cnwood

November 4, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter One Part 1

Crystal Lake, Cascade Mountain Range

Washington State

Nine Years Later

The long bus trip was finally over. Debra Hall stood alone on the gravel roadside, eyes closed, senses weary, the quiet fading twilight embracing her like a cool compress to a fevered brow. Five monotonous days of traveling in cramped seating had Debra’s knotted muscles quivering with fatigue. Five days of completely shielding herself against the constant bombardment of thoughts and emotions from fellow travelers had her mind in an exhausted stupor for the last one hundred miles.

Sandaled feet rested gratefully on solid ground once more. Now all that moved was the evening breeze, its gentle caress soothing, uplifting. Several deep breaths of clean mountain air and fragrant evergreens helped to rid her of the clinging scent of unwashed bodies and overpowering perfume and aftershave. Debra sniffed herself and grimaced. What she wouldn’t give for a long, soaking bath.

For the first time in months, Debra felt a smile pull at the corners of her mouth.

Another internal tremor spasmed through long, stiff muscles. A familiar warning that her mind and body required sleep much more than a bath. Yet fatigue and expectation made Debra careless to the vague debilitating symptoms. Besides, it had been more than a year since her last bout with the black rage―a term used in disgust to describe the complete breakdown of her gifts; like suffering through a grand mall seizure, only a hundred times worse. Having been free for so long seemed sufficient proof that age and maturing mental strength was enough to keep the worst from happening again.

Standing on the side of the road, across from the well-kept entryway, Debra finally let down her guard, sensing only distant, ambiguous thoughts and emotions. Nothing she hadn’t lived with all her life and easily ignored. But the small community before her was silent. No painful barrage of mind clutter or hammering sentiments. Just the same quiet stillness she remembered from that long ago summer.

Without the sight she could sense only heartbeats, one in particular. A distinctive rhythm known to her as well as the cadence of Kalon’s beating heart or her own.

Edith Bromon was close by, and safe.

Thank God. The sentiment echoed gratefully in her mind, the sense of unease at last relaxing its stranglehold.

After twenty years, Debra had returned to a place of happiness. Six days ago she had decided to listen to instincts and heed the warnings of dreams and nightmares that had plagued her every night for the past two months. She had also been utterly determined that half a year was long enough to grieve for the abrupt loss of Kalon and the dream world.

Anger mingled with sorrow because she would always wonder about him. Had he grown tired of their half life together? Was he dead? Had she done something, said something? Would the pain ever cease long enough so the devastating emptiness in her heart could someday heal?

Debra had never felt so alone.

Everything was gone. The latest rented room, another senseless job. The duffle bag at her feet carried all that remained of the past nine years of living on her own.

Normally she wouldn’t have cared. Being alone was preferable to being with people. The painful lessons of youth had made her resilient and extremely cautious. Kalon liked to call her his warrior queen; strong, proud, unique. The loss of his love, his unwavering connection, was like losing the best part of herself. Debra hadn’t felt so vulnerable in years. The perceived threat to Edith had finally rallied her floundering energy and state of mind, giving her someone to save, someone to care for.

And so she had come. To the only place in her reality that had ever felt like home.

Crystal Lake. Even the name still alluded to the enchantment and sense of belonging that a child of five had taken to heart and never forgotten. And now, twenty years later, Debra faced the entryway to her aunt’s home, looking for answers. And maybe, if she was lucky, find some of that long ago magic once more.

Duffle bag in hand, Debra approached the paved driveway, enjoying the scent of wildflowers and pine trees that had always seemed sweeter just before nightfall. There was still enough light to see the evergreens butting up against the surrounding split-rail fence; a dense army of green giants that only birds and forest animals could penetrate. Tucked in behind mature flowerbeds and privacy hedges, the mobile home park sprawled across the hill above Crystal Lake, completely isolated from towns and rural neighborhoods.

Arched over the entryway, the large sign looked to have been recently painted: Welcome to Crystal Lake Acres – Adult Mobile Home Living printed in confident red and green and neatly trimmed in gold. For twenty-two years the iconic billboard stood as a halfway beacon for travelers along the old No. 2 Highway, a two-lane mountain thoroughfare that joined the west side of Washington State to the east.

Bright floodlights highlighted the tall lettering and lushly tended flowerbeds. Reflective white paint crisply lined either side of the wide asphalt entryway and parking area. A dashed center line disappeared around the bend into the park. Nothing had changed. Even the green cottage-like office building had retained the look of Santa’s chalet with its steep, red-tin roof and white gingerbread woodwork.

Old-fashion streetlamps illuminated the roadway. Debra followed the two-lane pavement as it curved and branched off, slowly making her way toward the steep hill that led down to the lake, each mobile home staggered and tucked neatly amongst soaring oaks and pines scattered liberally throughout the well-kept park.

Abruptly Debra stopped in the middle of the road, more surprised than angry by the weak attempt to probe her thoughts.

No one but Kalon had ever intentionally touched her mind before.

Shifting through recalled sensations, Debra instinctively knew the intrusion had come from nearby. That the perpetrator was blocked to her and no doubt feeling safe behind solid mental barriers. A stupid game or an actual threat to her presence, she wondered?

Erring on the side of caution, she laid splayed fingers firmly over the warm, gnarled bark of a roadside leafy oak. Enhanced senses expanded beyond the inner composition of the tree to encompass a see-through image of each nearby mobile home and crowded knot of trees. Her sight soared for a bird’s-eye view of every shadowed hiding place and ground indentation all the way back to the empty parking lot and office building.

Instinct had her focusing on the two-story office chalet. She watched the older man and woman sitting silent and unmoving on the living room sofa. A remarkable blue glow filled the room. As expected, their minds were blocked. Heartbeats were slow and steady. A first impression had her thinking of meditation. There was nothing to suggest that either of them had tried to probe her mind.

Just instinct. Something Debra had learned long ago never to ignore.

Warily, she revoked the sight by releasing the rough bark. Play your games, she thought, diligently. Your element of surprise is now lost. Ready to put the incident behind her, Debra grabbed up her duffle bag―

“Debra. Leave. Now.”

The threatening words trumpeted over and over inside her head as defensive mental barriers slammed down tight. Outside intrusion was now impossible. Yet at the same time, she was also blind to the habitual vomit of thoughts and emotions unwittingly churned out by unprotected minds.

Survival instincts kicked in automatically.

Adrenaline flooded her system, unleashing a dangerous warrior mentality and training. Heightened reflexes became faster, stronger, and lethal. Ordinary sensory perception slowed, missing nothing, while her ability to sift and recall information allowed her to plan and attack in seconds. Instantly, muscles engorged with oxygen-saturated blood vessels. Skin cells enlarged, making surface tissue firmer and less susceptible to injury and bruising.

Debra tossed her duffle bag at the base of the oak tree, turned, and narrowed her gaze at the park office.  Challenge radiated from composed brown eyes, control from her warrior-like stance. Tiny blue bolts of static discharge arced menacingly between relaxed fingers.

Stealth was as normal to her as walking in sunshine. She entered, without sound or confrontation, through the unlocked office door to the soft swishing hum of the rotating counter fan. Along the entire wall by the door, varnished wooden planks created a rustic countertop with the usual accoutrements of business.

Her hand hesitated over the brass service bell. An uncomfortable feeling of familiarity seemed to linger just out of her reach to recall. The distraction was discarded as warm evening air fluttered announcements and cards pinned to the enormous bulletin board that hung between two curtainless windows across the room.

With each surefooted step across the dark linoleum floor, memory of the couple sitting on the sofa was reanalyzed for all pertinent information regarding area dimensions and potential threats.

Inside the adjoining room, Debra silently reclosed the shuttered door. A rectangular wood dining table and six ladder-back chairs dominated the small space. To her right, another door and a room beyond; no doubt the kitchen, judging by her heightened sense of smell.

China and crystal goblets overflowed polished cabinets and glass shelving units along every wall but one. To her left, hundreds of photographs neatly covered the tiny rose patterned paper from ceiling to floor. In almost every photo, a smiling black-haired child stared back from golden metal picture frames. Animated, happy, her youthful skin glowed like delicate, transparent tissue paper.

A burst of empathy suddenly conflicted with Debra’s objective, momentarily offsetting rigid defensive restraint. Why she felt anything for this child made her back away from the wall. But those large black eyes, sparkling with a maturity and sorrow well beyond their years, would stay with her forever.

About to turn away, she spotted the black-bordered frames just above the floorboards, as though banished for some unforgivable sin. Hunched down in the shadows, heightened eyesight studied the serious young woman, her ghostly complexion, dark hair and eyes, captured by the camera at different moments in her life. Rarely did a smile touch the well formed mouth. An illness, Debra wondered, reaching out to touch the last photo with its haggard, haunted face.

Abruptly, Debra buried all emotion, filing away impressions for a later time to analyze. The warrior was back, staring into the darkness at the end of the dining room, calculating the odds of danger on the other side of the heavy gold curtains.

A simple arched doorway separated the two rooms. Debra peered between the floor-length draperies into a small living room still immersed in the eerie blue glow. The congested assortment of gleaming wood tables, cabinets, knick-knacks, and expensive area rugs, rudely jarred the senses. Costly green and gold fabric covered the sofa and chairs and draped over windows from floor-to-ceiling.

The sight was never wrong.

Soundlessly she tread on thick carpets, peering cautiously over the high back sofa.  Huddled together, wide-eyed entranced, she came face to face with the tall, lanky man and equally tall, heavyset woman from her vision. Vacant eyes stared, captivated by the mesmerizing blue light radiating from the mounted glass ball on the coffee table.

One look at the ball’s pulsing blue core and Debra’s mind was ensnared, penetrated without force or pain. The warrior in her struggled, using sheer mental strength alone, to overpower the intrusion. And the harder she resisted the more intense the flickering glow.

Her heartbeat slowed as physical sensations fell away. All that remained was consciousness and a disorienting awareness of descent; of pastel colors blending, darkening, swallowing her in blackness. Instincts were quiet, defenses down.

Debra waited alone for the unknown.

Black shifted into grey, then slowly cleared. They were waiting for her. Children from vague dreams and nightmares. Sweet faces cloaked in death. Black eyes, ancient and knowing . . . just like the child honored in the gold picture frames.

Instincts hastily nudged at the truth.

Somewhere these children existed. And they were all waiting for her.

Consciousness shuddered, as though tightly closing her eyes against something too bizarre to comprehend. Awareness returned and Debra was back in the living room, heartbeat pounding in her throat, the elderly couple still deep in a trance.

Adrenaline continued to pump through her veins. Heightened senses once again at her command. Debra left the chalet quickly, quietly, with no one the wiser to her visit.

Harassed with more questions than answers, she grabbed up her duffle bag and followed the roadway down the steep hill. Someone or something had forced those words into her mind. The old couple? A message from the glass ball?

An intense weariness gripped mind and body as adrenaline and heightened senses slowly dissipated from her system. The warrior returned to the shadows until danger threatened once more. Common sense demanded that she remain behind protective mental barriers.

At least for now.

Better to be blind to those around her than mentally open to a malicious attack. Debra had no doubts in her ability to incapacitate, even kill, should the threat become physical. Kalon had taught her well, going down in defeat more times than he liked to remember; although the majority of their bouts usually ended in a draw.

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