“Did you see her leave with it?” he asked.
“No,” I said. I tried to think. No, I only saw her smiling. Would I have noticed the brush?
“She could have hidden it in her dress or something,” he said leaning against the sink. “You weren’t watching her the whole time?”
I shook my head feebly. “Why would I? And why would she take my brush?”
He took me by the shoulders and moved me to the bathroom window. Clouds had appeared around the mountains, covering up the sun and casting a dark, grayish gloom over the land. There was just enough light to see by. He tilted my head back and peered into my eyes. The light hurt.
“What?” I asked, worried.
“Your pupils,” he said. “They aren’t retracting.”
“Drugs?” I stammered.
He nodded. “I think so.”
“Why would she drug me? I mean…I was just drugged, I…”
“She didn’t get what she wanted the first time,” he said under his breath. He reached over and shut the bathroom door.
I felt sick to my stomach. Not only was I getting light-headed by the second, similar to what I felt last night, but my head was reeling with what Dex was proposing. It sounded so crazy that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend it.
“What do you mean?” I whimpered.
I felt for my forehead. Dex did too. It was hot.
He closed his eyes as if he were conjuring up inner strength. Or the patience to deal with my questions. He knew I was only going to get stupider with time.
“I think,” he whispered cautiously, “that we’ve been played this whole time. I think Sarah is a skinwalker.”
“She’s a Christian!”
“How do we know? Don’t you think this whole Christian thing is a bit, well, much? I mean, the religion has its fair share of hypocrites but she’s different. You can almost see her fighting herself when it comes to the Navajo way versus Christianity. You can see it when she talks to Shan.”
“Shan…” I said slowly, remembering how I had passed it off earlier as an affair. “The medicine man.”
“Yes. And that could explain a lot of things. Bird and Rudy didn’t jump to that conclusion but look where they are now. We don’t know. Sarah may be an accomplice to Shan, she may be an actual skinwalker herself.”
“But why…why would she do all this…I mean even before we came. She would be sabotaging her own ranch, torturing her own husband.”
“I’ve seen a lot of women do worse,” he said, his eyes growing darker, an edge creeping on his voice.
“I think Will is the only person here we can trust. But he trusts his wife and that’s going to be a problem.”
“If we go to Rudy’s with him and the sheriff…it’s going to be really hard to convince them about what we think. We’re just two ignorant white city fucks hunting for ghosts. They won’t take us seriously.”
“So we pretend we don’t know anything,” I said.
He chewed on his lip for a second before a smile twitched on them. “I picked a hell of a weekend to quit drugs, huh?”
“And I picked a hell of a weekend to try drugs again. Accidently, of course” I added.
He gave me the once over. “How are you feeling now?”
I told him I was still a bit dizzy but I wasn’t anything like I was the night before.
“That’s good,” he said. “Maybe you didn’t have enough of whatever it was.”
“I don’t think so. I only had a few sips.”
I looked outside, at the storm clouds as they swarmed closer. It was ominous and filled my heart with a shadowy, sinking feeling.
“But I think we should probably go now, in case I do get worse.”
“I don’t think it’s going to be that easy…,” he said. “If she’s drugged you, it’s for a purpose. If she has your hair…it’s for a purpose. A sick fucking purpose.”
I remembered what Rudy had said about hair and body parts (shudder) making skinwalkers more powerful. What was she planning on doing to me? The same thing they tried to do last night? Something worse?
“Do you think that was her last night? Her and Shan?”
“I don’t know,” he said. He carefully brushed my bangs off my forehead. His fingers felt soft, his voice was soft, too. “I’m not sure if skinwalkers can appear to be other people or not. But I’m gonna bet that whether it was her, or just some local trash she had some kind of fucking spell on, that they had a part of it.”
Maybe it was the drugs slowly working their way through my system, or maybe it was the fear, but an icy numbness made its way from my heart and down to my limbs like a slow-drip IV.
“You OK?” he said, searching my face with his eyes. His fingers paused on my forehead. The physical contact was all too much.
I felt the hot, prickly sensation of tears poking around behind my eyes.
“No,” I said. “I’m not OK. I don’t want to die.”
I looked away, ashamed.
“Hey,” he whispered. He put his arms around me and pulled me into him, embracing me. I didn’t want to cry. And I definitely didn’t want to die. I felt stupid.
He stroked the back of my head with his hand. The comfort was heartbreaking. “You’re not going to die. I will do everything I can to make sure of that.”
He kept his arms around me for a few minutes, pressing me up to him, while I gained my composure. Normally, a little thrill would have gone through me at how close we were, but I felt both like a blubbering fool and also like someone who could be having their last day on earth.
At long last he pulled back and said, “I am not going to let anything happen to you.”
He looked me square in the eye and I knew he meant that. I felt it in the air around us, in the warmth of his touch. I also knew that no matter what happened in the future, whether I truly was in love with him or not, or whether he’d be with Jenn forever, that it didn’t really hold a candle to what was really important: I had someone in my life that had my back. I had never had that before.
I almost got teary all over again.
Thankfully Dex took this opportunity to shake some sense into me.
“Listen, we have one choice,” he said. “We have to leave, out that front door.”
I eyed the window. It didn’t seem that awkward to go out of the room that way. We could throw our bags down, jump onto the low roof below and –
“No,” he said, knowing what I was thinking. “We go out the front door and we act like nothing is wrong. As long as Will is there, Sarah can’t do anything. If you can, don’t act like you’re drugged.”
“That’s not going to be easy,” I said. My body was wobbling as it was. Had Dex not had his hands on both my arms, I probably would have fallen over ten times by now.
“You can do it. If anything, blame it on last night.”
“Then what?” I asked fearfully. The idea of seeing Sarah again, knowing now what she was, made my heart pump loudly in my ears. I wanted to vomit.
“We can get through this,” he said.
“At least you sound confident.”
“I don’t have a choice, Perry.”
I gave him a small smile. If it wasn’t for Dex, I’d hate to think where I’d end up.
“Okay,” I said, mustering a bit more effort into my voice. I made my way to the bed, picked up the duffel bag, and carefully placed it on my shoulder without making myself tip over.
He picked up his stuff and gave me a firm nod. I nodded back.
He opened the door and we walked down the hall. It was dark save for the light coming from downstairs. The pictures on the wall were barely visible in the grainy dim. I studied them as I had before. Everything seemed to take on importance now. The mundane details always stood out when you thought they might be the last details you’d ever see. Even someone else’s photographs became something more than wall decorations.
Now, these photos told so much: Sarah’s smiling face back when she wasn’t blind, her sparkling eyes, her relaxed body language as she draped herself over a giddy and less portly young Will. I compared to the later shots, Sarah with her big dark glasses, her stiff posture, Will’s sad, beaten demeanor. It was all too easy to blame the change on what happened to Sarah. She went blind. That’s enough to change anyone’s marriage, their personality even. But from these simple photos, there was an energy radiating off of them, hinting at a story that was yet untold. Something told me we were close to finding out what that was.
We got to the stairs and made our way down. Dex reached for my hand and held it as an act of solidarity. I knew we were done with the charade. This was just us being us.
Down below, Shan and Miguel were sitting on one side of the dining room table, while Sarah and Will were on the other. They were quiet, waiting for us.
We stopped at the bottom and smiled uneasily.
Will stood up.
“I know you two probably wish to be on your way after all this. But I think Fred, our Sheriff, is going to want your cooperation.”
I glanced at Dex. He seemed to be expecting this and was nonplussed.
“We’ll do whatever you need to help out,” he said. “Just figured Perry and I better be all packed and ready to go, just in case.”
“In case of what?” Sarah said. I looked at her, conscious now that I had avoided looking in her direction the entire time. I didn’t want to speak or move further lest I end up saying something that would give my “drugging” away.
Dex knew this. He squeezed my hand and eyed her. “In case we’ve overstayed our welcome.”
He looked back at Will. “I think this is the only way we’ll find Bird and Rudy.”
Will nodded quickly, obviously relieved. It seemed his present company hadn’t felt the same way.
“OK.” He wrung his hands. “Sarah and Miguel will come with me. Dex, you don’t mind if Shan rides with you? There’s not enough room in my truck.”
Dex nodded on autopilot. The room started to spin again. My heart thumped so loudly in my ears that I could have sworn someone was stomping around on the floor above us.
Shan? In our car?
I wanted to scream, run, protest, hide. But I couldn’t do any of those things. The only thing I could do was squeeze Dex’s hand even tighter. It must have turned blue.
I caught a quick glance between Sarah and Shan as everyone started to leave the house. Odd, to see glances from the blind.
Will hung around by the door as Dex and I were the last to step out into the gloomy evening. The air smelled tense, rain-filled, like the sky was ready to let go at any moment. It was much darker than earlier.
We waited on the porch as Will shut the door behind him and looked up at the sky.
“Looks like a storm. We need it,” he said sincerely.
He pulled his collar up against the wind that had suddenly picked up and hurried towards his truck with Sarah and Miguel following. Shan stood in front of us, expressionless and waiting. Even in the dim light, he looked more youthful and vigorous than before. Powerful.