Deep Into That Darkness Peering (Part 3)
Comics Retcon Universe 018
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 was floating; I was actually floating off the ground. Ok, so it was only like a foot or so but it was still something I couldn’t do a few days ago. I still couldn’t help but be impressed by such a feat though. It was wicked cool. After agreeing to train me---and his important phone call---, Richard and I went to work. Richard was his real honest to goodness name. I’m not sure what his last name really was but he told me to call him “Dr. Occult” for now. After a few hours, I ended up shortening it to Dr. O. I remember thinking how weird it was that his house was so sparsely populated but it turns out that was a good thing. The first thing the two of us did after he got off the phone was push his furniture against the wall. Then he started in with the training. It wasn’t much actually.
First, it was meditation and then we’d go from there.
We meditated that whole first day until midnight. I only managed to get into the dorm before they shut the building down. Luckily, I managed to not wake up Miss Perky. Dr. O and I set a schedule after that. Anytime I wasn’t in school, I was to be at his place “training”. Officially, I was getting some after school tutoring, or at least that’s what he told me to tell others. I’m not sure what he told people but whatever it was, it seemed to work. He was cool like that. I still didn’t fully trust him but so far what choice did I have. Besides, he did help me out big time with Dakota and Matthews. I’m not sure what he said to them but Dakota approached me the next morning before class and told me they were pulling out. She looked kinda upset about it so we hugged as we said our good-byes.
The only other problem I had was ditching my friends. Lori and the girls wanted to hang out, but of course, I couldn’t. Dr. O said he could take “care” of them as well but I didn’t like the tone of his voice. So I just gave them the official cover story and they bought it. Bart was indifferent though I think he kinda enjoyed hanging with me, being my own personal bodyguard and all that. I offered to let him follow me to Dr. O’s, too but he didn’t like the idea of school after school so he declined. Just as well, I’m not really sure how I would explain this all to him. Hell I didn’t even know what to make of it either. Here I was two days after finding out I was a super super freak and I was now currently levitating.
I say currently because I lost my concentration. The floor came at me fast and hard. My butt did little to cushion the fall. Some girls had those big butts without a lot of whatever in the back, me I wasn’t so lucky. So I pushed myself to my feet and rubbed my sore behind. I walked in place for a few seconds, trying to walk off the soreness. Then I sat back on the ground Indian style and tried again. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, closing my eyes as I did so. Meditation was all about clearing your mind and focusing. So that’s what I did or at least tried to. I think I got the basic principle down but for some reason I could never truly free my mind of all thoughts. Like right now, I couldn’t help but think of everything else in my life.
First and foremost, it was Katie. I’d been beating myself up over her death and my involvement in it. I thought it was fully my fault and even though it still was, I had The Rapture to think about too. It was partially responsible as well. I’m still not one hundred percent certain what it does yet, but whatever it did, it seemed to make Katie think her life wasn’t worth living. I suppose my little mental nudge didn’t help either. Then there’s what I did to Brody. I tried going to see him at the hospital yesterday afternoon---in-between one of my classes---but I couldn’t get up the nerve to step foot into his room. According to the nurse at the desk, Brody was brain dead. They were baffled by the cause, too. It was as if his entire mind shut itself down. His body was still functioning but there was nothing there. She mumbled something about his pallid gray coloring too, which apparently “freaked her out.” Dr. O was pretty specific on the cause of Brody’s ailment: it was The Rapture.
The Rapture, that evil fucking necklace from Hell. Or least it should be from Hell or cast into it or something.
If it wasn’t Katie or Brody, my mind was definitely on the necklace. I no longer pined for it like I used to before. Dr. O helped me with that. Or rather, the chakra stone on my forehead did. He said that it was helping control my emotions and keep things in check. One of those things was my power and the other was my dependency on the necklace. I was no longer stroking my neck and I didn’t have the urge to stop in front of every reflective surface and peer at my back too. The chakra stone was fantastic but all that fantastic stuff relied on its user, too. That’s why I was doing this meditation; it was to help me build up my concentration and focus.
That was the plan anyway.
I sighed heavily, opening my eyes. I looked down at my legs. I was wearing a pair of stretchy black Lycra gym shorts. They weren’t exactly something I would have picked out for myself but Dr. O insisted. He also insisted on the sports bra. He said that the less constriction on my body, the easy it would be to focus. If I didn’t know any better I’d say he was a perv who just wanted to see me naked. However, he never looked, not even once. I’m not sure I agreed with him about the bra and shorts though, they were by far one of the most constricting things I ever wore. The shorts were too tight and the bra was squishing my boobs into my chest, making it a bit hard to move. I guess it doesn’t help that the bra actually belonged to Lori---who was a cup size smaller than me.
I sighed again. This time it must have been loud enough for Richard to hear from the other room. “You’re not concentrating.”
I uncrossed my legs and jumped to my feet. “It’s hard to concentrate when I’ve got so much on my mind.”
I walked into the kitchen. Dr. O was sitting at the table reading the paper, a cup of tea in front of him. I dropped into my usual chair.
“You’re not going to learn anything if you slack off, you know.”
I huffed. “I’m taking a five minute break.”
I looked at the headlines but nothing seemed to interest me. The other day there was a story about the new nut bouncing around the nights in Chicago. The press was calling him the Roving Ravager because of the red R’s he left spray painted at the scene of each of his “encounters”. He apparently was the newest thug to take to the streets. The city did have their fair share of heroes from Giganta to Booster Gold to The Bat. Though it looks like the Bat was on holiday and this R guy was picking up the slack. If you asked me, I think Phoenix was better off with just The Flash.
I reached to the center of the table where a plate of muffins was sitting. Dr. O didn’t look like a baker so I’m guessing they were bakery bought or something. They weren’t fresh anymore but I broke off a piece and shoved it delicately into my mouth. Whoever made them they were a fantastic baker?
“I think your five minutes are up.”
I frowned. “How am I suppose to focus with all the crazy shit going on?”
He lowered the paper. The look on his face told me that he knew what I was talking about. If it wasn’t the Rapture, it was the bald guys. Though I hadn’t seen any since training with Richard, apparently they were around. Bart said he saw a pair lingering outside my dorm yesterday morning. He managed to follow them for a bit but then lost them in the crowd. Dr. O seemed a bit worried about them. When I first told him about them, he didn’t seem too fazed. But that was before I mentioned the tattoo and the necklace. Now he was just as worried as Bart, though he was better at hiding it. Though he didn’t say it, I think he was worried they were after the Rapture.
“Have you seen more of them?”
I shook my head. “Bart did though.”
He nodded. He didn’t say anything more. So I decided to press the subject a bit. “What does your friend think?”
His friend was the woman he called that first night---Jennifer. She was some big magical muckity muck in Texas. Apparently, she knew a lot about the Artifacts, the two of them had been working together on tracking them down. Though she wasn’t a member of his Order, she was still a great ally. But after he got off the phone with her the other day, I could tell something was wrong.
He sighed. “I’m not sure she’s going to even try helping us. Jennifer has always been a bit temperamental but there’s something different about her, something off….”
So no help of the magical kind for us.
“What about the rest of this Order of yours? What did you call them, Sentinels?”
The Order was actually the Order of the Magus, supposedly established by Merlin back in the days of King Arthur. Dr. O compared it to the Knight’s of the Round Table except for Magic users. They called themselves “Sentinels” and sorta guarded the magical secrets of the world. At one time, they had a huge organization but time wasn’t their greatest ally. A lot of their members were killed off and their home base was destroyed. Anything they might have had locked up was long gone, either destroyed or stolen. Some of it fell into the wrong hands. There was one item in particular that Dr. O was trying to find. It was the reason he was in Phoenix actually. According to him, he’d been tracking it for years. He thought he had a lead here and there---the last one was a few months ago in California. Then he picked up a strong magical presence here and thought it was the Blood Gem---the item he was looking for. But when he got here, he lost the signal. The best we can figure, he was actually picking up the trace signature from the Rapture.
“The Order is scattered,” he said to answer my question. “The closer member is in California but he appears to have gone missing.”
The way he said, “missing”, he made it sound like his friend was gone and not coming back.
We sat and stared at one another in silence for a few more minutes. Neither of us said a word. But about another minute or two later, he seemed to remember that I wasn’t doing what he told me too. He frowned, probably thinking I roped him into this little side track on purpose.
“Get back to meditation.”
I groaned, took my muffin and went back into the living room.
“You need words of focus.”
Dr. O’s words kept ringing in my head even after a day. Yesterday’s meditation session didn’t go so well. Even though I was able to levitate myself three more times, it was only a foot and never for more than a minute. But he was a patient teacher and kept telling me to try again. So I did, over and over again. But my mind kept wandering, thinking about all the horrible stuff. It was my wanderings that seemed to be holding me back. That’s when Dr. O suggested that I needed words of focus. He said he could give me words but they wouldn’t have as much power. In order for the words to work like they were intended to do, I needed to find words of my own. In my case at least three. So I spent the rest of my time with him yesterday looking through old molding books but after a few hours, I came up with nothing.
Unfortunately, that was the least of my worries right now.
“Rach, girl, you’re daydreaming again” said Lori as she snapped her black fingernails in my face.
I blinked a few times then batted her hand away. The two of us were in the mall, costume shopping. It wasn’t exactly on the top of my To Do list on a Saturday but at least Dr. O was giving me the day off. When I say day off what I really mean is that he gave me a stack of books and told me to try to find those words. So Day Off with Homework is more like it. When Lori showed up pounding on my dorm room door at eight am, I almost slammed it in her face. But she was quick, not Barbara quick but still pretty fast. She grabbed the door, forced her way inside and told me there was no way in hell I was spending the day loafing. She used guilt too. I was spending too much time with the professor and not enough with my friends. Her guilt worked. But it had a backlash too, at least for me.
Angelina overheard us talking…
“You have been kinda staying out late a lot,” said my bubbly roommate as she popped her head into our conversation.
So now, it was the three of us. For the last two hours, it was us browsing the mall for killer costumes. Halloween was nine days away but Lori wanted to get our costumes squared away before hand. She got this great idea after seeing a copy of Macbeth by my bedside. Hey just because I wasn’t in the play anymore it didn’t mean I didn’t like it. Anyway, Lori got this crazy idea for her and I to do the three witches but overly sexed up versions of them. It worked out even better that we had Angelina now too. Lori was dying to Goth up the former cheerleader. Angelina was surprisingly compliant to her wishes too---but only because it was Halloween.
“I’m sorry guys,” I finally admitted with a sigh. “I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
Angelina hugged me. I normally would have freaked but it actually helped. Lori squeezed my arm and then the rest of the great costume search began. We tore the store apart but didn’t find what we were looking for. It was the third store and so far, there was nothing that seemed to impress my fashion forward friends. We even went so far as to peek in Hot Topic. When Angelina stepped over the threshold, I thought the girl behind the counter and the one browsing were going to die. It’s not every day the cheerleader shops in the Goth store. Our search of Hot Topic even came up empty. In the end, we finally abandoned the mall.
We ended up going back to the store where Lori first took me to shop. They didn’t have any costumes on sale but there was enough stuff there to pass. When we got inside, Lori decided to start with me. She took things from racks, stuffing them into my arms. When I overloaded, she pushed me toward the changing room. She and Angelina following close behind.
“I thought the point of Halloween is to dress up as something that you’re not,” said Angelina as I closed the curtain.
“It is” said Lori’s voice from the other side.
Angelina: “But you guys always dress like this.”
Lori: “True but you don’t.”
I couldn’t help but smile just imagining the look on Angelina’s face. The two of them talked a bit more but I kinda shut it out as I tried on one outfit after another. They were ok but a bit on the tight side. Though she didn’t claim to do so, Lori liked to torture me with tightness. Most of the dresses were black and each one was tighter than the last. I was squeezing myself into the fourth one, when Lori pulled open the curtain. I squealed and threw my hands up to cover myself; thankfully, the dress was fully on. I hated it when she barged in like that. It wasn’t the first time and it wasn’t going to be the last. But all of that was forgotten when I saw the smile on her face. I looked down and all I saw was my boobs pushed up farther than they were. I frowned until Lori turned me to face the mirror. What I saw surprised me. The dress was black but it had this thing to it if I turned ever so slightly it caught the light and looked purplish blue too. It was too tight in the chest area and made me look bigger up top. I liked the long sleeves though but one thing made me hate it the most. There was this slit up the side, running from the ankle all the way to my waist. I could turn and actually stick my whole damn leg out of the dress.
I opened my mouth to say I hated it but Lori beat me to the punch. “I think this is the one.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding” I said, shaking my head. “Half my body is exposed.”
She laughed. “Stop being such a prude.”
“I’m not wearing this.”
Lori got a pensive look. “I think you need a cape.”
Before I could say yes, no or otherwise she left. About a minute or two later, she came back into the little booth with a large black cape. Before I could complain, she threw it over my shoulders. It was long and surprisingly light weight. It had a large hood and these cool metal fasteners. I pulled the hood over my head and got a good look in the mirror. Walking around like this---even on Halloween---people were going to think I was a freak. Even though I didn’t care for the dress, the cape made all the difference. Staring at myself in the mirror, I couldn’t help but smile a bit. I liked that the hood was so huge and that I could hide myself almost completely in it. The best part of it though was the fact that I could pull the cape around my body, completely hiding the embarrassing slit.
Lori caught onto my smile, nudging me in the ribs. “So you do like it?”
I sighed. “I guess I can deal with it.”
Lori wrapped me in a hug. Then she pulled open the curtain. Angelina was standing there with a smile. I looked from her to Lori and back again. I think I was just played. They both realized their plan was discovered and burst into laughter. Our good time was interrupted by the ringing of Angelina’s cell. She stopped laughing to answer. Lori and I were laughing until we saw the puzzled look on Angelina’s face.
“No she’s not with us,” said the concerned looking ex-cheerleader.
“Jaslyn, I don’t think she’s cheating on you.” Angelina sighed.
Shay and Jaslyn were madly in love with each other. But they got like this. Shay liked her independence sometimes and Jaslyn liked to worry.
Angelina talked to her for a few more minutes. She kept reassuring her that Shay was fine; probably off on one her usual jaunts. She told Jaslyn to check those places and asked her to call back when she was done. Then Angelina clicked off the phone and shook her head. “Those two need to sort out their priorities” She saw the confused looks on our faces. “Shay didn’t come home last night. Jas thinks she’s off with another girl but Shay probably had too much to drink. Chances are she’s passed out on a couch somewhere.”
Lori laughed and nodded. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”
We shared a laugh. Then I went back into the booth and changed back into my clothes. Lori took my bank card and the “costume” to the counter to pay for it. I helped Angelina find her costume. Overall, it took about another hour. By the end of it, Angelina had a nice black floor length dress but without the slit. She even got a cape too. It turns out we didn’t have to shop for Lori because she already had a dress and cape back home---big surprise there.
We went to lunch after leaving the shop then we drove Angelina back to the dorm. She took her bag and mine to our room. Lori and I were going to hang out for a bit longer but Ang had some homework. We left her with a frown as we went to Lori’s dorm. It’s funny how things turn out. Angelina still annoyed the hell out of me but she wasn’t as bad as I thought. I’m not saying that I was going to become best buds with her but these last few weeks of hanging with her and the others, it made me real welcome. None of them knew who I really was or rather who I once was. I’m not sure if they would care. I’m sure there might be a bit of awkwardness but they were cool like that. Shay and Jaslyn would crack jokes, Lori would probably shrug and Angelina would probably be confused
But that’s what I liked about them.
When we got to Lori’s dorm room, my whole body felt like it weighed two hundred pounds. I dragged my feet over the threshold. Lori wasn’t faring much better. She dragged herself over to the bed and collapsed on it. I actually found myself doing the same. We lay next to each other and she wrapped her arms around me. There was nothing sexual about the embrace though. We were two friends who weren’t attracted to one another and even if we were, we would never go any further than that. Friendship was too important to us.
I smiled at the thought and then sleep took me.
When I opened my eyes, the first thing I noticed was the fog. It was thick and low to the ground. The second thing I noticed was the fact that I was inside. I turned around and blinked, wondering where the hell I was. It only took a moment to figure it out. I recognized the cold gray walls around me and the slopping ceiling. I cursed. It was the hallway, the hallway that led to the door with that Thing on the other side. I suppose it was only a matter of time before I ended up back here. I thought I was in the clear for a while. After all, it’d been a couple of weeks at least since my last encounter with “her”. I was beginning to think that maybe I’d imagined the whole thing and that it really was a dream. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be the case. Here I was---back in the hall, staring down its endless length. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs but instead I found myself walking.
The hall seemed a lot longer for some reason. It also seemed a lot narrower and the fog, where the hell did that come from. The further I walked the closer the walls got to me and the more fog came. At first, it was at my ankles then my knees and finally my waist. When it got high enough to keep me from seeing straight, I had to stop to get my bearings. There was something wrong, something off. The hall never used to be like this. It was always kinda dark and creepy but it was never this creepy and the fog was starting to freak me out. Not only did it seem to rise but it got thicker too. It got to a point where it was so thick that it was “pouring” into my mouth like water and almost choking me.
After starting and stopping three more times, I couldn’t take it anymore.
“What the fuck is this?” I shouted as loud as I could, my voice bouncing off the narrow walls around me.
I barely had walking room, my head stooped low as it was.
A noise came back to me and it wasn’t my echo. It was low at first but it started gathering in volume the closer it got to me. When it finally reached me, I recognized the distinctive laugh of the Thing. I cringed as that laughter tore into my body, sending a chill through my bones. It was nothing like the laughter from the last time. This laughter was strong and it had power, too much power. This laughter scared the shit out of me. I cursed and turned. I had to get the hell out of here and fast. So I started to run. Not that it mattered much. I didn’t get very far before I realized the fog was too thick to see where I was going. It should have been a straight line but now that I thought about, I wasn’t really sure how to get out of this place in the first place.
I stopped and turned around, screaming at the top of my lungs. “WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU WANT?”
My echo danced down the hall.
The laughter came rumbling back, louder and stronger than before. There was something else that came with it too, a strong force. It swirled the fog causing it to rip and tug at my clothes. I tried to bat it away but it was too strong. Then the fog changed, shifting from its dull gray color to a midnight black. It came at me from all sides like wicked tentacles. I tried to knock them away but they lashed themselves around my wrists. Then they started to pull. It wasn’t very strong at first but maybe that was because I was struggling. I screamed as loud as I could first in desperation then in fear. I still struggled though, trying my hardest to break free. That’s when one of the tentacles lashed out at my knees. It snapped hard like a whip, dropping me to the ground.
As soon as it did, there was nothing holding it back. They yanked with all their might and pulled me down the hall.
I screamed the whole way.
The tentacles cut off my circulation. I tried to bite at them but another one wrapped around my neck and another around my forehead, holding my head. I tried to fight back the tears and the pain but it was too much. The grip on my throat got tighter and it started cutting off my air. I knew this was a dream and that breathing shouldn’t matter but it did. It didn’t take long before the corners of my vision started to go black. I tried to fight it but I couldn’t. Whatever it was had a hold on me and wasn’t going to let go. But I wasn’t going to give in without a fight. I closed my eyes and started breathing. Concentration, I needed to concentrate. Dr. O was teaching me how to defend myself from attacks like this. When I told him about the Thing, he said meditation could help me fight it. I tried to tell him how powerful it was but he said that it didn’t matter as long as I was in control.
As long as I was focused. The only problem was that I didn’t know how to focus. I still didn’t have the words to do so.
Thankfully the dragging finally stopped. Unfortunately, it stopped exactly where I didn’t want it to. I caught sight of the door seconds before the tentacles slammed me into it at full force. Dream or not, it hurt like a bitch. I was momentarily stunned but at least the tentacles were gone. They vanished as quickly as they arrived and I was only once again. Well partially alone. I slowly pushed myself away from the door, feeling the blood from my split lip roll down my chin. I wiped it with the back of my hand and took another step back. The door still looked pretty much the same but there was something different. It took me only a second to see what it was. There was an energy coming from the dark. I could feel it; the wood seemed to be pulsating like a heartbeat.
“So you thought you could suppress me,” said the voice from the other side, the sinister Thing of my nightmares. “You little bitch.”
Something black and whip-like snapped through the door’s window, smacking me in the face. It was the only sound in the room and it sounded like the snapping of a whip. It stung like a bitch. I reached up and touched my cheek, it throbbed. The Thing laughed as the tentacle disappeared back from whence it came. The tentacles, somehow the Thing behind the door was behind them. How I had no idea. When I first started this whole thing, it barely had any power. Now I could feel it, radiating like heat from this thing. I actually took another step back, which caused it to laugh.
“You think distance is going to keep me from getting to you?” Another tentacle whipped out, smacking me in the thigh.
I cringed from the strike. I grit my teeth in pain. “How are you doing…?”
“This?” It asked as two more tentacles slithered underneath the door. “It’s all thanks to you. That little bout of power you displayed the other night, first with that fool in the parking lot then with all those delicious people at the party. You fed off them for me, giving me fuel to grow oh so much stronger.”
Something occurred to me then and there. “Are you The Rapture?”
The laugh that issued forth chilled me to the bone. “The Rapture?” It stepped closed to the opening, its four glowing eyes visible. “Your precious necklace did nothing more than jumpstart us. I’m not sure how it found us when it did but I was so thankful. To think that we might have been stuck in that horrid human body for the rest of our lives.”
“We?” I shook my head. “I’m not you and you’re not me.”
She chuckled. “You’re only half right. You’re friend hasn’t told you everything has he? He hasn’t told you about who you really are or why he’s making you wear that silly thing on your forehead. It’s not to control your emotions, it’s to suppress me. You see I’m your better half, the stronger half. I’m the One who deals with all your little problems. Like the parking lot and the police station and that sniveling little girlfriend of yours. Did you know that we have the gift of premonition? I saw into our future---she would have betrayed you in the end. As soon as she found out what you are and what you can do. She would have thrown the first stone.”
I shook my head, tears streaming down my face. “You’re lying.”
It laughed. “You know I’m right. I’m always right”
A tentacle slithered out from underneath the door, scooping up the key. It slithered over to me, dangling the key in front of my face. I shook my head taking another step backwards. “Stop fucking around and unlock the door, finish realizing me. We can kill those bastards after you. I’m not a bad person, Rachel. I’m not here to harm you but I will kill anyone who stands in our way. You shouldn’t let them tell us what to do; you’re a God to them. Not stop crying like a little bitch and LET ME THE FUCK OUT.”
Her scream at the end shook the hallway.
I took another step back. “I can handle those bald bastards. Dr. Occult is teaching me to control my powers, teaching me to suppress the bad and harness the good. I don’t need you.”
She laughed. “You always need me.”
I shook my head. “Leave me alone.”
She laughed. “I can’t leave you alone Rachel. I can never leave you alone. You are going to open this door and then we are going to flay the skin off those bastards who are tracking us. Then once that’s done, we can go about our way. If anyone gets in our way, we will strike them down.”
“No” I stammered. I slapped the key away; it soared across the small space and clanged loudly in the dark. “You’re staying where you are and I’m getting the hell out of here.”
I turned around and started to walk away. I got two steps when one of the tentacles lashed around my throat from behind. I should have seen it coming. This time it didn’t build up to choking me. It started fast and tight. It squeezed shut my throat and spun me around, lifting me in the air. I grasped at it with my fingers, tugging and pulling but it was no use. I could hear It laughing. Then It’s voice, wicked and cruel:
“I tried to play nice but you leave me no choice. I guess I’m forcing my way out of this place, through you.”
The tentacle got tighter. Tears started flowing and my vision started to fade as the blackness of death slowly started creeping around me. I guess I’ll die knowing that at least I didn’t go down without a fight. In the end, I guess that’s all that really matters. I closed my eyes and waited for death to finally claim, maybe then I could finally see Katie’s smiling face one last time.
“HEY BITCH,” shouted a familiar voice through the darkness. “LEAVE HER THE FUCK ALONE.”
Something happened. There was a shriek and the tentacle lost its grip. I fell to the ground hard and air flew back into my lungs. I gasped and coughed. I was on my hands and knees, gasping for every breath I took. About a foot away, I saw a pair of boots. I knew those boots, I saw them every day. I looked up a bit following fishnet stockings up to a black skirt and then to the full form of Lori, standing there holding a really big knife. She was panting heavily as if she’d been running; sweat was rolling down her face and arms. She held a hand out to me which I took and she pulled me to my feet. Then into a one arm hug. The other was still holding the knife, the blade now pointing at the door.
“Lori?” I gasped softly. “Are you real?”
She didn’t say anything. Instead she moved so she stood in-between me and it. I saw the eyes flare behind the door.
“It’s not possible, you can’t be here,” It said, fear in its voice.
“Well, I am here bitch and you better keep your slimy tentacles off my friend or else I’ll go all Ginsu on your ass.”
Lori kept me behind her, walking one step back as we slowly walked away from the door.
The Thing screamed. “YOU CAN’T PROTECT HER FOREVER. WHEN I GET OUT OF HERE YOU’RE THE FIRST ONE I’M GOING TO GO AFTER YOU LITTLE LEECH.”
Lori laughed. “Name the time and the place.”
We kept walking until the door was out of sight. No tentacles came for us. Lori kept constant vigil as we slowly walked backwards, away from the danger. I had so many questions and so many answers. But I couldn’t speak, instead I buried my face in Lori’s back as the darkness of the hallway faded and the light surrounded us, hopefully taking us back to the waking world.
I sat in the corner of the bed, my knees pulled up under my chin. Lori was sitting on the end, panting heavily. The two of us had just been through the experience of a lifetime and neither one of us knew what to say. Confusion was apparent on both our faces. Mine was because I wanted to know how the hell she got into my dream. I could only imagine what she might be thinking. We had just woken up a minute or two ago and the first thing she did was push me away from her, like she was repulsed by me. That hurt more than she could know. Here she was, the person I considered my best girl friend and she was rejecting me. I couldn’t speak, so, instead, I crawled into the corner and withdrew into myself. She wasn’t doing much better, panting heavily, wringing her fingers through her hair.
For the longest time, the only noise in the room was our heavy breathing and the tick of her clock.
Finally, she turned and looked at me. I caught her eyes and the two of us just stared. We played the staring game for a bit, neither one of us ready to break the silence. After what seemed like an eternity, I decided to take the chance. I took a deep breath and opened my mouth to speak. No sooner had I gotten one syllable out of my mouth, something that would have been “I can explain”; she uttered the exact same words.
I blinked. “What?” I asked, confused.
Her head lowered. When she spoke, her voice was soft, barely audible. “I’m a freak.”
I scoffed. “If you’re a freak then I’m the Queen of Freaks.”
She raised her head and smiled. I couldn’t help but smile back. The coy, quiet girl in front of me was not Lori. This girl, the one smirking at me, that was the Lori I knew and loved. It was hard to think of her as any other girl. But, the one sitting before me, the one who thought of herself as a freak, this was not my friend. The silence returned, but only for a moment.
This time, I built up a little more confidence and tried again. “I’m not who you think I am. I’m Rachel Roth, but I haven’t always been this way.”
She nodded. “So, in the classroom back in September, before we met in the mall, you didn’t just look like a guy, you were one.”
I nodded, then realized what she said. How did she know that?
She smiled. Her smile faded and then she took a deep breath. “I wasn’t always Lori, either.”
We played the swap game. First, I told her about my life before. I told her about Katie, which she already knew pieces of, then I told her about everything else. I tried to dance around things, but she knew not to pry. When I told her about the dreams and the Thing, we both kinda shuddered. She asked if that was my power base and when I told her about the other stuff, one of her eyebrows rose. It appeared she knew a bit about Metas because she didn’t look scared or freaked out in the least. I had a good idea why, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions until she was ready to tell me, herself. I ended my story with Dr. O and how he thought I was something else entirely.
She started as soon as I was finished. “My name used to be Nick. I didn’t lie about my past in the least. I’m really from Ohio. I live with my Dad after my Mom died of cancer. It sorta drove a wedge between the two of us, actually. I lived a fairly normal life. After Mom died, I fell into an Emo punk scene, took to wearing black eye liner and all that. It freaked Dad out a lot, but he dealt with it. We got over her death and little by little, we got our relationship back. But, of course, all that changed when I became the Freak of the Week. It happened suddenly, too. Dad and I were vacation in Chicago. Well, I called it one, but it was a work trip for him. I was in the mall when it happened. Some crazy shadow dude robbed a bank. I was caught up in the confusion.
“When he started to run, he slammed into me. It knocked us both on our asses. I think it scared him as much as me. I mean, he was a shadow. I shouldn’t have been able to knock him down. The next thing that happened freaked me out more than anything, though. There was this intense pain, it lasted only for a few seconds, but, when it cleared, I felt different. When I looked down at my hands, I saw they were black and shadowy. I fucking freaked. I’d heard about Metas on the news---hell, Chicago seems to be Meta capital of the world---but I never actually thought i’d see one. I never actually thought I was one, either. In the confusion, the security guard drew his gun on me. It wasn’t until looking at the glass wall that I realized I was a shadow dude, now, too.
“He fired a shot at me, but the bullet went right through. After that, I think I passed out. When I came to, I was in a padded room, somewhere. I thought for a second I might be in a nut house, but it turns out that the authorities brought me to some Lab, a place where they help people like me. I was there for hours. They ran some tests and some government spook interrogated me. They tried to get me to do the shadow thing again, but I couldn’t.”
I was confused. “The shadow thing wasn’t your power?”
She shook her head, mascara stained tears running down her face. “They tried all kinds of tests, but they couldn’t figure me out. After a few days, they set me up with a new ID, some cash, and sent me on my way. The relationship Dad and I had spent the last three years trying to repair was shattered again, after that. We didn’t know what to say to one another, so we pretty much stopped talking, altogether. A month after my change, we moved out here to Phoenix, which worked out because I was already accepted to go to school here. That was in July. I only had about two months to get used to the new me before classes started.”
I reached out and touched her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. I didn’t know much about how girls comforted one another, but I’d seen Katie do this to some of her crying girlfriends. Lori seemed to appreciate it. She smiled. It took her a few moments to recover though.
I took that chance to ask a question. “Did you find out your Meta power?”
She nodded. “The scientists did, actually.” She took a deep breath, wiping her cheeks. “They brought in another Meta to test their theory, a pretty blonde girl. They tried a few things, but, in the end, all it took was a touch. I felt a surge of energy and then I felt stronger. Looking in the mirror, I realized that wasn’t the only thing that happened. I took some of her height and half my hair matched her golden locks. It turns out that I could copy the powers of others. All it takes is a simple touch, at least at first. Now all I need is eye contact and it happens.”
Realization dawned on me then. The two of us were sleeping together. I groaned and she nodded, crying again. Another realization dawned on me then. I bit my lip. “How long have you known about me?”
She lowered her head. “A few days after you came back to class. I accidentally bumped into you on the way out of the room. I didn’t realize what was going on until I started to feel all this funky stuff. It messed me up pretty bad. I spent the whole hour of your ‘power time’ in the bathroom, crying in a stall.” She looked at me, a sad look on her face. “I don’t know how you handle it all the time, but it nearly killed me.”
This time, I didn’t hold back the hug. I leaned forward and wrapped my arms around her. She flinched a bit, but rested her head on my shoulder. She cried a bit more. We sat like that for a while, neither one of us willing to move. Somehow, I felt closer to her than ever before. I knew Barbara was a Meta, like me, but there was some kind of bond I felt with Lori. Even though I wasn’t technically like her, not a Meta entirely, it felt good that there was at least someone I could share this with. After we were done hugging, I thanked her for helping me in the dream. Then, I told her as much as I could about the Thing and how it’s been trying to get me to unlock the door.
She shook her head. “That thing is bad. I could feel the darkness radiating off it. Whatever you do, promise me that you’ll never open the door.”
I nodded but cried too. “It’s so strong. If you hadn’t stopped it, I might…”
She hugged me this time. “We’ll think of something,” she said softly in my ear. “You’re my best friend, now, and I’m not going to let something like that take you away from me.”
After I recovered a bit, we talked. We spent the rest of the night talking. Then, we went to bed for real this time. I curled up on her bed and she held my hand as I fell asleep. I felt secure with her there, knowing that if something bad happened she’d be there to get my back. We made a promise. No matter what happened, she’d always be there to help me.
Lori frowned at me from the mirror. I tried to ignore the face as I finished lacing my left boot. The more I thought about that dress she bought me, the more I realized there was no way I was going out in public dressed like that. So, I took it upon myself to add some of my own style to the costume. In the end, I replaced the wicked slit dress with a pair of tight black pants and a gold belt. The top was something I had lying around; one of the many we bought on our first shopping trip together. Lori’s frown was apparent. She wanted the three of us to look like wicked badass witches, with her and Angelina being in long floor length dresses. I still looked pretty badass, but I was going to do it without half my body spilling out of that damn dress of hers.
“We’re not going to look alike anymore,” said Lori as I turned from the mirror.
I looked her up and down. Her dress was killer but there was no way I’d be caught dead in something like that. She had this real tight bodice that made her boobs look twice as big and the length, I would be tripping over the damn thing. It was hard to believe the girl standing before me was ever a guy. I couldn’t help but smile. Our revelations to one another were over a week ago, now. For a few days after that, we were a bit on the awkward side. It felt strange to know that only a few short months before hand, longer for her than me, the two of us peed standing up–not that either of us wanted to dwell on it. We talked very little of our lives before. I think it was a hard subject for her. Lori talked little about her Dad, but from what I could tell, they weren’t on best of terms. Added to that the fact that her father lost a son and gained a daughter, I’m not sure how I’d react, either.
I guess I was lucky. I talked to Mom every day on the phone. Well, almost every day. Even though we had still yet to meet face-to-face since the change, our relationship hadn’t changed. In fact, it was closer than ever. We talked about things that I never would have talked to her about if I were Ryan. She was particularly interested in the clothes I was wearing and the way my body was making me feel. We even talked about that dreaded “time of the month”. I got mine two days after revealing my secret to Lori; I got over it, yesterday. Trust me, it wasn’t a fun time, especially for an emotionally fucked up girl like me. I ended up spending most of it at Dr. O’s, away from anyone I could harm.
I was getting better with the powers, though. I spent every moment I could with Dr. O. I still didn’t have my words of focus, but my concentration and meditation were going so much better. I could levitate off the ground about two feet, now, and could hold myself there for five minutes. Not the greatest about it, but better than before. My other powers were much more toned, though. Dr. O didn’t want to proceed so quickly, but the bald monk guys were all over the place, now. They were even following my friends, so he upped the timetable a bit. Three days after revealing myself to Lori, we started on control. He wanted to see exactly what I was capable of. It turns out that when I use telekinesis, I surround the object with a strange black energy. I couldn’t help but remember popping the light bulb my first night at the Allens’. I think I did it with telekinesis, not even realizing it at the time.
My thoughts were interrupted by the ringing of Lori’s cell. She pulled it out and walked away, but I vaguely heard Jaslyn’s voice on the other end. She and Shay were going to meet us at the party. Thinking about the two of them, I couldn’t help but laugh. Shay showed up a few hours after Jaslyn’s frantic call the other day. Apparently, she had a bit too much to drink and passed out–exactly what we all thought had happened. Jaslyn had jumped to conclusions, as usual. Now, the two of them were closer than ever. I think Jas was guilty for suspecting Shay of cheating. Everywhere we went, the two of them were now clinging off one another, showing themselves off to the whole world. Well, at least our small corner of it, anyway. Seeing them together, though, sent a pang of jealousy and guilt through me. I couldn’t help but remember the good times I had with Katie and how much it hurt knowing that we’d never be able to cuddle again.
Lori came back over, snapping her phone shut. “Jaslyn, Shay and Angelina are going to meet us at the party.”
I nodded. Shay and Lori were the only ones in our little circle of friends who had cars. They were our designated drivers, I guess. Angelina was the only one who didn’t have her license. Back home, I always drove my grandfather’s truck around. My Mom had a little Prius, but I rarely used it. I had been saving up money over the summer to buy my own car, but I ended up spending it on a new laptop, after my old one died. I didn’t mind being chauffeured about by my friends, though.
I turned back to the mirror, realizing that my lips needed to be touched up. I turned my head and saw my purse on the other side of the room. I bit my lip and closed my eyes. Dr. O told me not to use my powers in public because I still didn’t have a grasp on total control. I wasn’t in public right now–not really, anyway. I concentrated on my purse and watched as it was surrounded in a black light. It rose off my dresser and floated quickly across the room into my outstretched hand.
“I am so damn jealous,” huffed Lori with a fake pout.
I laughed as I reached into the bag and took out my lipstick. I applied it with great ease. Something like that would have freaked me out weeks ago, but now it was second nature. I guess that meant I was really a girl, now. That fact was hammered home by my “visitor” that had just left. Before then, it was like I was wearing a costume and, any day now, I might finally be able to take it off. It was real, but it wasn’t as real as it should have been. Now, there was no going back. I guess I sorta knew that, but a small part of me was still hoping this was all a bad dream and I’d wake up as Ryan with Katie in my arms.
After making sure my makeup was perfect, I couldn’t help but smile at the girl in the mirror. It was strange but a few weeks ago, I was scared to death to see her there. Now she was me and I couldn’t be happier. Ok so happier was stretching it a bit but I was content.
“Hard to get used to, isn’t it?”
I nodded. “How did you react the first time you saw the new you?”
She came up behind me, wrapping her arms around me from behind. She rested her head on my shoulder. “I was scared to death.”
We stood there a long time like that. Finally, Lori pulled away and announced we were going to be late. I got my cape, making sure to put up the hood for the added effect. The hooded cape was Lori’s best find by far. It made me look all sinister and mysterious. If I could, I’d wear it with every outfit from now on. As it was, it was kinda hot out even for the end of October. Lori said that was one thing she was never going to get used too. Octobers in Ohio were cold, sometimes even bitter. But looking out the window you could barely tell it was October outside. Especially when the weatherman said, it was only eighty degrees. Lori had a thing or two to say about that.
I blocked out most of her complaining as the two of us left the dorm and got into her car. Her car didn’t fit her image in the least. It was a silver Mercedes, something that definitely didn’t match the girl she was. Apparently, her Dad bought her the car right before she started school. They might not get along all that well but he was loaded and wanted his new daughter to have the best. I liked driving in the car though; it made me feel like a someone.
The party was only a few blocks from campus at a frat house. It wasn’t our usual thing but it was only one night. The whole ride I had my eyes closed, breathing and silently meditating. When I told Dr. O about the party, he tried to talk me out of it. I think he was afraid that I was going to have another repeat of the last party I went to. But I’d grown a lot since then. Ok, so not that much, but back then I didn’t have the chakra stone keeping me in check. Since wearing it I hadn’t had any more incidents, in fact I could even tune out the emotions. I was pretty confident that as long as I didn’t get in a situation where things got out of control I’d be all right.
When we pulled up in front of the house, my heart was pounding in my chest. There was already a lot of people. There were so many cars that they were lined up all the way down the street and parked on the frat house lawn. The tree in front of the house was streaming with toilet paper and there were several smashed pumpkins strewn about. Someone was having a lot of fun, even if it was two days before Halloween. We weren’t allowed to have any parties on the actual day because it fell on a Monday this year. So the college told us to throw our festivities on Friday or Saturday. A lot of the other fraternities partied real hard last night.
“Looks like the party started without us”
We shut the car off, parking it as far away from the others as we could. The car might not fit her but Lori wasn’t about to have it smashed by some drunk asshole. After making sure it was all locked up, we swept our way in. The party was already jumping, throngs of people bumping and jiving to music way too loud to be considered a safe decibel level. I had a twinge of dread, remembering the last time I was in a place like this. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, making sure not to suck in cigarette smoke. I felt someone gently squeeze my hand and opened my eyes to see Lori smiling at me. She held my hand tight as she led me through the crowd. We passed a den of monsters, freaks and weirdos. Speckled amongst the ranks were super-heroes too.
I saw quite a few Jades, Green Arrows and Booster Golds. But there was only one me and I was proud of that. Lori dragged me through the crowd until we got to the refreshment table. Shay and Jaslyn were on a couch nearby, making out. They were dressed as a sexy cowboy and Indian. I couldn’t help but groan at Jaslyn’s Indian costume, feeling a bit of anger at the white man’s constant portrayal of my people. But it was a costume and Jaslyn meant no real harm by wearing it. Lori poured me some punch and I tried my hardest to look like I was having a good time. A few minutes later, Angelina found the two of us. She frowned at the sight of my costume, upset that I didn’t real fit with her and the “other witch sister”. I shrugged off her pout.
“You going to dance?” shouted Lori in my ear.
I shook my head. “I’m going to stand here for a bit.”
She frowned. “Well if you change your mind, I’ll be on the floor with this sexy thing.”
Before Angelina knew what was going on, Lori grabbed her hand and dragged her into the crowd. I laughed and shook my head. I couldn’t help but find myself scanning the crowd for any face that didn’t belong. I was taking a great risk coming here tonight. Even though Dr. O gave me permission to do so, he was still a little on the cautious side about it. He was afraid that my bald stalkers might use this opportunity to come for me. They were still keeping their distance but I felt them haunting in the shadows everywhere I went. Looking at the faces I couldn’t help but jump at a few of them, sure that I’d seen this one of that one before. I eventually loosened up a bit. I stopped being so jumpy and tried to enjoy myself. Even though I didn’t go dance, I started to sway to the music a bit. I tried not to go overboard though and definitely avoided the alcohol. So far things were going good for my powers too. I could still feel all the emotions in the room but they weren’t nearly as strong or as overwhelming as they were last time. I could feel them pulling and tugging but they weren’t as strong as they were before. I was able to push them away with breathing and concentrating on other things. Dr. O taught me how to keep an image in my head and to use that image to center myself. The image I chose was Katie. She was my rock, the only good and solid thing in my life. Every time I felt myself losing control, I just thought of Katie.
An hour passed before I knew it. The main room of the house started to fill up quickly, one costumed freak after another filing into the room. From where I was standing, I had a direct line of the door so I could see them all come and go. Lori and Angelina were nowhere to be found, having been lost in the crowd. In fact, I lost sight of Shay and Jaslyn too. I could only imagine where the two of them disappeared to. I tried not to think about the good time my friends were having without me, instead I thought of the good time I wasn’t having. I didn’t want that at all.
Scanning the doorway did offer me some good things though. For one I saw Bart enter the house. I couldn’t help but scoff at his costume though. It was a red jumpsuit with a yellow lightning bolt on his chest. Clearly, he was going for the whole superhero thing like a lot of other people. I’m not sure who he was trying to emulate though, it looked a bit like the Flash’s costume though. I couldn’t help but smile at the irony of it. If only Bart knew that his uncle was a girl and the Flash, I think his brain would melt. Especially seeing as he hit on his uncle without even knowing about it. I watched him meander his way through the room until his eyes caught me. There was a moment---though very slight---that I felt a pang for him. I shook it off, I wasn’t going there again. He was my best friend and that’s all he’d ever be.
That didn’t stop me from stepping away from the table into the crowd to meet him halfway. I was overly giddy because of the fact that he smiled at me so big when we locked eyes. I pushed and prodded my way through the crazed partygoers. I wasn’t really paying attention so I was taken by surprise when I slammed face first into a person a few inches taller than me. I was about to apologize when I saw the long hooded brown robe. A pang of fear shot through me. It was the robe, like the ones, those guys wore in my dreams. The guys who took those girls who looked like me and murdered them. I felt a bit of rage as I propelled my hand forward and grabbed the hood, pulling it violently from the bastard’s head. I half expected to see a bald monk figure staring back at me. Instead, I saw a confused frat boy.
“What the hell bitch” he said angrily then pulled his hood back up.
“Sorry thought you were someone else” I said apologetically, my hammering heart stilled.
I pushed myself away from him and found myself in Bart’s arms. Before I knew what was happening, I wrapped him in a tight hug. I pressed my face against his chest and cried a bit. He put his hands gently on my shoulders and led me toward the stairs. We went up them before I knew what was happening. He gently took my hand and looked in a few rooms before finding one that was empty. We slipped inside. I moved toward the bed as he closed and locked the door.
I was panting heavily. “You locked the door?”
He nodded. “You looked pretty freaked, everything ok?”
I sighed heavily. “I’m seeing those bald guys everywhere now.”
His face contorted in anger. “Were they here tonight?”
I shook my head. “No, I’m just being paranoid.”
His whole body relaxed after that. He sat on the bed next to me. “We’ll cool off in here for a bit. Then I promise not to leave your side for the rest of the night.”
I nodded then felt the tears. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was scared out of my mind. I collapsed into his arms and he held me gently. I cried into his chest, my whole body trembling. I was a nervous wreck, barely sleeping, barely eating. The only thing that was keeping me going was the lessons with Dr. O but even those were going nowhere fast. Without my words of focus, my “magic” was all over the fucking place. Those thoughts and a thousand more were dancing through my head as Bart held me. Then another thought appeared, it was fleeting and only for a moment: it felt nice to be held by him. Before I knew it, I was pulling my head away. He smiled at me, brushing a hand gently through my hair. Then he touched my chin, tilting it up a bit. When his lips touched mine, I was surprised at first then shocked. I closed my eyes and for a moment, I imagined Katie kissing me. But the image shattered just as quickly when I realized that Bart wasn’t Katie. I pushed away, revulsion overwhelming my senses. I nearly gagged afterwards.
“What the hell, Bart?” I snapped, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.
He looked confused. “I thought you wanted that?”
I pushed myself off the bed. “What the fuck is wrong with you. I’m scared shitless and you try to take advantage of me.”
His look of confusion dissolved into anger. He jumped off the bed too. “Me? You’re the little tramp prancing around in an outfit like that.”
“Tramp, says the horn dog that can’t keep his hands out of girls’ pants”
That pissed him off. “Well at least I’m getting some instead of being hung up over some dead chick.”
I snapped. “You mother fucking son of a bitch.”
Anger flooded me and before I knew it, Bart was surrounded in black light and slammed up against the wall. I felt the anger flood into me, fueling my rage. I held him against the wall, wanting ever so much to crush the life out of him. Bart looked shocked and scared. It was the look of fear that made me waver. I felt sick to my stomach and loosened my hold, the light disappeared and he dropped to the floor. He was coughing and holding his throat. I hadn’t even realized I tried to choke him. I took a step back, scared at what I almost did. I almost killed him just like Katie. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs instead I felt a tingling rise through my entire body and this feeling to be anywhere else but here.
There was a sense of pulling; a flash of light and the room disappeared around me.
When the light subsided, I was no longer standing in a dark room anymore. I felt light headed and woozy, I staggered a bit and felt like I was going to puke. When that feeling finally passed, I felt air hit my face. I blinked a few times and looked around. The house was gone; all the houses were gone in fact. There were no people, no trees, no cars. The only thing I saw was desert and a road. A road that I was apparently standing in the middle of. I was confused for a moment then realized what must have happened. I’d actually done it twice before both times without realizing it. I teleported myself. The first time it was in my jail cell, the second time when I was dying in the desert. Both times all I could think about was getting out of the place I was currently in. Son of a bitch!
I staggered out of the road, trying to get my bearing. I looked around and spotted a large green highway sign behind me: Phoenix, 10 Miles. Not only had I teleported myself but apparently I did it outside the city. I cursed. I wanted to get away but I never expected to send myself way out here. I took a deep breath and let it out in a scream. It was the scream I wanted to do back in the room, the one that my anger prevented me from doing. As soon as it was out of my system, I took another breath and screamed some more. I screamed a few more times before I felt satisfied. Then I allowed my mind to drift to what just happened.
Anger flooded me as I thought about that son of a bitch Bart and what he tried to do. He was supposed to be my friend, supposed to stick by me no matter what. Some friend he turned out to be. I thought out of every one around me, he might be the guy I could count on, the guy who had my back. It turns out the only reason he was still my friend was because he wanted to stick his tongue down my throat. The stupid fucking bastard. Then he had the audacity to call me a tramp. But that didn’t piss me off as much as him bad mouthing Katie. The two of them were friends, had been as long as I could remember. The three of us were so close when we were kids, we did everything together. Not only did he tarnish her memory, he did it while trying to get into my pants.
The anger came back. The only outlet I could find was the sign. I lashed out with full force, gripping it in a black vice. I pulled and tugged, twisting it into a misshaped shell of its former self. Mangling the sign felt good, it felt relaxing. But that feeling only lasted for a moment. The anger was still there but it was dwindling. I still wanted to smash something though. I lashed out at some rocks, tossing them twenty feet into the air. Then an unfortunate rattlesnake got twisted into a bloody pulp. It was cruel but it didn’t seem to help.
The funny thing was I should have been going away from the city; it was after all the last place I wanted to be. Instead, I found myself walking toward it. As I walked, my temper subsided. I was still royally pissed at Bart but I had other problems to worry about. I was in the middle of nowhere and my purse was back at the frat house. I had it when Bart took me up to that room but I must have left it on the bed. I cursed my stupidity. But there were other problems, too. It might have been eighty during the day but it was night and it was going to get cold fast. The cape and hood might provide some protection but that wasn’t enough. I needed to get back into the city and fast or face another adventure in the desert without food and water. Like before, I’m not sure how long I walked.
It didn’t take me long to put the mangled sign behind me though. It also didn’t take me long to take off my boots. They were cool when it was only a party I was going too but walking down the road, the heels didn’t help much. I cursed Lori for making me wear them then I cursed myself for teleporting way out here. Not that I had any control over that. I tried teleporting myself back though. But no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t seem to get the hang of it. I wonder if it had to do with my emotions. I was so angry in the room that I just willed myself away. I tried recreating that incident in my mind but there was no way. I was still pretty pissed off at Bart but I just couldn’t build up enough anger to “will” myself back to campus. So I tried thinking about my dorm room, maybe “will” myself there but it didn’t work. I finally just gave up altogether and walked.
The pavement was surprisingly hot and like the jagged desert floor, it was murder on my feet. Like before, I tried not to think about it. I did try to think about what I was going to say to Bart as soon as I got back. I think after punching him in the face then I’d apologize. After all, I tried to strangle him. I couldn’t get that image out of my head. It was just like Katie but at least this time I was able to stop myself. I’m not sure if I could live with myself knowing that I killed another one of my best friends. Who was next? Lori, Shay, Angelina, Jaslyn? I shook my head. What about Dr. O or poor innocent Becky? I would never be able to live with myself if I killed or even hurt them. Then there was Mom. I felt myself tearing up just thinking about hurting her.
I was so caught up in my horrible thoughts of killing my loved ones, that I never saw the headlights until they were practically on top of me. They were coming from behind me, heading into the city. It couldn’t have been better. When I did see them, I was completely elated. I waved my hands, jumping up and down as I did so. I even went so far as to step out into the street a bit. The car slowed, as it got closer. When it finally stopped, I couldn’t help but realize how much of an idiot I must have looked jumping up and down like that. The driver’s side window rolled down, revealing a rather handsome blonde man who looked to be in his twenties.
“Isn’t it a bit early for Halloween?” he asked, looking me up and down.
I frowned. “I was at a party.”
I shook my head. “Not quite” I took a deep breath. “It’s a long story but I can tell you about it if you give me a ride back to the city.”
He laughed. “I wouldn’t be a good Christian if I left a young woman like yourself out here in the middle of nowhere.”
I smiled and quickly ran around to the other side of the car. He opened the door and I got inside. As soon as I got buckled, he started driving. I looked him over, frowning a bit at the white collar I noticed. I could deal with a priest for a few minutes. “Thanks, you’re a life saver,” I said, he laughed and smiled. Then I remembered my manners. “I’m Rachel by the way.”
He smiled, flashing me his pearly whites. “Nice to meet you Rachel, I’m Brother Sebastian.”
“Brother Sebastian?” I asked confused.
He laughed then opened his jacket wider so I could definitely see the collar. ‘I’m sure you’re wondering why a young guy like me gave himself up to the church so early.”
I shrugged. It was really none of my business. Not that I would tell him that. My mother always taught me to respect clergy even if I didn’t really like them. I wasn’t big on religion, never really had been. But this guy was nice enough to pick me up so I guess I had to be nice enough to listen to his story.
“My father was a priest. It wasn’t really my calling but after he died, I thought I owed it to him. I was in med school actually, studying to be a hematologist of all things. I guess when you get the calling you just have to answer.”
I smiled, trying to look polite.
I listened as he prattled on about this and that, not really paying much attention. When he mentioned something about having to make a stop at the church, I numbly nodded. Truthfully, I felt myself drifting off a bit. The walk tired me out more than I thought. It was strange though because I wasn’t tired until I got into the car with him. I tried to fight it but no matter how much I tried it just seemed to fight me more. I felt my eyelids get heavy and my body got real sluggish. Sebastian droned on and on though, oblivious to the fact that he was actually putting me to sleep.
As my eyes fluttered and the darkness slowly started to close around me, Sebastian turned and smiled, flashing those pearly whites again. But there was something about his smile, something unsettling, something almost sinister. I tried to fight to stay awake, realizing something was wrong but I lost and darkness took me.
The music pulsed and throbbed all around me. I closed my eyes and found myself getting lost in it. It was surreal for a moment, until something hit me. It tugged at the corners of my mind, pulling at my sanity like a tiny little gremlin. It was Rachel, or, rather, what was left of her. It was always like that after “copying” someone’s thing. The first time it happened, the event that caused my change, it was days before I got that guy out of my head. It freaked the hell out of me and almost sent me to a shrink. I finally got a handle on it, though. After the people at STAR Labs had me do it to the blonde girl, I had a little more control over things. I was able to block her out, for the most part. With Rachel, it was pretty much a dull whisper. But, it never lasted this long. Usually a few days, but never longer than a week. Well, that was the theory, anyway.
I rubbed my temples, trying to quiet the whispers, but no amount of rubbing seemed to help. I groaned loudly, opening my eyes. I lost Angelina in the crush of the crowd about twenty minutes ago. I relocated her after only a second. She was by the stairs, chatting up a rather cute cowboy. He was tall, blonde and handsome–they’d make wonderful blonde babies, someday. I tried to wipe that image out of my head as I pushed my way back to the refreshment stand, where I left Rachel. Some Dinosaur hit on me and a Dracula tried grabbing my ass. I stomped on his foot with one of my stilettos. His face twisted in agony and I pushed past him.
When I got to the table, there was a bored Fairy standing behind it, filing her nails. Sparkly pink dress and glittery cheap wings, the whole package. Rachel was nowhere in sight.
“Hey, Bimbo Bell, where’d my friend go?”
The Fairy didn’t take too kindly to the insult. “What the hell do I look like, the Party Police?”
Stuck up bitch. “Pale girl, black hooded cape, was standing here no more than ten minutes ago?”
She shrugged. “I’ve only been here, like… three, tops.”
I sighed heavily. How in the hell did this girl get into college? I gave her a nasty look as I poured myself a cup of punch and turned to look for my friend. Rach had been pretty apprehensive about coming, tonight. I couldn’t blame her. When I copied people’s powers, I also copied a bit of them, too. I knew her fears, her doubts, and her longings. She was being followed by these creepy monk bastards and it didn’t take a genius to figure out she was scared they might try to grab her tonight. I shouldn’t have forced her to come, but she was so on edge that I felt she needed a bit of time to unwind. I had a twinge of fear as I pushed my way through the crowd. There was no way they’d try to grab her tonight, was there?
That fearful thought propelled me. I pushed and prodded, spilling some of my drink on an unsuspecting clown. He swore, I gave him the finger and moved on. When I got into the center of the room, I had a better vantage point. But, of course, I was too short to see over most of the heads around me. I hated being short, now. When I was a guy, I was six-foot-two. Now, as a girl, I was barely five-five. It was one of the most annoying things in the world. I decided the best place to look might be the stairs. I pushed my way toward them, making sure that everyone got out of the way of the angry Goth witch. When I got there, Angelina and her Cowboy were giggling like two stupid school children.
She saw me and smiled big. “Hey Lori, this is Dave. He’s a football player.”
I nodded, already bored. “That’s nice. Have you seen Rach?”
She shrugged. “Have you tried her cell?”
I wanted to smack myself. She might have looked dumb, but I felt like the idiot, tonight. I left Angelina and her football cowboy to their childish flirting and pulled out my cell. I called Rach, but didn’t expect to get an answer. Nevertheless, I let it ring as I climbed the stairs. There was too much noise from the music, but maybe I could see her from a higher vantage point. Unfortunately, some asshole decided it might be a good idea to bring a fog machine, so I couldn’t see a fucking thing. I cursed. The phone still rang until it went to voice mail. I hung up and tried again. It was a good thing, too, because I heard her cell ringing upstairs. Rach had a distinctive tone, it was from some stupid musical she liked back when she was a theater geek–I’ll be damned if I could remember the name of it.
I called a few more times, following the annoying ring down the hall.
I finally found it behind door number three. I pushed it open quickly, half expecting to startle a couple in the throes of whatever. The room was empty. The single window had its curtains open and the moonlight cast its pale glow onto the bed. Rachel’s black clutch was sitting there, the annoying tone humming from inside of it. I cursed. I sighed for a moment, glad that I didn’t barge on my friend making out with some guy. My sigh of relief was short-lived, though. If I had taught Rachel anything, it was never to go anywhere without her purse. I cursed as I crossed the room quickly and snatched it up. I bit my lip. If her purse was here, that meant she was definitely in trouble. Okay, maybe not trouble, but definitely not in the best of moods.
I grabbed the purse and left the room. I decided on a different tactic. I called Jaslyn. When she answered, I could tell I wasn’t the only one missing someone. “Shay?” she asked, her voice carrying a hint of worry.
“No, it’s Lori.” I said and sighed. Shay was gone again; someone needed to nail that girl’s feet to the floor.
“You seen Shay?”
I sighed. “No, have you seen Rach?”
There was a moment of silence. “You don’t think they…”
I groaned. Paranoid bitch. “No, I don’t think they ran off together.”
Jas sighed in relief. Then there was another pause. “Isn’t Rach with Bart?”
“Yeah, I saw the two of them go upstairs, like, ten minutes ago.”
Shit. Even though Rachel couldn’t see it, it was clear Bart had a thing for her. It kinda creeped me out a bit, actually. The two of them were best guy friends before, childhood buds, and former roommates. It made my skin crawl just thinking about it. I was so glad that when I changed I still liked girls. It’s too bad my girlfriend didn’t see it that way, fucking bitch that she was. I shook that from my mind. This was about Rachel, not me. Did she have feelings for Bart in that way, though? I knew she was still pretty upset about Katie. I think anyone would be. The way Rachel talked about her, it was clear that there was no other person in the world, except her. I can’t imagine someone that crushed would rush off to someone else so quickly.
I hung up with Jas and headed back for the stairs. At the top of them, I scanned the heads. There was too much fog to see clearly, but I thought I spotted Bart over with some bimbos. He was laughing and having a good time. I stormed down the stairs. Angelina and her Cowboy were making out, now, and didn’t even notice as I stormed past them. I pushed my way through the crowd and plowed toward Bart. He was leaning against the wall, dressed as Zorro. He didn’t see me coming until I punched him in the arm as hard as I could, which wasn’t as hard as I used to be able to hit.
It was hard enough for him to curse. “What the hell?” he snapped, rubbing his biceps.
The bimbos giggled and disappeared into the crowd.
“What the fuck did you do to Rachel?” I asked angrily, waving her purse in his face.
“Bullshit!” I snapped, hitting him in the arm with the purse. “Jas saw you take her upstairs and I found this in a room, without her!”
I hit him again, harder than before. He threw up his arms to defend himself.
“What the fuck are you guys smoking? I just got here! I haven’t seen Rachel since yesterday!”
“Jas saw you!”
“Well, she’s drunk, then, because I just got here, like, a minute ago. Ask Marco and Fred, I drove here with them.”
What the fuck, Jas? I narrowed my eyes at him, all the same. It didn’t make any sense, unless Jas was drunk… or Bart was just a damn good liar. I could probably ask his friends, but they were track buddies and I knew guys–having been one myself, not too long ago. Guys covered for one another all the time, especially in situations like this. I opened my mouth to insult him, but I saw the look on his face. He was genuinely concerned. Shit, he really did have a thing for her, didn’t he? But, it was more than that, too. I knew all about his “Knight in Shining Armor” routine, following her from class to class to make sure she was safe. As much as I didn’t like him, it was kinda sweet. That didn’t excuse him from being a creep, but it was worth some decent brownie points.
“You sure you haven’t seen her?”
He dropped his cup. “You lost her?”
I bit my lip. “I only left her alone for a…” I was going to say “minute”, but it was actually more like an hour. Shit, I’m a fucking idiot.
I was about to defend myself when a phone rang. At first, I thought it was mine until I felt Rachel’s purse vibrating. I cursed and reached inside, pulling out her cell. The annoying ring tone was drowned out by the loud music. I answered quickly. “Hello?”
“Rachel, thank God I got you finally,” said a male voice in a bit of a rush, it sounded like Professor Dee. “We have a problem. Those men that have been following you, the ones I’ve been tracking, have all disappeared.”
Shit. I took deep breath. “You don’t know the half of it.”
There was a long pause. “Who is this?”
There was another pause. “I was afraid of that.”
Bart grumbled from the passenger seat as I drove. He was acting like a child, his arms crossed, practically pouting. “I don’t see why we couldn’t have taken my car.”
I groaned. “There is no way I’m driving around in that screaming death trap.”
He fidgeted, looking around my front seat. “I feel underdressed driving in this one.”
“The word you’re looking for is under classed.”
He gave me a dirty look and went back to his stewing.
I did what I could to follow the directions the professor gave me. After only a minute or two of talking, it was clear that he wasn’t all that he appeared to be. He didn’t give me specifics but it was clear that he was hip deep in whatever was going on here. I found it strange that of all the things Rachel told me about that, this wasn’t one of them. When I “copied” her powers and some of her mind, the stuff about Dr. Dee was nowhere to be found. It made me wonder what kind of guy he was. He knew about the monks chasing after her and he seemed to know a bit about her “magic” too. It freaked me out when he called it that. Rachel never mentioned anything about magic but she had been pretty secretive as of late. I guess I couldn’t really blame her, I’m not sure I’d tell her about something as cool as all this.
Not that being kidnaped or whatever was cool.
Ok so kidnaping was the last resort. It was one of many possibilities. When I told the professor what happened, he was real quiet. Then he asked me a bunch of questions to which I didn’t have the answers. When I told him about Jas seeing Bart take her up to the room, he seemed distant. He was even more so when I told him that Bart had no memory of doing such a thing. Bart didn’t care for the fact that we were still blaming him though. Then he had tried to take the phone away from me to defend himself. We fought a bit which only seemed to annoy me and the professor more. In the end, it was decided that it might be better to have the conversation in person. So Dee gave me directions to his house. Bart insisted on tagging along which I was against but Dee wanted to talk to him in person, too.
Now twenty minutes---and a very quick costume change later---we were on our way.
In truth I would have loved to have ridden in Bart’s car, I loved corvettes. But after seeing the condition of it, I decided mine might be a bit safer. Not that Bart complained until I started driving. I think he thought I was actually going to let him drive it. What a fucking tool. Now he was giving me the silent treatment, pouting like a six year old. At least it was quiet, which gave me some time to think. I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell was going on here? I was new to this whole craziness. I’m pretty certain Rachel and Bart were too. Back when the Change happened, I was scared out of my mind. It happened so quickly, one minute I was a guy, this shadow dude ran into me and then I was shadow girl. It took nearly three hours to come back to myself and when I did, I was missing a very important organ. Not that I was complaining, it just took me by surprise.
You’d think I was used to the strange and unusual.
After the change, I tried to get my life back in order but it didn’t work out so well. My girlfriend dumped me, my Dad practically disowned me and I was a freak. The DEO didn’t show up until a day or two later. Unlike most Metas, my change was actually caught on CCTV. They found out who I was and brought me in, ran a battery of tests. It only took a day or two to figure out what I could do. They tried to recruit me but I wanted nothing to do with. Another Meta my age---the blonde I copied---stuck up for me, telling them I wasn’t going to be a problem. The stuck up bitch in charge finally conceded and let me go.
Things were supposed to be normal and they were. For two whole months, things were slowly getting back to normal. Dad and I started talking again and I started getting used to the new me. I felt blessed. That’s when Dad decided a change in scenery might be in order. I was already accepted at Arizona so Dad decided we’d just pack up and leave Ohio altogether. I was all for it, there was nothing there but bad memories. When I started college in September things were supposed to be different, clean slate and all that. Things were good; things were real good for a long time. Then I met Rachel. Not that I regret any minute of it but things were far from ok now.
“Are you freaked out at all?”
“Huh” I asked, trying to concentrate on my driving.
“All this crap” said Bart with a wave of his hand. “I mean first my best bud turns into this chick and then he, I mean she gets all these cool powers. But Katie dies, the police are after both of us and then there’s those creepy bald guys. Shit like this isn’t supposed to happen, not to normal people anyway.”
I scoffed. “Who wants to be normal these days? Normal is way overrated.”
“I want to be normal,” he said, fear in his voice.
I couldn’t help but feel for him. I’d give anything to be normal again. I took a moment or two to collect my thoughts before responding. “We’ll figure this out. I’m not really sure what the fuck is going on but the professor sounded pretty confident. We’ll get Rach, bring her back in one piece and everything will be fine…back to normal just like before.”
What a load of shit.
Bart smiled uneasily. “I guess you’re partially right.”
Neither of us said anything more.
I tried to concentrate fully on my driving. Dr. Dee didn’t live too far from campus so it wasn’t too hard to find his house. What surprised me when we pulled up to it was how much it didn’t look like the rest of the houses. It didn’t have that Spanish look too it at all. There were no stucco walls, no terra cotta tile roof. It was a wicked looking Victorian with sinister looking gables and a widow’s walk. Who in the hell built houses like this in Arizona? I blinked more than once, even rubbed my eyes. Bart and I sat in the car for at least a minute staring at the house in front of us. It was out of place too, all the other houses on the block looked like they belonged.
“Umm are we at the right place?”
I reached into my pocket and took out the napkin I wrote Dee’s directions on. I looked at the street address; it matched the one on the house. “Yep” I said, unbuckling my seat belt. I got out of the car first; Bart seemed real reluctant to do so. Some big brave jock he turned out to be, letting the dainty girl get out first. I pulled my coat on and took a deep breath as I walked up the sidewalk. Bart moved to stand behind me, walking at my heels. In the nighttime darkness, the place looked like something out of a horror flick, not at all the kind of place that two college kids should be walking towards. I suppose it kinda fit with the holiday, it definitely had that Haunted House look to it. When we got to the porch, I pushed Bart forward and made him ring the bell. He looked pretty scared doing it. When the door opened a minute later, I looked up, half expecting Lurch to answer the door. But the man standing there was not a giant gray-skinned mute; it was the same professor from my Occult class. He smiled weakly at the two of us then ushered us quickly inside.
I was surprised at the inside. It had the same look as the homes around here, the walls were tan and the carpets looked like mud. What surprised me was the lack of décor. Dee led us through the sparsely decorated main room and into the kitchen. Bart sat at the table but I tried to play it cool by leaning up against the counter. I scooped the place out. It looked like a normal kitchen, there was nothing freaky or out of the ordinary about it.
Dr. Dee sat down at the table across from Bart and wasted no time. “Your name is Bart, correct?”
Bart nodded. “Well Bartholomew, but the only one who calls me that is my Mom and only when she’s pissed at me.”
Dee smiled. Then he did something with his hand. It was real quick, a flick of his wrist. Bart didn’t notice it at all but I did. As soon as he did so there was a small flash of light, coming from the yellow stoned ring on his finger. I’m not sure what the light was supposed to do but it had an immediate effect on Bart. The whole of his demeanor changed. Where before he was scared and nervous, now his body was straight, his shoulders back. There was this blank look on his face though, like he’d fallen asleep but his eyes were still open.
“What the fuck did you do to him?” I snapped.
“Nothing serious or life threatening Miss Zechlin, your friend is merely hypnotized.”
I scoffed. “You honestly think I believe that?”
“Mr. Allen, tell Miss Zechlin what you really think about her.”
When Bart spoke, his voice came out in a dull monotone: “I think she’s really hot but I’d never do her because she’s a major bitch.”
Fucking bastard. I snapped forward, ready to strangle him. Dee held up a hand and somehow it was enough to hold me back. He wasn’t even touching me but I felt power there. It was like there was this invisible pressure pushing on me, keeping me from throttling the bastard. I took a step back and gave the professor a wide berth. There was something about him, something not right. He turned to me and smiled. It was in his eyes, a golden sparkle. I looked down at the ring and when I did, I felt extremely uneasy.
“Like I said before, I don’t mean to harm him or yourself. But I need to establish if he was being mind controlled or if he’s a very good liar.”
“Mind controlled?” I asked, pulling up a chair and sitting down, suddenly intrigued. “You think someone made him lure Rachel to that room so they could take her.”
Dee nodded. “It’s a possibility.”
I watched as Dee asked the mesmerized Bart a series of questions, not unlike the ones he asked on the phone. But for some reason they seemed to have more potency now. There were a lot of them, most of them concerning his whereabouts during Rachel’s disappearance. No matter how differently he worded the question, Bart always answered the same though. He hadn’t seen Rachel since the day before and arrived at the party a minute or two before I accosted him. After a few minutes, Dee nodded and turned to me.
“He’s not lying or at least he believes he’s telling the truth” He rubbed his chin. “I’ve fully scanned his brain and his memories, there’s no evidence of his mind being tampered with though. It might be very strong magic but it would have to be phenomenal to fool my powers.” He sighed, sliding his chair back. Then he pushed himself to his feet.
“Are you going to leave him like that?” I asked, pointing to the still comatose Bart.
Dee nodded. “For the time being” He started pacing a bit. “Tampering with the mind is a very tricky thing and not something that comes to people easily. That’s why I was taking it slow with Rachel, making sure she had complete and total control over her powers before teaching her the heavy stuff.”
I nodded even though I had no idea what he was talking about. Instead, I just watched as he rubbed his chin and passed. After about five minutes of it, I got annoyed. “What about Rach, we’re wasting our time while you wear a fucking hole in the floor.”
He stopped pacing and smiled. “Can I see her purse?”
I was smart enough to bring it into the house with me. I set it on the table. He sat back in his chair and pulled it over, gently rifling through it. One by one, he took each and every item out of it. He held the item for a second or two before gently setting it on the table. I almost punched him when he freakishly fondled Rachel’s tampon. When he got to her phone, he opened it up and scrolled through her call list. I wanted to punch him there too. What kind of freak was he? When he got to her hairbrush, he seemed to ignore everything else. He pulled a few strands from it and set the other stuff aside.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
“I can use her hair to help pinpoint her exact location.”
My eyes nearly popped out of her head. “Are you some kind of freaky tracking Meta or something?”
“Or something” he said as he got up from the chair again.
He left the room, leaving me with the robot. I turned to Bart, snapping my fingers in front of his face. But he didn’t flinch. I blew in his ear, smacked him across the head and stabbed him with a fork. But he never once budged. It was by far the creepiest and the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Whatever the professor did to him, I couldn’t help but be a little impressed. I’d been trying to get Bart to shut up for weeks and he did it in only mere seconds. Ok so he froze him or something but it was still better than listening to the moron try to hit on poor unsuspecting bimbos over and over again.
Dee came back into the room about five minutes later, carrying a rolled up piece of paper. He came back to the table and pushed everything aside. I grabbed her purse and quickly started stuffing things back into it. While I did that, he spread the paper wide. It was a map, one of the city and the region beyond it. I knew it fairly well because my Dad had a similar one in his car. He was still getting lost even though he’d been in the city for a few months now. Just like Dad, Dee was pouring over the map, staring transfixed at different locations. Finally, after a minute or two of staring, he set a small silver bowl on the table.
“What’s that?” I asked as he placed Rachel’s hair into the bowl.
“Old Magic” he said as he took a lighter and lit the hair on fire.
I watched as the hair burnt to a small pile of black ash. Then he grabbed the little bowl and poured the ash on the map. For a second nothing happened but then the pile slowly started to move. It freaked the hell out of me. I jumped back, afraid that the ash might try to attack me or something. Dee laughed. I gave him a dirty look and continued to watch the ash. It moved slowly, inching its way across the map like a tiny worm. It was the freakiest thing I’d ever seen. Old Magic he called it. I never really was one to believe in such crap. But after seeing what he did to Bart and witnessing this crazy moving hair dust, I was a believer now.
It was one thing to believe in Metas and superpowers. Now magic was real too. It made you wonder what else might be out there.
“What the hell is it doing exactly?” I asked as I got my nose pretty close to the map.
“It’s searching for the rest of her. The hair is a part of her, it’s attached to her. In essence, it should be able to point out her location on this map.”
I nodded. “That’s so fucking cool.”
“Yes but its very time consuming.”
“An hour, maybe two at most.”
I cursed. “We don’t have that long. Hell, Rachel doesn’t have that long.”
He nodded then rubbed his chin. “Are you familiar with all of Rachel’s friends?”
I nodded. “She doesn’t have many actually.”
He nodded. “Have any of them been acting strangely. Disappearing for long blocks of time or maybe doing things out of the ordinary.”
I wracked my brain but everyone seemed pretty normal. I shook my head.
“How about any new friends?”
I shrugged. “We’re all kind of new to her actually.”
He smiled. “I mean any new ones in the last day or two?”
I shook my head. “She doesn’t have the time. When she’s not in class, she’s here with you.”
He didn’t say anything for a few minutes. Then he finally told me to sit on the couch. I reluctantly did so. But I couldn’t help but sit and turn my head to stare at the kitchen. My friend was out there and I wanted to know the moment that that thing found her. Sitting got boring though. As time ticked away, I got more and more bored. I don’t like sitting still for long. I was one of those kids who always had to do something. When I was younger, it was Intramural Sports, ANJO Baseball and Inner Soccer mostly. As long as I did something, I never drove my parents nuts. But sitting here now, fidgeting like a freak on the couch wasn’t helping. Finally, I pushed myself up and went back into the kitchen.
“I need to do something, anything.”
Dee had Rachel’s phone in his hand. He held it up, showing a number. “Did you meet the Allens while Rachel was staying with them?”
I shook my head. “That was before she met me.”
He nodded then dialed the number. A second later, he was talking to someone. “Its me, that time we talked about has come. She’s going to need your help.”
No more than two seconds later the doorbell rang. Dee closed the phone and walked slowly through the room. He went to the front door and opened it. Into the house walked a rather pretty blonde in blue jeans and red jacket. She made my face flush a bit. God she was kinda hot. She smiled as me as she stuck her hands into her pockets and followed Dee into the kitchen.
“When did they take her?” asked the girl, only mildly glancing at the map.
“A little more than an hour ago go now,” said Dee, looking at his watch.
The blonde turned to me, giving me the once over. “Is this the friend?”
Dee nodded. “The friend has a name,” I snapped. “It’s Lori and you are?”
The girl looked past me and over at Bart. She turned to Dee.
“Occult, why the hell is my nephew a statue?”
Dee smiled. “I forgot about him actually.”
Wait, what nephew? This girl was my age at the most, maybe a few years older. There was no way she was old enough to be Bart’s aunt. Unless she was one of those later in life children. It hurt my brain thinking about it. Instead, I watched as Dee walked over and waved his hand in front of Bart’s face. Movement came back to Bart. He blinked then stretched. He looked around confused for a moment then his eyes drifted on the girl. He smiled like a big dumb idiot. The girl and I rolled our eyes at the exact same time.
“Hey Barbara” he said sleepily. “Where did you come from?”
She ignored him. Instead, she turned back to Dee. “How long until we have an exact location?”
“About another hour.”
She cursed. “I can canvas the whole city if you want; it will take me ten, fifteen minutes tops.”
What the hell was going on here? Who was this girl anyway?
Dee nodded. “Not without her you’re not,” he said, pointing to me.
The girl---Barbara turned to me and frowned. “She’ll just slow me down.”
Dee smirked. “No she won’t. Lori is special just like you but unlike you, all it takes is a simple touch and she’s just like any of you.”
Barbara’s eyes widened. I was confused as all hell.
“Lori” said Dee as he put his hand on Barbara’s shoulder. “Miss Allen here is very fast and I was wondering if you’d like to shake her hand?”
Shake her hand? It took me a second, maybe two to grasp what he meant. I gave the girl a quick once over, I clicked right there. No shit. Barbara winked at me and I think I finally understood what Dee meant. I was about to shake hands with the Flash and become the second fastest woman alive, at least for a few hours anyway. I looked at Dee and nodded, he smiled.
“I’ll give you a call when the scrying locks onto her exact location.”
Barbara nodded and held out her hand to me. I didn’t hesitant in the least when I reached forward and gently took it. There was a surge of energy that sparked through my body and then I felt powerful.
When I woke up, I was a bit confused and groggy. The room was dark and there didn’t appear to be any windows. My mouth was dry and I had one of those stiff necks one gets from sleeping where they shouldn’t. What the hell happened? I tried to recall the last thing I saw before passing out. I was on the highway and a smiling priest picked me up. He promised to take me back into the city. We were in his car talking, then I fell asleep. I groaned. How rude was that? I sat up and rubbed my sore neck, finally understanding where the soreness came from. Falling asleep in the car was horrible, but no more so than sleeping on a couch. I waved my hand in front of face, but all I saw was darkness. I cursed and tried to get my bearings.
After a minute or two, I tried standing. There was something wrong as soon as I did so. I was dizzy and lightheaded, almost as if I was drunk. Did they spike the punch? I shook my head. Other people were drinking it and they were fine. I sat back down quickly and tried to think. Walking in the desert had tired me out, but it wasn’t enough to make me so woozy. My last few moments in the car were really fuzzy. I think I was trying to stay awake as if something was forcing me to fall asleep, which didn’t make any sense. The priest, Brother Sebastian, seemed like a good guy; albeit, his smile was a bit on the creepy side. Why the hell would he try to put me to sleep?
I tried standing again and, this time, I was a little better. I took a few steps and, though my feet were heavy, I managed to walk to what I hoped was the middle of the room. After a few more steps, I collided with a coffee table, I think, smashing my shins. I cursed and decided to go a different direction. I walked maybe ten steps or so when I ran into the wall, face first. That hurt like a bitch. But, if there was a wall, there was a door and possibly a light switch. I fumbled along it in the dark, hoping to get lucky. Step after clumsy step, I tried in desperation. It’s real scary bumbling around in the dark in a strange place. For all I knew, I could be in a large room with loads of people staring and watching me act like an idiot. That was a crazy idea, but it was a fear.
Finally, my fingers found what I was looking for. I closed my eyes and flicked the switch. I opened them gradually, getting used to the light. After getting my eyes adjusted, I opened them fully. I was surprised at how normal the room looked. It was an office of some kind. The couch I was laying on was actually against the wall I was standing next to. There was the coffee table I smashed into, a desk, and some filing cabinets. It had maroon carpets, wood paneling instead of paint, and, behind the desk, was a giant portrait of a sinister looking man wearing a red robe and a scowl. I stared at the painting, picking up some of the similarities between the man and Sebastian. It must have been an ancestor or something. I took a step closer and noticed a small plaque underneath with a name and date: Sebastian Krev, 1260-1340.
I took a step away from the painting and looked to the bookshelf lining the wall. A lot of books were old and worn, like the ones that Dr. O had in his library. Much like Dr. O’s, these books had no names on the bindings. I pulled one out, but the name on the cover was faded. I opened it up, but I couldn’t read anything inside. I sighed and put it back on the shelf. It was clear that the Brother brought me back to his church after I fell asleep, but this office didn’t look like any priest’s office I’d ever seen. For one thing, there wasn’t any religious iconography. I looked real hard for it, too. I couldn’t even find a crucifix. That fact only mildly bothered me, though. What really sent my warning flag flying was the lack of a window. It was strange that someone wouldn’t have a window in their office. I mean, I was all for the dark and gloomy bit, but this guy was a priest. Wasn’t he supposed to be into all the light and holy stuff?
I finally finished the tour of the room at the filing cabinets. The drawers were all locked but there was a file sitting on the desk. Curiosity got the better of me and I took a step toward it. As soon as I did so, I heard a click behind me and the door slowly opened. I snapped around quickly, casually sitting on the end of the desk. When the door was fully open, Brother Sebastian came into the room. He was dressed all in black, his priest collar very apparent. His blonde hair was slicked back and he was wearing that welcoming smile of his. It still creeped me out, though.
“I see you’re finally awake,” he said with a chuckle. “Have a nice nap, my dear?”
He walked into the room and over to his desk, slipping behind it and sitting in the chair. He looked from me to the file, but didn’t ask if I looked at it.
I put on a fake smile. “Where am I?”
“My church,” he said with another chuckle. “When you fell asleep in my car I had no idea where to take you because you never said. So, I brought you here. I figured as soon as you woke up I’d bring you to wherever it is you wanted to go.”
I nodded then looked from him to the guy in the painting. The painting guy had creepy eyes that seemed to follow me. “Nice place, love what you’ve done with it.”
He laughed. Then, waved his hand around. “Not exactly my idea of styling either. I inherited this position from my father. He died suddenly a few months ago.”
I suddenly felt bad about the crack. “I’m sorry. Were you close?”
He shook his head. “Not really.”
I nodded but twigged on something he said. “Do sons normally inherit the priesthood or the church from their fathers?”
He laughed and shook his head. “Not usually, no, but our Church is special. We’re a very small sect, barely a thousand members, actually. We’ve been all over the world, actually, founded in Eastern Europe by the man in the painting above my head.”
I looked up at the painting again very quickly. “Kinda gives me the creeps.”
He laughed. “Me, too.”
I chose my next words carefully. “He looks like you,” I said then quickly added. “Except the guy in the painting looks like someone gave him sour milk.”
Sebastian let out a hearty laugh. “We’re ancestors, actually. Brother Krev was the first High Priest of our Order. When he died, things were passed to his son. It’s been like that for seven centuries, now, passing from the father to the son.”
“What if the son doesn’t want the job?”
There was a twist of anger on his face but it passed quickly. “The son is always honored to take the father’s place.”
I vaguely remembered him mentioning studying to be a doctor. I can only imagine how happy he must have been to give that all up.
After that, there was a moment of silence. I wanted to thank him for his Church’s impromptu history lesson, but I didn’t really want to extend the inevitable. In truth, I just wanted to get the hell out of this creepy place. I’m not big on churches. My family was never the religious kind, but I always got this strange feeling being in one. I could never really describe it, but stepping into a church sent my body into overdrive. I sweat and sometimes break out into a fever. My mother said it was social anxiety because of all the people, but I knew it wasn’t. I’d been in places with loads more people than that and never felt like shit. No, there was something about churches that just didn’t agree with me.
I took a deep breath. I wanted to get out of here; I needed to get out of here. “I hate to be a poor guest and sound ungrateful, but do you think you can take me back into the city, now? I was at a party and left in kind of a rush. I’m sure my friends are worried sick about me.”
Sebastian smiled that smile of his again. Then, he sighed. “I’m afraid I don’t presently have the car. You see we only have one and my assistant took it to run an errand.”
I nodded. What time was it? The last time I looked, it was midnight and that was before I left the party. I had to wonder who ran errands this late or early for that matter. “Do you have a phone? I left my purse at the party.”
He smiled. “Of course.”
He opened a drawer of his desk and took an old rotary style phone from it. He set it on the edge of the desk for me to get easy access to. I looked at the phone and smirked. I thought my grandmother was the only one who still had one of those. I chuckled a bit as I picked up the handset and started dialing Lori’s cell. I turned slightly so he couldn’t see me. When I turned my back, I felt a rush of air. It was quick, too quick to react. There was a sharp prick in the back of my neck. I snapped around, dropping the hand set in mid-dial. What I saw was Sebastian standing there, an empty syringe in his hand.
“What the fuck?” I said, slapping a hand on where he jabbed me.
He smiled, but this time it wasn’t the happy smile from before. It was cruel and sinister, matching the smile of his ancestor in the painting. “You were trying to get away, my dear, and we can’t have that.”
Whatever it was he stuck me with started working fast. I staggered off the desk. “You son of a bitch!” I slurred as I tried to get away from him.
I tried to get to the door, but only managed the couch before I collapsed. He stepped around the desk and slowly walked over to me. He bent down so we were looking eye to eye. “We tried to be civil, but you just weren’t playing fair. Every time my people tried to approach you, you just kept running from them. So, I decided to try a different tactic.”
He pointed to the door and standing there, now, was Bart. He had his arms crossed and was smirking. What the hell? “Bart? You’re in with them?” I slurred as my vision started to blur.
Bart and Sebastian laughed. “He isn’t Bart, my dear. He isn’t even a ‘he’.”
I looked at Bart standing there and suddenly he wasn’t Bart anymore. The red costume of his faded first followed by the rest of his body. In his place was a small girl with mousy hair and glasses, a very familiar looking girl. “Becky?” I gasped.
She smirked. “Theresa, actually.” she said as she took off her glasses, her whole demeanor changing. Her body changed a bit too, getting a bit taller and curvier.
“Your confusion is to be expected,” said Sebastian as he placed a hand on my elbow. I tried to push him away, but I found I couldn’t move my body, anymore. What the hell did he stick me with? “Miss Zimmer is special, like you. She was such a rare find.”
“I’m going to kick all your asses,” I slurred as my vision started to get worse.
Sebastian smirked. “Another time, perhaps.”
He clapped his hands. Becky or Theresa or whoever the hell she was stepped out of the doorway. Behind her, two brown robed monks walked into the room. Panic seized me before my vision completely faded and the room was plunged into darkness.
“Rachel,” said a voice, a pleading sobbing voice. “Please, Rachel, wake up.”
I opened my eyes and, groggy, the world came flooding back at me. I blinked. Everything around me was blurry and unfocused. I could tell I was in large room, though–stone pillars lining the walls. The ceiling was far above my head. My vision managed to focus for a second and I got a look at the walls. They were lined with paintings, all of them of the same man. No, a different man, but they looked the same, like the painting in Sebastian’s office. These guys were his ancestors, too, all of them wearing the same sinister scowl. They were all named Sebastian, I think; I could vaguely see the plaques under them. The closest one---the only one I could fully read---was Sebastian Veri.
“Rachel, can you hear me?” said the voice, the one from before.
It sounded so damn familiar.
I turned toward it and saw Shay or at least someone who looked vaguely like her. She was wearing a white dress and her short hair was black. She was chained to a stone slab, struggling to get free. It was clear she’d been doing it for a while because the area around her wrists and ankles---where the shackles were---was rubbed raw and bloody. She was crying and looked a mess. I blinked, staring unbelieving at one of my friends. How was she here? She was at the party with me. Did they grab her there, too? I shook my head. No, that wasn’t it. My mind drifted back to Jaslyn’s phone call when we were costume shopping. Shay had disappeared then. Oh God, they grabbed her and replaced her with that Theresa girl.
I felt the bile rise up my throat. I felt the anger, too. I couldn’t act on that because I couldn’t move. Whatever they gave me was still in my system. The only thing I could move was my head. I looked down at myself, surprised that I was still wearing my Halloween costume. But I was shackled as well to a stone slab very similar to the one she was on. There was no use for me to struggle because it was useless, at the moment. I tried to lash out with my mind, instead, concentrating on the shackles holding her. If I could break them, then maybe she could get away and get help. But, no matter how much I tried I couldn’t focus, my mind still in a fog.
I realized then why they drugged me.
“Shay,” I said, the grogginess still in my voice. “You all right?
She sighed but shook her head. “I’m scared. Oh God, am I scared.”
I bit back my own tears. “It’s going to be okay. I’ll get us out of this.”
I left off the “somehow”. Shay was still crying.
I decided to get a better look at our surroundings as my vision fully came back to me. It looked like Shay and I were on some kind of altar. There was stone basin between our two slabs and a podium behind us. Behind that was a tall nasty looking totem of some kind. The best way to describe it was an oversized human skull with four eye sockets and what appeared to be antlers. It was clearly man-made, but it still looked pretty freaky. Behind that was a large stain glass window done all in red. Unlike most churches, which depicted scenes from the Old or New Testaments, the scene on this window was really fucked up. There was a large horned skull, two smaller skulls on either side of it and an even smaller horned skull on top of that. Beneath that were three characters bowing to the skulls and underneath them were flames. What the fuck was this place? I looked around, seeing the scene duplicated in the dozen or so windows throughout the large room.
I gasped. So, this was Sebastian’s Church, huh?
The rest of the place looked sorta like a church. There were stone pews laid with red velvet cushioning and a long red carpet down the center. There was a huge chandelier hanging from the ceiling, one that looked like it was made from human bones. The wall sconces looked like bone, too, and hanging from the walls---in between each of the stain glass windows---were long red banners depicting the four-eyed skull with antlers. Whoever these fucking people were, they were obsessed with the antler guy. I tried to find exits and spotted four. But, I was certain they were guarded. So, even if I managed to free Shay and then myself, it was going to be a fight to get out of here.
I turned my attention back to Shay. “How long have you been here?”
She shook her head. “I was at a coffee shop. I was just leaving to meet up with Jas when these guys jumped me. I’m not sure how long ago that was. What day is it?”
I bit my lip. “It was the twenty ninth, but it’s probably the thirtieth, now.”
She cursed. “What the fuck do these people want with me?”
I sighed. “Its not you, it’s me.”
“You?” she asked, I nodded. “Why?”
“I wish I knew.”
She started crying again. I decided I needed to get her mind off it, so I went back to the questions. “How long have we been in this room?”
“A while. They brought me in first, then you.”
I nodded. “And where did they go?”
She shook her head. “They left after they brought you in. They chained you up like me and as soon as they left. I tried to wake you up. You know the rest.”
I was about to ask another question, but I never got a chance. There was a sound coming from somewhere in the building. It was low at first, but seemed to increase in decibel. I looked around and saw three of the four doors open at the same time. A procession of brown robed monks came into the room, all of them chanting. They poured into the room from three sides, moving slowly toward the pews to take their seats. There had to be hundreds of them. I was mind-boggled by the numbers. He said there were, at least, a thousand followers of his church, but I never expected all of them to be in this room. After they came in, the fourth door, the center one, opened. Another procession came in, but their men were dressed in red robes. They were carrying something, too. There were four of them, two in front and two in back. Between them was a large stone jar. Unlike the brown robed monks who were hooded, these guys didn’t hide their bald heads. I recognized them as the very same bastards who had been following me. They walked slowly down the aisle, moving toward the altar. Behind them was a sinister looking woman with a tight bun and pinched face. Her robes were red, too, but slightly different, a gold sash around her waist. She was holding that goblet from my dream. She followed the jar bearers. After her came Theresa, in her hands was a red pillow on which sat a dagger.
Behind her was Brother Sebastian. He was dressed in red robes as well. They were long and flowed behind him like a bride’s dress train. On his head was a crown made of bone with antlers. When he walked down the aisle, the hooded monks bowed to him. I couldn’t help but gag. I gave them all deadly looks as they approached the altar. Shay squirmed and kicked, trying to get free. Me, I knew there was no use, now. Whatever these bastards were going to do, it was going to happen whether I wanted it to or not–not that I wouldn’t try to get free, if I could. My body was still numb and mostly immobile. My mind was still a fog, too. I could barely form a thought.
Finally, Brother Sebastian reached the altar. The others were already arranged around us, standing still like statues. The four jar bearers were standing before the stone basin. They had blank looks on their faces.
Sebastian turned and faced the crowd. “Brothers and Sisters the time has finally come to bring forth the dream that our great founder, the First of Blood, set about to do nearly seven hundred years before.”
There were cheers and chanting. It was a name, over and over again. “Brother Blood”. I looked around and realized they must have been referring to Sebastian. No wonder he didn’t tell me his last name when we met. I would have bolted if I heard his name was Brother Sebastian Blood.
He turned to Theresa. “Sister, is the final sacrifice ready?”
Theresa looked from me to Shay. She smiled at me, then glared at Shay. “She is my Lord.”
Shay realized they were talking about her and screamed. Her cries fell on deaf ears though.
“Deacons,” said Blood, addressing the Jar Bearers, “Pour the offering into the receptacle.”
The four Jar Bearers came forth with the stone jar. They carried it over to the large stone basin and, ever so slowly, poured out its contents. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what was in there as a red liquid quickly filled up the whole of the basin. I cringed at the smell. There was so much blood, I was almost sick. Shay looked the same, turning her head away. I couldn’t help but stare at it, though. I knew where this blood had come from, it was those girls they slaughtered and drained. They took the blood and now I knew what it was for. But I couldn’t understand why it was called an Offering? Who were they offering it to?
“Sister Theresa, the knife.”
Theresa stepped forward, raising the pillow. Blood took the knife from it and turned toward Shay, walking slowly over to her. “With your sacrifice my dear, we can finally reach the Path of Enlightenment.”
Shay was crying. “Please, no. You don’t have to do this.”
Blood smiled sadly and nodded. “You’re going to be a part of something great and wonderful. I promise you that this act will not go unrewarded. My Lord will make sure that your soul will be taken care of for all time.”
I tried to struggle, but all I could move was my head. The tears started flowing freely down my face. The anger was building, though, burning inside of me. It started in my legs and was slowly moving up my body. But, it was moving too slow and Sebastian knew it. He turned to me and smirked, the evil written all over his face. Then, he turned to Shay and slit her left wrist, she screamed out in pain and agony. I screamed too. He paused and turned toward me, a twinkle in his eye. He held the bloody knife up so I could see it, turning it ever so slowly in his hand. The fiery anger built inside of me. I wanted to kill him; I wanted to tear him apart. He’s toiling with you, playing with your mind. There was a voice in my head, Her Voice.
I ignored it.
Shay was still screaming as her blood ran freely.
“Enough of that my dear,” said Blood and he quickly slit her throat.
Her screaming turned to a gurgle as she sputtered blood from her mouth. It flowed like a river from her neck. Her body twitched and spasmed. I watched as the life drained slower from my friend’s eyes, unable to do a thing about it. The fire built inside of me. I was going to kill him; I was going to kill them all. The tingling spread like wild fire, tearing through my limbs. All feeling came back immediately. I thrashed and tore into the air. Theresa jumped back, losing that snide look of hers for a moment. I looked at my hands, seeing the black light creep along my fingers.
“Is she supposed to be doing that,” stammered Theresa as she pointed to me.
Blood turned and frowned. “Mother gather the rest of the offering, I’ll deal with this.”
He walked over and bent to face me. “Such anger, such power.”
“You mother fucker! You just killed one of my best friends! I’m going to tear off your fucking head and use it as a soccer ball!”
He laughed. “You think I care about murdering your friend? Hell, I murdered my own father, so murdering an insignificant is nothing to me.”
“Your father?” I said, surprised. “What kind of sick fuck are you?”
He smirked. “It’s the way of the Church of Blood. The First was murdered by his son, and so the tradition goes, son murdering father. It’s been going on for centuries.”
“You’re fucked up! You’re all fucked up!”
Blood glared angrily at me. Then, turned to the woman he called Mother. “Did you get it all?”
“Yes Brother,” she said, pouring the goblet’s overflowing contents into the basin.
Blood smiled. “Good, now the second part can commence.”
He turned to the crowd, throwing his hands wide. “Brothers and Sisters, the final Sacrifice has willingly given herself to the Cause.”
The crowd cheered. They shouted “Brother Blood”, again. My anger was still burning, growing stronger. But, my hands were no longer glowing black. It’s getting closer, said the Voice, I told you to let me out. Now, you’re going to suffer. I ignored her. Instead, I wiggled my fingers, glad that there was movement in them. I just wondered if there was enough to stop these bastards.
Theresa turned from the cheering. “She’s not glowing anymore. You said killing her friend in front of her would piss her off, but she’s stopped.”
Blood turned to me, frowning. “This isn’t going to work unless you cooperate with us.”
“Cooperate? What the fuck are you talking about?”
He sighed. “Did you actually think you found that necklace by chance?”
The Rapture? How did he know about that? “I don’t know what you’re talking about?”
He smirked. “The man who ran the prop shop, he’s one of ours. He put the necklace there when he saw you coming.” I shook my head. Blood smirked even more. “We’ve been watching you, Rachel, keeping our eye on you for some time, now. It’s taken us years to get our hands on The Rapture but we finally found it in a Thrift Shop, of all places. Can you believe that?” He laughed. “After we acquired it, it was only a matter of time before we could figure out a way for you to get your hands on it. The Prop Shop worked out beautifully. We knew someone like you couldn’t resist the Call of it.”
“Someone like me?”
Theresa laughed. “She doesn’t know?” She laughed even louder, putting her face in mine. “You’re one twisted bitch, actually. Way more than I ever was.”
Her face changed into Bart’s, whereupon she kissed me. Then, she pulled back and laughed. Anger built inside of me again, tingling through my body. Blood smirked. Theresa danced around the stone slab, laughing. Then, she ran over to Shay’s slab. She grabbed Shay’s head and turned it to face mine. She was laughing as she did so. I saw Shay’s lifeless eyes looking at me, her gray skin splattered in her own blood, her lips already blue.
“What’s the matter, Rachel?” said Theresa, mimicking Shay’s voice while moving Shay’s mouth. “Aren’t you mad that they killed me?”
I snapped. The anger flooded through me, a fire burning through my whole body. Blood and the Mother jumped back from the slab. My body arched in the air, the chains holding me in place. The Deacons took several steps back. A felt it, the power, the burning. I tried to fight it, but it was too strong. I was too far gone, now. The burning was so intense that I couldn’t think straight. I flooded with an overwhelming rage I couldn’t control. The shackles holding my feet snapped. The ones holding my arms strained as I rose slowly from the slab. Theresa was staring in wide-eyed horror as I rose. The shackles holding my arms gave way and I was free. I floated above the slab. First five feet, then ten. I felt such power, such wonderful power.
“IT HAS COME!” shouted Blood “THE TIME HAS COME FOR THE PORTAL TO OPEN AND FOR OUR MASTER TO TAKE HIS PLACE IN THE WORLD!”
Blood got down on his knees before me, the Mother did the same?
“Master,” he said, placating me. “We have prepared the vessel, brought forth a bountiful Offering, even secured a key to the Portal. Come forth and shower us with your greatness.”
There was a burning in my bones. It started in my back, creeping along the tattoo. I could feel it, feel it rising. I screamed from the intense pain. As I screamed, the Deacons ran. I lashed out at them, a reflex. It was black tentacles like the Thing inside of me. They lashed around all four at once. I tore into them, squeezing the life out of them. I squeezed and squeezed until they were no more. I dropped their lifeless bodies to the floor. As soon as I did so, the crowd screamed. I think they realized that they weren’t going to get what they wanted. They started running toward the exits. I lashed out at the closest ones, tearing through them with the black tentacles. Their lifeless bodies dropped to the ground seconds later.
Blood was still pleading. “Master, please, why do you punish the Faithful?”
I ignored him. I had no idea what the fuck he was talking about.
Theresa decided to run, too, but there was no way she was getting away. Her, I did not grab by reflex. Her, I grabbed to kill. My tentacles lashed around her running form. She screamed as I lifted her into the air. I spun her around so she could face me and pulled her close. Her face was inches from mine. I tore at her and wrenched her in many different directions at once, the whole of her bones cracking as I twisted all her body parts different ways. I ended with her head, giving her a second of agony to see my face before I twisted it around to face backwards.
Who’s twisted, now, bitch?
I dropped her to the ground.
At that moment, an alarm went off somewhere. Blood stopped his groveling. He turned to Mother and glared at her. “I thought the perimeter was secure?”
“It is, I mean it was.”
He slammed her across the face. “Deal with it, I’ll deal with her.”
I let her run. I’d deal with her, later. Instead, all my fury needed to be focused on one thing, one man. I glared at Blood, my tentacles whipping about. I let most the followers flee; whoever was out there would take them. I glared at Blood, trying to figure out the best way to kill him. He got back on his knees, still praying to me.
“Master, is this vessel not worthy?”
A spout of gunfire could be heard in the background.
“I can find you another vessel, a more worthy one.”
More gunfire. Then, a second later, a voice chirped into the room. It was coming from a radio clipped to Blood’s belt. The voice belonged to the Mother. “Sebastian there’s something out here, its red and yellow, moving very fast.”
Red and yellow? The Flash, I smiled. They found me. Some of my anger subsided but not the pain, the pain was intense.
The radio chirped again. “There’s two of them, one black and yellow, they’re tearing through our guards…what should we…”
Her voice cut off in a scream.
“You’re done Blood,” I said, my voice rumbled and trembled.
Blood shook his head. “You ruined it. You must have been Impure. You’re not the Vessel we seek. The Master must have found you unworthy. Maybe the Offering and the Vessel need to be together?”
He spit at me. Then, he ran over and picked up goblet. He rushed to the basin and dipped it inside, filling the cup. He raised the cup to his lips and downed it in one gulp. I cringed and almost threw up. The blood inside that thing must have been old, it was bubbling even. I can’t imagine how sanitary it was. That didn’t seem to stop him though. He dipped the cup in there a second time and took another drink, downing the contents again. It was clear they were refrigerating the blood but I can’t imagine what it might taste like. Blood staggered after his third cup full.
“You’ll see,” he said with a laugh, blood dribbling down his chin. “I’ll bring forth Master Trigon and you’ll rue the day you tried to stop it.”
I lowered to the ground, the pain was still burning, but my anger was gone. It was just sick, now. All the others were gone and from the sound of dying gunfire, taken care of. I was so tired and it hurt, my whole body hurt. Whatever spout of energy I had was dying fast, fueled by anger that was no longer there. I couldn’t be angry at something so pathetic. It was when he mentioned his Master that I had to quit. I thought these people had a purpose, but it turns out they were a bunch of nuts. They were killing all these girls, taking their blood and for what? All so they could hope to summon some imaginary whatever to wreak havoc on the world? What kind of bull was that?
“You’re pathetic,” I said, as I got to my feet, staggering.
I was so tired. I pushed past him and started down the aisle. As I did so, a black and yellow streak zipped into the room. When it stopped, I saw Lori. She was sweating and panting, but she was all right. I smiled and nearly fell. She raised forward and caught me, holding me in a tight hug.
“You all right?” She asked.
I nodded. “I’m good, but I’m so tired. I think I used too much.”
Lori slipped her arm underneath mine and helped me walk. We got to the door when Barbara zipped into the zoom, holding Mother’s gold sash in her hand. “Is she ok?” she asked, Lori nodded.
Blood wasn’t done. “GET BACK HERE!” he shouted. “I WILL NOT BE IGNORED!”
A bullet whizzed past us.
We snapped around. He smirked and laughed, standing there holding a gun in one hand, the goblet in the other. He had a crazed look on his face. “Just as I thought,” he said, walking down the aisle. “All those mighty superpowers and you’re all still afraid of a little gun.”
He leveled the weapon and fired at Barbara. She zipped out of the way. Then, she was in front of him. She snatched the gun from his hand. Then, she zipped back over to us. It happened so fast that Blood had no idea what just happened.
Blood recovered quickly, though, and screamed. I turned just in time to see the knife being hurled at me. I reached fast, lashing out with what bit of power I could muster. I surrounded the knife in black light and threw it back. It sailed high over his head, right toward the chandelier. The force of the throw, added with my powers, cut the chandelier free. It fell toward Blood before Flash or Lori could react. He let out a startled scream as he looked up as it crushed him into the ground, piercing him with several spears of bone. His blood splattered and the gold goblet rolled away, stopping just at our feet.
I smirked. So much for Brother Blood.
Then, I staggered from exhaustion and collapsed into Lori’s arms. She screamed my name and I blacked out.
When I woke up this time, I wasn’t the least bit confused as to where I was. It was sterile smell that invaded my nose and when I opened my eyes for a moment all I saw was white. After blinking a few times, the white faded into shapes and the room came into focus. It was a hospital room. There was a huge light overhead, happy landscape prints on the wall and a large window with the curtain drawn. My bed was in a half upright position and there was one of those little tables next to me with some flowers and a tiny black teddy bear. I smiled at it, then turned to look to my other side. Sitting in a chair, fast asleep, was my mother. I nearly jumped out of bed when I saw her. I started to tear up a bit, surprised and confused.
I reached out for her, but stopped inches from her hand. It was strange. No one would ever guess the two of us were related. Her hands had a reddish hue like someone who had stayed out in the sun far too long---a perpetual, never-ending suntan. At least we had the same hair, though. Hers was currently in a French braid, down her back. She usually wore it loose unless she was going somewhere. Looking at her face, I couldn’t help but gasp. Back when I was Ryan, it was hard to tell that she was my mother because we didn’t look anything alike. Now, the two of us could almost be sisters---me being the paler one, of course.
Mom always looked like a young mother. When I was still a child, people often mistook her for my older sister or the babysitter. She had a beautiful, youthful face. Even now at only thirty-eight, she still looked to be in her early twenties. She often said it was good genes. My grandmother was very youthful-looking, as well. But, she still looked old enough to be the mother of an almost forty-year-old. My Mom didn’t look old enough to be the mother of anyone. It used to drive the guys at school nuts whenever they saw her. They all drooled and made lewd comments before they ever even knew if we were related or not. Azarath was a small town but not small enough for everyone to know everyone. Mom got a lot of strange looks, especially from envious women her age.
There were a lot of whispered stories, too. Mom was the girl that got knocked up the summer before her senior year of high school. What’s worse, it was by some grifter passing through town. In Azarath, that was big news. She was severely ostracized because of it. I got some of it, too, as I was growing up. Our community was mainly Native Americans, save for a few families like Bart’s. Even then, Bart still passed as “normal”, what with his skin tanning pretty dark in the summer. But me, I was always the pale, strange kid that only ever had two friends. Growing up was rough, but, at least, I had drama to fall back on. I loved the theater and now, after a few weeks of not performing, I realizing how much I really missed it.
After staring at the woman sleeping next to me, I finally got up the nerve to touch her. I slipped my hand around hers and gave it a gentle squeeze. As soon as I did, Mom stirred and slowly opened her eyes. Like me, she blinked and looked a little groggy. She stared around the room and, then her eyes focused on me. As soon as she did, she smiled.
“Oh, sweetie, you’re finally awake.”
I nodded. I was a bit choked up for a second. With tears, I spoke. “It’s good to see you, Mom.”
That’s about all I could muster before tears overtook me. She reacted fast, wrapping me into a tight hug. I had forgotten what it felt like to be hugged by Mom. She had great hugs: so reassuring, so safe. Every single bit of emotion that I had been holding back started to well up and I let it out in tears. I sobbed through telling her about Katie and poor Shay and about the hell I just went through. She reassured me with her soothing voice, telling me everything was going to be all right. I believed her, too. She was Mom and, now that she was here, I was certain that nothing more could go wrong. I held onto her and cried and I felt safe. The two of us stayed like that for some time.
When I was finally finished crying, Mom pulled away. She placed her hands on my shoulders, then smiled real big. “You look so beautiful, honey–like the daughter I always wanted” I frowned. So she quickly added. “Not that I never wanted a son, but there’s something about mothers and daughters…”
I laughed. “It’s okay, Mom. I liked being Ryan and I like being Rachel. The transition was strange, at first, but I feel pretty normal, now… well, normal as far as I can be, anyway.”
She didn’t respond to my last comment. I had to wonder how much of everything that she knew. I had told her some things on our phone conversations, but I kept it all pretty vague. Mom was a very accepting person, but, even to her, some things were a bit too much. For instance, I never had the heart to tell her that I was the one who actually caused Katie’s death. That truth would have destroyed her as much as it did me.
She chewed her lip before speaking. “Your professor told me some of the stuff that happened,” her voice trailed off again. Then, after a moment or two, she said. “It’s horrible what those people did to all those girls and to you. I can’t imagine what you must have gone through and then to see them… with another girl… your friend… right in…”
She stopped when I felt myself tearing up. I think she saw the tears because she wrapped me in a hug, again. When I closed my eyes, I could see Shay’s lifeless face and her empty, agonized stare. I opened my eyes, shuddering. Then, I had some questions. I pulled back and wiped the tears off my cheeks, trying to remain strong. “How long have I been here?”
“Two days.” she said, brushing a strand of hair from my face.
“And the others? Lori, Bart, Barbara, Dr. O?”
She shook her head. “I met your professor when I got in last night. I don’t know about anyone else. But, there was a girl here earlier. She had black hair, wore lots of black.”
I smiled. “That would be Lori.”
“Very strange girl.” Mom said with a sigh.
“She is definitely that.”
Mom and I talked for a little while. She tried to get the topic away from the tragic events of the other day. She asked me about school and about my love life. I dodged the last question, while, inside, all I could see was Bart’s smiling face and that scared me. I was definitely not interested in him and probably never would be. But, it was clear that I definitely wasn’t interested in girls, either. As much as I loved Katie and missed her, I knew now if she had lived all we could ever be, now, would be really good friends. A part of me was a bit saddened by that revelation. I couldn’t help but cry to think that we’d never even get the chance to be that.
Our talk was interrupted by a knock on the door. Then, the door opened and the nurse came in. She stayed for a few minutes, checking this and that. I asked when I’d be able to get out of here but she didn’t know. Apparently, I was officially here because of heat exhaustion, or something. At least, that’s the story my Mom said she was told. Then, Dr. O told her it was actually because of magical exhaustion, I used up too much magic and it drained me.
After the nurse finally left, I heard Mom’s stomach grumble. She frowned. “I’m sorry, sweetie, I’m starving. I haven’t eaten anything since before I drove down here. I hate to leave you, but I’m not sure how much longer I can go without something to eat.”
I laughed. “Its okay, Mom. I’ll be fine while you stuff yourself.”
She frowned at the remark. Mom still had a beautiful figure. I found myself wishing I’d be able to look like that at her age and got scared at the thought. I was even starting to think like a normal girl. A few weeks ago, that would have horrified me, but this is my life now.
My mom left after that, leaving me alone. I sat in bed, staring around the room a bit. I looked over at the bear and couldn’t help but think someone was making fun of me. Who thought I needed a cute little bear? I reached for it and took it off the table. I turned it over in my hands, looking for some sign of who might have given it to me.
“Angelina got that for you from the gift shop,” said a voice from behind me.
I turned and saw Lori standing in the doorway in all of her goth glory. She was leaning against the doorframe, a cup of coffee in her hands. She stayed there for a second before walking into the room and taking up Mom’s former seat. Then, she set the cup on my little table and wrapped me in a tight hug. She mumbled something about me “never doing something like that again”. I hugged her for a while then I pulled away to get some much needed air.
I took a deep breath. “How are the others?”
“Angelina brought that bear by this morning, Bart is camped out in the waiting room and the professor disappeared.”
Disappeared? That didn’t bode well.
I waited a few seconds before asking the big question. “How’s Jas?”
Lori frowned. It was clear she wasn’t done mourning for Shay either. “Not good.” she finally said and sighed heavily. “Ang and I tried to talk her into coming here, but she refused. She kinda…well she….”
I nodded. So, Jas blamed me for Shay’s death. I wondered what they told her. I guess I couldn’t blame her. I was, after all, responsible for it. They only took her to get me angry and it worked, too. I killed all those bastards for what they did to poor Shay. I was so angry and so pissed. I shuddered to think about what I did. They all deserved it, though, and that’s what truly mattered.
“What happened to the Church?” I finally asked, trying to move my mind onto other things.
“The cops showed up pretty quickly after you passed out. I’m not sure who called them. They tried to arrest all of us until the Flash stepped up. She took charge pretty quickly. She was bossing them all around as if they were her little bitches. What members of the cult that she and I subdued were arrested on the spot, but a lot of them got away. After that, some feds showed up, some Native American chick with a badge. As soon as she started flashing that around, we were free to go. They brought you to the hospital, Bart called your Mom and then the professor sorta disappeared.
“He was kinda shifty about it, too. One minute he was there and gone the next, like freaking Houdini or something. Anyway, after he disappeared, Bart, Angelina and I took turns at your bedside until your Mom arrived last night. She’s awesome, by the way. I can definitely see where you got your new looks from. Ummm….you know pretty much everything after that, I guess.”
I nodded. “Mom said she talked to Dr. O.”
Lori frowned. “Maybe he met her elsewhere because he wasn’t in the waiting room when your Mom arrived.”
A small part of me felt better knowing that things with the cult were done for. I still wished I knew more of what was going on, there. Like, who the hell were those nuts and what the hell did they really want me for? I was kinda pissed that I didn’t spare Blood’s life. I mean, he deserved to die, of course, but now that he was dead, I had no answers. A part of me cursed myself for being so rash. But, the rest of me was happy that I put whatever operation that son of bitch was running out of commission.
Lori stayed for a couple of hours. Then, Mom came back and the three of us discussed what was going to happen next. The only thing I could think about was going home.
“Just like you left it,” said my mother as I stood in the doorway of my bedroom.
I nodded and stared around the room, the room that was distinctively “Ryan”. I couldn’t help but frown. It wasn’t like I was unhappy because I loved my room; it was my own private little sanctuary. The only problem was that it was Ryan’s private sanctuary. Standing in the doorway, staring at it reminded me of all that had changed since leaving it a few months before. It was a guy’s room, made apparent by the blue painted walls and the clothes littering the floor. My bed wasn’t made, just as I had left it, and everything seemed to smell. It’s funny how I never noticed how much of a slob I was before. Now, staring at this mess, I couldn’t help but feel my skin crawl. That feeling made me a bit uneasy. I couldn’t help but think that maybe I wasn’t the same person I was before.
My mother put her hand gently on my shoulder. “You can sleep in the guest room if you like.”
How is it that mothers always seem to know what you’re thinking?
I shook my head. “I guess I wasn’t prepared for how much I’ve changed.”
She stepped around so she stood in front of me, taking my left hand. Her hand she waved around the room. “This isn’t you.” she said, then tapped me in the chest with a finger. “This is you, in here. You may look and even act differently, but you’re still the same person, boy or girl.”
I smiled. “Thanks, Mom.”
She kissed me on the forehead, then left me to stand in my doorway. It took me a few seconds, but eventually I carried my overstuffed duffel into the room. I dropped it on the floor near my desk and then sat on the edge of the bed. It felt strange being back here, being back home. Home. A small part of me actually thought of the dorm room as home, but only for a moment. A small part of me also thought of going back there after I left the hospital, this morning. But, I couldn’t do it. Yeah, I went there to get my stuff but that was it. Though it wasn’t official yet, I was withdrawing from school---at least for the rest of the semester. I thought I could do it, but, in the end, it was just too much. First Katie, then Shay. I couldn’t imagine what might happen if I stayed there any longer.
When I broke the news to Angelina and Lori, there was a lot of crying. I surprised myself by joining in. Though Angelina promised to keep in touch, I think Lori really meant it. In fact, this weekend, she planned to drive here and I was supposed to give her a tour of Azarath. Not that there was much to show her, but it might be nice to have a friend to hang out with. As far as Bart and I were concerned, it was complicated. It was me, not him. I found it hard to look at him, especially after what Fake Bart did. I know it wasn’t really him, but the thought of him getting like that scared me. When he hugged me “good-bye” at the hospital, there was a moment of dread.
I had to wondered if our friendship would survive all this.
I sighed and looked around. There were half a dozen theater posters all over the walls. Most of them were plays I dreamed of seeing. Scattered amongst them were pictures, most with Katie and me. I couldn’t help but frown at those. We looked so happy then or, rather, they looked happy. Katie and Ryan, I mean. It pained me to see her with him, the other me. I couldn’t bring myself to think of him as me, any longer. It felt like another life, he was the caterpillar and I was the seriously fucked up butterfly. More fucked up than I could possibly imagine.
Lori told me what she and Barbara saw when they went speeding into the room, her words still echoed in my head: “You had this blackness all around you as you floated there and for a second it looked like a giant black bird was forming around you.” I couldn’t help but remember the black bird I’d been seeing in my dreams, the one that appeared at the death scenes. I hadn’t really thought about it much, but it reminded me a lot of Katie’s tattoo, the one the two of us now shared. I remembered when she first got it, the exact conversation the two of us had:
“Why did you get a crow tattooed on your butt?”
Katie frowned and smacked me. “It’s not a crow you jack ass, it’s a raven.”
“Okay…” I said with a laugh. “Why a raven then?”
“It’s you, actually”
She nodded. “There are two highly held beliefs in the Raven. Many people believe they’re the Messengers of the Dead.”
I interrupted her. “You think of death when you think of me?” I frowned. “Thanks a lot.”
She laughed and smacked me. “No, I think of the ever-changing. The Raven is also a shape shifter, like an actor. He changes with the situation–sometimes the wise man, sometimes the trickster–but always wise and cunning.”
I pushed myself off the bed and walked over to the mirror on the wall. It wasn’t like the mirror in the girl’s shower room, but it was good enough. I pulled off my shirt and stood so I could look at my tattoo. I think I got it right the first time around when I called myself a Messenger of Death. I killed Katie and I killed Shay, plus all those other girls who died just so those twisted mother-fuckers could get to me. And for what? I didn’t even know. I sighed and stormed over to my bed, pulling my cell from my purse. I tried once again to get a hold of Dr. O, but still it just rang. After leaving the college, I had Mom drive me over to his house. I used my key to let myself in, but the place was deserted. Everything that he owned was gone, except two things: a book and a note.
I pulled the note out of my purse and stared at it, reading aloud the simple message. “I went out of town; don’t try to find me because you won’t be able to. I’ll be back soon.” I crumbled the note and tossed it across the room. What the fuck kind of message is that? The book wasn’t much help, either. It was one I’d never seen before, but it was like all the others, old and dusty. I didn’t dare read it in the car, but I couldn’t stop myself from opening it, now. I was surprised that it was in English and even more surprised that it talked mainly about ways to focus one’s power. I cursed, wondering why he couldn’t have given me this to begin with.
I found myself reading into the night, absorbing the words. Most of them were nonsense, words that didn’t mean a thing to me. But, the words I could understand meant even less. “In order to properly focus, you need three important key factors,” I read aloud. “You need something close to your heart, something of great power and something to help you control everything in the end.” What the hell did that mean anyway? I knew all this before. It was the same stuff that Dr. O had been trying to teach me. I tried time and again to find my words with little luck. Even now I tried, running words over and over in my head. I closed my eyes as I did so, trying to concentrate on words, any words.
I got myself into my meditation stance, stripping down to my underwear as I did so. I closed my eyes and tried hard to concentrate. I started mumbling, running words over and over, trying to see if any clicked. I kept my eyes closed and felt weightless as I slowly lifted off the bed. I concentrated harder, mumbling more. Soon the words out of my mouth were utter nonsense and I felt real lightheaded. There was a knock on the door, my grandfather’s faint voice on the other side, but I could hear none of it as the meditation took me…
My eyes were forced open by a huge gust of wind. It whipped around my nearly naked form, tearing my hair about in a tempest. I looked around and watched it awe as my room slowly started to crumble around me. Bit by bit, it broke away, leaving a huge gaping black void around me. Soon, I was floating in the nothingness just like that dream from so long ago. But, unlike that first dream, the blackness didn’t last. As quickly as it came, it started to fade. There was a flash of blinding white light, which forced me to close my eyes. When I reopened them, I found myself floating above a strange and nasty black landscape. It was all crags and rock, blackened by God knows what. The sky around me was blood red and there were black, ominous clouds looming in the distance, sparkling with lightning.
I unfolded my legs and slowly drifted down to the ground beneath me. As soon as my feet touched it, the ground cracked and shattered. It broke into several large pieces, drifting apart like leaves on water. It was a slow drift, allowing me to jump from one to the other without too much of a problem. I found myself involuntarily hopping along. I was several feet from my starting point before I even realized what I was doing. When I did, I turned and looked back at where I came from. I was surprised to see how far I’d come. A small part of me wanted to turn back but the rest of me was pushing forward.
An unconscious urge seemed to drive me forward, though. Any attempts to fight it seemed futile, so I just decided to go with it.
It got kinda tedious after a while, though, moving from one floating rock to the next. It didn’t help matters that it seemed like I was going nowhere. The rocks seemed to go on forever with no end in sight. Every time I stopped to look, all I could see was more of nothing. A small part of me wanted to just stop and try to find some way to wake up. The rest of me, the majority, wanted to move on. The majority won in the end and I kept going. I started to pick up pace, too, as if I got a second wind, running from one stone to the next. I kept going for a while–what felt like hours, in fact. When I couldn’t possibly jump onto another floating stone, they seemed to stop. I landed on the last one and the ones in front of me seemed to fade away. In their place was a twisted structure of stone, made of winding paths, snagging this way and that like some demented mass from hell, but there were no walls to this maze and there didn’t seem to be any end in sight. I stood on the end of this wacky menagerie of rock pathways, wondering if, just maybe, I might have gone too far.
As I was contemplating whether or not to go on, there was a cawing sound from above. I looked up and saw a large black bird fly over my head. It had to be the size of an eagle and landed on the middle of the path in front of me, its back to me. When it turned its head, I was startled. It looked like any other raven, but it had four eyes instead of two–not just any four eyes, either. They were vicious looking slits, glowing red like the Thing. The bird and I glared at one another, neither of us moving for the longest time. After several minutes of this, it let out a caw and took off into the air. I followed its flight with my eyes, watching as it soared toward a large black opening that wasn’t there before.
The raven disappeared into the void. I got over my momentary confusion and found myself running after it. It wasn’t fully involuntary, but I couldn’t seem to stop, either. I ran through the winding, twisting paths around me. Looking down, I saw nothing but darkness. Looking up I saw the blood red sky and horrible black clouds. I tried not to think of them as I ran; in fact, I tried to force every thought from my mind. I barreled on ahead, my main focus on catching that damn bird. When I finally reached the black void---a trip that took less time than it should have---I found myself pausing before it. I reached out and gently touched it, half expecting to get pulled inside.
I didn’t. Instead, my finger dipped into it like it was a pool of black water. I pulled my hand quickly away, then took a deep breath. Like ripping off a Band-Aid, I stepped quickly into the void. There was a tingling throughout my whole body and, for a moment, I felt like someone was pulling at my insides. The feeling lasted only a few seconds, but it was agonizing. I didn’t even know my eyes were closed until I opened them. When I did, I found myself standing in mid-air, in a large circular opening. The walls around me were stone. The focal point of the room was a girl sitting in the center of it, sitting like I would if I’d been meditating. She was dressed in an outfit identical to the one I wore for the party; save for the fact it was red. I looked down. It was like the one I was wearing, now, except mine was black. How had I not noticed that?
The Raven was sitting on her shoulder.
“It’s about time you got here,” she said, in a voice that was my own, but not my own.
It was sinister and familiar. It was the Thing.
“You!” I said angrily, taking a step forward.
I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t afraid of it, anymore. Even now with it being out of its prison, I wasn’t scared. I’m not sure what changed but I felt stronger now, braver definitely. I took another step toward it. The Thing turned its head, the hood obscuring its features. The only things I could see where its four glowing red eyes. I didn’t waver though as I continued to walk toward it. I didn’t waver, either. It just sat there as if it was waiting for me to come to it. The bird turned and watched my progress, staring at me with those very same red eyes. It watched and scrutinized as she just sat there and waited.
“How did you get out?” I asked as I stopped about a hundred feet away.
She laughed, then waved her hands theatrically. “This is your doing. You created this glorious new place for me.”
I shook my head. “I didn’t do any of this.”
She turned to face me, her movements almost like my own now. “Of course you did. When you finally let yourself feel our power, when you killed those fools in the Church. You finally unlocked the door and let me out.”
I shook my head and suddenly the key was in my hand. “I still have the key.”
She laughed. “The key? It was never about the key, in the end.”
She jumped to her feet. When she did, I realized she didn’t have any at all. Instead, it was those tentacles, the very same ones she tried to strangle me with before. The very same ones that I used to kill all those people. A feeling of dread overwhelmed me. I hadn’t even thought about it when I summoned up all that power, it had come like second nature. It didn’t even occur to me that those tentacles might be her tentacles. But she knew, she always knew. It was so clear, now. She didn’t want me to run from those bastards. She wanted me to be scared of them. She needed my fear because she knew it would turn into anger and that anger would finally break her free. She was right; it was never about the key, at all. It was all about fear and my ability to use it as a weapon.
Now, my anger was fueling her.
“Not me,” she said, reaching up and grabbing the hood. “Us.”
She dropped the hood and what I saw made my heart skip a beat. It was me, but different. She had gray skin; her hair was limp and greasy. She had those four glowing eyes and something else, something that the hood had been hiding. There were antlers growing out of her head, small ones like little nubs but antlers nonetheless. Like the skull in the Church, like the pictures all over that horrible place. I shuddered at the thought. What did they have to do with me and this strange evil doppelganger of mine?
She smiled; her mouth stretching a bit longer than it should, revealing a row of pointed teeth. “Still haven’t put all the pieces together, yet?”
I shook my head. “You’re lying.”
She smiled and laughed. “There was a reason they wanted you, a reason the Rapture would only work on you. It’s your blood, you see. It’s very special. The fools who tried to use it before didn’t have your very special blood and it killed them. The Church and its pathetic followers have been looking for you for centuries… the blood of ‘The One’ who could open the portal… the blood of ‘The One’ who could bring the darkness. You must see it. You must know who and what you are.”
I shook my head, tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t–wouldn’t–believe.
She laughed. “That fool Occult knows. That’s what he does for a living. He was trying to suppress me, to hold me back. Trying to teach you Old Magic to bind me and control me. It’s pathetic, really.”
Old Magic? The words, the three words he wanted me to learn. I thought they were focus words, but now I realized they were much more than that. They were power and she feared them. If only I could find the right ones. I closed my eyes, trying to concentrate. She started laughing, her voice growing louder and louder. The circular room amplified the laughter, making it all that much more sinister. I wasn’t afraid of it, or her. I’d never be afraid of her again. After all, how can I be afraid of myself? Yes, I knew who she was: my darker half. Knowing that helped me find power over her because I remembered something else.
It was the book; the one Dr. O left me before he vanished. I was so pissed on the car ride home because I thought he was abandoning me, afraid that what I did in the Church might have crossed the line. Now, I see he was giving me the tools I needed to fight. I had gotten it all wrong. The words were not Heart, Power and Control. That’s why they would never work for me. The words were Heart, Power, Darkness. Meaning it was an incantation, a spell of Old Magic, something to control the Darkness inside of me. I knew it, now. I knew something else, too. In the book, I found the word for Power, it was old but it still had great strength. I also stumbled upon the word for Darkness, too. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. They were just two words, without the first word, they were meaningless. Now, I knew the first word. I’d been blind not to see it before.
I opened my eyes and smiling, mumbling it softly on my breath.
The laughing stopped. “What did you say?” she asked, fear shaking in her voice.
I said it a little louder, she screamed. I said it again, speaking the word that was my Heart, my Soul. I thought it was Katie but it wasn’t. I loved her with all my heart but she wasn’t my real Heart. My real Heart lied in a place of warmth and comfort, a place where heart always lay. My real Heart was Home and the word for Home was “Azarath”.
“AZARATH!” I said, speaking it loudly for the first time.
She shrieked, putting her hands on her ears. “You can’t know…you can’t possibly…”
I smirked. Now, for Power. “METRION!”
She shrieked even louder, the circular room shaking with my voice. Trembling with my power. She fell to the ground, chains appearing out of nowhere, lashing onto her arms, and holding her in place. She screamed and cried, pleading with me to stop. I wasn’t going to stop; not now, not ever. She was evil and she needed to be contained, to be locked away for good.
“You don’t have to do this. You and I can come to an agreement.”
I shook my head. “You should have thought of that before you made me kill my lover.”
For the first time, I saw fear in those four eyes of her and it made me feel good. I took a deep breath and brought forth the last word, the word that had power over her. The word that would have power over my concentration and skill from now until the day I died. With these three words strung together, I knew I would be able to do anything.
I took a deep breath and shouted the last word. “ZINTHOS!”
The chains came from all over the place. The Raven on her shoulder shrieked even louder than her and flew up into the air. The chains wrapped tightly around the shriveling wreck on the ground. They bound her and held her, making sure she never got loose. A new lock appeared, but this one didn’t have a hole for a key. I held the key in my mind and watched as it disintegrated. Then, I held out my arm and the raven fluttered down. Its features changed as it flew, so by the time it got to me it was a normal bird once again. The darkness that was plaguing it was gone for good.
I smiled and opened my eyes….
….I was sitting on my bed, Dr. O’s book opened in front of me. My body was drenched in sweat, my hair clinging to my back. I took a deep breath and, for the first time, I felt everything go out of me. It was a very relieved feeling. I wouldn’t say I was overly happy, but I felt a lot better knowing that the darkness was contained---at least, for the moment. There was still a lot of stuff that I needed to learn, a lot of stuff that plagued me. First and foremost was the Rapture, I knew that it wasn’t going to go away anytime soon. I also knew that Blood failed to use it, but there would be others out there that would try. Maybe they might be more successful. I’d have to be vigilant.
I closed the book, setting it aside. Then, I ran my hands through my damp hair. I definitely needed a nice hot bath after all that. First, there was something I wanted to try, something bugging me from the beginning of all this. I closed my eyes, took my meditation position and concentrated. This time I had the proper words, this time I had the proper focus.
I took a deep breath and said them very slowly. “Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos.”
I rose six feet into the air and couldn’t be happier.