He walked.

The road was long and winding and shrouded in darkness. He could not remember how he had come to be in this place, or where he had been before, or where he was going – but he knew he did not belong here. That sense of unbelonging, of alienness, pressed against his skin like the gray mist that lay over the world...or like a voice, whispering to him just on the cusp of hearing.

He did not belong here. And so he walked, looking for the way home.



"Here we are, then." Alva stepped out of his car and looked around at the surroundings. The house seemed perfectly ordinary -- prosaic, even. It wasn't a decaying mansion or spookily atmospheric in the way that the average person would expect a haunted house to be. It was a one-level ranch house with an attached garage, built in the 70s, and in adequate repair.

The garden gnome was a bit tacky, maybe, but otherwise, the house was completely normal at first glance.

Alva couldn't wait to get inside.

"This is it?" Paul asked, sounding dubious. He opened the trunk of the car and pulled out their suitcases, throwing the strap of his duffel bag over his shoulder. "It looks...exciting." Or not, said the tone of his voice.

Evie exited the car and arched her back like a cat, stretching out the kinks of a long drive. "Welcome to suburbia, a hotbed of all kinds of paranormal shenanigans."

"Yes, indeed," said Alva. They all started towards the door of the house. "You know the saying, still waters run deep? Well, according to our contact at the rental agency, this pond is practically bottomless. Strange sounds, floating lights, mysterious voices, figures appearing and disappearing..."

"Sounds terrifying," Paul murmured. "And all easily explained by perfectly natural phenomenon. Kids playing tricks, for instance."

"...and seven of the last ten residents became mysteriously -- and, eventually, fatally -- ill. The doctors could find no cause for the sickness, could diagnose no disease. According to all the tests medical science could devise, they should have been perfectly healthy. Instead, they grew weak, pale, thin. They became confused and suffered periods of unconsciousness before slipping into a coma and dying. Still sound like nothing to you?"

They stood on the front porch, facing each other. "Maybe it's something environmental, like power lines or a contaminated water supply." "Or a vengeful spirit."

Evie stepped between the two men and took the keys from Alva's hand. "Only one way to find out," she said, and opened the door.


The grass beside the path was dying. There was a single, lone tree on the horizon; he could barely see it through the darkness. Its branches were bare of leaves and drooped listlessly towards the ground. It was dying too. This was not a place for the living.



Evelyn logged out of her email account and pushed her chair back from the computer. As much as she loved her job, she hated the travel it involved – specifically, the long periods of time away from her family. She missed Mattie.

She looked up when she heard someone enter the room. "News from home?" Paul inquired.

She nodded. "Mattie sent me an email from my mother's. It sounds like he's having fun visiting Grandma, but..."

"You miss him."

She nodded. He touched her shoulder in a silent gesture of comfort, a solid, reassuring presence behind her. She smiled, touched. "Thanks, Paul," she said, and kissed his cheek.

He drew back slightly in surprise, blushing a little. "For what?"

"Nothing. For being you." He blinked in confusion, and she shook her head, smiling. "Never mind. So did come looking for me for a reason, or did you just want some company?"

"We've been here five days already and so far nothing's happened." She nodded in agreement. "Alva has an idea to get things started."

"Oh, my," Evie murmured. "That's a little bit terrifying." Paul grinned at her, and she found herself grinning back. "I guess anything's worth a try. Let's go."


Nobody was on the road with him. He travelled alone. Had he always been alone? He couldn't remember.

Maybe he was the only person left alive in the world.


"My initial hypothesis," Alva said, leaning forward over the kitchen table, "was that this house was being haunted by some kind of vengeful spirit -- not a poltergeist, the manifestations were all wrong for that, but an apparition or perhaps an unquiet spirit. Ghosts of that sort are attached to a place and become very protective of it, doing everything in their power to drive off any perceived interlopers -- for example, any humans who happen to live there."

"So naturally you thought it would be a good idea for us to rent the house and move in," Paul said.

"Naturally. We needed to attract the spirit's attention to learn about it and that seemed the easiest way. However, that hypothesis seems to be incorrect."

Evie nodded. "The research we've been doing at the local library and county records office hasn't turned up anything -- no violent deaths, no traumatic events, nothing out of the ordinary at all except the illnesses that brought us here in the first place. Nothing that would explain what been happening here."

"If anything is happening," Paul said, playing devil's advocate as usual. "My theory of an unknown environmental factor seems more plausible by the minute."

Alva gave him a mild look. "Except you've been searching for possible environmental causes and so far haven't found any, have you."

"No, I haven't. So far, this house seems perfectly safe."

"So where does that leave us?" Evie asked. "Any new theories?"

Alva sat back in his chair. "I think," he said, "that this has all the hallmarks of a haunting by a succubus."

"A succubus!"

"Hold on a minute," Paul said. "I thought the succubus myth was a way for monks and other repressed individuals from the Middle Ages to explain away sexual dreams and fantasies. They weren't actually being seduced by demons."

"That's one theory," Alva said. "And it actually fits the pattern we have here. The one thing all the victims have in common besides being male is that they all lived somewhat monastic lives. They weren't married, had no families, no close friends -- they kept to themselves and seemed content to live alone."

"That seems -- odd."

Evie nodded. "If they lived alone, why did they need a house in a neighborhood like this? This is a place to raise a family."

"The rent was fairly cheap," Paul said, frowning in concentration.

"But only after the first several incidents." Alva tapped his finger against the tabletop. "No, I think something drew them here. Something about this place attracted them, and they didn't even know why."

Evie's brows shot up. "Something seduced them, you mean."

"Exactly," Alva said. "And the way the owners died is consistent with a succubus, too -- they were slowly drained of life and vitality, slipping deeper and deeper into an enchanted sleep until they were past the point of no return."

"Okay," Paul said. "Let's say your theory is correct. What's our next move?" Alva sat back in his chair. "Who's up for a séance?"


He couldn't remember why he was walking. What was he looking for? There was no place other than this. The road did not lead anywhere except to more road, more mist, more darkness. Why keep walking?

He was so tired.


"No," Evelyn said flatly.

"Uh, Evie," Paul began.

"I said no! We are not going to do a séance! Are you out of your mind? You know what happened the last time Paul attracted a spirit's attention in a haunted house, and that was without inviting it to come on in and set up housekeeping!"


"Forget it!"

"Evie, please," Alva said calmly. "Do you really think I'd put Paul in danger? He'll stay in town, of course."

That seemed to take the wind out of Evie's sails. "Well then, I guess..."

"Hey!" Paul demanded. "Don't I get a say in all this? I'm not completely unprepared, you know!"

Evie looked dubious. So did Alva. "You did get possessed last time, Paul," he said.

"And I learn from my mistakes. Isn't that why you insisted I start wearing this?" He drew a silver chain out from under his shirt. A small charm dangled from it.

"What is that?" Evie leaned closer to see.

"It's supposed to protect me, to ward off spiritual possession." Paul shrugged and put the charm back under his shirt. "I've never put it to the test before, so I'm not sure how effective it is, but it can't hurt, right?"

"It should be quite effective," Alva said, as if thinking aloud.

"And besides," Paul said. "We don't really want to do a full-blown séance, do we? Like Evie said, we don't want to invite it in, just to get its attention and see if anything's there."

"True," Alva said.

"That's another thing," Evelyn put in. "What will happen if we DO manage to get its attention? It's a succubus, right? A demon fueled by sexual desire? That could be...awkward."

They eyed each other uneasily.

Alva cleared his throat. "No, you're quite correct. Best to take some basic precautions. We'll draw a protective circle before we begin, and we'll make sure to phrase our invocation precisely -- make it clear we're simply looking for answers, not...anything else. That should keep us safe enough."

They looked at each other.

Finally, Evie said, "All right. It's what we came here for."

Paul nodded. "Let's do it."


His steps slowed, then stopped. Maybe he should sit down. Every spot along the road was the same; this one was as good as any other. He could sit and rest. He could stop, just for a little while.

The mist swirled around him, drawing closer. The voices seemed to whisper, yes. Sit down. No need to keep struggling. Stay here, rest. Rest…

And Paul did.


The actual summoning went without incident. Nothing appeared, no strange phenomena occurred. The lights didn't even flicker. Alva went to bed disappointed, Evie relieved, and Paul a mixture of the two.

They were convinced that the ritual simply hadn't worked. And they were correct – it hadn't.

It still turned out to be a bad idea.


Alva cracked the eggs into the mixing bowl, humming softly to himself. The séance last night had been uninformative at best, but perhaps Paul was right. Perhaps there was nothing supernatural here at all.

He listened as Evie knocked on Paul's bedroom door. "Paul, wake up," she said. "Alva's making breakfast. You don't want to miss this."

Perhaps they could stay a few more days, just to be sure. It would almost be like a vacation. It might be nice to relax in this house with his coworkers.

Evie knocked again. "Paul?" He heard the door open as she went inside to check on him.

It would certainly be nice to relax with his friends. He smiled to himself and hummed a little bit louder.

He was pouring the batter onto the griddle as Evie emerged from Paul's room, white-faced. "What's wrong?" he asked, startled. Batter dripped onto the stove, missing the pan. The smell of burned food filled the air. He hastily put the bowl aside and turned off the burner. "Evie? Is Paul all right?"

"You wanted that thing's attention? You got it. Paul won't wake up."


Paul lay in bed on his side, dressed in a white t-shirt and gray sweatpants. He looked like he was sleeping peacefully – he wasn't moaning or thrashing about. He didn't seem to be in pain. He just wouldn't wake up, no matter what they tried.

His hair was damp from the ice water they'd thrown on him. Evie sat on the edge of the mattress, doing her best to towel him dry. "We have to call 911," she said without much hope that Alva would listen.

Sure enough, he shook his head. "The other victims all went to doctors and hospitals without result. Medical science can't help Paul. We'll have to do it ourselves."

"But how?" she cried out. "We've tried everything we can think of already, and nothing works! We don't even know what this is! Don't try to tell me it's a succubus; they don't work this fast. Unless the summoning ritual we did sped up its usual cycle? No, that doesn't make sense...."

"No," Alva said, sitting down suddenly as if his legs wouldn't support him anymore. "No, you're right about that. It's not a succubus. It seems to be draining his life energy, but it's not using any method I've ever heard of – there's no sexual component, so it's not a succubus. It's not consuming his blood, like a vampire. It's not possessing him, like a ghost or demon." He put his hands to his head and rubbed his temples. "I don't know what it is. I don't...Evie, I don't know what to do."

Startled, Evie looked over at Alva, her hands pausing in their ministrations to Paul. Alva looked...lost. Confused. No, not confused – defeated. Like the heart had gone out of him.

She closed her eyes. Right. "Right. Let's think about this logically. We know it's not a ghost and not a succubus. We don't know what it is, but do we really need to? We know what effect it's having on him."

"He won't wake." When she opened her eyes, Alva was looking more focused. "The amulet he wore should have protected him from possession, but somehow it got him anyway."

"So if it couldn't go to him…"

"...Maybe he went to it."

They stared at each other wildly. "Alva, that's got to be it! When he fell asleep, it lured him somehow, trapped him—"

"Through dreams, probably. And now it has a connection with him. It won't let go until it's drained him dry."

"It might have a connection with him, but so do we." Evelyn felt fierce. If this thing thought it could steal Paul away from them, it had another thing coming.

"Yes. Evie – I think we can break its hold on him."


In the end, it was simple. They'd lit candles to put them "in the proper frame of mind," according to Alva (for ambiance, thought Evie) and laid down a protective circle around Paul's bed. They'd found salt in the kitchen and cedar blocks in a box of old sweaters shoved in a corner of the hall closet and forgotten. ("Salt and cedar are both useful for protection against spirits, and salt has a purifying quality as well," Alva had said when they found them. "I wish we had rue as well, but it's not average ingredient in most people's spice racks." "Next time we'll be prepared," Evie assured him, making a mental note to put together an emergency "evil spirit protection" kit or three when they got back to the SQ offices.)

They sat on either end of the mattress, Evie with Paul's head in her lap, Alva with Paul's feet in his. "So, how do we do this?" Evelyn asked.

"We need to draw Paul back to this world by using our connection to him to call him. Strengthen that connection. Think about Paul, about everything that makes him who he is. Think about your relationship to him. Think about every interaction with him you've had, good and bad, either will work as long as the memory is intense enough. But most of all...." He trailed off.


Alva cleared his throat. "Think about how you feel about him. How much you…love him. These memories and emotions will call to Paul and bring him back to us. Where he is, he'll be able to hear us. It's like we'll be whispering into his ear."

Evie nodded. "All right." She closed her eyes. "Let's do this. Let's bring Paul back."


He sat. He rested. He did not walk, for there was no place to go. He felt as insubstantial as the mist, as if he, too, might fade away at any moment.

As he sat, he began to hear voices – new voices, different from the whispering from the mist. They spoke of different things, too; instead of urging him to sit and rest, they urged him to stand and walk. To struggle onward. To keep struggling. They spoke to him of life.

The voices flowed over him like memory, like thought. He focused his attention and listened.

He saw...


Alva was standing by the train tracks, observing as Paul's broken body spilled its life's blood out into the wreckage of the car. He watched as Paul shook his head, frantic, desperate to stop Tommy from saving his life at the expense of his own.

He thought, as he walked away, that if their positions were reversed, he would not have had the strength even to try to stop the child from healing him. He also thought he had met very few genuinely good people in his life, but he suspected he had just watched one almost bleed to death in front of him.


Evie watched indulgently from her spot on the picnic blanket as Paul held her son up to the sky and spun him around and around in dizzying circles. They were both laughing helplessly as they collapsed to the grass of the park's lawn, and she laughed too, as the sun beamed down upon them like a benediction.


He watched Paul's eyes widen as Evie worked, talking to the sheriff about the police work he was doing – reassuring the community and all that. Making sure he knew that she was competent, was smart, was a professional there to do a job of her own, not to interfere with his. Paul was impressed by how quickly and smoothly Evie got the sheriff on their side, as well he should be.

Alva couldn't resist a smirk. "Who says we don't have credentials?"


"You should have told me," she said. "You're not safe. You're not safe!" Her baby was missing, had gone missing under Paul's care, and he should have told her he wasn't safe. How could she protect her child if she didn't know?

Paul was a medium. If Matty were dead, Paul might see him again, but she never would. "Where's my baby? Where is he!"

Paul was helpless, unable to comfort her, as helpless as Matty was in the grip of whoever had taken him. "I want him back. I want my baby back."

As helpless as she was now to hold herself together.


Paul was walking out of the police station, away from him, and he had to catch up, had to make him see. "Paul, things do have meaning, and eventually, they do add up." He babbled on, told Paul things he had never told anyone before. He talked about his senior project at Cambridge, about hearing his dead mother's voice say his name on a tape of bird calls.

In that moment, Alva, who knew himself to be a private, secretive person, opened up to Paul. He was as honest as he knew how to be.

He felt half-naked.

"No train. And I didn't see God's name written in my own blood. Doesn't take much to change the course of a life. Sometimes a single word will do it." A word, an action, a smile. A person.

Didn't Paul know how important he was to him? How essential? "It started me down a road, and that road led me here." He was everything. "It led me to you, Paul."


As she opened the door, she saw a young man in his early 30s with dark, floppy hair and kind eyes. He looked a little bewildered, as if unsure what he was doing here.

"I'm Paul Callan," he said.

She smiled. He reminded her a little of herself when she first came to SQ -- wounded but healing, and looking for a place to belong. "Come in," she said, and opened the door to welcome him.


They stood before him, the man and woman from the memory/visions, brave, steadfast, and beautiful to his eyes. The mist drew back from them, leaving them in a clear, bright space.

He knew them. Evelyn. Alva. He knew them now.

Evelyn smiled at him, a radiant, welcoming smile. "Paul," she said. "Please come home."

Alva held out his hand to him, and Paul reached out and took it.

And the world changed.


Paul awoke to the feel of a hand gently stroking his hair and the sound of a voice whispering his name. It took him two tries before he was able to respond. "Hey," he croaked.

Evie gasped and slid her arms around his chest, dropping her forehead on the crown of his head. "Thank God," she said.

Alva's eyes flew open, and he said, "Paul! You're awake!" in tones of profound relief.

Paul blinked up at them. "Yeah," he agreed. "I'm awake." He felt good – wonderful, even. He was vaguely aware that something had happened, something important had passed between the three of them, but he couldn't remember what it was. It didn't matter, though. All he knew at that moment – all he needed to know – was that he felt warm, and peaceful, and loved.

He smiled at his family. "Good morning," he said.


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