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Marian Kelly died in a one-car accident near her home in Turtle Lake, Montana, on August twentieth, at the age of forty-two.
Marian is predeceased by her parents, Rand and Millicent “Millie” Kelly, and her brother, Christopher.
Marian was born in Prospero, California, and studied Psychology at the University of California, San Francisco. She held black belts in multiple martial arts and was an accomplished member of the Turtle Lake Hunting Club.
I skipped the details of Marian’s perfunctory funeral service, put the newspaper clipping back in the plain, unstamped envelope it had arrived in, and filed it out of sight; not that this did anything to clear the smudged print from my vision. Alone, it was unsettling. In a stack of six other recent obituaries of other Splinter hunters, in six other anonymous envelopes with my name stamped on the front, it sent a very clear message.
I’m no stranger to death threats. At the time of Marian’s death, it had been less than a month since the Splinter posing as my father told me to my face that if Ben or I fought back again, if we even tried to run, the humans would be wiped out of my infested little town of Prospero completely.
I’d fact-checked each obituary as it came in.
Every one of the hunters had died under circumstances that looked very much like suicide. Most of the obituaries didn’t say so, exactly, but after the few that did, omissions of the cause of death and euphemisms like “one-car accident” and “chemical overdose” were easy enough to decipher. Sometimes, when the deaths had been a little more bizarre or had occurred on slow news days, there were more details to be found when I looked up the rest of the news sources in the area.
These weren’t suicidal people. They weren’t quitters. Wondering how someone could possibly have made it appear as if Drake Tymon had slit his wrists and throat alone in an industrial freezer that was later found barricaded from the inside was filling my head quite effectively with distractingly disturbing scenarios.
But the thing bothering me most about the obituaries was the fact that all seven of their subjects were currently loitering around my bedroom.
Sometimes, if I stared directly at them for long enough, they seemed to remember that they were supposed to be dead and vanish accordingly, albeit temporarily. Otherwise I could see them, silently and blankly watching me work, as clearly as I could see my bookshelves, my bed, and the stark beige walls and end tables that, until recently, had held my very large and very useless anti-Splinter amulet collection.
Nightmares are no more new to me than death threats. That’s not what these were. A hunter would die and join the rest of the hallucinations in my room the day after the obituary arrived, and then another one would die and join him without fail. If things carried on this way, my room was going to become unmanageably crowded quite soon.
It wasn’t even as if I were going to miss the hunters. A few of them, like Drake, I’d known pretty well years ago, but I’d stopped assuming they were still alive—never mind still human—long before they’d turned up dead. Others, like Marian, I only knew by reputation in the first place.
Not knowing them well only made it stranger that they were here, after everything I’d lived through and lost without having suffered from any sensory distortions before.
Ready? The text scrolled across my phone’s screen after Ben’s name.
I wasn’t looking forward to conducting the upcoming meeting for my entire Network, a roomful of people who had nothing in common other than their knowledge of Splinters and their confidence in my judgment and clarity of perception. Ben had insisted, though. A lot had changed, and people needed to be brought up to speed.
Billy was gone, lost to the Splinters, if we had ever even had him. Whatever had been passing for my absentminded ally had been manipulating us to breach the peace, such as it was, for no one knew how long.
Ben hadn’t even met some of the others yet. Our discovery of portals to other parts of the world in the Splinter Warehouse had put an end to the Effectively Certain Non-Splinters list, or had reduced it to a uselessly small number of people. The only people in town I could really be effectively certain of anymore were myself and Haley, since we’d both recently been ripped directly out of replication pods. That wasn’t enough to work with, so I’d had to downgrade my entire Network to Extremely Probable Non-Splinters and start training myself to live with that, because the alternative was not getting anything done at all.
Ben was stubbornly under the impression that Haley’s presence on the list alone qualified her as a Network member. I disagreed.
Most important, we now knew more terms of the Splinter-Human treaty and exactly how precarious our position was. Two human-on-humanoid Splinter kills by the same human would mean all-out war, and Ben and I each had one strike already. And no matter how careful we were, Billy and any like-minded Splinters would find a way to incite that war sooner or later. We were counting on an unforeseen miracle to make the human side a significant power before then.
As someone who doesn’t believe in miracles, this wasn’t news I would enjoy delivering, even on my best day.
I finished up some new touches on the map over my desk—the new world map I’d posted under the map of Prospero to track probable Splinter activity at the other portals—and blinked hard, hoping the illusion of the hunters would fade out at the usual time. Their faces were already getting blurry around the edges, right on schedule.
That was something, at least. I was going to be able to function for another day. If my Network, the few humans invested in finding or building that miracle, found out what was happening to me, it would probably be the end of what hope we had. They would give up on the one thing they all agreed on, my reliability, and maybe they’d be right to do it. I’d probably do the same in their position.
But even if I couldn’t see a difference between the walls and furniture that constituted my room and the dead people that my brain had decided to superimpose in front of them, at least I still knew the difference. I still knew what was rational and what wasn’t. Before the first hunter had appeared, the evidence of my senses had been the basis for almost everything I thought and did. It was going to be difficult to get used their new fallibility, just like the fallibility of the ECNS list. But as long as the inner workings of my mind were in working order, it was worth at least trying to do my job.
Or that’s what I told myself, for the thirty-seventh time, when I recognized Ben’s knock on the front door above.
MATT CARTER is an author of horror, sci-fi, and yes, even a little bit of young adult fiction. He earned his degree in history from Cal State University Los Angeles, and lives in the usually sunny town of San Gabriel, California, with his wife, best friend, and awesome co-writer, F.J.R. Titchenell. Check out his first solo novel, Almost Infamous, or connect with him on:
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