Excerpt from SPRG Series Book 1


Voices In The Theater
By A.S. Santos


Samantha’s room was quiet.

Too quiet, thought Grandma Marie, especially for a thirteen year old who’d just spent
two days whining about missing her best friend’s party. Grandma Marie put her book aside, crept up the stairs, and quietly pushed the door open. There were three huge lumps on the bed. The lumps were too large to be mistaken for a girl, and too still to be a breathing human being. Grandma Marie pulled off the blanket, and met nothing but pillows. Within minutes Grandma had taken the house keys, grabbed her purse, and locked the front door behind her. She knew Andy probably wouldn’t approve of her leaving the house at night. But she also knew that Andy would definitely make things worse for Samantha if he found out she’d disobeyed him and snuck out of the house. Their father-daughter relationship was already strained enough as it is. Besides, Grandma knew where Libby’s house was, and it was only a few blocks away. The street was quiet, and the air was cool. The faint sounds of music and laughter came from somewhere near.

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Grandma Marie walked briskly along the sidewalk, as briskly as she could without straining herself. She made sure to keep her breathing normal as she walked. That’s what Andy would’ve told her. The sound of squealing tires got her attention. She stopped and looked around to see where it was coming from. The headlights shone right into her eyes, blinding her. Before she could even move, she felt her breath knocked out as something hard violently hit her waist, and for a brief moment she felt like she was flying. Then she heard the crunch of her own bones as she collapsed into a heap, felt the sudden crack of her skull as it hit the pavement, and smelled the thick blood that spurted and seeped through her scalp, spilling into the concrete within seconds. The pain was instant, and it was horrible. She didn’t know which part of her hurt the most. Her body started to shake, and her eyes began to dim. Vaguely she heard the sound of car doors opening and slamming shut. A young woman’s muffled voice was saying “Oh my God, oh my God!” Somewhere near her, a male voice said, “We better call 911.” But his voice was shaking. Grandma Marie tried to open her eyes, but the world was quickly growing dimmer around her.

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She tried to speak, but her body was shaking too horribly. “Samantha,” she wanted to say. “Please take care of Samantha.” She didn’t know if anyone heard her. She couldn’t even hear the young people’s voices anymore. The darkness was clouding her eyes. The pain came in long explosions, inside her head, inside her chest. It was overpowering.

Three blocks away, at a dining table littered with red paper cups of varying amounts of soda and beer, Samantha stood, trying to decide what to do. She held one of the paper cups in her hand, and beside her Eric Taylor stood smiling. “Come on Sam. It’s just a sip. It’ll help you relax.” He tilted his head as he looked at her with those clear blue eyes, the irises slightly hidden by a thick fringe of blond eyelashes. Sam smiled back, then raised her cup towards him in a toast. “Okay.” She casually brought the cup to her lips. “Samantha,” said Grandma Marie. Sam was so startled by her voice, she dropped her cup and spilled beer all over Eric’s pants and shoes.
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“Aw, shoot Sam!” Eric glared at her, and his twisted expression surprised and disturbed Samantha. She’d never seen him angry before. On top of that she was already panicking, looking to her left and to her right. She knew there was no way she was getting out of the punishment waiting for her. But where was Grandma Marie? Was she hiding somewhere to spare her the humiliation? Or was she standing somewhere conspicuous, about to embarrass her in front of her friends and ruin her life forever? She didn’t see her anywhere. Samantha moved past the still-angry Eric and a few other people in the dining room. She went out the open sliding glass doors that led to the pool. Libby was standing next to Mike at the edge of the pool. She was laughing at something Mike said, and as she threw her head back she saw Sam approaching. “Sam!” “Hey.” Sam paused in front of her, and gave Mike a brief smile. “Sorry Libby, but I gotta bail. I think my grandma’s here.” “Here? Are you sure?” “Well, I haven’t really seen her, but I heard her call me. I think she’s around, maybe outside. Maybe she doesn’t want to embarrass me.” “Let’s hope.” Libby’s mouth twisted into a slight frown. “Okay, I’ll see ya.”

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“Bye.” Sam made her way around the pool area to the front of the house. Just as she was stepping onto the sidewalk, an ambulance sped by in front of her, moving towards the direction of her street. “Samantha,” Grandma Marie’s voice said. Sam whirled around. But she was alone. Her heart was suddenly gripped with a strange fear. She didn’t know why. She just suddenly knew something was horribly wrong. Sam started to run.

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Chapter 1: Reasons

There were less students today. I didn’t expect the university to be this empty. But I liked it. There was less noise. Less whispers. Less stares. Of course, it most likely had to do with the fact that it was a Saturday. And that it was only 6:54 AM. I stepped out from under the white concrete arch, out into the open hallway that overlooked the tree-shaded main quad. Yes. I liked it. Not the fact that I had to wake up early to go to school on a Saturday. Especially when I don’t even have a Saturday class. But being in the university, with its open spaces and grass and trees, so early in the morning with fewer students… It was… relaxing. I could hear the rustling of the leaves. Feel the soft breeze and filtered sunlight on my face. If I closed my eyes, I knew I would even hear the birds. I breathed in the morning quiet one more time, then turned around and went back into the building’s main corridor. A few steps later, there was the sign on the wall. I followed the
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arrow, turned right, and made my way up the stairs. I took a bite of the cheeseburger in my right hand. Chewed. Took a sip of coffee from the Styrofoam cup in my left. My book bag bumped dully against my right hip as I reached the second floor landing, which opened up into a hallway. The floor here was shiny. The tiles reflected the yellow rectangles of light coming from the open balcony at the other end. But despite the sunlight, the whole floor felt musty; it was more of a feeling in the air than an actual scent. A feeling of age, and history. There was a small sign over the third door, which was slightly ajar: LS204. As I pushed the old wooden door in, a sudden thought flashed in my mind.

There are five people here.
The door creaked softly, and by the time I’d gotten it fully open five different faces were turned my way. “Hi there,” said a guy in a white shirt and faded jeans. He was sitting in one of the chairs that had been formed into a circle in the middle of the room. He’s the leader, I thought. There was the hint of muscles on his chest and arms, outlined under his shirt. He was slightly taller than most of the guys I’d met so far. His deep set eyes were intelligent and analyzing; his smile reminded me of an excited little boy. “Hi.” I smiled politely. “This is the ghost hunting club, right?” A small laugh came from the girl seated three chairs to his right. She looked familiar,

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but I wasn’t sure why. Slightly chinky eyes, straight hair cut into a bob that nicely framed her face. It made her look pretty and pixie-like. Even though she was wearing a black shirt, denim mini skirt, and calf length leather boots, she still looked… sweet.

She’s in Psych, too. Block 8. Lana Chan.
The thoughts came out of nowhere. “You’re Samantha, right?” she asked me. Her smile was sincere and friendly. “The girl from the U.S.? New Jersey, right?” “Yes. Ex-pat girl, that’s me. Samantha Davidson.” I gave everyone in the room a nod, then took the seat next to the smiling girl. “You’re Lana Chan.” A look of pure surprise mixed with her smile. “Wow. You must have a gift for remembering names.” I shrugged. “Richard,” said the guy to Lana’s right, leaning over slightly and nonchalantly waving a hand at me. His long legs were taking up a lot of space in front of him as he sat; he had that relaxed look of someone who owned the world. The girl next to him rested her head on Richard’s shoulder, her arrow-straight hair spilling over his sleeve and arm. She looked bored. “Chynna,” she said. “I’m not part of the group.” “Okay.”

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“My name’s Migs,” said the guy in the white shirt. He’d actually left his chair, and it took him only two strides to stand in front of me. He looked rather intense and formal as he extended his hand. This made me feel slightly nervous. The boys here behaved much differently from the guys back home. And sometimes it even seemed like they meant different things with the same gestures. Still, I shook Migs’ hand. The sudden thoughts came.

He’s in Physics, Second Year. The guy in the seat next to him is his best friend.
“I'm Aris,” Migs’ best friend called out to me by way of an introduction, although he remained in his seat. His smile was as friendly as Lana’s. Everything about Aris was a slightly darkened version of Migs: darker skin tone, thicker—therefore darker—eyebrows, a thick head of black hair. He was even wearing a black shirt with something written on it in silver; only his jeans were light and faded. “Hi.” Migs returned to his seat, but was still looking at me. “We’re just waiting for our club adviser, and then we could start.” “Man, I still can’t believe you actually got this approved,” Richard told Migs, smiling. “How’d you get a professor to sign on as a ghost club adviser?” “It’s not a ghost club, it’s a paranormal research group. There’s a difference.”

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“And that difference is why I signed on.” We all turned towards the door. This time, I actually knew the person standing there. “Good morning everyone,” said Sir Julius, my professor in General Psychology. He moved to sit behind the teacher’s table, and looked at us one by one . Those intelligent eyes behind the glasses seemed to rest on me when he declared: “Why don’t we start by finding out why we’re here?”

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Chapter 2: Truths & Half Truths

Four more people came into the room while Migs was talking about the “short history” of the group. And Migs really had a way of making it sound simple, and short. “So that’s it,” he concluded. “After five terms of trying to make this an official org, we’re now having our first meeting.” He smiled that little boy smile, but his intelligent eyes still made him look serious and grown up. I knew there was more to the simple and short story Migs told. There was something he wasn’t saying. But I didn’t really want to think too hard about it. Sir Julius nodded, then turned to Aris. “Well…” Aris began, smiling. “Obviously, I’m here because that’s what friends do—you support each other, no matter how crazy your friend is.” Migs looked at the floor and chuckled beside him. “So when Migs had this crazy idea for creating gadgets that could actually capture “ghostly activities,” I had to sign up as his first member.” Aris used his index and middle fingers to create quotation marks in the air when he said “ghostly activities,” which made Migs smile wider and shake his head. “I’m not really sure if I believe in ghosts,” Aris continued. “Haven’t seen any myself. But Migs’ theories really make sense, and I like having a fun non-school project to use up the little
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free time I have. It reminds me of the real reason I’m taking this hellish course that’s ruining my life.” We laughed. Aris seemed like a really nice, easy-going guy. “I guess it’s my turn,” Richard began. He had a thoughtful expression on his face. One corner of his mouth was turned upwards, and his head was tilted slightly towards the ceiling. He looked like he was laughing at a secret joke, and was deciding whether or not to share it. “The truth is…” He faced the group now, the one-sided smile still on his face. “I’m here because this is exactly the kind of org my dad would never approve of.” Aris laughed out loud, Lana giggled, and Migs chuckled. Everyone else smiled, except for Chynna. She still looked bored. “Well, that’s very self-aware of you, Richard,” said Sir Julius. Even he was smiling. “Is there any reason you like getting that kind of reaction from your father?” Richard’s smile broadened. In one comical movement, he bared his upper teeth, used them to bite on his lower lip, and simultaneously scrunched up his nose—he looked like a bunny monster. Then his smile went back to lopsided normal. “Hmm. I’m pretty sure it has to do with the fact that after college, I’m gonna be his slave for the rest of my life. So I may as well do anything I want now, right?” Richard ruffled the hair at his nape after he said this, then adjusted in his seat as he stretched his long legs in front of him. Chynna just kept on playing with her arrow straight hair.
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Sir Julius nodded. “I understand.” His thoughtful expression made me believe he did understand. “Okay, my turn,” Lana chimed. Her voice, like her face, reminded me of pixies. She leaned slightly forward in her seat as she addressed the group. Her smile was bright and sincere. “Unlike everyone else in this ghost hunting club-” “Ahem,” Migs faked a cough. “-I mean, paranormal research group,” Lana corrected herself, her smile growing wider, “I actually joined because I believe in ghosts. Well, more than ghosts, really. I mean, I believe in God. I also believe there’s a heaven, and a hell, and that angels and saints are real. So I’ve always thought that, if they’re all real, then evil spirits and demons and the devil must be real too. Same thing with ghosts.” Her hands moved animatedly as she talked. Her words had a strange effect inside my head, like a fog was clearing up. Almost like I wanted to accept her words as the truth. Which was crazy, of course. In fact, if she’d said any of those things out loud in my old school, she would’ve been given unflattering nicknames behind her back—there are many variations for the word crazy—and she would’ve lost all her friends and never made new ones again. But as I looked at the faces of the people in the room, I didn’t see any hint of the reaction I expected. Some of them were nodding, and the others were looking at Lana like they believed her. Even Chynna was looking at Lana with interest.

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“That’s good.” Sir Julius smiled and nodded. “So far we have two members who believe that ghosts exist,” his hands gestured towards Migs and Lana, “Two members who’d like to use scientific theories to gain hard evidence about whether or not ghosts exist, and a member who’s… neutral.” Richard chuckled as everyone glanced his way. Sir Julius now looked directly at me. It was my turn. And I honestly didn’t know what to say. Yes, I knew my reason for being here. But I didn’t know if I could tell them the truth. I took a deep breath. “I’m here because…” I looked at the ten different faces in front of me. “Because I’m… looking for answers.” Migs’ deep set eyes grew more serious as he seemed to study my face. Aris tilted his head. The four new people who’d come in and sat behind them now leaned forward to take a better look at me. Lana’s face was now just inches away from my cheek. “Can you explain?” It was Sir Julius who asked. His voice was comforting in the middle of all that scrutiny. His question sounded like an invitation that I could either accept or refuse, and either way it would be alright. I looked at Sir Julius, and tried to be honest. “I’m not sure I can.” “You’ve had a strange experience before, and you want to make sense of it ,” said Migs suddenly. It was both a statement and a question. His voice sounded slightly deeper when he
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said it, which made me look back at him. There was a slight darkening in his deep set eyes. Suddenly, a clear single thought flashed in my mind:

He’s talking about himself.
“Yes,” I answered, simply. It was true. Granted, it was an extremely abbreviated version of the truth, but the truth nonetheless. I was beginning to realize that Migs really had a gift for summarizing things so briefly yet accurately—whether or not he was aware of it. “Oh,” said Richard. He gave me a crooked grin. “I’d like to hear that story sometime.” Chynna frowned. I smiled politely. “Maybe. Sometime.” Lana briefly squeezed my hand. Her smile was reassuring, as if she was saying, “It’s okay. You don’t need to say anything else.” “Good.” Sir Julius nodded. “That’s a very good reason for being here. Is anyone else looking for answers, like Sam?” An older-looking guy in a white collarless uniform raised his hand from behind Aris. “Peter,” he said, introducing himself. “Peter Cartalaba.” Aris turned a few degrees sideways in his seat so he could get a better look at Peter, who was sitting directly behind him.
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Peter’s slightly wavy hair was clean cut, with a slight hint of bangs resting on his forehead. His voice was measured—cultured—and coming from his chest. “I’m actually in my second year of medical internship now. Which is why I’m late—I just came from a 24-hour shift from the hospital.” He smiled openly. “Actually, the school doesn’t really see me as a student anymore. And I really don’t have much time for extracurricular stuff like orgs.” The girl to his right (who was also wearing a white uniform) nodded in silent agreement. “But something happened to me,” Peter continued. “Well, something happened to one of my patients. She died. But somehow we brought her back, and when she woke up she said she’d been to heaven.” Lana gasped beside me. The smile on her face was joyful as she hung on Peter’s every word. “She’s only twenty-three. My patient. Let’s call her Tina. She’s part of this Charismatic group, so I’m not sure if that influenced her experience. “She was leaving this building after a Bible study of some sort, when she got sideswiped by a car. Dragged her almost ten feet down the street. Hit her head on the pavement, broke a few bones. Her friends quickly rushed her to E.R. She was gone for a few minutes. When she… came back, she seemed very sure about what she saw. “Tina said that after she died, she saw herself leaving her body. She said that she’d never felt so free in her life—like she was everywhere and could feel everything at once. Then

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she looked down at her body, and it looked so small and worn out that she didn’t want to come back to it. “Then she saw this bright light opening up from the ceiling. She went up to it, and the next moment she found herself alone in this garden. But she could hear music all around, so she didn’t feel alone. In fact, the music seemed to come from inside her, vibrating through her. Tina said the music was so comforting, like it was embracing her with sound. For some reason, it made her absolutely sure that she was deeply and incredibly loved.” The breath I didn’t know I’d been holding came out in a gasp. But no one noticed, because everyone was just as focused on Peter’s story as I was. Music. I knew that kind of music… I’d heard it too. Once. The first time… the first time I started hearing things. Music so strong it vibrated through you. Music that enveloped you until you felt like you were being embraced. “But then, she heard a voice in the music,” Peter continued. “It was telling her to go back to her body, that it wasn’t her time yet. When Tina woke up, she was back in her hospital bed, and every part of her was in pain. She keeps telling everyone what happened, and the way she tells it, you want to believe her.” We were all silent for a few moments. Peter smiled. “You should see her. Her face is… different. Like she’s incredibly happy— definitely not like a young woman in a neck brace and double leg casts. Sometimes when I feel tired, I just pop into her room to say hi. I always feel a bit lighter afterwards.”
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“That was amazing,” Lana whispered. “I’ve got goose bumps!” She showed me her arm. “A near death experience,” said Sir Julius, nodding. “That’s another angle we can explore here.” “Definitely,” agreed Migs. I looked at Migs when he spoke, and at that exact same moment his eyes met mine. His eyebrows were slightly knitted. He was asking me a question.

What happened to you, Sam?
Did he know I could hear his thoughts? I was sure he didn’t, but it bothered me anyway. I looked away. “I have a not-so-heavenly experience,” said the girl to Peter’s left. She was slightly big boned, with golden brown skin and beautiful wavy hair that seemed to reach her knees as she sat. Her smile was bright, and she began her story with a flourish that assured us we would be entertained. “Actually, it happened just last term. I’m part of the drama club, so of course we spend a lot of time rehearsing for our plays. We usually practice in the Little Theater at the third floor of this building. You’ve all been to the Little Theater, right?” Everyone nodded, except me. “So last term we were there, having our dress rehearsal for Avenue Q, with the puppets and everything? It was, like, two in the morning, and our show was scheduled for seven p.m.
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that night. So I was standing on the stage with my puppet—I was playing Kate…” She now stood up, and went near the door where there was more space for her reenactment. “I’m Eartha, by the way,” she added, smiling. “Eartha Tejada.” Eartha gave us a little wave, before she continued: “So I was standing over here, and my partner Jason—he was playing Princeton—he was standing on this side. There was just the two of us onstage, and then there was Chris at the piano, with the rest of the cast seated in the front row as the audience, Mark and Jethro were up in the booth, manning the lights. “Like I said, it was early in the morning, and we really wanted to finish and wrap up. I was holding my puppet with both hands like this, and I was looking at this cassette tape that my puppet, Kate, was holding. When I looked up at Jason to say my next line, I saw something move near the curtains behind him..." One minute Eartha was speaking, and every head in the room turned to her direction. The next second I was hearing other things, other voices, and it was like someone had taken the remote and put Eartha on mute.

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Chapter 3: Do You Hear Them?

It was like being underwater. Everyone was moving so slowly, and even though they were opening their mouths, I couldn’t hear their voices. Except for the ones in my head.

Get out! said the first voice. It belonged to a distraught young woman. No! Don’t do it… pleaded a guy. Get out! This time the girl was hysterical. A sob caught at the end of her scream.
I looked around the room, at the faces. Each one of them was still riveted on Eartha, and Eartha herself was still talking. And I still couldn't hear her.

You can't stop me… It’s too late, no one can help me. The girl's voice was resigned and

Please don't do this... There was love in the guy’s voice now. Please don’t… Nnoooo! She's ours... she's ours... she's ourrsss...
The last words were cold, strange, a chorus of many voices that had no gender. I shuddered.
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...oursss... oursss... ourssss...
They sounded gleeful, in a sick sort of way. I shook my head, wishing I could get their voices out of my head. But now their many voices merged into a sinister low chorus of whispering and hissing.

...ssppsssttspssttssspssspspspsssttspssttkatrinamanuelsspsppsssttspssttpspppjosephyumolss spssssppsssttspssttssspsssmitchieborjapsppssspssppsssttspssttssspsspssssandrewdavidsonspssspp sssttspssttssspss...
The hissing sounds were overwhelming. They filled my head until I felt like I was drowning. Stop, please! I thought desperately. I suddenly had a horrible image of myself tearing my ears out of my head with my bare hands. Please stop!

...ours... ours... ours... hahahahahahaha...!!!
"...and so we ran out of there as fast as we could,” Eartha ended. I looked up at Eartha sharply, and when I realized it was her voice I heard I gulped in a huge breath of air. The hissing voices were gone. Everyone was moving normally now, and I could hear their soft breathing. My own breath was ragged, but no one noticed, thanks to Eartha's hold on everyone's attention. More importantly, my ears were still intact. Eartha now flipped her long honey-colored hair. "Of course we still have to go there
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sometimes, but now we always make sure to go in groups. And we bring crosses and rosaries." "What's a rosary?" I asked. The heads now turned to me. Part of me wanted them to stop staring, but another part of me wanted this new situation, if it meant I wouldn't have to hear the chilling chorus of voices again. "It's a Catholic thing," Lana told me, squeezing my hand gently again, in her familiar friendly way. "They're beads that we use as a sort of guide when praying." "So guys, do you think this should be your first case?" Sir Julius was suddenly all business, promptly ending the staring fest and getting everyone excited at the same time. I wondered if he knew I needed this distraction. Migs was nodding thoughtfully. "Definitely. Especially since we already have witness accounts." "Alright.” Sir Julius sat back in his chair, his eyes assessing. "So imagine you were a professional paranormal research group. Your objective is to create a body of research that will help you formulate theories and test hypotheses about paranormal phenomena. What would you do?" "Interview the witnesses,” said Aris, a half smile on his face. "Not just for this incident, of course, but for the other similar incidents that happened in that theater." "Good, good." Sir Julius was nodding. "What else?"

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"Wait, we have to question them separately,” Migs said. "We can't talk to them in groups. I want to see if their accounts are the same." "Yes. And we should have standardized questionnaires, not just for this incident, but for future ones as well,” said Peter.

Intake sheets, his mind said. I had no idea what that meant, but I was glad I was
hearing normal voices again, normal thoughts. "I can come up with a questionnaire based on the intake sheets we have at the hospital,” Peter continued. "It can help us separate the subjective experiences from the objective observations." "Cool!" said Lana beside me. She giggled a little. "This sounds so professional." "Oh, and I want to find out the real history of the place!" said Eartha. She seemed especially stoked, maybe because her story was getting so much attention. "We can check actual records, see if anyone really died there." "What kinds of records?" asked Richard, his head cocked slightly towards Eartha. This gesture seemed to increase Chynna's pout. "I dunno... student registrations maybe? Find out if we lost any students there in the past years...?" Eartha shrugged. "How about tabloids?" suggested Karen, and Peter nodded beside her. "A death inside a major university isn't really something you'd easily find in respectable papers."

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"Right,” said Aris. "We can Google for stories in the major papers...but I doubt if local tabloid stories ever make it to Google." "Unless they're in blogs!" said Lana. Her face brightened. "I remember seeing a friend's note on Facebook; he’d typed up this whole tabloid article about a shootout that supposedly happened in his subdivision. He shared it with everyone because the news report had so many errors, and he was really mad." "Good, this is really good." Migs was half-smiling now. "So we Google and do Facebook searches for our university's name, the theater's name, and the word death." "Suicide," I said, before I realized I was going to say it. The heads turned to me. Expectant, excited. There was no backing out of this one. I took a deep breath. "The cause of death was suicide. It was a girl, freshman. In 2005." Six jaws dropped. "Are you... sure?" Lana was looking at me with a hint of alarm. "How do you know this?" I was quiet for a beat. "I hear things," I said, simply. I waited for them to react. For about five seconds. Aris was the first to recover. "Wow! You must have some really good connections!" He laughed a bit. "I've been in this school for two years, and I'm totally clueless about what goes
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on around here.” I sighed quietly in relief. "You're sure it's 2005?" Karen asked. “That’s what I heard.” “This is incredibly helpful. Really narrows down our search.” Migs gave me another of his indecipherable looks. “Good job,” Sir Julius said, and caught everyone’s attention. I wondered if this was his gift—knowing when someone was getting uncomfortable from too much attention, and how to quickly divert it. “Let’s clarify the assignments now: Peter will give us a standard questionnaire by… next Saturday’s meeting? You’re okay with that? Good.” Sir Julius started writing down notes; so did Peter and the others. “Now, while we’re finalizing the questionnaire format, Eartha sets up interview schedules with the witnesses, and maybe get the necessary permits for us to visit the Little Theater on official org business. You’ll be working with Aris, Migs, Gary, and Lana—they’ll be the ones conducting the interviews, so it’s best to make the introductions as early as possible.” Eartha smiled. “I can do that, sure!” “Karen, Samantha, Vanessa, and Richard… you guys do the background research, give us a more solid story by Saturday. Now this is important. I need you to find out as much as you can, BUT you need to separate fact from fiction. Verify, clarify, and keep tabs on sources
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and references.” “Got it.” It was Karen who spoke. Sir Julius glanced at his watch, smiled, then closed his notebook. “Congratulations, team. I think we had a very successful first meeting. See you Saturday, and I look forward to your updates.” There was a spattering of claps from the group, along with a few Yays. Then there was the collective shuffle of notebooks and pens being returned to their bags, and chair legs scraping softly against the wooden floor. I sighed quietly, glad it was over. The experience I had while Eartha was telling her story never happened to me before, and I had no idea why it happened now. Maybe because this building was really old? Or maybe that story was special in some way? Or maybe it even had to do with the fact that the people who surrounded me now seemed to believe in the supernatural more than regular people. I had no idea. I still wasn’t even sure if joining the group was the right decision. But being around them now made me hope that maybe one of them could help me find the answers I needed… as long as no one asked me too many questions.

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“Samantha?” said a low yet feminine voice. I looked up and saw Karen, blocking my path towards the door. Uh-oh. “I need to talk to you.”

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Chapter 4: Names & Places

Fortunately, it turned out that Karen only wanted to get the research team together to discuss how we would divide the work, "...so we can cover the most material in the shortest possible time." Even more fortunately, Vanessa told her she had another report group meeting to go to, while Richard just shrugged (a barely visible shrug, considering that Chynna had slinked arms and... arms all over him). So Karen said we would just meet on Monday, 5:00pm, at the Conservatory. I almost wanted to stay and talk to Sir Julius, but Migs and Aris already had him cornered. They seemed engrossed in a discussion of energy and light and frequencies and waves. It also seemed like their conversation was going to take more than five minutes, so I decided to duck out of the room before they noticed. Still, I felt Migs' eyes on my back just as I disappeared out of the door. It was 11:15am. I took the Metro to Buendia Station, then a bus to "Fairview, Ortigas Ilalim." I actually had no idea what those last words meant. All I knew was that if I took this bus, I'd be home in about 15 minutes. "Home" these days was a 3-bedroom apartment in this 2-building complex called The

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Columns, which was right across the building where Dad works. This was also what brought us here to Manila in the first place: Dad had been assigned to manage his company's customer care center in the Philippines, and because it was a five-year assignment, he had the option to relocate and take us with him. It was an easy decision for him to make, since Mom was Filipina and she really missed the place she grew up in. It wasn't such an easy transition for me. I had to leave behind the only friends I'd ever had and the only home I'd ever known. The home that held all my memories of Grandma Marie. But just like with most of dad's decisions, none of these things really mattered to him. So about halfway through senior year they pulled me out of school, sold our house, brought us to this place, and had me home tutored for about two months so I can get into university. De La Salle University: the place where I felt like a freak, where most of the girls wondered if I'd already learned to shower every day, and where most of the guys assumed I was easy. Until maybe this morning, at least. This morning, the people I'd met seemed to have other things on their minds. It was surprising. In a good way. By 11:45 I was still on the bus, and I quickly decided to text my mom that I'd be having lunch in Greenbelt instead of at home.
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As soon as I saw the waterfall staircase of the Peninsula I prepared to get off. From Rustan's, I walked straight to the underground pass, emerged on the other side of Makati Avenue, then walked two more blocks towards Greenbelt. The day was humid and sticky, the midday sun mercilessly fried my head, and I knew the brisk walk would further drench my cotton shirt with sweat and make it cling to my back. But I knew it would all be worth it. Greenbelt, Makati was my real home here. I remember reading this quote somewhere before: "A place is nothing, not even space, unless at its heart a figure stands." Back in New Jersey home was where Libby and I had sleepovers since we were nine, and Grandma Marie baked us cookies and smiled knowingly when we whispered and giggled about boys, and where I spent countless nights writing about dreamy Eric Taylor in my diary... only to find out he was such an asshole. Here in Manila I was alone and displaced, the freak that everyone looked at and whispered about just because I looked slightly different. Many of the people were warm and welcoming, that's for sure. But a lot of them also held unfair stereotypes that often made me feel I was being judged. Except here in Greenbelt, where about 50% of the regulars were just like me. Here the shop names were more familiar, and most days—especially in the middle of the

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day, when everyone was still in their offices—the trees and plants, duck and fish, plus the waiting water combined often outnumbered the people. My head was quieter when there were more plants than people. And even when I could hear people's thoughts here, most of them were in a language I easily understood. I went into Café Breton and took one of the empty 2-seat tables near the window. Before the waitress could give me the menu, I ordered my usual mozzarella cheeseburger and mango shake; the mango crepe would come later for dessert. I smiled as I thought about how this great meal was just gonna cost me five bucks. Here in Greenbelt people's thoughts were also more relaxed, and it wasn’t as much of a headache having to listen to them. Of course, it wasn't really accurate to say that I had to listen to them. Thing is, I still didn’t really understand how this thing worked. All I knew was that most places I went to, I sometimes heard people's thoughts. There were times when I heard them clearly, there were times when the thoughts sounded muffled, and there were many times when I didn't hear anything at all. I had no control over it; it was just the way it is. But what happened at that SPRG meeting during Eartha's story was something else. Something that never happened before, and something that I wouldn't wish to happen again.

I automatically looked up at the sound, wondering why it was so clear. Usually it meant
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someone near was directing the thought at me. I looked around, but didn't see anyone looking in my direction.

This time I swiveled around my chair to scan the whole restaurant. A man and a woman who both sounded French were sitting near the doors that led into the mall. A small family with an English dad, an Asian mom, a toddler, and an infant were crowded at a table near the counter. Several waiters and waitresses milled about, and two staff people were standing near the register. None of them were looking at me. But the voice was so clear. And strangely, I couldn't tell if it belonged to a male or a female.

I actually jumped in my seat; the voice sounded so urgent. "Listen to what?!" I whispered involuntarily into the air. No one in the restaurant noticed. But the strange voice responded.

The voices. Listen.
Now this was really freaking me out. First that thing in school, and now this. But unlike my experience this morning, this new situation didn't feel frightening at all. Of course having this strange voice coming out of nowhere and, like, talking to me felt creepy,
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but it wasn't scaring me the way those other voices did this morning.

Those other voices.
There it was again. But this time I began to understand. I was supposed to listen—to remember—those voices I wanted to forget. "Why?" I whispered again, into the air.

I sighed and closed my eyes. No, I didn't want to remember. But right now I felt like I was supposed to. Like there was something about what happened this morning that I needed to pay attention to. No, I didn't want to remember. But I did. So easily. Too easily. And then I realized something... There had been something in those whispering, sinister chorus of voices. In the middle of all their hissing, they were saying something else... "Something important...?" I asked, as I scrunched my forehead up in concentration.

They were names.
My eyes flew open, startled. There it was again, that strange yet non-threatening voice, and it was answering my questions. Looking around, I still didn't see anyone who seemed particularly interested in me or even glancing in my general direction. I took in another breath.

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"Names?" I whispered into the air.

Remember. the voice replied.
By this time I was 100% sure it wasn't coming from anyone around me. At least, not anyone I could see. Taking out my phone, I searched for an available WiFi network and started browsing. When the Google search box finally came out, I reached out with my mind and tried to grasp at those distinct words—those names—that the genderless chorus of voices had been whispering about when Eartha was telling her story.

Katrina Manuel.
I wasn't sure if that was a name. For all I knew, I could just have been making it up. But I typed the name into the search box, enclosed it in quotation marks, and added + Manila. The search results were few, but to the point. Katrina Manuel's body had been discovered by her roommate, her neck hanging by a rope that was tied to the ceiling beams of her dorm room in the University of the Philippines. The year was 1989. I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment. When I opened them again I found myself moving more slowly, thinking more slowly. My mind reached out half-heartedly for another name in the memory of those whispers, while wishing I wouldn't find any.

Joseph Yumol.
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I typed the words slowly into the box and added Manila again. Three search results. Joseph Yumol was 47 years old. He'd been working at the same bank for 20 years, climbing the ranks until he reached a VP position, but the bank had to downsize and let him go. His marriage was failing, his kids were still in college, and he still had 10 years' worth of car and house payments to make. One night he shot himself in the mouth, and his wife had a nervous breakdown when she discovered his body in their room. I pressed "Exit" on my phone, and while it was erasing my browser history I looked away from my phone screen, wishing I could forget the words I'd just read. "I can't do this,” I whispered, to no one in particular, to the air. The waitress placed the mango shake in front of me, along with utensils and a napkin. The sight of the shake's thick yellow froth made my stomach churn. Not in a good way.

It was the voice again, but it sounded slightly gentler, like it knew I was upset. "I can't.” I whispered back, shaking my head.

I wanted to put my arms on the table and bury my head in them, but I would've toppled over the shake. So I just turned my head towards the window, where the yellow sunlight seemed to wash every dark shadow away. "Please leave me alone."
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The voice didn't respond. A few minutes later the waitress served my cheeseburger. And when I'd finished my meal almost an hour later, she gave me my mango crepe. Still the voice didn't return. I took one bite out of my crepe... then I took out my phone. It was like I couldn't help myself. I returned to the Google homepage, took a deep breath. When I closed my eyes another name was already there, waiting for me in my mind.

Mitchie Borja.
After typing in her name and hitting "search," six results instantly appeared. Mitchie Borja was part of De La Salle University's theater group. In 2005 during her second year in college, she entered the empty Little Theater with a fan knife in her pocket. When her best friend found her Mitchie had already slit her left wrist in the backstage area and was slowly bleeding to death. He tried to help her. But Mitchie's last words to him were: "You can't stop me…It’s too late, no one can help me." After which she used the same knife to stab her own throat.

I went straight home after my long lunch. I almost missed my stop, because even though I was staring out of the bus window the whole time I really couldn't see anything... couldn't feel anything.
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I refused to. It was around 6pm when mom asked me what I wanted for dinner. Her simple question had me running and throwing up in the bathroom. She looked concerned, but before she could act all parental I told her to leave me alone and locked myself in my room.

Shit! I thought, as I dabbed a moist towel all over my clammy face. I don't want this. I really don't want this.
But at around 9:30pm when everything was quiet—which meant dad had gone to his office, and mom was probably asleep—I flipped open my laptop and started going online. There was one more name, I knew. One last name, one last story. After this I could let this go. I wouldn't have to do any more research; I could just tell Karen and the group what I learned about Mitchie Borja, and maybe this last person I was going to look up... but only if he or she died in the Little Theater too. I closed my eyes, and tried to remember...

...ssppsssttspssttssspssspspspsssttspssttkatrinamanuelsspsppsssttspssttpspppjosephyumolss spssssppsssttspssttssspsssmitchieborjapsppssspssppsssttspssttssspsspssssandrewdavidsonspssspp sssttspssttssspss...
My eyes flew open, and they seemed to automatically lock on the building across our apartment, the building where dad worked.

Andrew Davidson.

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That was the last name, the name in the whispers. "What does this mean?" I timidly asked the air, hoping for an answer but terrified that I would be heard. Why was my dad's name in those whispers? Why did his name get lumped together with all those other names, all those other suicide cases... all those dead people? Not knowing what else to do, I typed in "Andrew Davidson" + Manila in the search box, thinking it might just be someone with the exact same name as my dad. Three search results, all having to do with my dad and his company... ...his company, which had lost three major U.S. clients in the last six months due to the worldwide economic slowdown. "Davidson was expected to increase profitability by the second half of this year." the reports said, "But his deadline date has passed and targets haven't been reached. Stakeholders are now on a holding pattern of 'wait and see.'" "What does this mean?" I asked again, this time with growing anxiety in my heart.

The voice was back again. Its timing was perfect; it was even calming, in a way. But I didn't know what else I was supposed to remember. "Remember what?" I asked the air in my room, as my eyes searched for dad's office window, counting the levels by the lights that were on at each floor. When I finally found his
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office window, I realized he wasn't there.

Remember the voices.
I closed my eyes against the anxiety, and tried to remember. The memory that came at me was frightening in its clarity.

"...spsssppsssttspssttssspss... ours... ours... ours... hahahahahahaha...!!!"
My eyes flew open; I felt like I was drowning again. But this time I understood. Those horrible voices were after my father. After more than a minute of hesitation, I picked up my phone and called his mobile number.

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Chapter 5: The Little Theater

Monday morning I learned that many therapists use Cognitive Behavioral techniques to help their clients. To put it simply: once they helped their clients change their thoughts, they could more easily help them change their behaviors. I wondered if Cognitive Behavioral Techniques could work on my dad. But then again, I guess any kind of therapy would only work if the person himself wanted to change. And that wasn't my dad at all. When I'd called him Saturday night around 10pm—worried that something bad had happened to him or was about to happen to him, but not really knowing what I was supposed to say—he simply barked at me and told me to never bother him again, because he had too many important things to do and I was just wasting his time. You'd think I'd be used to it by now—his indifference, his hate—but I still found my eyes tearing up when I cut off our call. I wanted so much to throw my phone across the room and smash it against the wall... but then I knew it would only mean I'd have to ask mom to ask dad to give me a new phone. And I knew I wouldn't want to hear anything he had to say to me then. So in a sick, heartbroken moment, I actually wished those horrible voices would get him. Maybe if he was dead he wouldn't be able to hurt me too much anymore.

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"Samantha Davidson,” said Sir Julius' voice. I looked up with a guilty start; was he calling me or just thinking about calling me? "Lana Chan,” he continued, reading off of a sheet of paper. He looked up from the paper to look at me, and then at Lana. "You'll be presenting your report on Gestalt Psychology next week." "Oh,” I said, at almost the same time Lana said "Okay!" in a cheery voice. Apparently, General Psych class had already ended.

When Lana was just about done dividing the topics of our report between us and we were the only ones left in the room, I decided to ask her where the Little Theater was. "Why?" she asked, her pixie face looking a little concerned. "You're not checking it out by yourself, are you?" For someone so petite, Lana never seemed to have any problem about saying exactly what was on her mind. "You make it sound like it's a bad thing," I said, vaguely. "Well of course it isn't bad." With her messenger bag slung over her left shoulder and three thick textbooks cradled in her right arm, she walked in step with me towards the general
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direction of the cafeteria, where everyone else seemed to be heading. "It's just... I don't know, creepy, especially after we heard Eartha's story." I knew she was right. And I knew I did not want to have anything to do with those voices anymore. But my moment of weakness last Saturday made me feel guilty enough to persist. If I couldn't keep my dad from dying, then the least I could do was to find out what was really going on. Maybe I could even find a way to help him without having anything to do with him. "What if you go with me?" I asked her. Lana looked at me sternly with those almond-shaped eyes. It was a pretty impressive stern look, considering she was two inches shorter than I was. "You still haven't answered my question. Why do you want to go?" I decided to tell her the parts of the truth that she would understand. "Because I'm meeting Karen and the research team later, and I want to be more helpful. The least I could do is actually know which part of the campus we're researching, right?" She tilted her head thoughtfully. "Please?" I suddenly said, in what I hoped was a sweet voice. "Okay," Lana finally agreed. "But only because you said please." She ordered one of those weird fried rice mixtures from the Rice-In-A-Box counter; I got one of the pasta combos from the café, then waited for her there.

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Lana was quiet while we ate. Both out loud, and in her head. It was strange. And comforting. It seemed she wasn't saying anything simply because she wasn't thinking of anything. With most people it was rarely the case. They were either looking at me silently while their judgmental thoughts rattled on in their heads. Or they would keep talking a mile a minute without a clear purpose except to "impress" the person they're talking to. When we were both done she stood up with her bag and tray, sighed a resigned sigh, and gave me an I'm-just-trying-to-be-brave kind of smile. "I guess we're going to the Little Theater now."

The Little Theater was in the same old building where we had our first SPRG meeting, but on a different floor. In fact, it turned out that the whole 7th floor was the Little Theater. Lana indicated we were there when we reached the landing at the top of the stairs and motioned to the dark old theater style doors that swung in when you pushed them. These doors were heavier than I expected, and their hinges groaned a little as they swung back slowly into place as we entered. Lana and I found ourselves stepping onto the worn carpet on the center aisle. We adjusted our eyes to the sudden dimness. The Little Theater smelled and felt exactly the way a musty old theater would smell and feel.
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Some lights had been turned on at the stage area, and we saw two people there on the right side of the stage near the wings. Before I could make out who they were, Lana was already giggling her pixie giggle beside me. "Look! It's Migs and Aris!" She grabbed my hand and pulled us both towards the guys, not even bothering to ask me if I wanted to approach them. Her thoughts were clearly made up of 100% relief. She was relieved we wouldn't be alone inside a theater that had ghosts in it, relieved that there were two guys in there to protect us, and extremely relieved that they were both from our org so we wouldn't have to explain why we were there. And I had to admit that I shared most of her relief. Mostly. "Hey!" Aris smiled when he saw us. He was wiping his hands with a washcloth that already bore streaks of grime. Migs was bent down towards the equipment they were working on, but looked up as well by the time we reached them. Lana was breathless from pulling me—from entrance to stage and about fifteen rows of chairs in between—in 45 seconds flat. "Hey!" she told Aris, her voice breathless but bubbly. She gulped in some air before continuing. "It's great to see you guys here!" "And what are you two ladies doing here?" Aris had jumped off the stage in one quick movement, and joined us near the front row seats. "Did Sir Julius send you for back up?" Lana shook her head. "Nope. Sam just wanted to see where the Little Theater was. We were planning on leaving as soon as I gave her a tour."
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Migs quietly looked at us with a thoughtful expression. "Okay." Aris began pointing at the different corners of the place. "Of course you've passed through the entrance. And those are the seats—could probably fit three hundred people, max. This is the stage, these are the stairs that lead to the stage, and there's a backstage area made up of a dressing room, a common bathroom, and a props & costumes storage area." "And what's that?" Lana had gone up onstage towards the equipment Migs and Aris had set up: a laptop, speakers, and lots and lots of wires that seemed to run through the stage and back. There was also a handheld meter and something that looked like a science-slash-music project that had a long row of tuning forks set up in a clear plastic-enclosed box. "It's a prototype,” Migs said. When Lana looked at him like she was waiting for a real explanation, he smiled and continued: "It's an experimental device we're working on for the org. Sir Julius helped us get clearance to set it up here for the next 48 hours." "What does it do?" I came up the stage as well and took a closer look. But even up close it still looked like a laptop, speakers, a handheld meter, a science project, and lots and lots of wires. Migs looked at me with that strangely serious look of his. "I have this theory—" "Ahem!" Aris coughed from beside me. Migs grinned. "Okay, Aris and I have this theory..."

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"Thank you,” said Aris. "...that spirits—whatever they may be—should be made up of the same thing we're all made up of. Energy." Migs moved closer towards the laptop and speakers. "So we set up this whole thing to find out the way this spirit energy is being expressed: whether as sound energy, or light energy." Lana's face was scrunched up in a way that made her look like a pouting fairy. "I think I'm getting the basics... but I need help with the actual understanding part." I smiled. Lana was so brave about saying the things I often thought twice about before saying. "It means," said Aris, who'd moved next to Migs, "that we know some people hear ghosts, and some people see ghosts. So we're trying to capture both sounds and images with this thing, in case our Little Theater ghosts appear in either form." "Thanks," Migs said, smiling good-naturedly. Lana's face looked like a lightbulb had been turned on in her head. "Oh, cool!" "We've got four webcams and five mics set up all over the theater," Aris continued, "and we've wired them all to this laptop so we can record everything for the next 48 hours." "That still doesn't explain your music project,” I said, pointing to their device. "It's something we're working on," Migs said. "We plan to use this while we're actually here. See, this is an EMF meter." He held up the meter thing, but couldn't hand it to us for closer
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inspection; they'd wired it too closely to the tuning forks box. "Paranormal investigators traditionally use this for detecting spikes in the electromagnetic field. The higher the electromagnetic reading, the more likely it is that a spirit is in the area." Lana shivered. "I think I'm getting goosebumps." "Yeah, I guess you can think of EMF spikes as goosebumps in the area that can actually be measured. And recorded." "And the tuning forks kit?" I asked Migs. He looked at me with those intelligent little boy eyes. "Each sound has a specific frequency, and when one sound of a certain frequency is hit and made to vibrate, everything else with the same frequency vibrates as well, even when nothing touches them. I've set up these extra sensitive tuning forks so that if a sound is detected by one of our mics, and it causes one of these forks to vibrate, then we'll know the specific frequency that the spirits are vibrating on." "And if we find out a spirit energy's specific vibration," Aris continued, "we can learn to draw it out, recreate it, or even trap it." "Contain it,” Migs corrected. "What I said." Aris grinned widely. "Trap a ghost?" Lana said incredulously. "Like in Ghostbusters? Why would you want to do that?"

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"For the same reason CERN would want to create antimatter..." Migs began, but changed tactics when Aris chuckled. He met Lana's confused look with an almost excited expression. "Science. The more we know, the more we understand." "And the more control we have over the things that scare us." I thought I'd said those last words quietly, but I realized it hadn't been quiet enough when all three of them suddenly looked at me with strange expressions. Aris looked strangely awed, Lana looked strangely concerned, and Migs looked... like he'd unexpectedly found a missing connection with me. "Exactly,” he said quietly, a smile of kinship settling on his face. I was about to smile back, when I suddenly heard the chilling voices that made my heart almost stop beating.

Read the rest of the book on Amazon here: http://TinyURL.com/SPRG-voices

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