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FALLEN: Chapters 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 (revised) and first 1/2 of 8

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Old 12-13-2008, 09:32 AM
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Default FALLEN: Chapters 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 (revised) and first 1/2 of 8


Just to clarify, the only chapter that I am requesting feedback on is chapter eight. The rest of this has already been checked for SPAG and content (though if you notice any errors feel free to let me know). If you have comments over these chapters, I welcome them, but I am NOT expecting anyone to do an in depth critique of this entire piece. For those who would like to catch up on the story without chasing bits and pieces around the forum, this is for you. If you have been keeping up, the setting has been changed to Vista Valley Colorado, chapter seven has a new scene and the beginning of chapter eight is included. Enjoy!


FALLEN

By: Lindy Hickman
"TWICE or thrice had I loved thee, before I knew thy face or name;
so in a voice, so in a shapeless flame
Angels affect us oft"

John Donne

Air and Angels




Chapter 1: So Long Sanity


There is a beauty in madness, a distinct freedom in knowing that your mind lacks filters and restraint. It is a lovely and freeing thing to find that you operate outside the realm of reason. Enlightenment is gained in realizing one's own ignorance, but first—always at first—there is darkness.

I had embraced my own insanity, not immediately of course. No one wants to believe they are crazy, but I knew that I was. Normal people don't feel lost inside themselves. They don’t see the things I’ve seen.

Accepting my madness seemed easy at first—liberating even. Unfortunately, it also resulted in regular visits to Dr. Vogel. I knew, as I lay staring up at the tiled ceiling, that I was getting closer and closer to the land of white walls every day. It was only a matter of time before the good doctor had me fitted for a straitjacket and added prescription drugs to my food pyramid. Yes, the shades of my colored world would fade into gray as I became increasingly medicated, losing myself with each dosage. It was only a matter of time.


I heard the door behind me open. The quiet, plodding footsteps that followed drummed a familiar cadence. I didn’t need to redirect my gaze in order to identify my companion.

“Hello, Ms. Nash.”

“Ember,” I stated languidly. “You can call me Ember, Doc. Feel free to save the formalities for my parents. They pay the bill.”

“Of course.” He smiled warmly as he positioned himself in his oversized leather chair. “I see you still haven’t warmed up to the chaise.”

I had rejected his couch, one of many actions that he found odd. Since our sessions had begun several weeks ago, I had chosen to lie on his floor instead. At first he objected, with little success. I was certain he had added this behavioral abnormality to my repertoire of inexplicable activity. I didn't really care. He sat before me quietly, his hands folded in his lap. His appearance was affable, like that of a beloved grandfather. Graying hair, which was combed neatly into place, fell along his temples. Its cool shade was contrasted by the brilliant gold of his eyes, a hue only seen amongst dying autumn leaves. His face, though marred by countless hours of contemplation, was striking. I was positive that my sessions had added years to the poor man, and I felt a small twinge of guilt as he prodded me.


“So, are we going to talk today, Ms. Nash?”

My eyebrows lifted slightly.

“Pardon me. Are we going to talk today, Ember?”

“Sure.”

Relief flooded his face.

“Feel free to talk, Doc. I’m listening.” My voice was flat.

“Okay," he sighed. "I can start if you’d like. Why are you here, Ember?”

I paused, wondering if I should humor him. I had been seeing Dr. Vogel twice a week for five weeks. Each time I had resolved to tell him nothing of consequence, but that was before.

“Dr. V, why does it matter whether or not I explain the finer points of my insanity? I promise you’ll get paid either way.” I paused, “Is this about the couch? I’ll sit on the couch if it makes you feel better.”

He chuckled lightly. I wondered if he was allowed to do that. Wasn’t there some kind of psychiatric code with laws like ‘thou shalt own a couch’ and ‘thou shalt never display genuine emotion in front of patients’? He interrupted my inward rant.


“It’s not the couch. You can hang by your knees from the curtain rod if it makes you comfortable. I just want to help you, Ember, but I can’t do that if you won’t let me.”

“You want to help me?”


He nodded in response.

“No, Doc. You say you want to help, but you don’t. Not really. You want to prove that I’m crazy so that you can lock me in a mental institution, maybe even run tests on me like some kind of lab rat. I’ll make it really easy for you. I’m nuts. I admit it. Shackle me Dr. V; I’m a regular threat to society!”

He chuckled again. “You’ve watched too much television. I don’t think you’re crazy.”

“That makes one of us.”

“The truth is, Ember, you might find that I understand you better than you think, that I know a thing or two about feeling…peculiar.” He hesitated, exhaling quickly. Resituating, he leaned forward placing his elbows on his knees and folded his hands. “However, in order to discover all of that, you would have to tell me why your parents brought you here, and why they say you’ve been upset recently. You would have to trust me.” His speech was less than convincing, but his expression, his eyes, communicated what his words could not. I was crumbling. My jaw tightened.

“How do I know that I can trust you?”

“You don’t, I suppose. I can give you my word and nothing else. It’s all I have.”

“It’s not good enough.”

“That’s fair.” His fingers interlaced behind his head as he leaned back into his inviting chair. “You’re not obligated to tell me what is going on. I can endure your silent treatment.” He pursed his lips, “But, I often wonder if you can.”

My chest ached at his observation. I was sand in an hour glass. With each passing day, I was disappearing, slipping through the cracks imposed by my madness. Would it ever stop? I wore my inner struggle like a target, and he could see my resolve dwindling. He prepared the final blow.

“If you think you can endure this—whatever it is that’s bothering you-- then perhaps I’m not needed after all.”

I was quiet for a long moment, weighing my options. I knew I couldn’t bear the injuries inflicted by my insanity much longer. If left untreated, they would send me deeper and deeper into my inner grave. I wanted to be strong enough, to lick my own wounds and return to life as usual. I didn’t want to be saved, but I couldn’t be my own hero. He had won, and he knew it. Tolerantly waiting, he sat aware that the desired response would come, that even now my secrets threatened to stream from my lips. My white flag was raised.

“Fine, if you are really that eager to join me in the seventh circle, then who am I to stop you?” I tried to maintain my steely exterior only to find that I was encased by tin foil—pliable and pathetic. Dr. Vogel, the gracious victor, smiled reassuringly.

I sat up and pulled my brown bag towards me. I dug through it, brushing old receipts and gum wrappers aside. Retrieving a newspaper clipping, I handed it to him. The headline was engraved into my mind, “Mother of Two Drowns in Lake Desmond”.

He was puzzled. “Okay. Why don’t you tell me what this is about?”

I sat quietly for a long moment and considered readopting my vow of silence, but I knew that this was the point of no return. I had made my choice. Resting against the base of the couch, my knees recoiled into my chest. My arms enclosed around them as my chin dropped, allowing an auburn curtain to fall loosely around my face. I couldn’t speak. The words were trapped in my throat. My green eyes threatened to spill over with tears. Already the brimming moisture drenched my lashes.

“Ember.” His gaze was gentle. “Tell me what this is about.”

“I saw her,” I whispered. The words tumbled out so quickly and quietly. I had heard them so many times in my head, and yet they were exponentially more frightening as they tainted the quiet of the office.

“Who, Ember? Who did you see?”

“Her…” I noticed that I had been holding my breath. Quickly, I inhaled, barely allowing the air to fill my lungs as a tear escaped my lashes. “That woman who drowned, I saw her.” I tucked my hair behind my ear and looked at him, expecting skepticism to color his face. Yet, as his eyes met mine, there was no trace of doubt or disbelief.

“What do you mean when you say that you saw her? Did you see her drowning?”

Terror rose in my throat, surging through my voice as I lashed out at him. “No! No, I didn’t see her drowning. I mean that Isaw her, her dead, lifeless corpse. It was…” I exhaled and bit my lower lip. “It was in my head. Like… like a nightmare.” The tears emerged freely now. Tumbling defiantly down my cheeks, they fell from my chin staining my white blouse.


The flashing mental picture was devastatingly memorable. “Mother of Two”, Debra Langston, hung suspended on a gray canvas of cold, murky water. Her ghostly complexion was complemented by long russet hair and shining hazel eyes. Even as she drifted, limp and unresponsive, it was clear that she was beautiful.

Her lifeless expression reflected sheer terror. It was agonizingly malformed and embossed unnaturally on her pale, lovely face. She was ethereal as she floated listlessly, hollow and distorted by the gentle current. The image of her perforated the safe chambers of my mind. No longer repressed and concealed it consumed me. I was relieved when Dr. Vogel interrupted my grisly recollection.

“So, you saw a mental image of this woman, this woman here?” he turned the article towards me and pointed to Debra’s smiling photograph. I nodded, shrinking back as Debra’s face stared back at me. I could feel myself trembling as I sat retreating into myself.

His voice was soft, “and she was dead?”

“Yes,” my words quivered.

“All right.” He plucked a tissue from the box next to him and handed it to me. “Such images can be very troubling,” he soothed, as I wiped the moisture from my eyes.

“That’s not it.”

What’s not it?” His eyes never retreated. They continued to look down at me expecting the secrets that he knew would come.


“I mean—“ I stopped myself—swallowing hard. “The images, they scare me. They upset me, but that’s not why I’m crying.”


“Images. So, they happen often.” Dr. Vogel said the words as if he already decided them to be true. There was no hint of shock or disturbance in his tone.

I nodded.

“I see.” He clasped the paper clipping with both hands. “You said the images aren’t the cause for your anxiety. Tell me… what is?”

I rested my chin on my knees. My eyes scrambled across the room looking for a distraction. I wanted to run, to forget the past five minutes, to forgether. Dr. Vogel felt my hesitation.

"Ember, stay with me." He raised the article, strategically covering Debra’s picture with his right hand. "Tell me why this is upsetting you."

My gaze met his. "My dream... I had it last week."

He glanced down at the newspaper.

“Ember.” His stare intensified as he formulated his next statement. “She drowned yesterday.”

“I know.”



Chapter 2: Suicidal Statue

It had been eight days since my last session with Vogel, since the cunning old man had managed to coax my deepest secrets from me. I’d survived eight days of repeated self scolding and hiding—shameful, cowardly hiding—that left me feeling guilt-ridden and paranoid. During my past two “sessions” I was forced to take refuge in “Cool Beans” coffee shop, a small and secluded establishment buried amongst the small shops of downtown Vista Valley, Colorado. I knew that mom and dad would never approve of my decision to discontinue seeing Vogel, but my mind was made up. I would tell them—eventually—that the arrangement was simply impossible, that I would seek help elsewhere. There was no way I was going back. Too much had been said.

I considered my situation carefully as I sat, exhausted and alone, at the head of the extensive dining room table, donning my favorite pair of flannel pajamas. My cell phone lay next to a cereal box, its blinking notification appearing more hostile than usual. “New Message”—the announcement read like a warning. I knew exactly what awaited me if I pushed the demon “listen” button. With great reluctance, I reached forward and cued voicemail.

“Hey, you’ve reached Ember. Wait for the beep. You know the drill.”

That voice—my voice—sounded utterly foreign, almost as if it wasn’t mine at all. The greeting rang out routinely and I found myself repelled by the slight lilt in my own tone. The expected voice that followed was even more off-putting.

“Ember, this is Dr. Vogel. You missed your sessions this past week. I’ve tried contacting you a few times, but I still haven’t heard from you. Perhaps you haven’t received my messages.” He sighed knowingly. “Then again, maybe you have. Either way, I think it’s really important that you come see me this week. There are several things I’d like to…discuss. Your next appointment is scheduled for 4:15 on Wednesday. I’ll be expecting you.”

I eagerly deleted his message and returned my phone to its place on the table. Grateful that the trial had passed, I returned my attention to breakfast. Swells of milk undulated, rolling until they were met by the porcelain of my bowl. I drew my name in cheerios with my spoon, my eyes fixating on the lithe tides of my meal. Unable to eat, I allowed my mind to wander. It had been quite some time since I had indulged in a state of reverie. I had worked tirelessly to busy my mind. Leaving it idle made it more and more susceptible to “the terrors”. That’s how I referred to my haunting dreams. In truth, they weren’t really dreams at all. The terrors were never confined to the night or bound to a sleeping state. They permeated my mind at all hours—day and night. It’s true that they came more readily as I slept—something I had done very little of—but they also lingered in the day.

My band-aid approach to solving my problem seemed to be working. The more I occupied my thoughts, the less the terrors came. Now, I just had to figure out how to live without sleep. The dark, inset circles beneath my eyes were telling of my restless nights.

“Ember!” The sound of my name being called was drowned out by the noise of my thoughts. For a moment, I hadn’t realized that someone had spoken to me. “Ember, honey?”

With one swift movement, my head swiveled around to find my mom standing in the doorway. A grey pant-suit hung elegantly over her slender figure. Her dark auburn hair was twisted tidily into a bun, putting slight tension on the outer edges of her soft face. Her doe eyes exuded worry.

“Honey, you look awful. Still no sleep?” Her voice cracked as her forehead furrowed disquietly.

“No, I slept just fine,” I lied. “I’m bad-dream free. I think these sessions with Dr. Vogel are really helping.” More lies. If I were Pinocchio, I could have pole vaulted with my nose.

Mom forced a smile as she grabbed her briefcase by the door. She turned towards me again. “I’m glad to hear that.” She paused. “By the way; I think I’m going to drive you to your session this week. I’d like to see how things are coming along.”

I knew my poor lying had failed to convince her.

“Oh, don’t bother, Mom” I smiled as compellingly as possible. “Really, there’s no need. I’m fine. Besides, I can’t ask you to take off of work…” She stopped me.

“You didn’t ask. I offered.”

“I know but…I don’t want you to go to all of that trouble. Really, I’m fine.”

She sighed and opened the front door. Relieved, I turned back towards my bowl of cereal and retrieved my spoon, preparing to carry on with my cheerio-art.

“Oh, Ember, one last thing.”

I clutched my spoon more firmly as I turned towards her.

“You’re not the only one in contact with Dr. Vogel.” She raised one eyebrow. “4:15 on Wednesday, you are expected and you are going.”

There was no escape. “Fine” I sighed, hanging my head in defeat. “Omniscient Mom strikes again,” I raised my fist, lifting the spoon reverently as if it were Excalibur. My bout of humor seemed to appease her. Melting into a grin, her severe expression faded as she disappeared out the front door. I watched her march down the walkway, counting her steps. Seven. Eight. Nine. She reached the black Mercedes and ducked into it. As she backed out of the driveway I searched for another distraction.

I checked the time: 7:46. Classes would begin at 8:00, meaning that I had only fourteen minutes to get dressed and drive to school. I smiled at the realization that I was going to be embarrassingly late. Distraction found. Scurrying around the house, I located pieces of my uniform and dressed in haste. The grotesque plaid-patterned skirt draped unflatteringly over my boyish hips. My unfavorable, two-dimensional figure was made even more noticeable as I tucked in my polo shirt. I had long given up hope that a statuesque body with my name on it was on lay away somewhere. Instead, I had accepted my seemingly shapeless figure.

I didn’t bother to comb my hair. As usual, my light auburn waves were permitted to fall about my shoulders. Smoothing them hastily as I brushed my teeth, I noticed sunken green eyes staring back at me in the bathroom mirror. It was little wonder why Mom had looked so concerned; my face was shrouded in sleep deprivation. I glanced at my alarm clock: 7:52. Hurriedly I grabbed my keys off the counter and scurried across the snow-kissed lawn towards my white Civic.

Time stopped the very moment I passed through heavy oak doors of Excelsior Academy. The school had a funny way of making mere moments feel like hours. My days there slipped by with the same monotony as a documentary on seaweed. I hated Excelsior. Kids in normal schools had to worry about keeping up with the Joneses, Excelsior students were the Joneses. The nation’s elite—senators, oil moguls, and ambassadors to name a few—took to shipping their offspring off to the prestigious academy. As the daughter of a lawyer and a vice president of marketing, I was considered a low-class citizen.

As the day inched by painfully, I had examined every aspect of it to the point of exhaustion knowing that my mental health depended on it.

My exploration of mundane details began during my first class, English. Mr. Dewhurst was suffering from a cold. During the course of our lecture he coughed twelve times, blew his nose twice, and picked it once when he suspected no one was paying any attention.

My math classroom had thirty-two ceiling tiles. Six of them had suffered water damage. I counted sixty-seven dress code violations and thirteen cases of prohibited displays of affection.

At lunch, seventeen people sat alone—only six of them did so by choice. One of the lunch-ladies neglected to wear a hairnet, and another wiped her nose with her gloved hand before preparing a sandwich.

And cue nausea. There goes my appetite.

I chose to forego school lunch at least for the day, possibly forever.

Accompanied by my empty tray and growling stomach, I made my way to my usual table. Sitting gracefully, her ankles crossed neatly beneath her, Beverly Bennet—my nearest and dearest companion—waited for me. Her golden hair was bobby-pinned neatly on either side. Its ends folded delicately, framing her face as they tapered around her chin. Her devastatingly elegant and poised demeanor was so contrasted by my own constant floundering. I often wondered how our friendship came to be, how the demure Bev managed to tolerate my eccentricities.

Bev, like me, was among the few students who called picturesque Vista Valley home. A great deal of our classmates haled from big cities near and far, and were boarded in the nearby dormitory—“Quinton Hall”—named after the late, great founder of Excelsior.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Bev asked as I placed my empty tray on the table, raising her sandwich to her lips. I snatched it from her.

“No, and you’re not either.”

“Hey, Ember! I—“

“Trust me. This is for your own good.”

“I was gonna eat that!”

“Bev, you have no idea what stray bodily fluids I just spared you from.”

She peaked at the lunch counter behind me, trying to do so diplomatically so as not to be caught staring. The right side of her nose twitched as her face embodied disgust. Clearly the unaware cafeteria woman was continuing to extract mucous with her gloved hand.

“You’re right. I’m not hungry.” Bev pushed her tray aside.

“Thought so.” I stacked my tray beneath hers.

“So, how’s the whole dreaming of the dead thing? Did you show Vogel the news paper article?” The casualty with which she addressed the terrors provided me false comfort. Though I was acutely aware that my insanity was detrimental, she talked about my illness in the same way she spoke of a common cold. I had told Bev everything. When the terrors first began—two months before—she was the first person I called. As they continued and increased she convinced me to tell my parents, who eventually carted me off to see Vogel.

“Ya, I showed him.”

She waited for me to continue, but I had no intention of doing so. My silent obstinacy did not deter her.

“And? What did he say?”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Ember, of course it matters.”

“No, Bev, it doesn’t.”

Beverly fell silent. My clenched fists and rigid expression must have convinced her to drop the issue. We sat in peace then, realizing that the topic of my mental state was beyond our maturity level, that seventeen year old girls should be talking about hand bags and shoes, not nightmares of the dead. Lunch soon ended and the distractions that Bev’s company supplied with it. As I endured my final three classes, the task of occupying my thoughts, once again, weighed heavily on me.

In Geography, I noted chin stubble on Mrs. Broganmeyer, who I affectionately referred to as the Broganbeast. She was a large woman. Where she lacked softness of character she wore it on her round body. Her appearance was altogether confusing. At first glance, she had all the outward qualities of a jovial and nurturing grandmother, that is, until she opened her mouth and spoke. Her brash, raspy, voice was had all the makings of a horror film villain. One whisker protruded so far from her face that it quite nearly inhabited a separate zip code.

Bored with the Broganbeast, I turned my attention to my classmates. Two people had dozed off during the lecture. One of them, Jeffery Mannis, was slumped over his corner desk. Neither the symphony of snores chorusing from his parted lips nor the small puddle of drool trickling down his cheek disturbed him. His buddies had taken it upon themselves to treat his cheek as an art canvas. Images of the—ahem—anatomical persuasion were articulated on his face in sharpie. In spite of all of this I envied him. At least he could sleep.

The last bell finally resounded. I made my way through the sea of plaid and khaki as my locker came into view. My locker partner, Dylan Page, was nowhere in sight. Dylan often kept to himself, which was one of the things I liked about him. When we did frequent our locker at the same time, there was no need for small talk or formalities. It was an unspoken understanding that neither of us expected our shared space to jumpstart a friendship. About a month ago, our locker became his drug-trafficking locale. That struck a nerve, but it was easy enough to convince him to conduct business elsewhere. We had had no further problems. If there was one thing Dylan Page didn’t need, it was another problem. It was no secret that he self medicated to dull the pain of his parent’s divorce. His father was a senator, whose very public affair with his campaign manager had torn the family apart.

As I opened my locker I was met by the familiar and disturbing “art” that Dylan had posted on the interior wall. I glanced at the tattered notebook pages more carefully than I ever had before. One pictured an unidentifiable creature with blood oozing from one eye and tears from the other. Another portrayed a man ripping his own heart from his chest. As I took in the grotesque scenes, I pitied Dylan. For the first time since these pictures had appeared, I understood that there was pain behind them, that Dylan said in pictures what he couldn’t formulate in words. Dylan and I were not so different, we both felt lost inside of ourselves.

My welcomed tardiness earlier that day had caused me to park in the back corner of the school’s overflow lot, about a quarter of a mile away. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have cared; I probably would have enjoyed the long walk. That is, if a torrential downpour hadn’t enveloped the entire state of Colorado.

The little snow that had covered the ground earlier that day was now being washed away in icy rivers along the roadsides. I knew that it would return within a week or so, bringing busloads of skiers and tourists with it. Skiing enthusiasts who couldn’t afford the luxurious accommodations of Aspen, would settle for the bed and breakfasts sprinkled throughout Vista Valley. The thirty minute drive to the slopes was a small price to pay for the excellent ski conditions. The Valley would be a bustling with snow-worshipers from now until early spring, an unfortunate fact of life near a mountain hot spot.

I preferred the summers, when the town was quieter and the weather more agreeable. I was quite possibly the only person in town who felt this way. My classmates could be heard planning their skiing adventures months before the first snowfall. They all were well equipped with their season passes, the latest and greatest gear, and family owned Aspen Condos. I didn’t even own a sled. The idea of becoming suddenly acquainted with a tree on my trek down the mountain seemed unappealing to me. I preferred level ground.

A disgruntled moan escaped as I peered out the school’s entrance at the monsoon conditions. A few of the local students scurried in the student parking lot. Others, like me, crowded around the windows and watched forlornly. Some, determined to wait-out the storm, situated themselves on the benches and tiled floor. I considered doing the same but decided against it, remembering that idle time and mindless behavior went against my self-prescribed treatment methods. Inhaling stiffly, I pushed through the elegantly carved doors and headed towards the lot.

I reached my car eight-hundred and sixty-seven steps later. As I trudged towards it, I realized that it was the sole vehicle remaining in the overflow lot. At the beginning of my journey I attempted to shield my hair with a notebook, but this method was quickly deserted. As a result, my hair now hung soaking and disheveled. It clung to my cheeks and back, heavy and fragrant with the smell of rainwater. My knee-high socks failed to remain true to their name as they both sagged languidly at my ankles.

My car was warm and convivial as I slunk into it. Twisting the key in the ignition, it gently purred to life. I refocused the rearview mirror, and peered at my reflection. My unkempt image provoked a weary chuckle. Suddenly I was grateful that I was alone. I looked pitifully haggard, like a soaking stray cat.

My hands worked quickly to titivate my appearance to no avail. Giving up, I reached towards the rearview mirror to reposition it. Gently, it swiveled to a stop, encasing the reflection of a tall, still figure. I blinked, squinting as I stared at the man’s reflection. Rainwater drenched his dark blonde hair, and was sent streaming down his temples, past his fierce cobalt blue eyes. Steel-jawed, his face appeared as if it were etched from stone. His unrelenting gaze was steadfast as he peered into the back window of the Civic.

I awakened from my daze, realizing how awkwardly I had gawked at the stranger framed in the rearview reflection. Busying myself, I engaged the brake and shifted into reverse. Surely he would move when he saw the brake lights illuminated. In the mirror I could see him cloaked in a red haze, but he remained unmoving.

Is he suicidal? My aggravation increased. For crying out loud! I have enough qualifications for entrance into a psych ward. I do not need to add manslaughter to the list! I honked my horn. His face remained composed—smug even. One corner of his mouth curved into a defiant smirk. In that moment I felt my final thread of sanity sever. An irate growl bellowed in my throat as I thrust the car into park. I was dangerously close to assisting the attractive stranger in his suicide mission.

I flung my car door open, as my mind scrambled to contrive a fearsome tirade. Plodding in the puddle beneath my car door, my foot planted in the ground with agitated force. Venomous words seethed in my mouth as I turned to face him, the suicidal statue. I stopped short, staggering as I stared at the vacant gray scene. I was alone.



Chapter Three: The Awakening


As I drove home, I couldn’t help but peer at the rearview mirror every few minutes. It was silly. I didn’t think that my hallucination was chasing the car or anything, but at the same time I didn’t feel alone. Had I really imagined the whole episode? He seemed so real, but of course he couldn’t be. Strange men don’t just appear and disappear in mere seconds. My mind was slipping, my sanity becoming less and less present. That was the only explanation.

Trying to drown out the sound of my own thoughts, I turned the volume of the radio up and sang at the top of my lungs all the way home.

When I arrived, I scurried through the rain and hurried into my house. It was warm and dark as I pulled my wet shoes and socks off of my freezing feet. The floorboards creaked as made my way across the living room and up the stairs towards my room. My polo clung to my skin as I pulled it over my head. It was heavy with rainwater. After removing my skirt and throwing my uniform in the hamper, I put on a pair of sweats and headed back downstairs.

Heading into the kitchen I found a note on the counter.

Ember,

Working late tonight. Dad took Jesse to football practice so you are on your own for dinner. There are left-overs in the fridge.

Love you!

Mom

After searching through the fridge I found the left-over lasagna Mom was talking about, and heated it in the microwave before heading up to my room. I didn’t like being home alone. I used to. The solitude and quiet that it provided was a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of school. But, since the terrors made their debut, being alone and idle only succeeded in making my mind more vulnerable to my insanity. But tonight was different. My mind was enamored, drowning in thoughts of my hallucination. These thoughts carried on as I slept. That night, and for many that followed, I dreamt of him.


My skin melted beneath his touch. Traveling along my forearm, his fingers danced sending warm surges up my spine. The night sky above was clear and crisp, the grass beneath us, soft and cool. Our bodies fit perfectly next to one another. His arm cradled my head, a firm and familiar pillow.

“What are you thinking?” His voice was smooth and symphonic. I turned my head and was met by his cobalt eyes. His short, blonde hair was encased in silver moonlight –almost glowing.

“Nothing.” The word found its way through my mouth involuntarily --carried by a voice I didn’t know. I had spoken it, and yet it was alien. I glanced down at my arms, my hands and fingers. They didn’t belong to me. Intrigued, I inspected the rest of the body –my body-- finding that each aspect of it was foreign. It was me. I didn’t doubt that. Each thought was felt and each emotion was absorbed, but I gazed through alien eyes and spoke through an autonomous mouth. These things belonged to me, but were not controlled by me. My self examination was abruptly cut short.

Nothing always means something.” His mouth curved into a sad smile. “So, tell me.”

I could feel my stomach doing acrobatics. An obscure feeling of terror rose in my throat, electrifying my skin. It emerged in goose bumps on my foreign limbs. His fingers ceased there motion upon feeling my skin’s new quality. He gently held my arm and turned my palm down to display the evidence.

“See.” His thumb gently grazed my textured skin. “Something,” he repeated. His hand reached to brush tousled strands of hair from my face, tucking them behind my ear. I could feel moisture clinging to the wisps as they moved across my skin. More soon followed, spilling down my cheeks, leaving cool streams as they went.

“We don’t deserve this.” The words flowed uncontrollably from my lips. Swiftly they emerged as if scripted.

He said nothing. His teeth tightened against one another, the edges of his jaw-line protruding as he contained the pain my words inflicted. I didn’t want to continue, to cause him more anguish, but the rogue mouth persisted.

“Happiness isn’t supposed to be real for people like us, not after—“

He gently pressed his fingers to my lips. “We aren’t those people anymore. Our past is part of our lives, and of who we used to be, not who we are.”

“When…” I strained desperately, trying to subdue the body that held me captive. It paid no attention to my feeble struggle as terror filled words gushed from my lips. “When will it end? How long before God finally realizes that he wasted happiness on the wrong people and makes the world right again?”

He looked sick. My body ached, knowing that I had caused his discomfort. He swallowed stiffly, obviously wrestling with the moisture brimming around his lashes. Placing his hand on my belly, he kissed my forehead gently. A consoling smile spread across his face.

“Easy Chicken Little.” His soft, warm hand cupped my cheek. “The sky isn’t going to fall. I’ll take care of you—of us—I promise.”

“Ember!” A familiar voice broke the hush of the dream. “Ember! Get up!” A foggy pink glow appeared behind my closed eyelids, and visions of the starry night misted. He was gone. The striking stranger, who had cemented himself behind my civic two weeks ago, had become a regular fixture in my dreams. He was my imagination’s constant companion. In many ways I was grateful to him. When he visited my thoughts, the terrors were absent. I was so consumed by him that I could think of nothing else.

I also resented him deeply, utterly, and inexplicably, because he wasn’t real. I knew that. He was the product of my increasing madness. To me, the handsome delusion was a glowing reminder that I was a mental catastrophe. When my mind wasn’t haunted by visions of the dead, it was swooning and agonizing over an imaginary mystery man. I was schizophrenic. I had to be. There was no other explanation. I wondered when I would start conversing with the voices in my head, and eating lunch with imaginary friends.

“Ember!” The voice grew impatient. My eyes slid open and were met by a vibrant gray gaze. It was framed by a small, freckled, face, and fringed by shaggy brown hair.

“Dad told me to wake you up.”

“Jesse?” I reached my hand from beneath the covers, and rubbed my sleep infused eyes. I could feel cold wetness on my cheeks. Remembering my dream, I pulled my hands from my face and examined them. Yes. They were mine. I could see Jesse staring at me, obviously confused. I looked back at him taking note of the squirt gun clutched in his hands.

“So that’s your weapon of choice?” I nodded towards the tiny weapon of sleep destruction.


“No, but my other methods weren’t working. I’m not used to waking people from comas.” He smiled at his own joke.

I grinned back at him. “Well maybe next time you could just shake me awake instead.” I brushed the water from my face.

“Nah, that’s amateur stuff,” he scoffed. “I’ve got big plans, like transforming your bed into a human catapult.”

“You must value your life very little.”

He laughed lightly. “Being a little brother isn’t as easy as it looks. I’ve got to come up new material constantly. The old tricks have lost their luster.”

“Lost their luster?” I raised my eyebrows quizzically. “What thirteen-year-old says that? Where do you get this stuff?”

Jesse shrugged matter-of-factly, “Television.”

“Right--“

“Hey, Bear.” Dad appeared in the doorway and glanced at me perched on my bed. Adjusting his tie, his hands worked nimbly at the base of his extended neck. He was handsome in a subtle way. His dark brown hair was sprinkled with silver stands. His face was inviting and relaxed. Faint creases had been created by his tireless grin, and they ran fluidly along his eyes and mouth. Everything about Dad was understated. Together, he and mom were a work of art, and life was their gallery. Mom was elegant and vibrantly captivating, and Dad was her strong, suave, frame. One could not be complete without the other.

Dad’s gray eyes made their way to Jesse. A wry smile formed across his mouth as he spotted the squirt gun in the boy’s hands. “So, that’s the technique you went with today, Jess?” They nodded at one another in mutual respect. I rolled my eyes. It must be a guy thing.

“Yeah. I’m thinking of treating Ember to a violin concert tomorrow morning.”

“You don’t know how to play the violin, J. That thing has been collecting dust in your closet for years.” Dad’s hands fell from the knot of his tie. “It’s got to be out of tune by now. I’ll bet it sounds awful. ”

“I’m banking on that.” A devilish smile washed across Jesse’s face. Dad shot me a sympathetic glance before checking his watch.

“Oh, you better get a move on, Bear. You have school in thirty. You too, J; you can’t miss the bus again.” Dad’s knowing gaze fell on Jess. The boy’s shoulders slumped slightly as he passed Dad in the doorway. “And, Bear, Mom wanted me to remind you about your appointment today.”

“Of course she did.” I sighed.

His mouth curved sympathetically. “I’ve got to get to work—big case today. I’m glad you got some sleep, kiddo. You’re looking better and better all the time. That Vogel must not be a total whack job.”

“Rest at ease, Dad. Dr. V isn’t a nut, just your offspring.”

The corner of his mouth twitched, as if it had begun to form a smile, and then thought better of it. “I’ll see you tonight.” Dad waved to me as he headed down the hallway.




“I’m not sure why you find this upsetting.” A wide smile spread across Bev’s petite face just before she took a dainty bite of her salad. Her soft voice was barely audible amongst the bustle of the cafeteria.

“Bev, I’m schizo. You don’t find that upsetting?”

“You’ve been self-diagnosing again,” she mused. “So you’ve been dreaming about a dashing mystery man. Who hasn’t? I used to have dreams about Bell’s walker.”

A sarcastic grin emerged. “You dreamed about the dog walker?”

Bev’s cheeks flushed pink in embarrassment. Her eyes dropped to her salad. “Well, he was in really good shape from all of that walking.”

A soft laugh emerged. “At least he was real. This guy is a fixation of my imagination. It’s pathetic.” I sighed. My forehead dropped to the cool surface of the lunch table.

“Have you told Vogel?”

My skull remained bound to the cafeteria table. I rolled my forehead from side to side in response.

“I think you should tell him, Ember. How can he help you if he doesn’t know what’s wrong? Maybe these new dreams are related to the terrors.”

I shuddered inwardly at the mention of the flashing, nightmarish visions. My recent dreams were completely unlike the terrors. In them I was both audience and performer. They were distant, dripping with the same lethargy that plagues childhood memories. In spite of this realization, I decided that Bev was probably right, as usual. I knew that I should tell Dr. Vogel about my new imaginings. But, since I was being forced to attend my appointments against my will, I had firmly decided to be a difficult patient. Yes, I would make the good doctor work very hard for his impressive payments. In truth, I wasn’t entirely convinced that he wasn’t preparing a room for me in a psych ward somewhere. Our sessions never indicated that this was the case, but logic was on my side. How could he not be concerned about the extent of my insanity? He, unfortunately, knew more about the terrors than anyone. This fact continued to haunt me unrelentingly. Why had I been so weak? Why Had I divulged my secrets to him? Bev released me from my inward interrogation.

“Ember, promise me that you’ll tell him.” Bev’s voice was carried by an unusual amount of force.

I looked up to see her brown eyes fixed on me. They were more severe than I had ever seen them before.


“Promise,” she repeated.

The bell sounded just as the word escaped her, sparing me the task of lying to my friend.

“I’ve got to get to class, Bev. I’ll see you later.” I collected my things quickly, turning to leave before she could respond. I glanced at my feet, taking two swift steps. I lifted my gaze only find a beautiful statue with haunting cobalt blue eyes. My feet fell paralyzed instantly.

“Bev.” I quietly whispered her name, unable to find my voice. I swallowed. “Bev.” I repeated, louder this time.

I could hear soft footsteps behind me, followed by the delicate pressure of Bev’s hand on my shoulder.

“Ember, what’s wrong?” I could feel her eyes on me, but I did not meet her gaze.

“Do you see him too?”


Chapter Four: Hello Handsome

There was no shame in our stares, no humiliation as we gaped at one another. Our eyes locked, holding our attentions captive in a silent challenge. The first gaze to be diverted would be the weaker, and I refused to be weak. I was surprised by my composure. The manifestation of my insanity appeared before me, and I accepted him for what he was—a hallucination. I pitied the sea of sane people who surrounded me. They were deprived of these moments—of him. I smirked smugly—insanity had it perks after all.

Without warning, the line dividing reality the fantasy dissipated as the small, stout frame of Mrs. Willowford entered the scene. Clutching papers with her plump fingers, the school secretary handed them to him—to my imaginary statue. My lashes fluttered in astounded blinks. He did not look at her immediately, his liquid eyes continued to pour into my own. I preoccupied my gaze with the papers in his hands. When my awkward stare returned to his, the left side of his mouth curled defiantly into a victorious grin. I felt light headed.

“Who is that?” The question leaked involuntarily from Bev’s dainty mouth. I remembered her small hand perched on my shoulder. Reluctantly, I turned to face her. Wide eyed, she was motionless, utterly mesmerized by him.

He donned Excelsior’s standard khaki slacks and sport coat, though, on him, the ensemble could hardly be regarded as uniform. The black bag slung across his chest matched the pristine converse shoes that peeked from beneath the hem of his pants. He continued to chat lightly with Mrs. Willowford, stealing one more momentary glance in our direct. My curious eyes now fell under the weight of his. Bev’s simple question had sent my mind reeling, solidified his existence.

Hello Handsome!” She whispered bashfully and nudged me with her thin shoulder. Her cheeks began to redden.

My jaw tensed as Bev’s words sent a jolt of searing jealousy through me. My serene demeanor had long passed, and my smug acceptance of my madness with it. Why did being crazy have to be so complicated? He was—the word sank profoundly into my mind—real. My imaginary statue man was suddenly a breathing, moving being, which was more than I could say for myself. I realized that I had forgotten how to breathe. I inhaled severely, drawing saliva into my windpipe. Deep, throaty coughs emerged, causing my chest to heave violently. His eyes darted from Mrs. Willowford’s face and rested on me. A wider grin surfaced as he returned his attention to the chatty woman.

Perfect. There is nothing more attractive than a girl who chokes on her own spit.

“You okay?” Bev’s hand patted my back gently.

“Ya, fine. I—cough—I have to go.” My words staggered out of my mouth like a drunk emerging from the local saloon.

As I exited the cafeteria, my chest still wrenching with spastic coughs, I felt the weight of several stares upon me. One belonged to Bev and the other to my formerly fake mental fixation. I walked to class as fast as my legs would carry me.

I had three classes after lunch; two of which, art and chemistry, passed quickly. I sat in each, lacking any and all consciousness of what occurred during them. My perception was dysfunctional, hidden beneath the fog of my thoughts. I was relieved as the bell sounded at 2:00. I had only one final class to endure, geography.

I slumped into my usual seat in the back of the room, enjoying the solitude of the final row. In a normal school, these seats would have been considered prime real estate. Their distance from the teacher’s desk made them ideal for texting, note passing, and napping. It stunned me that the slacker-friendly appeal of this location was lost on the majority of Excelsior students. Most of my classmates preferred to seat themselves on their thrones of academic excellence near the front of the room. The remaining few—the underachievers and nap enthusiasts—searched for locations least visible to the Broganbeast.

The desk next to me was unclaimed. I hoisted my backpack on to it and retrieved a notebook and pen, my head still spinning with thoughts of my fantastical statue’s materialization. Perhaps I could distract myself. The idea seemed unlikely—no impossible—but I was desperate to end my self-inflicted, mental torment. Glancing at the chalkboard and overhead projection, I searched frantically for a way to divert my thoughts. A map was pictured on the overhead—Europe. Opening my notebook to reveal its clean, lined sheets, I began copying it. I rarely took notes in geography or any class for that matter. There was never a need because school was never a challenge for me. I didn’t think of myself as a genius or anything. I knew that I was nothing special, ordinary in the worst sense. Well, as ordinary as a crazy person can possibly be.

I didn’t notice the classroom’s door swing open or the hush that fell over my classmates. I didn’t hear his footsteps or feel the subtle tension that perforated the room. No. I didn’t notice any of this until the Broganbeast’s voice forced its way into my consciousness.

“Okay, everybody shut up,” she croaked, beginning class with her usual greeting. “It appears we have a new student.”

My heart sputtered as my eyes jolted up from my map drawing. They nearly thrust themselves from their sockets in their haste. There he stood, his commanding presence enrapturing the small audience.

“This is— what did you say your first name was?”

“Alexander, ma’am. I go by Alec though.”

“Right. Well, class this is Alec Vogel and he has just transferred from East High. I expect you will all make him feel welcome.” She gestured in his direction.

My mental anguish was in full swing now. Vogel! As in Doctor Lawrence Vogel? No –it’s impossible—it must be another Vogel.

The futility of this logic—or lack thereof—was quickly realized. The implications of my new reality echoed in my already deafening thoughts.

It’s official, I am the universe’s personal joke.

My face collapsed into eager palms. It lay supported there, my fingers pulling shut over heavy eyelids, my elbows resting on the desk’s surface. Several seconds passed.

“Excuse me.”

I’m dreaming—this is just another dream—God, please let this be a hallucination.

“Um—pardon me.”

No—this wasn’t a psychotic episode. He was really there—in the flesh—talking to me. I could hear Broganbeast beginning her lecture. Like a camera shutter my fingers parted, returning visibility to my eyes. My hands remained bound to my cheeks as I shifted to look at him. I wanted my fingers to return to one another, to curtain over my eyes so I could hide. Instead, I forced the reluctant palms from my cheeks—embarrassed. I stared blankly.

“Is this desk taken?” He pointed to the seat beneath my backpack.

I took stock of the room—six vacant desks—six, were scattered around the space.Why couldn’t he have picked a different spot?

Yes—it’s taken—tell him it’s taken. My tortured thoughts shrieked.

Perhaps I would have followed my own advice, that is, if I had been able to form a coherent sentence. I shook my head dumbly in response.

He lifted my weighty bag with noticeable ease and lowered it onto the floor. Creating a barrier between us, he placed his right elbow on the desk’s surface and rested his head in his palm. Tension radiated from his rigid frame. Did he know who I was? Had he heard stories from Vogel about me, about the bona fide lunatic of Excelsior Academy? My mind scrambled. I considered my sessions with Vogel and the mortifying details he knew about me. I thought of the first time I saw Alec in the overflow lot and of that afternoon in the cafeteria. I mentally replayed each event and analyzed every second. Finally, in a moment of weakness, I revisited my dreams, the feeling of his hands on my face, his arms wrapped around me.

Stop it! I scolded myself.

I was jolted back into reality by the self rebuke, realizing immediately that my body was gravitating towards him. I jerked away, hoping desperately that he hadn’t noticed. This seating arrangement was going to be problematic.

He busied his left hand with note taking, but his thoughts appeared to be elsewhere. Through my peripheral vision I could see his eyes dodging to and fro. They passed quickly from his notebook to me. I pretended not to notice as the hour crawled by.

He knows—he knows I’m crazy—probably expecting me to burst into hysterics at any moment. He must get some sort of sick amusement out of observing the clinically insane—why else would he sit by me?

I repeatedly checked the clock, trying to determine if it was broken, or if time had actually stopped. Either way, I was convinced that its hands stood still. Despite my doubts, class finally ended. When the bell sounded—the lovely chorus of my ceasing discomfort—I sprang from my seat like cat from a bath and nearly sprinted towards the door.








My car hugged the curves of the winding road as I drove towards Dr. Vogel’s office after school. It took a great deal of will power to continue towards my destination.

Abort—go back—abort!

Had the opportunity presented itself, I might have conceded and pulled a u-turn, though, it would have done me little good. Mom and dad were determined to see me healthy again, and they saw no other road to wellness besides Dr. V. If I cowered now and escaped my session, they would drag me back—kicking and screaming—next week.

I entered Vogel’s office quietly and assumed my usual place on his floor. The carpet was relenting as my weight sank into it. I closed my eyes, allowing several relaxing breaths to stream through my chest and nose. It didn’t help. My stomach fluttered and knotted anxiously. Other internal organs insisted on rearranging themselves, making my every move nauseating. I could see, only too clearly, how this session would unfold.

Why hello, Ember. How are you this week? Any new symptoms I should know about?”

“Why yes. As a matter of fact there are. My sick psyche has been concocting romantic fantasies about your son —“

Stop being ridiculous! I cut my hypothetical session short. Maybe he’s not even related to Dr. Vogel. I weighed the validity of this wishful thinking, realizing immediately that it was just that—false hope. Vista Valley was a small community, and the good Dr. was, undoubtedly, the only Vogel in it.

I’m being egotistical; Dr. V probably hasn’t even mentioned me to him.

My internal discord ended abruptly as the quiet of the office was shattered. I remained as still as possible, frozen by the cool, muddled words of Dr. Vogel. They skulked into the space—leaking from the utmost edges of the door frame.

“I’m sorry…I truly am. This must be difficult for you.” His tone was inundated with solemnity. “I know. I know, but there is nothing more we can do. She’ll come around in her own time.”

Silence followed. I listened carefully, waiting for the voice that he conversed with to emerge, but heard nothing. I reasoned that he was talking on the phone. For his voice was the only one I heard seeping through the thin walls.

“I don’t have all of the answers, but we’ve been through this. It’s our only option.”

An aching quiet followed.

“Look, she’s safe here. Don’t worry.”

A gentle clack sounded as the phone met its cradle. I could feel rhythmic footsteps tapping the floor on which I still lay. The door dividing Vogel’s private and public offices rolled open.

“Ember?” Dr. Vogel’s voice staggered. His usual composure was shed. “I—uh—I hope I haven’t kept you waiting long.” He looked pale.

“I just got here. No worries, Doc.”

He exhaled—relieved. “Good”.


Chapter 5: Square Pegs

The flustered Dr. Vogel paced across the room quickly, finally, he settled into his brown leather seat. He readied himself for our session, gathering his legal pad, glasses and pen from the dark cherry end table. His faltering movements surprised me. The usual poise I had come to expect from him was absent. Instead, it was replaced by stuttering movements. It was odd, to see him so ill-composed, to have him share in my stomach wrenching disquiet. I had become somewhat accustomed to his steadfast calm, its atmosphere tasted so sweet, so starkly different from the tempestuous skies of my demeanor.

What’s wrong with him? Maybe the phone call—

He cleared his throat, jarring me from my thoughts, and began.

“So, Ember how are you doing this week?”

“Oh, just peachy, Doc.”

“Peachy,” he repeated, copying the dialogue on his legal pad. “And the terrors?” He had adopted my title for them, deciding that “images” wasn’t exactly accurate. My chest ached, as if a blow had just been delivered to it.

“Better, I guess.”

“So you’re still experiencing them? How often?”

“Less—a lot less—than before.”

He nodded, dragging the pen furiously across the yellow, lined sheet. “How many times a week would you say?”

“Twice—maybe three times.”

“That’s a great deal less. What’s changed? Are there any noticeable differences in your environment or your activities?”

I considered carefully the idea of revealing my personal treatment methods. I wondered if I would scold myself later for divulging too much, as I often did. Then again, the topic seemed harmless enough and the information vague. With any luck, it would confuse him more than anything, making my dreams of being a poor patient come true.

“I count things,” I confessed, amused by the perplexed look that the information reaped.

“You count things?” His pitch rose into a question.

“Yeah—steps, people, ceiling tiles, dress code violations, doorways, street lights. I count them. It distracts me.”

“I see. What else?”

“I also examine things—not in the way that I used to normally—but more. I just keep staring at things until I can remember every detail.”

“And what kinds of things do you examine?”

Oh you know, your son.

“Just things,” I blurted too eagerly. “Nothing specifically.”

Vogel focused on me for a lingering moment, and then continued to jot down notes.

“So distracting yourself seems to be helping?”

“Yeah. I try to avoid mindless activities by thinking constantly, and when I think about— stuff—,” like your dashing offspring, “the terrors come less.”

“But they do come?”

“Yes.” My answer was carried by a sigh.

“Would you care to talk about them, about some of your recent experiences?”

The latest “experience” was just barely suppressed by my treatment methods. It burst through its inner barriers upon being summoned by my unwilling memory. The scene was a sinister, gray room. Rough wooden pillars conjoined at either end with a concrete floor and the tangled pipes of an unfinished ceiling. A filing cabinet waited in one corner, boxes in another. He looked young, the commanding, lifeless body in the space. Laying face down on the cold floor, he held a cylindrical pill jar. It was empty—as hollow as he was. His black t-shirt hung loosely over his slender, boyish form. The image of a dragon spread wide across his shoulders. His legs looked tangled—wrapped around one another at the ankles. Dark brown hair shielded his head, an unnatural contradiction to his pale white skin. I couldn’t see his face, nor did I want to. I balked at the idea of having his dying expression forever carved in my mind.

I worked quickly, carefully searching for a diversion, one that would allow time for the construction of my mental blockade. The room spiraled, its soundtrack: the swelling tick tock of Dr. Vogel’s wall clock. I fastened my eyes shut, feeling as though motion sickness would overwhelm me.

“Ember, we don’t have to talk about it—not today—not if you aren’t ready.” I found refuge in the soothing voice of Dr. Vogel. Feeling warm moisture dripping down my temples, I reopened my eyes, resting them on the ceiling tiles above.

“Not today,” I repeated, surprised by the devastating effects that the terrors still had on me.

“All right…” He waited for a long moment. Perhaps he hoped that the silence would provide healing. Finally, he continued with his persistent digging into the depths of my psyche.

“I hesitate to press you, Ember. I don’t want to upset you anymore than necessary—“

“Then don’t, Doc.”

He exhaled heavily. “If only it were that simple, Ember. I need to know if you’ve seen anymore of your terrors realized?”

“No.”

“I see.” He stopped writing and pursed his lips. “That must be a relief.”

“Not really. I mean, I haven’t seen them, but that’s probably because I’ve avoided newspapers and newscasts for the past several weeks. I don’t want to know what comes of the terrors. I don’t want smiling photographs to stare back at me from news articles. I just want to ignore it—all of it—to wait and hope it goes away.”

“Is that really what you want?”

My eyes shot back at him. “Of course that’s what I want! Do you think I like this—being a mental meltdown waiting to happen?”

“No. I know it’s painful, but—“

“But what? You don’t know anything! Do you wake up every day, wondering if you’re going to be attacked by your own psyche, if you are going to see things that you have no control over? Do you go to bed at night, feeling completely helpless and guilty because you know what’s coming but you can’t do anything to stop it? Because that’s my reality, Doc, that’s what I live with. So, don’t tell me what I want!”

“Is it, though?” He returned the notepad and pen to their place on the table. Removing his glasses, he rubbed his eyes.

“Is it what?”

“A condition, Ember.”

“Of course it is! Sane people—normal people—don’t deal with this.”

He returned his glasses to the bridge of his nose, staring down at me he held my gaze. “You’re right, Ember. Normal people are spared your experience, but that doesn’t mean you’re ill or crazy. Maybe you’re just different.”

“What are you trying to say, that this is some kind of gift?”

“Precisely.”

Unbelievable. And I thought I was nuts. My shrink needs a shrink.

Lifting myself from the carpet, I slung the strap of my brown bag across my chest. I had had enough. My own madness was a sufficient burden to bear. Taking on Dr. Vogel’s as well was too much to endure.

“Well, I certainly hope God kept the receipt, because I did not sign on for this.” I turned to leave, walking as swiftly as my legs could carry me.

“Ember, please.”

My fingers clutched the cold door knob, a single twist would grant my freedom. A simple turn was all it would take. The temptation of it ran hot through my blood. But his pleas, the penitent lilt in his voice, stopped me.

“What?” I did not face him. My eyes remained fastened to the doorknob.

“I realize the difficulty, the longing for normalcy that you must feel—believe me I do. I know what it’s like to be a square peg in a world of round holes. We don’t fit.”

We? I did not allow myself the exploration of his beseeching. No, I was resigned fully and utterly. Turning the door knob, I embraced my escape.




Two days later, Bev and I wandered the halls of Excelsior. La Traviata, an imposing banner’s title begged attention as it hung suspended above the bustling hallway. The extravagant lettering was accompanied by the image of a breathtaking woman. Clothed in a red satin dress she lay, burdened and remorseful, in the arms of her beloved. Taking note of the advertisement as we passed, Bev and I made our way to the cafeteria.

“The fallen woman,” Bev informed.

“What?”

“La Traviata means ‘the fallen woman.” Her expression was seeping with satisfaction as she delivered the token of trivia.

“Good work Nancy Drew. You’ve just solved the case of unknown opera.”

Her smile remained, undaunted by my jovial taunt. “I can’t help it if I’m cultured. Are you going? Mr. Dewhurst is giving extra credit to everyone who sees it.”

“Unfortunately. My parents are making me.” My nose wrinkled at the very idea. Activities teeming with sophistication were among the many regrettable aspects of Excelsior Academy. The mention of them always left a foul taste in my mouth. I was starkly opposed to the decorous events that the school provided the students in an effort to make them—as Bev called it—cultured.

“You don’t want to go?”

“I guess you could say that. If given the choice between going and lighting myself on fire, I’d probably go with the fire.”

“Oh, Ember, don’t be ridiculous! It won’t be that bad. I wish I was going.”

“Wait a minute. Bev, you’re not going?”

“It’s on the 25th so—“

“That’s three weeks away—plenty of time to get out of whatever else you have going on.”

“Well—um—it’s the same night as my mom’s birthday. So…” Bev failed to finish her thought. Her shrugging shoulders were accompanied by guilty grin.

I released a disappointed groan. “Ya, I’m definitely going with the fire.”

Grabbing a lunch tray and merging into the line of boisterous students, Bev rolled her eyes at my extravagant threat.

We seated ourselves at our usual table, located beside the soda vending machine. Kim Dawson, Taylor Peterson, and Victoria Cummings joined us moments later. I never considered them to be my friends, though they could hardly be referred to as acquaintances either. They accompanied Bev and I occasionally during lunch and at other school related events. Social companions, I had decided, was to be my title for them. Kim, the most outspoken of the three, positioned herself next to me. She had pale skin, which was patterned by a sheet of freckles spread about her face. Her curly red hair draped from the nape of her neck, flowing freely from where it gathered into a pony tail.

“So, ladies,” she began as she freed a peanut butter and jam sandwich from its saran wrap prison. Her wry smile spread and then gathered into a pucker as she sucked a stray bead of raspberry jelly from her finger. “Did you hear about the new guy?”

A lump was lodged in my throat. I glanced at the lunch roll in my hand, realizing that I had engulfed half of it in a single bite. Kim continued as I took a gulp of water, forcing the wedged bread from its resting place.

“I heard he was expelled from his last school for nearly beating some other kid to death. Apparently his dad had to pay a fortune to get him enrolled in Excelsior.”

Bev’s eyes darted from her lunch to me at the mention of Dr. Vogel. I ignored her, and that was enough to answer her silent questions. I hadn’t told Dr. V about my dreams even after she had pleaded with me, and I didn’t intend to, especially since my mental fixation turned out to be his son. Bev didn’t know that of course. She was unaware that my suicidal statue and the dashing Alec Vogel were one in the same, and I planned to prolong her ignorance. Though, I had to admit—even if only to myself—that juggling my secrets was becoming increasingly wearisome.

“That’s not true. His parents got a divorce and the court gave his dad custody. His mom is like a drug addict or something,” Taylor interjected, stroking her black hair as she spoke.

Victoria released a mocking laugh as she folded her arms over her chest. “Your stories are both wrong. He was in juvy—“

“For what?” Bev interrupted, her piqued interest inhibiting her usually flawless manners.

Victoria, obviously relishing in the attention, paused for dramatic effect. She took a dainty bite of applesauce. Pulling it to her mouth slowly, she allowed time for her story to hang in the air, to marinate in the savory suspense.

“I don’t know,” she continued. “But apparently he just got released.

“It figures,” Kim scoffed. “Why are all gorgeous guys trouble or taken?”

A blithe expression crossed Bev’s face. “I’ll bet he looks good in orange though.”

“And blue, and green, and red, and yellow...”

Collective laughter rose from the group at Taylor’s remark. I tried to remove myself from the conversation, wondering if the others could sense my discomfort. I had diligently worked to avoid the topic, and the person, of Alec Vogel. My last session with his father had only served to intensify the awkwardness that saturated the air when he was near—an increasingly common phenomenon. He seemed to be everywhere. It was as if I had my own personal Alec radar. I was so acutely and pathetically aware of him.

Glancing down at my empty lunch tray, I realized that I had eaten two rolls, a scoop of applesauce, a bag of chips, and a healthy portion of meat surprise in under five minutes. The mention of the young Vogel had sent me into a consumption frenzy. Had my mind been allowed to conjure up fantasies about him, I might have started to ingest my lunch tray. I glanced about the table, expecting judgmental gazes to hurl accusations, spurred on by my suspicious eating habits. Luckily, the communal swooning proved to be an affective diversion, and no one took notice of my nervous eating.

“Well I don’t care why he transferred. I’m just glad he did. I think I’m going to ask him to the Snowflake formal.” Kim stated. Her declaration sounding more like a warning than an update.

Bev and Taylor all interjected with the appropriate ooh’s and ah’s that Kim was expecting, though they lacked a certain amount of enthusiasm. I kept quiet, my heart sinking lower and lower at the thought of Alec and Kim together—of Alec and anyone together.

“That’s kind of bold don’t you think?” Victoria took her last bite and shoved her tray to the side.

“Bold? What do you mean?” Kim crossed her legs and arms simultaneously as she turned towards Victoria.

“Nothing, just that the Snowflake isn’t even a turnaround dance. Guys usually ask girls to go.”

Kim lifted her chin. “I know but he doesn’t even know anyone and the dance is in a month. Who would he ask? Besides, there’s no rule that says women can’t invite men to things.”

“No, just tradition and propriety.” Victoria her hand beneath her chin, resting her elbow on the table. An unsettling quiet hung over the table as Kim and Victoria stared at one another.

“Speak of the Devil,” Taylor interjected, ending the silence.

The perfectly made up eyes of my lunch companions searched the room frantically.

Don’t even think about it. I scolded my own eager eyes, who were only too willing to gawk at the obvious spectacle in question. The ravenous gazes were satisfied as they sighted Alec Vogel—their prey.

“Wait, you guys, is he—“

“Oh, my heavens.” Bev exclaimed, cutting Victoria’s question short. My curiosity proved to be too unbearable. Already my resistance was emerging in beads of perspiration along my hairline. Acknowledging their defeat, my eyes surrendered and joined the ranks of my cohorts and their ogling stares.

The swarming room stood still as he made his way through the crowd. Like the brilliant glow at a tunnel’s end, he was dazzling amid our peers—a single gem surrounded by dessert sands. It took me a moment to process Bev’s response, to understand what had so stunned her. His eyes were fixed on our group—on me—and he passed table after table, failing to stop at each one until finally he stood before us. Just my luck.



Chapter 6: Still Breathing

“Ladies.” We were greeted by a polite nod. “May I join you?”

“No.” My hostile tone was met by the staggering stares of my lunch companions. His mouth formed a half smile, almost as if he was containing cynical laughter.

Kim and Victoria’s eyes shot unadulterated hatred in my direction. I was immediately grateful that no sharp eating utensils were within reach.

“Here!” Kim nearly shouted at him while brushing her bag from the seat beside her. “You can sit here.”

He remained serene, though assailed by both her enthusiasm and my coldness. Despite my hostile reception, Alec smiled a thank you and claimed the seat next to me. He smelled like autumn—crisp, earthy and fresh—a rival to even the finest of colognes. I found myself inhaling severely—far more than necessary—savoring each breath. In desperation, my dazed mind summoned my self control, only to find that I had very little. Already, I was stealing glances at him, hoping—in vain, of course—that he did not take notice of my intrigue. I was not alone in my obvious fascination with Alec Vogel, and I did not know whether to be relieved or annoyed. A small part of me was grateful that I was not the only one unable to function whenever he was near. Another part—a much, much larger part—was furious that they stared at him with the same desire that exudes from a starving traveler who stumbles upon an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Silence hung over the small gathering. Victoria was the first of us to find her voice. To Kim’s dismay, she braved the waters of conversation, relieving us all from the communal gawking.

“It’s Alec, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” was his succinct reply.

“Vogel?”

He nodded. Her grasping for conversational fronts showed on her tanned face.

“What brings you to Excelsior?” she managed.

“My parents got a divorce and I’m living with my dad because of my mom’s drug addictions. I was at East High, but they kicked me out after I nearly beat a kid to death. Oh, and I was in juvy for a while.”

He took a bite of applesauce, seemingly unaware of the anxiety of the ten eyes that stared, unblinking, at him and one another. I tore my own from him, forcing myself to look at my empty tray and then at Bev. Her mouth involuntarily fell aghast.

“That is how the story goes, isn’t it?” His glowing smirk appeared on cue.

The exhalations of Kim, Victoria, Taylor and Bev sounded in unison. Each of them no doubt signaled the reinstatement of his god-like status in their minds and hearts. The awkward silence returned. Alec said nothing. In fact, I was almost convinced that he enjoyed the unnerving atmosphere, that he had created it on purpose and was now basking in his handiwork. I would not let him have the satisfaction of my discomfort. My irritation coaxed me from my silence.

“Well why exactly are you here then? If it’s not because of divorce, expulsion or juvy then what?”

He turned to face me, his smug expression still remained even as the outer edges of his jaw tightened. “Ember, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.”

How does he know my name? His dad must have told him about me. I knew it. So much for patient-therapist confidentiality.

“We have geography together,” he continued, ending my inner brooding.

I nodded.

“Well, Ember, we just moved to town because my dad started a new practice. I did go to East High, but wasn’t challenged enough. So, I transferred here. Oh, and my parents aren’t divorced, and my mother isn’t a drug addict. I think that covers all the bases.”

“And your dad?” Kim inquired. “What does he do?”

I was paralyzed. A small hand squeezed my knee beneath the table. Bev, who sat directly across from me, smiled reassuringly.

“Lots of things. Mostly work with the mentally—“

“Insane?” The word broke free my lips, its accusing, malicious tone carved into verbal daggers.

He cocked his head, the half smile fading as he pursed his lips.

“Gifted, actually.”

The bell sounded, but I didn’t hear it. While others reluctantly rose from their seats, gathering their bags and emptied lunch trays, Alec and I remained, staring at one another. I knew, then, that he was at least partially aware of my condition, that his father had shared his lunatic theories about my “gifting”. It didn’t matter. I had no intentions of spending more time on Dr. V’s carpet. He would have to test his theories on some other psycho.

Alec’s eyes dropped and then trailed off to the corner of the cafeteria. “May I walk you to class?” His words were smooth, exuding all the refinery of a Victorian nobleman.

“No.” It was difficult to maintain my frigid exterior. I wanted so badly to become putty in his hands, to feel the emotions that accompanied him in my dreams, but that was ridiculous. This was reality, and in reality, I did not associate with Alec Vogel.

“You might change your mind,” he urged.

“Trust me, I won’t.”

I turned from him, retrieved my back pack, and made my way towards my locker, before going to art class. Opening the small metal compartment, I placed my unnecessary texts in it. I realized quickly that my locker partner, Dylan, had added more disturbing art. His latest creation portrayed a man—no a boy—alone, lying face down. Unlike many of his other pictures, there was no blood, no gore of any kind. In fact, this new addition was relatively tame in nature—disturbing to be sure—but tame. I had no time to analyze the troubling image further. I closed my locker only to find that a handsome face with cobalt blue eyes waiting behind its door.

“What do you want?”

“Nothing.”

“Good.” I pivoted and started towards class. The hallway was empty, an indication that I would be tardy. I increased my pace, the soft tap tap tap of my shoes creating a new rhythm. It was fluid and swift—too swift. I stopped, the tapping continued.

“Stop it!” I spun around, my words hot with anger. He appeared mere feet behind me.

“Stop what?”

“Following me. When I said you couldn’t walk me to class, I meant it.”

He shrugged. “I’m not walking you to class.”

“Oh, really.”

“Really. You said that I couldn’t accompany you and I respect your wishes.”

“Then what exactly are you doing?”

“Going to class of course—Calculus—if you must know.”

“Calculus? As in mathematics, which is located in the mathematics hall, which, as I’m sure you’re aware, is in the opposite direction.” I smiled, victorious. Resuming my trek, I turned from him and continued down the hall.

His footsteps also persisted—faster now. In sheer seconds his tall, strong frame, carried by his fluid gate, swept past me.

“What are you doing?” I called after him.

“I told you. I’m going to class.” He paused, turning to look at me once more. “Wait, are you following me?”

“No. Of course not, you—“

“Because it really seems like you’re following me.”

I said nothing.

He shrugged lightly, pressing his lips together as he spun around, continuing his course.

He’s infuriating!

I would not allow Alec Vogel to get the better of me. Struggling to keep pace, I scurried forward. He matched my pace as we went, allowing me to remain beside him, but never in front or behind. I kept expecting—wishing—that he would turn down one of the adjacent halls and continue on in his real course towards class. I had no such luck. With the finish line in sight, I broke into a near jog. He followed behind, his journey ceasing when he reached the door to my art class room. Out of breath from my speedy excursion, I spun to face him one last time, determined to have the last word.

“Who’s following who now?”

“Thank you, Ember.”

“For what?”

“For changing your mind.” The emergence of his intoxicating smile erased the clever rebuttal my mind was preparing. Before I could recuperate, he turned and jogged down the hallway towards the math hall.
Art and chemistry passed quickly. Every moment that elapsed during these periods was devoted to my goal of loathing Alec Vogel. I was convinced that I could hate him. That if dedicated to the cause, I could despise him.


Part of me believed that he was, in fact, an egotistical jerk. One whose sole purpose on this planet was to launch my already purgatorial existence into the deepest regions of Hell on earth. I was pleased with this self—the portion of me who recognized Alec as an intolerable reality. Unfortunately, there was another part—a larger and weaker part—that wanted the Alec of my dreams—begged for him, even. It was this pathetic piece of me who melted into disgraceful puddles each and every time his mouth curved into a smug smile.



My two selves rivaled each other. One embraced reality and the other clung to dreams. Their opposition seemed so absolute, yet they did agree on one fact: I needed to avoid Alec Vogel at all costs. He was my kryptonite, my Achilles heel. I adopted the consistency of Jell-O whenever he was within a hundred yards. It was beginning to appear that my only road to self-preservation was a detour that strayed from all things Vogel. Both the strange doctor and his offspring were proving to be thorns in my side. As I walked the hallway after chemistry, I wondered how I would manage to steer clear of Alec. A slow panic rose as I considered the next hour in geography class. The thought of sitting next to him, breathing in his scent and commanding my eyes to shy away from him was exhausting. I realized quickly that my Self control was not up to the task, that the next hour would awaken my swooning self—renew its resolve.

So, with little thought, I passed the door to Geography. Yes, it was spineless and stupid to skip class because of a ridiculous boy, to hide out in the nurse’s office like a coward but I was left with few alternatives. I faked a head-splitting migraine until school ended, allowing my Friday sixth period to slip away as I lay bedridden in the school infirmary. I had escaped Alec—at least in body. As I lay there, my weighty eyes closing and ushering me into sleep, he invaded my dreams, as he so often did.





The room was chilly, both in atmosphere and demeanor—its scene altogether gray. Crème colored walls were illuminated by a single swinging light-bulb. It dangled fragilely, its string still twirling from being jerked to life. Intermingling pipes ran across the ceiling, their paths crossing every which way. From one of them a gentle stream of water trickled into a bucket placed on the concrete floor. I crossed my arms over my chest. The sound of breathing filled my ears. It was heavy and staggered—exuding from two hot bodies standing beside me. My own breaths grew faster, propelled by nervousness and feelings of claustrophobia. I could feel a strong hand grip my shoulder.

“You all right, miss?” Alec stood next to me, seeming far taller than usual. I turned from him and looked at the floor, embarrassed by his concern. It was then that I noticed how different my own height appeared to be. Perhaps he wasn’t taller at all—maybe I was just shorter. Summoning courage, I swallowed and returned to his waiting gaze.

“I’m fine. Thank you," I whispered, though I knew it to be a lie. A ghostly aching writhed in my chest. The drumming of my heart was painful—unbearable, even. I wanted its beats to stop, to lie on the cold floor and let my life give way.


He nodded back at me, allowing his eyes to linger momentarily. A strange expression ran across his brow. I could see that something had puzzled him, that his mind was at work. He smiled and gently squeezed my shoulder before dropping his hand from it. Striding across the room, Alec approached two men, both clad in lounge suits. They looked as though they had leapt from a history book. Each had his hair neatly combed back, and their necks all boasted neck ties.

I glanced down at my own outfit. A dirty green tunic hung over my limp shoulders. A canteen hung at my waist. Matching trousers were bunched around my legs—gathering at the ankles. They were clearly meant for someone else—someone taller. A heavy brown bag was resting against my legs. A small shovel was strapped to its side. I could feel a hat resting on my head. I pulled it off, allowing foreign gold hair to fall freely from beneath it. It coiled into loose waves around my shoulders and down my back. I wanted to touch it, to see if it was really mine. But, as always, my body was not my own in these dreams. My every move and emotion was scripted.



I examined the hat in my hands. A wide brim encased its center, which rose into a dulled peak. Like the tunic and trousers, it was a dusty green and had a black cord wrapped around its base.



I returned my attention to the strange gathering of men. One of them, who was standing closest to Alec, was unfamiliar and hidden in the shadows of the dim room. The other was the hauntingly recognizable Dr. Vogel. My nerves increased as I watched them. Their quiet whispers were joined by nods and glances in my direction.



I felt a slight jab in my left side, followed by a rough whisper. .
“Not much of a soldier, are ya, love?” the offender said in a British accent. Nodding towards the hat in my hands, he gave a sarcastic chuckle. Remembering his manners, he extended a hand to me. “Oliver.”


I returned his greeting and then refolded my arms across my chest, remaining silent. Oliver was young—twenties perhaps. Hair black as ink dripped along the back of his head and neck. Beautiful gold eyes peered from beneath his coal brow. His attire was more casual than the others. It still rang of classic style, but indicated less notable rank in society. “We won’t hurt ya.” He smiled.


“Why do they keep staring at me?”


“Them?” He nodded towards Alec, Dr. Vogel, and the mysterious man who accompanied them. “Ah, you’re just a rare find is all.”


“I don’t understand.”


“I’d be willing to bet that’s been an ongoing theme hasn’t it?”


“What do you mean?"


“Oh, just that people like us—you and me--come across things in life that don't make much sense at all."

I said nothing.


“The visions, love. That’s why you’re here.”

The hairs on my arms raised involuntarily, sending surges of fear up my spine. Oliver looked as though he was about to explain further, but the three men stopped him short with their approach. Alec’s jaw tensed slightly as the suited mystery man placed his fingers beneath my chin, lifting my gaze to his own. I inhaled stiffly—out of uncertainty more than fear.



“Green,” he announced after some time peering into my eyes.


They were all silent for a time—Alec, Dr. Vogel, and their unknown companion. I could see him now, the man I did not recognize. He looked remarkably like Dr. Vogel with his neatly combed gray hair. They shared similar features, but this man’s were harder—more rigid. The frame of his face was firm, beginning at his perpetually creased forehead and ending beneath his tight jaw. His eyes were a vibrant blue, nearly the same color as Alec’s.



“What does it mean, Cosmas?” Alec finally asked—echoing the questions that each of them wore in their expressions.


Cosmas’s lips widened into an ominous smile.“It means, gentlemen, that she’s invaluable to our cause.”


Chapter Seven: Eavesdropping

The following day I awoke to the sound of my alarm—a welcome alternative to being awoken by the terrors. Working my fingers over the top of the nightstand, I located the alarm and smashed my palm against the snooze button. After repeating this assault on the demon-clock three or four times, I finally rolled out of bed, and headed down the stairs towards the dining room.

Mom sat hidden behind the morning paper while Dad and Jesse launched spoons off of the table. Jesse had six spoons beside him—a sign that he was winning their game. His latest discovery of hair gel was evident by the spikes he had formed on his head. I drifted my hand over them as I claimed my seat next to him.

“Easy on the gel, Jess. You might poke someone’s eye out.”

“Very funny, Ember. You’re hilarious.”

Dad grinned up at me, “Ah don’t listen to her, Jess. That new hairdo is a sharp look.”

Jesse folded his arms across his chest. “Laugh all you want. I don’t care. The chicks dig it.”

We all laughed together then. Even Mom chuckled from behind her paper. I reached across the table and retrieved the milk and cereal, pouring myself a healthy serving. Just as I did so, the doorbell rang.

Mom lowered the paper to the table.“Howard, are you expecting someone?”

“No. Bear?”

I shook my head in response.

“Hmmm,” was Mom’s only response as she gracefully rose from her seat and headed towards the front door. Dad and Jesse resumed their game and I focused on the important matter at hand: my Cheerios.

As I raised a large spoonful to my mouth, Mom called from the entrance, “Ember, honey, it’s for you.”

Hmm. Must be Bev.

I quickly shoved two more spoonfuls into my mouth as Dad looked at me from across the table.

“Easy on the Cheerios, Bear. No one’s gonna take them from you.”

Jesse also looked up at me, his eyes wide, the ever-present mischievous smile fading from his face. “Or will they? Dun dun dun!” His tone sank an octave lower than his normal pre-pubescent voice. He had watched far too many horror films.

I wrinkled my brow at them both, realizing immediately that I was only succeeding in looking like an agitated puffer fish. I heard their chuckles as I headed towards the doorway.

Making my way through the kitchen, I passed Mom as I went. Her petite face was wearing a smug smile. I rounded the corner, expecting to see the familiar and always-gleeful Beverly Bennet. Instead, I was met by someone quite unexpected.

“Hello, Ember. You look…full.”

As I stared at the flawless face of Alec Vogel, I could feel a trickle of milk rushing down my chin. I chewed as quickly as my mouth would allow, trying to clear it of breakfast. Of course, this didn’t go quickly at all, and we stood staring at one another for several awkward seconds. I swallowed one last time and wiped my chin with the back of my hand.

He chuckeld, “You really are a delicate flower, aren’t you?”

“Are you stalking me?”

“Yes.”

“Oh.” I could feel my severe scowl melt into blank stare. “Well stop it.”

“I can’t do that.”

“What do you mean you can’t? Just stop following me. It’s weird. Creepy.”

And by creepy I mean wonderful.

No. Stop it! You don’t like this Vogel kid. He’s annoying and smug and—

Wonderful.

My inner halves rivaled for what seemed like hours, though it must have been only seconds. Alec’s smooth voice ended their battle.

“Trust me, I really wish that I could, but as I said, it’s impossible.”

“I swear, you are the strangest guy I’ve ever met.”

Another chuckle escaped him then. “That’s debatable.”

“Is it? It amazes me that you are such an authority on my life when you hardly know me at all.”

“Debatable, again.”

He shifted his weight and folded his arms across his chest. His eyes dropped from mine.

“What do you mean?” My voice was softer now.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing always means something.” The words flew from my mouth. He quickly lifted his eyes back to my own, and I wondered if he recognized them too. It was then that I remembered the dream, the one where we lay together, side by side on soft cool grass. I could almost feel his hand on my stomach, his other arm cradling my head, hot tears streaming down my face.

“Sometimes nothing means nothing.” His icy tone ended the matter. He then reached into the large bag at his side, its strap slung diagonally across his shoulders. Gathering several sheets of paper, he handed them to me. I read the heading aloud: World Geography Group Project.

“Fantastic—just what I wanted to wake up to. Geography homework is my passion.” I smiled, trying to lighten the mood.

“It’s due Monday. Broganmeyer paired us together, so—“

“Your stalking me just got a bit easier.”

“So it seems.”

I could hear footsteps behind me. The light squeak of rubber-soled slippers let me know exactly who it was. I could feel Dad behind me, and Alec smiled and extended his hand.

“You must be Mr. Nash. It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir.”

Dad’s arm extended over my shoulder and clasped Alec’s hand. His knuckles turned pale white.

“The pleasure is all mine, son.” The words sounded painful. I knew Dad must be grinding his teeth down to gums as he stood with us in the doorway. My dating history, if you could call it that, was rather short. I had dated…once. The lawyer in Dad had a tendency to stifle the fires of romance. He took the liberty of doing a background check on my date, which he questioned the guy tirelessly about when he arrived at our house. Dad also asked him if he was opposed to taking a lie detector test. Apparently he was. To make a long story short, we never made it to the movie that night, or any other night.

When Alec and Dad’s grip was finally released, Dad placed his hand on my shoulder.

“Your breakfast is getting cold, Bear.” He continued smiling at Alec.

“Dad, it’s cereal. It’s been cold.”

“Right, well I’ll let you kids chat then.”

Alec nodded as Dad reluctantly returned to the other room. “He seems nice.”

“Are your fingers all accounted for?”

He lifted his hand, “They’ve seen worse days.”

“So, when are we going to do this thrilling project?” My stomach fluttered at the very idea of being alone with Alec, even if it was over something as unromantic as homework. How on earth would I control my raging teen emotions? Had I broken a mirror, walked under a ladder, or crushed dozens of four leaf clovers underfoot? Why was I the unluckiest person alive?

His hand dropped, clutching the strap around his torso. “Tomorrow night around six? Are you free?”

“As a bird.”

“Tomorrow then.” He turned, opening the door, and began to leave. Stopping short he looked back at me.

“Look, Ember.” His free hand balled into a fist. “I know that you don’t care for me, that you want to be as far from me as possible, and that’s fine. It’s what I want. Just know that I would stay away from you if I could.”

I wondered silently what he meant by that, and nodded, unable to formulate a more appropriate response. As he turned and headed down the walk, I watched him go, As he disappeared into his black Lexus, I closed the door and returned to breakfast.

“Ah, the triumphant return.” Mom smiled as I entered the room. “Your visitor asked me if you were feeling better. Apparently you missed class yesterday.” Mom’s eyebrows lifted slightly in that annoying way, an expression that indicated she knew more than she was telling. I decided to play it cool.

“Yeah I had a migraine—a really bad one.” I reseated myself in front of my bowl.

“I see.” Mom took another sip of her coffee before continuing. “He was nice looking.”

“Average looking, I thought—very average,” Dad interjected. Mom had relinquished the morning news to him and he was now hidden behind it. He allowed the top right corner to fold down in order to make eye contact with Mom. “Miriam, you can’t judge a kid by the way he looks, anyway. He could be some kind of delinquent for all we know—probably is.”

Mom rolled her eyes. “Yes, I’m sure he’s a common criminal, dear. I’ll alert the proper authorities.”

“I’m just saying that you can never be too careful.”

“Honestly, Howard, he was perfectly polite.”

Dad’s eyes shifted from Mom to me.“It’s always the polite ones that you have to watch out for, Bear. Your mother may be charmed by the Vogel kid, but you have more sense than that. Isn’t that right kiddo?”

Right. Sense. I have the IQ of a potato whenever he's around.

“Bear?”

“What?”

“Oh I see. He’s already gotten to you hasn’t he?” He jerked the paper, causing the lax corner to stand at attention and turned the page. He mumbled under his breath, just loud enough that all of us could hear. “He’s probably out impregnating some smitten girl right now—“

“Don’t listen to a word your father says. I thought he was very nice. It was so thoughtful of him to bring you your missing work.”

“Yep, so thoughtful.” I glanced down at my cereal, realizing immediately that it was hopelessly soggy.

“Hey, Ember, do you wanna play video games with me?” Jesse flipped another spoon.

“Actually, I have to drop by the school and pick up my geography book. But, maybe later, Jess.”

“Okay. I hope you are prepared for total domination!” His hands balled into fists.

“I always am.” I smiled back at him. Grabbing my bowl off the table, I stood and headed towards the kitchen. After washing my dish, I went to my room and put on a pair of old jeans and a grey hooded sweatshirt. Deciding that fixing my hair was a lost cause, I put my hair in a pony tail and headed towards my Civic.



I wondered if anyone would be at the school on a Saturday morning. The idea seemed like false hope. I doubted that even the most dedicated Excelsior staffers would spend their weekends wondering the halls. So, I was glad to see four cars in the parking lot when I arrived. After making my way through the entrance and the athletic halls, I headed towards the senior hallway where my locker was located.

The school held a certain eeriness without my classmates bouncing through its halls. The marble floors, vaulted ceilings, and stark white pillars created a cool and uninviting atmosphere. I reached my locker and twisted the lock, quickly jerking the handle to pull it open. As usual, its interior was a disaster. Dylan’s books and papers were kept rather tidy, but my own were strewn all over the space. It took a bit of time to locate my geography book beneath my stack of notebooks. As I pulled it free of its wedged spot, some of Dylan’s art was pried from the interior wall. It floated listlessly, twirling and flapping until it finally landed on the floor.

I reached down and picked it up. As I was about to return it to its place, something in the picture caught my eye. It was his latest piece—the one of the boy lying face-down, his legs and arms tangled unnaturally. I looked at it for some time. My eyes traveled over it again and again. I didn’t know what I was looking for, or why I found it to be so disturbing. Dylan’s other art was far more graphic, but this picture made my chest tighten and my breathing quicken. The upper right corner of the page was curled downward, cutting off the upper edge of the picture. When I unfolded the page, I saw it—an empty pill jar. My own mental image of this scene came flooding into my mind. I could see him—Dylan—lifeless on the floor, clutching the empty container. The terror halted my breathing as the agonizing scene unfolded in my mind. I had to stop him, to reach him before it was too late.

It was then that I heard footsteps echoing down the north hall. Without thinking, I tucked the image in my book, closed the locker, and scrambled towards the opposing hall. The quick tap tap of my converses against the marble floor was interrupted by the voice of Dean Deveraux—the school’s headmaster.

“Dylan’s locker is just over here. I retrieved its combination from the database.”

I stopped just beyond the corner of the hall when I heard Dylan’s name. A gentle round of clicks was followed by the creaking of hinges. The sounds of falling paper and a zipper came to my ears. Leaning against a nearby wall, I waited.

“If you would, Miss, please extend my deepest sympathies to Dylan’s mother and father.” Dean Deveraux’s voice trembled as the words emerged, revealing a sincerity to his voice that was often amiss. The dominance that usually surged in his tone was gone now. “If there is anything at all that I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to call.”

A softer voice followed. “I’ll be sure to tell them. Thank you. The doctor said that he should make a full recovery, but that he should be kept under close supervision, given the circumstances.”

“Understandable. Thank God he was found in time.”

I felt the air caught in my lungs release. He was all right—alive. My relief was short-lived and soon enough guilt came in its place. How could I have not known? I had seen Dylan nearly every day. We had shared a locker for months, and yet I didn’t recognize him in the terrors. Worse yet, I underestimated his pain. It had been in front of me all along, and I was too self-absorbed to see how much he was hurting. Hot tears raced down my flushed cheeks. My body was restless, and my feet begged to flee. I turned to continue down the hall, but the voices continued.

“I hate to think what might have happened if—“ the woman’s delicate voice was interrupted by choking sobs before she continued. “If the Vogel boy hadn’t stopped by the house looking for him, we might not have found him for hours. It would have been too late.”

“Alec Vogel?” Dean Deveraux’s asked. His voice mirrored my own amazement. My feet ceased their motion as I stood startled in the empty hall, aching in each moment of silence.

“Yes. Dylan hadn’t mentioned him before, but, then again, he hasn’t mentioned anyone from school. That’s one of the reasons his parents were so concerned about him. They worried that he didn’t have any friends.”

The sound of the locker being closed echoed through the hall. I could hear the gentle click of the woman’s heels and then she continued.

“If you wouldn’t mind, Dean Deveraux—“


“Please, anything.”


“The family asked me to request that you keep this a private matter, for Dylan’s sake. Senator Paige wishes to avoid press coverage. I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course. Dylan opted for an in-home tutor in order to travel with his father and step-mother. There’s nothing more to tell.”

“Thank you.”

With that, Dean Deveraux and the mysterious woman could be heard disappearing down the hall.



I was sure of very few things, save for two. Number one: Dr. Vogel and his annoyingly timely son were hiding something—something big. Two: I wanted absolutely no part of it. My mind was spinning, replaying each of my sessions with Vogel. The old man’s voice kept echoing in my thoughts over and over again as I guided my Civic towards his office.


I thought of our last session, of his ridiculous assumptions that my condition was really some sort of gift, and wondered who was truly being absurd. Was I wrong to dismiss his case, his pleas? I had considered the logical explanations for my illness and nothing fit. There was no psychological condition that included premonitions about the soon-to-be-deceased. Was it really so crazy to believe that the terrors were some kind of sixth sense, that I wasn’t psychotic. In a strange way, I wanted to believe that more than anything, to know that I wasn’t on the verge of a mental collapse. But I also recognized the danger in this belief. What if I really was crazy? Entertaining these thoughts of being “gifted” seemed to be a sure sign of denial.

I also thought of Alec, of our strange conversation that morning. He and Dylan didn’t know each other at all. Why on earth would he show up on his doorstep? How strange that he miraculously appeared just as Dylan lay dying in his basement.

My car glided into a parking space, and I breathlessly scurried up the steps of Dr. Vogel’s building. I reached the door of his office and prepared to walk in, but stopped myself. What if he was with another patient? It would be rude to barge in unannounced. The more I considered this, the more I realized how stupid it was to consider etiquette at a time like this. Without thinking, I burst through the door to find two men seated on Vogel’s couch. I had never met them, and yet we knew one another.

“Hello, love.”



Chapter Eight: Seek and Ye Shall Find

“She looks like she’s seen a ghost, now doesn’t she.” Oliver’s British accent flowed from his pale lips with a warm ease. He was even more handsome than he had appeared in my dream the day before. His gold eyes nearly shimmered beneath lashes that were as dark as a starless night. I realized then how daunting Oliver was. His broad, muscular shoulders enveloped a great deal of the couch.

“Come on in, love. Have a drink with your old pals.” He chuckled lightly as he retrieved a flask from his black, coat pocket. Raising his eyebrows, he placed it on Dr. Vogel’s coffee table.

“Now, Oliver, let’s not be too forward.” Cosmas’s gaze lingered on his raven-haired companion momentarily, and then shifted to me. I remained frozen in the doorway, my hand still clutching the door knob.

“Please do come in my dear.” He raised his arm and motioned towards Dr. Vogel’s large leather chair and then retracted it, placing his fingers around the contours of his rigid chin.

The appearance of the characters in my dreams seemed to be a frightening and recurring theme. The boundaries dividing reality and fantasy were becoming increasingly less visible. I knew I wasn’t dreaming, though I wished that I was, and yet the entire scene seemed surreal. I stared back at Oliver and Cosmas for what must have been minutes. They patiently sat, staring up at me. Cosmas’s piercing blue eyes peered into mine, never faltering. Their intent stare made my spine shiver. I wondered just how much they could see. I thought of turning tail and running back to my Civic, of racing home and locking myself in my room forever. But, I had the oddest feeling that this would do little good, that, as was the case with my meeting Alec, this interaction would eventually be forced on me one way or another.

Releasing my grip on the door knob, I carefully made my way to the brown leather chair. I could hear the door behind me close, though neither Cosmas nor Oliver had gotten up to shut it. I settled in Vogel’s seat. My eyes focused intently on my folded hands in my lap, cowering from the stares that weighed so heavily on me.

“We’d planned to introduce ourselves, but that appears to be unnecessary. You already know who we are, don’t you, Ember.”

“That’s right. We go way back, love. We’re old chums, you might say.”

I could feel words welling up in my throat, but I wondered if they would make any sound if I opened my mouth to release them. My body was so infiltrated by fear and I doubted that I had any control over it. Despite my reservations, the words broke free of my tense jaw.

“Why are you hear? Where’s Dr. Vogel?”

“Lawrence is otherwise occupied at the moment.” Cosmas folded his arms across his chest. “He has a hobby of sorts—keeps him quite busy.”
Oliver scoffed and the two looked at one another for a brief moment.

“That’s what we’ve come to talk to you about. You see, we feel the need to…caution you. I understand that you have been experiencing some trouble of sorts. Would you care to tell us what’s the matter?”

I pursed my lips and returned my eyes to my folded hands.

“It’s frightening, isn’t it, peering into the faces of the dead, seeing dreams come to life, feeling trapped in your own mind.” Cosmas prodded, watching me closely.

I could feel my eyes lifting, searching for his own now. The saying “curiosity killed the cat” seemed to apply. The gripping fear that tugged on my chest was not enough to stop my traveling gaze.

“Ah, so it’s true then. I suspected as much. Well, my dear, I regret to inform you that Dr. Vogel knows far more than he’s letting on. He’s withholding certain truths that you may find most valuable. He can only hurt you. I can give you your life back.”

My interest was piqued now. I wondered why Cosmas’s words did not provide me with the relief that they intended to. I was sure that, more than anything, I wanted to be free of this whole mess, to regain control of my thoughts and psyche. So, why did I still feel like a rat trapped in an endless maze?

“Oliver, if you would.” Cosmas gestured towards his young accomplice, who was standing by the window now. I was surprised to see him there. I hadn’t even noticed his departure from Vogel’s couch.

Oliver reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a black business card. He handed it to Cosmas, who then placed it on the coffee table in front of me.

“When you are ready to hear the truth, give me a call.” He raised himself from the couch and began towards the door. As he approached it, it swung open without ever being touched. Both men turned to face me once again.

“One last thing, Ember. Let’s keep this conversation between us. Trust me, it’s for the best.”

He nodded as he turned back towards the exit, and the men departed, leaving me alone in Vogel’s office. I reached for the card on the table. It had no name or number on it. Instead, these words were printed in white:

Seek and ye shall find



Last edited by PENsive; 12-17-2008 at 07:56 AM..
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Old 12-13-2008, 10:52 AM
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Please only post so much of your work for critique at once. There is way too much work here for one person to critique. You'll get more responses if you post a chapter at a time, or a thousand words at a time.

Edit: I realise that you're posting all the chapters in the one thread. However, if you're looking for critique on all of this, you might want to ask for specific points on specific chapters. You aren't going to get many dedicated people who would critique the entire thing.

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Old 12-13-2008, 02:56 PM
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Hey Daedalus,

Thank you for your post. I tried to revise my introduction above so that people know that this post is to aid those who would like to read the story, so that they are not chasing posts all over the board. I thought it might be easier if they could see all of the content in one place. I realize how long it is and am not looking for a critique on the whole thing. The only part that remains unchecked is chapter eight. Hopefully the new intro helps to clarify.

Thanks again,

PENsive
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Old 12-13-2008, 05:12 PM
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I have to admit - I don't have the attention span to read through the entire post but I did read chapter eight. I might not know what's going on at the moment, but I am most definitely interested enough to come back when I can.

You have a very nice style; things all flow very nicely, the thoughts and the actions never interrupting one another. To say that there was nothing my critical little red pen would want to comment on is a first for me... There's always something. Maybe once I go through the rest I'll find something.

Very nice chapter. I'm going to assume that these two men are vamps (you did say undead) and if they are, then you did a bang up job of keeping them in good character. Even though I hadn't known what they were, from just they way the first man held posture and how Ember felt upon seeing them, I could guess. Very nice job.

I shall be back (isn't that Dracula's line? )
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Old 12-13-2008, 06:35 PM
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Fixed your typo

And I'll be back for the next chapter! It looks quite lovely--I'm sure I'll have a joy of a time critiquing it!
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Old 12-13-2008, 07:23 PM
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Hey El902,

Thank you for checking out the thread. I'm glad you enjoyed chapter eight. Hopefully you will find the rest of the piece to be intriguing as well!


Winterbite,

I eagerly await your critique (as always ). Would you mind glancing over the new portion of chapter seven as well? I ended up changing it so that Alec and Ember have some interaction when he drops off her missing work. I think they're conversation helps to move the story along. Your opinion on the matter would be greatly valued. You always have great input for me.

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Old 12-15-2008, 04:53 PM
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Here're my thoughts on the added bit to chapter seven!

Originally Posted by PENsive
We all laughed together then. Even Mom chuckled from behind her paper. I reached across the table and retrieved the milk and cereal, pouring myself a healthy serving. Just as I did so, the doorbell rang.

Mom lowered the paper to the table.“Howard, are you expecting someone?”

“No. Bear?”

I shook my head in response.

hmmm(Run ye the "h" up the mainmast an' make it taller!),” was all Mom uttered(Not a word you can use in too many places without it looking awkward. This is not one of those places. Reword) as she gracefully rose from her seat and headed towards the front door. Dad and Jesse resumed their game and I focused on the important matter at hand: my Cheerios. As I raised a large spoonful to my mouth, Mom called from the entrance.

(If you change that last period to a comma and close the gap, you'd have a nice, smooth transition into dialogue)“Ember, honey, it’s for you.”

Hmm. Must be Bev.

I quickly shoved two more spoonfuls in(into) my mouth as Dad looked at me from across the table.

“Easy on the Cheerios, Bear. No one’s gonna take them from you.”

Jesse also looked up at me, his eyes wide, his mouth curving into a mischievous smile, “Or will they? Dun dun dun!” He proclaimed in a breathless tone(Hee-yikes! That's a doozy of a speech tag. You definitely want to reword it. Maybe just say "His voice sank to an octave lower than normal..."), an octave lower than his normal, pre-pubescent voice. He had watched far too many horror films.

I wrinkled my brow at them both, realizing immediately that I was only succeeding in looking like an agitated puffer fish.(Love those little similes ) Their chuckles could be heard("I heard their chuckles..." is better. Always go for active voice when you can) as I headed towards the doorway.

I made my way through the kitchen, passing Mom as I went. Her petite face was wearing a smug smile. I rounded the corner, expecting to see the familiar and always-gleeful Beverly Bennet. Instead, I was met by someone quite unexpected.

“Hello, Ember. You look…full.”

As I stared at the flawless face of Alec Vogel, I could feel a trickle of milk rushing down my chin.(Tsk tsk. Hasn't she ever heard of sleeves...I mean, napkins ) I chewed as quickly as my mouth would allow, trying to clear it of the mornings(The morning's breakfast, or Ember's breakfast?) breakfast. Of course, this wasn’t very fast(You mean "this didn't go quickly" or something of the sort, right?) at all, and we stood staring at one another awkwardly for several seconds as my jaw worked tirelessly(Two adverbs in a single sentence = stifled giggles on the part of a reader ). I swallowed one last time and wiped my chin with the back of my hand.

He chuckeld(Chuckled, you chucklehead! ). “You really are a delicate flower, aren’t you.”(No! No! It can't be happening! The world is coming to an end! A giant asteroid will kill us all! But wait...what's this? The asteroid can be averted by an impossible prediction of chaos theory? What must we do? The period...that's it. It must be changed to a question mark and make the sentence interrogative. Then the asteroid will miss us and we will all be spared. Boy oh boy. I'm never dramatizing my comments this much again You just finished reading about seventy-five words of completely useless text )

“Are you stalking me?”

“Yes." His reply was surprisingly succinct.

“Oh.” I could feel my severe scowl melt into (a)blank stare. “Well stop it.”

“I can’t do that.”

“What do you mean you can’t? Just stop following me. It’s weird(The way you use the emdash here, it's like "creepy" is defining "weird". So you have to delete the emdash and use something else. A period, p'r'aps?)creepy.”

And of course(And if you feel the pain--of unnecessary adverbial clauses like "of course"--hey PENsive, refrain... Boy, the Beatles have a song for everything, don't they? Watch the ol' adverbial clauses. Basically, if you can take something like "of course" off of the beginning and still have a functional sentence it's often not needed. It's really best used in dialogue) by creepy I mean wonderful.

No. Stop it! You don’t like this Vogel kid. He’s annoying and smug and—

Wonderful.

My inner halves rivaled for what seemed like hours, though it must have been only seconds. Alec’s smooth voice ended their battle.

“Trust me, I really wish that I could, but as I said, it’s impossible.”

“I swear you are the strangest guy I’ve ever met.”

Another chuckle escaped him then. “That’s debatable.”

“Is it? It amazes me that you are such an authority on my life when you hardly know me at all.”

“Debatable, again.”

He shifted his weight and folded his arms across his chest. His eyes dropped from mine.

“What do you mean?” My voice was softer now.

“Nothing.”

“Nothing always means something.” The words flew through(And also watch the prepositions. "from" is better here) my mouth sounding so familiar.(If it was said before, we'll recognise it. No need to tell us they're familiar) He quickly lifted his eyes back to my own(mine), and I wondered if he recognized them too. It was then that I remembered the dream, the one where we lay together, side by side,(Off wi' t' scurvy comma!) on soft cool grass. I could almost feel his hand on my stomach, his other arm cradling my head, hot tears streaming down my face. I could hear the words even now,(Here be dragons. I mean, here be a place where you could use an emdash to good effect) only they had come from him then.

“Sometimes nothing means nothing.” His icy tone ended the matter. He then reached into the large bag at his side, its strap slung diagonally across his shoulders. Gathering several sheets of paper, he handed them to me. I read the heading aloud: World Geography Group Project.

“Fantastic—just what I wanted to wake up to. Geography homework is my passion.” I smiled, trying to lighten the mood.

“It’s due Monday. Broganmeyer paired us together so—“

“Your stalking me just got a bit easier.”

“So it seems.”

I could hear footsteps behind me, the light squeak of rubber-soled slippers let me know exactly who it was. I could feel Dad behind me and Alec smiled and extended his hand.

“You must be Mr. Nash. It’s a pleasure to meet you Sir(Tie ye a bag o' shot 'round the "s" and send it down t' Davy Jones' locker! Decapitalize, I mean ).”

Dad’s arm extended over my shoulder and clasped Alec’s(Clasped Alec's arm? How weird--that's how me and my friend do our secret handshake. *Suspicious eyes* have you been stalking me? ). His knuckles turned pale white as he clutched Alec's hand.

“The pleasure is all mine, son.” The words sounded painful. I knew Dad must be grinding his teeth down to gums as he stood with us in the doorway. My dating history, if you could call it that, was rather short. I had dated…once. The lawyer in Dad had a tendency to stifle the fires of romance. He took the liberty of doing a background check(on) my date, which he questioned the guy tirelessly about when he arrived at our house. Dad also asked him if he was opposed to taking a lie detector test(Ever seen the movie "Meet the Parents"? Same basic thing). Apparently he was. To make a long story short, we never made it to the movie that night, or any other night after that.(Either "other" or "after that" can be tossed.)

When Alec and Dad’s grip was finally released, Dad placed his hand on my shoulder.

“Your breakfast is getting cold, Bear.” He continued smiling at Alec.

“Dad, it’s cereal. It’s been(I'm reading this like something that should be in italics) cold.”

“Right, well I’ll let you kids chat then. I’m just gonna head back to the dining room, which is within ear shot—only a few yards away.” (That last bit struck me as something I might've heard on Full House or some other sitcom like it. A little too obvious.)

Alec nodded as Dad reluctantly returned to the other room. “He seems nice.”

“Are your fingers all accounted for?”

He lifted his hand, “They’ve seen worse days.”

“So, when are we going to do this thrilling project?” My stomach fluttered at the very idea of being alone with Alec, even if it was over something as unromantic as homework. How on earth would I control my raging teen emotions? Had I broken a mirror, walked under a ladder, or crushed dozens of four leaf clovers underfoot? Why was I the unluckiest person alive?

His hand dropped, clutching the strap around his torso. “Tomorrow night around six? Are you free?”

“As a bird.”

“Tomorrow then.” He turned, opening the door, and began to leave. Stopping short he looked back at me.

“Look, Ember.” His free hand balled into a fist. “I know that you don’t care for me, that you want to be as far from me as possible and that’s fine. It’s what I want. Just know that I would stay away from you if I could.”

I wondered silently what he meant by that. Perhaps he wasn’t just drawn to me because of my insanity. What else could possibly explain his nonsensical fascination with me?

I nodded, unable to(Er...summon, maybe?) a more appropriate response. As he turned and headed down the walk, I watched him go before closing the door and returning to breakfast.(Needs rewording. First he turns and heads down the walk and she watchs him go. All well and good. But then you say she does that before closing the door, and things get confusing.)

“Ah, the triumphant return.” Mom smiled as I entered the room.“Your visitor asked if you were feeling better(Nooo he didn't...). Apparently you missed class yesterday.” Mom’s eyebrows lifted slightly in that annoying way, an expression that indicated she knew more than she was telling. I decided to play it cool

Not much to say, except there are my comments! This bit seemed as if it was written in a hurry, but it wasn't bad! Interesting dialogue, got some more tension between Ember and Alec going...very cool! I'll be back for number eight!
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Old 12-17-2008, 07:46 AM
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Hey Winterbite,

Thanks so much for looking over that part. It needed a bit of work, but I think it is necessary to add some more tension between E and A. I updated, so seven is edited and the rest of the chapters have been updated as well. There is only one major change and that is in the setting. Instead of placing this is Vermont, it's now in Vista Valley Colorado (which doesn't really exist at all, but in Ember's world it's about thirty minutes from Aspen). I also added a few paragraphs to the beginning of chapter three, so that the switch from two to three wouldn't be so abrupt. Don't feel obligated to go reread any of the chapters or anything. I just thought that you should be aware so that you aren't confused . Thanks again for editing that new portion of seven!
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Old 12-17-2008, 07:48 AM
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Righto, and, in the words of the Terminator, "Ah'll beh bahck."
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Old 12-19-2008, 07:57 PM
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And here I am!
Originally Posted by PENsive


Chapter Eight: Seek and Ye Shall Find




“She looks like she’s seen a ghost, now doesn’t she.(Interrogative. Needs a question mark)” Oliver’s British accent flowed from his pale lips with a warm ease. He was even more handsome than he had appeared in my dream the day before. His gold eyes nearly shimmered beneath lashes that were as dark as a starless night.(Ah...the sweet smell of vivid descriptions!) I realized then how daunting Oliver was. His broad, muscular shoulders enveloped a great deal of the couch.

“Come on in, love. Have a drink with your old pals.” He chuckled lightly as he retrieved a flask from his black,(Git t' comma oot) coat pocket. Raising his eyebrows, he placed it on Dr. Vogel’s coffee table.

“Now, Oliver, let’s not be too forward.” Cosmas’s gaze lingered on his raven-haired companion momentarily, and then shifted to me. I remained frozen in the doorway, my hand still clutching the door knob.

“Please do come in my dear.” He raised his arm and motioned towards Dr. Vogel’s large leather chair and then retracted it, placing his fingers around the contours of his rigid chin.

The appearance of the characters in my dreams seemed to be a frightening and recurring theme. The boundaries dividing reality and fantasy were becoming increasingly less visible. I knew I wasn’t dreaming, though I wished that I was, and yet the entire scene seemed surreal. I stared back at Oliver and Cosmas for what must have been minutes. They patiently sat, staring(Just said "stared" up there) up at me. Cosmas’s piercing blue eyes peered into mine, never faltering. Their intent stare(Still redundant) made my spine shiver. I wondered just how much they could see. I thought of turning tail and running back to my Civic, of racing home and locking myself in my room forever. But,(No comma) I had the oddest(Doesn't actually seem so odd to me) feeling that this would do little good, that, as was the case with my meeting Alec, this interaction would eventually be forced on me one way or another.

Releasing my grip on the door knob, I carefully made my way to the brown leather chair. I could hear the door behind me close, though neither Cosmas nor Oliver had gotten up to shut it. I settled in Vogel’s seat. My eyes focused intently on my folded hands in my lap, cowering from the stares that weighed so heavily on me.

“We’d planned to introduce ourselves, but that appears to be unnecessary. You already know who we are, don’t you, Ember.(If your question mark key is broken, I'll excuse you for this )”

“That’s right. We go way back, love. We’re old chums, you might say.”

I could feel words welling up in my throat, but I wondered if they would make any sound if I opened my mouth to release them. My body was so infiltrated(Not a good word choice. Brainstorm something else) by fear and("so" goes with "that", so you need a "that" instead of "and" here.) I doubted that I had any control over it. Despite my reservations, the words broke free of my tense jaw.

“Why are you hear(here)? Where’s Dr. Vogel?”

“Lawrence is otherwise occupied at the moment.” Cosmas folded his arms across his chest. “He has a hobby of sorts—keeps him quite busy.”
Oliver scoffed and the two looked at one another for a brief moment.

“That’s what we’ve come to talk to you about. You see, we feel the need to…caution you. I understand that you have been experiencing some trouble of sorts(he said this right up there). Would you care to tell us what’s the matter?”

I pursed my lips and returned my eyes to my folded hands.

“It’s frightening, isn’t it,(Question mark, new sentence) peering into the faces of the dead, seeing dreams come to life, feeling trapped in your own mind.” Cosmas prodded, watching me closely.

I could feel my eyes lifting, searching for his own now. The saying “curiosity killed the cat” seemed to apply. The gripping fear that tugged on my chest was not enough to stop my traveling gaze(Maybe "gaze from traveling" would sound better here).

“Ah, so it’s true then. I suspected as much. Well, my dear, I regret to inform you that Dr. Vogel knows far more than he’s letting on. He’s withholding certain truths that you may find most valuable. He(I'm reading this like italics) can only hurt you. I(Maybe italics here, too) can give you your life back.”

My interest was piqued now. I wondered why Cosmas’s words did not provide me with the relief that they intended to. I was sure that,(No comma) more than anything, I wanted to be free of this whole mess, to regain control of my thoughts and psyche. So,(Delete comma) why did I still feel like a rat trapped in an endless maze?

“Oliver, if you would.” Cosmas gestured towards his young accomplice, who was standing by the window now. I was surprised to see him there. I hadn’t even noticed his departure from Vogel’s couch.

Oliver reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a black business card. He handed it to Cosmas, who then placed it on the coffee table in front of me.

“When you are ready to hear the truth, give me a call.” He raised himself from the couch and began towards the door. As he approached it, it swung open without ever being touched. Both men turned to face me once again.

“One last thing, Ember. Let’s keep this conversation between us. Trust me, it’s for the best.”

He nodded as he turned back towards the exit, and the men departed, leaving me alone in Vogel’s office. I reached for the card on the table. It had no name or number on it. Instead, these words were printed in white:

Seek and ye shall find(Up there he said "Give me a call" which implies a number being somewhere...)
I didn't have to correct a whole lot in this, and that's definitely a good sign! I'm curious about all of Dr. Vogel's secrets, and about what Ember truly is. It reminds me just a bit of M. Night Shyamalan's film, Unbreakable. You have one recurring thing, which is putting periods where question marks should go. Mixing up interrogatives and statements, there!

Keep up the good writing!
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Old 12-19-2008, 08:40 PM
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Thanks Winterbite!

I hate to do this to you, but I just finished the chapter about five minutes ago. I'll post it now, but don't feel obligated to do a SPAG check on the rest of it right this minute (haha or ever for that matter!) Though, if you have time to critique it eventually I would LOVE that! Again, thanks for being such a faithful supporter. I can't even tell you how much it means to me!
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Old 12-20-2008, 10:11 AM
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Why didn't I wait five more minutes? Sure thing, I'll get to that bit too!
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