I tried to post this as a "book," but it wouldn't let me.
Keith Ishmael was different.
He had known it his whole life. Twenty years ago, he had been reborn... literally. Most people might not believe in reincarnation, but Keith had experienced it first-hand. He could remember his previous life vividly--as well as the one hundred and eighteen years he had spent in Hell after it.
In the twentieth century, he had been Keith Reddish, a very confused and misguided youngster obsessed with resurrecting his dead mother from the grave. He had not succeeded, and after killing many people and inspiring others to commit murder in his occult practices, he had been slain by someone whose name he didn't even know. Maybe that was fate's idea of irony, but looking back now, Keith was actually glad his old life had ended early. He’d been very unhappy back then, and headed for Hell no matter how you looked at it, but he was definitely reformed for the better now.
As for the circumstances surrounding his resurrection, he was still not clear about all the details. He had never known his birth mother or father, but his older brother, Isaac, had been the one to make the miracle possible. Sometimes, Keith even suspected that Isaac was really his father, but "brother" was the term he had always applied to his savior. Even deeper embroiled in the occult than Keith used to be, Isaac had found a way to communicate with the spirits of the dead, and one spirit he met happened to be Keith's original mother, Hope. No stranger to the arcane arts herself, Hope had found a way to contain Keith's soul in a jar, which Isaac had brought through the dimensional barrier, sitting on a chalk pentagram in a certain shack in the woods. From there, the soul had been placed into Keith's newborn body, and now here he was! Able to speak from the moment he was reincarnated, the new Keith was just that: a new person, who had learned from his mistakes in the previous life, and his agonizing penance time in Hell.
Physically, he was similar to his previous self, at least as far as size and build: tall, though not quite as tall as before, and naturally muscular and fit. His hair was red now instead of dark, which suited him fine since his mother's had been a similar shade--referring to Hope, of course, for he would always think of her as his mother--and his eyes were the same penetrating black. He kept his hair shoulder-length, and tended to dress in plain garb, like the simple T-shirt and blue jeans he was wearing now, walking alone through the night. He was married now--something he would have never believed himself to be a century ago!--and living quite a normal, murder-free life. He hadn't seen Isaac for a while, since his brother had moved on to bigger ambitions than bringing the dead to life in recent years, but Keith was content to live the quiet life here in his old home town, with his beloved wife to make love to and his modest job to pay the bills.
As he walked along through the night, he thought about how much the world had changed in the past hundred years. Surprisingly, the most changes had happened right here in America. Back in Keith's day, drugs like cocaine and marijuana had been illegal, but now, alcohol and tobacco were outlawed as well in the U.S. That, however, had not even been the biggest surprise to him. Guns were also gone, not only from households and stores, but even the cops didn't have them anymore; they had swords now, and all the guns had long since been destroyed. But there had not only been changes here in the states. In 2066, the Federal United World Government had been formed, and its members now consisted of over a hundred countries, including America. The moon had been colonized, and eight space stations orbited the earth, from which microwaves converted from the sun’s rays were beamed down to provide energy for the world. It was the development of these space stations that had prompted the formation of the World Government, for no one had been able to deny the benefits. Technology had advanced quite a bit, and some countries had taken to protecting themselves with nuclear-powered force shields that stretched dome-like over them from border to border, barring anyone outside from entering. Though America was not one such country, that did not mean technology was any less advanced here. Gargantuan military bases had been erected in the past century that stretched across several states on the east and west coasts, and nobody even knew what kind of weapons were housed in those monstrous constructs, because no one could get in or out of the bases: they were shielded. Keith had seen the eastern base once, for part of it was here in Georgia, a few hundred miles from where he lived, and it had taken his breath away. Yes, there had been many changes since the days of his old life. Then again, just as many things had not changed. For one, there were still lawyers.
As Keith stepped off the curb and crossed the dark street, almost home now, something caught the corner of his eye, and he turned. What he saw would have caused most normal people to turn and run.
From out of the shadows, as if born from them, emerged a monstrous eight-foot-tall figure that appeared to be a man at first--but a closer look revealed that this was no human. It was cloaked in black garb, and impossibly muscular, with a face straight from a nightmare. The skin was a sickly, unnatural greenish-brown; the eyes burned with red flame; the teeth that jutted from its gums were long and pointed, wicked-sharp; and ram's horns adorned the hairless head, curling around the ears to point straight ahead. When Keith saw the giant monstrosity, he froze. He knew that this was not some giant wearing a clever Halloween mask. He had met this one's kind before, but not on Earth.
It was a demon.
"What do you want?" Keith demanded as the mammoth creature approached him slowly.
That sharp-toothed mouth stretched into a hideous smile. "I knew your mother when she was alive, human," it said in a voice as deep and cold as death. "Hope Clearvell was quite a woman, especially in bed. I never exacted my vengeance on her for what she did to me... but no matter; that is not why I am here. Our Master requires your services here in the mortal world again."
"Tell your master I don't serve him anymore," Keith replied.
The demon was close to him now. Keith didn't move. He knew there was no escape. "You seem to forget," the demon growled, "that it was only by the grace of our Master that you were allowed to return to this plane, and given this second chance. Will you disappoint Him now? Pity. Very well, then: prepare to die a second death!" And with that, the demon gestured a massive gloved hand, and a fully grown python suddenly appeared out of the air, flew at Keith, and wrapped itself tightly around his neck.
Suddenly afraid, but not really surprised, Keith threw his hands up, trying futilely to loosen the snake's chokehold on him. The demon laughed in its terrible voice as Keith fell to his knees in the street, already fading. He knew the python would kill him if he refused to do what the Devil wanted... and then, he would go back to Hell. There was no other choice but to give in.
"You... win," he managed to force out of his strangled throat. He just hoped it wasn't too late.
"That's better," the demon said, then snapped its fingers. As suddenly as it had appeared, the snake vanished, and Keith gasped for air, getting back to his feet. The demon took something out of its pocket, and tossed it at Keith. Instinctively, Keith caught it: a golden medallion on a string. "What's this?"
"You will wear it when you are going about your duties. You are now an agent of Hate. Your job is to incite chaos, death and destruction in this town. It is an honor to be given this opportunity. Many who serve our Master would do anything for it. Apparently, you have been deemed ideal for the position. Cherish it, human. If you disappoint the Master again, you will never be given another chance.
"That medallion will give you certain powers. However, there are rules you must follow concerning how those powers may be used. If you break them, you will be forced to resign, and the responsibility of passing the job on to someone more suitable than yourself will be your own, unless you want to meet the likes of me again... and trust me, human, you do not. You will receive more details about your new job in the next few days, from someone who will be watching over you. For now, I can tell you that the medallion you hold will, for one thing, make you invisible when you wear it, to the eyes of all those you meet... except for the one who the Enemy will send to oppose you. Who this person is, I do not know, but you must be wary of him or her at all times. Farewell, human." And with that, the demon disappeared, leaving Keith alone again on the dark road.
After seventy billion years of evolution, We exist.
We are at once aware of many things. Since the day We first began to evolve, We have known Our purpose of existence: to conquer all. However, now that We are fully aware of the Universe around Us, We begin to achieve a broader comprehension of what Our mission will entail.
We must make plans.
Our observations reveal to us that the Universe We currently find Ourselves in contains over eighty thousand galaxies. Even for beings as mentally and physically superior as We, it will take time to conquer so vast a Universe... according to Our calculations, approximately 251,776,905,664 millennia. That is, of course, merely a drop in the ocean of Our lifetime. If Our calculations are correct--and We are so superior that they surely are--We will live for at least 942,638,975,488,096,224,456,880 millennia... give or take a few centuries, naturally. When the above time has nearly elapsed, We shall be forced to destroy all life in the Universe We worked so hard to conquer, for it would be a cruelty to allow inferior beings to continue their existence without the benefit of Our unparalleled brilliance to guide them. A pity, but We will do what We must. It is, after all, Our duty.
The galaxy We currently find Ourselves in is occupied mostly by a mentally deficient race that refers to itself as "humanity". This race, particularly the bunch on the planet called "Earth", seems driven by the singular goal of destroying itself. Frankly, We cannot deny that the Universe would probably be better off without these idiots, but since it is Our divine purpose to conquer, We shall do so, even if it means going to great lengths to prevent these "human" fools from achieving their ultimate wish of self-destruction. It shan't be an easy task, but somebody has to do it, and that Somebody is unfortunately Us.
There are, of course, many other races populating the many other galaxies in Our domain. A few are technologically superior to "humanity", though they don't seem much smarter in other ways, and most are inferior even to the "humans" on Earth, which is relatively close to Our current location. Some galaxies are more heavily populated than others, though some contain almost no life at all. Since We prefer a challenge, We shall concentrate on the more heavily populated galaxies first--namely, this one and the large elliptical near it. It should only take us a few decades to fully conquer the pathetically inferior inhabitants of these two galaxies, though admittedly it would be easier and quicker if We had a way to travel instantaneously between the two. Therefore, We shall create such a pathway between galaxies, since it is easy for beings as superior as We to do such a thing: a tear in the fabric of space, a "rift" of sorts that will be mirrored in every galaxy and permit instantaneous travel between them. It will be accessible not only to Us, but also to the inferior beings who live in these galaxies. While We are making Our plans for conquest, it will be interesting to see how the inhabitants of the different galaxies, human and otherwise, react to each other now that they are able to mingle so freely...
Nicole first heard of the Purple Rift in science class. Apparently it had been on the news the previous night, but she hadn’t seen it. Her teacher was going on about the phenomenon with the enthusiasm of an excited scientist.
"...never been a case like this in all of recorded history. It appears to be some sort of tear in space, somewhere between Jupiter and Saturn, but we won't know for sure what it is until the probes and satellites return from their trip. It could very well provide the answers to certain questions..."
Nicole wasn't paying much attention. Like most of her classmates, she wasn't especially interested in what was going on in space between Jupiter and Saturn. At the moment, there were more important sixteen-year-old concerns on her mind, like what she was going to do during summer vacation, which started the day after tomorrow, and who she was going to get a ride with to the concert at the college tomorrow night.
After science class, it was time for lunch. As usual, Nicole hung out with her best friend Nadine, where they sat in their usual spot at a table outside. Nadine was very pretty, with blonde hair, blue eyes and a nearly flawless figure. Nicole was taller and skinnier than Nadine, with dark brown hair and skin that stayed pale no matter how much she laid out. They had known each other almost six months now. Nadine was into girls, and “liked” Nicole, but Nicole wasn’t sure if she felt the same way. Besides, there was a guy in eleventh grade she liked, who should be walking by here any minute now...
Nadine was talking away, telling her that they were going to be riding with somebody named Karen to the concert at the college. Nicole didn't know Karen, having just moved to this town last year, but Nadine seemed to know everybody.
"And there's supposed to be a hurricane coming tomorrow night, too," Nadine was saying. "Maybe it’ll tear this school apart and we won't have to come next year. That'd be cool, huh?"
Nicole had heard about the hurricane, and she wasn't worried about it right now. A group of guys was approaching from their right, and she suddenly became even less interested in what Nadine was saying. Kevin, the guy she liked, was among them. He and one other guy were running around, swatting a balled-up piece of paper back and forth between them.
Suddenly Nicole noticed Nadine leaning close to her. "Who are you looking at?"
"Nobody," Nicole replied innocently.
"Liar! You're looking at Kevin Gallows. You like him, don't you? Hey, Kevin!" Nadine called out. "Nicole likes y--" Her mouth was quickly covered by the other girl.
Kevin had not heard, absorbed in his paper-swatting. Finally a breeze blew the balled-up paper out of his reach as he was diving for it, and he gave up, walking on.
He followed the guys he was hanging out with to the front door of the science wing, where they joined some other people in waiting for the bell. Basie Cantrell was there, and her weird friend Neil, and Neil's girlfriend Karen. Basie was the singer in Jesus Guererro's band, the Sanitary Napkins, who were playing at the concert tomorrow night.
"Man, I wish tomorrow would hurry up and come," said Dennis Cantrell. He was Basie's brother, which was the only reason he was cool. Average height and less-than-average build, he had unkempt dark hair and disturbingly pale skin.
"I heard that, dude," said Lawrence Johnson. The only Black guy present, he was a senior and on the football team. "I had enough a' this place."
"Where's Jennifer?" Basie asked Kevin. A junior the same as Kevin, Basie was short and tiny, with neck-length red hair and light freckles. Her minute size and quiet demeanor belied her powerful singing voice and awesome stage presence when she rocked with Jesus' band; like everybody else, Kevin was looking forward to hearing them play tomorrow night.
"We broke up," he replied. "She's poking Chris Richardson now." Jennifer had meant nothing to Kevin, so he didn't mind talking about it.
"She's poking him?" said Vince Rayne, one of the guys Kevin had walked up with. "That’s weird." Half a foot taller than Kevin, Vince had long black hair, eyes even blacker, and the darkest skin of anyone here except Lawrence; he was half-Indian or something, as Kevin recalled. Vince's older sister Sapphire was Jesus Guererro's girlfriend. Neither Jesus nor Sapphire were here; they had both graduated last year.
"Find a job yet, Lawrence?" asked Kevin's other friend, Dan. Head and shoulders taller than Vince, Dan was the largest human being Kevin had ever met, with impossibly muscular arms, a chest as big as a tree trunk (no exaggeration), and curly brown hair. His deep, rumbling voice was always cheerful; Kevin had never seen him angry... and never wanted to.
"Hell no, man," Lawrence replied. "It's discrimination, I'm tellin' ya."
"Get a job at McDonald's," Kevin told him. "They're always hiring." Kevin had been working at McDonald's for a month now. He was hoping to have enough money saved up for a car before the end of the summer.
Before Lawrence could reply, a pretty Black girl came up behind him and put her arms around his neck: it was his girlfriend, Brenda. "Heyy, baby," Lawrence said, as she kissed his cheek.
"Are you two coming to our house after the concert tomorrow night?" Basie asked them. Her and Dennis' parents were going to be gone for the weekend, so they were having a party there. Everybody Kevin knew was going, and probably everybody he didn't know.
"Hell, yeah," Lawrence replied. "If the hurricane don't get us first."
"I think my math final's gonna get me before that," Dan said with a grimace, as the bell finally rang.
The following night, the hurricane was on its way. It was only six when Sapphire Rayne arrived at the college with her brother Vince, but it was already dark as night, and the rain that hammered down from the clouds was being blown seemingly in every direction at once by howling winds that threatened to uproot anything in their path. Sapphire hurried through the deluge into the front doors of the building, thankful to be indoors at last.
"God, it's like the end of the world!" she complained to Vince as they both shook themselves off just inside the door. "What were we thinking going out in this?"
Vince shrugged. "It's probably safer here than at the house. Besides, you wouldn't want to miss your boyfriend's show, would you?"
"If there is a show," Sapphire responded worriedly, eyeing the trees outside, which looked like they might go flying off any second.
"Yo, Vince!" It was Kevin Gallows, coming up to them through the crowd; it looked like the entire place was packed. "You just get here?" Kevin asked, getting to them.
"Yeah," Vince replied. "Where's Jesus?"
"Upstairs in the auditorium hall," Kevin said. "You know where a restroom is? I can't find one anywhere."
"Right down that hall," Vince told him, pointing. Kevin immediately shot off through the crowd in that direction. "I guess," Vince finished, after Kevin was already gone. Together, he and Sapphire made their way through the sea of people toward the nearest stairs.
Suddenly Nadine poked Nicole. "There he is, girl," she said, pointing. Kevin was making his way up the hall in their general direction. "Are you going to talk to him?"
"Sure," Nicole said, not moving.
"Well, what are you waiting for?"
"He's going into the bathroom now," Nicole replied.
Nicole rolled her eyes. "So, that means I can't go talk to him yet."
Nadine sighed. "Well, I guess if you're too nervous, I'll go talk to him for you." And before Nicole could stop her, she sprinted into the men's restroom after Kevin.
"Idiot," Nicole muttered.
In the almost-empty restroom, Nadine found Kevin relieving himself at a urinal. Grinning, she went up behind him and put her arms around his neck.
"Hey, baby," she said into his ear, peering over his shoulder at his urinating penis. "What ya doin'?"
"Uh, I might ask you that question," he replied, trying to shake her off. "Are you completely insane?"
"Yeah," she said, then reached around him to make a grab at his weiner. "I'll shake it for you! Come on, let me!"
"Get away," Kevin laughed, zipping his pants and flushing the urinal. "What do you want?"
"I want you to come meet a friend of mine who likes you," Nadine told him, pulling him toward the door by his arm.
"I can't wash my hands?"
"What's the point? You'll just get piss on them again later."
"Hmm, I never thought of it that way," Kevin mused, allowing her to lead him out into the corridor. They found Nicole still waiting where Nadine had left her.
"Kevin," Nadine said, bringing him close to the other girl, "this is my friend, Nicole. She wants to have sex with you. In case you don't pay attention in health class, that means she wants you to put your penis--" she pointed at his crotch with a finger "--in her vagina," and she pointed at Nicole's crotch with the finger of her other hand.
"Goddammit, Nadine," Nicole said, turning red, "what the fuck is wrong with you?"
"That's what I said a minute ago," Kevin grinned.
"Well?" Nadine demanded. "What are you two waiting for?"
"Fuck you," Nicole sighed, clearly pissed for real, and stalked away down the hall.
"That was pretty messed up," Kevin admonished Nadine. "I think you embarrassed her."
"Oh, she'll get over it," Nadine said. "Well, since she's gone, would you like to fuck me instead?"
"What?" Kevin exclaimed.
"Sure, why not? Come on, we'll get in a closet!" And she grabbed his hand and started dragging him along. Before he knew it, she was shoving him into a janitor's closet and shutting the door behind them.
There was a light switch next to the door; she flipped it on. "Nadine," Kevin was saying, "are you actually serious?"
"Of course," she replied, unzipping her jeans and kicking her shoes off. "Come on, start undressing."
"Why?" he asked seriously.
"Uh, because it'll be pretty difficult to fuck me with your pants on," she said, pulling down her own pants.
"I mean, why do you want to do it with me?" Kevin demanded.
"Why not?" Nadine retorted, stepping out of her jeans and tossing them aside. "We might die soon. Might as well go out having fun, right?" She slipped her panties down, tossed them aside with her jeans, and reached out to touch him between the legs.
"Nadine," Kevin said, clearly nervous, "we barely know each other."
"So?" she replied, massaging his genitals gently yet aggressively, making him erect. "That doesn't stop other guys. Don't tell me you're still a virgin?"
"I didn't say that." He was pulling away from her, but she pressed up against him, not letting go of his privates.
"Then what's wrong?" she said, her face close to his. "Don't you think I'm pretty?" She put her lips on his, and started to unfasten his jeans. "Come on," she said up against his mouth, "give it to me, baby."
He grabbed her by the arms, and forcefully pushed her away. "I can't," he said, turning for the door.
"Ha! I knew it! You're gay!" Nadine cried gleefully, jumping up and down and clapping her hands. "I heard you were, but I had to see for sure." She retrieved her panties, and stepped back into them.
Kevin turned back around to glare at her, his hand on the doorknob. "What makes you so sure you know that? Just because I don't want to--"
"Oh, come on, man," Nadine said, pulling her jeans back on. "Any American straight guy in your place would be fucking me senseless up against that wall right now. But don't worry, I won't tell anybody your secret. Except maybe Nicole, but I'll make her swear not to tell anybody else. She really does have a crush on you, and she deserves to know the truth of why you can't be with her."
Kevin hesitated a moment, hand still on the knob, as Nadine fastened her pants and pulled her shoes back on. Finally, he said: "You really promise not to tell anybody? Because if you do, you know I'll just deny what happened here and say I did fuck you senseless."
"Don't worry, sweetie," she reassured him, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Your secret's safe with me, cross my heart." She drew a finger horizontally and then vertically over the swell of her breasts.
"It better be," he said. "I've still got another year left at school, and with all the rednecks around here--"
"Don't worry," Nadine repeated, rubbing his back consolingly. "I'm not a gay-basher. You're a nice guy, and I swear to God I won't sic any rednecks on you. Hell, as soon as I get my fake ID, I'll even go to the gay bar with you. I've always wanted to see what it's like in there."
He grinned. "That'd be cool. Y'know, it's kind of nice to finally have somebody else... you know... that knows."
Nadine put her arms around him, and hugged him warmly. He really was sweet, she thought as he hugged her back.
"Well, I think the concert's about to start," she said. "Let's go find Nicole, and see if we can cheer her up."
Meanwhile upstairs, Vince and Sapphire had found Jesus hanging around outside the auditorium with a bunch of people: Scott Tenorman (the Napkins' bass player) and his girlfriend April; Neil and Karen; Basie and Dennis; and towering over them all, Dan.
Sapphire went straight to her boyfriend, hugging and kissing him briefly. "What time are you going on?" she asked him.
"Seven," he replied. "We gotta start getting ready soon." Jesus was about the same height as Sapphire, more because she was tall than because he was short; a full-blooded Latino, he had black hair and beautiful green eyes, and his body was hard from working out regularly (he and Dan were members of the same gym).
"Hopefully the power'll stay on," Dan said in his rumbling voice. He and Jesus had been best friends ever since middle school. Sapphire had known both of them since eighth grade, and she and Jesus had been going out ever since then.
"Yeah, it sounds like it's for real out there," said Dennis. The wind could be heard even over the din of the crowd around them. Standing next to Dan, Dennis looked like a midget, or a little kid... but then again, so did just about everybody else here, except Vince and Scott, who were both well over six feet, and even they barely came up to Dan's shoulder. Strangely enough, nobody ever wanted to start trouble with you when they saw you in Dan's company.
Sapphire was just getting comfortable in Jesus' arms when his band's drummer, Alan, came up and said, "We're about to start getting ready. If you're not too busy..."
"Sorry, baby,” Jesus whispered to Sapphire, kissing her again. “Gotta go.”
“Good luck,” she said to him and Basie as they departed with Alan and Scott.
Nicole had found her way into the auditorium, which was about half-full, and seated herself midway down the rows of seats. The vast room was mostly dark, with the lights right above the stage down below giving the only illumination, and the storm was howling louder than ever outside.
Nicole was sort of mad at Nadine for the way she had "introduced" her to Kevin, but then again she was also wondering if Nadine had done that because she was mad at her for yesterday. Overhead, thunder crashed loudly, and somebody screamed, trying to be funny. Nicole didn't notice Nadine until the other girl had already sat down in the chair to her right.
"Hey," Nadine said to her. "Please don't be mad at me. I was just kidding around. Are we cool?"
"I guess," Nicole sighed. "I just don't understand you sometimes."
"But it's okay though," Nadine said, "cause Kevin's gay anyway, so it's not like I messed anything up."
"Yeah, he's gay. Seriously. He admitted it to me himself. But don't tell anybody else. I promised him his secret was safe with us."
Nicole couldn't believe what she was hearing. Surely, this was one of Nadine's weird jokes. Kevin was gay? It just wasn't possible. He was too fine to be gay.
Thunder rolled again just as a guy was coming up to the microphone on stage, and suddenly the few lights that were on in the auditorium went out, leaving only pitch darkness. For a split second, Nicole thought the power had been knocked out. Then, a booming voice announced over the microphone:
"And now, the band you all came here to see: THE SANITARY NAPKINS!"
As suddenly as the lights over the stage had gone out, they were back on, and the howling wind outside was drowned out by the sound of loud rock music as the band began to play, having ran out on stage in the few seconds it had been dark. The audience cheered and clapped as the Napkins put on what looked to be the beginning of an energetic performance, and the last member to come out on stage, Basie, ran up to the microphone and started singing.
Up front, people were jumping around and dancing wildly, but around the section where Nicole and Nadine were, the audience had mostly stayed in their seats. During the second verse of the song, Nicole whispered to Nadine, "That guitar player on the right is hot. What's his name?"
"Oh, forget about him, girl," Nadine replied. "That's Jesus Guererro. He's got a girlfriend and he doesn't cheat on her. I'm pretty sure the drummer's single, though."
After another chorus, a fairly long guitar solo commenced, and even Nicole could tell that the members of the Napkins were very talented as they continued to rock energetically. She couldn't see the drummer all that well from this vantage point, but he was the only guy in the band with his shirt off, and from what she could tell, he wasn't bad.
Finally, Basie returned to the microphone for the final verse. Then the song wound down to its finale, and after a short moment of thunderous cheering and applause, the band launched into another.
Nicole sat with her elbow propped on her knee and her chin resting in her palm. She wasn't really bored, just sort of impatient for the concert to end so they could go to the party afterward, where she was planning to find a guy to hook up with. She was sixteen years old, she was ready, and it was time. She had been hoping it would be Kevin, but surely there would be no shortage of hot guys at the party they were going to later. She wished she had sat closer to the stage, so she could check out that drummer guy better.
The wind was picking up even more outside, almost drowning out the blare of the music and Basie’s singing coming from below her. As the sound of the storm suddenly rose to an ear-splitting shriek from above, Nicole began to fear that the roof of the auditorium might very well be torn off any second.
After about half a minute, the screeching wind died down a bit, and she could hear the band again. But as her eyes returned to the stage below and she looked at the small singing girl, she blinked, wondering for a moment if she was seeing things. Then the guys flew into another guitar solo, and Nicole shook her head. For a few seconds, she had thought she'd seen a colorful aura around Basie, but it must have been a trick of the light.
But then Basie started to sing again, and the aura was back. At first it was just a faint outline around her; then it expanded into a glow that enveloped her whole body, and changed colors every couple of seconds, from crimson to veridian to sky-blue to argent, a pattern that repeated itself over and over. At first Nicole thought it was some clever trick, a part of the show, but it didn't seem like anyone else was noticing it.
Then the song ended, the audience cheered again, and the colorful glow around Basie faded and disappeared. That Jesus guy had come up to the microphone, and was addressing his fans now, introducing the members of the band to anyone who might not know them.
"Did you see that?" Nicole asked Nadine.
"See what?" Nadine asked.
Nicole just shook her head. Could the aura have been her imagination? Or was Nadine just messing with her?
Soon the band started playing again, slower and prettier than before, and Basie began to sing a song even Nicole knew, "Stairway To Heaven". Around the second verse, the aura was back. Nicole tapped Nadine on the shoulder and said, "See, that glow around Basie. Can't you see it?"
"What glow?" Nadine demanded.
"What, are you blind? She's glowing!"
Nadine just looked at her with a mixture of confusion and amusement. It seemed she really couldn't see what Nicole saw.
The aura was brighter than before now, almost blinding, and changing colors more rapidly. Basie had become a blur of shining, colorful light that threw everything around her into dimness, and Nicole couldn't take her eyes away from the singing girl. Then, bits of the dizzyingly color-changing aura started to break off and float outward from the stage like tiny fireflies, meandering through the people in the audience toward Nicole. There were suddenly hundreds--no, thousands of the shining motes, and they were flowing in a spiral-like pattern from Basie's aura straight for the spot where Nicole sat. Hypnotized, Nicole could only stare as the flecks of light approached her, somehow comforted by them. She felt like she was slipping into a trance as the motes reached her, surrounded her, enveloped her in their soothing warmth. Now she was glowing just like Basie, and it felt like she was being bathed in cleansing, wonderfully warm waters. She swayed slightly, sighing with pleasure, enjoying the feeling without really thinking about it.
Then Basie stopped singing, turned away to walk toward the back of the stage as Jesus began the guitar solo, and Nicole's trance was broken. As if a switch had been turned off, the fireflies had vanished, the aura was gone from around her, and the warm, cleansing sensation was gone with it. She didn't know what had just happened, but she knew she had not wanted it to end. It had been so awesome... like nothing she had ever experienced in her life. Though she'd never had an orgasm, she imagined it probably felt something like the sensation that aura had given her. Eager for it to return, she impatiently waited for Basie to start singing again. Why the hell did this guitar solo have to be so long?
Then Basie finally returned to the microphone, and her sweet voice conjured the beautiful aura back around her as she sang the final verse of the song. The fireflies were spreading out from her again, only now they were in the shape of a tunnel instead of a spiral, spinning toward Nicole rapidly, but not nearly quick enough. Come on, come on! she thought. Finally, the sparkling motes reached her, and she stood up to meet them as they kissed her face warmly, penetrated her clothing to melt into her body, bathing her in euphoric warmth again. She touched her own face, amazed at the effect of the aura as it engulfed her, then ran her hands down over her body, feeling really good.
But again, it didn’t last. The song ended, Basie's singing stopped, and the pleasure went away along with the motes and the aura. Nicole sat back down, unaware of Nadine and several other people staring at her. The Napkins were still playing--they had started Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Freebird" as soon as "Stairway" had ended--but Nicole barely heard the music. She felt like all the capacity for joy had suddenly been torn out of her body, leaving her with an unbearable loneliness like nothing she had ever known. Nadine was speaking to her now, waving her hand in front of her face, but Nicole did not hear or see her friend, still gripped in the vice of the trance. Her eyes stared straight ahead, glazed and sightless, and her mouth hung slightly open as time seemed to slow drastically, dragging her perception into a hazy trench of unbearable sluggishness. Suddenly, a tidal wave of misery crashed over her. Everything was so pointless...she felt so empty, so alone...it was all meaningless, it was all for nothing...she was nothing...
In the space of a second that seemed to last an eternity, a tear formed in her left eye, then slowly, agonizingly inched its way down her cheek, past the corner of her mouth, and finally down her chin, leaving a cool streak of wetness in its wake, until it fell at last onto her hand in her lap. The emptiness she felt was unbearable. She wanted to die. She wanted to fucking die right now.
Then, Basie started to sing.
It was like Nicole had been floating in darkness and despair forever, and Basie's voice suddenly brought light and happiness into her life for the first time. Her back straightened her eyes focusing as she saw the aura form around Basie again, and she sucked in a breath of anticipation, her tears and loneliness forgotten. When the fireflies began to spiral up towards her again, her hands moved to her breasts seemingly of their own accord, her fingers massaging their softness as she willed the sparkly motes to come to her faster. As they drew close, she rubbed her thighs together, her breath quickening.
Then the motes touched her, and she cried out in ecstasy. The warm, euphoric feeling of pleasure was back, and every cell of her body was alive and screaming in relief. One of her hands left her breasts, unzipped her pants, and thrust itself unbidden into her panties. The wonderful aura surged around her, swirled dazzlingly with a dozen blinding colors, filling her with its rapture. After only a few seconds, she came, her orgasm erupting out of her, soaking her fingers in warmth. But this was no ordinary orgasm; her entire body felt it, inside and out, and she moaned loudly as the warmth between her legs spread up her belly, up her chest and to her face; down her thighs, down her calves, and all the way to her feet. Then it ended, and suddenly the warmness that encompassed her body turned into scorching heat. Hotter and hotter she burned, until she felt like she was going to catch fire. Now her moans were of pain instead of pleasure. It was unbearable... she was going to burst into flame any second... her mouth stretched into a silent scream...
Then, just in time, Basie stopped singing.
And just like that, the aura, the fireflies, and the hellish heat were gone.
For a moment, a split second, Nicole shivered, suddenly cold. Then the trance left her, the coldness passed, and she realized she was sitting there in the midst of dozens of people with her hand in her panties.
Quickly, she took her hand out of her pants and zipped them back up, flushing with embarrassment. Her crotch was still wet, but she could only dimly remember the orgasm of a few moments ago. What the hell had she just been doing? Was she losing her damn mind? Nadine was still next to her, staring at her as if seeing a total stranger.
The Sanitary Napkins had started to play another song. Unlike before, Nicole dreaded to hear Basie start singing. But just as she was about to get up and hurry out of the auditorium, make her escape before she went crazy again, the girl on stage started singing with more enthusiasm than before, and Nicole found herself frozen to the spot, helpless. Here we go again... the aura appeared around Basie, bright as ever, though the colors were back to changing only once every few seconds. And now, here came the fucking sparks, flying up toward her like moths to a flame. Her stomach turned with dread, and she was certain she was going to vomit the second those things touched her.
But she did not puke. In fact, it wasn't so bad when the motes melded into her; it was actually quite nice, though not as pleasurable as before. They had formed a tunnel again, stretching from the glowing girl on stage up to Nicole where she sat, and as Nicole began to shine with the colorful aura, she could feel a pulsing energy starting to beat within her, a feeling of immeasurable strength that surged through the muscles of her body and pounded unchecked through the blood in her veins. She was alive as never before... alive with power, a potency so intense she felt like she could accomplish anything.
Then, she could hear the wind outside again, howling like a hundred wolves, threatening to tear the roof off the building and blow them all away. Basie was still singing, more passionately than ever. Suddenly Nicole realized that the howling sound of the wind was not coming from outside, but from directly over her head. She looked up, expecting to find the roof of the auditorium gone. But the roof was intact. The firefly tunnel had extended from her up to the ceiling, and she could see the winds of the tornado crashing down through the tunnel, screaming down from the sky to tear her apart.
When she felt the winds slam into her, she was certain for a split second that she would indeed be ripped to shreds. But she was not. The power that surged through her veins protected her from annihilation. She was a rock, an indestructible mountain of sturdiness and resolve that could not be moved by all the force of nature's fury. On the stage below, Basie was screaming the words of her song now, the power of her voice echoing the power surging through Nicole's body. Basie's screams commanded the wind and the rain, sucked them through the tunnel of motes like a vaccuum, and Nicole sat perfectly still, an unmovable mountain, as the wind and rain tore through her soul and down the length of the tunnel connecting her and Basie, to be absorbed into the blinding aura that surrounded the girl on stage. Between the rage of Basie's screams and the fury of the howling winds, the glow of the singer's aura radiated peace and serenity. Where that peaceful light met the force of the funneled storm, the laws of physics did not apply. It was like the wind and rain were hitting a wall when that aura met them... and what was absorbed into that wall, ceased to be.
Then, with a suddenness so jarring that both Nicole and Basie were thrown to the floor in the shock of transition, it was over.
The audience was cheering, totally unaware of what had just happened. On stage, Jesus and Scott were moving to check on Basie, but she quickly got back up, saying she was okay, though she looked dizzy.
Nicole picked herself up off the floor as well, ignoring Nadine's questioning concern, and made for the door of the auditorium as quickly as her dizziness allowed.
Two minutes later, she was bent over a toilet in the restroom, her hand propped against the wall, certain she was going to throw up. But somehow, she didn't. Slowly, the nausea receded.
Basie... the hurricane... what had just happened?
As Nicole was coming out of the stall, two other girls were entering the restroom. One of them, a dark-haired girl Nicole had never seen before, was saying to the other girl, "You really didn't see any of it? The glow around Basie, the tunnel..."
Nicole stepped forward at once. "The fireflies!" she exclaimed. "The wind and rain, shooting through it..."
"Yes!" said the dark-haired girl. "Oh, I'm so glad I'm not crazy. I thought I was the only one who saw it. Did it knock you down?"
"At the end," Nicole replied. "Basie's singing was doing it. Or that's how it seemed to me, at least... but why didn't everybody else see it?"
"I don't know," said the other girl, whose friend was looking back and forth between them as if they were speaking a foreign language. "But when the hurricane was coming through me... I felt so much power, like I could do anything..."
"Me, too," said Nicole. "What's your name?"
"Sapphire. You might know my brother, Vince Rayne."
"I'm Nicole. So, where were you sitting?"
"Toward the front. Everybody just kept on dancing around me, like they couldn't see any of it. I wonder if Basie knew what was happening?"
"We have to ask her," said Nicole. "I was sitting toward the middle. I didn't notice the tunnel going through you, though. There might have been other people who were part of it, too."
"Maybe," Sapphire mused. "Are you coming to the party later?"
"Yeah. We can ask Basie about it then."
"But what if she didn't see any of it? Then she'll just think we're crazy."
"I don't see how she wouldn't have seen a hurricane being sucked into her. Besides, she fell down afterward like us, right?"
"True," Sapphire acknowledged. "So she must have experienced what we did... and you're right, it was her singing that did it. I don't know how I know that, but I just do."
"I think we all did it," Nicole said, formulating this theory just as she was voicing it. "The three of us. We were all in on it, somehow..."
"But remember, there might have been more people, too."
"Yeah, but there's no way I'm going up to anybody and asking them if they saw the hurricane being sucked through a tunnel of light into Basie's body. You?"
"I see your point. But speaking of the hurricane... I wonder..."
Nicole knew what Sapphire meant, because the same thought had suddenly occurred to her. Leaving Sapphire's friend staring blankly after them, they hurried out of the restroom and made for the nearest exit through the crowd.
When they got outside, they discovered what several others had already seen. Where apocalyptic winds and torrential rains had raged unchecked only an hour ago, there was now only the sound of crickets in the peaceful night. Overhead, the stars shone brightly out of a cloudless sky, and there was not a hint of moisture in the light breeze.
The hurricane was gone.
"Bastard," Krys said aloud into the darkness, lying awake in bed on her back. She decided she liked the sound of the word. "Bastard," she repeated, momentarily pleased with herself. "Bastard, bastard, bastard." It had a nice, sophisticated ring to it. Her father was a preacher, and would beat her if he heard her swearing. Then, if he happened to be in the mood, he might proceed to touch her between the legs, or lick her down there, or maybe make her touch his disgusting wiener. Yes, her father was definitely a bastard. She planned to kill him one day, when she got up enough guts. But for now, while her parents were asleep in the room down the hall, she had to content herself by lying awake late into the night, repeating curse words to herself where no one could hear.
"Bitch." Her stepmother was a bitch. Then again, a nice woman could have hardly been expected to marry a man like her father. "Bitch, bitch, bitch." A good word, though not as neat as bastard, and not a fraction as wonderful as "fuck." Now, that was her favorite word of all! Boy howdy, was it ever! She said it. "Fuck." She said it because she was alone and could do whatever she wanted. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck." Oh, how her parents would punish her if they had any idea she said such words!
But before long, her amusement faded. Saying swear words could not distract her from reality forever, especially tonight. For today had been her last day of fifth grade, and that was not good. It meant that for nearly three months, starting tomorrow, she would be home all day every day, getting molested by her father and beaten by her stepmother to their hearts' content.
She rolled over onto her side, a tear falling from her eye to the pillow as she thought about how it was going to be this summer. The only thing she had to look forward to in life was when she went to visit her real mom and her half-brother and sister, Vince and Sapphire. Even though they were poor, instead of rich like her father, she liked it at their house much better, and wished there was some way she could live with them full time. Her real mom never beat her, and Vince and Sapphire were both really nice. She only got to spend every other weekend with them, though, and this coming weekend was not one such. "Vince... Sapphire," she whispered to herself, closing her eyes and wishing they were here to protect her from her evil, disgusting, horrible father.
She tried to concentrate on pleasant thoughts of her brother and sister as she slowly drifted into an uneasy sleep.
Nicole and Nadine rode to the party in the backseat of Karen's boyfriend's car, mostly in silence. Nicole didn't feel much like talking. Already, what had happened at the concert seemed like a dream... except, that girl Sapphire had experienced it too, and possibly Basie. It was hard to explain, but she suddenly felt like Nadine, along with everyone else who hadn't seen what had happened, was a stranger to her now, because she couldn't talk to them about it, couldn't share with them the feelings of agony and ecstasy she had felt less than an hour ago. What the hell had happened? Helplessly, she wondered if there would ever be answers.
Dennis and Basie's house was a few miles outside town, on a long country road with no neighbors in the immediate vicinity. It was after ten o'clock when they finally pulled up in front of the big, two-story house, and Nicole was able to get out of the car and stretch her legs.
A bunch of people were hanging around in front of the house, and Nicole recognized among them the guy from the band who Nadine had told her was Jesus Guerrerro, and a guy from school named Dan, who was impossible to miss because he was so enormous. Nadine stopped to talk to that lot, but Nicole went straight into the house, to look for Sapphire.
There sure were a lot of people here... after looking around on the first floor of the house for a while, she decided to try the back yard, and let herself out of the sliding glass door that led from the dining room to a fenced-in area with a big above-ground pool and yet more people. Almost as soon as she stepped outside, she almost ran headlong into Sapphire, who had seemingly just gotten out of the pool. Dripping as she squeezed her hair out, she was wearing a black bikini, and looked really hot.
"Oh, hey," she greeted Nicole, reaching for a towel that was draped over a lawn chair nearby, and wrapping it around herself. "I haven't seen Basie. Nobody has for a while. As soon as she got home, she locked herself in her room, and she won't open the door for anybody."
"So, I bet she probably did see what we saw," Nicole said.
"Maybe," Sapphire agreed. "I'm going to put on some clothes, and try to get her to come out again. Wanna come along?"
"Sure," Nicole said, and followed Sapphire back into the house, through the dining room and enormous living room, then up a flight of stairs and down a hallway to a bedroom whose door was ajar. Nicole figured Sapphire probably wanted her to wait outside in the hall while she got dressed, but the other girl paused after entering the room, hand on the doorknob, and gestured for Nicole to enter.
When the door had been closed behind them and Sapphire had thrown off the towel, Nicole was expecting the other girl to get naked in front of her, but to her disappointment Sapphire grabbed up her clothes from the bed and went into an adjoining bathroom to change. Trying not to think about how much she would like to have a threesome with Sapphire and that Jesus guy, Nicole followed the now-clothed other girl out of the room and down a couple more hallways, to another bedroom door that was closed.
Sapphire knocked on this door, and called out, "Basie, it's Sapphire. Come on, open up." There was no reply. Sapphire knocked again. "Basie, please. I want to talk about what happened at the concert... with the hurricane..." Still no reply. Sapphire sighed. "Well, she can't avoid us forever. But it doesn't look like she's gonna open up right now." Disappointed, the two girls set off back down the hall toward the stairs. "You can get in the pool if you want," Sapphire said to Nicole.
"I probably will later," Nicole said. She was wondering where that drummer from the band had gotten off to...
Basie had not heard Sapphire's knocks on her bedroom door, because she was lying in the dark on her bed with headphones over her ears, listening to music and trying not to lose her mind.
For her, the colorful motes had still not gone away. They were everywhere. She couldn't escape them. When she closed her eyes, they were there. When she looked at other people, they glowed, sometimes green, sometimes blue, sometimes red, always blinding. She was going crazy.
The hurricane had been absorbed into her body. It had been real. She knew this, because the hurricane had been gone when she and everyone else had gone outside. Or had it all been a hallucination in her mind, like all these fucking dots floating through the air that nobody else could see, and these damn blinding auras around everybody that they couldn't see either?
She was going crazy.
The tape she was listening to ended, and shut itself off, leaving her alone in the dark with the motes. They were like tiny, tiny mosquitoes that wouldn't leave her alone, swirling and dancing around her head constantly; she wanted to swat at them but knew it wouldn't do any good. Disgusted, she got up and turned on the light. They were still there.
Sighing, she went into her bathroom, turned on the water for the bathtub, and stripped. Lying in the warm water, she stared straight ahead, as if in a trance. What do you want from me? she silently asked the swirling motes.
She didn't even realize she had closed her eyes and fallen asleep until a knock at her door woke her up.
When she opened her eyes, the motes were gone.
"What?" she called out, sitting up in the tub.
"Are you okay?" asked her brother Dennis's voice from the other side of her bedroom door.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she replied.
The motes were gone. Had it all been a dream?
Letting the water out of the tub, she got up and reached for a towel. A clock on the wall nearby told her it was after two. She had slept a pretty good while.
After putting on her sleeping attire, she went to bed, too tired to go downstairs for something to eat even though she was hungry. Her nap in the tub seemed to have made her more sleepy instead of refreshed, but at least things were back to normal... or were they?
What's happening to me? she wondered hopelessly as she wrapped the pillow around her head and closed her eyes. The mote-free darkness did not contain an answer.
At that moment, Nicole was sitting naked on a rung of the ladder in the pool outside, staring up into the starry sky. The Napkins' drummer, Alan, had left her minutes ago, and now she was alone in the backyard. Most of the other guests had gone; she didn't know who all was still here, and for the moment she didn't much care.
Alan had hurt her, and she had bled, and now her virginity was finally gone. She had done it quite willingly, of course; a half hour ago she had brought him out here, taken off her clothes, and gotten in the pool, her heart beating loudly in her chest. He had been all too glad to strip off his own clothes and follow her in, and their lovemaking in the water had been violent and blessedly brief. Then, without saying much, he had gotten back out of the pool, put his clothes back on, and left. And that, as the saying went, had been that.
Nicole sighed, a tear falling from her left eye. It reminded her of the single, lonely tear that had bled from that same eye at the concert earlier, when she had longed for those fireflies to return to her and give her that eldritch pleasure again. She remembered the orgasm she had experienced when they had finally returned, the euphoric sensation that had made her whole body tingle with glee, and wondered if she had really expected her sex with Alan to feel that way. She supposed she probably had.
Disillusionment sure did suck.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw someone approaching the pool, and she turned her head to find with relief that it was Nadine.
"Hey," said the other girl, propping her elbows on the side of the pool to Nicole's left.
"Hey," Nicole replied. "Is everybody gone?"
"Just about. What've you been doing?"
"Don't wanna talk about it." Suddenly Nicole moved, turning around and climbing up the ladder to the deck, where her clothes were. She really was glad Nadine had stuck around; she couldn't think of anyone in the world she needed more right then. Hurriedly she dressed herself, descended from the deck, took Nadine by the hand, and led her into the house. The other girl did not question where they were going as Nicole pulled her along, through the livingroom where Neil and Karen were sitting watching a movie, then up the stairs and down the hallway. Past a few closed doors they went, until Nicole found what she sought: an empty bedroom. Not knowing whose room it was--perhaps Basie's parents'; she didn't care--she shut the door behind them, stripped her wet clothes off, and lay down on the bed.
Nadine didn't waste time taking her own clothes off, and soon she was on top of Nicole, kissing her. It felt so good... so right. There was no way she could ever feel this kind of rightness with a guy. There was no doubt in her mind anymore: she loved Nadine. She was in love with her.
Soon Nadine was down there between her legs, licking away the pain Alan had caused earlier. Nicole wouldn’t have thought she could have another orgasm so soon, but Nadine was good at what she did. And naturally, it was only right that she return the favor—which she did, with enthusiasm.
Afterward, they held each other, Nadine leaning back against the pillows, Nicole's head between her breasts.
"Promise you'll never leave me," Nicole said softly.
"I promise," Nadine whispered, stroking her hair.
Down the hall, Lawrence was lying in bed in a guestroom with the light still on, his cell phone next to him, waiting for Brenda to call. She had left hours ago, when her mom had called her and told her that her grandfather in Florida had died that evening. Lawrence had stuck around, kind of bored without her but not wanting to go home because it would be even more boring there, and Dennis had told him it was okay if he crashed.
Finally, the phone rang, and Lawrence hastened to answer it.
"Hey," he said, already knowing it would be her; there was no one else who'd be calling him this late.
"Hey," she replied. "What're you doing?"
"Just layin' around. I'm spendin' the night at Dennis and Basie's. How's your mom?"
"She's okay. We had known for a while her dad was dying, so it's not like it was a shock or anything. We're going to Florida tomorrow, to stay with my grandma and go to the funeral next week. We probably won't be back until next weekend."
Damn it, Lawrence thought. "What time are you leaving tomorrow?" he asked.
"Around ten. Do you think you could come by in the morning?"
"I'll be there. Is eight o'clock good?"
"That'll be fine. Well, I'll see you then, baby. I love you."
"Love you too. Bye." He hung up, turned the lamp next to the bed off, and rolled over, falling asleep within minutes.
It was a long, long, long ride from Valdosta to Miami the following day, and Brenda was just starting to wonder if they were going to get there before dark when she finally saw a sign that read: MIAMI--10 MILES. She and her mom had been on the road since ten thirty, stopping at a McDonald's to eat a few hours ago, and it was now just after six. She had said her goodbyes to Lawrence that morning, who she would miss very much on this trip--they had never been apart more than a couple of days before--and then packed up her two suitcases, which were now in the back seat alongside her mom's.
She hadn't really wanted to come, but had known her mother's feelings would be hurt if she didn't. She had only met her grandfather a few times that she could remember, so his death hadn't really affected her that much, aside from sadness for her mom. On the previous occasions Brenda had seen her mom's parents, it had been they who had come to Georgia to visit; this was her first time in Miami, and the furthest she had ever been from home in her eighteen years.
It was a big city. Fortunately, her mom knew where she was going. When they finally got to her grandma's house, Brenda endured the greeting process, then took her suitcases back to the guest room the old woman directed her to, laid down in the bed, and took a nap.
The next day was really boring. There wasn't much to do all afternoon, and that evening she went with her mom and grandmother to the viewing of her grandpa, where there were all kinds of people she'd never met. That night she called Lawrence on her cell phone, and they talked for a little while. It was easily the highlight of the day.
Tuesday, the day before the funeral, she borrowed her mom's car and went down to the beach just for something to do. It wasn't very far; she and her mom had passed it on the way in. She only spent a few hours there, however, and by midafternoon she was on her way back to the house.
She was on the road that led to her grandma's place, doing about 55 and fidgeting with the radio, when the small truck crashed headlong into her. She never saw it until the last second. She had not been wearing the seat belt, but it probably wouldn't have mattered if she had been. The impact sent her headlong through the windshield, and then she bounced off the truck--she'd had just enough time to see that it was red--landed in the road, and rolled a little ways.
There had been no pain. There was still none. She should have been dead. The blood from her cracked skull was spreading out into the street around her, making a wide puddle that kept on getting wider by the second. She got to her feet slowly, dazed.
Her body was still lying in the road, at her feet. But she was standing. That wasn't right. She looked down at herself--the self that was standing--and saw no blood. She felt her head with her hands, and found no injury at all. Yet the Brenda lying at her feet...
Was dead. Emphatically dead.
There was only one explanation. She was a ghost now. This was what happened when you died: your spirit rose up out of your body, still wearing the same clothes.
That was crazy, of course. If she was dead, she should be in Heaven... or Hell. This had to be a dream.
If I'm dead, she thought, and I'm a ghost now, I should be able to walk through things. So she walked toward her mom's totalled car, and put this theory to the test. But she bumped into it normally, as if she were still in a solid body.
What in the hell was going on?
She turned around, and there was an elderly woman who had not been there before standing in front of her.
"Hello," the woman smiled. "You must be Brenda."
"What's going on?" Brenda asked, assuming for some reason this woman would know. "Am I dead?"
"You are indeed," the woman replied. "I am here to welcome you to the afterlife. My name is Atropos."
Brenda thought that name sounded vaguely familiar, but she was too mind-blown to reflect on it now. This had to be a dream.
"But why am I still here?" she asked. "Shouldn't I be in Heaven?"
"Normally, you would be," the woman answered. "But you have been chosen for a special job that is offered to only a very few each century. I would like to tell you about it, but first we should relocate to a more... comfortable environment. Is there anyone at your house? Your house in Valdosta, that is?"
"No," Brenda replied, completely baffled.
"Excellent. I'll take us there." The woman, Atropos, gestured with her left hand, and something appeared out of the air beside her: a shining, silvery slash of light that turned, then opened up, becoming a doorway. It was like looking through a window in the middle of nothing, sitting there in the road. Inside that window was what looked like the living room of Brenda's house.
"Shall we?" Atropos said, smiling again. And then she stepped through the strange doorway, entering the place that looked like Brenda's living room.
Brenda closed her mouth, shaking her head in confusion. She did not follow the woman through the "doorway" at first, but instead stepped around it, so that she could see its back side. From behind, the doorway didn't exist; it was just like nothing was there at all. But when she stepped back to the front of it, the opening in thin air was still there, and the weird woman was waiting for her inside.
There was nothing Brenda could do except step through the doorway and join her.
And now she was standing in the living room of her house. She didn't notice the "doorway" disappearing behind her, but when she looked around again, it was gone.
She was home.
What in the hell?
"I'm sure you must be having a hard time believing what is happening," the elderly woman said. "I know just how you feel, for I was in your place once. But don't be afraid. Life really gets a lot more interesting after you're dead." With a small chuckle, Atropos seated herself in a chair.
Shaking her head again, Brenda sat down in the couch to the woman's left. She didn't even know where to begin asking questions.
But Atropos was already speaking again. "Now, as I said before, you have been selected for a chance to do a very important job here in this town, and that is why you have not gone on to your eternal place in Heaven. It is up to you, though, whether or not you want to do the job. Should you refuse, no one will hold it against you, but hear me out before you make a decision.
"You see, during certain times and in certain places of the world, the battle between Good and Evil--God and the Devil, as it were--becomes especially heated. Right now is one such time, and this town is one such place. An Agent of Hate was recently appointed by the Enemy--that's the Devil--to cause chaos, death and destruction in this town that must be prevented if at all possible. This Agent of Hate has certain powers, which enable him to carry out his plans by manipulating certain people into doing his bidding. We do not yet know what his plans are, exactly. That's where you come in.
"When the Enemy appoints an Agent of Hate to carry out his evil will on Earth, the Lord chooses a person to oppose that Agent of Hate. That person, Brenda, is you. I wonder if you can even imagine what an honor that is? But I digress. If you accept this job, you will be granted certain powers that will enable you to reverse the Agent of Hate's influences on the people of this town. However, it will not be easy. This Agent of Hate's name is Keith Ishmael, and he was put on this earth for the sole purpose of carrying out the Enemy's horrible will. He is brilliant, sneaky, and as evil as any man who has ever lived in all of history. If you accept the job I am here to offer you, it will be up to you to find out what his plans are, and do what you must to counter them. You will not be in any personal danger from this man, for he cannot harm you in any way--yet just as you will be protected from harm by our Lord's power, so shall he be protected from harm by the Enemy.
"Are you absorbing all of this, dear?"
Actually, Brenda was still trying to absorb the fact that she was dead, but she had been listening intently to Atropos' speech, so she nodded. "But what about people who know me?" she asked. "Will they be able to see me?"
"I was just getting to that." Atropos reached into a pocket, and pulled out an ordinary-looking gold necklace. "If you accept the job, you will wear this necklace while going about your duties. It will give you the powers I mentioned earlier when you wear it, and also make you invisible to everyone except the Agent of Hate who is working against you. If you remove the necklace, you will lose your powers and become visible to all. However, there are rules you must abide by if you take this job. You may recruit up to five people whom you trust to be your helpers, to assist you in your duties however they may, but those people may not be members of your own family. Another rule is that you cannot reveal yourself to anyone except those five people you have recruited as helpers. And, of course, you may not use your powers in any violent or harmful manner against humans, no matter what they are doing.
"I know that this is a lot to take in all at once. But I must have your answer before I leave you today. If you do not want the job, you will move on to your eternal place in the Lord's Kingdom, and you will not be given another chance to return to this plane of existence. Please, take your time and think about it. I am in no hurry at the moment."
And so Brenda thought. It was a lot to take in, a hell of a lot. But she found that she had already made up her mind. She wouldn't be able to talk to her family--including her poor mom, who had just lost her father and now her daughter on top of that--but she would be able to see and talk to some of her friends again, as well as protect them and her family from this Keith guy. After all, if God Himself thought she was the right person to do this, then surely she was. There wasn't really much to think about.
"I'll do it," she told Atropos. "I'll take the job."
"Excellent," Atropos smiled. "I was sure you would." She stood, and held out the necklace. Brenda got up as well, and took it.
"Go ahead," said Atropos, "put it on."
Brenda slid the gold necklace over her head and onto her neck. It hung down to about an inch above her breasts. She didn't feel any different...
"Now don't be alarmed," Atropos said, "but look to your right."
Brenda obeyed... and found a tiny grey spider sitting on her shoulder. It didn't look normal; it almost appeared to be made of metal, but a very polished and shiny metal, and its eyes sparkled in its tiny head like emeralds. "Hello," it said to her in a voice that sounded feminine, waving with a foreleg. Brenda stared, her mouth hanging open.
"Meet your Glass Spider," Atropos said. "It will explain your job and your abilities thoroughly. Well, I'm off now. Good luck." And the woman suddenly disappeared into the air.
"Nice to meet you, Brenda," the spider said in its tiny voice.
"What are you?" Brenda asked it. She was definitely cracking up now.
"A spider, of course," it replied. "I am known as a Glass Spider, though I'm not made of any type of glass known to mortals. Well, shall we get started?"
"Uh... sure," Brenda said.
"There's the spirit! Now, the first thing is gateways. You saw the one Atropos made before, right? The one that brought you here? Well, you can make 'em too now. It's pretty easy. Just say, 'gateway open'--after enough practice, you'll be able to make 'em come without saying it aloud--and then visualize in your head where you want it to take you, and step through. This is one of the two ways you'll be getting around, and it's easier to do than the other. Wanna try it now?"
"I guess," Brenda said.
"Good! So, just say the words, then."
"Gateway, open," Brenda said, not really expecting anything to happen. But it did. A silvery, shimmering slash of light appeared before her, like the one Atropos had summoned back there on the road, and then it opened up into a doorway that contained... weirdness. All she could see inside was a bunch of swirling colors that seemed to melt into each other, confusing the eye.
"Now, visualize where you want to go," the Glass Spider instructed her.
"What's that?" Brenda asked, gesturing at the strange swirling colors inside the gateway.
"That's nothing," the spider replied. "Literally: that's what 'nothing' looks like. It's a sort of alternate dimension that exists outside of normal space and time, filling up the gaps between this reality and the next. It's hard to explain. But don't worry, it won't hurt you."
Brenda supposed she would have to take the spider's word for it.
"So, just think of a place," the spider said, "any place at all that you've been to before. Then, step through, and you'll be there."
Brenda pictured the outside of the mall in her head, choosing it for no particular reason. Then she thought, Here goes nothing, and stepped into the swirling colors.
She emerged in the middle of the parking lot outside the mall. Sears was right in front of her, just as she had envisioned in her head. The gateway snapped shut behind her as soon as she was through.
"Very good!" the Glass Spider congratulated her. "Now, on to the next lesson..."
* * *
Nicole hadn't seen or spoken to Sapphire since the night of the concert, but she had done a lot of thinking about what had happened that night. Monday evening, she was watching TV when one of those "psychic hotline" commercials came on. A woman named Sylvia Morgan was saying, "Have you seen anything strange or unexplainable happen lately? Come see me, and we'll discover the meaning of it together." The commercial said that Sylvia Morgan was located across from K-Mart, and was open weekdays from two p.m. until ten. A psychic? Well, it was worth a try. After all, she had seen something strange and unexplainable lately...
The next day, she had her mom drop her off at K-Mart, then walked across the street and found the psychic place. Inside, it was somewhat dimly lit by candles on shelves, and the woman from the commercial was sitting alone on a red satin pillow on the floor, with something that looked like a crystal ball in front of her. She was middle-aged, but still slender and pretty, with dark hair and green eyes.
"Hello, Nicole," Sylvia Morgan smiled. "I've been waiting for you. Please have a seat." She gestured to the pillow across from her.
Nicole lowered herself onto the pillow slowly. "How did you know my name?"
"I'm psychic," the woman replied pleasantly. "Didn't you see the sign outside?"
"Well, yeah... I just...you know..."
"Never believed in psychics before? Well, not many people do these days, what with all the phonies giving the rest of us a bad name. But I am the real thing, and I know many things about you. I have been watching over you for a very long while."
"Why?" Nicole demanded.
Instead of answering, Sylvia said, "You have come here today because you want to know about the hurricane the other night. It was impossible, what happened, yet you and your friend saw what you saw, yes?"
"How do you--" Nicole began, then cut short, realizing she was about to ask essentially the same question again.
"Why don't we start with you telling me everything you can remember about what happened that night," Sylvia suggested.
And so Nicole told her. She described the aura around Basie, the thousands of tiny fireflies, the different feelings that had washed over her the whole time. Blushing a bit, she even told the woman about her orgasm, and then rushed on to describe how the colored motes had formed a tunnel, and how the hurricane winds had pounded down from above, going right through her and then into the aura around Basie.
"I thought I was losing my mind," she concluded. "But Sapphire saw the same thing."
"And this Basie girl, have you and Sapphire told her about what you both saw that night?"
"We haven't had a chance to yet. What do you know about it all?"
Sylvia leaned forward a bit. "What this girl Basie did was nothing short of incredible. Even if you and Sapphire helped her... it is still amazing to be able to make an entire hurricane do your bidding. Especially without even knowing what you're doing.
"You and your two friends have a power. It is not the same as being psychic. It is actually far more rare. There are usually only a handful of people born each century with the abilities you three possess, yet you are not even the only three in this town right now who have it."
"But... what is it that we have?"
"You are Channelers, able to tap into the very essence of the Universe, and manipulate it to do your will. The fact that so many of you are here in this town--and all around the same age, no less--means something. Such a thing has never happened before. Ever."
"The essence of the Universe?" Nicole repeated.
"The Blood of the Universe," Sylvia said reverently. "That was what you saw that night--the "fireflies", as you called them. Think of them as the blood cells of space and time; the fabric of reality that holds everything together, and acts as a barrier between dimensions. That colorful aura you saw around Basie was actually a gateway into the space between dimensions where no living soul was meant to go--a place of non-existence that defies all life. It was that place that the three of you--or perhaps one or two of you; I'm not sure--Channeled the hurricane into. Most Channelers are never able to do such a thing, even the ones who know what they're doing. I believe that the remarkable ability you three displayed that night was bestowed upon you for a reason.
"You have probably heard of the tear in space called the Purple Rift. That rift is disrupting the balance that the Blood of the Universe has maintained since the beginning of time, and soon it will begin to break down the dimensional barriers. When that happens, there will be chaos in this world and all other worlds beyond imagining. It is my belief that the incredible number of Channelers who exist now in this world were born for a purpose--to help prevent that chaos from coming about. How they will do it, I do not know. But that is what I believe."
Nicole's head was spinning. "You said there were others--besides me, Sapphire and Basie--"
"Yes. But I do not know who they are. I cannot see all. I do not know what has caused the Purple Rift. I only know that it must be mended, and the only way for that to happen is for a large number of Channelers to work together and close it. Everything happens for a reason. It is clear to me that the reason for so many Channelers to be born at the same time was so that they could close the Purple Rift. But in order for that to happen, as many of you as possible must survive long enough to do it.
"As I said, I do not know of the other Channelers in this area. I only know that they exist. But I have been aware of, and watching over, you and the other two girls for most of your lives. And I have seen a vision. A vision that tells of a horrible disaster in this town, a disaster that is now in the very near future. It is my belief that the three of you will not survive this calamity. You must leave this town. And soon."
"But where will we go?" Nicole demanded.
"Fate will lead you. But it is imperative that the Channelers be kept alive. I have told you all that I know at the moment. If more becomes clear to me, I will reveal it."
"Do you think I should bring Sapphire and Basie here to see you?"
"By all means," Sylvia said with a small smile. "I need all the business I can get."
Nicole glanced at her watch. "I've got to meet my mom soon. I'll bring the other two here when I get a chance." She stood up.
"Er--that'll be ten dollars," Sylvia said, holding out a hand.
Rolling her eyes, Nicole pulled out her wallet.
* * *
Over the next couple of days, Brenda learned how to use her new powers. Besides making gateways, there were other fascinating things she was capable of, including another way to get from one place to another instantaneously, though it was much more complicated. When she focused on a person, she could see a representation of their soul that appeared to her as a thread: the thread of their life. And when she observed that thread, she found that she could read things about their life and their feelings on it--sort of like reading a book, only to her it was more like gazing into a reflection in water; but instead of seeing herself in that reflection, she "saw" the emotions within them, and the circumstances that surrounded their life. It was hard to put into words, but when she focused on a person's thread, their information played itself out in her mind in the form of images that she was able to instantly process. Sometimes, she could even see bits of the person's future. Actually, the Glass Spider told her, everything in the world had a "thread," not just people, and these threads all intertwined together to make up the tapestry of life. When a person died, their thread disapeared from the tapestry; when someone was born, a new thread was added.
To her own amazement, Brenda learned that she could alter people's threads in ways that affected their feelings. The Glass Spider warned her, however, that this should be done with the utmost caution.
"Both you and the Agent of Hate can manipulate people's emotions--you in positive ways, he in negative ways. He can make someone feel more anger or hatred than they normally would in certain situations, arrange for fights or riots to occur, things like that. Whereas you can cause people to hate each other less, love each other more, or decrease the feelings of anger and violence in them, by adjusting their threads. However, tampering with people's threads randomly or carelessly can be disastrous. And some bad things are meant to happen, so that good can come out of it. You must be a judge of such situations, and act accordingly. But your biggest priority is to find out what Keith Ishmael is planning, and put a stop to it. This won't be easy; he is very clever. He does have strict rules that he must follow, which limit his actions among humans, but to Keith, subtlety is an art. It is up to you to help the people he tries to hurt, heal the pain he tries to cause, and do all you can to prevent his plans from coming to fruition."
Brenda wished the spider didn't have to make her job sound so daunting. But she did like having it around, always perched there on her shoulder and giving her advice. It was good to have company, especially since nobody else could see her. She was still trying to get used to being invisible.
The other mode of instantaneous travel the Glass Spider taught her was harder to do than making gateways, but once she got the hang of it, she found that she liked it better. When she closed her eyes, she could see the threads of everyone and everything around her, and was able to zoom in or out on the vast tapestry as she wished. She could even see her own thread. The threads of other people were many different shades of green, blue, and red, but she could easily recognize the ones that represented people she knew. And if she couldn't readily pick out the thread of someone she wanted to find, she could concentrate on thoughts of that person, and their thread would sort of jump out at her--not revealing to her where they were, or how far away they were; it didn't work like that--but if she concentrated hard, she could move her own thread closer to the one of that person, and closer still, until the two were side by side--and then, when she opened her eyes, she would be standing next to them, wherever they were! The first person she tried this on was Lawrence, and she was delighted when she opened her eyes and found herself in his room. It was night, and he was asleep--not that he would have seen her anyway while she had the necklace on--so she had just curled up next to him, enjoying this chance to be close to him. One day, she would recruit him as a helper, but for now she was still trying to figure out how to tell him what had happened. Besides, he had just heard about her death, and it was probably best to wait a while before letting him see her.
On Saturday, she went to her own funeral--with the necklace on, of course. It was really hard. All her friends were there: Sapphire, Vince, Jesus, Basie and Dennis, even Dan and Kevin, and naturally Lawrence. Her mother cried the whole time. She didn't know it, but Brenda was right there with her, kneeling beside her chair with her arms wrapped tightly around her. It was all she could do.
* * *
Thursday afternoon, Nicole's mom actually let her borrow the car, which was a rare thing--she'd had her license for a few months now, but her mom was really paranoid--so she drove out to Dennis and Basie's house to meet Sapphire. To her own amazement, she actually remembered how to get there. Last night, she had called Sapphire and told her about Sylvia Morgan and the things she had said. Sapphire had seemed skeptical about it, but Nicole had insisted that the woman had known things she shouldn't have.
"She knew my name before I ever spoke to her," Nicole had said. "And she already knew about what we saw at the concert, and what happened with the hurricane, and what it all meant. I really think she's for real. I mean, I know it sounds crazy, but it was all crazy to begin with, right?"
Sapphire had been forced to agree with that, at least.
Nicole pulled up in the driveway of Basie's house, from where she could already hear the Sanitary Napkins playing in the garage. Sapphire had invited her to come and watch the rehearsal with her, so they could see if either of them saw anything weird again, like at the concert. Also, they were going to try to get Basie alone, so they could finally confront her about that night.
Nicole walked the rest of the way up the driveway, and into the open door of the garage. The whole band was there--Jesus, Basie, Scott, Alan and Ricky--and they were playing a song Nicole hadn't heard before. Sapphire was sitting on a small couch over in the corner. Nicole went over and sat down beside her.
"Hey," she said. "I heard about Brenda from Nadine. Are you okay?"
"Yeah," Sapphire sighed. "I just feel so terrible for Lawrence. The funeral is Saturday; I'm going to it with Jesus. He's been working on a song about her, you know. She was a nice girl; everybody really liked her."
They sat there in silence for a while, watching the band play. Nothing strange happened when Basie sang this time. Could it be, Nicole wondered, that her singing hadn't had anything to do with what had happened that night?
A while later, Sapphire and Nicole finally got Basie alone in one of the living rooms. Sapphire sat next to Basie on a couch, and Nicole sat in a chair just to their left.
"We wanted to talk to you," Sapphire was saying, "about the concert last weekend. When you were singing, did you see anything strange going on around you?"
"Like what?" Basie asked cautiously.
"Like thousands of tiny dots floating around in the air, all different colors," Nicole said abruptly.
Basie's mouth hung open for a moment. Then: "You saw it, too? Both of you?" They nodded. "Oh, thank God. I thought I was the only one. I thought I had lost my mind..."
"We knocked on your door later that night, but you wouldn't answer us," Sapphire said.
"You did? I never heard you. Man, I'm so glad I'm not crazy. Did anybody else see it?"
"Not that we know of," Nicole said. "But I met this woman named Sylvia Morgan..."
She told Basie everything she had told Sapphire the previous night. She quoted all the stuff about dimensional barriers and whatnot as well as she could recall it; she wished she'd had a tape recorder handy when she talked to Sylvia, so she wouldn't have to keep trying to tell other people about things she didn't really understand herself.
"I want to talk to this woman," Basie said after the story was over.
"Better bring some money," Nicole warned her dryly.
"I want to meet her, too," Sapphire said. "Let's all go to see her tomorrow."
And so the three girls rode together the next day--in Sapphire's car--to the location across from K-Mart where Nicole had met Sylvia before... but when they got there, the door was locked and there was no answer.
"Damn it, I don't get it," Nicole said. "She's supposed to be here Monday through Friday, from two to ten--see, it's posted on the door."
"Maybe she's sick," Basie suggested.
Nicole came by the place again on Monday, and again no one was around. When she peeked through the glass door, she saw that the place had been cleaned out; it was an empty lot now. Sylvia Morgan was gone.
Krys was ecstatic as she followed her mother into the house. She couldn't remember the last time she had been this happy. Not only was she here with the people she loved, but she was going to get to stay here for a whole week, until her eleventh birthday next Friday! That meant a whole week of not getting beaten, molested, or yelled at for no reason. It also meant a whole week of being with her real mom, her brother Vince, and Sapphire, her favorite person ever, who she gave a big hug to as soon as she was into the house.
"Where's Vince?" Krys asked her older sister.
"He'll be home soon. He and I are going to a funeral later on. But we'll be home this evening."
"A funeral? Who died?"
"A friend of ours named Brenda. She was in a car wreck in Florida last week."
"Aww, that's terrible," said Krys, though to be honest it was hard for her to feel very bad right now.
And so most of her afternoon was spent waiting impatiently for her brother and sister to get home. At five thirty, Sapphire finally got back, saying that Vince had gone somewhere with somebody and would be home later that night.
It was a fun evening... at first. Their mom made hamburgers, which they ate together on the couch--that was something Krys was never allowed to do at her father's house; all eating had to be done at the table--and then they watched TV together for a little while. Then, mom went to get ready for work, since she worked night shifts on weekends, and soon Krys and Sapphire were left alone.
Flipping through the channels, Sapphire found a talk show where girls who had been molested and/or raped by their fathers were talking about what they had been through, and encouraging any girls who had experienced the same thing to tell someone about it. Suddenly, Krys started to cry, her head on Sapphire's shoulder.
"What is it?" Sapphire asked. "What's wrong?"
Should I tell her? Krys thought. Should I do what the girls on TV say? But what if nobody believes me?
She decided she couldn't hold it in any longer. "My dad touches me," she whispered into Sapphire's shoulder.
For a moment, there was only the sound of Krys' sobs as Sapphire sat in shock. Then, finally: "He touches you... where?"
"Everywhere," Krys replied, still crying. Sapphire's arms were around her now. Would her sister and brother protect her from now on? She hoped so. She never wanted to see her fucking father again.
"How long has he been doing this?" Krys could hear the anger in her sister's voice, edging toward rage.
"Since last year... November, I think," Krys said. She was getting her voice under control. "He makes me touch him too, on his dick. He wanted me to suck it one time, but I wouldn't. A few times, he pulled down my panties and... and..." She couldn't bring herself to say out loud what her father had done when he'd pulled down her panties. It was too gross, too shameful.
"Oh, my god," Sapphire said, and now there were tears in her voice too. "I wish you'd told me sooner." She squeezed her arms around Krys tighter, and Krys squeezed back.
"What are we gonna do?" Krys asked.
"I don't know yet," Sapphire replied, the anger coming back into her voice. "But somehow, I'll make sure he goes to jail. I promise."
That made Krys feel better already. She was glad she had finally told.
Later on, after Krys had gone to bed and Vince was home, Sapphire quietly told her brother what Krys had told her, sitting close to him in the living room.
"I'll kill him," Vince breathed, his eyes aflame and his hands flexing as if they couldn't wait to be around "Brother" Snow's throat. "I'll fucking kill that bastard..."
"You know that won't do any good," Sapphire said calmly. "We need a plan. He's a preacher. And he's never actually raped her, so there's no physical evidence. It'll be hard to get anybody to believe..."
"Why the hell would she lie?" Vince snarled.
"They'd probably say she just wanted to live here with us, so she made the whole thing up, or something."
"Krys wouldn't make something like this up."
"I know that and you know that, but the judge won't know it."
"Well, what are you suggesting, then?"
Sapphire took a deep breath. This wasn't going to be easy. "We need proof. We need... to get it on camera."
Vince stood up suddenly. "What! Are you insane? You want to send her back--let him do it again--!"
"It's the only way," Sapphire said, getting up too. "I know it's sick, but without proof nobody will ever believe us. I already talked to Krys about the plan. She said she had no problem doing it."
"Well, I have a problem with it!" Vince started pacing around. "Letting something like that happen--she doesn't deserve it--"
"I know, Vince. I don't like it either. But it's been happening since last November. One more time won't kill her. And then he'll be in jail, getting ass-raped by murderers and psychopaths like he deserves, and Krys'll be here with us from now on. Please, Vince, I need you on board with me on this."
It took some more convincing, but Sapphire finally got him to agree with her plan. Neither of them were aware that Krys was lying on her stomach in the doorway of her dark bedroom down the hall, listening to them. She and Sapphire had agreed that it was best not to tell their mom about any of this yet, and now Sapphire made Vince promise not to say anything either. When she was tired of listening to them, Krys got up, softly closed her door, and went to lay down in bed. It sure would be wonderful when what Sapphire said came true , and her fucking father was in jail and she could live here forever. She believed that it would happen, if Sapphire said it would. And it was certainly well worth getting molested just one more time...
Krys squeezed her eyes shut, trying to push down the dread. Next weekend, she would have to see her dad again, and he was going to do his thing to her...but it would be the last time, she had to keep reminding herself of that. Damn it, this was supposed to be a happy time, not a time of being afraid. And it was her own fault that she had waited so long to tell Sapphire about her father. If she had just told on that fucking pervert after the first time he'd done it, he would have already been in jail, and she would've never had to be molested again. But the past couldn't be helped. Now that she had finally told, the people who loved her could finally do something about it.
She just wished she didn't have to see...him again.
Rolling over, she tried to stop thinking about it as she lay still in the dark, listening to the sound of the ceiling fan above and her own breathing. Eventually, she slept.
* * *
As the days went by, Brenda continued to learn more about her new abilities. The Glass Spider told her that the three different colors of other people's "threads" represented the current state of their emotional being. The ones in green were doing fine, and didn't need her; the blue threads were the ones who did need her; and the red ones were people who were so filled with hate and evil that they were beyond her help. There was a disturbing number of red threads each time Brenda closed her eyes and observed the tapestry, and many more blue ones than green; she certainly had plenty to keep her busy during the day. At night, she slept in her own bed at home, making a gateway directly into her room (she still needed sleep, even in the afterlife, though she did not require food or drink anymore. It was weird: she kept thinking she ought to be hungry or thirsty, but she wasn't.) When she wore the necklace Atropos had given her, she not only became invisible to others, but she also lost solidity, and was able to walk through things, but she didn't do that often because it kind of disturbed her. When she took the necklace off, she became solid, but she didn't do that often either.
When she was in a crowd of people, as the Glass Spider told her, she was drawn to the ones that needed her help the most. For example, the day after her funeral she encountered a man in a restaurant with his wife and two children, a boy and a girl. The wife and kids were fine, but the man's thread was deep blue, so she examined it and found that he was beginning to lose interest in his wife, and there was a woman at his job he was thinking about having an affair with. She could also read on his thread what would happen if he did this, and it was all bad. The wife would find out, they would get divorced, and the lives of the two kids would both be changed forever--and definitely not for the better.
But Brenda also found that she could avert it all. With one minor adjustment to his thread, she increased his love for his wife, bringing all of his good memories with her back to the front of his mind, and he instantly started looking at her in a new way as they sat at the table eating. Now, Brenda could see that the immediate future of this man had already changed on his thread: tonight, he and his wife would make love like they had not done for quite a while, and he would put all thoughts of cheating with that woman at work firmly aside. The divorce was averted, and the family was saved, at least for the time being.
As Brenda watched the family leave the restaurant, she smiled, pleased with herself.
"Yes," the Glass Spider said, "this is the fun part of your job. But it won't all be like this. There will be times when you will fail to help where you have tried, or when something you have tried to prevent happens despite your efforts. It does not mean you are doing anything wrong; such failures are inevitable. As long as you are trying, that is what matters."
Despite the spider's negativity, Brenda's spirits weren't dampened. However, she was getting tired of it being her only companion. Monday evening, she decided the time had come to reveal herself to another person, and recruit her first helper. And she knew who that person would be: Lawrence.
That night, she went to his house by way of gateway, emerging into the back yard, then crossed into his bedroom by walking through the wall. She had decided how she would go about this. Sitting on his bed, she waited in the dark for him to come in. When he finally did, she waited until he was sitting right next to her. Then she spoke.
"Lawrence," she said, causing him to whip his head about in alarm. "It's me, Brenda."
"Who's there?!" he said in panic.
"Lawrence, you won't believe this, but it really is me, Brenda. I'm right next to you. I'm going to become visible now." And then she took off the necklace.
He shrieked briefly, then vaulted off the bed, and crawled quickly backward on his hands and feet toward the closet, where he sat hunkered down, eyes wide.
"Lawrence, don't be afraid," Brenda said. "I'm not going to hurt you. It's just me."
"Yes, I did die. But you have to let me tell you what happened. When I died in the car wreck, my spirit stayed here on Earth..."
She explained the whole thing to him, about Atropos and the necklace and the Glass Spider, and about her new job.
"They told me I could recruit up to five people to help me," she concluded. "And the first person I wanted, of course, was you."
"I gotta be dreamin'," Lawrence said, still hunkered down in the closet. "Stuff like this don't happen!"
"Yes, it does," Brenda said. "I know it's hard to believe. But I'm really here. I'm sorry to shock you like this, but I'm going to need your help against this Keith guy. And... I've really missed you, too." She paused for a moment. "You wanna come out of that closet? I told you, I'm not gonna hurt you."
Slowly, he got up and came back over to the bed, then sat down next to her. The next thing she knew, they were holding each other tightly.
"I don't care if this is a dream," he said. "I'll enjoy it while it lasts."
"It's not a dream," she insisted.
They slept together in his bed that night--with his knowledge this time--and when she woke in the morning, she waited for him to wake so that he would see she was still there. She didn't want to leave, but knew she had to get back to work. The fate of the whole town depended on her, but at least now she wasn't alone in her job anymore.