“How does the rain affect your…thing that you do?”
The new potential client, Sadie, turned around, rubbing the knuckles of one hand as if she were applying lotion.
Veronica smiled. “Sometimes it amplifies things. Sometimes dampens. It depends on what I’m looking at and looking for.” Her answer, both vague and accurate at the same time, didn’t seem to register with the woman.
Sadie paced toward the chair she’d been offered, leaving behind the afterimage of jittering yellow waves in the space she moved through. Not a bright happy yellow. But the sickly yellow of anxiety.
Veronica sipped her chamomile tea and waited patiently.
As the woman drew closer, Veronica set the cup down, and focused on its deep blue color to soothe herself as the sickly yellow aura pulsed toward her.
Even in the calmest of tempers, it was difficult not to be affected by another person’s intense anxiety, especially when that other person was so physically close.
Sadie finally sat down.
Veronica gestured to the tea. With a press of her lips that seemed an effort at gratitude, Sadie reached for her cup and sipped. She set the cup down.
“My husband died a few months ago,” Sadie said.
“I’m so sorry,” Veronica said. She felt a twinge in her gut, a preemptive response to what she feared the woman would ask of her. So many people misunderstood the limits of her abilities.
“I never used to believe in psychics,” Sadie said. Then she looked up and offered a weak but sincere smile. “I still don’t.”
After her husband’s sudden death, she found herself going to a few psychics who claimed to speak to the dead. She just needed to hear from him. She had fantasies of continuing to hear from him, even after her therapist was trying to help her grieve and slowly let go, in her own time.
She wasn’t surprised that she was disappointed by all the psychics she went to. She didn’t do any research on them. She just followed the neon signs mostly. But she was still desperate. So she started doing her research.
Then something happened that made her shift the parameters of her search.
Sadie first suspected there might be something more to her feelings than desperation and denial, when she went to a grief group, shared her story, and found out that the details matched with another person in the group. They had both lost their spouses, suddenly and inexplicably.
“But it wasn’t just that,” Sadie said. “We went for a coffee after, and we talked. And there were a lot of details that were similar. I didn’t reveal everything either, in case he was—I don’t know—scamming me or something. But the details I didn’t tell him, he was able to fill them in with what happened to his wife.”
Sadie’s husband did exhibit symptoms of something being wrong. A few months before he died, he complained of feeling drained all the time, despite getting plenty of sleep, drinking water, and even, in the end, cutting back work hours to come home and rest. Sadie had been urging him to see a doctor, just in case, and he’d finally made an appointment when all of a sudden, he woke up one morning feeling incredible.
He called in sick at work, made her waffles for breakfast, started feeling frisky again in the bedroom, and said he just felt clear for the first time a long while, and giddy.
“He promised he would still go in to get checked out. But we both felt better that he’d snapped out of it.” Tears trickled from Sadie’s eyes. Veronica slid over a box of tissues. “A few days later, he was gone.”
The man she met at her grief group had a similar story. His wife even attributed what she called her “sluggishness” to some new project she had just started that she’d been excited about. She thought she must have been getting imposter syndrome, or maybe was overwhelmed by the scope of the project. She started dragging herself through her day, both at work and at home. One day, he found her lying fully clothed on their bed in the dark with her eyes open. She didn’t come out of it until he called her name several times. But the next day, she woke up chipper and spry, as if all her energy had been restored, and then some.
“I want to investigate my husband’s death,” Sadie said. “That’s why I stopped searching for someone who could speak to the dead, and started searching for someone who could read the living, and who could come to my house, and see if there are any psychic clues to what happened, residual energy radiating off the objects or furniture. No one else will investigate what’s been marked a ‘death by natural causes.’” Sadie sniffed and dabbed at her eyes. “What’s natural about a man in his thirties just…?”
“I can come to your house,” Veronica said, impressed and relieved that Sadie had indeed done her homwork. “It’s been a few months, but it’s not out of the question that there might be something for me to see. But even if there is, I may not be able to make sense of it. What I’m saying is that I can’t promise you any answers.”
Sadie nodded and they arranged a day and time.
Veronica had instructed Sadie not give her any details about her husband Rowan’s death, the location, the time of day, nor to say anything more about his life for that matter. And she’d asked for a chance to wander through the house on her own, letting her own senses and instincts direct her.
Everyone had the proverbial “skeletons in the closet,” hidden parts of themselves and their activities that they wanted to keep secret. And some secrets were so deep that even the unconscious auras that people emanated, the auras that left their marks on the objects that those people interacted with, were weak and wispy, hidden.
But Sadie’s house would have broken Veronica’s heart if she hadn’t learned how to keep hold of her own center. The whole house, almost every object within, radiated.
There were some spots that were spiky—in the kitchen. The couple must have had their more heated discussions, maybe even some fights, in those spots.
But the rest of house looked like a garden of auras in full bloom. The blushing pink of love, the love of family, was everywhere, colliding sometimes with a deeper version of the color, the love of a romance, a long and steady burning ember. The green of prosperity wavered confidently in a room that was set up as a home office. By the couch and television, playful waves of deep blue shifted into brighter hues like turquoise, and purples shifted into neon magenta.
Veronica held her own aura as close to herself as possible, so it wouldn’t ripple through the others and confound her senses.
She stopped in her tracks when she came upon the dining area.
Veronica could picture the ghost of a body lying on the ground beside the table. A strange aura drifted up from the spot, in radiant deep yellow, almost golden, lines. One of the chairs that now stood upright radiated the same aura. She imagined it must have fallen when he grabbed it to hold himself upright.
She’d never seen anything quite like it before. But she had minimal experience with seeing the residual auras left behind by the dead.
She walked into the area, and knelt by the spot where she was certain Sadie’s poor husband had died. She hesitantly shifted her hand closer.
Veronica felt a sudden shock of pain in her hand and the back of her neck. She gasped, rose to her feet, and stepped away.
She worried if what she was seeing might be some kind of…presence. Veronica wasn’t good at interpreting any energies that might come from non-living entities—ghosts or whatever else might be out there.
Sadie had been walking some distance behind Veronica.
“He died here?” Veronica asked.
“I see something I don’t understand, or have any prior experience with.”
Sadie’s eyes widened. “What is it?” She started rubbing her knuckles.
Veronica would have described what she was seeing exactly, if she knew what it meant. But if she gave Sadie that information without knowing, the woman would search for the information herself. And who knew what kinds of dire meanings that search would uncover.
As much as this part of her training rankled her, Veronica understood the need for a little vagueness. “I’m hesitant to say until I can look a few things up. I’d like your permission to consult a few people too—my mentor and a few others who are more experienced with this sort of thing. Or I can refer you to them, if you’d prefer. One of them is local.”
“Will that…cost extra? The consultations?”
Veronica shook her head. “No.”
“Then sure.” Sadie peered at the spot where her husband had died. “That’s fine by me.”
Before Veronica could contact Sadie, Sadie called her to let her know that the man from her grief group, Joe, wanted Veronica to walk through his house as well.
Veronica was hesitant for a moment. Unlike Sadie, Joe had a kid, a ten-year-old daughter who had just lost her mother. Veronica couldn’t begin to imagine—didn’t want to imagine—how she could have dealt with losing her own mother when she just a kid. Even if the girl was at school, her aura would no doubt drown out everything else in the house. That might include the residual energy of her mother’s death.
But if she saw the same thing at Joe’s house that she saw at Sadie’s, it would make that clue all the stronger.
Veronica agreed, and she did indeed see a blanket of red-orange and black over everything in the house. That was the girl, who she was, overlaid with her sadness. And yet, Veronica caught the faint yellow-gold aura, bright lines with crisper borders than the usual soft waves. She couldn’t picture the ghost of the woman who’d died. Joe’s wife had been gone much longer, several months now. But those yellow lines were almost as radiant as the ones in Sadie’s house.
She reported what she saw to Sadie and Joe.
And she consulted with her mentor, who sent her to a few other experts.
One of them had put the puzzle pieces together that Veronica gave her to come up with a theory.
“That aura you described,” the consultant said over a video call, “that’s what clinched it for me. Otherwise, there would be no way to tell for sure once a person is dead, even with an immediate autopsy. But it’s strange that it happened twice.”
Veronica straightened in her chair. “What is it, Doctor Myn?”
“It’s a parasite—well, I think it might be a parasite. Ever head of a psychic fluke?”
The consultant, Doctor Myn, chuckled when she realized the potential for misunderstanding. “By fluke I mean a worm, a parasitic worm. Only this one doesn’t feed on the nutrients provided by the human body. It feeds on our psychic energy. They tend to be more common in regions of high psychic density, far higher than what you’d find in your average major city. They’ve got an alternate life cycle where they can exist without a host in such regions. But in a place with low psychic density, they need a host. Most humans emit some amount of psychic energy, enough to sustain a worm for a little while, long enough for the reproductive cycle. Psychic flukes differ from the flukes that people are familiar with. They reproduce in their adult forms. They get past the blood-brain barrier when they’re small, and grow over the course of a few months, maturing and feeding.”
The consultant paused for a moment. Veronica noted the fading of the woman’s restrained excitement from talking with someone about her particular area of expertise—pathologies connected to the intersection of the psychic with the biological.
“Typically,” the consultant continued, “the worm continues feeding on a host until the end of the worm’s reproductive cycle, when the host sheds clone eggs from their nose and mouth, which are invisible and intangible, undetectable within the range of typical human physical senses. Then, host and parasite die.”
Veronica stiffened. But before she could ask questions about her exposure, Doctor Myn anticipated her fears and held up a hand.
“But in these two cases, that reproductive cycle was interrupted. It took some digging for me to find prior accounts of anything like this. And I have to be honest, some of the source accounts I found leaned more toward myth and folklore rather than objective observation. But we both know there’s a lot to be learned in our myths and folklore. First off, I’m fairly certain that you, the spouses of the infected individuals, and everyone else who came in contact with the bodies are in no danger of being infected yourselves. For one thing, your clients would have already felt the effects. That means no eggs were shed by the parasite. That aura you saw, combined with your clients’ descriptions of their spouses’ state of mind and behavior and energy levels around the time they died, tells me why. That burst of energy that both of the infected people experienced, that could have only happened if the parasite died at the part of their life cycle when they had gathered maximum psychic energy and before imparting that energy to their future progeny.”
Veronica sat back in her chair. “They released that energy back into the host.”
The consultant’s smiled returned. “So much psychic energy without any regulation is like getting hit by a lightning bolt, well not quite, the first waves feel good, but eventually it’s too much. The mind and body get overloaded.”
“So the waves that I saw…”
“A distinct signature for just that situation. And that brings me back to the folklore. I found stories of how people would purposely infect a person with the fluke, then let it gorge itself, and then trigger its death to release all the energy back into the person. This was only done with people who had great metaphysical powers to begin, so that they were able to handle the process.”
“Like a god being able to hold and throw lightning.”
“A little bit. I couldn’t find any verifiable accounts of something like that happening in recorded history. But the folklore stated that not all survived the process. Those who didn’t survive emitted a golden aura with crisp radiant lines that glowed for many seasons.”
Veronica huffed a breath. “Sounds familiar.”
“How did they kill the parasite at just the right time? How did they know when?”
“I don’t know. The stories I found don’t say, but I’ll keep digging on that front.”
“Veronica, I checked, and the last time there was a confirmed infection with a psychic fluke in your area was about twenty years ago, from someone who traveled to a very specific part of the world for a very specific reason. Luckily, that person suspected what was happening, and reached out to the right people for help. He was isolated, and treatments were attempted that succeeded in draining the psychic energy from the worm until it died of starvation, and the host lived. I couldn’t find any records of deaths from psychic fluke infection in your city, probably because they’re almost impossible to detect unless you’re specifically looking for them.”
“And you said the normal course for the infection, if untreated, was for the person to continue being drained until they died. I wonder if there’s anything that could naturally cause the sudden death of the parasite before it reproduced. One instance might be an accident, and two might be coincidence. But what if it’s not?”
“Yeah, and how did these people get infected in the first place?”
“Their spouses are working together to compare notes and find out any more similarities between the deaths. I’ll ask them about recent travel.”
Veronica thanked Doctor Myn, with promises to keep her apprised, and promptly started worrying that her clients’ spouses might have had some illicit rendezvous that just happened to be in a high psychic density location. She stopped herself from speculating without evidence. After all, even if both people were infected at the same place and same time, it didn’t explain how both parasites died at the same point in both people. Speculating down that path, however, led to even more troubling guesses than a couple of people having an affair.
It turned out that Sadie’s and Joe’s spouses did have a past together.
Just not the one that Veronica had suspected.
Veronica and Sadie met at Sadie’s house, sitting at the coffee table in the living room.
Joe had a family get-together that he wanted to go to, for his daughter’s sake at least. He would check in, but in the meantime, Sadie would carry on with looking into their spouses’ deaths, which were becoming more and more suspicious day by day.
Veronica gently explained the potential meaning of the strange aura she’d seen in their houses, with multiple assurances that the parasites had died before laying infectious eggs.
Sadie took it well. She was more anxious to share what she and Joe had uncovered.
“We were going over their histories. We started with medical histories, of course, but we eventually got to resumes and we found out that they both once worked at the same company at the same time. It was a few years before Rowan and I met. Joe remembered something about an accident that happened at the company’s main office building. I don’t remember Rowan ever talking about it. But I think I understand why he never mentioned it. We found an article about the accident.” Sadie pointed to a printout of the article on the table. “Forty-seven people were working there that day. Thirty-three died. Fourteen lived. The company folded.” Sadie shook her head.
Veronica kept her gaze on Sadie, but she saw the throbbing gray aura, tinged with red, and she knew how Sadie felt before the woman spoke.
“I feel so bad that he couldn’t share that burden with me, or someone. Maybe he was okay though. Maybe he’d managed to move on.”
“I can’t speak to that,” Veronica said. “But I can see that he was happy in this house, with you.” She didn’t know if it was the right thing to say in that moment. And Sadie’s response didn’t enlighten her.
Sadie released a brief sigh and continued. “We began to wonder if something about the accident affected the survivors in some way. We couldn’t find any information on what the accident actually was—was it an explosion, some kind of toxic exposure? I mean, Rowan was in Accounting, and the building was just supposed to house offices, but the company was some kind of raw materials manufacturer. Maybe they had some stuff onsite that wasn’t supposed to be there?”
Veronica peered down at the research that Sadie and Joe had gathered.
Sadie shrugged. “I feel like I still need to dig deeper.”
Veronica paused. “As long as you’re stopping to take care of yourself.”
Sadie looked up at her with a surprised smile. “I am. And I’ve got people checking up on me to make sure I don’t go overboard.” She pointed to a folder she hadn’t yet opened. “So we took a different approach, and tried to find the other survivors, hoping maybe someone would be willing to talk to us.”
They found the names of quite a few of the other survivors, mostly by following their publically posted resumes. They attempted to contact a few, and found out that three more of them had died, all over the past year.
“All attributed to sudden but natural causes,” Sadie said. “It’s different things. Heart attacks, blood clots, different things. Does that mean anything?”
“I’ll ask my consultant,” Veronica said. She leaned forward. “Sadie, I think it’s time for me to ask for guidance on involving some kind of authority.”
“In case they were murdered, you mean?”
Veronica’s gut turned cold. She set her elbows on the table and folded her hands before her, so she could see the blue of her shirt sleeves. But beyond the blue, passing through it were the bright white pulses of her own fear. They mirrored the pulses coming off Sadie.
She couldn’t go to the homes of those people Sadie had talked to. They lived too far away. Most people who had the means had seemed to move as far as they could after surviving the accident.
But even two people with a premature fluke death was too much of a coincidence for Veronica to ignore her suspicions any longer. If someone had purposely infected them, and then purposely triggered the flukes, then they were investigating a killer, one that the typical authorities wouldn’t even believe existed, much less would they have the skills to hunt him.
Veronica didn’t even know why someone would kill these people. Were they meant to die in that accident too? Was someone cleaning up loose ends after all these years? Were they using a psychic murder weapon to hide their crime from the usual authorities? But if so, why not let the parasite just run its course? Was it to prevent further infection, to keep the murders precise, and therefore avoid suspicion?
“I’m in over my head,” Veronica said. “I don’t want to stop helping you, but I may need to hand this off. And so might you.”
Sadie dropped the file she’d been holding on the table among all the other scattered folders, clipping, and printouts. She rubbed at the dark circle beneath one eye. “Who’s going to believe that psychic parasites are killing people?”
“My mentor can give us guidance on that,” Veronica said. “On how to present the information we’ve gathered so we can give it to the police. Or she can direct us to another agency. And she can reach out to her connections in the cities where these other people died. If we can find even one or two more people who are willing to let someone take a look, we might gather more clues.”
“Like who wanted my husband dead.”
Veronica’s consultant, Doctor Myn, was able to answer the question of why the causes of death might be different for people who were infected with the psychic fluke. She explained that because people had differing sensitivities, susceptibilities, and medical histories, both the draining of psychic energy and the sudden release could reasonably be expected to affect the most vulnerable part of that person’s body first. She also began searching for a list of other people with expertise in psychic parasites, insisting that her name be on that list of suspects.
Veronica’s mentor used Sadie’s contact list and her own connections and managed to find the rest of the survivors of that mysterious accident that claimed all but fourteen lives. Over half were dead. And a few actually had died of other causes, accident, old age. Of the remaining ones, three had recently started feeling drained.
Using the date of death, a timeline could be established tracing back to when they were likely infected.
The rest of the survivors were being warned, interviewed, and watched.
The only part of the mystery where no progress was being made was the question of what triggered the psychic fluke to die. According to Veronica’s consultant, Doctor Myn, the worm had a semi-tangible form by which it attached itself to the host’s brain, so it wouldn’t accidentally drop away. Disrupting that form would kill the fluke.
“But whatever dissolves the fluke would damage the brain too,” Doctor Myn said. “So that doesn’t work.”
Less than a week had passed since Veronica convinced Sadie to hand over the bulk of the investigation to others with better resources, and the ability to protect themselves against a killer that had yet to show himself. There were some who had suggested to Veronica that there was no killer, that there may be other explanations, more far-fetched, connected to that accident surely. Veronica knew that a few people were investigating the details behind that company accident. Even her mentor had suggested that she move on, take on other clients. Veronica had accepted that her part in solving the mystery was done. But she couldn’t help feeling the drive to do more. If all she could do was be a sounding board for one of the people who were now at the center of the investigation, then that’s what she would do. That, and she was the one keeping Sadie and Joe informed.
“What happens if the host dies first, before the fluke can send out its eggs?” Veronica asked. “I guess it doesn’t matter if the eggs can float in the air like dust.”
“But what if the host dies right when the fluke is fully gorged. Can it use that energy to save itself?”
Doctor Myn frowned. “Well…I don’t know.” She shifted her eyes and peered directly at the camera. “Veronica, you might be a genius. I need to go. I’ll call you later.”
Doctor Myn figured it out.
The way she explained it, someone had worked out a way to block a psychic fluke from detecting any psychic energy. That tricked the fluke into thinking its host had died. The only chance for it to possibly survive and pass to another host was to dump most of the psychic energy it had consumed, detach and drop out of the brain, and wait for another host. This was a desperate reflex. It typically resulted in the fluke dematerializing and dissipating altogether.
One of the experts on her list had retired a few years back, and seemed to have fallen off the face of the planet. Before retirement, he’d been studying just that topic, with no attempt to hide the research.
Authorities were able to find him and pick him up.
Veronica learned his motives from her mentor, and the connection to the accident that Sadie’s and Joe’s spouses had survived.
The killer wanted to do to the fourteen survivors and their loved ones what was done to him and the other people who lost someone the day of that accident. A sudden death. With no apparent meaning. No explanation. And even if someone could find the explanation, who would believe such an absurd thing as a killer psychic parasite? How could anyone possibly give any comfort to those who were lost, or any warning to those who were next?
Veronica couldn’t bring herself to reveal the motive to Sadie and Joe. She only told them that the person who killed their loved ones had been caught. And whatever his reason, he would face justice.
She had one last follow-up meeting with Sadie before wrapping up what had become a far more involved job than either she or her client had first expected.
And it so happened that it was raining that day.
“Blustery out there,” Sadie said, tossing her umbrella in the holder in the hallway, just outside the door to Veronica’s office.
“You’re welcome to shelter here until it passes,” Veronica said, smiling as she poured some tea.
“You’ve already done more than enough for me.” Sadie pulled an envelope from her bag and lay it on the table. “I’ve told all my friends about you. But I don’t know if any of them need…”
Veronica gestured to the chair across from her. “How are you doing?”
Sadie remained standing. “I’ve been better, and I’ve been worse.” She waved. “I just came to thank you in person…again. Thank you, Veronica.”
Veronica smiled again, this time not just at Sadie, but at the tiny warm yellow sparks glowing just above her eyes. The tiniest signs of hope.
After Sadie left, Veronica listened to the rain drumming against her window as she sipped her tea. She checked her own aura, and found the calm of blue rippling with tinges of black and brown. She still felt sadness for Sadie, and she felt proud for her part in helping Sadie and the others.
She worked on her computer for a while, and then she saw another client walking down the hall toward her open door.
Both their auras fluttered with bright orange anticipation.
Copyright © 2023 Nila L. Patel