “In my home, I could have offered you a much bigger one, and for free.” She and Peter sat on the bed.

“Oh, that’s OK,” Wendy said, sitting on a chair across from the bed. “I don’t want to impose on you.”

“Oh, it’s no imposition at all,” Michelle said.

“Really, I’m fine here,” Wendy said.

“Well, as you wish,” Michelle said.

There followed a few seconds of uncomfortable silence.

“So,” Peter said, allowing his grin to relax a little. “You said in your message, Wendy, that you were really scared of…all the changes going on around us.”

“Yes,” she said, still fully grinning. “But everything’s OK now.”

“So…we can all relax, then?” Michelle asked, also letting go of her grin ever so slightly.

“Of course,” she said, all of her teeth still showing. “I’m relaxed now.”

“Good,” Peter said slowly, relaxing his grin some more.

There were a few more uncomfortable seconds of silence.

Has she been assimilated, Peter and Michelle wondered, or is she just so paranoid that she can’t let go of the act?

“So, what are your plans?” Michelle asked.

“Oh, I’m just doing what I can to help us all heal the Earth,” she said with that ever-present grin.

“Yes, it’s wonderful, all the progress that has been made,” Michelle said, her cheeks getting sore from all that grinning.

“Yes,” Wendy nodded in agreement. “Bolshivarian influence has stopped the wars, cleaned the pollution away, housed and fed the poor. It’s terrific.”

Peter ventured to lessen his grin a little more. “Is there anything you wish could be done…a little differently?”

“Oh, only that it could all be finished quicker,” Wendy said. “But things are being done fast enough, I guess.”

“And then the Bolshivarians can leave, and we can enjoy our new, healed Earth, right?” Peter asked.

“I suppose,” ever-grinning Wendy said. “Or they can stay with us, if they wish.”

“W-why would they need to stay, if all their work here is done?” he asked.

“Oh, if humans are let go, they might return to their destructive ways,” teeth-baring Wendy said. “And then our efforts will have been all for nothing.”

To Peter and Michelle, her choice of words (“humans,” “they,” “our” referring to the Bolshivarians) seemed to indicate she wasn’t acting.

Still, they didn’t dare take out their bug spray cans unless they saw the dots of light come out from her.

Hence, another moment of uncomfortable silence.

“Oh, Peter, I just remembered,” Michelle said. “There’s something I have to do at the Mississauga Exposé. Damn, I forgot all about it, and it has to be done today. Sorry, Wendy, we have to go now. This is so abrupt.”

“Oh, that’s OK,” she said, always grinning. She got up.

Do I detect a tinge of relief in her eyes? Michelle wondered. Or is that wishful thinking on my part, that she isn’t a carrier, and is acting, as we are?

“Yeah, we’d better go,” Peter said, getting up with Michelle. “Sorry to cut this off so quickly.”

“It was good seeing you again, Wendy,” Michelle said, hugging her and regretting the hug as soon as they touched. She felt Wendy’s heart beating as fast as her own. Wendy was also trembling as much as she was.

No lights came out, though, to their relief.

The women let go, and Peter and Michelle went back to the door. “Bye,” they said to Wendy as they went out into the hall.

“Bye,” Wendy said, keeping her grin on her face until the door closed.

‘The Splitting,’ a Sci-Fi Horror Novel, Book IV, Chapter Seven

The next day, Michelle contacted Valerie on Facebook, asking about what had happened to her since Pat’s assassination of Karol Sargent. This was Valerie’s reply in a personal message:

Don’t worry, I’m OK. I managed to get out of China immediately after the killings. I got back home by burying my feelings and pretending to be one of those automatons. It was really hard to hide my grief over the Bolshivarians’ murder of my husband, but once I got back to the privacy of my Milwaukee home, I lay on my bed cried for what seemed hours.
We should meet. I can fly over to Toronto or Mississauga. I hate having to pretend to be one of those soulless carriers all the time. If I’m with you, I can relax, be myself, and cry on your shoulders over what happened in China.

Michelle let Peter read Valerie’s message.

“Well, what do you think?” she asked him. “Judging by what she said, does she seem to be still all human? She doesn’t seem compromised to me. Do you think this message could be pretence?”

“Well, I guess she’s being sincere,” he said. “I certainly want to believe she’s sincere. We need some real human company around here, and the only way we can get it is by taking a risk or two. We can have some cans of bug spray handy, just in case.”

“OK, I’ll tell her we can meet, say, in your home,” she said. “As soon as she’s in Toronto District, we’ll have a driver at the airport take her home.”

“The driver could be a carrier. He could turn her into one of them.”

Anyone out there during her trip could be a carrier, turning her into one of them. She could be a carrier right now, for all we know. If we really want to meet with her, it’s the chance we’ll have to take.”

“Yeah, OK,” he said. “Let’s hope for the best. Let’s hope that if she isn’t a carrier, that she can fake being one all the way here, and not get changed.”

Michelle replied to Valerie’s message with the plan, to which she agreed.

***********

Three days later, in the afternoon, Peter and Michelle heard his front doorbell ring.

“That must be her,” Michelle said.

They both rushed to get the door.

Valerie stood there with that eerie, soulless grin.

Peter and Michelle grinned back uneasily.

They all stood there stupidly for several seconds.

“May I come in?” Valerie asked, her grin unchanged, with no awkwardness in her expression at her hosts’ odd hesitating.

“Oh, yeah…uh, of course,” Peter said as he and Michelle stepped aside to let Valerie in. “Sorry.”

“What a nice place you have,” Valerie said as she went in and looked around. “So, this is how the rich live.”

Concealing his annoyance at her remark, he said, “I may be bourgeois by birth, Valerie, as is Michelle, but I assure you, that’s not where our sympathies lie. My mom and dad used to call me the Friedrich Engels of our family.” He closed the front door.

“I’m sure they did,” Valerie said with that same grin as she approached a chair to sit on in the living room. “I’ve just never seen such a posh place before.” She sat down. “My home with Pat in Milwaukee is nice, but not this nice.”

“Thanks,” Peter said as he and Michelle returned to the living room and sat on the sofa. “After seeing what life is like for so many in Venezuela, Angola, and here, too, in Regent Park, I feel guilty about having this ‘nice’ home.”

“I feel the same way about mine in Mississauga,” Michelle said. “With all the changes the Bolshivarians are making, especially now with President Price and Secretary of State Hammond gone, and with the Washington District government under Bolshivarian control, we can more quickly provide for all the poor of the world.”

“Yes, those changes will be coming fast now,” Valerie said, still grinning without a trace of personality.

Peter remembered the switchblade he had in one of his jeans’ back pockets, and the small can of bug spray in the other.

“Valerie,” Michelle said. “Would you like to relax? I mean…we can get you something to drink if you like. Some tea?”

“No, thanks. I’m fine,” grinning Valerie said.

“You said in your message that you want to relax and be yourself,” Peter said. “Feel free to do so here.”

“I am,” grinning Valerie said.

“You–you’re with friends,” Michelle said. “N-no need to pretend. Let yourself go.”

“Pretend?” Valerie asked, all those teeth still showing.

Desperate to end the tension, and gripping those weapons in his back pockets, Peter stood up and said, “You don’t need to pretend to be one of those Bolshivarian automatons!”

“Peter, easy,” Michelle said with a frown.

“I’m not pretending,” Valerie said as she rose from her chair. “But you have been, haven’t you?” Out of her fingers flew a swarm of those little dots of light.

Peter was quick on the draw with his can of bug spray. It hit the first six or seven of those tiny balls of light, making all of them drop on the carpet. Since Valerie hadn’t been a carrier for long, the lights hadn’t yet integrated with her body, so the bug spray wouldn’t kill her. Peter ran at her with the switchblade ready to stab. Valerie screamed.

Michelle looked away and covered her eyes. She didn’t want to see her boyfriend shed blood a second time.

A few seconds after Valerie’s body hit the floor, her blood staining the carpet, Peter and Michelle heard the doorbell ring again. Michelle ran over to answer the door.

“Yes?” she said to a male neighbour after opening the door.

He, too, had that all-too-familiar grin.

“I heard a scream,” he said, looking into the living room, though Michelle’s left shoulder was hiding Valerie’s body and blood from his sight. “Is everything OK?”

“Oh, yeah,” she said, trying her best to imitate that stupid-looking grin without showing any nervousness.

“We’re watching a horror movie on TV,” Peter said as he approached the door, hoping his body would help obscure not only the bloody body, but also the living room TV that hadn’t been turned on all that day.