"Layna, we think you're the next target."
It's hard to understand how scary death can be when it remains a faraway threat. It's the bridge that we don't cross until we get there. It's the scenario we avoid thinking about at all costs. It's the fear that permeates humanity to the core.
There I was, realizing that I might be crossing that bridge in that very moment. Each breath was ticking down to be my last.
I looked up at Sylvia. Her expression was grim.
"How long have they been here?" I asked, my voice small and quiet. Sylvia stood next to me and squeezed my shoulder.
"We think they've been enrolled since the start of the semester, maybe sooner."
"It could be anyone," I muttered. I was so care free for the past month or two. It was chilling to think that this whole time, I could have been killed by someone who I considered a friend.
"Well, maybe not anyone," Sylvia said, moving back to the white board. "We have some clues."
The man in the suit set down a small box on a nearby desk and pushed a button. It whirred to life and projected a picture of a blond woman onto the board. Her hair was wild and her eyes glowed red.
"We have this shot from security footage, and we know some vague details about her," Sylvia began, producing a small remote from her pocket and pressing a button. The picture disappeared and was replaced with a couple other pictures of women I didn't recognize. One of them had dark green eyes and long, dark hair. It looked like a mug shot. The other was clearly a rich and influential business woman who belonged on the cover of a boushy magazine.
"About two years ago, we lost contact with the woman here, Caroline Clarke," she said, gesturing to the rich-looking woman. "She was in a long term relationship with a woman named Sophia L'verra, who also went missing around the same time as Ms. Clarke. We were unable to find any bodies or evidence of either of their deaths, but our intel says that Sophia likely killed Ms. Clarke and fled to Italy."
"What does any of this have to do with me?" I interrupted, overwhelmed with all this information.
"Bear with me, we are just about there," Sylvia sighed, speeding up her explanation a little. "Lucia Romano, the woman here with the dark hair, was hired by Sophia to gather information about the Consortium of Other Human Affairs. Sophia and Lucia then made an appearance at a United Nations conference held in Germany, posing as two representatives. The representatives they took the identities of were found dead in their hotel rooms, and when this was brought to light, Sophia fled, killing a security guard and an older woman a few miles away before disappearing again. Based on testimony from Lucia and the subject matter of the conference, we think that Sophia is here and she is looking to find Jessica's whereabouts."
The room went silent for a few moments as I processed the story. The suited man shifted nervously and Sylvia's gaze bore down on me.
"So, you're looking for her blindly?"
"Not necessarily. We have some trails that led us here. First of all, I'm sure you noticed the red eyes. She's a vampire, so she has a metaphorical trail of blood behind her. Not only that, but after taking Lucia Romano into custody, we learned that Sophia has the draw of a succubus."
I cocked my head to the side.
"I didn't know Other Humans could have multiple abilities like that," I muttered.
"It's very rare to be born with two traits like this, but even more rare is that she wasn't born with the draw of a succubus. She gained it when she killed Caroline Clarke. Which means, not only is there a blood trail, the blood trail is also laced with her signature on a molecular level."
"Do you think she knows that her path is so distinct?"
"She probably does, but based upon reports from officers that encountered her victims, she doesn't seem to care. For instance, one officer said, 'Whoever did this wanted us to see it, like they were on a power trip.'"
"Fuck... and she's here..." I breathed, immediately thinking of Heather. Was my attraction to her fully my own, or was it being manipulated by pheromones that I couldn't even notice.
"So, here's our plan," Sylvia sighed, sliding me a small disk-shaped object. It looked like a tiny speaker that could fit into my pocket. "We want you to keep this on you. It can track your location and allow you to communicate with us. That way, if you run into trouble, we can find you."
"Wait, you mean..." I muttered, a chill running down my spine. "I'm bait?"
"Unfortunately, it's our only option," Sylvia said. Her eyes turned a deep blue, like the bottom of the ocean. "If we pull you away, she'll go back on the move, but if we do anything more than these screenings, people may begin to panic. We want to keep this as quiet as possible and get it done quickly."
"But if she captures me, that puts Jessica in danger... You're really willing to risk that much?" I asked, feeling much less confident in the power that their Consortium held. I got that they needed to stay quiet, but it just seemed like they were gambling too much here.
"That's why we have Franklin as backup." Sylvia gestured to the large man in the room and he stepped forward.
"I'll be around campus and keeping my eyes peeled. You'll have help at a moment's notice if anything happens," he said, his voice smooth and calm.
"Don't you think that he'll make people wonder about what's happening? He's pretty intimidating..." I asked, shuddering a little as he towered over the two of us. Sylvia nodded to him and he smiled. Without any warning, he disappeared without as much as a shimmer of the light.
"Invisibility... that's a new one."
"You won't even know he's around. Any more questions, Layna?"
"All I've gotta do is watch out for anything suspicious and hope that I don't die, right? Seems simple enough, as long as I ignore the terrifying part of it all," I said, trying to compensate for the knot in my gut and my mind racing. I stood up and followed Sylvia to the door of the empty classroom.
"Oh, and your class today looked good when it came to our screening. You can trust them," Sylvia whispered before opening the door and following me out.
"It's good to know there is someone I can trust..." I muttered under my breath as I headed back to my classroom. Violet smiled as I sat back down, and leaned over.
"You were in there for a while? Everything okay?" she whispered.
"Yeah, it's fine. They just asked me about the library and got off topic."
The next two days were a true test of my sanity. I felt like every corner hid a serial killer, and each time I opened a door, I nearly flinched. Part of me desperately wanted to hide away in my room and never come out, but I had to make sure I could go to my classes. Sure, at any moment some random woman could show up and kill me, but that was no excuse to skip my classes! At least, it wasn't an excuse that my professors would accept.
Unfortunately, my nerves got the best of me sometimes, and I had to bail on hanging out with my friends. For all I knew, Connie could push me in front of a car in the blink of an eye, Gwen could poison my meals, or Heather could stab me in my sleep! The only person I could really trust was Violet, and maybe my two other classmates that I worked with in my English class.
As I headed to the library to study with said group, I got a text from Heather.
"Hey cutie! Are you gonna come to my place tonight?"
I groaned, turning off my phone screen and setting my phone to silent. I genuinely had no idea how to blow her off without making her mad or making her worry about me. Just thinking about it made my anxiety grow like a virus. On one hand, she could be trying to kill me! On the other hand, I could be wrong to avoid her and actively ruin our friendship forever. It was paralyzing, and while doing nothing was, in fact, an option, it was not one I took happily.
I sighed, wrapping my jacket closer around me. Just yesterday, it felt like I was wearing t-shirts and sun dresses with Heather, but now my breath was clearly visible in front of me. Nothing felt as warm as it once did.
I rounded the corner of the library and made my way in the front entrance. After poking around for a little while, I found Violet, Minx, and Disney Guy at a secluded table in the library's basement. Passing all the bookshelves gave the creeps, but knowing that this small group was safe was at least some kind of relief.
"Hey, sorry I'm a little late," I sighed, setting down my bag and pulling up a chair. Violet's smile was bright and welcoming as she urged me to sit next to her.
"So, we were just talking about our final project. You know, the one where we do our own adaptation to present to the class?" Disney Guy said. I nodded, remembering the day that we went over the project a couple weeks ago.
"Cool, any idea which work we want to adapt yet?" I asked, getting situated with my literature book and notebook.
"We have two ideas so far," Violet said, picking up where Disney Guy left off. "The Imperfect Enjoyment, by Rochester, or Shakespeare's sonnet eighteen."
"Geez, can't get much more different than those two," I laughed, pulling open my book where I had each work bookmarked from earlier in the semester.
"See, Violet and I want to do Shakespeare's Sonnet," Disney Guy said, but as he opened his mouth to continue, Minx interjected.
"And I think that Rochester's poem would be way more fun to adapt. He literally cums early and she gets pissed and he cries about it for the rest of the poem," Minx said, her grin almost comedic. "I think he's just a little bitch."
Disney Guy and I laughed at her crude humor, but Violet wasn't as amused.
"But Shakespeare's Sonnet is so sweet and romantic. I'd feel much better adapting that one."
The conversation broke off there, and it was up to me to decide what we would do. Minx's eyes bore into me, and Violet looked concerned. All this time, and she still hadn't warmed up to Minx and her odd charm.
"Well, I think you can't go wrong with Shakespeare," I decided, eliciting an eye roll from Minx.
Our group got started, reading the poem and interpreting the meaning as we went along. Minx was quiet and kept glaring at me, sending shivers down my spine. I was relieved to know she was safe to be around since she was in English 251 with me.
After something close to an hour, we took a short break. Disney Guy went to the restroom to, as he said, 'Drop a big one', and the rest of us took a short walk to some vending machines down the hall.
"What's even the point of adapting Shakespeare?" Minx questioned, clearly still mad about the decision. "It's not like his mushy romance has any place in the modern day."
"Well, I think it's lovely! While seasons eb and flow, he thinks her beauty is never ending and pure. I think the world could use more love like this," Violet remarked, but Minx was unphased.
"I think the world could use a good thrashing. Love just makes you complacent and weak."
Violet and I grew quiet. Neither of us were entirely sure what her deal was, but she had clearly gone through some shit. The way she talked, you'd think she could take a life without blinking an eye.
Minx inserted a few coins into the machine and her drink came down the shoot into her hand. She walked away, skirting past us and around the corner without as much as a word.
"What's her problem?" Violet worried. She leaned up against the wall next to the machine as I put some coins into the slot.
"She's probably just having a rough time. Maybe her family isn't too great," I said, giving her the benefit of the doubt. Somehow, I always felt like she deserved it. I got my drink and we started walking back.
"That's no excuse for being a bitch though. She's got everyone wrapped around her finger, yet she treats everyone like garbage."
I stopped walking. I wasn't sure how to respond. My head started to throb and I felt like there was something I was missing. I rubbed my eyes and tried to think, but everything felt cluttered, like my thoughts couldn't discern what was real.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to get so worked up," Violet muttered. She had turned to me when I wasn't paying attention.
"No, you're fine, I just... I just feel off."
"Do you need to go back to your room and rest? We can handle the project for this afternoon if you need us to." Violet reached up to take my hand away from my forehead, and her eyes gazed into mine with affection.
"No, no I'll be okay. I just need a minute."
Violet nodded, looking down and turning to walk back to our table. I started to feel dizzy and supported myself against a bookshelf. What was it that I had been told to watch out for?
"You're not looking so good, Layna," a voice said from behind me. As I turned, Heather came into view, and my mind seemed to slip back into place enough for me to remember that I wasn't answering her texts and she was likely not too happy with me.
"Heather... hey. Yeah, things are... weird right now," I mumbled, unable to look her in the eyes. She didn't move from her spot a couple feet away from me. Her eyes remained locked onto mine.
"You've been distant lately. Did something happen?"
"Um, yeah... I can't talk about it though. It's not because of you, it's just... a lot to handle," I said, stumbling through my words. Heather took a step forward and I instinctively took a step back. That's right, she could be a killer. Anyone outside of my English class could be trying to kill me. That was what I was forgetting, right?
"Is this your way of cutting things off? Just going quiet and avoiding me?" Heather asked. The last thing I wanted to do was to be a painful memory to her, but I just didn't know how. I couldn't be vulnerable, or she might end my life. I couldn't tell her the truth. Hell, I could barely think straight in this state. What was happening to my mind? Was this the draw of a succubus? What was this?
"Your silence speaks volumes, Layna. I don't know what happened to the sweet girl I met a few months ago, but let me know when she is back."
"Heather, wait," I groaned, my head aching suddenly. I collapsed to my hands and knees, my breathing ragged and heavy. When I managed to open my eyes again, Minx was standing over me with a smug look.
"I'd rather play a little more. No hard feelings."
With a swift kick to the head, the world went black and I lost consciousness.
When I opened my eyes, I was looking up at a white tiled ceiling. I turned my head and recognized the colored patterns of the nurse's office curtains around me. My head throbbed slightly as I looked around. Then I heard some voices in the room.
"Will she be okay to head back to her room soon?" the first voice asked.
"She'll likely be back up in the next hour or so. Other than a bump on the head, she should be alright," the second voice said. It was much more gravelly than the first voice.
"Is it alright if I stay till then?"
"Sure, just make sure she signs out if she gets up and I'm gone."
There was some shuffling, and then the curtain opened. It was Violet. She looked like she had seen a ghost.
"Layna, are you awake?" she asked, quickly reaching for my hand. I tried to nod, but I winced at the pain in my head.
"What happened?" I asked, trying to sit up a little.
"I don't know. Minx came back to the group after going to check on you, and she said that Heather came and knocked you down or something. That's when we brought you back here."
My headache grew a little, remembering seeing Heather and her disappointed face. I couldn't remember much more than that though. Something happened, but it was a blur.
"That doesn't seem like something Heather would do though," I groaned, my feelings for her still very much alive, and the pain of hurting her still fresh.
"I'm just glad you are okay, Layna. I don't know what I would do without you," Violet said, almost on the verge of tears. I wasn't sure what to say. I lifted an arm and wrapped it around her, and she slumped into me, hugging me close.
"I'm sure you would manage if I had to leave," I finally managed. She pulled herself back and stared into my eyes. I could see the fear inside of her, and as that moment went on, I could feel my headache clearing and my thoughts growing in clarity.
"Layna, you're so dear to me. I would be lost without you," she cried, tears falling down her face before she hugged me close and buried her face into my shoulder. "Seeing you hurt made me realize that I need to tell you... that I love you. Even if it pushes us apart, I can't keep it to myself anymore. I don't care what happened with Heather or how you feel about her. I just need you to know."
I was at a loss for words. I held her as she cried, stroking her back to try and comfort her. By the time she had calmed down, the nurse returned to the room.
"Everything okay ladies?" she asked, before pulling back the curtain. Violet looked up and quickly pulled away, trying to cover up the fact that she was crying on me. I smiled as best as I could, but the nurse clearly knew what was up.
"Sorry to butt in, but Layna has a guest."
I nodded and took violet's hand before she could walk away.
"I want to talk about this more when I get back to my room, okay?" I said to her, and she nodded, clearly not sure if she should be excited or scared. I wasn't sure either.
Violet left and Sylvia entered. Her massive bodyguard was nowhere to be seen, but that didn't mean he wasn't there.
"Good to see you in one piece, Layna," she said, sitting in a nearby chair and crossing her legs.
"I'm glad to be in one piece, although I feel so confused about what happened? Was it the killer? Did Franklin save me?" I asked. Sylvia shook her head and Franklin appeared, leaning against the wall next to her.
"We aren't sure exactly what happened, since Franklin didn't have a clear view of you, but given the situation, the killer has to be that girl Minx, or Heather."
"But wait, Minx is in my class and Heather would never-" I interjected, before Sylvia waved a hand to silence me. Her eyes turned from the usual icy blue to a deep purple.
"Apparently Minx was missing from your class the day we came to run tests, so she could be the killer. Not to mention, you're attracted to Heather, so she could very well be drawing you in. To play it safe, we have recovery teams positioned to capture and test both of them this evening."
"What happens to them after they are tested?"
"If one tests positive, they will be brought back to the Consortium headquarters and under arrest. If either tests negative, they will be sedated and have no memory of the event."
I took a deep breath and nodded.
"So it's over then?" I asked.
"After this evening, you can return to your school life," Sylvia nodded, her eyes shifting to a light brown. "We will keep in touch."
She stood and Franklin vanished from the room. She stepped toward the doorway and turned.
"Oh, and Layna? I'm sorry if this was tough on you. I'm just glad you're alive."
As she turned and walked out the door, I wasn't sure what to say. The apology felt genuine, but I didn't think she understood the severity of what I could lose. I loved Heather, and if she wasn't the killer, I may never be her friend again. If she was the killer, was everything I learned from her wrong? Were all the feelings we shared for nothing?
The conflict was over, but I still felt uneasy. Anxiety knotted in my stomach. I just wanted a normal school life, but this whole situation had thrown me off.
I got up and headed back to my dorm room. My head still felt tender, and having to hold an ice pack on the spot I was struck was painful. The halls were fairly empty. Dinner in the dining hall was still going on, but I had lost my appetite.