November 9, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Two Part 3

As friends went, Naomi was utterly reliable; quick to laugh and even quicker to lend a hand or defend what she considered hers. Edith had been carefully tucked under that large protective wing ever since their chance meeting in Kalispell, Montana twenty-eight years ago. Although not blood related, they had chosen each other as sisters, indulgent of the other’s strengths and weaknesses with unconditional acceptance.

Three years older than Edith, Naomi was the more aggressive and outspoken of the two. And yet her daunting, rowdy tactics never stopped Edith from perceiving the caring, generous heart beneath the gruff Amazon exterior. When Trevon died Naomi practically lived at the bluff house and hospital until Edith could cope again.

Yet there was a deeply rooted need in Naomi to control, to horde, whether stray pets, the lost and injured, or material possessions―never satisfied with what she had, always wanting more. Even her husband and friends often felt the stranglehold of her affections.

As a teenager, Naomi’s abnormal height and physical strength often made her the center of attention, her golden hair and lush body bringing the local boys around for the chance to bust the Amazon’s cherry. Only instinctive, defensive empathic abilities saved her from being gang raped one night on the way home from school.

Although the body survived unscathed, fear and hate twisted a little deeper into a young girl’s already yearning soul.

Home was no better. With a bible-strict father and four industrious, no nonsense brothers all working dawn till dusk on the family ranch, Naomi tended the household chores―cooking, cleaning, laundry, ironing, and homework―with little or no time left over for friends or foolishness. Empathic abilities, supposedly inherited from her dead mother’s side of the family, were severely chastised when innocently revealed as a child.  When barely fifteen, an attempt to empathically manipulate her father into getting her way resulted in a beating that kept her home from school for two days.

Each passing year made the quiet, resigned charade presented to family and friends a little more real while the spontaneous, curious child died slowly inside. Already psychically underdeveloped, whatever uniqueness remained fell into disuse. At seventeen her father brought home the man she was expected to marry; the assistant ranch foreman. If she stayed, she would die on the ranch, cooking and cleaning, never having lived.

The next morning Naomi packed her bag and made the long trek to the highway to catch the next available Greyhound bus. Didn’t matter much which direction it was going. She waved down the friendly driver and never looked back. Roaming from town to town, from man to man, she eventually ended up in Kalispell, Montana, where curiosity had her wandering into one of the big local hotels sponsoring a seminar on psychic phenomenon . . .

“Hush, now,” Edith cajoled, wishing Damon were present to settle Naomi down. “You’ll only hurt yourself carrying on this way. We have to go now otherwise we’ll miss Ruthie’s Farewell.”

Desolate, tear-filled eyes looked up. “My little baby . . . gone,” Naomi cried feebly. “So young. So many plans died with her.”

Melony offered the decorative box and Edith pressed a white tissue to Naomi’s nose and ordered her to blow. “We all knew this was coming, love. It’s still a shock though. No one’s to blame but life itself. It’s the other children we must think of now.”

“Bullshit!” Naomi cursed furiously, throwing off comforting hands, her strong, hefty thighs heaving her large frame out of the chair to tower over the three startled women. “Their choice was to wait and now my Ruthie’s dead.” Seething anger flashed sharply from green eyes. “Your turn’s coming, Edith. When it happens to you, then we’ll talk about blaming life or incompetence. Your Debra can’t help them. She can’t even help herself. She’ll die just like all the others.”

Red faced and bristling indignantly, Kari wedged herself between the two women and glared fearlessly up at Naomi. “How dare you say such terrible things, Naomi Taylor. If you weren’t hurting already I’d bounce you silly off every tree from here to the beach. Now we’re leaving for the Farewell, with or without you.”

Melony pulled another tissue from the box, reaching up to gently dry Naomi’s fresh tears. “That’s just your pain talking, dear. But words still hurt and can’t be taken back. Come along now. Let’s go share Ruthie’s Farewell. I think it’ll do us all good. Don’t you?”

A flurry of hands and arms supported the large woman out onto the veranda and down the steps. Using the sight, Debra continued to watch from the bedroom as the small group followed the well-lit cobblestone path beyond the gardens to the opening in the hedge and the stone steps leading down to the main beach.

A farewell taking place on the beach, in the middle of the night, aroused more than mere curiosity. As did Naomi Taylor’s angrily shouted words, replaying over and over in Debra’s head.

‘. . . can’t even help herself . . . die just like all the others.’

Quickly, Debra stripped off her over-sized nightshirt, pulling on shorts, sandals, and T-shirt. Hand pressed flat to the bedroom door initiated another brief search of the house and found it empty; doors and windows were left wide open, and table lamps beamed bright light out into the night.

Debra hesitated on the veranda, her senses picking up a large gathering of energy off to the right. Perceiving no danger, no thoughts, no emotions of any kind, she focused her mind and easily located the one familiar heartbeat amongst the hundreds drumming in her head. Edith was nearby and safe.

She followed the meandering pathway through rock gardens and flowerbeds, dropping to the ground behind the low hedge opening just above the bluff stairs. One day she would probably see the humor in hiding herself in the bushes with her long hair ground in the dirt beneath her. It just wasn’t going to be today. Debra shifted up onto bare knees, evaluating the natural cover all around as she hastily braided her hair.

Hung low in the dark sky, a full moon bathed the well tended lawn and the tops of the stone steps in a lustrous glow. On all fours, Debra waited, listening, carefully peering around the corner of the hedge to the wide sandy strip below.

Eyes widened in surprise at the number of people gathered. Hundreds of men and women, middle-aged and elderly, had assembled on the roadway, the beachfront steps, even bunched together along the sandy shore between the bluff and extended dock.

Suddenly the crowd moved like a well-trained army, forming regiments of five across and ten deep. The first unit came together on the beach as the remaining five groups quietly blocked themselves out along the lakefront road. Every now and then a familiar face appeared amongst the interweaving mass, only to be swallowed up again in the tightly knit horde.

Debra stared, fascinated. What the hell is going on?

A representative from each group met by a boulder on the beach that was the size of a large pony. She watched as Harry Taylor’s lanky frame squared off between the water and the rock, as he inserted his foot into a crevice at its base.

Debra peered intently between the hedge branches, committing each action to memory.

Using only one hand, Harry moved the rock back out of the way as though the waist-high stone rolled on well-greased rails. He knelt, reaching inside an opening in the sand, and retrieved six hefty drawstring bags. Each delegate accepted one of the dark sacks and returned to their silently waiting troops. While the bags were passed from one resident to another, Harry returned the stone to its original position with no more effort than a child moving a beach ball.

Using stealth, Debra slithered to the top of the stone steps, concern narrowing dark eyes as she silently watched.

One by one a dim blue aura came alive around each resident like a second skin. Images flashed as she sifted through stored data faster than the blink of an eye. Her sightless gaze turned in the direction of the veranda, seeing him in her mind, watching the weird blue distortion that had followed Damon in the moonlight the night before.

She searched the crowd for his face even though instinct whispered that he wasn’t there.

While the sandy shore was fairly wide, the first group’s loose formation on the beach left little room to maneuver, let alone squeeze the other two hundred and fifty residents into some form of ceremonial circle or other religious shape in homage to young Ruthie.

Yet maneuver they did. Straight into the cold back waters of Crystal Lake.

Muscles tensed, bunching along bare arms and legs. Still flattened to the top of the stone steps, Debra fought the urge to leap to her feet. More than once she bit down hard on her hand to keep from shouting out in alarm.

Calmly, Harry and the troops continued further into the lake, seemingly unfazed by the chilly water rising rapidly up passed waistlines and armpits.

Edith was down there, the sanest person Debra knew. And a volunteer in this night’s madness. So she gritted her teeth and forced herself to be still on the hard stone, watching the bizarre unfold, waiting for answers.

Blue auras visibly glimmered against black water and the dark outline of the high sheer cliffs beyond. Those encased in the softly shimmering energy felt neither the coldness nor the drenching wet of the glacial mountain runoff.

Not a word was spoken. Each followed the other, water swirling over their heads, as they stepped off the steep ledge and dropped into the abyss below.

Debra gasped, too stunned to move, unable to tear her gaze away.

Tall, short, pudgy, and thin, the park residents remained in ranks and followed the one before until the last glowing aura disappeared beneath the surface.

November 8, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Two Part 2

The harsh use of her given name had Edith trying to swallow a nervous lump in her throat. And failing. “You’re right. The child in the photo is Ruthie. One very sick little girl.” She hesitated, knowing her next words would see her condemned. “I brought you here because this is where you belong. Where you’re needed.”

Dark eyes continued to stare, unwavering. “What do you mean, ‘you brought me here?’” Debra demanded, her voice dangerously low, controlled. “How?”

“We used the mediation globe,” came the blurted rush of words. “With Damon’s help I planted suggestions in your subconscious and motivated you to come to me.”

A cold shudder gripped Debra as the pain of betrayal blossomed in her chest like a hot, burning flush. Astounded anger flared, her eyes hard and penetrating. “You’ve been manipulating me? How dare you! And who the hell is Damon?”

“Please, Debra. You’ve trusted me all your life. So trust me now.” Anxious thoughts of blood-red eyes and black rages badgered Edith’s resolve to finally get it all out in the open. “Christ, where do I begin?” Fingers awkwardly twirled the diamond stud in her left ear.

Debra wanted to pound the table, to demand access to Edith’s thoughts. But she did trust the older woman, or had, and even infuriated a lifetime of love stopped her from using force. So she sat quietly, slowly dying inside, and waited for an explanation that made sense.

“Ruthie is my Godchild. She’s the granddaughter of my best friends, Naomi and Harry Taylor. I doubt you remember them. They live in the park office up by the entranceway.”

Dark eyes narrowed at the memory of the odd couple slumped on the sofa, the gold framed photographs covering the wall. Images of the haggard face framed in black brought another uneasy twinge to the pit of Debra’s tumultuous stomach.

“Ruthie and fourteen other children live with us here at Crystal Lake.” The wicker chair creaked loudly as she leaned forward. “I know what you’re thinking. Why aren’t they in a hospital?” Fingertips lovingly touched the photograph on the table. ”These children have a rare illness. Nothing conventional can be done for them.” Tearful eyes looked across the table at Debra. “I don’t think there’s time for Ruthie. But the others haven’t reached the final stage yet. We needed you to come home so you could help them.”

Incredulous, Debra stared at her aunt. “And what am I supposed to do?” Eyes widened in understanding. “You know about my abilities.” She snorted, shaking her head in disgust, ignoring the sudden jolt of pain between her eyes. “Of course you do . . . with all that poking around in my head. It’s my touch-healing you want. But I’m not a doctor. I’ve never healed anyone but myself . . . well, except maybe Sarah Humphries. And even that I’m not sure about.”

Weakened from the rage and long sleep, Debra had little energy left over to deal with the violently surging pain in her forehead. Through gritted teeth she snapped, “Here’s your healer, Edith. I can’t even end this bloody torture in my head.”

“Now that you’re here, Damon can stop the pain permanently,” Edith said without hesitation, rising slowly from her chair, watching the shifting darkness at the far end of the veranda.

“Tell your Damon to go to hell,” came the swift, contemptuous reply.

Uneasily, Edith cleared her throat. “I’ll let you tell him, dear. He’s right behind you.”

Defenses rushed to protect the mind and body. How could she have missed a nearby presence? Abruptly, the warrior surged from the chair and turned to face the enemy. “Kalon?” she whispered brokenly, emotions roiling out of control.

In silence he stepped from the shadows into full moonlight. How could this be? Debra staggered with the realization. Here was the same face, the same compelling body she knew so well. But his mind was closed tightly against her.

Something Kalon had never, ever done in the dream world.

This man was a lie; a cold, hard, empty stranger.

Energy arced and sizzled between her fingers, awaiting command.

Edith gasped, wide-eyed, watching first Debra then Damon, as though two rivals prepared for battle, knowing better than to interfere.

Six months without his touch, his smile, his thoughts seemed like a lifetime. Now Debra stared into grim, black eyes, unable to look away, astounded to realize he was absolutely livid.

At her?

After the two of them had deliberately schemed and violated her mind?

Jagged slashes of pain ripped through her brain, sucking the breath and the last of her energy reserves from her drained body. Reeling on bare feet in the warm evening breeze, the warrior weakened, leaving behind an exhausted, fragile shell.

Before anyone realized he had moved, Damon had Debra by the shoulders, chin pushed up, his other large hand resting flat against the thin T-shirt over her belly. With the touch of one fingertip to the moist skin of her forehead, Debra collapsed, unconscious, into waiting arms.

Deathly pale flesh glared ghostly-white next to his black trousers and long-sleeved black linen shirt. Thick raven-black hair hung freely below wide shoulders, the uncut locks swept back dramatically from a high forehead. Through the veranda’s glass roof, cool moonlight emphasized chiseled cheekbones and a firm, square jaw.

The light gave his golden skin tone the appearance of a shimmering blue aura.

I’ll take her inside,” he commanded softly.

Edith backed away as unyielding arms gently cradled Debra’s long length easily against his chest. Vivid black eyes glowered down at her, his tone dangerously civil. “Infuriated does not even begin to describe how I feel about you at this moment. Just five more days and the awakening ceremony would have answered all her questions. Would have prepared her for the truth and our life together.”

His dark eyes lovingly caressed the soft contours of Debra’s translucent face.  Damon took a slow, deep breath in an effort to release the anger vibrating through his body. He pulled Debra closer, inhaling her scent, prolonging the moment as his fears subsided. “I’ve waited a lifetime to hear her say my name. My real name.” An emotional glance pinned Edith by the table as he nodded toward Debra. “And when we finally meet face to face, what do I get? Contempt and fear from the woman who is, by first rights, already my wife.”

“I’m so sorry, Damon,” Edith blinked the tears from her eyes, more upset by his disappointment in her than by his anger. “I just can’t lie to her anymore.”

“Dammit, Edith. It’s not lies when you say nothing.” He flexed his arms keeping Debra close to his chest. “Not lies to avoid hurting her mentally and physically like this.” His eyes glistened with emotion. ”I’d rather face her anger, any day, than have her fear and hate me. You’re not the only one who loves her, you know. Not the only one who wishes things could have been different.” Damon took a step toward the table. “But if we break her, Edith, there are no more chances, for any of us.”

Suppressed sobs heaved in Edith’s chest as tears spilled from pale lashes. “You of all people know how strong she is. And you’re right, only five more days till her twenty-fifth birthday. But she’s done everything you’ve asked, and more. I think she’s earned the right to hear the truth.” Her palm slapped hard against the table top. “The awakening ceremony didn’t help the others and I don’t think it’s going to make any difference with Debra. She’s begging for answers, Damon. And now it’s time to pay for our silence. We’ll be facing her wrath no matter how it’s handled.” Trim nails clutched urgently at his muscled upper arm. “I know you feel the way I do, and that you’re hands are tied. But she’s here now, safe, and too much has already happened to deny her any longer.”

Torn by duty and love, Damon looked out over the shimmering black water, feeling as empty and dark inside as the lake. “It’s not your place or mine to decide these things,” he softly spoke, swallowing hard at the choking lump of emotion. Slowly, his glistening gaze shifted back to her tearstained face. ”I will always love you, Edith. Like you were my own mother. But you’ve gone against the elders, not to mention established medical protocol. And if I lose Debra because of what you’ve done here tonight . . . I will never forgive you.”

His words, soft and tormented, were a devastating blow. Edith crumpled heavily into a nearby chair, tears streaming.

At the open sliding screen door, he paused. “It’s not my intention to be cruel, Edith,” he said bereftly. “There’s no easy way to say this. Ruthie’s gone.”

“Nooo . . .” she sobbed loudly, swept away by guilt and sorrow, and cried into shaking hands as though she would break in two.

On the table sat the framed photograph of Ruthie; happy, smiling, very much alive. And now she was dead. Holding a little tighter to what was most dear to him in all the world, Damon surrounded Debra with his love and strength and the weird distorted aura of faint blue.

Even with his mind in turmoil, Damon easily reached out to Edith and lessened the heartache and heavy tears that threatened injury. When she sat quietly once more, staring out at the lake, he withdrew from her mind, leaving her alone to mourn.

Damon entered the darkened house, quite familiar with the layout of the spacious home. Debra was real and secure in his arms for the first time in his life. He should have been the happiest man on earth. But tears of grief and disappointment glazed his eyes and filled his heart as he followed the wide hallway back to the guest bedroom.

*   *   *

Murmuring voices and a shrieking sob awoke Debra to the veiling darkness in her bedroom. Instinct alerted stirring senses that another day of healing sleep had passed by. An internal scan quickly verified that her body was healed and re-energized.

Images of last night surfaced, bringing hands hastily to her head. The splitting pain had stopped. Even the incessant ache between her eyes was finally gone. Kalon. No . . . Damon―

She bolted upright in bed, long hair swirling about bare shoulders and arms. Damon and Edith had deceived her. Had planted thoughts and emotions in her subconscious. They had used her.

Damon. Just thinking his name sent a cold shiver up her spine. If Kalon and Damon were truly one . . . that meant her dream lover was real. It also meant he had been a part of her world―a part of reality―and chose to pretend otherwise.

Or maybe Damon had planted the dream world in her mind?

And yet, the man she met on the veranda had been closed. Impenetrable. A grim, remote stranger. If Damon was Kalon, then why block his mind? One she knew as well as her own.

Another jarring howl shattered her disturbing thoughts. Adrenaline surged and senses focused. Debra knew before flattening her hand on top of the bedcovers that Edith was in no danger. The sight took her down the long shadowy hallway to the brightly lit living room beyond.

Naomi Taylor’s sizeable bulk filled the fireside wing-backed chair as she loudly wailed in Edith’s consoling arms. The large woman’s hastily adorned green pantsuit did little to conceal ample breasts and a protruding tummy that jiggled and heaved with each distressing sob.

The loss of Ruthie seemed to have finally snapped her stubborn, voracious need for control. No amount of gentle fortifying, psychic or otherwise, could stem the flow of tears and bitterly cried words.

Melony Wilkins, nearby neighbor to Edith, kneeled beside Naomi with a box of tissues, looking more like a weepy summer tourist in her brightly flowered sundress than one of the top founding lawyers for the Crystal Lake Acres Corporation. Empathic healing skills were ineffective with Naomi determined to horde her pain as forthcoming fuel against the Elders.

Kari Simpson, a widow and resident of the park, hovered by the sofa with a glass of untouched water. A brilliant artist in metal sculpture, her flaming red hair and famous temper concealed a truly gifted talent for moving and bending objects with her mind. Just short of five foot three, her trim body was still eye-catching at fifty in sleek black Capri leggings and silk shell top.

Having always considered Naomi an arrogant pain in the ass, Kari held her tongue and temper at the big woman’s delaying tirade and buried her runny nose in a wilted black handkerchief.

“Hush now, Naomi,” Edith scolded gently, her patience beginning to wear thin against her very best friend. True, the child would be dearly missed by all, but Edith knew her long time chum exceedingly well and had no doubts that much of Naomi’s teary outburst was due to the loss of Ruthie’s abilities and her place of prominence within the family.

November 7, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Chapter Two Part 1

Thick lashes fluttered slowly, eyes squinting against the overpowering soft evening light. Newly regenerated optical nerves were still unaccustomed to the brilliance of light and color, even the muted blush of sundown.

As though awakening from a long coma, Debra moved slowly beneath the bed sheet, warming up muscles, stretching out minor aches. A badly parched mouth made dried lips stick together and crack when she grimaced. Yet the small taste of blood helped to get her salivating glands working again.

The black rage had taken its usual toll on her body: dehydrated, uncoordinated, and apprehensive of the damage and harm she might have inflicted. She concentrated, sifting through hoarded information―impressions, sounds, voices, the passage of time, danger―data gathered by inborn defenses, even when asleep. Debra didn’t claim to know the how’s or why’s regarding her capabilities, and stopped wondering about her uniqueness a long time ago.

She existed and so did her abilities.

And instincts or internal sensing was telling her she had been unconscious for three days, this time; a much shorter interval than any previous black rage. Ten days was the longest blackout she had ever experienced. Awaking alone, lying on the bathroom floor of her basement apartment in several inches of cold water. Thankfully, her trust fund had covered the damages. But she had been evicted just the same.

Her four years away at boarding school had been the calmest, safest time in her life. Although nothing was ever said, the medical staff seemed to understand her infrequent epileptic condition. At the first signs of extreme fatigue and muscular tremors, the nurses had her down in the school’s quarantine housing, heavily medicated, strapped down, and blindfolded. If any of the school personnel had psychic ability, Debra had never been able to prove it.

Days later she would awake to find colorful bruising, like bars across the front of her body, her laptop and class books sitting on the small swing-arm table by the bed. Recovery usually took another three or four days, giving her plenty of time to catch up on missed school work. Life went on as though nothing more infamous had taken place than a bad case of the flu.

At nineteen, Debra accidentally caught herself on a video camera during a black rage.

A short summer trip to Miami had turned into the vacation from hell. First the promised air-conditioning failed to work and then still fifty miles from her hotel the rental vehicle had broken down completely, engine trouble, leaving her stranded on a lonely stretch of highway in the sweltering heat for three hours before the company arrived with another car and profuse apologies.

And even though she had notified the hotel of her predicament and late arrival, her beautiful suite with a waterfront view had been mistakenly given to another and Debra had to be satisfied with a complimentary fruit basket and a single room overlooking the side parking lot and flamingo pond.

Exhausted, exasperated, and unable to face the small, depressing room, Debra stood on the tiny balcony, her mind completely blocked to the world around her. Tired eyes stared unseeing at the famous pink birds through the camera’s swivel-viewer.

Weakness had set in almost the moment the tremors started, giving her little time to lock the room and toss the camera, still running, onto the bureau across from the bed. The perfect end to a completely disastrous day. Her last rational thought before becoming incapacitated had been to wish the bastards in hotel management a trashed room, compliments of the black rage.

Five days later she awoke to find the bedspread scorched black where her body had lain. Hotel security was in the final stages of busting down the double-locked door, and a doctor and a nurse from the school were outside in the hall claiming a medical emergency. The forgotten camera had been hastily shoved in her unpacked suitcase and Debra was quickly hustled down to the waiting private ambulance. Exhausted after her ordeal, she had managed to sleep the entire way back to Virginia.

Two weeks later, with recharged camera batteries, Debra witnessed for the first time the unholy creature she became during a rage. The video tape was burned after just one viewing. She told no one except Kalon.

In the years that followed, Debra did very little traveling and never went anywhere without having a secure place to hide at a moment’s notice; motel rooms, rented storage lockers, enclosed rental vans or vehicles with extra large trunk space. Emergency rations and bottled water always filled the bottom of her knapsack. And if nothing else was available, she made sure to take only routes that had abandoned boarded up buildings or crumbling condemned homes.

Anything was better than falling in public, vulnerable, exposed . . . lethal.

So what had been the trigger this time? After more than a year of freedom, had the stress of Kalon and Edith and the long road trip out been too much for her emotionally? Debra scoffed, rolling her eyes irritably. Hers was a life of stress every day. Some days more than others.

So why now? she wondered, cautiously rolling to her side on the big bed, tired eyes glancing at the end table photo of Edith and herself at age five.

“Edith!” Debra gasped. “Oh, my God.”

Fingers flattened to the bed as the sight quickly scanned the house, room by room, to find it empty and undamaged. Woodwork gleamed and the windows glistened.

Sifting through memories for comparison, Debra realized the plants and fresh cut flowers in the living room had been changed. Several metal plant stands were missing and draperies and table cloths were new and freshly pressed. The elegant matching sofas had been replaced with a large U-shaped sectional in lovely white and green.

Debra groaned, guilt and fear bringing regret at having intruded in her aunt’s quiet life.

Amazingly, the massive glass wall had remained intact, unlike that long ago hotel room in Miami. God, what a mess.

Lone footsteps sounded clearly on the cobblestone path just beyond the front veranda. Mind-sight wasn’t needed to know that Edith was returning from the Orchard and her nightly visit with Trevon.

Lifting her hand from the bed, the sight instantly receded, leaving Debra surrounded in waves of overwhelming sadness and grief; her eyes widened at the desperate entreaty to Mother and Father God.

Edith was praying for a miracle!

*   *   *

Tall and resilient, like so many in her family, Edith slumped disheartened against the wicker chair cushion. Bamboo shades had been rolled back, allowing the first stars of nightfall to shine through the veranda’s tinted glass roof. Twilight deepened and intertwining vines of flowering clematis and broadleaf ivy jostled playfully in the warm evening breeze.

Sturdy wicker creaked as Edith reached for the crystal picture frame sitting on the glass-top table. Fingers trembled as she held the weighty frame tightly against her chest. Nearby roses and potted geraniums received the brunt of her mumbled heartache and frustration.

“Too much,” she muttered. “Too much for all of us,” she loudly sniffed, hastily swiping at tears. “Damn you, Damon.” She stared lovingly at the beautiful child in the photo. “I begged all of them and they wouldn’t listen. And now you’re the one to pay . . .” Her voice broke on a sob, shaky fingers wiping a runny nose.

Debra hesitated in the open doorway, unsure of her reception after the fiasco upon arrival. Yet found herself more deeply unsettled by Edith’s torment and sudden lapse in mental barriers.

“Auntie?” she softly called out.

Edith yelped, startled by the unexpected intrusion, forgotten barriers suddenly sealing off thoughts and feelings like a spigot wrenched tightly closed. The heavy picture frame clattered noisily against the table-top as Edith leapt up, spinning about in alarm . . . only to stop and stare, astounded.

“Debra―” she gasped, words failing her completely.

Dressed in nothing more than a thigh-length white T-shirt and panties, Debra stepped from the dark doorway out into the shadows on the veranda, her smooth, youthful skin tinged grayish-white and paler than any corpse lying in the morgue. Her movements were slow and hesitant as she approached. Tired sunken eyes peered at Edith, watchfully from behind tousled strands of long dark hair that floated in total disarray about swaying breasts and slender moving hips. Each shallow breath between dry, cracked lips was a conscious, taxing effort.

“My god, Debra . . .”

“I’m okay,” she quickly reassured, her voice barely above a whisper. “Really. Don’t be afraid. I won’t hurt you . . . the rage is over.” A dry tongue skimmed ineffectively over parched lips.

“It’s not me I’m afraid for,” Edith groused, completely miffed. “It’s you! Get your butt over here and sit down before you fall on your face.” Arms around Debra’s slim waist, Edith guided her to the nearest chair. “I wasn’t expecting you to be awake so soon.”

Callused fingers eased the disheveled hair back from Debra’s cool, colorless cheeks. “Mmm, maybe the interference from the mediation globe,” she muttered, cursing her spotty memory as she tried recalling all the data on previous attempts to control Shari’s Syndrome with the globe.

Report after report had all said the same thing: investigative tests to control or reverse Shari’s Syndrome using the mind altering affects of the mediation globe had failed. Absently, Edith twirled the impressive diamond stud in her left earlobe. Every attempt until now, she mused. Why? What was different this time? Debra? The globe?

Edith’s eyes popped open wide. “No! The distance,” she whispered loudly, suddenly anxious to report her findings to Rowan. The globe had been no more than an inch, two at the most, from Debra’s eyes. Penetration of blood engorged retinas had been impossible using any of the tested distances.

Debra blinked, trying to focus on something other than sleep. Across the table Edith sat lost in thought. The woman was still so beautiful, so loving. Guilt rose to attack her conscience once more. Dreading the inevitable, Debra quietly asked, “I suppose you want to talk about it.”

Edith looked up, aware of the guilt that filled her niece.

“I’m so sorry you had to find me like that. You did . . . see . . . everything, right?”

The older woman’s eyebrow rose sharply, out of curiosity. Total blackout? she wondered.

Debra made a feeble gesture over her shoulder. “I’m not sure what happened . . . yet the house . . . aside from a few changes, nothing seems damaged.”

“Sweetheart, I’ve known about your, black rages, since the day they started.” Edith shrugged, grinning sheepishly. “I’ve just never seen one before.” Her clear, blue eyes suddenly flared. “And I don’t mind saying that I hope we both don’t have to go through that again.” Indifferently, she waved toward the house. “The house is fine. Nothing that a good cleaning service couldn’t take care of.”

Relief flooded, easing the constriction in Debra’s chest. The large wicker chair creaked, almost swallowing her willowy frame as she leaned back against the plump cushion. The emotion almost more than she could handle at the moment. Eyes closed, Debra breathed deeply, willing her racing pulse back to normal.

Warm fingers, callused and comforting, lightly rubbed the soft, cool skin along Debra’s bare arm, alerting Edith to subtle muscular tremors still evident. “Sweetheart, I think we should get you to a doctor. There’s someone right here―”

“No!” came Debra’s emphatic response, fingers reaching for Edith’s hand. “For the first time in my life I sensed your thoughts, your feelings.” Moonlight rippled over the mop of brown-black hair gathered haphazardly behind delicately pierced ears. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. But you . . . such heartache,” she whispered, tears glittering darkly in her eyes.

Trembling fingers gently brushed at the moisture on Edith’s cheek. “I think that’s what woke me up. You’ve cried so hard that you forgot to block yourself.”

“Debra, there’s a reason―”

“Shhh,” Debra whispered, ignoring the perpetual dull ache between her brows. “Whatever your reasons for blocking me, I accept them.” Her gaze settled on the crystal picture frame laying face down on the table. “Your thoughts spoke of a child. Can I see?”

The clear, carved frame felt cold and almost too heavy to hold in Debra’s weakened condition. Turning the smooth crystal over, she stared at the sweet laughing youngster with familiar black eyes.

How could she have missed the resemblance between the golden framed photographs on the dining room wall and the young girl from the globe? Tilting the picture toward the older woman she blurted, “This is Ruthie. And you know she’s dying.”

Edith’s somber expression turned incredulous. “How do you know Ruthie?”

“For years I’ve seen her and other children in dreams. And there’s a whole wall of her photographs in the house up by the entryway.” Debra stared steely-eyed at Edith. “If you know Ruthie, then she’s real. And if she’s real then the other children are too . . . and Kalon? . . .”

Edith noted the stubborn jut to Debra’s chin, and waited like a coward for the brewing storm to blow up in her face.

“All right, what’s going on? Where are they? Here in the park somewhere?”

Nervous fingers hastily twisted the diamond stud.

“How do children you know, that I don’t, become a part of my dreams?” asked Debra, her face clouded with growing anger. “And why have my dreams suddenly been filled with the need to come here and avert some disaster? Dreams of you in trouble.” She suppressed a sudden fear of the truth. “Almost like I was compelled to come here.” Determined eyes stared across the table. “Talk to me, Edith.”

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