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Untamed.

 

All characters in this book cannot be used without the author’s consent.

Before you read:

Don’t ever let anyone stop you from chasing your dream. I barely received a GED, and I was almost placed into a special education class. At the age of 21, I had the reading and writing level of a sixth grader. But in the end, none of that really matters. I now have a steadily going fan base, because I had the faith in myself when no one else did. A wise man once said, “He who says he can and he who says he can’t; are both usually right.” Do yourself a favor and say you can. By doing this, you will realize that the possibilities are endless.

INTRODUCTION: FEAR

Many strange things have been happening to me recently, but this incident is the strangest of them all. It’s no words to describe the sadness I feel about this abrupt misfortune. A totally innocent person, admired dearly by many people in town, was found brutally murdered on the campus grounds about a week ago. His death took the town by surprise; reaching national news. The victim was a dear friend of mine.

This is the first time I’ve lost someone dear to me. Now, for the first time in my 19 years of living, I’m starting to feel the harsh reality of death and the side-effects it has on others. The people of this small town, known as Glenworth, are left mourning over his death. Fear has also shrouded Glenworth like the Bubonic Plague. People are now starting to lock their doors on a regular basis; afraid that the killer may strike once again.

That’s why it’s so shocking, because nothing outlandish ever happens around here; especially something like murder. Unfortunately, I was hit twice as hard by this tragedy, because I was one of the unlucky few who discovered his body. The image of his lifeless body will forever be embedded into my mind. Even before his death, he seemed to be acting very odd. I know something was bothering him, but I just couldn’t figure it out at the time.

In all honesty, I still don’t have the slightest clue why he was acting out of character. What was bothering him? And why do I feel absolutely responsible for what happened? I can’t stop asking myself these two questions. Now, because of his tragic death, I may never know why he began acting so distraught in the first place.

Did he know someone was trying to kill him? If so, that doesn’t make any sense. If he knew his life was in danger, he would’ve informed my Uncle Frank; who is a well-known policeman in town. Even my uncle is shocked about this. Frank has been on the force for fifteen years and counting.

He’s used to seeing dead bodies turning up in the river, but they’re from murders that typically happen in the city and surrounding counties. Fifteen years of police work is not enough to prepare him for what he saw on that dreadful day. Besides the sadness, I’m also consumed by anger. Knowing my friend’s killer is still out here, roaming freely, makes me feel the way I do. I know the bastard is still out here watching, waiting, for his next helpless victim.

Only a person of pure evil can commit a crime so cruel. There’s no justification for such violence. I wouldn’t wish such a death on my worst enemy. The staff on campus came together and created a beautiful memorial for him at the nearby park. A wooden podium is decorated with beautiful flowers; attached to the bundles of flowers are cards.

Personally, I think the best part of his memorial is the giant photos of him. My guilt swells as I stare at the decorative pictures of him. Why would someone kill him? This is another question I have yet gotten answered. As I stand in front of his memorial, constantly staring at a picture of him, I can’t stop asking myself that question.

Out of all the people who could’ve been chosen, why this innocent soul? The wind starts to blow harder, so I wrap my arms around myself to keep warm. Although I’m wearing a wool-coat, it’s still no match for the bitterness of this autumn day. The air is brisk, the ground is cold and wet, and the gray clouds are dense across the evening sky. I force myself to turn away from his pictures.

I can’t keep staring at his blameless eyes much longer; it’s far too painful. Both guilt and sadness follow me as I tread through the wet, thick, grass. Out of nowhere, I hear an eerie sound coming from the woods. It’s the sound of crunching leaves and twigs. I stop walking to listen.

Seconds passes by as I remain on edge. Maybe I’m just hearing things. Just to make sure, I stand absolutely motionless and attentive for a little while longer. Crows burst from the woods and flee across the cloudy sky. My heart jumps slightly as they abruptly scatter abroad and disappear from my sight.

I shake the jitters from my head, relieving my mind from the tension, and continue walking again. It’s all in my mind, it’s all in my mind; I think to myself for reassurance. Just to be on the safe side, I quicken my pace.

“Iva!” A voice calls out to me somewhere within the woods.

The uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, that I tried to bury, lashes back at me with a vengeance. The voice sounds like the voice of a woman in torment. This causes fear to come over me.

“Iva! Please help!” The voice pleads to me.

Suddenly, it hits me…

“Mom!” I project my voice into the woods.

“Help me please I’m badly hurt!” My mother calls out in anguish.

Immediately, I’m ravaged by fear for my mother’s life. With wrecked nerves, I hurry inside the woods. I begin looking around for her with desperate eyes, but a thin mist makes it difficult to see far ahead of me. Still, that doesn’t stop me from running around frantically through the fog; trying my best to track her voice down.

“Mom where are you?!” I speak at a higher volume.

“Over here.” She says with a burdened voice.

I follow her cry for help; ducking under low branches, parting bare vines, and leaping over large roots protruding from the muddy soil. It doesn’t take me long to find her resting sideways on the leaf covered ground.

“I’m over here.” She cries out in agony.

She’s curled into a ball, and wearing a long gray cloak which is concealing her entire body.

“Mom, what are you doing out here? Are you…?” I stop speaking when I notice something creepy.

My mom is a thin, lean, woman, but she’s not nearly this thin. I shouldn’t be able to see her spine creasing the cloak.

“Honey, help me up.” She cries out to me without turning.

I stop dead in my tracks about 30 feet away from her. I’m now close enough to see her clearly through the fog.

“Come closer. Help me up.” She groans in pain again.

An ugly feeling grows inside me all of a sudden. Then my neck gets hit with a cool sensation that makes its way down my spine and lingers there. This is a sensation you can’t get from brisk weather. Instead, this feeling comes when you realize something very bizarre. There’s something about this whole situation that doesn’t add up correctly.

My mom has no reason being out here; no reason at all. Actually, she should be at work around this time. The wind comes through the forest fiercely. The strong gust of air disturbs everything in sight. The hood of the cloak is blown back, and now her head is finally revealed.

That eerie feeling on my spine invades my entire body; consuming me like a raging fire. I can see a pale, wrinkly, head covered in thin strands of dark hair. I also see long ears dangling on the sides of its face like a dog. I’m now gripped by unfathomable horror. I gasp deeply, and try to conceal my fear by covering my mouth.

I’ve never felt so terrified in my entire life. The fear is so powerful it makes my legs weaken. I stumble back a little and nearly fall, but then I grab the side of a tree to balance myself. My heart begins to pound against my chest. I’m lucky this tree is in arm’s reach. If it were not for this additional support, I’m sure I would’ve passed-out.

“Iva, help me up.” This thing, who is obviously not my mother, cries out again.

Another dose of fear hits my bloodstream; causing me to become paralyzed temporarily. I’m literally scared stiff right now.

“You’re not my mother.” I reply with tense words.

Suddenly, this thing stops its painful groans; as if it’s been acting the whole time. Then it slowly sits up. Now it’s facing away from me with its head still unveiled.

“You’re a brave girl, Iva Hill.” It says to me in a man’s voice. “Brave but very, very, foolish. Don’t you know a killer is on the loose? I can’t help but wonder who his next victim will be.”

The thing looks over its shoulder at me. Its eyes stare deeply into mine. I flinch hard at the first sight of its hideous face. Since my mind can’t fabricate what I’m staring at, my mind goes completely void for a second. It appears a man is wearing a dog’s mask of some kind, but I know it’s real by the way the muscles in its face form an angry expression.

Its skin is similar humans’ skin, but its eyes are spaced apart with very large bags underneath them. Its nose is large with a mole on its tip. In short, this creature resembles a hound-dog with human-like features. All of its teeth are pointy, and its abnormally wide mouth is dripping saliva. I hyperventilate as it slowly rises to its feet and faces me.

The cloak it’s wearing blows off in the process and is carried away by the passing wind. This thing is tall; a little over six-feet, and it’s also very lean; maybe 150lbs. I recognize it’s a male by its masculine physique. His arms are long, and his fingers and nails are long as well.

“You’re afraid.” He speaks to me.

His voice sounds very odd. The tone in his voice is weak and low; like an elderly man’s voice. As he speaks, my muscles tenses up, and my breathing increases which prevents me from talking.

“It’s only natural to be afraid. I mean…am I not something to fear?” He asks me.

He then, without warning, swiftly charges toward me with a hand lifted into the air. My eyes quickly shift at his long, razor-sharp, fingernails. He’s coming towards me at an alarming speed; ready to drive those pointy nails into my face. He’s fast approaching, and I’m too scared to move. My breathing ceases, and my body tenses up like never before.

He’s closing in for the kill, and I don’t know how to defend myself against him. Luckily, instinct blinks on like a bulb before he’s able to slice me open.

I swiftly dodge right and stumble onto the forest floor. Now my hands are covered in cold mud and leaves. The tall creature is now standing where I was with its long, sharp, nails stuck inside of a tree. That’s a close call. If I didn’t move, that tree would’ve been my face.

It was all-to-easy for him to sink those fingers into that dense bark. If my reflexes had failed me, his nails would’ve easily pierced my skull; like a knife to butter. Now he appears to be angry at himself for missing his opportunity to finish me off. As he struggles to pull his hand from the tree side, I stand and take of running back to the field. For reasons that remain unknown, someone… actually…let me rephrase; something is trying to claim my life.

Am I scared? If I could somehow measure the horror I feel right now, it would be in a category of its own. Some say when you’re caught in a dire situation your mind goes into a fight or flee mode. As you can tell, I chose the best alternative for me without hesitating. Seriously, who can blame me for doing so?

My small feeble frame wouldn’t stand a chance against this thing. His power is terrifying.

“THIS IS NOT OVER, IVA HILL!” The creature shouts through the fog from a distance. “I WILL RIP YOUR HEART OUT!” He shouts while laughing. “YOU CAN’T OUTRUN ME!” His laughing voice echoes throughout the grim forest.

All I can hear is my shoes crunching into the leaves on the forest floor as I continue to run for my dear life. I know death comes for us all, but I prefer the scenario involving no pain and me being a very old woman sleeping in my bed. I take a quick glance over my shoulder to keep track of the creature’s progression. Luckily for me, it’s not on my trail; not just yet at least.

I shift my eyes forward again and notice that I’m surrounded by mist. I can’t see the field in any direction. I stop running for a moment to look around for a clearing. I need to find a way out of these woods before it’s too late.

“HELP!” I scream at the top of my lungs as I frantically look around for an escape route.

All I can see is bare trees and gloomy mist that stretches as far as my eyes will allow me to see.

“I’M COMING FOR YOU!” The creature’s voice echoes throughout the woods.

I begin to sprint in a random direction; hoping to God it’s the right way out of here.

“I CAN SMELL YOUR FEAR!” The creature says somewhere behind me.

My legs are moving as fast as they can, but the fallen trees and large branches on the forest floor makes it hard to run without stumbling. I try my best to hurdle over them so I wouldn’t lose my constant speed. I then notice a glimpse of hope; the woods are thinning and the grassy field is coming into view. Come on, you’re almost there; I motivate myself as the field gradually approaches.

Not long after, I dart out of the woods and onto the field. The road is roughly 50 yards ahead of me, so I tamper with my limits and run faster in order to find someone who can save me from this…whatever this thing is.

“Help! Someone help me!” I scream at the top of my lungs as I continue sprinting.

Don’t stop running; I’m constantly reminding myself in my head. I glance over my shoulder again and see the creature bursting from the woods. My soul jumps from my body when I notice it charging onto the field. It stops, only momentarily, to look around for me. Its large, bloodthirsty, eyes meet mine.

My heart cringes with fear as he discovers me. When it spots me running away, this makes the creature angrier than before. It starts to chase after me with its hands chopping the wind like a professional track-runner. My panicky mind is working overtime for a plan B, because my first plan, run for dear life, is failing horribly. I look forward again at the road growing in front of me.

I push myself even harder; trying my best to move my legs faster than before. I ignore my weakening stamina and the urge to catch my breath. I have no other option. If I stop now, I’m going to be ripped to shreds. Still, as I turn my face to check on the creature’s progression, I witness its speed double.

This thing is determined to kill me. What did I do to deserve this? It’s as if the creature’s determination to kill me far exceeds my determination to survive. Just look at it running like a professional track-star, yet I can barely move my legs already. I shift my eyes forward and see a small ditch in the grass, but sadly my reflexes aren’t quick enough to avoid it.

I trip and hit the grass hard; landing on my chest. The fall forces the air from my lungs. I then turn onto my back and see the creature closing in for the kill. The expression on its face is fulfillment; as if it’s been aching to kill me for a long time. It’s too late for me to do anything. He’s approaching so fast I can’t run or even scream.

He extends his hand back and prepares to drive its long, razor-sharp, fingernails into my face. In this very moment, when every bit of hope is lost, a black mass comes leaping across the air; colliding into the creature. Their collision creates a sound similar to erupting thunder. Suddenly, the park bench to my left explodes as the creature’s body goes flying through it. Its body bounces off the dirt like a rock skipping on the surface of water, and then it rolls to a rough halt.

The creature is now resting motionless on its stomach; out-cold.

“Oh my God! Oh my God!” My words come out uneasily; mixed together with deep, uncontrollable, breaths.

At my feet, to my left, I spot this huge heap of black fur. It rises off the grass until it’s standing on all four paws. Slowly it rotates its body to face me. I feel my joints tighten harder than before as its yellow eyes penetrate through mines and consumes my soul. These yellow eyes belong to an adult male lion.

He takes a couple of steps toward me and lowers his huge face close to mine. Off of reflex, I lean my body away from his face. He breathes deeply through his nose. Each breath he takes causes my hair to flow back. I think my heart just stopped.

“Are you alright Iva?” The beast asks me in a deep, bold, voice.

And for the second time in my life, I’m too appalled to speak. It’s just too much madness to take in at one time. I’m staring into the eyes of a talking black lion. He’s so close I can feel the warmth from his breath brushing my face. I open my mouth to speak, but my words are trembling as they form on my tongue.

“I’ve heard of you… You are… You are…” I try to speak and fail horribly.

The massive lion leans slightly closer and finishes my sentence with these words…

“I am Mane.”…

CHAPTER 1: FOUR MONTHS AGO

(Events that led to Mane)

My bedroom has become a prison that I’ve voluntarily placed myself in. The walls of my room are dull and colorless. The shelving units are all filled with books of various genres. The majority of my books are romance novels. I also have collectible model-planes hanging from my ceiling.

I can spend hours at night staring up at them. Doing this helps me fall asleep when my insomnia gets stubborn. My dresser, which is next to my bed, has a bunch of stuffed animals and dolls resting on top. I have this window in my room, just one, that I sit in front of every single day; watching life around me progress. Day after day, I sit in my wheelchair and watch other people live their lives.

I grew accustom to this lifestyle, for it’s the only way I know how to live. Too often I feel like a shadow. I have no friends to keep me company when I’m lonesome. Maybe that’s because I was home schooled during my childhood years. I do have Julia, but she doesn’t count for the simple fact that she’s my mother.

She has to put up with me because I’m her daughter. I feel like an elderly woman in an old folk’s home. Nineteen years can easily seem like a hundred if you had nothing to do all day long. There’s no meaning to my life; no defined purpose that I’m called to do. I’m a ghost sitting in front of a window all day.

I guess I’m just waiting to expire. The only excitement I get is reading a book, watching television, and looking at the neighborhood kids’ play outside. I rarely go outdoors, because I’m always worried about having an episode in public. It happened before. The most embarrassing moment was when I blacked out in a family restaurant.

If not the epilepsy, it’s my allergies; and if it’s not the allergies, it’s my arthritis. Every time I’m outdoors and enjoying myself, there’s always some condition blocking me from savoring that special moment with my mother. It always seems so gray outside; no matter how good the weather may be. The world to me always appears….obscure. Sometimes I ponder about how different my life would be without these defects.

I often wish I was normal like everyone else I know. These subtle fantasies keep me from going crazy. Fantasizing give me a sense of hope that maybe things will change for me. I’m still waiting, ever so patiently, for something to change in my life. I’m trying so hard to keep my hope alive.

Besides my mother, hope is all I have to cherish. Therefore, every morning I polish that hope with the thoughts of a new beginning. I can visualize myself getting better and ditching this wheelchair for good. Then I would create a social life or maybe even attend school. Until then, I’ll stay indoors to avoid further humiliation.

It’s not like I hate going outside. I enjoy taking trips with my mother, but I despise it when people stare at me. Sometimes I feel like a freak-of-nature. My mom believes it’s all in my head. I know for a fact it’s not.

For example, someone is doing it right now. As my mom stops to survey a blouse at her favorite department store, I can’t help but notice a plump woman looking over at me near the pants section.

“Hi.” She says lowly to me with a faint smile.

I return the favor and smile back. She’s pretending to look at clothes just to look at me. Why? At least give me the common courteously to turn away when I catch you staring. It’s repulsive how some people stare like they’ve never seen anyone in a wheelchair before.

I didn’t even want to come here. It was my mom’s idea to drag me along while she shops at mediocre department stores. She somehow convinced me that our time at the mall will be worthwhile. My mother is the only thing in this world worth living for. Without her, I probably would’ve ended all the misery and committed suicide a long time ago.

Also, I know how hard she’s been working to keep our mother and daughter relationship somewhat tolerable. It’s a decent spring day. The temperature is fair and the mall is mild. Why not? It’s not like I have a long day planned out.

Plus, I was tired of her begging me at the breakfast table. I do hope we’re out before it gets too crowded.

“How does this one look on me?” My mom asks.

I shift and see her holding a black blouse against her perfect physique.

“It looks okay.” The words come out slightly dishonest.

I can tell she picked up on my dishonestly, because the confidence in her face faded instantaneously.

“You don’t like it?” She questions.

“I’m not a big fan of black. You know that.” I reply.

I don’t have any fashion sense at all. Just take a look at what I’m wearing. My outfit looks like it came from an old woman’s closet. I’m wearing a silver blouse, a black skirt with black stockings, and black-flats on my feet to match my skirt. Oh yes…. How could I forget about my butterfly hairpin?

“What about this one?” She presses on.

She holds up yet another blouse to her chest. This one is red and seems to fit her physique better. The red hue in the blouse is very bright; which compliments the green in her eyes.

“Yes. That’s much better.” I give my honest opinion.

“I thought so too.” She replies.

She hangs the blouse on the handle of my wheelchair and maneuvers me to another area of the store. While she sorts through the jeans, she looks at me and somehow discovers my frustration; although I’m trying my best to conceal it. As you can tell, she’s a pro at reading me. It’s almost impossible to hide my emotions from my mother.

“Is something bothering you?” She asks.

I sigh before answering.

“It’s just…I hate it when people stare at me.”
“Iva, what did I tell you? We go through this every time we go out. Who cares if they stare? People stare at me too. Don’t let small things ruin your day.”

“People stare at you because you’re beautiful. Why do they stare at me?”

She breaks for a moment to collect her thoughts.

“Don’t be foolish. You’re beautiful. Stop worrying about something you have no control over. It’s all in your head.”

My mom doesn’t really know how it feels to walk in my shoes. She tells me she understands, but we both know that’s not the truth. She was born healthy and raised like any normal girl. Bone deficiency, epilepsy, and a low immune system are only a few of many conditions doctors discovered over the years. These conditions are the reason for so many trips back and forth to the hospital.

These conditions are the reasons why I didn’t do much of anything with my life. Everything about me is uninteresting. My mother has the looks of a super-model. I, on the other hand, was born with colorless hair, my father left me when I was five, I never had a real friend, and the best characteristic about me is my large nose. I blame that last part on my Jewish grandparents.

Unfortunately, that attribute skipped my mom and was passed down to me. Shortly after, we leave the store with a couple of new blouses and then journey over to the book café. It’s very quiet and subtle in here; just the way I like it. This place reminds me of home. The atmosphere is calm with the constant scent of hazelnut coffee in the air.

My mom maneuvers me towards a row of tables that are covered in used books. We wouldn’t dare look at the new books across the store. We’re not that fortunate to purchase books for fifteen dollars a copy. If my medical expenses weren’t such a pain in the neck, we would be able to afford them. However, I really don’t mind bringing home used books.

I grew to admire the smell of aged book pages. I actually prefer the musty aroma over the fresh store scent.

“I’m going to get a latte. Do you want something?” She offers me.

“No, I’m fine.” I decline her offer.

“Be back in a sec.” She informs me as she gracefully walks off.

As she walks away, I spot male onlookers watching her stroll to the café area. I’m not grossed out by their staring. In fact, who can blame them? She is truly something to marvel. Whoever says different is obviously blind or just flat-out-insane.

I begin to survey through the variety of vintage titles that are displayed. Different genres are scattered abroad. I spin the wheels on my chair to maneuver down the aisle; excusing myself as I pass a couple of fellow book-hunters.

Hmmm…This one seems interesting.

It’s an older title of course, but it’s written by a renowned author. I’ll give it a try. As I reach for the book, another hand beats me to it. I quickly retract my hands and look up at the person. It’s Kristie Cambridge who lives a couple of doors down from us.

She’s accompanied by two other girls her age. They all appear awfully cheerful and friendly; just like her. I barely see Kristie around the neighborhood anymore since she went off to college two years back.

“Iva, how’s it going?” Kristie asks vividly.

“Fine…I mean great.” I stutter just a little.

“Mimi, it’s Iva. Remember Iva Hill from down the street?” Kristie asks one of the girls.

Then it hits me. Mimi is Melissa Stone. Wow! It’s incredible how much she’s grown. I barely recognize her because I haven’t seen her since we we’re kids.

She moved away about 8 years ago to Boston.

“I remember. How’s it hanging?” Mimi asks brightly.

“Everything is okay.” I reply; trying to appear cool and unnerved.

“So, what have you been up to?” Mimi asks.

I give myself a moment to think about her question.

“Just taking it easy.” I reply. “What about you?”

“I’m working and going to school. I’m on vacation now.” Mimi replies.

“Hey, do you still read?” Kristie questions me.

“Yeah.”

“Oh my goodness.” Kristie says cheerfully. “Iva totally has the hugest book collection ever.”

“Really?” Mimi asks.

“Like…it’s huge.” Kristie complements. “Mimi is going to school to be a writer, and she’s quite the hardcore reader like you Iva.”

“What’s your genre?” Mimi inquires.

“Me? A little bit of everything.”

“Cool.” She replies. “You know I’m thinking about starting a local book-club. And if you are interested, you are more than welcomed to join us.”

“A book-club? That sounds like fun.” I finish with a smile.

I can’t help but feel a bit timid. I don’t chitchat with kids my age very often. It must feel great having friends to hang out with at the mall; doing fun stuff girls my age typically do.

“Are you doing anything tonight?” Kristie asks.

Is she really about to invite me over? Okay Iva…calm down and don’t do anything nerdy or outlandish; just chill.

“Not really. What’s up?” I answer as calmly as possible.

“We’re just going to hang out at my place. You can come over if you want.”

The last time Kristie invited me over to her house was her sixteenth birthday party. I should feel excited about the invite, but all of a sudden I begin to feel dizzy. This symptom is all too familiar. I just can’t believe it’s happening right now. The dizzy sensation in my head shoots down into my stomach, and I grab my chest in attempt to cease the sickness.

I pause for a moment; trying to control it somehow.

“Are you okay?” Kristie asks with a hint of worry.

“I’m fine. It’s just…”

There’s no use trying to resist anymore. Kristie and her friends flinch back, with disgusted expressions, as my entire breakfast is dispersed all over the floor and my skirt. They remain statues for another moment before Kristie decides to step forward and place her hand on my shoulder for comfort. My entire body is shuddering uncontrollably as if it’s below zero degrees in here.

“Iva, are you okay?” She asks in a soft concerned voice.

“My mom…” I stutter. “Please go get my mom.”

I can’t look Kristie in the eyes. I just can’t. The overwhelming feeling of embarrassment is weighing down my eyes like an anvil.

“Okay.” She replies and begins her search for my mom.

The other two follow behind her. Nervous vomiting is just another problem I’ve been dealing with over the years…

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 2: A NEW BEGINNING

 

 

 

 

 

Somewhere, deep within my mind, I’m desperately trying to wake up from this nightmare. Although we’re far away from the mall now, heading back home, the humiliation is still incredibly strong. I can’t believe I just made a complete idiot of myself in that café. I can’t get rid of the embarrassing tension, because I’m steadily being reminded of it by the fresh smell of vomit on my clothes. The ride home is a quiet one; uncomfortably quiet.

Soon, I’m being rolled into the bathroom by my mother. She runs some water in the sink, grabs a linen cloth, dampens it with lukewarm water, and then proceeds to wipe off my face.

“It’s okay honey. You just had a little accident. I’m going to get you all cleaned up.” She says to me in a low voice as she finishes cleaning off my chin.

I just reached a whole different level of pathetic.

“I’m sorry I ruined your day.” I tell her in a low depressing tone.

She lowers into a kneeling position, carrying a soothing warm smile, and settles hers face at my eye level.

“Why would you say that? You didn’t ruin my day. It was a mistake. That’s all.”

I look down into my lap and swallow down the burning lump in my throat. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to suppress my tears.

“I just want to be normal. I hate waking up like this. Sometimes I feel so…worthless.”

My mother gently grips my hands; her eyes starting to glisten.

“You’re not worthless. You’re priceless.” My mom tells me. “You’re the reason why I get up every morning.”

“You say that because I’m your daughter. But we both know the world will never accept me like this.”

“Iva, stop worrying about others’ opinions. Just keep pushing forward. We’re going to get through this. Okay?”

I let her words marinate for a couple of seconds. She does have a talent for lifting my mood when I’m feeling down. It works this time but only mildly. I look into her emerald eyes and smile halfheartedly into them.

“Okay.” I reply meekly.

“Now you’re going to take a nice bath, and then I will get us some ice cream. How does that sound?”

I don’t respond with words. I just give her a weak nod. She then stands and runs my bath water…

 

 

Minutes turn into hours, hours turn into days, and days turn into weeks. I haven’t left the house since the incident at the cafe. I never accepted Kristie’s invitation either. How could I show my face around her after that nightmare I created? I rather not embarrass myself like that again.

Therefore, I stick to my daily routine. I stay in my room, avoiding further humiliation, looking out from my window and watching life around me advance. Soon, Kristie’s vacation break is over and she’s heading back. Seeing her being driven to the airport makes me wonder about how different my life would be if I was born normal. Only if I was like everyone else, I’ll be traveling back to school right along with her.

I can only imagine that. As you can see, fantasizing about a normal life has become my secret hobby over the years. But there comes a time when you have to say to yourself, enough is enough. I want a new life, and I want it badly. Then something new has come up that may be an indication of hope in my near future.

My mom received a new job offer about three days ago. This job pays twice as much as the editor gig she has now. She took the offer without thinking twice. The place is a highly reputable publishing firm somewhere in New York. It’s located near the town she was raised in; so she tells me. When she mentioned the possibility of us moving, I didn’t take her word for it until the Realtor arrived to discuss the details.

In all honesty, I don’t care at all about this move. Even now, as I stare at the fresh for sale sign resting on our lawn, there are no emotions to disagree with her decision. It’s not like I’m Kristie Cambridge who has lots of memorable moments here with her family and friends. I accomplished absolutely nothing here. Why should this place matter to me?

“All set?” My mom asks as she closes the driver’s door.

“All set.” I reply from the passenger’s seat.

She smiles before reversing. I’m totally grateful to be leaving 146 Pendale Drive and never returning…

 

 

 

The drive from Virginia to Upstate New York is about ten hours. For most of the ride, we simply enjoy the scenery, silently. I keep myself entertained by listening to the radio and periodically counting trees as they zoom by in a blur. We do talk from time to time as we cruise along. It’s just enough small-talk to prevent the awkward silences.

Now the remaining day is slipping from us. A florescent pink is beginning to devour the blue horizon.

“We made it.” My mom informs me.

We take an exit ramp that welcomes us into the City of Rochester. The downtown area, just like any city, appears typical. You have your stores, your cabs, your buses, and your traffic lights on every block. In no time, we cruise through a neighborhood lined with large boxy homes resting on top of narrow yards. She makes a final right turn onto Meigs Street and then lowers speed. She carefully observes all of the addresses as we ease down the block.

“This is us.” She says while pulling into a vacant driveway.

This house is boxy like the others with a beige exterior and blue window shutters. There’s a black car parked in front of the house which belongs to a police official. My mom beeps the car horn several times. A couple of seconds later, the front door opens. A man is standing in the doorway grinning at us.

He’s dressed casually in a pair of black slacks and a white shirt with the sleeves partially rolled up on each arm. He hurries onto the porch and down the steps, bringing a vivid smile along with him. My mom rushes out of the van and meets him with an embrace. It’s one of those hugs you give someone you haven’t seen in years. A moment later, they detach. She takes a moment to study his physical appearance from head to toe.

“Oh my God! I can’t believe you cut your hair.” My mom’s excited voice is penetrating the windows.

He leans his head forward so she can further examine his bronze hair. He then says something unclear to her. She then burst into laughter. He then directs his big grin towards me and wraps around the front of the van; opening the door.

“What’s up kiddo?” He says to me.

I leer into his green eyes and begin to pull moments with him from my memory bank. He has the same green eyes and golden brown hair as my mother. I know him, but I haven’t seen him in a long time. And then it hits me…

“Uncle Frank?” I mutter shockingly.

“Who else would I be?” He replies…

 

 

CHAPTER 3: DETECTIVE LANCASTER

 

 

 

 

 

As night falls, the three of us settle into the living area of the house. We’re chitchatting about various things while sipping on a freshly brewed cup of tea. The inside of the house is very spacious; I love the high ceilings, but the style of the house is not so favorable. Everything looks neat and clean, but the house is furnished with lots of outdated furniture. It was my grandparents’ house.

I guess Uncle Frank left it the same way since their death, which was over a decade ago. I barely knew them because they died when I so young.

“So, when do you start the new job?” Uncle Frank asks from a recliner.

“In a couple of days.” She replies with a sigh.

“It’s good to hear someone is willing to pay you a fair salary. You’re a hard worker Julie. You deserve it.”

“Thanks.” She smiles humbly at her brother.

“Mom and dad would be proud of you.” He admits to her.

She nods humbly in agreement with him.

“I know.” She replies.

She then releases a long sigh and glances around the room at the pictures on the walls. All of them are old photographs from their childhood years together. Her eyes then shifts towards the fireplace, where a clutter of trophies rest on top of the mantel.

“I can’t believe this house is still the same after all these years.” My mom says; still surveying the room.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” Uncle Frank replies.

Suddenly, I see my Uncle’s inner conscience snapping alert.

“I forgot to tell you who I ran into the other day.” Uncle Frank says to my mom.

“Who?”

“Matt Thompson.”

She gasps out loud; nearly laughing.

“You didn’t.” She says in an astonished way.

“Yup. He was asking about you too.” He informs her while laughing.

I feel left out of a joke, so it’s only natural for me to ask them about this Matt character.

“Who is this Matt Thomas guy?”

“Just your mom’s old crush in high school.”

My mom is laughing and blushing uncontrollably right now. She’s trying her hardest to cover her red face with her hands. She takes a quick break from laughing and blushing to speak.

“Hold on…first and foremost, it was not a crush. I liked him and that’s it.” She sets the record straight.

Uncle Frank shakes his head in disagreement as he tries to hold back a laugh.

“You were obsessed with the guy.” He gives his side of the story. “You wore a shirt that said, “I love Matt”, with hearts around it.”

“That’s obsessive?” She says with burning red cheeks. “How come?”

“Julie, what planet do you live on?”

“I was not obsessed.” She backfires with a red face. “Every teenage girl has their little fling.”

“You were.” He says with sincerity.

Eventually, my mom stops laughing. She then rests her head back onto the soft couch pillow, gazing at the ceiling in deep thought.

“I forgot all about Matt. I thought he went to New York City for acting. How is he?” She asks while in deep thought.

Uncle Frank takes a sip of the tea and begins to speak, but he is having difficulty putting words together in a sentence.

“He’s good. He’s a pretty big deal now. The guy is huge.” He says in a halfhearted, untruthful, way.

“I guess everything went well for him. That’s good.”

“Not career wise. He’s huge, meaning fat. I barely recognized the guy.”

The shock hits my mother so hard that it causes her lower jaw to give out.

“Shut-up.” She says to her brother.

“I’m serious. He went to New York and he obviously took one too many bites from the big apple.”

Once again, she begins to laugh out loud. I’ve never seen my mother laugh so hard. Seeing her exhausted and dragging her feet into the house from working long hours at the publishing firm has been branded into my mind. This woman I see now…I haven’t seen her in a very long time. I can’t help but add in a giggle or two of my own.

“He asked about you.” He adds while laughing. “I’m going to call him up and say…Hey Matt; Julie wants to know if you guys can pick up where you left off.”

“Don’t you dare. I will kill you.” She says as the laughter dies down.

Slowly but surely, they stop giggling. Frank looks around the room as his laughter fades, and then he falls into a daydream. I can see his bright eyes dimming down. Maybe he’s thinking about a sentimental moment that happened in this very room so long ago.

“I couldn’t sell it Julie. I thought about it but…” He pauses to reflect on distant recollections. “…it’s just too many memories in here. Man oh man…where did those years go?”

My mom smiles at his remark.

“I must say it feels good to be back.” She tells him.

“It’s good to have you back.” Uncle Frank counters.

He turns all of his attention onto me; his bright smile returning.

“Well, Iva, what are your plans for the summer?” He asks.

“I’m not sure.” I reply while shrugging my shoulders.

“Do you still write?” He continues.

“Not much anymore. I read a lot.”

“Ever think about picking up classes?”

I shrug my shoulders.

“I didn’t plan on it.” I reply weakly.

“Frank, trust me, I’ve been trying to get her to take courses. She just doesn’t want to.” My mom joins in.

Her remark makes me instantly annoyed. I turn and leer into her eyes.

“It’s not like I don’t want to mom.” I take a break to sigh and calm my feelings. “It’s just…. I can barely go anywhere without getting sick or whatever. It’s a waste of time.”

“How do you know? Have you tried it?” Uncle Frank moves the conversation along.

“Well no…”

“Maybe there’s a reason for you being alive today. You are about to be 20 years old, Iva. You gotta get out there into the world.”

That statement really hits home hard. He’s right and I’m too afraid to admit it. But why? Is failing that intimidating to me?

“Frank, come in.” A voice says through static.

“Hold on kiddo…” He says while lifting a handheld device to his mouth. “What’s up?” He replies into the device.

“We’ve got a situation out here.” The voice responds.

Uncle Frank eyes roll in his head.

“Can it wait?” He asks the voice.

“I’m afraid not.”

Uncle Frank sighs before replying…

“On my way.” He says halfheartedly.

He then stands and grabs his black blazer off the top of the recliner.

“Leaving so soon?” My mom asks.

“The life of a detective I’m afraid.”

“Be safe. Okay?”

“Always.” He replies. “Call me if you need anything Julie.”

He turns to me and winks.

“See you later kiddo.”

“See you later Uncle Frank.”

In no time, he’s out of the house and into the night…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 4: THE NEW CASE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night matures as Frank drives away from Rochester and into a secluded town that has no buildings. The small homes, which are made out of wood, are acres apart. The town is mostly thick, obscure, woods that stretches for miles and miles. The sky is free of clouds, making the full moon look grand and vivid behind the towering pine trees. He cruises his way down a pitch-black road with his headlights revealing only forty-yards ahead of him.

He continues to drive down this lonely road until a faint light can be seen peeking through the pine trees from afar. He slows to a halt at an illuminated area blocked off by two squad cars, an old pickup truck, a couple of sedans, and burning road flares. There he sees three state troopers, an old man, and this tall casually dressed fellow talking together.

The tall man, who is dressed in a gray-suit, approaches and greets Frank as he exits his vehicle.

“What we got Jones?” Frank asks the tall fellow as he steps out of his car.

Jones shrugs his shoulders and shakes his face with a mystified expression.

“We don’t know exactly, but its looks like an animal attack. It’s a bad one. Something is really strange about this one Frank.” Jones talks as they cut between the squad cars and walk into a lit trail that goes deep within the forest.

Frank follows behind Jones as they carefully walk through the narrow trail. Shortly, they arrive at the scene of the incident where four people, two men and two women, are examining the area for evidence. Frank sees the body of the victim resting awkwardly on the forest floor. This body belongs to a twenty-five year old college graduate named Adrian. She’s wearing navy-blue hiking gear.

Her outfit is shredded and covered in blood, and her eyes are frozen in absolute dread. Her blood is still fresh enough to appear crimson on her clothes. Frank studies the body and calculates the time of death in his head. In his head, he estimates that she died around four hours ago. He also begins to take other things into consideration, like the amount of mud on her boots, the twigs protruding out of her clothes, and how her personal belongings are not with her.

This tells him she had to be running for a while before her death. Also, by her frightened eyes, he knows she died terrified.

“We found her just like this.” He informs Frank. “Her personal belongings are at a camping area a mile from here.”

Frank kneels next to the woman’s lifeless body, which is constantly being illuminated by camera flashes. He then takes out a small flashlight from his pocket to observe the area better.

“Any I.D?” He asks.

“Adrian Singleton is her name. We already notified her folks. They said she came up here from Buffalo with her boyfriend.”

“Hiking?” Frank asks.

“Yup.”

“And her boyfriend’s whereabouts?”

“He’s missing too.” His partner answers.

Using a pen, Frank lifts up her ripped shirt while holding the flashlight in the other hand. The light reveals a series of claw marks around a large cavity in her torso.

“Holy shit.” Frank says automatically when he sees the gaping wound.

He covers her wound again and takes a second to gather his thoughts. The sight is so gruesome it manages to stupefy Frank. For someone in his line of work, that doesn’t happen very often. As he stares at her frightened eyes, his mind attempts to form a scenario. He can’t seem to connect the dots in his head.

“What do you think about this?” Jones interrogates.

“I have never seen anything like this.” Frank replies.

“Tell me about it. What animal would rip someone open like this?” He asks Frank.

“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.” Frank says with a newly found determination.

His eyes search around the forest floor for clues. He begins to prowl close to the ground; his eyes more observant than ever. He scatters some twigs and sees several boot prints. He continues to observe his surroundings while a scenario plays out in his mind.

“She ran for some time and was caught. There was a struggle that didn’t last very long.” Frank assumes as he continues to hunt down clues.

He then spots something rather unusual and freezes at the first sight of it. It looks like a footprint. Actually, it’s a pair of footprints, and it’s not that far from the victim’s body.

“Someone else was here. The soil is disturbed. That means, whoever it was, they stood here for a while. But why?”

As Frank takes some time to ponder, Jones kneels down next to him.

“Maybe it was her boyfriend.” Jones says.

Frank considers that fact. He brushes away pine needles to observe the imprint better. Jones’s accusation slips from his mind. He moves closer to the footprints and concentrates the light onto it. The footprint is unlike a human footprint. It’s larger with claw marks.

“These are not human feet.” Frank declares. “Have you ever seen a print like that?” Frank asks with a baffled expression.

Jones bathes in his own thoughts for a moment or so. Awhile after, his mind then gives up on Frank’s question. He shakes the confusion from his head.

“Bear?” Jones blurts out the first thing that sounds reasonable to him.

“Don’t look much like a bear print either. Whatever the hell it was, it tracked her down. She fought it; well, at least tried to.” Frank tells him with a hint of remorse towards the end of the sentence.

Frank stands to his feet with his partner.

“Jones, you know I never say this. But I have a bad feeling about this one.” Frank admits as he continues to look at the body.

“Same here.” Jones agrees.

Suddenly, those peering eyes become busy again. Frank shines the light on the ground and finds yet another suspicious indentation. He moves closer to observe it. It’s another boot print, but the patterns in these boots are unlike the other.

“Hold on one second. I see her boot prints. But these boots belongs to someone else.” Frank realizes.

“I know. It’s Old Man Duncan’s boots.”

“Come again?” Frank backfires.

“You remember the old man who lives on the lake a couple clicks down the road? He’s the one who found the body. You should talk to him.”

 

Shortly, Jones and Frank exit the forest and walks over to three state troopers talking to a very upset elderly man in the middle of the road. The old man is wearing brown hunting clothes and rugged leather boots on his feet. The cops are trying to lower the old man’s irritation, but they only seem to be adding fuel to his fire.

“Sir please calm down for a second.” Frank says in a dominating tone.

Frank’s demanding tone works to an extent. The old man is still ranting underneath his breath about how the troopers are too stupid to understand anything.

“Officers, may I have a second?” Frank asks.

“Sure.” A trooper replies and then steps aside.

The others step back making space between Frank and the older man.

“Stupid son of a bitch.” The old man backfires to one of the troopers.

“Hey! There’s no need for that kind of language. Take a breather.” Frank orders the old man.

He manages to persuade the old man to calm himself, although his face is still red.

“Start from the beginning please, without yelling.” Frank orders the old man.

The old man sighs before starting over.

“I heard some screaming. It was just before sunset. I was across the road.” He points behind himself towards the other side of the forest.

“What were you doing out here?”

“I was doing a little hunting. I didn’t catch any game, so I decided to head home early. And that’s when I heard the screaming. My God, she was screaming something fierce. Then I crossed the road. I had my gun ready, because I knew somebody was in trouble. Then that’s when I saw her on the ground. She was probably forty-feet away from where I was standing.”

The old man forces his emotions back before continuing.

“She was just killed because her body was still shaking.”

Tears gather in the old man’s eyes, and this time it takes longer for him to continue the story.

“Only if I was there a minute before.” Grief begins to grip the elderly man.

“Did you see anyone?”

“Yes I did.” He replies timidly. “I saw someone squatting down near her body. I thought it was a man at first glimpse, but I don’t know what the hell it was.”

“It?” Frank asks uneasily.

“I saw its back. I mean the damn thing even squats down like a man and everything. It was looking down doing something. I couldn’t figure it out at first.”

“Hold on, what are we talking about here?” Frank digs deeper.

“Sir, I have no idea. It wasn’t any man though. I know that for sure. It looked like a man, had a body like one, but its head was all wrinkly. Then it paused and started to sniff the air like a damn animal. It must have caught my scent, because it turned and looked me dead in the eyes.” The old man pauses to swallow. “And the fear struck me so deep I couldn’t move a muscle. I felt the fear in my soul.” He continues with terror returning in his voice. “And I can’t describe to you how ugly this thing was. I mean, it was a grotesque, hideous being. It looked like my dog; I have a bloodhound, but still this thing was uglier. I was scared shit-less. I kid you not, the fear I felt was unnatural. I would’ve killed it but…” He takes a moment to wipe the perspiration off his face with the back of his hand. “…if I wasn’t scared stiff I would have. Then, in a blink of an eye, it was gone.”

“Are you certain you didn’t see an animal?” Jones questions his testimony.

“Damn it. Don’t give me that shit. They kept asking me the same thing. NO! It wasn’t an animal.”

“Calm down sir.” Frank demands.

The elderly man has built up too much momentum to stop now.

“I’m telling you it was not human. This thing was a demon; a spawn of Satan. It’s pure evil.”

“Enough. I’ll have them file a report sir.” Frank butts in abruptly. “Go home please and take it easy. The last thing we need is for you going around scaring people with ghost stories. Please escort this man to his truck.”

A state trooper tries to grab his shoulder, but the old man snatches his arm away with aggression.

“Let me finish. You know what I caught it doing?” The old man says with a nervous voice.

The trooper comes over and grabs his shoulder again.

“Sir, please step aside.” The trooper demands boldly.

“I saw it eating.” The old man says in a grim voice as he is being pulled away.

“Wait officer. What did you say?” Frank asks the elderly man.

“I saw him eating.” He says loudly through his teeth.

“Eating what?” Frank asks.

“You know what I mean.”

Frank is starting to feel a little bit timid. It’s the honesty in the man’s eyes that gives him the chills. The fact that the old man is so scared also plays a pivotal role as well. Frank is used to seeing dead bodies wash up. In the past, he came face to face with demented men. Still, he has not felt goose-bumps until now.

“Sir, please clarify that.” Frank asks uneasily.

“Don’t play stupid. I’ve seen her body and so have you. I saw that hole in her chest. Whatever he took out of that girl, he was eating it. You better find this demon and send it back to hell. It won’t stop, Detective. You won’t believe me until it finds someone you care about.”

“Enough!” Frank voice inclines once more. “That’s more than enough. Sir, please don’t go around telling people this. It’s just going to make a bigger mess.”

The old man moves his eyes away from Frank’s and exhales slowly.

“Alright?” Frank presses on.

“Alright.” The elderly man replies modestly while wiping his runny nose with his hand.

“Now go home and get some rest.” Frank tells him.

The old man shifts at Frank, looking him dead in the eyes. He slowly shakes his head at Frank’s remark.

“You expect me to sleep? That easier said than done my friend.” He tells Frank with frightened bug-eyes. “That’s easier said than done.”

Frank nods at the trooper, seeking his guidance. The trooper steps forward then escorts the older man away from the area. Immediately, Jones approaches Frank with tension in his eyes.

“Frank, are you really going to let him go? I think we should bring him in for further questioning. You believe that bullshit story he just told?”

Frank shakes his head in disagreement.

“He’s telling the truth. Well…his idea anyways. He saw some kind of animal. What exactly? I don’t know.”

Jones blows out air in retaliation against his comment.

“Notify the surrounding counties. Put out a missing persons’ report on her boyfriend.” Frank commands.

“Your call.” Jones reply hastily while walking towards his car.

Frank takes one more look at the old man, who is throwing some of his belongings in the back of his truck. The old man then notices Frank watching him. Frank peers deeply into the old man’s disturbed eyes, searching for a flaw. He finds no dishonesty in his graying eyes. He opens the door of the truck and gets in.

Frank watches him ignite the engine. The pickup truck cruises down the road until darkness defeats the truck’s headlights. Somewhere in Frank’s mind, he can’t help but ponder, “Maybe this old man is not as crazy as he seems; just maybe.”…

 

CHAPTER 5: GLENWORTH UNIVERSITY

 

 

 

 

 

 

My mom introduces me to my new bedroom. It closely resembles my old bedroom back in Virginia. These bookshelves are similar to the ones I had mounted on my wall. Stuffed animals are placed on top of my dresser, and model-airplanes are suspended above my bed. I notice some minor differences like the room size.

This room is much larger. Also, the window is directly across from my bed. In my old room, the window was next to my dresser. I push my wheels to move forward and park myself in front of my bedroom window. The view outside is different also.

Back in Virginia, my room was located on the second floor of our house. From there, I could see much more of the neighborhood. From here, I can only see the house across the street. We have no trees in our new front yard, which gives me a clearer view of the moon.

“Like it?” My mom asks. “We tried to make it look more like home.”

“It’s nice.” I reply, still looking at the moon above.

“I think you should get some rest. I want to take you somewhere tomorrow morning.”

“Where to?”

“It’s a surprise. You’ll have fun. Trust me.” She says with lots of enthusiasm.

I was never fond of surprises.

“Okay.” I reply halfheartedly.

Shortly after, my mother helps me into bed. Before leaving, she kisses me on the forehead and closes my bedroom door. I stare at my model-airplanes hanging over my bed until I fall asleep, which never takes me very long to do…

 

 

It’s now ten o’clock in the morning. I’m driving alongside my mom on the highway. Where to exactly? That’s still unknown to me. Twenty minutes later, my mom takes an exit that leads us onto a narrow road shaded by deep woods.

We continue straight for a couple of minutes until we reach a strip of various restaurants and stores. We proceed pass Main Street and loop around a circular intersection in the middle of the town. In the center of this loop, I see a bronze statue of a roaring black lion. Underneath the statue it reads, “Home of Mane”. She exits onto University Street.

She continues straight until a wide field of perfectly trimmed grass appears on our left. A brick building with large white pillars can be seen from afar. The entire field is busy with various activities. Some people are tossing a Frisbee back and forth, some are bathing under the sun, and others are merely walking about.

“This is it.” My mom informs me with a bright smile.

She turns into the school parking lot, drives near the main building, and parks at a handicap spot.

“What are we doing here?” I ask.

“This is your surprise.” She says cheerfully. “Yay!”

I stare into her eyes, completely straight-faced. I’m obviously not as enthusiastic as her. Not only do I hate surprises, I hate crowds of people even more.

“Mom, you’ve could’ve at least gave me a heads up.”

“I did last night. Remember?” She says. “Besides, this is a great school. Your uncle attended this college.”

I exaggerate my sigh, so she can clearly hear my frustration towards her.

“Alright, let’s get this over with.” I say tonelessly.

After rolling me out and locking up the van, we begin to make our way towards the main doors. I try my best to ignore all of the eyes around me. Nobody is looking at me; I’m constantly reminding myself to ease the nervousness.

“Are you okay?” She asks me.

She’s reading me like a book as usual.

“It’s a lot of people here.” I state while nibbling at my bottom lip.

“Just be yourself.” She replies in a low voice.

Her advice only serves as mild inspiration.

“Okay. If I throw up, I’m aiming for you this time.” I inform her.

“Oh, stop it.” She blows off my smart remark.

We reach a set of constantly opening and closing double doors. A student walking out is kind enough to hold the door open for us.

“Thank you.” My mom responds nicely to his thoughtfulness.

“No problem.” He replies.

I’m pushed into a busy hallway filled with parents and students.

“Excuse me…” My mom calls to a student that’s passing by in a hurry. “Which way is the admissions office?”

“Down this hallway, make a left, first door.” He replies without stopping.

“I have a feeling you had this planned for a while.” I tell her.

“I wonder what gave you that idea.” She asks with a hint of sarcasm.

We continue down the hallway and turn left, just as directed. We reach a large office crowded with students, parents, and faculty members. There’s a hysterical man, exploding with rage, escorting a boy toward us. We stop in the doorway as they march closer. They’re both tall, athletic-built males, with vivid blue eyes and short blonde hair.

The man has a sheet of paper in his hand, waving it around in the boy’s face. I assume by their close resemblance, this man is the boy’s father. The man appears to be ranting about the boy’s low test scores.

“Did I raise a retard? This is the last damn time you are failing this class.” The angry man says this in a loud volume at the boy’s ear.

His anger is so dominating it makes me feel uncomfortable. The boy is wearing a white polo shirt, which is being stretched as the man tows him toward us. The man is wearing a black tee, tucked into a pair of gray slacks, and glossy black dress shoes. My nervousness only increases the closer they get to us. The man is so busy ranting to the boy that he nearly bumps into my mother.

He stops in the doorway and shifts his aggression towards my mother. And oddly enough, I see shock gather on his face as if my mom is the rude one in our encounter.

“You’re excused.” The man fires in a nasty tone.

He then looks down at me. My heart rate increases automatically. His rage is burning my eyes, so I swiftly gaze downward to ease the burden. He then shoves the boy out of the office and follows behind him.

“Wow. That guy seriously has some issues.” My mom states a moment later.

I hear her frustration spilling out with every word. It’s hard to get my mom irritated and he definitely succeeded without a doubt. We proceed into the office, still feeling a little awestruck at what just happened. We spot a plump old woman with glasses sitting at a desk covered with various mounds of paper.

“Hello.” My mom says to her.

“Welcome.” The elderly woman responds.

“We’re just checking out the campus. Do you have a list of courses?”

“Yes we do.” The elderly woman replies politely.

The woman licks her finger and collects a sheet of paper from each pile.

“It’s busy here.” My mom states.

“It’s always crowded around this time.” She then shakes her head and sighs. “And I’m sorry about that whole thing.” The old woman apologizes as she hands my mom the papers.

“You’re sorry about what?” My mom asks in a confused way.

“That man was Cornelius Blaire and his son Kendrick. They’re not the nicest people around here.” She lets out a hazy laugh. “None of them are.” She concludes.

“No worries.” My mom replies. “So, when do fall courses start?”

“September 4th.”

“How long is the application process?”

“Just fill everything out as soon as possible. She should make the deadline.”

“Okay. Thank you so much.” My mom says gratefully.

“You’re welcome.”

“Is it fine if we take a small tour around the…?”

“Help yourself.” The elderly lady butts in.

 

We take an hour long tour around the campus. Most of our time is spent looking inside the classrooms. Some rooms are flat with normal desks, some have monitors, some have black counters and faucets, and some are like miniature stadiums. We also visit the student lounge and library area. I can easily picture myself in the student lounge reading my favorite novels in between classes.

At first I was feeling a little weary about this trip. But now, I’m actually feeling excited by the idea of attending college. Soon, our tour is over and we’re heading back to our van.

“So what do you think?” My mother asks as she pushes me down the concrete walkway.

“I like it here.” I tell her with a sincere smile.

I have to admit, my mother was right. This trip was kind of fun. I haven’t had an honest smile in such a long time. It feels good to be excited, although there’s no guarantee of me attending this specific university. My mom pushes me down the walkway and next to the van. She parks my wheelchair and slides the side door open. I hear a faint clutter of voices next to me, so I look over at a tree that rests on the lawn.

A group of students are sitting underneath that tree. The group consists of three boys and two girls. One of the girls, who have coffee-colored skin, is sitting furthest to the right. Everything she has on is obscure, even her lipstick. She’s wearing a long black dress with fishnet stockings and black high-heels.

Her hair is trimmed short with blue highlights that compliment her grim choice of fashion. I gaze at her blank face. She catches me looking at her and smiles brightly. I grin halfheartedly back at her. The other girl is a long haired brunette.

She looks rough and tough around the edges. She is sitting on the far left, arguing with a boy next to her. Both of their features are identical except the boy has short, messy, hair. He’s wearing a sky blue shirt, a pair of jeans with the knees cut, and a pair of red Chuck Taylors on his feet.

His lookalike, the brunette girl, is wearing a similar outfit. An Italian boy is sitting beside them. He has dark hair and beautiful baby-blue eyes. His short hair is neatly combed straight back. For some strange reason, I can’t help but stare at him. It feels nearly impossible to turn away.

He’s wearing a tight white tee, a pair of denim jeans, and a pair of black sneakers. A modeling agency should hire him as a billboard model. The last boy is centered in between them. He’s resting on his elbow and chewing on a red apple. He’s wearing a black shirt, baggy jeans, and loose leather boots.

He’s undeniably bigger than the other two boys; not much in height, but he’s a lot wider. His barbaric hair is large like his body. His skin tone is tan. He looks up and catches me staring at him. His expression is stern.

His stare is so harsh that it forces me to look away from him. In the corner of my eye, I can still see all of them looking back at us. My mom tugs on the wheelchair ramp but it doesn’t budge. She pulls harder, still nothing happens. I can sense embarrassment gaining strength as they continue to watch my mom struggle.

My mom takes a slight break to examine the ramp.

“I think it’s jammed.” My mom says with frustration.

I have a strong urge to bury my head in sand. I just hope they don’t notice my cheeks turning pink. I’m not even in school yet, and my mom is already embarrassing me. I look out the corner of my eye and see the darkly dressed girl nudging on the muscular boy’s shoulder. I hear them having a secretive argument about something unclear. Then he stands slowly, tossing the remaining apple to the side, and approaches us.

He approaches my mom, who has her back turned to him. He clears his throat to gather her attention.

“Done embarrassing yourself?” He asks tonelessly.

I start to consider that sternness on his face is permanent. It will not die away.

“I’m sorry?” My mom replies.

“Do you need help or what?” The boy asks.

“Thank you but I think I can handle it.” She says with another tug.

Being the stubborn woman I know, she continues to tug repeatedly with no success. The brunette boy whispers something to his friends. All I can make out before they start snickering is, “Arms”, and, “Tearing off”. My mom finally stops to catch her breath. The bulky boy glances over his shoulder at his snickering friends and shifts back to my mom.

She finally surrenders and turns to him, grinning with pressed lips.

“Yes, I do need help.”

“Are you sure? I couldn’t tell.” He replies with sarcasm.

My mom snickers at his remark, but I know he didn’t mean any humor by it.

“Yes, I’m sure.” She says while catching her breath.

The boy walks over, leans into the van, and examines around the ramp.

“Be careful. Don’t hurt yourself.” My mom tells him. “The way to get it out is by that…oh, okay. Thanks.”

The boy pulls out the ramp and places it on the pavement. He then brushes his hands clean.

“Well, thanks a lot for…” My mom attempts to thank him but is abruptly cut off.

“Yup.” He replies and quickly turns away.

“…your help.” My mom finishes awkwardly.

As he walks back to his friends, they all give him a round-of-applause.

“That wasn’t so hard.” The darkly dressed girl tells him.

“Shut-up.” He mumbles back as he sits down next to her.

Soon, I’m secured into the van. My mom gets in, letting out a deep breath after buckling up.

“That was fun. Right?” She asks.

I smile honestly.

“Yeah, it was.” I reply.

“And you didn’t throw-up on me. That’s a plus.” She says brightly.

I snicker at her comment.

“Lucky you.” I reply.

As she brings the engine to life, I look outside my window at the kids underneath the tree. The black girl waves at me with a smile. I smile, somewhat, and wave back as we pull off…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 6: THE BOX

 

 

 

 

 

 

On our way back, I take a closer glimpse at the stores against the main road. The stores consist of restaurants, pastry shops, clothing boutiques, and even hair salons. However, this town has a different style than others. The stores aren’t covered in fancy signs and bright colors like those you’d typically see in a city. The store faces are painted in warm, humble, colors.

In addition, the signs hanging over the stores appear to be homemade. I also realize that every store has a picture of that lion posted on their window. One would assume this character serves as some kind of gimmick for the town. As we travel along, I see a wooden sign hanging off a storefront.

It reads, “Linda’s Antiques”, in white cursive letters. The building itself is small and painted a dark green.

“An Antique shop…” I speak loud enough so my mother can hear me.

“Wanna check it out?” She asks.

“If you don’t want to, we don’t have to.”

“Okay why not.” She replies.

She turns into a random parking lot, backs out, and drives watchfully up the street.

“It’s right here.” I point to the store.

“It doesn’t look like much. I guess it’s worth a peek.” She says before parking and killing the engine.

Two minutes later, we enter the store with the sound of ringing chimes above our heads. The inside smells like a mix between lemon air freshener, mothballs, and something musty. The shop is even smaller from the inside. It’s just one dimly lit room with a bathroom behind the counter. A hippie looking woman with glasses is reading a magazine at the register.

She looks up, places her magazine on the counter, and smiles hard at us.

“Welcome.” The woman says in a friendly tone.

“Hello.” My mom greets back.

“Do you need help finding anything in particular?”

“No, we’re just looking around.”

“Alright. If you have any questions just ask me.” The woman says nicely and continues reading her magazine.

I roll myself towards the dolls resting disorderly on the floor. Most of their eyes are missing and their dresses are horribly ragged. I move along and spot some books stacked high in a cardboard box. I search through them with hopes of finding some interesting titles.

Unfortunately, I’ve read most of these books while the others are useless due to water damage. Down further, I find some aged oil paintings standing up against the wall.

“Look at this, Iva.” My mom grasps my attention behind me.

She has her back turn to me as if she’s trying to conceal something. She shifts to me swiftly, revealing these glasses with long flexible coils and eyes attached to them.

“Funny right?” She asks.

“Mom, please stop, I‘m laughing too hard.” I reply tonelessly.

Humble as ever, she places the glasses back on the shelf.

“I remember when you used to laugh at all my jokes.” She informs me.

“You’re right, but then I turned five.” I add while studying a small soldier figurine.

Sparking no interest in me, I place the figurine where it belong and continue through the store. I then see an old acoustic guitar sitting on the table. Like a child I can’t help but run my fingers down the wires gently, creating a mild tune with every popping string.

“See anything you like?” She asks.

“Not really. I guess we can leave now.” I reply.

“Are you sure? You just got here.”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

My mom grabs the handles of my wheelchair and prepares to push me forward.

“Thank you.” My mom says to the woman at the counter.

The woman shifts away from her reading material and smiles at us.

“Thank you for stopping by.” She says and then switches back to reading again.

While my mom pushes me towards the door, I discover something appealing on a high shelf. It’s a small red box.

“Hold on. What’s that?” I point up to it.

“I don’t know.” She responds.

“Excuse me.” I grasp the lady’s attention at the register. “What’s that?”

The hippie woman follows my finger to the rectangular box.

“That’s, uh…” She utters.

She walks over to the shelf, stands on the tips of her toes, and then grabs it. She wipes off some dirt and studies its appearance.

“I found it when I was gardening. I can’t tell you what it is, because I don’t know what it is. I know it’s old though.”

“How much is it?” I ask.

The woman shrugs her shoulders and ponders.

“Uh…three bucks.” She says.

“May I see it?” I ask with my hands presented.

“Sure.”

She hands me the box, which is much heavier than it appears. The dimensions of the box are four inches wide by nine inches long with a height of three inches. I wipe away more dirt in order to study it better. The texture feels like a smooth stone. The temperature of the box is lukewarm.

“It’s warm.” I think out loud.

“It’s always like that.” The woman clarifies.

“What’s keeping it warm?” I ask curiously.

“No clue. Pretty strange, isn’t it?”

I raise the box next to my ear and proceed to shake it. I hear nothing rattling on the inside.

“You want it Iva?” My mom asks.

I blow away particles of dirt which reveal a small leaf engraved on it.

“Yes.” I reply, still studying the box diligently. “I’ll take it.”

She reaches into her purse, pulls out three dollars, and hands it to the woman.

“It was a pleasure doing business with you. Thank you and stop by some other time.”

“Thanks a lot. Bye.” My mom finishes.

 

 

We make it back home in no time. As soon as I get the chance, I roll myself into my bedroom with the box resting on my lap.

“Lunch will be ready in ten.” My mom’s voice follows behind me as I enter my room.

“Okay.” I reply.

I place the box on my desk for further examination. It takes some muscle work and a damp cloth to bring the box back to life. With it finally cleaned off, I can observe it better. Every inch of the box is engraved in a leaf pattern. I flip it around several times, trying to find an opening of some kind. Suddenly, my pointer finger sinks into its side.

I lift the box closer to my eyes. I press down on the small, dime-sized, area once more. This doesn’t seem to do anything. I analyze it further and discover a similar area on the opposite side. Still, nothing happens when I press it.

I nibble the inside of my cheek and begin to contemplate its function. Suddenly, an idea hits me. I feel around on both sides simultaneously with my pointer fingers. I push into both sides at the exact time. Then the top of the box lifts at an angle, releasing old musty air.

I place the box down on the desk in front of me. The top slowly lifts at a 90 degree angle and stops. I’m shocked at what I discover. A spec of light is hovering inside the box.

“Whoa.” I mutter underneath my breath.

Reality doesn’t kick in immediately. With slow but anxious hands, I lift the box off the table to examine the floating orb of light. All of a sudden the tiny white light burst into a brilliant flash. The blinding light clouds my vision. A second later, the light is fading away. I then see my mom coming into view, looking down at me with worried eyes.

I also see lights and ceiling tiles moving pass me. Her mouth is moving but her voice is faint, like a television playing in low volume. The white blinding light vanishes. I then realize other people looking down at me.

Then it hits me. Although only seconds went by, I’m now at the hospital…

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 7: THE MIRACLE

 

 

 

 

 

 

This brings back old, unwanted, memories. As I sit in bed, waiting for some test results, my mom helps me catch up by filling in the blank areas. First, she found my unconscious body on my bedroom floor, yet I wasn’t having a seizure. She then tells me she tried to wake me up several times before she called for help. Then the ambulance came and raced me away to the nearby hospital.

They shielded my face with oxygen, although my breathing at the time was normal. When we arrived at the hospital, that’s when I became conscious again. I remember waking up, dazed and confused, and getting rushed off into the emergency room. I try to remember what happened before the hospital, but the memories seem suppressed.

Soon, the blue sky becomes bright pink out my window. Still, hours later, my mom remains overly concerned about the whole situation, although I keep telling her I feel totally fine.

“I was scared to death.” My mom presses on dramatically at my bedside.

“Mom, chill, I’ve never felt better.” I reply honestly for the thousandth time. “You’re worrying way too much.”

Usually I have a splitting headache after a seizure, but today I feel abnormally energized and content. Finally, the long wait is over as the doctor enters the room. My mom stands to her feet, timidly, to greet him as he approaches.

“Dr. Richards, please tell me something I want to hear.” She says in a pleading tone.

“Good news.” He says while flipping through some papers on a clipboard. “I have the results from the EEG test. The electrical signal we recorded in her brain shows she didn’t have a seizure. Actually, I don’t see any sign of them returning anytime soon.”

My mom’s tense body relaxes, as if a weight has been lifted off her shoulders.

“Thank goodness.” She says in a relieved tone. “I needed to hear that. But why did she blackout?”

“That’s why I’m baffled.” His eyebrows go narrow as he begins to massage his graying beard. “You did tell me that she was outside today. It might have been a slight heat stroke.”

“But she was barely outside. That doesn’t make any sense.” She says curiously.

“It doesn’t take much to faint sometimes Ms. Lancaster, especially with someone who is known to have many medical conditions.”

He looks over at me with his thin, rectangular, glasses resting at the tip of his nose.

“How do you feel Iva?” He questions.

“I feel…fine.” I respond with a big cheerful smile.

When his gray beard stretches from ear to ear, I get the assumption he knows something I don’t.

“Thank God it wasn’t a seizure.” My mom says with relief. “She’s hoping to attend school soon, so that’s great to hear.”

“Well, it gets even better. You told me that she suffers from bone deficiency and arthritis, correct?”

“Yes, she does.”

“When was her last bone density scan?” He questions with a bright smile.

“I’m not sure. A year maybe.”

“Well, I have those results too.” He notifies us, unwilling to stop smiling.

Again, I get a sense he knows something I don’t.

“Her bones are fine.” He explains. “Better yet, the blood test shows her immune system is no longer insufficient. In short, she’s absolutely healthy.”

I glance over at my mom just in time to see her face fall flat.

“How…how is this possible?” She asks in total awe.

“I’m trying to figure it out myself. This is highly uncommon. I’m interested to see how she stands on her own feet.” His bright eyes meet mine. “Iva, if you may stand.”

I look over at my mom with uncertainty and back at the doctor again.

“Okay.” I reply modestly.

My mom walks over to my side, and I grab her shoulder for additional support. I position myself toward the edge of my bed and gaze down at the shiny floor tiles below. I slowly slide off cautiously and brace my legs for the impact. I feel the cold floor at the bottom of my feet, yet somehow I’m standing by myself effortlessly. My eyes fall down at my feet to make sure I’m not going insane.

My mom looks me into the eyes. Both of our jaws give out. The doctor comes over to me and places a hand on my back.

“How do you feel, Iva?” He asks softly.

My tongue remains frozen in place for a moment. As I finally start to speak, my words stumble over one another.

“I…I…I feel fine.”

I begin to bounce on my heel with joyful laughter. I shift back to my mom’s glistening eyes.

“I want her to stay the night.” The doctor clarifies. “I’ll have them run extra test in the morning, just to be on the safe side. And I can also…”

“I don’t understand.” My mom interferes bluntly with tears coming down her face. “What are you telling me doctor?”

“What I’m trying to say, Miss Lancaster, as far as I know it right now, there is nothing wrong with your daughter.”

My mom’s watery gaze meets mine. This moment is so incredible it feels like a dream come true. I realize, as I feel the warmth from her hug, this is really happening. My emotions erupt when I hear her crying in my ear. A second later, tears of my own flow down my face. This is truly a dream come true for me.

I finally know what it feels like to be normal. Most people will never overcome my illnesses. It takes a second opinion to fully convince my mother. They rate the odds of me defeating all these sicknesses, at one time, somewhere between impossible and never happening. I’m one of those few patients they call unbelievable and extraordinarily fortunate.

Dr. Richards sums up everything in a simple term. He says I have an extremely rare case. He calls my case, a miracle…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 8: THE MARK

 

 

 

 

 

I barely went to sleep last night. I was too high on joy and excitement to rest. My mom stayed at the hospital with me all night. She said doctors told her I would die at a very young age. We talked continuously until the morning sunlight crept upon the hospital. Dr. Richards kept his word and ordered nurses to draw some more of my blood. All of the tests came back with identical results.

On the surface, my mom appears happy about the unforeseen situation, but I can tell she feels insecure about it as well. She couldn’t stop asking ridiculous questions like, “Is it possible your computers are malfunctioning?” To ease her anxiety, I stood up on my own again and ran around the room for reassurance. She ordered me to stop and sit back down; worried I may fall and hurt myself somehow.

Now, I’m finally leaving the hospital just pass noon the following day. My mom re-positions the passenger seat into place, and for the first time, I ride in the van without my wheelchair. It feels odd to get up and walk around like a normal person. I’m sure it’s going to take some time for reality to soak in.

Shortly, we are rolling into the driveway of our latest home. I’m so happy to be back home. I can’t take another night on that narrow and stiff hospital bed. As we arrive, a familiar black car stops in front of our house. Uncle Frank gets out of the car and approaches me with wide arms as I close the van door behind me. All of a sudden, I find myself in the tightest hug I’ve ever received in my life…

 

In no time, we enter the house and settle into the living room to discuss my recent turnaround. The surprised expression on Uncle Frank’s face never goes away.

“Unbelievable.” He says to me with confusion and shock. “But how…?”

“I’m just as confused as you are.” I reply. “I was having a normal day. Then, the next minute, I fell out and woke up in the hospital. I know it doesn’t make any since but it did happen that way. I’m still waiting to wake up.”

“It’s too much to take in.” My mom says with insecurity. “Her health improved a lot over the years, but this is too sudden. I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m sure there’s some reasonable explanation for all this.”

“When something like this happens, don’t ever question it.” Uncle Frank attempts to calm her uncertainty with modest words.

“I know that. It’s just…” My mom tries to reply but is cut off by my uncle.

“Julie, listen, this is Iva’s time. Don’t look at this as a bad thing.” He tells her modestly.

A voice calls out to him from his radio.

“Come in Frank.” The voice says.

“Damn it. Never a dull moment.” He shakes his face as he lifts the radio to his mouth.

“Lancaster here.”

“We need you pronto. And no, it can’t wait.”

“Copy that.” He says to the device and places it back on his hip.

“Sorry Julie. Old habits die hard, I guess.”

“No, it’s fine. Be safe.”

“Always.” He says before standing and walking over towards the door. “See you later kiddo.”

“See ya.” I reply.

He closes the door behind himself as he exits the house. I look at my mom’s face. Her expression is unreadable.

“You okay?” I ask her.

I see her snap back into reality as if she was in a deep thought.

“I’m okay. I’m just a little tired that’s all.” She tells me.

I know she’s lying. I’d probably be worried too if I were in her shoes. The fact that my illnesses just vanished for no reason is beyond me. She stands to her feet, delivering a warm kiss directly between my eyes, and then wishes me a goodnight…

“Sleep tight. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Good night mom.”

 

I decide to go to sleep early as well. It still feels odd to walk around the house with my own feet. Using my legs is obviously not a thing I do on a daily basis, but I dare not complain about it. I kick off my shoes and fall back onto my bed. While I stare at my model-planes hanging above me, a memory resurfaces in my mind.

The flashback involves me bringing a small red box into my room and cleaning it off. I sit up in bed and shift right toward my desk. There it is, unmoved, resting on top of the desk. Another flashback resurfaces. I remember trying to find its opening.

Suddenly, a domino effect takes place within my brain. I remember opening it and finding a strange light floating inside. I stand and walk over to the box very slowly; afraid that something spontaneous may happen again. I lift the empty box and examine it once more. I specifically remember it being warm, but now it’s cool and lifeless.

Also, the small light is nowhere to be found. Maybe I imagined the whole thing, but it seemed so real. I relocate the box within my closet on a high shelf. From below, I give it one last curious thought before shutting the door.

Did I imagine all of it? I turn away from the closet and double-take at my reflection on the closet door. I see something strange. There’s something on my right arm, near my shoulder area. I lift the sleeve of my shirt, revealing a scar that I’ve never seen before.

I ease closer to the mirror for a clearer view. It resembles something close to a branding scar. The shape is like a diamond. Then a light bulb clicks on somewhere in my head. It’s not a diamond, but instead it’s a leaf.

A leaf that looks identical to those I’d saw on that red box. The thoughts about my disappearing illnesses can take a rain-check. This is a whole lot worse. I back away from my reflection. After a lingering amount of time looking in the mirror, I go to bed with unanswered questions.

I really do need to rest. My mind needs time to recuperate from the odd things that’s been happening to me. But after today, something tells me this is only the beginning…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 9: COLD CRIME

 

 

 

 

 

 

The day is not yet done. The sun is just beginning to calm in the horizon. Anxiety will bring forth a long night for Detective Frank Lancaster. He is aching to find out what really happened to that young girl. He’s tired but has no time for sleeping; not right now. He’s too busy trying to piece everything together.

Still, if sleeping was an option, he wouldn’t rest without feeling some form of regret. First comes solving the crime, sleeping can wait. He never had a case turn cold and never planned to, but there’s something that separates this case from all the rest. His instinct tells him there’s more to that girl’s death than a simple animal attack. It has to be.

His only desire at the moment is to unveil the truth. Yet again, he comes to an area blocked off by police officials. This area is off the road near a flowing river and a thin wooded area. Jones has already taken the initiative to examine the next victim of an appalling crime. Jones looks over his shoulder and sees Frank approaching him.

He rises off the ground, brushes his hands clean, and steps away from a body that’s completely covered in black plastic. The victim’s midsection and legs are tied with braided rope.

“It took you long enough.” Jones tells him.

“Damn. Another one?” Frank asks, ignoring his partner’s smart remark.

“This is the second one.” Jones adds.

“Any I.D?”

“Yup, it’s the boyfriend of the girl we found.”

This shocks Frank, but only a little. He knows two animal attacks are not likely, especially if the two victims knew one another. This has to be a homicide; just as he suspected. As always, his gut instincts served him correctly.

“Shit.” Frank replies automatically.

Frank kneels down and lifts the plastic. Staring back at him with gray eyes and a pale-blue face is a young man.

“Someone spotted his body floating upstream about an hour ago. I think he may have died around the same time as the other one.”

“Jesus Christ.” Frank says as he lifts the bag further to find a gaping hole in the boy’s blue chest.

Frank exhales deeply at the first sight of the boy’s wound. He then covers the boy’s body again.

“This changes everything.” Frank states while standing. “Unless an animal can tie rope, we’ve got a serial killer out here.”

“It gets better. The autopsy report came in about the girl. Her heart was taken from her body.” Jones informs him.

“What?” Frank blurts out.

“Yeah, we had a crew go back with search dogs. They’re still looking for more evidence. And it looks like he’s been killed the same way.”

“What kind of person kills two kids like that? What’s the motive?” Frank thinks out loud.

“Same question I’ve been asking myself.” Jones replies.

Frank uses his keen eyes to observe the surrounding area for clues. He sees the rope trailing from the victim’s feet and into the body of water. He walks along the riverside and follows its end. He then pulls it from the water. Instantly, he notices the rope’s end is mangled and untwisted.

“Look at this. This was not cut by a knife.” Frank states while examining the damaged rope.

He rotates the rope and finds something very odd. There’s a sharp white stone buried in between the braids. He pulls it from the intertwined follicles and studies it.

“What is that?” Jones questions Frank.

Frank takes a closer look at the small piece of stone and then realizes what it really is.

“It’s a tooth.” Frank states.

“What?” Jones is instantly doubtful.

Frank reaches over his shoulder and hands him the sharp tooth. Jones lifts it into the air and strains his eyes to observe it thoroughly.

“Sure is.” Jones confirms. “But why was it in the rope?”

“Something chewed through it. I’ve dealt with some weird cases Jones, but this one is a whole new ballgame.”…

CHAPTER 10: SOMETHING TO REMEMBER

 

 

 

 

 

A tapping on my door wakes me up to a brand new day. I lift my face from my pillow in order to answer.

“Come in.” I say in a drowsy voice.

My mom walks in, looking graceful as always, and sits at the foot of my bed. Although she’s still in her nightgown, she looks absolutely ravishing.

“How did you sleep?” She asks with a warm smile.

“I’ve never slept better.” I reply.

That’s an understatement. Without arthritis, I don’t have to worry about tossing and turning every so often in order to get comfortable. It’s been a long time since I slept so peacefully.

“You have a month until school. We have to get ready.”

I groan and turn onto my side, unwilling to depart from my bed.

“Right now? I’m still so tired.” I say to her while I stretch my muscles.

“I want to be out by eleven. We have to get everything done today. I start my new job tomorrow.”

She stands and pulls the blankets off my body.

“I’ll be up in a little bit.” I reply in a moaning tone.

“I’m sorry little lady. You have to get up. You think it’s bad now? Just wait until school starts.”

“Five more minutes.” I plead to her.

“Nope.” She says while walking over to the window where the curtains are still closed.

“Mom, you better not open those curtains.”

She looks over her shoulder at me and smiles with sly eyes.

“Or what?” She asks boldly.

“Or else.” I reply back with a similar look.

She slowly eases her hands up to the curtains, looking over her shoulder at me; grimacing.

“You’ve been warned.” I tell her with serious eyes.

The bright morning rays pour into my bedroom, causing me to squint, as she throws the curtains open. She creates a false sad expression.

“Sorry, I slipped.”

Her smart remark entices me to throw my pillow at her, but she’s way too swift for me. She catches the pillow in midair. Now, I just made matters worse. The enemy now has my weapon.

“War it is then. It’s on girlfriend.” She says with leering eyes.

I can’t keep a straight face any longer. I break out into an uproar of laughter.

“Okay! Okay! I quit!” I try to surrender.

“No mercy! No prisoners!” She says while charging at me like a crazy person.

I curl into a ball on my bed and use another pillow as a shield. My laughter increases as she begins her onslaught of deadly blows. I retaliate by rolling off the side of my bed, dodging one of her swings, and hitting her on the head. This causes my weapon to burst, sending small white feathers dispersing into the air.

She pauses for a moment; shocked by my counter-attack.

“You’ve just signed your death slip.” She threatens me while tightening the grip on her pillow.

“I’m pretty sure you meant death warrant.” I chuckle after correcting her.

The laughter starts pouring out of her mouth uncontrollably. Then a second later, she gets into character again.

“Whatever you call the damn thing, you’re signing it; dead or alive.”

As she rolls over the bed, I run defenseless from the room; screaming like a little child.

 

Fifteen minutes and three busted pillows later, I find myself exhausted and resting against my mom on the sofa. I pick the last feather off my shirt and watch it slowly join the others on the floor.

“We haven’t had fun like that in a while.” Her exhausted voice says into my ear.

“You’re right, we haven’t.” I reply modestly.

“Well, we really gotta get a move on it. School is right around the corner.”

“School…” I think out loud and begin to ponder. “Wow, everything is …” I finish with a sigh.

“You don’t want to go?” She sounds surprised by my remark.

“No…What I’m trying to say is…I like it there but…what if everything goes back to the way things were?”

“Don’t question it. Remember what your Uncle told me. Just keep moving and don’t look back, ever. Alright?”

“Okay, I won’t look back.”

She pulls me closer and kisses me on the top of my head. This is more like it. This is certainly one of those moments worth remembering…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 11: COLLEGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

As time progress, I stop wondering about what happened on that day. I’m just grateful that it did happen. For the first time in my life, I feel like a normal girl. It feels like I’m a totally different person on the inside. I wouldn’t dare tell my mother about that strange scar I found on my shoulder.

I could’ve but…she’s been worried enough about that day I went to the hospital. I made a promise to her that I’ll stop worrying about it. Besides, it’s just a scar; right?

 

It is official. Today marks my first day as a Glenworth University student, and I’m drowning in anticipation. I feel butterflies fluttering in my stomach as my mom stops in front of the main entrance of the school. This is it!

“Good luck. I’ll meet you here at 4:30.” She says with a weak voice. “Now get out…before I get emotional.”

“See you later mom. I love you.” I say as I exit the van.

She rolls down the passenger window.

“Iva, keep your cell-phone on you at all times.” She tells me in a sobbing voice.

“I will.”

I turn to walk away.

“Wait.” She says with a sobbing voice.

“What mom?”

I rotate to her sadden face.

“Don’t go wandering off by yourself.”

I gradually begin backing away from the van to avoid her dramatic behavior. I just hope she doesn’t cause a big scene in front of all these people.

I won’t.” I reply.

“Hold on.” She leaps from the van and approaches me, still sobbing.

“Mom, what…” Before I’m able to finish the sentence she wraps her arms tightly around me.

“I’m so proud of you.” She whispers into my ear.

“You could’ve done this in the van, mom.” I whisper back, feeling a hint of shyness.

“I’m sorry.” She lets me go and straightens my shirt. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”

“Seriously, I’ll be okay.”

“I know honey. But there’s one more thing. Stay away from boys.” She says while wiping away her tears. “They’ll get you pregnant.”

I roll my eyes, and nearly face-palmed myself in public. Seriously, she didn’t just say that; out-loud.

“This is the worst time to talk about the birds and the bees, mom. You’re about a good 8 years too late on that. Have a nice day at work.” I say while chuckling.

Although it’s difficult for her to do, she finally musters the courage to back away and get into the van again. I watch her drive off, holding back her emotions, and emerge into traffic. I breathe out slowly to release some butterflies. Then I pull out my class schedule from my pocket. If I’m reading this correctly, my first class is Pre-calculus at 10:15 with Professor Welsh; room 113.

I check the time on my cell-phone. It’s only 9:58. I stroll up the walkway to join the busy college commute. It takes me about ten minutes to find the classroom. An old man with thinning hair greets me at the door as I enter.

This classroom is large with a row of steps leading upward. I find myself a vacant seat. Soon, the other vacant seats become occupied, and then Professor Welsh closes the door behind himself.

“Good morning students. As you all may know, I am Professor Welsh. Today I will be teaching you the basic Algebra formulas.”

I spend an entire hour taking notes, notes, and more notes. After struggling to learn about algebra, I walk into the hall to review my schedule again. My next class is Psychology A. with Professor Forester; room 145. I have to be there by 11:30, so I check the time on my cell-phone.

My phone notifies me that it’s approximately 11:20. That means I’d better hurry if I want to make it to class on time. I begin my search for room 145, which to my surprise I find very easily. A confident looking man is standing at attention in the center of the room with his chin raised high. He nods at me as a good gesture, and I return the kind favor.

Unlike the other classroom, this one is flat and much smaller. Not long after I find a seat, the remaining students pour into class one by one. The last student to enter is someone I met before; well, not quite. He helped my mom with our van that day we took a tour around the school. He walks into class with his big hair and big frame. He’s wearing a gray long-sleeved shirt, denim jeans, and suede boots.

Professor Forester waits for him to find a seat before he closes the classroom door.

“Humble greetings…” He says in an English accent. “I am Professor Forester. Please, call me Dr. Forester. I didn’t spend all those years in school for nothing.” He continues boldly. “Let me tell you a little about myself…I was born in England, and when I was 10 years of age I moved to America with my father. I graduated from High School at the age of 14; top of my class. I received my bachelors in Math by 18. I then moved on to study Psychology and obtaining my masters at the age of 24. I finally obtained Doctorate degree at 28. I believe Math is more psychological than any other subjects. For instance…” He says while walking over to his desk and picking up a multicolored square. “This is a Rubik’s cube. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Here’s an interesting fact, you need a psychological and mathematical approach in order to solve one. It took me a couple of years to master the three sided one. My personal record is about 25 seconds. But this one is four sided. My personal record for this one is 1 minute and 12 seconds. That takes years of practice to solve this without the use of paper. Of course I wouldn’t expect any of you to figure it out on the first day, but with my help and a little bit of practice…”

“How many years?” A voice behind me abruptly cuts off Dr. Forester.

“I’m sorry, how many years for what?” Dr. Forester asks back.

I look over my shoulder and notice the brawny boy speaking.

“How many years did it take you to solve that cube?” He asks with his stern expression.

Dr. Forester chuckles with his pride bursting.

“It took roughly four years to get to my current record.”

“May I try?” He asks.

Someone in the room snickers lowly. His eyes quickly glance around the classroom for the person who laughed at his question. Dr. Forester reveals a cocky smirk.

“Just guessing will not be enough to solve this. Have you ever tried one?”

“Once at a store. But I bet I can beat your current record.”

For a second time, someone snickers at him. With his stern eyes, he scopes around for the anonymous giggler before shifting back to Dr. Forester.

“Listen, I’ll give you a shot.” Dr. Forester says. “If you lose, you are not allowed to interrupt my class again with nonsense. And if you win, which you’re not, I’ll let you keep the damn thing. Fair deal?”

“Seems like it.”

“Come to the front. Let’s see what you’re made of.”

The brawny boy stands and sluggishly walks towards the front of class with all eyes following behind him. Dr. Forester hands him the cube and leans back onto his desk with a cocky smirk on his face. The brawny boy flips it around several times. Through those stern eyes, I can see his brain concentrating. He then begins to twist and turn the cube.

As the seconds pass, the classroom gets extremely quiet. We all watch on as the scrambled colors move around the cube in various orders. As the clock ticks away, that confident grin on Dr. Forester’s face melts. A clutter of gasps breaks the silence as the boy stops morphing the cube, revealing its completion.

“Did I do that right?” He asks Dr. Forester with the finished cube presented.

“Um, yeah, I believe so.” He replies in awe.

Dr. Forester takes the cube from his hand and studies it for himself. His amazed expression remains fresh.

“I timed him.” A random female announces. “That was about 23 seconds.”

“That’s why I’ll never let any certificate fill me with pride.” The brawny boy says to Dr. Forester.

He walks back to his seat, which is all the way in the back row.

A moment later, Dr. Forester finally accepts reality and clears his throat.

“Wow, thank you for that amazing performance…” Dr. Forester adds but can’t conjure his name.

“Call me Daniel. I don’t have a doctorate degree like you. It’s just Daniel.” He tells him.

The class remains quiet for another moment, bathing in total awe.

“Well, a deal is a deal. The cube is yours, Daniel.”

Daniel gazes around the room once again.

“Actually, I would like to donate it to the rodent who kept snickering at me.”

One of my male classmates starts to nudge a boy sitting next to him. The boy, who is being nudged, seems to be nervous about something.

“Damn it.” The shy boy says lowly to himself before he rises to his feet.

He drags his feet, shamefully, to the front of the classroom to claim his prize. Everyone snickers at him as he returns to his seat…

Eventually, Dr. Forester continues with class; more humble and less prideful. An hour later, we pour from the room. Once again, I blend into the college commute. As I walk I can’t stop thinking about Daniel. The look on Dr. Forester’s face was priceless.

I have to admit, Dr. Forester is a bit of a cocky douche-bag. If you ask me, he had it coming. Fortunately for me, my next class doesn’t start until 2:30. I find my way to the student lounge to grab a well-deserved lunch. I’m now enjoying a turkey cold-cut while reading a new novel I handpicked from the library.

Eight chapters later, I glance at the time on my cell-phone. It’s now 2:16. I pull out my schedule to review my final class for the day. I need to be in room 209; Introduction to Literature with Professor Grant. I finish reading chapter nine before closing the book.

The commute to class is an easy one. A middle aged man with dark hair is standing in the center of a large classroom. He welcomes me in the class with a smile. I then walk up a flight of steps and find a seat in a middle aisle. Then a familiar face joins the class.

It’s Daniel, once again. Professor Grant nods at him and him only.

“Hello, Daniel.” The Professor greets him by his name.

Daniel nods back slightly. He proceeds up the steps and gazes over at me with his permanent sternness. My eyes cower away from his as he passes my aisle. He heads towards the back of the class and drops into a seat. The other chairs fill in quickly.

As soon as the clock strikes 2:30, Professor Grant closes the door and takes center stage with his hands behind his back. He surveys the entire room and smiles brightly at everyone. He opens his mouth to speak but he’s interrupted by the door swinging open. Another familiar face enters the classroom. I remember his father ranting to him in the admissions office about his poor grades.

He’s tall and lean with short blonde hair. He’s wearing a black collared shirt, khaki pants, and casual black shoes. It may seem like a simple outfit, but the quality of his clothes are all pricey named-brands. Even the glistening gold watch on his wrist looks extremely costly. The boy appears to be upset about something.

I can tell he’s angry by his flared nostrils and pressed lips. It takes me a while to pull his name from my memory bank. His name is Kendrick, I believe. As Kendrick walks into the room his eyes connects with Professor Grant’s, but it only last momentarily.

Their intertwined gaze is nothing short of hatred. I watch Kendrick climb the steps and find a seat in a row down from me. He tosses his book on his desk, arrogantly, and sits down. Professor Grant removes his eyes off Kendrick, slowly, and clears his throat.

“Hello, ladies and gentlemen.” His voice is projecting. “I’m Professor Grant and welcome to my class. I do things a little differently around here. I won’t bore you with William Shakespeare simply because…that shit drives me crazy.” He says the last sentence in a low voice.

Faint giggles swell throughout the classroom.

“I hated that crap in school. But anyways, I want all of you to learn from my class. I’ve yet to fail a student and I don’t wish to start now. And for those who like sleeping…” He walks over to his desk and picks up a blackboard eraser. “…this is Mr. Wake-me-up. If I catch you sleeping in my class, he’s going to pay you a visit between the eyes.”

Everyone giggles again but a little louder than before. He puts down the eraser and centers himself again.

“What I’m going to discuss today is one of my favorite authors, J. L. Lucas. By a show of hands, who here has read any of his work?”

My hand goes up with half of the class.

“Okay.” He says with this impressed look upon his face.

Then he projects his voice again.

“J. L. Lucas has always been my favorite author. Today, we will discuss his most controversial book to date, “From land to sea”. Personally, I think it’s his best novel yet. This story is about two rival villages. These two villages are at war with one another. Has anyone read this particular novel?”

My hand goes into the air; only mine.

“You right there.” He points to me. “Stand and give the class your name. Don’t be bashful.”

I feel a hit of shyness as I stand and become the center of everyone’s attention.

“Hello, I’m Iva Hill.”

I hope I’m not as stiff looking as I feel.

“Ms. Hill, how do the title, “From land to sea”, relate to the story?”

“Um…” I bite my lip while I wait for my brain to process an answer. “…from life to death.”

“Wow. A lot of my students never have the answer to that one. Good job Miss Hill. You may sit down.” He says and smiles brightly at me.

I sink back into my seat.

“In the story the warriors fought on land, but their bodies would be cast into the sea when they die. Therefore, the title, “From land to sea”, means from life to death. What made this book so controversial are the gruesome battles he depicted. The climax is the most memorable, when the leader of the rival village kidnapped an innocent man from the other village. He tortured this man and killed him. He hung him in the highest tree on their enemy’s territory. He carved an x on his chest. He wanted to send them a clear message. And the message is…” He gives a slight pause to survey the entire class. “…a war is coming. And it will take place here.”

 

An hour later, the students are gathering their belongings and clearing the room. I make my way through the aisle and begin to walk down, but I freeze so Kendrick wouldn’t trample me. I can tell he’s been dying to get out of class. Professor Grant stares at him, bitterly, as he rushes out the classroom with rage. I step aside and wait patiently for the other students to leave the room.

One of the last people to leave is Daniel. Before leaving, he approaches Professor Grant and they start having a whispering conversation together.

“What is he doing in here?” Daniel asks lowly.

“I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure he won’t be back. His father must be furious right now.” Professor Grant replies.

Daniel glances over his shoulder at me before he walks out the door with the remaining few. At last, I finally have an opportunity to approach Professor Grant.

“Hello, Miss Hill.” His smile returns.

“Hello, I just wanted to say that I loved your lecture on J. L. Lucas.”

“Did you really?” He replies.

“He’s my favorite author too. You said your favorite book is From Land to Sea, right?”

“Yes it is.”

“Why? It’s so depressing, so…” I try to grasp the word in my head but can’t seem to.

“Tragic.” He finishes for me.

“Exactly.”

He walks over to his desk and leans up against it, contemplating my question.

“Well, isn’t life?” He explains. “We live in tragic days. Just go home and turn on the television, and see for yourself.”

“What about the ending? No one wins the war. The story builds and builds with no big payoff. I mean, come on, he ends the book in a huge cliffhanger. Why tease the audience without a sequel?”

He laughs at my statement.

“You must understand he’s a symbolic novelist. That’s his representation of war. He’s not teasing anyone. Think about it, when a war starts does it really end? That’s why he ends the book in a huge war scene.”

 

With our schedules free for an hour, we settle at some vacant seats and have an in-depth discussion about J. L. Lucas.

“Which one’s your favorite?” He asks.

“That’s hard to say. But the one I found most interesting has to be…The Damsel and The Knight.”

“Wow, that’s upsetting.” He tells me disappointingly.

“Why? It’s a great book.”

“First and foremost, instead of approaching it realistically, he goes into this fairy-tale romance.”

“We’re officially enemies now.” I say in a joking way.

There’s a slight break as the subject changes.

“So, do you write?” He asks.

“Not in a long time. And you?”

“Not really. People keep telling me I should but I just like the teaching part of literature.” He stops to think for a moment. “Well, there’s one story I’ve written, but I never published it.”

“What’s it about?”

“It’s about me and my fiancée. The story is based on our first date together. About half of the book is narrated by me. The plot is me describing every small aspect of her.” I witness him slip away into some kind of love daze. “Her crimson hair flows like fire in the wind; her eyes, brighter than the sky on the sunniest day; her smooth skin breaking the limits of perfection, beyond human comprehension…” He snaps out of his daydream. “It’s something like that but, you know, a lot longer.” He finishes with a chuckle.

I laugh with him.

“It wouldn’t be much of a book if it’s only one sentence.” I reply.

As a student walks into the class, Professor Grant shifts down at his watch.

“Wow, time is flying.” He says while standing. “Before you leave, I have the story in my desk. You can take it home and read it if you want to.”

“I’d love to.”

I follow him over to his desk. He sits down, scramble around for a moment, pulls out a stack of stapled papers, and hands them to me.

“I accept constructive criticism.” He informs me.

“I definitely will read it. So, what’s up with you and that boy? I believe his name is Kendrick. What did he do to you? Did he toilet-paper your car or something?”

He pauses for a second and clears his throat.

“No. Why would you say that?”

“I’ve seen you give him the evil eye earlier.”

He pauses for a brief moment and let out a chuckle, which seems slightly dishonest.

“I don’t have a problem with any of my students. I never have and never will.”

He looks down at his desk and clears his throat again. I like Grant because he’s an honest guy. The thing about honest people is that you can easily catch them when they’re lying to you. It’s so foreign to them that they’re horrible at it.

“But make sure you read the book. And take it easy on me.” He smiles and sits down at his desk. “And I will see you Wednesday, Miss Hill.”

“Wednesday it is. See you then.” I then turn around and walk out of the room.

Why lie about a simple question? I totally noticed the hostility between them two, yet he denies all of it. Maybe he doesn’t want to come off as unprofessional, which is definitely understandable. The thought slips my mind as I see the van pulling into the school lot.

I jump in and close the door.

“So, how was school?” I can tell she’s been dying to ask me that all day.

“It was great.” I respond brightly.

The entire ride home, I talk her ears off about my new favorite teacher, Professor Grant…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 12: THE BLAIRE’S STORY

 

 

 

 

 

 

When we returned home, I get myself comfortable on the sofa and begin reviewing my notes from Pre-calculus. Still, after all of the studying, none of it makes any sense to me. All I see is an assortment of numbers, lines, and letters. Meanwhile, as I’m studying, my mom is in the kitchen cooking dinner. By the hint of garlic in the air, I know it’s an Italian dish.

As I continue my review, I hear someone knocking on our door.

“I got it.” My mom says as she marches towards the front.

She glances into the peephole before opening the door.

“Hi Frankie. Come in.”

Uncle Frank comes in with his trademark smile. A notion immediately hits me. There’s something different about him, but I can’t point it out. Maybe it’s his smile. I can see the effort behind it. And now he’s sporting a five- o’clock-shadow.

“Hey, kiddo.”

“Hey, Uncle Frank. No time no see.” I reply.

“Hungry?” My mom asks him.

“I’m starving.” He replies.

 

Thirty minutes later, we’re finishing a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. Uncle Frank helps himself to a second serving as the subject changes from my mother’s job to Frank’s recent disappearance.

“You haven’t been returning my phone calls.” My mom interrogates. “Is everything fine?”

“I took some time off to clear my head, that’s all.”

“Is it stress?” She presses on.

Anyone else can easily see Uncle Frank would rather drop the subject, but my mom is not very good at spotting these kinds of things. He finishes chewing before speaking.

“It’s just work, you know, sometimes it takes a toll on you.”

He then focuses his attention onto me.

“What about you, kiddo? How’s school?” He changes the subject.

“So far so good, I guess. Hey, Uncle Frank, do you know a lot of people in Glenworth?”

He chuckles at my statement.

“I work there. I pretty much know everyone. Why? What’s up?”

“Do you know about the Blaire family?”

I’m not an hundred percent sure, but I think his eyes rolled at the mere mention of their name.

“Of course. Everyone in town does. Why do you want to know about them?”

“I’m just wondering why no one likes them.”

He shrugs his shoulders.

“People have their own opinions of them. But me, personally, I think they’re a bunch of assholes. All of them.”

‘Frankie?” My mom questions his choice of poor language.

“It’s true.” He defends himself. “Their father has embezzled millions, so has his wife, Rebecca. His kids, Kendrick and Arlene, can’t stay out of trouble, and I can’t do a damn thing about it.”

“Why not?’ I ask.

“They have tons of money. I don’t. Hell, our courts can’t afford the lawyers they have.”

“That’s crazy.” I reply.

He closes his eyes and shakes his head slowly.

“Iva, I have barely skimmed the surface.” He forces the word, “barely”, down my ears. “I remember when Kendrick was in high school. He decided to beat up on another boy. The boy was just bony; 120 maybe. Kendrick was around 180 pounds. And he beat that boy so bad…” Uncle Frank breaks to shake the regret from his head.

The irritation in his voice is dominating.

“…he had to get plastic surgery to fix his face. I couldn’t recognize him after that. The boy and his family felt so humiliated that they left town.”

“Oh my goodness.” My mom says with awe.

She’s so absorbed in the conversation that she can’t even eat anymore. I’m the same way. I wrapped spaghetti around my fork when he started the story. Now I’m so stunned, I can’t even lift the fork into my mouth.

“He didn’t go to jail for that?” I ask, just as shocked as my mother.

To him it’s no shock involved. Obviously, he’s been putting up with these people for years.

“Freedom is not earned in this country. Freedom is purchased. The Blaires knows a lot about that. But what made me even more heated, was when I questioned him. Do you know what Kendrick told me?”

“What?” I ask on the edge of my seat.

“Nothing happened. He said he just didn’t like him. There was absolutely no reason.” He shakes his head yet another time. “His family lived there for generations, and they had to leave because another kid doesn’t have proper home training. And they called it self-defense. It’s infuriating. These people don’t have any kind of respect for human life.”

He places his fork on the plate with a clatter. Before he continues, he takes his time to recuperate from the last story. I can see the frustration in his face. I can’t imagine the frustration he felt during that specific time. I can only imagine how dominating it was.

“And his father, Cornelius, got angry at me when I questioned him about his son’s violent behavior. And he gave me the old, “Boys will be boys”, speech. I told him to his face that his son needs to be evaluated. He got very, very, upset. To make a long story short, I told my partner to take my gun. As God is my witness, I wouldn’t be here right now. I would be in jail for murder. I kid you not. I would’ve shot that bastard. He threatened to kill me in the police station and got away with it.”

“Unbelievable.” The shock in my mother’s voice is still fresh.

“Believe it. The moral of this story is, if you have money, you can do whatever you want. People are judged by how much tax they pay each year. If you pay Uncle Sam enough, you can buy your way outta anything. Don’t ever talk to them Iva. Case closed.”

I manage to finish the last bite, but the food goes down hard. As we finish eating, an awkward silence overcomes us. I’ve never seen Uncle Frank so angry. It’s disturbing to see someone, who is usually happy, in such a down mood. Not long after, he says his goodbyes and leaves the house.

Before I fall asleep, I think about Uncle Frank and the anger he has for the Blaire family. Now I know why no one likes them. Hopefully, I can avoid them in school. The last thing I ever want to do is run into one of them again…

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 13: DAY TWO

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first class for the day is Computer Science with Professor Kelly; room 101. The classroom is filled with black monitors and long tables. I’m the first to enter class and greet this short woman with straight dark hair, red lipstick, and big, round, glasses. Five minutes later, the class begins. My next class is immediately after; Social Studies with Professor Patterson.

It’s a long walk across the campus, but I manage to make it on time. A short old man with a goatee greets me at the door. This class is unimaginable torture. The professor speaks so slow and lifeless that it makes the class seem much longer than an hour.

After Social Studies class, I head over to the student lounge for some me-time. As I finish a slice of pizza, I can’t help but notice two nerdy boys with massive acne arguing in a corner. One of the guys is wearing a black shirt with Mane’s face on it.

“Dude, Mane’s real. I’m telling you.” The guy with the black shirt rants.

“All I’m asking is, where’s your proof?” The other guy counters.

“I showed you.” The one with the Mane shirt replies.

“Yeah, right. I suppose to believe a random paw print and a picture, that could’ve easily been photo-shopped, qualifies as evidence? Good job.”

“Wow, this is coming from a guy who believes in Bigfoot.”

“Bigfoot is real.” He tells him boldly.

“What makes your evidence more substantial?”

“Because footprints are more substantial than paw prints.”

The boy with the black shirt just shakes his head in frustration as he gathers his belongings.

“You can easily fake a guy in a gorilla suit, my friend. Try faking a man in a lion suit. Not likely.”

They both wander off together. Their useless debating continues out of the student lounge and slowly fades down the hallway.

 

Shortly after, it’s time to find my General Biology class. I have to give out a couple of apologizes as I rush to class. I should’ve seen this one coming, but I’m too much in a hurry to avoid it.

“I’m so sorry. I truly am.” I say as I bump into a girl, which causes her notebook to fall onto the floor.

I freeze where I stand, and I think my heart did also. I’m staring into the eyes of a pale blonde girl. Her face is expressionless. Next to her is Kendrick. This girl must be his sister, Arlene.

“Hi, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to run into you.” I say with a shaky voice.

Using only her eyes, she scans my shoes and shifts up to my head; unblinking.

“What’s your name?” She says in a soft void voice.

“Iva.” I reply timidly.

“Are you going to pick my shit up Iva?”

My heart drops to my stomach the more she speaks to me. My blood is pumping in my body so hard right now that I’m starting to sweat. I kneel down to the floor, pick up her notebook and papers, and then neatly stack them together. Her eyes follow me to the floor and when I rise, but her body remains statue-like.

“Sorry again.” I say uneasily.

Slowly but surely she takes the notebook from my hands without blinking once. She tucks her notebook under her arm with those wide, soulless, eyes gazing into mine. This is torture. I don’t know why. I’ll admit it; I’m very intimidated by her.

It’s like I’m shrinking the more she stares at me with those eyes, and it’s like she’s constantly growing and growing.

“Iva.” She calls my name in a blank tone. “If you touch me like that again, your parents will have to use a fucking shovel to remove your face from the floor. I’m talking about full on plastic surgery on your ass. Got it bitch?”

“Yes, it won’t happen again.” I say while holding my notebook tightly with a sweaty grip.

I look at Kendrick and I realize his face is just as lifeless as hers. Then he walks toward me slowly. Automatically, as he gets closer to me, I back away from him until my back hits a wall. I grip my notebook even tighter with my hands shaking.

“Don’t look at me.” He demands.

I hear his sister snickering behind him as I gulp and look down at the glossy floor tiles. I feel unbelievably defenseless. Kendrick observes left and right down the hallway for anyone who could be watching him harass me. He sees this one boy walking down the hallway, looking at us as he passes by.

“What are you looking at?” Kendrick asks the boy fiercely.

The boy quickly turns away and picks up his speed down the hallway, and then he disappears around the corner. Kendrick then shifts back to me once more.

“You’re new around here. I can tell.” He tells me with aggression. “You better find out who we are. We own this school. We’ll take it easy on you now, but next time…” He stops speaking all of a sudden.

Something or someone has caught his attention. For the first time, I see another emotion in their face instead of anger. I see fear in their eyes.

“You may think you own this school, but you don’t own me.”

I look to my left, and behold, I see Daniel approaching us with his strict stare.

“This is none of your business.” Kendrick says nervously.

Wow. Just by his presence alone, Kendrick and Arlene has become frightful by the first sight of Daniel.

“It is now.” He backfires at Kendrick.

Daniel stops at my left hand side. Kendrick has a very lean athletic built. Compared to Daniel, he looks very meager. If Kendrick is about 180 pounds, then Daniel must be at least 210 pounds. I shift away from Daniel and back into Kendrick’s eyes, and I notice the nervousness building.

“Now, talk to me the way you just talked to her.” Daniel orders Kendrick.

Kendrick swallows down hard, unwilling to muster the strength and courage to talk down to Daniel. I don’t blame the guy. For some reason, Kendrick glances back at his sister, as if she can somehow assist him.

“Why are you looking at her for?” Daniel asks as soon as Kendrick glances back at her. “You aren’t man enough to speak for yourself?”

He’s trying hard to gather the courage to show some kind of boldness towards Daniel, but I can see his mind refuting that option. Arlene grabs Kendrick’s shirt and pulls on it, luring him away from Daniel’s harsh, fearless, leer.

“Come on, let’s go.” She says humbly to her brother.

She looks back at me one more time before turning and walking down the hall with her brother at her side. Daniel and I wait until they turn the corner before we loosen our stance.

“You alright?” He asks me.

“Yeah, thanks.” I tell him.

“They like picking on newbies. Consider this a warning. Don’t look down so much, it makes you a target for people like them.” He tells me.

“I will remember that.” I reply.

“I hope so.” She says as he backs away and walks down the hallway.

After hearing about how bad the Blaires are, I’m just happy I’m walking away still intact. Luckily for me, Daniel came to scare them away, which he didn’t have to do. It’s becoming clear that he, just like my Uncle Frank, have a bad history with the Blaires. As I enter Biology class, I realize it has already started. I’m greeted by onlookers.

Hopefully, they don’t notice me sweating. The Professor is a man, probably in his forties, with a brown beard and matching hair. There are no desks in this classroom; only black counter-tops and sinks. I quickly scan the room for a seat. It takes me a second to discover one in the back.

“Ditched the wheelchair, I see.” A voice says next to me as I sit down.

I turn and quickly realize who it is. It’s one of Daniel’s friends. It’s the boy with dark hair and baby-blue eyes.

“Oh hi.” I acknowledge him with a smile.

I feel my body tense up, but I don’t know why. I shift to Professor Nelson as he continues his lecture on cellular growth. I open my book-bag and pull out a fresh notebook and folder.

“Forever Dusk, that’s a nice band.” The boy says with a grin.

My notebook has my favorite band logo on the cover.

“Yeah, they’re my favorite band.” I respond, trying to fight back a big grin.

“Me too. I’m Jason by the way.” He says with an appealing smirk.

“I’m Iva.”

My heart starts to thump against my chest. I shift back to the Professor but it’s impossible to focus on him. Suddenly, I feel a warm sensation travel up my arm. I look down and notice his fingers touching my hand. I stare up into his bright eyes; mesmerized by them. He uses his pen to point towards something beside me.

“Your folder…” He whispers to me.

“What…?” I glance over at the floor. “Oh, thanks.”

I lean over and grab my folder off the floor. On my way up, I hear him laughing lowly next to me. I hope I’m not turning pink in the face.

“So, are you into a lot of rock?” He asks secretively.

“It depends on the mood I’m in. Are you?”

“Of course I am. I have my own band.”

“You do? That’s awesome.” I reply.

“But it’s nothing too serious. We do it mostly for fun.”

“What instrument do you play?” I ask.

“I do the vocals. The guy that helped your mom that day, he plays the guitar.”

“The guy with the hair?”

He laughs charmingly at my comment.

“Yes, his name is Daniel. He’s pretty bad-ass with the guitar. And his sister, the Goth girl, that’s Maria. She does keyboard. The twins, Eric and Jessica, they rotate on the drums. But we haven’t played in years.”

“That’s awesome.”

“So, are you new around here or what?” He asks with an untarnished smile.

“Yeah.”

“Where are you from?” He questions.

“Virginia.”

“Cool, so what brings you upstate?”

“My mom moved up here for a job, so I had no choice but to tag along.”

The more we talk, the more my body slowly becomes tense like a rock.

“I hope you like snow.” He says with a chuckle.

I chuckle back at him.

“I heard it can get bad. But I don’t mind snow.” I reply.

His presses his lips tightly together and shakes his head in disagreement.

“You won’t be saying that in a couple of months.” He whispers to me.

“Is it really that bad?” I ask.

“Yes.” He shoves the word down my ear.

“But look on the bright side, if we get snowed in, at least we won’t have to come to school.” I inform him.

He chuckles again.

“Nope, you still have to come to school. The school board is heartless here.” He finishes.

“What if it’s a foot of snow?” I ask.

“I guess you’ll be hiking to school in a foot of snow.”

“What if it’s three feet?”

“Then you’ll be hiking to school in three feet of snow.”

“Seriously, they can’t do that.” I reply chuckling.

“Get used to it Dorothy you’re not in Kansas anymore.”

“Virginia.”

“Same difference.”

I try to keep my laughter at a minimum.

“Are you always this difficult?” I ask.

“It’s my job.” He replies.

“I think you should call out sick.”

“I’m all out of sick days.” He responds.

“Well, get your hours reduced or something.” I shoot back.

“I can’t. I’m a workaholic.”

“Well, I’m going to call your boss and…”

“Sorry, I’m the CEO of this company.”

I pause for a moment; unable to come up with new material.

“I can do this all day, Dorothy. I’m the comeback king. Bring it on.”

I stop to think about another comeback, but time has lingered way too long.

“Okay. You win for now. But I have a question.”

“I have an answer, maybe.” He replies charmingly.

“What’s up with this lion phenomenon? I can’t go anywhere without seeing it.”

He takes his time to snicker modestly at my question before answering.

“That started a couple of years back, when a hiker took a picture of a black lion. It quickly grew into a money making gimmick for the town. Now, he’s like Glenworth’s Loch Ness Monster.”

“I figured that much.” I add.

“To some people, he is not just a legend. Some say if you roam deep into the forest, you might just hear him roar.”

“Who, the lion?”

“Yes. They call him Mane. He protects the forest from a demon. They say this demon was once a wolf. And when the wolf ate a hundred hearts, it turned into something else. It became part demon, part wolf. Some say it has a body of a man, but with a head of a dog. That’s how it got its name, you know. They call this demon, The Hellhound. He waits in the woods, ready to find his next victim.”

“You know what? I overheard my mom talking on the phone with my Uncle. He said a girl was attacked by something just recently.”

“Yeah, I heard that one too. They tried to blame it on an animal. But I know who it was.”
“Who?”

“The Hellhound. In order for him to stay alive, he must eat a heart every so often or else he gets weak and dies.”

The expression in his face is so serious that it’s creeping me out.

“Nobody would ever believe that stuff.” I say with a snicker.

Although I find it funny, his expression is humorless.

“You don’t believe it?” He asks me with a serious expression.

“Sorry, I don’t believe in fairy-tales.”

He grunts and shakes his head in disagreement.

“Then you better start believing in it. I bet those two people who was murdered, didn’t believe in him either.”

I stop smiling. I take a second to gaze into his eyes. I study them, trying to find a hint of humor. There’s nothing there to indicate a joke.

“I hope everyone is paying attention back there.”

Professor Nelson says with his eyes peering at us.

We quickly shift our faces forward. When the Professor realizes he has our undivided attention, he continues with his lecture.

 

Before I know it, the classroom is emptying.

“Catch you later.” He says in a cool way as he leaves the room.

“See you later.” I reply.

I gather my belongings and head towards the door, but Professor Nelson stops me in my tracks.

“Miss, why were you late on the first day?” He says with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, yeah. I was lost.”

“Excuses are not a major in this University.” He looks at me with peering eyes.

“Sorry. I won’t make it a habit.”

“I certainly hope not. I’ll meet you here Thursday, on time.”

“Yes sir.” I nod to him in agreement and exit the classroom.

 

I then wait outside for my mom to give me a lift back home. As soon as 4:30 strikes, I see the van coming into the school lot. I hop into the passenger seat as I smile uncontrollably.

“Hey mom, how was work?” My smile is brighter than ever.

“It went well.” She responds. “So, how was school?” She shoots back.

“Fantastic.”

“That’s good to hear.” She tells me.

I try to lower my cheerfulness, at least a tinge, but I can’t. A moment later, the car is still stationary. I turn to my mom, who is leering at me sideways. Oh no, she’s reading me again.

“What mom?” My huge smile is impossible to hide.

“I know that look.” She continues with her leer.

“What look?” I ask with aggravation.

“That one you have.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I wish that my smile will fade already.

“Who is he?”

“Mom, stop it.” I start to laugh.

“Is he tall or is he short?”

“Mom, back off, please.” I plead to her.

“I’ll find out. I have resources; credible resources.” She says with a goofy leer.

I roll my eyes and shift my face towards my window.

“Where did you meet him, English class or psychology class…?” She solicits further.

I roll my eyes yet again.

“Mom, you’re delusional.”
“What about Biology class?” She continues her questioning.

“I met him online mom. He’s fresh out of prison. Happy now?”

I hear her chuckling beside me as we roll back from the parking spot and cruise through the lot.

“So, you want to play hard-ball? This is not over, girlfriend. Not by a long shot.” She informs me.

 

A day that started off scary ended well for me. It’s kind of ridiculous how I’m thinking so much about Jason. He somehow turned that horrible incident with the Blaires into a distant memory…

 

 

 

CHAPTER 14: DAY THREE

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s only my second day in Pre-calculus and Professor Welsh gives us a quiz, which I’m highly doubtful about. Afterwards, I take a nice break in the student lounge to eat before heading off to my next class; Psychology. As I walk through the halls, I keep an eye out for Jason, and a sharper eye out for the Blaire family. I’m trying to avoid them as much as possible.

Soon, I’m transferring to my favorite class; Introduction to Literature. Professor Grant gives me a welcoming smile as I enter the room. One by one, the rest of the students fill in the vacant seats. The last one to enter, Daniel, marches towards the back with his large frame. Professor Grant shuts the door and walks to the center of the classroom.

“Hello everyone! Welcome to day number two of my class. I have an interesting topic lined up for you guys. Today we will be reviewing…”

The door swings open abruptly, and Kendrick enters with an angry look on his face, again. Professor Grant’s eyes follow him into the class, up the steps, and in a seat two rows down from me.

“Thank you for making it on time, Mr. Blaire.”

The classroom swells with chuckling. The chuckling stops instantly when Kendrick slams his books on the desk. The loud sound causes some students, including me, to flinch. A girl next to him stares in total shock by his rude behavior. A second later, she gets up and move a couple chairs down from him.

“Kendrick, is there a problem?” Professor Grant asks with a burning stare.

The entire class is now completely, dead, quiet.

“If you don’t want to be here, then there’s the door. This is my class and you will respect me here. Do you understand?”

I can hear Kendrick breathing heavily, although I’m two rows behind him. Suddenly, Kendrick mutters something foul underneath his breath.

“Excuse me?” Professor Grant backfires.

“I said…fuck this class.” He replies loud enough for everyone to hear.

The mood in the classroom has changed from pleasant to disturbed in a matter of seconds. The faces of my fellow classmates are now frozen in astonishment.

“You are excused Mr. Blaire.” Professor Grant tells him with a burning leer.

“You’re kicking me out? But I just got here, Professor.”

“And you are just leaving. I will write a letter to the dean.”

Kendrick snickers at Professor Grant’s comeback.

“Go ahead. I own this school.”

“Not this classroom. Not while I’m here.”

Kendrick begins to laugh as he collects his things. He stands to his feet and makes his way down the steps slowly. A fresh mischievous smile appears on his face as he leaves the classroom. Professor Grant clears his throat and continues.

“If anyone is having personal issues, please keep it at home, and don’t bring it into my classroom.” He stops to trace everyone. “Okay let’s proceed. Today we will be reviewing several other genres that author J. L. Lucas has explored. How many of you have done your homework and read his autobiography?”

Suddenly, the door swings open again and hits the wall with a clamorous sound that echoes throughout the room. Again, the entire class freeze as a tall man, dressed in a white collared shirt and black slacks, marches into the classroom. The look on the man’s face is something between furious and homicidal.

“How dare you talk to my son that way?” He yells at Professor Grant with fiery hatred.

Professor Grant’s face flattens. Then it hits me, this furious man is no other than Cornelius Blaire, Kendrick’s father.

“I can easily get you fired tomorrow. I own your ass!” He shouts at Grant.

Professor Grant’s face twists with disgust.

“Were you eavesdropping?” Grant asks.

“I heard every damn word. I dare you make a fool out of my son again. I promise you that your ass will be fired tomorrow.” Cornelius says with his pointer-finger beaming between Professor Grant’s eyes.

Professor Grant swipes Cornelius’s hand away from his face.

“Who do you think you are?” Professor Grant backfires aggressively.

Cornelius immediately steps closer to Professor Grant, so close that their noses are almost touching.

“Cornelius, if you put your finger in my face again, I’m going to break it.” Professor Grant replies in an angry yet composed manner.

The grip on my pen suddenly tightens. My eyes are beginning to sting from me unblinking, yet I can’t manage to blink because I’m way too absorbed into their argument. Nothing seems to be functioning correctly in my body except for my burning eyes and my pounding heart. At this very moment the classroom is beyond silent. It’s as if someone has placed me into a real life photograph.

Everyone is completely glued into their seats and not in a good way.

“Come on, William, take a swing.” Cornelius whispers in his face.

My heart is starting to pound even harder than before. The tight grip on my pen is starting to get moist with sweat. Cornelius fist is so tight it becomes red. A moment seems like forever as their homicidal gazes remain intertwined. But then Professor Grant steps away from Cornelius.

He clears his throat, takes a breather, and regains his cool.

“I’m teaching a class right now. This matter can be discussed at a better time.” Professor Grant tells him through his teeth.

Cornelius lifts his chin arrogantly and says…

“I’ve said what I had to say. And I don’t make promises I can’t keep, William.”

Cornelius rotates towards the door but stops midway. He pauses, only briefly, to leer at something over my head. He then leaves the room without shutting the door. I’m relieved that he’s gone because I was holding my breath the entire time. Now, I’m stable enough to breathe again. I then trace Cornelius leer behind me.

I figured out what he was staring at just before he’d left. He was staring at Daniel. I spot Daniel, in the back row, standing boldly. Then I shift back at Professor Grant, who is frozen in place staring at the open door. The hatred in his eyes is finally cooling down.

I take another look in the back of the class. Daniel lowers slowly into his seat, yet the anger in his face remains fresh. At the same time, it’s hard to tell if he’s angry or not because that’s his usual expression. The students gaze around at one another with confused looks.

“The Blaires are nut-jobs.” A boy whispers to another classmate behind me.

Professor Grant adjusts his suit and sighs. He walks over to the door, closes it, and then positions himself in the middle of the room.

“Sorry about that rude and unnecessary behavior.” He says while pausing again to regain more stability.

Seconds passes by as he remains unresponsive.

“With that said, let us continue.” He finally proceeds.

The hour of class is so awkward. Cornelius is way gone, but the tension he carried in is still warm under my collar. Small conversations about their argument are already taking place around me. I can’t help but feel highly embarrassed for Professor Grant. His personality has changed dramatically.

I guess the Blaires have an immeasurable talent of bringing out the worst in people. He’s not the typical, fun-loving, Professor Grant that I know. Instead, he’s a lot quieter and gloomier than usual. Soon, I’m gathering my belongings and making my way towards the door. He sees me coming down the steps but doesn’t smile at me like he usually would.

His face is completely flat. I pause at the doorway and give him a warm smile, hoping he will do the same. He, who can barely look me in the eyes, gives me a very feeble smile as I leave the class. I want to say something, something that would make him feel better, but I decide not to. He tries to hide his anger, but he has a poor way of hiding it.

I glance back from the hallway and see Daniel approaching him, and then they begin to have another private discussion. I continue down the hallway, hearing students gossiping about the argument among groups.

 

Before long, I’m heading home. That argument left a huge mark on my psyche. I can’t seem to shake off the tension they created. Then I get a feeling it’s more to Glenworth than most people think. And I’m eager to find out what’s really going on…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 15: JASON’S FRIENDS

 

 

 

 

 

 

The proceeding day is beyond annoying. It doesn’t matter where I go on campus, students are raving about Cornelius and Professor Grant’s argument. It’s only been one day and the rumors have spread like a wildfire. I’m tired of hearing people talk about it. My ears need a break from all of the exaggerations. What makes matters worse is some turned the rumor into something else entirely.

They’re starting to say that a fist fight took place in class. I have rolled my eyes at least a thousand times so far today. My final class, and most anticipated, is Biology. I’m one of the first to enter class and Jason is one of the last.

“What’s up?” He asks as he sits down next to me.

“Nothing much.”

Professor Nelson shuts the door and obtains center stage. As Professor Nelson gives his lecture on plant stems, I lower my head away from his eyes.

“Hey, I want to ask you something.” I whisper to Jason.

“Something like what?” He replies and brings his ear closer to me.

“Did you hear about yesterday?”

His face drops and I notice his expression switch into anger.

“Who hasn’t?” He replies.

“I was there when it happened. They look like they wanted to kill each other.” I attempt to shake the image of their bloodthirsty eyes from my head and fail. “But the odd thing is, I asked Professor Grant about him and Kendrick. And he said nothing was wrong.”

He exhales slowly.

“No one really likes the Blaires but we respect them. They invest money into the school, so the faculty kisses their ass. It gets on my nerves. They believe they can treat people like shit and get away with it.”

“And what’s up with Daniel? Cornelius looked at him the same way. Daniel even stood up like he was ready to fight.”

He hesitates to respond. Suddenly, the anger lifts from his face and is replaced with uncertainty.

“Listen Iva, we all have our differences towards people. They’re….things in this town…things you shouldn’t stick your nose in.” He says straightforwardly.

“But, you can tell me anything. I won’t say a word to anyone.”

“Iva…” He stares into my eyes with seriousness. “Just drop it.”

“Okay.” I reply.

 

The whole class we remain silent. Soon, everyone is pouring out of the room and blending into the college commute. As I step into the hallway, Jason gathers my attention by tapping me on my right shoulder.

“Hey, Iva, I’m sorry about what I said. I didn’t mean to sound so harsh.” He apologizes honestly.

“It’s fine. I just wanted to know why they hate each other so much. That’s all.”

“I wish I can tell you, it’s just…it’s a long story.”

“Then shorten it.”

“Like now?” He responds.

“Yes now. Where are you heading?” I ask him.

“Getting in my car and going home.” He replies with a snicker.

“Okay, then I will walk with you to your car.” I counter.

“Do I have any say in this?” He asks.

“Nope.”

He rolls his eyes and breaks a smile shortly after; a charming one. Together, we exit through a pair of double doors and stroll down the campus walkway while we talk about the Blaires.

“The Blaires likes no one.” He explains. “Grant and Cornelius went to school together. And it started there and still, even today, they can’t get along.”

“Okay, that’s understandable. But how does Daniel fit in?”

He doesn’t respond to my question. It’s almost as if he’s trying his best to avoid that question entirely. We approach a group of kids hanging around three vehicles. The first vehicle is a black Charger, the second is a burgundy SUV, and the third is a black SUV. Daniel is sitting in the Charger with the driver’s door wide open. The brunette boy and his female lookalike are standing next to the burgundy SUV. And the Goth-girl, Daniel’s sister, is sitting on the hood of the Charger.

They appear to be having a conversation before I arrive with Jason.

“Hey, guys.” Jason says.

“What’s up, you ready to jet?” The brunette boy asks.

“Yeah, I was just talking to my friend Iva.” Jason informs.

“Oh yeah, wheels, how’s it going?” The brunette boy says rudely.

The brunette girl next to him punches his shoulder and reply…

“Shut-up, idiot.” She says to him angrily.

Her mood changes instantly when she shifts back to me. Now, she’s completely subtle again.

“Sorry about my brother. I’m Jessica and this is Eric.” She informs me.

“Hi, I’m Eric.” The brunette boy confirms.

“I’m Maria.” The Goth-girl says with a smile.

“So, you’re the farm girl, right?” Eric asks me.

“I think you have me mixed up with someone else.” I reply in a dumbfounded tone.

“Didn’t you say she lived on a farm?” Eric asks Jason.

“No, I said she moved from Virginia, dumb-ass.” Jason shoots back at Eric.

“So, there are no farms in Virginia?” Eric asks me.

“Yes, but I didn’t live on one.”

“So, why are you dressed up like a farmer?” Eric continues.

I look down at myself and realize that he must be referring to my denim-overalls.

“Believe me; I have never lived on a farm, like ever.”

He clears his throat.

“I don’t like her Jason. It’s something about those overalls…” Eric states.

Jessica rolls her eyes and conceals her face with her palm.

“Can you please stop being a retard?” Jason says.

“Don’t pay him any attention. He’s annoying.” Maria states.

“And he’s good at it.” Jessica adds with crossed arms.

A car creeps up slowly and stops near us. It’s my Uncle Frank and an older fellow. Maybe this man is his partner.

“Oh shit its five-o. Someone hide the weed.” Eric says.

“Excuse me Mr. Dodson, can you please repeat that?” Uncle Frank asks Eric.

“Damn. I’m just fucking with you Lancaster. Don’t get trigger happy.” Eric responds.

Uncle Frank shakes the frustration from his head and peers at me.

“Hey, Kiddo.” He greets me.

“Hey, Uncle Frank.”

“Uncle?” Eric mumbles underneath his breath.

“What are you guy’s up to?” Uncle Frank asks.

“Nothing.” The group mumbles.

“Actually, we were doing some under-age drinking…”

“Mr. Dodson, I’m not in the mood today.” Uncle Frank snaps back at Eric.

“Okay, that was the last joke. I’m serious.” Eric confesses.

My uncle then looks over at Daniel.

“What’s going on Daniel? How are you doing?” Uncle Frank asks him.

“Yup.” Daniel replies with his never fading sternness.

“Hey kiddo, can I speak to you?”

As I approach his car, he welcomes me over with a mouth-full of teeth.

“Whose idea was this?” I ask him.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He plays stupid.

I have a staring contest with him until he finally gives in.

“Your mom’s.” He surrenders.

“Of course. When she mentioned, “Credible resource”, I knew it had to be only one person.”

“I’m your uncle. It’s my job to sniff around from time to time. How is everything?” He interrogates.

“It’s fine. Stop spying on me, gosh.”

“Just making sure my niece is secure.”

He looks over at the group behind me and smiles again.

“I see you made some friends. They’re good kids. Well, I see you around. Call me if you need anything.”

“Okay, I’ll see you later.”

He then shifts to Eric again.

“And for you…” Uncle Frank points at Eric.

Eric looks left and right with a confused look on his face. He then points at himself.

“Me?” Eric asks my uncle.

“Yeah, you. Behave yourself.”

“Always.” Eric replies with a fake smile.

“Have a productive day everyone.”

“Bye.” We all reply.

He then cruises away, slowly. Eric waves at him as he slowly exits the school parking lot. As soon as his patrol car disappears, Eric stops waving and his smile drops instantly.

“I’m going to tear some shit up.” Eric announces. “Behave? That’s not even in my vocab.”

“Lancaster is your uncle, for real?” Jason asks me.

“Yes.” I reply.

“Cool.”

The others behind him find a car to get into. The twins, Eric and Jessica, get into the burgundy SUV, and Maria gets into the Charger with Daniel. They ignite their engines. The engine on the old Charger erupts to life, releasing some heavy gray smoke from its exhaust pipe.

“Coming or not?” Eric shouts at Jason from the burgundy SUV. “Not you farm-girl. No geeks allowed. Plus, your uncle is a cop…you’re never going to be cool, ever.”

Jason rolls his eyes at Eric’s rude comments.

“Alright, I’ll catch you later.” Jason says to me.

“See you later.”

Daniel is the first one to reverse back and leave. Jason brings the black SUV to life and pulls out of the parking space. Meanwhile, in the burgundy SUV, Eric lowers his window in the passenger seat.

“See you later, farm-girl.” He says.

Maria and Jessica is right, he is annoying. I roll my eyes at his comment and reply…

“I’ve never lived on a farm for crying out-loud.”

“Liar, liar; overalls on fire.”

He then starts laughing at me.

“Who wears overalls anymore? What is this, the 1800’s? Do yourself a favor and get rid of them. Until next time, farm-girl.” He finishes with a solute.

I watch as they all exit the school lot and emerge into traffic…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 16: STRANGE BEHAVIOR

 

 

 

 

 

 

The gossip about Cornelius and Professor Grant finally dies off, and it’s about time. Even more good news, Kendrick didn’t return to class today. We wrap up our lessons on J. L. Lucas with a quiz which I’m utmost confident about. At the end of class everyone, except me, drag their feet to turn in their test. I wait until everyone leaves the room before I approach Professor Grant’s desk.

He nods at Daniel as he leaves the room. I place my test on his desk with a confident smirk.

“I certainly hope you did well.” He says in a sarcastic way.

“Hey, guess what? I read some of your story.”

“You did? How do you like it so far?”

“It’s very good. You should get it published.”

“Yeah, well, maybe one day.” He says with uncertainty.

He looks down at my shoulder. The temperature is fair today, so I decided to wear a short-sleeved shirt.

“Hold one second.” He says with squinting eyes.

“What happened to your arm?”

I look at my shoulder and then back at him.

“Trust me; it’s a very long and unusual story. To be honest, I don’t know how it got there.”

“Can I take a look at that?”

“Sure, but it’s pretty gross looking.” I inform him.

I pull my sleeve back and shift my shoulder towards him. Then something strange happens. He moves his eyes from the mark and into mine, and then it takes me a moment to read his expression. Strangely, for reasons I’m unaware of, utter shock has overcome him.

“Iva…how did you get that scar? Seriously.” He stutters.

“I don’t know. It just appeared one day.”

He fiddles with his pen for a moment before asking another question. There’s nervous tension building in his face. Why? I have no idea.

“Did this involve a box of some kind?” He asks slowly and uneasily.

“Yes.” I’m started to get a strange vibe.

“A scarlet box?” He continues.

“Yes. How did you know?”

“Oh my God. The legends are true. This changes everything.” He says lowly to himself.

Someone comes to his side. It’s my biology teacher, Professor Nelson.

“Hey Bill, here’s your stapler back.” Professor Nelson says while holding out a stapler.

Professor Nelson looks over at me, glancing at my arm, and transfers back to Professor Grant. But he is too stunned to hear anything. Professor Grant just can’t stop staring at me.

“Bill?” He leans forward and calls for his attention, again.

Suddenly, Professor Grant breaks away from his trance.

“No problem James, anytime.” He says while taking his stapler with a twitchy hand.

“Thanks.” Professor Nelson responds.

He takes a second to observe Professor Grant, then me, before exiting the room.

“What are your plans tomorrow, Iva? I would like to talk more about this, if you don’t mind.”

“Is there something you’re trying to tell me?”

He nods.

“There’s so much to discuss Iva. But this is not the right place to talk.”

“Hold on…what’s going on? How did you know about the box?”

He starts to speak but the words are trapped in his throat.

“I don’t know where to start.” He blurts out. “I think the best thing to do is show you.”

“Show me what?”

“Let’s just say…I have a friend. And I want you to meet him.”

“Who?” I ask with confusion.

“Iva, it’s hard to explain. I think it’s best if you just meet him in person. Can you meet me here at 7, tomorrow morning?”

“Okay, I’ll see you at 7.” I confirm with uncertainty.

“Please, don’t forget.” He responds, almost in a begging tone.

“I won’t.” I reply oddly.

I proceed out the door and down the hallway. Seriously, what was that all about? I slip into a daydream. All I can think about is Professor Grant and the alarm in his eyes. Many thoughts shoot across my mind, mostly questions of course.

But two questions in particular are lingering at the top of my head. Why was he so shocked when I showed him the scar? And how did he know about the box I found at that antique shop? Even Professor Nelson felt a weird vibe in the room. At least I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

“Iva!” Someone shouts my name.

I break out of the daydream and realize my mom is waiting for me in the van. I get into the passenger seat and buckle in.

“How was school?” She asks with a bright grin.

“It was good.” I smile halfheartedly. “Hey, I have to get dropped off early tomorrow for something.”

“Alright.”

She gazes at me for a moment and must have noticed a flaw in my smile.

“Are you okay? It looks like something is bothering you.”

“No, I’m fine.” I answer while looking out the window.

Our drive home is very quiet. My mom keeps asking me if something is wrong, but I continue to answer, “No, I’m fine”. Before I go to sleep that strange vibe I felt earlier turns into something ugly. And then I have a sense that something terrible is about to happen…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 17: THE SIGN

 

 

 

 

I wake up the next morning with Professor Grant’s stunned eyes at the top of my head. I try hard to forget it, but the flashback is still fresh. So many unanswered questions are beginning to burden me with anxiety. If I’m lucky, my meeting with him and his friend will cure my bewilderment. As I poke my eggs with my folk, I feel my mom’s laser vision on me.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

I look up at her and sigh loudly, expressing my frustration toward her constant questioning.

“Mom, nothing’s wrong. Can you stop asking me that?” I tell her in a volume I typically never reach.

“Okay.” She replies and continues to eat her breakfast.

The drive to school is another silent one. We arrive so early that most of the parking spots are still available. She pulls up to the main building and parks the van near the curb.

“Okay, see you later.” I say while opening the door, but my mom stops me just before I’m able to exit.

“Wait just one second. I just want to have a little chat.”

I position myself back into the passenger seat and shut the door.

“If something was bothering you, would you tell me?”

“Mom, I’m fine. Can you please stop it?”

“I’m not trying to turn this into an argument.” She clarifies.

“I just got a lot of school stuff on my mind. That’s all.”

Again, just like any other time, she’s reading me like an open book. She knows I’m lying through my teeth. I can’t hide anything from my mother.

“Okay, have a nice day at school.” She tells me.

“Have a nice day at work.” I reply as I exit the van.

I watch the van emerge into traffic before I proceed up the walkway. I whip out my cell-phone and update myself on the current time. In 15 minutes I’ll be meeting up with Professor Grant, so he can clarify the questions I’ve been dying to have answered. Suddenly, a girl bumps into my shoulder and startles me.

“Hey.” I blurt out, automatically.

I look over my shoulder and witness the girl running with her hands clamped against her mouth. I take a breath to lower my startled heart. I proceed up the walkway, only to discover another student sprinting my way. His eyes are consumed with extreme panic. I step aside so I wouldn’t get run over by him. A gloomy sense starts to expand inside of me.

“What is going on?” I whisper to myself.

I continue up the walkway quicker than before, aching to find out what’s going on. An earsplitting scream rips through the silence of the morning. My fast walking converts into a jog. I see a boy coming around the west wing of the campus. He’s talking frantically to someone on his cell-phone.

“We need the police here now, there’s been a murder.” He cries hysterically into his phone.

My heart-rate skyrockets. A girl comes from around the corner with her hands pressed tightly against her lips. I watch her collapse into some boy’s arms. It seems like forever, but I finally make it around the corner. A small gathering of students are standing motionless. They all appear to be staring at something over my head. I don’t want to look, but my curiosity is forcing me.

I slowly follow their gaze behind me and upward. I immediately become immobile. I can’t believe my eyes. Behold a body, with a gaping hole in its chest, harnessed at the top of the school. Yet, there is only a torso and a head.

The torso is covered in blood. The blood is in the form of a giant X. I’m dreadfully sad to say that this torso belongs to the one and only Professor Grant. A moment later, my joints loosen. I remove my eyes from the gruesome scene and hold in a scream with my hands.

As I stagger back down the walkway, I feel myself lose balance. I stumble right until I hit the brick wall of the school. I hold my jumping heart as I slide down into the wet grass. The girl, who bumped into me moments before, is charging back up the walkway with two other Professors. A minute goes by and I’m still curled into a ball against the wall.

The Professors must have discovered his body also, because I can hear a series of gasps coming from around the corner. I reach into my pocket and pull out my cell-phone. Warm tears begin to roll down my cheeks as I press the call button.

“Hello.” My mom answers.

“Mom, there’s been an incident at school. Come, please.” The hysteria in my voice is dominating.

“What’s going on?” Her concern instantly takes over.

“Mom, just come quick.”

“I’m on my way.”

 

A couple of minutes later, I meet my mom back at the main entrance. She hurries out of the van and pauses momentarily to gawk at the anarchy that is building momentum around her.

“Iva, what is happening?!” She speaks with intense anxiety.

I approach her, slowly, with watery eyes. Sirens grow in the distance until several squad cars rush onto the murder scene.

“Iva…?”

I throw my head into her chest. She wraps her arms around me with an unbreakable grip. On the way home, I tell my mom what I saw. The shock on her face is brutal, but it’s nothing compared to those distraught faces at the scene.

 

Two hours later, Uncle Frank and his partner, Detective Jones, comes over to our house for questioning. It’s hard for me to answer any of their questions because the flashbacks are constantly reappearing in my head. All I can see in my mind is Professor Grant’s lifeless body, and all I can hear are the cries from those who discovered him. It’s ripping my mind apart.

“Iva? Iva?” Uncle Frank gathers my attention.

I snap back into reality another time.

“You are one of the last people to speak to him.” Uncle Frank states. “Did you notice anything in his behavior?”

“I did notice him acting strange.” I reply in a zombie-like tone.

“How so?”

“I don’t know. It’s hard to describe. But two days prior to that, he had a disagreement with Cornelius Blaire.”

“Where?” Jones asks urgently.

“In class.”

“About what?” Uncle Frank presses on.

“Kendrick didn’t want to be in his class, so Professor Grant kicked him out.”

“Did he threaten Grant?” Uncle Frank interrogates me.

“He said he will get him fired.”

“Did he threaten Grant for his life?” Uncle Frank asks.

I think harder and try to remember if any death threats were thrown around between them two.

“No.”

“Are you certain?”

“Positive.”

Uncle Frank places his pen in the coil of his mini-notepad.

“That’s all I need for now.” He informs me. “You know…I’m sorry you had to see that.”

He comes over to me and kneels down with soothing eyes.

“I met Grant before, a great guy he was. I promise you, I’ll find the son of a bitch who did this. I may already know. Love you kiddo, hang in there. Alright?”

I nod humbly. He stands and nods at his partner, and together they leave the house with modest expressions. I know who Uncle Frank was referring too. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Blaires had something to do with his death…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 18: THE VISITOR

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glenworth police department rests on the outskirts of the town, near the river. Detective Lancaster and his partner are leaving Rochester and making their way back to the station. As they ride along, they argue about who their suspect might be.

“I’m telling you Jones, the Blaires has something to do with this.” Frank says with total confidence.

“Maybe but we need the motive Frank. An argument alone won’t cut it. We’ll need hard evidence to convict.”

“We just have to figure something out.” Frank replies.

Shortly after, they arrive back at the station. Frank pulls his car onto rocky-gravel and kills the engine. They enter the police department, where a female officer is waiting to speak with Frank at the main reception desk.

“Hey Detective, you have a visitor. He’s waiting in the interrogation room for you.” She informs him.

Jones and Frank both go into a large room with beige walls and one table in its center. A man is sitting in a chair, patiently waiting with his fingers crossed on the table.

“Hi, Detective.” The man says without turning.

Frank and Jones immediately recognize the voice. But Frank has to be certain it’s him. He walks around the table to see if the face matches the voice. Indeed, it’s Cornelius Blaire. Cornelius looks at his diamond Rolex-Watch and observes the time.

“I’ve been waiting here for about twenty minutes now. If I have to estimate, you just cost me about ten thousand dollars. My time is very, very, valuable Detective.”

“What the hell do you want?” Frank says distastefully.

“I want what you want, answers. I’ll give you one and you give me one. Deal?”

Jones and Frank eye one another, and then they shift back at Cornelius.

“What answers do you have?” Frank asks.

“The one you’ve been dying to find out. And it’s no, I did not do it. I did not kill William Grant. Now, here’s my question; how are you going to figure this one out? Whoever did this, you have to admit, it was pretty well thought out.” He says with a smirk.

“A man’s body was found dead, and you find this amusing?”

Cornelius thinks about Frank’s question.

“All I’m saying is…I didn’t like the bastard anyways.”

Jones and Frank refuse to believe their ears. A moment lingers as they stare into Cornelius’s hollow eyes. Cornelius shrugs his shoulders at his previous remark, carelessly.

“Listen, you sick, sadistic, prick. I know you did it. I will turn you in.” Frank informs him in a harsh tone.

Cornelius looks around the room and back at the two of them.

“But I already turned myself in.” He tells Frank with a false, dumbfounded, expression.

Frank explodes into a hateful rage and slams his palms onto the table top.

“Damn it. Don’t play games with me. I’m talking about life in prison you cocksucker!”

“Oh, prison. You are sadly mistaken. That will never happen.” Cornelius replies confidently.

“I will find a connection.” Frank reassures in a normal yet firm tone.

“I can’t wait to hear your plan.” Cornelius says sarcastically.

“In a week I’ll have a warrant.”

“Okay, and then what? I’ll bail myself out and become a free man. Just curious, how will you win the case? What’s that stuff called again? Evidence, that’s it, you’ll need evidence.” Suddenly, Cornelius mood changes as well. “Are we done here Detective?” He asks angrily. “You have no case. I own this town. I pay more taxes here in a year than you would your entire, pathetic, life. I own this department.”

Frank looks at Jones, gesturing his assistance. Frank doesn’t even have to say a word to his partner. Jones has known him for so long he can almost read his mind. At this very moment, he knows Frank has an urgent sense to shoot something.

“Take your gun?” Jones asks Frank.

“Please do, before I use it.” Frank replies.

Jones pull Frank’s gun from his side and steps away.

“Are we done?” Cornelius asks again.

Frank forces himself away from the table and backs into the corner, so he won’t be tempted to harm Cornelius.

“Get the hell out.” Frank orders him.

Cornelius stands up with his chin high in the air, bursting with pure arrogance.

“I appreciate our little chat. Now, get back to work, I’m not paying you to just stand around.”

Cornelius chuckles and exits the room…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 19: THE MEMORIAL

 

 

 

 

 

 

Due to the investigation, Glenworth is closed down until further notice. I spent the weekend mourning over the death of my beloved friend and Professor. I wish I could somehow wake up from this nightmare, but everyone knows life is not that simple. I wonder if there was something I could’ve done to prevent it. As I sit in bed, unable to sleep on this Sunday morning, my mom comes in with a breakfast platter.

“Hey, sleeping beauty.” She smiles at me soothingly while placing the food on my desk.

Eating food right now is the least of my concerns. All weekend I barely ate much. Those traumatizing images of his dead body are still fresh in my mind.

“Hungry?” She asks.

“No.” I reply.

“Well, you have to eat something. You haven’t eaten in two days.” She replies and sits on the foot of my bed. “I want to have a quick one on one with you about school.”

She stops temporarily to contemplate.

“I know how important school has been to you. I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. If you want to stay at Glenworth, fine. Just make sure you’re very careful, okay?”

“Mom, I’ll be fine. Don’t go around worrying about me.”

“Just be mindful. Keep your cell on you at all times. And have a teacher on speed dial…”

“Mom…” I butt in. “Please. I can handle it.”

She pauses for a moment to breathe. It’s only natural for a mom to feel cautious about their children. That’s why I never blame her for those motherly instincts.

“I love you so much. I just don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“I know.” I reply understandingly.

She kisses me on the forehead before exiting my room.

 

School finally reopens that following Thursday. I have come to the realization that people die and some of those deaths are murders. That’s still a hard concept to grasp for the simple fact that it’s someone I cared about. The ride to school is very silent, because I’m still mourning over my Professor’s death. We pull into the school lot, which is swarming with police.

Instead of driving up to the main entrance, my mom parks the van and switches off the engine.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” She asks.

I look over at her and notice doubt in her eyes.

“I’ll be fine.”

“Okay, keep your phone on you, at all times.”

“I will.”

“I love you, Iva.” She says with a warm smile.

“I love you too, mom.”

I hop out and shut the door, and then step onto the walkway. The mood here is so depressing. What makes matters worse is the grayness outside. The clouds are so dark today; not to mention, it’s cool and windy.

There’s no usual clowning around or side conversations in the hallways. Everything and everyone appears dim. In Computer Science, we mostly sit in silence. The atmosphere is similar in Social Psychology. All of the Professors are just sitting at their desk bathing in silence most of the time.

I then head over to my last class for the day, Biology. The class is short a couple of students, including Jason. Professor Nelson closes the door and pauses before starting the class.

“Good morning…” His voice is lower than usual. “I would like to start off with a side-note.”

He clears the hoarse from his throat.

“If there’s anyone in here, who feels they’re having a hard time dealing with recent events, you are excused. I will not hold you accountable for your absence, whatsoever. I’ll have a makeup day for anyone who misses class today.”

He pauses to scan the room. Suddenly, a girl stands and modestly leaves the classroom. He pauses once more for anyone else who may want to excuse themselves.

“Today we will be reviewing chromosomes.” He continues with class.

Before long, class is over and I’m gathering my belongings. Suddenly, my cell-phone vibrates. I pull it from my pocket and discover a text message from my mom that reads…

“CAUGHT UP AT WORK, I WILL BE A LITTLE LATE. STAY SAFE.”

I finish gathering the rest of my belongings and join the fleeing crowd, but Professor Nelson calls to me as I pass his desk.

“Iva.”

“Yes, Professor Nelson.”

“I want to have a word with you about last Friday, in Grant’s class.”

He rises from his seat and approaches me with his head lowered.

“About what?” I ask him.

“When I came in, what were you two talking about?”

“Nothing much. Why?”

“It’s just I notice him acting a bit strange. Didn’t you?” He says with a raised eyebrow.

“I noticed that myself.”

“Do you have any idea why?”

“No I don’t.” I reply regrettably.

Professor Nelson leans backward against his desk and folds his arms. His mind immerses into a trance.

“I know I can seem nosy sometimes, Iva, that’s because I want the students and faculty safe.”

“I understand.” I agree with him.

He looks down at the shiny floor titles and pauses to reflect on the tragedy.

“I can’t stop thinking about him.” He goes on. “He was a good teacher and a good friend. He didn’t deserve that.” He finishes the sentence with glistening eyes.

“I know, it’s so unreal. I feel bad that I didn’t attend the ceremony.”

“It was really nice. They have a very beautiful memorial at the park for him.” He tells me.

“I’ve heard. How do you get there? I want to pay my respects; I owe him that much.”

“Make a left up the street, can’t miss it.”

“Thanks Professor, see you on Tuesday.”

“You have a nice day, Ms. Hill.” He replies as I exit the room.

I make my way through the sluggish college commute and out the building. I pull out my cell-phone to check the time. It’s now 3:40. I cut through the parking lot and proceed up the sidewalk. All I can think about is Professor Nelson and what he told me in class. He also noticed Professor Grant’s peculiar behavior, so that’s a confirmation.

I see three students coming down the sidewalk. Their eyes are red and watery from continuous grief. I look down at the sidewalk, away from their gloomy expressions. I can’t stand looking at anymore sad faces. When they pass by me, I muster the courage to lift my eyes again.

As I continue to walk, the wooded area next to me turns into a green clearing. The park is a wide field with trees surrounding it. Two other students are walking away from a small platform at the opposite end of the field. I recognize them from my English class. They give a friendly nod as they pass by me, and I return the favor.

I feel my eyes starting to sting as I get closer to the memorial. I stop a couple of feet away to admire all of the beautiful flowers, pictures, teddy bears, and candles. I stare, sorrowfully, at one of his pictures. The picture is a blowup image of his face.

I softly shake my head in utter disappointment as I stare at his portrait.

“I’m so sorry Professor Grant.” I whisper to him.

I look away momentarily to swallow the burning ball in my throat. After taking time to recuperate, I kneel into the grass and take off my book-bag. I then pull out his story and place it next to some roses.

“I enjoyed it, a lot.” I whisper lowly to his picture.

I stand and gaze at the picture of him one last time. The wind starts to blow harder, so I wrap my arms around myself to keep warm. Although I’m wearing a wool-coat, it’s still no match for the bitterness of this autumn day. The air is brisk, the ground is cold and wet, and the gray clouds are dense across the evening sky. I force myself to turn away from his pictures.

I can’t keep staring at his blameless eyes much longer; it’s far too painful. Both guilt and sadness follow me as I tread through the wet, thick, grass. Out of nowhere, I hear an eerie sound coming from the woods. It’s the sound of crunching leaves and twigs. I stop walking to listen.

Seconds passes by as I remain on edge. Maybe I’m just hearing things. Just to make sure, I stand absolutely motionless and attentive for a little while longer. Crows burst from the woods and flee across the cloudy sky. My heart jumps slightly as they abruptly scatter abroad and disappear from my sight.

I shake the jitters from my head, relieving my mind from the tension, and continue walking again. It’s all in my mind, it’s all in my mind; I think to myself for reassurance. Just to be on the safe side, I quicken my pace.

“Iva!” A voice calls out to me somewhere within the woods.

The uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, that I tried to bury, lashes back at me with a vengeance. The voice sounds like the voice of a woman in torment. This causes fear to come over me.

“Iva! Please help!” The voice pleads to me.

Suddenly, it hits me…

“Mom!” I project my voice into the woods.

“Help me please I’m badly hurt!” My mother calls out in anguish.

Immediately, I’m ravaged by fear for my mother’s life. With wrecked nerves, I hurry inside the woods. I begin looking around for her with desperate eyes, but a thin mist makes it difficult to see far ahead of me. Still, that doesn’t stop me from running around frantically through the fog; trying my best to track her voice down.

“Mom where are you?!” I speak at a higher volume.

“Over here.” She says with a burdened voice.

I follow her cry for help; ducking under low branches, parting bare vines, and leaping over large roots protruding from the muddy soil. It doesn’t take me long to find her resting sideways on the leaf covered ground.

“I’m over here.” She cries out in agony.

She’s curled into a ball, and wearing a long gray cloak which is concealing her entire body.

“Mom, what are you doing out here? Are you…?” I stop speaking when I notice something creepy.

My mom is a thin, lean, woman, but she’s not nearly this thin. I shouldn’t be able to see her spine creasing the cloak.

“Honey, help me up.” She cries out to me without turning.

I stop dead in my tracks about 30 feet away from her. I’m now close enough to see her clearly through the fog.

“Come closer. Help me up.” She groans in pain again.

An ugly feeling grows inside me all of a sudden. Then my neck gets hit with a cool sensation that makes its way down my spine and lingers there. This is a sensation you can’t get from brisk weather. Instead, this feeling comes when you realize something very bizarre. There’s something about this whole situation that doesn’t add up correctly.

My mom has no reason being out here; no reason at all. Actually, she should be at work around this time. The wind comes through the forest fiercely. The strong gust of air disturbs everything in sight. The hood of the cloak is blown back, and now her head is finally revealed.

That eerie feeling on my spine invades my entire body; consuming me like a raging fire. I can see a pale, wrinkly, head covered in thin strands of dark hair. I also see long ears dangling on the sides of its face like a dog. I’m now gripped by unfathomable horror. I gasp deeply, and try to conceal my fear by covering my mouth.

I’ve never felt so terrified in my entire life. The fear is so powerful it makes my legs weaken. I stumble back a little and nearly fall, but then I grab the side of a tree to balance myself. My heart begins to pound against my chest. I’m lucky this tree is in arm’s reach. If it were not for this additional support, I’m sure I would’ve passed-out.

“Iva, help me up.” This thing, who is obviously not my mother, cries out again.

Another dose of fear hits my bloodstream; causing me to become paralyzed temporarily. I’m literally scared stiff right now.

“You’re not my mother.” I reply with tense words.

Suddenly, this thing stops its painful groans; as if it’s been acting the whole time. Then it slowly sits up. Now it’s facing away from me with its head still unveiled.

“You’re a brave girl, Iva Hill.” It says to me in a man’s voice. “Brave but very, very, foolish. Don’t you know a killer is on the loose? I can’t help but wonder who his next victim will be.”

The thing looks over its shoulder at me. Its eyes stare deeply into mine. I flinch hard at the first sight of its hideous face. Since my mind can’t fabricate what I’m staring at, my mind goes completely void for a second. It appears a man is wearing a dog’s mask of some kind, but I know it’s real by the way the muscles in its face form an angry expression.

Its skin is similar humans’ skin, but its eyes are spaced apart with very large bags underneath them. Its nose is large with a mole on its tip. In short, this creature resembles a hound-dog with human-like features. All of its teeth are pointy, and its abnormally wide mouth is dripping saliva. I hyperventilate as it slowly rises to its feet and faces me.

The cloak it’s wearing blows off in the process and is carried away by the passing wind. This thing is tall; a little over six-feet, and it’s also very lean; maybe 150lbs. I recognize it’s a male by its masculine physique. His arms are long, and his fingers and nails are long as well.

“You’re afraid.” He speaks to me.

His voice sounds very odd. The tone in his voice is weak and low; like an elderly man’s voice. As he speaks, my muscles tenses up, and my breathing increases which prevents me from talking.

“It’s only natural to be afraid. I mean…am I not something to fear?” He asks me.

He then, without warning, swiftly charges toward me with a hand lifted into the air. My eyes quickly shift at his long, razor-sharp, fingernails. He’s coming towards me at an alarming speed; ready to drive those pointy nails into my face. He’s fast approaching, and I’m too scared to move. My breathing ceases, and my body tenses up like never before.

He’s closing in for the kill, and I don’t know how to defend myself against him. Luckily, instinct blinks on like a bulb before he’s able to slice me open.

I swiftly dodge right and stumble onto the forest floor. Now my hands are covered in cold mud and leaves. The tall creature is now standing where I was with its long, sharp, nails stuck inside of a tree. That’s a close call. If I didn’t move, that tree would’ve been my face.

It was all-to-easy for him to sink those fingers into that dense bark. If my reflexes had failed me, his nails would’ve easily pierced my skull; like a knife to butter. Now he appears to be angry at himself for missing his opportunity to finish me off. As he struggles to pull his hand from the tree side, I stand and take of running back to the field. For reasons that remain unknown, someone… actually…let me rephrase; something is trying to claim my life.

Am I scared? If I could somehow measure the horror I feel right now, it would be in a category of its own. Some say when you’re caught in a dire situation your mind goes into a fight or flee mode. As you can tell, I chose the best alternative for me without hesitating. Seriously, who can blame me for doing so?

My small feeble frame wouldn’t stand a chance against this thing. His power is terrifying.

“THIS IS NOT OVER, IVA HILL!” The creature shouts through the fog from a distance. “I WILL RIP YOUR HEART OUT!” He shouts while laughing. “YOU CAN’T OUTRUN ME!” His laughing voice echoes throughout the grim forest.

All I can hear is my shoes crunching into the leaves on the forest floor as I continue to run for my dear life. I know death comes for us all, but I prefer the scenario involving no pain and me being a very old woman sleeping in my bed. I take a quick glance over my shoulder to keep track of the creature’s progression. Luckily for me, it’s not on my trail; not just yet at least.

I shift my eyes forward again and notice that I’m surrounded by mist. I can’t see the field in any direction. I stop running for a moment to look around for a clearing. I need to find a way out of these woods before it’s too late.

“HELP!” I scream at the top of my lungs as I frantically look around for an escape route.

All I can see is bare trees and gloomy mist that stretches as far as my eyes will allow me to see.

“I’M COMING FOR YOU!” The creature’s voice echoes throughout the woods.

I begin to sprint in a random direction; hoping to God it’s the right way out of here.

“I CAN SMELL YOUR FEAR!” The creature says somewhere behind me.

My legs are moving as fast as they can, but the fallen trees and large branches on the forest floor makes it hard to run without stumbling. I try my best to hurdle over them so I wouldn’t lose my constant speed. I then notice a glimpse of hope; the woods are thinning and the grassy field is coming into view. Come on, you’re almost there; I motivate myself as the field gradually approaches.

Not long after, I dart out of the woods and onto the field. The road is roughly 50 yards ahead of me, so I tamper with my limits and run faster in order to find someone who can save me from this…whatever this thing is.

“Help! Someone help me!” I scream at the top of my lungs as I continue sprinting.

Don’t stop running; I’m constantly reminding myself in my head. I glance over my shoulder again and see the creature bursting from the woods. My soul jumps from my body when I notice it charging onto the field. It stops, only momentarily, to look around for me. Its large, bloodthirsty, eyes meet mine.

My heart cringes with fear as he discovers me. When it spots me running away, this makes the creature angrier than before. It starts to chase after me with its hands chopping the wind like a professional track-runner. My panicky mind is working overtime for a plan B, because my first plan, run for dear life, is failing horribly. I look forward again at the road growing in front of me.

I push myself even harder; trying my best to move my legs faster than before. I ignore my weakening stamina and the urge to catch my breath. I have no other option. If I stop now, I’m going to be ripped to shreds. Still, as I turn my face to check on the creature’s progression, I witness its speed double.

This thing is determined to kill me. What did I do to deserve this? It’s as if the creature’s determination to kill me far exceeds my determination to survive. Just look at it running like a professional track-star, yet I can barely move my legs already. I shift my eyes forward and see a small ditch in the grass, but sadly my reflexes aren’t quick enough to avoid it.

I trip and hit the grass hard; landing on my chest. The fall forces the air from my lungs. I then turn onto my back and see the creature closing in for the kill. The expression on its face is fulfillment; as if it’s been aching to kill me for a long time. It’s too late for me to do anything. He’s approaching so fast I can’t run or even scream.

He extends his hand back and prepares to drive its long, razor-sharp, fingernails into my face. In this very moment, when every bit of hope is lost, a black mass comes leaping across the air; colliding into the creature. Their collision creates a sound similar to erupting thunder. Suddenly, the park bench to my left explodes as the creature’s body goes flying through it. Its body bounces off the dirt like a rock skipping on the surface of water, and then it rolls to a rough halt.

The creature is now resting motionless on its stomach; out-cold.

“Oh my God! Oh my God!” My words come out uneasily; mixed together with deep, uncontrollable, breaths.

At my feet, to my left, I spot this huge heap of black fur. It rises off the grass until it’s standing on all four paws. Slowly it rotates its body to face me. I feel my joints tighten harder than before as its yellow eyes penetrate through mines and consumes my soul. These yellow eyes belong to an adult male lion.

He takes a couple of steps toward me and lowers his huge face close to mine. Off of reflex, I lean my body away from his face. He breathes deeply through his nose. Each breath he takes causes my hair to flow back. I think my heart just stopped.

“Are you alright Iva?” The beast asks me in a deep, bold, voice.

And for the second time in my life, I’m too appalled to speak. It’s just too much madness to take in at one time. I’m staring into the eyes of a talking black lion. He’s so close I can feel the warmth from his breath brushing my face. I open my mouth to speak, but my words are trembling as they form on my tongue.

“I’ve heard of you… You are… You are…” I try to speak and fail horribly.

The massive lion leans slightly closer and finishes my sentence with these words…

“I am Mane.”…

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 20: HELLHOUND

 

 

 

 

 

But who I am is not important. You must leave here now!” Mane says in an aggressive, straight to the point, tone.

As I sit on the ground, completely awestruck beyond comprehension, I see the other creature starting to stand again.

“So, you’re the one they call Mane?” The creature says to him. “I’m glad to finally meet you.”

Mane growls and quickly turns to face the creature. I can see the muscles in his back tightening. Hellhound shakes the dizziness from his head to regain his balance.

“Hellhound, you have already lost this fight.” Mane responds to him angrily.

“Really…?” Hellhound replies in a raspy tone. “Let’s see if you’re right.”

Hellhound explodes into a charge. I gulp hard. Mane lets out a ferocious roar before he takes off charging towards Hellhound. The distance between them two quickly closes. As Mane charge, his front paws rises off the grass.

As Hellhound charges, he extends his left arm back, ready to thrust his razor-sharp nails at Mane. They both swipe at the same time, exchanging their might. Hellhound’s nails sinks into Mane’s side, but barely. This causes Hellhound to devour a strong right-hook to the face. Hellhound tumbles onto the ground, but he swiftly get back on his toes.

Mane snarls at his opponent.

“Is that all you’ve got?!” Mane shouts at Hellhound aggressively.

Hellhound grunts in anger and charges again. Mane stands up on his back legs, ready to swipe his claws. Before Hellhound collides into Mane, he lowers like a raging bull. He rams Mane, forcefully. Hellhound may be thin, but he is very fast and strong. He thrust Mane into the grass, only a couple of yards in front of me.

He tackled Mane into the ground so forcefully, that it made the grass peeled back like a rug. The vibration from them crash-landing travels through my bones. They immediately begin to scuffle like two rabid pit bulls, yet they’re a hundred times more amplified. I quickly rotate onto my back and attempt to crab-crawl away from their fight. I watch as dirt and grass gets thrown into the air. As I try to scurry away backwards, Hellhound takes his attention off the fight and leaps towards me. He leaps up with his claw in the air. Before he’s able to dig into my flesh, Mane swipes his hand away. I witness the creature’s long nails barely missing my leg and slamming into the soil.

Hellhound reaches up with his other claw. It darts down at a deadly force. Luckily, Mane comes to my aid and swipes the claw away once again. His long nails smashes into the grass next to my hand. I swiftly curl into a tight ball and cover my face, screaming at the top of my lungs like a defenseless child.

All I hear is deep growling and constant pounding at my ear. Boom…boom…boom…boom…boom. My body cringes with every thunderous boom. All I feel is wind from their swiping against my face. Then suddenly, everything settles, yet I’m still screaming like a maniac.

The only thing I hear now is heavy breathing above me. I finally stop screaming and slowly remove my hands from my face. I see Mane standing at my side. His chest is contracting and expanding rapidly. His eyes are locked onto his opponent a few yards away.

Hellhound is flat on the ground with his limbs stretched out. I bolt upright and glance around myself. I discover I’m sitting on a perfect patch of grass that’s surrounded by claw marks. That’s beyond a close call. Hellhound starts to stand, sluggishly, on two wobbly legs. His body is covered in bloody slashes. He touches his torso, observes the blood on his palm, and shifts his furious eyes towards us. Mane lowers to the ground, his muscles hardening like a rock, and gets ready for round two. Hellhound opens his mouth and sends over a loud yell. His yell is somewhat similar to a squealing pig.

He then backs further away from us, does a complete 180, and takes off running into the woods. Mane then turns to me. This time with intense aggression.

“Go now!” He yells.

Without hesitation, I leap to my feet and run back to school nonstop. I spot two police officers talking in the school lot near a patrol vehicle.

“Help me!” I yell at the top of my lungs, desperately trying to get their attention.

They swiftly glance over at me. Instantly, their posture switches to defensive mode. They jog to my aid and meet me halfway. At last, I stop running and try to catch my breath.

“Are you okay?” One of the officers asks urgently.

I try to talk to them, but my lungs refuse to let me.

 

One of the policemen escorts me into the main office and hands me a cup of water to drink. I sip on the cup of water as I struggle to explain what happened to me.

“You sure it was a lion and not a bear? We do have a lot of bears out here.” The cop asks me.

“I saw what I saw.” I say for the thousandth time.

This time my voice is a little louder and irritated than before.

“It was a lion and it was black.” I try to explain yet again. “Something else was there. It was tall and skinny. And they were yelling at…” I stop when I realize that bringing up the talking part may not be such a good idea.

“Who was yelling?’ The cop asks.

I exhale and reply…

“Never mind.”

Suddenly, a shorter cop walks into the office.

“We checked the park.” The short cop says as he walks in.

He then shakes his head and lets out a whistle.

“Something let loose out there Rick, badly.” The short officer says to the taller one.

“Did you see any animals?” The tall cop asks.

“Nope, we didn’t find anything but a mess.”

The tall officer leans to him, turning away from me, and lowers his voice.

“She said two animals were out there. The first one, she has no idea what it was. The second, she said it was some kind of lion; a black lion at that.”

The short cop gazes at me, clears his throat, and approaches.

“Okay, um…” He scratches his head. “…can you please start from the very beginning?”

“Okay.” I take a break to calm myself. “I was being chased by some kind of…tall thing. But something else came. I’m pretty sure it was a black lion. It had fur all around its face like one.”

“Then what happened?” The short officer asks.

“Then they started fighting.”

The two officers look at one another. The taller officer shrugs his shoulders again. The shorter officer shifts back to me. He takes a moment to rub the stress from his eyes before replying.

“Are you telling me you saw Mane?”

I sigh.

“Yes, I believe so.”

“Miss, are you on any kind of medication?”

That question makes my blood boil.

“You think I’m on drugs? Are you freaking kidding me? You saw the park. I’m not making this up. I saw what I saw. What’s the purpose of me lying?”

“Okay, hold your horses. Whatever it was, it’s gone now.” The shorter cop butts in. “Thank God you’re safe.”

The short police officer looks back at the taller one and says…

“Go alert the dean. Tell him there’s been an animal attack. No students should be allowed in the park until further notice. Better yet, they come to school and they go home, that’s it. I’m going to check the park one more time.”

The taller cop leaves the office.

“It’s getting pretty late. Are you waiting for a ride miss?” The short cop asks me.

“Yeah, my mom is picking me up soon.”

“Well, call to make sure she’s still coming.”

I feel around my jacket and realize my pockets are flat. I close my eyes and sigh deeply.

“Damn, I don’t have my phone.”

“When did you have it last?”

“The last place I had it was…” I stop for a moment to collect my thoughts. “…Biology class.”

“We have a phone here.” The elderly receptionist states at the desk.

“I don’t know her number by heart.”

“You should see if it’s still there. Get your phone and come back. I don’t want you wandering around too much, okay.

I nod at him.

“You be safe.” The short cop says before leaving the room.

I then bury my face into my hands. I take a well-needed break to collect myself before standing and walking into the hallway. As I turn out the door, I almost collide into someone. I look up into a pair of angry blue eyes that belongs to Kendrick Blaire. My heart-rate instantly doubles.

“Sorry.” I swallow hard.

He doesn’t respond. He just looks at me with anger burning in his eyes.

“Oooookay.” I mutter.

I decide to walk around him and proceed down the hallway quickly. I’m now near the end of the hallway, yet I still feel like I’m being watched. I turn my head to prove my theory correct. Kendrick is watching me walk with a scorching look in his eyes. I make a right down the hall, take a deep breather, and shake the fear from my head.

When I make it to the end of the hallway, I turn left and double my pace. It feels so strange strolling through an empty hallway with dark classrooms. The only sound I hear is my own walking feet. I again start to feel a sense of paranoia. I try to let it go, but it has a strong grip on my mind.

I stop walking when I reach my biology classroom door. My hopes of entering dissolves when I realize no lights are on. Still, I try to turn the knob on the door in attempt to enter. Great, it’s locked. I then hear a clicking sound somewhere around the corner.

It seems the noise is heading in my direction. I stand completely still, watching down the lonely corridor, waiting for someone to appear. Instead of a person, I see a brown wolf, on my left, walking from around the corner. I become frozen as I watch it sit gently on the floor; its eyes locked into mines. Seconds later, I decide to breathe again.

I put my right foot back and slowly rotate myself. As I turn around, I see something else standing on the opposite end. This time it’s a large tiger. I remain motionless for a moment; staring into its yellow eyes.

“Come with me, Iva.” The tiger says in a deep voice.

I swallow down hard. Immediately, my blood begins to rush through my veins.

“No, come with me.” The wolf says behind me in a deep tone.

I look at the wolf and back at the tiger; then at the wolf again. I don’t know who to believe. I open my mouth, but the words are glued to my tongue.

“Come to me. I will protect you.” The wolf says to me, nearly in a whisper.

“Don’t listen to him. He’ll kill you.” The tiger warns me urgently.

“Liar.” The wolf responds back in a hostile tone.

The wolf starts to walk, ever-so-gently, towards me with its back lowered.

“Come with me.” The wolf says in a soft voice.

I have a sense that the wolf is being mischievous. I think it’s the low monotone sound of its voice which makes me doubt him.

“Stay away from him.” The tiger says loudly.

Then the tiger starts to walk slowly towards me as well.

“I said…come here!” The wolf finishes the sentence in a yell before he sprints towards me.

The tiger snarls deeply and takes off gunning in my direction as well. Now, I’m caught in the middle of another deathly duel. This time, I have nowhere to run…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 21: WOLVES

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both animals are charging at me like two freight trains on a collision course.

“Get down!” The tiger shouts as he bounds over my head, nearly touching the ceiling, and diving onto the wolf.

Together they tumble on the floor and begin to snap at each other, viciously. The tiger pushes the wolf, thrusting him towards me. I yelp and lean back to avoid being hit by the wolf’s body. His tail brushes my face as he’s flung across the narrow corridor. I witness his body hitting a classroom door; cracking the wood and shattering the door window.

The tiger quickly charges at the wolf again, shooting pass me, and then gets the wolf pinned onto the floor. Although the tiger has a slight advantage, the wolf continues snapping his teeth and snarling, trying its best to get the upper-hand. I quickly jump to my feet and dash away from the scuffle. I then make a right down the hallway, where more trouble awaits for me.

Before I’m able to turn the corner, I tense up like a rock again, which causes me to slip and fall as I attempt to stop abruptly. Great, now I’m face to face with another wolf, but this one is about two feet away from me. It then lowers to the ground with its ears bending back, showing off its deadly pearly-whites. This one is gray in color with some patches of white near its belly and backside. Now, I’m on the floor, staring into its horrifying yellow eyes.

“Wrong way.” The wolf says to me in a deep, feminine, tone.

Without warning, it snaps at me. I cower behind my arms as I scream defenselessly for help. The beast clamps down on the sleeve of my jacket and proceeds to shake its head, violently. I feel my body jerk left and right like a rag-doll. Then it starts to pull on my sleeve until I find myself sliding across the floor.

As I continue to get dragged, my mind goes into secondary-drive. I use my other hand to reach into my coat pocket and pull out the first thing I manage to grab. The wolf releases my arm and immediately takes a snap at my face, but I thrust the object from my pocket into its face. The wolf howls in pain when I stab the beast with a ballpoint pen that’s now protruding from the side of its head.

The wolf cries like a woman in labor. I stand up once again and run down the hallway as fast as I can. I glance over my shoulder to see the wolf shaking its head and using its paw to remove the pen. I quickly open a vacant classroom door and slip into the darkness. I then close the door, ever-so-gently. I stand beside the door, breathing deeply, watching through the glass window. Suddenly, I hear a woman’s voice grunting in anger.

“I was going to take it easy on you bitch.” Her dark voice echoes from down the hall.

My body is turning numb with fear.

“I can smell your stench.”

The voice seems to be drawing nearer.

I begin to scream, but I quickly refrain myself by clamping my sweaty hands against my mouth.

“I’m going to rip your fucking throat out.”

I’m getting cool from sweating so profusely.

“After you, I will find your mother.” The wolf says in an angry undertone.

I turn my eyes away from the window to collect myself. Not only am I frightened for my own life, but now my mother’s life as well. I press my hands tighter against my mouth to calm my sobbing. A moment later, I maintain control over my emotions and lower my hands from my mouth. Quietly, I slip from the shadows, peeking out the door window once more.

I flinch back into the darkness when I notice the wolf walking outside the door and heading my way.

What do I do? What do I do?

My mind can’t seem to decide my next strategy. I scan the dark classroom for something to defend myself with. Then I hear the sound of a door whining open in the hallway. Carefully, I use one eye to look into the dimly lit hallway again. The wolf is pushing through the door across from me.

I watch as the wolf strolls slowly into the darkness. A pinch of safety relieves my pounding heart. A moment later, I begin my next escape plan, which would consist of me opening this door and running down the hall. I slowly reach for the door handle, feeling the adrenaline releasing into my bloodstream; getting my lungs and legs ready for the run. I twist the door handle, softly.

Before I’m able to pull the door open, I hear a flurry of feet. A millisecond later, I see the wolf shooting out of the shadows and coming my way. I gasp and dive onto the floor for cover. The classroom door soars over my head and crash into the front row of desks. I swiftly turn on my back and begin to scurry backwards.

The wolf is standing in the doorway, completely shrouded with rage. I can see blood dripping down from its new wound.

“There you are.” The beast says in a low whispering voice.

I gulp and continue to scurry back until I hit the wall. Great, I have nowhere to go.

“You think I would let you get away?” The wolf says with a snarl as it begins to approach.

“Stay back!” I yell at the creature, which sadly enough is my only defense.

The wolf breaks into a run towards me. I close my eyes tightly and turn my face against the wall. I can hear its teeth snapping at my ear and the warmth from its mouth against my neck. I open my eyes, watching the wolf’s fierce eyes drifting away. Then I see Mane behind it, pulling the wolf by its tail.

Using his incredible power, Mane yanks the wolf back; flinging it against the wall. An indentation is the end result of the wolf hitting the wall. Sparks erupt from the smashed light-switch, making the lights flicker on and off overhead. The wolf stands on its feet, shaking badly like a cold wet dog. Mane prowls towards the wolf, but the wolf is steadily backing away like a coward.

Then the tiger comes prowling in, strolling towards the wolf also. The wolf growls at them. It’s obvious that the wolf is no match for both of them.

“You can’t take us both.” The tiger tells the wolf.

Mane snaps at the wolf, but it dashes away like a fleeing jack-rabbit. It hurdles over several desks and leaps through a window. Finally, Mane and the tiger lose their intensity. Mane begins to approach me.

“Stay back! Don’t come any closer!” I shout to the lion, but it proceeds to walk towards me anyway.

“I said back!” I repeat myself.

Still, he continues walking, ignoring my plea.

“If I wanted to kill you, you would be dead already.” Mane informs me.

Suddenly, his black fur begins to fall onto the floor, revealing bare skin. Then I hear its bones cracking and shifting. It continues to walk as the bones in its legs extends. Now, I’m looking at this deformed, humanoid, creature. It rises off the floor and stands on two legs, only to stagger and fall sideways.

The creature catches its balance by using, what appears to be, a hand to lean its weight onto a teacher’s desk. The desk cracks down the middle by its tremendous weight. All of the papers on the desk slide down and scatter onto the floor. This deformed thing begins to shrink in size and stand on two feet.

Then its body begins to take the form of a muscular man. As he continues to approach me, the limping gradually ceases and his spine straightens. I can’t believe my eyes. I just witnessed a lion transforming into a human.

“I’m not the one you should afraid of.” A boy replies to me, sternly.

I notice that stern face from anywhere. It’s Daniel from my English class. Mane was literally in my classroom the entire time. For the second time today, I’ve witness something so unbelievable that speaking has become impossible…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 22: SHIVA

 

 

 

 

 

My body can’t move because my brain just went on standby. I take a moment to recharge before spilling out the first words I can stir up…

“Oh, my God! What the hell did I just see?” I say in disbelief.

“Listen, there’s no time to explain.” Daniel says to me sternly.

I feel like fainting, but my body is too stubborn to pass-out.

“We will protect you.” He clarifies.

I glance over at the door and notice three other kids entering. It’s Eric, his twin sister Jessica, and the Goth girl, Maria. Daniel glances back at them as they enter.

“You three, take her.” He orders them.

He shifts at me again.

“Stay with us, and you’ll live. If not, you’ll die.” He tells me straightforwardly.

Suddenly, he bites down on his teeth as if he’s in an extreme amount of pain. I watch the veins in his neck swell. His broad shoulders begin to expand wider. The bones in his body shift and break. Then black fur grows all over his body, rapidly. He yells in pain, and then his yell coverts into a roar. He falls forward and lands onto all four paws. Now, Daniel is Mane once again.

“I hope your decision is a wise one.” Mane says to me, but with Daniel’s sternness.

He then looks at the tiger and says…

“Courage, come, we’ll track them down.”

Mane leaps through the window.

“Catch you later.” Courage says to me before he runs and jumps out of the window.

The others approach me in a hurry. Maria assists me with a lending hand.

“Take my hand.” She says calmly.

I receive her hand, and then she pulls me onto my feet effortlessly.

“Are you feeling okay?” She asks.

I gulp and shake my head slowly, gesturing no.

“That’s fine. Let’s get you somewhere safe. Follow me.”

I throw my hands up into the air, pleading for them to stay back.

“Hold, for one second.” I say with a trembling voice. “What the fuck just happened? Seriously?”

I usually never cuss, but the f-bomb is well-suited for a moment such as this. Eric steps forward with a humbled look on his face.

“Yeah….what you just witnessed was real.” He notifies me. “We can transform into animals. I guess the lion’s out of the bag.”

Jessica and Maria sighs, and their concerned expressions flatten. Simultaneously, they both shift towards Eric with humorless faces. I stare into his eyes with a flat face as well. Eric looks left and right at Jessica and Maria, who are both staring back at him, straight-faced.

“You get it? I used lion instead of cat.” He asks them.

“Really?” Jessica asks Eric.

Maria shoves pass Eric and grabs my shoulder. She pulls me out of the classroom. We pick up our speed and jog through the hallway. We start to turn a corner, but we pause when we hear commotion heading our way.

“I’m telling you I heard a lot of noise.” I hear an old woman’s voice speak from around the corner.

“What now?’ Jessica whispers quietly to us.

I can hear their marching feet getting closer and closer by the second.

“Are you sure it was this way?” A man’s voice replies.

“Yes, I’m sure.” The old woman says.

Their voices sound really close now.

“In here.” Eric whispers while opening a classroom door for us.

We scuttle into the classroom, the four of us, and wait in the shadows. Seconds later, the old receptionists, along with two Police Officers, hurry pass our door. A moment later, everything settles down. The sound of their marching feet drifts away in the distance.

Eric opens the door, softly, to peek into the hallway. He then rotates to us and whispers…

“The coast is clear.”

We scurry from the dark classroom and jog around the corner. Soon, we make our way into the parking lot, where a mob of policemen are racing into the school through another entrance.

“We’re on our way.” A Police Officer says into his radio.

Maria guides me to a black SUV.

“Get in.” She says while defensively surveying the area, even though the school lot is nearly empty.

I hurry into the passenger seat, Eric rushes into the driver’s seat, and Maria and Jessica takes the middle. Eric starts the car and stomps on reverse like an insane person. My body automatically jerks forward. Then he stomps on the gas and speeds out of the lot. Instantaneously, as his foot smashes onto the accelerator, my back hits the leather interior.

Now, we’re on a road pushing eighty miles an hour. Still, Eric eyes remain highly cautious.

“Okay, who are you guys, really?” I gulp and

revise… “Scratch that. What are you?” I ask Eric.

“We are the ones in between. We are part human and part animal.” He says while checking the rear-view mirror.

“This is…unreal.” I blurt out.

“The Blaires are wolves. Wolves are our enemies. Stay away from them.” He explains while checking the side-mirror. “That thing in the park was Cornelius. He also calls himself Hellhound. He’s the most powerful of their pack. He’s more demon than wolf. Humans call his breed of wolf, a werewolf.”

“Why are people, I mean…animals trying to kill me?”

“You are extremely important to us. That’s why.” Jessica explains.

“Important? How?”

“Do you recall finding something, a scarlet box?” Eric asks.

“Yeah, so?”

“So…?” Maria says. “Iva, you just don’t realize how important that box is.”

“I’m beyond confused. How do I tie into all of this?” I ask uneasily.

“You will know very soon.” Eric informs me.

Five minutes later, we hit a road surrounded by a dense forest. We continue straight for another minute or two. The car slides sideways into a long driveway. Eric hits the brakes and the car screeches to a halt next to an old Charger and a burgundy SUV. We all spill from the black SUV. I’m so weak from running that I can barely exit the vehicle without staggering like a drunken person.

My eyes are locked onto a brick mansion in front of me. The mansion is covered in green leaves and vines. I feel a coolness slither down my spine when I see a face looking down at me from a window. This face belongs to a woman. The woman’s expression is totally void.

Maria comes to my side and grasps my shoulders, gently. I look into her eyes, shaking, and ask her…

“Where are we?”

“It’s my house. Don’t be afraid.” She says calmly to me.

Eric opens the front door. I enter into a huge living room. The walls are painted a brownish-red. The house is decorated with lots of African artifacts and scented with strong spices. Maria lets go of me and walks near a flight of steps.

“Mom!” Maria shouts up the stairs.

“I’m coming!” A woman shouts back.

A moment later, I see this beautiful African woman walking gracefully down the steps. She is wearing a red African garment that ends at her ankles and brown sandals on her feet. Her hair, which is twisted in small ropes, hangs pass her shoulders. She spots me and approaches with a blissful grin. She then pulls me into a soft hug. A moment later, she releases, only to stare deeply into my eyes.

“You must be Iva. I’m Kenya, also known as Shiva. May I see the leaf?” She finishes the sentence with pressed hands, as if she’s about to receive something special.

“The leaf…?” I ask confusingly.

Then a light-bulb clicks on. I take off my coat and pull back my sleeve. When Kenya sees the mark, she places her hands onto her chest, closes her eyes, and exhales deeply. She reopens her eyes, revealing a gathering of tears.

“I assume you’re wondering why you’re here, correct?” She asks me with a watery gaze.

“Yes.” I answer while standing uncomfortably still.

She smiles warmly before speaking.

“Nine thousand, nine hundred, and ninety-nine years ago, the great balance was broken. An individual, born through serpent bloodlines, grew very powerful. His name was Romulus. He had the ability to transform into a large lizard. He was the leader of the reptiles. Romulus became greedy and wanted control over everything. The wolves made a pact with the reptiles. Still, with the wolves as their new allies, they were no match for the lions, the birds, or the apes. And together they made a rebellion against King Romulus and the wolves. So, he knew he needed more power. Therefore, Romulus did something terrible. In our beliefs, the most evil thing you could ever do is destroy something pure. And one night, he did just that.”

As she tells the story my mind can visualize what took place, as if I’m their now watching it unfold.

“Romulus captured a phoenix. Then Romulus did something unexpected. He devoured the phoenix; hence his nickname, Devourer of gods. He then became something else; something more powerful. He inherited all of the phoenix abilities. He became immortal, he grew wings, he had healing powers, and he could control fire. That night, he became the first and the last of his kind; a dragon. He destroyed anyone who faced him. Yet there was only one thing that stood in his way. That one thing was the apes. Only they had the ability to afflict harm on Romulus. So, one day, there was a great ambush on the apes. All of them were killed except for one. He was the most powerful of the apes; our fearless King Lucius. In the world’s darkest hours, a fight took place; King Lucius versus King Romulus. We are told they fought on a mountain top for hours. That night, Romulus fell into that mountain. The fight left King Lucius dying from battle wounds. On his death bed, an owl had a vision of the future. He said Romulus was close to death but did not die, yet he’s fell into an icy abyss where he now slumbers. The owl described a future of fire and brimstone. In ten thousand years, one year from today, the ice will melt and Romulus will rise to finish what he’d started. While on his death-bed, King Lucius said that he will change the future. On that day, he made a sacrifice for humanity. He took the one thing, which was most precious to him, and hid it away.”

She takes a break from talking to step closer to me.

“Do you know what he hid, Iva?”

I gulp.

“No, what was it?”

“It was his soul. He did this so someone, many years later, can become a powerful ape like he was. This power can destroy Romulus once and for all.”

She walks even closer to me and places her palms on my face, staring deeply at me with a profound joy.

“Iva, you’ve found it.”…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 23: A NEW LIFE

 

 

 

 

 

 

A hush spills over me as my brain registers the information my ears just received. I delay for a second to let her words sink in. I then slowly take a couple of steps backward.

“This is obviously a mistake.” I tell her with alarm in my voice.

I look around the room at the others witnessing my self-destruction.

“I can’t do this. I won’t.” The panic in my voice is amplifying. “Take it out of me, today. I want it out. Do you understand?”

“You need a rare stone to perform such a ritual. Once used, it can’t be used again.” She informs me.

“Sorry, you have the wrong person.” My body is beginning to tremor more. “I’m just a girl.”

“Not anymore. You’re one of us now.”

I grasp my chest to stop myself from having a panic-attack.

“This is a mistake. I can’t do this…” I can’t finish the sentence because my lungs are having a meltdown.

Kenya rushes to me and grips the sides of my arms softly.

“Come, sit, before you faint.” She informs me.

She escorts me over to the couch and sits by my side.

“I’m not the right person for this.” My voice is regaining stability.

“You didn’t ask for such a burden.” She says as she soothes me with a warm back rub. “But you must face it. And with our help, you will overcome.”

“But what if I fail…what if I die?”

Kenya takes a slight break before answering.

“If you die, Earth will burn.”

I bury my face into my palms, but she gently moves my hands away and lifts my chin.

“You have a power inside you that none of us can match. Not even our enemies.”

“Why me? And what about my mom? How would I ever tell her…?” A terrifying thought snaps me alert.

I bolt upright on the couch and become stiff like a board.

“My mom…What about my mom?” The panic is returning with a vengeance. “What if they find her? What if she gets hurt?”

“Calm down Iva, breath, breath.” She whispers to me.

I stop to inhale deeply and release.

“Athena…” She calls urgently to Maria. “…bring me the herbs.”

“Okay.” Maria replies before rushing out of the living room and running upstairs.

“Listen Iva, you must act quickly. I’m going to give you a jar. Inside are highly potent herbs. It will keep the wolves from tracking her scent home. Do you understand?”

I nod my head frantically. She stands to her feet and pulls me up with her.

“You will go home and get some belongings. You will spend the weekend here. I’ll call your mom when you get back. Understand?”

I nod obediently. Maria hurries down the steps with a clear jar in her hands. She passes it to Kenya, and then Kenya places the jar against my chest and folds my arms over it.

“Guard this with your life. These are the herbs. Get it home, get your things, and come right back.”

I take Kenya’s advice way to seriously. I can feel myself squeezing the jar so tightly that my blood circulation is being cut off in my arms. She looks behind me at Maria and gives her a nod.

“Athena, take her.” Kenya instructs her.

“Come on.” Maria says while escorting me outside.

“Stick together.” Kenya yells as we exit through the front door.

“I’m driving.” Eric declares.

Jessica tosses a set of keys into the air and Eric catches them. We pile into the SUV in our previous order.

“So, where do you live?” Eric asks.

“I live in Rochester. It’s like a twenty minute drive.”

“Twenty minutes? I’ll get us there in ten.”

He reverses out of the driveway in a hasty fashion. Then my back hits the leather hard as the SUV shoots up the road. Soon, we make it out of the deep woods and hit the highway. We fly pass cars as we duck in and out of traffic. We have to be going at least eighty-five miles an hour.

Shortly after, Eric hits the breaks on Meigs street. We skid to a loud, screeching, halt in front of my house. I get out carefully while keeping a tight hug on the jar of herbs. Maria comes to me with her hands presented.

“I’ll take care of those.” She says to me.

I pass the jar to her like a newborn baby. She digs her hand inside and tosses herbs onto the lawn. The rest of us march up the steps and onto the porch. I kneel down, lift the doormat, grab the spare key, and unlock the door.

“Okay, get what you need.” Eric says while he takes a defensive stance on the porch.

Jessica follows me into my room. I open the closet and snag a couple of everything and place them onto my bed.

“Do you have a suitcase?” Jessica asks.

“Yes, over there in the corner.” I respond.

She walks over then grabs the suitcase. She then quickly stuffs the suitcase with my personal belongings and zips it up.

“Is that everything?” Jessica asks.

I give it a brief thought then rush back into the closet for a second helping. I toss some more clothes onto the bed.

“That should be it.” I inform her.

“Do you have another suitcase, because this one is full?”

I glance around my room and grab a book bag near the closet door. I quickly stuff my belongings into the bag and seal it.

“Okay, I’m ready.” I inform her.

Jessica lifts the suitcase and hurries out. I lock up the front door and speed down the porch steps with the book bag in my hands. Soon, we’re back in our seats. My body slams against the leather seat when Eric hits the gas. In no time, we’re on the highway. I tense up as we whip left and right through the busy evening commute.

Just like the ride to Rochester, the ride back is extremely fast. The entire time my back was glued to my seat. The car tires slides to a halt in front of the brick mansion. We empty the vehicle and enter the house. I see Daniel, fully clothed, leaning against the wall with his arms folded, pondering.

I then see Jason on the couch with his hands pressed tighter, also in deep thought. Kenya is pacing back and forth in the living room with a worried look. They all snap alert as we enter.

“How did it go?” Kenya asks urgently.

“Fine.” Maria responds.

“Did you track them down?” Eric asks Daniel.

“No, they got away.” He answers with regret.

Jason stands up and approaches me with a weak smile.

“Jason…?” I blurt out.

“I am also known as Courage from time to time.” He states.

I can’t respond, only shake my head in disbelief.

Kenya walks over to me.

“I called your mother. Everything has been arranged. I told her that you and Maria had made plans to go to the mall and you’ll be spending the weekend.”

“But how…?” I ask.

“You dropped your cell in the park.” Daniel says to me.

Kenya maneuvers her eyes behind me, looking at Jessica and Maria.

“Athena, Raven, go upstairs and show Iva to her room. Help her unpack.”

“Come on.” Maria says while grasping my hand.

Maria and Jessica escort me out of the living room, up the flight of steps, into a hallway with many doors, and into a room. The room consists of a queen-sized bed, a nightstand, and a lamp. Jessica places my suitcase on the bed and empties its contents. I sink down on the bed as they start to fold my clothes.

“So, what happens next? Do I stay here?”

“Yes, for now.” Maria responds.

“It’ll be fine Iva. Your mother will be safe.” Jessica says.

Maria and Jessica pauses to eye one another. They then continue folding the clothes. I noticed the concern in their eyes as Jessica mentioned my mother. The look of worry in their eyes only makes my concern for my mother grow. They neatly put my belongings into the closet for me.

The room stays silent as they finish folding the remaining shirts and tuck them away. Kenya walks into my room, carrying a humble expression.

“How are you feeling?” She asks with gentle eyes.

“I’m scared. What if something happens…?” I take a pause to swallow. “…can you protect her?”

I wait for Kenya to respond to my question. She’s having a difficult time putting her words together.

“Unfortunately, you’re our main priority right now. For now, we’ll keep her unaware. She can’t linger here. The Blaires can easily use her against you.”

“There must be another option.”

“Don’t worry, we’re making phone calls. More of us will arrive very soon. They will protect her. But as of right now, we can’t. You are our main focus.”

I sigh again before speaking.

“Those herbs…will they work?”

“Yes, they naturally grow here. They work wonders at masking scents. I mixed seeds with them. They will mature very quickly.”

She looks behind me at Maria and Jessica.

“Come you two. Let’s give her time to herself.”

Jessica and Maria exit the room together.

“You should give your mother a call. She seems a little concerned about you. Here’s your phone back.”

I retrieve the phone with a nervous hand.

“I just don’t want anything to happen to her. She means a lot to me.”

“Iva, nothing will happen to her.” She assures me.

I would feel a whole lot better if I didn’t notice the worry on her face.

“She seems like a good person.” Kenya smiles mildly. “I would never forgive myself if anything happened to her. That’s why it’s best that you stay away from her. The Blaires wouldn’t hesitate to use her to lure you in.”

I can’t respond. My burning throat won’t allow me to speak. I just nod at her understandingly. She leaves and closes the door behind herself. A second later, I feel my hand vibrating. I look down at my phone and see my mom’s picture under the words, “incoming call”. I take some time to recover. I press my tears back into my eyes with my fingers as I prepare the phone next to my ear. I press the accept icon and answer the phone.

“Hey mom…” The words comes out weakly, therefore I pause to clear my throat. “…what’s up?” I’m trying to sound as normal as possible.

“Hey, I heard you’re hanging out at a friend’s house.”

“Yes, I’m at Maria’s.”

“That’s strange, you never told me about her.” She says suspiciously.

“I brought her up before, you probably forgot about it.”

A pause lingers between us two. I know she feels something strange is going on.

“Well, it’s good to hear that you made friends. It’ll help you get your mind off of things. Hey, there’s no school Monday, right?”

“Right.” I reply.

“Your Uncle wants to hangout. We should all go out together next week.”

“Okay, sounds great.”

“I won’t hold you up any longer. Have fun with your friends. And tell Kenya to call me in the morning. And stay safe.”

“I will.”

“I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay, I love you mom.”

“I love you too.”

The connection dies, yet the phone remains at my ear. I lower the phone and break back into distress mode. I blow out slowly and bury my face into my hands. For about two hours, I stay in this exact position, bathing in total silence. My brain is going crazy with thoughts.

So many questions have finally been answered, yet all I want now is to forget the truth. I also ponder about my mom and her safety, constantly. I can’t help but feel worried about her, especially with these memories of Hellhound’s incredible strength and speed. She wouldn’t stand a chance against him.

I can see her in my head, over and over like a movie on repeat, calling for help but no one is there to aid her. I fight hard to rebel against these kinds of thoughts. I sigh for the thousandth time. Controlling my breathing helps me keep those bad thoughts at bay.

 

Shade blankets my window, yet I don’t feel a bit tired. I never moved from this position. I’m now sitting in the dark, looking down at the obscure carpet below my feet; thinking about a million things. Suddenly, I hear gentle knocks at the door. I remove the hoarse from my throat so I can respond.

“Come in.”

The door swings open. I see light pouring in from the hallway and a clutter of silhouettes. Someone switches on the lights. The five of them walks into my room and closes the door.

“Hey.” Maria says to me in a calm voice.

“Hey.” I respond halfheartedly.

A silence sweeps throughout the room for a moment. Jason clears his throat before speaking…

“I just want you to know that we’re here for you.”

“We all are. There’s no need to be afraid.” Eric adds.

“It’s not me I care about. I’m afraid for my mother.”

Eric and Jason eye one another. An odd silence shrouds us again but only momentarily.

“You don’t have to worry about her. She’ll be fine.” Jason assures me.

“I hope so.” I reply mildly.

“Is there anything we can do for you?” Maria asks.

The question lingers in my head for a moment.

“I just want to be by myself for a while.”

“Alright, if you need us, we’re just a shout away.” Maria concludes.

“Thanks.” I reply to her thoughtfulness.

Before they depart, someone switches off the lights. Now, I’m in the dark again, thinking myself into stress, depression, and frustration.

 

Way pass midnight, I finally go to sleep, only to wake up an hour later. For obvious reasons, I can’t get a good night’s rest whatsoever. The tension I felt during my dreadful encounter with Hellhound never went away.

 

It’s morning now. Someone knocking at my bedroom door disturbs me from my sleep. I sit up in bed and massage my eyes.

“You can come in.” I say in a weak voice.

The door swings open and Kenya walks in smiling at me.

“Hello dear, how did you sleep?”

“Okay, I guess.” I reply modestly.

“I just wanted to check up on you.” She tells me.

“What time is it?” I ask.

“It’s a little pass noon. You must be hungry.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“I know you’re having a hard time understanding things. We’re having a hard time recovering from recent events as well.” Her sad eyes fall down onto the carpet for a moment and then back at me.

I know she was referring to Professor Grant.

“I’m preparing a nice dinner for us later. You are welcomed to join us if you want to…” She bows her head slightly. “…my Queen.”

After inviting me to dinner, she leaves and shuts the door behind herself.

 

I spend hours staring up at the ceiling and sleeping in small increments. Before long, night comes over the house once again. As I stare up at the white ceiling, I catch a scent of food. I’m too sick to my stomach to eat anything; however, it’ll be rude not to go down.

I somehow gather enough motivation to leave my new room. I walk down the hallway with the perfect blend of food and seasonings at my nose. One shy foot after another, I make my way down the steps. I see them standing around in the dining room, setting the table.

Suddenly, they stop what they’re doing to gape at me.

“You finally decided to join us.” Kenya says with a welcoming smile. “Make yourself at home.”

I walk over to the table covered with plates and pots of food. Jason walks over to me and grabs my hand.

“Sit next to me.” He says in his normal, smooth, voice.

He does a great job making me smile, even in the worst of times. He pulls a chair back for me and I sink into the soft cushion.

“Are you hungry?” Kenya asks.

“No, not really. I just want to sit. If you don’t mind.”

“I completely understand.” She replies.

“Thank you for offering.” I add.

“You don’t have to thank me.”

Everyone finds a spot at the table and begin to pass around the food. I sit silently with a clean plate in front of me. Soon, I begin to hear the scrapping of folks and chewing. I look around at everyone. They are eating and staring back at me.

“So, Iva, can you tell us a little about yourself?” Kenya asks, breaking the awkward silence.

“What is there to tell?”

She shrugs her shoulders.

“Tell us about your life. Anything you wish to share with us.”

“Well, I, um…” I look around the table. “…I was sick my whole life.” I’m starting to feel extremely awkward, again. “And, um…” I take a slight break to think. “…that’s about it. That was my life until recently.”

“Okay.” Kenya says in a low voice.

I can see her eyes regretting asking me that question.

“So, um, I guess I’m going spend a lot of time over here, right?” I ask her.

“Yes, it’s for your own good.”

“What about school?” I ask.

Suddenly, I hear an eating utensil clatter against a plate.

“School…?” Daniel asks with frustration. “Trust me; the last thing you should be worrying about is school.”

“Mane…” Kenya looks left into his eyes with a serious stare.

“Noale sacrificed his life for her, and she only cares about school.”

“Stop it. She’s been through a traumatic experience. Can you not see she’s having a hard time?” Her serious gaze becomes fierce.

Daniel has no choice but to turn away from her fiery leer.

“Sorry about my son, Iva. I raised him better.”

“I didn’t mean it like that…” I try to explain.

“Don’t apologize. It’s fine.” She interrupts.

“So, Noale was Professor Grant?”

“Yes. Before they killed him, he called Mane and told him about you. Then the connection was cut off.” I can hear the grief in her voice. “So, do you have any other family members? Is there anyone else we should be aware of?”

“My Uncle Frank.”

“Oh, yes. And what about your father, is he still around?”

I freeze all of a sudden. My eyes fall onto my empty plate. I open my mouth to speak, yet the words take forever to come out.

“He left us when I was young, so, um…” Somehow I can’t continue.

A hush sweeps over the table.

“Well…” Kenya says in an uplifting way. “…we should all tell Iva a little about ourselves. If we want to survive we need to get along. Let’s start with me. I was born in Africa but raised in America. I’m the daughter of a teacher and a doctor. I’m a very spiritual person. The thing I love to do the most is simply enjoy life.”

She looks to her right at Jessica.

“It’s your turn, Raven.” She notifies her.

Jessica places her fork down before speaking.

“Hey, I’m Jessica.” She says with a cheek full of food.

She’s definitely not good with table manners, but it complements her tomboyish approach.

“My real name is Raven.” Jessica continues. “I like to play the drums and, um, I’m a big movie buff. But I’m mostly into action movies. I love me some heavy-metal.” She takes a pause to think. “Um, I’m very easy to get along with.”

Eric snickers next to her.

“Just don’t make her mad.” He says quietly out the side of his mouth.

“Why did you have to say that?” She looks at Eric with instant anger.

“Say what?” He plays a fool, keeping a straight face.

“You know what you said.” She counters.

“You two stop this nonsense.” Kenya says with seriousness.

Kenya takes a break to shake her head.

“I swear you two should’ve been named Cain and Able.”

“Who would be Cain?” Jessica asks Kenya.

“You would.” Eric adds confidently.

“Why am I Cain? You’re the annoying one.” Jessica fires angrily back at him.

“Because you are always flipping out on people, that’s why.” Eric shoots back.

“Both of you are Cain!” Kenya shouts at them, breaks for a sigh, and continues. “Next please.” She says while soothing her forehead.

Maria and Jason are snickering, uncontrollably. Daniel just shakes his head and continues eating.

“Hey, I’m Eric. My real name is Aero. I love doing fun stuff, you know, like jumping out of planes. I’m a hardcore adrenaline-junkie.”

“Don’t forget to mention, starting trouble.” Kenya looks into his eyes fatally.

Eric looks away. She slowly shifts away from Eric and looks at Maria, who is giggling still. She eventually stops snickering and joins the conversation.

“I’m Maria. My real name is Athena and, um…” She ponders for a moment. “…I like shopping for dark clothing. I like to go out to the movies and eat. Of course, I need to stop by the nail salon, weekly; that’s a must. I’m just a simple girly, girl.”

Kenya smiles and almost laughs. She nods at Jason and says…

“You’re next.”

He straightens his posture and smirks.

“I’m Jason. My real name is Courage. And…” His thought lingers for a moment. “I love cars and baseball, you know, regular guy stuff. That’s pretty much it.” He says in his cool tone.

Everyone focuses their attention onto Daniel. He looks around at everyone and puffs out air.

“I’m Daniel. My real name is Mane. And …I don’t know.”

He pauses for a lingering amount of time before sliding his chair back.

“Thanks for dinner.” He says to Kenya before he marches upstairs.

A couple of seconds after, I hear a door slam close in the distance.

“Don’t worry about that.” Kenya tells me. “My son can be odd sometimes. Just ignore him. He likes to be alone.”

“A lot.” Maria adds. “He’s a little weird.”

“All geniuses are.” Kenya adds. “He’s very intelligent. He locks himself in his room for hours at a time, solving his puzzles. Ironic, isn’t it? He can solve anything but himself.” She shakes her head.

“You haven’t eaten all day. You’re not hungry at all?” Maria asks me, looking down at my empty plate.

“No, I just can’t stomach food right now.”

“She’s not hungry. Just let her be.” Kenya tells Maria.

“Not even for peach-cobbler?” Jessica asks makes. “Shiva makes the best deserts.”

I smile modestly at the thought of a nice plate of warm peach-cobbler.

“If you want some, it’ll be done in five minutes.” Kenya informs me.

I let the idea linger for a second longer.

“Okay.” I take their offer.

Soon, Kenya is placing a small plate of peach-cobbler in front of me. I grab the fork and look around at all of the eyes staring back at me, waiting. I lift the silver fork off the plate and adjust it between my fingers. You can hear a faint crunching sound as I sever through the crispy outer-layer. I poke into the small portion with my fork and mix it into the syrupy peach sauce before putting it inside my mouth.

I smile at everyone as I swallow down.

“So, what do you think?” Kenya asks me.

“This is…” I take a break to gather my thoughts. “…the best peach-cobbler I’ve ever tasted.”

“Thank you. It’s always good to hear a compliment now and then.”

“I wish my mom could cook hers like this.” Eric says as he takes a bite of his.

“That’s because your mom’s taste more like wood.” Maria makes fun of Eric.

“I can’t argue about that one.” Eric agrees.

“Hell no, I’ll choose wood any day over your mom’s food bro.” Jason adds.

“Hey, remember that time your mom invited us over for dinner and she made that stuff.” Maria asks Eric.

“I’m trying to forget.” Eric replies.

“What was that stuff anyways?” Jason asks.

“I still don’t know.” Jessica joins the conversation.

“And we all feed it to the dog.” Maria says with a snicker.

“Yeah, it sucks.” Eric says with regret. “Poor Fluffy. May he rest in peace.”

Our chuckles grow into genuine laughter.

“Seriously, did her cooking really kill your dog?” I ask Eric.

“Yeah, but don’t ever mention that to her.” Jessica informs me. “She blames it on natural causes. The dog was only a year old for crying-out-loud.”

“I’m sorry. That shouldn’t be funny, but it is pretty hilarious.” I admit…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 24: THE ACCIDENT

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shortly after eating our peach cobbler, everyone says their good-nights before breaking into our separate rooms. Jason winks at me and then says, “Catch you later”, before going into his room. My insomnia still haunts me. All I can think about is my mother and her safety. It takes me about another hour to fall asleep.

 

 

My eyes open for the fifth time in the middle of the night. There’s a faint noise somewhere outside my bedroom. It’s an unfamiliar voice; a man’s voice, but the voice sounds very distant. I walk across the room and peep out my room door. All I can see is a glimmer of light coming from downstairs.

I close my bedroom door behind me, tip-toe down the hallway, and make my way downstairs. All of the kitchen lights are on. I then walk into the living room to find Kenya sitting on the sofa watching television. She looks up at me with a surprised look.

“Hi.” I greet her halfheartedly.

She then smiles at me.

“Hello, Iva. You can’t sleep?”

“Not much.”

“You came down here wishing to find someone else?” She peers at me with a smirk.

I immediately let out a smile.

“You don’t need to say a word. I already know your answer.” She says.

There’s a slight pause between the two of us. I look over at the large flat-screen on the wall.

“What are you watching?”

“A soccer game. Do you watch sports?”

“I’m not into sports, at all.” I make sure she hears the words, “at all”, clearly.

“I watch it occasionally.” She continues. “I’m not an athlete, but I’ve been to a game before. It’s very entertaining.”

She looks at the television, thinking deeply.

“The humans are so carefree about everything.” She says.

“Ignorance is bliss.” I say to myself, but she hears me.

She breaks away from her deep thought and shifts towards me.

“Is it?” She ponders again but mildly. “Hmmm… But the truth will set them free.”

“Maybe they don’t want to be free. Maybe people like being ignorant.” I reply.

“That’s so interesting. It doesn’t matter what decisions we make in life, there’s always a consequence, always.”

A gentle whistling coming from the kitchen interrupts our conversation. She grabs the remote and switches off the television.

“The water is ready.” She stands to her feet and breaks a smile. “Keep me company. Have tea with me.”

I follow her into the dining room, and then I sit down at the table as she walks into the kitchen.

“Do you like tea, Iva?”

“Do I? That’s all I ever drink.”

I hear the sound of closing cabinets, followed by the sound of water being poured into cups. She then walks into the dining room with a tea-cup in each hand. She places one down in front of me and takes a seat across from me.

“Thanks.” I say as I take a sip.

We marinate in silence, drinking our tea together.

“If you don’t mind me asking, where is their father?” I ask, realizing I shouldn’t when I see her face flatten.

She places her cup of tea down and looks at it. Her eyes are filled with regret.

“Their father died, years ago.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s fine. Don’t be sorry. It happened fifteen years ago. My son was seven at the time. They were…” She swallows down the hurt. “…the best of friends. My son always was a bit…different. But his father understood him. When he died, it was like a piece of him died also. That’s when he became obsessed at solving things.” Her eyes start to glisten a little. “A doctor told me he’d noticed such behavior before. He says it’s because some people, when something terrible happens to them and they don’t have an answer for it, they go to other things to sort out their problems. His, of course, is puzzles.”

“How did he die, if you don’t mind me asking?”

She removes her eyes from her cup and looks up at me.

“One day they were going fishing. On the way back, the car went off a bridge and into the water. An eighteen wheeler crushed the passenger side of the car. My son was stuck in there. He told me that all he could remember was water everywhere. He noticed that the roof of the car was peeling back. His father saved his life just in time. As he went to the surface, someone helped pull him to safety. It was your Uncle.”

“My Uncle?”

“Yes, it was his first day on the job. Strangely, he never liked your Uncle after that. I believed it’s because he thinks he should’ve died there with him.”

“Wow, Uncle Frank never told me about that. So, did his father drown?”

“Yes. They found his body underneath the car at the bottom of the lake.” Her breathing collapses. “I was in the kitchen when I felt this pain in my chest. That’s when I knew something terrible had happened.”

“Hold on, you felt him dying?”

“Yes. We are a lot different from humans, spiritually. Sometimes, if you love someone unconditionally, you become spiritually bonded to that person. It doesn’t matter where you are. If you are bonded to that person, when they are in grave danger, you will find them. It’s a very rare occurrence. I was heartbroken when I lost him, but feeling him suffer to death was the worst pain of all.”

“I can’t imagine going through that.” The thought alone saddens me.

“When my son returned home, it was like staring at a brick-wall. He didn’t speak for a very long time after that. Some children at school started to make a sport out of him, so I kept him home for a while. He grew to be very isolated and angry. I spent so much money sending him to several doctors and psychologists. But nothing worked.” She pauses to wipe a tear from her eye. “One day, months later, he spoke while we were eating at the table. He said he wanted to be alone. And now that’s all he ever wants.” She clears the hoarse from her throat. “The person he once was and ever will be, is somewhere in that lake.”

She pauses to reminisce on the tragedy. After giving herself a moment, she breaks a modest smile.

“Well, I’m heading back to bed. You have a good night.”

She goes in the kitchen and places her cup into the sink.

“Try to get some sleep.” She tells me. “You have a long day ahead of you.”

“What’s happening tomorrow?”

She chuckles and says…

“You have a lot of people to meet, silly-girl.”

She walks out of the dining room and up the steps…

 

CHAPTER 25: OLIVIA

 

 

 

 

 

 

I finish off my tea and head back to bed shortly after talking to Kenya. I wake up another time to find sunlight beaming through the seams of my blinds. I can hear busy feet scrambling outside my bedroom. I sit up and rub the crust from my eyes, and then I walk over and quietly peek out my bedroom door. I see Maria walking down the steps in a pair of bat pajamas.

Her slippers are bats as well. The wings on her slippers are bouncing with every step she takes. I laugh, faintly, at her child-like pajamas set. I step into the hallway the same time Jason walks out of his room. His room is directly across from mine.

“Good morning.” He says with a handsome smirk.

“Good morning.” I reply.

“Are you feeling okay?”

“I feel a little better.”

“That’s good to hear.” He responds.

We walk downstairs together into a busy dining room. Everyone is sitting at the breakfast table and eating; all except for Daniel. Jason walks into the kitchen and observes what’s in the fridge.

“Good morning.” Kenya says to me.

“Good morning.” I reply.

“Hungry?” She questions me.

“I’m a little hungry.” That’s an understatement, I’m starving.

“I’ll cook you something.” She says helpfully.

She begins to lift up from her chair, but I stop her.

“No, it’s okay. Cereal is fine.”

“You don’t have to lift a finger. I’ll get it for you.” She tells me.

“You know, you guys are not my maids. I can do things on my own.”

“But you’re our guest.” Jessica says while pulling back a chair for me.

“Okay, if you insist.” I tell Jessica as I sink into the chair.

Jason goes into the kitchen and comes out chomping on an apple with one hand, and then holding a breakfast bar in the other. He winks as he sits down next to me, which makes me blush.

“What kind of cereal would you like?” Kenya asks from the kitchen.

“I like granola.” I reply.

“Do you want any fruit?” She questions.

“Um, do you have any bananas?”

Jessica snorts two seats down from me.

“Hear that guys? She’s craving those already.” She says with a smile.

Everyone giggles at her joke.

“Ha-ha.” Kenya mocks Jessica as she walks in with my breakfast. “You think you’re so funny don’t you?”

Jessica smiles and replies…

“Maybe.”

“I didn’t think it was funny.” Eric says in a low voice.

Jessica’s smile flattens.

“Why do you have to open your dumb lips?” Jessica asks him angrily.

“Don’t toot your own horn so much. That’s all I’m saying.” Eric replies.

Jessica lifts her fist into the air.

“What if I punch a damn hole in your face? Maybe you’ll think that’s funny.”

Eric pauses and then ponders about her threat.

“How would that be funny?” He says while shaking his head in disagreement. “It’ll be more like… AHHHH! I have a hole in my face.” He says while clamping his face and pretending to be in agonizing pain. “I’m bleeding everywhere. And it’s totally not funny.”

“You two stop this mess, please.” Kenya prompted. “Aero, move a seat down.”

Eric blows out a lung full of air, which causes his lips to flap together. He drags his bowl across the table, and then he relocates to another seat. Kenya sits down and gets comfortable at the table.

“And I thought I only had two children.” Kenya says to herself.

Kenya shakes her head as she spreads open the newspaper in front of her face.

“So where’s Daniel, I mean Mane.” I ask.

She giggles.

“I told you. My son is a mystery. He’s somewhere hiding.”

She shifts back into the newspaper and continues reading.

 

 

An hour later, I’m fully-dressed and ready to go. I walk downstairs into the living room, where everyone is waiting for me.

“Five down, one to go.” Jessica says.

As soon as Jessica finishes the sentence, I hear heavy-feet marching downstairs. Daniel comes walking down the steps and pauses at the bottom.

“Are we going to do this or what?” Daniel asks everyone.

“You tell me. We’ve been waiting forever.” Eric replies.

Everyone stands to their feet and then exit through the front door.

“Mane, no speeding.” Kenya says in the doorway. “That’s unless you need to. I’m tired of paying for speeding-tickets. Do you hear me?”

Daniel opens the driver’s door of the SUV and acts as if he can’t hear her.

“Mane…?” She shouts to him.

“Yes, I heard you. Whatever.” He says before getting into the car.

Today, Jason and I are in the back row, Maria and Jessica are both in the middle, and Eric and Daniel are in the front. Daniel reverses out of the driveway and drives up the road at the normal speed limit.

“Iva.” Jessica calls out to me. “My mom can be over the top sometimes. She’s also a little short on manners. That’s just her character.”

“She’s like a child on caffeine.” Eric adds. “Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, all freaking year long.” He shakes his head with frustration as he finishes the sentence.

“Thanks for the heads up.” I reply. “Is there anything good about her? So far her cooking is bad, she has no manners, and she’s like a kid on caffeine.”

“Yeah, she can see the future.” Jessica says.

“Well, sometimes.” Eric adds.

“I was not expecting that, but okay.”

“I know it’s random. But, you asked.” Jessica says.

A couple minutes later, the car pulls into a long driveway. We park in front of a white house with red window shutters. The house is shaded by trees.

“We’re here already?” I ask Jason.

“Yes. We all live pretty close to one another.” He says.

We exit the SUV and approach the red front door. Before Daniel is able to knock on the door, it swings open. A very excited woman appears in the doorway, bouncing on her heels. She looks like a fifty year old Jessica, except her hair is cut short with gray streaks.

“Mom, this is Iva, Iva this is our…” Eric tries a proper greeting but fail.

“Shut-up.” She cuts off her son. “Where is she, where is she?!” The woman demands in a loud voice.

She gasps loudly as her eyes discover mines. She reaches her arms forward and escorts me into her home. I walk in awkwardly. I don’t want to come off as rude, it’s just…I’ve never met someone so loud, so….how can I put this….out there. She escorts me to an armchair and pushes me down into the cushion. She then takes a seat on the sofa in front of me.

“Do you want anything to drink?” She asks me nicely.

“I’m fine, thanks.”

“Are you sure?” She asks nicely again.

“Yes, I’m sure.” I reply.

I look at my surroundings. The style of the house appears mediocre. The sofa is badge, the walls are painted an eggshell-white, and the floors are hardwood. I do notice they’re a little unorganized. They also have unclean dishes lying around here and there.

“Who is it?” A man voice shouts down the steps.

“Who do you think it is?” Margie abruptly flips into another character, which is fueled with frustration.

All of a sudden, when her eyes shifts back to mines, she’s normal again. Even her behavior is similar to Jessica’s.

“I’m Margie. My real name is Aerial. It’s an honor to finally meet you Iva.” She says with an angelic smile.

An older gentlemen, dressed in a pair of black slacks and a gray sweater, comes downstairs to join us. He looks like a fifty year old version of Eric, but he’s a little overweight. His weight seemed to be caused by age and not necessarily by overeating.

“Hello. Welcome to our house.” He says warmly.

“Hi.” I reply.

He extends his hand to me and I shake it. Also, his demeanor is a lot more humble than Eric’s.

“I’m Charles, but you can call me Zephyr. May I help you to anything?”

“I asked already.” Margie says to him with a wicked leer.

“Okay, settle down.” He replies.

She peers at him as he sits down next to her.

“Don’t embarrass me.” She whispers to him.

He sighs and looks away from her. She shifts back to me with a fresh smile.

“If you don’t mind, can I see the mark?”

“Sure.” I say while rolling up my sleeve.

She pulls my arm closer to her eyes.

“It’s just like the drawings I’d seen growing up.” She says with an observing stare.

Charles scoots closer to me.

“Yeah, it’s exactly like the drawings.” He says while looking at my mark.

Margie lets my arm go. She then slowly rotates her face towards Charles.

“I just said that. I swear, I’m gonna start locking you in the damn doghouse.” She says to him in a whisper.

The frustration in his face is growing. I can tell he wants to say something, yet he refrains by chewing the inside of his cheek instead. Margie turns to me, smiling again. She sighs and then restarts the conversation.

“We’re so happy that you’re here. I still can’t believe my eyes. This is truly a remarkable day for me; for all of our kind. When Shiva told me about you, I never expected you to be a girl. I always imagined a man would find that box.” She rests her right cheek against her knuckles while she looks deeply into my eyes. “I’m just curious, where did you find it?”

“An antique shop, a couple of months back.”

Margie gasps.

“Are you serious?” She asks in shock.

“Yes, I am.”

She looks down at the floor and shakes her head in amazement.

“It’s mind blowing. Out of all the places…” Charles adds, but he’s too much in awe to finish the sentence.

Margie continues to stare at the ground.

“If only my father could be here now to see you.” She continues in a deep thought.

Her eyes shift into mines again.

“He, and others before him, wasted their lives searching for that box.” She explains. “And here comes a girl, shopping at an antique store, and discovers it. You’re truly a miracle sweetheart.”

“Shiva also told us about your encounter with Hellhound the other day.” Charles says.

“Yeah, I met him…unfortunately.”

“Did he hurt you?” Margie asks with concern.

“No, I’m fine. Thanks to Daniel of course…I mean, Mane.”

I really have to get used to calling them by their, “real names”.

“Those low down dirty scoundrels.” She says with slanted eyebrows.

She looks over at Daniel and asks…

“He ran off didn’t he?”

“Yes. They all did.” He replies regrettably.

“I knew it. They’re nothing but a bunch of cowards. They’re deceptive too. You always have to stay aware. They’re always planning something, those Blaires. And they’ll stop at nothing to get what they want.”

Her face becomes twisted at the mere mention of their name, like she just ate something rancid. I don’t blame her. She takes a timeout to release some frustration before continuing…

“Sweetheart, we’re so lucky to have you. I always had a gift at reading people. I know you have a pure heart. But your future is so mysterious to me.” She leers into my eyes as she ponders deeply. “I’m not sure if you know, but sometimes I can see things before they happen.”

“Yes, I was told that.”

“Well, I had a vision the other day about a girl. I was unable to see her face, but I believe it was you. She was stricken by an immense sadness. And she was all alone in a dark room. And I saw a shadow coming toward her. This shadow was a spiritual darkness.”

An eerie vibe slithers up my spine as she tells me her vision.

“Was does it mean?” I ask timidly.

“I don’t know yet. But I felt a sense of urgency when I had it. Sometimes my visions can be very unclear about its meaning. But whatever it means, I know it’s not good. The future is not yet written in stone. There’s still time to change it.”

“And if I don’t?” I ask with a tinge of fear in my tone.

“Okay, we need to head out.” Daniel announces abruptly.

The eerie mood is shattered by his words.

“Already…?” Margie seems heartbroken by Daniel’s announcement.

“Yeah mom, we’re leaving.” Jessica replies.

“Why all of a sudden? Is it something I said?”

“Mom, why are you telling her things like that? She’s just been through a lot.” Jessica states. “Like seriously?’

“I didn’t mean to scare her.”

“Honey, just let it go.” Charles adds.

“No, I think it’s her future and it’s her right to know.”

“Guys please don’t argue over me. I’m fine.” I put my 2 cents in.

I’m such a liar. I’m nowhere near the word fine. Her vision just caused me to have major Goosebumps on my arms. Spiritual darkness? Does she mean death?

“I’m sorry if I ruined the visit.” Margie presses on.

“It’s fine. We have to make another stop before going to Olivia’s. We’re trying to get back before sunset.” Daniel replies.

She looks at me with a deep sadness.

“Okay…well, um, stop by again.” She says to me brokenheartedly.

“I will. It was nice to meet you, Aerial.”

We both stand to our feet, and then she gives me another hug.

“You take care.” She whispers into my ear.

She lets go and we all exit through the front door. Before I get into the SUV, Charles and Margie gives me another wave. I smile at them and wave back. We settle into the vehicle in our previous positions, and then Daniel reverses from their driveway. Eric lets out a loud stress relieving sigh as we depart from his home.

“Sorry about my mom, Iva.” He says as we cruise away from their house.

“It’s fine. I just wanted to know what she meant.”

The entire SUV is now dead silent all of a sudden.

“Iva, drop it.” Daniel says straightforwardly.

“But I want to know. I need to know.”

“When she has visions like that, it only means one thing. It means death is coming.” Jessica clarifies.

For the first time in my life, I was actually hoping to be wrong about something.

“Is death coming for me?” I get hit by fear again.

“Not always. It could be somebody…you know.” Jessica continues.

“It could be any of us.” Maria states.

“Can we stop it from coming to pass?”

No one seems to want to answer my question.

“Guys?” I try to get them to clarify my last question.

“Listen up…” Eric butts in. “None of us are getting killed. She has been wrong before. Like she said, the meaning was unclear. Stop assuming the worst.”

“Don’t worry, Iva.” Jason says in a comforting tone next to me. “You’re safe with us.”

Avoiding my question only makes me feel more paranoid. This makes me think about my mom again. If something happened to her…no, don’t start thinking like that again. I rebel against my own thoughts. I breathe out slowly and try to dodge some of the fear. That tactic didn’t help much at all.

Our next home takes a little longer to get to. It’s a cozy brick home with a red sports-car parked in the driveway. A brunette man and a dark haired woman are standing in the driveway, waiting.

“That’s my folks.” Jason says.

We get out of the car, one by one.

“Good evening, everyone” The man says as we exit the vehicle.

“Good evening, Dr. Connors.” Everyone replies.

“So, is this her?” The man beams at me.

“Yes. Iva, this is my dad.” Jason says.

I shake hands with him.

“I’m David.” He informs me. “Don’t worry about the doctor part. I hear that enough at the hospital.”

“And this is my mom.” Jason says.

I shake hands with her as well.

“I’m Sharon. I’m pleased to meet you.” She says with a gentle smile.

“Let’s go in, shall we.” David says.

We walk up the steps and pour into a sophisticated living area. I sit down on a soft, black, leather-couch. Sharon and David both sit on another leather couch across from me. Wow, Jason parents must have a lot of money. The house looks a lot bigger from the inside. The brown floors are marble, the fireplace is trimmed in gold, and the kitchen appliances are stainless steel.

There are some pictures of Jason as a young boy, but the picture frames are electronic. The pictures on the walls are slide shows of their family. I’ve seen homes like this inside home decor catalogs at the doctor’s office.

“Do you guys want anything to drink?” David asks.

“No, thank you.” Daniel replies. “We won’t stay long. We’re taking her to see Olivia.”

“And how is she doing?” Sharon asks politely.

“She’s fine.” Daniel replies.

“You’ll love Olivia.” Sharon tells me. “She’s a really sweet lady.”

I feel a lot more comfortable in this house rather than Margie’s. Maybe it’s because they’re such welcoming people.

“So, what are your real names?” I ask them, but they stare at me with a confused expression.

“Excuse me…?” Sharon asks.

“Oh, Iva, my parents are not like us, they’re human.” Jason explains to me.

“But how…?”

“We adopted Jason when he was a baby.” David explains. “His mother died at birth and his dad, well, wasn’t a dad.”

“Don’t say it like that, David.” Sharon tells to him with disappointment. “His father couldn’t cope after the death, so he found someone who wanted a baby. And I couldn’t have one, so…”

David chuckles before he speaks again…

“We didn’t take the news very well, you know, about his other side. But it didn’t matter. We loved him too much to give him back.” He stares at Jason and smiles at him with sincere love.

David clears his throat and continues talking.

“So, Iva, we heard a lot about you. It must be hard, knowing what’s coming. I’m not going to talk your ears off, but just be safe, for us, for everyone. We can only hope that you can take care of our boy. He’s too old for mom and pop to tell him to stay home…” He sighs and doesn’t continue.

“What my husband is trying to say, Iva, is we know we’re facing hard times. Just promise us that you’ll keep watch over our son.”

I swallow down hard, feeling this enormous weight being placed on my shoulders. I look over at Jason, who is staring back at me, and then I turn to Sharon again.

“I will try.” I reply modestly.

“Well, we don’t want to keep you guys to long.” David says. “Tell Olivia we said hi, okay?”

“Yup.” Daniel replies.

Sharon walks over to Jason and gives him a hug.

“Be careful, okay?” She whispers into his ear.

Jason starts to blush a little bit.

“I will mom.” He says in her ear. “I’m not a kid anymore. I got this.”

The hug lingers for a long moment until David walks over and taps her on the shoulder. She finally releases.

“Visit us anytime, Iva.” David says before we leave their house and get into the car.

They wave bye to us as we reverse out of the driveway and roll down the road. Five minutes later, Daniel takes an on-ramp for the highway. We’re now making our way back towards Rochester. Before long, the trees that surround Glenworth disappear behind us, and now we’re getting off the highway to enter Downtown Rochester. He stops in front of a high rise building and parks the SUV.

“Is this Olivia’s place?” I ask Jason.

“Yup.” He replies.

We all empty the SUV. Almost immediately, I see a man dressed in dirty clothing walking towards us with this little girl at his side.

“Can anyone spare some change?” He asks in a weak voice.

Maria and Jessica dig into their pockets and give the man some coins.

“Here you go.” Jessica says in her angelic voice as she generously hands him some quarters.

“God bless you.” The little girl says as they both walk away.

We walk to a pair of glass double-doors. Daniel turns and gives Jessica and Maria a distasteful look.

“What?” Maria asks Daniel.

“Why did you give them money?” He responds.

“Because they need it.” Maria replies.

“Please don’t start. Everyone is not a schemer.” Jessica tells Daniel.

“He needs a damn job, not change.” Daniel says to them.

Maria and Jessica roll their eyes together. Daniel goes up to the intercom and dials a number. I hear the dial tone ringing and ringing until a woman’s voice answers.

“Hello.” She says in a singing tone.

“It’s us Olivia.” Daniel says into the intercom.

“Come on up.” She responds.

I hear a buzz coming from the intercom before Daniel pulls the door open. We walk into the main lobby and wait for the elevator to arrive. The elevator doors swing open and we pile in. We rise to the 6th floor and the elevator doors reopen. I follow behind them as they stop at the last door on the right side.

Daniel knocks on the door. I can hear the sound of several bolts turning and locks unlocking. The door swings open. I then see this older woman smiling back at us. Her black, silky, hair is styled neatly in two large braids. She has a beautiful light brown skin tone, a pair of sparkling eyes that matches her dark hair, and large cheeks.

“Come in everyone.” She says in a lively way.

I step into her living room with the smell of something sweet at my nose. Everyone scatter around the room and find a seat to sit in. Before I’m able to sit, the woman approaches me. Her big cheeks are swelling as she smiles radiantly.

“Hello, child. I’m Olivia.” She says in a subtle voice before she hugs me. “You have a bumpy road ahead of you.” She says in my ear while she rocks me from side to side, gently.

She finally releases me to look at my physique.

“Child, you are a skinny one aren’t you?” She says with a chuckle as she studies me from head to toe. “But don’t worry, I’m a fantastic cook. I’ll get some meat on those bones. Just ask them.”

“Oh yeah, Olivia can throw down.” Jessica confirms.

“Come, sit with me.” She says while escorting me over to a sofa.

Olivia stays pinned to my side on the couch.

“Did they tell you about me?” She asks.

“Not much. They said that you know a lot about their history.”

“I know a lot but not nearly enough.” She replies.

I see a light-bulb click on in Olivia’s mind.

“Oh, I almost forgot about the cookies.” She stands and rushes into the kitchen.

I can hear the oven door squealing open and closing.

“She makes great cookies.” Jessica states.

“You’re such a freeloader.” Eric adds.

“There’s no shame in my game.” Jessica agrees.

Olivia comes back in the living area with a plate of warm cookies and places them on the coffee table.

“Help yourself.” She announces to everyone.

After a series of, “Thank you Miss Olivia”, they begin eating her home made chocolate-chip cookies. Olivia walks over to a bookshelf and grabs a large brown book, places it on the coffee table, and takes a seat next to me. I stare down at the book to observe it. It’s obvious this book is very old. The cover is made from rough leather.

The edge of the book is bruised, and the original black text on the cover is chipping away. I assume that this book has to be hundreds of years old.

“What is this?” I ask Olivia.

“As you know, there are humans, the animals, and those in between. This is the Book of Quintus. Thousands of years ago, an owl made a scroll filled with our history. His name was Quintus. He was a great philosopher. And this book has all of his teachings. This book is only a copy of his original documents. It’s not much, but it’s all we have.”

She flips open to the first page. This page reveals three wavy, horizontal, lines.

“As you may, or may not know, we all have a distinct mark somewhere on our body. This is the mark of the water-bearers.”

She flips the page. On the next page, I see these drawings of men and woman swimming among fish. Under the picture, I spot this unreadable language.

“Are they mermaids?” I ask.

“That’s how the myths started. They had a great empire under the oceans. They were the protectors of the waters.”

“An empire under water? Like Atlantis.”

“Exactly. But, they no longer exist. Eventually, they spent more time on land and had children with pure-blooded humans. When that happens, the bloodline weakens. Their children will be human and so forth. The same thing happens when you try to mix our bloodlines together.”

She flips to a new page. This page displays a paw print.

“This is the mark of the felines. They were the protectors of the sierras.”

She flips to another page revealing people standing among lions, panthers, and tigers. She flips another time. This page has three wavy lines, but these lines are vertical instead of horizontal.

“These are the birds. They were the protectors of the skies. The owls were different. Sometimes, they had visions or premonitions. Just like how Quintus had that vision of the future. King Lucius best friend, Lazarus, found out about Quintus’s vision. Then he told King Lucius about it. But the reptiles found out about the box. Therefore, Lazarus hid it somewhere. It remained lost for nine thousand, nine hundred, and ninety-nine years.” She looks up at me with a gesturing smile.

She flips the page again. This new page reveals three diagonal lines, but these lines resemble claw marks.

“This is the mark of the wolves.”

My heart drops when she says the word, “wolves”.

“They were supposed to be man’s companion; their protector. However, they grew greedy and turned their backs on the humans.”

She flips to a page showing graphic drawings of wolves ripping people to pieces.

“They became angry with the humans and turned on them, like a rebellious dog against its master. They believed man should be under them, not the other way around.”

She flips again. This new page reveals an eye with a slit down the middle.

“This is the mark of the reptiles. Some call them reptilians.”

My heart cringes with fear once again.

“Others call them lizard men. But there snakes none the less.” She chuckles faintly. “They have been the cause of many problems in the world. They were supposed to be the protectors of the deserts.”

“Are a lot of them…?” I pause to gulp. “…still around?”

“Yes. Most of them are the worst kind of people, politicians. And if you think those dogs are sneaky, child, you just wait and see.”

She flips the page again. This page has many different symbols; some are circular, some are square, and some are abstract.

“Quintus says he met all kinds of people like us, bears, rhinos, and even elephants. These are some of his drawings of their marks.”

She flips again, showing men and woman among a variety of animals. She continues to a new page, revealing another sign. This sign resembles a flame.

“These beings were the protectors of the elements. This one is a bird made of fire; a phoenix. They‘re born human, but when they awake their bodies leaves Earth’s realm.”

“Awake…? You mean transform, right?” I ask.

“Yes. That’s when our human soul and animal soul finally joins together as one.”

“So, when a phoenix, awakes, they just vanish? Why?”

“Because when they become a phoenix, they’re no longer physical beings. So, they transport to the spiritual realm shortly after.”

“Are there anymore left?”

“Yes, they come once every generation.” She tells me.

“Have you met one?” I ask her eagerly.

“Have I…” She smiles at me. “…you’re sitting next to one child. Give me your hand.”

I lift my hand and she grips it gently.

“What are you doing…?”

“Just wait and see.” She cuts me off.

I look at the bruises on the back of my hand from me falling at the park. Suddenly, they fade away. I lift my hand close to my face, observing it with amazed eyes.

“But how..?”

“A phoenix has healing abilities. But my powers only allow me to do so much.”

“Extraordinary.” I say to the back of my hand.

She just smiles, as if it’s not a big deal to her, and says…

“Let’s continue.”

She flips to another page. This new page shows a leaf identical to mines.

“This is the mark of the apes. They were the protectors of the jungles.”

She turns the page another time. For some particular reason, she sighs as she lifts this page. I get the assumption that this new page will reveal something I don’t want to see. This new page reveals a drawing of a flame and within the flame is a lizard’s eye.

“I just hate looking at it.” Olivia explains with tension in her voice. “This mark is very, very, unique. It’s the sign of total darkness. This mark belongs to only one person. It’s the mark of an evil, barbaric, tyrant who lived long ago. And his name is Romulus, The Devourer of gods.”

I stare at his symbol, feeling consumed by immense fear.

“Not many people seen this mark in person and lived to tell the tale. Legend tells us that he’s almost like Death itself. Where ever he went, death followed.”

She turns the page. The next page reveals a dark figure sitting on a throne of some sort. Over the throne are ominous clouds, and around the throne are many people kneeling to the dark figure.

“The prophecy states, he will come out of his slumber in one year. And you have to be ready; we all do. Because, when he comes back, no one will be safe. And you will be our only hope at stopping him. We are facing very frightening times, child.”

“Why am I the only one that can stop him?”

“That remains unclear. Quintus says, just like him, some of us have a unique, spiritual, gift. The wolves can track your scent from miles away, the felines heal very quickly, and the birds have sharp awareness of their surroundings. Due to the phoenix incredible healing powers, Romulus body is constantly regenerating. For some unknown reason the apes could harm him. That was their unique gift. They were also known for their incredible strength.”

“If the apes are so strong, how did Romulus manage to kill them off?” I ask.

“Romulus was a master of war. He used a simple tactic.” Olivia explains. “He destroyed their crops and deprived them of food for many days. And at their weakest, they made their attack.”

She flips again to a page that is covered with unreadable writing.

“The rest is Quintus stories about his travels and visions.”

She finally closes the book and slides it away.

“Most of our kind is gone. A lot of us didn’t believe in Quintus stories. So, many of us became consumed in humanity and forgot about our true purpose in life. And as you just learned, we all were created for some kind of purpose.”

“Why wouldn’t they believe in the story?”

“Just like our human side, we became in denial of things around us. But everything changed when you found that box. This proves that all of the events in this book really happened. And believe it or not, one year from now, Romulus will return to finish what he started.”

“I don’t understand. Was I destined to find it? I feel that it chose the wrong person.”

Her face falls flat as she takes a moment to respond.

“No. The box was to be offered to a mighty warrior. But it disappeared before that could happen.”

“A mighty warrior…?” I say under my breath. “I’m far from that Olivia.”

“You’re not lying.” She chuckles, but then a serious expression forms. “However, there’s one thing I can’t seem to understand about all this. For thousands and thousands of years, it remained lost. But a year before King Romulus wakes up, someone finally discovers it. Is that a strange coincidence or is that destiny?” She peers into my eyes and studies my soul. “You might not be the warrior we want, but maybe you’re the warrior we need.”

My eyes fall down into my lap. She lifts my chin and smiles calmly at me, her big cheeks are blossoming.

“Not all warriors carry swords and spears, child.”…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 26: CLUES

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glenworth parking lot is empty for the exception of two vehicles. One is an old Ford truck, belonging to the University’s head janitor, and the other is Detective Lancaster’s black patrol vehicle. The janitor opens the school door and lets in Detective Lancaster and his partner, Detective Jones.

“Thanks for getting back to us in such a short notice.” Frank thanks the old janitor.

“It’s fine. It’s nothing much to do on a Saturday anyways. But the mess is over here.”

Together, the three of them make a left around the corner and down a long hallway. Small pieces of glass crunch underneath their boots as they stroll through the empty hallway. Frank eyes scan the area. The walls are covered in scratch marks and the decorative posters are ripped to shreds. They follow a trail of sprinkled glass to a classroom with no door.

“I left it like this.” The janitor says. “I wanted to show you first. It happened on Thursday evening.”

They all enter the class. They find glass on the floor, a dent on the wall, the classroom door resting on top of chairs, and the teacher’s desk broken into two.

“Sounded like animals fighting in here.” The janitor explains.

Frank sees black fur on the floor. He walks over and kneels down, grabbing a handful, and studies it.

“What you got there?” Jones asks.

“Hair.” Frank replies.

“If there’s anything else I can do to help, just ask.” The old janitor says.

“Is there a surveillance system in the school?” Frank asks.

“Yes.” The old janitor replies.

“Has it been reviewed?” Frank interrogates.

“Not yet. We were going to wait for the dean to come in on Monday before we review it. Do you need it?”

“That would help us out a lot. Thanks.” Frank says.

“Okay, I’ll grab it.”

Frank sprinkles the fur onto the floor, brushes his hands clean, and stands. Jones comes to his side.

“What do you think about this one?” Jones asks.

“There’s definitely something strange going on here. We’re getting close Jones, I know it. And that footage may be the break we need.”…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 27: THE PEAK

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before I leave Olivia’s place, she gives me another warm hug. She peeps out the doorway, watching us walk down the hall and back towards the elevator. She waves at us from the end of the hallway. We wave back as we step onto the elevator and descend.

“She’s cool, right?” Maria asks.

“She sure is.” I respond. “I’m mean, how many people can say they met a phoenix?”

The elevator doors open. Together, we walk through the lobby and out of the main entrance. Suddenly, the homeless man and his daughter approach Daniel.

“Excuse me, sir. Do you have any change?” The man asks.

“Not for you.” He replies straightforwardly and continues walking.

“Please sir, anything would do.” The man presses on desperately.

Daniel exhales, turns around, and steps close to the man. His daughter steps back, cowering behind her father’s leg. It’s clear she’s intimidated by Daniel’s sternness.

“Mane…?” Eric says, stepping behind Daniel and grabbing his shoulder.

“I just want to ask this guy a question.” He says to Eric, and then he shifts back to the poor man. “Why don’t you just get a job?’

“Excuse me?” The man asks stupefied.

“You heard me. Why can’t you just get a job?” Daniel asks again but slower.

“Listen, I’m just down on my luck right now.” The man explains. “We need to take three buses to get home.”

“I know, I know, just down on you luck, same old excuse with all you bums. Listen, for your daughter’s sake, raise your standards. Next time I see you, I’m calling social services.”

Daniel shakes his head, clearly irritated, and proceeds walking towards the SUV.

“Come on.” The poor man looks down into his daughter’s eyes.

He takes her hand, and then they walk off together down the street. I can’t help but feel a little embarrassed for the man and his daughter. Daniel’s comments only made it worse. We all find a seat in the SUV and begin our journey back to the house.

“Seriously. You should think twice about what you say to people.” Maria tells Daniel.

“It was the truth.” He defends himself.

“It’s how you say it.” Maria explains.

“But guess what? I didn’t ask for anyone’s opinion.” Daniel tells her.

“That’s going to come back to you.” Jessica joins in.

“Okay.” Daniel replies carelessly.

The absentminded response from Daniel adds fuel to Jessica’s anger.

“You’re such an idiot.” Jessica shoots back.

“I know.” He says carelessly yet again.

The SUV gets quiet again until Eric decides to make a comment of his own…

“I think you had the right idea telling him what he needed to hear, but if it was me…I probably would’ve left out the bum part….…and the raise your standards part…………..and the social services part.”

“You’re not helping.” Jason tells Eric.

“Okay.” Eric replies modestly.

The SUV is silent for the rest of the way back.

 

When we step foot into the house, Kenya comes down the steps to welcome us back.

“How did everything go?” She asks Daniel.

“Fine.” Daniel responds as he tosses the keys onto the coffee table.

Kenya shifts over to me, eager to ask me about my trip.

“Did you meet Olivia?” She asks.

“Yes.”

“Good. Now, do you have a better knowledge of things?”

“Yes. But I’m still learning.”

“Well, more answers will come in due time.” She assures me with a smirk.

She looks over at the others.

“I’m going to sleep early. Don’t try to make too much noise, especially you.” She peers at Eric.

He rolls his eyes.

“How do I always get blamed for something I didn’t even do yet?” Eric whispers to himself.

“Go out for a walk. That will do you all some good.” Kenya tells us.

She walks away from us and marches up the steps. I hear her bedroom door closing in the distance a moment later.

“She’s right. It’s been a while since we went out together.” Jason says to everyone.

“Where should we go?” Jessica asks.

“I know where we can go…” Jason breaks to scan everyone. “…the peak.”

Everyone looks at one another with a hidden smile, all except for Daniel.

“What’s the peak?” I ask them; feeling left out of a joke.

“It’s absolutely nothing.” Eric says with a huge smile on his face. “It’s just a nice walk in the woods. It’s nothing fun, or awesome, or spectacular.”

“The woods, isn’t that dangerous?” I ask.

“No biggie. The Blaires are far across town.” Maria explains. “Plus, my mom grows the herbs back there.”

“What do you say, Iva?” Jason asks with a charming smirk. “Are you in?”

I think about it for a second. But how can I say no to a face like that? It’s like saying no to a precious little puppy or kitten.

“Okay, why not?” I reply.

 

 

Soon, they go upstairs to change into an outfit Jason refers to as, “outside clothes”. I wait for them to come down as the sunlight begins to dim outside. Suddenly, I hear footsteps coming down the steps. Jason is the first to make an appearance. He’s dressed in a pair of gray sweat pants, a dingy white shirt, and an old pair of white tennis shoes.

He is also wearing a book-bag over his shoulders. I stand to my feet and giggle at his appearance.

“What are you wearing?”

He looks down at himself and laughs too.

“Clothes I don’t need anymore.” He replies with his words mix into his laughter. “Do I look horrible?”

“No, but your pushing it.” I reply. “So, I’m guessing you guys will transform tonight. Am I right?”

“Yup.” He replies.

Suddenly, I hear more approaching footsteps. Eric and Jessica walks into the living room, pushing each other on the way down like bitter kids. They’re also dressed in raggedy outfits with book-bags on their backs.

“Dude, what the hell are you wearing?” Jason asks Eric with broad eyes.

Eric looks down at his small pink shirt, which shows off his flat abs. Also, he’s wearing a pair of black-tights with it. I can’t help but laugh, wildly, at his ridiculous outfit.

“I didn’t have anything else to wear. I have to use Jessica’s stuff.” Eric replies shamefully.

He looks over at his sister who is snorting.

“What are you laughing at stupid? It’s your clothes.”

Maria comes down the steps next.

“Hey Iva, here…” Maria says while she tosses me a black hooded coat. “…it might get chilly tonight.”

“What about you?” I ask her.

“Uh, fur…duh.” She replies.

I pull the coat over my head and slip my arms into the sleeves. Luckily for me, it’s just my size.

Maria spots Eric and his womanish appearance.

“What are you…?” She says straight-faced. “…I’ll just leave it alone.”

“I’m wearing clothes.” Eric says humorlessly to Maria.

Maria presses her lips together tightly and shakes her face.

“Everyone’s here but Mane.” Jason states.

“I swear he’s worse than a female sometimes.” Eric says with his hands on his hips.

Jessica snickers and replies…

“You’re the one to talk, Erica.”

Everyone laughs including me.

“Why do you have to be such a drag?” Eric asks Jessica.

“Why do you have to dress up like one?” She counters.

“Oh dammnn.” Jason and Maria mutters.

We laugh at Eric as he stands there with a blank face.

“Give me some.” Jessica says with a raised hand.

Everyone, except for Eric, gives Jessica a high-five.

“I’m sorry bro.” Jason says while approaching Eric. “Let me get that for you.”

Jason kneels down and pretends to pick up something off the floor. He presents the invisible object to Eric.

“What are you doing?” Eric asks.

“Your face fell off back there. I got it for you.” Jason replies.

Eric pushes Jason’s hands away.

“Ha-ha.” Eric says tonelessly.

“Couldn’t help myself bro.” Jason states while giggling.

“Whatever.” Eric fires back with his lip poked out.

Suddenly, I hear those famous heavy feet coming downstairs. Daniel walks into the living room and scans everyone. His eyes stop at Eric. Daniel then turns around, marches through the kitchen, and proceeds out of the back door; completely ignoring Eric’s crazy outfit.

We follow him off the back porch and into the woods. Daniel walks in the lead, Eric, Jessica, and Maria are in the middle. Jason and I are following behind them four.

“So, when will I transform? How does that work?” I ask Jason.

“With us, it happens around puberty. But you’ll know when it’s time. Before we transform, we have what we call, a spiritual encounter. The animal would visit you in a dream or, sometimes, call out to you. Have you noticed anything like that?”

“No, not at all.”

“No voices or anything?” He presses on.

“Nope, not yet.” I reply.

“Well, it won’t be long hopefully. My animal spirit called out to me when I was sleeping.”

“And after it visits you, what’s next?”

Jason breathes out slowly with wide eyes. It’s almost like he’s thinking about something traumatizing.

“Then you get these muscle pains. That means your body is preparing itself for the awakening. The awakening is another word for transformation.”

“Is it painful?”

“It’s extremely painful, but that’s only for the first time.” He says with a twisted face. “I wanted to die when it happened to me.”

“Seriously?”

“I’m dead serious.” He replies. “Your muscles are expanding. It’s like being ripped apart constantly. That’s the best way to describe the pain.”

I exhale.

“After that, it’s just a matter of time before your human soul joins with your animal soul.” He informs me.

“So, will I be stronger than Mane?”

He laughs again.

“Yes…” His laugh fades away and a serious expression takes its place. “…Mane’s strength won’t match yours. You’re frail now Iva, but when you awake…” He breaks to sigh. “…it’s going to be a whole different story. I can only wish I’ll be there to see it happen.”

I see a hint of gloominess covering his face.

“Soon, more wolves will be in town. What happened to Noale is just the beginning. We must be ready for what’s coming next.”

“So, what other abilities do you have?”

“Besides transforming into an animal, we all have a distinct skill. Mane is strong. Athena is super-fast. I’m balanced. Plus all felines are fast healers. And Raven and Aero can see things in slow-motion. It’s a focusing ability. That’s the best way to describe their gift.”

“Wow, that’s cool.”

“Yeah, it is.” Jason agrees.

Suddenly, Daniel stops at a small clearing.

“Okay, let’s do this.” Daniel announces to everyone.

Jason, Daniel, and Maria kicks off their shoes and stuff them inside their backpack.

“Courage, show yourself.” Maria says to Jason.

He breathes in deeply while shaking his hands and wobbling his legs; as if he’s warming up for a track run. He stops and looks over at me.

“Iva, you should step back.”

I step back with my eyes locked onto him. He takes in a deep breath and holds it. I witness his body starting to tremble. I see a vein in the middle of his head coming into view. Suddenly, I hear a cracking sound.

I realize that his right forearm has snapped into two places. His left arm snaps as well. I gasp loudly but quickly cover my mouth. Then I hear another crack. I see his rib-cage expanding. Then multiple cracks later, his face starts to shift. Orange and yellow fur grows all over his body.

He yells out in pain, and then his yell converts into a roar all of a sudden. He falls forward onto the ground. Just like that, Jason is gone, and a large tiger is standing where he was. He looks over at me and then winks.

“Athena, show yourself.” Courage says in a deep voice to Maria.

After a deep inhale, her bones begin to shift like Jason’s. Suddenly, her muscles begin to bulge, and then yellow fur covers her body. She falls forward as her clothes and skin burst all over the forest floor. Suddenly, a large cheetah falls gently onto the ground.

“Mane, show yourself.” Athena says to Daniel.

I turn to face Daniel. His transformation seems a lot less stressful than Maria’s and Jason’s. He takes in a deep breath and maintains it. I see his big shoulders expanding. His clothes rip apart and a muscular black lion falls onto the ground with a thump. He shakes off the remaining fabric from his back.

“It’s pretty cool, right?” Athena asks in a deep, feminine, voice.

I open my mouth but no words are coming out.

“I will never get used to seeing that.” I reply in astonishment.

“The surprise is still to come.” Courage says to me as we begin to follow behind Mane.

Together, we continue up the trail. Courage and I stay in the back of the group.

“Are Eric and Jessica going to transform too…?” I look down into the tigers yellow eyes and ask.

“Yeah they will, soon enough.” He replies.

I look up at the sky as it begins to turn pinkish purple. The trail gradually starts to incline as we hike more and more. I almost trip over a root protruding from the ground but I catch my balance. Suddenly, some large insect flies into my face.

I swat at it wildly.

“Oh my God. What the hell was that? This is crazy. There are bugs out here. OMG! Is it on me? Is it?”

I hold my arms close to my body, feeling completely grossed-out.

“There are no bugs on you. Calm down.” Courage replies.

I can tell he’s slightly amused by my complaining. Although he’s trying to do it secretively, I can still hear him snickering at me.

“I’m glad you find this amusing, jerk.”

“You don’t get out much, do you?”

“Not really. I swear if I see a spider, I’m out of here.”

“And where would you go?” Courage asks me.

“I don’t know, but you’ll never hear from me again.”

I continue walking with my arms pressed tightly against my body. Suddenly, I hear a noise. Luckily, it was only an owl hooting.

“A SPIDER!” Courage shouts.

I yelp, and take off running away like the coward that I am.

“Iva, it was just a joke!”

I stop running and rotate to him. I never knew I could run so fast. In a matter of seconds, I managed to clear fifteen-yards.

“What?” I reply.

“It was a joke.” He clarifies while laughing.

“You asshole.” I say as I make my way back towards the group.

“What’s going on back there?” Eric asks.

“I told her I saw a spider.” Courage replies.

Eric and Jessica laughs at me.

“That’s awesome.” Eric states.

“Stop it before she has a heart attack.” Athena says while giggling.

“I’m glad everyone loves to see me suffer.” I announce.

Courage maneuvers his big frame closer to me.

“Hop on me.” He says.

“Are you for real?”

“It’ll be fun.”

He stops and I lift my leg over his back with some difficulty. After climbing onto his back he begins to walk again.

“I have to charge you for this ride.” He says.

“No way, you owe me for scaring me back there.” I reply.

“Okay, big baby.”

Five minutes later, everyone stops at a vast clearing. This clearing is wide with no trees, just a beautiful view of the colorful sunset.

“We’re here.” Courage says and stops walking.

I slide off his back to look at the sun peeking at me from over the trees.

“Whoa, this is absolutely beautiful.” I say to him.

Eric and Jessica finally take off their shoes and stuff them into a backpack. Eric walks over to me barefooted with a huge grin. He lifts me off of my feet and holds me like an infant.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Go with him Iva, it’ll be fine.” Jessica says.

Eric begins walking through the clearing.

“Where are you taking me?”

Eric looks down at me and says…

“You’ll see in a second. Just trust me, you’ll thank me later.”

“Okay.” I reply weakly.

I look over at the sunset again. I see these treetops in the horizon. He is walking me towards a cliff. My brain switches to panic mode instantly.

“Fasten your seat-belt, farm girl.” Eric says while laughing.

“Are you crazy…?” Before I finish he runs into a sprint and leaps of the cliff with me in his arms.

I feel myself falling at an incredible speed. The adrenaline is expanding massively inside my stomach. I let out a scream halfway down, but I can only feel it vibrating in my throat. The wind whistling in my ears makes me temporarily deaf. Before I impact into the ground, I feel my body lift upward.

I incline higher and higher until I swoosh over the trees. My throat is burning from me screaming at the top of my lungs. We continue to incline higher and higher until we pause in the sky. In this moment, I can finally hear myself screaming like a crazy person. I feel my lungs slam against my back as I shoot towards the ground again.

The ground is approaching rapidly. I close my eyes tightly while the wind blows hard against my face. Every inch of my body is overdosing on adrenaline as I plummet to the ground at a chaotic speed. I feel my body lift again but only slightly. Now, the wind is no longer blowing hard against my face, yet it’s a gentle breeze flowing smoothly through my hair.

Eventually, I stop screaming like a maniac and sluggishly open my eyelids. My tense body settles down. It’s as if I’m driving an invisible car in midair. I can see trees pass by me. In front of me I can see the subtle sunlight and all of the glorious colors surrounding it. I realize that Eric’s arms are no longer holding me. Instead of hands, these yellowish talons are holding me by my upper body and shoulders.

My legs are hanging in the air. I use my hands to squeeze down on his talons as hard as I can. I’ve never been on a roller-coaster before in my life, but I have seen people ride them on television several times. This is similar to a roller-coaster with the metal restrainers over your shoulders, but your feet are left out to dangle.

I gaze above me to see the pink sky and these large brown wings gliding in the wind. An eagle looks down into my eyes and says…

“Now you’re living.”

He then shifts forward again. I turn and look below me to see my reflection in a lake. The water is so crisp and clean that I can see a school of fish swimming smoothly through it. He lowers me closer to the water.

The tips of my shoes caress the surface of the water, gently. Then I witness the fish behavior changing. Fish of various size and colors begin to jump from the water while they follow me. The beauty of it all…it’s hard to put in literal words. I’ve never witnessed anything so stunning in my life. I shoot skyward abruptly, and then I feel my body shift hard right.

I rotate and float smoothly towards ground. The great bird flaps its wings, which helps us remain level in midair. He opens his talons and I fall onto my feet. This giant eagle lands smoothly onto the ground. The wind from his wings makes me stagger backwards and collapse onto the side of a fallen tree. I grab my chest to make sure my heart is still beating.

Athena and Courage approaches me.

“How did you enjoy your first roller-coaster?” Athena asks.

I can’t respond. I just conceal my face with my hands.

“Did you like it or what?” Courage presses on eagerly.

I spaced my fingers so I can see them.

“Please, don’t do that again.” I muffled through my hands.

“You didn’t like it?” Aero, the giant eagle, asks with his bold voice.

I throw my hands down onto my lap.

“No. I mean…yes…” I have a short recess to put my words together. “That was the most fun, life threatening thing, I’ve ever done.”

I take another deep breath and release it extra slowly.

“I think I just…died.” I say while laughing.

“Adrenaline, this is Iva; Iva, adrenaline.” Aero says.

He shifts left and right.

“Where’s Raven?” Aero asks Courage and Athena.

A giant dark purple bird with a long beak swoops down and lands perfectly on the ground.

“How did she like it?” Raven asks.

“Iva and adrenaline has a love, hate, relationship.” Aero responds. “It’s complicated.”

Aero turns to me.

“Hey, want to see something cool? Check this out.”

Aero burst hard into the air. His wings create a strong gust of wind that almost blows me back. I look up into the air and notice he’s already a small spec in the sky. I then see him descending towards the ground, hastily, until he shoots down pass the cliff. I wait to see him come back up.

I wait for him to reappear but it doesn’t happen.

“Guys, where is he?” I ask them, but my concern ceases when I see him heading towards the sky again.

This time he’s spinning wildly as he climbs towards the atmosphere.

“WAHOO!” His voice echoes.

“Iva, please don’t pay him any attention.” Raven says.

“The more you feed into it, the worse it gets. He has attention issues.” Athena states.

“It gets annoying.” Courage adds.

He swoops back to us without blowing too much wind everywhere.

“Cool, right?” Aero asks me as he lands.

“How fucking lame.” Raven blurts out blankly.

He shifts towards his sister.

“I didn’t ask you, ugly.” He says before brushing her face with his wing and taking off into the horizon.

“You little prick.” Raven says as she takes off after him.

“Here they go again.” Athena says as she sits on the ground next to me.

“Where’s Mane?” I ask.

Athena lifts her chin up and looks left.

“Over there.” She says.

I look over and see Mane sitting by himself, staring at the sunset.

“Don’t worry about him.” Courage says while flattening onto the dirt. “He’ll come over when he’s fit and ready.”

We watched on as Raven and Aero play tag until the sky turn inky blue. They finally called a truce when the moon reached its peak. Tonight’s moon seems a lot more vivid than usual. Maybe that’s because my view is so clear from here. As Aero and Raven dances around the full moon, I can’t help but think about my mom and her safety.

I feel a warm rub against my leg. I look down at Courage, who is looking back at me.

“What’s bothering you?” He asks.

I stare back at the moon.

“My mom.” I reply, watching Raven and Aero spinning upward together.

“Don’t worry about her.” He says. “I have parents too, remember. I always tell myself that they will be okay.”

“How can you?”

“You just have to have faith and everything else will fall into place.” He explains.

“I understand you completely, Iva.” Athena joins in the conversation. “I know a lot about fear. It can drive you crazy. It can ruin your social life, give you strange thoughts…” She suddenly pauses and lowers her voice. “…it can keep you up at night.” She pauses again. “It’s a disease. Don’t let it get inside your head, because when it goes in, it’s hard to get out.”

A brief silence falls over the three of us. Athena stands and walks away. She falls down flat on the ground with her face turned away.

“She’s fine. Sometimes she gets paranoid, that’s all.” Courage says in a quiet tone.

I look over to see Mane approaching us sluggishly.

“You finally decided to come over.” Courage says to him.

Mane doesn’t respond immediately. He flops onto the ground in front of me, scattering dirt into the air.

“It’s getting late.” Mane says. “I might head back soon.”

We all take a break to stare at Aero and Raven dive bombing in the horizon, then shooting straight up again.

“Hey Mane, Iva is scared about her mom.” Courage says softly.

Mane slowly shifts his yellow eyes into mine.

“It’s nothing to worry about.” Mane assures me.

“I just hope you’re right.” I reply.

“Soon more of us will be here.” Mane continues. “The Blaires won’t stand a chance against all of us.”

“How many Blaires are there?”

“It’s only four of them in town.” Mane explains. “It’s Cornelius, his wife Rebecca, his daughter Arlene, and Kendrick. The rest of their family lives in Germany. We’ve been keeping track of their movements. But don’t worry too much about them. Our only threat, right now, is their father Cornelius. Werewolves are a lot stronger than wolves.”

“So, did you hurt him good?” I ask.

Mane sighs and takes his time to answer.

“Not really. He ran before I could afflict major damage.”

We watch as Aero and Raven put on another fantastic display. This time they are flying around in a giant circle. Out of nowhere, Mane gets up and walks away from us.

“Where’s Mane going?” I ask Courage.

I see Mane walking further from us, slowly.

“That’s just Mane being Mane. Sometimes he just gets up in a middle of a conversation and walks away. Hey, where are you going?”

He gently turns his face towards us and replies…

“To the lake.”

He proceeds to walk until he disappears behind some trees.

“Let’s go with him.” I tell Courage.

“Mane likes to be alone. That’s how he is.” He replies.

“He’s been like that since our father’s death.” Athena turns her face to explain. “He just sits down there, staring at the water. You can go. I’m going to rest here. I might join you guys later.”

Courage snickers.

“But don’t expect to get much outta him.” He adds.

I walk and begin to track Mane down. I turn around some trees and spot a black shadow moving slowly in the distance.

“Hey…” I shout to him.

He stops and turns his face to me.

“What do you want?” He asks in his usual stern voice as I approach him.

“Nothing much. I was just wondering if you wanted some company, that’s all.”

He shifts forward and remains stationary. When he finally continues to walk, he mutters the words, “If you want to”, underneath his breath. I jog in order to catch-up to him. Together, we begin to stroll across the flat plain.

I want to stir up a conversation, but I can’t muster the bravery to speak. Further down, we reach this long steep, rocky, hill. He places a paw on the hilltop, but I stop him in his tracks.

“Hey, can I get a lift?”

He shifts his harsh eyes into mines. I step back slightly and quickly rephrase.

“That’s if you want to do it.”

It takes him a bit of time to respond.

“I guess so.” He says halfheartedly.

Due to his size, it takes some time to climb onto his back.

“Hold on tightly. You’re no good to us dead.” He tells me in a humorless tone.

“Okay.” I reply while grasping his hair firmly.

“Are you on?” He asks me.

“Yeah, I think so.”

He shifts his face sideways.

“Are you on or not?” He asks harshly.

“Yes, I’m on.” I reply.

I lean forward and hold on tighter. He walks onto the hill and proceeds downward, increasing speed automatically. He dodges large rocks by leaping over and around them. The rough bumpy ride is now over. I see a gentle black lagoon that mirrors the moon and the trees surrounding it. This body of water is narrow and it extends pass my eyes limitations.

I get off Mane’s back and step onto soft grass.

“Thank you.” I tell him as I slide off his back.

He proceeds to walk beside the tranquil stream without responding. I follow behind him, eager to gather his attention. Seconds roll by and we remain closemouthed. The odd silence grows the more we remain quiet. I clear my throat and turn my face to the top of his bushy head.

“So, um, do you spend a lot of time here?”

He takes his precious time to answer my question.

“Yeah, I guess you can say that.”

Our small conversation only satisfies me momentarily. Soon, that aching silence comes back with a vengeance. I hate awkward silences.

“Did your father used to bring you here?” My voice shrinks gradually throughout this sentence.

I feel so stupid asking him that. He instantly freezes and remains stationary for a while. He then turns his head to me but only midway.

“Who told you about him?” He asks in a very harsh tone.

“Your mother did.” I reply nervously.

He shifts forward and begins to walk again.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought him up…”

“It doesn’t matter now.” He brushes me off.

Another moment passes us.

“You like coming here?” I ask.

He shakes his head at me as if he is annoyed at my constant questioning.

“Obviously.” He lashes out.

I decide not to open my mouth and say anything that might annoy him further, but a moment later, I’m not the one breaking the silence.

“I’m come here, sometimes, to get away.” He tells me modestly.

I stop as he cuts across me and sits in front of his reflection. He rest at that spot, looking down into the wavy water. I join him at his side.

“I went fishing here.” He says to me as he looks into the dimly lit water.

“I’ve never been fishing before.”

He finally lifts his face and look into my eyes.

“Never…?” He asks.

I lower my head in total embarrassment.

“I never did a lot of things.” I clarify.

He shifts back into the lake again. Suddenly, a small thin shadow cruises by us.

“What kind of fish was that?” I think out loud.

He peers into the water.

“It’s hard to tell, but by the size of it, I would guess a Silver-side.” He informs me.

“Did you bring a lot of them home?”

“It’s not all about catching and eating. Sometimes, it’s good to just catch them, observe them, and let them go.”

“Why fish if you’re not going to keep them?”

“Do you really want to listen to me talk about fish?” He asks with his head turned to me slightly.

“Obviously.” I say in a mocking tone.

He shifts his face back into the water as he speaks…

“It’s called catching and releasing. The term speaks for itself. My father showed me the value of it. It’s very calming. I don’t know why.”

I see a larger fish traveling down the stream. It scales is the color of a dirty green.

“What’s that one?”

“That’s a steel-head. They’re mostly found further away near Ontario.”

I look back into the water to search for more fish.

“I’d love to go fishing one day.”

Mane sluggishly glances up at me and then back into the peaceful water. He stands on all four paws, only to lower down in the thin grass. One steady paw after another, he gently prowls closer to the water. He stops when his nose nearly touches the surface. A moment pass and he remains lifelessly still.

“What are you…?” I begin to ask but it’s too late.

He swiftly ducks his face into the water and keeps it submerged for a while. He lifts his head with water pouring from his fur. He shakes the access water from his fur and walks over to me like a dog holding a stick. Instead of it being a stick, I realize he’s holding this small fish in his mouth. I open my hands and suddenly I feel something wet in my palms.

“That’s a silver-side.” He informs me.

I shift away from the fish to look at Mane. The fish wiggles and then falls from my hands. It goes into the water and takes off. We watch the small fish smoothly swim away down the stream.

“Sorry.” I say to him achingly. “It was slippery.”

“It’s fine.” He replies still looking at the water. “I haven’t held one of those in a …” He pauses momentarily. “…a very long time.”

I see another obscure fish flowing pass us.

“What’s kind of fish is that?” I ask him.

“I think that’s a catfish. They keep the lake clean. You see Iva, purpose is all around us.”

I continue to point out random fish swimming about in the lake and ask questions about them. Mane proudly replies to all of my questions but in his usual stern way. I waste countless hours with him, walking under the moonlight, searching for fish and learning new things about them. I learn that every fish, even the bottom feeders, has some sort of purpose in the water. One fish actually surprises me as it leaps off a rock and into the water.

I quickly point to it and ask Mane what it is.

“Iva, that’s a frog.” He says in a duh kind of way.

“Oh, um, okay.” I reply, feeling a hint of stupid.

Soon, the sun is making its return, brightening the cottony clouds a florescent orange. I’m sitting next to Mane on top of a log, observing the lake in silence.

“That’s a big one.” I point into the water.

“Yeah but I’ve caught bigger.” He retorts.

I look over at him, who is observing the still water peacefully.

“I understand why you come here. It’s really relaxing. You should invite the others next time.”

“They don’t want to come down here.” He shoots back.

“Maybe it’s because you’re so mean all the time. You’re not a very welcoming person.”

“This is who I am, if they won’t accept me, I don’t care.” He replies.

“But the person you are isn’t very…accepting. All you want to do is hide. Is that how you want to live the rest of your life?”

“I don’t need someone to tell me how to run my life. Okay?”

“Okay, sorry.”

We both shift back to the lake and admire its calmness, listening to the smooth sound of water pouring from a miniature waterfall. The sweet chirping from birds in the background complements this peaceful getaway. As I continue to search for new fish to learn about, I notice this bright orange one swimming pass us. It almost resembles a large goldfish. It has two miniature fins that look like wings. I stand up and gape at it.

“Wow, what kind of fish was that?” I ask him.

Mane stands up and watches it cruise further down, and then out of eyesight.

“That’s strange. It was a koi-fish. That’s the first time I’ve seen one of those around here. Strange.”

“It was so beautiful.” I say, smiling in the direction it traveled.

Even though it’s far gone, we continue to stare down the lake together.

“Well, it’s far gone now.” I say disappointingly.

I lower back onto the log and continue to stare down the lake. Then I look up at the sky and yawn.

“I can’t believe it’s morning already.” I speak to the clouds.

I look down at Mane, who is still gazing down the stream. He seems to be in defense mode.

“Mane, are you okay?” I follow his gaze but see nothing unusual.

I swallow hard and stand slowly to my feet.

“Wait here.” He orders me firmly.

“What’s going…?” Before I’m able to finish he takes off running.

My heart rate starts to incline as I watch him shrink smaller and smaller. I wait, impatiently, for him to return. I look around at my surroundings with fearful eyes.

With Mane at my side, I feel so helpless now.

“Don’t leave me alone.” I say under my breath as I peer into the darken wilderness.

Below my feet, I spot a rock slightly bigger than my fist. I carefully squat down and pick it up. I look over and notice Mane charging back this way.

“What’s happening…?” I ask.

The rock slips from my hand without me noticing it. I hold my chest in astonishment as I recognize the orange fish he’s carrying in his mouth. I begin to laugh joyfully.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

He steps closer to me, and I kneel down with my hands cupped. He tilts his head then places the fish gently into my palms.

“Cool.”

I gaze at the creature in my hands and gently caress its lustrous metallic scales with my thumbs. For some odd reason, it looks a lot brighter out of the water.

“Whoa.” I utter as it wiggles.

I look into Manes eyes, which are no longer harsh.

“Well, you can’t keep it out for too long.” He notifies me.

“I understand.” I say as I marvel at its splendor one last time.

I rise to my feet carefully, walk over to the lake, kneel slowly onto the ground, emerge my hands into the water, and then I finally release my grasp. I stand and watch it glide peacefully down the stream. Mane walks up next to me and watches it vanish from our sight.

“You didn’t have to do that.” I tell him.

He looks up at me then back at the stream.

“I know.” His words come out subtlety.

Soon, my little fishing trip with Mane is over. Now, we are hiking back into the dimly lit forest. I hitch another ride on top of Courage’s back. Just as before, we’re trailing behind everyone.

“So, how did it go?” Courage asks me.

“He took me fishing, well, sort of.” I reply to him.

He chuckles mildly.

“At least he didn’t bite your head off.”

I laugh faintly at his joke.

“For a second there, I thought he might.” I reply.

We arrive at the small clearing, where I can see Eric and Jessica fully dressed. Eric’s new outfit is not as womanish as before, but his small white shirt is still pretty funny.

“What took you guys so long?” Eric says to us in a sarcastic way.

“Sorry, we don’t have wings, Aero.” Athena argues.

Mane picks up his backpack with his teeth and walks deep within the forest, leaving a trail of black hair behind him. Athena picks up a backpack and goes her own separate way into the woods.

“Try not to stare too much.” Courage says with a wink before he grabs his backpack and walks off.

The thin fur from his back begins to fall off, revealing his human flesh underneath. He emerges into the shadows. The faint morning light cast his silhouette. I watch as this shadow of a tiger gradually switches from four paws to two feet.

“Stop spying on me!” Jason shouts from the darkness in his human voice.

I laugh and turn my back towards him. A couple of minutes later, everyone emerges from the shadows, dressed in a new raggedy outfit. Together, we make it back to the house in little time. We enter through the back door with our feet dragging. Everyone marches upstairs, say good-night to one another, and go into our separate rooms. Jason gives me another wink and says, “Catch you later”, before going into his room.

I’m tired, dead-tired, yet it’s still hard for me to fall asleep. My mind is still a little shocked about everything. But who wouldn’t be? It’s hard to believe my life has changed so drastically in a couple of days. One day, I’m at college; studying English courses, and the next, I’m running from a demonic werewolf.

As soon as I get a taste of normal, life throws me a curve-ball from hell. I can’t help but wonder what else life has in-store for me…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 28: IT’S MORE THAN A GAME

 

 

I wake up with the sun beaming through my window. I can hear Eric’s loud voice shouting about something in the distance. I follow his voice out of my bedroom, down the steps, and into the living room. I see Jason and Eric sitting on the couch watching television.

“What are you two doing?” I ask them.

“Hey, Iva.” Jason says with his charming smirk.

“Aren’t you guys tired?” I ask with a yawn.

“Not tired enough to miss this game.” Eric says.

Eric grips his messy hair as if he wants to rip it out.

“Give me a break. Another foul-ball?” Eric asks the television.

“What are you guys watching?”

I look at the screen and notice that they’re watching some kind of sports game.”

“Baseball.” Jason responds with his eyes on the screen.

I chuckle.

“Do you guys ever go home?”

“No.” They reply together.

“Have you ever met my parents?” Eric asks.

I chuckle again.

“Okay, you have a good excuse not to go home. But what about you?”

“Me?” Jason asks.

“Yeah, you.” I reply.

He shakes his head and fight over his words.

“Iva, it’s a long story.” He replies.

“I have time.”

He pauses for a second, but before he’s able to speak, Eric interrupts.

“His parents are overly protective. If he goes back, he’ll never see us again.” Eric blurts out.

Jason stares at Eric with a blank expression.

“Thanks for summing that up for me.”

Eric smiles brightly and replies…

“You’re welcome.”

Suddenly, Jason’s and Eric’s face freezes onto the television screen again. Seconds later, they gasp loudly. I watch their eyes widen with excitement as the crowd on TV starts to cheer wildly.

“What a hit!” Eric shouts.

They both rise to their feet with their jaws dangling.

“Come on, come on.” Jason says with erupting excitement. “Home run baby!” His arms shoot into the air.

“Wooooooooooo!” Eric shouts joyfully. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

Eric starts to applaud as he lowers back into the couch. Then, just like that, they’re quiet again. The game on TV has them completely vexed.

“Man that was a good hit.” Eric states.

“We could’ve caught that ball from here.” Jason adds.

“The guy is a monster. He can’t be stopped. Best rookie player ever.” Eric gives his opinion.

As I watch them rave about the game, I can’t help but wonder…

“What’s so interesting about watching sport-games?”

They both look at me with confusion.

“It’s more than just a game. This is baseball.” Jason says enthusiastically.

“I just can’t get into sports, at all.” I respond.

“Everyone has different taste.” Jason explains. “What I’d like to do, is different from what you like to do. For instance, what do you like to do?”

I think for a moment and realize I don’t really care for anything except for reading. I look at them, looking back at me, waiting patiently for an answer. I stare down at the floor, thinking way too hard about a simple, harmless, question. Then an answer finally comes to my mind. I look up at them with a warm smile and reply…

“I like hanging out with my friends.”

A mild grin appears on their faces as well.

“I like hanging out with you too.” Eric replies.

“Me too.” Jason includes subtlety.

Jason looks back at the TV as he speaks…

“We all should enjoy these moments together, the good and the bad. Soon, we won’t be able to do these things together anymore.” Jason says in a whispering voice.

Eric gulps and lowers his face.

I walk over and sit down between them to break their gloomy moods. I glance left at Eric and then right at Jason. We all give each other a soothing smirk.

“Do you understand now?” Jason says in a soft voice. “How it’s more than a game to us. We’ll always remember these moments, no matter what. Even if our lives are taken, that’s one thing our enemies will never take from us.”

I smile warmly, feeling a sorrow swelling in my chest, but somehow it fades when I shift at the TV screen.

“So, who’s winning?” I ask.

Just like that, their joy comes back. They begin to rant about the game and their favorite rookie player, James Wellington. And you know what? I’m actually enjoying watching baseball with them…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 29: THE BASEBALL

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s too bad they lost.” I say as we walk up the stairs.

“Yeah, well, it was a great game.” Eric counters with a disappointed yet enthusiastic tone.

“There’s always next time.” Jason adds.

“I still think Dennis was safe on that play.” I speak with frustration.

“They robbed us of that win.” Jason utters as we reach the top. “But we had them running scared at the end.”

“That’s true.” Eric agrees.

Eric stops at a door and turns to us.

“I’m calling it. All that flying last night finally got to me.”

“Alright, catch you later bro.” Jason says as Eric goes into his room and closes the door.

“Hey, want to see something cool?” Jason asks me with his signature smirk.

“Sure.” I answer without thinking twice.

We enter a room that is decorated in a well-organized manner. The dresser is neatly covered with various sports trophies, small cars are lining the edge of his computer desk, and the ceiling is swarming with hanging airplanes.

“Wow. You really moved yourself in.”

“I pretty much live here, that’s why.”

I cross the room and lean closely to the small automobiles.

“Cool. So you’re a collector too, huh?” I ask him while admiring his car set.

“Yup.”

I continue walking and see these green army men on his dresser, each of them are facing forward in a perfect order.

“Wow, you are such a neat freak.” I giggle at him.

He smiles painfully at me, rubbing the back of his neck, and replies…

“You can tell, huh? It’s a hard thing to deal with sometimes. I can’t help it.”

I look at him and lower my laughter.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’m like that myself, from time to time.”

His bright smirk comes back. I look up at the airplanes hanging in midair over his bed. One of them looks awfully similar to one I had as a little girl.

“Oh, I had that airplane, the red one.” I gesture to the plane.

He walks beside me, looking up at the model plane.

“Do you still have it?” He asks.

“My mom sold it at a yard sale.”

He looks over into my eyes.

“What? You’re joking right?”

I turn to him and notice his shocked expression.

“Why, is it worth something?”

“Iva, that’s a classic model. They don’t make those anymore. You could’ve sold it for nine hundred bucks in fair condition.”

I look back at the plane and shrug my shoulders.

“Oh well, nothing I can do now.”

“I suppose not.” He responds halfheartedly. “Oh yeah, check this out.”

Out of the blue, he becomes highly excited. I watch him kneel at his bedside and slide a box from under his bed. He stands and places it on the desk near the vehicles. He opens the box, revealing a small display case containing a baseball. He carefully lifts the case from the box and presents it to me. The ball has an unreadable signature on the front.

“It’s signed by the Babe himself.” He says with a cheerful smile.

“The Babe?” I ask dumbfounded.

He nearly collapses to the floor but catches his balance.

“You’re joking right?” His eyes broaden.

I smile achingly and shrug.

“I’ve never heard of him.” I reply.

“You never heard of Babe Ruth? He’s a legendary baseball player. Please tell me you’re kidding.” The shock is growing on his face.

I slap my palm against my chest and chuckle.

“Oh, yes, I heard of Babe Ruth before. But you confused me when you said, “The Babe”.” I mocked him at the end of the sentence.

“You scared me for a second there.” He chuckles at me while placing the display case down on his nightstand.

“Wow, I managed to intimidate the mighty Courage.”

He smiles at me and steps closer. Now, I’m looking up into his mesmerizing baby-blue eyes.

“You know, you’re the only one that can say that.” He informs me.

“Am I?” I ask with a soft voice.

“Do you like having power over me?” He replies as he brushes my cheek with the back of his hand.

I can’t reply. I’m too busy being pulled into a trance by his eyes. We both freeze as we gaze at one another with passion. He moves closer to me but this time it’s only his face. And I follow his move, ready to meet him halfway. I can’t believe this is about to happen.

Our eyes close as our lips prepare for the long awaited kiss. Suddenly, we hear someone knocking on the door. We snap back into the real world. Jason clears his throat and answers…

“Come in.”

Eric walks in and stops when he sees the two of us standing close together. He looks at Jason, then at me, and then at Jason again. He then raises a curious eyebrow.

“What the hell is going on in here?” He asks.

“What do you want?” Jason says in a frustrated way.

Eric slowly backs away, pulling the door with him.

“I didn’t see anything.” He walks out and closes the door.

Jason shakes the irritation from his head.

“He’s so annoying.” He whispers to me.

Our eyes cross and freezes for a moment, but then we both break into a chuckle.

“Well, catch you later.” I say to him.

He giggles.

“Hey, that’s my line.” He replies with his smirk.

I walk away from him and wave one last time before exiting the room…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 30: THE STORE

 

 

 

 

 

A tapping on my door wakes me up.

“Oh, um, come in.” I say in my drowsy voice.

I turn on my backside and watch Maria coming into my room, fully dressed and beaming. She appears to have something in her hand.

“Good morning.” She says cheerfully.

“Hey, what’s up?” I respond.

“I charged it for you.” She says while holding out my cell phone.

“Oh, um, thanks.” I reply as I take the phone from her hand.

“You have a dozen miss calls on there. It’s from your mom.”

“Damn, I forgot to call her back.”

“She won’t spaz, will she?”

“I hope not.”

“Well, good luck with that.” She giggles at me. “I’ll see you downstairs.”

“Why are you dressed so early?”

“Aero and Rave’s aunt and uncle arrived last night. They want to meet you.”

“Here?”

“God no. They’re at Rave mom’s house.”

My eyeballs almost roll from my head.

“Oh, I can’t wait to meet more of their…family.” I say in a sarcastic manner.

She chuckles at my joke.

“I know. I’m so excited too.” She adds to my sarcasm. “I’ll see you downstairs, okay?”

“Okay, I’ll be down soon.”

Maria turns and exits the room. I exhale again before pressing the call button on the phone. I place the phone at my ear and wait for my mom to answer.

“Hey, why haven’t you called me?” She greets me with a critical tone.

“Oh, I’ve been busy.”

“I was worried sick. I was calling and calling.” She replies as I hear a clatter of dishes in the background.

“I’m sorry. What are you doing?”

“I’m about to cook me up some breakfast. So, how’s everything over there?”

“Great.”

“Having fun yet?” She asks.

“It’s been pretty cool, so far.”

“Is Kenya fine about you staying over so much?”

“Yes mom, she’s cool about it.”

“Well okay, just tell her to call me.”

“I will.”

“I’m sorry about bugging you. It’s just…I’ve been feeling a little strange lately. But I’ll let you go. Have fun.”

“Okay, I love you.”

“I love you too, sweetie. But before you go…did you hear about some animals running loose around school?”

“Animals…? You’re kidding me.” I act ignorant.

“Yeah, it was on the news.”

“No, I didn’t hear about that.”

“It’s been a lot of crazy stuff going on. Okay, well, call me later.”

“I will.”

“Bye.”

“See ya.” I finish the conversation.

I hit the end button and fall back on my bed. I rest for another ten minutes before making my way into the bathroom for a nice hot shower. Afterwards, I fix my hair into a neat fluffy ponytail and find an outfit to put on. Now, I’m all dressed and ready to go. I march downstairs to join the gang in the living room. I see someone sitting at the breakfast table, along with a half bitten toast resting on a plate.

The person’s face is hidden by the morning newspaper. The newspaper folds and Kenya’s bright face is revealed.

“Good morning, Iva.” She says with a smile. “Did you sleep well?”

“Too well.” I chuckle.

She smiles and hides her face behind the newspaper again.

“Hey, look who finally decides to show.” Jason says to me.

I turn to see everyone in the living room, watching some random action flick on TV. I’m not surprised to notice Daniel is missing in action. I’m actually getting used to the fact that he’s pretty much a loner.

“Hey guys.” I say to everyone.

Everyone greets me in their own way.

“Are you hungry?” Kenya asks behind me in the dining room.

I look over my shoulder at her.

“No thank you, I’m fine.”

Then I hear those familiar heavy feet walking around upstairs. Kenya folds a corner of the newspaper and watches him march down the steps. He pauses at the bottom of the steps and stares into Kenya’s eyes.

“What’s the matter?” She asks him.

“Do we all have to go?” He asks in an aggravated tone.

Kenya’s stare instantly becomes deadly-serious.

“Yes. You must stick together at all times, I’m not telling you again.”

He sucks his teeth, walks over to the table, grabs the car keys, and marches into the living room. Kenya burns him with her deadly leer the entire time.

“It took you long enough.” Eric says to Daniel.

“Yeah, well, I’m here. Let’s just get this over with.” He replies as he opens the front door.

“Mane…” Kenya calls to him.

He turns slowly to her with his stern gaze.

“Yeah?”

“Pick me up some more seeds first. I want to plant some today.”

“Okay.” He replies before turning away.

“And Mane…” She raises her volume.

He sucks his teeth louder before turning to her.

“Yes?” He replies.

“Be mindful of your surroundings.”

She gazes at the rest of us.

“That goes for all of you.” She says to us.

“We know.” Daniel says.

We all exit the house and pile into the black SUV. Now, we’re making our way out of the deep woods. We drive into an unfamiliar town and park in front of a store that’s named, “Rodgers Gardening Supplies”. We then scramble out of the car.

“What’s this place?” I ask Jason.

“This is the only place around here that sells naki seeds. It keeps the wolves from tracking us.” He replies.

Together, we all enter a small store filled with shovels, gardening gloves, empty plant bowls and vases, and large bags of soil. There’s a man standing at the register. He’s very old, easily over his sixties, with white hair and a matching goatee. He smiles at us as we approach him.

“Good evening. The usual?”

“Yeah.” Daniel replies.

“Okay, I’ll be back in one minute.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

The old man turns and walks into a back room.

“How clever…” A voice says behind us.

We all shift towards the door and immediately switch to defensive mode. It’s Cornelius Blaire. He’s dressed in a black wool-coat and gloves, standing in the doorway with a mischievous grin. I can feel adrenaline rushing through my bloodstream.

“So, that’s how you’ve been keeping us away?” Cornelius interrogates further. “How interesting…”

He walks into the store alongside two blonde women. The first one, I’ve never seen before, and the other one is Arlene, Kendrick’s sister. I’m assuming that’s their mother, Rebecca. Her hair is pinned into a bun. Arlene’s hair is combed straight back.

Arlene also has a bandage on the side of her head, probably from when I stabbed her with my pen. All of them are dressed in dark casual clothing. Jason pushes me back and takes a defensive stance in front of me.

“What are you doing here?” Daniel questions fearlessly.

I cower behind Jason’s back, peeping at them from around his arm.

“We were in town enjoying a nice Monday afternoon, when we smelled this foul odor.” Cornelius explains with a distasteful look. “And it seems like the trail ends here.” He says while scanning all of us.

I feel a strong dose of fear in my heart as his eyes reach mines and stops.

“Hello, Iva.” He says with a dreaded chuckle.

I hold Jason’s arm tightly with a nervous grip. Cornelius finally moves his eyes from mines and shifts back Daniel.

“So, how long will you try to hide her from us? You think those herbs will keep us away forever?”

“I’m going to tell you this one time. Leave.” Daniel says furiously through his teeth.

“I will. But let me give you a warning. You got lucky on that field. It won’t happen like that again. Eventually, you will run into a dead end.”

Everyone takes a step towards them. The Blaires boldly maintains their ground. Cornelius raises his chin arrogantly and smiles at us.

“Last chance.” Daniel warns.

“I will say no more.” Cornelius says with this humorous, dark, chuckle. “But know this…I’m a man of my word.” The humor in his face dies.

He turns and walks out the door with his wife Rebecca. His daughter, Arlene, lingers with her eyes still on me. She is gazing at me with her wide eyes. A big smile slowly stretches across her face. Then she winks at me.

“What are you staring at cunt?” Jessica says while stepping in front of me.

Arlene’s smile slowly fades away and now her face is just blank, yet her eyes are still wide and soulless.

“One dead bitch.” Arlene replies with her jaws pressed together tightly.

Jessica steps forward again, but Daniel grabs her shoulder.

“No Rave.” He whispers to Jessica. “Not now.”

Rebecca walks back into the doorway.

“Arlene, darling, let’s go. We have better things to take care of. We will handle her later.” Her mother tells her.

Arlene continues to stare at me, without blinking once, as she slowly raises her fingers against her mouth and blows me a kiss.

“I can’t wait to show you the ditch we dug up for you, dead girl.” Arlene tells me.

I am scared to death right now.

“Bitch please.” Jessica says while stepping forward.

I knew this was coming. And it’s about time it happened. Jessica’s knuckles lands directly on Arlene’s nose. The jab makes her fall back onto the floor. Her mother, Rebecca, gasps and runs to her aid. Arlene quickly stands to her feet with anger exploding through her red face. I see heavy veins covering her face. She then starts to breath deeper and deeper.

“Come on, I’ve waited a long time for this.” Jessica says while cracking her knuckles.

Jessica charges forward at Arlene, but Daniel holds her back by her shirt.

“No Arlene, not now.” Her mother says while grabbing her daughter’s shoulders.

“I’ll kill her.” Arlene says to Jessica aggressively. “I’ll kill her whole family. All of them!”

“We will darling, we will.” She says while she escorts her daughter out the store.

Arlene leaves a trail of blood from her bloody nose. Her mother pauses in the doorway, momentarily, to look over her shoulder.

“She will suffer far worse now.” She tells us and leaves the store.

Finally, everyone loosens their muscles. Jessica snatches her shoulder away from Daniel and places her anger onto him.

“What are you doing?” She asks.

“Protecting her.” He replies with narrow eyebrows.

The old man comes from the back room with a stuffed paper bag in his hand.

“You cleaned me out. We’ll order some more, later on this week.”

The old man freezes when he notices Daniel and Jessica staring fiercely at one another.

“Sir…?” The old man calls to Daniel.

Daniel turns away from Jessica, reaches into his pocket and pulls out ten dollars, passes it to the old man, and snatches the bag off the counter. He quickly turns and walks out with us following behind him.

“Sir, don’t you want your change?” The old man calls to him but Daniel continues walking.

As Daniel steps onto the sidewalk, I see his back muscles harden. A shirt is lying on the pavement in front of his boots. I glance over at the SUV and notice the passenger door is wide open with some clothes scattered across the sidewalk.

“Whose clothes are those?” Maria asks everyone in an alarming voice.

I swallow nervously and reply…

“I did leave a book-bag in the back seat.” These words come out of my mouth quivering.

Daniel shifts at Maria, and Maria looks back at him with concerned eyes. Daniel picks up my shirt and proceeds toward the SUV. Jason pulls me close to him as he surveys up and down the sidewalk. Daniel cautiously observes the inside of the car before turning to me.

“It’s gone. The bag is gone.” He states.

“Damn it.” Jessica says loudly through her teeth.

I look around and notice their expressions flatten and their eyes become worrisome. Eric shakes his head slowly and adds…

“This is bad Mane, real bad.” He says with wide eyes.

“Why do they need my book bag?” I ask Daniel but he doesn’t reply.

He turns to us again with a hint of worry in his stern eyes.

“Come on, let’s hurry back home.” He says while turning away, wrapping around the front of the car, and getting in.

“Come on.” Jason whispers to me.

Daniel ignores the speed limit and is now soaring back to the house.

“We should’ve killed them right then and there.” Jessica says while shaking her head and looking out the window.

“And risk her safety?” Daniel asks angrily from the driver’s seat.

Jessica puffs loudly from the middle row.

“What were they doing in the car?” My words are still a little uneasy.

“They are trying to get your scent.” Daniel tells me.

“It shouldn’t matter.” Maria says from the middle seat. “They still can’t track her scent to her house or ours.”

“Then why take her book-bag?” Eric asks confusingly from the passenger seat.

“They’re getting desperate.” Maria replies.

I focus and try to slow down my heart. Jason looks down at my nervous hands and grips them gently. I stare into his soothing eyes and rest my head against his firm chest.

“I wanted to rip that bitch head off so bad.” Jessica presses on angrily.

“They’re not stupid enough to fight us.” Daniel explains. “They wanted us to lose our cool. It’s all a mind game. You noticed that Kendrick wasn’t with them. Cornelius kept us in the store while Kendrick checked for her scent.”

“I swear…this is going to bite us in our ass.” Jessica says bitterly.

“Drop it Rave. It’s over.” Jason tries to calm her.

Jessica folds her arms and holds back her anger. Suddenly, a thought hits home, what if they use the scent from my backpack and track my mother? They’ll kill her.

“Can they use the book-bag to track where my mom works? She could be in danger.”

“Iva, your mom will be okay. They are not after her.” Jason says to me.

“I know but I think she needs to know something just in case.” I plead to them.

“If we tell your mom what’s really going on, she’ll most likely call the cops. The Blaires will know where we live. That will endanger all of us, including her.” Daniel explains.

I sit back and keep my mouth shut. I suppose I have no other choice. I know they’re sure about those herbs but…..what if they’re wrong? Hellhound would rip her to pieces. Am I wrong for being afraid for my mother’s life?

“She wouldn’t have to worry about that if we had killed them, right then and there.”

“I’m done talking.” Daniel tells Jessica.

Soon, we arrive back at the house and stops hard in the driveway. Jessica doesn’t hesitate to leap out of the car and rush into the house.

“I can’t do this anymore. I’m leaving.” She blurts out angrily.

“Now look what you did.” Maria says to her brother as she exits the SUV, pursuing after Jessica…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 31: Rage

(Narrator’s perspective)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Iva and the others are still getting out of the SUV. Meanwhile, Jessica charges into the house, and Kenya watches her rush up the steps with irritation pouring out by the gallons.

“What’s going on?” She asks Maria, but Maria has already made it up the stairs.

“Let her leave. Who cares?” Daniel says carelessly as he comes into the house.

Jessica’s angry rant can be heard in the living room downstairs.

“Rave, chill-out.” Eric says as he makes his way upstairs in attempt to calm his sister.

“I demand someone tell me what’s going on.” Kenya says loudly.

“The Blaires was in town.” Jason notifies her.

“Oh my goodness.” Kenya blurts out.

“And instead of fighting, Mane decided to just leave, and then Raven started causing a scene.” Jason explains.

Suddenly, stomping approaches the top of the stairs, stomping from a furious person. Jessica comes down the steps and stops halfway.

“Really, you’re sticking up for him! They were threatening her! If they were in our shoes they wouldn’t have thought twice.”

“I’m not sticking up for no one.” Jason stands up for himself. “But provoking a fight is not helping us at all.”

“I was defending her. I swear…you guys have your heads so far up your asses.” Jessica replies.

“Rave, you need to calm down seriously.” Maria whispers to Jessica.

“I’m tired of calming down. He’s a coward.” Jessica shouts down the stairs.

“Then leave. Your mother and father didn’t even want you.” Daniel says carelessly.

“I left home because I wanted to.” Jessica states.

“Yeah, right, whatever.” Daniel replies lifelessly. “Is that the lie you’ve been telling yourself?”

“Stop this!” Kenya shouts at the top of her lungs.

Somehow her voice creates enough order to speak.

“This must stop now.” Kenya says to the whole lot. “What has gotten into you all?”

Everyone eyes wanders away from Kenya as she continues to speak, ashamed at their disgusting behavior.

“This is not the time for arguing like a bunch of children.” Kenya tells them boldly.

“Hold on.” Maria announces. “Where’s Iva?”

The mood in the house changes as everyone eyes circles the room to find her, but quickly realize she is nowhere to be found…

 

Chapter 32: The truth

(Iva’s perspective)

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes, you must figure out when enough is enough. I’m tired of worrying about my mother. They expect to protect me, and yet they can’t even protect each other from themselves. All I want right now is to see my mother’s face one last time. I just want everything to be the way I attended it to be.

Is that too much to ask? I just want a simple, normal, life like everyone else my age.

“Where are you going?” A familiar voice speaks to me.

I look to my right and see Daniel driving, very slowly, next to me in his black Charger.

“I’m going home.” I inform him.

“And then what?” He asks.

“And then…and then I’ll figure the rest out when I get there.”

The car stops to a rough halt as I continue my way down this long, lonesome, road. I hear the door of the Charger closing behind me. I know he’s going to try and stop me, but my mind is already made up. I’m going back home, where I belong.

“Hey wait.” He pulls on my shoulder, turning me around to face him.

“Seriously, you’re going to get yourself killed.” He informs me.

“I made my choice. This is my decision. I’m going home to my mom. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask for any of this. I just want a safe, normal, life. Please let me go.”

He lets go off me. I then turn and continue my walk down the lonely road. My words seemed to stop him from pursuing me, because I don’t hear his heavy boots strolling behind me anymore.

“If normal is what you’re looking for, you will never find it.” He says at a high volume. “Is that how you want to live the rest of your life? Going after something that doesn’t exist?”

I continue walking and try my best to act as if no one is there.

“Can you just listen….please?!”

I try to fight the urge to stop but his plea manages to convince me otherwise. I rotate and give him my undivided attention. Slowly, he approaches me with his trademark sternness.

“Normal is not down this road, Iva. It’s not at home or any school. You will look and look until eventually you become frustrated with yourself.” Through his stern eyes, I see regret forming. “In the end, you realize there’s no such thing. That’s when you become angry, and the only way to make yourself feel more like a person, is to take that anger out on another person. And those people you lash out at will be the ones that matters most.”

Daniel stops a foot away from me. I hate it when this happens, when someone tells you the unwanted truth. Then I begin to sob by his statement, because I’ve been searching my entire life for normality. So many years wasted trying to find it.

“But…that’s all I ever wanted. Why can’t I just live a normal life?” I cry out with tears pouring down my face like a baby.

“That’s because it’s not real. Do you see? Everyone’s strange, but like us, some are just a little stranger than others.”

He comes close to me and places his hands on my shoulders.

“You are better than ordinary Iva. You are extraordinary. Don’t ever settle for normal. You’re not nor will you ever be. And that’s a marvelous thing.”

I bury my face into my hands and release my emotions.

“It’s okay.” He says as he pulls me gently into a hug…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 33: FACING DEMONS

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s nothing wrong with crying, especially if you had things bottled-up for so long like I did. God knows I needed to get some things off my chest. Dealing with the idea that I will never be normal is difficult, but starting today, I will accept the fact that normal is just an invented word. Afterwards, Daniel and I travel back to the house in his Charger. We don’t say another word to each other after our hug.

I learned a lot from him in that short moment. Although he was talking to me, I know he meant himself also. Behind the sternness, behind that stubborn mask, is a person who wants to better himself. But I think he just doesn’t know where to start. As we enter in the living room the others are sitting patiently for our return.

The atmosphere in the room is modesty combined with a pinch of dishonor. I guess I would feel the same if I were in their shoes. Their spirits lift slightly as they see me come into the house with Daniel.

“We’re happy to see you back.” Kenya says meekly. “I’m so sorry about that unnecessary behavior. In fact, Raven, don’t you have something to say?” Kenya says and then shifts at Jessica for a response.

I look over at Jessica, who is leaning up against the wall with her arms folded like an elementary kid. She can’t even look anyone in the eye. She completely ignore Kenya’s proposal. Eric comes over to Jessica and grabs her shoulder, pushing her toward the center of the room.

“Right there, perfect.” Eric says to her.

He then places his fingers on his sister’s lips and tries to mimic her…

“Guys, I’m sorry…” Eric says in a girly voice while manually trying to move her lips, but she quickly knocks his hand away.

“Stop it, idiot.” She says to Eric.

She exhales one last time before apologizing.

“Sorry for making a fool out of myself.” She says weakly to the room.

I can tell it’s hard for her to apologize.

“And to others I offended.” She finishes.

“The same here, I guess.” Daniel adds modestly.

“I accept your apologizes. But don’t think I left because of you guys. I left because of me. It was my decision. I guess everyone has their own demons to face sometimes. I just needed some fresh air, to clear my mind.”

“Well, it’s good that you stayed. Besides, who else would I pick on?” Jason says.

“Iva’s right, maybe you all should take a walk.” Kenya announces, but she’s mainly looking at Daniel and Jessica. “No one is leaving here. Understand?”

Everyone responds silently at her statement with a nod.

“Good. When you all come back I expect the table to be set.” Kenya finishes and walks upstairs.

Jason approaches me with a hand presented, breaking my heart all over again.

“Come on, let’s go.” Jason says to me.

I break a smile and gladly take his hand.

“Where to?” I ask. “No more surprised cliff diving, I hope.”

This makes him laugh.

“No cliff diving.” He confirms with a snicker.

Together, we walk through the living room, into the kitchen, and out the back door.

“Wait up guys.” Eric says behind us.

“Coming too…” Jessica says.

(Narrator’s perspective)

As Iva, Jason, Eric, and Jessica leave the house…Maria approaches Daniel in the living room with a smile on her face.

“So, what did you tell her?’ She asks her brother.

“I just told her what she needed to hear. It’s what we all need to hear sometimes.” He replies.

Maria softly nudges him on the shoulder as a good gesture and replies…

“I’m proud of you. Now, come on, let’s catch up.”

Daniel then slips in a deep thought and his sister notices it when she turns to him in the doorway. The word proud is not tossed around the house too often, especially to him.

“Coming or what…?” She asks.

He clears his throat as reality joins with his conscience.

“If you insist…” Daniel replies carelessly as he follows behind Maria…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 34: THE CONNECTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

The six of us are resting on top of the peak and conversing on the thin, grassy, plain. Although it’s close to fall, the temperature is fair and the sky is a vivid blue. The topic of choice is pretty much anything we can think of. Daniel keeps to himself most of the time, but at least he’s actually hanging out with us. We talk and talk for hours.

Now, evening is coming upon us, and the sky is showing signs of it by the faint pink discoloration on the clouds. And again, the conversation switches entirely as Eric asks an open question…

“Hey guys, what did you wanted to be after you left college? I wanted to be a stunt double.” Eric admits.

“Stunt double? I always pictured you being a crash-dummy.” Jason tells Eric.

Eric retaliates by throwing a twig at Jason.

“What about you hotshot? Let’s hear it.” Eric asks Jason.

“A musician.” He replies.

“Hair stylist.” Maria joins the conversation.

“Make-up or tattoo artist.” Jessica adds.

“An engineer, I suppose.” Daniel joins.

“I probably would’ve been a writer or editor, like my mom.” I add.

“I’m sad to say that it doesn’t matter anymore.” Daniel says straightforwardly.

That comment places us in a state of refinement. Now our minds have switched to a bleak mood. The possibility that the world may end soon is terrifying. It’s more terrifying knowing that you are the only one to prevent its destruction. The saying, having the weight of the world on your shoulders, is more literal to me than anyone else.

“I can’t believe I fell for their mind games.” Jessica finally comes clean. “Who am I to talk down to you guys? I’m freaking bipolar.”

“Don’t beat yourself up sis. I’m always desperate for attention.” Eric admits.

“Compulsive neat freak.” Jason says.

“I get paranoid.” Maria says.

“Anger. A lot of other things.” Daniel confesses.

“Denial.” I conclude.

“Man, have reality hit you yet.” Eric declares. “I mean, this is really happening. War will break out soon.”

“Tell me about it. I’ve never fought in my life.” I confess.

“What? Iva, you should’ve died a long time ago. Your one of the greatest fighters I’ve ever known.” Jessica tells me.

“You think so?” I ask.

“I know so.” Jessica states confidently.

“Only if we stay together then maybe we’ll stand a chance.” Jason adds.

“Exactly…” Maria speaks with confidence. “We’re family, and family sticks together no matter what.”

A short pause comes over our discussion. Then out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, Daniel decides to stand and walk off. At first, I thought he was going to do his usual thing and disappear down the hill. He just stands up and walks closer to the cliff only to gape at something. As he stands there, a gust of warm wind sweeps through the peak. A moment later, Maria stands and joins him, then Eric, then Jessica, then Jason, and finally me.

That’s when it catches my eye too. It’s so glorious and mesmerizing to look at, especially from where we are standing. This gorgeous thing, that has us completely hypnotized, is nothing more but the sunset. Together, we gaze at something that’s unreachable, yet so splendid and captivating in beauty. In this moment, I feel connected to them as one body.

Not just by the beauty of the view but by the love we have for one another. It’s a bond that ties us together. We dare not speak and ruin the moment. Sometimes you just have to enjoy things silently. Another breeze comes through, and together we all close our eyes and take in the air; savoring this moment together…

 

CHAPTER 35: MY MOM’S DATE

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I’m sleeping comfortably in bed, I hear knocks on my bedroom door. I lift my face from my pillow and roll over on my back, groaning.

“Come in.” I say with a yawn mixed in.

The door opens and Kenya comes in. She extends her hand forward with a phone in it.

“Sorry to wake you.” She says in a whispering voice. “Your mom wants to talk to you.”

I grab the phone, clear my throat, and put it to my ear.

“Hello.”

“Hi, honey. Why aren’t you answering your phone?” She says in a worried tone.

“Um….…it was on vibrate.”

“Oh, okay. You really have to remember to call me.” I can hear the worry in her voice lowering. “So, I guess you’re catching a ride to school with Maria, right?”

“School…” I snap alert.

I glance at Kenya and she begins to ponder, but I think of a lie before her.

“…uh, um, yes, I’m catching a ride with her.”

“Okay, I’ll pick you up at four thirty. Maybe you can tell me all about your awesome sleep-over.”

“Um, okay.”

“Have a nice day at school. I’ll see you later. I love you.” She says and then kisses me through the phone.

“Love you too, mom.”

I press end on the phone, and then I let out a long sigh.

“She thinks I’m going to school. What should I do?”

Kenya walks back and forth for a moment with her fingers against her lips.

“Don’t go to school until later on. She’ll pick you up and take you home. But, you can’t stay the night.”

“What about tomorrow?”

She paces back and forth again.

“Just tell her you don’t want to go to school anymore.”

“Then she’ll definitely suspect something.” I reply.

“Be convincing.”

“Okay, but what about home? I don’t want to draw…” I stop to gulp. “…attention to her.”

“Just stick to the plan and everything will be okay.”

“Okay, just stick to the plan.” I agree with her.

“You may get some more rest if you choose too.” She turns and walks out of the room.

I collapse backwards onto my pillow and then release a long moan.

 

 

The time is now 4:04. We all exit through the front door and pile into the black SUV. I can feel the anxiety swelling within my stomach. We reverse out of the driveway and cruise up the road. I fill my lungs with oxygen and relieve them slowly. Jason reaches over and soothes my hand with his own.

“Don’t worry. Everything is going to be just fine.” He reassures me in a whisper. “Just think positive thoughts.”

Ten minutes later, we’re almost at school. I look out the window and see the park. It’s barricaded by yellow tape, and the grass is shredded with claw marks. Suddenly, a flashback of Hellhound resurfaces. I see him running towards me in my head. Then I see him swiping at me with his razor-sharp nails.

I can feel the horror returning all over again, so I swallow down hard and look away to ease the tension. Daniel switches on the turn indicator, which causes my heart to skip a beat. I see a police officer, dressed in a florescent-yellow vest, guiding traffic into the lot.

The school is still crawling with police officers. Thank God for that. The idea of men with guns lowers my heart-rate a little. Daniel stops the car near the main entrance.

“We’ll keep an eye out for you.” Daniel says.

“Not that she’ll need it. This place is crawling with cops.” Eric says while looking out his window.

Jason rubs my shoulder before he lets me go. I unbuckle myself and duck out of the SUV. I strap my book-bag over my shoulders and step onto the walkway. They drive off and swing into a parking spot not that far from me. Eric gives me a solute from the passenger seat. I grin halfheartedly in response.

I fill my lungs and release them while my body switches to security mode. I look cautiously to my left, then to my right, and then behind me. I study the students strolling up and down the walkway. I’m keeping a good watch for anyone with blonde hair and blue eyes. Somehow, all of the blondes are sticking out like a sore-thumb.

I know it’s just my mind playing tricks on me. I begin to bounce on my heels to help ease the jitters. I look at the road. Mom, come on already. I take out my cell-phone and review the time. My mom should be here soon. A clicking sound disturbs me, so I swiftly turn left to see a brunette girl walking with high-heeled boots.

I’m so nervous that the slightest noise makes me flinch. I breathe deeper in order to calm my frightened heart. Breathing doesn’t help at all. I look left and right again. All I can see are these blonde students walking around me.

The brunettes, red heads, and dark haired students have slipped into the background. I then look forward at the cars on the road.

“Mom, hurry up.” I say to myself.

I rotate my cell-phone and review the time on the screen. It’s still 4:22. All of a sudden, one minute seems more like ten. I shift over at the SUV; everyone is watching me, attentively. They’re only yards away from me, yet they seem a lot further.

Someone bumps into me, softly, and I yelp. I turn to see this boy looking down at his cell-phone, texting. He looks up at me with a flat smile.

“Oh, I’m sorry about that.” He apologizes as he continues up the walkway.

My heart is beating super-fast right now. I look at a police officer twenty feet away, who is now defensive. I smile halfheartedly at him. His body loosens its defensive stance, and then he shifts back to his fellow officer, continuing a conversation they were having together.

I glance over at the SUV. Everyone is peering at me, hard. Eric, on the other hand, is bouncing off his seat laughing his hardest at me. I roll my eyes and look forward again. At last, I see that familiar blue van rolling into the school lot.

A massive amount of weight falls off my shoulders. She stops in front of me and then rolls down the window, beaming. Somehow, the day just got brighter when she smiles at me from the driver’s seat. I must say, it’s great to see her beautiful face again. Those bright emerald eyes, her brown lustrous brown hair, and her supermodel smile, brings joy to my spirit.

“How was school?” She asks brightly.

“It was great mom.” I actually lied while looking her in the eyes.

I grab the door handle. As soon as the door opens, just a little…

“Iva?” I hear a familiar voice call out to me from behind.

I roll my eyes and mutter damn underneath my breath before turning around to face him. I rotate my body to see Professor Nelson approaching us with his hands in his pockets. As usual, he has his Sherlock Holmes stare on me.

“Hello, Professor Nelson.” I try my best to act normal.

“Hello, Miss Hill. What happened to class today?”

“Oh, um, class…?” I chuckle, nervously.

Think Iva, think.

“Yes, remember my class.” He says with a raised eyebrow. “The one you skipped.”

“Hello, are you her Professor?” My mom asks from the driver’s seat.

My eyes roll once again. He walks towards the car, reaches in, and shakes her hand.

“I’m James Nelson. I’m very pleased to meet you ma’am.”

“I’m Julia. So, what seems to be the problem?” My mom instantly turns into a detective.

He looks down at me, peering through suspicious eyes, then back at my mom.

“I was just wondering why, Iva here, has missed my class today?”

My mom looks at me with suspicious eyes as well.

“Uh, um…” Come on Iva, think. “…I fell asleep, in the student lounge. Sorry.”

“Did you have too much fun over the weekend?” He asks curiously.

“No, I just lost track of time.”

My mom leans forward in the van so she can see him better.

“I was just wondering. How is she doing so far?”

“She’s fair. But her tardiness needs to improve a bit.”

“Hold on. Let me pull into a parking spot.” She notifies him.

I look over at Eric in the SUV. He shrugs his shoulders with a confused expression, and I shrug back at him with the same level of confusion.

“I haven’t seen Jason in class either, Miss Hill.” Professor Nelson looks down at me with an observing pair of eyes. “It doesn’t take much to put one and one together.”

I gaze away from his leer, not feeling embarrassed or guilty, yet annoyed. He’s so nosy. It’s going to get him hurt. Why can’t he just mind his own business?

“This is a lot better.” My mom says as she approaches him. “So, you say she’s been tardy?”

“Just twice, the first time was the first day.”

My mom looks over at me with a leer of her own. I shrug my shoulders at her and play stupid.

“I lost track of time.”

“But I also told her…” Professor Nelson says, but I interrupt.

“Excuses are not a major.” I finished for him.

“Precisely.” Professor Nelson replies.

My mom finally removes her leer off of me and shifts to Professor Nelson.

“Well, what exactly are her weaknesses?”

He puffs slowly and thinks.

“It’s mostly cellular development. That area needs some improvement.”

I look around again at the students walking back and forth, still keeping a good, watchful, eye. I look back at the SUV. Eric shrugs at me again. I shrug back.

“Iva.” My mom obtains my attention.

I shift back to her swiftly.

“Huh?” I respond stupefied.

“Did you?” She asks.

“Did I what?”

“Did you study for the exam?”

“Oh, yes, definitely.” I play along very well.

Professor Nelson looks at his watch.

“Look at the time, I have to go. But I would love to talk a little more sometime.”

My mom tilts her head as she stares deeply into Professor Nelson’s eyes. All of a sudden, a bright grin appears across her face.

“I’d love that. When are you available?”

“We’ll, I’m off at 5:00. Can we meet up around let’s say…5:30?”

“That’s sounds great.” My mom says while beaming at him.

I try to rub the awkward feeling off my neck as Professor Nelson pulls out his cell-phone.

“What’s your number? I’ll give you a call as soon as I’m finished here.”

My mom gives him her number, and he saves it into his phone. I look at the SUV one more time. All of them look frustrated and confused.

“I’ll see you at 5:30.” Professor Nelson says, grinning through his brown beard.

“5:30 it is.” My mom agrees.

Professor Nelson nods at me before walking away.

 

At last, I jump into the van and close the door.

“He’s nice, isn’t he?” My mom asks.

I nod softly and reply…

“Yeah, he’s cool.”

She leans forward and studies my expression.

“I know you hate me asking this, but are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay mom.”

We exit the school lot and then blend into the evening commute. I exhale, feeling relieved to be away from the school finally. I glance into my side mirror. I can see the black SUV two cars behind us. I straighten my body and get into character.

“Mom…”

“Hmmm.” She responds.

“I was thinking about something.”

“Like what?”

“School.”

“What about it?”

“It’s been hard, going there. I’ve been having a very difficult time concentrating.”

She looks at me with grief in her eyes.

“I know honey. I’m so sorry about your Professor.” She says in a comforting tone. “That’s a very sad thing, what happened.”

She pauses and shakes her head.

“I was thinking about what you said. Maybe school is not a good idea right now.” I continue.

She gazes at me with an understanding look in her eyes.

“It’s your decision. You can always go back when things settle down.”

I sigh. The more I talk about Professor Grant, the more I don’t need to put on an act.

“I know.” I swallow down hard.

“If you want to wait for things to calm down, then I totally understand.”

That’s one thing down, I think to myself. The car is silent the rest of the way back home.

 

Soon, we turn left on Meigs street and pull into the driveway of my second home. She shuts the engine off and exits the van. I get out and glance over my shoulder at the SUV parked a couple of houses down. We enter the house, and then I quickly settle into the living area.

I find the remote stuck between the couch cushions and click on the flat-screen TV. I flip to a channel with a random movie. I act as if I’m watching TV, but I can’t focus on it no matter how hard I try. My mom goes into the kitchen, scrambling through some pots and pans.

“What do you want for dinner, honey?” My mom asks from the kitchen.

“Um, it doesn’t matter.”

“What about some chicken casserole?” She asks.

“That sounds great.”

My cell phone vibrates. I dig it out of my pocket and look at the number, it’s Daniel. I jump to my feet quickly.

“Hello…” I answer as I walk into my room then close the door behind me.

“What’s going on?” Daniel asks.

“Hey, I’ll be out there in a second. Okay?” I say in a secretive voice.

“You’re not ready?” He asks.

I sigh over the phone.

“No. I’ll talk to you about it. I’ll be out in a minute.”

“Make it quick.” He disconnects abruptly afterwards.

I walk back into the living room.

“Hey, honey…” She calls out to me from the kitchen.

“Yeah.”

“Can you take the trash to the curb for me?”

“Yes.”

That’s what I call perfect timing. I throw on a pair of shoes and rush out of the front door. I look over at the SUV, which is parked two doors down. I put my pointer-finger into the air, jog to the side of the house, and pull the trashcan down to the curb. I glance behind me to make sure my mom doesn’t see me walking away from the house. I walk swiftly up the street. Daniel lowers the passenger window as I approach them.

“What’s up?” Eric asks from the passenger seat.

“Professor Nelson is coming over for dinner.” I say in a low secretive voice.

“What?” Daniel asks confusingly.

“Shit. They can easily follow him.” Eric states.

“What should I do? They already made plans.”

Eric looks over at Daniel and he begins to ponder.

“When he comes, we’ll keep an eye out for the Blaires.” Daniel tells me.

“I don’t know about this.” Eric says in a low concerned voice.

“You have your cell with you. Keep it on.” Daniel says before rolling the window up again.

I walk back down the street and into the house, and then lock the door behind me. I sit down on the couch and begin to pick at my nails. I look down at my cell-phone. It’s only 5:10. In twenty minutes, I’m going to find out if Eric’s prediction is right or wrong. Automatically, my right heel begins to bounce on the floor. Plus, I can’t focus on the movie whatsoever.

All I can see is colors and abstract shapes moving everywhere. I try my best to keep my mind sane, but it’s impossible. I look down at my cell-phone. You have to be kidding me. Its 5:16 already. Time flies when you don’t want it to.

“What do you want for dessert?” She asks from the kitchen.

“It doesn’t matter. Anything is fine.” I say as I begin to chew on my fingernails.

I look at my phone for a third time. It just hit 5:22. I spit a nail on the floor before standing and walking to the front window. I separate the curtains and make an opening in the blinds. I peek through the blinds and see the SUV parked right next door. I walk away from the window and collapse onto the couch. I then proceed chewing my nails once more. I check the time again. It is 5:27.

I then hear a car engine outside of our house. I stand up and head over to the window again. A silver sedan is parked in front of our house. The car engine stops rumbling, and then Professor Nelson gets out of the car. He adjusts his gray suit and brushes back his brown hair before walking towards our house.

“Is that him?” My mom says beside me, which makes me flinch.

“Oh, yes, that’s him.” I reply tongue-tied.

“Why didn’t you open the door, silly?”

I walk across the living room and sit on the couch while she lets him in.

“Hello.” Professor Nelson says brightly.

“Welcome.” She springs back cheerfully.

She closes the door behind him.

“Make yourself comfortable.” She tells him.

He comes in with a smile.

“May I get you something to drink?” My mom asks helpfully.

“Water would be nice, thank you.”

Professor Nelson keeps his smile on me as he sits down in the recliner.

“No studying?” He asks me with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh, I, um…”

“She’s not sure if she wants to go back.” My mom interrupts as she hands him the icy-cold water.

He shifts back to me.

“Why?” He asks disappointingly.

I look away.

“I want to go…but, just not right now.”

“She’s still recovering from, you know.” My mom adds.

Professor Nelson nods his head understandingly.

“Well, everyone is still distraught about the recent events.” He says while looking down. “But there’s always room for an education.”

“That’s true but…not right now.” I reply.

He takes a sip of the water and places it down on the coffee table.

“I totally understand.” He says in a low voice.

“Are you hungry? I’m cooking chicken casserole.” My mom asks him enthusiastically.

“Thanks a lot Julia, but I had a big lunch today.” He replies.

“Okay.” My mom replies as she takes a seat. “So, tell us a little about yourself, James. Have you lived here your whole life?”

“Yes, I have. I did moved some years back only to attend Yale. That’s where I received my masters.”

“Really, that’s impressive.” My mom compliments him.

Professor Nelson brown beard stretches.

“It was a fun experience.” He continues speaking. “But as the old saying goes, there’s no place like home.”

“The same here…” My mom agrees with him. “I moved to Virginia just to move right back.”

“So, who’s the athlete?” He asks while staring at something across the room.

My mom follows his gaze over to the fireplace, where several trophies are resting. He looks at me with a smile.

“No way, not me, I’m nowhere near athletic. Leave that to my mom and my uncle.”

“I was more of a wiz rather than athletic.” My mom explains. “A lot of those are from my chess tournaments.”

Professor Nelson turns his face slightly and gives my mom a smirk.

“You’re a chess-player?” He asks her.

“Why, do you play?”

He chuckles.

“Do I? I went to the nationals…” He leans forward to my mom. “…and won.” Then he leans back, grinning hard.

“Well, I wasn’t lucky enough to go to nationals. But I was the best in Rochester.”

“The best…?” He backfires. “I never lost a match.”

“Sounds like a challenge to me.” My mom tells him.

“I accept your challenge.” He replies while smiling back at her.

 

Five minutes later, my mom comes downstairs with her old, dingy, chessboard. They make enough space for two armchairs on each side of the coffee table. Soon, all of the chess pieces are set up correctly. Now, they’re locked in a duel. I watch on, still a little nervous. I look at them, then at the front door, and back at them again.

I’m now down to my last nail. I look at my mom as she makes her move. Professor Nelson rubs his beard and ponders for a moment. He moves a knight up two slots and over one. Now, it’s my mom’s turn again. She slips into a mental dispute. She can’t seem to make up her mind.

“You’re move.” He says with a cocky smirk.

She ponders for a moment and moves a knight. He rubs his chin. I can see his mind working, diligently. A moment goes by and he can’t seem to decide his next strategy.

“You’re move.” My mom says in a mocking tone.

A smile appears on his face as he moves a pawn forward. My mom face goes blank. She begins to bite the insides of her cheek while she decides on her next attack. She blows hard through her nostrils and then reaches her hand to a knight, but quickly reevaluates, and reaches for a pawn instead. She then moves it forward, hesitantly.

Professor Nelson lets out a small chuckle, moves a piece, and says…

“Checkmate.”

My mom exhales loudly.

“Wow, you are good. I didn’t stand a chance.” My mom admits.

“I told you, I’ve never lost a match, and never will.”

Someone starts knocking on our front door.

“You’re expecting someone?” She asks me.

I shake my head with a stupefied look. My mom gets up and marches towards the door.

“Who is it?”

“Maria.” A voice says from the other side of the door.

My mom pulls open the door and let’s everyone in.

“Hello Maria…and company.” She says brightly.

“Hi.” They all greet my mom together.

“Well, come in. It seems like we have a little party going on in here.” She says with a giggle.

They all enter and scatter around the living room.

“What’s up, guys?” I try to sound surprised to see them.

“We wanted to see if you wanted to hangout?” Maria says with big, gesturing, eyes.

“Oh, okay.” I reply.

Professor Nelson looks over his shoulder.

“How is everyone doing this evening?” He asks.

Everyone mumbles the word fine.

“Come on in everyone…” My mom says. “…take a seat.”

Everyone scans around for a vacant spot. Daniel is the only stubborn one who doesn’t want to sit down.

“Do you all want something to drink?” My mom asks them politely.

Everyone refuses her offer with a muffled, “No, thank you”.

“You guys are playing chess?” Maria asks. “Who’s winning?”

Professor Nelson looks over at her with a grin.

“I already won.” He shifts his eyes back to my mom. “Dare to give it another try?” He asks.

My mom throws her hands up and says…

“You won without trying. I don’t need to embarrass myself in front of all these people.”

He laughs at her.

“I remain undefeated.” He says with confidence.

“Daniel plays chess. He’s pretty good too.” Maria announces.

Daniel looks highly annoyed by her statement. Professor Nelson looks over his shoulder at Daniel.

“Mr. Cruz, I didn’t see you there. Do you want to give it a shot?”

“I only play good people.” Daniel replies straightforwardly.

Everyone chuckles, but I can tell he wasn’t joking.

“You’re looking at a national champion.” Professor Nelson counters.

“Okay, one game.” He says.

Daniel walks over and positions himself in front of the board.

 

Ten minutes later, they’re locked into a harsh duel. The concentration on their faces is nothing short of brutal.

“You’re move.” Professor Nelson says.

Daniel debates, debates, and debates some more. He sighs and moves a knight. Professor Nelson’s mind slips away into a deep focus. He lets out a loud sigh and moves a piece. Daniel concentrates hard on the board again. Professor Nelson lets out a grin.

“Can you feel it breathing down your neck?” He chuckles at Daniel. “That’s the walls closing in on you. You’re trapped.”

I see it in Daniel’s eyes. He is unable to layout his next move. He focuses harder than before and maneuvers a knight with a hint of concern in his eyes. Professor Nelson swiftly makes his final move and says…

“Checkmate.” He rubs his palms together excitedly.

Everyone looks astonished.

“Wow. Daniel finally lost in chess.” Eric says in awe. “He never loses.”

Daniel looks up at Professor Nelson and nods to him.

“That was a great game.” Daniel informs him.

“You actually had me defeated but you didn’t see it. I was actually starting to sweat a bit. You think outside the box too much. I notice that about you. You tend to avoid the obvious. That’s why you lost.”

“We should play again, some other time.” Daniel says.

“I can’t turn down a good chess match.” He replies.

Professor Nelson looks at his watch and stands to his feet.

“Julia, it’s been a delight, but I need to head out.”

“Thank you for stopping by and….kicking my butt in chess.”

Professor Nelson laughs.

“It was my pleasure.” He responds. “Everyone have a goodnight.” He says before leaving through the door.

My mom shuts it behind him.

“You too.” Everyone mumbles as he leaves.

Maria clears her throat and gestures secretively towards the door. We all stand up and prepare to leave.

“Hey mom, I’m going to Maria’s tonight.”

“Oh, um, you’re not hungry? Dinner is almost done.”

“No, I’ll pick up something on the way out.”

“Okay, but be safe. Keep your cell-phone on, please.”

My eyes spin instantly.

“Mom, I know.”

“Alright, have fun.

We begin to walk out but Jason stops to look at Daniel, who is still in the armchair staring at the chessboard.

“Daniel?” Jason calls to him.

Daniel is still looking down at the untouched chessboard. He looks up at Jason after a lingering amount of time.

“Yeah, I’m coming.” Daniel responds.

He stands up and then walks through the front door along with us.

“See you later, mom.” I say as I step off the porch and onto the pathway.

“See you later, sweetie.” She replies from the porch.

I stop in my tracks and walk back to my mom, and hug her firmly. I hug her as if it’s the last hug I’ll ever get from her. She wraps her arms around me and whispers…

“You’re not embarrassed to hug your mother in front of your friends?”

I giggle and reply…

“No. I’m proud to.”

I stop chuckling and swallow down my emotions.

“I love you, Iva.” Her angelic voice whispers softly into my ear.

“I love you more.” I reply.

We break apart. I swiftly walk off the porch steps and down the walkway. I secretively wipe a tear from my eye as I approach the SUV.

“And don’t forget to buckle up.” She says.

“I won’t.” I reply without turning.

We pile into the SUV. I stare outside the window as my mom waves at us. Then we cruised away down the street…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 36: THE MESSAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

We park in their driveway without leaving extra tire marks on the pavement. One by one, we abandon the SUV. As we walk towards the house, the front door swings open. Kenya steps aside as we enter the living room together.

“What took you all so long?” She asks in an alarmed tone.

“A human came around her house, a professor from school.” Daniel answers.

“Was he followed?” She asks with distress.

“No, we didn’t see anyone.” Daniel responds.

“Are you certain?”

Daniel blows out his frustration and replies…

“I’m sure.”

Kenya holds her forehead and proceeds to shake her headache away.

“The last thing I want right now is more innocent people killed.” She stops and looks at the floor, contemplating. “You all should’ve lured him away somehow.”

Daniel rubs the back of his head and looks away.

“Listen, mom, he was not followed. No one is gonna get hurt.”

She looks up at me with worry in her eyes, and I can feel that energy transferring over to me. Then she shifts her eyes at the rest of them.

“We don’t want the humans involved. They can attract needless attention or get killed.”

She then tries her best to bury that worried expression.

“Did you manage to convince her about school?” She asks me.

“Yes, I did.”

“Okay, that’s good.” She replies bleakly.

She rotates and walks into the dining room.

“Well, I’m happy that’s settled.” She says with a hint of uncertainty. “You all go wash your hands and help me prepare the table.”

Everyone quietly empty the living room and walks upstairs. I, on the other hand, slip into a slight trance. The worry in Kenya’s eyes has me thinking about my mom again. When I feel a warm hand touching my shoulder, I blink back into reality. I look up and see Jason smiling down on me with his precious blue eyes.

“Hey, don’t worry about it.” He says soothingly.

I release some air which lowers the nervousness, and then I nod to him softly in agreement. He begins to rub my back to comfort me.

“Come on…” He proceeds with a smile. “…I’m starving. What about you?”

I let out a smile before walking with him upstairs. I actually managed to eat a full meal today, although I’m still a bit nervous about my mom. I begin to consider Jason’s advice. What if I don’t need to worry? I disobey my negative thoughts, yet somehow I keep getting this bad vibe in the pit of my stomach.

After dinner, Jason walks me upstairs. He can read me like an opened book, or maybe I’m just that obvious. He looks deeply into my eyes and says…

“Keep your mind off her. She’ll be fine. I promise.”

His charming smirk and warm embrace did good damage to my paranoia, but it’s not good enough to keep me sane. We break off into our separate rooms, but before we depart ways, he winks at me and then says, “Catch you later”. Luckily, my body didn’t fight much to fall asleep…

 

Surprisingly, I wake up while the sun is out. I didn’t toss or turn all night long. Somehow, I feel totally refreshed. It’s a brand new day. I don’t need to worry about yesterday anymore. I wake up with a feeling that my mom will be just fine. I yawn and rub my eyes before sitting up in bed. I hear busy feet and commotion outside my room, so I walk over to peep into the hallway to see what’s going on.

“Hey, what’s up guys?” I say to Jessica and Maria, who are about to make their way downstairs.

They turn to me with a smile.

“Oh my God, what’s up with your hair?” Jessica says with a huge grimace.

Maria sees my hair too and giggles at it. I look up to see my curls hanging in my face.

“It’s not funny. I have frizz problems, sometimes.”

Suddenly, Eric and Jason comes out of the room across from me, arguing about which baseball team is better. Their eyes lands onto my hair and then their conversation ceases almost immediately. Eric’s jaw drops and Jason smiles brightly.

“Holy shit…” Eric says to me, well not to me, but to my hair.

I puff out air and shut the door close.

“Dude what the hell was that?” Eric’s voice echoes into my room.

I cover my face in embarrassment.

“Dude, seriously, what the hell was that on Iva’s head?” Eric asks again.

I begin to giggle to myself.

“I have no idea.” Jason replies.

“She looks like one of those troll-dolls.” Eric makes fun of me.

Everyone burst into laughter in the hallway. I walk over to my bed and flops face first onto a pillow. I moan in attempt to get this embarrassing feeling off my back. My self-esteem level has just hit rock bottom.

 

Eventually, I lift my face and decide to start the day. I pick out a nice blue shirt, a pair of denim jeans, and a fresh towel from the linen closet. I try to remain unseen as I sprint across the hallway to the bathroom. I didn’t waste much time doing my hair. I figured a nice, fluffy, ponytail would do just fine.

I walk back into my room and check my appearance in the door mirror. The mirror allows me to see my entire reflection from head to toe. I’m happy with the final results. I give my reflection a smile before opening the door. I’m starting to believe that Jason is some kind of mind reader. We both exit our rooms simultaneously. We instantly laugh at one another.

“The stalker strikes again.” He tells me.

“Yeah, I know, I have to file a restraining order against you.”

He laughs at my counter insult.

“Good comeback.” He compliments me.

He then looks up at my bushy ponytail and says…

“I see you tamed the beast, or whatever it was.”

I giggle mildly.

“I tried to.”

He looks down into my eyes with a super-charming smirk.

“I still think you’re cute, even on your worst hair days.”

I tuck my lips in and feel my cheeks beginning to burn.

“Thanks.” I reply.

We walk downstairs and into the dining room, where everyone is eating at the table. I’m totally surprised to see Daniel sitting down at the table today.

“Are you hungry, Iva?” Kenya asks.

“Yes.” I reply.”

“Come, have breakfast with us.”

I sit down at the table and Jason sits next to me.

Kenya places a plate of scrambled eggs and two blueberry pancakes in front of me. She gives Jason his plate afterwards.

“You made it down today.” I say to Daniel.

“Surprising isn’t it?” Kenya asks.

Daniel shakes his head and continues eating without saying one word.

“Iva.” Kenya calls to me while she reads the morning paper. “Margie’s relatives are dying to meet you. You should make yourself acquainted with them today.”

“Oh, yeah. Aero and Rave’s aunt and uncle, right?”

“Yes. That’s if you want to go.”

“I don’t mind.”

Maria nudges me on the shoulder.

“A ponytail, is that it?” Maria interrogates.

“Yeah, I just gave up on it. It’s the humidity that does it.”

Maria looks into my eyes, then at my hair, and into my eyes again.

“What?” I ask in a curious tone.

“Hey Rave.” Maria calls to Jessica, yet she’s still looking at my hair.

“Yeah.” Jessica answers.

“I think we should do something about this problem.”

She looks over at Jessica and gestures to my hair. Jessica lips shifts sideways as she gazes at my hair. I can see her mind contemplating something mischievous.

“What are you two thinking about?” I ask curiously.

They look at me and back at each other.

“It’s worth a shot.” Jessica says to Maria with a twisted face.

After some peer pressure, we meet in Maria’s room after breakfast. I can’t believe I’m actually letting them do this, but at the same time, it’s a little exciting to finally get some girl time. As I sit down in a chair, Jessica and Maria get some equipment prepped.

“Okay guys, nothing to crazy.” I tell them nervously.

“Okay.” Jessica says as she places a makeup kit on the dresser next to me.

“Have you ever had your hair done?” Maria asks.

“Not really.” I reply.

Out the corner of my eye, I can see Jessica putting several small jars on top of the dresser. I turn to her with my jaw dangling.

“What’s all that?” I ask them in a high volume.

Maria shifts my face away from the dresser.

“Leave that to us.” Maria says with her chin in the air. “Stay right there. Don’t move a muscle.”

She turns and walks towards the door. When she opens the door, Eric falls flat onto the floor. Jason swiftly plays a fool, turning away and walking down the hall.

“What are you doing?” Maria asks the back of Eric’s head.

Eric pushes himself onto his knees and places his ear onto the door, and knocks gently on it.

“It seems like this door has no termites either.” He whispers to himself.

“Get out!” Jessica yells.

Eric shoots up and walks down the hallway. Maria sighs and shakes her head.

“Be right back.” She informs me.

She leaves the room for a minute and comes back with a box in her hands. She takes something out the box and plugs it into the wall.

“What’s that?” I ask with a pinch of worry.

“Oh, it’s a flatiron.” Maria responds.

“You’re going to burn my hair?”

“Yeah.” She says in a duh kind of way.

“I don’t want to be bald.”

Maria and Jessica’s eyes instantly meet. They then explode with laughter.

“It doesn’t burn your hair off, crazy.” Jessica says with a giggle.

“It straightens it.” Maria adds. “Lol. Girl, you really have to get out more.”

“Oh, okay. That makes a lot more sense.”

 

It’s been almost an hour. It’s taking forever for Maria to comb through my hair. I can’t help but cringe as she struggles to untangle my hair by each firm stroke. Afterwards, she massages some kind of liquid onto my scalp; a leave-in conditioner of some sort. Jessica is busy powdering my face and putting eyeliner on me. Then Maria puts her flatiron to the test. She slowly straightens a bunch of my hair at a time. Another thirty minutes later, I’m growing impatient.

“Are you two almost done?” I ask.

“Yup.” Jessica says cheerfully.

Suddenly, someone knocks on the door softly.

“Who is it?” Maria asks.

“Hey, we’re just wondering what you guys are doing? Eric asks.

“Go away!” Jessica yells angrily.

A hush comes over the room, but then I hear this low conversation taking place outside the door. Eric starts snickering about something before he clears his throat.

“Hey, I need a comb.” Eric whispers through the door.

“For what?” Jessica backfires with aggravation.

“For my hair, duh, dumb-shit.” Eric responds.

“When did you start combing your hair?” Jessica fires back.

Eric gets tongue-tied for a second.

“It’s not for me, it’s for Courage.”

“Bullshit, he has combs.” She fires back.

“Then it’s for me.” Eric replies. “And I really need it badly because…I just do.”

Maria groans and picks up a comb from the dresser. She unlocks the door and then grabs the handle…

“Wait…” Jessica says very low.

Maria freezes and looks over at her.

“Slide it under the door.” Jessica tells her in a whisper.

Maria locks the door again. She then kneels down and slides the comb under the door.

“Shit.” Eric whispers lowly.

I can hear Jason snickering outside the door. Eric clears his throat again.

“Uh, thanks a lot.” Eric says. “But I’m going to need some, uh…hair-gel. I need the biggest, non-flat, bottle you have.”

I burst out into laughter.

“Aero, quit it, seriously.” Jessica says with frustration.

“Come on guys, we just want to see.” Jason says.

“We’ll be down in five minutes.” Maria informs them.

“We don’t negotiate with terrorists.” Jason says. “We demand we speak to the hostage.”

“Yeah, we need to know that she’s okay.” Eric adds.

“I’m okay guys.” I reply.

“Iva, is that you? Thank God you’re safe.” Jason says in a relieved tone.

“Now, can you stop eavesdropping and go away?” Jessica asks.

“Oh, Okay.” Eric says in a childish tone. “Just hurry up.”

I then hear their feet marching away from the door.

“Finally.” Maria says to herself.

“Keep your mouth still for me.” Jessica says as she applies the red lipstick. “Okay, now rub them.”

I roll my lips around in a circular motion to get the crimson color on evenly.

“Wow, you look amazing.” Jessica says with a bright grin.

I feel the jitters bouncing inside my stomach.

“Bring me the mirror.” I reach forward with fluttering hands.

Jessica grabs the mirror off the dresser.

“Not yet. I’m not done.” Maria says.

I drop my hands and poke my bottom lip out like a little child.

“Don’t worry, I’m almost done.” Maria assures me.

Seconds later, Maria puts the flatiron down on the dresser and switches it off. They both walk backwards and observe my appearance with amazed expressions.

“How do I look?” I ask with my excitement overflowing.

But they’re too deep in a daydream to respond. I scan the dresser and pick up the mirror myself. I gasp loudly when I see my reflection.

“Oh my God.” I utter as I gawk at my reflection.

I look in the mirror to see this supermodel beaming back at me. Her hair is straight and curled at its tips. Jessica did a perfect job at getting rid of my annoying blemishes. I just refuse to believe it. It’s impossible for me to look this beautiful, right?

“You like it?” Maria asks anxiously with her hands pressed together.

“Yes, I love it.” I reply honestly with my throat beginning to burn. “I mean, I can’t believe it….I’m…I’m finally beautiful.” I finish while swallowing down my emotions.

“You can cry. But not now.” Jessica tells me. “I don’t want your mascara to run.”

“Okay.” I reply.

“We have to go show my mom.” Maria demands.

I stand to my feet. Jessica opens the door for me as I walk out into the hallway. I proceed down the hallway with the jitters spinning wildly inside me. I walk slowly downstairs and into the living room, feeling like a princess going to a ball. I see Kenya, Jason, and Eric waiting on the sofa. They stop breathing when they see me coming.

“Who is this?” Kenya says, nearly having a heart attack.

She runs to me with her hands pinned against her chest.

“Who is this beautiful girl in front of me?” She asks in utter amazement.

She pulls me into a tight hug and leans back with a huge smile, studying me.

“This is how a queen ought to look.” She tells me with amazement.

I try my best not to smile too much. Kenya steps back so Eric and Jason can see me better. Their faces are priceless.

“You look awesome.” Eric says with a side grin.

“Thanks, Aero.”

Jason stands to his feet and approaches me.

“You look beautiful.” He smiles honestly.

Somehow, I manage to smile even harder. And here comes Goliath, marching like a tortoise down the steps. Everyone steps aside so Daniel can see my new appearance. He turns and spots me standing in the center of the living room. His stern look disappears and is replaced by an unreadable expression. Maria clears her throat loudly for a response from him. His eyebrows go narrow again.

“What’s the big deal?” He says while grabbing the keys of the dining table.

“Seriously, how does she look?” Maria demands a better response from her brother.

He nods his head.

“Great job.” He responds boringly.

Even though that compliment is halfhearted, it still means a lot coming from Daniel. He makes his way through the crowd and exits through the door.

“Well, that was fun while it lasted.” Jessica says as she walks out the door.

“He’s always ruining the moment.” Maria says as she marches out the door behind Jessica.

Eric follows. Jason lifts his elbow into the air, which I grab without thinking twice. We exit the house and cram into the SUV, one by one.

“Be safe!” Kenya shouts as we reverse out the driveway and shoot straight up the road.

“Hey Iva, just a heads up.” Eric says from the front passenger seat. “Be warned. Our aunt has a mole on her face. She hates it when people stare at it.”

I giggle.

“Thanks for the advice. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Suddenly, my cell-phone alert goes off. I dig into my jacket and pull out my phone. I discover a text message from my mom that reads…

HELP ME”

I gasp and catch my heart before it burst from my chest. I place my other hand on Jason’s shoulder firmly.

“What’s wrong?” He asks.

I look into his eyes with a frighten gaze. It takes a moment for the words to come out of my mouth.

“My mom…” I stop talking to gulp.

Maria turns her head towards me.

“What’s wrong?” She asks urgently.

“They have my mom. She sent me a text.” I can feel the panic inside me building momentum.

Everyone stiffens with fear. Jessica turns to me with shock in her eyes and asks…

“Are you serious? How do you know?”

“What did the text say?” Daniel asks in an urgent voice from the driver’s seat.

I gulp again, this time it goes down with difficulty.

“It said help me.” I finally reply.

“Shit, you have to be kidding me.” Eric says.

Daniel slams his hand against the steering wheel and yells…

“Damn it.”

The car skids to a rough stop. He turns the car around then zooms down the road at full-speed. My worst fear has become a reality. My mom’s life is at stake. I find her number in my phone and press call.

I wait for the dial tone. It’s ringing and ringing nonstop.

“She’s not answering.” I speak in a panicky voice.

“Keep trying.” Daniel orders me.

Suddenly, I hear her voice.

“Mom…” I stop talking, realizing it’s her voicemail greeting.

“Is that her?” Jason asks.

“No, it’s her voicemail.”

I press call another time. Again, it rings constantly until her voicemail answers. My heart feels like it’s going to explode right now. I press call again with my quivering thumb, hoping she will answer this time.

“Fuck. It’s going straight to voicemail.” I cry out loud.

“The house phone, try that.” Jason says.

I stop and think for a moment.

“I…I don’t know the house number.”

“Call mom.” Maria tells Daniel.

“I’m about to.” He responds.

I continue to dial her number, but once again it goes straight to voicemail.

“Damn.” I mutter.

I can feel tears slide down my cheeks as I give it another useless try. Jason pulls me close and holds me.

“It’s going to be alright Iva.” He whispers into my ear.

“Mom…” Daniel says in his phone.

“…they’ve got Julia. Yes…..we’re heading over there now.” He says and disconnects.

The engine goes wild as we zoom through traffic. We fly pass cars on the highway like a rabbit to a mob of turtles. My heart is beating rapidly the entire way to Rochester. The car slides sideways, burning rubber, as we turn onto Meigs street. Daniel race down the street and lowers the car speed.

“What?” Eric blurts out with confusion.

I look out the window and see my mom pulling the trashcan from the curb in her pajamas. She turns and shows off her pearly-whites. I exhale deeply and wipe the tears from my face. Daniel rolls down the windows with a baffled look.

“Hey guys.” My mom says in her normal, not threaten for her life, kind of tone.

“Uh, um, Iva just had to stop by a get something.” Daniel says to her.

He shifts his face to me.

“Oh, yeah, right.” I say as I unbuckle myself and get out of the car.

My mom jaw drops and her eyes broaden when she sees me.

“What happened to your hair?” She asks shockingly.

I try my best to appear normal and not emotionally distressed.

“I got it done.” I reply.

“Who did it?”

“That will be me and Jess.” Maria responds and waves from the inside.

My mom grins and nods her head with an impressed look upon her face.

“I love it. It fits you well.”

“I’m glad you like it.” I force a smile across my face.

Together, we stroll up the walkway and onto the porch steps.

“Hey, guess what? Your uncle wants to meet up for dinner. He’s going to flip when he sees you.” She says as we walk into the house.

“Oh, really, that’s awesome.” That line came out somewhat convincingly.

“He wants to hangout tonight.”

“Not tonight, um, I’m busy.” I say as I rush into my room and look around for something to grab.

I pick up something random off my bed and start to walk out of the room, but my mom folds her arms and leans inside the doorway; blocking me from leaving.

“You came all the way back home for a shirt?” She leers at me suspiciously.

“Um…” I look down at the shirt I grabbed and then back at her. “…yeah.”

“You’re acting strange. It’s bothering me.”

I blow out loudly. My frustration is totally showing its true colors towards her.

“Mom, I’m cool. Please, don’t start.”

“Have you been crying? Your mascara is a little runny.”

I clear my throat as my brain comes up with a decent lie.

“No, um, it’s just been irritating me. That’s all.”

She grins halfheartedly.

“Okay. Well, Frank will be over this evening. I think some family time would be nice.”

“No mom, I told you already, not today.” That line came out a little rude so I revise. “I mean, just not today okay?” I finish in a milder tone.

She throws her hands up. I guess my irritation caused her to surrender.

“Okay, okay.” She says.

She turns away from me, but I stop her from proceeding into the hallway.

“Mom…” I call to her. “…I was just wondering, where’s your phone? I tried calling you earlier and I couldn’t reach you.”

“I don’t know. I was destroying the house looking for it. I must have dropped it somewhere, maybe in the parking lot yesterday. I just don’t know where my mind is sometimes.” She continues, thinking hard about where it could be.

“Well, mom, I have to run.”

I walk over and give her a tight hug again.

“I love you, mom.” I say while holding a lump in my throat.

My mom gently pushes me away from her. She stares deeply into my eyes, which are stinging right now.

“Iva, I’m not a psychic, but you’ve never been that hard to read. What is going on, really?”

“Mom, it’s complicated. One day, when the time is right, I’ll tell you everything. It’s nothing to worry about.”

That’s the biggest lie ever. “I’ll be fine. Call me later.” I say as I walk pass her.

She sighs and follows me into the living room. Before I leave the front door, I turn to her.

“And mom, do me a favor, lock the front door okay?”

She squints at me, this time her eyes are filled with more doubt.

“Oookay…” She replies with uncertainty.

“Love you, see you later.”

I walk out the house and hurry into the SUV, taking my spot next to Jason.

“What’s going on?” Daniel says, eyeing me in the rear-view mirror.

“She thinks she dropped her phone in the school parking lot.”

“Those bastards are toying with us.” Eric states.

Daniel breathes out slowly as he starts the car.

“Well, we’re not playing any of their games.” He says as we glide down the street.

“Thank God she’s safe.” Maria says in a relieved voice from the middle row.

“Yeah.” I agree with her.

My heart rate finally starts to slow down. Daniel puts his cell-phone to his ear as he drives with one hand on the steering wheel.

“Mom……yeah she’s fine….I don’t know………she might have dropped it at the school lot……….alright we’ll be there soon.” He hangs up.

 

We head back to Glenworth, going the normal speeds limit.

“But why would they do that?” Maria asks the entire car. “Why would they make a false message? It doesn’t make sense.”

“I don’t know.” Daniel says.

“Those bastards…” Jessica says angrily. “I have a bad feeling. Why would they do something like that for no reason?”

“They’re planning something. I just know it.” Eric says.

“Well, whatever they’re planning, we have to be ready.” Daniel adds. “It’s going to be okay, Iva.” He assures me through the rear-view mirror.

Jason puts his arm around me. I look into his eyes and smile. I then shift my eyes out of the window to watch the thick clutter of trees fly by in a blur. Then I see something strange. Something large is moving with us.

I gasp. It’s three of them, one is brown with a white patch on its eye, the other white, and the last one is gray. They are dashing through the woods. I quickly turn to Jason, his eyes meets mine. He sees the horror in my face. I look forward and yell…

“Wolves…!”

But it’s too late for a warning. I shift my face to the window again. These massive wolves leap out of the woods at full-speed. Simultaneously, they ram the car on the side with a massive blow.

My body jerks left and right like a rag-doll as the world spins around me. My neck jerks violently and slams against the glass window. Now everything is completely black…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 37: THE DEAD END

(Narrator’s perspective)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The combined impact of all three wolves made the SUV flip several times. Now, it’s upside down and resting against a tree on the opposite side of the road. The metal on the right passenger side is smashed, the glass from the windows are scattered among the road, and the front of the car is steaming.

Inside the car, Daniel shakes his large hair and sprinkle glass particles everywhere. He has a gash over his right eyebrow that is starting to drip onto the ceiling. He gazes over at Eric, who seems to be highly disoriented. Eric then looks at Daniel. That’s when reality kicks in for the both of them.

“Everyone get on your feet now.” Daniel orders them urgently.

He struggles for a moment, trying to unbuckle his seat-belt. Suddenly, he sees tires stop loudly near the SUV. The steam from the engine makes it difficult to see outside, but he does manage to see boots walking towards them in a hurry. Everyone else is moaning and recovering.

Their minds are desperately trying to understand what just happened. Daniel yanks his seat-belt, breaking the clip, and then falls down head first. Daniel uses his arm strength to push the car door. The metal whines as he pushes with all of his might. He stops for a second, reaches his arm back, and thrust it forward. The door breaks off its hinges and flies back.

He crawls out and jumps to his feet, breathing heavily. He spots an old truck leaving the scene in a hurry. He wipes the blood from his eyebrow and surveys his surroundings with a defensive leer. Suddenly, Maria gets out and stands to her feet.

“You okay?” He asks her.

“Yeah, I’m fine.” She says while studying the area cautiously.

Eric leaps up with furious eyes and a tight fist.

“Where are they?!” Eric shouts through his bloody mouth while searching every angle.

Daniel concentrates his eyes into the woods, but they are nowhere to be found.

“They’re gone.” Daniel informs them.

“Those fucking cowards!” Eric shouts angrily.

Jessica emerges from the wreck. Her face is twisted with aggression. Daniel looks over his shoulder at them.

“Where’s Courage?” Daniel asks.

He sees Jason walking around the SUV. There’s no anger or no hatred in his eyes. His face is consumed in a void expression.

“Get Iva out, now.” He orders Jason while looking forward again into the deep woods.

He hears them scrambling around the car but it quickly stops. He looks behind himself at Jason, who hasn’t moved a muscle. Maria and Jessica are looking at Daniel with tears swelling in their eyes. Eric is kneeling down looking inside a shattered window. He stands and faces Daniel with a watery gaze.

Daniel then looks over at Jason again. Tears are starting to pour down Jason’s face. Daniel feels his aggression passing maximum.

“Where is Iva?” He asks Jason.

Jason starts to cry without responding.

“Where is Iva!?” He asks again.

He runs over to the SUV to check for himself. Daniel’s body hardens in a kneeling position when he finds an empty seat where Iva should be. He stands slowly to his feet, inhaling and exhaling deeply. Boom! He hits the car, leaving an indentation on the door. He paces left and right, appearing highly distressed. He freezes with his hands on his waist, looking at the ground.

“This shit is not happening right now.” Eric cries out.

“Mane, what do we do now?” Maria says in a low trembling voice.

He looks at her with uncertain eyes. He then shifts his harsh eyes to Eric.

“Aero, fly me home now.” He orders him.

“That’s like 6 miles. I can’t carry you that far bro.” Eric says in a trembling voice.

“Then go get the Charger, now.” He orders Eric.

Eric doesn’t hesitate. He swiftly squats down and leaps into the air. Now, he’s a giant eagle flying across the sky. He vanishes from their sight. Jessica follows behind him, bursting into a giant raven.

Daniel looks back at Jason and Maria who are holding each other, crying.

“I can’t believe this shit.” Jason whispers to Maria.

Daniel pulls out his cell-phone and press call. He waits for Kenya to pick up.

“Mom…..they got her. They got Iva. The Blaires got her.”

Kenya screams loudly through the phone. Daniel has to lift the phone from his ear until her screaming stops.

“Mom……listen, Aero and Raven are coming for the car…….mom, listen to me. I’ll get her back……….I swear to God, I’ll get her back.”

He hangs up the phone and puts his fist tightly against his lips. He starts to shake from the hatred boiling inside of him. Then he feels something that he’s not used to feeling; fear.

 

Meanwhile, Margie and Charles are at home waiting for Iva to arrive with the others. Her sister and brother-in-law are with them in their living room. They seem to be discussing something before the telephone start ringing. Margie stands and grabs the cordless phone off the table and answers…

“Dodson residence……Shiva, we’ve been waiting. Is everything okay?……….No? What’s going on?………..”

As Kenya deliver the terrifying news, Margie slowly turns to her husband. Her eyes broaden with fear. Charles can clearly see something is horribly wrong, especially when he see tears forming in her eyes.

“Oh my God.” She says automatically.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Charles asks his wife.

She doesn’t reply to him.

“I’ll call you back, Shiva.” She says into the phone.

She slowly sinks down into an armchair. Her eyes are burdened. Her sister and brother-in-law see the fear in her eyes.

“Honey, what did she say?” Charles asks again.

“Get the car ready.” She replies to her husband.

“Why?”

“Because all hell is about to break loose.”…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 38: THE FOOTAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank is sitting at his desk in the police department, going over some missing person’s reports. Jones approaches him in a hurry. Whatever it is, Jones seems very anxious to inform Frank about it. He taps on his shoulder to gather Frank’s attention.

“Frank, you gotta see this.” He tells him urgently.

A minute later, Frank goes into a dark office. The TV is running, but whatever is playing seems to be on pause. The paused video is black and white. The shot is a slanted angle of the University’s hallway.

“Check this out.” Jones says while grabbing the remote.

He fast-forwards through the video. Speedy images of students pass in and out of sight. Eventually, the multitudes disappear and only one person remains. It’s a young woman.

“Doesn’t she look familiar?” Jones asks Frank with suspicious eyes.

“Iva?” Frank thinks out loud.

“Bingo.” Jones replies. “But watch this.” He says while hitting the play button.

Frank watches his timid niece, with no sound, glancing at both ends of the hallway. He can tell she’s scared by the way her body is rocking back and forth. He continues to watch as she ducks to the ground. Then he sees two animals, one tiger and one wolf, jumping in midair and start to attack one another.

“Hold on one damn second….what the hell?” Frank blurts out shockingly.

He watches as the tiger thrust the wolf into a classroom door.

“Jesus Christ!” Frank blurts out.

“It gets better.” Jones says.

He fast-forwards through the video and presses play again. They both watch a black lion with three kids, enter a classroom. A moment later, a tiger goes into the classroom behind them.

“Iva ran into the classroom. A wolf knocked the damn door of its hinges.” Jones informs.

They continue to watch the footage until they see her with three young adults, two girls and one boy, leaving the class.

“And there she goes.” Jones says as he pause the video footage again.

He captures the image of Iva getting away with Maria, Eric, and Jessica.

“Hold on, zoom in.” Frank says.

Jones presses a button which focuses on the group. A light clicks on in Frank’s mind.

“I know those kids. I know all of them.”

“I guess we have a lot of questions to ask.” Jones verifies.

“A hell of a lot.” Frank confirms. “Who else know about this?”

“Just us.”

“Keep this between me and you, until we know what we’re dealing with here.”

“Alright, what’s our first stop?”

“First stop is bringing my niece in for questioning.”

Frank turns and leaves the office in a hurry. Jones follows his lead…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 39: MASTERMIND

 

 

 

 

 

 

My mind gradually emerges from unconsciousness. Everything around me is extremely blurry. I’m in a dark place. There’s this small spotlight shining down on me, and I can’t seem to move. All I can hear is dripping water at a close distance.

What happened? Where the hell am I?

I feel this constant thumping on the right side of my head, behind my eye. At last, my vision is perfectly clear. I see these old rusty pipes on the ceiling. It appears that I’m in a warehouse of some kind. A man is standing in front of me with his back turned.

He’s is cleaning something long and sleek on a wood table, I don’t know what though. There’s something on the wall over the table. It’s too dark to make out. I strain my eyes to see what it is. The wall is decorated in razor-sharp knifes, long blades, surgical tools, and other various weapons. I begin to wobble, trying to free myself from this bondage, yet I remain unable to move.

I feel my heart pounding forcefully against my rib-cage. I pause and look down at myself. I’m sitting in a wooden chair, tied down with braided rope. My forearms are strapped down on the armrest. At last, the mystery man rotates to me.

“Oh, you’re awake.” He says and lets out a creepy chuckle.

I freeze when I realize who is talking to me.

“Professor Nelson?” I blurt out confusingly.

He grins widely with a sinister smile and replies…

“Please, call me Hellhound.”

I immediately begin to scream at the top of my lungs.

“Help me! Someone help!”

He approaches me carrying a tight fist, which he throws at my face. First, I see a quick flash in my left eye before my head severely jerks right. Somehow, there’s two Professor Nelsons standing in front of me. I have to wobble my head in order to rid myself of the spinning feeling.

The merry-go-round gradually stops. My small headache has turned into a migraine. A moment later, I re-position my head center again. There’s a bad stinging sensation in my ear from the blow he delivered. Also, I can hear this buzzing sound in that ear. I stare back into his evil leer as my vision adjusts.

He raises his other fist. I shut my eyes tightly and brace my neck for the impact. My head whips violently, and now I must start from scratch. It takes a little longer to regain focus. This time I can taste blood on my tongue.

“No need to shout Ms. Hill. No one can hear you in this warehouse. I’ll let you scream all you want, when the time is right.”

“Why are you doing this?” I ask with my mind still spinning.

He breathes out heavily and leans back onto the desk.

“That should be self-explanatory by now. This is a war and you’re the enemy.”

He lets out a chuckle and picks up a pair of leather gloves from a table. He slips his hand into one glove.

“You know, when I killed Professor Grant, I thought I had you all to myself.” He pulls the bottom of the glove to make sure it’s on well. “But that fucking boy found out.” He sighs. “That day in class, when I asked you about Professor Grant’s behavior…” He slips on the other glove. “…I thought to myself, this girl is serious, she’s absolutely clueless. Of course, I found out about your mark that same day Grant did. When I convinced you to go to that park, I followed you. But as usual, that boy had to fuck up everything.”

He pulls the other glove firmly, making sure it’s on nice and tight, and intertwine his fingers.

“I know he’s been keeping an eye out for the Blaire family. But he always looks outside the box. Sometimes the truth is right there in front of you. It’s funny how a simple thing like changing your last name can throw someone off. I would like to thank my brother, Cornelius, for playing along so well. He did a fantastic job. He made his big brother very proud.”

He lets out another chuckle then turns away towards the desk.

“But he told me he’d warned you. He said that you would run into a dead-end…” He starts to search through his weapons. “…and you have.” He laughs again but this time his voice sounds demonic.

“Oh, and when I sent you the text, I knew you would fall for it. So, I had them total the car for me. And I swooped by to give you a ride to my fun-house. Oh, look what I have here.”

He turns to me with a camcorder pointed.

“Say hello.” He smiles again. “We’re going to make a movie, starring you. We’re going to call it “The gruesome death of Iva Hill”.

He places the camera on the desk and positions it until it faces me.

“There, that’s perfect.” He says satisfied.

“Please, don’t do this.” I burst into pleading tears abruptly. “Please, please, please.” I can’t seem to stop crying as I plead for my life.

“Don’t waste your breath.” He says as he folds his arms and leans against the desk again.

“I’ve heard these pleas before. I find them rather pitiful than sad.” He then rubs his chin and squints at me, as if he just realized something.

He then points at me.

“You remind me of my first victim. I knew a girl. She was this beautiful brunette who lived next door to me. Her name was Grace. I was twelve at the time. I liked her.” He smiles again but weakly. “Well, let’s not beat around the bush, I liked her a lot. One day, I asked her on a date and she said no…” He looks at me and his smile falls flat, yet his eyelids expand. “…and I didn’t take it very well.” He begins to speak in a creepy, lifeless, way. “So one day, after school, she took a short cut through the woods. I followed her.” He begins to approach me extra slowly, trying his best to act out the scenario. “I knew that it was the time to act, so I did.” He puts a fist up into the air, near his face. “I picked up a rock the size of my fist and I crept up behind her, quietly.” He extends his fist back.

I feel my heart-rate picking up as he silently tip-toe closer to me.

“And I got close to her. So close, I can smell her apple scented perfume. Then I called her name and she turned. I watch her beautiful smile twist into terror. And then…” He swiftly throws his fist at me. “Boom…!” He stops his fist near my face.

My body flinches hard. He laughs in a gloomy, dark, voice again and stands straight.

“I hit the bitch hard. She was a stubborn one who didn’t want to die. I hate stubborn victims.” He shakes his head while sucking his teeth. “They’re like a…” He moves his neck around. “…annoying tag on a shirt.” He walks back to the table and leans against it again. “She pleaded and begged. And I thought to myself, I just busted this bitch head open, and she believes I’m going to stop now?” He shakes his head, and strangely enough, it’s as if he feels bad for that girl. “It’s a shame, you know. If she wasn’t so damn stubborn, she would’ve at least had an open casket.” He explodes into a dark sinister laugh. “She was screaming and yelling.” He continues to laugh. “I then pounded her face in with that rock. Needless to say, she wasn’t pretty anymore.” He slaps his knee as he continues to laugh his hardest.

The laughter fades, eventually.

“Well enough talk, time to go to work.” He turns toward the table again.

He starts to mumble a melody to himself as he looks through his tools. My heart-rate skyrockets. I can feel my body reach over one-hundred degrees, but at the same time, I’m cool from sweating so profusely. I begin to sob again when I see him turning around.

He has something in his hand. It’s a small piece of metal. He slips the piece of metal over his glove.

“I think we’ll start today with some warm-ups.” He walks over to me with a hellish look in his eyes. “You took that first punch like a champ. Let’s see how you hold up to……brass knuckles.”

“Please, I…” Before I finish I feel my head jerk left, extremely hard.

All I heard was the sound of metal colliding into flesh. My ears are now ringing, and there’s a terrible pain on my face; like a thousand bees are stinging me all at once. I try to center my head but my neck is too numb. Everything starts to blackout again. Professor Nelson helps me regain consciousness by tapping hard on my face. Suddenly, two Professor Nelsons become one again.

“Hey, hey, I’m not done with you yet.” He says to my face. “Are you missing any teeth?” He shifts my limped head center again and digs his fingers into my mouth. “Nope, no missing teeth, damn, that’s too bad.”

I then feel this warmth flowing down from my nose.

“Broken nose. That’s one point for me.” He says like a game-show host. “By the way, you can thank Jessica for that one. Someone has to pay for my niece’s broken nose.”

He walks back over to his equipment and tosses the brass-knuckles on the table.

“I love games.” He says as he looks through his large selection of weapons.

“Actually, it’s quite an obsession. Life itself is a game of chess. One person makes a decision and there is an outcome. Mane knows that now…and I beat him in the board game and in real life. Now, you have to pay for his loss.”

He picks up a hammer and holds it in the air, studying it. Fear hits me hard again.

“Nah.” He puts it back down on the table.

He picks up a long blade and studies it. A thought lingers in his mind, but then he places it back on the table.

“I know.” He says in a twisted, humorous, way.

He holds up an aluminum baseball-bat.

“I want to play a little game. I haven’t played it in a while. There’s a door outside this one. If you find it, you win.” He pauses to think about what he’d said. “But you won’t win.” He assures me. “And if you lose…well, you get the idea.”

He waves the bat across his face.

“I call this game, “I smash in Iva’s skull with my baseball-bat”.” He says and then ponders about something. “Sorry, I’m still working on the title. I’ve never been good with titles.”

He lowers the bat at his side and grabs a long knife off the table. He walks over to me, and I begin to panic like a madman. He points the blade between my eyes. The razor-sharp tip is sparkling in the light.

“Don’t make any sudden moves. Or else I’ll cut your fucking throat.”

My body tenses up like a statue. I look out the corner of my eye as he walks behind me. I can feel my nerves tingling at the tip of my fingers. The ropes loosen off my body. He pulls the ropes off of me and throws them to the side, but then he puts his knife close to my face again.

“No sudden moves or I’ll shove this blade through your face.”

I watch him as he cuts through the braided ropes easily like a knife to butter. Finally, my left hand is free. He then he frees my right, shortly after. He quickly grabs my shirt with the tip of the blade pointing between my eyes. I go cross eyed looking at it.

“No sudden moves.” He warns me again.

He grips the back of my hair, forcefully, and escorts me to a rusted door. He pulls the door open, and then he pushes me into this white hallway. I look up and see these construction lights hanging from rusty pipes. I look down at my shoes and notice some maroon paint underneath them.

It’s the letter, “T”. I quickly realize that I’m standing on the giant word; “START”.

“Beautiful isn’t it? I created this maze myself.” He tells me. “I guess this is where I wish you good luck…”

Instinct kicks in. I push his hand away and kick him as hard as I can. The kick lands in between his legs. I notice the bat falling from his hand, so I quickly pick it up off the floor and take a swing. The bat collides into his arm. This causes his knife to fall down. I swing again, but he leans back and dodges my swing.

I swing again, but he catches the bat with one hand and slaps me, forcefully, across the face. I fall back onto the cold floor. He smiles brightly at me and slaps the baseball-bat onto his palm.

“Looks like we have a fighter. That’s more like it. I’ll still give you a ten second head start.” He says to me, excitedly.

In a last desperate attempt to survive, I begin to cry.

“Please, don’t do this.” I burst into a crying plea.

“Nine…” He continues. “…eight, seven….”

My mind switches to secondary-drive. I quickly stand and dart down the hallway, running as fast as I can. I make it to the end and see another long corridor at my left, so I run in that direction. There’s another right at the end, so I quickly dash in that direction without thinking twice. As I run, I hear Professor Nelson yell, “Let the games begin”.

I feel another dose of fear and adrenaline shoot through my veins. I make it to the end of the hall and turn right without hesitating. As I’m running, I see him leap from around a corner in the distance with a blood-thirsty look on his face.

“Boo!” He yells down the hall at me.

I look left and see another long hallway, so I take off running again. I make it to the end of the long hallway and find another right. I take a second to use the wall to catch my balance and my breath. A second later, I begin running again. At the end of this corridor, I catch myself in a debate.

It’s a three way intersection.

“It’s time for sudden-death!” His voice echoes from every direction.

My mind says left so I go left. I can feel myself getting lightheaded and my breathing is starting to become uncontrollable, yet I keep my legs in constant motion. I make it to the end. Then I realize it’s a fucking dead-end. I collapse against the wall and begin to sob.

Don’t quit…I keep telling myself, but my body is beginning to rebel. I begin to think about my friends. And that makes me weep, badly. I can’t die, not like this. Come on Iva, come on.

I inhale deeply and burst into a sprint, making my way down the opposite end. I push myself to the edge of my limits and exceed them. I can see the wall coming up. It’s getting closer and closer. At last, I reach it. Oh no…It’s another corner. I’m trapped.

I begin to sob. I feel all over the wall for some kind of door or opening, but it’s completely flat. I can’t die like this. They say your life flashes before your eyes before you die. Not really, it’s a lot slower and more enjoyable. I guess that helps you savor those special moments you had with your loved ones.

Most of my flashbacks consist of the recent events that happened to me. For instance, my pillow fight with my mom is my first flashback, cliff-diving with Aero is second, watching Jason and Eric cheering on their favorite player is third, going fishing with Mane is forth, and even letting Jessica and Maria give me a make-over is the last one.

I’ve learned more over the past couple of days than I learned my entire life. But the most important lesson I’ve learned is living your life to the fullest, no matter if death is coming today or tomorrow. Because in the end, death will come either way, so why not? So many years I was dying on the inside. Constantly, I was trying to be like everyone around me, instead of just being myself. Like a friend once told me, “There is no such thing as normal”. So, I took a swing at life. I was no longer waiting to die. I was finally living my life. Besides, most people are living, but they’re not alive. Who really wants to live like that? A life that’s already dead is not worth anything. However, I’m proud to say I took a bold stand and lived a life worth dying for.

I push myself off the wall to start running again. But I have already lost the game. The bat is coming toward my face so fast that I can’t do anything. I can’t gasp, scream, duck, or even blink. All I see is Professor Nelson swinging the bat before everything goes void…

 

(Narrator’s perspective)

Nelson’s flawless hit causes Iva’s jaw to shatter, and her skull to crack. Now, there’s blood splattered on the wall from the blow. As Iva’s body lye limped on the floor, a trail of blood from her head starts to run towards Professor Nelson’s boots. He walks close to her and pokes her quivering body with the bat.

“I win.” He says while keeping that twisted smile.

He looks down at the trail of blood oozing towards him.

“Look what you did…you made a mess of the place.” He laughs uncontrollably for a lingering moment.

When the laugh dies away, he lifts the bat again. This time he lifts it over his head, preparing to deliver the final blow to her skull.

“Thanks for the fun, Miss Hill, but I have to go get some more contestants.”

Suddenly, before he’s able to smash her head in, a powerful push collides into his back that sends him crashing through the wall…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 40: LAST FIGHT BEGINS

 

 

 

 

 

 

Professor Nelson’s body is lying belly-flat on the floor with his palms toward the ceiling. His eyelids are halfway closed, his face is resting sideways, and his mouth is opened at an awkward angle. Most of his back is covered in a white dust. Large portions of drywall are surrounding his motionless body.

Dust from the drywall is lingering in the air. A moment goes by and he still remains out cold. His eyes open wide and his mind begins the updating process. As he pushes himself onto his knees, he feels this weightlessness in his head. He begins to shake out the dizziness.

He hears a noise in the background. It sounds like a cluster of panicky voices coming from his right, so he quickly glances over at a wall with a giant hole. Sparks from a damaged electrical wire erupt from the crumbled wall. Inside are a group of four, highly disturbed, individuals. It’s Jason, Eric, Maria, and Daniel.

“Oh God, please!” Jason cries out in anguish at Iva. “No…no…no.”

“Oh fuck, she’s losing a lot of fucking blood.” Eric erupts with tears.

“She’s fucking convulsing.” Maria cries out. “We gotta get her out of here.”

Jason lifts her head carefully off the floor, Eric and Daniel has her midsection, and Maria takes her legs. Her skull is dripping blood and her body is still trembling.

“Get Iva outta here.” Daniel orders them with watery eyes.

“What about you…?” Jason asks.

“I said go!” Daniel shouts at them.

Together, the three of them carry her body away. Daniel looks at Iva’s blood on his hand. He then closes his hand slowly, creating a knuckle-bulging fist.

“It’s too late. She’s good as dead.” Professor Nelson says as he pushes himself off the floor. “You hear me!”

Daniel slowly rotates his body to face his opponent.

“Acknowledge me when I’m speaking to you, boy.”

“You and I both know…I didn’t come here to talk.” Daniel says while walking toward him.

“Then what are you waiting for? Come on!”

Daniel lifts his leather boot and steps through the opening in the wall. His walk quickly converts into a jog, then his jog converts into a run, and his run becomes a full-throttle dash. Professor Nelson folds his fingers into a tight ball as well. Daniel extends his fist all the way back, and Professor Nelson does the same.

Both of their punches lands directly in their faces. The sound of their knuckles impacting bounces off the walls. Immediately after the first blow, they return with another, then another, then another, until they find themselves in a swinging bout. Each punch creates a nasty slapping sound. They swing and swing like two brawlers in a street fight, or two boxers going head to head in the final ten seconds.

Blood begins to stain their knuckles, yet they show no signs of surrendering. Daniel catches him with a flawless right, which lands at the bottom of his ear near his jaw bone. Professor Nelson’s body stumbles sideways and his face smashes into the wall. He quickly lifts his head from the skull print, but it’s too late for a counter attack. Daniel immediately takes advantages of his dizzy opponent.

Professor Nelson quickly cowers behind his forearms trying to protect his face. Daniel throws a bunch of hard jabs. His hard punches cause blood to splatter from Nelson’s mouth. As a last resort, he throws his dizzy body at Daniel and tries a manual take down. But he quickly finds out that he’s no match for Daniel’s strength.

He grabs Professor Nelson by his shirt, puts his other hand behind his neck, and then Professor Nelson’s feet go skyward. He gets body slammed to the floor, hard. Daniel gets on top of him and pins down his body. Professor Nelson tries his best to throw a couple of blows but they land mildly. Daniel grabs his wailing arms and pins them against his chest. Daniel raises his forearm and slams it onto Professor Nelson’s face. His head bounces of the floor, forcefully.

Daniel delivers another forearm to his face, and then he does it again, then again, then again, until his face is smeared with blood. Professor Nelson smiles at him, which reveals a mouthful of missing teeth.

“I cracked that bitch head open real good, didn’t I?” He says with bloody spit spraying out of his mouth.

His words only fuels Daniel’s killer rage. He throws a monstrous forearm into his face again. As a result, you can hear a bone in Professor Nelson’s nose snap. Daniel grabs him by his neck and proceeds to squeeze with all his might.

“You’ll die for what you have done.” Daniel replies through his bloody teeth.

A small stream of blood flows from Professor Nelson’s nose and drips on the floor. As Daniel continues to choke him, a thick vein starts to bulge from Professor Nelson’s forehead. But then he manages to gain control over one of his arms. He quickly grips Daniel’s shirt and jerk his body forward into a hard head-butt. His forehead hits Daniel right between the eyes, which causes him to stumble backwards.

Professor Nelson pulls his left leg back and kicks Daniel’s chest with his steel-toe boot. The kick forces the air from his lungs. Daniel’s heavy frame falls backward on the floor. Daniel bites hard on his teeth and groans in pain. Professor Nelson sits up on the floor, holding his neck, and gets into a kneeling position. He spits a mouth full of blood and teeth onto the floor. Daniel rises on his knees as well.

He collects some blood in his mouth and spits it on the floor too. They eye one another and instantly their expressions switch to kill mode again. They watch each other rise up off the floor. Their breathing grow heavier and heavier as they stand. They begin to breathe loudly through their teeth as they curl their fingers into a fist again.

All of a sudden, they burst into a yelling sprint. They both leap into the air, flying at each other head on. Fabric explodes everywhere as two beasts collide together with a thunderous impact. They slam onto the floor; unsettling the dust. They scuffle monstrously, snapping their teeth and swinging their sharp claws.

As they scuffle, intensely, the floors and walls are being covered in claw prints. Then they both break apart. Mane is low to the ground with his back muscles bulging, ready to pounce at any moment. Hellhound, who is covered in bloody claw marks, is standing with his claws in the air.

They start to circle each other in a slow pace, and just like that, they’re back at it again. Hellhound charges first and Mane swiftly stands onto his back paws. They latch onto one another. Mane somehow manages to sink his teeth into Hellhound’s upper shoulder, and Hellhound is digging his claws into Mane’s back. They begin to snarl even deeper.

Hellhound steps forward, pushing Mane backwards. Mane returns with a push of his own and sends Hellhound hitting the wall. Mane starts to shake his head violently. Hellhound squeals in the air like a dying pig. Mane leans his weight harder, which makes Hellhound’s backside rub against the wall. A trail of blood smears on the white paint as Hellhound’s body gets pushed along the surface.

Hellhound stumbles and falls onto his backside. Mane is still holding a tight grip on his shoulder. He begins to shake his head again, making Hellhound squeal loudly in pain. He swings his long arms, digging his claws into Manes back. Mane flinches and jumps back. Hellhound swiftly stands to his feet and breaks into a run. He leaps through the giant hole in the wall and looks down at the floor. He sees a trail of blood leading down the hall.

He looks behind himself and see Mane charging. He breaks into a sprint, tracing the dots of red on the floor. After a couple lefts and rights, he sees a large pair of metal doors. The door has big red letters that spells out the word, “FINISH”. He rams through the door and lands onto rocky gravel.

He watches as a black Charger and a red SUV zooms off down the road, flicking gravel. He snarls through his cracked teeth and starts to pursue them. Mane leaps out of the warehouse and sees Hellhound fleeing the scene, so he too beings a pursuit of his own…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 41: LOOKING FOR IVA

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frank speeds down the street and stops in front of his childhood home. He sees his sister’s van parked in the driveway.

“I’ll be right back.” The words hurry out of his mouth as he speeds out the car and up the porch steps.

His partner waits patiently in the front passenger’s seat. Frank knocks fast and loud on the front door. Julia comes and opens the door.

“Frankie hi…” She can’t finish her sentence due to Frank barging his way into the house.

He has no time for manners. His intentions are to find Iva and bring her in for questioning.

“Is Iva home?” He asks Julia with rushed words.

“No, she’s at her friends. Why, what’s going on?”

She is beginning to become worried by Frank’s hasty behavior.

“I’ll tell you about it later.” Frank explains.

“Is she in some kind of trouble?”

Frank ignores Julia’s question and rushes through the living room. He opens Iva’s bedroom door but finds no one there. When he realizes her room is lifeless, he hurries back into the living room again.

“How long has she been gone?” He asks his sister.

“Since yesterday.”

“Where did she go?” He questions her hastily.

“She’s at Maria’s house.”

“That’s all I need to know.” Frank says while heading towards the front door in a hurry.

Frank’s behavior has made Julia fear stricken. She chases him down and pulls his shoulder. He does a complete turn.

“I demand you tell me what’s going on.” Julia says with authority.

“I don’t know yet Julie, but I’m about to find out.”

He then speeds out the house and back into his car. She watches as he skids backward and shoots off down the street like a bolt of lightning.

“What’s the plan?’ Jones asks Frank in the car.

“We go find her friends. And then we find her.”

“Did you ask for their number? Maybe she has it.”

“No, if they’re up to something, we don’t want them to know where coming. We’ll stop by the school and ask for their address.”

“Alright, let’s do it.” Jones says while placing a siren on top of the car.

The sirens blare as they make their way toward the expressway…

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 42: HIGHWAY TO HELL

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maria is behind the wheel of the Charger, Jason is in the backseat embracing Iva’s body, and Eric is in the burgundy SUV behind them. Shortly, they arrive onto an on-ramp. Eric’s cell-phone starts ringing in his pocket. He leans over and digs into his pocket to retrieve it. He takes a quick glance at the screen to see who is calling him. It’s his sister.

“Hello.” He answers with one hand on the steering-wheel and the other holding the phone to his ear.

“Aero, did you find her?” Jessica asks in another vehicle.

Their mother is behind the wheel of the car and their father is in the front passenger seat. The two of them immediately begin to listen closer to the conversation Jessica is having with Eric.

“Yes, we found her.” Eric replies into the phone.

“Is she okay?” Jessica asks impatiently.

“No, she’s dying.” Eric says with a burning throat.

“Oh shit.” Jessica blurts out.

Concern immediately shrouds Jessica. Margie notices her daughter’s worried expression in the rear-view mirror.

“What did he say?” Margie asks Jessica in a frightened tone of voice.

“He said she’s dying.” Jessica says with watery eyes.

“Oh, Christ.” Charles says.

“Rave, listen.” Eric continues his conversation in the SUV. “Meet us at Olivia’s. We may still have a chance.”

“I know. We’re heading their now.” Jessica replies.

Suddenly, something crashes down on top of the SUV. Eric eyes widen with shock by the loud thud.

“Hold on.” Eric says with a cautious voice as he looks upward at the roof.

“What’s going on? Aero?” Jessica speaks into the phone, not knowing that Eric has switched his attention to something else.

The SUV lifts again. Then he sees Hellhound landing on top of the Charger in front of him. He’s jumping from car to car.

“Damn it.” Eric utters as he watches Hellhound leap onto the roof of the Charger.

“Aero, what’s going on?” Jessica says loudly through the phone.

“Rave, I’ll see you in a couple.” Eric replies and tosses the phone sideways on the passenger seat.

Meanwhile, as Maria is driving, she looks up at the ceiling. The roof of the car is now slightly lowered.

“It’s him.” Jason warns Maria from the backseat.

The top of the car receives another blow and then another. The blows are much smaller and concentrated. Hellhound is on his knees punching the roof of the car. Jason watches on as the middle of the roof bents inward.

“Damn. Hold on!” Maria warns urgently.

She swerves the car left and right in attempt to sling Hellhound off the roof. He falls belly-flat on top of the car, latching onto each side so he doesn’t fall off. A moment later, she retains control over the vehicle and listens, attentively, for any sign of him.

“Is he still up there?” She asks Jason in a worried voice.

They continue to listen for any sign of him.

“I don’t know.” Jason reply.

Out of nowhere, a hand comes through the roof. The hand is carrying five sharp nails. Jason leans away as much as he can to avoid his nails.

“Get the knife. Get the knife.” Jason shouts to Maria.

Maria is now concentrating hard to multitask. She’s using one hand to drive and another to open the glove compartment. After a couple of failed attempts, she finally manages to open it. Inside the compartment, she finds what she needs. It’s a small bladed knife. The only problem is her arms are way too short to grab it.

She has to take a moment to give the road her undivided attention as she swerves around a family van. Suddenly, Hellhounds claws penetrate the through Jason’s shirt. Jason uses his left arm to support Iva’s head and the other to push Hellhound’s nails away.

“Hurry Athena.” Jason cries out to Maria in the backseat of the car.

The pressure is on now and Maria can definitely feel it breathing down her neck. She attempts to reach for the knife a second time. Hellhound is now forcing his long nails into Jason’s skin.

“Almost there.” Maria says through her teeth as she stretches her hand as far as she possibly can.

Hellhound’s nails are now breaking the barrier of his skin and seeping into his tense muscle fibers.

“I can’t hold it much longer.” Jason shouts to Maria, using all of his strength to push back Hellhound’s arm.

Maria takes both of her hands off the wheel and grabs the blade, quickly retracts her body, and swerves back into the lane.

“AHHHHHHHHH!” Jason shouts in horrible pain.

Maria reaches back and thrust the blade into Hellhound’s forearm. Hellhound shouts in pain. He snatches his hand back and leaps off onto an eighteen wheeler next to them. He stands on top of the large truck and examines his new wound. Blood begins to leak from the cut. This only makes him even angrier than before.

Meanwhile, back in the Charger…

“Courage, are you okay?” Maria asks in a timid voice.

“I’m okay, I’m good. It’s just a flesh wound.” Jason says while catching his breath.

They both look around again for any sight of Hellhound.

“Is he gone?” Maria says with cautious eyes.

They both look around at the cars passing by.

“I think so.” Jason concludes.

They both take a moment to maintain a steady heartbeat.

“How she’s doing back there?” Maria asks.

Jason examines Iva’s bleeding.

“She’s still bleeding a lot.” He informs Maria with tears.

Maria relieves some stress by taking a couple of deep breaths.

“Well at least we lost him.” She adds, still sounding a bit fearful.

As they pass the eighteen-wheeler beside them, Maria sees Eric in the far left lane, waving for their attention. He’s saying something but she can’t read his lips. He’s seems to be pointing at something in front of him. Maria rolls down the driver’s window to hear him clearly.

“What?’ Maria yells out the window at Eric.

“I said, watch out for the pipes.” Eric shouts back at her through the strong wind current.

“What pipes?” Maria shouts back.

“Oh shit.” Jason says behind Maria as he spots what Eric is gesturing to.

Maria turns her head to the road again. As a black truck moves into another lane in front of them, she sees the thing Eric is warning her about. Hellhound is standing on a cargo truck about fifty yards away. This truck is transporting dozens of gigantic steel cylinders. Each of them are weighing over 300lbs. Hellhound is using all the strength he can muster to pull the last chain keeping them intact.

“You have to be kidding me.” Maria says with panic.

The last chain holding them breaks apart. One by one, the colossal pieces of iron rolls off the truck and then smash onto the busy highway. Hellhound leaps onto another vehicle just in time to watch his deathly orchestra take place before his very own eyes. The impact of the iron hitting the concrete ignites sparks. The first cylinder finds its first victim, a red sedan. The sedan’s entire front-end crumbles like aluminum foil, and the car itself somersaults into the air.

“Shit.” Eric says as the car lands directly in front of him, flipping over and over again.

Eric dodges it with the SUV just in time. Maria also veers left to dodge one of the colossal pieces of metal. Cars of various colors and sizes start to tumble onto the highway. Hellhound sees his opportune moment to attack. He jumps from one car to another and then lands on top of the Charger again.

“Not again.” Jason says with worry.

Hellhound reaches over the side of the car and opens the driver’s door in attempt to grab Maria. Then the driver’s door is impacted by a metal cylinder, which breaks the door of its hinges. Now, Maria is driving without a driver’s door. This gives Hellhound the advantage he needs. Hellhound leans over and tries to grab her from the driver’s side. Hellhound quickly retracts his arms and notices, yet again, he’s been stabbed by some type of blade. Now, his pissed levels has hit an all-time high.

He then uses both of his hands to dig into the roof of the car. Using his incredible strength, he peels back the roof like a can of tuna. Maria is startled to see Hellhound looking down at her through the roof of the car. She can read his eyes like a book. His intentions are to kill. He reaches a hand down and rips her seat-belt off her shoulder.

“Stab him.” Jason shouts to her.

The knife is next to her in the passenger seat. Maria eyes it. She reaches for it without hesitation and grabs it, ready to slice and dice. She then dodges a flipping car in front of her, nearly veering off onto the grass, and straightens the car again. As she focuses on the road, her weapon slips from her grasp and lands onto the floor of the vehicle.

“Shit.” She blurts out.

Hellhound grunts while he pulls the roof back even more.

“Stab me will ya?” He says to Maria as he reaches in and grabs the back of her neck. “Say bye-bye, bitch.” Hellhound tells her.

Hellhound does something completely unexpected. With all of his power, he ejects Maria from the car; launching her across the air into traffic. She is thrown on top of a sedan, but her body rebounds off and then lands onto the tail of a truck. She’s holding onto the back for dear life.

Now, the Charger is drifting off into a potential disaster with no person to steer it away…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 43: THE INCREDIBLE EAGLE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hellhound jumps off the Charger and onto the top of a bus. He watches on as the Charger drift into another lane with no driver to direct its course away from destruction.

“Ha! Ha!” He shouts to the car in a victorious tone.

“ATTENA!” Jason shouts, defenseless, from the back passenger seat.

Eric saw everything three lanes over in the SUV.

“Oh shit!” Eric says loudly.

He opens the driver’s door, takes in one last deep breath and says to himself…

“It’s all or nothing.”

He slams on the breaks hard and swiftly rotates the steering-wheel at a 180 degree angle. This causes the tires to burn massively on the highway. Most importantly, the momentum of a vehicle going 65 miles per hour and stopping suddenly creates a cannonball-affect. As Eric is catapulting out of the SUV, he explodes into a giant eagle, dispersing clothes and skin into the air.

His unique animal senses allow him see things at a slower rate, like a movie playing in slow motion. Now, it’s as if time has slowed down to a minimum. He banks hard right through the air as the SUV flips behind him. He flaps his wings to pick up some well-needed speed. Although time is very slow, it’s running out for the Charger. It’s about forty feet in front him, drifting off into another lane.

The test of time is not the only obstacle he must overcome in this situation. His first obstacle is a silver sedan. He flaps his wings another time to help him gain enough speed to soar around the front of the vehicle. As Aero goes by, both the driver’s and passenger’s face progressively form an astonished expression. Slowly, their appalled eyes follow him as he continues his obstacle course.

Immediately after flying pass the silver sedan, he spots a metal cylinder bouncing off the ground.

It’s heading his way. The blow would shatter every bone in his body, causing him to die from eternal bleeding as an end result. With the help of his uncanny reflex, he rolls in midair and dodges the metal by mere inches.

A blue compact car takes the blow instead. Gradually, the front folds in like a can, and all of the windows of the vehicle shatter. Aero is able to see every particle of glass dispersing into the air. A glimmer of light burst from the bottom of the car as the cylinder forces its way through the internal gears. This small light grows, sluggishly, into an explosion; causing Aero’s white feathers to reflect orange. Nuts and bolts scatter among the air as Aero continues his mission.

He sees another cylinder flying at him at a deadly speed. But there’s a problem, this time it’s unavoidable. Instinct once again takes over Aero. He then flaps his wings hard to increase speed. His timing couldn’t be more perfect.

He then straightens his body as much as he can. This technique sends him going straight through the steel cylinder’s opening and out the other end flawlessly. Now, the Charger is closing in; only a few yards to go. Unfortunately for him, he’s not yet done. There’s one last obstacle. It’s a cylinder, much bigger than the others, heading in the path of the Charger.

He begins to transform back into human form slowly but surely. Feathers burst into the air. Time is beginning to speed up again, gradually, as the feathers comes flying off of Aero.

Time finally reaches its normal speed again. Eric’s body lands across the driver’s and passenger’s seat of the Charger. Using reflex, he quickly sits up and positions himself as the driver. In front of him he sees the large cylinder flying at him at a high speed. He quickly switches gears, swerves the car out of the middle lane and into the right.

The large cylinder misses the Charger by mere inches. An eighteen-wheeler takes the entire blow. The result of the cylinder’s massive blow is nothing short of catastrophic. The power of the hit makes the front tires explode off the truck. The aftermath of the cylinder forcing the thirty ton truck to stop abruptly causes a shift in its momentum.

The large truck flips. Then it crashes onto its back, sprinkling glass and flinging metal across the highway.

Hellhound is still standing on a bus two lanes over. He witnessed the entire rescue play out with his very own eyes. The look on his face is complete and total bewilderment. He says the first thing that comes to his confused mind.

“Impossible.” He utters this with a stupefied look.

Although it seemed like forever, Eric saving the Charger only took about 3.5 seconds to do.

“Holy shit!” Eric says while he regains control of the car.

 

In this exact moment, Frank is speeding on the highway with the sirens blaring. But they’re heading towards Glenworth while Maria, Jason, and Eric are heading towards Rochester. They cross paths and Frank witness the Charger speeding by them over the highway dividers.

“I’ll be damned.” Frank says. ‘That looks like Daniel’s car.”

“Take this exit.” Jones point out.

“I’m on it.” Frank says while whipping the car onto an exit ramp.

As Frank takes the highway exit, Eric is trying to calm his adrenaline-rush in the Charger.

“You okay.” Eric asks Jason in the back.

“Dude, what just happened?” Jason says awestruck and totally confused.

“Reflex.” Eric replies.

Yet again, Hellhound jumps onto the Charger.

“He just won’t quit.” Eric says.

Maria is still holding on the tail end of the truck as it slows down and pulls over to the side of the road. When it stops, Maria drops off the truck. The driver of the truck gets out and rushes towards the back with concern.

“Oh my God. Are you alright?”

The man jumps back as a cheetah leaps pass him; gunning down the highway. Athena crushes the 55 miles an hour speed limit. She pushes herself, breaking a speed close to 80 miles an hour. While she zooms through traffic, Hellhound begins his next assault on the Charger. This time he punches the back window, cracking it.

He hits it again, sprinkling glass on Jason and Iva.

“Oh shit bro, we’re done!” Jason shouts and holds Iva’s body closer for protection.

Eric looks into the side mirror and sees this cheetah quickly approaching.

“No we’re not.” Eric replies with confidence.

Jason glances over his shoulder and sees Hellhound’s angry eyes looking back at him.

“End of the line.” Hellhound says while reaching in to grab him.

“Leave them alone!’ A voice calls out through the wind.

Hellhound looks over his shoulder and sees Athena sprinting his way. She leaps up and pounces on his back, clinging onto his shoulder with her sharp teeth. He squeals in pain and falls off the Charger with Athena latched on. Together, they both tumble forcefully across the thick grass off the road. The Earth eventually stops spinning around them. Now, both of them are motionless on the ground.

Athena stands up sluggishly and positions herself to fight. Hellhound stands, shakes the dizzy sensation away, and start swiping his claws. Athena dodges the series of swipes.

“Stay still.” He shouts angrily while swiping faster and faster with no luck striking her.

She’s way too fast for Hellhound. She’s so fast, that he completely loses her during his air fight. This only adds fuel to his fire. It’s as if she just vanished while he was attempting to swipe at her. He swiftly turns around to look for her.

Instead, he finds the inside of her mouth. She latches onto his nose. He desperately starts swinging her around, trying to make her loosen the grip. He uses his long nails to dig into her rib-cage. The pain forces her to let go. He then tosses her through the air, causing her body to collide into the side of a tree.

“You little bitch.” Hellhound says as he approaches her.

He kicks her, forcing her onto her backside, and stomps his large foot onto her chest. This forces the air from her lungs.

“A shame, you was one of my favorite students.” He says while applying pressure.

The pressure is instantly unbearable to Athena. In desperation, she uses her claws to dig into his calf muscles. But this only gives him more motivation to add weight. More air is constantly being forced out. Hopefully, Athena has not taken her last breath…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 44: MORE TROUBLE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hellhound forcefully applies more pressure to Athena’s chest. Progressively, her clawing on Hellhound’s leg gradually ceases due to the lack of oxygen in her lungs. Hellhound watches on with gratified eyes while air slips away from her body.

“It’ll be over soon.” Hellhound whispers to her.

She depletes the last bit of air. This causes her head to fall back and her paws to limp over. Blackness overclouds Athena’s vision. Once again, Hellhound’s victorious moment is taken away as a black spot in the distance is seen out of the corner of his eye. This black spot is Mane.

He races toward them with vicious eyes. Hellhound expresses his dissatisfaction by mumbling something underneath his breath, angrily. He then switches from Mane to Athena again.

“Lucky you.” He tells Athena before he flees down the highway.

Air pours into Athena lungs after the pressure from Hellhound’s foot is removed. She breathes rapidly to catch up on the air she’d lost during her ordeal. Her breaths are so unstable that it causes her to cough. Mane comes to her aid.

“Athena!”

“Worry about Iva. I’ll be fine.” She says weakly between each heavy breath.

Mane snarls and takes off again, pursuing Hellhound more determined than before. Meanwhile, Eric finally eases of the gas when he sees the Rochester exit ramp coming into view. The car skids into a giant arch, and now he is driving 30 miles per hour in the downtown area. He skids to a rough halt when a yellow light switches red at an intersection. He looks over his shoulder at Iva.

“Is she still breathing?” Eric asks urgently.

“Yeah, but she’s losing a lot of blood.” Jason cries out to him. “It won’t stop coming out.”

Eric sees the blood dripping from her head, which is creating a small puddle on the floor.

“Fuck!” Eric blurts out. “This shit is not happening right now.” He shouts and releases his anger by slamming his palms onto the steering-wheel, forcefully.

As soon as the light switches green, Eric speeds off like a maniac. Shortly, the Charger slides to a halt in front of a high-rise apartment building. Eric and Jason leaps out of the car in a hurry. The trunk of the car opens and Eric runs his bare body to the trunk, and quickly throws on a pair of gray sweat pants.

Margie, who is highly hysterical, opens the entrance door and holds it. Jessica runs out the building and confronts them with intense concern in her eyes.

“Is she alive?” She cries out to them.

“Barely.” Eric says.

Eric and Jason open the car door and gently lift her body.

“Are you fucking serious…” Jessica cries out at the first sight of Iva’s current state. ‘What the fuck did they do to her?” She says with tears pouring down her face.

“Come on Rave, this is not the time for breaking down, help me with her body.” Jason orders her as they head towards the door.

In a timely, yet careful manner, they race to the building with her body. Jason is still supporting her head, Jessica has her midsection, and Eric has her legs. Margie grabs her chest, nearly fainting, when she sees Iva’s bleeding head and swollen face. A young couple walking down the sidewalk is laughing among themselves. They become statues, with shocked expressions, when they notice Iva’s body.

“Oh my God…” The woman says in awe.

The others hurry inside the building to see Charles, who is also completely distraught, reserving an elevator for them.

“Over here. Hurry!” He shouts to them while he keeps the elevator doors from closing.

While this is happening, Frank and his partner discovers the mass destruction Hellhound caused. The highway is covered in debris and pieces of twisted metal. They’re both amazed at the amount of devastation that was created.

“What the hell happened here?” Jones says as they drive slowly through the rubble.

Frank picks up the radio and places it at his mouth.

“Dispatch. There’s a huge car pileup on 590. Alert Rochester P.D. Send all units, possible casualties.”

“We will notify them.” A woman’s voice says through the static.

Shortly, Frank takes the off ramp toward the City of Rochester. They cruise gently through the downtown area, looking for any signs of potential danger. They cease the sirens as their black patrol car prowls through the city streets. Frank spots a group of people standing on a corner, talking very loudly. He halts at the corner next to the small gathering of gossipers.

“I’m telling you it was a lion. I saw it.” The man says in a panic-stricken tone of voice. “The damn thing ran right pass me a moment ago.”

“Sir…” Frank gathers the distraught man’s attention.

The man turns to Frank with panic still fresh in his eyes.

“…you said you saw a lion?” Frank asks.

“Yes, it ran pass me.” The panicked pedestrian informs Frank.

“Which way?’ Jones asks urgently.

“East Ave. near the corner of chestnut.” The man says while pointing up the road.

“Alright, thanks.” Frank says as he slams his foot on the accelerator.

As Frank speeds down the street in his car

 

The others, back at the apartment building, carefully walk sideways into the elevator with Iva’s body. Charles presses a button repeatedly until the doors slide close. There’s no mellow music playing in the background to soothe their ears from this dreaded noise. The only thing they hear, over sorrowful weeping, is Iva’s body trying to gasp for air. Then her body goes into a horrible tremor.

Margie flinches and turns away quickly. She covers her eyes, unwilling to watch her struggle to stay alive. Charles embraces his wife firmly in attempt to calm her unsteady emotions. The elevator reaches the fourth floor and stops.

“Shit.” Charles says lowly.

He positions himself in front of the elevator. The doors slide open and an elderly woman breaks a gentle smile.

“Going up dear?” She asks Charles.

“No, I’m sorry.” Charles responds as he presses the close button rapidly.

“Oh, okay.” The elderly woman replies.

Slowly her smile dissolves and a curious expression takes its place. She tilts her head sideways and stretches her neck, trying to glance around Charles. Just before the doors close, you can see shock forming on her face. Although it seemed like an eternity, the elevator finally reaches its long awaited destination. The elevator doors slide open and they all exit in a hurry.

Kenya, Olivia, and Jason’s parents are standing down the hall. They walk towards one another as fast as they can.

“Hurry, we don’t have time to waste.” Olivia pleads.

Before both groups are able to meet, an exit door between them explodes of its hinges. Everyone gasps when they realize who they’re face to face with. It’s Hellhound. He swiftly shifts his eyes to Iva’s body. He bends his knees in preparation to leap forward and finish what he started.

Before he’s able to attack, Mane leaps through the same doorway, colliding into Hellhound and breaking through a tenant’s door.

Together they tumble into someone’s living room and slam against a leather-sectional. The owner of the sofa, an older woman, can only scream in the hallway as they continue their scuffle. Their ongoing fight leads to the television set being knocked over, pictures on the walls falling to the floor, and finally, crashing through a coffee table.

Their bodies detach for a moment. They both take time to catch their breaths. Hellhound looks exhausted, yet Mane looks even worse.

“Looking tired boy.” Hellhound says between breaths.

“Tired? I can do this all day.” Mane replies weakly.

Mane charges at Hellhound and forces him backwards. Now, they are both heading toward the kitchen window.

 

Meanwhile, as this is going on, Frank and Jones find the Charger parked.

“Okay, we’ve got the car.” Frank utters.

“It looks empty.” Jones says.

“They’re around here somewhere.”

As soon as Frank completes this sentence, he hears the shattering of glass at a close distance. Then, out of the blue, Mane crashes onto the hood of their patrol car.

“HOLY SHIT!” Jones shouts at the top of his lungs.

They both quickly jump from their vehicle and whip out their guns. They discover a black lion lying, motionless, on the hood of their patrol car. They shift over to the Charger and see someone stretched-out on top of the roof.

”You’re alright?” Frank asks Jones with his heart pounding against his chest.

“I’m good.” Jones says between his unsteady breaths.

Frank looks around himself and notice pedestrians gawking in awe at what just happened.

“Everybody, get in doors, it’s not safe.” Frank yells to them urgently.

Frank points his gun at Mane and walks closer to him, one steady step at a time. He pokes Mane’s side with his gun twice and quickly jumps back, scared that the lion may attack.

“Go check on that guy.” Frank tells Jones.

Jones walks over to the body with his gun. He lowers his gun with his right hand and uses his left to tap the side of man’s torso. Jones is unaware that this man is not a man at all.

”Sir, are you okay?” Jones asks.

Jones cautiously maneuvers around the car and nudges on him again.

“Sir, can you hear me?” Jones asks.

When Hellhound lifts his face from the rubble, he realizes he’s not human.

“What the…?” Jones says in a frightened tone.

Hellhound cuts him off by swiping his gun from his hand. The gun slides onto the concrete sidewalk. Then Hellhound swiftly grabs Jones by his neck and pulls him close. Frank sees his partner in distress and immediately focuses his attention onto Hellhound.

“Jones!” Frank shouts out in distress.

Panicked, Frank points his gun at the creature. As he chokes Detective Jones, he gets off the car and stands to his feet. The pedestrians around the area gasp at the first sight of Hellhound’s bizarre appearance.

“Drop him!” Frank warns.

“Or what, Lancaster, you’ll shoot me?” Hellhound asks while lifting Jones off his feet with one arm.

He applies pressure on Jones’s neck. Frank mind is so awestruck, that he has no idea how to handle the situation. If he fires, he might hit his partner, but if he doesn’t, his partner will be strangled to death. It’s a hard decision to make.

“Time is ticking, Detective.” Hellhound says while holding Jones body in front of him.

“Shot em.” Jones uses his might to force the words from his mouth.

Frank is scared to death right now. He’s not scared for himself but for his dear friend. The indecisiveness is driving him mad.

“Say goodnight.” Hellhound says while squeezing Jones’s neck so hard that it snaps.

“NO!” Frank shouts.

Hellhound thrust Jones’s body at Frank like a rag-doll. Frank is hit hard. He falls on the ground, dropping his gun in the process. Using his training skills, Frank rolls on the ground, grabbing the gun, and fires three shots at Hellhound. But it’s too late. He has already made it around the corner.

Frank doesn’t give up that easily. He jumps to his feet, sprinting with the gun at his side, rotates around the corner, and unleashes rapid shots until the clip becomes depleted. One bullet grazes Hellhound’s arm. But sadly, it’s not enough to stop him from fleeing. Frank watches him continue down the street, climb a construction fence, and disappear behind a bulldozer.

He hurries back to his partner’s body and falls onto his knees, supporting his broken neck.

“Damn it! Don’t you die on me.” Frank tells him.

Frank uses one arm to support Jones’s head and the other to unfasten his radio from his hip.

“Dispatch, officer down. Call the RPD and tell them an officer is down at East Avenue and Chestnut. Suspect is on the run. He’s not armed.” He says into his radio.

“It doesn’t matter.” A weak voice says next to Frank.

Slowly but surely, Mane rises off the car and leaps off with a bad limp.

“He’s still very dangerous, detective.”

Frank is awestruck

“Stand back.” He warns Mane.

“I’m not here to hurt you, Frank.”

“How do you know my name?” He asks Mane with wide, frightened, eyes.

Mane continues to approach him. That’s when Frank’s survival instincts kicks in. He quickly exchanges his radio for his partner’s gun and points it at Mane, ready to fire.

“It’s me. It’s me Daniel.” Mane tells him.

“Cruz?” Frank asks confusingly.

“Remember that day when you saved me. You said you would do anything to bring my father back. We don’t have that power Frank. We can’t change the past. But we can act now and change the future. Another life is at stake, Iva’s life. One bullet won’t stop him. He must be killed. He won’t stop until she’s dead.”

He can see Frank’s hostile leer dissolving away as he pleads to him.

“We can save her Frank. You just have to tell me where Hellhound went. This ends today.”

Frank lowers his gun with a look of total confusion.

“Daniel, what the hell is going on?”

“There’s no time to explain. Where did Hellhound go? You must tell me now.”

“Around the corner, I think he’s hiding out at that abandoned building.”

“Call it in. Tell them there’s a dead body found there. If I don’t kill him, I will die trying.” Mane says and then sprints around the corner.

Frank reaches for his radio and picks it up.

“Tell the RPD to meet up at the construction site on Chestnut. Tell them to expect casualties…”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 45: ONLY ONE WILL STAND

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mane sprints down the sidewalk, turning a woman into a frightened statue. He staggers through traffic at an intersection, leaping high on top of a metro-bus, jumping off onto the sidewalk, and hurdling over the fence. He drops onto rocky soil, nearly falling over due to his weak legs. He lowers to the ground and starts to creep, slowly.

He prowls around a bulldozer with his eyes on high alert. He sees a building made of black windows. The building is partly demolished, and it may have been desolate for years. He spots a limping Hellhound entering through a broken window on the first floor of the building. Therefore, he darts towards the building and leaps inside.

Hellhound is gone that fast. He instantly switches to prowler mode again. He creeps, slowly, with his eyes scanning every direction. The inside is a wide area filled with dust and some unused office furniture. The ceilings are supported by these giant concrete columns that are mounted into its foundation. Mane continues to scan the large area as he prowls low to the ground. He looks left, then right, yet sees no sign of his enemy.

“Come out, coward!” He yells as he traces the area with his eyes.

“Where am I?” A voice bounces throughout the room.

Mane quickly looks left, then right, and forward again.

“Show yourself.” Mane says while still minding his surroundings.

As Hellhound hides behind a concrete support beam, he sees a sludge-hammer resting on the floor in front of him. Quietly, he kneels down and lifts up the hammer, so Mane won’t hear the metal scraping against the floor tiles. Hellhound’s sinister laugh bounces off the tinted windows.

“I hope you’re ready for death, boy.” Hellhound responds.

Mane hears a sound of clinging metal in his left ear. He sinks low to the ground and prowls in that direction. Mane is ready to kill. You can see the determination in his yellow eyes.

“You won’t see the dark of night, Hellhound. I promise you that.” Mane tells him with stern confidence.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

Mane continues to creep. He looks around for Hellhound, diligently. He listens closely to the silence of the building. He can only hear the loose plastic on the windows, flapping hard against the wind. Hellhound’s dark laugh echoes throughout the building another time.

“How ironic…” His evil laugh is increasing. “The

floor…”

He’s laughing so hard that he can’t even finish the sentence. Mane looks down at the dirty black and white floor tiles. Although it’s hard to see because of the dust, the floor is decorated in a checkered pattern.

“I promised you a second round in chess, didn’t I?” Hellhound snickers.

Mane looks forward again and growls out the side of his mouth. Hellhound’s laugh dies away and now it’s completely quiet again. Seconds roll by and Mane waits to pounce on him. He continues to examine his surroundings, watching and waiting patiently, for the opportune moment. If only he would show himself.

He hears the sound of crunching glass behind him, as if someone is trying to sneak up from behind. Mane realizes that the predator has now become the prey. He growls and swiftly shifts his body, but a massive blow strikes him on his side. His body flies sideways and slides across the dusty floor tiles. He quickly jumps to his feet but a sharp pain pierces his right paw and shoulder.

He looks down and notices his arm is unable to move. He grunts in pain and leans his weight onto his left paw. He holds his injured paw off the floor, close to his body. Hellhound chuckles lowly at him. Mane realizes that Hellhound is dragging a sludge-hammer across the floor. The hammer is so heavy that the metal is literally scrapping into the floor tiles.

“That was just a test swing. Now, it’s your move.” Hellhound says in a whispering voice.

Mane scans the room for a moment, almost in a panicked manner. His eyes quickly surveys left, right, and then behind himself. He slowly starts to limp backward. Each step he takes is difficult due to his injury. Hellhound starts to walk towards him dragging the hammer on the floor as he advances.

“Do you feel it breathing down your neck? That’s the walls closing in.”

He raises the hammer high into the air. Mane pushes himself backward just in time to watch the hammer shatter the floor in front of him. He keeps moving back, more and more.

“Your move.” Hellhound says lowly.

He inhales deeply, building up his momentum, and uses his good paw to push himself backward to gain speed. Mane knows that he won’t survive such a blow from that hammer. He must act quickly or he will die here. He looks into Hellhound’s eyes as he maneuvers closer to a corner.

“I’m waiting, boy.”

Hellhound approaches him and swings the sludge hammer across the air, but Mane ducks in the nick of time. A large portion of a concrete beam explodes off by the powerful impact. Again, Mane pushes himself backward as fast as he can. He looks behind himself and sees a series of wires hanging from the ceiling.

“Your move.” Hellhound says to him.

At last, Mane is stuck in a corner with no place to run.

“Your move Mane! COME ON!!” He yells as he march closer and closer.

Mane remains bold. Hellhound stops right in front of him with hatred burning in his eyes, yet Mane continues to hold his ground.

“It looks like I win, again.” Hellhound says with a chuckle.

He raises the hammer high into the air, over his head, yet Mane remains motionless. This time Hellhound swings downward with all of his might. But he can’t seem to swing the hammer. Hellhound looks up and sees the sludge-hammer tangled in a series of electrical cords. He swiftly shifts back at Mane.

Mane positions his back legs and dart straight up. He reaches his good paw back and swings at full-power. The paw hits Hellhound across the face with a deadly force. Now, Hellhound’s eyes are facing backwards. The breaking sound of his neck bounces off the thick, dark, windows. Mane stands wobbly on his feet as Hellhound lets go of the hammer and falls down to the floor.

Mane lands gently on his paw. He takes a moment to catch his breath before saying the words…

“Checkmate.”

Mane sluggishly turns around and limps away from Hellhound’s lifeless body…

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 46: LAST HOPE

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jason supports Iva’s broken neck while holding a cloth against her head to maintain the bleeding. Jessica is carrying her midsection and Eric has her legs. Jason carefully backs into Olivia’s apartment. Margie, Olivia, Kenya, David, Sharon, and Charles are following behind them. Everyone is filled with overwhelming fear for Iva’s life.

“Hurry, bring her to me.” Olivia orders them urgently.

Kenya grabs the couch pillows and tosses them to the floor and Olivia sinks into the cushions.

“Bring her here.” Olivia orders again, reaching her nervous hands into the air.

They carry Iva’s body into the living area and lower her, ever so gently, across Olivia’s lap. Olivia is holding Iva’s upper body close like a newborn. The back of her head is resting on her forearm and her face is resting against Olivia’s chest. Iva’s arm is dangling lifelessly at her side.

“Let’s see what we’re dealing with here.” David urges Olivia.

Olivia uses her free hand to reach over and gently lift the cloth from the side of her head. With an anxious hand, Olivia uses the red cloth to carefully part the dampen hair. She quickly turns away and shuts her eyes tightly when see notices blood oozing from an open wound.

You can hear everyone’s breath leave their lungs when she unveils the deep wound.

“Jesus Christ.” David says in an aching voice. “She’s been hit hard by some kind of….blunt object. Her skull is literally split open. I don’t have the tools or men to treat her here.”

“Oh shit.” Eric says while turning away and gripping his hair tightly.

“This can’t be happening right now.” Jason cries out.

She lowers the cloth over the wound and David backs away, shamefully. Olivia breathes out deeply through her nose. The others are standing over Olivia, watching her comfort Iva with their sore eyes and burning throats.

“Give her space.” Kenya cries from behind.

Everyone sluggishly backs away, yet still watching diligently. Suddenly, her body goes into another violent tremor. Olivia holds Iva closer to her and reaches over to maintain control of her wailing arm.

“Come on, baby girl.” Olivia cries into her ear. “Don’t give up on me yet.”

She keeps her grip locked until her body stops trembling.

“Come on, child.” She speaks in a low voice into Iva’s ear.

Olivia begins to brush back her black hair. Iva’s body jumps hard again and Olivia tightens her hold. She waits for the episode to finish before loosening her seize. She looks deeply into Iva’s partially opened eyes, witnessing her life breaking away. Olivia begins to rock gently back and forth on the couch to comfort her.

“Come back to us child.” She says while sobbing.

She looks at the others with this profound concern.

“She has gone too far. I won’t work.” She says to the others and looks down into Iva’s eyes again.

Kenya collapses back into an armchair, unable to stand anymore. Iva’s body jumps again and Olivia swiftly pulls her close to help calm the spasm. A moment later, the episode ceases. She looks down at Iva again with tears pouring down her big cheeks, and leans her mouth close to Iva’s bleeding ear.

“Iva, if you are in there somewhere…” She takes a moment to swallow. “…this is your family. We are all here for you. You must come back to us.” She speaks through painful sobs. “We love you.”

Everyone in the room begins to sob and cry as they watch Iva die. Her body wails again and Olivia holds her down. Then the seizure stops shortly after.

“Why isn’t it working?” Jessica cries out loud.

Olivia leans back and brushes her wet hair.

“Come back.” She pleads to Iva in tears.

Once again, her body goes into a hard uncontrollable seizure. Olivia tries her best to hold her down but her body is too wild.

“Someone help me.” Olivia cries out for help. “Her mind is slipping. It won’t work this way.”

Jason comes over and kneels down to help control her trembling body. He closes his eyes, not willing to see her in such pain. She breaks into another episode, but this one is weaker than the previous ones. Her wailing body starts to calm and her breathing follows.

“I can’t feel her spirit.” Olivia cries out.

“See’s lost too much blood, we’re losing her.” David explains. “Sharon…” He calls out to his wife.

“Adrenaline shot?” She asks him.

“Yeah, hurry.” He urges her.

Sharon digs into her purse with a shaky hand and pulls out a black box. Inside are various needles and jars. She fills a syringe as fast as she can and hands it to her husband. David hurries over and applies the dose to Iva’s shoulder. He then backs away.

“Iva.” Olivia calls to her again, still there’s nothing but void over her eyes.

Her breathing comes to a stop and her feet stops kicking. A long quiet pause comes over the entire room.

“Child…” Olivia calls to her. “Child…” She calls to her again, yet there’s still no reaction from Iva.

Olivia looks down into Iva’s hallow, lifeless, stare. Jason is still holding her body down firmly. Olivia places a gentle hand upon Jason’s shoulder and he gazes up at her.

“Let go, Courage. She’s gone child. She’s gone.” Olivia whispers to him.

Jason looks into Iva’s face with profound confusion and sadness. A moment later, he begins to hyperventilate.

“But this…she can’t be…” He mutters and can’t complete his sentence.

Olivia looks up at everyone else with a deep sorrow.

“She’s gone.” She tells them all.

They can’t respond, only stare in disbelief. Olivia puts her hand onto Iva’s forehead and slides her palm down her face; closing her eyelids. Olivia glances around the room at everyone’s wet face.

“It…” Olivia takes a pause to stop her words from trembling. “It was too late.”

Jessica spine gives out, but Eric holds her for support as she begins to burst into another cry.

“This is my fault.” Jason cries out. “She was with me.”

Jessica comes to Jason, collapsing on the floor, and comforts him with a hug.

“This is my fault, this is my fault…” Jason chants lowly to himself.

Olivia looks down into Iva’s bruised face and shakes her head.

“”This is not our fault. They did this.” She replies.

She removes the strands of hair from Iva’s face and brushes them back. She looks over at Kenya.

“Shiva, we have to call it in.” Olivia tells Kenya.

Kenya slowly rises to her feet and nods to Olivia weakly. She walks across the living room and picks up the cordless phone. Everyone remains frozen as they hear the dial tone. Kenya presses three numbers and puts the phone to her ear.

“Someone, bring me a blanket to cover her body.” Olivia whispers. “You two…help me lift her up.”

Jason supports her neck and Eric slides his hands under her legs. Together they lift her body into the air. Olivia stands to her feet, supporting Iva’s back, and gazing at her one last time.

“I believed that this was more than just a coincidence. But I no longer do.” Olivia says while shifting her gaze at Jason and Eric. “But sometimes people are not destined for things. Sometimes, things just happen…” Olivia’s face goes completely blank.

Seconds roll by as she remains a statue.

“Oh my God…” Jessica mutters underneath her breath, pointing to the floor.

Margie grabs Charles shoulder, seeking his attention. Before Kenya speaks to the operator, she drops the phone onto the carpet. You can hear the operator saying hello repeatedly through the phone. Eric, although he’s still crying, begins to smile. The blood on the floor rises and returns to Iva’s skull and the red bruises on her face fade away.

Iva takes in a huge breath. Olivia’s hands drop dead at her sides and her eyes roll backward. Her body falls sideways, but Charles catches her before she falls onto the floor. Jason rubs his hands through Iva’s hair, realizing it’s completely dry. He places his ear against her chest and listens to her heartbeat.

“She brought her back.” He says lowly.

He looks over his shoulder at everyone, who is staring back at him; bug-eyed and breathless.

“She brought her back.” Jason tells them in a higher volume.

They begin to cry again but not with sorrow, yet with tears of joy…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 47: SLEEPING BEAUTY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The elevator doors slide open, and Julia rushes out into a bright hallway. She glances left and sees a pair of double-doors at the end of the hall. She glances right and sees a young, female, receptionist sitting at a desk. The concern in Julia’s eyes is nothing short of severe. She approaches the receptionist in a speedy pace.

“Hello, I’m here to see my daughter.” Julia rushes the words out of her mouth.

“Name please?” The young woman says while preparing her fingers on the keyboard.

“Iva Hill.”

“Okay, give me one second to look her up.”

The woman types the name into the hospitals database. Julia fingers dances nervously on the counter top as she waits, impatiently, for the receptionist to look up the information.

“She’s in room 223 ma’am.” The receptionist informs her.

“Which way is that?”

“It’s straight through these doors here…” She says while pointing to a pair of swinging doors on her left. “…then you want to go up the hallway, and it’s towards the end, on your right.”

“Thank you.” Julia says as she rushes through the hallway.

She pushes through the pair of doors and enters into a depressing waiting area. The first person she sees is Jason, who is sitting in an armchair. He’s looking down at the floor with his fingers crossed. Then she sees Maria sitting next to him, covered in bruises, staring back at her. Jessica and Eric are sitting across from them with a pair of vacant expressions. Eric and Jessica shift at the door and notice her walking in.

Daniel is standing up with his back against the wall. Unlike the others, his eyes seem more livid than gloomy. He has quite a bit of facial bruises as well as swelling on his bottom lip, and his right arm is harnessed in a sling. Julia sees a young doctor talking to Kenya and Olivia. Their conversation ceases as they see her approaching.

“I came here as soon as I got your message. What happened?” Julia asks Kenya, anxiously.

“Are you Iva’s mother?” The doctor asks.

“Yes, I am.” She confirms.

He reaches his hand forward and she shakes it with a nervous, sweaty, grip.

“Hello, I’m Doctor Butler.”

“Julia.” She responds.

“It’s nice to meet you, Julia.” His smile falls flat. “I was just discussing with Kenya and Olivia about her current condition. It seems that she has suffered a server concussion. The x-rays show no significant brain damage. But she is still unconscious at the moment. Her brain function is at a basic level.”

Julia grabs her heart, nearly collapsing onto the floor.

“She’s in a coma?” Julia asks.

“I’m afraid so.” He responds.

She shifts her concern to Kenya and asks…

“What happened?”

“They were in a car accident.” Kenya explains.

“The car flipped several times.”

Julia looks back at Dr. Butler.

“Can I see her?”

“Of course you can.” He replies. “Follow me.”

Julia marches with Dr. Butler down the hallway.

“How long will she stay in the coma?” Julia asks with worry.

“I can’t say. Her MRI scan didn’t show anything permanent. But she has a heart of a horse. Most of our car accident patients suffer from blood loss, broken bones, or worse.”

He turns right in a room at the far end. Julia enters and sees her daughter lying on the bed in a deep slumber. Stinging tears instantly gather under her eyelids.

“Her breathing appears normal.” Dr. Butler continues. “The injury is on the right side of her head.”

Julia walks over to Iva and sits down in an armchair next to her bed. She gently brushes back her hair. She then closes her eyes and tries to reduce the stinging. She takes a quick timeout to meditate and ingest her emotions.

She sniffs a couple of times, trying to relieve her sinus pressure.

“Do you think she’ll regain consciousness anytime soon?” Julia asks in an uneasy tone.

Dr. Butler takes a slight recess before answering.

“I’m sorry Julia, but these things can’t be estimated. Only time will tell. Comas are unpredictable.”

Julia stares in Iva’s peaceful face then grabs her hand firmly, kisses it, and gazes back into her closed eyes.

“Iva honey, I’m here. It’s mom talking.”

She pauses and shifts over at the doctor.

“She probably can’t hear me, can she?”

“I’m afraid not. Everything to her is void right now. I’m sorry.”

She stands and kisses her forehead.

“I love you.” She whispers into her ear.

 

Meanwhile, everyone else is having a secretive discussion in the waiting area.

“They came out of nowhere.” Daniel says shamefully with his eyes downward.

“I knew it was a trap.” Eric adds in a low voice from a chair.

Eric leans back into the chair and looks up at the ceiling tiles.

“You all did the right thing going to her mother’s house to help.” Olivia says next to them. “None of you knew this would happen. It’s not your fault.”

“I just should’ve known it was Nelson. He told me that I was avoiding the obvious. The bastard was mocking me.” Daniel tries to shake the disgrace from his head.

Another person comes into the waiting room. It’s Detective Lancaster. The entire waiting room watches him walk in slowly. He looks utterly distressed and tiresome. Humble than ever, he approaches Kenya.

“Good evening, Detective.” Kenya says modestly.

“I’m trying to have one. I’m trying.” He replies in a low tone.

“Your partner, is he okay?” Kenya asks him with great concern.

Frank places his hands on hips and looks at the floor tiles. He exhales, trying to keep his emotions bottled in.

“He didn’t make it.” He says with a shaky voice.

“I’m sorry.”

He marinates in silence in order to collect his emotions.

“Listen…” He continues in a low voice, nearly whispering. “People are starting to ask questions about what happened. You all are saying the car crashed on the highway but they found it five miles away. And worst of all, I lost my partner. And I don’t even know what to tell his family.”

“Tell them the truth.” Kenya informs.

“Which is?”

“A war is imminent. You’re now a part of it. Tell them to prepare.”

“I’m just a cop.” He says.

“You can help. This here is just a glimpse at what’s to come.”

“And Julie, does she know?”

“Not yet. We will wait for the right time to tell her.” Kenya answers. “You should go see her. She needs some comfort right now.”

Frank begins to walk down the hallway, but Daniel walks up behind him with a limp to get his attention.

“Hey Frank.” Daniel says sternly, trying to grasp his attention.

Frank turns and watches him approach. Daniel lowers his voice as he speaks…

“Hey, I never thanked you.”

“For what?”

“That day when you saved my life. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about things and I wouldn’t be here today if…”

“Hey buddy, you don’t have to think me for anything. I would do it over again if I had to. I met your father, he was a good man. If he was here, he would be proud to see you stand up for what’s right. Actually, I should be thanking you for saving my niece.”

“I guess we’re even.” Daniel says, almost smiling but not quite.

“I guess so. See you around.” Frank finishes.

He then nods at Daniel modestly and Daniel returns the favor. Frank continues into Iva’s room. He sees Julia, looking over Iva’s body, and the doctor giving her lessons on brain recovery. Julia eyes brighten when she sees her brother in the doorway.

“Frankie.” She calls out to him as they meet each other with a gentle hug.

They break apart moments later.

“I’ll leave you guys alone. I’ll be back in the morning to check up on her.”

“Thank you doctor.” Julia says as he exits the room.

“How’s she doing?” Frank asks.

“She’s in a coma.”

Frank pauses momentarily for reality to settle in.

“She’s a tough gal, she’ll be fine. Everything will be okay, Julie. Don’t worry.” He reassures her.

“I was so scared. I thought she was in danger. You never told me what was going on.”

“Oh, that was nothing. I just needed to speak to her about something. That’s all.” He lies while looking her in the eyes.

 

Meanwhile, back in the waiting room, Kenya is speaking to the depressed.

“I’m proud of all of you.” Kenya says to the humble few. “This is why we must stick together. We’ve turned their plans against them.”

“I’m not sure if I’m ready for all this.” Eric says.

“None of us are.” Maria adds.

“Then make yourselves ready.” Olivia tells them.

This only makes their grim expressions worse. Jason is the only one who has a hint of motivation.

“She’s right.” Jason confirms. “If we stick together, nothing can stop us. We have each other. We just need to give it our all, even if it cost us our lives. I have no problem dying for either of you. A storm is coming. But we’re family. And family can handle any weather.”

Jason’s slim speech lifts a little bit of the tension that shrouded the room.

“I would die for you guys.” Jessica adds with a very humble smile.

“I would too.” Maria says.

“Me too.” Eric says.

“I’m in til death.” Daniel adds.

Julia comes walking down the hallway with Frank. She brings along a bleak smile as she make herself present to everyone.

“I just want to thank everyone for your support.” She projects her hoarse voice. “You all are my daughter’s first and only friends.” She pauses to unblock her sinuses. “She has been searching, her whole entire life, for a place that she could fit in. And she found it. These past few days have been her best. I have tried, for so long, to make her feel like a person. But you all have done something I could never do. I am forever grateful for that. Thank you all.”

Kenya comes to her with moist eyes and a warm smile.

“Your daughter is more important to us than we are to her. For just bringing Iva into this world has placed us into your debt forever.”

Kenya then gives Julia a nice long warm hug…

CHAPTER 48: DANIEL IS SOLVED

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, it’s way past midnight and everyone is still loitering in the waiting area. Jessica, Eric, Olivia, and Maria have fallen asleep in their chairs. Jason is still awake sitting forward with his fingers crossed looking at the floor below. Daniel is by himself, standing in the hallway, looking into Iva’s room at Frank and Julia sleeping in armchairs.

Daniel shifts his eyes down the hall and sees his mother approaching with a half grin. He shifts his eyes forward again and continues to monitor the room like a guard dog. She stops at his side and look into the room at the three of them resting, peacefully.

“How’s your arm doing?” She asks him.

“It’ll heal.” He replies but keeps his eyes into the room.

“Your fight with Hellhound will stir a lot of problems. The humans will start suspecting things when they find Nelson’s body.” She says.

“So, let them.” He responds carelessly.

A slight pause comes between them two as they gaze into the dimly lit room.

“I want to talk to you about something.” Kenya tells him.

Daniel sighs and keeps his eyes on guard.

“This peculiar question has been on my mind all day. A question only you can answer. Hellhound out smarted you in every way. Then Iva was taken from us, and placed in a warehouse in the middle of nowhere. Yet, you knew where she was. How did you find her?”

His tense eyes fall subtle all of a sudden, but he doesn’t answers her question.

“What do you mean?” He asks humbly.

“When all hope seemed lost, somehow you were the only person who knew where she was. How did you know?”

Suddenly, Daniel breathes turn heavy, and he swallows down the lump expanding in his throat. He turns his face away and tries his best to collect his emotions.

“I…” He starts to speak but realizes his voice is trembling so he stops to break. “…I just…” He swallows again trying his best to fight his emotions. “…I didn’t ask for this.” He says to her softly.

Kenya smiles at him with joy.

“Oh son, nobody does.” Kenya replies.

She walks around him in order to face him. Yet again, he tries to lower his face from hers. She uses her hand to adjust his eyes back into hers.

“Am I cursed?” Daniel asks in a low voice.

“Do you love her?”

He pauses her a moment.

“Yes, I do.” He says with watery eyes.

“Son, after you have solved all of life’s greatest mysteries, there will always be one left to solve…” She places her other hand over Daniel’s heart. “…and that’s yourself.” She says with a soft grin.

But then Kenya glances behind herself, into the room at Iva, then back at Daniel.

“Or maybe…you finally have.” She finishes.

She then turns and walks away…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER 49: TRAFFIC

 

 

 

 

 

 

Julia is sleeping on the armchair next to Iva’s hospital bed. The sunlight pouring in from the large, wide, window instantly becomes unbearable to her eyes, so she squints to ease the irritation from the morning rays. She sees two figures in front of the window. These figures are Olivia and Kenya. Both of them are turned away from Julia, gazing outside the window, and talking in a low tone.

Julia scans the room for a moment and spots another armchair, which is vacant at the moment.

“Did my brother leave?” She asks them at the window.

They rotate together, both showing a pleasant grin.

“He went to get some breakfast.” Kenya informs her.

They shift towards the window again. Julia can hear a car horn beeping somewhere outside at afar.

“What’s going on out there?” Julia asks with a yawn mixed with her words.

Olivia turns to Julia, beaming brightly.

“See for yourself.” Olivia says softly.

Julia stands to her feet and slowly approaches the window. She steps between them and stare outside at a shocking view. Her breathing takes an abrupt pause when she notices a line of traffic backing up an entire block. The row of vehicles seems to be heading towards the hospital. For some unknown reason, a crowd of people are marching towards their window.

“What’s going on? Is there an evacuation?” Julia asks confusingly and tensely.”

Olivia looks at Julia and laughs.

“No child.” She says between chuckling. “They’re visitors.”

“There’s someone important in this hospital.” Kenya adds with a warm smile.

The moisture in Kenya’s eyes is beginning to gather.

“Really…” Julia asks. “…who’s here?”

Julia pauses and looks into Kenya’s watery eyes.

“Your daughter…” Kenya replies. “…they are here to see your daughter, Julia. Some of them have come a far way to see her.”

In the waiting area, Eric hears the beeping of horns as well, so he gets up and takes a look out the window. He cowers behind his forearm for a moment until his weak eyes adjust to the light.

“Guys, you gotta see this.” Eric announces.

Slowly, everyone drag their feet to the window. They all lose their breath when they catch the view outside.

“Is that…are they?” Maria says.

“They heard our call.” Eric adds.

“I’d never thought it would be so many.” Jessica adds as well.

Jason starts to laugh a joyful laugh as if he’s receiving a special gift on Christmas.

Back in Iva’s room, Julia gasps for a second time and covers her wide mouth with her fingers. See watches on as people begin to exit their cars, one by one, and approach the hospital; staring up at their window. A large gathering of people is forming underneath the window. Olivia and Kenya sees Margie, Charles, Sharon, and David leading them all.

They stop underneath the window. Margie smiles at them. Olivia and Kenya smile back at her. The crowd grows drastically by every passing second. These people are from several ethnic backgrounds with several different occupations, yet they’re all here to support their leader. Margie looks over into Charles bright eyes and nods to him with a grin; he nods back.

Charles lifts his pants leg, kneels onto the ground, and then bows his head. Margie lowers to the ground and bows her head also; Sharon and David follow behind them. One by one, starting from the front to the back, the giant mob of people sinks to the ground and bows their heads.

“Kenya…” Julia calls to her with a tear coming down. “…what is going on?”

Olivia grabs Julia’s shoulders softly and says…

“Child, we need to have a talk.”

“I’ll listen to what they have to say Julie.” Frank appears in the doorway with the others behind him.

“We are here for you. All of us.” Frank finishes with a smile.

“Come child.” Olivia says as they all escort her from the room and down the hall.

Iva is now lonesome in her room. Everything she is, her conscious, her personality, and her soul, remains submerged inside a dark oblivion. Even in the absence of reality, her mind captures a noise. Unlike the loud car horns, this sound is different because it can’t be heard by ear. This sound is a deep voice that calls to her while she slumbers.

“Iva.” Her spirit says her name in a powerful tone.

When her mind detects this voice, the barriers separating her from reality finally shatter. Her lungs expand wide and her back rises up slightly, as if she’s taking a breath for the first time. Her chest contracts and her body settles back onto the bed. Not long after, something miraculous is taking place. Iva completes her journey back into the real world. And in this moment, her eyes reopen…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming soon, Untamed: Awakening

READ THE INTRODUCTION ON THE NEXT PAGE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION: THIS IS IT

 

 

 

This is it! This is the moment to show my true power. I always knew this would happen sooner or later. Everything from my first encounter with a demonic werewolf, to my world crashing down on me when I was told I’m mankind’s last hope, to my death and resurrection, and even my rapid muscle growth has led me to this pivotal point in my life. I would like to mention other things, like my encounter with reptilians, but I won’t go that far; not yet.

It’s crazy to think, not so long ago, I was a frail little girl, bound in a wheelchair; utterly defenseless and weak. But now, everything has changed significantly. That frail little girl is far gone. I’ve grown a lot stronger, physically and mentally. Now, at this very moment, I’m surrounded deep within a cold, bare, forest by a mob of wolves who wants me dead.

Another thing, there’s no one here to assist me. Not only do I have to protect myself but also my loved one. He is lying on the snowy ground, fading in and out of consciousness from loss of blood. I will protect him, no matter what.

“Cornelius!” A colossal black beast calls to a wolf in the distance.

When the beast calls out to the wolf, all of the other wolves cringe in fear by the power in the beast voice. It’s at least fifty of them, but they all look terrified. What is this beast? This beast is a nine hundred pound silver-back gorilla; fueled with rage, a killer instinct, and fearlessness. As unbelievable as it may seem, this gorilla is me.

“You wanted me so much…” I say to the wolf with the white fur and bright-blue eyes, also known as Cornelius. “…Come and get me!” I shout to him with my deep voice bouncing off the trees.

The other ones look at Cornelius for a decision, timidly.

“What should we do, father.” A brown wolf with a white patch on its eye says next to him.

This wolf name is Kendrick, Cornelius’s son. He looks his son in the eyes and snarls.

“Son, we will take her, together.”

He shifts his anger back to me. I remain totally unafraid. His intimidation methods might have worked on the old me but, as I said before, things have changed. Fear is a thing of the past now. Inside, I know he’s nothing more than a sad, pathetic, coward.

“Let’s take her!” Cornelius shouts, giving the crowd behind him just enough motivation to attack.

Suddenly, they all sprint my way with Cornelius leading the pack. I watch them speeding towards me, yet I remain stationary and bold. They’re getting even closer; still I keep my ground courageously. Now, this is where my instincts come into play. Creed, my mentor and friend, told me the most important part of any fight is the first blow.

If I swing and miss, it could mean death. However, if I take out my opponent’s strongest attribute, it would be easy to overcome its weaknesses. In this case, it’s not a person; instead it’s about fifty vicious wolves. Its strength is Cornelius. If I take him out, the others will follow. So, I close my eyes and inhale deeply, and then I concentrate on my attack.

I reopen my eyes with my knuckles rising off the forest floor. I curl my long fingers into a tight fist. I am alone this time, so no one can get us out of this situation except me. And I’ll be damned if I die here today. I take in a lung full of air. It’s amazing. I feel like I’m behind a large indestructible tank and I’m its driver.

Suddenly, Cornelius leaps up into the air, ready to jump on me. He doesn’t know I have him planned out already. He is known for pouncing on his prey. It might have worked on others but it won’t work on me. As he leaps up into the air, I do the same.

His weapon of choice is his sharp front teeth. Mine is a large fist, which is the size of a basketball; connected to an arm with monstrous strength and size. Now, we both are in midair. I have my fist over my head and he has his teeth ready to clamp into my flesh.

This is it. It’s time to fight. It’s time to kill…

 

Go to, untamedthenovel.webs.com, for more info about this series. Please subscribe to my website and rate this book on amazon. Also, friend me on Facebook at Steven Jeral Harris. Keep an eye out for the Catwoman profile picture. One last thing, you can send fan-mail at, [email protected]. Thank you all for your support. The first book is absolutely free on my website, so share it with everyone. With your help, who knows, this might just be a movie one day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Untamed.

This gripping tale follows the life of a young woman named Iva Hill. Due to many ongoing health conditions, she has lived a life of hopelessness. Everything changes when her uncle, Detective Frank Lancaster, is investigating a series of gruesome murders. Unfortunately, Iva gets herself tangled in the middle. The serial killer is no other than a demonic being known as The Hellhound. Strange events leads Iva on the brink of death as she comes face to face with the hellish creature. Just before Hellhound is able to rip her apart, a powerful black lion saves her in the nick of time. A lion that calls himself Mane. Although death can come for her at any moment, she realizes with the help of her newly found friends, that it's never too late to hope and pursue happiness. Prepared to be taken on the ride of your life.

  • Author: Steven Harris
  • Published: 2015-11-13 18:40:29
  • Words: 90548
Untamed. Untamed.