When a vampire walks into your school, you find out what kind of people your friends are. You find out who the friends with chihuahua syndrome are almost immediately, the second her platform heels click through the front doors. Yelling, threats, angry faces. A few girls, but mostly a bunch of guys hollering insults with red faces and flared nostrils. “Look at this filth!”, “Run a stake through her!”, “I’m gonna give you a nice sun bath, honey!”, “Someone beat the crap outta that thing!”, and “Not sucking my blood!” all echo through the halls.
Then you can see the disapproving, quiet ones behind them, giving the girl holding the umbrella over her head scowls and glares. They were the people with the composure to keep their thoughts to themselves, the people whose opinions were evidently on society’s side, but had no interests in letting their spit loose on a singular target.
Now for the good samaritans, the supporters of the movement, the sympathizers and the lovers.
My right hand rested firmly on her elbow, my jaw clenched, my left palm in the faces of my peers, I pulled my little sister through the first hall of my high school.
My friend, Paul, screamed into my face, his dark-skinned forehead beaded with sweat and creased with fury. “You’ve doomed us all, Adrianna!”
I pushed him back from me, almost roughly, “Get back, please.”
My little sister, Caroline, only looked down at her feet timidly, her big, blue eyes wide from the onslaught of yelling, anger, and spitting.
Jared, Flavianna, and Lilly shook their heads in the back of the crowd as I slowly pulled Caroline through it. No one wanted to touch the darkness beneath the umbrella that shaded her. She didn’t need its protection now that she was inside, but I’d told her to use it as a perimeter around us even after the doors closed us into the school.
By the time we got to our first period class, it had taken us ten minutes to make a thirty-second walk. In front of the closed classroom door, the students who were to sit in the classroom with us stood, elbows linked together to make a boundary.
I bit my lip upon looking at the professor of the class, who frowned down at me, standing in front of the linked line of his students. I stopped in front of him. The hallways hushed to hear what he had to say. I felt a distinct shame burn my face and looked down at my own Vamp Hunter High School uniform. We were a combat school, a school for blossoming Killers, and the uniforms were black combat boots, black slacks, and white, button-up shirts with white ties. It was customary to wear the uniform of your apprenticeship in all public settings and was the only attire I’d worn for three years.
I unlatched my teeth from my lips and closed my eyes as my legs began to tremble.
Caroline needed this. She needed this defense, no matter what it did to me. My personal reputation, my career, were nothing but drops in the bucket compared to her potential, compared to her knowledge and skill. Adrianna, you can do this. For Caroline.
For all of us.
I looked up at Professor Nowlin and our eyes clashed in each other’s paths. “Reporting for class, Professor,” I said clearly, my voice echoing off of the school walls.
Excited whispers erupted through the crowd.
Professor Nowlin’s nose wrinkled in distaste, like he smelled something rotten. He crossed his arms. “What is that thing you’ve brought with you?”
My fingernails slowly dug into the palm of my hand and I squared my shoulders. “My little sister is with me.” A gigantic gasp flew through through the halls like a sudden gust of wind and I heard enraged exclamations.
“Adrianna Celeste Mansionary!? Her own sister?”
Jared backed away from the students surrounding him. Chances were that our relationship was over.
“The nerve of that girl!”
Flavianna’s copper face paled significantly and she caught herself against the wall. Chances were that she would need therapy.
Paul pushed his way back to my face. His strong hands bruised my shoulders when he grabbed them and shook me. “I thought we knew you!” he fumed. “I thought we were your family here! Now you bring”—he let go of my left shoulder to gesture wildly at Caroline—“one of Them to our sanctuary? What is wrong with you?”
I pulled out of his grip and rubbed my right shoulder, still standing my ground as I looked back to Professor Nowlin. “My little sister is with me and is enrolled in your class this morning. She won’t misbehave, she has read the first chapters of the textbook you’ve assigned us, and I’ll be right next to her to make sure there are no problems.”
Professor Nowlin’s nostrils flared. For a long moment, he said nothing. His lips folded in on themselves, his jaw pulled back, his eyes narrowed so that I could barely see them. “You’re treading on thin ice, Mansionary,” he said slowly, buttoning the latch button on his jacket. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
His luminescent green eyes became wide again and I nodded both my respect and relief to him. “Thank you, sir,” I said.
Caroline bowed her head quietly, her short red hair flopping over her blue eyes.
The entire school screamed in outrage as Professor Nowlin turned and ordered the picket line away. “Move your protest elsewhere or I will deduct one-thousand points from each one of you for locking me out of my own lecture hall.”
Faces turned red, cursing and foul language echoed in my ears, boo-ing followed Caroline and me into the classroom. We sat in the very back row of the seats to avoid spitballs and rear attacks.
Lilly followed us in as well, her black hair bouncing over her shoulders as she nodded to Professor Nowlin, who grunted indignantly and strode to his desk. Lilly then turned to me, on my way to sit next to Caroline. I made no move to acknowledge her as she spoke calmly, her voice quaking only slightly with the storm of emotion beneath her smooth features.
“So, this is what you meant when you told us our Junior year would be the last year of our friendship?” she asked. “This is what you meant when you said you’d be a completely different person this year?”
I paused next to my chair and looked into her soft, brown eyes. “Yes.”
Her eyebrows bent downward slightly and her bottom lip trembled. Her voice got louder so that she didn’t choke on her own tears. “So, you’re just shutting us out? Just like that? You just decide to bring a vampire to school with you, call it your sister-”
“She is my sister!” I snapped, turning my back to Lilly to look at a wide-eyed Caroline. “She is my sister, she is a vampire, and she wasn’t always a vampire, Lilly!”
“Then what was she before?” Lilly asked, her voice softening again.
“A human being, would you believe it?” I said acidly, “They attacked her when they attacked our home eight years ago! Somehow, it made her into one of them, but she’s not…” Caroline looked down at her lap, nervous. I sighed and put a hand on her head, ruffling her fiery hair that I’d always envied as a young child. “... She’s not an animal, Lilly,” I finished gently.
Caroline shook her head in reaction to my fingers prodding through her shaggy mess of hair, a smile touching her lips.
“Why doesn’t she speak?” Lilly clarified. “Why did you bring her here?”
“Because we’re trying to make a point,” I answered, turning to see Lilly’s curiosity getting the best of her as she examined Caroline’s childish smirk. “Even though she’s never used her Strong Voice in her life, we’re going to prove that she didn’t hypnotize her way through this.”
“Why did you bring her here?” Lilly asked again, our eyes meeting a second time.
I looked at Lilly, then broke eye contact with her to look at Caroline again. “Because she knows things,” I said softly, “she knows how to win this.”
Looks like I fell asleep in the middle of my journal entry last night.
I wonder if these girls here know I'm super different from them. Kendal, our handyman and shooting sports instructor, talked to me earlier this evening. Like older people do, he asked me about my family and how old I am and where I graduated from - all that jazz. I thought it was funny when he was surprised to hear I was eighteen. He'd thought I was twenty-two or twenty-three.
I feel very different here. Everyone seems to know each other and I know no one but April. It doesn't help that we're isolated together in the same field. She's having no trouble talking to the other girls, even though she's so shy, and then you have me, the extrovert, who slinks off and writes by herself in her tent when she has nothing better to do.
I find me asking myself over and over again "Is there something wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?". Why am I having so much trouble socializing with other people?
I keep telling myself that I'm just doing it the wrong way. I'm better at this sort of thing than I used to be.
But is my better enough? I feel like something’s hanging over us here, that there’s something sinister holding me back from attachment. Or maybe it’s my anxiety??? What the heck do I know?
So, Sally asked me to wake up everyone this morning. All but three of the staff didn't show up to the staff meeting on time. I refrained from re-enacting the microphone incident of my third-year girls camp and simply went to everyone's tent doors and told them that it was time to get up.
I noticed that there were some scratch marks on the canvas of my tent door while I was doing it. I didn't think that they were there the night before, but I also haven't been paying attention to my surroundings since I got here, so they've probably been here this whole time.
After a long day of work - setting up at the Shooting Range and all that - I came back to find one side of my tent all but falling over onto my cot. It's been really windy out here during these past two days, so I found myself going to Sally and Sasha for some help. Upon their inspection, they found that a pole hadn't been screwed into the wooden platform below it correctly. I started to feel an anxiety attack start to kick in when they said I'd have to wait over the weekend for it to be fixed.
I couldn't wait. I told them it was okay, but I couldn't wait. An entire half of the tent was falling in on me, and it would even blow on top of me overnight if I didn't do something about it. So, when everyone left to the kitchen to get the treats Angela (Camp Kitchen Boss) had made for us, I took a few deep breaths and looked around in the dark with a weak flashlight for logs that could help support my tent.
Ella, a sweet, redheaded Skills Course girl, came to help me when she noticed my absence at the Dining Hall. I didn't need much help in the way of manual labor, just a person to be close to as I picked through the dark, searching for logs that would be the right size in the woods. But then something creepy happened.
<Writing Mode Activate>
I stepped over clumps of sticks and branches, my useless mall-bought shoes ripping against them. Ella stayed close to me, owning a pair of real hiking boots for herself. She was tired, barely awake, as we trampled through the abundance of twigs behind the Staff Area.
The light from my nearly-dead flashlight did little to help our search, but light was light. And I was so glad that I kept it.
"You're really nice to stick around and help me find something," I told her after a while. "You don't have to do this."
"I'm just making sure you're okay," she said with a shrug, soft-toned and quiet, yet still loud compared to the quiet sounds of the forest.
"You're sweet," I said, surprised that she would do all of this, even though she was bone-weary from a long day's work and a few seconds away from passing out and sleeping. We were slowly making our way towards a large pile of loosely-stacked debris - a result of the high winds that were a regularity up here in the mountains.
My eyes were flicking across the ground, watching the shadows beneath the twigs as they shifted in my dim light, my feet as they squashed them, until I saw something unexpected.
There was a hand, lying flat underneath the thin layer of branches sitting on the ground.
I drew back with a start. "Holy crud!" My light flickered as the batteries jostled inside of it. The light stalled, then everything went dark.
"What is it?" Ella asked in the inky blackness, waking up just slightly from her drowsy stupor.
There was a hiss and crack of wood underfoot as something retreated away from us into the woods with light feet. Possibly an animal, but it was enough to make Ella jump a little now. "What was that?"
I shook my flashlight to try and get it to turn on again, frantically tapping my chest with my hand to keep myself calm. Grunts came from my throat as the light flickered back on and I surveyed the ground, looking for what I'd seen. "I just saw a hand on the ground!" I blurted to her, jerkily swinging the faint light around, trying to find the rest of the body.
I couldn't find anything. I couldn't even find the hand I'd seen right where I'd been looking just seconds previously.
"You just saw a what?" Ella clarified, having not heard me properly, or unable to believe what she'd heard just then.
I searched for three more seconds, before realizing that there was nothing there, and taking a few paces back. I was getting a bad feeling in my chest - you all know that feeling - the one that instinctively tells you to turn around and just walk away. Get out of there. Do whatever it takes, anything is better than where you are right now.
"N-Nevermind," I dismissed, turning around to get out of the vicinity immediately. "Let's go back to camp. I can wait until morning for my tent."
<End Writer's Syndrome>
That scared me so bad! I promise that the hand was right there! It was three inches away from my foot. I won't be able to sleep tonight, that much I know. I'm sleeping alone in my tent, thinking that there's a corpse sitting outside of the Staff Area! I'm going over there tomorrow to double-check in daylight. My tent is still falling on me, but now it's the other side, because I propped the falling end up with a long log.
I hope Dolly gets back soon.
First day back home and all of a sudden my half-sister, Melissa, is pregnant! I got home all by myself, taking the bus with the rest of the staff back to Salt Lake, then using UTA to get back to my neighborhood. No one was home when I got home, which gave me a chance to work on the site for a couple of hours. Then, all of a sudden, Mom calls me, asking if I want to go to Melissa’s gender reveal party!!!
I miss this already? That’s totally insane.
The party was great, though. Darrel’s three young boys from his other marriage seem to be as excited as everyone else. Little Jordan was so set on it being a girl, but it’s a boy. The little tike raged like a gamer when he found out.
Looks like I’m the anomaly in the family - the only girl out of all the kids that have come from Dad. No wonder I’m such a freaking tomboy.
“Was that so bad, Tal?” I teased Natalia as we changed out of our nice date clothes in my bedroom.
Natalia gave me a strange look. “Didn’t think I was protesting in the first place.”
I shrugged as I brought my T-shirt down over my head. “Wasn’t saying you were.” I pulled on a comfortable pair of sweatpants. “Sounded like you liked the movie.”
She nodded vigorously. “I’ve been wondering about your screens and electronics since I got here. I didn’t think they were so big!”
I acknowledged that she was probably talking about the canvas that the movie projector was playing the movie on at the theatre and explained accordingly. “Well, the screen wasn’t actually a screen tonight. You know the thing that teachers have in our classrooms? They hang off the ceiling?”
I sat down on the ground and she followed suit, dressed now in a pair of jeans and sweater. “The projector?”
I nodded. “Yeah, that. They had one in the back of the theatre that put the movie on the screen.”
Natalia’s eyebrows scrunched together curiously. “So it wasn’t an electronic?”
“Nope,” I affirmed. “It was a piece of fabric hanging from the ceiling. Phones and TV’s are different. They have stuff inside of them that’s expensive and harder to get.”
She was quiet for a moment, face lined with thought. “... And none of that was real?”
I arched my eyebrows. “The movie?”
“Yes,” she said, looking to me for an honest answer.
“Yeah,” I told her, thinking about how strange that movie must have been to her, “none of it was real.”
“Just a story?” she asked, relaxing just a little bit.
I smiled at the naive manner in which she had the opportunity to think. “Just a story.”
Natalia flinched at the sound reverberating from the front door downstairs. I pursed my lips. “I’ll get it,” I said, pushing myself up from the floor, wondering at the time. It was 10:00 at night, dark out. Mom wasn’t due home from her night class at the University until eleven.
I crept across the hall and down the stairs, Natalia’s eyes boring into my back. Hand shaking slightly on the doorknob, I unlocked the deadbolt and peered through the small, two-inch opening between the door and the doorframe. When I saw who was waiting outside, my eyes widened and I opened it completely.
On my doorstep stood Dirk Sorenson, Lexis Blossom’s godfather, and the ginger man who had broken into the house and demanded Natalia to go with him. Tristan, I remembered on second thought.
Dirk was as shocked to see me as I was to see him. “Lacy?” he questioned with wide eyes.
“Erm… Dirk?” I returned, eyes flicking between him and Tristan nervously.
Tristan stared at me intently. I knew that he was using his powers as a mentalist to force his way into my mind and immediately closed myself away from him. Fight me, robber.
“You live here?” Dirk asked, shuffling his feet in a nervous twitch.
“Yeah,” I nodded, “me and my mom. Why, were you expecting someone else?”
Tristan, likely angered at the inaccessibility of my mind, rudely jabbed a finger towards me. “That’s her! She’s the one who brainwashed me!”
I raised an irritated eyebrow and jerked a thumb at him. “Does this turd work for you?” Shoot. Was I in trouble? Was this dude a secret agent that worked for Dirk? Was I going to be arrested tonight?
Dirk looked between the two of us, but maintained his candor. “So you did brainwash him?” he asked politely.
I forced my other eyebrow to shoot up in indignation. Honesty would be the best way to tackle this problem. Just hide Natalia. “Would you rather I shot him?” I questioned, pitching my voice to irritation. “I came home from school to find him in my house and, worse, in my bedroom!”
“No!” Tristan cut in. “The Subject was with her, too! Mr. Sorenson, I swear!”
Now I looked at Tristan. “Subject?” I quizzed, even though I knew exactly who he was talking about. “What subject?”
Dirk shot a sharp glance at his companion as Tristan’s face turned red and he made a violent gesture with his arm. “Don’t play dumb!” he screeched at me, then turned to Dirk. “She’s lying right to our faces, she’s blocking me out of her head right now!”
I folded my arms and leaned against the doorframe. “A mentalist has a right to her own thoughts. What subject are you talking about?”
“The black-eyed girl!” Tristan exploded. I smiled inwardly at his lack of composure.
Dirk put a hand on his companion’s shoulder as he breathed heavily. “Tristan, calm down. Lacy, have you seen this girl?” He fished a picture out of his pocket. It was a security photo, it seemed, of Natalia. She was in a room filled with machines, the same wardrobe from the night we’d met on her body.
I made my jaw drop in surprise. “Oh my gosh, yes! I called the Nitra Vault about her. She was at my balcony a few nights before the big lockdown the other week.”
Dirk arched his eyebrows. “What did you do when you saw her?”
“I gave her some warm clothes because it was frigid and she was in virtually nothing,” I asserted. “Then I sent her on her way.”
“And then you called Nitra?” Dirk clarified.
“Yes,” I affirmed, Tristan’s face turning purple with rage. “That was the last I saw of her.”
“Then why did you cover for her when she was in your house the other day?” he grumbled.
I gave him a deliberate shut your trap look. “She wasn’t in my house the other day, Tristan. You were.”
He shook his head. “No, I know I-”
“You were looking for her, I found you in my house, I screwed up your memories because I didn’t want you to target me again, and sent you away,” I snapped. “That’s what happened.”
Dirk glanced at his watch. “Could we check your house, Lacy?” At my excuse me? expression, he quickly added, “To ease his mind? If it’s okay with your mother, of course?”
“Mom isn’t home yet,” I corrected.
Dirk looked back into the house. “Really? I thought I heard movement.”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t be paranoid. This house squeaks all the time. Come in, maybe you’ll find a monster in my basement while you look.” I prayed that Natalia was hiding. Or, better yet, that she’d left. My legs weak, I let them into my home.
Dirk nodded in gratitude. “Thank you. Would you mind escorting us to your bedroom? I wouldn’t want to violate privacy.”
Too late for that. “Sure. It’s a mess right now. I was just out on a date, so everything is everywhere.”
The older man gave me a wink. “Was he a good kisser?”
“Haha,” I said sarcastically. “I don’t think it will work out that way.”
I led the way up the stairs, shaking internally. Please, please, please be gone, Natalia. You’re smart enough to leave.
The bedroom door was open, just as I’d figured, and we entered the room, my hands shaking, my mind blocking out Tristan’s constant probing. His mind wasn’t used to resistance like mine was.
To my relief, the room was completely empty, which meant that Natalia had left via the balcony. She couldn’t have gone anywhere else in the house.
I walked through the rest of the house with Dirk and Tristan, indignant and snappish until we came back to the front door. I opened it and Dirk nudged Tristan as they walked out. Tristan clenched his jaw and turned to me slowly. “So sorry for the inconvenience,” he lied through his gritted teeth.
I gave him a sassy arched eyebrow. “Just stay away from me. I don’t take a liking to burglars.”
He gave me a nasty glare and I slammed the door on him.
Fight me, sucker.
With a huff, I turned around and looked into my empty house, hoping now that Natalia would come back.
My phone rang from upstairs, causing me to jump. With a knot in my stomach, I ran into my room and answered after looking at the contact name. “Ace?”
“Hey,” he said, sounding slightly confused. “Natalia’s over here. Are you okay?”
Relief flooded through me. “Oh, gosh! Thank goodness, thought she might be gone for good! Is she okay?”
There was a pause on his end of the line. “Shaken up. I guess those guys are gone?”
So she told him what was happening. “Yeah, they’re gone.”
“Okay. Come over here or something and explain what happened.”
“Okay,” I agreed, “I’ll be there in a sec.”
I grabbed my keys, dashed outside and got into my car. Just as I was backing up, I realized that Dirk and Tristan hadn’t left, their car not too far away from my driveway. Irritated, I drove up next to them. Dirk and I both rolled down our windows. “Where are you going?”
My roommate is here!!! Could you believe it!? Dolly, it turns out, had two classes with me at Granger and one class with April! And she's rooming with me! I'd never even noticed her, she's so quiet, but I do remember seeing her face. When she drove in with her mom, sister, and cousin this morning, I recognized her right off of the bat. She was the one who knew my name, I couldn't remember her's. I helped her unpack her things into our tent, just in time to make it to my first morning Staff Meeting. Sally had declared everything on the normal schedule (meals, shifts, wake-up time, etc.,) to be moved up a half-hour, this way we can get more used to the meal and sleeping times.
After breakfast, April and I went with the group to learn where the camp sites were and what our jobs were. One of my favorite things about it was hiking next to Sally. It was interesting to listen to her and Sasha (Assistant Program Director) discuss all of the things that needed improvement. Occaisionally, she would call to April or me to explain where a service project was needed.
I couldn’t wait to start planning service projects today. In my free time before lunch, I went out to make better acquaintance with the camp sites. One site, in particular, seemed to be very out of the way, so hard to get to that even the returning staff didn't know exactly where it was. I found it, stayed there for a while to gather my bearings, then went to the southern sites, where April and I ran into each other. Apparently, we both had the same idea to get to know the camp better.
Sally had a chat with us about our job later today. We're the camp helpers. We have more - sometimes less - time on our hands, and are in charge of making sure no one is short-handed if we can help it.
I like my job description.
After lunch, we assembled our camp songbooks. I'm excited to learn all of them. I love songs, and I hope that not listening to music all week won't kill me.
By the end of today, I wrote 42 lines of Shadow Freak. I've made a goal to write enough every day that I can make a plot-point every week. I hope I don't forget to do it with all of this work that needs to be done.
First Assignment of the Day: FREAKING PUT SOME "NO BOYS ALLOWED" SIGNS EVERYWHERE!
Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the task. It's fun to mark my territory, after all, but can someone answer this question for me?
Why, when we're surrounded by boys camps, all of the boys camps are empty, and the BSA has a big boy scout camp event, would you PUT THIS IN A GIRLS' CAMP!?!?!?
So, there's this thing called Big Event. I don't know much about it, other than the following: It's a boys' camp thing, they're bringing boys into a girls' camp while the female staff is still there, sleeping overnight, and they've placed their welcome tent waaaaay too close to Sally's Director Cabin. When I say too close, I mean less than twenty feet away from it.
Who does that!? They know it's occupied, they know that girls live in it, so why would they think of invading our personal space like this?
Some people's children.
On a more-concerning note, Dolly went to the hospital sick this morning. They were gone for three hours before we met at lunch. Sally had gone with her, so Gabby (the actual Program Director) had been in charge all morning.
She was suffering from a virus that put her in so much pain that she needed morphine. She stayed here tonight until ten, then her mom came and picked her up so that she could go home for the rest of the week.
I guess I'm sleeping alone again.
I keep waking up tonight. I have to go to the bathroom, but I have the most anxious feeling telling me that I shouldn’t leave my tent.
All is silent. All is still. All is black. I have a chill.
It’s cold. I’m scared, shaking, in fact. I hear footsteps. I want to yell for Sofia, but I feel like yelling would bring out how much of a little kid I am. I wa
Ace and Charlie came knocking at 5:30 sharp.
Natalia had been fun to dress up before they came over. Ace, Charlie, and I had agreed that we would all dress up for the occasion. So, after a few moments of questioning what to put her in, seeing as she was so small, I’d pulled out some of my old clothes.
I started off with putting her in a cute cream dress with a knee-high skirt and some old, white flats that I’d grown out of a few years ago. I also brushed her wild, tousled hair so that it was smooth and sleek. Even though it was short, her bony face was perfect for the style after I adjusted it a little bit.
What surprised me was the quality of her hygiene.
Her legs were shaved.
I stared at them in wonder, questioning the lack of hair there, as she looked at herself in the mirror. “You’ve shaved your legs?” I asked, feeling that some alien from another planet wouldn’t have the social knowledge to shave her legs.
Natalia arched her eyebrows at me. “Well, that’s what women do here, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I said, shaking my head to remind myself of her acute attention to details, “just didn’t realize you’d caught on.”
She looked down at her petite figure, tiny waist accentuated by a ribbon I’d found in Mom’s sewing closet. I felt a sense of pride for what I’d done with her.
Of course, I’d dressed up, too. A red skirt and a white top. They matched my coat, so I went with that and wore my hair down (yes, the tangled mess of fire it is).
The knock sounded downstairs, crisp and quick, and Natalia and I exchanged a glance.
They had arrived.
We both went downstairs and opened the door to find two dashing young men waiting behind it. Ace, of course, looked perfect as usual, just wearing a button down shirt, tie, and black suit jacket.
But Charlie, on the other hand, triggered me so that I felt my cheeks color slightly at the sight of him. I had to stop looking for fear of looking creepy. His usually tangled blond hair brushed and gelled, brown eyes sparkling and happy, suit and tie making him more like a man and less like a little high school boy.
Gosh, that was attractive.
“Hey girls,” Ace said enthusiastically, “ready for this?”
Charlie smiled at us and nudged his companion in the arm. “You both look beautiful.”
I smiled, and Natalia’s feet turned inward to each other. “Thanks, Char,” I said to him, then turned to Ace, gaining confidence in myself once more. “Let’s go.”
O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O
First, Charlie yawned.
Then the back of my head was warm.
Ten Talents was in a small lull, which had given Charlie the opportunity to put his arm over the back of my chair. I glanced at him, his face lit by the glow of the movie screen, wondering if he was putting moves on me.
It took me a second, then I mentally kicked myself. Of course he was putting moves on me! No guy would have his arm over the back of my chair unless he was hitting on me. What a dumb blonde I could be.
Charlie… do I even like you? The thought had never occurred to me that we had potential to be a couple. We’d known each other since I started working at the bakery, so for a few months. He was nice, not lazy. Had a good sense of humor and seemed confident in himself for the most part.
A few more minutes of the movie went on and I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.
I looked over past Natalia, her eyes fixed on the movie screen, in awe of the images and sounds she was sensing, and saw Ace as he poked his head out from the other side of her. He made eye contact with Charlie.
I pretended not to notice as my cousin pointed two fingers at his own eyes, then jabbed them at Charlie in the ‘I’m watching you’ gesture.
I felt Charlie’s shoulder lift in a shrug and suppressed a grin.
Boys were great.
O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O
Ace was not minding Natalia as much as I’d initially thought he would have.
“Do people really use magic here?” Natalia quizzed him in the back seat. She’d taken the imagery of the movie just a little too literally.
Charlie gave me a confused look from the driver’s seat next to me. “What kind of question is that?”
“Don’t worry about it,” I smiled as Ace launched into an explanation about CGI.
“No, they fake it, you see. There’s an actor - you know what an actor is, right? Okay, so there’s an actor…”
Charlie laughed and rolled his eyes as Ace continued his explanation. “Well, he’ll never stop now.”
The Adventures of the Camp Sunnyside Hikers
The Camp Director gave the staff T-shirts,
The Camp Director gave the staff T-Shirts,
At camp Sunnyside!
I’m finally here!!!! It only took three hours, an early start, and a late arrival after getting lost to do it! Mom and Dad drove April and I up here and the first person we met was Sasha, who will be our manager, according to Sally, our boss.
The landscape here is super cool! Once you’re out by the Dining Pavilion, you can see the part of the forest where the fire was years and years ago, before we were a girl’s camp. We know it by the fallen, grey logs and small, little sprouts climbing up from the wreckage. It strikes out and clashes with the green of our live trees, making our entire camp look half-dead.
First thing we did was unpack everything into our tents. April has a roommate named Bri, a returning staffer with blonde hair and kind of a wild personality. My roommate isn’t here yet, Sally says that she’ll be here by tomorrow. Mom and Dad seem okay to see me gone, which is great, and April seems okay at camp so far making friends. I’m glad, I was a little worried she’d get clingy to me and I wouldn’t be able to shake her off my leg.
After we all got settled, we had a meeting in one of the buildings called the Training Center. It was me, April, and about twenty other girls in there. No way I’m remembering all of their names in time for the campers coming in. The Training Center is a building that sort of reminds me of the bottom story of my house. There’s one big room, then there are three-to-five little rooms. The little rooms consist of two bathrooms with small showers in them, two supply closets (one with a washing machine in it), and Sally’s office.
Everyone gets four Camp Sunnyside Staff T-shirts. Not nearly enough, in my opinion, since we’re living up here in the mountains for six out of the seven nights of the week, but that’s fine. It’s not like I’m going to be able to shower every day, either.
I’m a little annoyed right now at April’s roommate, Bri. She told me to build a fire, so, naturally, I get started in preparing a flint-and-steel set up. She sees what I’m doing, immediately deconstructs it, and makes this gigantic thing that was meant to be lit with a lighter. Her intention was to make the fire into a prop for a funny skit that was a part of a show that the returning staff put on for us.
The only problem was that her fire didn’t stay lit. Karma strikes again.
I’m not bitter, I just wished that she’d told me what kind of a fire she wanted me to prepare when I’d asked.
I can officially remember Sofia, Ari, and Faith. Sofia is a sweet girl - my tent neighbor - who also doesn’t have her roommate tonight. Ari (short for Arizona) is also really nice. I met her at the door of my tent, along with Faith, Sally’s daughter. They’d greeted me while I was moving in.
April has been hovering close to me this whole time, but I don’t really mind too much. It’s her first day, so what else is she supposed to do?
I’m a little nervous about this job. First job I’ve had that wasn’t from April’s parents or family. Luckily, April and I work in the same area - as a matter of fact, we’re the only two people working in our area. We are in Hiking and Service. This means we lead the hikes and think of the service projects. Apparently, this only requires effort from two people.
I can’t wait to get started tomorrow.
Liza’s eyes opened, unable to see anything in the dark folds of her tent. “Hm…?”
She didn’t recognize the voice and, glancing at her watch, saw that it was 3:02 a.m.. Bleary-minded, she closed her eyes again, wondering who would call for her in the middle of the night.
As she dozed off, she thought something hit the flap of her tent door.
Liza ignored it, allowing the insistent voice to slip past her train of thought, and drifted back to sleep.
Natalia came home with me, a new ritual that was a silent agreement between us. I didn’t know how, nor did I know why, but sometimes it seemed like she could read my mind. She anticipated my plans and went along with them almost flawlessly, just like I’d told her exactly what to do before we started. Whether in class, at work, or home with me, she just knew what to do. She looked ahead and made conclusions on how to act and what to do, based on what I had done or said. Almost every time, she did it perfectly.
I wondered if this was a skill acquired from her time in Entaron as a piece of property.
There was no way she was about to go back there. I fully intended to keep her with me, close to me.
That’s why I’m writing all of this down right now.
I remember thinking of ways to explain her constant presence to Mom as we did homework together at my kitchen table. Mom hadn’t been in the house, as usual, and was probably still at school, tutoring students struggling to pass at the moment.
I’d find a way to explain Natalia’s origins to Mom in a way that sounded normal. No “she’s from an alien world called Entaron” business.
Maybe more of a “her parents are two drunk idiots, she’s 18, and they kicked her out of the house” sort of excuse, I thought to myself, looking away quickly as Natalia noticed my stare from the other end of the table.
I winced inwardly as she decided to press for my train of thought.
“What are you thinking about?” Her voice was like a sonic boom in the quiet of the house.
I looked down at my crinkled psychology worksheet on intrinsic motivation, slightly ashamed. “You,” I told her honestly.
Natalia blinked. For a strange moment, she reminded me of a chameleon. She was such a still person that literally any movement she made could be abrupt and startling. I was sure that if she didn’t move for longer than five minutes, just sat there in that chair like a normal person, that I would have forgotten that she was even there.
“Am I making you nervous again?” she asked, looking alert.
I smiled at her, finding humor in the small insecurity she seemed to show. “What? Because you’re an alien I have to be scared of you? That’s species-ist.”
Natalia looked at me blankly. The joke had gone completely over her head. “What?”
I shrugged, shaking my head. “You’re not getting it. Don’t worry.”
We went on with our homework in silence, pencils scratching against the cheap school paper noisily. After a few minutes, I looked back up at her, something itching in the back of my mind.
“Yes?” She looked up.
I hesitated briefly before coming out with the question. “Who gave you all of those scars on your back?” The hairs raised on the back of my neck as I remembered those deep lines and red, fresh marks from earlier that morning.
Natalia looked back down at herself. “My masters and owners.” There was a short pause as she glanced up at me again. “I guess you want an explanation?”
I nodded and sat back in my chair, waiting for her to gather herself.
Her eyes became firm and unyielding as they lifted to meet mine. “My parents were poor, so they sold me instead of killing me, as traditions in dealing with black-eyed people demand. They did this with two of my older siblings before me. I was a little older than what you would call three years.”
She saw the shock on my face and stopped. I could barely swallow the first sentence.
I was speechless.
Natalia’s back straightened. “Too much?”
I shook my head fervently. “No, I have to know what’s going on with you.”
“You’re sure?” she asked.
Natalia pursed her lips for a moment. “... There’s something wrong with me,” she began again. “I learn things too quickly. For example, when I came here, I didn’t understand a word of what anyone was saying. I sat on a bench downtown until I could understand what people were talking about. It took me three hours to get a good grasp on the spoken word of the English language.
“From there, I went to a library and listen to a woman read aloud to children. Afterwards, I took the book and read it to get a sense of your written language.”
She tapped her pencil on the tabletop. “I remember, notice, think about everything around me. It’s like I’m looking into a room from outside.”
“Sounds like eidetic memory syndrome,” I remarked interestedly.
Natalia’s head jerked to look at me. “What? You people have a name for that here?”
I shrugged and laughed. “You should have noticed by now that we name everything here.” I flipped back through my psychology notes. “But, yeah, before you came here, we studied it. It’s more commonly known as photographic memory. You should really talk to Mrs. Gaskins about it.”
Natalia stared at me with big eyes and an open mouth. “You mean you don’t think that’s bad here?”
“If you think it’s bad here, then why did you tell me?” I asked, suppressing snickers at her shocked expression.
“Because you break the rules,” she told me, rubbing her forehead.
“What rules do I break?” I asked curiously.
Natalia propped her elbows up on the table and cradled her chin in her hands. “No one just goes camping, runs a mile, or locks themselves in a room full of murderers like you have done. You’re different. You routinely break the unspoken norms of society. That’s why I trust you. Because my very existence as a person with black eyes that turn yellow breaks your rules.”
“That doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you, Tal,” I soothes. “I can already tell that, on Entaron, your people aren’t fond of differences. But here, so long as you’re a productive, contributing member to society, we don’t have much of a problem with you.”
“How do you do that when you’re different from everyone else?” she asked, looking desperate.
“Depends on in what ways you’re different,” I shrugged, hoping to calm her down a little bit. “Like, with you, your differences make you very valuable here. And I’m willing to bet that you were valuable on Entaron, too.”
Natalia shook her head, like a knee-jerk reaction. “Impossible,” she dismissed automatically.
I raised my eyebrows at her. “Completely probable, actually,” I shot back. “Tell me what your masters and owners had you do.”
“Combat,” she answered, slowly relaxing her shoulders. “Stealth missions, tactical captures, assassinations, intelligence.” She looked at me like she figured I’d been stumped. “Death sentences, all of them.”
I sighed, seeing an immediate flaw in her thinking. “Except all of them require you to come back alive.”
Natalia opened her mouth to speak. Her black eyes widened, then nearly closed when she looked down at her shaking hands. An ephiphany was falling down on her, I knew, and I knew it was hard.
A thick, static silence fell upon the kitchen.
“... Tal,” I said gently. “Why are you here?”
“I - I ran away,” she stammered choppily.
“Why?” I asked.
“The war council decided to execute me,” she said. “My master said it was because I was worthless to the war effort.”
I shook my head somberly. “Tal. I see someone sitting in front of me who has been told lies her entire life.”
More silence. I contemplated her, the anomaly she was, for a long moment. She then took a deep breath and sat back in her chair, tears glistening in her eyes.
“Why?” she choked.
“To control you,” I answered, unsure how I knew such things, but what else could it have been?
Distressed, she covered her face with her hands. “How did you see that so easily?”
“Because that’s what happens to skilled people sometimes,” I responded. “For a while, they don’t realize it until the ultimate betrayal from those closest to them.” I paused, listened to her sniff. Quietly, I began to speak my mind more and more openly. “You know, I bet this sucks for you more than words can describe. I guess it’s something of a world-shattering realization to you. You don’t know what to think, because the very way you were taught to think was a lie. You don’t know your own self and that scares you, because how can you control yourself if you don’t know yourself?”
Natalia cried softly into the palms of her hands.
I stood up, walked over to her, put my hand on her shoulder. “It seems helpless, to keep trying, I guess. What you’ve worked so hard to build in yourself is worthless now. But, Tal, you’re not seeing the big picture. Entaron is behind you.”
“They’re looking for me…” she sniffed. “That man…” She meant Tristan, the burglar.
“He isn’t coming back here,” I reassured, patting her shoulder. “I promise.”
Natalia took her wet hands from her face and wiped tears from her bloodshot eyes. “What do I do now?” she whispered hollowly.
I looked at the kitchen clock and grinned, needing a shift out of the deep conversation. “Get ready for our night out with the boys! Let’s find something fun for you to wear!”
Dirk drove Spruce, Tasha, and their new roommate, Joan, into the suburbs of Small Ravine. Lexis Blossom lead the way in her car, bathed in sunset glow, ahead of them.
Nothing had been explained about this mission that they had waiting for them. Nothing had been said to prepare them for what they had to do. Spruce sat on edge, fearing a trap or hazing as a new recruit.
She eyed Tasha, in the back seat with her, while Joan sat in the front seat with Dirk.
Am I going to be trapped? How could they possibly know I’m here to assassinate him? There’s no way. There’s just no way.
“Anxious, Miss Maine?” Dirk questioned from the front seat.
Spruce jumped and looked over at him. “Not too terribly,” she admitted. How did he know? He couldn’t even see her! What was going on?
“And you, Tasha?” Dirk asked the ginger.
Tasha lifted her head. “No, not really. Just excited.”
Spruce felt a stab of annoyance at this girl. What made her so perfect? AND WASN’T SHE SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD!?
Dirk nodded and glanced at Joan. “Miss Dorantez?”
Joan squirmed in her seat. “Terrified, but ready to do what it takes.”
Dirk smiled. “That’s the kind of answers I like to hear.” He parked on the curb of a house as Blossom parked in the driveway.
Spruce wrinkled her brow and watched the girl closely. Was this her house? Why was the mission at this girl’s house? Was she getting something from home that she forgot on her way to the base? What was going on?
“Look alive, girls,” Dirk said, opening his door. “Don’t be surprised when this guy says things about you that no one else knows. This is his magic gift, has something to do with his eyes. Blossom says he’s pleasant and doesn’t resort to combat, but she’s only known him for a few minute, so be cautious.”
Spruce exited the car with Tasha and Joan and they watched as Lexis walked up to the front door, produced a key to open it, and disappeared inside, the door shutting behind her. The four of them waited for only a few seconds before Blossom walked out with a hobo-looking man with hair even more fiery than Tasha’s.
Who was this dude?
He stared at the four as they stood there, watching as Blossom walked him to her car and he got in without a word of protest.
“Are we arresting him, sir?” Joan asked.
Dirk shook his head and turned to get back into their sleek, black BMW. “No, we’re not.”
“Observing his abilities?” Spruce asked.
Dirk shrugged as the girls followed him back into the car. “You could say that.”
A knock sounded on Vanessa’s door. She looked over at it from her TV, which was playing Season 2 of The Walking Dead.
Pausing her show, she stood up and answered the door.
As soon as she opened that door, she found herself immediately overwhelmed with an older hispanic man, four girls in security uniforms, and a guy with bright red hair and sloppy-looking clothes.
“Hello,” the hispanic man greeted, adjusting the black tie on his suit, “my name is Dirk Sorenson, and I would like to ask you to come with us-”
The voice was Klare’s. Vanessa’s visitors all turned to look down the hall, evidently saw Klare, and stiffened, fear striking their eyes.
Vanessa shut the door, locked it, and dashed across her small apartment to the fire escape out the window. If Klare didn’t like the looks of these people, then she knew that they were trouble.
Klare didn’t need much more motivation than Dirk Sorenson’s presence at her best friend’s door to pull a gun out on him and his people, who all seemed to be unarmed.
Vanessa slammed her door shut when Klare gave her command to not move, making the group of people jump.
She analyzed each of them.
The bright redhead seemed like a huge chill-pill to her, but even he was a little off put by her .45 aimed in his general direction. His hands were already up.
The less-bright redhead was familiar-looking to her, but Klare couldn’t put her finger on where she’d seen her before. The security uniform was generic enough to confuse her just a little bit.
Of course, she did know the brown-haired woman right next to her. That was Client 23, who had stopped using her services a few weeks ago after she had purchased Project 15. Probably working on assassinating Sorenson.
Or was she a genuine security officer of his?
Still not to be trusted.
Third girl in uniform with the camouflage hat was also familiar-
“Klare!” she exploded, surprising the woman with the gun as she moved to the front of the group.
Sorenson looked down at the girl with raised eyebrows. “You know her?”
Klare looked at the girl for a long moment, nervous. “Who the heck are you?” she demanded, shifting her aimed gun for this bold comrade of Sorenson’s.
The girl bit her lip, then moved forward a step. “My name is Lexis Blossom.”
Klare froze. Her pulse raced. She couldn’t breathe.
A small box.
No, a safe. A vault.
She was trapped in a vault, her limbs restricted to the small space, slowly going numb, barely able to breathe.
It had been too long since they’d last opened it as they had done periodically for weeks. She was falling asleep, her own carbon dioxide suffocating her.
A click in the vault walls caught her from falling into the sleep of death. The door opened finally. Klare gasped and sucked in the fresh air and squinted at the light.
She’d expected to be shut back in a few seconds later, but it wasn’t her captors who had unlocked her little living quarters. It was a little girl.
“You,” Klare croaked, her gun hand trembling.
The girl… no… Lexis Blossom… nodded and stepped forward again. “Yeah, me. What’s wrong?”
Klare took a retreating step back into her antor door, shaking her head. “What are you doing here? Why are you…?” She couldn’t finish her sentence, looking from Sorenson to Lexis in disbelief with wide, green eyes.
Lexis glanced over her shoulder at Sorenson, then looked back to Klare. “Not friendly with Dirk, here, right?” she asked, understanding Klare’s thoughts almost perfectly.
Klare looked at her shaking gun and knew that she couldn’t shoot it. Not at her. Not at Lexis Blossom.
She lowered the gun, allowing it to hang limply at her side. “No,” she answered softly, eyeing everyone in the hallway carefully. “I’ve heard some nasty things about his reputation.”
Lexis nodded and relaxed at the lowering of the gun. “Everyone has.”
Klare’s eyebrows knitted together. “Then why are you with him? Why are you trying to take Vanessa?”
Lexis shook her head. “We’re not.”
“We have a proposition for her, actually,” Sorenson cut in calmly, adjusting his tie. “Would you mind accompanying us?”
Klare pursed her lips and shook her head, hand clenching on her gun. “No. You’re going to leave now.”
“He means what he says,” Lexis told her honestly, “and if he goes back on it, that’s what I’m here for. We’re good friends.”
Klare stared at Lexis. “You’ve grown. How old are you now?”
Lexis shrugged. “Sixteen. Is Vanessa a friend of yours?”
“Yes,” Klare affirmed, rubbing at her blue-dyed hair.
Lexis looked back at Sorenson. “Can we include her in your team?”
Sorenson scowled. “Really? She just pulled a gun on us!”
Lexis arched her eyebrows at him and pointed to Client 23. “Well you did just purposefully hire a person who is actively trying to worm her way into your circle, just so that she can assassinate you herself.”
Client 23’s jaw dropped and the hispanic security officer gasped.
Sorenson shot a glare in Client 23’s direction. “Well that one’s controllable. This one” - he pointed at Klare - “is clearly a wild card.”
Lexis sighed in exasperation. “Well, Vanessa isn’t going anywhere until Klare goes with her. Especially not with you.”
“What if I don’t want either of us to be anywhere near him?” Klare asked acidly.
“Then you get arrested,” Sorenson said.
“Then you do what you want,” Lexis said right as he spoke.
My first morning with Natalia was interesting enough. I woke up to find her already awake, wandering around my empty bedroom, unsure where to go and what to do.
We got ready for school together. She had several sets of clothes hidden away in a backpack she carried with her, clothes she'd either found on the street or bought with her first paycheck.
Speaking of paychecks...
"Hey, Tal," I asked as we changed clothes back to back in my bedroom, "how did you manage to get an identity here in your first few days? And who enrolled you in school?"
"I knew I needed identification here," Natalia explained, "so I found an ID dealer to help me. I'm still paying him back."
I glanced back at her over my shoulder, only to catch myself staring at her bare back as she put her shirt on. The pale, white skin pockmarked and whipped and scarred, each red line of damaged flesh striking out like a lazer, each spot like a spark.
I couldn't stop the onslaught of shock as Natalia's shirt draped over her back. "Oh my gosh, Natalia!" I exclaimed, turning around completely, already fully-clothed. "What happened to your back?"
Natalia turned around as well, her eyebrows raised. "Hm?"
I felt myself weaken at the surprise. "The scars on your back..." I trailed off, took a deep breath as we stared at each other. Her face, perfectly normal, slightly inquisitive, told me she barely knew what I was talking about.
"On your back," I started again, thinking of where such nasty scars could have come from. Only a few white scars, the rest red. The red scars reminded me of one of my Jr. High friends, who got jumped by a bunch of kids and came home with red marks like those all over her left arm. They'd scratched her skin with their nails, then rubbed salt in the open wounds. "On your back..." What could I possibly say now? "Did your owner do that to you?"
Natalia pursed her lips and her eyebrows lowered, pinching a canyon of skin into the space between her eyes. "Yes."
I shook my head and turned away, feeling uncomfortable.
"We have a mixed class with Ace today," Natalia said casually. "I think we'll have fun."
O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O
Ace applauded Natalia and I enthusiastically as we jogged to a stop at the finish of the mandatory mile run in gym class. Our gym teacher was covering for his drama teacher while she took her kid to a doctor's appointment during the class period.
"Holy cow, Natalia!" he hollered. "You're as fast as Lacy! I never thought I'd see anyone who could keep up with her."
Natalia's face seemed slightly more animated than usual. I could almost see her smile as her eyes wavered from me to Ace. The bobbing of her shoulders slowed and her response to his commentary surprised me. "I think she could do better. I actually thought she was in worse shape before she nearly passed me last-second."
While she stood tall, I was stuck with my hands on my knees, breathing in heavily. Ace laughed and patted me on the back. "Yeah, I've seen Lacy pull four-minute-miles before. She's fast when she's not coping with caffeine addictions."
It's not an addiction! "Shut... up, Ace!" I panted.
Natalia cocked her head to one side and looked down at me. "Why do you drink so much soda if it's bad for you?"
I couldn't reply before Ace cut in. "She's afraid to sleep."
"Am... not!" I protested.
Ace gace Natalia a smirk. "She is, too. She just hates to admit she's scared of anything. If she wasn't out of breath right now, I would have lost this debate and earned myself a black eye."
Natalia broke into a smile. It was a small one, but I could tell that if she did smile, she would have dimples. "No one told me Lacy can fight."
"I... can't!" I corrected. "Ace... is just a bunch of flab and... bones!"
Ace grinned shamelessly and patted his stomach. "True."
Charlie, who was in Ace's class, had meandered over to our conversation while Ace was in the midst of his humiliation session.
"Geez, Lace!" he teased. "You need an inhaler!"
"I need to eat better," I sighed, my body finally catching its breath.
Charlie chuckled as I plopped unceremoniously onto the floor. He then turned his attention to Ace. "Bro, are you seeing Ten Talents soon?"
Ten Talents was an action/fantasy movie about a dude who believed a rock was his dead best friend. I wanted to see it and so did Ace.
Ace pumped his fist in the air enthusiastically. "Heck yeah! Seeing it by myself tonight!"
Charlie gave him an odd look. "Alone? I'm off work tonight and I'm planning to go. Want to go together?"
Ace shrugged. "Sure. It's better with other people anyway."
Charlie turned to me. "Come with us? I know you and Natalia don't work tonight, either." He said it casually, with an easy smile.
Ace looked at Natalia. Natalia looked at me like: what's a movie?
I'd explain the concept to her later. "Sure," I answered, "Tal and I can go. What time should we plan on?"
O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O
My lunch was in the teachers' lounge fridge, where Mom liked to hide it.
Grabbing it out of the fridge, I turned to find Mr. Gibbons, a big bear of a man with a goatee and a long, grey ponytail, peering at me through ovular eyeglasses.
I looked back at him in turn, undaunted. "Hi, Mr. Gibbons."
"My grape soda is missing," he pointed out, leaning back in his chair. His red Owens High T-shirt stretched over the gracious bulge in his stomach. "You couldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
I shook my head and displayed my sandwich. "Just got here, Gibbons. Sorry."
Natalia followed me out of the teachers' lounge and we walked together down to Mom's room. I was hoping to get her used to seeing Natalia around my general vicinity, that way it wouldn't be weird when she realized that my friend was all but living with us.
"The grape soda is missing from the teachers' lounge," I teased Mom as we strolled into the door. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"
Mom looked up at us from her computer screen, smirked, and chucked an empty can of grape soda into the trash.
Lexis’ dad should have been in a mental hospital a long time ago, Tristan thought.
He had been lead to her house, right down the street from the home he had been staying in, and Lexis took him to the door.
Tristan met Xavior Blossom in the simplest way possible. Pulled along by his daughter through the hallway and a sharp right into the kitchen.
And there he was.
There was Xavior Blossom, in slippers and a robe, sipping at a mug of coffee, green eyes staring off into space as Lexis slipped around the table to shake his shoulder.
The man was haggard-looking. Dark bags under his eyes, insane red-and-white hair style (not even Tristan’s eyes could tell which color was natural), and a huge bruise on his left cheek, caused by an attack of anger from Shawn.
Xavior blinked his big, green eyes and looked up at a concerned Lexis, patting her hand on his shoulder with a gentle smile. “Thank you love, I’ll take it from here,” upon her hesitation, he made a floppy shooing motion with his free hand. “Go do something fun! Find a cute boy and make out with him. Whatever you kids do these days.”
Lexis smiled, but wasn’t okay with leaving him alone with Tristan. Quick, cautious thoughts rushed through her head, before she leaned in and kissed Xavior’s temple, leaving him with a large, youthful grin on his face. She then brushed past Tristan, turned right, and climbed up the stairwell towards her bedroom.
“Sweet girl,” Xavior murmured, almost to himself. He then met eyes with Tristan and nodded to a chair at the table. “Sit down, sit down. We hoped that we could talk to you.”
Tristan sat down and thought how interesting this man was. Self-aware multiple personality disorder. Perhaps with a dash of schizophrenia? Definitely a victim of night terrors and some post-traumatic stress. “I’m sorry Shawn hit you on my behalf.”
This poor man. How could he be a detective after all of this?
Xavior raised his fiery red eyebrows and Tristan realized that he was probably just a fellow ginger with some pigment loss. “Now, how would you know about that little exchange we had?”
Tristan shrugged, realizing with a sudden inner jolt that he was paying too much attention to the man’s intricacies. “Just a lucky guess. I saw you out and about the other day and you didn’t have a mark like that then, and I doubt I’d be here if Thomas and his group of gangbangers hadn’t caught me.”
Xavior nodded slowly and began to sip at his coffee. “Yes,” he said shortly, “makes sense.”
Tristan felt a sudden probe at his mind, like his brain was a balloon letting out all of its air, and, suddenly, Xavior knew who he was! For a moment, the older man faded in his vision, and Tristan saw himself from the third person, wide-eyed, mouth agape, hands grasping the chair he sat on.
There was pressure in his head, like he was being squeezed, and he saw himself stutter on his words. Then his ears popped. The pressure released. He was looking at Xavior with his own eyes again.
Tristan couldn’t believe what had just happened. This man had just reached into his mind, penetrated his consciousness, and now had full access to his thoughts and where they came from.
What manner of man-?
The landline sounded like a bomb in the quiet room. Tristan must have jumped ten feet in the air when it rang. Xavior smiled knowingly and reached back to grab the home phone off the counter.
He answered it.
Who was talking on the other end? Tristan couldn’t tell. Why couldn’t he tell? He couldn’t tell anything. He couldn’t tell why there were scratches on the table or where that little red stain on the floor had come from. He couldn’t tell why Xavior was grinning or what he was thinking.
A horrible, horrible thought struck him like a brick wall in that moment: had Xavior turned off his eyes? His intuition?
Who was this man?
Then Tristan gathered his wits, and looked down at the table again.
Mahogany, 17 years old, a wedding gift from Xavior’s closest friends, even though it was his second marriage. Colored on by a young Lexis late at night when she was five. Place of shared meals every morning and night until the lady of the house… left for war(?) four years ago.
Xavior nodded, the movement catching Tristan’s attention. “Yeah,” he said into the phone. “I think she can.” He put the phone to his chest. “Lexis!”
A muffled “What!?” sounded from upstairs.
“Pick up the phone!” he replied.
Xavior lifted the phone to his ear, then hung up after a moment of silence.
He gave Tristan a small smile and leaned forward on the table. “So,” his lips quickly curled back into a grin, “can you read me now, young man?”
Tristan noticed with a sudden start that his eyes were yellow. Bright, bright yellow.
The clopping of tennis shoes sounded on their way down the stairs behind him. “Gotta go help Dirk! Might be gone all night - Dex! Be good! He’s not a criminal, you know!”
Tristan looked back at Lexis, dressed in a security officer uniform, standing in the entryway with hands on her hips and raised eyebrows.
Xavior or Dex, or whoever, took a sarcastic sip of coffee. “Mmm… breaking and entering is a criminal offense.”
“He had a key,” Lexis countered, “so it was just trespassing.”
That’s right, Tristan had to remind himself after a minute, Xavior has multiple personality disorder.
“Still a crime!” Dex pointed out.
Lexis rolled her black eyes and ticked her points off on her fingers. “No damages, thefts, vandalism, or harassment, and he left the property when he was asked to.”
“Invasion of privacy,” Dex countered.
“Something you’ve done to, literally, thousands of people,” Lexis reminded him with folded arms, “so stop being a sociopath and act like a normal human being. I’m going to Dirk’s to help him out. Am I gonna come home to find this guy dissolving in the bathtub?”
Dex snorted, Tristan felt, in good humor, and set down his coffee, chortling. “Okay, sweetie, I’ll get to the point and get him outta here.”
Tristan looked at him. “Why am I here if you’re not killing me?”
Lexis scoffed. “Does he look like a killer to you?”
“Well…” Tristan hesitated, took another look at the small, red stains on the tile, barely visible to the naked eye. “Why do you have blood stains on your floor?”
“Because I had to cut a turd,” Lexis said shortly, “that’s why.”
Tristan arched his eyebrows and looked back to her to make sure she wasn’t lying. “Dang.”
Lexis shrugged her small shoulders. “Anyway, I’ve got work to do. Like I said, Father, I’ll be gone probably late tonight and might even be back by tomorrow afternoon.”
“Okay, sweetie,” Dex said with a wave of his hand, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Lexis walked out of view. Tristan heard her open the door. “Oh, Father,” she called back as an afterthought, “call Dirk if Shawn comes over again.”
Dex saluted her on her way out. “Yes, ma’am.” The door shut behind her. Dex, still yellow-eyed, leaned in across the table and Tristan looked at him, feeling exposed and unsafe with his intuitive eyesight uneffective against Dex.
“Now,” Dex said slowly, “I would like to point you in the right direction.”
Their room must have been carved out of a cinder block.
Two bunks, a pair of nightstands, but the rest of the room was empty. Spruce looked around at her bunkmates as they unpacked.
She was on the bottom bunk of her bed, a nice Latina girl, Joan, sitting on top. From Spruce’s kneeling position on the ground, sorting her gear, she could see the girl, Tasha, as she sat on the other bottom bunk, totally unpacked, staring off into space unproductively.
How are you alive? Why do we keep running into each other? Are you an enemy or a bystander?
A knock sounded at the door.
Tasha turned her head serenely to look at it. “Yes?”
“You girls decent?”
It was Dirk.
Spruce stood up so quickly that her head spun. Joan leaped down from the top bunk. “Yes!” they chorused urgently.
Tasha stood up leisurely and leaned against the bed as Dirk strolled in, another girl at his side.
Spruce looked her up and down, unable to discern her age. Security officer uniform, brown hair, camouflage hat, eyes shaded by a pair of sunglasses.
Spruce had studied Dirk’s partners before beginning work. This wasn’t anyone she knew.
“This is Lexis Blossom,” Dirk introduced. “She’s about to take you on your first mission.”
Vanessa held Corbin’s hand as she led the way down to her apartment.
“Netflix and chill?” Corbin asked slyly.
“You wish,” Vanessa coughed, stopping at her door. She looked down at her keys, and was about to sort out which one was for her apartment, when something new caught her eye.
She looked to her left and saw a silver door at the dead end of her hallway.
It was Klare’s antor door.
Vanessa wondered what was going on briefly before Corbin pressed up to her from behind, hands on her hips, lips sneaking around her long, blonde hair to press against her neck. Vanessa’s legs trembled. She covered his hands with her own.
“No,” she said firmly.
“Why?” he sighed, sending goosebumps down her spine.
“Doesn’t matter,” Vanessa said, turning around. She kissed him for a long moment and he held her against him.
When they parted, she gave him a smirk. “You be good now. Let’s watch World War Z.”
Vanessa & Klare:
Vanessa knocked on Klare’s magical door.
Klare looked up from her chair, in the middle of reading a book written in Korean. “Come in,” she called.
Vanessa opened the door and strode into the empty, carpeted room. Klare was sitting in a comfortable chair leaned up against a door across from Vanessa’s entrance to the room. She set her book from North Korea down on the side table next to her.
Klare raised a hand and a chair rose up from the ground, facing her. “Have fun with Corbin last night?”
Vanessa sat down and sighed. “Klare, why are you here?”
Klare shrugged and clasped her hands behind her head. “Wanted to keep an eye on you.”
Vanessa eyed the door her friend’s chair was leaning against. “Are the people who kidnapped Kaleb in there?”
Klare nodded without remorse. “Yup.”
Vanessa rubbed her forehead stressfully. “What are you doing to them?”
“I tied their hands behind their backs to a ring 60 inches off the ground against the wall,” Klare remarked honestly. “It forces them to squat and renders them unable to stand or sit down.”
“Doesn’t one of them have a broken femur?”
“Klare…” Vanessa looked at her friend seriously and propped her elbows up on her knees. “You’ll kill him from shock.”
Klare’s eyebrows shot up, incredulous that her friend would patronize her like this. “Yup.”
Vanessa rolled her eyes and let out a heavy sigh. “You’ll kill him. Don’t you want information out of the leader?”
“He’s the strong one of the pack,” Klare replied dryly, “and he doesn’t care about his people. His people, on the other hand, are weak and care about each other.”
“Is that implying something?” Vanessa asked, slightly defensive.
Klare shook her head. “Of course not. Vanessa, correlation implies causation…” she paused, took a moment to observe her friend. “Oh! You’re mad at me, aren’t you?”
Vanessa leaned forward with gritted teeth and rubbed her temples with her fingers. “Yes!” she exclaimed. “Oh my gosh, Klare, you’re holding people captive and torturing them! You’re no better than they are!”
“I was doing the very same thing in my own basement when you met me,” Klare reminded her calmly.
“And we agreed that you would stop!” Vanessa retorted.
“It’s temporary,” Klare assured. “I’m just intervening with a human trafficking operation.”
There was a silence between them. Vanessa looked down at herself. Klare looked up at the blank, white ceiling. Vanessa took a few deep breaths, then looked back up at her deadpan friend. “Another one?”
Vanessa pursed her lips, closed her eyes. “I’m worried about you,” she said at length. “I don’t want you to get worse.”
Klare reached forward and patted her hand. “I still have a conscience, `Nessa.”
Vanessa nodded as tears streaked down her face. “I know,” she choked.
Klare squeezed Vanessa’s hand. “Hey, look at me.”
Vanessa opened her squinting eyes, bloodshot and glistening.
Klare gave her a small smile. “Even if I didn’t have a conscience, I still have you.”
It started with a backstabbing best friend in early April of 2014. Last year, Bethany was dating some nameless jock, a senior, when her best friend, Ruth, stole him away. The rumors said that the breakup conversation went something along the lines of:
“Babe, I’ve lost interest in the relationship.”
“I feel the same way.”
“So it's over?”
“Yeah, it's over.”
Later that night, Bethany was eating a vat of chocolate ice cream, her room littered with tissues, rueing her love life as she scrolled through social media when Ruth's relationship status changed.
Day 2: The Declaration of War
Bethany and Ruth go to school together and chat as usual, but now there's steel in Bethany’s eyes and her smile is plastic.
Day 7: Ruth and Bethany “can't find each other at lunch”.
Week 2: Bethany blocks Ruth on Instagram.
Week 3: Totally cut out of Bethany’s social life, Ruth attempts to contact her via text message.
Month 2: Bethany begins to passive-aggressively make statements about Ruth on Facebook. Ruth retaliates with Messenger and strongly-worded text messages.
Month 3: All of the trash talk. Both are worried they'll have the same classes or lunches in the upcoming school year.
Month 4: Ruth is now eating chocolate ice cream and surrounded by tissues.
Month 5: Silence
Month 6: Silence
Month 7: Silence
Month 8: Bethany gets a new nameless boyfriend. He lasts for two weeks.
Month 9: Silence
Month 10: New term. New classes. Same chemistry class, same group. Passive-aggressive silence and overall annoyance from other group members.
Month 11: Bethany shoves past Ruth aggressively on the way out of the classroom.
O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O
Screaming sounded down the hall as Natalia and I made our way through the compacted bodies to our second period class. Natalia turned as my blood turned cold.
Shooting? Stabbing? Suicide bomber?
I took my headphones out of my ears and heard the shouting of a fight.
“Get her! Get her!”
“Beat that witch!”
“Crud,” I sighed, turning to go to the noise. At Natalia’s questioning look, I clarified, “A cat fight just broke out.”
I pushed my way through the students in the hall. Most were ignoring it, they had class to get to and there was one of these every few days. I was worried it was someone I knew. Maybe Lexis Blossom or one of Ace’s friend’s girlfriends.
I saw the fray of hair and limbs and screaming and name-calling, all encircled by a small group of students, almost acting as a safety wall between the shuffling kids going to class and the small riot between the two girls.
I didn’t know either of them, but now I was almost duty-bound to stop it. No boys were going to get into that, and that was a promise from the universe.
I nudged my way past the human safety wall, yelling for them to stop. I saw blood, not a good sign-
Before I could even touch either of them, a hand shot out from the fray and pulled me in with it. First, someone punched me in the eye, second, I was smacked against the wall, and both of them were coming at me.
I saw stars as my head made contact with the cinderblock wall. I sank to my knees, turned as my vision came back to me, and there they were, coming for me because they both thought I was on the other’s side.
Natalia’s slender figure bolted through the safety meat wall of students and screeched to a stop in between me and the other girls. Her black eyes looked deeply into mine, her hand on my shoulder. Her face tightened slightly, something in her lips and eyes that made them just a little bit smaller. It turned her expression from deadpan to furious.
She turned to the other girls and took them with her glare of steel.
Both of them paused, and I saw the adrenaline leave their faces leave in the form of color.
Then Principal Done came shoving through the crowd, distracting them, and I leaned back against the wall, taking in deep breaths as nausea came to my stomach, escorted by the hit to my head. I put my hand over Natalia’s. “Thanks, Tal.”
O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O
The next thing I knew, I was sitting in the nurse’s office, a sheet of paper crinkling beneath me, Natalia holding a bag of ice to my forehead. Her face was directly in front of mine. She was talking.
“She’s the dumbest person in the world,” she ranted, “but she’s the nicest, you know? She minds her own business, but only if she’s not concerned for someone else’s safety! You know she was willing to risk her life for this place?”
“Yeah,” A guy said out of my field of vision, “I know about the locker room.”
Natalia’s face contorted angrily. “No, you don’t. She’s hiding something about it.”
“What’s she hiding?” the boy asked.
Charlie. It was Charlie’s voice.
“She locked us in, for starters,” Natalia said, “she had handcuffs in her bag and had me sneak over to cuff the door to the pipe next to it.”
“What?” Charlie exclaimed. “Why would she do that?”
“She controlled them, like a witch,” Natalia continued, “she crossed her legs and put her hands on her knees and when they shined their lights on her, they didn’t see her.”
“That’s crazy, Natalia. Don’t make up stories.”
I blinked, finally able to control my body again. “Natalia’s not crazy,” I defended, wincing at the skull-splitting migraine.
Natalia sighed in relief. “Oh good Nekharr, you’re back! I was wondering if blurting random lies would bring your focus back.”
Bright yellow eyes fired up. She knew I wanted to keep what happened a secret. But why was she spouting it just now?
I peered around her to look at Charlie as he stood in the doorway. “What brings you here? Isn’t class going on right now?”
Charlie let an easy grin smooth out the worry on his face. “Your mom sent me to check on you and give her an update on whether or not you need to go to the hospital. I have her class this period.”
So it was still second period, that was good. I looked at the clock on the wall and was doubly relieved to see that I’d only lost a few minutes of my time. Concussion. I probably had a concussion. I knew the feeling after getting one on the trampoline when I was twelve or thirteen.
I looked back at Natalia and took the ice pack in my own hand. “Thanks for saving me, Tal. Where are the other two?”
Charlie jerked a thumb behind him. “Getting lectured in Principal Done’s office. That could have done damage, the only thing you responded to was Natalia. I didn’t think she could talk so much.”
“Same,” I agreed, giving the sullen girl a playful smile.
Natalia shrugged and looked down at her feet. She didn’t make a reply.
O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O
The caffeine was gone.
All of it. Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi. Everything to keep me awake was empty. I needed something, anything, to keep myself from sleeping tonight.
Frantically pacing back and forth across my dark bedroom floor, my eyes darted to the balcony window, then to my closet. Hands shaking, I stopped pacing and began to bundle up for the cold outside weather.
Three in the morning.
Opening my balcony door, the cold, frosty air bit my face and woke me up immediately. I grabbed the rope ladder and hooked it to the railing of my balcony. Before I knew it, I’d climbed to the snow-covered ground and planted my feet in the wet dirt sheltered from most precipitation by the wood jutting out from my bedroom. I reached up and pulled a piece of yarn protruding from a slot in the boards above. The yarn was tied to the end of my ladder, and through a pulley system pulled it up to the railing.
I crunched away from my balcony, hands nestled in my pockets, head down against the cold.
My destination: the local Seven Eleven.
I trudged down the streets with caution, staying away from bushes and asking the trees for help in forewarning me against getting jumped by anyone.
One tree told me that Alexander Hopkins and his gang were in the park on my way to the gas station. I decided to stop by and get their attention so that someone authoritative knew that I was out here on my own.
Walking a few more frost-bitten blocks, and I was in full view of the park. No Alexander, I thought with bewilderment, why did the trees bring me here and lie to me? All there were here was one hobo without a blanket about eighty feet away from me.
I sighed and shot a sharp glance at a nearby pine. ‘You said Alexander was here.’
“Oops,” the tree said sarcastically. It could have easily shrugged for effect in that moment of apathy.
My tired brown eyes swung back around to survey the situation. ‘That hobo looks awfully familiar,’ I thought at the tree, seeing her thin, twiggy shape, pale skin, and shirt wild heir pressed up against the cold metal bench.
“Yup,” the tree agreed simply.
I sniffed. My nose was running from the cold. ‘Just tell me flat-out next time. I don’t enjoy being manipulated.’
The tree disconnected as I strolled across the park to Natalia’s bench.
She didn’t detect my presence and, if she did, she didn’t show it. I looked down at her and wondered for a minute if this was normal conditions for a slave from another world. Of course, even if it wasn’t normal, Natalia definitely deserved better.
So I kicked the bench.
Natalia’s black eyes flew open and she leaped off of her makeshift bed, standing straight. “Yarai! Eero kist mikkeili lenora tatar…” she trailed off, realizing where she was and who she was talking to.
I couldn’t help a small chuckle. “Is all that gibberish your native language?”
Natalia blinked defensively. “Yes.”
I indicated the bench. “People usually just sit on these things until they’re bored, you know.”
Natalia looked down at the bench for a long moment. “Yes,” she murmured, eyes lowered.
I sighed at the lack of banter. “I’ll just get to the point. You’re coming home with me. I don’t care what kind of alien you are, you’re gonna freeze to death in this winter. We’re in Utah, after all. Come on.”
Tasha was closing laps, jumping barricades, climbing over fences. She could taste the satisfying salt of sweat running from her lips into her mouth. The wind pressed against her, challenging her to keep going faster as her legs burned in their quick rhythm. Ba-bum ba-bum, her pulse sounded loud in her ears, heart throbbing beneath her chest.
She was with the other candidates for security officers, racing in an obstacle course, flying over it as quick as she could, feeling her body out as she urged it forward to new lengths. How strange it was, that she was so athletic.
Not for the first time, she wondered if she was an athlete like a track runner or dancer.
It didn’t matter so much to her now, because she felt alive.
Her focus was sharp, she was tuned into the ditch ahead of her as she approached it. The next thing she knew, she was in the air, flying over the four-feet-wide gap in the ground, landing, and running some more.
Mr. Sorenson’s security officers, standing on the sidelines next to the finish, clapped and hollered as she approached the balance beam. This was the last obstacle before she was done.
She didn’t hesitate to hop onto it. The steel-toed combat boots on her feet made it a little more than it could have been, slowed her down as she took a minute to balance, then bolted over it with ease.
All she could hear were the strange words in her head now, the language she couldn’t name. “Focus on the now, not the later. Look at the horizon, don’t look down. Keep going, do better.” This time, the voice was a woman’s.
Then she dropped off the balance beam, sprinted the remaining fifty feet to the finish line, and her betters roared in applause.
Third place out of twenty wasn’t bad. Tasha smiled, a little uncomfortable, and accepted a water bottle from Denise, a friend she’d made earlier that day.
“Thanks,” she said to the small female security officer.
“You did good, kid,” Denise affirmed, making room for the tired trainee as she sat down on the narrow bench next to her. “Better than I thought you’d do.”
Tasha’s eyes landed on Spruce as she hit eighth place, slick with sweat, the brown-haired girl took a cold water bottle from a cooler and uncapped it.
Spruce turned and, for the second time, met eyes with Tasha.
Tasha felt a surge of anger smack itself around in her brain, concealed by her deadpan face. She shoved her fist into the pocket of her camouflage cargo pants to that Spruce didn’t see it clench into a fist.
Then, with a great deal of unseen effort, Tasha lifted her hand, smiled, and waved.
Only eighth place!
Spruce fumed at herself silently, uncapping her water bottle, drinking in between gasps of air. Heck, the little wretch that got shot the other day had done better than her! She looked over at that ginger girl she’d seen in Dirk’s office and found that their eyes had met.
How did she get third!? She was shot in the kidney just the other day! Spruce berated herself even more for this lack of effort on her own part. Eight out of twenty was barely in the top fifty percent! This was absolutely unacceptable.
The ginger smiled at her and waved.
Spruce caught her breath. A chance to talk to the anomaly girl. Make friends with her, since she seemed like one of Dirk’s favored friends, especially after stealing the spotlight and “saving his life” the other day.
Seriously, the girl took at least six shots.
Spruce smiled back at her and walked over.
“Hey,” Spruce greeted.
“You did good,” the ginger smiled, putting out her hand. “I’m Tasha.”
Spruce took the hand and was surprised by the strong grip. She quickly strengthened her own hand. “Spruce.”
Tasha pulled her hand back into her pocket and indicated the uninterested security officer standing next to her. “This is Denise. She’s always bored.”
Denise looked at Tasha and nudged her with an elbow. “Hey, not always!”
Tasha chuckled. “My bad, you always look bored.” She addressed Spruce with an arched eyebrow. “Aren’t you the one who spotted Mr. Sorenson’s assassin yesterday?”
Spruce nodded. “Yeah. Didn’t you eat a couple of bullets in that mess?” Had all that really just happened yesterday?
Tasha shook her head and touched her side gingerly. “No, he just grazed me and I bled a ton. Got some sutures and I was good to go. He was lucky you were there! I can’t imagine how bad I’d feel if I’d been right next to the guy who shot him!”
Spruce wondered if Dirk had asked Tasha about why she’d been there, too.
Klare paced the halls of her own little makeshift prison, a part of the antor ring she’d so carefully created years ago. The smooth, gray walls listened to her boots as they clopped coldly across the floor.
She passed by each prisoner, the leftovers of her brother, Kaleb’s, hostage situation on the night before. Two of them had died of blood loss over night, their arteries severed from the injuries that Vanessa had given them, leaving four behind. Andrew Moore, their leader, was curled up in his cell, trembling from shock of a broken femur.
Hopefully, he’d be dead soon.
Another man stood defiantly in his cell, void of mattress or blankets, dried blood covering his left arm, a nasty, green bruise adorning his forehead. He stared down at her with accusing green eyes.
Klare thought for a humorous moment that she could see the steam flying out of his ears.
“You can’t hold us here forever,” he said, his dry voice grating against the silence as she stopped in front of his cell.
Klare looked seriously into his eyes. Suddenly, her face split into a wide, almost unnatural grin.
The man in his cell took a step back.
Klare’s mouth was wider than one would think when she smiled, even bigger when she showed some teeth. Her skin was naturally tight across her face without a smile, and with a smile, there were no dimples. Only some small creases closer to her eyes.
And speaking of her eyes… they had no smile.
There was no raise of the eyebrows, no squint of the eyelids, only a wide, unfeeling stare to sit there.
Then her grin disappeared and she spoke, almost cheerfully. “I won’t keep you here forever. I’ll only keep you around for a while. If you’re useless, I’ll kill you. If you’re useful and you cooperate, I’ll set you free after some minor memory modification.”
The terror was scorched onto the man’s face as Klare turned, chuckling to herself, as her boots clopped slowly away from him.
Klare exited the prison door to the living room in her antor ring, which lead out into her bedroom, empty of all its furniture and items. She’d moved all of her belongings into a different room in the antor ring, preparing to leave home with her stepmother and father.
She held her hand to the door (the current shape of the antor ring), and it retracted itself onto her finger, the silver ring that it kept form as.
Klare looked around her room. It had been hers since she was twelve and her father gained sole custody of her after…
She shuddered to herself and walked downstairs. As she passed by the living room, where her parents were sitting down and chatting with her dad’s brother, she looked at them for one fleeting moment. “Mom, Dad, I’m moving out. I’m staying in the same apartment complex as Vanessa. Bye.”
Everyone looked up as the front door closed behind her, surprised expressions on their faces.
Tristan slept a solid 12 hours after Klare and Vanessa dropped him off at four in the morning at his house (which was really the Walters’ house, but they were away and didn’t even know he was there, so he found no ethical problems in staying there).
Upon waking up, alone, in the basement of the strange house, he got himself together, wrote a quick post on his site, and wondered quietly to himself about what to do involving going outside. He was sure that the entire neighborhood had him in mind for a meal after the whole getting-caught-by-Shawn’s-son ordeal. Shawn was king here, and the Walters were due back from their vacation today.
He sat alone in the basement, thinking, contemplating how he could possibly leave this place undetected.
He looked at Klare’s business card and thought to call it.
“Oh there you are!”
Tristan nearly leaped out of his skin at the sound of a voice sharing the space with him. His eyes, blew and bright, flew up in alarm.
The strange girl from the library, the one with brown hair and black eyes and sunglasses with a hat to shade them, was leaning against the bottom of the stairwell casually.
Tristan’s eyes sucked more information in than he meant them to.
Lexis Blossom. She was lonely, very lonely, but cheerful. Young, 16 years old, just out of her sophomore year. Happy to find him, mind open to deciding whether or not he was friend or foe.
Out of terror, his mouth spewed his innocence. “I-I’m Tristan!” he exploded. “Tristan Kennard, and I swear I’m not a horrible person!”
Lexis peered at him over the rims of her sunglasses and didn’t really care about what he was saying. She was expecting him to be shocked. “My dad wants to talk with you about your espionage project.”
Dad. Xavior Blossom. Private Investigator. Has Multiple Personality Disorder.
Tristan blinked to calm himself down. What a strange neighborhood.
Lexis sighed, becoming impatient, and leaned her head against the entryway frame, a little disappointed with her day thus far. “Whatever your friend did last night, about ⅓ of the neighborhood is out of business. No one around here is looking for you but myself and my father. Let’s go before the Walters find us in their house.”
She turned and strolled up the stairs, leaving Tristan to his own decision. Did he even really have a choice if this was an olive branch? He grabbed his backpack and gym bag and quickly followed her.
She was waiting at the front door, looking at him intently. Tristan was surprised to find that she wanted him to unlock the door. How did she get in here without unlocking a door or breaking a window?
“How did you get in here?” Tristan asked, unlocking the deadbolt.
“None of your business,” Lexis replied, stepping out the door ahead of him into the sunlight. “Put the key where it belongs and we’ll be off.”
Early the next morning, Natalia and I sat down with Ace and his friends while we waited for school to start. Together, we chilled at a table in the school cafeteria, listening to Ace, Charlie, and their guy friends as they talked about the latest MARVEL movie.
I hadn’t seen Ace since the lockdown, and as we’d approached the table, Ace’s sunken, exhausted green eyes found mine. Without a word, he stood up from his seat and took swift strides to meet us in the middle. Almost sighing, he grabbed me in an embrace and held me tightly. His lips brushed against my ear. “Please tell me that you’re the one who did all of that stuff in the locker room. Jerome says it sounds more like a Haunter than a Treespeaker,” he muttered to me.
I looked over at Jerome, a more sophisticated black guy weighing in at about 210. A friend of Ace’s and nice enough for me.
Jerome and his family were registered as humans who knew about the Clans. His freshman brother was a Haunter, a humanoid that feeds off of fear, smells emotions, and has a power of some sort that allows him to scare the crap out of people. He was considered a Clan member, but I didn’t hang out with him, because, like almost every freshman, he was impossible to be around.
“No, that was all me,” I reassured to Ace in a whisper. “The caffeine put me in a buzz, so I was able to invade their senses and manipulate them.”
“Okay,” Ace said softly, almost relieved, “just all that being you makes me feel better. Haunters make me nervous.”
We parted and Natalia and I took our places at the round lunchroom table, my black-eyed friend giving me a strange look as we did so.
After sitting there for several minutes, I noticed with some interest that Natalia’s eyes had begun to watch the boys with caution. I watched with fascination as the animalistic black disks scanned each individual boy at the table. Ace, with his pen and notepad as he explained his newest screenplay idea, was grazed over and she moved onto Charlie, sitting half-asleep with his head in his hands, unaware that we’d even arrived. Next was Jerome, nodding and adding small inputs to Ace’s idea. Onto Daniel, enthusiastically exclaiming lines he’d like to say. Tyson quietly ate his breakfast and listened to his headphones beside me.
All of a sudden, she looked at me. Impulsively, I turned away, startled at the sudden eye contact.
Realizing that looking away so quickly probably seemed rude, I looked back at her and found her black stare concentrated on me still. A gnawing question popped up in my mind.
“Hey, Tal?” None of the boys noticed my voice.
Natalia blinked. “Yes?”
I swallowed my own hesitation. “We didn’t talk last time,” I said, “you left before I could ask you more about when we were little. When you came out of the mirror.”
Her chest rose and fell slightly. A sigh? A deep breath to calm herself with? “I didn’t think you would really remember that,” she said at length.
“Took me a while,” I admitted, “but I found it in the back of my brain one night. What was that all about? Where the heck do you even come from?”
She sat there with hunched shoulders and a deadpan face. “Somewhere else…”
Very specific, Natalia. “No crud, Sherlock,” I scoffed. “You don’t need to hide anything from me, you know.” Still, no one was hearing our conversation, everyone at the table too busy discussing their half-baked idea of a movie.
Natalia looked down at our shoes. “I don’t know how you’ll react. It’s really abnormal.”
This made my mind hesitate. What truth bomb was going to be dropped on me? Would my life ever be the same after hearing it? But I was too tired of playing this mystery game to just let her slip away again. “You didn’t know how I’d react when you came to my balcony the other week, either,” I replied. “Stop hiding yourself from me, because, apparently, I’m the only one you know, and I don’t want to do mental gymnastics to figure out who you are and whether or not you’re gonna be the death of me.”
Another small pause from her. I could see the gears turning in her head, behind her eyes. I glanced down from her firm gaze and saw her hands, trembling on top of her knees. “Do I scare you, Lacy?” she asked, her voice barely audible in the rowdy cafeteria.
I put my hands over hers, cold as ice, realizing that this was making her nervous, feeling a small pebble of guilt drop in my stomach for it. “No,” I said firmly. We made direct eye contact once again. “Now tell me.”
“Another world,” she answered, no hesitation present in her voice.
Wasn’t expecting that. It took me a second to swallow, but I forced myself to believe her. The trees had once told me about other worlds, how they wanted Treespeakers to travel to them more often so that they could hear more stories. “Yeah,” I agreed, still a little shocked. “So what got you here?”
“... I ran away.”
“From who?” I asked.
She blinked. “You’re open-minded today.”
“I’ll let it soak in with my disbelief later. It’s too early in the morning for panic,” I replied, removing my hands from hers. “Who are you running from?”
“My master,” she answered. “He wants me dead.”
Where are you from? The 1800’s? “Why do you have a master?” I asked.
“I have black eyes.” Racist much?
“Don’t see why that’s an issue,” I commented, “but why does he want to kill you?”
“I have black eyes,” she answered levelly.
Well, that’s interesting. “What?” There was a pause. She was serious, or, at least she looked serious. “... I think you should explain the problem with that.”
Natalia cocked her head to one side. “Okay. Here, people classify themselves by their skin color, right?”
“Yeah. What do you do it by?” Eye color?
“Everything,” she said, “if you have white skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes, you’re likely from the country Esotho in my world. If you’re white, blonde, and green-eyed, you’re likely Sonjian and from the other side of the world. It’s all very specific compared to here.”
I arched my eyebrows. “... So your people are enslaved there?”
Natalia shook her head. “My people are Sair te Noan. They have white skin, black hair, and blue eyes. I am…” she pursed her lips and gave me a questioning look. “... demons do it when they come into your body.”
I reached down and pulled a Mountain Dew out of my backpack. “Possessed? You certainly don’t seem like you are if that’s the word you’re looking for.”
Natalia was still serious. “I am,” she insisted, “you don’t know what it is.”
I took a swig and caught Jerome’s attention from across the table with a snap of my fingers. “You!”
Jerome jumped and turned to me, not expecting someone else to communicate with him. “Yes?”
“You know Satan. Tell Natalia how his people possess our people.” Everyone on the table went quiet as I mentioned Satan. Not an everyday topic in the high school cafeteria.
Jerome blinked. As a Haunter’s brother, he had become more well-versed in the “supernatural” than most other kids. “Are you looking for symptoms?”
“Yes,” I said briskly.
“Er… strange lapses of the mind, inconsistent body temperature, excessive puking, memory gaps, psychotic episodes, delusions, schizophrenia, sleep paralysis, insomnia, or inability to breathe for short periods of time. Why do you want to know?”
I pointed to Natalia. “Is she possessed?”
Jerome gave me a sassy arched eyebrow. “Um, no.”
“Thought so.” I gave him a smile and turned back to a wide-eyed Natalia. “Thanks, you can all go back to what you were doing now.”
O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O
Charlie gave Natalia a sideways glance in the bakery as she and I walked past him, on our way to get a pair of clean aprons as we walked into work. “Hey Lace,” he greeted me, “hey Natalia.”
“Hello,” Natalia replied quietly.
We each grabbed an apron. Natalia went up front to check on the number of customers out there.
“Did you forget she’s stalking you or something?” Charlie asked, in the midst of cutting out round sugar cookies on the large wooden work table in the bakery, nicknamed the bench.
“No, I didn’t,” I replied as I washed my hands, “we have the same class schedule and everything. But I think I’ve gotten to know her better by now.”
“How?” Charlie asked.
I walked over with a cookie sheet and another stencil. I told him about what had happened up until the last time whe’d seen each other. I explained that the shooters in the locker room had lost it for some reason and Natalia had fought them, that Natalia had followed me into the woods to make sure I was okay, and she helped me beat an intruder out of my house.
“I guess you could say she’s a blessing in disguise,” I remarked quietly, concluding my own story.
“Geez, you get in a lot of trouble,” Charlie commented, taking a cookie sheet and setting it on the rack for the oven. “You realize that Small Ravine’s average citizen gets into about 75% less crap than you do, right? You overachiever.”
I grinned at the tease. “Sorry, trouble’s my middle name.”
Charlie chuckled quietly. “Yeah?” There was a pause as we continued our work together. “So she doesn’t make you nervous anymore?”
I nodded. “Over all, she just seems like a socially-awkward girl looking for a friend. So why not let her be my friend?”
He nodded in agreement, his blond locks bouncing slightly on his head. “I like your point, but be careful. You still don’t know anything about her.”
I sighed, grateful for the concern. “Thanks for paying attention, Char.”
O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O
Ace was doing archery in his snowy backyard again. I visited him after work and told him everything I knew about Natalia, going totally transparent as I sat by the fire pit beneath his back porch, warm despite the cold darkness around us.
“She sounds like one of those awkward freshmen who pretend that Foo or Fablehaven or dragons are real,” Ace remarked.
I nodded as he launched arrow after arrow into the six targets ahead of them. “Right? Except I’ve literally seen her eyes turn yellow when she lies.”
Ace missed a shot and turned to me sharply. “What!?” he exclaimed, green eyes wide with shock. “You’re kidding me! Why didn’t you tell me that her eyes turn yellow? That’s the creepiest thing I’ve ever heard!”
“Worse than talking trees?” I laughed.
Ace’s boots crunched in the snow as his entire body shuddered. He jumped up and down like a toddler. “She. Has. Black. Eyes. Black eyes turning yellow is biologically impossible, Lacy!”
“But she did it!” I protested, still chuckling at the reaction. “I saw her do it!”
“But it’s impossible!” he insisted.
“Do you need me to show you tomorrow?” I asked. “We all have my other gym class together.”
Ace recoiled away from me and shook his head vigorously. “NO! That’s so freaky! At least your weird thing is like LOTR or Narnia! Her’s is just too weird!”
I laughed. “You’re such a spaz. Okay, I won’t make her do it.”
Tasha was experimenting with her dagger/sword/letter opener(?).
She sat in a small room in Mr. Sorenson’s personal mansion. It had been assigned to her by his secretary after a long day of searching for her family.
The room wasn’t too small, however. Lush, red carpet covered creaky hardwood floors beneath it. A full-sized bed gave her room to stretch out and relax on. There was an unused closet sitting in the corner and a cranny next to it where a plush armchair sat behind a side table.
Tasha was holding the long broadsword and bending it to her will.
At a simple command from her mind, the blade shrank from sword to dagger. Another command and it became smaller, like a charm to adorn a chain on a necklace.
She was sitting at the edge of the bed, pondering two things. The first was the fascinating sword that she had somehow been buried with. The second was the strange fact that there was no sign of her family anywhere. No obituaries in the newspaper, no facebook posts, no online statements about a Tasha Sorenson being dead.
The cemetery had no records connected to her gravestone and, in fact, had been baffled to realize that, not only had she been buried in their property without notice, but also dug out of the graveyard without one caretaker noticing.
But it was still there, the coffin, the shovels, the dirt, the hole, the stone.
Everything was as she’d left it, in a quiet corner of the yard, that hadn’t been checked since the previous morning.
Mr. Sorenson’s secretary, Adam (a tall, half Native American man), had not stopped there in their investigation. He began to call the fifteen households with the name Sorenson in Small Ravine, and none of them had recently lost a relative named Tasha. Adam was now branching out to other cities like West Valley and South Salt Lake, and he apologized profusely for the fact that they couldn’t find her family quicker.
Tasha found it interesting that she couldn’t quite get herself to care about this rather large problem. Perhaps it was because she liked Mr. Sorenson after the thirty or so seconds they spent together earlier that day, or even the fact that she couldn’t remember them.
But why didn’t she want to remember them?
Her arms began to feel loose and it drew her focus. Following the random urge, she dropped to the red-colored carpet, balled up her fists, and began to perform rapid knuckle push-ups. It was tiring and she was half-surprised she could do it, but something about the exercise stimulated her brain, made it think… made her remember back to someone counting loudly to the pace she was working at.
Except it was in another language, one she couldn’t quite name.
“Moti! Tico! Rie! Cor! Shi! Nit! Kro! Far! Mel! Mot! Mit! Mie! Mor! Mih! Min! Mok! Mar! Mem! Tic!”
“Twenty,” Tasha counted softly, “twenty-one, twenty-two, tirie, ticor, tishi…” She stopped counting, out of breath, but still listened to it in her head until she was dripping with sweat, until her arms trembled, until she collapsed on the soft carpet, gasping for air.
She laid on the floor, belly-down, for a few more minutes, thinking about the counting. The voice was manly, sounded like a drill sergeant, and he yelled at her for not doing enough.
Was fifty not enough?
She’d have to do better than that if fifty wasn’t enough. Every-other day, that’s the key. Exercise, heal, repeat.
Crunches, she needed to do those, too.
Tasha sat up, tucked her feet beneath the low bed frame, and began to count her crunches, the drill sergeant counting in her head again. She listened silently until she heard a soft knock at the door.
She stopped and sat up to lean against the side of the bed, realizing she was positively dripping with sweat, wondering what the visitor’s reaction to that would be.
“Who is it?” she called.
“Mr. Sorenson,” the quiet man’s voice replied. “May I come in?”
Tasha shot up from her sitting position and looked down at her ragged white T-shirt and sweatpants. So far, she had three outfits. None of them were any good on her. “Of course!”
Sorenson opened the door and peered in at the sweaty redheaded girl. He arched his eyebrows at the glistening beads of saltwater adorning her forehead. “Well, I was coming to apologize for (A) running off right after we met and (B) having an unsuccessful day of searching for your family, but all I can say is: what have you been up to in here?”
Tasha shrugged, looking from him to her bare feet as her toes dug into the carpet. “Push-ups and crunches.”
Sorenson’s eyebrows lowered slightly and he stepped into the room, leaving the door open behind him. “Really? How come?”
Tasha shrugged. “I felt like I needed to.”
Sorenson folded his arms and a crease indented his otherwise smooth forehead. “Would you do some for me?”
Tasha nodded, balled up her fists, and dropped to the floor. Sorenson counted and admired the perfectly straight back and form. She was breathing heavily at thirty, slowing down at thirty-five, and stopped at forty-two.
She stood up at that, gasping, the large white T-shirt Adam had found for her damp with sweat.
Sorenson let out a long, low whistle. “Knuckles, at that,” he remarked, rubbing his chin. “Why knuckles?”
Tasha leaned against the bed. “The normal ones felt too easy,” she admitted after catching her breath.
Sorenson shook his head in admiration. “Very impressive. If it’s alright with you, I’d like to see your limits in a few days, after your muscles heal. I think it would be quite educational.”
Tasha nodded, brightening up just slightly. “I’m interested, too. So what brought you here other than apologies? Is your goddaughter okay?”
Dirk nodded and his hands dropped into his pockets. “Yes, she’s fine now. All done and over with. The kid gets into too much trouble for her own good. In any case, I came to talk about a different matter.” He pulled his wallet from his left pocket and extracted a picture to hand it to Tasha.
Tasha took it and recognized the girl who’d spotted the shooter earlier that day.
“This is Spruce,” Sorenson said, followed by the blunt statement: “She’s trying to kill me.”
Tasha’s eyebrows shot up. “But she saved you! I watched her do it.”
Shaking his head in disagreement, Sorenson folded his arms again and leaned back against the doorframe. “Yes. She also applied for a job in my personal security. She wants to be my bodyguard, but I can tell that she has other interests.”
“How?” Tasha asked, setting the photo on the bed.
“She got nervous when I asked her about why she was at City Hall this morning,” Dirk said, “because of this, I find it to be too coincidental to fully put my trust in her.”
So don’t hire her, then. “Then why is there a problem?” Tasha asked.
Sorenson scratched the back of his head. “I want to know who she’s scheming with,” he explained. “I want to hire her, keep her close, but it has risks that make me nervous. So I wanted to ask you, Tasha, for as long as we don’t find your parents, if you would help keep me safe.”
They met eyes and held each other’s gaze for a long, quiet moment. What Tasha earnestly wanted to say was that she didn’t care about her family, that she wanted to move on from her lost memories.
“Okay,” she agreed.
Spruce focused past the loud clanking of weight-lifting machinery and grunts. She ignored the stench of sweat and leather, tuned out everything around her but the combat mat she stood on.
It was her versus a six-foot-five man weighing in at 200 lbs. His name was Mateo.
Like lightning, he threw a punch for her head like the ex-military pro he was. She ducked the blow and went for a forward jab to the larynx. He blocked it and went to kick her left flank.
His shin made solid contact with her shoulder. Spruce felt a shock in her collarbone and was breathless when she hit the mat.
Mateo reached down to help the 90-pounds-soaking-wet girl to her feet. “You lasted longer than last time,” he teased, allowing her to steady herself against his brawny chest.
Spruce sighed irritably and popped her neck in irritation. “You’re unstoppable, Matt.” She rolled her arm to make sure her shoulder was still in place, knowing that there’d be a good bruise there tomorrow.
Mateo patted her back lightly. “You’re great with anyone else,” he complimented as she stretched herself a bit more. “I’m just more experienced than you in real combat.”
“I know,” Spruce grumbled, bending down to touch her toes and straighten out her back, “that’s why I’m going at it with you.”
A thin, limping woman waddled out from the room next to the mats labeled EMPLOYEES ONLY, looking serious, holding Spruce’s ringing phone in her hand. “It’s him,” she said seriously.
Spruce took her phone, caught her breath, and answered. “Hello, this is-”
“You’re hired,” Dirk interrupted from the other end. “Come in on Tuesday, 6:30 a.m. and be prepared to train. Hard.”
Spruce felt a strange sense of elation and disappointment. She took the phone from her ear and looked at Mateo and Mrs. Felding as she stared intensely at her.
“I got the job,” she announced.
Mateo picked her up in excitement, Mrs. Felding grinned with joy.
Spruce felt something was wrong.
Shaking uncontrollably, tossed about in the dark back seats of the strange woman’s car, his right shoulder bruising against the door as a hard left turn was made, Tristan gasped for air as a loud conversation went on in the front.
“What’s going on, Klare?” the woman with long, blonde hair demanded as the driver veered around a tight right corner.
Tristan fumbled to grab the seatbelt.
“They have Kaleb!” Klare exploded. “Is the dude in the back alive?”
Tristan, grasping the buckle now that they were on a straight road (still going 80 to 100 in the suburban neighborhoods), secured himself. “Yeah, I’m unharmed,” he looked at them and knew the answer even as he asked it. “Who are you guys?” Duh, Klare and Vanessa, stupid. He stammered to stop the onslaught of answers. “N-nevermind!”
Klare was distressed, her brother was named Kaleb, someone was holding him hostage. She wanted help, from Vanessa, because she was the only one she could trust and Vanessa could…
Tristan blinked his blue eyes. “Hurt people? Vanessa, how do you hurt people?”
Vanessa jolted in her seat and gave him a hard look, visible from street light light as they whizzed by. “How do you know my name?” she demanded.
Perhaps he shouldn’t have said that out loud. “Because you look like a Vanessa,” Tristan replied dismissively, becoming increasingly aware of his surroundings. He went to Klare, mind blurred by fear and unable to read her completely without breaking down some serious walls. “Klare, where’s your brother? What do they want?”
“Mansion,” she snapped through clenched jaws, “and nothing I’m about to give them!” Another tight turn out of the neighborhoods and onto the empty highway. “And who are you?”
Tristan was smashed against the door again. “I’m Tristan,” he winced, “I’m an ameture investigator, and I have some kind of power or ability that tells me a ton of things about a person just by looking at them!” He felt sick, pale. His mind was so jumbled and disorganized that his gift was nearly useless.
“What the heck are you talking about?” Vanessa demanded.
“What’s my favorite color?” Klare tested.
“You don’t have one,” Tristan answered, afraid for his life and unsure why, “in fact, you hate most every color. They’re distracting to you.”
“What’s my mom like?” Klare tried again, not skipping a beat.
“Absent,” Tristan said, “you refer to your dad’s new girlfriend as Mom, which says something impressive about what you know of your real mother, considering the girlfriend is an abusive meth head.”
Klare’s eyebrow twitched in the rearview mirror. “Vanessa’s parents?”
“Dead-” Tristan looked at Vanessa with sympathy, “-oh that’s sad. I’m sorry.” Then his fiery eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Oh, you don’t care, you’re doing well for yourself. But you regret just a little bit and that’s why you heal-” He cocked his head to one side, regaining his focus. She worked full-time as a merry-go-round operator in West Valley. Not a doctor or surgeon, which was to be expected.
“... Heal?” he repeated at length.
Vanessa inhaled deeply. “I hit someone, they’re healed. Someone tries to physically hurt me, they get what I took from the injured.”
“So you could cure cancer?”
“No,” Vanessa corrected sternly, “in forty-eight hours, I have to give it to someone else, otherwise it will automatically manifest itself in me and I can’t heal myself. I don’t take away injuries and obliterate them forever. I just move them around.”
Tristan was quiet for a moment as he let the words sink in. Where did these abilities come from? How weird was it that he ran into two gifted girls on the exact same night? “... Good to know,” he said at length.
Vanessa turned to Klare. “Where are we heading?”
“Mansion,” Klare said shortly.
“Who has Kaleb?” Vanessa asked.
“Some group of idiots,” Klare’s voice could have been acid. “One’s probably a client looking for easy cash and having their buddies help out. They’re outsiders, though. They called it the Wailing Mansion.”
“What outsider clients to you have?” Vanessa questioned.
“There’s somewhere around fifty outside of Utah,” Klare answered, “I can’t take the time to narrow it down. They want me there by midnight.”
“Do you have a list I can look at?” Tristan asked. “I’m good at finding people with bad motives.”
Klares’ left hand want to her lap and came back with a small notebook. “Here,” she said, tossing it to him, “try not to memorize anything.”
Tristan took the notebook and flipped through the pages. Assassin, vigilante, police officer, student, parent, teacher, office worker, gang leader…
Hopkins gang leader.
“Klare,” Tristan began carefully, “did you know Jordan Hopkins? The human trafficker?”
“Yeah,” Klare replied, “I screwed him over when I was, like, sixteen with his security system. Why?”
“Andrew Moore is one of his former partners,” Tristan replied. “His motive is revenge.”
Klare pounded the steering wheel and swore.
Vanessa sighed and sat back in her seat. “They’ll try to kill you, Klare.”
Tristan leaned forward and gave the book back to Klare. “I have a plan. You might not like it.”
“Why?” Klare demanded.
“It involves you staying back,” Tristan explained. “I mean, in the backseat, hiding so no one sees you.”
Klare was quiet, but Tristan knew that she was listening.
* * *
Vanessa was driving, Tristan was in the passenger’s seat.
The dirt road they were on was lightless, black, and so they drove with the headlights off, letting their eyes adjust to the dark, starlit desert of Utah. They were fast-approaching the gate to Mansion, and Tristan quietly stated his analysis.
“They’re behind the gate,” he saw a small lump of a human in front of the chain-link fence. “Klare, your brother is outside of the fence. He’s hurt badly, but he’s alive.”
“How many injuries does he have?” Vanessa asked.
Tristan squinted. “At least ten broken bones. They’ve beaten him up pretty good, but he’s not critical.”
Klare let out a sigh of relief from the back seat.
“What about Moore and his people?” Vanessa quizzed.
Tristan gave her a smirk. “There’s only six of them. They have firearms, semi-automatics that hold a ton of ammo.”
“I’m low on knockouts and majors,” Vanessa reminded him. “I don’t think I can survive a bullet hail right now.”
Tristan pointed at a small depression off the side of the dirt road, hidden by sagebrush and loose tumbleweeds. “Park us down there out of view for now. We’re close enough.”
Vanessa turned into the depression.
“Have they seen us yet?” Klare asked from the back.
“Yeah,” Tristan answered, “but they’re not too concerned. As far as I can tell, their mission is to shoot you as you run to check if Kaleb is okay.”
“So what do I do?” Vanessa questioned quickly. “If we’re out of sight for too long, they’ll get suspicious.”
Tristan took a pocket knife out of his jeans. “What’s your ammo count?”
Vanessa eyed the pocket knife. “Two concussions, a broken nose, and a snapped femur. What are you doing with that?”
Tristan flicked his knife out. “Heal me,” he said simply, and stabbed his right forearm right in the nerve.
The sensation was bad enough after he ripped the knife from his flesh, groaning, wincing, and trembling. The shock spread from his arm to his elbow to his shoulder. He gasped.
A force struck him in the face.
The feeling was gone.
Tears remaining from shock streamed from his eyes.
“What is wrong with you!?” Vanessa screeched.
“What did he do?” Klare asked, peeking her head up from the back.
“He just stabbed himself!” Vanessa cried, looking at Tristan with mortified eyes. “In the arm!”
Tristan examined his sticky, bloody arm, completely healed, then lifted the knife. “Again.” He stabbed himself in the other arm.
Tristan looked down at his bloody arms. “We should call this stab, slap, repeat.”
He switched arms again and she smacked him hard. Another stab and smack, then once more until she became frantic.
“Stop it!” she yelled. “What do you think you are, a masochist!?”
Klare reached over and confiscated the knife as Tristan gawked at his bloody arms, fascinated. “Wow, I feel tingles everywhere!” he exclaimed softly. He then gave Vanessa a consoling smile. “Cool power. I mean it.”
Vanessa blinked at him. “Er… thanks.”
Tristan shrugged. “No worries.” He jerked his thumb to the road. “You know what to do now.”
Vanessa nodded, pulled her jacket on over her hair, and got out of the car.
Klare shifted in the backseat to watch her friend go.
“Are you nervous?” Tristan questioned softly.
“I’d be a psychopath if I wasn’t,” Klare replied seriously.
The gunfire exploded in the night. She winced. Tristan plugged his ears and sank in his seat.
Six guns firing.
Five guns firing.
Four guns firing.
Three guns firing.
Two guns firing.
One gun firing.
Klare and Tristan hopped out of the car and dashed out into the open. Vanessa was on her knees in front of Kaleb, smacking him in front of the gates.
Tristan climbed nimbly over the chain-link fence to find six men, each one bleeding, moaning, or unconscious.
The four conscious men all looked up helplessly as Tristan confiscated their firearms, blood seeping into the ground.
Outside of the fence, Klare watched Vanessa as she finished smacking the disoriented Kaleb.
“That went well,” the solemn girl remarked.
Vanessa nodded, watching Tristan as he calmly collected the enemy’s equipment. “Stabbing both arms was smart of him,” she said quietly, “some of them tried to use the uninjured hand to shoot with once they were down.”
Klare nodded and reached out to her brother as he lay, staring wildly around at his surroundings. “I’d do the same, if I were them. You’re okay now, Kaleb. Give us a few minutes and we’ll get going. `Nessa, would you take him to the car? I’ll help Tristan clean this mess up.”
Vanessa nodded and took Kaleb’s hand as he stammered for Klare to explain what was going on. “She will in a little bit,” Vanessa said gently, pulling him towards the car, “just come this way.”
Klare climbed the fence just as nimbly as Tristan, and dropped to the ground like a cat. She spotted Andrew Moore and was glad to see he was the one with the broken femur.
Out of her pocket, she pulled a small blue pearl. “We’ll talk later.”
He met eyes with her and disappeared.
Tristan’s fiery eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Where’d he go?”
“To my prison,” Klare answered stiffly. She pointed the small pearl at one of the other men.
Poof! He was gone.
Tristan watched as she went around doing the same to the others.
“I’d like to repay you for this,” Klare said at length.
Tristan shook his head. “No, don’t worry about it. You and Vanessa saved me earlier.”
Klare gave him a hard look. “I don’t care.” She waltzed up to him and gave him her card. “Call, text, or email me if you need anything, got it?”
Tristan looked into her eyes.
Protective, Defensive, but never Offensive,
Hold your Tongue because you're still Young,
But be Bold because you are Old,
And at the same time, please do what you're Told.
The cold wind from outside blasted my face as I rolled down the driver’s side window. “Natalia!” I called.
Natalia stopped and turned to look at me blankly. She was walking down a dark, empty street covered in snow, dressed in a white T-shirt and long baggy jeans. The forecast for today said that the morning temperatures would be subzero. Just by rolling down the window, I could tell the weather people were right.
I was driving to school for the first time since the lockdown. Apparently, it had been labeled the “Demon Lockdown” by the media. The school paper was having a field day with Ace’s garbled story about how everyone in the locker room went insane, and another story about Jetta Hansen becoming a fire demon, and another third story about the hallways turning completely black with what was described by students and teachers alike as the “Devil’s Shadow”. Predictions showed that not many students would come back to school. Articles online said that all of the cowards were moving to Granger and Taylorsville.
The outcry to shut down Owens High was greater than ever.
Of course, the district had no other place to put the remaining 900 students that remained. Granger was a popular school and nearly filled to the brim with people already, as were Taylorsville, Hunter, and Kearns. Hillcrest was too far away, and the others were so out of reach that they were also out of the question.
Owens High stayed.
Natalia looked at me without a word on the sidewalk.
“It’s freezing!” I said, leaning an arm on the window sill. “Get in here!”
Obediently, she walked around the car with swift, sure steps, and got in the passenger’s seat.
I rolled up my window, shifted to drive, and started scolding her out immediately. “Who picks out your clothes in the mornings!? What are you trying to do, die of hypothermia?”
“No,” Natalia answered, staring at the dark, slick road ahead of us.
I continued with skepticism. “You certainly seem like you’re trying to! I know you have coats and jackets. Heck! I gave you one of mine, so why don’t you wear them?”
“They’re too hot,” Natalia said bluntly.
“They won’t kill you like the cold will, Tal!” I paused, liking the nickname, then continued with more gentle tones. “At least wear my hoodie from now on, okay?”
I let out a sigh of relief that fogged up the windshield and turned up the heat in the car. I noted her backpack sitting on the floor in front of her legs. “How long have you been going to Owens High?”
“Two days,” her voice was soft against the roaring air conditioning system. I noticed that she hadn’t looked at me since she got in the car.
“Are you mad at me or something?” I asked, thinking back to the last time we saw each other.
Not a speck of yellow in her eyes as I watched her say it. We fell into silence for five minutes before she drew breath to speak again.
“How did you make them go crazy?”
I blinked and swerved on the road, surprised she was still on this one. “What?” I questioned innocently. “Make who go crazy?”
“Last week,” Natalia said with a steely deliberance, “with your cousin. The lockdown drill.”
“That was just a plain old lockdown,” I corrected, “a drill is practicing a lockdown, just in case.”
“But what did you do?” Natalia persisted solemnly.
“I sat on the floor and went to my happy place like a coward,” I said blatantly. “I don’t know what made them go crazy.”
“Either you’re lying or you’re an idiot,” Natalia remarked icily.
“I prefer the later,” I shrugged, “I was panicking as much as Ace was.”
“You had enough sense to have me lock them in with us,” she reminded.
We stopped at a red light. “I thought detaining them would give the school some time to react and prepare,” I defended lightly.
“You had Ace bring out his bow and didn’t have him use it,” she pointed out.
Geez, this was becoming an interrogation. “Ace panics in the dark,” I said, “and he’s a great shot when he can see. I needed to keep him feeling safe so he didn’t freak out, get caught, and get shot.”
“You passed out afterwards,” she added.
“I was in shock. I’ve never been so close to death before.”
Natalia turned her head as the light turned green and I kept going. She looked at me for a long time, until we parked in the school’s parking lot.
We both got out of the car. “What’s your schedule?” I asked casually.
I choked and turned to look at her grim face. “What!?”
Natalia started walking towards the school building. “I wanted to stay close to you,” she explained briefly.
I gawked at her, my feet firmly planted on the ground. “Let me guess, because I’m the only one you know?”
O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O
I took Natalia home with me because the trees told me to. I didn’t really feel comfortable with it, but they said Connifer told them to do it, and that message from my trusty yard tree was enough to make it happen.
So, first thing out of fourth period, I pulled Natalia aside and she looked up at me with innocent curiosity.
“Yes?” she urged, speaking above the noise of the other students as they filed out of the classroom.
“Would you come home with me?” I asked.
There was a pause. I knew that she knew how out-of-character it was, probably better than I did, for me to just ask for her company. Heck, I’d scolded her out about her schedule being identical to mine just this morning.
I felt myself deflate a little, losing patience for the question. I pinched the bridge of my nose in agitation. “Because if you’re gonna stalk me, you’re gonna do it where I can see you. That’s why.”
Natalia let out a little grunt that caught me off guard. Her lips lifted, revealing a small, faint smile.
I stared at it, shocked, for the split second it was there, until it suddenly disappeared. “Okay,” her voice was higher than the usual dull tone. “I’ll go with you.”
Relieved, I led the way out to my car. Natalia sat in the passenger’s seat and looked around with wide eyes as we silently exited the parking lot. Driving from block to block, we eventually reached my house after fifteen minutes of silence.
A green pickup truck was parked in front of my curb. I felt a small, sick feeling sink into my stomach and parked behind it. My dad’s pickup truck. He was here to scold me out or yell at me or…
Wait, different license plate number.
My trembling hands relaxed, I exhaled, Natalia looked at me from my peripheral vision.
Shady interrupted my train of thought. “Don’t alert him to your presence.”
‘Him?’ I asked silently, the knots tightening in my stomach. I didn’t see anyone present in the truck, so where could this person possibly be?
“There’s a burglar in your house.”
I swore softly and Natalia jumped on the sidelines. I turned to her. “Someone’s broken into my house.”
Natalia looked at my house, in the direction of my balcony, which was blocked by Shady’s thick, blueish needles. “Really?” She asked it like I’d just said a mildly interesting new fact.
“Yup,” I said, attempting to gather my wits, “I’m positive.”
You live in Small Ravine, Utah, I told myself to calm my own anxiety, this isn’t as bad as October when the clowns came out. You’re fine, you’re safe, you have Natalia who can kick Alexander Hopkins’ butt.
“You’re panicking,” Natalia’s voice reverberated quietly through the fear, “that’s bad.”
I let a pent-up breath hiss out through my teeth. “You’re right.”
“Should we call the police?” Natalia asked, her hands folded calmly in her lap.
I patted my pockets for my cell phone, only to remember I had left it in my bedroom that morning in my rush to go to school again. “No phone. You?”
Natalia shook her head.
I thought of all the valuables in my house as I sifted through my backpack, looking for my taser or even my phone, just in case I left it in my bag.
I found a weapon at the very bottom, feeling a shock run up my spine as I gripped the cold metal handle and pulled a silver revolver out of my backpack!
A thousand thoughts flashed through my head. Many of them questioned the logic, a few of them frantically pointed out that I’d somehow inadvertently brought a weapon to school with me today, and then the elephant in the room was how I even got a revolver, loaded, in my backpack.
Natalia cocked her head to one side, the casual tone in her voice giving me chills. “I didn’t realize you kept that.”
“Kept it!?” I exclaimed, my shaking fingers examining the lethal weapon as carefully as possible. “Where did I even get it!?”
Natalia carefully took the gun from my hands and examined it herself. “I gave it to you during the lockdown. To protect yourself with.”
I remembered the moment, remembered the steel being jammed into my fingers. I remembered shoving my taser into my backpack, maybe I’d put the gun in with it.
“Use it!” Shady urged. “This is important that you face off with him!”
The trees were panicking, too. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves and gather my courage, then took the revolver from Natalia. “Do you want my taser?” I asked her quickly.
Natalia blinked. “What is a taser?”
I looked at her for a long three seconds. “Okay. You need to show me the rock you’ve been living under when this is over.” I pulled my taser from the front pocket of my backpack and turned the safety off.
Natalia flinched as the electricity arched between the barbs.
“That’s a taser,” I answered. “You take these barbs, push this button, and shove it into the other guy’s skin. It disables him. Do you want it?”
Natalia took the taser, examined it, and nodded. “Okay. We’re not locking him in with us like the lockdown, are we?”
I shook my head. “Either we make a citizen’s arrest, or we smoke him out.”
Natalia’s brow furrowed slightly, but she didn’t say anything for a minute. I raised my eyebrows at her. “Is something wrong? I know you don’t have much of an issue with danger.”
Natalia shook her head and the befuddled expression cleared. “No,” she said with certainty, “let’s do this.”
We got out of the car, Natalia went for my balcony, her feet crunching across the snow in my yard, which meant I was going in through the front door. I took the revolver in hand and found the door unlocked, open slightly, our doormat key protruding from the deadbolt lock.
Looks like we’re moving that key’s hiding place now.
I pushed open the door and cleared the up and down stairs stairwells in front of me, gun at the ready, then turned right to the living room and cleared that. I turned around, cleared the kitchen, then looked up the stairwell leading to Mom’s room, the office, my room, and the bathroom. Natalia should have come out of my bedroom by this point. The only place to hide in there was my closet.
I moved upstairs, checked the bathroom and Mom’s room (both next to each other), then quietly crept down the hall and checked the office.
The squeak of a floorboard beneath the carpet sounded from my room. I automatically knew it wasn’t Natalia’s soft, catlike feet making that noise. I sucked in a deep breath and pushed the door open.
The scene was Natalia standing on the other end of the room next to the glass balcony doors, perfectly still with the taser in her hand. On my end of the room stood a man a little under six feet tall. His hair was red and badly cut short, despite the fact that he was wearing a black suit and tie. He was holding a pistol, aiming for Natalia, shuffling slowly towards her.
He wanted her alive for now, hadn’t seen me yet.
“Okay,” he said quietly, holding one hand out to her, “put down the taser.”
I cocked the revolver and stepped into the room. “Put down the gun first, unless you want a bleeding hole in your head.”
The man froze, hearing the click of the gun, and didn’t turn around.
Natalia’s eyes flicked to me. “Lacy-”
I interrupted her, talking to the man first. “Put the gun down,” I repeated sternly.
The man didn’t move. “You’re Lacy Willis, then?”
“Put your gun down now!” I said, raising my voice. “Put it down or give it to her.”
His arm moved forward, Natalia took the pistol. His hands raised above his head. “You should really hear me out-”
“Tough tortillas,” I snapped. “Sit in the desk chair.”
He turned the chair around and sat in it, facing both of us now. I could see his face for the first time. A ton of freckles, like me, but blue eyes. Natalia trained her new weapon on him, turning the safety off. I went to my closet, pulled out a spare roll of duct tape, and turned around to look at the two of them. Natalia’s hands were shaking, the man was calm. I took the gun from her and handed her the tape. “Tape him to that chair.” It was a power play tactic to give her an extra boost of confidence.
Natalia looked at me with large, black eyes, almost helplessly.
The man laughed. “Who would have thought that thing could be scared?” He said it more to himself than as a taunt to her.
I turned and closed the open balcony door as Natalia began to firmly tape the man to his chair. The silence that pursued unnerved me.
Looking back into the room, I watched Natalia as she retreated behind me, then my eyes landed on him.
He stared back at me with a soft smirk on his face. Meeting eyes, I could hear his name reverberate in my head as clear as day. I realized with a sense of relief that his mind was open, his consciousness was wide open, and I could crack into it with just a little substance abuse.
His eyes followed me intensely as I walked over to him, and he was startled as I quickly opened my caffeine drawer on my desk, grabbed a 2 liter bottle of Mountain Dew, and a plastic cup. I took a swig straight from the bottle, then poured the soda to the brim of the cup and drank it all.
My mind began to buzz with hyperactivity. I’d been laying off the sodas for the past few days so that I could get back to a decent sleeping schedule.
I locked eyes with the man again and felt my lips curl in a smirk. “It’s not very often you get to meet two gingers in the same room, Tristan.”
I could see what he wanted. Natalia. He was working to catch her and take her- he didn’t know where -but he knew she was wanted by someone. Alive. I raised my eyebrows as he demanded to know how I knew his name. I had to listen to him. Natalia was dangerous.
But I wasn’t listening to him, an animal instinct was taking over me, as I remembered the little girl from my mirror.
Natalia shifted nervously on the edge of my peripheral vision.
I didn’t waste time, delving into his memories.
He came into my house with the doormat key because he had a feeling. I removed the feeling. He stopped his truck on the curb. I inserted because he had a headache and needed to rest his eyes for a moment.
Tristan was struggling against his bindings, screaming at me to stop. He knew exactly what I was doing.
I took everything from him, what happened in the house, finding Natalia, me coming into the room with them. Then I set a list of things in his mind, sort of like timed alarms. The first thing I did was switch his brain to REM mode, so that he would stop struggling so loudly. This paralyzed his body, except for his mouth.
“Don’t hurt me! Don’t hurt me! Don’t hurt me!” he cried as I stripped the tape from his arms and torso.
The list was specific:
Tristan cried out in terror.
“You don’t know what you’re doing!” he screamed. “She’s dangerous! You don’t even know where she’s from-!”
I disabled his left frontal lobe to shut him off. I looked into his blue, sparkling, wide eyes and felt only coldness towards him. He felt it, I felt it overwhelmingly. I caught a glimpse of myself, an image of me from his quivering mind, a glare from my knitted red eyebrows and closed lips.
“She came from the mirror,” I told him, “and you’re right. She is dangerous. She can disarm twelve people with semi-automatic weapons in the dark. She can beat up one of the most capable Terrors in the school. She can follow you anywhere and everywhere.” His eyes were flicking from her to me.
“She is deadly and intimidating,” I continued, feeling a small tremor of anger strum its tune inside of me, “and she makes me uncomfortable. I dream of her, she follows me everywhere, she makes the people around us nervous as well.
“But you’re wrong about one single thing, Tristan,” I told him, my voice rising, “I can see it in you! I can see how you see her like an animal, a demon, and a weapon. You’re disgusting for it! She’s a human being! She sees, hears, touches, tastes, and smells like a human! She moves, she talks, she breathes like I do. Don’t think for one second that, as her friend, I will not defend her from people like you!”
But is she your friend? Tristan asked in his silent thoughts. You don’t know anything about her.
I could feel Natalia close to me, still behind me.
“I don’t need to,” I told him strictly. “I don’t need to know where she comes from to care. I just know who she is.”
He was silent, afraid of my anger. He could feel the temper behind the walls of my mind, emanating heat through our connection. I had all the power. He didn’t know what exactly I’d done to him. He didn’t know what I’d use my power for.
I towered over him, my hands shaking in defense for my friend. Such an intimate connection with this man, yet little to no sympathy for him. It wasn’t healthy for either of us.
My voice became a hiss of hatred as I crouched slightly to meet him eye-to-eye. His lips were pursed tightly together, holding a scream back that would never escape him.
“You will not remember this when I’m done with you,” I muttered, “but, for the rest of your life, you will remember this anger that I hold for you, and the fear it gives you, and it will never - ever - leave the back of your head. You will never forget this moment of powerlessness. You will never dream of anything but this terror, and, for the rest of your life, you’ll be asking yourself where it came from.”
He was breathing heavily, fighting me in vain.
I stood up and took a swift step back before I could hit him like I so desperately wanted to. “Get out of my house.”
Tristan stood up. I took his gun, switched the safety back on, and stuck it in the holster beneath his black suit jacket. He walked out of my bedroom. I listened to the squeak of the hall’s floorboards beneath his feet. The clop of his shiny black shoes as they thudded rhythmically down the stairs. The creak and whoosh! of the front door as he left the house.
I inhaled deeply through my nose, then let it out in a piercing whistle that echoed against my bare, white bedroom walls.
Turning around, I found that Natalia had slowly backed up into the corner of the room during the course of the brain wipe. Her black eyes were big and helpless. Her pale lips quivered from the intensity of the moment. Her hands trembled at her sides, balled into fists so that her nails dug into her palms. I couldn’t tell what she was more terrified of: me or Tristan?
“Natalia…” I said quietly.
She let out a small gasp as she began to breathe again. “Ak naisoti!” she exclaimed. “Ak norai tiado hei liann utinn qol!”
I didn’t understand what she was saying, but I knew she was upset. I was upset.
“It’s okay, Natalia,” I told her, my arm extending to test her fear.
She reached forward and held my hand, her fingers shaking and cold.
We stood there and I began to talk to her. “You’re safe with me, Natalia,” I said. “You’re gonna be okay. Just stay close to me and I’ll protect you.”
Natalia’s eyes scrunched shut and she shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said, her hand loosening against mine. “I’m so, so sorry.”
I squeezed her hand tighter. “There’s no reason for that.”
Natalia shook her head more vigorously. “I brought him here.”
“I don’t care,” I said bluntly.
Natalia opened her eyes and there was something wild about her demeanor as she yanked her hand from my grasp. “What’s wrong with you!?” she bursted.
The explosion was unexpected. I shut my mouth. We stared at each other.
“...What do you mean?” I asked at length.
Natalia’s face was the most animated I’d seen it. She looked down at her hand, the one she’d torn away from mine. Her forehead, normally smooth and unreadable, was now covered in lines of stress and worry. Her mouth was open, allowing a better way of hyperventilating. Panic attack? No. She was gaining her control again.
“You’re so kind to me,” she said, folding her arms across her stomach. “Why?”
I remembered the dream. The dream that had been gnawing on me since I’d had it. I knew full well why my tolerance had extended this far with her.
“Because I remember you,” I told her. “I remember the night you came out of the mirror.”
Some people think a rule is like a trench in the desert.
An old man sits on the higher side of the trench
They see a hole for people to tall in, a ditch to cross, an obstacle for people to face.
They see hard terrain, sharp rocks, and thorns at the bottom.
“Who put these here!?” they holler as they rip their clothes free of the bushes.
“What idiot filled this thing with gravel!?” they holler as they trip and slide up and down the slopes.
“Don’t go there,” the elderly man whispers from the top.
What they don’t know is that it’s not a trench.
It’s not meant to be climbed into,
It’s not meant to build bridges over.
The other side, lower than the man’s side, is not meant for visitors.
Rain and hail plummet from the sky.
Thunder erupts through the desert.
Those who were caught in the ditch are swept away by floods and drown.
The bridges collapse.
The elderly man watches with gray eyes as, on the other side of the mote, the sharks swim down from the ocean to devour those who traveled past.
Those on the other side are annihilated, they couldn’t get back to the dry side in time.
The elderly man watches the sharks swim with idle curiosity and waits for the storm to pass.
In the course of recent events, I feel like we are no longer on the same page. You used to be quite useful and creative, but now you’ve become an abusive, overbearing, needy tyrant to my life. One needs sleep from time-to-time, and good sleep, too. I need it, my parents need it, and, quite frankly, you’re disturbing my entire household nightly. This must stop.
I have a right to feel safe. I have a right to rest my mind and live happily as a result. I have a right to look forward to the hours of sleep I’m allowed every night. I have a right to know that, when I step out of the shower and slip on my pajamas, I will sleep peacefully and happily. I have a right to know that when I take my melatonin and nestle up to my stuffed bunny that you won’t be there.
You, earnestly, do your best to torment me. You beat me in the night when I can’t move. On your own turf I am defenseless as you rape me. You scare me. You draw me in only to force me into the furnace of afflictions, putting me high in the air to drop me. Putting me underground to lie in a coffin, trapped. You seep into the darkness, when the sun doesn’t shine, and I was fine with that.
You in my sleep, that was bound to happen. You would visit occasionally, whether I invited you or not. That was okay, I could deal with that. But then you came more and more often, until it was almost every night. You couldn’t relinquish your hold on me, couldn’t let go, couldn’t wait till the next night. In fact, you started to come more sharply, your touch became acrid, your gentle destruction became violent. So violent, in fact, was your touch, that you woke me from my stupor and I began to scream, and nothing could save me from you. You held tight to me, and couldn’t let go, and followed me into reality.
Enough! Be gone, you’re not welcome here. I never want to see you again, you terror, the filth of my own creation. Nicotine, that’s what you are! I accepted you without a second thought, my mind sucking to you as you leeched from me my energy, my life, my love! Our nights together are over, you’ve overstayed your welcome.
Until we never see each other again, good-bye to you, my nightmares.
Shadow Travelers are odd individuals.
At least, that’s what the man who found my ability as a Treespeaker said. We’d been walking through a busy street in Oregon when we spotted my first Shadow Traveler ever. Mr. Ogden had been adamant when he said the phrase. He’d explained to me that Shadow Travelers were rarely found to not be causing trouble, weren’t prone to simply stand by without affecting the outcome of whatever they were watching. They had to be involved, had to be moving around, had to be in the center of the issue, tampering with others’ secrets and vices. They were either on the good side of the law or the bad - and most of them on the bad.
Thinking about Lexis, as I rocked back and forth on my heels, waiting for her to come from the library in the empty city, I found myself wondering which side of the law she was on. It didn’t take more than fifty seconds of curious thoughts before Lexis walked back outside. She wasn’t frantic, but she wasn’t calm, either. I could see the skin between her eyebrows crease in a canyon of anxiety, the fixation of her jaw as it clenched.
“Do you know who Dirk Sorenson is?” she asked me, reappearing out of the shadows with an alarming amount of noise that interrupted my quiet thoughts.
There couldn’t be that many Dirks running around Small Ravine. I’d never heard the name before Megan mentioned it in the locker room. I nodded and, despite the sudden upset behavior, explained how I knew the name. “That’s the name of the guy I heard was distracting the Three Terrors out here in Mansion.”
Lexis did a double-take in shock, then stared at me incredulously. “Why didn’t you mention that was his name?” she asked.
I shrugged. “We were just having a normal conversation when the topic came up. You didn’t know?”
Lexis adjusted her sunglasses and began to pace back and forth, her hands clasped behind her back, as if she were bound. “Well he’s down there with them,” she told me after a moment of silence.
“Well that’s why we should go down there and tell them what he’s doing,” I suggested, “is Jessica Marge in there with them? She’s a Shadow Traveler, too. She could help us get them the message and we can let them tear Dirk apart by themselves.”
I thought it was a fairly solid plan, but Lexis shook her head and pinched the bridge of her nose. “I know him personally,” she admitted, “his agenda doesn’t match bringing them out here so that criminals could shoot out the school.”
Okay, new development. “How close are you?” I asked. “What makes you so sure?”
“Think what you will about the word Godfather,” Lexis asserted, “and he’s a high-ranking member of OWEN, a Haunter. He’s been friends with my dad since they were in high school. He wouldn’t endanger me like that, nor would he endanger the school. His interests are his job and his friends.”
I pursed my lips as a thousand theories buzzed in my mind. Either Dirk was on our side and had been mislead, blackmailed, or ignorant of the consequences of his actions, or he was a criminal mastermind hidden deep in the roots of the government organization OWEN, a large group of people who studied the supernatural. The question was how do discern the difference. Could there be some way to tell what side he was on without letting Alexander know what I’d heard? If he was a seriously bad dude who actually was behind the attack, I would have no issue with the idea of the Terrors ripping him to pieces.
However, merely suggesting that he could possibly have betrayed them was a good way to put him six feet under. The Terrors were violent, and if Dirk was just an innocent dude doing his job, then telling them what we’d found would be a very bad idea.
“We’ll have to read the terrain,” I said, shrugging away some of the stiff coldness in my arms. “Let’s go, before they look out and think we’re trouble.”
Lexis grinned, calming down abruptly. “Good to know you’re ready to start.” She turned on her heels, striding back up to the building and disappearing from view once she hit the shadow beneath the library door.
I walked up to the door as she appeared on the other side and opened it for me. I entered the dusty library, full of books that had been new in the nineties, but were now old and musty. There was a faint stink of damp mold mingling with the dust, something about rotting wood and paper that made me shudder. Lexis laughed at the cringe.
“You’re just like the rest of my family,” she commented, shaking her head, perhaps in fondness.
Before I had a chance to react, she whipped around and rapped her knuckles crisply on a door to a side room, where a light glowed beneath the crack. I stared at it. Someone on the other side swore loudly and footsteps ascended to our level. “Who is it?” Alexander’s angry voice asked.
Lexis smirked. “Your conscience. We haven’t spoken in a while.”
I snorted in good humor. For a weirdo, she certainly seemed to have wit.
Alexander swung open the door, revealing the top of a staircase. His hard look softened immediately upon looking at the brown-haired girl, nearly a foot shorter than him, grinning like a clown.
“Lexis,” he said, looking almost relieved, “thank goodness.” His big lime-green eyes landed on me and he started back. “What’s she doing here?”
“Lexis?” the voice came from down below at the bottom of the stairs.
Lexis leaned to the side to peer around Alexander. “Dirk, you and I need to talk. Right now.” Her manner had grown serious, the smile disappearing from her face as quickly as it had come. Her voice was strict, cracking like a whip.
Perhaps she was bipolar.
An additional set of steps clopped their way up the stairs and a man about as tall as Alexander showed himself in the tiny space I could see. I believed he was part Latino, but I couldn’t tell for sure. “What’s going on?” he questioned, casting a glance in my direction.
Lexis looked at Alexander. “A little privacy, please? We need to work something out.”
Alexander’s eyebrows rose high on his forehead. He stared at Lexis in near-disbelief. “Why?”
“None of your business,” she said crisply, reaching past him and grabbing Dirk’s hand, “I need to have a chat with my godfather right now, okay?”
Dirk was forcibly yanked out of the doorway and pulled into the top floor of the library. He gave Lexis a small smile of fondness and squeezed her shoulders. “It’s okay, Alexander, go back down and keep going without me. I’ll be down in a second, I’m sure.”
Alexander’s jaw had dropped at the title “godfather” and he shook his head in surprise to clear it. “You two know each other?”
“Yes, you could say that,” Lexis said sarcastically.
Alexander’s eyes lingered for a moment on me, then stared at Dirk, then he shook his head again and grabbed the doorknob to close it. “Okay, you weirdos.”
The door clicked shut. Dirk looked at Lexis with raised eyebrows. “I thought your father banned you from this case. What’s happening?”
Lexis looked to me. “Lacy, tell him what you heard in the locker room during the lockdown.”
Dirk turned and looked at me. “The locker room? Are you that Treespeaker kid that pulled that great hallucination?”
I shrugged, feeling uncomfortable. “Yes, I am,” I confirmed.
Dirk reached out his hand, gesturing for a handshake. “You’re pretty incredible, I doubt Lexis’ dad could do better than that.”
I shook his hand, and found his grip firm. “Thanks,” I said, coming up with a quick strategy to move the topic along. “Are you acquainted with a Megan Tailoulou, by chance?”
We stopped the handshake and he nodded. “Yeah, I know Megan. She works for me.”
“Do you know where she is right now?” I questioned.
“Home sick, last I heard,” Dirk replied, looking confused, “why are you asking about her?”
“Because she wasn’t home sick,” I told him, “she made a suggestion to you at the beginning of the week to have a meeting with the Terrors here in Mansion. Is that correct?”
Dirk looked from me to Lexis. “What kind of ambush is this?” he asked her.
Lexis stood firmly. “Answer the question, Dirk.”
“How does she know that?” he asked Lexis.
I cut in, feeling power from Lexis’ strength in backup. “Because Megan said so in the locker room of Owens High during the lockdown just before I began causing hallucinations,” I said, gaining his attention, “are you in league with her?”
Dirk’s mouth fell open. That was all Lexis needed.
Her face split into a grin and she gave her godfather a hug. “We’ll take that as a no! Thanks, Dirk, you can go back to Alexander now. By the way, I think you need Tristan back for that hiring process. You’re horrible at reading people.”
She spun on her heel and flew out of the building. I followed directly behind her and we went to our cars, leaving the shocked businessman in the dust. “That’s all we needed to do?” I yawned, realizing suddenly how tired I was. I’d stayed up half of the night by now, since 1:30 in the morning. Looking at my watch, I was surprised that it was already 6:30.
“Yeah, that’s all,” Lexis said, “you did great. Thanks for coming with me.”
“No prob,” I sighed, then got into my car, plugged my key in the ignition, and drove off, getting an uncomfortable knot in my stomach.
Something felt very wrong with today. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but there was a bad feeling settling in my stomach. Even when I was out of Mansion, I felt a nasty sense of foreboding beginning to weaken my exhausted mind. The Diet Coke gave me some fuel, but not enough to clear my head.
Driving down towards the freeway, I felt myself in my exhaustion begin to slip into sleep…
I was in the right lane, when someone stepped out onto the road ahead of me. At first, I thought it was just a jaywalker and slowed down slightly to let them pass. Then, mortified, I realized that they were just standing in the road, and that I was coming on them faster than I should have been. Without checking my mirrors, I slammed the breaks and gasped as I lurched forward.
I swore loudly, unbuckled my seatbelt, and got out of the vehicle. “Natalia!” I screamed at the sullen, black-eyed girl. “What are you doing!?”
Lexis’ silver Chevrolet drove past us on the vacant country road.
Natalia didn’t say a word. How she got out here was beyond me. I jerked my head, which throbbed with sleepiness, towards the car. “Get in that thing! Didn’t I drop you off?”
Natalia walked over to the passenger’s side door and got in the car, maintaining her silence. I stood outside in front of the car, pinching the bridge of my nose and rubbing my forehead to de-stress, my hands shaking at the thought of running someone over with my car, especially at the thought of hitting Natalia.
I leaned against the hood of the car and crossed my arms over my chest, the cold biting through my body tissues and gnawing on my bones.
There was something about her, something that triggered my kindness strings. The idea of hurting her wore me thin almost immediately. I couldn’t stand the thought. My fists shaking, I pulled at my hair. Breathing heavily, I walked back to the driver’s seat of the car and climbed inside. Natalia’s eyes didn’t waver from my face, which must have been a wreck.
We sat in silence for a long time before I placed my hands on the steering wheel, hit the gas, and started driving.
O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O
I dropped Natalia off at the same place I had before without a word. Natalia slowly got out of the car after I stopped at the curb. Unbuckling her seatbelt, she looked at me, then looked at the door, then looked at me again. I didn’t look back at her directly, staring ahead and watching the pale girl out of the corner of my eye.
She looked at the door handle, grasped it, and stared at me again.
Yes, Natalia, I want you to leave and stay away from me. Following me will only hurt you at this rate.
Natalia looked back at the door, opened it and got out, looked inside at me again, and closed it. She watched me as she walked around the front of the car and into the abandoned building. I shifted gears and drove back home to Mom’s house.
On the way there, my phone rang. It was Dad.
I put it on speaker. “Yo?”
“Where are you?” he demanded gruffly.
“Going back to Mom’s house,” I answered honestly. “I went to the mountains, I left a note.”
“That doesn’t give you an excuse to just run away,” he scolded, “I wanted to talk to you about moving schools. You’re going to Granger, we’re moving you.”
I scoffed, feeling my face burn as my cheeks turned red. “Um, no, you’re not.”
“Now, don’t get snotty with me!” he thundered on the other end. “Come to my house and we’ll talk about it.”
“If I go to school at Granger, I’ll be around you all the time,” I said, “and I don’t want to be around you all the time. Mom’s nicer, doesn’t drink, and doesn’t have a girlfriend that smokes weed.”
“We’ve already decided on it.”
“No, you haven’t,” I said, pulling into the driveway of my house. “Mom wouldn’t make that decision without me. Unless by we you mean you and your girlfriend.”
“Get your butt over to my house, or I’ll pick you up from Mom’s,” he said angrily.
“Lacy, I am still your father!”
“Funny, you should have thought about that before you decided to not help provide for the family and sit on your butt all day,” I said bluntly, rubbing at the headache beneath my forehead. “I provide more support than you did.”
“Lacy Melissa Johansson!”
“My last name is Willis.” I got out of the car and walked up to the house as a flood of swearing ensued from the other end. Walking into the front door, Mom was sitting, alarmed in the kitchen. I set the phone on the counter, covered the speaker and rubbed my eyes with my free hand.
Mom stood from the table. “What’s going on?” she asked quietly.
“Dad and his dumb blonde girlfriend think they can just pick me up and move me to Granger,” I whispered to her, “I’ve barely slept, I’m running on Coke fumes, and I can’t handle this right now. Could you please tell him to not?”
She nodded, gave me a hug, and took the phone from the counter.
I walked upstairs to my room, her voice trailing up to my ears.
“Would you shut up for three seconds, Brian!”
Swearing ensued and I closed my door, dropped to the floor, and dragged my blanket over my head.
O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O O_O
I was five years old. I remember because I was excited for the next day of kindergarten. I was still living in Utah.
Just lying in my bed, I remember, a protective ring of stuffed animals surrounding me. With my back to the rest of the room, I faced the wall, stared at the blue paint, waiting and wishing for sleep to come. Unconsciously, I began to yawn and my eyes began to droop. A fiery red braid dropped over my face and woke me up from my doze.
I opened my eyes and turned over on my bed, turning my back to the wall now…
Something was peering over the long edge of my mattress, just beside my pillow.
I became fully alert.
It was pale and dark-haired. Long, spindly fingers with pointed nails clung to the edge of my blanket. Its deep, cavernous black eyes widened, its mouth opened just slightly.
With child logic, I closed my eyes and opened them again, to wake up from the dream.
It was still there.
Terror shot through my five-year-old frame and my thoughts flew from hostilities to olive branches. Maybe it was friendly, I thought, knowing it would be rude to scream if the thing was friendly. I extended my childish peace treaty.
“Hi,” I said quietly.
“Hi,” it replied. Its voice was monotone and cracked and dry.
I sat up and it watched me do so. Seeing the rest of its body, I found it was wearing a skirt and a white long-sleeved shirt.
It was a she.
She wasn’t doing anything particularly frightening to me, just staring, her face blank and unreadable.
“Why are you in my room?” I asked, unwilling to invoke the wrath of the strange girl by screaming for my parents.
As I spoke, she moved her lips in accordance with mine. When I finished the sentence, she closed her mouth and continued her level gaze.
That was when I saw the collar. It was dark black and blended into her long, tight curls for hair, and I saw a rope draping down her back, leading into the mirror hanging on my closet door. It was like she’d crawled out of it.
“Are you stuck?” I asked, only thinking really of the collar.
Her mouth moved with mine, but she didn’t answer.
I slowly moved forward and climbed off of my bed. Her eyes followed me like a quiet puppy as I went and touched the coarse rope. I looked at her black eyes. “Do you want this off?”
No answer, but, just in case, I backed away and crept out my bedroom door. I ghosted down the hall, snuck into the kitchen, and silently opened the junk drawer where we kept the scissors. Taking the red handles in both of my little hands, I tiptoed back up to my room to find it empty.
I looked everywhere, calling softly through the small, dimly-lit room for thirty minutes with no sign of life.
She was gone.
She sat in the chair outside of his office, staring at the small tattooed letters on her fingertips. Her head lifted to look at the gaunt reflection in the mirror on the other side of Dirk Sorenson’s waiting room. Spruce lifted her hand to tuck a stray strand of dark hair behind her ear.
Tight bun, crisply-ironed white skirt, official long-sleeved black vest, black high heels. One step above what she’d be working in if she got this job, just like her financial literacy teacher taught. She had to get this job, or else her plan would be set back by months. Her associates would have to plant someone else. She would have trained all this time for nothing. What she’d staged would be useless, the fake assassination attempt would have been in vain, her comrade’s death would have been for nothing.
She needed this job.
His secretary, clearly more of a bald body builder guard than a secretary, looked over at her from the computer on his desk set in the waiting room and nodded. “He’s ready for you, Miss Maine,” he said with a kind smile.
Spruce stood up and flashed him her best grin. “Thank you. Wish me luck!”
He nodded and watched her all the way to the door. With a deep breath, Spruce looked up at the lavish-looking door, made of golden hardwood, knocked twice, and opened it, not wanting to look too forward.
And there Dirk Sorenson was, she saw him as she peeped into the room, calling his name, playing the awkward and awed, yet cheerful, applicant. Sorenson looked up from some paperwork, something confidential, undoubtedly, since he immediately stashed it away into his file cabinet and called for her to come in and sit down.
Now she became confident in her manner, displaying that she could be confident as she grinned and stood straight in her walk to the chair in front of his desk. They shook hands before she sat down, Spruce being sure to give him a firm handshake.
He pulled her application from a separate file cabinet as she scanned the room quickly with her eyes. Plain room, several book cases on each wall, the walls were painted white, there was a tall statue in every corner, each statue one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. They stood on top of boxes about four feet tall, proclaiming their names and accomplishments.
There was one window that displayed a small training arena to her right. The window took up most of the wall, clearly plexiglass or else assassinating him with a sniper rifle wouldn’t be so difficult.
He was serious as they went through the simple questions reserved for the beginning of all average interviews. “What position are you applying for again?”
“Junior Security Officer, Sir.”
“And your experience in this area is…?”
“I worked for a private bodyguard company for my first two years out of high school, Sir.”
“Yes, I see that,” he said, tapping her application thoughtfully with his fingers, “you specialize in unarmed combat. What made you decide to leave Private Guard for this position?”
“I found I wasn’t being challenged enough, Sir.”
Sorenson looked up at her from the application form. “Challenges are all we deal with here, Miss Maine. Are you accustomed to traveling?”
“I can’t say I’m a frequent traveler,” Spruce said honestly, “my jobs have mostly been in Utah. However, I do have a passport and am not prone to sea or airsickness.”
Sorenson looked back down at the application as if she’d never answered him. “You saw that man with the gun earlier today. If you had an appointment, why were you around when I was arriving at City Hall?”
Spruce was sort of miffed by the lack of gratitude, however remembered that she’d likely be killing him, herself, in the end. “I was walking to the mall when I saw you. I wanted to shake your hand before the interview. You weren’t shot, were you?” She said this with concern, faking it very well, in her opinion.
“No,” Dirk said flatly, “I wasn’t. That girl with the sword grabbed his arm before he could fire a shot. You saw her, too, didn’t you?”
“The hostage?” Spruce clarified. He nodded. She nodded as well. “Yes, I saw her. She was shot a few times and they took her to the hospital. No one else was injured except for the shooter, as you probably know.”
Dirk nodded with serious brown eyes. “Yes, I know. Now, you know that this job is almost as difficult as being on Presidential Detail, correct? You’ll be put through a training program, and not a nice one, as well as strenuous situations. You’ll be risking your life for me. If you don’t like me very much, then I recommend working on Obama’s detail instead.”
Spruce shook her head. “I prefer your detail, sir.”
Dirk stared at her. “And why is that, Miss Maine?”
Spruce took a deep breath. “I want to protect you and what you stand for. That is, I want to protect the magically gifted individuals of the world by protecting you. I also want to protect humanity from those who abuse their powers by protecting you, the man who protects them best.”
There was a long moment of silence, then Sorenson straightened the application on the desk. “I will call you within the next few days. You are dismissed.”
Less than pleased, Spruce stood up, thanked him for his time, shook hands, and headed for the door.
The person in front of Tasha left the office. Meeting eyes, they both stared at each other for a moment. All Tasha could see in the girl’s eyes was a deep shock, like she’d been smacked in the face. Tasha, herself, found it interesting that this girl was the same who had first noticed the gunman when Mr. Sorenson was walking to City Hall.
Who are you? she asked the brown-eyed girl quietly in her head.
The girl walked past her, regaining composure quickly.
Tasha lost interest and looked at her strange reflection, cocking her head to the side curiously as she examined her fiery red hair sticking out in a buzz cut from her head, her green eyes blinking against her pale, freckled skin. She could have sworn she was a brunette, but apparently not. She was wearing a white shirt and set of sweats that the dumbfounded people at the hospital had given her after realizing that she was perfectly fine.
After that, they’d been asked to bring her to Dirk Sorenson’s office in City Hall, which had been interesting to drive to in a limo. She had her sword and belt buckled to her side still, the weapon had changed back to a sword after the strange happening, and Tasha wondered if she’d imagined the entire concept of a dagger in the heat of the moment.
The secretary cleared his throat and she looked up at the door.
Mr. Sorenson stood, suit and tie, staring at her with unblinking brown eyes, leaning against the doorframe of his office. “You’re the one who took those bullets today?” he asked, his voice pitched in bewilderment. “There’s hardly a scratch on you!”
Tasha stood up quickly and winced at the pain she had been suffering from her internal organs since the shootings. “Y-yes!” she stammered, her throat dry from lack of fluids.
The secretary watched, his expression withholding a bark of laughter, as Mr. Sorenson threw his hands up in the air. “Where did you come from, kid!?”
Tasha bit her lip and noticed he waited for her to answer. “... A coffin.”
Mr. Sorenson stared at her again and folded his arms now. “A coffin?” he asked, hardly seeming surprised by the statement, more mildly quizzical. The secretary’s humorous facial expression froze in place.
Tasha nodded. “I woke up in a coffin.”
Mr. Sorenson nodded as well, bobbing his head up and down slowly. “That explains the dress you were wearing. Where’s your family?”
Well, I was hoping you were my family, but that’s obviously not a practical assumption. Tasha shrugged, almost with a sense of helplessness. Did she even need her family?
“We’ll look you up!” Mr. Sorenson said, glancing at his secretary. “Have her give you her name and find the graveyard she was buried in, if her name in the obits isn’t enough.” His cell phone beeped from his pocket and he whipped it out with a swiftness that was full of energy, glanced at the screen, and stuffed it back in his pocket. “I have to leave and take care of a hostage situation with my goddaughter. Be back either today or tomorrow.”
The secretary stood as Mr. Sorenson began to stride out of the reception room. “Mr. Sorenson!” he called desperately after the excited older man. “You were nearly shot today!”
Mr. Sorenson was already out the door. “Wasn’t a real shooting, though!” he called over his shoulder.
The secretary only stood there in bewilderment for a moment, then looked at Tasha with raised eyebrows. “Not a real shooting?” he questioned her.
Tasha’s shoulders lifted and dipped. “Seemed real to me,” she said, holding her waist gingerly with her hand.
Client #13 wanted a project 4 order. Klare had been in the process of dropping the order off on 3600 south, close to Granger High school, when she received a call on her phone. It wasn’t an ordinary call, but a request to chat via Google Video Chats.
Klare stared at the glowing screen, sitting in the dark of her car outside of her client’s house. She didn’t know this person. Their name was “Unknown” and their profile screen was a black box. Despite her better judgement, she answered the call and turned the phone camera away from herself. “What do you want?”
Shock hit her like a hot wire. “James?” she questioned, shocked to hear her brother stammering on the other end of the chat. “What’s wrong?”
A grunt sounded from her phone and a gruff, manly voice spoke up. “Show your face, kid.”
Klare clenched her teeth and didn’t comply. “What do you want?”
“You know what we want, Black Mary,” the man said, “cold, hard cash. $50,000.”
Klare bit her lip. They had to be a client to know her street name, but she didn’t recognize the voice. “Something tells me you don’t care about the money,” she said quietly, setting her phone on the passenger’s seat. She threw the car into drive and started down the road. Client #13 didn’t matter anymore, not as much as this, her brother in a hostage situation.
“You know who we are, then,” he said, sounding slightly taken aback.
No, I don’t, but I’ll play the omniscience card anyway. Klare let out a bark of laughter so cold it could have chipped her lips. “Yeah, and you’d better be ready for me. Where do we make the trade?”
There was silence, then a cough, then a grunt. “You’ll bring no one with you. Meet us at the Terror Gate of Wailing Mansion.”
What newbs. ‘Wailing Mansion’ and ‘Terror Gate’ were foreigner terms. Anyone who lived in West Valley or Small Ravine just called it the gate at Mansion. “Deal. See you in an hour.”
She reached over and ended the call, her finger punching the screen with so much force that it nearly cracked. Her teeth ground against each other as she sped out of the neighborhoods, swearing and cursing loudly to herself.
Mansion was so overrun with ghosts, her brother’s kidnappers wouldn’t last past midnight, but, just in case, Klare was going to get some reinforcements.
Tristan descended from the tree slowly and carefully. The meth kingpin was onto him already. He’d been spotted early that morning through a window by the unknown person in the house, he knew it.
Now Shawn’s son, Thomas, was with his gang of kids, and they had him surrounded. Three of the twenty or so of them held bright flashlights at his face, blinding him, as his feet planted themselves firmly on the ground. Tristan couldn’t see very many of the gangsters, but they were all teenagers, and they were all tough, tougher than he had expected. These were kids, survivors, of knife fights, gun fights, and brawls, and, holy crap they were dangerous. Their weaknesses were their strengths, and the ones that were festering with weakness were numbered at about six and in the back of the mob that surrounded him now. They all had guns. They weren’t BB guns, either, they were real firearms. Loaded with bullets, no need for silencers, no one would care to call the cops.
Tristan put his hands over his head and squinted against the harsh light as Thomas stepped forward and looked at him with calculating, cold determination. The entire mob was silent as the teenager spoke clearly to the blinded man.
“What were you doing in that tree?”
Tristan’s heart was pounding. Not more than a week in Small Ravine and he was caught by teenagers! “Sleeping,” he replied, “then you came around and put your bright flashlights in my face.”
“You were in that tree this morning, hobo,” Thomas drawled, “don’t lie to me. Who do you work for?”
Tristan had never been so scared in his life. He’d failed to notice one detail, and suddenly was now surrounded by two SWAT teams’ worth of people. Thomas hadn’t lifted his pistol yet and now did so, tapping the end of it against Tristan’s bony chest. “Who do you work for?” he asked again.
“M-myself,” Tristan answered, galvanized into action. They were gonna kill him, he could sense it in the air and his legs turned to gelatin beneath him. He didn’t want to die. He hadn’t known that it was this bad here.
Thomas’ eyes flickered to a kid behind Tristan, then went back to his captive and cracked a stiff, unforgiving smile. “Sorry about this, but you’re about to die.”
A gun shot off in the crowd and Thomas whipped around. “What are you doing back the-!?”
BANG! BANG! BANG!
The mob of kids started to shoot in one direction, and as they shot, they collapsed. Two flashlights had been dropped on the ground, the third one was waving around. Tristan ducked and crouched on the ground, hands on his head, plugging his ears to the explosive gunfire.
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!
Tristan could hear his breathing and his blood pumping hard in his body, feel the dry dirt and grass against his face, taste the dust in his mouth, smell his own salty tears as they dropped from his eyes, and slowly looked up at Thomas, who stood sturdily beside him, the barrel of his pistol hovering above Tristan’s head, his finger on the trigger.
Tristan looked ahead, where Thomas stared, and saw a tall woman standing on the sidewalk, her long, blonde hair hanging undisturbed in the still atmosphere. Around them, all of Thomas’ people had fallen to the ground, unconscious.
The woman seemed almost inhuman with the way she stood, like something higher, above men, almost like an angel. Tristan couldn’t make sense of what he was seeing. She intended to save him, but didn’t intend for him to remember it. There was an underlying panic in her, but he couldn’t understand why. What was wrong? Why had everyone fallen but Thomas?
Thomas broke the silence. “What did you do?” he asked stiffly.
“Put the gun down, Thomas,” the woman warned, sounding calm, but panicking inside.
Thomas was panicking as well. “Back off or I’ll kill him.”
“You were going to kill him, anyway,” the woman said, tucking a strand of long hair behind her ear. “Put the gun down. I just want him to get up and leave.”
“I’m not going to let him get up and leave,” Thomas scoffed, “I’m supposed to kill him.”
“But if you kill him right now, I’ll be forced to severely injure you and take you to the police,” the woman said, her voice clear as a bell, “and if I start to come at you, you’ll kill him, and I’ll have to take you to the police.”
“I can’t let him get away,” Thomas said, his hands shaking, “and now I can’t let whoever the heck you are get away, either.”
Then Tristan heard the rumble of a speeding car’s motor down the street. It wasn’t a police car, no one would have called the police for a shoot-out on this street. Then the headlights blasted their light down the asphalt and the woman and Thomas both turned, stunned as a red car screeched its brakes in front of the house, passenger’s window rolled down.
Thomas collapsed and dropped the gun, both almost hitting Tristan, as the gang boy proceeded to shake, in result of a taser gun.
“Vanessa, grab the hostage and get the ****** in here!”
The blonde woman shot forward, grabbed Tristan’s arm, and shoved him in the back seat of the car. The rest of the taser was flung out of the window and Vanessa hopped in the passenger’s seat in front of Tristan.
They were out of there before Tristan could read anything concerning what had just happened.
Zombie Prom Princess narrated this story, BTW, so you should totally check that out!
Just this past summer, I visited my aunt and uncle’s isolated house in Portland, Oregon twice. I enjoyed it up there, the first visit more than the second of the summer. The first visit, my uncle, Harlan, had hired me to come out with him from our neighborhood in Utah to paint the large Oregon house for Tom and Carla before company came two weeks later. It was a great honor to me, since Harlan didn’t just pick any neighborhood kid to paint with him on big projects like this. I loved my job because my basic schedule went like this: write my novel in the morning, paint for eight hours, write my novel some more, and go to bed.
Tom and Carla live in an isolated house surrounded by forest and mountains. Their closest neighbors are about 600 yards away from their front door. They own 48 acres of land, which has cabins and tractor trails scattered over it, just for fun.
I was really enjoying myself in Oregon. I listened to music all day, ate, slept, and wrote. When I wasn’t doing these things, I was socializing with my cheerful uncles and aunt Carla. I knew the property well, having come up to the place for at least one week annually since I was a baby, but only this past year did it get weird.
My second-to-last night staying there, I woke up to the sound of beeping in my bedroom. I was staying in what was commonly referred to as the Princess Room, which was Tom and Carla’s room when company wasn’t over. I woke up hearing the beeping.
Bee-bee-bee-beep, bee-bee-bee-beep! It was some time after midnight and I wasn’t sure what was making the noise. I’d been in a melatonin-induced coma to help me sleep, so when I woke up hearing beeping sounds, I wondered if I was dreaming. I woke up completely when I realized I wasn’t. I got up and started looking around, wondering what on Earth could be beeping in the bedroom. I started rummaging through the drawers that were Tom and Carla’s. I found inside one of them a digital watch that read 1:30 a.m.
I was sure it was Tom’s watch and pressed several buttons on it to make it stop, too drunk on my sleepiness to really ask questions about it. I then walked out into the kitchen and put the watch on the counter and went back to sleep. That morning, I woke up before everyone else as usual, since I’m a morning person that doesn’t like the dark. I saw the watch was still on the counter and started writing, waiting for Tom to wake up.
When Tom woke up, he laughed when he saw the watch on the counter. “Whose watch is this?” he asked.
I shrugged. Tom is an old man. He’s about 87 now. My aunt married twenty years older than herself, so I blamed the forgetfulness on his growing senile age. “I thought it was yours. It started beeping last night.”
He arched his eyebrow. “Really? I don’t remember this watch.” We blamed it on his old age and dying batteries and moved on.
Later that day, Tom lost his watch, the one he usually wore on his wrist. He’d misplaced it somewhere and couldn’t find it.
So I painted and went to bed.
At about 2 in the morning, I woke up to the beeping again. I walked to the drawer the first watch had been in and found Tom’s usual watch sitting inside. I turned it off and left it in the drawer, disturbed. I then checked underneath my bed and took two extra melatonin capsules to make myself fall asleep. I’d been staying in the room for almost a week and only now had this begun to happen.
I went back home to Utah with no problems. My summer had been very busy. I went from girls’ camp to a family camp, then got home for one night only to travel up to Oregon to paint the next morning. I was gone painting for a week, came home again for a week, then traveled up to Oregon a second time with my mom and the rest of the family.
I started to walk the 48-acre properties now that there were more people around and I did this for most of my free time. That was, until the fifth day in.
Day one and my mom, dad and I were the first ones there, beating my mom’s siblings and their families. I was sleeping in the Princess Room again, now filled with mattresses on the floor to accompany everyone in the family that were on their way. All by myself, as I laid in the room stacked with extra mattresses for the incoming company, I fell asleep, and that night, I found yet another different watch beeping in the drawers.
I woke up, turned off the watch, and put it outside. The next morning, Tom and Carla joked at me. “Were any watches in your room last night?”
“Yes, actually,” I told them with a grin. “It’s so weird, I don’t know why this keeps happening.”
We all laughed and shrugged it off.
As the week wore on, more and more people came and I was relocated down into the Bunk House with my cousin, Dana. It was a cabin about fifty yards from the house, but the actual path to the Bunk House didn’t go in a straight line. The path added another eighty yards to the trip. Because of the long, zig-zag path’s journey, I typically took a short cut, which required walking behind the cabin Harlan stayed in (and had made his own, since he visited Tom and Carla so frequently) using the path behind Harlan’s cabin, the back trail was about twenty feet long.
I’d been walking down to the Bunk House to grab my Mp3 player so that I could go for a walk and listen to music on day five when I heard the distinct cracking of branch underfoot from an animal nearby. It could have been anything, and it was common to hear such noises, but I remember my hairs almost turning white with anxiety.
What if it’s a bear? What if it’s a cougar? What if it’s a coyote? They had these predators up in the mountains, and we knew that because Tom and Carla had a motion-sensitive camera that had taken pictures of all three of these things. The crunching made me nervous, mostly because I remembered finding a dead baby deer during my earlier stay. I hurried, going the ten feet around Harlan’s cabin, retrieving the Mp3 player, but opting to stay inside for a while, just in case.
Later, I walked out and began traversing down the property, walking a familiar path, since the old ones made me nervous. I’d grown a small seed of anxiety after an incident involving my downs/autistic cousin and I being stranded out in the middle of the woods a few years before this one. I’d gotten the tractor I drove him around in stuck in the mud and had no way of getting him back to the house or getting help to do so until a good hour-and-a-half after dark.
It was Friday night. I walked up and down the path all the way to the meadow, then began to walk back because the meadow was the end of the path. I was coming around a bend in the gravel when I saw a small wisp, not four feet away from me, catch the corner of my eye. I had my headphones in, but now whipped them out of my ears and turned in reaction to the movement, terrified it was an animal. I looked and, right beside me, there was an unmistakable black blur, not quite man-shaped, but dissipating from the shape of a man. Slowly, it evaporated, like a mist, and I found myself frozen, my tongue caught in my throat.
I can be a very superstitious person, since my mind is prone to fantasy and mystery, however, I’d never seen anything like that before, not with my own eyes. I had never hallucinated in my life, even if I’d had a few issues with my mind in the past.
I found myself standing there with three rings on my fingers, each one representing a certain protection for me. My opal ring represents a portal in my mind, one I could escape with. My silver ring wards evil away from me. My black ring, one that many misconstrue for a mood ring, is my shadow catcher ring. I believed it caught shadows because of a book series I believed fervently in as a young teenager.
Now I stood there, wondering if I could actually use the black ring, surprised that the day had come where I’d had the opportunity to test my theory. I’d never imagined that this event could happen to me. I had read and researched Shadow People for writing and fictional purposes, but at that point, my mind had been so far away from Shadow People, there was no way I could have suddenly imagined one right next to me.
Though I was very paranoid and alone and tense, it had felt more likely that a wild boar would leap at me than a Shadow Person.
My feet were now frozen to the pathway and I found a mortification slowly settle over me. I was afraid to run because I didn’t want to be chased, and my throat, choked by fear, could not even gasp for help. I stared with wide-eyed horror, looking around myself as I slowly began to unfreeze.
I thought to myself: Did that really just happen?
I did not see it in the exact shape of a man, but I saw the blackness as it faded. I saw the residue, the wisps as it dissipated. It was no trick of the eyes, I’d looked straight at it. I put my headphones in and simply walked back to the house, ignoring the fear for now, allowing myself to step into denial, at least forget about what happened until dark.
I made the mistake of staying at the house too late that night, because darkness fell before I could travel to my cabin. My cabin mate, Dana, was a very late sleeper and I wanted to wake up early so that I could go to Saturday’s Market in town the next morning. It was a tradition that my family had where we went into town on the Saturday of our weekly stay and browsed past merchants’ tents, perhaps buy a piece of overpriced jewelry or two.
I had been lost in my writing that night, then was surprised to find it was dark and only Dana and I were still awake. She was just about to take a shower. It was almost midnight and, being so tightly strung around my sleeping schedule and wanting to wake up early, I told her that I would go down without her. I took a flashlight and made that slow, utterly terrifying walk down to that cabin.
Fifty feet to the back trail. I counted them.
It’s not such a long distance in the daylight, but when it’s dark, fifty feet might as well be fifty miles. My flashlight could not give off a bright enough beam, nor could it dispel the shadows in the corners of my eyes, the ones that leaped out as the light shone against bushes and trees that made them. I slowly, painstakingly walked down the hill, not wanting to incur the wrath of a nocturnal hunter like a cougar or startle a deer and be attacked by it. I forced myself, tried so hard, to think logically for just once in my life and look around. My feet crunched in the gravel path. Every time one foot moved, it sent a cascade of rocks downhill and I swore that in those rocks there were voices. And chants. Footsteps, laughter.
Mocking me, jeering me, telling me that they were waiting in that cabin, but still I pressed on because I was prideful and scared and I wanted to prove to myself that it wasn’t real. I wanted to show myself that I was just crazy. I wanted to be crazy. I begged and pleaded that I wasn’t crazy. Deep, deep, deep down, I hoped I wasn’t crazy. I wanted to believe that there were things like the Shadow People in existence, but I wanted to feel safe, too.
So I continued my path, step by step.
Crunch, crunch, crunch, and the shadows whispered and giggled and mocked and jeered and, oh, I felt them everywhere, their eyes on me. Something animal was in the darkness with me and it had its eyes on me and I knew it. I felt it, felt the hairs on the back of my neck raise and that ancient, animal instinct that humans have retained through evolution told me something was there.
I reached the edge of the back path and wondered if I should trade ten feet for eighty yards, thinking about taking the clearer and more open path that would leave me out in the forest longer. It was so much lighter than the forested deer trail that I’d used as a shortcut for all of the many years I’d come to this place and stayed in the Bunk House.
And I could feel them watching me.
My uncle’s cabin had a front porch with a light that was bright and I didn’t need my flashlight and I’d stopped beneath its safe glow. The dark of that footpath was a line of blackness compared to the light I stood in. I hesitated, then started down the ten-foot path, knowing that I could not turn my back to the darkness. That ten-foot path was so black, it was tangible. I could taste it, feel the gooeyness of it, I could feel the softness of it as it wrapped around me, trying to smother me. I walked, step by step down and I could feel the black edge of my cabin as I reached out to touch it. There was a board I had to cross to get to the front porch. I darted across this board because I could feel them, and I could feel them reaching up from the edges of the board, feel their hands reaching for my feet, trying to trip, to make me fall.
I whipped around the corner of the front porch, darted to the door, and threw myself against it with all might, for it was swollen with the Oregon humidity. I slammed it open and I slammed it shut and I found myself encased in darkness once again and I flicked on my light switch, which, thank goodness, was right next to the door and I looked around and felt the light and I saw the darkness looming outside of the window and flicked on the porch light as well. I told myself that there was nothing outside! I wondered if Dana would make the journey. I wondered if she would come down and I begged silently for her to come. Just to hurry.
There was no cell phone service in these mountains, there was no chance of communication, there was just me, my pepper spray, and my knife. I got undressed, got into my nightshirt, knowing that I had to turn off those lights to go to sleep, but I was afraid to go to sleep. But I knew that if I went to sleep, this nightmare would be over. So, with the darkness banished from the doorstep by means of the porch light, I climbed down my latter, peeped in my closet, and checked under the two bunk beds.
I turned off the light, clambered back to my top bunk, took my two melatonin capsules, and fell asleep. I dreamt of shadows until I woke up. Dana had just entered the cabin. “Are you asleep?” she asked.
Something was not right about her voice.
I knew something was wrong here. I was half asleep, unable to properly discern reality from fantasy, unable to know the difference, but something had to be wrong. Dana, who slept on the bottom bunk, climbed up the ladder to my bed. I swore she did, I was facing her when she did it, my eyes half-open, my brain’s functions muddled by melatonin. I remember the blackness of her long, dark hair covering her face. Her hand reached out. She asked me if I was awake again and I didn’t answer her. I stared at her and I couldn’t stop staring at her.
Her hand was black. That would have been easily explainable. She was wearing gloves, I told myself, just gloves. It wasn’t Dana, though, was it? No, no, I thought to myself, no, no, it wasn’t Dana.
“Are you awake?” she asked a third time.
I shook my head, said no, and turned my back to this dark figure, her hand still hovering over me and I stared at the wall for a long time. And then it was morning.
My studies on Shadow People beforehand had told me that tiger’s eye, in theory, would be a warder against them, since tiger’s eye was known as the fire stone and I bought a tiger’s eye ring at Saturday’s Market that next morning. It has protected me ever since.
I know that when I was asked a few weeks ago in class if I’d had an experience with Shadow People, I’d said no. It’s because I’d all but forgotten about this experience because it had seemed so unreal. So surreal, so different, I’d wanted to forget about it. But now I can see how important it is to be wary of what you forget in the dark.
He didn’t like the news. It burned his ears and filled his organs with acid. Raemond had heard them from his mother before Tina showed up on his doorstep to talk about what was coming to hit him.
Tina was moving.
Raemond sighed, staring up at the ceiling of his bedroom from his bed. Her family had decided to move ASAP because Small Ravine was just too hard to live in right now. The memory of Tasha was too difficult to choke down, blot away. Tears streamed from Raemond’s brown eyes unstoppered, unable to stop them if he tried. He felt his face contort and tighten, felt his lungs push out gasps, only to drag more air in. The white ceiling above him blurred and blackened as he closed his eyes, trying to stem the river of tears.
She was leaving today.
Don’t leave me alone, don’t leave me alone, don’t leave me alone.
A knock sounded against his bedroom door.
Raemond’s eyes flashed open and he held his breath for a moment, letting it out to get a rhythm. He wiped away his tears, sniffed, and sat up. “Who is it?” He was afraid someone had heard his weakness.
Despite the fact that his grandmother and him lived alone, his stupid uncles were always running in and out of the house, asking for money or hiding drugs.
“Ray?” Tina’s small voice called.
Raemond scrambled off the bed and ran to the door. “Tina? I thought you left this morning!” He swung open the door.
Tina almost tackled him point-blank in an embrace. “I need a hug,” she said simply.
Raemond, shocked, wrapped his arms around her, embraced her soft, tiny shoulders, and held her head to his chest. What was going on? “Are you crying?” he quizzed softly.
“No,” Tina said, squeezing his ribcage, “you are. Stop it.”
Raemond’s chest bumped up and down in quiet laughter. How could she possibly know? How could she be leaving him? “No I’m not,” he denied.
Tina gave him another squeeze. “Don’t lie at me. You were bawling in here just a few seconds ago. Your eyes are still red.”
“Don’t lie at you?” Raemond smiled, stroking her red hair and feeling very sad deep down inside.
“You heard me,” Tina said with her usual spunky flare, “you’re upset.”
“Sure I’m upset,” Raemond admitted finally, looking down at her as she looked up at him. “My best friend is leaving me today. You should already be halfway through Idaho, what are you doing here?”
Tina stared at him with small, green eyes for a long moment. “Because I want hugs.”
Raemond laughed as she buried her face in his chest once again.
“You can have hugs, then.”
Targeting individual houses was a tricky business. Tristan’s first target in the neighborhood was the smallest; a meth lord who lived down the street and had lots of junkie customers.
Yes, he was the smallest.
In any normal neighborhood, Tristan could have walked past the house out in the open several times daily, carrying grocery bags or texting or listening to music, but in this town, the chances were slim in the way of not looking suspicious. Everyone knew everyone else here. If someone didn’t recognize you on sight, you’d be followed/watched very closely.
Here, Tristan had to find a position early in the morning and stay there until late at night to avoid such dangers. He found this position across the street from the target, in the neighbor’s maple tree. The leaves were thick because it was summer, the bark smooth, full of places where he could comfortably position himself. However, the difficult part of this sit-still-and-wait approach was the length of the time slot.
The homeowners of the house across the street got up and started to work out in the front yard every morning at the unearthly hour of 5:30. Tristan had to be in the tree at 5:15, just to be safe. The drug lord’s activities didn’t stop until late at midnight. This meant approximately five hours of sleep and nineteen hours of sitting still and looking at nothing but the surface of the house.
During this time, he sat high up in the branches, perfectly still in his camouflage clothes, his pen the only thing moving as he took notes of the crisp, white house.
The first thing he noticed was that they were smarter than usual drug lords, they didn’t let themselves smell like a meth house. They made the meth somewhere out of sight, probably out in the forests close to Small Ravine. He figured because the meth lord’s only son, Thomas, had some serious street credit on that side of town.
The second thing he noticed was that they brought the bags of meth back to the house while Shawn, the meth lord, “came home from work”. The meth was in his briefcase. He left the house in a sleek silver BMW at 6:30 every morning. Thomas left at about 10:00 in the morning to go be a gangster with his friends for the rest of the day. Shawn came home nine hours after he left, at 3:30 p.m.. He would go out with his wife, Shanta, and do errands together at about 4:00.
Not long after they would leave, Thomas (who would be a senior in high school after summer was over) would come home with his friend, Tarryn, a young girl hos age. They were pretending to date each other, but, in reality, her parents were dealers for the meth.
When Tarryn’s parents picked her up four hours later, the meth was in her backpack.
Tristan would have used a window of opportunity to take pictures of the evidence in the house after the first day of his vigil, if it weren’t for one thing:
There was one person always inside who never seemed to leave.
Klare & Vanessa:
6, 32 West, 3932 South
Klare set her phone down and pursed her lips in silence for a moment, looking at the frame of project 49, bits and pieces of bronze metal skewed across her desk. The material was explosive right now, volatile at the very least. Making a portal with a ring’s properties was nearly impossible to make at this rate. It was hard enough to find material for the frame of a portal, let alone piece it together in a way that didn’t kill you. Klare sighed and took the silver ring off her left middle finger, placing it on the desk.
“Box A,” she commanded it, then put her tools in the shoebox.
“Box 49,” she yawned, and gently set the fragments in the ring box.
“Box 6,” she said, and extracted a yellow pill bottle from the cylindrical container. The pills were four small, blue capsules made of the Illmarki extracts from Blue Spruce pine needles. When digested, one pill can allow you to have selective sleeping times for a week. In other words, you could go directly into REM sleep for an hour, wake up exactly when you want to, and and not have to sleep for the rest of the night.
Client 2 had requested this.
Klare held the bottle in her hand and stared at it for a long moment, wondering what Vanessa was up to. She’d been quite distantly lately and the lack of communication between them had been pressing on the back of Klare’s mind for a few weeks.
Klare took her antor ring, got in her car, and drove over to West Valley City’s mall parking lot, where she picked up her tall, blonde friend at 8:00 p.m. on the nose.
Vanessa got in the car and buckled her seatbelt. “Hey,” she said, almost glumly.
Bad sign, Klare thought. She ran a hand through her blue-dyed, short-clipped hair tiredly and started to drive out of the parking lot. “What do you need them for? Tell me the truth, are you running around Small Ravine in the middle of the night again?”
Vanessa shook her head, seeing this conversation coming. “South Salt Lake. Do I look like an idiot to you?”
Klare’s shoulders lifted in a shrug. “You used to. What have you accumulated in your arsenal?”
“Four cases of amnesia, pulled tooth, broken nose, dislocated jaw, black eye, bruised cheek, cut forehead. I think I’ll absorb the bruised cheek, though, just because it’s kind of useless in a self-defense situation.”
“Makes sense,” Klare agreed, turning out of the parking lot. “What’s made you so scarce lately? I’m home alone, you know. You can come over any time and unwind.”
“Yeah, I know,” Vanessa said, tugging on one of her golden braids. “I’m just busy with work and saving money for college. You know how that works. How’s your project? The portal ring, right?”
Sly change of subject, Klare didn’t like it, but she let it slide. “The ring is unstable. Pieces of it exploded in the antor ring this morning. You know, I’m getting checks from 666 every day now to see my progress. I think their hitman is following me.”
“Does that make you nervous?” Vanessa asked.
“No, it pisses me off,” Klare said through gritted teeth. “I can’t focus with him there, I can feel the scrutiny. I’ve only been working on this for two months, this stuff takes time!”
“Do you think he’ll try to attack you?” Vanessa asked, turning her head now to look at her friend with concern.
Klare scoffed. “Yeah, because attacking me is smart,” she said sarcastically. “If anything, he’ll cheat me out of a good paycheck once I’m finished with it.”
“You need to get rid of him,” Vanessa said, sounding sure of herself, “if you get rid of him, they’ll know who’s boss.”
Klare shook her head. “I’m calling Maniscalco tonight to tell her to drop the act again…”
Vanessa watched Klare’s jaw drop as a thought occurred to her. “What is it?” she asked.
Klare’s lips came together again in a firm, angry line. She stared at the car ahead of her with blue, wrathful eyes. “That harpy!” she exclaimed suddenly. “I think she just had one of my clients killed!”
“What?!” Vanessa blurted, not expecting that accusation, of all things. “Which client?”
“19,” Klare said, making a tight left turn across an intersection. “She was shot in the head at the end of the school year! They didn’t find the guy who did it.”
Vanessa shuddered. “Let me stay with you tonight, Klare,” she said quickly, “I can help you get rid of him, trust me!”
Klare looked over at Vanessa and nodded, her momentary temper flare cooling down. “I don’t think I need protection, but I do need you around where I know you’re safe. Let me guess, make a stop in South Salt Lake before something expires?”
Vanessa looked relieved. “Yes.”
Tasha & Spruce:
Tasha was getting odd looks in the streets as she strolled along the sidewalks barefooted and in a sleek, white dress with dirt smudges on it, a broadsword strapped to her left hip. She couldn’t remember much about anything, she figured that she’d somehow lost her memories in whatever accident that had caused her to be buried in a cemetery. All she knew about herself was her name, Tasha Sorenson, from her grave stone.
She wanted to remember an event, a name, anything that would tell her where to go. She would have asked for help, but her voice wasn’t working. Tasha wondered if she’d been born mute, or perhaps what killed her had disabled her vocal chords.
Looking around, she saw that ahead of her there was some commotion around a black limousine that was parking in front of Small Ravine City Hall. A crowd of people, phones and cameras up in the air, were taking pictures, excitedly jabbering with each other. There were barricades on a path up to the City Hall that held them back as the limo parked on the curb, the back door opened, and a tall, swarthy man with jagged black hair and high cheek bones exited the vehicle with three security guards covering him.
The news people held out their microphones and their cameramen pressed closer through the crowd to the barricades. “Mr. Sorenson!” they cried, “Mr. Sorenson!”
Tasha’s attention was thoroughly hooked. She joined the crowd and pushed through the strangers around her to reach the barricade. No one seemed to mind the sword, which was good, as she watched Mr. Sorenson shake hands and smile while taking pictures with people. He answered some questions, making his way slowly up to the City Hall through the handshakes on the other side of the barricade.
Tasha wondered if they were related somehow. The chances felt slim to her somehow, but she could only hope for some shred of recognition.
She watched him shake hands with a tall girl with black hair and hazel eyes and the word CHINA tattooed to her fingertips. As the girl smiled and shook his hand, her eyes wandered over to Tasha’s side of the crowd. Her jaw dropped, her face paled, a shriek exploded from her lungs, and she let go of Mr. Sorenson’s hand to point almost directly at Tasha.
Tasha turned to her right as Mr. Sorenson turned around with mild surprise on his face. Tasha saw the pistol in the man’s hand. He was right next to her. She watched him begin pulling the trigger…
Tasha grabbed his hand and forced it upward.
The first shot went straight into the air. The crowd erupted into screams and scattered. Two security guards dragged a shocked Mr. Sorenson back into the car.
With a growl of aggravation, the man swung his free bicep around her neck, pulled her back into his torso, and freed his pistol from her grip, jabbing the barrel into what felt like her right kidney. Tasha winced, but, oddly, felt no sense of fear at the threat.
The limo screeched away down the road, leaving behind five security officers to draw their guns and yell at him to let Tasha down.
Tasha’s nose wrinkled. The man smelled like cigarettes.
He started to back up against the wall of City Hall, yelling at the agents to get back. He hadn’t noticed the sword on Tasha’s left hip.
Tasha placed a hand on the sharp broadsword, wishing it was shorter. That way, she could backstab him in the side or something like that. As she thought it, the sword suddenly lessened in weight and length. She looked down at it past the man’s burly arm and almost gasped, had half of her air not been cut off.
It was a dagger now.
Something in the situation escalated suddenly.
Pain split her intestines. Her legs buckled as her own blood exploded in the faces of Mr. Sorenson’s security. Police officers were running to the scene now. Tasha didn’t question the dagger on her hip now, instead unsheathing it and jabbing the man holding her hostage in the side. The man grunted in pain and threw her down face-first on the cement. The police and security officers released fire on him.
Tasha choked on her own blood, then felt the pain inexplicably leave her. She spat out more blood as one of Mr. Sorenson’s security people ran to her and told her not to move. Tasha shook her head and rolled over onto her back. The security officer tried to stop her, but she couldn’t explain to him that there was no pain in the action. She looked down at herself, noting the exit wound of the bullet, which had supposedly come out of her stomach.
Why wasn’t this painful?
Jackie was unused to being followed, but she knew the feeling. She knew the prickle on the back of her neck and the way her focus slowly turned itself to the back of her head.
Her body knew it, too.
Her body knew it and straightened her spine, lifted her chin, pumped her full of adrenaline. She was alerted to this sensation when her eyes began to wander over the hordes of people at the fair, picking out individuals and pairs, studying them, judging them, sentencing them to suspicion.
Who was it?
She inhaled deeply, but it was like breathing in anesthesia. Her focus blurred and, for fear of losing it, she stopped breathing and looked around again.
Where were they?
Jackie felt her pulse quicken as someone nudged past her to get in line for a hot dog stand. She’d stopped walking, knowing that she could only run or curl up and hide.
What did they have?
She didn’t know where they were, what they were doing. Being caught unprepared was the worst thing she could do right now. Jackie felt herself tense, her fists clench. Looking around would only feed her anxiety, let them know that she knew they were there.
What to calm her? She was alone here, so what could she do? With trembling legs, she moved forward to a food cart, fished out a five-dollar bill from her wallet, and bought a caffeinated soda, trading one addiction for another. Jackie relaxed as she found herself a task and sat down at an empty picnic table. Just sipping the soda, just feeling the fizz of the carbonation and the buzz of the caffeine saved her. She didn’t run.
Her mother would have killed her to see Jackie cradling a Mountain Dew in her hands. Mrs. Scaffolting was a proud advocate against all drugs and addicting things.
Jackie pulled her phone from her wallet, not knowing why she hadn’t when she’d arrived, and plugged her headphones in her ears. Fall Out Boy’s song “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” blasted in her head and she felt the power run through her veins.
She was safe. She knew she was safe. No one was after her to begin with, so why should she worry?
Jackie continued to drink her soda for quite some time, dosing herself properly with bubbles and sugar for another hour as she drifted off into space.
She’d told her mom that she was on a date. She’d lied because her parents didn’t think she had enough of a social personality. She was quite an outgoing person, but she didn’t like people enough to spend all of her time around them. Her parents didn’t think it was healthy, and when they told her what they thought, she told them what she thought: it was their own fault.
They may not have been able to give her siblings, but her social life was something different. She’d asked to be involved in dance when she was little.
“No,” Mrs. Scaffolting said, “dance is full of pompous skanks.”
Baseball, Jackie plead, let me be in baseball.
“No,” Mr. Scaffolting said, taking off his work boots, “baseball won’t take you anywhere.”
I want to be in football.
“You’re a girl.”
I want to be a soccer player.
“I don’t want you to get all sweaty so that your mother has to wash more clothes.”
Can I make a movie?
“You’ll break the camera.”
I’m going to the library.
“Don’t turn into one of those nerds that get zits instead of tans.”
Can I ride my bike on the parkway?
“There are criminals on the parkway.”
Can I ride my bike around the church parking lot or the block?
“If you’re in the same place all the time, people will target you.”
“What are you doing today?” Mr. Scaffolting asked one afternoon.
Jackie shrugged and walked upstairs, her backpack hanging off one shoulder. “Nothing.”
Mr. Scaffolting then launched into a long, unintelligible lecture about how her personal growth would be stunted if she didn’t broaden her interests.
There was just no way to win.
Jackie sighed and stared out at the fair. Her golden hand brushed a strand of auburn hair from her eyes. If she went somewhere else, her parents would track her phone GPS. They were always watching. They were always waiting.
Eventually, Jackie’s brown eyes landed on a man three tables away from her.
His blue eyes struck her like a ton of bricks.
She stared at him and he stared back at her, an older man in his late forties. Jackie stood up from her table, getting a sick feeling in her stomach. He stood up and walked towards her. All he said to her were a few words before she found herself stumbling away from him, reeling through the fair with terror pumping through her veins. She stumbled past children and their parents, her feet numb at the ends of her legs, her heart pounding in her chest.
She crumpled on the beach boardwalk. An ambulance was called by concerned passerby. Jackie Scaffolting’s parents were contacted at their door that evening and a sympathetic police officer brought them to the hospital to identify their daughter.
What did the man say to Jackie?
Vanessa’s arsenal included a head wound, a broken wrist, amnesia (6 cases of it), and a pulled tooth.
She walked through the streets of Salt Lake City on a cool May night, her sneakers squishing in the puddles on the sidewalk. The roads were slick with water, the moisture the result of what had likely been the last tame storm before June swooped in and baked the atmosphere. Vanessa shivered and stuffed her hands farther into her jacket, hoping that warm weather was coming this year. It had been a long, cold spring and she was about ready to go swimming. School was almost out and the days were still 75 degrees outside, for crying out loud!
The street she was walking down was not busy, really more of the ghetto of the South Salt Lake City area, which was intentional. Her blonde hair flew in the cold wind that cut through her windbreaker jacket, cascading all the way down to her knees in still weather. Although an eighteen-year-old girl alone in the most crime-ridden area of Utah at two in the morning, Vanessa’s confident stride and high head yielded no unwanted attention. She did this to attract trouble.
Her arsenal was expiring quickly, the head wound with only a little less than four hours before turning on her, the broken wrist with thirteen hours, all of the amnesia cases having fifteen hours, and the pulled tooth was relatively new and had thirty-eight hours until it turned on her.
She began to stride confidently through the back alleys now, impatient to get the head wound out of her system.
Then the scent of blood hit her and she paused, her feet in a puddle, her brown eyes widening as she felt the sensation of excitement kick in. Vanessa abruptly pivoted on her right foot and shot out of the alley and down the street like an animal, flying by dark apartments and fourplexes like a raven swooping down on its prey, shooting with a skid down an alley.
Though it took her three seconds to see what was happening, she took in every detail. Three men, one buff Latino, one white and skinny, one white and burly, more diverse than usual. The skinny white man was on top of a black man in a ripped, white dress shirt that indicated he had been wearing a suit, pounding his face brutally with his fist. The burly guy was searching through the black suit jacket they had torn from the businessman, in search of a wallet or valuables. The Latino was breaking into the lock on the man’s briefcase, also in search of his valuables.
Vanessa flew headlong into the burly man first, him barely able to look up as she slammed him back. The man was a good three-hundred pounds at the least, and Vanessa was one-hundred-twenty pounds soaking wet. Her force alone merely made him stagger back and cry out in surprise. Roughly, he grabbed her arm and bended it in a way that would have dislocated her shoulder had the head wound not have transferred to him in that very moment.
The man crumpled to the ground, unconscious. His Latino companion swore and dropped the briefcase, charging Vanessa quickly and angrily. The second he hit her, an audible snap sounded from his left wrist and he hollered, leaping back from Vanessa, who stood there unaffected by the blow he dealt her.
Holding his wrist, the man stared at Vanessa in shock, his eyes wide with disbelief. She smirked at him as he whipped a small revolver from his belt and aimed it at her. “Get away from me!” he screeched.
Vanessa only smirked, knowing that his wrist had barely touched her before snapping, and knowing that he knew that something was wrong with that. She also knew that the skinny guy had picked up a pipe that had been sitting around and was swinging it against her head-
Vanessa stood there, unaffected still, smiling at the Latino as his partner in crime collapsed to the ground, a side effect to the amnesia. The Latino yelled something at her in Spanish, then reverted back to English and told her to jack off. Vanessa let out a bark of laughter, her cold, brown eyes meeting his.
Then she rushed him.
The Latino crumpled to the ground with his comrades.
Vanessa turned around and quickly stepped over their unconscious bodies to their victim, who moaned half-conscious on the ground, unaware of what happened. The man was lying on the ground, his hands over his face.
Vanessa got down on her knees and found herself kneeling in a puddle. She sighed, then bended down and pressed her lips to his forehead. Broken nose, dislocated jaw, black eye, bruised cheek, cut forehead. Yes, she wanted all of those. There were many of them, it would almost double her current stock, but she could handle a black eye, bruised cheek, or cut forehead if they expired. She could say she hit herself or tripped down the stairs.
Straightening her back, Vanessa lifted her hand and smacked him.
Broken nose, 48 hours.
He didn’t react to the smack. She drew her hand back and smacked him again.
Dislocated jaw, 48 hours.
She smacked him again.
Black eye, 48 hours.
Bruised cheek, 48 hours.
Cut forehead, 48 hours.
The man’s face was still covered in blood, but he was healed of the infirmities. Vanessa stood up and walked out of the alley, figuring someone had called the police when the gunshot sounded. Or, perhaps, no one had called the police because this was the ghetto of Utah.
Vanessa smiled quietly to herself, glad that she could be of service to someone tonight as well as be rid of that wretched head wound looming over her.
Now it was time to go home.
The Valedictorian was Raemond’s focus.
Sydney Belle, Miss I’m All That, was going on about something about the meaning of life and he was already sick of it. Raemond was bored, sitting in a cold auditorium, wearing a stupid hat, and sick of this dumb waste of time.
Perhaps he wouldn’t have been so irate if his closest female friend, Tina, had been up on the stage talking. She was the real Valedictorian, but wasn’t here because she was at her sister’s funeral. Raemond had never known the sister very well, he’d only known she was always getting into trouble, smoking weed, screwing with other people’s problems, going to wild parties, etc.
He wasn’t where he needed to be right now, which was at the cemetery supporting Tina. Instead, his parents made him go to graduation. Screw them. Screw this place. He wanted to set it on fire. It wasn’t like graduating was a huge accomplishment or anything. He was getting squeamish, angry, so, now, he focused on Sydney Belle. He moved his lips and she moved hers in perfect harmony.
“You have no idea how sorry I am to be standing here speaking right now,” she interrupted herself, still in the middle of her lame “meaning of life” speech, “I’m sorry I’m the Valedictorian this year because Tina Hussic deserves this honor more than me and I’m a power-hungry brat with perfectionist issues.” Her voice went on as if she were saying something meaningful, but you could tell that the audience was actually listening to her meaning of life crap when they began to look around at each other. Some tilted their heads to one side in bewilderment, others whispered to their neighbors.
The principal even noticed that this sounded weird (it was an anomaly he noticed anything with how high he was) and looked at his turd vice principals. They all looked back at him and reminded Raemond of a pack of buffoons as Sydney gave the audience her beauty queen smile and cut back midway into her life speech, Raemond relinquishing control for once.
With a new target, Raemond focused on Principal Done, who had gotten him in trouble for fighting off that dumb Alexander Hopkins in self-defense earlier that year. Dumb Junior.
Focusing hard on Principal Done, Raemond straightened out his legs beneath the baggy dress they made him wear (which was totally ludicrous. Why do you have to rent some stupid blue garbage bag for $45 to graduate? Screw the school system, money is wasted in Utah, anyway).
When Raemond straightened his legs out, Done stood up from his chair.
Everyone sitting up front gave Done a look of absolute mortification. Vice Turd #1 turned to Vice Turd #2 and whispered to her. Raemond could only imagine what they were saying.
What is he doing!?
I don’t know! Why is he standing up in the middle of Sydney’s speech?
Do I look like a genius to you?
No, you look like me. We’re both stupid duncecaps.
Then Done sat down as Raemond bended his knees again.
Vice DunceCap (the Cap is silent) leaned over and whispered to Principal Done. Principal Done shook his head and looked at Vice DunceCap like he was crazy.
The ceremony continued for two minutes before Raemond got bored and straightened his legs again and Done stood, drawing all eyes to him once again.
He sat. Two more minutes went on.
He stood. Vice HowDidYouGetYourBachelor’sYouStupidIdiot (Or just Idiot for short) looked like he was going to blow a fuse.
He sat. Two more minutes passed by.
He stood. Vice Idiot clenched his jaw and that vein popped out on his neck.
He sat. Two more minutes passed by.
Raemond smirked as Vice Idiot stood up as well and smacked him in the back of the head. The audience gasped, some students hollered out loud, some “ooh”-ed seriously. Sydney turned around. “Um, Mr. Done, what are you doing back there?”
The first thing she realized as her mind woke up was that she was not breathing. The second thing she realized was that she was lying on a very firm surface. She could feel her hands loosely clasping something hard and cylindrical resting on her stomach. It was long and heavy and metal, giving her the impression that she was holding a stick.
She could tell she was wearing a dress, the way her thighs were touching each other. There was something wrong with her mind. Everything was fuzzy, she didn’t know who she was. Shouldn’t she have a name? Something to call herself by? Shouldn’t she know where she was right now? How did she find out where she was? Open her eyes? She couldn’t remember what it was, but she couldn’t… couldn’t…
Move. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t move to do anything. She couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t make her heart beat, she couldn’t make her eyes open, she couldn’t make her ears work. Everything was cool, all she could do was feel. Hours probably passed before she felt something bump whatever she was resting on. The small vibration happened again and again. Then something shook her resting place and she found herself rocking.
Then the air hit her face and brushed her hair. Hands reached down and moved her from side to side. The air activated her lungs and she breathed shallowly. Her heart began to beat. Her blood began to slowly flow. She began to digest her food. Her stomach acids started to work at the lumps in her system.
Most revealing, she started to hear again.
There was shuffling as the hands moved her body to the side. Her left temple hit wood.
“Ooh! Looks like this one has what we were looking for!” said a higher-pitched man’s voice, and the cylindrical object was confiscated from her limp hands.
“That was easier than expected,” a lower-voiced man chuckled, “and I thought that we’d have to steal it outta someone’s house!”
“Yeah-!” The high-pitched voice paused in his reply. There was a moment of silence. The hands stopped moving around her body.
“What?” the lower voice asked curiously.
The hands moved away from her body. “I think the corpse is breathing?” He said it like he was uncertain.
Corpse? She struggled to move. Corpse? I’m not a corpse? Is he talking about me?
“It’s a corpse,” the low voice said flatly, “corpses don’t work like that.”
“No! She’s really breathing! Look!”
“She’s dead.” Footsteps moved towards her location, “You’re being para…”
There was a long silence. She struggled to move her fingers, thinking only that she must be having a sleep paralysis experience, that she couldn’t be a corpse, she couldn’t be dead, because she was alive! If she was a corpse then she had to be lying in a… in a… in a…
Coffin! She was lying in a coffin! She couldn’t be lying in a coffin, because if she was lying in a coffin then they would bury her and she’d never get out, she’d be stuck underground. She couldn’t get out of a coffin underground! They locked from the outside and she couldn’t reach the outside if she was inside!
Her eyes flew open.
Screaming erupted from the two men and something dropped in the dirt. All she could see was black, but she knew her eyes were open. Footsteps ran away from her, loud at first, but fading away quickly as they swore and hollered at each other to keep running. She closed her eyes again. They knew she was alive, they wouldn’t bury her now. That was all that mattered, was that they didn’t bury her. She couldn’t be locked in the ground. She just couldn’t.
After a few minutes, she opened her eyes again and saw white, blurry specs hanging above her. She moved her fingertips and stirred, trying to sit up. It took a few more minutes to sit up, but she managed to do it. She clung to the side of the coffin, pulling herself weakly up into a sitting position and looking around her to make sense of her surroundings. A cemetery, beneath an oak tree, next to a deep hole and a giant builder’s digger (she’d figure out the name later). The stone of the grave said her name was Tasha Sorenson. The date of birth was October 31st, 1996. The date of death was May 26th, 2014. She was eighteen years old.
And she was dead.
Some would say that living off of $35 a week after you graduate high school is a sign of failure. Tristan begged to differ.
Every day, he wandered around through cities, a backpack and satchel hanging from his shoulders, a sleeping bag tied to the bottom of the backpack. Today, he’d finally reached his destination.
Well, he’d really just reached it the night before, but today he woke up where he knew he belonged: Small Ravine, Utah. The day began with a gas station before dawn, where he bought a candy bar (for calories), a vat of peanuts (for protein), and a small bag of carrots (to be healthy). He then strolled down to the public park just a short while before the sun began to rise and, under a pale blue sky, filled the empty gallon jug for water with the public water fountain.
With a notebook and pen in his pocket, Tristan wandered down through the streets nearby the South Salt Lake area, taking quiet notes of addresses as he passed by drug houses and uninvestigated crime scenes and daydreaming about a story to write. He passed by lawyers and police officers, state defendants, office workers, department store clerks, business owners as they passed by him in the morning rush to work. Many were stressed, many were ornery, many were uncertain if he was a homeless man begging for money or not as they passed him by on the sidewalk. One kid with long, greasy brown hair and lime green eyes gave him the stink-eye as they brushed shoulders.
The kid hadn’t slept, hadn’t eaten, was in anguish, and was really, really tough. Tristan was about five years older than him, a Junior in high school. The kid was good at beating people up, a gangbanger, a lawmaker of his school, most-likely. Tristan gave him a smile and patted him on the shoulder, “I hope you have a better afternoon than you have morning,” he told the young man, “you’re looking glum.”
The boy was uplifted by the acknowledgement, even though he turned his back and went his way without so much as a word. Tristan smiled, ran a hand through his mop of black hair, and continued his way as well.
Around noon, Tristan parked himself in the library and charged his laptop (which he stored in his backpack) and mooched off of their free wifi. He wrote for an hour-and-a-half in the empty library, only one girl present outside of the quiet librarians, and she was on her guard. She was a tense-looking, sophomore girl with something different about her that Tristan couldn’t quite put his finger on. There were few people in the world who had something that was hidden from his wandering brown eyes, but he’d learned many years ago to not pry with such matters. He’d lost his curiosity for things that he couldn’t access with his eyes alone. The searches tired him and he preferred to just sit back and relax.
Tristan left the library in the afternoon and partook of some peanuts and drank some water and ate the candy bar, relishing in the almost unbearable richness of the caramel and chocolate. Such a plain diet allowed only one candy bar a week, and this was a celebratory day, to be standing here in this peaceful-looking, crime-ridden Chicago of Utah, where you could see organized crime everywhere, a gang here, a clique there, a loner standing on this side, a riot on the other side of town, and, most fascinating of all, the police virtually nonexistent.
Later that evening, as Tristan strode down a suburban neighborhood street with fire in the sky above him, he began to take note of the houses he passed by.
Each doorstep had a different story. One belonged to a widow, who was very lonely. Another was home to a teeming family of five (one of them being a very moody teenager, but that was to be expected when your parents had you and then proceeded to have quadruplets). One kid was home alone for the next two weeks, a girl who had just graduated high school. Then there was the mandatory meth house (mandatory because there was at least one on every block in Small Ravine).
Tristan took note of the meth house address and continued to scour the neighborhood. He’d heard Small Ravine was the Chicago of the west, but never thought it was this dangerous here. He’d been traveling like this for three years, since he graduated, and, not once, had he passed through a city or town with such high crime density. Here was a hitman’s house (he liked to kill with blades), a brave police officer’s house, a house with the right hand to a gangbanger, a mentally-unstable private investigator’s home, a mob boss (Tristan took note), a sweet older woman living with her daughter, and a professional cyclist all in one row down the same street.
Darkness was beginning to fall now and Tristan knew better than to fall asleep on a park bench in the suburbs of a gang-ridden place like this. With a purpose, he strode to the next street and found a house where the family was on a week-long celebratory vacation for their high school graduate.
He walked up to the front door in the darkness and looked down at the doormat. No key. He looked at the nearby garden art that the mother of the house took great pride in. No key. He walked around to the back yard and looked at the hose. No key. He looked at the shed.
He opened the squeaky shed door, rotting from termites and the elements and looked around.
It was always a bad idea to hide a house key under a gas can, he thought, because then your neighborhood burglar could (A) break into your house and take your valuables and (B) set fire to everything after he leaves so that the police can’t find any evidence of whoever did it.
Tristan unlocked the back door with the key and kept the lights off as he yawned and carefully took note of where everything had been before he’d walked in. Of course, he never intended to touch anything, but you never knew sometimes. First thing he did was put his dirty clothes in the laundry. There weren’t many items, but they were enough to last him a week before he was in need of a laundromat.
While they were being washed, he took a shower, brushed his teeth, ate his peanuts, and unrolled his sleeping bag downstairs in the basement for a good-night’s rest. Before going to sleep, he threw his laundry in the dryer.
Klare Annette was the girl who could get you places.
Right now, she was home alone for a good two weeks, her parents out with her father’s siblings on a family thing, her older brother away at college, which gave Klare a chance to pursue her secret passion: magic.
Trick spells weren’t really her talent, though, due to a recent popular book series, tricks and words were the first thing that came to people’s minds when they heard the word “magic” of late. Klare had no squabbles with this, since her passion for creating things was, as aforementioned, a secret. No tricks, just substances. No wands, more items of great power and advantage.
She’d made a business out of her craft. Her clientele were few and far between, but willing to pay whatever it took to get their hands on her pieces. Primarily, she used three substances that you’ve never heard of: Antor, Harshink, and Saramall.
At the moment, she was working at her desk on project 49, which consisted of Harshink and a small amount of Kansh, which was commonly used with Harshink, but never so strange a request had popped up as did the one that she was working on right now. An escape portal on a ring. She’d never thought of such an idea until just now, but wanted to keep one for herself and another for her employers, the ones who had made the request.
She looked over at her phone to find that she’d received a text from Client 23.
15, 45th west, 32 south.
Klare texted back an acknowledgement after taking a glance at her watch.
She then went back to working on Project 49 for five more minutes, just to finish what she was doing. After finishing up for the moment, she took a silver ring off her finger, set it on the desk, and spoke.
The ring was made of Antor and was tailored to the commands of her mouth and mind. The small piece of metal quickly morphed into a third-dimensional silver shoebox with a lid on it. Klare removed the lid and carefully placed her Nonanick tools in the bottom, then replaced the lid quickly.
“Box 49,” Klare ordered, and the box shrank to a ring box. She opened it up and placed the half project inside, then shut the lid again.
This box was the size and shape of a yard-long Pringles can. It was a sheath for a shining, baby blue sword made of Saramall, which had no real sheath of its own. Klare extracted the sword and set it on her desk.
She slipped the small, silver ring onto her finger, took the sword, and placed it in the passenger’s seat of her car, before driving all the way over to West Valley City. She parked in front of Client 23’s house at 5:00 p.m. and waited for only a few seconds before the client walked outside.
She was a tall girl, not much different in age than Klare, and she came up and opened the car door, eyeing the blue sword in the passenger’s seat carefully. Without one word, Klare held out her hand and Client 23 handed her a small stack of $20’s. Then Client 23 took her new Saramall sword and walked back into her house, looking pleased.
Klare drove home immediately and sat back down at her desk. She set the Antor ring down on the wood and spoke to it again.
“Void Vault 1.”
The ring morphed into a silver safe and she put the stack of twenties inside.
Then, quietly, Klare went back to work.
Spruce’s final diary entry of her high school career for her English journal was influenced by Mr. Gibbons’ neat handwritten prompt on the board: “Write a journal entry dated 10 years in the future.”
Right now, Spruce walked into her home in a cheerful mood, more so than usual. Her roommate, Ashlyn, was out of the house, working at the local grocery store. Spruce, with the baby-blue sword that had no sheath in her hand, walked into her room, closed the door, and brandished the blue blade.
Swinging it around with a grin on her face, her hazel eyes sparkled with delight. Spruce then looked at the word engraved on the hilt.
The sword sucked itself into her hand. She gasped, even though sch knew very well how Klare’s contraptions worked, and looked at her fingertips.
On the very end of each finger, a small letter was tattooed to spell the word “CHINA”.
Spruce smirked and flexed her hand. “Come, China.”
The sword appeared magically in her palm and she closed her fist around it before the blade could clatter to the ground.
It has been 10 years since I’ve graduated from high school. Since then, I have accomplished the following:
Mastered the broadsword
Created a career for myself
And killed Dirk Sorenson of OWEN.
Check out my first published book ever at Amazon.com!
Support Liza's Stories by signing up and pledging at https://www.patreon.com/lizaannenewheart
All comments are welcome, the good, the bad, and the ugly!
© Copyright by Liza Newheart