Deep Into That Darkness Peering (Part 2)
Comics Retcon Universe 017
Deep Into That Darkness Peering
Ryan Roth is a college freshman with a good life. He has a great girlfriend, a good best friend and seems to be starting his college career off on the right start. But something dark and dangerous comes into his life and things go from bad to worse.
Author's Note: I'm trying something new with one, its going to get a little dark so be forewarned. I use a nasty, hateful word a few times in this chapter---one I would never use myself but hateful people use from time to time so be warned. This will probably be the only time I'd like to thank djkauf for the wonderful editing job...and I'm glad you didn't vanish for good :). I have to also thank DC Comics for their wonderful characters once again.
I found myself walking in that dark hall again. This time I was one hundred percent certain it was a dream. Not only that, but the dream from before came back to me in full detail. It was like I had much more clarity here than in the waking world. How messed up was that? As I walked, I wasn’t as freaked out as I was before. I knew where this hall led and I knew what was at the end of it. The only question was why. It had been pretty clear last time that I wanted nothing to do with that Thing behind the door. It was dark and twisted and had admitted to killing Katie. There was nothing it had that could convince me to let it out. As I walked, I was flooded with memories of our earlier encounter. The closer I got to the door, the more I wanted to turn around and run the other way.
But no matter how much I tried, I just kept walking. It’s not that I had much of a choice in the matter actually. It was like my feet had a mind of their own. I tried to stop them but I just kept going. So Finally, I just stopped resisting. It didn’t take long to get to my destination. The door looked exactly like it did before. I sighed when I saw it. The last time I was here, the Thing behind it had tried to sweet talk me into letting it out. I almost did but when I hesitated, it showed its true colors. There was something evil about that Thing and I completely missed that before. Now I wasn’t going to let it lull me into anything.
I stopped in front of the door. There was a slight movement and the scraping of metal. Then those four red slits---its eyes---appeared in the opening.
“So nice of you to join me again” it said in its sinister voice.
“Like I had a choice.”
“We all have choices. You and I especially. Our life is all about choices.”
Our life? What the hell did that mean?
“What do you want?”
It chuckled. “You and I have unfinished business”
“I’m not letting you out.”
It laughed. “You say that and yet you’re still holding the key.”
The key? What the hell was It talking about? But as soon as I thought about it, I looked down. Sure enough, the key was in my hand. I’m not sure how it got there but its appearance totally freaked me out. As if it was red hot and poisonous, I dropped it. The Thing let out a sigh that sounded like a giant hiss. I took a step back, afraid that it might burst through the door at any minute.
“That wasn’t a very wise thing to do you know.”
“Wise or not, I feel better about it.”
“You may think you have all the answers right now, little girl, but you have no idea what’s going on.”
I gritted my teeth at the “little girl” comment. I didn’t have to look down to know that her statement was more than true now. I was wearing a very familiar pair of black silk pajamas---just like the ones from that first dream. Except they were cut to fit this body, my new body. I hadn’t really thought about it until now actually. It scared me a bit. In the waking world, I never would have been caught dead in anything like this and yet here and now, they felt right. I heard the Thing chuckle as if It was reading my mind. That scared me too. Before I thought that, the two of us were so far apart from one another. Now I could sense something familiar about her. It might have been the fact that I was now mostly a girl but it was more than that.
I bit my lip before I responded. “And I suppose you have all the answers?”
She scoffed. “Not all of them but more than you.” I heard a scrap of more metal and then her eyes disappeared. Then something else appeared in front of the slot, something shiny and dangling. “For instance, I have this.”
My heart skipped a beat. It was the necklace, my necklace.
“How did you get that?” I asked, my hand twitching.
“What you misplace, I find,” she said with a chuckle.
“Its not yours, give it to me.”
She laughed. “Are you now dependent on this little thing?” She waved it slowly in front of the opening.
My heart beat faster in my chest. Was I dependent on it? I don’t think so but I sure as hell wanted it. I reached for the door but stopped. Then I looked down at the key. I stared at it for the longest time. If I unlocked the door then she’d give me the necklace. I took a deep breath. But unlocking the door was wrong. She was evil; there was no doubt about it. She was also after something. I’m not sure what it was but I could sense it somehow. I bent down anyway, picking up the key. When I stood back up, I heard her sigh. I stared at the large padlock, my hand trembling. My eyes shifted to the necklace. I moistened my lips and reached the key gently forward.
I grabbed the padlock and slowly moved the key toward it. But I stopped. At the last moment, something held me back.
“They’re getting closer,” she said, her voice almost in my ear. “Look.”
The hallway seemed to dissolve around me. It happened so quickly that I stumbled and fell forward. Where I should have fallen into the door I instead fell face first into a bush. I coughed and sputtered, the prickly branches scratching my face, tugging on my hair. I quickly pushed myself to my feet and had a look around. I was in the desert. There was darkness all around me and it was cold. I should have been shivering in my thin pajamas but I wasn’t. I hugged my arms round my body and looked around. Why was I in the desert now? I took a step forward but stopped. I couldn’t help remember the last time I’d found myself here. I looked down at my feet. They were still swollen and blistered from before.
“We’re not really here,” said a voice, her voice.
“I don’t understand”
“This event” she said as I started walking. “Will actually happen in a couple of hours. And before you say anything, there is nothing we can do to prevent it.”
As soon as the words came out her mouth, figures started to appear. At first they were hazy and in the distance but as I got closer they started taking shape. There was a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach as I saw them. There were four or five hooded figures, gathered in a circle around someone on the ground. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what was going on. I screamed at the top of my lungs and charged the scene. It didn’t matter that there was nothing I could do; I was determined to stop it this time. I charged right into the center of the group. There was another black haired girl in a white dress on the ground, already tied in place. But unlike the first girl, she wasn’t struggling. Apparently, they learned their lesson and drugged her. She had a glassy eyed look.
“Is she the one, Mother?” asked one of the figures.
Another of the figures stepped forward. “No but it doesn’t matter. He will be pleased with her sacrifice as well.”
That voice. It was the same woman from the first dream. In my second dream, I was too late to watch the scene unfold but I wasn’t going to be too late for this one. I stood and watched in horror as they took out the knife and cup again. There was no struggling or screaming from this girl. I watched as they cut her wrists and held the cup underneath them as she bled out into it. The girl started to moan and squirm a bit, the ropes cutting into her hands and ankles. One of the men took out another knife and cup. Then he proceeded to cut her throat. The girl stopped squirming after that. I wanted to look away but I was transfixed by the scene.
“They bled them dry,” said the voice of the Thing.
Tears streamed down my face as I finally looked away. “This is madness.”
“They’re getting closer. This one only a few miles from the city now. The next one will be even closer than that. Do you see know what they’re doing?”
I shook my head. I didn’t want to see. I didn’t want anything to do with it. I turned away and started to run. The desert dissolved around me. I ran until I couldn’t run anymore then I collapsed. I fell on my side from exhaustion and cried. I closed my eyes and willed myself to wake up.
When I woke up, I half expected to be in the desert for real. I was genuinely surprised to open my eyes and find myself in a nice comfortable bed. It took me a few seconds to figure out where I was though. I’m used to waking up every morning and nearly hitting my head on the ceiling. It was a very nice surprise to not have the ceiling a foot or so away. It was also nice to sleep on a mattress that didn’t feel like a damn rock. When I sat up and the blanket gently slid off my body, I looked down and saw my new friends waiting for me. I sighed, almost forgetting the pair of interlopers on my chest. I say almost because it was made painfully clear last night when I woke up and had to sleep on my back. I hated sleeping on my back and was never going to get used to that.
I sat in bed for the longest time, trying to think things through. This time I seemed to remember everything about my dream. I had one of those awful tastes in my mouth because I almost slipped up again. I knew that Thing behind the door was evil and yet once again I almost let it go. This time it was even harder to resist her. I don’t really know how to describe the feeling. It was like she was inside my head, trying to force my hand to unlock that door. What’s worse, now she had leverage? She had the necklace and I wanted that more than anything. How she got it, I don’t know but I just knew she was going to keep on trying to use it to get what she wanted. I just had to figure out a way to outsmart and outlast her. Easier said than done I suppose.
A knock on the door broke me from my thoughts. It was followed a few seconds later by Iris’ voice: “Rachel, honey, are you awake yet?”
“Yeah” I said, not really sure, of the statement but at least I was sitting up.
“I have a fresh set of clothes for you here and a towel in case you want to use the shower.”
I smiled. A shower sounded good right about now. I thanked her and then slipped out of bed. By the time I got to the door and opened it, she was gone. The clothes and the towel were sitting on a little end table near the door. I grabbed the bundle and made my way down the hall. The bathroom was the next door over, wide open. I slipped inside and shut the door. I dropped the bundle in the corner and went to the mirror to splash water in my face. I froze at my reflection. I got a good look at myself last night in the second hand shop but I looked different somehow. I was still the same pale girl with long black hair as before but I looked more girly if that was possible. I also bore a striking resemblance to the little girl from the ring---plus a couple of years. I’m glad I at least looked eighteen like before. I couldn’t imagine changing into a girl and looking like a twelve-year or something.
After staring in the mirror, I used the toilet. That was definitely different and something I was never going to get used too.
I stripped off after that and went in the shower. I tried my hardest not to pay attention to my new body as I soaped myself up. Instead, I closed my eyes and let the soothing water caress me. It felt nice actually. I always liked showers because they were a good place to think. Unfortunately, for me I could only think about one thing: Katie. Her face kept popping into my head and no matter how much I tried; I couldn’t stop myself from crying. It wasn’t until I opened my eyes that I released I was no longer standing. I was in the back of the shower with my knees pulled up to my chest and my arms wrapped around them. The water pounded off my head and shoulders, streaming down my face to mix with my tears. It was more painful now than it was yesterday. It was a hole that was never going to be filled and right then and there, I vowed never to do so. No one was ever going to be able to fill the void that Katie left in my life. Not that I could even think about that now but I made a promise that I wasn’t even going to try. Katie was my life---my soul mate---and no one would replace her.
I finally managed to get myself together. I wiped away the tears and finished up. When I climbed out of the shower, I grabbed the towel and wrapped it around my waist. I started for the door when I realized that some things were showing. I cursed and redid the towel, this time wrapping it around my chest. I was never going to get used to this. After securing the towel, I grabbed the clothes and opened the door. As soon as I did, I nearly walked right into a tall, brown haired man. I looked up and blushed. I couldn’t help it. I bit my lip and looked away. Then looked back at him. It was clear that it was Uncle Barry. I’d only met him once and only briefly. It’s kinda funny because the first time I never noticed how cute he was or how much he looked like Bart. I groaned. I did not just think a guy was cute?
“I’m sorry Miss,” he said quickly, adverting his gaze. “I didn’t realize there was anyone in here.”
I shook my head. “My fault” I said, hugging the clothes to my body and slipping by.
I was halfway down the hall when I felt something. I stopped and turned around. He was still standing in the bathroom door, looking at me. When I looked at him, I felt something familiar. I’m not sure how to place it but it was just like the feeling I got off Barbara last night. He didn’t have any color though. Instead, his body had this green glow about it, like an outline. I stared intently, wondering it could be. I stood there and stared at him for the longest time. He stood and stared, too. I didn’t stop staring until he disappeared into the bath, closing the door slowly behind him.
I walked back to my room, confused. Why was he green like that? I thought about it as I closed the door behind me and walked to the bed. I dropped the towel. Then I sat on the edge of the bed for a while, thinking about what just happened. There was something about him, something that didn’t quite add up. I couldn’t quite place it but I knew it was there. I thought about it for a couple of minutes before I dried the rest of myself off and got dressed. They weren’t my clothes: it was a new shirt and shorts. They were my bra and panties though or rather the others I got yesterday. The other clothes must have belonged to Barbara. After dressing I wrapped my hair in the towel like Katie used to do and left the room.
I was halfway down the hall when I smelled the bacon. My mouth watered as I tried to remember the last time I’d actually had a home cooked meal. The food in the dorm’s private dining area was OK but one could only eat so many breakfast burritos. When I got into the kitchen, Uncle Barry and Aunt Iris were sitting at the table. Absent were Bart and Barbara. But there was a setting at the table for me, which made me smile. I walked to it slowly, not taking my eyes off Barry and his green glow. I sat down and Iris put some pancakes and bacon on my plate. She was watching me stare at her husband. I assume he told her about our encounter outside the bathroom.
“Rachel” said Iris as she sat back down. “This is my husband Barry, Bart’s uncle.”
I smiled. Then he spoke. “Sorry about earlier. Iris told me you two were staying but I expected you to sleep in like my good for nothing nephew.”
I smirked. “I’m not lazy like him. Bart sleeps in when he’s not practicing or going to class.”
Their eyebrows went up. I cursed. Now it sounded like I spent my mornings with him. Which was true but I was seeing it as no big deal because we were roommates. But I was sure they were seeing it as a guy and a girl spending the night together. I cursed my stupidity. I’m definitely never going to get used to this girl thing.
I quickly recovered. “Bart’s roommate likes to blabber a lot. We have a couple of classes together.”
They gave each other a nod but a knowing smile. I gritted my teeth. It was clear they didn’t believe me. So I decided to change the topic. “So where’s Barbara this morning?”
This time the two of them looked really awkward. I stared at Barry and though the green color didn’t change, I got this strange feeling from him. He was worried and nervous like he had something to hide. This time I raised an eyebrow.
Iris shot her husband a glance before quickly answering. “She had to get back to the dorm. She has an early class.”
That kinda took me by surprise. “She’s in college?”
Iris nodded. “She’s in her first year of Graduate school actually.”
Barry nodded. “My old alma mater of course, she wouldn’t have it any other way.”
I turned to Iris. “Is that where you went to school too?”
She shook her head. “I went to the University of Arizona.”
“Then why would she be going to Barry’s old school. Wouldn’t she want to follow her aunt and not her aunt’s husband?”
The two of them quickly looked at each other. I still felt nervousness from Barry but he was still green. Iris on the other hand was both nervous and changing color rapidly. There were too many colors to keep track actually. I looked from one to the other. There was definitely something strange going on here. They knew it too. While Iris looked a bit frantic, Barry kept staring at me. This time I got nervous. Why was he looking at me like that? We stared at one another for the longest time, neither of us saying a word. A few minutes later, he picked up his fork and started into his pancakes. I did the same just so I didn’t look so out of place. As the two of us ate, it was like we were competing to see who could eat the most normally. I think I was succeeding because he was eating pretty fast. Iris got more nervous, sending him glances. I studied her face. It was clear that she was afraid something was going to happen. For a moment, she was a bit yellow but then it quickly changed to an orange color. Barry was still outlined in green but I could get a nervous vibe off him.
Finally, we finished eating. Iris got up quickly, too quickly, though. She jostled the table. As soon as she did so, her coffee mug fell. One second it was falling and the next it wasn’t. It happened so fast that I nearly missed it. I’m not sure how I saw it. But Barry moved quick, too quick for a human. It was less than a blink. The cup was falling and a second later was back on the table. I stared at the cup and then looked up at him. Iris didn’t seem to notice a thing. I’m not sure how I noticed. But I looked from the cup to him and back to the cup again. He looked at the cup and then at me. His eyes opened wide for a second as if my seeing what he did was a shock.
“Nothing happened,” he said as if to deflate the situation.
I nodded as if to agree with him but said. “Yes it did.”
Barry and Iris shared a nervous look.
He cleared his throat. “What did you see exactly?”
“I’m not sure really. It was only like a second but I could swear the cup fell off the table and then it was back up. Like a blink and you miss it moment.”
Iris’ eyes opened wide as she stared at her husband. Barry stared at me for a few seconds then sighed heavily.”If I show you something will you promise me not to tell Bart?”
He sighed and raised his hand. There was a ring there I didn’t notice before, it had a strange green glow to it. He reached down and pulled it off his finger. As soon as he did, he disappeared. Ok so he didn’t really disappear but it was like he shimmered then faded away. The green outline was gone in a second and Barry was no more. In his place was Barbara, sitting in his chair with a big frown. I stared wide-eyed and speechless. Iris dropped numbly back into her chair. It was clear she knew what was going on. The look on Barbara’s face was a mixture of fear and relief. Me, I was dumbstruck. Somehow, Barry and Barbara were one in the same.
“So” I finally said after several minutes of staring.”Which one of you isn’t real?”
Barbara sighed. Iris reached over and took his hand. Then she spoke. “They’re both real honey except Barbara isn’t Barry anymore. You see there was an accident and well Barry turned into her. She’s what you might call a…”
“A Meta” I said and the two of them nodded.
I was completely floored. But something clicked in my head. I remembered reading about that girl from Houston, the one called Terra. She was a guy before she transformed. Then there was Booster Gold. She had been a big college football star before she transformed into the beautiful Myka Carter. I remember because Bart still had a hard time believing that one. In fact, he had a huge poster of her in a blue and yellow bikini on our dorm wall. Both of them had been guys before. It just never occurred to me that that seemed to be the norm. Another something clicked in my head. I guess it was always in the back of my mind but it never really came to the forefront until now. But it explained a lot, hell it explained almost everything.
I gasped. “Oh crap.”
Iris looked at Barbara who smiled. Barbara cleared her throat. “You’re Bart’s roommate aren’t you? The actor we met a few months ago?”
I nodded. Iris leaned forward took my hand gently. “It’s OK sweetheart, you’re not the first one we’ve met.”
That kinda floored me. How many others were there out there?
Barbara frowned at me. Something else clicked in my mind and I pulled my hand out from underneath Iris. I jumped to my feet, nearly knocking the table over. I just remembered what Bart’s uncle did for a living. Oh shit he works for the cops. I didn’t even take a breath as I turned and bolted out of the room. As much as I liked these people there was no way that, he could overlook the fact that I might be a murderer and that I escaped from police custody. I thought I got a pretty good head start as I bolted through the kitchen and made my way to the front door. But in a blink of an eye, Barbara was standing in front of it, shaking her head.
I skidded to a halt and cursed. How in the hell? Then it occurred to me how she was able to catch that cup. She wasn’t just any Meta, she was Phoenix’s Meta, she was the Flash. There was definitely no way I was going to outrun her. I felt a feeling of dread overwhelm me and I stumbled backwards. My emotions overwhelmed me, making me dizzy and lightheaded. I dropped to the ground, burying my head in my hands. I broke down; I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I felt arms wrap around me and pull me close. I thought maybe it was Barbara but I realized the embrace was much more warm and comforting. It had to Iris. She held me a long time and I cried on her shoulder. It was like being held by my mother and it made me feel safe.
She held me a long time. I cried for even longer. I’m not sure what made me stop but when I did, I turned my head back toward the front door. Barbara was still standing there as if she was expecting me to run again. I suppose I could but I knew there was no way I’d outrun her. I suppose if I wanted to I could have used my Mind Trick power on them but I didn’t. I liked these people. They helped me. They took Bart and me in and didn’t ask any questions. Now looking at Barbara standing there, giving me a stern look I knew there was no way I could avoid the questions.
I wiped my eyes and my cheeks. I took a deep breath and stared her down. “I didn’t kill Katie.”
For the longest time she just stared at me. She gave me this narrow-eyed look. Her color was red and I could read the distrust off her. Even if she had me cornered, she still couldn’t trust me. But not Iris. When she spoke, it was with a reassuring tone.
“Of course you didn’t kill anyone sweetheart,” she said, shooting her “husband” a look. She helped me to my feet and led me over to the couch. “Why don’t you sit here and tell us all about it.”
I sighed as I sat with my head on her lap. I took a deep breath and let it all out. I told the two of them everything, not leaving out a thing. OK, maybe one thing. I left out the dreams. I didn’t know what to make of them. I knew that they were somehow telling the future but I was afraid Barbara would think I was somehow involved. It was clear that she didn’t trust me and I didn’t want to give her any more fuel for the fire. So leaving out that little tidbit, I told them everything that happened, everything since finding that horrible necklace. Iris cried a little with me when I told her about Katie and finding her like that.
When I was done, she wrapped me in the tightest hug possible.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t honest before” I said, “I was scared.” I cast a glance at Barbara who was still standing like a sentry by the door.
“I was scared she’d try to arrest me.”
Iris frowned. “She’s not going to arrest you sweetheart” She stroked my hair. “Though I think it might be best if the two of you go down to the station together and explain things.”
I shook my head. “I’m not going back there.”
Barbara sighed, finally walking over to us. “It wouldn’t make much of a difference anyway.” She sat in the chair across from us, sitting with her legs apart like a guy. Iris cast her an evil glance and she quickly pressed them shut.
“What happened?” I asked, tearing up again.
She sighed. “Nothing bad. In fact it’s something very good” She smiled weakly. “The coroner came back with the results last night. Your girlfriend’s death was ruled a suicide. There were some doubts of course but in the end all her wounds were self inflicted.”
I nodded numbly. But that still didn’t get over the fact that I killed her. Not intentionally of course but I still made her do it.
Iris seemed to be a mind reader. “You did no such thing.”
She hugged me again. I looked over at Barbara over her shoulder. It was clear that she didn’t think so. She kept giving me this look like I was made of something truly evil. I knew that look all too well. It was the same one that I was sure I gave to the Thing behind the door.
Iris spoke to her husband. “Barbara, is there any way we can convince the police to stop looking for Ryan?”
She nodded. “If we can convince the authorities that she’s a new Meta and that she didn’t know about her powers then maybe it will get her off the hook.”
She rolled her eyes. “Clearly you’re some kind of teleporter. How else do you explain disappearing from the holding cell and ending up in the middle of the desert?”
I hadn’t really thought about it. But it made perfect sense. Not only did I “teleport” there. But I also did the same thing when I went from the desert to the pizza place. But there was something else too. It wasn’t just the teleporting; it was this other thing too. The mind tricks and the way I was able to tell what other people were feeling. Was it possible for Metas to have more than one power? I wanted to ask her but I was afraid of what they might think. So I kept my mouth shut and let the two of them keep on thinking I was a teleporter.
Barbara stood up after that. She reached into her pocket and slipped on the ring. As soon as she did so, there was a shimmer and Barry was back again. “His” body was surrounded by that funky green outline again. He sat back down and quickly explained what he wanted to do. Iris held my hand then he got up to go retrieve his kit. While he was off into the other room, there was a noise from the hallway. We all turned as Bart came stumbling down. We’d completely forgotten about him actually. I looked at the couch and realized there was no pillow or blanket.
“I let him sleep in the other spare room, explaining that Barbara wasn’t spending the night,” Iris whispered quickly.
Bart walked into the living dressed in a t-shirt and boxers. He scratched his butt and dropped into the chair Barbara vacated a few minutes before. I couldn’t help but smirk at him when I thought about his hitting on his own uncle last night. Now I knew why Barbara had felt so uncomfortable.
“So I miss anything ladies?” he asked with a yawn.
Iris and I looked at each and couldn’t help but break out into laughter.
I stared at the pale girl in the mirror and frowned. It was still hard to fathom that this girl was now in fact me. That was all made worse by staring at her naked body. The body that was one hundred percent all girl now. It happened yesterday morning or rather the beginning of day two with the Allens. After the revelation the day before I thought things were going to go more smoothly.
Barbara/Barry came around a bit and took some blood even but when I woke up that next morning I screamed bloody murder. Iris and Bart came rushing into the room. Bart turned about three different shades of red, which only caused me to freak out even more. Iris quickly pushed him out of the room and held me while I cried for about half an hour.
That was yesterday. Today I was a very scared and confused girl staring at herself in the mirror. I was trying to find a part of me that was still myself but it was nearly impossible. The girl in the mirror looked a bit like me but she could just as easily be a distant cousin. She still had some of my features but her skin was much paler, her hair jet black and almost to her butt and her eyes were a piercing sapphire blue whereas mine had been green. Then there was the two foreign bodies on my chest, definitely bigger than when they first appeared there. If I had to guess, I’d say at least a C by now. They were currently crammed into a sports bra. I still refused to acknowledge that I needed more clothes. I was still wearing the same ones I bought from the second hand store. The black hoodie was my new best friend, regardless of how damn hot it appeared outside.
The hoodie and my shirt were on the bed behind me. I glanced at them, frowning. The shirt was getting a bit tight now, having been bought when my boobs were a little less pronounced. Which meant I’d have to go shopping soon, something I was dreading more than anything? Katie used to drag me all over the city and when the sales lady wasn’t trying to get me to try on stuff because I was such a pretty girl, I’d tried desperately to find something manly to do. My manly excursions always lead me to places like the electronics store and the hardware store. But no matter what, everyone always used to think I was a girl and tried hitting on me.
I frowned at the image in the mirror again. I guess they can hit on me all they want now. There was a gentle knock on the door. Before I got a chance to say anything, the door opened and Iris poked her head in. She frowned. “Rachel honey, you’re not dressed, the Agent from the government will be here any minute.”
I sighed and thanked her. When she closed the door, I went and got my shirt, pulled it quickly over my head and left the room. I slumped down the hall dragging my feet. I wasn’t really looking forward to this meeting at all. Though my name was cleared with the police for Katie’s death, ---her suicide as they ruled it---I was still wary of talking to this person.
After “Barry” took my blood sample, he took it to the lab to test it. He said since finding out he was a Meta, he discovered a way to test his blood and screen it for the genes. He got the results back yesterday but they were inconclusive. Though it was clear I wasn’t normal, I wasn’t really Meta either. But he sent his findings to the government anyway. They contacted us last night and informed us that an agent would be by to ask me some questions.
When I got to the kitchen, there were only two place settings. I looked at the clock on the wall, realizing that my late night had led to an early afternoon wakeup. It was lunchtime. I sat down and Iris put a plate of grilled cheese sandwiches in the middle of the table. I grabbed one even though I wasn’t really hungry. I couldn’t get to sleep once again. I was never going to get used to sleeping on my back and with the wild dreams, I’d been having, I was afraid to close my eyes. Not that I dreamed last night when I finally did drift off but I dreaded the long hallway or another incident where I watched some girl get brutally murdered.
“Where’s Bart and Barry?”
Iris sat down. “Bart went to the cemetery today.”
I bit my lip as a tear slowly trickled down my cheek. Iris reached forward and gently patted my hand. Katie’s memorial service was yesterday. I guess it was a little rushed but her family wanted to get it over with fast. I thought about going but in the end, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was just too painful. The thought of seeing her in a casket made me feel sick to my stomach. I put her there and there was nothing I could do to change that. Today she was being laid to rest. Bart went to the service yesterday; he said one of us needed to be there for her. Apparently, he felt like he needed to represent both of us as they laid her to rest today. Once again, I just couldn’t think about her no longer being here with me. I wanted to go but every time I tried to get up the courage, I broke down. Iris said she’d drive me over later if I wanted---after everyone was gone. I was still trying to drive up the courage for that trip too.
“Is Barry working?”
She nodded solemnly. “He got called in earlier this morning. A ranger found another body. The poor girl was dead for at least a day or so they figure, displayed just like the others. Whoever is cold enough to do that to someone should rot in hell for a million years.”
I nodded quietly. The third victim---the one killed in the desert. How could I forget about her? Every time I closed my eyes, she was one of the faces looking back at me. Her and the two others. At first, all I saw was Katie but somehow those three were there too now. They were so like me that it was scary. Three girls between 18 and 20 years old, all pale skin and black hair. The second girl’s hair was cut real short unlike the other two but that didn’t help escape the fact that all three of them looked so much like me it was scary. I tried not to think about that little fact but it was hard not to. I had no idea what it meant either. Were they after me? Was that why all these girls were dying? Or was it just coincidence. One thing was for sure though, I was certain that I was on their list. I’m not sure how I knew it but I just knew that they might come for me next. I should have been scared by this little detail but I was pretty calm about it.
Iris and I ate lunch together in silence. She was a nice enough person but we didn’t really have much in common. She tried to be civil but I was certain Bart and I had outstayed our welcome. Though she didn’t say as much, it was clear that she thought the two of us should try to get back to school. Not that Bart wasn’t going. With it being the weekend and all, there really wasn’t much of a need to go. But we both had every intention of returning. Well he did anyway. I’m not sure how I was going to explain things to my teachers. One minute Ryan was in the class and the next it’s me. Bart tried to tell me that freshmen classes were too big for anyone to notice anyway but it still bugged me. I hated the idea of trying to pretend to be something I wasn’t anymore. I wasn’t a guy at all now and going to class---pretending to be one felt wrong.
The knock on the front door interrupted my thoughts.
Iris got up and went into the main room. I listened to the voices as soon as the door was opened. I was surprised to hear a woman’s voice that wasn’t Iris’s. I was even more surprised to see the rather attractive woman who followed Iris back into the kitchen. I was expecting some stuffy guy in a black suit and tie, possibly even dark shades. What I wasn’t expecting was a Native American woman in a jeans and a nice shirt. I looked her up and down, from her cowboy boots up to the long crimson colored braid that trailed down her backside. This was definitely not what I thought of when someone said government agent.
When she saw me, she paused in the entryway. She was holding a file and opened it quickly. She scanned it then looked at me. The look on her face told me she wasn’t expecting someone who looked like me either. “Ryan Roth?” she asked with a hint of surprise.
I nodded, Iris laughed. “Is this your first Meta encounter?”
The woman nodded as the two of them sat at the table. She cleared her throat. “I was expecting…I mean…” she cleared her throat again, regaining some of her composure. “I apologize for the unprofessionalism; I’m Agent Dakota Jamison from the Department of Metahuman Affairs.”
I wanted to roll my eyes at the mouthful. But I liked the name. I had a cousin on my mother’s side named Dakota. She was a few years older than me and definitely did not look anything like the gorgeous woman sitting across from me. “That’s a cool name,” I said before stopping myself, she and Iris both smiled.
After the introductions, Dakota got right down to business. Though she came off as unprofessional and surprised before, she quickly recovered. She launched into her questions, all of which sounded like they were a set that they asked everyone. I was kinda typical. When did you change, have you exhibited any powers yet, that kind of thing. These ones went on for a while. Then she got into my personal life. She wanted to know about my family and friends, where I grew up, what were my future plans. I tried to be as candid as possible. I even found myself talking about Katie a bit and my grandfather. I never talked about him with strangers but there was something about her that made me want to open up. It made me wonder if she had a gift too. I couldn’t sense anything off about her---her emotions seemed to be in check. I think it was because she was so pretty and easygoing; after all, she was dressed real casual for a government agent.
The question session ended about an hour after she arrived. Then she got a bit technical. “We have had a chance to thoroughly review the tests that Mr. Allen sent us. Even though it’s clear that you’re not quite Meta, we’d like you to come in to have some tests run. My department has an office in Phoenix and there is a branch of STAR Labs here as well. We’d like you to come in at your earliest convenience so we can see where you fit in with everything.”
“Fit in?” I asked, somehow offended. “What the hell does that mean?”
She bit her lip. “Wrong choice of words. What I mean is, we want to see how you as an individual can help contribute to society.”
I shook my head. I’d given this some thought. As cool as it was to have powers---whatever they may be. I wanted nothing to do with this superhero stuff. My powers were dangerous and hurt people, I didn’t want to unleash them on the world. “I won’t be contributing to society at all.”
Dakota looked confused. “Did you not contact us for this reason?” I shook my head. “But you did contact Barbara Allen aka The Flash?”
“Not by choice” I said and then quickly explained. “My roommate is Barbara’s nephew. We came here to cool our heads after my girlfriend’s death. I didn’t even know Barry…I mean Barbara was a Meta until I caught her using her powers. She thought maybe I might be one as well after hearing my story so she took some of my blood and tested it. When she wasn’t one hundred percent sure, she sent it off to you guys.”
Dakota nodded. “My supervisors were under the impression that you wanted to join Miss Allen in the hero business?”
I shook my head. “My powers are dangerous. I’d love to forget about them but seeing as I can’t do that then I want to use them as little as possible.”
Dakota shuffled her papers. “I think maybe if you come in…”
I sighed and closed my eyes. The only way I was going to prove it was to show her. I concentrated on her. I smiled as a wicked thought came to mind. As soon as I opened my eyes, Dakota had that glassy eyed look. Then she reached up and slowly started unbuttoning her blouse. It was a cruel thing to do but I needed to prove a point. Iris stared as her wide eyed as she unbuttoned her blouse completely, exposing a pretty pink satin bra for both of us to see. A few seconds after her deed was done, she shook her head and blinked.
“Look down Agent Jamison” I said with amusement.
She looked down and squeaked, quickly throwing her hands up and pulled her blouse close. “I…ummm…”
“I’m sorry for that,” I said, holding my hands up apologetically. “But I needed to prove how dangerous I really was. I can do things to people; make them do things with just a simple suggestion or thought. And that’s only one of things I can do.”
Iris and Dakota frowned. Dakota then quickly buttoned up her shirt. “Miss Allen’s report said you were a teleporter?”
I nodded. “That’s one of the other things I can apparently do.”
Iris was still glaring at me. I felt bad for not telling her but I was really afraid of that power.
Dakota wasn’t glaring any more. She looked practically giddy. “You have more than one gift?”
I nodded. “I think so.”
She pulled out a pen and opened her folder, quickly writing things down. When she was finished, she looked up at me with a big smile. “What else can you do?”
I sighed. I told her about the emotion thing. She wasn’t as excited about that. She wanted to know more about the mind power or the “suggestion” power as she dubbed it. I told her there wasn’t much to tell. I left out the part about accidentally making Katie kill herself and the part where I got the cop to give me twenty bucks.
“I still need you to come into the office,” she said when I was done.
“We need to set up a new identity for you. You want to go by Rachel right?”
I hadn’t really thought about it. But as soon as she said it, I knew it was just right. After all, Katie had called me Rachel when we went to the club together. I know that shouldn’t have mattered but it felt like she actually named me. How could I call myself anything else but Rachel? So I told her I was happy with the name. After that Dakota left her card and said she’d set up an appointment for me tomorrow afternoon. Iris followed her out then came back about a minute later after saying good-bye.
She frowned at me from the kitchen entryway. “That shirt, was it always tight like that?”
I sighed and shook my head. “My boobs got bigger,” I said softly.
She smiled big. “I guess that settles it then. I’ll get my purse; you and I are going shopping.”
I groaned and buried my head in my hands.
Iris and I might have been becoming fast friends but there was just something about shopping with a thirty something that just didn’t fit. I was polite enough as she dragged me from one store to the next in the mall but in the end I just couldn’t help get over her taste. I think she was only trying to help but she kept dragging me from one high end boutique to the next. It felt like she was trying to turn me into her personal dress up doll. I did try on the clothes but I couldn’t help but feel like I was trying on costumes. It didn’t take her long to figure out that I wasn’t really having a good time.
While in our fifth store in a row, she stopped to look at her watch. Then sighed heavily and dramatically. “Rachel, honey” she said, causing me to turn and face her. “I just remembered that I’m going to have to leave you for a while. I have some errands that I have to run, you don’t mind if I leave you alone for a bit.”
I think my look of relief was matched only by her own. It was clear that she didn’t really know what was she doing. Dressing herself and possibly Barbara was one thing but I wasn’t like them. Iris was definitely way out of her league with me. And she knew it. I was happy that she tried to help but I could definitely pick out clothes that fit the new me on my own.
“Sure that’s ok,” I said with a fake smile. “You go, I’m just going to pop in and out of a few places, see what I can find.”
She smiled. “Do you need any money?”
I shook my head. Bart left his wallet back at the house and I swiped his bankcard. I felt a little bad about taking it but I’d pay him back once I got my wallet back. The best part, his pin was real easy to figure out. He always used his birthday for everything; it was real easy to figure out. I just had to make sure I didn’t spend more than a couple hundred bucks. I had a nice little chunk of change in my own account---grandpa deposited cash into it for me every week to help with living expenses. But I didn’t want to go overboard on poor Bart.
As soon as Iris left, I vacated the current shop I was in. The sales girl looked pretty darn happy when I did so. I knew they weren’t supposed to discriminate against customers but she’d been giving me the evil eye the whole time I was in there. So I’m not a GAP kinda girl, thank God for small miracles. But it did make me wonder. If I’m not going to be trendy then what kind of fashion sense was I going for? I definitely didn’t want perky and pink. There was something about wearing a cheerful color that made me want to hurl---so nothing with “baby” anything in the title. Yellow was out of the picture too. Even as a guy, I avoided that color. Red always worked well for me. But I knew if there was going to be anything red on the new me it was going to be blood.
I sighed heavily at the thought. No more blood, I’d had enough of that. I could still see it on my hands. I couldn’t help but feel the irony in that. More than once of the last few days I thought about Macbeth. It was as if the curse was visited on me tenfold. First the necklace---my necklace---then Katie and the police and now this wretched body. It was like someone was playing a cosmic joke. Now I was wandering around, looking at my hands, seeing blood that wasn’t really there anymore. When the police picked me up, they let me wash up in one of their bathrooms. They even gave me some fresh clothes that were “left” behind at the precinct. Back then, I still fit into male clothes pretty well and the ones I had been wearing were blood covered. I’m not sure where those were now, hopefully burned to a crisp in an incinerator.
I wandered about for a bit just staring into storefronts. Every clothing store I passed I tried to imagine myself wearing the clothes I could see on display. I suppose jeans and t-shirts were my best bet but a part of me wanted something dismal. I felt dismal. It’s really hard to describe because I didn’t feel like this before. It was only in the last day or so actually. I was still me but it was like a part of me was dead. I suppose it was. Katie was like my second half and without her; I found it hard to get out of bed in the morning. It wasn’t like I was depressed. It was more like I just wanted to go about the world and hope that no one noticed me. A dark cloud that definitely passed over my heart and it didn’t want to go away. It was affecting my whole outlook on things too. I was still me but I was something else too, something that felt incomplete.
I guess it was really hard to describe. As I was walking along, I think I finally found something that suited me. Katie preferred little boutiques, the corner shops near the college. She didn’t like to drive far to get her clothes and things like that. We rarely came to the mall unless there was some kind of sale she wanted to exploit. Most of the time she kept to the very same stores that Iris had been dragging me in to all afternoon. One of the stores we never even went near was Hot Topic. Even now as I stood before it and looked inside, I felt strange even thinking about it. But there was something about all the dark clothing hanging on the racks that seemed to call to me.
I groaned. Great so now I was a Goth chick.
I took a step toward the store but stopped, shaking my head. I couldn’t go in there; I didn’t want to be a freak. I took a step back and started walking again. I picked up the pace, trying to put as much distance between me and the place as I could. I found myself walking by the very same stores that Iris and I had been in a mere hour or so before. I walked the whole length of the mall---well this floor anyway---but somehow I ended up back in front of Hot Topic. I groaned a second time. There was no way I was going in there.
“Trust me, girl, you don’t want to go in there” said a voice.
I nodded. At first, I thought it was my own conscience. It wasn’t until a few seconds later that I realized that it actually came from outside my head. I turned and looked behind me. Sitting on the bench behind me was a girl who looked liked she’d been in this story more than once herself. She was sitting with her legs crossed, black boots up to her knees, fishnet stockings. She was as pale as I was but I think a good portion of it was from lack of sun. She wore a tiny ruffled black skirt, a corset over what looked like a mess shirt and black fingerless gloves. Her makeup was black which matched her hair---pulled up into two knobs on either side of her head.
She was definitely someone I didn’t want to be acquainted with and yet I wasn’t leaving.
I shook my head. “I didn’t want to go in there.”
The girl smiled, her black lips looked sinister when she did that. “See you’re not a tool. Good for you”
I forced a smile and nodded. Then I looked both ways, deciding to get away from the freaky girl as fast as possible. I went left, hoping she’d get the hint that I didn’t want to be seen with her. She didn’t. I was probably twenty feet away when she slid into step next to me. It surprised me to say the least and I jumped. As soon as I did, she looped her arm through mine. She was definitely bold but I already knew that just by looking at the way she was dressed.
“If you walk away like that you’ll never make any new friends,” she said with another one of those wicked smiles.
“What makes you think I want to be friends?”
She laughed. “You walked by that place twice. When you went by and stopped the first time, I could tell you were hesitant to go in. When you came back I knew were interested. You definitely have the look for it but not that place, trust me.”
I frowned. “I was just browsing.”
She laughed again. “Sure you were.”
She steered me down the mall and for some reason I let her. I didn’t think I wanted company and yet walking with this girl, it felt kinda nice. I’m been cooped up in the Allen’s house for too long. Bart, Iris and Barry/Barbara were great company but I definitely needed some space. This girl might not be someone who Ryan Roth would have associated with---in fact, I knew she wasn’t---but I wasn’t Ryan anymore. At least not physically anyway. Hell I hardly felt like myself in my head anymore either. I don’t think I’d ever feel like myself anymore. Without Katie, there was a hole and I don’t think anything would ever be able to fill it.
“You look lost,” said the girl as we walked.
Her arm was no longer looped through my own and yet I still found myself walking along beside her. I guess I needed company more than I thought. I guess she was as good as any. “I have a lot on my mind.”
“Boy trouble?” she asked, I shook my head. “Girl trouble?”
The way she said “girl trouble” made me wonder if she was trying to be sincere or if she was looking to hook up. I knew from my earlier once over of her that she wasn’t lacking in the looks department but I wasn’t ready for that. I’d never be ready for that. Katie was my girl and I wasn’t going to tarnish her. Maybe someday---five or six years from now---but not now and definitely not with a complete stranger.
She smiled. “So it is a girl.” She laughed at the look on my face. “Hey I’m not here to judge. I swing both ways myself, it helps keep the options open.
Sometimes my boyfriend pisses me off and other times my girlfriend can be a real bitch. If it’s not one it’s the other, either way at the end of the day I never sleep alone.”
She seemed proud of that fact. I couldn’t believe that someone could be that carefree. But then again looking at her, I guess I could.
She laughed aloud. “I know what you’re thinking. I need to get away from the crazy freak girl.” I shook my head, which made her laugh even louder.
“You’re different than my other friends,” I said quickly, trying to defuse the situation.
“Of course I am.”
She was a bit annoying but I kinda liked her too. Her carefree attitude was refreshing. It definitely brought my spirits back up.
We walked for a few more minutes. It was clear that the two of us were going nowhere. Then she steered me toward the girl’s restroom. I paused for a second. This was the first real time I’d been out in public as Rachel. In fact when Iris had suggested it back at the house I almost didn’t come. I was scared to walk around like this now. I’d been out before but I was still partially myself then. Now I was all girl and it frightened the hell out of me. Thankfully, no guys had made any passes at me but I caught a few of them staring earlier. It made me uncomfortable to have their eyes on me like that.
“Wait” I said quickly. “Why are we going in there?”
She stopped for a second, looking me up and down. “Do you trust me?”
I laughed. “I don’t even know you.”
She laughed a little too. Then she gently took my hand and led me over to a nearby bench. Her holding my hand did nothing for me. Usually whenever Katie and I used to hold hands, it sent a pleasant spark up my arm and all over my body. Holding this girl’s hand gave me no spark. I’m not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing.
She sat first, pulling the skirt underneath her a bit and crossing her legs. She was still laughing but at least she let go of my hand. “I sometimes get a little carried away. I’m Lori,” she said, holding out her hand for me to shake.
I sat down and shook it. “Rachel” I said softly.
She smiled then gave me a confused look. “You know I think we have a class together?”
That floored the hell out of me. A class? I shook my head. “I don’t think so.”
She was giving me the same look. Then smiled. “Bio 101 with Applegate.”
I cursed inwardly. I did have Bio with Applegate. I gave this girl---Lori---a once over. I tried to put her name with a face and vice versa. But it was really hard. Applegate’s class was in a lecture hall and there were over a hundred people in it. It amazed the hell out of me that she noticed I was in it. Then I shook my head. It suddenly occurred to me right there. She wasn’t recognizing me of course, she was recognizing Ryan. It felt funny to think of myself that way but it was almost like my former self was a different person now. I bit my lip. I wonder if she thought I was a transsexual or something because it was clear that Ryan and Rachel looked nothing alike.
She laughed at my confusion. “I sit in the back,” she said, realizing that I couldn’t place her face. “And I don’t dress like this in class. My Dad would kill me if he found out I dressed like this in school.”
I nodded numbly. “I didn’t think anyone could pick out a face in a big crowd like that.”
She smiled. “I’m good with faces,” she said then laughed. “But you know what; I thought you were a guy.”
She had a big laugh about that. My face turned about three shades of red. Then I kinda chuckled. She was probably the only one in class that thought that.
She continued, trying to save face. “Not that you’re manly on anything but you wear baggy clothes to class. You have a great body; you should not try to hide it. When I saw you walking around the mall, looking lost, I couldn’t help but wonder if you were trying to shed that tomboy nature of yours. When you stopped in front of Hot Topic I wondered if you were willing to go that far.”
All I could do was smile. She thought I was a tomboy. I was screaming inside my head. But I needed to save face and fast. “I’ve been through a lot these last couple of days. I took some time off to find myself. I’ve decided that I want to change some things about my life.”
Ok, so half-truth.
She smiled. “Change is good, I’m all about that.”
I laughed. “The only problem is I have no idea where to start.”
She wickedly. I didn’t like that smile. She jumped off the bench, full of energy. She grabbed my hands and pulled me up. “That’s why I was taking you to the bathroom girl. You’re pale and pasty. I have the perfect shade of lipstick.”
I shook my head. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”
She laughed. “That’s why this will be real fun.”
She dragged me toward the bathroom. This time I didn’t protest as she pushed opened the door and pulled me inside.
“I think it looks hot”.
Lori’s words kept ringing in my head even hours after I got back from my shopping excursion with her. I was back in my room now at the Allen’s, staring at the object of “hotness” that her words had been referring too. I say staring because I was standing in front of the mirror, my body turned slightly sideways so I could get a good look at what was behind me. Or rather, what was currently on my back now? It was one of those spur of the moment, last thing before we left things. I’m not even sure why I did it but when I saw the shop, I knew I had too. I guess it was to honor Katie’s memory. She had one just like it and I knew when I saw the shop I had to get one. It wasn’t exactly like hers but it was close. She got hers done right before we left for school. When her father found out, he freaked. I didn’t have a father to freak about mine but I’m sure other people would have a thing or two to say.
I smiled at it. It was perfect. I dropped my shirt and turned around. I frowned a bit at its length. When Lori got going, she really got going. After dragging me into the bathroom, she insisted on accentuating my pale features. She only used a little bit of makeup but according to her, it was a “vast” improvement. Now I had a smoky eye look and black lips. I wasn’t sure about the eye shadow but I liked the black eyeliner and lipstick. It was so completely not me that it worked. The black nail polish was bit much but in for a penny as they say. After the impromptu makeover, Lori couldn’t be stopped. The first thing she did was take me from the mall.
“We can’t get good clothes here,” she said as I followed her out to the parking lot. I half expected her to drive a hearse. I was surprised at the little silver Prius. It did have a bat dangling from the rearview though, making it sorta feel like her. She took me into town to a place called The Coffin---apparently, it was the only place she shopped. It made Hot Topic look like the Gap. With Lori’s assistance, I ended up dropping over two hundred dollars on clothing and accessories. I tried to talk her out of it, seeing as it was technically Bart’s money. But she was on some kind of buying frenzy.
When she dropped me off at the Allen’s after we were done, she didn’t seem the least bit surprised that I was staying there instead of the dorm. She gave me her digits and we made plans to meet up for coffee tomorrow. When I walked into the house, the look of shock on Iris’ face was priceless. She recovered quickly and didn’t say anything. I took all my new purchases to my “room” and returned Bart’s card to him before he even noticed it was gone. Then I spent some time with Iris in the kitchen, telling her about what happened after she left me. I’m not sure if she was thrilled with my choices but she didn’t judge me either.
Now here I was in the present, six hours after Lori dropped me off. The top I was wearing was black with spaghetti straps. It didn’t go all the way to my waist either, ending at the midriff. No amount of tugging on the end of it seemed to help. I was wearing a pair of black pants with buckles too. Lori tried to talk me into wearing one of the numerous new skirts I bought but I wasn’t ready for that. I was wearing the pair of fishnet arm gloves she talked me in to though. She wouldn’t let me leave the store until I wore them. A small part of me was shocked at the change but a much bigger part kinda liked it. I decided after the makeover that this was as far from my old self than ever and I wanted it. I’m not sure why it felt so right but I felt at peace in these clothes. Even now staring at myself in the mirror with the black makeup and clothes to match I felt like I could almost get used to being a girl. Not that I’d ever really get used to it but for this small moment I was satisfied.
A gentle knock on the door interrupted me. Once again, Iris poked her head inside. “You look lovely dear,” she said, even though I could tell it was forced.
I could almost read her like an open book now, her emotions exploding from her. She didn’t like the way I looked but she was being polite. “It not too different is it?”
She opened the door all the way and walked over to the mirror to stand behind me. She frowned a bit. “Well I have to be honest and say that if you were my daughter I wouldn’t let you dress like that but you’re an adult and you can make your own decisions.”
I sighed and nodded then bit my lip. “What about this?” I asked, lifting up my shirt.
Iris looked down at the wicked looking black bird on my waistline, its head and beak pointed near my butt. She frowned but she didn’t say a thing. She did stare at it a long time though. I laughed finally.
“Katie used to have one just like this,” I said, tearing up a bit. “I wanted to do something to honor her. I thought about getting her name tattooed on my arm but this just felt right.”
Iris didn’t say a thing. Instead, she wrapped her arms around me in a tight hug. She held me for a long time and I cried a bit more. When she let go, I sighed heavily. I wish I could stop all the crying. I suppose in time it would stop with the pain. A small part of me wished that that never stopped. It was my penance, my punishment for what I did to Katie. I never wanted the pain to go away just like I never wanted to forget about her.
Iris shattered my thoughts. “You know I think this might be a perfect time to call your mother.”
And I felt like crying again. I bit my lip. I’d been putting off calling her because I was scared about what she might say or think. Iris talked to her last night, told her I was safe and sound. But she didn’t say anything about my change, told me it was my place to tell her. I just didn’t have the courage to do it. But Iris was right. I was dragging my feet and I needed to get over it. Mom wasn’t going to go away and this new life of mine definitely wasn’t going to go away.
I nodded. Iris slipped out of the room, leaving me alone. I walked over to the bedside phone and picked up the receiver. Mom picked up on the second ring. “Mom” I said, teary eyed.
“Who is this?” she asked, confused.
I took a deep breath. “It’s me, Ryan; I think you might want to sit down for this.”
Most people are nervous on their first days of school. It happens if it’s the very first day of school when starting kindergarten or the very first day of starting a new school, say moving from elementary to middle school or middle to high. In Azarath, we didn’t really have that problem: it was a central school with elementary, middle and high all in one large school complex. Yes, we all had a few butterflies when moving to new buildings but nothing overly fear invoking. I was pretty jittery though, a few weeks ago when I arrived for my first day of college. If anyone says that adults don’t get butterflies, they’re damn wrong because they do. Being only nineteen doesn’t really make me an adult but I’m definitely not a kid anymore.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that one first day of college was scary, but two first days of college, there are very few people who get to experience that.
“Dude” said Bart as he pulled into a parking place. “You ok? You look pale.”
I turned to him and gave him a raised eyebrow. As soon as I did, he realized what he said and laughed. But I still responded with a snappy come-back anyway. “When do I not look pale?”
He laughed. “What I meant is that you look paler than usual.”
I took a deep breath. “Well I am about to commit the biggest performance of my lifetime.”
“You see this as acting?”
I shrugged. “Isn’t it?”
He didn’t say a thing. Instead, he took the key from the ignition and unbuckled himself.
I’m not sure if I really saw it as acting either. A few days ago, I might have said yes but that was then. After my meeting with Dakota and my trip to the mall, life seemed to get fast. The day after that I went into the city and got all my information filled out at the local office that Dakota mentioned. I was surprised to find that the DEO---top secret government agency that it was---worked out of a nondescript, gray building like any other government building. Once there a representative from the local branch of STAR Labs evaluated me. He ran a battery of tests, took some more blood and then said he’d get the results back soon. Those didn’t come until two days later, along with all my new identification. The only thing the test proved was that I was not a Meta. I think that perplexed them all a great deal. They wanted more tests but they weren’t mandatory so I told them no.
Mom came by later that night. I met her at a little coffee shop---the same one that Lori and I went to earlier that day. We had a long, nice chat. My ID said I was officially Rachel Roth and if anyone in school asked, I was Ryan’s twin sister. Not that that would make much of a difference because everyone thought Ryan was a girl anyway. Mom and I talked for a long time about things. It was a little awkward at first but the two of us got over that quickly. Like Iris, she kinda frowned at my new gothic look but she didn’t say anything. The day after that I officially reenrolled at Arizona State. The DEO helped fast track my application. I filled out most of the paperwork with Dakota as a witness. When it came to my major though, I faltered. I thought about going Theater again but something about it felt wrong. I’m not sure why but I didn’t want anything more to do with it. Old memories I guess. Every time I thought about all the fun times I had performing, I couldn’t stop seeing Katie’s face. She used to come to all my plays and the fact that I wasn’t going to see her smiling face in the front row anymore made me sick to my stomach. In the end I decided to go Undecided, that way if something really interested me, I could sign up for it later. I signed up for the same General curriculum and then found a class that Katie was particularly fond of. She raved about it actually. It was a class on the Occult, taught by a visiting professor named Dee. So I ended up putting that on my list.
Now here I was four days after my meeting with Dakota, ready to get on with my college life once again.
“You getting out dude?” asked Bart, half hanging out of the car himself.
I sighed. “I’m building up to it.”
He slipped back into the driver’s seat. “We can always ditch today, start again tomorrow?”
I shook my head. “Then I’d just have to go through this all over again.” I shook my head again. “I just need a moment to build up to it.”
He laughed. “Me too. I’m going to miss being roommates with you bro. Whoever this new guy is, he better not snore or I’m going to kick his ass.”
I smiled weakly at his attempt to cheer me up. This new life definitely had disadvantages. Officially, Ryan withdrew from school and went home, seeking familiar surroundings. If anyone asked, my “brother” couldn’t deal with the pain of being in this place without Katie. It was partially the truth. I almost didn’t enroll back at Arizona State at all, too many painful memories. Mom convinced me to at least try. She said if I couldn’t handle it then I could move to some place else.
“You know anything about your new roomie yet?”
My new roomie? I groaned to think about it. I got my new room assignment yesterday. I was going to be in the same dorm building as Katie believe it or not. I dreaded that they might put me with Sarah but that wasn’t the case. Sarah was gone too apparently, the stress too much for her to handle. I tried talking to her on the phone but she refused to take my calls, not that I blamed her. She thought I killed her best friend and I’d be lying if I said she was wrong. I tried calling Katie’s parents too but their number was disconnected.
According to Mom, they took Katie’s death pretty hard. They didn’t blame me like Sarah but they couldn’t stay here anymore. They packed up all their things and moved a day after the funeral, out of state apparently. Strangely enough, most of the stuff in Katie’s dorm was just moved to storage. They didn’t even bother to take her car.
“Earth to Ry…I mean…Rachel” said Bart waving his hand in front of my face.
I shook my head, clearing my thoughts. Then I sighed. “I only have a name but I’m even dreading that.”
Her name was Angelina Smith, which was bad enough. But it was made worse by the fact that she dotted her i’s with little hearts. That tells you a lot about a person and it definitely told me that my new roommate was going to be someone worthy of the cringe factor. If anything, living with Angelina was going to be enough of a problem. Add to that the fact that I was suppose to have been a girl for the last nineteen years. So far, I’d been able to get by because I wasn’t really interacting with anyone else. Lori and I hung out a lot now but if I was doing anything ungirl-like, she wasn’t calling me on it. But then again Lori wasn’t the girliest person either. Hell, Katie wasn’t all that girly. So as far as being a girl was concerned I was trying my hardest to emulate both of them.
I told Bart my fears and after he was done laughing his ass off, I threatened to make him slam his head a few times in the car door. He held up his hands. “Dude, consider me warned.” He scratched the back of his head. “You going to be ok living with a chick?”
I shrugged and took a deep breath. “Only one way to find out I guess.”
I unbuckled my seat belt and pushed open the door.
The first thing I notice when I went into my dorm was that they were much nicer than the ones I had when I was Ryan. For one thing, there seemed to be more room with an actual carpet on the floor and two beds instead of a bunk bed. The second thing I noticed was the girliness of said room. I’m not sure all of them were like this but this one sure was. One side of the room was decked out in kitten posters, boy bands and candid personal photos. The desk had a girly pink shaded lamp and there was a fuzzy pink bedspread. I wanted to gag. I looked to the other side of the room, which was bare and must have been my side.
I carried my duffel over and dropped it on the bed. I didn’t have much in the way of things. Most of my stuff was still in my old room with Bart. I promised to come by later in the week and pack it up. The DEO gave me a nice dividend to start my life over. Even if I didn’t test as a Meta, they were sure that I was something worthy of keeping an eye. So I got a five thousand dollar budget to spend on whatever I wanted. So far, the only thing I bought was a cell phone and some underwear. Most of my clothes I bought the other day with Lori---Bart wasn’t too happy I swiped his bank card, especially when he saw how much I spent. I reimbursed him with my cash, plus a hundred bucks more. I told Dakota about my wallet but she said I’d have to figure that out on my own.
So much for government aid. I looked at my brand new watch. It appeared to be in-between classes so Angelina wasn’t here. I guess that was a good thing. I decided to use the quiet and unpack. I put my casual clothes in the dresser, intimates in top drawer, jeans, t-shirts and assorted clothing in the other drawers. The rest of my clothes went into the closet. Lori insisted I have at least two dresses---both of them gothic in nature. One was skimpier for the club and the other longer and elegant. I’m not sure where I’d wear the second one, but apparently there was an alternative club in the city. Lori frequented it a lot and expected me to join her this weekend. I’m not sure if I was looking forward to that actually. The last club I was in led to a fight and that fight led to…
Clubs are bad for me. Bad things happen when I get in that kind of environment. I’d have to make up an excuse and call Lori later about it.
When I was done putting my stuff away, I went and explored the other side of the room. A lot of pictures on the wall showed a blonde girl with a big smile who I assumed must be Angelina. I groaned when I saw her in a shiny pink prom dress and groaned even more when she was wearing a yellow and black cheerleader outfit with a bumblebee in the center. That’s all I needed. I looked at the other pictures then looked over her desk quickly. Besides the girly lamp, there was a laptop with a pink trim, several pink pencils and a plush pink bear wearing a graduation hat. I groaned. This girl clearly liked pink, which was going to make things really hard for me.
The final thing I noticed was on her wall. It was a crucifix. I couldn’t help but think of my own cross with a bit of longing. One of things I planned to do was get a look in Katie’s car. Hopefully my clothes were still in there, along with the cross. It was the only other place I could think of, unless I left it back in her room before that shower I took. That dreaded shower, the one which if I hadn’t taken, Katie might still be alive. I shuddered, a tear running down my cheek. If my cross was in the dorm then it was probably in storage with the rest of her dorm room stuff. I wonder if Dakota could help me get into that. I suppose if I asked nicely enough she might.
As I was rounding toward Angelina’s bed, my cell rang. It vibrated through my pants’ pocket, thumping against my leg. I cursed when I saw the name on the screen: Dakota. Speak of the devil. I took a deep breath and clicked it on.
“You have ESP?”
She chuckled. “You’re the only psychic I know.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not a psychic, I’m an Empath.”
There was one good thing about the whole STAR Labs experience. The doctor who tested me---Dr. Reynolds---was able to figure out exactly what I was. He called me an Empath or more accurately a Psionic Empath. I’m not sure what any of that really meant because he explained it to me in a bunch of techno mumble jumble. But the jest of it was that I could read emotions and to an extent, project those very same emotions on others. He didn’t know what to think of my power of suggestion though. According to him, I was the one in their database who could do such a thing. The teleportation they listed as questionable because I was never able to reproduce it. They ran me through countless tests but no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t teleport at will. I guess it was for the best. I overheard him talking to his flunky and they wanted to keep me around for more tests if that ability proved liable. I definitely didn’t want to be a lab rat for the next few months, that’s for sure. I still was keeping quiet about my precog ability, whatever it may be. I’m not sure why I decided to keep that one to myself but there was something about it that freaked me out. It wasn’t just seeing those girls being killed either. There was more to it; I’m not sure how to describe it though. I guess first and foremost I was terrified of it. It was somehow connected to that thing behind the door and I didn’t like that in the least.
“Psychic, Empathic or whatever, you and I need to talk for a few.”
I groaned. “Didn’t we discuss everything discussable?”
She laughed. “I’m supposed to be checking in with you every day.”
I looked at my watch. “I have my first class in an hour.”
“This meet will only take like ten minutes” she said, I sighed. “Good, meet me on the bench in front of your dorm.”
I clicked the phone off and headed out of the dorm. A two minute elevator ride later, I was downstairs walking through the little foyer and out the door. Dakota was sitting on the bench just like she said. It was clear she was trying to look like she belonged but she wasn’t doing a really good job of it. Tank top and khaki shorts aside, she still looked a little out of place. I walked over to her. She was sitting on the bench, reading a hardback textbook. When I approached, she snapped the book shut and stuffed it back into a backpack at her feet.
She looked at me and shook her head. “Aren’t you hot in all that black?”
I looked down at my black tee and baggy black pants. The heat didn’t seem to be bothering me. Maybe it was another of my Meta powers or maybe it was because I just walked out of an air-conditioned dorm room. “You wanted to see me?” I asked, ignoring her question.
She nodded. “Are you adjusting well?”
“That’s why you dragged me out here, to ask how I was?”
She laughed. “No, that was called concern” She picked up the pack and shook it. “This is why I’m here. The government took the liberty of getting you your books already.”
I looked at the purple backpack and frowned at the little stuffed bear attached to my zipper. I took the pack from her but pulled the bear off and put it in her hand. She laughed.
“I told them that that was too easy.”
“Too easy for what?”
She shook her head and pulled a keychain from her pocket. “Give me your keys.”
I did as I told and watched as she put the little Devil mascot on my key ring. “What’s that for?”
I tried to get her to tell me more but she wasn’t in the talking mood. At least not about super secret government stuff. Instead, she wanted to talk more about me. Ever since we met the other day, in our last two meetings---this one being the third---all she wanted to do was talk about me. She was really interested in my well being, like an overbearing big sister. I’m not even sure why she was still around. I wasn’t a Meta according to all the tests they performed and yet I still couldn’t get rid of her. She did work for the Department of Metahuman Affairs; surely, there was another Meta out there that she could bug.
After a few more questions, I didn’t even have time to go back to my dorm. My first class was on the other side of the campus. By the time I got there, I would have maybe ten minutes or so to get to class. Dakota said it would only take a couple of minutes but with the questions, it was nearly thirty. I guess it couldn’t be helped. I wanted to know why she was still around and all she wanted to know was what kind of person I was. Neither one of us ended up with the answers we sought. She told me she’d back tomorrow at about this time. Me, I could hardly contain myself.
I had to walk at a brisk pace. I went to the bathroom first. On the way out, I notice a strange man standing at the corner. He was tall with dark hair and an angular face. He wore one of those coats that detectives wore in those old black and white movies. As soon as I walked out of bathroom, he started staring at me. He kinda freaked me out actually. The freakiest thing though was that I couldn’t get a reading off him. There was no color surrounding his body and when I tried to read his feelings, I got nothing. I took a deep breath. Stop looking at me you creep. I tried “suggesting” he look the other way. One of his eyebrows rose slightly then a slight smile curved his lip.
I took a step forward. Just as I was about to take another step, an influx of people floored the halls. I was nearly trampled as they poured out of the classrooms. I got a bit turned around. When I finally righted myself, I turned back to where I saw him. He was gone. I sighed. He was probably just some creepy janitor or something. I shrugged it off and slipped into the crowd. If I hurried, I might be able to make a food run before class.
My first class of the day happened to be my Occult class. Katie herself had only been in the class a few weeks before she died but she raved about it. The professor was supposed to be a foremost expert on it or something. I’d be lying if I said I knew what it was that we were actually going to be discussing in class. So after I got my course curriculum the other day, I went online and looked it up. According to Wikipedia---gotta love it---Occultism is the study of occult or hidden wisdom (forbidden knowledge). It contains things like magic and alchemy. I vaguely remember Katie going on about some of the stuff they talked about in class but she talked so much about all her classes that things just molded together. Me, the only think I could talk about was acting. Not that I ever bored her---at least she didn’t act like she was bored.
There were a lot of people in the classroom when I finally got there. I almost didn’t make it in time. There was a line at the little Starbucks cart at the end of the hall. Now standing in the door I was finding it hard to find a seat. I scanned the faces, wondering which one of them wouldn’t mind a girl like me sitting next to them. I caught eyes with a girl in the front row. She had black hair cut to her shoulders and was wearing a dark purple skirt and black skirt. I looked at her legs, which were clad in fishnet stockings. It was the boots that gave her away. Though she wasn’t all decked out in her usual wear, especially the heavy makeup, it was clear this girl was Lori.
She smiled when we locked eyes. I smiled back and walked over. When I slipped into the seat next to her, she took my coffee from me and took a sip. “Caramel macchiato?”
I nodded then took my drink back. “Why didn’t you say you were in this class?”
She shrugged. “You never asked.”
The two of us discussed classes the other day. It was true I never really went out of the way to find out which classes she was in. Then I realized that she thought I was a student here from day one. So I needed to cover and fast. “I transferred myself into this class from an earlier one. I needed more time to sleep in the morning.”
“I hear ya; this is my first class as well.”
When I first met her one of the first things I noticed was the slight accent. In fact, at the coffee shop, I picked on her a bit about it. But apparently, I had one too, at least to her. She was from Dayton Ohio. Her home life wasn’t exactly the best so as soon as she graduated high school she found the farthest college from her father she could think of. I’m not sure why she chose Arizona. She didn’t talk much about her mother, other than the fact that she was dead. I think it was a sore subject. If one were to look at Lori Zechlin, one might think they had her all figured out. I sure thought I did. But seeing her now---sitting here in semi-normal clothes---I was way off. There was definitely more to her than she was letting on. I guess that makes two of us.
The class started a few minutes after I sat down. The professor walked to the front of the room. He was definitely not what I was expecting. For one thing, he wasn’t wearing a tie and for another he actually looked like he wanted to be there. Not that any of my former professors didn’t look like that but this guy was actually smiling. When he set down his briefcase and put his long tan coat on the back of the chair, something clicked. I took a big breath: it was the guy from the hall. I forgot everything else as I stared at him. Even when he started lecturing, I zoned all of it. The only thing that mattered to me was this guy. I looked around the room. Everyone else was glowing in various colors, most of them a calming blue. But the professor was nothing. It was like how I used to see people before all this crazy crap started to happen. I tried reading his emotions again. I’d been practicing ever since the STAR Lab doctor told me I could do it. I have a pretty good handle on it now. I can either read everyone in the room---which is a bitch and a half---or one person at a time. I tested it on the blonde haired jock in front of me. I centered on his glowing blue form. There was a slight fluctuation in the color. Then I got this overwhelming sense of lust. Not for him but from him. I gripped the edge of my desk from the intensity.
I forced myself away from him, breaking the hold. Then I noticed the busty red head in front of him. The lecture hall was set up so one row looked over the row in front of it slightly. So in theory guys could actually look down girl’s shirts if they wanted. The red head was wearing a low cut top, her girls exposed for every guy behind her to see. The lust I felt was clearly directed at her. Once the feeling passed, I felt sick to my stomach.
“You ok?” asked Lori softly.
I nodded. “Something I ate.”
After I fully recovered, I lashed out again. I still wanted to make sure that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It didn’t take long though for the lust to come back. I almost smacked the jock in the back of the head before I realized it wasn’t coming from him. I turned slightly and saw a skater punk glaring at me. He wasn’t trying to hide it either. His stare was definitely uncomfortable. Lori caught where I was looking and saw the guy too. She gave him the finger, which snapped him out of his stare. It also killed his lust. When I shook off the feeling, I decided that I was definitely doing things right. It grossed me out that a guy could think about me that way but at least I knew things were working. I picked up other emotions too before finally deciding to try my “magic” on the professor.
But just like the hallway, I didn’t get a thing off him. He did lock eyes with me though. It was only for a second. There was something about his eyes, something that made me feel uneasy. They weren’t evil but they weren’t the kind of eyes that normal people had either. We stared at each other for a long time, neither breaking the stare. My concentration was finally broken by Lori snapping her fingers in front of my face.
“You alive in there?”
She chuckled softly. “You were freaking me.” She looked where I was staring and smiled. “You hot for teacher?”
She laughed. “Well you don’t talk about boys so I thought maybe you liked men.”
We both shared a soft laugh. “I saw him in the hall today and he was giving me a creepy look.”
She nodded. “That’s Dr. Occult for you.”
She laughed. “Everyone calls him that. He kinda freaks people out, especially about how passionate he is about the stuff he teaches. So we all started calling him Dr. Occult.”
I stared at “Dr. Occult” again. He was no longer staring at me while he talked. His back to his happy and passionate self. That didn’t stop me from staring at him through the whole class though. I couldn’t tell you what the class was about but everyone else was really attentive so it must have been interesting. As soon as he let us go, Lori had to bail. She had another class right after this---a couple of buildings over. Before she ran off, she promised to call me. As I was gathering my things, I suddenly got this feeling that I wasn’t alone. I turned my head and found the skater punk standing next to me.
He picked my book off the desk and handed it to me. I took it and slid it into my pack. “Thanks” I said, annoyed.
He didn’t get the hint. Instead, he smiled. “I’m Brody.”
“Fascinating” I said as I zipped up my back, slung it on my shoulder and walked off.
Brody ran to keep up. “You got a name?”
“Yep” I said as he followed me out into the hall.
“You going to give it to me?”
I sighed heavily and turned to him. “Look Cody, I’m sure you’re a really nice guy and all but I’m not interested, ok.”
He frowned. “Don’t be like that.” He said then gently touched my shoulder. “You need to chill, chica. All I want is your name.”
His touch sent shivers up my body. Not the good kind either. I could tell this guy was bad news. In fact, I could feel it. I shrugged his hand off. “What part of not interested did you not hear?”
He laughed. “They always say that at first. But once you get to know me, I bet you’ll change your mind.”
Not getting the hint. “I doubt it.”
I slammed my shoulder into him as I pushed past him and down the hall. But he apparently didn’t want to give up. He was really starting to piss me off. He walked a bit faster than me and stepped in my path.
“Look, chill babe. Give me your name and I’ll leave you alone.”
Not only was it Chill but now it was Babe. My anger flared. Something snapped. I leaned into him, my mouth inches from his ear. “You’re so interested in chilling,” I said, a coldness in my voice. “Why don’t you walk into the nearest bathroom, stick your head in the urinal and flush.”
When I pulled away from him, I saw the glassy look in his eyes. He dropped his bag in the middle of the hallway and walked toward the men’s room a few doors down. When he opened the door and walked inside, I couldn’t help but smile. Was I proud of what I’d done, no not particularly? But did the scumbag deserve it, most definitely. I kicked his pack into the wall and then started off toward my next class, happy that at least my gifts worked on someone.
The rest of my classes that day went by relatively easy. Though there were a few classes that paralleled my previous schedule like my Bio one. When I first told Dakota I wanted to be in the same Bio class as before she thought I was nuts. Maybe I was. Then I explained the whole Lori thing---how she thought I was a girl to begin with---Dakota was a little more understanding. I got some strange looks from some of the others though. There were even some whispers when I walked by. At first I thought they were gossiping about me being a cross dresser but it turns out that most of them were whispering about Katie. Word on the street---she and I were lesbians---and when her parents found out, she couldn’t live with their rejection and killed herself. I’m not sure where the rumor got started but I didn’t like it.
I was thankful that no one was blaming me for it anymore.
My math class was the other one I had before. In there, I sat in the back away from other people. Not that anyone noticed me in the first place. Except for maybe Becky. She was the girl I met while auditioning for Macbeth. She kept on staring at me strangely every chance she got. I tried to ignore her but it was a little hard to do. I suppose I could have “suggested” that she didn’t know me but I’m not sure that would have helped. After class, she caught up with me as I was leaving. I had a four-hour break before heading to my last class of the day: a three-hour Bio lab.
“Ryan?” Becky called to me.
I turned my head and looked around, playing dumb. “You talking to me?”
Ok, so I’m no Clint Eastwood. Becky frowned.
She shook her head. “I thought you were someone I used to know.”
“A guy?” I asked, she nodded. Then we both laughed. I decided to not torture her any more. “He’s my brother actually, my twin.”
Becky looked a little stupid after that. “I thought you two looked alike. I’m Becky; I was in a couple of his Theater classes.”
I reintroduced myself to her. Then the two of us walked to the library together. She asked me about the rumors---the real ones. When I told her that Katie did in fact kill herself, she hugged me. I’m not sure why. Then I told her that my “brother” couldn’t deal with being here without her, so that he went back home. She understood that pretty well. Then she told me a story about losing her grandmother over the summer. She teared up a bit over that so I ended up hugging her. Becky came across as one of those girls who didn’t have a lot of friends. She was nice enough but very quiet. I never noticed it before but she was also very plain. If only she spruced herself up a bit, a little makeup, less frumpy clothes…and I did not think that. God I’m turning into a girl.
She and I hit the food court together before going to the library. While we were eating Lori called. She was supposed to meet me after the Lab tonight but she had to cancel. She was exhausted and needed to crash. I was kinda tired myself.
Becky and I spent two and a half hours in the library before heading off to Lab together. I’m not a big fan of night classes but the lab was the only one I had this late. Though it seemed like a long time to be in one place it went relatively fast. The reason for its length, I only had it one night a week. Tonight we were discussing the human nervous system just like in class but in Lab, it was the practical application of the thing. Becky was my partner and together we had to dissect a sheep’s brain. She was squeamish about it but I had no qualms about dissection. She was a good note taker and thankfully didn’t dot all her i’s with little hearts. There was no way I could deal with two of those kinds of people in my life.
When class was finally over, Becky begged me to walk with her back to the dorm. She was a little freaked out about all the girls disappearing. To reassure her, I walked with her. It wasn’t too far out of my way thankfully. I didn’t go into the dorm building but I waited until she was inside before turning and going toward my own. By the time I started back to my own dorm it was almost nine o’clock. I decided to cut my trip in half by taking a short cut through the parking lots. There were two of three of them that would make it much easier then following a winding path through school buildings.
As I was walking through the second one, I got this foreboding feeling that I wasn’t alone. So I lashed out with my empathic sense and found the culprit. I turned around quickly and even though I couldn’t see him, I knew he was there. I could feel his same lust from class mixed with anger. I took a deep breath. “I know you’re there.”
A minute or so later, Brody came out of hiding behind a SUV. He looked kinda pissed. His hair flattened to his head, the top of his shirt darker from where it spent all day drying. It was clear that he did what I suggested and didn’t bother to change clothes afterwards. Ewww. I did notice he recovered his backpack though. He took a step toward me, a sneer on his face.
“You fucking bitch” he said, stepping toward me in an intimidating manner.
As Ryan, I might have been a little bit afraid of him. But as Rachel, he didn’t scare me in the least. He was a joke and he really didn’t want to fuck with me. “What are you talking about?”
He rubbed his temples. “I don’t know what you did but I know you did it.”
“You’re confused” I said and turned to walk away.
He apparently wasn’t done talking. He took a step forward and grabbed my arm. He yanked me around violently. The blackness that flared off him was dangerous. I took a step back. There was so much anger now, drowning out any of the lust he felt. He was at least five inches taller than me and probably weighed fifty pounds more. He also a lot stronger than I thought. He grabbed both my arms in a tight grip and forced me to the ground. I tried to struggle away but he had a good grip. When he let go of one of my arms I tried to bolt. But he grabbed my hair and held firm, gasping me to gasp. I tried to throw suggestions at him but it wasn’t working, his anger was too strong.
“You fucked me over bitch,” he said, fumbling with the clasp of his pants. “And now you’re going to make it up to me.”
It didn’t take a genius to figure out what he wanted from me. When he had his pants open fully, he starting pulling down the waistband of his boxers. He used his other hand to push my head toward it. I struggled and fought but he was a lot stronger than I was. I wanted to scream but instead I closed my eyes. When I did, I felt something. At first, it was a slow tingling but then it was like a fire. As soon as the fire got overwhelming, I snapped my eyes open and there was screaming. At first, I thought it was mine but then I realized it was him. There was a great blackness surrounding the two of us and Brody was no longer holding onto to me. In fact, he wasn’t holding onto anything. He wasn’t even standing. He was at least a foot off the ground, his pants down around his ankles.
I blinked. It was like the blackness was wrapped around him, lifting him from the ground. He was screaming bloody murder but somehow I knew the only ones who could hear it were him and I. He kicked and struggled but it was no use. Me I never felt more alive. I got to my feet and felt an overwhelming sense of power course through my body.
“Pain,” whispered a voice in my head. “Show him pain for what he did to us”.
Pain was good.
I raised my hand and the blackness squeezed around him. Brody stopped screaming and clutched at his throat. He dug at it with his hands like he was being choked. But there was nothing gripping it except the black. I wanted to kill him; I wanted to choke the life out of him for what he tried to make me do. I was so pissed and so angry. The fire burned stronger the more I choked him. There was a cackling in the back of my mind. It was low at first but grew in strength and intensity the more I squeezed. A small part of me knew all of this was wrong but the anger inside of me wouldn’t let that part get to me. Brody was a danger and as a danger, he needed to die.
“Kill him then,” said the voice. “Set an example, so these insects they can’t mess with us.”
I smirked as I continued to choke him slowly. It felt right, it felt good. It felt like he was getting exactly what he deserved. Everyone who treated people like this deserved this. Brody was scum. I knew that in the classroom and I knew even more so when he tried to force me to do unthinkable things. People like him thought they owned the world, thought they could do whatever they wanted. But not now, not to me. Not when I was still breathing. It would start with him then I’d seek out all the other scumbags like him and choke the life out of them too.
“They all deserve to die.”
“They’re in our way, all of them,” said the voice. “Just like Katie, they’re stopping you from being who you are, who you were meant to be.”
Katie? My anger broke for a split second. Katie’s face appeared in front of me. I stopped choking Brody for a second. Katie was a good person, she wasn’t holding me back. I loved her; I loved her with all my might. Katie didn’t deserve what happened to her. I looked at Brody. Even though he was scum, he didn’t deserve it either. There was a fog that had crept over me but it was slowly starting to fade. I stopped choking Brody. The cackling in my head grew louder though and my hand involuntarily twitched. When it did, I started choking Brody again.
“You’re weak but I’ll make us stronger,” said the voice.
“No” I screamed back but it was no use.
Brody continued to choke. The color drained from his features and his skin turned gray. His eyes were glassy and then dull, like all life was taken from them. He was still choking but he was no longer struggling against it. His whole body looked numb but he was still alive. I tried to fight whatever I was doing, tried to lower my arm. But I couldn’t. It was as if my arm had a life of its own. I grabbed it with my other arm, gripping my wrist with my free fingers. I tried to pull it down but it wouldn’t budge. Then I screamed. I screamed as loud as I could. I didn’t think it would make much difference though. I was going to kill Brody, become another murderer, except this time I really wanted the person dead.
Tears started running down my cheeks as I continued to scream.
That’s when the light came. It was bright and overwhelming. It cut through my blackness like a knife, severing whatever hold I had over Brody. He dropped to the ground and I regained control of my arm. I dropped it to my side and a there was a scream in the back of my head before it was silenced. I stumbled backwards. I fell to the ground. The tears ran down my cheeks. I wanted to die; I wanted to crawl into a ball somewhere and cease to exist. I heard footsteps coming toward me and panicked but I didn’t move, I couldn’t move. Then someone was standing over me, looking down at me with a frown. I saw a long tan coat and black hair. It was Professor Dee, the one students called “Dr. Occult”. He reached out and touched my forehead gently with his index finger.
Then I blacked out.
A bubbly, annoying pop tune woke me up. At first, I thought I was in hell because of the song but it took me a few seconds to realize I was in my dorm room. When I opened my eyes and blinked, I was kinda surprised. I sat up quickly, looking around to make sure I wasn’t still dreaming. I even went as far as pinching my arm. I winced at the pain and cursed. I was awake and I was in my dorm room. I rubbed the back of my neck. What the hell just happened? One minute it was night and I was in the parking lot. I turned my head toward the window. Now it was clearly day and some teen bimbo who screeched through her song was assaulting my ears.
“Morning roomie” said a bubbly voice, cutting through the shrill.
I turned my head toward the source and finally came face to face with Angelina Smith. For some reason, I expected her to be this bubbly, but I was hoping that I’d been jumping to conclusions before. Boy, did I hate being right. Here she was as perky as I thought she might be, dressed in a pink tank top and panties. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, smiling broadly. The song was coming from her radio. I looked at the glowing red numbers: six am. Not only was she annoyingly perky in the morning, but she got up three or four hours before I ever did. A small part of me wanted to “suggest” her back to sleep. Maybe it wasn’t too late to put in a request for a new roommate.
Angelina got off her bed and walked over to me. Before I even knew what was happening, she wrapped me in a tight hug. I was frozen in shock. Not only was she perky but she no regard for personal space. When she pulled away, she was still smiling. How could anyone smile this much? She giggled and walked over to her desk, the stupid song still blaring on her radio.
“Umm… hi.” I mumbled groggily.
She pouted. “Someone isn’t a morning person.”
I rubbed my temples. “Could you turn the song off?”
She frowned, but did as I asked.
“You’re Rachel, right?”
I nodded. I wanted to say, ‘…and you’re the roommate from Hell’. Instead, I said, “And you’re Angelina Smith.”
She smiled. “You can call me Angie, if you want.”
She was smiling again. Maybe this girl was a Meta too and her power was to annoy? I smiled weakly and slowly got out of bed. Besides the very rude awakening, I tried to process things. Last night was a bit of a haze. I remember leaving the science building and walking with Becky back to her dorm. I took a short cut through a parking lot and then…then Brody. I groaned, remembering what the son of a bitch tried to make me do. I guess I should have let him get it out and then bit off the tip. But, something else happened–something horrible. I can’t remember everything about it, but I know there was darkness. I was angry too, very angry. It was this overwhelming feeling that took control. I couldn’t fight it and I couldn’t stop it. Things after that were a bit fuzzy. The angry feeling lasted a while and then there was this bright light. I knew the light was important, but I couldn’t remember anything else about it. The next thing I knew, I was waking up to a girl who should never have been able to record that voice of hers.
I looked around the room, then down at myself. I was still wearing the clothes from yesterday, but my boots were on the floor next to the bed. How in the hell did I get back here? Was it possible that I walked myself back here after the incident with Brody? I shook my head. Then, why didn’t I dress in my bedclothes? It made no sense and as I sat there, trying to figure it out, I couldn’t help but think I was missing a very important detail. It was one of those things that was lingering in the back of my mind, but I just couldn’t place it. It was so damn frustrating, too.
I ran my hands through my hair and realized Angelina was looking at me funny. I groaned. Now she was judging me. “Ummm, you ever had one of those nights where you just can’t remember how you got home or what you did before hand?”
She blinked once or twice. “No, I’m a Christian.”
I bit back the urge to laugh. One little suggestion, just one.
I forced myself to be nice, though. I stood up and tried to get myself through my morning routine. Angelina did the same. She left a few minutes before me, wearing a fuzzy pink robe and carrying a towel. One of the things I was dreading the most about living in a girls’ dorm was the showers. I’m sure most former guys would think it was a dream come true, but not me. I wasn’t a horn dog when I was a guy. Katie was and always will be the only girl for me. The idea of fantasizing about other girls naked never even crossed my mind.
The first time I slept with Katie was the first time I’d ever seen a girl with her clothes off. I mean a real girl, not one in a movie. I’m sure a lot of guys can tell you all about this and that. I just remember how beautiful she looked. There was something about the natural beauty of her nakedness that made me feel serene.
As I pulled off my own clothes, standing there in my bra and panties, I turned to the mirror. I was trying to see that beauty in myself. To me, Katie was a masterpiece, but I was something else. Too pale, too skinny, and too foreign. I guess I wasn’t used to looking at the girl in the mirror. I was done fighting the fact that she was me, but I just couldn’t get over it. I would never be male again, never be Ryan again. A small part of me thought that might be all right, but the rest of me was screaming silently. This was not what I wanted. This was never what I wanted. As far as I know, no male would; at least, not one who was happy with himself, inside and out. Ok, so I wasn't fully happy as Ryan---I was too pale, too thin and too girly---but I was happy being a guy.
I sighed, pulled on my own robe, and walked out of the room. The shower room was down the hall and when I got there, there were five or six girls in different stages of undress–only one or two of them were completely naked. I stared from one to the other quickly. Though I didn’t fantasize about naked woman all the time like most males, I still was simply aroused by them before. I even felt this tingling when I saw them. I think it was a normal reaction. The same thing with that little feeling in your brain that tells you that you’re attracted to this girl or that one. Now, though, I felt nothing. All these girls were pretty, I suppose, but I wasn’t attracted to a single one of them. A small part of me was sad at that revelation. If I wasn’t attracted to girls… did that mean…? I shook off the thought and went to one of the benches. I sat down quietly, pulling off my robe. The girls laughed and talked, gossiping about things that made me blush. I knew what guys talked about in the showers but I never expected girls to talk like that. A lot of it, I will not repeat, but for the most part they asked questions and tried to get to know one another.
I quietly showered with my eyes closed, letting the water wash over me.
I was trying to drown out their chatter, but something caught my ear. I opened my eyes at the mention of it.
“Did you hear about that guy in the parking lot?” asked one of the girls (I think she said her name was Jaslyn?) asked someone else.
One of the other girls, Shay, shook her head. “What happened?”
“Campus security found him early this morning. Apparently they thought he was dead but it turns out he was still breathing.”
Brody? Oh God, what did I do?
“I heard about that,” said another one of the girls, her name I didn’t know. “I heard it was drugs.”
“Anyone know who it is?” asked Angelina, as she scrubbed her chest with a puff.
All the girls shook their heads. Me, I could only sigh. It was a good thing no one heard me. Brody was a dick, but did he deserve that? They continued to talk about it for a few minutes. Apparently, after finding him, security brought him to the hospital where he was now in a coma. How these girls knew so much I had no clue. Eventually, the topic shifted to some party this weekend. I stopped listening after that. I tried to get back into the joy of my shower. The water running over my new, more sensitive, skin was fantastic. I was just about relaxed when there was a surprised gasp from behind me.
I opened my eyes and turned my head. Shay was standing there, having just finished her shower. She was the kind of girl that I might actually see myself befriending---what with her pink hair and nose ring. “That’s an awesome tat,” she said, pointing to my back. “Did it hurt?”
I shook my head. “It’s little, so not so much. I have a thing for birds, especially black ones.”
She looked confused. “The bird is cool, but I’m talking about the cross.”
Cross? I stepped out of the water and walked over to the far wall where there were several mirrors. I turned so my back was to it and looked over my shoulder. I nearly had a heart attack. There was a giant cross tattoo on my back. But not any cross this one had two bars just like the one I wore around my neck. It was huge too, taking up the whole of my back. No wonder she thought it must have been painful. Something that size would have taken hours to do. I stared in numb awe at the thing, trying to comprehend what it meant. There was no way in hell I would have even forgotten that. Which begged the question: where the hell did it come from? I know for a fact it wasn’t there yesterday or even the day before that. Was it possible that I got it last night after the Brody incident? I shook my head. Something like that would have cost a lot of money, but there’s no way I would have done something that reckless.
Shay came up behind me. “Must be new if you’re looking at it that much” she said, I numbly nodded. “My folks would kick my ass if I did something like that. You have balls.”
“Thanks, I think.” I said softly, she laughed and walked off.
I reached around and gently touched the tattoo. A slight shiver went down my spine as I did so. What the hell is going on with me? I stared at the cross---my cross? ---over my shoulder for a while. Shay laughed and walked off. After about ten minutes, I went and shut my shower off. I started toweling myself dry before wrapping my hair up then putting on my robe. I left the showers after that and made my way back to my room. The whole time I couldn’t help but think about the cross tattoo. When I opened the door, though, my thoughts were distracted by the envelope on the floor. I bent down and picked it up, seeing that it was addressed to me.
I opened it slowly. It was strange because there were only a few people who knew and none of them would send me letters. The letter itself was short: You and I need to talk, D. There was also a place to meet. I groaned. Why did Dakota have to be so cryptic?
The meeting place was in a small courtyard behind a non-descript building. The area was arranged around a small stone basin filled with flowers. There were five or six stone benches around it. It didn’t take me long to spot Dakota because she was sitting at the only bench that provided shade. It was clearly not for her though, but her companion. Dakota was dressed for the weather---in her usual t-shirt and khakis---her friend was not. It was clear that this guy was new to the area because a charcoal gray suit was not smart for Arizona heat. He was fidgeting with his collar and loosening his tie, when I approached. I gave him a once over: from his slicked back hair and expensive attire, it was clear that he was some kind of slime. If I had to guess, I’d say lawyer.
They were in mid-conversation when I walked up. “How can you stand this heat, it wasn’t nearly as hot in Chicago” grumbled the suit.
“You’re the one who screwed up Damon” she said harshly, it was clear the two of them were talking about something that happened prior to this.
He sighed. “I don’t know why you picked this sun baked patch of earth” He wiped his sweaty brow with a handkerchief. “If I ever get my hands on that red skinned bit…”
He stopped talking as he turned and saw me. He looked me up and down. There was a curl to his lip as if he were sneering at me. I’m not sure what happened in Chicago but how did I get saddled with this prick.
Dakota perked up when she saw me. The smile she gave me was weak, bordering on a frown. So it was clear that this “suit’s” visit was not planned.
The man cleared his throat so Dakota introduced him. “Rachel, this is Agent Matthews from the legal department, he has a few things to discuss with you.”
I groaned. So the suit was a lawyer. Agent Matthews set his briefcase on his lap and snapped open the lid. Then he took out a folder and opened it up. There were a lot of papers in there. I tried to look disinterested but they did pique my curiosity. I was pretty certain I knew what this was all about. They were here about last night. I guess I wasn’t all that surprised. Dakota did say they were going to be watching me like a hawk and last night’s incident probably raised several red flags. I knew I was dangerous and they knew I was dangerous. But were they willing to act on that danger and lock me up. Did I deserve it? The second after I killed Katie I would have said “yes” in a heartbeat. Now I wasn’t so sure.
It was clear that Agent Matthews thought so.
“Miss Roth” he said, faking a smile. “Would you like to tell us about last night?”
I shrugged. “There’s not much to tell.”
His eyes narrowed. “Why don’t you start from the beginning and go from there.”
I took a seat on the edge of the stone flower basin. Then I cleared my throat and started at the beginning. I told about the classroom first then proceeded to tell them about how Brody tried to get me to “suck him off” in the parking lot. Matthews flushed at my choice of words. When I finished the story---with what I remember anyway---Dakota smiled. I think she was impressed that I handled the bastard so quickly. But there was a hint of fear, too. I lost control, that much I knew. Other than that, I’m not really sure what happened. It was still all very fuzzy. Whatever I did to him though had a lasting effect if the rumors about him being in a coma are true.
“You gave Mr. Gerard severe neurological damage,” said Matthews, glancing quickly at the paper in front of him. It looked like some kind of medical report. He then rattled off a bunch of other medical stuff.
From what I could tell Brody was now a vegetable. I’m not sure if I was happy or terrified. On one hand, he deserved to get punished for what he tried to do to me but on the other hand, I nearly killed the bastard. But the scariest thing about it was the picture attached to the file. It was of Brody in his hospital bed. His skin had a grayish tone to it and his eyes were white. There was a bit of drool running down his chin. It looked as if there was no one there at all, like everything had been sapped out of him. Looking at that pic, I should have been appalled but I felt slightly energized. It was horrible to see a human being like that but no matter how much I stared at the pic, I didn’t feel any remorse. I was scared of that fact.
“You’re going to have to be monitored from now on,” said Matthews as he closed the folder.
“I didn’t authorize that,” snapped Dakota, clearly annoyed. “Rachel is my Asset; her case is under my jurisdiction.”
“And under your jurisdiction, she put someone in the hospital” Matthews fired back.
I didn’t like where this was going at all. I didn’t like Dakota shadowing me around but I tolerated her. She was cool and pretty and didn’t go out of her way to annoy me. But this Matthews guy, I didn’t like him the moment I saw him. There was no way I could let this guy have goons following me all over the place.
The two of them argued back and forth. It was clear that Dakota had my best interests at heart. I wasn’t a Meta and they shouldn’t even be here with me.
“She’s not even in our jurisdiction,” snapped Dakota with frustration. Then she lowered her voice but it wasn’t low enough. “If the BPRD finds out we’re trying to push our way into one of theirs, there will be hell to pay.”
BPRD? What the hell was that? But at the mention of it, Matthews’s eyes widened. The color drained from his face. It was clear that whatever or whoever they were, it scared the hell out of this smug lawyer. The mention of it seemed to kill their argument though. Whatever it was, it scared the hell out of Matthews. I think it scared Dakota too. It was clear that whatever they were doing with me was something that this BPRD would not like. Did that mean that they were another government agency of some sorts? Maybe they knew what was wrong with me.
After the name drop, Matthews said no more. He stuffed the folder back into the briefcase and looked at me with fearful eyes. Dakota turned to me and smiled weakly. “I’m sorry about that, Damon is a drama queen.”
He scoffed; I shot him a smug look. Dakota continued. “We are going to have to monitor you more closely however. It’s clear that what happened was an accident and that you didn’t intentionally try to kill Brody.” She looked around, lowering her voice. “Did you take out the security cameras too?”
I shook my head. “I didn’t know there were any.”
She bit her lip. “Probably just a malfunction then.”
There was uncertainty in her voice though.
The two of them didn’t stay much after that. I gave Dakota a hug and limply shook Matthews’ hand. I didn’t leave the area until the two of them were gone. I sat on the basin and watched them go, both of them going off in different directions. My gaze followed Matthews though. He looked out of place on a campus full of kids younger than him. When he got to the building, a figure caught my eye. He was half in the shadows, obscured but still visible enough for me to see. It was Professor Dee. He was standing there in his trench coat. He was staring at me but also looking at Matthews too. It wasn’t a casual look either. Did he know who the agent was? I shook off that thought as ridiculous.
“Hey girl” said a voice, shattering my concentration.
I turned and saw Lori walking toward me. I smiled as she approached. Then I turned back to the Professor to see if he was still watching. But he was nowhere in sight. A slight shiver went up my spine. But I shrugged it off and turned back to Lori with a smile.
The rest of the week went by rather interestingly. After my meeting with Dakota and Agent Matthews, I tried to get back into the college life. I fell into step just like before, except now I was a girl doing it. I was just glad that I wasn’t high school and that this wasn’t an all girl’s Catholic School. I know a lot of guys fantasized about that cute schoolgirl look of white blouse and blue plaid skirt---I’ll be a fool if I said it didn’t cross my mind. Now every time I saw it in my mind’s eye, I saw my new self in that cute little outfit and I shuddered. So yeah I’m very glad that this college is coed.
The scariest thing about falling back into the college life was how quickly I adapted to my new situation. I’m not saying I got all girly---far from it---but I did become one of the girls. It didn’t take all that long either, maybe a day or two. It was the same group from the Shower Room on that second day, minus a few of the ones I didn’t really know all that well. I became fast friends with Shay and Jaslyn because we shared the same interests. Shay had three times as many tattoos as me and piercings in places that I didn’t even want to know about. Her hair changed color every day too---washable dye apparently. She said she liked a variety. Jaslyn’s parents were from India but she was raised in the US. She rocked this mixture of clothing style---both American and traditional Indian garb i.e. t-shirts and sari like skirts.
Angelina hung out with us by default. She didn’t bother me as much as the first day. Just as long as she didn’t speak all that much. Considering what me and the others talked about, Angelina rarely opened her mouth. I’m not sure when my taste in music shifted but I went from the usual crap I listened to to the heavy metal/punk stuff that Shay listened to. It helped that Lori was interested in the same stuff as well. She was the unofficial fourth member of our posse actually. She didn’t hang with us all the time because she was in a different building but she often popped in and out. I remember how close Katie and her girl friends used to be in high school and could never truly understand it until now. Girls formed this unbreakable bond of sisterhood Yeah I know that sounds corny but it’s true. I felt close to these girls, like I could share my deepest darkest secrets with them.
Except the major secrets of course. I only shared those with someone I could trust, which turned out to be the only person who really knew what was going on anyway.
“Did you see them again today?” asked Bart as I walked up to him outside my dorm.
He’d taken to picking me up every day now ever since that incident with Brody. Of course, I told him and of course, he kinda freaked. I’m not sure when he started to think of me as the innocent damsel in distress but it happened. It also annoyed the hell out of me. Angelina thought we were dating but Jaslyn thought it was sweet---like a big brother complex. Well there was one advantage to hanging with Bart---the other guys left me alone. Not that there were many who approached me anyway, but the few that did try were scared off by the size of Bart. Not that he was an overly big guy but he did have muscles and this nasty glare.
But the point of his question is this: I’m being followed. At first, I thought it was guys sent by Matthews, making good on his threat. But Matthews’ guys wouldn’t look the way these guys did. They wore dark sunglasses just like government thugs but they also wore white linen shirts and brown pants and all their heads were shaved bald. They kinda creeped me out, like MIB Monks or something. Everywhere I went there seemed to be one of them dogging my steps . At first I thought I was being paranoid but the more I noticed them, the more places they showed up. They even lingered in the hallways outside each of my classrooms. I notified Campus security about them but they seemed to think they were one of the various members of some religious organization---there were apparently a lot of those in Phoenix.
After I told Bart about them, he got even more protective. He even went so far as to put his arm around my waist while we were in public. The strange part was I didn’t actually mind that. I’m not saying I was in love with my best friend but it felt nice to have that little bit of comfort. I didn’t let onto it of course. As soon s as we got into a building, I pulled away from him as quick as possible. I couldn’t let him or other people---save annoying Angelina---think we were dating.
But to answer his question, I took a quick look around. There were a lot of people in the quad in front of the dorm building, most of them students. I did a quick scan of their faces then reached out for their emotions. The thing about my Bald followers, they gave off nothing. It was like they someone shut off everything, making them as numb as they looked.
“I don’t see any,” I finally admitted with a sigh.
But his hand tightened on my waist even more all the same. “What the fuck do they want anyway?”
Ok so I hadn’t told him the whole truth. But how do you explain to someone that some creepy Thing behind a door told you that there were people after you. Not just any people either. People who were going around killing girls who looked just like you. On top of all that, the Creepy Thing behind the door was actually in my dreams or inside my head. It was really confusing actually. All I know for sure is that she wanted out and she wanted to hurt people. Hell she got me to “kill” Katie and I think she almost got me to kill Brody. I was starting to get vague recollection of that night in the parking lot back. Her Voice was there, in my head, egging me on to kill the bastard. I almost did too. It was the light that stopped me, the bright light. I couldn’t remember anymore than that though.
“I think they’re just weirdos,” I said in response to his question.
He searched my face. He was giving off this “I’m confused and don’t really believe you” vibe. It was radiating off him actually.
Finally, he nodded. “Just be on the safe side I think you should come with me to that party.”
I groaned. The party in question was this huge frat party they were throwing tonight. I’m not sure of the significance though. It was the beginning of October so it’s not like there was anything too pressing going on. We had been in classes for about a month and Halloween was still weeks away. There was a party for that as well---in fact, there were probably fifty of them. Lori already roped me into going to about half a dozen; she was getting our costumes ready. But she was being real hush-hush about them.
“I’m not going to some kegger so some drunk jackasses can feel me up all night.”
It felt like a month since the last time I’d had a drink anyway. Truthfully, I hadn’t touched anything since the club. The club that Katie and I went too on the night she died.
“Are the others going?”
I shrugged. In truth, they were all going, even anti-social Lori. She said she was bottled up all week and a good drink or two on the weekend helped loosen her up a bit.
Bart frowned. He could tell I was lying. He could always tell I was lying. If Bart were a Meta, he’d be one hot chick and he’d have the power to tell if people were lying or not. An image flashed before my eyes of a female Bart Allen. Sadly, I wasn’t turned on. Then an image of a male Bart in red spandex flashed into my head. My nipples got a bit hard on that one. I cursed. It was no secret that I might be slightly attracted to him. But I swore to myself never to act on these feelings. I made a promise to Katie that never again would I ever sleep with anyone but her. I planned to keep that promise, no matter how good guys were starting to look to me now.
“You’re lying and you’re going. I’m not leaving you alone with creeps snooping around.”
I frowned then sighed. “Ok but I’m not drinking.”
He smiled. “Fine I’ll do the drinking babe and you can hold my cup.”
He put his arm around my shoulder as we made our way slowly through the Quad. A small part of me was happy that he was doing it and another larger part of me was repulsed that he called me “babe” and I actually liked it.
The party was well underway when we pulled up front. WE drove because the house in question was several blocks from the school. There was one rule on campus and that was no underage drinking on campus. So the fraternity in question---I’m not really sure which one actually---were using a house one of the member’s owned. Well one of their parents anyway. It---like so many other houses in the area---had a Spanish hacienda inspired look. With stucco finish painted tan and a terra cotta tile roof. Bart slipped his arm around my waist as we wanted up the lawn and through the front door. We got a few looks. After all, he was a track star and I was the freaky new Goth chick. I shrugged them and Bart’s arm off as I slipped away. He barely noticed. Though I did see him follow me with his eyes as I disappeared into the crowd.
I only promised to come with him to the party. I never said I was going to stay by his side through the duration of it. So I wove my way through the crowd until I caught a familiar shock of bright hair---green tonight. Shay was dancing pretty close to Jaslyn, giving rise to the rumors that the two of them were in fact an item. They were swaying to the music, plastic cups of beer over their heads. When they caught sight of me, Shay grabbed my hand and pulled me in-between the two of them. I let them have their fun for a bit before I slipped away.
“You here with the bodyguard?” asked Shay as the two of them took a break from dancing.
We found some seats on a nearby couch, trying not to disturb the guy passed out on the floor at our feet. This definitely wasn’t my scene. This was only the second college party I’d been too. The first I ended up dragging Bart’s drunk ass home, slightly buzzed myself. That was back when Katie and I were happy and the only thing I needed to worry about was a play audition. That felt like a lifetime ago. In fact, it was a lifetime ago. Any part of me that was Ryan was long gone now, including my sexual preference apparently. Though Shay was hot, in her tiny jean skirt that barely covered her ass and Jaslyn was killer in her halter, neither sight did anything for me anymore.
I looked around to make sure Bart hadn’t bailed on me. I caught sight of him playing beer pong in the corner. I groaned. It looked like I was driving the Corvette back tonight.
“Boys and their toys” said a voice as a girl in a black dress sat in-between me and Shay.
At first, I was a bit confused until I saw the trademark black boots and fishnets. I blinked a few times regardless. Lori told me she promised her Dad that she wouldn’t Goth out in class but now she had gone overboard. I guess it was all that pent up gothness trying to get out. She was wearing an obscene amount of makeup and her corset was so tight that she was practically popping out of it. Shay’s eyes bulged out of her head when she saw my “gothed” up friend.
“No fricken way” said the stunned green haired punk wannabe.
Lori smiled. “On the weekends, I let the real me come out to play.”
Jaslyn piped in. “You look like Alice in Wonderland.”
Lori took her beer and took a long sip. “Not Alice” she said, passing the cup back. “Black Alice.”
We all shared a laugh.
It took a few more sips of beer for Lori to notice one of our posse was missing. She looked around. “Where’s the Barbie Doll?”
Shay shrugged. “She met some guy earlier and went off with him. That was like an hour ago.”
“No big” said Jaslyn as she took another sip of her beer, already a bit buzzed.
I didn’t drink. I was getting enough of a buzz off the three of them. Not from the alcohol but from their erratic emotions. They were all over the place, it was intoxicating. The lust coming from Shay and Jaslyn was overpowering. Mix it with the bored annoyance coming from Lori and it was like a bad porno in a mental health facility. It came in waves too. Some were overly intense while others were dull and easy to ride. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and slowly pushed myself off the couch. I mouthed “bathroom” at the looks and they shrugged, giggling into their beers.
I pushed my way through the crowd. The emotions were running too high in the room. They swirled about the area like a colorful haze. I staggered and swayed. Most of it was lust and it tore at me. I found myself licking my lips and longing for someone to quell the beast inside me. There was a lot of happiness too, which made me feel a bit lightheaded. That was counteracted by this dull, slow feeling. I think that might have been the drunkenness of the room. It hit me the hardest. I found it almost impossible to walk through that bit. I’m not sure how I managed to get to the stairs but when I did, I got up two steps before collapsing. A pair of girls nearby giggled because they thought I was drunk. Their feelings swelled off them and into me, making me giggle and sway.
I felt like I was going to be sick. I pushed myself off the stairs. Instead of going up, I went back down. I stumbled my way into the crowd. It wasn’t what I intended but now that I was there, I didn’t want to be any other place. The emotion swirled around me in a vortex of bright pretty colors. I bumped and ground with the best of them. Several people groped me, both from front and behind but it was all good. I laughed and danced and had a hell of a time. The only problem was that I couldn’t seem to stop. The more everyone else around me partied, the more I wanted to party too. I tried to stop myself but it was like I was being carried away by it all. It was like that time in the car where Katie and I were going to screw the hell out of each other or like the nightclub the night she died. I was being overwhelmed by everything around me. My head was starting to hurt too. I grabbed my temples a minute later and the room began to sway. I tried to stop the spinning but it wouldn’t go away.
Go Away, Leave me alone. That’s when it happened. I felt a tingling course through my body. It was slight at first but slowly started to build. It got stronger and stronger until I finally I just popped. I screamed at the top of my lungs and a burst of blackness spewed from my mouth. It filled the entire room, spreading across the floor, ceiling and walls quickly. It covered every person in seconds, bathing the room in a black that looked strangely familiar. Everyone was still dancing and drinking, swaying to the music. They acted like nothing was wrong. To me I could see all their colors. They were rising from them, leaving their bodies. The colors were floating, floating toward me. I could feel them getting closer and closer. I wanted them, I needed them. The colors were power and they would make me stronger.
I reached out, trying to grab them. The tips of my fingers were able to touch the nearest cloud. I felt a burst of energy, it was orgasmic. As soon as I touched even a bit of it, one of the girls staggered and fell. I pulled my hand back but only for a moment. The girl got back to her feet, rubbed her head and continued to dance. I was scared for a second but only for a second. I shrugged and reached for another cloud, one high above my head. It was closer than the other. My hand was nearly there, just a few more inches and then…
A hand lashed out of the dark and grabbed my wrist. It held tight like a grip. As soon as it touched me, I swayed and nearly fell over. The euphoric feeling was gone. I felt sick and dizzy. I looked around for the source and found a man standing there. He wasn’t bathed in black like the others; he was like me, normal. He was wearing a gray trench coat and fedora. His dark eyes stared at me and he shook his head. I gasped because I recognized his face immediately.
“Enough of that, Miss Roth” said Professor Dee as he gently let go of my hand.
The crazy feeling didn’t come back but I staggered. He reached out and caught me when I feel.
“Professor” I slurred, feeling like I was being hit by a thousand hangovers.
“Its all right girl, I’m not here to hurt you,” he said as she swept me up into his arms. “I’m a friend, I’m here to help.”He looked down at me, smiling weakly. “Sleep” he said and then touched my forehead with a finger.
Darkness overtook me and there was nothing more.
I opened my eyes and for the umpteenth time in the last several weeks, I had no idea where I was. I couldn’t help but groan as I rubbed my temples. I tried sitting up but that only seemed to make things worse. A searing pain tore through my head so I decided it was better to just lie there and figure things out. It felt like I was suffering from the biggest hangover in the history of hangovers. The strangest thing was I can vaguely remember not drinking last night. Last night, I groaned again. Just thinking about the party made my head hurt even more.
I finally managed to force myself to sit, the thin blanket covering me slid off. I blinked a few times. I was in a rather plain looking room. There was a dresser in the corner, a door that must lead to a closet and the bed I was currently lying on. The walls were a beige color and the carpet a muted brown. Whoever owned this place didn’t have much of an eye for decoration. I continued to look for other signs too, things that might tell me where I was. There was a single window but the blind was down. There was also another door, which I assumed led out of the room.
I pulled the rest of the blanket off then climbed out of bed. The pain hit me again, nearly throwing me for a loop. My head was pounding. It sure felt like I was drunk but I knew I hadn’t had a drop. What I did have was a bit of everyone else. I guess that’s the only way to describe what happened. I partook in my fellow partygoers…like some kind of parasite. This time---unlike the parking lot---I remembered everything. In fact, I could still feel some of it, residual traces of feeling bouncing about in my head. It wasn’t the crazy lust from last night but the drunken stupidity was still there. It was hard to stand and I ended up falling on back on the bed.
I sat there for some time, holding my head, trying to will the pain away.
I sat on the edge of the bed for a bit. Sitting seemed to help a bit. I closed my eyes and tried again to will the pain away. I tried for several minutes but it didn’t seem to work. So I guess my power of suggestion only worked on others. I guess that makes sense. After another few minutes, I decided to try standing again. It was still a bit painful in my head but it was a lot better than before. I actually managed to walk across the room toward the door. I half expected to find the door locked so I was shocked when it opened. The hall beyond had the same beige color and brown carpets. Someone definitely needed a decorator. But I ignored all that as I made my way slowly down the hall. Lest I forget, I was some place unknown and whoever brought me here could be a serious threat to me.
All I could remember from that was feeling real drunk and falling into someone’s arms. Or maybe they picked me up? It was all still a little foggy.
I got a few feet down the hall when I felt pressure in my bladder. I groaned. Now was not the time. But I couldn’t hold it so I stumbled into the open bathroom. I flicked on the light quickly, rushed to the toilet and barely had time to relieve myself. Once that was down, I decided not to flush in case my “rescuer” was also my enemy---no point in alerting him or her that I was awake. So instead, I stumbled over to the sink. If I turned on the water just a bit, I think I could get enough to splash in my face. So I turned the handle gently, allowing a thin stream of water to pour quietly into my hands. I got enough to throw in my face. As I did so, I caught a look of myself in the mirror. The water was in my face before I noticed something on my forehead. I blinked back a few times just to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. But there was no imagination; there was some kind of thing on my forehead. I leaned over the sink, putting my head right up to the mirror to get a better look. It was a little red diamond smack in the dab of my forehead---like those little gems that Indian women wore.
I reached up and gently touched it. I half expected the thing to have grown out of my head. But upon touching it, I could tell that it was some kind of attachment. I couldn’t really pull it off but it was clear that someone put it there. I was a bit freaked by that. Who the hell sticks funky stones on people’s heads? I tried pulling it off but it wouldn’t budge. I cursed. Did they glue it on there? I bit my lip, trying to think things through. My head still hurt and now I had a diamond stuck to it. Maybe that’s what was causing all the pain. I shook that theory off as stupid---nothing that small would hurt this much.
I continued to touch the stone for a minute or two more before realizing that if I wanted answers I might as well go looking for them. So I took a deep breath and left the bathroom. I could feel the stone now; it felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. Before the pain in my head was all that I could concentrate on. But thinking about the stone seemed to make the pain fade away. It wasn’t gone now but it was like a dull headache now, not like the pounding bitch it was before.
The farther I moved down the hall the more I wondered what waited for me at the end of it. When I finally got there though I was a bit surprised by what I saw. It was a normal house, all be it one that was lacking in much of anything. There was a couch and a pair chairs but not much else. There wasn’t even a television. Who didn’t have a TV? I stood at the end of the hall a minute or two before walking into the living room. The walls were beige like the rest of the house and there was a strange smell filling the air. I looked around, finally finding the source. There was an incense burner on the mantle of a fireplace, the smoke wafting off it filling the room with what smelled like sage.
“Finally awake I see,” said a voice from behind me.
I snapped around, hands clenched into fists. I was ready and rearing for a fight. Though I didn’t do much fighting, I at least knew how to throw a punch. Maybe if I got lucky I could stun the bastard enough to make a break for the door. But all that fire was gone as soon as I saw who was standing there. It was Professor Dee, dressed in a gray shirt and black pants. He was standing in the entryway that separated the living room and a small kitchen. He was holding two mugs; I was hoping they were coffee. I could really go for a cup of coffee right about now.
But I shook that thought away. I had more pressing matters to attend too. “What the hell am I doing here?”
He chuckled. “You’re here because I saved your life.”
He turned and walked into the kitchen. I could do nothing but follow him. He walked over to a little table and set one of the cups in front of a chair. Then he sat down in the chair across from it. I slipped into the empty chair. I looked down at the cup, it was filled with tea. “What the hell are you talking about?”
He smiled then picked up his cup. He took a nice long sip then sighed. “A special herbal blend from India…it helps clear the mind. You should try some; it might get rid of that headache.”
I looked at the cup, biting back anger. “I don’t give a fuck about your tea. I want to know why I’m here.”
He took another sip form his mug. “I know how this must look but I’m not going to hurt you, Miss Roth. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, I’m here to help.”
I frowned at that. “Then why all the secrecy. I know you’ve been watching me like some pervert, professor. I could get you fired for that you know.”
He laughed aloud. “No you couldn’t” I opened my mouth to argue but he held up a hand. “I would have to work there in order for you to do that.”
Wait what? Now I was confused. He saw the confusion and smiled.
“I’m not a teacher nor is my name really Dee” he said as if to explain.
That freaked me out even more. I took a deep breath and tried to call upon my powers. If I could just throw a suggestion at him, maybe I could get him to pour the hot tea on his lap or something. Then I could take off and run to the police. I wasn’t their favorite person but there’s no way they could turn a girl down if she claimed to have been kidnaped.
The “Professor” laughed. “Nothing you do will work on me, just like in the hallway and in the classroom.”
He placed his hands on the table. On his left pinky, there was a big gold ring with a yellow stone. I never noticed it until now. The stone had this shine to it, almost as if it was constantly catching the light. He saw me looking and smiled.
“What is that?” I asked, mesmerized.
“A gift from some very old friends” he said, slipping the ring off. He sent it on the table in front of us. “It’s called the Seal of the Seven; it’s a very powerful talisman. It helps negate any magic thrown my way. Your power of suggestion for instance or that fantastic bit of empathy that you have. None of it works on me as long as I have this.”
He picked up the ring and slid it back on his finger.
Now I was really confused. “I don’t understand. How do you know about me?”
He looked at the ring then at me. “What do you know about magic?”
“You mean David Copperfield, Hocus Pocus, that kind of stuff?”
He laughed and shook his head. “I’m not talking about charlatans. I’m talking about real magic.”
This time I laughed. “You can’t be serious. There’s no such thing as magic.”
He laughed aloud. Then something happened. The air got a charge to it, like static electricity. It felt it tug at my clothes and it made all the hair on my arms stand on end. I stared at the “Professor” and watched as he disappeared. Or so not really disappeared. His body seem to shimmer and in its place was me. I blinked a few times. There I was sitting across from me, dressed just like I was now. She smiled and picked up her tea cup. Then she took a long drink. She put it down, waved delicately at me and laughed.
“Still think there’s no such thing as magic?” she asked in my voice.
I stared at myself, flabbergasted. There was no way. I was ready to believe anything he said. That is until I remembered something from the news. There was talk about people who could change their appearance but they weren’t magic users they were Metas. I smiled smugly at her, I mean him. “Nice trick. but Metas can do that too.”
She smiled and just as quickly as she became me, she transformed back into him. “Very true but how about this.”
He waved his hand and a rose appeared in it. Then he crumpled the rose between his hands. When he opened it, back up a dove flew out. He smiled then pointed at my mug, it rose a foot from the table before he gently put it back down. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen. But it didn’t prove anything. He could be a Meta like me but with a lot of gifts. Just because Dakota said I was the first one they met with more than one ability like that didn’t mean I was the only one.
“Still an unbeliever?” he asked, I didn’t say a thing. He laughed. “What if I were to tell you that there are people other than Metahumans who can do what I just did. Maybe not nearly as skilled---I’ve had years of practice---but ones just as powerful. Metahumans are a fairly new breed, there have been some here and there but in the last year or so, their numbers have been on the rise. What if I were to tell you that the homo magi have been around for centuries.”
“You’ve heard of Merlin?” I nodded. “He was one of the better known members of our race but there were several others before him. Merlin was a visionary though; he was the man that brought magic to the forefront. Before him, our kind lived in secret, hiding and operating in the shadows. But after him, we started to take a more active role in society. There have been some ups and downs through the years---the Inquisition, that unfortunate business in Salem---but we’ve always managed to spring back. We try not to interfere in the affairs of humans but it happens every once and a while. We’re enigmas for the most part, there but not there.”
I laughed. Then I realized something. He kept saying “we”. At first, I assumed he was talking about others like him. But he kept giving me this look when he said “we” like he was including me in this group of nut jobs. “You think I’m one of them?”
He shook his head. “I don’t think, I know” He waved his ring in the air. “The Seal doesn’t just negate magic, it finds it, too. I was here in the city on an investigation, looking for signs of people misusing magic. There were some unfounded rumors but the trail ran cold. I was about to pack it up and move on. Then you appeared. At first, I thought it was a mistake; you have such a great concentration of magic in you that I was sure it was several people instead of one. Suffice to say I was a bit surprised. I would have moved in immediately but I had to be sure. As soon as I saw the DMA talking to you, I figured I was on the right track. So often they mistake Magis for Metas.”
I nodded. Not that I believed him but it was true that I wasn’t a Meta. “I’m not a Meta, they told me that much.” He nodded then I remembered something else. “I overheard Dakota talking to Agent Matthews, they mentioned another group. It started with a B.”
He smiled. “The Bureau” he said. “They handle things of the magical nature. I’ve worked for them and with them in the past. As soon as your Agent Jamison discovered what you were, she should have passed you along to them. But she’s new and ambitious. I’m not sure if she knows exactly what you are, but Matthews sure does. He’s a little prick. He stuck his nose into it once before in Chicago, got himself involved with another young woman just like you. He failed to hand her over to the Bureau as well and she got scared and ran.
He sighed. “You can’t blame them for trying I guess. They’ve wanted to control one of us for a while, I think they thought now was their chance. I’ll deal with them shortly. Right now though I need to worry about you.”
“Me? Is there something wrong with me?”
He sighed, rubbing his temples. “You have a lot of power but it’s all over the place. I can sense the magic in your blood but there’s something else too.”
I took a deep breath and bit my lip. I still didn’t even know his real name but if what he was saying was true, he could help. At least I was positive he could help. I still didn’t fully trust him but he was the only one who was making sense. I thought he was crazy about all this magic shit but maybe he knew what was going on. I took another deep breath. “I’ve been having strange dreams.”
His eyebrow perked up. “Tell me about them?”
So I told him. I told him everything, I didn’t leave anything out. I even found myself crying as I told him about the strange thing behind the door. He nodded once or twice. But it was the part about the necklace appearing in my last dream that made the color drain from his face.
“Necklace?” he asked, his body going rigid. “What kind of necklace?”
Thinking about it made me tingle. I reached absently to my neck where it wasn’t hanging anymore. He watched my movements, his eyes narrowing. It took me a few seconds but I told him about the necklace. I told him where I found it and how I didn’t want to wear it at first but I kinda longed for it. He nodded, but I could tell he was scared. It had nothing to do with reading emotion. You can always tell when someone is scared. It was a certain way about them.
When I finished telling me about it, he turned and flicked his hand. A pen and a piece of paper floated from the kitchen counter. It landed on the table in front of me. “Draw it for me.”
I frowned but took the pen anyway. I’m not an artist by any means but the cross was simple looking. It didn’t take me long to draw it. As soon as I did, I passed my rudimentary sketch back across the table to him. When he looked down, he sighed heavily. That sigh scared me. What the hell was going on? He stared at my picture for a while, not saying anything. When he finally looked up at me, there was definite fear in his eyes.
He stood up quickly. “Stay here” he said a bit too harshly for my taste. He left the room after that. A small part of me wanted to disobey him and run. But the rest of me knew better. Instead, I sat and waited. He came back a minute later, carrying a huge leather bound book. He dropped it on the table in front of him with a thud that shook the mugs, causing my now cold tea to spill a bit. I looked at the book, it was enormously thick. The pages were yellow and the binding old and cracked. I peered at the cover, half-expecting to see the words Necronomicon written on it. But there were no words. Instead there two metal buckles. The “professor” took a key from his picket and unlocked them. That freaked me out a bit; I mean who has a book that locks---besides a diary.
This thing was definitely not a diary.
He opened the book slowly. Then just as slowly started to leaf through the pages. It took a while for him to find what he was looking for but when he did, he turned the open book to face me. “Is this your cross?”
I leaned forward and looked at the pages. The words were in some language I couldn’t read but there was a picture. It was hand painted and filled most of the left page. I saw a man in a black robe holding a metal cross in his hand. It was larger than mine but there was no doubt about it: it was my cross. I stared at it for a long time. Then I stared at the man. There was twisted agony on his face like the cross was hurting him. Behind the man was fire and something else, a figure. It was a mincing creature with red skin and horns, crawling toward him. The creature was coming from a fiery circle as if it was crawling from the pits of hell. The picture sent shivers up and down my spine. I wanted to turn away but I couldn’t.
I finally managed to nod my head though to answer his question.
The “Professor” sighed heavily then took the book away. “Are you sure this is your cross?”
I nodded. “Mine is smaller but it’s the same thing.” He looked like he’d swallowed a gold fish. I bit my lip. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
It took him a few minutes to respond. When he did, his voice was hollow and distance. “This is The Rapture, one of the Thirteen Artifacts.”
I was confused. “What does that mean exactly?”
He sighed heavily, putting the book on the table in front of him. He took a deep breath. “The Rapture is one of Thirteen mystical artifacts, sought worldwide by individuals like me and others as well. The Artifacts themselves are immensely powerful but together they’re a force to be reckoned with. The Order has been looking for them for centuries. We’ve been trying to lock them up before unfortunates like yourself happen upon them. They’re usually drawn to those with magi blood but they’re been known to respond to other humans as well.”
I was really confused now. None of this was making any sense. So I found this Rapture thing, what the hell did that mean? “What does this Rapture do exactly?”
He shook his head. “It varies from tale to tale. I think I should tell you about its history first before I get into specifics on what we believe it might be capable of.”
I nodded. So he took the book and started to read from it.
According to what was written, The Rapture was first used in the early 1900s, at least the earliest recorded account of it. It was found in an old church by a man named Horace Grimes. Grimes was a mathematician, seeking ways to prove his theory of the Fifth Dimension. He searched the world over, looking for something that might prove his theory correct. According to Grimes’ journal, he spent many years looking for the Rapture. He was following old stories about an item capable of opening portals to other realms and became convinced the Rapture could help him open a gateway to the Fifth Dimension. At age of sixty one---after being horribly discredited---Grimes found it in an old church in Hungary. Eager to prove his theory, Grimes raced back to his hotel room and through scientific curiosity, he put the necklace on.
But the Rapture rejected him. It ate away at his soul and Grimes died almost instantly. The necklace passed on to his daughter and to her daughter, Tilly. Tilly never aspired to wear the necklace herself but she too was a victim of circumstance. The necklace built up a bit of a following and Tilly fell on hard times. So she decided to sell it at auction. It fetched a pretty price but not by the one who really wanted it. Before the necklace could be passed onto its new owner, the one who truly coveted it, killed Tilly and took the necklace for himself. The man’s name was Thomas Judge.
Judge was a religious zealot and believed only the worthy could wear the cross. The cross didn’t reject Judge like Grimes. He wore it for many years. According to Judge’s personal journal, the necklace spoke to him, told him to do things. Though he became a minister, Judge was plagued with many demons. Judge finally lost his battle with those “demons” at the ripe old age of seventy-five. He took the day off, locked himself in his office and put a pistol in his mouth. The necklace was in the possession of the church after that, believed to be some holy relic the minster picked up on his travels. Ten years after Judge’s death, the church burnt down. The necklace was the only thing not burnt in the fire. The new minister, believing it to be a cursed totem, threw it into the nearby river. By chance, it was found by a homeless man who sold it at a local pawnshop for fifty bucks. The Rapture’s account ended there. There was a robbery at the shop and the necklace was one of many things stolen. The writer of the big heavy book was not able to pick up the necklace’s trail after that.
But I knew what happened. I reached up and touched my neck. Somehow, after being stolen, it ended up at that costume shop in the city. I continued to caress my neck. The whole time the “professor” gave me this look. I’m not sure but I think he was trying to decide if I was dangerous or not. I couldn’t blame him, after reading about the necklace myself, I wondered the same thing. Now that that was over with, I still had my question yet to be answered.
I cleared my throat. “So what does the Rapture do?”
He sighed heavily. “It seems to vary from person to person. But the official description points to it as being some kind of life drainer.”
He nodded. “Look what it did to poor Horace Grimes and then to Tom Judge, it destroyed both of those men. Although Judge was stronger, in the end it killed him too.”
I nodded. But there was more, I could see it in his eyes. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“Brody” he said.
I knew. As soon as the name came out of his mouth, I knew. Through me, the Rapture was different, through me, it killed people. I couldn’t help but think of poor Katie. My heart dropped into my stomach just thinking about it. It was the Rapture, it had to be. I felt sick to my stomach. The bile rose quickly. I jumped out of the chair and ran to the sink. I threw up until I was dry heaving. I coughed and sputtered and cried. It was my fault, all my fault. I thought t was my powers but it was more than that. It was the necklace, the whole fucking time it had to be the necklace. It drained the others of their life but with me, it had more to feed on. It had my powers---Meta, Magic or whatever. It used me, made me kill for it. I sapped the will from Katie and I sucked the life from Brody, left him a shell.
I managed to throw up again. Then there were those kids at the party. I remember what I did to them. That girl, the one I pulled the color from. I felt so strong then but it was because of her. I was taking the life from her. I nearly killed her. I would have killed her, her and everyone else in the whole house. I couldn’t even think about Bart, Lori, and the others. They would have been dead if, if the “professor” hadn’t stopped me.
“I’m a monster” I gasped then screamed. “I’M A FUCKING MONSTER.”
I felt gentle hands on my shoulders. I tried to shrug them off but they wouldn’t budge. Then the “professor” turned me around and hugged me. He held me a long time, whispering reassuring words into my ear as I sobbed on his shirt. He held me for a long time. I couldn’t remember when a man had held me like that. Grandpa used to do it when I was younger but that was years ago. I didn’t want to let go, I wanted to stay like that forever. When I finally did however, I pulled away gently. I wiped tears from my eyes and looked up at him .
“Is this where you kill me?”
He laughed and shook his head. “Not quite.”
I backed away a step. “You’re going to lock me up at least?” He shook his head, I stared at him shocked. “I’m dangerous. I’ve killed two people already. I can’t be near anyone, who knows when I’ll kill others.”
“I agree. You are a danger to yourself and others but you don’t have to be.”
“What are you saying?”
He smiled. “I can help you.”
He nodded. “Did you notice the thing on your forehead?”
I reached up and gently touched it. I’d forgotten all about it but it made sense. I sighed inwardly. He must have put it there. ‘What is it?”
“It’s called a chakra stone. It’s a mystical power stone, used to channel energy. But in your case I believe you can use it to control energy too, keep it in check.”
I nodded through my tears. “You think it can stop me from killing people?”
“I think with the proper amount of training we can try.”
He nodded. “Meditation for starters. Then a honing of your skills. You might not think so but you’re a very powerful young woman, Rachel. I can help you with that. You’re not the first person I’ve trained to handle their abilities. I might not look it but I’ve been around for quite a while. If you’re willing, I can teach you to overcome your more base instincts and even how to control them.”
“Can you get rid of the Rapture?”
He raised an eyebrow. “Do you know where it is?”
I nodded. “I think so” I turned around and lifted up my shirt, showing him the large back tattoo. I heard his soft intake of breath.
He walked over and gently traced the lines of the tattoo with his finger. As he did I felt another charge of static electricity course through my body? For a long time he didn’t say a thing. When he spoke, there was no emotion in his voice. “The Artifacts are peculiar things.”
“I’ll take that as a no,” I said with a heavy sigh.
“No, that just means it might be more difficult. I’ve only met one other wielder of one of the Thirteen and so far any attempts to remove the Artifact from her have been unsuccessful.”
At the mention of someone else in the same boat, my curiosity was piqued. “There’s others like me? Can I meet her?”
He shook his head. “Not a wise idea. The Artifacts should never be close together for too long, it’s dangerous.”
I frowned. “Then do we know where the others might be?”
He shook his head. “This really isn’t my area of expertise” He sighed. “Which reminds me, I need to make a phone call.”
He walked off but stopped about halfway where he turned and faced me. Just know you’re not alone in this. There are others too and we’re going to help you.”
I smiled at that. It was good to know that this man---this man with no name----was going to help me. He smiled back then pulled a cell phone out of his pocket.
He dialed and held it up to his ear. “Jennifer, it’s Richard. I’m fine but we have a problem.”
He walked off, leaving me alone. I took a deep breath and sat back down at the table. I looked at my mug with the cold tea. I picked it up and downed it all in one huge gulp. I sighed when I was done. He was right, it was damn good and it did make me feel better. Then I looked over at his big book and shuddered. It might not be the Necronomicon but a small part of me knew there was something in there he wasn’t telling me, something bad and dangerous.
Something about the Rapture that scared him more than he was saying.
To Be Continued