"A child born on all Hollow's eve is said to see the spirits…"
For a second Kara Knight thought she could hear her deceased grandmother's voice so close, she reached out for the light and clicked it on to observe the room. She rubbed her eyes and pulled off the blankets to sit up and observe the whole room. Yep there was her grandmother, sitting in the chair, looking creepy as anyone would if they had been dead for years.
Kara sat bolt upright from bed. This time there was no bleary eyed dilly dallying. She pulled the light on and scrambled to the far side of the bed, far away from the chair. The bedpost was blocking her view. Holding her breath and convincing herself that not looking would be more of a hurt to her than looking, she peeked around then drew her head back immediately. More slowly, she looked again. No one was there. She let out a sigh.
"Kara Knight you don't ignore your grandmother," came a sharp from behind her. Kara's heart jumped as she scrambled to the other side of the bed, facing her dead grandmother once again. She wanted to close her eyes. The old woman was in worse shape then she was in her dream. Her eyes were bloodshot and her skin looked like it was sagging so bad it was going to fall off. She was dressed in the traditional movie ghost white dressing gown and seemed to be shimmering in and out of focus.
"Grandma?" Kara stuttered slightly. She couldn't quiet her pounding heart, fearing it might beat to death. Her grandmother scowled at her, which was not unusual. They had never really liked each other. Her father's mother was…different from her mother's. Her other grandmother, still happily living up in Clearwater, was the typical type. She always had way too much food ready for just her and her father to eat and always smelled like fresh linen. Her fathers mother had always had all of her creepy psychic tools around and books about raising the dead and setting and removing hexes on people.
"No it's the darn tooth fairy," the old lady retorted, chortling ith and ugly gurgling sound, "I told you I wouldn't let you alone when I died."
"I thought you were just trying to scare me," Kara said, forgetting for a second that she was talking to some sort of ghost, "I never thought that anyone could be that persistent to torture me."
Kara fought the childish urge to stick her tongue out at the old woman.
"Enough with that, girl," her grandmother snapped, "There's not enough time. You're in danger. If you can finally see me, then you'll be able to see the others. And they'll be able to get to you. You must remember-" the old lady cut off with a curse. Her face softened visibly, "Kara, you mustn't…"
Her voice became so quiet that she seemed to be whispering, or yelling from far away. The old woman disappeared. Not in the Hollywood flash of light or shrinking into the distance with an arm stretched out, she just, faded, as if she had just lost substance and was no more.
Feeling wired up and yet exhausted at the same time, Kara turned to her clock. 12:01. She let out a sigh and lay on her pillow pulling her blanket around her and rolling herself into a minute ball, staring around the well lit room. The mundane look of her room seemed to laugh at her. She couldn't trust that it was really normal stillness any more. She kept glancing around, imagining her six year old monster under the bed coming out to grab her. She was surprised to find that she could still sleep, if she wanted to.
She wasn't sure if she ever wanted to sleep again.
The next morning, she rolled out of bed, remembering the dream she had. Like a dream within a dream within a dream. The girl who looked up from the sink, mouth rabies-frothing with toothpaste, didn't look any older.
A child born on all Hollow's eve…
That must be it. I always thought it was weird that I was born on Halloween. The gurgle, gurgle of the coffee maker in the kitchen sounded more like cauldron bubbling to her at the moment. Her parents were really into Halloween for some reason. The whole house, inside and out, was decorated with spider webs and ghastly figures lurking out of the shadows. Where they got all this creepy memorabilia was no surprise, her father owned a Halloween store that was open year round. The costumes were the best in the state for he and Kara's mother made them all by hand and never made the same costume twice.
In her tank top and cotton pajama pants, Kara stalked into the kitchen, groaning. It was tradition for the Knights to try to scare each other on Halloween. She rotated a crick out of her neck then flew into a low crouch. Scrambling on all fours like a beast she crept around the center island and looked around the corner. Yup, just that second her parents were crouched behind it too, looking the other way. They should know better.
Bang. The cabinet exploded with a cloud of white powder and billowing clouds of smoke crawling in fingers across the floor. Kara rolled across the floor and felt claws digging into her side and a clammy misshapen hand grasped her ankle, pulling her back towards he snarling monster growling at the end of the hands arm. Another, skeletal monster cackled insanely as it dug the claws deeper into her flesh.
Kara laughed as the clawing turned to tickling, "Okay, okay, you got me, you win, YOU WIN," shrieked breathlessly.
"Neeeeeveeeeer," the skeleton monster said in a soft, drawn out whisper. Kara's mind flashed back to her dream. The eerie whispering, a child born on all hollow's eve is said to see the spirits…
"Back you devils!" she said, grasping a fake replica Lord of the Rings dagger. Her parents laughed.
"Baggins..." her mother hissed in and eerily authentic Ring wraith voice, pulling off her mask and pulling a face of scorn.
"Why aren't you dressed?" Her father exclaimed in his normal, booming voice, "Happy birthday kiddo. I can't believe you felt for those old dummies."
"Surprisingly similar looking to the real dummies," said Kara, frowning. That dream must have unnerved her more than she gave it credit. They had used the same trick on her when she was seven.
"Come on honey, I'll help you get it on. Oh, which one did you pick again?" she said, once again following into the distracted tone she always had, searching through the piles of costume on the kitchen table they hadn't eaten at in years.
"You know which one," said Kara devilishly. Her father gave her a knowing look and tapped his wife on the shoulder. They turned to give Kara an appraising look.
"Do you think she's ready?" her mother asked. Inwardly rolling her eyes, but still grinning, Kara stood at attention. Her mother grasped her chin and turned her head side to side, examining her.
"Mom," Kara groaned, "You promised."
"Maybe one more year," her mother said.
"Maybe," her father said. Kara tried to undo his poker face. Suddenly he grinned,
"Okay, it's your right of passage at sixteen."
Her mother dug vigorously through the piles and piles of clothes. Kara took the chance to roll her eyes once more, her mother's biggest pet peeve. As if she didn't know exactly where it was. Unable to hide her excitement any longer, Kara went immediately to the pile she knew it was under and her fingers brushed the wine colored fabric. The way it was artfully torn showed the thin but heavy armor patches underneath as well as a gauntlet and a sword.
The whole costume had started out as a joke. Her father had made this beautiful warrior princess costume and she had wanted it from the start. Her mother had said, with a laugh that she had to wait til she was sixteen. Each year they kept up this joke, but now that they were actually here, Kara found herself caressing the fabric with near reverence.
"Hurry up, I have to do your hair!" her mother said. Kara shot her a look then ran back to her room. Her mother was right, she didn't want to be late to school on Halloween. She pulled off her pjs and delicately pulled the costume over her head, another fabulous feature of her father's costumes. They almost always just pulled right on, no matter how elaborate they looked.
Her mother came in carrying greaves and whatever armor that wouldn't be covered by her dress.
"'Kay," she said, "this should fit you well. Uh, and this er…metal glove thingy…"
"Gauntlet," Kara said teasingly, poking her mother in the side, "I already have a pair that fit me."
"Yes but these are very special," her mother said in her important, quest giver voice. I imagined her with a Gandalf beard telling me to leave the shire.
"Stop imagining me with a beard," her mother ordered, doing her creepy Hugo Weaving eyebrow thingy. Kara shuddered. I've got to stop watching so much lord of the rings, she thought with a slight smile. Like that would ever happen.
"Fine, just give me your magical ring and I'll go destroy it in the land of mordor. But I still don't see the point in you being a beardless Gandalf."
After struglling with her armor and having her hair transformed under her mother's nimble fingers, she looked in the mirror. Now that was more like it. She looked older, a warrior princess about to do battle. Her mother had put some costume make up on her face to make it look like it was smudged with dirt on one cheek, but otherwise her face was unmarred.
"Hey, it's time for school," her mother yelled from across the house, "Has anyone seen my claws, I don't know where I put them down."
Kara grabbed the claws and attached them to one of the holders on her belt. Later it would be holding a fake sword, but they didn't allow that sort of stuff in school nowadays. Too afraid you'd pick Halloween as the day to go emo-psycho killer on everyone. Oh well.
The school, overnight had changed from a place of inward beasts to visibly ugly beasts. Kara felt more confident walking around in my costume than in her normal clothes. She reveled in being someone else for the day. Not unimportant little Kara Knight, now she was an untouchable warrior princess.
As she walked into her first class she was happy to see that more than half the class was dressed in their costumes. Last year she had had to go through more than one class when she was the only one wearing the costume, which was uncomfortable even if she had the best costumes in the country.
"What have we here?" asked her teacher with a puzzled look on her face. Kara rolled her eyes. She hated the way that adults had no imagination. If you were in black and a boy you were a vampire, if you were a girl, you were a witch. Of course she had no problem recognizing the chef (though he had angrily explained he was a baker) or the bloody heart surgeon or even the old school Freddy Krueger costume, but no. A chick in armor and a medieval dress just confuses the heck out of them all.
"I'm a warrior princess," she mumbled, hoping nobody heard me. It felt kind of stupid to have to explain your costume.
"what dear?" Mrs. Ark asked.
"I'm a warrior princess," she said more loudly, the warrior princess inside of her must've been talking. She immediately felt herself turning red and resisted the temptation to shrink down in her chair.
"Oh, very nice dear," then she turned to confront a kid that looked like he was dressed as a condom dispenser.
She thought there was a reason she hated math. Pulling out her half completed homework, she mentally listed the top million reason why you wouldn't use math later in life. Especially not algebra. Say that you could solve for x's and y's on a resume and see if you ever get hired.
Next hour was Culinary. Every kid in there snickered at her costume, saying drssing up on Halloween was for little kids. Kara's face burned. This time it was in anger.
"You'd be surprised how many full grown adults want costumes," she countered.
"Like you would know," said one particularly bitchy offender. Kara had really tried to like her but this was enough. And she knew how to win this conversation.
"My father own the costume shop on Main," Kara said, the girl paled a bit, "You know, the one you were in last week whining for you parents to buy you one of the costumes because they were the best and all the others were cheap."
"I was not," the girl said lamely.
"I have your phone number one file to call your mother for pick up on her costume. She said she needed it for a costume party that her boss was having tonight."
"My mother is not going to a costume party tonight. She's working late," the girl said, but she didn't sound sure anymore.
"I guess you know best," said Kara before turning and sitting in a chair out of the way while the others moved to start cooking. She would make up the lab at home. Right now she could just enjoy being a victorious presence in the classroom.
Third hour would have been so much better if her PE teacher didn't hate her. Mrs. Williams was a fair teacher, and in all truth had a reason to dislike the girl. Kara was dysfunctional in every sport and could barely bring herself to try to do push ups on her scrawny arms. And now she showed up to class in a costume that she couldn't take off and put back no fast enough.
"You won't have to lose points," sighed Mrs. Williams, "Just try harder, okay Knight?"
Kara nodded like she always did at this question. The disappointment in her made her actually want to try hard, but she knew she'd just get discouraged again once she was back in volleyball the next day.
She sat at the edge of the class observing the volleyball players. Her friend Jessie was kicking ass as usual. They weren't best friends, but Jessie was one of the only people who tolerated Kara. It made her feel safe to have a friend who was semi popular, even though it made her angry at herself to want something like that. She had been taught that being different was a gift, that if you liked creepy stuff and could quote like a dictionary you should be happy with yourself.
Obviously her parents had never been to high school. Here when she said weird things or asks strange questions in class, people just thought she was a stupid loser. Being a lover of fantasy made you a loser. Not liking popular clothes was being a loser. Not having any real friends was being a loser. Everything she did was being a loser.
Kara mentally nudged herself and asked Mrs. Williams if she could get a drink. After getting another sigh and an okay, Kara walked through the adjoining door to the large gym where racket sports were whacking the birdie around the room. She still couldn't believe their school had a badminton team. She had nothing against the game, but it brought up a lot of strange questions. Were the hard core badminton players counted as jocks? Did they get preppy jock scholarships?
Lunch was always a little challenging. She had to make reservations to sit at one of her pseudo friend's tables or sit on the ground somewhere and hope that nobody came by to bother her.
"Hey Kara," said a voice from behind her. Kara turned around to see Alex, her cyber genius science partner behind her. He was good at science he was excellent at everything else.
"Um, hi Alex," Kara said, confused. She was so used to going from table to table trying to find somewhere to sit that someone coming to find her was unheard of. He sat against the wall next to her a little hesitantly.
"Can I sit here?" he asked, completely ignoring the fact that he had already sat down. Kara shrugged and went back to eating her sandwich, ham and cheese on whole wheat bread. Alex took it as an invitation to talk and Kara didn't mind much. She wasn't good at keeping up conversations. At first she was afraid that Alex would only want to talk about menga or something, but he seemed content to talk about neutral subjects.
"So," he said, delaying a bit, offering her a chip, "Do you have any plans tonight? I know your parents always have that huge Halloween party. Are they still setting their Haunted house up this year?"
Kara nodded, "Yeah, they're probably doing that right now. I'm going to help them afterschool with the rest of the volunteers."
Kara took another bite of her sandwich. Looking up and down Alex's costume, she saw the signs of being a homemade piece, but she couldn't recognize what he was supposed to be. His hair was dyed blue and he was wearing a costume that looked like it belonged to a sorcerer in a video game.
"I like your costume," she said absently, "Did you make it yourself?"
Alex nodded vigorously, head bobbing up and down like a little bobble head. It almost made Kara laugh, but she didn't want to seem like she was laughing at his costume.
"Yeah. Nothing close to the quality of the stuff your dad makes, but I took some time on it. I dressed as one of the characters in a book I'm writing," he trailed off waiting to see how she would respond to this.
"You can write?" Kara asked, astonished. A complete genius and he writes. Too bad he's kind of a nerd or else all the girls would be after him.
"A little," he said humbly, flushing a little, "I like your costume. You like some kind of warrior, torn from the battles of war…" he stopped himself before he went too far into the description.
"Go on," Kara said, loving his imagination.
"No, I've got nothing else," Alex lied, he was turning fully red now. He took a sip of his soda and quieted looking out around the school, "well, I guess I'll see you around," he said suddenly, getting up and hurrying away.
Great, you've scared another one off, thought Kara hopelessly. She sighed and bunched her trash into a ball, shooting it at the trash can and missing. She growled at it and stood up trudging over to the garbage can and the laughing group of people near it.
A foot was thrown in her way to trip her, but Kara was used to this group. They never got new tricks. And they could never fool her twice. She jumped over the outstretched foot and picked up her trash placing it neatly in the garbage can.
She felt hands on her back pushing her from behind. It was only then that she realized that she was standing right next to the staircase, just in time to realize she was falling down it.
"She's not hurt?" her mother's voice asked puzzled. Kara didn't open her eyes. She certainly felt sore.
"It doesn't seem anything more than your usual bumps and bruises," sthis voice was male, unfamiliar.
"So we can take her home now?" her mother asked, still sounding uncertain.
"Yes, as soon as she wakes up that'll be fine."
The footsteps of the doctor became quieter and quieter as he left the room to go down the hallway. Kara opened her eyes and sat up.
"Where's my costume?" she asked, noticing that she was no longer wearing it. She looked up and down her arms and legs and calculating how much would be covered by her costume.
"Honey, you had a fall," her mother said slowly. Kara rolled her eyes in an I-know-that-now-can-you-please-give-me-my-costume look. She spotted it in the corner and got up and snatched it.
She pulled it over her head surprised that her hair had not come undone during whatever might have happened during the last-
"What time is it?" she asked aloud. She didn't see a clock anywhere and she hadn't worn her watch today.
"About one o' clock," her mother said, "Honey, wouldn't you rather…"
"Go home then back to school? Sure," grinned Kara. She wouldn't let the fact that she's probably have to get even with the jerks that almost killed her ruin her Halloween or her birthday.
Her mother seemed to snap back into normal mode and grinned back, "You thinking what I'm thinking?"
"We go to lunch and then scare the Jesus out of dad?" Kara asked, now walking out of the door and plotting in her head.
"Exactly," her mom said with a practiced, and perfected witch cackle. The two of them went on laughing and frightening the nurses and patients all the way out of the hospital.
Once Kara had two burgers, fries and a shake safely in her stomach, she was ready to plot some more. For some reason being in a hospital always made her starving, not that it happened much, but enough to notice.
"We could pretend like I had brain damage or something," Kara said, getting the obvious trick out of the way, "But that's bad taste."
Her mother nodded in agreement, "Shoot, I forgot we were supposed to get some props from the shop and bring them over to the warehouse."
Kara smiled. Usually, she was one of the managers of the haunted house, but this year she didn't know what to do. It was her sixteenth birthday and she didn't know what she wanted for a present. Her parents hadn't asked yet, but they always had something up their sleeves. And this year they were bound to do something embarrassing at the Halloween party.
"You know, mom," Kara said thoughtfully, "Just drop me off at home. I have to prepare some of the costumes for the actors anyway. They'll be coming over soon won't they."
Her mother cursed again, then smiled, "what would I do without you Kara?"
Kara didn't answer. She her head was beginning to hurt a little bit and she had an idea took take an nap before she got the costumes ready.
A child born on a Hollow's eve…
Kara shivered as the whispered phrase entered her mind again. Being at the house alone was never a problem for her. She wasn't afraid of being alone. After a short nap she was putting all the gruesome costumes out on the couch in the living room, all wrapped up in plastic for protection.
Cough. Kara heard three loud thumps from her room. The coughing started again, a hacking death cough the kind that made you wonder if old people were going to survive the winter.
Kara sat frozen for a second. This didn't sound like her parents kind of prank. They hadn't been here since…Kara looked around the room for a suitable weapon. Only fake ones here. She spotted her fake ornamental sword. Perfect.
Cough. Cough. The hacking just got louder as she got closer. She could hear someone banging around in her room.. She opened the door with a loud crash and peered in.
No one was there. Cough, cough, bang. Her closet door fluctuated but didn't open. Holding the sword high she grasped the handle and pulled, stepping back into the room. Something big and black hurdled out of the closet, she swung at it but her sword only met her bed metal bed post on the other side, sending shockwaves up her arm. She struggled to keep her hand from dropping her only weapon.
The thing knocked into her with the force of a freight train, slamming her into her dresser, the sharp edge jamming into her back. A hand dug into her throat, another one held her wrists in an iron grip.
"Don't talk don't scream, don't move," growled a voice in her ear. Kara moved and let in air to do one or the other and the hand clamped down on her wind pipe, "I said don't move. They can't find me here. Now, I'm going to let you go as long as you promise to listen. I won't hurt you if you just shut up and listen."
He broke into another coughing fit and let go of her before she agreed to anything. He bent over in agony and looked up at her, his eyes half pleading, half demanding that she not scream.
"what's wrong with you? Do you need water?" she asked, noticing that she had immediately broken the no talking rule. She held out a hand to help him up but he slapped it away so hard that her hand hit the dresser, adding to her list of pains from today.
"No water, just listen," he said, his voice hoarse, "I have to stay here for a little while. They won't find me here."
"Um, who won't find you here?" Kara asked, keeping him busy. She knew she should run away or get to a phone and call the police, but she found herself helplessly curious about the boy who had tumbled out of her closet. There was somehting about those bloodshot eyes. Something familiar.
"They," he said as if it should be obvious, "The gate keepers. I died three days ago. They haven't given up on me yet."
Kara froze in her attempt to measure the distance between where she stood and the front door. Died? Three days ago?
"Why are they looking for you?" she stammered.
"Because I'm not supposed to be here," the ghost said, rolling his eyes, "It's not The Hour and it's not after sunset yet for god sake. I should be…not here. Don't you already know all this shit, Seer?"
"Seer?" Kara said.
The boy sighed and, finally able to stand, perched himself on the edge of her bed.
"You can see me can't you?" he asked. Well, that was a stupid question. Of course Kara could see him, "That means you're a Seer. Most people can only see us during The Hour or on Halloween when it's dark."
"what are you talking about?" Kara asked. She was remembering her dream, and her grandmother's warning, "wait, never mind. When is "the Hour"?"
"Eleven to twelve at night. There's some reason for it but I can't remember. Didn't your predecessor tell you this before he or she snuffed it?"
Kara must've given him a confused look because he sighed in exasperation again and continued, "Whoever you got your power from…er, someone else who was a Seer in your family…anyone like that?" he asked, as if he wasn't sure he was explaining this right.
"My grandmother on my father's side. But she never said anything to me. Except…"
"yes?" he asked with an amuse expression.
"I dreamt about her last night. But maybe it wasn't a dream. She left when it was midnight, but it didn't seem like it was her choice."
"How long has she been dead?" he asked.
"Two years," whispered Kara, "she tried to warn me about somehting."
The boy whistled softly, "Two years. I'm surprised she could come at all. Her body must be all gone by now. The Keepers don't usually let anyone that old come out, even so close to Halloween."
"Then why are you here?" Kara blurted.
"I didn't want to go…where they were taking me," the boy said, looking defiant.
"Why not? Do you even know where you were going?" Kara asked gently. She wondered what it was like to be dead. Apparently you didn't just go straight to heaven or hell or whatever. There was some sort of middle phase where you could escape.
The boy's face told her all she needed to know. He didn't know. He was just scared, even if he wouldn't admit it.
"Maybe it wouldn't be so bad you know," Kara said.
The sound of the doorbell ringing made her start.
"God your jumpy," the boy said once again arrogant.
"I have to get that," she said glaring at him, "You could stay here or if you want come out, but I don't know-"
"No one can see me," he reminded her.
"Right," she said before bustling to get the door. Right before she opened it, she called to him, "What's your name anyway?"
"Jared," he said, walking into the living room and sitting down weightlessly on the table there. Kara vaguely wondered how he could wrestle with her one minute and be weightless the next but decided to ask him later.
She opened the door to let John, the chainsaw guy in their haunted house in. He was a little early but that was just John. He was quiet despite his occupation and usually didn't even come to the party afterward.
"Can he touch you?" she muttered to Jared as he moved to get out of John's way.
"No," he mused, loudly enough that Kara looked to see if John heard, then remembered that only she could hear him, "He'll only feel cold. I'm surprised I could have touched you at all without turning into a poltergeist. Don't ask," he said, " Let's just say when you come out of the Midworld you have a choice to make on what kind of ghost you'll be. We'll talk about it later."
Kara nodded and then turned back to John. He was standing looking around the piles of costumes for his. She went directly to the last pile and grabbed the second one down. She was always good at remembering exactly where things were, although neither of her parents seemed to have the talent.
"Here you go, John," she said handing him the costume, "You can change in here."
She led the way to their spare bedroom as if John hadn't been here a thousand times and hadn't been shown by her mother or father there a dozen times. This was usually their responsibility. It was the only year that they trusted her to organize all the actors and costumes and whatnot.
As she opened the door, she could feel his breath on the back of her neck, in a way that made the tiny hairs there stand up on end. She was about to turn around when the door bell rang. She jumped rushed around John who hadn't done a thign to stop her and ran to the door.
By the time she made it there she felt silly. She had known John since she was a baby. He had been one of the first ones to teach her how to scare people, though she wasn't sure exactly how he'd done it, for he didn't usually have much to say. She opened the door to find Annie Blind hopping up and down with excitement.
"Nice costume Kara," Annie said, the black girl was only a year out of college but still acted like she was just out of high school, "Do I get to do torture chamber again this year?"
"You bet," Kara said, Annie always was one of the most exciting parts of Halloween. She had to come in from the next state to be there, but she said there was no haunted house she like to act at better. Kara pulled her costume from the top of one of the piles and handed it to her.
"Do you know if my mom got the fake blood yet?" Kara asked. Her mother was always forgetting something about the costumes.
"Last I heard she was chasing down those severed legs, you know, the ones that feel so realistic?" Annie said, "I swear that old lady who touched them last year almost hada heart attack, ran out so fast, John didn't have time to start up the chain saw and chase her out."
Kara smiled. In this haunted house you were allowed to touch anything you want, even the actors. But they had you sign a waver that said if the actors touched you you wouldn't file a lawsuit or anything. Annie always had fun with that, trying to drag people into the iron maiden or make them plunge their hands into the festering corpses.
"Whose being the victims tonight?" Annie asked giving her creepiest actor smile. Kara always wished she could make her face do half the things Annie's could.
"Brian and…um, I think Joe but I can't be sure," Kara said thoughtfully. The torture victims were her favorite make up jobs, even if she had to be around half naked men to do it.
"Okay, I'll go put my costume on in your parents room if you don't mind," Annie said, "All call if I'm stuck in a position that would make a contortionist wince."
"Like last year?" I asked, smiling. Annie somehow always got herself into trouble trying to put on her costume. Well, mostly the extras, not the main costume which, ideally just slipped over her head. But sometimes she was known to mess even that up.
Not giving me the satisfaction of a response, Annie went off in a feigned huff and slammed the door. Immediately a muffled apology came from behind the door and then a loud crash as she crashed into something.
"Who's that?" asked Jared from behind causing her to jump ten feet in the air again.
"Annie, and will you stop talking to me. People are going to start thinking I'm talking to myself," Kara whispered.
"Fine. What was up with that John guy before?"
"I don't know what you mean," Kara lied, and then busied herself rearranging the costumes on the couch. Jared sat on one of the piles before her so she was looking right at him
"Uh, you never told me your name," he said, though she knew that's not what was on his mind.
"Um, Kara," Jared said, "Nevermind."
"What?" she said, hoping he would get to the point soon.
"Would you mind if I, um, I came with you this Halloween? You're the only one who could see when I'm in trouble and I…"
"You don't want to be alone?" she asked, though it wasn't really a question.
Jared glared at her defiantly, "No I would just get bored lurking around your closet all day, that's all. There's nothing in there but clothes and props. Plus, I figure someone should tell you what it is you're supposed to do, Seer."
"Fine. But it'll just be a lot of preparations and stuff before dark. Then I have to go to the party, though this year I wish I didn't have to."
"It's my birthday, my sixteenth birthday. My parents are bound to make a big deal out of it. Oh, and I guess you could help me plan my prank to scare my parents this year, if you're into that kind of stuff."
Jared smiled, "I'm a ghost . What kind of stuff do you think I'm into?"
"Well I didn't want to be stereotypical," snapped Kara, but she smiled. The doorbell rang again and she moved to let the rest of the actors in.
In the end there were over thirty of them in the Knight house. John was the first one in his costume and mask. The only make up he needed was a bit around the eyes and where his face showed at the edges of the mask. He was wearing a plaid shirt with overalls to look like an average farmer. With a chainsaw and a terrifyingly simple mask.
Annie was half dominatrix half crypt keeper. Over her revealing costume she wore a simple cloak that hid her face. Her victims, Brian and Charlie, not Joe were dressed in simple loin cloth like clothes, though at the moment they too had cloaks on. Their bodies were decorated with fake scars and open, leaking cuts. Bruises were their only color. They each had a tattooed pattern that followed from their bald crowns to their feet. Kara smiled, she had done a great job on the pattern, her mother would be proud. The other assembly of ghosts, ghouls, madmen, corpses, beasts and an assortment of other actors, some of which were dressed like normal people to blend with the crowd and scare their group mates with tales of their lost husband or whatever else they saw fit.
"Kara! Kara!" yelled Charlie, pulling her into a headlock and pretending to go for her hair which she had managed to keep perfect all day, "Sixteen today. Wow, to believe the first time I met you was when…"
Kara rolled her eyes, "When you had to drive mom to the hospital because dad was running the haunted house and couldn't make it so you filmed it for him. I know. I'm eternally grateful for the horrifying experience of my birth."
"That's right kiddo, you ought to butter me up. Other than your mother, I've known you the longest," he said, " and as such, and being your godfather, I thought you needed something special for your birthday…"
"You're not going to give it to me until the party are you?" Kara groaned. Charlie loved to build up suspense. He was known to spend his coffee breaks banging from the outside walls of the haunted house and whispering through the openings at the guests to distract them from the scare up ahead.
Though Charlie was the only one to brag about it, everyone in crew had pretty much known her since she was borne. At least three quarters of them had been on duty the night she was born and, surprisingly her parents allowed one of them to name her. Kara never figured out who it was. They all put the names they liked in a hat and my mother drew out Kara. I always thought my parents would give a little more care into naming their child.
"Happy Birthday, Kara Knight," said Brian. He always had a polite, almost noble way of talking. It was as if he'd been taught by birth to speak like a gentlemen.
"Thanks Brian," Kara said, "Is everything all right with your costume? Did I smudge the make up?"
"No, everything is perfect. I don't think your mother could've done a better job."
Kara flushed with pride. Her mother was the best make up artist she knew. Jared came up behind her and surveyed the room with a critical eye. No doubt he'd have something to say about this.
"You know that's not what death really looks like?" he inquired pointing at James Martin who was dressed in a reaper costume.
"any suggestions on how to make him look better?" Kara said out of the corner of her mouth.
"If you knew what death really looked like, you would never want to see the likeness of him again. Though he's really rather beautiful. There's nothing romantic about him," Jared mused quietly in her ear. She knew she was imagining it, but she thought she could feel the tingle of his breath on her skin.
"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Kara," someone had started the singing and everyone, except John, picked it up. Kara blushed deeply and mumbled something about checking on the props and figuring out where her parents were since it was almost sundown.
"Kara!" yelled Annie, "You'll never guess. We've gotten somebody to fix or animatronic baby. And he knows you."
Annie pushed through the now almost unrecognizable crowd and pulled Alex behind her. He was wearing his costume but he had taken his contacts out and put his glasses back on.
"hey Alex," Kara said just as Jared asked, "Who's that?" with extreme distaste. Alex was holding their fearsome electronic baby that someone had kicked the hell out of last year when it tried to grab his ankle.
"It should work pretty well now," he said, handing it to her gently as if it were a real baby. Kara looked it up and down and then put it on the ground flicking the on switch. The baby moved with realistic little lurching crawls.
"The sounds still out," said Alex apologetically. Kara watched as Jared crouched next to the baby and jumped back when it flew into the air and snapped at him.
"That can't be right. I programmed it to jump at people, not just empty air," Alex said, but Kara stopped him.
"Uh, I'm sure it was just a fluke," she said and pointed reassuringly as the baby crawled off and attacked John's leg. John turned around, picked up the baby gently and turned it off. He brought it over to Kara and laid it gently into her hands.
"Is he always that creepy?" Alex said. Kara glared despite herself.
"he's an actor in the haunted house. Do you think we would get anybody if they weren't creepy," Kara said briskly, handing him the baby.
"I'm sorry, it's just, I didn't mean," stammered Alex hopelessly then turned to leave with the baby into the kitchen. Kara grabbed his arm before he left as Jared laughed in the background.
"I'm sorry. I guess I'm just a little defensive of John. I've known him for a long time and I guess I'm just used to how he is," Kara apologized. Jared continued to laugh and walked through the wall to Kara's room.
Alex smiled and then held up the baby, "I guess I better get to work on this. When does the haunted house start?"
"As soon as it's dark. We'll be heading over there as soon as my parents get here," Kara said turning to go back to the crowd and troubleshoot, "Alex? Thanks."
Kara wandered off to her room and noticed that Jared was again in the closet.
"You can come out you know," Kara said, "You don't need to stay in the closet."
"It doesn't really bother me. Nothing does anymore," Jared said. He was lying on top of a chest on the floor next to her suitcase.
"Then what's the point of living?" Kara blurted out before she could think about it.
"I'm not living. I'm dead. Try to remember that, okay?" Jared snarled and closed his eyes, leaning his head back onto the lid of the chest.
"Sorry I haven't had enough time to get used to this," grumbled Kara, turning to pick up her sword from the ground, "Are you going to tell me the rules or what?"
"Later, I'm tired," Jared said, not opening his eyes.
Kara shrugged an exited the room. She was beyond hungry once again and she wasn't sure she could wait until the part later that night. As if reading her mind, her parents walked into the door loaded down with pizzas.
Sunset. Kara squinted against the fierce rays as she leaned her head against the cool glass of the window. Her mother glanced back at her, probably thinking that her brains were addled from the fall she had earlier. Her father was talking animatedly on the phone, arguing with someone about deliveries of his strobe lights or whatnot.
Kara wondered vaguely how Jared was going to make it to the haunted house. The car was too packed for him to come along but he had insisted that he had "ways" to get there. He still refused to tell her anything that she might need to know about being a Seer. Kara's head was spinning, still she resolved to think about it all later. When exactly later was, she didn't know, but at least it wasn't now.
They pulled up to the warehouse and Kara caught her breath, though she'd seen it every year of her life on her birthday. It was just a huge, and for every other day of the year, empty building. Now it was the place of deepest nightmares. Right now, all the lights were on and she could see every excruciating detail.
Jumping from the car, Kara nearly fell flat on her face, her feet catching he hem of her dress and sending her tumbling.
"Careful," said someone leaning against the side of the building. Kara turned. It was Jared. Just as she was about to open her mouth to ask him how the heck he got there that fast, he held a finger to his lips and pointed at the people coming to help her.
"You okay, Kara?" Annie asked. She was the second one to arrive, John had already pulled her to her feet. Kara brushed the dust off of her dress and nodded. Just another mystery of ghosts that was here to taunt her. She sighed and walked past Jared, briefly sticking her tongue out childishly and then entering the building.
The air conditioning units were running full blasts so, needless to say, Kara was freezing the moment she walked in. She had forgotten a jacket, though it would have clashed with her costume anyway. She walked through the front hall which was just meant to get people freaked out because it was dimly lit and narrow. This was where mos tof the surprise tactics came in handy. She usually hid out here when she was bored, grabbing at people from the shadows or breathing down their necks.
Kara had the sudden want to be alone. She walked through one of the operation rooms and through the meat freezer and the graveyard. Squeezing through a gap in the partitions she cut off the first big loop around of the path and walked straight to the torture chamber. She sat down on one of the tables that meant to stretch the poor victims and found that it could hold her weight. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. Suddenly she felt weighed down, tired. She felt herself falling backwards, dimly aware that if she went too far back she would hit the ground. But there was no remedy for that now. She was already going down and down…
She gasped and opened her eyes, pulling herself up from the bottom of the creek with difficulty as if her body was weighed down with the smooth slippery rock she was laying on. Kara coughed and coughed. She reminded herself of Jared when she first met him. Jared, Kara thought dreamily, who was that again. And where was she? It was freezing in the water. Kara pulled herself out of the water and found she was still wearing her costume and fake sword. She pulled the sword out and ran her hand across the blade. Blood ran like water down her hands, but she didn't feel the pain.
"You cut your hand," said a voice behind her, "Let me help you."
"Jared?" Kara spun around but was met by a boy with tawny eyes and hair that caught the sun and held it with strands of pure gold and bronze. He took her hand gently with the palm up and kissed it, his lips reddened with the blood.
"It's sweet, like you," he said and Kara laughed light headedly. He grabbed her sword by the blade but Kara barely felt concern about the blood from both their hands running down it. If it hadn't hurt her, of course this beautiful angel wouldn't be hurt.
"Would you like a taste?" he asked with a smile in his eyes as the highlights danced in a hypnotic pattern. She felt lost in the eyes and felt his cut finger rest against her lips. She opened her mouth and sucked on it. It was sweet, but potent. Like wine, it made her throat feel weird and her head hurt.
"Do you know where this is?" Kara asked looking around elatedly. Everything was bright and warm all of a sudden. When she turned back the angel was looking at her intensely.
"if you promise to stay I'll tell you," he said playfully enough, but his image flickered to that of a scant creature with bloodshot eyes, barely human. Kara shook herself. It was cold again, so cold that the stream froze about her feet locking her there.
"You're so sweet," said the a voice she didn't recognize. The creature was back, Kara searched for the angel but the landscape had become desolate, burned. Something grasped her wrists, holding her still and pinning her down. The ice was so cold it burned, like dry ice she had been stupid enough to touch once. The clammy hands slid up her dress and the deformed tongue licked in her ear.
"No," screamed Kara, "Help! Jared, get me out!"
The hands disappeared and Kara scrambled backwards as far she could, running to the banks before she dared to look back, tripping and falling into the icy river and yet the ice held her at the same time, every second she expected to feel clammy hands yanking her back. When she had almost reached land she turned back, she had gone so far. It seemed like miles to the center of the river, yet to near and clear all the same.
The creature had Jared pinned and more were coming. They scrambled from the lightning charred forests, their arms feet longer than their legs, bounding forward with great leaps on their bony knuckles and with a short stride on their back legs.
Kara caught a glimpse of a black haired head. Jared! The creature was clawing at his clothes and his skin, apparently having no preference on whether it was molesting a boy or a girl. In attempt to pull his pants off, the creature was tearing strips of flesh off his thighs. Jared screamed in pain.
Kara could only stand there, staring in horror. For minutes, or was it seconds? It seemed like there was no time. It was years ago, wasn't when she had talked with the angel and he had kissed her bleeding palm?
Kara, keep your head on, said a voice from no where. Kara grasped her hands into fists, for the first time noticing she still had her sword. Her slashed hand was beginning to burn like fire as if the blade was poisoned. She took a deep breath and without giving herself time she bolted towards the middle of the lake.
She saw it in the corner of her eye before it caught her. It was different from the pale skeletal beasts, a rumple of fur with huge claws. She felt it beat against her and knock the air out of her. Luckily it fell right onto her sword at an angle. Kara twisted the blade deeper and the beast sctratched at her sword hand, trying to get backwards. Kara held on tightly to the hilt and set her feet as the creature took a yank on her sword. When it was free she swung again, imagining it was a baseball bat. She had suffered three years of softball before her aunt had let her quit. She wanted her niece to be an athlete, not an oddball like her sister. Kara silently thanked her for being so critical as her sword connected with flesh and bone.
The creature howled and crumpled to the ground. There was no reason to kill it, Kara swallowed hard, blood was bubbling out onto the ground. She spun away gagging and started another stumbling run towards the center. It seemed miles away still when she saw more black shapes tearing out of the edge of the forest. Kara steeled herself, but they stopped short. She didn't have enough time to contemplate them picking at the dead beasts flesh.
Jared had stopped screaming somewhere in the middle. Kara finally made it, though now that she was here she had no idea what to do against twenty snarling skeletons. Had this been a video game she could have chopped through doing a bunch of the same quick moves and parrying as the beasts hit at her. She would also have health points.
Her blade was glowing. It took her halfa minute of the beasts circling her to notice.
"They're afraid of you sword," Jared coughed weakly some where behind her on the floor, "Draw a circle in the water. They won't go past it."
Kara clumsily drew a circle around both of them, and then sat on the freezing ice. Water splashed up around her. Their section of ice had turned back to the bubbling creek.
"all right, take some of this in your left hand," Jared spat blood into the stream, "see if you can see the real world. As soon as you see where you're going pull yourself, all of you under the water. Anything above water is will stay."
"How do I see the real world," Kara asked nervously. She vaguely noticed that she was bleeding from a wound in her side. The river was being stained red between them.
Jared coughed up blood again, "You're reflection. Look in the sword. When you see yourself in the real world go under water quick. If you miss we're dead. The circle won't hold for long."
Kara nodded shakily and held the blade of sword under the water to get the blood off. She peered into the reflection and watched s flashes of color whipped by. How would she tell which blur was her body back in the haunted house? Suddenly the images slowed, as if she had commanded them and then she saw the iron maiden from the corner of the haunted house and the image rotated to her lying on the table. She blinked then remembered what she was supposed to do. She held her breath and plunged her body under water and grabbed Jared's wrist to pull him down too.
She sat up spluttering and wet but she was sitting on the table. The first thing she felt after that was pain. Her wrists had driedd blood on them but the cuts were still deep and fresh. Her sie had been clawed and her legs and hands had scratches. Her body was pock marked with bruises.
Cough, cough. She turned to see Jared lying next to her. His wounds already seemed to be healing quite nicely. She sighed and leaned back. Her head felt like it was spinning and she felt as if her brain was waterlogged. She couldn't think straight. It was better if she just went back to sleep…that's all she wanted to do…immediately she felt warm waters slip around her and she smiled at the feeling of it against her skin…
Someone was shaking her, hard. Eyes flying open, Kara struggled against the arms. They were holding her close to whoever it was that was shaking her before. She struggled to find her voice noticing for the first time that her throat was rough and dry as if she had been screaming for days on end.
"Kara, wake up," said an deep voice in her ear. Kara started. It was a voice she hadn't heard in a long time yet somehow the arms felt familiar.
"John?" she croaked, looking up into his face, "What are you doing here?"
He ignored the question, sitting her up and checking her wounds. Kara was almost mesmerized by the way her wounds looked just like the ones she had make upped on the actors earlier this afternoon.
"What happened Kat?" John mumbled worriedly. He was pulling off a piece of his flannel shirt and wrapping it around the wound on her hand. Kara stared fixedly at his hands. One of the palms was cut. Kara reeled back.
"I have to get ready for the house. It'll start anytime now," she said, her voice getting higher pitched by the second. She popped off the table ignoring John's bewildered look and his hand that whipped out to stop her. Kara sensed someone following her but the coughing gave it away as only Jared. She slipped between more partitions until she was outside again and the almost full moon gleamed at her from the sky. She found a bale of hay and sat down.
"Who is that John guy, anyway?" Jared said softly, obviously only being nice since she saved his life.
"I've known him forever. We used to play together when I was a kid. My parents were always busy and he never had anything to do. He was like an uncle to me, or a big brother. He always used to call me cat because I was small and quick. He always took care of me. He was with me with my first prank and when my puppy died. I never thought…"
"that he was using you? Waiting for you to grow up and discover your power before converting you?" Jared asked, "Happens more often than you think."
"Why did he drink my blood?" Kara asked through the millions of questions and doubts buzzing around her mind.
"I, well there's another more pressing problem," Jared said and paused to think, "in order to get us out…"
"where were we?" Kara interrupted and immediately he looked annoyed once more.
"we were in The Middle," he said, "but the important thing is someone had to be there to get us out. Someone who knew how to. Maybe John…"
"Maybe he what? Brought me in just to take me back out again?" Kara asked coldly, "I doubt it."
"Maybe he was the one who saved our lives."
"Then who was it who tried to draw me in? and why did John have an identical cut on his hand?"
Jared paused for a second, regaining his patience, "It's a common cut among those of Power. Good and evil use it. I don't remember exactly where it came from…"
"where do they teach you this? The school of the undead?"
"No, it's not important how or why I know. What's important is that someone, maybe John, maybe not, is trying to get you in the middle."
"I don't understand what's going on," Kara said, exasperated. She was lost in all the terms and the stress of this night. She just wished her birthday was over.
A scream pierced the night and Kara jumped to her feet, surprised at herself when her hand yanked her sword from its sheath and held it in front of her.
Jared smiled, "The night of haunting has begun."
He was right. The last lights of sunset were gone from the horizon and the lights had been shut off from the main buildings. Kara could hear the familiar sounds of her childhood play ground humming to life.
"We have to find John and confront him before the party," Kara said, "But not now, he'll be working."
"Oh who cares about work when your life is at stake?" Jared asked, rolling his eyes. Fine you want to learn about the spirit world? I'll teach you the basics. Oh and Kara?"
His bloodshot yes caught hers with a look and a smile that took her breath away. The moon was doubly reflected in them and Kara was caught until she heard the chainsaw firing up far away.
"Thanks for saving my life. Though you didn't really need to," he said, and held up a hand before she could retort, "You can't kill the dead remember?"
"Right," Kara said. She hoped she could remember all this.
"When you die you go to middle ground. Not life, not death, just a place they have to herd you all in through the gates and have you go to purgatory or whatever you like to call it. Sometimes they pick out the specials souls for some guardian work. I'm not that special. Those of us who escape are Renegades. We're especially strong when we're only a few days old. I'm surprised your grandmother got through at all if she's been dead that long. You need special permission to haunt even during the Hour."
"Why?" Kara asked, intrigued. Ghosts needed permission to haunt, from who? "Why can't they come visit whenever they want?"
Jared looked at her coldly, "Because that's not the point of being dead. You're not supposed to come back. When you're gone your gone."
"It seems like some ghosts aren't too happy about that," Kara said pointedly. Jared glared at her before continuing.
"No, some of them aren't they escape into the real world. If they can make it for two years and survive then they're allowed to stay as long as they want or can."
"What do you mean if they survive? Aren't you already dead?"
"Well, as a ghost in the Middle Way you're about to go to…whatever's beyond the gate," Jared said, furrowing his brow and making Kara sure that he didn't know what was behind the gates, "but if you come to the real world, you start to get sick. If it doesn't pass the you erase. You get rubbed out of existence. If you make it to the two years, you could end up getting erased anyway. Ghosts have a habit of…fading away…some of them just get tired of being and go back to the Middle and through the gates. Some times they erase. It's a chance that all the Renegades take."
"Is that why you're always coughing?" Kara said, though she already knew. The look he gave her told her what she needed to know.
"Usually we don't get sick this fast if we're only a day old," Jared said quietly, "But I guess it's just because I had to fight past the gatekeepers. I'll make it," he finished confidently but then a cough gave him away.
"Did it hurt? I mean, when we were in the Middle Way, and the creatures attacked you. Did it hurt," Kara asked.
"A lot. We can still feel pain in the midway because renegades have to escape through there. The gatekeepers figure if we get hurt then we'll come crawling back," he said, "But the hurt stops as soon as you get back to the real world and your wounds heal."
He was looking apologetically at her and went to turn her hand over before realizing he couldn't touch it. She turned it over for him anyways, it was still under the cloth from John's shirt.
"Does it hurt?" he asked echoing her question, but he seemed almost nostalgic about it.
"Not much anymore," she lied, "How come you could touch me before and you can't now?" she asked, changing the subject.
"When we first come in we can touch things, but it fades fast and it takes a lot of energy," Jared paused, then said explosively, "I'm sorry, okay?"
Kara looked puzzled and then realized that he must've been talking about earlier when he'd tried to strangle her. She supposed she should apologize for trying to whack him in the head with her sword, but she just nodded.
"Should we go see John now?" Jared asked hearing the chainsaw rev loudly. Another scream rent through the air and more and more. Kara smiled. If this had been any normal Halloween she'd be in there enjoying torturing the visitors of the house and now she was on a mission to find out who wanted to kill her.
"Nah, let's go trouble shoot. If he's going to kill me we'll know. We won't here the chainsaw any more," Kara said. Really she just wasn't too excited about going to meet her death. Jared didn't make it sound very glamorous. She wanted to see her parents, and some part of the normal world. Being around a ghost for hours made you hunger for the mundane.
Kara walked around the edge of the building to the front where everyone was going in. A few people stared at her as she cut through the line, but whether it was her costume, wounds or that they thought she was cutting them, she couldn't guess.
"Mom, Dad!" Kara yelled through the crowd. She waved her hand in the air so they could see her and then pushed her way through to them.
"Please tell me that's make up," her mother said worriedly.
"I tripped over the bed of nails onto this thing," Kara said holding up her sword, "Look it's sharp."
She held the blade up and ripped through a small section of her costume. Her mother grabbed the sword and looked at it, "It's not supposed to be sharp," she said, "are you okay?"
Kara nodded, "I'm going to go walk the house."
Before her parents could stop her she walked through the front doors and headed immediately to her left. The next group came in and the doors shut behind them, Ed jumped out and grabbed one of the girls. Everyone screamed and shoved forward while the guys in front tried to slow them down, fearing what was ahead.
Kara went last, weaving her way through the crowd until she was in the middle. The house looked even better than last year. The room at first seemed normal until you noticed the woman cowering in the corner muttering a phrase that turned to sobs and then to shrieking, "My baby, my baby!"
Alex had done a great job on the baby that leaped and wiggled around the floor with easy. The scared guests shrieked at it moving, but laughed at their fear, turning into the darkened hallway.
That's when everything started to go wrong. Kara could hear shrieking up ahead that didn't sound like the normal screams. It sounded real. She shoved people out of the way but her fought caught on something, or so she thought.
Really, something had caught her foot. A deteriorating hand had grasped her boot, the soft dirt under her feet erupted with more and more ghastly grasping fingers clawing at the customers. Something grabbed her. The figure had bloodshot eyes, but they weren't dark and black like Jared's they were blood red. It's features were mangled with anger as it picked her up, her boot taking the now severed hand with it, and through her against the wall. The partition swayed under her weight but stayed put. Kara picked up her sword for about the billionth time, once again marveling at her new instinct.
With a cough and a leap, Jared threw himself at the apparation, but was flung back.
"It's a poltergeist!" he said to Kara from the floor, "We have to get out of here. He's stronger than all of us put together."
Kara was already trying to find the others who had freed their shoes. They needed to go back to the entrance, the shortest way out, but they had all gone forward into the unknown in their panic.
Jared was trying to get her attention, noticing that he couldn't drag her, tried yelling at her intstead.
"We have to go," he insisted.
"No, all those people went forward," Kara said, running past one of the severed hands and another one that was grasping at her. The poltergeist was attempting to knock down the partitions. It didn't even seem to notice them. Kara had not time to think.
Kara broke in to a scene of calamity in the operation room. Somewhere in there Martha was trying to help the injured, still dressed in her gruesome doctors costume, but people seemed to be running away from her rather than letting her help.
Kara could see why. There were ghosts and monsters everywhere. And the way her make up was done, Martha looked just like the kind of person you wouldn't want to be around. People were having trouble telling what was real and what wasn't.
"Jared, do somehting," Kara said irrationally. He had to know what to do. Even as he lay bleeding in the middle of an icy lake surrounded by enemies he'd never failed with a sarcastic remark coupled with words of wisdom.
"I can't. I can't touch anything. They're poltergeists and dark renegades. They can touch people, but they have brains. I told you we have to leave them. I have to get you to safety."
Kara shook her head again and yelled into the crowd, "Everyone head back to the front doors. Don't go forward. Don't go. Go back."
She went to grab someone's arm to direct them on where to go and the girl took a swing at her. Kara reeled back and stared open mouthed. She had to get to Martha. Together they could help save some of them.
"You have to go back this way," Martha tried to grab another guy and he pushed her, plunging her deep into one of the axe hanging on the wall. Martha's eyes went wide and she dropped to the ground, blood spewing from her back.
Kara screamed. She didn't know what else to do. Someone came out of no where and slammed her onto the ground. Everyone was running out the far end. She ran too. The ghosts were everywhere. She couldn't see Jared. All she could see were Martha's blank eyes as she got trampled by the crowd on the way out. Kara jumped over her body and the corpse reared up, grabbing at her. Kara scream went louder and louder until she thought her eardrums would explode from the sound. She shut her eyes to make it all go away and felt the hand release her. She didn't want to open her eyes. Didn't want to see Martha or another ghost about to slay her.
"Kara-we-have-to-get-out-of-here," Alex said. His eyes were wide and his face was splattered with red. Blood. Kara squealed and pulled away from him.
"Kara no," this voice was Jared. He grabbed at her and then threw his hand back in frustration, "Let's go back. There's no hope for them up there."
Kara shook her head at Jared and Alex at once and pushed forward, straight into the hall of darkness. Kara had never been afraid of the dark before, but that's because she knew that there was nothing to be afraid of out there. She felt someone grab her hand but after a moment of panic she realized it was Alex coming with her. She felt something cold at her right shoulder, but a cough from Jared reassured her that it was just him.
That was when something skittered past her foot. Little feet treading over her boots. Kara didn't take any notice. Rats weren't uncommon around here. Then she felt the thing that made the rat run.
Something scaly and cold fell onto her shoulder. Kara screamed again, throwing the snake off her hand starting to run, dragging Alex along with her.
"What is it?" Alex yelled and tried to stop her from running. Kara felt something on her dress. It was a cockroach. Another one fell into her hair. Kara heard hissing somewhere near to her. It was pitch black. Suddenly the same path that Kara knew all her life was unfamiliar to her. She ran into the dead ends meant to fool the customers. She heard something growling on the other side of the wall. She was sure then that that was the way out to the next room.
She stopped running immediately and whispered, "There's something over there."
"Anything's got to be better than snakes," Alex said. They all paused to listen to the heavy breath and then a growl. Jared started coughing and Kara just hoped that whatever it was wouldn't hear him. His coughing turned quickly to hacking.
"Who's there?" asked Alex. Kara wondered if he was talking to the beast. Incredulously she clapped a hand over his mouth.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Kara whispered.
"Who's coughing?" Alex whispered back.
"Jared?" Kara kneeled on the floor. She passed her hand over the empty space, feeling for an unnaturally cold spot. Her hand met flesh and she let out a yelp.
"It's me," Jared said in a strange voice. He tried to say something else but dissolved into coughing. In a nonsensical way he was sweating even though he was as cold as death. Kara scooted closer him and felt his forehead. It was freezing as well.
"How?" Kara began but Jared put a finger to her lips in the dark. Kara nodded. Best to talk about this when Alex wasn't around and there wasn't a monster about to eat them, "Come on," she said, offering him a hand.
The growling had stopped. Somehow it was even worse silent. Kara couldn't tell if the beast had just gone away or if it was stalking them. Kara grabbed her sword, releasing Alex's hand and giving it to Jared.
"Don't get separated," Kara said grimly. Instead of asking questions Alex was silent, then made a slight grunt of approval when he noticed she couldn't see him nodding. Kara led the way with her sword in front of her, every muscle tense, waiting for something to grab her.
"Kara, I need to stop," said Jared, for a moment she lost his hand then it reappeared in hers. Kara gave his hand a squeeze but didn't stop moving. The end of the pitch black passage must be right ahead.
Out of nowhere came a earth shattering, bone crumbling roar. Jared's hand was ripped from hers. Alex shouted but she couldn't see him. Kara spun round and round, feeling with her arms, not her sword, afraid she might hurt one of them. She ran a bit to where she thought was back towards the beginning, they had been taken from behind her, but she'd turned around so much she didn't really know where she was going.
If only there was light. Kara thought about how her sword had started glowing on the icy lake. If only she could make it light again. What had she been doing then? Kara racked her brains but the only noticeable thing she had been doing when she was on the lake was panicking like she was now, and that didn't seem to be helping at all.
"Jared?" Kara called, "Alex?"
There wasn't an answer, but Kara heard the soft sound of something being dragged over the floor, something heavy. It was coming from the way to the exit. She ran like she never thought she could, she'd always been really lame in PE, but if her coach saw her now she'd be drafted into track faster than she could reach the exit.
Kara felt hot, fetid breath over her shoulder and turned, plunging the blade at whatever it was. She felt the sword go all the way through. She didn't expect what she heard next.
A girl's scream. She had stabbed some girl lucky enough to make it passed everything else. Kara reeled away running, remembering how Martha's body had risen from the dead to catch her. She called for Jared, for Alex, for her mother her father, anyone as she ran. There wasn't an answer. She turned a corner and was drenched with the accursed lights….
Of the graveyard. Somehow Kara could never get over how creepy this room, the biggest of all of them in the haunted house, looked. She would never admit that she was afraid, what was there to be afraid of? It was just a trick to scare people. It wasn't even a real graveyard. But the stone carved angel that marked the entrance seemed to stare at her warningly.
No one was there. Where were all the people that had run this way? Kara though as she wove her way through the headstones. The actors who were supposed to jump out and scare her weren't there. The place really looked like, well, a graveyard.
The mist machines were still going full blast, thick blankets shrouding the ground. Kara walked through to the middle sacrifice alter. The knife was still there, and it was bloody. Of course, they prepared it like that for the house, but it gave Kara sick feeling in her stomach.
"Karaaaaaaaaaa…" whispered someone from behind her. Kara whipped around and continued to circle. There was still no one there. She put the knife haphazardly in her belt, keeping her sword up. She took a step past the center dais and saw something rear up from the mists to her left. She raised her sword and hacked at the air. There was no one there.
The whispering spread throughout the graveyard. Kara strained to see through the mist and the gloom. Something walked right past her right side. In the corner of her eye she could see it was human.
"Kara Knight," said a voice behind her, "We've come for you. We don't want you to get hurt. So just put the sword down."
Kara turned around, expecting a cop or something. But she started crying as soon as she saw who it was. Martha was speaking with her clouded eyes and dead mouth, seeming odd in the way she stood like and unskillfully held marionette.
"No," Kara sobbed softly. She saw figures approaching from the gloom. Most of them she didn't recognize. A few were from the group that she was in. She searched for Alex and Jared, but they weren't anywhere.
"You choose to fight?" asked the Martha puppet.
Kara nodded, unable to speak. More bodies rose from the mist. Kara knew one thing, she had to get out of there now. Or else she'd be closed in from all sides.
A monstrous growl came from the ceiling. She knew it was the Beast. It was the one that took Alex and Jared. It dropped in front of her, straight in her path, blocking the last exit. Kara charged without thinking, the only way she could do anything now. She blocked out the pain, her discussed and focused on getting out. She used the sword like a baseball bat once again, swinging hard with the sharp edge leveled at the creatures side. The blade had begun to shine so bright that she almost had to look away.
A battle yell came unbidden to her lips, like the echo of barbaric ancestor who had to hunt and kill with sticks and spears. The creature knocked her sword away but seemed burned by the cold, glowering, shining metal.
Rolling as she fell to absorb the shock and escape the dead surging towards her, she leapt up again and made a straight dash behind the creature. This time it came down with her claws. Kara parried, a move she had learned from hours of video game experience. The beasts other claw came to jam her under the ribs but she had already kicked it in the stomach, more to propel herself backwards than to wound it.
The beast growled and Kara swung around to meet one of the walking dead that came too close to her. They were all closing in now. Kara felt a smile slide onto her face, the thrill of battle keeping her in its tenacious grip.
With all the force in her proportionally small body Kara hurled herself at the beast. The move caught it off guard, off balance, just what Kara was hoping for. Unfortunately she hadn't counted on it taking her down when it fell.
"Kara! Kara!" yelled someone from the exit. Kara saw Alex wielding a piece of wood at one of the zombies. It got hold of the other end and yanked the poor nerd off his feet. Jared was quick with the uptake. He slammed the zombie to the ground and helped Alex up. He coughed twice, but shortly and then Kara felt the sharpness in her skin. The beast had bitten her shoulder. Kara beat it over the nose with her fist and it released her.
Barely stumbling by now, Kara made her way to the two, feebly attempting to cleave at a zombie with her sword. She swayed and Jared caught her, grabbing her sword by the blade and then readjusting his hold so he had the hilt.
"Sharp side pointed away from you," Kara joked dizzily. She felt as if she was going to faint. She'd never been much of a fainter but apparently now was her time.
The last thing she saw was Jared placing her lightly against the floor, and advancing towards the crowd of zombies. The last things she felt were her torn shoulder and Alex plucking the bloody dagger from her belt to accompany his piece of timber. The last thing she thought was: I'm going to miss my sweet sixteen.
Kara woke up to a cold feeling by her side. Her mother was bent over her, calling to someone off to the side.
"What happened to her shoulder?" she was asking to whoever it was behind her. Kara moaned softly, turning over. She wanted to go back to sleep. It hadn't been so painful in her dreams.
"The thing bit her," Alex said, as if he had been explaining this over and over.
"and where is this "thing"?" her mother asked, "and the zombies that you were talking about. You said people died in here but there are no bodies."
"I told you, they all disappeared with a flash of light," Alex muttered quietly, as if he didn't quite believe himself. Kara could see why, he sounded like a nerd who had played one too many video games, which he probably had.
"And the boy you said was here with you, did he disappear with the light too?" Kara's mother asked tiredly.
"I guess he must have," Alex said more confidently. Kara had to give him credit, at least he was sticking to his story.
Then Kara realized what he'd been saying. Jared was gone. She shot up, surprised that she was even able to sit up and her head immediately started to spin. Kara's mother spun towards her, having looked away to talk to Alex.
Kara just began to reazlize what was so cold on her left side. Jared was looking out into the distance, scarcely seeming to notice that she was up and alive. It took him several seconds for him to notice her and when he did look it seemed like he had seen a ghost.
"Are you okay?" Jared asked in a minute voice, as if afraid that the others might hear him. However it seemed that he'd become tranlucent and mute to everyone but Kara once again. Kara barely nodded for now her mother was looking at her and she couldn't remember for the life of her what she had just asked.
"Kara, honey?" her mother said a bit unsteadily as if this whole day was getting to be too much for her, "Does anything hurt? Do I need to call an ambulance?"
Kara was about to open her mouth to tell her mother about the obvious, gaping wound in her shoulder along with the other bruises and scratches that could be easily seen from her costume, but then she realized: nothing did hurt. Her shoulder felt normal and her sidie didn't have a scratch, let a lone a gaping wound in it either. Her head didn't even hurt. Kara felt around but couldn't find a single wound that had been there before, until she reached to touch her own face.
It stung a little to touch the still open wound that ran the length of her face. She needed a mirror to see it clearly, but as she touched it she could imagine what it looked like.
"I'm fine," Kara said, and found that not even her voice was hoarse. She looked over at Jared who shrugged incredulously then reached out a cold, untouchable hand to trace her scar. The coolness felt good against her skin and she leaned towards the touch unconsciously, closing her eyes and smiling slightly.
"Are you sure honey?" her mother asked worriedly. Her face looked unusually careworn, making Kara want to ask her the same thing. Instead she just nodded and went over to her mother to give her a hug . For some reason Kara felt like crying and laughing at the same time. It didn't make any sense, but nothing did at the moment, and nothing really had to.
"Mom?" Kara asked, thinking of something suddenly, "Where's John? Did he get out okay? What happened to you guys? Why weren't the police here?"
"Oh, Kara," her mother said, once again in that uncharacteristically mother like tone, "John's just fine. He's the first one to get the doors open. Once we realized what was happening inside the doors jammed shut, as if they knew we'd caught on to them. By then we stopped sending people inside. We didn't know to call the police. By the time we got in here, there was not crime to see except you lying here with Alex holding a piece of timber and a dagger to protect you. We found your sword next to you. You must've fainted while holding it."
"Or it just became midnight and the ghosts had to surrender a right to it," Jared said guiltily, partly explaining why he had turned back into a spirit again for now, but now how he'd become solid again in the first place.
Kara nodded to both of them. She still felt tired, like she was a hundred and eleven years old and feeling it every step of the way. She was about to ask her mother whether they could go home and to sleep when a dark figure blocked the light coming from the doorway. Kara ran to him and threw her arms around him before she even thought about it, before she even needed to.
John stood there, blood drenched and careworn, holding a sledge hammer over his shoulder which he put down as soon as she had run to him to pick her up and swing her around once as if she were a little kid again. Kara buried her face in his shoulder and began to cry earnestly about everything that had happened. She felt ashamed to ever think that he wanted to hurt her, ashamed that she had killed and innocent girl, about all the people who had died and she hadn't been able to save, about Alex who looked okay but would probably need a good psychologist from now on.
John just muttered nonsense to soothe her and rocked her back and forth in his arms, bringing her back to a time when the world would shrink to just her and him and them playing all day as best friends.
"Where's dad?" Kara asked, John wiped a tear from her face was his large, callous hand and smiled. However it was her mother who answered.
"Talking to the police, sweetie," she said, "I told him I would tell him when you woke up."
John nodded to her and her mother departed, taking Alex with her to go repeat his story to the police. Alex didn't seem as confident now but as he walked away and looked over his shoulder at Kara she mouthed "thanks". As soon as they were both gone, John put her down on the middle dais and looked her over. Kara then noticed that even her costume seemed to have fixed itself.
"You okay?" John asked shortly. He had her had in his and was turning it over and over and over again as if some sort of blemish or wound was there, he just needed to look hard enough.
"Not a scratch on me," she said, the pointed at her face, " 'Cept this."
"It was made by one of the ghost blades," Jared said, coming up behind her and coughing loudly. Kara almost grinned at the familiar sound, "it'll stay there for quite a while and when it heals it'll leave a scar."
"Well, that'll be a conversation point at parties," Kara joked, a double joke, really. Like she ever went to any parties anyway.
John seemed to remember something and pulled out a small package from the pocket off his costume. The wrapping was just plain brown paper taped up neatly and Kara peeled it off carefully, not knowing what to expect. When she opened the box inside her heart was instantly captured.
It was a plain necklace, just a stone hanging on a string really, but there was something about that rock, the way the light shone off it and yet from within it at the same time, the way that it seemed so familiar, as if she had seen it forever.
"Well are you going to just stare at it or put it on?" asked Jared impatiently. Kara threw him an annoyed look and then, with a shaky hand reached for the necklace in the box. John beat her to it and helped her put it on while she pulled her hair out of the way. Some time during the night it had finally came out of it style. She was surprised how long held and how it seemed not to have a single not right now, either. She decided not to question such a good thing. It couldn't be a great idea.
When the crystal, because that was what it really was, a crystal, touched the skin on her neck Kara felt a warm sensation there, and a tingling that started there and spread to the rest of her body. It felt like Power, the way her sword had felt when she had held it up and it began to glow.
"What kind of stone is it?" Kara asked. She touched the crystal with her and it buzzed at her touch, as if reacting to it's master. Kara smiled at it, stroking it as if it was a beloved pet.
"I'm glad you like it," John said. Kara was startled. This was the most he'd said to her in years. Well, the most words in a row. No, Kara thought, the most words he'd said to her in years. There communication never seemed to depend on words, "It's just a quarts crystal, you could probably get it anywhere."
Jared snorted with laughter, "Don't listen to him. It is quartz, but that's not telling what he did to it."
"What did he do to it?" Kara asked and then glanced, alarmed at John. She must look pretty crazy.
"The renegade?" he asked, a hint of amusement in his eyes, "Where is he?"
"How can you know he's here if you can't see him?" Kara asked, moving protectively towards Jared. He coughed but didn't move to get away.
"I saw him when I pulled you out of the middle," John explained, "I'm sorry we didn't tell you sooner."
"We?" Kara asked.
"Kara?" Jared coughed, "There's something, someone coming. I suggest we get out of here now."
"Jared says someone is coming. We should leave now," Kara relayed the information.
"Jared? Oh, the renegade. Where does he suggest we go?" John asked.
Kara turned to Jared, "Any ideas?"
"He can go wherever he wants. We are going somewhere they can't find us," Jared said, instinctually grabbing at her hand then cursing.
"No," Kara said, "John's coming with us."
"I don't trust him. Either we go or all of us stay. Or you can depend on him to get you out of here, your choice."
"He wants just me and him to go," Kara said, turning back to John, "I guess he figures it's safer that way."
"He doesn't trust me," John stated simply, it wasn't a question, "I don't blame him. Go now, I'll catch up with you later."
Kara didn't waste time arguing, or couldn't, rather, Jared finally managed to grasp her hand for less than a millisecond and everything disappeared. Kara felt her feet touch the ground again and gasped in the cold.
"What did you do?" she asked a strong wind waws blowing in her face, making her squint. Her arms hurt from the cold, the wind biting into her thin clothes. She'd felt warm in her costume before, now there didn't seem to be enough of it.
"I brought us from there to here," Jared said simply. He turned around and started walking. Kara had to run to keep up with his unnatural pace. She noticed that here his eyes were not bloodshot.
"Obviously," Kara shivered violently. Wrapping her arms around herself she broke into a half run. The act of walking didn't seem to trouble Jared at all, "Could you slow down?"
Jared didn't slow a step, in fact she suspected he was gong even faster. She was now at a full pace run when he seemed to be just walking normally. It was almost like a dream.
"We have a winner!" declared Jared loudly, "We're in the dream world. Glad you've noticed, saved me a lot of explaining."
"Who's dream are we in?" Kara asked. Her breathing was coming in short bursts. She was wheezing noisily. I really should get into shape sometime, Kara thought angrily.
"Never mind then," Jared said, she could almost feel him rolling his eyes, "I guess I do have some explaining to do. This not what a human would consider a dream, but jus a different plane with different worlds. Since the 'dreams' you have at night follow different rules than your world, you named them dreams after this place. Understand?"
"Vaguely," Kara said truthfully. Jared had finally slowed down when she started gasping for breath. He stopped abruptly and Kara almost walked straight into him. He picked up something from the ground and closed it tightly in his fist.
He grabbed her hand and held it up to his mouth and blew on it. Then he dropped whatever he had picked up and put it in her hand, "Just close your eyes, click your heals and say there's no place like home," he whispered. His breath shown in the air, turning into a chain and wrapping around her hand. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them again she saw flowered wallpaper.
"Now where are we?" she asked, looking at the desk in the room that had a bell perched on top.
"I thought you'd be smart enough to see that we're in a hotel," Jared said, hitting the bell twice. He drummed his fingers impatiently on the desk. In the sunset light he looked astonishingly handsome.
"It's only our first date," Kara said sarcastically, "Never thought we'd end up in a hotel room. Every mother's worst nightmare. Handsome, ambitious, and sarcastic."
Jared's head turned towards her so fast that she thought he must have whiplash, "Did you just call me handsome?" he asked incredulously. She could tell he wasn't even being sarcastic or teasing her, he was genuinely surprised.
"No," she lied. Afraid that her blush would give her away she stared out the window at the multihued sky, wondering how everything could be horrible one minute, then just fine the next.
She heard footsteps from behind her and turned around to see a man appear from a door in the back, looking harried.
"Sorry sir, miss, I've been having some trouble with the faucet in the fifth on fifth," he said. Kara wondered what the fifth on fifth was but kept her questions to herself. She didn't know what to expect from the dream world.
"I need a room," said Jared briskly, "I don't have any money. But I do have a lovely young lady over here. Kara bristled at this while secretly smiling. Though he probably just said that to be nice.
"Oh," said the clerk, "I understand. Right away, sir."
Jared motioned for Kara to follow them. Both of them were moving extremely fast, though, both of them looked as if they were walking normally. Kara remembered this was the dream world. She was running but never running fast enough, more like in slow motion. No wonder people had named their dreams after this place. As soon as she caught up with the two, Jared grabbed her hand and she found herself able to glide along at the same pace.
Just when she thought this world couldn't get any moe confusing she found herself drifting of between bits of the journey to their room so at one time they seemed to be in an elevator then next in a hallway and then up a flight of stairs.
She tried to ask Jared what was going on but it seemed like sometimes he was there and sometimes he wasn't and she only would think to ask at the times he was gone. Finally after what seemed an eternity and only a minute at the same time, they reached the room.
"Would you like some room service, on the house?" asked the clerk, wiggling his eyebrows at Jared.
"Sure, I guess she must be hungry after all we've been through today," Jared said. Though it was technically true, Kara didn't think he actually meant the haunted house predicament at all.
"I'll be up as soon as I can," the clerk said, then bustled off with one last wistful smile at the two of them.
"Okay," Kara said, cornering Jared who had just sat in one of the chair next to a small round table, putting his feet up, "First you give me a stone and we teleport or something over here."
"That's the way they get around over here. Think of the stone as the marker to a bus stop. We just have to find one, that specific one and it will take us anywhere in Dreamland."
"and then you get us a hotel room without paying anything," Kara said. She was still wondering why having a beautiful young women, which as far as she was concerned, she wasn't, would make any difference to the clerk.
"He thinks we just got married," said Jared, now looking a bit uncomfortable, "It can be a very trying experience here. Ever notice that humans have all sorts of stressful dreams about their weddings. Kind of like nightmares inspired by this place. Weddings tend to be really unlucky."
"I don't understand, why would that mean we get the room for free?"
"Here's the part people don't usually dream about. The custom here is that the groom has to win the bride over on their wedding night. If not whoever gives them their room…well, he automatically gets his way with the bride."
"It wouldn't seem that way if you were raised here," Jared pointed out, "But I agree. The thing is, just like in the human world, the bride and the groom usually…on their wedding night… well, it's not usually a problem," he ended evasively.
"Oh," was all Kara could think to say, "and I guess he's bringing us some sort of romantic dinner."
"Something like that," Jared concluded. He looked away out the window at the sunset.
"And then they expect us too…." Kara left it open ended. She wasn't sure if she could finish it.
"Yeah," Jared answered shortly.
"Um, Jared," Kara said awkwardly, "There isn't some way they could tell if we hadn't is there?"
Jared paused then, seeming to realize there was no way to avoid the question, said, "Yeah, they'd know. Don't ask how."
"Well, then why'd you bring us here?" Kara asked.
"I didn't," Jared said, looking embarrassed, "You did."
"You mean my subconscious wanted to go to a hotel that would make me have to have sex with you?"
"Maybe I just wanted sleep," Kara offered.
"No, your subconscious knows the rules of this place," said Jared looking half amused, half bewildered. He sobered a little, "it also knew this place was safe. It's hard for anything evil to track you to one of these hotels, or anything good either. The bride and groom get their, uh, privacy. Plus, no evil is allowed to cross the threshold."
"maybe that's what I was thinking of. Being safe no matter the price," Kara said.
"Thanks," said Jared, looking offended, "Nice to know you think of it that way. I'm not exactly thrilled at the circumstances either."
Feeling wounded, Kara sat down on the bed, trying to think of what to do. She racked her brains until she'd worked herself up into a headache, but none of her plans would do. She couldn't even remember the way back to the main lobby, and even if she did, that seemed to be the only way out and the clerk would definitely stop them from leaving.
"Jared, what are we going to do?" Kara asked despairingly. She had never felt so desperate not to do something in her life. Her cheeks were still burning from embarrassment and she laid down on the bed. Jared came over to sit next to her.
"I don't know," he said quietly, "There's no way we're getting past that guy. He'll be watching us like hawks."
Kara felt a tinge of intuition and apprehension all at once, "Jared, tell me how they'll know what we're doing."
"It's not important," Jared said too quickly. Her feeling of unease tripled. She pulled out her sword and twisted it on it's tip, boring a hole into the carpet. Lightening a little, Jared said softly, "Sometime we ought to get you a real sword, not one that's been creepily modified to be sharp. I think I might know where to find one, too, at a cheap price."
"We don't have any money, remember?" Kara said, half smiling though she didn't find it funny at all. She imagined what the kids at school would think if they knew what was happening now. She knew that more than one of them would tell her to just get over it, it wasn't the worst thing in the world.
Kara turned to ask Jared what he thought their chances were of getting out of there and past the guard when she found his lips on hers. She almost pulled back startled, but he put his arms around her to keep her in place. The kiss became deeper and she still tried to pull away, afraid of what was happening.
She felt his hand undoing her belt while he miraculously held her in place with just one arm, crushing her body against his. She struggled feebly but she was tired and dizzy and the whole world seemed to be shifting under her, like a dream.
Before she knew it her clothes were off, she had undone his clothes too, though she didn't remember doing and definitely was struggling all the way. He was holding her down, she felt like she couldn't breath. Everything was so confusing and yet so clear at the same time. She struck out at him once or twice when she managed to get a hand free, but her blows seemed insubstantial, just glancing off him as he continued.
Tears streamed from her eyes, she wished she could be numb to feeling again, the way she had been in battle only a few hours, or days, or years earlier. She couldn't judge time anymore. She couldn't do anything at all. Not think, and not struggle.
She closed her eyes and waited for it to be over. When he finally stopped she looked at him again. He was pulling his clothes back on, slowly, not looking at her. She wanted him to look. She wanted him to face her. She wanted to kill him, to torture him, make him feel like a victim.
She felt like the next words out of her mouth would be a scream, an animal scream, of rage and pain and sadness but all that came out of her mouth was, "I'm hungry."
He didn't look at her as he nodded, barely a nod at all. If she hadn't been honed in on the back of his head, waiting to see his face, she wouldn't have noticed it at all. He stood up, fully dressed, hair tousled and yet looking beautiful all the same. Before he reached for the doorknob, he rubbed his eyes with his sleeves. Kara couldn't believe it. Was he crying? After what he did to her? No, he was probably just wiping sweat out of his eyes. Before she could ponder it anymore he opened the door and left her there.
Her first instinct was to run. But where could she go. She didn't know how to get around or how to get home. Home, she said, her eyes filling even more and her silent crying turned to sobs. That's where she wanted to be right now. Home, in her own bed. She got up and moved to a chair opposite to the one Jared had sat on earlier. Everything about her felt dirty, she couldn't look at the bed, the chair with Jared's ghost, the ghost of a ghost, she thought almost laughing in a hysterical kind of way.
She felt uneasy in her skin. Sitting there wasn't an option. She spotted the door to the bathroom and lunged across the room to it, suddenly desperate to be out of the room before he came back. She locked the door behind her and vomited in the sink. Picking up the soap dish by the bath tub she slammed it into the mirror making sure every bit of her reflection was broken into a million pieces, so that none of her was visible in the spider web cracks.
When she was finally done beating it to smithereens, she stepped back, as if admiring her handy work. With one final look at it she threw the dish at it again and the mirror fixed itself, reflecting the room without her in it, just like she wanted it too. Apparently dreams worked just as they said they could. Once you realized you were in one, you could easily control what was happening.
With all her clothes on, Kara turned on the hot water all the way up on the shower and walked in. She took her dress off and her other clothes as soon as she felt warm enough. She took in the honey scent of the soap and the strawberries and cream shampoo, her favorite. The steam enclosed the whole room, amking her feel more hidden. She relaxed a bit, waiting until every drop of hot water pruned her skin and she brushed her teeth with toothpaste and her finger while still enveloped in the steamy bath. She scrubbed her clothes and underclothes as best she could and then, reluctantly got out. The white towels made her feel sick again. Pure white, virgin white, innocence, she thought dimly as she grabbed the hair dryer on the sink, trying to dry her clothes as much as she could before she had to put them back on.
While she was waiting she sat on the edge of the tub, making a drip of water go up and down the side idly, wondering if she could do anything bigger, wondering if she dared.
A knock at the door startled her.
"Kara," Jared's voice was so quiet that she struggled to hear. She couldn't find her voice to return the call. Let him worry, her mind reasoned. She reluctantly agreed. She didn't know why reluctance was part of it. She hated him, she must. He'd raped her and now was trying to make it up to her with…she smelled the food and instantly wondered if she should reconsider staying in there all night. Her stomach growled angrily, chastising her for even making it a question.
I can't go out there, she told it. I can't look at his face. I can't sleep in that bed again. Her stomach ignored her excuses and continued to grumble about it's hunger. Kara pulled on her clothes, the shoulder of her dress was ripped again. All of the old wounds to the fabric were reappearing, so now she had to almost hold it together to keep it from revealing too much. Maybe I shouldn't go out, she thought.
She turned the doorknob before she could reconsider too much. As she walked out, Jared was putting new sheets on the bed, throwing the old ones near the door. There was an array of covered trays on the table with a wonderful smell wafting over to Kara at the other side of the room. There seemed to be double the sheets, blanket and pillows then the bed needed.
"Smile for the clerk when he comes by to pick up the sheets," he said, still not looking at her. Kara wondered if he'd ever look at her again. He coughed violently, and she could see that he was sweating as if he had a fever. He was trying to make it seem like it was no big deal, but she could see the effort it was costing him just to keep putting the sheets on the bed and then walking across the room to sit down at the table.
"I'm here to pick up your sheets," said a voice at the other side of the door. Kara went over to open it and pointed to the pile of sheets on the floor. The clerk winked at her as he picked them up and left.
"I got some extra clothes from the clerks daughter, they're over there on the bed," Jared said, gesturing with his hand over to the bed but still refusing to look anywhere that was in her direction.
Kara nodded and went over to them. They were normal enough clothes, a black button up shirt and some jeans, next to them were some pajamas. Kara took the pajamas back into the bathroom and changed quickly before coming out to eat. She glided across the room, her hair pulled back in a pony tail, the pajamas fit her perfectly, as if they'd been made especially for her.
She sat on the chair by one of the still closed platters, tucking her feet under her and waiting patiently for Jared to do something. At the moment he stared out into the distance.
Without any tone or change of direction in his eyes, Jared said, "Ghosts don't eat."
Kara didn't know what to say. She wanted to feel bad but she couldn't find herself feeling anything but confused. She no longer wanted to hit him. On the contrary, she wanted to wipe the awful, sad expression off his face. Instead, she opened the platter and found a bowl of chicken noodle soup with crackers off to the side. She picked up the spoon and wolfed it down hungrily. The next plate had a juicy pork chop and stuffing which she treated equally and ate just as quickly. All the time Jared didn't move a muscle.
The desert was a piece of cheesecake. Kara felt too full already but ate it anyway. Then she rounded on Jared. She opened her mouth to start the stream of questions when, as usual, he intercepted her.
"They'll expect us to sleep together," he said unemotionally, "in the same bed, I mean."
Kara didn't know what to say, but she couldn't say yes. It was all fine and dandy feeling sorry for him when he looked sad and their was a table between them, but she had thought they were in the same boat before, right when she had first sat on the bed.
"All right," Kara said slowly, thought she didn't feel as though it was alright at all, "But will you do me a favor first?"
"Sure, anything," Jared said, now turning to look out the window.
"Will you look at me?" Kara said, she knew he wouldn't but it never hurt to ask. Before she knew it, though, Jared was staring her straight in the eyes, her gaze boring into her for forgiveness, his eyes welling with tears. Kara nearly fell into their dark depths and then he turned back.
"Is that all you wanted?" he asked in a slightly choked voice. Kara couldn't speak again. She wondered at this weird fluctuation in her ability to talk. One minute she felt like screaming and the next she couldn't even manage a squeak. One thing was definite, she never wanted to be in the dream world again.
"Look," Jared said, "This is what this night has gotten us."
He gestured towards the window. Kara felt her skin begin to crawl as she walked around the table towards him and the window.
"I won't touch you, I promise," Jared said, looking at her through her reflection in the window, "Look down there."
Kara made the last few steps to the window, hyper aware of his every breath, the movement of his chest, she could swear she could hear him thinking, his heart beating. She needed to get away but what she saw through the window held her tight to the scene.
Down, three or two floors below were dark figures, across the street, looking up straight at their window. Kara felt afraid to look back, as if she acknowledged them, they would be able to come up and kill them both.
"Who are they?" she asked, relieved that she had a voice again.
"I don't know. But I can see and feel their aura, and so can you if you try. Do they look like good people to you?"
"No," Kara said, she could feel it was true. One of the figures pointed straight at her and Kara cried out and fell backwards as a fireball hit the window.
"Kara," Jared said, looking concerned, "What happened? Are you all right?"
He went to grab her and to help her up and Kara let out another yelp and crawled backwards, twisting away as his hand almost scraped her foot. She didn't stop moving until she reached the wall on the other side of the room.
Jared's eyes continued to swallow her up, she felt like she was immersed in him, his thoughts were written right in front of her, "I'm so sorry, Kara, I'm so sorry. Please, I'll leave now. I'll go. I'll leave," he babbled on and on as he went for the door. Kara stowed her sickness in the back of her mind and grabbed his arm, pulling him back from the door.
"Don't leave me," she said, she realized she was crying too, "If you leave, then the clerk. Please don't leave. I don't want them to get me."
Neither of them was making much sense, but their combined babbling seemed to bring them back to the center of the room, back to the bed. Kara sat him down on the edge and then wandered back over to the window. Her hands felt dirty now that she touched him. She felt awful for thinking that way, but she couldn't help it.
"They're still there," Kara announced, "If they stay, then they'll just get us in the morning when our 'wedding night' is up."
"I don't think they'll stay," Jared said, "Pull the curtain. Get away from the window. It's impenetrable, but there's never a reason not to be safe."
Kara pulled the curtains shut and went over to sit next to him on the bed. Tentatively, he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and she leaned on him, her head on his chest. He rested his cheek on her hair, so that she could feel him breathing.
"I haven't needed to breath in a while," Jared said, idly. Kara felt like breaking away from him, the closeness making her want to gag, even though she wanted it more than anything. If this night had never happened, it would have been her dream come true to just lean against him like this, just two people on the edge of the world.
"I'm tired," Kara lied. She couldn't have felt less tired at the moment, and probably hadn't ever in her life felt more awake. Her whole body was tense and yet electrified at the same time. It was shutting down again from all the stress of the last day. She couldn't believe what had happened in twenty four hours. She didn't have the same home to go back to as she had had that morning. Her friends were dead, people who had known her since she was born, who had entered the poll to pick her name, who'd taken turns watching her when her parents were busy or away on business. Her lifelong friend may or may not be evil and she had been raped by a guy she was quickly falling in love with, who just happened to be dead. Thinking about all this at once, she felt tired immediately. She also wondered why her brain hadn't exploded with all these emotions running through her at once.
"Let's go to bed then," Jared said, then muttered quietly, "I'm going to put my arm around you. I know you don't want it, but it'll be better that way, trust me."
"It's fine," Kara said. She was getting used to lying to him on a regular basis now, "I just can't imagine when we get back to the real world and you can't touch me again. How come you could in the haunted house?"
"I don't know," Jared said with a yawn instead of his usual cough, "Weird things happen on Halloween."
"Agreed," said Kara wearily, pulling the covers over her, facing away from him. He put and arm around her and she could feel his breath on the back of her neck. Once again, and now even more clearly, she felt she could feel his heartbeat, vaguely wondering if he had one anymore. She would have to ask that along with the billions of other questions tomorrow morning, after they escaped.
Thankfully, she fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Kara opened her eyes blearily, trying to remember where she was. For some reason she was the kind of person that never freaked out when she woke up in a strange place, she just took in the situation while she woke up. She shifted a little bit to her side and realized that she was pressed up against someone, their bodies fitting to each other perfectly. She remembered last night and then squirmed inwardly. Outwardly she tried to move away from him slowly without disturbing him, but as soon as she pulled away, his grip tightened and he pulled her unconsciously towards himself.
Like I'm sort of big teddy bear, Kara thought, a bit giddy with fatigue. Now that she had gotten sleep she felt, if possible, even more tired. She glanced at the clock and groaned, it was three in the morning. No wonder she felt tired. She wondered why she had woken up and searched the room for any disturbance.
Then she heard the footsteps in the hallway. They weren't just the passing footsteps of another guest, or the confident footsteps of the clerk she had heard earlier. They were stealthy, drawn out footsteps. Someone was placing each foot carefully. And unskillfully. Kara heard every step as if it was magnified on a loudspeaker.
She pried herself from Jared's grip, searching the ground for her sword. It was conveniently by the door. She sighed and crept forward, hoping she was being as quiet as whoever was out there was trying to be.
Her fingers curled around the hilt of the sword just as she heard a soft tap, tap at the door. She stated to one side, afraid that anyone would try to look under the door in the gap between the bottom and the carpet.
"Miss?" came a quiet voice from the other side, "I'm sorry to disturb you but you have a message."
Relief flooded through Kara. It was just the clerk, being quiet so he didn't wake anyone else in the other rooms. She must've been louder than she'd known and he'd heard her approaching the door. She swung it open lightly and the door surprisingly didn't creak, like she expected it would. That was just as well, she wouldn't want to wake Jared up. He needed rest.
"Yes?" she said, then a hand clamped over her mouth.
"You should know better than to open the door on your wedding night, girlie," said the clerk. Kara whimpered. Could anything else wrong happen? She tried desperately tried to grasp her sword she'd left lying on the floor but the clerk kicked it away. He was dragging her backwards through the doorway. He closed the door behind them and whispered into her ear, "You better start walking."
Kara didn't quite feel the need to help him, but something told her that she didn't want to see what happened if she didn't.
"Someone downstairs wants you to come out," he said as he dragged her down the stairwell, "But they said I could do what I want with you first. Don't talk!" he said sharply as she attempted to call out again.
Before she knew it they were entering the door behind the front desk. He was pushing her down, onto a bed that felt too hard, as if the mattress was made of rocks and bones. His teeth gnashed around her neck, mocking Jared's gentle intrusion, he tore her pajamas loose, his hands turning to claws before returning to normal.
Then she felt the pressure release from her, just like in the Middle Way when she'd been attacked by the creature.
"It's not polite to bed a lady without her permission," Jared said, his voice like a cold, bitter wind blowing through the room. He sounded beyond strong, and dangerous, but like an avenging angel all the same. Her hero, the rapist.
"Get off of me," the clerk growled, "She's mine. She has no wedding ring and now ceremonial ties. I let you stay here out of the goodness of my heart, you know what you owe me."
Kara looked at Jared's face and saw that it was true. Her stomach turned to acid, would he just leave and let the clerk have her.
"You won't have her," Jared said, "She's mine. She's bound by love, and even you wouldn't mess with that."
"You lie," spat the clerk, "I heard you two talking. She loves you not, and you took advantage of her."
"You're wrong," Jared said, "I love her. For as long as I've known and watched over her. I love her as true as I'm a Renegade."
"She doesn't love you," the clerk pointed out, "She can't even stay near you. Ask her to kiss you if she loves you so much."
Kara knew she couldn't afford to hesitate, as Jared turned to ask her, to give her a pleading look, she met his lips full on, feeling a blush rise in her cheeks and feeling sick even as her heart leapt as she kissed him. When the kiss ended, he still held an arm around her waist, keeping her against him.
Her crystal glowed brightly pink before turning back clear again.
"Crystals don't lie," Jared said, and Kara threw him a puzzled look, though she knew he couldn't return it at the moment.
"Fine, but they will get you. You can't run from Them," the clerk said in a way that made him sound like the old homeless guys raving on street corners about government conspiracies.
Jared didn't give him a reply but guided Kara neatly out of the room. She absentmindedly adjusted her pajamas so they weren't so torn anymore. She remembered what she did with the mirror and concentrated. The tear repaired itself.
"How did you do that?" Jared asked, bewildered.
"You do it all the time," Kara insisted.
"Not bend reality like that. I said the rules were different here, because everything changes of it's own will, not because you can change whatever you want. It takes years for someone of the Power to be able to do that."
"Or a couple hours," joked Kara, looking at her newly repaired shirt front with a sort of new appreciation. What she did couldn't really have been that special.
"Hmm," Jared said thoughtfully. Kara tried to keep track of where they were walking but everything bended and changed beneath her and made her head murky.
"How do you keep you head in the dream world?" Kara asked in a way that also meant "Will I ever get used to this?"
"I'm dead, things don't effect me as much," Jared said, once again sullen and coughing. Kara wondered if he'd ever stop. And when he did would he be able to stay for ever or…she couldn't think about the alternative.
"We have to get out of here first thing," Kara said. She somehow knew this was the truth and decided to change into her clothes and sleep in them. Once she had the replacement clothes on, she laid down next to Jared, this time comforted by his arm around her.
She looked at her costume, her birthday right, now chucked in the corner and useless. It sat there like a dejected stuffed animal a child has outgrown. Her sword was propped up against the night table, ready for action, her new toy.
Kara fell to sleep easily, to her surprise, or she would have been surprised if she had been awake during the time, but obviously…
Kara woke up to the sound of rain pattering on the window sills. So there was actual weather in dreamland. She got up, Jared had flipped over and released her some time during the night, and crept silently towards the window.
Squinting through the raindrop warped glass she glanced across the street. The figures were waiting down there. For her. She had been so sure they wouldn't be there in the morning. But with the rain it didn't seem like morning at all. It just seemed like an endless night. Suddenly the light that seemed to be dimly illuminating the scene through the cloud filter darkened and all she could see clearly were the dark clothed shapes across the street. One looked up and pointed. Then the middle one, turning slowly, so carefully as if it were and old man who couldn't move as fast as he used to, he turned around and stared up at her. His eyes were hidden by the hood that shadowed his face but she could feel the eyes tearing at her skin. One spider fingered white hand with knobby knuckles lifted, turned over side up with one finger outstretched and curled inward in a beckoning symbol.
Kara felt her body respond to it, pulling her closer and closer to the window. Her arms bent and moved to try to yank open the locked window. Her fingers fumbled with them desperately until she could finally get the latch undone. The window glided easily when she next touched it, as if it had shot up at it's own accord.
A cold wind blue the curtains in, rain spilling by the buckets on the outdate carpet, numbing her bare feet and making the hairs on her arms stand on end. Without hesitation her body swung a leg over the window sill and then another. Somebody yelled from behind her. It could've been Jared. She jumped in slow motion. I must be dreaming, she thought just before she hit the ground. This kind of stuff only happens in the dream world.
Kara woke up to a pain throughout her whole body, her veins were on fire. She sat up in the cool river. It was dusk already. When she tried to move everyone one of her muscles cramped so painfully that she stayed in a violently fit of writhing for about ten minutes until it subsided, then waited, too afraid to move again. She was so thirsty, but she somehow knew the stream water wasn't any good to drink. Hesitantly she tested her muscles and sat up, only giving them a slight strain, though all of them were still so sore that she didn't feel like moving at all too soon. But her throat became so dry that it felt like the skin inside was peeling off in strips
Kara got up with a hand in the river to steady herself, trying not to fall straight back into the waters. Once she was standing she looked out to the edge of the creek where the forest was, deciding to go left instead of right. She knew what came out of the right side last time. She'd been in this river before.
The going was slow, each leg had a distinct limp, giving her the walk that reminded her of a gangly skeleton in the haunted house back home. Her heart twinged at the thought so she pulled her mind away, focusing on figuring out where she was exactly and how to get out. She reached for her sword but remembered it was back in the room. The room! How had she gotten away from there? She'd been falling hadn't she?
She finally reached the bank and sloshed up onto the sandy shores, laying down and having the itchy little grains stick to every exposed wet part of her skin. Her breath was coming in gasps now, for some reason, as if she'd tried to walk through a river of jello. Twigs crackled in the forest behind her and she sat up too quickly, her head spinning at the effort and black spots danced in front of her eyes. Instead of tarrying until they were gone she got to her feet and grabbed the nearest, strongest looking stick she could find. It wasn't as good as her sometimes magical sword but it was better than nothing.
She looked into the deep gloom of the forest, the sunlight barely entering the dense trees. She thought she saw something moving but it could have been a squirrel rattling a branch or the wind stirring the trees. Only there was no wind going and as far as she knew there were no animals as normal as squirrels in the Middle. Her mind was trying to tell her something but she either couldn't or wouldn't listen to it. Her feet told her to head through the woods. Over the river and through the woods, she thought grinning a little. How silly, she thought, a walk through the woods can't be that hard, honestly.
Kara you're reflection, she heard a voice say far off in the distance. She ignored the voice and walked faster into the woods. She had to get out of here. The hush of the forest closed in around her quickly, embracing her in it's wooden arms.
Kara could see something walking just outside her peripheral vision and she spun round and round trying to get it in focus. The forest wasn't quiet so much as it was muffled. The sound of her bare feet crunching on the leaves barely made a crackling whisper. Her labored breathing sounded as if it was coming from far far away. It was as if someone had turned down the volume on her life. She stopped under a drooping tree weeping out stringy mottled green moss. Her feet were starting to hurt from stepping on the sharp twigs she had stepped on. Vacantly she tried to get a thorn out of her heel but it was already in too deep. Something vaguely human in shape flashed between the trees ahead.
Kara, go back to the river, her mind said. She ignored it. This forest had to end somewhere.
Kara whirled around to face John, "What are you doing here?"
"Kara come on, we have to get through this forest. I know the way," he said grabbing her hand and yanking her in the direction she had been going before. Something inside her told her to run the other way.
"Wait, I need to," Kara couldn't finish the sentence mostly because she had no idea what she was talking about.
"No, we have to get out of here, you're in danger," John said, nearly lifting her off her feet with another pull in the right direction.
"But I know how to get out," Kara said, remembering suddenly that someone had told her to just go through the river right back to the real world.
"You're just confused," John said insistently, "The person who helped me get in here told me a better way to get out. So no one can find where you got out on the other side. You went through the river last time and that's how They knew to go to the haunted house."
"Oh," Kara said, suddenly confused. What were they still doing here? She took another few steps away from the river.
"Kara," she spun around again in the direction of the river. Jared was standing there in the shadows, his familiar bloodshot eyes pleading with her. Kara took a step back towards him but John's hand encircling her wrist kept her on a short leash.
"It's not your friend," John said, it's just an illusion like the angel you saw last time you were here. It turned out to be a creature and so will he if you give in to him."
"No, Kara, we have to get out of here. Don't trust him," Jared said but his face was warping into that off a bestial creature in human form, "No, they're changing it. You're dreaming. It's just a dream. You have to get back to the river. Go back."
"Come on, Kara," John said, now literally dragging her away. She glanced back at the Jared-thing but he was now beyond recognition. She ran for it with John while the Jared thing fell to the ground behind her.
"Kara," yelled the ghostly voice behind her wailed in pain. It sounded so like Jared that she almost had to run back for him. Suddenly she grasped her at her neck, she felt as if she was being choked. The crystal on her neck was yanking backwards towards river.
"Take it off," John commanded her, already trying to scrabble at it with his hands, but the knot just got tighter and tighter as the crystal pulled tighter, almost cutting a horizontal line in her neck.
Her mind felt a little clearer. Her necklace was telling her to go back for some reason. She could go find what it wanted and then go with John, or else this thing would choke her to death. Giving her hand a hard wrench she got free of John's grasp. The crystal was now pulling her forward, back in the direction of the river, driving her to run so fast she felt like she was flying over the ground and her bare feet hardly seemed to touch the fallen leaves.
John was calling out somewhere behind but she was going so fast already and she couldn't stop. Finally she missed a step and went sprawling into the air. She covered her face with her arms, waiting for the fall.
She opened her eyes. She was floating inches from the ground. Slowly she tried to get her knees under her. Whatever invisible strings she was suspended by snapped and she crashed to the ground. Through the trees ahead she could see the river bubbling by. Her crystal was still trying to strangle her but more gently now.
Across the river she could see hundreds of hairy brown creatures and the white skeletal creatures were waiting on the opposite shore. Most of them were looking in the other direction, some fighting and other chewing on unidentifiable animal bones. None of them took notice of her. She crawled as low as she could to the ground, across the sand that stuck to her face by the beads of sweat.
There was so much noise over there, she expected snarling and growling but it was music, there was music playing over on the other shores and large campfires right behind the beasts. And what more, there were people there too. Kara thought about getting up and calling over to them for help for she had remembered something a little too late. She couldn't see her reflection in anything. One of the must have a mirror or a knife or something reflective. She couldn't see herself in the water anymore, the sun had gone behind the horizon mostly already. It was getting dark.
Picking a point far away from the creatures she drug herself along the creek bed, fingers digging deep into the muddy bottom and her nose barely above water so occasionally she accidentally sucked it in instead. She tried to be quiet but every splash and breath seemed exaggeratingly loud and she thought she could hear the Jared creature behind her, still moaning on the wind.
Once she reached the shore she knew she had to make a break for the nearest tree. She couldn't wait long enough to be precisely certain nothing could see her but she made sure the nearest ones were looking the other way before lifting her soaked, heavy form out of the water and scampering across the sand before landing herself behind the first tree she came to. She couldn't even relax then because as far as she knew the creatures lived in this side of the forest and her crystal was giving her a tingling warning feeling where it rested in the hollow of her throat. Nevertheless she knew she had to make it to the people, if there was any chance they could help her. Not everyone here could be evil. Maybe some of them were Renegades like Jared. Though the memory of what he had done to her when they first met was not encouraging. But that was different, special circumstances. She crept through the trees, holding her breath as she had to go through a specifically wide spot between the trees, almost kissing the trees that gave her cover when none of the creatures noticed her. She'd never been really religious, but if she had been she was sure that she would thank god right then.
Finally she made it to a particularly close set of trees right next to the place where the bonfires were. Trying to decide if it was better to watch them and risk being caught observing or to just go over there and play nice, Kara crouched with indecision in the underbrush. This wasn't going to be easy. But the people looked nice enough. Actually that wasn't true. The truth was that they weren't doing much but watching the fires and talking in low voices. But it wasn't as if they were roasting one of themselves on the flames and picking at the carcasses of dead skeletal creatures.
Making a split second decision she walked straight from her hiding place and into the first circle around one of the fires. The people inside all stared at her for a second before she opened her mouth and tried at intelligent conversation.
"Do any of you have anything, um, reflective?" she asked awkwardly. They all looked at her like she was crazy and she didn't really blame them. She tried again but also with little success, "I need something that I can see myself in."
One of them finally snapped out of the confused spell they all seemed to be under and stepped forward. His skin was tan and he wasn't anything except for blue jeans. His feet were bare and his chest was perfectly carved with muscle like some sort of Greek god. His eyes weren't bloodshot, so she could immediately tell that he wasn't like any of the ghosts she'd seen and maybe not a ghost at all. His hair was scraggly in an untidy, beautiful kind of way and his eyes were a piercing blue that seemed to stare straight through her.
"Who are you?" he asked in a silky smooth voice. He combed his hair with his long fingers and only managed to make it look more adorably messed up.
"Um, my name is Kara. This is kind of urgent. I just need to have something that I can see my reflection in and then I'll be out of your hair," Kara said.
"Having a bad hair day?" he asked, looking her up and down and probably noticing her lack of footwear, torn clothes, and otherwise filthy appearance.
"Yeah, sort of," Kara said. Her crystal was now almost burning her skin with warning, telling her to go back into the river, now. But she didn't have anything to find herself in the real world with.
"Bad dreams lately?" asked the boy. That's when she noticed it. The others were on their feet and closing in fast. Tried to push past them but two of them grabbed her arms and held her down.
"Tell Him that we got her," said the leader to the others, "and tie her up. With her powers she could probably get free easily otherwise."
"You have the wrong girl," Kara said, "I don't have any powers. I'm not special. I just need to get home."
"I know what you are. And don't claim that you're just a normal Seer. They can't pass into the spirit realm unnattended."
"Kara wake up!" she heard Jared's voice calling from somewhere so near to her that she attempted to turn around where she lay face down on the sand, her hands tightly bound behind her back. The faces in front of her blurred and she saw Jared's worried face for a second before she was getting dragged closer to the fire.
He said it was just a dream, Kara thought. It's just a dream. All I have to do is wake up.
"He said to burn her just in case. So we can prove we've got the right chick," said the ringleader. The others hoisted her over the fire. Kara could feel the heat climbing up her spine as they lowered her down into the flames.
She sat up fast and sent her head spinning again but she couldn't lay back down she tried to jump up and run. Someone was holding her down, trying to talk to her but she couldn't make sense of the words.
"Kara, please be okay, Kara you're awake, it's okay. I'm here now. It was only a dream. Kara stop you're going to make yourself even more sick. You have a fever. Come on, wake up we have to get out of here," Jared was mumbling in her ear as he held her arms and legs down. His face swam in her vision. He was basically sitting on top of her to keep her down.
"I need water." Kara croaked vaguely. She'd stop struggling and Jared finally seemed convinced he could let her go without the risk of her running off. He ran and fetched water from the sink in a cup and Kara vaguely wondered if the water was safe to drink in the dream world. He handed the glass to her and she nearly coughed all of it up when she took first sip, accidentally inhaling the water.
"Kara, we have to get out of here. The sun's up," Jared said.
"What happened?" Kara asked while getting up. She searched for her socks and pulled them on along with her shoes. Her feet were still red from running on the forest floor.
"I forgot to tell you it's dangerous for humans to dream in the dream world. It can all seem or actually be real. But all you have to do is wake up and you can escape. They were calling you through to your dreams. Nothing that happened in there was real. They were controlling it and trying to scare you," Jared said, gathering up her costume and handing it to her. Kara caressed the worn fabric.
"I thought I fixed it before," Kara said as she noticed the tears that had reappeared.
"Sometimes untrained Magics can only hold what they did for a short while. I guess you didn't give it enough power. If you had it would probably hold forever."
"What's a Magic?" Kara asked, confused.
"Like a Seer, only better. I'm beginning to think that you may be one of them. There are only a few born every fifty years are so because they live so long. The only reason there isn't more time between the births is because you have to be trained for about twenty years."
"Some day you're going to have to explain why you know all this," Kara said, "But you're right, let's get out of here."
With her costume bundled up like a baby in her arms, she looked around the room for anything they might have left. Jared peeked up and down the hall before stepping out, beckoning her forward.
"We're going to have to make a run for it," Jared explained as he got ready, "I don't think this is the safest place to be about now."
Soon they were bounding through the hallways. Kara let Jared do all of the guiding, she ran blindly, not caring where she was going, just enjoying the feeling of moving as fast as she could away from danger. She was getting better at this whole running thing where as before she was panting after only a little while. Still here in the dream world, Jared had much more stamina, seeing as he didn't really need to breath.
"Where are we going once we get out?" panted Kara as they reached the door just outside the main lobby. They were watching out for the clerk.
"We have to find another one of those rocks that I had before. There should be one just a little way away from the hotel, if I'm not mistaken."
Suddenly the clerk appeared from the back room and they pushed themselves flat against the wall. Kara could barely see him but it looked like he was peering around the room as if he felt there presence somewhere but just couldn't pinpoint it.
Then just as quickly as he came he turned into the back room again.
"Come on, stay close to me and be extra quiet," Jared whispered, grasping her hand and pulling her through the doorway before she could lose her nerve. They were about halfway across the room when the back door opened another time. Unceremoniously, Jared shoved her against the front desk and out of view, crouching close to her and covering her mouth.
The slow footsteps of the clerk seemed to echo behind them, always seeming to come close to the end of the desk, just about to turn and find them. Jared was clutching her hand so hard it hurt. Kara didn't know what would happen if the clerk found them but she wasn't eager to find out. Just then she heard the back door swing closed and let out a sigh. They both stood up quickly. Too quickly.
"I thought I heard feet tramping through my halls," said the clerk as he passed right in front of the door, blocking their way out. Kara grabbed the hilt of her sword and brandished it in front of her.
"No, Kara," Jared said, putting a hand on the flat side of the blade and lowering it to the floor, "Trust me."
Kara didn't relinquish the grip on her blade but kept its point on the ground. Jared stepped slightly in front of her as if shielding her from the man's view would protect her from any harm he could cause.
"I'm just going to call a few friends of mine now," said the clerk, whipping out a cell phone. It struck Kara that she had never imagined cell phones in the dream world, it seemed too magical to need any sort of modern appliance like that, "They said they'd pay a good price for you girlie. You can't do whatever you want after that, Renegade."
Jared growled at him and the clerk's smile seemed to wither a bit. But he was already dialing the number in.
"Kara, give me the sword," Jared said to her. The clerk smiled at this as if it was a joke, not seeming worried in the least that he was going to get stabbed.
"Don't make me laugh," spat the clerk contemptuously, "You wouldn't dare harm me."
"I don't plan to," Jared replied coolly, already drawing a circle on the floor with the sword. Kara remembered the circle she had to draw in the river, "Kara I need your help. You have to turn this circle into a portal to somewhere else in the dream world. You don't have enough training yet to bring us home but at least you could get us away from here."
"Um, I don't know how to," Kara said. She remembered the mirror that she had fixed to not have her reflection in it and how she had somehow unconsciously fixed her clothes while she was knocked out in the haunted house.
"Just think about anywhere in dream world, the place we were when we first got here even. Just get us away from this hotel before he makes that call. If the owner invites evil in, this is no longer a safe place."
"Owner?" laughed the clerk, "I killed the owner two nights ago. We've been waiting for you since then. Don't be a fool to think that my master couldn't track you down when you got away from the haunted house in the human world. The only reason he couldn't come in was the protection still held somehow when the girl came in. It doesn't matter anymore. You're finished, especially if you think that untrained witch could conjure even the smallest little trick."
Kara's face heated and she concentrated harder than she ever thought she could before. She held out one of her hands, her costume now tucked under her arm, to Jared and the other one took her sword from him. The sword flashed and glowed on command, welcoming it's master freely. She decided then that she didn't need Jared to get her another one, this one was meant for her ever since it became sharp when she needed it to be.
"If he's not the owner there's no danger in killing him, is there?" Kara asked Jared in a frighteningly casual way.
"Nope," said Jared with a slight smile, "Knock yourself out."
Kara didn't reply as she brought the sword, up in both hands, letting her costume fall to the floor and brought down the blade hard on the clerks skull, killing him instantly. She turned back coolly as Jared picked up her stuff and came to stand next to her. She winked at him before turning and opening the portal. She could get used to this hero stuff.
When they stepped out of the portal, Kara was glad for her blue jeans and long sleeved blouse though she would be happier if she was wearing boots and a jacket in the driving snow. She knew where she was going now. There was a cave up ahead.
"How did you do that?" asked Jared. Kara smiled noticing that now it was him who needed to hurry to catch up. For the first time in the last twenty four hours she felt energized and powerful, like she could stand up to anything. And she would avenge the deaths of those in the haunted house as soon as possible.
"I don't know, I just kind of wanted to do it and did it. I'm not sure I could do it again if I tried," Kara said. She still felt powerful but she wasn't foolish enough to think that she was some sort of prodigy. She would need training, although she didn't know when or from where.
"I guess it's back to the real world now," Jared said sadly as he gave her hand a squeeze for the last time, "We can't come back her for the next few decades."
"Eh, it's not my first choice for a vacation spot anyway," Kara said truthfully and laughed. She surveyed the cave a little and found a dry spot on the ground to sit down.
"I think I have something to help you hide your sword," Jared said, still looking as down trodden as the day she met him. Which she had to remind herself vigorously that the day that she met him was just yesterday.
Jared picked up some snow in his hands and melted it easily with his breath. Then he rubbed it up and down his sword, sometimes repeatedly cutting his hand before it healed again. Slowly, but surely the blade turned invisible.
"No other human can touch if you don't want them too. Unless they're more than or equally as powerful," Jared said. Kara gave him a hug which knocked him backwards in surprise. They both rolled onto the snow in the front of the cave again and ended up facing each other.
"We have to go," Jared reminded her, though his eyes seemed misty, and had returned to their usually bloodshot state.
"Right," she echoed sadly, "How do we get around making a portal back just click our heels and say 'there's no place like home'?"
"Very funny," Jared said in his normal mocking way, "But while you're busy living in fairy tales I'd like to get back to a place where a majority of the people aren't trying to kill us."
Under Jared's careful supervision, Kara drew a door in the wall with melted snow. Her crystal buzzed happily around her neck as she recited a few words she didn't understand and threw something that Jared gave her at the door. It looked mysteriously like Peter Pan style pixie dust.
A doorway made of solid, tarnished oak appeared in the rock face, though Kara wasn't as surprised as she would have been a day ago. She couldn't afford to let herself be surprised anymore, it just wasn't good for her survival.
"Come on then," she said encouragingly to Jared as she opened the door which emptied out of the closet in her bedroom, "Is this how you got to my closet in the first place?"
Jared laughed, "No, no, no. This is the easy way in. I had to make a makeshift portal while running away from gatekeepers without a sword, crystals, or any sort of powers whatsoever."
"So it's pretty much the way you go in?" teased Kara as she stepped through the door. She had forgotten how warm her house was. Her mother could hardly stand the cold and always kept the heater on so it was a comfortable temperature in the house.
"We made it," she exclaimed happily, but when she turned to Jared she found that he was looking morosely at the floor, coughing quietly. He reached up a hand to touch her cheek but all she could feel was the slight drop in temperature she usually found around ghosts.
"Whose there?" her mother called from the living room. Kara dropped her sword on the floor and flung the door open, nearly throwing her mother against the wall as she hugged her for the first time in hours.
"Mom, I'm back," she said unnecessarily. Her mother seemed in shock, not letting go of her for a second as she led her into the kitchen.
"Kara, we were so worried when John told us. I'm sorry your father and I didn't tell you sooner, but we thought that if you didn't know about it that maybe the Power would never awaken in you and no one would care."
Kara knew she should have been mad but she couldn't find herself being anythign but relieved to be in her mother's company again. She spent the larger half of the next three hours explaining to her mother what had happened the last few days, though she left out some of the more worrying parts, and parts that her mother wouldn't understand. Like the fact that she was no longer a virgin because of the ghost in her bedroom. Strangely she didn't tell her about Jared either, something inside her told her that it wasn't the right time. They drank endless cups of hot cocoa and her mother nodded as if she understood everything Kara was saying, asking only a few questions when she got completely lost. Kara showed her the costume and asked her not to be mad that she ruined it.
"Of course I'm not mad, honey," her mother said, seeming surprised, "I could never be mad at you for that. I'm just glad you're alive."
"I know, Mom. But where's dad and John?" she asked, suddenly remembering the dream about the woods. John had been there. Had that just been another illusion meant to confuse her?"
"they went out right after you disappeared to find out where you had gone. I couldn't understand how you knew how to get anywhere in the first place, but I thought maybe john opened a portal," she scrunched up her face at the ludicrous word, "Or something for you to escape through."
"Something like that," Kara said, too tired to elaborate further, "Do we have any food I'm starving from all this running around. After that I think I'll take a nap."
"It's only six o clock in the morning," her mother exclaimed, then corrected herself, "I understand honey, you just go have a nap and I'll whip you up some eggs or something. And change out of those filthy clothes."
Kara was only too happy to oblige, heading back to her room immediately. She found Jared dozing in the closet though she was pretty sure he wasn't asleep. Ghosts don't need sleep, she remembered him telling her. They didn't need anything the living needed. Kara picked a few clothes out of the closet before closing it again, making sure she had it completely shut. She didn't like the idea of Jared watching her get dressed. She realized that instead of picking out pajamas she'd picked out regular clothes, as if she knew she wasn't going to get much sleep. Or maybe she was tired of being caught unawares and indecent at the same time. When she had her clothes on she opened the closet again so she could watch Jared sleep and then she lay down on her bed sleepily. The clock said six o eight now. Sooner than she thought though she'd just slept most the night in the dream world, she fell asleep. Luckily, she didn't dream.
She opened her eyes tiredly to the sound of Jared coughing again. This was another bad fit. He almost sounded as if he was choking. She sat up and yawned, turning to face the specter sitting on the trunk in her closet. Even for a ghost he looked pale. Was he more translucent than usual? She looked him over, worried that he might be 'fading' like he said a lot of ghosts did.
"Good morning, sunshine," Jared said sarcastically between coughs, "Did you have a good sleep?"
"Mmm-hm," Kara mumbled and stretched. Her bones were aching again from all the psychical strain she went through. She felt her face heat up in embarrassment when she randomly remembered overhearing two girls in her school talking about girls being sore after having sex the first time.
"What's wrong, blushing beauty," asked Jared, leaning back one the trunk and staring at her closet ceiling.
"Nothing, I'm going to go brush my teeth," Kara said shuffling out of the room.
"That's nice to know. If any scoundrels come to rough me up looking for you I'll know where to send them," he said before dissolving into another coughing fit. She didn't' even have the heart to glare at him anymore. She was too concerned for his undead health.
Once in the bathroom she washed her face in cold water and brushed her teeth so thoroughly it would make her dentist flush with pride. She considered jumping in the shower too, but she'd already taken one last night. Plus, her stomach was rumbling so loud that she was sure that Jared could hear it in the next room, along with the rest of the state.
She made her way to the kitchen where her mom had set some eggs and bacon and toast on the counter for her. She realized that she couldn't have been sleeping too long, the food was still warm enough for her to enjoy it. After gobbling it down she drank two glasses of orange juice and grabbed a bag of chips for good measure before plopping down on the cough in front of the tv. Out of nowhere Jared appeared in the armchair on the other side of the room, watching the TV with a bored expression on his face.
They sat there for a while before Kara realized that they were watching some sort of infomercial on a rotisserie cooker. She quickly changed the channel to Discovery and watched as a poor seal got swallowed whole by a great white shark. She didn't even pay attention as they showed it in slow motion replay over and over. Her mind way numb. That's the magic of television.
About two hours into the discovery channel marathon the doorbell rang. Kara jumped up, wondering if she should go retrieve her sword. Making a split decision not too, she peaked through the peep hole at the mail man. Surely they didn't have spies wearing the UPS uniform already. She opened the door and signed for the package. The mailman wished her a good day and she tried to smile genuinely for him, appreciating that normal people still thought she was one of them. She opened the package with the keys next to the door, feeling the satisfying feeling of ripping through the tape. She opened it up and dropped it immediately before she realized that it was just more props for the shop. These were fake mice.
"UPS guy," Jared said from behind her, making her jump with his regained lack of sound, "I hope you didn't need your sword for that blisteringly intense encounter. Not everyone's out to get you, you know."
Kara glared at him as he glided back to the lazy boy recliner and sat down, staring at the screen as weather patterns churned back and forth forming a hurricane. Sometime while she hadn't been looking a new program about super storms had come on. She'd had enough of the whole the world's going to end TV and changed it on to a sitcom that she hated.
At lunch time she found that her mother had left a note for her in her parents room saying that she could order pizza if she wanted to. Kara took the twenty under the note and snatched the cordless phone from it's base. The pizza place was number one on speed dial.
"What do you like on your pizza?" asked Kara scornfully after she got off the phone, beign assured the pizza would be there in a half hour or less or she got it for free.
"Pepperoni," Jared said, surprising her and making her feel like the bullies at school that she hated.
"I'm sorry," she said lamely. She couldn't think of anything else to say after that so they both miserably watched as the plot of the sitcom unfolded, making it obvious what was going to happen next and hwo the conflict would be resolved.
When the pizza came she gave the pizza guy a huge tip and then munched on breadsticks during the opening credits of some movie on TV. She could tell without looking at the little icon in the corner that this was going to be one of those Life time original movies. The beginning looked cheaply made and over dramatic.
Her mother and father came home around four and they all talked for hours and ate leftover pizza.
Over all it was a pretty normal day.
The next morning she woke up to a crash in the kitchen. Okay, don't panic, she told herself, Mom just dropped one of the pots and everything is just fine so don't panic. She started to panic when the crash was followed by a series of other bangs and scrapings coming from the kitchen.
Jared appeared through the wall.
"The poltergeist, it followed us here somehow. We have to get out," Jared whispered as if the creature could here him through the walls and over all the ruckus it was making. Kara opened her mouth to argue but Jared was way ahead of her, "Your parents left earlier for work. Some sort of emergency call. A customer needs a bunch of costume and prop stuff by tonight. Now can we get out of here?"
Kara nodded and motioned towards the window. She had to coax it open with and iron fist. The stupid thing never liked her in the first place and now that she was in mortal peril, it jammed as if determined to keep her inside. Finally she managed to bang it open by hitting the bottom with her hand until the pane rattled dangerously. As a last minute revenge it shot up quickly, making her hand bang painfully into it as she went to get it again.
The banging from the kitchen had ceased, but that didn't fool her, it just meant that the poltergeist was no on the move, wanting prey instead of random destruction. She threw her sword out the window before vaulting out it herself, thank god that her bedroom was on the first floor. The back gate was unlocked as usual and she pulled it open easily. It had never hated her like the window did.
Jared followed her as she ran all the way down the street, stopping when she got to the elementary school. She had just realized she didn't know where to go. When she asked Jared if he had any ideas, he just shrugged.
"I don't know. But I'd find a pay phone first. You've got to warn your parents not to come to the house. Then maybe we should hit the library. I think we need to do some research on this before we confront it."
"You're telling me the public library has accurate books on all things ghost and you never told me?" Kara asked indignantly.
"Hell no. I'm talking about the storage unit they keep all your grandmother's stuff in. All Seers keep books on this sort of stuff."
"How did you know that we were keeping her stuff in storage?" Kara asked, "Never mind," she said, realizing that maybe there were some things that he would never explain to her. She sighed and started running again, holding her sword awkwardly to the side, trying not to let it slap her leg or cut it clean off while she ran.
"I was thinking," Kara said some time later. She was sitting cross legged in the storage room with her sword laid across her lap and a heavy leather book named, Combating the unknown, "Maybe I should get a sheath for this thing. I don't want to have to lug this thing around all the time."
"Know where any weapons stores are?" Jared asked. He was looking in a book without a title, but the words were in a language Kara didn't understand and seemed to change suddenly or else jus slither from one page to another as she watched. When she asked how Jared could read it with all the words changing order like that, he'd merely confused her by telling her that the order didn't matter.
"Apparently there's a way to trap poltergeists," Kara mentioned aloud, "With some sort of potion to be thrown in a circle. Does all magic have to do with circles? Yeesh, look at these ingredients. It's be easier to find the hair of a three year old mountain goat with five kids and a bad liver living in Mongolia."
"Where the hell do you see that ingredient?" asked Jared, craning his neck to read her book upside down.
"I'm just saying. Some of these ingredients, they're crazy and well, come on. How are you supposed to get a fresh lion testicle? And how are you supposed to get it without getting your head ripped off?"
Jared laughed, "Maybe you could just ask the lion. I'm sure he wouldn't be too mad with you stealing his manliness."
"You know this other potion says that any species' testicle would do," Kara said warningly, "You should feel lucky that I can't touch you anymore."
"I guess so," Jared said vaguely, "Look at this. It's a story about some guy who apparently fought a poltergeist and won. Lucky him he had a rockslide on his side and was able to escape. You can't kill a ghost, just escape them. I guess the poltergeist just burned out."
"How long do you think it would take for our spiritual buddy to 'burn out'?" Kara asked, flipping through the pages and stopping at one that depicted a woman disembowling one of the skeletal creatures from the Middle and holding up one of it's organs victoriously.
"He'd probably burn out in a couple days. But I don't want to chance that he gets bored of waiting for us and decides to go haunt another house."
"I'm glad that you don't seem too bored of haunting me," Kara said, blushing slightly as she blocked his view of her face with another large, dusty volume. She could almost feel Jared raising a questioning eyebrow at her. To her surprise he'd gotten up and sat next to her.
"I only wish I could be here for you," he said, laying his hand on top of hers, though he must've been holding it up to make sure that it didn't just go right through.
"You've stopped breathing," Kara noticed. A slight look of amusement crossed Jared's face and he took a deep breath and held it before letting it out explosively.
"But I'm still quite health, doctor," he said with a wink, "but if you'd like to give me a physical…"
The small joke still made her feel uncomfortable. She turned the pages in the book quickly, pretending to be absorbed completely in whatever it said while sneaking small glances at him from the corner of her eye.
"I'm sorry," Jared said gently, "It was a stupid thing to say. Forget about me. If you can, forget about that whole night. I promise to stay away as long as it takes."
He got up and headed for the wall. Kara hesitated a second at the strangeness of someone trying to leave a room via the wall, then called out to him, "Wait."
Jared turned slowly like a chastised child, watery, bloodshot, deep eyes not flinching from her gaze, instead, boring into her memory.
"Don't go," she said softly, not adding any more. Jared nodded slowly but still sat away from her. He finally pointed something out in the book they were reading.
"If you spell your sword the right way, it can poison ghosts," he said, as if he found this extremely interesting, "One little cut and they start to fade faster than they would normally."
"If I poisoned my sword that way, you couldn't use it," Kara said cautiously, afraid of where this conversation was going.
"Oh, I think I could think of one good use I'd have for it," Jared said. Kara hated the sorrow she saw in his eyes.
"Don't talk like that. I need you," she said truthfully, hoping he could feel how desperately she did need him not only as a mentor and guide but…
"Why? There are dozens out there like you who have more experience and knowledge," Jared hissed, "They wouldn't get you hurt. They wouldn't do anythign that would make you hate them, make you not even able to look at them. They'd be able to tell you that they loved you without feeling guilty. They could've protected you instead of having to rape you to keep you safe. You'd be better off with any other person than me. Even your friend Alex. I'm sure at least he'd keep your honor before he died protecting you. And he could die protecting you. What am I doing? I'm not risking anything. I'm already dead."
"You're risking your freedom," Kara began, "You've done a great job protecting me considering the circumstances and I don't care," she paused stepping towards him so she was close enough to touch him, "if the best teacher in the world offered to mentor me right now. There's no person I'd rather be with."
Jared blinked in surprise for about half a second, then leaned in towards her. Kara felt the cold tingle on her lips as they met but couldn't bear to open her eyes as Jared pulled back sadly, remembering, once again, that he couldn't touch her. Kara's heart was breaking with sorrow and frustration. When she couldn't stand him he could touch her any time he wanted. But now, at the moment she needed him most, the stupid universe and it's stupid laws wouldn't give them another moment together, or even a brief fake touch of the lips.
Jared was already half way across the storage room behind several stacks of boxes and books.
"Look," he said, beckoning her over. She lifted out a box from the stack and brushed her fingers over the symbol on the cover. It glowed brightly for a second, then diminished again. She opened the note in her grandmother's handwriting addressed to her and laughed out loud when she read the label on the vial it accompanied.
"Lion testicles," she read aloud, "Can be kept fresh if the proper treatments are performed, though it's hardly ever worth the trouble since you usually get them for a special occasion. For you grand daughter, I took three months of my life preserving these for when the poltergeist comes for you. No, I cannot see the future, but I know how life can be a bitch. Grandma."
"Your grandmother just said the word bitch," Jared remarked incredulously, but his mouth was half twisted into a smile.
"That's my grandmother," Kara beamed happily, then made a face as she held up the vial, "How am I supposed to get this out of here if I don't have tweezers or anything?"
"You'll have to use you're hands," said Jared, working hard to keep a serious face, "I would help but…"
Later that afternoon, Kara stood in front of her house, trying to calm her breathing. Now that she was actually facing it, she wasn't sure if this was such a good idea. Jared put a cold hand on her shoulder, but the familiar weight, of course, wasn't there.
"You know," he said quietly as if anyone in the whole town could hear him other than her, "We could just wait to see if he burns out and only try to trap him if he tries to escape."
"No, if we missed then someone might get hurt," Kara said, though secretly wholeheartedly agreeing with his plan.
"you are way too concerned with other people," Jared said, "I'm only concerned about you getting your head ripped off."
"Have you ever heard of anyone getting their head ripped off by a poltergeist?" Kara asked, nervously shifting from foot to foot.
"Only once. In that book with the dragon runes on the cover. It said some teenage girl and her Renegade ghost friend tried to get a poltergeist out of her house. They both got beheaded."
"Stop making stuff up," Kara snapped at him angrily. The anger helped fuel her for the rest of the steps to the front door. She put her key in the lock, but paused before turning it, "You were making that up weren't you?"
"Did I mention I was psychic?" Jared joked nervously. Kara tried to hit him on the arm but she went right through him. Instead to prove her anger she turned the key and walked confidently into the house.
Everything was quiet. Too quiet. Like some sort of cliché. Kara walked quickly to the ruined kitchen, hoping that maybe the poltergeist would be in there with it's back to her, an easy target.
Something flew over her head in a wide arc, not coming anywhere near her. But she'd read about poltergeists that they were usually too angry or too explosive to focus their energy. She'd be hoping for blind luck from here on out.
"Kara watch out!" yelled Jared as a butcher knife whizzed by her. Kara ducked behind the center island but was confronted by the poltergeist sticking his mishappen head through the wood and roaring at her. She scrambled back, the potion she was trying to uncork rolled across the floor. She dove for it but another wave of black energy surged from the malicious ghost and sent her flying one way and the vial soaring across the room, smash against the wall. She watched as it turned purple and waited for someone to be shoved through it. It was roughly circular by the patch was too small for the poltergeist to fit through.
"You're sword," Jared reminded her as he attempted to keep the poltergeist busy. Luckily it was lying right next to her. She grabbed the hilt. It fit her hand as if it was made for it, and she whipped it through the air at the poltergeist, knocking it back with shock. She knew she could let up. She kept hammering it. Jared threw himself at it and pushed it back another foot. It was so close to the wall portal now. Maybe if they could just take it's head off with the portal…
The poltergeist regained it's senses as Jared went for another frontal assault. Much like it had on Halloween, it picked him up bodily and launched him across the room. Jared disappeared, going straight through the wall though Kara could've sworn she heard a sickening thud on the other side.
She didn't know what happened to her, but some sort of ancestral fighter possessed her just like it had before and gave her strength. She pulled back her sword and drove it straight through the poltergeist. Pulling it back with all her strenght, she wound her arms back and swiped at him in a powerful arc, the sword shining now, not shyly but like a beacon meant for a lighthouse. The poltergeist's head came off easily and slid to the floor with a strangely silent sound. The rest of the body crumpled to the floor. Using some sort of unknown strength she managed to touch the thing with her bare hands, shoving it's head, body, and all into contact with the shimmering portal. The light from the portal flashed once and went out, leaving no evidence of the transdimensional transport behind.
Kara allowed herself one more moment of strength and pride before collapsing onto the floor.
When she woke up, on her bed, her mother, father, and Jared were looking on anxiously, crowding her breathing room.
"Did I beat it?' she asked dizzily.
"Honey, you did fantastic. You took on that poltergeist all by yourself and won," her dad said.
"I'd do it again, too if that thing ever wants a rematch," Kara said smiling, putting up her fists and fake punching the air, "But I didn't do it alone. Jared helped."
"No that last part was all you," Jared said, "I was out for the count for a second and by the time I was in the doorway I didn't have to do anything but watch."
"Why didn't you tell me about this ghost boy?" her mother asked. Kara groaned and gave her father and exasperated look.
"You told her?" she asked incredulously, "You owe me big time. It's no big deal, mom."
"Don't you tell me it's no big deal," her mother said, being uncharacteristically mother-like, "I don't like the idea of you hanging out in some dream realm with a boy overnight."
"He's a ghost, mom. He goes through stuff he tries to touch," Kara said, giving her father a sharp warning glance. He remained silent, either trusting her not to do anything like what she actually did or just making up for the fact that he'd totally blown her cover.
Jared just smiled shyly at the memory, as if he wsn't sure if it was okay to smile at it. Kara smiled warmly in return. The warmth of her sheets was beckoning her, though, so she told the others that she just wanted to doze for a while. Her mom and dad left, but as she expected Jared stayed behind.
"I thought you were out for the count there," Jared said, perching on the edge of her bed and putting his hand over hers. She shivered slightly but was disappointed when he pulled it away. She slumped back against the pillows and thought to herself silently. You're making quite a name for yourself, she mused, you beat back a poltergeist and manipulated the dream world without any training. She sighed and let her mind take a rest for a while. Though she wasn't sure she'd ever truly rest again. Last time she'd woken up to a monster in her house. This time she'd be more careful.
"Don't worry," Jared said as if he'd read her thoughts, "I'll keep watch for any funny business. You just get some rest."
"Could you come sit over here?" Kara asked hopefully, though somehow she wasn't surprised when he nodded and laid down next to her on the bed, keeping a careful distance away even if they couldn't touch.
"I guess your dad has something to tell you when you wake up," said Jared right before she dropped off to sleep, "They were arguing before on whether to tell you or not. I think he won."
Kara fell into another deep, dreamless sleep without realizing that she was being watched.
When she woke up it was dark out. She nearly jumped out of bed and reached for her sword. Then she realized that there was no one there and the poltergeist was already dead and beaten. She stretched her tired muscles, glad to notice that they weren't nearly as sore as before. Presently she got up and brushed her teeth and took a shower until the hot water was gone. Somehow she felt like this was the last morning she'd get to do this routine for a while. She didn't know why. Maybe it was just a prediction.
Jared wasn't anywhere to be found but Kara supposed even ghosts needed time to themselves every once and a while. Her father and mother were waiting with dinner in the kitchen. She'd never get used to waking up to eat dinner. Sooner or later she'd have to try to get back to her regular sleeping schedule.
"Kara," her father said as she put a fork full of noodles in her mouth, "I was wondering if you had any questions about, well you know, you're gift."
"Do you have it too?" Kara asked, swallowing so quickly she almost choked. Her eyes watered and she swallowed half a can of soda before continuing, "Or does this thing skip a generation?"
"Well, it's strange, the Power just seemed to skip over me. You're uncle Garth had it, but you know he died some years ago. Never had any children. I guess that's why it passed to you. Your grandmother always said she could see the gift waiting to be awoken inside you, but honestly I never believed it. I guess I just didn't want to.
"Your mother and I got together in high school, I know I don't have to tell the story again," he added seeing her just about ready to roll her eyes, "It's just that when she heard about my mother's beliefs, she never judged, and still never does. That's what"
" 'I love about your mother'" Kara finished for him. This time she actually did roll her eyes. She'd heard this mushy story about a thousand times.
"Yes," her father said, making a mock sad face then continuing, "As I said, I thought if we never encouraged it, there'd be no reason to wake it up. That's why I tried to keep you away from you grandmother, at least for you not to stay at her house too long. I didn't want her testing you and training you. You were just a little kid. You would've thought it was a game and gone along with everything she said happily."
Kara thought about this. There was no nice way of telling her father that she thought his mother was really really creepy and when she was a little girl she speculated that she must be some kind of evil witch out to get her. Kara sighed softly. Then nodded in agreement, figuring not saying anything at all about it would probably be the best approach.
"Anyway, about the time you were three you started showing some traces of the Power. We weren't worried, young kids, even ones who don't grow up to be magical at all sometimes exert this power, so it definitely wasn't strange when it showed up in you. We just accepted it and hoped it would go away quickly. Of course it did eventnually or you would've known what was going on by now I suppose. But anyway," her father seemed to be getting increasingly nervous with each passing minute.
"Now that it showed up, is there any sort of training I'm supposed to go through?" Kara asked, though Jared had already answered the question for her. She watned to see how open her parents would be to her being schooled by a handsome, semi depressed ghost. She wondered if there was a way to break it to them gently.
"I'm sure that we could find one of the elders to come and get you. They'd probably train you personally," her father said, obviously impressed, "You beat a poltergeist almost bear handed. I don't know a master in the world who wouldn't want you as his or her student."
"Dad, I had a sword. And a portal. And Jared helped," Kara blushed self consciously. Of course she was proud of beating the poltergeist but there was such a thing as taking that one action too far. She hadn't saved the world yet or even beat the villain who sent the poltergeist and murdered her friends. Suddenly she was begginning to see what kind of work she'd gotten herself into, but there was no going back now. She'd already pissed off a lot of people to try to back track and make friends with the bad guys.
"I know, but it was still magnificent. So you were reading those books of your grandmother's. Did you find anything that might help in there? With the um, uh, you know, ghost problem we're having."
"I think the guy who is after me is human," Kara announced. She hadn't quite realized that she was thinking along those lines until she said it but now it seemed as right as anything that she knew for sure, "And I was thinking, that maybe, if it was all right with you guys and everything, that Jared trains me. He already knows a lot about this stuff and he's saved my life about a billion times and I don't want to put him out of a job."
She waited anxiously, peering from face to face as they pondered this. It didn't seem to be going off well with either of them. Apparently they had high hopes for their daughter's supernatural education. Finally it seemed that her mother came to a conclusion. Her father was still sort of spacing out nad thinking about it while her mother shared her thoughts.
"I think I would choose whatever is most comfortable with you, Kara," she said. Kara nodded, hoping that she wouldn't break whatever spell her mother was under. Weren't parents supposed to be over protective?
"I agree," her father said quickly, "You can learn wherever you want. Even if you do pick one of the masters, Jared could easily come with you and help you along the way. If that's what he wants to do."
"What does it matter what I want to do?" asked Jared, suddenly appearing from the next room, "I don't have any life any more. Literally. I would love to follow you wherever your path leads you, Kara," he finished cordially and then gave a sarcastic bow. Kara couldn't help but break into a smile.
"Is he here?" her mother asked, looking a bit spooked at the idea of having a ghost in her kitchen, let alone a friendly one.
"Yeah, mom," Kara said with a smile, "But he's not gruesome or anything, he's just a normal guy. Honestly if he wasn't slightly transparent and didn't have bloodshot eyes I could easily mistake him for a living breathing human being. Sometimes I still do. He's really nice mom. I wish you could see him or at least talk to him. Then you would know what I'm talking about."
"I suppose," her mother said uncertainly. Jared was sitting on the center island now, trying to make himself look harmless, which wasn't hard considering that he couldn't touch anything. Kara smiled happily at him. It took her a second to realize that her parents were following her gaze, probably trying to pick out the ghost in the empty space in front of them. Jared and Kara both broke out in uproarious laughter.
"Tell them where I am," Jared said though still chuckling, "I don't want them freaking out and going after me with some sort of banishing potion."
Kara pointed to the spot where Jared sat. Her parents followed her finger but still looked perplexed.
"So, did grandma ever teach you about anything?" Kara asked her father, "Did she ever try to make you understand as a kid, or maybe tell you anything about exactly what I have?"
"You make it sound like it's a disease," her father said, "It's actually a great gift. I was always jealous that my brother had it. My grandmother always said that I had great gifts with my hands and imaginations, but his were always more impressive. There are thousands of great art students out there, not so many that can See."
"I know," Kara said quickly, "I was just wondering. How did Uncle Garth live? What did he do? Could he just be like a normal person or did he always have something supernatural to do? Do you know if he ever got tired of his gift? Did anyone hunt him?"
Kara realized that as soon as she started all her worries and hopes poured out into the room. She didn't realize that she was crying until her mother handed her a paper towel. She blew her nose and then shut up, knowing that they probably hadn't taken in a word she said. When she'd started to get hysterical, Jared had jumped up from his position and come near her, hovering around her because it was all he could do.
"I'm sorry," she apologized, "It's just that, it would've been helpful to know all this before…everything on Halloween and…everything it's just so confusing. I just don't know what to do any more. I need to learn to use my sword properly," she realized she was babbling again, "I know how to get from one plane to another, but I don't always know how to get back or what the rules are. Did grandma mention any sort of skeletal creature? Or a big black hairy one that tries to eat you when all you want to do is get back home? Or angels that were really something else entirely? Or people who take over your dream within a dream?" she almost added 'Or being attracted to a ghost' but thought better of it at the last second.
"No," her father said quietly, "she didn't mention any of that to me. I guess she didn't want to scare me about things I would probably never see or feel. She also was trying to not make me feel bad for not being able to help when a supernatural situation came up."
"Honey, maybe you should go to bed again," her mother said to her soothingly, "You've had a long couple of days."
"I'm tired of sleeping!" snapped Kara suddenly, "I've done nothing but sleep and eat for the last few days. Except for the poltergeist incident. I want to move. I want to find out what's going on. I'm tired of being left in the dark until something attacks me. I want to know what to do before something happens."
"Well, honey, we can't really do anything right now at ten o clock at night. These people usually like to talk to you in person," her father said.
"Well, where are they? How will they know I'm coming? How will I get there?" Kara demanded, not ready to have her question sidestepped again.
Here Jared interrupted helpfully, "I know where the masters are. If you want, we could go now. Just get out of here."
"Jared says he knows where they are," Kara relayed the information to her parents.
"Well, good. First thing in the morning if we decide to do that, then he'll be of great use to us," said her father formally. She could tell this was a lost cause. Her parents didn't want her to go. She really couldn't blame them. Kara really didn't have any friends so she and her parents were really close, not to mention she was their one and only child. She would have to go tonight then, and in secret.
"Okay," Kara said. Now was not the time to argue. If they even got the slightest suspicion of her plans, then they'd definitely be on guard. Jared was staring hard at her, as if he could read her thoughts by looking into her eyes, "I think I will go to bed now. I actually am kind of tired," she announced, cleaning off her dinner plate and adding it to the stack of unwashed dishes in the sink. She was glad she wouldn't be here to draw the short straw when it came time for chores handouts. She always got stuck washing the mountain of dishes.
Kara walked to her room, first hitting the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face. Secretly she stuffed some of her essential items into her pockets. She unloaded them into an old empty back pack on the floor of her closet. Next she put her pajamas on, while depositing some clean clothes and a jacket into her pile of stuff in her back pack. Last but not least she packed one of the books she had taken from her grandmother's storage place. It didn't have a title but it seemed to be a compilation of useful spells and simple advice on how to deal with problems you'd probably see in the supernatural world. It had drawings so detailed they looked real, so she was sure she'd be able to find something in here by it's physical looks without having to take painstaking hours looking up descriptions.
"All ready?" Jared whispered.
"Yes," Kara answered, "and why are you whispering?"
Jared returned to a normal voice, "I don't know, it just seemed appropriate for the occasion. Would you rather I shout our plan to the heavens? Or would that blow our cover?"
"Too distracting, as usual," Kara said, rolling her eyes and then leaping into bed as she heard her mother's approaching footsteps. She'd just finished making herself look tired and comfortable when her mother walked in.
"Hi, mom," Kara said. She sat up in bed so that her pajamas showed. Now they would definitely believe that she was going to sleep. For natural pranksters, her parents sure could be gullible sometimes.
"Hey, kare bear," her mother said fondly. Kara wrinkled her nose at the childish nickname. Her mother hadn't called her that since she was eight.
"So how have you been holding up?" Kara asked, her mother looked so tired, so old, even though she was still only thirty four. Her parents had her when they were just barely out of high school. Though even back then they never saw it as a mistake. Her mother was just born to be a mother. She took care of Kara easily from day one. Her father was the owner of the haunted house her father worked at before they opened the costume shop and started their own haunted house traditions.
"I guess I'm fine," her mother said, putting on a brave face, "Most of the funerals are in a day or two. I just remembered. I guess we'll have to wait for you to leave until after the funerals are over."
Kara worked at hardening her resolve. It seemed shameful to miss her friends funeral, even though she was working so that no one had to go through what they did. Whoever it was who'd killed in the haunted house obviously had wanted her, not the others. The farther away she got from those she loved, the better. She swallowed hard but her mother seemed to notice the gleam in her eyes.
"I know, it's horrible," her mother said, making the understatement of the century, "But a lot of them died heroes. They saved a lot of people and got them out before all the…all the…commotion started."
"I know," Kara said, trying not to remember what happened that horrible night, "I think I'll go to sleep now. Goodnight, mom."
Her mom gave her an almost suspicious glance, then retracted it. She gave a sight that sounded like a sigh of defeat, "Good night, Kara. Sweet dreams."
She kissed her on the forehead and gave her a tight hug before exiting the room. Jared moved to her side immediately after words and sat on the bed next to her.
"If you don't want to go, I'd understand," he said quietly, "We could just wait until all the funerals are over."
"If I don't leave soon there will just be more and more funerals to go to. Maybe even my own. No, we have to go tonight. Go and tell me if they're going to bed now."
Jared walked out of the room without bothering to use the door. While he was gone, Kara fidgeted with her pack of belongings, sometimes unpacking things that she thought she probably wouldn't need and others packing more stuff in. She didn't exactly know where she was going or what she was going to meet. She imagined herself as Meriwether Lewis, trying to pack for a trip cross country where he didn't know whether to prepare for goblins or dinosaurs. Hopefully this trip would be as wild as a success as that one was.
Jared returned a few minutes later, "They're asleep, or pretty near. I think they were more tired than you were. Ready to go?"
The question held the other hidden one. Are you still going? Kara couldn't speak so she just nodded and hoisted her back pack onto her back, realizing that I was pretty heavy, though not as bulky as a mountain climber's would be.
"How are we going to get food and drink?" Kara asked vaguely. She suddenly knew why her parents didn't go on that many vacations. There was just too much to think of.
"There's pretty much a way to get either where we're going to be. I think that we should only stock up the day before we come to a place with no food. Sometimes carrying food around can be trouble," he said mysteriously. Kara puzzled over what this could possibly mean, but could come up with nothing.
"So what do I have to do?" Kara asked, strapping her sword to her belt.
Jared smiled, "Haven't you ever snuck out before?"
"Only to escape a raging poltergeist, but that was a long time ago," Kara joked, heading for the window. I left a note for mom and dad telling them what we're doing, but not where we're going."
"Not that they could follow us anyway," Jared commented, "but smart enough move anyway. Don't want them sending some novice out to follow us and get in our way. Or worse, get hurt trying to find us."
"Get in our way? We're the novices here if you don't remember."
With much difficulty they both managed to get through the window. Though really it was only a problem for Kara who had to through her back pack and sword out the window first without making any noise, and then had to lower herself out equally as silently. She half expected, half hoped for one of her parents to come out and investigate a strange noise, or check in on her while she slept.
Then they were off into the night.
"So tell me again," Kara said, "Why are we at the bus station if we're not getting on a bus?"
The downtown bus station was teeming with life, even at this late an hour. A homeless guy that smelled faintly of urine was singing a quiet song and whistled softly at her when she walked by. Jared bristled and walked straight through the man, who immediately crossed himself and called her an evil witch.
"I told you," said Jared, still glaring balefully at the old man, "There's someone here I need to talk to first. He's somewhat of a seer, but mostly just a lucky, lucky man who uses his powers for good."
Still perplexed, Kara figured there was no point in asking any further questions because he'd probably ignore them and they'd be there soon anyway. The air was brisk, fully embodying the fall weather. Kara pulled her jacket closer around her and hurried up to catch Jared who merely glided past obstacles like chairs and waiting people while she had to scramble around them and received dirty looks from everyone she passed.
"I think they think I'm talking to myself," Kara said, throwing a sarcastic smile over her shoulder at an old prudish looking woman who had sniffed and thrown her nose in the air when they'd walked by.
"Well at least you know you're not," Jared said, not comfortingly. He smirked and started into the men's restroom.
"Don't tell me you in a bathroom break already," Kara said, "Didn't I tell you to go before we left?"
"Very funny. No, he just happens to be hiding in there from me. We ghosts can tell some things that you normal humans don't have a grasp on," Jared said airily.
"If I'm such a 'normal human' then why is everyone after me all the time?" asked Kara, "You seriously can't expect me to go into a men's restroom."
"Fine, stay here if you want. Go make friends or something," Jared said with a shrug, passing through the bathroom door. Kara hissed in frustration, giving a furtive look around before following him in.
The bathroom stank. There was no other way to put it. It just plain stank. It almost looked as if it hadn't been cleaned since the station was put up. The floors were mysteriously sticky and there was writing on nearly every inch of the walls. In the corner a man was sitting though it was quite obvious that he was only pretending to be asleep.
"Wake up you old gas bag," Jared said, aiming a kick at the man who instinctively jumped out of the way. He scowled at Jared and snuggled up in his heavy jacket and many blankets.
"Leave me alone. I don't do business with the likes of you renegades anymore," he croaked, "There's no point in bothering me about it. It's none of my business any more."
"I don't think so," Jared said, "You're bound by your promise to help any young Seer on his or her quest. Don't tell me they've shortened you're already lenient community service punishment? I could go talk to them about that. Maybe they'll have you do some real time to show you how nice it feels to do charity instead."
"I don't see any Seers around here. Just a good for nothing Renegade who didn't learn nothing from death and now he aims for me to fix his problems again."
"I'm not the Seer," Jared said impatiently, "She is."
Kara stepped forward and the man's eyes went wide as if he just noticed that she was there. He looked at her as if he was trying to see through her, concentrating on the middle of her forehead.
"Okay, fine. What do you need?" he asked, addressing Kara, not Jared.
"She needs," Jared began but the old man interrupted him.
"Let her speak for herself, she'll have to learn to do it sometime," he said in a kind voice. Kara noticed that his eyes were a deep shade of blue. She could tell that even though he seemed strict with Jared that he would do anything he could to help them out.
"Well, I need to find a teacher. There are some men after me, I'm not sure who they are or what they want with me, but they killed a lot of my friends and other innocent people at a haunted house on my birthday and I want to learn how to fight before they hurt anyone else related with me."
"Do you normally have haunted houses on your birthday?" the old man asked with some amusement.
"it's on Halloween," she explained, "We're the best in the state and my parents have been holding one annually since before I was born. It's okay though, we usually have a little party after the house is over."
The old man nodded, one of those unending nods where you almost wonder if the old person has sort of gone half to sleep. Then he added, "Do you know what this man looks like? The person who is after you?"
"All I know is that he and his followers were wearing dark robes when we saw them in the dream world. I haven't seen them since and good riddance," Kara added.
"Dark robes. Hmmm," the old man looked thoughtful, "Can't say for sure who that is. There's a lot of societies with dark robes. Even some of the good ones are wearing dark ones. 'Black is the new white they say'. Lord, you think they'd be more concerned with doing good then with what they were wearing, but there's kids for you."
"everyone seems like a kid to you," Jared countered defiantly, "Now can you tell us how to get there or not?"
"Young ones. Always so impatient too. They have to do everything in the here and now. Got to get moving. Cn'at stop and smell the roses every once and a while. When you get to be my age you regret not taking breaks every now and then when you were young. Now I'm so old I can hardly do anything."
"I don't know," Jared said, "You chased me out of here pretty good a couple of times."
"That's because your slow," laughed the old man, "but enough of this joking business. We need to find you a master to train under. Let's see. There's obviously strong Seer's blood in you, but I also see some other gifts. Let's see. Hmmm…. Who would be the best person to send you to? Ah, I know. Here you go."
Suddenly he produced a couple sheets of paper from his enormous coat and handed it to Kara. She took it in her hand and looked it over. There were huge headings that said "Task 1" and task 2 and so on. Kara looked at the tasks that lay ahead. She had no idea what these things were talking about.
"There's some unfamiliar things for you two to deal with. Unusual test that master. Has two more requirements than most. And you're not allowed to find out what those are until the end. He's a good master, a good trainer. Not to mention he's quick too. You'll be safe wherever he puts you and your family and friends will be safe and sound too. Just follow the tasks. After each on you'll get a new map to find the next location."
"Thank you," Kara said, "I really couldn't thank you enough. I'm sorry if we've been an inconvenience to you."
"No, it's my pleasure to take time out of my busy," he looked around at the filthy empty bathroom, "schedule to help new young Seers like you. I was a Seer myself once. Never really went anywhere with it. Made a few mistakes. Now I'm on community service for twenty years. It's been a lot more of a service to me than it has been to the ones I helped. I'm a new man now."
"A new old man. Isn't that an oxy moron?" asked Jared with a reckless grin. The old man gave him a half smile half glare and struck out at him playfully.
"You're going to have to be faster than that, old man," Jared jeered, "I am vibrating on a whole different plane."
"I'll give you a different plane," the old man muttered, feigning anger. Kara smiled at the two of them in their battle of insults.
"Here," said the old man, turning back to her suddenly, "Take this, it should help you on your journey."
He handed her a silver dagger and a scabbard for her sword. She held them gingerly in her hands before placing them in their respectful places on her belt.
"You never gave me anything pretty when I stopped by before," he whined, "Why do all the special ones get gifts?"
"Because they are special," the old man said simply. He smiled and winked at Kara. She smiled.
"Thanks. I guess we'll be on our way now. But we'll see each other again some time," she said hopefully.
"One way or the other," the old man replied. Kara shook his hand which was surprisingly warm and soft then turned to leave. When she got out into the freezing air, some of the other commuters gave her dirty looks. She forgot she was coming out of a men's bathroom.
"So what does the first task say?" Jared asked curiously, " I hope its not something really impossible. Or else we may never get to training."
"It just says to take the train four stops then get off. Go three blocks straight take a left four blocks then a right. It doesn't say what's there or anything. Just that the directions to the next part will be there."
"Well, what are we waiting for?" asked Jared. Just then the train glided in, screeching to a halt in front of the station. Kara watched as mice scampered for cover and people started to gather their belongings. Kara was glad her swords was still invisible along with it's sheath, though she had to hide the dagger under her coat. She stepped through the doors as the whooshed open, picking a seat near to them. She sat on the very left side of the seats so only one person could sit next to her if it came to that. The other passengers pretty much spread out, though one lady who looked old and tired beyond her years came and sat down on the same bench.
The train lurched into action, and Kara leaned her head against the metal pole next to her. She closed her eyes and imagined a life where none of this had happened. She would probably be doing her homework. She had a report that was due tomorrow. She guessed there was no point in thinking about that now.
"Kara?" Jared said imploringly. Kara made a sound of recognition but didn't move or open her eyes. Now she was imagining that she would look over at Jared and he would be solid, his eyes no longer bloodshot, and everyone else would glare at both of them as they held hands.
She opened her eyes and looked. Apparently reality didn't bend itself to her will in this world. Kara sighed and raised her eyebrow at him, encouraging him to continue. Jared smiled as if he had pulled one of those "made you look" moments on her and just looked away off into the distance. Kara made a noise that was close to growling and leaned her head back against the bar. It's could metal felt almost searing on her skin.
She hadn't realized she'd fallen asleep until someone was shaking her.
"Um, excuse me," the woman next to her said, "We just missed the first stop from the station. Was that your stop?"
Kara shook her head to clear it and noticed that Jared was still looking off into the distance. Much help he was. She stretched slightly while answering, "No I don't get off for a couple stops but thanks."
She smiled and the woman smiled back, merely pulling up one corner of her mouth. Kara waited tilt he lady had turned the opposite way then glared at Jared, though she couldn't risk talking to him lest someone heard her. He smiled innocently and then in an infuriating manner continued to stare out the windows. She gave him another death look before looking out the window herself. She didn't want to lean her head against anything and risk falling asleep again. Though she could believe that she was that tired. Concentrating intently, Kara began to count the lights in the tunnel that they were in. At the second stop, the lady next to her got off the train giving her a short goodbye.
The rest of the trip went off without a hitch except when Kara tried to help a lady who'd dropped her purse and the old woman had severely beat her about the head with the cane, accusing her of being some sort of gypsy vagrant thief. Jared thought this was all extremely funny so Kara refused to even look at him when he tried to talk to her.
Getting off the train at the fourth stop, Kara immediately wished she was back on. On this sort of cloudy night it was bitterly cold. She'd never really understood the term "bitterly cold" until she was out in the freezing night, tired and anxious, wishing for all the world that she was back in her warm bed at home.
"So," Jared began as they made the turn, "Maybe we should be getting ready for whatever it is you have to do."
"How can I get ready if I don't even know what it is?" asked Kara crossly, rolling her eyes and trying to pick up her pace to get her feet warm. She watched as large plumes of breath exploded into the air. Jared, who still breathed even though he didn't have to, didn't show any trace of being cold. He was still in his thing long sleeved shirt and jeans she'd met him in.
"Does it bother you that you don't get to change your clothes?" Kara asked, trying to make conversation and break the eerie silence of the street. On either side there were no lights coming from the windows. She couldn't blame them. Most people should probably be in bed when it was this late.
"I probably could," Jared mused, "If I really wanted to."
Kara couldn't think of what else to say and again the uneasy hush of the frozen sheets swallowed them up. Feeling almost like she was underwater, Kara focused on making the next turn. She was beginning to feel more anxious than ever. It was one thing saying that you were up to some sort of heroic task, another thing to be there in person, possibly facing down your destiny.
The street was empty, just like all the others. Each side was lined with apartment buildings-no surprise there. Kara kept walking, trying to figure out exactly what they wanted her to do here. Up about mid street she could see something lying in the road. Knowing that she had to get closer to see what it was, she hurried her pace slightly.
She stopped when she heard a low groan coming from the misshapen lump. It was a person.
"Are you alright?" Kara called, not wanting, or daring to get any closer. The thing groaned again, this time it sounded like it was also crying. Its chest rose and fell with its shallow breathing. Kara crept forward reluctantly, forcibly moving her feet until she was a couple of feet from the person.
"Are you all right?" she repeated. The thing groaned again. She could see long hair, it was probably a girl, she reasoned. She knew she had to go around the other side and get closer to see who it was and what was wrong with them. She made a wide arc around their side, coming to a stop when she was on the otherside, now only really three feet form the body.
Not the body. The corpse. The person had to be dead. Her throat was slit and her eyes were open and staring. She wasn't really breathing, it was just her coat blowing in the breeze with her long, long beautiful brown hair.
Kara puked in the street. Jared started for her helplessly and she longed to grip his hand. The girls eyes seemed to be staring at her helplessly. You could have saved me, they said, you could have stopped this from happening.
Kara nearly jumped five feet as the cold cadaver took in a deep, gasping breath. The girls eyes roamed around before focusing on Kara and a long finger nailed hand reached out for the Seer's ankle. Kara yelped and jumped back. This couldn't be what her normal life was going to be like. Even though this was the second time this had happened since she found out about the supernatural.
The dead girl let out a ragged breath and dug her fingernails into the street, dragging herself on her stomach towards Kara. Kara, who couldn't stop crying now took another step back, then another, then another. Pretty soon she was running down the street. Jared was shouting at her.
"Kara, wait come back," he caught up with her, "Kara you have to come back. You can't leave your task unfinished. You've got to help her."
"she's not a her anymore. She's not human. I don't know what she is. A zombie or something like those people in the haunted house. There's no bit of her left."
"Exactly," said Jared with a strange expression on his face.
"What do you mean," Kara said between breaths. To her horror when she looked back down the road the girl was getting to her feet.
"they sent you to get rid of a zombie. She needs to be put to rest, to let her soul go to Death."
"You call that being put to rest? You weren't happy with death," Kara said.
"Even if you can send it to the mid way, she can escape. Right now she has no mind, no identity. If she stays this way for too long she may lose all semblance of her normal self, or even worse, someone evil might try to use her to his advantage. It's not uncommon for sorcerers to deal in zombie slaves. It's sad that they're kept this way but their perfect assassins. They don't get cold or hot. They quite literally don't feel physical or emotional pain. They are considered already dead in this world, so no one gets charged for murder."
"You want me to kill her?" Kara asked incredulously the zombie was now fully on her feet and doing the stereotypical slow zombie walk towards them.
"She's faster than you think," Jared warned her, "and technically you can't kill her, she's already dead. We just want you to kill her body, so her soul that's trapped inside can leave and go wherever it pleases. It can be a ghost or go into death, but there's no way you can bring her back. The body is just a shell, Kara. She's not in there until you release her into the Middle Way. You'll be helping her."
"I can't do it," Kara said, feeling as though she might throw up again, "I can't. I can't just hack her to pieces while she's up and moving."
"I'm not going to let you wait until she tries to kill you," Jared growled.
"Try and stop me," countered Kara. He couldn't argue that point. So they both turned to watch as the zombie girl broke into a slow shambling run. The poor half girl looking beast fell flat on her face, scratching it on the road. Not fazed it struggled to its feet again. Kara grabbed her sword uneasily, holding it loosely in her hand. All she had to do was defend herself. She didn't have to hurt the girl.
"Kara, you have to get her," Jared said desperately. Kara pulled her sword back as if batting at a soft ball game. She tears were blurring her vision, but she was glad for that. The girl thing gave out an inhuman hiss, her dark eyes pooled with bloodlust, fingers hooked into claws and charging forward. Showing perfect batting formation that her gym teacher would have been proud of, Kara swung the heavy blade as hard as she could, eyes closed and setting her feet to put the whole force of her body into the blow. There was a sickening sound. Thump. Something bumped against her boot and Kara turned on a dime and ran. This time Jared didn't stop her, just ran alongside muttering nonsense meant to soothe her. To her it felt like there was a dent on her foot. Not that whatever had hit her was all that heavy. She kept running until she felt that all the run was out of her.
Kara sat in the park she had found at the end of her flight. She tried to block the inundation of images flowing into her head by concentrating on details that she could see right now, the fragile veins in the leaves that had fallen and shriveled, the mesh pattern of the picnic table where she sat, the wads of gum clinging to the underside. Jared was off pacing around the park, Kara had thrown up twice in the garbage can under the tree. Her mouth still tasted sour even after she'd rinsed it off in the water fountain.
"Come look what I found," Jared said, appearing behind her and making her jump into the air. He gave her an apologetic half smile, though the whole expression was hollow. She just nodded and got up, following him to a spot at the base of the slide on the play ground. There was a note sticking out that had been wedged into the bottom side.
"Somebody was expecting us here," Kara said solemnly. Jared just watched as she detached the note. On it were more directions, "We have a problem," Kara announced immediately, "We don't have a car."
"There are better ways to travel than car you know," Jared said, in that "stupid humans" kind of way. Kara just wondered vaguely when he'd stopped associating himself with humans.
"Better or faster?" Kara asked suspiciously. She had a feeling that whatever way he was thinking of traveling tonight was supernatural or dangerous. Most likely it was both.
"We could just go into the Middle Way and pop out wherever we want. That's what happens when you go under the water and you don't see yourself."
"Oh, yeah that's smart," Kara scoffed, "Just leave my body hear for anybody to get at. Not to mention have to fend off any creatures or angels that might want to get at us. What if I fall under their spell again? I won't know what the heck I'm doing and all wakl right into their trap."
"I would never let you do that," Jared said, "I tried to get you out last time, but it's harder for me to pass from the dream world into the spirit world. In the dream world I'm more like a normal human. When I was alive I didn't have the power to pass between worlds."
"And when something goes wrong?" Kara asked, not bothering to wait for the answer, "It would be better if we just took a car. At least then we wouldn't have to deal with the supernatural."
"That would take too long," countered Jared, "I thought you wanted to get this over with quickly."
"Fine, let's just get it over with."
Quite suddenly Kara swooned and hit the ground. When she sat up she was in the middle of the freezing water. It was frozen over. She yanked the dagger from her belt and beat on the ice with the pommel until she was free. Gasping for air and fighting hypothermia, Kara peered around the river. There was nothing in sight. Instead of waiting for Jared she immediately brought the dagger's blade before her eyes and looked inot the reflection. Images flashed by and she concentrated on finding the right one. Jared had assured her that if she concentrated hard enough on where she wanted to be, the image would come quicker. He'd also said that it took years of practice for a Seer to be able to bring up whatever place he or she wanted immediately. It only took Kara about half a minute.
Immediately she plunged herself back into the water, but something snatched her hand. Kara looked through the ice. Somehow in the moments when she had been concentrating on her reflection one of the creatures had snuck up behind her. Her arm ached as she tried to keep herself down, levering her free hand on the edge of the unbroken ice and trying to pull herself up. Without warning, the chunk of ice that she clung to broke free, slicing her hand viciously and nearly yanking her arm out of it's socket. The beast gave a guttural snarl and held her up to his face.
"Fuck you, I've dealt with worse," Kara spat in it's face as she jammed her knee into it's chin. The beast howled and threw her, skittering, across a few yards of ice. Kara regained her footing and the beast was already launching itself over the distance between them. How come they never took any time to recover, Kara wondered. However she didn't have much time to ponder it, just understand. She whipped her sword out of it's sheath and sliced at the creature. Suspecting the move the creature moved aside, taking swipe at her. Kara dodged and held her sword up to block any attack that might be coming.
"Bring it," Kara said, though her bravado didn't match her insides which felt like they were turning to molten lead. Her heart beat rapidly and her face flushed slightly in the cold. Her fingers already felt numb and icicles were freezing in her hair.
The beast took no notice of her banter and gave another mad slash at her. Kara was ready and dodged again, this time jabbing at his stomach from below. The beast howled as it's blood spilled, steaming, onto the ice. Kara couldn't deal with the stench that the blood brought. It didn't smell metallic like human blood. It smelled like a decomposing corpse.
The beast took the moment of confusion to strike, hitting Kara by the side but even the light brush by it's venom coated claws sent her rigid. The poison sent racking pain through her arm, trying to paralyze it. The pain made her whole right side stiffen so she transferred the sword to her left hand. She wouldn't give up. Her arm was bleeding. It couldn't be healthy to lose that much blood. Kara whipped the sword through the hair clumsily, convincing herself that the strike's lack of class was due to the fact that she was using her left hand, not because she'd lost so much blood and was becoming light headed. Lights popped in front of her eyes. She was falling, falling, falling, into the freezing water, clutching her sword in her left hand. She glanced at it in the second before she went under. Her destination appeared before her eyes. She almost smiled as she passed out.
It was light out. That's all she could discern through the glare. It was light out and there were people. Too many people. Okay, the world's gone crazy, I'm going back to bed, thought Kara, closing her eyes.
"I think she's waking up," said a boy's voice. Kara attempted to pop her eyes back open and groaned, the lights and sounds only giving her more of a migraine. She decided to check for injuries while lying there. Nothing hurt too much. There seemed to be some sort of huge bandage on her right side where the stupid animal had clawed her. When she couldn't feel her sword or dagger on her belt, she sat up immediately.
"Good morning, sunshine," said a middle aged man who was cooking at the stove. He smiled and turned back before he burnt whatever it was he was making, "We thought you were dead when you arrived on our doorstep."
"Where's my sword?" demanded Kara. She had no idea how she'd ended up here. She was in some sort of small cabin, the living room and the kitchen were almost one. She noticed that she was lying on a couch.
"There by the door," said the boy next to her. Kara turned at him and surveyed the wonderful sight. His hair was a pale blond and his eyes were a watery shade of sky blue. Kara snapped her attention to where he was pointing and she attempted to get up and grab her weapon.
"Hey, careful," the boy said as she swayed slightly before collapsing back onto the couch. She laid there for a couple of seconds, waiting for her head to stop spinning. When she tried to get up again, she found that she could walk normally. She picked up her weapons from their place by the door, then returned to the couch with them resting across her lap.
"Who are you?" she asked the two. She wondered how they'd found her. Had she appeared, as they said, directly on their doorstep, or was that just a figure of speech?
"I was just about to ask the same question," the boy said, "I'm Eric, by the way. How did you end up here?"
"Where is here?" Kara asked, confused. Through the window she could see that it was snowing, but not much else.
"You're in Colorado," the boy explained, "In the mountains. Why, where were you when you could last remember?"
Kara ignored the question, instead asking, "Where did you find me?"
"Oh, just a bit into the front yard," said the man, Kara assumed it was Eric's father, as he turned from the sink to sit with them, "So you don't remember anything?"
"Nope," Kara lied, "But I'm sure there's someone looking for me."
The man looked at her thoughtfully, as if he could see right through her guise. But instead of questioning her further he said, "Well, you have to stay here for at least a day. Eric, why don't you take her outside. Maybe when she sees her surroundings she'll remember something."
The boy stood up and offered a hand to Kara. She grasped it and grabbed her coat from the arm of the couch. She shrugged it on and looked for her shoes. The boy tossed them to her and she fumbled, causing one of her heavy boots to stomp on her toe. She hissed in pain and sat down to pull them on. Soon enough though she was outside again. The view was breath taking. Everything was covered in an enormous white blanket. The crisp air made her feel refreshed and she started walking in a straight line towards the trees.
"Don't go over that way," the boy said grasping her arm, "There's been some weird happenings there the last few weeks. We think some sort of animal has been attacking people around her. Over three people disappeared without a trace in the last few weeks."
"What?" Kara asked, "Wouldn't animals leave some sort of markings? I mean, they're not serial killers, they don't care if they leave a few body parts or blood spatter behind."
"I don't know. I think, well, it doesn't really matter what I think. But the officials say it's some kind of animals carrying them off. We're not supposed to go far into the woods or up in the mountains alone, or even in small groups. I don't know how long they can keep that up, I guess until they find whatever 'it' is."
"What do you think it is?" Kara asked.
"Well," Eric began, looking slightly embarrassed, "No, it's stupid."
"Tell me," Kara insisted.
"It seems like. I don't know. Something a little more supernatural is happening here. Almost as if someone or something is carrying them off for a specific reason. Animals here don't usually attack humans. They definitely don't need to eat humans, there is plenty of food for them. And as you said, it doesn't add up. We never found any of their supplies, their bodies, any trace that they even came up here. It seems like someone is trying real hard to make it look like they were never here."
Kara weighed the chances in her head. She needed more information about this. It was obvious that she was sent here for a reason, the other directions to where she had to go were either a decoy or the plans of the tester had changed. If she told Eric, and he didn't believe her, he would just think that she was a little addled after whatever had caused her to lose her memory. If he did believe her and wanted to help, then that would be all the better for her.
"Can you keep a secret?" she asked. She knew it was a stupid question. Due to human nature they would always answer yes. Everyone's curiosity was sparked by this question, whether they wanted the information for a story or wished to use it for their own needs.
"Yeah, of course," Eric said.
"I think something supernatural is going on here too. The only thing is, I think I might be a part of it."
"You think that your memory loss has something to do with this?" Eric asked.
"That's another secret," Kara said, taking a chance, "I haven't really lost my memory. I've been sent here, I don't know by who, but they want me to help. It's a kind of test that I have to take, so that they can train me. They go out looking for problems for me to solve."
"What are you training for?" Eric asked. Kara observed his facial expression for signs that he might think that she was full of shit. He seemed genuinely interested. Little did he know that this story was just going to get stranger and stranger.
"A couple days ago on Halloween, it's my birthday, I learned that I was what most people call a Seer. I can see ghosts. But after a while I kind of learned that I was more than that but that's later in the story. Basically on Halloween, well the first thing to happen," Kara considered how to tell this in a way that wasn't confusing, "Was that I met a ghost who tried to kill me and threatened me so that he could be a fugitive, Renegades, they're called, in my closet. But he's actually really nice. His names Jared, I don't exactly where he is now. Maybe he can't find me. Is this making sense so far?"
Eric nodded, seemingly entranced in this plot. As simply and as quickly as she could, Kara tried to tell him everything that had happened so far. Once again she left out parts of the night with Jared in the dream world, though not all of it. She told him about her first task and he sympathized with her. She was just relieved that he didn't look at her like she was a murderer.
"I understand why you had to do it," he reassured her, "I mean, it's pretty messed up, but that's just the way it is. It's not like you get your high off of doing it. It was just something you had to do. So, what do you think is here now? The same people who are after you? Another poltergeist? One of the creatures from the Middle?"
Kara had to hide a smile at his naivety. He acted like all these creatures were buzzing around all the time, unseen by humans.
"they actually don't, or shouldn't really, show up that much in the living world. I mean, even the least psychic humans would start to suspect something was up. Anyway, as I said before, the Gatekeepers keep most dead souls moving on, wherever that is. The creatures, I really can't ever imagine them being human, I'm not sure if they ever leave. I've only ever seen them by the river. I haven't really gone that far in the Middle. The river's the safest place to be, and that's not really safe at all."
"So what do you think it is?" asked Eric again.
"I really couldn't say. I hate to admit it, but I'm not exactly the leading expert in the field yet. Jared's really better at this than me. I wish he was here. We've been together almost all the time since Halloween. I wonder if he even knows where I am."
"I'm sure he'll figure it out," Eric said, smiling, "Are you hungry? I'm not sure what on earth my dad was trying to cook earlier but we've got some frozen pizza in the freezer."
"Actually, I'm starving," Kara said truthfully, once again marveling at the fact that all her supernatural work seemed to make her abnormally hungry. They walked back into the house, first kicking the snow off their boots the best the could before taking them off and sticking them on the rack just inside the door. Eric's dad was nowhere to be seen, but Kara figured he must be upstairs. Eric was already setting the oven to the right temperature before pulling the frozen pizza's out and sticking them on a cookie tray.
"You do like pepperoni, right?" Eric asked as he put the pizza in the oven. Kara nodded and examined the photos in the living room side table. One of them was with Eric and his dad. The other was a baby, she supposed it was Eric, it had the same bright eyes and light hair. The third was of the baby Eric, his father and a women who must be his mother.
"Who's that in the picture with you and your dad?" Kara asked, unable to squelch her curiosity.
"My mom," Eric said, "Do you want anything to drink? We've got Pepsi."
"Yeah," Kara said, "Where is she?"
"Dead," Eric answered simply, "But don't feel sorry. She was a horrible mother. She always beat me when I didn't do everything exactly right. I was a little kid, I didn't know I was supposed to arrange my socks by color or my shirts and pants by what kind of material it was made of. She was some sort of OCD freak. But she ran off with some other guy when I was nine and we heard about her death about a year later."
"I'm sorry," Kara said automatically, "Sorry, forgot I wasn't supposed to say that."
"It's okay. Everyone feels bad for us, but I don't. My dad, he's coping the best he can, but for some reason he can't get over the fact that she wasn't right for him or me. Whatever. It doesn't matter. So what's our plan of action?" he asked, tactfully changing the subject. Kara almost smiled again at his eagerness. He was like a little kid, trying to talk all military style. Plan of action. Ha! Like she really had a plan.
"The first thing I want to do is find Jared," Kara said, thinking, "I might be able to find him through the reflection in the Middle."
"You shouldn't go back there," Eric said, surprising her, "You're hurt."
"Barely. Plus, it's better if I have him with me. As I said, he knows stuff I don't. For all I know he could know exactly what's happening here and how to fix it."
"really?" Eric asked hopefully.
Kara felt a little guilty for getting his hopes up so all she could croak out was a, "Maybe" before checking on the pizza
"So you have to go back to the Middle," Eric said, "Do you need any help? How is your body going to look when you leave? Will I need to keep my dad away?"
"I've never actually seen myself except in the moment before I come back. I guess it'll just look like I'm sleeping. The only thing you'll have to do, theoretically, is make sure your dad doesn't try to wake me up. Not that it'll do anything to me, probably just make him think I went into a coma."
"all right," Eric said, as if he was paying careful attention to the instructions. He seemed determined now, as if he was really part of something important. Kara wondered if maybe this mission was important, and, if so, why had they sent her on it?
Kara picked up her sword again, the now familiar weight feeling good in her hand. Her right side still hurt a little, but she could manage. Hopefully, she thought, I won't have to do any fighting when I get there. Kara sat down on the couch, making sure her weapons were all clipped to her. She took the blanket and laid it over her before turning over onto her side. Hopefully it would look like she was sleeping. Without giving herself time to hesitate, she threw herself into the Middle Way. The river, of course, was freezing cold. She almost missed the time when the angel had tried to trick her. At leas then everything and been warm and inviting.
Sitting up quickly she pulled the sword in front of her eyes to see the reflection, though trying to keep one eye on the river bank for the creatures. They only ever seemed to come out of that side of the river. The result of this split vision was to make both views a little blurry, but she managed. She concentrated on Jared, his eyes, his smell, the feel of his hands, everything she could think about him. Maybe, just maybe this would work, even though she had a feeling that this was not what the mirror was made for. Images of countless people flicked past her, all bearing some resemblance to Jared, either with bloodshot eyes or dark hair or, to Kara's horror, some images of teenagers having sex for the first time. She thought harder, imagining him so hard that it was almost like Jared was there, that she could reach out and touch him. She closed her eyes for half a second to get a clearer vision of him. She tried to make believe she could smell him. Strange how she'd never really pined after someone's smell before, but he had an aroma all his own and it made her almost faint with pleasure when he was solid. She imagined the feeling of his arms around her when they'd slept right before she'd ran into the nightmare. A warm stream of air tickled her neck. Kara whipped her sword around to block the attack.
"Woah, careful there," Jared said, "Sorry for thinking that you wanted me here."
Kara threw herself into his arms, crashing into the water with him. When they both got up, spluttering, Kara realized she was back on the couch in Colorado. She felt tears behind her eyes and a lump in her throat. Back to the world where they couldn't even touch again. His unique smell clung for a second, then vanished into thin air. She swallowed hard to make the tears go away and then looked up at Eric, who was watching her with a concerned expression on his face.
"You were sleeping for hours," he said, glancing pointedly at his dad. As his father finished climbing the stairs, he whispered, "Why are you all wet?"
"Sorry, I forgot that sometimes happens. But what do you expect? I just came from a river. Oh, Jared, meet Eric, Eric, Jared's here sitting on the edge of the couch."
"You told him," Jared said without much surprise, "Found another pretty face to hang out with I see. So you won't be needing me now, will you?"
"Oh shut up," Kara said, "You know I need you. And what do you mean, another pretty face? I never said you were handsome?"
"You didn't need to. I already knew," Jared countered. Kara glared at him.
"I'm the one who insisted that I got you before we did anything," Kara explained coldly.
"Did anything about what?" Jared asked.
Kara explained her theory of the testers sending her hear to find out what was behind all the disappearance in the area lately. She also told him a little bit about Eric and what his views on the subject were.
"So, are you guys like, an item now?" Jared asked bitterly, glaring in Eric's direction.
"No," Kara said. She was thoroughly angry now, "And even if we were it would be none of your business."
"Well, now that we understand each other," growled Jared, "Maybe you should get some actual sleep. Though you might want to dry off first. Otherwise you'll probably freeze to death."
"Bet that would make you happy," Kara said angrily.
"You have no idea."
After taking a hot shower, Kara headed downstairs with her long pajamas on. She was glad that Eric and his dad had recovered her backpack along with her weapons. She scurried over to the couch and pulled some blankets on. Despite the roaring fire in the fireplace, she was freezing.
"Cold? Should I leave?" asked Jared in a mocking tone.
"No, don't leave," Kara said as gently as she could. She was trying to master her anger. She didn't want to lose Jared because of her pride. She waved for him to come back and sit next to her on the couch. Jared came back, though still looking mad, and sat down as far away from her as possible.
"I'm sorry," she said, "But I thought it was just kind of ridiculous for you to think that I was after Eric, when…"
"When what? I'm dead, Kara, dead. We're not getting married. We're not going to be the strange but functioning couple. You're going to grow old, and die, and then move on. I'm going to be young forever. You are going to need to find someone to take care of you and your needs."
"I can take care of myself. And what needs?"
"There are things I can't do for you in a relationship," Jared said awkwardly.
"Like sex? No offense, but I think you've already taken care of that part," Kara said, then hearing how bitchy it sounded, she said, "I don't need sex. That's not what I'm after in a relationship. And I know it doesn't seem like it, but I don't need some big strong man to look after me all the time. I can defend myself. I can fend for myself. The reason I need you is not because you're saving my life all the time. It's because…"
"Kara, are you awake?" came a voice from the top of the stairs.
"Ah, prince charming has arrived," said Jared in a voice that made Kara sick with worry for him. He gave her a we'll finish this conversation later look and left the room. Kara sighed tiredly before calling for Eric.
"Sorry if I'm interrupting anything," Eric said, "I just wanted to see if you needed anything."
"Nope," Kara said, pulling her knees up to her chin, the blanket wrapped completely around her. For some reason she felt uncomfortable in her pajamas around Eric, even though she hadn't really thought about it when Jared was here. She would have to study this weird reaction later, she concluded. She had to do everything later.
"Oh, okay," said Eric, but he didn't leave, just sat there staring into the fire. Presently, Jared returned to sit on the coffee table close to Kara.
"What's he still doing here?" he asked curiously, "Hoping he'll get some?"
Kara tried to convey her feelings to Jared without actually saying anything, or glaring, lest Eric think she was glaring at him.
"So is, uh, he here?" Eric asked shyly. It took Kara nearly a full second to realize that he was talking about Jared and she nodded vigorously, gesturing in the direction of the coffee table. As everyone did, Eric took his turn at trying to see Jared, squinting at him as if this would make him appear.
"I don't like him," Jared concluded. Kara rolled her eyes at him.
"I guess I'll let you get to bed now," Eric said, getting up, "You must be tired."
"Goodnight," Kara said as he walked up the stairs.
"Goodnight, Eric," Jared mocked her with a fake swoon. Kara waited until Eric was out of sight to give Jared the death look. He gave her an innocent look in return which only made her laugh.
"You really should get some sleep," Jared said. She opened her mouth to argue but he put a freezing, intangible finger to her lips, "Shhh. Just go to sleep. You need it. We'll figure it all out in the morning."
Kara couldn't help but agree with him. Though her heart fluttered when he put his fingers to her lips, even though she couldn't feel them. She wondered if he felt the same way. Though, she thought, given the way he'd talked about their relationship a couple minutes earlier, probably not. She laid down on the bed, snuggling up in the blankets and pulling her knees to her chest. Instead of going to sleep, she watched Jared breathe even though he didn't have to into the small hours of the morning. When her eyelids were too heavy to keep open, she fell into a dream about Jared, smiling at her lovingly.
"Wake up you lazy," Jared shouted in her ear. Kara's eyes flew open. She closed them again. The morning sun was shining right on her face. She pulled the covers over her head to block it out. Jared bombarded her with the cold air that constantly surrounded him and she squealed, trying to bat him away.
"Everything okay down there?" came Eric's father's voice. Kara clapped a hand over her mouth and pretended to be asleep, her cheeks burning with embarrassment. Jared, not at all trying to help, instead attempted to make her laugh. Kara bit her lip as he made a face at her and then told her jokes that only she could possibly think were funny. She listened intently for footsteps on the staircase, but they never came.
"What time is it?" Kara whispered. She looked out at the sun but turned away again as it was too bright, reflecting in painful brilliance of the snow outside.
"Eh, a little while after dawn," Jared answered, grinning devilishly, "I thought you might want to get an early start today."
"Be glad I can't get my hands on you," Kara warned him, jumping up and grabbing her bag off stuff, "I'm going to go get ready."
With that she stalked away upstairs to the bathroom to get dressed and ready. Thankfully Jared didn't come charging after her like she expected him to. Once she was out and looking halfway decent, she descended the staircase to go find something to eat.
"How do you like your eggs? Scrambled or scrambled?" asked Eric's father with a laugh. Kara gave him an indulgent smile. Adults could be so cheesy sometimes. She sat down at the counter and fidgeted on the stool.
"Want to grab me that spatula over there?" Eric's father asked, pointing to the counter across the room, "Don't know how it got over there, but I know from experience, that if I leave these eggs alone for a second, they'll burn."
Kara hopped up and grabbed the spatula, returning it to him. She sat down on the stool again and rocked back and forth, staring out the window.
"Andrews," Mr. Andrews told her. Kara nodded though she was not sure how to go on.
"About me staying here," she started awkwardly.
"Oh, that," he said, "Don't worry about it. You can stay here until you remember something that might help us find where you belong. There's no rush for us to be sending you off anywhere."
"Thanks," Kara said, grinning. She smelt burning eggs. The pan was already smoking. Eric's father gave a curse and then dropped the burnt eggs into the garbage.
"How about we go out to eat?" he asked, looking perplexed at the ruined breakfast. Kara agreed full heartedly and watched as he plodded upstairs to go wake Eric up. Apparently Eric wasn't an early riser. He was more like his mother than his father, Mr. Andrews muttered as he left. Kara didn't know what to make of this. Ten minutes later father and son returned, though Eric looked disheveled and tired. They walked outside and into the blast of frozen morning air. Kara wondered where Jared was, she never got used to him disappearing like that.
"And here is my pride and joy," Mr. Andrews said with an exaggerated flourish, revealing the pick up truck on the other side of the house.
"What about your son?" grumbled Eric, "You know, the one you woke up at an inhuman hour of the morning just to get some eggs."
"It is my fault I can't make eggs," his father countered, "Now get in the truck and stop grumbling. You teenagers always think you have something to complain about. You know, when I was a kid, we actually had things tough."
Eric's father launched into a long exaggerated story about his hardships as a teenager and the usual, "uphill both ways" to and from school and work routine. Kara rolled her eyes and groaned good naturedly at the most sketchy of details, but Eric just grumped about how he'd rather be asleep. Some people, Kara decided, just weren't morning people.
The town they arrived in was small, in a charming sort of way. They stopped in front of a diner next to a laundry mat and a hardware store. A bunch of tired looking, unshaven men were hanging out in there. Kara moved awkwardly towards one of the booths, while everyone else stared at her.
"Who's this pretty young lady?" called one of the men over from the counter. Kara didn't say anything, just continued to stare at her menu. Eric's father answered for her.
"One of my wife's kin. Came up to visit me and Eric for a while," he said, smoothly making sure that he didn't mention exactly how long she was staying. Eric nodded hello to the men and they laughed as if they knew exactly why he was so grumpy.
The waitress walked up to them and Kara placed an order for pancakes and bacon. The waitress brought her a cup of orange juice and Kara drank it greedily. For some reason she was starting to feel parched. When she brought their meals, the waitress gave her another tall glass of juice and Kara was careful to only drink half of it before she dug into her pancakes. Eric's eyes nearly popped out of his head as she poured liberal amounts of maple syrup onto her bacon.
"Have you gone crazy?" he asked, finally seeming awake. Kara shook her head, enjoying the look he gave her as she took a big bite of bacon and syrup, chewing it slowly and then swallowing. She drank the rest of her orange juice in one gulp.
"That's the way I like it," she said proudly. Her father ate his bacon that way and ever since she was a kid she had copied this practice. Her mother thought they were both crazy. Eric seemed be agreeing with the theory.
"I hate to say it, but I have to agree with him," said Jared, giving her a heart attack. She worked hard, once again, not to react to him. He looked with a disgusted look at her dry pancakes and dripping bacon.
"Hey, what's going on out there?" Eric's father asked absently, peering out the window. Everyone turned to look. There was some sort of commotion going on just down the street, a crowd was gathering over there and some people were running down the street towards them, not in a panic, but as if they had something to say. One of them peaked there head into the diner.
"One of them is back," he said, "It's Thomas Reed, he's back. The Reed kid is back."
Everyone at the counter jumped off the stools and Eric, his father, Kara and Jared leapt up to follow them. Kara wasn't sure what was going on, but to everyone else it seemed terribly important. Now it seemed like everyone in town was bustling to it's center, crowding around someone on the ground in the middle. Kara and Eric pushed through the crowd to the center.
Kara gasped. The poor boy was barely wearing rags for clothes, the remains of his shirt and pants barely holding together. He was so thin that he almost looked like an anorexic, she could see his ribs through his shirt. But it was his eyes, his eyes that caught her attention. They were severely bloodshot.
"Jared, he's not, dead?" Kara asked aloud since no one was paying attention to her anyway. Jared shook his head in a way that meant he had no idea. He didn't seem to want to get any closer, though. Summoning up her courage, Kara took a step into the center of the circle.
Immediately the quivering bundle of bones that the boy was lunged at her, pushing her to the ground and clawing at her. Some men from the crowd surged forward, easily pulling the frail boy off of her and out of the way. Some of the people around the circle glared at her, as if she caused this problem. She just gave Jared and Eric a confused, what do I do look and they sent back a conjoined I don't know reply.
"Okay, break it up, there's nothing to see here," a guy hidden from Kara's view by the crowd said. When the crowd thinned Kara could see that he was a short, portly looking man, though he looked nice enough. Even as she was trying to get up off the snow strewn ground he offered a hand.
"Nice to know there is a gentleman among the bunch," Kara said, looking pointedly at Eric. He flushed bright red and she laughed. The man laughed too, one of those big belly, Santa Claus laughs. However Kara lapsed into an uneasy silence, trying to concentrate on what just happened. Had the boy attacked her with a purpose? Or would he have done the same to anyone who had directly approached him? Jared seemed deep in thought as well, even though he spent quite some time glancing nervously at her from the corner of his eye.
Once it seemed that the commotion was over, the four headed back tot the diner to finish breakfast. Kara stared at the clock in amazement when she realized that it was barely after seven. I'm never waking up early again, she thought miserably. She was already yawning more than usual and her head didn't feel as quick.
"It's a good thing he got back, even if he does seem a bit worse off than when he left," Eric's father said with a brave attempt at conversation.
"What do you mean a bit? Did he usually act like this?" Kara asked.
It was Eric who answered her. Shaking his head and swallowing a mouthful of eggs, he said, "They all start acting a bit strange before they disappear. But usually the change is so subtle that no one notices they were acting weird until they were gone."
"Oh," Kara said. She wondered why he hadn't mentioned it before. She glanced up at him but Eric now seemed to be fully immersed in his eggs. He toyed with them with his fork but didn't look like he had much of an appetite anymore.
After breakfast they all piled quietly into the truck. Jared jumped in back even though he didn't need any sort of transportation to get up the hill. Kara watched Eric's closed face with concern, a feeling which didn't fade when they got back to the house and he headed straight upstairs. He said he was going for a nap. Kara remained in the kitchen, drinking a glass of water when Eric's father walked up from outside.
"Tommy's one of Eric's best friends. Or, he was, until he disappeared. I'm sure he'll be fine. He's just in shock. We ought to let it sink in for a while," he said before heading for the upstairs again. Right before he started climbing, Kara called out to him.
"Is it all right if I go for a walk?" she asked. It would be strange for him to forbid her from doing anything, but it felt more polite to ask.
"Sure, go wherever you want," he said with a slight smile, "I'm not you're father, you know."
Kara gestured for Jared to follow her out into the cold morning. The sun was now higher in the sky and it lit up the whole place brilliantly.
"So, what do you make of this?" Kara asked as soon as she was sure no one from the house had followed them. She headed straight out to a path in the woods ahead. Her breath was pluming in clouds before her as she walked. Jared's breath once again was invisible.
"I don't know," Jared said, "I guess it looks like the guy was just starved. That could happen anywhere. I know it seems that something supernatural is going on, but I just can't put my finger on it. We should go see him. Maybe he remembers something."
Although she knew it was best, Kara secretly did not want to go see this Thomas Reed. She had a feeling that even if he was more sane now, that their contact would be awkward or he wouldn't want to talk about what he'd been through.
The snow crunched beneath her feet as she plodded down the path. Luckily all around it the trees closed in pretty tightly or she wouldn't be able to follow it at all. Every now and then her foot caught on a tree root or a rock and she stumbled a little. Everything seemed hushed in the forest, in an unnatural way. There wasn't even the sound of wind blowing or anything, though she couldn't imagine what kind of animal would like to hang around in weather this cold.
"I guess," Kara said, "But first, I don't know. Maybe we should pump Eric for more information. He seems to have left some stuff out. Then again, maybe he feels responsible for what happened to Tommy, because he didn't notice the changes. I'd also like to check my grandmother's book. Maybe we'll get lucky and something about this will be in there. We have been known to have some luck before."
"Like when?" Jared asked, incredulously. Kara couldn't think of an honest answer to that. Honestly, she was hoping he wouldn't ask.
"You know what I mean," she said, "And anyway, I think that we should exhaust those resources before talking to the Tommy kid. His parents probably won't want anyone seeing him for a while anyway. Perhaps even as long as it takes him to get better. And you have to admit, he looked pretty bad."
"No arguing there. But in that case, what do we do now? I don't think we should take too long solving this one. Tests are supposed to be quick and efficient. The most I've ever heard of a task going was about a week, and that was a real stretch. I'm not even sure if the guy who did it ended up getting trained at all."
"Thanks for your overwhelming load of confidence," Kara said unhappily. She stumbled over another stone, then another, and then another, "There seems to be something here."
She used her feet to uncover the path a bit by pushing the snow to one side. A bunch of oversized rocks had been placed in a rough circle. Two of the rocks were now in the center, but Kara assumed those were the ones that she kicked.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" she asked. Jared shrugged looking bewildered, and crouched lower to the ground. He stared at it for a couple of moments and then looked up at her.
"Move those rocks back to their spots," he said. She rolled them back into the circle with her foot and finally saw what he'd been looking at. It was an arrow, sketched into the soil by a stick or just somebody's finger. It was pointing at a slight angle from the path to the left. Kara looked at Jared.
"I suppose that means we're supposed to follow it," Kara said, though she felt like Freddy telling Scooby Doo and the gang to go into the haunted house. It would be fun and they'd find clues and solve a mystery. Kara was just waiting now for the monster to arrive.
They walked along the new path for about ten minutes, each time they ran into a new circle that sent them in either the same direction or a new one. Kara took special care in clearing the circles and the spaces around them. She would need them to find her way back.
"This seems like a really stupid idea," Jared said unhelpfully, "Don't you think that maybe this is how the others got reigned in to disappearing? Maybe they just followed the arrows. Perhaps they were just curious as to where they went and then poof! They were gone."
"You're not helping. And if you're scared, you can go back to the house," Kara said, trying to keep her own courage up.
"It's not me that I'm worried about," Jared warned, "I'm already dead. Trust me, you don't want to join the club."
Kara uncovered five more circles with arrows when she began to hear it. It was like they had come straight into a scene from Jurassic Park. There was a deep, thud, thud, sound and Kara was sure that if they had a glass of water it would have done the drop thing quite easily. She could feel the footsteps of whatever was coming.
"Jared?" Kara said uneasily. A giant yetti like roar rang through the courtyard they had entered. Kara took off running as fast as she could, mentally chastising herself for not bringing a single weapon. God, if I make it through this, Kara thought, I will bring my sword with me everywhere. She darted through the woods with the thud thud and the grrrrrrrrrrrowl coming closer and close behind her. She nearly tripped over a circle of rocks and stumbled as she tried to jump over it. Before she knew it she was off and running again, not daring to stop, not daring to think.
"Kara, keep going, I'll distract it. It can't touch me," yelled Jared. Kara didn't want to leave him there, but she was sure she was save. Anyway, she thought that maybe part of the reason she didn't want to leave him there was that she didn't want to be alone. She ran through the woods, but the thud thud and the growl seeemed to still be getting louder. There seemed to be less space between the thuds. The chase was speeding up. She attempted to adjust her speed so that she was going even faster, but a tree branch reached up mercilessly and snatched at her jacket, pinning her to the spot. Her frantic hands didn't want to set her free. She tried vicious yanking but instead had to painstakingly bull the twigs apart from the fabric. Finally she was free again but the tree branch made her realize something.
She was no longer on the path.
She hadn't noticed which way the stone circles that she had dodged where gong, and had somehow walked straight off in the wrong direction. The trees were stiflingly close here. The thud thud had to slow down to get through the outcropping. Kara didn't have time or resources to find her last path. It was time to forge her own path. Somewhere far off her subconscious laughed. She sounded like a college catalogue. More and more tree branches were reaching towards her, attempting to slow her progress. She finally shed her jacket to keep moving. The thud thud was getting closer again, closing in on her. She felt the sting of the branches whipping her as she ran by. Up ahead the woods seemed lighter. If only she could get here.
THUD, THUD. THUD, THUD. Kara could hear whatever it was, keeping step with her heart beat. Thud, thud. Thud, thud. It was so close now. If she turned around she could probably see it. The thing was she didn't want to. Her throat felt closed in horror and she pushed on, not wanting to stand and fight. The warrior sense that had guided her through most of her battles since Halloween was no where to be found. She could feel the other half of her instinct now. Flight. Apparently there wasn't only the fight option.
Thud, thud. Thud, thud. Kara lunged towards the open space as the creature gave another piercing howl. Launching hersef into the light Kara stopped and would have kissed the ground had she not been in such a hurry. There was a stone circle. She was on the path. He followed them closely and the thud thudding was finally getting fainter. When she finally reached the first one she knocked over the thudding was barely a background noise. Had it not been so silent and she hadn't been listening as hard as she was now, she probably wouldn't even have recognized it. Kara lead the last leg of her run to the cabin with the last bit of effort she had. Now her breath was coming in short gasps that burned her dry throat and her muscles were seizing up. The front door of the cabin was thankfully unlocked and she threw herself in before bolting the door behind her. Barely able to move her cramping leg muscles, she crawled tentatively over to the window to peer out.
"What happened to you?" asked Eric, poking her on the shoulder. In one swift movement Kara had her sword in hand and the point was under his chin. When she saw what she was doing she lowered it and apologized about a thousand times.
"Shhh, it's okay," Eric said, though still looking warily at her sword. Kara dropped it to the ground with shaking hands and pulled her knees up to her chest, rocking slightly as she cried.
"What's going on here?" Eric's father asked, appearing out of nowhere.
"Kara just came back. I guess something must have really freaked her out," Eric explained, putting an arm around Kara and attempting to get her up. She stood without resistance and let him lead her to the couch. Once she was there she rolled herself into a little ball under the blankets and tucked the blanket tightly around her. She couldn't understand why she was so afraid, but her heart was beating like a little bunny rabbit.
Eventually the left her alone, though one of them came to check up on her periodically and over her food or hot chocolate or another blanket. Kara accepted more blankets with a nod, she was freezing. They stoked the fire and turned up the heat and Kara put on her jacket but nothing was warming her insides. The fiery sun crept towards the horizon and she got colder still, watching out the window for signs of pursuit.
Jared returned through the front wall. Kara was now so bundled up it appeared that she had built a nest on the couch. The little footrests on the recliner parts of the couch were out and the blakets were all aorund her so that only her face was uncovered, but only her eyes and above were visible.
"Kara are you all right?" he asked immediately. Kara shook her head no and he put an arm around her, "Sorry, I'm probably making you more cold."
"No, you're actually really warm," Kara said truthfully. She snuggled closer to him and, looking extremely please, Jared settled down on the footrests close to her. Since he was weightless he didn't need to worry about them falling under his weight. Kara enjoed the new heat that was radiating off of him and closed her eyes for more than five seconds for the first time since she had gotten back to the house. Her body seemed so relieved that it almost immediately fell into a blissful slumber.
In the middle of the night, Kara woke up in a cold sweat. The blankets snuggled around her formed a barrier from the room, but she was no longer five years old and therefore didn't believe that hiding under the blankets would keep her safe. Jared was apparently sleeping next to her, though she knew he couldn't. He was most likely just deep and thought and hadn't noticed her stirring. She prodded him gently under the covers even though she couldn't touch him and disguised the movement as her rolling over in her sleep.
She knew there was something in the house. The fire was extinguished and he room was plunged into a moonlit half darkness. Straining her half opened eyes, Kara still pretended to be asleep as she attempted to scan the room. She couldn't really see anything until her eyes got adjusted to the light and she would need them full open to do that. Jared was still lying on his back, the picture of ease. Kara wondered if he was still day dreaming or if this too was an act. Kara turned again and this time her hand grasped the hilt of her sword, grabbing it tightly. It was still in the sheath but she could draw it with enough speed she thought. Displaying the fact that he was awake, Jared turned over in his "sleep" and faced Kara. His eyes squinted slightly open and he pointed with his eyes to say that whatever it was in was in the corner by the bottom of the stairs. A chill went up Kara's spine. The corner by the stairs was behind the couch. Whatever was there could be watching her right now, sneaking up slowly and maliciously, knowing that she had no way of monitoring it without blowing her cover.
The floor boards strained slightly, ever so slightly. The sound was so quiet that she wouldn't have heard it if her ears weren't concentrated on the noise and she waited for it to come again. A second slight creek and this one was louder. Kara knew it was because this one was closer. The thing was trying to sneak up on her. Kara drew her sword out from it's hilt under one of her blankets.
A shower of light from the staircase nearly made Kara's heart leap up her throat, out of her chest, and straight onto the floor. There was another few creeks and the thing retreated. Kara sat up immediately and checked around the room. Whatever it was it had gone through one of the walls to escape. The feeling of dread left her and Kara knew then that the thing was no longer in the room. She sighed and wiped away the sweat on her brown as Jared came down in his blue jeans and no shirt, coming to see what was going on.
"Couldn't sleep either?" he asked as he came and sat in the arm chair across from her. Seeing that the fire was out he kneeled down to rekindle it. He starter log lit up the brush and small twig he put in. As he babied the fire, Kara watched the flames with a little relief. Ancient man had used the fire to keep what they thought of as evil spirits away. She knew how they felt now. The fire added warmth and a safety to the scene.
"I was asleep, but I woke up a few minutes ago," she said, deliberating on whether or not to tell him what had just happened. Jared echoed her thoughts.
"We should tell him. It's his business too if his house is haunted," he said, attempting to make her smile. Kara smiled good naturedlly back at him even though she knew that he knew she was faking.
"Do you want some hot chocolate or something" Eric asked, pawing throught the draws in the kitchen and coming up with a coupe packs of cocoa powder with marshmallows in it. Kara explained how she liked two packages in hers, for the extra rich taste. Eric agreed sleepily, voicing the sentiment that the sugar would wake them up. When he came back to the living room at last with two steaming hot mugs of hot cocoa, Kara couldn't be more happy. She let the warmth of the cup spread to her hands and the steam kiss her face. Jared looked at her, amused and then reminded her of what she had said. With a deep breath to steady herself, Kara told Eric what had happened earlier that day and just before he'd come down.
"Wow, lucky I decided to get up when I did," said Eric, "I was thinking of just staying up there so I wouldn't disturb you. I guess now it's a good thing there wasn't a gentleman around here. Did Jared say what it was?"
"Nope, he doesn't know. Neither of us could really get a good look when it was sneaking up. We wanted to take it by surprise so we were pretending to be asleep," Kara explained, "too bad, too. I think now that it's over it would have been useful to know what we're up against."
"Don't worry about it," Jared said, "I'm sure we'll run into it again."
"Very comforting," Kara said, but she looked out the front windows uneasily, the dim, moonlit yard hard to decipher. Kara identified as much clear shapes as she could and could try and guess what the others were. Nothing out there seemed harmful, Kara hoped worried.
"What did he say?" Eric asked curiously. Jared pulled a face at him and Kara attempted to whack him in the arm.
"He said it will probably be back. He's probably right, though. I don't know what it was or why it was here, but I'm sure it'll come back again for whatever it wanted."
They both sat in thoughtful silence. Kara knew what she had to do. She absolutely dreaded every second of it. She loathed the idea, but she had to do it. It was time for a midnight walk in the woods.
"We have to go after it," she said aloud. Both boys stared at her as if she'd suddenly laid an egg or something. She repeated it and they still looked flabbergasted.
"We can't," Jared said. He didn't give a reason. Probably because he didn't have one, he knew Kara was right about this.
"We have to," Kara said firmly. She wasn't going to let him push her every step of the way so far and now fight to hold her back. It wasn't fair and he knew it. She would just have to make him remember that.
Kara looked at them both stubbornly, her arms crossed giving them a look that suggested that they were being total wimps. Inside, she was hoping that they wouldn't let her go, that Eric would have some sense in him and tie her down or something or just board up all the doors and windows so she couldn't go out.
"What does Jared think?" Eric said slowly, coming around to the idea. A sort of grim determined light entered in from the back door to his eyes, shining out at her. She wished he wouldn't be so confident with her, again, but she knew now that she had to do everything to deserve that trust.
Thump, thump. Kara nearly jumped backwards off the couch and it looked like Jared and Eric were just about to do the same thing. The thumping sound repeated and Eric jumped up, running to get the door before the knocking awoke his father. Against the cloudy night sky, the thin figure looked fearsomely tall and striking, like some cold and terrible king of old. However, when Thomas Reed stepped into the light, he looked like what he was, just a sick boy out to save the world.
"I'm sorry to disturb you so late," the gaunt boy said in a quiet voice, "I saw the lights on. I hope I didn't wake you."
Kara was surprised at his formality. He seemed more, well mannered than most boys she knew. It was cute in it's own charming little way.
"No, we were already awake," Eric said, and to Kara's immediate annoyance he spilled the beans on their operation. He told Thomas about Kara's true identity, her fake one, what had happened in the woods, and what they planned to do now. Thomas listened carefully, not interrupting. It was hard to gage his reaction by his expression which remained neutral while Eric talked on. Jared and Kara sat together on the couch watching as the two friends caught each other up to speed.
When they finished talking, Kara decided she could ask a question, "Thomas, do you remember what happened when you disappeared? Do you remember anything about what attacked you?"
Thomas shuddered slightly, "No, I only remember going into the woods the day before I disappeared. When I woke up there again, I was dizzy and hungry. I walked back to town directly, I knew the route even without the path. I was crazy, though. I kept thinking I saw things moving in the trees, following me with their eyes. Then when I got to town and I saw you. I'm sorry I attacked you, bye the way."
"Don't think about it. You were sick. It was your fault if you were delirious," Kara said.
"Thank you," Thomas replied, looking her straight in the eyes while he talked to her. Kara looked him up and down. He was still sickly thin and his face seemed shadowed somehow, more closed in. His fingers seemed long like an artist's and his eyes seemed just as sad as Jared's were when he mentioned the fact that he was dead.
"I'm just glad you got back all right," Kara said, still thinking. She wondered if what had attacked Thomas had really been the same thing. Thomas knew the woods instinctively, and yet he hadn't been able to escape whatever it was. She, who had no experience in hiking and no natural sense of direction whatsoever, had managed to outrun it and get home safely.
"So when are we getting this party started?" asked Jared. Kara glared at him. He gave her a fakely innocent shrug and looked back at Thomas.
"What did he say?" Thomas asked, "If you don't mind me asking."
"Not at all," Kara replied, still glaring balefully at Jared, "He just asked when we were going to get started looking for whatever's out there. We're wasting twilight just talking here. I don't know why but my gut feeling says that it's better if we hunt this thing at night. I'm hate to say it, but I'm usually right."
"If you think it's best," Thomas said, his jaw clenched tightly. Eric was looking a bit paler than usual but Jared merely looked worriedly at Kara. Kara gave him a questioning look.
"Hey, what do I have to worry about? All you guys get to risk your lives and what am I risking, my death? There's really nothing dangerous in it for me. I can't die. Even if I did it wouldn't hurt. I'd either go to where I was supposed to go in the first place or just cease to exist. But whatever this thing is, it seems to prefer live things. So don't worry about me please, Kara."
"Fine, whatever you say," Kara said, though she felt doubly as worried now. Kara pulled out her sword and silver dagger and examined them, "You'll need weapons. Grab whatever you can. Maybe a baseball bat or a kitchen knife. Bring as much as you need or can carry comfortably. It never hurts to have a back up."
Kara wished she had followed this advice when she'd been fighting before, but so far her sword hadn't let her down in the long run. Sure, she dropped it a lot, but what was one to expect from and untrained warrior? It wasn't like she was Zorro or something. And she was sure that Jared was just happy she hadn't shorn one of her own limbs off yet. Eric brought down one of his baseball bats, at metal one, and a hockey stick from his room. He handed the hockey stick to Thomas and then also gave him his pocket knife. Eric selected a particularly big knife from the kitchen. Kara thought how silly it was, them arming themselves with sticks and pocket knives while she had a professional weapon that she didn't even know how to use.
"That's it, let's go," Kara said. Everyone looked at the door but made no attempt to go towards it. It was one thing methodically preparing, grabbing all your gear and making attack plans and emergency plans, another to actually get out the door. Kara had stood at this threshold before. She and Jared walked forward for the door at the same time, then, smiling shyly at each other, each backed up to let the other threw first. When their eyes met, an unspoken message passed between them. Together, then, Kara thought. She and Jared stepped through the doorway quickly, and into the knight. Kara's crystal began to glow beautifully in the dark and Thomas and Eric's flashlights shone out across the yard. They didn't bother locking the door on the way out. Hopefully whatever dangers that were out there would follow them to the woods.
Kara's heart beat sped up as she took her first step past the trees. Even though everything was in shadow now, being under the trees still made the air seem ten degrees cooler. Kara was still itching at the eerie silence that seemed to cover the whole forest. It was awkward, at first, to figure out who should go first. There was no short straw to draw but covering up the rear wasn't such a cake job either. Finally the walked in a sort of straight row, with Kara furthest front and Thomas and Eric a little behind and to either side of her so they could fit on the path. Jared brought up the rear. Kara wished desperately that he would come up and walk with her, even if he couldn't help. As they reached stone circle after stone circle, Kara found herself more and more eager to turn back, hoping each time that she would somehow stray off the path in the dark and they would have to go back and wait for the morning when everything was more visible. However, helpfully, but unfortunately for Kara, every time she fretted over the lack of light her crystal would suddenly blaze up and shine where she wanted it to. She was thankful, however, for the warmth of it buzzing against her skin constantly. They walked forward, looking for the beast without saying a word.
To her left, Thomas was breathing a bit irregularly and Kara glanced concerned at him a few times. Every time he caught her looking he gave her a brief, brave smile and she attempted a smile back, although she wasn't sure if it turned out right. Jared made no sound, as usual, as he tread along in the back and Kara always had to glance backwards regularly to see if he was still there. He would always give her a sarcastic look and said he would give a shout if he was being abducted. He always had a way of making her angry through her fear. She would have been grateful if she wasn't so damn furious at him and his arrogant ways. Stupid dead people, Kara thought, they think that just because they can defy the laws of physics that they own the place. She muttered darkly to herself and then would quiet again as she came to another solemn arrow on the ground.
They had walked on only a little bit further when Kara realized that the arrows were getting closer and closer together. Each one was also getting bigger so that she had to kick aside more and more debris to uncover all of it. The three boys said nothing as she lead the way. Kara held her breath as one of the circles, roughly the size of a person in diameter, was uncovered in the snow. Someone had been there recently. But that's not what made her stop at the particular circle. It was the light coming from the circle. It was a fantasy blue color that shone up through the ground. It was beautiful and supernatural and amazing. She could see the next arrow a little ahead, also uncovered and also emitting the soft blue light. But more attention getting was the deep rumbling coming from not so far up ahead. Kara was frozen in time and space and fear. She didn't know what to do, she didn't know anything but to stand still and listening to the rumbling, perhaps the growling of some enormous beast.
"It's snoring," Jared remarked with a half laugh. Kara spun around at him, perplexed. She listened carefully. He was right. Whatever it was that was out there, it was asleep.
"The things asleep. That's not it growling, it's it snoring," Kara said to the other two boys. The looked just as surprised as she had been. Kara held her sword so tight in her hand that it hurt. Creeping forward, she came to a stone circle in the ground that was so wide that it filled up a whole clearing. Instead of an arrow there were intricate designs scraped into the soft dirt. Most of them were geometric, but Kara recognized shapes that looked like crudely drawn people and animals. Up ahead: the mouth of a cave.
"I'll go in and take a look," Kara whispered quietly. The other shook their heads vigorously but she insisted, "I have the best weapon and the best skills. Maybe the fact that I'm a Seer will help me. I don't know. Plus, I'm a lot quieter than you two blundering around and I can use Jared as an extra pair of eyes. Maybe whatever it is can't see him."
"No way we're letting you go in there alone," Eric said chivalrously. Thomas seemed to have the same idea.
"Why? Because I'm a girl? Because girls need to be protected? Nice job you guys did protecting yourself. You didn't seem to mind having me go first all the way here," she said defensively. But even she could hear how bitchy that sounds, especially when Jared said, "Someone forgot to take their Midol this morning." She glared at him shortly, then added, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. It's just that it makes sense. And if I get in trouble don't think I won't yell out for you to come save me. Because I will yell, and loud."
"I'm sorry," Thomas said, "I didn't meant to condescend. I guess we were just raised to protect the ladies at all costs. And to tell the truth you don't get many girls who would volunteer to go in there alone."
"I'm not going alone, I'll have Jared with me," Kara said sounding more confident than she felt, she headed towards the mouth of the cave into the darkness.
When she turned a corner she realized there was a roaring fire that's smoke let out into the air via a hole in the roof. The constant snoring was coming from an impossibly large bed in the corner of the room. Kara peered at the thing sleeping under the blankets cautiously. It's face was misshapen and green, though strangely human in some sort of undertone. Kara realized that the only reason the face looked strange was because it was in the firelight and it had weird shadows being cast upon it from all over.
Kara turned towards the rest of the dwelling. On a thin shelf that was basically a section of a tree cut in half so that it had a flat side there were books upon the shelf. Over in the corner was some sort of machine, like one of those things people put on their desks that did nothing but was amusing to look at. All around was junk. There was a boot that didn't have a match, a rag doll missing an eye and an arm. In another corner Kara saw stacks of old magazines, National Geographic, Time, even a Cosmo. Most of them that were visible had their covers torn off or worn down. Part of a broken chandelier was on the floor next to the fireplace along with a set of tools that looked like they were older than she was.
The deep rumbling in the back ground shook the cave gently. Kara let her eyes wander of the strange mix of objects. There were tricycles and trinkets. Part of an old engine was taken apart on the floor. A once beautiful jewelry chest stood with one drawer open, filled to the brim with broken watches, necklaces, earrings, bracelets and all sorts of small things. All of it was somehow interesting in it's own way, Kara thought bending to examine one of the robot toys that had a few parts sticking out of it's center, as if each piece had it's own story.
She didn't notice the snoring had stopped until it was too late. She felt a hand clamp her left shoulder, lifting her bodily from the ground. She was thrown onto the bed roughly and then the thing had a sword at her throat, her own sword pinned to the ground by his hand.
"What are you doing in my cave?" asked the green creature. His features were roughly handsome even though his teeth were all slightly pointed and his eyes were a deep impossible gold color.
"I came to see if it was you who came into my house earlier. Is it you who's been abducting people from the woods and the town?" she asked pointedly. Her heart was beating a million miles a minute and her neck was stiff where he held the blade, not hard enough to break the skin but hard enough so that she could feel the pressure.
"I have nothing to do with the attacks," the young thing said. He did not remove his sword, "Get out."
Kara didn't miss his word choice, "It was you in my house."
"It wasn't," the creature said, "Or, really, it wasn't only me. There was a creature in there, that was hunting you. I was walking nearby in the woods and decided to investigate. You were in my woods earlier, though I thought I scared you off."
Kara shook her head, "It couldn't have been you making those footsteps. That was something huge."
"Oh, wasn't it?" asked the green faced, gold eyed creature. He began to morph and change becoming taller and wider as Kara watched in horror and fascination. His now deeper voice boomed out, "Is this the likes of what you heard coming?"
Kara could only nod. Slowly, with such a subtle change that Kara nearly missed it, the green boy began to shrink back to his normal size which was, let's face it, just about as big as an NBA star. Kara looked up into his face.
"Fine, then. If it's not you than who is it?" she wasn't entirely convinced that this strange…whatever he was, wasn't the kidnapper. He still hadn't removed his sword even though he insisted that he was friendly.
"The same thign that has been hunting you for some time now. If it hadn't been following you for so long it would have taken a lot longer to find you after you disappeared into the Middle. Oh, yes. I know about your little ghost escapades. And I'm telling you now: I have no interest in the wars you gatekeepers and Seers and warriors and creatures of Death get into. I'm not of your race and I warned you over a thousand years ago to let me alone. Now it seems that you have forgotten my message."
"A thousand years?" Kara asked in amazement before she could stop herself. She tried to reclaim her cool exterior but she'd pretty much shattered the façade.
The monster gave her a puzzled look, "Don't play dumb with me, Seer."
"I'm not playing dumb," Kara said angrily, "I am dumb. I mean, I'm inexperienced. I only learned I was a seer less than a week ago on Halloween. Sorry if I haven't caught up with the facts yet what with some weird people chasing me and killing all my friends and," Kara stopped, unable to continue without tears welling up. She took slow, deep breaths to calm herself. The monster gave her a strange look.
"You're not bound to a master yet?" he asked.
"Not until I finish my list of tasks. Somehow "save the village from being wiped out by the supernatural killer" ended up on my list."
The monster lowered his sword from her neck and held out a hand to her, "I apologize for treating you this way. Are you hurt?" he asked, suddenly civil. Kara, stunned, accepted the hand and sat down on the chair he offered to her after sweeping a pile of goose feathers half stuffed in a pillow off of it.
"I have friends outside," she said, "one of them took me in when I appeared here and another is one of the victims who came back. Can they come in?"
"They're not going to charge in bearing torches and pitchforks?" the monster asked with some amusement in his eyes.
"No, I'll tell them you're friendly. Don't worry about them being freaked about you being a-"
"Monster?" the monster asked, "I suppose you're going to tell me they're used to the supernatural already without any real experience. I'm not one for worrying about the stares I get, bring them in," he sighed wearily. Kara walked outside. Jared followed her. She started, she had almost forgotten he was there.
"What happened?" Eric demanded as she walked back, "We heard some kind of commotion but Thomas said we should wait until we were called."
"He was right. I can take care of myself. Plus, there's no point. The guy we're looking for isn't in there. What is in there is a person who might be able to help us. He can be a little strange looking, but I've seen weirder. So be on your best behavior and don't stare at him," she said, feeling like an overbearing mother. The boys looked at her incredulously.