A/N: I know this story is kinda strange...it was inspired by a dream I had, if that explains anything. ^_^ I don't quite know where I'm going with it, either, but I think it's kinda interesting so far. If anyone else thinks the same, I'll continue. Actually, I'll probably continue regardless. But still. ^_^

Dana wrapped an arm around Jessica's thin shoulders, in an attempt to both defend her from the biting winter breeze and offer some of her own body heat in doing so. The younger girl was shivering uncontrollably despite the fact that she was wrapped in multiple layers of wool and their mother's old fur coat; it was just too bad there was no way she could have stayed at home, where at least she wouldn't be likely to catch a chill or pneumonia.

At least the store wasn't too much farther; soon they would be inside, in the warmth. The door stuck at her first attempt to open it; she had to give it a rough shove before it would open, ice cracking in the hinges as it did so. A bell somewhere behind the counter dinged as they entered. The store was just as well heated as she could have hoped; Dana thought she could almost feel the ice melting off the end of her nose, and resolved to spend as much time as possible here. Not only would it keep her warm, but it would perform the same service for her sister, who needed to stay warm so much more than she did.

The store was empty of customers but for one old woman at the counter and a small boy over in one corner. The boy caught her curiosity for a moment--after all, he was dressed in nothing but a gray shirt and pair of torn and patched tan pants, which wasn't exactly the usual costume one saw in the middle of a freezing winter.

Jessica's small hand sneaked into hers, distracting her. She held it as tightly as she could, trying to melt some of the snow and ice from the glove and warm the freezing fingers within. The old woman at the counter finished her transaction and hobbled out with the aid of a cane, leaving the boy in the corner behind--he wasn't with her, then, as Dana had thought he might be.

One of the reasons the two of them had been so eager to come to the store today instead of leaving the service to someone else had been curiosity. The town general store had recently been bought by a total unknown, who was reputedly running the store entirely by himself; Dana had absolutely no idea how this could be done, and was sure (as was the rest of the town) that he would be hiring help within a week, at the most.

Dana took shameless advantage of the moment of silence after the old woman left to look over the man behind the counter, who surely had to be the new owner of the store. He seemed ordinary enough at first glance; unruly brown hair with a small streak of gray, spectacles perched atop a nose that was a little too long for good looks, and very tall. His gray eyes were thoughtful in a slightly tanned face--odd, that, in the middle of winter, but not really too odd. He had just moved to the town, after all; perhaps before this, he had lived somewhere down south, where the sun still shone brightly even when it snowed, or perhaps where it didn't even snow. Like the boy, he had little defense against the biting cold, although in the middle of the store he didn't need it; he wore a plain brown suit, the chain of a watch peeking from the top of one shirt pocket.

All this she took in during the moment's walk to the counter. The man looked up as she approached, looking them over with just as much curiosity as she had examined him with. Dana knew exactly what he would see; a woman in her early thirty's, dark brown curls hidden by a wool knit cap but tumbling loosely down her back. Her shape would be well hidden by the encumbering multiple layers the freeze demanded; the only visible parts of her were a pair of plain hazel eyes, a simple mouth, and a nose and ears pink from the cold. The rest of her was safely hidden away behind a navy blue wool coat, heavy black skirt, light blue scarf, and plain, sensible black leather lady's boots.

Jessica's small form beside her was even more thoroughly bundled, wrapped in the same layers as Dana but with a fur coat several sizes too big wrapped around the outside. The result made her seem round and fat, rather than the too-small, sickly form that Dana knew lay underneath the layers. Her blonde hair hung out a few inches below her green wool cap; the only parts of her visible from the warmly encompassing layers were a pair of baby blue eyes, a pink nose and ears, and a face far too pale even for the winter cold.

Dana nodded in friendly greeting to the new store's owner; he smiled in return. Jessica, letting go of her hand, wandered over to the candy section, browsing the aisles and gazing wistfully at several of the sweets. She knew better than to ask, though; much as Dana would have liked to spoil her sister with candy, even the mildest sweets made her sicker than usual.

"Your daughter doesn't look well," the man observed, his gaze following Jessica for a moment before returning to her.

She hid a smile at his mistake; people often mistook her small, pale younger sister for her daughter, just as they often looked at Jessica's small size and assumed she was a young child rather than a young lady of just-turned-fifteen.

"She is Sensitive," she said hesitantly, deciding not to correct his mistake, "and has never been very well. This cold isn't very good for her."

The man nodded, sudden understanding blossoming in his face. "Sensitives are often somewhat sickly," he said knowingly. His gaze wandered back down the aisles to Jessica and stopped there; he stared at her as though he was wondering about something.

"Indeed," she agreed, watching Jessica as well. "I have often said she's so pale she looks like a ghost herself."

Dana wasn't the only one that thought so. All her life, people had been made somewhat nervous and ill at ease by her younger sister; everyone at the public school Jessica had attended for a year had called her Ghost Girl, or Spooky. It was the combination of her sickly pallor, incredible Sensitivity, and the fact that she preferred to remain silent most of the time rather than speak non-stop as most others her age did--those three things were what made others ill at ease around her, and the things that had made her year in the public school system a living nightmare. After that one year, Dana had begun schooling her younger sister at home, instead.

As she watched, Jessica surprised her sister by wandering over near the boy in the corner, and making a tentative attempt at conversation. The boy shook his head at something she had said and rose, approaching the counter at a slow, ambling walk. Jessica stood in the aisle he had vacated for a moment, with a confused frown on her face, then suddenly turned and came flying back to Dana's side at a run, her small hand sneaking back into Dana's larger one.

The man behind the counter noticed the boy then, seemingly for the first time. He started, and muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like a curse. "What," he said, an exasperated note in his voice, "are you doing here? I thought I told you not to come here!"

"He's a ghost!" Jessica wailed, clutching at Dana's hand. Dana put a protective arm around her sister's thin shoulders, glaring towards the man and the boy.

"He is not a ghost," the man said wearily, rubbing at his temples, "although I'm not surprised you're Sensitive to him as well. As for what he is--well, it's rather complicated. At the moment, however, he is quite a nuisance." He looked straight at her for the first time in quite a while, and shook his head. "Ma'am, I would advise you to take your daughter and return to your home, while I deal with--with this nuisance."

"Aw, you're so complimentary, friend!" spoke the boy for the first time, grinning. "Y'know, I'd almost think you weren't happy to see me."

The man swore, then shrugged apologetically at her. "You," he said to the boy, "are not welcome anywhere I happen to be, as I believe I told you six months ago. I no longer have anything to do with your type, whatsoever. Leave."

The boy raised an eyebrow. "Y'know, it just so happens, I--"

"I said leave!" Reaching down below the counter, he emerged with a gun, pointing it at the boy. Dana jumped, moving slightly away from the counter.

"Surely you know that sort of thing doesn't work on me," the boy said, leaning lazily against the counter and helping himself to a mint from the candy jar.

The man gave a quick flicker of a glance in their direction, then looked back at the boy. "I must admit, I've always admired--grudgingly, mind--that particular ability of yours, especially if you can maintain it in a town like this."

"It's just grudging admiration because you can't do it yourself. As I've been trying to tell you all along, it just so happens that I came here to warn you, although I'm not so sure anymore that you deserve it. He is coming." With that declaration, the boy quite literally disappeared.

A sudden explosion shook the entire shop, rattling the windows. "Get down!" the man yelled, moving with surprising swiftness around the edge of the counter; when the two of them could no more but stand there, stunned, he swore and pushed them down. Dana, recovering slightly from her shock, hid obediently behind a barrel of peanuts, pulling Jessica close to her and tightly clutching her hand. Her heart was hammering in her chest with fear, a blind and senseless panic she couldn't pinpoint the cause of; it was only for Jessica's sake that she managed to keep from having a nervous breakdown right then and there.

The sunlight outside the window dimmed, then faded away altogether; there was no sign of moonlight, as though the world had been suddenly pitched into never-ending darkness. Muttering something under his breath, the man crouched on the floor on the other side of the peanut barrels, aiming the gun expectantly towards the store door.

Perfectly on cue, the door crashed open, coming entirely off the hinges and landing on the floor with a thud. Dana started praying, hugging Jessica to her chest and shaking with the force of her fear--although she wasn't shaking as badly as Jessica was. Whatever sort of creature had entered the store, it was evidently close enough to ghostly that Jessica was Sensitive to it; her sister screamed, and Dana quickly put a hand over the girl's mouth, muffling the sound so that their hiding place wouldn't be betrayed.

She closed her eyes then, so she didn't see what happened next, but she heard three heavy footsteps and then the loud crack of a gunshot from the other side of the peanut barrels. Jessica whimpered at the sound; a hand landed roughly on her shoulder, dragging her to her feet, and wrenched Jessica from her grasp. Her eyes flew open at that, crying out in anger that the unknown dared take her sister away from her protection.

The man that now owned the store was the one who had pulled her to her feet and taken Jessica away from her; he had a firm grip on one of her sister's shoulders with his right hand, the left aiming his gun at the figure that had entered the store.

The creature that had entered the store was what made her stop and stare, mouth dropping open as a wave of a sudden and senseless terror swept over her. The thing was tall--very, very tall, its head reaching almost to the ceiling. It was impossible to make out details of shape or features; it was vaguely human-shaped, and just seemed to be a pool of living, liquid darkness, with hands made of shadows and a faceless head that somehow gave the impression of being covered by a great black hood. It looked like the most horrible image of the Grim Reaper she had ever seen, only even more so because it was real and in the metaphorical flesh. All she could do was stand there, mouth open in terror, breath making small clouds of steam in the air; for despite how warm the store had been just a very few moments ago, the thing seemed to suck all the light and warmth from the area surrounding it, leaving the store freezing cold and unbearably dark.

"She is the Sensitive one," the creature said; its voice somehow managed to be deep and light at the same time, irresistibly bringing to mind the sound of thousands of voices screaming in unified anguish.

"Not just Sensitive," the man said agreeably, keeping his gun aimed at the creature despite the fact that the first bullet he had fired seemed to have had no effect. "But she is the one you're after, yes."

The creature chuckled, completely without humor. "You are the one that I am after," it hissed; with the words, Dana suddenly overcame her shock and dropped to her hands and knees, crawling nearer to her sister inch by inch. "But if the two of you are here together--well, then, it's quite convenient for me, isn't it?"

The creature stretched a single, shadowy hand towards them; cursing fit to blister Dana's ears, the man grabbed Jessica and ran, heading towards the back of the store. Dana followed unthinkingly, demanding as she did so to know where he thought he was going with Jessica.

"Shut up!" was the highly unsatisfactory reply. The man backed into a wall, fingers scrambling madly over the blank plaster for a moment before finding whatever he was searching for and pressing it. A portion of the wall moved outwards, revealing a secret tunnel; the man pushed Jessica into the dark passage, then glared at her. "And I suppose you'll insist on going with her, won't you? Oh, of course you will, why am I even asking--" He shoved at her back as she moved toward the tunnel, sending her sprawling facedown into dirt, then he followed as well, pressing something as he went that moved the wall back into place.

"What is going on?" Dana demanded as she climbed to her feet--whispering, for fear that the creature might hear them through the walls. Jessica, who had somehow managed to find her even in the pitch darkness, clutched desperately at her hand.

"Shut up," the man said again; he fumbled with something in the darkness, and a moment later a lantern flared into life. "This way," he said shortly, heading off into the tunnel. Dana followed, suppressing her many misgivings; one thing she was sure of, this man (whoever he was) had to be a lot safer than that thing back in the shop.

They walked for what seemed like hours, but for all she really knew it might have only been a few minutes. By the time they reached the end of the tunnel and stepped out into the snow, wind, and the cold, her feet were aching horribly. A quick glance around proved that she saw absolutely nothing she recognized; that meant they were probably well outside of town.

The man, with a stubborn lack of helpfulness, offered no explanation whatsoever to their location, recent events, or anything else. Instead, he hurried off through the snow in some unknown direction; Dana hurried after him, holding Jessica as close as was possible without hindering her movement.

Suddenly, in the middle of their trip, Jessica stopped in her tracks with a jerk, letting out a small cry. The man realized suddenly that they weren't following him anymore, and looked over his shoulder; Dana, recognizing the symptoms, held her sister even closer and looked around, searching desperately for the ghost she knew was bound to be there somewhere.

It emerged after just a few moments, the white paleness of its form blending with the falling snow and making it nearly invisible. As always, the ghost was frozen eternally in the moment of its death--in this case, it was a beautiful young woman, dressed in a wedding gown. The knife still embedded in her heart trailed carmine blood, staining the whiteness of her dress a brilliant red. She screamed silently at them, tears of blood streaking her pale face.

Jessica screamed as well--in her case, audibly--and jerked in Dana's grip, blue eyes gone wide and unseeing. Dana held her tightly, even when she convulsed again, the force of her reaction almost jerking her from Dana's grip. At last the ghost disappeared; Jessica kept screaming for a single instant more, and then her eyes rolled back in her head and she passed out, sliding out of Dana's arms to land in the snow.

"You didn't tell me she was this Sensitive!" the man said, yelling to be heard over the howl of the wind. Bending over, he scooped up Jessica in his arms and turned, continuing on his way to wherever as though the ghostly encounter had never even occurred.

"You didn't ask!" Dana yelled back, following and trying to suppress the feeling of helpless uselessness that came now that she didn't even have her sister's hand to hold.

At last they took a sudden turn to the left, and found themselves in a train station. For once, Dana actually knew where they were; Vore Station was a little less than a mile outside the town limits, and the only train station within fifty miles. A dark blue steam train already waited in the station; it was this that the man hurried for, with Dana following. After all, she might still not know where he was going, but he still had Jessica, and there was no way she was going back home without her sister--especially not when that thing might still be there.

The door to the third train car was open, and it was this that the man entered. He headed at once for one of the compartments, leaving Dana to close the train door and then follow. When she entered the compartment as well, he had laid Jessica down on one of the seats and left, heading towards the second car without a word.

Dana sat down next to Jessica's still form, feeling incredibly awkward and unsure of what to do. Luckily, the man was back within a few moments, standing in the apartment door and glaring at her in disgust. Dana stared back at him, asking at last, "Are you ever going to explain what in the world is going on?"

"No, I don't believe I will," he said rudely. "We are only going to be traveling together until we arrive at Chester, at which point you will both be getting off. It's only for your daughter's sake that I'm willing to put up with you at all."

"What's so special about Jessica?" she asked, reaching over to hold the hand of the person in question. Her sister's skin was like ice, and she was pale as usual, absolutely still but for the steady rising and falling of her chest as she breathed.

"Is that her name?" He snorted, taking a seat on the opposite side of the compartment. "Jessica. How uninventive."

Seized with a sudden desire to stick her tongue out at him, she instead settled for glaring at him. "You still haven't answered my question. The only thing that's special about Jessica is that she's a Sensitive."

He snorted again. "A Sensitive? Is that all you think she is?" Then he rolled his eyes. "Well, never mind, of course it is--stupid place never had anything more than Sensitives, wouldn't know what do with a girl like that if their lives depended on it--which of course it could--stupid bloody idiots..."

Obviously, the man much preferred muttering to himself to answering her questions. "Are you ever going to answer me?"

He straightened in his seat. "No, I'm not. Like I said, you're only staying on this train until we get to Chester. I apologize for having dragged the two of you into this, and I'm afraid I've managed to attract trouble to your town just by being there, but I still have no intention of putting up with either one of you a single bloody instant longer than I have to."

"Fine. At least tell me your name." At his stubborn silence, she added, "Even if I am getting off at Chester, I need to have something to call you besides Hey You."

He snorted, but answered. "John Lansing."

"And you say Jessica was uninventive. I'm Dana Myers."

"I didn't ask you what your name was."

"I know. So?"

Rising from his seat, he started to walk out of the compartment, then paused in the doorway to glance over his shoulder at her. "I cannot wait until I get rid of you two!"

With that outburst, he left, closing the compartment door behind him.

A/N: Don't worry, things will make more sense later. Matter of fact, a few things will be explained in the very next chapter. Yep. Till then, see ya! -waves and runs off-