The Barrier: Case Two- Chapter Three

Riley and Emily sat in the van and watched as Ethan paced around talking on his phone. “It’s my fault,” Riley said quietly.

“No, it’s not.” Emily was surprised.

“You guys took so long on the case because of me, not only that, but he only took the case in the first place because Jack wanted us to meet.”

“We took like an extra two days because of you, and who knows how much time we saved because you got Abigail to not only reveal herself but also pass,” Emily reassured her. “Plus, Ethan is the one who decides what cases we do or don’t take. We all have input and can make requests, but he decides. In the end, it’s up to Ethan and Ethan alone.”

“He is going to hate me. It might take time, but he will.”

“No, he won’t Riley, I promise you he won’t.” Emily thought it was interesting that Riley had not picked up on Ethan’s growing interest in her. Each member of the group had felt a strong connection to Riley when they met her, none of them knew why exactly. However, Ethan’s connection to Riley was different. Hating her was likely the last emotion that Ethan would ever feel towards Riley.

“He’d be right to.”

“Riley, you cannot take the blame for all the horrible things that will happen in this job if you expect to survive.”

“I have to talk to him.”

“I wouldn’t,” Emily insisted, but Riley was already on her way out of the car.

Ethan was on the phone when he noticed Riley approaching him. “Get back in the car, it is not safe,” he said sternly. He did not like them being pulled over like this.

“I am sorry,” Riley choked out.

Ethan paused at the tone of her voice, she looked near tears. He made a gesture for her to wait and finished his call. “For what?”

“This is my fault, you would have already been there.”

“It is not your fault. I decide what cases we take and when, and I am not to blame either.”


“Riley, right now, I need to work out how I am going to get the team to New Mexico as quickly as possible. I understand you are feeling guilty, but this is really not about that.”

“I just,” Riley paused and gathered her thoughts. “I couldn’t stand it if every time you looked at me, you blamed me for what happened to those kids.”

Ethan walked closer to her. “Then know that will not be the case. I know you are emotional, but right now, you are not helping. Please get back in the car, it is not safe,” he repeated.

“Alright. I can help you drive by the way.”

“I appreciate it. It will make things easier, now go.”

Riley nodded and got back into the car, damp from the light rain.

“Feel better?” Emily asked.

“No, not really,” Riley admitted sadly.

“For what it’s worth, I think you are being unfair to yourself. But I do understand guilt is a hell of a thing.”

“Thanks,” Riley replied, her eyes had not left Ethan. “What can we do?”

“Keep researching. We still have a bit of a connection. The better prepared we are for the case, the more helpful it will be for Ethan.”

“Alright,” Riley agreed, finally taking her eyes off the still pacing Ethan.

Ethan was pleased to see Riley and Emily were back to work by the time he got into the van. “I will drive for a while longer then have you take over for a bit Riley. I will just need a short break at some point,” Ethan said to Riley. “Emily, we aren’t going to be stopping much.”

“I understand boss,” Emily said, her eyes not leaving her computer.

“We were going to pick up Miller and Gabrielle, but they will meet us now,” Ethan said, pulling back onto the road.

“Gabrielle?” Riley asked. At the same time, Emily questioned where Miller was.

“Miller left while we were doing the wrap up to make a stop for her book tour,” Ethan replied. “And Gabrielle is a consulting medium we sometimes use. I was not sure if Miller would be able to join us on this case, so I had asked Gabrielle to fill in just in case. I am glad I did now, the more help the better.”

Emily rolled her eyes in the backseat about the Miller situation, but knew now was not the time. The three of them were completely silent, and there was a heavy tension in the car. Riley could feel the anger and frustration from Ethan and the nervous energy from Emily. Although she wasn’t even sure, she could attribute it to any sort of ability as much as just how intensely they were both projecting.

The details of the case came together fairly quickly, but information was limited. It was a small farming community in New Mexico that had experienced hauntings mostly around an irrigation ditch. However, the problem lay in the fact that there was little that had actually happened until this extreme escalation. Riley began to wonder how often it was that the team dealt with cases where people were killed. She couldn’t imagine it was a common occurrence. Spirits rarely caused a death to happen, and with fake cases killing to make it appear more real seemed unlikely. She wanted to ask, but the guilt was still gnawing at her, and she was worried she might accidentally set Ethan off.

“Do not push yourselves too hard,” Ethan said after the women were silent for a few hours. “I understand you want to get as much information as possible, but I will need you in top form when we get there.”

“We aren’t going to have net for much longer,” Emily replied. “Shortly, we will be in a dead zone of small towns, and no amount of boosting can make up for that.”

“We will take a break when we can’t work,” Riley agreed.

“You need to be extra careful Riley, since I need you to drive,” Ethan protested. “Emily is not comfortable driving in America, so it is up to the two of us.”

“He makes a good point. You should nap,” Emily said. “I am used to researching alone, so the fact that I have had your help at all has already put us at an advantage.”

“Alright,” Riley agreed reluctantly. When they pulled over not long after, Riley and Emily switched so that Riley could stretch out in the back.

Emily started going over Riley’s notes as they got back on the road, trying to sort through what would be useful when they got to the case. She glanced back at Riley to see if she was asleep. “So we are pretty sure she’s an empath right?” Emily said quietly to Ethan.

“It seems more likely than not.”



“Well, empaths are so damn rare, and she would be the second that has come to the team,” Emily said.

Ethan stiffened when she said that and cleared his throat uncomfortably. Neither noticed that Riley was not actually asleep but listening in as they talked.

“Sarah was not your fault,” Emily added.

“I would rather not re-litigate that right now; I have far too much on my mind,” Ethan replied with a sharp tone.

“Do you think it means something, that another one came to you?”

“I cannot possibly begin to answer that. I do think we should exercise caution. Not just in determining if Riley is an empath, but how we proceed once we discover the nature of her abilities.”

“You don’t want her to be one?”

“I do not wish to fail again. It would be easier on all of us, including Riley, if she were not. But that matters little. Whether she is or not cannot be determined by what I want.”

Riley was confused by the conversation, but was finally able to drift off and get some sleep. She woke up when they were pulling into a fill-up station. Riley got out of the car, stretched, and grabbed some snacks before hopping into the driver’s seat. Ethan was startled when he saw her but took the hint. He showed her the basic instructions for where they were going, and Riley noticed that he seemed more uncomfortable with her than he had before her nap. She assumed it had something to do with the conversation she was not meant to overhear, which only increased her curiosity.

The rest of the trip went much the same way. Riley would drive whenever Ethan would allow, although he insisted on doing the bulk of it. The group drove through the night and was making good time, but the strain was starting to get to the four people driving. Emily tackled the bulk of the paperwork and research when she was able to decrease the amount that Riley needed to do.

Riley noticed that Ethan’s discomfort with her was not going away and began to stress about it. She also began to doubt that he did not blame her for the death of the kids and could feel a weight forming over the two of them. She was shocked and disappointed that things had shifted between them so easily and noticeably.

At one point, Ethan woke in the middle of the night and rubbed his eyes. Riley had been driving a little longer than their usual trade-off. “I did not mean for you to drive so long,” Ethan said through a yawn.

“It’s fine, I am doing okay, and you’ve done the bulk of it,” Riley said. She considered asking Ethan if they were alright when her phone rang. “Could you get that?”

“Hello?” Ethan answered her phone.

“Whoa, Riley, your voice has changed,” Josh’s friendly voice came through. Both Ethan and Riley rolled their eyes.

“What do you want Josh?”

“Mike needs to trade. I think I can make it the rest of the way if we do that.”

“There is a town about 15 miles away, according to the last sign,” Riley said, still able to overhear.

“Will that work?” Ethan asked Josh.

“Sounds good boss.”

“I am sorry you drove so long,” Ethan said when he hung up.

“As I said, I am fine. Besides, you need to be in good shape for the case as well.”

After they had pulled off and traded again, Riley stretched out in the back and was able to fall right to sleep. She had been fine while driving and was glad to give Ethan a break, especially with the guilt nagging at her, but a nap was needed. She had no idea how long she had been asleep when she felt the car slow down, and Riley jerked awake.

“Good morning,” Emily said to her.

“Is this the town?” Riley asked.

“Yep. We are staying with a family that lives on the outskirts of town. They are closest to the ditch,” Emily answered.

It might be morning, but Riley could see very few people in the streets, and the town itself seemed still, like it was waiting for something. There were black markers in almost every business, and Riley thought it over and realized this might be the first time that the town had experienced something like this. She wouldn’t be surprised if the town had been all but shut down since the kids were killed.

“I never got around to looking, but what religion were the kids?” Riley asked.

“Why?” Emily was confused.

“It can impact how quickly autopsy and burial happens.”

“Oh,” Emily said. “We don’t have a lot of experience with something like this, so I hadn’t even considered that.”

“Right now, getting us to the base is my biggest concern,” Ethan said. “We need to shower, eat real food, and try to get everybody rested.”

Riley could still sense discomfort from him, but wondered if perhaps the long trip had anything to do with it. She knew now was not the time to press, and hoped that they would be fine on the case. Perhaps it would sort itself out while they were working. Either way, she looked around the quiet town and felt the weight of the deaths increase.

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