Why the bodies had to show up in the middle of a Charleston summer is an answer they’ll probably never get. It’s “bloody hot” as Tamara takes to saying often and they haven’t even been in town a whole day yet.
“You’ve never had a case in the South before?” Cassie asks, slipping off her shades as they enter their motel room. She thinks the heat is the real reason Tamara didn’t want to come.
“I have. I hate the heat every time. I miss England.” Two months and it’s the most Tamara has ever mentioned her home.
“Here you go,” the coroner, Charlie Cannon, says as he walks down the freezer pulling out Chris Lynne’s body. He slides the dingy white so it’s almost gray sheet down, exposing Mr. Lynne’s head, neck and shoulders.
Tamara takes a closer look at Mr. Lynne, his skin is tinged blue from lack of oxygen. She raises her head to look at Dr. Cannon. He’s leaning against the opposite wall, one foot on it and arms crossed over his chest. He looks too young to be a coroner and definitely too alive (bright hazel eyes, wide smile) to like being surrounded by death every day. He smiled especially hard when he’d heard her name. He asked her “Really?” She didn’t know what he meant and he didn’t bother to explain, just said it was a cool name.
“He died from lack of oxygen like Mr. Smith and Mr. Diaz. I’m not sure what happened. They were all found in bed a few hours after they’d died. None of them had any health issues that would lead to this kind of death according to their medical histories.”
“You’ve never encountered this type of thing before?” Tamara moves to the other side of the body as she speaks. Dr. Cannon laughs, mostly to himself. “Care to share, doctor?”
“If my grandma was here, she’d say it was some evil thing that killed the men.”
Tamara looks at him. “You don’t believe in such things?”
“I do. You don’t grow up where I grew up without believing in something. I also believe in science.”
“Where did you grow up?”
“Johns Island. It’s just off the coast.”
“I’ve never heard of it,” she lies.
“I don’t suppose you have. I can tell by your accent.” Tamara smiles. “It’s lovely by the way,” he tells her. She can tell by his tone of voice it’s not just an empty compliment.
“Thank you,” she says. She turns back to the body. “May I see Mr. Smith and Mr. Diaz?”
Cassie’s stretched out on her bed, barely dressed with a tank top and panties on. “Taking it easy, I see,” Tamara comments as she enters their room. She stops as the door closes just to enjoy the cool air.
“The damn police station’s air conditioning wasn’t working very well. It was hotter inside than out. Trust me, I was being considerate by taking a shower as soon as I got in.” She tucks strands of still wet hair into the topknot on her head. “What did you find out at the coroner’s?”
She holds up her hand, signaling to Cassie that she needs another minute to enjoy the air.
Her eyes pop open and then she’s dropping her gear on the table next to the door as she speaks. “Same thing we read in the newspapers, nothing much more than that. The coroner is waiting on lab results for the latest victim. He’s sure it won’t tell him anything just like with the other two.”
“No. We may have a way into the Gullah community.”
“The coroner. He mentioned that this grandma would think the three deaths are the result of an evil spirit. He didn’t say what kind. He grew up on Johns Island.”
“That’s damn lucky break. I couldn’t find out anything at the police station. They still can’t find any of women these guys were last seen with that night.”
“The women match up to any missing person’s reports?”
“None of the local ones so far. Maybe this thing is smart enough to pick women nobody would miss.”
Tamara’s nearly undressed now save for her underwear. She talks as he walks to the bathroom. “If this Boo Hag isn’t done, there’s no telling who she’ll kill next. We have to check out the lounge.”
“We have no idea what to look out for though,” Cassie says, walking to stand just outside the bathroom door.
“We will after Charlie takes us to his grandmother.”
“So you guys are on a first name basis?” Cassie smirks.
Shut up is the last thing Cassie hears before the rings of the shower curtain are scraping against the metal rod.
“He probably likes you,” Cassie says, as soon as Tamara hits the end call button. Tamara laughs. He readily said yes to her request to come by and talk about the case over coffee.
“If he does, he’ll be disappointed to see you.”
“Maybe not. He might be into that kind of thing.” Tamara laughs even harder.
“Hi,” Charlie says, all eyes on Tamara.
“Hi. Charlie, this is my partner Cassie.” In this business you get used to reading people pretty well. He’s disappointed a quick flash in his eyes, his smile thinning out before he’s smiling wide again. “Did I forget to mention she was coming along?”
“Yes. It’s fine though. Come in.” He closes the door behind them then shows them to his living room. It’s small but nice, looks comfortable and clean. “I’m also surprised to see you out of the suit.”
Tamara smiles at him. “Do you wear your scrubs and white lab coat all the time?”
“Sometimes it feels that way,” he laughs as he says it. “Would you guys like something to drink?”
“No, thank you,” Tamara says for her and Cassie.
He sits down, gesturing for them to do the same. “So, you said you wanted to talk about the cases we discussed this afternoon.”
“Before we get to that, I need to tell you that my name isn’t Christie Love. My name is Tamara.”
“Okay,” he responds. He looks at Tamara, then at Cassie then back to Tamara. “Why would an FBI agent lie about her name?”
“I’m not a FBI agent either. Neither is Cassie.” He doesn’t say anything in response. “We’re hunters,” Tamara says. “We hunt and kill the kind of thing that killed those men.”
He leans forward in his chair, drops his head for a few seconds before looking back up at the two of them. “What?”
“We think a Boo Hag killed those men,” Cassie tells him. “They suck out all the oxygen from their victims, ride their victims…”
He holds up a hand to stop them. “I know the story. Why are you here in my apartment talking about this?”
“You said you believe in things,” Tamara reminds him.
“I also said I believe in science.” He looks genuinely pissed off, all traces of the man she met earlier gone.
“Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you believe in Boo Hags or not. We do and we need to you take us to your grandmother.”
Tamara has to shut her mouth, changing what she was going to say. “You talked like she was still alive. Is there anyone else you can take us to? We have to stop this thing.”
He stands then, so do Tamara and Cassie. “You come to my job impersonating a FBI agent then you come to my home and tell me...” He stops himself. “You should go.”
“Charlie,” Tamara tries.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to know people fall into two categories when they get news like this. You’re in the one that doesn’t want to believe, you’ll sleep on it and then ring my phone. Let’s save ourselves some time, okay? We’ll be back tomorrow at five ready to go whenever you’re going to take us.”
He doesn’t speak, makes no move to acknowledge what she just said. Tamara heads for the door. Cassie follows, telling him, “Nice to meet you.”
They walk to the car they’d parked a couple of blocks away because Tamara knows you never know if someone will think you’re crazy enough that the cops should check you out. “You really think he’ll be here at five tomorrow?”
“Doesn’t matter if he is. We’ll be at his job tomorrow at three. I checked with his assistant about his hours yesterday before I left. She said he gets off at three tomorrow. I asked about hours just in case I needed to talk to him again. If he really thinks we’re crazy and the cops actually believe him, somebody will probably be with him at his place at seven.”
At three twenty-three pm Charlie walks towards his car in the parking lot of the coroner’s office. He slides into the driver’s seat at the same time Tamara gets out of her jeep a few spaces away. A tap on the window startles him. Instead of rolling down the window, he gets out.
“Not so sure about what category I fall into I see.” He smirks at her.
“You do this long enough and you learn not to take chances, even on sure things.”
“And that would be hunting evil things?” He’s still smirking at her.
“I’m pretty sure if you’ve heard of Boo Hags, you’ve heard of people like me. Let’s go.” Once in the car, Tamara asks, “How long is the drive to Johns Island?”
“A little over twenty minutes.”
“I presume whoever you’re taking us to knows we’re coming.”
He sits on the edge of the back seat, knees resting on his elbow, hands hanging loose between his legs. “We’re going to see my aunt. She knows we’re coming.” He further explains what he told her about the victims and what Tamara and Cassie want. He tells him his aunt is in her seventies, not the last of the generation but one of the few that still keeps the old stories going, the family’s griot.
After a lull in the conversation, Charlie says, “I can’t believe this is how I’m spending my Friday night. Could be worse I suppose. I don’t remember the last time I spent it with two attractive ladies.”
That gets laughs out of Cassie and Tamara.
“Can I ask why you two do this for a living, in your spare time, whichever it is?”
Tamara’s mouth snaps shut and her eyes find Charlie’s in the rearview mirror. Her eyes are dark and hard. He turns to Cassie at the sound of her voice, “The majority of hunters get into this because they’ve lost someone. We’re in the majority.”
His eyes find Tamara’s again in the mirror. He slides back in his seat. Tamara can feel Cassie’s eyes on her as she turns in her seat to face front.
The air is thicker on Johns Island, which makes sense given its location, just off the South Carolina coast. A minute out of the car and Tamara’s shirt is already sticking to her skin. They head towards the small bungalow sitting on the edge of water. The path is clear, edged by tall unmoving grass. The building is water worn, wood bleached white by the sun, the sea and the wind. It’s definitely a postcard scene.
Inside the house the air isn’t as thick but it’s still uncomfortable. The fans in the room move the air around rather than doing anything to cool it. The lights are down low, probably an effort to cool the place off.
Cassie whispers, “Your Aunt doesn’t have any AC?”
“Nope.” Tamara and Cassie look at each other like that’s the craziest thing they’ve ever heard. “You grow up here and get used to it,” explains before calling for his aunt. “Aunt Gee. I’m here with those ladies I told you about.”
A woman about Charlie’s height comes out of a back room, hair pulled back into a bun, skin sporting a thin layer of sweat. They look alike, like Charlie is a younger, male version of her. She doesn’t look seventy with nearly flawless skin and bright eyes. Her smile is bright too, as bright as the yellow dress she wears, its hem skimming across the top of her bare feet.
“Charlie.” She smiles at him like he might be her favorite person in the whole world.
“Aunt Gee, this is Tamara and Cassie.”
“Nice to meet you ma’am,” Tamara says, extending her hand.
Aunt Gee takes her hand and closes her eyes. Tamara looks at Charlie. “She does this to everybody,” Charlie explains.
When Aunt Gee opens her eyes she doesn’t say anything, just pats Tamara’s hand and then does the same thing to Cassie. When done, she directs them to sit on the sofa, Charlie then Tamara then Cassie. She sits on an armchair close to Charlie.
“Charlie tells me you believe in Boo Hags.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Tamara and Cassie answer.
“Not many people that don’t have roots in these islands believe in such things.”
“We’re not many people.”
“Charlie did tell me that about you two. Plus, I could tell when I touched your hands. He tells me you two think one is killing men in Charleston.”
“Three men over the last couple of weeks, ma’am,” Cassie supplies. “We want to stop it.”
“But you don’t know what you’re looking for,” Aunt states. “Nor do you know how to kill it.”
“Everything we’ve read says how to keep one away and there’s some stuff we’ve come across on how to kill it. We need to know which is the truth.”
Aunt Gee laughs. “All of it’s true.” Her laugh makes Tamara think men and women alike have fallen in love with this woman at the sound of it. “I’ll bring some tea and we’ll talk about it.”
Aunt Gee wants to see each picture of the women last seen with the men. She studies each one then lays them out side by side on the coffee table. “This Boo Hag is wearing the skin of missing women.”
“We looked at missing persons reports. None of the missing women match the women in these pictures,” Cassie tells Aunt Gee.
“Maybe no one knows they are missing yet. Those poor girls,” Aunt Gee says. Cassie and Tamara look at each other, knowing the bodies of those girls are who knows where.
“I wish I could tell you how to find this Boo Hag for sure. I can tell you that you need to go back to that place. Boo Hags are creatures of habit if they’re getting what they want. You need to go there and get this thing to drink or get wet by some holy water. They react to it so you should be able to tell who it is. You follow it and find out where it’s staying. You find the bodies missing skin there.”
By the time Cassie and Tamara get back to the motel room, they have definite plan on how to stop this thing.
From the video tapes of the club at the police station, Cassie and Tamara surmise the Boo Hag always arrives around ten, strikes up a conversation with a guy, and then convinces said guy to leave with her sometime before midnight.
The website for Torch Velvet Lounge describes it as paying homage to the sexiest lounges in New York City and London. It’s known for its sleek and sexy décor, good looking crowd, and comfortable atmosphere judging by the comments on the website.
Unlike a lot of their jobs, they can actually go to a store that sells the type of clothes needed to blend in with the crowd. They settle on pants, tight but with enough stretch that they’d be able to run if they have to at some point in the evening. Cassie chooses a red silk tank that hits her mid-hip and sparkles when the light hits it at a certain angle. She finds matching red sandals. Tamara goes for black boots that go to up to her knees. Her shirt is a pale orange, loose and flowy with one shoulder bare.
As they dress, Cassie talks about her college party days. She mentions meeting Dean at a college bar, spotting him across the room. He made the first move, delivering some cheesy pickup line that made her laugh. She admits to him being so hot that she forgave the pickup line and let him buy her a drink.
“We had two weeks.”
They’re standing at the bathroom sink, shoulder to shoulder, as they finish putting on their makeup.
Tamara finds Cassie’s eyes in the mirror. “What happened?”
“He told me he was a hunter and I told him to get the hell out of my apartment and my life.” Cassie steps away from the mirror, turning this way and that. “I thought he just wanted to break up with me. I hated him for a while after that. I couldn’t believe he would make up something so crazy just to break up with me.”
“Most people don’t react well to that kind of news without seeing proof first.”
“Yeah, I know. I’m just glad he came when I called about my dad.”
Tamara turns to face Cassie, leans against the bathroom sink when she says, “If he hadn’t you wouldn’t be hunting.”
Cassie shrugs. “Maybe, maybe not. I knew enough to call him. Maybe I would’ve figured things out on my own.”
“Maybe,” Tamara says. The conversation is dropped in favor of making sure they have everything they need for the night. In the car, Tamara picks it back up. “What do you think he would say he could see you now?”
“He’s be pissed. I told him it wouldn’t work out. I couldn’t be involved in his life only to later embrace a huge part of his life. I know I’d be pissed at me. Then he’d get over and try to get into my pants.”
“You still have his number?”
“Ever think about calling it.”
Tamara doesn’t need to ask the next obvious question – you still love him? – for it’s clearly written on her face that she still does.
It’s ten-thirty when they arrive, the club is busy enough but not too crowded, there’s room to move around. There’s a good mix of people as far as race, everyone seems to about in the twenty-five to thirty-five age range, and most of them are good-looking.
They grab a spot as close to the main entrance and exit as they can.
“Scared of you,” a young man says touching Cassie’s bicep as she slides up next to her. Cassie turns to look at him, eyes cutting. He’s about her age, nice looking but clearly has no idea about boundaries. “You should be,” she says, pulling her arm away and turning her back to him.
“Don’t be like that,” he says, sliding closer. When Cassie turns to him this time, she’s smiling. She steps to him and leans in to whisper in his ear. Less than fifteen seconds later he’s backing away, eyes a bit wide and face flushed.
“What did you say to him?”
“The truth. Well a variation on it. Something about knife play and gun play.”
“You’re lucky he wasn’t into that type of thing.”
“True,” Cassie says and laughs.
They spend most of their time people watching and commenting on the outfits and antics of some of the patrons.
“It’s time,” Tamara announces putting down her drink. Cassie checks her watch; it’s exactly eleven-thirty. They both make their way to the back of the club where there’s an emergency exit. They’d been able to convince some workers that had been at the club earlier in the day that they were there for a safety inspection. They’d been able to find the private room where the Boo Hag always took her victims. There’s an emergency exit a few feet from the room. They’d also found the water tank that feeds the club. Luckily it hadn’t been updated so it was easy to pry the top off, drop in some rosary beads and say the necessary prayers.
Cassie stands by the private room while Tamara finds the perfect spot to set the sprinklers off without being seen. It takes no time at all for the shrieks and groans of the patrons to start. The door to the private room opens and out comes a man and a woman who looks like she’s having some kind of allergic reaction. She’s grabbing for the man’s jacket. Cassie follows as best she can with the growing crowd going towards the emergency exit.
Tamara’s already outside facing the exit by the time Cassie gets outside. Tamara’s eyes meet Cassie’s then follows where Cassie turns to look again. They watch the Boo Hag and the guy stop at the end of the alley. She managed to get his suit jacket. It’s now draped around her shoulders, her hair clinging to her face. The guy is standing in front of her, his hands on her upper arms. It seems like he’s asking her if she’s okay. She’s shaking her head up and down although she’s shaking too hard for someone who just got a little wet.
“I’ll follow them. You get the car.” Luckily they didn’t have to park far from the club but with everybody trying to leave at the same time, it’s going to take a while for Cassie to get the car out of the traffic. There are enough people walking in the same direction that it doesn’t look like Tamara is following the couple. To have only met a few hours ago, they look like they’ve been together for awhile. He’s got his arm wrapped around her and her head rests on his shoulder. Aunt Gee had told them the ways in which Boo Hags are able to seduce in rapid fashion.
Tamara hoped that they wouldn’t hop in a cab and they don’t. The guy doesn’t seem to live far from the club. He’s pointing to some buildings that look like converted warehouses. Tamara sees her opportunity.
“Excuse me,” Tamara yells, jogging a bit to get the attention of the Boo Hag and the guy. Luckily they are the only ones within earshot. “Excuse me.” They turn to look at her. She walks a little faster to catch up. She leans into say, “I think a guy is following me. I got separated from my friend at the lounge and she’s not answering her phone so…” Tamara drops her head and brings her hands up to her face like she’s about to burst into tears.
“It’s okay,” he says, “It’s okay.”
“I’m sorry,” Tamara says, head still down. “I’m probably just being paranoid.”
“It’s understandable,” he says. She looks up to see the expression their faces. The Boo Hag isn’t necessarily buying it but doesn’t want to seem cold-hearted to her soon to be victim. Up close, Tamara can see how beautiful the Boo Hag is, well whoever her latest victim was. She looks to be Mediterranean, once dark hair (roots are showing) dyed a shade of red and violet eyes. Whatever reaction she may have had to the holy water is nearly gone. There’s only some redness here and there on her face and arms.
“Come with us. I live just across the street,” he says.
“Thank you. I’m sorry to barge in on you guys like this. I’m not from around here.”
“I noticed your accent. British?” he asks.
“Yes. I’m just visiting a friend of mine.”
“Can we go?” The Boo Hag asks, clear annoyance in her voice but a smile on her face.
“Yeah, yeah, come on. I’m Tim by the way and this is Sheila.”
Sheila puts herself between Tim and Tamara as they walk the short distance to the building. It’s all brick with huge windows so you can see everyone coming and going off the elevator. Up close Tamara can see there is no doorman. They enter a vestibule through one set of doors and enter the lobby through another after Tim punches in a code. Once inside, Sheila says, “Here you go. You’re safe now,” her voice dripping with barely disguised annoyance, her eyes struggling not to roll.
“If you don’t mind, could I go up with you? If the guy is still following me, he can still see me.” She looks through the windows onto the sidewalk, cautiously. “He’ll probably go away once he sees me go up with you two.”
“Tim, I really don’t think…” Sheila starts at the same time Tim says, “If that’ll make you feel better.”
“No problem. I have a sister. I’d like someone to help her out in this situation.”
Once in the elevator, Tamara asks, “Any available apartment s in this building?”
“Looking to move to the states?”
“Oh, no. I’d miss home too much. My friend is looking to move from her flat.”
“These are condos. My next door neighbor is moving. He’s away for work for a couple of weeks or else your friend could meet him next week to see if she’d be interested in renting the place.”
The elevator dings when it hits the fifth floor before Tamara can respond to that. She says instead as they step out, “Thank you two again. I really appreciate your help.”
“You be safe and I hope everything is okay with your friend,” Tim says before leading Sheila to his place. Sheila doesn’t spare a glance backwards. She wraps her hand around Tim in a clear show of possession. Just before the doors close completely, Tamara hits the open door button and peeks her head out to see Tim and Sheila. Had she been a second later she wouldn’t have seen them enter a door at the end of the hall on the left. She waits a minute before walking towards his door. Tim’s door is the last on the left. There are windows to the right that look out on the city so there’s no mistaking which apartment she and Cassie will be occupying.
Tamara gets back on the elevator and calls Cassie. “Where are you?”
“On Seventh Street. It took way to long for the area to clear out.”
“I’m on Fourteenth Street, in the brick building at the corner of Fourteenth and Clayton Way. I’m on my way down to the lobby to get you.”
The neighbor’s apartment is filled with boxes. Everything is in disarray so Tamara and Cassie suppose he won’t notice if they happen to move something. Still they do their best to be as neat as possible as they change and then wait.
A quick recon of the building showed them all the windows on the left side are identical and they can be opened. So if they look out of neighbor’s window they should be able to see her fly out of Tim’s apartment.
It’s nearly two am by the time they see her leave. She’s skinless, all red muscle and sinew. “She’s crazy,” Cassie whispers from her crouch. “Five flights up isn't all that high.” Tamara doesn’t answer, just glad it’s taking a risk and leaving so they can get to Tim. They wait five minutes or so after it leaves before Tamara says, “Let’s go.”
Picking Tim’s lock is easy enough as is finding his bedroom. What’s not easy is holding in their reaction at the sight of the Boo Hag’s borrowed skin lying pooled on the floor like a sheet that was kicked off in the night. There’s blood and other stuff. It smells, too. It’s a gelatinous mess.
“Oh, God,” Cassie says a little too loudly, as she steps back into the hallway. “Wasn’t expecting it to smell like that.”
“Neither was I. Take deep breaths and let’s go.”
They make short work of doing what they need to do. They give Tim chloroform to keep him knocked out when it comes back. Aunt Gee had told them, it’s usually when the victim wakes up and fights back does the Boo Hag take all the victim’s breath leaving them for dead. They look through the stuff the Boo Hag left behind for any clues on where it’s been hiding out. There’s nothing so they go with the original plan to put a tracking device in its purse, in a hole they cut in the side.
They head back to the motel to wait to see where it goes after a night out.
It’s nearly three by the time they fall into bed. Eight hours or so later they’re dressed, fed, and sitting outside the Boo Hag’s lair. It’s just outside of town.
The neighborhood is a little rundown, the kind of place where people can come and go without other people watching and caring. The house the Boo Hag occupies is four stories if you count the basement and attic. The pale blue paint is peeling in places and the grass could stand be cut.
They do as much recon as they can, quickly and stealthily, just to be on the safe side, just in case there is someone watching. They go over the plan once again with the new information they’ve acquired on the way back to the motel.
Cassie used to not sleep before a job. The only thing that got her through the first few weeks was pure adrenaline. Now the first thing she and Tamara do after getting back is go back to sleep.
“Wake up Sleeping Beauty,” Cassie calls, entering their room with food. Tamara’s already up and dressed. “Thought you might still be sleeping.”
“Next door neighbor started yelling at somebody. Woke me up.” She gestures to the food on the table. “What’s for dinner?”
“Chicken pesto with angel hair from that Italian place a couple of blocks down.”
“By the way, it’s pretty cool out there at the moment so tonight we should okay.”
“Thank God. I don’t know how people live here in the summer.”
“You kill monsters for a living and can’t take a little heat,” Cassie teases.
“Says the girl that probably couldn’t survive an English winter.”
“One day it’ll be nice to find out,” Cassie says, sounding wistful as she sets up the table to for dinner. “You ever think about going back?”
By the time they drive up to the Boo Hag’s place, it’s just after sun set. Aunt Gee told them that since Boo Hags rest between kills, they presume that’s what she was doing last night. Otherwise, the night could go differently. If it plans for another kill tonight, that leaves them very little time to kill it before it’ll likely to wake to get ready.
There a few cars parked but nothing too close to the house and none directly across from the house so hopefully the houses on either side of the lair and across the street are empty.
All their gear is stuffed in two duffle bags. They look like two friends going to visit another friend. At the front door, Cassie blocks Tamara from the street as she picks the lock. They slip in as quietly as possible. The inside is empty, not a speck of furniture, just dust, cobwebs and air that gives away the tell-tale sign of decaying flesh somewhere in the house. There are also flies hovering just above the floor. Cassie and Tamara look at each other, acknowledging their on the same page – the bodies are in the basement.
It’s a small enough house that it doesn’t take long to search the downstairs, which is the living room, dining room, kitchen and a closet under the stairs. The stairs to the basement are in the kitchen.
They make their way to the stairs leading to the second level. Tamara goes first. Just past the first two steps she feels something pushing her back. “Cassie hide,” she whispers. Cassie’s the kind of partner that may have a million questions why she needs to do something but will do what’s asked because she trusts Tamara. She can’t turn her head but she can see Cassie slip past the stairs towards the closet under the stairs.
The thing is playing with her, taking it’s time. Tamara can tell because it moves her slowly back towards the wall until deciding to slam her into it. Her head bounces off the wall. She closes her eyes against the pain. When she opens them, she can see the Boo Hag coming down the stairs.
It looks like it did the night before when it flew out Tim’s window. It’s smiling. The muscles in its face pulling this way and that, its eyes white spheres. It smells as bad as it looks.
“So we meet again,” it says, when it’s on the bottom step. Tamara doesn’t say anything. “Nothing to say tonight? No matter.” It comes closer, eyes looking over Tamara’s face, inspecting her. One fingernail, black and long, tilting her face this way and that. “You’re quite beautiful. I hadn’t planned on going out to tonight. I think now I will. It’d be a shame to waste this skin.” It runs its nail up Tamara’s neck, hard enough to hurt, to almost draw blood.
Then it opens its mouth. Tamara can’t move anything but her mouth, which is opening because the Boo Hag is forcing it up. It holds her face as Tamara feels her breath leaving her body. She slowly get’s lightheaded, probably another way for it to play with her, draw out her death. Then she hears a shotgun blast followed by the Boo Hag shrieking, an ear piercing sound. She drops to the ground. She’s too out of it to cover her ears against the shrieking. There’s the sound of another shot gun blast, another shriek then a body hitting the floor. She manages to look up and it's Cassie on the ground, the Boo Hag advancing on her, smoke coming out of the holes in the Boo Hag’s body. Boo Hags don’t like pepper. Aunt Gee told them to have some on hand. It made sense to fill shot gun shells with black pepper.
Cassie is pinned to the ground, the Boo Hag kneeling over her ready to take her breath. Tamara pulls herself to her feet, pulling the blade she’d hidden in the bag she’d dropped at the bottom of the stairs. The thing is so focused on Cassie that it doesn’t notice Tamara moving. Tamara kicks it to get its head as far away from Cassie’s as possible. As it turns, Tamara makes a clean cut at its neck. The head, thankfully, falls to the side of Cassie instead of on her.
As Tamara looks at Cassie she remembers that night on the side of the road, remembering what she told Cassie. One day turned out to be four months later and it’s not Tamara’s guts that Cassie has on her clothes, face, and hair. But it could’ve been or Cassie’s own spilling out of her body. Cassie’s eyes are closed, her chest rising and falling rapidly. Tamara kicks the head further away, pushes the body off of Cassie, then kneels down.
“Cassie, you okay?” Tamara asks, her voice a whisper.
She only shakes her head. A few minutes later pass before Cassie reaches out for help up. Once standing, Cassie wipes at her face, leaving streaks of Boo Hag on her face. She shakes her hands attempting to fling off the red, sticky mess.
“You okay?” It’s Cassie’s turn to ask as she reaches out to put a hand on Tamara’s shoulder.
“Yeah. I’m glad that thing gets pretty focused when trying to kill something.”
Cassie looks down at the “Me, too.”
It’s dark enough by the time they make it to the backyard to dig a hole. It’s not deep enough to fit four bodies then it again it doesn’t have to be for what they plan to do. They found the bodies belonging to the women from which the Boo Hag got its borrowed skin. They were stashed in the basement, the bodies haphazardly strewn about the floor. It took longer than it should have to drag the bodies out due to the overwhelming stench, a dense, vile, almost shockingly sweet, smell.
It’s close to midnight by the time Cassie and Tamara give each other a look. They’d already put their gear back in the car. There are only three things left to do.
“I’d like to report a fire at 23 Mulberry Street,” Tamara’s voice sounds as Cassie lights the grave on fire. Tamara doesn’t say anything else, just snaps the phone shut and tosses it into the fire. The grave is deep enough to not be a problem before the fire department and police arrive. As they make their way back to their car, the neighborhood is quiet. Very few lights are on in the windows so they figure they can make it out of town without anyone looking for them.
At the front of the house, Cassie drops the box of items belonging to the three women found in the basement. It’ll be dark but someone should find it so the families will know the girls didn’t just disappear never to be seen again.
Nothing is said as slide into their seats, ready to drive to across state lines.
“Hi Charlie.” Cassie looks over at her from across the room. There had already been two missed calls from him on Tamara’s phone by the time they woke up in Savannah, Georgia.
“Hi, Charlie,” Cassie yells.
“First good sign is you answering the phone. The other, she sounds happy. Tell her I said hi.”
“Charlie says hi.”
Tamara opens her mouth to say something when Charlie speaks. “I was just calling to see how everything went. You answered the phone so that’s a good sign. I was worried when you didn’t pick up the first couple of times I called. I heard about the fire.”
“We killed it. We had to burn all the bodies, make sure it’s dead and none of the women come back as ghosts.”
“Good, good,” he say before going quiet. The silence grows.
“Do you want to have dinner with me? I know you and Cassie probably have to leave soon. Do you have to leave soon? Are you on some schedule? I don’t know how the whole hunting thing works. You’re leaving though I’m sure so I’m not even sure why I asked you out. Sorry.” Tamara laughs, can’t help herself. “That just made it worse.” She can imagine him blushing.
“I’m not laughing at you, promise. It’s a nice thought. If things were different, I would yes,” she lies because if things were different they would’ve never met.
“Well, I would say see you around but that would mean somebody died. Even a coroner doesn’t like it when that happens.”
“Have a nice life Charlie.”
“You, too, Tamara. Tell Cassie the same.”
“I will.” She stares at her finger on the end call button.
“He asked you out didn’t he?”
“Should’ve said yes.”
“We’re already miles and miles away.”
“I’m sure he’d meet you.”
Tamara rolls her eyes, slides back down to lie flat on the bed. “I’m sure that would be a little too much to ask.”
Cassie says, “We both need to have some fun. It’s been awhile. Charlie being interested in you just got me thinking, you know?”
Cassie lets the conversation drop when Tamara doesn’t answer.
Tamara’s gone with Cassie wakes up. That’s not unusual. There’s a note, just like always. This time though the note says, “Gone for a drive.” Tamara drives for about an hour before her stomach growling forces her to stop for food. She’s back on the road thirty minutes later and drives until her phone rings.
“You couldn’t just say you don’t want to be my partner anymore?” Cassie asks. She sounds like she could almost mean it.
“I’m coming back.”
“Any time soon?”
Tamara looks at the radio’s clock, “I’m heading back now.”
“See you later.”
It’s an almost five hour drive back. It’s just about dinnertime when Tamara enters their motel room. The first thing she sees is a cupcake on the motel table, a number six candle on top. Cassie comes out the bathroom all smiles.
“What’s that for?”
“Today is a special day. It’s been six months since we met. I wrote about it in my journal.” Tamara gets it. Isaac had been the record keeper of the two. When he left, she tried writing everything down. There was still room in the journal he kept, old school, but she couldn’t bring herself to touch the thing for the longest time without having some kind of emotional reaction. She realizes now she never brought her own journal because it meant moving on. “I wasn’t going to celebrate or anything until you left for the whole day and didn’t sound like yourself on the phone. So, it’s to cheer you up.”
There have been times when Tamara wondered why she decided to team up with Cassie. She wasn’t looking for company even if she still hasn’t gotten used to not having Isaac as a partner. She was used to having a partner, used to Isaac even more, wanted a partner but wasn’t looking. If she still believed in things happening for a reason then she’d say meeting Cassie was meant to be, especially at times like this. She doesn’t want to talk but she knows she should. Cassie looking at her like she’s a little unsure if she did the right thing and that makes Tamara feel guilty for running off instead of facing facts.
“I haven’t really been fair,” Tamara tells Cassie. She sits down in the closest chair to her at the table. Cassie takes a seat across from her. “I know more about you then you know about me.” Tamara knows a lot about Cassie’s parents when Cassie barely knows anything about Isaac and Yasmin.
Cassie tells her truthfully, “I figured you’d tell me when you were ready.”
“Yasmin’s birthday would’ve been today.”
This time when Cassie reaches out to touch Tamara’s hand, like in the coffee shop six month ago, Tamara doesn’t pull away. In fact, she squeezes Cassie’s hand. When she feels Cassie’s calluses now, she’s grateful.