Stage-lights-3Young FBI candidate Ginny Morisson carries a dark secret shared only by her beloved father Papa Freak, a respected older agent. Problem is, it’s Papa Freak’s secret too.

Also appears in the short fiction collection Feral Tales.

warning: mature language and content

I always loved the idea of serialized stories — Dickens and Dumas, Flaubert and Doyle parceling out their works to an eager public. Wilkie Collins apparently had trouble keeping up with the pace and was always delivering just before deadline. Some things never change!

Part One


She ate slowly, but not because she was savoring every bite. The food tasted like nothing; it choked her. Only by going slow could she force it down.

“What do you feel now, huh? When the fuck is she going to say something?”

The words were nothing as well. Something dropped on the floor, kicked under the hard plastic table, lost in the shit-spatter pattern of the old linoleum. The cafeteria at Quantico was much nicer, but then, there was a lot more money in the Bureau’s pockets than there was for the municipal police in D.C. There was no need to acknowledge the speaker, or any of her other classmates who stood in loose groups nearby. She forked a chunk of whatever it was, put it in her own slack mouth, forced her jaw to work. Fuel. Nourishment. Sustenance.

“Ellia isn’t going to need any more food,” she said. “But she’s incidental, right? Just someone who dated the wrong guy. Not the victim of a monster.” It was out of her mouth before she had time to censor it.

She was vaguely aware of a surge of disgust coming off one of them, probably Poabst, somewhere in the corner of her vision and someone else whose sense of betrayal came through as cleanly as a radio station on a clear night. Those were the things she knew because of what she was; you only needed normal human senses to hear the rough whispering of profanity that accompanied the quiet discussions going on around her. But she didn’t care. She couldn’t feel anything, taste anything, could barely hear anything. Horribly, perversely, she began to laugh.


April 15, 6 am.

Philip was cutting, himself mostly, the chair when the knife missed his skin. The lockblade was old and dull. Unsatisfying. Not even extra painful, just ineffectual.

He wanted to stop. At least, he knew he should want to stop, but there was a deeper need, the one demanded by the mantra in his head: I want to be dead. I want to be dead.

The chant had begun two days ago. At least two days. He had no idea if there had been a let-up during that time, for an hour, a minute, a second. All his energy since he’d first become aware of the voice in his head had been devoted to misdirection, to distraction. If he could distract himself, he wouldn’t need to act on the voice.

The worst part was he knew he wasn’t psychotic. The voice wasn’t some chemical thing conjured whole by misfiring neurons. He didn’t have that comfort, that excuse. There was nothing wrong with him. Nothing at all. He was just. . . sad.

The key scrabbling in the deadbolt lock made him jump and cut the arm of the chair again. But this wasn’t a distraction the way he needed to be distracted. This was incitement.

The moment Charlie came through the door, he was up and in her face. Where had that spurt of energy come from? She started to smile, started to say, “Hey hon, how are you feeling?” but he was in her face, stopping her short. The knife, the dull lockblade, in her stomach stopping the words on the exhale of her breath. Her kindness and concern morphed into something similar but terrible: disbelief, love, horror.

The knife was barely sharp enough to cut through the sweater she was wearing, but he put the full force of his strong right arm into it. He struck again, and again, sometime parting the skeins, sometimes pushing orange fibers into her skin along with the point of the blade.

He had a new mantra now: Shut up, shut up, shut up, shut up...


The profiling section of Quantico, the fabled BAU, is underground. Apt, perhaps. Agents locked in windowless subterranean rooms, delving into the most subterranean motivations of the human psyche.

At least, that’s what her training officer had told her during orientation. “Hidden perversions,” he’d said. “Long-buried predilections. Desires submerged so deep in the past that even the UNSUB might be unaware of why he kills.”

At the time, it was manna. She ate it up. It made so much sense. Find the reason, find the perp. Only, the reason was never what they said it was. If she didn’t have her gift, she might have believed them. She would have been like every trainee: drinking the FBI Kool-aid and preaching the doctrine of the monstrous. Instead, she had learned to feel. Learned to know. And that started to eat her.

“Ginny Morisson.” Assistant Special Agent in Charge Batchiler broke into her thoughts. She lurched to her feet, almost upsetting her coffee. Paper cup, no lid. Something no one should trust her with, given the interplay of her tendency to wool-gather, and startle reflex.

Normally, she’d have used one of the china mugs with the FBI shield on the side; they must keep boxes of them in the storage rooms to restock the kitchens and cafeterias of Quantico. But everyone knew there could be a roll-out today, and so she’d gone paper, black, a dozen sugars to keep her from remembering she hadn’t eaten that morning.

Batchiler, pronounced bachelor but spelled to give cadets a dozen options for behind-the-back nicknames, was a career officer in what she’d come to see as the common mold: six foot, one eighty or one ninety depending on whether he was training or in training, unapologetically salt-and-pepper, chiseled. She knew him as a man with an answer to everything, but his personality remained oddly undefined. It was there in the dark, well-cut suit and the impeccable manners—the impersonality of the Bureau.

Batchiler gave what might have been a smile even though it barely touched his lips and left his eyes alone altogether. “Morisson, back to class. Craciun, Poabst, you’re with me.”

Roll-out, without her. Okay. No problem. She tried to keep her face neutral as her two classmates left the room with Batchiler. When they were gone, she sighed and relaxed. Good.

April 15, 6:15 am

Philip sat with Charlie’s body. It was definitely a body now, not Charlie any more. He cried. It was the first real anything he’d felt in a long time, but even then, his despair was dull and almost second-hand. He cried as if he was someone else, as if it was another person who was devastated by Charlie’s death. He didn’t know if he even remembered how to cry as himself, for himself. No one had cried for him in so long, not in his memory in fact. How could he possibly know how to cry for someone else?

He knew his thoughts weren’t making any sense. Of course he was crying; it was him and no one else. But there was a layer of cotton, or insulation, between him and his emotions. They didn’t really belong to him, just like his hand hadn’t really belonged to him when he cut his own forearms or pushed the knife into Charlie’s belly.

He knew he should be trying to decide what he should do next, but that was as far as his thoughts would take him. I have to do something was his new mantra. The old ones were gone. They had no urgency now. I have to do something.

Instead, he sat and cried.


part two