Critical Hit

It was not difficult to convince the mother to take her daughter and stay for a few days in a place that wasn’t her home.

Over the past month, what had started as a little girl’s nightmares become a mom’s nightmares, which then evolved into whispers from the walls, escalating into deep scratches on their skin while they slept. She’d tried counseling, exterminators, and dermatologists, all to no avail. And so, when a forthright young woman with impeccable posture appeared at her door and introduced herself as a witch and paranormal consultant, she was desperate enough to toss her the keys and find a hotel.

This is how Gina the teenage witch and paranormal consultant operated–with composed swagger and competent grace.

And this is how Jin always found himself at her beck and call.

Her best friend Susan, also at her beck and call, said to her, “Baby,” she said to her, “I am freezing.”

Susan’s boyfriend spoke, as he always did, economically. “The temperature is a clue.”

Jin sighed. He was never enamored of Victor to begin with, but he could tolerate his all-American masculinity. But now that he was taking magic lessons from Gina, he’d developed a crippling stating-the-obvious addiction. Jin, for one, wished he’d go back to being the Strong, Silent Type.

“Yo,” ordered Susan, “Punk Rock. It’s time for that voodoo that you do.”

Jin laughed. “Why are you calling me Punk Rock? You’ve never done that before.”

“Trying it out,” she replied. “What do you think?”

“I kind of hate it.”

“Harsh,” she admitted, “but fair.”

Gina cleared her throat. “Sobriquets aside, I believe it is time to begin this aforementioned voodoo.”

Jin didn’t wait another second before throwing himself into a bombastic tune–a soundtrack to his mood. He’d been having a bad week, both academically and socially, but when it came to situations like this, he was a star.

Because Jin had superpowers.

“That voodoo that I do–
Yes, I do the voodoo–
The music is my tool!

I see, hear, smell, and feel
The hidden that is real.
I tell you: it’s real cool!”

But not this time.

Gina studied the look on Jin’s face. “You appear disconcerted.”

“This is…” he told her. “This is really… bad.”

“Please specify.”

“In a haunted house,” he explained, “there’s always this light… haze everywhere. But here it’s a thick fog.” He squinted in concentration. “No, wait, more like smoke. No, a sandstorm! No, a whiteout!”

“That is disconcerting,” she agreed.

“Now what?” Susan asked hesitantly. She wasn’t all that into this supernatural business, but two of the people she loved most were, so here she was. Her expression made it clear she wished she wasn’t.

“Now,” Gina answered, “you will remain in this room while I instruct Victor on a simple blessing that even he, in his enthusiasm, cannot possibly misinterpret to disastrous ends, as he seems eager to do. “

Once…” Victor mumbled.

“Jin,” she continued, “will search the building for the presence that is wreaking such havoc.”

Jin tossed Susan a look of solidarity.

His first stop was the girl’s bedroom, where all this started. He wasn’t there long when he caught a glimpse of his reflection in her cute, little vanity. His reflection was all he caught.

“Oh, fuck!” he cried out. “Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh shit oh fuck!” he continued during his dash back to his companions. “We have to leave,” he declared, somehow without screaming.

Susan’s uneasiness snapped into panic. “What?”

“They’re gone,” he told them.

Gina understood immediately what he meant. “That’s impossible.”

Susan was only moments away from freaking out completely, which was the only rational response to the situation. “What’s gone?”

There was no time to explain to her that he could see in mirrors the inhabitants of an eternity of alien worlds–realities, dimensions, whatever. It was just something he’d been able to do since was a boy. You know, superpowers. But now, for the first time boy, these beings were absent. And what’s worse was that he had a pretty solid feeling they’d fled from the area, like fauna before a forest fire. “Me,” he said. “I’m gone.”

“But this is unprecedented!” Gina clutched his arm as he fled. “We have to investigate!”

“Nope,” he replied.

“I’m sharing that nope,” Susan agreed, “and I brought a bunch of my own.”

“Don’t you recognize the significance of this?” Gina begged.

Susan closed her eyes, and when she opened them, they were rolled so far back in her head that they were simply white. And yet, she scanned the room as if she could see just fine.

Jin had seen enough horror movies to know what possession by an evil spirit looked like.

When Susan’s mouth opened to speak, he expected a growl or an unsettling harmony–anything inhuman, really. So it came as a surprise when the only change in Susan’s voice was its newfound steadiness. “Hello, Regina.”

“Hello,” Gina replied politely. “To whom do I speak?”

Susan’s head shook. “No names.”

“You have mine.”

“Because you are careless with it,” the thing in Susan’s body replied. “Out of all the people in this room, you should know how dangerous that is, Regina de Costa, daughter of Lucio Marcos de Costa and Helena Torres, graduate of the school in the cave.”

“If you know who I am,” she stated, “then you know that I can compel you to tell me whatever I wish.”

“No, you can’t.”

The room fell silent for a moment.

“What are you doing in her body?” demanded Victor with the kind of fragile calm that has to be constructed very, very carefully.

“The door is open. Anybody can come in.”

“I don’t understand,” he confessed.

“This door has been unlocked and not properly closed.”

“I still don’t–“

Brad,” Jin whispered.

Victor frowned. “Who?”

Jin waved his hand. “Long story.”

“I want to hear it.”

“Gina used Susan to channel a ghost but she had her permission and it really, really helped people and I can’t believe nobody told you about that,” he stammered.

“Is that how this happened?” asked Susan’s voice.

“But,” Gina breathed. “I shut the door.”

“Not well enough. It’s been opened since then, more than once. If it hadn’t, I’d never be able to fit in here.”

Victor’s calm began to crumble. “Gina, what did you do?”

Instead of responding, she turned to the monster inhabiting her best friend. “What. Are. You.”

“I am not here to answer your questions.”

“You will.” Tracing a complicated symbol in the air with her fingers, she snarled, Espírito, você deve legar para–

Susan’s fist smashed into Gina’s throat. While she crumpled to the floor, gasping, Susan’s other hand whipped out and grasped Victor’s face as if it were a scrap of paper about to be wadded up.

As he struggled to free himself, Susan’s voice told him, “Victor Huber, you are far more intelligent than you look. You can make an educated guess as to how much damage these well-manicured fingernails could do to your skin if you don’t stop squirming.”

Reluctantly, he did as he was told.

Jin didn’t quite had the time to grasp what was happening until that voice addressed him. “Jin Harima, I want you to look me in the eye.”

He obeyed, and it was clear that, even without pupils, the thing was watching him.

“Sing for me, phonomancer. I want you to see my face.”

“I can’t…”

“Sing.”

Trembling, Jin found a tune:

“I’ve never witnessed such violence.
I’ve never seen Victor laid low.
I’ve never seen Gina silenced.
Whatever you are, I don’t want to know.”

The thing’s real mouth and voice told him, “You don’t have a choice.”

And he was right; this was something he never wanted to know. Its expressionless features were bland and generic, like something an artist would sketch as a placeholder before filling in the details later. Yet they made him feel like a mouse in a field hearing the screech of an owl.

The face quickly faded into the wind, leaving only Susan’s, which ordered, “I want you to tell Regina de Costa what you saw, and then I want you to forget. Are you listening, Regina?”

She was still struggling to inhale, but managed with great effort to turn her head toward them.

“Gina…” Jin tried to say. “It’s… the thing… looks…”

“Never mind,” Susan’s voice told him. “The look on your face says everything.” Susan’s mouth grinned, but it wasn’t Susan’s grin. This was even scarier than anything he’d seen so far.

“I really won’t remember?” Jin squeaked.

“Nor will Victor Huber,” it replied. “You are insignificant.

“Regina de Costa, daughter of Lucio Marcos de Costa and Helena Torres, you are not. You are a clever little girl. In fact, you are, by far, the cleverest human for miles around. But you are still human.

“I entered this home twenty-eight days ago to find something, but it’s not here. After I abandon this body, I will continue to search this town until I find it. My business is not yours, and it will remain that way. Do you understand?”

Seething, she nodded.

“Now leave,” it concluded. “And so will I.”

Susan’s hand released Victor, and her eyes closed, opening again with irises where they belonged. “Sorry about that,” she said. “I must have spaced out for a second.”

Jin blinked. “Me too. Weird.”

Victor rubbed the bruises on his temples. “Huh.”

“Are we going to do this thing?” asked Jin.

“Not necessary,” coughed Gina. “The matter has been settled. It was simpler than I had anticipated.”

Susan frowned. “Wait, what?”

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