“Oh, God. Please don’t tell me something that’s gonna make me hate you,” I whispered.
I stared blankly at the two badly, brutalized dog tags and my dad’s wedding band as Alex continued through what seemed to be a list of gibberish.
“Celts call me Dullahan. In Hindu I am Yamaraj. To the Greek, Thantos…” I know that one from somewhere, I thought. “Mexico, Muerte.” I could feel my pulse thump fiercely behind my ears. I knew that one for sure. Alex paused, watching me closely, as though patiently waiting for me to catch on. “The pale rider, the fourth horseman.”
The room filled with an arctic edge and I for a second my mind went completely numb. When his meaning finally took hold, a new sensation took over. Anger, then disgust.  I felt the blood seep from my face.  My memory violently thrusting me back to the blonde-haired girl in the music box shop, and the unbelievable thing that she claimed I had escaped.

Full blown nausea struck out at me as the words clumsily spilled past my lips. I noticed they had a bitter taste to them.
“Grim. Death.” I said, meaning for them to come out as grim reaper and then death. In my own defense, I was a little frazzled.
“That is precisely the translation.”
Puppeteer, just like the website said.  I shook the thought away.

“No.” I ran my fingers through my hair in disbelief and sputtered, “It’s not possible. You don’t look anything like…You’re not…” I couldn’t finish. But Alex called himself the thing I could not.
“Death?” he said. “I am exactly that.” He said it so calmly, so coolly, still eyeing me like he was anticipating a particular response. Perhaps, like me, he was waiting for me to go into shock, but I couldn’t quite conjure the panic that I knew was worthy of this situation. All I wanted to know at that very minute was if Alex was responsible for what happened to my dad, and what I would do next if his answer was yes.

He must have seen the fear because he didn’t move any closer, and the harsh features that shadowed his face had softened. “You do care. Good. For a second there I thought you had no life-preserving instincts to speak of.”
“You want me to be scared of you?”
“If you truly know what I am, you are.”
By telling him that I didn’t care what he was, I hoped he would elaborate, but my plan wasn’t panning out.
Alex took a seat at the edge of my bed. “I never did tell you how sorry I am about your dad. He was your world, I know.”
My stomach sank at the mention of him.
“Thanks.” I muttered.
“I know Camden isn’t where you want to be, and I’m sorry about that too.” His smile was remorseful. “This must be like a nightmare for you.”
It was a relief to know that he was at least trying to understand how I felt, but hoped he didn’t take it personally. I scooted to the side of the bed he was on to see his face better. Held in his hands was that same black silk pouch that he had when he came over a week ago.
“What’s in the bag?” I asked.
“There’s much I need to tell you. So much you deserve to know…” His voice trailed off as he lowered his head. I remained quiet, waiting for him to continue.
Alex turned his body so that we were sitting face to face.
“Atra Mors,” he said.
Whatever it was he said, it wasn’t in English, but it sounded sexy as hell.
Metal clinked as he handed me the silk pouch. I looked questioningly into his bright green eyes, loosened the strings and turned the bag upside down to empty its contents onto the bed.

A tear instantly betrayed me at the sight. My hand clasped my mouth, fingers trembled uncontrollably. I held my stomach as it wrenched and threatened to buckle me over as I sat staring at two fire-singed, beaten pieces of metal and one unpolished, platinum band.


After several seconds in silence.
“He’s asleep, you don’t have to whisper,” Alex’s smooth-as-honey voice said from behind me.
I smiled. A rush of heat washed over me with his confirmation. I didn’t turn to face him, quietly rejoicing in my tiny victory. My heart and breath came more quickly though, which he probably heard.
“You’re not angry that I’m here?” he asked.
“Should I be?”
“Last time I was here I was…very forward. I do hope you’ll pardon me.”
I rolled over to turn on the bedside lamp. He stood at the furthest edge of the room, his back pressed against the wall. Seeing him dressed to runway-model perfection in blue jeans and a black button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up sent my self-consciousness into overdrive. I was sure my hair was a rat’s nest and hoped at least that the minty-freshness of my mouthwash held up the way the commercial claimed it would.
Alex was twisting a piece of red rope around his index fingers. His brows were pulled together and his eyes saddened. Maybe anxious was a better word. He seemed to fidget a lot when he’s anxious.
“You’re pardoned.” I assured. “But I highly doubt you’re here because you needed that from me. What’s really going on?” I asked, my tired voice raspy like a smoker.
The corner of his mouth lifted in to a half-smile.
“You’re perceptive. That’s one of the things I’ve always…appreciated about you.” Appreciated felt like it was meant to be something else. Something more. “Do you have me all figured out yet?” he asked. I assumed that he was referring to the internet research I attempted to do, but hoped that he didn’t know it ended as an epic fail.
“Maybe,” I said flatly.
His eyes searched mine as though he were trying to decide how much I knew.
He took a few steps toward the bed, to which I replied by pulling myself up into a seated position.
“And what do you think now?” he asked.
“Maybe I don’t care.”
He breathed a laugh. “Don’t care?” The threat in his gaze and tone could cut through steal, and was absolutely diabolical. I swallowed hard and pulled the covers in closer. It was the first time since we met that he truly frightened me.

I slipped into one of my dad’s white dress shirts and crawled into his bed. I never remembered falling asleep.
I woke in the morning to a high-pitched sound that I imagined a dying cat might make. It was the doorbell. That, like many other things, was somewhere on my dad’s ever growing, ‘we’ll get to it one of these days,’ list of to do’s.
I stood in the doorway watching three burly men pack a teenage girls room. I watched not because I didn’t trust them. I watched because for the last eight years this house had been my dad’s and David’s and mine. All of our memories and dreams had become as essential to this structure as the framework and foundation. I sadly imagined our little stucco house in the desert crumbling away, a little more each time a picture frame or book or hanging paper lantern was wrapped and meticulously packed in cardboard boxes.
It was nearly a week after my personal belongings hit the road to Camden that Alex came to me again. I was curled up around a pillow in my dad’s bed slipping in and out of various stages of consciousness when I felt him. It’s the subtle shift in energy, the hum in my blood that gives him away. I can’t see you, I thought to myself before finishing aloud.
“I know you’re there.”
I whispered in case David was still awake, suspecting that Alex would be able to hear me no matter how quietly I spoke the words. I stared into the darkness, not moving from the position on my side where I laid.
Alex had never answered me before, and I didn’t expect him to this time either. Perhaps for him it was a game, or maybe he was too afraid of my reaction.

Just as I was losing steam and about to close the page, a painting of a woman alone on a dimly lit, fog cloaked road seized my attention. The brick road was glossed over in places, from what I assumed had been a recent rain. Elusive strands of the woman’s loosely pinned hair streaked like ribbon across her face in the evening storm. She had one arm wrapped securely around her waist while the delicately gloved fingers of her other hand met her lips. Under the soft halo of a near-by lamp-post, a hazy cloud swirled to reveal a masculine silhouette. But it was woman’s expression that drew me closer. She looked how I felt the first time it dawned on me that Alex was more than human. Unequivocally more.
While the woman appeared staggered by the phantom’s emergence, it was evident that she recognized him. She gazed at him with relief and longing, like a mate setting eyes on her beloved for the first time after a prolonged absence. My pulse quickened as I took in the beautiful realism of the painting. I could faintly smell the misty breeze as if I were there with them now. I wanted to reach out to the vaporous figure under the light and help the woman reclaim him. My heart lurched and ached as if it was trying to recall a connection it had to the couple, and I was saddened by the obvious truth that there was none.
Here it was 4 A.M. and I was entertaining the feasibility of ghosts, reincarnation, immortality. I declared that I had officially been awake long enough to exhaust myself stupid and it was now time to go to bed. Frustrated by my insufficient findings, I jabbed my finger in to the power button, not waiting to properly shut anything down and then stormed out of the room, angry with myself for investing any amount of time on such ridiculous notions.

I read Dr. Carver’s brief biography. In late 1800 London, he began his career in the newly emerging field of psychology. After his wife, Claire died, he fell off the radar for a time, eventually resurfacing in Southern Spain after completing research in the Congo. Jonas had been highly respected in the field of psychology and was urged to speak at a conference to reveal his research findings. Jonas reported to his colleagues that many of the cultures he came across held strong beliefs that the human soul continues on after death. Jonas claimed to have evidence to prove it. He spoke about his meeting with death, the reality of reincarnation and even made a bold claim that his dead wife was not only alive, but would live forever. His findings were deemed too far fetched for the scientifically driven mind and thus concluded to be the ramblings of a bereft mad man. Jonas colleagues abandoned him, afraid that he would single-handedly discredit the entire field of psychology after so much effort was expended to achieve a status as its own science. Quickly, his peers banished him from the psychology community all together; his works and journal articles destroyed, he was never to be mentioned within the science world again, and soon Jonas was forgotten
I moved on to the site’s art gallery, glancing absentmindedly through the pictures. I was disappointed in the lack of fruitful revelation my search had produced, and was no more certain of what Alex was then when I started.
Several photos showed lingering shadows with no body to claim them; gauzy looking figures ascending staircases; and glowing orbs that zipped around cemeteries or through open windows, some exploding into bursts of light. Most were a curiosity at best, but none were especially convincing or even exceptional displays of art. Except one.

Several people posted their paranormal encounters in the site’s comment section. They wrote accounts of reoccurring phenomena just prior to each sighting. One woman stated that just before a ghost would appear, her electronic devices would suddenly malfunction all at once. She wrote, “My phone would turn itself off and on repeatedly, and there would be no signal again until the ghost left.”
In another article, a man said that when his air conditioner went out one summer, he woke in the middle of the night with the strange feeling that he wasn’t alone. The man claimed that the room abruptly became so cold that he could see his own breath. “The next thing I know, there’s this seriously hot chick standing in my room. I thought it was a dream at first, but she came several nights in a row, just days before my heart attack. It must have been a warning.”
And yet another witness attested that a strange, glowing ball materialized through her brick office-building wall and then disappeared. “Suddenly, books were flying off the shelves and my desk slid across the room into the adjacent wall.” The next thing the woman remembered was waking in the hospital. A co-worker heard the commotion, and when she opened the office door, she found the woman on the floor with a power cord in her hand. The doctor told her that she had been electrocuted and was lucky to be alive. Those all seemed like wild claims and was nothing I could relate to. I hadn’t noticed any peculiar electronic anomalies. I was feeling more and more confident in my conclusion that Alex was not a ghost.
I scrolled to the bottom of the page where in bold font a quote read, “A ghost is but a marionette, a simple distraction for the eye, while Death, his puppeteer, delights in his prey.” ~Dr. Jonas Carver

Prey? That’s creepy, I thought. What was that supposed to mean? The good Dr. Jonas made it sound like ghosts were bait in some kind of hunting expedition. I sighed exasperated. “Stupid,” I said to myself.

It seemed that when-ever I sought to answer one question, several more cropped up immediately behind it. The predominant question that loomed, I tried but failed to shove into the shadows of my consciousness. Good or bad, what ever I discovered about Alex, would that categorization also apply to the rest of the Hamlin’s?
A couple of months ago, I promised Alex that I would never disclose his secret to anyone, but I knew I would eventually be leaving, so at the time keeping that promise wasn’t such a challenge. I never dreamed I would be returning to Camden, much less become a pity adoption and a permanent resident. Exposing the Hamlin’s would most definitely reverse my pending living arrangements.
Over the past several weeks, I wondered if my dad knew all along that Alex was different. And if he did know, did he also know exactly what he was? The things he could do? If he was as dangerous as this website cautioned?
One more time, I pulled out and read the letter my dad wrote me. “…trust that I have seen what others can not…In time, a story will unfold.” I was fairly certain that I had my answers to those questions.
My dad kept Alex’s secret, and I never knew him to do anything without a good reason. So I could only imagine that he had good reasons for keeping it from me and David as well.
It was decided then, I thought. I would say nothing. I wouldn’t burden David with that knowledge. I would hold on to Alex’s secret because my dad would have wanted me to, and I would go to the Hamlin’s because I was sure there had to be a reason for that too.
I read more.

On the following page, ghost was defined. The soul’s physical state of being. The site’s author warned that ghosts deceive their victims with the ability to present themselves in a variety of forms, and in most cases are less benign than many believe.

“It is wise to never gain the attention of a ghost, unless you are prepared to summon unrelenting terror and open the gates to your personal perdition.” ~ Unknown

“Those gates have been open for a while now,” I muttered back at the screen.
I have never believed in such things as ghosts, and felt stupid for allowing myself to put weight in anything I saw in these websites. But I figured I had nothing to lose, and no other viable explanations were being offered. I reluctantly continued to the next page, trying to keep an open mind.
Blood red tabs stretched across the top of the page, indicating in alphabetical order the most commonly noted types of ghosts–apparition, ghoul, manifestation, phantom, poltergeist, shade, specter, and wraith. They were just a few.
Carefully, I read through the pages, making mental notes and comparing the descriptions and characteristics to what I had observed in Alex. From page to page, a few snippets would repeatedly surface, catching and focusing my attention. “…Evanescing figures…mysterious emergence or disappearance…animated and deceivingly life-like…” I sat up a little taller, momentarily excited that I might have actually been on the right path. The excitement didn’t last long.
There were a few brief biblical references and historical hauntings, but nothing that tendered any tangible evidence. Most stories that accompanied the descriptions were terrifying accounts of ghosts that psychologically, and at times physically tormented people to the brink of insanity, or in worst case scenarios, suicide and murder.
Those were the things I prayed made my ghost theory impossible. Alex was a lot of things–mysterious, stubborn, moody, and at times, stalker-esque… I continued through my list, my mind involuntarily drifting to the day he saved me from drowning. …can vanish into thin air, breathe under water, spontaneous healing… That list was not helping his case, so I cut my inner monologue short. I couldn’t force myself to think of Alex as dark or vile, but if there was even the slightest splinter of truth to any of these claims, was that knowledge something I was prepared to live with?

all i ve ever needed – paul mcdonald and nikki reed

I thought, like a puzzle, I would find a few clues and the pieces would begin to fall into place. But the more I read, the more complex the answer became, and the taller the hair on my arms stood.
Once the search engine displayed the results, it took me a few minutes to scroll through all of the irrelevancies like movies, Halloween stores, and craft tutorials before I found anything useful. The answers I sought were well beyond the realm of children’s party favors and haunted house props.
I wasn’t sure exactly what I was looking for, so I opened the first encouraging page I came across. A solid black background with a painting from a scene in Hamlet appeared, and underneath, white font filled the remaining space. It looked credible enough, so I read the first words elegantly scripted across the home page.

Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. ~ Shakespeare’s Hamlet

I recalled that particular quote from when my class studied the play in English last year. That single quote represented the tragedies entire theme; retribution. I read on, rubbing my crinkled forehead apprehensively, hoping to find something a little less ominous.