"Those scratches on his back were just the beginning. Over the next year, things just steadily progressed," I told her as I played with the wedding band around my finger. I was mulling over what exactly I should tell her next that had a big impact on Zak's behavior and just his overall personality.
"What happened next, Nick?" she asked. Worry was interlaced throughout her voice as she gazed at me through pleading eyes.
I released a heavy sigh and fell back onto the bed. "I think it grew worse when he got possessed during our lockdown at Poveglia Island near Venice, Italy."
I closed my eyes remembering that specific investigation where Zak had claimed to have blacked out during the time he was cursing at Aaron and snapping at every little thing. I don't think I had ever seen him so completely overtaken before.
"You're talking about his possession," Aerolynn quietly indicated.
"Yeah, but that's not the worst of it."
3 years ago
"Hey, Zak, how about we take a break and enjoy the sights of Italy, huh?" I suggested as Zak, Aaron, and I sat in our cozy hotel room.
Zak shook his head. "We don't have time to take a break, Nick," he spat. "We have work to do."
"Yeah, I know, dude. But it's nice to take a break every now and again, ya know? Especially after what happened to you last night during the lockdown."
"I said I'm alright, OKAY? Jesus fucking Christ, Nick. Get off my back. You're not my goddamn mother," Zak growled as he flung himself up off the bed where he had been sitting.
Aaron, who was sitting in a chair, and I, who was standing by the door, exchanged glances with one another. Why was Zak bursting out like this? It didn't make a lick of sense.
"Alright, dude," I chuckled raising my hands up to chest level in surrender.
"Calm down, bro," Aaron tacked on.
"I AM CALM!" Zak yelled over at Aaron; his lips curled into a sneer.
"Ok, bro. Ok," Aaron mumbled. "I'm just gonna go grab a bite to eat. You guys want anything?"
"No," Zak snapped.
Aaron's eyes slid over to me. I shook my head and watched as our equipment tech walked out the door, quietly clicking it shut behind him. I rounded on Zak, anger blazing in my eyes.
"What the fuck is wrong with you, dude? We're just trying to fucking help you!" I yelled at him.
Zak's blue-gray eyes narrowed into dark slits as he strode two steps toward me; our noses centimeters apart from one another. When Zak was angry and got up in your face? He was a pretty intimidating man and not only because of his stature and size.
But I wasn't going to back down just because he was PMSing at the moment.
"Let's get this straight, alright? I don't need help from ANY of you. I can handle matters on my OWN," Zak quietly warned.
"Is that so? If you're such a hot shot then why weren't you able to do this show all on your OWN, huh? Who's the one that came to me for help because we needed another cameraman? So if you're such a badass then wh—"
The rest of my sentence was cut off as Zak's hand clenched tightly around my neck cutting off my airway. I dug my fingers into his hands in an attempt to loosen his iron hold, but his fingers only wrapped tighter around my neck as he slowly picked me up off the ground. He held me against the wall high above his head. Zak may be a big guy with decently sized muscles, but there was no way he could pick me up with one hand and hold me comfortably over his head the way he was. He didn't even look like he was breaking a sweat either. No, this thing that was choking me was not Zak…it was something else entirely.
"Don't mock me." Although the words came from Zak's mouth and had Zak's voice, there was something darker….something deeper that was woven within his voice.
"You need help, Zak," I wheezed trying to draw in as much air as possible, but his tight grip on my esophagus made it nearly impossible to gather air.
Zak tilted his head to the side as he watched me through the eyes of a predator.
"You're…not…well," I huffed. My vision began to tunnel as less and less oxygen flowed through my lungs.
A slow, sadistic smile spread across Zak's face. I blinked a few times wondering if the lack of oxygen to my brain was causing me to see his teeth grow sharp and his eyes burn red from deep within. My arms felt heavy making the attempts to free myself become futile. My hands fell to my sides; my vision began growing black.
"Zak…" I weakly cried out.
My body crumpled to the floor as air swept into my lungs at an alarmingly fast rate causing me to cough and gasp at the sudden onslaught. I gingerly grabbed at my throat as the burning sensation began to recede and my entire body thanked me for the oxygen it was receiving once more. I glanced up at my best friend who was staring down at his hands through terrified eyes.
"Zak," I coughed. "We need to get you to a priest. Someone who can maybe exorcise whatever that is out of you."
A flash of anger went across his eyes before quickly fading into horror.
"I can't, Nick," he whispered. "Don't you understand? If I do that then they may never allow me to film another episode! Ghost hunting is my dream; my passion. Ghost Adventures is my life!"
"You almost killed me, Zak!" I reminded him.
Zak's eyes widened in alarm at my sudden scream of anger. Those blue-gray eyes lowered in sadness.
"I can control it. I promise. I'll learn to control it," Zak assured me.
"It needs exorcised!" I yelled.
"No! If you try to take me to a priest it will only try to kill you again! Don't you understand? If anyone tries to get in the way, it'll just kill them! It doesn't care who it is. I know I can control it. I know I can," Zak pleaded. "Just let me try."
"This is a bad idea, Zak," I sighed rubbing my neck as I warily stood up from the ground. My legs wobbled beneath my weight for a second before I regained my strength and balance.
"It's the only choice we have if no one is to get hurt," he warned.
"Is there a demon living inside of you right now?"
"I…I don't know. It's not as strong as a demon. That thing that possessed me last night on Poveglia Island…I could feel its power coursing through me as it overtook my body. But this? This feels like…a shadow of its powers. Like…like when it exited my body it left its shadow behind. It left just a minor portion of itself and its power deep inside me."
"But why you?" I asked with concern. I had been possessed not just a few short months ago in Savannah, Georgia down at the Moon River Brewing Company and I wasn't feeling anything that Zak was.
Zak's eyes met mine; fear shone brightly in his eyes although his expression was completely blank. "I don't know. I honestly…don't know."
I approached my friend and clapped a hand on his shoulder in comfort.
"We'll make it through this, Zak. We always do," I smiled over at him. A sad smile graced his lips for a few seconds before falling back into a grimace.
Yeah…I didn't believe my words either.
"After that night things went as smoothly as they could. Zak, over time, did as he promised. He learned to control whatever it was inside him. Occasionally he would get a bit angrier than usual, but would realize it soon enough that he'd get everything back under control. Of course that was before we stopped at that psychic's shop and dredged up everything he had tried so hard to forget," I sighed cursing myself at my and Aaron's insistence on going into that place.
"What do you mean?" Aerolynn asked. She had laid down beside me, propped up on her elbow, as I had recalled my memory to her.
"Well, Zak had kept everything under control for so long that eventually he forgot about it. It hardly reared its ugly head and so we all thought that maybe he had found a way to make it disappear. So then when he got his fortune read at the shop just a couple towns over, the psychic reminded him of the darkness locked away deep inside him. I think that is what made it start stirring up trouble again. Not only that, but the psychic prophesized he would meet a woman who would save him, but that he would lose her if he let her go."
Aerolynn's eyes widened as my words sunk in.
"I'm that woman, aren't I? Because after Zak left…and shortly after he returned…he lost me."
I nodded. "The thing is…I think you survived the attack because not only does someone really love you upstairs, but, in a way, I think it was because he came back before he could lose you. I don't think you would have survived if Zak had stayed away much longer," I answered honestly.
"I…I don't know. I did have help getting back to him though," she sighed with a ghost of a smile on her face.
I arched a dark brow. "Oh? A family member helped you, maybe? Or a friend?"
"Mary. Mary helped me get back to Zak," she quietly confessed.
"That little girl who we made a new grave for?"
She nodded, biting her bottom lip. "Yeah."
"But anyways," she continued switching topics. "I think I understand now about where and what his darkness is. Or better called a demon's shadow."
"Please, do explain," I chuckled.
"Well, that wasn't the first time Zak got possessed right? Wasn't another time he got possessed back in Preston Castle?"
I closed my eyes thinking back through all the places we had been trying to draw up a mental image of Preston Castle. That's when it hit me. Zak hadn't been acting like himself and had just wandered off. When we found him, he had been sitting in that room where we had placed the flowers for that woman.
"Yeah, it was, but I don't think whatever possessed him was necessarily evil," I informed her.
"Well, no, but I didn't say it was. But any sort of possession isn't going to help the sliver of darkness inside of him. That just means it will be easier for demons and evil entities to find a way inside him," she explained.
"Ah, ok. Continue then."
"Throughout the year, each time he was possessed, scratched, or just…feeling strange, I think that was adding to the darkness. Making it grow stronger. This meant that it steadily gained power and consumed his soul at a faster rate. Then enter the catalyst."
"Catalyst? So you're saying the possession at Poveglia sped up the process at which the darkness consumed him?" I questioned.
"Mmm, yeah. Something like that," she giggled. "When he got possessed in Poveglia, that demon was apparently stronger than the one that just left scratches on his soul and back. It was able to completely take over him and cause him to black out and forget everything he had done or said while possessed."
"Ok, so then why did it leave Zak's body if it was able to possess him so easily?"
"I think you just answered your own question," she smiled. "It was because Zak had opened himself up to being possessed which made him such an easy target for the demon. Of course with the help from the previous demon back in Bobby Mackey's, it just kind of made Zak into its marionette doll for a short while before getting bored. I don't think it left though without first noticing those scratches on his soul. When the demon saw those, it grew angry. Possessive almost. So it ripped a piece of itself off in Zak to act as an accelerant to the darkness that was already feeding on him."
"And each time Zak lost control and let the darkness overtake him, it grew stronger and consumed away more of his soul," I breathed in sudden understanding.
"You're getting it!" She said with excitement. "And when he learned to control it, it no longer had power over him so it couldn't consume him at such a quick rate. Instead it had to gnaw at the outer edges of his soul."
"But then when he met you, the prophesized savior of his cursed soul, it grew irritable and thrashed around."
"And it made him lose control all over again, yes," she agreed. "And when he started losing control again…"
"It began feasting on his soul like a beast that had been starved for centuries being taunted by its own food," I exhaled as everything she said just clicked into place inside my head.
She nodded with a wide smile happy to see that I understood her logic.
"There's just one more question I have though," I informed her. Our gazes locked and I saw her smile die as she realized what my question might be.
"Why are YOU the only one who can save him? Why can it not be me or Aaron or someone else? Why just you? And why was it only you that could save Mary's soul that was becoming plagued by a darkness dwelling inside her? Why…you?" I inquired realizing I probably sounded like the Spanish Inquisition right now. I couldn't help it though. I was just frustrated as to why it could only be her that saved my best friend from eternal damnation.
Aerolynn sighed and sat up beside me. She drew her knees to her chest and rested her chin upon her knees.
"I don't really know how to answer that one, Nick. I myself don't even completely understand why it can only be me. I just know I've been bombarded by spirits since I was little. They always asked of me the same thing: save me from this darkness. Save my soul. Only you can release me from this damnation." She shook her head.
"It's one reason I was glad to live here because there weren't very many spirits around to haunt me. And as I grew older, I did my very best to ignore them so that they would just leave me alone."
"Why didn't you try to help them?" I asked sitting up beside her. "You helped Mary."
"That's because I COULD help her. Most of the others…I wasn't able to help. There were usually things involved that I couldn't perform or just couldn't dredge up enough courage to do. So I found it best if I just ignored them. Over time…they disappeared. They turned their backs to me and ignored me as well. I was able to live a peaceful life." A sad smile broke out across her face. "Well, up until the moment I met Zak."
"There is no living a peaceful life after meeting that man," I joked nudging her shoulder with mine.
"Isn't that the truth," she softly chuckled. "But yeah. Even I don't fully understand why it has to be me."
"Well, in any case, I hope that you decide this is one soul you can save," I quietly replied.
Aerolynn's eyes clashed with mine; her eyes grew dark as a fierce determination burned deep within their depths.
"No matter how long it takes; no matter how far I must travel…I WILL get Zak back to us and his soul WILL be saved."