Archive for the ‘Story’ Tag

Star Wars: The Old Republic Story Intro

War…it is all I know, all I ever knew, sometimes I believe.  From the earliest of my memories, to the current day, it is often all I can remember.  The struggle, the pain, the intoxication of victory, the bitter pain of defeat.  Yes, this bittersweet cocktail is the galaxy I know.  With the state of affairs as they are, I shall drink deep for many days to come.

 

Perhaps I should begin some time ago, when this all began, or at least, the earliest I can remember.  I was a street urchin on the sand-covered streets of Halm.  I know not what happened to my parents, as from the earliest of my memories, there was just me.  There were others around, certainly.  Halm sits at a nexus of trade routes running resources from the Outer Rim back toward the core worlds.  I heard some later call it a jewel in that black sea, but to those who live on it, it’s nothing but a dusty rock full of traders, mercs, and drugs.  People washed up there all the time, much like Nar Shaddaa.  Only difference is that kids you won’t find any child on Nar Shaddaa, at least, not one left alone.  They’d be gone in minutes.  On Halm, we were seen as little more than a pack of feral dogs, clawing at any scraps mistakenly left out.  We sifted through garbage, we growled and hissed at one another, and as soon as the law came, we scattered like roaches.  I suppose you could say we really were nothing but a pack of feral animals.  But he saw something different in me.  The orange light of the twin suns set differently on my eyes, he said.  I hadn’t a clue what he meant at the time, I was merely happy to be alive.  After all, a moment before, he had nearly killed me.

 

It was just another blistering hot day, and the scraps were light, so we were picking every trader that passed by, hoping to score enough for something to eat.  It was hot, and we were hungry, so we were sloppy and increasingly desperate.  It was then that I likely made the greatest mistake of my life.  He looked like an old trader, maybe a retired diplomat.  He wasn’t dressed that well, just covered in a brown robe and hood.  There was something on his face that spoke differently though.  It was a pride, something you didn’t seen in the cutthroats and shifty-eyed duggards who frequented the area.  The moment I reached for the edge of his belt, I knew something was off.  I could feel it all around me, almost like a physical hand pulling me away.  I listened, and that was the only reason that orange light that flew past didn’t sever my hand off.  He flew at me faster than I ever had seen anyone move before.  But…I could feel him…his movements, his presence.  It was not a completely unknown feeling to me.  Long had I felt something with me, guiding my hands when I stole to live, covering the eyes of those who would pursue me.  I knew how to move to get what I wanted, I knew how to move to remain unseen.  I know not how I knew, only that I did.  Never had I thought much of it until this moment, where my very life was at stake.  He showed no surprise at the agility with which I moved, nor faltered when each of his strokes met with air.  It was only when a stone, unseen, unfelt came from my right side and struck my head did I lose my footing, and fall before him.  His blade quickly fell upon me, but the blow never came.  He merely stood there, watching me, studying me with his blade at my throat.  I know not what he was looking for, as I had nothing.  I was empty.

“Dost thou not feel fear, child?”

“Fear?”  I muttered between dry, cracked lips.  “What have I to fear?  I have nothing, I am nothing.”

“Then I will mold you into something.  Something I need.  Perhaps something this galaxy needs.”

He withdrew his blade, and walked away.  I, having nothing else, followed him.  I was his, after all, for I had nothing else.

 

He trained me to use that feeling, that presence that had always existed around me.  The Force, he called it.  I cared not for naming it, but a name it had, and so it was.  Most children, he later explained, had difficulty connecting with the force, as they only believed in what they could see with their own two eyes.  I, however, never had to believe in such a thing.  It was always there, I merely never understood what it was.  The farther I delved into it, the more I began to think that perhaps, I was never really alone.  It was always there by my side, silently whispering whenever I truly needed it.  My master’s teaching methods were brutal, even for one raised such as I, but he would say that metal does not become strong unless forged in fire.  And forged I was, into what he ‘needed’.  It had no titles, no mark of distinction, I only was what I was, and that was all either of us ever needed.

 

Where conflict existed, my master saw purpose.  Not for justice, not for glory, not for greed, nor even for bloodshed.  Conflict was the flames in which souls were forged.  The absence of it only led to decay, to withering.  Complete peace, in his view, was akin to death, albeit a slow, declining one.  He was not, however, a warmonger.  Where conflict did not exist, he did not stir it into being, he merely sought it out elsewhere.  Wherever two beings exist, he would say, conflict will most undoubtedly exist as well.  The lull between moments of conflict was meant for study, for analyzing the past conflict, for meditation, for healing of wounds.  Only then would you be prepared for the inevitable conflict to come.  With each victory came knowledge, and that was the greatest trophy.  Knowledge, when examined and understood, countered every failure suffered, such that it would never happen again.  The pain that defeat brought was so bitter as to drive one to examine the loss entirely, and understand it as well, that it would never happen again.  All of it was one driving force, spiraling ever upward, leading to unseen heights of power that I could only dream of.

 

It was not a journey completely of self-interest, however.  No man is an island, I’ve heard some say before.  My master would have scoffed at such a concept, but he knew well the power of bonds, of alliances, of moving people, equipment, even political forces in your favor.  Even when we were victorious, and the spoils of war were laid before us, my master would only take what we would need, and have the rest divided equally among the people.  He had little use for mercy or perhaps even love, though he knew well of their purpose and power.  He was always driving himself to become better, but he was always just in his dealings with others.  Those who transgressed offenses would be punished.  Those who oppressed would be put to the torch, not because he was a liberator, but because the oppressors were gluttons of greed and self-indulgence.  Wiping them out would pave the way for much greater men of all races to follow.  He encouraged others to follow his path in their own way, and relished the opportunity when others would pursue a challenge against him, as it was yet another test of his great power.  Many he let live, that they might heal, improve, and return to him face him again.  If he decided they would become a thorn in his plans, then they did not leave the place where they fought.

 

My master said at one time he called himself ‘Jedi’, but left the Order years ago when he could no longer stand how soft they had become.  They did well, he had said, to take the sufferings of others onto themselves, but never capitalized on the growth and potential that path offered.  Still, he harbored no grudge against them, and held many in high respect, very high praise from a man who scant offered such words to his only pupil.

 

Still, I pursued the path he set before me, and when the time came, I took up that blade of light, the same color that I saw that day, the same as the suns what once was my home.  I was what he needed, whatever that might be.

 

Eventually, that day came.  Reports from the Outer Rim of armies marching on worlds, conquering or annihilating everything in their path.  My master relished the opportunity.  Finally, conflict would return to this idle galaxy, and with it, all would be forged in that heat.  Yet he was no observer, he would play no idle role in the conflict to come, this we both knew.  Where his blade would rest, however, was yet undetermined.  The Sith, as they called themselves, swept through the Outer Rim, to the Mid Rim like a cloud of locusts.  Despite their power, my master was unimpressed.  ‘A band of thugs and brigands, slaves to their desires, self-indulgent in their own ways’ is how he described them.  It was not long after that Imperial Agents approached him and ‘encouraged’ my master to join their side.

 

Not one of them left alive.

 

Yet another one came, this one far more subdued than the others.  He approached my master and asked him what it would take for my master to join their side.

 

“True strength.”  My master replied.

“Very well.” The reply came.  “Give me three days, and you shall have it.”

 

Three days later, reports came through of a Mandalorian armada, the largest seen since the end of the Mandalorian Wars appeared, blockading the main trade routes to the core worlds.  In one move, the core worlds were now slowly starving to death.

 

The agent returned, yet still, my master was unimpressed.

“They will break it.”  He replied.  The agent tried to convince him otherwise, but my master would not be swayed.  “If they do not, then I will join you.  If they do,” My master drew his blade as he spoke, “then I shall have your head.”  The agent, surprisingly unphased by the threat, accepted the terms and left.  A few months later, my master and I were on a planet close enough to see the battle take place as the blockade was broken.  The agent returned, much to my surprise.  Showing him the result, my master then stated that the agent would hold up his end of the bargain.

 

“Certainly,” The agent told him, “however, as I know you are unconvinced, the Emperor himself wishes to show you what you seek, that you might be swayed to our side.  Either way, I will honor my deal to you.”

 

My master pondered for a long time, but apparently he found the offer enticing.  Perhaps it was some other reason why, as my master never explained his decision, but only accepted the agent’s offer.  Together we travelled to a ship far beyond the Outer Rim, into the unknown reaches, where we beheld the largest ship I had ever seen.  It was less a ship, I suppose, but more a mobile fortress, a space station the size of a small moon.  An endless sea of soldiers filled every corner of the station.  Many wore the armor of Mandalorians, others wielded the same sabers as my master and I.  We were taken to an area in the station’s core to a causeway devoid of soldiers, sounds, even life.  It was there on that path that my master left me.

 

“Thou wilt not go further than this.” My master instructed me.  “For what lies ahead, I need thou not to behold, not yet.”  And so I stood waiting.  It was but a short time later that he returned, yet he was not the master I knew.  He was shaken, his will broken, his countenance devoid of the pride I had seen for years.  He stumbled past me, not even noticing my presence.

 

“My master,” I called out to him, “what has happened?”  I called to him, but dare not touch him.  I learned that that day, years before.  He turned and looked at me blankly, his mouth forming around words that never came.  I finally asked, “Master, what is it you intend to do?”

 

His mouth shook as he stuttered out, “Serve.  It is all any of us can do.”  Such groveling words I had never beheld out of my master.  Perhaps another, lesser man, when my master bested him.  But no, this was my master, or at least, what was left of him.  He walked on and I turned back to the black expanse from whence he came, completely at a loss of what he had witnessed in that chamber, before this Emperor of the Sith.  We left the station, the same agent that led us there saw us off to our departure, his head still very much his own.  We arrived at the Sith front days later, and my master commenced to feverishly construct battle plans for the commanders’ use.  He scurried with a pace that was unknown to me, driven as if death itself was crowing on his back.  I tried to stop him once, to aid him one more, and I never tried either again.  My master was lost to me.  He only ever knew of the conflict before him, and even after, that was all his focus was.  But this was something else entirely.  He was lost to the galaxy around him and to I.  Perhaps, I thought but once, even to the Force.  It was after he drew up the plans for an attack on Coruscant itself that they finally came.  All Sith turn on each other eventually, I had heard once before.  I had held it as true before that day, but even still, it came as a surprise.  As they charged into the building in which we were staying, I had little time to usher my master and I from that place.  They appeared as locusts from every corner, from every hole, every rooftop.  Our only possible escape, I knew, would be our ship at the dock.  It was, after all, the only vessel left in the sector that wasn’t directly controlled by the Sith themselves.  They were not fools, however.  They knew this just as well as I.  As we arrived at the port, they were waiting.

 

The first three blaster shots I managed to deflect.  The third coursed across my shoulder, making my right arm fall limp as I fell to a knee.  The fourth, the one that would slay me, I knew, would be close behind.   However, it never came.  As I looked up, my master stood with his back to me, his saber raised.  I saw it once more on his face.  The pride on his countenance, it shown like a sun against the coming of the night.  With the swing of one hand, the entire throng before us was blown to the winds, and fell in heaps across the area..

 

“Go.” He spoke flatly.  “You are what I need.  And what I need of you right now,”  He turned to face me, his eyes blazing with that same orange light as his blade, “is to live.”  I tried to protest, but he raised a hand I was flung towards the ship, skittering across the metal floor.  As I picked myself up, I could hear them.  Footsteps, a countless number of them, seemingly coming from every direction.  “Go, my child.  It is time for you to become what you need to be.”  I nodded and raced into the ship and started the engine.  I called out to him over the speaker as the door beyond him began to glow with the heat of torches burning through it.  “How many times must I tell you, child?  I told you to go!”  He raised a hand and the entire ship began to shudder and rise from the ground.  I barely had time to buckle myself into the pilot’s seat before the ship rose and was flung into the sky.  The ship spun round as I raised the landing gear and prepared to depart, the flashing lights of blaster fire screeching across the ground.  Among them a single orange light glowed, unyielding through the mass, burning like a sun into the night.  I righted the craft and punched the engines as hard as they would go, as a sea of lights began following me.  They danced around the craft as I deftly lurched it to and fro.  Quickly I found myself in the midst of a battle between Republic defenders and Sith attackers.  The ship and my pursuers got caught amidst the crossfire, striking the ship several times.  My ship managed to limp out from the chaos, my pursuers were not nearly so lucky.

 

I nursed the ship to the nearest free port in time to hear about the armistice the Sith had forced the Republic into signing.  A dirty deal by anyone’s standards, but few rules truly exist in open war.  My master taught me that.  And so I sat pondering, as I watched other ships limp into port, every mouth rending more stories of the Sith’s atrocities, and the horrors they wrought.  Yet still, I know not what my master asked of me that day.  ‘Become what I need to be.’  I have thought it over so many times, yet still cannot define what that is.  As I listen to more people come through port, some describe the heroics of the Republic forces, and all the good they stand for.  Others denounce the Republic as a bloated, broken bureaucracy that should be abolished.  I know my master would never settle for the chains of red silk he would be bound in within such a system, but on the same token, he would find what the Sith are doing as repulsive as I.  So I sit and ponder as I find myself returned to the point from which I began:  alone, save for the Force, the only thing that has always been by my side.  Even as I sat, I knew what my choice would be, only that it would be a matter of time before I followed it.  I know not which side I will follow into battle, but I will fight.  For war is all I know.  It is everything I am.  In it, there is purpose.  What purpose, one might ask.

 

Whatever I need it to be.

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Requiem Aeternam: Ghost Story

From the moment he saw the house, he could feel the wrongness about it.  The dark aura that engulfed the place was so strong that even Elly and the others could feel chills run up their spine as they approached.  The others were chatting nervously to each other, both excitement and fear bubbling to surface of each.  Edward filed in behind them, a sigh escaping as they approached the door.  He questioned himself for the 12th time why he was here.  He hated ghost houses, paranormal places, or any spooky spot of the like.  A quiet night, free from that which bumped in the night was perfectly fine with him.  Elly, on the other hand, was obsessed with anything that could give normal people the creeps.  Edward, having been her friend since childhood, always found himself dragged along on such adventures, much to his chagrin.  In school the pair was dubbed the “Eek” twins, both from their names, and for the screams that Elly’s expeditions seemed to elicit.  Edward always though Elly’s creepy hobby would make her ostracized from others her age, but somehow she wound up around a group of boys and girls that loved a good scare as much as she did.

Elly noticed Edward’s deep sigh, and her blond hair whirled as she spun around to face him.

“Don’t start whining now.  You’re the one that said you would come.”

“That’s…” Edward sighed again in resignation.  “Whatever.  Just don’t come crying to me when something scares you half to death in there.”  He could tell Elly was brimming with excitement at his statement, which only deepened his despair.

“Oh, I hope something does! It’ll be so exciting!”  Edward rubbed his fingers against his green and red eye.  His right eye had turned red when he was a child, something none of the doctors in the area could quite explain.  He felt it made him look like a freak.  The thought hadn’t escaped him that perhaps Elly kept him around for that exact purpose.

Elly put her hand on the great iron knob on the front door of the house, and with a loud creak, twisted it and pushed the door open.  The inside was covered with a thick layer of dust that seemed to kick up as they stepped inside.  The worn wooden floors bowed down between each of the floor joists, and creaked loudly with each step on them.  A great, or rather, formerly great staircase rose in the center of the large room up to the second floor.  Rusted iron railing lined the sides of the staircase, and ended in the remains of rusted ornamentation at each end.  The walls appeared to have been painted at one time, though the years had worn what might have been one color into an array of browns and grays.  A large chandelier hung from the center of the room, composed more of cobwebs than metal.  The others stood around coughing in the dust, but Elly stood in the midst of it, excited as a little girl on Christmas.

“Isn’t this fantastic?”

“Yeah, if you like emphysema.”  She shot Edward a fierce glance.

“Enough backtalk.  This place is prime hunting! I’m sure we’ll find that little girl’s ghost here easy.  Just hope I can get her on film…”

“Little girl?”  Rachael, a small, brown-haired girl a few years younger than Elly spoke up with a shaky voice.

“Yes…”  Elly turned and creeped towards her with arms outstretched.  “The story goes that the girl’s father lost everything in the stock market crash of the 30’s.  They say he went crazy after, gathering up a huge party of those who still had money inside the house.  He told them he was paying for everything with, unbeknownst to them, the money he had already lost.  When the party was just getting into swing, he locked the doors and lit the house on fire!  The problem was, that he forgot that his daughter was still asleep upstairs when the inside of the house burned up.  When someone else bought the house and rebuilt it years later, the ghost of the little girl still wandered the halls, searching for her father amidst flames that weren’t there!  They say anyone who touches her…turns to ash!”  With that, Elly grabbed ahold of Rachel’s shoulders, causing her to scream loudly, her voice bouncing around the large empty house.

“Elly, try not to scare the poor girl to death, at least not where I can hear it.” Edward said, exasperated.

“Aww, come on.  That’s all the fun here! Getting scared out of your mind!”  Edward walked to Rachel and put a hand on her head.

“Maybe, but you’re the one doing the scaring here.  I doubt you need to add to the ambience with a creepy place like this.”  Rachael shrank away from Elly and clung to Edward.

“Aren’t you Mr. Popular all of a sudden.” Keith chimed in.  He was red-haired jock on the basketball team at the local college.  Edward had a rather reasonable hunch he tagged along on these ventures simply to get closer to Elly.  He was always accompanied by Anna, or rather, Anastasia as she preferred people to call her.  If there was a stereotype of a ‘popular’ girl, then Anna was it.  Her personal and social appearance was paramount to her.  Voted homecoming queen twice, now the leading lady of a sorority, one couldn’t call her a failure in that regard.  Edward didn’t think she was a bad person, though too self-obsessed for his tastes.  Thus, it perplexed Edward why she would chase Keith if it meant following him into places like the one they were in.  Edward preferred to think of it as love being blind, rather than her simply trying to match herself with someone of equal social status.  Though Keith seemed to not notice, Edward knew her eyes had been burning a hole in the back of Elly’s head all day. As Edward glanced back in the direction of Keith and her, her face immediately shifted into a smile.  The action seemed so rehearsed with her it made Edward inwardly cringe.  Keith was grinning at him too, but in a much more amused fashion.  Edward wasn’t sure whether he it was because he found the situation actually amusing, or if having another woman than Elly beside him met with his approval.

“Damn it’s gonna be a long night.” Edward muttered to himself.

“All right everyone.  Fan out and search the place top to bottom.  If you find anything unusual, report back here at once.  We’ll meet back here otherwise at…11 or so.  Make sure to scope out the room that you want to stay in tonight.”

“Wait.”  Edward held up his hand.  “You’re expecting us to spend the night here?”

“Of course.  You of all people know all the good spook activity happens from midnight to four in the morning.  We’ll have to divide into shifts to see some good stuff!”  Edward immediately slumped over at the thought.  “All right, all of you, split up and start looking!”  The group, except Edward, cheered and some began scurrying down the long passageways of the derelict mansion.  Elly grabbed Edward by the arm and began dragging him upstairs.

“Come on, I bet that kid’s room was upstairs.  I can’t wait!”

“Hey Elly!”  Keith called out, but Elly had already managed to scurry up the steps with Edward in tow.  “Man that girl is quick.”
”Yeah, I bet she’s quick in some other areas too.” Anna muttered.

“Huh? Did you say something Anna?”  Keith said as he turned down to her.

“Nothing, nothing at all.  Come on, let’s go search for…whatever it is we’re supposed to look for.”  She grabbed Keith’s arm and led him down a hallway.  Rachael stood alone in the great room, frantically looking from passageway, not wanting to be left alone, yet too afraid to move.  Eventually she slumped into a dust-covered chair in the corner.

Edward grumbled under his breath as Elly scurried from room to room in the upper floor.

After an hour or two of searching through mostly depilated bedrooms, Elly opened a door at the end of one hall with a shriek.  Edward knew with a normal person, that shriek would be one of terror, but for Elly, it was of excitement.  Elly dashed inside as Edward peered in behind her.  The room was covered in dust and cobwebs, but had obviously been a child’s room.  The remains of children’s toys sat askew on shelves and filling a small box in a corner.  A small bed sat in one corner of the room, the sheets still pulled up on the bed, as if made that morning, though was still covered with dust.

“This is it!  It has to be!”

Edward picked up the remains of what appeared to be a wooden plane on a shelf.

“It isn’t that child’s room.”

“It might be!  You can’t be sure.”

“You said it yourself, right?  The inside of the house was burnt out from the fire.  This stuff would all have to have been put in afterwards, when they rebuilt the place.”

“That’s…well…true, but…” She scratched her head.  “Well, that kid’s ghost could still be taking residence in this room!  It probably attracted her here with all the toys.”  Edward sighed.

“No way, no how.”  It was Elly’s turn to grumble at him.  After some more searching in the room, Elly darted out of the room in search of more prospects.  After walking out of the room, however, Edward felt a sharp chill down his spine.  He turned around, but didn’t see anything in the room.  He cautiously turned back and followed Elly down the hall.

“Hey Elly, what happened to the last owners of the house?  The ones that rebuilt the place.”

“Oh them.”  She said as she darted into another room.  “The story goes that the police arrived to find the husband and wife dancing like madmen in the great room downstairs.  They tried to get them to stop, but were entranced by something, and had to be taken away forcibly and confined to a mental institution.”  Edward’s eyes bolted open.

“And you tell us this now!?”  As his words faded, he heard a soft, almost indiscernable creak of wood behind him.  He whirled about, but saw nothing.  He once again, even more cautiously, turned back.  Elly went on, searching more rooms, but as she continued, Edward’s right eye began to throb.  It was soft at first, but began pulsating harshly as they continued.

“Damn it, not again…”  Edward muttered.

“Huh? Did you say something?”  Elly peeked up at him.

“Nothing.  Just a headache.”

“Oh.”  She turned back.  As she did, Edward heard it again, the creak of wood behind him, louder this time.  His eye was pounding furiously in his head.

“Damn it…”  He muttered as he covered his right eye with his hand.  He slowly turned around, and didn’t see anything at first, but as he looked down the hall, he saw black smudge on the ground he hadn’t noticed before.  As he watched, the black smudged widened and darkened into an elliptical shape.  Then, another smudge appeared, this time diagonally to the first one, and in front of it.  Then another appeared, this time in line with the first one.

“E-elly.” Edward tried to keep his voice calm.

“Yeah?”

“I think it’s time to meet back with the others.”

“Is it?  Come on, we have to have more time.”  The smudges began to grow closer to Edward, as the air around him felt like it was getting warmer with each closing step.

“We need to go Elly.  Now.”

“All right, all right.  No need to get pushy.”  Edward’s hand slipped slightly from his right eye, enough to see bright orange light…and a face.  He reached into the room, grabbed Elly by the hand, and dragged her into the hall and to the stairs.

“Sheesh, do you have to be so pushy about it?”  Edward pulled her close and looked down the hall.

“Hey, what are you-”

“Shh.” He stared down the hall, finally this time with his right eye open.  The smudges were still on the ground, but whatever was there before had gone.  Her face forcibly buried in his chest, Elly pushed herself off slightly and looked up at him.

“You saw something?”

“Not sure.”

“My, isn’t this a cozy scene.”  They looked over the railing to see Anna and Keith staring up at the pair.  Keith seems unhappy, while Anna seemed oddly pleased.

“Why exactly are you two hanging over each other like that?”  Keith asked.

“No reason in particular.” Elly spoke up as she took a step away from Edward.  “Not like I particularly need one.  Ed’s like a big brother to me anyways.”

“Is that so.” Keith’s words floated in the air as everyone exchanged glances.  Edward broke the awkward silence.

“Anyway, it’s about time to meet up.  Gather everyone else here.”  As everyone gathered, they all talked about the spooky things that a few of them had heard.  Edward didn’t dare speak of what happened upstairs.  He didn’t want to encourage anyone to investigate it, especially Elly.

After sharing some snacks they carried in, the group began to shift off to pick out rooms to spend the night in.  Edward could see Keith scanning the group of faces, most likely for Elly.

“Does he really think he’ll be able to bunk up with Elly?”  Anna’s annoyed voice murmured behind him.

“Well, you have to give him points for persistence, at least.”  Ed looked over his shoulder at her when he spoke.  Anna’s expression rapidly changed to the eerie smile she always seemed to flip to.  “Though I’d have to give you points for that as well.”  Anna’s expression slackened at Edward seeing through her façade.

“Please don’t lump me in the same group with him.”

“But that’s exactly what you want to be, right?”  She looked from him to Keith before sighing slightly.  “Then you might as well follow him.  If you can keep him from Elly, maybe you’ll end up bunking with him instead.”  He turned and began to walk away when Anna’s voice stopped him.

“So what is the deal between Anna and you?”  Ed half-smirked as he turned to her.

“She probably thinks when I’m around, the spooks are more likely to show up.”  Anna raised an eyebrow.

“Why would she think that?”

“Because one oddity tends to attract others.”  Edward waved and started up the stairs.

Edward tucked his sleeping bag under his arm as he walked from room to room.  As he approached the child’s room again, he saw familiar smudges on the ground making prints leading out of the room.  By the size, they appeared to be similar to the shoes of a child.

“Ah, hell.”  Edward said as he rubbed his face.  Inwardly, he had hoped what he had seen earlier was just a hallucination.  “At least if I was crazy, I could write the whole thing off…”  He leaned down and rubbed a finger across one smudge and rubbed it between his fingers.  “Soot.”  He sighed.  “Damn it Elly, you sure know how to pick them…”  Hoping to avoid the hallway where the shoeprints led, he turned around and began walking down the hall.  He heard voices coming from the end of the hall.  He strained his ears to listen when suddenly something caught hold of his arm and yanked him into a room.  The door slid closed behind him as something come over his mouth.  He struggled against the unseen force as a voice came to his ear.

“Shh.”  He did so, and heard voices walking down the hall.  He recognized it as Keith and Anna.  They slowly stopped nearby, then dissipating somewhere down the corridor.  Edward turned his head to see who or what had grabbed him, but it was too dark to see.  He flipped on his flashlight and saw the eeriely lit face of Elly behind him.  He pulled her hand off of his mouth.

“You almost gave me a heart attack there.” He muttered as he tried to slow his breathing.

“Well, I didn’t want you blabbing as to where I was.”  Edward raised an eyebrow.

“And why is that, exactly?”

“Because I didn’t want him to find me.”

“Who?  Keith?”  Elly didn’t answer.  “Why are you hiding from him?”

“Several reasons.  I didn’t want him thinking he could bunk here with me, at least.”

“What’s wrong with being in the same room with the guy?”  Elly narrowed her eyes.

“Because I want you to.”  Both sat in silence, trying to contemplate that statement before Elly began to turn red and spun around.  “You’re the center of where the ghosts pop up, after all.”  Edward sighed.

“Is that all?”  Edward walked over to the bed and slumped down on it, sending up a plume of dust into the air.  Elly, however, stood facing away from me.  Just when Edward felt the need to interject, Elly finally spoke up.

“We’ll take shifts.  I’ll take the first one, you sleep.  I’ll wake you in an hour to switch.”

“That’s not a whole lot of beauty sleep for me.”

She snapped back, “Not like a month’s sleep could ever help you in that regard.”

“Fine, whatever.”  He unrolled his sleeping back next to the bed and slid into it.  Elly rolled hers out next to his.  Elly paused as she noticed Edward looking at her.

“What?”

“Nothing.  Night.”  Edward sank down into his sleeping bag and slowly drifted off to sleep.  His sleep was troubled and laborious, as it often was, especially so considering where they were sleeping.  By the time he awoke, he felt so disoriented he wasn’t sure whether he had been asleep only minutes or hours.  He shook his head and pointed his flashlight at his watch and flipped it on.

“3am?”  He scanned the room around him.  “Elly?”  He didn’t get a response.  He looked down at the sleeping bag next to his, but it was empty.  “Elly?” He called out again, this time, louder.  He rubbed his eyes and struggled to his feet.  As he stepped near the door, one foot smushed slightly, as if he had stepped into something powdery.

“The hell?”  He muttered as he turned the flashlight to his foot.  A black soot mark peered out from under his foot.  His flashlight followed a trail of them to the foot of their sleeping bags.

“Oh…shit.”  His right eye suddenly began to pound furiously, as if it was a second heart in his body.  He closed his eye and put his right hand over it.  He felt around for the door handle to the room and slowly slid it open.  As he leaned out into the hall, he could hear a noise.  It started faint at first, but as he turned towards the great room, it slowly became louder.  By the time he reached the end of the hallway, he recognized it as music.  He walked to the railing of the stairs and saw everyone in the group was awake and downstairs talking to each other and dancing.

“The hell guys? It’s three in the morning.”  He slowly walked down the stairs.  He picked Anna and Keith out of the group, and they were in the middle, dancing together.

“What are you two doing?”  But his voice found no response.  He poked Keith, then jabbed him in the side, but Keith acted as if he felt nothing.  As stood there, amongst the strange dancing group, Elly’s words began to click into place.

“The police found them dancing…”

The words echoed in his mind as he slowly pulled his hand away from his right eye, and slowly opened it.  No longer was it a group of teenagers and college students dancing together in a dilapidated room, but a group of affluent adults dancing together in a brightly lit, well-furnished room partying the night away.  His eye now smoothed into a solid throb as he viewed the scene before him.  To any other person, this would disturb them, but to Edward, this was an all too common occurrence when he was dragged on any of Elly’s adventures.

“One oddity attracts another.” He muttered under his breath as he closed his right eye again.  Once again, it became a room of young people dancing in an old room, the floor creakly loudly and shaking as they all moved.  He looked around, and saw everyone was here, save one.

“Elly…”  He thought a moment, and then looked back upstairs.  He knew where she had to be.  He climbed the stairs again, and walked down the hall to the room they had stayed in.  He could see the black prints on the ground, and followed them down the hall.  With each step, the air became hotter, thicker, and harder to breathe.  As he closed towards the end of the coordior, he began to cough, as if something nasty was filling his lungs.  He forced himself onward until he reached the end of the prints, the child’s bedroom.  He reached for the handle, but instantly pulled his hand back.  The handle appeared normal, but even from his fingers getting close, he could feel the red-hot heat radiating from it.  He kicked the door hard, and it flung open.

Elly sat in the room, quietly, with a wooden doll in her hands.  At first, she seemed oblivious to him, but then turned and looked up at him with a blank expression.  Edward, his skin seething, slowly opened his right eye.  The image of a girl sat before him, engulfed in flames, a subtle horror to her expression as she sat clutching a doll in her hands.  He heard no sound, but as her mouth moved, he could barely discern words from her lips.

“Daddy?  Daddy…where…are…you…”

The feeling of heat was so intense that every pore of his skin felt like it had already been set aflame.  Sweat poured off of his body as he fell to one knee before her.

“You’ve been alone a long time, little one.  It’s time your suffering was put to an end.”

“Daddy…”

“Don’t worry.  You’ll see him soon.”  Edward took his right thumb and sliced it against one of his own teeth, causing blood to bead up on the finger.  He traced a symbol in blood on his right hand and began chanting:

That no cry go unheard, no tear fall in vain, I make the vow.  Libera illa animus, Domine, de morte aeterna.  Requiem aeternam. Dona eis, Domine.  Amen.

They were words he knew all too well, words he learned the day his eye changed.  When they were spoken, the heat dissipated and the girl’s clear image came into view.  She smiled at him before fading into a sea of white.  Edward blinked, and found himself back in the old room, with Elly seated before him.  Elly sat half-lucid for a moment, before slumping onto the ground.  Edward picked her up and carried her to the great room.  As he entered, he saw the others unconscious on the ground.  He sighed.

“I’m not going to get one bit of actual sleep tonight, am I?”  He set about carrying Elly and the others back to their sleeping bags…or at least what he hoped was theirs.  By the time he was done, the sun had already crept back up over the horizon.  He was just about to lay back down in his own sleeping bag when Elly bolted upright.

“What? What happened?”

“You…fell asleep, I guess.” He offered.

“Dang it! We probably missed some of the best stuff!”  She put her head in her hands.  “Ugh, I never catch a break.”

“It’s a rough life.”  He snapped sarcastically as he laid down.

“You look terrible.  How much were up last night?”

“Quite a bit.  I seem to have trouble getting sleep inside of a haunted house, unlike some people.”

“Yeah, yeah, rub it in.  Ugh, my head feels like a fishbowl.”  Elly shook her head and staggered to her feet.  She stumbled about for a few steps and then fell over on top of Edward.  Edward grunted out as her weight flopped onto him.  Just then, the door creaked open behind them.

“What…are you two doing?”  Both heads spun around to see Keith looking down at them from the doorway.

“This…isn’t what you think…”  Elly offered.

“Rather intimate for him to be a ‘big brother’, ne?” Anna chimed in as she peered in behind Keith.

“I told you it isn’t anything!  You! Tell them!”  Elly barked as she pointed a finger at Edward.

“Just let me sleep already…”  He muttered, putting a hand over his eyes.

Even through the yelling and conversation around him, his eyelids felt heavy, and slowly drifted off to sleep.  This time, his sleep felt fairly dull, yet relaxing.  He dreamt he was playing with dolls with a small smiling girl.  It was a peaceful, quiet dream, and that is exactly how he liked it.

From the moment he saw the house, he could feel the wrongness about it.  The dark aura that engulfed the place was so strong that even Elly and the others could feel chills run up their spine as they approached.  The others were chatting nervously to each other, both excitement and fear bubbling to surface of each.  Edward filed in behind them, a sigh escaping as they approached the door.  He questioned himself for the 12th time why he was here.  He hated ghost houses, paranormal places, or any spooky spot of the like.  A quiet night, free from that which bumped in the night was perfectly fine with him.  Elly, on the other hand, was obsessed with anything that could give normal people the creeps.  Edward, having been her friend since childhood, always found himself dragged along on such adventures, much to his chagrin.  In school the pair was dubbed the “Eek” twins, both from their names, and for the screams that Elly’s expeditions seemed to elicit.  Edward always though Elly’s creepy hobby would make her ostracized from others her age, but somehow she wound up around a group of boys and girls that loved a good scare as much as she did.

Elly noticed Edward’s deep sigh, and her blond hair whirled as she spun around to face him.

“Don’t start whining now.  You’re the one that said you would come.”

“That’s…” Edward sighed again in resignation.  “Whatever.  Just don’t come crying to me when something scares you half to death in there.”  He could tell Elly was brimming with excitement at his statement, which only deepened his despair.

“Oh, I hope something does! It’ll be so exciting!”  Edward rubbed his fingers against his green and red eye.  His right eye had turned red when he was a child, something none of the doctors in the area could quite explain.  He felt it made him look like a freak.  The thought hadn’t escaped him that perhaps Elly kept him around for that exact purpose.

Elly put her hand on the great iron knob on the front door of the house, and with a loud creak, twisted it and pushed the door open.  The inside was covered with a thick layer of dust that seemed to kick up as they stepped inside.  The worn wooden floors bowed down between each of the floor joists, and creaked loudly with each step on them.  A great, or rather, formerly great staircase rose in the center of the large room up to the second floor.  Rusted iron railing lined the sides of the staircase, and ended in the remains of rusted ornamentation at each end.  The walls appeared to have been painted at one time, though the years had worn what might have been one color into an array of browns and grays.  A large chandelier hung from the center of the room, composed more of cobwebs than metal.  The others stood around coughing in the dust, but Elly stood in the midst of it, excited as a little girl on Christmas.

“Isn’t this fantastic?”

“Yeah, if you like emphysema.”  She shot Edward a fierce glance.

“Enough backtalk.  This place is prime hunting! I’m sure we’ll find that little girl’s ghost here easy.  Just hope I can get her on film…”

“Little girl?”  Rachael, a small, brown-haired girl a few years younger than Elly spoke up with a shaky voice.

“Yes…”  Elly turned and creeped towards her with arms outstretched.  “The story goes that the girl’s father lost everything in the stock market crash of the 30’s.  They say he went crazy after, gathering up a huge party of those who still had money inside the house.  He told them he was paying for everything with, unbeknownst to them, the money he had already lost.  When the party was just getting into swing, he locked the doors and lit the house on fire!  The problem was, that he forgot that his daughter was still asleep upstairs when the inside of the house burned up.  When someone else bought the house and rebuilt it years later, the ghost of the little girl still wandered the halls, searching for her father amidst flames that weren’t there!  They say anyone who touches her…turns to ash!”  With that, Elly grabbed ahold of Rachel’s shoulders, causing her to scream loudly, her voice bouncing around the large empty house.

“Elly, try not to scare the poor girl to death, at least not where I can hear it.” Edward said, exasperated.

“Aww, come on.  That’s all the fun here! Getting scared out of your mind!”  Edward walked to Rachel and put a hand on her head.

“Maybe, but you’re the one doing the scaring here.  I doubt you need to add to the ambience with a creepy place like this.”  Rachael shrank away from Elly and clung to Edward.

“Aren’t you Mr. Popular all of a sudden.” Keith chimed in.  He was red-haired jock on the basketball team at the local college.  Edward had a rather reasonable hunch he tagged along on these ventures simply to get closer to Elly.  He was always accompanied by Anna, or rather, Anastasia as she preferred people to call her.  If there was a stereotype of a ‘popular’ girl, then Anna was it.  Her personal and social appearance was paramount to her.  Voted homecoming queen twice, now the leading lady of a sorority, one couldn’t call her a failure in that regard.  Edward didn’t think she was a bad person, though too self-obsessed for his tastes.  Thus, it perplexed Edward why she would chase Keith if it meant following him into places like the one they were in.  Edward preferred to think of it as love being blind, rather than her simply trying to match herself with someone of equal social status.  Though Keith seemed to not notice, Edward knew her eyes had been burning a hole in the back of Elly’s head all day. As Edward glanced back in the direction of Keith and her, her face immediately shifted into a smile.  The action seemed so rehearsed with her it made Edward inwardly cringe.  Keith was grinning at him too, but in a much more amused fashion.  Edward wasn’t sure whether he it was because he found the situation actually amusing, or if having another woman than Elly beside me met with his approval.

“Damn it’s gonna be a long night.” Edward muttered to himself.

“All right everyone.  Fan out and search the place top to bottom.  If you find anything unusual, report back here at once.  We’ll meet back here otherwise at…11 or so.  Make sure to scope out the room that you want to stay in tonight.”

“Wait.”  Edward held up his hand.  “You’re expecting us to spend the night here?”

“Of course.  You of all people know all the good spook activity happens from midnight to four in the morning.  We’ll have to divide into shifts to see some good stuff!”  Edward immediately slumped over at the thought.  “All right, all of you, split up and start looking!”  The group, except Edward, cheered and some began scurrying down the long passageways of the derelict mansion.  Elly grabbed Edward by the arm and began dragging him upstairs.

“Come on, I bet that kid’s room was upstairs.  I can’t wait!”

“Hey Elly!”  Keith called out, but Elly had already managed to scurry up the steps with Edward in tow.  “Man that girl is quick.”
”Yeah, I bet she’s quick in some other areas too.” Anna muttered.

“Huh? Did you say something Anna?”  Keith said as he turned down to her.

“Nothing, nothing at all.  Come on, let’s go search for…whatever it is we’re supposed to look for.”  She grabbed Keith’s arm and led him down a hallway.  Rachael stood alone in the great room, frantically looking from passageway, not wanting to be left alone, yet too afraid to move.  Eventually she slumped into a dust-covered chair in the corner.

Edward grumbled under his breath as Elly scurried from room to room in the upper floor.

After an hour or two of searching through mostly depilated bedrooms, Elly opened a door at the end of one hall with a shriek.  Edward knew with a normal person, that shriek would be one of terror, but for Elly, it was of excitement.  Elly dashed inside as Edward peered in behind her.  The room was covered in dust and cobwebs, but had obviously been a child’s room.  The remains of children’s toys sat askew on shelves and filling a small box in a corner.  A small bed sat in one corner of the room, the sheets still pulled up on the bed, as if made that morning, though was still covered with dust.

“This is it!  It has to be!”

Edward picked up the remains of what appeared to be a wooden plane on a shelf.

“It isn’t that child’s room.”

“It might be!  You can’t be sure.”

“You said it yourself, right?  The inside of the house was burnt out from the fire.  This stuff would all have to have been put in afterwards, when they rebuilt the place.”

“That’s…well…true, but…” She scratched her head.  “Well, that kid’s ghost could still be taking residence in this room!  It probably attracted her here with all the toys.”  Edward sighed.

“No way, no how.”  It was Elly’s turn to grumble at him.  After some more searching in the room, Elly darted out of the room in search of more prospects.  After walking out of the room, however, Edward felt a sharp chill down his spine.  He turned around, but didn’t see anything in the room.  He cautiously turned back and followed Elly down the hall.

“Hey Elly, what happened to the last owners of the house?  The ones that rebuilt the place.”

“Oh them.”  She said as she darted into another room.  “The story goes that the police arrived to find the husband and wife dancing like madmen in the great room downstairs.  They tried to get them to stop, but were entranced by something, and had to be taken away forcibly and confined to a mental institution.”  Edward’s eyes bolted open.

“And you tell us this now!?”  As his words faded, he heard a soft, almost indiscernable creak of wood behind him.  He whirled about, but saw nothing.  He once again, even more cautiously, turned back.  Elly went on, searching more rooms, but as she continued, Edward’s right eye began to throb.  It was soft at first, but began pulsating harshly as they continued.

“Damn it, not again…”  Edward muttered.

“Huh? Did you say something?”  Elly peeked up at him.

“Nothing.  Just a headache.”

“Oh.”  She turned back.  As she did, Edward heard it again, the creak of wood behind him, louder this time.  His eye was pounding furiously in his head.

“Damn it…”  He muttered as he covered his right eye with his hand.  He slowly turned around, and didn’t see anything at first, but as he looked down the hall, he saw black smudge on the ground he hadn’t noticed before.  As he watched, the black smudged widened and darkened into an elliptical shape.  Then, another smudge appeared, this time diagonally to the first one, and in front of it.  Then another appeared, this time in line with the first one.

“E-elly.” Edward tried to keep his voice calm.

“Yeah?”

“I think it’s time to meet back with the others.”

“Is it?  Come on, we have to have more time.”  The smudges began to grow closer to Edward, as the air around him felt like it was getting warmer with each closing step.

“We need to go Elly.  Now.”

“All right, all right.  No need to get pushy.”  Edward’s hand slipped slightly from his right eye, enough to see bright orange light…and a face.  He reached into the room, grabbed Elly by the hand, and dragged her into the hall and to the stairs.

“Sheesh, do you have to be so pushy about it?”  Edward pulled her close and looked down the hall.

“Hey, what are you-”

“Shh.” He stared down the hall, finally this time with his right eye open.  The smudges were still on the ground, but whatever was there before had gone.  Her face forcibly buried in his chest, Elly pushed herself off slightly and looked up at him.

“You saw something?”

“Not sure.”

“My, isn’t this a cozy scene.”  They looked over the railing to see Anna and Keith staring up at the pair.  Keith seems unhappy, while Anna seemed oddly pleased.

“Why exactly are you two hanging over each other like that?”  Keith asked.

“No reason in particular.” Elly spoke up as she took a step away from Edward.  “Not like I particularly need one.  Ed’s like a big brother to me anyways.”

“Is that so.” Keith’s words floated in the air as everyone exchanged glances.  Edward broke the awkward silence.

“Anyway, it’s about time to meet up.  Gather everyone else here.”  As everyone gathered, they all talked about the spooky things that a few of them had heard.  Edward didn’t dare speak of what happened upstairs.  He didn’t want to encourage anyone to investigate it, especially Elly.

After sharing some snacks they carried in, the group began to shift off to pick out rooms to spend the night in.  Edward could see Keith scanning the group of faces, most likely for Elly.

“Does he really think he’ll be able to bunk up with Elly?”  Anna’s annoyed voice murmured behind him.

“Well, you have to give him points for persistence, at least.”  Ed looked over his shoulder at her when he spoke.  Anna’s expression rapidly changed to the eerie smile she always seemed to flip to.  “Though I’d have to give you points for that as well.”  Anna’s expression slackened at Edward seeing through her façade.

“Please don’t lump me in the same group with him.”

“But that’s exactly what you want to be, right?”  She looked from him to Keith before sighing slightly.  “Then you might as well follow him.  If you can keep him from Elly, maybe you’ll end up bunking with him instead.”  He turned and began to walk away when Anna’s voice stopped him.

“So what is the deal between Anna and you?”  Ed half-smirked as he turned to her.

“She probably thinks when I’m around, the spooks are more likely to show up.”  Anna raised an eyebrow.

“Why would she think that?”

“Because one oddity tends to attract others.”  Edward waved and started up the stairs.

Edward tucked his sleeping bag under his arm as he walked from room to room.  As he approached the child’s room again, he saw familiar smudges on the ground making prints leading out of the room.  By the size, they appeared to be similar to the shoes of a child.

“Ah, hell.”  Edward said as he rubbed his face.  Inwardly, he had hoped what he had seen earlier was just a hallucination.  “At least if I was crazy, I could write the whole thing off…”  He leaned down and rubbed a finger across one smudge and rubbed it between his fingers.  “Soot.”  He sighed.  “Damn it Elly, you sure know how to pick them…”  Hoping to avoid the hallway where the shoeprints led, he turned around and began walking down the hall.  He heard voices coming from the end of the hall.  He strained his ears to listen when suddenly something caught hold of his arm and yanked him into a room.  The door slid closed behind him as something come over his mouth.  He struggled against the unseen force as a voice came to his ear.

“Shh.”  He did so, and heard voices walking down the hall.  He recognized it as Keith and Anna.  They slowly stopped nearby, then dissipating somewhere down the corridor.  Edward turned his head to see who or what had grabbed him, but it was too dark to see.  He flipped on his flashlight and saw the eeriely lit face of Elly behind him.  He pulled her hand off of his mouth.

“You almost gave me a heart attack there.” He muttered as he tried to slow his breathing.

“Well, I didn’t want you blabbing as to where I was.”  Edward raised an eyebrow.

“And why is that, exactly?”

“Because I didn’t want him to find me.”

“Who?  Keith?”  Elly didn’t answer.  “Why are you hiding from him?”

“Several reasons.  I didn’t want him thinking he could bunk here with me, at least.”

“What’s wrong with being in the same room with the guy?”  Elly narrowed her eyes.

“Because I want you to.”  Both sat in silence, trying to contemplate that statement before Elly began to turn red and spun around.  “You’re the center of where the ghosts pop up, after all.”  Edward sighed.

“Is that all?”  Edward walked over to the bed and slumped down on it, sending up a plume of dust into the air.  Elly, however, stood facing away from me.  Just when Edward felt the need to interject, Elly finally spoke up.

“We’ll take shifts.  I’ll take the first one, you sleep.  I’ll wake you in an hour to switch.”

“That’s not a whole lot of beauty sleep for me.”

She snapped back, “Not like a month’s sleep could ever help you in that regard.”

“Fine, whatever.”  He unrolled his sleeping back next to the bed and slid into it.  Elly rolled hers out next to his.  Elly paused as she noticed Edward looking at her.

“What?”

“Nothing.  Night.”  Edward sank down into his sleeping bag and slowly drifted off to sleep.  His sleep was troubled and laborious, as it often was, especially so considering where they were sleeping.  By the time he awoke, he felt so disoriented he wasn’t sure whether he had been asleep only minutes or hours.  He shook his head and pointed his flashlight at his watch and flipped it on.

“3am?”  He scanned the room around him.  “Elly?”  He didn’t get a response.  He looked down at the sleeping bag next to his, but it was empty.  “Elly?” He called out again, this time, louder.  He rubbed his eyes and struggled to his feet.  As he stepped near the door, one foot smushed slightly, as if he had stepped into something powdery.

“The hell?”  He muttered as he turned the flashlight to his foot.  A black soot mark peered out from under his foot.  His flashlight followed a trail of them to the foot of their sleeping bags.

“Oh…shit.”  His right eye suddenly began to pound furiously, as if it was a second heart in his body.  He closed his eye and put his right hand over it.  He felt around for the door handle to the room and slowly slid it open.  As he leaned out into the hall, he could hear a noise.  It started faint at first, but as he turned towards the great room, it slowly became louder.  By the time he reached the end of the hallway, he recognized it as music.  He walked to the railing of the stairs and saw everyone in the group was awake and downstairs talking to each other and dancing.

“The hell guys? It’s three in the morning.”  He slowly walked down the stairs.  He picked Anna and Keith out of the group, and they were in the middle, dancing together.

“What are you two doing?”  But his voice found no response.  He poked Keith, then jabbed him in the side, but Keith acted as if he felt nothing.  As stood there, amongst the strange dancing group, Elly’s words began to click into place.

“The police found them dancing…”

The words echoed in his mind as he slowly pulled his hand away from his right eye, and slowly opened it.  No longer was it a group of teenagers and college students dancing together in a dilapidated room, but a group of affluent adults dancing together in a brightly lit, well-furnished room partying the night away.  His eye now smoothed into a solid throb as he viewed the scene before him.  To any other person, this would disturb them, but to Edward, this was an all too common occurrence when he was dragged on any of Elly’s adventures.

“One oddity attracts another.” He muttered under his breath as he closed his right eye again.  Once again, it became a room of young people dancing in an old room, the floor creakly loudly and shaking as they all moved.  He looked around, and saw everyone was here, save one.

“Elly…”  He thought a moment, and then looked back upstairs.  He knew where she had to be.  He climbed the stairs again, and walked down the hall to the room they had stayed in.  He could see the black prints on the ground, and followed them down the hall.  With each step, the air became hotter, thicker, and harder to breathe.  As he closed towards the end of the coordior, he began to cough, as if something nasty was filling his lungs.  He forced himself onward until he reached the end of the prints, the child’s bedroom.  He reached for the handle, but instantly pulled his hand back.  The handle appeared normal, but even from his fingers getting close, he could feel the red-hot heat radiating from it.  He kicked the door hard, and it flung open.

Elly sat in the room, quietly, with a wooden doll in her hands.  At first, she seemed oblivious to him, but then turned and looked up at him with a blank expression.  Edward, his skin seething, slowly opened his right eye.  The image of a girl sat before him, engulfed in flames, a subtle horror to her expression as she sat clutching a doll in her hands.  He heard no sound, but as her mouth moved, he could barely discern words from her lips.

“Daddy?  Daddy…where…are…you…”

The feeling of heat was so intense that every pore of his skin felt like it had already been set aflame.  Sweat poured off of his body as he fell to one knee before her.

“You’ve been alone a long time, little one.  It’s time your suffering was put to an end.”

“Daddy…”

“Don’t worry.  You’ll see him soon.”  Edward took his right thumb and sliced it against one of his own teeth, causing blood to bead up on the finger.  He traced a symbol in blood on his right hand and began chanting:

That no cry go unheard, no tear fall in vain, I make the vow.  Libera illa animus, Domine, de morte aeterna.  Requiem aeternam. Dona eis, Domine.  Amen.

They were words he knew all too well, words he learned the day his eye changed.  When they were spoken, the heat dissipated and the girl’s clear image came into view.  She smiled at him before fading into a sea of white.  Edward blinked, and found himself back in the old room, with Elly seated before him.  Elly sat half-lucid for a moment, before slumping onto the ground.  Edward picked her up and carried her to the great room.  As he entered, he saw the others unconscious on the ground.  He sighed.

“I’m not going to get one bit of actual sleep tonight, am I?”  He set about carrying Elly and the others back to their sleeping bags…or at least what he hoped was theirs.  By the time he was done, the sun had already crept back up over the horizon.  He was just about to lay back down in his own sleeping bag when Elly bolted upright.

“What? What happened?”

“You…fell asleep, I guess.” He offered.

“Dang it! We probably missed some of the best stuff!”  She put her head in her hands.  “Ugh, I never catch a break.”

“It’s a rough life.”  He snapped sarcastically as he laid down.

“You look terrible.  How much were up last night?”

“Quite a bit.  I seem to have trouble getting sleep inside of a haunted house, unlike some people.”

“Yeah, yeah, rub it in.  Ugh, my head feels like a fishbowl.”  Elly shook her head and staggered to her feet.  She stumbled about for a few steps and then fell over on top of Edward.  Edward grunted out as her weight flopped onto him.  Just then, the door creaked open behind them.

“What…are you two doing?”  Both heads spun around to see Keith looking down at them from the doorway.

“This…isn’t what you think…”  Elly offered.

“Rather intimate for him to be a ‘big brother’, ne?” Anna chimed in as she peered in behind Keith.

“I told you it isn’t anything!  You! Tell them!”  Elly barked as she pointed a finger at Edward.

“Just let me sleep already…”  He muttered, putting a hand over his eyes.

Even through the yelling and conversation around him, his eyelids felt heavy, and slowly drifted off to sleep.  This time, his sleep felt fairly dull, yet relaxing.  He dreamt he was playing with dolls with a small smiling girl.  It was a peaceful, quiet dream, and that is exactly how he liked it.

Frozen Heart: Chapter 1

Frozen Heart:  “Return to the Town of my Memories”

By: Koyoto D. Shadow

Chapter 1 – A Reluctant Return

A young man sat upon the seat of a train, silent, caught deep within the thoughts that had plagued him since had left college days prior. “I’m really returning there. I must really be out of my mind.” He shook his head in disgust at himself. He thought back to the last words he had heard from his professor upon leaving from graduation, “So, Luther, what are you going to do with your life?” He rubbed his face with his left hand as he heard his reply echo in his mind, “Nothing. Just as I was, just as I always will be.” Luther leaned back in his seat and stared at the blank metallic gray ceiling of the train. “Nothing, eh?” He heard himself say aloud. “It’s what I deserve,” he thought to himself, “but still I shouldn’t have told her that.” Luther knew what kind of woman his professor was, and that hearing that from her ‘most promising student’ would definitely have bothered her. “I’m just not any good with teachers.” He heard himself say aloud. Trying to keep himself from sinking back into his own mind, he looked around the stark train car. Metal seats lined the walls, covered in the thin cushions that all the trains of its type bore, with a gray metal ceiling, walls, floor, and doors. The bare metal openness of it, combined with the lack of anyone else riding a train at this time of day made it feel like his own thoughts echoed in the harsh, cold space, and bounce back into his brain, twice as loud as before. Luther bundled his jacket up to himself. The time he had spent in thought made him momentarily forget how cold it was. Even the walls of the train seemed to do little to slow the creeping advance of the frozen landscape that extended just beyond the windows of the train. Luther looked outside at the wide snow-covered landscape. Everything was pure white, as far as he could see. Cliffs, trees, grass, all scrubbed of their color, becoming one seamless sheet of the purest white, reaching out to him, as if his own existence would vanish as well, like a blotch of white paint wiping over him, erasing his presence or any memory of him in this world. In his heart, he wished that could be so, but reality kept drawing his mind back from that train of thought. Then, when he just thought he might win over reality, reality played its trump card. Before him stretched a gigantic maple tree, stripped of his leaves, its long, finger-like appendages swaying only slightly in the winter breeze. Luther bit his lip as he saw it. “Why,” he asked himself, “why did I have to be so stupid as to come back here?” A drop of blood dripped from his lip, landing on the windowsill of the train, the one mark of color in the barren landscape. He fumbled around in his pockets and felt a small, flat, rectangular object. The object jarred himself out of his self-loathing, but only for a moment. “Yeah, it has to be done. After that, I’m free to leave his place forever, and never return.” Luther knew from seeing that tree that his destination was not far off. The tree stood in the midst of a large park that loomed on a cliff above the city that he was traveling to. It was a popular spot for picnics in the springs, and parties in the summer. But here in the depths of winter, it was solemn and quiet. Luther half-smirked as he looked back at the tree, “Don’t worry, soon spring will be here and you’ll be surrounded by happy people again.” The tree slipped out of view as the train descended slowly, down, down to the station at the end of town. “…As for me, my spring will never come.” The light in the train suddenly disappeared as it entered the station.

Luther picked up his bag from the overhead carry above him, and stood at the door, waiting for the loud hiss as the train doors opened. As Luther stepped out, he found his surroundings even colder than before. Luther had hated the cold of the train, but this new wave of chill made Luther shiver involuntarily. Luther thought for a moment to return the somewhat warmer condition of the train, but as he turned around, he saw the train doors were already closed, and the train was moving away from the track, slowing gliding away from the station. Luther half-smirked again, “Just as well,” he thought to himself, “if I got back on, I wouldn’t be coming back here again.” Luther stepped out from the station onto the sidewalk that lay before him. He could see the sun was just beginning to set in the west, casting a last long ray of orange sunlight over the town before it would soon flicker out entirely. The streets were silent as the train was, which Luther found odd, even for the hour that he was about. He didn’t mind, however, the quiet left him time to think, and confronting someone who recognized him was something that he didn’t want to put up with at the moment. A sudden scream of “Look out!” and the screeching of a tire woke Luther from his daze as he saw a girl careening towards him on a bike carrying a load of bags in the front basket. Luther barely managed to lurch out of the way before the girl and bike flew past him and into the side of a building. Luther picked himself up off the street, rubbed his head where he had hit the ground, and looked back to where the girl had gone. He saw the girl lying in the twisted remains of the bike, trying to regain her senses. The girl was younger than him, by several years at least, Luther guessed late high school age. Her thick white parka had smudges on it from her crash landing, and her left white glove was ripped from where she fell, specks of red blood seeped from a bruise on her hand. Her blue pants were torn around her left ankle and her ankle was badly bruised from the fall. Luther guessed her leg became trapped under the bike when it fell, and dragged her along a ways before smashing into the wall. The girl’s flaxen hair was bobbed at her chin, and was tossed about by the crash, and it looked like she took a blow to the head as well. Luther. by impulse. wanted to scream at the girl for almost running him over, but at seeing her injured he fought back the impulse and managed to squeeze out, “You alright?”

The girl rubbed her head with her left hand, only to cringe and she applied pressure to the injured hand. The girl looked down at her left leg, still caught up in the tangled remains of the bike, and tried to wiggle it free, with little success. Luther felt somewhat annoyed at being ignored, but set down his bag and walked over to the girl and eased her leg out from the bike. At suddenly being touched, the girl acted like she just realized that there was someone else there, and jumped back a half step. Then, with a sudden realization, she looked at Luther with her mouth agape and said, “You’re that guy I just about ran over!”

Luther raised an eyebrow, “…You hit your head pretty hard there, ne?”

The girl rubbed her head with her uninjured hand. “Well…yeah.” The obviousness of her statement struck down Luther’s urge to chide her further. Luther reached his hand down to her. “Well, come on, back on your feet.” The girl reached for his hand and then looked up at him. Her emerald green eyes gazed softly into his own. Luther averted his eyes from her, but kept his hand outstretched. The girl thought he might be shy, but Luther knew this was not the case: Luther greatly disliked the color green, for reasons he kept deep within himself. She grasped ahold of his hand, and Luther pulled her to her feet. She wobbled a moment, and then managed to stand on her own. Luther turned back to look at the girl, and in the fading sunlight, he saw something; something familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. He knew he had never met this girl before, but something about her seemed to be striking a chord with a memory he couldn’t quite place. “Um…well, thanks for helping me.” The girl managed to say. “I lost control on a patch of ice on the hill, and went sailing down here…” A thought suddenly occurred to the girl, who quickly became flustered, “Oh, I didn’t hurt you did I?! Are you alright?” Luther found it extremely odd for this girl, injured as she was, to be worrying about his safety. Luther felt in the same situation, that the other person would be the least of his concerns. The girl looked Luther over, searching for injuries. Luther was slender, 6’ tall, far taller than her, and his brown hair, while short in the back, was becoming long in the front, and hung down over his silver-rimmed glasses. The girl stared through him at his ice-blue eyes for a long moment before Luther managed to respond, “…I’m alright.”

The girl tilted her head to the side slightly as she spoke, “You sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I’m fine.”

The girl sighed, “That’s a relief at least. I don’t know what I’d do if I had actually hurt someone with that little stunt.”

Luther blinked, “Shouldn’t you bit a bit worried about your bike?” He pointed downward.

“EH!?” The girl almost jumped as she realized what she had forgotten, and turned down at the tangled mass of metal that lay next to her. “Oh man, mom is gonna kill me!” She tried to take a step towards the bike, but as she pressed weight on her left ankle, she winced in pain and fell over. Luther dropped his bag and managed to catch her just before she hit the ground.

“More than worrying about your stupid bike, why not pay some mind to yourself, you idiotic girl!” Luther felt it slip out as he clamped his mouth shut.

“Ehehe…sorry. Kinda got lost in the moment there I guess.” She turned her head to look at her mangled bike. “She really is gonna kill me over this.” She slumped over in Luther’s arms. “Why were you riding a bike on icy streets anyway?” Luther asked incredulously. The girl paused a moment before answering.

“Well, mom needed some ingredients for dinner, and I said I’d go get them, but she needed them quickly, and the store’s a good ways away from the house, so…” Luther filled in the blanks. “Fine, fine. I get it. But now you can’t even walk back home in your condition.”

The girl slapped her right hand to her head. “Ah man, now what am I gonna do? No one else is in the house right now to even help me here.”

Luther, unable to think of anything else, sighed. “Fine, I’m carrying you then.” The girl only managed to say “Eh!?” as she was hoisted up onto Luther’s back. Luther walked over, grabbing the bags of groceries, sliding them on one shoulder, and then walking to his bag and sliding it over the other.

“But I can’t ask you to carry me all the way back to my house! I can manage on my own, it’s alright!” Luther grit his teeth together under the weight. He wasn’t in the mood to have a lengthy conversation under the burden he was carrying.

“First off, you didn’t ask me, I’m doing this of my own will, and secondly, bull. You’d just be hobbling along for hours until you froze out here. I may be apathetic, but not so much I can leave an injured girl to freeze to death.” The girl was surprised, and her cheeks turned a shade of red, despite the cold that swirled about her. She only managed to mumble “Thanks” as he began to walk down the street.

“So, where is this house of yours?” Luther asked. She explained the directions to him, and Luther grunted an acknowledgement. The girl laid her head on Luther’s back as she asked, “So…um…what’s your name?”

Luther raised his head slightly, realizing he hadn’t even introduced himself, though not truly wanting to. “…Luther. Luther Mathias. And you are?” Luther asked, only half-caring.

“Oh? Sorry, I’m Julia Hayes.” There was a long silence. “So, Mr. Luther.”

“Just Luther.” Luther responded quickly.

“Eh, Luther. What brings you out here? I mean, to a town this far out? You looked like you came out of the train station, and you have this bag with you, so…” Luther had been expecting this question. He had thought up all kinds of excuses that he could have said, even aliases he could have used, but he knew the people in town would eventually learn had come back, even for the short time he planned to spend there.

“I came…to see someone.” The girl looked down at him.

“Who?” Luther mashed his chapped lips together in an awkward expression.

“Someone I knew, back when I lived here before.” The girl looked surprised.

“You used to live here?” Luther nodded.

“Yeah, years back.”

Julia thought for a moment, before asking, “So, why did you leave?” The question caused Luther to stop short. Julia became flustered. “Eh…sorry, I guess I asked something I shouldn’t have. Sorry.” Luther thought a long moment before he responded.

“Various reasons. Went to college, for one.”

“Well, there’s a small college here in town, right? Why didn’t you-”

“Various reasons.” Luther reiterated. Julia dropped the subject.

“So…I’m not too heavy, am I?” Julia asked, trying to change the mood.

“Well, kinda. You could stand to lose a few.” Luther felt a fist hit him hard in the back of the head. “Ow! What was that for?”

“For calling me fat, that’s why!”

“You asked me if you were heavy!” Luther said, his head throbbing.

“And you gave the wrong answer!” She tightened her grip around her neck. “I didn’t know it was some kind of damn test!” Luther gasped her air against her grip. “A guy your age should know how to properly respond to a lady! You aren’t some high school brat like I’m around all day!” Luther almost laughed at the comment. It felt to him like time had frozen since that time in high school. To hear someone tell him that he was more mature than a high schooler due to his physical age was hilarious to him. Julia’s ever tightening grip dragged him back to reality. “Well, who’s the one that’s taking time out of his own day to carry you and your stuff back to your house for you in the freezing cold snow?” Julia suddenly released her grip on his neck. “Sorry.” She muttered under her breath.

“Sheesh, kids today.” Julia grit her teeth together at the statement, wanting to protest being called a kid, but held herself back.

“He may be nice in some ways, but he’s downright atrocious in others.” She thought to herself. Luther stopped and turned his head back to her. “Is this the place?” His words snapped her out of her funk as she too looked up, and then nodded. A rectangular, two-story house stood before them behind a four-foot tall gray concrete wall that acted as a fence. The same wall extended on both sides of the street, encapsulating each house in its own concrete cocoon, each one layered with a thick coating of snow. As they reached the fence, Julia suddenly remembered her bike. “Oh man, we left it back there at the station!” Luther looked up at her.

“Like we had any way to bring it back with us? Besides, I doubt it’s going anywhere tonight. Just go pick it up tomorrow.”

“…You’ve got a point.” She responded with reluctance.

“Come on, my arms are going numb here.” Luther struggled, but managed to push open the gate, and walk up to the front door, and set Julia back on her feet. Julia reached in her bag and pulled out a key to unlock the door. “Well, I think you can manage from here, I’ll be going.” “Wait!” Julia grabbed his arm. She averted her gaze from him for a moment, and then looked back at him. “Why don’t you come inside and warm up before you go out again? I’m sure you’re freezing. I can make some cocoa.” Luther sighed and looked at her with a half-lidded stare.

“Or you just want me to put your groceries away for you.” Julia became flustered.

“I do not! I was trying to be nice since you helped me get up here!” Luther fought back his sarcastic nature.

“Yes, yes. I’m sorry, I’d be happy to accept.” He said with a slight bow. Julia sighed and hobbled inside the house, Luther following behind with his and her bags in tow.

Compared to the stark barren white outside, the inside of the house was a variety of warm color. The floors were oak, stained dark brown, and the walls were the color of peaches. “Come on in.” Julia hobbled to what Luther thought must be the kitchen, and he followed, and found his guess was accurate. The kitchen itself was fairly large. A wooden table, the same color as the floor, which could seat six stood before him, with four wooden chairs. The kitchen was hidden behind a half-wall that held numerous appliances and a stretch of workspace. Julia was at the refrigerator, so Luther passed the bags of groceries to her, which she places within its cold depths. “That’s odd,” she said as she turned around with a carton of milk in one hand and a can of cocoa in the other. “Mom should have been here. I wonder if something came up.” Luther leaned with back against the half-wall, rubbing his numb arms. Julia noticed.

“Well, hopefully she won’t have to stay out in this cold.” Luther responded.

“Yeah.” Julia said, somewhat solemnly as she spooned cocoa into two mugs. A splotch of pink caught Julia’s eye on the countertop, and she leaned over to see a note that was left. “Gone to check on Tony’s mother, Tony says she’s really sick. Be back in a few, love Mom.” The name caught Luther off guard.

“Tony, huh?” Julia nodded.

“Yeah, Tony’s a guy about your age that lives a few blocks down from here.” She looked up and saw he had an awkward expression on his face. “…You know him?” She asked.

Luther paused a moment before responding, “…We’ve met.”

“I see.” Julia stirred both mugs, and handed one to Luther.

“Thank you.” He responded, but Julia felt his mind was elsewhere.

“So…what now?” She asked him. Luther looked up from taking a long gulp of the hot liquid to look back at her.

“Hmm? Oh, my uncle lives here in town. I was planning on staying with him for the short while I plan on being in town.” She thought a moment.

“What’s his name?”

“Hmm? Halbert. Most people just call him Hal.” It clicked in her mind after a short moment. “Uncle Halbo! I know him! He lives a mile or so from here.” Luther raised an eyebrow. “Uncle Halbo?” Julia looked somewhat embarrassed.

“Well, that’s what we call him.” Luther had trouble imagining his uncle as the ideal role model for young impressionable minds, especially one like Julia. Luther knew Halbert was a good man, and kind to all those around him, but he did get into his share of mischief, and seemed to be with a new woman every week when Luther was younger. Having grown up with him, Luther had gotten used to his eccentricities, but couldn’t imagine other people doing so. Luther and Julia heard fumbling at the front door. Julia put her hands together in front of her as she asked, “Could you go check on that for me? It’d be kind of hard for me to hobble over there.” Luther raised an eyebrow.

“Having your guest answer the door for you?” Julia frowned as Luther set his mug down, got up and went for the front door. The door opened before he could reach it, and an older woman in her thirties walked in. “Julia how many times have I told you to lock the door when you come in at this hour? Sheesh, anyone could just waltz in-” She stopped short as she saw Luther standing in front of her.

“Hello Parisa.” Luther managed to say. She looked as if she had just seen a ghost materialize before her.

“Hello yourself.” Julia hobbled up from behind Luther.

“Hi mom, this is-” She saw the two staring blankly at each other. “Have you two…met?” Julia’s mother, Parisa searched for words.

“Something…like that. Julia could you-” Parisa managed to tear her eyes away from Luther and looked at Julia and saw her injuries. “Julia! What happened to you!?” Parisa rushed over to her. “Ehehe…I kinda…wrecked my bike down at the station?” Julia rubbed her head absently as she spoke.

“You what!?” Julia cringed, expecting a verbal beating, but instead got “Come on, quickly, we need to get you patched up. I can’t believe you even got back here in that condition. Honestly, you don’t even give one thought to what you’re doing, do you?” Parisa voice was more filled with concern rather than anger.

“It’s alright Mom, Luther here carried me the whole way on his back.” Parisa stopped in place for a moment, and turned to Luther. “You carried her all the way back here?” She asked, seemingly somewhat surprised.

“Well…yeah.” Luther responded, slowly.

“I see.” Julia could feel the tension in the air as she looked from her mother to Luther and back. “Well, I’ll leave you to take care of her. I think I’ve overstayed my welcome as is. Good night.” Luther turned toward the door as Parisa stopped him. “Where do you think you’re going?” Luther stopped short. Luther too, was expecting harsh words to begin flowing, but he too was surprised when she continued. “Where are you staying tonight?”

Luther was caught off-guard, but responded, “Hal’s place, of course.”

“Hal is out of town, will be for the rest of the week.” Luther slumped over. He cursed himself for not thinking even this whimsical trip back through, at least to that degree.

“Well, I’ll just stay in a hotel then. I’m sure there’s-” “There’s not.” Parisa responded. “There’s a big business retreat going on in town this week. I should know, I got dragged into it for most of the day.” Parisa sighed with exhaustion at the thought of it. “All the hotels are booked up with it.” Luther sighed as well, not with exhaustion, but exasperation. He hadn’t thought this through, and now we he was stuck without lodging in the middle of winter in a snow-covered town. “You’re staying here.” Luther back bolted up.

“Eh?”

“I said you’re staying here. You didn’t leave my Julia down at the station, and I’m not gonna boot you out into the cold now.” Parisa seemed to be biting something back as she spoke, but Julia couldn’t tell what it was.

“You sure you want-” Parisa cut him off.

“That’s how it is. You can have the room on the second floor on the right. It’s not being used by anyone now. Now go unpack your things.” Luther couldn’t find a reason to refuse.

“Yes ma’am.” After Parisa looked at him a long moment, she led Julia back to the bathroom to treat her. Luther sighed. “Of all the places to end up, it had to be here. Just my luck.” As the night closed in about the house, Luther slowly made his way to the second floor and opened the door to the vacant room. The room was the same colors as the rest of the house, but barren, save for the wooden bed that was pushed up against the right wall. It had green sheets and a thick green blanket over it, though Luther couldn’t tell if they had been changed any time recently. Luther set his bag down at his feet and sat upon the bed. The warm softness was something he had not been expecting. As he lay back against the wall, he found himself more tired than he really thought he was. As he slumped over onto the bed, the last thought that went through his mind was that of Parisa, who looked so much like her sister…