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Thread: This thread for parallel stories not directly linked to "Disturbing News"

  1. #101

    Default He Thought He Saw by Dellani Oakes Part 56 & 57

    By the end of school, Brian was edgy and ready to go home. He smiled with relief when he saw Jordan at her locker and practically ran up to her.

    "God, it's been a day!" he said.

    "Me too. I kept seeing weird stuff," Jordan said. "No one looked right. And there were shadows...."

    "Like right here?" Brian waved his hands in the furthest reaches of his peripheral vision.

    "Yes! I'm so glad it's not just me. I thought I was going crazy! Not that it really should make me feel any better. It's like all the shadows were gathering, preparing for... something."

    Brian shuddered. That was exactly what he'd felt. Having her say it somehow made it seem all too real.

    Heath picked them up and took them back to their house. He tried to make it seem like any other day, but both the kids knew differently. He made small talk until Jordan stopped him. She and Brian described what they had been experiencing all day.

    "Us too," he said quietly. "Even Maribelle, as bad as her vision is, saw things. In fact, I think she saw more detail. It was as if the less we focused on it, the more we saw."

    "What do you think is going to happen," Jordan asked.

    "I don't know, honey. But whatever it is, I think it's going to be soon."

    Brian and Jordan spent a couple hours trying to do their homework, but neither of them could concentrate. They walked into the kitchen, looking for their parents, and found the three of them at the table.

    "Hey, honey. Want to help Maribelle and me fix dinner?" Jackie asked.

    "Sure! The men can bond over a game of pool or something," Jordan said, going to the sink to wash her hands.

    Brian and Heath looked at one another, resigned smiles on their faces.

    "We know when we're not wanted," Heath said, trying to sound huffy. "We'll find something to do."

    "Maybe we should knock out that wall you were talking about," Brian said. "You know, the one in the basement?"

    "Sounds like a great plan," Heath said.

    "No wall knocking allowed!" Jackie called after them, laughing. "No do-it-yourself anything!"

    They trotted downstairs to the game room. A pool table and TV with game consoles took up most of the space. The laundry room was to the left and a closed door to the right.

    "You like pool?" Heath asked Brian.

    "Yeah."

    "How about a game?"

    "Sounds good."

    Heath uncovered the table and racked the balls. Brian chose his cue, chalking the tip. They flipped a coin to see who would break. Brian won. As he leaned over to line up his shot, Heath stopped him.

    "This is a good way to practice," he said calmly.

    "To practice what?"

    "Your abilities. They need exercise in order to get stronger. You also need to get used to them. Focus on the front ball. As you draw back the cue, imagine it hitting the others in just the right spot to separate the balls. Can you do that?"

    "I can try," Brian said, leaning over once more. He aimed at the ball, concentrating on it. He hit the cue a little low. It nearly jumped off the table. "Dammit!"

    Heath smiled, picking up the ball. "Try it again. This time, divide your attention between the cue and the other ball. You know where to hit it to get it to go where you want. Try again."

    Brian did. It was better, but not as good as it might have been.

    "Again." Heath racked the balls once more. "And this time, don't hold your breath."

    "Could have told me that already," Brian muttered.

    "And spoil the fun? Just do what I tell you. Divide your attention, aim and breathe. Quit trying to make it hard."

    "Quit distracting me."

    Brian aimed again. Heath's cue stick rapped his knuckles, commanding Brian's attention. The smile was gone. His dark eyes were angry, frustrated.

    "My only daughter is your future mate," Heath said quietly, his teeth clenched. "You need to be able to protect her. Now, let's take this seriously and try again."

    Brian didn't flinch away from Heath's anger, but he was somewhat intimidated. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "You're right."

    He leaned over once more, going through the steps Heath had told him. Closing his eyes, he visualized the other ball, seeing the cue ball as an extension of the stick. His arm cocked back and he hit the cue ball in just the right spot. The balls scattered to the pockets, nearly all of them going in. Three were left, spinning on the felt.

    "Not bad." Heath sounded quite impressed, though he didn't allow himself to fully show it. "Let's do it again." He didn't move toward the rack.

    When Brian did, Heath grabbed his sleeve. "Without touching the balls." He stared at one pocket of the table.

    Two balls slowly rose from the pocket and lay on the table. One by one, he raised the balls.

    "Now, put them in numerical order." He leaned back, hands on top of his cue.

    Brian concentrated on the balls, lining them up in number order. Heath said nothing, waiting. Brian realized he'd just put them in number order, not laid them out in a triangle. He did it again, this time aligning them correctly. Heath smiled.

    "Break again."

    They went through the exercise until Brian was panting from the effort. He'd never realized that moving things with his mind could be so exhausting. After about an hour, Heath called a break. They sat down with a soda and talked about what they'd been doing. Heath gave Brian pointers for how to do what he did without using so much energy.

    "You couldn't tell me that to start with?" Brian laughed, sipping his drink.

    "You wouldn't have understood what I was talking about. You have to do it the hard way first. I will say this, you did better than I did the first time. I hit the cue ball so hard, it cracked and the pieces went flying around the room. See this?" He pointed to a scar below his right eye. "One of them got me."

    "Really?"

    "Would I lie?" He winked.

    Brian knew he'd told him the truth. He couldn't have explained how he knew, but he was certain.

    "Dinner!" Jordan called from upstairs.

    Putting their cues back on the rack, Heath and Brian went upstairs.

    "Smells delicious," Heath said.

    "I think I just started to drool," Brian commented. "I smell fresh bread!"

    The men went to the sink to wash their hands before sitting at the kitchen table.

    Jordan blushed. "Thank you. Mom and Maribelle made most of the meal, but I made the bread."

    "Really? I love fresh bread," Brian commented.

    Jordan passed a basket of thick, steaming slices around the table. Brian held his a moment, inhaling deeply. In addition to the yeasty scent, he detected a variety of herbs.

    "This is great! I smell garlic, onions," he sniffed again. "This smells familiar. I know those herbs, but can't place them all."

    Jordan smiled proudly. "You detect parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme in addition to the garlic and onions. There's a dash of pepper and I also used barley for part of the flour."

    "Wow!" He nibbled a corner of the bread, earning himself a scolding by his mother and Jackie for eating before blessing. "That's amazing. I could eat just bread for dinner."

    "But you won't," Jackie chastised. "This meal has very specific properties, which I'll tell you after blessing. Heath, would you do the honors?"

    "I ask blessings on those present. For those absent in body, but still in our hearts. I ask that the food we're about to eat nourish our bodies and minds and strengthen us."

    Brian thought of his father alone in an empty house. He hoped he was having success with the wards. If Mr. D. had been able to get in once, would he be able to do so again? Was his father safe?

    Heath, who sat at the head of the table to Brian's right, touched the boy's hand. Their eyes met. Heath's gaze filled Brian with reassurance. This new form of communication was going to take getting used to. Brian didn't know how closely the adults could examine their thoughts, or how much Jordan could get from him. It could prove embarrassing if either of her parents saw what they'd been doing when Maribelle caught them.

    ©2016 Dellani Oakes

  2. #102

    Default He Thought He Saw by Dellani Oakes Part 58 & 59

    "This is delicious," Brian said after taking a bite of the bread.

    Jordan blushed, ducking her head.

    Jackie patted her daughter's hand. "You did well. Now, to tell you about the meal. The bread is infused with herbs that will help in healing and protection. The apples contain cinnamon, cloves, allspice and ginger. All these help with healing and protection as well. Maribelle, tell them about the rice."

    "I added saffron, three different peppers—red, black and white. Also, turmeric, cumin, fennel and a little ginger. These herbs add to strength and mental energy as well as helping to augment your psychic powers."

    The other dishes on the table each had specific combinations of herbs and spices that would aid and protect them. Brian found all the food delicious, though he really missed the fact that there was no meat. He was glad his family hadn't adhered to vegetarianism.

    "Why do we need all this, Mom?" Jordan asked.

    "We are preparing our bodies for what's to come," Jackie replied. "Maribelle and I sense that something is going to happen soon. We need to be ready. Tomorrow, Maribelle and Brian will go back home. We've selfishly kept them here long enough."

    "Do you think that's safe, Mom? If something bad is coming, shouldn't they be with us?"

    "Sweetheart, we can't rely on Brian and Maribelle to be our backbone."

    "I can't sleep in my room, Mom. After the frost, I'm terrified."

    "Then you'll take what you need and move into the guest room," her mother replied. "We can't keep them from home any longer."

    Jordan's mouth snapped shut and she looked as if she were going to cry. Brian wondered why the sudden change. He'd been under the impression Heath wanted them to continue living there, more or less indefinitely. Was it because Jackie knew Miles was home? Or had she figured out what was going on between Brian and Jordan? Not that it had been much, but if Maribelle hadn't walked in, would it have progressed? Brian didn't know and he didn't want to find out—not here, not under these circumstances. He glanced at Jackie and he knew that she'd seen enough to be worried. He smiled, letting reassurance flow from his gaze.

    "Nothing happened. Don't worry," he thought.

    To his surprise, she smiled, the worry gone. Had he actually communicated telepathically? He was shocked.

    "If Jordan's afraid, she can trade places with me," Maribelle offered. "I don't mind."

    "That sounds like an excellent plan," Jackie agreed.

    Brian stuffed his mouth full so he wouldn't have to comment. Jordan, very pointedly, stared at her plate, fiddling with her food.

    Once dinner was over and clean up complete, the teenagers and Zofia went to the basement to watch TV and play pool. The women stationed themselves in the living room to watch their favorite shows. Heath parked himself in the den with a cold beer. Brian told Jordan what he'd done with the pool balls earlier. He demonstrated and let her try. She did really well.

    "I had to chop up the herbs and onions with my powers," she told him. "Ever tried to use a chef's knife and not use your hands?"

    "No, but I bet you rocked it," Brian said sincerely. "You can do anything you want, Jordan."

    "Except math," she sneered.

    "Well, Algebra won't help you slay demons, will it?"

    "I was thinking of hurling equations at them and attacking while they tried to muddle through them."

    Brian laughed. "That might work."

    "Interesting how our parents managed to keep us apart tonight? Do they think we're going to do something bad?"

    "Not bad, maybe naughty," Brian corrected.

    "Explain the difference."

    "Well, if we are going to be married, us being together wouldn't be bad, but it would be naughty."

    "Marriage is way in the future, Brian. I can't even think past school on Monday."

    "I know. Would it be so terrible, being married to me?"

    "No. I think it would be great. Of all the guys I've known, you're the only one who really gets me. It's just the idea...."

    "That we were destined for each other. We had no choice."

    "Exactly! See what I mean?"

    "Even if it wasn't written in the stars, or whatever, I would've wanted to meet you and get to know you. You're smart and funny and you get my sense of humor—even if you do hit me with pillows when you're mad."

    Jordan bopped him with a small pillow from the ratty basement couch.

    "Dammit, do you have one in every room just so you can hit me?"

    He laughed, taking the pillow from her, popping her on the head with it. They wrestled around, grabbing the pillow, giving one another playful blows with it.

    "I have an idea," Jordan said, breathless and laughing. "We have a sparring mat in the other room."

    "What other room?"

    She beckoned to him, leading him passed the laundry room to an almost invisible door. Inside, Brian was surprised to find a small, well equipped dojo. He slipped off his shoes and socks, following Jordan on to the mat that took up most of the space.

    "What do you study?" Jordan asked after bowing to him.

    "Aikido, mostly. You?"

    "Kick boxing. A smattering of American Martial Arts." She started stretching.

    "I just started Krav Maga a few months ago. The Sensei wouldn't take me until I was fifteen. I wish I'd remembered some of it when I got attacked in the swamp." He stretched too.

    "Tell me about that again. And about the whirlwind."

    "Why? You know all about it already."

    "But when I heard it before, I didn't know anything. I think we need to look at our experiences and see what we could do differently. Before, they were attacking us when we were weak and uniformed. We know something now."

    As they stretched on the mat, Brian told her again about his encounters with the fog creatures and the whirlwind. Jordan retold her experiences as well. Afterward, they sparred and discussed what they could have done differently. They pretended to attack one another and made suggestions on how they might fight off something in the future.

    They spent over an hour working out. Brian showed Jordan ways to use the staff. She showed him some combinations of kicks. Both were hot, thirsty and sweating before they had finished. As they made their way up the basement stairs, Jordan's fingers slid between Brian's. She tugged on his arm, halting his ascent.

    "Thank you," she said quietly. "That was the most fun I've ever had with a guy."

    "Most fun I've ever had with a girl," he replied, stepping closer. "Except for that kiss...."

    Brian lifted Jordan, setting her on the step ahead of him, so her face was nearly on a level with his. He drew her close, lips barely touching. Zofia whined behind them, nudging Brian's foot with her nose.

    Ignoring her, he kissed Jordan lightly, then deeper when she parted her lips. It felt good and right to hold her in his arms. He never wanted to let her go. The idea that they were destined to be together no longer felt strange.

    Zofia whined again, tugging his pants leg with her teeth. Brian looked down at her.

    "What's wrong, girl?"

    He listened closely to the rest of the house. It seemed awfully quiet. He let go of Jordan, motioning her behind him. She protested mutely. Casting about for a weapon, Brian signaled that they should do downstairs. He led the way to the dojo, quietly shutting the door before he would speak.

    "Something's wrong. Get a weapon you're comfortable with and we'll investigate."

    Jordan picked up a pair of tonfa, wooden batons shaped like police nightsticks. Brian took a bo staff from the wall, swinging it for balance. The solidly crafted length of red oak made him feel better prepared.

    As he walked to the door, Jordan stopped him. "Dad always says to use this on them if you need them for real," she said. She picked up a small spray bottle. "It's mugwort oil. It's really supposed to be used on crystal balls or divining tools, but Dad likes it on his weapons. It's good for protection."

    "God knows we can use that," Brian said.

    They sprayed the weapons quickly, spending more time than Brian liked, but he knew they were ill prepared for an encounter. Muttering every prayer he could think of, he led the way.

    At the door, Zofia waited, the ridge on her back standing at attention. A low, thrumming growl rumbled in her chest. The air in the house was chilly, as if a door or window had been left open. The house was fairly dark, the only illumination coming from scattered night lights. Jordan took the lead since she was more familiar with the space. Her dark eyes flickered around the rooms, watching, waiting.

    ©2016 Dellani Oakes

  3. #103

    Default He Thought He Saw by Dellani Oakes Part 60 & 61

    Brian walked behind and to her left, his own eyes trying to pick out details in the gloom. He felt the hairs on his neck rise and knew something was horribly wrong. Where were their parents? Why hadn't they warned the children? Why hadn't they asked them for their help?

    The smell of sulfur assailed their nostrils when they got to the front rooms of the house. A fire burned in the living room fireplace, nearly down to coals. Furniture was knocked over, black singe marks marred the hardwood floor and area rugs. Grit crunched under their feet. Brian stooped to investigate as Jordan turned slowly, taking in details. Crystalline grit clung to his sweaty fingers. It had a familiar odor to it that he could detect, even with the sulfuric smell.

    "Cumin," he whispered. His tongue flicked out. "And salt. They were fighting something."

    "But what? And where are they? Why didn't Zofia warn us?"

    "I don't know."

    They searched the downstairs thoroughly, but the living room was the only place that showed signs of violence. Jordan shivered.

    "There must be a door or window open somewhere. Let's look."

    They made the circuit again, this time finding a window in her father's office open. Someone had used it as an exit. The screen was out, lying in a broken heap on the ground. The snow below was trampled as if hurrying feet had jumped out and run away.

    "Where did they go?" Jordan's voice squeaked like a little child's.

    "I don't know, but your dad's car is gone."

    "They left us?" Her voice rose to a near shriek. "All alone? They left us?"

    "We aren't alone. We're together and we have Zofia. Maybe they figured we were safer where we were." He closed the window, locking it. "And they were right. Misdirection, remember?"

    Grabbing Jordan's hand, he dragged her back through the house.

    "Go upstairs and change into warm clothing. Boots, hat, gloves. We'll need food and water. Do you have camping gear?"

    "In the basement laundry room, on the shelves. The backpacks are already full of anything we'd need in an emergency. Dad's pretty OCD about that."

    "Great. Change and meet me here in five minutes."

    "No. Get your stuff and come upstairs. I'm not going in that room alone."

    "Jordan, don't be ridiculous. Take Zofia with you."

    "I don't want to be alone up there. I'm scared."

    Brian took her elbows firmly in his hands. He gazed intently in her eyes, commanding her with his voice. "Jordan, you're not a coward. Put on your big girl panties and do it."

    Her spine stiffened and he could tell he'd made her mad. 'Good, if she's angry, she can't be afraid.'

    "I'll get you for this," she muttered, storming past him.

    "Sorry I don't have a pillow handy," he countered. "Must have left it in my other pants." He dodged her jab with the end of the tonfa.

    Brian changed quickly and went downstairs to get the backpacks. They were fully stocked as Jordan said they were. He grabbed a few more weapons from the dojo and scurried upstairs.

    Jordan met him in the kitchen. She had a square of leather across her chest and she put several knives in slits.

    "They aren't just for cooking," she remarked. "Steel, full length tang, oak grip, brass rivets."

    "Good. I got some things from the dojo. We're as prepared as we can be."

    "I called Andre. He said they were already on the way. Ginnifer got a warning. They'll be here soon."

    "We need more provisions."

    "They're set. I asked."

    Andre's truck pulled up outside. They bustled down the steps and dropped their packs in the truck bed before hopping in back seat with Sweet. Ginnifer and Louisa sat up front with Andre. Zofia hopped in the back with the packs and lay down between them.

    "What's wrong?" Ginnifer asked.

    "Our parents disappeared. We were downstairs in the dojo and they were gone when we got upstairs."

    "Freaky, man," Sweet said.

    "You didn't hear anything?" This from Louisa.

    "No. The house is well built and the dojo is soundproofed. We didn't hear a thing," Jordan said, tears in her eyes. "How can they just be gone?"

    "Go by my house first," Brian said, giving directions. "That would be their first stop. Heath knew Dad was there."

    They knew something was wrong before they arrived. Police cars, lights flashing, lined the road. The house stood with all the doors and windows open, lights blazing. A smell of fire lingered in the air, but nothing was burning.

    Brian leaped out of the truck before Andre came to a full stop. He ran up to the nearest police officer.

    "I'm Brian Casey, I live here. What's wrong?"

    The officer directed him to the sergeant in charge, a woman with dark hair. She stood by the barricade, talking into her radio.

    "Excuse me, Sarge, this kid says he lives here," the officer said, by way of introduction.

    "Thank God. We thought you were home when this happened."

    "When what happened? Are my folks okay? And the people with them?"

    "We're still piecing it together. Neighbors reported sounds of an altercation. When we got here a few minutes later, we found it like this."

    Brian didn't wait for her to finish. He vaulted over the barricade and ran up to the house. Jordan and the others followed him, with the police in hot pursuit.

    "You can't go in there. It's not safe!" The sergeant yelled after them.

    Brian ran in the front door to find utter devastation. Shards of glass riddled the walls and floor. Burn marks led from the fireplace and kitchen. Nearly every piece of furniture was splintered and torn. It looked like a full scale war had been fought here. Strangely, there was no blood. Where were their parents? Why couldn't they find evidence that they'd even been here?
    Turning in a circle, Brian took in details rapidly before rushing to the study. This room was also trashed. All the books lay in shreds on the floor. The shelves had been ripped from the wall, the furniture smashed and overturned. He looked among the wreckage for the book that hid the key. He didn't find it.

    Next, he ran to the dining room. The room was pristine as if it had never been touched. Moving on, he ran through the kitchen, to the basement steps. A wave of nausea swept through him, making him gag. Grabbing the nearby garbage can, he heaved the contents of his stomach into it.

    A horrible smell lingered in the air of the stairway. Forcing himself to breath through his mouth, Brian descended. He felt Jordan directly behind him, her tonfa at the ready. She hadn't puked, why had he? The others joined them, moving slowly and quietly, wondering what they would find.

    The basement reeked of sulfur and wet ashes. The entire room was gutted by fire, the floor and walls scorched. An inch of water pooled around their feet as they walked across the room to the backdoor. This hung at an odd angle, pieces of it scattered across the room and buried in the walls. The extra covering had been ripped from its hinges.

    Without stopping to consider his actions, Brian raced up the steps with Zofia and Jordan right behind him. The others picked their way across the room more slowly, but they joined their friends as quickly as they could.

    The vast expanse of swampy trees greeted them. Strangely, there was no snow back here. Footprints in the damp ground, led parallel to the line of trees, skirting the swamp. Four people had gone this way. And one big dog.

    Zofia sniffed the footprints and whined. She started off after the tracks with confidence. Brian didn't hesitate. He followed her quickly, running top speed. Jordan followed, her shorter legs having trouble keeping up with Brain's stride.

    Andre and the others ran with her, following Brian's path. Brian disappeared between two trees. Jordan ran after him, her steps sure on the uneven, muddy ground. Here, her height was an advantage as the trees grew thick, their branches low to the ground. She saw a few broken limbs and knew that Brian and others had run this way. The ground was churned into muddy lumps, growing more treacherous as they moved deeper into the swamp.

    Behind her, Andre and Sweet cursed as the low branches clipped their heads and grabbed at their broad shoulders. The girls moved ahead, slipping through the tight gaps easily. They caught up with Jordan, letting her lead. Not far ahead, they heard sounds of a fight. Loud voices, the barking of the dogs, weapons striking weapons. Jordan held up her hand, halting the others. She crept closer, crouching to see between the trees. She felt the others come up beside her, finding their own vantage points.

    ©2016 Dellani Oakes

  4. #104

    Post He Thought He Saw by Dellani Oakes part 62 & 63

    Deidrich stood in the clearing, surrounded by a variety of black, unsightly creatures that ranged from evil looking birds to stumpy, imps with horns. Deidrich swung his arms, hurling blue balls of energy at the huddled people. Janus stood with them, attacking any imps that came near.

    Jordan couldn't see Brian in the circle of trees. Her parents and his fought Deidrich alone. Shocked, she almost jumped out into the clearing. A voice in her head told her to wait. She gazed across the clearing and saw Brain in the trees. He held a finger to his lips, motioning with his hands. Instructions filled her mind and she knew exactly what he wanted her to do. She gave mental instructions to the others. They all walked silently away, taking up positions at cardinal and ordinal directions of the compass. Brian was to the north. Jordan moved to her right, directly across from his position, taking the south. The others deployed themselves at east and west, as well as northwest and southeast.

    With a jolt, Jordan realized they were two short. They needed Chase and Marissa, but there had been no time to call them. She could only hope that the same message Ginnifer had received, had been transmitted to the Finleys.

    The group in the middle was suffering. Birds and imps, directed by Deidrich, got past their defenses, attacking relentlessly. Their spells and wards did very little good. They were otherwise unarmed. Their clothing was minimal. Not only were the creatures damaging them, but the cold was taking its toll. Maribelle Casey staggered, an imp dragging at her leg.

    When their members were in position, Brian sent the message to attack. Quickly and silently, they moved into the clearing, weapons ready. With a roar, Brian swung at the imp which was attacking his mother, beating the creature with his bo. The imp howled, letting go of Maribelle. She scrambled closer to her husband. He helped her stand, kicking another imp away.

    The one on Brian, snarled, lunging for him. Brian jabbed it, then raised the bo for an overhead strike. The imp took the opportunity to jump at him, but Andre was there, swinging a metal staff at it. The end of the staff clipped the imp in the chest, hurling it across the clearing. Ginnifer skewered it with a katana. The imp burst with a shower of black sparks, leaving a little pile of ash behind.

    The clearing became a blur of black creatures, spinning weapons and spells. It looked as if the battle was turning in favor of their small band. Attacking with renewed vigor, the humans rallied. Suddenly, the woods around them exploded with even more creatures. Huge,black bats with red eyes and long talons, swooped in, diving and slashing.

    Ginnifer and Louisa went down. Sweet and Andre ran to them, swinging and smashing the bats. Maribelle Casey sat on the ground, her strength nearly gone. Miles stood next to her, doing his best to protect her with his spells and body.

    Brian worked his way to his parents swinging and kicking, clearing his way. He sensed Jordan doing the same from the other side of the circle. When he got to his father's side, he handed him another set of tonfa that he'd carried. Miles smiled his thanks, face grim as he faced another bat. This one dove toward the ground, trying to claw Maribelle. Miles smashed into the mud, grinding its head under his boot. It exploded and turned to dust.

    In the flurry of bats, Deidrich had disappeared. Brian cast about, looking for him, as he battled the imps, birds and bats in their relentless attacks.

    From behind him, he heard the sound of something large crashing through the woods. By the noise it made, and the way the ground shook, Brian knew it was at least the size of an elephant. It burst through the trees, bellowing. Blazing red eyes searched the group, halting when they got to Brian. With measured intent, the beast moved toward him. It lumbered on all fours, its coat long, tangled and matted. Like a giant buffalo, it had a heavy head, a hump on its back and long, curved, lethal looking horns.

    Brian shuddered. The beast smiled. There was cunning and intelligence in the glare of its red eyes.

    "Stay back, son," Miles warned.

    "No. You stay back. Take care of Mom," Brian replied.

    The bats continued to dive, but left Brian alone. As the rest of the humans fought the bats off, Brian moved closer to the buffalo. He circled so that if it charged him, it wouldn't trample the others. Jordan saw what he was doing and ran after him. Brian sensed her coming and warned her off, but she ignored him.

    "We're stronger together," she gasped as she got to his side.

    The buffalo snorted, his focus switching to Jordan. Another evil smile twitched the snarling lips as he took her measure.

    "I'm not afraid of you, Deidrich," she yelled. Squaring her shoulders, she stared the beast down.

    Brian crouched, ready for the charge he knew was coming. Jordan didn't move. Her dark hair whipped around her head as the wind rose. Brian could see her speaking, her lips forming words he couldn't hear. The wind whirled around her, growing stronger, moving determinedly toward Deidrich's buffalo form.

    The ground beneath the beast rumbled. Deidrich lost his footing as the earth undulated. The wind trapped him, bearing down on him as it spun and whirled. The earth rose, shackling his feet. Deidrich shuddered, snorting. The wind lessened and the earth receded. Jordan took a step closer. Brian joined her, taking one of her hands. His voice joined hers, and the wind renewed its strength.

    The birds and bats left off attacking the others, changing the focus of their attention to Jordan and Brian. A wall of fire sprung up between them and the pair of teenagers. It circled the birds, trapping them, squeezing in on them. The bats flew upward, scattering as the flames engulfed the birds.

    From the woods behind them, a sparkling net ascended, trapping the bats in its glittering blue mesh. A hard tug brought them down as it tightened around them.

    Brian saw his parents and Jordan's rallying. The other teenagers joined hands in a line as the adults formed a circle. Andre took Maribelle's hand and another wall of flames rose up and started moving toward the buffalo.

    Other people joined the battle, surging out of the woods. Adults stepped into the circle, teenagers joined the line that now extended to Jordan and Brian. Boldly, Chase stepped forward, grabbing Jordan's hand.

    Deidrich's eyes raked the clearing, taking in the details. His imps were crushed, his birds and bats gone. He was stuck in the buffalo form until the battle was determined. It would take too much time and energy to change. He had the choice to stand and fight, or retreat.

    The two impulses raged within him. They were growing stronger by the second. His strength was diminished with the ending of his minions. With a snort, he lowered his head, drawing energy from the depths of the earth. The humans controlled elements, but so did he.

    Stones shifted, earth rumbled, under their feet. Jordan lost her concentration when a hole opened in front of her. She lost her balance and fell several feet before Chase and Brian were able to pull her back up. With a thought, she sealed the hole beneath her, finding firmer footing.

    "Earth elementals," she cried. "Hear me! Don't answer his call. Answer mine. He would use and destroy you. Look how his minions fared against us! Join me! Fight!"

    Earth shifted slightly and Jordan felt energy from the ground swell inside her, filling her with the strength to do battle. Others around her felt the difference and she knew instinctively that the were also Earth Wielders.

    Maribelle Casey struggled to her feet, calling on the water elementals. Jackie called to the wind. Brian's voice rose above them all, calling fire to him. His body shook and he roared with pain as flames surged from inside him. They burst from his chest, blasting Deidrich like a furnace.

    The water rose, forming another glittering blue mesh. It hovered above the glade. The earth rose around the demonic buffalo, trapping it as the fire did its work. Air whipped at the flames, feeding them to a blazing frenzy.

    Brian's hand slipped from Jordan's. He walked closer to Deidrich, hands outstretched. He grabbed the horns of the buffalo, the fire still billowing from him.

    Deidrich lunged. The ground beneath them opened as the water descended, hissing on the flames. The net fell apart before it reached Deidrich. The wind stilled, but the ground continued to rumble. With a groan, the earth shifted once more. Deidrich lunged, goring Brian with his horn. Together, beast and boy fell into the ground. The hole sealed itself, pulling Brian into the gloom.

    "Nooooooooooooo!" Jordan wailed. Falling to her knees, she clawed at the dirt. "Brian! Brian!" Screaming and babbling, she dug with her hands, but there was no sign of the hole that had swallowed her friend and Deidrich.

    Weeping uncontrollably, Jordan gasped. She couldn't continue. Her strength was gone. Jackie rushed over to her, taking her daughter in her arms. Maribelle Casey crawled to the spot where her only son had disappeared. Miles came after her, cradling his arm. Heath Barrett joined his wife and daughter.

    ©2016 Dellani Oakes

    My apologies for this being late. We were celebrating my son's birthday yesterday. Wednesday, I was busy helping my other son with med school applications. Such fun!

  5. #105

    Default He Thought He Saw by Dellani Oakes part 64 & 65

    The other teenagers wandered over, staring at the place where their friend had disappeared. Their parents came up behind them. Putting their hands on the shoulders of their children, the parents moved into a ring around the churned up, muddy ground. Seeing what they were doing, Jackie and Heath joined them. Miles and Maribelle were too horrified to participate. Jordan sat beside them, clutching Maribelle's hand as she wept.

    A multitude of voices rose in chorus, chanting loudly. Jordan didn't understand the words, but she knew the intent. They were calling to the elements to find Brian and bring him safely back. She looked around the circle for the first time, examining all the unfamiliar faces. Because of their positions in the group, she could make assumptions as to who they were.

    The blond giant and his pretty wife were Marissa's parents. The Finleys were there with Chase. A couple who looked like they'd just stepped in off the beach, clung to Sweet. A beautiful Latina and an olive skinned man stood with Louisa. She recognized Andre's father from the film. He had his arm around a pretty woman with caramel colored eyes and a café au lait complexion.

    They continued to chant. Nothing happened. The earth stayed closed. Brian did not reappear. Neither did Deidrich.
    Maribelle screamed. Struggling free of her husband's grasp, she flung herself on the ground beside Jordan. She dug wildly at the earth, her sobbing voice joining the chanting. Miles took her by the shoulders, pulling her into his arms. He spoke quietly, calmly and she turned her face to his chest, sobs wracking her body.

    "No," she whispered. "No!"

    Jordan burst into angry tears. Standing, she kicked at the ground. "You betrayed me," she screeched. "I asked for your help. Instead, you took him from me! I hate you! I hate you!"

    She took up Brian's bo staff that lay where he'd dropped it. With both hands, she drove it into the hole she and Maribelle had dug. Words tumbled from her mouth in the lyrical language they used. Energy coursed through her, driving deeper into the ground. Her grief and anger fueled her as she searched for a flicker that would tell her if Brian was alive.

    "You took him from me. Bring him back! Earth, Wind, Fire and Water, I command you to find Brian and return him to us—alive and whole! I demand with the voice of the trees and sun, bring him back alive. I speak with the authority of my kind—return him to me. Now!" She drove the staff deeper into the earth so hard it cracked. Holding the other half toward the sky, she chanted.

    The others took up her chant, their voices weaving through and blending with hers as they summoned the elements. The earth shook, slightly at first, then harder. Water gurgled nearby, flowing nearer. The air whipped into a small dirt devil directly over the hole where Brian had fallen. A ring of multicolored flames burned around the depression, fueled by the water that trickled in and around it.

    Gradually, a hole appeared. The earth contracted like a woman in labor. An outstretched arm appeared through the dirt, pale and still. The top of his head came next, followed by his shoulders, his other arm, tight to his side.

    The men reached for him, grabbing him beneath the arms as the earth birthed him. They pulled him free. The hole closed, the fire went out, the wind died down and the water seeped into the ground.

    Andre came back with blankets from his truck. Louisa got lanterns and Ginnifer brought a camp stove. Sweet summoned water and fire, lighting the stove and boiling water. Others came forward with herbs to add, each working eagerly to help the fallen.

    While Heath and Dr. Beauchamps concentrated on Brian, the others checked one another for wounds, washing and binding them with clean cloth steeped in herbal mixtures.

    Brian lay completely still, his face pale, eyes closed. Heath checked his airway and Dr. Beauchamps tried to get a pulse. His tight lipped face told them he hadn't found one.

    "Did you call 9-1-1?" he asked his son.

    "Already done. It may take some time to get here. There was a lot of trouble in town."

    "I'll do what I can, Maribelle—Miles."

    "We know, Claude," Maribelle said quietly, gulping back her tears.

    Between the two of them, Heath and Claude Beauchamps did CPR on Brian. Heath drew on the power of the elements to heal him, but saw little change. Others who had healing powers, joined him a Claude massaged his chest and Heath breathed for him.

    Jordan insisted on taking over the artificial respiration. She knew what she was doing, her father had trained her himself. As she waited for the doctor to do his compressions, she looked Brian over.

    "His amulet," she said. "Where's his amulet?" She gave him the breaths before insisting that the others look for it.

    Her father traded off with her so she could look around for Brian's necklace. It was nowhere to be seen. Determined to find it, Jordan cast out with her mind, calling to it. She knew it, had touched it, it was part of her just as it was part of Brian. She saw it in her mind, deep in the earth.

    "Zofia! Janus!" she called to the dogs. Touching their heads, she showed them what she needed.

    The two dogs moved to the hole, digging quickly. Dirt flew several feet into the air as they sank deeper. Jordan stood beside them, moving the earth as they clawed it up. Soon, she saw a glimmer of metal. A few more inches and she saw part of the crystal. She hopped into the hole, digging with her hands until she had freed it.

    "Got it!"

    With the help of Andre, Chase and Sweet, she got out of the hole. She slipped the amulet over Brian's head and kissed him on the cheek. His skin felt cold, clammy.

    "Don't you dare die," she whispered in his ear. "You come back to me, dammit. You're mine and I'm not letting you go. You gave me my first kiss. You have to be around to give me more. Besides, I owe you a whack with a pillow for that panties remark. Don't you dare die, I have to get even."

    Jordan put the amulet close to his skin, right over his heart. She placed her palms on top of it. Glancing over her shoulder at her friends, she called them to her silently. Standing in a circle around Brian, they knelt down, taking hands. Chase was to Jordan's right, Marissa to his left, then Andre, Louisa, Sweet and Ginnifer, who clung tightly to Jordan.

    "Breathe!" Jordan commanded. "Breathe! Heart, beat."

    Mist swirled up from the ground, heading for Brian. It dove into his nose and mouth, expanding his lungs. Gasping, he started breathing on his own. His chest tightened under her hands. With a flutter, his heart started beating.

    Moments later, the ambulance arrived. Paramedics strapped Brian onto a gurney and loaded him into the waiting vehicle. Dr. Beauchamps went with him. Heath drove Miles and Maribelle to the hospital, leaving the others to explain to the police what had happened.

    "Let me do the talking," Cliff Finley said as they waited for the officer to pick her way through the mud.

    "Go for it," his son replied. "Never saw anyone as good at Dad as talking himself out of a ticket." He put his arms around Marissa, who shivered next to him.

    The police and ambulance drivers had doled out thermal blankets. Each couple shared one, holding one another close as Mr. Finley talked to the sergeant who had been at Brian's house. He wove some story about coming out here for a cookout when an earthquake struck.

    "Brian must have been right on a fault line," he said. "Sucked him right in. We dug him out, but he was in a bad way. Fortunately, we had Dr. Beauchamps here and another fellow who used to work as a paramedic. They got him squared away until the ambulance got here."

    "That's quite a story, Mr. Finley." She didn't sound like she believed him.

    "Well, maybe you'll like this one better. We came out here to hunt a demon that's been causing trouble around town. When he went back down to the abyss, he dragged Brian with him, and we pulled him out by magic."

    The sergeant laughed, shaking her head. "Clifford Finley, you were always the best story teller in school. I swear, I don't know how your wife puts up with you."

    "Cause I keep her laughing," he replied. "Thanks for your time, Amy." He took her hand, gazing into her eyes. "You know what went on here. It's plausible and looks good on a report."

    "It's plausible," she murmured. "And looks good—on the report."

    "We'd best get these kids home to bed," Cliff said. "Is that okay, Amy?"

    "Yeah. Sure." She sounded slightly dazed. "Yes, get the kids to bed."

    They loaded up in the vehicles and drove to the Finley's house, which was closest. Everyone had hot chocolate and leftovers from the bonfire evening. As they were cleaning up, Jordan's phone rang. It was her father.

    "Hey, honey. Good news. The doctor said Brian's going to be fine."

    "How did you explain the gore in his side?" she asked.

    ©2016 Dellani Oakes

  6. #106

    Default He Thought He Saw by Dellani Oakes part 66 Conclusion

    "Doctor decided a tree root got him when he fell. It's great what a little compulsion can do. Never saw anyone as good at it as Claude, except maybe Clifford. Everything okay there?"

    Jordan told him how it had gone with the police. Her father chuckled. "See what I mean? Stick tight, I'll be there soon. They're keeping Brian overnight. Might keep Maribelle too. She's a wreck. Miles is going to stay up here. I'm going to run him up some clean things, but first, I want to get my girls home."

    "We'll be waiting, Daddy. I love you."

    "Love you too, honey."

    The news of Brian's condition was greeted enthusiastically. Everyone cheered and laughed except Jordan. Her mother noticed how subdued she was.

    "I thought you'd be happier than anyone."

    "I am, Mom. I almost lost him. He's my best friend, and he almost died!" She burst into tears.

    "But he didn't. You saved him with your quick thinking. We couldn't have done this tonight without you and the others. You saved our lives."

    "Is he dead?" Jordan asked. "Mr. D. Is he gone for good?"

    "I don't know. Somehow, I doubt it. I think it will need a more concerted and organized attack to kill him—if he can be killed. But for now, he's gone."

    Heath arrived and everyone went their separate ways. To save them from having to drive all the way home at that late hour, the folks from Louisiana spent the night. Andre and his parents were with Chase. Louisa's family went with Marissa's and the Sweets came to Jordan's. Brian's house was a crime scene, so Heath gathered spare clothing for Miles and Maribelle. There were a few of Brian's things in the clean laundry. Jordan packed those for her father to take.

    "Can I come too?"

    "Sure, honey. I'm sure Brian will want to see you, when he wakes."

    Brian looked pale and the skin was tightly drawn over the bones in his face. He had a warming blanket over him since his body temperature wanted to drop. He looked terrible. Jordan gave a little cry when she saw him.

    Maribelle was in the bed next to her son. Miles sat on the one chair in the room. There were pillows and blankets in the oversized window seat. He accepted the clean clothing gladly, and went into the bathroom to shower and change.

    Jordan walked over to Brian's bedside. She sat on the edge of the bed. Heath pulled the curtain between the two beds to allow her some privacy. He talked quietly to Maribelle while Miles was in the shower.

    Jordan took Brian's hand, lacing her fingers with his. "Hey, you goon. Get better, okay? I still owe you a smack with the pillow." She put his hand to her cheek as she leaned over and gave him a kiss on the lips. His skin felt unnaturally cool, frightening her. Jordan blinked back tears.

    "We drove him off," she said with quiet triumph. "Mom says he may come back, but he's gone for now. Because of you. You were so brave—stupid, but brave. Why did you grab him? Don't you dare scare me like that again! You're part of me now. If anything happened to you...."

    She rubbed her cheek on his hand again, kissing the fingers. With her other hand, she brushed his hair from his forehead. He was bruised up, but his color looked a little better. Jordan kissed him again, her lips lingering on his. Brian's other hand rose, brushing her hair, as he deepened the kiss.

    "Best way to wake up, ever," he murmured. His eyes opened and he smiled. "I'm glad you're okay."

    "Me too—you, I mean. I'm glad you're all right." She pulled back the curtain. "He's awake."

    Miles heard the announcement as he came out of the bathroom. Laughing with relief, he carefully embraced his son.

    "Is Mom okay?"

    "I'm right here, honey," she called to him.

    "She got pretty banged up before you got there. Your mom fights like a tiger. She kicked some serious butt."

    "She sure did," Heath admitted. "Jackie too."

    "But Maribelle's condition...." Miles stopped himself.

    "You mean her eyes?" Brian asked.

    Miles blushed, gazing lovingly at his wife. "Uh, why, no. Your mom is—that is, Mom and I...."

    "You're pregnant?" Jordan laughed, clapping her hands. "How exciting!"

    "I thought you'd been gone for months on end. When did this happen?" Brian demanded.

    "Well, to be honest, I've visited a few times. You just didn't know."

    "What? Why didn't you tell me?"

    "Misdirection. Even Maribelle didn't know where I was the whole time, or where I'd been. But I had to see her. You'll understand when you get older. You have to renew that bond."

    "It was the bond that saved you," Maribelle said. "If anyone but Jordan had tried to raise you, it wouldn't have worked."

    "But why?" Brian and Jordan asked together.

    "She's your other half," Maribelle replied. "She's been a part of you since conception."

    "I'm not really comfortable with this whole destined to be together thing," Brian said.

    "Get used to it, my boy. It can't be avoided," his father replied. "Believe me, I tried to play the field and date other women. Couldn't do it."

    "Why?"

    Miles took Maribelle's hand. "Because no one else measured up. Once you've found your perfect match, there's no competition."

    "We need to let Maribelle and Brian rest now," Heath said. "Say good night, Jordan."

    They kissed quickly, saying good night. Jordan hugged Brian's parents and she and her father left. As they were driving home, Jordan reflected on all that had happened in the last few days.

    "Do you think he'll be back?"

    Her father shrugged. "I don't know, honey. I don't think he's dead, if that's what you mean. But for now, he's gone."

    "We'll have to be stronger next time. He almost killed us."

    "We weren't prepared. But we'll study and train."

    "Next time," Jordan vowed. "We'll be ready."


    THE END

    I hope you've enjoyed reading He Thought He Saw. I'm planning to share book 2 in the series next. I'll be posting once a week on Saturdays now. Life's busy enough, I usually forget on Wednesdays, too. Next Saturday, I'll begin sharing The Man Who Wasn't There. I hope you'll read and share with your friends. Dellani

  7. #107

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes - Part 1

    The Man Who Wasn't There is Book 2 in my Miracle, Mississippi fantasy series. I derived the name from a poem called Antagonish by William Hughes Mearns.

    Yesterday, upon the stair,
    I met a man who wasn’t there!
    He wasn’t there again today,
    Oh how I wish he’d go away!”

    My mother used to recite this to my sister and me, when we were children. It's long been a favorite. Given certain events in the story, it's extremely appropriate. If you haven't read He Thought He Saw, be sure to go back and do that. Though both books can stand alone, certain elements will make more sense if you read them in order.
    If you like my stories that I've shared here, be sure to check out my published work.
    ~ Dellani Oakes

    PROLOGUE
    September, 1713

    Luminous Cayce stood on the front porch of his spacious home, overlooking the mighty Mississippi River. The full moon sparkled on the water as it rolled by. Smoking his pipe, he was content. Nothing could equal the peace he felt when he communed with the water. Its power and majesty surrounded him.

    A small sound behind him made him turn around. His eldest daughter, Evangeline, stood in the doorway. This was the night of her fifteenth birthday party. The guests had finally gone home and the servants bustled around cleaning up. Her father smiled, holding out his hand.

    "How does it feel to be fifteen, my lass?"

    "No different from fourteen, in truth. I suppose that will change."

    "No doubt." He put his arm around her shoulders, holding her close.

    She shivered in the chilly night air. Luminous removed his coat and set it around her shoulders. She thanked him with a smile.

    "Mother is asking for you. She's feeling ill."

    "Liza will see to her."

    "She's asking for you," his daughter's voice held reprimand. "You need to see to her, Father."

    He kissed her brow. "As you wish, child. Do not be out long."

    "Not long, I promise. The water is so lovely, is it not? And the scents of fall in the breeze."

    Luminous smiled. "Yes, Daughter. Tomorrow, we shall have a talk."

    She nodded, turning back to the river as he walked inside.

    November, 2012

    Brian Casey has a problem—several, actually. As if being a super smart, self-proclaimed social pariah weren't enough, he recently found out that he's descended from an ancient line of Druids. In each generation, children are born with certain gifts. For his family and generation, he is the one. Brian was surprised to find out that several of his close friends also have these gifts. It was a shock to each of them, to find out that they wield unique, magical talents. Reaching majority at the age of fifteen, these chosen few become the keepers of the balance between good and evil. None of his contemporaries were prepared for the challenges they faced—fighting a legendary evil, Deidrich. Mr. D, as they call him, is so powerful, those who know about him don't ever mention him by name.

    During their epic battle with Deidrich, where Brian was very nearly killed, the chosen ones of the new generation, determined to hone their skills. When Mr. D returns, they intend to be ready.

    December of 2012 was touted by some as being the End of the World,. What Brian, Jordan and their friends discover is that it's not the end, but a beginning. A whole new magical world, full of surprises, some of them good, some deadly, await them.

    Being descended from Druids isn't all it's cracked up to be. It means long hours learning the uses of herbs, the properties of stones and metals. It's time spent practicing control of the elements. Some can call flames, others manipulate the earth, still others summon wind or water to do their bidding.

    Brian has found out that in addition to his other abilities with the four elements, he is the Dreamer, a prophet who learns the future in his dreams. He's also been told that Jordan, his best friend, is his intended wife. In fact, each of the eight has their counterpart in another member of the chosen.

    Of all the things he's learned about himself, Brian finds this the most difficult to get his mind around. He always thought when he met the right woman, he'd fall in love and marry her. Instead, he's been told that his future is mapped out and nothing will change it. Not that he doesn't care about Jordan, he does. He just would have liked a choice.

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  8. #108

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 2

    October 2013

    Flames dripped from his fingers, spilling down his arm and onto the floor. A dribble of fire worked its way up to his armpit, setting fire to his shirt. Brian slapped at the flames, burning his hand.

    "Ouch! Dammit! Ow!"

    "Brian!" Maribelle Casey's voice floated down the basement steps from the kitchen.

    "Sorry, Mom. I burned myself." He stuck his fingers in his mouth, pulling them out immediately when he tasted the bitter herbs that covered them. "Gak! Blerg! Gross!" He rushed to the utility sink and rinsed his mouth. Running water over his hand, he hissed as the singed digits met the cold.

    Soft footsteps trotted down the stairs. "What did you do to yourself now?" Jordan's voice interrupted his pity party.

    Brian held out his hand to her. Jordan took his damp fingers, whispered a couple of words and the pain stopped.

    "Quit being such a klutz, Casey," she said as she sat on the couch.

    "Yeah. Fire isn't my thing," he replied, sitting next to her.

    Jordan giggled. "Says my pyromaniac boyfriend." She gave him a quick kiss.

    Her lips on his stopped any further protest. She was right. Fire was his second best element, which he could summon at will. Controlling it, however, wasn't as easy. The scorch marks on the cement floor and singed carpet, paid testimony to that.

    "Your mom doesn't mind you playing with fire in the house?"

    He whirled his injured finger in a circle. "Protection spells all around. I might set fire to myself, but not the house."

    "That makes it so much better." She gave him another kiss. Jordan pulled away when he started getting fresh. "Cool it, cowboy! Mom's upstairs."

    "Sorry."

    The change of status of their relationship was new, and neither one was exactly sure what to do with it. Their experiences a year ago had shown them that they were destined to be together, but it didn't make it any easier to deal with the fact. Constantly in one another's company, working on their fighting skills, spell casting and charm making, had brought them closer together. It was inevitable that they would take the next step in their relationship—that of boyfriend and girlfriend.

    "What are you working on today?" Jordan asked, looking over the mess he'd made on the ping pong table, which served as his practice space.

    "Summoning fire and controlling it—emphasis on control. I can summon fire just great, getting it to do what I want—that's something else."

    Jordan flicked her wrist, twirling her fingers. Flames appeared over the table, dancing merrily. She made walking motions with her fingers and they strutted around the surface. No scorch marks or ember trails for her. The flames danced a few more minutes and quietly sank to nothing. Brian watched with envy and disgust.

    "You're trying too hard," she said. "Not only that, you're so concerned about not setting the house on fire, you're not channeling your attention properly. We'll go over to Chase's and work in the swamp."

    "Trees catch fire, you know."

    "Shall we go to the old Winn-Dixie parking lot? No trees there. I don't think that even you could set asphalt on fire," she replied with disgust.

    "No public places, you know that."

    "Kidding!" She hopped up, reaching for his hand. "Come."

    "What? Where?"

    "We're taking a break. You need to get out of the house, and I need ice cream."

    Brian laughed, standing up. He pulled her close, towering over her. He'd put on a growth spurt over the last year, shooting up to six foot three. Jordan had eeked out another half inch and stopped growing. It was no end of annoyance to her that she was still nearly a foot shorter than he.

    "You can have ice cream, but I want something else first."

    "Oh? What's that?"

    Brian leaned over, grinning. Jordan stood on tiptoe. Their lips met and they exchanged a short kiss.

    "Another reason to get out of the house," he murmured.

    They trotted up the stairs hand in hand, bursting into the kitchen. Their mothers sat at the table, talking and drinking tea. Brian smelled jasmine and ginger.

    "We're going for ice cream," Jordan said. "Can we bring you anything?"

    "Nothing for me, thanks," Maribelle said. "Jackie?"

    "No. I'm trying to be good, with the holidays coming. I always eat too much."

    Jordan smirked, tilting her head to one side. "I dunno, Mom. I think you could stand to gain a couple pounds."

    Her mother smacked her hand playfully. "Go get your ice cream. Are you taking my car?" She reached for her keys.

    "They can take mine," Maribelle said. "I still don't feel comfortable driving, so it's mostly Brian's now."

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  9. #109

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 3

    "Be safe," Jackie said, making a sign of blessing on their foreheads as they leaned over to give her and Maribelle each a kiss.

    "Yes, ma'am," they chorused, laughing at one another as they walked out of the house.

    Their mothers watched them go, smiling and shaking their heads.

    "Were we like that?" Jackie asked.

    Maribelle grinned. "Yes. I'm sure that Miles and I were awful. I knew I loved him from the time we were kids. He didn't take to the destined for one another thing very well. He played the field."

    "So did Heath. It freaked him out when I knew every time, and called him on it." She sipped her tea. "I don't think Brian's going to act like that. He doesn't strike me as a player."

    "He and Jordan's bond was forged in greater adversity than ours. If the circumstances were the same as ours, I could see it. I think it's harder for the men to accept. I didn't have a problem with the idea of Miles being my one and only."

    A plaintive wail pierced the quiet house.

    "Herself's awake. Excuse me."

    "I need to go anyway, honey. Call me later."

    They hugged and Jackie left. Maribelle went upstairs to the nursery. A tiny, pink clad form kicked and mewled in her crib. She stopped wailing when she saw her mother and smiled as she was picked up.

    "Hello, precious," Maribelle said, kissing her baby girl. "How's my angel?" She carried the baby to a nearby rocking chair and sat down to nurse.

    Elise Casey's dark brown eyes gazed at her mother with love. Maribelle crooned to her baby as they cuddled.

    The front door opened. "Where's my girls?" Miles Casey called.

    "Upstairs," Maribelle replied.

    Elise cooed as Miles walked in the nursery door. He kissed them both and sat on the footstool next to them.

    "Good day or bad?" Maribelle asked.

    "Good. Andre's making excellent progress. Can't say the same for Sweet. That boy's got serious control issues."

    "Brian's having trouble. I think you need to have Cliff work with him."

    "You're the one proficient with fire, why Cliff?"

    "It needs to be someone who's not kin. I've pampered him. He needs a firm hand. Cliff will provide that."

    "Okay. I'll give him a call later and see what we can work out." He kissed her forehead. "I'm going to have a shower. Sweet boiled swamp mud. I think he caught a few crawdads or frogs too." He sniffed himself. "Ew."

    Brian and Jordan headed to Sweeties Soda Fountain. A full service, old fashioned soda shop, they sold ice cream treats, hot dogs, hamburgers and patty melts. The decor hadn't changed much since the shop was built in the late 1940s. They took seats at the red linoleum topped counter. Several of their friends walked in and sat next to them.

    "So, going to the Halloween Ball Thursday night?" Chase asked.

    "Jordan, you wouldn't know this, but it's been a tradition around here since our grandparents were teenagers," his girlfriend, Marissa said.

    "Longer," Chase said. "It just wasn't called the Halloween Ball. It was the Harvest Ball instead. They changed the name in the Seventies."

    "Why do people keep telling me that?" Jordan asked. "Honestly, I've been told about the stinking ball for the last month. Why is it such a big deal?"

    "It's the social event of the fall—until Homecoming," Marissa gushed. "Come on, you have to go!"

    "We're going," Jordan replied. "I just don't know what the big deal is."

    "The rumor mill has a lot to say about it," Brian replied quietly. "Apparently, back in the day, this was a big community for witches." He nodded slowly, eyes open wide. "Isn't that right, Annie?" he addressed their waitress, who was old enough to be his grandmother.

    "That's the skinny," she replied. "Salem wasn't the only place to hang witches. No one talks about it, but our town nearly wiped itself out, in the early days. Between the witches getting hanged and the people getting hexed, there were only a handful of folks left. Brian's many greats granddaddy was one of them. He went and married himself a Native bride. Somewhere, back in your ancestry, you've got Choctaw blood."

    Annie herself was at least half Choctaw. She bragged to be full blooded, but her brother claimed three quarters. No one argued with either of them, accepting their varying claims with a smile. Annie wandered off to take care of other customers, leaving the teenagers alone for the moment.

    "You're telling me this town hunted witches?" Jordan frowned. "And we live here, why?"

    "Amazingly, our families weren't among the ones hanged. The witches were evil and our ancestors fought against them," Chase said, snagging one of Brian's fries.

    Brian smacked his friend's hand. "Get your own. I'm hungry."

    Chase ate another before waving at Annie. He ordered his fries and leaned on the counter.

    "How do you know all this?" Jordan asked.

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  10. #110

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 4

    "Because my dad is an amateur historian who belongs to the historical society here. He also lectures about it all over the country. It's kind of his thing. He even discovered why the town was called Miracle."

    "Oh?" Jordan couldn't help being interested. She leaned toward him.

    "Yeah. Cause it's a freaking Miracle anyone believes the story you, Brian and Annie just told," Marissa interjected. "Don't listen to him," she cautioned. "It's just an old wives' tale."

    Chase flashed her a disgusted look. "Just because you choose not to believe it, doesn't make it any less true. It's called Miracle because of The Tin Man."

    "Like The Wizard of Oz?" Jordan sounded dubious.

    "No. It's what they called this peddler who traveled around selling pots and pans," Brian replied. "Dad just told us about this a couple days ago." He nodded to Chase. "Go ahead, you'll tell it better."

    Chase winked, huddling closer. Some of the things they talked about these days would scandalize the rest of the town. "This Tin Man, or more appropriately, Peddler, no one knows his name, came into town when things were at their worst. Those that weren't strung up to die were dead, or dying from hexes, that the witches had set on them."

    "There were real witches here? Like—us?" Jordan whispered.

    "Not like us. We were fighting them. More like—you know," Chase tilted his head from side to side, not saying a name.

    They understood completely. He meant like Gavin. Deidrich, whom they called Mr. D. He was a formidable enemy on his own. If he'd come against them with others, the events of the prior year would have been quite different.

    Jordan shivered. Brian put his arm around her, holding her close. He didn't waste his breath telling her it was okay and that they had nothing to worry about. They both knew differently. Deidrich would be back and this time, he would probably bring friends.

    "There's something special about this one," Chase mumbled. "This is the three hundredth anniversary of the last, epic battle with the witches. They almost won. If it hadn't been for the Peddler, they would have. He came in and rallied our people and saved the day."

    Marissa swallowed hard. Jordan shivered again. Both girls reached out for the other. Though they hadn't started out liking one another, circumstances had made them friends.

    "You're just saying that to scare us," Marissa said, sniffing.

    Jordan bit the inside of her cheek. She knew better, so did Marissa. This couldn't be a coincidence. The year before, Deidrich had come against them, testing their resources. They'd beaten him, but barely, and only because of Brian.

    Jordan's blue eyes riveted on him. "You be extra careful over the next few days. No risks, no stupid stunts. You don't go out without at least one other of us."

    Brian frowned, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. He might be the Dreamer, the official prophet of the bunch, but Jordan's hunches were rarely wrong. Not only that, his dreams had been tumultuous of late. He couldn't get a firm fix on them to record. Though he mumbled some in his sleep, nothing definitive presented itself. If Jordan told him to be careful, he'd follow her advice.

    "I promise."

    "Good."

    He gave her a quick, gentle kiss. She hugged him violently, dragging him close.

    "You be careful. I mean it!"

    "I promise! Sheesh, Jordan. Can't breathe!"

    Chase eased her arms from Brian's ribs. Marissa watched, wide eyed herself. She took Jordan's hand and tugged her to the restroom. The boys didn't question. They knew this wasn't just a girl thing. Marissa had something important to tell Jordan.

    "Why doesn't she just tell us all?" Brian asked as he watched the girls walk quickly away.

    "You know Riss. She's shy and straight laced. If it's the least bit—" he blushed, ducking his head.

    "Sexual," Brian supplied, nudging his friend's ribs.

    "Yeah, that. She won't say it in front of us."

    "So, no action on that front?"

    Chase's ears turned red. "As if I'd tell you anything. But no. I don't see that changing until she has a ring on her finger."

    Brian clapped him on the shoulder. "Sucks to be you, my brother."

    A knuckle punch to the ribs got Brian's attention. Gasping, he clutched his side.

    "Like you'll get any further with Jordan."

    "That's not the important thing right now," he replied soberly. "The most important thing is learning all we can so that when he comes back around—and he will—we're ready for him."

    "That gives us five days, Brian."

    "Yup."

    Brian sipped his cola slowly, eyes traveling the room. Any of the people here was a possible weapon against them. Had Deidrich recruited more witches like he had before? And who was this mysterious Peddler? Could they summon him? Would he help again?

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  11. #111

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 5 & 6

    "Yo, blood," Chase jabbed him again. "Ladies," he stood, welcoming the girls back.

    Marissa allowed a virginal kiss on the cheek. It was more than he'd given him a year ago. It might not seem like much, but to Chase, it was a vast improvement. It was hard for him to accept that Marissa was to be his one, true love. As many times as he tried to break up and walk away, the attempts failed, and they ended up back together. He couldn't fight it, but he kept trying.

    It wasn't that he didn't care about her, he did. It was the fact that she kept him at bay while all his friends were getting action. Well, except for Brian. He wasn't in as dire straits as Chase, but Jordan was good at putting the brakes on. Still, he could see them consummating their relationship before they married, and he'd still be languishing.

    "Chase, honey?" Marissa said softly, stroking his cheek. "Will you be a sweetie and get me a slice of pie?"

    "Sure." He raised a hand to get Annie's attention.

    "I meant for you to go on over to the counter," she pointed to the other side of the store where the pie was kept. "And ask."

    "Sure." Chase knew she wanted to tell Brian something. It either concerned him or was potentially embarrassing.

    "With ice cream," she called after him.

    Chase nodded, waving as he walked away. Once Chase was out of hearing range, Marissa nodded to Jordan.

    "Don't yell," Jordan said.

    "Um.... What?"

    "Promise."

    "Okay.... Jordan?"

    She pursed her lips, glancing at Marissa. "We think that we need to summon the Peddler."

    "Okay. Do we know how?"

    The girls exchanged another glance, blushing.

    "Yes, sort of. You won't like it."

    "Do I have to dance naked at moonlight, or something?"

    They didn't say anything. Their silence confirmed it.

    "No. Oh, f**k no!"

    Marissa glared. Jordan's lips twitched as she suppressed a smirk.

    "You promised not to yell," Marissa snipped. "And language, Brian."

    "No. No, no, no, no, no—no. f**k no."

    "It's the only way," Marissa said. "It has to be you."

    "I want a second—no, third and fourth opinions on that. No freaking way I'm dancing around naked in this weather. Not at all, I might add. I didn't even do that when I was a little kid. There is no way in hell!"

    "You okay, Brian?" Annie asked. "You're freaking folks out, honey. Settle down, or I'll ask you to leave."

    "Sorry, Annie. The girls pulled a prank. I apologize for losing it."

    "You girls be nice to Brian. He's a delicate flower." She winked and pinched his cheek.

    "Yeah, like oleander or nightshade," Chase said. He arrived with a tray holding four pieces of pie with ice cream on the side.
    "I wanted pie, too," he confessed. "Not just so you could get me out of the way. You know, anything you said to embarrass my boy, you can say in front of me. I've got your back, babe." He kissed Marissa lightly on the lips.

    Her blue eyes sparkled for a moment, lighting her too pale face with a healthy pink glow. "I couldn't have said that in front of you. It was bad enough to tell Brian."

    "This isn't over," Brian snarled. "Don't think that pie and Annie are going to stop me from discussing this. It isn't settled."

    His anger seethed and bubbled under the surface. He was tall enough to be intimidating, even when he wasn't trying. Jordan flinched away from his barely controlled anger. The silverware and water glasses near them trembled a few seconds, then stopped.

    Rather than showing her distress, Jordan popped a bite of peach pie into his mouth. It was his favorite, and Sweeties made it fresh every day. Chase had gotten his with a scoop of butter pecan ice cream, also his favorite He closed his eyes, rolling the tender peach and flaky crust over his tongue. A lingering kiss followed.

    "Everything is better with pie," she assured him. "We'll ask the parental units. Don't worry. If you have to dance, I'll do it with you."

    He chuckled, the sound rumbling deep in his chest as he pulled her close. "Count on it." He kissed her again, trying hard not to be fresh, but his hands had a mind of their own.

    Chase cleared his throat. "Y'all done, or you want I should get you a room?"

    Brian punched him. "Jealous."

    "As all hell," Chase replied. He ate the rest of his pie in irritated silence.

    They headed over to Chase's house and gathered in his basement. It, too, had been converted to practice space. They spent the next thirty minutes showing one another new things they had learned. No one wanted to broach the subject of Brian's naked midnight dance, but it couldn't be avoided for ever.

    "So, naked," Brian said.

    "Huh?" Chase, who was the only one who hadn't heard, was immediately vigilant.

    Brian explained briefly while the girls took the time to vacate by cleaning up the work space.

    "So.... Naked." Chase nodded, laughing.

    "Don't laugh or you'll join me," Brian snapped. "Why me? And why naked? I'm asking our folks about this. Because no f**king way!"

    "Brian!" Marissa scolded.

    "Hush, Marissa. If you'd been told you had to dance around with no clothing, you'd be upset too," Jordan said. "We'll ask Dora," she advised. "She knows about rituals and stuff. In fact, we need a meeting of the families. Tonight. My house. Eight."

    "That's okay with your folks?" Chase asked.

    "Yes," Jordan said. "It will be when I tell them. Everyone. Your folks too," she added with a squint of her eyes at Marissa. "They might like to spend their Saturday nights being all pious, but this is more important."

    Marissa pressed her lips together on whatever snarky reply she'd intended. Jordan was right. Marissa had learned a lot in the last year, not the least of which was that agreeing with Jordan was the prudent thing. She was right more often than she was wrong and she was a strong leader. While they might never be best friends, like Brian and Chase, they were grudgingly learning to get along.

    "I'll let them know," she said with a gulp.

    "We need to go," Jordan said. "If I'm going to invite people over, I'll need to clean up and prepare."

    "I'll help," Marissa volunteered. "We can make those Shrewsbury Drops your mom showed us last weekend. And I've been working on a new tea blend." The girls chatted as they walked upstairs.

    Brian and Chase followed them more soberly. Brian walked with his hands in his pockets, head down. Chase wasn't much perkier.

    "See you tonight," Chase said at the front door.

    "Yeah." Brian stopped, turning around to face his friend before heading to his car. "Life got too complicated, didn't it? I mean, we should be worrying about football and our grades—whether we're gonna get laid before we're twenty."

    "Why us?" Chase asked, his eyes wandering over to where Marissa and Jordan were. "And why, for God's sake, Marissa?" he dug his toe into the grass by the porch. "I mean, I like her and all."

    Brian chuckled, smacking his friend in the arm. "Exactly. I know it's not easy, Chase. Jordan makes me crazy. I can't even imagine what Marissa's like. But do you love her?"

    Chase shrugged, rolling his eyes helplessly. "How would I know? You have any vast experience to draw from?"

    "Nope."

    "Brian!" Jordan called. There was command in her voice.

    "Just got a jerk on the short leash," Brian said quietly. "See you later."

    "Yup." They tapped knuckles.

    Jordan was right that her parents didn't object to having the meeting at their house. In fact, Jackie even suggested calling their Louisiana friends, too. None of them were surprised to find out that they were already planning to come up.

    "Spend the night," Jackie suggested. "We've all got room."

    That was decided and they set about getting the house in order. Jordan and Marissa talked on the phone, organizing rooms and food while the boys cleaned bathrooms and made the guest beds. Once that was accomplished, they joined the women in the kitchen, pitching in to prep vegetables or wash dishes as needed.

    Maribelle and Miles Casey arrived with Elise in tow. Heath walked in the door a few minutes later. Maribelle joined them in the kitchen, but Miles and Heath took Elise outside to play in the huge back yard. Their job was to start the gigantic grill and set potatoes baking in the coals.

    They were greeted by delighted yelps of two huge dogs. Zofia and Janus had stayed behind after Mr. D. left. They had deigned to make Jordan's house their home, though they visited Brian and the others regularly. Sometimes, they would disappear for days at a time, coming back filthy and tired. No one knew where they went, but none of them questioned the actions of the two enormous dogs. Elise loved the huge animals and they doted on her. They played gently with the baby, letting her tug at them, climb over them and roll around in the grass.

    "I just gave her a bath," Maribelle said with a sigh. "She'll be filthy again before dinner."

    "It's okay, Mom. I'll give her a bath when the dogs finish mauling her."

    Maribelle giggled, swatting at her son. "Thank you. You'll make a good father one day."

    Brian blushed. "Thanks." He had no words for how embarrassed he felt. Everyone in the room knew that when he had children, at some unspecified time in the future, it would be with Jordan. Strangely, the subject didn't seem to bother her.

    "Corn's ready for the grill," Chase said, showing the foil wrapped bundles.

    "Potatoes are already in the coals," Brian said. "Let's get these out there."

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  12. #112

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 7

    They carried the platters outside. Chase's parents had just arrived and Cliff joined their fathers on the screened lanai. Chase's younger sisters, Katie and Lucy, went to play with the baby. The boys were heading back to the kitchen when Marissa's family knocked. They were just greeting the boys when the first of the Louisiana contingent arrived. Andre and his parents came up the sidewalk with his girlfriend, Louisa. Sweet and his parents pulled up seconds later. Louisa's parents drove up at the same time as Ginnifer and her mother and father.

    Each of them had brothers and sisters, all of whom were younger. They joined Chase's sisters in the yard. They fussed over the baby, taking turns carrying her. Brian didn't have to make good on the bath offer. Louisa and Ginnifer did it for him. They kept the baby off the ground afterward, so she didn't need another one.

    Once dinner was ready, they took places at the long tables the men had set up in the backyard. The dogs lay down at the head and foot of the assembly, alert and happy, hoping for scraps. Dishes passed around the table as everyone took what they wanted. Laughter and happy chatter filled the air. Although they had come together for a serious reason, none of them wanted to miss out on catching up and enjoying each other's company.

    "I feel happiest when I'm with all of you," Maribelle declared. "This is the best group of people I know."

    "I agree," Miles said. "Which makes our reason for being here the more serious."

    "Wait, you know what this is about?" Brian asked.

    "Sure, son. We talked this over with the Barretts a couple days ago. We just hadn't set a date until Jordan called and said we needed to meet tonight. Now, what's up? I hear that Marissa had something to tell us."

    She blushed a fiery red when all eyes turned on her. Jordan opened her mouth to take over, but Marissa shook her head.
    "I've got this." She squared her shoulders, sitting up straighter. "I'm not the Dreamer," her eyes flickered over to Brian. "But I get things. Flashes and images, mostly. Sometimes I hear a voice." She gestured vaguely to her right ear. "Anyway, we were talking today about the Harvest Ball and the witch trials in 1713. And—the Peddler."

    Finding it hard to continue, she ducked her head. "Anyway," she muttered toward her chest. "I got this—impression—I guess you'd call it. I know we have to summon him to help us. And it has to be Brian. And he has to dance...." She couldn't make herself say the words.

    "Naked," Brian blurted. "And I want to know if that's accurate. And I want to know why me? And, more importantly, why naked?" he asked loudly. Angry and embarrassed, he found control difficult. The tables shook slightly, the earth trembling under them.

    "Son," Miles Casey said gently. "We'll figure this out. Some of our older rituals had to be conducted in the nude."

    "Why? Can't I at least wear a loin cloth? Cause I don't want—everything—on display." He gestured vaguely in the area of his zipper.

    "I'll do some checking." Miles Casey thought it prudent to hide the smirk he felt twitching his lips.

    "But why Brian?" Jordan asked. "Couldn't any of us perform the same ritual and have the same result?"

    Cliff Finley shook his head. "I'd have to do some research, but I'm pretty sure it has to be him. A variety of reasons, not the least of which is, he's the Dreamer."

    Brian rolled his eyes, putting his head on the table, nearly in his plate. "Did I mention that I really hate being the Dreamer? That I hate all of this? Why can't I just be some normal, stupid teenager who makes mistakes, and whose decisions don't involve people getting killed—or buried alive—or dancing naked?"

    He felt a touch on his hand and calming assurance filled him. He sat up to see his baby sister. She leaned from Jordan's arms. Her little spit covered hand wrapped around his finger as her dark brown eyes met his. Sometimes, she seemed so much older than six months. She reached for him and he took her, holding her close. Her hands embraced his face and she put her forehead next to his. Closing his eyes, joy filled him, shoving aside the scary thoughts. He knew that he could do whatever was needed. He had the best family and friends in the world. He could handle it—even if it meant dancing naked.

    "None of us wanted this," Dr. Beauchamps, Andre's father said softly. "Each of us fought against it, denying our powers, wishing for someone else to take the burden. None of us had to face what you've faced, Brian. No one else at this table knows exactly what you're going through, because none of us have been in your shoes. I know it isn't easy—we all do. We fight our inner battles every day just to keep going, trying to act normal. I am telepathic, you know. If I allow myself, I can read the minds of every person here. It takes unimaginable control to keep all your voices away."

    "I have visions," Marissa admitted. "And I'm not exactly telepathic, but I get flashes of images and I see things about people. I know when they're good at heart or when they're mean. I can also tell when they're sick or in pain. That's why I'm learning to heal."

    Andre cleared his throat. "I see auras, like Jackie. And I feel strong vibrations of emotions. I can tell what y'all are thinkin' without you sayin' a word. Like Marissa, I know sickness, as well as every emotional combination there is. Hearing voices would be worse, but this is disconcerting enough. We aren't trying to belittle what you're feeling, Brian. We're telling you that we know what you're going through. Our challenges are different, but no less annoying and painful."

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  13. #113

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 8 & 9

    Many apologies for not posting the last few weeks. Skirnir & I got COVID, and were sick for a couple weeks. I sincerely hope none of you get it. It's awful.

    Brian nodded. "Thanks, Andre. That helps."

    They talked long into the night. Jackie brought out a few books and Heath got his laptop. The adults were engrossed in their research, so the teens took the younger children inside and got them set up with a movie and snacks. Once the movie was over, the host families and their charges went home, leaving the teenagers at Jordan's house.

    Jordan's mother took Elise and Maribelle home. Janus rode with them, staying when Jackie returned. The teenagers brought the books and laptops to the basement, continuing the research. Their findings were extensive, but nothing confirmed or refuted doing the ritual naked.

    "I'm at least wearing a tube sock," Brian said defiantly after their parents went upstairs. "I'm not freezing my nuts off just because Marissa says so."

    "Lighten up," Chase said. "It's not her saying it, she's just delivering the message. She doesn't wanna see your junk any more than I do. In fact, I think it's safe to say that no one, besides you and possibly Jordan, have any interest in seeing you in the buff."

    Jordan hit him squarely in the face with a throw pillow. "Excuse me? Do I poke my pert little nose into your wants and desires? Is it your business if I want to see Brian naked, or not?" She hit him again.

    Andre chuckled, pressing his lips together. He glanced away from Jordan, shoulders shaking. He felt a cold shiver run down his spine, like icy fingers walked on his skin. It took a second to realize that something cold was walking up and down his back. Jumping up, he swatted at his jacket, yanking it off. His shirt followed, scattering frosty icicles.

    "Get 'em off me!" he screeched. "What the hell, Jordan!"

    "Do I tell your secrets?" Jordan asked, eyes narrowed. "No. So keep your snickers and snorts to yourself. I read auras too, Mr. Beauchamps. Don't you forget that."

    Andre shook out his shirt and put it back on. His jacket lay on the floor with a few fallen icicles on it. Louisa shook it out and handed it to him, but he wouldn't put it back on.

    "Sorry," he muttered. "Occupational hazard."

    "Watch it, or the next time it's fire. In you pants."

    Louisa giggled, tossing her hair over her shoulder. "Already got that, don't you, baby?" She and Andre were the two oldest in the group. They had been together for several years. Now that they were in college, they were living together. She kissed him in a loving, lingering way.

    "No more!" Chase commanded. "Those of us not as lucky as our friend here, would prefer you keep your lust to yourself."

    "You'll be here in time," Louisa said, leaning her head on Andre's arm. "It's not like I gave into Dre's charm right away."

    "No, she made me suffer," he confirmed.

    "I wonder why this whole destined to be together thing," Ginnifer said, rather acidly. "It's not like I'd ever have chosen Sweet in a million years."

    "Ditto," he replied acerbically.

    No one had really paid attention to the fact they weren't sitting next to each other. They often sat apart, but there was more in the air than usual. Obviously both angry, they wouldn't even look at one another.

    "Y'all need to lighten up," Andre said. "This isn't doing anyone any good. I know you're pissed off about all this, Sweet, but Gin's your woman. Suck it up and accept it, man."

    "You can say that, Mr. Happy Pants. Some of us ain't so happy."

    "Don't you dare, Sweet! Don't you sit there and tell our personal business! I'll kill you!" Flames shot from Ginnifer's fingers, narrowly missing Andre, who sat next to her.

    Louisa leaned back and the flames hit Sweet's arm. They climbed up from his elbow to his shoulder. He summoned water and put them out.

    "Enough!" Brian bellowed. "Are you f**king kidding? Stow it, Marissa," he said before she even spoke up. "We're facing who knows what, and we're squabbling with one another because we're not happy with the fact we're destined to marry someone we aren't sure we even like?!" Another glare at Marissa quelled her before she could protest. "You think any of us are happy about having no choice? Not that I'm unhappy with Jordan, cause she's awesome, but I would have liked the illusion that it was my idea. You're pissed off—why? She won't put out? He's being a douche? What? Let's get this aired out, because we need all of you for this ritual. And since I'm the one whose dong is on display, I'd just as soon know it's going to run smoothly."

    Sweet shook his head, shrugging his shoulders.

    "I think he's kinky," Ginnifer supplied. She stared at Brian, cheeks flaming.

    "And how do you respond to that?" Jordan directed at Sweet. "Are you kinky?"

    "No! Wanting to make love to my girlfriend, is that kinky?"

    "Depends on how, dude," Andre replied. He was the oldest, and had more experience than the others. Sweet and Ginnifer were next, both nineteen.

    Brian was glad to turn the focus of the discussion on Andre. He had no experience at all, so he had no answers. He dearly hoped Andre did.

    Sweet wouldn't look up. He sat on the floor with his head down, arms propped on his knees. "It's not kinky," he whined.
    Ginnifer shuddered and told them what she objected to.

    Louisa threw back her head, laughing. "You think that's kinky? Girl! Let him!"

    The others, all of whom had never gotten past kissing and some exploratory groping, were mortified. Ginnifer blanched, staring at Louisa.

    "Are you kidding? That's weird!"

    "Maybe so, but you'll excuse him once you try it. Trust me."

    "Moving on?" Marissa said, her voice high pitched and squeaky.

    "Sorry, Marissa. Had to clear the air," Brian said. For the first time, he felt sorry for the overly religious girl. She couldn't help it that she was the product of a couple frigid, uptight freaks. "We can't let something as inconsequential as Sweet's love life get in the way of this."

    "Thanks, dude. Thanks a lot for making light of it," Sweet grumbled.

    No one stuck up for Sweet, they all sided with Brian.

    Jordan had compiled everything they'd found about the ritual and the Peddler. It wasn't much, but they hoped that their contacts in other groups would have more. All of them had heard the legend of the Peddler, but apparently, he hadn't appeared anywhere but in Miracle.

    "This is the most complex ritual I've ever seen," Louisa said. She was the most adept at casting a spell. She had been given the job of assisting Miles and Jackie. She read through it, familiarizing herself with the words of power.

    Jordan reviewed the list of ingredients needed. "This has some weird stuff in it. Tears of a baby. That's easy, we'll just wait until Elise cries."

    "If it calls for blood of a virgin, we'd have that covered, too," Chase teased.

    "Yes, we'll use yours," Jordan snapped.

    "Burn!" Sweet chortled.

    "Don't push your luck, Osric," Ginnifer chided.

    "Now you know why he goes by Sweet," Andre said. "Lighten up, y'all. Brian's right. This is important and needs to be done asap. So, let's knuckle down and learn our parts. Bri, I found choreography for the dance you have to do."

    Brian stared at him blankly, eyes narrow. He frowned. "Oh?"

    "Seriously, man. Would I make something up?"

    "Yeah, you would, just to mess with me."

    "Not when it's important. Look." He pointed to the computer screen. "This is from our pal Dwight, in Australia. He's an Aborigine and his father is a holy man in their tribe. Doctor Meru's got a lot to say about the Peddler. Apparently, we were wrong. He's made a visit there, too. His dad said he'd find what he could in their records. Most of it's word of mouth, but at one point, some of the tribal elders agreed to be recorded so that the stories could be preserved. His dad is an historian at some big college down there. He's been pushing to preserve their culture before it dies out."

    "Good for him," Jordan said.

    "He's screening stuff about the Peddler now and should have some information for us by tomorrow morning. They're sixteen hours ahead of us, so it's like two o'clock in the afternoon right now."

    Brian wasn't really paying attention. He was looking at the dance. It seemed simple enough, but he wasn't exactly light on his feet. "Oh, oh! Yes!" Both fists pumped in the air. "Oh, I love you!" He kissed the screen. "Listen to this. Though this dance and accompanying ritual are traditionally performed in the nude," he made a wry face. "Modern practitioners agree that the state of nudity isn't important to the ritual. They do suggest natural fibers and that the dancer wear as little as possible, but he or she need not be—nude." He raised his arms, flashing the rock on sign as he head banged. Too happy to contain it, he improvised a little dance based on the summoning steps. He ended in a Moonwalk, which was, quite honestly, the only real dance move he knew.

    His friends joined him, dancing and chanting. Sweet drummed on the table. Andre thumped on the sofa cushions and the others stomped their feet. The door at the top of the stairs opened and Heath trotted down.

    "Starting the ritual early?"

    "I don't have to be naked!" Brian whooped and cheered.

    Heath laughed loudly. "Glad to hear that, son. I wasn't really looking forward to that either. How did you find out?"

    "Our buddy, Dwight's dad," Jordan said, turning the laptop so he could see it. "Dr. Bindjali Meru." She severely mispronounced the first name, making Heath laugh.

    "Bin-ja-li," he said slowly. "Yes, I know him. We've met at a few conferences."

    "Y'all have conferences on this stuff?" Andre interjected.

    "Yes. In fact, there is a network set up for people like us."

    "And why are we just now hearing about it?" Andre asked.

    "Because you've been setting up a network of your own. It has to be that way. You have to see the patterns for yourself. If you don't, you won't understand."

    "Patterns—plural?" Brian said. "No one mentioned more than one."

    "Each person weaves his or her own," Heath replied, leaning against the wall. "So, in this room, we have nine patterns. Each pattern is entwined with the others. It's like an intricate Celtic knot. In fact, those knots are based on the interpersonal patterns. There are a few among us who can see them and they know how we're all connected."

    "Please, don't tell me that's another of my jobs," Brian whined. "I've got enough."

    "No, but it's in your family." He pushed off from the wall, starting up the stairs. "Your father sees them." He trotted up the stairs.

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  14. #114

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 10

    "Is that a skill that's inherited?" Brian called after him.

    Heath simply laughed and closed the door at the top of the stairs.

    "And here I was feeling so good about myself," Brian said with a sigh.

    Jordan put her arms around him, pulling him close. "Look at the bright side," she said with a grin. "Not naked!"

    Brian laughed, giving her a quick kiss. "Thanks."

    "I'll make you a loin cloth," she promised. "I've got some linen and some cotton thread. I'll get it done by tomorrow night."

    "Tomorrow? I thought we were waiting until Halloween," Brian gasped.

    "We're expecting trouble on Halloween," Chase reminded him. "So the ritual takes place as soon as possible. It has to be done on, or very near, a full moon, that's tomorrow."

    "Crap."

    "Meanwhile, it's late," Ginnifer said. "And I've been up since six o'clock. I'm wiped. We can meet up tomorrow and talk more."

    "Mom said we're meeting at Brian's for breakfast at eight," Jordan said. "I agree, it's time for bed."

    Andre and Louisa were staying with Brian's family, so they waited in his car while Brian and Jordan said goodnight. Brian was a little intimidated by the older couple being right there as he kissed Jordan, but her presence soon made him forget. They kissed for several minutes until Jordan shivered.

    "I'll make sure that your loin cloth is good and warm," she promised. "I'm going to start on it tonight."

    "Get some sleep. You can work on it tomorrow." He kissed her once more, holding her close. "Jordan, don't ever think that I'm not happy we're together," he whispered. "Because even if we weren't destined to be together, I would have picked you."

    He kissed her one last time before getting in the car. He didn't give her a chance to respond. It had taken every ounce of courage he had to come that close to telling her he loved her. He was determined to tell her the following day, before the ritual. Because, who knew how that would turn out? He didn't want to die before he told her she held his heart in her hands.

    Louisa sat in the seat next to him. Her warm hand patted his knee. "You're a good guy, Brian. Soon, you're going to be a great man. Jordan is a very lucky girl to have you."

    He flashed a smile at the beautiful, poised Latina. "Thank you. I think Andre's pretty lucky to have a woman like you."

    "I sure am," his friend agreed. "I like to hope she's lucky to have me, as well."

    Louisa laughed. "I am, indeed. I tell myself that every night and every morning."

    Brian drove the couple of blocks to his house. "When is the wedding?"

    "We're planning on December. We both graduate from school then and we've both got jobs lined up."

    "Wow, already?"

    "Part of that network that Heath mentioned," Andre said. "Natural medicinal research for the company Jordan's mom works for."

    "Exciting! That's great."

    Brian led his guests in and showed them where they would be sleeping. Louisa's parents were in the guest room, so that left the basement for the young couple. It suited them fine, far from everyone else. Brian envied their relationship. He knew that he and Jordan were too young for the same intimacy, but he couldn't help being jealous. He longed to show Jordan how much he loved her. He hoped she loved him too, but neither of them had ever said it. Determined to rectify that issue as soon as he could, Brian went to bed.

    Sunday was crisp and bright, unusually chilly for this time of year. Normally, it was still hot, with cooler nights, towards the end of October. It was supposed to duck into the forties and Brian wasn't anticipating that fact with great enthusiasm. He perked up when his father told him that there would be a bonfire as part of the event.

    Louisa and her mother helped Maribelle fix a huge breakfast for everyone. Brian was pleased to see that his mother was cooking bacon and sausage. Even if Jordan's family were vegetarians, the other families weren't. In fact, Jordan and her father weren't strict about it. Only Jackie adhered to it faithfully.

    The other families pulled up and parked in the driveway or along the street, arriving almost en masse. Brian had been given the job of serving beverages. He had multiple pots of coffee and tea. Jordan and Andre helped him get everyone settled with places to sit. The children were at one long table, the adults were in the dining room. The teenagers were relegated to the basement, which suited them fine. None of the older siblings particularly liked taking care of the younger ones.

    Once the food was ready, they stood around for a quick blessing offered by Marissa's father. Afterward, they served themselves buffet style and found places to sit. The teenagers trooped down the basement stairs and sat around the ping pong table to eat. When they'd finished, they rinsed their plates and put them in the dishwasher before going back downstairs.

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  15. #115

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 11

    "I got an e-mail with all kinds of attachments from Dr. Meru," Andre said. "He told me to call him on Skype when we've read through things."

    "Cool! I was hoping I'd have a chance to talk to him," Brian said. "Is he sure? That's gonna be way late his time."

    "He was insistent. He wants to talk to you."

    "Should we call him before hand?"

    "No, I wrote him back and asked both those questions. He said to read and listen, then call. He doesn't care about the time."

    "Okay. Let's get to it."

    Andre plugged his laptop into Brian's widescreen TV and cued up the first video. Dr. Meru's smiling face filled the frame.

    "I am Bindjali Meru. I want to greet you all as my friends." He bowed his head a moment before continuing. "Dwight tells me you want to know the story of the Peddler, so let us begin there."

    A picture filled the screen. It was a copy of an old wood cut. It depicted a man in clothing indicative of the 1700s. His features were hard to make out. He could have been any race, but Brian had the impression, the way it was shaded, that he was dark skinned.

    "It is said that a stranger appeared in your town when the fighting and killing was at its worst. His skin was the color of an old copper penny. His long hair was curly and black. Those who wrote about it afterward thought he was a man from a far distant land, but they don't specify which. His clothing was brightly colored and of the finest quality. At first, he did nothing, but as the fighting increased, he took his place in the town square and started to chant.

    "Here, the stories vary markedly. Some said that brightly colored birds gathered around him. Others say, multi-hued rain burst forth, covering them. The one thing that doesn't change—bright colors, like dozens of rainbows. The fighting stopped, the witches dropped dead and the wounded revived. Those who had died were burned. In fact, all the bodies of the dead witches, were dug up and burned. Their ashes mingled in a pit and they were covered with lye and bitter herbs. Protective wards were set around them and a variety of special plants circle the pit.

    "For the righteous who died, they too were burned. Their remains were also buried, but in a crypt in the local cemetery." A slide came up, a photograph of a mausoleum they more or less remembered seeing before. "As to the Peddler, he stayed for a few days, tending the wounded, and helping with the rebuilding. Then he disappeared without a word."

    The slide disappeared and Dr. Meru smiled at the camera again. "It differs some from our local story, but the circumstances are similar. The brightly colored stranger arrives, brings peace, heals and restores, before moving on. Only in our version, the Peddler is one of us. There is no telling if it's the same man or not. Your sighting was in 1713. Ours was seventy-five years later when the first convicts arrived on our soil." He sighed sadly, shaking his head. "It was a harsh time and a bloody one for our people and theirs. Our Peddler came to stop an uprising of my people against the Whites."

    "That sucks," Andre interjected. "White people had no right to be there. Then the Aborigines were subjugated. They still are." He bristled with anger.

    Louisa put her hand on his arm. "It was a long time ago," she murmured. "What happened isn't right...."

    "I imagine that Andre isn't taking that announcement well," Dr. Meru said with a smile, as if he'd heard them, although he'd recorded this hours before. "Believe me, it was an unhappy time. If the Peddler hadn't come when he did, my people would have been wiped out entirely. Though our numbers are few, we survived. It was not ideal, but we didn't stand a chance against the Whites. Better a few of us suffer, than all of us die." The video ended.

    Andre didn't like the idea, but he understood it. The choice would have been a hard one. "I don't think I could have watched and waited," he said. "I'd be right in there mixing it up."

    "And you would have been killed," Louisa said. "I know your inclination is to fight, baby, but sometimes you have to kneel to fight."

    He nodded, dropping his head. "You're right." He smoothed her hair, giving her a little kiss.

    They watched another video. In this one, Dr. Meru showed the dance Brian needed to do to summon the Peddler. At the end, he smiled at the camera once more.

    "Now, my young friends, you need to call me. Pay no heed to the time, I will be up and waiting."

    Andre put through the Skype request and Dr. Meru answered right away. He grinned at them. "Which one of you is Brian?"

    Brian waved to him.

    "Excellent. The rest of you leave, except for Jordan. This is for them alone." He waited until the others left.

    The young people went without questioning Meru's decision. When the door above had closed, Brian leaned forward, hands clasped between his knees.

    "I know it's not this simple," he said in a matter of fact tone.

    "No, it's not. Though we know what to do, no one has ever done this before. You are young and have absolutely no experience with this ritual. Do you have strong Casters?"

    "Yes—we hope so. None of them have done this complex a spell before," Jordan replied.

    Meru nodded. "As I thought. Never fear. You will help them," he said, speaking to Jordan.

    "Me? I don't know how to do this either."

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  16. #116

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 12

    "I am well aware of that, my dear. But you're his intended mate. Therefore, your participation is essential. I'm going to give you detailed instructions."

    Jordan, who was very well organized, picked up a pencil and legal pad she'd brought down to take notes on the videos. She'd already scribbled some things on the pad. She turned to a fresh page.

    "Ready," she replied.

    Meru smiled. "Not yet, perhaps, but you will be as ready as I can make you."

    He spent the next hour giving them detailed instructions on how to stand, how to chant and who should handle what part of the intricate spell. Jordan kept concise notes, repeating the instructions to be sure she had everything right.

    Brian and Meru practiced the dance together. Jordan kept the beat by tapping on her notepad with her pencil. When they were done, he smiled once more. His dark eyes sparkled.

    "You'll let me know how this goes?"

    "Yes, absolutely," Jordan replied. "Thank you, Dr. Meru. I hope one day we'll be able to meet you."

    "I do too, Jordan. And don't worry, dearest one, you'll grow. Not as tall as your man-beast here, but tall enough that you'll be able to hold your own."

    "She already holds her own," Brian replied, winking at Jordan. "She scares the hell out of me on a regular basis."

    Meru laughed, nodding. "As it should be. Time for me to go, children. I have faith in you. I will call upon the others, and we will all be lifting you up." He bowed his head and cut the connection.

    Jordan and Brian went upstairs to talk to the others and give their instructions. Maribelle got pencils and paper for everyone so that they could copy their parts as Jordan told them. Each of them had a part to play. When they were done, Jordan sat heavily beside Brian. He put his arm around her, pulling her close.

    "You're pretty amazing," he whispered. "If I haven't told you that before, I'm a fool."

    Jordan kissed his cheek, grinning up at him. "Thank you. You are a fool."

    Brian laughed, rubbing her head until he mussed her hair. "Thanks a bunch! Just remember, I may be a fool, but I'm all yours."

    "Yes, no end of bother, but what's a girl to do?"

    "Who's hungry?" Miles asked.

    "Besides you?" Maribelle replied.

    "I'm starving," Brian replied.

    "I could eat," Sweet added.

    The men all joined in on the chorus of hunger. Soon, the children joined them, creating quite a cacophony.

    "Pizza," Miles declared, pulling out his phone. "Three large, right?" He winked at the assembled hoard of hungry people.

    "More like thirty," Brian replied. "I swear, I could eat a whole one by myself."

    Jordan's pad of paper came in handy once more. Everyone had their special orders to ask for. Miles gathered and assembled the requests and called the pizza delivery place.

    "We'll pick it up," he assured the girl on the phone. "No driver should have to deal with that kind of order."

    "I was gonna say, that's bigger than some school orders. This could take about an hour, is that okay?"

    "Yeah. Thank you."

    Maribelle pulled out all the snack food she had, which was considerable. Everything from honey mustard pretzels to a vegetable platter. Brian wasn't surprised to find out that the mothers had brought a variety of items with them for the overnight trip.

    Brian and Andre went with Louisa and Jordan to pick up the pizza. On the way back, Jordan yelped.

    "I completely forgot about your loin cloth," she said.

    "No worries," Brian assured her. "I talked to Dr. Meru about that. He said any natural fiber. I have a pair of hemp shorts that Dad got for me in Jamaica. They've never been worn. I rinsed them out in blessed salt water. Meru said those would work great. Even the thread and drawstring are hemp fiber."

    "Whew!" I haven't even had time to think about it."

    "Aw, you mean we don't get to see Brian in the buff?" Louisa teased. "I wanted to make unkind comparisons."

    Brian blushed, his ears burning. "I assure you, everything is proportional," he shot back at her.

    Andre's eyes narrowed. "Oh, hell. I'm just as glad you're gonna be dancing in shorts cause, da-yam."

    Brian laughed, glancing at his friend with a raised eyebrow. "Jealous?"

    Andre, who was considerably shorter than Brian, screwed up his mouth, shaking his head. "No fair. That's all I'm sayin'."
    The girls laughed loudly.

    "If either of you says anything with the word envy attached, she will be summarily chastised," Andre threatened.

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  17. #117

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 13

    The pizza was greeted enthusiastically, the delivery personnel even got scattered thanks from the group. When they had all eaten their fill, there was very little left. It all fit in two boxes. True to their prediction, Brian and Sweet had each eaten the better part of a whole large pizza.

    "You know how on TV the mom comes in carrying one pizza box and there are like six people there?" Andre said, suppressing a burp. "I look at that and I think, She's planning on feeding an entire family with one large pizza? Is she high?"

    "Apparently not, or she'd have her own pizza, and make the family share," Miles countered.

    "And there's always a piece or two left afterward," Sweet added. "Six people, one pizza, two slices left." He shook his head. "Not my kinda math at all."

    "No, in your world, it's six people, twelve pizzas and everyone gets two," Ginnifer teased.

    "I need a nap," Miles said. "If we're going to be up late, I want some rest."

    Agreeing with him, everyone departed, planning to meet up at the Finley's house at 6:00 for dinner. They would be performing the ritual at the Finley's. It was the most remote location available. Set on the edge of the swamp, they could offer more privacy than the others.

    Brian kissed Jordan before she got in the car with her parents. "See you later," he murmured. "I have something to tell you before we get involved in everything."

    "We'll sneak off before dinner," she promised.

    "See you soon."

    They kissed again and he went inside. Brian went to his room and lay down, staring at the ceiling. He was tired, but too wound up to relax. He was anxious, not just because of the ritual, but because he planned to tell Jordan that he loved her. He had no idea how this evening would end. If something went wrong, he could be killed or injured. He had no illusions on that point. His mother had lost her eyesight in casting a spell. Over a year later, she still hadn't gotten it back fully, and probably never would.

    What if it doesn't work? What if I mess up? What if he isn't real? What if he doesn't show up?

    Brian knew he was making himself crazy with the worrying, but he couldn't stop it. His mind was in fast gear, moving at a furious speed. To help himself relax, he put on some music. All the songs were things that Jordan liked. He could see her singing along as she danced by herself.

    I never dance with her. Why don't I dance with her? Because you can't dance, you moron. Then I'm going to learn. Jordan loves it so much, she deserves to have a man in her life who can dance.

    With Jordan's face in his mind, he dozed off, waking to a light tapping on his door. He rolled over as it opened.

    "Hiya, handsome," Jordan said as she walked in.

    "Hey, babe. Oh, wake up breath!" He excused himself. Coming back minty fresh, he kissed her.

    "I thought I'd slip up here before it gets crazy. Dad dropped me off on the way to Chase's house. He said I can ride over with you." She sat beside him on the bed, legs crossed in front of her. "What did you want to talk about? The ritual?"

    "No." He took her hands. "I'm not gonna lie, Jordan. I'm nervous, maybe even scared."

    "It's gonna be okay, Brian...."

    "Yeah, I know. It will probably be fine. But I've had something on my mind for a couple weeks no—longer. And I have to get this off my chest before we do all this."

    "Okay." She sat quietly, attentive.

    Brian took her hands, kissing them. "I know we're destined to be together," he said quickly, almost flippantly. "But I wanted to say, I'd have chosen you anyway, because you're the most amazing girl I know."

    "Thanks, Brian...."

    He stopped her with a shake of his head. "I have to say this fast—all at once, or I'll chicken out."

    "Okay. You're kinda freaking me out here, Bri."

    He traced the vein on the back of her hand with the tip of his finger. His gaze fastened on hers. "You mean the world to me, Jordan. I feel like I can do anything, when you're with me. I could leap a tall building or two. Provided one needed leaping. I bet I could even stop a freight train." He realized he was babbling. He took a deep breath. "I don't know what's going to happen tonight. Everything could be fine, or it could all go pear shaped. And if that happens, you need to know something." He took another deep breath. "I love you, Jordan. More than my own life. You drive me nuts, and keep me on my toes. You scold me when I need it, and you help me when I get in over my head."

    Jordan stopped his flow of words by kissing him. They kissed a long time, getting more familiar with their hands than they'd ever been. Jordan pulled away for a moment.

    "I love you, too, Brian. Since the first day when you nearly planted your face in my chest."

    "You have very nice....," he whispered huskily. His hands moved, of their own accord, to her chest.

    There was a sharp tap on the door. Andre poked his head around the door. "Are you f**king crazy, dude?" he whispered angrily. He scooted into the room, shutting the door quietly. "You're sending off all kinds of bells and whistles," he motioned in the air. "You're lucky I'm the one who picked up on it and not someone like—oh, I don't know—her dad!"

    "You're right," Brian said. "Sorry, Jordan."

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  18. #118

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 14

    "But you mean it, right?" she asked.

    "Absolutely. Cross my heart and hope...."

    Jordan put her hand over his mouth. "No. Don't finish that. Me too," she whispered. "I love you, too." She headed out the door.

    Andre held Brian back. "I know she's a delicious taste sensation, but trust me on this. Do not make the mistake of taking that girl to bed too soon. You're both too young for all that."

    Brain bridled slightly. "How soon did you make it with Louisa?"

    "She wasn't my first, okay? We didn't know each other until a little over three years ago. Like Jordan's parents, hers moved away. They came back when she turned fifteen. They knew she needed instruction that they couldn't give her. But I made it with this other chick when I was about your age. Got her pregnant. Now, I'm twenty and have a four year old kid with a woman who will never be my wife. I understand the urges well. Louisa makes me crazy just by walking in the room. But I don't do anything with her folks around. Understood?"

    "Yes. You're right, Andre. I wasn't thinking. I just told her I loved her for the first time."

    "I can dig it, Brian. This whole thing could go pear shaped." He nodded. "I've got your back, you know that, right?"

    "Thanks, man. I appreciate it." Brian paused as they went out the door. "If I die, who takes my place? Do you get another Dreamer? And what happens to Jordan?"

    "Do you really want to know?"

    "No. I guess I don't."

    "You aren't gonna die, Brian. You keep all thoughts like that out of your head. Because if you give into the doubt, this whole thing could blow up in our faces, and Mr. D., he wins."

    They walked downstairs together. The others were already out the door. Only Louisa, Jordan, Brian and Andre were left. Louisa embraced Brian, hugging him tightly. She kissed both his cheeks before giving him a gentle kiss on the lips.

    "You're going to be fine," she promised. "No worries allowed."

    "I'll drive," Andre offered.

    Brian handed him the keys and hopped in the back seat with Jordan. As soon as they had their belts fastened, their lips met. They kissed the entire way to Chase's house. Brian was very careful where he put his hands.

    The swamp seemed darker than usual, more intimidating. Brian couldn't suppress a shiver when he got out of the car. Jordan put her arms around him, hugging tight. She pulled him along, taking small steps, urging him forward. One hesitant step after another, he finally arrived at the house. Taking a deep breath, he walked up the stairs. His feet felt heavy, his body awkward and slow. Was it just fear, or was some outside force acting on him? He had no way of knowing. Dr. Meru hadn't said anything about this.

    Inside, he changed into his shorts. It felt weird wearing them without his underwear, but that contained synthetic fibers. A chilly wind blew through the house, scurrying up the leg of his loose pants. Brian shivered, but no one else seemed to notice. They met in Dora Finley's kitchen and did a short cleansing. Just before they went outside, his mother wiped him down with warm blessed salt water, patting him dry with a soft linen towel.

    Walking out the backdoor, barefoot, and all but naked, was the most difficult thing he'd ever done. He was glad to reach the circle of trees where a merry bonfire blazed. Remembering the fire from last year, he shuddered, gazing deeply into the flames to see if anything lurked inside. Fortunately, no leering fire elementals danced within. It was nothing but his own wild and overactive imagination.

    Everyone took their places. Jordan and the group of Casters surrounded a small table that held all their spell ingredients and tools. The others gathered around the clearing, picking up instruments. Brian would dance to their music. The bonfire took up a six foot diameter area in the middle of the clearing. The altar table was set up near the shed where Mr. Finley kept his workshop. There was a raked area around the fire, forming a circle.

    Brian circled the fire, chanting as Dr. Meru had taught him. When he'd made the circuit three times, the music started. Saying a silent prayer, Brian began, his feet finding the right steps without his conscious effort. He felt the drums in his chest, the trill of the flutes rang in his ears. The musicians played and chanted as the others began the spell. Soon, the sounds blended into one, forming a droning backdrop to his movements.

    Lost in the music, he continued his dance, repeating the pattern over and over, working up a sweat. He no longer felt the cold. With an uncomfortable lurch, his body traversed a different plane. This place was like nothing he'd seen before.

    Everything shimmered with every imaginable color. Birds sang, their trills lingering in the air in a multi-hued trail. There were no people, but animals gathered around, nudging him as they circled him. He saw creatures he didn't recognize among the hundreds of beasts. He was starting to feel lost when two giant dogs burst into the circle, barking happily. Janus and Zofia circled him, yapping and licking him. Brian laughed at their antics.

    "Is anyone here?" he called, but no one answered. "Hello? Peddler? We need you. We need your help against the Darkness. Can you help us?"

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

  19. #119

    Default The Man Who Wasn't There by Dellani Oakes Part 15

    The only sounds were from the animals. He couldn't even hear the wind, though he felt the strength of it on his face. The animals led him to a rocky pool. Above him, there was a waterfall. It was about twenty feet high and could only be reached by scaling slippery rocks. Brian knew he had to climb up to the top. Taking his time, he did so. Janus and Zofia watched from far below, but some of the more agile animals went with him.

    When he reached the top, he looked down. The water was crystal blue, like the azurite on the amulet around his neck. It glittered and gleamed invitingly.

    "Dive in," he heard in his head.

    Brian felt compelled to walk to the edge of the cliff, which seemed higher since he arrived. Taking his diving stance, he took a deep breath. Launching himself over the edge, Brian fell an impossibly long way before his fingertips touched the water. His body cut the surface without a sound or a splash. Down he went, far deeper than he'd ever been before. Strangely, he could breathe here. There was no struggling for air. He could inhale the water and derive oxygen from it. He opened his mouth, gulping it in. It was pure and sweet, unadulterated water. This is what water in the Garden of Eden must have tasted like. Brian drank his fill as he swam around in the depths.

    The water surrounded him with light, buoying him as he swam. Still, he didn't find the Peddler. He wondered if the Peddler even lived here. Had Brian done something wrong, landed in the a different spot? Had he died and gone to Heaven? He couldn't imagine that Heaven could be any better than this. It was the most beautiful place he'd ever seen.

    He propelled himself to the top of the pool, splashing through the surface. The animals had gone, only Janus and Zofia were there, lying on the banks. They stood, grinning, when he walked out of the water.

    "Is he here? Did I come to the wrong spot? I wish you could answer me."

    Brian stood on the banks of the pool, casting about for ideas. He had no clue where to go, what to do or how to get home. He could only hope that the ritual had worked and that he wasn't lost here forever. That thought dulled his enjoyment slightly. As lovely and peaceful as it was here, he wanted to go home.

    The landscape faded and he felt himself drifting down. With a thump, he woke as he sat hard on the damp ground. The drums stopped, the flutes fluttered to a halt. The chanting ended and all eyes stared at him. No one spoke for several seconds.

    Jordan dashed forward with a blanket, wrapping it around him. She kissed his cheeks, feeling his head. "Are you okay? You've been out for ages!" Bursting into tears, she clung to him.

    Miles and Heath helped him up. They walked into the house, supporting him. Jackie and Dr. Beauchamps, checked him over.
    "Except for being a little chilled, he's fine," Andre's father declared.

    "What happened?" Brian asked.

    "Let's get you home and we'll tell you," Heath said.

    Miles took Brian to the bathroom and helped him dress. When he was warmly covered, they went home. Jordan refused to be separated from him. She held his hand the entire way home and wouldn't leave his side once they walked in the house. Maribelle fixed him a hot, restorative tea, and Brian waited for an explanation.

    Miles poured a measure of whiskey in a glass, handing it to Brian. "I know you're only sixteen, but I think you deserve this."
    "What happened? Did it work?" Brian sipped the whiskey, shuddering slightly. It sent a tingling warmth throughout his body. He sipped steadily until it was gone.

    "We don't know if it worked, son. Do you think it did?"

    "I haven't a clue." He told them about the place he'd been and told them about swimming in the pond. "What happened here? Jordan acts like I've been gone forever."

    "You did the dance, we did the spell. It seemed to work, got all the fancy fireworks we were expecting, only you collapsed. You were breathing, but you were completely unresponsive. We wanted to pick you up and carry you inside, but Janus appeared out of nowhere, followed by Zofia. They wouldn't let us anywhere near you. They lay next to you, kept you warm and didn't move until just before you got up—two hours later."

    "What? I was only gone ten minutes!"

    Jordan took his hand, scooting closer. "Two hours, Brian. Exactly. You didn't seem to be in distress, in fact, you were smiling and it looked like you were drinking something delicious."

    "The water," he said quietly. "It was the sweetest, freshest water I ever tasted. And I could breathe underwater. I kept thinking, Is this Heaven? Am I dead? But the dogs weren't real communicative."

    "Did you see anyone?" Miles asked.

    "No, just the animals. All kinds, some I don't even know names for. They led me to the pool. I heard a voice telling me to dive in. I did."

    Jordan flung her arms around him, burying her face in his shoulder. "You scared me to death," she whispered. "Don't scare me like that again! Promise!"

    Brian took her face in his hands, giving her a kiss. "Given who we are and what we have to do, I can't make that promise. Because I won't break a promise to you, Jordan." His next kiss lasted longer. He wanted her with every nerve in his body. They sang a chorus of desire that he wished to join. Her hands and lips weren't enough.

    "I know she's a delicious taste sensation, but get a grip, boy!" Hearing Andre's voice in his mind, he slowly broke his hold on Jordan.

    © 2017 Dellani Oakes

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