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Awaken Valkyrie (Touch Expression Book One)

 

AWAKEN VALKYRIE

(TOUCH EXPRESSION #1)

TESSA SMOKES

Dedicated to my family for their endless love and support during those sleepless nights and lunch-less afternoons of writing this novel, especially my mother for her extreme support during the moments of trails and obstacles I experienced getting this book to a finish. You’re simply the best mom.

Awaken Valkyrie

Series Title: The Touch Expression Series

Series Number: Book One

Author: Tessa Smokes

Editor: Fallon Duet

Cover Design: Yemisi Lateef

Publisher: Memeoranta Books

Distributor: Shakespir

Copyright ©2016 by Tessa Smokes

Publishing right by Memoranta Books®

All right reserved, including the production of this book in whole or in part

This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold, re produced, or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite eBook retailer and purchased your own unique copy. Thank you for respecting the work and right of this author.

WHAT OTHER READERS ARE SAYING ABOUT THIS BOOK

Has there been an actual YA urban fantasy that goes deeper into the source of its legendary roots? Nope. This is simply the first I’ve seen in my time.” ~ Natasha Young, New York Times Bestselling author of Who Said What?

This is an urban fantasy where the most neglected part of our history is revived!” ~ NDA Ambush Journal

In this urban fantasy secrets tie the family and death calls them out on it.” ~ Meredith Keffeil, USA Today bestselling author of When the Heart Cries it Also Blossoms.

My, my, a first time author who blows readers away with a first book like this is mostly hard to cross path with, and that’s leaving the main character out of it. Ayana is truly the perfect sample of a teenage girl lust after glory.” ~ Dave Stevenson, senior editor of t&b magazine.

When I picked up the book, I said to myself that it was going to be another one of those books where you don’t learn anything except wait for the plots to unfold. Five chapters down the book and I couldn’t but it down. There were just too many lessons and knowledge packed in it.” ~ Maya Steel, Avid reader.

If you enjoy this book, then kindly leave your own review to help others find it. Thank you.

AWAKEN VALKYRIE
(TOUCH EXPRESSION BOOK ONE)

By

TESSA SMOKES

A PEEK AT THE INSIDE

A QUICK HEADS UP

FRIDAY, 14th FEBRUARY: A MYSTERIOUS VALENTINE

ONE: A MYSTERIOUS LIFESTYLE

TWO: A MYSTERIOUS GROUP

THREE: A MYSTERIOUS GUY

FOUR: A MYSTERIOUS SUSPICION

FIVE: A MYSTERIOUS VIBE

SIX: A MYSTERIOUS EVENING

SEVEN: A MYSTERIOUS RECOVERY

EIGHT: A MYSTERIOUS SURVIVAL

NINE: A MYSTERIOUS IDEA

TEN: A MYSTERIOUS ENCOUTER

ELEVEN: A MYSTERIOUS INCIDENT

TWELVE: A MYSTERIOUS DISCOVERY

THIRTEEN: A MYSTERIOUS GIRL

FOURTEEN: A MYSTERIOUS ME

FIFTEEN: A MYSTERIOUS CHOICE

SIXTEEN: A MYSTERIOUS BIRTHDAY

SEVENTEEN: A MYSTERIOUS FAMILY

EIGHTEEN: A MYSTERIOUS SHRILYN

NINETEEN: A MYSTERIOUS JOURNAL

TWENTY: A MYSTERIOUS SWORD

TWENTY-ONE: A MYSTERIOUS MEETING

TWENTY-TWO: A MYSTERIOUS MOM

YOU’RE NOT A MYSTERIOUS READER

A MYSTERIOUS AUTHOR

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

WHERE CAN I CONNECT WITH THE AUTHOR?

[]A QUICK HEADS UP

This quick hint is to notify my esteemed readers of some of the contents of this book.

Yes this book is a young adult urban fantasy fiction, yes the storyline was drawn from Norse mythology and you might find some familiar names from Norse mythology here (that is if you’re familiar with Norse mythology, if you’re not, then please refer to the back of this book for helpful tips of some major characters in Norse mythology and other mythological concepts adopted in this book), however, there are some concept in this book from Norse mythology that was introduced by me, the author. Some of these concepts include the person of Yggdrasil.

In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is known as The World Ash Tree and in other folkloric work, as the ‘horse’ of the Norse god, Odin, but in this book, Yggdrasil is referred to as a goddess. The same goes for the entities called Valkyries. In folklore, Valkyries were servants of Odin whose job was to choose those to be slain in battle and then show the fallen warriors to Valhalla. But in this book, the Valkyrie character was adopted for an entirely different purpose. Instead of being servants and chooser of the slain, the Valkyries in this book are leaders and are to be served.

Also, you will come across the folkloric mythological realm Asgard where the Norse Æsir gods resided. In this book, the realm Asgard stands for a different use and inhabits different mythical creatures. The creatures that live in this fictional Asgard are called Sidhs. For a better understanding of what these creatures are and what they look like, you may refer to the Irish fantasy movie series, Merlin, season 3 episode 3.

All in all, this is a work of fiction and so I believe it brings no harm or disrespect to persons, religion, or cultural beliefs; this book was only created for the entertainment of readers hungry for fantasy fictions of the highest rank. Therefore, the storyline, characters, places and events used or otherwise mentioned in this book are the invention of the author, me; thus they may not be compared to anything of reality. Meaning, places, characters, names and events in this book that may align with reality are strictly coincidental.

As my esteemed reader, I’m using this opportunity to extend my warm appreciation to you for your interest in this book and as well invite you to share your thoughts, opinions, even welcomed to disagree with me on some concepts or topic you wish to raise awareness on. Just one request, do let it be constructive and humanly in that it may not hurt some feelings. So, to do that, pay a quick visit to the customer review area of your favorite online retailer where you purchased this book. If you attained this book by the means of a free giveaway, then you’re welcome to share your reviews either on Amazon or Goodreads.

Thank you so much for your interest and taking your time to write a review for it.

Enjoy!

Just when Ayana thought her life was getting better, it got worse. Only now she realizes the beginning starts at the end.

FRIDAY, 14TH FEBRUARY.

A MYSTERIOUS VALENTINE

“Ahhh!” pitched my screams and my sight instantly collided.

Breathless, I staggered backward. I lost balance as the earth moved beneath my feet.

Darkness clouded my view and try as I might the only sound within earshot was my frantic heartbeat and raspy breath.

Everything else seemed unreal except for me; at least I wish it were.

How I got here became history and escaping seemed impossible.

The next time my sight connected with light, it was bright and frosty. The brightness was too much I had to look away when CRACK! The old oak door hissed opened.

I didn’t expect it to, and that was why I held my breath highly hoping and praying it was help.

But all I saw was bright light until I strained hard that I heard the faint footsteps heading toward my direction.

Thump! Thump! Thump! Raced the little organ in my chest, its sound rose to my mouth and my body began to break apart. I couldn’t say if it was due to the frosty chill of the room or fear of the unknown.

When the figure materialized in my view, the hair on my nape raised still and a sinister cold zapped through me.

I froze in place, my heart pounding and my throat dried up. My airbag closed and the saliva in my mouth vanished.

It wasn’t help that came in . . . it was my doom.

“Hello, Love!” the figure said melodically. His pale face was covered with a serene smile; it was the bloody long sword in his hands that told me I was going to die tonight, right there and no one would notice I was gone.

Instantly, sweat covered my body, a thousand shiver ran me through and a heinous migraine stormed my temple.

Slowly, he raised the sword, his eyes stamped on me. My motionless body stayed put like a lifeless dull, but in fact there was nothing I could do; his sword was already down-

I screamed! Buried under the pull of sweats and staggering heart. But that wasn’t it.

My screams died down, but there were still screams and voices loud enough to stop my heart-

“Ayana?!”

“Hey! Are you okay?” I couldn’t answer, my voice was lost and the shapes were bloody boney pale figures getting closer and closer and. . .

“Ayana!” My eyes snapped open and it was light again. I was no longer in an empty room clouded in darkness and cold, I was among my friends on the dance floor of the town’s Grill parting the Valentine’s Day away with enough buzz and fun.

What happened then? I pondered. My voice was inaudible and that’s what incurred shrills from my friends.

“Hey! Snap out of it, will you!” Tiffany yelled. I released my breath and blinked. Now I regained consciousness. And that was the moment it dawned on me that the horrifying scene I witnessed wasn’t real. It was a vision.

A vision of a future possibility.

Slowly, I pushed myself up from Crispin’s body who must have caught me from crashing on the floor and cleared the tendrils of hair away from my face and then masked on a faux smile to escape the maze without haven to tell them what just happened.

“Thank you,” I said to the boy. “I’m fine. I’m fine,” I answered everybody else.

“Looks like you’re reaching the finish line for tonight,” Curtis joshed good-naturedly.

“Ooh,” echoed from the crowd.

“Guys, guys, give her a break,” Travis chimed. “Calhoun has paid her due, she rocked the house!” The crowd’s response was boisterous cheers that increased my headache and sent my heart railing.

Still in camouflage of my trauma, I cheered along with them and used their statements as an excuse to flee the room for some air outside. Without argument, they freed me so I marched out of the crowd to the entrance door. I was nearly there when I gasped, only this time it was my boyfriend who yanked my hand and spun me around.

“Where are you going, baby? The party has just started.”

Exhaling, I nodded. “I know, but I need to step outside for some air, I might as well die out of oxidation here.”

Tony furrowed his brows gauging my facial expression. “Are you sure, or is it her?”

Recalling what a dirty fighter he was, I dropped his hand from around my waist, closed the space between us and wrapped my hands around his neck for an accurate assurance. “No, boyfriend, it’s not her, you know she can’t make me leave,” then I kissed him on the lips.

Tony pulled back with his cocky grin. “Do you need it?”

I shook my head, “no, I don’t, not today, and certainly not while I’m having fun.” The words were honest but I was starting to reconsider after the heavy flashes dumbed on me a while ago. Either way, the boy nodded, kissed me some more and released me eventually. “I’ll be right back,” I said and then I glided to the door, pushed it open and gladly stepped out of the Grill’s heat.

The minute air hit my lungs I returned to life, inhaled periodically and exhausted three minute just breathing in air. I was confused for the better part of the night at the sudden appearance of the visions. It had been a while since the last episode ever since I returned to drugs after my rehabilitation few months back. I knew the only way to keep the visions at bay was getting high and tonight, I was high beyond high; the beers and vertigo I had before the party started was still active before I got to the dance floor, which in every way should have kept the flashes at bay. . . Well unless I needed to see it, I needed to see the vision of what was about to happen. Unless the vision was important, they were never strong enough to knock vertigo out of me to see them.

The question was: What did it mean? Why did I saw myself in a scene of doom?

In response, my iPhone buzzed to life and I nearly jumped out of my skin until I recalled the vibration was coming from inside my bra where I’d kept the phone for emergency purpose. I pretended like I didn’t already know who it was as I stuffed it out of my bra with my face wrinkled out of irritation. After a lengthened sigh, I answered it.

“Why can’t you just text like every other moms?”

“Because I’m not like every other moms,” the chaperon checker fired back. “And it’s getting late, I need you back home right this minute!”

“Seriously, Mom, it’s Valentine, a day people celebrate love and whatnot just in case you’re forgetting, plus, the night’s still young.”

“I don’t care because for me the night is old and inappropriate for your kind to be out there.”

“What do you even mean by that? Jesus, it’s 10:30 Mom! Why are you being such a grumpy housewife? You know people your age spend this night with their husbands and are happy their kids are away.”

“Not my business, and you haven’t seen grumpy yet young lady if you don’t get yourself in your car right now and head home—” I was happy to relief her of the stress by ending the call. Jesus, I didn’t know why my mom hated fun and why she wanted me to be like her, which I never would. She’s the only mom I knew who never wanted her kids out of the house at night, which was against the code and ethics of fun. If only I could switch moms, trust me she’d be done away with by now.

Clearing her off my mind, I returned the phone back to it place and turned around then I stopped dead. The weather was changing before my ashen-face from a chill winter night to a stormy cloudy night with howling wind streaking branches against trees and raising everything around me.

“Okay Ayana, chill, it’s February,” I reminded myself before my heart funked to death. It was impossible for it to rain in winter and that was the thought that had me looking up the cloudy sky. I didn’t know when my jaw dropped and my eyes widened. Up in the cloudy sky stood the haunting moon’s beams and around it where spooky shadows. Shadows of all forms and shapes. And right there I knew I had company.

There was a shadowy presence behind my back.

I sensed it, I felt it, it heartbeat, it gulping breath, it soft croon.

I wasn’t alone.

My pulse ramped up, my breath trapped, my heart pounded as my shaky legs pressed after each other at my gradual body tilt. Fully turned, the sockets of my eyes popped out.

It was him.

It was the same person I saw in my vision. The same one with the bloody sword. And just as I saw him in the vision, so he was in reality. Pale face, glimmering eyes, serene smile.

“Hello, Love,” he said. I froze.

For the longest part of the moment, there was only silence between us, the sky glowing, the branches creaking and the frosty wind wiping against my bare arms, while I assessed him. The guy was nothing like what I’d seen before. His dressing alone called for fear; black long sleeveless coat, long gray texture hair, symbolic tattooed arms strange to the eyes. It was impossible, I never had visions that instantly came true, and if my dreams and visions never came to past I’d be at peace right this minute and think it was all coincidental.

But that was the game changer; they always came to past.

“You seem speechless, did I startle you?” he said. I couldn’t make any sound except for my fast rhythmic heartbeat. The guy didn’t move away and my body remained frozen. As if enjoining my pitfall, his smile increased as his icy hand brushed over his black winter coat where my gaze caught the shimmering hilt of his sword.

Oh my god, he was going to kill me.

He cocked his head aside, gauging my haunted expression. “Still speechless?” I breathed out nothing. “Oh, I see,” he stood straighter. “I must have frightened you with my sudden apparition. For that I apologize, but I’d love to hear you say something, Love, anything,” he still had smiles on his face as he spoke. I couldn’t answer, I mean what could I say when I’d seen it all. I knew how the show would end; even when I didn’t know him nor did anything wrong to incur death. And maybe it wouldn’t hurt if I asked why he wanted me dead.

“Who– who are you?” I stuttered. I wasn’t quite certain he heard me until his grin extended.

“Me? Not important. You? Very important,” he said. I didn’t take that in very much or at least what to think of it.

Abruptly, the wind changed from the ghastly blowing breeze to a still chill. Everywhere chilled down. The cloudy sky clouded in the more, but this time with thunder and lightning. The radiate moon beam disappeared out of sight and I was left crippled to my bone. I had no idea what was happening, but I was certain my attacker did because his smile vanished at the changing atmosphere and I saw the grave looks in his eyes as he looked over his shoulder where I saw more shadows, shadows with weapons in their reach. The sight of this washed some nerve into me to backpedal. One and two and three . . . then he snapped his gaze back on me. I gasped as my back pressed against a car behind me. The guy’s eyes etched and at the same time sparkled.

Somehow the new weather pushed some guts into me and I found the resolve to open my mouth again. “What do you want from me?”

“Just one thing,” he said, and then added teasingly. “We need your life!” Don’t ask if I gasped because I didn’t, I was actually expecting it, but hearing him say it made me temporarily deaf.

“How about I say you don’t do that tonight? I mean come on, it’s Valentine’s Day,” chimed another voice. Immediately, I spun around in search of the intruder and found him, a figure whose feature was cloaked by darkness; all I saw was his shadow. A shadow that hovered over cloud or maybe it was my tipsy vision, but something was apparent, he wasn’t ordinary because the lightning sky dissolved above his shadow.

A shadow that whispered death.

“Oh, not you again, Mr. Horrible,” said the first guy. “I thought you were going somewhere with your girl, you know somewhere cool to spend the night, like in a ditch?”

The shadowy figure tsked. “That’s where you’re mistaking buddy, I never take breaks.” As he spoke, his voice rumbled like a thousand sea clashing vilely.

“Wow, I’m impressed. Can you make me one of those restless robots, and please give it your trademark, I love keeping dead collections,” replied the first guy, looking over his shoulder at his group, they chuckled together.

“You sound reasonable, must be time for my medication,” answered the shadowy figure, but his voice was flat and lacked any form of wit. “And since we’re throwing jokes around, why don’t you take a walk and call it a night?”

The first guy pouted his lips, furrowed his brows pretentiously like he was thinking about it. “Okay,” he conceded, “I will right after I do this. . .” and abruptly, he lifted his sword and next thing I remember I was dashed through air. I crashed on the ground, banged my head on a rock and wished I’d pass out next for the soaring pain that roamed my head.

As I lay there writhing with pain, I heard war cries resonate around me just as weapon clattered against weapon. With the stroke of lightning flickering around, so did the earth moved beneath my body. After what seemed like forever, I decided laying there in an unknown territory among strangers ready to pierce my heart out with weapons I’d never seen before while I bled to death wasn’t going to save me. Just as I twisted my weight ready to get up, a blue haired figure in a mini denim skirt and green jacket materialized into view.

“Stay down, you’re hurt,” she said. I winced as my head met the ground again.

“Who are you? What’s happening?” I whimpered.

“I’m Tecna, and you’re caught in a war between Were Readers and Expression Readers,” she said. Her words made no sense and that forced me to speak again.

“What are you saying? What do you mean by that? Why am I involved?” She didn’t get to answer my questions due to the appearance of two other girls, one with red hair, the other with pink. In their hands were weapons, swords or daggers, I wasn’t sure, and the blue haired girl wasn’t without a weapon too, a bow perhaps.

“How is she?” asked red hair.

“Not good. She’s bleeding internally,” blue hair answered.

“Nalu got her hard,” red hair sympathized.

“Yes, but he was only trying to save her life,” blue hair responded.

“Sadly, the wind worked against him today,” red hair said empathetically.

“Good, make her forget,” pink hair blurted.

“What? We can’t do that, Qetsia!” red hair objected.

“Why? This isn’t the first time we’ve done it, or second, or third,” pink hair countered, her tone gruff.

“Yes I know, but she’s bleeding in her brain, Qetsia, doing that might be dangerous for her kind,” red hair argued.

“I’m aware of that, Electra, but we can’t take any chances . . . not with her. Tecna can take care of it,” pink hair counter-argued. She turned her scorning eyes on me like a tiny insect she’d love to crush under her boot and ordered blue hair: “Do it, make her forget.” Immediately, blue hair started for my head to carry out the instruction. I hadn’t seen the blue glow in her palm when I tried to stop her because touching me wasn’t a good idea, seeing how her palm burst to life had me shrilling despite my hammering head.

“No, stop, wait. . . Don’t touch me!” But she already had and I instantly passed out, and just as Pinky ordered, I forgot about that night, the strangers, their chit-chat, the weapons, hair color, the vision, everything that made that Valentine’s night stand out from the usual. I forgot everything. The only thing I recalled was opening my eyes at home and being told by my sister that my boyfriend found me outside the Grill after I must have slipped and hit my head against something hard and passed out given how tipsy I was.

Nothing more.

~ ONE

TWO YEARS LATER

A MYSTERIOUS LIFESTYLE

Mysterious I gasped to life breathing out of my mouth with my watery eyes scanning around the dark room. My heart was yet to be stabilized when a high pitch sound blared across my ears. I was nearly jumping out of my skin before I recalled the sound was coming from my alarm clock, right next to my bed; that’s when I realized there was no danger, just the alarm notifying me that it was another new day, an entirely blue sky out the door and a billion activities waiting for me outside the house.

Panting, I wiped away the beads of sweat gathered on my forehead, reached for the alarm clock and turned it off then I switched on the light and looked around the room again. Goodness, it was unbelievable I almost died right there. Pushing my hair to the back, I flipped the comforter out of my body, pressed my hands on my knees and exhaled deeply. Then I got out of bed, stretched my muscles and staggered to the bathroom. Few minutes later, I climbed down the stairs, marched into the kitchen all set to leave the house.

At the sound of my footsteps, Freya tilted her head around from the burner. “Morning, sweetie.”

“Good morning,” I murmured back crossing to the nook. I knew her eyes were on me, I felt her hard stare watching me as I dropped my messenger bag and moved to the fridge.

“You okay, sweetie?” she asked eventually.

“You won’t believe the dream I had today; it was the strangest dream ever!” I murmured out as I grabbed a cold can of Mountain Dew to chill my devastating nerves.

“What did you dream of this time?” Freya asked sardonic in tone and dreamy in gaze.

I slammed the refrigerator door and turned around. “I’m serious, Frey.”

“I didn’t say you’re not,” Freya said then giggled. Looking at her, her asinine attitude got on my nerves that I clutched a fist with my free hand and frowned my face hoping I could dump a punch across her face to show her how serious I was. Freya laughed out when she heard nothing more from me. She let go of the stirring spoon and turned around. “I’m sorry AY, it’s just you and your funny dreams,” she said.

“But this one is not funny, Frey. I know that I’ve been ruled out as a psycho-freak to you all, but this dream seems real. It felt real . . . like more than any of the ones I’ve had before,” I said as candid as I could. I left the fridge and moved toward the kitchen cabinet where I drew a bowl of French fries to myself and dug my hand in it.

“Okay, seriously, tell me,” Freya said. “What did you dream of?” She asked, but she was being deadpan. I shook my head at her expense, grounded the fries in my mouth and began telling her.

“The dream was obscure, it didn’t actually follow the normal routine, you know what I mean . . . not that straight to point sort of formation, this one came in pieces, like sliced pizza and the first vision I saw was me about leaving the Library when Mark came to me for a favor–”

Freya simpered when she asked, “Even in your dreams?”

I let out a small chuckle before answering. “Even in my dreams.” That was typical Mark, my colleague at the Public Library whose favorable days never saw an end.

“What did he want?” Freya asked as she returned to stirring the pot of spaghetti.

“He asked me to stand in for him while he go see this girl at Town Hall, which would only take a few minutes.”

“Does he ever take more than a few minutes?” Freya asked mirthfully.

The question turned up the side of my mouth. “More or less,” then I gulped my drink.

“So . . .” she prompted.

“So, Mark being typical Mark coaxed me into helping him and I agreed. I decided to kill time while I waited for his return by picking up the books that were checked in late and then moved to their appropriate aisles to keep them. I was in folklore aisle when the door opened and a gust of wind whooshed into me. The wind was eerie and so scary . . . it took my breath away,” I said. Even I shuddered at the memory. The dream completely terrified me, and recalling the details for my sister gave it a realistic impression like it was happening all over again.

Last night’s dream was overly out of the subjects in my history of weird dreams.

Slowly, Freya abandoned serving the plate she took from the middle drawer and turned around. This time her face wasn’t deadpan, it was dead-serious. She raised her eyes on me, brown eyeballs that had a bit darker shade of it color. The transformed expression on her face told me that she could feel the strange part of the story.

“What happened next?”

“I stood there in the stacks stiffened for a while after the wind seized. Despite the absence of it, the place was still frosty. Refusing myself the opportunity to be bound in fear, I cleared my thought assuming it could be my weirdness playing tricks on me given that I’m crazy, besides, it was night and I was the only person left in the big library hall. So, I brushed off the feeling and proceeded out to attend to the midnight owl who thought it was cool browsing out the library at night. Stepping out of the racks, I approached the checkout counter with the regular chorus of ‘welcome to Fair Haven Public Library! How can I help you?’ . . . then I paused when I beheld the night owl I presumed to be one of the miscreants I go to school with, or even the homeless junks Mark complained of who disturbed the Library at night. However, I was wrong; the person I saw was far off from being any of the above I thought of,” then I paused.

My sister’s face turned faint, her heartbeat went in a slow horrified pace that when she opened her mouth to speak the level of her whispers was as though the anonymous person I saw in my dream could manifest into reality and choke the breathing life out of her.

“Who was it?”

“A guy with an incredible dark sexy hair,” I said and then went further to describe him. “His clothing was a complete set of black and his eyes were glittery as those of a cat. His presence was intimidating and alluring at the same time. Topping it off, he had a black gig bag strapped across his back, and oh Freya, he was so freaking hot, downright ridiculously handsome and . . . so damn dangerous.” I bit my bottom lip as the flash of his image swept through my mind’s eye, his incredible features and then the weirdest part of it that was disturbing.

“I had a feeling when I looked at him, it was like we’ve met before . . . more like I personally know him, somehow . . . and I felt something else,” I added.

“What?” Freya whispered.

“The beginning of trouble.”

Silence. Everywhere was silent as if I was the only person in the kitchen. To reassure myself that I wasn’t alone, I tilted my head toward the angle my sister stood. I found the girl agape and bug-eyed. Her facial expression was awkward and I instantly recognized the feeling – she was struggling to understand the gibberish I’d just sprung out of my mouth.

“I’ve done it again, haven’t I?”

Freya narrowed her eyes. “Ayana,” she said sharply.

“I know, I know I’m doing it again,” I dramatized. “I’m aware that I’m crazy and say crazy stuffs, which probably mean nothing so don’t freak out on me, okay?” as I said that I had my right index finger pointed at her. Freya leaned her back against the cupboard, her arms crossed over her chest with her face spread in an animated smile. I moved to the burner, fetched my potion of breakfast out of the pot, fixed the plate of spaghetti and salmon and a glass of water in a tray and grabbed my bag off the counter.

“And please. . .” I turned in the middle of the room, “Just don’t send me back to rehab. Mom might not be here but you still have the power to play that role perfectly well on your own, and Dad’s not here to help me out. So please, whatever you decide to do, don’t include rehab in it.” Freya let out a bleak laugh despite herself and the tension she was only in a while ago.

“Ayana?” I stopped and turned around. “What did you see next in your dream?” I stared deep into my sister’s eyes and saw how somber she was with the question.

“I’m not really sure with the details, but most of what I saw was war, chaos, and blood, lots of it flushing everywhere; on the streets, in the square . . . in school.” My sister’s breath was held still as her gaze widened. I swallowed down the fear in my throat then I left the kitchen to eat in the dining room. Freya joined me afterwards. Before long we were both ready for school: Me for Fair Haven High, Freya for Yale.

When done, I picked up my keys and bag from the table and my sister kissed the top of my head.

“Please, take care of yourself,” she said in her usual mom-like manner, and her voice sounded more pleading with too much concern in her eyes, probably because of my dream.

I made the gesture of crossing my right hand over my chest and said, “Sure Mom. I promise to stay completely out of trouble, even from myself.”

Freya let out a small tense-less laugher and pressed my body against hers. “Silly girl.” I pulled away grinning. I left the porch and went into the garage where I unlocked my gray Aston Martin and ducked inside, passed my bag to the passenger side and drove out of the garage. I waved at my sister who stood at the porch and like that I drove off.

Yeah, you heard right, Aston Martin, that was my latest baby, and yeah that was how spoilt I was for someone you call a brat. My parents gave me everything a beloved child could have, everything that money could buy. From designer label to plush glistering jewelries, trendy purses and even latest cars. I had it all, everything.

Including fame.

In Fair Haven and environs, everybody knew AY, Fair Haven’s Miss Fair. I was the latest deal in town since I turned fifteen and so far nobody had acquired the needed requirements to replace me. Because I worked my butt at everything I was asked to organize, head, or placed in charge to handle.

As Fair Haven High’s cheerleading leader, I had access to a lot of things restricted to other students and this opportunity gave me the right to suggest stuffs in the school’s committee and almost all the time, my suggestions were always accepted with delight. I ran the school’s Bookworm Club, presided the Student Committee Board, led the Technology Team, and once in a while, I was given the chance to participate as a judge in the school’s Debate Club; that is of course if I wasn’t leading a team of my own – which in every way always emerged the winner. During my leisure I organized fundraising programs to assist the less privileged, organized charity events for the nursing homes and orphanages and led campaigns to enhance the town’s condition irrespective of the subject. And once in a while I volunteered at the Justice Department when the sheriff needed help revamping or spring cleaning the building, at school during big events and at the mayor’s house whenever the town was preparing for celebrations.

My involvement in these things was because I loved Fair Haven and wanted the town looking spectacular than any other town close to us. In fact if it were to beat New Haven, I didn’t think I’d mind. Which was why when the town came together and decided to crown me Miss Fair a month before my seventeenth birthday, man I didn’t mind it either, and I was double grateful for the gesture and nearly didn’t expect I’d be given the Humanitarian Award I received a week to my seventeenth birthday.

Honestly, I didn’t see it coming. It was indeed an honor to be appreciated by my town. And somehow, I knew they were waiting for graduation to crown me Prom Queen.

But of course I couldn’t have executed any of these on my own without my loyal jury, a select group of five I rubbed shoulder with starting with my wingman, or girl; my best friend, Tiffany Fox. She served as the second in command. Then Stacy Cameron, Alex Fisher, Joanna Armstrong, and Stella Thompson. Any other girls seen with us were just popular wannabes, girls whose sole aim was belonging in AY’s league only to gain fame around town like her as it was the custom to gain access into the Lawn, which was Queen AY’s citadel.

Yep, in Fair Haven High, the quad’s lawn was where you See and Be Seen. And only the number of kids I strictly permitted could enter the Lawn and invite few others whom my committee agreed upon.

I was one in a million.

Alas, with my grandiosity came some freakiness.

Technically, when I was twelve I started having weird dreams and whatever I saw in my dreams always came to past in reality. And there was also this strange creepy thing with my skin that enabled me vivid insight of people and whatever they were thinking, or even an object the instant I touched them. This’s how it worked: Whenever I touched something or someone, I’d instantly get a vibe from it, like a flash of the object’s memory and that minute I’d come to know the history of the person or thing, how many times the objects was used, how many people had touched it and whatever the objects was. In the case of people, I’d know how many people they’ve touched, who the person was, the things they did in secret, how they felt, and what they were thinking about.

This was one freaky way I got to know peoples’ secrets. All the dirty things they did and thought were safely buried within them, the ones they shared with others and those they hid even from themselves. Yes, some people had secrets they hid from themselves, as ironic as that sounded. The dark and twisted things that made people who they were and why they were like that.

People always were in possession of their secrets until I touched their skin and all those secrets revealed to me, just like that, in one snap. Well, unless I had no intention of digging in. In fact, at times, I accidently–Intentionally hit people just to know their secrets. That was a way I cheated through tests and exams that posed difficulty to me. Everyone at Fair Haven High concluded I was a born genius because of the streaming A’s in my result, which added more to why I was the most popular girl in school. Even the teachers respected me and treated me specially; another reason why I won the favor of my parents and made them proud that in spite of my rebelliousness, I still got the most of everything.

Yes, everyone including my best friend thought I was indeed a genius, only my sister, Freya, knew I wasn’t as brainy as the credits awarded to me. She was the one person who was aware that I cheated my way through the difficult subjects. All I had to do was, with specific goal at heart, approach the teacher and touch him or her in whichever way I chose to put it – accidental or intentional. And at that moment I’d get to know the exact question they’d set during the exam and what answer it would require. This was my own secret no one knew of.

I was a smooth criminal. I got away with everything and was never caught.

I even made extra-cash by the services I rendered to kids in school, helping them out with their academic problems when they employed my help. I had no time to tutor anyone, so all I did was get as close to their specific problem – teacher – and do my thing. I’d drop them a hint on the solution on the sly – important topics and questions to feast their minds on before taking the test and get a dollar, when the results get out and it was confirmed they passed, that’s another dollar for me.

That was another high status for me, not just as the most popular kid, but also as the richest non-employed and non-parental dependent kid, too.

All of these influenced me into drugs – the extra-cash I made in school went on drugs, vertigo especially. Those aware of my state concluded I was only being a brat, only my sister, Freya, knew the truth behind my getting high that it was for a total different reason – because drugs was the only outlined way to keep the vibes I got off touching people and creepy dreams at bay. Reason was it got to a peak when the freakiness began to do a number on me and the only solution was getting high. That was the only way to make it stop.

When I turned fifteen, my mom decided she’d had enough and sent me to rehab, an expensive private facility in the city owned by a famous psychologist who was my dad’s unfortunate former colleague, which made it especially impossible for me in there. Six months later I was back, not because I was set free, but because I escaped. I promised my parents then that I had changed and no longer into drugs. I gave them the impression that the rehabilitation worked well on me, maybe in fact too well. My dad welcomed the change in his favorite daughter and was really happy that I came off clean. My mom on the other hand didn’t buy into my story that well, basically because she never trusted me. She knew onset that I escaped and made up the lies the others bought in.

To clarify her doubt, my mom asked me to stop seeing my boyfriend, Tony Anderson, whom from the beginning she didn’t approve. She believed he was a bad influence on me and that he was the one who introduced me to drugs, thus if I never saw him again I would change completely. However, I declined and then begged Dad to help me out. He did. He interceded on my behalf and Mom relented on the matter – but however, that didn’t substitute her mind or made her approve our relationship.

Which any sensible person would have appreciated.

But not me. I wasn’t that person that saw the good behind disastrous choices like the one my mom made simply because I was stupidly so.

If only I was smarter back then I would have listened to her and probably avoided the consequences my obstinate and defiant spirit brought our way. The tragedy and pain it caused us. Maybe if I’d stop dating Tony back then, or at least when I turned sixteen my parents would still be alive by now. Maybe their untimely death would have never occurred in the first place.

Yes, my parents were dead; they died a year ago, a day after my seventeenth year birthday celebration in March. And it was my entire fault.

Like always, I usually held grand celebrations at my house on every twenty-second of March, with an availability of everything my friends and guests needed, a time for them to feel free at doing whatever they felt like doing except do the dirty. No, that was not allowed in my house. To make matters worse, my dad always placed a warning sign on the door for everyone coming to my house to see the minute they stepped on the porch. A sign that dismissed any form of PDA and the consequences attached to that breach of law.

Having a counselor for a dad was like having a watchdog on your social life – always chaperoned.

Since the kids didn’t attain much freedom as they liked at my house, my friends organized a party for me at Fair Grill, the town’s number one hangout site and not only for the lack of buzz at my house, but to also celebrate the Humanitarian Award I received and the Miss Fair honor. My mom refused me from going, but as always I insisted and tagged Dad along who normally got to Mom. She gave in and permitted me to go. I was in the middle of fun and going great when the flashes began again after a period of weeks, which I thought between those times that I was raid of them because the flashes when came off the wrong side overwhelmed me. Taking a break from fun, I went outside and dragged Tony with me – he was my storage-keeper and unfailingly provided me with the necessary dosage. I asked him if he had it on, his reply was a wild grin. I got the quantity of vertigo I needed and went fine. You know, as fine as getting high made you. At about eleven, my mom began bugging me with calls and texts. Thirty minutes later, I was forced by her threats to come home, which in effect meant abandoning my party or face serious consequences at home.

I practically bailed out on my friends, asked Tony if I could still drive despite the snowflakes shape my eyes were making out of his face. Tony said I was okay to drive. He assured me that I was seventeen and at the stage where a few dosage of drugs couldn’t harm me. At that very moment he seemed like the best boyfriend ever and my love for him increased just for saying that simple encouraging line. To stake his claim, he went as far as giving me the key to his Escalade. I kissed him all around the face and entered the car aware of my drunk and high state, but didn’t care. I even played Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off and increased the volume and my body moved to every beat of the song. Five minutes on the road, I lost track of my speed and collided with a truck that had been beeping out to me, no thanks to my wild life in the car. The next thing I knew, I was lying in a hospital bed with the only event I remembered to be me screaming in search of a way to escape the truck.

The next morning I was informed by the nurses that my survival was a miracle, because Tony’s car was crushed beyond recognition at the accident; in fact nobody was able to tell how I got out of the car alive with only few injuries despite the condition of Tony’s car and the truck driver. Many believed I had help – divine intervention because only a superhuman strength could have saved me out of the car. However, my parents weren’t that lucky.

When I gained consciousness at the hospital, Freya came to me crying with the sad news that my parents were dead. She told me that immediately after they received the call about my accident, they had both gotten into their car heading straight for the hospital to see me. Unfortunately, their car was run off Gran Avenue Bridge into the Quinnipiac River by a drunk driver and they were both reported dead by the time the paramedics arrived at the scene. Freya was saved from the accident because they had left her a message while she was home sleeping.

I was shattered by the news, well conscious that it was entirely my fault they died. I caused their death.

Starting that day my life had never been the same again. Things were different and my life changed. I was still Ayana Calhoun, but not The Ayana Calhoun, aka AY, the most popular kid in Fair Haven.

She died in that accident.

I cut off the life I used to live and withdrew from most of the famous activities I engaged in and confided myself to the peace and quiet of my bedroom for a whole month after the funeral. I technically stopped talking to everyone except Freya, Tiffany and the other girls. I shut every other person and things out completely. I broke up with Tony as well. Not that I blamed him for what happened though. Okay, maybe I did, I blamed him a little because I did ask him if I was okay to drive and he gave me a positive answer. So, that was his share of the blame, the weighty one though hung on my shoulders. Maybe if I’d been more like my sister, so innocent, so drama-free and so simple, maybe my parents would have been alive and here with us.

A year after and here I was, a new person, an obedient and responsible individual. I became someone else, someone who lived a more simple life compared to the former one and made sure to ease my sister of the problems I normally orchestrated for my parents because now Freya was all I had left, and I’d learned my lesson the hard way. So, now was the time to start living the responsible life as I neared the adult life. Not that it mattered or that I cared that much for the legal age.

And it still nagged at me why I never foresaw my parents’ accident like I did every other incident; maybe I’d have done a thing or two to stop it from happening. Apparently, it added no sense why my freak-show made other tragic event seeable and not my parents’ death.

~ TWO

A MYSTERIOUS GROUP

I nosed my car into Fair Haven High student parking lot – a public high school and the only high school here in Fair Haven. The school was situated behind Frost Hill, a hill that served as sanctuary to me whenever I needed some peace and quiet away from home. Frost Hill was one of the coolest places in New Haven, a town full of life. Everyone in this town knew my family, and almost every one of them came to my house when my parents died. Each of them did what they could to help Freya and me because we had no other relative. Mayor Charles and Sheriff Dexter especially did more than enough to support us. Basically, they were close to us because of the relationship they shared with my parents. But despite the fact that they were my parents close friends, none of their solidarities were capable of healing the pain in my heart, or change the bitter truth that my parents were gone forever. My sister and I received a lot of counsels from people, my dad’s colleagues mostly, to move on with life and not dwell on the terrible incident we experienced. I personally received a handful of it because I didn’t stop faulting myself for what happened.

Not that after a year I stopped ascribing the blame on myself, but I no longer dwell on it, rather I strived at being a better person. I think I was succeeding at achieving that aim of being a better person as each day passed. And I was determined to carry on with the transition for Esther and Dan Calhoun. And I didn’t stop missing them.

I turned off the engine of my car, grabbed my bag and exited the car. As I slid my bag on my shoulder, a red sedan drove into the lot and parked near my car in the second in command’s spot. Okay, maybe I’d changed and was living a different lifestyle, but some things just never did. I still retained my number one popular girl spot, and everything, which came with that was still intact, every one of them against my will. I made it perfectly clear to all those it concerned that I was done being AY Calhoun. However, my friends and their hideous mindset failed to listen to me. They insisted that no matter what happened or what I thought of myself about the entire turn of event, I was still number one and that would never change.

Despite their attempts, I made sure I reduced my popularity. In fact, I barely ate in the Popular Lawn anymore or participated in the regular school activities I used to, like leading the cheerleading squad, the technology team, or even the bookworm society. I barely did or participated in any of those activities anymore. In fact, I could barely remember the last time I attended the cheerleading practice.

Waiting at the other side of my car for her to climb out, Tiffany’s exotically polished leg pushed out first from the car followed by her graceful movements as her whole body followed out next. Her denim mini skirt exposed the delicate part of her thighs; her royal blue top covered most of her chest save for the low V-neck cut at the front that allowed the winter wind hit the top of her chest. Her favorite cowboy boot though protected her foots. When she turned my way, her light-brown soft hair flared to the rhythm of the wind. Tiffany smiled around, which in effect was to no one in particular. My best friend was a little nut case on her own. She believed always wearing a smile would get snobs off your back.

That was her theory, not mine.

But we use to fit in that category once upon a time.

“Hey honey,” Tiff chirped, her ice blue eyes sparked of life.

“Hey sweet,” I said back.

We shared a brief hug and pulled away. Tiff squeezed her face as she pulled her hair to the back. “Oh, this humidity is killing me, and it’s torturing my hair.” I laughed at her, which pissed her off. Tiff glared at me, “what’s funny?”

I gestured to the black leather jacket hanging off her left arm when I said, “you do know it’s winter and you have a jacket totally useless in your hand. Besides, you should be glad winter is almost over.”

“Yeah, correct,” she agreed. She transferred her messenger bag onto my arm and slipped on her jacket, after which she collected the bag from me. “I can’t wait for summer to arrive.”

“You gonna have to wait three months for that,” I said, after which we picked on a measured pace as we strolled out of the lot.

“I hate to wait,” Tiff huffed, and then she beamed. “How was your weekend?” I shook my head cynically at her expense because she asked the question like we didn’t spend the most of it together.

“Sunday was fantastic.”

“What did you do?”

“Apart from the time you visited? Freya and I made some tacos—”

“Oh my god! You did that after I left?” I was unable to control my mirth already aware of what her reaction would be. “Betrayer! You know how much I love tacos. You almost made me wish I can hate you.” I laughed at her. That’s what I’d expected out of typical Tiffany Fox.

As we stepped on the front lawn we answered greetings. Since it wasn’t time for class, some kids hung around, while the likes of the sport kids, threw ball around.

Fair Haven High was recognized for its many participation in sport and music. The school was also home to the three time swim champions – our swim team that was the first high school to win a championship three times compared to the surrounding towns, the young MBA winners – our basketball team, and then the Froufrou musical group that was nominated for the best high school music group last summer. I never missed any of our games and competitions when I was still AY, because the teams always made us proud, especially the record breaking team – the first baseball team in New Haven to win a sectional in seven years – our very own Timber Jack, and lucky the team had Tony as it batter who was the best batter to have led his team to a championship after an extended period of eight years.

Now, I barely did any of that anymore.

When Stacy got to us, Tiffany and I were almost at the entrance of Science building. Stacy Cameron, the third Big deal in school, appeared bold with her choice of dress. It was public knowledge who Stacy Cameron was because the main reason why she won the third in command’s title was due to her bold spirit and braveness in style. Today her blonde hair was in a frenzy up-do, her emerald eyes glinted and above it all was the white lace cocktail dress and black blazer, and most especially the new black stiletto boot her uncle, Ken, bought her from Columbia.

“Hey girls,” Stacy chirped. Tiffany took the better part of two seconds assessing her.

“If I didn’t know you better, I’d say you look like a girl ready to be branded off on an altar,” Tiffany said.

“In other words, she’s trying to say how gorgeous you look,” I said complimentarily.

“Thank you,” Stacy beamed. She made the gesture of giving us a turn with her famous silly face and radiant smile. Tiffany curled up her lips and raised her brows at me questioningly. I shrugged my shoulders while the other girl traded her arm through mine and we marched forward. In the hallway, Stella and Alex joined us. By the time we strolled to the locker area, Joanna met up. When we got to our lockers, everybody spread out to her locker while I opened my locker, brought out my English textbook and shut it back. At the sound of the lock, my side glance caught Tony who stood at his locker with his famous intense glare directed my way – the expression that he favorably opted for as a replacement of his cocky grin. That has been his behavior toward me since the time I broke up with him a year ago. Tony had since been avoiding me entirely. At least some exes shared a brief form of greetings or communication, in our case, neither of that happened. There were times I tried reaching out to him, but his standoffish attitude made him difficult to approach. I’d gotten over him and wanted us to be back as friends. . . So far, that has been impossible to achieve.

“He hates me,” I murmured out.

“No. That’s she dumped me but I’m too cool to show it,” Alex said.

“And it’s as clear as a cerulean sky that he’s still into you,” Stacy said.

“Just give him more time to get over it,” Stella added sensitively.

“Get over it after a year?” Tiffany asked, irritated. “Seriously, someone needs to give him a wake up snap and remind him that it’s the twenty-first century and he’d better go radio silent.” I sighed frustrated by the outcome of everything. When I broke up with him I hadn’t meant to end a relationship only to create enmity between us.

“Stop moping over that, it’s still early for distractions,” Alex advised. “Come on.” I adjusted my bag on my shoulder and kicked started our walk. At the intersection of English and Geography, Ethan Powell jogged up to us.

“Hey girls,” he said.

“Hey,” we returned.

Ethan lowered the strap of his backpack, dipped his right hand into the small zipper and brought out his wallet. He plucked out a dollar from it and stretched it over to me. “Here AY, thanks for your help.” Smiley, I reached for the dollar bill – my balance for helping him out with his calculus test.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You’re welcome,” Ethan said. He waved at us and went his way. My friends turned and stared at me oddly; I shrugged my shoulders and slipped the dollar bill into my back pocket. Did I mention earlier that some things never change? Well, I guess some things just stayed the way they were like getting my extra-cash when I helped kids out with tough academic issues using that touch-thingy no body still knew of but my sister, Freya.

At lunch break, my group and I filed into the cafeteria, grabbed our regular and through their many cajole exited the cafeteria for the Popular Lawn. They insisted we eat in the lawn basically because for a while we hadn’t hanged there, all thanks to me. We marched to the quad, then into the lawn. We placed our trays on the ground and settled under my favorite oak tree. The cool feel of the place was incomparable to no other place in the school, especially the cool breeze provided by the branches on the trees. This among the many amenities found in the lawn made it desirable for kids and another reason why most of them wanted a space – no matter how small – in the lawn.

The kids weren’t mainly a feature of girls but boys also. The boys gained access to the lawn through Tony and two other major boys on my public status who also were team leaders, namely; Ryan, Mayor Charles’ son and playmaker for the basketball team, and Preston, Sheriff Dexter’s son, leader of the swim team. Because our parents were close friends, the kids and I shared a form of familiarity . . . but most of the time Preston was a pain in the butt.

The Popular lawn didn’t only serve as the coolest place to hang out, See and Be seen, but also one stop site to share the rocking gossips. Yeah, that was one place to release a press conference on who hocked up with whom and who broke whose heart over the weekend. Since Tony and I broke up, the boy had stopped hanging out around the lawn and the reason for this was because right after my parents’ funeral, news had travelled across town that I dumped him because I held him responsible for what happened. Fair Haven was a unique town, but it could also be a bitch for a town in terms of gossip. So, Tony, haven heard the accusations he thought I engineered cut out whatever association he had with the popular society and have been ignoring me since. However, his decisions didn’t affect his friends because we still hanged out together.

“So, was it true that Kendall did the dirty with Marvin at Nikki’s party on Saturday?” Alex initiated.

“It is no rumor any more. It is true,” Joanna confirmed.

“I thought she was keeping the V-card a little longer,” Stella said thoughtfully.

“Geez Stella, what are you, a nun?” Stacy mocked.

“No, of course, I only thought it was too soon, the two of them just got together a month ago,” Stella said, defensively, although her meek voice and personality clothed the defensive part of her.

“Maybe,” Tiff chimed in. She shook her head and said, “I missed that party and that is no thanks to you,” her frowned face directed at me.

“Hey, easy on the lass, I never begged you to go to the coliseum with me,” I said in my defense.

Tiff arched a disgusted eyebrow at me, “You were just gonna go alone?”

“I was fine all by myself,” I said neutrally.

“Yeah? Even with the helps and tips I hinted you?” She quipped. I lost sight of how to defend myself against her when she was in her nagging gear, so instead of stretching a damned case, I gave in to laughter.

“Who’s next at donating the V-card soon?” Alex asked, her eyes filled with mischiefs.

“How about you, you look ready?” Joanna said.

“Oh, that is not gonna happen, not while I’m still in high school,” Alex replied.

“Of course, what was I thinking? Virgin Mary,” Joanna said. We laughed to that.

Travis appeared from behind the oak tree, he peeked at us first, his head pushed forward while his body hid behind the tree. “I heard you girls talking about the V-card. Somebody wanna get laid?” He said snottily.

“Not with you, Cook,” Stacy said. Travis backed away from the tree, made himself fully visible and darted his little creepy eyes on her – eyes that were a shade of purple and blue. The odds in that were this – Travis Cook, Tony’s bestie, had the same eye color as one of my friends, Joanna Armstrong – and they weren’t related.

“Why not, Cameron?” he said, bent his head cockily and waggled his eyebrows. “You scared I might be too good for you?” We laughed again, which got to Stacy’s other side. The girl shifted Travis’ balance from the ground and the boy went down straight. More evil laughter trailed that. The rest of lunch break rolled by and so did class. Finally the sound of the bell signaled the end of school for the day. I bade my friends goodbye, got inside my car and relieved my shoulder of the burden of my weighty messenger bag into the passenger seat. I started the engines, reversed out of the lot and drove out of school.

About ten minutes’ drive away from Fair Haven High across town, opposite Kendrick Ice Bar – an ice cream bar well known for its many flavored ice creams and coffees – was Fair Haven Public Library where I worked. I drove into an empty space at the driveway, parked my car and made for the staircase.

Shortly after my parents’ funeral, one of the main counsels Freya and I received were those from Trisha, Sheriff Dexter’s younger sister. As a qualified psychologist, Trisha advised that it would help my sister and I ease away depression if we got engaged in some time consuming activities outdoors. Actually, most of her words that day were directed at me because of how bitterly I was blaming myself for my parents’ death.

Setting Trisha’s advice into motion, Freya and I made consideration as to what activities would best serve us. Freya thought it over and concluded she could be a good bartender. She filled in a résumé at Fair Grill, while I considered manifesting my reading and research passion into a profession. With Mayor Charles’ help, I got a job at the town’s library as an assistant Liberian where I worked out a lengthened period of four hours checking in and checking out books, helping folks find reference books, assisting some conducting research, and assisting myself in researching more of my specialty that included folklore, comics, history, and some pathological books that could help explain why I was the way I was – a freak in other words. Currently I was indulged with some supernatural stuff that was suggested by a mythological based online community.

Reaching the last step, I pushed the double side brass door and stepped into the gigantic hall racked with books of all ages, historic backgrounds and different purpose. I looked straight ahead at the checkout counter – my station that I shared with another girl, Danna Clayton, as a whisper drifted out to me from the study area located at the left side of the library, a space entirely dedicated to study. The hall seemed sort of scanty, but in a few minutes would host a variety of people – college kids and tourists alike. Fair Haven was a tourist’s site too; the town featured a couple historic and folk legend goodies.

I moved away from the door and pressed for the checkout counter. I dropped my bag under the counter, signed my name in the register and logged in my password into my assigned computer. I looked away into the hallway that housed the offices – the two main Librarians, Scott Miller and Belinda Hart, then the hideous manager, Marshall Young. Technically, he wasn’t hideous, that was all me. But frankly speaking, the man was more than a pain in my neck, he was unhealthy oxygen to breathe in, yet he was un-breathable. I stuffed my eyes away from the hallway out toward the secretary’s desk cloaked behind stacks of shelves, invisible to visitors but not to staffs.

“Hi, you’re here,” Danna’s voice returned my attention to the counter. I couldn’t tell where exactly she appeared from, but must have been among the racks behind given the quantity of books carried in her hands.

“Hi, yes I’m here,” I said back.

“Welcome,” she said. She dumbed the books in an empty cart, reached for more books from a cart and disappeared again behind the racks. The girl was weird and not only for her winter-white skin, freckles dotted face and brunette wavy hair, but also because she displayed some really-not-cool appearing and disappearing acts. More to that was for a nineteen year old girl like her to live alone all by herself without any relatives . . . she barely had any friends, too. What I liked and found interesting in her though, was her verdant green eyes and the fact that she was a bookworm like me. The girl just got through with her prep school and come the end of summer, she was heading to Yale to major in the career of her dream: Library Studies. She told me herself how she’d longed to be a Librarian someday and lucky her, her dreams was about to come through equivalently six months from now.

Personally, I had nothing against her but for her babbling skills. If anything, Danna could babble you to death. So, I made an effort to distance myself from her in terms of sharing stuffs, the only connection we shared was as colleagues. The one person I got a frequent involvement with was the Secretary of Works, by that I meant Mark Ashton, the Library’s secretary. It wasn’t that Mark was any different from Danna when it came to talking – Mark was a big talkative, too – but his talks made more sense than Danna’s.

In other words, the Library was a cool hangout place because it provided me the peace and quiet I tend to enjoy more often since the death of my parents. My routine was cut out for me since the day I started working here. Whenever I wasn’t at school doing school stuffs, I was at the Library working out my four hour shift, or at Fair Grill hanging out with my friends and watched as they enjoyed the fun I used to crave. If I wasn’t at any of those places, I certainly was at home cooling out with my sister and tending to homework.

~ THREE

A MYSTERIOUS GUY

As soon as the folks started sweeping in the Library, I got busy checking in and out books. I didn’t take it all lone-wolf-y by getting too involved in work, I spared some communication interest in listening to Danna babble and Mark slipping in a comment or two every five seconds. Before long, the hours rolled by and it was almost eight. I did the necessary stuffs I had to do, cleared away few books Danna forgot to return to their spots before closing, signed off and came eight on the tick. The library was nearly deserted save for me and Mark. The others had left, Danna, too, because she came in earlier before me.

I picked up my bag from under the counter and set to leave the Secretary of Works to his paper works. “Mark, I’m off,” I called out to him. From nowhere, Mark slid to a stop in front of the counter, placed both of his hands on the fine polished oak wooden counter, his aqua eyes soften in appeal and his face wrinkled, like the last book dog-eared by a sophomore college kid Marshall made an example from last week. His height was no less than mine, and really if you saw the guy, you’d instantly know he’s thirty-one.

“What?” I asked.

“I really, really need a favor from you,” Mark said, silly faced.

I lowered the strap of my bag until the bottom touched the top of the counter then I knitted my brows. “What favor?”

“You’d be such a darling if you will help me out. I really need you to stand in for me for just a few minutes so I could meet someone at Town Hall, and I swear I won’t take long,” Mark said.

I completely let go of the strap of my bag then I grimaced. “Oh God! Mark not again. You realized it’s dark and I have to go home, my sister will be worried sick if I stay longer than I’m supposed to outside.”

“I know AY, but you’re the only one here now and I promise not to take much of your time . . . please Ayana, I beg you.”

“You had a lengthen period of time to have done all what you need to do, why haven’t you gone since?”

“Because she just called now,” he said

My lips parted ways for a mischievous smile with my gaze narrowed at Mark. “She? Your girlfriend?”

“No!” The secretary screeched. “No, she’s not my girlfriend. Why in Sherlock Griffin’s name would you think that?”

“Because it isn’t a crime if you had a girlfriend,” I said honestly.

Mark laughed at me then said, “She’s not my girlfriend, just someone I have to meet now for some important project.”

“And it has to be this time of the day?” I asked skeptically.

“Ayana . . .” Mark winced.

“Okay, okay,” I relented.

“So, will you stand in for me? Please . . .?” I sucked my lips like I was thinking it through. Mark waggled his brows at me and chanted, “Please, please, please . . .”

“Alright,” I gave in, “stop giving me the eye.”

“Thank you a billion times!” He chirped. He turned around then sprinted to his desk to get his jacket.

“Just don’t stay too long, or I promise I’ll leave without bothering to lockup!” I said as he sprinted back out front.

“No problem,” he said and blew kisses at me and then scurried out the door.

A lopsided grin crept up my face as I watched him leave, shook my head and settled for something, anything to do to kill time waiting for Mark, because his few minutes was equal to fifteen whole minutes – Mark’s one minutes was the total of five minutes. I worked with the guy and I did my calculations. I might cheat through a few papers, but it didn’t mean I lacked total skills in any subjects.

In a cart near Danna’s station, I found some books tucked away at a corner. Engineering the initiative to work, I locked myself at putting them away.

I pushed the cart along the aisles dropping off each volume at their appropriate place. I rolled the cart into Folklore aisle, picked up two books I only had the chance to keep one of it as a whirling gust of wind whooshed through me and the entrance door banged against its frame. The bulbs twitched and lightning stroke the sky. My stomach churned as my head snapped around at the sudden ghastly atmosphere. It never happened or once heard of for it to rain in winter, that is if I were to believe the cold eerie wind that stifled me in place was for some winter changes.

A moment later it all died down. The lightning, the wind, the twitching bulb, everything returned to normal.

Except for my heart.

Long after the wind seized I was still under its trance, wondering where such a frosty wind came from and why I felt so weird to its effect. But then again, reminding myself of who I was, I calmed my nerves from frying from the inside out, and technically I had no reason to fear because I was weird. I’d never been the same since my parents’ death; the incident had changed me that now I constantly freaked out on almost nothing, just like the creepy dream I had that morning. Nothing was wrong, there was no lightning; it was all my imagination.

Working out my strength to quail my inner fear, I decided to check out who was responsible for opening the door at that time of the night and letting that sinful, life-stopping, death-questioning wind in. Theoretically, it was my fault for not depicting the CLOSE sign out the door, and God help me if it was those miscreants Mark complained of who disturbed him during the night, because that would totally be my undoing.

Gliding out of the racks, I chanted the formal welcome chorus.

“Welcome to Fair Haven Public Library! How may I help you?” Then like a remote controlled simpleton my legs stuck to the ground, my body stiffened and my airbag slowed from pumping enough oxygen into my lungs. Automatically, I froze in place when it dawned on me that my assumptions were wrong . . . and something became very right. All the while Mark came to me for a favor, when I picked up those books to place, the strange gust of wind and lightning, and then my freezing in place when I beheld the person who entered – I was reliving the first part of the dream I had that morning, the same one I related to my sister before I left home, the one that scared the hell out of me.

In front of the checkout counter stood the same guy I saw in my dream. He was dressed in the same complete black outfit, including his eyes – though they weren’t an outfit but as black as those of cats – glistering, sturdy and scary. His black funky hair was a being on its own despite the tendrils at the side of his face. And while his black jacket and the black gig bag strapped across his back nearly gave him away as a freaking band geek, the presence of his military boot sent a shiver down my body. Just as I told my sister, the guy was freaking hot, I mean as hot as a freaking hottie B movie star.

But as he was a match description of sexy, he was also a definite picture of dangerous: the perfect portray of Lucifer. He was fear inducing and power resonating.

In one word, he illustrated Death itself.

For a couple minutes I forgot where I was pondering these questions: Why I saw him in my dream, why he looked like Death and what business a person like that could have in the library? Why was I getting that connection feeling deep in my bones? And why was he staring at me with those menacing eyes?

“Do you work here?”

My body quaked at his sudden outburst. His voice served as a slap across my face, it sobered me up, and as unbelievable as it was, his voice was dulcet.

I shook my head to return to reality then stuttered out, “Sorry. How can I help you?” The mysterious guy stared at me with those fear-stricken eyes that befitted that of a vampire, you know such looks you get from a vampire who is ready to suck the living blood out of you. Instead of looking straight in his eyes, I managed to minimize my panic and worked hard at masking my fears.

“Do you have The Writing of Archibald?” He asked, this time his voice was a bit husky, but that didn’t qualify it for lacking its mellifluous. As I was ridden by fright so I was dumbfounded by the personality of the mystery standing before me. And I was also trying to figure out what was happening. “Do you have it?”

“Yes, yes we do,” I rushed out the second time he spoke. “Give me a minute, I’ll get it.” I turned around and headed for Folklore aisle where the particular book he requested was stored. As I marched to the shelf to get the book, I weighed a possibility that disturbed me – the mysterious guy did ask for a book, a particular book I had contemplations checking, a book recommended by the online community I turned to for help regarding my freaking issue.

When I arrived at the shelf, I reached my hand across and realized I still had a book in my hand, a book I didn’t get the chance to place. And it was the same book I came to fetch, The Writing of Archibald. It was beyond weird that while attending to the guy I had the book he wanted in my hand.

I turned and walked back to the front. “Here it is,” I said and gently slid the book across the counter to him. He reached for the book and I immediately let go for fear I might get a vibe off him, which I in all ways wasn’t interested in. Yes I loved knowing peoples’ secrets . . . but not this guy’s, especially when he seemed like the personification of Death.

The guy collected the book with his eyes still on me. “We don’t lend out our books to strangers,” I blurted. Terrific. That should have been the first thing I told him before handing the book over. The Library polices was against lending books out to strangers without getting a valid name, contact address and social security number that would be presented to the sheriff just in case the book was never returned, and for one certain thing the guy was new in town as it seemed I had never seen a face like his ever given I never forgot a face.

A Librarian I was.

“I’ll return it tomorrow,” he answered. In a swift turn, he cuddled the book close to his body, as if it might be snatched away from him and sauntered out of the library. His gait was mind-blowing.

That same evil wind rumbled in again and hit me rightly that sent a shiver down my spine. I closed my eyes to excuse the frost, when I reopened them the wind was gone and the library was back to normal. Slowly, I spun around till I was facing the reference shelf behind the checkout counter, a shelf mainly dedicated to reference books with great impact. I stared slack-jawed at the other volume of the same book I just checked out. The entire event that just unfolded crept me out.

How possible? What could he want with the book? Who was he?

The book, The Writing of Archibald was written by Hebron Archibald, a sixteenth century scholar whose life was based on research, folkloric field, legendary, and most especially, supernatural stuffs. He authored a lot of books, which most were still in print – revised? Yeah, but still very much available, and this specific book was about a particular set of people with supernatural abilities, which gave me interest in checking it out when it was recommended to me. I had the inclination of reading it and hopefully finding a solution to my freakiness, but all that stopped me was finding the perfect chance to sneak the book out of the Library without Marshall’s awareness.

And as I continued to stare at the other volume, a hesitant compulsion washed into me to pick the book and look through–

“Ahhh!” I shrieked at the sudden tap on my shoulder.

“Hey, it’s me,” Mark said. Turing around I placed my hands on my chest to try and stabilize my heartbeat then I ran my bloodshot eyes on him until I was satisfied it was indeed him.

“Geez Mark, you scared me,” I said panting.

“I’m sorry. What happened? Why are you like this?” Mark said, his blue eyes scrutinizing me. I gazed at the entrance door and pondered if what I witnessed was real or my imagination. Mark traced my gaze; he looked at the door and back at me.

“Nothing,” I said. “Nothing happened.”

Mark arched his brows skeptically. “Nothing?” He asked.

“Yes. I was in deep thought that’s all,” I said and stood straighter.

“Are you sure?” The secretary persisted.

“Yeah, pretty sure,” I said. “By the way, you’re back.”

Mark simpered. “Yes, I came back early for you.”

I glanced at my wrist watch to confirm how early he was and really it was a minute before his normal time. “You’re early indeed.” Mark’s smile spread into a grin that covered his face. “Now that you’re here, I guess it’s time for me to leave.”

“Yes, of course,” Mark said. “Thank you, Ayana, I really do appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome.” I reached for my bag, crossed over the hall and called out, “Good night, Mark!”

“Good night, AY, and thank you,” the secretary returned.

I stumped out of the door, climbed down the steps and paused to feel the night and to listen for any strange anything given how chill, oddly quiet and frightening the night was when the street should have been bustling due to the ice cream bar across the street. K’s bar was an activity joint at night and kept the area busy. It was only past eight and everywhere seemed wiped out.

Crazily silent.

Without further delay, I raced to my car, unlocked it, hurried inside and reversed out of the Library’s lot and made for home. Done with parking the car inside the garage, I sprinted inside the house.

“Who’s that?” Freya asked, she showed up from the kitchen with her favorite mug hanging from her right hand. I neared her, snatched the mug from her hand and gulped the hot substance.

“Hey, it’s hot. . .” Freya was saying when I released the mug from my lips.

“That’s exactly what I needed,” I said and returned the empty mug to her. “I needed something that’d differentiate imagination from reality.”

“Okay. Calm down and try to breathe,” Freya said. She took my hands and walked me to the living room. Gently, she let me down. “Now tell me what happened.”

“You won’t believe it if I told you what happened today,” I said.

“What happened?”

“My dream came true today, Frey, the freaking dream I narrated to you this morning came to past.”

Freya blinked, her eyes bulked out as she whispered, “what?”

“Yes, Frey, with the details I told you, Mark wanting a favor, the mysterious stranger showing up, everything in details. And seeing him in reality gave him a believable appearance and I noticed something I didn’t in the dream – he seemed like Death personified,” the last words followed through a pant.

My sister gasped, her eyes bugged-out. “You don’t say?”

“Yes, I do say,” I said.

“Oh my, did he- did he hurt you?” She asked gesticulating.

I breathed with calm and said gratefully, “no, he didn’t.”

“What did he want? Who is he?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen him before except for the dream I had this morning. And he came for a book, The Writing of Archibald.”

Freya wrenched her face in confusion. “What’s that?”

“It’s a book written by a supernatural research scholar and a book I intend to check out to see if it can shade light to my symptoms and maybe if these freaking weird thingy is for some freaking supernatural reason. And this particular book is about a certain group of people rooted in legend,” I explained staring into my sister’s quizzical eyes.

“What did he want with it?” She asked puzzled.

I shook my head. “I have no idea.” Freya and I maintained a daunting silence that she broke soon after in a fazed tone.

“I think I need another cup of coffee,” she said. I watched her rise from the couch with a blank expression written on her face. When she said she needed another cup of coffee, she was being serious about it.

Whenever my sister was nervous, confused, frightened, or freaked-out, the medicinal solution was the one and only cup of coffee – not because it was recommended by a specialist, but because that was one thing she favored above any other thing. That was the medicine to her madness. And since I’d snatched the first cup from her, she needed another to keep calm and think straight.

I followed her into the kitchen, watched as she placed the coffee pot on the burner and seized the chance to think. “Freya, could it be the drugs, could it be why the dreams are back?”

“Ayana!” Freya scolded. “Why say a thing like that?”

“Because the puzzle fits, Frey, it could be why the dreams are back since I’d stop taking them. We both know the drugs are the only thing that kept the freakiness at bay,” I reasoned.

“No, Ayana, it isn’t the drugs, it might have kept them . . . what do you call it at bay, but it doesn’t mean it was that helpful and you’re clean of it. So, don’t talk about that anymore,” she said and then crossed over to the nook where I stood.

“Then why, Freya, why do I still have to be crazy?” I winced.

“Because you’re you, Ayana Calhoun, and you take over the legacy of every birth righted Calhoun . . . which in every word means crazy. And since you are the perfect representative of a true Calhoun you’re bound to be crazy,” my sister said smiley, her hands around my arms.

My brows furrowed wishing I could get upset by her speech, but I couldn’t afford to because she was right. If my dad was here that was the same thing he’d tell me because according to our family history, every Calhoun was said to be crazy. If I didn’t believe that, my dad’s nature was evident enough. Dan Calhoun was a crazy scientist.

Freya cupped my face and said softly, “you’re my sister and even though you’re . . . crazy, you’re not crazy-crazy and I love you so much. Crazy pants,” she added. I muffled my nags within and buried my face on her shoulder while I breathed in her daisy scent. Freya always made it better and her peaceable lifestyle at times made me crave for such a personality. Freya was only twenty-one but she had that warm motherly nature that even my mom tried to mimic when she still lived on earth. Freya was innocent, gentle, easy going, calm, cool, and collected. And her voice was though as a C note in a piano, it was soft and melodic. If I didn’t have that touch-thingy, my thoughts would have fell into the same category like most people I knew of – that she was faking the attitude.

Freya’s simple nature awarded her my mom’s favorite child while I was nominated under the Most Hazardous catalog.

I pulled away from her, sniffed and said, “Okay, if you say so.”

“I do and I mean it,” she reassured. “Now why don’t you go upstairs, take your bath and come down for dinner?”

“I think I left my appetite at the Library, and I seriously can’t go back to get it,” I murmured.

My sister chuckled. “I think that hot coffee did a number on you.” I loosened a smile at her joke. “Go to bed then.” I sighed, grabbed my bag off the coffee table and made for the stairs.

“Good night, Freya.”

“Good night, sweetie. And remember if there’s anything, I’m just a voice call away.” I looked behind me and smiled, gave her a thumb-up and skidded up the stairs. I turned left in the hallway opposite my parents’ bedroom and two guest rooms, passed Freya’s bedroom and a guest room and arrived at my bedroom located at the end of the hallway. I pushed the door open then paused to scout out the place.

So far nothing seemed out of the ordinary. My room was okay, as in as okay as I left it that morning before going out.

My fourteen inches bed was locked at the left side of the room, the dresser opposite it didn’t shift and my nightstand closed by that with my new Apple computer – technically, the computer had lasted a year, but I maintained it because I didn’t want to squander the funds my parents left us. The curtain at the window dropped behind my pink chaise longue. The bathroom door opened as I left it and the Wonder Women, Pretty Little Liars, Taylor Swift, Dracula, and Shakira’s posters stared at me awkwardly from around the walls they were hung at. Everything was intact.

I sighed, threw my bag on the bed, watched it bounced in the bed and nearly hit the HP laptop I dumped there last night and didn’t bother that much to take off the bed before going out this morning. I did wedge it though, with the many fluffy teddy bears on the bed. I neared the closet and examined myself on the full cover mirror on it.

Yes again, I pressured my parents into getting me a full length mirror where I would see the whole of me and I wanted it at the back of my closet. My dad, on the other hand spoke to my mom and they both made arrangements on that. My mom didn’t buy into the whole idea of caving the mirror at the back of my closet with my name on it. Although, I was successful and got my wish, which updated my popular status in town and today you could see a copycat work in the homes of some wannabies.

Taking myself in, in the mirror I nearly screamed when it seemed I could barely recognize my face. My purple pleat skirt was wrinkled, my green shirt and jacket though still retained it former way. My incredible dark-brown hair fell past my shoulders and back trendily – no scratch that, it almost didn’t seem so trendy anymore. The bizarre part of it was my face, my amber looking face that was bloodshot and toning into an ugly pale color, no thanks to the mystery I encounter today. What provoked me the most was the wrinkles around my eyes and the hollowness encrypted in my emerald eyes.

Today was the worst day for me since my parents’ funeral.

I sighed, opened the closet door, yanked off my PJs’ hook and marched to the bathroom. I changed into my blue short and pink top and climbed into bed. I breathed deeply frustrated with today. I’d not for once lived a day like that that felt like I imagined to do when I saw my own ghost. Maybe I did saw my ghost.

Geez, my body ached and stress worn me out, and showering was the last thing I felt like doing.

~ FOUR

A MYSTERIOUS SUSPICION

When I opened my eyes the following morning, the lights were turned off and I was buried underneath the comfort of my pinky Hanna Montana comforter. Twisting around in bed, my sleepy eyes were met with the rays of sun reflecting in through the small space in the curtain, a notification that it was light outside and I got to get out of bed. I’d slept off last night staring at the ceiling deep in thought about the big cinema my normal life had turned into that I forgot to turn off the light and to cover my body. So, seeing the current state of the room was no surprise at all, Freya had succeeded that role from my dad who used to roll by at night to check up on me.

I rolled out of bed, shambled to the window and pushed the curtains aside. I practically crooked my eyes for some seconds to put away the sun, after my eyes calibrated to the sunlight I gazed over the landscape that was part of Fair Haven while the sun warmed my skin and I breathed in the scent of morning and sighed afterwards. My room was located at the side that gifted me the perfect view of the town. Since my parents’ death, I’d made it a daily routine to look out from my window; a perspective reminder that I still had the chance to do better, be better. I still had the chance for a do-over

I pulled the pink and white curtain over the window then picked up the picture frame that had my parents grinning into the camera from my dresser. I stared at the picture for a while renewing my resolve to change things. I returned the frame back near the other ones that had my sister and me in it and the one with the complete family in it.

I spent the next fifteen minutes getting prepared for school – brushed my teeth, took my bath, moved to the closet and got out a denim trouser, green vintage top and pink blazer. I applied my makeup, threw the cloths on, slid on a pair of blue snicker then grabbed the backpack I was using today from the nightstand after I’d transferred the contents from the messenger bag I used the previous day. I paused at the door, glanced at my parents’ picture and the usual longing crept up on my mind. I missed my parents and wished I could turn back the hand of the clock, go back in time and change the unfortunate incident. At least it would be better if I gone back to being the rebellious teenager and have my parents present with me.

I climbed down the staircase and veered to the kitchen. My sister was mounted in front of the cooker as usual preparing breakfast. “Morning, Frey,” I said, pressed for the coffee table and dropped my backpack.

“Hey sweetie, how’re you doing?” Freya replied.

I moved closer to her and planted a kiss on her left cheek. “I’m fine. What are you cooking?”

Freya tilted her head with smiles on her face, “Cheese and fried eggs.”

“Mm, yummy.”

“Did you sleep well?”

“Yes I did,” I said. “And thanks for the late hour check, Dad would be proud of you.”

Freya grinned. “You seemed disturbed when I came by. Worried about something?”

I shrugged, “about everything. Don’t you think everything is worth being worried over?”

Freya reduced the grin on her face to a weary smile. “Just take things easy, okay?”

“Okay,” I answered. We made breakfast available on the coffee table in no time and settled down to eat.

I initiated the conversation line when I asked her if she was going to work today. “No, I’m still off duty till Friday,” Freya answered. “But I’ll be going out after school with Vero and Jas, we have something to do and after that we’ll spend two hours working on a project.”

“Kay,” I nodded. “It means you’ll be all day out with the girls?”

“Yes,” Freya answered.

We continued with the food until the peace was breached by my sister this time. “Ayana,” she called.

I lifted my head up from my plate, “yes?”

“About yesterday’s event, have you given any thought to it?” She asked.

My right hand lowered to the table near my plate and the question changed my mood. I tried last night to recapitulate the drama I witnessed in the library and all I got was the creepy, odd and weird flashback, and tried as I might I couldn’t come up with any valid reason to explain last night.

“It could be the drugs.”

“Ayana,” Freya reprimanded. “I’ve told you several times that it’s not the drugs.”

“Then give me one reasonable explanation to this,” I said frustrated within. Freya was quiet for a while, possibly ruminating for what to say – it was pretty easy to detect when she’s in deep thought because she’s transparent when ruminating.

She looked up at me from her eyelashes and blurted, “What if it was all an imagination, a hallucination?”

“Freya, it couldn’t have been! It’s impossible,” I disagreed.

“Think about it, Ayana, what if the Mark part was real but the other guy, it could have been a hallucination because of the dream you had yesterday morning that freaked you out,” Freya reasoned.

“No, Freya,” I disagreed immediately, “it can’t be. I don’t buy in that theory of yours. I know what I saw, it wasn’t a hallucination.”

“I know, but think about it, Ayana, it could have been the trick of the light.”

“No way, Freya,” I huffed. “What do you mean by the “trick of the light”? I know what I saw. He was there in person just as I saw him in my dream dressed the same way. I’m not crazy Freya, and I’m not a child who can’t tell between reality and imagination. It was no trick of any light.”

“Okay, okay,” Freya said lackluster, “just calm down, okay? I believe you and as your sister I want you to listen to me for once.” I locked gaze with her but said nothing to interrupt her as she went on. “I want you to try and call somebody else’s notice when the guy shows up again. You did say he will be returning the book today, right?” I nodded. “Then try this out, talk to someone, Danna perhaps or Mark or even the Librarians, ask them when you see the guy if they see the same thing you saw.”

I chew my thumb nail when she finished and thought about her suggestion. The idea wasn’t bad and the added evidence could go a long way. “But I know what I saw,” I insisted, ornery.

“And I believe you, I just don’t want you stressing over this, alright?” Freya said. She reached for my hands across the table and squeezed them with a smile up at me as an encouragement. I understood her fears, not wanting me to dwell over this because it was still fresh in her mind what dwelling on it could do to me. I knew this from the feelings I got from her with the close contact our skins shared. And maybe it wouldn’t be so bad following through her suggestion, because I was scared myself if indeed the dreams were back.

Signing off the coffee table, I grabbed my backpack and set to leave the house. Freya hugged me and murmured to my ears. “Take a very good care of yourself and be careful.”

“Sure,” I said.

We pulled away then she added, “remember, if anything suspicious . . . or not comes up, I’m just a phone call away.”

“Ditto,” I echoed. With one final goodbye kiss she dispatched me from the porch to the sweet ride waiting for me in the driveway. I had my sister watch me drive out of the driveway and off to school. I arrived at the parking lot in record time, parked my car and head for first period sociology. The schedules went by as usual – classes, lunch, sharing the rocking gossips, more classes, and the end of school. At the sound of the bell ending sixth period, I packed up my stuffs, got to my feet and filed out of Biology lab with the other kids and joined my friends in the hallway. We had turned about exiting the way when Mrs. Denver returned me to the lab.

My friends frowned at that while Stacy hissed. “What now?”

I shrugged, “I don’t know,” then I reversed back into the lab to meet her. “Yes Mrs. Denver, is there something you need?”

“Yes dear,” the woman replied then she turned around to face me. “There’s this little thing I’ll like you to help me with.”

“Sure, anything,” I said nonchalantly.

Mrs. Denver stretched a sheet of paper to me, “please, could you look up these books for me? I’ve tried the school library with no luck.”

I collected the paper from her and said, “Sure, I’ll see what I can come up with.”

“Thank you,” the biology teacher said. I gave her that teacher-student smile and retreated back to the hallway to my huffing and muttering friends.

“What did she want?” Tiff asked.

“She wants me to look up some bio books for her,” I answered.

Stacy hissed again. “She couldn’t do that herself? What a hag.”

“No, not the school library, at work,” I clarified immediately.

Joanna hissed. “So?”

Stella stepped in to ease the moment the best way she could. “Come on guys, you shouldn’t bother with that, AY looks okay with it,” she said.

“Whatever,” the other girls murmured, rolled their eyes at her and Alex added in a tease, “Cat.” I buried my chortle with a cough but Stella caught me either way. The poor girl shook her head downcast then she turned around and walked away from us. Alex and I shared a guilty look and scuttled forward. We caught up with Stella and worked our guilt out by cheering her up. Stella was guileless and humble, which made her an easy prey.

Poor thing had suffered in our hands – including AY – since we started watching Sam & Cat on Nickelodeons. We nicknamed her after Cat, whose fictional personality was as those of Stella, and the girl had the same hair color like Cat, red hair, and she fancied the real life character role player of the TV drama – Arianna Grande. She like had all the complete songs of her star. Geez, pathetic, because even I didn’t keep a steady date with my favorite star, Taylor Swift, and who checks her favorite celeb’s tweets every two seconds?

I said my final goodbye to the girls, got inside my car, set the key in the ignition while my left hand pressed on the gearshift. On reversing out of the lot, Joanna pushed her head into the car through the passenger side window.

“Can I catch a ride with you?”

“Um, I’m actually heading to work,” I said curiously.

“I know. I’m meeting a friend at K’s,” she said.

“Okay then. Climb aboard.”

Smiley, Joanna opened the door, transferred my backpack to the backseat and took over the seat. She flipped her glamorous black hair around in the process of tilting. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

I started the engine, reversed and nosed the car out of the lot. Getting out of the school walls I engaged us in chatting. I asked first why she had to catch a ride with me and Joanna explained why. She said her jackass brother, Kyle – who ‘burrowed’ things without seeking the owner’s permission – ‘burrowed’ her End of Discussion that morning on the grounds that his car broke down and wouldn’t be fixed until later in the evening.

“So, who are you meeting with?” I asked next.

“Lance, I’m meeting with him,” she said. When she detected I wasn’t following, she explained herself. “Don’t you remember the guy I told you of, the one I met last summer?”

“Oh, yeah, I remember,” I said. That was the year my parents’ tragedy happened and first time in the Fabulous Record book where I refused to travel for summer. I was deeply wrecked after my parents’ death and my depressing state made living so damn tiring that I missed out a page in Fun handbook 101.

Traveling every summer after summer was my thing, something no one – Esther included – was able to detach me from. Summer camps were fun. My friends and I went on camping at different locations for different purpose – skating, panting, taking tours to incredible places, competition, and lot more cool stuffs to do during breaks. We went snowboarding on winter breaks too, and skiing, and ice hockey . . . man, those days were fun. We visited dancing camps, too, where I learned a step or two in ballet.

On breaks that we decided not to go camping, we went shopping our brains out around the globe, both physically and online. The only place I regretted not visiting for real was Paris, the home of fashion.

Whenever we shopped, we made do to shop for the latest trends in everything from cloths to footwear, jewelries, cardigan, scarfs, purse, bandeaus, even the latest mirrors. Yeah, we went shopping for that, too. But after everything that went down when I became an orphan that life was part of the things I cut off from me. My friends all insisted to stay behind to be with me, but I forced them to go, told them I needed them to go have fun, to enjoy their summer . . . couldn’t shoulder the guilt of having them miss out on life because I decided to stop living for the moment. They listened to me, went to some ski resort in Connecticut, sent photos and gossips back home to me and Tiff – the girl practically snapped out at me when I persuaded the rest to go out for summer. She insisted on staying back home with me, which was lovely and very helpful for having someone else in the house apart from my sister.

A month after they left, my friends were back home, said the break was boring without Tiff and I. I couldn’t recount if I’d ever been so proud of having them before that day. My friends filled me up with joy for being there for me. I was two seconds from breaking down with tears and guilt for the gesture and for ruining our Tradition for them, but they brushed me off, even made fun of me.

It was remarkable to know that I didn’t only have friends who stuck to me because of who I was, but also for the sake of love.

Joanna returned my attention to the car when she continued speaking about the guy she was meeting. “So, Lance and I kept in touch and now that he’s visiting Fair Haven, he wants to see me.”

“Wow, that’s great,” I commented. “So, you guys are together now?”

“No!” Joanna screeched to my teasing tone. “You know you’ll be the first to know if we were,” she said. “Besides, I don’t think that’s why he wants to see me, probably just to catch up for old times’ sake.” When she said the last line her voice transmitted something, her face said another. Obviously, Joanna wished that was the reason the guy wanted to meet and not for old time sake.

I glanced at her, “looking on the bright side, there’s a fifty-fifty chance that might be it,” then I aided that with a Mona Lisa smile. Joanna’s face turned dreamy with blush mushing around her cheeks.

Joanna looked my way somberly, “What about you AY, when are you gonna continue living your life?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean since you and Tony broke up, you haven’t had anyone. Don’t you think it’s time for you to move on?”

I sighed, tightened my grip on the wheel and answered honestly. “I don’t think I’m up for that now, Joey. I have a lot going on my sleeves presently.

“I know and I understand, AY, but you can’t remain like this forever. It’s been a year and I think you should have moved past the events in the past so you can get a hold on your life,” my friend reasoned just as we arrived at our destination. I stopped the car at its rightful spot in front of the Library, turned off the engine and pulled back in my seat.

Joanna’s eyes were fixed on me for the better part of a heartbeat, when I didn’t speak, she did. “I think you should give it a thought,” she said. I nodded and flashed her a grateful smile. “Well then, I’d better go see if he’s here,” she said looking over my shoulders at K’s bar.

“For his sake, he had better be,” I said. Joanna grinned, leaned across the console and we shared a brief hug.

“Thanks AY.”

“You’re welcome hon.”

Joanna opened the door, waved at me and I watched her cross over to the ice-cream bar. I did appreciate the value of our friendship and why my friends wanted me to move on, but I wasn’t ready to move on that level. Getting into a relationship was the last thing on my to-do list for now.

I grabbed my backpack, climbed out of the car and locked it. I stepped up the front steps and pushed the door. The first thing I was met with was Danna’s greeting. “Hi.”

“Hi,” I said back. I shrugged off my backpack and placed it at its spot then I filled in the register. For thirty minute my brain was on alert for the mysterious guy, an hour later nothing happened, everything was intact. Taking that for a refuge sign, I decided to look up the bio teacher’s books.

Departing the checkout counter, I moved into the racks and checked Science aisle. I found one out of the three and in spite of my effort Science proved to be such a waste. I twirled around on my feet in search of any possible sign of where the other books might be jumbled up in. I lifted my eyes up, roomed it around the second floor balcony and deliberated if the books could be there. Making a conclusion, I marched to the wooden zigzag staircase that connected both floors together near the hallway.

I climbed up the staircase, veered left then poked around the shelves that served me no luck in finding the books. I crossed over to the other side, searched out the first two shelves, the second and third and I ended with the same luck. At times I got frustrated with loose ends and I especially didn’t like Mrs. Denver’s rants.

With a final resolve, I checked the last angle first shelf, second and there on the third I found it, the biology reference books shelved among old collections. I grabbed the book out of the space it was tucked into, plucked the other one out as well and stuffed them on the first book. “Gotcha,” I said with relief. I turned around heading back down then I paused, tilted my head back up the last shelf I found the other books on when my eyes caught something the shape of a book in the space I plucked the last book out from. Curiously, I dipped my hand into the space and dug out the thing. It was a book as assumed, dusty and covered in webs, like it’s been dumped there for ages by some clumsy people.

I examined the book thoroughly then blew off the dusts and scaled away the webs with my free hand. The dusts went straight into my nostril that made me sneeze to it effect. “I hate dust,” I muttered. When the book was free of the dirt, the book title became visible – The Culture of The Celts, I read. Impressive, I thought. It was such wonders to find a folklore book stuffed in a place like that. Beside my curiosity was another curious thought of what the book’s content and given the vibe I was starting to give from it. The book was of great significance not only to the Celtic people, but also to a weird sort of things.

Just as a strange wave of flash hit me, a terrible cold rounded me up and a creepy sight blurred my vision–

“Ayana?” I palpitated at the unexpected voice and turned swiftly. I froze with the sight of Marshall and the way his eyes were fixated on me.

“What are you doing here?” The terror manager asked, his voice was as always – deadly and not cool, his best features I loved to avoid . . . at all cost.

“Looking up books,” I said, hiding my fears under a glazed expression.

“You’re needed at your station,” he said, his eyes swept over me in distrust.

“Okay”, I complied, walked past him and stormed down the stairs. I reached my station, dumbed the bio books on my backpack and returned to the computer.

“Hey, did you see Marshall, he came looking for you?” Danna said.

“Yes I did, thanks,” I replied. Danna nodded diligently and resumed her work. While my attention was on the monitor screen, my thought detoured over the book I found and the weird vibe I got from it before Marshall the villainous intruded me. I debated between picking the book up now to finish what I started or leaving it alone till I had more privacy, the ghastly wind that generated from the opened door decided for me, and that decision was – none of my debates mattered at the moment, no, not when the mysterious guy just walked in . . . and in broad daylight.

I drew in a shaky breath, moved near Danna and whispered in her ears. “Do you see a guy dressed like the Undertaker heading to the counter?”

The girl traced my gaze to the door and answered. “Yes, I do.”

“What does he look like?”

“With the way he’s dressed? I think he looks like Batman or what do you call it, except for his grey shirt though. Hmm, and he look kind of hot, too . . . scary and hot,” she said. I swallowed down a big clot. I was right, what I saw was real, it wasn’t a hallucination or an imagination as my sister thought.

“Who is he, is he your friend? And why does he have a gig bag, is he a band geek? And why is he dressed like that, is it Halloween? Is that his costume?” I shook my head in pity. Warn me next time not to seek Danna Clayton’s help on important issues.

“No, he isn’t my friend and I don’t know who he is and it isn’t Halloween and thanks for your help,” I said, and straightened my position when the guy stopped at the counter with his menacing drop-dead cat eyes fixed on me that sent several shivers up my spine.

“Hello,” he said.

~ FIVE

A MYSTERIOUS VIBE

“Hi. How can I help you?” I said. He lifted up his hand and placed the book he burrowed the previous day on the counter. I glanced at the book then his face. Unblinkingly, he slid the book forward. I raised my eyes at him with my chest thumping and worked up the courage to speak since it seemed he wasn’t going to.

“You returned the book.”

“Just like I promised,” he replied, his voice no different from yesterday.

“Will you like to borrow another?”

“Yes,” he answered, “The Culture of the Celt.” This time my stomach buckled when my heart dropped. I instantly drifted my eyes under the counter where I had the books I found, including the one he’d just requested. What was happening to me? Was I imagining this stuffs or were they happening for real? How on earth was it possible that the books I had interest in were the very ones this mysterious guy wanted? It couldn’t have been coincidence. Something tricky was happening here, but I couldn’t nail it down–

“Ayana?” I shuddered at Danna’s tap. “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” I rasped then returned my gaze on the guy. His face pinched to the side almost like he was enjoying my pitfall. His face lacked smile, yet his eyes darkened in out of amusement, that sort of way a vampire would when they enjoyed the terrified state of their prey before they dug in their bloodied fangs. Another shudder rippled through me at the slightest thought of the same happening to me.

Yeah I was a big fan of Dracula, but never imagined me to be it victim.

“Do you have the book or not?” The guy demanded. As I glanced once more at the book underneath the counter, I deliberated releasing the book to him or not. Unintentionally, my hand moved bellow the counter and retrieved the book. I stared at the book’s title long enough before I passed it to him. With his cat eyes still mounted on me, he reached his hand across the table and collected the book. Actually I wasn’t sure if I released the book willingly or not and that had me wondering on the theory of what if he indeed was a vampire and used that mind control thing on me? It was possible and explainable for why I let go of the book.

“We don’t give our books out to strangers.” Quite impressive, huh? That was the only witty thing out of all the millions in the world that I could say.

“I’ll return it tomorrow,” he promised and walked away with a final look at me. What is happening to me? I pondered for that was the first time I was actually scared of someone, not even the terrifying Marshall stroke such feelings in me. Whatever that guy was, I concluded he wasn’t fit to be among humans.

Few seconds after, I regained the force to break his mind control chain and stared at the book he returned, The Writing of Archibald. If I picked up the book with my bare hands there’s every possibility my touch-thingy would kick in and since the book spent the night with him, he definitely imprinted it and I’d know what he was. Bottom line was, it was risky, flashing on him could be harmful especially when I had zero knowledge on who he was. I looked away from the book, yet my bloodhound instinct didn’t allow me turn a blind eye to an imminent danger. Sealing my fate, I returned to the book and slowly brushed my fingers over it. To my surprise, I got nothing, no flash, no vibe, nothing. Maybe I was indeed crazy; maybe the touch-thingy had all along been an imagination. Maybe it wasn’t real, could have been the drugs and everything I saw was all hallucinations.

On the other hand however, hallucinations couldn’t have made it possible for me to cheat in school, know people’s secrets or see the guy in my dream before seeing him in reality. Something was wrong with me and Freya was right, whatever it was had nothing to do with drugs. But then, you don’t feel a pulse from a dead person, right? And since vampires were likened to dead people, the walking dead, maybe it was possible. But even with that, getting a vibe from the book shouldn’t be a problem because recalling the death of my parents, dead people had imprint for the while their emotions lasted.

When my dad died, I got a vibe from him, flashed on the last things he saw and felt. My dad was worried at the last moment of his life. I felt and saw how eager he was to get to the hospital to see me and make sure I was okay . . . then their car was ran off Gran Avenue Bridge and everything went dark. The last feelings Dad dwelled on were the struggle to save Mom then realizing neither of them had a chance at surviving, he’d felt pity for my sister and I, how we’d survive without them and the plenty of love he wished to show us, things he wanted to say to us. I was truly lucky I had Dan for a father.

Mom on the other hand, I got nothing off her dead body, no vibes, no flashes, not a single emotion, as if she didn’t have any before her death, which in every way made no sense because I knew my mom, I knew what an irrational woman she was. Esther would never be once without emotions, especially when it involved me. So, the incident at the funeral home had crept me out. It was totally weird.

Somehow then I was bound to get something out of the book.

With a new resolve, I picked up the book and closed my eyes and what do you know, there the images hit. My touch-thingy kicked in and I saw Mysterious guy, he lay on a motor bike he felt attached to with his legs plopped on the odometer. It was night, probably sometime after he left the Library. He seemed relaxed; at peace with the quiet of the night and despite the darkness he held the book, the same one in my hands and read through without difficulties. Technically, fear stole me for his capability to see in darkness.

Suddenly his emotions heightened, his heartbeat sped up, his sense amplified; everything about him that seemed at peace was now on alert, like he could smell danger from afar. Yet he made no move or changed his position nor prepare for whatever he sensed. CLANG! I heard next. There was a staff hanging above his head on top of a sword I hadn’t seen him hold. Mysterious guy pushed the staff away and rolled down the bike like a perfect ninja. Though it was dark, I saw things through his eyes.

The intruder of his peace was a girl, tall with black long hair. She was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, but her arms were covered in tattoos, tattoos of symbols. The staff in her hand appeared to be something fashioned out of ice. It was really icy blue and scary dangerous. If I hadn’t seen the long wickedly shinning blade in Mysterious guy’s hand – the sudden appeared sword I didn’t see him holding – I’d conclude he was at her mercy. The weirdest thing was the hilt of his sword, it seemed to be covered in glass and the inside shimmered in a brilliant sapphire blue, almost like a cascade, you know how little rain drops cascades down, that was exactly how it looked.

“Well, well, well, look who decided to read. I almost thought you never read and wished you were carried away in whatever it is that you were reading,” the girl taunted.

“Guess you’ve forgotten that I never get too involved in anything to lay down my guard,” Mysterious guy replied in like manner. His voice was even sexier and the two, according to my observation knew each other too well. And maybe I was crazy for thinking this but, Mysterious guy’s taunting tone sounded familiar in my ears, like I’ve heard that tone before, however, I couldn’t recall where or when.

“Of course, what was I thinking?” said the girl then she released a soft laughter. “How’s the bounty hunt coming?”

“It’s coming, and I get a feeling you’re here to top up my status.” Hearing that vanquished her derided smile. The girl turned enraged as if the reply meant more than it should to her. Her grip tightened around the staff in her hand while Mysterious guy showed how pleased he was for getting under her skin. He positioned his sword in place and waited for her to charge first. Technically, I’d expected the two of them to dig their fangs at each other; instead the girl sprinted forward with killer instinct and attacked the guy. Mysterious guy dodged out of her way and defended the blow with his sword. Both of them fought here and there in defense and attack until Mysterious guy found an opening and jabbed his blade through her ribs. The girl staggered backward writhing in pain. Her T-shirt was cut open and blood oozed out of the ugly wound at her side. As if that wasn’t enough, Mysterious guy neared her and sliced through air at her shoulder, and I funked, shrieked and clicked my lids open at a tap.

“Sorry, it’s only me,” Danna said. Once again, the girl had interrupted me.

Looking at her with the steps she took back in fear at my shrill, I lost all rational sense. I worked at stabilizing my heart first while I breathed through my mouth after a while bent to pick up the book I dropped in the process of my shriek. I hadn’t picked up the book when Danna asked, “Are you okay?” I was going to say yes but instead freaked out again.

“Don’t touch me!” Danna lost balance and stumbled back wide-eyed. She was going to touch my hand, my bare skin. I looked from her to the clustered eyes fixed on me randomly and quietly got to my feet. I clasped my lips and walked out of the gawkers’ sight to the bathroom where I would chill and get over the terrible thing I saw.

Thirty minutes later, I recovered and returned to my station. They were eyes though shot at me but not as intense as before. I glanced about and couldn’t find the book I dropped neither were the others that fell off the shelf. Instantly, I knew I had Danna to thank. The girl was no place in sight but she could be sweet at times. Glad I was free from haven to rearrange the place, I drew my stool, sat on it and placed my elbows on the counter then I buried my face in my hands.

“Hey.” I rose up my eyes and there Danna was, although she tried to act normal but with the way her eyes narrowed at me, I knew she was acting out on earlier.

“Hey,” I said back.

“How are you feeling?”

“Much better,” I answered. “I’m sorry about earlier, I didn’t mean to frighten you or knew what came over me.”

Danna’s lips parted in smiles. “It’s okay, I understand,” she said, like she knew what really happened. I meant for my face to form a genuine smile, but instead I found myself grimacing, fortunately though, the girl didn’t notice. She moved to the back shelf, got some books and moved out. She was going to leave, but then stopped and backpedaled back to me. “I told Marshall you weren’t feeling alright and took some time out.”

“Thank you,” I said. Her face released another smile and then she went her way. I returned my head to my hands and recalled the big risk I took touching that book when I knew I’d certainly get a vibe off of it since Mysterious guy had imprinted it. But the touching it wasn’t the problem, it was the remembering it. Another thing with my touch-thingy was that it enabled me to store with vivid accuracy everything I saw and felt, almost as clear as a crystal. With it all the images stayed the same no matter how long the memory was. Just as a DVD, I get the colorful images and could fast forward, backward, and even zoom in and out of my memory if I wished to. That was how clear the thingy worked. It also kept record of everything I saw and felt like a storage device that aided me in calling up whatever memory I wished to remember.

So now, everything I saw from feeling that book was warring with my brain. All the stuffs I saw, Mysterious guy, the other girl, their evil looking weapons, the hatred, fighting. Everything about the images didn’t make sense, nothing added up. Mysterious guy was supposed to be a vampire according to my analysis, but the weapons-

“Boo!”

“Geez Mark! What the hell?” I shrieked at the sudden materializing of the secretary.

“Are you okay?” He asked deviously.

“If you hadn’t done that my answer might be yes,” I spat.

“Even before that, you didn’t look okay,” he said.

“Sure I was.”

“No, you’ve been acting strange since yesterday,” he insisted. “More like you’re seeing a ghost.”

I rolled my eyes, “it’s definitely your ghost.”

“Don’t act all tough on me, I know something’s up,” he said. “Tell me, Ayana, what’s wrong with you?” He was insisting and if I hadn’t known how caring Mark was, I’d settle he was prying. His blue eyes stared into mine and really he was worried, I didn’t have to touch him to feel that.

“I kinda have a lot going on right now,” I said.

Mark’s gaze still locked mine in place, which showed how tight he was battling to believe me or not. “Are you sure?”

“Absolutely,” I nodded.

“Alright,” he sighed. “But you really gave us quiet a scare back there.”

“Sorry about that.”

“Okay, but try to relax your mind, okay?”

“Thanks,” I answered. He nodded and headed away.

After Mark left, I decided to be occupied and waited for time to fly. Grateful for dark, I packed my stuffs, signed out and bade Mark good night. Stepping out of the Library came with a bunch of prayers against whatever creepy thing was outside ready to chop off my head. Certain there was no imminent danger, I rushed into my car for fear of how quiet the street was, not even K’s bar appeared so loaded with customers as usual.

Done parking the car in the garage after I arrived home, I stormed inside the house.

“Hey! What’s wrong?” My sister was instantly on her feet away from the couch.

“Everything! Everything’s wrong,” I yelped, tossed my bag on a couch and scratched my head.

“Okay. Calm down. Take a seat and tell me what happened,” she said. I fumbled to a sofa and did as she said. “Now tell me.”

“I wasn’t imagining, Freya. Everything I told you yesterday was real. My description of Mysterious guy wasn’t a hallucination, Frey, the guy was actually there in the Library.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course, Frey, I’m absolutely sure of it.”

“What exactly happened?” She said slowly.

“Following your advice, I employed Danna’s help to confirm I wasn’t hallucinating when he walked into the library to return the book. Danna made the perfect description of him just as I told you, nothing less and nothing more. Exactly as scary and exactly as hot,” I explained.

Freya was agape and I could almost see the wheels turning in her head. Initially with her current state, the next thing I was about to say was bound to be a bomb shot. “I flashed on the book he returned.”

“What! How could you, Ayana? What did you do that for?” She shrilled.

“I know, I know it was a stupid thing to do, but I couldn’t help it, the urge was stronger than what I could fight off,” I said. “So I had to do it.”

“Still, it was dangerous for you given how you described him,” she scolded. “Fine, so what did you see?”

“Something you won’t believe,” I said. “Mysterious guy isn’t a vampire, instead of seeing him sucking blood, I saw him charge a girl who had a staff that looked like it was fashioned out of ice.”

“Ice? A weapon? A girl?”

“Yes, a girl with weapon and Mysterious guy wasn’t without a weapon himself. The guy had a weird wicked pointed blade.”

“How possible, what are they, Ninja Turtles?” My sister was puzzled.

“More like serial killers,” I proposed.

“What, serial killers?” The girl chuckled.

“It’s not funny, Frey; I wish you saw what I saw, how both of them launched an intense fight like those actors does in fantasy movies. Above all, they vibrated of power, hate. I think they are of different affiliation, but definitely serial killers.”

Freya’s jaw dropped. “Are you serious because yesterday you were certain he’s a vampire?”

“Now I’m sure he isn’t. Believe me, the guy is a freaking serial killer, Freya, I mean think about it, he was the first thing I saw in my dream and then I saw blood, Freya, blood everywhere and then there was chaos, war. So tell me, how else do you want to explain this, how can there be bloods all around town if it’s not when people are killed?” I insisted.

“Okay¸” she breathed, “assuming you’re right—”

“Which I am,” I interrupted. She made an agreeing face then continued.

“What do you say we do?”

“Call the cops.”

“What? Definitely out of the question,” Freya squeaked.

“No, Frey, certainly in the question. Informing the sheriff is the smart move.”

“Or the dumb move,” Freya contradicted. “You just told me this guy has a sword, do you think Dexter is a match for him? If you’re correct and he’s pretty good with the sword do you think Penelope stand a chance against him?”

“Penelope’s a smart sheriff, she’ll know what to do,” I argued.

“There’s nothing smart in that, Ayana, if this guy is indeed a serial killer, no one stands a chance against him,” she declared. “And assuming she did nab him, don’t you know our house is target number one once he’s out?”

I sighed. Considerately, the girl was right. Penelope might be a smart sheriff, but her firearm against his sword was a fat chance in hell. His blade wouldn’t hesitate to swing her head off like it did that other girl’s rib. And worse yet if he realized the info had come from me, I’d undoubtedly be next on his target list. And he could hurt my sister too, that was how many damn he gave the opposite sex.

“Fine, so what do we do?” I asked.

“I’d say we stay calm and do nothing for now—”

“That’s crazy, Freya, how can we stay calm doing nothing with a serial killer running free in town and probably stalking me?”

“I didn’t say we don’t do anything at all, I said for now,” she clarified and crossed over to me. “Besides, we don’t know if this guy is really stalking you.”

“Oh yes, he is,” I piped.

“But you don’t know for sure. He could have been coming to the library like everybody else.”

I pouted my lips and crossed my arms over my chest. “Fine. So now what?”

“Now you chill your fraying nerves and we think of what to do. As long as he’s not coming after you it means we have plenty of time to work out a solid plan,” she strategized. I opened my mouth to protest against having time as long as he was frequenting the Library, but I was silenced. “Now go freshen up and come for dinner.”

“But—”

“No buts. The only butt I want to see is yours going upstairs, now go, shoo,” she persuaded. I gave up, got up from the sofa and started to the foyer but stopped when a thought crossed my mind. I sucked in deep breath when I finally found the resolve to turn around and as expected, Freya’s eyes were on me.

She was about to open her mouth and question me when I said scarcely. “It’s happening, Frey, the blood, the chaos, the war in town; it’s started already. We’re no longer safe.” Freya didn’t reply she only stared at me breathless.

~ SIX

A MYSTERIOUS EVENING

The next day, I was very high on alert and in expectation for the worse. I wasn’t like my sister who seemed to take things for granted, actually I couldn’t blame her; she hadn’t seen what I saw or felt what I felt. I was the only one crept out for seeing the guy first in my dream and then in reality along with the terrible things I saw after that. Not that it was my first time of having dreams come through, but this was nothing like the rest. So no, I wasn’t going to sit with my arms fold like all was right and pretend a freaking serial killer wasn’t roaming free in my town where I had friends and loved ones. If Freya thought Sheriff Dexter was useless in this situation, well I wasn’t. If he would kill me, so be it. Either way, I wasn’t going to turn a blind eye to everything.

At exactly four, I turned in my shift, thirty minutes gone and nothing, but I knew he’d come, he’d show up with the book he burrowed. An hour later a wind blew at my back when the door opened. With my back faced at the door, fear seized me. I lost most of my courage when I turned around and instead of seeing Mysterious guy walking toward the counter, I saw my best friend. I was immensely surprised, baffled even, not because it was my best friend instead of Mysterious guy, but because Tiffany never visited the Library, she detested the place more than anything for reasons that included Danna.

Tiffany’s disdain for Danna was mostly based on how much she babbled and her poor fashion credentials. In addition, she hated the Library because it was no place for fun.

When I got this job my friends were against it, tried talking me out of accepting it with the persuasion of switching place with Freya since she was the born-against-fun type. That’s what my friends named Freya simply because her lifestyle was simple, but she wasn’t all that a party crasher. So, whatever brought Tiffany here had really worth it.

“Hey sugar,” Tiff cheered.

“Hey, what are you doing here?” I asked.

“I came to visit you,” she replied with a grin.

“Wow, what a pleasant surprise.”

“Yeah,” Tiff leaned onto the counter, “first tell me the dork ain’t here.”

“You know, as always,” I said mirthfully.

Tiff hissed. “Barf.” I tried to, but I couldn’t hide my chuckle. Behind her appeared speak of the she-devil. The detestable expression on her was the same she always had on whenever she saw Tiff. Both girls had equal detest for each other since day one they met.

Danna looked away from Tiff to me with a sticky note paper stretched my way “Ayana, Scott needs you to fetch out these books for him.”

I collected the paper with, “Okay.” As soon as I said that, the girl disappeared from sight as if to say the counter suddenly heated up; and her disappearance didn’t lose Tiff’s glare till she was finally gone. I shook my head at my silly friend and broke through her trance. “So, what brought you here?”

“Can we go over to K’s to get espresso while we talk? You know how much I like this place.” She murmured.

I had to laugh at her sarcasm before proceeding to reply. “I’d love to, but you know I can’t, Scott need my service and Mr. Hellish is very much around.”

Tiff grunted, “fine then.” Then she mused, “Dash’s back.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” she beamed. I switched into confusion lane at her sudden excitement over the return of Dash, because Dash was the brother of her boyfriend, Curtis, who didn’t favor their relationship and Tiff hated him. If Tiff and Curtis were together, it was because Dash was away in Spain for a scholarship he won from Yale . . . the same scholarship my sister was supposed to have. Freya was among the best five Sociology students handpicked from Yale for a scholarship offer, but that was the time our parents died so she couldn’t leave me. And if anything I was glad she stayed behind.

“So, that means you’re moving the party?” I teased.

“Not at all! Guess what, Dash is in absolute support of us,” she jubilated.

“Wow, that’s a bummer,” I cheered. “I’m happy for you girlfriend.”

“Thanks,” she chirped. “So, we’re holding a get together party for him and you’re invited.”

“Cool, I’d love to come—”

“But?” Tiff interrupted with a frown plastered all over her face. It was no surprise she could guess the next word I was going to say, after all she was my childhood best friend and knew all about me, plus times where I was cooking up excuses. And I wasn’t kidding, I’d love to go, really, however, now wasn’t time to socialize, no, not when a serial killer was out in the open.

“Freya and I have this project that needs to be completed before weekend.”

“So what?” She huffed.

“So, we have to get it done before she’s back at work come Friday.”

“Seriously, AY, when are you gonna break out of your shell and be you? It’s just a party and a one night thing,” Tiff barked, her voice higher than before, which eventually awarded us attention.

Marshall and Mark appeared from Folklore and the manager’s stern gaze wasn’t welcoming. Tiff noticed the direction of my eyes and tilted that way. “Sorry for breaching your peace hour,” she piped. “I thought I could sneak in, drop this girl a hint on the sly and creep out before you even realize I was ever here. Guess my techniques need a little bristling,” then she flashed them her snaky smile. Marshall’s expression darkened, he was pissed but he’d never show it in public for he was a gentleman and well respected in the society. The man hated my friends as much as he did me, most especially Tiff.

He glared at us for a moment before his stance turned stoic. He veered back the way he showed up and Mark winked at Tiff before venturing behind his boss. Tiff rolled her eyes and muttered, “Fuzz ball,” at the secretary.

“So, are you saying you’re not coming?” she was back to me.

“I’m sorry hon, but I don’t think I can make it,” I said appealingly.

“Fine, guess we’ll detail you come Friday,” she murmured. I expanded my smile to thaw her but it didn’t work. “I’d better get going before Mr. Lion man fires you.” shaking my head, I chuckled at that. “Alright, see ya tomorrow,” she waved and turned around. I waved back with a smile that faded the instant Tiff opened the door and someone else walked in.

Automatically unaware of the unobvious danger, my friend cat walked past Mysterious guy and even afforded to shoot a flirty smile up his face. He looked down at her and traded my way. With my renewed thumping heart, it was still difficult to tear my gaze from him. The more I stared at him, the more yesterday’s flashes zapped through my mind. For starters I knew he wasn’t a vampire, which meant he couldn’t mind control me, but then he didn’t have to, with his wicked blade, I was a goner. The most shocking thing was what kind of a serial killer used swords? Every killer I’ve ever seen via TV used to-date arsenal.

So, who is this guy and what does he want-

“Hello.”

I shiver at his sharp voice and cringed to his hard stare. His eyes brightened a bit for a feeling of satisfaction of something he did. Yeah, I could already guess what that thing was. When I didn’t speak, he placed the book on the counter and like the previous day, slid it slowly to me with his eyes on me. I stared hard at the book, then his face, then the book again; I knew what I’d see if I touched the book and glad I knew better not to.

“Do you wish to borrow another?” I asked successfully muffing my fears.

“No, thank you,” he replied and turned around; like that he was out the door with that fascinating gait of his. I stared after him long enough till he was out of sight before returning them on the book. There was the compulsion to pick up the book and flash on it to see what he did the previous night, but I fought it off. I couldn’t care to know what bloodied thing he did or whom he cut through. Plus, I was actually glad he didn’t burrow another, a moment of thought – what if he was fleeing town or heard my sister and I talking or something like that? I struggled between calling the sheriff or letting it go, even if I did call for reinforcement, Mysterious guy would be long gone from Fair Haven, and if it proved wrong, well it meant I’d stirred up false alarm and thrown everyone into panic. And moreover, who would believe I had a touch-thingy?

I picked up the book from the counter with the edge of my sleeves and dumped it in Danna’s cart. When someone else imprinted it, I’d read it.

I worked out the rest of my shift and went home. I detailed my sister with the nitty-gritty of the day and she thanked me for playing caution into it with more advice on discretion.

Thursday morning, I got out of bed, set for the day and shared views with my sister like always and left for school. At school, my friends worked on coaxing me to attend Dash’s party, which his new Spanish girlfriend would be – a paved way for a grand gossip. I declined and more so because I didn’t trust my instinct that Mysterious guy was really out of town. Four hours off my shift and everything stayed the same. I did my job in the company of my babbling co-worker and talkative secretary while I inserted a conversation bridge of un-huh, yep, really, and the like.

After work, I stepped into K’s bar, got a vanilla and chocolate ice cream for my sister and I. Before heading home, I endeavored to stop at the meat grill, the town’s finest grill joint where I got pizza. Fair Haven was home of hot pizzas and sweetheart barbeque as part of being family of New Haven, the world’s heart for darling pizzas.

Shambling up the porch, I pushed the door with the pack of pizza in my hand and two brown lunch bag hanging off the other.

“Hey,” Freya chirped from the living room. She reached me and heaved off the pizza pack.

“Thanks,” I said. We walked to the table, placed the items down so I shrugged off my bag and plopped down next to my bag. Freya watched me studiously as she sat back down, she waited for me to open my mouth, but instead I pitched my lips aside, which ticked her off.

“What is it? You’re killing me with anxiety,” she cooed, eventually.

“Guess what?”

What?”

“He didn’t show up today, I think he left town already.”

“No way!”

“Yes way!”

“Really? See, I told you not to worry,” she emphasized.

“Yep, you did,” I agreed.

She neared me and took my hands in hers. “Everything is going to be alright, Ayana, the dream you had might have nothing to do with this; you have nothing to worry about.”

“Sure, you’re right,” I nodded. “So, I brought us a little something to chill the moment, more like celebrate.”

“Really? That’s cool.” We neared the table, unpacked the stuffs and settled on the floor with the opened pizza and ice creams while we pass the moment with the fantasy movie she was watching and at the same time talked about Dash, his new girlfriend and my friends’ opinion of the combination.

CLAT!

Our heart quivered.

Startled, we snapped our gazes toward the bar behind the living room.

The sudden break in of something didn’t only interrupt our happy moment, it sent us railing.

And it was only ten o’clock.

Thump! Thump! Thump! Went the rhythm of our hearts, but if you listened closely, it sounded like Doom! Doom! Doom! We funked to our feet with striking fear.

Our breath rasped, our heart raced, our muscles tightened.

A split second later we shared a deranged horrified look at the soft manly groan from the back. There and then we realized it wasn’t the wind or a missed played baseball.

We knew someone had broken into our home.

The faint groan sounded again yet we stayed in place. We looked at each other again with the flow of adrenaline sweeping what life we had left. Our bodies quaked and fear stole us. The only sound we heard apart from the groan was danger, danger, danger!

I’d never been in a terrifying situation as that before; the only place I saw such things happen was in movies, horror movies and vampire novels. I was never afraid of horror movies – you know the instance people talk about where they couldn’t sleep at night after a horror film. Well, in my case that never happened. In fact those were nights turned pleasant. But here I was facing my own horror film and helpless against it. At least the victims in those movies never stood helpless – even if they were – they always wand about in search of help, whether physical or mental and check to see the intruder in their homes. The smart ones went for weapons even when they knew they were doomed. At least they never went down without a fight.

Here I was, defenseless against whatever just made itself in. But I was smart too; at least I’d learned a few things from my books and wasn’t going to keep standing like a statue. With one dreadful motion, I gestured to my sister to come with me while I grabbed her favorite mug from the table. Freya shook her head that it was a bad idea. I shook my head in disagreement, pantomimed the best I could with my Mayday and Ten Four signals that we had a chance as long as whatever it was that broke in was still down, we could actually tackle it before it got over it whimpering and wincing and decided to have us for dinner. Freya still wasn’t bought in. She shook her head continuously then motioned for the phone. I shook my head disappointed in her tactics. Despite the intense situation, I forced myself to speak as low as I could to talk us out of this situation.

“Seriously, do you think before you finish dialing 911 whatever is down there wouldn’t have already slam into you?” Freya didn’t speak; her eyes were firm on me deep in thought. We both knew that if there’s anyone capable of walking us out of the situation it was me. I was the one who spent time reading comics and vampires and especially horror, and my sister needn’t be told of that just like we both knew there was only one of us who could kill for fantasy.

At the second whimper, Freya grabbed the soda can off the table and frantically nodded for me to lead the way. With that as a go sign, I marched forward with Freya on my trail. We tiptoed around the living room over to the foyer and gently to the back. My breath sagged, my eyes bugged out, my mouth agape. At least Freya was able to gasp though her eyes bulky.

On the floor in the pool of shattered glasses laid a figure. His outfit was black and despite the fact that we hadn’t made the appropriate turn to the direction his body faced, I could already guess who the sexy figure belonged to. Refusing to center my claims on assumptions, I veered toward the bar with my sister where we came face to face with Mysterious guy. His pant had cuts all around it that looked like sword slice or a dagger. His beautiful face was designed in bruises and blood and a big gushed injury on his left shin that dripped blood on the floor and stained the green satin curtains while more still dripped from his other injuries. When his lids snapped open, we shrieked.

It was him, it was Mysterious freaking guy.

But I thought he’d left town? And how on earth did he know where I lived? Definitely, I was definitely correct, the guy was stalking me and who know if he was here to kill me.

But I’d done nothing wrong, in fact I’d kept my mouth shut from telling the sheriff about him . . . yet. And judging from his appearance, he must have gotten himself into some really deep shit. . . But my house was no sanctuary to serial killers, and I wasn’t going to let him terrorize us in our own home. Neither could his weird sword bury me in fear because I wasn’t without a weapon too, my sister and I could also defend ourselves, well . . . with you know . . . a mug and a soda can.

Suddenly, his brilliant eyes darted at me, which I froze to. “Get me my bag,” he managed out between gritted teeth, more like a hiss.

“What?” I whispered.

“Get me my bag,” he repeated then winced, like every syllable that fell off his lips increased his pain. Then he pointed toward the bar. Following his finger’s direction, I saw his gig bag underneath the counter. I glanced at my sister and silently breathed for being scared because my sister was technically shrieking in her panties.

“Now!” He yelled.

Fearfully, I raced for the bar, bent down on my knees and retrieved the bag. I dragged it out with my sleeve and looked his way. “Open it,” he ordered. I obeyed. With my sleeves I undid the zipper and flipped the top open. This time I didn’t only shriek, I recoiled into my sister’s arms. Everyone, including me, concluded gig bags housed nothing but a guitar, that wasn’t the case here. Mysterious guy’s gig bag occupied weapons, a long sharp blade; the same one I saw in my flash alongside six similar looking daggers which hilts were also glass. But none of the weapons shimmered or cascaded in blue, they were just normal, blank and dull.

Who could have thought the guy had been roaming around town with weapons when we thought we were safe? It was baffling.

“Get me a dagger,” he ordered.

“No,” Freya said boldly, she drew me closer and shook her head slowly. Mysterious guy stared at us surprised my sister even spoke at all. His eyes darkened thoughtfully, more like longing and pain.

“Get me a dagger,” he repeated, this time the words fell slowly, meaner and threatening off his lips.

“No,” my sister repeated. “You can’t come into our home and order my sister around. You’re going to kill us anyway.” Even I was shocked Freya developed a bold heart in a situation like this. Freya was never defensive, but that moment she was and determined to protect me at all cost.

Mysterious guy gritted his teeth, darted his eyes even graver than before and growled, “Don’t make me slay you while you stand. Get there now and do as I said!” His thunderous voice had me shuddering that at once I obliged to obey. Freya was all I had and I wasn’t going to watch helplessly while some serial killer took her away from me. I couldn’t help my parents and wasn’t ready to lose another family.

I pulled out of my sister’s protective wings, communicated with her through signs to let me go, we might eventually die at his hands, but it wouldn’t be my fault. Freya didn’t agree, but she couldn’t stop me either. With a nod she released me while tears streamed down her face.

I maneuvered back to the bar, stared at the weapons in distrust then gradually reached for the daggers. My sleeves weren’t long enough to cover my palms so I had to touch the thing with my bare hands and the instant my skin connected with it the flashes hit me. I saw Mysterious guy among some people, they all had weapons each and they were in the middle of a fight, a battle without guns. Yet flickers of fire and ice zapped around them just as the earth moved beneath their feet and a twirling wind had some wrapped in it effect. As Mysterious guy swung his blade around that delivered effectively, a blonde fighting beside him targeted an arrow at a figure and he went down flat. Drops of blood splattered everywhere on the ground just like I saw in my dream and–

He winced out loud, which disconnected my connection with the images, but there was something else shocking. The cold dull looking silver that was far dead a moment ago suddenly burst to life, the shimmering cascade in the hilt glowed incredibly just like the sword did in my flash.

“Give it to me!” I did without hesitation, handed the dagger to him and crept back to my sister who had dropped down on her knees. Together we stared at Mysterious guy pondering on whom he was going to kill first, although I wasn’t letting him kill my sister, but I waited for him to make the first move.

Unfortunately, we had both dropped our immaculate weapons on the floor.

Wincing, Mysterious guy managed to sit up, moved to the wall and glanced at us menacingly. He returned his glare on the dagger, raised it up and looked our way. At that point I knew our time was up.

What was that prayer you were supposed to say right before you knew you were going to die?

As Mysterious guy lifted the dagger upward, our heart went pounding, our breath hung in our throats and then he brought it down.

~ SEVEN

A MYSTERIOUS RECOVERY

Few heartbeats later, I forced my eyes into a squint. My view was the same, I was still in my house clutched in my sister’s arms and there was still a guy close to the wall with brutalized skin. Nothing changed, nothing happened, we were still alive. When my gaze landed on Mysterious guy, his concentration was locked on the dagger as if weighing whatever it was he planned to do with it, his chest puffing in and out. He glanced my way but I didn’t shriek, instead I stared at him ponderingly; if he wasn’t going to use the dagger on us, then what for?

My question was answered when he abruptly slammed the dagger’s glass hilt on the injury on his shin. The moment the shimmering glow sparkled, he let out a terrifying, heart drenching scream. Before we knew it we screamed along with him. The more the wound smelled out the twister my stomach was and sicker I became. Our screams were so intense it was hard differentiating ours from his. A swirled minute after, the screams died down. I unburied my face from my sister’s chest and unbelievably, Mysterious guy’s shin was healed. The shimmering hilt healed his wound.

It was remarkable.

Struggling for breath, he returned to the floor suspiring out. He wiped away the sweats on his forehead with his left hand while both his right hand and the dagger dropped to the floor. Again, who could have thought a serial killer whose arsenal was built with swords instead of guns had a healing dagger? Mysterious guy was the first.

Nausea covered me, my twisting stomach buckled and I felt like vomiting. I believe my sister felt the same way because she rose from the floor and went into the kitchen. With a last glance at the intruder, I rose after her.

I leaned my back against the counter panting as I watched Freya fill up the coffee pot and with shaky hands placed it on the burner. Gauging her unease, I backed off of the counter to hold her fully aware she was incapable to carry out the process. “Shh,” I whispered when she began to sob. Her temperature was intense and her thoughts revolved around the deadly situation we were in. A serial killer in our house was the last thing we ever imagined to befall us. A serial killer with magical weapons. At the slightest thought of having his dagger in my chest, I shuddered hard. Freya jerked away from me almost as if she was thinking the same thing.

“Is he going to kill us?” She stuttered. Speechlessly, I stared deep into her brown bloodshot eyes overwhelmed by both the ghastly situation and her unstable emotions, and the more agitated she was, the better my advantage at reading her clearly, like an open book. And the vibe I got off of her surprised me. Freya was worried for us and hated how helpless she was over our circumstance, like she had any control over it. She wanted to reach into something inside her but was afraid of the outcome.

If you asked me, it was a total weird feeling. I’d never gotten a feeling like that from her before. Thanks to my touch-thingy, everything I felt was crystal clear.

Somehow though, I found her a reply and glad my voice was steady. “I don’t know, Frey,” I said. “I don’t know.”

“I’m not going to kill you.” Once more we funked backward at the sudden voice. My sister cuddled close to me as I pressed my back against the cupboard that wedged us and somehow mocked us for we had nowhere to run. There were times I wished I had superpowers the sort I read about and not this touch-thingy. You know those cool powers that let you walk through walls or disappear into thin air.

Too much thinking, I know.

The unflinching body stood at the kitchen entrance with improved feature compare to before he used the dagger to heal himself. Whatever mojo the dagger contained was in fact the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Although his clothes were no different from rags, his body was fine that I traced my gaze all over him. Without his jacket on his chest was visible, though tucked inside his T-shirt that was soaked in blood and sliced through, which if anything gave me the advantage to run my eyes around his abs. I could only imagine how real the abs was if he’d just take off the shirt and allow me to trace my hands over them and examine the fine structured lines. Even with imagination alone, Mysterious guy could give the finest male model a run for his money with his excellent graphic protruding muscles. And that’s not mentioning his bruise-less face and dusky eyes in the picture. Although, there was a mark at the side of his neck, kind of like the embedded statue of a girl in toga with the letter V in a circle. A mark I never saw probably because his jacket always concealed it from sight. Certainly, the mumbo jumbo in the dagger was worth having around.

Seriously, was I double checking a guy who had our lives in his hands? Those screams must have really done a number on me.

Mysterious guy fished his eyes around me as if he knew what I did, the thought of it turned up his lips amusedly. I blushed to the effect and took my eyes away in shame. When he lifted his hands we shuddered. Across his eyes I saw hurt flashed through him and the more Freya and I tightened our grip around each other the more longing flickered across his eyes.

I blinked and the image was gone.

“I’m sorry for breaking into your house and for the fear I caused you. I didn’t mean any of that, I only needed your help,” he said. “I apologize for the damages my actions stirred. . .” he paused probably for some dramatic effect from us, realizing that wasn’t happening, neither was he receiving any response, he sighed. “I apologize once again. I’ll take my leave now,” with a final look at us he strode out of the way, a minute later, the front door connected with the frame.

I breathed hard and so did my sister. Together we slid down the cupboard; cuddled closer, raised our knees up and my sister placed my head on her chest. We continued to breathe in relief thankful neither of us died. The next morning, Freya and I woke up as early as five and commenced on cleaning the mess that was last night’s horror given we barely slept through the night with ease on the kitchen floor. We didn’t bother locking the door after Mysterious guy left our house; I mean what use was locking the door when a serial killer broke in through the window? That night was terrible; it was like living through my own horror film. The experience was really bad, like a really B movie.

As we considered how to go about cleaning the mess created by our uninvited terror guest, Freya volunteered to scrub the bloods off the living room floor since she knew touching the blood was inevitable and I’d definitely touch it, which could be more terrible. After we were done cleaning the living room, we moved to fixing the window with the extra glass we found in the garage.

My dad made us do manual work when he was alive. He taught us how to fix stuffs that you associate with masculinity since he and his wife had no plan of adding a third child that could probably be a son. My dad believed there was nothing impossible for girls to do even when those things were attached to the testosterone type of humans. Back then my sister saw it as fun and enjoyed every bit of it. I on the hand had to be dragged screaming and kicking to the backyard or the front or wherever he saw fit to work on. Dad would repeat that every Saturday morning and during breaks; he always looked for opportunities to engage us in something.

“Manual work is like gym, it helps build your body into those perfect shapes you see on fitness models,” he’d say to me. “Yeah, but I’d rather stay up in my room doing yoga,” I’d mutter back. Dad would look at me and smile with his glittered emerald eyes. But now it paid off its part, if Dad hadn’t taught us all he did we’d probably be seeking who to fix the broken stuffs and that would certainly braid questions we’d never be able to answer, because it almost didn’t seem like we were talking or fumbling around when we had to offer some concerned neighbors an explanation over the horrific screams that woke most of them up; some even nearly called the cops, but we got lucky they thought better of it and I was extremely glad no one saw our esteemed bloody guest when he left. In that moment I remembered my parents, everything they were and how we were. I missed Dan’s mischievous smiles especially when he had a secret on Mom, and how Mom’s glares never enhance her brown eyes.

I didn’t know if I’d ever get over their death.

At about six-thirty, we were done cleaning and fixing, and dawn had broken through the dark sky, evidence that we survived the previous day. The day had already started off with exercise, but the winter wind made it easier for us and that was probably why Freya stood by the window we just fixed with her focus inside the house, her expression deep in thought. Her entire attention was fixed on the inside that she didn’t budge to the wind and how it blew around her. She was like that for a while until I began to see that image of her worried about reaching something inside that wouldn’t turn out well, but I didn’t dwell on it, I knew my sister well, she’d never keep anything away from me. Probably, I was getting those images because of the trauma of last night.

I abandoned my position, stepped beside her and placed my hand on her shoulder, a motion she shuddered to. She tilted her head around, gave me a cryptic smile and dusted her hands. “Let’s go prepare for school,” she said. I nodded and followed her inside. “I’ll go make breakfast, you go freshen up.” I obeyed and went up the stairs. I shut my bedroom door and headed to the bathroom. I turned on the tap, splashed water on my face and barely recognized the face that stared back at me through the mirror. The face seemed strange, hallow and fearful. I sighed; pulled off the dirty clothes I had on since the previous day and turned on the shower not to only wash off the dirt but to soak myself to reclaim life. I changed into a brown pant, creamy top with lace neck and a jacket after my bath. Because of the breeze, I endeavored to grab a velvet cashmere scarf, a matching bag and stumbled down the staircase. I walked into the kitchen, threw my bag on a stool and moved to the nook where breakfast was waiting.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t make do for something better,” Freya said when she entered the kitchen. Her feature was back to normal, but her eyes still looked ashen.

“It’s okay, it’s been long we had veg’s and yogurt for breakfast anyway,” I said. Freya shot me an appreciative smile, drew out a chair and plopped on it. We sat there staring at the food on the table motionless. Finally, Freya sighed then pushed her plate away.

“I don’t feel like eating.”

I mimicked her, pushed my plate away, too. “Me neither.” She had her eyes on me, then her eyes flickered to the spot we spent the night. I understood the look in her eyes and the thoughts going through her mind, none of us would pretend all was fine when it wasn’t.

“What are we going to do, call the sheriff?” She asked.

I shook my head. “I don’t know. . . I mean, he didn’t break into anybody else’s house, he broke into our house, where I live; the house of the only girl that attends to him at the Library. . .” I trailed off when a shudder rippled through me at the realization that indeed Mysterious guy had been stalking me around. “I think it’s time to take your advice into do, contacting the sheriff isn’t our best shot right now.”

Freya released a breath, leaned into her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. “You’re right; informing the sheriff is not a smart move.”

I shook my head. “No.”

“The guy had a sword and healing daggers, what can the sheriff do to him?” She said. “What I don’t understand is how he found you.”

“I can only think of one possible explanation – serial killer. It’s obvious he’s been monitoring me around,” I answered.

“But he didn’t kill us and who would want you dead?”

“I don’t know, but he has been watching me, Frey, maybe I’m not the person on his target list presently, but there’s no way our meetings has been coincidental.”

“So, what are we going to do?”

“I say we stick together, if he can’t get through us, he can’t get to us.”

“How do we do that, our paths are separate?”

“We could drive to school together. I’ll have my friends take me to the Library or get a cab and make it in time to be around during your shift. If we’re together I don’t think it would be easy for him to reach us.” That was our only option.

Freya bit down her finger, when I finished, she brought it down. “And then what?”

“And then we watch and wait to see what happens next, then we’ll know what step to take,” I suggested, then added, “so I was told by a young lady not long ago.”

Freya’s mouth spread into a smile. “I think you’re quoting her out of context.”

I arched my brows, “You sure about that?” Freya’s smile increased into a grin that eased the tension of last night. And we didn’t get to make jokes out of terrifying situations every day.

“So what do you say we eat?” Freya asked.

“Only if I can go back and get my stomach from last night,” I joked.

Freya laughed. “Me too. I’ve lost all appetite to eat. I can’t believe a serial killer was in our house. Oh my god!”

“And we survived it,” I piped next.

“And that’s because he couldn’t handle us,” she chimed like she meant it.

“Yeah?” We burst out laughing. Like that the atmosphere returned to normal.

A while later, Freya huddled inside her red Ferrari followed by me, though eyeing my baby for I’d miss her. As my sister took off I replayed last night’s event in my mind correlating it with that murky dream and how perfect they fitted into the same puzzle. We’d been through so much to let a serial killer daunt us, but this wasn’t the type of circumstance to look over in spite of the adage that Calhoun’s were made of tough material and would make it through the day and any other.

Twelve minutes later, Freya nosed the car into Fair Haven High parking lot, stopped the car in the field and turned to me. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“Yes Freya, it is. We can’t live in fear of what could be, we need to live with what is, and a serial killer can’t stop us from living. We need to do this,” I encouraged barely believing my own words, but the good and most important thing was my sister buying into that.

Freya swallowed then nodded in agreement. “If you see anything out of the ordinary, remember I’m just a phone call away.”

“Ditto,” I answered. I opened the door and climbed out of the car. At their rightful spots lined my friends’ cars. Beside her car, Stella’s eyes flickered my way and I could tell she was wondering if the person inside the Ferrari was indeed my sister. Freya almost never drove me to school except when I was grounded by my mom back when I used to do drugs; so they had the right to be thoughtful.

“AY,” Alex piped. The girls grouped up and started toward me.

“Freya?” Joanna asked.

“Hey girls, how are you?” Freya greeted.

“Cool,” they answered.

“It’s a surprise to see you, is AY grounded?” Alex asked smiley.

“I wouldn’t be surprise if her mom was here,” as soon as the words flew out of Stacy’s mouth, she shot me an apologetic look. I rolled my eyes drably and brushed her away.

“What happened to your car?” Tiffany asked.

“Nothing, I just didn’t feel like driving,” I answered convincingly. The girls accepted the excuse and had more chat with my sister. Before driving away, Freya made sure I understood the schedule we would work on and I assured her I’d be careful. After she drove away, I turned my stare across school and the environment seemed new to me. The early morning wind whipped at me but gladly I had my scarf. As the hustles and bustle for classes buzzed around, kids’ laughter and all that they did in-between space of winter changing into spring, my sight started to act out. My vision changed form. The green lawns beneath me went darker as if sipped with blood. The buildings shifted into a strange shape with creepy crawling insects on them. The kids around me transformed into boney bloodied skeletons, and suddenly, the sky turned black from cerulean. The voices around me sounded faint, distant, while the school turned into a grave yard with dead bodies everywhere, walking and . . . getting close to me . . . slowly and murderously.

I began gasping for air as my heartbeat sped up. Cold splintered my inside and I started to tremble and clutched my bag closer to my chest, suddenly, “Ayana?” said a skeleton. I shivered, backpedaled until my name was yelled again. “Ayana?” I snapped out and everything went back to place.

“What is it, what’s wrong with you?” my friends asked. It took me two raspy minute to respond.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing, ‘cause actually it seemed like you were seeing a ghost?” Alex said pointedly. Actually, if you spent the night in my house you’d know I did saw a ghost, my ghost. But I couldn’t tell them that. I shook my head and drew in more air. Nothing was wrong with me, all that I’d just witnessed was the after effect trauma of last night, nothing to freak out about.

“Ayana?” Tiff called.

“Nothing, I was only imagining what spending a day in Dracula would be like,” I lied.

“Seriously, if you’re going all vampire again, just don’t think of our school as a base,” Tiff warned. Stella froze in place at the mention of that.

“Who knows, maybe there’s one lurking around,” she said fearfully scanning the school premises.

Stacy shifted back and surprised Stella from behind. “Boo!”

“Aah!” Stella shrieked. We burst out laughing at the poor girls’ suffering. She stopped when she realized there was no danger and knitted her brows at us. As I watched my friends make fun out of scaring Stella, I pitied them, if only they knew a much worse reality was approaching

~ EIGHT

A MYSTERIOUS SURVIVAL

As we tore through classes, my friends began spilling everything that went down the previous night at Dash’s party. While my sister and I were fighting to stay alive, my friends were enjoying themselves at a party, having fun to the fullest. Though, I wondered what would have happened if I’d agreed to attend the party and left my sister alone at home. Probably, Mysterious guy would have hurt her. I shuddered to that then concluded to push the thought away and focus on the juicy gossips I was being supplied with. During lunch, I handed my tray of sandwich and Brown Pop to Joanna to use the bathroom. When I finished from there I strolled out heading for the quad as usual, then my eyes caught a figure by the lawn. Attempting to register if what I was seeing was real or a fragment of my imagination, I double blinked, but the image didn’t change, I blinked again and again and everything remained the same. Right there I knew I wasn’t imagining or mistaking the figure in black with a strapped gig bag behind him, I was actually seeing Mysterious guy for real.

In my freaking school!

I didn’t stand by wondering what he was there for whether to finish the job he forget to do the previous night or kill a student, and since calling for reinforcement wasn’t an option, I marched forward, fear be damned. After all I saw my school in that freaking dream.

“Hey,” I called, but he didn’t answer nor stopped. However, the kids around stopped thinking I was referring to them. I snatched my gaze from them, increased my pace and increased my volume. “Hey!” still no response. “Mysterious guy in black leather jacket!” Yep, that did it, just what I thought, that got to him perfectly. He stopped and slowly turned around. Somehow I’d mentally calculated the effect calling him that would do on the kids around, so I acted up with a causal approach.

I walked closer to the lawn and stopped ten feet away from where he stood. We might be in public but I wasn’t ready to lose my head just yet. Yeah my head was freaking aching, but I loved it where it was.

Mysterious guy’s eyes darkened, but they didn’t scare me, if anything it made me more livid. First the Library, then my house, and now my school? Whatever this was had got to stop. I tipped my chin feistily and locked gaze with him.

“What are doing here? How did you get here?” Silence. No reply.

“I just asked you a question! What the hell are you looking for, what do you want from me? Why are you following me around?” Call it foolishness, call it crazy, or maybe call it dumb because I just yelled at a guy who could kill me in seconds.

“Are you talking to me?” he asked like he was confused and surprised I dared to speak to him at all. A measly amount of fear engulfed me then, but I clouded it in and maintained boldness.

“Who else do you thinking I’m talking to?” I hissed out. “What do you want from me? Why do you keep following me around? If you’re going to kill me why not just get the job done already and stop freaking the hell out of me?” He didn’t make a sound and so I took a step forward and lowered my voice. “Did someone pay you to kill me because I know that’s what you do; you’re killer, a serial killer.” Mysterious guy furrowed, he drew his lids close and his expression turned dark, scary dark I thought he’d draw out his sword and just do away with me for speaking so boldly or stupidly. But to my amazement, he didn’t do that, instead, his face relaxed, his shoulders slumped and there was smile in his eyes.

I was totally awestricken by his sudden transformation. I stared at him intensely and how smudge he was, which rose my blood vessel. “Who are you?”

A real smile broke out of his mouth now, a smile that had me dazed when he answered. “I’m someone you owe your life to, Smart Brat,” then he turned around and walked away. His response left me paralyzed. He didn’t just call me a brat, did he? And what did he mean by “someone you owe your life to”? It certainly couldn’t be because he spared my sister and me the previous night, or could it be?

I followed him with a frown until he was no longer in sight, then it hit me like a drumbeat that all those questions were finding no answers where I stood. So, I turned around and stopped dead when I saw Tony staring at me and other kids who probably witnessed my freak fiasco with Mysterious guy, but I had nothing to worry about since we weren’t together he wouldn’t get to play his twenty questions with me. Like that I packed my hair out of my face and walked away.

At the sound of the last bell, I packed my stuffs into my bag and glad the day was over . . . for school, and I’d finally be able to shake off Mysterious guy’s words out of my head.

“Hey, are you okay?” Looking up, Curtis waved his hands in front of my face with the same look my friends had on that morning.

“Yeah, yeah I’m fine,” I answered.

“Having war with concentration?” He joked.

I loosened a smile. “Bigger one.” Curtis grinned then held his hands out to help me get up. I stared at his hand deliberating whether or not to accept it, but there was really nothing to be afraid of, Curtis was my friend, Tiff’s boyfriend and Tony’s friend, so no big deal. I reached out my left hand and he pulled me up. The instant my skin touched his I saw him wrapped Tiff up in his arms while making out in his bedroom.

“Whoa!” I mumbled and broke the contact.

“What is it?” Curtis asked.

“Nothing. Great party yesterday, huh?”

The guy didn’t understand but he blushed either way. “You should have attended.”

“Yeah, I should,” I said and smiled the guilt off. My smile subsided the moment I saw Tony at the door. I sighed and shook my head. Curtis trailed my gaze to the door at his glaring buddy as he stormed out of History class.

“You sure you guys don’t want to work things out?” Curtis asked.

“Nah, I think we’re fine where we at,” I replied.

“Don’t seem so to me; it’s pretty obvious the swan’s still into you,” he countered.

“He’d get over it . . . eventually.” The guy nodded and walked me out of History. After saying my goodbyes to my friends, I shuffled toward the gate and that sort of warranted a yell of my name.

“AY, where’re you going?” Joanna asked.

“Getting a cab,” I answered. Hearing that, their faces flushed like my reply was an atomic bomb. “What’s wrong?”

“Are you kidding us, you’re going for a cab while our cars are empty?” Tiff huffed.

“You’re not heading my way so there’s no use leaving with you,” I said, then shrugged.

“Did we say we mind heading your way?” Alex fired.

“No, I just didn’t want to–”

“I’m heading your way and you’re coming with me, period, end of story,” Stacy declared. I made an OK shrug, waved at the others and ducked inside Stacy’s Cadillac.

We arrived at the Library in record time, so I turned to my friend with, “Thanks for the ride, babes.”

“You’re welcome, hon,” Stacy replied. I climbed out of the car, waved at her, climbed up the Library’s steps and froze at the door. At the checkout counter were Scott, Marshall and the presence that freaked me out most was that of Sheriff Dexter. I didn’t notice her car outside and the sheriff wasn’t the type made for libraries except she had business to take care of. My reason for fear wasn’t seeing her here; it was seeing her with the adults’ stuck head together . . . at my freaking station. In a terrible blow my mind waved to a thought that scared me. What if the sheriff was here to talk to me about Freya? What if Mysterious guy had took out his vengeance for my words on my sister? I couldn’t believe it and didn’t want to.

Nervously, I took a step then another approaching the counter to learn of what fate my freaking mouth had reduced me into. Scott was first to notice me, his face narrowed at me. Then Marshall whose stare was sharp enough to cleave trees. The sheriff was the last to know of my presence. She flipped her chestnut hair and pinned my eyes with her forest green ones. I recognized the look instantaneously, they were the same look and gentle smile Penelope offered me at the hospital when I learned my parents were dead.

The sheriff was always tender, gentle and loving, even to me despite all the troubles I put her through in her job. Yeah, lots of lots of times I was arrested for DUI and supposed to be shipped off to juvenile camps as punishment or do community service, but the woman was my mom’s closet friend, which saved my butt series of time and cleaned up my mess. She didn’t only do it for me because I was her friend’s daughter, she always referred to it as paying off the favors my mom did her way back in college in U of A, Arizona, before they both settled down in marriage, but I always knew it was a cover up so I’d behave next time. In other words the woman was really a huge part of my life. I’d grown on her and looked onto her as a motherly figure, except now that the figure was paying off tight.

Her smile disappeared when I got closer to the counter with the adults’ faces toning into confusion. “Ayana?” Penelope asked.

“What happened to Freya?” I asked straight to the point, wanting no hanky-panky. It was way better to get DEW on time than later.

“What do you mean?” The woman asked, lost. I ran my eyes over them and realized my mistake. Freya and I exchanged text messages since she dropped me off at school, even though I purposely left out my encounter with Mysterious guy out of the subject, I was supposed to check in with her.

To correct my mistake, I twisted my bag around, got my phone out and dialed Freya’s number. She didn’t answer immediately, but did on the second ring, that calmed me.

“Ayana, are you okay? Did something happen?” Freya asked.

“No, no, nothing, everything’s great. I just wanted to check up on you and let you know I’m at work,” I said.

Freya breathed down. “Okay, that’s good. If you see anything, don’t forget to ring me.”

“Got it,” and I hung up with relief. My sister was fine, no harm went her way. Good.

“What’s going on?” Penelope asked with her worried expression going haywire no thanks to my outburst.

Spreading my smile wide, I answered. “Nothing.”

“Why did you ask if Freya was alright?” Scott asked.

“Um,” I scratched my head literally to find an answer. “Um, we, we had some issue this morning, so when I saw Penelope I thought she’d decide to rat me out; seem pretty much like what Esther would do,” I ended with a joke. Hearing that, the folks’ faces released. “What are you doing here; you are hardly in places like this?” I asked the sheriff.

“Why do you care?” Marshall said.

I met the manager’s glare with the intending anger meant for Mysterious guy if he’d hurt my sister. “I care because Penelope’s a friend and I have the right to know what she’s doing in places she never visits. Plus, this is my town and I have the right to know what’s happening in it,” and maybe check to know if people had started reporting dead bodies given there’s a serial killer in town after me, but I don’t know what he wants.

There was silence, blinking eyes and particularly one glaring and me staring. Seriously, the man pissed me off royally and today wasn’t a great day to make me mad.

“I had a little urgent matter to discuss with the men, that’s why I’m here,” Penelope answered afterwards.

“Okay,” I nodded, and faced the manager. “Are you done because I need to get to work?” I wasn’t that eager to work, but anything to get him off my sight presently for I was infuriating way down inside.

“Sure, you can get to work,” the sheriff answered instead. Scott nodded and moved out. Penelope smiled at me, rubbed my check and followed. Marshall hesitated for a moment before he followed suit. I crossed over behind the counter, pulled out my stool and dropped my bag. Today didn’t turn out to be my favorite day and I just kept getting into trouble after trouble despite relinquishing my wayward title a year ago.

There were times I missed my old life so prissy much.

Few minutes later I jumped to work after which Danna filled me in on why she was late which was technically good, because I’d chased the wild beast away before she got there. I moved from aisle to aisle shelving books, when I arrived at folklore I paused at the sight of the books Mysterious guy burrowed, both of which stared back at me. I took a few seconds staring back at them while I deliberated what to do. The first book was of great importance for the online community to have recommended it and the second could share the same potential, but with the complication of Mysterious guy touching them, I wasn’t sure if they were safe to touch or if someone else had imprinted them, Danna perhaps.

“Hey, I’ve been looking for you,” the girl shrilled behind me.

I turned around with unfazed mask and smiled. “Yes. Do you need something?”

“Yes, I need help, there are a lot of people out there and my hands are full.”

“No problem, I’ll be out in a sec,” I replied. Danna shoved a small smile at me but I stopped her before she disappeared back to wherever she appeared from. “Danna, do you by any chance notice if anyone burrowed The Writing of Archibald or The Culture of The Celt?”

“Um, yes, I guess. I think some college kids glanced through them yesterday,” she answered, not quite specific, but quite helpful.

“Alright, thanks,” I said. She nodded and left. I waited till she was out of sight then I walked to the shelf to confirm if the books were free of contaminations to be read. “Okay, here goes nothing.” I reached the books and touched them both at once, immediately, the flashes kicked in. I saw two girls pick up the books from the shelf and returned to the study area talking about how helpful the books would be and whatnots. I snapped my eyes open and took a deep breath. That was all I needed to know – someone else had imprinted them so they would do no harm to my cerebrum when I decide to settle down to read since it was going to be weekend and I would be entirely free to check them out and know for sure if my remedy resided in it or I’d have to look someplace else.

I strolled out of the rack to the main floor and again paused. I couldn’t believe the back view I saw walking toward the door and I didn’t want to believe it. Mysterious guy, seriously, in one day? That was too much, way out of the line for him.

I buckled up with the resolve to confront him once and for all. I hated being stalked around, especially by people I didn’t approve.

“Mysterious guy in black leather jacket!” He stopped and without hesitation turned around slowly, and then he glanced at the folks and Danna who had their eyes on us. I took my eyes off them and pressed forward.

“Seriously, is that what you’re going to keep calling me?” he spoke first before I got to open my mouth and he did so amusedly, like he was watching some poppet show, like I was the poppet. But I kicked the anger out so I could speak with scorning desire.

I took a step near him then crossed my arms over my chest. “What name would you rather be addressed as then, the jaywalker stalking me? A mystery behind a black leather jacket? The intruder who nearly sent my sister and I to the hospital? Or Mr. Serial killer?” Mysterious guy didn’t speak, his eyes locked mine in place and we were like that for maybe a few heartbeats while streams of thoughts flashed across his face. At that point I must admit I was scared he’d do something I would regret for the rest of my life.

“You need to grow up,” he said simply. Again, I was mystified. That was not what I expected. It wasn’t what I expected at school either, so instead of being actually grateful that I got to live the next day, I went completely incense.

“What does that mean?” I snapped.

“Exactly what I said,” he replied simply. Suddenly, I lunge forward and surprisingly he held out his hands and took a step backward. “Temper, Ayana.” A light bulb went out in my brain at the mention of my name from his lips; especially with the familiar tone he said it.

“How did you know my name?” I demanded.

“Should you be surprise if a baby born today knows you by name?” he teased.

“How did you know where I live?”

“Even a toddler knows where to find The AY Calhoun,” again he said teasingly.

“Who are you?” I whispered.

Mysterious guy took longer to answer my last question but did well in assessing me head to feet. The view was confusing because adding the dream, the familiar feelings and his boldness to everything; the guy was completely out of my wish list . . . well, except for his youth vigor and freaking hotness.

A peculiar smile broke off his face when he repeated the same words he said to me back in school. “Someone you owe your life to, Smart Brat.”

“Okay, you know what, I don’t care who you are, where you come from, or what your business is in this town, all I know is that you’re an arrogant ass who need lesson on speaking manners and I don’t ever want to see you anywhere that I am or I’ll call the sheriff on you and tell her about your dark secrets and that you’re in town to spill blood,” I snapped out totally.

Mysterious guy’s expression changed from the flattered smudge to irritation and disgust. His charming smile disappeared replaced by the haunted look he shot me the first time I saw him.

“So you wish, Smart Brat,” he said, turned around and walked away just like that.

I stood there speechless, staring, infuriating and calculating.

“Ayana–”

“Not now, Mark,” I barked, turned around and stalked out of the gawking eyes.

~NINE

A MYSTERIOUS IDEA

After storming into the restroom, I slammed the door and paced back and forth brewing with anger. Try as I might to concentrate, the debacle of Mysterious guy’s presence always distracted my thoughts. All of his snide comments served as venom slowly eating into my brain. The guy really had much gut talking to me like that. Who the hell did he really think he was and what gave him such gut to speak to me so rudely? He had no right whatsoever to be disrespectful!

“Okay, calm down, Ayana,” I breathed.

I stepped over to the porcelain sink, splashed water on my face and placed my hands on the edge and tried breathing in-out – a method my dad told me to follow whenever I found myself in distress. Dad always reminded me it was meaningless staying angry over unnecessary things. He told me to know it wasn’t easy dealing with people when you’re hurt and in pain, but uncontrolled anger could result into actions leading to regrets afterward. So in conclusion of his speech, he warned me with: “Whatever is responsible for getting you angry is not worth it. If you’d ask me, I’d rather you go up in your room and shop for mirrors all day than stay pissed for a single minute.”

Dan was a wise counselor and all his counsels were full of sage. If he was here now that would be the same thing he’d tell me to do. And really, that guy whoever he was, wasn’t worth my being pissed.

I blew out a hot breath and stared at my reflection in the mirror working on getting my emotions in check. But honestly, every time I saw that guy he always left an imprint on me, a stroked nerve inside of me.

“Seriously, who is he?” I asked my reflection. A while later I concluded. “Seriously, I don’t care.” I rolled down tissue paper and wiped my face, brushed my hair back in place with a critical-once-over of myself then I left the restroom.

I veered to my station, picked up some books left on the stool and sat down. I plunked the books under the counter, clutched the mouse closer and moved to the computer. I logged in my password, initiated my search which took me straight to folklore page. Since I’d drawn a conclusion on checking out those books, I’d also decided to see if I could find anything on that guy, something at least that explained who he was and why he acted like an ass. Okay, okay, the books couldn’t tell me that, but I at least held the hope of retrieving something helpful as to why he checked the books out and also for my original purpose of checking them out to begin with. If Mysterious guy knew anything about me, it had to be through the books – it was a feeling and it was a strong one – so they’d better provide me with useful information that served purpose.

But coming to think of it, what if all he knew about me he learned from the book just by touching them like I did? What if he also had my kind of touch-thingy? No, I shook my head and instantly dispatched the thought from my mind. He couldn’t have that, he just couldn’t.

From the corner of my eye, Mark surfaced with files piled up in his hands. He made a lazy maneuver by the counter with glares shot my way. With a glance his way, I returned my gaze on the computer. He sensed I wasn’t buying into him and veered by the stacks on the hallway track. I looked through the first page and found nothing relating to either of the books, but I didn’t give up. I browsed through the pages, all ten of it loaded with the list of every folklore book in the library were short on those titles. Why? The books were supposed to be here.

I let go of the mouse but kept staring at the monitor wondering what was wrong with the list. As always, the answers to my questions weren’t found on the screen. Tearing my eyes away, I glared at the shelf behind me frustrated for my failed success.

“Excuse me?” Instantly, my head was up. I roamed my eyes over the snow-white skinned brown haired girl standing behind the counter with round lensed glasses.

“Yes, what can I do for you?”

“I, um, I don’t know if you can help me find these books, I’ve tried by myself but you see, this isn’t a small library,” she finished with a faint chuckle.

I forced a smile out. “You’re right, and I can help you out.” letting myself out of my seat, I collected the notepad she had a list on then led her through the aisles starting with History. I plunked the first two history books off the shelf then we went through Archeology where I got a book and two more from Pathology.

“Wow, you’re a pretty good Librarian,” the girl complimented.

“I’m not a Librarian, I’m an assistant,” but I appreciated the compliment either way. We moved onto other shelves while I got her needed materials that could possibly be for her essay given the quantity of the list.

“Ayana, I need to talk to you,” I heard Mark huffed behind me.

“Sorry Mark, as you can see I’m busy,” I replied with my focus on the notepad.

“I can see that because I’ve got eyes, and it’s important I speak to you right now,” the secretary persisted.

“Sorry, but you have to wait,” I said.

Few moments passed and he realized I was purposely ignoring him. Next, I heard him say to the girl beside me, “Hey princess, mind if I burrow her attention for a minute, it’s really important?” I snapped my head around with my stare on the glaring Mark.

The girl looked between us then nodded. “Of course, I can wait.” Mark shot her an appreciative smile before a frown crept up his face when he turned his focus back on me. I understood the guy had a right to be mad for how I treated him a while ago and I deserved the angry look on him – and his blue eyes carried concern and worry for me.

My shoulders slouched at the margin of how much Mark cared for me. The guy might be a big talkative, but he was equally a caring friend. I sighed in and gazed his way. “I’m sorry about earlier.”

Mark’s face relaxed. He took a step near me and placed a hand on my shoulder. “What’s the matter with you, Ayana? From the start of this week you’ve been acting strange and mostly freaking out. What is it?” I exhaled and scanned through the myriad of ways to fudge him an honest explanation. “Is it school or Freya?” Mark furthered.

“No, it’s none of that,” I answered. “It’s something I’m trying to dissect that isn’t coming through as desired, so it’s consuming lots of my attention as I try out many ways to get it to work.”

“Does it have to do with Mysterious guy?” I snapped my sharp gaze at him. “What?” Mark sniped. “I do have eyes and ears and a whole brain, you know?”

“No, it has nothing to do with him,” I said quickly. It was one thing for Mark to be caring; it was another for him to know too much.

“Alright then, if there’s any way I can help you don’t hesitate to let me know, okay?”

I nodded with a small but genuine smile on my face. “Okay.” Mark beamed, patted my shoulder and left. I succeeded with helping the girl out thoroughly and returned to the checkout counter where Danna was busied with the computer but suspended it to smile at me with a deep concern marrying her face. Astonished by that, I returned her smile. Really, the girl was just plain weird like that and despite the truth that differentiated us, I believed there was more to her than meet the eye. I returned to my post and glad for the peace since neither of us said a word. An hour later, my attention was snatched by a couple tourists who needed aid finding a certain travel book. The rest of the evening expired with me helping out folks and my colleague who saved her breath through most of the evening, which if I was asked was un-Danna of her. My shift rolled by and calm washed me over. After packing my things including the books I was burrowing, I signed out.

I boarded a cab to Fair Grill to catch an appointment with my friends and to fill my sister in on my day. After paying off the cab driver, I climbed out and made for the entrance door. As always, the Grill was busy and blaring pop songs made the evening beautiful. The Grill was always hosting people, especially on weekends when folks were free from the weeks work and try relaxing. Fair Grill was one place everybody hanged out at, even the sheriff and the mayor, a place we came together as one united town bound by love. At the Grill, no stress needed, all expected of you was to have fun. And that I used to do, have great fun, in fact that was the place that provided me the most fun of my time and it was a place absorbed in history as for me and Tony’s relationship.

I met Tony in ninth grade when my friends and I came to hang out at the Grill. I was in the middle of great fun and winning a pool game when my sight caught him at a table with other boys watching me. Sandy blonde hair, sky blue eyes, adorable smile – he looked everything I wanted in a boy at the time, and each time I looked his way I found his ogle on me. When I took a break to use the restroom he followed me – something I engineered – so I wasn’t surprised seeing him. Instantly, we felt the chemistry and before long, my back was pressed against the wall with the two of us making out. As our skin made contact I flashed on him where I got to know how crazy he was about me and from there thus birthed a history. I know I was reckless, but hey, don’t blame me . . . the Grill could have such effect on anyone.

But unfortunately, we’d gone our separate ways – but the Grill remained.

Pulling the iron bar aside, the first thing I saw was two kids making out by the side. “Eww, get a room,” I murmured. However, they ignored me as if I hadn’t said a word. I rolled my eyes at them and kicked forward. I paused at the door with my eyes wandering around the random sized Grill and the folks surrounding the table tennis corner, pool’s arena, and dartboard. I brought my eyes down at the bar and watched as a bartender, Martina Cole, freed a bottle of whiskey from the glass cabinet and poured out drinks to her customers as I waited to see my sister. From an angle a figure emerged, two precisely and none of them resembled the girl I came for; it was Bob Ronan, the Grill manager and Kelly Sylvester, the accountant. With so many people swarming through my view, it was harder finding my sister with the limited time I had before my friends kidnapped me away.

From the right hand side of the bar Gino Refugio surfaced with a tray of smoothie, a Latino nice guy who was also a waiter. I forgot to mention the Grill also served delicacies, lots of it. Its menu included pepperoni, mayonnaise sandwiches, pastrami and a sweetheart espresso my sister was specially paid to make. With the love of coffee, came her money making.

I thought about walking up to either Gino or Martina to inquire about my sister when the she-devil showed up from the opposite door dedicated to the restroom. Satisfied, I pressed to the bar answering greetings until I was finally at the bar getting a stool.

“Hi,” I said to Freya.

She twirled around at the sound of my voice. “Hey, thank God you’re okay,” Freya breathed, then dropped the bottle of old ale she got from the cabinet on the brown polished counter. She scanned around to ensure we had privacy then she placed her hands on the counter and leaned forward.

“So, how did your day go?” I beat her to asking.

“Well, good I’ll say. There was no sign of danger, just as I told you,” she answered. “You, did everything run smooth?”

“Yeah,” I drawled gauging her face because I was aware of what her next reaction would be. “Actually, I saw him today–”

“What? Ayana, you what?” My sister freaked. I shook my head, just what I expected. “Talk to me, Ayana, what did you do? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“This is exactly why I didn’t tell you, I knew you’d freak out,” I said.

“Why won’t I, Ayana? That was the reason why we kept in-touch for the whole day,” she chided.

“I know, okay, and I didn’t exactly tell you because I wasn’t ready for your freaking out and I’m sorry for that. So if you’ll calm down I could tell you all that happened.”

“Fine, tell me what happened,” Freya conceded. I sighed then told her about my first encounter with Mysterious guy at school. Freya blinked severally taking the information in. “So he didn’t answer you?”

“Technically he did, but it was a vague response,” I answered. “First I asked him who he was.”

“And what was his reply?” My sister whispered so low I had to strain to hear her.

I straightened my posture and mimicked Mysterious guy. “I’m someone you owe your life to, Smart Brat.”

“What’s that for?”

“His response. That was his reply to my question.”

“What did he mean by that?”

I shook my head. “I have no idea.”

Freya sloughed her head thoughtfully; she raised it back up and locked me in gaze. “We have to do something about it just in case you see him again.”

I waited for her to be done before releasing the bomb. “I did.”

“You did what?”

“I saw him again at the Library, and this time I think I might have pissed him off.”

Slowly, Freya raised her weight off the counter. “Ayana, you what? Don’t you use your head? Do you know what pissing him off might do? Are you crazy?”

“That’s it okay, don’t lecture me! I know what the cause of my action might be, but you don’t expect me to sit around and do nothing after he broke into our house with some sort of mojo,” I yelled back. I looked up at Freya’s face and sighed, glanced around to be sure I hadn’t attracted attention then I cooled down. “Look I’m sorry, but seriously, I couldn’t hold my tongue when he was annoying me with talks like he knows me, he even said my name.”

“How did he know that?”

“I have no idea, and that’s the part that pissed me off the most,” I said. “I threatened him with the sheriff but he didn’t seem shaken by that and told me afterward that I wish he would leave and called me Smart Brat then he left.”

Freya blew out air from her mouth blinking severally. She shifted on her feet uncomfortably while her eyes transmitted thoughts running through her mind. “This is strange,” she later said. “Is he here to kill us?”

“I don’t think so, but if he is, well, he’s not in a rush to get it done with,” I replied.

“What do we do then?”

“If he’s not killing us just yet, I believe we have about a handful of time to do something about it . . . that is if he’s not leaving town yet.”

My sister nodded. “Should we inform the sheriff?”

“No, I already suggested that and you ruled it off. I’m starting to agree involving the sheriff isn’t a good idea, plus we have no evidence to prove he’s a serial killer since he’s done no harm to us yet, and we don’t know where to find him.”

“Didn’t you say you flashed on that book and—”

“Freya, that’s insane! You possibly expect me to go to Penelope with that, that I have a touch-thingy that gets me flashes about people and that’s my proof he’s a killer?”

“No, Ayana, that’s not what I meant?” Freya said quickly.

My face contorted. “Then what exactly did you mean?”

“What I wanted to ask was if you’re sure this guy is even a serial killer or a killer at all,” she lowered her volume at the last words.

“What kind of a person walks around with weapons if he mean no harm to anyone huh, tell me?” Freya couldn’t answer. “Believe me, Frey, he’s a killer, the son of Lucifer.”

“Alright, but until we have solid evidence we can’t make any move,” my sister stated. Maybe we couldn’t get any now, but I was certainly not going to sit around with my hands fold, I was going to get some evidence to prove I was right. Although I had no idea how I would go about that, but if Mysterious guy wasn’t making attempts on my life presently, then I could buy us some time to see what my hands get on-

“Ayana! What are you thinking?” Freya demanded.

“I’m going to get some.”

“Some what?”

“Solid evidence against him.”

“Tell me you’re mad, tell me you have no idea what’s springing out of your mouth.”

“No, Freya, I’m not mad, and that’s what I’m going to do,” I answered firmly.

Saturday ran as usual – gym time with my friends, sanitation with my sister, freshen up to delete the sweats and dirt, and finally plopping down for some spicy meal. Everything was regular and smooth until I got cajoled out of the house by my friends later in the day to Fair Haven Auditorium where the Cyprus Band was making a show. Reluctantly though I gave in with couple more persuasion from Freya to get out of the house and be flexible. Did I regret agreeing to go? No, I didn’t because the Band was great and I had fun. In the middle of the show I excused myself for a visit to the restroom.

“Come on, AY, we’ve just reached the epicenter of the show,” Tiffany groaned.

Joanna turned sideways with, “Well, unless you want her to do it here. . .” I shrugged at Joanna’s reply. Tiff glared at her before letting go of my arm. I left the hall with its boisterous environment behind, gazed into the hallway carpeted in red and sighed as a memory hit me. One of the reasons why I hated coming to the Auditorium was the memories of me and Tony it bombarded me with.

During a show, me and Tony would excuse ourselves from the crowd to come hook up in the hallway for it was the coolest and quietest place once everyone was inside enjoying themselves. Now all I saw were memories, flashes, images of what was between us and somehow it saddened me. I pushed the thoughts out of my head and walked down the hallway. I veered left, turned right and I was at the restroom. After pushing the door open, I took behind a stall, came out soon after and strolled to the sink. The instant my palm twisted the tap around my touch-thingy kicked in and showed me memories of the many people who used the sink over the years. The flashes rushed in and out and eventually left me with my brain undamaged. I sighed; at least there was nothing scary or creepy in that like a sword guy or a staff girl.

I finished touching up my makeup ready to brush my hair back when my phone buzzed inside my back pocket. After stuffing it out, I read the message that was from Tiff.

W R U? The message read. I rolled my eyes at the message. Tiff thought I was into the show like she was – a terrible mistake. Although, her reason for messaging me was because her favorite singer was soon to ascend the stage. I lifted the phone up and replied: B R T; turned around and froze in place, thanks to the sink that wedged me from falling on my butt at the materialization in front of me.

Suddenly from replying Tiffany, a girl was standing against the first empty stall with arms crossed over her chest. Her pose was as if a photographer was about taking a picture of her, which in every sense was impossible since this place was a restroom and not a Photoshop. Her demeaning blue eyes and sinister smile confirmed she was aware her current location lacked a photographer. Yet she didn’t budge. I stared at her flawless amber skin and black long glimmering hair in dread. She appeared no less in personality from Mysterious guy and that death-like feeling churned my stomach at her sight.

Who was she and how the hell did she manage letting herself in without my sharp awareness?

“Shall we keep staring at each other then?” She said then shifted on her left leg that forced my feet back. She raised her eyes on me and more sinister smile made out.

~TEN

A MYSTERIOUS ENCOUNTER

For two seconds I said nothing, possibly because I was trying to analyze the voice with the familiarity it carried or because I was shaking on my stand out of fear. With my narrowed gaze on her, the picture started to fit. Blue eyes, dark long hair, tall features, symbolic tattooed arms– exactly, now I narrowed down why her voice sounded familiar. She was the same girl from my flash of Mysterious guy, the girl I saw him challenge and pierced with his wicked sword. But how was it possible for her to be alive in spite of the injuries he gave her and how did she find me because hello, her sudden apparition in the restroom wasn’t a coincident, especially when I was involved. And since challenging Mysterious guy didn’t exactly qualified them to be bonhomie, they weren’t accomplice, so what did she want from me–

She shifted again and this time I funked with my cross-daggered heart. Her eyes darkened thoughtfully at my reaction and she cocked her head next, as if trying to comprehend a mystery. “Why are you scared of me when you don’t even know me?” I continued to be stifled and my heart still thumping. She backed off from the door and that’s when I saw the staff, the same one from my flash, that icy-like staff.

“I doubt she needs to know you to be afraid of you.” My heart fluttered the instant the door burst open at the arrival of another girl who didn’t seem like she wanted to use the place neither bothered exiting the entrance. Her feature was meaner and intimidating than the company with me. This girl had blue short hair, black glinting eyes, short denim skirt and a sexy yellow shirt with black leather jacket and military boot. She was everything like Mysterious guy in term of bearing and appearance, and she was pretty, too, just like the other girl who wasn’t showing signs of surprise at the sudden visitor.

If I wasn’t scared to death before, I was now . . . and two seconds from passing out.

“Oh come on, who told you you’re invited yet? Why do you like to be a spoilsport?” taunted the staff girl.

“You know how much I love making grand openings and without me, babes, the party ain’t gonna start, not even with Miss Fair’s presence,” replied the blue haired girl. She darted her eyes my way, eyes that made me flinch. “And it’s time for you to leave it.”

“You know she can’t, it’s bad when the Homecoming Queen is missing at her own party,” staff girl objected.

“No need to worry, she ain’t getting the Homecoming crown, besides, she’d played her part, it’s time for me to take over,” after she said that, the blue haired girl shifted out of the doorway. Her movement revealed the golden bow in her left hand and a golden quiver full of arrows strapped across her back.

A weapon, she also had a weapon!

Who the heck were these people?

“Ayana!” I shivered. “It’s time for you to leave,” the bow girl ordered. How she got to know my name wasn’t exactly the question here, it was what they wanted with me. But as always, I didn’t get to ask since I was certain there wouldn’t be a reply. With a final examination of their menacing, dangerous expression like those of Mysterious guy, I trudged out of the restroom before the bow girl glared me to death.

Thud! The door shut leaving my heart spinning. When I turned back toward the door, I saw silhouettes from beneath the door, reflection of weapons and then fighting cries followed. The sound came and went as the two girls fought around the stall– Tap.

“Ahhh!” I shrieked.

“Hey! It’s me, it’s me,” Tiffany chanted.

With my hand on my chest, I said out the name. “Tiff?”

“Yes, it’s me,” Tiff replied. “What happened AY, why are you panting like a bulldog who’d just ran a marathon?”

I sucked in air to my satisfaction before answering. “Nothing, nothing happened.”

“Are you sure ‘cause you don’t look good?”

“I’m fine, I was just lost in thought when you tapped my shoulder,” I lied. . . kind of.

“Well, I’m sorry for scaring you shirtless,” when I looked up her face, Tiff had the opposite of an apologetic smile on her.

I rolled my eyes, “Indeed you are. Let’s go,” I beckoned. When Tiffany started moving I glanced back toward the restroom and it was empty, I mean there was no reflection or silhouette from beneath the door and neither were sounds. I swallowed back the clot hung in my throat and followed Tiffany back to the hall with people.

The next day after completing my chores, I returned to my room where I paced back and forth contemplating whether or not to read the books I brought home from the library. I plopped in the chaise longue while I took my time glaring at the books. I wasn’t a believer in supernatural, but I didn’t loathe reading about it since I believed they were fiction, a construction from people’s imagination they wished were real and unfortunately got passed down from generation to generation. Now, I had zero confident in what I really believed in. I was born weird with a weird disease no one was able to help me out of. According to my online friends, a book held the answer to my life-threatening questions, with Mysterious guy and the two girls from yesterday knowing who I was might be through their involvement with the book. But logically, there was no way the other two girls knew about the book save for Mysterious guy.

Honestly, I was left with nothing to believe. Or if the books were valuable at all.

For the first time in my life, I had a vague brain, which was more than depressing. I hated not knowing or being uncertain on specific things. More depressing was that I couldn’t tell my sister about my encounter the previous day with those two mysterious girls – I mean how could I when I didn’t know what they wanted with me, how they knew who I was and who they were. My fear was little compare to Freya’s if she learned about this. She’d automatically restrict me from stepping outside the house. I know it would be for my safety, but that was the last thing I’d ever do – be restricted to one place, not even Esther, in all of her disciplinarian life dared or attempted that.

So what should I do? In response, both books stared back at me from the bed. “Maybe it’s best if I quit stalling and just get this over with,” I said then stepped toward the bed. Whatever the result might be, at least I wouldn’t deprive myself the chance of knowing simply because I lacked the fortitude to, it would be because the books really had no answer for me. The instant my skin came in contact with the first book, The Writing of Archibald, images of everyone who ever touched it flooded my mind, including Mysterious guy and the two last college kids. I willed my thoughts from them and mounted it more into the book, dug deeper and my mind’s eyes blurred out.

~~~~

“No, no, no, this cannot be happening to me,” I groaned when I saw the time on my wristwatch. I couldn’t afford being late for my shift on a Monday, because that signified listening to Marshall’s tirade, which I technically wasn’t eager for, no, not after the pains my ears suffered hearing Mr. Lambert’s spiel about his darling physics formulas that delayed us in school. Despite it’s been long I last listened to a lecture from Marshall regarding latency, I didn’t think hearing one of “those talks” would really meet me favorably.

Once I rolled my car into a space in the sidewalk, I ran up the steps and into the Library. Opening the door, I froze at the sight of the disaster in the hall.

The beautiful place I worked wasn’t that different from a battleground. Books were scattered across the hall just as debris redecorated the floor. Among the folks in there were few paramedics, the sheriff and her deputies, the two Librarian and Marshall and Mark. When the manager’s glare met me at the door, I saw pain in his eyes, pain for the hazard his precious library was. For two full minutes I couldn’t move, yet I couldn’t understand what happened in there. It was impossible to think earthquake because that would have destroy everything, not just the checkout area. Simply put, my questions always came at the wrong time when answers weren’t available. Nobody took note of me to provide answers and the mourning manager was the last person I’d want to approach. However, I noticed there was one individual missing in sight, the only person I could ask.

From the corner speak of the she-devil appeared, dragged me to the back of the stacks and released me from her shaky hands. I was fast to hold my ground else I bang my head on the shelf she threw me at. I backed away almost in an anger I was able to control after assessing her bloodshot face, horrified eyes, and trembling breath.

“What happened, Danna?”

“Who is that guy, Ayana?” Danna rasped instead of replying me with a genuine answer.

“What guy?”

“The one you call Mysterious guy, the same one you asked me to describe the other day who wears black outfits.” I leaned back, narrowed my eyes and turned my looks sideways. I’d expected Danna to be aware of things going on around her environment, but I wasn’t counting on her notifying ability. Why would she ask me about Mysterious guy? If I hadn’t learned something new about him I’d have concluded he came to finish off the task his girlfriends couldn’t complete.

That was mowing me down, by the way.

“Why, what happened, Danna? Why do you ask?”

“Because he was here today,” she answered.

“He was?”

“Yes, he came looking for you.”

“Why?”

She shrugged instantly. “I don’t know.”

“What happened then?” I prompted.

“Well, after I told him you were running a bit late today, he engaged me in a discussion about books, asked me why I love working here and with his smiles I learned he was really a nice person, and when he laughed he seemed . . . .” yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it. I asked Danna a question and she was answering. Danna Clayton, the girl you ask for a direct detail and get a whole portfolio. Geez, did I forget who she was?

The girl trailed off when she noticed my drab expression. “Well, we were talking when a girl entered the library. She looked pretty, but also pretty dangerous.”

“Can you describe her?”

“Yes. She um, was your type, she was beautiful, tall and she had dark hair.”

“Did she carry a weapon?”

“A staff,” the girl burst. “She had a weapon, a staff with some sort of ice decoration on it . . . more like it was ice itself.” Shit. Not again. The staff girl knew where I worked and dared to come after me at work? However, my co-worker didn’t take note of my worried face for she went on. “When Mysterious guy saw her he backed away from the counter, changed his nice expression into danger sign and before long they were sending taunts at each other. Next thing I know they were up against each other seriously engaged in a fight. Their fighting mood was intense and more surprise stole me away when Mysterious guy brought out a sword from his bag and fought her around the checkout area. My heart nearly stopped when he leaped at her and slashed her ribs open with his sword. The wound he gave her didn’t appear to be a joke and, Ayana; nobody can survive such injury, I tell you. The sight of the blood nearly made me faint, but gladly I was able to cover up after she disappeared and Mysterious guy left.”

“How do you mean cover up?” I interrupted.

“Making up stories to cover the fight,” Danna replied. “I had to fabricate a story for the others because I couldn’t tell them what actually happened.”

“Wait, you mean no one saw that except for you?” It made no sense to me she was the only one in the library when that happened. If no one at all was available, Mark and Marshall were certain to be.

“No, no one was around,” Danna replied. “Have you forgotten today was the committee meeting at Town Hall?”

“Oh, yeah, I remember,” she was right. The town workers always held a meeting every Monday, so it was possible no one was around during the incident. I shook my head with my thought running wild. If Danna hadn’t covered for me, well, I was in some deep shit with Marshall, worst case scenario, I was in some deep shit myself and it didn’t leave out my sister’s safety.

“Ayana?”

“Yes?”

“Who is that guy? Who is he?”

I sighed. “I’m not really sure, Danna, all I know is what I discovered about him, which I’m not one-hundred percent certain of given the way he materialized first in my dream before I got to—” Crap! I stopped realizing what I was doing. How could I have forgotten who my audience was before opening my big mouth and saying dang too much?

Danna’s expression changed to confusion at my sudden halt. I twisted my eyes at her remembering what a babbler she was. Danna wasn’t the sort you keep secrets with. It was enough she knew about Mysterious guy, I couldn’t risk telling her my secrets; that would be a step too far. The girl wasn’t even my friend and to say we’d never shared personal stuffs before. Un-huh, things had better stayed the way they were.

“Ayana?” Danna asked. I tiled my head her way and saw the questions and suspicious in her verdant green eyes. “Is there something you want to tell me?” I didn’t respond. She smiled just a bit – you know, that kind of ancient smile – looked down and back up my face. “If I were to guess what you’re thinking I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be surprised to know you’re deliberating whether to open up or not because of my babbling, right?” I turned my full attention on her. How could she guess? It was pretty obvious anyone could guess, but not Danna Clayton because she wasn’t anyone, she was Danna Clayton.

“See, I understand your fears and worries about opening up since we aren’t friends and aren’t even close to being regular associate. But honestly speaking, there’s a reason behind who I am.” Yeah? I’m dying to hear every bit of it. “You see, I’m not big on trust, I mean, I do keep people’s secrets but when it comes to mine, I’m always disappointed. When I moved into this town I resolved to keep to myself and chose a subtle path. If everyone saw me for a dork it would help them register me not worth trusting and that way they’d keep their secrets to themselves and I’d do mine.”

Wow! I blinked and then stared slack-jaw at her. This was the first time a reasonable speech left her lips since the time I met her. I hadn’t thought she chose to be a twerp with motives, I’d concluded she was some nutcase worth having around for entertainment. I sort of admired her, most especially how cool and serene her voice sounded, but . . .

“But why tell me all these? If you aren’t ready to share your secrets, what makes you think I might want to disclose mine to you?”

“Because I care about you even if you won’t believe it, and I’m certain you’re not ready to know my secrets just yet,” she replied. I frowned at first, a moment later her words dawned on me. If I really wanted to know about her all I had to do was touch her, which she wasn’t aware of and thus why she said that since normal people ask when they wanted to know stuffs. I was dying to uncover the new Danna Clayton who now stood before me, but hello, didn’t I have enough already on my plate? Despite how much I wanted to know what that secret was, I was certain it wouldn’t be anything important to worth ten million dollars. All I’d find on her wouldn’t range from the usual secrets I learned on people – a nice ex- you accidently killed the first time you caught him with your best friend, a few dollar stolen from your parent’s safe found on you, a couple missing stuffs from your roommate you accidently found and didn’t want to return, or a hypocritical cheat. Nothing ranged far off from that category and I was dead-sure Danna’s secrets belonged in a slot there. Besides, I’d vow never to use the touch-thingy against people’s will.

“Okay,” I conceded in sharing a bit of me with her, if she succeeded in keeping it for a whole day, I might reconsider my opinion about her. “Just as I said before, I have no definite knowledge of who Mysterious guy is, save for the dream I had of him and seeing him in reality, which actually doesn’t say much.”

The girl’s eyes widened. “You dreamt of him before seeing him?”

“Yes I did, I saw him a night before he walked into the library the night I met him,” I replied.

“How do you mean?” The girl wasn’t showing signs of understanding. I sighed, brushed my hair to the back of my ear and explained in more detail.

You see, I’ve been seeing things in my visions that come real in life since I was a kid. Whatever I dreamt of or envisioned always came to past in reality. Most times I see event before they actually happen.” The reaction showed on her was the exact thing I expected and knew my friends would display when they heard this. To think I’d gone crazy.

“Are you clairvoyant?” Astounded, I double blinked. Danna didn’t laugh at me, she actually took me serious.

Wow, that’s a first.

“No,” I said gently. “I think it’s more like premonition or something.”

Danna nodded. “Wow, that’s interesting.” I spared a few moment examining her, finally, I concluded she was worth talking to because really I needed to talk to someone about everything.

“That’s not all,” I blurted. Danna reestablished her focus on me at the sound of that. “When I touch stuffs I instantly know their histories, past and present, including humans.”

Danna took a step back as she asked, “What do you mean?” Yeah great, that’s what I thought. “You mean you can touch things and just know everything about them?”

“Exactly,” I answered confidently.

“Since when can you do that?”

“Since I turned twelve,” I said nonchalantly. “Every time I touched an object I’d immediately know all about it, with that I didn’t need people telling me stuffs. When I told my parents about my alleged condition, neither of them took me serious while my sister failed to understand. I grew tired of it because at times it overwhelms me, so I turned to drugs for a control solution and that seemed to help so well until I was bundled to rehab.”

Danna nodded. “Who else did you tell?”

“Just my sister . . . and then there’s you,” I replied. Danna’s lips paved way to a small smile that disappeared a moment later. Seriously, the girl was strange and I had a second thought about really spilling my secrets to her. What if she’s not all she appeared to be?

“So what are you doing about it?” She spoke out.

I hesitated. “Actually, nothing to be exact, but there are these books I sighted with hopes for answers.”

“What books?”

“The Writing of Archibald and Culture of the Celt.”

“What kind of books are they?”

“There are . . .” I paused. “Give me a minute.” I shrugged off my backpack, undid the zipper and brought out the books. I re-did the zipper and dropped the bag in an empty space on the shelf, before I got back on my feet, Danna had disappeared. She appeared back a minute later with two stools, handed one to me and sat on the other one. I returned her bleak smile when I accepted the stool and then flashed on it where I saw Danna picked up the stools stealthily with her focus on Marshall hoping he wouldn’t see her.

When I snapped my eyes open, the girl’s sharp expectant gaze was pinned on me. “Did you just . . .?”

“Yeah, but don’t worry, your secrets are safe where you have them. I made sure not to dig deeper, if it makes you feel better,” I explained. Honestly, I watched the girl release a satisfied smile at my statement and before I blinked she was back to being stoic. Bewildered by her fastidious behavior, I was almost tempted to use my touch-thingy on her just to be on the safe side, because after everything I learned from the previous weekend, I just couldn’t be sure who was who and who wasn’t. And considering Danna’s appearing and disappearing act with her fast shape-shifting abilities, I doubted if I could trust her, I mean she recently told me she had secrets – which I doubted would be of interest to me–

“Ayana? Is there something you want to show me?” Once more the girl broke me out of my thought and her eyes showed skepticism.

“Uh, yeah.”

~ ELEVEN

A MYSTERIOUS INCIDENT

After I dropped the Culture of The Celt on my lap for later reference, I opened The Writing of Archibald that dealt directly with the topic I was about discussing Danna. “Okay. This book is titled The Writing of Archibald after the writer, Hebron Archibald, a supernatural research scholar. This book was specifically named after him because it was considered the best of his works. The book discusses the history of a particular people with supernatural powers who lived from 5000 B.C.E . . . probably till date, but there’s no proof on that.”

Danna nodded after the introduction. “So, who were these people?”

“They were called Expression Readers,” I answered.

“Expression Readers?” Danna repeated.

“Yes,” I said simply.

“Who are they?”

“According to this book, Expression Readers were gifted people who possessed special abilities of certain affinities, namely; Nature, which deals with grass, tress and anything green. Second, Water, you know what that mean?” Danna nodded. “Okay, so the third goes in Air, Fire and then Earth. Anyone possessing or capable of manipulating any of these affinities is called by the Expression’s affinity. The final Expression mentioned here is a certain type classified to be rare by Hebron and some fanatics like him.”

“What kind of Expression is that?”

“It’s called Touch Expression.”

“What is Touch Expression?” Danna eased out.

“Going by the book’s definition, Touch Expression is a particular ability that enabled it possessor Reader be in control of all five affinities, plus two major affinities restricted just to her; the seer’s power, a form of premonition, and then psychometry; the ability to instantly discover information about stuffs merely by touching them,” I explained.

Danna wrinkled her face at that. “Is that what the book said about Touch Expression?”

“Yes and the people who possess the power are said to be rare, only about four of them have walked the earth since the time of Valhalla, but these other five Readers have been very much available.”

Danna adjusted herself on the stool releasing the wrinkles gradually. “What does the book say about them?”

“Well,” I flipped through the pages to the ones I marked and began telling the rest by reading directly from the book. “It says: Expression Readers were a group of Vikings who lived in love and unity through many centuries in Helheim, their home; somewhat like a town or village. Basically, Expression Reading is a terminology used to classify these humans from other ordinary humans. They’re said to be of Norse mythology and their gifts sprung from Valkyries, therefor their sire line originated from a long line of female ancestries. Logically, from the very first generation, the first Reader to be gifted with this natural ability was Nosferatu, daughter of the Valkyrie Hildr, and the Expression was Nature. She got married and through her, her children were born with Expressions of all kinds and like that Expression Reading continued to be passed down from mother to children. Of course, they were male Readers too, but these could not pass the ability to their children. Therefore, Expression Readers came from a long line of women from generation to generation and every child breed out of a family goes by the first female Reader’s name according to their ancestral Valkyrie.

“For example, as Nosferatus was the daughter of Hildr, her entire family line went by Hildny; the ‘Hild’ meaning the Valkyrie’s name and ‘ny’ new, kind of an offspring. And so went the rest.” Danna nodded, so I went on.

“For eons these people lived together under the rule of six council elders whose affinities were Fire, Water, Air, Nature, Earth, and lastly headed by the a Touch Reader, the first Touch Reader, daughter of the Valkyrie Skuld who was also known for her many names as a Norn. These six women controlled the activities of their people, shepherded and governed the community in justice and fairness. They served purposeful roles to enable their people get the best of everything. Everybody listened to the Elders, took counsels from them and obeyed, including the men. Nobody complained of the reign and all was fine. Readers married Readers and humans alike and this increased their population for hundreds of years until the older ones began to fall asleep in death. This sudden occurrence raised questions on the heart of Readers, most especially on a certain Earth Reader who weighed possibilities of their true existence and haven to die. She murmured and nagged on why they had to die despite having distinct abilities from humans. She believed as different people, they were supposed to live longer or even never die at all.”

“Wow, but no one’s supposed to live forever,” Danna observed.

“Exactly, but she didn’t get a wakeup call on that,” I noted. “And that’s the same thing the Elders told her.”

“Did she listen?”

“Nope, she didn’t,” I answered. Then I went back to the book and my colleague refrained from interruption. Her undivided attention granted exclusively to me. “The Earth Reader was offered series of phenomenon on why humans and all living things weren’t meant to live forever. Despite much of the counsels, she was obstinate to heed. Her conviction was primarily based on the belief that they were supposed to have more, more power, more ability that could allow them cheat nature and with strongly rooted hypothesis stating everything in nature has loopholes. This controversial statement watered doubts on some Readers and eventually grew followers for the Earth Reader from the few that accepted her concept and desired to live for eternity. With the many efforts from the Elders to dispatch this madness of finding loopholes to cheat nature and save their people from the perishing end they were slowly drawing close to, proved to be ineffective. However, with the followers she’d gain, the Earth Reader determined to prove the Elders wrong by embarking on a journey in search for more.”

“Sounds like Oliver Twist,” Danna joked. I loosened a small laugh then continued.

“Their desperation for longevity pushed them pass the boundary of their village into the wild in search of a stronger power. After several months with futile result, her followers began wearing out and start to complain and to blame themselves for their ignorance and unrealistic desires. Somehow though, the Earth Reader was able to strengthen their hope with more eternity fantasy. During the search they stumbled across something the Reader assumed to be a loophole; a tomb engraved in a cave with foreign ancient inscription and symbol on it. Puzzled at first, the desperation to find anything with answers drove the Reader into working out the tomb. Although it exhausted a handful of days to figure out how to open the seal on the tomb, her affinity aided her in cracking it open, which at the result released the tomb’s host locked inside.”

“What was inside?” Danna whispered with anxiety creeping through her eyes.

“It was a sidh,” I said slowly.

Danna pushed her head back perplexed. “A what?”

“A sidh,” I repeated.

“What the heck is a sidh?”

“Sidhs were some sort of fairy creatures that lived in Asgard. There were famous for the mastery of taking on human forms and especially known for their trickery magic. Basically, they were in human form but not exactly humans . . .” even I couldn’t understand the term and seriously, it sounded phantom. Anyways, the hope here was Danna getting the whole concept of what I was trying to say.

“So the tomb belonged to a sidh?” Danna hooped back on the train and she seemed to be following even though I was sort of fumbling around.

“Yes, the tomb belonged to a sidh trapped there between two worlds . . . or realms,” I said.

“How do you mean?” She asked slowly.

What could I say? I flipped through another page I dog-eared with hopes of Marshall not finding out because that certainly would be the death of me. Yeah, you know with his recent loss of his precious books, he might take the anger out on me, and also because I accidently wrinkled out a page or two.

“Well, according to this passage,” I continued. “The tomb was made for a particular sidh that served as a prison to him.”

“Did it explain why?”

“Clearly, it does,” I answered. “It says that Sidhs came from a different domain, a realm called Asgard. Asgard was the home to this magical creatures ruled by a king. As with the desire of every kingdom, this kingdom had a prince and heir to the throne, a prince that was downright handsome, I mean really handsome that no Sidh in the realm was comparable to him.”

“You mean as Mysterious guy?”

My jaw dropped at Danna’s remark. “Well, unless you consider that sort of handsome attractive.”

“But he is hot,” you really had to see her face with the wide grin on that.

I shrugged. “If you say so,” and then continued. “With this charm came powers, over loaded with it that all these made him power crazed that he began misbehaving and turned power corrupt. He did terrible things that included plotting against his father so he’d ascend the throne. As every evil motion wins supporters, the sidh gained corrupted supporters like him who eventually named him Dark lord, for his dark powers. Unfortunately though, his father’s powers were more than his and his mother showed no support for him and saw to her son’s arrest and later banishment from the realm. Some years after, Dark lord returned with more evil intention most especially for his mother. He at first pretended to have repented and seduced his mother’s affection fully aware she’d fall for him and forgive his crimes. As presumed, the queen fell for her son’s lies, pleaded to his father on his behalf and his banishment was lifted. Pleased to have executed his plan smoothly, Dark lord attempted his mother’s life with a poisoned wine he offered her in a new golden goblet as a peace treaty. However, that part of his plan didn’t succeed, instead of the queen taking the wine; Dark lord’s favorite mischievous cousin played around the goblet that he later drank out of. Enraged for this, Dark lord spent his little time mourning his cousin when he was supposed to flee. That amount of time worked on behalf of the kingdom that as the guard reached him, he was nabbed and this time he wasn’t banished, his parents sought out a better punishment for him. Dark lord was locked away in a tomb both for attempting his mother’s life and killing his cousin. To make this permanent, his tomb prison was situated in-between two realms – the human world and the sidhs – with warning signs for anyone who might think of releasing him. Although the Earth Reader that found him knew no such thing especially when the writing was in foreign language, she released him and unintentionally released hell on earth.”

“Wow!” Danna sighed. “What a son, huh?”

I smiled, too. “Yeah, what a son.”

“So what really did the tomb do apart from serving as his prison?”

“The book says the tomb served as a portal between Asgard and the human world, you know like a trapdoor from here to there,” I explained.

“Why put the portal here where it was easy to find if they had no intention of letting him out?” Danna asked as if I was the one that imprisoned the guy.

“Because they never expected the tomb to be found talk less of being opened when it was sealed with codes or something like that,” I answered.

“What a miss calculation,” she murmured. I made an agreeing face. “What happened next?”

I flipped over two pages and continued. “After Dark lord was set free, he showed gratitude to his releaser and rewarded her with what she most desired in life . . . magic. This cause of action made the Reader a witch and the first among her kind. Furthermore, every other Reader found with her were rewarded, too, with magic, but these had lesser magic, they couldn’t do what the Reader slash newly made witch was capable of – but that said their sorcery was edgy too. That served as his appreciation to them. Proud of her success at finding her loophole, the now witch returned home with Dark lord to prove the Elders wrong. Before they got there, news had already reached the Readers on the new discovery but few details were reached without expatiation. When finally the Witch arrived, also known as the Enchantress, she introduced her people to the sidh and him to them after which she commenced on the task of convincing them to submit to the sidh and receive the benefit of having more and even living forever. This campaign got reactions around the village and eventually many renounced their true and pure nature to receive magic and the ability to perform wonders as the now sorcerers were capable of. With this new transformation in the village, few correct-minded Readers still saw the sidh as an abomination and refused to see his followers as part of them. They separated themselves from the sorcerers and made a new name for them.”

“What name?”

“Were Readers. Expression Readers refused to be associated by the same name with the sorcerers and decided their name would be Were Readers, because they abandoned their true gift for magic, and not just plain magic, but magic at it worse kind. The sorcerers though couldn’t care less if they now had a different name as long as they were immune to death.”

“What about the Elders, they couldn’t have sat doing nothing?” Danna inquired.

“They didn’t,” I answered gently. “The Elders tried convincing these lost sheep that Dark lord had no good intention for them but was merely using them to find and secure where to dominate, but they paid no heed to their words, everything said to them fell on deaf ears. Dark lord realized the Elders weren’t relenting on the issue and launched a war against those not submitting to him. He turned Readers against each other, terrorized the village, turned Readers’ will to his favor and took their loyalty by force. Whoever didn’t cooperate got turned into a changeling. This form of treatment won him numerous submissions because no one wanted to be turned into a sidh changeling.

“Realizing they could do nothing to stop him, the Elders and few others succeeded at escaping Dark lord, ran to the neighboring villages where people considered to be Dark Knights and Gypsies lived. For three years the Knights and Gypsies safeguarded the Readers while Dark lord took control of Helheim, and at some point he returned to the portal and released his Sidh followers arrested and imprisoned between two worlds like him. Together they ruled, together they ruined, and together they destroyed the world, took human women forcefully for wives and bred forth Sidhs with more increment of Weres. At the end of the three years period, the Elders figured out a way to redeem their people from the devil Dark lord and returned home.”

“Really?” Danna asked enthusiastically.

“Yes,” I replied in like manner.

“What did they do?”

I wrinkled my face. “Actually, the writer had no idea for all he wrote was the six women waged war against the sidhs and Weres with the help of their Knight and Gypsy friends. Many of the sidhs, Weres and changelings, were rid of while Dark lord was defeated. Sadly though, the original Witch (the formally Earth Reader) escaped. Dark lord on the other hand was apprehended, sent back to his prison and locked away. The Elders made sure they didn’t make miss calculation over finding the portal and hid the key with which they locked the portal with the Touch Reader’s Fire reading daughter. To be extra-sure no one would stumble over the tomb, the Elders used what they called Secret of The Norns; otherwise known in other words as The Past, The Present and The Future, representing the three Fate to make the tomb’s location lost in sight, sort of invisible to anyone searching for it. After all these were over, all Were Readers were banished with execution awaiting those that returned. Expression Readers came back as a family and the remnant refilled the village back to a better population. But that didn’t mean the Weres relented, they did everything to locate Dark lord’s tomb to no avail. They still carry on trials through generations hoping one day they’d come across an aid to bring back their master.”

“Wow, what a nice story,” Danna commented. “Sounds like a happy ending.”

“Yeah, except according to Mr. Archibald, Were Readers still roam the earth and constantly disturbs Expression Readers wherever they could be found, and still on the lockout for the key and whereabouts of the portal,” I pointed out.

Danna’s happy smile disappeared as if that piece of news was poison to her mind. “But they are not succeeding, are they?”

“Hebron didn’t state that part and I wouldn’t bet my last coin on the information contained here, most especially when I don’t really buy into the story,” I said. My workmate bit down her thumb nail in thought while I bit my bottom lip just like I did the previous day after flashing on the book. To me it made no sense, it added nothing to my knowledge; I mean the book by the way. I’d hoped to find information about myself as expected from that online community but nothing solid came up, just the folklore story with happy endings like Danna emphasized. When I was done thinking, I concluded the book had nothing useful for me, or maybe all these supernatural thinking was all in my head and what I had was indeed a disease.

“Where do Mysterious guy and his mysterious girlfriend come in?” Surprised at the sudden interruption to my thought, I immediately returned my attention to my audience.

“Awesome question,” I complimented then closed The Writing of Archibald to tend to the Culture of The Celt that held answers to Danna’s questions. Once again, I went straight to the marked pages and resumed my narration. “This book Culture of The Celt deals more precisely with that topic, Dark Knights.”

“The same Dark Knights from Archibald’s?” The girl asked. I nodded. “What does it have to do with Mysterious guy? And besides, who are these Dark Knights exactly?”

“Good question. Well, Dark Knights are referred to here as the naturally skilled worries for combat. They were the descendant of Lachesis, one of the three Fates of Greek and of Okeanos her husband, a Titian by the way in Greek mythos. It says Dark Knights has the ability to pick anything and instantly use it as a weapon.”

“Interesting,” I heard her say.

“Un-huh,” I agreed. “It further says apart from their combat skills, Dark Knights has their own powers. For the males it’s the power of illusion – making people see what they want . . . something Were Readers does too – while for the females it’s healing power, although it states that the female kind of Knights are rare to come by.”

“Why?”

I flipped more pages until I arrived at my destination. Okay, don’t ask why I had to use the book when I had every detail installed in my head. Really, imagine what it would do if Danna knew the in-depth of my ability. Not good, right? Well exactly, that’s why I read directly from the book to be on the safe side.

I still needed the assurance she was worth my trust.

“Initially, there were a surplus of female Knights just as they were males and these performed their task purposefully, healed their wounded until around the Dawn Chaos War between Expression Readers and Sidhs, when Dark lord spelled a female Knight and through her the infection spread across the camp, which only affected females and from then they seized to exist. They practically became history.”

“He did that? But why?”

“Because the females were healing the wounded and it’s like after they healed a wounded person, they empowered them the more. Dark lord saw this as a threat and did what he knew how to do best; got rid of them.”

“But, that’s unfair,” my workmate groused. I raised a brow at her just to be sure she wasn’t kidding because seriously, I was two seconds from laughing if Danna really felt sympathy for them. Okay, I did too, but because I wasn’t really taken into the whole thing, I didn’t feel there was a need for that.

“So?” Danna prompted.

“So what?” I asked.

“Dark Knights, what more on them?” She reminded.

“Oh, yeah, Dark Knight, well . . .” I returned to the page and thus continued. “Despite their skills in weaponry, these proud bastards . . . oops,” I looked up at Danna’s questioned face and smiled. “Sorry, that was all me.” She smiled back with a “that’s okay” gesture. “Okay, being Knights with the ability to use anything as a weapon, their love for personal weapons didn’t vanish and each Knight picked a weapon he loved and used this as his primarily form of defense. Their weapons ranged from size and types. To name a few, there are swords, daggers, staffs, spears, rods, hammers, chain balls, bow and arrows, etcetera”

“Okay,” Danna nodded. “But what exactly was their relationship with Expression Readers?”

“Dark Knights were neighbors to Expression Readers, more like allies, friends; in fact Knights took Readers as wives and vas versa until Dark lord entered the picture and with their pledged allegiance, supported their friends in fighting him and after Dark lord was gone, their relationship continue to function.”

“Continue, as in present tense?” My workmate questioned.

“Yes, continue. Knights still take their stand with Expression Readers long after they offered themselves to serve as protectors to Expression Readers long ago, even went as far to appointing a Knight each to an individual Reader as her guardian. So since both parties agreed to this arrangement, wherever you see a Reader be sure her Knight is close by just in case trouble calls,” I expatiated.

“So that means every Expression Reader has her personal Knight?”

“According to the writers of this book, yes,” I emphasized. The girl went radio silent for a while to commune with thoughtland, when she returned she abruptly directed her focus on me.

“You think Mysterious guy is a Knight, don’t you?” I sighed in response. That was a question I tried to avoid, even from me. Before answering her directly, I flipped through the pages and showed her a picture. Surprised, Danna gasped. “That’s exactly the same sword I saw him use,” she confirmed. I sighed again then commenced with explanation.

~TWELVE

A MYSTERIOUS DISCOVERY

“This weapons,” I said with my finger pointing at the picture with Mysterious guy’s sword and daggers in it, “is said to be wielded only by a Touch Reader’s Knight, it belonged exclusively to him. According to the book, the first Touch Reader made a special weapon for her Knight out of her powers, a weapon that could destroy anything . . . and by that I mean Weres and Sidhs,” I told her. “The sword is claimed to have properties that even a slight cut could render the enemy mortal injuries and when we talk about more than a cut. . .”

“. . . It could be the death of them,” Danna filled in.

I nodded. “With this sword came six identical daggers. Since Dark lord annihilated female Knights who could heal, the Touch Reader made healing provision for her Knight through these daggers and they can heal just anything.”

Danna smiled delightfully. “How thoughtful of her. But I didn’t see the daggers.”

“That’s because they’re tucked away in his gig bag,” I answered.

“How do you know that?” She asked pointedly.

“Because I’ve seen them,” I replied nonchalantly.

“You have?”

“Yes,” I nodded and instantly flashed back on that terrible night.

“How, how did you see it?”

“The night he broke into my house.”

“Oh my god!” She gasped. “When– how?”

“Last Thursday when Freya and I were at home, Mysterious guy broke in through the window with injuries all around him; I mean he was covered in blood. He practically held us hostage just to get himself healed and it was the daggers that did the trick, which I hate him for because I was the one he ordered to get the dagger for him,” I ended that with bits of anger creepy up my spine.

“So he broke into your house? What did you do about it?”

“Nothing, because I thought he was a serial killer and with such weapons, who’d be that stupid to make attempts to get help?” The girl didn’t say anything, after a moment she was back to herself.

“Well, how come he’s in possession of weapons that don’t belong to him?”

Page flipped.

Head spinning.

I continued. “Legend has it that after the passing on of the Touch Reader and her Knight, the sword and daggers seized to exist, it was only found five hundred years later when a new Touch Reader was born and her Knight chosen. Four hundred years after, history repeated itself after that the second Touch Reader and her Knight passed on–”

“Wait, sorry for interrupting you but, I don’t understand,” Danna interjected.

“Well,” I looked at her. “How about I put it this way: You see when a Touch Reader dies it kind of takes long before another Touch Reader is born given how powerful they were, which makes them rare to see. So after a Touch Reader and her Knight dies, years later another one is born and somehow among the already existing Knights, one of them is picked, chosen to be her Knight and the boys selected for this occupational hazard are mostly two years older than the Reader,” I explained as easy as I could with hopes she got it.

“Okay, but how is he chosen, I mean what are the signs to know this Knight is the next Touch Reader’s Knight?”

“According to the source of this book, the day the Reader is born her two year old Knight gets marked by the appearance of the weapons,” I said. Danna stared at me as a simpleton, which meant I’d entirely lost her. I sighed and tried using illustration instead. “Lets’ say today a Touch Reader is born, at night her chosen Knight finds the sword and daggers by his bedside or on the table or wherever it’s appropriate for him to see. And as a kid, you know he’d want to show his parents what he found and that’s how he gets to know what the sign means and how to go about finding his Reader.”

Danna smiled. “Now I get the picture.”

“Thank God,” I breathed. The girl laughed at me.

“That explains it then,” she said.

“Explains what?”

“Who Mysterious guy is,” she said excitedly.

“And who is he?” I drawled.

“The next Touch Reader’s Knight,” she squeaked.

“And how do you know that?”

“Because the next Touch Reader is sitting right in front of me!”

First I made the gesture of looking around then asked, “Me?” She made a frantic head nod. One look at her I burst into laughter.

Danna’s brows drew together. “What’s funny?”

“You,” I replied then laughed some more. “Geez Dan, that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in my entire life! You actually think I’m a Touch Reader?”

“Well of course, the picture fits because you fall into the category of Touch Readers,” she countered.

“How?”

“QED.”

“How is this quite easily demonstrated?”

“Because you told me Touch Readers have seer’s power and psychometry, well don’t forget you told me you have the same thing and Mysterious guy walks about instead of killing you, he protects you because hypothetically speaking, I don’t think the girl he fought earlier had good intentions for coming here . . . and just for argument sake, don’t we already know the weapon he uses?”

“Oh yeah we do, except my great, great, great, you count it, grandmother wasn’t a Valkyrie descendant. So no, thank you.”

A line appeared between her brows. “I’m serious here, Ayana!”

“So am I, Danna,” I replied. “My ancestors weren’t Vikings, and I definitely didn’t come from a Norse generation.”

“But what if you are, Ayana, what if you did come from Norse?”

“Because I couldn’t have, Danna! And it takes more than that to be a Touch Reader,” I pointed out. “First things first, for one to be a Touch Reader she must come from a line of Expression Reading family, there is no bypassing that. And in my case, well, I don’t think you need me stating the obvious.”

“Maybe it doesn’t work that way now since this is the modern time. You know, with the current improvements in our time things have changed,” the girl argued.

“Still doesn’t add up, there is no such thing as “change” in supernatural stuffs,” I counter-agued. “You’re what you are and what not if you’re not.”

“I don’t agree with you, Ayana. I think your generation might be different, maybe you have things a little bit working against the norm here and that’s why you’re the first, but I believe strongly in myself you’re the next Touch Reader . . . maybe potential, but certainly in the line.” I was literally agape by the time she stopped speaking. Since I knew her, I’d never thought the girl had a sense of argument or could be this good at arguing for me to feel the heat of shellacking, and her conviction on it was as if she had all facts at hand, which if you hadn’t guessed yet, shocked me.

Danna sighed, her annalistic eyes still on me, but had lost the intensity in it. “Ayana, I understand how hard this is to accept, but the odds are right. If we are being fair here, you’d see the puzzle fits, you have the requirement of a potential Touch Reader.” I compressed my lips together from protesting thinking through her words. “Look, how about we do this, you go home and put in more thought to this, and maybe tell your sister . . . who knows, she might have a thing or two to say on this and her view point could help shade more light. Who knows, maybe your mother once told her why you both have Norse mythological names.” I raised a brow at her and she smiled in return. “And I promise I’d see what I can do to help, maybe I might come up with something tangible and helpful?” Giving thought to her suggestion, I nodded slowly.

“What are the two of you doing back here while there’s work going on out there?” If you guessed right, you’d already know who that was. Marshall’s sudden emerging galvanized us and from the appearance of his dusty suit and exasperated expression, anyone could tell he was exhausted. Today hadn’t turned out to be smooth and running for him and to think it was my entire fault made me deserving of his wrath. But no one was going to tell him that. So that meant I was safe from the vilely manager, else, I wondered what he’d do to me . . . probably begin from feeding on my head.

Without hesitation, my co-worker and I closed shop out back and raced to the checkout area.

Shutting the garage door, I made for the house with relief my sister was already home seeing her car parked in the garage, although I was a little bit curious what she was doing home at an hour like that when she was supposed to be working out her shift at the Grill. Stepping inside the living room, I paused to enjoy the warmness of the room given how freezing the winter made the night. As I allowed the heat melt into my skin, I roamed my eyes about expecting my sister to show up, which she didn’t – another point for curiosity. In the cause of my scouting, my examining eyes stopped at the unlit fireplace. Curiously, I looked around searching for reasons why the house felt warm with the unlit fireplace, which was impossible. A moment later, the warmness over settled in me that I almost began sweating as if in an oven. I clasped my slacked jaw and clumped my way to the kitchen where Freya sat sipping her steamy coffee from her favorite mug. Her expression seemed disturbed and I got that same glimpse of Friday – that deep-in-thought-worried feeling from her like something was wrong, deadly wrong with her and seemed she had no control over it. The oddest thing was for over three minutes I’d been present in the house, Freya didn’t notice my arrival. Her attention was completely stolen away and that in all categories was plainly unusual.

“So there’s no work for you today?” I said sharply, which snapped Freya out of her meditation or whatever she was doing.

Freya fearfully excused her mug. “Ayana, when did you get here?”

I moved to the nook, placed my bag on it and drew out a stool. “Minutes back, that you seemed not to notice.” Freya spared me an apologetic smile. “Why are you home?”

“I had a long day today, I couldn’t consider stressing myself over work,” she supplied.

“That makes two of us,” I echoed.

Freya’s expression changed into worry and a bit anxious. “Did you see him again?”

“I saw worse and tell you, you’re not going to believe your ears when I’m done saying this,” I said. Freya blinked once and paid attention to my story. After a deep breath, I launched into narrating my day’s event to her. “The funniest part was when Danna said she think I might be an Expression Reader . . . no, scratch that, a Touch Reader, can you believe that? She actually thinks we come from Norse and that our ancestors might have been Vikings! And despite the many essential explanations I offered her and for the one fact that states I’m nothing of such, which deals with the Reading family line I lack, the girl still didn’t relent. Isn’t that ironic?” Then I laughed. When I looked my sister’s way, there was no smile found on it, not even a tiny winy sign to show that sounded funny in her ears.

Her face was plain neutral, which was hard for me to get around.

“Frey, what is it? Don’t you find it funny?” I asked. Freya still didn’t budge. She turned her focus on her hands and began to shiver slowly. Suddenly, the kitchen’s warmness amplified and left little beads of sweat on my sister’s temple like she was really nervous.

Studying her, I moved back a bit with my stool and carefully asked, “Freya? What is it? What’s wrong with you? Is it what I said?” Instead of an answer, Freya let herself out of the stool like it was suddenly on fire and then gesticulated around the table while I watched her.

“Do you think she’s right, Danna?” She asked nervously.

“Right about what?” I drawled.

“About you being an Expression Reader,” Freya supplied.

“Apparently, we didn’t come from a line of Readers,” I answered slowly, my skeptical eyes on her.

Freya snapped her eyes at me and fear made me shiver. “Ayana, there’s something I need to tell you, but I’m scared how you’d react.” That’s where care was needed. I hated hearing someone tell me that line, it always meant trouble, and no, it wasn’t even close to being an exception in my sister’s case, but staring at her fidgety body and beseeching eyes, I acted cool.

“Okay, calm down and tell me,” I said then got out of my seat. “You know whatever it is you can tell me,” I reassured and neared her. Freya backed away frightfully.

“I think it’s better I show you,” she said. I didn’t object and followed her out to the living room where I squeezed myself into a couch, raised my legs up and impatiently awaited the show my sister was about to display. Psychologically speaking, I’d not for once sat to calculate the possibilities of what could reduce Freya into such frightful state when we were not under attack – even though we somehow were, it wasn’t that grave and Freya wasn’t supposed to act under the influence of fear like that.

As I weighed my chances of impeding her or not, Freya stepped in front of the unlit fireplace, lifted her hands to eyelevel, closed her eyes while her body kept right on trembling. She sucked in breath thrice and then in a swift motion, she gave me the shock of my life.

Freya’s palm burst into flame, bright and ruby and floated upward.

My sister showed no sign of fear like the fire burned her or hurt her in the slightest possible way. At once, I shrieked and recoiled out of the couch, fortunately though, I collided against the back wall.

“Ayana!” Freya yelped. “Ayana, please stop screaming!”

“No! Don’t you dare tell me that,” I yelled, looked back at her flaming palm but disappointed for the fire was gone, somehow she’d dispatched it.

“Please, Ayana stop it, just calm down.”

“Like hell I’m going to,” I returned. “You actually expect me to calm down after that . . .?”

“I know you’d freak, but please can you just calm down and let me explain?”

“Explain? Freya, how the hell can you do that?” I demanded.

“Maybe if you just calm down I might tell you.” I stopped yelling, stared deep into her eyes for over two minute and when I felt in my heart that I could trust her a bit, I backed off from the wall with my sharp gaze fixed on her palms just to be sure I’d know when a surprising flame decided to make an appearance. Freya followed the direction of my eyes to her palm then lifted her eyes with a reassuring smile I bought this much. God forbid I fall for that after what I saw her do. Yeah she was my sister, but with family came precaution, priority number one.

Prudently, I returned to the couch I fell out of, re-hugged my legs and sucked in air. With a weary smile, Freya maneuvered her way around the middle table to the other couch. I didn’t fail to inspect her thoroughly, and honestly speaking, in that moment I didn’t think it was a good idea to sit so close to her in the same room.

Okay I get it, she was my sister, but with her name entering the list of mystery, I doubted sibling mattered.

“Start talking,” I ordered.

With a final suspire, Freya began. “I’m sure that surprised you.”

“What, are you kidding? Surprise is an understatement . . . that totally freaked me out, Freya!” I corrected. “Where did all that come from? How can you do that?”

“I have no answer to that question myself; all I know is that I can do . . . that.”

“No kidding, you have to know, Frey, ‘cause that doesn’t just happen out of the blue, you must have been practicing it or something . . . I don’t know, all I know is that that didn’t come out of the blue.”

“I understand you, but Ayana, I don’t know,” Freya said convincingly.

“Since when can you do that?” I asked seething.

Freya looked down at her hands before answering. “Since I was fourteen.”

“Fourteen?” I laughed, yeah, really laughed, but it wasn’t a funny laugh, it was an angered laugh. “How come Freya, how did you keep all that inside since you were fourteen?”

“What do you expect me to do?”

“To fking tell me or something,” I yelled not minding the profanity used.

“So I could what, end up in rehab like you as a freak?”

I nodded slowly. “So now I’m a freak to you?”

“No, no, no, no, Ayana don’t give me that face, that’s not what I meant,” Freya said quickly. “You know I’ve always considered you to be crazy and my reason for not telling was because Mom might treat me the way she did you and really I was afraid, Ayana I was scared.” Absorbing both her pleads and partial excuse in, I took in all she said and I understood her fears for not wanting to be categorized under the crazy pant catalog. I decided my burning anger could wait while I uncover the force behind this.

“Tell me what happened, how did it began?”

“Shortly after my fourteenth birthday, strange things started to happen to me. First I suddenly turned hot, which I blamed usually on the weather, but then I noticed my capability in lighting candles merely by looking at it and when I clapped too much my palms would burst into flame. The condition freaked me out and I had no idea what was wrong with me,” Freya said. “I planned to tell Mom, but after how you were handled, I decided it was best I kept it to myself. Since then I’d had a terrible time mastering or learning how to control the sudden appearance. The nightmare came to a stop after my eighteenth birthday when something strange happened.”

“What happened?”

“Remember the night of my birthday you guys thought I was close to death’s gate?” I nodded. How could I forget such thing, a night we thought she was up for life?

That night after her eighteenth birthday celebration, Freya suddenly fell ill. Her illness was temperature based, so high it could cook a meal. She scared us that night, me especially because seeing her in pains wasn’t a unique thing to see. My parents thought she was food poisoned given how she rolled from place to place screaming like an evil agent was at work inside her body. However, Dr. Hatcher made it clear she had no such, yet he failed to nail out what triggered her exact condition.

“Well,” she continued. “I really can’t explain what happened that night, but after it I realized I had more control over the fire. I make it appear when I want and make it disappear as I please.”

“So, that night was like what, a fire control surgery that enables you be in charge?”

Freya smiled. “More like it.”

“And I’m just learning of it ‘cause I’m that big mouthed idiot who can’t keep her sister’s secrets, hmm.”

“No, Ayana, you know that’s not true,” Freya cooed.

“Then why, Freya, why am I the last to hear about this huh, tell me?” I was beyond disappointed finding out Freya hid such a huge secret away from me when all my life I did nothing but spill my secrets to her. It just didn’t add up why I was the last to find out about her fire control issue.

“Ayana, I was scared, I didn’t know what you’d think of me.”

“Think of you? Freya, what would I think of you than my caring sister who chose to support me by telling me I wasn’t alone in this freak show because she also deals with it? What more could I think than a sister I could rely on, tell me, Freya? How could I possibly think of you unpleasantly when I’m no different?”

Freya started to drip water from her eyes. “I’m sorry, Ayana, I’m sorry.”

I scoffed. “I trusted you, Frey, told you everything about me, why couldn’t you do the same? I have to be honest with you, I’m disappointed in your tactic, you should learn from the Salazar sisters destroyed by their lack of trust.”

“I’m sorry, Ayana, I know I betrayed you, please forgive me, I was only scared because your condition wasn’t obvious, mine’s a disaster.”

“I don’t care and I certainly don’t mind knowing still!” Freya nodded slightly. “I’m sorry.” I breathed in. “So that’s what you’ve been keeping away from me, the thingy occupying your thoughts lately?”

“Yes,” she nodded. “I started thinking about it the night Mysterious guy broke in. I wanted to help us out of the situation, but starting a surprising fire didn’t seem like the best option, especially when you didn’t know.”

I agreed with her. “So, Danna might be right then that we’re Expression Readers, descendants of a Valkyrie?” then I raised my eyebrows at her.

“It’s possible,” Freya said.

I shook my head. “I still don’t get it. Mom had no such thing, she wasn’t a Reader and no one in her family did or came from Norse . . . even though we didn’t know anyone from her family before they all died away.”

“You’re right, but considering this, she might have been puzzled like us at first, maybe she had something but refrained from speaking out because it sounds funny, strange and bizarre, and chose silence like I did,” Freya reasoned.

“Maybe,” I added.

“So, you could really be a Touch Reader?”

I looked straight her way. “No, please don’t echo Danna.”

Freya got out of her couch and joined me in mine. “No, I’m not echoing Danna. I’m echoing your findings from those books. And if the books are correct,” she paused to take my expression in, “it could also be true for Mysterious guy; he might be your Knight.”

“Hell no to that!” I squeaked. “No way is that guy connected to me.”

“But you told me of the connection you felt with him both in your dream and in reality, well, maybe this is it. And if he has been fighting off, what do you call them . . .?”

“. . . Were Readers.”

“Were Readers for you, think Ayana, even though you hate him, he might be doing his job.”

“I wish you’re wrong,” I said faintly.

Freya smiled. “You wish. And now it’s time to know what to do next.”

I shrugged, “I don’t know. I’m guessing I’ll tell Danna all about this and see what next we can figure out.”

Freya drew back in her seat. “You’re going to tell her about me?”

“Yeah, I know what you’re thinking right now but really, Danna is cool, I assure you; so yes I’m going to tell her you’re a Fire Reader,” I answered candidly.

“You trust her that much?”

“I think I do. She’s worth a try.”

“Okay,” Freya said then took my hands in hers. Instantly, her feelings flooded me; her relief things were good between us and not as she pictured it would go and the calm of having me understand.

“Why didn’t I flash on your secrets before?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Freya shrugged. “Maybe because you trusted me to tell you everything, so you didn’t bother about digging deeper.”

“Nah,” I disagreed. “Trust me my psychometry isn’t like your fire that you can control whenever you want. It might be something in your fire blocking me, probably because it’s too strong for me to bypass and since I don’t practice like you, I wasn’t strong enough to fight it.”

Freya nodded. “You might be right,” then she brushed my hair back. “Maybe when you turn eighteen you’ll learn how to control it.”

“I hope so.”

Freya turned my head around. “I’m sorry about not telling you.”

I drew her close, hugged her and replied. “It’s okay just so you have.”

~THIRTEEN

A MYSTERIOUS GIRL

Sashaying out of the hallway, I glanced up at the little sunshine allowed today and absorbed the heat with pleasure and relief because for the first time in like a long one, I had a clear mind, empty shoulders and anxiety free conscience. I was no longer a soloist with my secrets because I had others to share them with, people who understood and gave damns. With this sense of freedom came ecstasy for knowing who I was, where my kind came from and how to live with the knowledge of it. I wasn’t also forlorn in this, I had a partner and despite how difficult it seemed we were ready to work things out together. It wasn’t exactly something to celebrate in public with a jubilating trumpet and given the enemies out there seeking to mow my kinds.

But seriously, it felt unreal to think that I was a Touch Reader. If it wasn’t for the mark of psychometry and seer’s gift that I possessed, I almost wouldn’t believe it because the job description wasn’t exactly inviting – it was torture, an occupational hazard, especially for someone like me. But what do you know, this might prove to be the chance I’d always sought to show people I’m not only endowed with madness, but I also had good stuffs to offer.

I was nearly close to my car when my attention got diverted by a familiar voice I thought I’d never hear say my name again. I stopped, turned and then stunned when I saw Tony Anderson, my ex-boyfriend, jog up to me. He stopped few feet away with enough space between us as a reminder that we weren’t actually what we were years back. For three purposeful minutes we stood there staring at each other while his hands wandered around his jeans pockets. Seriously, if he wasn’t going to say something why stop me? I knew how tough it was walking up to me after so long and how he’d been to me with uncertainty of what to expect from me, but I wasn’t going to bit, I honesty understood his feelings and willing to come back as friends . . . if he was.

Tony looked up my face with a skeptical smile. “Hi,” he finally said.

“Hi,” I said back. Silence trailed that with a toxic smoke hovering over us. Tony connected his eyes with the floor probably seeking motivation then he looked my way.

“You’re leaving,” he didn’t mean that as a question and it didn’t sound that way, but I tended to answer anyway.

“Yeah. Since school is over, I have a job to get back to.” Tony and I used to ask each other lame questions we already knew answers too, but we’d ask anyway. That was kind of our thing.

He nodded to my reply with his scouting eyes searching for motivation. At once he snapped his gaze on me and his face turned somber. “Ayana, I’ve wanted to speak to you, but I lacked the balls to do it,” he paused, sighed and continued. “Honestly I know I’ve been a jerk for the past year with how I’ve treated you, instead of playing the sentimental dog role, I chose the villain path. I understand if you hate me, I mean I’ve met me and I don’t really remember me being a nice guy, especially when I was the primary cause of your parents’ death.”

“It wasn’t your fault my parents are dead, Tony,” I interrupted.

“Yes Ayana, it was. I perfectly remember that night you asked me if you were okay to drive despite being drunk and I gave you the green sign to. If there was any reason Dan and Esther ever thought about leaving home that night for you it was entirely traced back to my answer. If I hadn’t been such an idiot, a stupid fool, you wouldn’t have had any reason to climb the road drunk, because I would have told your mother the truth and not have them come looking for you. And if I hadn’t been lucky you survived that crash, I would have been responsible, not only for your parents’ death, but yours also. So yes, Ayana, I’m to blame for your loss, sadness and sorrow and instead of manning up to take the blame, I whined about nagging and spent time wishing I could change everything, bring back your parents and return things to how they were.” As he spoke so did his body and Tony’s face was close to leaking reliving that horrible night. How did I know this? It was also because I was close to crying, too, remembering the past, that night particularly. How the event enfolded and changed everything at once. One minute I was having fun, the next I was screaming for my life.

But none of that was Tony’s fault. He practically had nothing to do with it. Yes I’d asked him to validate my safety to drive and as drunk and stupid as we both were he said yes I was okay to drive, but really he was not to blame. If the tragedy was anyone’s fault, it was certainly mine, my blame and nobody else’s because if I’d only listened to my parents and quitted drugs, if only I’d been a more obedient child, if only I’d stopped dating Tony, if only I hadn’t attended the party, if only I’d consulted with somebody else, Martina perhaps, if only I’d been mild inside the car and not gone wild maybe, just maybe my parents would still be alive. Maybe if I’d been the Ayana Calhoun I was now there was every possibility Dan and Esther would be here living life like anyone else. And maybe be present to experience my and my sister’s new life transformation.

But that’s the bitch in it – the “ifs only” and “maybes” that were the difference maker and game changer in every circumstance. Simply put, I didn’t listen to my parents and now they’re gone. So none of that was any way Tony’s fault. His slate was clean. I was the sole blame bearer.

“No, Tony, you are wrong, you have no fault at all,” I said sincerely. “All you did was play a coincident role nobody would blame you for, but you weren’t the wild bunch, I was.”

“But I egged you on driving,” Tony countered.

“Indeed you did, but it was I who came asking and I was the one that played Shake It Off and shook it off, but unfortunately couldn’t shake off the truck.”

Tony loosened up with a small smile. “But I was still a jerk for how I behaved. I understood what you went through but the shame couldn’t just let me out. Losing both parents isn’t easy to deal with and I was supposed to be there with you every step of the way and not played a jerk.”

“Yeah, I agree,” I nodded. Tony smiled again.

“Can you find a place in your heart to forgive me, Ayana? I know it’s asking too much, but I can’t keep living with the hate tearing me apart.” I stared at him long after he was through talking. If there was one thing I valued the most in Tony Anderson, it was his honesty. Tony was a clean, honest guy and I loved him for that trait.

“I have forgiven you,” I said gently.

“Sure?”

I nodded. “Sure.”

Tony blew out air from his mouth, blinked his tears back and brightened up. “Thanks Ayana, you can’t imagine the weight you released me from. Thank you so much.” I nodded, blinked back the tears in my own eyes and pulled up a gladsome smile on my face wishing I could say I do; I knew what it meant getting forgiveness for it took me more than that to forgive myself.

“Is it okay if we went back to being friends?” He asked.

I nodded frantically and enthusiastically. “Yes it is.”

“Cool,” Tony grinned. “So, how’s the prep coming?”

I lifted an eyebrow at him. “What prep?”

“Preparation for the twenty-second of March,” Tony answered like that should have been obvious.

“What’s happening that day? Do we have a class project?” I asked quizzically.

“That’s the date of your birthday, Ayana!” Tony stated.

“Oh,” I said with my head banged against my car, not the cleverest thing to say when someone remaindered you of your birthday, since technically, no one’s supposed to forget their birthdays. I could hardly believe I forgot my birthday for the first time.

“Jesus Christ, Ayana, how could you forget your own birthday?” Tony exclaimed. “You never did AY, what’s wrong?” A lot, a lot is wrong, if only he knew the midlife crises I was into, he’d give me credit for just staying alive.

Realizing how weird my silence made the moment, I forced myself to smile to cover my track and managed to respond. “I’m sorry, I just have too much going on right now and dates aren’t really what I count on,” I said.

“I see, but isn’t an excuse enough to forget,” he said. I nodded in agreement. “But we’re sure throwing you a party, right ‘cause we still have a date with Karma Girls Come to Life?” I froze. How did he remember that? Tony turned his amazing side glance at me. “You don’t think I’d forget that, do you? Look, Ayana, our separation doesn’t mean I forget who we were. I’d never do.”

I was startled to hear that. He actually remembered my eighteenth year birthday plan we planned on surprising everyone with a game we titled Karma Girls Come to Life. Despite not being together, Tony remembered. He did.

His awesome smile increased in sum. “How about we hang at the Grill to celebrate both our reconciliation and go over the Day’s plan?” His brows were teasing as his modest lips ran. If I wasn’t agreeing before, his teasing brows always did the magic.

“Sounds like a plan to me,” I answered.

“It’s a date then,” Tony returned. He took a step closer to me and whispered into my ears. “Thank you, Wild Bunch.” I nodded with a grin, turned to unlock my car and Tony held the door open after which he closed it and waved me off.

Did I say something about relief a while back? Well, be free to multiply the number for I was extensively relived for the rift of enmity lifted off between me and Tony. There was nothing compared to freedom of mind and body.

As I drove down to the Library, thoughts of my mom’s lifestyle filled my mind, how she sensed things about to happen to me like she knew my relationship with Tony would result in doom. Actually, giving it more thought I realized there was a fat chance of my mom knowing stuffs and not just through the usual type-A mom disease, but because of who she was. Freya and I might have had the odds pointed out to us but we didn’t grab it since we had no idea any of this was real. My mom could have kept herself in the dark on purpose.

After my car was in its station, I grabbed my bag and hurried on to K’s to get three cups of S’more, then hurried back up the Library’s steps. The place was still a disaster and was under work, a thorough one at that. And that was good news for a) since the Library was undergoing repair it was officially close till the works were over, and b) I’d have more time to work things out with Danna.

The first person I saw stepping into the library was Mark, he was helping with fixing the ceiling. The secretary looked tired and the ladder he was using especially made the work inconvenient for him given his height and how he had to stand on his toes to get more height. That sort of work wasn’t meant for people like him, I knew that, he did too, but he was plainly stubborn and loved to prove people wrong about what he could and could not do.

Yeah, that was Mark Ashton.

“Hey, how’s it coming?” I said. Mark twisted around at my voice and eventually succeeded at looking my way.

“It’s coming,” he replied.

“Must be hard, huh?”

“Are you kidding me? It’s the easiest thing I’ve ever done.”

“Of course,” I said then laughed afterward. “I can see that,” then I stretched my hand across with a cup. “Here, I thought you might need this.” The guy passed the tool in his possession to one of the construction guys and climbed down the ladder.

“You’re a darling,” he said gratefully as his hand stretched forward to collect the cup from me.

I returned his radiant smile before my eyes flared around to examine the disaster I might have orchestrated. “Looks like we’ll be out of business for a while.”

“Yeah, looks like it,” Mark replied. He sipped his drink and released a relieved sigh. “The sheriff said it’d be best to stay locked for the rest of the week since we have no definite idea how the roof collapsed.”

“Yeah,” I drawled guilty. “She’s right and might not hurt taking the week out, but I’m extra-sure Marshall didn’t vote in favor of it.”

“What do you expect? The poor guy’s going through torture,” Mark remarked.

“Yeah,” I said again but this time not with guilt, I said that with absolute consideration. “So um, where’s Danna?” With Mark’s way of staring at me and releasing his plastic cup at the same time pushed me into curiosity. “What?”

“Since when did you ask after her? I noticed you spent more than quality time with her yesterday, which isn’t part of you,” he said.

“I work with the girl, Mark.”

“Yeah, and you worked with her for months which served no difference in your relationship, why now, why the time you start acting strange? Why does she matter now?”

“What?” I snorted. “Mark, you’re exaggerating,” I told him.

“I’m not exaggerating, Ayana, I know what I’m saying and I just want you to be honest with me,” he protested. “What’s going on with you two?”

I calmed down, breathed in and out and said candidly. “I’m sorry Mark, and since you’ve caught me I’m gonna be honest with you. Danna and I we are . . . we’re sleeping together.” Man, you needed to see the attention and somberness on the secretary when I began talking and the anger replaced on his face at the end of my talk. I snickered out loud at his angered face. No one needed to tell me I pissed him off royally.

“Hey,” Danna said from appearing from nowhere.

“Hey, I was just asking after you,” I replied.

“Oh, I was behind working,” she replied, then beckoned me over. I nodded, glanced at the angry bear with a last tease and followed the Disappearing queen. “You and Mark, I just can’t understand,” she said.

“Yeah, I can’t either. I guess I love to just piss people off, it’s kinda my thing.” The girl laughed when I finished. I lowered my bag down on the floor and handed her a cup.

“Thanks,” she said smiley. I nodded once. “So, did you give yesterday a thought?” She asked as we settled down on the floor.

“You wouldn’t believe what I discovered, Danna,” I said.

The girl lowered her cup from her lips then asked, “What?”

“My sister might be a Fire Reader.”

“Really?”

“Yes,” then I dived into detailing her about the previous day. “It turned out you were right and I was wrong,” I ended.

“No, I wasn’t technically right just as you weren’t technically wrong,” Danna disagreed. “Your theory of not being from an Expression Reading family was correct, all I did was assumed.”

“Well, your assumption worked,” I noted. “I indeed come from a line of Readers, something either my mom didn’t know of or didn’t bothered talking about.”

Danna reached out and touched my covered thigh, her face shimmering. “Isn’t it relieving to learn of your origin?” I nodded certain my face was equally glowing. “It’s good to know you’re not alone and I’m happy for you.”

I stretched my hand across her arm and patted it. “Thank you for your help.”

“I did nothing,” she replied, then added, “nothing a close associate wouldn’t do.”

I made it to Fair Grill in time to meet my friends and Tony after I closed from work. As always the place had it buzzing magic and refreshing spirit. I plodded through the crowd to the bar, drew out a stool and then placed my hands on the counter then I watched my sister conversed with her colleague. The happiness on her was incomparable to anything since our parents’ death. Freya’s emotions today were close to flame, just like her fire thingy. With the joy it gave me to see her like she was, I refrained from disturbing her discussion, instead scouted the Grill searching for the group I had date with.

“Hey AY, want something?” Martina chirped.

“Yes, bourbon,” I replied in like manner.

“No bourbon for minors,” chimed a familiar voice. I chuckled as I turned around toward Tony. The guy stopped next to me then shot that drop-dead-gorgeous-teasing side glance that fluttered my heart each time it was directed my way.

“She’s almost an official adult,” my sister said. When I looked her way, she was back to her spot.

“That’s the word, ‘almost’,” Tony rendered.

My sister laughed and so did I. She released Martina from the bondage of attending to us then she poured the three of us a drink. “I didn’t know you guys are back,” she said surprisingly.

“Yes we are, I eventually sucked up my shame and manned up to amend my screw-overs,” Tony said, he looked at me before ending his words. “I asked Ayana for forgiveness and the princess did.” I blushed at that. Man, the guy gave me too much credit far more than I deserved. His expression abruptly changed when he added: “I mean we’re back as friends, normal, regular, platonic friends . . . right?” I laughed at his stuttering.

“That’s amazing. I’m happy you two made up,” Freya said.

“I’m glad too,” Tony said then glanced at me.

I nodded as well. “Me too.”

“Shall we celebrate the reunion then?” Freya piped. We agreed onset. She raised her glass up and so did me and Toney. “To the reconciliation of AY and Tony!” We bumped the glasses and turned everything into our mouths, and then we chuckled. I was close to gulping down the next glass when my phone buzzed inside my jacket. The unexpected vibration pushed my hand around and that led to my drink spilling on me. I hissed out at the mess and resolved to get a tissue.

“Here, let me help,” Tony said, he moved closer to me and wiped the drink dry off with a handkerchief. When he lifted his head back up, I met those incredible eyes with a grin.

“Thank you.” Tony nodded. The phone buzzed again and that broke my eye contact with him. I dropped my glass on the counter, reached to the phone and stuffed it out. The caller ID was anonymous and the sight of that took me about twenty seconds before I did the usual. “Hello?”

“You’d better take that thing outside if you wish to communicate,” Tony advised. I gave him a thump up, pantomimed to him and Freya that I’d be back soon then ventured out of the haze. The night was dull compared to the warm inside and it started to snow, little though.

“Hello?” The caller yelled from the other line.

“Hello! I’m sorry, I can hear you now,” I replied.

“Ayana? Is that Ayana Calhoun?” The caller asked.

“Yes, you got her on the line.”

“Oh well, that’s good,” he said. “It’s me Joshua Spikes, your parents’ attorney.”

“Oh Mr. Spikes, it’s good to hear from you!”

“Same here. I’ve tried getting in touch with your sister when I thought I lost your contact, but then I found it in one of my old file and decided to call you directly.”

“Okay. Is there, is there any problem?”

“Oh yes, everything is great. I just have a delivery for you.”

“What delivery?”

“Your mother left me a package to give you with specific instruction to only hand it over when you turn eighteen,” Mr. Spikes said. If I wasn’t confused before, I was now.

“I don’t understand . . . I mean, what package is that?”

“I can’t say because I have no idea what’s inside. All I know is all I told you,” the man replied. “There’s just one problem though.”

“What’s that?”

“I’m currently out of the city and would be back sometimes after your birthday and that might be a stroke for you. So what do you think; is it okay if you receive it when I return?”

“Sure, of course, that’s not a problem. I’ll just roll by your office when you’re back.”

“Oh thank you,” the man sighed, probably relieved to know I wasn’t going to make a federal case out of the issue. Yeah, Mr. Spikes knew AY too well.

We hung up and the call left me perplexed. I couldn’t understand his words. Why would my mom leave me a message, a package to get only when I turned eighteen? Why didn’t she leave me that some place at home or with Freya? The odds didn’t add up, I mean could you leave your daughter a package with your lawyer for her to get at a specific time unless you knew you wouldn’t be around to give her that yourself?

I scoffed. Esther was a complicated puzzle.

With the recent discovery I made and Mr. Spikes’ call, there was every possibility my mom knew about everything. The confusion had me looking up at the sky, a while later I shrugged and decided the night’s condition might freeze me to death unless I get shelter. I brought my head back down then turned at the entrance direction.

“Ayana.” I stopped and turned back around. From the left side emerged a girl, tall, dark haired with hands behind her back. She seemed older than me and her outfit did more than ring a bell inside my head. It ticked me on.

“How can I be of help?” I asked guardedly.

“In a little prissy way,” the mysterious girl replied, and her voice somehow sounded like a tease. I’d come across a lot of people who used that form of communication and in the end they were all aiming for my head.

Okay, maybe not a lot, but few to be of significance.

“And what might that be?” I asked still guarding my tone. God forbid her mysterious accomplices show up, or worse.

“I need you to call me your boyfriend,” she said.

“My boyfriend?” I repeated. It was strange Tony made friends with a girl like that.

“Yes, your boyfriend,” she confirmed.

“I’m sorry but, don’t you think you’re too old to be one of Tony’s friends?” I countered. Her expression turned radical.

“Who is Tony? Who’s talking about that?” The force behind her voice forced a shudder through my bones. My heartbeat sped up as two men appeared next to her with their hands behind them. My chest arched at the dawn of what danger I might be in.

I took a step back then asked, “If you’re not talking about Tony, then who?”

“Oliver,” she said. “That’s who I’m talking about.”

“Sorry, missed call. Doesn’t ring a bell,” then I made a smug shrug of my shoulders, but secretly I was dialing my sister’s number which happened to be the recently dialed number.

“You still have the gut to be sarcastic in a situation like this?” She said, like my sarcasm was a crime in situations like this.

I shrugged again, “Beats me.” Abruptly, her tension went haywire. She and her friends lurched forward, but there was an interruption from an approaching footstep with the sky changing from a dull cloudy winter night to a stroke of lightning and thunder. The motion slowed my attackers down and my eyes came upon the intruder responsible for this – Mysterious guy.

I wondered why that always happened though, the lightning and thunder whenever he was around. Somehow I wanted to believe it was because of the power he resonated, like the Death personified he was, or maybe it was his grand opening style, like on a red carpet event.

~FOURTEEN

A MYSTERIOUS ME

“Many apologies for the interruption, but I think you’re being unfair here. Don’t you see she’s too young for your taste? Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” He said.

“You’re right, I didn’t come for your sweetheart; I was only asking her of your whereabouts. However, she doesn’t seem to know you, isn’t that a shame?” She returned. As I made a swift tilt of my head at the girl’s surprising remark, so did Mysterious guy and we locked gaze for about a second.

“That’s where you’re mistaking, Sophia,” Mysterious guy replied. “You should never ask an underage town girl of my whereabouts, especially Miss Fair, she simply has no idea. By the way, why do you seek me? Wait a minute,” he said causally then he paused after lifting three steps from the ground. “Don’t tell me this is about Ophelia. Is she getting worse? Is the wound digging any deeper, and I hope the hallucination aren’t getting worse?”

“Don’t you dare speak of her!” The girl barked irately.

“Why? I’m just being a concerned friend, or don’t you know Ophelia is an old friend, what kind of a pal would it make me if I don’t ask of her?”

“You’re horrible, after rendering her dead-like you have the gut to make jokes out of her condition? I thought you had a heart?” Said the girl, her tone was light and sorrowful.

“Another mistake you spoilt Weres make. How could you think I have a heart, have you forgotten I left it off at the beach the other day we hanged out?” Mysterious guy replied with no sign of remorse. I nearly snorted. “And mind you,” he added, “If your sister hadn’t come after my girl, she’d probably be dead instead of where she is now.” I snapped my very surprised, very irate gaze at him.

How dare he call me his girl?

Mysterious guy looked my way too, and so did Sophia. Her lips parted way for a sinister smile when she registered the puzzled and angry look on my face.

“Don’t you worry, that’s why I’m here to finish what she started. I hope you have a pleasant time watching as I kill your Great Valkyrie.” Immediately she said that, Sophia aimed a spear I didn’t remember her holding exactly at my forehead. I wasn’t done blinking that away when a dagger cut through air at the spear and both weapons crashed on the ground before my eyes. I gasped and began to shiver. That was close. That was terrifyingly close. The spear could have darted straight into my head and there I was standing helpless and doing nothing.

“Get out of here!” Mysterious guy yelled. He wasn’t spared a second before Sophia scuttled forward with another spear. Mysterious guy was quick to block her attack and what do you know, they were engaged in warfare. At my blind side a group of more than two were closing in on me. I instantly changed angle. The nearer they got, the more I backpedaled. The expression on their faces wasn’t what I’d opt for and their deadly looking weapons didn’t smile at me. After I readied myself to make a run for it, I realized I was long steps away from the Grill’s entrance. I hissed and cursed under my breath. I was entirely helpless, I had no weapon and even if I did, I wouldn’t know how to use one. And to think my sister wasn’t coming out already watered panic inside me. I was certain I dialed her number, so either Freya didn’t get the message or . . . or . . . or she didn’t get the message.

“What do you want from me?” I hissed at the men. No one answered. Great. Five men closing up on me and none of them thought I deserved an answer.

From nowhere, a perfectly aimed maroon arrow pummeled at one of the men and he thudded on the ground motionless. The others glanced around in search of where the arrow came from with alerted spirit. Despite not seeing anyone, something was clear.

An archer was around.

I wasn’t spared from the search too, but the others were quick to catch the sight of a sandy blond archer just in time as his arrow flew through air and sunk at it target’s chest, the man fell to the ground, a minute later the remaining three engaged the archer in a fight.

The mysterious archer reeled aside to block out a blow, then flogged his bow at his opponent. All three Weres closed him in, but the archer did great at keeping them at bay. Since he was doing okay I seized the chance of a glance at Mysterious guy and his friends as Sophia scuffled around. Mysterious guy brandished his sword, brushed Sophia’s side brilliantly then pierced the Were at his left after which he decked the third Were with the sword’s hilt. He returned to Sophia with a perfect swing and pummeled her once more. Sophia winced and staggered backward clutching at her wounded side. She glanced up with a glare straight at her opponent and the sinister smile on his face at the sight of her dripping blood increased.

I was lost at the scene thus failed to notice the moment a Were sprinted forward. An unexpected fire consumed him. The Were screamed while I cringed shrieking. Mine and the Were’s screams forced the fighters to stop and look at the burning Were. The man rolled around in search of help and his awful scream increased that much more.

“Help him!” Sophia barked and managed to her feet. A guy from the archer’s team broke off from the group, thrust out his hands and my eyes bugged out when ice sprang from his palm and quenched the flame. As the flame died down, so did the wounded guy’s screaming.

My sister came into view with such a confident gait I’d never seen with her. She grabbed my head into her arms and I felt her panic. “Are you okay?” She asked. I nodded lacking how to use my mouth. She darted her eyes on the Weres and warned them. “Stay the hell away from my sister.” After listening to my sister, Sophia glanced at me with agonizing eyes, an imperiling one at Mysterious guy and few seconds later every one of them was gone.

Disappeared suddenly.

Freya and I gasped, but neither of the two last standing guys flinched. Probably they were used to that.

“Are you okay?” Mysterious guy asked.

“Not really,” I rasped.

“I thought I told you to get out of here?” He yapped. I didn’t answer because I was yet to recover and replying him with something I might regret later was the last thing I intended to do. He shook his head at my lackluster expression and when next he spoke, his voice was mild. “You need to leave this place right now, both of you, head home straight and lock yourselves in, do you understand?” We nodded, turned around and returned to the Grill. I made a final glance at him and closed the Grill’s door behind me. Freya signed out of work with an emergency excuse, grabbed her purse and followed me into my car since she left hers at home before leaving with Veronica.

For five agonizing minutes neither of us said a thing. We drove in silence probably recalling the show witnessed tonight since I was certainly replaying the show in my head. Mysterious guy’s bravery tonight shocked me and the extent he was willing to fight for me. Granted, he was rude and arrogant, especially when he called me his girl, and the fact that he was my Knight, chosen specifically for me, but undeniably, he was brilliant, calculative and smart. Geez, the guy was incredible with the sword and each blow he stroked his opponent came with a satisfied smile. He didn’t even show pity for Sophia being a girl and showed no remorse for what he did to her sister, Ophelia. I doubted he gave so much care about gender when Were Readers were involved.

“What happened back there, Ayana?” Freya asked abruptly. Her voice sounded impaired and her face looked bloodshot.

“I have no definite idea,” I said with my focus on the road.

“How did all . . . that, started?”

“After I was done receiving that call you saw me take, I was heading back inside when they showed up demanding I tell them where Mysterious guy was, I gave them a wrong answer and that stirred up the smoke of war and lucky me, Mysterious guy was just by the corner, came in and saved the day.”

“Did they say what they wanted?”

“Yeah, half of the time spared to cut me in shreds was also devoted to discussion from which I learned why she came after me. Revenge.”

“Revenge over what?”

“Something Mysterious guy did to her sister, something really bad that got her on a deathbed.”

“Who’s the famous sister?”

“My bet is on the girl Danna said Mysterious guy fought at the Library yesterday. According to Sophia’s anguished words, it has to be her.”

Freya scoffed frustrated. “I hate this.”

“Me too,” I echoed.

“Any idea who the archer is?” she asked next.

I shrugged. “His accomplice, who else?”

I turned the wheels across River Street into Front Street, and we arrived home sooner than I anticipated. We moved out of the garage, locked the place and ran inside the house. Instantly, we carried out Mysterious guy’s order, shut the door, windows and buried ourselves under the curtain.

“What now?” My sister whispered.

“Now we stay put,” I whispered back. Two minutes later, two motor bikes screeched to a halt at the sidewalk where two testosterone figures hooped down from them and reconnoitered the premises like trained solders on battlefield. One of them produced a device-like something out of his pant pocket, punched on it buttons then stuffed it back to it place, after that they closed into the light and we clarified their identities.

It was Mysterious guy and his archer friend.

“They followed us,” my sister whispered.

I nodded. “Of course,” I said with my gaze fixed on the Knights.

“What are they doing?” Freya asked when Mysterious guy pantomimed to his friend.

“They’re guarding us through the night,” I answered confidently. The archer looked directly our way after my reply. Immediately, we stumbled out of the way and shut the curtains. “That was close,” I joshed.

“Yeah,” Freya giggled. “But I don’t get it, why do we need guarding?”

“Didn’t you see what happened tonight? They’re obviously making sure those Were Readers don’t come after us.”

Freya nodded. “They seemed cool doing it. Could they have been doing this for a long time?”

I shrugged. “Not certain, and if they are . . . explains his easy access into here the other night.” My sister agreed with a nod.

“Why don’t we get some sleep then since we have guards tonight?” Freya suggested.

“Good one.” I neared her, kissed her left cheek and bounced up the stairs to my room. It took me like two seconds to change into my night outfit, but instead of curling into bed as planned I shuffled to the window, knelt on the chaise and paused with my hands on the curtains. With a last resolve, I pushed the curtains aside and craned my neck on the lookout for anything. The night appeared eerily empty, even when I was aware it was past nine, I’d at least expected something moving through the street and not the too quietness of it. My initial purpose was to peek on the Knights right the front, but unfortunately my window wasn’t situated at the perfect side to gift me my desired view.

I sighed. It was meaningless trying to spy on them like the three year Ayana who spied on her new neighbors for the first three nights they spent in the neighborhood. I was a grownup Ayana and that life was supposed to be left behind. I decided to make for bed before I saw a brilliant blue glow directly under my window. Intrusively, I pulled the curtains apart, sloughed my head and saw the cascading sword hilt and the owner of it stationed under my window.

Mysterious guy was playing guard on me tonight.

Hmm, how convenient. And honestly, a calming relief washed down my spirit just with the sight of him by my side. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing having an ass for a Knight, especially when this ass was damn good at protecting you.

As if he heard my thought, Mysterious guy tilted his head around, then up, then straight at me. I froze, held my breath and for several seconds just stared at him stare at me. When I recovered back my wit, I flung the curtains over the window and jumped into bed. Man, that guy should have been in the making of Dracula, for he had all the properties to send a child to bed.

He just sent me to bed.

For several minutes my eyes were staring up at the ceiling since I lay down. Despite having the assurance my night was certainly going to be pleasant, I couldn’t help but wonder about everything.

My lovely sleep was breached by my sister the following morning. She came up with the excuse of being uncertain of what might be downstairs, and so she needed support. I scowled at her for few heartbeats for disturbing my sleep before dragging my butt down the stairs. Stepping down, I paused to admire how the soft rays of light enriched the foyer with a picturesque-like view. The maroon tile and cerulean rays’ mixture embodiment attracted and arouse something in me that got me staring at the floor for a while. If I loved watercolor painting, fresco would be my ideal match for the foyer’s color and how wide it appeared, as if screaming to artists to place their sheet and do their stuffs.

By the time I was done with the inspiring floor, Freya was keenly staring at me. My eyes bored into her. “What?”

“Nothing,” she said smiley. I cracked my head the other way piercing into her, but she was protective and burst into laughter. I eyed her over but she brushed me away and continued to the front door. She deflected to the window instead, probably deciding that was smarter than walking straight outside. However, the outside view from the window was cleared. Taking that as a refuge sign, we moved to the door, opened it stealthily and discovered the absence of the guys from last night. They were gone before we rose out of bed, for how long no one knew. But they played their part . . . even though we didn’t know the other Knight and why he helped us out.

Maybe that’s what Knights did. Perhaps.

~~~~

“You need to take your future serious as seniors. High school is not the end of your road as college isn’t, but that also is not quite simple getting into. Because you graduate with good grades doesn’t qualify you’ll get into a good university, you have to have more than good grades, you have to want college, you have to want it bad, and the first step to doing that is taking your lessons serious, else how can you write a great college application that would really impress whoever wants to take a look at it?” said Mrs. Lloyd, the math teacher. For ten or more minutes she’d launched one of the “college talk”, nobody contributed a thing or tend to contradict her. Yeah, any good teacher would know that’s a good sign her words were sinking in on her students, but in my class, that was the total opposite.

Every teacher in Fair Haven High knew silence wasn’t our way of saying “oh yeah teacher, we get all you’re saying perfectly well”, no, ‘cause that’s our way of saying “this is how many flying monkeys we give about that.” Sadly though, Mrs. Lloyd had no idea of that for she was the most oblivious teacher in the school and kids got away with lots of shit with her. And that said, she was also a wonderful woman and thanks to her great teaching skill, I didn’t have to cheat on math with my psychometry. But as the lectures came, so did discomfort. As she rolled on her college talks, I rolled on with my churning stomach.

“Look at her talking all about college like it’s still the way it was in her time. Somebody gotta tell her TV was in black and white when she went to college,” Tiff whisper then scoffed. She lowered her head back and winked at me when I nodded. I pushed my body back into my seat with attempts to calm myself, but it didn’t work. My stomach churned some more and I was close to blacking out with debilitating strength and I was this close to send out a fart.

“Ayana, are you alright?” Thank goodness she noticed.

I wrinkled my face as I twisted around in my seat trying all I could to prevail the forceful gas about to redefine the classroom’s fate. Two second later I won over the gas, blew out air from my mouth and swept my forehead. Lifting my eyes up to answer the teacher’s question, everyone in my class was gawking at me like I was a dork. I maintained a stoic face and played it cool.

“I have to use the bathroom.” What do you know? Snickers rocked the classroom base that even Mrs. Lloyd wasn’t spared from releasing a smile. Including Tony whom I’d recently reconciled with. Seriously, if everyone laughed, was he supposed to?

“Should that have taken longer to say?” asked Mrs. Lloyd.

“Actually . . . you wouldn’t understand,” I said then backed it up with a smile.

“You may go,” she permitted.

I sent her a half-assed smile, packed away my books and proceeded out of the class. I intentionally stepped on Tiffany’s foot on my way out for laughing at me before completely evacuating the classroom. I rushed to the bathroom, took behind a stall and breathed deeply as my body regained strength and felt lighter. I rolled down tissue, wiped my face and breathed again. Man, it wasn’t cool being depressed.

“No! I don’t agree with you,” piped a girl just as the bathroom door burst open.

“Come on, Qetsy, what is wrong with you, why do you always disagree like this over her?” said another girl, with hers followed other footsteps.

“This might save us some trouble, you know? Maybe get us our lives back,” said a third girl, but this one had a calmer voice.

Argument in the bathroom? Impressive and curious attractive, but I was fine not peeking, so I didn’t.

“I don’t like this and certainly don’t agree with it,” piped the first girl again. “Can you guys listen to yourselves, do you know what this means? Letting her in could destroy us . . . no wait, it couldn’t, it certainly will because she is useless to us and to herself.”

Eww, harsh huh?

“You don’t know that, Qetsia, you don’t know that she’s useless,” said the second girl.

“Really, but do you, Skylar, do you know that she’s ready to face this? Do you know this stupid plan is going to work, do you?”

“There’s really no harm in trying, Qetsia, you just can’t be sure this would fail either,” the third girl said.

“There’s harm in trying what you don’t know, Electra,” the Qetsia girl countered and silence followed. Wow, that was a heated argument and imagining a bunch of girls arguing in the bathroom with someone behind a stall sending out fragrance was beyond my thinking, especially when they weren’t using the bathroom for the purpose it severed while they argued.

“Look, Qetsia, it’s time to let her in, she has few knowledge about this, but knowledge all the same.” said the fourth girl I didn’t notice before. “Besides, Tecna met her personally and she’s certain she can handle this. And anyway this goes, she’s still the Valkyrie, let us not forget that.”

“I get it, Desiree, I know she’s the Valkyrie, but you guys has got to listen to me too, I’m not crazy and it’s not like I’m against your plan, but I just want you to reason, use your head, come on,” said Qetsia. “First, she’s weak, second, she have a difficult time recognizing enemies from friends, what makes you think she’s ready for this? She’s just some town girl who feeds on crown and glory. All her life the only thing she cares about is how she looks, and after getting the Miss Fair crown, she’s up and running for prom to care that much about this. And we all got lucky Ophelia got away without her head, and Sophia nearly cleaved her into two, and what did she do? Stood by watching like a freaking zombie.”

That’s where my body system started to work. My brain took a second to restart hearing the name Ophelia and Sophia, the Were Readers from the previous night. I held my breath in for a moment of thought, when I snapped my head back up, reality dawned on me. Were Readers, the girls disputing in the bathroom were Were Readers, and they went to my school. Lord Macintosh of Glory Highland! I was sharing the bathroom with Were Readers! Instantly, I regretted not having Mysterious guy’s cell number just for emergencies like this.

“She’s almost eighteen, almost of age and once her powers quickens we can no long hold her down, we already know what a bulldog we’re dealing with. She’s wild and would only go more ballistic if a leash is not tied around her. Do you know what that mean?” continued the second girl, Skylar perhaps. Nobody answered because she didn’t give them the chance to. “It means she can no longer be kept in dark.” I sucked in breath for whoever they were plotting against for that person was in for some deep shit.

“When that time comes,” said Qetsia, “we’ll figure out how to deal with Ayana Odelia Skuldottir Macintosh.”

Startled.

Throttled.

Breathless.

I nearly fell into the toilet when I regained consciousness. It was me. I was the one they were plotting against. Holy crap! What was I to do when I was in the very same place as them? Few moments later, I decided it was best if I know them, see their faces just in case I saw Mysterious guy so I could tell him about this.

I swiftly got to work, cleaned myself, flushed the toilet and raced out of the stall. Unfortunately, the place was cleaned of any trace. Not giving up, I swiped outside the bathroom’s door, turned left, veered right, ran up and returned down, the place was freakily swept clean of their presence. I decided to try something else, so I returned to the bathroom, felt the sink and mirror for vibes but, that was also a waste of time. Good grief, no sign of the girls anywhere.

How, how did they do it?

“How else stupid, were you blind last night when they disappeared?” I answered myself. They must have heard me behind the stall and took off. But the Were Readers I’d met were always keen at piercing my head off, none of them ever bolted.

“So why this girls? And why the hell would they call me Ayana Skuldottir Macintosh? And what’s up with the Valkyrie title they kept addressing me as?”

As easy as we got the opportunity, Danna and I escaped the blazed checkout counter of work to bonk at the back we’d turned into leisure sanctuary. When I was done filling Danna in with the stuffs at school and the previous night, the girl was speechless.

“They called me Ayana Skuldottir Macintosh,” I added.

Danna snapped her head sideways. “They did?” I nodded. “Why, you’re Ayana Calhoun, not Skuldottir Macintosh? By the way, what kind of a name is that . . . sounds ancient?”

“Technically, I’m not so sure, but I could say the Macintosh goes in hand with Skuld, because the first three letters Mac, if added with Torfa becomes MacTorfar, which was the Valkyrie variant of Skuld. While the Skuldottir might mean daughter of Skuld,” I provided.

“Skuld? The Norse Valkyrie and Norn?”

I nodded. “How did you know?”

Danna shrugged. “I work in a library.”

“Obviously,” I said.

The girl smiled briefly. “But, why did they call you that?”

“Beats me,” I said.

“Maybe it wasn’t about you, maybe the girls weren’t talking about you; it could have been another Ayana.”

“I don’t think so, Danna, it was me, they were talking about me, I’m certain of it. Plus, they called me a Valkyrie, the same thing Sophia called me last night,” I said objectively. “Do you know that they know I’m almost of age, that my eighteenth birthday is right around the corner? And they know my median name is Odelia”

“That’s impossible.”

“Oh yes it’s not, with Were Readers, what do you think?” Danna scoffed, placed her thumb nail in her mouth and chewed on it.

“But what did they mean by calling you a Valkyrie?”

“I don’t know.”

After a while, Danna found her voice again. “Maybe it’s not you, Ayana, maybe not–”

“Of course it’s me, Danna, how else did they know my median name and used it and why else would they talk about my powers quickening when I turn eighteen?”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I told you that Freya went through some sort of transformation when she turned eighteen, right?” Danna nodded frantically. “Well, we think something like that might happen when I turn eighteen as well . . . and those girls knew that.”

“Goodness,” the girl exclaimed. “But Were Readers always go for the kill, why would they spare you?”

“I wish I know,” I said downcast. We both sighed out.

“Okay, alright, we get it, let’s just be thankful they spared you so you can be present at your eighteenth birthday. So what if I suggest we stay calm and focus on the positives here? The girls might be Were Readers as you say and given the fact that you were unable to get a print or whatever it is your psychometry let you see about them, we still have the chance to do something about that. Now we got to focus on the work ahead, you have a birthday to plan and I’ve got a library’s mess to clean and it’s plainly enough we have Were Readers running bonkers with a plan for your head, adding Marshall’s wrath to it might be suicidal at the moment, so unless you need your head at your party and I have bills to pay, I’d suggest we kick anything supernatural out of the subject list, okay?” I didn’t answer, nor nodded; all I did was stare at her.

Danna Clayton was a wonder. Since I knew her, this was her first time of speaking sense as her lips ran.

“What?” She snapped.

“You surprise me, you’ve suddenly changed from the Danna I know to a different Danna I’m glad to be friends with,” I said with complete honesty. I might have embarrassed the girl for it took her several moments to stop blushing and finally speak.

“I guess I could say the same and most because there was never an occasion for me to be myself, and being myself with you isn’t the worst thing in the world.”

I shared her radiance when I said, “I confess I’ve always judged you.”

“That makes two of us,” Danna echoed. “I always thought you were a prissy snob, not that you’re not a snob, and God help my soul, I hate your friends.” Instead of getting angry at her words, I joined her in laughing. “Guess I was wrong all along, and I think we’ve both learned our lesson. Never judge a book by its cover.”

“Yeah, but peeking at it content sometimes helps,” I said. We laughed again. When the laughter died down, I stared into her serene face. “I’m glad we’re friends.”

Danna nodded. “Me too.”

“Ayana, do you—” Tiff paused halfway in her words with her suspended favorite gesture hand in the air. The pissy face she had on when she came in changed into raw surprise, then anger. Her hazel eyes lost it color for a while that I thought I saw it glow. Could have been my psychometry since the thingy messes with my head at times, but what I saw on my best friend was pure rotted seethe for the mood she found my colleague and I. The other girl didn’t share a different opinion by the looks on her, maybe glares sounded better. Their mutual hatred for each other was classical that other times I didn’t realize how much my friends really hated my co-worker and how more the other girl did. When she told me she hated my friends a while ago, well I didn’t think she was capable of glaring Tiffany to death.

Enough of it anyway.

I made it to my feet with a cool smile at Tiff. “Hey Tiff, what’s up?” The girl didn’t budge at my voice. Her deadly glare was fixated on the girl behind me and I was pretty sure if I glanced over my shoulder, Danna was doing the same. “Hey Tiff, didn’t you come here for me?” She still made no reaction and that scared me. “Hey Tiff, I’m talking to you!” Now she looked at me.

“I came to fetch you, we have a date with shopping,” she said woodenly and her eyes were back on Danna.

“Okay, um, why don’t you go wait for me in the car, you know how berserk the manager of this place is and finding you here might trigger his headache,” I finished that in a joke with the hope she might ease up. Tiffany spared me a second look, which in every way translated that wasn’t funny.

“I’ll be waiting outside. Don’t take too long, you know how much I hate to wait,” she said coldly. With a last evil look at my partner, she ventured out of the place. I released the breath I didn’t think I held then turned around. Danna was already on her feet and I thought I owed her an apology for whatever that was with Tiff.

“Hey, I’m sorry about that, you know how crazy my friends can be.”

“It’s okay. I understand our new friendship might be complicated and some things will never change no matter how bad we want them to. I’ll always hate your friends,” and like that my happy hour hangout with Danna ended. She walked pass me to the hallway path. Paralyzed for that little info, I gifted myself ten seconds of breath just to come back before stepping outside the Library.

Anyway, who was I kidding trying to make friends from two submarginal sides when the picture was vivid enough to show what a chaos that might result in?

~FIFTEEN

A MYSTERIOUS CHOICE

Sliding across the floor, I ducked inside Tiff’s car, took position in the passenger seat and buckled my seatbelt. “That took a while,” my friend said inanimately.

“If I were you I’d be glad I made it with Marshall in there,” I joked.

“Hmm,” was all Tiff said. She pressed her palm around the gearshift and started the car.

“Tiffany, are you mad at me?”

“Mm hmm, I’m not mad at anything,” she replied.

I placed my hand on the back of her hand on the gearshift and stopped her from reversing out of the spot before she could do that. “Tiff, I know you too well and you can’t deny everything is alright. Look I understand how you feel seeing me and Danna together, but you have to understand too, that I work with the girl and those glares you shot her were far too intense.”

Tiff let go of the gearshift and faced me. “See, I understand that part perfectly that you work together, but what I don’t understand is when you begin expressing freedom with her that I found you the way you were when I walked in. I don’t like the girl, Ayana, and the last time I remember you didn’t either.”

“Danna is my co-worker, Tiff, I’m supposed to be free with her.”

“Free as to stoop so low as hanging out with her?”

“You saw how destroyed the library is and thanks to Danna I’m not on my way to jail now.”

“What did she do for you, Ayana, that none of us have done for you before, tell me?”

“Something worth lifesaving and I know you guys have done far better for me, but . . . whatever is between me and Danna is not going to affect us, so that shouldn’t bother you.”

“No, AY, it’s not bothering me, in fact you know what, I don’t care if she’s your new bestie, what I care about is that you let us know when you decide to replace us with other people you work with, got it?”

“Danna is not my bestie and I’m not trying to replace anybody!” As quick as that slipped out of my lips, I instantly regretted it, because Tiffany might be right, I was indeed making friends with Danna and what she knew about me qualified her to be a best friend, things not even my friends knew. I felt horrible lying to Tiffany, but I couldn’t find that thing in me to tell her my secrets, she plainly wouldn’t understand.

I suspired and tilted my head her side. “I’m not trying to replace anyone, okay?”

“Fine, whatever,” Tiff hissed, revived the car and nosed it out of the Library. Five minutes later we were heavily locked into something else, our chicken fight way over. We arrived at Fashion Plaza in record time but we were still late for the mob waiting in the mall’s parking lot was intensely pissed.

“What the hell took you so long?” Stacy fired at us, then Joanna, Alex, and even Stella. One after the other they shot random questions at me after Tiff made it obvious I’d delayed her.

“Tiff, need a hand,” I begged.

“Okay, back off girls. You shouldn’t entirely blame her, she had no idea she was being kidnapped today, and don’t let me start with getting out of that watchdog’s sight. So as much as you want her for dinner, save her the breath to shop,” Tiff said.

I grinned at her. “Thanks,” then said to the others, “I’m sorry I wasted your time.” Each of the girls eyed me down and marched forward. Tiff beckoned me to move only to stump on my foot afterward with her evil cowboy boot. “Ouch Tiff! What the hell?”

Tiff smirked and mouthed, “You’re welcome.” I clinched a cold fist at my side with the desire to dump it on her face, a moment later I decided against it since she was like ten feet away from me. But man, her boot hurt dang well.

For the next three hours, we did nothing than shopped the cotton candy out of the mall, exiting one store only to enter the next. We nearly bought every hair product and jewelries sold in the mall. The worst of it was the pressure mounted on me to try dresses that reduced me to suffocation and all of my effort to diagnose their shopping obsession got overshadow by their lilting mindset.

“Guys, isn’t this enough?” I cried out when it got down to deciding what bandeau would work best on me. “Come one guys, seriously, if you don’t quit shopping I might as well asphyxiate right now.” That at least got to them.

“What is your problem, AY? We’re trying to make you perfect for your eighteenth birthday, do you realized that?” Stacy barked.

“And I’m trying to stay alive here! Don’t you see how tired and weak I look? I’m starving too, and I can’t breathe!” I bawled. “What do I care if I look terribly on my birthday?”

“You can breathe, just say you’re starving,” Alex said with crossed arms.

“Fine, I’m starving!” All five of them shared a look and arrived at a conclusion.

“Alright, you’ll go with Joanna and get something to eat,” Stacy declared.

“Does that mean we are still shopping?” I whined.

“Till we’re satisfied,” Tiffany answered.

“Oh no!”

Joanna grabbed my wrist and dragged me with her down the mall to the automat booth. I ordered us some cappuccino and apricot, leaned against a case and ate. While the food rushed down my digestive system, I ran my mind through why this blasé was freaking important to my friends. Granted, we’d all planned for my eighteenth birthday since my birthday came first in the year before any of theirs, but the day made less if any meaning to me. My parents were dead, my life was at stake, and my future was in a deep shit if not maintained well; so what purpose would the celebration serve when Were Readers were out planning against that same day?

“Hey! You okay?” Joanna nudged me.

“Yeah, yeah I’m fine,” I replied. I squeezed my plastic cup, targeted it into the bin and wiped my mouth. “Now I feel good,” I said. Joanna smiled in response. “Please tell me I don’t have to return back up there . . .”

“Sorry babes, but it’s not your call,” she replied.

“Oh come on, this is too much,” I winced in.

Joanna smirked then shrugged. “I’m sorry, you’re in for this.”

“Right, whatever,” I murmured, turned around and suddenly stopped when my gaze caught a figure at the second floor clustered among people. Joanna started to leave but I delayed her so I could see the figure well.

“What are we waiting for?” She asked.

“Just a minute, I’ll like my stomach to digest,” I lied, but who cared since Joanna bought it. She veered to saying stuffs like she’d personally strangle me if I threw the stunt I threw in class earlier. I let her ramble on while my attention was fixed on the figure. A second later the figure turned around and there he was staring at me with his sharp black eyes.

Mysterious guy was in the same mall I was.

The knowledge terrified me, however, when I remembered who he was in my life, it dawned on me that might be the way he was always there to save my life. But wasn’t that considered spying? Again, like he heard my inner thought, Mysterious guy’s lips, despite the distance, pulled aside into a genuine smile or what I thought looked like it. His eyes glowed, not the bad sort of glow, but a mesmerizing glow that had me agape in awe. Man, the guy was remarkable; everything about his feature was incredible. Despite myself, I found me smiling back at him. He increased his smile, not to a grin, but that awesome smile that sent butterflies to your stomach. He nodded next, once though, lifted his weight off the banister and–

“Ayana!”

“What?” I snapped.

“What’s wrong with you? Who were you smiling at?”

“I was–” when I returned my eyes to the second floor both my hand and mouth was hanged in midair when Mysterious guy was missing in place. He’d just smiled at me and now he was gone. That was impossible. I blinked several times but he was gone.

“Oh I get it, I think you were in reverie,” Joanna said. “It was an imagination, whatever you saw or think you saw.”

I frowned. “What told you I was imagining?”

“Anyone can tell by the way your eyes glittered and the pleasant look on your face,” she replied. I twisted my face, looked at the second floor and thought about it. Could that have been an imagination? Could I have imagined him smile at me? And why the heck did I enjoyed that and smiled back at him?

“You’re right,” I agreed with her. “Whatever I thought I saw was merely an imagination.” We returned to the store the others were and I was glad Joanna didn’t speak about my imagination with the rest. At seven the shopping–obsessed girls returned me to work to get my car, waited till I provided an excuse to Belinda to leave work earlier and drove home with them to go over everything we bought.

The next day, I received unexpected visitors at work – my friends – and their mission for coming to the boring library was to make me pick one out of the many cake decoration pitched on a cake magazine.

“Isn’t this too much?” I asked.

“Picking out a cake isn’t going too far, it’s essential for a birthday you know?” Stacy replied. “So go ahead and make your pick.” Just then Mark happened to walk by the checkout counter with his fluffy sniffy nose.

“I smell something nice.”

“Yeah, that’s my latest perfume,” Stacy replied him and it was a mock.

The secretary frowned. “A sharp tongue doesn’t mean you have a keen mind.”

“When God put teeth in your mouth, he ruined a perfectly good asshole,” Stacy returned. I snorted at the reply and Mark’s screwed up face. The guy planted scowl all over Stacy going through how to reply her, unfortunately my friends were too good in the comebacks category so no matter what Mark found to say, he was in for getting far worse replies. At the sight of his defeated expression, Stacy shot him her famous kill-Jack wink and returned to me.

Yeah I know, nobody liked my friends because of the meanness and sarcasm, well, that’s just what it was; that was what we were, AY included.

“So, which one is it going to be?” Alex chirped.

“Honestly, I’m confused. All the cakes are adorable, I don’t know which to choose,” I answered.

“Pick the pink one,” Mark chimed. “Seems colorful.”

“See, even Aunt Carmen here knows the true beauty of colors,” Stacy said. I tried to bury my potion of the snicker, but I rarely succeeded. Mark raised his brows at Stacy, shook his head and like that disappeared out of sight.

“Seriously, you gotta give the guy a break,” said Joanna, not that she meant it in a good way, it was all for the fun of it.

“Don’t blame me, his face just wanna make me eat shit each time I see him,” Stacy replied. From behind the study arena emerged Danna. She wheeled an empty cart to the checkout counter with a nonchalant expression on her face until the cart rolled to its place beside the shelf behind our station. Since she was MIA when my friends arrived, I’d expected her to show a sign of surprise for seeing them, but she wasn’t. My friends? Oh yeah they were. Every one of them eye-escorted her till she was back at her station.

“Hey Dan, could you help me pick out a cake?” I said casually. If someone had warned me on time that I was instigating trouble maybe I wouldn’t have enlisted her help for the evil eyes stabbed all over me forced me to wince. Danna noticed the looks my friends shot me but didn’t care enough to take offence.

“Pick the one with the green frosting, has the color of your eyes.” You’d think enlisting her help was all I needed to know what I wanted because immediately she answered, my eyes opened to the beauty of the cake in question.

“Thank you,” I beamed. Danna nodded slightly, packed some books from under the counter and disappeared as usual. “The green one it is,” I told my friends.

“Hell no!” Stacy objected.

“Why?” I asked.

“Does Miss beautiful tulip make decisions for you now?” Alex fired.

“You didn’t even bother asking us to pick for you and you what, asked her?” entered Joanna.

“No, guys, listen–”

“If I were you I wouldn’t get high on nut here, Ayana is bonhomie with her colleague and that’s the impression that says we matter this much to her,” Tiffany said in interruption.

“No, Tiff, that’s not true,” but they wouldn’t let me talk. Every one of them went high on nut shooting me random questions to know if Tiff’s statement was true. Eventually, our voices attracted the infuriation of the malicious Marshall. The man emerged from nowhere and was suddenly hovering beside the counter. With the complex rage I perceived from him, I was smitten, not to mention how hellish his eyes were.

Yes the library was still temporarily closed, which meant we weren’t disturbing the study peace of the place, but don’t even dare give the man that theory.

“I hope you’re not forgetting this is a library and not the town’s Grill,” he chided.

“Oh really, man I thought we were in the middle of Town Square.” I gasped, darted my widened eyes on Tiffany and back on Marshall. “Thank Jesus he reminded us on time.”

Marshall’s dead-like look promoted into fury, he pushed forward with each step screaming danger! “I see you have no regard for anyone since that’s how you address your parents at home.”

“Gee, are you just seeing? It was all over the news yesterday,” Stacy quipped. “I think we should get you a front roll at the media house for a change.” I pressed my palm over my mouth and looked up the man’s face. His expression was vaporizing and he wished he had Stacy’s head under his shoes to crush, but he refused to display his wrath and maintained his gentleman reputation remembering his milieu in town.

“I want all of you out of this place and never come back,” he ordered.

“Sorry about that homeboy, but you can’t. This is a public place and property of the town not Mr. Young’s property where you dominate your right,” that was Alex.

“And mind you, you’re manager of this place, not president,” Joanna followed.

“And a tip of the ice bug, you can’t stop us from coming here as often as we want unless you wish to see a bunch of complaint filed against you by the committee. And don’t we all know what that means?” Jesus, I felt like killing Tiffany with my bare hands.

“So, Mr. Get and Go, you’d better lay low and get used to seeing us again or perhaps it’s best time to become a missing person,” Stacy rounded up.

Marshall said nothing in reply; he glared at them, saved a potion for me and walked out of our sight. The worst thing I’d learned since my cause of studying Marshall was his quietness in situations like this meant no good, it never did.

For two seconds I held my breath, bifurcated by the show my thoughtless friends threw down and felt like sinking into the ground. They ruined me, they just freaking ruined me. This was the first time the girls actually fired at the manager ever since their many encounters. Technically, it was traced back to me; everything they said was the result of a transferred aggression my friendship with Danna stirred.

I licked my lips nodding. “And just like that you’ve all signed my sack letter. Thank you very much.”

“Congratulation, at least now you’ll have no co-worker to dump us for,” Tiff smacked in my face. In a swift moment, Joanna and Alex moved to pack away the cake magazines.

“See you around when there isn’t a colleague to help out with a wakeup call,” said Stacy, she turned around with the others and flared away.

“Don’t let this bother you, okay? Give you a call,” Stella said then scuttled after the rest and I stood by speechless. I couldn’t imagine what actually happened.

“Forgive me for saying this but, that’s what you get for having rude girls as friends,” said a voice from behind. The sudden voice didn’t startle me because I was startled enough and I recognized who it was onset.

I tilted my head toward Belinda whose hand was on my left shoulder. “They are not rude, it’s just who we are,” I told her.

“You’re no longer one of them and that’s the sad news to them. You’re living a different, responsible and promising lifestyle and branding out with a new list of friends they consider underclass,” the Librarian said. “I’m not trying to disconnect your relationship, but do be careful before you go back to thinking like them,” she patted my shoulder and went her way. I watched her leave running thoughts in my head. She was right and now because I was spreading my friendship wings and flying high, I had two problems to solve instead of one and they were heart drenching to me.

Marshall was no soft meat, I wondered if the man had a soft spot at all. And my friends could take time to come around unless I do something fast. I glanced at the hallway, then at the door, then the hallway again.

For the first time since I was born I didn’t know I loved my job at the Library like I realized in that moment and suddenly I wanted to keep it at all cost, even when that meant speaking to the devil himself.

What my dad would say if he was around was: “Push your ego aside; what’s worth keeping is worth fighting for.”

So, it’s facing Marshall the malignant first.

“Oh God, help me!”

~SIXTEEN

A MYSTERIOUS BIRTHDAY

Lucky? Fortunate? Auspicious? All three words were appropriate to describe how I felt. Okay, I know they all meant the same thing, but that was how fortuitous I was. Why was I saying this? Two reasons. First, I was able to retain my job and not lose it as the result of the stunt played by my friends at the Library. For that, I had Mark and Belinda to thank greatly for if it wasn’t for their interceding in my case with the acerbic manager, my means of income would have been kissed adios! Second, I made up with my friends, patched things up with them with a strict warning to stop dragging Danna into our relationship, which I pepped up with an assurance the girl wouldn’t come between us.

In addition to my lucky star, I was able to get Friday off to participate in the preparation of the coming event the following day.

As early as Friday’s sun hit the horizon, my house turned into a warzone – the good kind of warzone – led by a boisterous atmosphere and booming activities. While Freya went head over heel for the decoration, her friends shared themselves. Veronica took over catering and Jasmine manned refreshments. As my friends found a place of focus, Tony, Travis, and Curtis married the Deejay section. I on the other hand did nothing. I was entirely spared from getting engaged in anything than take my beauty sleep for the Night of Nights. Technically, the Night of Nights was officially stamped on prom, but once in a while we linked it to fabulous eighteenth birthdays.

Mine was one.

At six I was ordered out of bed to start getting dressed for the B day. Before I fell under their spell, I saved me a few hours of peace since after all the party was set for later in the day. After I rolled out of bed, threw on a pink yoga pant, sweat shirt and training snickers, I went downstairs.

“Where do you think you’re going, AY, today is an important day?” Joanna fired at me from the kitchen before I turned around she was already out.

“I need to go out,” I answered.

“What- today? This morning? When you’re supposed to be getting prepared for later?”

“Sorry babes,” I said smiley, “but I got to go. See you later!” I stormed out, shut the door and glad the other girls were missing from the living room. Having my friends spend the night was always great, but on this day there were kind of going nuts for the preparations.

I said hi to the few neighbors already awake and picking up their mails then jogged down the street to Fair Haven High, I detoured to the back and up to Frost Hill. By the time I climbed up the hill I was sweaty and panty. After about five minutes of catching my breath, I moved close to the tip of the hill and gazed over the town. For the first time since I became matured, I was seeing things from a different angle, a different perspective and through a redefined sense. Since I’d been coming here, my mission was always the same – to mop over my misfortune and mourn my life. However, today wasn’t about mourning over my life or mop over my misfortune, today I felt refreshed, energized and transformed. Possibly because of the life I was awakened to know, a life with purpose, goal, accomplishment, and expectations. Although, I had zero knowledge on how to go over the discovery I recently made, I was committed to ensuring this life I was awakened to serve a meaningful purpose not just to me, but all the other people involved.

I arrived back home at exactly nine minutes after nine and getting away without being queried for my action was inevitable. Succeeding to my room with my head still on my shoulders, I head to the bathroom, splashed water on my face and snatched two whole hours to myself. Shortly after I oversaw my late dad’s post of No PDA, I raced to my room when chased by the bulldogs in my house to finally get set as the day was slowly drawing close to schedule.

After a quick shower, I spread the dress of my chosen on the bed. Out of the plenty we shopped for, I found an exceptional attraction to the navy blue dress with a bit shade of white at the décolletage. The dress was a simple elegant cocktail and cool that made it capture my sight out of the dozen. I quickly changed into it, moved to the dresser to fix my makeup, which I did tenderly in other not to ruin the effort invested into making my hair or so help me, Stacy burns a billion calories nagging over wasting her time.

“A perfect couture, suits you.” Turning around, I met Freya with an animated smile. Retaining the cool smile on her face, she closed the door behind her and walked into the room. She stopped behind my chair, placed both of her hands on my shoulders and just smiled. For a second I saw hurt flash across Freya’s beautiful brown eyes and the next thing she said rectified my suspicious. “What wouldn’t Mom give to see you like this, a responsible grown up girl? She’d always prayed for the day to come when she’d be proud to see you dressed up like a correct headed Calhoun for the first time.”

“Oh no, no, no, no, Esther, this daughter of mine reflect the standard of true Calhoun, and remember . . . no true Calhoun is correct minded,” I said in a voice that mimicked my dad. Freya burst out laughing with tears slipping down her face.

“Oh God, Dan, don’t even say that. I have Calhoun as a last name and yet I’m correct minded,” my sister returned in my mom’s voice.

“That is wrong darling, I’m not talking about burrowed applied Calhoun’s, I’m saying this is between us born Calhoun’s,” I filled in exactly as Dad would. My sister and I stormed into another round of laughter. My parents were like wild animals when quarreling, especially when I was the cause for it.

Freya rubbed my shoulders as she said, “But here you are dressed as a correct yet absent minded Calhoun.” The words fell out of her lips soothingly and undeniably, it forced my lips to part ways for a smile. Freya reached for my face and helped wipe the tears there. When I returned my gaze on the mirror, I wished Expression Readers had the ability to bring back the dead or even conjure to life an apparition, like I could chant “mirror, mirror on the wall – or the one at the back of my closet – show me Dan and Esther,” and it would. But that wasn’t part of the package that came with the brand. We had no juju and certainly weren’t enchanters like our counterparts, although I didn’t fail to wonder what sort of powers the Were Witch was endowed with.

“I miss them,” I said faintly. “I still have the feeling like I killed them.”

“Shh, don’t say that, it wasn’t your fault they’re dead,” my sister hushed.

“Then whose fault is it?” I whispered.

“It’s no one’s fault. It’s one of the unplanned events of life and a path we’ll all go through,” she replied. “You know they say death is life’s way of telling you you’ve been fired. Committing suicide on the other hand is our way of telling life ‘you can’t fire me, I quit.’ Our parents’ death means life was satisfied with their services.”

I laughed out. “Well, life’s a bitch.”

“If it were easier it would be a slut,” she replied. Slowly, she helped me out of the chair and returned her hands on my shoulders when I faced her. “Our parents would be proud of you, Ayana, because you’ve turned into their dream daughter and done things to make them proud. If they were here, they’d be beyond happy. So since they’re not here, why not be happy for them?” I sniffed, nodded and found comfort in her words and feelings. Though, she had fears and was sad for our loss, she was happy to see this day with me.

“I miss them, Frey, and wish they were here,” I said.

Freya nodded. “I know, I miss them too, and wish they were here.”

“Sorry, but therapy session is over, it cracking the party time!” Alex chirped the instant she barged into my room.

“Alright, give us a minute, she’ll be right there,” Freya told her.

Alex raised her finger, “a sec,” then closed the door behind her.

Freya turned smiling. She stuffed her left hand inside her dress’ side pocket and came out with a compact box. She opened it, brought out the silver necklace tucked inside then held it to eye level. “Happy birthday,” she said.

I gushed at the sight of the silver as I picked it out of her hand. Man, it was remarkably adorable. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.”

“You’re welcomed,” she said back.

“But it’s kinda cold,” I said.

“We have the weather to blame,” she said. “Here, let me ease it up a bit.” I returned the silver back to her and watched her close her palms around it, a moment later she released it, placed it back in my hands and I gasped at the unexpected flame caught around the chain in my hands, yet I wasn’t on fire. The fire died down and the necklace became warm.

“Holy Christ son of God! Where did that come from?”

Freya grinned. “A little gift from me to you.”

A wrinkled my face aside when I said, “a regular family give regular stuffs for gifts, we’re the actual first family who give fire for a gift.” My sister laughed amusedly.

“Regular is not weird, we were never a regular family and that’s what makes us weird.”

“Terrific response,” I agreed. “Would you help me put it on?”

“Sure, why not.” I slipped the silver into her palm and turned around so she’d have room to place the necklace around my neck. When she was done without ruining Stacy’s work, I turned back around.

“Thank you.” Freya smiled calmingly then hugged me.

Stepping down stairs to a view in the house got me to freeze. It was nothing like before – the den of insanity my house turned into. My dazzling point was the amount of crowd I didn’t recall inviting, almost the whole of Fair Haven High was swarming around like they wished and some crazed teens chirping over upturned funk with kegs of beer. The only few I recognized included my sister’s workmates, a select few I mingled with at school and my neighbors.

Tiffany jumped out of the crowd in her rocking cowboy boot to the stairs I was still glued at. “What do you think, impressive, huh?”

“When did you do all of this? I don’t remember inviting anyone?” I shouted over the pop song tearing the house down.

“That’s because it’s our job to do the inviting,” Tiff answered.

“So you invited the whole of FHH?”

“No! About half the student body,” she croaked. “Now get your butt down there and enjoy the best day of your life!” She grabbed my wrist, drew me down and off into the wild I landed. Cheering roared in the house as I became visible to the crowd.

“Give it up for AY!” Tristan yelled and there went the cheers long after I blew out the candles and made a wish.

“Happy birthday, AY!” was the chant of the day accompanied with tremendous presents. In return, they got a cheerful, “Thank you!” from me.

From behind, Travis poked me. “Happy birthday, Calhoun, and by the way you look stunning,” and stretched out a small package to me.

“Thanks, Cook,” I replied.

“Where’s the birthday girl?” Preston shrilled.

“Hey Dexter, I’ve got extra glasses since it seems your eyes no longer serve you right,” Travis shot at him.

To get across, Ryan pushed Preston aside in order to make it to me. “Congratulations AY, you’ve hit the list,” he said decently before proceeding to kiss my cheek.

“Thank you, Ryan,” I replied.

“Why the hell would you push me aside?” Preston barked at the mayor’s son.

“Dude, do you see at all ‘cause there’s a long queue of waiting peps?” Ryan returned. To settle the fight, Mark shoved them both aside with a present in his hands.

“Happy birthday, Ayana!”

“Thanks Mark.”

Few moments later, I trudged through the crowd down the foyer to keep the new presents behind the staircase when I caught a glimpse of Freya proceeding to the door, opened it and let Danna in. Words weren’t enough to describe the added enthusiasm her presence created in me. And my friend – I said that with absolute honesty and genuinely – appeared totally different in the purple strapless dress she had on, maybe completely transformed served better. The dress really brought out a detailed voluptuous part of Danna I bet nobody in Fair Haven had seen before. And that’s leaving out her fantastic up-do.

“Happy birthday, my friend!” she chirped after I crossed over to the door.

“Thanks babes!”

Danna lifted up a green package and passed it to me. “Sorry I missed the cake, hope this covers for it?”

“Good thing you got me something, else you would have been prosecuted,” I replied. The girl laughed, traded her arm in mine and together we walked to the living room. I assumed the center stage due to many insisting souls and honestly, I had my fun to the fullest.

For the first time since my parents’ death, I allowed myself the freedom to get absorbed in fun, partied my time away and forgot my current turmoil that would probably be there when I wake up the next day. But for today, I relieved the life of AY Calhoun. Two hours later I was close to exhaustion land. Before I completely ran out of oxygen, I excused myself from the dance floor to get a drink of water. Lucky me there was a chill bottle water idly placed on the counter in the bar. Without any contemplation, I grabbed the bottle, gulped to my satisfaction before releasing it with slight regret on the coldness. Nevertheless, there was a scene that swept the regret away; that of the shy Danna grinning . . . oh wait; it seemed like blushing at something the mischievous Dash who was supposed to be here with his Spanish girlfriend said to her. Tiff already told me earlier she invited him and his girlfriend, but instead of enjoying the fun with his Spanish novia, Dash was consumed in flirting with my assistant Librarian friend.

Was that a definition of cheating? No, I guess.

My attention got diverted from them to the door at the sound of the bell. Since no one seemed to be on the track of getting it, I crowned up the bottle water, dropped it back at its place then went after the door. With the expectation of finding a late party crusher – the likes of Sheriff Dexter and Mayor Charles as they were found of the habit on every one of my birthdays – I was disappointed to see empty air rolling through a quiet snowy night. I glanced around and waited to see if whoever chimed the bell would make an appearance, when that didn’t happen, I wandered if hearing the door had been only an imagination. Since nothing came up, I shrugged, turned and then paused when I came into view with a package on the floor. Strange, I glanced around again but still arrived at the same result, so with my curious pulse climbing high, I picked up the box and read the card on it.

Happy birthday, Ayana! Love from Sherilyn Macintosh.

My face squeezed in place when I was done reading that. I didn’t know anyone by that name Sherilyn Macintosh, and my brain was too close to danger lane to explore the possibilities of who that was or why the person chose to play hanky-hanky instead of coming upfront to place the present as normal human beings did.

With a final glance, I closed the door and nearly bumped into Tony who stationed himself behind the door.

“Sorry, I almost bumped into you,” I said quickly.

“Because I wanted you to,” the boy replied. I grinned at his cockiness. “Let me help with that,” he collected the present from me and together we moved to the bar where he placed down the package on the counter then faced me. “I hope it’s not too late to serve my turn of presenting a present?”

“No, I don’t think so,” I said with a grin. Tony dipped his hand into his jacket pocket, produced a red compact and handed it over to me. The instant I touched the box I felt his feelings, which technically shocked me because I felt nothing when I picked up that hanky-panky person’s present a moment back. Tony’s feeling in its own nearly knocked me off with such strong emotions he produced. My lips couldn’t be clasped back after I opened the box that housed a key ring with a holder made in the structure of the Eiffel Tower. I looked from the box to Tony’s face totally swept away by surprise.

“I told you last year that I’ll personally take you to the Eiffel Tower, this is a way of saying no matter what happened to us, I’ll still be the guy that walks you up to Paris.” I read Tony’s lips like an imbecile because I lost sight of what to say and how to say it. Tony didn’t forget the promise he made to me the previous year. Yeah I knew he was one decent guy that kept his promises, but I’d not at least expected him to keep that in mind despite all that happened between us.

“Thank you,” I said, I meant for my voice to sound cheerful, but instead it came out faint. Tony nodded and unfortunately, we were interrupted with a callback to return to the party.

~SEVENTEEN

A MYSTERIOUS FAMILY

“Argh! My head hurt,” I groused.

“It should, and you should be happy it’s still on your shoulders,” Freya mocked.

I raised a fine glaring brow at her, “happy even when it’s spinning?”

“Exactly my point,” she replied then laughed. I intensified my glare on her but forced to hold my head in my hands. The last time I was hanged over was last year, and because of my dad who helped me get out of it, I didn’t have to suffer this much.

Last night I didn’t retire to my room until about three in the morning after everyone left, including my friends. The instant my back touched my cordial mattress, I forgot about the entire universe and traveled to planet dreamland. The dream I had was a bit distorting and it startled the bejeesuz out of me. The imbue left me exhausted the minute I rose out of bed. The twist of the dream involved my mother, my dead mother. That was shocking to me. The first image I saw was that of me tired to a chair with a girl by my side. Although, her features came about foggy, I felt something with her; a connection, as if we were close, so close. She said things to me, revealed some information about stuffs I couldn’t understand, galvanizing stuffs that had me tensed and wished I could cut myself loose and strangle the life out of her, yet I couldn’t understand what for. If all that wasn’t strange enough, well, this certainly was – I forgot about her words, everything she said the instant I woke up, the only reminder left with me was the effect of the dream and how terrified it made me.

That never happened before, I never forgot anything with my psychometry, but this time I did, I forgot. All I remembered was me tired to a chair while chatting with the girl I wanted so much to kill, then the door opened and Freya was pushed in followed by my mom and another woman I didn’t know. In one word, the turn of event of the dream was torturous, and if my late night party wasn’t strong enough to hammer me with headaches, the dream helped enhanced the speed.

While Freya joked about my sick head, I refrained from sharing my weird dream with her – anyway, all she’d say was that it was my seer’s gift and maybe I was seeing a future possibility . . . so why bother telling her when the situation wasn’t here yet? And who know, it might not happen, so all I’d be doing was watering panic in her fragile heart.

“Hey birthday girl! What’s on your mind?” Freya said as she pinched me.

“My head is killing me,” I murmured.

She twirled around, “here, let me help.”

I raised my brows at her quizzically. “How are you gonna help?”

“Trust me and you’ll see,” she replied. I rolled my eyes as she grabbed my head in her hands ensuring her palms spread across my earlobes, closed her eyes and instructed me to do the same. With absolute trust in her I complied. Suddenly, Freya’s palms emitted heat that nearly fried my brain out and I was dangerously close to retreating out of her touch when she retrieved her hands and I snapped my eyes open.

Freya was grinning when she asked, “How do you feel?”

“How did you do that? The pain is gone!” I exclaimed.

Freya smiled confidently. “That’s the magic of Fire Expression,” she said boldly.

My eyes turned glazed. “So it’s a healing power?”

“Um, not exactly. All I did was heat your brain, which killed the cephalalgia.”

“You should be a healer,” I expressed. My sister only chuckled. “Good work,” I said with a thumb up.

“Did you get to open all the packages yesterday?” She asked.

“Yeah I did, no thanks to my nutcase friends,” I answered. “Everything I received is lovely, lovely, lovely presents. It’s really nice, you should see them.”

“Tell me about it,” she said wandering her way to the living room. I left the staircase and meandered to the kitchen to check out the presents peacefully. “Look what I found! A forgotten package,” she squeaked. She followed me into the kitchen carrying a package in her hands.

I allowed myself the liberty of getting a chill Brown Pop from the fridge before turning around. “What’s that?”

“I found this one on the bar counter. Might have slipped off somebody’s mind to give this to you,” Freya surmised.

“Who is it from?”

Freya dropped the box on the counter and flipped open the card on it. “It’s says: Happy birthday, Ayana, from Sherilyn Macintosh,” then she shrugged, “who’s Sherilyn Macintosh?”

The can I was holding gradually fell off my lips at the sound of that name. Wasn’t it the package from yesterday? “Sherilyn Macintosh,” I said out.

“Who’s that, you sound like you know her?” Freya said.

“I have no idea who she is . . . but I’ve heard that name before,” I answered.

“Sherilyn Macintosh?”

“No, the last one . . . Macintosh.”

“Where did you hear it?”

“After I collected the box last night from the porch dropped by an anonymous person, the name didn’t ring a bell at first, now it does. Now I remember where I heard it.”

“Where, Ayana?”

“School. I was in the restroom on Wednesday when I heard this girls arguing about something I took no interest in at first until I heard them say my name and placed Macintosh as my last name. They addressed me as Ayana Odelia Skuldottir Macintosh.”

The recondite look on Freya magnified at the end of my reply. “Assuming the Odelia part meant they know your middle name, how do you mean they addressed you as Ayana Skuldottir Macintosh?”

“I don’t know,” I said firmly.

“And you didn’t bother telling me about it?”

“Sorry, it slipped my mind,” I offered. Freya’s accusatory eyes deemed thoughtfully that for a second her reaction got me to flinch. Precipitously, her eyes darted straight at me.

“I’ve heard the name before as well . . . no, I think I saw it,” she said sharply.

“Where, when?” I asked.

“Two years ago at your sixteenth birthday,” my sister replied. “You were in the epicenter of the party that night as usual while I was on guard chaperoning your snotty guests as requested by Dad when the doorbell chimed. I suspended my position to open the door for the guest and caught on surprise, I found no one at the door except for a package on the doorstep that looked similar to this one and had the same card on it with the words in it. It made no sense why someone would dump a present and leave, but then again, it was AY’s birthday – didn’t she surround herself with crazy? That thought got me to pick it up and returned to the house. As soon as I closed the door, Mom met me and instantly collected the package from me, told me to return to the party and instead of dropping the present under the staircase as always, she ascended the stairs. It was strange to me that she didn’t bother knowing who it was from before going up, so I watched her as she tilted her head back to where you were and veered off. The same thing happened last year too, if I’m not mistaking –”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, did you say the same thing happened last year?”

“Yes, but I wasn’t the person that opened the door, it was Mom and she displayed that strangeness again, actually, the way she walked to the door and went straight to collect the package from the floor like she was expecting it drove me curious.”

“Are you saying this isn’t the first time something like this has happened?”

“No, this isn’t.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I demanded.

“Because it was a simple present and I thought you’d open them with the others the following day. How was I supposed to know she didn’t add it with the others?” Freya replied, her voice almost in a shrill and the room’s temperature elevated than normal. I kinda saw that as a warning sign and took caution. If anything, I had less or zero knowledge about Fire Readers, what ticked them off and how far they could go on temper measurement. Naturally, Freya wasn’t the high tempered type, but since the time I’d seen what she was capable of, I’d noticed how magnified her temper grew.

“Was it the same name? Did the card carry the same name?” I asked in a careful measured tone.

“Yes, it was Sherilyn Macintosh,” Freya answered. She watched me closely probably taking account of my changing expression and suspired. “Ayana, I may not have your Touch power to remember things, but my memory isn’t that bad, I know what I saw and twice it happened I saw the same thing.”

“But why would Mom hide such things as a present from anyone? It was my birthday and I had every right to check my presents.”

“Only, it wasn’t a present sent from a regular person. I told you I saw no one at the door and when Mom answered the door last year I saw no reflection,” she noted.

“Well, I saw no one when I picked it up, too,” I said. “What could that mean?” Freya shook her head negatively. “Do you know where she had them, both packages?”

“Her bedroom I suppose, I saw her take them up there.”

“Do you think it could still be there?”

“I’m not sure.”

“I need to know what’s inside the presents, Freya, why Mom did what she did and who this Sherilyn Macintosh is . . . the presents might shade light on that,” I reasoned.

“I agree with you,” she said. “Let’s assume she kept them in her room, how do we find them? We’ve been in that room like a thousand times without a sight of something like that.”

My mouth curved into a smile. “If I can get my hands on something she had on during the party, I can flash on it to know where she kept them.”

“You can do that?” Freya asked.

“Have you no memories of how my touch-thingy works?” I countered.

“I’ll race you there!” And she was first to get out of the kitchen. I followed suit and together we scuttled through the foyer, ascended the staircase and made for my parents’ bedroom. Lucky me, I beat Freya to the door, unlocked it and let us in. The room was neat as we left it a month ago and it was warm, too, with camphor and lavender blowing through the air – my mom’s favorite mixture, and to honor her we constantly scent the room with the mixture.

Since we weren’t ready to let go, we kept the room like it was and maintained the stuffs inside as my parents would if they were alive. We didn’t pack their things away and on occasion came there to burrow useful items rather than watch them rustle away.

“What are we looking for?” Freya asked.

I returned to the room at the sound of her voice, released the hold I had on the knob then stepped inside. “We’re looking for something she used last year, a dress, shoe, necklace, anything.”

“I think I can make do for the dress,” Freya said and advanced passed me to the closet. “She wore a yellow summer dress.”

I moved out of the way, neared her at the closet and searched the interior for the given dress. Pressed in-between a red cardigan and her favorite church attire, I found the yellow summer dress. “This one?”

“Yes, that’s it,” Freya confirmed.

“Okay, here goes nothing.” I rubbed my palms together, grabbed the dress into my hands and closed my eyes then waited. For three minutes nothing happened, my psychometry didn’t kick in, the vibes didn’t flood my mind and the expected emotions didn’t fill me. None of that occurred, which called for fear. Technically, I wasn’t sure if I’d get anything out of the dress given it was used a year ago by the owner who died a day after she used it. Recalling the event at the funeral home, my thought began to flutter at the possibility of getting nothing out of it. The emotions I got from my dad were a piece out of a pizza part, and since nothing came off my mom, it was possible once a person died their emotions died along with them.

I shuddered when Freya placed her hand on my shoulder. “Be patient, it’s been a year since the dress was worn. Give it time, it might take a minute, but it would come, you can do this.” Her encouraging words preserved me there instead of working on accepting defeat. I took a deep breath, relaxed my mind and centered my thought on my mom. What do you know, there it was; the images hit me like a storm. The first image I saw was Mom putting on the dress then she moved to the dresser to apply her makeup. The door opened for Dad who walked in, stopped behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders with a smile on his face.

“It’s another year, our little girl is slowly drawing close to the time,” Mom said sadly. Her face flushed with eager anticipation and at the same time, disappointment and regrets wrenched her heart.

Dad squeezed her shoulders tenderly and said softly, “You have it under control, you always have.”

Mom disagreed with a twist of her face and the shake of her head. “I’m afraid this time I don’t. Ayana is nothing like Freya, although Freya believe she’s able to keep herself in secret without our knowledge, but Ayana, she’s trouble, the least she can do is not get herself killed.” Then she pushed the chair backward, had Dad help her to her feet then she gesticulated across the room with amplifying emotions that nearly gaged me to death.

“I’m scared, Dan, Ayana might have no idea of what she’s going through and as a smart girl, I’m afraid she is going to know everything when she turns eighteen and . . . and I can’t . . . I can’t tell them, you know I can’t let them know,” her voice faded away gradually with anguished laced in her tone.

Dad stopped her from further pacing, held her in place with the aim to have her calmed. “Take it easy darling, you’re over reacting to this,” he said. “I understand your fears, but we still have a year, Ayana is not eighteen yet. There is still time to figure something out.”

Mom raised her eyes on him, brown beautiful round eyes clothed in bitterness and darted them straight into his warm emerald ones. She wished to believe him, wished she could agree with him, but there was a huge space in her heart that housed something terrible, terrible that it hit my adrenalin fuse before she said it out.

“That’s one thing I fear I don’t have, I have no such time, Dan. I heard they’ve taken Aunt Sera. I’m afraid they’re coming for me.” I didn’t get the chance to decipher her statement when the image shifted. All that occupied my mind was the unbelievable thought that my parents knew about me and Freya in their lifetime but kept quiet about it, about our true identity.

In the next image I saw Mom talking to Penelope and Tori when suddenly she stopped her words in midair and looked directly at the door expectantly. She scanned the room for any eagle eye watching her, excused herself from her friends then proceeded to the door. She opened the door, glanced around then bent over to pick up the wrapped box on the doorstep. She moved back to the house, shut the door and reconnoitered the area again then afterward made for the stairs while on her blind side, Freya escorted her with eyes. Mom entered her bedroom, closed the door and passed through me to the closet, opened it and dropped the box on the floor. She pushed the hangers aside that apparently showed off a wooden wall at the end of the closet with a small coded screen and keypad on it. She punched four digits onto the keypad and while the safe’s door hissed open, Mom bent to retrieve the box and by the time she was back on her feet, the door was opened. Mom placed the box in the spacious safe box with numerous items inside.

After she was satisfied the box was out of sight, she sighed, her face weary, and muttered, “Why won’t you just learn to leave my daughters alone, Sherilyn?” With that she closed the safe’s door, locked it and returned the clothes back to position then she left the room.

I shivered as I snapped my lids open. “What is it, Ayana? Did you see anything useful?” Freya demanded.

“I know exactly where they are,” I answered. I let go of the dress, mimicked my mom as I pushed the clothes aside and revealed the safe. As I pressed to unlock the safe with the four digit number code that matched my date of birth, Freya hovered over me for a vivid witness. After the codes were in, the door hissed open and dozens of boxes, packages, presents rained down to my feet. Luckily, I held my ground so well alas they’d have knocked me down.

Shocked to encounter the numerous boxes I saw in the flash got me to stagger backward while Freya gasped. “Oklahoma!” Slowly, I tilted my head at her surprised exclamation. “Well, what the hell,” she backed up. I shook my head sadly. Granted, Freya wasn’t the type that used profanities, but her substitute for obscene words was equally depressing. I cleared her off my mind and returned to reality.

“How is this possible?” I asked no one in particular since the only person in the room was as clueless as me.

“I can’t believe there’s so many of them,” Freya said. I moved to the closet, squatted, picked up a stumbled over box and read out the writing on the card for my hovering, quizzical sister.

“Happy birthday, Freya, from Sherilyn Macintosh.”

“What!” The girl in question squeaked, moved volatilely to me and snatched the card away.

“Looks like it wasn’t just the wild bunch that got a present from Mysterious Sherilyn Macintosh,” I dramatized. Freya looked down at me with eyes that brought Mom’s sad ones to mind.

“What’s happening?” She asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered then got back on my feet.

“What did you see in the flash?”

“Mom and Dad talking about us. Mom answering the door, Mom placing it in there and Mom muttering ‘why won’t you learn to leave my daughters alone, Sherilyn?’ And Mom leaving the room,” I replied tersely.

“Mom knew Sherilyn?”

I nodded somberly. “Whatever was between them was strong and Mom did a great job at ensuring we never found out.”

“Why would Mom keep that away from us? Tons of presents sent to us from an unknown woman, doesn’t make sense.” She glanced at me briefly, “what do you think we should do?”

I shrugged. “I guess the instant you discover a treasure, what you do is keep digging to find more.”

Freya nodded. “We should check them out.”

~EIGHTEEN

A MYSTERIOUS SHERILYN

“Okay, that’s all of it,” Freya said with the last box she dropped on the kitchen table. “Now what?”

“From the look of things,” I said, “kinda looks like we both received presents from this mystery woman and thanks to Mom who didn’t detached the cards because she thought it wasn’t important, we know what belongs to whom. I suggest we separate them into two; Freya and Ayana catalog, then execute justice by fairly checking the boxes out.” It exhausted about a time full breath before the Fire Reader beside me expressed her consent.

“I think it’s a good idea.”

“Okay then, let’s begin.” We got up, stood toe to toe and began separating the boxes into two sides on the table. One for Freya, one for me. At the end of the separation, we sat down once more and examined the boxes, all squared shaped wrapped in beautiful color ribbons with each card under the ribbon reading the same thing—a happy birthday with the celebrant’s name on it.

“Strange . . .” Freya murmured.

“What is?”

“The boxes, there’re eight on each side,” she clarified. “Eight boxes for me and eight for you.” I assessed the estimated number of the boxes and arrived at the same result. My sister was correct; the boxes were eight on each side of the table. “What next?”

“Next thing is,” I commenced. “Since you’re the oldest there’s probably a good chance you got the first present. What I’m thinking is you should probably be the first to open your boxes so we’d be certain there’s nothing peril in them and I’ll go next.”

“And if there’s something peril in them you’d prefer I get hurt first?” My sister observed.

“No, that’s not how it is,” I said playfully. “All I’m trying to get across is that, just in case the boxes contains something out of the ordinary, only one of us could handle it onset, and since in your part physical powers come in handy, I thought you might wanna be a big sister and save me the chance to at least get help for the both of us just in case there’s something harmful . . . just in case, you know?”

Freya stared at me speechless, she knew what I said was just teases and a moment later her smile broke free. Technically it was a joke, but a bit truthful. If any harm came our way there was a chance for only one of us and since I neither had physical abilities like her nor the sort of Mysterious guy’s fighting skills, I was doomed to death and hello, she did had fire.

Freya sucked in breath, drew close a box and attacked it like it was a Were Reader. She finished with the ivory wrapper and undid the ribbon from it and the box opened. For the first few seconds the box remained opened my sister’s lips were sealed and her eyes glued on whatever was inside, which led me to craning over the table to get a better view. Without sparing me a glance, Freya reached inside the box and produced a fine woven cashmere sweater with V-neck lined and embroidery, and oh, the color was fascinating – a wide range of rainbow color. When neither of us attempted words, Freya proceeded to read the note found inside.

“Happy birthday my meekly Freya. Sure it will serve as a surprise to you for getting this—that is of course if Esther wishes for you to see it. For some time now you’ve desired this sweater and that I will not blame you for – who wouldn’t fall in love with a rainbow color sweater finely woven from the best fabric? I did the same too, when I was your age, although, when I fell in love with the sweater it was on my first vacation in Chile. Do you know that Chileans are friendly and good at knitting? Yes they are. So I’m not surprised you want this and since your father has refused you the opportunity to get it until after the winter season, I thought it might warm your heart to receive this as a gift . . . and a secret, I got it from Costa Rica, where you fell in love with the sweater. I wish you a peaceful life ahead and do be a good girl as always. Being ten is only but the beginning of life. Enjoy your tenth birthday and save some love for me. Love, Sherilyn.”

“Sweet Jesus! That was sent to you on your tenth birthday?”

“I’m as stunned as you,” Freya replied faintly. “How could she know that much about me? She knew I visited Costa Rica.” I bit my bottom lip thoughtfully with ideas running through my head. “Your turn,” I heard Freya say. I raised my tentative eyes in question. “We agreed I’d go first and since nothing jumped out at us, it’s your turn to go next.”

“I think I’ll pass–”

“No bloody way! You’ve seen what’s in mine, time to take a look at your first present,” she objected.

“You know it’s my present and I have every right to do as I wish with it,” I told her frankly.

“And as the oldest I have the obligation to decide how this will go, so don’t try to escape this. You’ll open that box now or I’ll show you how handy fire can be.”

“Are you threatening me with fire?”

“Only if you wish not to comply, then yes, I’m threatening you with fire.”

“What kind of a sister are you?”

“The sort that wouldn’t mind spanking you unless you do as she said,” she returned. “Now stop stalling and get on with it.” I screwed up my face, glared at her smiling face and gave in.

Unlike my sister who got lucky finding her first present by accident, I had to search for mine. I didn’t know what age it began with so I felt each of the boxes till I arrived at the oldest one of them, fished it out and stationed it in front of me. I raised my distrustful eyes on the girl sited before me then undid the ribbon and cover. I froze when I opened the box and found a Star Girl Salon home toy.

“Your tenth year obsession!” Freya didn’t ask me a question by that, she was telling me the fact and yet I answered all the same with a nod. Was I surprised? Yes I was or maybe I wasn’t supposed to since I saw what was in Freya’s, but I was. This mysterious Sherilyn knew me that much.

To help clear the frost, I brought out the note with it and read it out. “I’d always wanted a fashionista doll when I was your age, unfortunately for me back then there weren’t such beautiful toys around that were as cool as the ones made during your time. I know you’d be slightly curious as to who I am and how I got to know this part of you, well don’t be my dear, because soon you’ll get to know me. Happy birthday, Ayana. Live careful, cause no problem for your family and have an adventurous life ahead. Love, Sherilyn.” At the end of the note, I couldn’t stop the laughter that escaped me.

“I take it she must be as crazy as you are,” my sister observed.

“I doubt that,” I said.

Freya concealed her questions with a bleak smile. “So, Sherilyn knows us very much.”

“I’m guessing the same.”

“Now what?”

“Now we see the rest.”

Just as my sister’s presents were made up of stuffs she cherished growing up, so was mine. My eleventh birthday was the G I Joe toy; at the end of the note I read funnier comments. At twelve I received the first Harry Potter book, the first versions of course. Thirteen came with two of my favorite comic books. Fourteen the Star War novel. At fifteen I got the Wonder Women books, so it wasn’t a surprise when I saw Dracula in my sixteenth birthday present box. I pressed pause after sixteen, shocked by the coincidence.

“Sherilyn definitely knows us,” I told Freya somberly.

“But how, how could she? Who is she?”

I answered her question with one of my own. “Why would Mom keep something like this away from us?”

“We still don’t know what’s in the last boxes and you haven’t checked your seventeenth box to know what’s inside.”

“There’s no use for that, I’ll only see a pack or two mythological books,” I answered. “We should see the last ones.”

“We go together or you still want me to be the risk-taker-come-in-handy-big-sister?” I grinned. “Fine, I’ll go first,” she volunteered. She moved her chair closer to the table, as if it wasn’t close enough; pushed the empty boxes to the floor to create more room for the last boxes. She hesitated for a heartbeat then opened the box. The dazzled look on her gave away how stifled she was at whatever was inside the box.

“What is it, Frey?” I pried. Freya raised her brows at me and returned it back to the box without providing an actual answer. “What, is it asking you to swear to secrecy?” Now she chuckled. “Come on, what’s inside?”

“I don’t know,” she said gently.

“What do you mean you don’t know? You’ve been staring at it like it’s your grandmother’s opal,” I countered.

“Well, that’s because I do not know what’s inside,” she returned.

“Why not do us both a favor by getting it out, huh?” She shrugged and commenced to do as I said. She brought out the item inside the box, something wrapped in a gray piece of cloth, placed it on the table while we stared at it. Since staring at it wouldn’t help much, my sister pressed to bring out the note with it, actually this one fitted more in the letter category. It dated back to her eighteenth birthday and fear made her request from me if she were to read it out. I gave my consent instantly and she went ahead to read it. The letter was written by Sherilyn and in it she offered Freya apologies for the incapability to receive the previous gifts she sent her. She excused Mom’s fault from it, claimed the entire blame was hers and wished Freya a pleasant life ahead with words of encouragement. Lastly, she advised Freya to make wise use of what she were to find in the box, study it thoroughly, ensure to understand its content and to live up to the culture.

“Plenty of love from me and Seraphina; Sherilyn Macintosh,” Freya ended. “Interesting, she even cared to tag someone else along.”

“What does it mean . . . the letter?” I asked.

“Whatever she was talking about has to be in here,” Freya pointed at the box. She dropped the letter aside, uncovered the item from the cloth and what we saw was a book, an old cranky book. More like a journal, a family journal. The cover was black, thick and plain in old texture. On the front cover was a bold writing in a creamy color. The letters read Skuldottir Macintoshny Acta De Ignis Lector.

“Does this look like a foreign language or is it just me panicking?” Freya voiced out and started to move out of the chair out of frustration.

“Wait, don’t panic yet, just let me look at it,” I said. Freya granted me the space to speculate the wordings. I turned the book around to my satisfaction and said confidently. “It’s Latin.”

“Latin?” She repeated. I nodded. “Who the heck is going to read this? Why write in Latin when nobody is going to waste their time translating it?”

“I think you’re missing out on something here?” I pointed out.

“What?”

“That I work in a public library where various books are stored.”

“Oh, sorry, forgot that. So can you translate it?”

“I can give it a try,” I replied then repeated the words. “Skuldottir Macintoshny acta de ignis lector,” I looked up at Freya’s troubled eyes. “It means The Macintosh Fire Readers’ Journal from the daughters of Skuld.”

Freya crossed over back to her place at the table. “Fire Readers’ journal?”

“Given to a Fire Reader,” I completed.

“Sherilyn knows what we are . . .”

“She does, she obviously does . . .”

Few moment past and Freya finally arrived at the decision to check the journal out. She did so measuredly, as if one wrong move on opening the cover would trigger a flame. The first page was blank; in the second page we found a picture – a current modern day digital color print picture in the old journal. In the picture were three grinning women . . . no wait, correction, two identical adult women with a girl snuggled in their midst. The girl was about twelve or thirteen and her similarities matched those of the women – brown eyes like the woman with goldilocks, while her brown hair carried the color of the other woman with aqua eyes. From a picture analysis viewpoint, anyone could tell what strong bond they shared and how happy they were. The background of the picture was a garden, colorful with varieties of flowers, well mowed lawn and trees. As much as I wanted to be carried off by the goldilocks woman’s beauty, I felt powerless at the compulsion to look away from her to the girl in the middle and her resemblance to a young girl’s picture I’d once seen.

“Freya, doesn’t this girl look like–”

“Mom!” Freya filled in. I raised my eyes on her and saw the same curiosity on her. “How possible?”

“. . . I don’t know,” I stuttered.

Subsequently as the answer to our question wasn’t available we moved on to the next page with a paragraph – a welcome note or something – in Latin. Freya raised her confused eyes on me, “mind doing the honor?” I turned the book around a bit mindful of my contact with it given I had less knowledge what the journal contained since it was Fire Readers’, and their expression was fierce.

“Um, it says: Purpose is strength, respect is communication. Write with purpose and respect the thought of others.”

“Hmm, what a beautiful message,” the Fire Reader mused. “So now we know the journal is from Fire Readers and centuries old,” she glanced at me, “it’s time to know what’s in yours.” Fear made me breathe deep instead of protest or argue otherwise, but Freya egged me on with a supportive smile. I let out the breath, drew close my last box and like Freya, I observed caution at unlocking it. Like Freya’s, my last present delivered the previous day contained a letter. Immediately I touched it, my psychometry kicked in to show the raw, fresh emotions attached to it. What I saw was the back of a woman at a study desk with a black pen in her right hand pinned on the paper I was holding. Her hair was glamorous – blonde and sparkling. And through her back I concluded she had a pretty front view. On the desk was the box I just opened near a pile of books. The woman lifted her head and glanced at the picture frame on the desk that had the same set of people from Freya’s box, only in this one they had different clothes on. The picture sort of stirred up her emotions with a flood of memories, and kinda fueled her to begin writing.

Dear Ayana,

You’ve finally come of age, finally eighteen and it brings joy to me just to know you made it so far. The lifestyle you maintained through the past year is amazing, how you took charge of your life with full blown responsibilities and displayed wisdom in all your activities. Oh, how proud I am of you my dear, and how proud you have made your parents. What wouldn’t Esther and Dan give to see this you, to know this you their redefined smart daughter who has become what they both desired. Today you have turned out to be what we all expected from you, a responsible Touch Reader with regard for others.

By now I’m aware you’ve come to terms with your nature and that of your sister’s and the both of you know what is at stake and especially how to elude troubles. It gives me great joy knowing you’re the one to read this and not that it ends up in one of Esther’s many treasure storage safes. I would have been exceedingly happy if you saw the presents I sent you over the years and if your sister were to be aware of what really happened on her eighteenth birthday, for her to understand the transformation she underwent, but as it were, Esther denied you both the courtesy of that, which I must apologize on her behalf for doing. She only did what every mother thought was best to keep her children from danger. . . Sadly though, most of the time we go the wrong way at accomplishing that.

Now that you know this, there is but one last thing you must know – your powers. Every Expression Reader undergoes a transformation in their lives, a stage when their powers quickens – to explain that in detail, it means a time when you’ll have optimum and absolute control over your powers, how you choose to learn it, practice it and make it a weapon for the greater good – and this occurrence comes on at eighteen. Every Reader’s Expression quickens at eighteen. Because I have little knowledge whatsoever about Touch Readers as you may know your kind is rare and Readers in general over the centuries are yet to understand how your powers work, I wouldn’t want you to feast your mind on anxiety as your powers may or may not quicken on this day. Surely it means no danger, so you ought to be calm and conducive toward enlightening yourself, expanding your knowledge and understanding your true self through the gift I have sent you.

It pains me so much that I have not seen you in person, but certainly not very long now the day will be upon us where we’ll get to meet. A relevant note to keep in mind is that not only is the gift interesting, but you’ll discover important things packed away inside to keep you focused. As a smart girl, I trust you’ll figure out the benefits yourself, and please my dear, use the information wisely.

Congratulations on your eighteenth birthday. As I’m extending my love and many great adventurous wishes to you, so I’m sending those of Seraphina. Unfortunately, she’s isn’t able to send you a present, but know you mean a lot to her.

Happy birthday once again.

Love, Sherilyn Macintosh.

“Hey!” Freya snapped her fingers in my shuddering face. “Are you ever going to let me see?”

“Sure,” I passed the note to her without argument but she nailed her intrusive eyes on me like Mr. Lambskin would when trying to analyze a student’s thought. Buried in the words of the paper I passed to her, I shut her out and instead moved to see what gift it was Sherilyn emphasized on rather than dwell on how much the woman knew me personally. Flipping open the cover, I brought out a rectangular shaped item wrapped in a brown piece of cloth, like Freya’s. I knew onset it was a journal, no much requirement needed to know that. I allowed Freya the chance to be through with the letter before proceeding to open the journal.

“A journal!” Freya whispered. I nodded. “Compositiones De Expression Lector Acta,” she read the cover writing.

“The compositions journal of Expression Readers,” I translated.

“Expression Readers?” My sister asked. I nodded. “So your journal isn’t only from Touch Readers?”

“I assume not,” I said with uncertainty.

“What are you going to do, stare it to death?” She joked.

I loosened a smile. “No.” I flipped two pages and picked out a picture, the one in the picture frame Sherilyn glanced at in my flash. Who was she?

~NINETEEN

A MYSTERIOUS JOURNAL

After speaking to my friends about last night and rejecting their visitation to the Grill tonight, I had breakfast with Freya – a breakfast we murmured through. I climbed up to my bedroom, crawled into bed and gathered the mysterious journal given to me to study the cryptic content since Freya and I arrived at the conclusion to explore the journal to see what’s so important about it. I moved a pillow from the bed, placed it on my thighs and placed the journal on it, crossed my legs and stared at it. Reading wasn’t really a personality for a person like me yet using my psychometry to get the messages in it was sort of scary given the amount of people that touched it through the years and the effect their Expression might damp on me.

What should I do then?

I picked up the letter that came with it, flashed on Sherilyn again then the previous presents she sent me. I wasn’t sure the woman was to be trusted. Geez, a woman I didn’t even know! But whom Mom knew. Why did she keep Sherilyn away from us then? What was their relationship, what connection did they had? There was just plainly too many questions streaming across my mind and none of it would get answers because the people that could provide it were gone. People like my dad whom I couldn’t believe knew about us, about Freya and I being Expression Readers and said nothing to either of us. It was beyond me to think Dad hid a secret as valuable as that away from me, a surprising fact because he never did while he watched me suffer through the years thinking I was under drugs or a worse incurable disease.

And Mom, her statement that morning on my birthday rang loud in my head. “They’re coming for me.” Who was she talking about? Who was coming for her? Her tone was fear inducing and the force behind her words was worth a life, giving or taking, it was worth it. She was really scared and it was the next day she met with an accident with Dad and died.

At that point, the idea of Mom having a power that enabled her saw the future nudged at me. Could she have seen her death and why she made that statement or was she referring to something else in general?

“Argh!” I cried out frustrated. Nothing seemed to add up, not the Mom knowing about her death part, not the Dad’s awareness of what we were and certainly, not the mysterious Sherilyn part, which left out the journal. “The journal,” I said. “What should I do with you?” After many contemplations, I realized only the journal was available to provide a sufficient answer to one question – what was it uses? It didn’t come from a line of Touch Readers; it was composed by Expression Readers in general and given to me.

Why?

“If you must know, you must look,” I answered myself.

With a last resolve, I settled myself, relaxed my mind and cleared my thought off any distractions whatsoever that could disconnect me from what I was about doing. With all that in check, my psychometry kicked in with heavy wave images slamming all through my mind. Images blurry, volatile and dangerously fast as if on a chase. One image after the other they rushed in and out before I could comprehend their substantiality.

I held my ground tight as if on a ride where a train drives fasted than it should, bypassed the persuasion to let the book go and forced myself to hang on. I was getting something out of the book no matter the amount of pain imposed on me and the revived headache from earlier. There were answers in it worth my persevering. Although at a point I began to improvise my chances the instant my body started to jerk as if going through a high voltage of electrocution followed by an explosion of white flashes I over reacted to. I literally concluded I was blind with the sparks exploding before my eyes and decided my life was more important to me than some stupid answers conveyed in a supernatural journal, then boom! My sight cleared off the sparks and explosion.

“Indulge yourself Demetria, this is demanding no strength from you,” said a lovely voice after the explosion. Anxious to see who the melodic voice belonged to I explored my psychometry vision around my surroundings. The first object I took note of was the oak table, the ancient smell of the place and the decorations dated centuries back, fifth or sixth century back.

“It might not be demanding strength from me, but it’s certainly asking for my brain,” said a meaner voice. The first female I heard released a soft, gentle laugh that dazed me for moments.

“Oh Demetria, you make me laugh,” she said. Scouting out the place, my eyes came upon a girl, fourteen or fifteen years old dressed a fine green satin dress. She flung away the pen in her hands and twirled to her feet with her irritation laced voice.

“I do not understand why you are enforcing this on me, it is only a time waste as far as I’m concerned,” then she crossed her arms over her chest. From the left side emerged the lady with the sweet voice. Her feature was remarkable, I mean seriously hot for my description. Her sophisticated ebony hair flared around her slender shoulders and welled shaped back. When she stepped into light I was mesmerized by her dark flawless complexion, magnificent soft black eyes and a face I’d give anything to have. Man, she was beyond beautiful only if there was another word to replace that. The lady was supper pretty and so did she reflect power, raw, super generated power. If I was asked to place this description into one slot my answer would be, power, bravery, and beauty personified.

She was uniquely endowed with all of it. And her smile was breathtaking.

“My darling sister, if this ought not to hold importance, why shall I enforce it on you?” she asked.

“I see no importance in this for me, I am no Valkyrie, why should it be me crafting down my thoughts?” The Demetria girl spat.

“Aye, you are not, but writing down your thoughts, your feelings, emotions and how your power evolves will serve a great purpose for the generation after us, it will help them understand more of the things we do not say or portrays.”

“Alas Zenobia, I choose to disagree with you,” declared Demetria. “I have nothing to write for whatsoever generation comes after me. I have no interest in expressing myself to them on a scroll. I simply don’t care.”

“Yes you do, if the Touch Reader wants you to, you certainly will,” chimed a Viking accented male.

“Oh shut up you, you are not invited into this,” Demetria hissed at him.

“It is alright, Clayvoyld, I believe my ornery sister will come to her senses soon,” Zenobia said. Although I didn’t get to see the male companion in the chamber as it was befitted to say, I learned the lady Zenobia was a Touch Reader, a Touch Reader that was called a Valkyrie for reasons I didn’t know – the same thing I was called by twice – who wanted her sister to write down her thoughts.

She moved away from the bed to her sister, picked up the pen the defiant girl threw away with a book, the very same one I was flashing on from the table. “Demetria sister, this is important you see to the ones after us to learn from us. I understand how you feel about this, it is time wasting for your definition of resource, but think about it for a moment, what would it be like for your name and skills to not perish, for generations yet unborn to learn of your courage, your ability, strength and fears? All of these will help prepare them for the life we live, to help them win this war and finish the race triumphantly. Think my sister of how delighted it will make you to know your experiences helps this young lasses end the terror we live in?” Zenobia reasoned. Demetria was quiet for a while, probably processing her sister’s words to nail down the significance of it.

Demetria glanced at the journal, eyed down the pen and returned her gaze on the Touch Reader. “Why is it that you cannot write in it as well?”

Zenobia’s face spread into a serene smile as she replied. “Because I do not know if there will be another after me. But if there is going to be, it will be my esteemed pleasure for her to know about me through your words.”

“And also because as a Valkyrie, she has other important duties than sit one place to write about herself,” said the male.

“Oh really, important duties like cleaving Weres in two I suppose?” Demetria said amusedly.

“Yes exactly,” he confirmed.

Demetria shook her sadly. “If I were you Zenobia, I will do away with the bloodthirsty arse.”

“How dare you call me an arse–” unfortunately I was deprived the opportunity to see the end of that as the image swapped. The next one was that of Demetria at an oak desk with the journal before her. For a handful of moments she hesitated, thought about the theory her sister laid out for her then succumbed to it. On the first page she penned down her sister’s cajoles and her objections to writing the journal. On the second page however, she carved down her autobiography, which shed light on who she was.

Demetria Oriana Macintosh, fifteen year old Nature Reader and second daughter of Baron Darius and wife Azura. Her older sister was Zenobia, nineteen years old and the third Touch Reader after six hundred years the second Touch Reader passed away.

I decided my head wasn’t going to last longer by hanging in there so I snapped my eyes open. It took about three minutes for my sight to adjust to my original environment before I grabbed a glass of water from my nightstand. Long after I released the glass from the tip of my lips, I continued staring at the journal as the little information I extracted from it danced about my mind. There was far too much information locked in it and with the knowledge of who wrote first in it, I was drawn to her personality with cravings to learn more. I didn’t know which attracted me to the journal; knowing Demetria was a girl like me – highly spirited and tenacious – or the concept of the journal and getting to know my predecessor – that is if she was the last Touch Reader before me.

Finally, I arrived at a conclusion; I was going to dig more into the journal, but I was doing it the old fashion way – reading like every normal person did . . . even when I wasn’t one of such. I returned the glass on the nightstand, removed the journal from my thigh and returned the pillow back to its place then I relaxed and launched into reading. The first page was the same thing I saw in the flash; Demetria’s whining thoughts.

I think my sister has lost her mind for I do not see why she holds the belief that writing down my thoughts will do me good. She is the first one I heard saying “the magic of writing”, hmm, preposterous aye? I do not understand her at all and why she thinks writing will help me through the pain of losing Hamish . . . I’m afraid I could not share her view on that, my heart will at all-time be with him. And while I do not care about what and how the coming generation chooses to spend their lives, I might as well give this thing a trial just to see if indeed you have a magic attached to you, and so help me if I manage not to turn you into a flower.

I snorted; the girl was indeed a character. From the opening page I dived into the main course. Most of the beginning pages consisted of drawings of all kind, shapes and origin. From plants, flowers, trees and whatever beautiful object nature could provide. She drew them down to kill boredom since she found nothing to write and doodling seemed to help.

With the help of my psychometry, I was able to cover thirty pages in a short time. The more pages I enclosed the more interested I was with Demetria’s writings. Part of what she wrote was her travel experience, her friends, family and pets. How many balls she attended, people she met, places she visited and Weres she fought. She penned down a word or two about her Knight, how she was secretly in love with him, how she found every moment to flirt with him and how he taught her numerous fighting skills. She also made mentioned of how much irritated and annoyed she was of Clayvoyld, but substantially coming to like him.

In one word, Demetria had a wonderful life.

I flipped the thirty-second page dated 0629. I was about diving into Demetria’s thoughts when I saw a drawing of a silver color metal at the top of the left page. Underneath the drawing, Demetria wrote: The finest weapon for the bravest Reader. On the main page she talked in detail what the metal with the resemblance of a dagger was; a fierce weapon she forgot to name it uses. All she said was the weapon was biologically made for and used only by the Valkyrie, another surprising name I came across in her words referring to her sister. A loud bell blared in my head when I read that – used only by a Valkyrie? I sure as hell wasn’t a Valkyrie, but certainly was a Touch Reader.

So I needed to know more.

Suspending further reading, I traced my fingers on the drawing without meaning for my psychometry to kick in, which it did. At first I was scared to death of what I might experience from the flash provided how torturous the first vibe was, evidently I was lucky the vibe wasn’t as powerful as that and so I experienced nothing hurtful. The image I saw was the interior of Gran Momentous Museum, the Fair Haven public museum downtown.

I snapped my eyes open shocked at the flash.

“What the hell?” I looked back at the metal wondering what an ancient object like that was doing in my town’s museum. Granted, Fair Haven was packed with historic goodies, but keeping something like that was unthinkable for me. Could this thing be in the museum? I mean, what possibility was there that it was there when the metal was centuries old? But coming to think of it, my psychometry wouldn’t lie to me.

Yes, I know I said it played tricks on me at times but not like this, it wouldn’t dare toy with my brain in that manner, that would be too selfish for its kind – if it had a kind.

To get a better confirmation, I touched the journal to flash on the so-called weapon and got the same thing – the museum in town. Concluding to try checking the place out, I stumbled out of bed, ran to the bathroom to freshen up, threw some clothes on and within ten minutes I was ready to leave. I closed the journal certain it was marked, picked up my car keys and phone and out of the room I was. I paused at the foyer at the soaring silence echoing in the house.

“Freya?” I called. In response my phone rang. The caller ID displayed the name and photo of the girl I just sought. “You forgot to mention you were going out.”

“I’m so sorry, I had to go out, it was an emergency,” Freya replied.

“So where are you?”

“Out, I’m out,” she said like it wasn’t obvious. “I’ll be back shortly. Are you home?”

“Yeah, I’m here digging hard into my journal.”

“Okay, I’ll see you soon.”

“Bye,” and then I hung up. I slid the phone into my pocket, opened the door and out to the garage I was getting into my car to leave for the museum.

Rolling into Wall Street across Madison Avenue, I pulled my car into the parking lot, stepped up the stairs and into the museum. I spun my eyes around the width hall, over the colorful frescos collections hanged around the wall and landed them on the receptionist I couldn’t bear to not say hi to.

“Ayana! What a pleasant surprise to see you,” she piped.

“Hi, Deedee, it’s nice to see you, too,” I replied. “How have you been?”

“Good. You?”

“Terrific,” I said.

“That’s great,” Deedee said with a grin. “I could say you don’t usually frequent this place anymore like you used to when you were together with Tony, I mean I kinda know things aren’t like they used to be back then, but . . .”

Yeah I get it; Deedee wasn’t that kind of a person you get a one-on-one conversation with without wishing you’d passed instead. She was just like that, more like the same spot I once slotted Danna in until she proved otherwise. So what was I to say; yeah I’m sorry things had been crazy, or I should have been coming here way after Tony I were done?

“Yeah, well you know how busy I am with my job at the Library and school, it’s just time consuming,” I offered.

“Oh yes, that’s true,” Deedee chirped. “Although I heard there was an accident at the Library, which is why you’re closed for now.”

“Yeah, that’s very true.”

“Well, I hope Marshall have it under control.”

“He does,” and then I was going to ask her the major question regarding why I was there in the museum.

“And I heard your party yesterday was great, as always!”

“Oh yeah, it’s nothing,” what was I to say, the girl beat me to talking.

“I’m sorry I missed it, my mom was ill and it was just me at home. My sister Becky was out on vacation with her new boyfriend, Mac, can you believe it, Mac with a C . . .”

“Oh my,” even when laughter fled me, I had to make up the replacement.

“Yeah, and my other sister Agatha, you know her right?” I nodded. “Well, she’s down with the flu and her daughter Dolores had her throat slit open last week because she had this problem that makes it difficult for her to swallow and . . .” Jesus, if she didn’t kill me with all that, then I might never have to die again, ever.

Guess what they say is true about blondes; Deedee always proved that right. The girl was a true blonde, from the inside out. And she was a grad student from Sterling Lord University. It’s just a pity at her age she still did that.

I listened to Deedee’s babblings for about thirty more seconds until I got my wish – an interruption from her colleague. I seized the chance and threw in my question after he was gone before she launched another civil war on me.

“So, Deedee, where can I find the historic artifacts?”

“Behind the Middle East Nations, right after you pass Cornwell at the Greek corner,” she replied. “Is that okay or do you need me to help you get there?”

“Oh no, don’t worry, forget I’m used to this place?”

“Of course not,” she said smiley.

“I’ll just go check it out, okay?”

“Okay,” she replied. “Oh, may I ask what this is for?”

“Um, it’s for a school project.”

“Okay, hope you find it!” I shot her the yeah-you-bet-I’m-gonna-do kinda smile and turned around grateful I got away alive. Following her description, I veered into Middle East, answered greetings, passed into Cornwell, and before I got attacked again by another natural blonde, I ducked into Greek, and voila, I was in History department where series of artifacts were stored. Everything in the room was in cases, glass cases, and most had folks taking notes, showing or telling their kids stories of what a specific item was and what it uses were for. Each case had a card on it, tags that stated what purpose the particular item in it served.

I fell into place in the room, went about the cases like the folks inside were doing while in search of what I came for. I spared a few glance at the scepter used by the last Roman Emperor, the favorite shoe of Victoria II Penecheri, the powerful hammer from Sphinx, and etcetera, until my slow pace came to a stop in front of a case with a silver knife-like shape metal inside that had the resemblance of what I came for. Instantly, I picked up the card on it to be sure what the item was.

Said to be used by some forged mythological entity centuries ago.

I frowned. That was way inconsiderate of them, whoever wrote it.

With the thought of that, I dropped the card, stepped closer to the case while going through myriads of ways to get the thingy out of there. Suddenly the case shifted color, from glass white to dark, kind of like a shadow hovering around it. The dark shadow had no definite shape, it was coming snappily from an angle and it really freaked me out especially when I remembered Were Readers were everywhere and could possibly be in the museum right now. However, the minute I twirled around I caught nothing, no figure standing behind me or any logical facts that explained the case’s shape shifting, although, from aloof I thought I saw the figure of a personality I suspected I’d see soon . . . by the way that’s Mysterious guy, and it’s was explainable if he was there with me. Wasn’t that his job, to look after me?

Anyway, just kidding.

After I waited a few minutes without an assurance of what the shape was, I returned to figuring out ways to swipe the artifact out of the case without being noticed. Just as a thought crossed my mind, so did it shortcoming. I thought of bashing in the case with the surveillance camera ridiculously set my way and the folks in there who would definitely hear the sound. I wasn’t getting out of there with my hands free, no, not without an handcuff, and with the certainty of Penelope running to my rescue, I wasn’t leaving the museum with the artifact and right now I couldn’t afford getting my face on the local news stations, tabloids and newspapers. . . Shit, it was kinda too early for that, no, not after a year from my parents’ death, the town people would just conclude the brat was back again after receiving her usual from her blasted party.

See, I didn’t want that right now. I had enough on my plate to add that to the milieu list. Just as I couldn’t leave the museum without that metal. What was I to do then?

I glanced around again; the folks were still busy to notice me and my indecent thoughts. Seizing the advantage, I gave room to contemplating what could really go wrong first if I touched the case, like maybe it was wired, a moment later I was checking the case, feeling it with my Touch ability and fortunate me it came off clean, the case was wire free. Maybe then I still had a chance at trying something out for sure. Although the camera would definitely pick me if I tried anything stupid, but I wasn’t the type you figure for the better-safe-than-sorry, no, I was the adventurous let’s-get-this-party-started type, so whatever came off the other side just have to be accepted whichever way it appeared.

Working on my last nerve, I closed the last space separating me and the case, glanced around a last time with a worthless humming as I set my elbow directly on the case, hid my face from the camera and on three . . . I knocked off the glass with the shreds dropping on my feet. Before I did that I held my breath and long after I did it I didn’t dare to release my breath and so was my freaking thumping heart beating faster, as if on chase. In one word, I froze expecting to see a stream of employees, securities and whoever it concerned rushing toward the room, to me with criminal charges, but instead when I roamed my expectant eyes about not even a single person turned toward me with an accusation or demands as to what created that hellish noise they all heard.

Strange, that was all I found to say. Strange. Strange how they didn’t notice what happened.

But who cared as long that it provided me the opportunity to get away with my crafty work.

Instantly, I pushed my hand inside the broken glass with care, picked up the metal and stuffed it inside my back pocket before I got a single vibe from it. Stealing might not be my thing, but getting away with crime was, which was why I discarded every opportunity to glance up at the camera or the people in there and quietly walked out of History like nothing happened. I paused in the lobby to be sure no natural blonde or anyone who could get in my way was around, then I kicked moved it to the entrance happy I succeeded.

~TWENTY

A MYSTERIOUS WEAPON

“Whoa! Oh my god, I’m sorry,” I offered immediately after I bumped into a guy.

“It’s okay, Love, I was just coming for you,” the guy replied.

“Me?” I asked skeptically with a foot placed back. I assessed the guy all over and realized I’d never met him before. He was everything a guy was, I mean, smiley hot face like something you get off a paparazzi, fantastic cheekbone, exuberant features – he was a perfect description of a happy person with incredible eyes.

Save for his long gray hair, black sleeveless coat and tattooed covered arms. Tattoos that were the same symbolic ones on Ophelia’s arms.

“Are you done checking me out?” he said amusedly.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to,” I said in like manner.

“Well, there isn’t a problem with that. You’re a lovely beautiful girl, so I don’t feel offended by you checking me out, just so you get done with it soon or take a pause while I’m done with you and you can resume.”

At that point of his sentence, I made sure it was three foot I placed back. His reply ticked me off and suddenly I looked around and I wasn’t at the entrance of the museum anymore, I was at the back of the building with sturdy tall walls and just one exit I wasn’t so fortunate to be standing at. That’s when the tow bell of trouble rang out loud in my head. I was lured there, probably played under Were Readers’ illusion which meant I was in trouble, real deep shit.

“What’s the matter, Love, is it something I said?” The guy asked still cheerful.

“Who are you?” I asked guardedly.

“Oh sorry, where are my manners? My name is Drake Houston, and it’s my esteemed honor to meet you, Ayana Macintosh, well, for the second time,” he replied. Hearing that name again sent a shiver down my spine.

“What do you want from me?”

“Just the artifact you stole from in there. Give it to me and you’re free to go, well of course if I have the right to grant you that,” you wouldn’t believe it, the guy was still smiling.

“The artifact I stole?” I accentuated.

“Exactly.”

“What do you want with it?”

“That’s actually not your business, Love, you give it over and that’s all.”

“Well, I can’t, I’m sorry.”

“Why? It doesn’t belong to you.”

“Just as it doesn’t belong to you, either. And if it’s been examined from a logical viewpoint, it belonged to me biologically.”

“Ah, I’ve heard how tough you can be and glad you’re better today than the first time we met, but now I’m really starting to admire you, which is why I’m going to lay down two options for you. Option a) you give me the artifact peacefully and I let you go – well at least step a bit more out of here before you die painlessly, and option b) I make you give me the artifact and then I kill you painfully. How about that?”

I entirely rolled over his first statement because I couldn’t remember ever meeting him and then I pretended to be thinking through his second statement for a while. “How about I go with c) I don’t give you a thing and get away with my life?”

Drake made a sulking gesture like he was disappointed by my words. “I’m sorry, Ayana love, but there just isn’t option c.”

“Oh poor thing, I think I’ll have to make that possible, what do you think?” replied my duteous Knight. Drake and I tilted toward the exit where Mysterious guy was bouncing his way from. The other guy frowned immediately while I smiled satisfactorily.

“Oh you, I thought you were dying down for good this time, or to at least burrow me your girlfriend for a while without getting jealous, guess I was wrong, just as I was wrong about playing it cool with Her Majesty.”

“Oh my, you of all people should have known the drill, Drake, I simply can’t afford to see her with any one of you; it just makes me mad.”

“Well then, maybe taking you out of the picture totally will serve some truce between us, what do you say?” And before he was done talking, his hands sprang to life with sharp, pointed ice daggers Mysterious guy got lucky at defending with his gig bag.

“Get out of here!” He yelled at me then returned to fighting the Were Reader. Aware of how these things rolled, I backpedaled toward the exit but got trapped by two Were Readers standing behind me.

“Howdy again,” said one of them. He had a scar face I quickly recognized from the night at the Grill where Freya used her powers for the first time in a fight. He was the guy she aimed fire at. And his face wasn’t welcoming at my sight, and he smelled of seethe from every possible angle. Gradually I reversed.

“Come on, give us the artifact before I kill you right now.”

“No,” I said firmly.

“Okay,” he said, signaled the other guy and stood by to watch. The guy walked at a measured pace as I continued to backpedal, as if certain I had no way to go.

“Come on, Ayana, stop with the hanky-panky, I thought you’re an adult now and knows what’s more important,” he said.

“Oh yeah, and that’s why I know I can’t give this to you,” I replied, looked at the scar face guy and then behind me at Mysterious guy and Drake warring it out. Unfortunately though, the more I reversed the more the guy followed me. So when I worked out a math, I worked out a plan. “You know what, come and get it,” then I stopped. The scar face guy twisted his ugly face as if scrutinizing my sudden change of mind and why now, however, the other guy didn’t even mind that and rushed over. Instantaneously, I kicked him in the nut, bent immediately to get the rod on the floor and targeted it directly at his head. The guy winced and fell on the floor clutching his groin and whimpering. Both Mysterious guy and Drake suspended their fight at the sound. Mysterious guy lifted his hideous, surprised eyes at me just as Drake and Scar face guy were slacked jaw.

At once, Scar face guy made a move toward me but ended with a dagger in his chest, before Mysterious guy could return to Drake the guy was gone together with Scar face guy and the kicked-in-the-groin guy. Disappeared into thin air like the other night. And I wasn’t shocked to see that.

Mysterious guy sighed, moved to the spot Scar face guy fell at and retrieved his dagger. He walked back toward me and stopped ten feet away staring at me.

“Do you just hate listening to instructions, or just have difficulties understanding me?” he asked gently.

I shrugged, “I guess it’s both.”

Mysterious guy shook his head painfully. “Just in case you don’t know, I’ll like to inform you that your life isn’t important to you alone, it is to so many people.”

“Don’t give me that lame speech. You can’t deny that I didn’t hold my ground back there,” I returned softly. Mysterious guy nearly smiled, but he didn’t, but he was going to, I knew it.

“That’s what I’m here to do, protect you.”

“But I had nowhere to go, those guys were blocking my way . . . and you can’t tell me that you’re not at least impressed by that.” Again, he nearly smiled; I just didn’t know what stopped him and his charming smile.

“To be honest, I wasn’t impressed at the least. That was totally time wasting and flawed of you. You could have gotten yourself killed.” Oh no, scratch what I said, he wasn’t going to smile and there was nothing charming about him.

“You know what, I’ve always figured you out for an ass; today I seal my assumptions with a perfectly clear result. You’re not only an ass, you’re a prat, a complete imbecile without manners and if I know where they got you from, whoever did that, it wouldn’t take me two seconds from switching you over.”

“Are you done?” He asked me instead of getting upset. “Now get lost, go home straight,” he ordered and started toward the exit.

“What makes you think you can order me around?” I yelled after him. “You have no right to tell me what to do, asshole!”

“So help me I return and you’re still there, Brat!” He yelled back without stopping or turning around and just like that he ducked out of the exit. I hissed then cursed. The guy was simply an ass, nothing less.

I got home safely with my pain soaring head. After taking my jacket off, I brought the artifact from my back pocket, threw it on the sofa, picked turn at my phone and read the tones of messages sent to me by my friends as I moved toward the bar. My thought wasn’t mostly on the messages it was on wondering how Were Readers knew I went to the museum to get an artifact.

“Let me guess, this certainly wasn’t the first time you’ve done something like this, hmm.” I paused at the cabinet with my hand suspended in air, then I slowly twisted around. My phone was still with me and I wasn’t receiving a phone call.

“Freya?” I asked. There was no response and the house was as I left it before going out.

“What a thief she is, she even has an accomplice,” the voice said again. Disturbed, I left the bar completely and moved toward the living room cautiously. At first my thinking revolved around Were Readers breaking into my house since they didn’t get lucky at the museum, but with a careful study I noticed the voice, the familiarity in it and the muscularity it had to it.

Whoever broke into my house wasn’t a stranger to me.

“Who’s that?”

“Over here,” the voice replied. The sound came off the living room, directly from behind the sofa I dropped the metal artifact in.

Slowly, cautiously and armed-fully – don’t wonder too far, it was only my cell phone in my hands, but the intruder didn’t know that – I moved to the living room, tiptoed around the sofa and stopped in front of it with thumping heart. Empty, the sofa was empty, free of any living, breathing anything capable to have made a sound.

“I think I’ll top that up, you’re blind, too. What a pity.” Instantly, my heart stopped pumping, my body stifled and my breath hung in my throat at not just at the sound but the producer of it.

The metal, the metal artifact was the person I heard and it suddenly had eyes that sparked of gem, a human nose with breath, a mouth just as humans and two tiny ears at the side of its face. The only missing part was the entire body; it lacked a full body to fit a human.

“What on earth!” I whispered. “This is impossible; the Weres must have done something to me with that illusion. A metal couldn’t have spoken to me, you just didn’t.” For a few moments I was relieved the metal didn’t open its mouth to talk and its unblinking eyes stared straight into mine. It was possible I was hallucinating and since the voice was gone so would the face.

I blew out a steamed air and laughed at myself. “This is duress, I’m way under duress.” I picked the metal up and stared into it unblinking gem spark eyes. “Could have been the illusion, definitely has to.”

“Maybe, Thief–”

“Ahhh!” Both my voice and whatever was in my hand thudded on the floor across the room. “Oh my god, oh my god. . .” I chanted gasping. “What’s happening, what’s happening to me?” I rasped. Working on stabilizing my heartbeats turned into a difficult task to accomplish. I was hallucinating and it was terrible. Although, as I accused the Were Readers’ illusion, I didn’t fail to think it could also be the conjunction of my psychometry.

Few minute later I glanced across the room where I flung the metal. I wasn’t sure what it was, thus why I decided to go see it again. It was a Touch Reader’s property, it shouldn’t harm me, it wasn’t programmed to hurt me for if it were, Demetria wouldn’t have spoken so optimistic about it. This was something either the illusion or the flash from the journal orchestrated. It certainly messed with my head.

Giving it a last try, I crossed over the living room to where the metal lay in front of the fireplace. I tiptoed closer to it, drew back a bit and poked it over. The complete face of a man I beheld a while back was gone from the surface, disappeared entirely. That made me relieved.

“I’m going crazy,” I told me.

“I’d agree so because no sane person throws things about like you–” Thud! It landed once more on the floor, only this time it was on the foyer. Fear stole me off immediately.

“What’s happening to me?” I panicked around and before I knew it, I was sweating. For three minute I didn’t move from the spot I was and so did the voice seized from speaking. I bit my thumb nail ruminating while executing and de-executing strategies in my head on how to get to the bottom of the fiasco I got myself into.

If I decided to let the thingy be then I’d never arrive at a concrete solution or valid explanation of what was happening, and since I wasn’t a quitter but a Touch Reader, that meant I ought to be strong. I proceeded to the foyer then gradually reduced my height as I kept right on watching the metal suspiciously. “You can’t hurt me, can you?”

“Ayana, I’m back!” Instantly, I picked up the metal before my sister turned around. “Hey, are you okay?” She asked concernedly.

“Yeah, yeah I’m fine,” I rasped.

“Are you sure, you sound strange?”

“Um, that’ll be because my journal isn’t really playing fair with me,” I said. Freya studied me for a while, probably thinking whether to believe me or not. I kept up the act with a smile either way.

“I’m sorry I didn’t inform you I was going out,” she said.

“That’s nothing, and since you’re back I’ll just go up to finish what I started,” I said back, turned on my heel with the aim for the stairs.

“Ayana?”

“Yes?”

“I saw your car in the driveway.”

“Oh yeah, um, I went out,” I returned just like she did earlier.

“. . . Okay.”

“Okay. . .” I nodded, spread my smile across my face and continued to my destination. That, back there, was odd, weird and creepy, it never happened between us before and as much as I wanted to tell her how my day went, I couldn’t, not before I arrive at a definite term of what I was into.

I shut my bedroom door, threw both my jacket with the thingy in it on the bed and proceeded to take off my shoes.

“Easy with the throwing around.” I spun around in bed at the sound again, jumped out of bed and moved to lift the jacket up. Once more the metal was back with its complete face of a man.

“Are you real or it is my imagination?” I asked it.

“Only a stupid person like you would think this is an imagination,” it replied.

“No, this can’t be happening; you can’t be talking to me.”

“Obviously, I suppose,” it said obnoxiously with glares on me.

“That’s impossible, you’re a metal and metals don’t talk.”

“Obviously again.”

“I don’t understand a thing here,” I said confused. “I saw the drawing; you’re supposed to be a weapon–” CLICK! Right before my eyes the metal transformed from being just an ordinary annoying talking metal into a rapier with long sinister looking sharp dagger blades at each sides of it just above the hilt that made up the face. It was unbelievable seeing that, the rapier, the blades, everything combined in one. Altogether, the sword fitted into a switchblade category – or maybe a switch-sword fitted better.

“You’re indeed a sword!”

“Obviously.”

“What- who- what are you?” I stammered.

“I’m a sword obviously, and my name is Clayvoyld,” it answered.

“Clayvoyld? You’re the Viking accented guy in the room with Demetria and Zenobia?”

“What are you talking about?” The sword asked quizzically. “And how did you know about Zenobia and Demetria?”

I smiled, this time I was a step ahead of him. “You’re soon to discover that,” I replied. “I can’t believe you’re a sword, the voice I heard,” then I chuckled. “You’re a talking sword?”

“No, I’m obviously a sleeping insect.”

“And you’re an attitude one at that, hmm,” I said then crossed my arms over my chest.

“Who are you?” the sword demanded.

“I’m Ayana, Ayana Calhoun,” I answered.

“How do you have the authority to touch me?”

“Because I’m a Touch Reader, the next Touch Reader, or potential one I’m not sure.”

“You’re a Touch Reader?” He hissed out.

“Obviously,” I countered.

“How possible, a thief for a Touch Reader?”

“Whoa! Excuse me, I’m not a thief,” I declared.

“You took me out of that place undetected. What do you call that?”

“Not stealing,” I verified. “Besides, would you rather be in a place where you’re abused than be here with me?” Clayvoyld went silent but his skeptical obnoxious eyes didn’t release me from his glare.

“Where exactly is here?”

“My home,” I answered.

“Ayana, do you get to see the texts from Larry?” Freya asked as she barged into my room. I was still on the verge of thinking through how to get Clayvoyld out of sight when I noticed the sword was back to a metal, shapeless and lifeless. “Ayana?”

“Um, yeah, actually I didn’t receive anything. I didn’t see my phone,” I said. However, Freya was scrutinizing me.

“Your phone is on the bed,” she pointed out. Lost for words, my silence birthed the space for her further assessment of me. “What’s that close to it– Ahhh!” Freya shrieked away from the bed at the pointed edge of Clayvoyld – I meant the sword’s pointed edge.

I frowned at the sword. “Seriously, was that necessary?”

“She has no right to touch me,” Clayvoyld spat.

“What’s that, Ayana? What’s going on here?” Freya cried. I knew onset it was a shitty situation I ought to make up a shitty response to fit the shitty question.

“Calm down, Freya, and I’ll explain.”

“Calm down? Are you kidding me? In the face of that glaring thing . . . what’s that and how is it a blade?”

“How dare you call me a thing?” Clayvoyld fired at my sister.

“Seriously? We need her to calm down, but if you continue like this how is that going to be achieved?” I asked him.

“Nobody calls me a thing!”

“Point noted, whatever,” didn’t I see much of that in the flash? I turned to my sister. “Please Frey, try to calm down, okay, at least just step away from hugging the door to death, will you?”

“Not until you explain to me what’s happening here,” Freya disclosed.

“Fine, I will,” I sighed. “This is Clayvoid–”

“Clayvoyld,” the annoying sword corrected.

I rolled my eyes, “whatever,” then continued. “Clayvoyld is something I found in my journal while going through it. Somehow I figured it was kept in the museum as an artifact and went over there to get it.”

“Are you saying you stole it from the museum?” She staked.

“No! Not steal, I took it,” I voiced. “Why would you think of a thing like that?”

“You just said it, you went to the museum to take it, and the last time I checked taking something that doesn’t belong to you is considered stealing, and that thing came off the museum, so technically it didn’t belong to you.”

“Nonsense! What are you saying, Freya? What I told you is that I found him in my journal, which makes him my property and not some museum display junk to be study by clueless humans who think he’s worth nothing. Clayvoyld is a weapon, a weapon used by Touch Readers only, so that makes him mine. I didn’t steal him, I took him out of there because he belongs to me, me and no one else! Does that ring a bell?” I huffed. “And I don’t care if the cops are on my trail in case that’s what you’re thinking.” I paced back a bit, blew the angry breath out of me and I brushed my hair back. For about a minute the room was quiet, like a cemetery.

Freya sighed. “I didn’t know that, you didn’t tell me it belongs to Touch Readers.” I was unable to respond because I was still fighting down my temper. Freya moved away from the door, stepped up to me and placed her left hand on my shoulder. “What does he do?”

I lifted my eyes, nodded and breathed. “He um, he’s a sword, an annoying talking sword.”

“I beg your pardon!” Clayvoyld barked at me. Freya and I chuckled.

“Do I get to meet him?” She asked.

“Sure,” then I moved to the bed. “Freya, Clayvoyld. Clayvoyld, my sister, Freya”

“A Fire Reader,” Clayvoyld filled in.

Surprised, Freya and I glanced at each other. “How did you know?” she asked.

“I have seen civilization rise and fall, don’t you suppose I ought to be familiar with every affinity and recognizing a Fire Reader onset, especially when the room is extremely warm?” We found that amusing.

“I like you, you’re highly spirited,” she said.

“What an unpleasant moment. I’m afraid I do not like you,” the sword replied kinda faux, which got us laughing.

“It’s nice to meet you, Clayford.”

“It’s Clayvoyld. Do I have to spell it out to you?”

“Oh sorry, I’m sorry.”

“You’d better not get on his wrong side,” I joked. Freya released more laughter, Clayvoyld shot me more glares. “How long have you been in there, Clayvoyld?”

The question met him unfavorably; I knew this by the way his glares turned downcast. “Last I remember the village was destroyed by those pickle pansy egg shells during the Almada War. Suddenly, the war was over with an interruption from what they called the Soviet Union shortly after the bloody War of Geared. The next thing my senses picked was me inside a box floating above water and what next I was locked inside that disgusting case where numerous simpletons came to take notes.”

I glanced at my sister in shock. “How long was that?”

“If I still have my good memories it should be 1607, yes, autumn of 1607.”

“Was that the last time a Touch Reader walked the earth?” I asked.

Clayvoyld blinked twice. “Until you, why I saw none. And for your sake,” he hardened his voice, “I hope you’re already engaged in the war because I can’t wait to cleave those bloody Were Readers into two or slice a Were Witch into pieces!”

Freya and I shared an amused look. “We’ll look into that,” we said in unison.

~TWENT-ONE

A MYSTERIOUS MEETING

Staring at the magnificent zigzag ceiling brought a lot to my mind, a lot of things that was too strong to let go. I rubbed my palms over my face as I suspired out. Today was another day, another new day and I was alive to see the sunrise. Ever since my miraculous survival a year ago, every day of my life has been spent with purpose, goals and responsibilities. Since the day I watched my parents lowered into the ground, I knew my life had to hold meaning more than what I made out of it, and today I was proud to have kept the promise even when that meant living everyday cautious of Were Readers.

But above all, I had my rescuer to thank for every day. If only I knew who it was, I’d give him my everything, for I was alive because of him.

Looking back at the previous day however, I felt an immense sense of belonging, contentment and joy. Nailing exactly the cause of the feeling was difficult for me, maybe it was the excitement of having a journal that shed light on who I was, what I stood for and what was expected of me, learning that the job description of Touch Expression didn’t all come with responsibilities but rewards too, like Clayvoyld, or the knowledge that my parents were conscious of my state of being – I know it seemed odd, but there was an unfailingly freedom inside of me that was derived from knowing that. Knowing I wasn’t an epidemic to them, that my mom’s sadness didn’t come from having me and my dad loved me for what I was. That was worth something, it was worth joy.

Nevertheless, I was faced with a much bigger future that included having a talking, annoying, Viking accented switch-sword for a life companion. What was worse, he wouldn’t stop talking me to death with doing nothing but fight Weres all my life.

Terrible, ish.

As Clayvoyld rambled on his Were Readers talk, I soaked myself in the company of the journal to learn more stuffs. From reading more pages I learned Clayvoyld was the creation of Yggdrasil—the Ash Tree everybody—me included—thought was nothing but a mere tree, but in fact wasn’t and that the tree was a goddess who was only seen by the three Fates, the Valkyries and Odin, the one from whom she came to be; no other person saw her as a goddess, every other person saw her as a tree of life. The book said Yggdrasil created the sword to compliment Touch Readers, although I still didn’t know why she chose my lineage to be the ones to carry the burden of Touch Expression, or how the first Touch Reader came to be. I also learned Clayvoyld was used during the Chaos War by the second Touch Reader named Thanatos. From her he got wielded by the third Touch Reader, Zenobia who lived six hundred years after Thanatos was gone. Next in the line through which I discovered Zenobia wasn’t my immediate predecessor, was Hestia, who died over four hundred years ago before it got to my turn. In the long run of my study, Clayvoyld afforded to press pause in his Weres’ ramble to hint me with resourceful information about my predecessors and what was expected of me, however, he didn’t tell me who the first Touch Reader was in spite of my persistence. The only problem was that none of these Touch Readers thought it was important to write directly about themselves.

Or explained why they were all referred to as Valkyries.

According to Clayvoyld, the other two Touch Readers weren’t certain there was going to be a successor, the reason why they were better told by the point of view of others, families and close allies while they handled more important stuffs. “Anyway, who wouldn’t be pretty occupied with a sword like you?” I’d teased him and Clayvoyld nearly glared the life out of me. Man, if looks could kill, the sword would have been the finest weapon for a mass destruction, especially when it had Were Readers involved.

One powerful discovery I made about my predecessors was all three of them were incredibly endowed with beauty, power, and they all sprang from the Macintosh bloodline. My moment of confusion was the Macintosh part because I wasn’t a Macintosh, I was a Calhoun, and even when I was addressed twice as Ayana Macintosh, I knew it was a mistake; I wasn’t Ayana Macintosh. So it’s either the journal had it wrong or the force behind selecting the next Touch Reader changed her mind and went after my family.

“Do you always stay awake like this in the morning wasting worthwhile times in bed when you’re supposed to be out there separating Were Readers’ head from their shoulders?” Accused the male personality I spent the night with technically because the bed was wide enough to contain us and the spontaneous switch-sword couldn’t be kept anywhere far off from me.

“I think you’re missing something here, Clayvoyld; this isn’t a battle field just in case it’s not obvious enough to you,” I replied.

“Of course it is, it is a bloody battle field every day as long as Were Readers walk the earth, it is always a warzone,” he spat.

“Not for me, Clayvoyld, it’s never a warzone around me,” I said then rose out of bed to stretch. The sword was quiet for some time while I felt his intense glare on me.

“Have you ever fought Weres before?”

I stopped and tilted his way. “Yes,” I answered confidently, “but not personally, except the one that got his groin kicked by me, my Knight takes care of the rest for me.”

“What!” The sword snapped. “What do you think you are, a Nature Reader? Ayana, you’re a Touch Reader, a Touch Reader, and Touch Readers are always active in war because that’s your responsibility and reason why you’re the leader, the one everybody else look up to for direction. How are they even going to believe you’re a Valkyrie not to talk of looking up to you when you barely knows and handles your responsibilities and barely knows what it takes to defend and protect yourself!” Man, I thought my mom was the worst critic in the world! I guess I hadn’t met Clayvoyld.

But I had a question.

“Why do you call me a Valkyrie, and I noticed the other Touch Readers were called that, too?”

Clayvoyld hesitated before answering. “Unless you know what’s required of you, you’re no fit to know that.”

“Whatever, Clayvoyld,” I said, and marched out of the room leaving the ranting sword to his rants. A sword he was.

As I yawned down the staircase, Freya appeared from the basement still in her nightgown when it was around nine in the morning. “Morning sunshine,” she piped with eyes that glittered and she looked more like the Freya I grew up knowing.

“Hey, you’re up late.”

“Yes, I got so consumed in my journal that I slept late,” she said.

I wiggled my eyebrows, “found anything interesting?”

“Yeah, but nothing as interesting as a talking sword.” I laughed. She was really in a good mood. “You on the other hand, I thought you’d be talked to death by morning.”

“I was really surprised to see me up today. I think that sword talked his previous owners to death.” Together we laughed, and then I pressed down the last step with the aim of checking the kitchen out for edible stuffs.

“How did you do it?”

I twirled around, “excuse me?”

“How did you do it, took Clayvoyld out of the museum undetected? There were surveillance cameras there I’m sure, so how did you get away unnoticed?”

“Mysterious guy,” I said simply.

“Mysterious guy? You saw him again?”

“He’s my Knight, Freya, he’s everywhere I am,” I answered.

She adjusted her shocked face back to the curious one she had before. “How did you do it then?”

“I think he used that Knight’s illusion power to cloak me out of sight because all the while I bashed in the glass case, picked Clayvoyld out from the artifacts room with the minimum of sixteen people, none of them noticed me or what I did,” I supplied.

“That’s a lie, it’s impossible. How couldn’t they have noticed you?”

“Except it’s possible with our kinds,” I reminded. Freya bit down on that for a moment.

“How did he know you were at the museum? How did he know why you went there initially?”

“Puzzles me too, I can’t answer that because I don’t know,” I said honestly, then added, “just as I have no idea how Were Readers knew of my mission to the museum and what I went for.”

“What are you saying?” Freya cut in.

“I was under attack yesterday the instant I walked out of the museum with Clayvoyld. Were Readers were out the back waiting for me to collect him at all cost.”

“Are you serious?” I nodded. “How did they know?”

“My guess is; Were Readers have their ways of knowing stuffs, that’s why they’re Were Readers after all. They deal in magic, dark one at the least and can easily spell their way through anything.”

My sister nodded reasoning with me. “You’re right; it’s possible that’s how they get the knowledge of things. But what baffles me is how Mysterious guy knows about the places you go.”

“Me too, and even when I don’t want to think he follows me around, I can’t opt for less, just that he has one problem,” I admitted, “The guy is a sick ass.” Freya snorted. “Believe me he is. He just makes me wanna eat shit each time I see him.”

“That’s because he’s a shitty hot guy as he is shitty annoying,” Freya said and started to the door.

“Want to know what I told him yesterday?” I asked.

“What?”

“I told him he’s an asshole and if I knew where he came from I’d return him instantly.”

“No, you didn’t!” Freya squeaked.

“Oh yes I did,” I answered.

“You told him to his face?”

“Right there right then.”

“You’re a shitty girl.” I laughed heart-fully.

“How the hell are you suddenly using profane words?”

“Let’s say since I realized we live in a shitty world loaded with craps,” then she opened the door as I laughed some more.

“I think you need a doctor, no scratch that, what you need is rehab–”

“Ayana, come take a look,” Freya said somberly.

Curiously, I took a turn from the kitchen to the living room at her sudden tone. “What’s that?” In reply, Freya handed me a note, on it I read:

Sherilyn wants to meet today at eight sharp on Gran Avenue Bridge. Don’t be late.

“Sherilyn wants to meet?”

“Seems so,” my sister replied. “What are we to do?”

“Meet her of course!” I said. “There’s nothing more to do than that.”

“Ayana, we don’t know this woman or what she’s capable of,” Freya raised.

“I know, but she knows us, Freya, and our parents too, and Mom knew her . . . this is our chance to know her as well.”

“Why at night? Why not set the meeting in the day?” She pointed out.

“I don’t know Freya, and honestly I don’t care. I want to meet her, Freya, we should, it’s an obligation that we must fulfill,” I said and added slowly with emphasis, “we ought to meet her.” Freya didn’t like the idea but she saved her objection for the time being.

Ten hours later I was glancing at my wristwatch to confirm the time and at the sixteenth time; it was finally ten minutes to eight.

“Is everything alright ‘cause you’ve been checking your wristwatch and it’s really creeping me out,” Alex confessed.

“You beat me to it, I was going to ask the same thing,” Stacy followed.

“Ur, sorry if it’s creeping you out, I just don’t want to miss my next schedule,” I offered.

“May I ask what that is?” Tiffany asked after her lemonade glass was below her lips. “We had a hard time persuading you to come hang out with us and now you’re saying you have another schedule when it’s almost eight?”

“I know,” I said cheerfully, “just as I know it’s never too late for a schedule as long as your house is the meeting place.”

“You have something to do at home?” Stella asked.

“Yes, Freya and I have a leftover work to handle, things have been crazy since the party,” I said.

“We shouldn’t have forced you to come out with us because frankly we left quite a mess for you back there and instead of helping you get rid of it, we pushed you right out of it,” Stella said considerately.

“Oh thank you,” I appreciated while the others shared a terrorized look.

“At times I wish you’re my baby sister so I could hit you whenever I want,” Stacy said.

“Why- why would you say that?” Stella asked offensively.

“Because you’re too dumb, Stella,” Alex filled in.

“Who cares what mess we left her, it was her birthday, her mess to clean,” Joanna added.

“Hey, be gentle on the lass, she’s only being a caring friend and I suggest you should all learn from her,” I said. “Come on Stella, pay them no attention, okay, you’re very sweet.” Stella eased up with a small smile. For the last time I glanced at my watch and it was finally time to close shop for the day. “Well girls, I have to go. I’ll see ya’ll tomorrow at school.”

“Are you seriously leaving?” Stacy demanded.

“Yeah, I told you I have an important business to take care of, see you tomorrow,” I replied, waved at them and made my way out of the table. I’d spent more than enough time with them despite my resistance to leave the house, and now it was show time.

“Hey! Where are you rushing to?” Tony asked me and thanks to his quick pause I nearly ran into him, literally.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“It’s fine. Where are you rushing to?”

“I have to go.”

“But the night’s still young.”

“Yeah I know, it’s urgent,” I said ruefully.

“So you’re leaving then?”

“Yeah, but I promise to be back tomorrow,” then I grinned, closed up to him and left a kiss on his right cheek. “See you tomorrow.”

“Hey AY! Going somewhere?” Curtis yelled.

“Yeah, see you guys tomorrow!”

Since the time Tony and I reconciled back as friends, this was the first time we hanged out in a group, my friends and his like we used to in the good old days. Tonight was supposed to be awesome, he told me that, which got me thinking there was something cooking up in his mind, a fantastic plan to make the night even more interesting. Unfortunately though, I was bailing out for a more interesting plan.

I rushed into the Grill, whistled and after that beckoned my sister over. Freya said something to Martina, dropped her towel and signed out for the night. Truth is she had nothing to work on that night, she was free, but just so we’d have more space to get exposed to other things that weren’t supernatural, she insisted on working out Gino’s shift provided the poor champ was down with the flu.

The minute we got into her car, Freya purred her objections into my ears regarding our meeting with Mysterious Sherilyn Macintosh.

“I don’t see why you’re over reacting to this, Freya, it’s not like she’s going to have us for dinner,” I said. “Look, there’s absolutely no cause for panic, no reason for you to be dilapidated all because of this. Sherilyn isn’t a bad person; she’s no threat to us.”

“How do you know that? How are you sure?”

“Because if she meant us harm she wouldn’t send us those lovely presents or the helpful journals we received from her. If she meant us harm, Freya, there’s zero thing we can do about it, we’d be doomed.”

“You said Mom didn’t want anything to do with her, what makes you think she can be trusted?”

“Well, what makes you think Mom could be trusted either?”

“Because she’s our mother, she wouldn’t hurt us.”

“No, she could only keep us in dark about our true nature,” I counter-argued. “Because of her I lived seventeen years of my life believing I was crazy and she was part of the causes why I built a strong base around that belief!” I suspired, glanced out the window trying to control my temper while my sister remained speechless. “Look, do you trust me?” Freya hesitated before nodding. “Then let’s do this, let’s get it over with.” She nodded again, breathed in and pressed the acceleration.

I understood my sister’s fears, she ought to have them just like I should, too, but I didn’t and that’s because I had other means to ensure I knew the truth, to acquire facts, and through that I was able to know Sherilyn posed no harm to us. With the flash I had of her, she couldn’t be an evil person, which meant whatever she shared with Mom wasn’t a harmful thing that could endanger our lives. If anything I was double anxious of meeting her, knowing her and understanding why she was all that she was.

In exactly four minutes we arrived at the bridge and the moment my sister stopped the car a vision hit me, a flash of a blue Civic heading from the other end of the bridge while a speedy van emerged from the spot we parked heading straight for the Civic as if that was his target. By the time the other driver in the Civic caught sight of the approaching vehicle it was too late for him to dodge and like that the van bashed the Civic into the river below then all went blank.

“Ayana! Ayana!” I snapped my lids open gasping for air. “Are you okay? What is it?” Freya gushed out.

“Nothing,” I said in a struggle for breath.

“That’s not nothing, Ayana, you saw something, what was it?”

Incapable of keeping the truth from her, I came clean. “I saw Mom and Dad in their car on this road; they weren’t run off by a drunk driver . . . I think whoever did it did so with intention of hurting them.”

“Are you serious?” Freya demanded. I nodded. I was serious, damn serious.

Since the death of my parents I hadn’t been on that bridge, never had reasons to use it, instead of it I didn’t mind taking a detour just so long I avoided it. This was my first time on it after a year and what it hit me with was the true cause of my parents’ death. They didn’t die by accident, they were killed, murdered.

My sister was about opening her mouth to say something when a car’s headlight flashed at us from the opposite direction. “She’s here,” I said.

“I’m having second thoughts,” Freya confessed.

I grabbed her hand in me. “Don’t worry; it’s going to be fine, trust me. Let’s get this over with.” Freya sighed, looked at the opposite end and sighed again. Together we climbed out of her car, walked forward with uncertainty ruining our liver granted we had no idea what awaited us at the other end of the bridge. Once we were at the middle of the cars, my sister stopped me from taking any further step forward and her eyes carried serious warning that I had to obey. Even when that involved having to watch my retinas burn out by the other car’s bright headlight.

From the other side materialized two figures from both side of the car. They took a guard’s position flanking the car and from afar the figures’ silhouettes were recognizable, I just couldn’t answer what they were doing there. A moment later a female figure appeared from the side of the car, sauntered to the front and took position in the middle of the car. Thanks to her position in-between the headlights, I grasped a bit of her features. She had on a crimson elegant evening dress, long blonde hair and a perfect voluptuous figure.

She was incredibly hot and I was certain her face was bound to be even more.

I was starting to think we were to stay in our default positions forever until Freya made the first speech attempt. “Who are you?” The sound of her voice echoed around and in the waters below.

I’d conclude my sister’s question wasn’t worth a reply since the woman took her time. Little did I know that her hesitation was purposeful because after she replied, Freya and I got lost in the moment, confused at her response.

“I’m Sherilyn Macintosh, Esther’s mother,” she said.

“That’s a lie, we don’t have a grandmother!” Freya replied. “Both of our parents’ parents died a long time ago, well unless our mom’s mom rose from the dead.”

“I have no reason to lie, Freya, I’m your grandmother, and I was never dead,” Sherilyn countered.

“That’s not true, Esther’s mother died when she was eighteen years old,” Freya declared.

“I’m afraid it was what she wanted you to believe,” Sherilyn answered this time a smiling hint in her rhythmic voice.

“I don’t believe you,” Freya spat. “I think we are done here. Come on, Ayana,” she turned to me. “Come on.”

I looked at her face then at Sherilyn. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think I’m done yet,” then I sprinted toward the woman. Freya called me back, shouted my name, which all fell on deaf ears.

~TWNETY-TWO

A MYSTERIOUS MOM

I reached Sherilyn, grabbed her hands with her confused eyes on me and closed my eyes. The first feeling I got was Sherilyn’s love for me and Freya, her honestly in all she told us and her fear we wouldn’t believe her then push her away like Mom did. I bypassed all of that to the main and first image in which I saw her and the other woman she was with in those pictures.

The other woman had on a sapphire blue button up shirt with a white pant pacing the hallway of a hospital. As she moved so did her emotions increased, most of which were a combination of worry and hope. She was worried and yet hung on to hope. She noticed a door open behind, confirmed it was a doctor and rushed up to him.

“Congratulations, Seraphina, your sister just delivered a princess!” announced the doctor. The woman, unable to hold back her joy jumped on the doctor.

“Thank you, Aaron!” She piped. She was allowed into the ward to see her sister who was everything like her save for the brown eyes and hair color. “Congratulations, Sherrie!”

“Thanks sister,” Sherilyn answered embracing the woman.

“I was told our baby is a girl.”

“Yes she is, what you’ve always wanted—a daughter,” Sherilyn said playfully. Seraphina moved to the cradle the baby was laid in and tears started to water down her face.

“Look at her, charming. Welcome to the world lovely baby!” Sherilyn was smiling in her bed at her sister’s blind side. “What’s her name, Sherrie?”

“It’s in your care, Sera, she’s yours as much as she’s mine,” Sherilyn said.

“Then I give her Esther,” Seraphina said.

Sherilyn’s face lit up amazedly. “You name her after Mother?”

“Yes, look at her eyes, she’s so beautiful like Mother,” Seraphina answered with all of her attention locked on the child.

“I was thinking of that, too, and maybe have the middle name as Weth,” Sherilyn disclosed.

“After mischievous Aunt Weth?” Sherilyn nodded. Seraphina’s eyes bugged out. “See, Esther, for the first time in a long time your mother and I have a mutual agreement!” Sherilyn burst out laughing. The scene changed to another, in this one the child was a toddler playing around the two identical women. As their love for the girl grew rapidly so did her growth. With Seraphina the child could do no wrong, but with the mother, she was just like Mom—always seeking out fault in me. This led to the average cause of quarrel between the women—kinda like when Dad and Mom fought over me. Thanks to Seraphina, Esther was made into a brat.

At a change of scene, I saw Esther at age ten working in a garden, her knees on the ground, her hands in dirt. From the kitchen appeared her mother and aunt. “Need a hand?” Seraphina asked. Esther tilted her head back with a grin as a reply. Both women moved out of the kitchen into the garden—a garden that looked so much like the one in the pictures.

“The ground is so hard, it won’t dig up,” Esther purred.

“No worries, darling, we’re here to help,” said Seraphina. She nodded at Sherilyn who proceeded to rub her palms like Freya did the first time I learnt she had fire. Sherilyn opened her palms flat on the ground and it started to split into shapes for planting. When she was done, Sherilyn signaled Seraphina who raised her palms up, rubbed them together then opened it with water showering down her fingers into the ground. Instead of being surprised, Esther was amazed.

“Thanks,” she told them. Enthusiastically, she planted her flowers, when she was done she mimicked her aunt and mother as she lifted her hands up, rubbed them together and it was my turn to widen my subconscious eyes as I saw what the girl could do. After she released her palms, she sprinkled something like pixie dust on the plants and instantly they started to grow. All three of them watched the growing flowers with joy until I was taken to another scene when Seraphina and Sherilyn were talking about Esther.

“Have you noticed what I’ve been seeing in Esther?” Seraphina asked her sister.

“What could that be?” Sherilyn asked, minding the herb in her hands.

Seraphina shook her head disappointedly. “At times, I wish I’m the girl’s mother.”

“Trust me, Sera,” Sherilyn said, “you’re her mother as much as I am. Whatever it is you want to say, I’m listening.”

“Fine then,” Seraphina exhaled. “I think Esther might be telepathic.”

Shocked, Sherilyn’s herb centered attention returned to her sister. “What?” She asked.

Seraphina nodded firmly. “Yes Sherrie, I think our daughter is telepathic.”

“But, that’s impossible!” Sherilyn squeaked. “That’s totally impossible. There’s no way Esther can be a telepath.”

“Yes Sherrie, it is possible because her father was a Gypsy, or are you forgetting already?”

“No, I didn’t forget!” Sherilyn replied. “But, it has never happened before, Sera, it has never happened in the history of Expression Readers to give birth to a hybrid child by simply mating with a Gypsy.”

“I know, but we can’t dismiss the possibility, Sherrie,” Seraphina reasoned. “You know Andrea said something about Esther making history someday, her prophesy that through Esther, the world would come to a transformation and we’ll see what has never been seen before.”

“Oh that’s rubbish, Sera, you possibly can’t take Andrea’s word for it,” Sherilyn disagreed.

“No, I can take her word for it, Sherrie, because Andrea wasn’t only the sister of Miguel, she’s also a Gypsy—”

“Oh, a drunk Gypsy you mean,” Sherilyn interrupted.

“It doesn’t matter, Sherrie, Andrea is still a Gypsy altogether and her prophesies come true. And maybe this is part of it, of the things she prophesied about Esther, maybe it’s because Esther will be the first Expression Reader/Gypsy hybrid, you never can tell.”

“Oh yes I can tell—” but then, Esther burst into the living room interrupting her mother and aunt with tears running down her pretty face, which technically disconnected me from the women’s discussion, a discussion that centered around my mom being a hybrid, a discussion that had me wondering that maybe this was the way my mom knew about future events, about the disasters my stupid decisions resulted into.

“Why?” She asked.

“What is it sweetheart?” Seraphina asked worrisomely.

“Why?” Esther repeated.

“Why what, Esther?” Sherilyn snapped.

“Why didn’t you tell me, why didn’t you tell me what I am? Why didn’t you tell me that my freaking ability is nothing but part of a supernatural affinity and all you had me believe was a gift was nothing but Nature Expression? Why didn’t you tell me that we are a group of supernatural people called Expression Readers? Why?” Esther demanded. The women’s faces drained of humor and turned into terror at the girl’s words. They knew she was hurt, although it hurt them, they found no way around it.

“We’re sorry, Esther, we know we should have told you, but don’t worry, everything is going to be fine—”

“Don’t tell me that, Aunt Sera!” Esther cut her off. “That’s the same thing you keep saying! The first time I noticed I could do what other kids couldn’t do you said everything will be fine. When I reported to you I found a boy spying on me you said it was okay, everything was fine. Today I almost died in school at the hands of some kids who called themselves Were Readers, kids who had weapons I’d never seen before in my life if it hadn’t been for that spy boy and all you have to say is everything is going to be fine?” The girl sobbed and the more her voice got low, painfully low. “I was told things today, Mom, things both of you should have told me a long time ago, like what really happened on my eighteenth birthday, that my powers quickened, but you didn’t, you didn’t tell me anything. Why? Why did you lie to me? Why?”

“What we did, Esther, we did to protect you,” Sherilyn said.

“Don’t say that!” Esther yelled. “You know what, save your explanations to yourselves, I don’t want to hear it. Since you both concluded I had no right to know what I am, I’m telling you right now you have no right to me anymore. I don’t want anything to do with you or your kind, and tell that boy to stop spying on me. I don’t want anything to do with any of these!” Esther declared and stormed out of the house. I was still at the verge of processing the scene when it shifted again. It was after sometime because the woman had grown beyond the years they were in the previous scenes, but didn’t qualify them to lose their beauty of course. They stood in the front of a house with their undivided attention fixed on the door. From inside the house, Mom stepped outside to them like they were simple peasants begging for alms.

“What are you doing here?” She demanded.

“Esther, it’s good to see you,” Seraphina said.

“It’s good to see you too, Aunt,” Mom answered with the lack of animation. “What are you doing here?” Now I realized her question had all along been directed at Sherilyn.

“Aren’t you happy to see us?” Seraphina asked.

“Not really,” Mom answered.

“We brought your girls something,” Sherilyn said.

“I thought I told you never to do that again? How many times will I warn you to never bring my girls things?”

“I thought we were over this, Esther?” Sherilyn said.

“We’ve told you how sorry we are, Esther, we’ve realized our wrong and ready to make things right again,” Seraphina said. “Why won’t you forgive us?”

“Because I can’t,” Mom answered. “She was my mother whom I trusted so much and at the end got disappointed by her.”

“I’m still your mother, Esther!” Sherilyn cooed.

“No, not anymore,” Mom sneered. She turned to Seraphina, “Want to know why I can’t forgive you either? It’s because I trusted you more than I did her, I loved you more, respected you but what did you do, followed in her steps, and yet you ask me why I can’t forgive you? Well, that’s it; there you have your answer. So listen carefully for the last time, I don’t want you around me or my girls, I don’t want them exposed to this abomination.”

“We are not an abomination!” Sherilyn interrupted.

“I don’t care; whatever it is that you are I don’t want my daughters involved.”

“That’s impossible, Esther, you can’t do that, you can’t keep them away from this forever,” Seraphina tipped.

“You did and so far succeeded at it. What makes you think I won’t do the same? For eighteen years you kept me in dark, I’m going to do the same, only I’ll be protecting my daughters in the right way, not with selfish intention as you did. They will have a normal supernatural free life,” Mom replied, kinda harshly. “Now for the last time again, stop eyeing my girls, return to your world and do whatever it is you do. The next time I see you around them or me, I swear you’ll regret it,” then she turned around and went back inside the house where four year old Ayana nearly bumped into her while playing with her friend, Kael. The women were embarrassed, down, and worried, but still they kept coming, brought presents for Esther’s girls on each of their birthdays and at times went to their school to check up on them.

I snapped my eyes open at the end of that scene—I’d seen enough. Once my eyes calibrated to the environment, I found me to be the center stage for everyone, including Freya who stood two feet from me. I let go of Sherilyn’s hand, looked at my sister’s face and boldly said, “She’s telling the truth. Sherilyn is our grandmother.”

~~~~

“Here,” I stretched a glass of water to her.

Sherilyn accepted it gratefully accompanied with a smile. “Thank you.” I smiled back. She moved to the couch and joined Freya. She examined the house thoroughly with longing in her eyes. “I longed so much to see the walls of this house—”

“Then you should have fought hard at wining Mom over instead of giving in to defeat,” Freya fired at her.

“I did, Freya, I worked so hard, fought so hard to reconcile with your mother,” Sherilyn said. “Sera and I did everything to get her back, we even attended her wedding without being invited, you had to see how Esther treated us, embarrassed us in front of her guests, made fools out of us. It was a moment of pain to us, which thanks to Dan and Penelope; we didn’t get drawn too much in shame before they walked us out of the nuptial with kind words. We still didn’t give up hope on her and when she begot you, we thought it would be an advantage, but it wasn’t, Esther was simply too stubborn.”

“She did try, Frey, they both did,” I chimed in.

“Then why didn’t you show up after her death? Ayana and I had no one when we needed close relatives. Where were you when we needed you, when a grandmother’s figure was urgent?”

“I was there, Freya, only I couldn’t show my face in public because you wouldn’t believe a thing I’d say.”

“Oh please, don’t try to cover your track with lame excuses.”

“That’s not what I’m doing, Freya. I did what I did for a reason because I know you very well. But, tell me if I had come back then when you were grieving and gave you this explanation when you have no fact to believe me or think it is even possible to be what we are, would you have believed me, would you have accepted me?” Freya couldn’t answer; she was upset about the whole thing just as she knew Sherilyn was telling the truth.

“But why now, why choose now to show your face in public?”

“Because I was this close to being discovered by your sister,” Sherilyn replied then glanced at me. “I’ve always told Esther that no matter what she does to keep the truth away from you, it was just impossible, especially with a smart kid like Ayana. I told Esther someday soon Ayana would come home to her demanding for answers and wasn’t that what happened? Although, Esther isn’t here, but Ayana figured out her symptoms by herself and through her you got to know about yourself, too, didn’t you?” Freya glanced at me and nodded sadly. “See? Finding that present was a place to start searching out Mysterious Sherilyn Macintosh.” She paused to chuckle at that. “So I decided to play smart, to outsmart her before she discovers my identity on her own like she did Oliver, which is why I came clean now.”

“Mysterious guy?” Freya asked.

“Oh yes. I did hear that’s what you call him, poor boy what can he do to help himself from Ayana?” I didn’t laugh along Sherilyn and Freya when the woman said that. All I did was shot glares over my shoulder at the subject in question where he stood behind Sherilyn with that other guy from the Grill’s fight. If it was up to me, I totally voted against having him in my house, but the moment wasn’t right for that. First I had to convince my sister to allow Sherilyn come home with us to try and explain what her reasons were for not showing up over the years and giving her a chance to make things right. See, that’s why it wasn’t up to me to decline him from coming home with us.

“Is that his name, Ayana’s Mysterious Knight?” Freya was back to question.

“Yes,” Sherilyn answered cheerfully. “Come over here boys,” she beckoned. After they moved closer, Sherilyn took over introduction. She began with Mysterious guy. “This is Oliver Ayers; you already know who he is.”

“Yes, we do,” Freya answered. “I must admit, you gave us quite a scare before Ayana figured out who you were.”

Mysterious guy loosened a smile. “I apologize for the inconvenience; it wasn’t my intention to frighten you.”

“That’s alright, at least you’re not a serial killer or a vampire,” Freya said and endeavored to shoot me a playful glance before returning back to the guy. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Pleasure is mine,” he answered. When he finished shaking Freya hands, he moved toward me.

“Oh no, don’t even think about it. I ain’t touching you,” I declared.

“I wasn’t going for your hand either, wouldn’t want that dirty druggy brat print all over me.”

“You’re nothing but a manner-less asshole, rude and annoying.”

“You’re no less, Brat.” In response to that, I lurched forward.

“Ayana! Temper.”

I scowled at him. “Lucky you Sherilyn stopped me.”

“I wonder what you would have done.”

“Don’t you underestimate me pig, and you know what, I don’t like you!”

“The feeling’s mutual, sister.”

“Oliver . . .” Sherilyn called at him.

“You know what, Sherilyn; I don’t want him as my Knight. Is there a place to get replacement? I need to replace him immediately.”

“Ayana, please calm down, I promise to replace him later,” Sherilyn said mirthfully while my sister was laughing her head off. I glared at him again with a burning desire to strangle the life out of him. “Over here is Gregor Grayson,” Sherilyn continued. “He’s your Knight, Freya.”

“My Knight?” Freya gushed.

“Don’t tell me you think your sister is the only one with a Knight?” Sherilyn asked.

“I know, I just never thought I’ve got one,” my sister said. She got up and oh, her face was appliqued in blushes, as if Gregor was the cutest guy she’d ever laid eyes on.

A fool for love, huh?

“Hi, nice to meet you.”

“The pleasure’s all mine,” Gregor replied. Honestly, I got to admit it, Gregor was loaded too, like Mysterious guy, and just as I described him the other day; the guy was ridiculously hot and had a sexy tone as well.

“Why didn’t I get to know him before now?” Freya asked.

“That would be because you’re not such a big fan of trouble, unlike your sister here who attracts more trouble than she can handle.” Hearing that, I groaned objectively. Sherilyn chuckled in return. “I’m sorry Ayana, but you’re trouble on your own.”

I rolled my eyes to that. “Tell me about it.”

“Please to meet you, Ayana,” Gregor said after my sister finally released him from the lifelong handshake.

“Nice to meet you, Gregor, but sorry I can’t shake you. No offense.”

The guy’s smile widened. “None taken.”

“How did you know them?” I asked.

“Oliver’s father and Gregor’s mother were siblings, and that makes them cousins. After the boys discovered their Readers were related, they set forth to come look for you, unfortunately, they got turned away by Esther. Fortunately, Dan was around, he brought the boys to me and explained what your mother did.”

“Dad did that?” my sister and I asked together.

Sherilyn nodded. “Your father was more than what you saw girls, he was a good man.” I looked at my sister and then a proud smile made way to our faces.

“So where are they from, forgive my asking this is it’s because Mysterious—oops! I’m sorry, I’m used to that,” Freya finished in a chuckle.

“It’s okay, you’ll get used to the name in time,” Mysterious guy answered.

Freya continued. “Well, as I was saying, Oliver doesn’t really have that much of a normal American guy features, sorry for saying that, but Ayana told me Knights came from mythological world.” The boy nodded. “And he has a hotter version of himself. . .” as her mouth was running like sweet tap water, I was secretly praying she wouldn’t look my way. “Right, Ayana?” Argh!

I glared at Freya. “Seriously, I’m gonna kill you.” In return, she burst out laughing.

“To answer your question,” Sherilyn stepped in. “Gregor’s father is American, his mother; Oliver’s aunt is from Greek. Oliver’s parents are both from Greek, Sparta to be precise.” I was shocked at the news.

“They’re Spartans?” My sister asked. Sherilyn nodded.

“No wonders, explains the brazen chutzpah,” I said out loud. Mysterious guy darted his glares at me and I met them with my own. A moment later I pushed him out of my thought. “Why are Touch Readers called Valkyries?”

Sherilyn took a deep breath before answering. “That’s because you’re a Valkyrie. Every Touch Reader born is a Valkyrie, that’s what sets your powers apart from the rest.”

Mystified, I let out a small strange laugh. “But, that’s impossible, I work in a library and know a lot about mythology and know who Valkyries were. There’s no way I’m one of them.”

“Because you’re not, Ayana, you’re not the type born in the time of Norn, you’re the type born to accomplish great things; it’s where your psychometry and premonition came from,” Sherilyn answered. “You see, Valkyries somehow passed their powers down to you with the help of Yggdrasil when Skuld produced the first Touch Reader. So you’re like independent Valkyries to be served by others, not the other way around. Your psychometry and premonition makes you a Touch Reader, it is the ability to possess all other five affinities that qualifies you to be a Valkyrie.”

“You mean I could actually have those cool powers my predecessors had, all five Expression at the same time?” I was smiling real hard.

Sherilyn nodded. “Just wait till your powers quickens and you’ll know the true strength of a Valkyrie, only then will you discover the substantial world you’re being awakened to. The world of a Valkyrie.” My enthusiasm was so intense I couldn’t cloak it in and Freya’s grin and thumb-up increased it that much.

“Who was that woman I saw, Sherilyn?” I asked next

“That was my twin sister, Seraphina,” she answered.

“What happened to her?”

“She was abducted by Were Readers.”

“Why?” Freya asked.

Sherilyn hesitated for a heartbeat, probably going over memory lane. “Because they’re making their move.”

“What move? And when did that happened?” I asked further.

“Their move to release Seagan, and this happened a month before your parents’ accident.”

“That was why you couldn’t make it to Mom’s funeral,” Freya supplied.

“You mean Dan’s funeral,” Sherilyn corrected.

“They both died,” I reminded.

“No,” Sherilyn shook her head somberly, “my daughter didn’t die.”

“She did, obviously,” Freya said.

“We buried them both,” I filled in.

“I know,” Sherilyn nodded smiley. “You saw and did what the Weres wanted you to.”

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“Tell me, Ayana, did you try to touch your parents’ cadaver?” She asked me back.

“Yes I did, I touched them and felt . . . I felt . . . I felt nothing from Mom, it was like she had no emotions.”

“See, that’s exactly what it was because it was lifeless, emotionless, simply an illusion. Were Readers are capable of creating illusions like Dark Knights; it was part of the ability Seagan gave them; the power of illusion. They orchestrated your parents’ accident, killed your father and took my daughter away.”

“Who’s Seagan?” I asked.

“The monstrous nightmare known as Dark lord.” Freya and I shared a displeasing look.

“Are you saying Mom is alive?” We asked deadly serious.

“Exactly my point,” the woman answered deadly firm. “Your mother is alive held captive with my sister . . . and we’re going to get them out!”

~YOU’RE NOT A MYSTERIOUS READER

YOU’RE AN AWESOME READER.

Wow! You made it to the end of the first book, that’s fascinating.

Did you enjoy it that well? If you do, why not support this series by taking just five minutes to write a review for it at your favorite retailer or where you bought the book? These little gestures are actually what give me the moral boost to keep creating more enjoyable books for the delight of my readers.

Now I know you must be hungry to see what happens next, which is why I highly recommend you make yourself available to receive notifications because I’ll be releasing a sneak peek soon to show you the struggles of Ayana and the new discoveries in her life and to know whether or not Were Readers will succeed at finally cleaving her into two or Ayana will manifest her potentials and finally make Yggdrasil proud for choosing her. So, to reserve your spot to get a sneak peek and early bird notifications of giveaways and other good stuffs, please go here.

As mentioned in the heads up part of this book where I wrote a short author’s note, I made reference to some important things I think you, the reader, deserve to know. Throughout this book, I’m sure you came across places and names of mythological related things that you must be so eager to know more about. This is why I’ve compiled a report that explains each and every one of these for your better understanding. If the report were to be placed here, I assure you this will no longer be a fiction book it will be a dictionary of mythological things, which is why I didn’t include it here. To access your free report, then do visit this address.

Thanks a lot for taking your time to purchase this book.

If you happen to be a young person who has been struggling with identity issues, emotional insecurities, relationship issues and other issues young people face on a daily basis like college, making some extra cash, choosing the right career, living by your own rules, dealing with bullies; I have a great resource to get you started at it, plus two free eBooks to serve as guide.

For more details, visit: iammyownanimal.com

Once again, thank you dear beloved reader!

And here’s the link to reserve your sneak peek spot and get your free report!

Yours truly,

Tessa Smokes.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

Well, I have to admit, it does concern a lot of people. But first, I want to start with my creator. Without God, none of this will ever be brought to a finish. Without him, I didn’t think I’d be here today proud to call myself a writer, an author even. Indeed, a life without God is a worthless life. Since I can’t thank God enough on paper, I just have to say hallelujah!

Next, my mom.

Everybody talk about how their mom or dad or someone important in their family helped and supported them through the completion of a project or cause, truth is, this isn’t one of them. Although the support I received from my family was divine, my mom’s support was incomparable. Some people talk about how their mom or dad or member of their family helped in criticizing their work, like Stephen King whose mom told onset the truth about his first story when she learned he copied the story word-for-word from another person’s book when he was young, or like a friend who told me her mom was her strongest critic. In my case, my mother neither criticized my work nor understood the whole concept of fiction writing that well to tell if it was plagiarized or not, but what she did was stand as my rock, my pillar for two years since I committed to writing. She was always there on push me over a little challenge, give me hope every now and then when I get a NO from a literary agent and there to pep-talk me when I decide to cry myself to sleep.

Prior to the publication of this book, I encountered some major roadblocks that demanded I quit writing totally, like when I nearly lost my files to a crashed system and fell terribly ill at the same time, but my mother couldn’t give up on me like I gave up on myself, she talked me back to writing and this book is successfully published today all thanks to God for giving me such a wonderful mother.

You’re the best mom . . . even though I cost you trouble every now so often.

I want to extend my appreciation to my family in general, their love when encouraging me and their yells when they saw me working into the night, all of these played their part in what is today a successful book. Thanks guys for the kicks and the punches. Clearly, I needed it.

To my friends, I want to say a heartfelt thank you for the love and connection during the writing of this book; not every one of you understood the concept of the mythological world I brought to life, but your cheers and boost when you heard I finally finished the book contributed to my moral boost to take things to the next level. You’re simply the best, especially Zainab who fell in love with the character of Ayana the first time I shared the story with her and endeavored to laugh at me when she was the one getting most of the pronunciations in the book wrong. As it were, your madness was right about what I needed to add more craziness in the book.

But of course, how in the world would the book be a success today if it wasn’t for the hard work of my beautiful editor, Fallon Duet? Girl, I can’t thank you enough today even though several months back I was on the verge of killing you for making me rewrite and reverse this book 17 times, challenged me to dig in more deeper into the root and legend of the Norse people, to bring up a concept about the mythological world that has been ignored several times in other books. You’re stubborn. I’m ornery. But I’m glad that in the end we were able to put just the amount of stubbornness in this project to bring it to a finish line.

With an editor like you, surely I could be digging into the coffin of Sol or Aphrodite someday.

My awesome cover and illustration artist, Yemisi Lateef; I confess, you win. The outline for the cover design for the book was supposed to be filled with action and all that. I personally wanted something action-filled with a lot going on in the cover; however your theory of “simplicity wins the heart” turns out to be correct. If you hadn’t suggested going with something simply, I wonder if we’ll still be at the verge of choosing a cover or actually putting this baby out. Thank you for having the right amount of courage to propose that to me, I wonder if the cover would have looked like a freaking warzone if you hadn’t stepped in to save the day.

My esteemed appreciation also goes out to my mentors, those who helped me in mastering the art of writing and the “show don’t tell” part of writing, your wisdoms are truly life savers. To name a few of the stepping blocks that got me here, I’ll like to start with the person of Jeff Goins, USA Today bestselling author of The Art of Work who inspired me early on in my writing career, Joanna Penn, New York Time bestselling author, whose blog The Creative Penn contributed to my ability to develop myself as an author-entrepreneur, Stephen Barr of Writer’s House literary agency whose NO led to the first three revision of this book, Jennifer Estep, the New York Times bestselling author of Mythos Academy and the Elemental Assassin, Natasha Young, New York Times bestselling of Who Said What?, Meredith Keffeil, USA Today bestselling author of When the Heart Cries it Also Blossoms; thank you all for the inspiration.

A thank you also goes out to the entire department of Memoranta Books and the NDA Ambush Journal team for their endless support and that of t&b editors. Marie Forleo of the award winning Marie TV is also one of those who inspired me to keep moving despite all odds, the numerous Brain Tracy quotes, and the peaceful approach to living by Leo Babauta . . . the list is endless. So I’ll make a quick one to acknowledge Samantha Bowls, Kimberly of Your Writer’s Platform, James Clear, Clara Samson, Timothy Adams, Zoe Redbird, Maria Delacruz, and Abigail Moor.

A big thank you to every one of these people for their support, inspiration and love, and more to those whom time couldn’t allow me to include their names here. Know that every one of your effort, good or bad helped shaped me into what I am today.

A MYSTERIOUS AUTHOR

Tessa Smokes was born and raised in the land of traditional practices where she developed the fascination for folklore. Growing up in a home of moral and ethics, her brain was jam-packed with beliefs that getting her hands dirty with mythology was a sin and being more righteous was acceptable. While her family counted this to be logical, Tessa concluded she wasn’t cut out for the better-safe-than-sorry kind of lifestyle where her entire life would be scrutinized and micromanage by law and ethics. Today, her life is full of risks and encircles around the world of myths. When she’s not daydreaming about another mythological world where she’s the next Azura, her butt is pinned down in front of her desk trying to birth another fantasy novel.

If she’s not found doing any of this, then maybe she’s at the #1 hangout spot for young people where she help them reset their mindset, find clarity and direction for their life and become the better version of themselves. In her free time she’s home teaching her special-need bird how to fly or paying the park a visit.

WHERE CAN I CONNECT WITH HER?

To connect with Tessa, pay a visit to her educative blog to learn how she helps young people and how she can help you or a loved one battling with issues; need clarity to find your way in life; get direction for where your future is headed; learn more ways to strengthen your family relationship; love more; and find other answers to life’s general questions. And when you stop by at her I Am My Own Animal educative blog, don’t forget to leave with your copy of her free eBook created to help you deal with emotional insecurities and how to protect yourself from bullies.

If you’re also a social media guru, then do stop by at The Touch Expression Series Facebook fan page to join in on the discussion, and don’t forget to follow the Twitter account where she’ll be posting regular updates to keep you informed. You can also drop by at Goodreads to see what she’s reading next to find inspiration.


Awaken Valkyrie (Touch Expression Book One)

I lived in a world where I was the mega star, the queen of Fair Haven High, the most popular girl in town. I had everything, as superb as a brat goes; the good looks, charm and charisma. Suddenly, I wasn’t a superstar anymore. My popularity died over night only for another to rise. I became the girl who lost her parents a night after her seventeenth birthday, worked in the town’s public library and had no boyfriend to call my own. As if that isn’t enough; I learned my life is in danger. An evil sidh creature from the time of Norn is after me, not for my good looks or my charm, but to use me as his portal to destroy the world. But there’s a problem, I’m not only the girl who lost everything, I’m also the girl picked by the goddess Yggdrasil to destroy Dark lord. My name is Ayana Calhoun, and I’m the Valkyrie. I’ve been awaken to a world where every supernatural creature is hunting for one another’s head. Worst case scenario? I’m at the epicenter of it all, yet I have no idea how to keep myself alive. I have no special power. I have no weapon. And as each dawn breaks, so does the countdown to my days on earth.

  • ISBN: 9781311952066
  • Author: Tessa Smokes
  • Published: 2016-07-03 06:52:06
  • Words: 88696
Awaken Valkyrie (Touch Expression Book One) Awaken Valkyrie (Touch Expression Book One)