Nicole Grey (foenix) wrote,
Nicole Grey
foenix

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Black River: The Dead of Winter - Day 7

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As usual, "a few paragraphs" to finish the chapter ended up being another 2500 words.  But I said fuck it, we're finishing this chapter.


Chapter 2 - A Meeting in the Dark.

        Kelly arrived at practice on time, thanks to the blonde demon chasing at her heels.  She could feel her heart pounding away in her chest, and she had to admit the sensation was welcome.  All the more so because it wasn't being caused by a vampire or being shot.  Kelly smiled at her friend as the pair skidded to a stop inside the gym.  It felt good to have everything just be so normal for a change.  It was easy to forget everything that had happened over Halloween, and the dull throb behind her eyes as a reminder of the visions earlier that day.
        She still had not gotten a straight answer out of Rachel as to whether or not she was alone in that moment of weirdness, but it no longer mattered.  And this was neither the time nor place for such concerns.
        Too many other girls now surrounded them, looking with curiosity at the two newest, and out of breath arrivals.  Not a one of them were surprised to see who it was though.  They knew Kelly and Rachel far too well to be surprised that they were goofing off mere moments before practice.
        While they may have been on time, Rachel still needed to get changed, and the coach told her to do so as quick as she could.  Kelly explained what had happened over the weekend to her, in as little detail as possible, and handing over a note from her doctor.  The note was well-worn already, having been passed around to any number of school officials, and shoved in and out of Kelly's bookbag.
        She was still amazed that her doctor had bought the lame story she had come up with about tripping and catching herself with a knife.  In truth, he had seen right through her lie, at least enough to know it was a lie.  But Doctor Essex had taken care of Kelly her entire life, and since the wound wasn't that serious once it was patched up, he decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.
        By the time Kelly had finished explaining to the coach, Rachel came bouncing out of the locker room, changed into her maroon practice gear with the team's name emblazoned across her chest in white block letters.  She wore snug, matching pants rather than the usual cheerleader skirt, just like the rest of the team.
        Kelly took a spot on the bleahers and watched as her teammates practiced their routines as best they could while being one woman down.  There were always a few stand-ins available for just such an occasion, but they were nowhere near up to the level of Kelly.  Still, she could see the potential.  Maybe this next week might give them a chance to brush up their skills and really shine.
        She scrunched up her face at the thought of someone replacing her, and rubbed her arm.  It was sore from all the motionless hanging it had to do, almost more from that than from the actual wound.
        Kelly longed for everything to be back in its proper place, the sooner to forget about the weekend, and vampires, and auras.  But until her arm was healed, she would always have the constant reminder that things were no longer right in her world.  Watching everyone else just go about their daily business, and doing things she wished she could do, made it that much worse.  She just wanted to get back to being a cheerleader, taking tests, and flirting with boys.
        Her mind drifted to Darien without any prompting, and Kelly made a face at the thought.  She had felt a growing closeness to the Montrose boy, but after everything that happened, and that sense of dread she was now saddled with, all she wanted to do was get as far away from Darien as possible.  Yet still she was drawn towards him.  All she wanted was a nice, normal boy.  Someone without a black aura would be best.
        As if on cue, Kelly's reverie was interupted by the sensation of the wodden plank she was sitting upon shifting from the weight of someone sitting next to her.  It just so happened to be a boy, but not one she had any intention of flirting with.  Brendan was Rachel's boyfriend, and off-limits.  Not to mention he was as much into the weirdo crap as she was, if not moreso.  And if she was looking for normal, Brendan was probably the number two name on the list of Not Normal, following Darien Montrose.
        Still, at least she hadn't been given visions of Brendan causing the end of everything, so that was a step up.
        "Not taking part in practice, K?"  Brendan's voice was so soothing and distracting, it was easy for Kelly to see what Rachel saw in him.  What anyone saw in him.  She could get lost in his words and forget everything that had happened.
        Even if he was asking things that led right back to their troubles.  "Oh no, can't do backflips and be flung into the air if you stabbed yourself with a knife."
        From the look on Brendan's face, Kelly knew that if he had been taking a drink, he would have done a spit take.  He held back a laugh that bubbled out his face, not wanting to distract the girls in the middle of the gym.
        "That's your story?  You tripped and knifed yourself?  You do realise that has to be the lamest excuse I've ever heard, right?"
        Kelly narrowed her eyes.  "Don't mock me, Franks.  You're playing with fire."
        "Ooo, what will you do to me, look at me to death?"  The pair of them couldn't help smiling as they teased back and forth.
        "No, worse.  I'll tell Rachel you're being a big meanie."
        In an instant, Brendan's face changed.  His eyebrows arched up, and his mouth pursed in surprise.  "Ok then, changing the subject.  Did you hear what happened to me today?"
        Kelly was intrigued, and slid a little closer so they could speak all the more quieter.  "No, I didn't.  I bet I can outdo you, though."
        Her coconspirator leaned in.  "Oh?  Do tell, Ms. Scott."
        "On my way to my last class, it felt like my brain was on fire..."
        Brendan interupted her, "Been there, done that."
        The cheerleader curled her lower lip into her mouth and punched Brendan in the shoulder with her good hand.  "Let me finish!"
        Brendan nodded his concession and made a hand motion, urging Kelly to continue.
        "I dropped all my books and fell to my hands and knees, my mind being flooded with an infinite amount of images.  I don't know what any of it meant, I have a headache, and why are you staring at me like that?"
        With every passing word, Brendan's attention grew more and more rapt.  His eyes got wide as he heard the girl's experience that mirrored his own in so many ways.
        "When did you say this happened?" he inquired.
        Kelly considered for a moment before answering, "A few minutes into last period, I was running late to history."
        "Mr. Roy must have loved that."  Brendan refocused and continued.  "I was in P.E. at the time, right out there when it happened."  He pointed out to where his girlfriend was being hoisted into the air by a rare male cheerleader.
        Now it was Kelly's turn to sit with rapt attention.  She didn't even turn to look where Brendan was pointing.  "Go on!  When what happened?"
        "I had a siezure."
        "No way!"
        "Way.  At least, that's what everyone else called it.  The school nurse couldn't see any signs of one, aside from the way I acted."
        Kelly leaned in closer.  "So what was it?"
        "I felt a blinding pain in my head, was faced with an infinity of visions, and fell to the floor."
        A long silence passed between the two of them.  Neither of them heard the squeaking shoes or calls from the cheerleaders, or the shouts from the coach.  At last, the silence was broken by Kelly.
        "Shit."  It was barely more than a whisper.
        Brendan nodded.  "I saw an infinite field of myself, like looking into a mirror, behind a mirror, and surrounded by mirrors.  I couldn't take it, and just...my brain must have short circuited for a second."
        Kelly shook her head, half in disbelief, and half in surprise.  "Damnit," she muttered.
        "What?"
        "You win.  You at least remember what you saw."
        "I wish I didn't."
        "One thing's for sure, that was no seizure, Brendan."
        The football player shrugged his broad shoulders.  "What can I say?  It's a better story than stabbing myself in the head with a knife and passing out in the gym."
        "Bite me!" Kelly shouted out, and the words echoed through the cavernous room, making everyone in it go dead silent.  All that did was make the moment all the more awkward for Kelly.
        The lingering silence that pervaded the echo chamber remained unbroken until Kelly made a nervous little cough.  She looked around at her teammates and the few students passing through the building and could feel the heat building up in her cheeks while every eye fell upon her.
        "Sorry," she whispered out, but in the silence it was deafening.
        As if that had erased everyone's memories of the last 13 seconds, everyone returned to what they were doing.  It was not long before cheerleaders were being tossed into the air, building pyramids, and doing backflips.  The other students went along with whatever tasks they had been doing, and Brendan looked back at his friend.
        "I'm sorry too," he said.
        Kelly shuffled on the bleacher and just shifted her head to the side. "Whatever.  Where were we before I embarassed myself to everyone?"
        "I know KHS is a small school, but a dozen people or so is far from everyone, even here."
        "Oh, everyone will know soon enough.  If those girls out there could use their cellphones and spin around their base's head?  They would.  Twitter is my greatest enemy."
        Brendan just shook his head, amazed at how one minute the pair of them could be discussing supernatural seizures and wondering about their public image the next.  "We were talking about massive headaches."
        "Right, how could I forget."  Kelly rubbed one of her temples to emphasize her point.  "I still feel mine.  It feels like someone crammed too much into my head and it is all straining to fit in too confined of a space."
        She saw Brendan open his mouth, and the look on his face told him everything he was thinking.  Before a single word could spill out, she cut him short.  "And if you make one joke about cheerleaders and brain capacity, well, I still have one perfectly good arm and two legs that can both kick your ass."
        "Yes ma'am.  So, we both experienced something around the same time.  Do you think anyone else did?  It can't be coincidence."
        "Brendan, if I've learned one thing, never discount coincidence.  But I do agree.  We should see if anyone else noticed...anything."
        Rubbing his chin, Brendan nodded and watched his girlfriend for a few moments.  Rachel saw him looking her way and waved, flashing him a quick smile.  It was a brief moment, and she somehow fluidly fit it into the middle of the routine without missing a beat.
        "I didn't hear anything about anyone passing out," he said while keeping his gaze focused on Rachel.  Watching her move was almost hypnotic.  When she was in full cheer mode, it was pure artwork.  From one movement to the next was a flawless rythym of choreography.  "Did you ask Rach?"
        "Do you think I got a straight answer out of her?  She just blew me off."
        Brendan murmured.  "If she's ignoring it, ignoring you, it means she knows something.  Or is avoiding the subject because it makes her uncomfortable.  I'll see what I can get out of her after practice."
        "You mean something other than..."  Brendan cut off Kelly's train of thought with a sharp hissing through his teeth.  The girl only smiled a smile of pure innocence and light.
        The pair sat in silence and watched the rest of the practice from their seats.  Kelly leaned forward, paying attention to her teammates and watching for their mistakes.  Rachel was the one who made the fewest, of course.  The newbies were the worst of the bunch, but their potential was already staring to show.  Kelly wanted to run down there and show them how it was done, but it was better for her to stay out of things.  If not for their self esteem and learning experience, than for her arm.
        Brendan, by comparrison, leaned back and rested against the bleacher behind him.  Kelly's head would have just about reached the long wooden seat, but Brendan rested his elbows with ease upon it.  His attention was far from the squad practicing in front of him.  He was looking at them, but not really seeing them.  He could have recounted to someone parts of their routine if he was asked, but it was the furthest thing from his mind.  If not for his girlfriend, it was a good chance that he wouldn't have even managed to tell that much.
        Instead, his mind was stuck on what had happened.  He took odd comfort in not being alone, but in a way that made it worse because it was more widespread than just affecting him.  He had to wonder though if it had indeed been the same thing.  The timing was spot on, but the cirumstances were different.  Brendan couldn't decide if learning this had happened to others would be good or bad.
        Strength in numbers versus something so powerful that it could touch so many people at once.  The latter thought was most troubling to the young man.
        He was pulled out of his thoughts when he registered that his girlfriend was bouncing over towards them.  Her hair pulled back into a long yellow ponytail at the back of her head, it swung back and forth like its namesake with every step Rachel took.
        Rachel looked back and forth from the two people she was closest to in the entire school.  "Hey guys.  Why so serious?"
        Kelly fought back a growing laugh in her belly and jumped up to her feet.  "Ok, she is the last person who should be quoting the Joker.  I need to get out of here before this day gets any more fucked up."
        As the brunette grabbed her books and walked the length of the bleachers, Rachel called out at her friend's back.  "Quote who?  What??  Kelly!"
        The girl didn't look back, instead waving with the hand she could still use.  "Nevermind!  See you tomorrow!"  And with that she exited the combination gymnasium and auditorium with another group od students, blending into their crowd almost like she belonged.
        Rachel furrowed her brow at her friend's back as it disappeared through the swinging doors.  "What was that all about?"
        Brendan scooped up his girlfriend without getting up and pulled her into his lap.  She let out a squeal of surprise that drew a few looks, but they were soon dismissed by the fading crowd.
        "Don't pay her any mind, she's just had a weird day."  If Brendan was still lost in thought over the past few days and his event earlier in particular, he gave no outward sign.  As far as Rachel could tell, he was the same quarterback he had always been.
        He continued as Rachel's arms found their way across his broad shoulders.  "She's not the only one having a weird day."
        "I heard!"  Rachel made a frown that was half sincere, and half teasing her boyfriend.  "Are you ok?  Did you hit your head?"
        "I don't think so, but I wasn't exactly conscious at the time." He forced a weak smile at his joke.
        Rachel hugged him tight, wrapping her arms around him with such hidden strength that Brendan thought he might pass out again.  This time from the lack of oxygen.
        "Erk, Rach, air.  Need air."  She let go of him and blushed apologetically.  "Thanks.  How was your day?  Anything weird happen to you?"
        Rachel scrunched up her nose in her all too familiar face of distaste.  "Kelly asked me that a few times too.  Is that what you to were talking about up here?  Conspiring against me?"
        Damn her, and her occasional bouts of higher level reasoning, cursed Brendan to himself.
        "Truthfully?  Yes.  We just wanted to make sure you were ok.  We both noticed you were a little off your game out there."  Not exactly true.  It was rare that she'd been better in a practice, but they both had picked up on Rachel acting a little off ever since the Halloween party.
        "Can you blame me?" she shot back.  "After what happened to Crystal..."  She stopped and took a deep breath.  The memory of finding her friend's dead body on her porch still shook her.  Brendan saw this as a good sign, more than anything.  It at least meant she was human beneath the hard exterior.
        "But besides that, I've been ok.  I've had this bad feeling all afternoon though, since history.  Just felt like something bad is coming.  At least now I know why!"
        Her boyfriend's eyes grew large with surprise.  That, he was not expecting.  "You do?  What??"
        Rachel stood up and poked Brendan in the chest.  Hard.  He thought her nail was going to break skin, even through his heavy sweatshirt.  "You!  The two of you, plotting behind my back!  I trusted the two of you, but you've been keeping secrets from me all school year!  Now this!  Augh!"
        She threw her hands in the air and turned away, stomping down the bleachers and making the entire wooden rack of seats shake with every footfall.  Brendan thought the whole thing may well collapse from the combination of age and her sheer wrath.
        Brendan considered going after her as she faded off to the locker room, but he knew it was best to let her blow off steam.  Besides that, what would he say?  Rachel was in the enviable position of being right.  He had indeed been keeping secrets from his girlfriend.  Something he once swore he would never do, but how could he tell her about the Montroses and, well, everything?
        He always struggled to always be truthful, and while he knew that was not always possible, Brendan had found his morals becoming ever more compromised with the presence of a vampire in his life.  It was bad enough that he knew his relationship was on shaky ground with Rachel over plain old normal woes and stress, but now he was bringing in supernatural troubles into their life.
        The young man stood up and stared at the door to the girl's locker room.  Brendan again thought of going after Rachel, but experience told him he would just get something thrown at his head.  If he could just keep the truth from her, tell her something that would calm her down tomorrow when most of her steam had boiled away, maybe he could salvage things for another week.
        Brendan hated that he was even considering that option.
        He scooped up his maroon lettermans jacket from where he had laid it down and tugged it on in sharp, short motions.  He shoved his hands into the pockets and followed Kelly's path to the outside.  Brendan was quite glad he had put the jacket on, as even with it and his sweatshirt, the cold Vermont air was already changing from a brisk fall breeze to the chill winter winds.
        The amber halogen lights had come on some time ago in the fading light, casting their sickly pallor over the parking lot.  Brendan looked around and saw no other students, and most of the cars were long gone, save for the few he recognised from the cleaning staff.  Maybe a teacher or two as well.  The dull thrumming roar of a vaccuum cleaner or two could be heard from inside the brick walls, and shadowy figures passed by the windows as the elves went about their work unseen by the masses.
        Brendan struggled to focus on anything that would keep him from thinking about his episode and what it could mean.  He had received several messages straight to the brain indicating things beyond his teenaged comprehension and he just wanted to settle back into being a football star for awhile.  But with today's events, he was beginning to suspect that whatever had gone down with Beadle was just the beginning.  And through all that, he could only think about how his relationship with Rachel would suffer because of it.
        He gave a grunt that was lost in the wind as soon as it escaped his lips.  He shook his head to clear out the cobwebs and stop thinking about everything weighing upon him.  Brendan's attention was drawn towards the cars remaining around him and he took a closer look.
        Among them he noticed something was amiss.  His truck was still there where he had parked it, but right next to it was Kelly's own car, laying there unused.  Brendan couldn't see any shadows sitting inside, so unless she was laying down in the back seat, Brendan had beat her to the car.
        Which he thought was quite impossible.
        Brendan turned from side to side, his focus sharpened and his senses scanning anything he could.  Whatever was happening to him at least had its purposes.  He could see better in the dark, but saw no one lurking where they shouldn't be.  The parking lot was almost suspiciously empty, but not too unusual for this time of night.  No unexpected sounds piqued his interest.  All he heard were the buzzing lights, the vaccuums, and cars out on the road.  There was no sign of tracks on the pavement, and the light dusting of detritus that had built up over the year made up of pebbles, dust, sand and salt from the winters, and who knows what else wasn't even disturbed in any meaningful way.  A few scuffed footprints marred that, but that was normal, and no signs of a struggle were apparent.
        He turned from side to side, spinning around to see if there was anything amiss or out of place.  Nothing caught his above-normal vision.  Brendan took a closer look at Kelly's car, another survivor of the battle at the warehouse.  There was something off about the car, but it was understandable why it didn't leap out at him until closer examination.
        Sitting on the trunk was a pile of books, the same stack he remembered tucked under Kelly's arm when she left the gym.  It was common for students to leave there books there while they were getting into their vehicles, or talking to someone, so it was no surprise that it was overlooked by Brendan.  He'd done the same thing enough times.
        The difference now was, there was no Kelly to be seen.  Not inside her car, nor outside.  Brendan did take notice that the books seemed to have been placed with care upon the trunk, and not tossed aside or dropped, like Kelly might have done if she had been grabbed.
        Outside of Brendan's field of view, he hard a slamming clang, a familiar sound to every student at Kraftsbury High.  The closing sound of one of the main doors to the high school itself.  He turned towards the noise, looking over Kelly's car
        From around the corner of the school came a pair of shadowy figures that Brendan recognised right away.  Even without his above normal senses, he would know those two.
        Darien and Alyson casually strolled down the paved path to the parking lot and met up with their concerned friend.  Darien was the first to pick up on Brendan's uneasiness.  Alyson was not far behind the curve.
        Their faces both shifted to match Brendan's concern, the growing unease taking ahold of them all.
        Alyson broke the silence with the simplest of questions, "What's going on?"
        Her brother noticed the abandoned books in an instant.  "Kelly's not here.  What happened?"
        Brendan noted an extra level of concern in the man's voice, something he had not noticed before then.  "I don't know.  I came out here and saw her car was still here.  But no Kelly anywhere.  Do you pick anything up, A?"
        Before he even asked, the vampire was already scanning the grounds.  Her senses made even his look like he was deaf, dumb, and blind.  Brendan watched as she sniffed at the air, her eyes sharpened and looking in every deep shadow.
        Is that what he looked like a few moments ago? Brendan wondered.
        After she took everything in, Alyson spoke again.  "Well, the good news is there's no blood."
        Somehow, such news was a relief, yet carried no relief with it whatsoever.
        "She was here, but she's always here.  There's too many other scents, familiar and not to pick any one out of the crowd that might be a worthwhile lead."  Alyson hung her head in defeat.
        Just as the trio were about to try and conjure up some sort of plan of attack, and figure out just what they could do next, their attention was drawn to the sound of another door banging shut.  This time, however, it was not one of the doors in the high school, but from the gym on the opposite side of the parking lot.
        In unison, they all turned towards the doorway that opened into a hallway that ran along the backside of the gym and led to other entrances for the locker rooms, and the rest of the adjacent building.
        A form stood in front of the door, backlit from lights in the hallway they had just exited from, and escaping through the long slit of a window in the door.
        They all stood there dumbfounded, staring at the silhouette of the woman they had been searching for. As six eyes focused upon her, Kelly just stood there staring back at her three friends and blurted out, "What??"
        None of them could believe it.  All their fear and panic, and she had just disappeared down a hallway for a few minutes.  Again, Kelly asked what they were staring at, just to get everyone to stop doing it.
        Brendan rushed over to Kelly's side, and Alyson was not far behind, but stayed a few steps back.  Darien didn't move from his spot next to her car.  He just stood there, as stoic and monolithic as always.  Heaven forbid he show any actual emotion.
        "Where were you?  We were worried sick!  Are you ok?"  Brendan shot the questions at her rapid fire, and Kelly felt each one hit her like a bullet without giving her a chance to answer from one to the next.
        All Alyson did was remain silent, but look concerned for her friend.  Kelly thought she could detect some hint of caring on Darien's face, but he wasn't just going to let it shine through.  Which made her question of she was just looking for something to be there to belay any feelings she might have for him with regards to her visions.  If he gave a damn about anything, about her, how much of a threat could he be?
        "Guys!  Guys, chill!  Back up and let a girl breathe, geeze!"  Kelly took a step back to get some space, and tried moving back further, but she was not as far from the doorway as she had hoped.  Now she stoood back up against the passageway she had entered, the feel of the cool metal against her back.  The door was recessed in a little alcove that many kids would stand in to protect them when it was raining.  Now Kelly stood there and felt trapped, rather than protected.
        "What happened?" Brendan asked again, but keeping his distance.
        Kelly held up her hand and revealed an unwrapped and half eaten candy bar.  "I went and got a Snickers from the vending machine.  Aura Girl needed some carbs."
        She took a bite of the chocolate covered bar to emphasize her point.
        "But you left your books behind," queried a still worried Brendan.
        With some effort, Kelly shifted her injured arm and waved at Brendan with her other hand.  "Hello?  One handed right now.  Hard to use a vending machine when one arm is useless, and the other is full of crap."
        Brendan looked sheepish, and his gaze moved down to his shuffling feet.  He had overreacted, but it wasn't like anyone could blame him, or so he thought.
        "Besides, I knew you and Rachel wouldn't be that far behind.  You two were almost...wait."  Kelly stopped and looked at the group in front of her.  She recounted those assembled and noted the exception.  "Where is Rachel, anyways?"
        "She went into the locker rooms.  We uh, had a fight."
        Kelly winced.  She knew the shaky ground those two were on, and the last thing they needed was another fight.  "That explains the banshee's wail coming from inside the locker room, I guess."  She refocused her attention to the matter at hand, and the three standing in front of her.  "So, what is this all about then?  You saw my books and thought...what?"
        "We thought you may have been abducted," Brendan started.
        Alyson picked up the thread, "By Beadle somehow returned."
        "Or another vampire."
        Darien finally spoke up, but aside from his lips he remained motionless.  "Or worse."
        "Do I even want to know what worse could possibly be?" Kelly blurted out.
        "Probably not."
        Kelly was touched by their concern, but the feeling of being trapped, her dread over what had happened and might be happening, and now this pushed her to an outburst.
        "God!" she shouted out.  If anyone else had been around, they would have surely been drawn by the noise.  "I can not put up with this!  Is this going to be what my life is like now?  Looking over my shoulder at every dark corner?  Looking under my bed for monsters that may literally be there?  My friends going into a panic because I wanted a FREAKING CANDY BAR!!"
        Brendan reached out to her, but she found some space to pull back into.  She had become like a cornered animal in the alcove.  "Kelly, calm down..."
        "Oh, do NOT tell me to calm down.  I can't live like this, none of us can!  Darien, Alyson...Beadle is dead.  REALLY dead.  Dust in the wind.  You can stop running, settle down, and here's a thought; live a normal life!  Doesn't that sound good to you?  We don't have to go through the rest of our lives on egde.  You got what you wanted.  It.  Is.  Over!"
        Alyson shook her crimson hair from side to side, a look of sadness and regret upon her face for what she had to say.  "We don't know that for sure.  There is still a lot of energy in this place, and with a vampire here, it's only a matter of time before someone shows up."
        "YOU don't know that anymore than I know what I know.  You could spend every day for the next 100 years living in fear of something coming that might never happen.  Screw that, I'm living my life like a normal girl.  That's all I can do.  Until someone comes out of the shadows and tries to kill me, or you, I am not going to get all worked up over nothing.  This is silly.  We're teenagers for God's sake, we're not vampire hunters."
        She saw Darien open his mouth but cut him off.  "That includes you, Darien.  Wouldn't you rather stop chasing the darkness and just resume the life that Beadle took from you a year ago?"
        His head slowly nodded, and she had a moment to hope that maybe she could avert the dark path she saw them all travelling down by just getting off the road.
        Alyson saw it as her duty to keep things on track, though.  "It's a great idea Kell, but we just can't live like that.  I'd love to just ignore everything I am, and everything I know about the world to do that.  If I stop watching the shadows, something in them will crawl out and hurt someone else I care about.  Too many people I know have gotten hurt, no more.  Not if I can help it."
        "And do you have an opinion, Brendan?"
        The sandy-haired boy looked from Kelly to Alyson.  One of them represented everything about his old life, the other about where his life was going.  He remembered his almost-twin from his dreams telling him to stay by Alyson's side.  For the time being, he knew he had to stay that course.  "I see your point, Kelly.  But I see Alyson's too.  Something is happening to me, and it is happening for a purpose.  I need to know what that is."
        Kelly held her hands up in surrender, but her eyes did not look like she was about to give up.  "You know what, fine.  You three can keep going on playing demon chasers and ghost hunters, but me?  I am out.  I can't deal with this stuff.  I just...  I can't."
        She pushed her way past Brendan and Alyson, and didn't even spare a glance to Darien.  Rather than head for her car though, she veered to the right, back towards the main door to the gym.
        This was the second time Kelly had walked away from Brendan that night, and this time felt far more final than before.  He moved to follow her, but Alyson's hand pressed against his chest.  Only her strength could have held him back in that moment.
        Feeling helpless and impotent was not a position Brendan relished being in, so he did what little he could, and called out to the brunette fading into the darkness.  "Kelly!  Where are you going?"
        She mimicked her handwave from earlier, but at least called back, "I need to be alone!  Don't follow, don't call, and don't talk to me tomorrow!"
        They all watched her turn the corner at the end of the school and knew there was only one place she could be going.  There was plenty of places she could head to, but the one they all knew was an easy trip from there was the circle of stones in the forest.
        After several minutes of them staring at the spot where Kelly had disappeard, it was Darien who piped up, surprising the others.  "So, Rachel and Kelly both pissed at you in the same night, huh?  You sure do have the way with the ladies, Brendan."
        He didn't even turn to reply, and was just exhausted with Darien's inappropriate sense of humour.  "Darien, I never thought I'd say this to you, of all people..."
        "Mmm?"
        "Shut up."
        While her friends split up and went home, after Brendan paused long enough to put her books into her car, Kelly ventured down the length of the elementary school.  She felt a great sense of relief to be free from the craziness that her life had become in just three days.  If she never heard the word vampire again, it would be too soon.
        As she walked deeper into the forest, Kelly cleared her mind, and found she could sense those lines of power once again.  She reached out and hand and touched one, like it was an invisible handrail running beside her.  They were far from tangible or visible, but she somehow knew they were there all the same.  It was almost like she could see the aura they gave off, but there was no colour to them.  Not like something dead, but she could still sense some undefinable quality in the air.
        When her hand passed through what she sensed as energy, like a bird sensing an electromagnetic line of force to follow along its migration, Kelly felt a familiar tingling.  It was that same sensation rippling up her arm as she felt in the warehouse.  The feeling was not unlike a spider walking along her skin, the thought of which creeped Kelly out.  At the same time, the recognition of that feeling, the energy she was walking alongside gave her comfort in its familiarness.
        Kelly pulled her hand away and it felt as if she had plucked some of that force out of the stream.  She sensed it around her hand, and could almost see it around her fingers, like the heat haze off the back of a jet engine.  Even in the deepening dark, there was still enough light to make out the quivering in the air.
        Without even thinking about it, whatever was encircling her hand coalesced from her fingertips and into her palm.  The sensations and sights tickling at the edges of her perception pulled together and sharpened in her hand.  They grew into a growing ball, becoming clear to see.  The energy took on form and gave off light, pulling away from her hand and floating above it as she manuevered her hand to cup it, but it hovered inches over her flesh.
        She tried to pull her hand away from the strange ball of energy she seemed to have created.  The orb followed her hand, like it was an extension of her arm.  She waved it around in the air from side to side, and let out a far too loud, "Hee!" as it obeyed her commands.
        The glow from the ball was a dull yellowish tint that cast a strange lemony hue over everything nearby.  The light didn't travel very far, but it lit up enough of the nearby forest that Kelly could see the immediate area, making her walk easier through the ometimes treacherous terrain.
        Kelly stopped playing with her new toy, and when she lowered her hand, the glowing ball took a place just over her shoulder.  If she stared at it, she could see the surface of it quiver and shift as the energy roiled inside whatever shell it was encased in.  Rivers of differing shades could be made out the more she looked into it, picking up on every detail.  She thought staring into it would be like looking into the sun, but the light was very soft and gentle, and she felt no strain at all from looking at it.  When her eyes turned away from it, Kelly didn't even feel her eyes needing to adjust to the darkness just out of reach.
        The orb lit the pathway as Kelly continued onto the stone circle in the woods.  She didn't know why she was going there, just that she wanted to get as far away from the people who called themselves her friends.  Kelly was no longer sure just how far that word went with them.  She suspected she just needed her space, but at that moment, they did not feel like her friends.
        She knew she could have headed back home, but even being with her family didn't feel like where she wanted to be right now.  The further Kelly was from people, the better.
        As she crested the hill that blocked any attempts at a straight on view of the standing stones, a noise in the woods caught her attention.  A rustling of leaves, a crackling twig.  Nothing too out of the ordinary for the forest, but Kelly knew where she was.  This was almost the spot where Mr. Beadle had killed Marcus.  This was a place of power and mysticism.
        What was she thinking, coming out here alone?
        Her voice was that of a squeaking mouse when faced with the lurking cat.  "Darien?"
        No answer came from the darkness to greet her.  Not from Darien, and not from anyone else.  The latter of which was a relief to her.  The orb somehow sensed her fear, or maybe it was just her lack of concentration on holding its form together, causing it to flicker.  When the darkness threatened to return, she turned back to her conjuration, and the brightness at once solidified and became even brighter.
        Something in the darkness raced backwards from the growing light, crinkling leaves underfoot or under paw as it hurried to keep to the shadows.
        Kelly smiled at that, and forced more of her will into the ball, and its size pushed outwards, growing larger than her head, larger than two, and it kept growing.  Anyone near enough would have been baffled at the sudden supernova exploding in the forests of Kraftsbury, but all anyone saw was a tiny glow in the distance that many discounted as a fire, or kids playing with flashlights.
        It felt good to take control and fight back against the darkness that was threatening to swallow up her life, but the force of will Kelly was pushing into the ball was becoming an increasing strain upon her.  With everything else that had happened, from the gunshot to her everpresent headache from the vision upload earlier in the day, the girl had reached her limits.
        Her body gave, and while she remained on her feet, Kelly could feel her limbs become rubbery as all the tension she had pushed into her muscles release.  The ball she had created shrunk and threatened to blink out, but before she could be plunged back into night, Kelly caught the fading orb with a thought and held onto it, stopping it at the baseball sized sphere it had originally appeared as.
        Kelly felt relieved that she hadn't fallen all the way back into the black, but she continued to wonder what lurked just out of sight.  What would it have done if the ball had gone out?
        Rather than do what a sensible person might have done, Kelly felt the need to confront whatever was out there.  Again, she knew where she was.
        This may have been the place where Marcus was taken by vampires, but this was also a place of power.  She knew what the standing stones meant, what they were used for.  She knew if she could harness that energy, it would serve her better than any of her own power.  Who knows what she might be capable of there?
        She looked down the hill, but all she could see beyond a few feet was the darkness.  But Kelly knew the circle was not far.  She'd been out here enough times, and travelled this exact path that she could see the stones in her mind's eye.
        Kelly thought she could send the miniature sun ahead of her to see what was waiting in her path, but she preferred to keep the ball close, and her body surrounded with the protective glow.
        Her feet skipped down the incline, the easiest way to take it.  It was just steep enough to make just plain walking difficult, but if a person was to run, they could lose their footing with ease.  Kelly could have inched her way down, but the sooner she was enveloped in the protective circle, the better.
        She could tell by her following light that the trees around her were thinning out, and she knew she had entered the clearing that surrounded the circle of stones in a circle of trees.  In the back of her mind, Kelly found it intriguing that nothing had grown any closer, and it was an almost perfect circle, but these ponderings were better left for another time.
        In Kelly's chest, she could feel her heart pounding as she neared her protection, and knew all would be well.
        So when the next step she took sank her into the black, she felt her heart stop dead.  Her eyes widened, her pupils dilated, but no further light arose to enable her to see.
        She looked from side to side, with no sign of her creation.  It had sputtered for a moment and then went out, like a gust of wind had blown it right as no more than a candle.
        But there was no wind, and it was no mere flame.
        Kelly reached out to try and scoop more energy from the streamers she had sensed before, but her hands found nothing but cold, November air.  Her eyes saw nothing.  No lines of power anywhere nearby.
        The young woman was alone, and powerless.  Kelly had never felt more helpless in her life, not even when she was facing down the barrel of a gun held by a vampire.  At least then, she knew what she was up against.  At least then, she knew help was nearby.
        But now, in the dark forests near the Black River, she was all alone and her only weapon taken from her, Kelly was scared.  The only thoughts in her head were about what happened to Marcus on this very spot.  Was she next?  She wanted to push those thoughts as far from her mind as she could, but the more she tried to not think them, the more they grew.
        Just as she was thinking it was all in her head, a twig cracked in the forest beside her.  Before she knew her mouth was open, she heard herself blurt out, "Crap!"
        As if whatever was watching her had heard the noise, she heard another crunching sound as dead leaves were pressed down against the dirt and stones.  She turned towards the sounds, and they grew closer.
        Kelly spun around at the approaching sounds, pivoting on her heel and sprinting across the clearing towards the stones.
        "Crap.  Crap crap crap!"  She no longer knew if the noises she heard were the leaves and branches under her own feet, or whatever was purusing her.  She no longer cared.
        Her eyes had adjusted enough that she was no longer blind, and could make out the monoliths nearby.  Kelly's thoughts wandered towards Darien's own motionless nature and size as she skidded around one of the stones, and ducked behind it.
        Not that she had any illusions of safety behind the rocky finger reaching out of the ground, but it was better than nothing.  There was a cold kind of comfort as her hands rested against the once rough surface that had been smoothed down by time and weather.  She rested her forehead against the stone and tried to listen for anything approaching, but anything she would have heard was drowned out by the sound of her ragged breath and the pounding beneath her breast.
        Once she had reached her destination, Kelly tried again to reach out and grab hold of that power she had found before.  Was everyone right?  Was it all in her head?  It was like she had always been trying to explain sound to deaf people, and now she had lost her ability to hear.  Had it ever really existed?
        She felt cut off, and alone.  There was nothing here, nothing but cold stones and leaves.  The river rushed by behind her, and whatever lurked within the forest ahead.
        If it was even still inside the trees.  It must have breached the clearing by now.  But she could not see anything.  Which wasn't surprising, given the lack of light, but Kelly thought that at least a shadowy figure might have become visible.
        Even here, in the center of the stones, Kelly found no flows of energy to use.  She had wished to be normal, wanted nothing more but to stop being special, and this was the time the universe chose to grant her wish; the one time she could have used her gifts most.
        But what could she have done, even if she could have pulled upon any ethereal energy resting within these stones?  Thrown a ball of light at a bear?  Make the ground crack underneath a wolf?  The idea of her not even being able to do anything if she had the power was not what she wanted to think about.
        Kelly hugged herself, at last realising just how cold it was becoming.  Vermont winters came early, and she had created a lot of heat in her run, but that was burning off fast.  The air was colder now, even colder than when she had started her walk.  She could feel colder air still wafting off the nearby river.  It wasn't even that late yet, as most people were just hunkering down in their nice, warm homes for dinner.
        With many hours of night to contend with, and the air threatening to grow ever more cold, Kelly knew she had to do something.  There was no way she could stay out there all night.  The morning would come and they would find a Kellysicle frozen to one of these stones.
        Worse yet, if whatever out there didn't go away, whomever came out here next might find a half-eaten Kellysicle.
        The only course of action the young woman could see was to make a run for it, back the way she came.  Maybe once she got back in the forest, she could make a light again, but she had no idea if that would happen.
        Or if she could even make it that far before whatever was out there, waiting, found her and pounced her.
        As if whatever it was that was out there could hear her thoughts, Kelly heard another crunch of leaves.  A close one.  It was almost right beside her.
        Kelly turned, whipping around the stone and keeping it between her and the noise.  Her hands didn't move off the surface of the stone, feeling its surface beneath her fingertips, sliding from the smooth stone to moss as she slid around it.
        Her mouth opened to ask who was there, but the words couldn't form past her mind.  Maybe it had lost her, maybe if she stayed quiet it would go away.
        Maybe it could hear the pounding in her chest and was coming closer because of that.
        Kelly winced at the thought and tried so hard to make her heartrate slow down, but it was no good.  If it had slowed at all, it spiked right back up and beyond when another crunch closed in on her.
        The sound seemed to come from the other side of the stone she was clutching at like a fossilised security blanket.  Maybe if she moved around the stone, she could put the massive block between her and her pursuer, and make a run for the forest.
        She slid around the stone, moving the forest to her back.  As Kelly was almost in position, she felt her side bump against something.  The sensation of pain shot along her arm as the jostling was felt all the more because of her gunshot.
        Kelly hoped it was somehow another stone, but she knew it wasn't.  It was too soft.  Too warm.  And it moved.  It was something living.
        And it was standing right next to her.
        Kelly turned and saw a shadow beside her.  It looked like a man, with a cloak draped over him, and face obscured by the hood.  She remembered Alyson's stories of the Ferryman, and Kelly dreaded that her time had indeed come, if she was seeing her guide across the river Styx standing beside her.
        Fear clutched at the girl's heart, and she once again had the sensation of the beating stop.  For a split second it was as if everything had frozen.  As she stood there staring at the shadowy figure every thought and no thoughts at all passed through her mind.  Too much flashed in front of her mind's eye to make any sense out of any one single thought.
        She froze there with her hands stuck to the stone she had sought to use as protection.  Instead it felt as if she had become part of the stone, a piece of it that had long ago been carved into the form of a frightened girl.
        At last the stone set her free, or her survival instincts kicked in and she pulled her hands away.  The wound in her upper arm was throbbing harder than it had since Darien had performed his field surgery on it.  Worse even than her head had been throbbing all day long.
        With her hands able to move again, Kelly's feet tried to make their own movement, but the girl in control stood there still.  Every instinct in her body told her to move.  Told her to run from the Ferryman, but what good would that do?  If it was her time, it was her time.  You can't outrun death.
        That thought at long last made Kelly's feet move.  She felt the ground shift beneath her, long dead leaves push aside as the soles of her sneakers shuffled about.  She may have thought she could not outrun death, but Lord knew she was going to try.
        At least, she would have if the gut wrenching pit in her stomach didn't make Kelly's knees buckle with the first step she tried to take.  Instead of taking a single step forward, Kelly found herself staring up at the sky.  It was a clear, moonless night, and overhead she could see stars peeking through the leaves that reached out over the clearing.
        Kelly thought she had hit her head as the darkness seemed to swim around her and into her field of view; so dark it was that it even blotted out the stars.  She came to realise that it was just the figure hovering over her, walking around her.
        This was it.
        She had no fight left within her.  Maybe she did, but what was the point?  Death stood over her, literally.  What could she do at this point, throw twigs and leaves at it?  Her one possible weapon had been taken from her at her moment of greatest need.  And so she lay there.
        Kelly had always hoped to have a better end than this, a better end than dying alone on her back in the middle of nowhere.  She knew the Ferryman would be there no matter what her deeds, no matter where she was.
        She waited for him to reach out and offer some sort of calming words to ease her into the next life.
        When the figure spoke though, it did not sounds like Alyson described.  Kelly didn't know what to think anymore as the figure addressed her by name.
        "I've waited a long time to find you, Kelly Scott."
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