**Takes place between Books 2 and 3 of The Darkness Trilogy**
The Darkness Trilogy Novella
Published by A.G. Porter
Copyright © 2015 by A.G. Porter
Edited by Elizabeth Kelso
Cover Art © TaniaART | http://taniaart.deviantart.com/
Photo © Undrey | Dreamstime.com
All rights reserved
To my Street Team, this one is for you because you ROCK! All of you are the most amazing people I have had the pleasure to know. Some of you I haven’t even met face-to-face and I consider you friends. I can’t thank you enough for what you have done for me and my books. Never stop being who you are.
The title, as you can see, of this Novella is Fallen Souls. This is the perfect title and this isn’t me bragging on myself, this is bragging on a certain Street Team member, Mr. Andrew Redden. You see, I had a competition with my Street Team and asked them to come up with a title for my Novella and boy did they come up with some great ones! Yet, I could only choose one and it was Andrew who came up with Fallen Souls. It fit so well with the theme of the Novella that I had no choice, but to pick that title, it spoke to me on so many levels! He knew what he was doing that, stinker! Andrew is one of my Street Team members that I have actually met. Our first meeting was at The Geek Gathering in Sheffield, Alabama. His energy and charm captured my heart from the beginning; we have been friends since then. I love you, Andrew!
In the words of Andrew Redden:
I love this series because it puts a new spin on the points of “good versus evil” by the use of these incredible characters and how they conquer the trials at hand. A.G. Porter writes this lovely series that shows just how her characters are the top of the totem pole when it comes to the kickassery powers of faith and hope. She does a wondrous job with injecting Rayna with a faith-based background, which inevitably helps her in the long run. I highly recommend this series for anyone that wants to read a perfect piece such as this series.
I’ve had many bodies and taken many forms. Some have been more pleasant than others, some more beautiful. There have been women, men, children and youth. Once I had the body of a beloved politician and well, he’s not so beloved anymore. Many years ago, I can’t actually remember when, I occupied the flesh of a king who went on to be known as ruthless monarch and womanizer.
Of all these different bodies, despite their differences, they have one fatal flaw. Their flesh is weak. Even those with spirits of lions and hearts of tigers, eventually their bodies start to falter. It isn’t usually noticed on the outside right away. I can feel it from within.
First, the body I occupy will yearn for slumber. I will feel fatigued and lack energy. Food and drink lose their flavor and that certain spark of life fades in their human eyes. Only those who are emotionally connected to the body will notice. They’ll believe their loved one just isn’t feeling well and needs a doctor.
Soon, other signs appear. It’s this next step I am less fond of; pain, just white-hot pain. It’s as if the soul is giving escape one last try by ripping through it’s own skin. My every bone (well theirs if you want to get technical about it) and muscle aches. It’s more than that really. I can feel it in their veins, down to the tiny molecules that make them who they are.
Since I first crawled out of the pit and took possession of a human this has been the way of things. I would wear their bodies like a suit until I could bear to wear it no longer. Some lasted as long as 50 years and others just mere days. It all depended on how bad they wanted me to stay (I did bring them great joy and fulfill desires of many kinds) or how desperate they were for me to leave.
With Patrick, things started out great. He wasn’t a boy of any faith and he was Gifted. I found out the hard way that the Gifted can sustain me longer than a mere human. There is another side of the coin as well. If they are blessed with a Gift then that also means they can more easily see me out. Meaning, holding on to them is far more difficult.
It was a double-edged sword. His body was strong enough to keep me incubated, but his will was superhuman. I first noticed him picking at the seam where we were connected the night I confronted Rayna at the prom. He didn’t want me to hurt her. His screams echoed in my head, distracting me from my goal. That was the only reason I let her go that night.
Then again when Vance cornered her at the bank of the creek. I knew that I was capable of controlling her more, but Patrick was fighting with me. When I wanted to move right, he moved left. When I wanted to seize her mind, my powers began to drain.
So now, here I was with him in my head, screaming all the time. I’ll manage to cage him up somewhere, tuck him in a corner, but he always finds a way out. The insufferable brat has brought me to my wit’s end and I want nothing more than to be rid of this body and find a new one.
That new one just needs a bit more persuasion. Once Rayna knows I will stop at nothing to claim her, if I have to kill every single soul on this planet to do so, she’ll have to give in. She is a heroine, someone who rescues others; she won’t let me go that far.
Her powers and body will fit me just nicely. Then we can be one for all of eternity. I’ve only dabbled at taking control of her mind and the dose was too short lived. I need another taste of her innocence, of her purity again. It was driving me mad with desire! I needed to know what it was like to truly take over her soul.
Once we are joined, soul-to-soul, nothing can stop us. We are far too powerful for a mere mortal or even a Gifted to stop us together. We’ll cover this world like a plague, devouring all traces of the Gifted and Children of Light. Nothing will stop us. Of this I have no doubt.
I thought of these wondrous things as Vance entered my room. The house Patrick’s uncle occupied was now my home base. Poor Uncle had to take a leave of absence from work due to an aggressive form of cancer. That’s what his counterparts believed anyway. He was actually chained to a pipe in the cellar. If I didn’t need him alive in case anyone came calling, I would have killed him a long time ago.
“Master, have you not slept?” Vance questioned as he pulled back the curtains, sunlight spilling into the room.
I backed away, nearly hissing with pain. The light burned my tired eyes and I was almost certain it had seared my flesh. This wretched body was failing and fast.
“What of the boy? Have you kept an eye on him as I asked?” avoiding Vance’s question.
“Yes, my Lord,” Vance snapped his fingers and a tray of fresh fruit and other breakfast items was brought in by a servant. “The boy remains in with the Palm Reader, Rose.”
“I don’t trust him,” I confessed. “There is something about him that makes me wonder what he could do to foil our plans. I want him eliminated.”
“And the Palm Reader?” Vance questioned.
“If they’re together then I don’t see why we can’t kill two birds with one stone,” I grinned at him. “Now leave me and take that tray with you.”
“Master, if I may,” Vance turned and picked up the tray. “You must sleep and you must eat. Until the conversion takes place that body must hold up. You’re in too deep to take on another form.”
I focused my power on him; the tray exploded in Vance’s hands causing him to yelp like a cat. He dashed from the room, slamming the door behind him. I hated that little weasel. He was as devoted to me as he would be to the next demon that offered him a soft cushion in hell to sit on. Yet, he was rational and served his purpose.
As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. I had to sleep and I had to eat. This body needed it if I was going to make it through this Unification. The joining of my soul and Rayna’s was something that had almost never happened. Yet, it must have been fate that she and I would find ourselves on this path, fate, even though Wayland thought it was his doing.
My “brother” could be mistaken for a Gifted, but he was something far different. He was a Fallen; he had given over his vessel to a winged demon long ago and was very powerful. He made other demons run with fear at the things that he could do. He was blessed with an intuition I had come to depend on, he and I had seen Rayna as the form I had to take to avoid dumping body after body and to see my plans come to fruition.
“Brother,” I said cheerfully when he answered my call.
“Brother,” he responded.
“I need for you to go to the hospital and stay close to The Coles,” I instructed.
“And what of Rayna?” he wondered, an edge to his voice that I couldn’t put my finger on.
“Leave her to me,” I stated. “She is my task after all.”
“Of course, yes,” he started. “I was only wondering, considering your failing form, if it might be better if I inserted myself more closely to her…and her family. It would be easy with Wu and I being friends.”
“You worry for naught, Brother,” I flinched as another wave of pain caused beads of sweat to break out over my brow. “I am fine. The body is holding out, despite it’s obvious weaknesses. Leave Rayna to me and if I do need your help, I’ll let you know. Now, do as I command and get to the hospital. Be a friend to your Doctor Jackson Cole. I want someone there to be a guide for dear Liam when he awakes.”
“Right you are, Brother,” Wayland’s voice was pleasant, but I could hear the undertones of rage. “Please forgive me for questioning you.”
“I take no offense,” I said, choosing my words carefully. “I know that your only concern is for me and our ultimate goal.”
“Of course,” he said, sounding quite genuine. “I’ll talk to you soon.”
The phone went dead. He was a fool to think he convinced me of anything other than his treachery. His desire for Rayna was deep and had been since we set our sights on her. He wanted her for his own, as bride or lover. I would let him believe that his plans were obtainable for as long as I needed him.
This was beyond frustrating! Why was it so difficult to find any honest souls of the damned these days?
Sighing I headed for the bathroom, starting the hottest shower I could withstand in this feeble excuse of a body. As I let the water burn into the flesh of dear Patrick, I battled with him for control of his mind. He was a fighter and, though strong, eventually I won. I always win. That is what I tried to explain to him, but the human heart, if I’ve learned anything in all of these long years, should not be underestimated.
One probably wonders what a demon does on a day-to-day basis. Do we scour the earth looking for souls to condemn? Do we whisper murderous thoughts into the minds of parents, lovers, or children? What about filling the minds of the lost with unclean desires and wishful thinking?
Perhaps some do and I have been known to torment a soul I deemed amusing enough in the past. Alas, those days as a lowly demon, slithering across the world looking for a weak mind are far behind me. I’ve done my time as they say. Now it is time for me to wreak true havoc on this world.
These humans are given everything, the world at their fingertips and they waste it away on petty human emotions. They want glamour, money, beauty and power, sure, but they have no idea of their true potential if we only got this pesky soul business out of the way. If they latched on to their basic desires then this world would be much better off.
There may be a bit of jealousy in my intentions, I admit. I once had beautiful wings and a voice like water. There was a time that all I desired was light and would do anything for my Father. I was a devoted son!
Then, here come these “likenesses.” These small, puny, fragile maggots that have infested this wonderful place called Earth. How could He place them above me, above us? We were to protect them and serve them? Why? Because He loved them? Did He not love us?
The anger swelled up inside of me and it took all that I had not to break out of this flesh and consume Rayna once and for all. I managed to refrain, knowing that she was not yet ready to take on our mission; the mission that was once supposed to be her father’s.
It was probably better this way. He was a likely candidate, but much too strong for me. Mr. Stone had grown spiritually in a way that Rayna had yet to. Yes, she was washed in the blood, but what she lacked was experience. Unbeknownst to her, Mr. Stone had faced demons before and knew what he was doing.
They wanted to shield their child from this spiritual battle, they being her parents, so not even her mother has explained to her what her lineage is. She has no clue, and probably never will if her mother is kept in darkness of her Gift, that she comes from a family of demon hunters, of demon killers.
The biggest slap in the face to my Father when I took over this world was to do it by using one of His Gifted. I could think of no better way than to use one of the strongest demon hunters I knew, Ezekiel Stone. But again, he was far too smart for me. Once he realized what we were up to, he had to be eliminated.
Wayland said that we needed someone innocent, someone young. The next best thing to Stone was his daughter. She had shown early signs of being a Child of Light and we were not wrong. The power that runs through her veins is even stronger than her father’s. The key is that she has yet to learn how to harness it, much less use it to defeat me.
However, I am not stupid. Time is of the essence and I must move quickly if I want to secure her form. There are things that need to be done, people that need to be removed. She must be stripped of all connections of love, friendship, and hope before she is willing to give herself over to me. I must reveal to her that she isn’t as protected as she thinks she is, despite her faith. Before I am done, Rayna Stone will have nothing left.
I don’t think it’s Rayna’s “Shadow” that’s been following me. This being is a part of what’s been going on, but it’s not the one that she dreams of. I can’t say how I know this, but there is just something, some voice inside that’s telling me this is just a small battle in a much bigger war.
This thing that’s following me around is now haunting my dreams. I wondered if this is what Rayna has been going through. There is no peace in sleep or in being awake. He’s always there, watching, waiting to catch me off guard. It’s like he is sucking all hope and life out of me. That’s what I told Nick.
I could hear him moving in the closet as I slept. His long fingernails, though I had never seen his nails or him for that matter, scraped across the door. I pulled the pillow tighter over my ears, trying to block him out. Squeezing my eyes tightly, I prayed that he would leave.
The more I prayed the more I could feel him. He was trying his best to hold on before I could rebuke him away. My stomach turned as the smell of rotten eggs filled my nose and tried to seep into my head, clouding my mind. I prayed harder, falling out of the bed and onto my knees.
Finally, the smell left and the scratching stopped. Nick came rushing into the room, looking from me to the closet. He helped me up and put me back in the bed.
“Did you hear him?” I asked, tears running down my face.
“He’s gone,” he told me. “Don’t worry.”
“Don’t worry?” I balked at his words as he helped me into bed. “I’ve never been haunted before so how am I not supposed to worry, Nick? How can I not worry? I know what he wants, you know? He wants me to be like him. He’s told me in my dreams. He said that I have a choice to be with the light or with the dark. He’s promised me things if I give in to him. He said he’ll protect my family and save Logan.”
“Don’t listen to him,” Nick pulled the covers up to my chin as if I were a child. “They’re lies, all of it. You don’t want to be like him. You know that.”
“I don’t know how much more I can take,” I confessed. “Instead of getting stronger I feel like I’m falling apart. I just…I don’t know.”
“It’s time we head back,” he finally looked in my eyes. “I thought that keeping you away would save you, but it’s only making it worse.”
“No!” I grabbed onto his arm. “I can’t take this back to them. Rayna…she has too much to deal with. I need to stay here and get this sorted out before I go back.”
“C.J.,” Nick spoke his next words softly, but with conviction. “I know I’m not the best one to try and explain this to you. I have been mending, inside, for years. It’s hard for me to work with anyone because of my…condition, I know this. My words come and go, but…you need them, your friends, and they need you. It’s time to go back. Sleep, he’s gone for the night. We’ll leave in the morning.”
Nick gently pulled my hands from his arms and tucked them under the covers. I stared after him for a long while before I felt content enough to go to sleep. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that I wanted to be with my family and friends. I missed them to the point my heart was broken. Still, taking all my baggage back with me just seemed selfish.
What if I couldn’t resist anymore? What if I did give in and choose the dark? I didn’t know how strong I was so maybe Nick was right, I guess I needed them; I just hope they needed me.
Watching from the corner of the room I witnessed Mitchell’s parents fall to pieces. Tears like a waterfall fell from his mother’s chin, with no end in sight. His father held on to his wife and I couldn’t help but wonder who was really the stronger one. They both looked frayed; as if one more strand were pulled they’d completely unravel.
With tremendous fear, I watched Mrs. Owens make her way toward me. I fidgeted with the hem of my skirt, looking down, hoping she’d pass me by.
“Rayna,” her voice croaked my name. “Rayna, will you please sit with me, if it’s not too much trouble?”
If it’s not too much trouble? She was worried about putting me out at her only child’s funeral?
“Of course, Mrs. Owens,” I responded, getting to my feet.
My mother stood as well and kissed my cheek. Her love surged through my body, giving me the strength to put one foot in front of the other.
As I moved to the front of the church, Mrs. Owens on my right and Mr. Owens on my left, I felt eyes on my back. When the parents of a killed child could forgive the person responsible for his death, believe me, it was stare-worthy. Forgiveness of that level was shocking, rare, and people took notice. It was also underserving.
I knew the risk of putting others in the crosshairs of The Shadow and his followers. It was dangerous even for a Gifted. Mitchell never stood a chance. Vance snapped his neck without hesitation or remorse.
Of course, only a select few knew the truth. We knew that Mitchell Owens, a boy with one of the purest souls, wasn’t killed in a tragic car accident. It wasn’t a mishap caused by a stray deer on the road or faulty equipment. It was murder.
Yet, we had to lie to protect ourselves. Mitchell’s death would always be a cover up to save the lives of others. If people knew what I could do, what the others could do, our lives would be over, I just knew it.
Mitchell, being the person he was, would probably be OK with this. He had tried to protect me that night, placing himself between me and a foe he knew outmatched him. He never thought about himself. Could I say the same? Was I as selfless as him?
Finally we found a seat in front of the casket. It was closed due to the fact that Mitchell’s neck discoloration from been severely broken couldn’t be masked by the mortician’s make up. He also suffered lacerations to the face from broken glass. The police thought it was from the impact of the car crashing into the creek bed, but really it was from being yanked through the window.
In fact, I was still healing from where the glass had cut my skin. My wrist was also in a brace and not because of anything that had physically happened to me. It was my telekinetic power. Apparently the strain of holding Patrick at bay had sprained my wrist. The doctor said if any more pressure had been applied I might have broken it. Using my powers had also given me a concussion and popped a few blood vessels in my eyes. They wrote that off to me nearly drowning in the creek.
It was an area of concern, the effects my Gift had on my body, but there were far more pressing matters. For example, Patrick, it was clear now that he was an innocent victim of The Shadow. As much as it freaked me out I had to acknowledge the fact that The Shadow possessed him.
I shivered at the thought of what that implied. Could a human do that? I was capable of many supernatural abilities, but I doubted possession was one of them. Even Nick wasn’t able to do that or at least that was what he had told me when he actually answered my phone calls.
Did that only leave one last possibility? Was The Shadow not human? Was he a product of something sinister? Was he something darker than we had even imagined?
A chill crept up my spine and settled in my chest. My heart felt cold and seemed to weigh me down as if it had turned to ice. I wanted to clutch at it, but my hands were being occupied by the Owens.
They clung to me as if I were a lifeline straight to their son. I didn’t dare withdraw, afraid that if I did so the last bit of their resolve would float away like a balloon lost in a violent wind. Mr. Owens had always loved me and Mrs. Owens felt I was the last bit of her son that was in this world.
I was the last person to see him alive. According to her, that meant we were connected. That meant that I had to survive and do well. She would see to it. It didn’t matter if it took her last breath, she would make sure I had everything I needed. I would carry on Mitchell’s memory after she and her husband were gone.
I wanted to tell her right then and there about how brave he was. My lips moved, quivering with energy as they struggled under the power of those words. Closing my mouth, I kept another secret. I figured one day I’d crack under the pressure. I would absorb one too many secrets and shatter like a dropped plate of china on the floor, turn to dust, and what remained of me would be scattered by a phantom wind.
It is said there are seven stages of grief. Of course shock and denial would come first. When you lose someone it’s like a super kick to the gut. It’s unbelievable that something so emotional can cause such vivid, physical pain. It doesn’t seem real. It also doesn’t seem fair. There should be a separation of the two. Either life is going to gut me physically or emotionally, not both, not at the same time.
When Dad died, a small part of me believed it to be a terrible nightmare that I just needed to wake up from and the entire world would be right again. The moment I realized that was just wishful thinking it felt as if something reached inside my chest and pulled out a piece of my heart, a piece of my soul. I wouldn’t wish that kind of pain on anyone.
Next comes the anger and the bargaining. Saying I was angry was an insult to the rage that boiled inside of me. Was I angry with God that He had taken my father at the prime of his life? Was I angry that my dad would never see me graduate, get married or meet his grandchildren?
Yes and no. I knew that God had the power to bring my dad back. I was angry that, despite my faith, he was never brought back to me. There were countless times I would lay in the floor of my room and beg God to bring him back. I knew He could do it so why wouldn’t he?
It took me a very long time to realize that my dad was in a far better place. Eventually I accepted he was gone. I just had to go through the depression, reflection, and loneliness first. It took me too long to get through it all. I wasted so much precious time being sad and angry that I missed out on all the times I could have been thankful for the life we shared.
I would try to do this with Mitchell’s death, focus on the good times rather than the loss. Yet, here I sat on a cushioned church pew, listening to Brother David give Mitchell’s eulogy and I all I could think of was Vance.
The only emotion that I felt right now was anger and hatred. I wanted Vance in that casket. I wanted his cold, hard body to be buried today, not Mitchell’s. Just because Brother David did a good job conveying who Mitchell truly was didn’t mean we could forget who he had the potential to be and that he’d never get the chance.
His mother tried to stand up there, leaning on the lectern for support, but her husband had to help her back down after a few minutes. All she did was sob and anything she managed to say sounded like a foreign language. Mr. Owens didn’t even attempt to say anything.
“Rayna?” Brother David called my name.
My body tensed as every eye fell on me. It was Mrs. Owens’s wish that I speak today. She said I was Mitchell’s only true friend. This was based on a journal entry he made a few days before his death:
“I graduate in only a few days! This one-horse town will be in my rearview mirror and I won’t look back! Ha! Yeah right! Home is home and there are so many people I’m going to miss.
Being away from the parents will be weird. It’ll be cool to be out on my own, but I’m sure I’ll get homesick. That isn’t something that Mom will ever know. She’s having a hard time letting go. She’s been dabbing at her eyes for days! She acts like she’ll never see me again.
It sucks that we’re all going our separate ways. Leslie is going to New York. If anyone was destined to be famous it’s her. She’s just too cool for the rest of us, but doesn’t even know it. Sara is going to Auburn. Man, I really like her, but I have a feeling it isn’t mutual. Maybe one day I can convince her that I’m not a complete nerd…or not.
Rayna, who knows where she’ll end up. She’s like a feather in the wind; light, free and strong. I think I’ll miss her the most. She’s always just gotten me from day one. She didn’t make fun of my Star Wars collection; we read the same books and like the same bands. I hope wherever she lands, that’s she’s happy. I hope she learns to smile like she used to. She doesn’t know, but that smile can lead others out of darkness.”
After reading that page, while visiting her one evening, I was left speechless. I never knew Mitchell saw me like that. We had always been really good friends, but he never told me what I meant to him. It saddened me that I never told him that I cared for him just as much.
Mrs. Owens squeezed my hand. I wasn’t sure how long I had been sitting there, lost in that letter, with half of the town of New Hope looking at me. Slowly, I stood up and made my way to the pulpit on shaky legs.
“I…,” I began, my voice cracking.
Mrs. Owens looked up at me with expectant eyes. Her son was gone. She needed to hear me say something good about her only child. It was up to me to help her heal. No pressure.
“For me to say that I take peace from the fact that some day I’ll see Mitchell again would be a lie,” I told them and the crowd shifted in their seat, murmuring in shock. “I miss him and I’m going to miss him every day. What comforts me is the time I got to spend with him here. That time was blessed and precious; it was pure. Of course I look forward to seeing him again. We will have eternity to spend together, but not having him here seems so wrong. Mitchell loved with all of his heart. He smiled all the time to the point it was annoyingly cute. He was the kind of person that lifted your spirits just by being near him. Shortly after my dad died Mitchell invited me over this house. Do you remember, Mrs. Owens? We played board games, ate too many slices of pizza, and obliterated some Coke cans with his BB gun. He…loved. That’s just who he was. The world has lost that and so have we. I’ll never forget the precious time I had with Mitchell. I’ll never forget his loyalty, bravery, and compassion. I’ll never forget how he was always there, how he always stood up for me, how he protected me. He is a true soul and I’m so thankful to call him my friend.”
Mrs. Owens hugged me tightly after I was finished. I looked back at my family, wanting to be near them, to feel their loving arms around me. Yet, I sat beside this weeping woman, this hurting mother who would never again hold her only boy. This was my place for now.
I was angry. That was the stage of grief I was stuck in, pure, unbridled rage. If Vance was here at this moment, it would take God himself to stop me from getting revenge. Perhaps having homicidal thoughts in a church was putting one foot over the line. I was straddling the fence between the light and the darkness, teetering on the brink of falling in, but on which side would I land?
Was I a match for Vance? He used his Gift in a way that I had never seen. Neither Nick nor I could harness our power like that, not exactly like that anyway. Somehow I managed it that night. It was probably enhanced by fear or survival instincts. I had just seen Mitchell murdered and Liam was at my feet in really bad shape.
I had no other choice. I conjured that telekinetic energy inside of me to protect us. I threatened the other Gifted from doing further damage. If only I had been quicker, Mitchell might still be here!
Vance had stood there, frightened, but with no remorse for what he had done. No guilt for the young life he had snuffed out. Mitchell had merely been something in his way, something disposable. I don’t believe he even viewed Mitchell as a living thing, not even a human being.
He was the source of my anger. Mitchell was dead and he was still breathing. It was so wrong, so disturbing to know he was out there doing God knows what to God knows who. He was enjoying this sun kissed day and Mitchell wasn’t. He was able to wake up and Mitchell couldn’t.
It took me a moment to realize I was holding Mrs. Owens’ hand too tightly. The poor thing didn’t’ even complain. Honestly, she was so distraught the pain barely even registered with her.
I could feel it, the pain that haunted her, making it’s way into my bloodstream. It felt similar to that sorrow I felt when my dad was taken from us. Similar, but not the same. Losing a child was something worse than death. It was something I never wanted to experience, not even vicariously.
I shut away her emotions as quickly as I could. Today had been an onslaught of emotional warfare for me. Everyone’s feelings were heightened, which meant that I had to be on high alert. It had left me drained and off my game. This is why I wasn’t fast enough to shut her out without a tiny bit of her despair seeping into my soul.
A hole was ripped into my being as her sorrow hit me squarely in the chest, like being shot with a grenade launcher. My breath was caught in my throat, burning as I struggled to remember where my emotions began and hers ended. With great effort I managed to find my way to the surface before the pain consumed me.
I couldn’t let her feelings win. If I did, I’d breakdown right here. With all that sorrow, all that anguish, I was amazed that she could even lift her head off her pillow this morning. How was she walking around with all that weight?
Soon we made our way to the New Hope Cemetery. It was vast, old, but humble. The Owens, like many families here, had relatives dating back to the pre-civil war era. Mr. and Mrs. Owens had pre-paid for two plots, hoping to keep the financial burden of their deaths to a minimum for their only son. Today, they had to give one of those plots to him.
She hated it. It wasn’t fair to bury your child in the grave that was supposed to be yours. It wasn’t fair that she had to bury him at all. It wasn’t fair that on the day she buried him, the day her world was ending, that the sun was shining and the birds were singing.
She wondered why the sky couldn’t be as sad as she was. Why couldn’t the sky shed tears for her little boy? Wasn’t he worth it? The sky’s only answer was to burn her eyes with it’s radiant light.
Watching the casket being lowered was nearly too much for Mrs. Owens to take and her husband wasn’t doing much better. She swayed under such heavy emotions, but surprisingly, she held her own.
As we were leaving people came by to comfort her. They would say things like, “I’m praying for you,” “stay strong,” and “keep your faith.” To me, that’s the most generic thing to say to someone who is grieving. When Dad died all I wanted was for someone to just hold me, don’t say anything; just hold me.
Usually, I’m more of an introvert and want my personal space, but in that moment that’s all I hoped for. I could sense the same thing from Mrs. Owens. She just wanted to go home and be held by her husband. I watched her take condolences from the attendees and each one felt like a slap to the face. They meant well, but nothing anyone can say helps in a situation like this.
I have found that the pain never leaves; you just learn to manage it. How? For me, I give it to God. Do I still hurt? Every darn day. Does it rule my life? It tries. Do I try to take the pain back? Yes. Why? Because I am weak and think it’s easier to let the pain consume me than it is to fight or to trust that God can truly help me.
I gave Mrs. Owens one last hug, not saying a word, but kissing her on the cheek. When we got home Mom made us a glass of sweet tea and we sat on the couch, not really saying all the things we needed or wanted to say.
She was worried; she always worried. It seemed I gave her many reasons to do so. I know she was wondering how her daughter could end up surrounded by so much danger, so much darkness.
“Just like her father,” she thought.
“What?” I jumped.
“Huh?” she flinched, looking like she just got caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
“Did you say something?” I asked, my heart racing, wondering what she meant.
“Me? No. Why?” Mom frowned, her thoughts suddenly a jumbled mess.
“I just thought I heard you say something,” I rubbed my eyes.
“You’re exhausted, Rayna,” she pointed out. “You need to rest.”
“I’m going to the hospital to see Liam,” I countered.
“Honey, listen to me,” Mom said gently, moving closer. “You’ve been through a lot these past few days, more than most people should endure in a lifetime. You’re tired; you need to rest. I think you should stay home for tonight.”
“I need to see Liam, Mom, “ I argued, beginning to feel upset. “I can rest tomorrow.”
“That’s what you said yesterday and the day before that,” she rubbed her temples, sounding warn out. “The only way for you get there is by driving my car and I won’t allow it.”
“What?” I yelled, standing up from the couch. “Mom, I’m going to be nineteen next week. I can go if I want. Mom, you’re being…”
“A mother,” she snapped, glaring up at me. “You’re going to get some proper sleep tonight and that’s final! Now go to your room until supper is done!”
I stared at her in shock. It has been a really long time since she had lost her temper with me.
“Yes, ma’am!” I said it in the most sarcastic way possible.
Mom narrowed her eyes at me, but didn’t say anything else. Knowing that I wouldn’t win this fight, I stomped off to my room as if I were a child.
I threw myself on my bed and pouted. Many terrible thoughts ran through my head as I lay there. For instance, why did Mom insist on treating me like a baby? I was going to be nineteen next week! I should be able to do as I pleased, right? Did she not trust my driving ability anymore? I mean, I have been in two car “accidents” in less than a year.
I wanted to run back out there, yell at her, tell her she was being unreasonable. Instead, my body was telling me that she was right and I was so, so very wrong. I did need rest.
My mind slowed down as I drifted off into a heavy sleep. My last thoughts were wondering what she meant by “Just like her father.” Slowly, I tumbled down the rabbit hole and into my dreams. It could have been my mother’s thoughts that brought it on, but I was dreaming about my dad.
“Daddy?” I called out to him.
He was sitting in a chair, fishing from his favorite spot by the lake. When he heard my voice he turned and smiled at me, waving me over. My heart leapt in my chest, filled with joy that he was here. It had been so long since I saw his face. In the back of my mind I knew this was a dream, but I let myself be fooled into believing this was real.
“Daddy!” I cried and ran to him.
Dad stood up as I got closer and wrapped me in his strong arms. I cried into his chest until I couldn’t cry anymore. Finally, I looked up at him and he kissed my forehead.
“Look how much you’ve grown!” he grinned down at me, and then kissed my wet eyes. “Don’t be sad.”
“I just know this isn’t real,” I told him, hugging him to me again.
“Who says?” he laughed, pulling me away from him so he could look at me again. “Just because it’s a dream? I think you should know by now that your dreams are a bit different than the average Joe.”
My mouth was dry and I felt my legs shaking with energy. There was no way this could be real. My dad was dead and this was just a dream.
“Why did Mom think that about me? That I’m just like you?” I asked him, suddenly feeling like we didn’t have much time.
“Rayna there is so much you don’t know about this Gift and about this world,” his smiled turned into a sorrowful frown. “There have been dark forces fighting against our family for centuries. The Shadow, that’s just one of many names he’s been given over all of these years. He’s much more than the mad man you think he is because he’s not a man at all. Look, he wants you, not just to join him, but to invite him in. He wants to take over your soul because you are one of the strongest Gifted there has been in a while. You and the boy, Brian, are in big trouble. You need to find that boy and you need to protect him…..protect….you….him….protect you…”
“Dad?” I asked as he shook his head.
“He won’t be able to stay in Patrick much longer because while Patrick is Gifted, his body is too weak.” Dad finally managed to say even though it seemed like he was struggling with the words.
“Dad, what is he? Who is The Shadow?” I asked.
Unexpectedly, it was as if a heavy weight had been strapped to my feet and then from out of nowhere I was shoved. Then I was falling, tumbling down faster than seemed possible. My hair whipped wildly all around me and the air stung my flesh. I squinted my eyes together as a vast lake came into view. I knew where I was going.
The water surrounded me, enveloping my body with a heavy, inky blackness. Further and further down I went, the weight on my feet pulling me down into the depths. There was coldness and then there was warmth that came with the ever-changing current. Suddenly there was something else; there were others there.
I could see nothing because of the darkness, but I felt hands on my feet then on my legs. Nails dug into my flesh as they grasped my body, hoping to be saved. That was just it, they couldn’t be spared, they were dead. Even though I couldn’t see them I knew it was Cassie and Sierra and the others. It was the ones I didn’t save.
The Gift didn’t serve them well; I didn’t serve them well because I allowed them all to die. I could sense the accusations and blame emitting from their hearts, from their very souls. I failed them. This wasn’t a pity party, this was the truth.
The words from their hearts bounced around my mind, ripping holes in my subconscious, reminding me of the horrors they faced. It was like they were asking me why I couldn’t save them if my Gift was so great? Why were they used as pawns in a game by The Shadow? Why was I so special?
A plea of forgiveness was drowned by water running down my throat as I tried to speak to them. Gagging, I fought for breath, clutching at my throat, desperate for air. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew this was just another torture device concocted by The Shadow. Those girls weren’t really here, they had moved on. He was just trying to get to me.
Just when I thought I couldn’t breathe anymore I was pulled out of the water. Sputtering I looked up at my rescuer. Those green eyes were unmistakable. I would recognize that strong jaw line anywhere.
“Jayce?” I tried to say, but my words only came out like fog.
“I’m here,” his words similar to mine. “Wake up.”
His words were muffled by a horrendous sound, something like a foghorn. It sounded so garish that we both covered our ears, blood pouring through our fingers and running down our arms. Jayce reached for me as something out of the shadows seized his body and yanked him into the nothingness that surrounded us.
“Jayce!” I screamed, my words lost in the void, dissolving as soon as they formed. “Don’t hurt him!”
Jayce was there; I knew he was really there. Somehow, he was in my dream. I wasn’t sure if he was aware this was real or not, but he was there. It was some aspect of his Gift, something that neither one of us knew he had until a few months ago. When his Gift made itself known, he was thrust into a world he didn’t even know existed and took to it like he’d been aware of it his entire life.
I had not adjusted so well. There was a part of me that just wanted all of this to go away; to believe it was a nightmare that I would soon wake up from. It was folly to wish for such things knowing they would never come to pass. In truth, I would take this Gift and this life a million times over if I could just protect my family and my friends from it.
“Rayna, Rayna,” I heard The Shadow’s voice echo around me. “Why lie to yourself? If you searched deep down you would know that you enjoy your Gift. I believe there is a certain place in your heart that takes great pleasure in your abilities. You have to admit they are quite remarkable.”
I didn’t want to listen to him; I didn’t want his words seep into my veins. Urging myself to wake up, I prayed for release. Covering my ears and trying to ignore him I prayed with every bit of faith I had. This always set him off so I knew what was coming next.
My body was lifted and it felt like he was wringing me out like a wet cloth. I was being twisted and turned and squeezed from all sides. The pain was excruciating, but no matter how much he hurt me I still prayed.
“Your feeble prayers have no power here, girl!” he hissed at me, his words like fire on my skin.
“You’re wrong,” I managed to say. “Prayer has power everywhere!”
“Don’t you dare, child!” he warned, feeling my faith build. “I will crush you.”
“You can try!” I dared him. “Please…wake me up…Jesus!”
My eyes snapped open. The window outside showed the sun was down. Looking at my clock I saw that it was 2:00 am. I had slept all day. Mom was right, I was tired and I needed to rest. Even after that intense dream I felt my body could use more sleep.
I knew that God was on my side and that He would always be there. However, the small child inside of me wanted my mom. Going into her room I crawled into the bed with her.
“Rayna? What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Bad dream,” I told her and she pulled me close to her.
“I’m right here, Honey,” she kissed my forehead.
“I’m sorry I yelled at you,” I whispered. “I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too, Sweetheart,” she kissed me again.
We both feel asleep within a matter of seconds. No more dreams of The Shadow haunted me for the rest of the morning. For now, he was locked out of my mind. I knew it wouldn’t last forever, he would return and he would be ticked off about what I had done. Well, let him come back; let him bring his best. I was tired of him and his torturing. When he did come back, I’d be ready.
The air was cold, greeting me as I stepped into the hospital room. Liam lay on his back, eyes closed. His breathing was soft, but shallow as if he were using all his strength to fill his lungs with air and then release it. There was no doubt this was a dream, but something felt very real about it, as if my spirit had left my body and found it’s way to his side.
There isn’t much that surprises me in my dreams. Frightens me, yes, but I’ve come to expect the unexpected. I am by no means used to it, and I guess I’ll never be.
However, what I saw now chilled me to the bone. Liam’s mother sat on one side of his bed, Cynthia and Dr. Cole on the other. The scene would have been somewhat normal except for the fact that Chad stood at the foot of his bed.
He just stood there, staring at Liam like someone who had found a precious relic. There was an evil, maniacal grin on his ice blue lips. Why was he here? Just then, Wayland walks in and right through Chad. He shivers, but doesn’t seem to notice that he just passed through a spirit. Is that really what he did? Was Chad really here in this room with them?
He had to be a spirit, a ghost. Chad was dead; I had killed him. Now, here he was, haunting Liam the way he had haunted my dreams. Why? Liam wasn’t even there when it happened.
Suddenly Chad’s head snapped in my direction. His wound, the one I had inflicted upon him that ended his life, glistened with dark red blood. It trickled down the front of his shirt and dripped to the snow-white floor, creating a black puddle at his feet.
Then he pointed his finger at me, laughing. It’s never fun to be pointed at and heckled. It’s even less fun when it’s done by the ghost of a dead serial killer. A serial killer who’s dead because you killed him.
Needless to say, I was scared out of my mind! Even though I fought Chad and won, it didn’t mean I wasn’t disturbed by him and the twisted, horrible things he did. The tables could have been easily turned and it could have been me with a mortal wound on my neck.
I struggled to wake up, to get away from that horrifying laughter, but the weight of sleep was too heavy. I drifted off somewhere else, some place that wasn’t in my dreams, but belonged to another. For a moment I believed maybe it was Jayce pulling me away from Chad’s tormenting stare, but once the smell of salt water hit my nose I knew it was someone else.
Two young boys played in an open field on a bluff. One had sandy brown hair and green eyes. The other was taller, paler, and had eyes that I would recognize anywhere; eyes bluer than the ocean that lapped against the rocks beneath them. The younger, while having different features, was no doubt Liam’s younger brother.
He squealed in delight as Liam caught up to him, tackling him to the ground. They both wrestled around and the young boy got away and ran. They were dressed in thick pants and sweaters because the air was cold, I could see their breath in the air. Dew from the mist clung to their hair and skin, creating a sheen that dampened their flesh.
Despite the cold the boys didn’t let that stop them from playing. They ran in circles chasing each other and claiming an old, rotted tree was the only sanctuary when they needed a rest. I watched them for a while, smiling, letting their joy fill me from head to toe. It had been too long since I had felt happiness this pure.
“It’s your turn, Liam,” his brother said as he stood up from the base of the tree. “You promised.”
“Oh, alright, Mikey,” Liam responded sighing, standing up, his young voice making me smile.
Mikey didn’t wait for Liam to pursue him; he ran off straight away. Liam shouted, laughing, as he took off after him. Mikey turned and stuck his tongue out, not paying attention to where he was going. At the same time, Liam and I realized that his brother was too close to the bluff’s edge. We both shouted at him to stop.
“Mikey!” Liam screamed, picking up speed. “Mikey! Stop!”
Mikey turned, fear settling in on him, but too late. He tried his best to stop, but his momentum pushed him forward. He stumbled, tripping over his feet as he fell over the edge. Liam screamed; it was a sound that I never wanted to hear again because it ripped open my soul. Liam pushed himself forward, running with all his might to the cliff’s edge; I ran with him.
Both of us looked down at the churning waters. It wasn’t any more than a 20-foot drop, but the rocks and waves were violent. I felt Liam’s mind making a decision and without a second thought he threw himself down and into the water. My heart sank as he landed, narrowly missing a rock.
Without knowing what else to do and thinking I might be able to help I jumped in after him. All the way down I thought I heard his mother screaming. The water hit me like a cement wall, air exploding from my lungs. The waves were like icy knives, stabbing with their cold, serrated edges. They threw me back and forth as I kicked my way to the surface.
The air seemed to strangle me as much as the water had as I tried to breathe. It burned down my throat as if the air were on fire. Sputtering, I looked around, searching for Liam and Mikey. I called out, frantically fighting against the unrelenting waves.
There in the distance I saw a head bob above the water then go back down. Pushing myself forward I tried swimming toward the child. Watery hands tried pulling me beneath the surf, but I managed to move a bit further with each stroke. A small voice in the back of my mind told me that my efforts were futile, that this had already taken place so nothing I did would save Mikey.
Finally I reached the child; he was lying face down. I rolled him over, his face already blue.
“No!” I cried, pulling him to me.
A sharp pain in my chest made me release the boy. He fell beneath the water as I saw a pool of blood spread around me. Looking down I noticed a hole in my sternum. Liam, the grown Liam, held my heart in his hands.
“Liam?” I said, screaming out as he squeezed my heart.
“This is your fault,” he said, the light from his eyes now gone.
I shot up in bed, clutching at my chest. Mom came into my room at exactly the same time. Her cheeks were flushed and she smiled at me.
“What is it?” I stood up.
“It’s Liam,” she smiled wider. “He’s awake.”
My alarm clock went off at exactly 6:00 am. I slammed my hand down on the diabolical contraption and pulled the blankets over my face. Surely the person who invented something that sounded like nails on a chalkboard had to be pure evil. As I felt my mind and body relaxing, drifting off to sleep, Cynthia knocked on the door. I groaned.
“Liam, dear, “ she called, pushing the door open. “You’re going to be late if you don’t get up.”
“Hmmm,” was the only sound I could make as I rolled over on my side.
“Liam,” she repeated sternly.
“OK, alright, I’m up,” I said, pulling the covers off my face. “See.”
Cynthia looked at me with her soft, blue eyes, smiling. She was already dressed; hair brushed, make-up on and looked bright-eyed, ready to tackle the day. I envied her.
“I’m up; I swear,” I told her again, sitting up as she lingered in the doorway.
“I know finding a night where you actually sleep is rare,” she began. “I hate I have to wake you up.”
“It’s fine, really,” I lied. “That bit of rest did me well.”
“I hope so,” she responded, but didn’t seem at all convinced.
Stretching, yawning, and debating on whether or not I wanted to go back to sleep, I slid out of bed. Sleeping through the night was a rarity as Cynthia pointed out. Sleeping at all was even more so. When I did have nights that I actually slept, it was hard to wake up. It was as if my body was trying to play catch up and I felt like I could sleep for days.
Sleeping this heavily with the help of the medication I was on, always made me feel groggy. Sometimes it seemed like I was moving in slow motion, at other times it felt like I was racing past everyone else. Right now, I just felt odd.
Something about today felt familiar, déjà vu if you will. The smells, the sounds, it was all so disconcerting because of how memorable it all seemed. This wasn’t something I needed to be concerned with at the moment. I had to make sure I worked hard at this internship if I wanted my dad to stay off my back.
I wanted to take my band on the road, not to get away from him or Cynthia, but just to get away. I needed something, somewhere that took my mind from the past.
“You can’t run from your problems, Liam,” he said to me during one of our heated arguments.
He wanted me to go to university and I wanted to hit the open road.
“Why not? Isn’t that what you and Mum did?” I lost my temper, throwing salt in an open wound, grinding it in. “You ran to America and she just ran away.”
“Your mother loves you,” he flinched.
“Yeah, I have years worth of birthday cards just filled with words of ‘Love’,” I said quietly, but knowing he heard me.
“Well, I love you and you know it,” he pulled me into a hug. “Just…just stay one more summer, join the program. If you still want to leave when it’s done then I won’t stop you.”
“OK, Dad, OK,” I agreed, hugging him back. “I love you, too.”
That was one of the worst things about my parents splitting up, watching Dad crumble. He had always been affectionate and emotional. When he loved you, he showed it. At times it was overbearing, like in this situation, but I wouldn’t change him for anything. He and I had always been similar in that regard.
I couldn’t waste anymore time otherwise Cynthia would come back in here and give me an earful. Quickly, I dressed and met her downstairs. Dad was already at The Landing. If he wasn’t at the hospital then he was working there. He always made sure he was home for dinner though unless he just couldn’t help it. He never wanted me or Cynthia to feel as though his job was more important.
When I found out we were moving to America I was devastated. Australia was all I ever knew. My roots, my life, my everything was there. That was where Mikey was buried. I begged my father to not take me, but it wasn’t like he had much of a choice. My mother didn’t want me.
After the funeral she went to her sister’s to stay for a few weeks. She never came back. She sent divorce papers to my father and we never saw her again. For the next few years she would send letters and birthday cards, but that was it. It was always sent from a different address.
Dad met Cynthia through mutual friends. She pretty much saved him. Soon after that Dad told me we were moving to America. Trying to be the good son I didn’t put up much of a fight at first. Then when it became a reality, I panicked. It took a great amount of convincing to get me to at least become comfortable with the idea.
I was only a kid and leaving the country I was born in, for what? Because my dad needed a change of scenery? That’s what it felt like at the time, but honestly, so did I. It wasn’t running away from anything, it was running toward life. He probably saved my life as much as Cynthia saved his.
The Landing, it had saved my life countless times. Once we settled into our new home in Huntsville, the nightmares started. I would wake up screaming, calling out Mikey’s name. Dad would hold me until I fell back to sleep. Just when the doctors thought the nightmares were over, I stopped sleeping at all.
Over the years I’ve learned to live with it. It’s better than what I would see when I feel asleep. Perhaps that’s why I couldn’t sleep. Still, I thought I was going to lose my mind. My doctor recommended a family vacation out on the lake and Dad rented us a cabin in Guntersville. That’s where we all fell in love with this small town. That’s where I was able to look at the water and not feel the pain of losing Mikey all over again.
It didn’t cure my insomnia, but it made it bearable. Before I knew it, Dad bought a cabin, became President of The Landing, and now we practically live here. Here is where I met Marti and most of band mates.
Marti, I found solace in her at one time. I want to find that in her again, but she continuously pushes me away. I ask her why and all she can say is that I am not the same. It’s funny because I don’t feel like I’ve changed. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because she can see the pain in me, the pain that keeps me awake, that eats at my soul.
She is light and I am darkness. What I have gone through isn’t something she can understand. The darkness of life hasn’t touched her before. She doesn’t know what loss is and I hope she never has to. I think that’s the part of her I am drawn to, the peaceful part.
Something has changed in me though. The nightmares come more frequently now. They hurt, but it’s almost as if I’m viewing them from someone else’s body because they don’t break me down the way they used to.
Still, there is something I can’t quite put my finger on. I can feel something in the air, something toxic. I know it sounds crazy, but I can feel it. There is something inside of me; something dark and I think she knows it. That’s why she doesn’t want to be around me anymore.
“Do you want a ride to the Guest House?” Cynthia asks.
“No, thank you,” I tell her. “I’m going to ride my bike.”
“Please be careful and wear your helmet,” she looks worried. “I still can’t believe your father bought that thing for you.”
“It’s just a dirt bike, Cynthia,” I laugh at her.
“Yes, well, it still can be dangerous,” she narrows her eyes at me.
“I’ll be careful,” I promise.
“Oh, this came from your Aunt Kathy,” she hands me a package as she takes a sip from her coffee mug.
Aunt Kathy, Cynthia’s twin sister, and I have a very bizarre relationship. She is twelve years old than I am, but acts like she’s a teenager. When she visits we spend most of our time watching scary movies, going to local rock concerts, and eating way too much junk food. She always sends me cassette tapes; yes tapes, from local Australian rock bands. Sure enough, I pull out several cassette tapes, smiling.
I shove them in my backpack and head out the door. I’ll be listening to them tonight. I think I’m probably the only teenager to own a Walkman for the sole purpose of listing to Indie Rock Bands on tape. There is just something about the scratches and pops you hear in the music that makes you realize an actual person is playing the instrument rather than a computer.
As soon as I enter the Guest House, Mr. Wu corners me about the PA System. Something isn’t working and I’m the man for the job. I’ve always liked Mr. Wu. He welcomed us in with open arms and would take me fishing when Dad had a long day at the hospital.
I can’t say that I had ever been fishing before that. It was definitely fun. We kayaked down the river until we found his favorite fishing spot. It was nestled beside an abandoned Mill, which had a sign on it that read “Haunted by the Ghost of Jesse Barnum.” It was the oddest thing. We stayed there all day and caught enough fish to invite people over for a fish fry the next day.
“You’re the best, Liam,” he patted my shoulder as I headed toward the auditorium.
I was the first one in, but it didn’t take long for the place to fill up. Interns were piling in, finding a seat or chatting away. Every now and then I’d look up to see if Marti had entered, but once I realized she hadn’t I’d get back to work. Someone had managed to cut at least two sets of wires in half somehow. Great.
I glanced up again and saw Marti walk in with a few of her friends. I waved at her, but she rolled her eyes and pretended I wasn’t there. This was her way of telling me that she was still mad at me for not wanting to go to the same college she did. From the start she knew I had no desire to go to college; I had always wanted to just play music.
I huffed and turned around, focusing on the PA system. I’d let her vent to her friends about how terrible her boyfriend was. I was at the point where I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make “us” work anymore.
Something about working with my hands always puts me at ease. I can empty my mind of needless things and focus on the task at hand. I can get lost and it takes a lot to break my concentration. That’s why I was surprised that a laugh brought me back to the here and now. It was loud, yes, but it was full of something I hadn’t heard in a while.
Turning to see where the source was coming from, my eyes focused on a girl with raven hair and eyes that looked like liquid gold. She suddenly went from laughing to choking. Her friend, a blonde boy I recognized from school, patted her on the back while her face reddened with embarrassment. She coughed a bit more, but dodged other efforts of help.
Her honey brown eyes locked with mine and I couldn’t help but smile. It caused a tingle of recognition to race up my spine, creating a warmth that settled on my cheeks. I had seen that face somewhere before. I couldn’t have though because I would have recalled such beauty.
I flinched as the thought circled my mind. Despite the problems that Marti and I were having, we were still together. It was wrong of me to think about another girl the way I was thinking about her. I wanted to know her. It took great effort not to stop what I was doing and walk over to her.
She didn’t seem to want to break eye contact with me just as much as I didn’t. We shared something in that moment, but I’m not sure what exactly it was. Her attention was diverted elsewhere and her spell over me was broken. Feeling lightheaded, I turned around and went back to work.
There was a light tap on my shoulder, a touch that sent electricity through my body. I spun around so fast I nearly toppled over. She stood in front of me, her dark hair flowing in an unseen breeze. Those golden eyes stared a hole straight through me.
“Hi,” I said, my mouth suddenly dry. “Can I help you with something?”
“Liam,” she smiled at me.
“Uh, yeah,” I was nervous. “Do I know you?”
“Yes, we know each other very well,” she reached up, placing a hand on my cheek.
My face flushed at the intimate gesture. Who was this girl? She had to be mentally unstable to walk up to a complete stranger and claim to know them the way she believed she knew me. Still, I was so transfixed by the touch of her skin on mine that I didn’t dare move.
“Who are you?” I wondered, my breathing shallow.
“I’m going to wake you up,” she cupped the other side of my face with her other hand.
“Wake me up?” I felt as if those words meant something I could never understand.
“Nice try,” I heard a voice echo in my head.
A sudden pain shot through my body that had nothing to do with the girl. I was blinded with the pain and without being able to stop myself I fell to the floor. My head hit the wooden stage surface, only intensifying the discomfort.
“No use traveling down memory lane, dear boy,” that same voice said, shattering my eardrums. “You belong to us now.”
“Who are you? What do you want?” I screamed, covering my ears with my hands.
“Only your complete submission,” he said to me. “If you do that, I can make the pain stop. Not just the physical pain, Liam, but the pain that plagues your soul. That pain that has stopped you from being who you truly are.”
The pain stopped, the darkness gone. I found myself standing on a very familiar cliff, looking down into a very familiar ocean. The place haunted so many of my nightmares.
What was that out in the water? It couldn’t be! This happened 12 years ago! That wasn’t my brother out in those violent waves. Yet, I couldn’t deny it. There he was, struggling to stay above the water, but being dragged back under. Without a moment’s hesitation I jumped in. The cold water seeping quickly in, chilling my bones. I fought against the current, searching for Mikey. I couldn’t see anything underneath that dark ocean. I surfaced, looking for him above the tossing current, hoping against hope that I would be able to save him this time.
That is when I saw her. The raven-haired girl who thought she knew me. She was calling out Mikey’s name. I started to swim over to her, so we could search together.
“It’s her fault,” the voice said to me.
“What? Mikey fell,” I thought as I swam. “It isn’t anyone’s fault.”
“True, he did fall, but it is her fault you can’t forget,” he told me, his voice like razors on my skin. “She makes you feel like you haven’t felt before. She brings out all of the emotions in you that you want to forget. Remember, Liam? Don’t you remember who she is? All she has ever done is open old wounds and hurt you. Remember her.”
An onslaught of memories crushed into my mind with enough weight to push me under. I managed to stay afloat despite feeling like I just picked up something heavy. I saw her, I remembered her. I recalled mountains of pain that she had put me through. She had loved me then pushed me away.
Deep down in the center of my soul I knew she loved me and that I loved her, but there was pain there I didn’t have a name for. I was frightened that even though she loved me it wouldn’t be enough. She would always find a way to hurt me in order to save me. I was tired of her trying to save me.
I was tired of feeling guilty over not being able to save Mikey, for feeling like he should have lived and I should have died.
“The pain is too much to bear, isn’t?” the voice said in my head.
“I know who you are,” I said, suddenly finding myself on the rocky beach. “You’re her Shadow.”
“Then you know what power I have,” he whispered to me. “I can make the pain go away.”
“Liar,” I hissed at him, struggling to stand up. “You’re the one who started all this.”
“Oh it goes back much farther than Rayna, human,” his voice was filled with rage.
“It doesn’t matter what you say to me,” I shouted out to someone who wouldn’t show himself. “I know what you want from me and you can’t have it.”
“And what do I want from you?” he snickered.
“You want to use me against her and I won’t let you do that,” I firmly stated.
“You’re full of surprises, Liam,” he said materializing in front of me.
His form was exactly as she said it was, full of wisps of smoke that choked me on fumes of sweets and honey. Without giving me a chance he engulfed me with his form, suffocating me in darkness.
“You will do as I wish, boy,” he screamed, his words silent, but forceful. “You’re going to give me your soul or I’ll take hers.”
“If you could take hers then you would’ve done it already,” I spit back at him. “You’re not getting anything from me.”
“Here’s the thing, Liam,” he chuckled as if he just told a good joke. “You aren’t protected because you lack faith. I don’t have to ask for your permission.”
Those words brought me great dread. Why is it that something I was hoping for could cause me such worry? Shouldn’t I be happy Liam was awake? I should. Any normal person would be filled with joy and relief that their loved one was released from a coma. Still, that dream left me with a sense of trepidation.
Liam had stood there in front of me, with my heart in his hands. It was Liam only in body. I could sense the Liam I loved wasn’t behind those eyes I knew so well. It was as if something or someone else had taken over.
Mom and I were on the elevator in the hospital. She was giddy, happy Liam was alive and well. She was smiling from ear to ear, but as soon as the doors opened and she spotted Mr. Wu, her smile faltered. He looked at her nervously, wondering if he should say anything.
“Hi, Mr. Wu,” I started the conversation for them.
“James, please, Rayna, call me, James,” he smiled, hugging me.
“Right, I keep forgetting,” I smile.
“Ellie,” he said, his voice tight.
“James,” she said, not meeting his eyes.
“Not my place, but whatever happened between you…just get over it,” I snapped.
“Rayna!” my mother smacked my arm.
“I’m serious, Mom,” I rubbed the red mark she left. “After all the crap we’ve been through this past year we all should’ve learned that tomorrow isn’t promised, right? So, go talk it out and get over it and get married already.”
“I want to get married,” Mr. Wu said.
“You do?” my mom looked scared out of her mind.
“If I didn’t I wouldn’t have asked you, Ellie,” he reached for her.
“Well, then why did I find your ex at your house?” she pulled back.
“I told you, she just showed up,” he tried reassuring her. “I was telling her to leave when you got there, but you didn’t give me a fair chance to explain.”
“I saw all I needed to see,” Mom shook with anger. “You were kissing. He was kissing her, Rayna.”
“I wasn’t!” he protested, looking at me as if I could corroborate his story. “I swear. She was trying to kiss me. Ellie, please.”
“This isn’t the time or place,” Mom’s eyes glistened with tears. “And Rayna, remember that you’re my daughter and it’s not your place to involve yourself in my personal matters.”
Mom stormed off, leaving a torn Mr. Wu and me behind. I looked at him apologetically. I knew he was telling the truth; I sensed it from him the moment he started talking. That night played in my mind as clear as if I had been there myself. The problem was getting my mother to believe him.
“She’ll come around,” I patted his shoulder. “She loves you and that’s why she’s so upset.”
“I just thought she would trust me,” he looked deflated.
What did I say to that? There really wasn’t anything to say at this point. Right now, I had to walk down this hall and face Liam. I never thought I would be unnerved by the thought of it. Still, I had to muster up the courage to see if my anxiety about the reunion held any merit.
There was a range of emotions emanating from the room; I could feel them even before I walked in. It’s not that I didn’t care about the others’ feelings, but there was only one person I was concerned about. It was hard to pinpoint him with all the people present. As soon as I saw him he looked up and smiled at me.
It was the brightest of smiles and one I missed seeing for such a long time. Everyone looked over at me, but I wasn’t sure what to do. He was surrounded by his family and I was just his on and off again girlfriend. That didn’t seem to matter to him because he called to me.
“I dreamed about you,” he said, my face flushing.
It wasn’t out of embarrassment. I realized then why it had been so hard to figure out where his emotions where. It was because they were gone. No, that wasn’t it, there was something there, but it wasn’t the same feeling that he’d always had. He had been troubled, scared, hurt, afraid, but there wasn’t a void in him. There didn’t used to be.
Now that smile didn’t reach his eyes. They themselves were void of the mystery that was once Liam. All I saw was nothing and nothing looked back. Liam reached out to me.
“Come here,” he asked, all of the eyes in this room followed my every move.
What was I to do? Never in my life did I think the thought of touching Liam would sicken me. Without thinking about it, I walked closer to him. Every step felt as though I was walking toward a black hole, the pressure on my body was making it hard to breathe.
His fingers clasped my hand and electricity surged through my body. Liam didn’t react, but I could see it in his eyes. He felt it too. My head was spinning and my stomach felt as though it was in a knot. This wasn’t him. This wasn’t him! It was his body, but where was the sweet soul I had fallen in love with?
He moved over and pulled me on the hospital bed with him, wrapping his arm around my waist. We sat like that for hours, talking and laughing with his family as if the person sitting here was the Liam they knew. I was rigid next to him, unable to relax. I think he knew it and he was enjoying this little charade he was putting on.
It was well into the night before the nurses came in to remind us all that visiting hours were over. Liam held on to me so everyone left to give us some privacy. As soon as the room was empty I jumped up from the bed and rounded on him.
“Who are you?” I demanded.
“Don’t you recognize me?” he looked at me with a mischievous grin. “It’s me, Rayna, it’s Liam.”
“No, no, you’re not Liam,” I realized I was shaking. “Where is he? So help me God if you’ve hurt him…”
“You’ll what?” he laughed, getting out of bed. “You’ll kill me?”
“Are…is The Shadow inside of you?” I tried asking the real Liam.
“Ha!” He busted out laughing as if I just said the funniest thing. “I am Liam. This is me, just a new and improved me.”
“What do you mean?” my heart felt like it was about to shatter.
“The Shadow did have a part in this, you’re right about that,” he walked closer to me. “He opened my eyes while I was in that coma. He showed me I don’t have to live the way I was living before. I am free, Rayna. He took all of that…pain…he took it all away.”
“Oh God,” realization settled in like a knife in my side. “He took your…he took Liam’s soul! Didn’t he?”
“And I’ve never felt better.” He reached out and touched me cheek, I was crying.
“Don’t you touch me!” I shoved him backwards with my Gift.
He flew into the nightstand and crumbled to the floor. I thought he might charge me; the look in his eyes was murderous. Yet, he just smiled cradling his elbow.
“You don’t know what you’re missing,” he laughed. “The freedom in this is amazing! I’ve never felt more alive, more like myself.”
“You’re not Liam!” I stood over him. “You’re just a shell. I think he’s in there somewhere so what I say next isn’t meant for you. Liam, I know you can hear me and wherever you are I’m so sorry. I swear, no matter what it takes, I’m going to find you. I’ll find you and I’ll bring you back home.”
“He can’t hear you,” that shell said to me. “My Master can, however, and he says you look ravishing.”
“Tell your Master something for me then,” I grabbed Liam by the throat using my Gift.
I lifted him high above my head, holding him tightly. He grabbed at his throat, trying to free himself, his feet kicking.
“Tell him that I’m going to kill him.” I slammed the shell back down on the floor, his head smacking the concrete and walked out of the room.