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The Way It Was

The Way It Was

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

Saturday, November 23rd, 2002

 

 

Nothing was the same anymore.  Such a gross understatement wasn’t hard to make, but it was even worse to realize as truth.  Kerian Anne Turmish had been born into a world that had made sense once, when the land she’d been introduced to had not been a place made for killers and things that clung to the shadows just waiting to spring upon the unwary.  The world she’d wanted to grow up in and eventually create her own family had been lost to her it seemed, gone before she’d ever had the chance to really understand it fully.  As she stood upon the southwest bank of the Willapa Bay, Kera couldn’t help but feel a chill run down her spine that had nothing to do with the temperature outside.

Even in the warmest of summers there was a definite chill when standing so close to the water, a fact that she had enjoyed growing up.  Like her boyfriend Tyler she had never been much of one to withstand a great deal of heat.  She could remember a trip that the family had taken down to southern California many years back.  They’d gone to Palm Springs to visit relatives and what was worse, they’d gone in the middle of August, arguably one of the hottest months out of the year.  She could remember a little too well the sunburns that she and Tyler had suffered through during the trip.  She smiled as the memory of how miserable they’d been surfaced after so long.

“Am I interrupting?”  Kera turned to regard the speaker, she’d already felt the blonde coming but had decided to wait until her friend arrived.  Brooke Landis, a friend since grade school and a pleasant companion even in the worst of times, strode up to her with a gentle smile upon her features, her feet crunching lightly through the light frost that had coated the grasses around them.  Winter was on its way to the peninsula already and would no doubt grip the land in its icy hold for several months.  Thankfully enough the salt air was not conducive to snowstorms all that often, though Kera could remember at least once or twice when the snows had fallen upon the coastline.  It had lasted for all of a day.

“No, I was just standing here, wondering about things is all.”  Brooke nodded her head at her friend’s statement.  Kera had been daydreaming in fact, a luxury that they were afforded far too seldom these days.

“Sarah is inside with Maddie, it looks like she’s going to be okay.”  Kera rolled her eyes as she thought of their other companion, Sarah Burgher.  The dusky blonde was at her best moments an impetuous youth and given more to action than thought.  This was what had brought the trio to this place now when Kera would rather be in Ilwaco, where her boyfriend had gone.

Her love, a young man only a year her senior, had gone on what many who had been left behind in Ocean Park had called a suicide mission.  None of them had understood just why he had decided to make his way, alone, into the heart of the viper’s den without so much as a single companion to make sure he remained safe.  Of course, in this new hell that they were forced to call life Kera wasn’t quite sure if “safe” was anything more than a fantasy that had no grounding in reality any longer.  None of them had been safe for several months now, at least not when it came to wondering whether or not they would be able to open their eyes on the next sunrise.

Their world had changed so drastically in the last several months that Kera could hardly believe they’d adapted so well.  Everything they’d known had been flipped almost upside down, forcing them to conform to what they could no longer understand or be trod beneath the cruel feet of change.  She’d heard so many times from her boyfriend’s parents, the couple that had taken her in as a child, that life would change after high school.  This was undoubtedly not what they’d meant.

In one night the world they’d known had been torn apart.  Evelyn and Gary Ferris, her boyfriend’s parents, had been savagely murdered by three of Kera and Tyler’s classmates, while all around the peninsula the same occurrence had taken place.  The young had supplanted the old somehow and for some macabre reason that they had yet to truly discover, inciting a bloody war that had lasted for only a matter of days before each and every adult over the age of twenty had suddenly gone missing or been found torn apart.  Kera hadn’t been able to understand just what had been going on, none of them had in fact, but she and Tyler had made quick work of abandoning the only home they’d known for so many years, striking out to see just who had managed to survive.

The fellow students that had been responsible for the death of Tyler’s parents had been ready to kill them as well unless they were to join their demented cause, but Tyler and Kera had proven stronger and far more deadly.  The act of killing another human being had been repulsive to Kera and still was, but no longer did she feel the regret that had threatened to crush her at first.  Life was now a matter of survival, but what her boyfriend had gone to do seemed more akin to murder than anything.

Only two weeks before one of their former classmates, a young lady by the name of Brianna Woodall, had been cruelly beaten and dumped outside of their refuge, the large store known as Jack’s Country Store. A note had been left on Brianna’s person, a missive that Tyler had not allowed anyone else to read.  It had most likely been the note that had prompted her love into making his way south towards Ilwaco, where it was more than likely that the missing adults had been taken.  Brianna had confirmed this once she had woken, telling them of how several of their classmates had herded up the adults on the northern end of the peninsula and prodded them towards Ilwaco.  The image this had brought to Kera’s mind had been so horrific that she had shook it away immediately.  That such terrible things could happen in so short a time was more than hard to believe, it was absolutely horrifying to think that anyone she’d once counted as friend could do such a thing.

“How hard did Sarah hit her?”  Kera asked.  They had promised Tyler that if two weeks passed and he did not return that they would come looking for him.  The two weeks had passed and he was still not home, which meant in Kera’s mind that something had happened.  She had promised long ago that as long as she lived nothing would ever happen to Tyler, she would not allow it.  Kera had loved Tyler for many years, feeling a bond with the young man since the time they were children.  He was her everything, the only one that could tame the wild love that existed within her heart.  Many had claimed it was only puppy love when they had been children, but Kera and Tyler had known it was far more.

“She hit her pretty hard, enough to give her a mild concussion.  But Maddie’s already responding to the food and drink that Sarah’s been giving her.”  The three of them had been on the road to Ilwaco when Kera had noticed that they were being followed.  The slip of a girl, her name was Madeline Rohen, had been another of her friends and had come as another surprise that she hadn’t anticipated.  Maddie had always been a nice girl, kind of shy but easy to open up once she was comfortable with someone.  Kera and Tyler had enjoyed Maddie’s company more than once in the past year and had come to find that the young woman was a very interesting person.  That she came from a poor family and a rocky background didn’t matter, she was a decent human being.  The fact that she had allied herself with those who had inflicted so much carnage had been hard to believe, but Kera was bound and determined to see if they could possibly convince the girl to convert back to the gentle soul she’d been.

The three of them had taken refuge in the small farmhouse that Sarah and Maddie were now in, hoping to lure Maddie into a spot where they could flank and then capture her.  Maddie had fallen for their simple trap quite easily, but it had been Sarah that had almost made Kera’s efforts pointless.  As with everything else upon the peninsula, changes had occurred within the three of them as well.  To Tyler had been given the strange ability to absorb any and all kinetic force and then release it in what many of them had already dubbed “energy bombs”.  Added to his already deadly martial skills the young man had become easily the most powerful among them as well as the most dangerous.

Kera had been given dominion over the elements of the land, finding that she was able to utilize them easily to any extent she could think of.  Her control was still a rudimentary thing, meaning that she could only perform small feats.  Brooke had been given the power to project her voice in such a way that any song she gave voice to, no matter the tone or force, would enact a change she desired within an individual or a given area.  She had already come to master a few aspects of this strange talent, though like Kera she was still too new to such a talent to make full use of it.  Sarah’s was undoubtedly the most simple and the one that had allowed her to almost take Maddie’s head off with a length of wood.  The blonde’s speed had made her into something akin to a child’s comic book, allowing her to move at such a rate that she was little more than a blur.  It had been this added force that had almost done Maddie in as the length of wood that Sarah had used had smashed hard into the dark-haired girl’s head.  Kera was just glad that Sarah hadn’t been using one of the carving knives she carried with her.

“Something’s got to be done to calm that girl down.”  Kera said, speaking of Sarah as she shook her head.  Her long brown hair had been done up into a simple ponytail, flowing down the back of her sweatshirt as it swished back and forth with the movement of her head.

Brooke smiled, “She’s fine Kera, just a little overzealous is all.  At least Maddie’s going to be conscious soon, she’ll just have a really nasty headache for a time is all.”

“The bay gets so cold this time of year.”  Brooke frowned lightly as she regarded her friend, wondering what had brought the words spilling from Kera’s mouth.  She could see in the woman’s hazel eyes that Kera’s gaze was focused on nothing, or perhaps something far away that was meant only for her.  Brooke found herself wishing at that moment that she had someone that she could feel this strongly about, that she would gladly go to the ends of the earth for if it meant just one last chance at seeing them.  She knew of the bond between Tyler and Kera and couldn’t help but be just a bit envious.  She and Tony, her late boyfriend, had gotten along just fine and in fact had been planning to attend the same college after high school, but there had always been the questions in her mind of what life would be like if she allowed herself to remain with Tony indefinitely.  He’d been a nice, handsome young man, but like her, he’d still be growing and finding out who he really was.  High school had been a fine place to do this, but it had still been a time in their lives when being young had been more important than what was to come next.

“He’ll be okay Kera.  This is Tyler we’re talking about.”  Brooke flashed a grin at her friend as she spoke, hoping it was help Kera to lighten up just a bit.  As the other woman grinned just slightly Brooke was still heartened to think that perhaps the gravity of their current situation hadn’t begun to bow her shoulders just yet.  The good lord knew it was already heavy upon their hearts, they didn’t need it to force them to their knees as well.

“I know.   But I’m still worried.”

Now Brooke knew that her friend was concerned.  While Kera wasn’t close-mouthed about her feelings she rarely if ever expressed them so easily.  Like Tyler the woman was more reserved when it came to such things, she didn’t give out more than she felt was necessary.

“What if he’s not the same?”  Kera didn’t answer Brooke’s question for many moments, keeping her gaze out upon the bay as though she hadn’t heard.  Brooke realized her friend didn’t want to think anything bad about Tyler, neither did she.  Though she hadn’t approved of Tyler’s methods in their survival thus far she could no longer find fault with his results.  She had pledged her life to the man with every ounce of morality and truth she could muster, which was considerable, and she would hope against all hope that her question would be answered with a negative.

“I don’t know Brooke.  I just don’t know.”  That hadn’t been what Brooke wanted to hear, but she couldn’t bring herself to say anything else.  As she turned her own gaze to the bay Brooke felt a cold lump within her heart when she thought of Tyler.  He had gone to Ilwaco to free the captives they’d learned of in any way he possible could, no matter what happened.  Brooke had known Kera and Tyler for too many years to misunderstand Tyler’s methods.  She had seen the young man black out once before when she and Kera had been endangered, and it had scared her so badly that she’d been unable to talk to Tyler for several days after.

She knew her friend was a compassionate and loyal person, she knew that Tyler would give the shirt off of his back to anyone in need.  Even those within the school that hadn’t always liked him found that he was a person to at least respect, someone who wouldn’t hold grudges for long and would forgive more readily than punish.  Only a few people in school had ever been able to hold a grudge against Tyler for more than a month or so, and even then they wouldn’t go out of their way to bother him.  He was far from being a saint, but he was a good person.  The thought that something like that might change was hard to stomach.

Brooke knew that Tyler could be cold and calculating, she had seen that he could be vicious and unforgiving, but this was a side of him that rarely if ever surfaced.  The day he had nearly beaten a man to death, and at the age of thirteen no less, had never left her mind.  She and Kera had accompanied Tyler down to the corner market in Ilwaco shortly after school had let out, discussing their triumphs and losses during the end of the Track and Field station.  They’d stopped at Hilltop Elementary to enjoy the sack of food they’d bought and had been accosted by two grown men, both who had focused almost entirely on her and Kera.  When the men had told Tyler that they were going to take her and Kera off and “have some fun”, Tyler had stood up, stating firmly that they would not.  The men of course had laughed, thinking that a boy had no chance of fending away both of them.  One of them had had to find out the hard way that Tyler’s word was far more than just talk.

Tyler had pummeled the man that had attacked him so badly that the unfortunate fellow had been sent immediately to the hospital with injuries so severe that it had looked as though he’d been hit by a truck.  Worse than this however had been the blank look in Tyler’s eyes as he’d hammered away at the man, the absolute lack of presence within his eyes that had caused him to look as though he were in a trance.  Later on he’d claimed not to have any memory of the event after he’d stood up.  The few adults that had questioned him about this had not believed it at first, but when pressed Tyler had still claimed not to remember nearly beating a man to death.  In the end he’d been scolded, grounded and admonished for taking matters into his own hands.

Brooke hadn’t agreed completely with the punishment, she and Kera had after all been spared from whatever unimaginable horrors that the men would have inflicted, but she had still walked softly around Tyler afterward.  It hadn’t been the last time either that Tyler had lashed out at someone in a blind rage.  Only another two years later he’d broken a senior’s jaw during football practice when the larger boy had pinned Tyler to the ground.  That case had been taken to court and had been ruled on in favor of Tyler thanks to the proof of physical torment that the senior had inflicted on Tyler for many years.  Still, the student body had began to look differently upon Tyler for a short time.

“He’ll be the same.  He has to be.”  Brooke said.  She didn’t feel the truth of her words, but it felt good to say them nonetheless.  She had to believe that Tyler was the same man, that he wouldn’t change so drastically in such a short time.  If she couldn’t believe that then there would be no reason to keep traveling south.

“He went to Ilwaco to kill, Brooke.  He’s not going to let them all free, he’s going to make sure they don’t suffer any longer.”  Brooke felt the lump of ice turn to lead in her heart as Kera spoke.  She knew too well that her friend was right.  Tyler’s motives for traveling south were not as pure as she would like to believe, he was not on a mercy mission to free the adults and non-conformist children, he was going to make sure that they weren’t forced to suffer whatever degradations that their former classmates might be inflicting upon them.  According to Brianna the stadium that sat just a short ways from the high school had been reinforced with extra tall fencing and razor wire so that escape was impossible.  Brianna had gone on to tell them of how the football field had been utilized as a sort of arena, not unlike the Roman gladiators used so long ago.

The idea of this had appalled each one of those who’d heard it.  To think that their classmates had created such a bloody sport within what had once been a field filled with memories both good and bad was sickening.  Kera hadn’t even wanted to think of what might occur on the field grounds now, though her imagination had done quite well in filling in the blanks she had left.

“I know what he went for.”

“And you don’t think killing will change him?”  Kera turned to look at Brooke now, her eyes hard as she stood absolutely still.  Brooke didn’t want to argue with her friend just now, especially not given their current circumstances.  But perhaps it would be better to get this out now rather than the closer they got to Ilwaco.  They were already close enough to the port town to reach it within the next day, but they’d already decided to stay within the home until Maddie recovered.

“Has it changed him yet?  He’s killed more than once in the last several months Kera and he’s still the same man, or at least mostly.”  Brooke added this last part at the last second as she finished her sentence.  What she said was true and Kera knew it, Tyler was for the most part the same man, at least for the most part.  He had changed in a way, but then so had they all.  Having their world tipped on its ear suddenly overnight had a strange effect, it had made them all grow up just that much faster.  There had been a time when none of them had been forced to worry about waking up the next day, when their greatest concern had been studying for the next test in a long succession of papers and exams.  Now their biggest concern was how well fortified their home was within Jack’s Country Store and whether or not they would discover a new and more dangerous enemy on the next day.

“He doesn’t laugh as much.  And he, I don’t know, he’s too serious now, as though he can’t loosen up anymore.”  Brooke nodded, she knew exactly what Kera was speaking.  She’d noticed the changes as well and had wondered at them just as much as Kera no doubt had.  Tyler had at one point been a rather carefree individual, given to laughter more than brooding and living life as though it were a massive playground rather than the real world it actually was.  In short he had been much more alive, much more child-like in the way he composed himself.  This man they both knew now was the same person, but the carefree attitude seemed to have been replaced by a wall of stone, a barrier that Tyler had somehow lain across his heart in order to do what he must.  Brooke could sympathize a bit, she had already begun the process of moving on a few months before.

None of them had truly accepted the fact of what their lives were now, but all of them had quickly realized that life was not going to grow any easier. Grieving would allow them to move on, but it would not allow them to live as they needed to if it became a prolonged thing.  The time to mourn the dead was gone, the days that lay ahead now were for the living.

“He still cares deeply for all of us and wants us to be safe.”  Kera nodded at Brooke’s words but did not reply, keeping her gaze out across the bay.  As Brooke followed her trackless gaze she could have sworn that she saw a ripple just beneath the water, as though something had moved off just a moment or two before she would have spotted it.  The shadow of something beneath the water hinted at the fact behind her suspicion, but she couldn’t have said what the creature was even if she’d wanted to.  So much about their world had changed that it was no surprise that the local wildlife would be a part of it.

“Do you think this has happened all over the world Brooke?  Or are we just cursed to have it happen here?”  Brooke shook her head, she had thought of this as well but could not speculate.  There were no rumors or beliefs that anyone had escaped this hell, at least not upon the peninsula, but she also knew from the story that Brianna had given them that apparently any who tried to make their way off of the peninsula did not return.  That could have meant many things, but Brooke hadn’t been of a mind to test any of them.

“I’m not sure.  We don’t get any television reception or radio.  Even cell phones and land lines are useless.  Its funny though that the utilities still seem to be working.”  It had been several months since the change, but yet the power and water had continued to flow without any cease, startling each one of those that had survived.  In each and every post-apocalyptic story they’d ever read or watched both Brooke and Kera could remember that the power and clean water had been among the first concerns of the bedraggled survivors.  That they still had use of the utilities was amazing enough, but they had not questioned it so much as they had decided to instead enjoy it.  Having working lights, clean running water and the ability to cook their food with electricity was simply too good to be believed.

“Life used to be so simple.”  Kera’s voice was quiet as she spoke, her eyes closing for a moment as Brooke listened.  She could hear sorrow in her friend’s voice, even a hint of melancholy, but there was strength there as well.  So much had been taken from them, so much that could not be given back.  She had felt the bite of this strange malady that had sown its chaotic way upon their lives as well, but like her friends, she had refused to succumb to it.  Those in Ilwaco that had been so readily corrupted by the strange, feral nature that they had given themselves to were lost to them now.  Friends, classmates that had at one time been around them for years were now the most bitter of enemies, a turn of events that Brooke could not help but lament.

“Life is still simple, but the rules have changed a bit.”  Brooke replied.  Kera found that she couldn’t really argue with that, even though she wanted to.

*                      *                      *

 

Almost an hour after she’d stood on the bank of the Willapa Bay with Brooke, Kera finally managed to wander inside to catch some rest.  It was an elusive prey at first, ducking and dodging its way through her consciousness, evading her even though she could feel it within her bones.  Finally though Kera fell asleep, sinking into the soft covers and mattress of the bed within the master bedroom of the home.  Brooke and Sarah had each taken their own rooms within the house, Brooke the living room and Sarah one of the other two bedrooms along with Maddie, whom she was still charged with looking over.

Sleep was good, it helped her to relax finally, aiding her into a rest that she didn’t feel she deserved but could definitely use.  Kera had not forgiven herself for allowing Tyler to go alone towards Ilwaco, no matter that he was almost a grown man and could make his own decisions.  He was her love, her heart in all ways, it didn’t seem right to her to allow the man whose child she now carried to walk into danger by himself.  But he had wanted it this way.  That was Tyler though, even before he’d changed he had always wanted to do things on his own.  He acknowledged help when he needed it, but he was also stubborn to refuse it when he didn’t want others to get hurt for his decision.

In some ways he was far more mature than his eighteen years would indicate, but in her mind he would always be the young man that had looked at life each day with a fresh outlook and a smile that told the world, “bring it on”.  That was her Tyler, he was so confident that he could grin in the worst of storms, the most dangerous of situations.  He knew his limits, he knew when he was outmatched, but he didn’t’ care.  In many ways he was the most fearless person she had ever met, the most dominating personality that she might ever know.  Thankfully he didn’t throw it around, preferring to keep his ego in check at most times, but it was far too obvious even when he didn’t wish it to be known.

As she fell into deeper slumber Kera remembered the Tyler that had been, not the man that he was now.  She loved him still as fierce as ever, but there was no denying that he had become a different creature, someone that she didn’t entirely know as of yet.  This mattered not a bit to her, she would always love him, no matter what.  As the darkness finally enfolded her fully into its waiting embrace Kera let this last though linger, allowing it shield her against the nightmares that had come all too frequently as of late.  It was more than enough, just as it had always been.

*                      *                      *

 

The waters in front of her lashed hard against the weather worn rocks that had been set upon the side of the road so long ago.  Placed there to absorb the force of the storms that rolled so unerringly upon the coastline with barely a hint of warning, the massive stones had seen many a decade of harsh weather and had still remained, dislodged only by the fiercest of shoves from the river that flowed just beyond their place.  This day was no different as she looked skyward, seeing only the dark, iron gray clouds that visited the peninsula so often during winter and spring.  Fall was a far more festive time upon their home, displaying colors of such intensity that the eye was drawn to them all at once, causing one to feel as though they were mired within a panoply of dark hues that simply radiated a feeling of hearth and home.  This was not the same, though she could not help but feel a sense of home, a feeling of familiarity that she could not feel anywhere else. 

            Looking down Kera saw that she stood upon one of the water-slicked rocks, her footing as sure as any.  Casting her gaze out to the rolling breakers within the river she could see the massive swells and whitecaps that were normal for storm season, their every cresting movement sending them forward or to the banks where they crashed upon impact.  She knew that to stand upon one of the rocks during such a time was more than a little dangerous, but for some reason she felt as though she were in no danger, that she was completely safe.  There was only one explanation for this, Tyler was near.

            All her life since she had known him, Kera had always felt safe around Tyler.  The effect he had upon her mood was such that she could not bring herself to stay sad, depressed or even angry when he was around.  He was a balm to her heart that she could not do without, a soothing presence that made everything, even a storm such as the one that seemed to be brewing, seem like nothing at all. 

            Kera looked to her left first, her eyes taking in the far shore of Astoria, where she expected to see the bustling port city that she’d known so well for so long.  What she saw instead was a ruin, a decrepit pile of rubble and shattered buildings that barely resembled what she could remember of the city.  Nothing remained of Astoria it seemed, not even the houses atop the hill had seemed to escape whatever ruination had been visited upon them.  Her heart thudded madly in her chest as Kera tore her gaze towards the bridge, her eyes widening further at what she saw. 

            The four mile long bridge that led from Astoria to the Washington bank of the Columbia River was little more than a few iron beams and concrete shards sticking up out of the water.  Not a single arch remained, leaving only empty air where once the proud green metal of the bridge had existed.  How could such a thing have happened?  Her mind whirled with the impossible image, stunning her so readily that Kera couldn’t help but gasp in horror.

            “Much will change.”  Kera almost stumbled as she heard the voice, whipping her head around to view the speaker.  The water that had slicked the top of the stone she stood upon betrayed her as Kera’s feet began to slip, sliding dangerously as she felt her balance deserting her.  Even as she began to fall however she felt a strong hand reach out, grasping her easily by her right arm as she fought to regain her footing. 

            After several moments she stood straight once again, her balance regained but her mind still awhirl with the impossible things she had just seen.  Her heart hammered away in her chests like a crazed animal as her mind denied that she had seen the far bank or the bridge correctly.  As she looked up to see the face of her savior Kera’s breath caught again, an uneasy smile creasing her lips as she looked upon her lover’s face. 

            Tyler had changed.  She knew already that he had changed from what she remembered, but there was more to him now than she could remember in the past several months.  Instead of allowing her to see his eyes he wore a pair of dark sunglasses, tinted so black that it was though they absorbed any ambient light rather than reflecting it.  His face had changed slightly as well, though Kera could not dwell upon this completely for the moment. 

            “Tyler?  What’s happened here?  What happened to Astoria?  What happened to the bridge? What-?”  Tyler brought one finger to his lips silently, reaching out to caress Kera’s chin gently as she was silenced.  Kera felt herself tremble slightly at his touch, feeling a strength within the man that she could not remember.  There was power in his merest caress, an electrifying sense of absolute force that could not be ignored and she could not remember having been present ever before.  Something had changed in Tyler, that much was obvious.  But when had it happened?  Was this what had happened to him when he’d gone to Ilwaco?  Was she right, had the same thing that had happened on the peninsula happened elsewhere?  So many questions rattled through her mind at that moment that it was all that Kera could do not to give voice to each one of them, finding that her senses were just as confused as the rest of her.

            “Things are going to change dragonfly, they’re going to change in a big way.”  Tyler’s face pinched slightly as he spoke, his gaze never leaving Kera from behind the dark glasses.  She could feel something at that moment, as though Tyler were relieved in a way to see her.  Such sadness poured from him that she could not help but feel tears trickle from her eyes, mirroring the strange sorrow that suddenly seemed to come from the man.  What was happening?

            “What happened here Tyler?”  Her love didn’t answer for a moment, inhaling through his nostrils as though steeling himself in a way.  Kera couldn’t help but tense, she knew nothing of what was coming, nor did she understand why Tyler was here, now, when he had been in Ilwaco for the past two weeks.  What had happened?

            “It’s easier to show you Kera.  So much has happened, or will happen, that words can’t adequately explain it.”  Kera still didn’t understand as she shook her head lightly, her long brown locks blowing about in the winds that ripped along the banks of the river.  She had no clue as to why she was here now, nor did care.  She was with Tyler, that was all that mattered.  Unfortunately the rest of what had happened in her sight still nagged at the back of her mind, refusing to simply be dumped aside as it tore at her consciousness, demanding her attention despite the fact that she did not wish to give it. 

            “Please Tyler, just tell me what’s going on.  Are you okay?”  Tyler managed a weak smile just then, the facial hair (it had grown so thick!) upon his cheeks and above and below his lips crinkling slightly with the gesture.  He seemed older somehow, far more experienced and even harder in a way that she could not reconcile with the man that had left on that fated morning two weeks before.  This did not seem like the Tyler she knew, but it was still him nonetheless. 

            “Close your eyes Kera.  Trust me and close your eyes.”  Kera narrowed her eyes just a bit as Tyler took one of her hands in his own, his calloused fingers caressing her fingers gently.  She felt such a warmth from this man, just as she always had, that she would trust him with anything, no matter what.  Tyler had always been the man for her, no matter what anyone had ever said.  Other young men had tried to woo her, they’d tried to vie for her attention, but it had always been meant to be her and Tyler.  Not once in their lives had it ever seemed to either of them that it was meant to be any other way.  They were bound together in such a way that not even death would break them apart it seemed, that even the grim visage of the reaper would be hard pressed to even nick the ties that bound them. 

            As Kera closed her eyes she held her breath, unsure of what was about to happen.  She would trust Tyler, he would never harm her nor allow her to be harmed, but at this moment she was concerned, though she did not know why.

            “I am sorry my love, but this is what must come to pass.”  Kera frowned as Tyler spoke.  She wished to ask him what he meant but in the next moment was rocked backward as images flooded into her mind, random bits and pieces of scenes and surroundings that assaulted her every sense as she was almost knocked to the ground.  Tyler’s hand was there upon her however, holding her steady as her balance threatened to leave her once again.  As he held onto her firmly Kera opened her mouth wide, almost screaming in an attempt to banish the thoughts and sounds that now assailed her.  So much pain, so much sorrow, she could not help but feel each bolt of sadness like a lance into her heart, an icy stab of such agony that it was all she could do to not break down in sobs of heartfelt despair.

            There was more than this however thankfully.  There was joy, there was happiness, there was honor and the feeling of those who would lay their lives down gladly for one another, a truly warm feeling that alit upon her bones and sank deeply into her soul as she was dimly aware that Tyler was still holding onto her.  He would not let go, he was the rock, the juggernaut of the ages she sensed, the one that would always be there when he was needed.  Yet she felt the sadness within him as well, the utter sense of loneliness that emanated from his being.  How could that be?  He had her, he had the rest of his friends back in Ocean Park, how could he still be so undeniably sad? 

            Kera rocked back once more as what seemed like eons of time pressed against her, threatening to squash her mortal mind like an ant beneath the foot of a lumbering giant.  There was so much within the simple touch of her love that was conveyed that she could scarcely comprehend why he had done this, why he had shown her this.  What had happened?  Why did he seem so different?  Her mind screamed at her to stop, to cease and desist this continuing storm of emotion and allow it to rest.  Kera would have liked to do nothing more than this, but she was denied her memories of the way it was.  There was no sense of time now, only the crushing despair and the balancing emotions that strove to bring the entire mess back to level dominated.  Her mind was overwrought with the effort of attempting to assimilate this sudden and very unexpected task, threatening to shut down at any second as she still felt Tyler’s gentle grip upon her arm.

            “I am sorry my love.  We will enjoy the time we have, but this must come to pass.”  Kera wanted to cry, she wanted to shout for joy, she wanted to break down and sob until her tears dried up, anything to rid herself of the pressure that was now laid bare against her battered nerves.  She wanted it to end, she wanted the unwanted despair to leave, to depart like a wisp of storm cloud that knows to expend itself is folly.  She wanted to-

 

-wake up.  Kera jolted from where she lay half-sprawled upon the bed, flinging a large, fluffy pillow across the room suddenly as she came awake with a start.  Her breathing was heavy as she leaned forward after several moments of glancing at the shadows within her room, as though to make sure that she was alone.  The dream faded quickly as she leaned forward, holding her head in her hands, finding that she was sweating profusely for some reason.  After several moments she could no longer remember what she’d been dreaming about.  All she knew was that Tyler had been there.  That thought alone seemed to comfort her more than anything.

 

Cha Cha Cha

Cha Cha Cha

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2002

Portland, Oregon

 

He was a sunbeam, a glorious ray of light sent to alight upon the world in all his glory, dancing for the pleasure of the trees and the green fields of grass that so thoroughly enjoyed his company.  They wept when he was not there, pined for him when he did not come, and when he came around, it was for him that they danced, for him that they swayed and sang.  It was for the sunbeam and its glorious warmth that they opened themselves so fully, allowing him to dance upon their surfaces, fill them up with his radiant heat, slide up and down them in a sensuous manner not unlike a lover.  They would give him everything, and he would give in return as well as take.  It was what he was made to do, and he did it well.

His painted face glowed an iridescent yellow within the black lights that were used within the abandoned warehouse.  The strobe that accompanied them waved back and forth over the crowd as the music blared and the many stoned and drunk dancers threw their heads back, down, side to side, and cavorted about from the hastily constructed bar to the dance floor.  Many of them latched onto one partner only to swing around and latch onto another as flesh met flesh, clothing was parted to reveal more flesh, and so on and so forth.

Secret promises were whispered into ears, lustful desires spoken aloud as the warmth of the large space was allowed to permeate every last pore of their bodies.  He could feel himself burning with a desire that might have had to do with the voluptuous, dark-haired temptress that had come around only minutes before, telling him to meet her in the dark corner to the rear of the warehouse.  He’d made her laugh by telling he that it wouldn’t be dark once he got there, that he’d light her up in ways she’d never experienced.  Her laughter was strange, like tinkling glass falling upon a stone, floor, but damn she was beautiful.

The tab of ecstasy running wild throughout his body didn’t even seem to faze Erin as he danced and moved to the crazed rhythms of the funkadelic music that was being blasted from the massive speakers near the DJ’s turntables.  He didn’t want to stop moving, didn’t want to stop dancing, but he was thirsty.  Being the sun was a tiring role, no matter that his date, who’d disappeared with another muscled stud only a few minutes ago, had so lovingly done his makeup.  He didn’t mind, that was how this rave was supposed to go, it was free love, free to be had with anyone, anywhere, and at any time.  The acts being performed within the converted warehouse were wild and even perverse enough to become a porn director’s dream come true if only there were a camera.  And it was all good.

As he sidled up to the plywood bar he was still dancing, moving his head from side to side and smiling as he was groped, pinched, and even rubbed up against as he smiled nonstop, accepting it all with aplomb.  He did his own fair share of pinching and groping, it was accepted after all, he even felt his hand slip between a pleasing pair of cheeks that were conspicuously bare until his fingers discovered an almost non-existent g-string running up the woman’s crack.  Erin smiled again as he nodded his head to the music, running his tongue over his teeth as he turned back to the woman in question.  His smile faltered just a bit however at what he saw.  Only a bit though as he blinked away the sudden image of fiery red eyes and pointed teeth that flashed dangerously in his direction.  Her expression in that split second was almost, hungry, as though she wanted to take a chomp out of his ass and then move on towards his balls for dessert.  Closing his eyes for just a second Erin took another look at the woman, seeing this time as the dark-skinned woman, she was beautiful in fact, came sidling up to him, her full, luscious lips parting as she rubbed up against him, her perfect breasts rubbing against his chest, held in place by only a strap that connected the thin pieces of cloth that covered her for the barest of modesty.

“Hey baby,” she purred seductively, her voice pouring directly into her ear, “You wanna find a dark spot to get me hot?”  Erin smiled as her tongue flicked out softly against his ear, feeling a tiny shudder run down his spine.  Or maybe that was the X.

Don’t do this.  He shook his head at that moment as the strange thought ran through his mind, confusing him just enough that the woman backed away a step.

“Are you alright?” she asked, raising her voice just enough to be heard over the music.

“What can I get ya?” the bartender, a large man who’d dressed himself up as a half-naked grizzly bear, thrust his head forward, or rather, the large, grotesque grizzly’s head he wore over his features forward.  Erin suddenly felt boxed in as he could sense people to all side of him.  Looking around however he could see that the nearest people to him were the unknown woman and the grizzly-headed bartender, everyone else was either out of arm’s reach or on the dance floor.

“I think he needs a double of whatever,” the woman said, the smile coming back to her lips as she stepped close again.  Erin felt as her hand reached down and squeezed a tender part of his anatomy pleasingly as she smiled up at him.  “I can take care of the chaser.”  Erin nodded his head, moving into her hand as he began to grind against her body, looking to the bartender as he gazed directly into the dark, glassy eyes of the grizzly.

“I’ll take a shot of Jose and another shot of Jose, and whatever the lady wants.”  The bartender’s smile was just barely visible beneath the open jaws of the grizzly, but Erin didn’t care, he was concentrating solely upon the hand that was so pleasingly perched upon his crotch.  That was nice.

*                      *                      *

 

This was hopeless, but he had to keep trying.  Only so many humans had the qualities that his kind required to attach themselves to a living host.  He could find an animal to latch onto, though the last time he’d tried that Larissen had been forced to undergo the painful death that the cat had suffered at the hands of a neighborhood bully.  Humans could be undeniably cruel at times, even if they were children.  He’d wondered more than once at why the survival of a race that could breed such uncaring young was so vital to this realm.  It had gone along just fine before the humans had gotten here, it would no doubt find a species to fill the gap if they were to be somehow exterminated or forced into oblivion.  But that was not his place to say, no matter that he shared this realm with them.

As an exile he could do no less, though as an exile with no physical form of his own he was dependent upon the living body of another, otherwise he would soon fade away.  The cat that been so cruelly strangled not long ago had expired near here, but the youth that had done the grisly act had not been the right type of soul for Larissen to attach himself to.  Strangely enough he’d felt the pull within this place, the familiar tug of a kindred spirit that would suit him just fine.  The unfortunate part was that he was not the only spirit here.

The sickening parade of flesh and carnal desires were not completely unknown to him, yet still the fallen angel could not equate the perverse acts he’d witnessed this night with those he’d seen in the past.  He had experienced through others the deeper emotions such as love, passion, even caring on a level that he knew was perhaps one of the greatest gifts humans possessed.  Within this den of corruption however there was little if anything in common with such tender moments.  This was a carnival of flesh, a disgusting example of pornography that he could not abide. But he needed the consent of the human he now stood near.

He knew the daemons, his kinds ancestral enemies, could sense him here, though they could not see him.  They were as blind to his winged form as any human was, restricting themselves by the flesh they wore and thereby unable to see his glorious form.  Larissen knew he was not a true soul such as his brethren that existed within the glorious heavens of the Light, he carried his own scars and the foul taint within his blood that had resulted from the last and greatest war, but he was still an angel, and thus he was still appalled by what he now witnessed.  There were women foisting themselves upon women, men upon men, and even more perverse acts as both sexes intermingled with one another freely, not seeming to mind the questing hands and other appendages that seemed to appear by magic within their midst.  It was simply too appalling to believe.

Not everyone within the building was a daemon in disguise, though there were a great many of them, such as the bear-headed fellow serving drinks, drinks laced with some sort of powder that Larissen could not identify, and the woman who was attempting to lure the human he’d come for away.  He’d seen at least a glimpse of her true face, Larissen had seen the uncertainty in the young man’s painted face, but that had been fleeting, and the drugs within the young man’s system no doubt were making him question his senses.  Larissen knew that the young black male had seen something, but he was already convinced that he had not.  Larissen shook his head, his grayish-white wings fluttering behind him as the female next to the human seemed to sense his presence, frowning just a bit as she looked around.

Her façade was that of a beautiful, Nubian female, her form pleasing to the eye and her features almost ethereal in their quality.  The angel knew very well that this mask was only skin deep, beneath the woman’s thin veneer of deception was a creature of such pure evil that Larissen knew he would surely drive his blade into her heart had he his own body.  The disassociation from his own corporeal form had been punishment however for striking out against his own brethren, leaving him bereft of his own flesh and blood yet still bound to this realm.

Had he the chance he would have gladly rid the realm of every daemon within this place, but he could not.  The human male in front of him now would have to accept him, and so far that was not likely to happen.  As Larissen looked to the massive bartender, another daemon, he could just barely see as the creature sprinkled a heft amount of crushed powder into the young man’s drinks, turning around in the next moment as he placed them upon the bar.  Erin was far too engrossed with the woman in front of him, no doubt far too attentive to the hand that was gently massaging his groin.  Larissen was disgusted, though he could do little about it.

As he watched, Erin downed both shots, knocking them back quickly before turning back to the woman, who had already exchanged a glance and a wink to the bartender, who’d smiled and nodded, neither of them seeming to mind that Larissen’s anger could easily be felt.  He would have gladly slain them both, mounting their heads atop the bar no matter that this was not the way of his kind.

The woman then pulled Erin’s head down with her free hand, her lips seeking his as her tongue danced along his lips for only a second before their lips locked.  Erin leaned down obligingly, his own hands roaming quickly over the woman’s body as she moved into him, grinding in rhythm to the horrid, blaring music that seemed to echo off the walls.  Larissen tried his best to place his suggestive voice into the young man’s mind again, though he was met with a wall of such dire passion and fierce resistance that it was like trying to yell into a hurricane.

Let her go! Larissen pleaded, trying to gain the young man’s attention.  The female daemon kissed him harder, placing her false womanhood against Erin’s crotch as she broke the kiss, moaning into his ear how much she liked this behavior.  Erin obliged her, grinding and moving with the music as she then disengaged, confusing him for just a second.

“Against the bar,” she breathed, the signs of her lust showing as her cheeks reddened and her body reacted to the stimulus.  Larissen wanted to retch.

Walk away from her Erin, now.  The angel pleaded once again with the young man, trying to make him see what he was about to rub up against.  Erin closed his eyes as he shook his head, his lips twisting as he held one hand to his head.

“Is something wrong with you?” the woman asked, her tone becoming testy as she narrowed her eyes at Erin.  Larissen thought that perhaps this was his chance as he reached out, his insubstantial hands seeking to grip the young man’s head as he used his force of will.

Listen to me Erin, she is not who you think she is.  Please, for your own sake, leave this place and follow me.  Erin seemed to hear him for a moment, in fact it seemed as though the young man saw him, but then Larissen’s hopes were dashed aside as the young man’s grin widened across his lips, the garish paint upon his face making the gesture seem a bit grotesque as Erin strode past Larissen, his grin only widening in response to the woman’s as she leaned against the bar, her upper abdomen striking the bar with an inaudible thump.  The bartender grinned at the woman as she grinned back, leaning her head back just enough as he lifted a bottle filled with a pale yellow liquid, its golden label speaking of the contents as it was poured directly from its metal-plated spout onto her tongue, running down her throat and from the corners of her lips as she swallowed, making an obscene show of it as she waggled her tongue back and forth.  As Erin gripped her hips Larissen had to look away, not wishing to see as the human and daemon sought to please one another.

*                      *                      *

 

Erin couldn’t believe his luck as he thrust his hips forward again, and again, and again.  His entire body was tingling, he felt as though he were ascending into the ceiling for some odd reason, and it felt really, really good.  As the woman in front of him continued to moan and beg for more he knew at that moment, he was the man.  His hands felt along her smooth buttocks, feeling the warmth of her body as they ascended her tender flesh, his body folding against hers as he could smell the tequila upon her breath.

“Hey babe, is there room for another one?”  Erin turned his gaze toward the voice as he saw his date, her gaily painted features still as bright as when they’d arrived.  She was painted up as a foxy vixen, the dark circles around her eyes serving to make her dark blue orbs seem even larger than they were.  He smiled at her as she ran one hand up and down the dark-skinned woman attached to him, running her tongue over her teeth as she used her other hand to gently rub the point where they connected.

“Oh yeah baby,” the woman said to his date, “come here and we’ll fit you in.”  His date was a white woman, something his parents didn’t truly care about but still raised an eyebrow towards. They didn’t realize this was a new age, a new time in history when colors didn’t matter.  Erin smiled as the woman pushed back against him, levering herself, and by extension him, away from the bar as his date slid in smoothly, facing the woman as she smiled seductively, looking coyly past the woman towards Erin.

“Does this get you hot baby?” his date crooned, reaching for the woman as she and Erin moved forward, seeking to envelop the dark-haired woman.  Erin could only nod as he felt the point of connection between himself and the woman throbbing almost painfully, demanding he pay attention to what he was doing.  He happily obliged.

*                      *                      *

 

The new woman was human at least, though it made the act no less disgusting as Larissen stood just behind Erin, his back turned to the tryst as he surveyed the dancers and other individuals upon the warehouse floor.  His eyes burned as he saw daemons cavorting about in human disguise, fooling those around them so easily that he could not stop himself from believing that those who’d come to this place deserved what they were to receive soon enough.

Looking out upon the dance floor and other areas Larissen could easily spot several daemons, saepes as they were known, dancing and caressing their human victims as they used every touch, every charm at their disposal to fool the gullible mortals.  Only a step above their weakling cousins, the milikedes, these daemons were much more intelligent than the soldierly creatures beneath them, less prone to simply tear another being apart, preferring subterfuge and the pleasures of the flesh.  They were the most carnal of the daemon race, enjoying the full range of human feeling as it pertained to satisfying their more amorous desires.

They were sickening in his mind, less noble than the foulest of their race and more deceitful than even the sorcerers that reigned above them within the hellish realms of the Dark.  He could not abide their presence, though for the sake of the young man he was here for Larissen must.  As he cast a look behind him he could see that Erin, the saepe, and the human woman were still locked in the throes of their sickening passion.  He could see as the massive saepe behind the human woman reached forward, his pale skin rippling slightly as he reached for the human female’s breasts.  Claws that would have cruelly torn into the woman’s skin were covered once more by human flesh as the bartender grasped her quickly, pinching and fondling as the woman moaned in pleasure.  Larissen looked away again, his temper flaring as he could do nothing, not even speak out against this atrocity.  He had tried to convince Erin that he needed to leave, that this place would be his end, but the boy would not listen.

He wondered what was the use in that moment, a thought that never would have entered his mind long ago.  As one among the multitudes of angels that had been sent forth to make war upon the daemons that had sought to claim this realm, Larissen had pledged his sword to the cause of saving those who could not save themselves.  After the great war however his views had changed, as they were wont to do he’d been told.  He’d never given much thought to the talk of the elder angels, preferring to think that he would be the same person once he’d passed through his own fires of doubt and uncertainty, but that had not been the case.

Larissen had seen such atrocities that could not be easily dismissed, horrors that were forever burned into his conscious mind no matter how badly he wished to forget them.  And he would see more he knew.  Hard times were coming, the fulfillment of a prophecy that had existed since before the time of mankind was soon to be initiated.  And then the world would know true misery, such as it had not known for far too long.  The DarkFall would come again.

*                      *                      *

 

God he felt like he could go all night!  Erin thrust again and again into the woman, not minding the way she slammed back into his crotch.  Had he been sober he might have backed away, thinking that she was a little to overzealous for his liking. But that wouldn’t have been as fun as this moment, when his loins were burning for more, more, and even more.  He could see his date French-kissing the woman even as the woman lowered her hands along the woman’s body, making her gasp as her fingers disappeared between them.  Erin had no intention of stopping, but as the woman suddenly settled firmly against him, pulling his date forward with her, he felt as though he were about to explode.

“Let’s find a dark corner,” she suggested, her voice low and husky as Erin rested his chin upon her shoulder, almost coming nose to nose with his date.  The woman’s glitter-covered eyebrows rose as she licked her lips, her eyes seeming a bit glazed over as he stared at her.  He didn’t care though, this was the best time he’d had in far too long and he didn’t mean to waste it.

“Hell yeah,” his date said.  Was her name Alison, or was it Alice?  Erin didn’t know for sure, all he knew was that she’d been excited to go to this rave with him tonight.  It was hard to know everyone in the halls at school when the student body was nearly three thousand students strong.  Hell his own class, the seniors, boasted nearly a third of the school!  All he knew was that Alice, or Alison, had one smoking hot body and had known him at least long enough to tell Erin that he had a hard body too.  Of course he knew this, he was a football star, a track star, hell he could write his own ticket into any college he wanted at this point.  He’d already had scouts from schools as far away as the University of Washington and even Duke University looking at him during games and meets.  At the end of the year he would make his decision on where to go, and then his life would take on a whole new vista full of possibilities.  But for tonight, the only vistas he wanted to explore were the soft curves of his date and this other woman, who seemed almost too good to be true.

“Oh hell, I got someone waitin’” Erin suddenly remembered, laughing along with the two women as the dark-skinned female turned to him, disengaging from him as Erin groaned slightly.  Looking down at his revealed member each woman pouted slightly as they each reached a hand down.

“Well let’s not keep her waiting any longer,” his date said, guiding her tongue along Erin’s lips before placing her mouth over his.  Erin couldn’t help but agree as the two women reluctantly pulled up his pants.  It wouldn’t do to have his member get abused on the way there after all.

*                      *                      *

 

Larissen almost didn’t notice as Erin and the two females left the bar, turning around to see instead the uncertain stare of the heavy saepe that was running the bar.  The daemon sniffed audibly, looking this way and that as he sensed the angel’s presence.  Larissen wanted so badly to lash out at that moment, but he would not.  He could manage to affect the material world, but only if he let go of every last emotion, which was far too difficult.  In this instance though he was sorely tempted to try.

“I know you’re there,” the large daemon growled, revealing his large, misshapen teeth that were covered over by the veneer of flesh.  Larissen’s eyes widened in disgust as he attempted to purge himself of anger, the desire to harm this creature burning even deeper in his being as for the moment he almost forgot about Erin.  It was a breach of his duty, a dereliction that he would no doubt berate himself for later, but it was just so damned tempting that he could not move for the moment.

“You say somethin’ Adam?”  came a voice from the daemon’s left, high in quality as slightly nasal with a lilt to it.  The daemon did not shift his position save to narrow his eyes, leaning slightly to the left as he spoke.

“Nah, just thinkin’ out loud is all Lenny.  You wanna shake and poke when you’re done?”  There was a startled gasp as the man in question, a thin, pock-marked human who looked as though he’d be more comfortable in a more tropical setting, winked at the big bartender, a sly look that further disgusted Larissen as he felt his lips curl in absolute disdain.  He knew just why the daemon had said such a thing, especially if he knew the angel was here.  Nothing would please a saepe like the chance to nettle an angel’s sense of propriety, the opportunity to insult their sense of honor and what was right a delicacy to such beings.

“Soon as I’m done, come and get it big guy.”  The man named Lenny shook his hips suggestively as the big man leered over the bar, moving away as Larissen closed his eyes.  He didn’t want to see what came next, so he left.

*                      *                      *

 

People were getting it on everywhere they could, the moans and groans reverberating from the dance floor to the four long walls of the warehouse, with a few screams of ecstasy mixed in here and there as though to add a bit of spice.  Already a few people had been asked or forced to leave, their sensibilities or simple bouts of jealousy earning them the dreaded eighty-six.  Erin didn’t know what the problem was, everyone was here to have fun, it was supposed to be an all-night orgy, something that most everyone would remember the next day with a smile on their face.  He knew there would be a hangover to go with, but it would be worth praying to the porcelain god for a short time.

Costumes, body paint, face paint, and other accoutrements adorned the dancers, making it seem like some strange, macabre ball where the only inhibitions were those that were left at the door.  Flesh was flesh, it was meant to come together in such a manner, to slide and grind against each other to the satisfaction of the concerned parties.  He was fully into it, accepting the questing hands and fingers that alit upon his stiffened member and his hard body.  The women with him didn’t fight it either, accepting just as many groping hands as they passed by, seeking the woman he could barely remember now that had told him to meet her in the darkness.

Erin couldn’t wait, he wanted to ease the throbbing in his groin so badly that he was about ready to take Alice, or Alison, or maybe it was Alonzo for all he knew, right on the dance floor and show her just what kind of man he was.  She’d moan for it, tell him he was the best, and then beg him to take her again and again, in so many different poses his head would spin.  And then he’d watch as the dark-skinned woman, he still didn’t know her name, took his date over and over as well, maybe he’d even get to join in.

As they moved along the dance floor Erin and the two women moved to the music, seeking the dark corner at the back of the warehouse as he looked up, seeing the dirt-streaked and almost opaque panes of glass above as he felt hands all over his body, pawing and grabbing, groping and fondling. God this was too cool.

*                      *                      *

 

He could no longer find Erin.  Larissen felt his spiritual heart beating madly as he passed by one daemon after another, barely registering as several of them snarled or seemed to turn their heads upon his passing, feeling his divine spirit as he hurried by.  They were not his concern, Erin was.  He could feel the young man’s life spark, though he could not pinpoint it through the dark miasma of filth and decadence that permeated this place.  His senses were so dulled that he could scarcely see past the painted faces and bodies of those who writhed and twined together upon the dance floor, blocking any easy egress to the other side of the massive room.

How he wished for his sword now!  The saepes herein would surely hack him down eventually, but at least Larissen would take several of them with him.  His divine aura would burn away the eyes of a few, and his blade would take many more, but he knew that soon enough the hideous things would overwhelm him.  But he would die as a warrior, as was proper.  He could not abide being confined to such an existence as this.

*                      *                      *

 

They found the woman that Erin had spoken of reclining upon an abandoned crate in the far corner of the warehouse, her flimsy clothing still adorning her body as she looked as though she’d been waiting for them.  Erin’s jaw dropped as he beheld the almond-shaped eyes, the slightly tanned skin, the long legs and the perfect form of the woman.  Her dark, jet-black hair was tied into pigtails that rode high on her head. Pigtails!  Erin felt his groin throbbing even harder as the woman beckoned him forward with one finger.  The two women with him followed behind, not fighting the young man’s advance as they both looked upon the Asian woman with lusting in their eyes.

“You found a cute one Silla,” the Asian woman spoke, her voice mid-range in tone, very pleasing to the ear.

“From what I hear Meso, you found him first,” Erin didn’t even turn to the dark-skinned woman as the Asian, Meso, wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down to her as she licked his lips with her tongue, the wetness thrilling Erin as he gasped.

“Meso?” he asked, smiling as she pulled back, her lips pulling into a pouting grin as she spoke.

“That’s right big boy, Meso horny, me love you looong time.”  Meso laughed as she leaned back, pulling Erin atop her as he willingly obliged, feeling as she guided him inward.  His gasp of only a second before became a moan as he entered, followed by Meso’s own groan as she too felt the heat that was radiating between them.  Erin didn’t waste any time, thrusting his hips forward as he braced himself against the crate, looking down into Meso’s lovely face as she raised an eyebrow, holding his buttocks with both hands as he pressed even closer to her.  And then, she changed.

Erin couldn’t even fully describe what happened. One moment the lovely Meso was a young, vibrant creature of passion, thrusting against him as Erin sought to pleasure her, and in the next second he was doing the wild thing with a creature he couldn’t even understand, a demonic yet somehow still alluring visage glaring up at him as he felt hooked nails dig tightly into his flesh.  What in the hell?!

“Me love you looong long time baby.”  The thing’s voice was gravelly as Erin looked down fully upon her mottled red and gray form, noting that she was still a knockout even as he felt a wave of such revulsion for the creature that even the ecstasy he’d taken couldn’t dim this harsh reality, if in fact that was what it was.

“What’s wrong baby?” the thing crooned, “You no like me now?”  Erin felt as his stiffened member kept thrusting in and out, mindless it seemed of his disgust as he tried to pull away, wincing as the hooked nails wedged firmly into his buttocks dug deeper, creating deep furrows as Meso pulled in opposite directions, flaying his backside as he could not stop, could not stop, had to keep going, had to keep on, unable to keep himself from thrusting, thrusting, ah God it just wouldn’t stop!

Erin turned his head as much as he could, looking for Alice, or Alison, or whatever the hell her name was, to yell at her to run, to just run and get out of here.  He didn’t want to be here any longer, not with this devil-thing forcing her claws into his ass, tearing it to dark ribbons of meat as he felt his own blood pouring down the backs of his legs. And still his hips didn’t stop thrusting, as though in some macabre way his penis had taken control, demanding that he finish at least before being completely turned off.

“Oooh, come on give it to me baby,” the thing crooned, dragging him forward with one clawed hand as she raised her left from his torn buttocks to just under his right arm, digging her nails in painfully as Erin tried to cry out.  She was there for that too however, her mouth rising to cover his quickly as he saw the twin rows of sharp, serrated teeth just beyond her full, luscious lips.  Good God how could he be getting turned on right now?  This wasn’t right, it wasn’t cool!

What he’d seen behind him, what he’d seen of it anyway, was no more comforting than his own situation, which was to say it had caused his eyes to bug out of his skull as he’d seen his date being thrust against the wall, her own eyes wide as the dark-skinned woman had turned to him, smiling as she’d then thrust her own lips upon the younger woman’s, burying any sound that Alice, or Alison, might have made as she ground her body against the senior’s.  His date hadn’t been able to fight the creature off, her hands and arms pinned to the wall effectively as the horned, black-skinned creature had rubbed against her, up and down, her scaly form rasping against his date’s clothing.  Good God what was going on?!

“You no horny no more baby?” the monster beneath him crooned as she pulled away.  Erin could feel a stinging sensation within his mouth as he tried to scream, the sudden torrent of blood that came from between his lips shocking him as he looked down at the woman with wide, frightened eyes.  She opened her mouth then, revealing something he’d not expected to lose so painlessly as his tongue was revealed, its ragged end peeking through her lips as she smiled at him, swallowing the thick, muscular morsel in the next second as she grinned at him with those shark-like teeth.

“You like I swallow baby?”  The monster beneath him hooked her legs behind his as she spoke, moving her hands up to just underneath his arms as she hauled back, rocking backward as she dragged him along, moaning in pleasure as her red eyes rolled back in her skull.  Erin didn’t know what to do, though he tried to scream, heedless of the torrent of blood still pouring from his mouth.  All that came forth was a thin wheeze as he felt the creature’s legs squeeze his midsection like a vise, driving the air from his lungs as she tore down his sides with her claws, easily parting the thin shirt he wore and drawing several lines of blood as she drew her fingernails, her claws dammit!, across his belly and up towards his chest, digging deeper as she went.

“Oooh baby you so hard, you very hard man!” the thing laughed as she spoke, still rocking against him as Erin could feel that he was about to explode.  This was just grotesque that he would be on the verge of climaxing in such a manner, though he could not deny the burning in his loins any longer.  As he finally bucked for his final time, his throbbing manhood seeming to explode, the demon dug harder into his chest, cracking bone easily and reaching deep within his chest cavity as Erin could feel a tearing, tugging sensation, incapacitating him as he could no longer lean back, his very spine quaking as he began to shudder.

He was able to look down however, and what he saw was not pleasing, not even as he gaped at what the monster now held.  Erin’s mouth worked open several times as his eyes opened and closed, the disbelief within their depths fading along with his life as the woman held his still beating heart, grinning around her deadly, sharpened teeth as she moaned once more, rolling her hips as she coaxed just a little more from his rapidly wilting member.  Erin rolled his eyes as he found that he could not take his gaze from this lovely, deadly, virulent, disgusting, somehow unearthly creature, watching as she brought the pumping organ to her mouth, where she took a hefty bite from its still pulsating form.

Erin wanted to be sick, he wanted to lie down, he wanted another drink, he couldn’t decide.  As the demoness swallowed her grisly bite of flesh she spoke, the grin within her words more than evident as Erin began to black out.

“Mmmm, you so tasty baby, me love you looong time.”  The demon-creature thrust him away then with one hand, as though he weighed no more than a rag doll.  Erin didn’t care, if it got him away from the bitch that was just fine.  As the darkness began to fold over him however he could have sworn he heard the woman, and her friend, hiss in anger, or was that fear?  He couldn’t be sure, but as both of them ran away, stark-ass naked, he saw what looked like a glowing form step over him, a vision he was sure of what might await him.  Or maybe this was just a really screwed up dream, and when he opened his eyes his mother or father would be there waiting for him, wondering why he had a wilting hard-on and a look of such confused terror on his face.  Well, they might not ask about the hard-on.

I told you Erin, the woman was not what she seemed.

He wanted to shout out a curse to the strangely glowing being that might have made his mother or father slap him lightly across the mouth.  Of course she wasn’t what she’d seemed to be!  What kind of stupid thing to say was that?  As he continued to look up at the figure he tried once more to talk, though no words would come, either thanks to his missing tongue or the blood that was now threatening to choke him out he wasn’t sure.

Erin pleaded with the winged being, it had to be an angel, how many stories had heard about from his mother and her friends about such creatures, he reached one hand out, as though beseeching the glowing figure to help him.  The winged form, he had to be one of the most handsome men Erin had ever seen, did not move however.  God what a gay thought, to think another guy was handsome, but he couldn’t help it, the man was.  His features were almost fair enough to be called feminine, but there was a strength to his jaw, his cheeks, and a fire to his eyes that was definitely masculine.  For example the frown he leveled at Erin, that was all that was man.  The insane thought almost made him laugh as he tilted his head back, trying not to choke as he lowered his hand.

I can no longer help you Erin.  You have done this to yourself.

That was crap, Erin wanted to say, he’d not done this, he’d had it done to him!  He’d just wanted to get drunk, get laid and then the next day go on about his way.  He hadn’t asked to be duped by some demon bitch into being served up as a cut of prime beef!

I will leave you now, may you find the Light, though I somehow doubt it.  Erin wanted to curse at the angel, to tell him to mind his own damned business, he’d never asked for his help!  Why couldn’t he have just said “Hey, this bitch is a demon, don’t screw with her?”  Oh God he wanted to kick the angel’s ass in that moment, to rip a few feathers out of those wings and see how loudly he squawked then!  What was the use of telling him that someone was no good without giving him more information so he could make a decision?  That was a bunch of crap Erin though, even as the lights began to dim.  Eventually the dark was all he knew, and then, he didn’t know anything else but pain.

*                      *                      *

 

Larissen’s heart was heavy as he made his way through the center of the dance floor, not even noticing as the dancers, daemons all, shied away from him.  His rage was dampened effectively, the sorrow that had tamped it down holding court within the vast chambers of his soul as he felt nothing but a burning desire to see vengeance, the only thing that kept him from lashing out as he wished.  And then, he let even that go.

The angel did not hesitate as became visible, a wraith-like specter amongst the solid forms of the daemons as he attacked.  The trick was to feel nothing he’d heard it said, only to act, react, and feel no emotion.  Spirits could affect the material world, but it was vital to let go of all attachments to the physical world such as emotion.  He could do that finally, he could release the pent up hatred, prejudice, and anger he’d felt.  Larissen could easily displace the sorrow over the young man as his wings flared out mightily, batting hard into one of the daemons as it went flying into its fellows, who snarled in response to the sudden appearance of the angel.

Larissen did not stop, driving his fists, elbows, feet, and even his forehead into the bodies of the daemons around him, cracking  bones and tearing flesh as he raked at their eyes, hammered their flesh and bones until they broke.  The howls of pain and agony pleased him, causing a sick chill of exhilaration to wash through him as he was attacked in turn.  The first offending claw however did no damage, nor did any after that, as he allowed himself to sink once more into rage, becoming immaterial again as the passage of the dark forms through his invisible body caused him to stiffen until finally he reached the edge of the dance floor, where there were fewer bodies.

He’d had his time, he would again.  But for now, he needed to find a body, and soon.  This was far from over.

 

Excerpt from The Oregonian

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2002

 

TEENS FOUND SLAIN IN ABANDONED WAREHOUSE

 

After an anonymous tip phoned into the Portland Police Department, two teens were found within an abandoned warehouse in northern Portland.  Officers have declined to comment upon the possibility of the warehouse being used for a current rave party.  A flyer announcing the party’s name, Cha Cha Cha, indicates that such a party might well have taken place.  The chief of police has gone on record to state that one of the victims, Erin James Rawlings, was the apparent victim of a vicious and fatal animal attack, though no tracks have been found.  The high school senior, soon to graduate from Sunset High School this year, was found face up on the floor of the warehouse, chest exposed and with several organs apparently missing.  Found along with Rawlings was another senior by the name of Alice Huger, a fellow student and editor of the Sunset Herald, the high school paper.  While it is said that Ms. Huger was found largely intact save for gouges and punctures to her wrists and lips, toxicology reports will perhaps tell a different story.  Both teenagers had allegedly reported to their parents that they were to attending the local theater in the late evening, though friends state that neither Mr. Rawlings nor Ms. Huger had ever been seen together before last night.  Further sources indicate that the two were surrounded by the contents of a small plastic bag, which contained no less than….

 

 

Larissen did not need to read any further, knowing exactly what had happened.  If only he were a muse, then perhaps he would be able to iron out the story in a more accurate fashion.  But that was not his function.  He was warrior, and he required a warrior to occupy.  He’d just have to keep looking.

Looking upon the smiling faces of Erin and Alison that had been posted within the paper he did feel a bit of sadness, though he could not feel entirely sorry for the boy’s death.  He had done such damage to himself in a large way, the saepe had only ended his torment.

“Is this to your liking?” the daemon that sat at the computer asked him, leering slightly as she looked here and there, feeling his presence as she sniffed, her nostrils flaring as her human eyes narrowed in suspicion.  She was wise enough to whisper in the buzzing office, though Larissen figured that no one would have heard anyway unless they were right next to her.  Saepes were everywhere, leaving him to wonder how many of the beings within this city were truly human any longer.  Most of the people within this building were at least, but that was small comfort.  Something was coming, something big.

Your time will come daemon, Larissen said, his eyes burning.  Oh yes, something was coming.

To Love and Lose

To Love and Lose

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

 

Spring 1998

 

 

“You’ve many questions my young charge, this I know.  But I must tell you this, you are not ready.”  Tyler snorted at the woman’s words, shaking his head as he looked out upon the endlessly rolling waves, seeking the serenity that had eluded him for the past month.  His life and those of his friends had changed in such radical ways that it was hard to imagine this wasn’t all some sort of demented, macabre dream that would end sooner or later.  His body and mind were in agreement that it wasn’t however, no matter how much he wanted it to be.  This was the reality he and the others had been given, and this was the world they were now forced to adapt to.  If only it weren’t the same world that had once been a haven for each of them, maybe it wouldn’t be such a daunting task.

“So then what makes you think I was ready for all this?” Tyler asked, spreading his arms as though to take in their surroundings.  He sincerely hoped that the woman knew just what he meant, though he was fully prepared to elaborate if that were needed.  He already had a few choice words in mind, though even they wouldn’t adequately convey the full scope of his emotions.

It had been hardly two months since life had changed, yet it felt like years had passed.  So many thoughts had run through his mind that Tyler felt as though he were about to burst under the sheer pressure of the mental burden.  He was just a teenager, a high school student that had been looking forward to graduation, moving on in life, simple as that.  But for some reason the woman that stood only a few feet away had seen fit to disrupt all that, and what was worse was that from what she’d been telling him it didn’t seem as though life would be returning to an even keel anytime soon.  It was almost too unreal to accept.  In fact he didn’t want to, but it appeared as though he had no choice.

“It was time for you to emerge my young warrior, your world is about to change, and it was necessary that you awaken before this happens.”  Tyler didn’t understand her words and to be honest he didn’t want to.  He wanted to wake up and realize that this had all been a dream, to feel it fade from his mind even as he rolled out of bed.  That would be his idea of fair, of what should happen.  But he’d already figured that this wasn’t going to be happening, the thought of being normal again was the dream.  Reality was the horror that he and his friends were forced to live through now.

“And so who made that decision, you? What gave you the right?”  The woman smiled thinly, her strange, dark eyes boring into him as Tyler stared defiantly back.  He wasn’t afraid, though his skin was tingling slightly.  Shaking his head he looked away, his anger rising slightly as he cast his gaze out upon the waves.

“It was time my First.”

“Quit calling me that!” Tyler replied as he turned around to face her again, “I’m not your first, I’m not your warrior, and I’m not interested in this little farce you’ve created!”  He wanted to say more, but the words were choked off in his throat as he felt a deep welling of emotion threatening to emerge, a sob that he would not show this woman no matter how much it wanted to come out.  He was stronger than that, he was not going to break down in front of this stranger!

“No matter my Champion, this is your path, and you must travel it.”  Tyler wanted to lash out at her, he’d never struck a woman in his life without due cause, which had happened only once, but now he was sorely tempted.  The woman was quite slender despite her elegant look, he could no doubt snap her in two if he was truly enraged, but Tyler felt that it was as at least a bit justified.  This woman had somehow taken away the world he’d known, replacing it with a nightmare that had replaced what had been real, a frightening, fog-shrouded landscape that had washed away the normally peaceful semblance of this place.

“Calm yourself my warrior, there is no need for-“

“Just leave us alone!”  Tyler roared, his blood boiling as he felt his face grow red.  “Everything was fine until you came and screwed it up!  Just put everything back the way it was and go away!”  Tyler knew he was acting childish, that no matter what he said the Lady would do as she pleased.  But at least it felt good to yell at her, it felt like he was at least in control of himself.  And that was good.

Tyler turned around as he began to storm away, realizing this was a dream but not caring.  He’d walk along the stretch of beach until his body decided it was time to wake up for all he cared, it was better than having to listen to the dark-haired female behind him.  As he walked off, his footprints showing the heaviness of his step, Tyler didn’t bother to turn around to witness the Lady looking after him, nor did he hear her words.  It wouldn’t have mattered anyway.

“If I could, I would.”

*                      *                      *

 

1 month later…

 

 

 

“You have become the animal, you’ve let the darkness in.”  The thing in front of her that wore the form of her Champion snarled in response, his dark eyes shot through with the silver mists that had been a part of his body since his birth.  He still did not know how special he was, how important his life was to this world.  As she looked upon the warrior Aliyana knew that he was still there, that all was not lost, but he had allowed the darkness within his soul to blossom, to overwhelm him in this time of strife.

She knew that the young man was as susceptible as anyone to the hidden and unknown secrets of his being, but this was not the right time for this.  There was little to nothing she could do however, once one had allowed their inner darkness to take hold it was entirely up to them to return, if such was their desire.  She could not reach her Champion now, no matter how much she wished to.  He would be forced to fight his own battle, his own inner struggle, though she feared for him.

Aliyana knew too well the resistance that her First among the Chosen had shown, and she knew that there would be much, much more to come. Ever had those who had become Chosen been willful, almost seemingly dedicated to defying her in whatever way they possibly could.  Of all of them though, this young man was the only one among them that would truly threaten the stability of his world if he were to remain so obstinate.  She could not force him however.

Free will was not an illusion, it was a reality that could not be circumvented, an intangible thing that could not be stripped unless the will was weak. And Tyler Ferris was anything but weak.  He was young, and thus his defiance and headstrong manner were quite normal, but Aliyana had to impress upon him the importance of who and what he was.  He would not accept her, he would not step willingly into her embrace, but he would use the power that she had bestowed upon him, if only to keep himself and others alive.

He was a soul unlike many others, a true light within the darkness that was to come, but he was also capable of great violence, the truth of who he was a bane as well as a boon to those around him  All that remained was for him to choose which path he would take.

“You must awaken my warrior, you must take your place among the world, and you must do so now.”  Her words did not seem to penetrate the dark mien of the creature in front of her, Tyler’s face contorting into a mask of absolute rage as his body tensed, his fingers hooking into claws.  In that moment she could see the shadows that dwelled within him, the uncertain darkness that he’d unleashed more than once in his life.  It was a reflex action, an uncontrollable act that he had never desired to happen, but had been powerless to stop.  She knew the truth of this young man, of how he had come to be, and the truth made her shudder.

As Tyler attacked Aliyana could feel the waves of crushing shadow reach out for her, fading away only inches from her form as she called forth the power within her body, batting away the darkness as she twisted aside, faster than even this being could move.  Tyler was a blur as he struck at her again and again, his martial prowess proving great enough that Aliyana was forced to utilize every last move and hint of power she held within her body.  He was powerful, there was no doubt of this, but he was also young, inexperienced in the use of such power, and as such his strikes were just that fraction of second slower, allowing Aliyana to keep ahead of him as they danced upon the gray sands of their home.

She wondered idly if he would remember this once he awakened, though she doubted it.  Tyler was somewhere far away, this dark, chaotic thing that attacked her now was him only in flesh.  The calmer nature of this young man, the true essence of who he was, did not exist in this moment.  As she evaded a lunging strike Aliyana lashed out in turn, though was surprised when Tyler moved almost instinctively, evading her just as easily as she’d moved aside from his blows.  Avoiding another blow aimed at her head Aliyana backed quickly away, seeking to gain some distance between herself and this vicious thing, but it was not to be.

Tyler followed her step for step, his face locked in a mask of such rage that Aliyana felt sure it would have intimidated even the most fearless of opponents had they looked upon him.  The mists within his gaze swirled madly with each punch, each kick, as though his anger had agitated them in some way.  She knew this young man better than he knew himself at this moment, though she highly doubted that her words would be welcome to the deranged creature he’d become.  She could only hope that he awakened soon.  Aliyana did not want to harm this man, no matter what he might do to her.

Tyler attacked again, and again, and again, each blow coming closer to Aliyana’s body as she ducked and dodged, twisted and moved aside, just barely avoiding being struck with hits that might well have pounded her into the sand.  She didn’t doubt the power of this being, that he would be her end eventually, but it was not time, not yet.  So thinking she continued to move, not striking back as she evaded the many strikes executed by the young man that would one day be her end, that would one day balance the whole of this world once more, that would walk the lonely road of immortality.  She had to do something, but she knew that any action taken against him would be futile and, quite honestly, fatal for one of them.

As she continued to move Aliyana gathered to herself the energies of this place, feeling a slight tingle as they gathered within her body, circulating throughout her veins with the familiar rush she’d become accustomed to so very long ago.  She was a Shaper, the blood of a race that had once been the most powerful within this realm ran within her veins, and she would not fall this day.  Unfortunately, the same energies flowed within the young man that now attacked her.  She could only hope and pray that he would succumb to her touch, or she would be lost.

Tyler came ever closer, his fists and feet still seeking to connect with her flesh as Aliyana felt the burgeoning power within her body seeking release, demanding to be set free as was its wont.  She did not deny it any longer, waiting only a matter of heartbeats until Tyler gave her just the right opening.  As his left hand flashed over her head she struck, reaching out with her right to lay it gently against his chest.

“STOP!”

The power flooded from her instantly, flaring between the two of them in such force that it should have easily planted Tyler on his backside.  Aliyana felt herself forced back several steps as the force of her shout slammed into her as well, causing her to lower her head as she ground her teeth together, tasting blood as she felt the inside of her cheek split as she felt her jaws clack together over the tender skin.  She didn’t cry out, nor did she open her mouth as the gray sand beneath her feet was sent flying in small sprays of dry grains that were almost immediately caught up by the constant winds that blew along the coast.

This was a dream state, a world within a world where none truly held absolute power, but she had learned long ago how to control the energies of this place, to harness them as she would the real world this place emulated.  Raising her head Aliyana felt her breathing grow a bit heavier as she kept her eyes closed, shuddering lightly as she felt the taxing quality of the energy she’d just summoned taking its toll. She would not suffer unduly for this, but she would require at least some time to rest.  Dream it may be, but the price to be paid was the same as within the waking world, no matter how the power differentiated between the two.

Tyler was frozen, held immobile by the force of her attack, though she could see that this would not be so for long.  Even now she could see that he was fighting against it, his body trembling as he sought to reach her again.  She was powerful, of that there was no doubt, the blood of Shapers was hers by right of birth, but it was his also.  No matter that he had been born to human parents, this man was to be the one who would bring balance to this world once more, to usher in a new world where anything might happen.  Aliyana felt another shudder pass through her body as she thought of the trials this man must face, wondering just how he and his friends would weather the storms that were to come.  For they would do so, and the Creator help them if they failed.

“You will be powerful my First, but you must awaken.  You must take your place within the balance, or this realm will be lost.”  The wild look in Tyler’s eyes suggested to her that he was not listening, that he simply wanted to rip and tear her to pieces, to feel her flesh and bones give under his hands.  She knew that somewhere within that maddened form was the young man she had awaited for so long, the one who had been prophesied over for eons before his birth.  Aliyana wondered if he would ever come to realize his importance to her people, or if he would choose to walk away from his destiny, to leave the world to ruin.

The world would go on, she knew this, though it might never recover unless the Champion were allowed to claim his mantle.  If he were to walk away, the entire realm might well fall to the Dark, never to return.  That could not happen.

She knew very well what it was like to love and lose, the war between her people had seen much loss, much that had once been so beautiful torn asunder.  Thus she could easily understand his pain, the grief and sense of despair that had gripped this young man and those that stood with him.  There was much more to come.

*                      *                      *

 

1 year later…

 

 

 

The DarkFall had come.  Aliyana had known even as the blade of her student had entered her body that it had begun.  This world would suffer once more for her weakness, as it had done before.  This time however was much worse.  Sivis had escaped before the Chosen were ready to confront him, gathering his power and even managing to subvert four of her warriors for a time.  Never before had this happened, that her Chosen had become so divided, enemies before they were allowed to realize their true power.  Perhaps that too was her fault.

She had as a necessity spread the energies of the Chosen far and wide, so that she might not repeat her past mistakes.  There had been Chosen selected after her worst mistake long ago, though never had they been as powerful as the second gathering she’d assembled, requiring her aid to vanquish Sivis once again.  To this date there had been five different incarnations of the Chosen, souls she had deemed pure enough to harness the diminished power she had bequeathed to them for a short time.  Each time she had come to retrieve the power however, she had been forced to do battle with her own warriors, who would not relinquish the power so easily.

Power was to a human mind a terrible burden, a thing that was so badly desired yet could turn even the most caring individual into a monster.  Only a few among her past Chosen had willingly relinquished what she had given them, spared her wrath as their fellows had fought against her with every last ounce of energy within their bodies.  Those who had resisted had been left broken and beaten upon distant fields, unable to fend for themselves any longer.  She had been their savior, and she had been their end.

“Would you have done that to us?” Tyler asked.  He’d been made privy to many of her secrets, of how Sivis had escaped her clutches, how she had gathered to her side Chosen throughout the many years, and he had remained silent until now.  There was nothing to hide from this man any longer, no reason to not tell him the truth of who she’d been, who she was, and why she could not pass on to the other world just yet.  She had a duty to this man, a responsibility that still rested upon her ghostly shoulders.

“Only as a last resort,” Aliyana replied, her voice hollow as she stood upon the water-darkened sands of her home. She could not feel the winds that blew by them, though they still affected her transparent form.  Her time upon this world as a living being had ended, though still she remained.  She could pass on towards the clearing at the end of path just yet, Tyler and the Chosen still needed her, or rather, Tyler did.  Powerful he was, wise he would be, but the man was still a boy yet.  He needed her so much, yet he would never admit to such a thing.

“I see.  And do you believe you would be successful?”  Aliyana closed her eyes as she turned away, not wanting to discuss this right now.  She knew the answer deep within her heart, but she did not want to admit as much to the Champion.  He no doubt guessed at least what she might say, for she was as bound to tell the truth as he was, though she was not nearly as adept at the subterfuge he was.  He wasn’t a liar in any regard, but he knew how to omit the truth when it suited him, a trait that came from the darker side of his heritage.

“I do not know.”  That was enough of an answer for Tyler as he nodded, realizing in that moment that the Lady knew she would not have been victorious.  He knew in his heart that he and his friends had grown powerful within the past year, but there was much still to learn.

“Is this the way the whole world looks now?” Tyler asked, his gaze taking in the decimated remains of the port city of Astoria.  The strange, rubbery-looking tentacles that he’d fought so hard against upon his return to the peninsula had somehow spread, growing in number and even size as they had attacked the city, climbing the steep hill and working their way further as he could see the swaths of devastation left behind.  It was too much to believe that they’d continued forward, enveloping other stretches of land and perhaps even entire cities as quickly as they’d done to this one.

“The DarkFall has indeed come Champion,” Aliyana replied, her toes wriggling within the wet sands of the sandbar they stood upon, “This time it has stretched far beyond the imagination of its creator.”

“Answer my question please.”

Aliyana grinned slightly as she heard the calm forcefulness within his tone.  He was indeed growing up, becoming more accustomed to his place within the world.

“Yes, the world has fallen.”

Tyler lowered his chin slightly, his dark eyes taking on a hint of sorrow as the silvery mists that swirled within them seemed to leak from the corners.  Aliyana wanted to embrace him then, to tell him that it was his destiny to set things aright, but she could not.  He would not accept her even now, after all they’d been through, but he had thankfully accepted his place among the Chosen, becoming their leader in both body and spirit, if only to keep his friends safe.  He was the one that she and her kind had been expecting for so long, the one soul who was neither born of the Light nor the Dark, but of something in between.  He was the son of Chaos, the Champion of Order, a being infused with both Light and Dark, the only one who could hope to withstand the unfettered power of each.  He was the Champion, the one to whom the energies of this realm would bow to eventually.  And he was his world’s best hope of reclaiming its lost glory.

*                      *                      *

 

Four Hundred years later…

 

 

 

Much had changed, as it always did.  He was still here, though many were gone.  He had remained, to walk the long, hard road of immortality that had been set out for him so long ago.  His birth had been foretold for longer than the race of mankind had been upon the world, longer even than his people could remember.  He’d not asked for this, he’d never wanted to be anything other than what he had appeared to be, a normal human being with normal problems.  But that hadn’t happened.

Nations had fallen, the darkness swallowing them within its enveloping folds as those who had fought against it had withered and retreated, seeking haven where only death remained.  He’d fought against the darkness, he’d wielded the power of the Light, the fury of the Dark, and he had failed.  The power of his heart, the strength of his arm, none of it had been enough to save those he’d loved.

It is not your fault, this was fated to happen.

He didn’t respond to the voice, he didn’t want to any longer.  The voice had brought only pain and anguish to those he loved for so long.  He was done with the voice, done with the woman it belonged to.  He was done with the world.

It could get by without him.

Chosen’s Return

 

Chosen’s Return

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

 

1318 AD

Echoes Pass

 

 

They were children, though by the standards of their race they were grown adults.  Three of them were just barely out of their adolescent years, while one of them was getting on well towards middle age.  Yet they were hers, the ones she had deigned to come to with the gifts that were hers to give.  Those who had received them in the past had called the gifts a curse, a cruel chain by which they were attached to her will.  She’d weathered the vile and disgusting names she’d been called, she had even managed to forgive the first among her Chosen that had leveled such accusations from her, but not the second.

That time she had left her Chosen broken, bleeding and without hope of survival, the price paid for defying her.  They had of course already served their purpose, regaining for her the precious balance of this realm, thus they had no longer been needed.  Aliyana knew that she had not been so callous in the many millennia that had come before, but this was a new age, a new time, and her patience was not without limit.  Those who defied her were soon to learn that she was what legends had made her to be, the dreaded White Lady, the Vengeful Spirit and many other monikers she did not desire.

For her they were all the same, titles that meant nothing.  The syllables and breath wasted upon them were so much wind expelled uselessly from the lips of those who spoke them.  Thankfully those she had selected to serve her purposes this time did not question needlessly, though they obviously did not trust her fully.  This was to be expected, she had found that humans did not trust the very nose upon their faces if it did not convey what they desired.  They doubted their own senses, their own perceptions and even worse, they had good reason.  Sivis had escaped again, and the world was once again in peril.  Aliyana knew that her former lover would be recaptured once more, but the act of calling forth the Chosen yet again to deal with him would only the precursor to this.

She was stronger now, wiser and much older than she had been.  Outwardly Aliyana still looked the same, her youthful appearance serving to rattle and even unsettle her Chosen as they had marveled at being in such awe of a girl who barely looked old enough to marry or bear children.  This was the curse, or blessing, of her kind.  Time did not bear down as heavily upon her people, or hadn’t she thought.  Her kind were all but extinct within the world now, there were only a few that she knew of that had gone into hiding, preferring to live within the world rather than be its tenders any longer.

Aliyana could only imagine the chaos that would result from their absence, but thus far the humans had done fairly well.  They did not ask before taking however, often raping the land so as to gain what they desired.  Their kind knew little of balance, at least in the majority, and those that did were still barbarous, savages that still took without regard under the auspices that they were more in tune with the land than others.  It was a poor joke to her eyes, her ears and her heart, one that she wished to remedy with the terrifying wrath that she was so capable of, but she had thus far stayed her hand.

Those she had selected were the purest of heart she could find among the race, which was not saying much, though it would have to do.  They had been selected from all corners of the world, but they had come to her call, to this place, where she knew her former love would strike next.  They had come to the call of the Lady in the Mists, a name she had not shied from in the past, and would no doubt favor above all.  She knew each of them more than they realized, but she had revealed nothing of this to them, saying only that they must come, that they must heed her words and make all haste to the place they felt pulled.

The urging she had placed within each of them would not abate until they reached the dry, arid climate she now stood upon, its few bodies of water lapping gently against their sandy banks.  It was a desolate place, with only a few lush areas of forest to break apart the monotony of the surrounding mountains and rolling plains.  There were few animals here, mostly scaled, large-eyed reptiles that lay in the sun most of the day and then went foraging for their sustenance in their more active moments.  Aliyana had remained here for nearly twenty cycles of the sun and moon thus far, and she could easily say that this place was not among her favored spots.

She missed the rolling tides, the smell of brine and the open ocean, but it was not yet time to go home.  For many years now she had traveled far from the shores of her domain, the Sacred Glen where her heart and the memories of her childhood lay, waiting for her to return.  If she closed her eyes Aliyana could still hear the cries of seabirds and the gentle rolling of the mighty waves as they dwindled down to the thinnest ripples of water that darkened the gray sands.  There was a longing for home within her heart that would not abate until she once more stood upon the soft ground of the coast, but before that could happen, she would see her lover imprisoned once more.

Sivis had escaped not long ago, wisping his way from the red pearl she still wore around her neck once again to wreak his havoc upon the world.  So long she had labored to make his prison more secure, more inescapable, but always he seemed to find a way out, a way to hammer through her defenses.  It had taken her and many elders to construct the prison, but he had still found a way out.  In their haste they had been unable to fully inure the unseen walls of his cage so that he would be rendered completely helpless.  In hindsight Aliyana had already figured it might have been better just to kill Sivis, but the decrees of the elders had been firm.  The dark lord was to suffer as much as possible, death would be far too quick.  For the elders, death for Sivis would have been a release, and he had been meant to suffer.

Brushing these thoughts away Aliyana focused instead upon the names of those she had called, and just where they would be coming from.  She knew that each one of them would hail from lands far from this one, continents, as she’d heard them called, that had broken apart from the whole many millennia ago.  She had felt the bedrock of the world shift during this time, though she had understood far better what had caused it.  Sivis had been loose during this time, and once more the Dark had been allowed into the world, though so depleted had his power been that the dark lord had not been able to throw the gates into the shadowed realms as wide as he’d like.

Instead of a deluge of evil the bastard had loosed only a handful of the most powerful of daemons into this world, thereby insuring that the Dark would not leave this realm with ease.  There had been no rallying cry to war this time, though Aliyana had recaptured Sivis swiftly after he’d spent his energies releasing the daemons, with the help of the last band of Chosen of course.  Unfortunately they had not been able to enjoy the fruits of their labors, breathing their last upon their final resting place shortly after the battle.  No one challenged her, not even her Chosen.

*                      *                      *

 

Moriggan had commandeered a single-person vessel and made her way onward, braving the dangers of the open ocean with little more than a week’s worth of supplies and a few weapons that she felt she might need if she survived her trip across the waters.  She’d known more than one person who’d made such an arduous journey, though few from the many that had gone had ever returned.  Those who had had spoken of a new world, a place where the troubles and feuds of the land they’d been raised upon did not exist.  There were dangers to be sure, new and more terrifying trials to endure, but life overall was so much better, so much more, free.

She hadn’t wanted to go, Moriggan had been set to be wed to a fine man only a few days before, but this call could not be denied. Somewhere in the back of her mind she knew it should have been, that she should have railed against the mysterious woman that had come to her, but she could not.  There was a purpose behind what she was doing, even if she didn’t truly know what it was.  That she would set sail on little more than a whim and a word from a woman she didn’t know was bad enough, but to think that she had accepted whatever strange gift the woman had given her without a peep of protest was even worse.  The father within her small village would no doubt condemn her for accepting the touch of the pale white woman; perhaps even insist that Moriggan be cleansed of her sins by being burned at the stake.  It had happened more than once in her peaceful little village.

Moriggan knew how her people thought, even if it wasn’t the same way she thought.  They were God-fearing folk that had left the old gods behind, even the trickster Maab, whose name was still uttered when ill luck befell one of them.  The one God was swiftly erasing the old legends, taking the place of superstitions that lain in place for so very long.  Some among her country fought such change, clinging stubbornly to the old ways and teachings, while many more came to the new and risen Christ gladly, as though needing a savior.

She had paid mere lip service to the one God, making others believe that she was indeed a woman of the one and only God.  In truth though her heart was not convinced.  Moriggan didn’t cling to the old ways like some other silly fools, she believed in Maab and world of fairies only enough to acknowledge that at one point and time perhaps such things had existed, but no farther.  This was not the same world that the elders and their elders had once known; it had changed a great deal and would continue to change so long as new ideas and new ways of living were invented.

Her wants were simple.  She had wanted to marry into the clan Mcullough, changing her name from McGregor, have children, perhaps four or five, and live out her life in peace.  The man she was to wed was a good man, a peaceful and loving soul, someone she could grow old with as she desired.  But of course, here she was, and that meant that such a life had not been meant to be.

Leaning her head back Moriggan allowed the brisk sea air to blow through the mass of braids she’d woven into her hair, closing her eyes against the possibilities that lay before her.  She didn’t know exactly where she was going, nor did she particularly care. All that mattered was that eventually she would desire her freedom from the Lady’s will, and when that time came, she meant to have it.  The journey ahead would be long enough, but a life without prospects of peace and freedom, that was far longer than she cared to think of.

*                      *                      *

 

Power had been granted to each of her Chosen along with a purpose that Aliyana had made sure overrode every other desire they possessed.  They would retain the knowledge of their lives before the compulsion to leave such worlds behind drove them forward, but they would come without question.  She knew that once they reached this place they would have a great many questions, though she also knew that such a time would have to wait.  Sivis was nearly here, she could feel his dark presence many miles away from this site, this place of power where she had staved him away many times before.  The last two times she had defended Echoes Pass had been harrowing battles from which she had almost not walked away, but Sivis had lost this font of power regardless.

Though buried deep beneath the ground the wellspring of energies that flowed for miles in either direction called to her, filling Aliyana with the power that was so very tempting, beckoning to her in a way that felt both right and wrong at the same time.  Power was not its own right, as she had been taught so long ago, but it was always there, always ready to be used.  Such a thing was hard to ignore, and even harder to use judiciously, but she had managed.  Sivis had laughed at her before, calling her a hypocrite, a weakling and many other, far more colorful names that she had not wished to hear.  He did not realize the importance of the balance of this realm, or if he did, the dark bastard did not care.  Aliyana had often hoped that it was the former, but could only surmise that it was the latter.

A shiver of power ran through her limbs as she stiffened, enjoying the pleasant sensation for the moment.  She knew what Echoes Pass was, though the extent of its true power had never really been given to any among her kind.  It was a safeguard, just as so many other relics and sites created by her people remained.  When triggered, by a means that only she and Sivis still knew, it would activate other safeguards the world over, insuring that neither of the primal forces, either Light or Dark, would be able to claim complete and total dominance over this realm.  Earth would remain independent of the primal realms, its own world in its own right.  She knew very well that the forces of Light and Dark had attempted to subvert this rule many times, creating new worlds and even planes of existence in the process, but never had she allowed them to enter this one unless she so wished it.

They could influence, they could whisper and cajole the humans, but never could they fully enter the realm itself.  Whether it had been a rule implemented by the Creator or by her kind was unknown, but it was one that could not be broken save for one way, by invitation.  Sivis had used this method more than once, though each time had weakened him, and in such a state he could not control even the least among the demonic hordes that had threatened to spill forth into this realm.  He would no doubt be somewhat lessened by the time he arrived, but he would still be powerful enough to put up a good fight.

She had learned that each time he escaped, Sivis was weakened to such a degree that even opening a rift for the creatures of the Dark took a monumental effort.  This time he had done no such thing, she would have felt the parting of the veils that separated the realms.  Instead he was conserving his strength, no doubt to confront her with as much power as he possibly could.  The result would still be the same, he would be imprisoned again, this time as with last time with the aid of the Chosen she had gathered.  Aliyana could feel each one of them drawing closer, their heartbeats pulsing madly as they sought the arid plains she now stood upon.

None of them knew everything about why they were coming, though each one of them knew that the need was dire.  They knew that what she had summoned them for was vastly important, enough so that dropping their lives on a moment’s notice had been necessary.  Humans were quite easy to manipulate she’d found, though the slight pangs of guilt she’d felt each time had torn at her enough to trouble the Shaper.  She had a conscience, though in the face of worldwide annihilation, war and the unending strife that Sivis would bring if left unchecked, her conscience was of no concern.

*                      *                      *

 

It took each one of them nearly a month to reach the area where Aliyana had summoned her Chosen, though every last one of them managed to make the arduous trip.  From the highlands of Scotland came their leader, the dark-haired woman known as Moriggan McGregor, the Champion and therefore strongest of the Chosen.  Hers had been perhaps the most stern countenance, she had been torn from the arms of her lover and soon to be husband on a whim, and thus her life had been stolen from her in a way.  Aliyana did not care, this woman was the solid leader that was needed, the power behind and in front of the group of Chosen that was needed.

Hela, the diminutive woman from the far eastern land of Mongolia, was short of stature but carried an aura of command about her that could not be denied.  As Herald of the Chosen she saw everything, her reddish eyes taking the measure of each warrior that she had learned upon her trip would be her newest companions.  She was a stern woman, her closely bound black hair always pulled back into a severe bun and her dazzling golden robes always kept neat, but she also possessed a heart far more warm than her cold stare would admit to.  Of them all, the Herald was perhaps the only one that Aliyana did not fully understand, or trust.

From the frozen north came the blond giant known as Erobos, a carefree and good-natured soul as well a deadly and formidable warrior.  Looking into his heart Aliyana had seen the warrior’s desire for peace, though she had also seen a sense of honor that had enabled her to make the correct decision upon which title to bestow him.  As the Balance of the Chosen he would not be allowed to fight, though neither would he be allowed to remain aloof from what was to come.  It was a decided insult to his proud heritage, but like the others, Erobos had selected to follow her path of his own free will.  To cage so fierce a warrior seemed like a crime against the very nature she strove to protect, but such was the sacrifice that had needed to be made.

The broad-shouldered and extremely lanky Aulick ir Vassen was a native of the barbaric land known as Germania, a conquered place that had felt the touch of war more than a few times in its long, bloody history.  The man had no doubt grown tired of the wars in his long and storied career of violence, but he had been ready and possessed the heart for dozens more.  At nearly forty winters of age he was among the eldest of her Chosen, but by no means the weakest.  A shaman of sorts among his tribe, Aulick had been the perfect choice to grant the mantle of the Elemental, though he had already abused the power given to him more than once for his own self-preservation, an act that Aliyana should have reprimanded him for, but had not.  She had not thought it prudent considering the outcome of the battle that was to occur within the vicinity of Echoes Pass.  The Lady of the Mists knew what was to come, though she would not dare to share this with her Chosen.  Like all things, this too must come to pass.

One of the most feared of the Chosen, the Reaper, came in the form of the dark-skinned male known as Cheraa, a native of the dark continent of Africa and a hunter of some renown.  Within his tribe Cheraa had been revered as the deadliest among them and at times been called the “master of death” for his brutal and often effective methods of slaying both prey and enemies from rival tribes.  Among his people Cherra knew more ways to kill a fellow human than most, and despite the darkness this brought to his heart Aliyana had selected him, bringing him to her side with only a hint of unease as he had answered the call readily, thinking that the gods had finally recognized him as their equal.  The man was a bit vain, but then so were most humans who excelled above their fellows.

Another dark-skinned human would serve as the enforcer, though unlike Cherra he was much larger and more severe-looking, as though his features and body had been chiseled from solid slabs of stone.  The large, brutish man known as Bala lived among the wild and lush jungles of the southern continent that lay just south of the land mass that Aliyana had summoned her Chosen to.  Fierce in both demeanor and heart, Bala would serve perfectly as the Enforcer, the one among the Chosen who was strictly about power and the application of force, be it passive or aggressive.  Among them all he was the most simplistic, the strongest and the most durable.  But he was also one of the most volatile, a trait she would have to watch before the battle to come.

The next two, opposites even though the power that had been granted to them was similar, were the Tempest and the Winddancer, masters of the unnatural speed that existed as an anomaly born of both time and matter.  It was a unique quality that each human harbored, the ability to accelerate their movements to such a degree that the normal vision of any among their kind would perceive only a blur.  Aella, the dusky-skinned, dark-haired woman from the Greek islands, was perhaps the most impetuous of the two, doubtful where her counterpart, the woman Kerberos, was accepting.  The almond-eyed woman from the isles of Japan did not question what she saw as fate, or ka in her own words.

The Tempest, Kerberos, was far more ferocious than the Aella, the Winddancer.  Aliyana knew the difference in their temperaments was due now to more than just their original mindsets, the powers that had been granted to them having much to do with how each woman comported herself now.  Arrogance tainted Kerberos’s attitude far more than it did Aella’s, who responded to the summons with more caution and far more doubt.  Kerberos had accepted Aliyana’s word without reluctance or hesitation, making her way from her peaceful village, a place she had detested, towards the far off continent where her destiny awaited.

Aella had decided to come after only a day of hesitancy, leaving behind her gleaming cityscape and the husband and children she supported.  Within the empire that seemed poised to crumble at any moment, it was a matter of pride that her husband, an ailing senator, did not appear weak, thus Aella had for so long supported him, making sure that he did not show such frailty to those who mattered.  Her children had scorned her both for bowing to their father in such a manner as well as taking up the practice of what was considered a man’s job, that of a soldier.

For many years Aella had considered herself something of a stranger to her own family, as though she had married, given birth and raised her children as someone else.  Who she was within was far different than the meek façade she showed to the world.  Within her heart she was a warrior, a being who did not back down, did not show pity and did not allow those around her to play upon her sensibilities such as her husband and children had.  Aliyana reflected that it had not taken much to get Aella to leave her old life behind, though she had not told the woman that this would be the case.

The last of the Chosen to be called was one of the most powerful and in fact one of those who was most directly tied to Echoes Pass.  Anya, daughter of Bromin, had answered the call to become a Chosen almost immediately, though with a piety that had somehow touched Aliyana in a way she had not expected.

Born a baker’s daughter, Anya was a golden-haired beauty, lithe and agile and quite strong from helping her family with the daily chores day in and day out.  Her hand had been promised in marriage to a fine young man, but deep within her heart Aliyana had found that Anya yearned for something more, a life that did not include her family, nor the bakery, nor anything that had to do with the world she knew.  Anya had wanted what she had never had, a life away from home.  Though it had pained her to admit this to the Lady of the Mists, the blonde beauty had done so, tears rolling down her cheeks as all thoughts of her sisters, brothers and parents had flown away on wings of only the barest regret.

The guilt she had felt over this had been only partially soothed by the promise of something far more satisfying that Aliyana had spoken to her.  It was not a lie, not from what she saw lingering within Anya’s heart. She could offer the young woman what she desired, if only to make the girl realize that it would end almost as soon as it began.

They were coming, her Chosen were making their way to where she was, and they would arrive only shortly before Sivis, who had been forced to abandon the dark pathways of the Shadow Road.  In his state he was powerful enough to stave away the creatures that now roamed the realm of earth, but along the Shadow Road, the predators that would seek his flesh would number far too many and far too powerful for him to contest in his weakened state.  Thus he had been forced to travel overland, much as a human would. The irony of this was not lost upon Aliyana, and even made her smile.

*                      *                      *

 

Though none of the Chosen knew this, it was the power of Echoes Pass that called to them more than Aliyana at this point.  As soon as each one of them touched upon the unknown soil of the northern continent they could feel the tug all that much more, focusing their gazes in the direction that seemed implanted within their minds.  Anya, who had made her way from her native country both secretly and with as much haste as possible, could feel the tug more acutely than any, in fact it was all she could think of any longer.

She had come across the waters as a passenger, paying for her fare with the few remaining coins she’d possessed.  The baker’s daughter had felt guilty for such deception against her family, but this had to be done.  Nothing else mattered at the moment, only reaching the source of the power that was calling to her so insistently mattered.  For many days now Anya had dreamt of the place she was to reach, the woman she was meant to meet finally in person.  Aside from the stout rod she carried in one hand and the severely depleted pack slung over one shoulder Anya had only the clothes she wore and the heavily worn sandals on her feet.

She’d done so much walking as of late that her feet had blistered over and over again, though she had managed to keep the damage from spreading by dint of the power that came when she used her voice.  Anya had learned much of her new talents upon the voyage across the vast, rolling waves that separated one land from another, learning to control the power as she’d come along, using it to mend her wounds, to ease her spirit and at times to gladden her heart when her darkest dreams threatened to pull her down into their chill embrace.  As she had found her voice could lift hearts, cause the worst of nightmares and even bludgeon others as though she had swung a mallet into their bodies.

Fear had been a natural effect of such power to begin with, especially when she had first used it against her rather annoying older sister.  The damage done to the woman had been minor, but the split lip and torn garments had been more embarrassing than harmful.  No one had denied that Anya was capable of bruising her older sibling, but the manner in which she had done so had never left her mind, or her sister’s.

*                      *                      *

 

Aliyana could feel when the Chosen united, smiling as they came together finally.  There would be difficulties among them, that was to be expected, but this had happened with the first two groups of Chosen as well.  Humans had so many issues with one another it was amazing that the species had survived so long.  From the color of their skin to the tenets of their religion to even the way they spoke, the race of mankind was constantly at odds with itself.  She knew that Shapers had been little better, but at least they had come to a peaceful resolution more often than not since each among them had known that a true fight among Shapers could divide land masses and cause entire regions to become nearly uninhabitable should the fight grow out of control.  Humans at least were bound by their limitations to affect only themselves and small areas around them.

*                      *                      *

 

What Aliyana didn’t know was that the Chosen nearly managed to kill one another as the skies lit with thunder and fiery bolts of lightning as the group met.  Cheraa, never a stable individual in his past, had instigated the fight almost immediately as he’d seen the pale skins that had seemed to wait for him upon a low rise within the deep valley he’d seen as the best way around mountains that seemed to stab at the sky with their needle-like points.  The fierce warrior had not shied away from the coming fight that was already playing in his mind, but neither had he come at the male and female directly either.  He’d known better, he was a hunter after all.  One did not approach their prey with arms waving and mouth wide open to announce their presence.

The two in question, Anya and Aulik, had taken to each other readily enough, though Anya had kept her distance from the man just the same.  Each of them had come to the rise as though it were some pre-destined spot and were determined to wait, the feeling that others were to come somehow burning deep within their minds.  This was an odd sensation, but neither of them saw fit to deny it as they’d began to talk, their differing accents not seeming to matter as they could somehow understand one another perfectly.  The two of them might not even have gotten a warning that Cheraa was about to attack unless Moriggan had not appeared within the hunter’s path suddenly and quite unexpectedly.  Unbeknownst to any there the Scottish woman had arrived before even the first of them, which had been Anya.  She had watched the blonde woman carefully, not willing to say hello until the feeling that others were to come had passed.

Seeing as how that hadn’t happened soon enough Moriggan had been about to walk forward when Cheraa had come upon her, his dark skin helping him to blend in with the shadows of the woods around them.  The hunter had shouted a quick war cry before he’d attacked, his long, deadly bladed spear stabbing hard for her heart.  Moriggan had reacted instinctively, drawing deeply upon the destructive power within her veins as she felt the energy of the surrounding world fill her, threatening to burst her heart from her chest just before she had released it.  Cheraa had gone flying backward with a startled shout as Moriggan had gone to her knees, the exertion taking its toll as she gasped for breath.

Aulik had then glared at Anya, crying out “Deceiving witch!” before reaching for the heavy club that was attached to his waist by a leather thong.  The man had tried to strike her, but Anya had been quicker, her fear lending speed to both her voice and the reaction that came unbidden as a result of her terror.  She was no fighter despite the rod she carried, nor was she as enamored of combat as the others.  Anya had always been a baker’s daughter, peaceful and reserved save for when she scrapped with her siblings.  In those times she was still gentle unless her older sister had pushed her too far, but she was never as crazed as the man who had attempted to strike her was at that moment.

Without regard or even knowledge of what would happen Anya shouted “NO!” at the man as loud as she could, her voice amplified in that moment as Aulik went tumbling away, his club flying from his open hand as he landed hard several feet down slope from her.  Anya had stared, marveling at how such a thing could be, when four more characters had suddenly sprang from the surrounding woods, each of them wielding a weapon that looked much more substantial than her own.

Confusion had gripped each of them at first as they had wondered what to think of each other, but as Aulik had risen with a defiant roar of anger the skies had seemed erupt, thunder and lightning tearing at the fabric of the heavens as though Armageddon was upon them.  Anya had winced as a single bolt of lightning had pierced the ground not far away, striking the ground with a force that she knew instinctively would be her end if it connected.  Aulik had charged then, his club regained and the madness in his eyes, which were a clear and frightening silver at this point, promising an end that Anya knew would not be pleasant.

Before he could reach her however Aulik was stopped by a mountain of a man, the dark skin of the stranger seeming to stand out against the colorful surroundings as he confronted the enraged warrior.  The heavy stone club that the dark-skinned man held in his massive hands seemed far too large for any human to handle, but as Anya had watched he had fended Aulik away easily, using the stone club easily as the fierce warrior had been forced to keep his distance.

Lightning had still scored the sky as the others had come forward, though they had not seen fit to attack, especially not after the words of one of the women, a dark-haired and very stern-looking female, had spoken.  Anya had been frightened to death, thinking that among them all she was the weakest, most ill-prepared for this moment.  Yet as the woman had spoken she and the others had suddenly come to attention, listening intently, as though the words were of the greatest import.

“Chosen, halt!” the woman had shouted, resting her hands upon the hilt of a curved weapon that was sheathed at her left hip.  Her imperious manner had captured each one of them save for a dark-haired woman that had come walking slowly out of the brush, glaring back at the form of another dark-skinned man that had followed her out of the brush, looking just as angered as she was.  Anya had wondered what had transpired between the two, though that had ceased to matter as the woman had gone to stand with the first female, towering over her by at least a head as the first speaker had nodded in acceptance, as though she knew the woman.

“I’d imagine ye’re all here fer the same reason what I am.  So say it then if it be so.”  Her voice had carried only slightly less command than the first woman, but Anya had detected a great deal more force in the woman’s words, as though she were, above all of them, the one to be paid attention to.  That she and the others could understand the woman was strange enough, but to think that they knew one another in some way was odder still.  Yet something about the dark-haired woman, no matter that she was a stranger, struck Anya as familiar, though she didn’t know how.

“I am Bala.” the mountain of a man said, his voice deep and serious.  “I come to the Lady’s call as you have.”

The snort they all heard came from the man that had followed the dark-haired woman from the surrounding trees, “I too have come by request from this Lady.  I am Cheraa, master of death as I am called.”  There was arrogance in the man’s tone as well as his stance as he planted the butt of his spear into the ground, his eyes roaming around the loosely assembled group as though daring anyone to speak against him.

“My name is Aulik.” the man who’d been about to attack her said.  His eyes had not left Anya, though from the abatement of the storm, she could only imagine that he had calmed somewhat.  How she knew it had been him that had caused such a thing was a revelation that didn’t seem to matter at the moment.

“I am Erobos,” came a voice from off in the trees, followed by a handsome and very large man, almost as large as Bala, as he emerged from cover.  Anya had seen the man’s type before, though the coming of such violent folk often denoted trouble.  Erobos was a Viking, one of those who pillaged and overran small communities when they could not forage for themselves.  Instantly she knew that she did not like this man.

“My name is Aella,” said one of the women, her weapons shifting slightly as she moved her body just a bit, no doubt thinking to remain alert just in case anything untoward happened.  Anya couldn’t blame her, this entire mess seemed to be getting more tense by the moment.  At least however she would know the names of her fellow Chosen before they tore one another apart, if it came to that.

“I am Kerberos,” said another of the smaller women, holding onto a pole whose top featured a curved and very sharp-looking blade.  She too seemed rather stern, though in her almond-shaped eyes Anya could detect just a hint of something other than concern or even caution, something akin to respect.

“I am Hela,” the woman next to the dark-haired, white-skinned female said, bowing her head as the dark-haired woman did the same.

“Well, I’d guess that leaves jus’ the two of us then.” the woman said as she looked to Anya, whose eyes were wide with both wonder and fear.  The grin the woman gave her as she spoke was somehow both terrifying and reassuring all at once, though Anya could not reply for several moments.

“I, I,” she began, licking her lips nervously as she looked around.  All eyes were on her, some of them even seeming a bit hostile, as she stammered.  Anya had never been at a loss for words like this, nor had she ever been in a situation like this one.  It was like being a rodent in a field with several very hungry and curious hawks watching her, waiting to see who would be the first to pounce.

“Out with it girl, lest we simply call ye “lass”.” the woman quipped.  That decided Anya then and there, especially when she noticed Aulik grinning.  She would not be patronized, nor would she be spoken down to as though she were child. With a firm roll of her shoulders she fixed her gaze upon the dark-haired woman, not twitching so much as an eyelash as she spoke.

“I am Anya, daughter of Bromin and I too have heeded the Lady’s call.”  The iron in her voice felt as though it would crack and fail at any moment, but for that heartbeat at least Anya felt good, she felt the power that the Lady had bestowed upon her.  And she felt as though she were just as strong as anyone there.

The woman smiled in response.  “Well enough, I am Moriggan McGregor and according to the Lady, it appears as though I am to lead ye to where she’s called us to be.”  There were a few murmurs to this, though none dared dispute it.  Anya had figured that Aulik or perhaps Erobos would do so, she knew the pride of the Vikings very well, but no one did.  Instead each warrior turned their full attention to Moriggan, nodding their heads in respect as they did.  Anya did the same, though for some reason she could not help but think that the woman had not yet earned even this slight fealty.  She hadn’t earned it at all.

*                      *                      *

 

Many days later the Chosen met with the Lady for final and perhaps most important time.  Aliyana had not left the arid land where she had waited for them, utilizing the vast power at her disposal to keep herself comfortable, fed and entertained while she had awaited those she had gathered to her side.  Sivis was still several days away at best, only a few at the very worst, and she had much to teach her Chosen before the time came for them to fight.

Resistance to her ways was expected and without surprise the Chosen offered her more questions and far more difficulties once they arrived.  These were dealt with in short order as the Lady was forced to dominate her Chosen once more, insuring that they would do as directed once the dark lord arrived.  There was no time for dickering, no time for argument and none at all for defiance.  She would have their loyalty or they would perish far quicker than she had hoped.

That they would perish was not in question, though she did not tell them this.  In the several days before Sivis arrived Aliyana managed to convey the importance of Echoes Pass, just why it could not be subverted, and what it would mean if such a thing were to happen.  There were still more questions, mostly from the Songbird and Herald, but none that could not be answered with a dodge or in full truth.  Aliyana did not outwardly lie to her Chosen, but she did not tell them everything.  That would have been too much, even for them.

As the days passed she feared for her Chosen even as she realized that they would soon perish, however nobly.  It was wrong to throw away life, she knew this with absolute certainty, but it was equally as wrong to allow the realm to fall for the sake of only a few.  She could not accept such a loss and would not.  Her Chosen would fall as warriors, rather than as prey to the dark things that would be unleashed if Sivis were to have his way.  The days passed, and she waited, and she feared.

*                      *                      *

 

And then the day came.  She could feel Sivis’s roiling cloud of darkness, could sense his vile presence, but he did not appear.  Instead the sands rose, the exiles who were trapped within the dwindling power of this place standing to defend Echoes Pass as they had been charged.  If it had been Sivis who had come forth not even the fallen angels would have stood a chance, but Sivis did not show himself.  Instead he sent his foot soldiers, creatures born of darkness and fostered into life by the dark lord himself.  He sent the legions of humans that he had corrupted, the hellish feline creatures known as hellcats, the duskwalkers, the wagging jaws and the worst of the bunch, the Darklings.

And they were not enough.

The Chosen and the exiles plowed through them easily, reducing the fearsome horde to little more than straggling and wounded curs that howled as they retreated.  Aliyana did not fully understand until the day after the initial battle what had happened.  Sivis had somehow faked his presence within the desert, alerting her to the danger yet not the fact that he was nowhere near where she was.

The Chosen were of course not pleased, but upon her word they had gone forth into the world, seeking out her former lover and his minions a bit at a time, not stopping until finally, finally, Sivis had made his move towards Echoes Pass.  Many years had passed, decades in fact that had tried the patience and the loyalty of the Chosen again and again, cementing bonds between a few of them and creating at least a mutual respect among others.  Each one of them had been tested, tried and thrust into the fires of the continuing war that Aliyana had not expected.  Even the weakest among them had become strong, forging their bodies in the blaze of combat time and again until not even Anya, the most innocent of their number, had been able to remember just how weak she had once been, how fragile, how docile.  Each one of them had killed, taking life when it was deemed necessary and restoring balance to more than one area after another as they had made their trek across the face of the realm, not stopping until one day Aliyana had called them back, summoning them once more to the desert where she had expected them to make their final stand.  Sivis would strike soon she had said.

The day of this happening had been unknown, but Aliyana had still managed to trick him into believing the way was clear to take the wellspring of power.  By this time the Chosen had grown so far in power that not even Anya could be taken for granted any longer, her mastery of the Song that she had discovered within the very folds of Echoes Pass imbuing her with even more power, more energy than even Aliyana had expected.  She could only hope that the power that each of the Chosen had found would be enough, though after so many years left out of captivity, Sivis had undoubtedly grown far too powerful to be taken captive by the Chosen’s combined power, let alone one on one.  It was the diversion she would need however, not the actual victory, but as always Aliyana had left this minor detail out of her words to the Chosen.  They had no need to know that they were her sacrificial lambs.

The Chosen’s return to the desert lands heralded the thrumming of power that resounded from Echoes Pass as Sivis had attacked, bringing forth yet another legion of dark creatures that had sought to overcome the exiles that guarded this place as well as the assembled Chosen.  Aliyana had known the true reason the dark lord had not deigned to fight this battle alone, but she had not divulged this to her warriors, seeking to remain unseen and unheard until it was time to strike.  And strike she had.

*                      *                      *

 

Devil’s Playground-The Present

 

 

Moriggan remembered a little too well how her will and those of her fellow Chosen had been bound to both Sivis and the wellspring that was Echoes Pass.  The unreal level of pain that had been visited upon each of them had broken each of the Chosen one by one, until only she had remained.  And then she’d seen the truth.

As she sat upon the wooden rocker that she’d found inside Moriggan looked to the horizon, seeing nothing but sand and dry scrub where there had once been still lakes and lush forest, sparse as it had been.  This land had changed a great deal in the time since she and the other Chosen had been secretly kept away.  She could only wonder how much of it might be Aliyana’s fault.

The White Witch, as she had taken to calling her, had led them all to a certain doom just by acting like a godsdamned innocent of all things.  Had they seen past the illusions they might well have sided with Sivis there and then, thereby stopping the woman’s rampage across the face of this world.  Moriggan didn’t think this made her or the others fools, but she couldn’t help but feel responsible for the loss of order that Sivis had told them about.  The world had fallen into chaos he said, and for all Moriggan knew the dark lord had no reason to lie.  Dark he might be, but honesty was often the most hurtful of all weapons.

Aliyana had lied to them, telling each one of her precious Chosen, precious!, that their actions upon this battlefield would never be forgotten.  Dirty Maab if that hadn’t been just a bald-faced lie! The world had indeed forgotten about them, as Sivis had shown!  None of what they’d done was remembered by anyone, not even their descendants, of which they’d all learned they had at least a few of their bloodline.  Moriggan had been curious to know just what had become of her kin, but Sivis had convinced her that such things were better not to know.  She hadn’t even questioned him after this, not once.  If Sivis had said it didn’t matter, it must be true.  After all, truth was the hardest thing to accept, and right now the truth was the last thing she desired.  All she wanted was to go home.

The Writer’s Corner

The Writer’s Corner

Writer for Hire

We all have writing needs that need to be addressed from time to time, whether it’s a simple paragraph describing a business or an entire eBook detailing a particular fitness plan or business venture. The problem is that writing can be time-consuming, require a great deal of editing and revision, and can even be something you don’t particularly like doing.

That’s where The Writer’s Corner comes in.

As an experienced freelancer and novelist I’ve made a living thus far on my skill with the written word and have to date performed a large number of services writing academic papers, blogs, marketing proposals, sales copies, and various other pieces of writing that clients have come to me with.

My skills at writing have been put to the test repeatedly and I have met each and every one with the poise and professionalism of a seasoned writer.  Considering that writing is my passion I am guaranteed to do my absolute best to fulfill whatever need you might have and deliver a job that is both of free of error and capable of serving whatever purpose you have in mind.

The services I offer depend on the type of job you have to offer, meaning that I am open to almost anything that has to do with writing. All you have to do is get hold of me at wake7997@yahoo.com to discuss the particulars. After that, just give me a deadline and you’ll get your work in due time.

My rates are as listed:

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eBook: $50

All other jobs are at this time negotiable and can be discussed in private.

Why pick The Writer’s Corner?

Simple, I have no hidden surcharges, no overhead to speak of, and no other employees so you’ll get a flat charge without any hidden fees.

You also won’t be asked for any money down, so you will get the satisfaction of having to pay just once when the job is done.

The Writer’ s Corner

The Writer’s Corner

Writer for Hire

We all have writing needs that need to be addressed from time to time, whether it’s a simple paragraph describing a business or an entire eBook detailing a particular fitness plan or business venture. The problem is that writing can be time-consuming, require a great deal of editing and revision, and can even be something you don’t particularly like doing.

That’s where The Writer’s Corner comes in.

As an experienced freelancer and novelist I’ve made a living thus far on my skill with the written word and have to date performed a large number of services writing academic papers, blogs, marketing proposals, sales copies, and various other pieces of writing that clients have come to me with.

My skills at writing have been put to the test repeatedly and I have met each and every one with the poise and professionalism of a seasoned writer.  Considering that writing is my passion I am guaranteed to do my absolute best to fulfill whatever need you might have and deliver a job that is both of free of error and capable of serving whatever purpose you have in mind.

The services I offer depend on the type of job you have to offer, meaning that I am open to almost anything that has to do with writing. All you have to do is get hold of me at wake7997@yahoo.com to discuss the particulars. After that, just give me a deadline and you’ll get your work in due time.

My rates are as listed:

Single page (or less): $10

2 pages or more: $10/page

eBook: $50

All other jobs are at this time negotiable and can be discussed in private.

Why pick The Writer’s Corner?

Simple, I have no hidden surcharges, no overhead to speak of, and no other employees so you’ll get a flat charge without any hidden fees.

You also won’t be asked for any money down, so you will get the satisfaction of having to pay just once when the job is done.

Soul’s Passage (excerpt)

Chapter Seven: Fallen Soul

 

 

 

Yonaguni Islands, Japan

 

            So many thoughts passed through his mind that it was at times difficult to quiet his spirit, to focus only on what needed to be done, and why.  His masters had given him a great deal to think about, enough that the assassin felt the boundaries of his imagination taxed to the point of irritation.  On one hand he had been sent by his lords to the barbaric and often violent island of Japan to accomplish a definite goal, though on the other, he was being sent after a legend he cared nothing for.

            He didn’t know why his superiors wished him to retrieve the unknown sword, though he highly suspected it had to do with consolidating their power, and to further their dominion over China’s greatly contested borders.  Not since the time of his forefathers had the warring country ever been truly united, and he saw no indication that it would happen in his lifetime.  Standing still upon the floating composite of stout wooden logs that constituted a raft in this part of the world, Li Long scowled as he thought upon the mission he had been sent to complete. 

            It was beneath him, though it was also his stock and trade.

            He had been a warrior in service to his lord for many years now, and had proven him more than a few times in the service of the Emperor.  Being sent to assassinate the head of the Vakou pirates that had for so long plundered and troubled the Ming Dynasty was just fine, he could live with such an order.  It meant doing what he had been trained to do, what he had been bred to do, but that was all.  Being sent as a retrieval hound however was not something he appreciated.  If they desired an item found and brought to their step, he would have much preferred that the emperor send forth a courier or similar expert, one whose talents were not wasted upon such an endeavor.

            The gentle rocking of the raft was broken in the next moment by the shrill cry of a hawk, somewhere behind him and above. Li Long did not believe in omens, nor did he put much, if any, stock in anything other than what he could see, touch, and hear.  His life was not bound by the mystical forces that so many wished to believe in and live by, he was his own master when it came to such matters, and would not allow his thoughts to be influenced in such a manner.  Tilting his head up just a bit he could see the rocky walls of the channel that the raft now traversed, the guidance of the oarsman steering them expertly along the swift currents that bore them along.  A deep frown creased his lips as he continued to think about his mission, and what he meant to do versus what he surely would do.

            Japan was a seriously flawed country in his mind, a place where the damage of civil war was always a possibility, and unity was a fading dream that very rarely ever solidified with any force.  Of course, his own country couldn’t be said to be any more unified. China had more than its fair share of problems, though that wasn’t his concern now.  At this moment, he was to assassinate the head of the Vakou pirates, though unbeknownst to his lord, he would soon enough decimate the dainyos’s the feudal lords that dominated much of this country.

            It was not a part of his orders, though he had decided to do this on his own initiative.  It would mean traveling from his current destination, the Yonaguni Islands, back to the main island, though he would make the trip easily, hiding away his own actions from his lord until it was time to return home.  He knew his own level of skill, and knew that he could accomplish this mission. And when he did, his actions would be greatly appreciated back home.  The Emperor would no doubt shower him with praise, in the appropriate manner, and he would be lauded as a hero.

            The raft lurched a bit to the right, catching a swift eddy within the current as Li Long stood absolutely still, allowing his body weight to shift only slightly as he kept his attention fixed straight ahead.  Soon enough he would arrive at his destination, and his initial task would be completed.  And soon after, the legend of his prowess would begin.

                                                *                      *                      *

 

Honshu, Japan

1 week later…

 

            It had been an eventful week.  The head of the Vakou clan had fallen quickly to his masterful tactics, in fact it had been almost an insult how easily he had gained access to the pirate’s stronghold.  His weapon, Falcon, had taken many lives without fail and performed as beautifully as always.  Many thought little when confronted with the deadly twin flails known as nunchaku, though if one was skilled enough and possessed the strength of arm, the hard wood batons could crush bone and pulp flesh. Li Long had more than a few pairs within the pack he carried, each set wrapped in cloth and well-cared for.        Though only in his twenties Li Long was an accomplished warrior, and had taken more than one trophy to incorporate into his weapons over the past several years.

            Some were fashioned to remind him of the battles in which he had won the materials that had gone into the implements, while others were merely a hodgepodge of this and that, items that strengthened the weapons in such a way that they were either far more powerful or far more intricate than Falcon.  He would always favor his original weapon however, even over the dreadfully powerful weapon he had dubbed Twin Thunder, a set of nunchaku that were created of an extremely dense hardwood and had crafted into their ends razor sharp points of metal that could flay flesh to bone with little effort.  Even with all this power at his disposal, Li Long favored the simpler approach.

            After disposing of the pirate lord, and thereby dissolving the clan into chaos by dint of the other minor lords arguing over who would take control, Li Long had taken his leave.  There was no need to follow up the kill by eliminating any others, they would accomplish such a task all on their own.  Instead he had traveled back to the main island, finding passage aboard a rather leaky junk that had taken him on without questions, and with only minimal cost.  Intimidation was a useful tool, if one knew how to apply it.

            Not a single day had passed after his feet had hit the soil of the island when he had discovered the whereabouts of one of the many lords he still sought.  Finding and eliminating the first had been relatively easy, though not entirely satisfying.  Though one feudal lord was not always the same as another, he had expected more protection, more prestige, and far more difficulty in finding a single lord within the island’s confines.  But the first, Hashiro Metsurame, had been quite easy to locate, and even easier to silence.  The ripples that should have emerged from the death of a noble lord should have been far greater, but thus far Li Long had been upon the island for days, and had yet to be fingered for the deed.  He had left none alive within the private room of the bath house where he had found the lord, and judging by how poorly the matter had been investigated, he had obviously done a superb job of covering his tracks.  It was his trade after all, an assassin who left directions on how to be found was a fool, and one no doubt eager to die.

            Li Long was neither.

           

The Western Edge

The Western Edge

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

Spring 1998

Saturday, May 29th

 

 

“It’s so nice out here.”  Tyler smiled at the young woman as they stretched upon the sands, their bare feet moving just slightly as they sought to keep their balance upon the grainy surface.  The young lady was not the knockout that his girlfriend was, but she was undeniably cute with her long wavy black hair and young features.  Madeline Rohen had become his friend earlier in the year and had stuck by Tyler’s side since that time, always making it known how she felt about him.  They had quickly become good friends despite the high school hierarchy that kept them apart at times.

Tyler was a jock and a scholar, liked by many and idolized by more than a few, while Maddie was the shy girl that didn’t talk to people and kept mostly to herself.  For the last three years Tyler and Maddie had spoken to each other now and then, but their friendship had only been cemented this year, which Tyler found as odd.  He liked Maddie well enough to consider her a very good friend, but until this year she hadn’t decided to open up to him, and he had found out just why back in September.

“Yeah, it’s a nice day today, too bad Kera had to work on her research paper.” Tyler said, stretching out his arms as he groaned lightly.  It was still relatively early in the morning, but as their Track and Field coach always said it was important to get a good start to the day.

“Is she almost done? We only have a few weeks of school left.”  Maddie felt her heart clench just a little as she realized the truth of her own words.  She knew that Tyler and Kera were going to be leaving home not long after graduation.  The two of them were going to be heading for Vancouver, nearly three hours away.  Maddie would be stuck here for another three years until she graduated.  She had no idea what she wanted to do yet, but she had at least a few interests.  She was one of the students within her class that had no true path set ahead of her just yet, finding that her prospects for college were rather grim unless she began to apply for scholarships and really decided upon an interest she wanted to pursue.

Unlike so many other kids Maddie just didn’t know what she wanted to do.  She liked to draw and was good at it, but she was also domestically skilled.  She could build anything within shop class that she was instructed and she could pull straight A’s if she really tried in any class, but her home life often intruded upon her desire to actually push herself, impeding her progress as a human being at times.  She’d never had a boyfriend despite being so damned cute, no one seemed to be able to get close to her.  She had sought out Tyler and Kera, not the other way around.  Her two friends ran in different groups than she would ever do, they were popular and she was not, they were the people that everyone wanted to be like, she was the shadow on the wall that watched everyone else and envied.

Tyler and Kera had always been kind to her no matter what, whether it was saying hello in the hallway or being her lab partner in science classes.  They’d always smiled with her, genuinely enjoying her company once she’d opened up to them.  Not many people in their high school would take the time to be nice to someone who didn’t seem inclined to talk all that much, but Tyler and Kera were good people, they liked talking to her, they’d said so.  Just last week, watching them practice on this very beach, had been like heaven.  She had almost cried as she’d witnessed the beauty and grace of the martial art they’d practiced with their teacher, Mr. Delong.  Afterwards they had spent the entire day with her, even going so far as to invite her to dinner that night.  She’d called her mother and asked her tentatively if she could stay for dinner, that Tyler and Kera would drop her off later.  Thankfully her mother had said yes.

That had been undeniably one of the best days of her young life.  Tyler and Kera had introduced her as their friend, their friend, to Tyler’s parents, Evelyn and Gary.  It had been easy to see how Tyler and Kera had grown up to be such wonderful people after meeting Evelyn and Gary Ferris, in fact Maddie had found herself wanting to move in with the family that night.  She envied the Ferris’s just a bit, but she also respected her friends enough to know that she was their friend, not a part of their family.  When Tyler and Kera had taken her home later on she had been forced to fight back a wave of sadness as she had stepped from Tyler’s truck.  Her shabby, run down mobile home that she shared with her mother, two sisters and little brother was a wreck compared to the nice home that the Ferris’s kept.

Tyler and Kera had never judged her no matter what they had seen of her life.  They’d always been happy to see her, they’d always had a smile on their faces for her.  Maddie had at one time believed that Tyler’s kindness had been given out of pity and had nearly chewed him a new asshole over the fact.  That had been the only time she had shown a hint of fire within the halls of the school, but later on she had apologized profusely, mortified that she might have driven away someone who genuinely cared.  Tyler had shaken his head at her apology before stating that she had no reason to say that she was sorry.  He’d explained slowly and with great care that no one had any right to pity her, that she was a great deal stronger than anyone seemed to see.  Those words had touched Maddie so deeply that it had been in that moment that she had fallen in love with Tyler.

The love she felt for the young man was far different than the misguided lust that teenagers often shared during their high school years, but Maddie had kept it to herself, thinking that no one would care to really understand.  She loved Tyler much the same way as she loved her younger brother Seth, who was among the only kind souls she knew.  Like Tyler, Seth didn’t assume, he didn’t pity and he didn’t accept pity.  Though only in the sixth grade Seth knew the situation at home was not the best.  He knew that their mother worked her fingers to the bone and required a great deal of help at home, but he also didn’t accept this excuse when the woman could not find time for her children.  Their mother hadn’t been given a fair draw at life any more than her four children had, but unlike them she was in a position to do something about it.  Not a single one of them blamed their mother for having to work so hard to provide for them, but it was hard when on her rare day off when the woman could not find time to spend with them.  Maddie knew that she and her siblings loved their mother, but it was a conditional love at best.

She loved Tyler in a way that went beyond physical means.  He was handsome and she had actually wondered at times what such a thing might be like, but she had already figured that it wasn’t quite like the smutty soap operas that her mother and her sisters seemed to enjoy.  Maddie couldn’t quite see someone like Tyler acting so melodramatic as the ridiculous people on the TV.

“Yeah, we don’t have much time left do we?” Tyler grinned at her as Maddie smiled back.  She had no doubt at all that he knew what she was thinking.  Tyler seemed to be able to read people so easily it was uncanny at times.

“I’m not going to get to see you guys any more.”  Maddie said, sounding just a little sad as she inhaled through her nostrils.  Tyler opened his mouth to speak as Maddie continued, snapping his mouth shut again as she waved one hand at him to interrupt.

“I know you’ll come back now and then, you’ve told me how much you love home, but I won’t get to see you as much, like at school and stuff.  I’ve really enjoyed you two this year.  It makes me feel dumb for not having tried to hang out with you before now.”  Tyler had to admit that Maddie was a lot more open now than she had been only a year or two before.  It was as though the young woman had found a measure of strength that she’d not realized she possessed.  In truth it was nice since Tyler could see a far tougher persona emerging now than Maddie had ever shown, a face that was far more adequate to handle the rough environment of high school.  He only hoped she could keep that attitude once he and Kera were gone.

“You have others who will hang out with you Maddie.  There’s Sarah, the Mack twins, Alex, hell even Tiffany might be nice to you if you talk to her.”  Maddie smiled at him sarcastically then as she replied.

“Yeah right, if her friends would let her talk to anyone else.  They’re likely to call me a lesbian if I try to talk to Tiffany or maybe they’ll make up a few rumors about me just to make sure I can’t show my face anymore.  You know how vicious they can be.”  Tyler nodded as he conceded the point.  For all the genuinely nice people there were in high school there were just as many who sought to ease the pressure of their lives by making sure they were seen as superior in some way to others.  Tiffany Kischener was a genuinely nice person, but she was too easily influenced by the friends she kept.  As one of the ‘upper class’ of the high school she had been dubbed into the life of a cheerleading, athletic, snob-nosed scholar, which in Tyler’s opinion was not who she really was.  She was a good student and a good friend, but she was not a snob.  Her younger brother on the other hand was a different story.

“I think if you could get around the friends or just ignore them altogether you’d be fine with her.  She’s good people Maddie, you know that.”  Tyler finished stretching as he rolled his shoulders out, looking out upon the horizon as he watched waves roll into shore.

“Yeah, you’re right, I know.  I just wish that high school didn’t have to be the way it is sometimes.  It’s bad enough we have to study so hard to make sure we have a future, but peer pressure and trying to keep up with everyone else makes it worse.”  Tyler smiled as she spoke, keeping his eyes out on the water as she joined him, standing at his left upon the sand.

“So quit trying to keep up with them, just realize that they’re trying to make themselves feel better.  You should feel fine about who you are.”

“That’s easy for you to say Tyler, you come from a good home with parents who are there all the time.”  Tyler frowned just a bit as he listened to her words, not liking where this discussion was going.

“Stop that Maddie.  Your mom does what she can.  You don’t want anyone to pity you and I’m glad because you’re stronger than that.  Don’t talk like you envy us.”

“I do Tyler.  I do envy you, but,” she held up one hand to forestall another comment, “I also know that you’re right.  I don’t want pity, but I also don’t want to deal with the snobby, stuck-up little bitches that think they’re so damned important because of their designer clothes and flashy hairdos.”  Tyler laughed briefly as he looked over at Maddie, shaking his head slowly from side to side.

“You do what you do best Maddie, just be you.  No one else can do that.”  Maddie smiled at him as she leaned towards his shoulder, feeling his bared shoulder under her cheek as she leaned far enough to her right.  Tyler was always so warm it seemed, no matter how chill the winds on the beach were.

“So are we going to run or talk all day?” she asked.

“Are you in a hurry?”  Maddie shook her head briefly as she too looked out at the incoming waves.

“Isn’t this about where that kid was said to have drowned last year?”  Tyler sighed as he nodded, remembering the tragic tale of Colby Durbin, the sophomore that had gone missing last October.  The young man had been reported to have snuck out of his room one chill Sunday morning and made his way down to the beach.  The report filed by the police and later written in the local paper, the Chinook Observer, had stated that the sophomore had been known to frequent the beach front more often than not.  His parents had been quoted as saying that Colby had been fascinated in the presence of ghosts and had at many times claimed to see them in the waves.  It was an interesting and somewhat disturbing bit of trivia about the dead boy, but Tyler and Kera hadn’t been too surprised.

They’d both known Colby at least somewhat, the younger boy had kept mostly to himself for the most part.  His family lived only a half mile away down I Place, the road that ran in front of the Ferris home.  He’d always seemed a bit strange to both of them, as though he weren’t all there in the head, but he’d been nice enough.  Maddie had not known Colby except from seeing him in the hallways at school.  The sophomore had kept mostly to himself, always engrossed it seemed with one or more ghost stories that he kept with him at all times.

“Yeah, somewhere around here I guess.”  Tyler replied.

“How many people does that make in the last few years that have drowned off this coast?”  Maddie asked.  Tyler raised his eyebrows as he tried to think of the reports that had come in within the last few years of swimmers being caught out to sea by the powerful currents.  He found it odd that those who were such strong swimmers could be towed out to sea without the knowledge of how to avoid such a thing or keep themselves calm enough to paddle back to shore.  He knew the currents were deadly, but never had he felt in danger of being sucked out by an errant wave.

“I think that brings the number up to around four or five with Colby.”  Tyler said.  It was a bit harsh to think of the young sophomore as just another statistic, but in all honesty that was life upon the coast.  Those who played with the ocean at their leisure were wise to always remember that it was a wild thing, apt to take what it wanted whenever and wherever.  Tyler held a great respect for the ocean currents and knew not to tempt such a thing.  Still, he knew that each time he waded into the waters his luck might not hold out, that one time or another he might be swept out to be come just another statistic.

“Are the Durbin’s still moving?” Tyler nodded as she asked this, he’d seen the For Sale sign in their front yard covered over by a rectangular SOLD sticker.  The Durbins had no doubt had enough of the coast for the time being, finding it prudent to leave what had once been a good home to avoid the memories of their son.  Tyler couldn’t help but think that the memory of Colby would follow them no matter where they went.

“Is this coast really that dangerous?”  Maddie kept her cheek upon Tyler’s shoulder as they spoke, standing close to him to share his warmth.  For some reason he just always stayed so warm no matter the temperature.

“The western edge of the continent is no worse than any other stretch of coastline, at least here we don’t have as many sharks off the coast.  People don’t seem to realize though just how strong the currents are and as a result they don’t seem to think that swimming in the ocean is a big deal.”

“There’s sharks off this coast?” Tyler looked down at her with a raised eyebrow.

“Are you sure you pay attention in Mr. Milner’s class?”  That earned him a light punch on his arm as Maddie straightened up, yawning as she stretched her arms up to the sky in that moment.  As she looked at him again Tyler grinned as she narrowed her eyes.

“I’m betting my grade in that class is better than yours.”

“I’m not taking that bet.”  Maddie laughed at Tyler as he shook his head, grinning back at her.

“So are we going to run?”

“I’m just waiting on you Mads.”  Tyler replied, rolling his shoulders again.  Maddie arched one eyebrow at him as her grin deepened just a bit.

“If I’m not mistaken I’m the one who made the districts for the long distance run.”  Maddie preened just a bit before she broke down laughing, moving away from Tyler as he leaned towards her, acting as though he meant to stomp on her foot. She knew he wouldn’t ever try to intentionally hurt her, but the mock play was fun.

“Just because you’re a runner and an accomplished letter-winner now you think you’re so cool huh?” Tyler said with a grin, advancing a step towards Maddie as she continued to back away.

“Of course,” she replied, “It’s not every freshman that gets to wear their own jacket before they’re a sophomore.”  Tyler grinned as she continued to back away, her pace quickening just a bit as she eased into the simple warming up rhythm she’d established during this last track season.  Maddie had always been a competitor, but in this her freshman year she had found a true reason to compete and had found in Tyler, Kera and another girl named Brooke Landis people who were willing to encourage her and spur her on.  The three friends had urged Maddie forward every meet, inspiring her to try harder than she ever had and eventually cheering for her when she had placed sixth at districts. She had gone to the state finals with the team, their head coach had insisted on taking her, but she had not competed due to her low ranking.

“So now you’re big and bad, but can you prove it?”  Tyler took off running as he spoke, smiling as Maddie easily paced him, her much lighter form allowing her to almost skim over the sands as his heavier frame almost sank with every other step.

“First to the finish again?”  Maddie asked as they began to run. Tyler merely nodded as he decided to save his breath for running, keeping his pace even and steady as Maddie ran beside him almost effortlessly.  He knew that eventually she would pull ahead and no doubt win their little race, but he wasn’t about to go down easily.

Tyler had always been a thrower, never a long distance runner or a jumper or a sprinter.  He was built sturdy enough to run for a good while, but his endurance for long distances had never been all that good.  At this time he could run nearly three miles without being terribly winded, but his pace was nowhere near what Maddie could hold.  As a long distance runner Madeline Rohen had competed since the seventh grade, learning the tricks and secrets of how to pace herself during a race so that she wouldn’t use too much energy too soon.  Tyler had never learned those particular tips.

*                      *                      *

 

Nearly nine minutes later Maddie was still in front of Tyler as he could feel his leg muscles burning slightly with the strain of trying to keep up with the petite freshman.  She had kept her own pace easily from where they had started to the Surfside beach approach, which was a full mile from where they’d began.  Maddie had gone so far as to jog in place as she had waited for him to catch up just a bit, smiling at Tyler as he had rounded one of the tide markers as they’d stipulated before taking off on their run.  She’d been barely winded as she had jogged in place, her dark hair bouncing upon her back, bound up in the long ponytail she’d placed it in.  Tyler had growled just a bit at her playful mood, shaking his head as she had then taken off like a nimble deer, actually increasing her pace for the second mile as he’d began to huff and puff his way along.

He was in shape, but he wasn’t a runner.  Tyler could outdo a great many students in the weight room, he could maneuver his way down a football field and sack nearly anyone that came into his line of sight, but he was not a distance runner.  He was made for short bursts of speed and perhaps a mile or two at his own leisure, but Maddie, she was a born runner.  It was child’s play for her to increase her pace as she’d continued down the beach, seeming not to notice the shifting sands beneath her as she kept pumping her arms, striding forward with each passing second as she’d easily kept the distance between them.

Tyler didn’t mind losing to anyone, he knew it was a part of life to lose at times, but losing so horribly at times was a bit embarrassing.  Had he not already planned to lose to Maddie he wouldn’t have challenged her to such a race.  It wasn’t pity that had caused him to suggest this little race, it had been a need to keep the smile upon Maddie’s face.  She had tried her best at districts and she had performed beautifully, beating out all but five other competitors, each one of them at least a year or more ahead of her in age.  The girls she’d raced against had undergone years of training and had the benefit of having teammates who’d always believed in them instead of ignoring them for so long.  Maddie had been cheered on by her entire team at districts as well as at sub-districts, the surprise she had given her teammates elevating her quite a bit in their eyes.

He’d always known she was someone special.  Tyler didn’t judge people by what they did or didn’t do or say, he preferred getting to know them for who they were.  Maddie had always struck him as a little quiet, a little reclusive, but still a very interesting young lady.  He couldn’t imagine why she didn’t think so much of herself, but he’d always done his best to make sure that she knew just how he felt about her.  The rest of the track team had found out later on just how skilled Maddie was, which in Tyler’s eyes had been regrettable since Maddie had never hidden her talent for running.  In the high school hierarchy though Maddie had been barely a blip on anyone’s radar save for his and a few others, meaning she was beneath notice to many people.  He had to agree with her when it came to high school, it was often hard enough without having to worry about status.

Tyler pushed himself a little harder as he tried to catch up with Maddie, but he already knew he was beaten.  He would have to treat her and Kera to lunch and a movie later, which he had fully expected.  The bet had been for lunch if he won, but he had added a movie if she won.  There was no pity in his actions, Tyler enjoyed being around Maddie, she was an interesting young lady and a good friend.  He’d known that she had no money to take him out to lunch, meaning he would have gladly paid anyway, but the bet had been more to keep Maddie’s competitive fire from guttering out after her defeat at districts.  Maddie was the type that became easily depressed if she was suddenly cast back into the shadows of obscurity and Tyler meant to keep her in the light as much as he possibly could.  Neither of them owed each other anything, this was simply the way of good friends, to be there when they felt they were needed.

Maddie stopped as she reached the mark they’d designated, turning around as she continued to jog in place, grinning at Tyler as he was still a good hundred yards off.  Tyler shook his head as he grinned back, his gaze turning in that second to the incoming waves as he found his smile fading quickly at what he saw.  Maddie didn’t notice anything was amiss as she continued to grin at him, waiting patiently as she blew out a long breath of air.

Tyler couldn’t help but keep his gaze towards the breakers as they continued to roll in towards the shore, each wave curling after the one before as the two figures he saw standing within seemed to appear and disappear with each swell, looking outward, looking at him.  Around him time seemed to slow as Tyler could feel the winds that came in from the coast stiffen somehow, as though they’d somehow been thickened into sheets of unseen force that slapped instead of caressed.

The western edge, how appropriate a moniker.

            Will he join us?

            No, he will not join us.  He is meant for other things.

Frowning in confusion Tyler barely felt as he began to stumble, his feet kicking up sand as he continued to stride forward.  The figures continued to appear and disappear with the waves, as though they were only figments of his imagination.  He wanted to believe they were, but each time he saw them each person was so vivid, so there, that he couldn’t help but at least partially believe what his eyes told him.

One of them was a young man that he could easily recognize as Colby Durbin, his youthful features and skinny limbs standing out in his bulky coat and regular shirt and scuffed jeans.  That couldn’t be though, Colby had been missing for months, presumed dead since his parents had been unable to comprehend that he might have run away.  That option had been too painful for the couple, which was why they’d had their son presumed dead.  Colby had never been unhappy at home they’d said, a statement that had been backed up by nearly everyone that had known the boy.

The other figure he did not recognize, but there was something about her, some quality he couldn’t fully identify with that seemed to draw Tyler in to her strange gaze.  As he stumbled suddenly he lost all track of either of them, hitting the sand hard as he felt the dry particles grind into his exposed skin.  Tyler rolled several times, feeling as sand was ground into every possible place it could go, from his shoes up to his hair.  Sputtering and spitting he finally came to a stop, wincing as he closed his mouth only to crunch down upon a fine layer of grit and sand particles within his teeth.  There were certain drawbacks to running on the beach, particularly if one did not watch where they were going.

As he rose slowly to his feet he heard as Maddie ran up to him, exclaiming even as she giggled over his fall.  Tyler waited until she was within range before shaking himself briskly, grinning despite the sand still in his mouth as she protested being showered with sand.

“Serves you right.” he said in a low voice, keeping his tone light as he began to rake his hands through his hair in an attempt to rid himself of the intrusive gray material.  It would take a long shower before he could rid himself entirely of every last bit of sand but the least he could do was ease his discomfort just a bit for the moment.

“You were almost there.  What happened?”  Tyler shook his head again, bending over slightly as he did in order to shake himself all over again.  Raking his fingers through his hair again he tossed it back, squirming around as felt sand within his underwear as well.

“That can’t feel good.”  Tyler grimaced at Maddie as she giggled again, the sound causing him to roll his eyes as he looked back to the waves.  There were no figures in the breakers now, only rolling blue waves crested by white.  He frowned briefly as the image of what he’d seen came back to mind again.

“So where are we going to lunch then?”  Tyler brought his attention back to Maddie as his eyes widened just a bit.  He could see Kera attempting to sneak up from behind the girl, stepping lightly as she depended upon the noise of the roaring ocean and the other natural sounds of the beach to mask her approach.  Tyler made a show of ridding himself of the overabundance of sand that still clung to him as he carefully watched Kera approach, doing his best not to grin as she came ever closer.

“Well, I got paid yesterday so I thought we’d go to Doogers and then just go the movie from there.”  Maddie’s eyes widened as she heard the name of the restaurant, she was still oblivious to Kera’s presence as the young woman was almost within arm’s reach.

“Doogers is kinda spendy isn’t it?”  Tyler smiled genuinely at Maddie as he continued to notice Kera in his peripheral vision, still trying not to laugh as Maddie was so hopelessly unaware.  As Kera finally closed the distance she pounced, gripping Maddie by the arms suddenly without saying a word.  Maddie’s reaction was as expected as she jumped nearly a foot in the air, her body tensing as she turned quickly to see Kera smiling at her, laughing lightly as Maddie held one hand to her heart.  In the next moment Maddie couldn’t help but laugh along as she shoved Kera away lightly with one hand, her eyes still wide as she kept her one hand over her heart.

“Oh you witch!” she breathed, still laughing as she turned back to Tyler, “And you, you knew she was there!  God almighty you almost gave me a heart attack!”  Maddie continued to laugh as Tyler and Kera stepped closer, still chuckling as Kera clapped a friendly hand upon her shoulder.

“So we’re going to Doogers then?” Kera asked.

“Yeah, and then a movie I guess.”  Maddie replied, still catching her breath from the shock of being surprised.  Kera raised her eyebrows at Tyler as she pressed her lips together, nodding a few times before speaking.

“Feeling generous today are we?” she asked, smiling to show she was joking.

Tyler shrugged before wiping at his face once more, “What can I say, I like their Cajun seafood.”

“What movie are we seeing then?”  Kera asked.

“Well, the theater’s playing Office Space and The Sixth Sense, I thought we’d leave that up to Mads here.”  Tyler said.  The freshman waved one hand in front of her as she looked between the two seniors, taking a breath before speaking.

“Oh no, no.  I don’t want to pick the wrong one and have you two sit through a movie you don’t want to see.”  Kera put one arm gently around Maddie’s shoulders as she looked up before looking at the freshman.

“Mads, we want to see both of them, so trust me when I say that you won’t make the wrong choice.”  Maddie looked uncertainly to Tyler and then Kera, seeing as each of them looked to her expectantly, waiting for her to make a decision.

“Well, I’d like to see Office Space if that’s okay.”

“Office Space it is then.” Tyler said, “First though I need to go home and have a shower, I feel a bit gritty.”  Kera laughed lightly as she looked her boyfriend up and down, arching an eyebrow at him as she spoke.

“Were you trying to take the beach home with you?”  Tyler grimaced at her as he flung a bit of sand in her direction, smiling as she flinched away.  As he and Maddie gathered their shoes and socks Kera waited for them, stuffing her hands in the pockets of her jeans as she felt a stiff breeze roll by, sending a snaking curl of sand skating across the ground.  She smiled at this small manifestation, she’d always liked the way the wind whipped the sand around, it was cool-looking.

“We ready to go?” she asked, hopping up and down once as she turned to go.  Maddie and Tyler followed, making their way up the gray sands until they reached the dunes that separated the beachfront from the acres of dune grass and the lands beyond.  Each one of them turned around then, Tyler and Maddie setting their shoes down as they each brought their hands together.  Kera did this as well, bowing at the waist just as Tyler and Maddie did in a show of respect.

Maddie had expressed how weird this practice seemed to her before, but Tyler and Kera had been very patient in their way of explaining to her how it just seemed to come naturally, a way of showing respect to something far greater than themselves.  To others it might have labeled them as kooks, but to Maddie it made them seem even more interesting and in a way, even more respectable.  She found things out about her friends every week it seemed, which made it all the more difficult to think that they would be graduating soon.  She didn’t want to let them go, she would miss them too much.

Tyler looked up before the others, his eyes scanning the waves as he sought to catch even a glimpse of the figures that he’d seen just before he’d stumbled.  As he’d expected though he saw nothing, only more and more waves as they curled forth to break upon the shore.  It didn’t sit well with him that he’d seen something, and he knew he had, when he couldn’t confirm such a though.  Letting out a breath he turned around once more, bending down to pick up his shoes and socks as he, Maddie and Kera began their short walk home.

Wakerunners

Wakerunners

By Tom Foster

 

Fall 1997

Saturday, October 17th

 

There were ghosts in the water, he had seen them.  He’d read countless ghost stories in his young life, had studied histories of such events and had even once, against his parents’ wishes, tried to use a Ouija board.  When they had found the box it had come in they had been rather incensed, taking away his allowance, television and video games for two weeks.  Needless to say he hadn’t tried that again.  Besides, it hadn’t worked anyway.

Though he was only sixteen years old he often found himself waiting for the moment that would define his life.  He didn’t pay attention to the adults who told him that he had many years ahead for such a thing, don’t rush it and whatnot.  In his mind he was destined for something that he couldn’t yet understand, though there were days when he wished it would just hurry up.  The fact that he was too young for such thoughts never entered his mind most of the time, and if it ever did then he was quick to think of something else.

Colby Durbin was a dreamer, he’d been accused of this so many times that he’d finally just accepted it.  He knew his own faults in the way all adolescents do, though he saw no real need to improve upon them at this time.  Whatever he did that others didn’t like, tough beans, he wasn’t hurting anyone. If he did then he would be quick to apologize and make amends, after all he wasn’t an ass, he was just eccentric.

Of course, being eccentric didn’t take away what he had finally seen one day on the beach in the foaming white breakers he and his sisters so loved to play in.  That day had galvanized his beliefs in everything he had studied and read over the past few years.  Yet he hadn’t gone to his family, nor had he even gone to his friends, knowing that any of them would have simply laughed and even gone so far to mock him.  Colby was used to this, he’d spent the last four years of his life being laughed at thanks to his hobby.

He knew what he’d seen however, it was no fluke, no stretch of his imagination and no fever dream brought on by his overnight camping trips on the beachfront.  His right eye twitched slightly at the thought of another cold night spent only yards away from the waves.  Only a year ago his father had had to retrieve him one night from the sands because he’d tried to spend a chill November night on the beach.  Timothy Durbin, his father, had scolded him every step of the way back to the family vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee that had definitely seen better days.  The blast of heat from the vents had woken him up like his father’s words had failed to do, making him more aware of the trouble he’d been in.

Yet here he was again only three months later, still standing out in the cold staring at the incoming waves, just looking for another sign.  He wasn’t crazy, he just knew he wasn’t.  As each wave formed several hundred yards out he kept his eyes focused on as many of them as he could.  Out of twenty-eight miles of coastline he chose this one section since it was here that he’d seen the faces in the waves.  He’d been up and down the peninsula in the last three months and he’d never once seen any sign of the wonder that had set him on this course.

His typical day anymore was to wake up, write a few notes from his well-worn books on every possible ghost story imaginable and then shower and eat.  After that he was either off to school or work, the former a piece of cake and the latter a downright snooze by comparison.  It paid well enough however, especially since all he did was strip a few sheets and blankets, wash and fold them and then do it all again.  His job at the Motel 8 in town had been made possible thanks to one of his good friends, a fellow junior at the high school that he’d known since grade school.  Her name was Amelia Hudson and if she were asked she would most likely state that he was without a doubt the craziest person she’d ever met.

The two of them were as good of friends as he could hope for however.  She put up with his crazy hobby and at times even encouraged it, though she did not join in.  While her own views as an Agnostic did not completely abolish the existence of ghosts, she did at times question his motives.  Colby was by extension of his family a Lutheran, but in all truthfulness he didn’t know what that really meant.  In any case he trusted Amelia enough to know that if he needed her input she would gladly give it.

Her mother however, his boss, did not share either of their views, always willing to give him a hard time over what she claimed was just ‘young foolishness’.  There had been a few times when the old woman had taken him inside the back office, sitting him down before their little ‘conversations’.  The memories of how loud their voices had actually gotten almost brought a smile to his face, since they had been told that the noise had carried to the third floor of the building.  Having only three stories to its structure he hadn’t taken that as a compliment.

Turning his memories back to that first moment he found that he could actually remember exactly what the face in the water had looked like.  Pale eyes had looked out upon him underneath bushy sea green brows, a smooth forehead leading quickly into long, flowing blue-black tresses that had waved wildly with the motions of the waves.  Her lips, it had been a woman there was no doubt, had been full and rather enticing, though the level look the female apparition had given him had been anything but alluring.  In all honesty he’d thought his heart would stop at that moment, the shocking cold of the water combined with the sighting proving too much even for a young heart.  There had been documented cases of people from all ages dying from fright, though he couldn’t honestly say that joining those people would have made him feel vindicated.

With high cheekbones and a pert nose she had been quite beautiful, though in a macabre moment he had quickly realized that she possessed no body, at least none he could see.  Strangely enough he hadn’t been bothered by this, accepting the mystery of her missing limbs and torso with not a bit of worry aside from his initial fright.  The face had continued to look at him for several moments, switching from breaker to breaker as the waves had kept rolling in, sometimes rising higher, sometimes going lower.

Colby had been rooted to that spot despite the strong pull of the current, the sand around his feet being washed away, though he hadn’t felt it.  Before it had disappeared back into the greenish-blue waters Colby had seen it do something that only helped to affirm that he was not imagining things.  With only the slightest hint of a smile upon her watery lips, the apparition had winked at him, sliding backward in the next second to disappear into the waves.  His parents had been yelling for him at that point for the last ten minutes, wanting him to come in to shore for lunch.

Shaking his head briskly he had began to head back in, not watching the waves that had been waist deep at that point.  His attention had however been captured quite effectively when the same natural occurrence he had found so entrancing caught him squarely in its midst.  Two breakers, each of them moving rather quickly, had combined with him right in the middle, catching Colby completely off guard.  Salt water filled his mouth in a rush as he tried his best to spit it out, almost losing his balance as he wind milled his arms madly.  Just as he was thinking that he wouldn’t fall a strong slip of the current caught him, spilling Colby into the chill waters of the Pacific.

He had no chance to close his mouth or his eyes, the murky salt water revealing little in the first moment but offering him once more its salty flavor as he felt air bubbles trickling from the corners of his mouth.  With his eyes open he was able to see something else in the water, or rather several somethings, before he surfaced.  The first face had been something of a wonder, enough to get his heart racing but nothing like what he’d seen only a short time ago.

In the waves he had seen one face, one female countenance that had seemed rather benign.  Of course his mind had already gone over the multitude of facts concerning ghost sightings, from the benevolent to the most vicious, coming to the conclusion that the woman’s face had been in the former.  What he’d seen upon going face first in the water however had not been overly friendly.  Instead of one face he’d seen several, too many for him to easily count.  Where the first face had been sharp and distinct these were hazy and out of focus, no doubt thanks to the murky water he tried to look through.

Sputtering madly he rose from the water, slapping the turbulent surface as waves kept crashing about him.  The raised voices of his mother and father had reached his ears again, telling him for the last time to come in for lunch.  He made all haste towards the shore then, pumping his legs as fast as he could despite the pull of the water.  His mind, in all its glorious methods of deduction, began playing tricks upon him, making it feel as though a multitude of watery hands and fingers were grasping at his legs.  Colby ran on, knowing that this feeling was unfounded despite what he knew he’d seen in the water.

As soon as his feet hit the wet sand beyond the waves Colby sprinted towards his family, his feet pounding sand as he ran.  He could already hear in his mind what his father would say while his mother simply went about the business of fixing lunch.  His two younger sisters would be either helping her or playing a game with each other, paying little attention to their brother’s latest scolding.  In four years they’d both heard so many that it was a common occurrence.

“Dad, dad there’s something in the water!”  His father just rolled his eyes at that, his thoughts already traveling down a well worn path that he and his son had traveled many times.  Heaving a great sigh Timothy Durbin threw his son a towel from atop the cooler they’d brought for their picnic.

“Yes son, there’s jellyfish, crab parts and even a few bass swimming in the shallows, that’s all.”  He finished his point with a severe arch of his eyebrows, the bushy brows beetling up with meaning.  Colby shook his head however, water flying everywhere as his father held up one hand to ward off the shower.  For the umpteenth billion time in his life he thanked the lord above for the patience he had with this kid.

Most people would have left him in an orphanage or shipped him off to military school by now.  However goofy or flipped out he might be at times however Colby was still his son, and despite everything he loved the boy.  Still, there were times when his obsession with ghosts and sightings became a little too much to easily handle.

Currently the family was in the fifth month of his most current fixation, ghost sightings, history and current events.  Colby had supposedly been seeing things in the shadows for that entire time, looking for things that weren’t there and seeing them often thanks to his vivid imagination.  That was one thing that the family could not deny, the kid had an imagination to him that defied easy explanation at most times.  Now however, after nearly one hundred fifty days of this, Timothy was a little tired.

“No dad, I saw a face, just like I’m seeing yours right now.  I swear dad, this is no joke or shadow, I saw it!”  If he was about to speak again he was rudely interrupted as his mother, Vivian Durbin, shoved a turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich into his open mouth.  Gagging for only a moment he bit down, chewing dutifully as his mother offered him a look that suggested he just eat and give the ghosts a rest.  Sighing to himself he did just that, enjoying the taste of his mother’s food as his sisters, Katie and Lynne, joined the rest of the family in lunch.

*                      *                      *

 

“I know I saw it, I just know I did.  It wasn’t nothing like dad says I know it.”  Such crazy babble should have worried Colby, though if he heard himself there was no sign.  He stood huddled near the water in his insulated ski jacket, its hood pulled up over his head to keep out the wind.  In reality it kept out only a minimal amount, the wind seemed to know each and every trick for getting in where it wasn’t wanted.  Still, it was better than feeling as though his ears might soon break off due to the cold.

These coastal winds were downright vicious at times, but it was a small price to pay for living in such a small, quiet area.  He’d heard stories and even seen what it was like to live in cities.  Aside from the interesting ghost tales he’d picked up Colby had seen only a few things that would ever inspire him to move to the city.  Among those was the fact that there was more there to do, more distractions from a simple life.  He was only sixteen but he found that in his mind he could do without arcades, ten different theaters within a ten mile radius and more department stores than people actually needed.

There were plenty of city folk that either moved down to the coast or had homes here, houses that stayed empty for much of the year.  He’d seen plenty of those houses fall into disrepair thanks to neglect by their owners.  Though it was really none of his business Colby had felt just a little saddened when he saw such beautiful homes go to ruin.  His own home was modest enough with three bedrooms, one for his parents, one for him and another for his sisters.  They didn’t have all the money in the world but they did well enough.  None of them had ever had to go without or-

“There, there I see you!”  The exclamation was heard only by him, though he didn’t pay this any mind as he saw what he firmly believed was the distinct shape of a face within the incoming waves.  Yanking his hands from his the pockets of his jacket he ran forward, stumbling several times as the loose sand underfoot shifted uneasily.  Ignoring this along with all else but what he’d seen he kept running, stopping only when he felt the

cold water seep into his clothing.  His heart raced as he saw a trio of waves come towards one another, smashing together as the left over force was sent quickly to the right, the crest of a new and larger wave rolling swiftly towards shore.

“A wakerunner, I knew it, I just knew it!”  He stood looking at nothing in the next few moments as his elation crested, not unlike an incoming wave.  Colby knew he’d seen the face in the waves, there was no doubt in his mind at all.  Maybe it hadn’t been the same exact countenance, but he had seen something nevertheless.  And he’d seen it just before the three waves had created the one, a theory that he’d come up with despite the impatience of those who’d he’d told it to.

Colby knew that he’d heard the appropriate scientific name for such an occurrence but he still preferred his own.  His personal term, ‘wakerunner’, came from his perception of the small event.  When the waves crashed together it looked to him like nothing less than something running just below the spray, racing along the top of the crest until it finally sank back beneath the water.  It was a simple thought, but it was the best he had ever been able to explain it.

Standing there staring off into space he felt a rush within his veins that had nothing to do with the short sprint he’d just run, a charge that he had never attempted to explain away.  It was the rush of self-assurance that he was not delusional as others called him, his knowledge that what he saw and believed was in fact real.  A gull cried in the distance, snapping him back to the present as the chill water that lapped around his ankles finally registered.

“Colby!”  He spun at hearing his name, almost spilling to the right as he overbalanced, still not quite in control of his senses.  Catching himself however he began to unsteadily walk away from the water, his footsteps splashing noisily as he went along.  Looking up at the dunes he saw his father standing there, hands thrust deep into the pockets of his rust colored Carhart jacket and his face drawn into a deep scowl.  Colby hung his head as he walked forward, knowing that he had a lecture coming at the very least.  The elation he’d felt only moments ago faded as the cold set in, promising nothing but wet socks for the entire trip home.

*                      *                      *

 

After a ten minute car ride and a thirty minute lecture on how his hobby was becoming an obsession Colby found himself in his room like always, poring over thick paperbacks and notes he’d written over the years.  His chicken scratch handwriting was illegible to everyone save him and there were times that even he couldn’t read it.  Strangely enough his homework assignments were written in perfect penmanship, showing not a trace of the anxiety that was found his notes.  Each time he’d written down what was considered fact or speculation he had found himself almost giddy with excitement, his hands at time shaking so much that he’d found holding onto pen and paper a challenge.

Now however he simply looked at everything in his reach with a sense of longing that he did not enjoy.  His parents had each laid into him with a decided purpose, telling him that until dawn he was by no circumstances to go anywhere near the beach.  They’d explained this well enough in their terms, telling him that his hobby had become

detrimental to his physical and mental well-being.  It wasn’t healthy they said to stand alone on the beach in the wind and cold, with no one around save the gulls and crows.  He knew they worried over him because they loved him, but Colby still didn’t want to accept that they might be right.

Colby knew what he’d seen.  In his mind there was no dispute, no word that could change the fact that he had seen something that defied all rational explanation.  What he’d experienced out in those waves was writ in black ink upon the pages in front of him.  Ghost tales, urban legends, even old folk tales dealing with spirits of all types, it was all here.  He had an inkling why his parents as well as others didn’t believe, it was something he’d heard in a conversation between a teacher in school and a few fellow students.  Once a person grew up, their belief in the impossible and improbable took a serious turn for the worst.  At a certain age people stopped believing in the world as a magical place, finding instead that life was only what they themselves made of it.

His teacher, a kindly middle-aged man named Mr. Nash, had told him that right around the time kids reached high school was when it really began.  This was the age during which children often began to lose the last shreds of their innocence, realizing that the world wasn’t like the movies.  He’d even claimed that despite the sadness of it all, those children that realized the harshness of the world early on were the lucky ones.  Colby had found this to be a harsh statement, though Mr. Nash had explained his point rather well.  Aside from this Colby respected Mr. Nash like so many other students did, knowing that he rarely said anything without reason.

Thinking back on this now filled him with at least a measure of hope that such was his parents’ main problem.  Their concern for him drove them to disbelieve what he said, wanting to keep him safe rather than indulge in what they considered his wild fantasies.  His father had gone so far as to call him reckless, telling him he allowed his need to believe in the supernatural to override his sense of reason.

Colby didn’t deny this, but at the same time he couldn’t help it.  Some people collected stamps, some people enjoyed flying kites.  Nothing so mundane had ever held his attention, it simply couldn’t.  There was something about believing in the world that lay just beyond, or next to, or even under this one that appealed to him.  He needed to believe in ghosts like children needed to believe in Santa Claus, or the Easter bunny, because it gave an explanation that very few could ever achieve.

That was why he was going back tonight.  Despite his parents both having forbid this he was going.  Where this sudden compulsion came from he didn’t know, but it would not be sated by simply reading passages and stories he’d read several times now.  Colby had memorized almost every word, the pages were worn and dog-eared from the number of hours he had put into flipping the pages.  They were no longer enough.    The words, the pictures, the compiled stories, both reported truths and pure entertainment, they were no longer enough to sate his ravenous appetite for the supernatural.

There was only one balm he could think of now, and that was to go back.  Colby already knew how he’d get by his parents.  He’d snuck out of the house a few times without being caught, the window that led outside his room an easy way to go about undetected.  Having nothing but sand and soft grass as a landing spot helped a great deal as well.  With this in mind he sat back on his bed, letting the papers fall to the covers as

he reached for the remote control behind him on his headboard.  Clicking on his television across the room he eyed the few movies he owned that lay scattered about the room.  There were four on his dresser near his door, three scattered around the tall entertainment center in which his television sat and two more on the bookcase at the end of his bed.  Flipping through channels he decided instead to settle on a sitcom he hadn’t watched in a while, content to sit and wait until his family went to bed.  Within a few moments he was laughing at the antics of the people on the screen, pushing the thought of returning to the beach to the back of his mind, for the time being at least.

*                      *                      *

 

It took only about another three hours until both his mother and father opened his door, telling him that it was time for bed.  The next day was a Saturday, so there was no school to worry over, this was just their nightly routine.  They both knew that he and his sisters often stayed up well past their bedtimes on the weekends, so making sure they were all in their rooms was merely a formality and nothing more.  Colby almost felt sorry for the deceit he was about to pull on his parents, but his need to go out and see the faces again had continued to rise during the last few hours.  His concentration on the television screen had wavered greatly, his eyes unable to focus as in his minds eye he kept seeing the face that had winked at him before disappearing.

She had been so beautiful, so enticing, but he couldn’t even explain to himself why this would be so.  Something like that would have sent most people running towards solid ground as though the devil himself were on their heels and gaining.  He’d been mesmerized however, not wanting to leave while at the same time feeling as though he might wet his pants.  It was a strange feeling, not quite fear but not pure excitement either.  He wanted to feel it again.

The sound of his parents deep, rhythmic breathing reached his ears as he listened in silence, smiling to himself at how truly predicable they were.  Colby set his remote control down lightly on the blankets of his bed, reaching over with his left hand to unlatch his window as quietly as he knew how.  The catch was well oiled and made no noise, the window track making just as little as he pushed it along.  Popping the screen out of place would be the trickiest part, so he turned up the volume on the television just enough to hopefully mask the sound.

Colby winced as one of the catches that held the screen in place grated against the aluminum frame of the window, squealing for a heart stopping second as he froze.  After nearly a minute of waiting he heard no sound of his parents waking, no feet hitting the floor and no moan of exasperation from his father.  Blowing out a silent breath of relief he leaned out of the window, setting the screen quietly against the side of the house before once more sitting upon his bed.  Keeping his eyes upon the television screen for a few moments Colby attempted to steady himself, knowing that if he got caught this time his parents would no doubt take away much more than they ever had in the past.  Perhaps his father’s threat of military school would finally come true and he’d be shipped away to only God knew where.

It was a risk he was more than willing to take.  He had to know just what or who he’d seen in the waves.  For the last three hours Colby had managed to convince himself

beyond all doubt that he was not crazy, he had seen those faces, and he would see them again.  Keeping the television on he slipped on his sneakers and a warm sweatshirt, grabbing a jacket as a mere afterthought.  Dropping from his window ledge he landed upon the green lawn outside in a crouch, kicking up a small amount of sand at the lawn’s edge.  Again he waited for any sound of his parents’ waking, this time allowing several minutes to pass in order to make sure.

Walking across the lawn he avoided the driveway, taking the extra steps in order to not wake everyone with the sound of his sneakers crunching on gravel.  Reaching the asphalt of the road he found the need to look back once more at his home, the two windows facing him belonging to his room and his sisters.  The two average-sized lots that their house and garage stood on were more than adequate for a family of their size, having allowed them to host several parties over the years and have a place for visitors to stay in either tents or the large mobile palaces that some of his parents’ friends traveled around in.

Starting once more on his way he slipped his arms into the sleeves of his jacket, shivering in the growing chill that nights on the coast often brought on.  Stuffing his hands in his pockets Colby continued walking, focusing his thoughts more towards what he hoped to see once more when he arrived.  The anticipation of what might be to come tonight set his every nerve on fire, goosing him into walking slightly faster as the wind began to pluck at his clothing, as though either willing him forward or trying to get him to stop.

But he wouldn’t stop.  Colby was a young man on a mission, he had a goal and was bound and determined to either recapture the sight that now drove him or stay on that beach until the moment occurred.  Never in his young life had he felt a pull like this, tugging at his mind like a fisherman’s hook that’s landed a prize catch.  Colby didn’t even stop to ponder over the implications of what might happen were he the catch.

He’d read so many stories, dug up so many histories and documented cases of haunting that eventually every motive of wayward spirits had become common knowledge to him.  Some who wrote down the documents of the spirit world claimed that those who walked beyond the physical realm were bound just as those who still lived were.  They followed the same rules, performed the same actions they had in life, but on a different level from everyone else.

Others however disputed this, claiming that those who were removed from this life had little to no limitations on what they did.  Such were the makings of poltergeists and haunting stories in which spirits took it upon themselves for whatever reason to either plague or try to inform the living.  In this view spirits, or ghosts, as many would have said, did not depend on the belief of their existence, but rather existed independently of the world of which they had once been a part.

Colby felt his feet hit sand as he came back to his senses with a start, strands of dune grass crinkling beneath his sneakers as he found himself on the trail that would take him to the beach.  Looking behind him he saw that the dwellings he passed were each dark, their residents either gone or already in bed.  The large condominiums that lay to the left were dark as well, a dark monolith that barely stood out save for the moonlight that shone down upon it.  For all he knew this structure could have been abandoned it was

so dark, standing out against the dunes and waist high grass like some silent predator, waiting for its next meal to come close enough.  He shivered as this thought crossed his mind, keeping his eyes on the structure as he traversed the short trail.

In his ears the roar of the mighty Pacific grew louder the closer he came to the dunes that hid the ocean from his view.  In the moonlight he could see the outlines of the dune grass that lay to each side of the path, their stalks waving gently back and forth in the winds.  He loved this place, it was strange thought to have at that moment but it came so suddenly that he couldn’t help but allow it to enter his mind.

Reaching the top of the dune he could now see the ocean in the silvery light that came down from above, highlighting the breakers magnificently.  Breathing deeply Colby was afforded a cleansing lungful of salt air, the wonderful aroma clearing out his sinuses and comforting him as had always happened.  Nowhere in the city had he found such calm as he did here.  Every time he felt hemmed in by his own world he could simply come here, and it would all just go away.

Come walk with us.

Colby snapped back to attention, looking all about for the source of the voice.  It sounded feminine, young but not too young.  The shadows of the beach however could have hidden any number of individual, leaving him guessing as to whether he was hearing things or someone was messing with him.  Walking down the dune towards the water he kept his ears open for anything else, hearing only roar of the ocean in front of him.  Once more he became entranced with the constant ebb and flow of the tides, the constant rhythm lulling him into a semi-stupor once more.  Colby continued walking forward, heedless of anything save the soothing call of the tides.

He didn’t even notice this time as his footsteps hit the water, nor did he notice the chill as he kept walking, his only area of focus being straight ahead.  Colby didn’t see anything, he didn’t hear anything, he didn’t even feel anything, there was just the need to keep walking.  His clothing soon became well saturated, the water reaching up to his armpits before he saw it.

Come with us.

The face, the same one he had seen before, suddenly appeared in front of him, hanging in midair it seemed as the woman looked at him in just the same manner as before.  Her smile was contagious; causing him to return the gesture as he casually ignored the numbing cold of the water.  Nothing else mattered right now except the woman’s face; her smile was just so wonderfully radiant.

It’s so lonely here.

Colby didn’t know how to respond to this, thinking instead that it was so sad, that yes, it was lonely down here when no one understood.  He found himself feeling so sorry for this mysterious woman, feeling a kinship with her that he didn’t fully understand.  As he closed his eyes he felt a soft hand caress his cheek, the chill of its touch feeling to him like the gentlest caress in the world.  There was nowhere else he would rather be now, no single person he would rather be with.  This woman, whoever she was, needed someone to be here for her, and he was the perfect person to fit the bill.

Colby didn’t feel the sensation of sinking, the cold had invaded his body so deeply that his body had almost ceased to function.  It was still February, one of the

coldest and most harsh months on the coast, his body wouldn’t have lasted long even had he been outfitted in a heavily insulated wet suit.  So at peace was he that he didn’t feel his head as it slipped beneath the waves, the features of the woman holding his attention as his body gradually ceased to function.  So intent was he upon her lovely visage that he didn’t even notice the other faces, the ones that had made him flee in icy dread the last time.  All he knew now was her face, and that she needed him so badly.  Colby found himself more than willing to oblige.  As he guided him forward he didn’t even feel his conscious mind slipping, wanting nothing more than to please her, no matter what.

*                      *                      *

 

 

 

Sunday, October 18th

 

 

Both Vivian and Timothy Durbin awoke thanks to the touch of a chill breeze that neither of them understood.  Waking fully they had frowned at one another at first, wondering where the cold was coming from.  While it was still winter the house was well enough insulated that they didn’t need to leave the wall heaters on constantly.  Letting them stay on for close to an hour was enough to heat most of the house, and they were shut off at night.  A chill such as this however usually meant an open window or door somewhere, and none of their three kids would have left either of these open.

The two of them rose slowly, Vivian gaining her feet first as she donned a woolen robe and a pair of slippers before waling towards the door that would lead out into the hall.  Tim was still rubbing sleep weary eyes as she stepped into the hallway, feeling the chill most distinctively from behind Colby’s door.  She could hear that their two daughters were still sleeping, though in her son’s room the television was still on.  Shaking her head she guessed that he had fallen asleep and forgotten to turn it off.

God bless the boy but damn if he wasn’t at times so far beyond the rest of them.  He was a handful, always had been, but he was their boy.  There were times like last night when they’d had to come down on him, but in heart she believed he understood why they spoke as they did.  They were concerned for his well-being, mentally as well as physically.  At first this little obsession of his with the world of ghosts and spooks had been cute, though not once had they ever encouraged it.  It was just his hobby they figured, and until his stints at the beach, especially lately, they hadn’t been overly worried.

“Colby, are you awake?”  She opened the door slowly, thinking that he might already be awake.  No doubt he hadn’t forgotten last night, but hopefully he had come to a better understanding of their words.  What she saw however both frightened as well as irritated her greatly as she took one more glance before walking back into her own room.  Her husband was slipping on his own robe and slippers as he yawned deeply, looking at her only after a moment of scratching and lip smacking.

“What’s wrong?”  His tone held a note of irritation which told her he could tell by the look on her face he wouldn’t enjoy her answer.

“Colby snuck out, his window is open and the screen’s popped out.  And even better, he isn’t here.”  Timothy didn’t bother to ask how she knew this, since on a winter’s day Colby would most likely be inside.  If he were inside then the noise he would be making fixing breakfast or otherwise would be enough to wake the dead.

Sliding his robe off of his shoulders Tim walked into their large closet, picking out a shirt and set of jeans.

After this he selected a jacket, socks and shoes before offering his wife one last glance before exiting the room.  No words were necessary, this had become a common practice as of late.  The scolding the boy would receive this time however would have to be something even worse than the previous times.  Grabbing a baseball cap as he exited the house he fished in the pocket of his jacket for the keys to the family vehicle, already running through his mind the words he would begin with.  Oh this kid!  Why couldn’t he realize that his parents were trying to keep him safe?  It was as his own father had told him long ago, sons were put on this earth to trouble their fathers.  Sometimes Tim wondered if Colby realized just how true that was.

*                      *                      *

 

The footprints led down to the water, that was all he could see.  Timothy frowned in confusion at the footprints that could only be his son’s, mostly because the prints led straight into the water.  He’d called out to his son many times already, even looked in the thickets of dune grass closest to the trail.  This was the only spot Colby ever came after his supposed sighting, Tim had found him here a number of times since that day.  The sun left really no place to hide, banishing most of the shadows save for deep in the grasses, where his son wouldn’t be anyway.

Now he was getting rather concerned.  There was a chance that Colby had been angry last night, but surely not angry enough to run away.  Both Tim and his wife had felt that while the conversation wasn’t entirely resolved it still hadn’t escalated to such a point.  Looking up and down the beach he tried to quiet his mind, not wanting to believe that his son would have gone anywhere but here.  His heart told him that this was so, but his mind was doing its world class job of devising each and every scenario, no matter how harmless or how malevolent.

He didn’t want to go home without his son at his side, but how did he go about that task when he couldn’t even find the boy?

*                      *                      *

 

Colby saw his father.  He saw as his old man yelled for him time and again, looking up and down the beach as though his son might just suddenly appear.  To be honest Colby didn’t know how to feel about this, the woman he had come to share his company with preoccupied much of his time now.  She was so lonely, and he brought her so much happiness that he couldn’t help but think of everything else only in passing.  His father however, Colby could not fully ignore.  As the waves all about him continued to roll in towards the shore his vision grew hazy as he heard the insistent call of his new friend.  Turning towards her he stole one glance back at the man upon the shore, already beginning to forget just who he was and why he was there.

There were ghosts in the water, he knew this to be true, he’d seen them.  He just never believed he’d become one of them.  That too however began to fade in the face of the woman’s smile, her deep sea-green eyes taking away everything save the need to keep her company.  She was so lonely, but not anymore.

12 Miles (excerpt)

Part One: Vince

 

 

“I’ll pray for you.  Be safe.”  The man snorted derisively at the old woman’s words as he sauntered away, keeping his balance despite his current state of inebriation.  He didn’t give a damn about her prayers.

“Do yourself a favor mom,” Karl said, “Save your prayers for someone who needs ‘em.”  His words came out fine, not slurring, but he couldn’t help feeling that he should quit talking.  Looking back over his shoulder he could see his mother silhouetted in the doorway, her features hidden in shadow as the lights of the warm bar behind her glared at her back.  The interior of the R&R Tavern looked so welcoming, so peaceful that maybe, just maybe-

No.  This time his brother had gone way too far.

“Please son, just be safe.”  His mother was pleading now, actually begging him to do as she said.  It almost broke his heart, but Karl kept on walking.  He even snorted in disdain, knowing it would hurt her that much more.  A part of Karl, a part he had long forgotten about, railed at him to stop, to just goddamn stop and listen to her, but the problem was, he didn’t want to listen to himself.  She already knew he wouldn’t do whatever she suggested if only to piss off the family and distance himself even further from them.  If his father, who was also inside with the rest of the family, couldn’t talk sense into him then no one could.  Well, there was one person who could, but she-

No.  That wasn’t a good thought to have right now.

“Whatever,” Karl replied before turning away.  The night around him was cold as his boots struck against the pock-marked parking lot, but not uncomfortably so.  He could hear the door squeal close behind him as his mother went back inside, no doubt in tears or well on her way to such a deluge.  He didn’t care; he’d meant every last goddamned word he’d said before leaving.  Zipping up his jacket Karl blew out a long, frosty plume of air.  This was going to be a long walk home.

*                      *                      *

 

“I said I was sorry goddammit!  What more does he want me to say?!”

“Please don’t use the lord’s name in vain again Gary.”

The middle-aged, pot-bellied man gave his gray-haired stepmother a long-suffering look as he tipped back his pint of beer, taking a deep swallow before setting it back down on the beer-soaked wooden table between them.  All along either side of the table was his family, or least a good deal of them, and none of them looked happy.  Gary kept his eyes upon the littered wooden surface, his eyes darting first to a crumpled napkin with barbecue sauce on it and then to a twisted drink straw, its slender form bent into a jumble of confusing angles.  All the glassware from the shot glasses to the pints to the wine glasses were either empty or getting there.  The plates and utensils that had been used for the feast had already been taken away by either his stepmother or other family members.  They had the run of the bar tonight since his uncle happened to own the place, which was the only reason why the underage kids were allowed in here right now.  Washington didn’t allow minors into a bar for any reason, but Uncle Jack didn’t care when it came to family, especially with private parties such as this.

Despite the size of the group that sat on either side of the scarred tables that had been pushed together no one seemed too eager to speak.  After another few awkward moments however one of the older men, Gary’s father, stood up to speak.

“You didn’t need to bring his wife into the discussion Gary, that was uncalled for and worse-“

“But-“ Gary tried to protest.  His father held up one hand quickly in a gesture that Gary knew too well.  It meant shut up and listen, or God help you if he had to go further than the hand.

Gordon glared reproachfully at his eldest son as he continued to hold up his hand, which was beginning to develop a few telltale signs of liver spots, “What’s worse is that you knew, you knew that it would rile him up.  Dammit Gary you should have known better!”  Gordon slammed his palm down hard on the table, still fixing Gary with his hard stare as Gary could see his father’s eyes misting over.  Glasses rattled and the sauce-covered napkin jumped slightly as Gordon’s hand met the table.  Even a few of those seated around him jumped just a bit at his vehement act.  No one seemed inclined to step in between father and son at that moment, no matter if they were all family in one way or another.  The subject at hand had been a tender one for nearly three years to this day and remained so.

“He’s just so goddamned sensitive!” Gary protested, still holding onto his glass of beer.  The two young faces his eyes suddenly alit upon tore at him as their wide eyes and frowning lips seemed to accuse him without words.  The six-year old twins, Tina and Jessie, loved their father very much, even if he was emotionally distant to them at times.  Nothing had been right since their mother had passed away it seemed, and Gary had no doubt just made things that much worse.

“Gary!” his stepmother, Ellen, scowled at him as she said his name.  The twins huddled close to their grandmother, no doubt hearing the severity in her voice.  Gary decided just then that he’d had it, he was done being sorry.  He scowled back as much as his blackened left eye would let him, not backing down an inch.

“Oh go on and defend your little baby boy, Ellen.” Gary spat, not meeting his father or Ellen’s heated stares in that moment.

“Be careful Gary, you’re crossing a dangerous line.” This came from just down the table, the eyes of another older gentleman, his Uncle James, pinning Gary as he locked gazes with the man.  Uncle James wasn’t the type to back down to the glare that Gary now gave him, in fact none of his family were that way.  His throbbing left eye attested to that fact.  It was a damned good thing his younger brother hadn’t aimed lower, Gary might not have been able to speak up in his defense just now.  Unfortunately it wasn’t like he was doing any good.

His little brother, well actually he wasn’t so little really, was the one that everyone seemed to be defending at the moment.  It wasn’t fair, the family always sided with his adopted brother, even if he was in the wrong like now.  Gary’s eye hurt like hell dammit!  And here they were, ready to defend the over-sensitive bastard that had done it!

“So what, you’re all against me now?” he asked in an accusing tone.

His younger sister Sarah spoke up at that moment, “You had no right to mention Anna, Gary, especially not in that context.” Gary’s jaw dropped as he glared at his sister, his real sister.  Out of all the people here he’d expected to understand his side of this, she’d been numero uno.  Of course she also thought their little brother had been fully entitled to the cheap shot he’d gotten in.  Gary had known the punch was coming, but he would swear up and down to end of his days that his adopted brother had sucker-punched him.  And there was no way he’d ever admit to being put on his ass, even though he had been.

The notion of calling the cops that were stationed just down the road to arrest the bastard had been tempting, but Uncle Jack wouldn’t have allowed it.  Plus, seeing as most of his family was here, no one else would have allowed it either.  He was convinced now that he would have been tackled before he hit the door if he’d tried to run to the station.  Hell, even if they didn’t stop him Gary would probably have a coronary before he got halfway there.  Despite being a healthy runner in his youth, age had taken away much of that vigor and spirit.  These days he was lucky if he could weed his own flowerbeds.  What he did wonder was if the family would have pulled Karl off had the asshole decided to keep going.  Gary almost suspected that they would have just let him go, wailing away until he was nothing more than a bloody smear.  Wouldn’t that have been fun to explain to any customers?  Oh sure, don’t worry about them strange stains, we just had some plumbing problems, or maybe Uncle Jack would come up with something equally ridiculous to explain away the faded bloodstains.

“You’re damn lucky he only punched you once Gary,” his father said.

Gary slouched sullenly in his seat as he replied, keeping his eyes turned away, “I could’ve taken him.”

“Dad, he would have flattened you.”  Gary looked to his right to see his sixteen-year old daughter, Beth, raising her eyebrows as she sipped at her drink.  It was a non-alcoholic drink, he knew, he’d watched Uncle Jack make it.  As his daughter looked at him squarely Gary saw that she too was against him at the moment, his own daughter.  Great, now absolutely everyone was against him.

*                      *                      *

 

It was damned cold as Karl began the long trek home, his hands stuffed in the pockets of his heavy Carhart jacket.  The thick material was designed for heavy duty labor and protection, but it didn’t do much against the cold.  Of course it probably wouldn’t with the zipper halfway down either.  He didn’t care about the cold, it was actually helping to keep him awake and cleared his thoughts just a bit.  He was still plenty angry, but no longer felt even the slightest bit remorseful.

For years now half of his family had been dying to see him take down his older brother, while the other half had always warned him away, telling him to be the bigger man.  In truth he was a bit surprised that things hadn’t come to such a head like this years earlier.  His brother had been tormenting him for years now, even when he’d finally grown bigger and stronger.  Gary had few reasons if any to be the arrogant asshole that he was, but for some reason he was just that way.

Karl’s home was all the way back down Mill Plain, a good ten miles, probably more since he’d never calculated it.  Vancouver wasn’t the biggest city around, in fact some folks still considered it a town.  The ‘couv, as it was called by so many, lay sprawled over a wide terrain with more than a few outlying suburbs that tried to be their own little townships.  His home was set just off of Franklin Street, along where Brandt and Mill Plain intersected.  It was a simple place, a single-story, three-bedroom house with one and a half bathrooms and a nice-size yard both front and back.  He expected that the yellow Labrador that had been around since Tina and Jessie were babies had already gone inside via the doggy door he’d installed early on during her potty training.  Luna was a good girl, she’d been easy to train and even easier to raise.  His kids on the other hand, well, maybe that wasn’t such a good subject to think of just now.  They were good girls, but after what had happened three years ago, Karl didn’t really want to think about how he was failing them.

The neighborhood he and his daughters lived in was called Harney Heights, which was really an absurd name he’d always thought.  At least the homes in his neighborhood didn’t have names like they did over in Aurora, Oregon, where his parents lived.

As Karl continued to walk forward the air surrounding him became just a bit colder as he shuddered in response.  Huddling a little deeper into his jacket he could hear his teeth chatter until he clamped them firmly together, stifling the noise as he frowned.  Winter was always an uncertain time in the pacific northwest, it could range from a sunny, warm day to a blinding snowstorm on any given day.  The weathermen were rarely correct and when they were it was normally a wide-eyed, “how did that happen”, moment that was shared by all.  As he continued walking Karl grinned, thinking to himself that it might very well snow this winter.  Tina and Jessie would like that at least.

“Hey buddy, I need a dollar.”  Karl jumped slightly at the gravelly voice that came from the shadows just to his right.  Wait, that wasn’t right, why would someone be walking in the street?  Karl had crossed the four six lanes of blacktop only a few hundred yards back, preferring to walk on the left side of the street since the sidewalk ran for far longer on this side.  He knew enough of Vancouver’s streets to know that he didn’t want to be caught walking on the edge of the road at this time of night.  The drivers around these parts weren’t always that considerate to pedestrians.

Looking over to the right he saw a bearish man walking up to him from behind, his features mostly obscured from the street lights overhead. Karl could see though that he was a brute, his long hair and facial hair bushy and just barely kept within his hood.  The man’s voice as almost like a growl, though Karl didn’t pay much attention to this.

“Sorry man, I’ve got nothing.”  Karl didn’t even think it too strange that the man was walking upon the short width of concrete that separated the sidewalk from the street, some people didn’t care about the laws of traffic or even physics, meaning that a car outweighed a person by thousands of pounds.  It didn’t even take a high school physics student to know that the car would always win.

“That’s too bad,” the man said, his voice continually rough as he kept his hands huddled into the thick woolen jacket he wore.  Karl was about to move on, though he’d never stopped walking he realized, when the man spoke again.

“I still need a dollar.”

The stranger was pacing him, Karl suddenly realized, those big legs, clad in what almost looked like coveralls, pumping as Karl tried to speed up without being noticed.  Still the man kept his pace.

“I told you man, I’ve got nothing.”

I told you man, I’ve got nothing.”  An almost girlish chuckle came from his left then, startling Karl so that he almost forgot about the man to his left.  Looking over in that direction quickly he saw a woman, obvious from her voice and her build, as she came across a grassy sward that was part of a front lawn that sat in front of an AM/PM gas station and convenience mart.  He felt his heartbeat increase in tempo just a bit, though he kept walking.  Karl knew that crime in Vancouver was sometimes as prevalent as anywhere, but muggings on the street didn’t just occur now and then, if at all.  But for some reason, he didn’t get the feeling that these two were interested in his polite company.

“Maybe we should let this guy go Dio,” the woman said, her own features hidden away within the shadows of a hood, except for her eyes. Karl could see the manic, brown orbs from the light shed by a street light as the three of them continued to walk forward, the two shadowing the one.  He could only make out hints and bits of her face, though that seemed enough to know that she was rather striking.  But the ill light he could see in her eyes was more than a little unnerving.  Suddenly he wanted to be far away from these two, and was thinking that he should have stayed at the bar.

Such irrational fear wasn’t like him, nor was thinking that he might be in very real danger from two strangers he’d just met, but Karl felt it all the same.  He’d said before that he feared no one, no matter if they could kill him with barely any effort.  Fear was something he didn’t like to admit, though it happened just as it did with most other folks.  He denied it as much as possible, but when his heartbeat betrayed him it was hard to put aside.

“He’s got something,” the woman said, pacing Karl on his left even as the big brute of a man continued to do the same on the right.  Karl was feeling just a bit nervous now, so much so in fact that he didn’t notice that there wasn’t a single car on the road, nor even a single person to be seen on the streets.  While Vancouver wasn’t exactly a city that never slept, there were gas stations and other businesses that didn’t close, remaining open all day and night so as to offer more convenience.  But in his current mood, he didn’t notice that not a single person seemed to be present.  If he had it would have been just another curiosity anyway.

“Lady, I don’t know what to tell you but-“ Karl didn’t get the chance to finish as the woman interrupted him with a barking peal of laughter, the sound grating on his nerves as he instantly thought of nails screeching across sheet metal.  It was a vivid mental image, and one that he didn’t really enjoy.

“You can tell my friend that you’ll give him a dollar, that way we can both get across the river.”

Now that made no sense.  Get across the river?  Images of toll booths and small metal and wooden boxes where people sat and made sure that the toll for passage was collected entered his mind, and Karl couldn’t rightly remember the last time when he’d seen such a thing, apart from movies and television of course. Many films shot in New York, New Jersey, and even further to the west of the nation showed toll bridges and roads that collected money in order for one to continue onward, but here in Vancouver there was no such thing as a toll bridge. And to cross the river, one only had to choose between the I-5 and I-205 bridges, and neither of those demanded a toll.

In fact, he could remember at that second the only toll bridge that he and his family had seen had been in Astoria, when he had been a child.  Every weekend and holiday they’d been able they had gone to the beach, and crossing over from Astoria to the Longbeach Peninsula had required a toll.  But that toll booth had been taken down years ago, after it had been decided that it was a service no longer needed.  He could recall that there was apparently talk of it coming back however.  And there was talk of an addition to the I-5 Bridge, one that would require a toll booth.  For people who traveled back and forth between Washington and Oregon for work and other pursuits, that would be a real bitch.

“Hey stupid!” the woman called, her voice almost shrieking as Karl jumped just a bit, “Stop daydreaming and give my buddy a dollar!”  He almost yelled right back at her, not appreciating the tone she was taking. That seemed just a bit ridiculous since she and the man were obviously trying to force him into something he didn’t want, but all the same Karl didn’t like being yelled at.

“Bite me you screeching bitch.” Karl had no sooner spoken the words when he heard footsteps coming up from behind him.  Before he could turn he was struck soundly upon the back of the head with something very hard, something that forced him to stumble forward as the world tilted crazily in his vision, the street lights almost blurring into long, orange lines as the shadows crept into his sight just a little more.  Sound seemed to distort in that moment as the woman and the first man converged on him, each one of them grabbing an arm as Karl tried to fight.  He was rewarded for his efforts by a vicious kick to the balls from the woman, who was wearing pointed shoes he soon found out.

Karl didn’t even have the wind to yell or groan as the man socked a huge fist into his stomach, folding him instantly as he went down.  They let him go before his arms would have been wrenched painfully in their sockets, to crash hard upon the cement walkway as he thankfully turned to the left, not landing on his face and breaking his nose or anything else.  That was a small thing at least.

“Check ‘im,” he heard a deep, masculine voice say, and then he felt as the woman and the first man rifled through his pockets, turning out nothing but an empty wallet with a few pieces of plastic, namely his debit card from Wells Fargo, a FUNLAND card from the coast when he’d taken his girls, and a battered and beaten USBANK employment debit card.  He’d not needed the card since he’d gained a job several months back, but the letter it had come with had advised him to keep it, and so he’d tucked it away and forgotten it was there.

The rest that came out of his pockets was nothing more than a few pieces of change, pennies and a few dimes really, and a couple pieces of folded up paper with notes and phone numbers written on them.  He heard a snort of disgust as the two stood up, the crumpling sound of the papers being wadded up and thrown aside abnormally loud in his head.

“Punk was right, he didn’t have anything.” The woman sounded almost surprised.

“The boatman won’t accept this little,” the first man said, his voice just as rumbling and disturbing as Karl continued to listen, cradling his injured manhood as the lights continued to dim.

“It doesn’t matter,”  spoke the third voice, the one that Karl hadn’t seen yet, “We’ll find some other chump, someone who’s actually got something.  Let’s go.”  He thought that would have been it, that they would have left him alone, but hey, that would have been too simple.

The woman looked down at him as the trio began to move back in the direction they’d come from, her insane gaze making Karl’s skin crawl as he looked up at her.  He could almost envision this woman laughing at the scene of a horrific car crash, or dancing a jig when 9/11 had come about, or doing something equally perverse during some other unknowable tragedy.  The madness he saw in her eyes didn’t allow him to think anything less.

“Enjoy your stay asshole,” she said, and then she kicked him, hard, in the temple. And for a little bit, the lights went out.

*                      *                      *

 

Reason suggested that someone should have called the cops, that someone would have seen a man lying upon the sidewalk, curled into the fetal position, and thought that something was wrong.  But of course, reason wasn’t always reasonable, especially in an age where a lot of people figured it was better to mind their own damned business.  Karl might have been an oddity lying there on the sidewalk, or he might have been seen as a disgusting bum, a drunk who’d gotten so passed out on his ass that even walking down the street hadn’t been something he could accomplish without needing a place to rest.  All that might have been possible, but at the moment, as his eyes began to slowly open, it hurt just to see the light of the street lamps at the moment, Karl figured that it didn’t matter.  The only thing he was worried about at that second were the overgrown, throbbing melons that had once been his balls.

Pain was his only true sensation right now, the swelling in his pants making a rather persuasive argument that it should be the one and only thing on Karl’s mind at that second.  Unfortunately he couldn’t disagree.

“Hey, hey pal, time to get up.”

He wanted to tell the anonymous stranger what to do with himself, but the words wouldn’t come, making him wonder if the three muggers had done something to damage his windpipe as well.  Karl was conscious enough at that second that he could feel no pain in his throat and neck, but the agony in his head and his crotch was more than enough to make up for the apparent lack.  Good G-, wait, why couldn’t he form that thought?  How hard had the damned woman kicked him?

“Hey, get up man.”

Karl managed a groan this time, though that was about it.

“Get up man, I’m not gonna drag your ass up on my own.”

Opening his eyes Karl expected to see a cop, or another citizen of the town intent on doing just a small bit of good. Or maybe someone who just didn’t want to take the second or two to walk around him.

Instead he saw a tall black man hunkered down next to him, left knee upon the pavement and the other raised as he balanced on the ball of his right foot.  He was no doubt taller than Karl, and yet he instantly decided that the man couldn’t have weighed more than a buck eighty or just a little over.  He was lithe in the way that a lot of tall people were, all bone, muscle, and skin, hardly any fat.  Of course, that was a crude generalization, but at this moment Karl’s capacity to think straight wasn’t firing on all thrusters.

“Did you see them?” Karl groaned, feeling as though the question was a bit ridiculous. It was like asking someone if they’d knew what was happening in an undetermined location to people they’d never met.

“Nope, but I can guess who did it,” the man said, his face betraying nothing more than mild irritation, “The three I can assume did this have been waylaying people for longer than  I care to admit.”

Karl frowned, the small gesture paining him greatly as he closed his eyes again. The three people?  The muggers had been doing this before?  You would have thought that such a thing would have been on a local newscast once or twice.  But maybe they were quiet about it, taking out people that wouldn’t dare say a word.  Or maybe it was just one more screwy part of the world that seemed to slip in and out of its many cracks.

“Who are you?” Karl managed to ask.

The black man issued a long, bored-sounding sigh that immediately made Karl think of his brother, and how the prick had always seemed irritated with him for no reason.

“Are you gonna ask a bunch of questions or can we get going finally?”

What had he just said?  Karl wasn’t quite sure, in fact he was as confused as he could be in his own opinion, but at the moment all that really mattered was the pain he was in.  With another sigh the stranger stood to his feet, where Karl was almost sure he would either just leave or kick him and then leave.  For some reason he didn’t feel like he could expect a great deal from this man.

“Get your ass up man, we need to be going.”

“Call me a damned ambulance or something,” Karl groaned from where he lay, still cupping his crotch as he was almost certain he could feel it bleeding.

“Is that all?” the man asked, “You’re worrying about your tenders?  Oh for crying out loud. I’d forgotten how big of babies guys can be about their equipment.”

Without warning the man hunkered down again, and before Karl could protest or even try to move away, the man’s large hand was upon his crotch.  It lasted only a second, but what came next would remain stuck in his memory until the day he died.

Karl was about to move, or try to at least scoot away, when the man took his hand away.  He didn’t know what to say or expect, but in the next breath he found himself unable to do anything other than squeak as his mouth opened wide in a horrified O of agony.  It felt like someone had shoved a steel spike into his privates and twisted, the wrenching pain lasting for only a moment but still incapacitating him without fail.

And in the next instant, it was over.

His head still ached fiercely, and his neck was a bit stiff from having lain upon the sidewalk at an angle, but as to his crotch, well, it felt normal.  Karl couldn’t think straight as he suddenly sprang to his feet, fully intent on showing the man just what he thought of such treatment.  His palms were abraded slightly as he pushed himself to his feet, but he didn’t care, standing up quickly as he swung one fist at the black man, only to discover that the bastard wasn’t there.

“If this is how we’re going to start out it’s going to be a long trip.”  The voice of the stranger came from behind him, though Karl could have sworn the man had just been in front of him. How the hell had he moved so fast?  At that moment it almost felt as though he were inside a badly written movie, something where strangers who just showed up helped in the most strange ways and had supernatural abilities that defied any mortal reasoning. It was almost like something his daughters might have read or watched on television.

“I’d keep those kind of thoughts close to the vest, if you catch my meaning,” the man said as Karl turned around, “Stuff like that can get you twisted faster than you can blink where we’re going.”

Karl did blink, turning around just as quickly as he stepped away from the stranger.

“Who the hell are you?” He barely noticed as the man winced.  Instead of answering right away however, the stranger looked around, almost as though he were nervous, which Karl of course did not understand.  Was he running from someone?  Maybe the cops….but no, no that was an essentially racist thought, or at least had the possibility of being one, and Karl didn’t entertain it any further.

“Keep that kind of talk down big guy, especially when we cross the river.”

“What river?” Karl asked, growing more exasperated each second he stood there talking.  A large part of him just wished to keep going, to marvel about how his nether regions no longer ached and what it meant, whether or not he’d met the real life equivalent of John Coffey or not, but his feet wouldn’t move.  He wondered if the character in Stephen King’s stunning novel, The Green Mile, had felt the same way when the big black man had touched him in the certain spot.  Of course, Karl hadn’t been suffering a urinary infection before now, just a painful kick from a very pointed toe. He wondered briefly if either pain would feel the same, and decided quickly that he didn’t want to find out.

“The river you were heading towards, without knowing it of course.”

Karl rolled his eyes, “The only river I know of anywhere close to here is the Columbia, and I wasn’t planning on crossing it tonight.”

The black man gave him a look that suggested he was being quite tiresome, and to be honest Karl didn’t like it, but then, he didn’t like the stranger all that much either right now.  Something about him just didn’t seem natural, and it was more than just the strange healing touch he’d exhibited.  He was grateful in a way, but it wasn’t every day a guy just reached out and grabbed you, unless you batted for that team of course.  No, even gays had to have a sense of propriety, they were human after all, aside from what the cartoons that slammed them might believe.

“Have you always been this thick? Or is tonight a special night?”

“What in the hell are you talking about?!”

“Watch the word man!” the stranger spat, looking around once more as though in fear that something might soon present itself.  Karl was more than a little confused right now, but he didn’t care. He wanted an answer, he wanted to get on his way and leave this crazy black man behind, and he wanted all of that within the next five to ten seconds.  Of course he wasn’t likely to get it, he knew this. Crazy people often took a little longer to get to the point.

“Just tell me what the-“ the man narrowed his eyes at him, “-heck, is going on here, who you are, and why I shouldn’t just keep walking my happy ass down the road, towards home and company a lot more stable than your own.”  Karl felt his hands clench into fists, and he knew that he would throw down soon if the man didn’t get to talking. The black man looked at Karl’s fists, almost amused it seemed, and then took a deep breath.

“Fine.  You want to know?  I suppose you’re entitled, it wouldn’t be against the rules to tell you at least something.”

Karl just frowned, not understanding but at least willing to listen to something approximating an answer.  It was a start at least.

“My name is Vince, and I’m your guide. As to the river I keep mentioning, as in the one we’ll have to cross to get on to where we’re going, it’s not the Columbia, or the Willamette, or any other river in the vicinity that you might or might not know about.  Those rivers have gone bye-bye my friend.  Well, they’re still there, but the names are going to be different if you’re unlucky enough to be sent that way.”

Karl kept listening, though he knew that he would regret it.

“As much as you might think we’re still on Mill Plain, in Vancouver, WA, in the great US of A, and located on the world known as earth, you’re wrong.”

Karl blinked, “And where are we then?”

Vince shook his head, rolling his eyes again as he replied, “Welcome to the first step before Hell Karl.  Feel free to throw up before we head out, most people do the first time.”