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I'm tired. Every bone seems to ache inside the flesh, burning the tissue. Just laying flat hurts. I can feel it coming - I always can. I moan quietly, dreading the full blow when it grips my body, my mind. Once upon a time, I thought it was a novelty, fascinating, and I lay in the midst of the moment and tried to soak up every emotion and energy that flowed through me. Now, years later, when each new tremor brings with it the tail of destruction, I cringe, I fight, and finally, I give in. I have no choice. It will take me, whether I want it to or not, and will force me to go where it wants. If only there was a way to stop it, to stop the terror, the agony that assaults me. Yet I am selfish to wish this. I know that. I wish it still.
____

The story is far from me. I don't know what is happening when the darkness, thick as a cloak meant to ward off harsh wind, surrounds and presses in on me. My heartbeat quickens, pounding gently, then violently. It seems to throw itself against my rib cage, neurotically trying to gain exit. Breathing is always difficult, and this time is no different. My throat constricts as the dark cloud gains mass and tries to flatten me into the bed. I cannot make a sound - not that I would. I am past the fear of death or the experience. It will eventually lift, and normal will return. For now, I grip the sheets of the bed and try to remain still. It is easier to breathe against the invisible force that is kneading me into the mattress. Finally - oh god finally - the pressure recedes. I feel as though I am falling in the darkness, into a deep well with cold walls that force the heat from my body. Vertigo assails my senses, and I keep my eyes closed so the world will not spin faster.

As quickly as it came, it leaves me, and I am empty. The sweat stains my worn cotton sheets. Air rushes into my nostrils, and I drink it as though it is fluid through a straw. My fingers cramp in their grip against the mattress, and it takes time to relax them enough to move them. The heartbeat in my ears is slowing, and within minutes, I am able to sit up. The night is still here. The milky cream of the walls - the cream I chose to give me warmth - is a cold blue under the influence of the night sky. The trees seem to mock my stress as a lazy breeze winds around them, waving their leafy, spiny hands at me. There are tears on my cheeks, though I do not remember releasing them. I wipe them off with bloodless fingers, startled by the cool tips against my hot cheeks. A shower returns the equilibrium of temperature to my body - cooling my face and warming my limbs. I dress carefully, taking in the weather and considering whether or not it is supposed to rain. I settle back into bed, fully dressed, my boots beside the nightstand. And I wait.
____

Sometime near dawn, the phone rings. The noise is louder than I anticipated, as though I had forgotten the volume it reaches. I answer quickly, to stop the sound. "You know the drill." Joe's tired voice is hardened with too many years on the force. Nothing surprises him, and his phone call to me is almost routine. I agree. I do know the drill. "I'll send Jonathan to get you."

I lace my boots and wait, sitting upright on the bed. Minutes pass, and then I hear the sound of tires on my cracked driveway. I meet Jonathan at the door, his weary form betraying his sleepless night. He is new to the force, and therefore must work whatever hours no one else wants. He tries for a smile, settling for a grimace. I pull a smile from my bag of tricks, trying to be his support as much as I can. I eat a granola bar on the way, and offer one to Jonathan. He turns it down until even I can hear his stomach grumble. He almost succeeds at a grin, and takes a bar. We crunch silently, a tense companionship. Jonathan has escorted me twice now, though he still is wary of me and my strange addition to the police force. I am an independent contractor for the local station, and authorized, via special authorization for those with suspected paranormal sensitivity, to be on any site that is under investigation, on any crime scene. My presence must be requested. I cannot just show up when I want to. In the beginning being present on a fresh crime scene was frightening and titillating. Now, in the midst of the horror, it is almost a relief, knowing that the terrifying feelings that attacked me earlier will be held at bay for a while longer.

Jonathan pulls next to Joe's vehicle. Joe is nowhere in sight, and from where we sit, the scene is taking place down the ravine that meets up with the road. It is drizzling, the soft mist of water sliding over my face and hair as I step outside the protective warmth of the car. Jonathan offers me his hand as we pick and choose our footing down the side of the earth. I resist, and then acquiesce as the steps get steeper and slicker. We are descending into a light forest, thick with brush but light on foliage. It is a dead wood, with few living trees. It needs to be burned out, for the choking smoke to clean the overused soil and restart the life cycle....An unlikely occurrence in this part of the country. I can vaguely hear voices ahead, and as we start to level out, I can see the yellow tape warning against trespassers.

Jonathan walks several feet to my left, keeping a safe distance. I am used to the response. Few officers will have anything to do with me. That Jonathan will even speak to me is something. Joe nods briefly in my direction and then speaks to Jonathan, apprising him of the situation. After slight nods and muffled phrases, Joe finally turns to me and escorts me closer to the body. I can see her before she ever enters my vision. The closer I get to the victim, I can envision their features with perfect clarity, without having seen them yet. Oh, the joy that is mine alone.

She is golden-skinned, with toffee-infused hair. Her eyes were dark brown, the color of espresso beans. I can see her smile, bright and imperfect with crooked eyeteeth. Her cheeks are set high, with not quite enough chin to match. Her face, when she was alive, was pretty, animated, and she was insecure about her slightly heavy thighs. She is Latin, Hispanic probably, with a beautiful glow that attracted people, especially men. Nothing of what she was can be seen now. Her wrists are bound to her waist, deep bruising from ropes tied too tightly around them. Her skin is tinged with gray, with death, and her hair lays in ragged halo. It has recently been cut, with something dull and awkward. Her face is a maze of cuts and blood. Her body is naked, except a dirty pair of underwear. The rope around her waist cuts into the skin - she has been tied for a long time. No leaves or debris cover her. She waited to be found, a beacon for the crime. There is no evidence that she was left here that long ago.

"They are estimating time of death--"

"--Around 2:30 this morning. It was 2:34, actually." I look in Joe's empty eyes, black in the dark. He is a stark figure against the lighting that has been brought down so the scene can be surveyed. "She was conscious, fully aware of her death when it came. She's been held for at least a week, though it could have been longer - I'm not sure."

"Sexual?"

I nod. "Yes, and no. I'd bet she wasn't penetrated, but check for traces on her body and under her nails. This is a sick one, and she was dirty to him. A whore, in his mind."

Joe watches me for a moment. "Okay. Anything else?"

"Do we have an ID yet?"

Joe shakes his head quickly.

I sigh. "Her name is Jo-Jo, or at least that is her nickname."

"Now you are getting names to the faces?" Joe glances at me skeptically.

I do not waver my stare. "She has a tattoo of it on her lower back. It is probably short for Juanita or Johanna." I am chilled, and wishing I had brought my windbreaker. The moist air lends a vibration to my bones as I stand there, watching the forensic team as they set-up. "This isn't the first, and it won't be the last. Let me know if I can help with this one." I turn towards the road. I wonder how long before someone can take me home.

Joe puts a warm arm around me, his official jacket warm against my goose bumps. Surprised, I look up at him. "Come on, Popsicle. They can live without me for a while. Let's take you home."




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