Chapter 2: World’s Cutest Con Artist

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I definitely do not care about him, but when we finished our tomatoes- the oddest snack ever, just biting into a whole tomato like an apple- and Eli was still around, I actually found myself letting him stay instead of kicking him off like I had every right to do.

He started asking me what the best spots were for camping out, so of course I had to tell him about a few of my old haunts, hidden down side streets and alleyways where the smell is bad but the seclusion makes up for the faults.

In return, he taught me how to beg.

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A bit of wanderlust took over, so I led Eli around the city on an impromptu field trip, pointing out good places to scavenge and locations to avoid.  I don’t know why I did it- maybe, after thirty-seven days alone, I just wanted a little company.

Whatever it was, it somehow made me share my most valuable information.  We passed the burger joint on Berkeley Avenue and I told him how the owner will slip you a couple fries if you look hungry enough.  A girl at the corner of Bloome and Rosewood sent us a nasty glare, which freaked me out just a little.  After hurrying Eli along onto safe, rich-people-occupied Bloome Street, I warned him about the ragtag street gangs that pop up from time to time.  I’m not saying that girl was part of one, but you don’t really know who is to be honest; all you have to go by is the mean glint in their eyes and their tendency to hang around in clusters, smoking stolen cigarettes and plotting some stupid petty theft.  They won’t give you too hard of a time if you stay out of their way, you know, keep your head down, avoid any and all confrontation, stuff like that.

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Anyway, after putting a good amount of space between myself and Eli and the girl on the corner, I imparted my street-wise savvy to him, which the kid just ate up.  He listened so intently, it was like he was trying to commit it all to memory, copying every word onto some sort of mental notepad.  From this I could tell Eli was uncommonly bright.  It made me wonder why a smart kid like him was out on the streets instead of in school.

Then again, I should be in school too.

Eli, for some reason, was desperate to pay me back.  I did him a favor, he said, so he owed me something, whatever I wanted.  That was the problem- I didn’t really want anything, but Eli kept insisting, staring up at me with big brown eyes, and finally I thought: Why not put those doe eyes to good use?

So that’s how we ended up huddling together on a sidewalk on Bloome Street, attempting to look as pitifully sweet as possible.

When I informed Eli of my plan, he readily agreed.  It wasn’t complicated: Eli would help me beg for money by partaking in a completely fabricated sob story.  We’d find a good spot, hunker down, then Eli would work his lovable magic and with a little help from me we would hopefully receive at least a couple donations.

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“You’re my brother, we lost our house, and now we’re dirt poor and suffering,” I remind Eli.  “And don’t forget to be cute.  Got it?”

“What if something goes wrong?” Eli frets.  “I don’t know what I’m doing!  What if I mess up?”

“It’ll be fine,” I assure him.  “Just follow my lead.  Don’t worry about it, you’ll be great.  You’ve got those killer puppy dog eyes.  That’s all we need.”

Eli whimpers a little bit and scooches closer to me.

“See?  Just like that.  It’s freakin’ adorable.”

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“I’m nervous,” he mumbled against my side.  I’m surprised at his closeness, seeing as I only just met the boy.

“Everything’s okay, kiddo,” I say, even though I don’t know that at all.  Eli’s going to be on his own soon, and who knows what’ll happen to him in this gigantic city, so maybe it won’t be okay.  All I can do is cheer him up a little and act like it’s fine if he hugs me.  “Now, come on.  People are starting to get off of work, which means showtime for us.”

•••

I have to say, Eli really knows how to work a crowd.

At first, no one even spared us a glance, choosing to ignore our existence so they wouldn’t have to feel guilty.  Whatever- I expected this.  Eli was quite the performer, though; if I had any money I’d give it all to him.  He was that cute.

Then he did something I didn’t expect: he improvised.

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I was about ready to give up on the theatrics and take a nap when I noticed tears pooling in Eli’s eyes.  I thought he was actually crying for a second, but then he cried, loud enough for passerby to hear, “I’m hungry, Emma!  I’m hungry!”

Emma? I mouthed in confusion.  He winked at me, the gesture almost comical in its exaggeration.  I really need to teach this kid to wink.

“It’s your fake name,” he whispers.  “I’m gonna try something.”

He pulls away from me and keeps sniffling.  “I’m hungry!  It’s scary out here.  Emma, when can we go home?”

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Huh.  Might as well join in.  “I don’t know…Jake.”  I add in a slow head shake for good measure.  “I don’t know.”

“I miss home!  Where are mom and dad?”  Eli whines.  So it’s the same story we planned out earlier, then.

“I’m sorry, Jake.  Everything is going to be fine, I promise.”

“Don’t leave me.  Please, don’t.” Fat, glimmering tears begin to form in Eli’s eyes.

Not really knowing how to respond to all this affection, I give him a gentle squeeze and hope that looks loving enough.  “Not on my watch.  I’ll make sure we’re together, no matter what.”

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“That’s so sweet, I can’t even stand it,” someone above us says, and I look up to see a simpering woman with a crisp piece of paper in her hand.  “Here, take this.  It’s enough for a cab ride to the homeless shelter, plus a little extra.”  I take it from her, somewhat in awe.  Before I know it, she’s gone- judging from her business-professional skirt and blouse, she’s probably on her way to an office.

Eli looks at me quizzically.  “Homeless shelter?”

I nod in confirmation.  “Yeah, there’s one on Rosewood but it’s a total joke.  Definitely not worth visiting.”

For a moment, I worry he’s going to ask more questions, which would be slightly problematic, seeing as I don’t feel like ruining his innocence today.  Luckily, though, he moves on.

With wide eyes, Eli leans over to have a glimpse at our first profit.  “Ten dollars,” he whispers.  “Ten whole dollars.”

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

“Let’s do it again,” Eli says eagerly.

“Why not?” I reply.  “At the rate we’re going, we’ll have a small fortune by the end of the day.”

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The sweetness of it all nearly gives me a cavity, I swear.  It’s almost painful to act out such a cheesy story, but why should I care?  We’re making a living.  That’s all that matters.

These people were suckers.  Real foolish suckers, buying into our story just like that, giving away their spare change just because a couple of ratty kids stuck out their bottom lips and asked for it.

People are real brainless sometimes.  I’m not complaining, though.  With a couple of made-up lines being uttered on a loop, Eli and I made a solid twenty-one dollars and sixteen cents.  Good work for a day- we’ll have to find a new place for tomorrow.  I try and clear that thought from my head.  There’s no reason for me to be thinking about tomorrow when I’m trying to get rid of Eli, right?  I want to be alone.  I do.  I always do.

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“Hey, Cassie?” Eli whispers as the last remnants of daytime disappear from the sky and sunset begins to take hold.  The steady stream of people is beginning to thin out, with only a few stragglers left to hurry home.

“Yeah, what?” I glance over at him and notice his drooping eyelids.

“Do I have to go now?” he asks.  “I know you don’t want me here and I’m really sorry for bothering you, but I’m tired and I’m kinda scared.  Can I stay with you for a little longer?  Please?”  He looks up at me with watery brown eyes, his little bottom lip stuck out, and I sigh.  I’ve created a monster.

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“No, you don’t have to go,” I consent.  “I get it.  You’re afraid of the dark, you don’t want to get mugged, you need a little help- I guess I can stand being around you for a little longer.”

Eli brightens.  “Thank you so much!  This is gonna be the best night I’ve had all week!”

“But you leave first thing tomorrow,” I remind him, ignoring the twinge of guilt this makes me feel.  It makes me uncomfortable, how attached he is, really just having anyone, especially this strange boy, so close to me.  As heartless as I am, though, I have enough of a conscience that I feel bad about leaving a kid to his own devices.

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Reluctantly, I get to my feet, shoving our loose change into my backpack, and lead Eli away from our begging spot.  Eli looked like he was ready to drop right then and there, but I didn’t want to sleep in the middle of the sidewalk, out in the open, so I found us a little spot tucked away behind some subway station.  Yeah, it smelled, but I was used to the stench, and we didn’t really have much of a choice anyway.

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Eli stretches out on a scratched-up wooden bench, as far away from the station as he could get.  Being the generous person I am, I let him take the spot, choosing instead to stretch out on the cold concrete.

For the next few minutes, I lie back and listen to the sound of Eli’s soft breaths, slowing down as he mercifully falls asleep.

Good.  I found something that shuts him up.

I know I should get some sleep, but I feel too awake to try.  For the moment, I just stretch out and stare mindlessly upward.

As I lay there, back against the cold stone, looking up at the endless ink sky and the orange haze of the city lights, I find myself wondering:

What kind of person bites into a tomato like that?

 

 


 

A/N: Hey, would you look at that, I finally got off my butt and posted this chapter.  Yay me.

On the bright side, I am now on summer break, so I’ll have more time to work on chapters!  Computer’s still acting up, though.  I just came up with an idea for the story, and after being stuck for a while, that is a wonderful feeling.  Hope it lasts.

This felt like a bit of a filler chapter, but the plot definitely picks up in the next one.

I’m done rambling.  Thanks for reading!

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Finding Nora Grace: What You Know

SO MUCH IS WRONG WITH THIS CHAPTER

AND YET SO MUCH IS RIGHT

When in doubt, blame the computer.  It hates me, I swear.

So there you have it.  I’ll stop talking now.

 


 

 

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I still haven’t told her.

I’ve never kept secrets from Judith, and I don’t intend to make a habit of it.

Lately, though, I’ve had to make a few exceptions to a whole lot of rules.

It feels like something’s eating away at me, and it shows. I’m a terrible liar- always have been- and Judith’s starting to notice my additional awkwardness. Our conversations always feel like cliffhangers, as if Judith is trying to give me an opportunity that I never take. There’s a space I have the urge to fill, but I don’t do a single thing. I just don’t, when I probably should.

 

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“Summer’s ending pretty soon,” Judith comments, a couple of days after I had my very concerning dream, when we’re just hanging around, trying to fight off the steadily approaching boredom.

“We have nearly a month left,” I point out. She nods in response.

“Yeah, but these last few weeks always seem quicker.”

Our conversation is now at a painful halt; I feel like I should have something to say.

I almost tell her right then and there.

What comes out instead is, “So how about being seniors, huh?”

Curse my cowardice.

Judith instantly flashes me a crooked grin. “It’ll be something, alright. I bet you won’t survive a minute being at the top of the school.”

To my great relief, we’ve switched subjects, leaving some of the awkwardness behind. Now, Judith is telling me her thoughts on senior year; its proximity to the real world is terrifying, she says, but at least we have the senior prom, and we can finally get out of this town and go do something great with our lives.

Interesting notion.

 

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“-which hopefully will work out, but I don’t know, the admissions process is pretty tough,” Judith explains, “but maybe- hey, wait, where are your parents?”

“My dad’s out talking to a client and my mom’s at the office, why?” I reply, a bit confused.

Judith snorts to herself. “Must be nice. My mother still works that boring data entry job.”

“I guess so… I mean, my mom is always working on some financial services project- I’m still not entirely sure what she does- but she seems like she’s good at whatever it is, and my dad is happy doing his freelance writing,” I try to tell her. She just shrugs. “Hey, remember what you said about getting out of here and having better options? Huh? Are you forgetting your own rules?”

That makes her laugh, which in turn makes me smile back at her.

There’ll be better options. There always are.

“But seriously,” I question, “why are you asking about my parents?”

Judith glances towards the door. “Well, no reason, just that I heard a funny noise, kind of like someone was scratching at the front door.”

 

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We exchange looks, and I can tell we’re thinking the same thing.

“Nothing’s just a funny noise anymore,” I lament.  “Should we check it out?”

“Do you even need to ask?” Judith mutters, easing out of her seat and cautiously approaching the door.

With me right behind her, she carefully reaches for the doorknob, turns it, and gently pulls the door open.

There’s no one on the doorstep, and no one fleeing the scene.

 

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However, we do see something luminous and pastel-hued disappear from behind the bushes.  I notice it instantly, and from her quick intake of breath, I can safely guess that Judith has seen it too.

“Ian, should we-?

“Yeah, probably.”

Off on another adventure.

The glowing shape moves quickly, almost too quickly for us to follow.  Once, we lose it and have to look around, finally finding it in a clearing, just sitting out in the open as if it were waiting for us.

One wild goose chase later, we find ourselves outside a familiar property.

 

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“Why would we be back here?” Judith wonders.  “And what are we doing, following a glowing, pink- wait a second…”

Judith groans, placing a hand on her forehead in apparent frustration.

“Not this again,” she mumbles.  “Not them again…”

I almost ask her who she’s talking about, but I reach a conclusion just as someone exits the house.

“Aster, I told you not to mess with them!  Seriously, cut it out!”

 

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Aster pops out of a hydrangea bush with a pout.  “I was just having a little fun,” she complains.  “Plus, you wanted to talk to them, so I brought them here for you.”

“This wasn’t how we planned things at all!” Lilja exclaims in exasperation.

“Well, gee, you’re welcome,” Aster mutters moodily, kicking at a clump of grass. “I was just trying to help out a little.  No, no, you go on ahead, I’m going to go visit Celine like you asked me to.  Because I’m helpful.

Lilja rolls her eyes and turns to Judith and me.  “Sorry about that,” she says, “Aster’s a bit restless.  She is right about one thing, though.  I wanted to talk to you.”

“Are you going to tell us what’s going on?” I ask.

Lilja shakes her head rather sadly.  “You’ll know soon enough, but I can’t tell you everything just yet.  For now, we’re taking it slow, starting with the basics and all that.  That means heading inside and having a rather important conversation.

•••

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The secret basement is virtually unchanged from the last time we were in it, except for a few more papers and bottles cluttering the space.

“Would you like some tea?”

“Tea?” I ask in disbelief.  “You drag us down to your secret basement for the second time, you refuse to tell us anything that matters, and then you offer us tea?

Lilja brings a hand to her mouth, trying to stifle a grin.  “So, no tea then?”

“I’ll pass, thanks.”

Just then, there’s a thud right above us, then the sound of footsteps, signaling an approach.

 

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“Lilja!” Aster shouts as she clambers down the ladder.  “I got the valerian root and you better be beyond stoked about it, because I nearly lost an arm for just two of these things.”

Lilja instantly springs out of her seat and hurries to meet the disgruntled-looking fairy.  “Celine wouldn’t sell?” she inquires.

“No.  Too scared or something like that.  She must’ve heard about us, or at least guessed, since she just flat out refused to talk to me.”-

“So how did you get the root?” Lilja’s expression falls into something akin to disappointment, as if she already knows the answer.

“Stole it from her garden ‘round the back of the shop,” Aster states promptly.  “Dug ‘em right out of the ground, and nearly got away with it too.  Celine’s stupid ‘senses’ must have tingled or something ‘cause she burst out the back door and…” She glances over at Judith and me.  “Well, I can’t say anything in front of them, which is a complete inconvenience, just so you know.”

“I’m happy you got the root in the end, even if your methods aren’t the friendliest,” Lilja admits, choosing to disregard Aster’s last gibe.

Scowling, Aster hands the roots to Lilja and flops down into a chair; she sends us one sullen look, then proceeds to completely ignore us.

The following silence is extremely awkward, with all of us looking around at each other and trying to figure out what to say.  Except for Aster, of course- she grumpily stares at the wall and clearly doesn’t intend to say a single thing.

 

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Finally, Judith speaks up.  “Okay, this is getting embarrassing.  So tell us, why are we here?”

Lilja opens her mouth to talk.  I know she must be ready to tell us something; she seems resigned, reluctant even, but at long last, she’s going to speak.

“You’re here because-”

Just then, a shrill whistle not unlike that of a tea kettle pierces the silence, making all four of us jump.

“No, no, no, I forgot,” Lilja mutters.  “Not now… I didn’t think… ah, great.”

She hurries over to the strange wooden station that’s been shoved against the wall and frantically fishes around for something.

“Not again,” she groans, “I’ve… wait, there it is.  Good.”

 

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The set-up doesn’t look like it’s doing much of anything, simply sitting there, no steam pouring out of a spout, no violent shaking, nothing, really- no resemblance to the imagined tea kettle at all.

Admittedly, there is a clear substance in the brass bowl that I somehow managed to completely miss, but…

This is all very confusing.

“Um… what is she doing?” Judith asks cautiously, her eyes trained on Lilja’s agitated form.

Astrid holds up one finger to silence us.  “Shut up already!” she chides.  “Just watch.”

 

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So we observe.  It’s all a chaotic mess of powders in a rainbow of colors and droplets of liquids I don’t think I want to identify, and even the mystery root from earlier is thrown in, each component having a different effect on the brew- a hiss, a puff of smoke, nothing.

It’s kind of cool.

With caution, Lilja fills a glass vial with the glowing, sky-blue product of her efforts.  “It’s finished,” she announces with obvious relief.  “I don’t know how I could have forgotten about it.  Ugh, why did I even… I wasn’t prepared for this, and now I have this awkward situation on my hands…”

I squint at the bottle distrustfully, torn between curiosity and flat-out distrust.  “What is it?  Straight answer this time, please.”

Lilja grins sheepishly.  “Um… well…”

 

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“Let me see that.” Aster tugs the bottle out of Lilja’s grasp and examines it for a moment.  “Looks good to me.”

Faster than I can blink, she throws it at me, and it shatters at my feet, the blue liquid seeping into the carpet.  Fumes are drifting up, tendrils twisting around in the air, and now I’m breathing them in and they smell like berries and I am so very tired.  I feel slightly sick, but mostly.

A bit.

Woozy.

 

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•••

 

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It’s freezing.

Why is it so cold?

When I open my eyes, the first thing I see is a dusty blue sky and fat white flakes.

Snow.  That would explain it.

Snow?

The lasts wisps of black leave my vision, and suddenly I’m all too painfully aware of the chill that seeps into my bones; it’s cold, yes, but it feels different than the snow I know so well.

It’s as if I’m dreaming.

I really hope this one is different.  My last dream was too strange for my liking.

When I sit up and look around me, I see nothing familiar about this place; the trees and the snow make for a very textbook winter in an unexceptional suburban town.  At any rate, it isn’t Appaloosa Plains.

 

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There’s a woman making her way through the snowfall, her head bowed and her thick locks whipping in the wind; behind her, a familiar red figure walks with careful, measured steps along the icy path.

I recognize that scarlet skin and cherry-red hair.

My feet kick up tiny puffs of snow as I start to chase after the girl, not even bothering to slow down even though I keep slipping on the powdery flakes.

“Nora!  It is you, isn’t it?  Nora, talk to me!”

Her head spins around so fast I’m surprised she doesn’t break her neck.

 

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“Ian?” she asks, her eyes wide with shock.  “What are you doing here?  I didn’t expect to see you for a long time!  How did you even find me?”

“I don’t really know,” I admit with a shrug.  “It just sort of… happened, I guess.  Aster and Lilja haven’t really told me anything, so…”

Nora nods sagely.  “I figured it was something like that.”

“Like what?”

“Nothing.  Come on, let’s go for a walk.”

•••

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She seems to be drinking in the sunlight as if she hasn’t seen it for weeks, enjoying its glow despite the gloomy weather that clouds the sky.

Nora is different somehow.  Before, she never spoke- at least, not in the flowing, comprehensible sentences I’ve heard from her lately- and she… well, she wasn’t exactly normal.  Couldn’t control herself sometimes.  Now, it’s like she’s a different person.  Actually, not a different person entirely- more like a different version of herself.

While we walk, Nora fills me in on the basics, which are mostly about the woman I saw earlier.

“Her name is Poppy, and right now, she’s dreaming.”

“What do you mean, she’s dreaming?

“I said exactly what I meant.  While Poppy is snoozing on a couch, we’re currently exploring her dream right alongside her.”

Is Poppy… like you?  One of you?”

With some hesitation, Nora answers, “Yes, she is.”

 

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We reach a snow-covered playground, where the woman seems to have stopped.  She’s talking to a little girl who has Poppy’s hair color and long nose.

Nora and I sit on a bench, silently observing the young girl as she gambols around the playground with Poppy in tow.

“I like to watch them,” Nora says softly, breaking the silence between us.  “They’re so happy.  It’s like nothing ever went wrong.”

“What went wrong?” I ask.

Nora smiles ruefully.  “Too much.”  I look at her expectantly, waiting for her to clarify.  “Me… and you… and… them… and Poppy’s daughter.”  She keeps her eyes fixed on the playful duo.

Dread slowly begins to take hold in me, making my chest feel tight and my stomach feel sick.  “What happened?”

 

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“Rachel, her daughter, died some time ago.  Poppy was living alone when she was taken.”

“What?”

“Childhood illness really bites, doesn’t it?”

“Ah, geez, that’s terrible.  That’s really terrible.

I’m in a dream with a dead girl, a supernatural, and my kidnapped sister.

This must be real, then- my imagination couldn’t possibly be this wild.

“Nora,” I plead suddenly, turning to Nora and fixing my eyes on her, “You have to tell me what’s going on.  I’m begging you- I need to know.  There’s no getting out now, and I have a feeling I’ll need to be prepared.”

“I’ve been trying to avoid this conversation,” she confesses.  “I don’t want to drag you into all of this- this world, I mean.  There’s a whole empire hiding underneath the surface, an entire realm that almost no one knows about, and it gets a bit messy.”

“It’s already messy.”

“And from here on out, it’ll only get messier.” She takes a deep breath, steadies her restless hands, and prepares to tell her story.

 

“I’ll only tell you what you absolutely need to know right now, and nothing more.  After all, it’s not really my story to tell.

 

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“At the end of June, I became part of a larger effort made by ancient, furious beings.  They’ve been waiting for this for too long, and while they’re impatient for their moment to arrive, they’re certainly not stupid.  They’re lying in wait, preparing, planning, calculating their every move, making extremely sure they don’t ruin what they’ve wanted for hundreds of years.

“I’m only a piece of the puzzle, you know.  They don’t know who I am yet; I’m just another soldier to them.  Something went wrong when they tried to turn me, and now I’m somehow more powerful than anyone there.

“Oh yeah- turning.  That’s a thing I don’t feel like explaining.

“Maybe we should start with who they actually are.  Yes, that sounds like a good idea.

“They’re like vampires, but… not, in a sense.  I call them bloodsuckers and they call themselves… I don’t really know, but they’re not exactly vampires- that’s why I call them bloodsuckers.  Because they’re an entirely different creature.

 

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“A couple hundred years ago, they were at their peak strength.  They need blood to survive- did I mention that?  You probably figured it out anyway.  As I was saying, they need blood to survive, and back then, they got all the blood they needed and more.  That’s the thing- there was no end in sight to their supply, so they started to get greedy.  They wanted more, but when they went to get it, they screwed up big-time.  They went too far and ended up catching the attention of the humans, enough that the humans couldn’t possibly deny the threat any longer.

“Long story short, the humans got scared, they attacked, and lots of supernaturals died.  Explaining how they were killed would take way more time than we have, plus I’m sure you can get the info later.  By the way, there was more than one type of supernatural.  Sorry, I forgot to tell you.  So, most of the supernaturals were killed, the remaining ones went into hiding, and the humans erased all remaining evidence of the supernatural.

 

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“And that’s about it,” Nora concludes.  A beat passes.

“Well, that explanation sucked,” I declare.  Nora shrugs nonchalantly, as if it couldn’t possibly matter.  “Don’t get me wrong, thanks for telling me, but I’m even more confused now.”

Nora’s smile is apologetic.  “Sorry I don’t have more time to talk,” she says.  “It’s been nice and all, but I should probably get back to the real world, you know, pretend I’m one of them.  They’ll get suspicious if I’m alone for too long.”

“But you never told me how we’re even here together!” I protest.  “What is this dream thing?  Where is Lilja in all of this?  How do you know her?”

 

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For the first time, Nora places a hand on my bare arm.  Her skin is ice-cold but comforting, because it’s the one thing in here that feels real.  “I don’t have time for the details.  I’m sorry.  I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“Alright then, how do I get out of here?”

“No idea.  I usually get out the way I came in- just willing it.  It’s a mind connection type of thing, but it might be different with you here.  Maybe we should try willing ourselves out of the dream at the same time.”

“And how do I do that?”

“Just… think about where you were before.  Picture it, and then imagine you’re there.  Push this dream out of your mind- I don’t really know how to explain the process.”

“I’m guessing it’s like hanging up after a call.”

Just like hanging up, thanks.  I had a bit of trouble when I first found out about my dream abilities but getting a running start helped, like mental training wheels.  You can use your running to imagine you’re physically pushing yourself out of the dream.”

I get to my feet, leaving Nora seated on the park bench,  her crimson hair dusted with minuscule white flakes.  She nods in encouragement.

“It’ll be fine,” she assures me.  “We’ll see each other again.”

 

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I sure hope so, a part of me thinks as I take off through the cold, no sense of direction, with everything turning white around me.

•••

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At some point, the white turns to faded colors and my feet are no longer hitting solid ground.  Panting, I slowly stop kicking my legs and take in my surroundings.

The air is warmer but slightly musty, with a smell not unlike that of an old book.  A tired voice reads words aloud while two others observe.

 

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“Oh!” the voice exclaims in amazement.  It’s Lilja, I can see that now, and she seems astonished to see me awake.  “You’re up!  That’s good!”

“I was worried,” another voice adds.  This one I know- it’s Judith’s voice, a sound I would recognize anywhere- and it soothes me just a little because it means that Judith is still here, the one person in this room I know well.

“He’s fine,” Aster stresses from her position at the end of the bed.  “Fine.  Not dead.  We never would have killed him… I think.”

All three are studying me now; their gazes make me squirm.

“So, how do you feel?” Lilja prompts when I don’t immediately speak.

 

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I squint at her, wary, and speak, my voice surprisingly hoarse.

“Can someone just tell me the truth already?”

 


 

I’m sorry for that.

Here, have a simblr for your troubles.  It’s mine.  I post things, if I ever remember it exists.

Also, tomorrow (February 6th) is my seventeenth birthday.  And here I am, writing a chapter.  That’s a pretty good way to spend my time, honestly.

Spectrum: Chapter 1

Here’s something new!

I wrote a little chapter.  It’s just a fun idea that I came up with, and I really like it.  It can be continued if I so choose, and/or if people like it.

This first bit is really short, but the ending just felt right, so that’s where I ended it.

Also, the title isn’t final at all, and personally I don’t think it makes a whole lot of sense.

Alas… it stays for now.

Enjoy?

 

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Thirty-seven days ago, I made the stupidest decision of my life, and somehow, I’m still alive.

I mean, from a logical standpoint, it’s completely insane.  No car, no phone, and I’m flat broke.

Oh, and I guess what I’m doing is technically illegal.

But hey- if I haven’t been caught yet…

I didn’t do it to spite anyone, but that doesn’t mean I liked them either.

I just needed something more, something I couldn’t find back home.

I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s like… like I needed something real, not just a life back there, where I knew what I was supposed to do and who I was supposed to be and everything that was going to happen in my life.

I didn’t want to be stuck anymore.

I wanted answers.

If only I knew the questions.

 


 

It started with a park bench and a really annoying little boy.

I’d spent the night on the aforementioned bench, for reasons I don’t feel like going over, and it was mine.  There’s an unspoken rule among us squatters and no-good homeless folk, where if someone claims a space, it’s theirs until they leave, and a good five feet of space is left between them and the next person over.

 

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The boy obviously didn’t know, and maybe that wasn’t his fault, but I still wanted my five-foot bubble.  It’s common sense.  You respect the bubble.

This kid just wordlessly sat down next to me, no “hello” or anything- not that I wanted one.

After a moment of his impolite bubble-invasion, I tried to give him the stare.  You know, the stare- the “excuse me, what do you think you’re doing, stop it right now, get away from me” stare.

I can’t believe it.  It didn’t work.

I hate to get vocal, but I have no other choice.

“Hey kid.  You new around here?” I ask curtly, trying my hardest to sound as threatening as possible without traumatizing the poor little fool.

He looks over at me, his face relaxed and his expression pleased, as if I’m his freaking sister or something.  “No,” he replies calmly, “I’ve been on my own in this area for a few days now, if that’s what you mean.”

“Still new, kid,” I say.  Even after a few days, though, he should know the rules.  “Where’ve you been hanging around?”

 

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“The alleyway next to Nellie’s,” he tells me.  “Sometimes, I dig through the trash bins outside and grab a few tomatoes or hamburger buns from the delivery crates out back.”

I give a low whistle.  “Stealing from Nellie?  I gotta admit, kid, you have guts.  And actually pulling it off, too?  Not bad for a newbie.”

The boy’s eyes widen.  “Why?  Is she that bad?  ‘Cause I didn’t have a lot of trouble- well, I had a little, but not like that!

 

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Upon seeing his troubled expression, I shake my head, and wonder just how lucky this kid is.  “Nah, she’s not that bad.  You just have to be careful around her, that’s all.”

Man, old Nellie must be getting soft.

Suddenly, the kid breaks out into a wide grin.  “My name is Eli, just so you know.”

I find my throat closing up, and I feel like I shouldn’t tell him anything more.  The thing is, I’m stupid like that.  Stupid people do stupid things.

“Cassie.”

The kid smiles again.  “Hi, Cassie.”

“Hey yourself.”

 

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“You want a tomato, Cassie?” Eli asks out of nowhere, reaching into the pockets of his cargo pants.

I sigh.  Here I go accepting food from strangers.  “Sure, kid,” I tell him.

 

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What a picture we make.

Finding Nora Grace: Same Old Thing

This one is a little shorter than usual, but there are some pretty pictures at the end!

It’s like a fall/Halloween photoshoot.  Really, I just got distracted and I like taking pictures.

 

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Today- one day, out of the whole summer- we get to do something normal for once.

We get to act like nothing’s wrong.

Today, we’re normal kids.

My dad made pancakes, and I actually got to see my mom for a whole hour before she headed off to work.  Judith called me, and for the first time in a while, it wasn’t to inform me of the latest development in the case that shouldn’t exist.

Together, we planned an entire day of activity- that is, we planned for an entire day of not making plans.

You know, movies and music and stuff.

It was nice, having a change.

 

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“No way.”

“What?  It’s supposed to be good.  We might as well try it.”

“It’s too artsy.”

“Pfft.  You mainstream monkey.”

“You indie little snob.”

“Well, do you have any better plans?”

“… just play it already.”

 

“Carney and Richter Review: ‘Vocabulary of a Fish’”

I can see it now.  We’ll have our own newspaper column by twenty.

As of late, though, it’s been more like “Carney and Richter: Ace Detectives,” or maybe “Carney and Richter: Monster Hunters.”

It’s still fun to imagine a whole world ahead of us.

“Vocabulary of a Fish: It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, which is saying something.”

Wouldn’t that be funny.

 

 


 

 

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I must have dozed off while Judith and I were watching movies, even though I don’t remember closing my eyes.  Still, I’m asleep, and now I’m dreaming.  I know I am.  Why else would I be here… wherever I am?

The first thing I noticed was that I could actually control my body.

It’s interesting, because I’ve never been able to do that before, but for some reason, I can in this one.

I feel more aware, too.  Everything’s tinted and unfocused, sure, but I’m able to take my time, look around, and adjust.

That’s odd.  Tonight’s setting is a park.

 

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A girl is sitting on the edge of a large fountain’s concrete base, her head tilted back and her posture relaxed.  I can’t see her face, but I’m sure her expression is one of pure bliss.

I suppose I can understand her desire to enjoy the outdoors.  The weather in this dream town is rather nice.

For the first time, an occupant of my dreams looks directly at me, and I can tell that I have not gone unnoticed this time.

“Come sit with me, silly!” the girl chirps brightly.  “It’s been so long since I talked to someone like this.”

I’m moving.  Why am I moving?  It’s like I’m a magnet- I’m just drawn to her.

“I don’t know who you are,” I mumble numbly.  “I don’t know where I am.  I thought this was supposed to be a dream.”

 

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The girl seems to think for a second, her eyebrows actually scrunched up and her eyes looking upwards as if she’s trying to visually search her brain for the answer.  “Yeah, I guess this does seem a bit too real,” she says thoughtfully, after pondering for a moment, “but that doesn’t mean it’s not a dream.”

“Is it, though?” I ask.  “A dream, I mean.”

“You could probably call it a dream,” the girl admits, “but it’s not quite the kind of dream you’re used to.”

Alright, fine.  That tells me nothing.

“Let me try this again: who are you?” I inquire with as much emphasis as I can muster, which honestly isn’t that much.

The girl’s face falls; she seems almost… disappointed.  “I don’t expect you to recognize me.  After all, my eyes are all red and glowy now, and I’m not who I used to be…”

Is there something that I’ve missed?  Is there some sort of facial clue?

Through narrowed eyes, I give her another look, only this time I take in every feature.  The nose- familiar- and the eyes- also familiar- and that mouth- so familiar.  A slight smile…

 

 

Oh.

Holy cow.   Holy holy cow.  Hooooooly cow.

“Don’t freak out!” the girl I now know to be Nora, the Nora, exclaims upon seeing my… ahem, shock, to put it lightly.  “Just try to accept it, please.  You’re smart, Ian.  I know you know things about magic, and fairies, and all that weird stuff.”

Not everything, I think rather bitterly.  Why am I bitter?  I’m never bitter.

“I need to tell you something,” Nora says, a sense of urgency to her words.  “Okay?”

I won’t let my throat close up.  Not now.

“Okay,” I whisper.

“Trust Lilja.”

What?  How… how does she… what…

 

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“There’s no time!” Nora insists.  “Just do what she says.  She can help you.  I promise, she will.”

She looks up at the sky, as if seeing something I don’t.  “I have to go… oh man, this isn’t what I imagined at all.”

Right before I wake up, I hear her faintly murmured apology.

“I’m sorry, big brother.  I’m so, so sorry.”

 

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“Ian.  Seriously, wake up.  Right.  Now.

“I’m up!  I’m up!  I’m awake!  Don’t start with the threats, please!” I yell rather frantically.  I know it’s Judith who’s shaking me awake, and I know I’m back in the real world, but I haven’t fully recovered from my dream yet; the confusion is still quite present.

Judith draws back with a heavy sigh.  “You idiot, I was trying to shake you awake for a whole minute.”

I shrug nonchalantly, still feeling a bit tired.  “Maybe I’m a heavy sleeper?”

Judith just shakes her head.  “Nobody sleeps that deeply.”

“It was just a funny dream,” I swear.  She gives me an odd sort of look.  “It’s hard to wake up from a funny dream.”

“Well, a funny dream isn’t just a funny dream anymore!” Judith argues, rolling her eyes in exasperation.  “Honestly, Ian, things are getting weird.”

“Well, there wasn’t anything supernatural about my dream,” I say evenly.  “It was just some stupid thing that’s not important at all.”

Okay, that might be a lie, but she doesn’t need to know that.

I’ll tell her later, just… not now.  I’m not ready to tell her yet.

 

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It seems like Judith believes me, because she finally relaxes a bit and settles back into the cushions.

“Alright then,” she says eagerly.  “We have a few more hours, and I’ve got a lot of movies left.  You better not doze off during these next ones.”

 

I still don’t know what’s going on.

 

 


 

 

 

Now it’s time for some light-hearted pictures!  They were so much fun to take, and I think they turned out okay.

They’re just a bunch of pictures of Ian and Judith in non-matching costumes.  I kinda wanted to make them Halloween-themed, but I gave up, and plus, it’s a bit late for that.

At least some of the pictures make these two look like cutiepies.

Key word is some.

Cue montage.

 

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I only included that last one because it looks like Ian is creepily sniffing Judith’s hair.

Finding Nora Grace: When the Lights Go Out

Good news: I have several chapters’ worth of writing stockpiled for the future.

Bad news: PICTURES SUCK.

A few (okay, a lot) of these pictures are way too dark, and there’s a very awkward hand-holding shot.

But hey.

 

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At least Judith looks pretty?

 

 


 

 

If I had tried to speak, it probably would have sounded something like this: “WhhhaaAaAAAAat?”

 

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The girl rolls her eyes impatiently.  “Yeah, so I have these things, and that stuff’s real,” she sighs as she gestures to the shimmering shapes behind her, “but I’m guessing you knew that already.”

“Um, no, not really,” Judith manages to say, her voice strained as she tries to hide her rising panic.  I don’t think I could talk, personally.  It’d probably just come out as a strangled, garbled mess.

 

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The girl (don’t call her a fairy, don’t call her a fairy) doesn’t seem impressed.  She raises her eyebrows and gives a little snort.  “Yeah, okay.  Point is, we can’t have you knowing.  This is our fight, not yours, and we don’t want you guys screwing things up for us.”

“Screwing what up, exactly?” Judith asks as casually as she can manage.  She does a pretty good job, to tell the truth.  Better than I’d be.

“If I tell you any more, you’d just screw things up!” the little girl argues.  “You and your stupid curiosity!”

A slightly croaky voice- is that mine?  I surprise myself sometimes.  “What’s going on?  We need to know what’s happening.  Please.”

 

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“Pleading won’t help you here,” the girl scoffs, “and I’m honestly offended that you’d even try.”

“Well, excuse us if we’re a little confused at the moment,” Judith mutters.  We exchange glances, and I suppose you could say we’re in agreement on this one.

We’re both still trying to process, and acting like everything is all normal and fine is like a coping mechanism or something.

Okay.  I can deal with this.  Totally not panicking.

“Just shut up!” The girl bursts out.  “Honestly, just stay out of this!  I’m warning you!”

 

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Judith raises her eyebrows slightly.  “And what’s so scary about you, pipsqueak?”

The girl’s face is rapidly reddening to a tomato hue, and I can practically see the steam pouring out of her ears.  “Pipsqueak?  Pipsqueak?!  I happen to be-”

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“Hold on a minute.”

Great, a new player.  Just what we need right now.

Another girl, around my age I’d guess, appears from behind the rusted old car.  I mean, she just appeared, like out of thin air.  Maybe I’m just oblivious to my surroundings, but… I just can’t believe it.

She sure looks normal, but by now I’ve learned that nothing is normal anymore.

Apparently she has some sort of influence, because the little girl with the pink wings seems to deflate a little in her presence.

 

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“Come on, Lil,” she begs, “please?  Just a little threatening, or a mild memory wipe?  For me?

“You already asked me for a little ‘action,’ as you call it,” the older one (Lil?) reminds her, “and as you may remember, my answer was a resounding no.

The little girl juts out her bottom lip and stomps her boot-clad foot in a gesture that stirs up oddly fond memories of a petulant child demanding sweets.

“I’m bored” she whines.  “I need to do something.”

The teen purses her lips, which leads to another frustrated foot-stomp from the little girl.  Surprisingly, this exchange lasts for a full ten seconds before the teen, Lil, I guess, finally sighs.  “Remember the nose incident?  With that detective?”

 

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“It wasn’t that bad!” the little girl insists.  “I fixed his nose in the end!”

“It was upside-down for five minutes.”

“Not a big deal!  It probably wouldn’t have made a difference- I mean, did you see his face?  I say face, but it was more like a lumpy tomato-”

 

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“Can we just agree to never do it again?  Erasing his memory gave me quite the headache,” Lil groans, her fingers ghosting across her temple as if remembering the pain.  “In fact, I think I overshot it a little.  He may or may not have some difficulties remembering the last few years of his life.”

The little girl rolls her eyes and maybe sends a teeny little death-glare towards her companion, but says nothing.  Lil has her eyes closed, and is still lightly massaging her temples.

It’s silent for several moments, until I hesitantly speak up.  “Um, excuse me?  Yeah, we’re still here, so…”

“Stay,” Lil insists.  “Please.  Just until we can figure you out.”

Figure us out?

“We can help you,” she adds.

 

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You can help them,” the little girl corrects.  “I want nothing to do with this.”  When Lil sends her a warning glare, she shrugs.  “What?  I still think we should wipe their memories and dump ‘em.  Or, you know, use more violent methods.”

 

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“My name is Lilja,” Lil, or Lilja now, continues as if the the slightly scary little girl hadn’t said anything.  “This is Aster.” She indicates her young, violent companion, who crosses her arms in a threatening manner and attempts to stare us down.  “Now tell us everything you know.”

Everything,” Aster echoes, only with a little more hostility.

So we talk.

 

 

Judith and I take turns explaining our story, from Nora’s disappearance to the colorful humanoids with the glowing eyes.  We tell them about every part of the mystery, and the people wrapped up in it.

Lilja listens to all of this impassively, but her emotionless act drops when our speech ends.  Her face becomes tense with worry, and her shoulders slump.

“It’s worse than I thought,” she murmurs.  “Five missing?”

“Six, I think,” I correct quietly, “and that’s just the ones I know about.”

“Three from here, three from the next town over,” Judith adds.  “The newspapers are oddly silent about this.”

Well, I’m not surprised.  Every single person had a plausible reason for leaving.  Plus, a few of them are just rumors to most people.

 

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Aster seems to have sobered up, her round face thoughtful.

“This is bad, Lil,” she says grimly.  “Really bad.  If the humans are starting to notice, that means it’s slipping out of our control.”

“I can see that,” Lilja sighs impatiently, turning slightly towards Aster so that Judith and I are no longer included in the conversation.  Even though we can still hear their hushed voices, I feel like I’m invading something private.  Actually, I felt like an intruder long before this moment.

 

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“… why you think it’s a good idea!” Aster’s voice is rising, the anger we first saw resurfacing.  “It’s insane!  You’ll get us all killed!”

“I can sense it,” Lilja insists.  “It’s there.”

Aster stands there clenching and unclenching her fists, the sour expression on her face leaving me all the more confused about what’s happening.

“Fine,” she spits, “I’m not one to doubt your judgement.  But when it all goes wrong, don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Neither of them explain anything.

Lilja only tells us to follow.

 

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I feel compelled to obey, despite all the lessons seared into my memory about being wary of strangers.  The issue is, these are no regular strangers, and the usual rules don’t apply to this situation.

At any rate, I have no intention of returning to my normal life, and couldn’t if I tried.

Oh, right.  My dad.

He’ll freak out if I don’t at least let him know that I’m alive.

 

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Hurriedly sending a text that’s technically not a lie probably isn’t enough, and I feel guilty about my carelessness.

I don’t have the chance to stop and think.

At least it’s not really a lie.  I told him that I was sorry for being out so late, and that I’d be coming home as soon as possible.  Unfortunately, “as soon as possible” may be close to midnight, as I’m guessing we’ll be out for a while.

It’ll have to do for now.

 

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We don’t go very far.

In fact, we’ve only taken a few steps before I feel a soft, warm hand grab mine.

Lilja has taken Judith and me by our hands, with Aster clinging onto her arm.

That’s all I register before we disappear.

 

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It’s a strange feeling, whatever just happened.  Things went so dark, so cold, and then… we just appeared, in somebody’s front yard.

The little yellow cottage sits near the edge of the water like a pristine summer home, maintained enough to avoid becoming decrepit, but not truly appearing to have occupants.  Lilja and Aster head straight towards the front door as if they are at home here; Judith and I follow, though we stay wary of our surroundings.

I’ll just completely ignore the fact that we just freaking teleported.

 

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Lilja walks right up to the door, but only stands there still as a statue.

“It’ll take a minute,” she tells us, “since you’re new.  But I can still let you in.”

Lilja grabs my arm, and a momentary chill runs through me.  She does the same to Judith, then finally reaches for the door handle.

“You should be alright now,” she says.

 

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The door swings open, and she steps over the threshold, Aster rushing in behind her without a single backwards glance.

It’s our turn now.

 

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As brave as I act, I still reach out for Judith’s hand.  She takes it, and gives it a reassuring squeeze, for both my benefit and hers.

As we enter the home and take in our surroundings, I realize what this place reminds me of.

It’s a dollhouse.

The entire property seems like any other cute, cozy family cottage, but the atmosphere is off somehow, as if it were all set up for show.  As if someone tried to recreate a cookie-cutter home, but left out the warmth and the life.

 

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Aster is nowhere to be found, and Lilja is at the other end of the room, waiting.

“I’d like to talk to you, she calls, “just to hear your side of the story.  We should go somewhere quiet, though.  Is the basement alright?”

“Fine, but this better not be a kidnapping,” I mutter, while Judith gives a shrug that seems to say, What other choice do we have?

Lilja flashes me a brilliant smile.  “Oh, don’t worry about that,” she assures us, “I have no reason for keeping you here.”

 

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To my complete surprise, she lifts up the rug, and lo and behold, there’s a genuine trap door, like this is some sort of creepy castle.

“Is that where you keep the bodies?” Judith asks with a snort.

“Not at all,” Lilja tells us mysteriously.  She pulls at the brass loop attached to the door and swings it open, revealing a metal ladder and a dimly lit room below.  “I guess you could say it’s where the magic happens.”

 

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The room is surprisingly cozy.  At least, that’s what I think at first.

Mismatched rugs line much of the floor, scattered haphazardly across the wood.  Two metal-frame beds are tucked into one corner; a mini-fridge- an actual mini-fridge, for whatever reason- tucked into another.

I don’t think I want to know what’s in it.

For a split second, I wonder what about this room could possibly merit such a dramatic hiding place.

Then I notice the… whatever it is.

 

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The setup seems like something straight out of the craziest fiction: a carved wooden frame, surrounded by stacks of ancient books and sweet-smelling candles, holds a thick, leather-bound book so aged it would disintegrate with a single touch.  To the right, there’s a little shelf that hold various potions and bottled oddities, and to the right, there’s a little metal contraption that looks like the steampunk offspring of a witch’s cauldron and a coal-powered furnace.

With a contented sigh, Lilja settles into an oddly-shaped chair, resting her back against the twisted branches that make up the upper half of the seat.  

I assume that we’re at least somewhat welcome, yet I still feel apprehensive as Judith and I sit on the sofa across from Lilja.

I think there’s some guaranteed unease here.

 

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“So,” Lilja says after a brief pause, “tell me more about what you know.  What have you actually seen?  What are your conclusions?  Who else knows-”

 

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“Hold on,” I interrupt, bringing her barrage of questions.  “I… well, we…” I glance over at Judith for confirmation, assuming she actually knows what I’m asking.  Luckily, she knows my thoughts, even if I don’t understand them myself sometimes; her tiny nod and meaningful look are proof enough.

I can continue with a clearer mind now.

“Here’s the thing:  we can’t trust you.  Not yet, at least.  Nothing against you personally, but to be fair, we’re suddenly finding out that everything we thought was and wasn’t real is a bit of a lie.  Things are getting crazy and dangerous and very, very real, and it’s hard to trust someone so quickly without a whole lot of proof, especially now.  I’m sorry if this sounds terrible- it’s nothing against you- but nothing good has come from these changes… so we need time, I guess, or at least something that can show us you’re not too bad.”

 

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“I haven’t killed you yet, so I have that much going for me.” Lilja tries to crack a smile, but it soon drops.  “Sorry.  Death joke.  Not appropriate.” For all intents and purposes, she’s sobered up again.  “Of course I understand- I was a fool for thinking you wouldn’t be afraid, and I am a fool even now.  However, I’ll need you to believe one more promise I make… please, believe me when I say- I will give you a reason to trust me, and if I don’t, someone else will.”

I could probably spend hours digesting that speech, trying to gauge her sincerity, but Lilja seems to want us out of there.  She’s urging us to get up; she practically pulls me up by herself with a surprisingly strong tug on my arm.

“You’re not ready for everything just yet,” she keeps saying.  “You’re not ready to meet Julian.  I need to get you out of here before our usual routine starts.  You need to leave.”

Lilja grabs our hands once more, but this time, I can prepare.

I think.

Before our grand departure, Lilja gives us one more important piece of information that she really shouldn’t be leaving out like this.

“I’ll be contacting you in the near future, when it’s the right time.  Oh, and don’t be afraid- it’s supposed to happen, and no, it is not your imagination.  It is extremely real.”

When she sends us off immediately after her cryptic message, she doesn’t come with us.

 

 

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The place Lilja sent us to is as close to Judith’s house as we could safely be, as if she knew where we wanted to go without ever asking.

I wouldn’t be surprised.

Judith’s the first to figure out our location.

“That’s my house up ahead,” she tells me rather glumly.  “I can tell by the way the lawn chairs shine in the moonlight.”

It’s hard, coming back from what happened to us.  What do I say, after all of that, when Judith is quiet and I can’t seem to open my mouth, when the chirp of the crickets is deafening but still isn’t loud enough to fill the silence?

 

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“Do you still have a crush on Ruby Lee?”

Judith makes me jump, speaking up like that about something so different… so normal.

“No, not really, why?” I reply in confusion.

“What about Kelly Snyder?  She really likes you, for some strange reason.”

“I don’t- hey, stop trying to set me up!”

“It’s too bad.  She’s cute.”

Judith is gone in the blink of an eye, sprinting around the side of the house and presumably slipping in through the front door, which leaves me alone and out of options.


It’s time to head home at the end of a very, very interesting day.

Finding Nora Grace: Everywhere I Go

Uh… hey… so I’m pretty excited right now… we’re getting closer and closer to the really good parts!  This is much later than I would have liked (I had some issues), but I finally figured out what I’m doing!

I kinda gave up a bit on this part of the story, and just said, “Oh well, can’t come up with anything better, let’s just roll with it.”

Ugh.

So… pleased, but not pleased.

Enough of that.

 

I used a house by Pralinesims in this chapter.

I also installed a lighting mod!  It’s quite a new thing for me.  It’s gorgeous so far, though.

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Here’s a sample picture.  I used a brntwaffles mod, the Frozen lighting one with auroras and Roaring Heights water.

I installed it after I’d taken several pictures, so if the lighting randomly changes at some point during the chapter… you know why!

 

So, without further ado…

 

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I am a monster.

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Am I a monster?

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I cannot be.

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I must not be.

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Am I a monster?

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No.  I am no monster.

They are the monsters.

I am not a monster.

 


 

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A little after nine in the morning, I make my way down the stairs.  My dad’s there, but without all of the usual motions, the house feels oddly empty.
I’m not usually ready before I go downstairs.  How funny, I have my shoes on and everything, all ready to head out.

 

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My dad looks up from the newspaper, setting it down once he spots me.  “Hey, kid,” he says wearily.  “You’re up early.”

“I have things to do,” I reply with a shrug.

“Too busy to watch the news?”

“No, I guess not.”

 

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Watching the news in the morning together is like a tradition for us.  Sure, it’s a lame tradition compared to others, but it’s our family.  We’ve never been terribly ordinary.

 

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I sit on the couch next to my dad, who settles back into the couch with a relaxed smile.  “Yeah, good morning to you too.”

“Where’s mom?” I ask him.  She’s usually up by now; she wakes up freakishly early, and is more alert in the morning than any normal human being should be.

 

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“At work” is all my dad tells me.

Right.  She’s always at work.

According to the newscaster, who looks like he’d rather be anywhere but there, it’s going to be mildly hot today, but still cool enough for a day of outdoor activities.

Outdoor activities, like bike-riding and going to the beach.  Not monster-hunting, or whatever it is Judith wants us to do.

 

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My dad speaks up eventually.  “So… uh, yeah… kid… how’ve you been?  Oooh-kay.”  Is he actually struggling to find his words?  He’s never known for that.  My father is a natural speaker, you could say.

 

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“Fine,” I reply shortly.  And I am fine.  I think.  It just… it’s like things aren’t really sinking in yet.

I’m not going to say that, though.

 

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“Fine,” my dad echoes, “so you’re fine.  Really.”

“Yes, really.”

“Hmm.”

 

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I look at the lines on his face, from years of stress, worrying, and yes, laughing.  We’re not all doom and gloom here.

I never truly noticed them until now.

I never truly noticed how old he looks.

 

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“You’re not fine,” I guess.  Well, he doesn’t deny it.

 

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“No, I’m not one hundred percent fine,” he sighs, “but I’m better.”

Better.  Better’s good.

“What are we going to do now?” I wonder, not really expecting an answer.

 

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“We’ll just have to carry on.  There’s no use trying to do something when we can’t.  This is out of our hands now- time to wait.”

 

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Waiting.

Not what Judith had in mind, I guess.

Waiting is safe.  I like waiting.

But…

I still get up, still head for the door, still throw out a quick goodbye.

 

“Go do what you have to do, kid!” my dad calls after me.

Alright, I will.  I promise.

 

 


 

 

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Judith dashes out of the house just as I pull up.

 

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“Sorry about the rush,” she pants as she climbs in the passenger seat.  “Had a bit of trouble, thanks to Alice Richter, mother extraordinaire.”

“Bad morning?” I ask after pulling away from the curb.

Judith shrugs.  “More like bad week.  But hey, it’s all good.”

Is it, though?

By now, Judith has rested her head on the window, and she clearly doesn’t want to talk.  So we don’t talk.  We just drive.

 

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I don’t know a whole lot about Judith’s mother.  I’ve met her before, though, and she seemed like a very… tired woman.

Honestly, I’m not going to ask.  I’m sort of afraid to.

 

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By now, the sun has completely risen, and the sky’s a clear blue.  It’s nice to just drive, when you have this kind of scenery.

 

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Judith breaks my reverie with a gentle nudge.  “We’re here,” she says.  “Also, focus on the road, genius.”

This makes me slam on the brakes, which jerks Judith so much that she hits her head on the window.

Whoops.

“Thanks, kid, I really needed a concussion,” she mutters.  I give her an apologetic look and a mumbled apology, and she seems to deflate a little.

 

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With the car parked by the side of the road in the safest place possible (which isn’t actually that safe at all), we climb out and stand on the edge of the patchy grass.  The field is ahead of us, dotted with clumps of thick weeds.

 

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“We’re here to investigate,” Judith reminds me.  “Just seeing what we can find.”

Is it that obvious that I’m nervous?

“Just seeing what we can find,” I echo.  “And if we do find something?”

“We’ll figure that out when we actually find something,” Judith replies as she kicks at a clump of dandelions.  “If we can even find anything in all this… plantage?”

“Not a real word.”

“I don’t know, okay?  I couldn’t think of the right term!”

Back to our regular banter.  A good sign.

 

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Our eyes meet, and we come to some unspoken agreement.

Judith starts forward, and I’m right behind her.

We don’t look back.

 


 

Totally legitimate field journal: July 30th, around 10:00

First object found.

 

I don’t see it at first.  I find it by tripping over it.

 

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My foot slips on something, and I collide with the ground.

“Ouch, that looks painful,” I hear Judith say from above me, sympathetic, even though I can hear a trace of amusement in her voice.  “You alright?”

 

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“Just great.” I manage to haul myself to my feet, spitting blades of grass out of my mouth.  “What was that thing I slipped on?  It sure didn’t feel like a tree root.”

Judith bends down to pick up the offending object.  She holds it at arm’s length, waving it at me.  “Looks like a shirt,” she observes.

Upon closer inspection, I see that it is indeed a shirt.  It’s a reddish plaid button down, with quite a few mysterious stains and tears in the soft fabric.

Well-loved, or something else?

“Interesting… guy’s shirt or girl’s shirt?  And this location…” Judith muses.

 

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“Yeah, it’s weird,” I concede, “but no jumping to conclusions, okay?  It’s probably nothing.”

“Should we take it with us?” Judith asks, though I know she’ll ignore my protests.  I know what she’s thinking now.

Still…

“No way, it’s a dirty old shirt,” I insist.  “It’s probably nothing.”

To my surprise, Judith actually drops the shirt.  “Alright, fine,” she sighs, “I see your point.  Remember where we found it, if we need to come back.”

I hold up my right hand and nod in mock-seriousness.  “I swear.  Scout’s honor.”

Judith scoffs. “You were never a Boy Scout.”

“You’re right.  I was too weak.”

“Darn right you were.”

We keep moving.

 

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Entry 2: 10:15-ish?

 

Dead deer.  Not talking about it.

 

Entry 2: 10:20, maybe?

 

Trampled grass, some of it ripped up.  Not that important.

Really, Judith.  Not. Important.

 

Entry 3: I don’t know at this point.

 

Along the way, we find a couple of trinkets buried in the grass.  A hair tie, a dull penny, a crumpled receipt- which might be useful if it wasn’t so faded that I can’t even read it- and a key.

Okay, the key is probably important.  It would take some serious sleuthing to figure out what it unlocks, though, and that feels like a bit too much for me.

It looks like any old key- worn silvery metal, attached to a standard metal key chain.  It could unlock anything.  My guess is a house.  It seems like a house key.

Judith wants to tuck it in her pocket, and I don’t protest when she does.

 

Entry 4: I’m done.

 

I really am done.

It’s hot, I’m tired, and we’ve been searching the woods for who knows how long.  It feels like hours, especially under this sweltering sun.
Judith acts like she’s fine, but I can see the beads of sweat forming on her brow.  Of course, she’ll make me keep going.

 

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“Hold up,” I call after her, panting slightly from the intense climb.  “I may be abnormally handsome and inhumanly smart, but don’t forget that I am, in fact, a human, so can we please stop for a second?  I feel like I’m dying.”

 

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Judith considers this for a moment, then shrugs nonchalantly.  “Sure.  I’m just glad I wasn’t the one who asked, so now you’re the one that looks weak.”

“Oh, thank- wait, who are you calling weak?”

“I’m not saying you’re weak- I’m saying you’re weak and a liar.  Abnormally handsome and inhumanly smart?  Don’t make me laugh.”

 

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We goofed around for a bit as we rested up.  I mostly tried to convince her that I am at least wonderfully attractive, but it was all fun and games.  Just a nice time with your best friend, with a decent view.  One of those moments that you try and hold onto, because it’s too perfect, yet somehow still simple, to forget.

 

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She’s got a quirky sense of humor, but it works with her personality.  I think she liked my jokes; I certainly noticed her wide grin.  On the other hand, I can’t ever know for sure.

 

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It’s not that far of a walk to normal suburbia, and before we know it, it’s well after noon and we’re ready to return home nearly empty-handed.

Well, we didn’t really find anything important.

 

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Oh yeah, and we’re nowhere near the truck.  We’ll have to walk back down to pick it up.

Alright, fine.

 

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We were going to take a shortcut down to the truck, but Judith nearly runs into me because her eyes are fixed on something in the distance, and we kinda have to change our plans.

She leans in close to my ear and whispers, “Hey, does anything about this situation seem familiar to you?”

No, not really… wait…

 

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Not again.  Please, not again.  I swear this whole thing is killing me.

 

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What are the chances of it happening twice?

Something just seems strange here.  Two very strange, very unnatural humanoid creatures, out in broad daylight, seen in the same town, by the same two kids, twice now?

What, do they want us to see them?

Wait.  Who are they?

Is this even real?

Seriously, what is this?  What is going on?

Are we on some TV drama or something?

 

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They take off running, and for a second, I swear I can see their figures blur.

 

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Without any warning, Judith takes off after them.

That girl and her insatiable curiosity, I swear…

“Hey!  Get back here, Jude!  Judith, seriously, what are you doing?!” I yell.  She slows down very slightly, but doesn’t look back.  When I catch up, she only picks up the pace.  “Judith, come on!”

Her only response is, “I’m doing this before I can panic and back out.”

 

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“Well, what about me?” I ask, an edge of fear creeping into my voice.  “I could very well freak out!”

“I have a feeling you won’t.”

“A feeling?!”

“I know you, Ian.”

 

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We only get glimpses of them as we run at top speed, but these glimpses are enough to show us where they’re headed.

And there’s the creepy billboard.  I knew I had a bad feeling about this, and that disturbing little child only solidifies that feeling.

 

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Not the creepy abandoned building cliché…

 

I don’t even know what this place was called.  I’m pretty sure it was some sort of arcade or tourist-trap restaurant that went out of business maybe fifteen, twenty years ago, as if any tourists would ever come to this town.

No one ever bothered to knock it down or at least convert it into something useful.  No one ever had the money.

And now it’s being used by spooky-spooks and those Care Bear-colored humanoids.  If they had just knocked the thing down…

 

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The purple woman turns and says something to the blue-and-pink man (more like boy, he seems like he’s barely nineteen), who nods.  Together, they slip through a hole in the window and are gone faster than I can blink.

 

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Judith mutters something under her breath, probably a curse.  Oddly enough, it sounded more like German than English.  Is she cursing in German now?

She manages to gain control of herself by balling her fists and taking a deep breath.  “Really?  A creepy abandoned building?”

“Just what I was thinking,” I reply shortly.  She wants to go in there, I can tell, but at the same time she seems scared.

She’s going to do it, and honestly, I’ll be going in there with her.

I really am an idiot.

 

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She makes her way towards the metal barrier, while I follow, a few steps behind.  We stop just short of the end of the road and stare at the looming wooden structure.

Is it awe?  Fear?  Shock?  All of it in one?

 

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“What are they doing in there?” Judith wonders.  “It’s just…”

“We don’t have to do this,” I tell her.  “It’s not our responsibility.”

She takes a nervous, slightly shaky breath.  “Yeah, I know.  But it’s something we still need to do.”

“You sure?”

“Absolutely.”

 

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Judith moves to step over the barrier, but something makes both of us freeze.  There’s several delicate sounds, almost like whispers, and then quite the contrast.

 

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“Ugh, fine.  I really didn’t want to step in- you two are bad enough- but I know a suicide mission when I see one.  Step back, idiots, or you’ll die a painful death.  No need to thank me for the warning.”

 

 

Finding Nora Grace: Countdown

Warning- this one’s a bit long.  Just stick with it, and we’ll get there eventually.

I spent days trying to come up with something, and then I just bang this chapter out in fifteen minutes.

Hey, inspiration- couldn’t you have come a little sooner?

I had a really hard time getting this chapter right.  I think I’m getting better, though.  It takes practice.

We’re getting to the juicy part… almost there…

 


 

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When I got a call from Judith, I knew something was up.

 

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When all she said was “Library.  Now,” I was a little apprehensive.

Now… now I’m just worried.

 

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“That should be about it,” she informs me as she dumps her armful of books on the floor.  She spreads them out a little so we can see each volume.

 

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The room is musty, with a slight mothball scent that permeates the air.  We’re completely alone in this room of leather seats and outdated novels.

Judith, characteristically, gave me no explanation.  When I showed up at the library, she was waiting by the entrance, and before I could ask her any questions, such as have you gone crazy, she grabbed my hand, dragged me inside, and led me to this back corner.  Some sort of “ancient tomes” or “books no one cares about” section, probably.

 

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She grabs one off the floor and settles into the worn leather sofa.

 

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A beat passes.  I clear my throat, and she looks up.  “So when are you going to tell me why we’re here?” I ask.

She frowns at me.  “Thought you’d know that.  But fine.  I was curious, you know, about the-”

 

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“No, Judith,” I cut her off.  I can’t let her keep going, if I’m right about this.  I probably am- I know her too well.  “I know what you’re thinking.  And no,  I am not doing this with you.”

 

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“Come on, Ian,” she pleads, “you know me.  I’m curious.  It’s a disease.”

“Nothing like that actually exists!  Don’t waste your time poring over those books looking for… well, looking for a legend!” I exclaim in frustration.

 

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She scoffs.  “Oh, so you think we just imagined a teleporting lady whose eyes can freaking glow?!”

“… yes?”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

I hate it when this happens.  Of course we’re going to disagree- we’re different people, but we still fit well together.  Sometimes, we both get a bit stubborn.  It’s just… Judith… well, she believes a little too much in the impossible.  She looks for a story when there isn’t one.

 

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She gives a heavy sigh, breaking the tense silence between us.  “Can you at least humor me?  I really think something’s going on, and that we should at least try to figure it out.  I have to, Ian.  I can’t just…” Judith trails off.

I bite back a curse.  She really got me there.

 

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“Fine,” I mutter, “but it’s just so I keep you from running after fairies.”

 

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“And I’m just bringing you along to remind you to stop being such a downer,” she says with a laugh.  “Now get reading.  You know what we’re looking for.”

 

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It’s been at least an hour, and we’ve found absolutely nothing.

Well, not nothing.  There are plenty of tales about creatures with eyes that glow like the moon, but none of them are exactly what we’re looking for.  The ones that could be our superhuman aren’t nearly as in-depth as we need them to be.

This sucks.  This sucks.

 

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“Well, this has been fun,” Judith says sarcastically as she throws Celtic Myths and Legends onto the dusty carpet and reaches for an even larger volume.  “So far I’ve seen quite a few mentions of a humanoid with glowing eyes, but nobody as colorful as our speedy friend.  You think we have a vampire on our hands?”

“The ridiculousness of that makes me shudder,” I reply with a grimace.  The book in my hands grows heavier by the second, and I’m barely ten pages in.

 

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“Hey, we saw a lady with blue skin and glowing eyes.  Anything goes.” Judith turns a page.  “Hmm… think she had fangs?”

I give her a noncommittal shrug, but say nothing.

Twenty, thirty, forty pages, and I still come up with no valuable information.

It takes me until page fifty-three of Scandinavian Folklore to hit something.

 

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“Hey, Judith.  Listen to this.” I elbow her in the side, and her head snaps up instantly.  She places the thick tome she holds on the floor and looks at me expectantly.  I begin reading a paragraph from the book.  “‘Accounts were scattered across a time period of nearly fifty years, from 1837 to 1881, of creatures that were human in body structure, but with hair and skin of unnatural, vibrant colors and eyes that shined like candlelight.  They reportedly fed on blood, both animal and human.  However, these reports were rare, and seemed to disappear altogether after 1881.  They can most likely be dismissed as fiction.’”  Judith’s eyes widen slightly as I add, “Look, there’s even a rough sketch.”

 

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The drawing must have been done quickly, and there’s very little color, but I can still make out the figure of a man.  His clothing is torn, and his stance makes him appear feral.  And his eyes… his hair… his skin…

Red hair and violet skin.  He’s poised like he’s ready to run.  The look in his eyes is somewhat insane.

The caption below the picture reads, “Sketch completed in 1849 by Norwegian artist Frans Lindholm.  Lindholm was later denounced as a liar and insane, based on his claims as well as previous behavior.”

 

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“Oh, wow…” Judith breathed.  “It’s just a side note and the book tells us not to believe it, but that sure sounds like our friend.  And the drawing… wow… oh, man.  Ian…”

“I know,” I whisper.  “It’s crazy.”

“Did you find anything else?”

“Nothing like this.”

 

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I just keep staring at the picture, and that block of text.  It’s terrifying, it can’t be real… it’s just too strange.

“Who is that guy?  Frans Lindholm?” Judith wonders.

“Never heard of him,” I say with a shake of my head.

 

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Judith leaps to her feet with sudden energy.  “Wait here,” she instructs as she races out of the room.  A full five minutes later, she comes back panting, with a blue leather-bound book.

 

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“Found… this… good… look…” she wheezes.  She must see the confused look on my face, because she holds out the book.  I immediately grab it and inspect the cover.

“‘The Life and Works of Frans Lindholm: Master of the Canvas’,” I read aloud.  “Why’d you get this?  Once you stop dying, of course.”

 

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Judith flops back down into the leather sofa, and it takes a moment before her breathing slows down enough for her to speak.  “It might have information- you never know,” she tells me.  “There could be more to the story.”

“But the book-” I start to protest, before Judith cuts me off.

“Books can be biased, you know.  They probably left out what they thought was unimportant.  After all, they probably don’t want to take up too much room talking about a guy everyone thought was crazy.”

 

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She flips the rather thick volume open to the first page.  “Want to read it together?” she asks.

“Do I have a choice?” I reply with a small smile.  Judith shakes her head, and with that, we start with the first chapter.

Frans Lindholm was apparently a genius.

He was a brilliant man who painted masterpieces and occasionally “dabbled”, as the book called it, in poetry.  He believed in spirits, fairies, and all sorts of otherworldly things.  Of course, everyone thought he just went crazy after his wife died.  You have to admit, though, he had a bit of talent.

 

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Aside from the occasional comment on his “amazing” technique from Judith, we both remain silent.

The book takes us through his childhood, his career, his artistry, right up to his death at fifty-one years of age.  We read about his bland childhood, his marriage, his only child- a daughter- and how he spent every hour either painting or writing.

I was starting to get tired of the tedious chapters, before Judith gives me a sharp poke to the arm.  She points to a passage that I’m just getting to.  She must be ahead of me.

Lindholm often kept a diary, and blah blah blah… wrote of his beliefs, blah blah blah… shown in the translated excerpt below: “I am sure that the creatures exist, for I saw them myself.  Each had bright eyes, and hair and skin in varying colors that included deep scarlet and palest blue.  I gather that they have been growing in number, and they feed on the most horrible of substances- blood.  They are swift-moving, and extremely powerful.”

 

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“Blood,” I mutter.  “Eyes- check.  Hair- check.  Skin- check.  Speed and power- check.  And the blood…”

Judith gulps nervously.  “This is getting weird…”

She flips several pages, her eyes skimming across the printed words.  A little gasp escapes her lips as she lands upon something that must shock her.

 

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“He even… this man is either incredibly brave, or incredibly stupid,” she murmurs.  “Read this,” she says in a louder voice.

I lean over a bit further to read the paragraphs.

It is believed that the decline of Lindholm’s mind began shortly after painting “Dancers in Spring”, when he was most likely having a nervous breakdown due to the pressure of his work and the death of his wife, Anja, a mere two years after the death of his daughter, Birgitta.  He firmly believed in the existence of “creatures of the night,” and reportedly attempted to set a trap for the creatures in September of 1851.  He wrote in his diary, “I swore that I would catch one of the hideous beasts, and so shall I keep that promise.”  He went on to describe his plan in detail, which involved travelling into a remote area where he claimed to have seen the creatures and using his own blood to lure them out of hiding.  Lindholm imagined a trap that used his blood to distract the creature so that he could render it unconscious, and, “have enough time to bind the creature, or discover a way to kill or weaken the monster.”  However, he fell ill, and did not have the strength to carry out his plan.  Defeated, Lindholm resumed his previous work in…

 

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“Well?” Judith questions impatiently.  “What do you think?”

“What do I think about what?!” I respond, a little harsher than I meant to.  “Okay, so one guy saw something similar.  What would you have us do, recreate his trap or something?  What do you want us to do now?”

 

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Judith groans.  “No.  Yes.  Oh, man, this is so messed up.”

“It wouldn’t work,” I point out.  “We don’t exactly have anywhere to start.”

“We have Lindholm’s story.”

“No, Judith.  No.

 

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She throws her hands up in frustration.  “Well, we have to do something!” she practically shouts.  “We just can’t forget about it!  And as crazy as all of this is, and believe me, I’d like to forget about it too, I can’t help but feel…” She hesitates, which only increases my anxiety.  “I just have a feeling that this is all connected somehow.  The strange woman, the disappearances…”

 

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It feels like something heavy has just whacked me in the chest.  Of course it all comes back to Nora.  Of course it does.

I don’t know what to say.  I can’t.  I can’t.

 

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“We should do it,” Judith says suddenly.  Her voice nearly makes my heart stop.  “We’re probably the only ones that know now.  We have to do something.” She looks me straight in the eye.  “For Nora.”

 

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My voice sounds strangled when I finally speak.  “We’ll get ourselves killed.”

“If they’re really what… you know, what they are… and I know it’s a lot to ask… a lot more people could get hurt if we don’t at least try and find out what’s happening,” Judith answers with a slight tremor in her voice.  “Don’t get me wrong, I’m terrified.  But if it’s all fake, like you said, and it doesn’t work… then we leave, and forget about it.”

 

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“But if it does work?” I ask nervously.  “That’s what I’m afraid of.  What if it is real?  All of it?  Then what?  Everything we know… everything we thought was safe… it all changes… and we’ll be in a lot more danger after that.”

 

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“Change is scary,” Judith says carefully, “but if we don’t find out… we’ll just be letting everyone down.  If it actually exists… this supernatural stuff… someone needs to warn everyone else.  Someone needs to know, or we’ll all be defenseless if anything ever happens.”  Her gaze intensifies.  “I don’t want to take that chance.  I’m sorry, Ian, but we need to.  Oh, and by the way… I give you permission to run away screaming like a little girl if it gets to be too much.  I won’t even make fun of you, I swear.”

I laugh slightly at this, which in turn makes her smile.

 

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“When would you ever pass up a chance to make fun of me?” I say with a small snort.

Judith falls back in her seat dramatically.  “Oh, you know me too well, old friend.”

 

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“So,” I continue, when my smile has faded, “we’re playing detective, right?”

“Just investigating, and we’ll act accordingly if we find anything,” Judith promises.

“Can I be Holmes?”

“No way.  You’re the Watson.”

“But Judie…”

“I’m smarter than you, so it goes without saying.”

“But Judie…”

 

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“No more questions, Watson.  I’m calling you tomorrow, we’re grabbing that truck of yours, and we’re taking it all the way to the creepy hills near the fairgrounds for a little look.  And look is all we’ll do.”

“Will we be armed to the teeth?”

“As close as we can get, due to the slight inconvenience of being under the age of eighteen.”

“Good.”

 

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It feels strange to say, but it’s actually kinda nice, having a purpose.  Even if we’re doomed, even if the purpose is crazy dangerous… it feels good, just having one.

 

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Before we go our separate ways- Judith taking a left while I take a right- Judith gives me a crooked grin.  “Hey, Ian?” she asks.

“Yeah?”

 

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“I may be the head detective, but you’d look better in a Holmes hat.”

 

Finding Nora Grace: Strange Times

I’m back… with more!

This chapter fought me all the way, and I still don’t like it.  I really don’t.  It’s been really hard for me to write lately, for whatever reason.  Hopefully it’ll get better.

Hey- so here’s something almost funny.

In the last chapter, it said that Ian’s full name is Ian Patrick Carney.  Fun fact: Patrick Carney was/is the drummer from The Black Keys.  I didn’t mean for that to happen!  What a funny coincidence… maybe I had that band on my mind.

Anyway…

Oh yeah, and Pose Player finally works!  I’m pretty excited.  Way too many of these pictures were just excuses for me to play with filters, angles, and poses.

I still have tons of stuff to figure out and I don’t know what I’m doing, but… I’ll try and find out somehow.

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“WHY MUST YOU TORTURE ME SO”

Sorry, I’m just happy.

You’ll be seeing her in future chapters…

 


 

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“Girls don’t like it when you stare at them, you know.”

I instantly knew what kind of person she was, from the words she spoke and the way that she spoke them, the way she just sat down next to me without invitation, the kind of look she gave me.

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“I wasn’t staring,” I insisted.  I was, actually.  Just a little bit.

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The strange girl rolled her eyes.  “Come on, you’ve been making googly eyes at her since recess started.”  She nodded her head toward the girl in the distance, laughing happily with her friends.  “So you like Ruby.  That much is obvious.  But have you two ever talked?  Like, at all?”

“No- I mean, well, sometimes- I- I- I… kinda… wait, who are you?” I spluttered.  “Why are you asking me a bunch of questions?”

The girl just sighed.  “Boys.  Honestly.  I’m here to help you get the girl.”

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Wait, what?

“Get the girl…” I echoed.  “You mean… you’ll help me talk to Ruby?”

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“Finally, he gets it!” the girl exclaimed.  “I’m setting you two up.  I heard my mom say that once.  It means I’m totally a matchmaker now.  Don’t worry, I have a plan.”

It was quite startling to me, especially with my child mind, this girl sitting next to me even though we’d never spoken a word to each other, practically coming out of the gate running with her speech about helping me talk to a pretty girl like she was setting us up on a date even though it was some little childhood crush.

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She pointed to Ruby.  With this, I noticed how often she used her hands when speaking.  “Alright, so you’ll have to trust me.  You have to start with the compliments.  Say you like her hair, or her clothes, or her kitten pencil case.  Just be super nice.  Then you talk about things you both like.  If she likes My Little Pony, talk about My Little Pony, but don’t be mean about it if you don’t like the same things.  Talk about school.  Talk about the spelling quiz we just had, because goodness knows no one did too well on that one.  Just talk to her, and make sure you’re nice about it!  Now go, grasshopper!  Why are you still here?  GO!”

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This girl, whose name I still hadn’t learned, practically shoved me away from her toward where Ruby was trying (and failing) to do a cartwheel.

Ruby Lee.  I really did like her hair.

It took me a minute to get her attention, and with every second, my anxiety only grew.

Just wave or something.  Don’t nudge her.  Just say her name.  Just do it.  Do what the strange girl told you to.  On second thought, why am I trusting her?

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In the end, I did talk to Ruby.  I learned that her favorite color is yellow, because it reminds her of sunshine.  I learned that she loves math and science but hates spelling and writing with a passion.  I learned that she loves ham-and-cheese sandwiches, kittens, and playing checkers with her sister.  I learned so much about her in that one day, more than I ever thought I’d know.

Ruby and I never so much as held hands, and after a while of friendship, I realized I was okay with that.

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I made two new friends that day.

One was Ruby, of course.  The other was a surprise, a girl who took charge.  I’m glad she did, though.  I think my life is different now, because of her.

She told me her name was Judith.

 


 

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I was told to write in a journal.  I could write anything, really, but I got the feeling it was supposed to help me cope.

I don’t think I could ever write what I’m feeling.

Besides, this is not about me.

This is about Nora.

Entry 1: July 2nd, 2016

Things about Eleanor Grace Carney that should never be forgotten:

Her peculiar sense of style.  She loved bright colors, and you could never convince her to wear anything else.

Her laugh.  She did this odd snort-laugh thing, where she’d hold her breath and then snort air out of her nose instead of making noise.

Her eyes.  I know they were the same color as mine, but hers seemed so much brighter and full of life.

Her love of cheese, of all things.  She ate way too much cheese.  It was practically an addiction.

Her hair.  It was this reddish-blonde color, and it always seemed so soft.  She liked braiding it.

Her scent.  She loved anything that smelled like flowers.  I can still remember the scent of her lavender shampoo.

Her beat-up sneakers.  It’s an odd thing to remember, but she particularly loved these firetruck-red sneakers.

Her smile.  Sometimes it was a wide, toothy grin, and sometimes it was a faint little thing.

Her kindness.  Her gentleness.  Her creativity.  Her positive attitude, despite what she had to go through.

I don’t think I could ever write everything down.

 


 

 

I tried to forget about everything.  It felt like the only thing I could do.

I just have to distract myself until… until what?  What am I waiting for?

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Our town had this summer festival every year.  It was a fair-type event, but a bit different- like somebody who didn’t know what a fair was tried to set up a fair.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper fair without food so deep-fried it would clog your arteries with a single bite, and lemonade that was either way too sour or way too sweet depending on where you got it from.

And the “meet-and-eat” hall.  That name still makes me cringe, but you can’t change town tradition.

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Judith and I went towards the end of July, really because we had nothing better to do.  We were never really fans of the food-centric displays and the cheap games, but in this insignificant backwoods town, you take what you can get.

It was a hot day, hot enough that Judith actually wore shorts, something she hated.  Her hair was different too.  I’m pretty sure she straightened it.

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We sat and talked for the longest time, out in the sun with the young families and the couples holding hands, before eventually giving in and buying two bottles of overpriced soda.  It was worth it, I decided, as I gulped down the cool drink.  I’m pretty sure Judith looked happier than I’ve seen her in a while.

Our peace was relatively undisturbed, with a few exceptions.  Ruby Lee was there, and she stopped to babble about how much fun she was having and how we just had to try some games- “Like the love tester.” She winks at us, and runs away grinning.  That girl is strange.

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As I looked out at the horizon, where the sun was slowly sinking and streaks of pink and yellow adorned the sky, I managed to forget for a while.  It was a pretty hard feeling to beat.

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A sharp poke to my side.  Warm breath and hushed words.  “Don’t stare or anything, but what is that?

I look over at Judith.  Her face is tense, and her gaze occasionally flicks towards the emerald hills that line the property.

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She’s looking at… something?  No, someone.  A figure in the distance.  Blue skin and pale lavender hair.  It moves.

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Blue.

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“You don’t think…”

“I do,” she whispers.

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“Well, what do you want us to do about it?” I reply tersely.  “We have no idea what’s going on.  We can’t… we…”

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“Are you scared?”

“Of course I am.”

“Good.  Then I’m not alone.”

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Judith is going to do something about it, I’m sure of it.  I know her too well after all these years.  I know what she’s going to do, I can see it in her eyes, and a warning is already halfway to my lips before the look changes.

Shock.

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I follow her gaze over to the where the strange woman is.  Or rather, where she used to be.  She’s no longer there, and there’s no sign of her anywhere else as far as I can see.  Judith was looking at the woman since we spotted her.  She couldn’t have disappeared in such a fraction of a second.

So what happened?  What’s going on here?

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“Okay, blue skin, glowing eyes… superspeed?  And disappearances?  This is starting to feel like some cheap TV drama,” Judith mutters.

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“But, if that were true,” I add, “you’d be much hotter.”

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She glares at me, but I can tell from the glint in her eyes that she’s not offended.  “And you’d have to be hotter and smarter.  Much, much smarter.”  She takes a deep, slightly shaky breath.  “And we’d probably be older, and you’d have this gruff, gravelly, ‘sexy-man’ voice, and we’d probably end up together after a season or two, depending on how much the writers wanted to milk it…”

“But it’d still be predictable and completely idiotic.  I mean, there’s some supernatural crisis or whatever- who has time for all those pointless kissing scenes?”

“Oh, I don’t know…” Judith says with a gentle smile.  “Some people are worth being idiots for.”

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By now the sky is a deep inky color that’s more of a navy blue than a black, and a few stars peek out from behind splotches of darkness.  I should probably be getting home, but I feel frozen in place.  Judith shifts positions, probably trying to get comfortable.  She always squirms when she’s nervous.

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I give the still-empty field beyond one more glance.  “I better go, or my dad will murder me.”

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Judith chuckles.  “Yeah, right.  More like he’ll take away your robots or something.  I always knew you were a little nerd.” She ignores my eye roll, choosing instead to stretch like a cat after a long rest.  “Well, we both know my mom will do absolutely nothing, so I have the luxury of taking my time.”

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She makes her way towards the parking lot, probably expecting me to follow.  I did drive us here, after all.

“Hey, slow down!” I call as I jog after her.  She barely glances at me before slowing her pace slightly.  “We should talk about this… whatever it is- and soon.”

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“We’d better,” she sighs, “or I’ll probably go crazy thinking about it.”

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It’s strange, how calm we both are about the fact that our reality is changing rapidly, morphing and growing in ways we cannot comprehend.  Maybe we’re just pushing it down, not really ready to accept it yet.  Or I guess it just hasn’t hit us.

When it does, we’ll probably panic.

 


 

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“I don’t have much time, so listen carefully.  Things are going to get strange around here, and at some point you’re probably going to get involved- you and Judith both, since she’s bound to be with you when it all happens.”

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“I need you to do something for me, okay?  I know you’ve been the one caring for me since we were kids, but now I need you to do one more thing for me.  I need you to believe in the impossible.  Can you do that?”

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“They’ve made one mistake in all of this: they’ve told me too much, almost everything they know.  And now… now I know what to do. ”

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“I’m afraid I’m out of time, brother.  Just remember that I love you.  I may be lost, there is still hope for you, I promise.  Oh, and Ian?”

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“Wake up.”

 

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The Sunshine Blogger Award! For Real!

I come back from vacation, and what do I see?

MON DIEU!  MON DIEU!

YOU GUYS LIKE WHAT I’M WRITING…

… I think.

sunshine

It’s the Sunshine Blogger Award!  I’m seriously shocked.  And happy.  Super happy.

It’s a great award that shares amazing blogs and helps to thank bloggers for the wonderful work that they do.

I was nominated by blamsart and iomai.  They’re both fantastic writers, and super nice people too.  Thanks so much!

The Rules:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and add a link to their blog.
  2. Answer the 11 questions sent by the person who nominated you.
  3. Nominate 11 bloggers and add their links.
  4. Notify the bloggers you included.
  5. Keep the rules in your post.

 

Okay.  Here we go…

Questions from blamsart:

1. Fav song! Right now! I want to discover more😀

Right into the tough ones, I see.

I like a lot of songs right now, so it’s hard to pick!

I’ll give you two.

“Turn Blue” by The Black Keys

One of my favorite bands… they’re great.  Sort of a rock/alt-rock group.  I don’t really know, I’m clueless when it comes to genres.

 

“Fluorescent Adolescent” by Arctic Monkeys

Also one of my favorites.  This song makes me kinda sad, for whatever reason.  It gives me a nostalgic feel.

 

2. How’d you come up with the title/last name of your story?

 

Funny story… not really.

It just popped into my head, like all of my ideas.  I was just on my way to the gym (no, really, it was one rare time when I willingly went.  It never happens.) when I thought, “Hey, here’s a title!”  It’s really strange, but that’s how it happened.  Ideas just tend to pop into my head.

 

3. How much space does sims storytelling take up in your life?

 

Lots of time.  Seriously, lots.  I don’t have a lot of friends (scratch that- “any” friends), so I don’t go out much.  I really like to write, even if the writing goes absolutely nowhere!  It’s just so much fun.  I mean, who needs friends, right?

Haha… ha… ha… *awkward laugh*

So, it takes up a lot of time, but not too much.

 

4. Are you sometimes afraid your next hiatus could be your last?

 

I’m always afraid of that.  I have a tendency to leave things for a long time, and then want to do them again after a long break.  I abandon my projects and hobbies way too much.  I just want to continue even if I’m having trouble, but… writer’s block is always there.

 

5. Favorite type of romance to write?

 

Aww, romance.  I love romance…

I’ve never kissed anyone, never been in a relationship, and never been in love.  Basically, all of my romance knowledge is from books and movies.

I love writing the quirky kind of romance.  You know, where the characters are cute and funny and unusual.  And that slow-building kind of romance, where their affection and romance and stuff… builds up?  I don’t know.  Where they don’t realize their feelings for a long, long time.  Hope that sounds right…

 

6. Any deep dark fears? Like afraid of lightning or water?

 

Don’t laugh, don’t laugh…

Butterflies and most other flying insects.

 

7. Are you the type to run away from danger or towards it?

 

Most often, I will run away from danger… depending on the danger.  Like if it’s an axe-wielding murderer… I’m outta there.

 

8. Do you have any characters that represent who you want to be? Or wanted to be at some point?

 

Well, anybody know Judith?  From that one story I just published?  Yeah, you may not know much about her yet, but based on her personality and information that has yet to be revealed, I think she’s the type of person I’d like to be.  She’s sarcastic, funny, not afraid to do what’s right…

 

9. Take one of your characters. Pick randomly! Got them? Okay drop them in a pit of snakes (venom or not? no one knows). What’s their reaction?

 

Alright, today’s victim is…

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Violet Blake!  You know, from that other story I published… yeah…

Violet would probably get really philosophical about her impending death.  Then she’d find a way out.  If not… philosophy.

 

10. Have you ever watched a movie and gone – “oh that gives me a really great idea for my story…”. If the answer was YES, what movie? And what idea?:)

 

Along the way, movies have given me little ideas for certain scenes or characters.  The only one I can remember is this gum commercial.  The scenery was sort of futuristic and science-y and stuff, and it gave me an idea for a two-book series that would take place in a dystopian future… it was a horrible idea, but it still happened.

 

11. The ultimate question…Patch 1.67 or 1.69? Did you feel the disturbance?

 

Um… what?  Not really?  Kinda?  A little bit, actually.  But not enough that my answer is a solid yes.

 

And now…

Questions from Iomai:

 

1. So, why do you write? For stress relief or…?

 

It’s sometimes stress relief, sometimes for personal amusement.  I guess I just really like it.  Yes, it does relieve stress sometimes.

 

2. I love animals, although currently I only have 1 dog. Do you have any pets?

 

I have two cats.  They’re complete opposites, but they manage not to hurt each other… most of the time.

I love animals, but I’m not sure how my two cats would react to another pet in the household.

 

3. If you could be a food (like to be eaten or not xD) what food would you be?

 

Something sweet, like a jellybean.  Man, I’d like some jellybeans.

 

4. Since all of you play the sims, what made you get into it? Who do you have to thank for your addiction if it is one?

 

I’m not completely sure how I got into it.  I think it was a combination of Let’s Play videos on YouTube, and somehow finding stories on the internet.

I’d say it’s a bit of an addiction, if I’m being honest.  I have no one to thank, though.  A person didn’t get me into the sims, if I remember correctly.  I mean, I’ve never really had any friends who could get me interested in the game in the first place…

*ahem*

 

5. Do you have any favorite games?

 

Besides the sims?  Let’s see…

I don’t play a lot of other games.  I’ve been meaning to get into other ones, but I haven’t yet…

But I do play cards sometimes…?

6. You’re on a desert island, who’s on this island with you? Pick 3 only.

 

A survival expert (like one of those nature people or the ones that teach the classes, because come on), a guy in some branch of the military (or maybe not, I’m not sure about that one), and my one true love.

Awwwwww.

 

7. Hot or cold weather?

 

COLD.  Definitely cold.

I can’t stand hot weather.  I’d much rather be cold.  It’s just… sweat.

I also love snow.  And winter clothes.

 

8. If you could meet a character from your stories who would it be? What would you say?

 

Either Ian or Judith (remember them?) from that one story.  They’re great characters.  They’re like my babies, in a completely non-creepy way.

What would I say?  I’d probably freeze up.

Maybe I’d just talk about lots of things, like music and movies and food.

Hopefully I wouldn’t just blurt out something like “YOU GUYS ARE GREAT!”

 

9. Name one thing you can’t live without.

 

Hmm… food?

No, but really…

Sweaters?  Cute sweaters?

My cats?

THE SIMS AND WRITING?

 

10. Pokemon or Digimon, and in the same catergory, cartoons or anime?

 

Probably Pokemon, but don’t quote me on that.

And I’d probably pick cartoons.  There’s just something about anime… but I may need to watch more to make a more educated decision.

 

11. What irks you the most about someone/thing/time?

 

For one… Pose Player being a nasty little thing.

I know it works on my computer because I’ve used it before, but now that I’m trying to get it back, it won’t work at all.

Guess I’ll keep trying…

What else?  There are so many things to choose from…

Maybe people criticizing or insulting my odd tastes and sense of style?

 


 

Now it’s time for me to nominate others!  Multiple people on this list have probably been nominated already.  You don’t have to answer my questions or even thank me at all.  I don’t really care.

 

Paint The Town

Whispers in the Wind

The Zevra

Surrounded By Color

Kanto Legacy

This Little Bluebird

Absolutely Cuckoo

The Suitor

Rourke Epic Legacy

Idanezy ISBI a.k.a. Idiot + Insane + Crazy = Idanezy

Until My Color Fades Away

 


 

And there you have it!  All fantastic reads.

For those who’d like to answer my questions:

 

1. If you could live in the universe your stories take place in/ that your sims live in, would you?

2. What’s your dream job (one that actually exists in the real world)?

3. What’s your favorite song, or your favorite band/singer?

4. What’s your writing process?  Do you do anything unusual or funny while writing or to come up with ideas?

5. Any funny or weird facts about yourself or someone you know?  If you can’t think of anything, put a quote or a picture of a cute animal here.

6.  If you could live anywhere for the rest of your life, whether it’s real or not, where would you go?

7. Favorite quote?  If you don’t have one or can’t think of anything, put whatever you want in this space.

8. Is there a movie or book character you’d like to become (it’d be permanent)?  If so, who?

9. Do you have any pet peeves?  Is there something in particular that annoys you?

10. How did you get into writing your blog, or writing in general?

11. If you could be the best in the world at one thing (such as playing a specific instrument, playing a specific sport, or painting), what would you pick?

 

Again, thank you SO much to everyone who reads the stuff I write.  I never think anything I write is good, and then I get comments that are actually nice, and it makes my day!  Then I can’t stop smiling 🙂

Have a good day.

Short Story: Finding Nora Grace

What is this?  Another story?  When will I ever stay on track?

I just have quite a few ideas that I really like.  It’s just really hard to actually write them.  I’m not that good at the actual writing part.  I’m much better at the ideas part.

Here’s another story for you.

It’s terrible, yes, but… whatever.

A bush in the background of most of the pictures just wouldn’t cooperate, and showed up only sometimes.  I’m also missing a few pictures.  Other than that, I had little trouble taking pictures… this time.

Oh, yeah.  I have to say…

I probably won’t be continuing the original story here.  You know, Delirium and Daisies/The Cunningham Legacy/whatever I called it.  I really don’t like it, actually.  It’s fallen flat, and I just can’t go anywhere with it.

But hey- it’s for the best.  The best I could come up with was Frank being a crime lord, Valerie accidentally shooting him in a struggle, she and Evan going on the run to avoid jail…

I better stop now.  I’m starting to ramble.

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Let’s all take a minute to appreciate my “astounding” *coughcough* editing skills.  Look at that.  It’s flawless.

Title isn’t official.  It’s a work in progress.

Here we go.

 


 

June 23, 2016.  School had ended a few days ago, so of course everyone took it as their cue to party nonstop.  We were supposed to be celebrating.  We were seniors now.  We were finally at the top of the social food chain… well, most of us were.  We were one year closer to being free.

Judith wanted to throw a “get-together,” as she called it.  Really, it was just us hanging out in her basement, trash-talking the teachers.  Judith’s a great girl.  We’ve been friends for a while… years, actually.  She calls me her “bestie” just to tease me, and I grimace every time, even though I secretly never want her to stop.

She was nice enough to invite Nora along.  Nobody ever invites Nora along.  She was so happy when I told her that Judith wanted us over.  Not just me this time, but both of us.

It was just us three that day, lounging around in Judith’s basement watching selections from her extensive film collection.  She liked to think of herself as a movie expert, a connoisseur even.  She’ll probably go into the business someday, and personally, I think she’d be amazing at it.  She certainly looks artsy enough.

I can only seem to focus on the snippets of memory from that day.

Nora getting distracted by Judith’s CDs in the middle of “Twelve Angry Men”.  She never could stay put…

Judith letting her play with the stereo, being the ever-patient, surprisingly kind being sent down from the heavens that she is.

Judith falling asleep before the movie even begins.  I remember feeling sorry for her.  She had rough nights sometimes, and never seemed to get enough sleep.  And it sucked even more because she never missed an opportunity to watch “Tangled”.  She said it was “cute”.  Just another example to add to the list of reasons why Judith is a mystery.

Nora running upstairs to use the bathroom.

Nora never coming back.

 


 

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Name:  CARNEY, ELEANOR GRACE

Date of Birth: 1/30/01

Age: 15

Height: 5’3”

Weight: 105 lbs.

Date Missing: 6/23/16
Note:  Has been known to wander off- mentally disabled.  No evidence of struggle.  Other occupants of the house at the time (CARNEY, IAN PATRICK and RICHTER, JUDITH CAROLINE) did not hear or see any signs of struggle or anything abnormal…

 


 

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“Something strange is going on.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised.  Really, I shouldn’t have.  But Judith just sat down next to me with no warning, talking about strange happenings and the supernatural.  It was guaranteed to be a shock.

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I shoot her a glare.  “First of all, I told you to stop scaring me like that.”

This makes her roll her eyes. “You’re a baby,” she says.  The teasing note in her voice doesn’t fail to make me smile.

“And second,” I add, “What do you mean?  Do you finally like barbeque?  Have you started doing drugs?”

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“No, stupid!” She smacks the back of my head.  “I mean around town.  You know, a month ago, around the time that…”

I know where she’s going with this.  Her reluctance to even mention it gives it away.  She doesn’t need to protect my feelings.

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“Alright, fine. Give me your findings, Detective,” I sigh.

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This earns me another eye roll.  “Yeah, whatever, kiddo.  Anyway, I’ve been asking around, and people have mentioned… well, some weird events.  Animals in the neighborhood have been acting differently… growling at nothing, acting skittish, generally being abnormal.  Small animals are disappearing from the woods, and even some deer have been found in the deeper parts, long dead due to horrible injuries. And…”

“And… what?” I prompt her.

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“And… okay, I know this is going to sound crazy, but apparently Carla Armando swears she saw a lady with glowing eyes and blue skin creeping around the suburbs a few days ago.”

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“You can’t be serious, Judith!”  I exclaim.  “Do you really believe a word that woman says?  I mean, people call her Crazy Carla for a reason.  She’s insane, and a pathological liar!”

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A look of frustration crosses Judith’s face.  “Yeah, I know, but you have to admit that something’s going on.”  She must see doubt in my expression, because she continues, “Fine, don’t believe me.  But do you remember Olivia Bryant?”  I nod.  “Well, she’s missing too now.  That’s two girls missing in one month.”

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Olivia Bryant.  A nice girl with a tendency to brag just a tad too much.  She has a lot to brag about, though.  Star volleyball player, class president, perfect grades, a popular boyfriend.  And she was quite pretty too.  There’s no way she’d just walk away from that willingly, and she would never get mixed up with the wrong kinds of people.

If what I’m thinking is true… then what happened to her?

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“You’re right, that’s strange,” I admit, “but I still don’t think that there’s actually a blue woman running around town.”

“I just…” Judith trails off.  “I feel like we should do something, but I don’t know what.  Nothing around here makes sense anymore, not since Nora…”

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“Don’t, Jude,” I mutter.  “Don’t.  Please.”

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She looks at me with something undefinable in her eyes.  Pity?  Understanding?  Confusion?  “All right,” she whispers.  Her eyes are still fixed on me.  They’re the color of sea water, clear and piercing.

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Neither of us says another word.  We don’t have to.