“That Girl Possessed”

story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb


“Have you ever felt like it was wrong that you were born?”

Rory blinked his eyes open, prying himself from the clutches of a languid half-sleep. Sunlight lay in long, harsh stripes across Max’s face, which rested supine, eyes listless and staring, on the pillow next to his.

“Yes,” he said. Eyed her for a moment. “Why?”

She rolled over onto her side, facing away from him.

It had been like this since her last episode. She didn’t talk much anymore, and when she did, it was was to say stuff like this. She’d lost interest in cartoons, food, more recently even sex. And there were moments, like the other night when Jules’s lab colleague had stopped by, that she seemed only half-conscious of her surroundings. Yesterday Rory had caught her staring at Jules across the room, muttering something about “Adam” (which she pronounced ah-DAHM). When Rory had asked her what was up, she’d only looked at him like she didn’t know him.

After another minute or two, Rory heard her snoring—felt a small, guilty wave of relief. Whenever Max went to sleep, it was like a dark cloud rolled away. Not that Rory was especially happy puttering around the suite all by himself, but Max’s company these days was definitely more draining than it was invigorating.

Rory eased himself upright with a grunt, fumbled around on the nightstand for his cigarettes. Wondered what the hell to do with himself. Shitty TV wasn’t nearly enough of a distraction these days.

He paused, tuned his ears to the distant sound of the front door opening and closing. Jules. Felt himself brighten a little, thought about the pot of leftover rice in the fridge and the lonely packet of longganisa sitting in the freezer. Lately, he’d been eating nothing but Froot Loops, Hot Pockets, and SPAM out of the can, because Max was never hungry anymore, and Jules rarely got home before dark, and cooking for one just never seemed worth the trouble.

Rory tugged on a shirt and PJ pants, shuffled quietly into the hall.

As he eased shut Max’s door, strangled whimpers and labored breathing reached his ears. “Jules?” A fist of worry clamped down on his chest.

He hit the living room at a light jog, turned a frantic three-sixty, hearing the sounds as if they were coming from right next to him, but seeing no one.

Finally, he spotted Jules’s satchel protruding around the short outcropping of wall that sectioned off the entryway.

Rory went skidding toward it and halted, heart pounding, at the sight of his old friend huddled on the rug with his back to the door, rocking, clutching his head in both hands.

“Jules.” Rory rushed over, crouched next to him.

“Where’s Max?” whispered Jules. He looked like a wreck, his eyes bloodshot, face mottled and swollen from crying. There was dried blood on his coat.

“Asleep. Are you hurt? What the hell happened?”

Jules’s whole body spasmed. “I fucked up!” 

•─────☾ ☽─────•

Rory perched on the edge of the balcony, legs dangling off between the rails. Jules sat crosslegged a foot or so away from him, slumped forward with his forehead against the bars, staring down on the parking lot eleven stories down in a way that made Rory nervous. The glamors of the square had taken on a dullish cast under a sky obscured by listless gray clouds.

“You can’t tell Max you had anything to do with it. You know that, right?”

Jules turned tortured eyes on Rory. “Rory, I owe her the truth.”

“No, you goody-goody fuck. Listen to me.”

Jules stared at Rory, seemingly stunned into silence.

“Just stop a moment,” said Rory, “and think about you and me.”

“You and me? What the fuck are you talking—?”

“When I hurt you, it was the end of us.”

Jules looked at Rory blankly.

“Max’s mom isn’t your fault,” Rory went on, “so of course this is different. But if you tell Max the truth, all she’s gonna hear is her mom is dead because of you. And that will be the end of you and Max. Do you understand? You won’t be able to be there for her, ever again. And I’m telling you—you don’t fucking want that.”

Jules stared off helplessly for a moment, then bent his head down, clasped his hands behind his neck, gasped for air. “What do I do?” came his muffled voice through his hair. 

“Pin it on the cogimancer. Say you had nothing to do with it.”

“I can’t even think clearly enough to—to—”

“I’ll tell you what to say. Okay? Better yet, let me be the one to tell her, and you just act like you’re crying so hard you can’t talk.”

Jules let out a wracking sob.

“See? You won’t even have to pretend.”

“Rory, I…” Jules trailed off.

Rory waited, then said gently, “Yeah?”

Jules burrowed headfirst into Rory’s chest, almost bowling him over. Clung to him weeping like a child.

Rory sat frozen for several seconds.

Then, hesitantly, he began to rub Jules’s back, then rock him, faintly humming a tune, the way he’d used to do with Abby whenever she got freaked out as a kid. He was dimly aware of a monologue running somewhere in the background of his thoughts, something about how he was doing this all fucking wrong, and he shouldn’t have his filthy hands on Jules, and things were gonna take a bad turn any second. But he ignored that voice. Just went on comforting his crying friend, the only way he knew how.

Several seconds—maybe minutes—passed of Jules convulsing, heaving, almost retching a time or two, pouring out months, maybe years of pent-up grief.

Then, finally, his sobs began to soften, and the motions of his body grew gentler, till he slumped, exhausted, against the wet spot he’d made on the front of Rory’s shirt, shivering and hiccuping.

Rory continued to rock him and hum. Just that. Nothing else.

… Even when Jules raised his head and rested it gently against his throat. When Rory felt Jules’s uneven breaths on his collarbone. Jules’s wet lashes brushing his neck.

“Dude. Are you…?” Jules lifted his blotchy face, furrowed his brow at Rory. “Are you humming ‘Helena’?”

“I think so?” Rory’s voice was thick. “It just started coming out.”

Jules’s lips twitched faintly upward. “Dork.” His face crumpled. “Oh, fuck me. I can’t laugh right now. I’ll never laugh again.”

Rory hesitated, then brushed a tear-soaked strand of Jules’s hair from his cheek. Tilted his friend’s head up, looked him in the eyes. “You will. Promise. Just never tell Max it was you. Okay? You have to promise me.”

“Never tell me what?” 

Rory’s heart plunged. He followed Jules’s petrified stare to the small, scruffy shape of Max in her robe and scarf, peering out at them through the open sliding glass door.

“Rory,” Jules murmured. “Rory.”

“Stay here. I got this.”

Rory stood up, walked over to Max. She was staring at Jules, visibly alarmed to see him in such a state. Her eyes switched to Rory. “What’s going on?”

Rory took her gently by the shoulders, turned her around. “Let’s go sit down, okay?”

“You told Jules not to tell me something. Why’s he freaking out? Don’t you dare lie to me.”

“How are you feeling?” Rory guided Max to the couch, sank down on it with her. His heart felt like it was about to hammer its way out of his chest, but other than that he felt curiously calm and in control. “Because I have to give you some bad news right now. And I don’t want it to make you worse.”

“What kind of bad news?”

“I’m just gonna go grab your sedative first, okay?” He stood.

Max grabbed his arm, yanked him back down. “Tell me right now. Or I’ll make Jules tell me.”

Rory sat, surveyed her.

At last, he heaved a sigh. “There’s no way I can make this easy for you, is there?”

“Just say it.”

“Max, your mom—” To his surprise, Rory’s throat closed up on the last, critical word.

“My mom…?” Max blinked at him. “My mom what?”

Rory stared at her, unable to speak.

“My mom what?” She started breathing hard through her nose. Gave him a sudden, hard shove. “My mom what?”

Tears welled up in Rory’s eyes. “She…died,” he croaked. It sounded like a question.

Max looked at him. A weird smile spread over her face. “That’s stupid. How would you know that? You don’t even know my mom.”

“This is harder than I thought,” Rory exhaled.

“How would you know anything that’s going on with my mom?” Max’s lower lip shook. Her eyes switched back and forth, plumbing his. “What were you and Jules talking about out there? Jules…he’s been asking me stuff about my parents lately.” Her gaze dropped. Her breaths turned shallow. “My m-mom had nothing to do with all this. Nothing. What the hell happened?” She grabbed Rory, shook him. “Tell me what fucking happened.”

“It was the p-people who hurt you. They got in her head. Made her—made her jump—out the window.”

She stared.

“Max,” said Rory. “I am so sorry.”

Max turned away, covered her mouth. “Mommy?” she whimpered, then heaved like she was about to throw up.

Rory reached for her, but she spun on him suddenly:

“Why did you say to Jules, don’t tell her it was you?”

Fuck. “That’s…not what I said.”

“You said, ‘Never tell Max it was you.’ I was standing right there. Don’t fucking tell me what I heard.”

Rory’s head started to throb. He felt a strange pressure in the air, a chill blooming over his chest. Max’s eyes were glistening, bestial. Black veins began to creep in from their corners. Her irises rolled back in her head. She shuddered, bared her teeth.

“That was about something different,” said Rory, as evenly as he could, and got to his feet, slowly, avoiding any sudden moves. “Stay right here, okay? Don’t move a muscle. I’m gonna get you something to help you calm down.”

“LIAR,” growled Max. Her voice sounded like rusty machinery grinding in a cave.

Rory started to back away.

Max grabbed his shirt. Yanked with such speed and force it ripped right off him.

Rory stared at her, stunned—and realized it was no longer Max staring back at him. It was Max’s face. But the expression it wore was distinctly, indescribably inhuman.

The next instant she was on him, howling like a hurricane, her fingernails ripping his bare flesh. He tried to grapple her, but she was impossibly strong. She caught his right hand in hers, crushed it; then grabbed him by the hair and cracked his head against the floor so hard he saw spots.

When his vision cleared, he glimpsed a flash of crimson light—Jules’s arm. The alchemist was behind Max, reaching both hands around her, probably trying to sedate her with his tattoos.

But she was too quick for him—grabbed his left wrist and bit down on it, hard. Rory heard the crunch, Jules howling in pain—felt a squirt of blood hit him in the face.

A hex pulsed out of him before he could stop it.

Max’s body lurched. She wavered, straddling him. Her head lolled forward, her hair obscuring her face.

For a moment, she loomed there, doddering. Rory looked around but couldn’t see Jules, didn’t know where he’d gone.

When Max finally rolled her head back, and the curtains of her hair fell aside, the sight of her face struck a thrill of terror in Rory.

The void had stretched long cracks up her cheeks, transforming her eye sockets into bottomless pools of black. Her gaze was empty…but Rory somehow knew it saw him.

Not just saw. Wanted to consume him.

She got a fistful of his hair again, sat back on her haunches, lifted him upright. He hung, mesmerized, in her grip; stared unblinking into the ragged voids that had been her eyes. “HOW ADAM LOVES HIS DISEASE.” She made a hacking sound that could have been a laugh or a sob. “AN ETERNITY OF ANGUISH, BECAUSE OF YOU.”

Rory knew, in that moment, that she was speaking truth. That all the sins of the world had somehow been of his making. That it was up to him to break the cycle. And there wasn’t much time.

“I’m sorry, Mother.” Tears streamed down his face. “Please: End it.”

She clutched his skull between her hands, placed her thumbs over his eyes. He dangled in her grip, waiting for the death strike.

A dull THWACK shattered his trance. The Mother’s grip went slack. Rory’s head slipped free, hit the floor like a stone.

Seconds later, Max slumped motionless on top of him.

Rory heard panicked breathing. Opened his eyes, blinked as the light flooded in.

With effort, lifted his head—saw Max lying motionless, her face buried in his chest, blood matting her hair.

Behind her stood Jules, gripping an iron floor lamp in his trembling, blood-soaked hands.

“Jules,” mumbled Rory, still trying to understand what had happened.

Jules dropped the lamp. Its glass shade shattered. “Oh…God. Oh, God.”

Rory pushed himself up with a grunt, clasped Max’s lifeless form against him. He tilted her head back, felt for a pulse.

“Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.” Jules fell to his knees, clutched his head in both hands.

Rory looked up. “She’s alive.”

Jules stared at him, round-eyed. “She is?” he said, almost childlike.

“Definitely has a pulse.”

“Oh.” Jules let out a sob of relief.

“Fuck, dude. Your wrist.” Rory stared at the blood spurting from Jules’s bite wound.

“What if she’s brain-damaged now?”

“Your fucking wrist.”

“It’s fine. It doesn’t kill you as fast as you think.” Jules crawled over for a closer look at Max.

Rory ripped a piece off his torn shirt, started tying up Jules’s wrist as best he could—seeing as the outer fingers of his own right hand were probably broken. Max’s bite, he realized, had wrecked what appeared to be the output channels of Jules’s tattoos. Guess that’s why he had to use the lamp. “I think brain damage is the least of our worries,” he muttered.

Jules stared at Max’s face. Her eye sockets remained two long, ghoulish wells of black. As always, the void’s progress showed no signs of reversing.

When Rory had finished with his wrist, Jules slumped back against the couch. “I did this to her.”

“No you didn’t.”

“I killed her mother.”

“No you fucking didn’t. Anyway, it’s probably my fault. I hexed her when she bit you.” Rory waited for the inevitable blowback in response to this confession. But it never came. “Did you hear what I just said?”

“I whacked her on the head with a lamp stand.” Jules sounded tired. “I could have killed her.”

“Well, she survived us both. Guess she’s extra fucking tough when she’s like that.” Rory sat back, sighed. Watched the blood from Jules’s wrist soak all the way through the makeshift tourniquet. “We’re in over our heads.”

Jules simply nodded.

“It’s time to take her back to the Enclave,” said Rory.

“They won’t know what to do for her any more than we do.”

“Maybe not, but hopefully they can at least contain her. Which would free you up to focus on your investigation.”

“What if they won’t let me continue the investigation?”

“Have you ever thought that might actually be a good thing?”

“Rory. They find out I’ve been studying a Nihilic magic phenomenon in the lab all this time, they might shut down that research too. I can’t risk that.”

“Jules. What if you can’t fix this? Have you considered that?”

Jules’s chin quivered. He picked Max up, gathered her to his chest. Buried his nose in her blood-slicked hair.

“You can’t always fix something that’s broken,” muttered Rory. “No matter how bad you might want to.”

Jules gazed down at Max’s ruined face, gently touched her cheek. “What the hell am I supposed to do if I let myself think that?”

“I’ll get back to you when I figure it out.”

Jules looked up at Rory as if seeing him for the first time.


Join our Patreon to download an early-access ebook of the complete Part Two.

Want to start back at the beginning?
Download the complete Part One for free in ebook format.

Support Form and Void on Patreon