the last time i woke up in the woods

Waking up in that clearing was the worst.

The cave was utterly peaceful but the woods were chaos. Someone was screaming. Three more gunshots went off in quick succession.

I rolled onto my side.

“Oh my god, she’s alive,” Tilly said. I wondered when Tilly had gotten there.

“Impossible,” Agent Mulligan gasped. He was kneeling over me. I could smell my own blood all over my face.

“Get away from me,” I said, and scrambled to my feet.

“No one touch her!” Tilly screamed and I staggered into the bushes to throw up. I felt like a fawn in a new body.

It took me a moment to reconfigure myself.

The creature had gone. The New Black Lake Coven was sitting in a small circle and Agent Steva was standing over them with a gun, pale, hands shaking.

Georgia, Tilly, Iphigenia and Sophie were all there in the clearing too.

“What are you doing here?” I gasped.

Only Georgia could answer. “We’re not idiots, Shiloh,” she said. “We read the same letter you did.”

Apparently “If Madelyn can get the magical ability to bring her friends back to life by being sacrificed to a unicorn, than so can I,” was an unsurprising take from that letter. Oops.

“We came as soon as we realized you weren’t at home,” Tilly said. She had smears of my blood across her face.

I need to just sorta get through the next bit. It was all super overwhelming and I don’t remember it well enough to give the total blow-by-blow.

Agents Mulligan and Steva called in the police. The whole cult was arrested. The FBI literally witnessed them getting ready to slaughter me like a lamb so lmao guess who’s goin 2 jail.

I was taken to the hospital. My poor mother was already there when I arrived. She was all over me checking for injuries. There was no hiding the gunshot wound issue — Agent Mulligan pulled the trigger after all and evidently had no instinct for self preservation. He practically marched through the hospital bellowing that he shot me in the face.

He had the doctors running every test they could thing of, and my mother’s crying and crying, and I of course had no idea why everyone was freaking out so much — like surely if they said I’d been shot in the eye, but there was no physical evidence of that fact they would have just decided it was a mistake, right?

Yeah, well, no such luck. Tilly finally cleared up my confusion by pulling out her compact so I could get a look at myself.

My left eye, the one that was shot through, is black. My right eye is still brown. My left one is black from tear duct to eyelashes, the whole eye like a black pit. I can still see through it just fine (trust me I know, they ran all the tests) but it looks like I’m 1/2 possessed by a demon.

Agents Mulligan and Steva guarded my hospital door themselves. They didn’t trust the local cops, which — lol fair.

Georgia and Tilly stayed with me as long as they could. I could tell Tilly was pissed at me but too relieved to find me okay to show it. I knew I’d have to deal with that.

My mom made them leave at like 4 am so I could get some sleep. She didn’t leave my bedside until I faked sleep. Only then did she go out into the hall to ask the agents exactly what had happened. They went down the hall to talk.

And that was when the Hawthornes slipped in.

“Finally,” Neal said. “I thought they’d never leave you alone.”

“What the hell are you doing here?” I hissed back.

Neal frowned. “You’ll remember that last we spoke I was telling you stay in your room until we got here.”

I grimaced at him.

“Bet you’re wishing you did now aren’t u?” he said and I must have rolled my eyes or something because Julian intervened in his Soothing Voice.

“Can you tell us what happened?”

I told them everything. I hadn’t even told Georgia and Tilly everything that happened. It was my first moment away from the agents or my mother.

“A cave, huh,” Julian said, frowning.

“Yeah, you ever heard of anything like that?” I was hungry for more information, but they didn’t have any.

“’Fraid not,” Julian said. “This is the only real case of genuine resurrection we’ve ever seen.”

So I’m the only one. Cool. 😐

“I’m more concerned with that spring water,” Neal said. “Do you feel any different? Are you exhibiting any symptoms?”

I tapped my left eye. “Just this,” I said, but that wasn’t entirely true. I do feel different. I don’t think you can die and come back to life and feel the same.

Neal and Julian exchanged a glance. Then Julian leaned onto his knees and looked me right in the eyes.

“Listen,” he said. “How would you feel about traveling with us for a while?”

I blinked at him.

“You mean like… hunt with you?”

“Something like that,” Julian said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Well, partially because you’ve proved you’re a good investigator,” Julian said, which was obviously a kind lie. “And also because —”

“Because if you have some unknown magical ability you need to be supervised,” Neal said. Then he stopped. There was something they weren’t telling me.

“Okay, so you’re volunteering to baby sit me?” I asked.

“More like kidnap,” Neal said.

Julian hurried to explain further. “We know a thing or two about Agents Steva and Mulligan,” he said. “They’re known for paranormal investigations.”

“Oh my god,” I said. “They’re literally the X-Files.”

Neal laughed.

“Yeah,” Julian admitted. “Basically. But listen — when they get their hands on a genuine paranormal phenomenon they’re of the mind that that phenomenon should be studied.”

My heart sank. A whole future of hospital testing appeared before me. “That’s not very Fox Mulder of them.”

Julian smiled. “No,” he agreed.

“We asked if the Flynn coven would take you,” he continued. Take me, like I was a spare table, or a stray puppy they found. “But they say they can’t. Celeste vouched for you but they refused because — ”

“Because psychics are smug assholes,” Neal interrupted.

“And I can’t just stay here?” I asked.

“Right now those agents are telling your mother that without their intervention, you will be in serious danger,” Julian said. “They’ll scare her into letting you go.”

“I’m 18,” I said. “They need my consent.”

“There are loopholes under paranormal circumstances,” Neal promised.

“…So what you’re telling me is I’m fucked,” I said.

Their bleak expressions were all the answer I needed.

“But…” what would I say to Tilly? And Georgia? And Warren Fucking Miller? And my mom? I couldn’t just disappear out of the hospital and not tell anyone where I was going. I know what that does to a person.

“Shiloh if there was any other way…” Julian said.

“Why are you even helping me?” I snapped at them. “What do you want?”

Neal sighed. “Nothing,” he said. “You can stay if you want. But just know what it’ll cost you.”

I guess I felt helpless. Neal was giving me a grim look. I found that I trusted him. Shit.

So I agreed to go with them. I put on one of Neal’s shirts and hoodies. I put on my boots. It was simple as walking out of the hospital. I didn’t even say goodbye.

I wrote postcards from Oregon. One each for my mom, for Georgia and for Tilly. I hand wrote it so they’d know for certain it was me.

We’ve been staying up to date on news out of Black Lake. The scandal is getting some nationwide coverage now, which makes sense. Madelyn’s death is being ruled a murder now. All five of the New Black Lake cult members are being charged — which like I know it was more complicated than that. Madelyn made her own choices.

I still hold them each responsible.

I miss Tilly. I feel terrible for not being there to help her face all of this mess with her father. But like even if I’d stayed, I don’t know if she’d have forgiven me for dying for Madelyn. I don’t know if I’d forgive me either. I know what it’s like for the people you love to hurt themselves without any regard for how it might affect you. It’s probably better this way.

I miss her so much. I miss Georgia, and Warren Miller and Feather Dog and Iph and even Sophie. I miss my mom.

The Hawthornes don’t make me talk. So far they don’t include me much in their work, though I know they’re working. They drive around the country and pour over news clippings and scour social media. They cleanse hauntings and field calls from other monster hunters.

Personally I sleep a lot. I mostly don’t have panic attacks unless we stop at a motel, and I’ve noticed that we do that less frequently now. They drive through the night, switching off. Maybe they’ll teach me to be a sick ass monster hunter hahahahaha. Sorry mom I’m not graduating high school I got monsters to hunt 🤷🏼‍♀️

Lmao can u imagine. So far it’s about all I can handle to sleep in the back of the car for 16 hours a day. Dying takes a lot out of u Hahahahahaha

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