cnwood

November 6, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter One Part 3

The sliding door closing echoed loudly in her throbbing head. The ability to focus fast receding as she followed the sound of Edith’s fading footsteps. To the last Debra fought to stay conscious, but the rage was too strong.

Once the mind went under the body was vulnerable.

Burning pain shot across the top of her skull and down along her spine. Too late to try and hide away in the back guest bedroom. Debra was no longer in control. All her impressive abilities, the omnipotent power to kill, now belonged to the all consuming black rage.

Neck muscles, with no more strength than a newborn, gave way, her head sliding along the back of the sofa, coming to rest awkwardly against her shoulder. Sweat trickled in rivulets across her drawn face, seeping through eyelashes to burn her eyes. Blood gathered protectively around vital organs, leaving her skin almost transparent white.

Throughout the body, seizures gained strength, attacking motor-sensory nerves, choking flexibility one vertebra at a time. Muscles and tendons went flaccid as kinetic energy purged through pores, swathing Debra in a fusion of arcing blue fire.

Silently, Edith stood in the shadows of the screen door, staring aghast, unsure what had prompted her to turn around. Lab notes and subject reports suddenly seemed such ludicrous preparation for the violent spectacle before her.

Fear quickly sucked the moisture from her gapping mouth.

Shari’s Syndrome, or in Debra’s vernacular the black rage, threatened the family as well as the host; the brutal genetic disorder unpredictable, uncontrollable, eventually lethal.

Air particles, super stimulated by the abundant waves of kinetic energy emanating from Debra’s body, randomly discharged like tiny fireflies about the room. The slowly condensing atmosphere heaved and swirled, billowing curtains, buffeting tablecloths, clothing, adding anything of unsubstantial weight to the whirling mayhem beginning to clutter the huge open living space.

Framed artwork clattered and thumped threateningly against living room walls and down the wide hallway. Decorative planters overturned, the glazed ceramic pots rising up to collide in mid air, sending pottery shards and debris about the room like shrapnel.

Fearing for Debra’s safety, Edith hastened into the house, staying low, scurrying on all fours toward the nearest sofa.

She grabbed a sandaled foot and pulled hard. And gasped loudly, snatching back her smarting hand against her prone body. This close Edith could feel the burning heat literally gushing from Debra’s bare skin, could smell clothing and sofa fabric smoldering beneath the intense heat.

Something hard smacked the back of her raised head. Instinctively she curled into a ball on her side as close to Debra without actually touching the hot blue aura. Edith warily watched flying debris careen through the seating area. Watched in horror as several large chunks of broken pottery flew straight for Debra’s head.

Within inches of the target, the rubble suddenly bounced harmlessly to the side amid sparking dirt and broken petals and flower stems.

Through the mayhem she could see clean space; what appeared to be a faint blue outline surrounding Debra. Relief made the sweat on her body turn cold. So the files of documented defenses were true: While senseless, Debra’s automatic defenses protected her from harm.

The only one in any real danger was Edith.

Slowly she slithered up onto the sofa cushion along the perimeter of Debra’s safe zone and glanced up into demonic blood-red eyes.

Startled, Edith threw herself off the sofa. “Good God!” she yelped, scooting back in a rush against the fireplace. Bits of dirt and debris bounced off her head and shoulders. Once more she flattened to the floor for protection.

Overhead, enormous panes vibrated along the entire length of clear glass wall. Suddenly the glass bulged inward, stretching like sugar candy, thinning to the point of breaking.

Edith bounded up from the floor dreading the worst, shouting, “Stop it, Debra.”  Fear of shattering glass made her forgetful. She grabbed the younger woman’s bare wrist and shrieked. Muscle and tendons convulsed beneath her hand. Searing heat made fingers momentarily numb.

Pain ripped the breath from her lungs. Unbalanced, Edith stumbled back against the end table, upending the black Lover’s Box.

She dove for the small space between the sofa and skewed end table. Empathic skills were useless against the fury of full blown Shari’s Syndrome. To pit her own mental barriers against such a force would be suicide.

Anger mixed with fear at the helplessness she felt. For the first time she could truly empathize with the hell Debra had been forced to endure. Could better understand the brutal torture that had taken the less resilient of their children.

The numbness faded, leaving a stinging pins-and-needles sensation throughout her hand. “Damon, she groaned against the carpet fibers. “Where the hell are you?” Sniffing loudly, she wiggled on elbows and knees through the small space and turned around, desperate for a plan to get them both out alive.

Sparking energy danced in stunning blue arcs across the toppled metal flowerpot stands. Edith stared in horror as tiny blue currents crawled over the metal locking faceplate on the tumbled black Lover’s Box. Her heart clutched at the thought of the handmade wedding gift being hurtled against the wall and destroyed.

Quick fingers defied the maelstrom and tumbled the bulky container between the sofa and end table. Edith clutched the precious box to her heaving chest, muttering a prayer of thanks and sending a telepathic appeal for deliverance.

She palmed the delicate gold chain and locket about her neck and stared longingly at the oblong crystal pendant set in gold filigree, paired with a small scrolled key. Trevon’s wedding gift to the heart. The metal key winked at her in the subdued lighting. Inserting the small key, she unlocked one of the few remaining treasures from her brief marriage twenty-six years ago.

The intricately carved squares of black wood interlocked across the lid and dovetailed sides of the box. Smells of wood polish and flower petals assailed the senses, stirring memories. Padded silk, purposely matched to the ocean-blue color of her eyes, protectively draped the carved pedestals that cradled a palm-size meditation globe.

Ignoring the vicious ache in her clumsy, raw fingers, Edith lifted the globe from its cradle, wincing at the pain, and cupped both hands around the smooth orb. Cool living crystal, slowly warmed by living flesh, awakened, rousing the core’s mesmerizing blue flame.

Eyes closed to the flames hypnotic effects, Edith thrust the globe over the sofa armrest and bellowed to be heard above the din. “Look at the flame, Debra!”

Fingers like molten steel clamped onto her wrist and slowly squeezed. A mindless scream filled the great room. Unable to escape the burning grip, Edith bit down hard onto her lower lip, anything to survive the pain and roiling nausea.

The globe dropped unscathed to the sofa cushion, the blue core flickering, waiting for ocular contact.

Overwhelmed with fear and pain, Edith instinctively jerked back with all her might, pulling free of the excruciating grip, upsetting the end table and crystal lamp with a crash. Curled tightly around her injured wrist, she watched helplessly as pieces of the beautiful lamp were carried away in the whirlwind that filled the room. How many of her cherished mementos would Debra’s black rage end up destroying?

Anger quickly surfaced, building up a head of steam. Edith Bromon was not known for sitting on her hands and waiting for rescue. And she bloody well wasn’t going to start now. Pushing aside the fact of those hideous red eyes, or the glass wall bulging inward on top of them, she defiantly stood, scooping up the globe, and thrust the glass ball mere inches from the face of the convulsing creature before her. “Look at the goddamn flame, Debra,” she ordered loudly.

Acquisition was instant. The crystal’s flame penetrated the sensitive layers of Debra’s blood-filled retinas. Immediately, the blue radiance breached tissue and cells of the eyes, brain, and spinal column, spreading its calming, emptying influence throughout the body. Engorged blood vessels contracted to normal, slowly clearing the eyes. Failed nerve pathways resumed natural conduction, stemming muscular seizures and convulsions.

Breathing, heart rate, and paranormal functions lapsed into cataleptic exhaustion, allowing Debra’s autonomic self-healing to begin repairing internal trauma.

Shredded flowers, dirt, shards of pottery, paper, and whatever else had been caught up in the maelstrom, suddenly plunged to the floor, leaving a layer of filthy over furniture and carpeting.

Astounded, Edith squinted through the haze of dust choking the great room; the abrupt, awkward silence strangely deafening. Incredibly the glass wall appeared undamaged, the huge panes free of obvious separations or cracks.

Eyes averted, she returned the globe to its cradle inside the Lover’s Box, the flickering blue flame never leaving sight of Debra’s vacant gaze. Edith shakily collapsed next to the scorched, reeking sofa and lamely ran a tongue over teeth coated in grit. In numb silence she waited for help to arrive.

*   *   *

Colors blended—pale amethyst invading deeper blue, merging into wispy strands of black. Somehow she was back in the mysterious domain of the globe. And like before, all sense of time and dimension were lost. Void of physical substance, instinct warned that resistance was pointless.

The mind’s eye remained vigilant, instantly aware when darkness thinned, brightening into shades of gray.

Just beyond the engulfing mass of shifting mist, they waited for her. Legions of black haired, black eyed men and women, their unadorned jumpsuits blending like camouflage against the dimensionless, gray ambiance.

Thousands of minds gave welcome. Her consciousness staggered under the unbearable onslaught of thoughts and images begging for hope, crying in fear. Protective barriers were useless. With no control and no defenses, Debra helplessly waited for awareness to rupture into oblivion . . .

“ENOUGH!”

Compliance to the harsh command was instant. The multitude of judgments and feelings receded as one, leaving in its place a sense of indebted esteem.

The ranks of men and women parted and Kalon approached. And with their minds linked once more, he filled Debra with his strength and love. His tender kiss lifted from her lips. Debra was startled to have actually felt the sensation; to once again see with her eyes and fingertips as well as the perception in her mind.

Kalon pressed a finger against his lips to stall her horde of questions. He stepped to one side, watching her searching eyes settle on the small group of children waiting for her undivided attention.

Their beauty took Debra’s breath away. Fragile little faces filled with delightful acceptance. And a strength of will that seemed so much more controlled than the adults that hovered protectively around them. Large black eyes revealed an innocent curiosity, their smiling lips sweetly mouthing her name in welcome.

A young girl, no more than five or six, tucked her fingers into Debra’s hand and beamed like the sun when thought and energy merged between them. The child, Ruthie, was pulled back to rejoin the other bubbly youngsters.

Debra’s smile quickly fell, though, as the truth became painfully clear: Ruthie and the other children were dying.

“Debraaaa . . .”

There was no mistaking the fear in Edith’s penetrating cry. Debra’s gaze turned toward the distance plea.

“Debra . . . please come back . . .”

“Please baby . . .”

A glance over her shoulder for help from Kalon wrenched a startled cry of her own. Nothing remained but gray mist. “Kalon,” she called out telepathically. “Don’t leave.”

The mist receded and darkness fell, for a moment or a week there was no way to tell. Then blackness alter into shades of blue and time and space became relative once again—the unmistakable hum of Edith’s vexed muttering, the feel of the sofa beneath her back, the smell of coffee and dust in the air.

Debra opened tired eyes to laughter and tears.

“My God, sweetheart, you’ve been gone for hours,” Edith babbled joyously, her grin wobbly, her bandaged hand rubbing vigorously over cold arms and legs to speed up Debra’s circulation. “Almost too long, baby. Now you’re body is paying for it.”

Dawn’s early sunlight shimmered blindingly through the towering glass wall.

Another yawn stretched Debra’s jaw to the limit, each deep breath bringing another tinge of pink back into pallid cheeks. Brown eyes struggled to stay open, confusion clear in their weary depths. “How bad . . .” came the raspy whisper.

Edith chuckled, impatiently kissing fingers still stiff and cold. “Rowan says you’re okay. But you’re gonna sleep for days.”

“Incredible . . . Kalon . . . children . . .” Debra mumbled, thoughts racing to hoard all the knowledge and emotions that crowded awareness, piling one upon the other and burying her under an avalanche of truth. “Strong people . . . desperate . . .” she sighed, groping for words to justify the magnitude of their grief and aloneness.

Extreme exhaustion tugged at drooping eyelids and consciousness. A soft pillow slid beneath her lifted head; felt the heated blanket tucked more securely about her chilled body stretched out on the sofa. No amount of willpower could keep sleep or the loneliness of dreams at bay.

Deep within darkness, she watched his shadowy figure slowly draw near. “Kalon, you came back to me . . .” Willingly, Debra once more surrendered her soul to the happiness of the dream world.

*   *   *

Through the tranquil splendor of sunrise, transcending distance and dimension, a collectiveness focused all its strength and hopes at the exhausted young woman asleep on the sofa.

Even in dreams Debra felt them reaching out, calling her home.

November 5, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter One Part 2

Sandaled feet slowed near the bottom of the hill. Lights from the park flickered over the mirrored lake surface, the soaring cliffs outlined like slumbering giants on the far shore. The magic, thought Debra, the corners of her mouth curving slightly upward.

Longer than it was wide, the cold, black waters of Crystal Lake filled a natural mountain chasm that some said went deeper than a mile. Debra often dreamed of tumbling helplessly through that dark abyss, never sure of reaching out for life or death.

Other than her years with Kalon, that long ago summer with Edith had become a milestone of happiness in a life filled with rage and fear. Being returned to Dorothy after such a wonderfully impressionable time had been devastating to a child of five. Something vital inside her had died after that. Trust. Laughter. Innocence.

Slowly looking around Debra realized the park hadn’t changed that much over the years. Whitewashed logs continued to stand like wooden soldiers along the beach road. Well maintained, the extended dock rocked gently on calm water, several small boats tied down ready for another summer’s use.

Lifting mental barriers for just a moment, trembling fingers gripped the railing and the sight widened into a bird’s-eye view of Bromon Peninsula; a jutting bluff that Edith inherited from her husband’s family six months after Trevon’s death. Never remarrying, Edith had spent time and money transforming the heavily overgrown bluff into a paradise in memory to the only man she had ever unconditionally loved.

At first glance the triple-wide mobile home resembled a contemporary, white villa, white awnings shading the small roadside windows. Blooming purple, pink, and blue clematis vines entwined with thick green ivy along white lattice fencing and clung to uprights and horizontal supports along the three-sided full-length veranda.

Red cobblestones lining the carport and wide walkways surrounded the home, the patterned bricks meandering off into the peninsula’s spacious rock gardens and tiered flowerbeds.

Just beyond the veranda and the bluff’s three-foot bordering hedge, deeply cut stone steps created a shortcut from the headland to the main beach below.

Debra released the dock railing and closed herself off behind sturdy mental barriers, images of the peninsula still clear in her mind. The dwarf fruit trees at the far end of the bluff, affectionately known as the Orchard, were now enclosed in an enormous glass greenhouse.

Trevon’s ashes had been scattered throughout the orchard when the trees were first planted fifteen years ago. And a nightly ritual was started, bringing comfort and healing for the loneliness. Every night, just before darkness, Edith would stroll out to the orchard and talk about her day with Trevon, maybe seek his guidance about a worrisome problem that had her up nights pacing the floor.

Edith admitted once to Debra that she was usually the source of those vexing problems. But the misspoken words were said with an affectionate laugh and an enveloping hug.

Debra noticed that her aunt wasn’t in the orchard tonight.

As a child she’d been told that Uncle Trevon lived in the fruit trees, protected and kept them healthy. Who was to say it wasn’t so. All of the original trees were still producing in abundance every year, their weighted branches almost touching the ground. Edith’s fresh apple and cherry pies, bursting plum tarts, and glazed peach turnovers were always a welcome change to summer’s chocolate cones and iced drinks. Every Christmas, whether at the boarding school or her current rooming house, Debra received one of Edith’s large care packages filled with tasty treats and the memories and magic of Crystal Lake.

Internal sensing warned that someone approached. Even fully blocked, her inborn instincts acted like radar. Words were inadequate to explain the workings of her defenses. Maybe normal senses picked up a shift in the air around her. Or felt a vibration closing in. Something her consciousness was unaware of. Yet step within her protected zone and she immediately knew from where and how many.

Kalon often remark that her highly sensitive defensive instincts were the best he’d ever seen. He may have abandoned her but Kalon was always generous with his praise, even when losing to those defensive instincts.

“Debra, it’s time to come home.”

Edith Suzanne Bromon stood on the roadway, silent and serene, her long red silk tunic and pants gently fluttering in the soft breeze coming in off the lake. At fifty-one, her tall frame was still strikingly robust, giving the appearance of one easily mistaken for a decade younger. Ocean-blue eyes twinkled in the glow from the overhead dock lights. Her cap of short silver curls flattered a smooth forehead and high Slavic-descent cheekbones. Red lipstick stained full lips, the corners curling upward in patient amusement at the obvious probe by her niece.

For the first time, Debra and Edith met as equals. “I never could read you,” said Debra, the soft words carrying easily over the night air. “No matter how hard I tried to probe, you were always closed to me. Just like everyone else here in the park.”

Eyes that missed nothing saw the momentary crease between slender, pale brows; noted the fleeting avoidance of eye contact. Edith was hiding something. Debra moved away from the railing, tempted to drop protective barriers to physically sense her aunt’s heartbeat and breathing. To take the hand of the woman who had been more of a mother to her than her own and feel whether there was contentment or fear at standing face-to-face again after nine years.

But an innate sense of respect prevented her from prying in that way. “It’s been a long time,” Debra said at last, almost apologetically. “How did you know I was here?”

“Not so long. We talked on the phone just a few weeks ago.” Edith reached out, gently tucking Debra’s arm under her own. Unconcerned by the closed face, watching, waiting for an answer. “I’ve been expecting you, dear.”

“Are you in trouble?” The nightmares flashed through her mind—Edith injured, dying, afraid, hospitalized, mugged, drowning. Each night another new bizarre dream. Each one with Edith as victim.

“No, dear. I’m not sick or dying. But there are things we need to discuss. And I’m sure as hell not going to do that out here on the road. Come on. Let’s go back to the house.” The old familiar smile was back in place. “I’ve made a few changes since you were last here.”

Warm, callused fingers soothingly patted Debra’s hand as Edith got them moving along the empty road toward the peninsula. Her fingers stilled, sensing the deep muscle spasm quivering through Debra’s arm. Maybe their talk would have to wait until after a good night’s sleep.

A faint smile edged Debra’s lips. “After twenty years, I would hope to find at least a few changes. Although, do you still have that underwater wallpaper in the back bathroom? I really liked those two little seahorses.”

Open, classy, and welcoming. The main room was lot like Edith Bromon herself. Debra entered the large mobile home, feeling tension finally let go. Instincts responded with a satisfied nudge. Here was peace. Here was safety.

Instead of the remembered peach, silver, and dramatic dark green, Edith had chosen wonderful earth tones of blues, greens, beiges and browns to create an atmosphere of stylish comfort. Silk wallpaper and distinctive furnishings reflected richly in the curtainless exterior pane-glass wall rising up to meet the steep line of the home’s cathedral ceiling.

The scent of night blossoms entered through the sliding screen door and open windows, stirring memories, easing the aloneness.

Debra abruptly shattered the appealing serenity, quietly asking the question uppermost on her mind. “Dorothy was easy to read. But not you. Why?” She hesitated, a stillness to her body. “Are you like me?”

Fine brows rose in surprise. “I’m not blocked to you, dear, not really. Not the way you are to me right now. I just assumed—Kalon—taught you about the different levels of blocking.”

“Kalon! You make him sound like he’s just around the corner. Didn’t Dorothy tell you he was a figment of my imagination? That I was . . . possessed by a demon spirit?” Suddenly aware she was angry at the wrong person, Debra dropped the duffle bag at her feet and slumped down wearily onto the sofa. “Sorry.” Ringless fingers chafed at the dull ache throbbing just above the ridge of her nose. “Long week. Didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

“Sweetheart, I don’t claim to understand the connection you’ve had with Kalon all these years. But I’m here to tell you, right now, that I believe that connection is real.”

Another wrenching piece of the large knot in Debra’s stomach loosened. As always, Edith remained generously supportive and bluntly honest. How could Debra do any differently?​ Maybe the time had come to open up and reveal everything; the psychic abilities, the black rages, the killing power. Even the loss of Kalon and the dream world.

Debra seriously doubted Edith’s reaction could be any worse than Dorothy’s stinging anger and choking paranoia.

Pain stabbed sharply between furrowed brows, a bitter wave of nausea upsetting her stomach.

Feeling much too tired to worry about repercussions, Debra laid her head back on the sofa, eyes closed, and replied with effort. “Kalon and I communicate telepathically. Thoughts, emotions, everything. Only on a much deeper level.” She stiffened as internal tremors grew stronger. “Hard to explain. Somehow the subject of blocking just never came up.”

Something cool and wet was needed. Edith headed for the kitchen, her cherry red tunic top gracefully swirling about her knees. “I like to think of blocking as my spam protector.” The humor in her voice trailed back into the living room. “I set up parameters of what I want blocked and what I’ll allow through.”

Tinkling ice suddenly registered through the numbness slowly spreading in Debra’s mind. A cold glass nudged against fingers lying motionless on the sofa cushion. Debra gratefully accepted one of Edith’s famous sweet iced teas and swallowed half the glass in one gulp. “Ummm, thanks. So what you’re saying is,” she clumsily backhanded tea from wet lips, “I don’t have to be fully blocked to be protected from the thoughts of others. To stop someone from probing my mind.”

“Basically, that’s it.” Edith settled on the edge of the cushion beside Debra. “Imagine a solid barrier in your mind. Now reduce the solidity of that barrier a little at a time until your senses can see through but nothing else can get in.” She took a small sip of tea, glass waving in the air. “No stray thoughts or emotions coming in or getting out. Now you’re protected, not blind. The remaining barrier is still sensitive and strong enough that no one can just waltz into your mind without getting a figurative door slammed in their face. Not to mention one hell of a headache.”

Long fingers patted Debra’s knee. “You look exhausted, dear. Relax here for a bit while I walk down to the Orchard. I won’t be long.” Her smile turned to a frown as muscle spasms quivered against her palm. “Are you all right?”

“A little tired from the trip,” Debra evaded, breathlessly. “I think I’ll finish my tea, then turn in.” Dreading the inevitable, she forced a weak grin to mask her discomfort. Soon the rage would take her ability to reason. Edith had to leave now or suffer the worst. “Give my best to Uncle Trevon.” Fingers clenched as sweat beaded in a rushing blush across her body. “Don’t hurry back. I . . . I’ll see you in the morning at breakfast.”

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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