My shoulders sank. There went my freedom. Maybe I did need a babysitter. I always thought it would be the other way around.
“Look. Dex. I am sorry. But this isn’t about you. It’s my problem. I took the tumble. That crow attacked me.”
“Crow?” he repeated, his tone perking up.
And here was the can of worms.
“Yes. Some crow attacked me out of nowhere, that’s what these are from.” I pointed to my hands and wrists.
“And what the fuck is this?” He picked a piece of bloody snakeskin off my shirt and held it up.
“That…that was a snake. Bird shot it.”
He sighed and rolled his eyes. “Unbelievable. I leave you alone for two hours and you fall off a cliff, get attacked by a crow and a snake explodes all over you.”
He grimaced but seemed to be calming down. “Well I hate to say I told you so but…I so fucking told you so. You wanna listen to me next time?”
I glared at him. “It depends, Dex. You’re not normally the voice of reason here.”
“Neither of us are,” he said and finally let go of my wrist. “You better wash up.”
We walked to the house. I smiled awkwardly at Will and Maximus as I went up the front steps.
“My Lord,” Maximus said, shaking his head as he looked me over. Neither of them looked very impressed. I tried to brush it off.
I shrugged. “I’m a klutz, what can I say?”
I walked past them and straight up the stairs before they could see how it was so much more than that.
I entered my room and quickly shut the door behind me and made a beeline for the bathroom.
I looked in the mirror and gasped. I had a huge gash across my left cheekbone, with trails of blood and dirt streaking off of it. There were twigs and dust in my hair and my tank top was absolutely ruined with snake guts, blood and caked earth. No wonder everyone had been looking at me like that, I looked far worse than I actually was. In fact, I looked like I walked away from some sort of murder.
And it could have happened. There was no way I could pass that crow and snake off as just mere animals. They had to have been under the power of someone else. Maybe that’s what Bird wasn’t saying – maybe what we were dealing with here was witchcraft. Perhaps some evil shaman, or something to that extent, was trying to get me and Dex away from the ranch. But even if that was the case, why would they be harassing the Lancasters to begin with? The stones, the dead sheep, the birds, the fox, the snake…it was all so scattered and disjointed without a real pattern. What if it really was all just a bunch of coincidences?
But I knew in my heart they weren’t. I just couldn’t figure it out yet. I hoped I would be able to by the time the weekend was over.
As I pondered that, I stripped out of my clothes, a pile of dirt collecting on the clean floor, and ran the shower until it was abrasively hot. The steam fogged up the window and I stepped in. The water was painful on my scratches and I winced at the sting, but after a few moments it faded into a happy numbness, as the murky water swirled down the drain.
It was Saturday. We only had two more days to capture everything we needed, but it no longer felt like the show was the only goal of the weekend. Even if we did get more strange happenings and scenarios on camera, even if we compiled some interesting interviews with Bird, Maximus and whoever, and walked away with a fairly solid body of work…I didn’t want to walk away. I couldn’t. I felt as involved with the “case” as the Lancasters were. We were just the eyes, sent here to film it all, but we couldn’t do anything about it in the end. We weren’t shamans. We weren’t exorcists. We weren’t even ghost hunters. We were exploitive journalists (and that was pushing it) who would go on our happy way and leave the Lancasters to deal with a problem they might not ever solve. It suddenly felt so…pointless. Why did Will want us there when we couldn’t do a thing to help?
My brain felt stuck on that question as I reluctantly turned off the hot taps and wrung my hair out in the tub. It felt warm at first in my sore hands but quickly turned cold as the beads of water moved down my arms.
I stopped and froze. I had that dreadful feeling that I was no longer alone in the bathroom.
I couldn’t see anything through the white shower curtain, though I was certain I’d see a Ma Bates figure rushing towards me with a raised butcher knife. I listened hard, trying to steady my breath as quietly as I could.
“I can smell blood on you,” Sarah’s voice echoed across the bathroom. It wasn’t particularly sinister or accusing but it was creepy as hell. How did she get in here without me hearing her? And what the hell, I was in the shower, hadn’t she heard of a little privacy?
I didn’t know what to say, so I pulled back part of the curtain and stuck my head out to get a look at her.
There was no one there. The door to the bathroom was closed.
I stepped out of the shower and quickly wrapped a towel around me. It was a bit too small and barely covered my rack but it would have to do. I looked around the tub for her but I was alone in the room. The clothes on the floor looked undisturbed. The window was open only a crack and a hot, sweet-smelling breeze was blowing through in mild bursts. Did I really hear Sarah? Or was I imagining things? I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples, trying to get the clarity I had back on that open mesa.
A knock at the door.
I yelped despite myself, my wet hair flinging water droplets around the room.
“It’s Dex,” I heard him mumble from the other side. The handle jiggled.
Heart in my throat, I cautiously opened it. Indeed, Dex was standing outside the door, a first aid kit in his hand. He looked wary of me until his eyes drifted onto my chest and legs, on display courtesy of the bathmat-sized towel.
“Hello there,” he said, the corner of his mouth twitching into a smile.
I didn’t give into the embarrassment of him seeing me half-naked.
“How long have you been standing there?”
“I just got here,” he said, still staring at my chest.
I rolled my eyes and reached over, pushing at his forehead until he was looking me in the eyes.
“Did you see just see Sarah leave?”
He shook his head. “Why?”
I closed my eyes, feeling worse. “Nevermind.”
I started to close the door on him but he stuck his hand out and stopped it. “Nuh uh.”
He pushed his way into the bathroom and closed the door behind him. “You need some attending.”
“Oh yeah, you’d like that wouldn’t you,” I sniped.
He sighed as he opened the kit and spread it out on the standalone sink. “Actually I’d like it if you were being the sexy nurse, not me.”
He opened a bottle of rubbing alcohol and splashed it on sheets of gauze and held it above my arm, warning me, “This is going to sting, probably.”
“Can’t be worse than your tongue.”
“Ha,” he said and pressed the gauze forcefully into my arm. I flinched. It burned like a motherfucker.
He took the pad and, more gentle this time, pressed it further down my arm, dabbing it on each cut. His brow was furrowed intensely as he worked. It was vaguely charming to see him doting on me.
After he worked his way down, he lightly stroked the tops of my forearms where the crow’s talons had scratched away. The hair on my arms rose in response. Only this time not in fear. His fingers felt nice.
He slowed them and raised his brow at me, eyebrow ring glinting. “Did the crow do this?”
I nodded and turned over my hands, opening the palms.
He held the backs of my hands in his for a few seconds, giving them a warm but barely perceptible squeeze, before he returned to the kit. He ripped open a packet of iodine-soaked pads and pressed them into my palms. That hurt even more than before. My face scrunched up with the sharp bursts of pain.
“Sorry, kiddo,” he said softly. “I don’t think we can be too careful. Crows are dirty fuckers.”
When he was done, he started to wrap my hands like you would a boxer.
“I’m sort of waiting for you to tell me how this happened,” he said as if I had missed my cue or something.
“Well, I don’t really know. I had climbed to this ridge and was just looking at the view when I guess it came at me from behind. Messed up the back of my head and knocked me off balance. I rolled down this slope, and actually was like airborne for a few seconds before I landed on this arm.”
He let out a low whistle, “Perry…”
“Anyway,” I said before he could lecture me, “I didn’t break anything and wasn’t really all that hurt so I got up and then saw this fire pit. I guess someone had a fire there at some point. There were footprints, maybe a paw print too.”
He stopped wrapping, his complete attention on me.
“And there was a shovel and holes in the earth, like someone had been digging for something.”
“Those boys who were attacked by the fox,” he said, thinking out loud.
“That’s what I thought. I didn’t see anything else though, there wasn’t really any evidence but I know there’s something about that place. I had been there before. In my dream.”
He cocked his head. His eyes grew from mahogany to a steely shade of brown, as if the moon passed in front of the sun.
“You had a dream about this?”
“Yeah…it was earlier in the week.”
“You had a dream and you didn’t tell me?” he sounded slightly offended.
I shrugged, carefully, so that my towel didn’t spring open and said, “It was just a dream. How was I supposed to know it would…mean something?”
“Because of what happened last time, you tard. Don’t you see? You dreamt about being in the lighthouse and then you were there. You can’t pass these things off as dreams anymore. Those days are over.”
I started to protest but he cut me off, “What happened in your dream?”
I told him everything and then added, “But maybe it’s not the same place anyway.”
He fell silent. He finished wrapping and then started on my other hand. “Pretty big coincidence to dream about that when you were back in Portland and had no knowledge of the desert, coyotes, and stuff being unearthed, you know.”
I tensed up as he applied the iodine on the other hand.
“Almost done,” he said, gesturing to my palm. “So then when did the crow do this?”
“When I was looking things over. I don’t know how it happened without me seeing it but I think it hit me in my head from the front. I fell down and it just started attacking me, like fucking claws out and everything. I stopped it with my arms but it was still using its beak to like try and peck my eyes out or something. Then I like flung it on the ground somehow and it flew away. Then the snake appeared, from out of nowhere.”
Dex closed his eyes briefly but continued wrapping. “And then…”
“Bird shot it. Just as it was going for me. If he hadn’t followed me, I-”
“I know,” he interjected. He finished wrapping my hand, then looked at me and gave me a terse smile. “I can only imagine.”