"I should have brought a jacket," I say aloud to myself. The t-shirt and shorts I am wearing are not going to keep me warm for long.
The color has gone from the early summer day. It is well after dark and what can be seen is visible only in shades of grays that run off to blend with the darkness. I am alone, outdoors in a large open area. Thin night air surrounds me with its coolness. Everything is still and quiet.
The damp grass beneath my sneakers appears completely black, but as it stretches out in front of me it turns to gray patches that reveal the slight undulating contour of a field. A line of trees makes a gradual arc across the far end of my line of sight, but they appear as one long dark mass of tattered edges reaching up to a backdrop of muted stars.
Ahead I make out a permanent structure, a small pavilion, at the top of a barely noticeable rise. Four rough stone columns form its corners, holding up a raised wooden roof. A step or two in its direction shows that it has enough size to accommodate three or so picnic tables.
Each step as I walk gives off a slight squish of the grass' evening dew.
As I reach the pavilion I am surprised to find there are people here. How could I have possibly missed them? Figures come into view and after a moment I can see there are three of them. It's three girls or at least they appear to be girls by their size, rounded shoulders and long hair. Hmmm? I make a tentative guess that they are about my age. Each sits on a different picnic table within the area. They are looking at me and I feel a bit awkward in knowing I am intruding. Damn me and my teenage angst. The feeling always erupts upwards from my stomach. "Be on guard," it says, "don't go and make a fool of yourself." Seventeen is not an easy age and as hard as I am on myself, the venom I can get from others my age can be worse.
Everything changes as I make the first step into the pavilion. My shoulder brushes against one of the stone columns. The air opens up and then roars coarsely through my consciousness. No! With a terrific jolt, pain strikes me from inside my head and flashes straight outwards laterally to each side. What is this? Ice cold electric lines of pain scream out through to my skin. My hands flinch up and my fingers grab my head just behind my ears. The pain lasts and the seconds go by. It doesn't recede and I am standing still on this threshold from the grass into the pavilion's concrete slab. The girls stare. Damn. The fear in my stomach continues to erupt.
I am aware of a new ... something. I can hear, almost see, everything about me. Yet it's all in my head as clairvoyance. The darkness still envelops my sight but I realize I can see the sounds of the evening coming toward me. The girl on the furthest picnic table shifts her weight. The sound, a rustle, rises like a wave, quickly, very quickly. It flows in pale purple waves. They arc away from where she is sitting and fly off, outwards, into the night. And right at me. The sound arrives immediately with the purple waves. They are one and the same. I hear the sound of the movement even though it is slight; it is as if my ear rests next to her clothes. How can this be?
Then comes a hollow wind. Like the opening of a radio channel my mind hears - directly through the air - an ongoing stream of these three girls' thoughts. I have walked into a conversation, one that is taking place with words and thoughts, yes, but without a single utterance.
The audible silence continues but I hear everything. And I don't like it. It's sad. There's a sorrowful tale being sung. It has been sung for a long time and is well worn. Despair flows in this song that radiates from the three.
Suddenly it occurs to me I know their names. The realization hits me at once. Introductions, of a sort, fly at me. But there is no "Hello" or "Hi, I am Kathryn." Rather, it is a wordless rush of their selves projected at me. I suddenly know details of what they like and what they did yesterday. I learn their favorite colors. I experience bits of their dreams. I hear opinions they have about each other. And I learn their initial opinions of me. But I am too new to this! It all blows at me, this hollow wind, and breaks by me before I am able to hold onto … anything. I lose their names. The rush continues. Their favorite colors break away from me. The onslaught seems to crumble what little I can snatch. The screaming in my head continues out to each side and I am caught rigid with my hands still raised up into my hair.
They are vampires. This realization strikes me and sticks. Or did they just tell me that? Yes. Yes, one of them put that out at me and I heard it. My stomach does not let up. The scream in my head continues. Breathe! They are sizing me up. Alone. Stupid me. I continue to see the night's darkness and am very aware of its depth. It stretches out so far in all directions! I sense how the depth of the night comforts them. Yet it horrifies me.
I feel like sand has invaded my entire being. I am heavy and barely able to move. I am a victim locked in a slow motion sequence but aware of each moment in real time.
With every bit of sense I can put together, with every bit that might well be my last, I take a step forward. "Tick," says something in my mind. Oh, I think one of the girls put it there. I shudder. Purple ripples move out and away from my footstep. The effort works despite the hollow wind blowing at me and their thoughts pouring through my mind and the pain erupting behind my ears and a stomach that is knotted with a pain much like the result of a fast, hard punch. Two more steps. Two more purple waves appear. I am now immediately in front of the closest girl. "Tick," asserts the girl at the next table back. Even now my eyes can only see grays. Their hair, faces, clothes and shoulders are nothing more than outlines of gray against black.
I reach away from my head and almost as a means of staying upright, I put my arms out towards this closest girl. "Tick," says the same girl as before. I am clumsy. The movement seems out of proportion to the distance covered. The searing pain in my head distorts what little vision I have. I end up with my hands going out too far. Perhaps passed her head? I can just barely make them out. I close my arms about her and start to double over in pain. The stomach knot screams in agony.
Her shirt is soft, like a sweatshirt. It has a gentle give as my arms collide with her. In the darkness the hook of my right arm wraps around the back of her shoulder and over behind her head. My hand then slides down over her back. Wavy hair trails beneath my palm and fingers. My other hand finds and accidently strokes downward along her left arm towards her elbow. Purple waves bloom into the air all along where we connect. I grab onto her best I can and end up with my arms around her. The right side of my head rubs up against hers. "What is this?" Did I think that or did she? I am off balance, leaning forward into her. "Tick," thinks the other girl.
There is no warmth. She is as cold as the rough stones columns at the corners of this pavilion. I focus on her and try to imagine what she must be like. In the embrace I can feel her skin's softness and the skeletal hardness of her shoulder bones. But she is like a corpse, not a person, with whom I have come into contact.
Time seems to stop. The conversation in the wind ceases. Her left arm moves up from her lap towards me. A silence envelops us, both in the air and in our minds. I only know her arm is moving because I feel her thought of making it happen. She delivers a smile to me through the hollow wind. "Ah, you know we are sharing this thought." Then I feel that hand on the side of my chest. I sense the gentle impact of fingers against my floating ribs. Her sensing what her fingertips tell her blows into me. One arm hugs me back. Slowly, then, her other arm rises. Fingers alight gently on the other side of me. "Your shirt is soft," she thinks, mocking my prior thought back at me.
Silence, like that moment of being caught in the eye of a storm, swirls like a fragile eddy.
"Tick," flows through us, sent from the other girl, sent perhaps with an edge of irritation? Motion oozes back into existence. A moment of vertigo sweeps across my mind and vision. Pain erupts anew in my head. I feel her release me. My back aches but I pull my arms away and straighten up. The song continues right where it had left off. "That was nice," she emits. My mind is numb.
I back away. One foot lifts up. Lifting that foot takes all my effort, as if it has been asleep for hours. Then I get the other foot to do the same. "Tick." Focus! Backwards I go. I feel the changeover from concrete slab to grass and make another step.
The connection breaks. I am out of range. The song is gone. The hollow wind evaporates from my mind with a snap and I am alone in the grass. The screaming in my head starts to fade and I realize now might be good moment to take a breath.
I go back another step, slowly. Their forms within the pavilion remain visible but are already hard to discern. They are still there, cold and watching.
As the moments of calm continue I find breathing can become natural again and no longer done only by force of will. I try to find where my hands are in front of me. The field's open night atmosphere starts to fill my senses. The air is cool and fresh. I purposefully close and open my left hand, feeling but not seeing fingertips clench against my palm and then extend outwards. I have a moment to think! "Where am I? What am I doing here? I don't know this place." I should turn and run.
Then in a slow horrifying moment I sense a turn of the tide. The three shapes move. They leap out from their tables. I inhale as I watch the progression unfold from the slightest movement, then faster, then faster yet, into an oncoming rush. Suddenly the hollow wind is back. Blue and purple waves ripple off their forms. The pain erupts through my head as before and I want to scream. Their movement is in unison and streaks out towards me as a single long leap. How could anything move in such a manner? There is no stride, simply a leap into air and then the arc of their bodies arriving upon me, soundlessly, in a movement that defies reasoning on how anything could cover the distance.
In the hollow wind I find that the song is absent. Only the combined effort of their focus blows through me.
I stiffen as the first girl collides with me both full force and midair. I feel my balance tip backwards and away from my control. The natural fear reaction of falling backwards grips me and my hands try to race up. But her arms block the movement of mine. Worse than falling backwards from this standing position, I am driven backwards and down. Faster than I think should be possible my head strikes the grass. Hard. The grass' wetness dances up along the back of my neck. The backs of my shoulders crash into the ground. Pain sears through my head in a bright flash. Her weight lands on me, the entirety of her body crashing down on mine. My stomach convulses; it decides now is the moment to empty itself. I clench my teeth against it and force with my will to keep it under control. But it is too late.
A hand strikes upwards under my chin. A thumb latches onto one cheek from underneath while the fingers do the same on the other side. Her pinky finger rests just at the base of my ear and her index finger's nail pierces me just beside my nose. There is a brief pause. I want to scream but my mouth is clenched. And full. She torques my head over into the grass and I feel her hair fall about my head.
An explosion of pain, much like the firing of a gun, erupts right below my ear. And another erupts through me from under my upper arm; it has been thrown up and away by a second impact. I unclench my jaw and open my mouth to scream "Stop this!" Instead everything empties into the grass.
The hollow wind roars like a gale - a loud, intense static hiss crescendo. And then it cuts out towards silence. I feel myself slip away from my eyes as if I am falling backwards into my head. Darkness moves in from all sides. The last bit of starlight from across the grass fades away. I feel soft curls of hair on my face.
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