Chapter Four: Carrie, Do You Know How Much You Look Like Mom?

I stared glumly at the fragments of the perfume bottle that led to my disconcerting ability to communicate telepathically with inanimate objects. Sighing, I bent over to sweep their up into the dustpan, wincing as my body ached in protest. I headed down to the kitchen, trying my best to ignore the various pains in my body. Unlike the very athletic, very active Kendra, I would normally be found with a complain of stomachache and a ready book during PE.

I stuffed the glass shards into the trash can and stood there for a moment, massaging the bruises on my ankles. I just knew those terrifying pairs of disembodied hands would cause me to bruise. I shuddered as I thought about yesterday. I had decided after last night that I had enough of crying. It never solved anything; I should know after years and years of wasted tears.

I sat down at the counter, placing the pack of cards in front of me. I studied it carefully. The outside of the pack was completely white, despite obvious signs of ageing. I marvelled at how it managed to remain so pristine; I could not even wear a white T-shirt for five minutes without getting some sort of stain on it, much to Kendra's vexation. I tapped it as I thought. I was not going to die. I was not about to be dragged off to a fate I did not even choose. I decided my own fate, not some ancient card-maker. If I was going to live, there were some alliances to be made...

I picked up the cards and flew back up to my room, my pain momentarily forgotten. I locked the door behind me and kicked aside clothes, food, books and knick-knacks to make a large-enough clearing in this forest of trash. Dave had gone to a friend's house and Ben did not give any indication of coming out of his room after last night so I was absolutely alone. Taking a deep breath and clutching the pack tightly, I said loudly, "The Shield."

He appeared, bowing to me impassively. I indicated for him to stand in front of me. He obliged without question. I took another deep breath to calm my nerves. The Shield gave me a startled look over his shoulder; this telepathy link seemed to go both ways. He knew what I was going to do. He opened his mouth, but before he could dissuade me otherwise, I shouted, "THE MURDERER!" before I completely lost my nerve.

He appeared in a burst of long, muscular limbs and a glint of the steel edges of lethal weapons. He landed on my bed, crouched in a cat-like position, the serrated edge of his triumphant laughter ringing through our heads. I fought to keep the grimace off my face. He was infinitely more terrifying in person; tangled black hair streaked with white and grey to his elbows, heavy-lidded, flat, black eyes and a demonically ecstatic grin.

He jumped off the bed with a feline grace, landing softly on the pads of his bare feet. He seemed to be the very opposite of the Shield. The Shield displayed the emotion range of a teaspoon, yet he protected me without query. The Murderer's face was almost a caricature of emotions – so wildly and freely he seemed to portray his thoughts – and he seemed to thirst for more of my blood if the way he stalked towards us with a knife in his hand was any indication.

"They are telling me to spare you," he was amused and deeply so. "You have the ability to give us freedom, however momentary, and it has been so long since any of them have been summoned. But they don't know how stupid you are, do they?"

I could tell why he was a powerful card. The way he struck, it was without any indication and he was ruthless. I gasped from where I was under the Shield, shoved into a pile of filthy clothes. No, it was not just the fact that I really need to do some laundry, the Murderer had completely smashed my door apart. Dad was not going to accept "Uh... I slipped?" as an excuse. I tried to scramble to my feet but in just that split second, the Murderer lunged again. This time, his knife lodged firmly in the Shield's ribcage. The breath was completely knocked out of me as the Shield fell against me.

The Murderer grinned savagely in delight as he pulled the Shield off me and grabbed me by my hair. I yelled in pain, glancing out of the corner of my eyes at the wounded, moaning Shield. I could not feel more helpless and useless. I had thought that the Shield might be able to give me some time to at least say some words but I had completely underestimated the Murderer's abilities and insanity.

"Stop!" I gasped, scratching at his hands as he dragged me over to the bed.

Tears formed in my eyes from the pain of being hauled by my hair.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid!" he was chanting gleefully as he pushed me against the bed and encircled my neck with one hand. "So very stupid!"

He loomed over me, his grip tightening. I coughed and choked, kicking out with my legs and scrabbling at the back of his hands with as much strength as I could. He completely ignored my futile attempts; in fact, the more I struggled, the more thrilled he seemed to get. No! How could I be killed by one of my cards? That would be so utterly nonsensical and just plain dumb. I would not be defeated by a mere object! The Murderer's face darkened with unexpected rage, just like how a squall descended. I felt as if he was about to break my neck; if I could make any sort of noise to express my pain, I would.

"I am not an object!" he hissed, spittle flecking my face. "DIE!"

Then he was bashed from the side of his head. He flew off me, smashing into my bookshelves before sliding to the grounding. Coughing loudly and painfully, I held my neck as I scrambled backwards on the bed. The Shield crossed the room in two steps and scooped me up into his arms. He did not seem to be in any sort of pain at all. I gaped at him in astonishment, still unable to speak. Without explanation, he leapt through my window, which was closed and was hence completely destroyed in the process. I tried not to think of what my room currently looked like; after all, I might not have to face Dad's wrath if I did not live at all.

I could hear the Murderer leaping after us, a howl of inexpressible rage tearing from his throat. The Shield hit the ground, stumbling slightly, but he regained his footing and began to run. I had completely underestimated his abilities as well. Wrapping my arms around his neck, I looked over his shoulder and watched as the Murderer landed clumsily, nearly impaling himself with his own knife. He snarled, snatched his knife from where it stabbed the dirt and started to run after us, a single-minded determination in his eyes. I shuddered, hiding my face in the Shield's shoulder. The Murderer wanted – and would – kill me. I had to think of something and fast.

He was right; it had been incredibly stupid to expect that the Murderer would be able to respond to logic. He was beyond logic; he simply did not adhere to common sense. He was truly and astonishingly insane. Some part of me sympathised with the horrors he must had had gone through to lose his mind so thoroughly. Since the cards were former players, it made sense that the cards were a reflection – however twisted – of the players, who had once been human. However, there was nothing – nothing at all – human about the bloodthirsty monster pelting after us at the moment. What am I going to do?

There was a sudden scream. I twisted around to see the Murderer land in front of a group of children walking back from the park. From the maniacal flash in his eyes, I knew what he was going to do. Without thinking, I threw myself from the Shield's arms with a shriek of "NO!". I landed painfully, rolling for a few feet. I scrambled on my skinned knees and palms to see the Murderer snatch a little girl with pigtails from the group.

"STOP!" I screamed, slipping and sliding on the hot pavement as I ran towards them.

I had completely forgotten about the presence of other people. I was so self-centred; how could I have forgotten that I was not the only one the Murderer could harm? And there I went, summoning a true monster and loosing him on the world, all for the slightest hope that he would be able to save my sorry hide in the future. I screamed in fury, throwing myself at the knife. He stepped back, openly startled.

I grabbed the blade, pushing him backwards and screaming incoherent curses at him. The children were all scattering in different directions, yelling about monsters and witches and crying most riotously. I could only hope that they were running for the relative safety of their homes. Still clutching onto the knife, I stared wildly around, praying that there were no more innocents around. Although I lived in a generally busy neighbourhood, thank God the time of the day and the general stupor-inducing effect of heat meant that there was no one else around.

"You're crazy," there was amazement in the voice of the Murderer.

My head snapped around to stare at him. "Huh?"

It was then that I was aware of the excruciating pain in the palms of my hands. I released the cruel blade to see two deep cuts in my palms, blood spilling profusely from them. The metallic tang of fresh blood hit me and I felt dizzy with disbelief and pain. I swayed on my feet, but the Shield appeared. He grabbed me, rougher than usual. I glanced up at him momentarily and was stunned by the anger which did not suit his usually placid face.

"Why the hell did you sacrifice yourself like that?!" he snapped.

I could only blabber unintelligibly. He glared then lowered his head to my hands and through my blood-stained haze, I was aware of the softness of his lips against my palms. He's licking my wounds, I realised with a thrill of repugnance. I resisted, trying to draw my hands away but his grip was unrelenting. I looked up at the Murderer, as if expecting assistance. Our eyes met suddenly. The Murderer twitched, jerking back, as shock followed by confusion chased over his face. Shaking his head, he slid his knife into its scabbard, gave me a short bow then changed back into a card, which flew back in the direction of my house.

Stupefied, I looked at the Shield, who was just pulling away from my hands. I was no longer in pain; the fog my mind had descended into as a result of the unendurable pain had eased. My perplexity intensified as I held up my healed hands. There was not even a scar to indicate that I had ever been wounded. The memory of the exquisite pain was vivid in my mind and I suppressed a shudder as I tried to reconcile that memory with the present image of my bloody but painless hands.

"How did you do that?" I glanced at the Shield.

His face was still pinched and white with ire. He did not answer my question but tried to pick me up again.

"No, I can walk," I assured him, seeing a man walk out of his house with his dog. "Let's just go home."

I tried to act as nonchalantly as possible even though the man stared as we passed him. I looked down on myself and saw enormous bloodstains on my grey T-shirt and sweatpants. There was also the fact that the Shield, walking robotically by my side, was dressed in a very neatly pressed and rather formal suit in the stifling heat of summer. Oh well, I thought. It was not as if the whole neighbourhood did not know how our family was. Maybe that was why Dave was so bitter and hateful. Dad was too busy working to care much about gossip.

"The Murderer," I spoke in a quiet voice, glancing around surreptitiously. "He went back to the pack?"

I glanced sideways at the Shield, wondering if I could force him to talk. He surprised me again by saying in an uncharacteristically caustic voice, "Congratulations. You've earned his allegiance."

"I did?!" I exclaimed, more in awe than happiness.

I remembered the way the Murderer had bowed to me.

"No way!" I said, happier this time. "That's great, right?"

He did not look at me. "I have never met a person with less concern for her own life than you. How can you possibly be so selfless, throwing yourself in front of the Murderer's blade like that?"

"Selfless?" I repeated blankly, stopping in my tracks.

He rounded on me, a severe frown on his face. "Yes, selfless."

"I'm not trying to be noble or anything. I mean... how can I let those kids die?" I stared at him in incomprehension.

He returned my stare, black eyes narrowed. After a few seconds, he turned away abruptly.

"We should continue walking," he said emotionlessly, walking away.

I stared at his back with bewilderment. In the last few minutes, he had displayed more emotion than I had seen on him in one day. I should be happy that he seemed to be opening up to me but why the hell was he so damned stormy? I wondered if cards were more unfathomable than humans, what if my sudden earning of the Murderer's loyalty and the Shield's inexcusable anger. I was only trying to save those innocent children. I could not possibly have them pay for my idiocy.

The Shield reached the house before I did and when I stepped through the open front door, he had already disappeared. I ran up to my room, scooping the pack from where it had fallen on the floor. I knocked out the cards to see that all twelve cards were accounted for. I frowned, flicking the Shield's card before slipping them back into place. What the hell was his problem, honestly? Stepping over the crushed remains of my door, I decided that I had better change out of these clothes before my family saw me. I have enough questions to answer, I thought with a grimace at the window.

As I showered, I wondered where Kendra was. True, I found her almost daily visits annoying but I welcomed her presence anytime. It distracted me from the whining of the Twins in my head. Then I froze, remembering that I could very well cause Kendra harm. What if a player came looking for me one day and killed Kendra along the way? What if I lose control of one of my cards and they killed her accidentally? I swallowed hard. What if that happened to my family? No, no, that could not happen. I had to keep them safe somehow. How? How?

With sudden urgency, I finished my shower and dressed blindly. Ignoring the hot, dry air wafting in from the broken window, I pulled open my wardrobe doors and grabbed a duffel bag off the floor. I began to throw clothes into it with abandon. I would have to go away for a while, at least until I find out how to get out of this shit or until I was strong enough to protect them. I would be okay because I had the Shield and the Murderer and the Twins and my family would not have to be aware of the deadly world I was now part of.

"What are you doing?"

I spun around to see Ben standing in the splinters of my door, staring at me blankly.

"Ben?" I gaped, unsure if I should be more flabbergasted by the fact that he had talked to me or that he had even appeared.

The last time I had heard his voice was two years ago when he told me to pass the pepper during Christmas. Emboldened, I had proceeded to chatter to him freely, but other than that, he had refused to engage anybody in conversation. Dave had always given up on him and Dad... well, Dad was busy.

"What are you doing?" Ben repeated.

"I-" I glanced down at the bra in my hands guiltily.

I stuffed it into the bag and zipped up. "I'm... going on a trip!"

"Your birthday is tomorrow," he said.

"W-What?" I sputtered, goggling at him; he remembered!

"And Dad isn't going to be in town," he continued.

"Yeah..." I waited.

He just stared at me. I was completely overwhelmed. What did Ben mean by mentioning my birthday? I felt that Ben might just have lost his ability to socialise after years of isolation. He walked towards me and pulled the bag from my hands. He dumped its contents on the floor. I squawked in protest.

"Let's watch TV," he said, ignoring my indignant glare.

"What?"

He walked out of my room, turned around and indicated for me to follow him. Dumbstruck, I did. We sat down in front of the television, him on one end of the couch and me on the other. He turned the television on and changed the channel to one which SpongeBob was playing on. I stared at him but he simply kept his eyes on the television screen, stiff and unyielding. I turned to the television as well but my mind was buzzing with questions.

Firstly, what the fuck is going on? I was completely disoriented. Within two hours, I was almost killed by a merciless beast, won him over instead (how, I completely had no idea), pissed off an important ally (how, I completely had no idea yet again) and now I was sitting in front of the television as SpongeBob tried to fly with a brother I had not spoken to in two years. So much for escaping quietly. I touched my pocket where I had stuffed the cards the moment I was dressed; there was no chance of the pack ever leaving my side.

Hey, do you know that Carrie's brother never leaves his room? What did you do to him, Carrie? Did you put a spell on him too? Why do you hate people so much? She's glaring at you, Roger! Be careful! She'll kill you! She's a witch!

My teeth clenched. Why, despite the twelve new voices in my head, could I still hear them? Something touched my shoulder. I jerked, screaming. Ben blinked at me, hand hovering over my shoulder. I blushed.

"I'm just a little... jumpy," I said.

There was a strange sombreness in his eyes. I remembered sadly once when they used to shine with laughter and humour. Where was Ben, my brother?

"Carrie, do you know how much you look like Mom?"

"What?" I said for the third time, this time rather queasily.

"I've been doing a lot of things these past few years," he looked away from me, a lost expression on his face.

I wanted to ask, "You have?" but resisted, barely. He would have said more but Dave came bursting through the door. He was in a temper and it seemed to be directed at me because he was yelling my name. He turned and started when he saw Ben, but he was too enraged to be detracted.

"What the fuck are you doing?" he shouted at me, dragging me to my feet.

"What the hell are you doing?" I screamed in reply, jerking my arm out of his grasp, disgruntled.

"I was just at Justin's place," he hissed into my face. "And his little sister came crying back home. Apparently, you and your friends are going around scaring little kids! You're fucking sick in the head, do you know that?"

"I wasn't-" I began to say, stung, but he did not give me a chance.

"It's bad enough that everybody knows you're my fucking sister and they're always, always saying shit like 'Are you going to curse me like your witch sister, Dave?'! I'm so fucking pissed off," he shoved me away. "Why the fuck do you have to be my sister?! I wish you had died with Mom and Ashton!"

"Dave!" Ben said sharply from behind me.

I reeled back, staring at Dave. His face was flushed with anger and his fists were clenched at his sides, trembling slightly. Despite Ben's admonishment, my younger brother's face remained hard. He had meant those words. He really wished that I was dead. Grief sliced me deeply in a way the Murderer's knife could not. My own brother could hate me so much that he would wish me dead. Looking at him now, I felt as if I was staring in the face of a stranger. What happened to the sweet little boy I would play hide-and-seek with? But he hates me now.

Before I could fully process this, Kendra came through the front door, looking wildly excited.

"Carrie! There you are!" she sounded as if she had been looking everywhere for me as she grabbed my arms.

"Kendra," I said.

"Well, are you ready? Let's go then!" she hooked her arm through mine and proceeded to drag me to the front door.

"What?" I blinked at her; she always went so fast, she left me gasping in her wake.

"We're going to the beach, silly! Remember what I talked about the day before yesterday?" she rolled her eyes in exasperation.

"But I haven't talked to Dad yet-"

"Don't worry!" she interrupted, beaming proudly. "Already settled! I called him and told him that this is my birthday present to you! He totally agreed. He feels so sorry that he's out of town on your birthday. I even bought you new clothes and everything. I know how much you hate to pack so yeah. Let's go! Derrick's waiting! He doesn't like waiting."

"But-" I glanced back at my brothers.

Ben was still on the couch, staring after me with a chilling desperation. Dave had turned away; any sort of enjoyment I should have was too repulsive for him to consider. It took only a second then I turned back to Kendra, gripped her hand firmly and nodded.

"Okay, let's go," I said steely.

"Yay! Oh and bye, Ben! Bye, Dave!" she waved cheerily, not seeming to have realised that Ben had been a recluse at all.

Then she dragged me out of the house and away from a brother who loathed me and a brother who could not speak to me.


Author's Note:
The worst thing happened, guys! I save everything I write in this thumbdrive but something screwed up my thumbdrive and now everything is gone! All the stories I've ever written, all the chapters are all gone! ): I'm not too upset now and I'm trying to look at this positively. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this chapter.

Thanks for reading,
Yvette