Of course Chloe knew her murderer; why else would she meet someone in a graveyard in the middle of the night? She wasn’t Mary Shelley; no one was that Goth. But Romy was chatting with GhostieGoo back in the safety of their Victorian when she really settled down and got over her adrenaline rush of discovery.

Lian seasoned her cauldron for a summoning spell as she poured over spellbooks for detailed recipes. There was only so much off-the-cuff cooking Arcane mages could do. “We'll have to figure out what was supposed to be on her desk. I'm guessing a book or a computer taken by the police?” Lian sighed. "Maybe it will help if we have to decode her ridiculous journal."

“She actually said something about that in the beginning,” Romy had said. “She figured it’s not just to protect it from anyone who might find it in her room but if she read it back when she got older; if she didn’t remember who the hell she was talking about, it obviously isn’t important enough to worry about. I guess she won’t be worrying about it anymore anyway.”

Lian had gone quiet at the glibness of Romy’s comment, but Romy had gone numb on the cold walk back across campus, reading over a dead girl’s words in a dead girl’s handwriting, in a hidden journal that the campus cops and the real deal had missed—one more reason they should be doing this, after all—if not a Watchtower hero, maybe she should be a private dick. Solving murders, wearing stylish coats. But she didn’t drink nearly enough. Maybe she would start, she thought, after reading enough of this diary—

—Anyway, she’d gone so numb that Lian’s judgmental look didn’t phase her. Too much to focus on here, too much to digest, that Lian giving her a look wasn’t exactly at the top of her list.

She pulled out her third cigarette and her phone.

The journal sat at her side as she tried to decompress with Silent Hill 2 in her second-floor office/game room, seeking comfort from fiction, but it hit different this time. All the bad voice acting and questionable sound design and cheesy graphics no longer had the charm she knew and valued; it wasn’t janky models limited by the shitty system graphics, it was unnatural, twisted body horror. It made her think of blood and Chloe’s body dancing on its sacrificial altar.

Hey ghostiegoo I know we don’t talk abut anything real serious ever, but you’ve talked about bad brains on twt, so can I like….talk to you about something?

GhostieGoo’s message came in quickly:

Hey yeah of course! You can call me Oliver. What’s up?

Romy’s shaky hands ashed her cigarette, but she leaned in over her laptop like she was going to protect it, her whole chest cavity scooped out and hollow and cold. Winter had moved in and made its new home where her important organs should be, and that’s why she was shaking so hard with the weight of her commitment and what she was learning about Chloe.

So um. A girl at my school was murdered. Like big time legit murdered.

She told GhostieGoo—Oliver—about the rumors, about going to the coffee shop after the news broke, and breaking into the dorm. About the journal.

I’m sorry. That sounds really shitty and hard. Is there anything I can do? I mean I feel like that’s really cool of you to do! Putting yourself at risk to make sure she gets to rest? That’s more than a lot of people get.

Romy licked her lips and considered. She replied: ty I guess…just chat w me?

Now that it was out there and GhostieOliver had praised her for her choice, it was difficult to not worry that she was actually being selfish. Was she seeking out glory on the back of Chloe’s murder? Was it glory when you were genuinely fucking mad? Maybe the shock and the numb were wearing off and settling into something boiling and bitter.

Chloe had been really cool; some people probably needed to die, but she wasn’t one of them. If Chloe had been a few years older, maybe Romy would have been interested in dating her; she was beautiful and interesting, and she had a quiet demeanor that was charming and gentle. But as it was, Romy liked the chances she got to chat before or after class, Chloe not making a big deal about her ears or her height or the gap between her teeth, just once saying, “I’m sorry if this is rude, but your ears are really pretty.” Chloe had let Romy look over her notes when she missed a class because a show had gone late and she’d gotten a little too drunk, and she lit up when Romy credited Chloe's idea in discussion after not reading even a single word of the assignment.

So how dare someone see her and decide they were entitled to end her life. To rip from the world any possible future where Chloe had a chance to meet her full potential, or to decide her “potential” wasn’t something she owed to anyone else, or to fail and to struggle. Whatever way she would have ended up going, it would have been better than this. Rotting.

Romy wiped away a hot tear from her eye. She’d barely even known her.

Oliver had offered a few topics of conversation, but Romy had to send this: why should it be me? Sorry I don’t mean to interrupt but is this right for me to do? Me, I mean? Specifically?

Oliver’s reply didn’t take long at all. Why not? Who else should?

The cops, for one, but Romy bit that back. Why should they? They knew Chloe even less. But they’d get to claim ownership of this incident and make it out to be personal while they did Oxygen interviews because of their daughters or nieces or sisters—and Romy had her diary, a chance to get to know her even better.

One of her friends? Idk I guess I’m worried I’m being entitled.

Oliver’s bubble popped up and disappeared a few times again. Entitled to solving her murder? Because you knew her and think she shouldn’t be dead? Idk seems like it should be like a community thing imho. Everyone should have a vested interest in dealing w crime & the decision to say no you can’t be involved unless the cops hold your hand thru it is bullshit.

Haha sorry um I mean

Y’know?

I guess the politics came out a little sry

Romy glanced away from Chloe’s diary, where she described having lunch with Hepburn (Audrey? Unlikely, but how cool?), to Oliver’s messages. I guess murder is kind of political tho huh. But hey um ty. Maybe I was looking for an excuse to chicken out after I bullied Lian and Ezra into joining me.

Oliver seemed happy enough to return to a discussion of artists, especially ones working on indie games—one place where their interests overlapped, even if for different reasons. But Romy still skimmed the diary, looking for little clues in the names given, scenarios described, details about the town. Was Chloe involved in something? Could her coding have been less for protection of the innocent against prying eyes like Romy’s own and more like something from a spy novel?

The noir metropolis of Romy’s imagination morphed to the grainy 70s technicolor film, Steve McQueen driving around in powerful cars through the streets of Autumn Ridge, Chloe wearing her hair in a beehive and go-go boots in white pleather clinging to her slim legs.

It didn’t feel as right, but maybe that was the point of being a spy, yeah? She seemed too normal to have just gotten tangled up in something nefarious, but she wasn’t even halfway in. Not a quarter. She flipped back to the beginning, really focusing in on every word—the handwriting, trying to awaken some secret medium ability to commune with her.

By the time she’d gotten back to the spot where she’d flipped back, Romy was convinced that Hepburn was a fool; Chloe had done so much for Hepburn to just drop her. They’d come to school together for Hepburn to find a new gaggle of foolish friends to go to dinner at the SAC with? Art students? Perish the fucking thought.

Although…Oliver was an art student. Illustration. Maybe they were a wholly different breed from the film students and theater kids that ended up in her Shakespeare courses. Maybe. Or maybe Oliver was just special.

She needed something to eat. Or to drink. Something. Maybe Ezra would come over and pretend to do homework with her just so her room wouldn’t be full of silence, the lingering smells of perfume in her sheets blending with the wet leaves and the green succulents scattered all over the shelves on which her fairy lights hung.

She rolled off the couch with some difficulty, her limbs lead-weighted. But her stomach outranked the desire to lay and barely exist.

She stepped lightly on the edge of the fourth step from the top, but the dark-stained wood still snapped like a gunshot. Whatever Lian was doing in the kitchen, she stopped, waited a moment, and went right back to making noise. Romy relaxed her ears and pet Peanut, her little calico whose meows were screams and whose purr was rusty, leaving her to watch an episode of Columbo from the top perch of her cat tree at the bottom of the stairs.

They didn’t have formal dining—the kitchen was large enough for a huge banquet table. Usually, it was only the two of them (and occasionally Peanut jumping up to sniff Lian’s wine and Romy’s beer), but they could probably seat enough people to be considered respectable adults; it’s why Friendsgiving had become such a tradition. The vaulted ceilings and the dark wood beams stained the same as the wide-plank oak flooring, a rich chestnut that sometimes looked black under the right light, made the kitchen feel massive even when it was crowded with their friends looking for meals or with Lian’s frantic brewing. They blended the built-ins with craftsman cabinetry when they had built it, and Lian and Romy only leaned into that—dried herbs hung on the walls to fragrance the room even when they weren’t cooking.

Lian had her back to Romy, standing over the large stove and watching as her cauldron baked on its seasoning.

“Is that…?”

“Mothman honey blended with coconut oil and a little canola, yes.”

How that combination would stick to the cauldron like a well-loved cast iron skillet being re-seasoned, Romy had no idea. And Lian couldn’t explain it in a way that she could parse, so she just gave up the attempts.

“Are you reading the diary?” Lian asked, opening the oven and peeking in.

“Mmm. How’s the spell coming?”

“I want to have something to drink before to help my focus. It’ll be important to know I’m just bringing what we need and not a policeman’s hand if he’s holding it.” Lian frowned. “There’s enough blood involved in this so far, don’t you think?” She paused again as she turned the cauldron with a few easy swipes of her pink-lit fingers through the air. “And I wouldn’t know what to do with a severed hand, anyway.”

“Ever wanted to get into necromancy?”

“Absolutely not.”

“It’d make good fertilizer.”

“Then you can grind it—don’t even think about trying to use my things for grinding up a human hand to make the rose bushes look prettier.”

Romy snorted but she sat at the table, tracing a knot and series of grain that she’d identified drunkenly one night as a rabbit doing a backflip. Ezra had seen a clown’s face, the ears and back feet of her rabbit morphing into fangs ready to tear into a children’s party like a buffet. That settled heavily in Romy’s belly now. “But how’s it coming other than the seasoning?”

“I have pieces of spells, but I’ll have to essentially blend them together into something new. I still have classes, so I can’t dedicate myself full-time to this,” she said, her mouth twisting into something that might be a frown.

“No, um. I get it. Me neither.”

“But I have the component pieces and vague ideas of how to bring them together; I actually had to look back at an old 16th century spell for one of the pieces! Demon hunters used it to identify possessions. And now we’re going to use it to help summon something missing from a dead girl's room.”

“You think they’d be happy about that?”

“Hm?” Lian had already turned back to the cauldron, pulling it from the oven and setting it on the stove. “Oh, no. They’d probably think it was a tool of demons and burn us for dragging their good name into our sacrilege or whatever.” Lian flapped her hand dismissively, wafting the thought like errant smoke clinging to the cauldron’s surface. “But given their political writings and accounts of their hunts, I’d probably choose a demon to spend time with over them, so fuck ‘em.”

Romy barely listened as Lian explained the parts she’d found from books she’d read fairly recently or that Lushuwyth could guide her to; Lian’s memory might not be anything special, but his was impeccable. She also couldn’t read more of the diary tonight, although she also didn’t want to put it down. It was…comforting. To have it nearby. Like she could keep watch over Chloe and protect her memory through it. Even as she got up and made herself a quick and dirty hummus plate—sprinkling feta, black olives, tomatoes and cucumbers that she chopped and drizzled with olive oil (Italian, not Greek, but she wouldn’t go advertising that to anyone who cared about things like that), and pita that she threw in the toaster oven just to warm—Romy was thinking about her investigation.

Chloe’s death was full-time, so wasn’t that what she deserved? But Romy also knew getting caught for skipping classes wasn’t how she wanted the Watchtower to find her out. That would just be embarrassing; setting out to hero and then ending up arrested and possibly even collared, cut off from her powers (possibly forever, even after it came off, according to the rumors) wasn’t exactly the origin story she wanted to share.

But there had to be a way to find a way to honor Chloe without treating her murder like a hobby, a curiosity that Romy would get to dabble in and then go back to her normal life. And without Romy having to submit to the Watchtower’s testing and regulating to be an official hero.

She thought about those commercials again. The Watchtower campaign. You know, the heroes reading books to seniors. When she’d been the same age as the bright-eyed kids, the real heroes in those ridiculous ads, she would have eaten that up. She wanted to be that. She wanted to be good. Tikkun olam.

But it was also incredibly daunting. She had this idea of herself—she’d be classified a 1 or a 2, the cream of the crop, and she’d make bank and adoring fans wherever she went. She wasn’t afraid of hurting; Jo had beaten that out of her at the gym years ago when she started training as an undergrad. So she would rush in and make the world genuinely better with a liberal application of her fists and stone ripped from the earth by her willpower alone.

But what if once she actually submitted herself to all those tests, all the subjective measurements of her abilities, they dismissed her? Rejected her application to hero? Said she just didn’t have what it took to live up to her own quiet fantasies? So she put it off and put it off and life got in the way, and now she convinced herself she was happy with her OnlyFans work, her dancing, and what she got to do with Jo in the gym.

However. If that were really true. She probably wouldn’t have leaped face-first into trying to get her friends to join her on an illegal but justifiable quest to rain righteous justice down on the head of anyone who thought Chloe’s life wasn’t worth preservation. Would she have.