(Author's Note: This week I have decided to give a treat to some of my faster readers. I have posted two chapters this week, and so the first one you see listed is chapter eight, but remember to read chapter seven first. Or else you will have a big blank spot and not a lot of stuff will make sense. I would also like to state at this time that I have just finished reading the entire manuscript so far, and there are a few continuity errors which I will correct in the editing phase. They still appear in the online version, as I am just copying and pasting from the Word Document of my manuscript. So please enjoy, know that I will fix some of the errors, and if there are any glaring ones which you would like to point out, please leave it in the comment section and I will take it into consideration. Thank you all, who have bothered to get this far. I hope you're enjoying thus far. -Sam)
The only sound Laura could hear now was the steady dripping of water. She didn’t have the foggiest clue where water would be coming from down so far beneath the mansion, but she supposed that maybe it could have been a broken pipe deep in the walls somewhere. They were in pitch darkness, and the only way Laura knew she was still with Fusa was by the feel of his belt beneath her fingers. He had told her to hold onto it so they wouldn’t be separated in the dark, and she had obeyed diligently, clutching harder each time she heard another unrecognizable noise.
About five minutes prior, the screaming had slowed to a stop. Either whoever was being tortured finally got a break, or had died. Laura shuttered at the thought, and tried her best to push it from the forefront of her mind. Right now she just wanted to have hope, hope that this could all turn out right somehow eventually.
A few times Laura had been sure she had heard someone sneaking around in the dark, but she was never quite sure. It could have just been her own footsteps echoing off the unseen walls. But on one or two of the occasions, she had thought momentarily that Fusa was hearing it too, for he had momentarily halted, listening for just the briefest moment before resuming his confident stride forward into the darkness. She would be scared if he didn’t keep moving forward, but so far he had never stopped for very long at a time.
The gun was still clutched in her hands, both of them wrapped around it as if to bring herself more security. She had strange mixed emotions about the thing… part of her never wanted to have to use it if she didn’t have to, and part of her actually kind of wanted someone to jump out and attack just so she could use the damned thing. It felt very much like money did…for one purpose and ready to be used. She ran a finger over the chamber, feeling its round sleekness, the cool of the metal beneath her finger. She had never really fired a gun before, and especially not a pistol. She felt a little bit stronger now that her body had grown into its proper age, but she still feared the recoil that would be waiting after she pulled the trigger.
Suddenly Fusa stopped dead in his tracks and even put out an arm to make sure that Laura came to a stop herself. He had his head turned to the side and seemed to listening with all his might, and Laura almost chuckled as she got an image in her head of Fusa listening so hard that the veins on his neck began to show. But then she heard what Fusa must’ve, and it wiped the laughter clean out of her mind. This wasn’t just something moving in the dark.
This thing was slithering.
Or at least that’s how it sounded to her. Something smooth was definitely sliding along the ground, one unbroken sound, moving closer from ahead the whole time. Instinctively she raised the gun and stood ready, just behind Fusa. “You might need to use that thing, so be ready,” he said, without taking his eyes off the darkness. He must not have noticed that she was pointing it straight ahead from his right hip. They continued their slow trek forward, and they eventually came to an area that was subtly lit by a single light far above. They stopped just outside it and waited.
The slithering noise had been growing louder, but it hadn’t shown itself yet. Laura was beginning to think that whatever it was had been considerably farther away than she had originally thought, and now that it actually was approaching, it seemed to her that it must be considerably larger than she had originally thought, as well. But she began to think that the noise wasn’t really slithering at all…
“There are going to be a lot of them,” Fusa said suddenly. “I want you to just keep shooting, and stay behind me, but try not to shoot me too, okay?”
“O-okay,” Laura stammered. A group?
All of a sudden three beings came into the light that Laura at first thought were children. I can’t shoot children, she thought. Then Fusa began screaming “Shoot, damn you!” and as he did, two of the creatures lifted their beady little black eyes to face them, the orange light casting eerie shadows on their green faces. One opened its mouth and let out a loud hiss, and the others followed suit. They darted forward and as they did, Laura saw two more emerge from the darkness. Her body thought much faster than her mind, it turned out, and good thing too. The gun went off right as the first one was lunging at her, and somehow Fusa managed to rip the other one in half. The blood was barely hitting the floor before he dropped the carcass and grabbed the next one.
Without another hesitation, Laura began shooting the gun, focusing on the movement of the creatures, feeling her arm slowly become one with the gun. After a few rounds she began to understand the bullets, and how they flew. They were….telling her how to hold the gun. She couldn’t quite understand how they were telling her, and she didn’t hear any voices or anything, she just somehow knew what the bullets were telling her they needed. It was almost as if they were telling her what to do to them to make them do what she wanted.
Three creatures were now dead by her hand, and each one oozed some sort of dark fluid that only vaguely resembled blood. She could see the gun glowing, that sweet bright blue that meant she understood the gun, and the gun understood her. She thought with all the will she could muster, telling the gun and the bullets where to go. As one creature after the next darted out, she swung around to meet it, usually either landing the bullet somewhere in the neck or chest. She kept trying for a head shot, but it just didn’t seem to be happening.
But dead was dead, and she didn’t need to have the satisfaction of perfect kills. Fusa had moved away from her slightly, and was using a mix of some flowing version of karate and the manipulation of energy to make the creatures fly out of sight. For a moment they seemed to have stopped going for Laura, and she knocked open the barrel and pulled out some of the bullets she had managed to stash. The rounds were hot and she burnt herself on the first but with the rest she just dumped them out.
She began fumbling the new rounds into the chamber, but was once again burnt by the chamber itself. Three of her fresh bullets went onto the ground, and the other two that she had pulled out fell back into her pouch. She quickly knelt down and tried to find one in the darkness, but the light wasn’t quite enough for her. She heard a hiss from towards Fusa and she looked up to see one who had lost interest in the impenetrable warrior begin to run headlong toward her. The feet of the creatures looked like boneless frog feet, flapping along the ground, barely keeping the things up. This made their dash comparatively slow, but their jump was still pretty formidable for some reason. She saw it jump over the carcass of one of its mates, and she fumbled even faster on the ground for one of the fresh cartridges.
Come on, come on, she thought frantically. The creature had momentarily been stopped when his foot got stuck in the belt of one of his fallen companions, and this gave her a brief window of opportunity. She made a large sweeping arc of the floor, and felt two of the bullets bounce off of her finger tips and into the darkness farther. But suddenly she knew that it didn’t matter where they were anymore… she had felt them, and somehow in that brief second she had been able to sense what they were like, how they were formed, how it would feel to be one… she suddenly saw one of them glowing blue in the darkness, and she instantly willed the bullet into the chamber. It moved with a stealth she had not expected, and her hand actually jerked a little from the force when the bullet met with the chamber. She slammed it shut and looked up. The creature had already freed itself and was just feet from her, but its foot seemed to have been hurt when it had gotten stuck in his friend.
She had always been against execution, but right now it was kill or be killed, and she knew of one quick way to take care of him with one bullet. She raised the gun and it lunged. She managed to compensate just enough that its teeth missed her fingers, but went firmly around the barrel of the gun. The thing bit down hard, apparently thinking the gun was an extension of the girl, and Laura heard a few of his teeth crack. She would have shivered at the sound under normal circumstances but right now her reptilian complex and her muscles were working of their own accord and at their own rate. As soon as she heard the teeth, she pulled the trigger, and the back of the creatures head burst outward, a good portion of it landing on Fusa’s back. The cloud of blood back sprayed some, leaving several droplets on Laura’s face.
There was a dull thud as it hit the ground, just inches in front of Laura’s outstretched arm. Fusa threw one last dead creature off to the side, and then turned to face Laura. “You did well,” he said, flicking blood from off of his face. “I don’t know if that was the last of them or if we just got a break, so lets keep moving.”
“Wait!” Laura hissed. “I need to reload. I didn’t manage to get ‘em all in. Just give me a moment, will ya?” She had already begun doing it, fishing the bullets out of her pouch and finding the other one she had touched on the ground. She only had five bullets, but by the time they were done being loaded, they were all glowing that pretty blue color that she was coming to appreciate so much. Even the gun itself gave off a faint hint, and to her it felt like it vibrated right along her wavelength, like an extension of herself. No longer did it feel like a cold weapon of death in her hand… it now felt like a warm and welcome tool of survival.
Both her and Fusa had considerable amounts of the black blood on them, and it smelled heavily like old axle grease or something of the sort. Laura had sometimes smelled a similar scent when the Cart Men of Hayvan would stop to grease up a squeaky axle now and then. As they moved forward cautiously into the darkness, Laura pulled the small handkerchief which had been wrapped around the bullets in the pouch. She used it to wipe the dark, thick liquid off of her cheeks and almost gagged as some went on her lip and out of reflex she accidentally licked it. The taste instantly filled her mouth, and she could think of nothing in the world to compare it to. It was simply the worst thing she had ever tasted, and hoped inside that she would never taste anything worse, god forbid.
Meanwhile, ahead of her, Fusa was coughing lightly into his hand. “Are you okay, Fusa?” Laura asked with genuine concern.
“I am fine, young miss Laura,” he replied. “I just swallowed some of the blood and it makes you sick very quickly.”
“What were those things, anyways?”
“No time to explain entirely,” he said, “but I can tell you they are creatures that are created. They are created here in the lower realms when immense amounts of pain are being inflicted on people up above. That maniac must be making trouble up top, as well as down here. To make those things we just saw, to make a Feerel, as they are called, is entirely forbidden by all the supreme councils, at Valence and all the other High Places of Order. His insanity goes further than I would have ever guessed if we are facing these. They are very dangerous to create, you see, especially to the one creating them. Only a man who fancies he has nothing to lose will try such an atrocity. It just pains me to know that each one of those things we just killed probably took two or three human lives to create. Augment that with the pain of a dozen and you have one Feerel. Now imagine the scale of pain and misery he must be inflicting up there if he has hordes of these things to throw at us. Its sad that creatures which take so much to create can be killed so easily.”
Laura began to feel a little less proud of her kills. Each of the Feerel she had killed came at the expense of at least one human. She looked around at all the carcasses of the beings, and all of a sudden tears began to leak from her eyes, mingling with the little bits of the dark fluid that was still on her face. She could no longer support herself as her legs became weak, and she sank to the ground, soaking the clothes around her knees with the dark blood. She dropped the gun and just sat there, weeping and looking at the creatures.
How could I be proud of this? She thought. Was stuff like this what it would take to save Ku and help Benny? Now that she had tasted death, and felt the realization that somehow, through obscure association, she had killed other people. Even if it was merely taking the lives of creatures that were created from the lives of humans, she was still taking that life, and she felt the coldness of it sinking in. She began crying harder and harder, the tears no longer leaking but flooding. Fusa came to her and put a hand on her shoulder. “It is why these things are forbidden, Laura. They are used only for evil, and come only from evil. I have only faced them once before, long ago, and it was the same situation. They will tear you to shreds if you do not attack them first, and quick. You did what you had to or you would have been just another pointless death in a long string of them. By saving yourself and killing them, you halted the chain of death and freed the souls used to create those beings. You should remain proud, Miss Laura. You did just fine.”
He tilted her head up and wiped her cheeks with his hands (which, Laura noticed, were impeccably clean for having just torn apart a dozen black blood-filled creatures,) and when she looked at him he smiled. It always caught her off guard when he smiled. He was so pretty. Him and his father both had beautiful eyes. They were a bright blue that contrasted with the tan complexion of their skin. She half heartedly returned the smile and picked up the gun from the ground. She stood up and began wiping it off.
“Here,” Fusa said, holding his hand out with the thumb and index finger pinched together. “Lets try this.” He sprinkled some powder on the gun and on her hands, and then took the gun gently from her. At first she instinctively became defensive, but he assured her that she would get it back promptly and that he would bring no harm to the gun. After he had the gun, he told her to clap her hands as hard as she could. She obeyed and as soon as flesh met flesh, the powder seemed to burst and give off a bright flash, and when the small puff of smoke was gone, Laura was pleased to find that so was the blood.
“I rather like that stuff,” she said with a grin. But Fusa did not hear. He was hunched over the gun, mumbling with his eyes closed. The powder on the gun was slowly beginning to glow, and eventually small tendrils of smoke were issuing from it on all sides. After about a minute, his hand was consumed in smoke, and it drifted up around his face, making him look quite creepy to Laura in the dim light. His chanting slowly came to a halt, and after a few moments of silence, he began blowing away the smoke. The gun was gleaming and beautiful, and Laura thought it looked much more clean and flashy than when she had first acquired it. My father would have killed for that stuff, with his silly gun collection, she thought. But then she remembered that her father was no more than the man who had raised her, probably under the sight of the Vonwell creep the whole time, and his memory now only brought bitterness to her heart as she became more understanding of the fact that he was only a puppet.
“How did you do that?” she asked Fusa. “Doesn’t it require an impact of some sort? Or heat or friction or something like that?”
“Yes and no,” he replied, standing up and beginning to move into the dark once more. “It takes a great deal of energy, and the force of the kinetic energy of motion suddenly stopping and be changed into heat energy is usually the easiest and most effective way, but when you are dealing with weapons such as guns, which can be set off sometimes by an impact, it is best to use the will to gather the Ch’I, and to direct it through the hands and into the powder. As you do this, heat will flow to the area you desire, and if your will is forceful enough, you can affect the same change as with a collision or spark of some kind. It’s a little slower, but it works in tricky situations. I don’t know how old those bullets are or how touchy either, so I did not want you or myself to take any chances. Here you are.”
He handed over the shiny, newly polished weapon to Laura. She almost felt bad wanting to shoot it again, because that might dirty it up. It just looked so damned pretty right then, like something that truly deserved to be up on a mantle for everyone to view. Yet inside she knew that soon enough it would be called forth to bloody itself up once again, and it would react in the same cold, obedient way that it always would until the end of its mechanics. Some sort of bond is developed between owner and weapon when the owner knows their life is only continuing because of the aid of the weapon. She never wanted to let it go again, or ever go anywhere even slightly unsafe without it.
“Now come,” Fusa said, lighting a cigarette. “I think we have more yet to face before we find my father, and we need to hurry up and face it as soon as possible so we can get to my father before its too late. I fear that the Madman may already be trying to draw my father’s powers, even as we speak.”
“Draw his powers?”
“It is a long and complicated story, Miss Laura. Maybe a tale for another time. For now we have some walking to do, and since I want to somewhat enjoy this cigarette before my hands are tied again, I regretfully ask you to stop talking and humbly offer my apologies for being so bold.”
Laura laughed and began walking with him. She had always thought it was silly when people treated her like she was some high and mighty princess who would run to daddy and have them hanged for offending her. She liked Fusa, and she was more than positive he had saved her plenty of times tonight without ever asking for recognition, and in her opinion, it would take something pretty atrocious to make her want to seek any sort of retribution from Fusa Gon Ku.
But right now the gun felt more like money than ever… Burning a hole and craving to be used as soon as possible.
Brun had just kicked Benny square in the stomach, and now Benny lay on the ground clutching the spot, longing for more blood flow in that area. “Get up, you weakling,” came the high pitched voice of the small man. “I told you to believe in the advantage, not lie on the ground as if all hope was lost.”
Benny wasn’t as dumb as Brun was assuming though. One thing he’d learned in the few Karate classes he took was that an unsuspecting enemy was an easier target, and if you can convince the opponent that you feel defeated when really inside you’re just as confident as ever, then the opponent will be that much more easy to beat. Finally, Brun turned his back, just the opportunity Benny had been waiting for. “Get up,” Brun said over his shoulder, unaware that Benny was already up and moving toward him with a stick. He raised it and was just beginning his downward swing toward Brun’s tiny head when, with a speed Benny had only slightly anticipated, the warrior slipped around Benny and cracked him on the back of the legs with his own small staff, bringing Benny to his knees. The blow to the back of the knees was followed quickly by one to the back of the head, and Benny fell forward onto his face.
Things were out of focus and slowly going black, but he was determined to not black out. He had passed out so many times in the last few days that he was beginning to doubt his own strength and integrity. Through the blur that had become his vision, Benny saw some small, moccasin covered feet moving around to in front of him. They stopped in front of him and Brun stood there over him, feet together and looking smug.
One thing Benny knew for sure was how a fighter should never stand…
“Rule number one,” Benny said, his breath kicking up small puffs of dirt. “Never stand close to an enemy with your legs close together.”
Benny lunged out with all the speed he could muster in his weakened state, and apparently it was enough. He just barely managed to get his arms all the way around Brun’s legs before the small man reacted and tried to retaliate. But Benny already had enough of a hold on his legs that his attempted kicks became mere jerks of the legs. Benny bear hugged them like he used to do to his little cousin, squeezing as hard as he could to make sure Brun couldn’t wrestle free, and with one big heave, he rolled over, pulling the little man with him. Short as Brun was, it wasn’t a far trip from standing to the ground. Benny had managed a pretty decent spin, and the man hit face first in the dirt, just like Benny had done just moments before.
The clearing seemed to be filled with an ominous silence as the dust settled around the two dirty fighters. Benny gathered himself for a defense as he saw Brun slowly lift himself to his knees and begin dusting himself off. Benny knew that he was no psychic himself, but even from the short distance, he could feel the shame and embarrassment that was coming from Brun. Benny started to stammer out an apology when the little man began clapping. He turned his dirt covered face toward Benny and there was a large grin shining through the dirt and darkened skin. “That was truly good, my friend!” Brun exclaimed, moving over to clap Benny on the back. The thing that scared Benny was that even though he was just clapping him on the back, if Brun had been trying to attack him, the movement would have been more than fast enough.
I can’t even foresee his friendly strikes, Benny thought.
“I am a most formidable foe, Benny from Away,” Brun said. “Many have fought me and never even touched me, much less gotten me to the ground. And somehow you managed to keep me from knowing that you were going to pull that little stunt. A clever combination of psyche and soma, my friend!” Brun clapped him again and let out a hefty laugh.
“I think it was just because I was about to pass out,” Benny said.
“Nonsense,” Brun said. “I was getting all of that about passing out from you, I felt as if you were afraid and defeated, and never once did I feel that you were planning an attack. Very nice, very nice.”
“Well…thanks, I guess,” Benny said as he regained his feet. “I wish I could be as fast as you.”
“That will come with time, training, and exercise,” Brun replied with a slightly smug look on his face.
“I want you to run, Benny from Away.”
“I said run…”
A small but sinister looking bolt of electricity sparked from Brun’s larger, magical eye. It hit the ground right near Benny’s feet, making him jump, and the soil there instantly dried out and set on fire. As the bolt left his eye, the color temporarily faded, and Benny was already beginning to see the blue light slowly building back up there, and he didn’t want to wait to see if Brun would be a better aim this time around.
He turned and ran, and Brun followed after him.
Benny turned around a small thicket of trees, and thought that somehow he could pull the old cartoon gag and hide while Brun still thought he was running. But as soon as the idea had been formulated in his head, the tree behind which Benny was taking shelter shattered low to the ground, and with an ear splitting crack it began to fall toward Benny.
“Hey!” he shouted as he ran to the side, out of the line of the tree. “What the hell? Is this a training exercise or are you tryin’ to stamp me out, Brun?”
The small warrior man was nowhere to be seen, but clear as ever, the words came into Benny’s head, If you ever expect to defeat foes who live in a world which is composed sixty percent by your thoughts, then you had better learn to close your own chunk of that world off to everyone else, or I and every other slightly telepathic being will be able to see your every plan long before you even know you’re formulating one.
Benny jumped behind an already fallen tree as a thick bolt of blue light whizzed over his head, missing him by mere inches and setting a small group of bushes aflame. “Unfortunately, pal,” Benny said. “I don’t exactly know how to do that, or else I’d be more than happy to!”
Stop making excuses and find a way to lose me, came Bruns powerful mind voice. Benny imagined that Brun was using the mind voice because he would not have been loud enough at a distance with his normal speaking voice, and also for the dramatic effect one needs to thoroughly drive home a point.
Benny wasn’t exactly sure how he was supposed to keep Brun out of his thoughts, like he had during their previous sparring match, so instead of trying to think he tried the opposite. He allowed his eyes to see and process his surroundings, and for his body to react to what was seen by the eyes, but did not allow the thoughts to become much more than impressions. It was difficult trying to keep his thoughts from forming into words and pictures and schemes, but he was determined to be successful.
Suddenly the trees in front of him took on a blue hue and before his mind could even think about it, his body ducked and got him out of the line of fire. Instead of falling to a stop, he attempted a sort of barrel roll, but it went sadly awry when his pants caught on a fallen branch and sent him head long into a log.
“Ah, come on—“
I SAID GET UP!
Another flash of blue light, except this one was clearly only meant to scare him. It hit the log by his head, and with a hiss the wood began smoldering. Benny hopped to his feet and bolted over the log. This is never going to work, he thought.
Stop thinking so much, its quite annoying.
“Ah shut up,” Benny murmured as he jumped off a small ledge.
This day is going to be quite fun, came the deep voice echoing from nowhere into Benny’s mind.
The Crazies were gathering at what used to be a Masonic Lodge, #313 to be exact, in order to hear the first of San’s anticipated speeches. Most of the people there had never seen the man, and had only heard by word of mouth that he was there to rid them of their bad reputation and help them restore their place in the town of Minde. No one knew what his plan was, or exactly what he was going to ask them to do, but all those who had met this San fellow had guaranteed everyone else at the meeting that he was as close to a Messiah as they were ever going to experience, and that now was the time to heed his warnings and take his advice.
The atmosphere in the room was one of reserved anticipation, and everyone seemed to be buzzing to everyone else. There was only one man who didn’t seem to be talking to anyone else, who was off by himself and seated in a corner, quietly awaiting the words of this new Prophet of Minde, talking to no one and not attempting to start any conversations either. No one seemed to be paying attention to him anyways, because everyone had noticed the subtle dimming of the lights and were now proceeding to hush each other, knowing that the time must have come.
As the room finally died down to an eerie silence, a dark figure slowly approached the podium which had been set up on the small stage. The light was too dim for anyone to really make out much, but all could tell that this man was dressed from head to toe in black. He wore a hood as well, and as he approached the podium, the light slowly spilled onto his pale skin. He pulled back his hood and if anyone had been close enough to them, they would have seen him smirk as more than just a few of the ladies in the room audibly took in breath at his beauty.
The stranger in the corner chuckled to himself, unimpressed.
“My fine friends,” the man on the stage began. “Many of you know me or know of me, and have heard why I have come to you in this time of need.”
There was a barely audible murmur of agreement throughout the room.
“It is true that I am not from your wonderful town,” the man continued. “And it is true that I know hardly any of you. It is also true that I have no attachments or ties to this town whatsoever. With all this being true, you might ask ‘why would this man desire to help us then?’ My answer to you, those who question, is ‘Why not?’ I came to this town almost dead, with no money to my name and having been without food or water for three days. Several of you took me in, heard my thoughts, and made me feel welcome. Then I was told of a great wrong done to you fine folks.”
Many of the people were shifting around in their seats, either because they were uncomfortable or because they were anxious. To the stranger in the corner, it was obvious that this man named San was speaking to a split audience of believers and wanna-believers. Maybe it would be harder than San had anticipated to get this crowd in the palm of his hand.
“It was told to me that certain misfortunes have befallen this town.”
A few snickers and sarcastic you-can-say-that-agains.
“And it was also told to me that many of the fine folks I see here before me have taken much of the blame for said atrocities.”
‘You bet your ass,’ and ‘damn right we have!’
“But you know what I think? I think the blamers are to blame, not you upstanding citizens!”
‘Here Here!’ ‘You said it man!’
“Now they hole themselves up, hording their food and pretending they’re the real town. But really, in all honesty, you are the town of Minde, you are the ones out here making sure your streets are safe, you are the ones who truly deserve to inherit this town and rule it as equals, brothers in the glory of a New Minde!”
Loud cheers this time, with some of the people actually stamping out their agreement on the ground, just for added emphasis.
“We must take back what is reasonably ours,” the man said. “We must take it like we took the things that they’ve dared to charge so much for over these years, the things we couldn’t afford and which would’ve helped us support our families. But we have only started the process by taking what has been kept from us through inflation; yes, folks, we must go further still.”
Murmurs and excited chatter as people whispered to each other excitedly.
“We must take the City Hall, and all the food and supplies they’ve been with holding from us!”
“We must cast out the fiendish people who once dared to call themselves our friends but who now treat us like worthless scum in our own homes.”
‘YEAH!’ ‘Preach it, brother!’ ‘They deserve to be outcast, not us!’
“Go, my brothers. Go my sisters. Gather your weapons, whatever you may have, and bring them before me. Together we will march on City Hall, and take back what is rightfully ours! Damn anyone who gets in the way!”
Many of the people in the crowd were now on their feet, clapping and cheering their new leader on. This man understood them. He knew their pain, and he wanted only to ease their suffering. They could all feel it. He had come to save them.
A voice suddenly came out of the crowd, “What happened to your eyes, San?”
“Oh that is a boring story,” the man they called San replied. “Surely not for a meeting such as this.”
The people in the crowd seemed determined, and many joined in, wanting to see and hear more about this beautiful man who stood before them.
“Well then,” he said. “I suppose I can give you the brief summary then, if you really want.”
Several cheers for him to go on.
“I tried to stop a man from killing his own child, and he scolded my face with hot water. Luckily my skin was saved, with a little work, but sadly my eyes were ruined, and I can no longer see.”
There were several ‘awwww’s from the crowd, followed by various questions along the lines of ‘How do you get around?’ ‘How can you tell where things are?’
“Friends, friends,” the dark haired man continued. “Don’t get excited. Its all very simple. I just simply learned to hear things, that’s all.”
The stranger who had been sitting by silently in the corner suddenly betrayed himself by letting out a small snicker. Several people turned and glared at him, but he was still looking at the ground.
“Do you doubt my words, young son?” San asked.
“Oh not at all,” the stranger replied, still looking at the ground. “I just don’t need to hear any more of this garbage, that’s all.”
He got up and turned his back on the crowd and the man on the stage. “To each his own, young son,” the dark haired prophet said. “You can go join the others at City Hall, if you’d like.”
The stranger paused briefly, snorted, and walked out the doors.
“Well now,” San said. “Wasn’t he an optimistic little bundle of sunshine?”
The crowd laughed, and the attention was once again brought back in full to the man on the stage.
“Would you like to see the damage that can be done by evil, selfish people like those who hole themselves up at City Hall?”
Agreement from the crowd.
“Then I shall show you.”
The man with the dark hair whom they called San slowly raised his hands to his glasses. He slowly removed them and revealed his white strange eyes. The expressions of the people in the Lodge became completely devoid of anything resembling free thought. They sat staring forward at their new master. Their savior.
Their New God.
Minde was finally at ends with itself. The majority of the town had decided it would be best if everyone who was part of the murder of the young police officer was rounded up and at least put in jail, if not badly punished in a more physical way themselves. Groups could be seen going from door to door, inquiring about who was where on what night, and sometimes neighbors were simply accused because another neighbor decided that they didn’t like him or her. It was a terrible time for that small rural town.
To those who had been accused, it was like the witch trials that scarred the history of our earth, with innocent people being accused and persecuted for seeming crimes that they didn’t even commit. Where there used to be a sense of well being and peace in the town, now there was only gloom and fear. No one really went out on the streets anymore except the druggies and looters (usually one and the same.) If one did dare venture onto the streets without at least a couple of friends, that person was risking getting robbed, beaten, or worse at the hands of the continually growing gangs of hoodlums and wrong doers who were seizing the opportunity to live the rebel life while there was still no police force in Minde.
The majority of people in the town who had nothing to do with the crimes that now lingered over the town had gathered in the town hall, easily the largest building in town, and had begun a sort of shelter where they could keep each other safe with their numbers. Every once in a while a looter tried to break through a window or something of the sort, but the attempts were few and short, usually ending when the would-be robber would see the mob of half frightened children and angry, aggressive fathers. For the most part the people lived in peace, and by the second week, all the windows were boarded up and as much food as everyone could gather had been packed into the store room at the back of the hall. No one knew exactly how any of this was going to end, or if anyone would stumble across that desolate town and report its demise to some sort of authority who could actually come help. All they knew is that they were afraid, and when people are afraid, they gather.
This was the place that Benny’s mother found her way too after whatever had become of her son had brutalized her husband. She had nowhere else to go… God only knew what was going on with her deranged son, and for all she knew he had killed her husband. That meant everyone she knew in that Godforsaken town was unable to do anything for her, and she knew of no way to leave the town without getting mobbed or raped by increasingly more hostile hoards of freeloaders that were ‘coming out of the woodwork,’ as the saying went.
No one in the room seemed aware that at least three amongst them had partaken in the brutal murder, and this was probably due to the fact that all the people in the room had hands free of blood, so they knew not who killed and who did not. The people who were involved knew, though. Oh yes, they knew quite well. And they were probably the only people in the whole group who didn’t feel at ease in this place.
But all that is unimportant. What is important is that the people of Minde were split severely into smaller factions: the hidden and innocent, the dangerous and open, and the scared and immobile. What they truly needed was a savior. Yes indeed, they needed an absolutely godly man or woman to come and save them from their perils. Who on earth, they wondered, could possibly save them from this plight?
There answer was approaching. He came directly from the heart of town, descending Bonhelm Hill like some sort of god coming down from the heavens. Those who saw him were obviously those out in the open, the dangerous. They saw him and were in awe of him from the start. Surely this was the dark man who had haunted the hill for so long. Finally, after so many years of watching from his roost, the man was finally coming down to them. Coming to be with them.
Coming to save them.
He introduced himself to the first person he met as San. Nothing more, nothing less. This ‘San’ character who seemed so charismatic to them wore a dark suit and had hair as black as coal. His skin was white and he walked with a cane. Most people who watched him stroll up Main Street that glorious day of his arrival figured the cane was because he was blind.
Why else would he wear sunglasses during the day?
Laura and Fusa had made their way back to the little place behind the wall, and according to Fusa there was no one in the hall this time. Good thing, too. This thing Veela had put inside her to absorb the blood was most uncomfortable, and Laura found it quite hard indeed to walk, and so she found herself lagging considerably behind Fusa every now and then, hardly noticing until he’d bark a sharp whisper telling her to hurry up. They made their way out of the hiding spot and quickly jotted down the hall to a small servants corridor that led back toward the kitchens and the stairway to the cellar. Laura wasn’t certain, but she believed that there were a lot of empty rooms down there, and if anywhere would be the proper place to work as a sort of dungeon, the cellar would be the place.
Fusa seemed pretty confident that he felt his father’s presence underground somewhere, and he trusted Laura to show him the best way to get underground where he might be. But he warned her that there was no way they’d not have any security around Ku On Hu, so she should expect something at least close to a fight. She knew she could take his advice and just stay behind him, allowing him to fight off whatever is in front, but while Fusa had been away sometimes, Ku had taught her a few things as well. The incredibly knowledgeable old man had somehow gathered legends in his travels, and some of them talked about the echani and their equally significant Inner Doubles. He had taught her that she was a creation entirely of Benny’s mind, and therefore she was not limited by the things the Inner people were. She could tap fully into the powers available to someone who had crossed over from the Upper Realms, (such as Beaner, Vonwell, Ku On Hu himself, and even Benny.) She was from the Inner but of the Upper, that’s what Ku used to say. It had never made sense to her until she saw some of the incredible things Ku and Fusa were able to accomplish with their powers. Really they were no powers at all. The Inner was a purely Ethereal realm, composed purely out of the stuff of dreams, and it was only held solid by the constant working of the Upper minds, and when one of them entered this world and became aware of just how malleable the Inner really was, they could do all kinds of things.
Laura couldn’t recall ever dreaming, and that was probably because she existed in the very place where most people have their dreams. There was no Inner Inner. But Ku had said something about how when one dreams they are usually not in control or aware that they are in a dream, but when one becomes aware and in control, there is virtually nothing they can’t make happen with the right amount of will. He called it Lucid Dreaming. Supposedly it worked the same for outsiders, and even for her because she was a special creation of an outsider. She had slowly begun the process of learning how to see the world as there, but not there. Real, but imaginary. And one day something had happened.
She had made a glass come off the table and hover for a few moments before she had laughed and sent the glass hurling across the room. From that day forward she had practiced constantly to perfect her ability to move things with nothing more than a look and a thought. Ku had warned her that this was something she must keep as very sacred, not a power to show off to the world, but only to keep as a secret weapon. He knew that one day she would need this ability, and most importantly she would need for absolutely no one to know about it.
Especially when dealing with a mind-molester like Vonwell.
“Hurry up, Gods damn it!” Fusa hissed down the hall. He had reached the door to the kitchen and was resting with his hand on the door. At first Laura thought he must have been exhausted but then she realized he had his eyes half open like he did when he was concentrating. Finally he opened his eyes and sighed a small sigh. “There are two in there, one seems to be making a sandwich and the other seems to be standing guard in front of a large iron handled door. Is that the door?”
“Sounds like it,” Laura whispered. “Its been a while since I’ve seen it, but I remember it stood out as looking extremely old compared to the stainless steel kitchen, and as a child it always scared me because it looked so creepy.”
“I’m sure that’s it,” Fusa said, receding a bit from the door. “When I go in, stay behind me and move away from the cellar. They’ll be expecting someone to come in that direction, so stay back and once I take care of the guy I’ll signal for you to follow me, okay?”
“Sure,” Laura said, intending to do no such thing. She was not going to be simple baggage along for the trip. No way would she allow that. She was going to do her part, and if she had any say in it, she was going to do her part well. She couldn’t wait to hear some sort of praise from Fusa. Anything at all would be nice.
Fusa looked away and seemed to be gathering his confidence and also catching his breath before winding himself more. Laura guessed that his wheezing was from the half a pack of cigarettes he’d smoked in the last hour. She wanted to be sure that once she got in there she would be able to use the skill Ku had helped her bring out of herself, so she pulled a coin out of her pocket and placed it in her open palm. She imagined all of her consciousness moving down into her hand, and tried to envision herself as the penny. Slowly she began to try to lift herself up. Looking closer at the shiny piece of silver, she saw that it was glowing slightly. Sign number one that her mind was successfully one with the coin. No one else would be able to see the glow, but it served to let her know that part of her mind was in the coin.
She closed her eyes and tried to recall the feeling she had always gotten in her stomach whenever she had successfully moved something. Slowly she began to feel the slight tickle, and as soon as she did she imagined jerking herself up violently, and in the darkness she heard a tink as the coin hit the ground and then began rolling on the floor. She opened her eyes and smiled as she realized it was no longer in her hand. She looked up to see if Fusa had seen and she found him staring, wide-eyed and face red, directly at her. “You stupid little girl!” he hissed, just before the door to the kitchen burst open, propelled by powerful feet.
The two men came storming out, and in their hands were things that she had only seen pictures of. She believed they had been called guns, and she knew that in the Upper Realms they were the most prevalent and dangerous form of weapon, but she had never actually seen one and in particular had never seen any this big. Both men looked separate ways and as soon as the one on their side spotted Laura, he began a quick swing in her direction. Fusa was up faster than lightning and kicked the guard’s gun just as a bullet was dislodging itself from the muzzle. Laura screamed as she heard the bullet ricochet in the hall around her, and quickly she dove in the door as Fusa grabbed the man and forced his gun into the air. All at once everything became slow motion in her mind. She landed on her back, facing the door. There was brave Fusa, wrestling with the man, holding his gun into the air with one hand and punching the man in the face with his free one. She saw the other man turning his gun on Fusa, ready to strike, and she screamed as loud as she could, “Fusa, look out!” Somehow the man heard her and registered her command all before the man had managed to pull the trigger. Laura didn’t know exactly what happened, but all at once Fusa’s body seemed to glow and then as the gun fired its deadly pieces of metal, there was a blinding flash and every one of the bullets went astray. Fusa knew he could waste no time, and continued focusing on trying to get the gun from the first man.
The guard who had tried to cheaply shoot Fusa in the back was quickly working to reload another clip, but he seemed to be having trouble with his gun. Laura saw her chance and seized it. With all her might she imagined how cold it must be to be a gun, and yet how hot the muzzle must get. She imagined the mechanics inside her that made her deadly. She looked up and saw the gun just barely glowing, hardly at all. The man finally dropped the clip he was struggling with and began loading the next one. Suddenly she was filled with fear… Fusa didn’t seem to sense the man’s activity at all. He was too preoccupied trying to wrestle the gun out of the other mans hand. She couldn’t watch him die. She absolutely couldn’t.
She closed her eyes and imagined what it would be like if he was shot right there in front of her. Then she imagined the image as a solid thing and pushed it as far back in her mind as possible, because she didn’t want that to happen at all. She forced it as violently back into her mind as possible. From the hall, instead of the gunshots she was expecting, she heard a loud clatter as metal hit stone.
The gun hitting the wall.
She looked up and just managed to catch a glimpse of a brightly glowing gun disappearing down the hall as it skidded away. For a moment the man who had been holding it looked confused, and this was just enough time for Fusa to turn and see what had just happened. He turned and looked at the man he was wrestling with. He put two of his free fingers on the mans chest and whispered something too quietly for Laura to hear. Fusa’s fingers seemed to burst with light, much like the muzzles of the guns, and the man released his grip and was thrown violently backward, where he hit the wall and fell to the ground, either dead or unconscious.
With a motion almost too fast for Laura to even see, Fusa turned the gun on the man and pulled the trigger. Three rapid shots sounded off and the man fell backwards, blood spurting from between his lips. Fusa dropped the gun and went over to Laura, who was still frozen on the ground.
“I don’t know what you did to his gun,” Fusa said, “but thank you. I might be dead right now if he had managed to hold onto it any longer.”
“Y-you’re welcome,” Laura managed to stammer out. As far as she knew she hadn’t done much. The little process Ku had taught her was far from her mind when the gun had gone flying… what had caused her powers to work anyways?
Maybe later she’d ask Ku, if they ever found him. Right now wasn’t the time to go sticking Fusa with random questions though, so she stood up and brushed herself off. Fusa had already begun to hide the bodies in a closet just inside the door. She was extremely worried about the blood being a dead giveaway as to their location, but Fusa was, as usual, one step ahead of her. After packing the bodies neatly into the closet, he pulled out a small vial of powder and began sprinkling it on the ground. Not much, just a pinch. As he spread the white powder, he muttered under his breath and his eyes took on a foggy, distant look to them. She was always awed by the way he and his father concentrated when they were working their magic, or whatever it was. They always seemed to be totally in their own world, working their minds and disregarding everyone else, the only thing in their sights being the goal. It was truly amazing, and they always managed to produce amazing results.
As she watched, the powder landed on the blood and began to glow red, sort of pulsing with his words as he chanted under his breath. She began to hear a slight hissing noise, and the ground under her feet seemed to be vibrating ever so subtly, and before Laura had a chance to cover her nose, her chest and mouth and nostrils were filled with the most repugnant stench she had ever experienced.
She was just beginning to finally take somewhat of a breath when Fusa stood up and jumped into the air. For such a big man, his jump was high and graceful. He lifted his feet up as he jumped, and Laura was pretty sure that he could have jumped over her if he had wanted to. But that wasn’t what he was doing. She watched as, all in a split second, he spotted his landing and drove his feet downward as forcefully as possible. He slammed into the ground, and the red glowing powder puffed up all around her in an all consuming cloud, propelled outward by the force of his stomp. Then, before she could even think to complain, it was all gone. She looked around and didn’t see any powder whatsoever. Next she examined the ground where so much blood had been previously. None.
“That was pretty good!” Laura said.
“Eh,” Fusa grunted, whipping his hands on his pants. “Banishing powder. Great for getting rid of all kinds of useless stuff, but overall not much better than a parlor trick.”
“Well it certainly did the trick, didn’t it?”
“I guess so, miss Laura, I guess so. But it will only buy us a certain amount of time. Eventually those bodies will start to smell, and surely there will be other guards who will realize that someone is missing. So we must go and we must make haste. Come.”
He grabbed her hand and began pulling her toward the cellar door.
“Wait!” she said suddenly. She pulled free of his grip and ran back to the closet where the men were stuffed.
“What are you doing now?” Fusa hissed from the cellar door.
“You may be strong and powerful and all that cool stuff,” Laura said. “But I think I’d like a little something more for myself, ya know?”
She turned around and in her hand was a pistol from one of the guards. Fusa shook his head slightly but decided to allow it. “Whatever you need to feel safe.”
With the gun in hand, she happily trotted along after him. He pulled on the big old door with one great heave…and nothing happened. He put one of his huge feet against the wall and tried pulling with the extra help from his leg. Still nothing. He was really starting to turn dangerously red, she thought.
“Are you not good with telekinesis?” Laura asked.
“As a boy I wanted to train as a soldier, and I neglected my studies in moving things,” he replied. “Believe me, I wish I had paid more attention. I can move small things but certainly not this door. We may have to look for another way.”
“There is no other way,” Laura said. She knew she had to try. “Let me help.”
“Miss Laura, I really don’t think you—“
“I said I want to help,” she affirmed, with a little more force. It was the tone she used when she wanted to remind someone that she was the son of the mayor of their town, and therefore she was like royalty. It was her snobby little rich brat tone. She hated using it, but for the people of Hayvan, it was quite effective. “Please Fusa… just let me try to help. What harm can come of trying?”
Fusa sighed and told her it was fine if she tried, but to not get her hopes up.
“Lesson number one,” she said, somewhat smugly. “If you had paid attention you’d know you should always get your hopes up in matters of moving things. If you don’t believe that its going to happen, it will not happen.”
She stood back a bit and raised one hand in front of her. She began doing the things she had learned, pushing herself into the door and trying to simply move herself, instead of trying to think of moving the door. “Come on Fusa, I didn’t mean I wanted to move the door myself, I said I wanted to help. Which means you can start tugging on that door anytime you want.”
Fusa smiled and went to the door and began trying again. Laura was focusing with all her might, wanting the door to just move. Then she suddenly heard Ku On Hu’s voice in her head, as clear as she remembered it always being. You must be able to envision what the goal is, the voice said. If you try to move something without ever having a reason to move it, the thing will not budge. You must have a relationship with the objects around you, and if you give it no reason to move, then it will not move. Keep your goal firmly in mind, and keep in mind why you wanted to achieve that goal to begin with. Then you will find the object in question much more willing to move than ever before.
She thought of the old man, so sweet and kind and knowledgeable, and of the danger he might be in. She wanted to save him, to bring his sweetness back into her life. She saw in her mind what Fusa would be like without his father, and also what he would be like with his father. She wanted him to be happy. She wanted to be happy herself. But most of all she wanted to help someone who was in grave danger. “Pull harder, Fusa!” she encouraged.
She closed her eyes and imagined the door moving just for her, in order to help her save Ku and hopefully stop whatever madness that was being planned for the only home she’d ever known. She needed that door’s help, and she reached out with all her soul, telling it how she felt about Ku and about how important it was to save him. She wanted to see his smiling old wrinkled face just one more time. At least one more time.
There suddenly came a faint creak as the door started to budge. Laura opened her eyes and there was Fusa, more red than ever before, veins sticking out on his neck and forehead. “A little more, Laura!” he said through gritted teeth. “Its almost there.”
She opened her eyes and was surprised to find that the door was glowing the bright shade of blue that meant she had successfully linked up with it. She could feel the stiffness of the door, the coldness on the cellar side and the warmth from the kitchen side. She felt Fusa’s powerful grip trying to pull her open. She tried to let go of the ‘Laura’ mentality entirely and just be the door, take full possession of it. Suddenly, she knew she was there. She knew she was the door. She felt Laura’s pain and urgency, and she felt the desire to help. She tried moving herself as the door, and distantly, in the small part of her brain that was still Laura, she heard more creaking and even some snapping. Apparently the door had been closed for quite some time. She could feel the joints straining, and somewhere distantly in the cellular memory of the door she could recall the last time it had been opened, and unfortunately, she did not sense Ku in the memory at all. She gave one final push of herself, and she heard one long loud creak as Fusa opened the door all the way.
This time when she opened her eyes she was looking at a dark doorway, with dank moisture coming out and filling the air, stinking up the once pleasant smelling kitchen. Somewhere way deep down in the darkness, a single scream rang out. “Father!” Fusa yelled, and without waiting for Laura he charged down the stairs. She started to follow and then stopped at the door and whispered, “Thank you,” before following at a quick pace.
Somewhere in her mind she could have sworn she heard the door tell her that she was quite welcome. She could hear Fusa ahead of her, but moving away the whole time. She braced one hand against the wall and ‘put on an extra spurt of steam’ as her father used to say. Finally, some progress. The scream could’ve been anyone, but it sure seemed like it had belonged to Ku.
She felt the cold gun still clutched in her hand. She wanted to go find whoever was making Ku scream, and she wanted to use that cold weapon of death on them. She never thought she’d be able to deal with violence, but at that moment, one thing was for sure…
She wanted to shoot whoever would make such a sweet man scream like that.
More people were dying. How could this be? After all the things that had already happened to Minde, now more people were turning up dead. Someone had reported seeing Benny Jorgens doing some of the atrocious killings, but anyone who had known the boy or who had seen him return from his disappearance could’ve confirmed that the Benny they knew and the Benny they saw return would never do that. One of them never would because he had a heart, and the other they couldn’t believe was even capable of going to the bathroom on his own, much less go around killing people with what was apparently en extremely brutal strength.
The people in the shelter chalked it up to the crazies who were running around town.
The ‘crazies’ chalked it up to certain members of the Hallers (the new term for those who sought refuge in the town hall,) secretly starting a vigilante group that killed the ‘crazies’ out of spite and fear for their own petty safety. Neither side dared send representatives to the others to talk this out, and in truth the Crazies didn’t even have enough of an organization for such a thing to be possible. The crazies were out for themselves, no one else. Not even other crazies. What was best for the individual was best for the whole, that was the Crazy motto. ‘Take care of thyself and all shall be taken care of.’
But that was soon to change. Now San was here, and San was smart, and San wanted to save them. He told the Crazies that this town would be theirs to rule if they cooperated with him. And he assured them that they were not the crazies. Only crazies would hide in their little rooms like cowards and abandon their supposed ‘homes.’ Only crazies would sit back with the guilty and point fingers at the innocent. Only crazies would refuse to show themselves in such dire times, when their town needed them. Yes, he assured them, the Hallers were the crazy people, not those poor wandering souls that wanted nothing more than to live life to the fullest while they were faced with such a golden opportunity.
To the newcomers, this new San fellow was quickly becoming their leader, if they were ever going to claim one. He was suave, he was calm, and he knew what they were feeling.
And besides…those glasses just made him look so cool.
Benny found that he wasn’t able to sleep at all that night, waiting for the next day when they’d go after whoever it was that was supposedly following them. What he really didn’t understand was why they were going to go back to the place where the pursuers were if Brun was so sure that they didn’t even truthfully exist. But he knew that the little man was a far better planner than himself, and if anything he had gathered was true then this small package was quite the skilled warrior.
That was something that Benny certainly was not. He had been into one or maybe two fights his whole life and he really didn’t think he was going to be able to become some bad ass warrior now. Everyone seemed so sure that he was this amazing being, some super man from another world, and they all felt positive that he would save them from the darkness that had slowly been engulfing the Inner. But in all honesty, Benny didn’t feel like a hero, a warrior, or any of that mumbo jumbo. Benny felt like Benny. Nothing more but certainly nothing less.
It was all very stressful, he thought. All he wanted to do was to get his body back, and now that he had begun trying, it was slowly becoming apparent that he would first have to help the Inner people with their demon, for it seemed that Benny and the common folk seemed to have the same goal… destroy the madman who had caused so much damage both above and below, and then set to work reversing all of his terrible damage. It was a daunting task, with even just the primary goal seeming to loom like a mirage in the distance that continually moves farther away from the one seeking it. But Benny was determined, and he had a strong feeling that all the people of the Inner felt the same way, ready to sacrifice everything to bring things back to the way of the Right.
Now he laid in his little room which had been prepared for him, and he thought of Laura. He wished he could somehow know what was going on with her… Had Vonwell figured out that she had helped him escape, and if so, had she been punished? The thought of his poor little pretty friend Laura LeVille being punished by the dark man made Benny shake with anger. Surely Natas, or Vonwell, or whatever the hell is name was, would punish anyone who even attempted to be a hindrance to his plans, and Benny felt growing dread and guilt at knowing that he had allowed himself to just leave her there in order to chase his own selfish desire to get his body back.
But that’s what she wanted for me, he told himself. She put herself in danger to help me, and the best I can do is to make sure that it wasn’t in vain.
That’s when he heard a giggle. It was a familiar giggle, and even though it was cute and innocent sounding, its loneliness in the night time silence brought a slight chill to his heart. It was definitely a laugh he had heard recently.
He he he he…
Laura. It was definitely Laura’s giggle.
Benny got up, quickly but quietly, from his undersized cot and crept to the door. The laugh had sounded like it had come from just outside the door but he really couldn’t be sure. All he knew was that it wasn’t in his room anywhere, and the only way out was through the door, so logically he decided to go out that direction to see if he could locate the laugh.
His heart was pounding and he suddenly realized just how excited he was getting at the idea of seeing Laura again. It had only been a day or so and yet he missed her more than he could remember missing anyone, besides his mother, of course. He didn’t think that it was very likely that Laura would have followed him to this place, much less managed to sneak onboard the mobile village.
But it’s possible, he thought.
He looked up and down the big main corridor of the building sized cart, and couldn’t see any signs of movement or traces of any people. But then the giggle came once again, clear as ever, and this time he was positive about the direction from whence it had come. The door. The small side door beside the huge chain drawn gate. It was cracked just slightly open, held shut by a few small chains that bound it to the wall. Benny crept over to the door slowly. Just as he approached it, he managed to catch just the smallest glimpse of a small girl running into the bushes. He quickly began loosening the chains on the door, and as soon as he’d removed the last one, he bolted out as quick as he could, determined to catch up to whoever the girl was. He was so positive that it was Laura… It just had to be.
His heart still racing, he dashed into the group of bushes where he’d seen the girl disappear. He put on as much steam as he could, running faster and faster until he felt his legs might give out below him. Finally he broke through the thicket and into a clearing, lit only by the soft moonlight up above. Benny looked around, hoping for even just a glimpse of the girl disappearing at the other side of the clearing, but there was nothing to be found. Not a single sign of any human life whatsoever, just trees, grass, and moonlight. A sinking feeling settled into the pit of his stomach as he realized that if the girl had been Laura, surely he had lost her by now.
The question of why she had led him on a wild goose chase still gnawed at him. If she had really wanted to see him, why hadn’t she just asked him to meet her outside or maybe even stopped once she had gotten out, waiting for him? It just made no sense to him. She had wanted to see him, hadn’t she?
“Oh, you are a foolish boy,” came a familiar, but not altogether recognizable female voice.
Benny wheeled around, expecting to see some pretty girl who he’d instantly remember once he saw her, but instead what he saw was nothing but a black mass… It hovered in front of him and two red points loomed out through the darkness, almost as if something with red glowing eyes was waiting just inside. Before Benny could even really comprehend what it was that he was seeing, the darkness stretched out with a startling speed and engulfed him. He looked all around but could see nothing but darkness in all directions.
Except directly forward… Forward all he could see were those red dots, seeming to stare right at him, soulless and blank, just boring into his soul. All of a sudden the darkness turned extremely cold and began to press in on him, making Benny’s chest feel as if a belt had been tightly wound around it. Very quickly he found that he could not breathe, and his limbs started to ache from lack of oxygen. He asked himself what the hell had just happened, but inside he knew that it didn’t matter now. It was too late.
Off to Benny’s left a blue flash suddenly illuminated the night, and it was even bright enough for Benny to see it through the dense darkness that surrounded his body. The blue light rushed forward into the black cloud, and as it came closer, Benny was able to see more of what was casting the light.
Brun… he thought, feeling his consciousness slowly slipping away. The last thing Benny saw before fainting was the small warrior man, his one huge eye blazing with lightning blue light, darting forward and slicing at the two red dots with what appeared to be a dagger, but it was glowing the same color as Brun’s eye. As the blue blade passed through the red dots, the black cloud was turned momentarily purple, and then Benny saw the red dots burst and felt the darkness release its pressure on him. Oxygen came flooding back to his head and body, and Benny hit the ground before Brun even landed from his attack.
When Benny awoke, he was instantly greeted by a blaring headache as the light of day flooded into his eyes. He could feel moist grass under his neck, and the smell of trees was thick and dank. With one arm placed protectively over his eyes, Benny laid there in the grass smelling the air. Slowly he began to smell smoke and something else, something sweet, mingling with the smells of the forest.
He opened his eyes slowly as he sat up, and when he looked around, he at first thought he was alone. But then he spotted Brun off in the distance, standing nonchalantly by a fire that was surely bigger than the man himself. Roasting over the flames was what looked like some oversized game bird.
Ah, Benny! Brun said into his mind. Once again, Benny was amazed at how loud the little man could make himself sound, even when they were still twenty feet away. It is a good thing you woke up so soon! This is truly a good day. I’ve caught us a Rokmon Bird! A fine and rare treat indeed. Come! Sit by the fire and smell the sweet smell with me, Benny from Away!
Benny slowly made his way across the small clearing to where Brun was preparing his bird. The thing looked weird, like a mix between a turkey and a massive hawk, but if it tasted anything like it smelled, then Benny guessed that Brun was right about it being a treat. The smell was meaty yet sweet, like it had been pre basted with honey before cooking.
Yes, Benny my friend, Brun said into his mind, that is indeed how they smell, cooked one hundred percent free of anything. I plopped it over the campfire, turn it now and then, and these birds basically cook themselves. We are lucky we came across one!
“Brun,” Benny said, rubbing his head. “What happened back there? All I could see was blackness…and then you…”
Yes, I did save you, but there is no need to get sentimental now… I was sent with you for that very reason; to protect you until you are strong enough to fight on your own.
You are quite welcome, Benny from away, the dwarfish man said. Benny looked at him and realized what looked so different about Brun… he was smiling. That’s when he realized it was the first time he had ever actually been aware of Brun smiling. He had often got the feeling that the man was smiling inside, but to his recollection, Benny had never seen Brun smile. It was kind of strange, but kind of nice at the same time.
“What are you so happy about?” Benny asked, hoping it sounded more lighthearted than it felt coming out of his mouth.
“You must understand, Benny from away,” Brun said, setting down his fire poking stick and wiping his hands off, “it has been many a year since I was allowed to venture away this far from the Village. It is quite exciting for me, you see.”
He smiled again, and Benny found himself once again wondering what was different. Besides the smiling, of course.
“You will eat some of my catch, will you not, Benny from away?” Brun asked, moving the bird off of the fire and onto a neatly laid out skin.
Then Benny figured it out. Brun had been talking into his mind, but once he had been asked why he was happy, the little guy had begun to talk with actual vocals instead of silently into his thoughts. “It’s because we’re far enough away now,” Brun said, without Benny even having to utter the question. “My sister cannot slip into my mind while I’m concentrating on speech anymore, so I can be a little bit more lax now. Before, I had to constantly stay within my mind in order to safeguard it from her.”
“Why has she become a threat if she is your sister?” Benny asked. “I thought siblings were supposed to care for each other and support each other, not try to manipulate each other’s thoughts and use whatever powers they may have against each other.”
“You’ve never had any siblings, have you?” Brun asked, before letting out a small chuckle befitting his size. “Well, its more complicated than you’d think. As small children, it was all about who was the stronger telepath, but then after we grew something changed in her. Particularly in the last few months. I’ve sensed something more dangerous, more hateful than my sweet sister ever was, and that’s why for quite some time now I have suspected that she is not, in fact, my sister at all. At least her mind isn’t. Her body still seems to be her, and her soul might be somewhere in there, ‘cause I can still feel her, but something or someone has taken over the part of my sister that calls the shots. Now the abilities my sister possessed are being used by whatever thing is controlling her.
“Of course, I’ve had to make it look as if I suspected nothing,” Brun continued. “You must understand how difficult of a task that can be when you yourself have a very open mind, and your sister has a great ability for getting inside such open windows. I’ve had to constantly safeguard my thoughts, and at every second I could feel her poking and prodding, trying to find some place where she could sneak in and gain control. But whatever is controlling my sister has one weakness… it is not my sister, and I know that. I have the upper hand just by having that knowledge, but also I know how my sister was so gifted. Yes, the parasite in my sister has managed to do a fair job at utilizing the powers of it’s newly acquired body, but it lacks certain fundamentals that my sister mastered. They were things like strategy, creative touch, natural instinct. In short, things that only a mind can keep. Which is why I think my sister is still intact within that body... If she had been absorbed, the creature inhabiting her body would have those same practical skills and knowledge, but it doesn’t seem to. Therefore my sister might still be alive, and somehow I might be able to fix her. It seems we have similar goals, Benny from Away.”
“How do you mean?”
“You want to kill the Nameless Wanderer, this one who goes by Natas or Sanrunai, among many other aliases, so that you can regain your body, which is under his control somehow. I want to kill him so I can return my sister to normal, regain her body which now seems to be under his control as well. That is all I want, and I think regardless of what you may tell others, deep inside you want nothing more as well.”
Benny said nothing. He stared at the fire and breathed in the sweet smell of the bird. His body was all he wanted. But was that really so bad? Why should he desire to save a world he never even knew?
“What about all that stuff about you being the guardian of your little mobile home there?” Benny asked. “I thought you wanted to protect them for welcoming you and your sister in?”
“Come now,” Brun said gently yet firmly. “Everything I’ve ever done has been for my sister. She is the only thing I have left in life, and as long as she was in that moving village, I was going to protect it. But I only protected all of them because she was a part of that all. Also, I feared what Beaner might do to my sister and I if failed to use my powers for the good of the village.”
“Then I guess we really aren’t that different, like you said,” Benny replied after a while of thought. “I just don’t even have the slightest clue how I can help either of us achieve any of our goals.”
Brun took out the larger of the two knives he kept strapped to his legs, and began carving up the over sized bird. “That will come with time, Master Benny from Away,” he said. “For now, you must eat or you aren’t going to be saving anyone.” He began to chuckle and shortly Benny joined in the laughter. It was nice to look at some good smelling food and know that for once maybe he was on the right path. If anything, at least now he had someone to travel with, someone who could help direct him when he found himself lacking a plan. Benny took the plate of meat Brun had prepared for him, and timidly put some in his mouth. The sweet taste was like the smell but ten times better, filling his mouth and nasal cavity with the smell and taste, and the meat was more juicy than any chicken or turkey Benny had ever eaten. Soon he was shoveling it into his mouth as fast as he could, and Brun just sat by, smiling and slowly eating at his own.
The two of them sat there, eating the bird and drinking some of the peculiar drink Brun had brought along with him, laughing and exchanging stories. After a few hours of this, Benny realized that the sun had been setting behind them, casting an orange glow across all of the land. Had he been passed out all day long?
“Yes, sir,” Brun confirmed. “You didn’t come to until about ten hours after you lost consciousness. Truthfully, with how surrounded you were, I’m surprised you survived at all. For about five of those ten hours, I would’ve thought for sure that you were going to die if it hadn’t been for the feelings of your nightmares.”
“Nightmares?” Benny asked. That didn’t make sense.
“But how can I dream if I’m in the place where my dreams happen already?”
“I am not sure, Benny from away. But I have a guess, if you’d like to hear it.”
“Of course I want to hear it.”
“If while up there you experience your dreams down here, than wouldn’t it be a fairly logical conclusion that while down here you dream of what is going on with your double up there?”
“But I don’t have a double in the upper realms,” Benny said. “Only my shell of a body. But before I left, I couldn’t even move, and after a while my body stopped moving itself too. I was forced to stare at the same point on the wall for hours. Wouldn’t my dreams just be of staring at the wall if I had really returned to my body in them?”
“Perhaps,” Brun said. “Unless your body has been mobilized.”
“Sent into combat, if you will,” Brun said ominously, looking at the ground as he did so. Benny caught the faintest hint of a blue glow from Brun’s magical eye.
“I still don’t understand.”
“No…. Of course you don’t. I shouldn’t have expected you to. But perhaps after I show you what I saw in your dreams, you will understand what I mean. But I warn you, you might not like what you find.”
“Do I need to know it?” Benny asked. Maybe it was something trivial that he need not worry himself with yet. That’s what he was hoping, but inside he knew that wouldn’t be the case.
“I’m afraid that it is something you must know, Benny from away,” the small man said quietly, still looking down. The blue glow was getting brighter as Benny watched. Slowly Brun lifted up his head, and as he made eye contact with Benny, everything was instantly gone and Benny felt his thoughts being pulled into Brun’s powerful mind, almost seeming to merge completely with them. For the briefest moment, Benny was once again shown the vision of the great see of darkness, covered by a clear sky, with a thin line reaching from the depths of the darkness up to where it disappeared into the brightness of the sky above. Then there was a flash and he was looking out of his own eyes, seeing his own house.
But he was not in control.
His body was moving and it was moving fast.
He saw his father, looking at him with a mixture of fear and loathing, but also with pride. Benny felt his own fingers squeezing against the throat of his father, collapsing his trachea. He wanted so badly to control himself, to make it stop, but there was an intruder in his body now. A voice kept laughing… a cold, dead laugh. It was a girl, but she sounded like no girl Benny had ever met. No girl could have such a pretty voice but laugh so devilishly at such a cruel act as this.
His father was laying dead on the ground of his bedroom, blood slowly seeping out of his neck. Apparently his throat had been ripped clean out. As he watched, the view panned sideways to look out the window. He saw his mother running across the lawn and out the gate, up the street away from the thing that had become of her son. The real benny felt relief, but he felt the thing in control of his body filling with hatred and anger, but it was shortly followed by that creepy girls laughter again.
I will get you, mother woman, said a female voice, presumably the same one that had been chuckling at all the violence. Benny felt his body smiling, despite his own growing sense of horror… His own father, killed by his hands… his mother helpless and possibly being pursued by the girl who had taken over his body… this was all too much, and it was all happening in a place where he was helpless to doing anything at all, except look blindly out of his own head.
All of a sudden it was too much for Benny to take. With all the might he could muster, he screamed in his mind Noooooooo!
Suddenly Benny felt the attention of the girl shift to him, searching all corners of the mind to find where the intruder was hiding. Then he was being pulled back, up and out of his body, through the roof of his house, and into the night. It was pitch black, and the noise of the darkness was deafening, seeming to push into his ears with great force, but before he could even register it enough to begin to raise his hands to block out the sound, color flooded into the black, one at a time, and slowly his surroundings returned to normal.
“Was that real?” Benny said, barely managing to hold back the tears of both anger and grief that threatened to burst out of his eyes.
“I know not, Benny from away,” Brun said sadly. “But I know that my hypothesis is quite probably correct, and I think we can waste very little time if we are to spare your mother of the fate that befell your father. That was your father, I’m assuming?”
“Yes…” Benny said, looking into his hands. How could his dad be dead? They had a big camping and fishing trip planned, and they were going to road trip all the way to the Great Salt Lakes and hit all the good fishing spots along the way… His father was even going to let him drive on some of the long flat desert roads. How could all that be gone, and so quickly?
“Then you should know that if that vision was really a true insight into the actions of your body up above, you need to know that your father died to give your mother time to escape. He did not die in vain, and we must not allow your mother to be caught, or else your fathers memory will always be a scar to you, reminding you that you had an opportunity and you didn’t take it.”
A tear finally crept out of Benny’s eyes.
“How much time do we have?” Benny asked, rubbing the moisture from his cheek and attempting to collect himself.
“I do not know. I don’t know where your mother went, or how fast that thing can travel inside your body. Also I don’t know if it knows where she has gone. All those can be determining factors in the amount of time it would take for them to catch her. But my guess is that Natas will not inflict his strangle hold on your town completely for another couple of Upper days, so I’d say on this side, we have about two or three weeks to restore you to your body.
The ever increasingly more familiar sinking feeling returned to the pit of Benny’s stomach. There was no way he was going to be able to accomplish anything in just a few short weeks… Somehow inside he knew that he was going to fail and everything would go to hell, just like that bastard wanted them to.
“Instruction number one to you, Benny from Away,” Brun said, a large chunk of the bird still in his mouth, “you must never think that the outcome will ever be outside of your favor. Cockiness is not needed, but confidence is. You can do yourself great harm just by thinking you will not succeed. Its part of the reason you could not penetrate that darkness back there before you fainted. You did not have the will to, because somewhere inside you had already decided that it had you, that everything was all over, that you were going to die there. But had you been confident enough to know that somewhere outside the shroud you had been put into the regular world went on, you would have been able to pass right through it, like I did. Always assume you are better than your enemy, that you can defeat any enemy, that the outcome will always be in your favor. What is lesson number one, Master Benny?”
“The outcome will always be in my favor,” Benny said, half heartedly.
“No,” said Brun, crossing his arms over his little chest.
“What? But you said—“
“I said you must always believe the outcome will be in your favor, but I did not say that it always will. The skill, young Benny, is to learn to remain confident even after a great defeat. Know that you are strong, even if only for having survived the encounter. Do you feel stronger?”
“But why not? You stood up to the Cold Dark for longer than most people, and that counts for something.”
“But you still had to save me. I would have died just like anyone else if you hadn’t showed up to my rescue.”
“Needing help surviving does not make surviving any less noble. You experienced one of the many mysterious and dangerous creatures that roam these woods. We call them Darkens, but for thousands of years before they were simply called the Black Fogs. They find wanderers and often will attract them with the light of their eyes, but sometimes, as in the case of you, they sneak right up behind and begin to consume almost before the person even suspects anything from behind. Their bodies are composed of loosely bound carbon and some sort of acid that reacts to human skin, and they consume their pray by dissolving it slowly. Most people lose their consciousness pretty much immediately, just as soon as some of the acid gets into the blood stream through their lungs. Somehow you managed to be in there for quite some time. I bet the damned creature was quite upset at you for being so hard to digest. When I got there, I thought for sure it was too late. But I was underestimating you. You are special after all, and between my almost right timing and your persistent resilience, we managed to get away just fine. They don’t like aggression, so one good swipe from me sent it seeking its next victim.”
“What about the Village?” Benny asked, thinking of all the children that would be walking right out in the open, completely vulnerable to such an attacker.
“My sister and I have put up very strong defenses,” Brun said. “If she wants to stay on the good side of the man she is trying to suck into marriage, then she will make sure the enchantments hold. If anything were to happen, Beaner would instantly know it was betrayal from within.”
“Okay,” Benny said. He was still thinking about his mother. And his poor, mutilated father. Benny remembered the feeling of his throat between his fingers and shuddered. Suddenly he was not very hungry. He tried to eat more of the Rokmon bird, but had no success. He politely excused himself from Brun and went back to where his bed sheet was laid.
Gotta love bein’ a fucking hero, he thought, pulling out his pipe from the bag and beginning to smoke some of the Lana plant. Slowly and silently he allowed himself to weep, taking in some of the sweet smoke whenever he felt his breath being steady enough. He’d never been so scared and upset and angry all at the same time ever in his life. The feeling was exhilarating, and it made him feel as if facing Natas and his bitch puppet was the only thing in the world he desired to do, but he didn’t like it. He liked the peace and quiet of home, of dinner with his family. All that was gone now.
“Benny,” Brun called over to him from the fire. Benny looked up and wiped the last of his tears from his eyes. “I have finished packing up what we shall take of the bird, and it is now time for us to relax until tomorrow, when the journey officially begins. Come, forget about your troubles for the time being, and sit with me. The Lana plant is always better enjoyed around a fire.”
He smiled and beckoned Benny over. Benny smiled back, and went to sit besides his tiny little teacher, smoking the Lana plant and attempting with all his heart to know that somehow the outcome of all of this would be in his favor.
Let us try to imagine what the parents of Benny Jorgens must have been going through in that troublesome time. Their son had one day gone to hang out with his friend Jerry, much as he had done every day for the last three years or so. Then later that night they get a phone call informing them that one of the boys Benny had been with was dead, Jerry and Benny were missing, and so was the cop who went searching for them.
It was hard for either parent to face the idea of losing their son, but as far as they knew, some mad murderer had stumbled upon them and poisoned them all or something. Their paranoid case was not helped by the fact that no one in the whole damned town was qualified enough to say much except for Geoff Wisenhower, and he had been rather averse to the idea of talking about that night. In his words, “It just gives me the heebie-jeebies.”
Then, just when they were about to lose hope entirely of ever hearing from their son again, he had turned up, a completely changed boy. He no longer showed any signs of personality, and his looks were so different that it was hard to recognize him without looking directly into his eyes (and they didn’t particularly want to do that either, because he just stared blankly ahead, and one could tell that he was not perceiving them there in front of him one single bit.) Their neighbors weren’t the only ones who had taken to comparing him to a vegetable. They had done it too. And why not? The boy was no longer what anyone would consider a person.
He was a shell. A blank, lifeless shell. Nothing more.
Once again, they had reached the point of losing all hope once again, this time of their son ever recovering from whatever traumatic experience he’d been through. This is where we now find them, hopeless on a day that showed no hope of sunshine. The rain bleated against the window and the two parents simply whiled away their time by staring into the fire. They had recently heard the boy muttering various nonsensical things in passing, never more than a word or two, but for some reason this did not bring either of them any sense of hope whatsoever. It merely increased their fears that their son was forevermore insane.
But then the sound of rain was broken by something falling. Something falling in the direction of Benny’s room. Neither of them even seemed to comprehend that whatever it was that had fallen was either glass or china, because movement from Benny’s room meant movement from Benny. Which meant improvement. The boy had not moved for days since returning. He just sat on his bed, staring forward.
Both of them shoved aside their little comforter blankets and immediately made a mad dash for his room. They turned the corner into his doorway and there he stood, fists bloody and the ground in front of him covered in glass and blood. The shatter had apparently come from the large mirror that used to sit on his dresser but which was now in several pieces on his floor.
“Benny, are you okay?” his mother asked.
The boy looked up slowly, face in some sort of sick grimace. He reached up and wiped his nose on his arm, smearing the blood from his hands all over his face. When he made eye contact with her, it was frightening and she would’ve screamed if she could’ve found the motivation. Yes it was her son, and yes it was amazing to see him standing and moving once again, but something about him just looked… evil. She couldn’t think of any other way to describe him, with the blood on his face and the menacing gleam in his eye.
“I’m fine, mother dearest,” Benny said with a monotone, dead voice. “It just needed breaking, is all.”
“But why would you want to break your grandmother’s mirror, Benjamin?” His father this time. He moved forward instinctively, between the new ugly Benny and his mother.
“I just didn’t like the way it made me look,” the boy said in his eerie, distant sounding voice. I really wish he’d stop talking like that, his father thought. “And while I was looking, an interesting thought occurred to me, oh sweet parents of mine.”
He grinned a grin they had never seen on their son in his life, and some of the blood from his face dribbled down into his teeth. For some reason, neither parent could find the ability to ask their own son what he meant.
So he continued anyways, not waiting for an answer. “It occurred to me while I was looking at my wretch of a self, that you two are the ones who made me look like this. I’ve got your ugly nose, father, and you’re even more repulsive blue eyes, mother. I’m not sure any sane mother could love a child that looks like me.”
“You shut the hell up!” Benny’s father said. If there was one thing Victor Jorgens hated, it was males insulting females. And this was his wife the mad boy was talking to. Benny would never talk to his mother that way. Somehow, Victor just knew that this was not their Benny.
It can’t be, he thought.
Either way, this boy was not going to keep insulting his beautiful wife any longer.
“Oh, father, father, father,” the creepy non-Benny said. “I don’t think you know what you’re dealing with here. But if you really want a confrontation, I guess that can be arranged.”
Victor Jorgens started to retaliate, but before he could even form his mouth into one word, he was thrown violently backwards, popping the door open and spilling him out into the hall. He hit his head on the door and instantly could feel a warm trickle of blood there. His wife screamed and began backing away from the boy.
“Aww, what’s wrong, pretty mother?” he asked. “Can’t you stomach a little violence?”
“Don’t you dare touch her,” Victor said from the floor as he attempted to regain his feet. “I don’t care if you do look like my son, whoever you are, I will kick your ass.”
“Yes, I believe we just got a demonstration of that, now didn’t we, pops?”
“I don’t know what you just did,” Victor said. “But it was cheap. And the Jorgens don’t play cheap. Now fight me like a man.”
“Oh believe me, father, I really wanted a girl’s body. But you two just had to make me this ugly little vessel. It’s a shame I can’t smash the mirror into even smaller pieces. I can still see the ugly nose and the ugly eyes.”
Victor lunged forward as fast as he could (and to him, it seemed pretty damned fast indeed,) but it wasn’t fast enough. Without even looking up from the shattered mirror shards, the boy reached out and grabbed the considerably larger man’s neck and stopped him dead. The force of the sudden stop almost caved Victor’s wind pipe, but not quite. That would be too easy of a way for this bastard to kill me, he thought.
“Oh father, you foolish man,” Non-Benny said. “You just don’t get it do you? There is no way you can defeat me. Hell, there is no way you can even touch me without me touching you a million times first.”
“Just…leave her…out…of this…” Victor said, trying his best to stay conscious as the blood flow to his brain began to slow.
“Hmmm…” the boy said. “I don’t know, father, she looks awfully fun to me. I might want her to be very much a big part of this.”
He directed his sinister, menacing glare on Mrs. Jorgens. She cowered back even farther from her husband. She wanted to run, but she couldn’t seem to run while Victor was still alive. He was all she had to live for, and what’s the point of running when you’re everything is still alive and can still be saved? So her mind and her emotions kept her frozen.
“Tell you what, pops,” the boy said. “If you let go right now, just die nice and peacefully in my hand, without me having to waste any more of my strength on your pathetic excuse for a life, then I’ll let her live. Or rather… I’ll give her every opportunity to live. If she doesn’t manage to survive on her own… well that’s outside of our bargain, now isn’t it?”
“Victor…” she stammered. “I—“
“JUST GO!!” he managed to yell, even though his trachea was half compacted by then. Seeing her husband’s blood red face, eyes bulging with fear and worry and pain, made Mary Jorgens very afraid indeed. He was always so strong… yet now this boy who looked like their son but who acted nothing like him was strangling her man… And he was telling her to run.
Please don’t die, please don’t die, please don’t die, she thought over and over again, even as she turned and fled and even as she ran across the bottom floor of the house all the way to the front door, and even as she heard the large thump as her best friend and lover fell to the floor.
Please don’t die, please don’t die, please please please…
So far, the one thing Benny found to be good about the suicide mission Beaner was sending them on was that the entire population of the cart, including the children who were pulling the cart, had turned out for a feast. They obviously didn’t like to ever stop the cart, but the children were more than willing to trade off with each other, accommodating all of them so they could constantly travel forward but everyone could still be involved in the feast, given to honor the bravery of Brun the Warrior and Benny of the Upper Realms.
Most of the food was comprised of things Benny had never even seen or heard of before, but not a single thing that he tried turned out to be bad tasting. A few items had a funny texture or something of the sort, but the flavor of every dish was pleasing and almost intoxicating. Everyone sat around a long table set up in the very center of the cart, and the only person Benny didn’t see sitting at the table, laughing and sharing the wonderful food, was Lauren, Bruns (older?) hypnotizing sister. Even now, when there was so much food to focus on, Benny felt his mind being drawn back to her, like his thoughts constantly wanted to center around her and only her. But Benny was a persistent guy, and just like when he used to attempt meditation in his free time, he now shoved the thought away over and over, patiently pushing it out of mind every time it surfaced.
Beaner was sitting at the far end of the table, Brun at his left hand, smiling around at his family, or clan, or whatever it was he’d chosen to call them. Occasionally one of them would catch his eye and say something to him, and he’d smile his squinty smile and respond, just quiet enough that Benny could never quite make out what was being said. Next Benny turned his gaze to Brun, expecting to see the small man looking proud and honored to be at this magnificent feast, right hand to the Leader himself. Instead Benny saw a different sight. The little man had not just the one but both of his eyes trained on the small room from which Benny had sensed the strange feeling, and he seemed to be downright glaring at it. No one seemed to be paying any attention, but now that Benny had his attention drawn to it, he noticed that the feeling from earlier was back. In fact, it had been there the whole time, every time his thoughts went back to Lauren, but he hadn’t noticed it because each time he thought about her, he was focusing on her and not the feeling in his stomach.
He looked over toward the room where he guessed Lauren was staying, and at first thought he saw nothing. But then he realized, as his eyes adjusted to the distant corner, that the air around the room seemed somehow…darker… He couldn’t think of any other way to really describe it… The lines of the wood which made up the room seemed to waver just slightly enough that a sharp eye could perceive them. I wonder how Brun sees it, Benny thought. He wasn’t sure, but he guessed that the large magical eye saw a lot more than any human ever could. To Benny, it merely looked as if he was seeing the room through a heat shimmer like on roads during the summer, except subtle enough as to be almost unnoticeable. Whatever the strange energy from over there was, Benny was sure that Brun was seeing it well enough.
The little man suddenly looked up and realized Benny had been looking at him. Benny flicked his eyes over to the room, and he wasn’t sure if it would be enough of a signal for Brun to respond, but apparently it was because the dwarf leaned forward a little, as if to talk to Benny. Surely it would be too loud in the room for him to be heard from such a distance, Benny had thought, but of course the man had never actually spoken a single word the whole time Benny had known him. Just as they did any time Brun spoke to him, the words came loud and clear right into the center of his thoughts, pushing all others aside. It was the first time Benny realized how powerful Bruns ability to be inside his mind was. It was kind of scary. He also saw for the first time some of the similarity between Lauren and her smaller sibling.
Come, we must talk, the little man said, nodding his head slightly, indicating to Benny which way to go. Benny quietly excused himself from the table, and tried to avoid Beaner’s eye as the big man noticed the two of them departing. Surely this must look suspicious, Benny thought.
No matter. If Brun felt comfortable enough to bring him away from the feast so they could talk, then surely it wasn’t an offense that would anger the Clan Chief, or whatever he was to these people. He followed Brun over to a room similar to the smoking room they had occupied earlier in the evening, except this one was considerably smaller.
Brun’s private quarters, Benny assumed. The little guy opened the door and Benny crouched his way through it. Once the door was closed, the room was immersed in darkness. Then a small light flicked on, a small flame like a lighter, and Benny watched it move across the room and as it went, one flame and then another was lit, until the whole room was rather well lit by some thirty candles.
Brun waved his hand towards a chair in the corner that was obviously placed there for bigger people. It stood out in the room because it was normal sized when everything else was just slightly smaller than average. Benny felt just as out of place as the chair looked. This must be the reverse of what he feels when he’s around big people, Benny thought. Once he had seated himself, Brun took up a place on a small, highly decorated chair in the center of the room, almost as if he had built his own little thrown to make up for his life as the right hand man.
“My sister is dangerous,” Brun said. Said it. This was a much different voice than the powerful masculine voice Benny heard in his head. This was indeed much more the sort of voice Benny would expect from such a small man. It was high pitched and almost like a child, but laced with a strong tone of knowledge and age that was unmistakable. It sounded more like a very clear, crisp voice of a toddler who had been trained to speak at a level much higher than his age. “I can only barely manage to keep her out of my head. And you must understand, Benny from Away, that my mind is very well controlled, and it takes quite the powerful being to make me have trouble with my thoughts. Any creature which is that powerful is a dangerous creature. Like me. I am important here because I keep the clan safe, I am their warrior, but I am feared. The children do not talk to me, the adults fear me, and the only friend I have is a man who commands me like a puppet. But I can’t ever leave this place, because he saved me and my sister all those years ago, and I fear I might invoke my sister’s wrath if I dare suggest doing something as ungrateful as running away from our savior, when I’m the only one who can protect his tubby ass.”
Benny laughed at this, and even heard what resembled a chuckle echoing deep within his mind, but he knew somehow that this joke was only meant to lighten the mood slightly, not to draw attention away from the seriousness of the situation. He pulled out his tiny smoking pipe and began taking small puffs. Benny remembered his own stash and decided to follow suit. If there was one thing Benny for sure liked about this traveling town he found himself in, it was their profound love and respect of that sweet leaf.
Brun seemed to deem his puffs satisfying and returned his little pipe to its pouch. He stared off into a corner as he continued. “But I have been feeling something strange from within my sister as of late. And I think you felt it too, am I correct?”
“Yes,” Benny replied after blowing out his own cloud of smoke. The room was quickly filled with the aroma of the Lana plant. “But I didn’t know how to take it. All I could think of was that it felt strange… like she was trying to draw me in.”
“That is a side effect of my sister’s awesome power,” the small man said. “She has the power to attract indefinitely, and I fear this is the only reason our master feels the need to marry her. She is beautiful, yes, but she is so young, if he wants to retain any honor with his people he will have to wait a considerable amount of time before it will no longer be considered taboo for them to be together. But he is dead set on having her. But something about this new darkness that has come over her is making me extremely nervous. I do not feel love in her mind any more when she looks at me, and I do not sense the admiration for these people that she always had. She seems cold, and she seems to dislike me… For outsiders, this must look like normal, healthy sibling rivalry. But to me, who has been by her side for many a year now, it is highly unusual. My sister loves me.”
For the first time, Benny saw this little warrior look more like a child then a small man. There weren’t really tears in his eyes, but they were definitely more shiny then they had ever been, and Benny didn’t think it had anything to do with the few hits of Lana he had taken. Obviously Brun had loved his sister very much, as well, and it must have been horrible for him to slowly feel as if his sister no longer returned the feeling.
“Anyways, I do not trust her anymore,” Brun said, visibly attempting to gather his composure. “And that is why I am not truly honored to be sent on this mission. You have already heard me mention that I am the only one strong enough to protect this clan, I have been a part of it since before the wars, and if I am not here, it leaves this place very vulnerable. If my suspicions are correct, then my sister just might be under some sort of control, and if that’s the case then we can’t be certain that there even are any people in the mountains. Making us see what she wants us to see is one of her specialties, and even with a mind as strong as my own, convincing us that we are seeing something completely real would not be a hard feat for her.
“So now I am left feeling very uncomfortable, because whatever evil is growing inside my sister, whether its of her own devising or from an outside source, is becoming stronger at an alarming rate. I don’t know just how far her clutches will go into the mind of Master Beaner before it is too late. He is a very resilient man, that is for sure, but he is overall weak, especially to the temptations of women. I fear one day I may have to attempt to show him exactly what she is, but it will be too late and he will betray me in order to remain faithful to his beautiful blushing bride to be. Then I will be forced to leave and this cart will surely be taken by the people that I know actually are following us.”
“So you aren’t sure she even showed us real people in her vision earlier?” Benny asked, smoking more of the Lana.
“I am not sure, but I do not detect the large group of people she showed us, and the people that I know in my heart are actually following us are but three, and they are much farther back than she made them look. She knows I see such things, her little lies, and she is becoming wary of me. I think this is why she has sent me away. Once I am gone, there will be no protection, and she will strike. But see, Brun here is not just a small brain in a small body. I think. And I plan. And I think I have a plan now. But it will take very much of my magic, and a large amount of my strength to appear ready for a trip. For really I will be drained, and as soon as we leave this place as indeed we must, I may need you to carry me. I am a bit heavy, but you are much stronger than you know yet. That is the only good I can see coming from this trip… you shall be trained by me, a competent warrior, and if you listen and do as I say, you shall truly be one of the best. And you shall be ready to take on anything you might face. Believe me, Benny from Away, you will be asked to face many trials, many foes, and I don’t think you are ready for any of that just yet. No offense.”
None taken, Benny thought. One thing I’ve known since this has begun is that I am definitely not ready for any of this.
“Then we are on the same page, as you say up there,” the little man said. “Tomorrow at dawn we will set out, and tonight I will stay up making my preparations. I cannot tell you of them here, nor can I really even think about it, for her mind is connected to my own stronger than to anyone else’s. But tomorrow when we are a distance away from here, I will tell you what will have been done by that point. For now, alter your mind as you see fit-“ (he raised his pipe to his mouth.) “-and sleep well, for tomorrow we will be doing very much traveling and plenty of training in all the ways I see fit as we go, so get your rest. You will need it.”
The two of them sat and smoked together a little while longer and then proceeded out to the dining area. Even though they all tried desperately to hide it, all eyes were on Benny and Brun, the Hero Warriors of their homes.
Back in Hayvan, Laura was learning for the first time the awkward new skill of being able to put in her own sanitary protection while on her period. Fusa’s beautiful wife, of whom Laura had always been secretly jealous, was showing her and explaining why it was necessary to use and change one of the small cotton contraptions regularly while on her period. Laura had often dreamed of the day when she’d reach maturity like the other girls in the town (most of whom she was older than,) but she would certainly have never wished it to come at such and impertinent time.
Fusa was standing outside the hut smoking (Veela, his wife, disapproved very highly of smoking, and only allowed Ku to do it because he was an elder and highly respected.) Laura could sense even from a distance that the man was becoming impatient. Truthfully so was she, and she felt terrible for holding up their mission as she was. He didn’t seem to be mad at her for the sudden onset of bleeding, he just seemed irritated. Either way, Laura had vowed to always be as good to this family as they had been to her, but right now she only felt like a nuisance and nothing more. However, Veela seemed downright giddy, giggling every time she thought about it, and she made a point of showering Laura with motherly praises, like “oh you’re growing up so fast” (which was absurd) or “who’d have thought you’d make such a lovely woman.” Then she’d smile and giggle and go about whatever she was doing.
Overall the process wasn’t hard, and it merely made her uncomfortable, but she felt confident she could adjust fairly well. It would take a little more than some simple bleeding to put Laura Feen off course. She had just finished a cup of herbal tea that Veela said would “ease the stomach snakes” during her period. So far her downstairs and stomach just felt kind of warm, other than that, it was like normal tea. As she was swallowing the last of the warm, sweet liquid, Fusa’s deep voice rang in from outside the hut. “Are you about ready in there? Time is short, I’m afraid.”
There was still a lot of raucous from the town still, but more and more light was being shed as people lit their torches and candles and anything else they could find to brighten up the enormous, dark cavern. The town had never experienced such a thing as a black out before, and Laura did not find it surprising that even an hour after the lights had gone out, there still came a scream or two from the darkness. Probably as someone opened their curtains to find the outside mysteriously darker than their homes.
“I think I’m ready to go now,” Laura said, getting up from the couch where she’d been enjoying her tea. “I hope this thing will last a while, because I don’t know how long this is going to take us.”
“I make these myself,” Veela said, “and I do believe that it should last you at least until tomorrow. But you must change it tomorrow as soon as possible, or you risk getting yourself sick, you hear?”
“I hear,” Laura said. She darted over and gave the tall lady a hug before setting out to do what they had to do. “Thank you,” she said, almost tearing up at the thought of not being able to return to this place to see her again. After all, Laura was well aware of how much trouble she had caused, and if anyone was to be ‘gotten’ that night, she suspected it would be her, and not the tall warrior Fusa or his equally tall and beautifully terrible wife.
After one last smile over her shoulder, she and Fusa set out at a run for the store in which was located the secret passageway to the mansion. The man who owned it said he’d leave the door open for them because he was going home to be with his family. No one knew quite what was going on, but everyone seemed to know one thing for sure.
Something was going wrong.
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.
“Nah, I’m alright,” Benny Jorgens said to the kid beside him, who was now reaching out to him with a burning joint in his hand. The room they were in was little more than a shed, and every inch of it was nearly concealed by a dense fog that continued to grow thicker with every second.
The kid with the joint raised his eyebrows, as if to say Are you crazy man? After a few seconds, he blew the hit he had just taken off the joint directly into Benny’s face and then shrugged. “Your loss, man,” he said through a fit of coughing. “This is the best shit you’ll find in these parts. My friend grew it right up there.” He pointed diagonally upward and to the left, and even though there was no window, the boys knew that in that direction was Bonhelm Hill, the tree covered mound that rose steeply in the middle of town. “Everyone in town thinks its haunted, so it was the perfect place for a garden.”
The boy had introduced himself to Benny once before, but he’d forgotten it almost instantly… Benny just simply didn’t care for stoners very much.
There was another kid in the room with them, and he was the one who Benny had come with. His name was Jerry Carson, and he was the only stoner that had ever become friends with Benny. This was partly due to the fact that they knew each other for two years before Jerry started smoking. Even after Benny found out, they were still best friends. Actually, Benny thought Jerry was pretty funny when he was stoned, because he talked about the most incredibly stupid stuff ever.
But with every passing day, the call of the “Pot-Almighty” grew louder, and he often found himself staring at his friends’ pipes and craving that alien feeling that his friends praised so highly. The smoke always seemed to hang the thickest around Benny, and after awhile, he began to just sit back and breathe it all in. That’s what he did to the smoke No-Name-Stoner had just blown in his direction.
“When are you going to quit torturing yourself, Benny?” Jerry asked after exhaling one of the biggest clouds of smoke Benny had ever seen come from a human being. “Think about it. You’re always complaining about your back hurting, right? Well, take a puff or two and you’ll see how well it works.” He reached out to him in offering as the other kid had done.
Take it, Ben, the voice in his head goaded. Don’t worry about anything, man. Just one hit is all it’ll take for such a light-weight as yourself to be dried, fried, and stupefied in no time. Come ooooooonnn… Pleeeeeeaassse Benny. It does a body gooooooo--
“You know I don’t do that stuff, Jerry,” Benny forced himself to say. Oh how he wanted to puff on that joint, which, he informed himself, smelled pretty darned good.
“More for us, right Dick?” Jerry said, passing the joint to No-Name.
“That’s right,” the kid said, “And I told you to stop calling me that, asshole. My name is Richard.”
“But its so dorky,” Jerry responded through a fit of laughter. He took on a pretty decently executed English accent and said, “’Ello, ladies and Gents, my name is Richard. I’ll be escorting you—“
“Shut up, man, you’re annoying me,” Richard said, playfully socking Jerry on the arm. He raised the joint to his mouth, and it seemed to Benny that time slowed down as he watched with longing as the cherry glowed. He could feel the heavy beat of his heart in his chest and he could hear it well in his head. Ba bump… ba bump… Take it!… Ba bump…Smoke up! … Richard started to hand the joint to Benny, realized his mistake, and went to hand it to Jerry. Before he could move his hand more than an inch, Benny darted out and plucked the joint from his hand with an almost ninja-like grace and speed.
He brought the joint to his mouth and instantly the smoke drifting up from it got in his eyes and made them water. He pulled in hard on the joint, wanting to get a good first hit so that he didn’t have to smoke any more than that. At first, there wasn’t any pain or discomfort in his lungs, and he thought to himself, This isn’t so bad.
Jerry had been sitting in dumb fascination, watching his best friend toke out for the first time., but then he seemed to come to and said, “Alright! That’s what I mean, bro! Come to the dark side! Yah-ha!” he gave Richard a high five and then laughed. “Now inhale, man.”
And immediately regretted it.
The moment he took in air, all the pain he had been expecting came flooding into him like a tidal wave, and he began coughing worse than he had ever coughed before (except for when he was eleven, when he had gotten a bad case of some virus the doctors couldn’t identify.) The plume of smoke that came out of his mouth matched the one from Jerry, was maybe even bigger, but Benny was not in the least way proud of it. Every breath he took in seemed painful, like oxygen itself was burning his lungs, and with every breath the coughing became worse. Finally, a large wad of phlegm dislodged itself from his chest. He went to the door and spat. He stood in the doorway breathing in the sweet autumn air. The coughing had passed and he was left merely gasping.
“Come on, man, you’re lettin’ all the smoke out the damn door,” Richard said in a whiny voice that reminded Benny of the small kids he had recently started to baby sit. “We’re trying to hot-box this shit, man, and you’re ruining it.”
Benny closed the door and flopped down on the small sofa as before. He pulled in one final breath and then sat there, staring at the wall. Jerry looked at him and said, enthusiastically, “I’m glad that’s over with. I thought I’d never bring you into the light.”
“But you just told him to come to the dark side, man,” Richard said in that too-stoned, I-don’t-know-what’s-going-on sort of voice.
“Uh….” Jerry began. “Oh yeah.” The two of them chuckled at the stupidity of their little interlude. “Hey man, I’m gonna cash this out. You wanna another try before I do?” He held it out to Richard, who shook his head, and then glanced at Benny. Benny was still getting over the last cough, and wasn’t anywhere near wanting another one. “Alrightee then,” Jerry said. “Goodbye, Mr. Roacho, you’ve been splendid.”
Even Benny kind of found Jerry’s stoned antics a little funny. His eyes had begun to feel heavy, and his muscles had this strange feeling. Well…sort of… This was feeling and not feeling them at the same time… The more he tried to describe it to himself, the harder it became to describe.
“He’s baked, man,” Jerry said to Richard. Benny looked up and laughed. Time just seemed slower and his aches were gone…actually, it was more like they were hidden from his mind. What Jerry said was absolutely correct… Benny was baked.
“I told you this was good stuff, man,” Richard said, matter-of-factly. “Grown right out in the open. I was totally surprised that no one found them, considering how obvious they were. Hell, I think if you had taken a pair of binoculars and looked up at the little clearing at the top o’ the hill, you know, the one that looks like a monk’s bald spot, you probably could’ve seen ‘em, plain as day.”
Benny tried to focus on what Richard the No-Name-Stoner was saying, but his mind kept invariably wandering off. He was definitely baked by all implied stoner meaning of the word, and he was quickly coming to realize just what the effects of this fun drug were… A feeling inside that would make you say, “Everything’s alright,” even if you were in the middle of a war; only being able to focus well on one thing at a time (but focusing on those things with a much greater level of intensity than Benny had ever before experienced.) He believed that it was the first time he had truly relaxed in years. He had been in a car accident a few years before, and his back had given him trouble ever since. But now it was like a mild discomfort rather than an aching pain. Yes sir, Benny was enjoying his first buzz alright.
He was enjoying it a lot.
“Hey, Richard,” he said in a voice that sounded like someone else entirely to Benny himself, “you got anymore of that stuff?”
Richard replied with a very wide, very toothy grin.
Five minutes later, Benny left the little shed that Richard used as his “hang-out” room, closely followed by a thick cloud of smoke. Someone seeing this might have been reminded of one of those cartoons in which the sky was clear except for one cloud that only followed one unlucky person. But luckily enough, the old dirt road was completely deserted, except for Benny. He quickly closed the door to the shed, preserving the smoke that Richard had been so fond of.
Everything around him seemed kind of dull and plain, like the vibrancy of all the light was gone. But in a way it was almost pleasant to see a less…bright outside. He turned right and began walking towards town.
In the short amount of time it took him to reach Geoff’s Market (which marked the beginning of the small rural town of Minde,) Benny managed to come to one conclusion: walking sucked. Especially when one was stoned. He walked into Geoff’s, all too aware of how red his eyes probably were. He didn’t bother to greet ole Geoff himself, as he had everyday for the past four or five years. Instead, he went straight to the soda fountain and got himself a drink. Benny was so high that he didn’t even look at what type of soda he was getting.
Then came the moment of truth. He had to face ole man Geoff Wisenhower, the owner, in order to pay for the drink, and it was common knowledge that Geoff liked to gossip to anyone who’d listen, including Benny’s mother, who would always listen. Oh well. Too late now. I shouldn’t have come in here, he thought with despair. This was the first time since he’d taken his first hit that Benny actually didn’t enjoy his buzz. He wished he could cast it aside for a few minutes while he paid for the soda, and then slip back into it. But of course that was not possible.
There were sunglasses for sale in between the soda fountain and the counter, and Benny stopped to linger there a moment. He pretended to try on glasses, when really he just wanted to look at himself in the mirror. To see how obvious it is, he thought. And boy-o-boy were his eyes red. His eyes hadn’t been that blood-shot since the last time he sat by a campfire (for the smoke seemed to follow him no matter where he went.)
Benny groaned low in his throat. There was absolutely no way he could fool old Wisenhower into believing that he was sober. He gulped and walked on, feeling like a man on death row walking toward the bed where they would lie him down and inject him with a sweet dose of destiny. He came around the corner of the sunglass display and faced Geoff.
All at once the heaviness in his head lifted and his eyes gained a drier, less full feeling to them. His normal train of thought returned, and he was startled by how quickly it came. The term “smacked-me-in-the-face” came to his head. “Good afternoon, Mr. Wisenhower,” Benny said cheerfully. Even though his buzz seemed to have miraculously disappeared, he still found as many ways as possible to avoid eye contact. Better safe than sorry.
“Is something wrong today, Benny?” Geoff asked after ringing up the soda.
Benny forced himself to look Geoff in the eye and say, “No, sir, I’m just not feeling all that well today is all. It started after lunch so I think it might’ve been something I ate at school. I just want to go home and take a nap.” Or another fat hit of that weed, he thought to himself.
“You better do that, son,” Geoff said. “You look pert’ near dead tired right now.”
I bet I do, Benny thought sarcastically. “Well, how much do I owe you?” he asked.
“You know what?” Geoff said. He punched a few buttons and the price on the little digital screen above the register disappeared. “Free of charge, my friend. You’ve bought enough of them, Lord knows, and this one dollar out of my till won’t matter all that much.”
“Thanks a lot Mr. Wisenhower!” Benny said. He turned and began walking toward the door.
“Call me Geoff,” the old man said. “And tell your ma’ I said hello.”
“Yes, sir. I will! See ya later.”
There was a mirror hanging on the door (for what purpose, Benny knew not,) and he glanced in it briefly as he went out the door.
His eyes were completely white.
As he walked down Griffin street toward town, the disappearing buzz made a dazzling reappearance, and he couldn’t help but speculate in mild amazement about how he had managed to “sober up” just long enough to pay for his drink. It was a trivial thing to dwell on, and he knew it, but as far as he could tell, your everyday garden variety stoner couldn’t just put aside his/her high whenever they wanted to. The fact that he just had done it made the concept all the more amazing.
He thought about how Jerry always seemed really paranoid in public while he was baked. It was like he thought everyone who looked at him would know he was high (which was probably true, but if he had just acted normal, most people would have just taken it as allergies or crying.) Benny knew for a fact that “disappearing buzzes” weren’t normal, because if they were, Jerry would’ve used the skill quite often instead of wasting so much time being too paranoid to face people.
Oh well, he thought. Probably just some fluke of nature. Some chemical neurosis gobbldegoop…that sorta stuff… I bet it’ll never happen again. Shit!! What am I going to say to Mom? ‘Hey mom, I know your favorite color is red, so I decided to poke myself in the eyes so they’d be just right! Crap, crap, CRAP!!!
He kicked a rock off the road into the ditch. As the dirt road abruptly became pavement, it occurred to Benny the he could go to the park over on Bonhelm Street, hang out until his buzz (which was still as fresh as ever) wore off, and then walk home. That was about all he could do, actually. And besides, he reminded himself, he could always go up on Bonhelm Hill while he was there and look for some leftovers from whatever that kid had grown up there—“the best shit you can find around these parts!” Richard had said.
As Benny came around the corner of Griffin and Crow, Bonhelm Hill came into clear view. The town of Minde was set up in a strange fashion, or at least the land the town was situated on was strange. A ring of hills made up the border of the town, and all the houses were built on the inside downward slope of the hills. In the next area, the flat middle ground, there was the business district, running all around Bonhelm Hill, which loomed directly at the center of town like a big bull’s eye. The hill itself was completely covered in trees, except at the very top where it was bald. The lower trees on the hill were gnarled and dead whereas the higher ones were alive and vibrant. It had been this way since even the oldest residents of Minde could remember, and no one had ever dared to venture forth with an opinion as to the cause of this phenomena. As far as Benny knew, it usually happened the other way around, with the higher trees losing their vitality as opposed to the lower ones.
But that was how basically everything in Minde was… Backwards. Strange. Not normal. Unlike other places. Even the delivery people who delivered to the three local grocery stores constantly had a look on their faces that clearly said Get me the hell out of here.
That was just the way it had always been. And always would be.
Benny thought about a lot of stuff as he walked down Crow St. towards Bonhelm Hill. But mostly he thought of Laura LeVille. She was a girl who was always in his thoughts but who never existed to anyone but him. It was kind of sad, really… Benny’s imaginary friend as a child, but who seemed flesh and bone to him, was exactly like him in every way, except the difference of sex of course. Benny never made friends because he didn’t need them. He had Laura. He could talk to her all he wanted, even during class, and no one would know. They never fought and she was his best friend… his only friend.
Here’s the sad part: Benny fell in love with the person he had created for himself. But by the time he was ten, he heard from her less and less, until eventually one day she was gone. Sometimes he’d fight with himself about whether or not she had ever actually existed, but the fact remained the same: she was gone.
But when he was thirteen, he had found a way to contact Laura all over again. A way that seemed fresh and exciting. And it was so simple. If he went to the park on the east side of Bonhelm hill and just sat there, listening to the birds and feeling the breeze, he’d slowly begin to hear whispering. Then she’d be there, talking to him and gossiping like she had never left. Whenever he would try to ask why she had left, she’d say “I’m not the one who left.” Then she’d go on about something else like he’d never asked. Benny would stay there, sitting on the bench with the poetry FUK U carved in big letters across the seat, talking silently to Laura for hours.
That was one of the reasons he wanted to go down o the park. He was curious about Laura’s opinion on his latest decision.
But there was a reason for him to go to the Bonhelm Area that didn’t involve fake girlfriends or a new-found addiction. Something about that park called to him. The feeling was just like the one he had gotten while watching all of his friends passing a pipe full of green. He couldn’t go by there without at least standing there facing the park, and beyond that the hill. In those moments, he believed he saw why all the houses in Minde had been built facing Bonhelm Hill.
All the kids thought the hill was haunted for a couple of reasons. The first was the ring of dead trees that surrounded the hill. When you walked through that thirty foot strip of dead trees (most of them willows,) everything would just seem so gray. Most kids walking through there would get the feeling like someone was sneaking up on them, and since they had all grown up being told the hill was haunted and evil, and that they should never visit it, their minds played tricks on them to make their fears at least seem justifiable.
The second reason was that a man was spotted quite frequently, just standing at the top of the hill. No one ever saw him go up there, and no one ever saw him come down, but at least half of the folks of Minde, adults and children alike, had spotted the Man. The Man became a symbol to all generations that passed through Minde-for he had
been spotted ever since the town was first founded- which represented the fact that not all things in life can be properly explained.
Benny understood perfectly well why Richard’s friend had chosen Bonhelm Hill to plant his garden: it was protected by Minde’s fanatical superstition. No one would go up there and pot would blend in pretty well when being looked at with binoculars. Apparently Richard’s friend just assumed the man was either a myth, or not a stoner-type.
Benny had been walking with his head down, and when he looked up, he was already at Bonhelm Park. The gate was partially closed, and with the next gust of wind, it creaked open in an eerie, scary story like fashion. Ben chuckled and went through. Yep, just as welcoming as ever.
All the trees throughout the park were lush, green oaks that grew so close together that only a few places in the park were ever touched by direct sunlight. Benny supposed that anyone flying over Minde would see what undoubtedly looked like a target, with the Bald Spot on top of Bonhelm Hill as the bull's eye. He walked along the path for a while, enjoying the light breeze thrown by the ever thickening clouds in the sky. Finally he came to the bench with FUK U carved neatly into the seat. For a moment he just stood there staring at the bench, thinking. One moment he was thinking about Laura, and then, with a speed that startled the hell out of Benny, there was a flash and a feeling someone was pulling on an invisible hook lodged in the back of his head.
The park seemed to melt away rapidly, leaving behind a black so dark that it hurt his eyes. He tried to shut them to block out this horrible Blackness, but his whole body was paralyzed. When all the color was gone and there was only darkness, flecks of red started appearing all around him, growing and swelling, merging together until he started to see an image. At first it was blurry, and as soon as it had cleared, Benny wished it had remained blurry.
What he saw was a bird’s eye view of a destroyed Minde. Sort of. This version of his home was kind of opposite the other. Instead of a ring of hills, the town was surrounded by a monstrous crack in the earth. The residential area was in the middle, like an island in the middle of a round chasm, and where Bonhelm Hill had been there was now nothing but a crater roughly as deep as the hill had been tall. Flames engulfed the town and smoke filled the horizon.
All at once he was hurled downward, toward the burning mirror-image of Minde. As he glided through the streets at a sickening speed, he saw madness. Lots of it. With every turn he saw murder, rape, plunder. Grown men molesting young children; mothers killing their children and laughing maniacally as they did so; people jumping out of buildings, engulfed in flames.
And the screaming.
So much screaming…
A split second later he was back above the ruins, looking down on mayhem itself. He looked at the crater in the center, and directly at the bottom of it stood the Man, clad in black as usual. Benny was forced by his dream to speed toward the ground, and the Man, faster than Benny had ever gone. When he stopped, he was about ten feet above the man. As Benny watched, the dark Man raised an arm and pointed at him. “I see you,” he said in a sing-song voice. It was the voice of a little girl, and it chilled Benny to the core
to hear such a voice coming from this terrible man. He tried to scream, but found his voice was just as useless as his eyelids. He felt sick. The ruined world melted away, leaving that painfully dark blackness, which ripped in two like a sheet of paper.
Benny felt his knees hit the ground and he doubled over, grabbing the bench for support. He couldn’t stop the vomit in time. It came out in one single jet, a little getting on the bench, but not much. He stayed in that position, gasping for air and clutching his chest, for a good thirty seconds. He looked around at the park and said, “What the hell?”
Then Benny fainted.
Judging by the light when he woke up, Benny guessed that he had been out for at least three hours. He was on his back when he opened his eyes, and even though the sky was nearing twilight, it still made his head flare like something was trying to break through his skull.
That’s strange, he thought. I fell asleep in the park. All the trees form a canopy there, and I shouldn’t be getting blinded right now.
He slowly opened his eyes again. It didn’t hurt as much this time, and he sat up to examine his surroundings. “What the hell?” he said again. It was the last thing he said before passing out in the park, and the first thing he said upon waking up on top of Bonhelm Hill.
Benny had never actually been on top of the hill, and the view on all sides was incredible. He looked at the houses-
-of Minde as the day winded down. The sky was purple and red. Something about that sky brought back his memory of the vision. He remembered the mother laughing as she broke the neck of her baby. He could vividly remember her toothless mouth and the one single golden tooth. Her gums had been purple, almost black. Benny shuddered at the image.
And the Man… He had pointed and said-
“I see you,” came the voice of a small child. Benny was on his feet in less than a second, doing an about face to see who had snuck up on him. It was a man slightly taller than Benny, with a chiseled, ashy-pale face. His hair was shoulder length and jet black. Yet when he moved, little streaks of silver could be seen. It was almost entrancing. The first thing Benny had noticed was that the man in the black suit had his eyes closed. He was walking up the side of the hill toward Benny, and he seemed pretty sure of his course, but he never once opened his eyes to see where he was going. He spread his arms out to his side and said, “Do you fear me? Have I threatened you in any way?”
“No,” Benny said, trying to sound as calm as possible but failing miserably. After a pause, he said, “Why do you keep your eyes closed?”
The man laughed and stated coolly, “Because if you looked into my eyes, Benny-boy, you’d be under my control.”
Now it was Benny’s time to chuckle. “I don’t know how you know my name, but that isn’t going to freak me out enough to make me believe that you could control me with your eyes. Freak.”
“Would you like to see them?”
The man came and sat by Benny. He brushed his hair back and turned his face toward Benny. He opened his eyes to reveal white eyes with little red streaks for the irises. The pupils were just small pin pricks of black in the centers. The first thing Benny thought was How amazing.
“My name is Natas,” the Man said, “and you are under my control.”
Jerry and Richard had both began laughing as Benny left the shed. Well, fell out of the shed. That boy was so high that he couldn’t even walk straight. “So what’s the deal with that kid?” Richard said. “That was some cool shit when he grabbed that doobie, though. One second I’m reaching out to you, and then WA-CHOW! out darts his hand to pluck it from me in less than a split second. I didn’t even see him move, man! That’s cool and creepy at the same time, ya know? I wouldn’t want to scrap with him, that’s for damn sure.”
“He’s fast, that’s true, but he isn’t that strong,” Jerry said. “We’ve fought once or twice, but I don’t think either of us were really using all we had. Even though we were pissed at each other, we were still friends.”
“Hey man,” Richard said slyly. “You want to break out some real stuff?”
“Uh-oh, Richard’s got a secret!” Jerry said and laughed. “Whatcha got, man?”
“Heroin, dude,” Richard said. “Lets get fuckered up.”
About seven minutes later, a terrified scream came from within the shed, but there was no one on the road to hear it. The door slammed open and Richard rushed out, tears flowing down his cheeks and a green piece of rubber still tied tightly around his arm. He tripped on the door-jam and fell in the dirt. He scrambled backwards, crab-walk fashion, wanting only to put more distance between himself and the shed. He quickly regained his feet and began running as fast as he could toward Minde.
The whole time he was running, and even when he stumbled into Geoff’s, he kept repeating one sentence in a high, hysterical voice: “It wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t my fault, it wasn’t-“
The Minde district police got two notable calls within the week after Benny sat with Jerry and Richard, taking his first couple of hits of marijuana. The first was made by Geoff Wisenhower, calling to report that “The little druggy bastard from up the road” had stumbled into his store, ranting and raving. Geoff said he thought the kid was probably hopped up on some type of drug, but he couldn’t tell which one due to the boy’s hysteria.
Barry Newstead was the one who took the call, and he wrote it down without even becoming the slightest bet interested. To him it seemed typical; junky disturbing the peace. Whoop de doo. Happened almost every day, because if there was anything Minde wasn’t short of, it was junkies and potheads. He jotted it down on the little pad before him, trying to write and eat at the same time. A little drop of jelly fell from his doughnut and splashed on the note. After hanging up the phone, he scooped it up off the slip of paper with his index finger and stuck it in his mouth. “Hey, Johnny,” Barry called across the little room that made up the station for the police. There were about six desks crammed in there, and at all of them sat a hard working secretary, taking calls and sending the message along to Johnny Harrison, the sheriff. “We got another peace disturber at Geoff’s.”
“Tweaker?” Johnny asked.
“Probably,” Barry said through a mouth full of doughnut as he began to cross the room. “He said the kid was ranting and raving, saying things like ‘it wasn’t my fault.’ Said the kid acted like he was hopped up.”
“What caused him to make the call?”
“Apparently the kid collapsed on the floor in a fetal position, and every time someone tried to help him up, he’d yell at them and tell them to go away because it ‘wasn’t his fault.’ You want me to send someone out there?”
“No,” Johnny said. “I’ll go check it out. I need to get out on patrol anyways. When Carson comes in, let him know where I went and tell him I’m gonna have his ass on my wall if he’s late for work one more time… And for Chris’ sake, stop eatin’ those damn doughnuts around my phones!”
“Yes, sir,” Barry said, once again with a full mouth. He threw the jelly filled- half eaten- in the wastebasket, wiped his hands on his jeans, and smiled.
“You make me sick, Newstead,” Johnny said, and then walked out of the room. In the lobby, he grabbed his coat and checked his pockets to make sure he had the keys to his patrol car. Yep, right where they always were. He stood before the glass doors at the front of the building, looking out at his little town. Carson and he were supposed to take the night patrol, so he had just showed up to work, but judging by how crappy his day had gone at home, he guessed the night was going to be long. Very long indeed.
He couldn’t have been farther from the truth. For Johnny, the night was going to be rather short.
Geoff Wisenhower went to the back of his little mini-mart, and Richard took the opportunity to slip out. Now that he had calmed down a little, he came to realize that he couldn’t let anybody know what had happened to Jerry. If he just covered the whole
thing up for a while, sooner or later people would start to think that Jerry had wandered off into the woods while messed up on some drug or another… Yes… that would have to do for the time being.
It was dark outside and a couple of stars had already appeared in the sky. Richard didn’t need light to get back to the shed. He had lived in Minde his entire life, and the shed was a place he had discovered when he was a child. He knew that in order for his plan to work, he had to move Jerry’s body out into the trees off the road somewhere. Then if they sent a search party, they’d only find a kid. The autopsy would show that the kid had died of an overdose of heroin. The story of Jerry wandering off while high would make sense…
What Richard didn’t know was that the police were already en route.
By the time Johnny Harrison showed up at the little mini-mart on the edge of town, ol’ Geoff was standing out in front with his hands on his hips, a posture which clearly said, Where the hell have you been?! Johnny pulled right up next to the door and got out. He parked close just in case there was a struggle.
“What’s goin’ on, Geoff?” Johnny asked. “I got a call to come out here. Somethin’ about a tweaker?”
“Little bastard ran off while I was talking to ya’ on the tellee,” he said. “I just managed to catch a glimpse of ‘im as he went around that bank over there.” He pointed down the road toward the shed.
“Alright,” Johnny said. “I’ll go see if I can find him, see whats going on. I’ll stop back in on my way out.”
Johnny got into the care. He didn’t bother calling the station to tell them where he was going. He figured it’d be a routine check-out. Find the kid, identify him, get him home, no harm done. As he circled around Geoff’s, he thought about how he would buy roses for his wife. He hadn’t been a very good husband lately, and he needed to get back into the habit soon.
Already the night seemed tedious, but the end was in sight.
When the headlights of the sheriff’s car came around the corner to where the shed was, Richard had managed to get Jerry half way out the door. Jerry had vomited all over himself, and Richard believed he had drowned in his own spew. As the headlights fell upon Richard, he dropped the body and began a full out sprint into the forest.
Harrison got out of his car and began running after the kid, pulling out his flashlight as he ran. “Hey, kid! I’m from the Police Department! Stop so I can talk to you!”
He could just barely see the kid ahead of him, darting in and out of the trees. Then all of a sudden Harrison felt more alone than previously. He stopped running and
listened… Nothing. No breaking twigs, no panting or rustling sounds. Johnny stood there, hands on his knees, breathing hard for a few minutes. He knew he’d probably have to go back and report the incident.
“I see you, Johnny.” It was the voice of his mother, the way she had sounded right before she died. Johnny turned around and there stood a man like no other. Such dark hair. When he spoke next it was the smooth, melodic voice of a confident young adult. “I have been waiting for you, big boy.”
“Who are you?”
“Someone you’ve known for a long time,” the man replied.
“I’ve never met you before in my life.”
“As far as you know.”
“Open your eyes when you’re talking to an elder and a law enforcement officer, boy. Not making eye contact is disrespectful.”
“Do you want me to open my eyes?”
“Yes, thank you.”
The young man with the splendid dark hair obeyed.