“Please don’t listen to it until tomorrow,” she had said after having a weird reaction to it. “It makes no sense to me but I think it will to you.”

I gingerly picked up the recorder and straightened out the headset. I hesitated before inserting it into my ears, then took a deep breath and went for it. What the hell had been on this tape? What was it that caused her to kiss my forehead and tell me I had nothing to worry about? Usually when someone pulls that line on you, you’ve got a fuckload of problems coming your way.

I swallowed hard and pressed play. Static came on and I turned the volume up a bit. Nothing. I scanned back to a minute earlier and let it go.

A voice spoke that caused my balls to shrivel up.

“I’m being watched,” Creepy Clown Lady’s voice came on. “We all are. By the soulless ones who keep us here. The demons.”

It was too close to my ears, to my brain. I pulled the earphones out a tad, as if that would prevent her from coming through, and scanned even further back. I went back to listening, hearing only footsteps echo. It must have been the hallway back at the asylum. Then, everything went completely dead, like the sound and life were sucked out of the recorder.

“Declan, Declan,” her voice came back on. “Declan, can you hear me? You should hear me now. You should see me soon. Your medication no longer works. She switched it on you.”

My head hurt. Creepy Clown Lady was talking to me. Telling me my what? My medication didn’t work? She switched it? Who? Perry? That made no sense.

Clown Lady’s voice continued. “It is for the best. You need to be yourself. That’s the only way we connect again. You need to remember me. Remember your Pippa. I know it’s hard, you don’t want to remember the past. Neither of you do. But it’s time to accept what happened. What happened to both of you. I wish my family had let me stay with you, Declan. You needed someone to take care of you. Someone who loved you like I did.”

Fuck this.

I quickly hit stop and shoved the devil’s machine away from me. Was I still fucking wasted or what? There was no way in hell, no way that I could be hearing what I thought I was hearing. My pulse quickened, the veins in my wrist throbbing as I tried to wrap my head around it.

I put the earphones back in and pressed play again. Creepy Clown Lady repeated herself, and this time her words were sinking in. Not only what she was saying, but how she was saying it. Her voice. Her accent. Pippa.

My Pippa.

I was flooded with memories—some horrible, some wonderful—all of them involving a woman that was more like my mother than my mother ever was. She had been old then too, but her spirit was balls out, so much so that I couldn’t place her age. She didn’t look like the ghostly apparition I had first seen on Bainbridge Island back in the summer. She didn’t seem like anything that could have loved and cared for me the way that Pippa did.

She went on, as if knowing how confused and/or drunk I’d be. “Remember the days we used to spend down in Central Park? The ghosts that walked among us? I’m one of them now. But I’m different. Because I was different before. Just like you. I can cross over when I choose. But I have to be careful. I’m being watched, we all are. By the soulless ones who keep us here. The demons.”

Suddenly the ring of a phone—my phone?—blasted across the earphones. On the tape, I answered the phone. Perry was no doubt on the other line.

The phone call didn’t disturb Pippa in the slightest. “I don’t suppose you will hear this until later since you don’t seem to hear me now. But when you hear this, know that I’ll be around if I can and when I can. It’s getting trickier to see you. I’m being watched, as I said. So I need you to stop all your medication, Declan. It’s time to face what you are. And what Perry is. And who I am to you. To both of you. Perry, if you’re listening…ask your parents who Declan O’Shea is. And watch them carefully. You’ll get the truth that I am not allowed to reveal.”

The recorder went back to static and fuzz. I slowly removed the earphones and sat back in my chair.

What. The. Shit?

The room swirled around me as my brain, my poor drunk and bruised brain, tried to sift through Pippa’s message and find the meaning in it. It was too much. Way too fucking much.

My dead nanny was haunting me, and Perry too. Somehow Perry’s parents knew my real name—but how and why? It was time for us to face what we were. But what was that? And I had to stop taking my medication.

My head reeled some more as I recalled what Pippa had said earlier on. Perry had switched my medication. That was why I had been seeing ghosts up until recently. That’s why I’d seen Abby when I had never seen her before. Not since my breakdown anyway.

That had to be a mistake though. Perry would never, ever switch my meds on me. That wasn’t her style. She was honest to a fault. Well, apart from the whole telling me she wasn’t in love with me bit.

Oh god.

I jumped to my feet and brought my hollowed out book from the shelf. I took out my pills, the ones I had consistently been taking and really studied them. At first glance they seemed fine. But one of the bottles had a little bit more in it than the others did, which didn’t make sense since I always had to take an equal amount of each.

I cleared my desk and shook out the contents in neat little piles and then slowly started going through them, counting each pill, looking for irregularities. The bottle that was the most full had sixteen more pills than the other ones did. That didn’t bode well. I picked up one of the small yellow ones and peered at it—Z over 3926. I’d never examined my pills closely enough to know if it said that before, so I quickly hopped on Google.

In a second I learned that it was five milligrams of diazepam. Valium.

And yet, somehow I couldn’t believe it. There had to be some weird mistake. Perry would never do that to me. She couldn’t…she wouldn’t.

I looked at the white pills next. There wasn’t a mark on them; they were smooth and clean. But that didn’t seem right either. Those were my anti-hallucinogens, the strongest you could get. They’d have to be marked. With panic reaching around me like one bad-ass boa constrictor, I Googled the name of my medication. It should have R20 0168 on it. Or 7655 or something.

These had nothing. They weren’t my medication.

I’d been taking low-grade Valium and a mystery pill for the last few weeks. My other pills still seemed to be what they were, but that wasn’t enough to keep me at an even keel.

Perry had switched my medication on me, for who knows what reason. She’d seen me freaking the fuck out in an alleyway, terrified out of my mind. She’d heard me tell her about the mental institute. She was there to hear it all, my soul laid bare in complete honesty. She watched me suffer, she discovered my deepest fears.

And she hadn’t said anything.

For the first time in a while I was able to ignore the heartache—the extreme, gut-wrenching betrayal—as anger came buzzing through me like kamikaze pilots. I was mad. I was livid. I was enraged. Nothing else that happened, nothing that I’d heard on the tapes, meant anything to me at that moment. All I could see and feel was that Perry had fucked with my life like I was some god damn science experiment and lied through her brilliant teeth while she watched me succumb.

I welcomed the anger with clenched fists and open arms.

CHAPTER THREE

Apparently, the world didn’t stop just because you did. Despite the days I spent in an emotional coma, drinking and smoking my way out of my web of lies, Christmas was still approaching. I didn’t really notice unless I left the house, popping in at the shop across the street to get my jugs of beer-to-go and bottles of wine. The twinkling lights, Mariah Carey music, and false cheer were like the final nail in my coffin. Life was going on at its shitastic rate, and yet, there I was, smelly, barely clothed, and drinking myself to death. It didn’t fit. No one deserved to feel better than I did. I wanted everyone to know the endless rage and sorrow that wouldn’t scrub away. It wasn’t fair that they escaped and I didn’t.

Sometimes I really hated Perry. I’d think about her and feel nothing but this animosity, this dark fuel that filtered through my veins like sludge. I wallowed in it, embracing the hate, dancing with it, for hate was a much more potent and powerful lover than sadness ever was. It made me feel vindicated and alive.

But in the mornings, it would fade. Over time, the anger would subside. And so would the heartache. I was down to feeling nothing at all. It was brilliant.

Since I’d stopped caring, it made everything else easier to deal with. I still managed to take Fat Rabbit out for his walks, but other than that, I just didn’t give a shit. I thought I was pretty good at it too. Once again, I was ignoring my phone calls. In fact, I forgot to charge my phone and left it dead. I didn’t check emails. I didn’t do anything.

Occasionally, I would think about Pippa’s message to me. I guess I took some of it to my cold, cold heart, because I stopped taking my medication. If the ghosts came after me, so what? Who cared? It’s not like I needed to better myself anymore. Besides, it might be fun to associate with the dead. They were the only ones who were as unfeeling and empty as I was. They’d be the perfect companions.

Then there was the whole thing about Declan O’Shea, which of course was my name until my mother died and I took her last name, Foray, to remember her by. Or at least remember my guilt. I finally came to the conclusion that if Perry’s parents knew who I was, it probably had something to do with the Swedish Spectre of Clown College. Logic pointed to Pippa being Perry’s grandmother or relative of some kind. But you know what? Whoop dee fucking do.

Yes, the no fucks to give stage was wonderful. I drank some more and ate tons of crap just because I could. I was sleepwalking through life, and that was good enough for me.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough for everyone. Apparently, I had friends and people who worried about me. I couldn’t keep them out of my bubble for long.

It was two nights before Christmas when Rebecca and her girlfriend Emily showed up at my apartment. It took that moment for me to, once again, realize how out of control my life had gotten. I thought I was just fine, sitting on the balcony in the freezing cold, drinking my bourbon. I’d eaten bag after bag of Doritos and was feeling a little hot. That might account for why I was out there in my underwear. I mean, it all made valid sense in my head at the time. You’re hot? Take off your clothes and sit outside in near freezing temperatures. Enjoy the view. Enjoy the darkness.

I don’t remember all that much, except for the horror on their faces as I was shoved into the shower. Not a nice steamy shower to get my cold bones back to a normal state, but a cold shower that felt like murder on my frozen skin. So much for not feeling anything. I hollered and yelped as Rebecca practically assaulted me with cleaning products. Then I was even more helpless as she dried me off and put jeans and a thick sweater on me. Meanwhile, her partner in crime was out in the kitchen, pouring out every bottle of booze I had and throwing every bag of chips into the garbage.

Oh no, Hulk alert. Not my chips!

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