Benny was baked once again.
So was Beaner.
Honestly Benny guessed that everyone sitting in the tiny room (about ten people all together,) was baked. Unless they weren’t breathing. The one person in there who didn’t seem phased at all by the high quality “Lana” was the little guy, Brun, who sat not more than a foot from Beaner at all times, staring at Benny with his one big eye while the other eye watched everyone else.
Benny couldn’t help but feel that maybe Brun was monitoring his thoughts to see if he was having any thoughts of rebellion against their not so legendary leader, Beaner. This was probably true, but Benny did not feel any desire to be hostile toward the man, or any of his clan, and even the strange feeling he had gotten upon arrival was slowly subsiding. But still… he couldn’t help but wonder what Beaner had been told by the servant boy who had run in so urgently.
As if in response to this, the boy from before entered the room once more. He looked flushed and exhausted, but also relieved about something. “It’s done, m’lord. She is ready.”
“Good,” Beaner said. “Bring her in now. All of you, get out now.”
The other people in the room, except for Brun, of course, quickly vacated. Benny got the strong impression that Beaner was the type of leader that was good and caring and would protect his clan until the end, but also the type who would punish severely anyone who dared be ungrateful enough to disobey an order. It was kind of comical seeing some of the larger tenants bowl over the smaller ones in their attempts to get out of the room. Apparently it was an honor to get to sit in the room with Chief Beaner, but it was something scary to be the one who waited long enough to invoke his wrath.
When they were all gone and the door was shut, Benny asked, “Why do they all seem to fear you so much?” He pulled out the small pipe Beaner had stored in his pack for traveling and loaded some of the Lana plant into it. Benny still wasn’t totally sure if it was weed or not, but it smelled, tasted, and made him feel like marijuana did, but its look was a little different… the crystals on it looked like little bits of amethyst, the most pleasant purple ever.
Beaner leaned back on his little bed of pillows and closed his eyes, a large toothy smile spreading across his face. “To them, I am almost a god. Once you understand the uniqueness of our ability to even exist in a realm such as this, and realize the things we can do by knowing what this place is, you can do amazing things. I believe you have yet to find this out, but I assure you my friend, you will learn. You must learn, for the sake of the Inner and now, apparently, the Upper Realms as well. My people live in a sort of innocent paranoia about me. They know I can always protect them, but they do not want to anger me for fear that I may retaliate like some vengeful god, leaving them all stranded. I’d never do such a thing, of course, but truthfully I don’t mind them being a little afraid. Keeps them loyal, keeps them willing to do what’s right for all of us, and it keeps me in quite the life of luxury.” He laughed loudly at his own humor, but to Benny it wasn’t that funny.
This man might be nice, and he might be hospitable, but he had used Benny, used him for his own selfish purposes. Now he was using these people as well. Benny liked Beaner quite a bit, but he did not trust him.
“No need for trust, my friend,” Beaner said with a big grin. “I can do what is needed without your trust, and I think we will get along quite fine.”
There was a light knock on the door of the smoking room, and Beaner stood up.
“Ah,” he said. “Time for you to meet my most esteemed pupil and clan mate, my future bride, the amazing Miss Blanca.” He spread his arms wide and the door opened up.
Benny felt the same feeling he’d gotten upon entering, like something was watching him but didn’t quite like him, and he momentarily had to look away from the door because just looking in that direction made him fill up with chills. But he knew he couldn’t stay like that forever, staring dumbly at the floor, so he forced himself to look up.
What he saw both amazed and intrigued him.
The sight back at the LeVille Mansion was an eerie one to say the least. First thing that struck her as weird was that all the lights in the whole town were out, but not the ones in the LeVille Mansion. From outside, all appeared normal because the curtains on all the windows were thick enough to block out the light from inside, so to the rest of the town it appeared that even the LeVille Mansion had lost power. But it had not. For the first time in her life, Laura LeVille started to feel like taking on that name may have really been an insult to herself, a mark of shame on her life. At that moment, standing in the light that apparently only she and the closest servants of her father were allowed to enjoy. Never had Laura felt like she was any better than any of the townsfolk, yet now she was slapped in the face with the realization that her father surely did. However the power to Hayvan had been shut down, it was done on purpose.
The Idiot Madman Vonwell probably thought it would slow Benny down. Laura felt a pang of satisfaction knowing that Vonwell might still think Benny was somewhere in town, when really he had been helped away by her several hours before. She couldn’t believe that on every day prior to that one, she had considered “Mr. Vonwell” one of her family’s close friends.
What kind of family had she been brought into if Ardemeus Vonwell, or whatever his name really was, could be considered one of their friends? She had heard with her own ears as the man ordered the elimination of her double. But she had also heard something very useful that she was quite certain Vonwell did not know she had heard.
Benny, her double from the Upper Realms, her technical creator, was one of the Echani. Somehow, she just had to get to Benny and tell him this. Maybe he’d figure it out on his own, but somehow Laura didn’t think that the boy knew enough about the Inner to figure such a thing out on his own.
She had brought Fusa to the most hidden entrance she knew of: the trap door at the back of Sheed’s Need ‘n’ Feed. Apparently the building was a secret store house for the Mansion long before it was ever turned into a store. One day she had gotten lost in the halls of the Mansion and in an attempt to get to any place familiar, she had taken a passageway that was cleverly concealed. There was a corner in a certain hall, and the wall from one side overlapped the wall from the other, leaving a small and barely noticeable pathway just out of sight. Most people in that area were in a hurry (it was right outside the kitchen) and the lights were dim enough that most people breezed right by without even starting to notice the tiny gap in the two overlapping walls.
So she had found herself a perfect and hardly noticeable way out of the Mansion (something that came in handy when every person in Hayvan knew your name and were more than willing to tell your father that they’d seen you leaving,) and as far as she knew no one had ever seen her take it or discovered it besides her. The only person who noticed anything at all was Sheed, the owner of the store to which the passageway led. He was a nice old man, and he liked Laura, so he had never tattled on her for any of the times she mysteriously walked out of the back room after never having entered.
This was the entrance they took into the Mansion on the day when all the power went out. It was a long and dark journey, one that no one could make without getting covered in cob webs, but it proved to be most effective in hiding their entrance. They now stood staring from between the two walls, feeling the unfair light on their faces, scanning the passageway for potential threats. Laura couldn’t see anyone and didn’t really think anyone would be there (the kitchen crew was probably still asleep for the night, unless the screaming had been loud enough to enter the peaceful mansion,) but she left that decision up to the much more well trained Fusa Gon Ku. Laura had no clue where the man and his father had come from, but one thing she knew for sure was that they knew all kinds of mystic secrets and tricks that she had never even imagined. He now closed his eyes and pointed two of his fingers together in front of him, looking almost as if he were in prayer. He began humming extremely quietly under his breath, and she began to see his eye lids flutter as his eyes rolled in their sockets.
For a moment she considered asking what he was doing, but she was reminded of a certain day when she had angered Ku On Hu by questioning why he had began chanting, much like Fusa was now, when she had asked for his aid in healing a wound. He had told her harshly that concentration was most important in any work of magic or energy, and that to break the concentration of a Ku was to sabotage the good will of God. Something along those lines.
Point being, she never interrupted Ku On Hu ever again, and she shut her mouth quickly before she made the mistake again of angering a Ku. Fusa Gon Ku wasn’t as scary as the Ku On Hu, but he was at least somewhere near as powerful, and she didn’t want to find out if he could be as scary as his father on the one day she saw him get angry. She guessed that yes, he probably could be just as scary.
After all, he’d been trained all his life by Ku On Hu.
She began searching her pockets for anything she may have snuck earlier in the day to eat. Nothing. Her stomach was beginning to growl and she started to worry that maybe the growling would interrupt or upset Fusa, but luckily he ceased his chanting and turned toward her. Outlined by the sliver of light, he looked deeply troubled.
“What is it, Fusa?” Laura asked. She didn’t like this more recent, depressed Fusa at all. The Fusa she remembered had been stern but always confident. Always optimistic. Like Ku On Hu.
I must find him, she thought forlornly.
“I can feel someone nearby, but I can’t see them,” Fusa said, lighting another cigarette (How many of those things does he have, anyways? Laura thought.) “We could go out there blindly and face whoever it is, or we can try to wait for them to leave. Either way I don’t think we’re going to be getting very far any time soon.”
“We can’t just sit around and do nothing, can we?” she asked, failing to mask the growing sense of urgency in her voice. “I don’t know what Vonwell is up to, but I don’t think its good and I don’t think we can wait much longer. Somehow I don’t think this blackout is the extent of whatever his plan is… I think this might just be the beginning.”
“Do you know something you’re not telling me, Miss LeVille?”
“Don’t call me that!” she snapped.
In the small sliver of light, Laura could see that he looked slightly hurt. And why shouldn’t he? After all, she had just snapped at him for calling her the same name he’d always called her. “I’m sorry…” she said. “I just… I just don’t feel like I want to be a ‘LeVille’ anymore. Please… Just call me Laura, if that’s okay Fusa.”
The large man seemed to accept this, and after he took another drag off of his smoke, he said, “Well then, Miss Laura, what have you got on your mind? I’m well aware of why I hate Vonwell, but I’m not clear on why you do, so why don’t you tell me? Maybe you know some things that I don’t, and maybe we can enlighten each other.”
She began telling him about everything that had happened since she had sensed Benny coming into the Inner, right up to the point where she helped him escape. Luckily, Fusa was a sharp guy, and he remembered quite clearly how she had spoken of Benny in years past, the pain she’d gone through when she could no longer go sit in the big fake forest and talk to her friend, and so she didn’t have to spend much time explaining who he was. So she simply told him everything that seemed pertinent, including the conversation she had overheard in her father’s study.
In the end, he didn’t say much. At least at first he didn’t. He simply stared out into the light and smoked another cigarette, taking care to blow the smoke in any direction but hers. Really she didn’t mind the smoke… It reminded her of Ku On Hu, and so it comforted her. She was kind of glad he was smoking. After a while of silent smoking and contemplation, Fusa said, “Echani, huh?... I haven’t heard anyone talk about them in ages… No one knows what happened to the race known as the echani… Either they left or are staying quiet. No signs of them. Not since the great lady Neo.”
“Yes,” he said. “The great Sage Lady, the Sister of All. Neonokin. You have heard the legends?”
“Well anyways, if your friend is anywhere near what the great Neo was, then this bastard Vonwell might be able to be stopped yet.”
He took a much larger, slower drag than usual before saying, calmly, “You told me your reasons for hating and fearing this Vonwell man, and now I suppose its only proper for me to explain to you my reasons. But first, I must have your acknowledgement that this man is not part of, or friends to, your family. You see now that he is merely a murderer and an illusionist, right?”
Laura nodded her head. She didn’t know if he saw her, but he must have, for he continued, “Well, when my father, the great Elder Ku On Hu, brought me to the Inner, I was but a child. I grew up not knowing my past, my heritage, not even where I came from. All I could remember from my childhood was blood, and flames… and screaming… I don’t know if it was my mother, but that scream haunts me every night. And I could remember a face… yes… an ugly, white, freakish face, staring down into my bed as flames engulfed the room. And his laughter…. I can never forget that laugh…
“I did not know who he was, but my father did. He said that as far as he could tell, the man was the stuff of legends, not from this world but entirely of this world, if that makes any sense. He told me the legends of a terrible man, one who traveled the Inner in a bloody conquest to capture as much territory as he could. Remember, the Dreamscapes are very important and are the direct link to any human conscious mind, so really this was a conquest of control. He would slaughter the Inner Doubles and somehow found a way
to move up through Brynj, the between darkness, and into people’s minds. No one on this side knows what this meant for the Upper Realms, but my father… well my father came from the Upper Realms. He was a great sage there, and he had been tracking a “demon” for most of his adult life when he finally managed to come across the secret that allowed him access to the Inner. I know not what this secret is, but I do know that once my father found this place, he quickly discovered how this “demon” worked… By absolute control, from the inside of the mind outwards.
“The man in the legends was called Natas.”
Laura gasped… Natas was the stuff of nightmares, a story told to children of the Inner to make them afraid to stay up at night, and all her life Laura had always thought of it as just that… a story. But never would she think Mr. Vonwell would be such a devil of myth… He was a man of reality, flesh and bone. But it all made an eerie kind of sense…
“My father first became suspicious of the man when he refused to take his glasses off while in the company of an elder,” Fusa continued. “For a long time, I just thought father was holding a grudge for that very reason, just because he thought it was disrespectful. But over the years and after the things my father uncovered, it became clear that whenever there was a great disaster in the Inner’s long history, somewhere in the witness reports there would turn up stories of a man, a man with pale skin and dark hair. Usually this man had glasses on, and no one associated him with the name Natas. However, the descriptions of Natas himself fit the descriptions of the pale man with glasses, except the glasses of course.
“Now this is where it starts to make sense, for in all the tales of Natas, it is invariable that he had a certain power. Some deemed him the Master Hypnotist, but really this was more than hypnotism. This demon would get into people’s minds and remove their souls, and then with the empty shell that remained, it was said that he’d summon evil spirits into them and use them as puppets for his murderous deeds. Sometimes he’d only kill one person and then use their corpse to create a warrior that would do the rest of the job for him, destroying whatever town he had decided to take victim that time.”
Laura was beginning to feel very, very uncomfortable. A demon who went around ravaging towns for some unknown reason…
“The way that the demon Natas got into peoples heads,” Fusa said, “was simply by looking at them.”
Laura’s stomach lurched. The glasses, she thought.
“This is why the man known here as Ardemeus Vonwell will never ever take off his glasses for anyone. And believe me… everyone should be very glad for that. In fact, father and I followed ‘Vonwell’ for a long time, undetected as far as I know, and one day our following brought us to this little mirage town, Hayvan. Yes, you heard me right,” he said, noticing the look of surprise on Laura’s face. “A mirage town. This place does not exist as you or anyone here knows it. This place is a cave, a cave with a mansion in it, and the garden of trees is real. But the giant willow forest is not the only illusion created by those mystical trees, young miss Laura. You may wonder how we know this place is a mirage, and I can only say that we were here before the LeVilles or Vonwell.”
Fusa paused here, allowing Laura to soak it all in. This was all terribly troublesome. Almost made her want to smoke one of those damned cigarettes.
“After following the man for many years, we followed him back to here, our old home. And this ‘city’ is what we found. I’m sorry you have to be learning all this under such dire circumstances,” he said, and she believed it sounded sincere. “I know we need to be moving, but I do not know what danger awaits us outside this passageway. For all I know the man standing approximately one hundred feet away down the hall might be the
Man himself, but somehow I don’t think he’d have stood still for so long. Probably a sentinel, more likely. Bet you didn’t know your father had a secret service looming around all this time, did ya’? My point is, now is the only time I see that I can tell you all this for sure. There might not be a later for me, but I assure you I am going to do everything I can to get Ku On Hu and then get you both out safely.”
“We’ll all get out safely,” Laura said optimistically.
Fusa smiled. “I hope so.”
Just then they heard footsteps coming down the hall. This was it… the moment of truth if ever there was one. Now that the man from down the hall was walking toward them, Laura realized why Fusa had made them wait and have their talk; the man would come around the corner, and not knowing that there was a gap in the wall, Fusa could strike from behind as the man came around the corner. Much more effective than running headlong into danger like she had been planning.
Fusa put his pack over his shoulder and hunkered down. “Be ready,” he said quietly.
Laura stood to her feet and hunkered down, ready to bolt off at any second. She knew it was probably much more safe to remain scared, but she just couldn’t help but feel excited. She never got to partake in anything remotely dangerous, and this was all so new and fresh.
The man was getting closer… his footsteps louder…
Laura’s excitement was mounting until she began feeling something in her lower regions that she’d never felt…
“Um…” she began hesitantly. “Fusa?”
“What is it? I don’t really have time to talk… I need to be ready. Here he comes…”
“He’s almost to us, are you ready?”
The man turned the corner and passed their hiding spot. Fusa was getting ready lunge when she had held him back, with her words and with her hand pulling his shirt.
“Oh for Cristo’s sake, what—“
He looked at the small girl he’d known for quite some time now… He knew she was special and was created under special circumstances, and he knew that’s why she had never apparently aged, and as he looked at her, hand raised before her eyes in amazement, he realized how much older and taller she looked… Yesterday she was a little girl, today she was…
“I think something’s wrong, Fusa.”
Laura was holding up a hand and staring at it. Fusa pulled her wrist into the light and saw that her fingers were covered in blood. “Are you injured?” he asked.
“I don’t know… I—“
He pulled her farther into the light, knowing what he’d probably see. Sure enough, the crotch of her pants was leaking blood.
“Fusa, what’s wrong with me?”
“Nothing’s wrong with you,” he said. “You just chose the worst time imaginable to start your period, that’s all.”
The girl who stood in the door to Beaner’s little apartment was, by all meanings of the word, beautiful. Her skin was pearly white and she seemed to glow in the dim room. Her robes were made of brightly colored silk, and her face was heavily painted. After a few moments of thought, Benny realized where he had seen girls that kind of looked the same: the pictures of Geisha girls from his school.
But this girl was not Asian, and the whiteness of her skin appeared to be completely natural, not a product of make up. She looked at the ground as she walked slowly towards Beaner, and since she kept her head perfectly straight, she gave the appearance of walking with her eyes closed.
“Ah…” Beaner sighed happily. “Benny, I would like you to meet my future wife, Lauren.”
Benny’s breath caught in his chest as the similarity in name finally connected the dots for him… He now knew why this girl looked so beautiful and so familiar as well. It wasn’t from the Geisha pictures at school… No not at all…
This girl looked like Laura after she had aged a bit.
He suddenly realized he was being silent and rude after being introduced, so he stammered out, “I-its nice to meet you.”
Without taking her eyes from the ground, she angled her head slightly towards Benny and nodded while almost imperceptibly saying, “Thank you very much. Pleased to meet you as well.”
“Benny here is on a quest to win his body back from the mad man!” Beaner said, a little more cheery than Benny thought was necessary considering what he was saying.
“I wish him well, m’lord,” she said. Again, Benny could just barely hear that she was even talking at all. At first he thought she’d said “I wish him hell” but then his mind caught up to his ears.
“Yes, yes…” Beaner took one last hit off his pipe before returning it to its little pouch. “Anyways, my dear, I hear you have some news for us?”
“Grave news, my lord.”
“Well, lets have it then. I’m prepared for the worst.” He laughed again, and Benny came to the conclusion that the pot, Lana, whatever it was, made him happy enough that nothing could phase him.
“Yes, m’lord,” she said softly as ever. She lifted up her arms and the silk hung down below her arms like shining beautiful curtains. Benny was admiring the patterns and colors of the silk when he began to feel like maybe his eyes weren’t working right. The patterns were starting to move and he could swear some of the colors were changing. Maybe he smoked too much of the Lana plant.
“Watch closely, my friend,” Beaner said, grin still fixed permanently on his face.
Benny looked back to the pretty girl who looked way too much like his Double, Laura LeVille. The girls eyes really were closed this time, and the colors on her robes were quite literally pulsating now, changing from one color to the next in a flawless, constant transition. It was almost mesmerizing. Then the colors started to settle into the patterns and together they began to form pictures… A moving picture, more like.
At first it was all a blur to Benny, but then he began to see trees covering a valley, and the view was like a bird traveling over mountains. The image became clearer until it was like watching a high quality movie projected onto her robes. The view zoomed into a dirt road on which was traveling what looked like a small building. The cart they were riding in, of course. Then it went back to being high above them, only to swoop back down on a mountain top. There was a clearing and a trail of smoke was coming up from it. As the camera zoomed closer, Benny saw a group of men, or something like men, gathered around a fire. At one edge of the circle they formed, a man in dark black clothes was apparently delivering a speech to the hundred or so assembled creatures. He had black hair and pale skin, and for the first time in a while, Benny saw him without glasses on.
“Natas,” Beaner said, not masking the loathing in his voice one bit. “He’s closer than I thought.”
The girl lowered her arms and the picture faded. She opened her eyes and said, “As you see my lord, we are losing ground. If we don’t go faster he will surely catch up to us soon. I do not know exactly how he has been able to keep on our trail so well, because I took all the precautions I could to ensure a stealthy travel.”
I sure didn’t hear you, Benny thought.
“Perhaps if little brother went and pulled the cart for a while?” she asked calmly.
“Don’t be silly, Lauren,” Beaner replied. “Brun is my number one soldier and therefore the most fit to protect me. You are quite wonderful, Brun.”
He smiled at the small man with the bulging eye, who nodded and said, into their minds as usual, Thank you, my lord. It is a great honor to be chosen by you.
“Don’t mention it,” Beaner said, clapping the small guy on the back. It was a hard slap, and Benny expected the little guy to be half thrown across the room (the Gods knew that he sure would have been,) but the blow didn’t seem to phase Brun at all. He just sat there, now staring at Lauren with all his concentration.
“Oh, stop it, little brother,” Lauren said. “You can’t get in there.”
For the first time, Benny saw the girl look up from the ground. Her eyes were the most striking blue. Violet was a more appropriate description, he thought. She leveled a look at Brun, who narrowed his one normal eye into a little slit.
“Alright now, alright,” Beaner interjected. “Enough with the fussing and the sibling rivalry mumbo jumbo. I’m sorry, Lauren, but I need Brun in tip top shape in the event of any surprise attack, and I can’t take the risk of letting him get worn out pulling the cart. Yes, his strength is incredible and it might get us going a little faster, but suppose we’re heading toward danger and not away like we think? No no, I do not want to take that chance, my dear. I’m sorry. Any other suggestions?”
“Well, my lord,” she said, resuming her gaze at the ground. “I suppose if you’re determined to use him for his fighting abilities, there is something I can think of him to do.”
Benny was under the impression the Brun’s eye could not get any more squinted, but somehow he pulled it off. He was shooting some serious eye daggers, as Benny’s mom used to be prone to saying.
“Well?” Beaner did the twiddling of his finger thing again, clearly his staple sign that he wished for someone to get to the point.
“If he must be used for his good in battle, then why not send him back to meet our little troop of followers?”
Brun grunted, and it appeared to Benny that this was the first noise he’d actually heard the dwarf make with something besides his mind. Beaner didn’t look like he was very fond of this idea, either.
“I don’t know, Lauren…”
“It only seems fitting, my lord. And seeing as our special guest here needs a little… training… I think they could both go. It would be quite the learning experience.”
“But there were about a hundred of those damn things!” Benny shouted. He had been patiently biting his tongue, but now that he was being dragged into it, he decided to speak up. “I’ve never even been in a real fist fight before, and you’re expecting me and this guy here to go and prevail against such a large number?”
“He has a point, Lauren,” Beaner chimed in. “The numbers are dangerous. They would never survive.”
“You underestimate my little brother, I think,” the girl said, calm as ever. “Have you forgotten how he performed back in the whole Valence Conflict?”
Beaner seemed defeated at this notion. He lowered his head and began scratching the stubble on his face. “Yes, I remember. I don’t know… It just feels risky for some reason.”
“Have I ever led you astray, my lord?”
“And have I ever given you advice without feeling that it was completely achievable advice?”
“No, I guess n—“
“And that is why I think you should listen to me now. With all due respect, my lord.”
Am I the only one who hears the smug tone in her voice? Benny thought. Obviously Beaner did not, for he looked about ready to agree to sending Benny and Brun off to their deaths. But then Benny looked at Brun, who was positively red in the face, and now even his large magical eye was squinting at his sister as well.
No, Brun didn’t seem to like the idea at all.
“Then its settled,” Beaner finally conceded. “Brun, you shall take Benny hear to the Unalla Mountains, where our pursuers are currently taking rest. Show him everything you can that is pertinent to his combat abilities, you hear?”
Brun was still glaring as hard as he could at Lauren, but he let out a little sigh and color began returning to his face. Yes, my lord, as you wish, he said.
The beautiful girl, the one who claimed she was Brun’s older sister, smiled thinly and once again Benny couldn’t help but feel like she was being smug, as if there was something deeply satisfying to her about this whole thing.
“I promise you won’t regret this, my lord,” she said. She looked up at her little brother one last time before leaving. “Be a good little monk, now.”
With that she let out one single, quiet chuckle, and walked out the door. Immediately a servant came and closed the door behind her.
So now he had met the source of his feeling upon entering the cart. With powers like that, Benny wouldn’t have been surprised if she was monitoring his thoughts as he came in, just like Brun had done. They were siblings, after all, so maybe they shared the same powers.
They sure do seem different, though, Benny thought. The only thing that seemed brother-sisterly of them was the bickering.
But in all honesty, Benny believed there was something deeper to their resentment of each other. Something he hadn’t been told about because, he had a feeling, Beaner himself did not know either. Maybe he could ask Brun about it whenever they set out to do whatever it was that they were expected to do.
It must have been hard for someone who only speaks into people’s minds to keep all his angry thoughts from leaking into other people’s heads. Benny thought that maybe this is why the little guy’s face had gone so red, from the exertion of trying to hold his thoughts back.
Now the guy looked perfectly normal, albeit a little bit more grumpy then normal. For the first time since he’d been escorted into this little smoking room, Benny saw the dwarf mage Brun pull out what looked like the smallest pipe in the world. It was already loaded and he took one single hit off of it before returning it to whatever pocket he’d pulled it out of.
This is when Benny realized the silence in the room. He looked up at Beaner and was confused about what he saw. The huge man was staring at the floor, muttering incoherently under his breath, still stroking his stubble. “Sir?” Benny asked hesitantly.
Beaner started a little bit and looked around. After a moment of simply looking dazed, the man smiled and opened his arms wide. “What can I say? She puts me in a bit of a daze, that’s all. She’s so beautiful!” He laughed again.
Yes, Benny thought. Dazzlingly beautiful.
He looked up at Brun and found the man already staring back at him.
Benny imagined that Brun had heard his thoughts perfectly clear.
Benny was urinating when they captured him. He had no clue how anyone could be so quiet with all the dead or dying foliage on the forest floor. The person grabbed him by his neck and put him in a choke hold. Benny had just managed to put his tool away and zip up his pants when two other people began tying his hands. He knew that if he struggled, it would make things much harder for him later, so he cooperated and went with whatever they tried to make him do. After binding his limbs, they turned him around and began pushing him toward what appeared to be a large scale version of the carts that the people of Hayvan used for transportation. Benny looked with some awe and a touch of pity for the large group of children who were tied to the front of the gargantuan cart, in the place that the large taxi-men of Hayvan usually occupied.
“You make your children pull you everywhere?” Benny asked, not really expecting an answer.
“It’s their way of showing respect and honor to their parents,” said the man behind him. “And if I were you, I’d keep such thoughts about our ways to yourself when around the rest of the clan, especially around Beaner.” He pointed at a fat man in bright colors standing by the cart, watching their approach, arms folded across his enormous chest.
Benny was surprised into laughter. “Beaner?” he said.
“What is funny?” the man behind him asked.
“Nothing,” Benny replied. So far he didn’t feel panicked. Compared to being tortured and ripped from his own body by Natas, these folks didn’t seem so awful. “So, is your name Chink?”
The man obviously didn’t catch the joke. They had reached the fat one, Beaner, who Benny supposed worked as the leader of this little congregation. This close to the cart, Benny could better tell just how large it really was. Almost the size of a small building. All along the top and sides, heads could be seen popping up to glance at the new comer, some of them talking animatedly to each other in a strange yet somehow familiar language.
“Me La Uncalla?” Beaner asked of the man who was still behind Benny.
“English, m’lord,” the man replied.
“So then you no doubt come from Hayvan, correct?” the fat leader asked.
“If I told you where I came from, you wouldn’t believe me,” Benny said. “But Hayvan is, indeed, the place where I have been most recently.”
A child from the front unlatched the straps which attached her to the cart and came over to Beaner. This blew Benny’s idea that the children were forced into the labor. They simply wore the burden of their own accord, and didn’t have to be locked up at all. Beaner bent down and the little girl, no more than seven or eight years old, whispered into his ear. When she was done he stared at her for a second before saying, “Are you sure?” The little girl nodded vigorously. “Bring her to me.”
The little girl stole a look at Benny and ran toward the back of the cart and into it.
Beaner turned back toward Benny. “These people are my clan, my family,” he said. His accent was like a mix of Italian and some sort of Native American. “We are all that remains of the once prosperous Vanjii tribe. This horrible and endless war has all but destroyed our way of life. My children must constantly live in fear of death. Fear of him. While passing, a very talented child of mine sensed you in the woods, so I called a halt and sent Brun after you.”
“What do you want with me? And why was it so important that you had to take me while I was doing my business?”
Beaner stood looking sternly at him for a while, making Benny feel slightly awkward. Then his eyes flicked down and to the left of Benny and Beaner began to laugh. “Brun likes to make jokes, that’s all,” Beaner said jovially. “Turn around and meet your mighty captor. Ha ha ha!”
The man behind Benny released his grip, and Benny whirled around. He had believed this “Brun” would be a man much taller than himself, so his eyes instinctively went up. All he saw, however, was the strange yet amazing greenish blue sky of this new place he was in. Confused, he cast his eyes in both directions, left and right. “I don’t see—“
A small pebble flew up from somewhere near his feet and hit him square between the eyes. He winced in pain and then looked down. In front of him stood what he thought of as a midget, one with freakish, colorful hair and two oddly proportioned eyes, one of which bulged from its socket. The eye was compound, like a cat’s eye, and the iris was a milky blue with lightning shaped streaks of electric blue that gave the little man an intense, almost angry look to him. The other eye was for the most part normal, the iris a plain light brown.
There was a brief moment when Benny felt heat rising up his face, the embarrassment of being subdued by a dwarf blaring red hot in his mind, and then he realized he was staring and suck out his hand. “Name’s Benny,” he said, trying no to let his shame show through. The little streaks in the man’s bulging eye that had reminded Benny of lightning suddenly flared bright and Benny heard one word in his mind: Brun.
Benny’s next question was going to be How could I hear you so well when you’re so low to the ground but then he decided against it because he already knew. The little man, Brun, had not spoken into his ears, he’d spoken into his thoughts. Obviously, Brun’s eye allowed him telepathic abilities. Or maybe, Benny thought, it might just wake up the little bit of telepathy that everyone possesses. Instead, he asked, “How’d you sneak up on me? Everything’s so dry in the forest that I thought for sure I’d hear anyone coming.”
I made you think you were hearing nothing but silence and forest noise. You heard me, but I didn’t let your mind comprehend that.
At first Benny didn’t quite understand this, but after some thought the concept became pretty simple. Brun had gone into his mind and “switched off” the little things in his brain that say “Twig snapping, right behind you!” or “Someone’s footsteps, better look out!” Brun could have been yelling at the top of his lungs and Benny wouldn’t have heard more than his own urine splashing on the rock in front of him. “Nice trick…Brun,” Benny said, dropping his outstretched hand at last.
Benny turned back to the leader, Beaner (whose name still reminded Benny of the term his father used to use to describe the Mexicans that inhabited the east side of Bonhelm Hill back in his home town.) “You still didn’t tell me what you want with me.”
“To help!” Beaner said with a grin. “Come, follow me, and well have us a little talk.”
The cart was indeed like a building without a roof or a back wall. Well, there was a back wall, but whenever the cart was stopped, it was lowered on thick chains to the ground and functioned as a ramp. The people that Benny had seen peering down at him from atop the walls had been standing on a giant platform that also worked as the roof of two rooms. Another “duplex-within-the-cart” lined the opposite wall as well. As far as Benny could tell, the cart had been stuffed full of as many people as it could contain. But somehow the crowd that filled the space between the two duplexes separated and allowed the three to pass.
Benny was more than a little intimidated by the utter silence of the clan of travelers as they stared at him from all directions. To Benny they looked like a cult of brainwashed Natives watching some sacrifice. Suddenly Beaner yelled, “What the hell are ye’ all lookin’ at? Go on! Get about your own businesses!”
The wall of people seemed to shrink back a little (Is there really enough room for them to do that? Benny thought,) and then everyone was moving, either to work on raising the back wall or to get out of the way. Beaner chuckled and led Benny into the farthest room on the right side. As Benny was going in the door he got the first sense of something being wrong. It was like a feeling coming from behind him, from the room on the other side. He couldn’t describe it exactly to himself, but the closest he could come was to say that it felt like being watched by something extremely hateful that was just out of sight. But it could see him. Oh yes, it could see him just fine.
The room he entered with Beaner was dim and smelled heavily of incense. And something else. At first Benny couldn’t quite place where he recognized that smell from, but when he saw Beaner reach into a box and pull out an all too familiar pipe, Benny figured it out.
Pot. The other smell was definitely pot smoke.
But it wasn’t the pot that made his heart begin to pound heavily in his chest; it was the sight of the small glass pipe. It was exactly like the one his friend Jerry had carried everywhere, somehow filling it often without ever having money to afford to do so. It was dark blue with green streaks that swirled around it, all except for a small circle right above the bowl. This circle was red and had a small, peculiar symbol in the middle.
Benny had never seen that symbol anywhere else besides on that pipe of Jerry’s. “Where’d you get that?” Benny asked.
Beaner shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve had it for as long as I can remember,” he said. He pulled out a small deerskin bag that appeared to be crammed full of marijuana, loaded the pipe, and continued. “My clan has always grown the Lana plant in the Ring of Ednim, and when we were forced to flee our home, we made sure to take large quantities of supplies. I know, I’ll give you a gift.” He reached down behind his seat and brought out a back pack with many pockets covering its surface. “This is the last of the hide-packs my people used to trade so proudly. The second largest pocket, that would be the one on the front, is stocked with the Lana plant, and you will find various supplies in the other pockets. But talk of travel is for later! Right now, you enjoy a nice punch at the Lana plant with me. You’ll tell me of your journey, much of which I prob’ly already know, and then I’ll tell you all that I may know that I think will help. Deal?”
Benny took another look at the pipe. “Deal,” he replied. Beaner held out the pipe and, gaining a strong sense of de ja vu, Benny accepted it. Next to where Beaner now sat there was a small table, cluttered but retaining a strange feel of organization. On the far side of this there sat a box with about eighty holes in the top. Roughly sixty of these were occupied by small sticks, one stick per hole. Beaner removed two of these and struck the tips together, and the ends immediately caught fire. He handed one to Benny and set the other back into the holder (well away from the others.)
The leader of the strange clan made gestures for Benny to go ahead, smoke up. Benny raised the pipe to his mouth. He was about to touch the flame to the crystal covered greenbud when the door to the room burst open. A boy that seemed to be around Benny’s age, maybe a little older, came bustling in. He went over to where Beaner sat and stood waiting for acknowledgement.
Benny lowered the pipe.
“Glon,” said Beaner, making a twirling “go ahead” gesture with his fingers. The boy began to speak in a strange, guttural language, what Benny believed was probably their native tongue. At first, Beaner only seemed vaguely interested in what the boy had to say, but as the conversation progressed, Beaner asking and the boy answering, his face grew more and more dark. The color drained out of his skin and he excused the boy. He stopped the lad again though, when he was nearly at the door, giving the boy one last order. When this was issued the boy nearly sprinted out of the room.
Beaner sat thinking silently, and the feeling Benny had felt at the door, like something was terribly wrong in order to make something else seem right, swelled and pulsed inside him. It seemed somehow familiar to him, a faint tickle of recognition at the bottom of a sea of uncertainty. Where had he felt that beckoning fear before, seeming to both lure and repel him at the same time?
He didn’t know. But he realized he had been holding the pipe without ever smoking it, something he figured might come across as rude to Beaner, so he raised the over sized match to the bowl and pulled in that sweet, skunky smoke with more than a little satisfaction. It tasted just how he remembered it on that day that already seemed so far away. When he inhaled air and felt the faint irritation in his chest cavity, Benny heard Laura’s voice in his head.
I’m not the one who went away, that voice said. Then, in a man’s voice he remembered all too clearly, I am Natas, and you are under my control. With this all came an image he recognized, though he didn’t remember where or when he’d seen it. The image was of a vast crater surrounded by a deep, wide crack that made a complete circle around it. The dark man, Natas, stood in the center, laughing.
Benny exhaled and held the pipe out to Beaner, surprising himself by not coughing this time. As he did so he felt himself jerked forward slightly as the cart began to move. For a moment Benny was alarmed, and started to get up lest they try to restrain him, but Beaner touched him gently on the arm and bade him to sit back down.
“Come,” he said after taking a hit off the pipe and handing it to Benny. “Tell me how it is that you managed to leave that place on the side that you did, and where it is that you’d go, and then I’ll give you some news that may or may not help you.”
Benny left out a great many things, trusting two instincts; one instinct still insisted something was wrong here, telling him not to trust Beaner, at least not entirely (after all, hadn’t his dad always told him not to trust beaners?) The other instinct was that Beaner would not believe the things that led to Benny’s arrival at the cliff, and if his host believed he was crazy (maybe even mad enough to bring harm to his precious clan) he may very well turn Benny away and refuse any hospitality he may have otherwise shown.
So Benny doctored his tale so that it all began in Hayvan. He said that LeVille himself had sent him as a scout to see if any war activity was nearing his beloved town (Benny pulled this little fib from something Beaner had mentioned about a war when the two were first introduced.)
It turned out that lying was pointless, in the end. Beaner said that there was no need to distrust them or lie, at least not to him. “Around some of the others, though,” he said, “you’d do well to watch your tongue. Truth is, I came from that damn place myself.”
Benny experienced a brief flare of wonder at this. “From Hayvan? Really?”
“No, no, boy, not Hayvan,” Beaner said. “I come from the upper realms, like you Benny. Only I came here a long time ago, when this world you find yourself in was first created. In your world, that’s only sixteen years, but over here… well, let’s just say I’ve had six wives, and I got to live a long and happy life with each of them in turn, one dying, the other coming. So I guess, to the people here who know me as their Undying Leader, I have lived well over three hundred years.”
Benny had been taking a hit of the pot when Beaner said this. The surprise of it made him do an odd gasp/snort that sent all of the smoke out of his nose. Sure, the pot was already doing its work (his head felt full and relaxed and he could imagine everything in his mind with a clarity that was almost like watching television,) but surely he had not just heard this man say that he was three hundred years old, had he? The man he saw before him, the fat leader named Beaner, appeared to be no older than thirty five, forty at the most. “And just how do you explain that?” Benny asked.
“Well, time runs much slower over there,” Beaner replied. “You were just being born when I came here. You see Benny, the only way I managed to get here was by using the energy you gave off while being born. When children first come into light and their minds start processing all the things their bodies must do to remain independently alive, they give off great waves of this type of spiritual energy, and with you it was phenomenally strong. I had been doing experiments on this type of energy for quite some time, and I was in the operating room with your mother as she was giving birth to you. And as I stood there, the waves coming off of you were the strongest I’d ever experienced, and right then and there I knew I had to take my chance to try what I’d been wanting to try for years and years. As far as anyone over there knows, I’m in some odd coma. But to me, I’m inside a most wonderfully detailed Dreamscape that I’ve got to watch develop as the boy who created it grew. That boy is you, Benny.”
“So, you’ve just been wandering around in my mind?” Benny asked.
“Yes and no. What is known as the Inner is really a world created by the subconscious mind of every living being. Each person makes a small part of this world, and when they dream they send a small portion of their spirits deep within their own minds, to their own chunk of dreamscape. Yours is unique though, because you seem to “own” small portions in everyone’s dreamscapes. Because of this, you are not limited to your own scape. You are free to wander into anyone’s that you want to, and since I entered here through your mind, I too can wander much farther than anyone else from the Upper Realms. My children here are all from the Inner, however, so they are not limited in where they can go.
“I must thank you, Benny. For you have given me a most wonderful place to live. It has proven most full of resources and adventures. But for the past twenty or thirty years, about two of your Upper Realm Years, your little world here has been in turmoil, and since bits of yours are scattered all throughout the Inner, this has caused a growing tension in everyone else’s dreamscapes as well. War, disease, famine. I have had to pack up my precious gathering of people and keep them in constant migration, always hoping I won’t discover that at one point your Scape stops reaching out, leaving my people and I waiting for our pursuers to catch us.”
“Do you think that will ever happen?” Benny enquired.
“Well,” Beaner said, “I’m not sure if the world of the Inner is round at all like the Upper realms, but I think if it was I probably would’ve come back to my starting point. And if your mind didn’t have pieces everywhere in the Inner, I think I would’ve found a place I could not go by now. So in all honesty, no… I do not think I will find the end before something or another kills me.”
Benny was flattered that everyone seemed to think his mind was so powerful, but he just didn’t buy it. Why had he sucked at math and been even worse at creative writing if his cognitive powers were so great? Why couldn’t he think of anything to say to a girl once he’d crossed the line and made her angry? How had Natas stolen his body if he was so damn strong?
“Its really very simple, Benny,” Beaner said, apparently guessing what was on Benny’s mind. “Natas is an ancient and very powerful being. You may have subtle control over much of the Inner, but you can’t let yourself be fooled into some notion of having created the Inner. It has been here since the earliest of men began to think. And Natas… well… he is really the old mage Sanrunai, who’s constant attempts to use magic against the world and to revive his master led to much of the darkness of the middle ages. His henchmen became world renowned as the “witches” and “warlocks” of children’s nightmares. Magic went from being a peaceful thing to a bloody thing, and the world turned its back on it in favor of the anti-mystic religions, such as Christianity and such, for they offered protection against the darkness of Sanrunai. But sometime before he disappeared from the written pages of history, stories tell that he was devising some sort of way to get into people’s minds. This wasn’t telepathy, this was entering their minds. So just think… if sixteen years of the upper realms makes me three hundred years old here, imagine how long he’s been here if he entered the Inner in the thirteenth or fourteenth century?”
Benny didn’t reply. He merely looked at his hands.
“Yes. I think you understand. Here, Natas is the most powerful thing anyone could imagine, and to the people here, he is Legend. He is the Devil. He is Satan.”
Benny raised the all to familiar pipe to his mouth, and once again said nothing.
Laura could hear screaming and nothing else.
From all sides, the noise rang out, and even though everyone was shouting to hell their problems, she could not for the life of her figure out what was actually going on.
She had left the Mansion in order to go talk to a special friend of hers, but as soon as she’d stepped out of Einsqua Circle, all the lights in Hayvan went out. All except the purple light behind the mansion, that is. This was the first time Laura could ever remember such total darkness. With all the fake lights that got brighter and darker to simulate day and night, she had never really felt like she was underground at all. But now when she looked away from the mansion and the purple glow, toward the rest of Hayvan, she saw nothing but absolute and total darkness.
For a while she just stood there, frozen, wondering what had just happened. But then the panic that had begun when she overheard Mr. Vonwell talking to her father rose up inside her once again, like a bile threatening to break free of the stomach. She ran in the direction she had been looking before the lights went out. Surely she had lived in this cavern of a town long enough to be able to find her way around in the dark, right? It was better to try than to wait here.
After all, she was Benny’s Inner Twin, and she was special.
If they wanted Benny, they would want her too.
Suddenly to her left a light popped up, small and insignificant in the oppressing darkness all around, but it gave her something to go towards. It was someone’s lighter. She didn’t think she had been running that long, but she supposed that it was possible she may have run all the way to Ku On Hu’s hut already. He was one of the few people in Hayvan who felt shameless enough to smoke in public, so maybe that lighter was his.
Ku would know what to do. He was the oldest man in Hayvan, and even though everyone else in town thought of him as a senile old cook, Laura thought he was fascinating and wise. “Ku! Is that you?” she shouted out as she approached the light (now no longer a flame, but a burning ember floating in the dark.) At first there was no reply but then she saw the cherry flair up and whoever it was began coughing. It didn’t sound like Ku, but maybe his son, Fusa.
“My father has gone missing,” the man said as she finally reached him. It was indeed Fusa, Ku’s son. “I do not think I will be seeing him again.”
“What? Ku On Hu is missing?” Laura simply couldn’t believe this. The old man possessed certain powers that only Laura had been able to witness, and she knew that beneath his façade of a feeble old man, Ku On Hu was really a powerful warrior, and he was one of the people to help re-build Hayvan, he was that old. How could he have allowed himself to just be captured without anyone even hearing the struggle?
“I woke up and he said he was feeling ill,” Fusa said. “He told me he was going down to the market place to get some herbs to make one of his concoctions, and after an hour I was going to go look for him. But when I got outside the door I found his smokes and his lighter. My father never drops his smokes, and he’d never ever part with this lighter unless someone forced him to. Whoever took my father, and believe me, someone did take him, must have been someone very powerful or very cunning, and there is only one man I’ve ever seen around here who might come anywhere near matching the great Ku On Hu.”
“Fusa, who could it be?” Laura asked. She had a funny feeling in her stomach.
“Only the biggest slime ball this town has ever seen,” the man said. He was very tall, Laura noticed as she looked up at the cherry floating above her. “There’s only one man who comes and goes, works as a pawn for the highest powers. Who knows if those powers are good or bad… All I know is there is only one man. Perhaps I shouldn’t say, young Miss LeVille.”
“I’m not a child you know,” she said, “even though I may look like one.”
Fusa laughed out a cloud of cigarette smoke and put the cigarette out. “Yes, I guess you’re right. This man… he is closely involved with your life.”
The feeling in her stomach became a snake writhing around in her insides, for inside she knew who was going to be responsible for capturing the most powerful man she could ever hope to ask for help…
“Ardemeus Vonwell, vampire wannabe and servant to the council of Valence, puppet master of your father, Monsieur LeVille.”
Laura could no longer stand. Her legs gave way and she sat at the large man’s feet weeping. What was she going to do now? Once Vonwell found out that she helped Benny escape, he would surely begin searching for her. The only person in the whole of the Inner that she could think of to ask for help in any way was the great elder Ku On Hu, and now the man who would come seeking her, one of the (apparently) most powerful men in Hayvan and probably the entire Inner, had captured the man she thought would be her savior.
But one thing about both Ku On Hu and his son Fusa Gon Ku, they were both very blunt and very opposed to whining. “Oh good god, stop your crying, would ya?” Fusa said harshly. “The only good that’s going to do is to slow us down.”
“U-us?” Laura asked, choking back a sob.
“You want to find father, right?”
“Well so do I. So shut up, stand up, and buck up. We got a sage to find.”
Laura felt her despair begin to seep away as Fusa’s words warmed her. She had never thought of him as a particularly nice person, but he always found a way to make her see past the junk in life and get to the point. That seemed to kind of be the motto of both Fusa and his ancient father. Get to the point.
He returned inside the cabin and returned with a small bag full of stuff and a flash light. She didn’t know what all he was planning for, but it was obviously something more than just a trip around town hollering “Ku! Hey Ku! Where aaaaaarrrre you?” Judging by the way the pack was crammed almost to bursting with several odds and ends of survival goods, Laura guessed they had a bit more to do than just that. Though she couldn’t think of any place outside of Hayvan they’d need to go (Or want to, she thought.)
“I think the first place we should go is back to your little abode,” Fusa said, lighting another cigarette. Now that he was smoking again, Laura realized for the first time that Fusa never smoked. He always gave his father guff for smoking so often, and as far as she was aware Fusa had never touched one of the things. That would explain why he was coughing so often when she first saw the cherry of his cigarette in the dark. This must really be affecting him bad, she thought. She remembered several instances where Ku had wanted to leave the hut to go off on his own, and Fusa was always against the idea. Laura had known from the beginning that Fusa was an adopted son of Ku On Hu, and she could only imagine the bond that must have grown between the two. She had never been to the hut when both Fusa Gon Ku and Ku On Hu weren’t both there. Fusa was very protective, and somewhere deep down she guessed that he was probably beating himself up for not following his father to keep an eye on him, like he normally did.
She didn’t think it was his fault at all. Vonwell probably would not have been stopped by anyone very easily, much less a full mortal Outsider like Fusa.
“Did you hear me?” Fusa said. He sounded a little impatient.
“Yeah, sorry,” Laura said. “My thoughts were elsewhere.”
“Well if you’re going to be by my side, I need you to do me a favor and keep your head in the here and now, okay? The clouds are no place for someone’s head when danger is afoot. What’s the most hidden way into the Mansion?”
Laura shivered. “I can’t go back there.”
“What the hell do you mean? I’m almost positive that’s where they’re keeping my father.”
“The one they were after was with me, and I helped him escape before they could try to take him. If I go back, I’m sure they’ll try to kill me.”
“That’s not particularly my concern, now is it?”
Laura couldn’t see him, but she looked up at him desperately anyways, tears in her eyes. How could he just blow her safety off like that? Ku would never do something like that…
“Look, I’m sorry,” Fusa said, letting out an exasperated sigh. “I’m just a little worried right now, and just the thought of your family makes me sick at the moment, so you have to excuse me if I’m bitter towards you a bit. I know you’re different from them and I’m sorry. But right now, I need you to at least pretend that you don’t care about dying, okay? And remember… You’re born of the Inner, of the stuff of dreams… Of your double’s dreams. As long as she’s alive in the upper realms, you will always be able to re form.”
“That might not be true in my case,” she said quietly.
He turned the flash light on and began walking away. “What do you mean?” he asked over his shoulder as she followed.
“It’s a long story…”
“Well, explain as much as you can. But do it on the way, come on. We need to hurry.”
With that he broke into a confident run in the direction of Einsqua Circle. Even though she hated how he constantly was running off from her, she smiled and broke into a run herself.
This was all terribly exciting.
No one could properly explain what had happened to the town of Minde.
Some said it was a curse for all the prostitution and drug use that went on in the small rural town.
Some said it was just that too many “crazies” gathered in one spot, and so everything went to shit.
Some people said that God himself was angry at the town for some reason, and some said it was the Devil himself who had come and taken the sheriff and the child away, and that the Devil was playing games with them, trying to get them to sin even more.
Of all of these explanations, the latter was probably the most accurate. But really, the people of Minde were just under too much duress to really be able to assess their own situation effectively. Some people had died, a couple were missing, and one was… well, he was something, that was for sure. Most people who had gone to see the strange new Benny Jorgens had left with the idea of never coming back to see him again. It was just creepy. His blank eyes… his pale skin… and his stark white hair. The boy looked like death in a can.
At least thirty people had helped in the brutal slaying of Jerry Patterson, and yet no one talked about it. They had left his mutilated body laying in the street, with the flames of the burning restaurant flickering in the pools of blood. No one knew exactly who had done what to the man, all they knew was that they had collectively killed for the good of the group, as a group, for the group. None of them felt shame, but none of them wanted to discuss it either.
But that’s the thing with any terrible deed that is kept secret in a small town that usually talks about absolutely everything… a rift occurs, and the comfort and security vanishes from a place like Minde. Distrust becomes the name of the law. For really only about a tenth of the population had turned out to see the flaming restaurant with the dead woman burning in the flames, and not everyone knew what happened that led to the termination of Jerry Patterson. All they knew was that something awful had happened outside of The Great Shavo restaurant, and at the end of it two more police officers were dead and several people seemed to bear the stain of blood on their souls. Since everyone who was involved in giving Jerry Patterson what was coming to him would not speak of the night, the rest of the town folk were left in deep suspicion and fear… How could they know who was a murderer and who was not? What if half the people they trusted were murderers? And now there was really no where to run to for help… The town’s police force had been reduced to shambles, and since no one was feeling particularly motivated to carry on their everyday lives, nothing seemed to be working right. No song had played on the local radio station for days, due to the fact that no one had gone in to work there. The phone lines were down because the fire (slowly becoming known as The Great Shavo Fire) had damaged many different telephone poles when it burst into flames and done even more damage on the few occasions that it let out small explosions. Contact with the rest of the world was lost.
And of course, no one wanted to leave… There were only two roads out of Minde, and along one of them, one boy had been found dead, an officer of the law had vanished, and there was still no sign of the drug addict boy Richard. But then again, none were willing to venture into the woods to go looking for the boy either.
The people in the town of Minde were scared.
They were confused…
But most of all, as any of the town’s smartest could already see, they were forever more damned.
The only future that loomed on the horizon for Minde was doom.
(Author's comment: Okay everyone, this is one of the shorter beginning chapters but its where action really starts to pick up. To all those who have gotten this far, thank you for reading along. It only gets better from here :) )
When Laura got back to the room with her father’s Lana Sativa plant, she figured that the attempts to exterminate Benny were already being carried out. She didn’t expect someone to be trying to kill everyone in Hayvan.
At first, everything seemed normal. She walked through the halls in silence, failing to note that she didn’t pass a single servant or guest. She was too busy thinking about Benny. She knew he would be safe as long as he kept moving. If he was what her father said he was, one the echani, then he would find plenty of ways to deal with the “ancient beasts” father had mentioned.
She was so entranced in her thoughts that she almost ran head first into Mr. Vonwell. Her first thought was to scream and run, knowing he was capable of cold murder, but then she remembered that he didn’t know she had heard the conversation between her father and him. But he did, she thought. He looked right at me when I was in the shadows. Then she remembered how he had said LeVilles, plural, as if he knew two people were watching him. Two LeVilles. She settled for trying to look merely startled.
“Mr. Vonwell,” she said, gasping melodramatically. “You scared me.”
“Why aren’t you in bed, Miss LeVille?” he said, a slight note of suspicion in his voice.
For a panic stricken moment, Laura was sure she’d choke, not be able to come up with an excuse. But then, as if from the bottom of a lake, she heard herself saying, “Everyone gets urges, Mr. Vonwell. If you’ve got a problem with my using the restroom in the middle of the night, buy me some diapers.” Then she walked off, without looking back. Damn that felt good, she thought.
“You might do well to watch that attitude, miss LeVille,” he said maliciously. “You’ll make some very unwanted enemies if you go around talking to people like that your whole life.”
She turned around to face him, ready to say, “Well I’m in puberty as of three hours ago,” but he was gone. She hated it when he’d do that. She had long suspected that he was actually still there, watching, making her mind believe that she was alone. Because that’s what Vonwell was trained to do. Control minds. She never quite trusted him, even though she grew up being told that he was the most trustworthy person she’d ever meet.
Laura turned back around and proceeded down the hall. After a few moments, she realized that she had progressed all the way to the mansion’s public-style bathrooms. She once again thought of how Vonwell could still be watching. Just in case, she pushed past the little woman with the skirt painted on the door.
Just as the door swung shut, the connection between the two was cut, and Vonwell appeared once again, watching the door of the bathroom for the briefest of moments before continuing on his way.
“Stop hitting my head!” Benny shouted groggily, flailing his arms at nothing. He began shouting it over and over, mantra like. “Stop hitting my head, stop hitting my head, just stop…fucking… HITTING ME!!”
The intensity of his voice woke him up and he bolted upright. The crow that had been perched on his head, pecking futilely, squawked and fluttered to a location just out of arm’s reach from Benny. It apparently didn’t want to give up the prospect of a potential meal, because every time Benny would try to scare it away, it’d move back and then just sit there, staring, waiting for Benny to either lash out at it again or die. When he did neither, the bird resigned to a low branch where it resumed it’s vigilant watch over Benny.
The first thing Benny noticed was that he was in another forest, though this one was less dense, and also that there wasn’t a willow tree anywhere in sight. He thought this was strange, but the pounding in his head made him quickly realize that it wasn’t that important of a thing to dwell on. After thoroughly checking himself to make sure he had all of his parts, he stood up to try to get an idea of where the nearest town might be so that he could figure out exactly what was going on.
The cold floor he could vaguely remember hitting before he fainted was no more than a square of cement at the base of a cliff that seemed to loom for miles above him. Benny laid his hands on it, like feeling a woman’s pregnant stomach to feel the baby kick, and found that it was covered in a thin layer of some gelatinous goo. Just as a test, Benny grabbed a rock and tried to haul himself up on it. His fingers slipped the moment his feet left the ground, and he smacked his chin on it with considerable force. He was a little dazed when his feet hit the ground, and his legs buckled beneath him, leaving him sitting on the ground with his legs in a V, like a child playing with toys in a sandbox.
Despite the pain in his jaw, Benny began laughing. Laughing so much that he almost felt maniacal. Hysterical maybe. He laid back on the cold cement and began laughing up at the deep blue sky above him. It only crossed his mind briefly that he had left the LeVille Mansion sometime during the night. He would have had to have been passed out for at least six or seven hours. The thought made him suddenly feel very vulnerable. After all, where was he going to take shelter at night, when God only knows what was roaming the woods, scavenging or hunting? What was he going to do if a poisonous snake or spider was crawling over him and was startled by his heart beat, resulting in a nasty bite that may or may not kill him?
He could do nothing, he could go nowhere. Laura had said there was only one way (a point made all too clear by his little bump on the head chin from trying to scale the cliff,) and he decided that he’d just have to keep moving. Bury himself with leaves at night or something. The hunters wouldn’t bother, and hopefully the scavengers just wouldn’t notice him. He’d burn that bridge when he got there.
He looked out away from the cliff and was dazzled by an endless wooded valley. Everything was completely untouched by pollution and humans, and he was nearly blinded by the shear freshness of it all. He took in a deep breath of the sweet air and began moving away from the cliff.
Little did he know that in the Upper Realms, his body was in motion as well.
Why am I in this body?
“Because I need you.”
Oh yeah, right. So she can come and damn near destroy me again?
“We weren’t well enough prepared last time and you know it.”
Why am I in a boy? You know I prefer to be female. The breasts aid in my strategy sometimes.
“Because I didn’t memorize the incantation for females. Also, this one’s special.”
“First, he’s alive.”
Is that possible, if I’m in his body right now?
“Not with a regular mortal, no. But this boy is one of the three.”
The… the echani? …
…In that case… I think I can tolerate having a dick for a while.
“Good. But for now, I need you to exorcize yourself and follow me to Hayvan. I just wanted you to get a taste of your new gun before I let you go start shooting it all over the place.”
Well, Sanrunai… I’m liking it.
“I’m using my real name now. Call me Natas.”
What Mary Jorgens first saw when she went past her son’s room was Benny talking rather animatedly to himself.
“Benny?” she said. Her heart was pounding. Could he really be awake, back to his old self again? “Oh, Benny!” she ran over and hugged him to her. She pulled back and tried to make eye contact with him, but he continued to just stare at the wall.
“Benny?” she asked again. He looked into her eyes.
“Well, Sanrunai… I’m liking it.”
He began staring off again. The next time she would hear her son speak, the circumstances would be quite different, and her feelings about him would change rather quickly.
“God damn it, Newstead,” came the barking voice of Jerry Patterson, the man who pretty much elected himself the new sheriff. “Why the hell don’t you do anything? I’m callin’ the shots now, and I think you need to get yourself out on patrol, Newstead.”
“Patterson, I don’t even know how to drive,” Barry Newstead replied.
“Well now’s a good time to learn, wouldn’t ya say?”
“Damn it, Patterson, I might kill someone!”
“I don’t give a shit! What I care about is that those damned frightened hicks out there want to know that they’re bein’ protected.” He picked up a set of keys off the desk and tossed them to Barry. “Car number 68,” he said. “That’s mine, so don’t scratch it.”
“Whatever,” Barry said as he caught the keys. He turned to leave.
“If you disobey me, Newstead, I swear to God, you’re fired,” Jerry said.
Barry made no reply and walked out the door.
Twenty minutes later, the owner of the Great Shavo Restaurant was screaming at the top of his lungs about how his wife was dead. The rear end of patrol car #68 of the Minde District Police Department was protruding from the front of the restaurant, smoke pouring out all windows.
Pat Shavo knelt in front of his un-insured restaurant weeping. Just inside, the burning corpse of his wife could still be seen leaning against the hood of the car, bits of charred flesh dripping off every few seconds. Barry Newstead had just barely managed to escape the car before it exploded. He was in tears as well and kept attempting to talk to Shavo, but after you kill a man’s wife, accident or not, they usually don’t want a whole hell of a lot to do with you.
Luckily, none of the customers in the restaurant were killed. They were all out of the building and huddled together, watching and talking as the restaurant slowly went up in flames. One of them, a beer bellied man with a Budweiser hat on, came over to the cop and asked if he was alright. When Barry didn’t answer, the man asked him if he wanted a beer. Barry wasn’t a big drinker, but given the state of things, he decided a drink wouldn’t hurt. He gladly accepted it, cracked it open, and proceeded to chug it until it was gone.
Just as he was opening the second one (the man had been courteous enough to furnish him with another,) Jerry Patterson came around the corner in car #67, lights flashing. He parked by the gathering crowd, got out, and elbowed his way through to where Barry leaned against a wall, beer in hand.
“Drinkin’ on the job, are we, Newstead?” Patterson asked, making sure his voice was loud enough for the crowd to hear. “And what’s this? You drove while under the influence? Look at what happens, Barry-boy.”
“You fucking bastard,” Barry spat, just loud enough for Jerry to hear.
“You don’t even have a license, Newstead,” Jerry continued. “Why the hell were you drivin’ my car, boy? You’re gonna spend a long time in jail for all the rules you’ve broken tonight, Newstead. As long as I’m the sheriff, there’s gonna be nothin’ but perfection in the Minde District Police force.”
“You’re all going to die!” Barry suddenly shouted. “Whatever that thing is that’s messing with our town is going to come for you, and this little weasel here just made your protection a little bit weaker.”
There was a nervous shift in the crowd as they all realized the truth of what Barry said. The town was already in bad shape, and now, with one cop missing, one dead, and the other supposedly heading for jail, that left only three out of the original six fully trained cops (except Barry, who was qualified in every way but the driving.)
“If you wanna know what’s going to get all your children harmed,” Barry said to the crowd, “its that fat-ass right there leading your law enforcement, that’s what. He gave me the keys and told me—“
Jerry Patterson drew his gun and pointed it at Barry’s forehead. “Get up off the fucking ground and get into my car, you scum,” he said coldly.
“He framed me! I told him this was going to hap—“
The crowd screamed as the gun shot cut through the night air. None of them ran, however. They all stood looking at the man who called himself their protector, their law-enforcer… the man who had just executed a fellow officer before their very eyes. On his face was a look that was a mix between surprise and sheer terror, a look that said, “I forgot it was really loaded.”
“What the fuck, Patterson?” yelled a man in front. “There’s been enough death around here and now you’re just adding to it. Why don’t you just get the hell out of our town?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Jack,” Patterson said. “You shut up now before I arrest you. Now, that was an accident, y’all hear? You go tryin’ to tell anyone anything different, I’ll have you all arrested. One by one.”
“You’re gonna arrest me?” the man called Jack asked.
“I’d like to see you try, fat ass.”
There was a small murmur of approval from the crowd. Another man said, “How d’ya plan on arrestin’ us all, Patterson, with only one pair of cuffs and about thirty of us?”
“I’ll beat you all the way to the jail if I have to,” Jerry said. “And I’m gonna start with you.” He pointed at the man who had spoken first, Jack, the large man with the Budweiser hat. This was the man who’d given a beer to Barry, who’s brains now lay all over the sidewalk. Jerry began moving toward him, and right away the other man moved closer and said, “I wouldn’t, pal. He’s got a temper, especially with little twirps who unjustly cause trouble.”
“Lick me, hillbilly,” Patterson said before spitting on the man’s shoes. “Come on, Budweiser.” He moved toward Jack again.
“I’m tellin’ ya,” the second man said,”he’s a little edgy and I think just about everyone here kind of feels the same way.” A large cheer went up at that. “See? I don’t think you want to do that, like I said.”
“Whatever, Tubby.” Jerry went to put the cuffs on Budweiser, but the other man punched him in the face. Instinctively, Patterson pulled out his gun and pointed it at the man. “You just stay back, or you’ll get what’s coming to you.”
“Murderer,” said a woman in the crowd. Then a man said it. “Murderer.” Person after person began saying it.
“Murderer,” a little boy.
“Fuck you, midget,” Patterson replied.
“Murderer,” a teenage girl.
“Murderer,” the new senior citizen in town who went everywhere with his talking bird on his shoulder.
“Murderer,” said the man’s bird.
“Shut up, all of you!” Patterson was swinging his gun in all directions, yelling so much and so loud that he spit. “God damn it, I make the rules now, you hear me?! You all just shut …THE FUCK… UP!!”
“I’m NOT A MURDERER!”
One of the two original speakers moved toward Patterson. He tensed and his finger pulled the trigger, shooting Budweiser in the stomach. No screams from anyone this time. Its like they had all gone numb.
“Murderer, murderer, murderer, MURDERER…”
The crowd moved in. One man knocked the gun out of Patterson’s hand, and the small boy from before bit into his leg. Soon, two more began hitting him.
The whole crowd began attacking him, and three minutes later, Jerry Patterson was dead and Minde was left with just three rookie cops.
For the next couple of days, Minde was in an uproar. The sheriff and two kids had turned up missing, one kid was found in a shed (thanks to the help of Geoff Wisenhower,) and just about every person in the town was scared out of their wits. There was no sign of Harrison or his car along the dirt mountain road he had gone down in search of the tweaker who’d stumbled into Geoff’s. So far, the idea was that the tweaker kid had killed Harrison, put him in the trunk, and followed the old dirt road over to the next county. There he probably ditched the car and went for something better and less conspicuous. These were the things that the small town folk of Minde told themselves to avoid facing the fact that lingered over all of them: something unexplainable was going on.
Yes, they were all pretty freaked out, but it was nothing compared to what they would feel when Benny Jorgens stumbled into town, his hair turned a milky white and his eyes vacant. They would look at him and see a nearly ruined form of life. Once they saw this, all minds would be made up.
Not all was well in the town of Minde.
Harvey Carson was the man who filled in for Harrison while he was missing, and the long dreamed of promotion only made the truth more apparent and awful: his son was dead, all the people who knew anything about his death were missing, and he was stuck investigating the case because Harrison disappeared. What a way to mourn the loss of a son.
He couldn’t believe it was happening. Both his best and his worst dreams had finally come true at the same time. His wife had cried for thirteen hours straight, seven of them spent with him at her side, also in tears. Jerry was their only son. He was a slacker, yeah, and he was stoned more often than not, but he was still a respectful, funny person. While he was alive, that is.
Harvey had refused to look at the body of his son. He’d had them take a close up picture of a birth mark on his hip for identification, but that was the only way he’d look. He now sat at the large desk in his room with the reading light on. Sitting before him was a note to anyone who might come looking. It was like poetry to Harvey, but he knew most people wouldn’t appreciate it. The note read:
Dear Who Ever the Hell Cares,
For some reason, fate has kicked me in the ass.
It has stolen the soul of my wife and I.
We now live in constant sorrow.
I believe my boy has gone to Hell,
So that’s where I must go.
Might be a pleasant journey, too.
Know that I am selfish.
I do what I do because I love my wife.
I know she has thought of suicide,
Which would surely send her to hell.
I can’t lose my wife and my boy to the flames.
So I will kill her and myself.
She’ll go to heaven, as she deserves.
I’ll go to hell, which I probably deserve,
And there I will kick my boy’s ass.
He hurt his momma and me, so he deserves anything he gets.
And that’s why I hate myself…
Because I blame him…
I do what I do because I care.
Harvey Carson 10-21-04
He read it over several times before concluding that it was good enough. He reached over and opened the second drawer down in his desk. He hated how ironic and utterly perfect it was that there just happened to be thunder and lightning that night. It made the whole thing feel almost stupid. But when he shut off the reading light, and the street lamp was the only thing on, the lightning made the gun in his drawer all the more frightening.
As he picked the .45 up, he began to feel the pain steadily drifting out of his wife. The emotions in that woman were so strong that he could actually feel them, which made his new task seem more justified. He walked over to her and put a pillow on her face. He didn’t want to see what she looked like when he was done. At the last second he stopped abruptly, feeling foolish for having forgotten the only detail worth remembering. It was his last chance. He removed the pillow, bent down, and kissed his beloved wife firmly on the lips. Luckily she didn’t wake up… he didn’t think he could go through with it if he had to look her in the eyes while he did it. He whispered, “I love you, darling. I do what I do because I care.”
Harvey replaced the pillow and pointed the gun at the middle. The gun shot was immediate and loud. The woman on the bed bounced slightly from the force of the shot. Immediately, blood began seeping out the sides of the pillow and the sheet.
“My god,” he said, turning away. “Please forgive me.”
He put the gun right under his nose, pointed diagonally up. When he pulled the trigger, he felt a last instant of pain, and then his job was done.
It was exactly four days after Jerry had over-dosed that Benny came stumbling into town on the same old dirt road that led to a certain shed. His eyes were wild and he was muttering non-stop under his breath. Somehow, his hair had turned white, including his eye brows. He didn’t know this yet, but he would soon find out.
If only he could concentrate… That was the thing; everything swam in and out of focus, and his thoughts would change rapidly through different things. Sometimes when he was walking, everything would go black and he’d get memories of that ruined town where he had been held prisoner for what seemed like an eternity, but was only a couple of days. The rattling of chains and the smell of gasoline. Everything was so vivid within his mind that he was positive of the memories authenticity.
He hoped to never visit that place again, but deep in his mind, he knew he’d have to eventually.
The first person to see him was, of course, Geoff Wisenhower. He ran out and brought the kid into the store, asking stupid pointless questions the whole time. Once he got the kid hunkered down (in a place where he couldn’t pull a Richard) Geoff picked up the phone to report the strange reappearance of Benny Jorgens. The operator at the station who answered sounded kind of lost, as if he didn’t quite know what to do. He grimly informed Geoff of Harvey Carson’s “righteous suicide” and told Geoff that he didn’t know exactly who was going to come out to check the kid out, but someone was on their way… eventually…
Geoff hung up the phone and turned around to face Benny. He was now asleep, or at least he looked that way. He sat straight up, his eyes were closed and his breathing was heavy. Every once in a while he’d mutter things like, “Sorry, Laura,” and then laugh. Just the image of that permanently changed boy sitting there muttering mad laughter made Geoff shutter.
“Beware the Inner,” Benny advised before bursting into a groggy sounding laugh.
“What’s the Inner, Benny?” Geoff asked experimentally.
No answer. The kid just sat in the blanket, bundled in with his eyes closed, muttering and laughing. Geoff started to turn away to go grab a beer when Benny blurted out, “He’s coming. Ha… ha… ha…”
Three hours later, Benny was back in the hands of his parents. The cops couldn’t come to any logical agreements on what might have happened to the boy (who had vivid, but short memories of his “encounter.”) Some people said that maybe he was kidnapped and raped, or abducted by aliens as was the common story at the elementary school, and the consensus was that the stress from whatever incident had caused the pigment in his hair to simply die out. But every one knew that that was a load of crap. Rape wouldn’t tear a boy away from all coherent thought. Something had definitely changed the boy.
His parents were glad to have him back, but neither of them knew how to react to his vacant stare and the occasional chuckle that broke from his lips. They tried talking to him and holding him and everything imaginable, but eventually they realized that they didn’t have a son anymore… they had a vegetable.
They moved him into his bedroom and got him in his bed. They continued trying to get him to respond, but eventually gave up. Benny sat in silence for a while and listened to the sounds drifting in from outside. He was perfectly conscious, and he knew exactly what was going on around him, but he couldn’t control his own body. He knew there was somewhere he had to go, and that there was a way to get there within his own mind, but he really didn’t want to go back. All the fumes and noise, and all the pain he remembered experiencing there, like being ripped from his own body by some mechanical hand. Slowly.
There was absolutely nothing good about that place, and Benny would have never gone back if he had the choice. But he did not have a choice. That was the one place where he might regain control. His mind recalled somewhat of a journey to the place where his “separation” had begun, so he told himself to be prepared for the worst. Even in the other world, he had slipped in and out of consciousness, seeing a giant rock here, a willow tree there. For all he knew, the journey would take weeks on foot. He didn’t know if there were woods or swamps or desserts; all he knew was that he had somewhere to go, and he had to travel to get there.
Sitting in his room, listening to the birds outside, Benny began to concentrate on the memory of Minde in its most desolate form, the place where the Man had taken him after they met on the hill. He imagined the smell of gasoline, so strong that it burned and the sounds of screams, so full of pain that they split one’s head to hear. Slowly his nose was filled with that smell and he heard the far off whisper of screams. He knew his surroundings were probably changing, but he didn’t dare open his eyes. He felt himself falling into the darkness of his eyelids. All at once he was weightless, like he was suspended between two opposing forces.
Benny felt his feet hit solid ground and braced himself, but he fell down anyways. He felt moist earth on his face, and when he opened his eyes, he saw that his surroundings were now much darker than his room had been. When he tried to move his arms, he expected to find that he couldn’t control them, but they moved with ease as normal. Benny got to his feet and brushed the dank soil off of his pants.
He was surrounded by massive willow trees that seemed hundreds of feet tall. The sky was a dark shade of purple, and the trees were enormous black figures against it. Benny had never seen such a large amount of willow trees before, but he knew one thing already; it was creepy as hell.
The ground was covered in a thick layer of bright green moss that almost seemed to glow in the darkness. Benny could just barely see that the over sized willows were arranged in rows, kind of like fruit trees in orchards. Judging by how endless those massive rows seemed, Benny guessed he had at least three days before he’d see any people. Oh good, he thought grimly.
It occurred to him that he had absolutely no way of keeping warm or feeding himself. For miles all he could see were willow trees and the eery, bright green moss on the ground. The only thing Benny could think to do was sit down. The ground was covered in moss so thick that it was like sitting on a mattress.
Out of habit, Benny began picking at the moss on the ground, and he soon had a shallow dent. He sat doing this without realizing it for about five minutes while he tried to remember the year-long term he’d served in the Boy Scouts of America. So far nothing was coming to him.
When Benny looked down at the ground in front of him, he saw that he had dug a hole in the moss about five inches deep. Little bits of soil were visible at the bottom, and Benny could just barely see small worm like things squirming in it. Out of curiosity, he grabbed a hand full of the dank soil and examined the worms.
They didn’t look like anything he had ever seen before, but the closest thing he could think of were maggots. But these were much larger, and had orange stripes across the backs. Benny reached in with his free hand and picked one up. Immediately, the thing curled into a ball, and when the opposite ends of it touched each other, it lit up with electricity. When he felt the shock, Benny threw the thing. It hit one of the massive willow trees and exploded in a bright flash. But there was no sound at all, like a tv put on mute. Just a flash.
Maybe he could use them to make fire. At least then he could be warm while he thought. He broke some twigs and arranged them into a rather neat square pattern. Then he picked some of the moss off of a nearby tree; he had noticed that the moss on the trees was much drier than that on the ground, as if it had grown and then just sat there. For Gods know how many years. Hundreds?... Thousands?...
After piling a fair amount of the dry moss in the center of the square, Benny broke some more twigs off a nearby tree. He noticed, with some wonder, that there were absolutely no sticks or foliage on the ground; only that eerie, bright green moss. With his materials set up perfectly, he went back to the spot where he’d first crossed over, or whatever it was that he’d done. There were still plenty of what he had titled “tiger-maggots.”
Oh shit, he thought. How the hell am I going to get those things into the fuel?
“Don’t worry about that,” said a voice from behind one of the many massive willows that surrounded him. Benny jumped slightly at the young girl’s voice, spinning a complete circle to see if there were any threats. “A bit jumpy, are we?” the girl said as she stepped out from behind a willow in front of him that had to be at least twenty feet in diameter.
“Who are you?” Benny asked warily of the girl. His hair wasn’t the only thing that had changed about him when the man had hauled him here by hypnosis. This world had taught him to be paranoid.
“You mean you’ve forgotten me already?” she asked, still calm and moving slowly towards him in a graceful, flowing stride. She couldn’t be any older than ten. “Tsk, tsk, my friend.”
Benny closed his eyes and tried to place that face. It seemed so familiar, yet he couldn’t match it to a name.
“Remember,” she said from right in front of him on a moss covered root, “I’m not the one who went away.”
Benny opened his eyes in shock and realization as he figured it out. The girl was grinning at him. “Laura?” he asked tentatively. “Is that really you?”
“Score one for jumpy,” she said cheerily.
“But why are you so young?”
“Because no matter how old you got, Benny, you were still just a little boy in your head talking to a little girl who would listen. In your mind, neither of us changed. Until you went away.”
“Laura, I tried,” Benny said, his head still trying to comprehend the whole idea of actually seeing the girl he’d centered his happiness around for so long. “I tried so hard. I wanted nothing more than to sit with my eyes closed, feeling you within my mind. I was terrified when you started to disappear. But I found a way to come back, didn’t I?”
“Now, five years later.”
“Not if you include all those days I sat on that bench.”
“Benny, what’re you talking about?” Laura asked.
“You…you mean…” Benny stammered, “you don’t remember any of those long conversations we had, with the summer air blowing around me? We used to crack up together at the way people walking by would look at me funny when I’d stare at them. You don’t remember that?”
“I wish I did, Benny,” she said in a voice that sounded authentic to him. “It sounds wonderful. But either you found someone else or you were talking to yourself.”
Benny closed his eyes as Laura finished what she was saying. He had hoped she wouldn’t go there, wouldn’t say those words that just barely hinted at the possibility that he was going insane. How was this possible? So many things had changed since he last leaned against FUK U, and it just didn’t…seem…possible!
“What’s happening to me?” Benny asked, not really intending it to be considered as a real question.
“Perhaps you are going completely bonkers!” Laura answered promptly. “But who cares, eh? Sanity is only limited to a very small scope, after all. And once you cross the border into your sweet insanity, you can only go deeper. Once you embrace that, then you’ll discover what lies within you.”
“Do you consider yourself insane?” Benny blurted out.
“You have no clue.”
This kind of chilled Benny, especially when he considered the fact that he had basically created her, made her to be his perfect partner-in-crime, his twin, which meant that somewhere deep within the abyss of his mind, imminent insanity hid in the shadows, waiting for the right time to spring forth.
Or maybe it had already, and he was just denying it.
He didn’t like either option.
“You can choose,” Laura said in her calm, this-is-all-perfectly-normal voice. “Either follow me and embrace everything within you, or return to your ever useless veggie of a body to wait for your fate.”
Before he had even attempted to cross-over into this inner world, Benny had made up his-
-mind to not go back until he knew he had a fully functional body waiting for him on the other side, so there was no question of him wanting to return to being a vegetable, prisoner in his own mind. “Of course I’ll come,” he said. “But I don’t see anything but these frikkin’ trees all the way to the horizon in all directions.”
“Have you learned nothing?” Laura asked, and then walked back to the tree that she’d first approached him from. When he followed, she was gone.
It turned out that the forest was an illusion that you could follow your whole life without seeing so much as a beggar or any sign of life besides the fire worms. Apparently, the first people to travel to that forgotten land had found some way to make everyone passing through see and feel those gargantuan, intimidating willow trees. Anyone who knew the ancient secret of the forest, however, could navigate it with relative ease.
The forest was really just a mid-point between the Upper Realms of the mind and Valence, the small town on the edge of the Inner. Laura explained that humans had done great battles on this lower plain of the mind’s existence, and the forest worked as an ingenious defense. The opposition would charge through for days on end, and eventually run out of food. And if, by some wild chance, the did manage to get through, they still had to figure out Brynj, the between-world, and after that, the Fortress Town of Valence.
No one passed Valence without going through thorough examination and inspections to make sure they were “worthy” of passing on into the Inner. Mainly what Laura called “brain tests.” She told him all of this as she led him through a trap door in the side of the trunk that she’d “appeared” from behind. They went down many zigzagging stair cases and down at least five long, drafty corridors before they finally came out in the largest room Benny had ever seen in his life. The curved ceiling, somewhat like that of an airplane hanger, seemed to loom hundreds of feet above him.
The room stretched out in front of him for about a mile, and hundreds if not thousands of people were bustling back and forth across it. “Welcome to Hayvan, Benny,” Laura said. “The only underground city in this world.”
He stared around in wonder at the small buildings and huts that made up shops of restaurants. He had never seen anything that seemed to hypnotize him like Hayvan did, but little did he know that he’d see plenty more before the end. Laura reached up and slipped her child’s hand into Benny’s, and he felt a moment of awkwardness. But then he realized that it was more like a brother-sister thing at the time, and he relaxed as they began walking down the main street.
Hayvan was just as wide as it was long, and another thing that enthralled Benny was exactly how much those people had managed to fit into one square mile. There were no automobiles, and the only alternative mode of transportation were carts pulled by people in green jump-suits. Like man-drawn taxis. Benny watched with interest as one of the latter stopped in front of a restaurant who’s name Benny couldn’t quite pronounce. He set down the two handles of the cart, and continued walking, shouting, “Special offer, this week only! Anywhere on the South Side for just ten dollars and fifteen seins. Anyone need a ride?”
“Hey, over here!” Benny shouted. The man turned toward Benny, and when he finally spotted Benny’s flailing arms, he headed promptly in that direction. He was at least eight and a half feet tall, and the people bustling around him parted and went on there way. Benny guessed that the cart-men had the Hayvan version of right-of-way.
“Wow,” said the cart-man in a low booming voice. “You’re the first new face in this neck o’ the woods, pun intended, in about…oh, I’d have to say fifty or sixty years! Where can I take ya’, little buddy?”
“The Einsqua Circle,” Laura said. “But on the way, would you give my friend Benny here a bit of background on Hayvan?”
“Sure thing, lil miss LeVille,” the man said, bowing his head in what looked to Benny like a recognition of higher rank. “Hop aboard, Laura de Hayvan and Benny from Away, and see our wonderful home.”
Benny and Laura LeVille climbed up on the cart (green like the man’s suit,) and made themselves comfortable. Benny jumped a little when the man first lifted up the cart, but was quickly calmed by the gentle rolling of the cart over the cobble-stone street. The man’s voice was rhythmic and soothing.
“My great, great, great grandfather was the first person to start this place, and its done nothing but grow ever since,” he said. “Over a hundred buildings now, the oldest being the LeVille mansion. When my ancestors came to this place (at the time no more than an underground cavern,) they had no intentions of staying. My great, great, great grandfather was one of the last majickans this far away from the Inner, and he was on one of his many quests to find Merlin’s Crystal Cave. He thought that this was it, but ole LeVille, miss Laura here’s great, great, great, grand daddy, took one look at it and said ‘nope.’ But something about the cavern fascinated LeVille, and he paid my grandfather to build him a mansion right there in the old dank cavern. If you look east, little Ben, I believe you may be able to see it.”
Benny turned to his left and lifted himself up a little in his seat. Above the row of houses, he could just barely see a row of small, dark red flags lined up along a black shingled roof. The mansion was built right up against the wall of Hayvan, and Benny could see a purple glow coming from behind it, as if they kept their house back-lit.
“What’s that purple light for?” Benny asked.
The cart-man began to speak, but Laura cut him off. “I’ll answer that one,” she said. “In order to ensure that Hayvan had enough oxygen to support so many people in an emergency situation, Timothy Einsqua planted a large garden of willows.”
No surprise there, Benny thought.
“And since the overhead lights don’t put off enough light to keep the garden going, they use that one. It’s a special light, because those are special trees. They contain a force like nothing else in all the worlds. In fact, they are the creators of our little defense system up above. The seeds were ancient when fire was first being harnessed by man, and it is believed that the Lost Myth of the seeds was the original source of several fairy tales in the Upper Realms.
“The myth went like this: when the first world came into existence, two humans were created, one at the north pole, one at the south. They traveled far and wide for thousands of years, planting millions of plants and making the world beautiful Eventually, they both came to a high plateau, and the moment they spotted each other across it, they fell hopelessly in love. They met in the middle and embraced. The energy between the two lovers was so strong that it caused the plateau to ripple, forming a ring of hills surrounding them. The lovers rose in the middle as a hill formed beneath their feet, and it is believed that the Mother Earth was literally lifting them to the heavens. The result was something like a bulls-eye, with the hill in the middle and the other smaller hills surrounding it.”
Benny had been getting a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach as she talked, and when she said that last little bit, his suspicion was confirmed: the place she was talking about was none other than his own home of Minde.
“They turned into willows and only grew seeds once before they wilted and died, branches intertwined like two lovers embracing,” Laura continued. “The people who were created by the lover’s energy harvested the seeds and planted most of them in a ring around the hill that rose amidst the caldera formed by the other hills. The trees that grew there kept the town healthy forever, even after they died. In the beginning of their race, the humans in that spot had always used the corpses of their deceased for many different things, believing that all things should aid in the benefit of man, even in death. It was because of that belief that they used the dead trees on the top of the hill (once two passionate lovers) to make a small wooden building in which to keep a small bag holding the few remaining seeds. Like a shrine.
“Eventually, the people came to the tiny building less and less until it was forgotten entirely. Einsqua, this fine gentleman’s great, great, great grand father, was the one who found the shrine and the seeds. He founded a small town that’s still there to this day, right in the epicenter of the entire flow of all cosmic energy in the Upper Realm. One company had requested permission to clear all the dead willows which surrounded the hill, but Einsqua, known in the Upper Realm as John Bonhelm, had insisted that the dead trees remained. No one ever found out why he had wanted to keep the trees, because he disappeared about two years later at the age of forty-five. The last time anyone saw him, he was dressed from head to toe in black, as if he was going to a funeral, and he was standing on top of the Dead Lover’s Hill.
Laura finished the Lost Myth of the Seeds just as they were pulling up to a group of buildings surrounded by a tall, white wall. Above the metal gate that marked the entrance, there hung a sign that read Einsqua Circle. The cart-man set down his load and waited patently for someone to pay him. Laura pulled out some strange looking coins.
She handed him two big silver ones and three smaller bronze ones. “Thank ya’ kindly, ma’am,” the cart-man said. “Good luck with whatever it is you’ve come to do, Benny from away.”
With that, he walked way, and Benny noticed for the first time just how fast those guys in green moved. It was almost alarming. “Well, this is it,” Laura said. “Einsqua Circle, the village within the town. The mansion is on the other side, and that’s where I live.”
“There’s somewhere I need to go,” Benny said as they stepped up to the gate.
“Laura LeVille,” she said, and the gates swung inward. “I don’t know exactly where you need to go, but I can help prepare you for the trip. So come in, relax, eat, whatever. I’m pretty sure my father will have more answers for you than I will. But remember, just because I came from within your mind, that doesn’t mean he did, so don’t expect him to respect you as any sort of authority.”
“Okie-dokie,” Benny said. He hadn’t even thought of such a thing, but decided it was a good thing to have pointed out to him anyways. As he looked down at Laura, he realized that something was different.
Something had changed.
“Hey, Laura,” Benny inquired, “this might sound weird, but you look… bigger.. somehow...”
“You created me,” she replied. “The last time you saw the real me, I was a little girl, and now that you’ve come back, I’ll…catch up, I guess you could say. I’ll continue to grow until I fit your image of how I should look if I was the same age as you.”
“Oh, is that all,” Benny said sarcastically. Or rather it was meant to be sarcastic, but it came out sounding more rude and stupid instead.
They came around a cluster of houses and there stood the LeVille Mansion, oldest standing monument in Hayvan. It was raised up on an artificial hill, a series of steps more like a dais than anything. The dark shade of purple coming from behind the house made a really cool effect in Benny’s opinion, and he had to stop and stare in wonder at the magnificent house when it first came into view. It just seemed so perfect and yet awful at the same time. He wanted to both walk into it’s front door and bolt in the opposite direction, back toward the forest.
Laura once again grabbed his hand and began leading him up the steps toward the mansion.
The LeVille house seemed much larger on the inside than it did from the outside, which was, to Benny, saying something exceptional considering how enormous it had seemed to him as he stood in front of it, with its mouth waiting to be opened and the windows staring like lifeless eyes.
They ascended a large and beautiful stair case with polished maple hand rails, at the top of which were a set of double doors. Laura knocked three times and waited for a response. Finally, a gravelly voice asked, “Who is it?”
“Its me, daddy. I want you to meet someone.”
There was a faint click and the doors came open. The man who opened them wore a black suit and sunglasses. He was pearly white with black hair that grew down to just past his shoulders. “Howdy,” the man said, smiling. A chill ran up Benny’s spine as he remembered that same voice asking, Do you want me to open my eyes?
“Hello, Mr. Vonwell,” Laura said politely, curtseying as she had been trained to do. The man only smiled before walking back to his seat.
When he was sure the man was out of hearing, Benny asked, “Who was that?”
“Oh, that’s Mr. Vonwell,” Laura said. “He comes from Valence every once in a while to make sure everything’s going alright down here. Then he reports back and disappears until he feels he’s needed again. Strange… he usually doesn’t come for another six months or so. Why do you ask?”
Benny fumbled around in his head for an answer, and all he came up with was, “Just got some déjà vu, that’s all.” Laura appeared to buy his excuse and led him through the set of double doors. How could it be that his former captor, the man who had somehow hypnotized and then kidnapped him, was trusted by all of these seemingly peaceful and innocent people? By a different name, as well.
Benny didn’t know, and wasn’t quite sure whether or not he wanted to know. Hell, he couldn’t even remember the name he had first heard the man called by. Natas? Something along those lines. He wasn’t sure.
“Daddy,” Laura said, leading Benny over to the large oak desk where an elderly man with long white hair sat with his hands folded, “this is my friend, Benny. I’ve told you about him. Remember?”
“But of course,” the man said. “How could I forget the person who sent me my beloved Laura? Come here, daddy’s girl.” He reached out his shaky arms toward Laura. She moved close and embraced him. “As much as I love you, dear, I must ask to speak to Benny alone, please.”
Benny expected a childish response from the girl ( who now looked about twelve,) but she simply kissed her fathers forehead gently and said, “Okay, papa. Call me when you’re finished, okay?”
“But of course,” the old man said. Laura winked at Benny as she passed, and he noticed for the first time that he was nervous as hell. He didn’t even know who this guy was, but he still had that queasy feeling and his solar plexus was going nuts, like some lucky tourist meeting Mr. President in the Oval Office. “Mr. Jorgens, I’m pleased to meet you. My name is Arthur LeVille.”
“How is everything that I’m seeing here possible?” Benny asked. It seemed like the most obvious and relevant question.
LeVille chuckled. “The same way me seeing you is possible. We both were created on two different levels of human existence. I was born in the Inner, what you would call the subconscious, whereas you were born on the other side. The Upper Realms. I exist on a completely different level right now, doing my day by day things in the Upper Realms. Every human is split in two.”
Benny thought about this for a moment before asking, “How did I create Laura?”
“Why that’s simple, young sir,” LeVille said in his raspy voice. “She’s your twin on this side, only you took a few years before she came around. Its not a very common occurrence, but it is possible. That’s what makes her special and different. She was created by a pre-developed ego instead of most people who begin creating their Double shortly after birth. She’s already changing since you’ve been around. I felt it when I hugged her. You better not ever try to take my daughter away from me. Or from Hayvan. This town needs her. Surely you’ve discovered the… link you have with the willows, right?”
Benny shook his head slowly. He knew of no connection to the willows.
“Of course,” LeVille said plainly. “Well, when you finally created her, she came directly out of the garden. I marked the tree that I found her attached to. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and I immediately took her in and named her after my mother, who once saved this town. Up until the day you were born, there was one single tree in the garden. Anyone standing near it could feel the energy pulsing outwards, and whenever it seemed unhealthy, the town suffered also. Then one day the tree just seemed to kind of wave, half of it’s branches moving one way, the other half moving the opposite way. The energy flow was so strong that I actually had to leave Einsqua Circle because it was like an overload. A few days later, there were these little sprouts which continued to grow at an incredible rate, and after only three months, I had grown the garden you see now, give or take a few added bushes here and there. They were about a month old when I spotted a small red fruit growing on one of them. By the end it was a baby, and I watched it grow every day until she finally opened her eyes and severed her own vine. I sent Mr. Vonwell to check out any births in the Upper Realms that might have been the babies Upper Double. The only brainwave match found was yours, but you were already four years old. Laura began telling me about you after only half a year of being in existence.”
“So my birth powered up your little super defense system?” Benny asked, amazed at the possibility that regular, ordinary he could have any special force hidden within him, like some untapped source of fuel.
“Of course not,” LeVille said. “The single tree alone produced the forest. You merely strengthened it, making it possible to dazzle our intruders with the size of the trees. Amazing, wouldn’t you say?”
“That can’t be possible,” Benny said.
“But of course it is!” LeVille exclaimed. “You proved that simply by coming here. Its not exactly easy for most humans of the Upper Realms to come here, mainly because they know such a small amount about the Inner, but you managed to cross over with relative ease.”
“Someone’s taken over my body.”
“Is that right?”
“Someone named Natas,” Benny said. “Recognize the name?”
LeVille seemed to consider for a moment before concluding that no, he had never heard of the guy. “And you say he took control of your body?”
“Yeah,” Benny replied. “It’s like, I can still see what’s going on around me, but my motor skills do everything on their own, as if under someone else’s control. I’m just glad I still have control over my mind.”
“A very good thing to be thankful for,” LeVille said ominously. “But just remember that your own mind can be your worst enemy sometimes. Trust no one, not even yourself.”
“Do you have any idea where I need to go to regain control of my body?” Benny asked.
“Oh, you have quite a ways to go,” LeVille said. “But the first step you should take, I suppose, is to head out the North Gate, into the…forest. But not the one you saw when you first crossed over. No, this one is real. Tell me, Benny. How do you plan to stay alive in the vast terrain of the Unalla Woods? That place has been there, living, evolving… changing for longer than the moon’s been in existence. So have the creatures within it. Are you prepared for such a challenge?”
Benny sat looking at him nervously and gulped. Hell no, he wasn’t ready for such a challenge, but he knew he had to do it one way or another. “I didn’t exactly plan to get hypnotized by some Dracula wannabe on top of some frikkin’ hill,” he said sharply. “The only thing I could do was dwell in my own mind, and it led me here. Of course I’m not ready, and I’m not exactly sure how to get ready. That’s where I think I need your help.”
“But of course,” LeVille said. Benny was beginning to have some distaste for that particular response. “I can help you get where you need to go under one condition.”
“And what might that be?”
“You must promise me that you will never return to Hayvan ever again,” LeVille said, enunciating every syllable so that there could be absolutely no mistaking what he was requesting.
“I can’t promise that,” Benny replied. It was the truth. “But I can say I’ll try.” That also was the truth, no matter how much Benny was dazzled by the order and neatness of Hayvan.
“That’ll do for now, my friend,” LeVille said, cracking a smile that was four teeth short of a grin. Something about that white hair flowing around those crazy eyes and that even crazier grin scared Benny.
Scared him considerably.
LeVille arranged for a nice little apartment to be furnished for Benny’s temporary stay. When he was escorted by some butler types to it (once again amazed by the politeness of everyone,) he found a cozy, dimly lit room that he felt comfortable in right away. He plopped down in the main room. One of the butler types approached him tentatively. “May I help you?” Benny asked.
“I was told to inform you that if you would like, we could arrange for a tevelision thing from your world to be brought to the room, with what I believe is the equivalent to salletite.”
“Its television and satellite,” Benny said, immediately regretting the rude tinge he heard in his own voice. “Um, yeah… that would be great, pal… Er, friend.” He reached out his hand to the butler type, who at first only looked at it before grasping it firmly.
“May your stay be very well,” he said before bowing and leaving. Benny hoped that he hadn’t insulted the young man by correcting him.
All at once, the drowsiness he had been suppressing flooded back, and he decided it wasn’t a bad time for a nap.
Not a bad time at all.
He’s in a green cloud. It surrounds him and is so thick that he can barely see his hands in front of him. It reminds him of the many times he sat with his friends as they smoked pot and he looked on with longing, only this smoke is green, and right away he knows to not breathe it in. Somewhere in the distance, someone is screaming about how he’s the only one left, and that they’re all dead. Benny wants to shout, “Then who do you expect to hear you?” but he finds that he can’t control his actions, as is often the case in his dreams. This realization reminds him of how he’d stumbled into town feeling exactly the same way. Out of control.
Ahead of him in the fog, someone is walking toward him. As the green smoke swirls before the man, Benny realizes that It’s the man who had called himself Natas, only he has the glasses on like the man LeVille called Mr. Vonwell.
He sees and feels his hands rise in front of him. They start to form into some symbol but before he can see what the symbol is, there is a bright red flash and---
---Benny woke up. He was breathing hard and a few beads of sweat had broken out on his forehead. In front of him, across the living room, there now sat a 32” television screen (and a pretty nice one, from what Benny could see.) The screen was presently blue. A coffee table had been placed in front of the couch, and on it sat the remote and a glass of water. He grabbed the latter first, craving something to ease the exhaustion the dream had caused.
After a few moments of just breathing and thinking about the dream, Benny reached for the remote and began flipping through the channels. It seemed to somehow receive the channels straight from the other side, and all the schedules and programming were the same. He decided he’d put it on a movie he’d been waiting on for about a week before he took his first puff of marijuana and all this junk had begun.
He didn’t know why, but he thought the pot had a part to play in the whole scheme of things. Whenever he thought about Natas, whom he suspected was that figure also known as The Man to the people of Minde, he always thought of Richard saying, “It’s the best shit you’ll find in these parts. My friend grew it right up there. Everyone thinks its haunted, so it was the perfect place for a garden.” There was some key thought there, he could feel it, but he just couldn’t figure out what it was.
Oh well, he thought. For the time being, I’m going to get something to eat and then lie down in the real bed.
He made his way into the little kitchen and began looking for whatever there was for food. In a cupboard by the fridge, he found a few cans of vegetables, some beef stew, and hamburger helper. In the fridge there was a quart of milk, a few apples, some butter, and the ultimate easy way out: eggs. Obviously, LeVille didn’t think Benny would be staying long. Benny didn’t know how true that was, but to him, it really didn’t matter.
Of what he had to choose from, the beef stew looked the best. He took the can down (and also, upon second thought, a can of corn,) and began searching for the drawer that held the can opener. The third one he tried held it, and he was on his way to one of those good ole fashioned bachelor-in-the-making dinners for the stomach of Iron.
Twenty minutes later, Benny dozed into the first stages of sleep, and for the first time in weeks, he wasn’t disturbed from his sleep by nightmares.
Laura awoke in the middle of the night for no apparent reason, and she tried desperately to fall back to sleep. When her attempts failed, she got up and tip-toed towards the kitchen. As she passed the double doors of her father’s suite (conveniently left cracked open,) Laura heard the faint murmur of conversation, and she couldn’t help but eavesdrop a bit. The conversation was between her father, of course, and Mr. Vonwell. LeVille was seated at his desk and Vonwell was pacing the room, visibly anxious.
“How did he get here?” Vonwell asked harshly. “You said you wouldn’t let any more of those damn things get in my way.”
“The echani are not under my control,” Laura’s father answered coolly. “I put up every defense I had. This one appears to be rather strong, maybe even equal to Neonokin, though I don’t believe he knows it, and its not my fault that he came here.”
“Then how did he make it out of the forest?” Vonwell asked. To this, LeVille only sat looking at the man in front of him, unable to answer. Laura saw all this from the door and realized, with mounting horror, the she was responsible for bringing Benny there. She didn’t understand why it angered Mr. Vonwell so much, but she did know that Mr. Vonwell was a very powerful person. She had never actually seen first-hand what he was capable of, but she had heard plenty of rumors. She didn’t want to ever see him truly mad.
“Either dispose of him immediately, or I will,” Vonwell said, turning on his heel. Laura gasped and ran down the stairs quickly, hoping he hadn’t seen her. She managed to duck behind one of the many statues in the mansion’s entrance hall before Mr. Vonwell came out of her father’s suite. He strode down the stairs in that elegant flowing manner that Laura had once found attractive. He stopped at the bottom and looked around. Laura drew in breath and held it as she watched Vonwell take off the sunglasses she had always seen him wear. In the faint light thrown by the few torches that were still burning, she saw that his eyes were a pearly white, as if he were blind. That would explain the glasses, she thought. As she sat holding her breath, hunkered in the shadows, Laura felt a strange pulling sensation inside her head. It became too much of a burden to keep her eyes open, so she stopped trying. She felt so tired.
“Have a pleasant evening, Mr. Vonwell,” LeVille said from the top of the stairs.
Vonwell replaced his sunglasses and turned toward LeVille. Immediately, Laura felt that sensation in her head, that feeling of being drawn, disappear. She took in a breath that was much louder than she knew. “Remember what I said,” Vonwell ordered. “Good evening, LeVilles.
He left, and the THUD! of the huge doors shutting echoed in the large entrance hall. Laura’s father looked directly at her, but if he saw her, he didn’t acknowledge it. He re-entered his study and closed the door.
Laura was left in silence.
Benny woke up to find Laura shaking him violently. His head flared with pain and he told her to stop, he was awake already. She sat staring anxiously at him, trying her best to be patient as he rubbed his eyes, stretched, did whatever he needed to do in order to wake up. Finally he looked at her and asked, “What is it?”
“You have to get out of here,” she said. She didn’t sound panicked, but Benny caught the stronger under-current of concern. “Mr. Vonwell wants you dead.”
“What?” Benny asked. He knew it was the most stupid response imaginable, but he didn’t know what else to say. “You mean that blind freak?”
“Benny, you don’t know how strong he-“
“I know perfectly well, Laura,” Benny broke in firmly. “I’ve been under his control before, and I don’t plan on doing it again. In fact, in the other world, I’m still under his control. That’s why I’m here. I think that if he kills me here, my body will become his puppet forever. How can I get away, Laura?”
The girl, now just barely below Benny’s age (and amazingly beautiful, he was now noticing,) seemed to consider this briefly, then she said, “There’s a gateway I can show you. It leads into the Unalla Woods, but it will get you farther than if you stay here and wait any longer. I can only supply you with enough to make it for about a week in the woods, but judging by everything I’ve heard, I’d guess you can make due.”
“Your father said something about ancient beasts,” Benny commented. “What do I do about them?”
“That’s up to you,” she replied. “Come.”
She turned and headed for the door. Benny grabbed a few things, shoved them in a paper bag from the kitchen, and ran after her. He expected her to be way down the hall, and he jumped slightly when she was waiting just outside the door. “Hurry the hell up,” she said, without the faintest trace of a smile.
They went down the hall a bit before entering a room. At first glance, it appeared empty. But then Benny’s eyes adjusted somewhat and he saw that there was a small plant in the middle of the floor.
Laura bent down next to it and motioned for Benny to do the same. The plant was no more than a dead weed in a pot of soil. Benny watched, slightly confused, as Laura began to blow on the branches of the shrub. At first it swayed with her breath, and then it began to sort of vibrate, moving back and forth rapidly like a vibrating string. Color started to seep into the now blurry looking plant. Red, yellow, green, blue, purple, black.
It rested on a greenish purple hue and began to slow in its motion. As it stopped, Benny saw that it had purple stems with green (BRIGHT) leaves.
Holy shit! That’s pot!! He thought. Then there was a bang and Benny felt himself pulled forward, and his surroundings changed from a small, dim room to a purple fog that consumed his vision. Like that old, eternally popular Jimmi Hendrix song, Purple Haze.
Even though the fog seemed solid and unchanging, the strong sense of motion still gripped Benny. Suddenly the fog cleared, and Benny gasped at what he saw. It was a sea of darkness below him all the way to the horizon, and the sky above was blood red. It was like the ground was so far away that the red light couldn’t reach it, and so when one looked down all they saw was blackness stretching to eternity. Ahead of him, still some distance away, a line rose from the darkness all the way into the redness above.
He only got a brief glance. Then he was thrust onto a cold, dank floor, and he landed on his face, spread eagled. For a few seconds he just stayed in that position, thinking about what had just happened. And it had happened so fast. No more than ten seconds from the time Laura began blowing to the time he hit the floor. As he slowly stood up, his head began throbbing so hard that he cried out in pain. He felt Laura’s hands on his back and heard her telling him she was going now, and that he only had one way to go. She said he would have to go as quickly as possible.
Then he fainted.