In a stare down, no one won against Zander. He had a technique of keeping his eyes open longer than anyone else. He’d let his vision focus on the irises of his opponent then he’d let his mind go blank. That way, he doesn’t notice his eyes drying out, which was usually why someone blinked during a staring contest. That was way neither Adam nor Nate played the blinking game with him during their down time at investigations. But there was something about staring at the new Exorcist that had Zander breaking eye contact first. Her pale gaze looked through him, bared his rancid soul for all the world to see. He felt buck-naked in that office filled with his colleagues. He had to stop from cupping himself out of misplaced modesty, it felt so real. Not very many people intimidated Zander, with the exception of the Pres, but this chick made him shrink inside himself. She managed to creep him out and annoy him in equal measure. And to make matters worse, she might not even be older than he was.
Yup, definitely annoying!
The Pres went straight for Zander and took his hand in a firm handshake, breaking the girl’s spell. “Good ratings last weekend, Z. Very good. I can’t wait to see what you have in store for our viewers this week,” he said.
“I think we have our most compelling footage yet, sir,” he said.
“How many times do I have to remind you to just call me Logan?” The Pres grinned.
Zander let go of
’s hand and pumped his fist. It had gone numb from Logan ’s grip. “Until you stop being the president, sir.” Logan
Normally, a comment like that would have gotten someone else fired for insubordination. The gasps from the newer members of the staff proved Zander had stepped out of line. But
took it in stride. He was, at the root of it all, a paranormal investigator, just like Zander. If there was someone who understood Zander well, it would be him. Logan
The president of the network stepped back to address the crowd gathered. “Everyone, as you might have already heard, Bishop is currently away on official business.”
“It’s news to me,” Nate mumbled to Zander, which got him an elbow to the stomach. He had the good grace to take it without flinching when a lesser guy—namely Adam—would have doubled over and groaned.
“So, to fill in for him here,”
didn’t miss a beat, ignoring the antics of his lead investigators, “is this wonderful young lady.” He motioned for the Goth chick in the cassock forward and she took one step, gracing him with a tight smile. It was clear to Zander she didn’t appreciate being called a young lady. He already five percent liked her for that. The other ninety-five percent, on the other hand, was still to be determined. “She graduated at the top of her class and was personally hand-picked by Bishop himself to act as his stand in here at IPA.” She blushed at the praise, suddenly finding the floor very fascinating. “Everyone,” Logan continued. “Please welcome Pope to the Logan . I already know she will be an asset to this team.” Institute of Paranormal Activity
Polite applause broke out. The loudest of which came from Adam, who even whistled. He was never one to hide his enthusiasm, which reminded Zander of his youngest brother. Nate frowned, but clapped anyway. Zander remained motionless, studying the girl. How could she have been hand-picked by Bishop? He couldn’t believe it.
And just as he stared at her, she returned it blow for blow. At least she was fearless, Zander thought. Another five percent of liking there. A weaker girl would have been fawning over him by now. Drooling at the very least. He was sure his reputation had reached the academy.
But the real test of what she could do would be on an actual job. Could she handle an Exorcism without blinking twice?
announced, “back to work, everyone.” Logan
The crowd dispersed amidst murmurs. Nate and Adam made an about-face, but before they could take a step toward the editing room,
stopped them. Logan
“Zander, Nate, Adam, wait please.”
Nate and Adam flanked Zander, who by now had crossed his arms over his chest. His gaze remained on Pope, wishing he could access what she was capable of without needing to bring her out into the field. The last thing he wanted was for an Exorcism to go wrong. Lives depended on the ability for an Exorcist to cleanse the environment being haunted. One mistake could make things worse for those living there. It could even invite more unwanted activity. Many investigators have suffered for the mistakes of an unskilled Exorcist. It was like the spirits knew who was at fault for bringing in the fool who wanted to send them away. Hell wasn’t a fiery place. It was having an entity attach itself to you. Zander resisted the urge to touch his forehead. It had gotten hot all of a sudden.
“Pope, let me introduce our best paranormal investigation team,”
said. “From your right to left. Adam, the equipment tech, Zander the team leader and host of Paranormal Investigations, and Nate, producer, camera man, you-name-it-all-around guy.” Logan
“Basically, I get the jobs these two wimps are afraid of doing,” Nate said, hiking a thumb at Zander and Nate and giving Pope a wink.
She didn’t shy away. Instead, she grinned and nodded at each of them. “It’s a pleasure meeting you, gentlemen. I look forward to working together with your team.”
Zander couldn’t stop the snort of derision even if he’d wanted to. It took all of them by surprise, including himself. Adam was slack-jawed. Nate shook his head.
narrowed his eyes at Zander, who’d dropped his gaze, but not before he caught a corner of Pope’s grin twitch. Logan
“I trust there won’t be any problems, boys.”
pierced all of them with a-world-of-hurt-will-come-for-mistakes stare. Logan
Zander coughed into a fist, which suspiciously sounded like a cuss, and said, “Welcome, Pope.” Then he focused on the Pres. “
, it’s going to be a long day for us. We have footage to edit and narration to write and dub if we want that episode ready for the end of the week.” Logan
The Pres nodded his assent. Zander quickly turned around and practically sprinted toward the editing room. Adam and Nate were hot on his heels.
“What happened back there?” Adam asked with the kind of wonder of someone who’d just seen an alien.
“You know Z doesn’t play nice with the new kids,” Nate teased. “His OCD doesn’t let him.” He opened the door to the editing room and motioned for them to proceed.
Adam walked through first, cracking his knuckles and rotation his bawled head to work out the kinks. Zander stopped in his tracks and stared at the farthest wall of the room. The cap he wore absorbed the sweat that dampened his forehead. He wished he could say the same for his hands. They shook.
“Z, something wrong? You look out of it, man.”
Nate’s remark knocked him out of his stare. His vision had begun to tunnel. He looked at Nate and managed to say, “Go on ahead and start. I just need to use the bathroom.”
The worried expression of Nate’s face made Zander nervous. He twisted to the left and hurried to the communal bathroom. He pushed against the swing door and thanked God the place was empty. All the stall doors were open and no one stood by the urinals. He stumbled to the nearest sink, trembling. With shaking hands, he pushed the tap handle up. Cold water whooshed out of the faucet, drowning out his suddenly too loud heartbeat.
He stared at his ghostly reflection in the mirror. A spot of red lifted on the front of his cap. He reached up and removed it just as someone walked in. He turned to look at who it was and sucked in a breath.
“How long have you been possessed?” asked Pope. She leaned against the back of the door, acting as a stopper in case someone else decided to come in.
“None of your business,” Zander barked. He felt the need to stand his ground, even if it was his ego dictating the action and not his common sense.
“Oh, I’d say it’s my business all right. Better not drip all over your shirt.”
Zander touched his forehead with clammy fingers and came away with blood on the tips. He faced the sink again and slashed cold water on his already cold face. He gasped at the icy contact. Normally, it would be refreshing, but considering the circumstances, he had to use all his willpower not to sink into a panic attack.
“The bleeding will stop, but the wound won’t heal until your Exorcised,” Pope said as if she was suggesting a different color shirt for him to wear.
Zander’s breathing became shallow and labored. “Are you volunteering for the job?”
“I don’t see any other Exorcists available, do you?”
“Oh, don’t be a baby.” She grimaced. “I may look young, but that doesn’t mean I’m inexperienced. I can have that thing out of you in under an hour.” She drew a symbol in the air and chanted the way Exorcists did—a mix of Latin and a language far older. The symbol, a circle with an arrow pointing up, floated toward Zander and attached itself to his forehead. “That’s a containment seal,” she said.
“I know what it is.” Zander touched the symbol that now covered the three scratch marks.
“Then you also know that it won’t last long.” Pope pushed away from the door. “You don’t trust me, I get that. I saw it in your eyes the moment I stepped out of that elevator. But you’ll have to learn to tolerate me if you want that demon in you exorcised. Bishop isn’t returning for a while, so you’re stuck with me, pretty boy.” She pulled at the door and stepped out without a glance back.
Zander yanked hard on the towel dispenser for three sheets and scrubbed his face dry until his skin was an irritated shade of pink. He balled up the paper towels and threw them into the trash like a professional baller—swish, all net. Damn if Pope wasn’t right, but he wouldn’t admit to it if it killed him. The containment symbol had him feeling better in seconds, but he was far from out of the woods this time.
According to his research, it would take a while before the demon took full hold of him and switch him to full Linda Blair mode. Projectile vomit and body contortions would be the least of his worries. Three to five weeks at most before things got worse. By then, Bishop would be back. He had to be back.
Zander took one last look at the containment symbol and jabbed the cap back on. Seems like he wouldn’t need any hair gel for a while. He considered make up to cover the marks and the symbol, but only for a second. No make up.
He closed the tap and left the bathroom just as a group of fact checkers walked in. Why did girls always have to go to the bathroom in groups? Zander spared them a tight smile before returning to the editing room.