Chapter 1                                                                                

There was a time when I was normal, oh yes, I wasn't always like this.  I never felt the need to cleanse this world of its ills, not until she showed up. 

Times were good for me and my girlfriend, I was eighteen, she was sixteen, and the age of puppy love, as far as we were concerned, was over.  It was a deep attraction we had felt for each other, and with every passing day, it grew stronger.  Every day I would look into her big green eyes, and I would say "Gerald Michael Smith, you love her!  How does it feel?"  And every time I would answer myself in the same way, "Great!  It feels so great!"  My heart skipped every time I saw her, it jumped, almost leaped out of my chest, that it may touch her before I do. 

Her name was Tina, Tina Beauregard, though everyone called her Sugar, which I thought was better than "Beauregard," though I'm not really one to judge.  She had brown hair, which shone in the sun, it looked as if it glowed with a light all its own, it didn't matter how she wore it, it always looked good (though she usually wore it down, with a ribbon tied into it at the back.)  And as stated earlier, she had the biggest, greenest eyes I think I've ever seen, they sparkled when I looked into them, they made me feel at peace with myself, her most redeeming feature in my opinion.

And yes, my name is Gerald, which I always thought to be very embarrassing, everyone tells me it's a very good name, I've never personally believed that.  I tell everyone to call me Jerry, I guess nicknames are rising in popularity.  Tina calls me both, depending on what her mood is, she used "Gerald" when I did something wrong.  I still love her, even if she did call me by my hated first name.

We had met one day at a bus stop, I wrapped my car around a telephone pole and totaled it, and even though nothing was hurt in the crash except my pride, I was forced to rely on our cities shoddy public transportation system. 

I walked for the first time to the bus stop which sat just a block from my house and by rights, I should have, by this time, used the bench there at least once.  Anyway, I walked up to the bench, and I saw the most beautiful girl I had ever seen, (I don't think I need to tell you, it was Tina), she had her head in her hands, and she was crying softly to herself.  Now, I don't exactly consider myself a perfect gentleman, but I think many men would have been deeply touched by the scene.  I noticed even before I sat down, that she was a very tall girl, almost as tall as me, and I stood a solid 6 foot 3.  "A penny for your thoughts," I offered as a first impression, trying to be compassionate, but at the same time, keep my sense of humour plainly visible. 

"What?"  She asked, looking up, tears streaking her face, and those big beautiful eyes all puffed out and red. 

"I said, a penny for your thoughts," I repeated, and brandished a penny between my thumb and index finger.  I smiled at the joke, and pressed the penny into the seat beside her.

 "Oh," she said, "nothing, I was, just, well, nothing's wrong."  "Ah," I said, "Well, I admit I don't like to talk, but I'm awfully good at listening."  I took a seat next to her.  "I also take abuse rather well, so feel free to take out any excess aggression on me."  I said, smiling, trying to lighten the mood.  She smiled and let out a small laugh, and I was lost for just a split second as I saw her smile for the first time, as if flashing out of reality and into a dream.  It was such a perfect smile.

 "It's my new school," she continued, looking back down at the ground.  "Well, I don't like school much myself, but – "No," she interrupted, I mean, the uniform for the school, they didn't have my size.  They said I was too tall." 

Uniforms had been instituted in all the schools throughout the country at the turn of the 25th century, to keep teenage violence to a minimum and generally keep the esteem of High school students down, one of the acts of our now aging Queen.

 "You have a uniform."  I said, pointing to the pleated skirt and Forest Green sweater which she was currently wearing.  The school crest emblazoned on the sweater was unfamiliar to me, I'd seen a lot of school sweaters from a lot of schools, I'd been around enough to know all of them in the general area, but this crest was one I had never seen, it had to be one from a different part of town.   "This is from my old school," she continued, "they said I'll have to wear this instead, now I'll stick out like a sore thumb..." she trailed off and began to sob again.  "Well," I said, repeating myself, I couldn't really think of another word, I was still distracted by the beauty of the girl before me.  "I think this uniform looks better on you, it brings out your eyes."  I pointed to the green sweater, I really meant it.  Though I was trying to make her feel better, every bit of that statement was true; the sweater really did bring out her eyes.  "Thanks, that's sweet."  She said, cracking another brief smile. 

I offered her a handkerchief, which I always kept balled up at the bottom of my shirt pocket.  It was white, with my initials embroidered in one of the corners, some social worker bought it for me one year for Christmas, I thought it would be a little old fashioned carrying it around, but it did come in handy sometimes. 

"Thanks," she said, and gingerly took the cloth from my hand.  She dabbed her eyes, trying not to rub her makeup into the handkerchief.  "Is this your first day at the school with small uniforms?"  I asked, again, trying to lighten the mood and cheer her up.  "Yeah, I really don't want to go, they'll make fun of me for being so tall."  "I think you'll find that people who think they know everything, often know nothing.  Just ignore them, you know as well as I do they have no idea what they are talking about."  Sometimes I could be so philosophical.

"I think that's my bus," she said, pointing down the street at a sleek red and black bus.  Our city transit, though never on time, had, in my opinion, a very good colour scheme, and at least the outside of the buses were always clean.  "Here's your Hanky back," "That's Ok, you can keep, just incase you need something to dry your eyes on the way.  First impressions are important, and I'd feel really bad if you arrived with eye shadow running down your cheek." 

With another smile, she got on the bus, "Wait," I called to her, "Yes?"  She replied as she turned to face me.  She was on the bus steps, the bus driver looked impatient as he waited for her to board the vehicle.  "What's your name?"  I called, as the bus started to move slowly down the street.  "It's Tina," she said, hanging out the bus door.  "My name's Jerry, maybe I'll see you again sometime!"  I yelled down the street as the bus turned a corner and drove out of sight.

The whole encounter left me feeling, happy, very, very happy.  I really felt like I made a difference to her. 

I sat calmly waiting for the right bus to take me to my University, just sitting, thinking about everything and nothing, only half lucid, half in dreams, and half out.  It was a great feeling, I kind of wished my bus would never come, so I could just sit and live in this feeling forever.

But my bus soon rounded the corner, and I stepped aboard and paid the fee. I assumed that I'd never see her again. 

But the next day she was sitting in the same place, with a big smile and no tears.  She returned my handkerchief, cleaned better than I ever cleaned it.  We engaged in small talk, nothing interesting, at least to you, frankly it's none of your business. 

Anyway, soon enough I had found another car to drive, and started giving her rides to school every day.  Before you knew it, she started kissing me before she left my car every morning, not big wet sloppy kisses, just small ones on the cheek.  Weeks passed, we started spending more and more time together, after school, before school, I started driving over to her school and started eating lunch with her.  I even helped her with her homework, since I had already been through the whole high school experience (I had fast tracked my last two years, and got them done in one), I knew a lot of what she was doing, except the math, all it did was vex me. 

She introduced me to her four best friends one day, they were all in the same classes, and they always studied together.  Four girls she had gone to school with for several years now, they were all as energetic and full of life as Tina, though all with their own distinct characteristics.

First, Rachael Flint, everyone called her Rae for short, she had blonde hair, and stood 5 foot 3, though she seemed taller because she always wore high heeled shoes.  I guess she wanted to look more mature, or taller. 

Mary Harper, she had black hair, and she kept it cut shoulder length.  She was the smartest of the group, and read at a grade level higher than the rest; actually, she was able to help me out with my university level math, which always confused me to no end.  She wore glasses, though she tried to keep that fact hidden, and often went without them.  Everyone always told her that she looked fine, but much like me and my name, she never believed them.

Next, Terry Shaw, the "jealous" one.  She was the only other one besides Tina who was currently involved with a guy, and every time another girl got near her boyfriend, a guy by the name of Drake, (he's actually a pretty cool guy, he went to my University), she started to whine and hang off one of his arms.  It was the kind of relationship where you had to pity the poor guy at times, he often worried that Terry didn't trust him completely.  She had long blonde hair, cut to about the middle of her back, and she was also known for her high pitched voice, which didn't generally annoy me, but when she was crying and whining over some girl getting to close to Drake, her voice became bothersome. 

Finally, in the circle of five friends, there was Katie Holmes, whom everyone thought was easily the most physically active of all of them.  She was always taking part in sports at school, volleyball, basketball, track and field, you name it, she has probably tried it, and excelled at it I might add. She was a red head, and always kept her long hair in a ponytail.  She had a few freckles, which were clustered on her cheeks right underneath her eyes.                    

So that is how I became friends with Rae, Mary, Terry, Katie, and the love of my life, Tina.  I often think back to the day that I met them as one of the best days of my life.  I didn't have many friends, my compassionate attitude and live and let live policies never really encouraged other guys to try and make friendly contact with me, rather, they often hassled and teased me for not being "man enough".  It was alright though, Drake was a cool guy, as I said, he went to the same University as me, so we hung around together fairly often.  He didn't seem to mind the fact that I'd rather watch TV and listen to music than play a game of 1 on 1 basketball.  He always told me I should get out more, but aside from Tina, there was nothing outside my house that interested me, well, maybe that bar down the street.

Chapter 2

Our story begins at the start of the girls third year of high school, we were all sitting around at Terry's house; the girls were studying for an English test, Shakespeare.  I was sitting on the edge of a couch in the corner of the room, with Tina sitting beside me.  Drake and Terry were sitting at the other end of the couch; Terry was snuggling up real close to Drake as always, and was paying more attention to him than the book.  Mary had her head buried in her copy of the book studying furiously for the test.  "You know Terry," Mary said, looking up from the book, "you won't pass the test if you don't read the book."  "Yeah," Tina added, looking up at me, "The guys are here because they've read this and can help us study."  "I'd like to think of myself as more of a cheerleader," I said, smiling down at Tina.  That warranted a giggle from the girls, and Drake offered a high five for the sharp comment.  I was always making these smart little statements; I was getting quite good at it.

Tina flipped the page of the text, which incidentally was Shakespeare's "Hamlet."  "Shakespeare is so confusing," Rae said, looking up from her copy of the book. "Why can't they speak regular English?  "Shakespeare meant his plays to be watched, not read," I said, "Studying the play's drain the life from them."  "I think these things would still be really boring, even if someone was reading them to me."  Katie said.  "Oh really?" I exclaimed standing up off the couch and moving to the middle of the room. 

I struck my most Shakespearian pose, feet shoulder width apart, one hand outstretched, the other clutched to my chest.  "To be or not to be, that is the question.  Whether't is nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles."  I used the sappiest accent I could, and embellished every word.   I would have continued, but Rae lobbed one of the pillows on the chair beside her at me.  It was on target, hitting me right in the face and halting my speech.  "We get the point already," she said, as Tina giggled away at the sight of me getting hit with the pillow.  I returned to my seat and tossed the pillow back at Rae, she caught it and placed it back on the seat.  I returned to Tina's side and resumed reading along with her.  I was starting to read one of my favorite lines, "I have heard of your paintings to well enough...." when it started to happen. 

The room started to shake, back and forth, very violently.  "It's an earthquake!"  Katie yelled as she got up off the spot where she had been laying and looked for something to hold onto.  My immediate thought was that it was an earthquake too, but when Mary's tall glass of water failed to spill, I bagan to think.  "No, it isn't an earthquake!" I yelled over the rumbling, Tina wrapped her arms around my shoulders and held tight.  I knew what an earthquake felt like, I had been in a rather large one a few years back.  They shook violently left and right, they make everything fall shelves, and then the shelves fall off the wall, they cause great destruction, but this one didn't.  It was as if everything in the room swayed together, except all of us.  "What's going on?" Rae yelled, "I don't know, just hold onto something!"  I yelled.  The shaking became more and more violent, Tina clutched at my arm as I tried to anchor myself to the couch.  I gripped the arm of the sofa with all my strength, and wrapped my other arm around Tina's waist, the shaking became so strong I was sure the couch would start to move around the floor, but it didn't.  It was like the house was moving as one, and shaking us up severely in the process.  "Just hold on!"  Drake yelled, Terry had climbed onto his lap, and had her arms were wrapped around his neck.  Mary and Katie were in each others arms on the chair across from me, every one of the girls was screaming at this point. 

There was a noise, like a hundred souls screaming at us, moaning and yelling, form the walls, from all around us, and it was getting loud.  It became louder and louder, the shaking was becoming worse and worse.  Just as it seemed the house was going to shake itself to the ground, everything went silent.  It all stopped, the horrendous noise, the violent shaking, it all stopped.  "What the hell was that?"  Drake asked me, as Terry lessened her grip on his neck and slowly slid back into her seat.  "I don't know, damn weird though."  I replied.  I was sure that wasn't the end of it, it was too weird of an occurrence to just end so suddenly.

My suspicions were proven accurate, it wasn't over.  A bright light appeared under the front door, an intense light, white, and hot.  I could feel the heat on my face from whatever was on the other side.  "What's going on?!"  Tina asked me, tightening her grip on my arm.  "I wish I knew, Sugar," I replied.  The light became brighter and brighter, and a hum became audible.  "Stay close to me."  I Said to Tina, she slid closer down the couch. 

The door flew open and broke off one of its hinges.  Everyone jumped, I thought Tina was going to jump right into my lap, which was very out of character for her.  Though she often acted it, if only to make me feel stronger, she was never a weak person.  But when that door flew open, I saw a look in her eyes that could only be described as fear. 

Where the door stood now stood a beautiful woman.  She had flowing blonde, almost white hair, and she was wearing a very elaborate evening gown, which sparkled in that brilliant white light, which didn't fill me with fear, but with, well, with joy.  A feeling of true joy pervaded my body, and all of the fear seemed to melt away.  It was surely an angel standing there, it could be nothing less. 

I tore my gaze away from the vision at the door and looked around the room.  Everyone was standing, even Tina had left my side and was now standing in front of me.  They were all staring at the woman at the door.  I stood beside Tina; she reached for my hand and held it tight, but never took her eyes off the woman.  I returned my gaze to the figure at the door, this was getting very strange, very fast. 

"I am the Earth."  The woman said.  Her voice, like everything else, was very soothing and calm, which only added to my "angel" theory.  "What should we do?"  Tina said, pulling her gaze from the door.  "D," I said, which was what I called Drake, "Let's go talk to her."  "Right," he said, separating himself from Terry.  "Don't be too long!"  Terry wailed, tears already welling up in her eyes.  "Don't worry," Drake said to her, in his most sympathetic voice, "Everything will be fine."  "Be careful Jerry," Tina said to me.  "I will Sugar." 

Drake and I stepped forward, we walked until we were right in front of the apparition.  "I am the Earth."  It repeated.  "What do you want?"  I said, in a non threatening, yet strict tone of voice.

"To free you from evil."  She said, in an even more soothing tone.  She waved her hand before us, and the room melted away.  It disappeared, dissolved from around us, and instead was replaced by a bright light.  It surrounded us, we were existing inside the light that was once outside the door. 

"I have been infected with evil," she continued, "What does that have to do with us?"  I asked.  "They will be my warriors, those five girls." The spirit said, pointing at the five girls.

"Wait a minute!"  Drake and I said in unison.  "You're going to send my girl into war with evil!"  Drake continued, "does it look like she's ready to fight evil, she was crying at the sight of you!" 

"Yeah!"  I added.  "I know Tina can probably kick evil's ass, but I'm not about to sit by and do nothing while she tries to save the world!"  Tina was one of those "fighters" I guess you could say.  She was a black belt in some form of martial art that I couldn't pronounce, and she often stuck up for people at her school.

"For my spirit to be freed, the powers of peace, justice, virtue, purity, and love must be given to the 5 chosen ones, to drive back the evil, and save the planet.  You five girls have been chosen."  I must have looked concerned, or afraid.  "And you two need not fear the safety of the girls, those who have the will to receive these powers, will gain the ability to defend themselves."  She said, in a more serious voice this time.  "I have chosen these five because they have it inside them to be great.  In the future, I see all of them in positions of power, receiving respect from all the world.  Gentlemen, these are no ordinary girls."

Drake and I looked at each other, and then behind us at the five girls, who were all looking at each other with somewhat confused looks on their faces.  I knew they were out of earshot, so they didn't hear that last statement, I wondered if I should tell Tina.

"It can no longer wait," the spirit said, as Drake and I returned to our girl's sides.  "Approach, Terry Shaw."  Terry inched away from Drake, very slowly, and stood before the Earth spirit.  She was shaking, it was fairly obvious this was terrifying her.  "To you, the power of love."  The spirit said, as she reached forward and brushed Terry's hair away from her face.  Terry cringed away from the spirits hand, she looked like a little girl again, being punished for spilling a glass of milk.  "It's Ok Terry," Drake said, I could see he was fighting the urge to run to her side and console her.

The spirit produced a broad sword, seemingly from thin air.  It simply appeared from nowhere, it looked like she had practice wielding it.   Terry backed up a step when she saw the sword.  It was intricately engraved, with a hilt that was crested with rubies and an assortment of other precious stones. 

"Be not afraid child," the spirit said, "Please, approach."  Terry once again walked towards the spirit.  "To you, the power of love!"  She thrust the sword at Terry, stopping it just an inch from her forehead.  "Hey, watch what you're doing!" Drake blurted out.  The spirit ignored him and kept focused intently on the ceremony she was performing. 

As the spirit held the sword to Terry, a symbol began to glow on her forehead.  "The love rune, the power has entered her body, she is now the warrior of love." 

Terry collapsed in a heap on the floor, "Terry!"  Drake yelled and started for her limp body.  It looked like he was going to tackle the spirit, so I lashed out and grabbed his shoulder, "Wait!" I said, "I think she's alright, look!"  I said, pointing to Terry, she had started to rise to her feet, she had her hand to her head, and though she looked groggy, she was otherwise alright.  I let go of Drake's arm and he ran to her side and took her arm.  Any doubt of the love between the two was put to rest by the scene, Drake carrying her away from the spirt and lying her down, being careful not to cause her any more discomfort.  It took several minutes for Terry to fully recover, and even then all she could do was sit in disbelief.

"Tina Beauregard, approach!"  Tina started forward.  "Sugar," I said, "Yes Jerry," "just be careful alright."  She held my hand and kissed me on the cheek, "I will."

She stepped in front of the spirit, chin held high, standing tall, not showing an ounce of fear, just like I'd come to expect from her.  "To you, the power of justice!"  Again she thrust the sword forward, and, like with Terry, a symbol appeared on her forehead.  "The Justice rune, the power has entered her."  Tina fell to one knee, and I quickly rushed to her side, and helped her to her feet.  "See, no problem," she stuttered as I walked her back to the group.  She sat for a minute as I rubbed her back, trying to comfort her.

The process was repeated with the other three girls, Mary received the power of virtue, Katie received peace, and Rae received purity.  I helped them back and sat them down while they recovered there senses. 

When they were all standing again, the Earth spirit approached us.  "Gerald Smith, Drake Conner, you will be their guardians.  Your job will be to protect these warriors as they perform their duties."  We walked forward, and briefly glanced at each other.  I'm not sure what I saw in D's eyes, but it wasn't fear.  It looked more like satisfaction, perhaps he was happy he'd still be able to protect Terry.  "Kneel," the spirit instructed, which we did.  I knelt down to one knee and Drake did the same.  The spirit touched each of our shoulders with the sword, I suddenly felt light headed.  "To you Drake, I give the power of Strength, and to you Gerald, the power of courage."  I felt my forehead get hot, and saw a red glowing X appear on Drake's forehead.  I assumed some kind of symbol had appeared on my forehead also.  I have no idea what it felt like for the girls when they were receiving their power, or gifts or whatever, but I suddenly felt unable to move at all, or maintain my balance.  I crashed to the floor, and though I was conscious, all I saw in my head was images of people, climbing mountains, standing on podiums at the Olympics, any number of others, and I sensed a pattern throughout, it was that which now surged through my entire being, courage.  I felt I could do anything, I could slay dragons, eat fire, look the devil himself in the eye and laugh. 

I was drawn back to reality, and was aware that I was face down on the floor, if you could call it a floor.  Remember we were inside some sort of light, and the ground was just some point that we could walk on inside the light. Tina rushed to my side and helped me to stand, Terry did the same with Drake, I could only assume that he had just had a similar experience, he looked as confused as I felt at that point. 

Several minutes passed before the spirit spoke again, but when she did, for some reason, I felt an overwhelming sense of respect for her, more so than before.  "My children, you have been given great gifts.  Over the next several days, you will feel more alive than you have ever felt, and you will feel more compassion for your fellow man than you have ever felt possible."  "Sounds like a real blast," Rae said, smiling.  "You will notice physical changes as well, though the magnitude of these changes will not be known to you for several weeks.  And do not stray from your goal, evil will soon know who you are, and will target you."  "What, do you mean muggers will come busting down my door?"  I asked, in a somewhat sarcastic tone.  "This is evil much worse than the evil that is in the hearts of normal men.  These will be truly corrupt people, cults, gangs, hate groups, and they will all be drawn to you, as you will be compelled to find them, and fight them."  Mary cleared her throat and began to speak. "I'm not too sure about thi...." Before she could finish her sentence, the spirit disappeared, and we started to fall.  I know that I had said we were in a place made of light, and to fall we would have to be some place of altitude, but it certainly felt like we were falling.  My stomach traveled up to somewhere near my Adam's Apple.  I struggled to maintain my grip on Tina's hand as we plummeted down to wherever.  I closed my eyes, I felt like I was going to be sick, I felt Tina's hand slip out of mine and her screams become further away.

Chapter 3

I opened my eyes to find myself back on the couch with Tina's head in my lap, she was face up, and still asleep, so don't get any ideas.  I brushed a hand thru her hair and she stirred.  "What happened?" She said, brushing her hair back behind her ear with her hand.  "I don't know," I replied, "My head is spinning, I feel like I got hit in the head a bit too hard.  I haven't upset you in the past few minutes have I?"  "I don't remember, but judging from our position, I don't think so."  She sat up and straightened out the wrinkles from her shirt, she sat up and held my hand again. 

Everyone else was asleep, and I was starting to get some of my memories of the past few minutes back.  My hand immediately to my forehead, I had to feel for that symbol, whatever it was.  "Is it still there?"  "What?"  Tina said, rubbing her eyes.  "That symbol, is it still there?"  "What symbol?  Oh!"  It seemed Tina's memories were starting to come back as well, she started to frantically rub her forehead searching for the symbol tat once glowed there.  "It's Ok, there's nothing there," I said, grabbing her hands.  "Good, you're Ok too."  She said. 

It was about then that Terry woke up, and I assumed she would start her crying routine, but for some reason, she didn't, she looked around, and for once in her life, held back the tears.  Drake was still passed out beside her, and she started to rub one of his shoulders.  "Drake, are you alright?"  She said, in, actually, a very mature sounding voice.  "Yeah," Drake mumbled in a very groggy voice, I guess he was coming to.  "Is that mark still on my forehead?" Drake asked, *sitting up.  "No, what about me?"  Terry said, in almost the same voice that the spirit used to talk to us, now that I think about it.  "It's gone," Drake mumbled, he looked like he had the same migraine that was starting to come over me.  My head was pounding, I felt dizzy.  The other girls started to wake, I walked over and helped Katie off the floor and into my seat on the couch, Tina put a hand on Katie's shoulder and tried to comfort her as I went to check on Rae and Mary.  They were both rubbing there foreheads too.  "Don't worry, the symbols are gone.  Are you two alright?"  A placed a hand on either one of their shoulders.  They nodded, I patted them on the shoulder and walked back over to Tina.  Katie moved to get up, "It's alright," I said, and took a seat on the floor in front of Tina.

"So anyone wanna tell me what the hell just happened?"  I asked the group.  My headache was getting worse and my memories of the past few minutes were still a bit sketchy.  "Was it a dream?"  Mary asked, as she held her head, obviously suffering from a headache also.  "I don't think it was a dream."  Katie responded.  "I remember it better than I would a dream, but what did happen?"  A silence came over the room, what did happen?  I refused to believe that the spirit of the earth just came down from heaven, or up from the ground, or wherever, and gave us all mystical powers to defend against, and defeat evil.  It sounded absurd even as I thought it.  But I wasn't lying to myself, that is what I remembered.  "Well, what does everyone else remember?"  I asked. 

I listened as everyone said exactly what I remembered happening, though some hesitated because of the frivolity of the story.  "I think we all need some sleep, reading Shakespeare has probably led to some pretty weird day dreams." I said.   "I agree with Katie," Rae said, "I remember it too well for it to be a dream."  "Well I can't believe that it actually happened, can you?"  "Well, no, but," "Well, then until something more tangible turns up to verify our little 'experience', then as far as I'm concerned, it was a dream, nothing more.  Besides, that 'spirit' said the next few days would be the best of our lives, and right now it feels like a truck ran over my head."  No one offered any further protest in the argument, I think, deep down everyone felt the same way I did about the whole situation.  "Does anyone need a ride home?"  Drake said, holding up his car keys.  All the girls, except Terry, responded, we were at her house after all.  "Alright, Jerry, can you take Tina and Rae?"  "Yeah, just like always."  We all met at Terry's house, every Friday night for the past six months or so, and we established the first night who drove who home, I take Tina and Rae, because I pretty much insisted on driving Tina home, you can call me over protective if you want, but I still insisted.  Rae came with me because she lived in the same area of town as Tina.  Drake took Mary and Katie back to the apartment complex the two of them have lived in for years.  Mary with her parents in apartment no.184, and Katie with her father (her mother, sadly, died years ago in a plane crash), in apartment no.125.  Drake still insisted on telling me who I needed to drive home every week however. 

Tina opened the passenger door of my 2488 Ford Casanova and stepped in.  I felt kind of weird driving a used twenty five year old POS, but at least I had a car now.  Rae sat down in the left side passenger seat, did up her seat belt, and looked like she went back to sleep, her hair fell into her face as she shifted her head on the headrest. 

Mary and Katie piled into Drake's sleek, new sports car.  See, Drake's parents were what you call exceedingly wealthy, and he always got a brand new car every year.  He promised me he'd give me that one when the time came for his new one this year.  Drake and I stared at each other for a moment, this was the first time we had alone with each other the whole night. 

"Alright, the girls can't hear, now honestly, what do you think happened?"  Drake asked me.  "Hell if I know," I replied, "Just between the two of us though, I don't believe for a second that it was actually a dream."  "Yeah, I'd have to agree with that one," Drake said, "Anyway, see you tomorrow dude."  Drake said, holding his hand up for a hi five.  "Yeah, see ya D," I held up my arm and we Hi fived, I patted D on the back as he turned to his car and stepped in.  "We going to Smithee's tomorrow?"  Drake yelled to me as I opened the driver side door of my car.  Smithee's was a bar that Drake and I frequented, and almost every Saturday, we spent at least two or three hours playing pool.   "Yep," I replied, "I still owe you for beating me so bad last week."  "Alright, see ya."  He said as he slammed his door.  I saw Katie's arm slide out of the left passenger side window, she waved goodbye as the car zoomed off. Tina responded by hanging halfway out her window and waving with both her arms.  Katie and Tina had been friends for years, they'd known each other long before Tina met the other three.  I think the order she met them was Katie, Rae, Terry and then Mary, since Mary was always in special advanced classes all through her schooling.  Tina slid back into her seat and did up her seatbelt as I opened my car door.  "Alright," I thought to myself, "If you can hear this Earth Spirit, see this girl right here beside me?  Well, you make sure that this 'evil' doesn't hurt a hair on her head, and I'll walk through hellfire and brimstone to help you free yourself.  Can you promise me that?  Please?" 

I finished my prayer to whatever had interrupted our study session and sat down behind the steering wheel.  "Are you alright, I mean, really alright."  I asked Tina, my head was still pounding, and I always felt awful when Tina was suffering.  I placed a hand on her cheek and moved her head so our eyes met.  "Yeah, I am, really," Tina said, kissing me on the cheek and  resting her head on my shoulder.  "Good" I replied as I threw the car into gear and pulled away from Terry's large two story house.  I looked back, and sure enough, Rae had fallen asleep, this must have been a rough experience for her.

When we were on the road, about halfway through the five minute drive back to Rae's house, Tina drifted off to sleep also, I was as much alone as I could be right at that moment, Rae asleep behind me and Tina asleep resting against my shoulder.  I suddenly realized how small my car must be if Tina could have her seatbelt done up and rest comfortably against me.  Damn I needed a real car.

Tina was even beautiful when she was asleep, she cuddled up closer to me.   I felt her breath against my arm, those small, almost non existent breaths.  I could hear them, they weren't snores or wheezes, but small little inhales which soothed me and slowly ridded me of my pounding headache.  It was just further proof that I truly loved "everything" about Tina. 

I thought back to the prayer I offered to the Earth Spirit, I didn't know if there was even a spirit there to hear, but I couldn't lose Tina, not for anything, so I had to try and reason with whoever was there to listen. 

I heard the wind howl outside my window, it was actually loud enough to almost wake the two girls.  I checked my speed, it wasn't anywhere near fast enough to warrant the sound of the howling wind.  Maybe the wind had picked up, but I don't think it would have that much.  I slowed the car slightly, the sound didn't change at all.  It was becoming a bit of a concern to me, what with my girlfriend beside me and one of her best friends in the back seat, I had more than my own well being to worry about. 

The wind screamed, it was only a minute to Rae's house, it shouldn't have been much of a problem, but I felt the wind pushing me over to the side of the road, I decided I should pull it over and wait out the storm. 

The small jolt from the stop woke the two girls.  "What's up Jerry?"  Tina asked as she looked up at me.  "Do you hear that?" I asked her, "It sounds like a hurricane outside.  Listen."  "Yeah, it must have got really windy since we left Terry's."  Rae said from the back seat.  I felt the car start to rock and the wind gust stronger and stronger.  "Stay in the car, I'm gonna go check it out." I said, undoing my seatbelt.   "No wait," Tina spurted, "maybe you should stay here, it's only wind."  "Sugar, I'll be fine, don't worry".  I held her hand to my lips and gave her a small kiss on the back of her hand.  "Just stay here, you'll be safe.  Remember to lock the door when I'm out."  "Be careful Jerry," Rae added from the back as I opened my door.  "I will Rae."

I immediately noticed that it was a lot harder to open my car with the wind pushing against it.  I stepped out into what must have been a hurricane.  Never had I been so staggered by a wind pushing against me.  I had to lean against the hood of the car just to stay standing.  I waited there until I heard the click of my door locking and set out in the direction of the wind.

Chapter 4

There was a small wooded area directly in front of me, and as odd as it sounds now, I felt that I needed to go there, not because of the wind, but I felt a strong compulsion to walk there.  I felt the wind whir around me, it pushed me up against the hood of the car, but I pushed back, I planted my feet and pushed hard against the wind until I started to move forward.  I put my hands out in front of me and fought the torrent baring down on me.  I crossed the road, slowly, but surely, I placed one foot in front of the other and crossed that damn road!   Fought my way down into a ditch on the other side of the road, down one side and up the other, there was water running through the ditch and when I stepped to the bottom my foot sank down to the ankle in mud, the wind almost knocked me over.  I made it to the first tree, I jumped out and grabbed onto a low hanging branch and held on with all my strength.                 

"Why was I doing this?" I thought, "what made me get out of my car and walk over here?  I didn't think I would have ever had the courage to do this, not this.  Look at me, I'm holding onto a tree branch in a damn tornado." 

I was soon drawn from my endless line of self questioning when the unbelievably strong wind stopped dead.  Just dead, completely, not even a wind equal to Tina's breaths that not five minutes ago comforted a migraine headache out of my body.  I was dumfounded, but even with nothing to keep me here, I still felt an undeniable urge to venture further into the trees.  I couldn't help myself, and with one final deep breath, I let go of the tree branch and continued on.

I didn't really know what I was looking for, it was nearing midnight on a moonless night, and I was in a densely wooded area, I could barely see my own hands as I pushed through the wood.  As absurd as I knew this was, turning back never once crossed my mind, not for one shining instant did I consider going back to the safety of my car, to Tina's arms.  I pushed forward relentlessly as branches lashed at my face and arms, whatever was compelling me to do this, was starting to get on my nerves.  I wasn't finding anything, it was pointless to go on, but I did.

I reached an opening, a small field, I still couldn't see anything, but there were no trees, and the faint sound of running water was evident.  This, I felt, was the spot to stop, so I stopped.  I stood there in this dark field and waited for whatever it was that called me here.     

Suddenly my headache returned, like a freight train running through my head, it pounded inside me.  I dropped to my knees in pain, grabbing my head in my hands.  Wait, was this the way to be seen?  No, it wasn't.  I needed to stand, to present myself honourably, I needed to show courage.  I fought back the pain and stood up straight, hands at my sides, whatever was coming, I was going to be ready.

A light shot into the air before me, the same as back at the house, hot yet inviting, fearsome yet comforting.  I sensed the presence of that spirit again, I sensed another visit from the Spirit of the earth.  She melted into view, appearing from the light, appearing from the air in front of me.  "Why did you make me come here?"  I asked the spirit as I shielded my eyes from the light.  "Courage, you have asked something of me.  Something I have no control over."  "I asked you to watch out for Tina, why can't you do that?  You forced her into this, you should at least watch over her!"  I screamed the last few words of the sentence at the spirit.  I was truly upset, I felt like she wanted the benefits of having us fight her battles, as well as totally removing herself from any battles she might face.  "I gave you the power to protect the five chosen ones, I have been weakened by years of evil oppressing me, and cannot exert enough will to be of any good to you."  "Is that true?"  I asked in a considerably less harsh tone of voice.  "Yes."

I suddenly felt like such a fool.  "I'm sorry."  I said, deciding I might have to deal with this spirit being in my life for a while, and that being in her bad books this early on would be a bad idea.  "It is alright Courage."  I suddenly realized that it had been calling me 'Courage' for this whole encounter.  "My name's Jerry," I said, again placing a hand over my eyes to shield them from the intense light.  "You are my child now Gerald, and your name as my child, is Courage.  And, I have given you powers greater to that of the five girls, you must guard them as if you were there father."  "What if I can't do it?"  I didn't mean to sound like a weakling, but it sounded like a somewhat herculean task, especially for a guy like me.  "Then they, and you will die.  There is no room for failure."  "Death?!  What kind of deal is that?  We win and you go free, we lose, what, you pick another group of poor souls to take our place?"  "No," she said, in her monotonous, soft voice.  "If you fail, I too will die.  I have out too much of myself into you and your friends, if that part of me dies, I will soon follow."  Once again I had put my foot in my mouth, I guess I should wait to hear the whole story in the future.  "I know you are scared Gerald, that is why I have dubbed you Courage, for you must be strong.  For I see the love in your heart for Tina, and for the others.  The friendship you hold for Drake, and I see that all of this is flashing through your mind as you consider what you must now do."  I had to admit, she had my problems for the moment pegged.  "Please know, that I m always beside you, and that I love you, Courage."  Suddenly my headache returned, worse than it had ever been.  The wind returned, it hit me hard and knocked me to the ground.  I writhed in pain, it felt like someone was kicking me in the temples, it felt like my head was going to explode.  The wind howled so loudly I couldn't hear my own screams, the light so bright, I couldn't see the ground I was laying on.  I think it was then that I decided to pass out, though perhaps 'decided' is the wrong choice of words.

I awoke to the sound of a car door slamming and Tina sitting down beside me.  As my eyes focused, I realized I was once again behind the wheel of my car, which was now parked In Rae's driveway.  "Hey sleepyhead."  Tina quipped.  "What happened?"  I asked in utter confusion.  "I went to make sure Rae got inside alright, I guess I must have talked to her a bit too long, you must have dozed off.  Will you forgive me?"  I had often criticized Tina on her often long winded conversations with her friends, I didn't really mind, but most of the time the conversations degraded into talking about fashion trends and, you know, other 'girl' stuff.

 "Uh, sure, I guess."  I didn't even fully register her comment, I was still dwelling on what had just happened.  "Did I stop between here and Terry's house?"  It must have sounded like a stupid question, Tina got that 'what are you blabbing about' look on her face.  "Yeah, when the wind picked up, but it died down and we continued here.  Is there something wrong?"  "No," I lied, I didn't want to confuse Tina anymore than I had to, it had been a long night and I knew I wouldn't want to be bothered with another story, so I figured she wouldn't either.  "Shall we get going?" I asked, "Yeah," Tina nodded and yawned, she snuggled up close to me.  She always did such a good job of comforting me.  I shifted the car into reverse and backed out the driveway.

Chapter 5

I lost myself into my own mind again as I navigated the road leading to Tina's house.  Why did this spirit torment me? Both times when we've met, it seemed exactly like a dream.  Why couldn't she give me something tangible to go on.  And it was so traumatic, pounding headaches, earthquakes, hurricane winds, was it just to get my attention?  She had it, anything that threatened Tina's life got my attention in a big way.  I'd never cared for anyone the way I cared for Tina, not since my parents.  Not since that day long ago, when my parents died.

It's funny really, where you can ride a train of thought.  No matter how I tried to repress the memories of my parents, every so often they came flooding back into my head.  Mom was such a caring person, always picking me up when I fell, feeding my every need.  I didn't really remember her physical features, only the eyes, those dark purple eyes.  I remember them looking down at me from heaven, pacifying me, much the same as Tina's do now.  And my father, such a loving man, no one had ever been more proud to be a father as him.  But it had been so long, that all I had to remember him by was feelings, and one faded picture of him with my mother while she was pregnant with me.

An unfortunate side effect with remembering my parents was remembering the tragedy that stole them from me.  One moment in my life that I would never forget.

My father was a scientist, a damn good one too.  He had long since given up trying to find a lab that allowed him to carry out his experiments at his own pace, the way he wanted, so he worked free lance out of our basement. 

Everyone wanted him to do there most delicate experiments, and made him a very rich man for his troubles.  I remember my childhood years spent in what I thought was an enormous house.  I never remember wanting anything and not getting it. 

Since my father was known for accepting big money jobs, a lot of questionable customers came calling, such was the one that knocked on our door one morning.  He was dressed in black, with very dark eyes and a long black ponytail, he looked to be around twenty five. I remember he gave my father his initials instead of a name, he called himself DB.  He presented my dad with a very easy task, and a very big sum of cash.  What was my father to do?  He started on the job in our basement the next day, he had the formula mixed to perfection in a matter of hours.  The job was so simple, he realized what it was, even though the contract was worded to keep the true uses of the formula a secret. 

My father was strict about staying on the right side of the law, and he was aware that the formula he was mixing could be used as a powerful, and addictive narcotic.  I remember him explaining why drugs were bad and why he was turning down the substantial paycheck. 

He immediately called the man who hired him and refused to deliver the formula.  They told him they would live to regret it.  DB acted like such an intelligent man when he came to the house, but this time, he was wrong.

It was evening, I was applying crayons to one of my father's science books, sometimes I could be such a brat.  I remember my father grabbing the book away and scolding me just before they kicked the door in. 

There were four of them, they were all carrying really big guns, and they were all shouting.  My mother grabbed me and pulled me up the stairs, I only heard some yelling and screaming before two loud bangs and the crash of glass hitting the floor. 

My mother and I huddled shivering in the closet in her bedroom.  I heard the footfalls of the group coming up the stairs and throwing open all of the doors.  My mother tightened her grip on me, I heard her sobbing, and realized that I myself was crying.  Not loudly, but I felt the hot tears streaking down my face. 

It took no time for them to find us, they showed no pity as they pulled my mother off of me and dragged her to the bed.  One of them hit me hard in the side of the head with the butt end of his gun and I fell to the floor.  Somehow I remained lucid for the next minute or so, long enough to see three of the men hold my mother down while the fourth pointed his gun straight at her forehead.  Just as my vision blacked out and I fell unconscious, I heard a loud bang and a red wave flow from the back of my mom's head. 

Chapter 6

I felt a single tear rolling down my face as I pulled into Tina's driveway, all these years and the memories from that night still make me cry, was it a sign of weakness?

"You're thinking about it again aren't you?"  Tina asked as she saw another tear swell and roll down my cheek.  "Yeah, I can't help it.  It pains me every second of every day Tina."  "It's normal to feel that Jerry, it was such a traumatic experience." 

I'd confided in Tina about four months before about my parents.  By the end of my accounts she was crying her eyes out, which is why I don't tell the story to very many people.  I needed to keep the pain inside of me and not let anyone else feel it.  Everyone knew something had happened to my parents when I was young, but I'd never been specific.

"It's not only about my folks anymore."  I said to Tina, "I have you to worry about now too.  With all this ridding the world from evil garbage floating around, what if you were taken from me with nothing for me to remember you by?  I don't think I'd be able to deal with that."  "Jerry, I can't promise I'll always be around, but, if I am ever lost to you..." she reached into the glove compartment of my car and pulled out the knife I kept in their for 'safety' reasons.  I had a chronic fear of guns, as you could imagine, so if anyone tried anything I had to rely on that knife and my own two fists.

She brought the knife up to the back of her head and drew it across a long, thick lock of hair.  "You'll have this to remember me by."  She handed me the lock of hair and leaned in close to me.  Just promise me you'll remember me.  She gave me a deep, long kiss.  I put my hand around her shoulder and embraced her.  When she backed away, I looked long into those green eyes of hers,  "I promise." 

She opened her door and got out of the car.  "Bye Jerry." She said, I saw her eyes beginning to well up.  She wiped away a tear as it leaked onto her cheek. 

"If only words could describe the love I feel for you Tina Beauregard," I said, not trying to be overly dramatic.  "Sweet talker," she said as a smile poured over her face.  I knew all those sappy words of love always cheered her up.  With a final wave she turned and ran to her front door.  I returned the wave and started my car back up.  I took a quick glance at the hair in my hand, "I think I'll do something very nice with this hair," I thought to myself as I drove away from the curb.

Chapter 7

I pulled into the driveway of my provided 'living establishment'.  Since I had no living family and was living in an orphanage for most of my life, when I turned sixteen, I was provided a house here in town that was near a high school, and for after I graduated, a University was a short car (or bus) ride away.  All I had to do was pass all my classes and my way through school was already paid for.  It was a good deal, but before I met Tina, the house was so big and lonely. 

I walked in and put my keys on the table by the door like I do every night, I'd seen a fancy key holder in the crafts store in town a few days prior, I'd considered buying it for an instant, but thought it would be too artsy for the decor of the rest of the house.  Every room in my house was dark and gothic, I'd painted the house black with dark shades of purple and red, every room, even the ceilings.  I made it represent my mood for most of the day.  I'd started to repaint my bedroom a deep forest green however, I guess something inspired me.

There were plenty of lights in the house too, Tina always turned them all on when she came over to 'brighten' up the house.  I preferred candles personally, they had a certain, allure.  They were all over the house, I kept matches and a single black candle at the door to light the rest of them when I walked in.

When the problem of lighting was solved, I poured myself a glass of orange juice and sat in my living room, reading a book by some horror writer, (Drake had passed it along to me and said it'd be worth reading, it wasn't).  I really had trouble associating with the main character, a man named Phillip, a father of two who watched, tied to a cross, as his daughters were sacrificed by a coven of witches.  The whole novel revolved around him being stalked by the witches as he tries to find a spell to kill them all.  I don't know, didn't seem scary to me.  I wasn't usually scared by this sort of thing, I already had plenty of things that scared me.

I finished the last page of the novel and set it down on the coffee table next to the couch I'd been sitting on, I think the day's events were much more interesting than any book.  I was convinced now that the spirit was real, and that for some reason it had picked us to save it from evil.  I also acknowledged that now Tina's life was in my hands, as was all the girl's, I just had a huge responsibility dumped into my lap.  There was one thing I knew however, I wasn't going to fail them, or myself.

I started to look at the lock of hair Tina had given me.  It was quite a gift, especially since her hair was the only thing she always liked about herself.  I separated it into two smaller strands of hair and set one aside.  I spent a good two hours elaborately braiding the other into a bracelet.  This way I'd have a part of Tina with me all the time.  I didn't like to brag, but by the time I was finished, the bracelet looked very well done, I slipped on my wrist and admired my handy work for a few minutes.           

I put my feet up on the couch and closed my eyes.  I'd stopped sleeping in my room for the moment.  (I was painting it, remember?)  As I drifted off to sleep, visions of the Earth spirit, and Tina, and my parents all ran through my head, it had been a very odd day.

Chapter 8

I awoke suddenly to the sound of my telephone ringing.  What time was it?  11:30!  Oh damn!  It was probably Drake wondering where the hell I was.  I ran over to the phone and grabbed the receiver, "Hello?"  I said.  "Dude, you ready to go?"  I heard Drake say on the other end.  "Yeah, I'll meet you there in a half hour."  "Alright cool, see ya."   The receiver clicked as Drake hung up.  I hated it when I slept in, especially without blowing out all the candles first, they'd all burned themselves down to nothing, I'd have to replace them all, but later on though, I had some pool to play.  I ran upstairs and jumped into the shower, (I did take my clothes off first, I just do not feel the need to describe it).  I ran into my bedroom and got changed, a black long sleeve shirt, black jeans, and a black cap that I always wore backwards, with some of my bleached blonde hair pulled out of that open section where you change the size.  I always wore black, Tina said it made me look gloomy, I completely agreed..

My car was just as I'd left it the night before, fortunately I remembered to turn the lights off, something I'd often forgotten to do.  I jumped into the front seat and buckled my seatbelt. "Why do I do this to myself?  Why rush around to Terry's to study and Smithee's every Saturday?" I asked myself as I backed the car down the driveway and sped down the road.  Maybe one of these days I'll have an answer to that question.

Drake was waiting outside Smithee's when I got there.  He walked to my car after I had it parked properly.  "You ready for another whipping?"  He asked as I got out.  "That was luck man, I think I'll be more of a challenge than you're expecting."  He wrapped his arm around my shoulder and we walked through the large double doors on the outside of the bar. 

Smithee was the nickname the bar's owner, a Mr. Lincoln Smith.  He had picked up during his time in the Marines, I guess he thought it would make a good bar name.  Drake knew him rather well, his dad was co-owner of the bar, (actually, Smithee just borrowed a very large sum of money from Drake's dad to get the bar started), so we got to use the pool tables for free.  "Hey Smithee!"  Drake said, throwing a wave in the direction of the aging man behind the bar.  "Hello Drake, you got the tables all to yourself for now."  Smithee reached under the counter and handed Drake a rack of pool balls as he spoke.  "Cool man," Drake replied.  We walked through the swinging doors in the back of the bar to the room set aside for the pool tables.

"I saw her again."  I said to Drake as he set the balls up on the table.  "Oh really?"  Drake replied, "I am assuming you're talking about that spirit thing from last night?"  "Of course."  I replied.  "It was even weirder than the first time.  As I was driving the girls home last night, there was this wind that forced the car to the side of the road.  For some reason I got out and walked in the direction of that wind."  "HA!"  Drake exclaimed, "this coming from the guy who wouldn't drive a car for a year 'cause he was too scared to drive." 

Though I didn't appreciate being reminded about the whole car thing, he had a point.  I was notorious for being afraid of things a guy my age just shouldn't be afraid of.  Besides confined spaces and the dark, I had almost any phobia you could name, especially heights. 

"I was surprised as you man."  I continued.  "Anyway, she told me that she was too weak from giving us whatever she gave us that she can't actually assert her will in this plane of existence."  "I guess that means she won't be giving us anymore help."  Drake said.  "I guess not." 

We started our game, and just like every week, Drake let me start.  He thought he was so much better than me, but in reality, he only won about six out of ten matches.  We got through three games or so before a another group started to use one of the other five pool tables in the room.  Among them was a rather small man, he had a bottle of beer in his hand and was laugh heartily upon their entrance to the room. 

After another two or so games, another group of tattooed biker types came in and started to use the table beside the other group.  They were really a site to behold, three guys, one tall and skinny, one about my size, and one very tall, very big one.  They were more blue than flesh tone, all with a very large glass of  beer.  Drake and I decided to continue in silence, since we'd been talking about all of the rather odd occurrences of the past 24 hours. 

Another half hour or so went by before things started to fall apart before us.  See, I guess those big guys valued their beer over the well being of strangers, in fact, I was soon certain of that fact.  The short man from the first group that came in was starting to really enjoy himself, it was probably artificially induced, he was starting to lose his inhibitions.  He was trying to line up a particularly difficult shot, while standing on the side of the pool table closest to our biker friends I might add.  As he drew his cue back he accidently knocked over one of the oversized beer mugs that had been sitting on the edge of the pool table.  "Oh man, I'm sorry."  He said to the biker.  The largest one turned around.  "Sorry don't get my damn beer back now does it?"  The biker growled.  He lashed out and grabbed the man's shirt, lifting him about a foot off the ground

Drake and I ducked behind our pool table.  "Oh damn!"  I exclaimed.  "We gotta help that guy!"  "What?!"  Drake said, "Those guys are huge!"  We were using whispered voices, but the urgency in which we talked was evident.  "I don't know why, but I feel like those guys need to be punished."  "For this?  Fuck that man, it's not worth it."  Drake exclaimed, holding me back.  "I have to go, stay here if you want!"  I said in the harshest whisper I could muster.  We both stood up from where we had crouched behind our table.  "If you're gonna risk your life for a stranger, then I'm gonna be there!"  Drake yelled as we jumped over the table and ran for the biker.

"Hey!"  I screamed at the large fellow in front of me.  "Put that guy down, it was an accident!"  I couldn't believe I was telling this man, who outweighed both me and Drake combined, what to do, I don't think he could either.  "What did you say to me?" He dropped the small drunk man on his ass and turned to face me.  "I said, leave that guy alone!"  I repeated, even more confused by my actions.  "Yeah, he only knocked over your beer, you can always buy more."  Drake said, stepping to my side.  "You boys are lookin' for an ass whippin' aren't ya?"  The biker said.  "No, we just don't wanna see anyone get hurt."  "Well, that's a damn shame."  The biker said in a calmer tone of voice.  He lashed out with his fist and contacted my right cheek, I backed up a few steps, but oddly enough, I didn't fall, it didn't even hurt.  I returned to my spot in front of him.  "This is your last chance friend."  Drake said.  "Let's get 'em boys!"  The biker shouted as the whole group descended on us. 

One took a swing at Drake with his pool cue and the big one in front of me took another shot at me.  Both of us ducked out of the way and returned the blows with a pair of punches to their chins.  That staggered the man in front me, but the one Drake hit went down like a ton of bricks and stopped moving.  "Damn!"  He exclaimed as he stared at the crumpled man at his feet.  The last biker, the tall thin one, rushed Drake with a barstool in his hands.  "Lets kick their ass!"  The large one said when he recovered from my punch.  He started to throw punches wildly, I expertly dodged all the attacks, much to my surprise. 

I saw the other biker smash the stool over Drake's head, it splintered into pieces at their feet.  Drake didn't even fall down, and he immediately  threw another punched and knocked the man to the floor.  I on the other hand was having a tougher time, my jaw was starting to ache from the first punch I was hit with, though not anywhere as much as I thought it would.  I was sure it wouldn't even leave a mark.  Though I was landing blows all over the bikers body, he wasn't falling.  "Dude!"  Drake yelled and tossed a pool cue over to me.   I dodged another punch and caught the pool cue.  With one swing, the cue squarely cracked over the big guy's head and dropped him. 

I tossed the broken end of the cue to the floor in front of the unconscious man, I couldn't believe what I had just done.  I knew I didn't have the nerve to stand up to most people, let alone a group of surly drunken bikers.  Drake was stunned also, he had been pummeled by two of the brutes, and had had a barstool broken of his head, but he came away without a mark on him.  Smithee burst through the swinging doors of the room.  "What the hell happened here?!"  "They stopped that guy from beating me up."  The small half drunk man who knocked over the beer quipped from behind the table he'd hidden behind for the entire fight.  "Really?  Well who's gonna pay for all this?"  "My dad will cover it."  Drake said.  Sometimes having rich friends could be very reassuring.  "He better.  Listen, you two kids better leave.  Something tells me these guys aren't going to be to happy when they wake up"  "Yeah D, let's get out of here.  I think we've made our point."  I said, motioning towards the door.

We'd almost made it to the door when Smithee beckoned to us again.  "Guys," he said, "here's a little something for helping that guy out."  He threw us each a bottle of beer.  "Cool, thanks man!"  Drake said.  Smithee, deep down, liked a good fight.  We left the bar and snapped open the beers.  I thought for a moment how odd it was that we were just rewarded with beer for breaking up a drunken brawl.  "Let's go to the overpass man, I think we need to talk."  I said to Drake.  The overpass was a graffiti ridden pedestrian bridge that span several rows of train track.  Drake and I often went there when there was something we needed to talk over, I think that little scene with the bikers qualified.

We arrived at the overpass and sat under one of the support beams, the same place we always sat.  "So what the hell was that?"  Drake asked me, referring to my standing up to the biker gang I'm sure.  "I don't know, I just felt a need to help that guy."  "He probably had it coming you know, he was pretty drunk."  Drake had a point.  Sure, we helped the guy that would have been hurt the worst, but he did bring it on himself.  "I'm more concerned with how we managed to win that fight.  That first punch looked like it was strong enough to take my head off.  I'm barely sore at all."  "I know," Drake replied, "when that punk broke that barstool over my head, it didn't hurt at all, like he never even did it." 

I finished my beer and chucked it across to the far side of the overpass.  It flew through the air and smashed into one of the support beams on the other side of the tracks.  "I'm just happy to still be talking man.  Say, you don't think that we won because of those weird powers we're supposed to have, do you?"  Drake looked at me with a very inquisitive look on his face.  "I don't know D, it was something.  I don't think I've ever taken a punch that well in my life." 

I looked down at my watch, it was 6:30, which was actually earlier than we were usually finished.   "D," I said, looking up at Drake, "I gotta get going, I think I'm gonna get a movie for me and Sugar tonight."  She'd been saying that she wanted to see 'A Clockwork Orange' for some time now, so I decided to surprise her with it tonight.  "Alright, see ya."  Drake said as I stood up and brushed the dirts off my pants.  Black jeans always showed the white dusty dirt off very badly, and it never completely brushed off, but I really didn't care. 

When I got back to my car at Smithee's, the police had shown up and were in the process of arresting the biker group.  I decided not to be seen by the officers, so I snuck into my car and drove out of the parking lot.  I wondered, "why would the police arrest those guys, Smithee's not the type to call the cops for a fist fight."  I guess they must have been really upset when they woke up.  I suddenly became very glad that we'd left when we did.  The video store was just a short drive away, I decided to put the incident out of my mind for the moment.

Chapter 9

The video store was charging way too much for an evening rental these days, but I was willing to pay it to surprise Tina.  It's the look in her eye when I do something like this, it's worth a little money and aggravation.  Besides, I was itching to see the movie myself.

As I drove, I entered a clearing and saw the Queens castle off in the distance.  It was an interesting decision to appoint a King and Queen to rule North America after the third World War.  It was turmoil, but at the same time, it ushered in a time of peace and tranquility with the coronation of Queen Elysia. 

The royal bloodline was started about 400 years ago, though records from that era were very sketchy.  The first Queen was daughter of the President of the United States, who was killed in the War.  Since it was our failing democracy that brought about the War in the first place, it was decided that the next of kin to the President would be made Queen, and that her bloodline would rule for all time.  That lasted about 50 years.  What people didn't realize was that bloodlines didn't survive 'forever', and the original bloodline of the royal family was snuffed out when the third Queen died.  The powers that be had the solution however, the Queen was to name her successor.  On her death bed, she named her best friends Grandson King.  And that has been the norm, for 350 years.  One King or Queen naming their friends to replace them. 

The current Queen had just recently celebrated her 50th birthday, the time was soon at hand when she would have to name her successor, she had just five years left.  She, at least for the next five years, is someone I did not want to know.  Imagine me as King, what a nightmare.

I pulled off the highway and five minutes later was pulling into Tina's driveway.  I walked up to the door with the movie hidden behind my back, I planned to unveil it with the usual exaggeration most had come to expect from me.  Tina knew I was coming and I fully expected her to rush tot he door like she always did, but when the door opened, it was Tina's mother standing there, and she'd been crying.  There was a long streak of makeup down her cheek, and her eyes were pink.  "Oh, hello Jerry."  She said.  Her voice was cracking, she was obviously very upset.  "What's wrong?"  I asked, my voice was flooded with concern "I walked in and placed a hand on her shoulder, trying to calm her down.  I suddenly realized why she might be crying.  "Is there something wrong with Tina?"  Now, I was starting to worry too.  I took off my hat and hung it on the hatrack beside the door.

"No, it's not Tina, it's Katie, something bad happened."  The Beauregard family had known Katie for years, again, her and Tina had been friends for years, so when something happened to her, (she played lots of sports, so she was in and out of hospitals with all kinds of injuries), the entire family got just as upset as they did when something happened to their own daughter.  "She's upstairs, you can go up there if you want."  I looked up the stairs, I assumed they were in Tina's bedroom. 

"Are you going to be alright?"  I looked at her with my most stern and honest look.  I didn't need a sugar coated lie to make me feel better at this point, I assumed I was about to hear a string of them when I saw the two girls.  "Yes I'm fine, really I am." Mrs. Beauregard said.  Satisfied that she was telling the truth, I rushed up the stairs two at a time until I reached the top.

When I got to Tina's bedroom, the door was open and I could hear talking and muffled sobs coming from within.  I knocked on the door as I opened it. Inside, I saw Katie lying on Tina's bed and Tina with a chair pulled up beside her.  Tina had her hand on Katie's shoulder and a box of Kleenex on her lap.  Katie was not in very good shape, she had a black eye.  Actually, it looked like she'd been hit very hard on the bridge of her nose, there was a large gash between her eyes, it was stitched up, but it probably accounted for the black eye.  She was wearing a sun dress, I noted that her knees were badly skinned, and patched up with large bandages.  Finally, she had a very badly split lip, it also had a stitch holding it together.  She looked like someone beat her up pretty badly.  I ran over and sat on the edge of the bed. 

"What happened?"  I exclaimed, holding Katie's hand in mine.  I addressed the question to Tina, it didn't look like Katie wanted to, or was able to talk about it.  "Someone jumped her on the way home from the mall this morning, they beat her up and took her money.  I called you  from the hospital but there was no answer."  "I was out with Drake all day.  Do the others know?"  Yeah, we were all at the hospital, we just got back about 15 minutes ago."  The policies for hospitals have been going down for years now, these days, if you weren't going to die in the next ten minutes, the discharged and summarily forgot about you.  It looked like it was a real fast 'treat and street' job was performed on Katie.  "Oh Katie, I'm so sorry I wasn't there."  "It's Ok."  Katie managed to choke out between sobs. 

I'll admit that I didn't really know the inner workings of the human mind, but there was something telling me that there was more to this.  Katie was a strong willed person, and didn't like being caught crying by anyone, especially any of her friends, and I've seen her hold back tears better than anyone I know, so when she cried that openly in front of us, there was something going on.  I wanted to know the whole story, Katie was my friend, and if there was something really wrong with her, I'd kill myself worrying if I didn't know what it was.

I sat holding Katie's hand for a few more minutes, I felt it her trembling, I couldn't stand the ignorance any longer.  "Katie, me and Tina are going outside for a second, alright?"  I asked in a calm, soothing voice.  "Gerald," Tina said, implying that I was being cruel in some way.  "It's alright Tina."  Katie squeaked.  She squeezed harder on my hand, "just don't be too long Ok?"  "I promise." I said, standing up and looking at Tina.  "Shall we?"  I said, waving my arms towards the door. 

Tina and I walked out of the room and into her parents bedroom across the hall.  I closed the door behind us and turned to face Tina.  "Alright, now tell me the whole story, what really happened to her?"  I tried not to sound upset, even though I was.  I was pissed off, at the world, at myself, at the bastard's that did this to Katie.  "You don't want to know Jerry, trust me."  I grabbed Tina's shoulders and made her look me in the eye.  "Yes, Tina, I do.  Something worse than what you told me happened, something a lot worse.  Look at your mother, she's inconsolable, now what happened?"  "Katie was," Tina hesitated, I knew it must have been really bad.  I moved one of my hands to Tina's cheek and wiped a tear off of her face.  "It's Ok, you can tell me."  "Katie was raped as well as beaten.  By three big guys."  My heart sank, Tina was right, I didn't want to know that.  I maintained my composure however, continuing with my line of questioning and tightening my grip on Tina's shoulder.  "Did she see them?"  There was a noticeable waiver in my voice as I spoke.  "They all took their turn, so yes.  There was a tall skinny one, on really big one, and one she said was about Drake's size.  She also said they were covered in tatoos, and the bigger one seemed to be in charge."  If there was ever I time I was rendered speechless, ever in my life, it was at that moment.  Tina had just described the very group of people Drake and I had dealt with at the bar.

Chapter 10

We returned to Katie's side and sat with her, though there was nothing I could think of to say to make her feel better.  In fact, very little was said between us we all sat in Tina's bedroom.  I found out why Katie was not at her own house, her dad was out of town, but apparently he was rushing back.  I sat and held her hand as she cried to herself, I couldn't think of anything else to do.  What the hell was going on here?  Was this what the spirit meant by the best days of our lives?  I certainly have had better days, and I was fairly sure that Katie would disagree with that statement.  I think that stupid spirit had a lot of explaining to do.

I sat with Katie for about an hour after that, then her father came and picked her up.  He was a very nice man, him and I liked to consider each other friends.  I helped Katie into the back seat and shut the door, Tina was standing on her front porch, visibly trying to hold back her tears.  "Thanks Jerry," John (Katie's father) said to me through his open car window.  "No problem. I'm sorry about this Mr. Holmes."  I didn't really know what to say to the man, but I felt I needed to apologize for the situation.  "You have nothing to be sorry for, you couldn't have stopped this.  Actually it was probably best that you weren't there, they just caught the men who did this, and they probably could have beat you up pretty good."  "I'd take a beating to prevent this, I'd take ten."  Katie had shut her eyes, though by rights, one was swollen shut most of the way.  I suddenly realized what bad shape she was really in, I knew she'd never recover from it.  "Mr. Holmes, I promise I'll watch out for her from now on, I swear it."  "Jerry, I don't expect you to be there for her all the time, besides," he leaned in closer to me, "you have someone right there you have to look after,"  He turned his glance to Tina, still standing on her porch with a worried look on her face.  "Promise me you'll do that."  "Yes sir."  I said.  Mr. Holmes always said the best thing for the situation, even when it was the absolute worst situation.  He closed his window and backed the car out of Tina's driveway.  I could only imagine what was going through his mind, sometimes people who hid their emotions as well as he did confused me.

I watched the car until it turned a corner and was gone.  I was still in awe of what had happened.  Should I tell Tina about Drake and I's little encounter with the rapists?  Of course I would, but maybe not tonight.  She'd been through enough tonight.  I walked up to her and wrapped my arms around her, she finally let the tears go, and broke down in my arms.  I just held her, still couldn't think of much to say.  She quickly became a total wreck, bawling uncontrollably and losing her balance, if she didn't have her arms around my neck, she probably would have fallen to the ground.  I tried desperately to calm her down, but she was inconsolable, so I decided to bring her to her room and let her cry.  I moved my hand to the small of her back and directed her toward the door, it was the longest two feet that I'd ever walked, that two feet from where I was standing to the door, but I knew I had to be strong, I had to be the one that didn't cry.

Tina and I made it to her room and I laid her down on her bed.  Like Katie before, I held onto Tina's hand and sat on the edge of the bed.  "They raped her Jerry, they raped her."  She said between the tears.  I felt so awkward, there wasn't one thing I could say that would make her feel any better, but I needed to say something.  "Tina, try to be strong."  I decided to take the noble, 'must be strong' approach.  "The next few weeks are going to very difficult for Katie, and you have to be there for her, we all will."  It flashed into my mind that the other girls would be feeling this way as well, and Drake probably knew by then exactly what had happened.  This, I quickly realized, would change all our lives forever.

Chapter 11

Tina cried herself to sleep that night.  I stayed with her until she finally drifted off.  I kissed her lightly on the cheek and quietly left the room.  Her mother, Mrs. Beauregard, or Sharon to her friends, was asleep on the couch, but she awoke when I came down the stairs.  "Is she asleep?"  She half whispered to me.  I placed a finger to my lips and smiled a small inviting smile.  "She probably won't stay that way."  "Please watch out for her Gerald.." She said to me.  I could tell where she was going with this.  "I don't know what I'd do if Tina was attacked in that way."  "I know Sharon, I know."  I patted her on the shoulder.  I wished she hadn't brought that up, it had been running through my mind all night.  If anyone one did that to Tina, I'd kill them.  I knew that all life was precious, and that murder is the last bastion of the truly pathetic, but if anyone did that to Tina, they would be marked for death, I would remove them from this planet, I knew I would.

 Said my goodbye's to Tina's mother and walked out to my car, it was nearing 11:00, it had been another 'interesting' day.  This time on the way home however, I didn't drift away in to thought like I usually did when I was alone, I remained completely lucid, transfixed on the road in front of me.  I knew exactly what I was going to do when I got into my home.

I parked my car and locked the doors.  I stomped into my house and turned on all the lights on the first floor, it was time to talk to the spirit again.  "Alright!"  I yelled at the ceiling.  "Show yourself!  Com here now!  Earth Spirit!"  I yelled louder and louder, I was very angry, I had been since I'd first learned of what had happened to Katie, it was starting to pour out of me.   A white hot rage that I chose to direct at this spirit that promised these days would be the best of our lives.  "Why are you yelling?"  A voice said.  It was that same whispery, pleasant voice that belonged to the Spirit.  "Why did this happen?"  I asked, still yelling.  "What happened to the best days of our lives?"  The light hit me again, my house was suddenly engulfed, I don't remember if the headache returned, I was to upset to notice.  The visage of the Spirit materialized in front of me, she was just as beautiful as the day before, but something seemed different, the small smile she wore the last time was no longer present. 

"I said that these would be the best days of your life, but I also said that evil would seek you all out, I just didn't think it would find you his fast."  She trailed off at the end of her sentence, she seemed unsure of herself.  "She was raped spirit!  Don't you know what the hell that means?  She'll never be the same!"  "I am sorry" The spirit said.  Then something very odd happened, the spirit started to cry.  Soft sobs one after the other, she held her head in her hands as the tears rolled down her cheeks.  "My child has been violated."  She cried, she, for the first time, spewed a negative emotion, and I began to feel pity for her.  I felt pain for her, like I would for a parent or sibling.  "Hey," I said in a severely less threatening tone of voice, "It wasn't your fault, you did warn us about evil seeking us out."  I was grasping at straws, I knew that the spirit had fallen into the same trap we had all fallen into.  She was looking for someone to blame, and with no one left, she blamed herself.  I did it, Tina did it, and now she was doing it.  I saw a tear fall from the spirits eye and splash to the floor.  I swore I saw a flower bloom from the spot the tear hit.  "I shall make sure this never happens again.  I will make another guardian, another to help you protect the warriors."  It occurred to me to ask why she hadn't done this in the first place, but she answered the question before I asked it.  "I am hesitant to do this Courage, for I have only one aspect of my power to give out, Death."  Death?  "Death is a part of you?  I thought you were the earth spirit, representative of the planet."  "Everything on this earth dies Courage.  Whether you choose to believe it or not, it is inside me, and it is all I have left to give.  Unfortunately, it is a dark power, and only the purest of souls can harness it safely.  I do not feel the presence of such a person anywhere in this place."  "What will you do then?"  I wasn't even sure what she meant by 'this place', but I assumed she meant the city and surrounding area.  "Courage, you must hold Death inside you until you find a pure soul to possess it."  The spirit reached into one of the folds of her dress and produced a card.  A small, playing card sized piece of paper with some sort of symbol on it.

I didn't know what constituted a pure soul, I didn't even know how my soul compared to 'purity', and as the spirit handed me the card, she must have saw the inhibitions in my eyes.  "Give this to the one you intend to possess the power of Death, and do not worry, you will know in your heart who should have it." 

I took the card from her hand, the symbol seemed to glow a deep, dark purple, it felt warm in my hand.  Once the spirit had given me the card, she disappeared again, the light dimmed and I was left alone in my house.  "I am always here..." I hear the spirits voice whisper.  Suddenly I felt my eyelids getting heavy, my knees were getting weak.  I collapsed onto my couch, I left into thought. 

What was tomorrow going to be like?  Constant phone calls from the whole group about Katie, and I'm sure I would spend at least an hour on the phone talking things over with Tina.  I thought that tomorrow I would visit Katie, I think her dad was leaving again on another stupid business trip.  I often thought that he ignored Katie, now I was sure he did.  I thought 'I'll just stop by to see if she needs anything'.  That was the last thought that ran through my head as I drifted into a deep sleep and let the ills of this world wash away into nothing.

Chapter 12

RINGGGGG!  Once again I awoke to the sound of the phone ringing, I briefly considered changing my phone number before hoisting myself off the couch and running across the room and grabbing the receiver.  "Hello?"  I rubbed my eyes and threw a glance to the digital clock on the table in the kitchen, it was quarter after 9, too damn early for me.  "Jerry, it's Mary."  She was probably the only one in the world who knew my phone number that would be awake this early to call me.  "Did I wake you?".  I always found it very intriguing how Mary enunciated every syllable of every word, I thought it was kind of cute frankly.  "Well, kind of."  I tried to be nice, but truth be told, there was nothing I hated more than being woken up early on a weekend.  "Sorry.  I keep forgetting how much earlier I wake up than everyone else." 

"It's no problem," I lied.  Anything to keep the girls in higher spirits.  "What's up?"  I continued.  "I'm going over to Katie's, I thought you'd like to join me."  I had to give her credit, she knew the way my mind worked.  "Yeah, I was gonna drive out there, though maybe a bit later on in the day."  I added a humourous tone on the end of the sentence, to show there was no hard feelings, Mary didn't buy it though.  "I'm sorry," Tina said in a very sad voice.  "I'm only kidding," I said, "I'll be at Katie's in about twenty minutes, I'll meet you at your apartment, Ok?"  "Alright, I'll see you later then."  "Yep, bye bye."  I said into the receiver as Mary hung up her end.                                                                                                                        

For the second straight day, I rushed upstairs and showered in record time.  I decided to skip breakfast, I wasn't hungry.  I was still dwelling on what had happened to Katie, and what had happened with the spirit last night.  Suddenly I remembered the card which was given to me by the spirit, and rushed back downstairs to find it.  It was lying in front of the couch where I collapsed last night. .  The symbol scrawled on the front still had a dull purple glow, which seemed to radiate out and light up my hand as I held it.  It filled me with and odd sense of fear, it was very strange.

I dropped the card on the coffee table in the living room and ran out to my car.  Once again I found myself setting out on another road trip, driving all around town.  I realized how much I actually enjoy driving, but that day the destination was less than favorable.  I wondered how Katie was doing, would she ever recover from it?  I knew the answer was no, who could?  I'd never been so preoccupied with another human being since I'd first met Tina at that bus stop a year ago, I suppose that it was warranted, everyone probably felt the same way. 

The car revved to life as I turned the key, that was one thing about this old crappy car, it always started.  I sat for a moment and let the car warm up, my mind dwelling on Katie.  I pictured her lying on Tina's bed, with skinned knees and a split lip, crying and squeezing my hand.  At least Drake and I finished off those bikers before they could hurt anyone else, though that seemed of little consequence to me right now.  I was shaken out of my mind's eye when the engine struggled and continued to hum, maybe this cars perfect starting record was at an end.  I pulled the car put of my driveway and began the 10 minute drive to the apartment complex, once again giving into thought and drifting away from the car. 

'I wish I could see those bikers again', I thought to myself, 'I'd really put the hurt on them, really stomp them good.  They wouldn't even be able to stand after I got through with them.'  The beating that was given to them was nowhere near enough punishment, a mere sample of what I wished upon them.  I was filled with a dull rage that I couldn't rationally express.  It had been a rat gnawing at my brain for hours, now I finally acknowledged it, embraced it.  I allowed the thought to take over my mind, this deep inner hatred I now felt for the bikers.

I thought about the spirit, I thought about these gifts we'd all been given, and how little I felt I'd changed since that night.  I knew I stood up to a group of men that not one week ago could have, and would have beaten me within an inch of my life, but other than that, nothing felt different at all.  And what about Katie?  She must have felt so confused, so upset.  Her she had a spirit telling her she was going to have a grand old time, and she is brutally attacked on the way home from the mall.  "Hey wait a minute," I thought to myself, "I'll bet those bastard's stole whatever it was Katie had just bought, maybe it'll cheer her up if I replace it."  It was one of my better ideas I think, I just hope Mary knew what she had bought.

I reached the apartment and turned into the underground parking lot, it was a local gang hangout and today housed about 5 kids, wearing leather pants and multicoloured hair.  One of them had pink hair pulled into large spikes, "cool hair," I thought to myself as I parked and stepped out of the car.  

I was parked beside a rather expensive looking car, one of those new 'tireless' hover cars.  They ran about a 2 million dollar price tag, a very nice car.  I briefly wondered who it could possibly belong to, I'd never seen a car like that parked around here.  I guess in the grand scheme of my life, it really didn't matter, so I put it out of my mind all together, it was a fleeting thought.

The elevator was on the other side of the nearly empty parking lot, I walked over to it and pressed the button.  I stood for several moments and waited for the elevator to drop to the correct floor.  I turned my gaze back to the 5 kids behind me.  They were passing a bottle of some sort of liqueur, and I was assuming, since it was so early in the morning, that they had not yet called it a night and were still awake from the night before.  One of them looked up at me and I quickly averted my gaze, last thing I wanted to do was strike up a conversation with them

The light flashed and the doors slid open, I quickly boarded and pressed the fourth floor button, I'd expect that Mary would be wondering where I was, it had been over a half hour since she'd first called, and she always expected everyone to be as punctual as she always was.  I walked off the elevator and sure enough, she was waiting in the hallway for me. 

"Hi Mary," I said as she walked over to me.  "Ready to go up?"  Katie lived two floors above Mary in the apartment.  "Well, actually I had an idea on the way over here, what did Katie buy at t he mall yesterday?"  Mary knew exactly what she'd bought, she'd been with her at the mall for a while, but left earlier.  When Mary got to that particular part of the story, she looked down at her feet and let out a small sigh, her cheeks started getting pink and it looked like she was going to cry.  I walked over and lightly grabbed her shoulders.  "It wasn't your fault Ok?"  I could see why she would think that, but she couldn't blame herself.  "You couldn't have stopped those guys, they would have hurt you too, they could have killed you."  I moved to look her in the eyes, "It wasn't your fault Mary."  "I guess you're right, I'll meet you upstairs."  She pulled away from me and entered the stairwell.  She still blamed herself, and nothing I could say would ever change that.  She felt that if she'd stayed with Katie, Katie would somehow be alright.  I decided to let her deal with it herself, I pressed the elevator call button and waited for it to bring me back down to the parking lot.

When I got back down to the parking lot, the kid with the pink spikes for hair was hanging around the sports car parked near my car.  He appeared to be trying to do something to the door lock, all his friends were almost completely ignoring him.  As I neared, I discovered he had some sort of lock pick and was trying to break into the car.  Again, for some reason, I felt this need to stop him.  "Hey, what are you doing?"  He immediately stood up and dropped the lock pick.  "I think that car's owner might like to keep it."  The kid, (actually, he didn't look much younger than me, but the way he behaved warranted that particular nickname) reached into his pocket and drew a small knife.  "Woah, I don't want any trouble man."  I put my hands up and tried to look non-threatening.  "Then you shouldn't have messed with me."  He lunged at me with the knife.  I moved out of the way, but the knife caught part of my shirt and ripped a 6 inch gash in it. 

It was then one of his friends decided to spring to life.  "What are you doing?"  He yelled from across the parking lot.  The pink haired one ignored him and continued attack.  Once again I found myself expertly dodging all of the slashes he made with his knife.  He managed to cut two more holes in my shirt, one even catching some my skin underneath, before I grabbed the wrist of his hand that was holding the knife.  I spun around behind him and slipped the knife out of his hand, I now held the knife.  I spun the hoodlum around and held the knife to his throat.  "Dude," I said in a very sadistic voice, "you are messing with the wrong damn guy, now are you gonna leave me alone, or am I gonna do something I might regret?"  He started to try to run away, and I let him.  I let go of his arm and dropped the knife, I'd never seen someone run away from me so fast, before I had time to give him his knife back, he'd disappeared out of the parking lot.  I picked the knife up off the ground and looked at it, it appeared to be a regular kitchen knife, though both sides were sharpened to a double edge.  I decided to pocket the knife for safe keeping before getting in my car and pulling out of the parking lot.

Chapter 13

'Evil will seek you out.'  That is what the spirit had said, and she really meant it.  In two days since I'd been given these powers, which were actually a collection of instincts and skills, (perhaps I was made a bit tougher as well), I'd been in two fights that could have easily ended in me being hurt or killed, and all I had to show for it was a wound as deep as a paper cut on my arm.  I had to think that if I hadn't have stopped that group of bikers and that punk kid, they probably would have hurt others.

I picked up the goods from the mall, a dress with a rose motif, a CD from one of those stupid boy bands Katie liked so much, and one pair of red high heeled shoes.  It occurred to me that that was a very odd collection of products for a group of bikers to steal, but they were probably so mindless and stupid that they took the bag without seeing what was inside.  People like that made me really sick.

I returned to the apartment parking lot and parked my car, the sports car was gone, either the owner left, or those punks came back and stole it (which judging by their hasty retreat, was not very likely). 

I parked in the same spot I had before, and as I got out of the car, I realized that my shirt was torn in several places from the fight, so I grabbed my black leather jacket from the backseat.  Better to be a bit warm then have to answer more awkward questions from a person I really didn't want to have to worry about me.  The elevator opened as soon as I pressed the button, I stepped in and pressed the button for the 6th floor in silence, the parking lot was completely deserted after I'd driven off that gang.

The door opened on the 6th floor and I stepped out, my two bags of goodies in tow.  Katie's apartment was just down the hall.  I knocked on the door and Mary answered, she looked in a lot better shape than when we last parted ways.  She had a little bit of a smile on her face, and she looked to be in a pleasant mood.  "Hello Jerry!"  She said enthusiastically.  She leaned in and whispered into my ear, "did you manage to find all of Katie's purchases?"  "Every last one of them."  I said pointing to the bags in my hands.  She nodded approvingly and showed me in.  As I had suspected, her father had left again on his business, and was not there for his daughter.

"Hey, it's everyone's favorite person in the whole wide world!"  I announced as I walked into the living room where Katie was laid out on the couch.  "If what's in those bags is for me, then that's true," Katie said, though not anywhere near as cheerfully as she usually presented herself.  This was one of the rare times that I got to see Katie without her hair tied tightly into some kind of ponytail, it instead hung loosely around her shoulders.  "Well, are you going to stand up and accept this bountiful treasure I have brought you?"  It probably sounded a bit commanding, but Katie looked like she needed to move around.  "Oh alright," she groaned.  She looked to be in pain as she turned and placed her feet on the ground.  "Ok Ok, you can just sit there and I'll show you my little gift."  She looked relieved.

I made a big deal out of every one of the things I bought, making Katie close her eyes and hold out her hands for every one of them.  She seemed very happy with the gifts, and gave a very long hug after I'd given her the last one.  "Just don't make me listen to the CD, Ok?"  I said as she was hugging me.  "Deal," she laughed.  She seemed happy enough, but there was something about her eyes that, for lack of a better term, scared me.  They'd lost their sparkle, like they were empty, with no soul behind them.  'One day those bastards are really going to pay for this some day,' I thought to myself.  Katie was a changed girl, she'd barely smiled, she hadn't laughed, and usually all those stupid things I always said made her laugh the loudest of any of the girls.  I was becoming angrier and angrier every second I saw Katie like this, but I had no choice but to repress and push it deep inside me until I could find a good time to vent.

Chapter 14

I stayed with the two girls for about another hour watching TV before excusing myself and driving back to my house, I figured at the very least Drake and Tina would be trying to get a hold of me. 

I walked in the front door and was hit by something.  Not a tangible, real object, but something flew into me, it staggered me.  As I propped myself up on the wall, a splitting headache came over me and the spirits voice entered my mind again. 

"Courage," the spirit said to me.  "Yes spirit?"  I said, trying to shut the pain throbbing from my temples out of my mind.  "When death is found the war will begin."  "What war?"  This was suddenly a very scary concept for me, I didn't know what she meant, but I knew that the girls, Drake and I were probably heavily involved.  "A war that could determine my fate, the war between good and evil."  "You never said anything about a war!"  I strained to say between the pulses of pain."  "The balance of evil is different than I'd at first thought.  It will come in small bursts, like the bikers and that boy today."  I felt insulted that the spirit thought the bikers were a 'small burst' of evil, they had done a truly terrible thing.  Once again, the spirit responded to my thoughts as if I was saying them aloud.  "The bikers hurt one of my children very badly, this is true.  But even that is a mere example of the horror's that will be faced by this earth if good loses this war."  The spirit talked in a near whisper, like she had every other time I'd spoken to her.  "Please be careful Courage, and look well to people's soul to find the third Guardian, find Death."  The spirit had stopped speaking, the headache disappeared, I fell to the floor and passed out.

I must have been out no more than 10 minutes when the phone woke me up again, if it wasn't for that phone, I'd probably never wake up.  I stood up and walked over to the receiver, rubbing my eyes and trying to wake up the rest of the way.  "Hello?"  I yawned into the receiver, "Did I wake you?"  It was Rae, she sounded unusually chipper.  "No, I've just been running around all day, I've been over at Katie's all morning."  "Oh, how is she doing?"  Rae's voice quickly changed to one of concern.  "I wish I could say she was her old self, but I don't think she ever will be again."  "I can't believe that actually happened, what are we going to do?"  It was an interesting question, I myself thought I could do very little, the punks that did it were in jail, and I had no idea what to say to Katie.  "I think all we can do is help Katie out, the days ahead are going to be tough." 

I wished that there was somewhere Katie could go for help, I'd heard of special counseling centers that were around before the Third World War, but funding for them was cut for the war effort, and never restored. 

"I think I'm gonna go and visit her, maybe I can say something to make her feel better."  Rae said.  I didn't believe that personally, but if she thought she could, then who was I to say otherwise?  "I'll talk to you later then?"  Rae asked, in a very inquisitive, kind of cute sounding voice.  "You bet, see ya."  I replied.  I hung up and sat down again, more or less waiting for the next person to call me.

I didn't have to wait long, five minutes later the phone sounded out its ring again.  At least I was awake this time.  "Hello?"  I said to the unknown person on the other end of the line.  "Dude, what's up?"  It was Drake, I wondered what his opinion on all this was, then I suddenly realized, he didn't know that the biker guys we beat up were the ones that raped Katie.  "Well..."  He sat and listened while I laid the whole story down on him, he had the same reaction as I probably would have had if I was told that way.  "Holy shit man!"  He repeated the phrase and phrases like it for several seconds before finding the presence of mind to put cognitive speech together.  "Man, if I had another chance at those guys, they'd be sorry.  Have you told the girls yet?"  "I think I'll just sit on that for a while, it wouldn't do any good to tell them right now."  "I guess your right."  Drake said.  Of course I was right.

We spoke for another 20 minutes or so, mostly frivolous things.  I toyed with the idea of telling him about that death card laying on my coffee table, but decided to wait until this situation with Katie had cooled down, best not overload the man, Terry was probably torn up pretty bad with the whole incident, and Drake's nerves would soon be drawn taut."  "Tell Terry I said hello" were the last words I said to him before we hung up, I could hear her calling him in the background. 

I didn't receive anymore phone calls for the next hour, then Tina called and we talked, we discussed what we should do to help Katie, she thought that me replacing all of her stolen merchandise was a very nice gesture.  Again I kept the brawl with the bikers, and the death card a secret from her, I hated to keep anything from Tina, but making her worry was something I hated even more, so I kept it inside.  I picked up the card and stared at it as I spoke, it still shimmered with its own purple light, it illuminated my black shirt.  Tina voice became far away as I stared at the card and drifted into thought  "Who the hell would want this thing?"  I thought to myself.  "I know what it is and it scares me."

"Are you paying attention?"  I heard Tina's voice say, cutting through the haze and bringing me back to reality.  "Yeah, sorry."  I stuttered, I had to stop drifting away like that.  "That's Ok, I have a lot on my mind as well."  Tina said.  She could be so understanding.

"You left a movie here last night."  Tina said.  Drat!  That stupid movie!  I'd forgotten all about it.  "Oh yeah, I meant to surprise you with it, I guess it slipped my mind."  "It was very thoughtful of you, but I really don't feel like watching a movie right now."  "Me neither."  I said, it didn't feel like a movie type of day.  "I'll pick it up tonight, if that's alright with you."  "Well I don't know," Tina said in a sarcastic tone, "isn't it kind of presumptuous to just invite yourself over."  I couldn't see her face, but I knew the expression that went along with that kind of a comment, Tina could sometimes have a twisted sense of humor.  "Well, if you'd prefer to walk it back to the video store...."  I replied, employing the same sarcastic tone of voice.  "Yeah yeah yeah, you just wait until I get my license."  "I think I'll stay inside that day," I said, chuckling to myself.  I'm such an evil guy, hehehehe.  "Yeah whatever," she replied, giggling. 

Our conversations often degraded into small talk like that, each of us trying to get the better of each other.  Some thought it odd that we showed so much love for each other, yet sometimes talked to each other like that, but that never bothered us. 

"I'm gonna go visit Katie, do you want to come with me?"  Tina asked.  "No thanks," I replied, "I've already spent an hour and a half over there this morning."  "Let me guess, Mary woke you up really early right?"  I guess she'd tried that trick with Tina a couple of times.  "Yeah, she really needs to learn how to sleep in.  Anyway, I'll drop you off if you like."  What can I say, I liked being Tina's chauffeur, I guess.  "Sure that would be great."  I'm sure she didn't mind much herself.

We said our goodbye's and I walked out to my car, it only took me about a minute to drive to Tina's house since she only live a few blocks over, she always commented on how fast I made it over to her house, she said that she'd hate to be in the car on the drive between our houses.  Maybe I did drive a bit fast, I've never claimed to be a safe driver.

I picked her up a short time later, she jumped into the front seat with several plastic bags  full of something, and the movie.  "Here you go."  She said, handing me the movie and kissing me on the cheek.  "So where would you like to go today?"  I said, smiling and returning the kiss to her forehead.  She smiled her beautiful smile and leaned her head on my shoulder as I backed the car out of the driveway.

About twenty minutes later, my arm was beginning to fall asleep from holding Tina's head up, but more importantly, I was pulling into the parking lot structure outside Katie's apartment for the third time that day.  Tina collected her bags from the back seat where she'd put them at the beginning of the drive.  She'd told me that there were some little gifts for Katie to help cheer her up.  "I'll be back in a couple hours to pick you up, alrighty?"  "Yep, I'll be waiting right here."  We kissed again and she ran to the elevator and boarded it.  I quickly pulled away and headed in the direction of the video store.  On the way down the road, I passed a group of punk types that seemed strangely familiar.  "Oh yeah," I thought, "those guys from this morning.  I guess I didn't scare them off after all."  I only hoped that I scared them enough to stop that one with the spiked hair from attacking people for no reason.

I dropped off the movie and continued on to a mall where I intended to spend the next 2 hours, it was only a small shopping mall, but it had a good CD store where a friend from University worked.  He always hooked me up with the best CD's at a fraction of the price, so I usually stopped by to pick up a couple new releases. 

As I drove, I saw the Royal Castle from afar, there seemed to be a large group of people outside, the Queen must be having another party for the social elite.  I always had mixed emotions about those things; I wanted to see what they were all about, but at the same time, I would never want to associate with a bunch of dead weights like that.  Sitting there with their top hats and tuxedos, their evening gowns and sparkling jewelry, spiders winding up their webs waiting to spin them between the rich patron's legs when the evening's 'entertainment' started.  What a way to spend an evening.  I saw the horse drawn carriages dropping them off at the doors of the castle.  I always thought of how blatant it was to be taxied around in one of those things, they'd come back into style after the war.

Some crazy scientist launched a missile into the atmosphere and prevented combustion engines from working for 100 years or so, so after the war, the rich began to cart themselves around in decorated carriages drawn by 2, 3, even 4 horses at a time.  Wealth, in my opinion, was always wasted on the rich.

The castle was soon out of view however, as I caught my exit off the highway and went back into the city, the mall was just around the corner.  I hope ll the rich snobs enjoy their little soiree.

Chapter 15                              

Well, my friend at the CD store passed a couple very good CD's my way, I was going to enjoy myself at least somewhat tonight.  It was nearing 8 o'clock in the evening and my two hour deadline was fast approaching.  I was currently on the road back to the apartment complex where Tina said she would be waiting.

I don't remember thinking of anything specific on the way, just the concern for Katie's welfare that had been eating away at my mind for the entire day now.  I knew that even the unkept appearance and long face I'd seen her wearing this morning was a mask, a cloak hiding what she really felt inside, and I knew to begin to heal, she'd have to take that mask off.  I'd try my best to help, but what she really needed was her father around, and he was rarely able to stay in town for more than about 2 weeks at a time.  He was a cool guy when he was around, but I hated him for leaving at a time like that.

When I rounded the corner leading up to the apartment, I saw a bunch of flashing lights, at least 3 police cars and one ambulance.  "Great, what's this all about?"  I said aloud.  Maybe that kid with the pink hair finally got hit by a car, I thought that would be a fitting punishment for someone who chose to hang around in a parking lot all day.  As I got closer, I saw Tina running towards me waving her arm frantically.  She looked to be in a panic, which, once again, was not like her.  I pulled up to the curb and stepped out to meet her.  "Oh Jerry!"  She exclaimed, jumping into my arms, she was crying, not uncontrollably, but enough to make me very concerned.  "What's going on?"  "It's Rae, someone attacked her outside Katie's apartment."  Tina started pulling me towards the ambulance before I could register what was just said to me.  Once I realized what was happening, I matched Tina's stride and ran towards the ambulance.  "Is she alright?"  I yelled.  "Yes, the ambulance isn't for her, it's for her attackers, I stopped them before they could do anything serious.  They knocked her out and cut her arm, but I think she'll be alright."  We reached the ambulance and I saw who was being loaded into the back.  It was the girl that was with that group of punks from this morning.  She looked like she was in pretty bad shape, there was a neck brace supporting her head, and she was out cold.  Rae was sitting on the curb beside the ambulance getting checked out by one of the ambulance attendants.

"Hey kid, how you doing?"  I asked Rae, trying to see how she was.  "Alright, thanks to Tina."  She smiled up at the two of us.  "My head is killing me though," she said, adding a small laugh.  "Good."  I replied, and stood up to face the doctor.

 I pulled the man aside when he was finished with whatever he was doing.  "Is she alright?"  I asked the uniformed man.  "She has a mild concussion," he said, "and the cuts on her arm are deep enough to leave permanent scars, all in all I'd say she's a very lucky girl, a few days rest and she should be fine."  "Alright, thanks."  I said, patting the man on the shoulder.

The police cleared out after the ambulance tore off to the nearest hospital, I'd learned that Tina had managed to break the girls jaw, as well as give her a serious concussion, and whiplash.  Tina usually showed some kind of restraint in these situations, when someone decides they are going to take her on in the halls of the school, or when she sees someone being picked on, she has been known to throw a punch, maybe knock the aggressor to the floor, but this?

Tina looked like she was going to take a seat beside Rae on he curb, but I grabbed her by the shoulder before she had a chance.  "Can I talk to you for a second?"  I pulled her away before she had a chance to answer.  "What did you do to that girl?"  I tried not to sound upset, but even for what that punk girl did, a trip to the hospital was severe.  "I didn't mean to Jerry, I really didn't."  She looked down at her feet and continued.  "I saw a group of them holding Rae down with a knife to her throat, so I shouted and they scattered."  "So, did you catch her and beat her up?"  "You know I'd never do that Jerry."  "Well, what did happen?"  I did assume it didn't happen the way I first thought.  "She ran towards me with the knife, so I stopped her."  "That's a hell of a stop sign you got there Sugar."  I said, but I was guessing there was more to the story.  "It only took one punch to knock her down Jerry, one punch.  I didn't even think I swung very hard, but as soon as I hit her, I felt something in her face break.  It was a terrible feeling, I knew I'd hurt her badly."  It seemed like Tina had the same jump in strength that Drake and I felt the day before at the bar, she could always hit harder than me though.  "It looked like she hit her head pretty hard when she hit the pavement."  I didn't say a word, Tina didn't look like she needed to be talked to, so I pulled her to me and embraced her.  She was shaking, it had obviously taken a lot out of her, she started to cry on my shoulder.

It occurred to me what she'd been through over the past three days, between earth spirits and her friends getting attacked in the streets, I think she was at a mental breaking point.  "I'll take you home in a few minutes, I just want to talk to Rae for a second, okay?"  I knew she wanted to go home, she didn't need to say it.  She nodded and wiped the tears from her eyes as I stepped towards Rae, who was still sitting on the curb in front of the parking lot.

"Hey you," I said in an affectionate voice as I sat next to her.  "Hey Jerry," she replied, she sounded exhausted.  "Are you alright?"  I asked, placing a hand on her shoulder "Yeah.  Jerry," she said, looking up at me, "is this what the spirit meant by 'evil seeking us out'?"  "I've been asking myself that since last night, I asked her that very question."  I told her about the death card and how it may lead to some release for us.  "But don't tell anyone, not right now, Ok?"  I finished.  "Why not?"  "Because I don't want everyone out searching for some 'pure soul'," I replied.  "I think everyone has enough to deal with at the moment.  So let's just keep it between us, Ok?  You promise?"  I tried to let a little desperation seep into my voice.  "Alright, I promise.  Just swear to me that whoever you give it to is as strong willed as you are." I felt that the comment I was payed was ill deserved, but nodded in approval nonetheless. 

"So that girl was holding a knife to your throat?  I can see why Tina went off."  "No," she interrupted, "that girl just picked up the knife and attacked Tina, some guy with pink hair was the one with the knife."  Pink hair?  Was she serious?  That's the same one who tried to gut me earlier that day.  "He said he knew you, and that he knew I knew you."  How could he know that?  "Jerry, he cut my arm up pretty bad, he said it would be something to remember him by."  Rae pulled back the bandage on her arm to reveal a large symbol carved into her arm.  Some of the cuts had stitches in them, but it was clearly readable.  "I recognize this."  I said, looking at Rae, who was trying to avoid looking at the gruesome wound on her arm, I put a finger on her cheek and moved her gaze to meet mine.  "It will heal."  A tear started to form in her eye.  "The doctor told me it would leave a scar, and that even surgery won't disguise it completely."  A good bedside manner was difficult to come by these days, he could have at least waited until the next day to tell her that.  "You said you know what the symbol is, what does it mean?"  It took me a few seconds to recall the information, but I'd taken a course in Japanese language, and I was sure I'd seen the symbol in one of my books.  Then it came to me, the symbol, which resembled the Greek pie symbol, only with a few added lines and circles, was indeed a Japanese symbol, I didn't think Rae would like to hear its meaning though.  "Rae," I said, I was so nervous about saying it aloud.  "It's the Japanese sign for death."  

Chapter 16

It wasn't easy to stop Rae's tears that night, she sobbed softly to herself in the backseat of my car as I drove her home.  This time, Tina rode beside her trying to comfort her as best she could.  I hated myself for telling Rae what the marks on her arm meant, I could have made something up, something that she could have accepted. 

Not only that, but now, there was one more person to hate, and this one wasn't in jail, he was still on the streets somewhere.  How could he do such a thing?  This, in many ways was just as bad as what had happened to Katie, they both came away scarred mentally and physically.

And how could that punk know that I knew Rae?  Did he see me drop her off at school?  No, I didn't do that enough times for anyone to notice, and he didn't look like the school going 'type'.  Wait, he saw me drop Tina off, if Tina met up with Rae outside, then he might have assumed I knew the both of them.  There was a lot left in the air, I think I was giving the guy too much credit.  But what was his motivation?  Why did he do it?  To get back at me?  To get revenge for embarrassing him earlier in the day?  I had to suppress these thoughts, they would soon get the best of me if I kept along this line of thought.

I pulled in to Rae's driveway and the two girls got out.  I rolled down my window as Rae passed by.  "It'll be fine, please try to be strong."  I said to Rae through the open window.  She nodded weakly and continued toward her front door.  "I should have lied about that damn symbol," I said to myself when she was out of earshot. 

Tina and Rae stood and spoke for at least ten minutes.  I didn't feel the usual impatience that came when she did that, I was instead filled with a hope that Tina would say something to make it all better.  It was a shallow, hollow hope, but I held onto it, if only to try and make me feel better.  If I was holding on to such wild eyed ideas for personal comfort, I myself was starting to break down. 

Tina walked back and sat beside me in the front seat.  "I think she'll be alright."  She said, and broke down into tears beside me.  I threw a glance to the front of Rae's house to make sure she'd gone inside before wrapping my arms around Tina's shoulders and held her tightly against my chest.  "Let it out, it's Ok."  I kept repeating the phrase into her ear, it was the best thing I could think of to do.  I hoped it helped, but somehow doubted it did in any way.  Tina wailed for another five minutes as I held her to me and tried to comfort her, then she sat up,  straightened her hair and told me she was alright.  I didn't believe it for a second, but reversed out of the driveway and drove in the direction of Tina's house nonetheless.  I figured that no matter how Tina was feeling inside, her outer appearance meant she was very tired.

Soon enough, Tina once again cuddled up close to me.  Despite all that had happened in her life recently, she still did those things that made me feel so good, I hoped she was getting something from it too.  We remained completely silent throughout the entire trip, though I was sure that this time she remained completely awake. 

When we arrived at Tina's house, I accompanied her upstairs to her room, though a not word was shared between us the entire time.  When we got there, she kissed me on the cheek and finally spoke.  "I love you Jerry.  Thank you for being here these past couple of days, it means a lot to me."  I nodded in approval.  "You should lie down Sugar, it looks like you need some rest."  "Would you stay here for just a little longer?  Just sit with me, for a little while?"  She looked deep into my eyes while she spoke.  How could I refuse?  I smiled back at her and took a seat beside her bed on her desk chair.  "I won't move from this spot, I promise." 

Chapter 17

I opened my eyes a crack, the morning sun flooded into my head and I put my hand up to shield it.  I turned my wrist slightly to read the time on my watch, it was 7:30 in the morning.  I hadn't spent the night in a very choice location, my back and neck were cramped and aching.  I stood painfully and moved my head around trying to clear the cobwebs.  Tina's bed was empty now, I heard a shower running in the bathroom down the hall and assumed it was her. 

It looked like it was going to be good day, there were no clouds in the sky and the sun, though still riding low on the horizon, was clear and uncovered, shining its light upon the world.  It still burned into the back of my eyes, which hadn't seen any light at all for about 7 hours, so I stood up and tried to work the cramps out of my legs, facing away from the open window. 

I decided to lay down on the bed and wait for Tina to return, I crossed my legs and supported my head with my hands in the classic 'kicked back' looked.  It was about 20 minutes before I heard the shower turn off and the bathroom door creak open, I wasn't aware that Tina took such long showers, she must have been in there at least a half hour.

The bedroom door opened slowly and Tina poked her head through the opening, her hair was damp and hanging heavily around her shoulders, and she was wearing a bath robe.  Her expression brightened when she saw I was awake.  "Good morning my protector."  She said with a smile.  She walked over and jumped onto the bed beside me, wrapping her arms around me and planting a kiss on my cheek.  "You're up early."  I said, smiling back at her.  I suddenly realized that Tina was very happy for the amount of crap she'd had to deal with over the past couple of days.  "Rae called me this morning, it seems our spirit friend payed her a visit."  "Oh really?"  This was, as far as I knew, the first time the spirit had revealed herself to anyone other than myself since Friday night.  "What happened then?"  "I think she'll have to tell you."  "You know I hate waiting."  I knew the comment "You'd better go."  She said, her look changing from happiness to concern.  She grabbed my wrist and looked at my watch.  "We have school today."  I was blissfully unconcerned, I was miles ahead in all of my classes, I didn't even need to go home for any books, I kept everything at school.  "Well, get dressed and I'll drive you over there."  "Well get out of my room and I will."  I rolled my eyes and stood up.  She pushed me out the door and closed it behind me.

It took Tina about ten minutes to get dressed, again, something of which I was not aware.  When she opened the door and strode out, she was in her school uniform (yes, the out of town green one), and had her usual, small amount of makeup around her eyes.  It was nearing 8:30, and both of our classes started at nine, so breakfast was once again, skipped.  Tina and I walked out to my car and she threw her backpack into the backseat.  I climbed in and buckled my seatbelt, Tina was still smiling a lot more then I thought was warranted, whatever Rae told her must have been great news.

"So, you're not even going to give me a hint as to what Rae told you?"  I never let things go when I had to wait for them.  "She told me not to, she wants to surprise you."  How considerate of her.  "Alright, how about I pick the two of you up tonight and she can tell me then?"  "Sounds good to me," Tina said, and rested her head on my shoulder.  "I think you'll like it though."  She added.  "Now you're just making it difficult to wait."  I said, smiling down at her. 

The drive to Tina's school was a short five minutes, and I was soon pulling up in front of it.  "Hi guys!"  I heard off in the distance, I saw Terry waving her arm.  I realized that that had been the first time I'd seen her since Friday.  She came running over to the car and rested her hand on the roof while looking into the passenger side window.  I noted that she didn't carry as much of a smile as she usually did when I saw her in the morning.  "Hello Terry," I said affectionately and smiled at her.  "I'll see you after school then?"  Tina asked.  "Yep, I'll be here at 3:20 sharp."  I thought that 3:20 was a rather odd time to end the school day, but that was entirely up to Tina's school, I myself ended every school day at 3pm, a nice round number, which gave me plenty of time to get over to Tina's school and pick her up.  "Bye bye" she said, and leaned in for a goodbye kiss.  I acknowledged and kissed her for several seconds before she pulled away, waved, and walked toward the schools front door, talking to Terry the whole way there.  She looked back once and waved, I waved back and drove away, if I didn't hurry, I was going to be late.  My school was a ten minute drive back the other way, I'd be cutting it close that day.

Chapter 18

The day went by at a tediously slow pace, it felt like I'd done and heard everything before, write this, read this, figure this problem out.  The only real subjects that held any interest for me after this many years of schooling were art and Ancient History.  Art, because I'd always thought I was a good artist, and I'd always wanted to be a famous painter.  Ancient history because, well, I liked looking back at all the mistakes the human race had made, I think that the past is one of the most intriguing subjects a person can engage in.  That particular day, I learned through one of the many readings I was assigned, that we as a people were only just starting to surpass the technological advancements made by mankind before the Third World War.  Advances in computers and some stronger alloys were invented in the war effort, and since then we've been rebuilding a shattered civilization into what it once was. 

The last class of the day was the dreaded mathematics 181. The class was incorrigible, more pointless sums and addition and subtraction.  Finding Statistics and logistics, can't they design some computer program to do all this crap?  I think most of my complaints about math had to do with its impracticality; most of what we were being taught was either outdated or pointless to learn.  Every day I sat through a math class and tried my hardest not to fall asleep, today however, I failed in that attempt.  The teacher was droning on about polynomials when my mind completely left the room, and I closed my eyes.  I saw images of Tina's smiling face from this morning running through my head; it felt so good to see her smile again.

            My bliss was short lived unfortunately; I felt a tap on my shoulder and opened my eyes to see my math teacher, Mr. Smith, standing beside me.  "Rough night Mr. Andrews?"  He had absolutely no idea. 

Schools had adopted a zero tolerance level for everything, too many people getting out of punishment by using sickness and family tragedy's that didn't happen as an excuse.  My falling asleep in class because I was losing sleep over a couple of injured friends was not going to hold water as an excuse.

"Sorry Mr. Smith, it was a rough weekend."  "No excuses Gerald," he said in a strict tone, "You will stay one half hour after class to make up for your laziness."  I didn't offer any protest, there was no point.  I slumped back into my chair and watched the teacher stride confidently back to the front of the room, I really didn't need that.  "I guess I'll have to tell Tina to take the bus home…again."  I thought to myself as I picked up my pencil and began writing more equations into my book.

Chapter 19

Tina sounded like she was somewhere between angry and worried when I told her I had to stay late, though there was little I could actually do about it, she was still upset.  We said our goodbyes and I hung the receiver of the phone back on the wall where it belonged.  The math room was just down the hall from the payphone, Mr. Smith watched me ominously from the door to make sure I didn't run away, like I had anywhere to run to anyway.

Mr. Smith told me to do the problems on a page near the back of the book and left the room, adding in that if I was gone when he returned, that I would "be in trouble."  I watched him as he walked out of the large lecture hall and closed the door behind him.

The problems weren't that hard and even I didn't have much of a problem working my way through them, I finished all the work he assigned in about 5 minutes, which was probably his idea all along, get me to sit and do nothing for the better part of a half hour.  I swear that Mr. Smith had it in for me.  I felt it a bad idea to fall asleep again, though that was probably the easiest way to pass the time. 

The clock ticked away, minutes stretched on, I was struggling to keep my eyes open.  Suddenly a face appeared at the small window in the top half of the class door.  Just for a second, but for some reason I saw it as clear as any face I'd ever seen.  It was the face of a man, with a devilish goatee that was combed to a single point under his chin.  He was wearing a pair of very black sunglasses with black wire rims which partially covered his furrowed and protruding brow.  From what I saw, I could see the turned up leather collar of a jacket pulled tight under his jaw, which was well defined and along with his cheek bones created a very thin "skin pulled over stone" look.  But as fast as the face appeared it was gone, I didn't pay it much heed since I was really starting to stew about the punishment I was enduring, but the face did stick in my head an unusually long time for such a brief appearance.

When Mr. Smith finally did come back and dismiss me, he was at least ten minutes late, something which he refused to apologize for.  The fact that I had to wait an extra