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"You have one new message. To listen to your messages, press one. To—."

Sighing, I lowered the phone and pressed the indicated number before replacing the device, steadying myself on the seat in front of me as the bus' wheels thumped over the retrofitted bridge. Below, the Agoura River trickled, churlish and reticent, the water depleted by August's heat and California's perpetual dryness, the haze reflecting on the solid concrete embankments rising like unfurled wings on either side of the aqueduct. My eyes followed the water until it disappeared in the distance.

"Hi, I'm Taylor Whitney from Imor Advances' human resources department, and I'm calling for Saryt Gaspard. If you could, call me back at this number as soon as possible—."

Again, I pressed the button, then ended the call to my voicemail. I found myself surprised anyone at work had noticed my absence, let alone asked an HR representative to inquire about my whereabouts. Imor didn't open on Mondays, making today the first day I'd missed, though I could little believe only two days had passed since that night. Numbness still buzzed in my fingertips, still fogged my mind; it felt as if months had passed, or perhaps merely minutes—not two days.

The bus slowed, and I stood, swaying, hand pressed to my middle as sweat dripped along my spine and nausea twisted in my gut. The driver threw an uneasy glance in my direction as I eased my way down the steps and through the folding door, welcoming the sudden, arid heat hitting my bent shoulders and perspiring brow, skin tingling under the brunt of late afternoon sunshine. I held myself upright with one hand against the bus stop and lifted my head.

Rio Verde wasn't as upscale as the Pinegrove neighborhood farther north, or as trendy as the Greenwood district back across the Agoura, but the area reflected none of Evergreen Acres' suburban drudgery or the cheap styles favored by those cookie-cutter tract homes. The apartment complexes stood ringed in healthy, watered gardens and clean streets, the buildings well-maintained and brushed with a coat of paint applied within the last few months, the sidewalks cracked by old-growth trees and their sprawling system of roots. Many who resided in this particular area of the district were working professionals with day jobs, so I encountered no one as I limped along the avenue to my destination.

Tara's apartment nestled between two structures of similar design, comprised of stark lines, wide windows, and stucco walls, part of the facade hidden from the street by a towering eucalyptus drooping against the heat. I climbed the outer stairs, panting, clasping the banister with sweaty hands, and arrived thankful for the shade on the second level. The keys rattled in my hand as I unlocked unit '2A' and, after shutting my eyes, I eased the door open.

A breath escaped my lungs, a tremulous exhale followed by another, then another, a progressive noise building until the sob broke free and I stood inside the threshold, struggling for composure. No one was home.

Despite what evidence I'd gathered—the wound in my side, the demon in my house, the loss of time—some heretofore unexplored part of my mind still clung to hope and had faith in a better world order. Good women like Tara didn't get murdered or, or sacrificed by madmen to summon—creatures from other places. Demons, magic, and whatever preternatural accompaniments attached to those denominations didn't exist. Those elements belonged to the old stories my papé used to tell after dark, in the soft ambiance of nightlights in childish bedrooms, safe from ghoulish things beneath counterpanes and laundered quilts.

That was a lie. I could no longer say the monsters didn't exist. I knew, without reservation, they infested every corner of this world, had done so long before my birth, and would continue to do so long after my death.

Silence waited in that apartment like an overripe fruit left too long on the counter; it had a smell, a rotten portent I could taste in the back of my mouth before I had a chance to shut the door and enter the room. Silence clung to every corner, every inch of space, dripped from the ceiling in wax curtains and shattered with each step I took. Silence dashed my foolish hopes, told me my sister never came home, the monsters didn't disappear with the dawn. It wasn't a dream, and she hadn't escaped her fate, not as I had. She was gone. It was so fucking quiet.

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