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Darkness Swallows Ohio

By: Sergio Burns

Thick, gray cumulus clouds roll and drift across the heavens, where a sliver of silvery light squeezes out from the darkness. The moon - bright and wreathed in dark clouds - drops slowly out of the sky. Cruel, black night ends with the pregnant dawn of another day.

Glorious crimson and mimosa streak the new sky, and a cold wind sweeps stubbornly over the houses of Cambridge, Ohio.

Alarm clocks wake the dead from their slumber. The faithful are called by clanging bells to the corporation's mass; another working day in another middle-American town.

A thin shaft of faltering winter light filters from the gloom into the kitchen of Marvin and Hayleigh Cortez. At number 92 Baltimore Drive, Marvin sleepily butters toast while his young wife Hayleigh pours coffee.

"Do we really have to talk about this now?" Hayleigh says slightly irritated. "I've said before, it's my damn body!"

She turns away from the countertop, sips at her coffee and flops down into a seat by the kitchen table. Opening the latest edition of the Cambridge Globe, the newspaper she works for as a reporter, Hayleigh tugs, with some difficulty, at the corner of her toast with her teeth.

"And, you always leave the toast in too long." She frowns and drops it back onto her plate.

"Hey, it's cool Hayles!" Marvin replies standing by the sink, holding his hands up in front of him defensively in a false pose of surrender. "Just thought I'd mention it that's all."

"Jeez Marv we've only been married five minutes, gimme a break!" She protests.

"Two years, two months actually!" He corrects her and falls into a sulk.

Hayleigh sighs and gives up on the toast, pushing her plate away in disgust, mumbling something about it being like trying to chew leather.

Starting to feel the first pangs of guilt, she stands and moves to her husband.

"C'mon honey, let's not fight." She pleads, draping her arms around his neck and kissing him on the cheek. "Let's not talk about this now, I gotta go work."

"You're right" Marvin agrees taking her in his arms and giving her a quick kiss on the lips. "I gotta get going as well."

There is a pause, they embrace and hold each other close, then they separate in brighter mood.

He moves to the hall, takes his coat from the stand and pulls it on. She follows him through.

"Hey big man, where's my goodbye kiss?" She says cheerfully as she pulls on her overcoat.

He smiles, adjusts his tie, and kisses her on the lips.

"We'll talk about it tonight, I promise," she says standing on tip-toe and nibbling affectionately on his neck. "Hey, you've got a scratch on your neck, a couple of scratches."

"Have I?" Marvin said reaching up with his hand and touching the area. "Shaving, I suppose, always irritates my skin this time of year."

"And," she said smiling up at him. "Nice after shave."

"You like it?"

"Sure do." The journalist said cheerfully. "Sure do."

"Erm…sorry for being a grouch," he says sheepishly.

"You're forgiven mister," Hayleigh laughs, plucks her briefcase from the floor and dances off down the hall.

Marvin watches her glide elegantly toward the front door, her pretty little ass swaying with such natural nonchalance. 'Hey, that is some trick' he thought to himself, as he stood transfixed.

"Coming honey?" She called over her shoulder to him.

"Sure," he said suddenly snapping out of his entrancement and following her out.

The day was Ohio midwinter cold. A wind determinedly swept across the small town. Citizens, hunched for warmth beneath thick overcoats, marched uniformly to work. Beckoned to their places of employment by their corporations.

Marvin Cortez was a young defense lawyer with Aaronson, Mitchell and Cove, the oldest, biggest and busiest law firm in Cambridge. Thirty-years-old with film star good looks, a dimple on his chin - Hayleigh said reminded her of Harrison Ford - and still athletic, he was confident that it was only a matter of time before AMC became Aaronson, Mitchell, Cove and Cortez. AMCC.

Everything had been fine until Marvin had edged out to his thirtieth birthday three months earlier. Now, the issue of starting a family had for him, at least, become more urgent. It was the one contentious subject in an otherwise blissfully happy marriage.

At 28, Hayleigh was petite, pretty and deceptively feisty. Her cherubic face framed by short dark hair, and lit by a pair of sparkling green eyes. Ambitious and already respected at the Globe and in Ohio media circles, the reporter was now openly being lined up as the successor to chief reporter, James Bukowski when he retired; though that still had to be confirmed.

She had been an eager intern at the Bath Messenger before landing her first reporter's post with The Cambridge Globe, some two years earlier. Quickly settling into her new job as a journalist on one of Ohio's award winning dailies with some determination and energy. It was while covering a local murder case in the town - a teenager had been knifed to death in a street fight - that she had first met Marvin.

Cortez had been the defense lawyer for the accused. A bright young thing with a lot to say for himself and his client, he had persuaded Hayleigh to have lunch with him while she asked questions, notepad and tape recorder at the ready in that sort of hectic, chaotic journalistic way. Checking her notes as they sat with cappuccinos in Fleur Milligan's Coffee Shop, in downtown Cambridge.

That night they went out on their first date to the cinema and saw Batman Begins at the local multiplex movie theater.

"He was always my favorite comic book character," he had confided as they shared popcorn. She thought he was sweet. He knew he had already fallen in love with her.

Within nine months, Hayleigh had moved her stuff from her parents home in Akron and they were soon sharing rented accommodation in south Cambridge, before marrying and buying a house together on a new development out at Long Lake on the northwest corner of the town.

As she drove to work, Hayleigh thought about how content she was with her life. Her husband Marvin was a wonderful man with a successful career and brilliant prospects. She was at the cutting edge of Ohio's media, carving out a niche for herself with one of the best dailies in the State. The couple also had lovely friends, in Mary-Beth and Dick Francavoni. Mary-Beth was Hayleigh's chief confidant, while Dick was Marvin's favourite golfing partner.

The Francavonis were several years older than she and Marvin, but both couples had grown close. Mary-Beth, was one of those individuals who could make people laugh unintentionally, and didn't take offence when they did. She was uncomplicated and unpretentious, and acted as a good diversion from the boys as they smoked their Henri Winterman cigars, chatted about their golf strokes, discussed business, and the machinations of the Cambridge Rotary Club. The couples had shared several holidays together, regularly met for dinner dates, and Hayleigh was even prepared to put up with Mary-Beth's disgusting chain smoking habit to maintain the friendship, something she wouldn't even contemplate with anyone else.

It was always Hayleigh's intention to be at her desk at The Globe a full half hour before she started work, though no matter how early she arrived, Millar Matthewson, her editor, was always already ensconced in his swivel chair banging away at his keyboard.

"Good Morning," she said breezily as she greeted him, sweeping through the office to her desk at the window overlooking the town.

Matthewson grunted in return, barely looking up as he sat hunched over his computer chipping away at a story filed late the night before.

At the other side of the office photographer Jack Dewie was lazing back into his seat, his legs stretched out onto his desk, a copy of the Cleveland Republican held at arms length. By eight forty-five most of the others from the office would be arriving, Sandra from telesales with a cheerful wave, Jennifer the intern chatting happily to Florence the deputy editor, all hanging up their coats, complaining about the Ohio cold, warming themselves up with coffee.

Hayleigh checked through her email, waving a greeting to colleagues arriving.

"Hayleigh!" It was Millar calling from further down the office, holding up an email triumphantly and gesturing his reporter to his desk.

"What is it chief?" She frowned as she arrived at his desk.

"There have been rumors about Senator Blockly." Matthewson said matter-of-fact.

"Rumors?" The young journalist made a face. Intrigued, she took a seat on the edge of her editor's mahogany workspace.

"He's been implicated in some scandal about prostitutes, apparently, and…my source thinks, there are drugs involved…"

"Drugs huh? Interesting…" Hayleigh said thoughtfully.

"C'mon Hayles everyone knows Morgan Blockly is a cokehead. Anyway I want you and flash over there to get on up to Cleveland and sniff out the story."

"These are just accusations chief," the reporter shrugged. "It's a long way to Cleveland for a wild goose chase."

"Hayleigh, this is from Tom Hickey, when you ever know Tom to get his story wrong?" He paused and looked up at her as she perched on the edge of the desk. She made no attempt to reply. "No? Well neither have I."

"Well, I suppose…" She said glancing up from the email at Millar peering at her over the top of his glasses, "Cleveland it is, I'll get Jack organized."

As Hayleigh returned to her desk, Jack Dewie followed her over.

"Did I hear the boss say Cleveland?" Jack raised his eyebrows.

"A Tom Hickey tip off apparently, when have you ever known ol' Tom to be wrong about anything Jackie baby?"

"Who?" The photographer frowned and shrugged.

"Exactly, who indeed?" Hayleigh smiled up at her colleague. "Who? That'd be my question Jack, but you know the chief."

Cleveland was a good two and a half hours drive north from Cambridge, and if the traffic was heavy it might take them as much as three hours or even more to get there. Arrangements were quickly made for an overnight stay, Catherine, Millar's secretary booking Hayleigh and Jack into separate rooms at the Hampton Inn on 1460 East 9th Street.

Hayleigh called Marvin on her mobile phone on the way out of the building, Jack running behind her, laden with his equipment.

"Hang on Hayles," The photographer called out as he jogged after her.

She had intended to tell her husband about this change of plans and her unexpected assignment, but failed to raise him and was forced to leave a message on his voicemail.

She walked out into the cold morning air, her breath vaporizing as Jack detoured to pick up some food and coffee from Mario's Seven Inch Burgers (and we aren't joking no sir - as it proclaimed on the advertisements with the big smiling face of the overweight and mustached Mario covering the signs around his shop.)

"Burger Hayleigh?" Dewie asked as he dumped his equipment onto the rear seat of the car.

"No thanks Jack, I'll just wait in the car."

Hayleigh climbed into her Toyota, and shivered. She flicked the car into life and turned the heater on max to generate warmth. To pass the time, as she waited, she checked the map and worked out a route from Cambridge to Cleveland.

Jack arrived back clutching his food and drink, and climbed into the passenger's seat.

Soon the two were settled in the car. The morning sun was rising slowly above the skyline of the town. Hayleigh drove smoothly and easily through the early morning traffic as they headed out toward the highway.

Jack was soon banging on about his daughter, Heather, and her penchant for all things Gothic. He shook his head as he related the latest little episode in her free spirit life: her new boyfriend. A mean looking kid called Cobi with a dark sense of humor and an, apparent, obsession with death rock, jet black hair streaked purple and, to Dewar's eternal horror, a strange habit of wearing black eye shadow and mascara.

"Kid's a weirdo." Jack announced sanctimoniously.

"Heather or Cobi?"

"Cobi of course, he's a weirdo."

"Well I suppose everyone is someone else's weirdo Jack."

"That's not helpful." Dewar said sulkily. "I mean that can't be right surely, guys wearing make-up, it's not right, that's what I told Therese." He concluded referring to his wife. "She says, 'c'mon Jack, they're just kids' but I worry y'know." The photographer nodded to himself as he munched hungrily on his special easy burger, double cheese with tomato and onions, mayo dribbling onto his tie unnoticed. "I mean this is Ohio, not crazy California or anything goes New York City. In Ohio guys just don't look like that. In Ohio guys wear football jackets, not make-up!"

It took them a full fifteen minutes to clear downtown, and after heading onto one of the minor arteries connecting Cambridge to the rest of the state, they drove out past the old colonial clapperboard houses of North Curve on the edge of town before Hayleigh and Jack found themselves heading north on Route 77.

As they drove, the two colleagues chatted happily about their families, their lives, and other assorted things like Jack being up to his eyes at work, trying to build a portfolio for an exhibition he was hoping to organize for later in the year. Hayleigh spoke about never being able to get Marvin on his mobile phone. About how hard he worked, but said nothing of Marvin's recent desire to become a father, and her reluctance to give up her career.

A watery sun was rising as they skipped past the distant bungalows and strip shopping centers of Rocheford Heights.

When they eventually ran out of conversation, Hayleigh scanned the radio. Raking through a whole series of stations KRU, WBNS, WCLV before settling on WCRF and catching the end of the news broadcast. Jack muttered something about an Englishman murdering his wife and eight month old child in Aberdeen, Washington State.

"Jeez, what in hell's name is the world coming to?" He said exasperated.

"Well that's the 21st century for you Jackie baby," Hayleigh replied.

"Sure wasn't like that when I was young." He shook his head.

"Way, way before my time," the reporter smiled. "I must be at least a decade younger than you, at least."

"Hey, 39 isn't old." Jack protested.

"Oh make that 11 years then." Hayleigh nodded with a degree of smugness as she teased her colleague.

Dewie refused to answer, and they carried on in silence with him in mock sulk after her references to his age. Jack took to staring out the side window, yawning, as the buildings receded and they hit open countryside.

Surprisingly, and much to Hayleigh's delight, the first hour of the journey sped past quite quickly and pleasantly. Jack amusing her, at one point, with his impersonation of Millar Matthewson.

"When was ol' Tom Hickey ever wrong Hayles? You tell me that huh?"

The impromptu act brought shrieks of laughter from the reporter, and howls of guffaws from both. Hayleigh admitted, that, if she closed her eyes, she could swear that Millar was in the car with her. Jack urged her to keep her eyes firmly on the road, and she told him not to worry, she was using it as a figure of speech.

As they approached Akron, traffic thickened again and slowed as the lanes became congested. Jack started muttering and for some reason, quite unbeknownst to Hayleigh, called out rudely to a driver in an adjacent vehicle, hollering "And you buddy!"

"What is wrong with you?" She scolded her errant colleague.

"The guy gave me the finger!" Dewar protested. "Can you believe that? Those SUV drivers think they own the damn roads."

"Jack please could you try behaving like a grown up?" Hayleigh spat out the words like a mother telling off her child.

"Did I ever tell you I used to box?"

"Erm…no…so what did you box ? Eggs? Fruit?"

"Very funny Ms Cortez. Well I did, reached the semi-finals of the North Curve and Rocheford Heights boxing championships 1988."

"I am impressed." Hayleigh suppressed her laughter. "No really I am," she said, trying hard to reinforce his manly-man image of himself.

At length the traffic picked up speed and just beyond Akron they were sailing nicely along zinging past signposts pointing the way to Fairlawn, Ghent and Bath.

Despite the increase in speed, the flow of traffic on the highway remained heavy, cars whizzing along in all lanes. The radio program changed and was not holding her interest anymore. Hayleigh sighed as she decided to change station, leaned to her right and started to twiddle the tuner. Jack Dewie, resting, opened one eye to glance down at his colleague as she surfed the radio stations that pepper the airways between Akron and Cleveland.

Suddenly, directly in front of them a truck jackknifed. Hayleigh, still leaning right, gasped, pulled hard at the steering wheel and lost control of the car. It veered left, momentarily, and then rapidly in the opposite direction rocketing across the highway and into the path of oncoming vehicles.

As she fights with the wheel she sees a huge rig heading straight toward her blaring its horn, a deep plaintive sound like a distressed whale fills the air, weak sunlight bouncing from its windshield. 'Is this how it happens?' Hayleigh thinks, as the huge juggernaut rapidly closes in on her. A split microsecond before the two vehicles collide, she could swear she had seen Marvin in the driver's seat. 'Marvin?' She mouths his name. That is just so stupid…but it is him…it is him… it is…

Oh Yeah






In the tiny silence before the vehicles ripped into each other with terrifying velocity, tires squealing, the smell of burning rubber and churned highway in her nostrils, Hayleigh imagined Marvin climbing all over her, nibbling at her neck, forcing her down, pinning her to the ground, and everything in motion, and spinning, spinning, spinning, spinning, spinning, spinning…………

She could now see Marvin staring down at her, his eyes wild, a lock of his thick dark hair limply laid across his forehead. She was looking up into his eyes, unable to move, unable to free herself from his powerful grip. She witnessed malevolence in his sharp dark eyes she had not recognized before. She wants to scream, but she can only stare.

Then the rip and grating, tortured squeal of tearing, twisting metal, brakes whining and shrieking. Light, searing and burning her eyes, the sky overhead, turning, spinning, a great blue haze marbled with streaks of white and gray, wispy clouds, in slow motion, and from somewhere in the mayhem and chaos of the crash she thought she heard Jack scream, as the car started to roll over onto its roof and slide for what seemed an eternity down the highway.

Hayleigh had the weird sensation of tumbling out into space, everything dark and beautiful and silent. All around her a kind of twinkling blue/black studded with the sparkle of brightly lit stars. She floated past planets, watching as an astronaut, connected to the space station by a fragile umbilical chord, repaired a distant satellite and waved, his face obscured by the reflection of the universe on the clear visor of his helmet.


Then a slow hissing noise, and from somewhere close she hears voices, muffled, almost inaudible, but slowly receding and fading until all goes silent again.

"Marv, is that you?" She says hopefully but there is no reply.

In the distance, moving across the cosmos in mid-air she suddenly saw a figure approach. A woman, tall like an angel, walking through space, her face, however, had been hacked off and only multi-colored wires remained, stretching out and dangling and sparking. Hayleigh screamed and came to…

It was night. She was alone, upside down in the overturned car. There was no sign of her passenger in the gloomy interior. She whispered his name and reached out in the darkness but there was no sign of him. She quickly freed herself from her seat belts, and crawled out of the shattered space where the windshield had once been. Her back and neck ached and she grimaced as she pulled herself clear of the vehicle. Blood, wet and red ran in rivulets down one side of her neck from puncture wounds, but there were no other signs of injury. She looked around her; the car had suddenly become an unrecognizable crumpled heap of defeated metal.

The reporter stood and stretched painfully, stiffly, her eyes sweeping the darkness for any signs of light or life. The highway was completely empty and there was no sign of any towns nearby. She frowned, on a big road like this, so close to a big city like Akron, even at this late hour, she would have expected the road to be busy with traffic. But it was deathly still.

Above her and around her stars bounced tiny glitters of light to earth from an wide, open sky, though everything was dark and bitterly cold. Shivering in the moonlight, Hayleigh decided to return to the car, and crawl back inside in an attempt to retrieve her coat.

Clambering back through the blown out windshield into the overturned car, the reporter groped around in the darkness till, at last, she felt the fabric of her herringbone tie belt overcoat. Despite feeling around in the inky black interior of the car for a little longer, however, her mobile phone remained elusive and she eventually gave up trying to find it. "Fuck" she mumbled through gritted teeth, before backing out of the wreck once more.

She walked over to the apron of the road pulling on her coat as she went, trying to make up her mind what to do next. She stopped at the edge of the highway and looked both ways. Nothing seemed to move, everything was eerily quiet and dark.

'Surely,' she thought, 'Something would come along soon.' Some trundling articulated freight wagon would be heading for Cleveland, or a Chevrolet with its music blaring, running toward Akron with a group of pumped up kids. But, as time crept on, nothing stirred.

She also knew that without her mobile phone she would have to set out on foot to search for help. Again she swept the highway with her eyes and peered beyond into the darkness toward the southeast where she had imagined she would have been able to see the bright lights of Akron. But there was no sign whatever of anything, no life or light.

The reporter also knew from experience that the highway should be dotted with diners and gas stations, perhaps a well lit service area, a fast food restaurant, motel, shops. No matter which way she looked, however, everything was deathly quiet as darkness enveloped her and swallowed Ohio.

There was nothing but an icy breeze for company, circling her head and stinging her cheeks, raising the color on her face. She blew into her hands and stamped her feet in an attempt to generate some warmth, and made the decision that whatever happened she was going to be forced to walk.

Hayleigh also considered the strange disappearance of her colleague. Where had Jack gone? Had he set off on foot looking for help for the both of them? Or, had the photographer simply left her for dead, but she knew that he wouldn't do that? Would he? No, she decided, preferring to believe that he had taken it upon himself to seek help for his stricken colleague. She couldn't, at that moment, allow herself to think anything different. Now that morning had turned into night, she surmised, that he must have been gone for hours.

Hayleigh felt tired and fatigued, she had no idea of the time - like her mobile phone her wristwatch had also been lost in the accident -her back ached and she felt tempted to return to the car. Something, however, drove her on. Perhaps it was the conviction that there had to be other people around. She began walking north, hoping that this was the route Jack had taken earlier. Perhaps she would meet him on the way back with help.

As she walked down the hard shoulder of the road, the reporter was careful to listen for any traffic heading north or south and remained vigilant for any signs of light either to her left or right.

Eventually, having walked for over a mile into the darkness without any sign of traffic or towns, Hayleigh was now beginning to doubt her wisdom, scolding herself for not staying by the car. She stopped and looked around, felt frustration, fear, panic and tears well up in her eyes.

Above her an open star spangled sky and gleeful moon lit the way for frost on the blacktop. 'Damn,' she thought to herself, 'There is nothing frigging out here but road and night sky.'

The reporter pondered on her predicament, knowing that the further north she walked the further away she was moving from the car and the little shelter it might have afforded her on such a cold night. She also knew that the further she walked the longer it would take her to get back. As she stood on the edge of the highway, huddled against the cold, Hayleigh peered into the gloom for any signs of life. 'Fairlawn,' she found herself muttering, 'must be around here somewhere, surely.' She scanned north, south, east and west, but nothing but a bitter and cold wind stirred.

For a few seconds she was overtaken by a wave a panic, and a sudden desire to turn and run back toward the wreck, but she soon dismissed this idea, suppressing the anxiety she felt inside, telling herself to stay calm and think. She was beginning to feel that it would be hopeless to carry on and had almost decided to trudge back to the car and wait for the morning and light, when out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw something move a little further down the highway to the north.

Hayleigh narrowed her eyes and squinted into the gloom, someone, she could just discern, was walking toward her. As the reporter watched a figure appeared to the north and slightly west of where she was. As she squinted into the gloom, the person stopped and began to beckon her forward. There was still some distance between them and, as yet, Hayleigh couldn't make out who it was that was signaling her.

She began moving forward again, her heart thumping, her legs aching and fatigued. Hayleigh cursed at the cold, under her breath, stopped and looked momentarily behind her into the darkness, unnerved by the wind sweeping across the highway and up at her, ruffling her hair in the process.

After a few seconds, she turned back toward the beckoning figure and began walking again. Soon, she could see that the gloomy shape was a woman, and as she closed in she made out the wild, big spiky hair and darkened eyes that could only be Heather Dewie, Jack's daughter. Hayleigh broke into a jog and the two embraced.

"Did your dad send you?" The reporter asked. "I am so glad to see you."

"What? My dad? Hell no! I have come to guide you home." Heather said with that surly and mean look she gave everyone. It didn't matter to Hayleigh that it was Heather, Jack's errant daughter, who had come to rescue her. She was now beginning to feel secure again, assured that she would soon be back home with Marvin.

"This way, follow me," Heather commanded, but Hayleigh looked back the way she had come and didn't move. After a few strides Heather returned to her dad's colleague.

"What's up?" The teenager asked.

"Where are we going?" The reporter frowned.

"Home, back to dreary, old boring, fucked up Cambridge." Heather said with her customary angst-ridden inflection.

"Cambridge's not that way Heather."

"Well…yeah, actually Hayleigh it is." Her colleague's daughter made a face. "Like duh, Hayleigh, you sayin' I don't know where I am going."

"Heather, that's north…" The journalist was now sounding a bit confused, frowning peering about her.

"Trust me, let me be your guide."

"Did your father send you back for me?"

"Like what?"

"Your dad Heather, is he okay? Did he send you back for me."

"No, it was Marvin." Heather said without smiling. "Hayleigh we have to move, there is a storm on the way, I'll take you some place you can rest tonight."

This made sense to Hayleigh. Jack must have got back safely and while the emergency services were patching him up he probably told Marvin what had happened, and her husband had volunteered Heather to come and find her.

Jack Dewie's daughter, for her part, always spoke cryptically anyway, so the journalist was not unduly perturbed by Heather's in your face attitude or teenage surliness. In fact it reminded Hayleigh of her own rebellious teen years, hadn't her hair been streaked purple on one occasion while at high school. Wasn't she once sent home by the principal with a note to her parents to have the offending 'Goth statement' washed from her hair?

As much as Jack worried about the future of his daughter and her seemingly wayward demeanor, Hayleigh, almost a decade her senior, at 28, was confident that Heather would settle down someday to a much more mundane lifestyle. 'Probably end up a librarian or something equally pedestrian' Hayleigh thought to herself and allowed herself a smile.

"I thought Jack said you had your hair dyed jet black?" The journalist said as the two started walking.

"I haven't earned that yet." Heather said simply.

"Sure you haven't." Hayleigh humored her.

"You have to earn the black you know. I am just not ready…yet!"

"Oh that's too bad." Hayleigh smiled, not having a clue what Heather was referring to.

"Come on, it's not far now."

"Heather, I am sure Cambridge is back that way." Hayleigh called after the younger woman, as she slowed and pointed backward in the direction they had come, but Heather was no longer responding to her or discussing anything with her. Instead she was charging on ahead and in danger of disappearing into the gloom. The journalist hurried to keep up, her head turned down into the bitterly cold wind.

After a few minutes the reporter could see some dim and flickering lights just off to the north and west of her, and consoled herself that Heather must have been right about the direction of the town. Hayleigh thought that she must have been disorientated by the collision, perhaps even concussed, but felt fortunate that Heather had returned to help her.

Now she could make out dark shapes ahead of her and little glimmers of light emerging from the darkness. Soon the tiny flickering lights were growing in intensity and the familiar shapes and height of buildings emerged quickly from the gloom. She caught up with Heather and the two strode toward shelter. Strangely, she was sure she could hear music playing from somewhere close to the building the two girls were approaching, beyond which the dark silhouette of a sprawling town's skyline could just be made out against the night's gloom. Suddenly she felt filled with renewed hope and energy as she stumbled on into the dark arms of early morning.

As Hayleigh closed in on the building she could see that it was a fairly nondescript two story oblong bar and motel. The name slowly growing out of the night in yellow luminous twelve inch letters on a wooden nameplate, Phil's Diner, Bar and Motelcould be read in the moonlight.

From a few feet away the reporter stopped to gaze through the barred windows, where she could make out a few heads in poor light standing drinking by the bar. Inside a bartender served his regulars by candlelight.

"There must have been an electric outage." Hayleigh said absent mindedly, but received no reply. She looked about herself but her friend had vanished. She smiled and thought what a strange girl Heather was, and wondered if she had already gone inside.

Shivering with cold she stepped through the right hand side of the heavy wooden double doors. Ahead of her were three men hunched over their drinks by the bar, a small radio sitting lonely and isolated at the far end of the counter played My Chemical Romance's Early Sunsets Over Monroeville, while the ever watchful bartender, who looked a lot like George W. Bush, cleaned glasses with a cloth.

"It plays off a battery" he quickly nodded toward the radio by way of explanation.

"Did a girl come in here a moment ago, big, spiky red hair - apparently she hasn't earned her jet black hair yet, ooh get her" - Hayleigh said as an aside and laughed nervously, "darkened eyes, like a panda?"

She looked beyond and to the side of the bar where two men played pool, the balls clunking reluctantly as they dropped into the table's pockets.

"No miss," the bartender shook his head as he continued to wipe at the glasses.

One of the men by the bar half-turned to look at the woman who was standing framed in the doorway of the bar. The bartender looked up from polishing a beer glass.

The reporter involuntarily found herself taking several steps into the candlelit room and peering through the half-light at the bartender. "Say, aren't you George W. Bush? You're the US president, aren't you?" Hayleigh pointed a long finger in the direction of the man.

There was a pause as the three men at the bar and the bartender stared in silence at the journalist before the bar erupted into laughter. "You are, aren't you?" Hayleigh protested. "He is! The very double of George W. Bush."

"If I were lady," the bartender nodded toward his patrons, "I sure as hell wouldn't be drying glasses and serving these jokers in this dump!"

A man, sitting by a table, at the far end of the bar, his face in shadow, his soft hat pulled down over his eyes, a cigarette held in his right hand and his head encircled by a ring of blue smoke, chuckled.

"But you do!" Hayleigh insisted and moved closer to the bar, leaned in toward the bartender, squinted up at his face in the candlelight. "George W. Bush."

"Think she's had too much sauce George." A small man, who could easily pass for Al Pacino, sneered. "She sounds like a lush if you ask me," he added taking his whisky and draining the glass.

"But you do!" Hayleigh insisted.

"Aw c'mon lady" the small man shrugged. "Does he look like Marvin Cortez?"

"Marvin Cortez?" The journalist said, suddenly startled.

"El Presidente," A man who looked a lot like Che Guevarra, complete with beret and cigar, grinned.

"Yeah the president!" The Al Pacino look-alike announced.

"Marvin Cortez?" the reporter repeated. "He's…"

The man at the end of the bar chuckled and moved his head forward into a pool of candlelight. Hayleigh looked left and gasped, convinced the guffawing man was Humphrey Bogart.

"Are you for real senorita? He no even look like El Presidente," Che frowned and pointed at the bartender.

Hayleigh turned away from the men and toward the man serving at the bar.

"Could I get some food here?

As one, the bartender and the men at the bar recoiled, fear flashed in their eyes, their mouths dropped open and they gasped. The others by the pool table simultaneously stopped playing, a ball, struck badly, popped up and leapt off the table, landing on the wooden floor with a bang and running across the floor.

As Hayleigh looked up to the side and into the pool room, her attention taken by the ball crashing to the floor and rolling to the corner of the room, she thought she caught a glimpse of a dark caped figure standing, menacingly, behind the pool players. In a split second the figure had disappeared into the gloom. Her eyes widened and she started to speak, but turning back toward the others by the bar she spread her arms in a gesture of innocence.

"What? What did I say?" She tilted her pretty head to the side.


Now, all eyes were on her.

"Oh I get it," she nodded. "No electricity…right?"

"What?" The bartender frowned, suddenly springing back to life.

"No electricity, that's why there is no food, right?" Hayleigh said naively.

"You know why," Che said gruffly.

The journalist made a face and looked a little unsure.

"I do?" she said quietly. "I mean I do?"

"Sorry," the bartender said hurriedly with a nervous smile and a furtive glance at the others. "No food miss, not tonight."

Hayleigh didn't reply, her lips simply forming a perfect 'o' but no sound came.

"Gimme another shot George, in there." The morose Al Pacino slammed his glass on the bar and pointed at it.

"Coming right up Al." The bartender smiled, flicked his cloth onto his shoulder and moved to his optics.

"You're Al Pacino right?" Hayleigh peered at the smaller man.

"Allessandro Ortiz, Al Ortiz, my name is Al Ortiz lady, who the fuck is this Al whatsisname?" The little man looked about himself and sniggered.

"But you…" the journalist turned toward the bartender. "You are definitely George Bush?"

"No mam," He shook his head.

"Oh shit here we go again folks." Ortiz said sarcastically.

"Taft, my name's George Taft." The bartender concluded with a smug smile.

"Your mother, her maiden name was Barbara Pierce right?"

"Hey, how'd you know that?" Taft responded startled and wide-eyed.

"And she married George Bush the former president of the United States of America, your father right?"

"She's been on the frigging sauce Georgie boy." Al Ortiz made a drinking motion with his right hand, the man at the end of the bar, curling blue smoke from his cigarette enveloping his head, laughed out loud.

The bartender faced Hayleigh and spread his arms on the bar.

"Listen lady my mother was Barbara Pierce, yes, and I don't know how you knew that, but she married Bernard Taft, and he wasn't president. No sir, I'll tell you what Bernard Taft, my father, was. He was a used car salesman, a drunk, a wife beater and a useless piece of shit. He left when I was eleven and I never saw him again. Happy?"

George Taft backed away and returned to polishing glasses with his cloth.

"Where is this?" The reporter asked looking about herself.

"You know where." Ortiz glanced up at her mockingly.

"No I don't mister," she replied assertively, taking Al by surprise.

"Phil's Diner, Bar and Motelmam." Taft announced proudly. "Cambridge's finest. The best transition point in the great State of Ohio."

"Sure as hell is on fire George." The Che Guevarra look-alike held up his bottle of Miller's Genuine Draft in mock salute.

"Phil's Diner, Bar and Motel." George Taft repeated with swelling pride, "Cambridge, Ohio."

"And, what year is this?" The journalist looked around the candlelit room for any sign of a calendar.

"Wait a minute, wait a fucking minute here!" Al Ortiz wheeled away from the bar and moved toward Hayleigh. "What is this? What fucking year is this? What do you mean what year is this? What year do you think it is?"

The reporter shrugged and thought for a few seconds, she looked from Al to George and then behind her to Che before returning her gaze on Ortiz.

"2006?" she replied. "I would also like to remind you that you are speaking to a lady, so a little less profanity would do nicely."

"Well there you go then." Al shook his head exasperated and returned slouching to his seat by the bar.

"What?" Hayleigh frowned.

"What? What?" Said Ortiz bemused and obviously irritated by the journalist. He sighed and started to pace the floor in front of her. "What fucking what? What do you mean what? It's 2006! That's what you wanted to know wasn't it?"

The small man drained his glass again and signaled to Taft. "One more in there George, before this woman drives us all nuts!"

There was silence as the men from the pool table made their way over to the bar. The first man was the double of Telly Savalas, while the other man, walking behind him still carrying a pool cue, bore more than a passing resemblance to Brad Pitt. They reached the bar and responding to Hayleigh's apparent confusion looked at each other and shrugged.

"Gimme a couple of Buds George," the Telly Savalas double called to the bartender.

"Coming right up gents," Taft said happily, moving to the cooler to fetch beer.

"You want a drink mam?" Savalas turned toward the reporter.

"Sure." Hayleigh nodded. "Martini please, I think I need a drink."

George laid the Buds on the bar and turned his back to pour Hayleigh's drink.

"None of you rednecks have the decency to offer the lady a drink?" Brad sneered at the others.

Al Ortiz shook his head.

"Brad fucking Logan thinks he's so fucking smart."

"What you say creep?" Brad retorted.

"I said you're a pussy Logan, you hear that a pussy."

"What'd you say boy?" Brad stuck out his chin at Al.

Ortiz glanced down at the bar and then at the man at the far end of the bar, his soft hat pulled down over his eyes, smoking another Marlboro. At length the man lifted his glass and toasted Al. "Here's looking at you kid," he said in a lispy hushed tone.

Al smiled and turned back toward Brad Logan.

"I said you're a fucking pussy Brad, you know that?"

"What you calling me?"

"Oh…oh…so you're fucking deaf now, is that it? I said…" Ortiz made a point of stepping in closer to the pool player. "You are a fucking prick man, that's what I said. That fucking loud enough for you huh?"

"Hey you're a funny man Al, you know that, a real comedian." Brad shook his head and laughed.

"Oh yeah?" Ortiz nodded and squared up to the taller man. "Uh oh, fight club…here we go…well yeah I'm a funny man, but hey you aint no laugh a minute that's for sure, you fucking pussy."

With this Al attacked Brad swinging a wild, looping hook at his chin and narrowly missing as Logan pulled his head back. Suddenly there was mayhem as Taft leaped the bar and Telly levered himself between the two men. Eventually they separate, still pointing and shouting at each other. The man at the far end of the bar, his hat still pulled down over his eyes, laughed out loud, long and manic.

The reporter was unnerved by this turn of events. She was feeling increasingly fatigued, her back still aching, the blood on the side of her neck dried and cracked. She decided to pass on the drink.

As Taft returned behind the bar after calming Ortiz and Logan down, Hayleigh approached him.

"I wondered, is there anywhere around here that I can get a room?"

"Sure," the bartender nodded moved to the right and rang a bell by the side of the bar.

The journalist waited, a woman, the double of Dolly Parton, arrived, almost instantaneously, by her side.

"This is my wife Dolly," Taft introduced his wife. "Dolly, the lady - sorry miss I didn't get your name?"


"Dolly, Hayleigh here is looking for a room."

"Sure George, please miss if you follow me." Dolly Taft said courteously.

The journalist followed the woman as they walked to the rear of the bar and past the pool table, the others watching her go, Al Ortiz cursing, slamming his glass on the bar and ordering the bartender to fill it up again.

As they moved to the back of the room, Dolly plucked a candle from a shelf near the door and handed it to Hayleigh. She then lit one for herself, placed it in a holder and walked out of the bar.

"I don't understand any of this." The reporter confided in the bartender's wife, but Dolly made no attempt to respond.

Hayleigh followed her down a long dark corridor. A damp smell, which reminded her of wet clothes left too long before drying, filled the journalist's nostrils.

"Where are we going?" The reporter asked. Dolly turned back toward the journalist and stopped.

"You're in transition, didn't you know that?" she said darkly, whispering huskily, before swinging round and setting off again.

"Pardon me?" Cortez called after her as she followed.

"Not far now miss." Dolly said cheerfully her dark demeanor evaporating as she moved quickly down the long hall.

Outside a storm began to lick the skies with lightning, the soft rattling of rain and the eerie sound of a rising wind tormented the motel.

At length they reached a staircase; Dolly ascending in front followed closely by Hayleigh, their respective candles casting freaky, gigantic shadows on the walls as they climbed. At the top Dolly led the reporter down another hallway until she arrived at a door, opened it and stood aside to let her guest enter first.

"Here we are." Dolly Taft said following the journalist into the room. "We're quiet this time of the year, out of season you see. Winter's never a good time for us, strangely. Don't see why it should be that way, I mean what does it matter what time of year it is, still you're here tonight."

Hayleigh held the candle ahead of her and it threw up giant distorted shapes onto the flower-patterned walls. She swept through 360 degrees to scan her transitory bedroom. Her surroundings were Spartan. A double-bed was the centerpiece of the room, a bedside cabinet, a small table and a wardrobe, all sitting on a threadbare carpet would comprise her home for the next few hours.

'Tomorrow' Hayleigh thought to herself, 'I will be able to make sense of all this.' She consoled herself that, at least, for tonight, she had shelter from the gathering storm.

"You come far miss?" Dolly asked as she fetched pillows from the old and scratched wardrobe.

"No," the reporter shook her head, "I had an accident in my car, truck hit me…we rolled over…"

"My goodness…are you okay." Dolly held her candle up toward the journalist's face to inspect her for injuries. "You look okay, just a couple of scratches on your neck."

"No, I am fine, honestly, guess we rode our luck a bit."


"Yeah, I was with my colleague. Jack. He must have gone off to find some help, sent his daughter Heather back to help me find shelter for the night." Hayleigh yawned. "Lucky for me."

"You're tired miss, best get some sleep."

"Have you got a phone, better let my husband know I'm alright. I lost my mobile in the crash."

Dolly tilted her head to the side. In the darkness light streaked her face in horizontal bars as she thought for a moment.

"A what miss?"

"I should call my husband," the reporter explained. "Will he hear you from here?" Dolly frowned bemused, Hayleigh smiling, mistakenly believing that Taft's wife was trying to be funny.

Behind the journalist as she moved to the bed in the center of the room, Dolly Taft reversed out of the room without another word, closing the door behind her with a soft, dull thud. The reporter's candle flickered momentarily in the draft created by the closing door. She pivoted, slightly surprised, but the bartender's wife had gone leaving her alone in the sparsely furnished room.

Feeling a sudden wave of lethargy and tiredness, Hayleigh moved to the bed. She placed her candle on the bedside cabinet, removed her coat and placed it over the back of the wooden chair, kicked off her shoes, pulled the covers back and climbed into the creaking bed still fully dressed. She pulled the threadbare candlewick bedspread over her and settled down on her back to stare at the ceiling. "In transition?" Hayleigh whispered to herself, and thought about what Dolly Taft might have meant. Outside the wind whistled and drove water against the bedroom window, and lightning crackled high above the town of Cambridge.

Turning her head to the side, Hayleigh stared out her window at the moon, slightly distorted by rainwater on the glass panes. It was big and wide and shiny, glowing in the evilness of a jet-black sky. She was sleepy and yet she could not banish the day's events from her thoughts. Insomnia gripped her for a while.

Eventually she succumbed, sucked down by her own weariness as the candle's flame flickered and died in a draft entering between the window sill and the plasterboard wall. Hayleigh soon slipped beneath that distant dark arch and floated off into great billowing dreams.

She found herself gliding effortlessly across the darkest night she had ever known. Charcoal, angry, scudding clouds passed to the side of her, obscuring the face of the moon, a huge circle of white and gray backlit by her sister sun.

The journalist felt a cooling wind in her face and hair as she moved across space. She floated serene and relaxed as the night embraced her and the breeze cooled her. In the semi-darkness, the calming influence of the moon and the clouds led her to a place akin to bliss, a moment soon broken.

Suddenly, growing louder from somewhere nearby and sweeping overhead she could hear the rotating blades of a helicopter. She looked up and caught sight of a massive machine crossing the gloomy heavens, the rear tail above her appearing like a crucifix as it hurtled noisily through the air. The beauty of a Sikorsky CH-53X Super Stallion sinisterly cruising the skies above her.

She heard the voice of a woman repeat a story often told to her by her mother and saw above her where the helicopter had been, a huge yellow circle. Inside of which a little girl lay in bed, while her mother with the book in hand, sat bedside and read the story.

"The dark jagged thorns of the blackberry bush grabbed at the little girl's dress as she skipped home through the trees," her mother's quiet voice said. "The sun's rays like great butter colored spears reached out from the sky and deep into the forest. Behind her the little girl heard footsteps, the heavy footsteps of a dark man. She stopped to listen, glanced backward over her shoulder, but failed to see the blackberry thorns growing along the ground toward her, wrapping her ankles in its branches. The blackberry bush soon wrapped her in its tentacles until all was inky black. 'I bring you melancholy,' said Belladonna, 'It will make your eyes light up the skies.'" Her mother concluded closing the book, looking up and now turning toward her daughter, alarm and fear in her face, holding a hand to her mouth.

The yellow circle dissol

Glassjaw's When One Eight Becomes Two Zeroes grows steadily in volume from somewhere close, like a kind of acid version of The Smashing Pumpkins taken way out onto the edge, while eight miles beneath her as she looks down, through the swirling mist, she can just make out Cambridge Ohio. Steadily, and slowly everything speeds up and rushes in toward her in a great swirling mass and mix of clouds and faces.

Suddenly, from nowhere, Jack Dewie soars downward, headless. Hayleigh gasps, her bright eyes springing wide, as the music grows louder and louder.

Then, the music stops…dead.

Hayleigh slowly wakes up. It is still night. She is in a hospital room surrounded by tubes and machines that go beep, making periodic whirring sounds and are backgrounded by a gentle continuous hum. At the far end of the room a nurse stands in the deep shadow of the soft light. She is holding a syringe and leaning across another patient in another bed.

The nurse whispers to the patient as she administers the injection. A tall, dark figure comes into view standing directly behind the nurse. Looking over her shoulder as she injects the other person in the bed. At first the reporter could have sworn that the man was a doctor, but for a tiny microsecond was sure she had seen the man with a scythe over his shoulder.

Hayleigh shudders and tries to call out but discovers that she is totally immobile. She watches as the nurse moves confidently to her bed, another syringe in her hand. Soon she is leaning down toward the journalist, plunging the long, slender needle into a tube in her arm.

Thin, far-reaching sunrays carry bashful dust specks into the emergency room. A solitary shaft of bright light illuminates a million microscopic stars and planets and compressed space debris in a single strand of universe two foot across and falling to the floor where it disappears into the checkered tiles.

She wakes with a start, feeling groggy, coughing and drowsily pulling herself up onto her elbows.

The nurse from the morning shift jogs to her bedside. "You're okay Mrs. Cortez, Doctor Tepes! Doctor Tepes!" She reaches Hayleigh and gently pushes her back down onto the bed.

A thin, tall man comes into view hovering over the reporter. He is dark, with a wide sweeping moustache and a hooked nose. "Mrs. Cortez?" He begins, taking his penlight and shining it into the right and then left eye of the injured woman. "Can you hear me Mrs. Cortez? How are you feeling?"

Hayleigh found it difficult to speak and whispered her husband's name. The nurse shushed her with a husky, "It's okay."

"Mr. Cortez has been by your bedside since they brought you in," the doctor confided. "You've been unconscious, but apart from a couple of scratches there is not another mark on your body."

Tepes turned away from his patient, and moved to the nurse. He whispered to her to administer a sedative to the woman and contact her husband.

When Hayleigh opened her eyes from a restless doze, she was surprised, but delighted, to find Marvin sitting patiently by her bedside.

She sat up; the nurse appeared, smiled benignly, fluffed up her pillows and strode off to look after someone else.

Marvin explained that she had been injured in a bad traffic accident on Route 77 heading for an assignment in Cleveland. She asked for Jack, and Marvin fell silent. He told her that he had been killed in the accident. Hayleigh was tearful for her fallen colleague. Marvin tried to console her by telling her that he had been killed instantly, but stopped short of revealing the gory details of his decapitation.

"Poor guy," Hayleigh sobbed. "I'll really miss him, I really will."

"Yeah," Marvin nodded solemnly. "He was real special was old Jack. He was a real blade."

"How long have I been in here Marv?"

"You've been unconscious for three weeks."

"Three weeks" she said alarmed. "No! I've lost three weeks!"

"Shhh," Marvin consoled her, held her close to him and cuddled her warmly and tenderly. "Shhh honey, it's okay, it's okay."

There was a pause as they clung to each other.



"Did you know…did the doctor tell you?" Marvin stopped and looked deep into her eyes.

"What?" She urged him to tell her. "What'd he say…Marv? You're scaring me."

"Did they tell you…you're pregnant?"

"No? You're kidding me?"

"Ten weeks now…"

"I can't be…no, Marvin?"

"It's true…you are."

"But…but we always took precautions," Hayleigh frowned looking confused, staring down at the floor.

"Shhhh honey, I thought they had told you."

The doctor came, stroked his moustache, took Marvin by the arm, pulled him to the side, and spoke with him in hushed whispers.

Marvin came back to the bedside, leaned over Hayleigh and whispered in her ear.

"You gotta get some sleep honey, doc says if you keep improving we could have you home in a couple of weeks."

The journalist looked up into her husband's eyes. She wanted to smile, but she had a nagging feeling that, somehow, everything had changed, everything was now different. Pregnant, the word screamed at her, reverberated around her head, and she still couldn't take it in.

She watched Marvin grow smaller as he made his way to the door, turning back momentarily to wave before vanishing out through the door. The light faded, the world turned, she ate her evening meal, outside darkness descended, soft light filled the room, she grew tired, fell asleep, failed to dream, woke at three in the morning, before falling, almost immediately, asleep again.

In the next few days the feeling that something was different, that something had changed, grew. She now knew that she was with child, and this, she thought to herself, should have brought Marvin and her closer, but she felt some distance from her husband, a feeling that she had never experienced before.

Two weeks after waking up, and after some time spent in physiotherapy Hayleigh was ready to go home. Marvin brought her suitcase and the two drove home in silence.

Over the next few days things, for Hayleigh, began to slip back to normal. Yet, still she was dogged by an awful foreboding that something stirring deep inside her signaled irreversible change. A simple nagging doubt which continued to haunt and perplex her.

She had been home a week when Mary-Beth and Dick called. The Francavoni lady sweeping into her house, gushing about how wonderful it was to see her on her feet once more. Mary-Beth held her hand and told her how worried she had been. She also chain smoked three cigarettes in the garden while talking with Marvin and Dick when Hayleigh went to make a pot of tea and put some cookies on a plate, watching her friends and her husband through the kitchen window standing talking in the Spring sunshine.

Later she told her friends that she couldn't remember much about the crash.

"I can't really remember much about it Mary-Beth, just some really weird and silly dreams about George Bush and Che Guevarra."

They all laughed, and Mary-Beth shook her head.

"Has Marvin told you the news yet?" Dick smiled across at the reporter.


"Obviously, he hasn't." Dick looked to Marvin.

Hayleigh looked at Dick and then her husband.

"Go on Marv, put the poor girl out of her misery." Mary-Beth ordered.


"Hayleigh," Marvin started quietly, "I've been invited to become a partner."

The reporter hugged her husband.

"That's wonderful news honey," she whispered to him as Mary-Beth clapped her hands. "But what's that awful smell?"

Later when the Francavonis had gone home, Hayleigh took to circling the room searching for the source of the strong odor.

Marvin, relaxing on the sofa, flicking through his golf magazine looked up.

"What are you doing?" He asked frowning.

"That horrible sweet and sour smell, can't you smell it?" She wandered around searching. "It's fading now, but when Mary-Beth and Dick were here there was this terrible, pungent smell, like rotting flesh, or meat gone off. Of course, being our best friends they were much too polite to say anything."

Marvin stood, stretching, and laid his golf magazine behind him on the sofa.

"Why don't you just spray some of that air freshener honey?"

"You notice it too?" She asked her nose twitching.

Her husband sighed.

"Mary-Beth must have noticed, maybe it is coming from the fridge." The journalist looked toward the kitchen and made to move in that direction.

"Hayleigh wait." Marvin said moving toward his wife. "I have some bad news for you."

"What?" The reporter made a face and pleaded with her husband to tell her. "What? Marvin?"

"It's Mary-Beth," he said looking down at his feet.

"Marvin? What is it?"

"Mary-Beth, she has cancer."


"Lung cancer, well you see how she smokes…that's what you could smell."

"What are you talking about? You can't smell cancer."

"She has cancer Hayleigh, that's what you could smell."

"No, Marvin. She never said…she would have told me."

"She doesn't know."

"Marvin? What are you talking about, she doesn't know? You're not making any sense."

"Hayleigh, believe me that's what the smell was, she has lung cancer, you can smell illness."

The reporter was stunned, confused by what her husband had just told her. She was about to lose her best friend, according to her husband, and she could actually smell her decaying body. She didn't understand, how could she possibly smell her friend rotting away?

Later in bed, reading the short stories of William Carlos Williams, she found it difficult to concentrate, her mind continually drifting back to the strange conversation she had had earlier with Marvin. A million questions about smelling illness in people circulated in her weary head.

The incident played on Hayleigh's mind for the rest of the week, but neither she nor her husband returned to the subject of Mary-Beth's supposed illness.

As the days drifted past, her mind turned to thoughts of returning to work, calculating how she could have her baby, take maternity leave and still pursue her media career.

Marvin had gone off to work; she was sitting at her computer in her study, cogitating on these impending events with a coffee. She could, she had decided, have a baby, and still be senior reporter for the Cambridge Globe. It wasn't impossible. Marvin was to become a partner in Aaronson, Mitchell and Cove; they could afford to hire a nanny.

The phone rang, breaking her thoughts; she reached across and plucked the receiver from its cradle.


"Hayleigh?" It was her tearful friend, Mary-Beth Francavoni.

"Mary-Beth? What's the matter?" The reporter asked.

"Hayleigh…" her friend sobbed. "I've just received some really bad news."

"Mary-Beth what's happened?" Hayleigh implored.

"I've just come from the hospital, I never told you about it, I figured you had enough to deal with. Anyway, I've been diagnosed with lung cancer."

The reporter gasped, and immediately recalled the weird discussion she had with her husband about the lingering smell in the living room.

"Oh no!" The journalist said involuntarily.

"Please dear, please don't worry, we'll fight this…" Mary-Beth's voice tailed off her supposed determination to beat the disease unconvincing.

"Sure we will!" Hayleigh echoed. "Sure we will."

After the phone call from Mary-Beth, Hayleigh called Marvin on her mobile but was yet again forced to leave a message on his voicemail. She told him of Mary-Beth's news and asked her husband once again how he had known her friend had cancer. How he could tell from the smell, how they could both, apparently, smell disease. She hung up, the whole situation mystified her, but she was equally determined to support her friend through a very dark time.

In the afternoon she kept her appointment with the doctor, and was given the good news that the baby was okay, and that she could now return to work.

She had phoned Millar on her Sony Ericsson from the parking lot, and excitedly broke the news to him that she was fit to return to work.

That very evening, delighted by the earlier news, Millar made a detour on his way home from work, to 92 Baltimore Drive to visit his protege and her husband. He was keen to discuss her return and how they were going to organize her workload initially.

"Of course," Millar had told her, pouring himself a cup of coffee, as they sat together in the living room. "We don't want you doing too much on your first few days back. I think I will have you in the office, you can do some subbing."

Hayleigh made a face and protested, but Marvin agreed with the editor that his wife should only be gently eased back into her role at The Globe.

"Besides…" Millar added, "You're pregnant now, so we're going to look after you, congratulations to both of you by the way."

The three discussed many things over the next hour, Hayleigh's return to work, Marvin's new role as a partner in the law firm, and Aaronson, Mitchell and Cove's paid for advertising space in the paper. At length, Millar Matthewson took his leave, stood and stretched, commented that Mrs. Matthewson would be wondering where he was.

While Hayleigh removed the tray of coffee and dishes to the kitchen, Marvin walked Millar to the hall.

"Millar, she doesn't know," Marvin said with some alarm in his voice.

"Don't be stupid Marv, she has to know…"

"I'm telling you she hasn't got a clue." Marvin's eyes widened.

Hayleigh overheard this, straining to pick up what was being said as she moved from the kitchen out to the hall. She frowned and wondered what they were talking about.

As she joined the men in the hall she caught Millar in mid-sentence.

"Best damn reporter I've ever had in a long time" he announced his voice booming along the corridor. The men turned toward her. "Millar's just been saying how much the paper has missed you." Marvin grinned.

"Oh don't tell her that," Matthewson started up, "God damn, we don't want her head getting too big now do we?" The editor laughed.

"What were you saying just now?" Hayleigh ventured looking from her husband to Milllar.

"Oh that…" Marvin began, trying to make light of it but obviously floundering, quickly glancing at Matthewson for help.

"I was just saying Hayleigh, and I thought you might have guessed by now…"

"Guessed what Millar?"

"Well, if you must know I am going to promote you to senior reporter after Bukowski retires. I have to clear it with the board, of course, but, on my say so, that should be a formality. I thought you might have guessed, Marvin here said you didn't have a clue." Millar winked at Marvin Cortez.

"I didn't!" she exclaimed rushing to her editor and embracing him.

"That's wonderful, isn't it Marvin."

"Yes, wonderful…I erm…well…we'll have to get childcare organized but shouldn't be a problem."

"Well I best be going," Matthewson turned to leave.

Millar moved to the front door but stopped suddenly and turned back toward Hayleigh.

"I'll see you Monday morning young lady, but I don't want to see you before 10:00 and that's a God damn order. Deal?"

"Deal." She agreed, and he smiled his paper tight skin creasing into a patchwork of lines.

"Oh Millar… I just wondered," Hayleigh suddenly remembered "…the story?"

"Story?" Matthewson's forehead crumpled into deep furrows of worry.

"The Blockly story, the one you sent us to Cleveland to cover."

"Oh that…nah…there was nothing there Hayles, Ol' Tom Hickey got it wrong I'm afraid."

The journalist frowned and stared at the floor for a few seconds before smiling and shrugging at her boss.

Wearily Matthewson turned back toward the front door, and Hayleigh's eyes widened as she noticed that Millar cast no reflection in the hall mirror. She looked from the editor to the mirror and then back again as Millar left the house, but she could see nothing but the door closing behind him. She turned; her husband was already striding back toward the front room.

As she entered Marvin placed a protective arm around her shoulder and led her over to the sofa where they both took a seat.



"Millar?" She began.

"Yeah, yeah, what about him?" Marvin said impatiently.

"Millar, when he was standing in the hall…there was no reflection in the hall mirror…"

"What are you saying, honey?" He asked, trying to smile, forcing his lips apart and showing his teeth in an unconvincing attempt.

"I don't know," she said cryptically. "He…Marv, he didn't have a reflection in the mirror! Why was that?"

Her husband stood and paced the floor, laughed nervously.

"So, what are you saying? He's what, a frigging vampire? Hayleigh?"


"No reflection, doesn't that mean that someone is a vampire?" He laughed ironically. "Here," he held up his mobile phone, "Why don't you phone Van Helsing? Find out if Christopher Lee is available?"

Hayleigh's husband mocked her, laughed out loud and shook his head.

"Marvin, why are you being like this?" She stood and clenched her fists, frustrated and angry.

"Like what? Come on honey, you're an investigative reporter. Listen to what your saying, your boss is a scary creature of the night?"

"No!" She bit her lip. "Yes, well I don't know, do I? All I know is, when he left tonight I couldn't see his reflection in the mirror."

"Hadn't you thought it might have been the angle of the mirror in the hall?"

"The angle?"

"Yeah, Millar goes out the door, but you don't see him in the mirror, because…"


"The mirror is sitting at the wrong angle to catch his reflection?"

"You think?"

"Maybe? Who knows? Don't you think it's better than telling the neighbors…'Oh by the way, we had a visit from a vampire last night.'" Marvin laughed again. "You'd sound like you were nuts, crazy, maybe they'd think you'd been on the booze. Think about it Hayleigh."

"Yeah, maybe you're right…" she laughed and relaxed, "Hey sometimes I think I am going nuts you know? Maybe I'm just tired."

"Sure you are. It's only a couple of weeks since you woke from a coma." He moved to her and took her in his arms.

"You think I'm going mad?" She looked up into his eyes.

"I don't think, now I know you're mad." He laughed and embraced her.

The couple fell silent.

"Hey listen," Marvin said suddenly. "I thought we could go to a movie…"


"Well, no time like the present, they're showing Hostelin town, I'd quite like to see that. Besides it's Friday."

"Yeah, why not, I can't remember the last time we went to the movies?"

"Batman Begins?"

They drive downtown, their mood relaxed, chatting happily about their respective futures.

"What do you think of Lilith?" Marvin said, non sequitur, as they traveled through early evening traffic toward the theater.

"Lilith?" Hayleigh looked across at her husband.

"For the baby, if it's a girl, of course, you like it?"

"Hadn't really thought about it." The journalist shrugged.

Marvin parked the car in a lot a couple of blocks from the cinema, and they set off to walk the rest of the way. 'It was good' Hayleigh thought to herself, 'To walk hand in hand.' For both it was like old times, when they had first met, and she remembered the excitement and enthusiasm of those early days when their love was just starting to develop into full commitment.

"I had forgot how good this feels." Hayleigh announced as they walked, letting go of Marvin's hand, linking arms with him and placing her head against his shoulder.

"You happy?" He asked.

"This is like old times Marv, of course I'm happy," Hayleigh smiled.

"Hey, remember Fleur Milligan's Coffee Shop?"

"Hayles…" Marvin began with a sly grin. "Who could ever forget Fleur Milligan's Coffee Shop?"

"So, what do you think?" Her husband said at length.


"The name, for the baby?"

"Lilith? Okay. Yeah, you know I quite like that. Lilith Cortez, yeah that's okay. It has a…" She fumbled for the words.

"Ring to it?" Marvin offered.

"Resonance." The reporter laughed and nodded. "It has a resonance."

As the couple took a side alley linking Park with Delaware, a young man sped past them, slipped on the sidewalk and fell over. They stood helpless as they watched him topple to the ground with a sickening thud, striking his head on the curb. Hayleigh winced, Marvin jogged over to the injured man, crouching as he reached the runner and asking him if he was okay.

The boy groaned.

"I am supposed to meet my girlfriend at eight and I am late already." he moaned.

"You're okay buddy, I got you." Marvin held the boy by both shoulders and stared into his made-up eyes. "Might be concussed though."

A large gash had opened up along the man's hairline and blood was running freely from the wound, flowing down his forehead and into his eyes.

The reporter joined her husband crouching by the injured kid, who was now propped up in a sitting position against a streetlight. Hayleigh reached up, gently pushing the man's hair back to reveal the wound, blood oozed out of the cut and ran down onto her hand.

Her head swam with a myriad of images from the events of the last few weeks. The car crash, Jack's scream, Marvin driving the truck, her husband, his eyes wide and glowing climbing on top of her, the candlelit bar, the nurse standing over her bed slowly coming into focus, liquid squirting into the air from the long needle.

When she returned her attention to the injured man, the runner was mumbling incoherently about having a headache. She then looked round and into her husband's eyes knowing something had changed. Marvin's eyes looked stranger than she had ever seen them. Deep inside them she saw desire, and felt that desire herself. It grew like an addiction, a compulsive need to reach out and take the pill that the blood from the bleeding kid represented.

She suddenly understood, remembered the mirror, devoid of Millar Matthewson's reflection as he had left their home earlier. At one and the same time Marvin turned halfway toward her as he crouched over the bleeding man and she noticed how very large his incisors had become.

"I couldn't let you die…not forever" he whispered to her. "Do you understand?"

"But, I can see myself in the mirror; I can be out in the sunlight. I had garlic in my pasta last night; no, I can't be a - a vampire. Besides, I'm pregnant. Vampires can't breed. Can they?"

Marvin reached out to her. "We evolve just like other life forms. There are thousands of us living as normal beings in Ohio. And there are millions more around the world. Those old stereotypes keep us safe."

Somehow, she understood. She reached out toward the man, her hand cupped. She caught the blood dripping from the boy's scalp, lifted it to her mouth and fed greedily, while Marvin checked the young man's pulse at the side of his neck with his mouth.

Heather had finally earned her jet-black hair. She had delivered the sacrifice to them. And Cobi had welcomed their embrace. His dream of immortality soon to be a reality.

Police investigating the strange death of a man found in Grant Alley, Cambridge, on Friday evening, say they are not treating it as suspicious. The man, 19 year-old Cobi Gordon Cuvedoch, was found dead in the alley by two men taking a short cut between Park and Delaware. He had a deep gash high on his forehead, but the police think that it was simply a tragic accident. "He was late for a date with his girlfriend," Cambridge police sergeant Jacob Clarence said. "He had been seen running through the town previously, it is most likely he tripped and banged his head, this we imagine would have caused his death. There were two curious puncture marks on the side of his neck, but we don't think this had anything to do with the teenager's death."

Hayleigh looked up from her keyboard as Millar Matthewson came striding across the office to her desk.

"Your man," he started, pointing at the computer screen where she had been writing the story, "Seems he disappeared from the local morgue."

"Now there's a thing," the reporter replied looking up. "I wonder how that could have happened?"

Millar Matthewson arched his eyebrows and smiled at Hayleigh, and she smiled in return, their extraordinarily larger than usual incisors clearly on show.

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