cnwood

November 3, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Prologue Part 3

“I’m not leaving,” Debra stated stubbornly, using the form of telepathic speech they had always used when visiting the dream world; the name she had chosen as a child for Kalon’s beautiful, lush world.

An earthlike place filled with smooth green meadows and giant shade trees. A place of sunshine and calm lakes and colorful flowers. Here the mind and body was whole and healthy, with nothing more to worry about than an overactive imagination. For in the dream world thoughts and wishes could become as solid as in reality.

No rules, no pain, no fear.

Over the years Kalon and Debra had built and discarded tree forts, cave dwellings, a sod hut ― practice for one day attempting an igloo ― and just the year before, a log cabin with a covered veranda all the way around.

But more often than not, they simply played by the lake or slept cuddled in the oversized hammock stretched tautly between two massive willows. The wide, generous space beneath dripping fringes of fragrant green branches was scattered with rich carpets. As much a home as any solid structure she had ever known.

The tea table was always set in readiness with pots of hot chocolate and freshly squeezed orange juice. Platters of iced cakes and giant chocolate chip cookies bursting with nuts were crowded next to painted ceramic bowls of favorite fruits and truffle chocolates. And no matter how many spills or crumbs missed the china plates, the tablecloth and hemmed napkins remained white and crisply starched.

There were no people or animals except for those they wished into existence. Toys that grew out of favor simply disappeared, to be replaced by something that indulged a mood or satisfied a need. As they grew older the challenges became bigger and harder, their curious, competitive natures becoming more expressive and daring.

Although lately, more irritably changeable yet warily flirtatious.

Little wonder Debra had always cried when the time came to return to the reality she had been born to. It was the only disagreement that still ached like an open wound between them. Never to heal until he finally agreed to let her stay. Never to leave them in peace until she finally understood just how much was at stake.

“You can’t make me go back,” she said sternly, ignoring his attempts to distract her with magically appearing birds and flowers. He had become too beautiful for her own good, Debra thought privately. Just looking at his leanly muscled body, golden and naked from the waist up, made her fingers tingle with the need to reach out and touch him. Not to mention how her stomach seemed to roll over every time he brushed up against her or stared at her whenever he thought she wasn’t looking.

Kalon ignored the short length of her sundress, the way her ripe, full breasts pressed against the low-cut neckline, and wondered for the umpteenth time what right he had to once again convince her to go back and endure. No one in their right mind would want to go back to that self-destructive hellhole. Yet this decision concerned more than just himself and Debra.

If she didn’t return, the family had no future.

If she died . . .

“No, my love,” His uniquely vibrant resonance filled her mind with soothing sounds and images. “I’d never force you to do anything. I can only remind you, once again, that without you, alive and well in your reality, there will be no me, no us . . . anywhere.”

Blushing, Debra eyed him questioningly. “My love?” she repeated slowly. You’ve never called me that before. I’ve always been Hally to you.” Her hand absently stretched out, letting one of his magical birds settle comfortably on her palm before it disappeared.

Her thoughts filled with the pleasing sound of his deep-throated laughter. “A spin on your last name. But how you hated it when we were babies.” The warm smile fell away from his face, the pad of his thumb tenderly rubbing across her full lower lip.

His beautiful, solitary Debra. Kalon knew her to be taller than teenagers her own age. Next to her, most were clumsy, empty-headed. Just one more distinction that set her apart from her peers. Even now, at sixteen, she was stunningly tall, athletically slender and well toned, and stronger than any female he knew.

A warrior woman, Kalon thought, his pride deep and satisfying.

A gifted psyche, whose emerging abilities could someday surpass even his own ascendancy.

A best friend, destined to be his lover and wife from the moment of birth.

“But we’re not babies anymore, Debra.” He spoke softly over the syllables of her proper name, pulling her protectively into his arms. Need and hunger swelled inside him, as always, whenever she was near. He held onto her anxiously, eyes tightly closed to escape the anguish of her earlier agony. “And I almost lost you today.”

A part of each other’s minds and souls since she was barely eighteen months old, Kalon had uneasily bided his time until the cycle could be completed by First Rites.

Three years difference in age had him waiting patiently since his sixteenth birthday to awaken Debra to the pleasures and commitment between a man and woman. That day, for some reason, her innocent kiss had warmed his lips and produced a profound effect on his body. Not to mention his mind and trying to hide lusting thoughts from a child who could read him inside and out.

There had been nothing innocent or childlike about Debra’s thirteen-year-old body.

He should have been up for sainthood the countless times he’d gritted his teeth while she swam naked in the lake; her skin glowing like satin, his hands fisting with the need to touch. The aching frustration of keeping his distance as she sunbathed on the waterfront rocks in thong bikini bottoms and peek-a-boo string top.

Kalon groaned inwardly thinking of those little red shorts and skimpy shell top she habitually wore for their regular sparring matches, all that tight, soft flesh brushing and rubbing and pressing against his own until he was ready to explode.

How was a guy supposed to concentrate? To keep his hands off her and maintain control? Especially when she didn’t realize what she was doing to him.

Now, as he held her, he felt a difference in the way she cuddled into him, slowly, purposefully, rubbing her belly and mound against his erection. Breasts that made his mouth ache for a taste pressed snugly into his chest, while curved, swaying hips filled his hands. A dance of love and lust, he mused, his fragmented thoughts unsure where one left off and the other began.

Caressing palms roamed freely in slow, soothing circles over her slender back and rounded buttocks, coming to rest gently alongside thinly covered breasts. For once Kalon was glad not to see her binding white sports bra beneath the pretty, sleeveless sundress.

He wondered if she could hear the pounding of his heart. Feel the heat of need radiating from his body.

Leaning back slightly, he raised her flushed face with a fingertip beneath a downy soft chin. “Do you want me, Debra? Tell me you want me.” And prayed the answer was yes.

Looking up into intense black eyes, the pit of her stomach slowly rolled over again and plunged to bare toes. Debra shuddered with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. “I want, Kalon. I’m just not sure what to do.”

Self-conscious, Debra blushed, annoyed by her ignorance and that little masculine gleam of I’ll-teach-you shining in his dark eyes. What she knew about the actual sex act could fit on the tip of one of his well-shaped fingers. But she gorged on the ravenous inferno in his mind, his fighting to go slow, determined to explore every inch of her when all he really wanted was to take and give in a heated rush until they were both used up, unconscious.

A flash of raw hunger flourished in her mind, shooting pleasurable jolts down between her legs. Caught up in images of their entwined bodies, Debra had no fear that he would be anything but tender and careful with her first time. His generosity, his love had never been in question. What shocked her now was how that same fire of need burned out of control within her.

Only Kalon had her love, unconditionally. Who cleansed away the bitterness of reality and kept her sane.

The only one she trusted completely.

Sensing her thoughts, Kalon gently brushed his mouth over parted lips. “I swear to you on my love, by all that we share, Dorothy will never hurt you again.” Then sealed his promise with a breathtaking kiss that had Debra dissolving inside, warm and wet and needing all of him to fill up the emptiness.

Hearts pounding, a joyous longing mingling and merging from one consciousness to another, they fed on the scent and taste of each other as each piece of clothing came free. Air hissed sharply through clenched teeth. Moans of pleasure quickly following. Fingers laced together, clinging tightly. Lips and tongues dueled passionately in a frenzy of greed, pushing desires beyond awareness, beyond the physical, beyond the boundaries of the heart.

Knees buckled sending them sprawling amongst the wildflowers and sweetly scented grass. Innocence and youth were forgotten as needful bodies pressed and arched in an age-old rhythm of life. Until there was nothing left but shallow breathing and sweat-soaked skin.

Pressed deep inside her still, Kalon roused himself up on bare elbows and magically draped a thin gold chain about her neck. His hand opened revealing a slender crystal pendant, delicately set in gold filigree, no longer than her baby finger. “I offer the talisman, freely, and with all my love, as a symbol of my commitment to you,” he whispered, kissing her gently, his fingers stroking soft, moist cheeks. “I love you, Debra. Tell me you accept this token in the same way.”

Barely giving her time to answer, she murmured between desperate kisses.  “Oh, Kalon. How could you doubt that I would.” She bit his lower lip playfully, the crystal pendant clutched to her heart. “I accept your beautiful gift freely, and with all my love.”

It was done.

First Rites had been claimed and now taken. For the family, the laws of First Rites were simple and clear. Once joined, the Heart of the Talisman was offered and accepted. Bonding was for life. Now the journey to the Heart could begin.

* * *

The distant sound was persistent, annoying. A regular chirping beep that pulled Debra from soothing oblivion into a small, gloomy room with white walls and ceiling, white bedding and starched drapes. Although muffled, she could hear the afternoon rain splattering softly against the clean window glass. Could hear traffic moving slowly on the busy roadway outside her room.

She knew it was early afternoon by her internal sensing. A skill she took for granted because the ability had always been there, always right. Something to do with the way her mind absorbed and processed and never forgot anything that happened around her, awake or asleep.

Automatically, Debra erected mental barriers that tuned out the female voices at the nurse’s station down the hall, across from the elevators. Shut out the nearby beeping life support machines monitoring feeble breaths and medicated pain levels.

The clinic, Debra sighed, breathing as best she could with three fractured ribs.

Her home away from the dream world.

She was back in reality, having let Kalon talk her into another promise to try again. But only because of his guarantee there would be no more Dorothy.

Instinct warned her not to move. The damage was extensive this time. Healing would take at least several weeks, possibly a month with all the internal injuries. The drain on her system would require several more weeks after that to recover from the self-healing process.

Not that she was complaining about her abilities. Her unique skills would have her body healed better than new; without scar tissue, muscle damage, or loss of strength. In control once again, Debra was ready to begin her own form of treatment . . . just as soon as the manmade drugs had dissipated from her system.

All she could do now was wait.

Dark eyes peered between puffy folds of flesh, trying unsuccessfully to focus on the mounted monitor beside the narrow bed. Splashes of color pulsed with each chirping beep, the numbers meaning nothing to her even if she could see them.

Packed in ice and wraps and splint boards, the only thing that moved freely were the disgusting tears distorting her vision, trailing down bandaged cheeks. At best she would see little more than light and shadows for a while.

Slowly, Debra splayed fingers from her unbound right hand over the simple white blanket. Immediately the sight revealed what crippled physical senses could not.

A piteous, choked whimper filtered softly through wired jaws.

Lying flat on the bed, the top slightly raised, her bandaged face and head cradled by soft pillows, Debra sucked a painful breath down her parched throat. Before her mind’s eye lay an unrecognizable lump of bruises and bandages. Bags of IV fluid and drugs dripped steadily through a needle taped to the back of her splayed hand. Heavy white plaster covered her left arm from scraped knuckles to just below the shoulder. A bulky white brace kept her neck and head immobile.

She sensed the pain lurking beneath the sedatives. Realized the medication had been ordered until she was stronger. Until she was able to suppress and self-heal at the same time.

Another prolonged sigh filled the lonely little room.

Resigned to a lengthy hospital stay, Debra relaxed, letting her mind float down through layers of consciousness, and found Kalon waiting to take her home.

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November 2, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Prologue Part 2

Confusion cleared as awareness chillingly dawned in wide, terrified, pale-blue eyes. An earsplitting scream erupted from the pit of Dorothy’s rebellious bowels, shattering the tomblike quiet of the meticulously clean house. Opposing impulses to flee, to destroy, pumped another surge of adrenaline throughout her body. With an exploding torrent of new strength, Dorothy hurled Debra’s deadweight in a clean arc over her rigid shoulder.

Motionless, the body lay crumpled in the empty corner by the kitchen door, the bloody, swollen face resting at an odd angle to the cool, tiled floor. Reeling, Dorothy slowly sagged onto shaking knees, her body and mind incapable of reaction or reason as she stared in uncertainty at Debra’s dead body.

Inside Debra’s mind, his energy strained almost to the point of permanent damage, Kalon continued to blend his own essence and mental skills with Debra, keeping her life-force anchored to the lifeless shell already beginning to decay on a cellular level. Joined completely as they were, he once again manipulated her inborn abilities to save them both. This time the stakes were too high to fail: re-energize Debra’s dead body within minutes or lose her and the future forever.

Inborn instincts automatically focused their collectively enhanced healing power to the priority fracture in Debra’s neck. At an astounding rate of rejuvenation, Kalon repaired cells and membrane damage to the bones and cartilage encasing the compressed spinal cord. Blood forced its way past the mending injury to the slowly suffocating brain matter in less than a minute. Precious seconds that seemed to hover like hours.

The enormous mental strain pushed Kalon to the brink of burning out, his own death quickly approaching the point of no return.

He didn’t care. His life was a small price to pay to keep her alive. And if Debra truly died this time, then he would gladly die with her.

His strength faltering, he drew heavily from Debra’s inner core in an effort to keep their heart’s beating and blood circulating. Without the blending, or the ability to tap into Debra’s subconscious strength, he never could have managed such a feat as manipulating her body, let alone raising the dead.

Faint at first, he concentrated on the weak, sporadic pulse. And then it came again. And then slowly once more; each beat of her heart growing in strength and rhythm. Kalon cautiously relinquished control. Felt her lungs contract and expand without help, shallowly drawing breath on her own.

Without arms to hold her or lips to kiss away the horror of her pain, Kalon continued to cradle and protect her cataleptic essence with his mind. How he wanted to shout in celebration of life, to cry out his undying love for his beautiful, courageous Debra.

When had friendship changed into something more, he wondered? A need so strong it left him sweating and weak and longing to touch her in reality. Sixteen or not, she belonged to him. They belonged to each other. And never again would he ever allow anyone to abuse her in such a way.

The family would either heed Kalon’s final warning or face the consequences of losing them both forever.

Through enhanced sight Kalon knew Edith was visibly shaken by the alarming call from the family and still minutes away as she followed the speeding ambulance that would return Debra to the private clinic. Neighbors from across the street, well placed watchers for the family, had been notified and waited outside the kitchen door for the order to move in and remove Dorothy for a full mind block this time.

As the sight appraised Kalon of Debra’s broken, disfigured body, her drying blood pooling and splattered about the shiny tiles and painted walls, a fury like nothing he had ever experienced consumed him in an overwhelming wave of cold, murderous hate.

Gone were the passive ideals of intellect over physical force. With every breath in his shaking body, every ingrained principle of moral peace learned from the mind’s of his dead parents, Kalon wanted to pound Dorothy’s existence into dust all over her well-scrubbed floor.

But he was isolated away from reality with only Debra’s broken body in his control. And thoughts of losing her, forever, helped to rein in his vicious emotions.

Temporary madness receded, revealing the calm intellect that would one day serve him well as ruler of the family. There were other ways to express his displeasure for Dorothy while Debra’s consciousness lay comatose and protected within his essence. Their joined mental strength made him as close to omnipotent as mortal beings could get without dying.

Sifting through the implanted natal memory blocks in Debra’s subconscious, Kalon stimulated the dormant kinetic force, a form of energy present in every living thing, and channeled the power through the only path of least resistance and injury.

Enhanced self-healing manipulation drew the blood and swelling from misshapen eyelids faster than was normally possible for either of them alone. Debra’s long lashes twitched and fluttered, suddenly rising upward to reveal red glowing eyes. The demonic orbs stared, unblinking, with malevolent loathing into Dorothy’s huge startled eyes.

Silence filled the sunny kitchen as the older woman’s bladder spontaneously released. The strong smell of urine fouled the air.

Blood still trickled from both nostrils, her mouth dry as though clogged with sand. Dorothy choked on a strangled breath and froze like a helpless child compelled to gawk at the menacing face of evil.

Tiny blue currents of light arced haphazardly between Debra’s long, slender fingers and began a slow intermittent dance across much of her exposed bruised skin.

The steady gaze from incendiary demonic eyes tore painfully through Dorothy’s feeble mental barriers and inflamed nerve endings to simulate sensations of a severe beating with a baseball bat―minus, of course, the advantage of passing out.

Kalon felt his life-force stagger once more. Time to retreat with Debra’s mind to the only place they could be together safely, without strain.

The dream world.

Two quick discharges of kinetic energy fired from Debra’s burning red eyes like twin ionized plasma cannons. And then the moment was erased from her subconscious as though it had never happened. The family was quite adamant that Debra’s gifts develop and emerge at their proper time.

Dorothy crumpled in an unconscious heap into the widening puddle of urine on the tiled floor. Not one bruise marred her small, compact body, inside or out. Only the deeply etched creases of pain and fatigue lay testament to the agony she had suffered. Kalon was determined the memory would remain clear in the woman’s mind for a lifetime.

Dorothy would never hurt Debra again. After the full mind block was implanted, Kalon would make sure she was denied any further direct access to the family and its associates.

With only a simple thought to the dear friends outside, the kitchen door opened and the waiting family watchers quietly entered. The sight let Kalon know the private ambulance and Edith Bromon had arrived to take Debra’s body away to safety until fully healed. Until counseling could undo the emotional trauma that had been done this day. Afterwards, arrangements would be made for Debra to enroll at a secluded boarding school where she would be furtively watched and protected from those with small, judgmental minds.

No further chances would be taken with her life.

As the paramedics gently guided Debra’s body onto the flat-board, Kalon tenderly awoke Debra’s consciousness and pulled her into the familiar sanctuary of the dream world.

November 1, 2011

Beneath the Surface – Prologue Part 1

Residents from the neighborhood never failed to comment as they chatted over property hedges, or caught up on family affairs with cell phone and morning coffee, on the peculiar goings-on in the well-tended house on Robson Street.

No one could positively say if the reclusive mother and young daughter were actually a blessing or a blasphemy to the close-knit community in Petersburg, Virginia, since no one had ever been greeted with more than a guarded “hello” or hesitant wave from either of them.

Over the years, rumors had made the rounds of witchcraft and devilry—a child of sight or coincidence, a prophet of deliverance or doom. Of little Sara Humphrey’s miraculous recovery from a near fatal tumble down Bucklin’s Bluff after the Hall girl had supposedly laid hands on her.

Of course the only witness had been Sara’s twelve year-old brother, Simon, who had remained screaming in panic at the top of the high cliff. But still, he had sworn, by all that was holy, that eight-year-old Debra Hall had touched Sara, and blood started to run from sudden cuts on her face and arms before she fainted beside a dazed and crying Sara. When rescue had finally arrived, they found Debra asleep at the rocky base, unharmed, without a scratch or drop of blood anywhere to be seen, and young Sara slowly making her way up the treacherous bluff path with only torn clothes and bits of leaves and dirt in her tangled hair to show for the adventure.

No one could say for sure as to the truth of the matter.  The only contention that all could agree upon was that Dorothy Hall and her obscure daughter, Debra, were extremely odd and unsociable.

A point in fact was the house at 4028 Robson Street. The modest two-story dwelling, with cream vinyl siding and newly shingled roof, was separated from the curb by a well scrubbed sidewalk and a trim, tiny plot of grass. Closed curtained windows looking out on the quiet street sparkled cheerily at passersby yet the upshot was perfectly clear:  callers were not welcome.

Austere came to mind when glancing at the square patch of lawn. Always neatly mowed, edges crisply trimmed; a pale green unadorned by a single flower or shrub. Not even a weed or piece of trash to clutter up the plain rigid lines of the property.

The narrow driveway, ending just back of the house at the small detached garage, was spotlessly free of stains as though daily painted with a fresh coating of black sealer. The seams between asphalt and the tall dividing wooden fence had been plucked clean of thatch grass and decaying debris. Even the cracks in the walkway leading to the side door had been relieved of dirt and sprouting weeds.

Other than the Hall woman, who in the hell actually dug out the dirt in their walkway cracks?

The small enclosed backyard was just as ruthlessly cared for; free of toys or tools or any sign that the house was a home of laughter and love. No family ever picnicked out under the wide-stretched branches of the lone apple tree or spread a comfy blanket to simply take in the hot Virginia sun and watch the clouds roll by.

How mother and daughter entertained themselves was a mystery and a smug curiosity to those living nearby . . . destined to remain so, it would seem, since no one had ever been invited inside.

The punishing slap was brutal in sound and sensation as pain exploded across Debra’s tearstained cheek, snapping her head backward like some fragile flower stem. Instinct tenaciously urged her to defend, to fight back with all the strength of her young mind and body.

But Debra was tired of living in hell and desperately wanted an end to it all. So did nothing.

She couldn’t have planned any better her earlier moment of weakness, when Dorothy’s sister, Edith, had seemed to understand and accept the need to share secrets and confusion and a loneliness almost too much too bare. Couldn’t have timed it to the perfect split second had she already known Dorothy would find them alone in her bedroom with the secret words still hanging in the air, with love and sorrow still recklessly shimmering in their eyes.

Another hard blow, this time a closed fist, collided solidly against bruised and bloodied flesh and finished the job of sealing Debra’s eye shut beneath layers of swollen tissue.

The metallic taste of blood filled her mouth, pooled nauseatingly at the back of her throat, while the faint scent of lemon verbena caught in her nostrils, making Debra gag. How she despised the smell of her mother’s perfume, along with the wretchedly sour odor of Dorothy’s constant fear.

Somewhere over the years, hate and dread had replaced a daughter’s love and respect for the woman who had given her life . . . her mother. The word had become like acid on her tongue, rarely spoken let alone tucked like some precious endearment in her mind and heart.

Debra harbored no memories of laughter, tender hugs, kisses. Just angry shouts and punishing fists. More time had been spent confined to her bedroom than all the hours she had attended public schools put together. No doubt she would have been a high school dropout had Edith not enjoyed technology or the ability to convince Dorothy of the advantages of a home computer and online schooling.

Had Dorothy realized the educational site Debra used to eventually achieve her general equivalency diploma was run by the same people she had tried so hard to hide from, the neighborhood would have awoke the next morning to a murder-suicide; left to gossip as to what the hell had set the Hall woman off to commit such a despicable thing.

Dorothy Angela Hall, widowed, paranoid, yet with surprising strength in her lean, compact body, had long ago closed out life’s possibilities and lived in dread of the world beyond her own mind.

And at age 44, what Dorothy Hall had come to fear most was her sixteen year old daughter. Of being hunted as a conspirator, a devil’s disciple; of dying horribly like those she once knew.

It’s why she ran from the family a decade ago. Sneaking away that stormy night, Debra drugged and carefully bundled in a large duffle bag stuffed with a few clothes and her entire savings in cash. Terrified of being found and brainwashed again, she had headed east and not stopped until she had gone from one side of the country to the other. Until her back was to the Atlantic Ocean and she could go no further.

Except for Edith’s rare visits and monthly phone calls, the family had left them alone. No ultimatums came to return to the fold. No one watched their every move. After months of vigilance, Dorothy had cried exhausted tears of gratitude that the evil had been left behind . . . never realizing, until too late, that the evil had traveled with them in Debra.

As the child grew older, so did the power within. Many times Dorothy could sense her daughter probing inside her mind whenever Debra laid those dark somber eyes on her. She could hear the voices urging fists to rise, to punish, when fear made her heart beat so violently the pain took her breath away. If the strength and power had been hers, Dorothy would have choked the nurturing evil from her daughter’s body and stoically suffered the consequences.

But demons were strong and always managed to protect their own. And Debra’s mind and body appeared to be fiercely guarded by an invisible playmate, a lifelong friend . . . a demon lover.

What else was Dorothy to think when the child had constantly brought up the fact that Kalon had said this or Kalon had done that? How he created a world for the two of them to play in. How they shared every thought. Even as a toddler, barely out of diapers, he had been the center of her world, making Debra feel special, protected, chosen.

Make believe or a cunning demon, Kalon’s power over Debra had become a serious threat to Dorothy’s authority and control. Punishment became the rule anytime he was mentioned; any time Dorothy sensed Debra’s guilty indulgence in fantasy, which was often.

It was that fear of Kalon’s fortifying influence that had Dorothy striking quick and ruthlessly at her dazed daughter. At almost five-foot-ten, Debra’s height over her mother did little to intimidate the older woman as strong, work-roughened hands pinned Debra to the kitchen table with enough force to have metal supports creaking loudly under the excessive strain.

Sensing Debra’s vulnerability, her aloneness, Dorothy’s adrenaline spiked triumphantly, filling her with a righteous strength and determination. Long unyielding fingers eagerly tightened their grip around Debra’s slender neck.

“You promised me,” Dorothy seethed through gritted teeth, her face red from strain and covered in sweat. “You’d never tell anyone, you said.” Images of the dead twisted her fears into a justified need to protect, to save the world from the evil that lived in Debra; one death instead of millions, she rationalized. Hands slipped in the sweat and blood, yet her fingers never released their brutal hold. “No demon lover this time,” she cried, gasping air, spittle flying. “No Edith.”

Lack of will allowed pain and exhaustion to restrict impulses to nerve-endings, muscles and ligaments, creating the illusion that Debra was limp from unconsciousness, her body pinned to the table like a deflated doll. Instinct had taken over and withdrew her mind from reality, like so many times before, away from the noise and misery of Dorothy’s perverse tirades.

The sight was no longer needed to know her mother’s pale blue eyes stared wildly down at her from beneath sharply winged brows. Or to know the frenzy of fear had made the older woman’s skin glisten with sweat, transparent as wax and stretched tightly over jutting Slavic cheekbones. Debra had seen that pathetic protecting-you-for-your-own-good look too many times in her life that the images were seared in a brain that forgot nothing.

Protected behind mental barriers, Debra waited for freedom that had twice been denied by inborn survival instincts and Kalon. Now she would let Dorothy’s punishing hands finish the job. Release was finally moments away.

Calmly, the mind watched as cells ruptured and blood raced to saturate brutalized tissue throughout the upper body. She saw bone and ligaments bend to the point of breaking as Dorothy wailed with clenched fist and choking fingers on her battered neck and face.

Like spongy twin bellows, lungs struggled to fill then collapse, frantically overburdened in their need to provide enough rich oxygen to starving organs and bodily systems that were painfully failing and moments from shutting down altogether. In reflex her body jerked wildly and shuddered, a ghastly wheezing-gurgle hissing from between blue-tinged lips.

The rhythm of the heart slowed while the frenzied dance of blood crashed against sensitive filaments of the inner ear and sinus cavity, and swelled to the point of exploding along blinded optical pathways.

“Let me go this time, Kalon. Let me go,” her thoughts softly pleaded to the shadowy presence nearby. Pain and weakness receded, leaving only an awareness of calm. She sensed his strength surrounding, blending with her own life-force. Felt the power of his heartbeat merging with the stillness of her own, forcing the muscles of her heart to contract, pushing blood, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until finally they beat as one. “No . . . don’t save me. Let me go.”

Dorothy grabbed handfuls of cotton T-shirt and long, loose hair in a bruising grip and hauled Debra up from the table. Fear driven rage had her shaking the limp girl for any telltale signs of life. “I should’ve stopped you years ago—“

“KILL YOU, BITCH.”

Dorothy’s eyes bulged in absolute terror; the evil was inside her.

The startling words exploded inside Dorothy’s head, sending panic and adrenaline rocketing out of control. Throat muscles contracted sharply confining hysterical screams to the collapsing chaos of her mind.

A sticky wetness trickled down across contorted lips. The back of her arm came up and hastily rubbed across her mouth and came away drenched in shocking bright red. Stunned, Dorothy stared at the crimson stain rapidly spreading across the front of her freshly laundered white blouse.

Blood, she finally realized. Her blood. Hemorrhaging . . . just like the others.

The others who were all dead.

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