TALE 4

THE CAVE OF BLUE LIGHT

(8 / 8 Completed)

1
(10/15/12)

            Ethan spent most of his meals away from his family cooking in the personal kitchen upstairs and dining at the small lonely table in the adjacent room except on a few occasions such as that of one morning in early October.
            “I want you to start eating your meals with the family,” said Margaret.
            Ethan paused his game of Fallout: New Vegas on his Xbox 360 and looked over at her from his dark blue sofa chair. “Whyyyyy?” he asked.
            “Because you’re family,” she said simply, her face like stone.
            “Oh am I,” Ethan replied. He saved his game, stood up and turned to her. “Since when exactly?”
            Margaret’s personality had slowly started to seem less confident following the day she told him he was fired. Ethan didn’t know why and since he made it his business to avoid her at all costs he doubted he would learn the reason any time soon. “I think it’s time we started acting like a family,” she told him with that cold look oddly tinged with worry.
            Ethan laughed for a moment before stopping abruptly. “Oh you’re serious.” Margaret frowned at him and that made him laugh again even harder.
            “Is this is a joke to you, Ethan?”
            “I’m a joke according to you,” he replied. “I’ve seen how you treat your children and your grandchildren and, shockingly, it’s just a little nicer than how you treat me. Even if that wasn’t the case it still seems a bit ludicrous to pretend we’re ‘family’ after you had me fired for no reason without pay and then halted my ability to get another job.” Her mask slipped just enough to let him know he was right. “I knew it.”
            “It’s for your own good, Ethan,” she told him. “We don’t need the last male Bartlett embarrassing us with a job at Taco Bell.”
            “So it’s somehow better to be an unemployed loser?” Margaret took a deep breath and reached over as if to comfort him but he stepped away. “Don’t touch me, Margaret.”
            “We need to start being a family,” she told him with a tight, controlled expression. “Perhaps we can even expect you back at the office soon.”
            “Sure!” he replied in a mockingly cheerful voice. “I’ll just tell everyone I was taking a nice, long vacation. When I think about it, Margaret, Taco Bell was embarrassing but luckily I’ve got the alternative and respectable reputation of being your tool. After all, everyone knows Peter Bartlett did whatever his mommy told him and I’m certain that never embarrassed him.”
            One day at Bartlett and Bartlett was enough to show Ethan nobody told Peter what to do: nobody. The man lived like a king in that place and so did Ethan for the two whole weeks it lasted.
            Margaret’s eyes were almost amused but then they never quite were. Ethan had not once seen her smile or really anything emotional beyond being cold. “Do you really believe they ever thought you were there because of your ‘qualifications?’ ” She sighed and looked extremely tired. “You are a Bartlett and everyone knows a Bartlett will eventually run Bartlett and Bartlett and long before you ever arrived, maybe even before you were born, they already had decided their opinion of you.”
            “Kind of like you,” he replied.
            “Ethan,” said Margaret softly, “You will learn to accept us as we are. You cannot change us.”
            “That’s more your problem than mine,” he replied.
            She suddenly looked bored of the entire conversation. “Just come downstairs,” she told him and left without another word. Since Ethan knew if he didn’t they would end up bothering him all day long he sighed and followed after.
            Margaret had asked him to dine with the family a few times before and each time it was clear nobody wanted him there and thought his inclusion offensive in some way. Even Margaret didn’t seem to enjoy his presence which made her asking him seem rather foolish.
            That particular occasion was no exception. The breakfast meal was French toast, bacon, cooked sliced ham and fried eggs with various fruits spread out on bowls. All the females around him except Agnes and Margaret looked over their plates and gave him dark looks.
            “So,” said Ethan cheerfully, “Lovely day, isn’t it?”
            “It’s raining, you moron,” said Anne who then took a heavy drink of her red wine.
            “Is it really?” Ethan looked out of the large window at the shower-like downpour coming down. “Well,” he said. “I’ll take your word for it, Anne. After all, you know best on how to stay dry.”
            Jane started laughing and Anne gave Ethan a look filled with true and deep loathing.
            “And it wasn’t even a good joke,” he said with a smile.
            “Don’t you have somewhere to be?” asked Anne with a sneer.
            “No I don’t,” he said with a sigh. Margaret wasn’t the only person causing him trouble in the job market. His best opportunity after Bartlett and Bartlett was a job at the Bay City Bank where the pay was better than anything he ever had in California. His resume was good, his interview near perfection and he and the manager were getting along beautifully when Robert Le Sueur suddenly walked into the interview as if he owned the place. Maybe he did. It sure seemed like it.
            He simply pulled the manager into to a corner of the room where Ethan could not hear and the two of them had a quick, private conversation. The manager’s lips tightened uncomfortably and he nodded a few times before Le Sueur left giving Ethan a dark look that barely held back his smug smile.
            The manager came back looking unhappy and told Ethan he would “let him know” and Ethan never heard from him again. A fifteen dollar an hour job complete with benefits, weekends off and vacation pay gone in a single instant.
            It seemed Le Sueur and Margaret must have spread the word because any interview Ethan had after that felt unnecessary, the ending already pre-determined against him and three months later he still didn’t have a job.
            “You’re a loser,” said Anne.
            “Do you even know what day it is?”
            “Just go!” she hissed. “Nobody wants you here, not now and not ever, so why don’t you just fuck off back to California and never return!”
            “Anne—” her eyes jerked coldly toward her mother “—we’re family now. Treat him with respect.”
            “Oh like you do?” Ethan replied and Margaret looked over at him like he had just said the most offensive thing in the world. “Oh why the hell do I even bother?” He sighed and stood up. “I appreciate your honesty, Anne and I shall now promptly leave your presence lest I the slow the act of getting hammered before noon.” He left without another word.
            He found himself once again overwhelmed with the feeling that it was all just an incredible waste of time. He was certain he would just end up back in California right back to where he started and the others clearly thought so as well as well. Margaret had some plan for him but either she didn’t share it with the others or they just simply didn’t care.
            Ethan locked his bedroom door behind him but it was a useless gesture since every single member of the family had a skeleton key and the willingness to use it without so much as a courteously knock. They would even mess with his computer and sometimes delete things so he ended up password locking it.
            That was all that was happening in his life as everything had become quite boring since he rescued Jessica Downs. He had scanned newspaper articles printed in the Bay City Gazette about him into his computer: a picture of him with Tori Randal smiling brightly with her family and another with Jane and Jessica Downs who looked in agony because her mother had put her in an adorable little pink girl’s dress for the photo.
            Like most of his days in Connecticut he had no idea what to do. He sometimes explored the city, on foot or by car or attempted to do enchantments but those turned out to be a waste of time since someone in the house always messed with them when he wasn’t around and any tampering before the many days’ worth of work was finished made it too unstable to dare continue. Lately he had taken to exploring the closed off wings of the house hoping to find some interesting secret or something but in the end all he found of interest was some old furniture covered in white sheets and the family portrait of Thomas Bartlett stuffed into a back room.
            It was rather creepy though. The entire place had not been opened in something like forty or fifty years and everything inside was like a time capsule from that other period. It was creepier still because electricity was cut off to both wings and it was so dark Ethan was required to use his Torch spell in order to see and its lantern-like bauble of light gave everything a kind of horror house at night vibe.
            Once he distinctively heard a woman weeping from somewhere in the east wing. He thought it might be a ghost at first but he never saw anything and the weeping ceased the instant he called out. After thinking about it he decided it was too real sounding to be a ghost and suspected one of the aunts must have broken down and fled into the wing to cry in private. All of them seemed very unhappy especially Anne who lashed out at everyone aggressively for every little thing.
            A few shades appeared here and there, glimpses of random people from different eras bouncing about, but never for longer than a quick flash.
            Despite his lackluster findings he still felt certain there had to be something out there in the forgotten wings of Bartlett House. He had asked Margaret for the keys prior and her eyes went wide with terror; the only emotion he had ever seen in her so far. She grabbed him by the shoulders, pulled him close, and demanded that he promise never to go in there: especially the east wing.
            He solemnly promised and then the very next day she wasn’t around he picked the lock and went on in.
            There was a BOOM of thunder in the distance as Ethan lied down on his bed. He took a deep breath, shut his eyes and suddenly a weird feeling came over him. A vision just like when he saw Claire Winters at the country club filled his mind like a warm and pleasant cloud.

*          *          *

            A very old woman named Muire Lindsay stood before him. He had never seen anyone as close to as old as she was but then he was only five.
            She was a kind, if ugly, spinster who enjoyed cooking, plays and children and lived with her deceased sisters’ families. The story was that even though she seemed just like any normal old woman at the present she once upon a time dressed as a man and served as a soldier in the Revolutionary War. Some even say she was at the Declaration of Independence.
            One day he simply asked her. He truly wanted to know everything there was about her but he had to move fast because if she died, which would no doubt be soon because of her advanced age, she would take all of her secrets with her.
            She smiled and sat down in front of him. “I was never at the Declaration of Independence,” she told him in that Scottish accent that had never died. “I was never one for politics beyond the need to escape the English and their machinations. I came with my parents, sisters and brothers to create a new life for ourselves in a manner of which my great-granduncles almost had succeeded at with Stuart Town. We had a beautiful farm in Virginia and we had hired some free Negroes to work for us and we flourished quite well at first.”
            “How did you become a soldier?” he asked her.
            “Well my family did not believe in slavery, were patriots and Scottish and these qualities made our neighbors rather dislike us. They were slave owning loyalists who felt as proper English gentlemen they had more rights than my father and brothers who, unwilling to back down, soon found themselves beat to death one day by a drunken mob.” She still looked very sad and bitter even after sixty or more years. “So then I did what I felt I must. I cut my hair, said I was a male cousin, challenged the men who murdered my family to duels one by one and killed them all. Then I worked as a man because the money was better, became a soldier when the war had started because I was very good at fighting, and later I managed to salvage a life for my sisters and my mother.”
            The boy knew that part. One of them had married a Hamilton, one of Bartlett Bay’s most prestigious and wealthious families, which was why Muire was able to sit around all day telling stories.
            “I never married but all my sisters did and with good wealthy patriot families and with that my mother was afforded the retirement she had long earned. Though I do not know motherhood or feminine beauty I have had the glory of having fought under George Washington and Friedrich Wilhelm which few if any woman could ever claim and I’ve held my own against trained mercenaries and soldiers. It was a long, long time ago but I remember every moment of it Thomas—”

2
(10/18/12)

            The name “Thomas” and a voice pulled him out of his vision.
            He opened his eyes to see the family servant Wendy looking down at him. He wasn’t sure what her actual title was but she seemed to serve primarily as a head maid and cook though on occasion she sewed, knit and other random things of that nature for the girls. She was an unpleasant looking fifty-year-old woman with bad makeup covering up her many wrinkles, dull brown eyes and graying hair placed up in a conservative servant’s bun. She was a bit overweight wearing ugly white wing-style glasses that looked trendy for the 1960s and an old, unattractive black and white maid’s uniform.
            She always looked blankly with a touch of bitterness at everyone and everything always just as she did at that very moment and like the family she had no problem walking into his rooms uninvited. “Phone, sir,” she told him blandly.
            “Thank you Baby Jane,” Ethan said as he took the phone from her. “Hello?”
            “Head to Spinster’s Peak,” said a hurried woman’s voice. It sounded like someone he knew but something was off and he couldn’t place it. “There is a cave underneath. You must go there.”
            “Who is this?”
            “I know I have no right to ask you for help but I—I need you to come to Spinster’s Peak and come armed. Something very bad is happening down in the Cave of Blue Light.”
            Ethan knew that name from somewhere but he could not place that as well. “Where do I know that name from?”
            “Isn’t it obvious?” she replied. “You’ve been there before.” She then hung up without another word.
            Ethan stood up and looked at Wendy. “She didn’t happen to give a name, did she?”
            Wendy looked him indifferently, shrugged, and then simply said, “No,” before she turned around and left.
            Ethan smiled and quickly put his things together. It was the same gear as before: his vest, his gloves, his sword, his dagger and his knapsack with all his potions but because it was raining he added the long black duster with the high collar and the sides split so that his sword, or two if he had them, could remain outside if he chose to button it up.
            A sense of uneasiness was soon coming over him and it was somehow related to the strange feelings that came with those odd visions he was having every now and again. He felt it was strongly justified but he honestly had no idea why just as he had no idea why he felt such strong feelings for Claire Winters.
            Ethan stepped out of a side door into the pouring rain, held out his arms and felt it come sliding down all over him. That old woman popped back into his mind in something less than a vision but somehow equally substantial, a voice creeping out from an old door in the back of his mind that had been not locked but sealed.
            You’ll have your own taste of war soon enough, Thomas, she told him. The winds are blowing north and south and in the passing of time, twenty days or twenty years, some whining old men are going to do something stupid enough to get a score of young men like you all killed.
            “War…” he said softly and he could suddenly see it in his mind’s eye; glimpses of battlefield after battlefield with endless cannon and rifle fire and blood; lots and lots of blood. The men around him were screaming crazily, the blues howling their roar and the grays screeching their creepy banshee cry and yet, for it all, they were all still in such neat little lines as if waiting in turn for death. “Goddamn it!” Ethan screamed as he grabbed his head and forced the vision away.
            He walked through the woods turned orange in the rain toward Spinster’s Peak which was a grassy pointed cliff surrounded on three sides by a straight drop a mile or two west of the Bartlett Mansion overlooking the Long Island Sound. It got its name because many sad women, widows sometimes but usually lonely spinsters, who felt too unattractive, used or old to be of value, flung themselves from its edge two hundred feet down to the rocks below each hoping for better lot in the next life.
            Ethan walked ten feet or so away from the cliff’s edge through the woods. There was no actual path to get to Spinster’s Peak; it was just one of those places people always somehow knew about. He had actually already seen it himself a few weeks back but nothing had come of it then.
            About a hundred feet or so before he reached his destination he stepped around a tree and saw a slender woman wearing a white rain jacket wrapped around her midsection with her hood up and her hands in her pockets staring down over the cliff’s edge. When Ethan neared her he noticed she was actually staring at a small path leading down, one so well hidden between a rock and the cliff that he had would have passed it by completely unaware of it just as he had the last time when the girl had not been there.
            Or would he? He suddenly felt certain he knew that path.
            The girl turned her head toward his revealing a young and beautiful face. The instant she looked at him a flash of the old woman smiling crossed Ethan’s mind. “You,” he said softly.
            The rain all around them suddenly seemed very quiet. She stared at him quietly and calmly, a girl with beautiful, almost angelic model-features, a slender athletic form with soft, light brown hair and could not possibly have been older than nineteen. Her eyes were filled with the same recognition he was having.  “Ethan Bartlett,” she said.
            “Oh that’s a relief,” he said earnestly. “I thought you were going to call me by a different name.”
            “Like Thomas?”
            “Yeeeeah.” He nodded slowly, his eyes wide for several moments. Then he shrugged, walked up to her and held out his hand. “Ethan Bartlett, as you know.”
            The girl smiled radiantly and took his hand. There was something about her eyes, those intelligent, soft amber eyes that made Ethan think she was more than just another beautiful body walking around. “Darcy Hamilton,” she told him. “I don’t know if anyone told you about me but I’m Agnes’s first cousin. We don’t speak to the Bartletts which is why we haven’t met—” Ethan and Darcy both looked at each other with mirrored half-worried half-curious looks “—yet.”
            “It must be because you know them,” he replied and they smiled at each other.
            “It’s actually because Julian Bartlett I decided he had plans for my uncle John, Jane’s husband, and when he didn’t follow those plans like a slave Julian tried to destroy our family’s wealth and prestige. He cost us over a million dollars before he finally died.” She shrugged. “Personally I count myself lucky he didn’t get his hands on me when I was eight.”
            Ethan laughed. “He really was a serious fucking asshole,” he told her and he ran his hands through his wet hair to pull it straight back. “So what brings you out here on such a lovely October morning, Darcy?”
            “Phone call,” she replied. “A woman calls and suddenly I’m having visions like I used to when I was a child only this time it’s while I’m awake.”
            “Me too on everything,” he told her.
            “Yeah?” Darcy replied a little louder as the rain began to increase all around them. “Did you have one about the Salem Witch Trial survivor?”
            “No. I was just sitting in a room somewhere with—” he almost said “you” “—with an old woman.” He shrugged. “It’s crazy.”
            “It is,” she replied and then she looked up at him from a few inches shorter which seemed odd because Muire had been so tall. “Have you ever heard of the White Witch of Salem?”
            “Every magician alive knows who Mary White was,” he replied. She was a child born in Salem, Massachusetts around the same age as Abigail Williams and Betty Parish who were the first accusers in the Same Witch Trials. Among the many accused were her parents who, after denying the chargers and proclaiming innocence, were executed by hanging leaving the girl an orphan. Her life between that moment and the moment she was the famous elderly magician were a mystery but somewhere in that all time she had taught herself magic and become the world’s greatest magician healer since the Roman Empire. The books of her magic she had written went for hundreds of thousands of dollars minimum at auctions.
            “I think it was her. I think she summoned us here.”
            “A deceased eighteenth century female contacted us by telephone? Seems a bit unlikely, Darcy.”
            “Maybe she’s been reincarnated and has come back to finish something. Did you know she lived and died in this very city?”
            “I did not,” Ethan replied. He knew she died in Connecticut but had never heard it was in Bartlett Bay, Connecticut. “She was murdered right here in this very city?”
            “The end of her life was just like the beginning,” Darcy told him. “A series and murders and mystery had plagued the city and someone decided ‘witchcraft’ was to blame. They hung her just like those judges had her parents down at the crossroads of Edmonton and Worthington right around where Mandy’s Diner is now in the year 1787.”
            “My math’s not great Darcy but that would make her over a hundred years old.”
            “She was one hundred four years old. Another reason people didn’t trust the already mysterious woman with a mysterious witch-related past with mysterious powers with mysterious things happening all around her. It was odd because until that moment she was so beloved that people had come from all around the colonies to be healed by her.”
            “Are you okay?”
            “Uh—” she felt her face and was surprised to find tears there “—I’m fine. Did the speaker say something about the Cave of Blue Light?”
            “What’s down there I’m assuming,” Ethan said with a casual point toward the path down. “She mentioned it, yes, but what she didn’t mention was what it was.”
            “I don’t know what it is. I just know things with funny names like that are best avoided.”
            “Smart girl,” he said with a smile. “I’ll be back.” He started down the path very carefully, bending over to slip down under the rocky overhang that hid it from casual sight. The beginning of it was only a few feet wide making it very dangerous but once under the overhang he could see shortly on down the ceiling was taller and the path far wider.
            “You’re actually heading down that tiny path in the middle of a rainstorm?”
            “I am,” he said as he was able to stand up. The geography of the cliff face moved around in a kind of semi-circle from where he was and he could see the creepy but beautiful old Beechwood House in the distance. It was built on a flat area halfway between the ground and the top of the cliff Ethan had been walking on and it overlooked both the Long Island Sound and the Orange River. “I like that house,” he told himself. There was just something about the nineteenth century manor that seemed enchanting to him.
            “That house is seriously haunted,” Darcy told him from behind, “Also, you’re not going to find anything down there. This has to be a prank.”
            “Then why’d you come?” he asked with a smile as he scooted down farther. When she didn’t answer he looked back to see her staring down at him curiously. “Where’s your sense of adventure, Darcy?”
            She gave him a sexy half-smile. “Oh it’s around,” she told him.
            “Well when it gets here I’ll be waiting at the bottom,” he replied and he slipped fully around the corner and out of sight. From there he was able to walk casually and easily as he descended down for over a hundred feet but he had to go slowly because of the rain which was soaking him and much of the path from the side.
            Somewhere in the middle, a hundred feet or so above very sharp rocks, Ethan came to a gap in the path. It was abrupt and unnatural and whatever destroyed it also took out the overhang and a chunk out of the cliff’s side making it impossible for the untrained to climb around. Each end was like an open wound with waterfalls spilled down from simultaneous rivers above. There was a break in the clouds that allowed the sun above to transform the flying water into liquid gold.
            To his right was a metal bar with a kind of dull hook at the end sticking out of the rock. He walked up to it, tugged on it a bit, and found it was tightly nailed into the rock. He looked at it, nodded, and looked through long spaces in golden waterfall. He could see clearly enough that despite the danger it wasn’t that big a gap.
            Ethan smiled widely, stepped back a good running distance and then rushed forward. He leaped through the air at the edge through the waterfall and out into the sunlit raining world. It seemed for a moment he was frozen in the air, filled with a feeling similar to the one a person would get on a rollercoaster when it hit its highest point before going down, and then he flew through the other waterfall, hit the path, and then fell flat on his back as his feet were thrown out from under him.
            “Ate shit,” he said with a laugh. He didn’t slide because of water, some part of the ground seemed to have slid away on impact, and he was thrown straight backward luckily onto the path. He sat up as he rubbed his head and saw that what he slipped on was a coil of rope and what it was connected to was an identical metal bar on that side of the waterfall.
            He understood its purpose easily enough: one simply lassos one pole then ties the rope to other end and then they can use the rope like handle bars to cross. Those metal bars had been there a long time, as long ago as the 1800s perhaps, and they probably weren’t put there by expert climbers. Ethan was reasonably sure there was a much more efficient method of crossing a simple gap than what he was looking at.
            All the same someone had crossed before him and then the unhooked the rope from the other end somehow.
            Ethan stood up, stretched his back a bit, and then continued casually down the path. It went under Spinster’s Peak, then downward and beyond where it leveled out thirty feet above the water leading to a perfectly horizontal section where part of the cliff seemed to grow out over the path to create a small circular area surrounded by stone with gaps between creating what appeared to Ethan as some kind of stone cage.
            To his immediate right was a dark, deep black cave with a light blue light from which he felt a strange magic and to his left were two young women. One of them was only fourteen or so, stunningly beautiful with almost jet black hair cut short and combed forward with dark blue eyes. She wore a black leather jacket buttoned up to the front, jeans and boots and was equipped with a modern hunting bow which was thrown over her back.
            He recognized her face: Julia’s face, the girl from the incident by the tower in the Engelstad who had tried to kill him, with only the slight differences that came from being a biological sister.
            The other girl was her sister Natalie who looked different in some critical way he couldn’t describe. She wore a dark gray rain jacket with its hood up, jeans and heavy boots and gray gloves. She still reminded him of a little girl somehow and the look of terror in her pretty round eyes with the way her hands rubbed together increased that feeling immensely.
            “Just what the fuck are you doing here?” asked the younger girl.
            Ethan sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Oh this shit again,” he said.

3
(10/22/12)

            “You stole my sister’s youth and gave it to some worthless backwoods Connecticut cunt all because she wouldn’t spread her legs and offer you her vagina just because you asked,” said the girl bitterly.
            “Well she wasn’t really using it.” The girl’s eyes went wide with offended shock. “Oh you’re still talking about the youth thing. Yeah I can see how that would bother you.”
            “You unbelievable bastard,” she said with a sneer. “I’m going to enjoy murdering you.” She reached for something and Ethan shot her in the chest with his Lightning Bolt spell. She stumbled backward, hit a part of the wall that had rock, and slipped down to her knees. “You son of a—” He stepped forward and kicked her in the stomach reasonably hard and then she immediately curled up into a ball and began to cry.
            “Unexpected,” he said.
            “Michelle I—Ethan—” He turned around and saw Natalie was looking at him with tears of fear running down her face, her hair’s thick heavy locks stuck to her cheeks and chin, and her hands were shaking badly. “I’m scared, Ethan! I can’t—my sister Michelle is—I—”
            Ethan walked over to her and put his hands gently on her shoulders. “You called me, Natalie,” he said and she nodded, her lips quivering, and he lifted her chin. Her body was a near-perfect female specimen’s at eighteen, sculpted like a statue, but inside she really was like a frightened child in every single possible way. “Natalie,” he said and her dark blue eyes focused intensely onto his, “Why did you call me here?”
            Her eyes rolled up into the back of her head and lines of white light appeared out of her body moving around him. Ethan followed them with his eyes, peered over his shoulder at the entrance of the cave and saw a figure standing there at the edge of its entrance.
            It was a real ghost; not a shade or an illusion or a projection or anything he could shrug off so easily, and she looked at each and every one of them with the full understanding that any human being would have. She was dressed as a little pilgrim girl in the late seventeenth century and he knew he was not mistaken. He had seen pictures of them all his life: at the pictures of Thanksgiving, countless documentaries, school reenactments and Arthur Miller’s the Crucible film version which had starred Daniel Day Lewis and Winona Ryder and had also been one of his favorite movies as a child.
            She was an average looking girl of maybe eight or nine when alive with her light brown hair held back in white coif, the name he recalled from a play he acted in in the third grade, with a dull boring brown dress. Like a shade, she was partially transparent but her connection to Natalie was more than extremely powerful. Ethan’s instinctive thought was that it was a diabolically unholy one but after a moment he sensed it was nothing close to the sort.
            “You’re the same fucking person,” he said softly. He could not understand how he was so certain of that fact but he was. They were like two batteries who shared the same energy source, a human soul, and that source was being shared between them never filling either completely. The ghost wasn’t a real battery though, her half trying to desperately reach and complete Natalie but was unable to.
            The reason became clear as the ghost girl moved up to the edge of the cave and a magical wall blocked her. He saw it flicker as she touched it, giving Ethan the same terrified look Natalie just had, and when she leaned up against she looked like a child pressed up against a car window stuck inside while watching other children entering an amusement park. Her eyes locked on Ethan miserably and she began to fade, the power source moving more into Natalie.
            Natalie suddenly and ferociously grabbed his shoulders to get his attention. “There is something going on that cave,” she told him with the hard voice from the phone, a voice filled with confidence and force. “I need you to go in there and I need you stop it. I don’t know if they know what that place is capable of but they can never learn. No one can. I was wrong to try.”
            “The Cave of Blue Light.” He looked back and at the cave and looked at the pale light blue light around the bend. Natalie’s hand took his chin and turned it back to him.
            “It’s a doorway to Hell Ethan!” she cried with wide, frightened eyes. “You don’t play with this place! You don’t dare! It will drag you down and turn your soul black!”
            “Doorway?” Ethan’s eyes widened and a feeling of horror crept into him. A new vision came to him, one different than the others, one bubbling up from much farther down like a corpse rising back to life from an old horror comic.

*          *          *

            “Where is God’s name is the king?” Walter Kent asked out loud as he dismounted his horse.
            He was a scrawny, tall man with a short mess of dark brown hair and near black eyes and was considered by many, including his wife, to be extremely unattractive which he sometimes felt was caused only by his large pointed nose.
            He was dressed casually for the hunting expedition; hose, doublet, boots and sleeves all the color of black with orange under the puffy sections under the doublet at the top of the arms and at the thighs. Black was the only color he was certain looked good on him and orange the only one he liked so he tended to wear those colors most and somehow it gave him the moniker Black Fool which many people, including his father, called him straight to his face.
            He walked down the woodland path to his friend Sir Henry Norris who was on the ground clutching a wound pouring blood out of his forehead with a thick cloth he had. Walter gave him his hand and pulled him up to his feet.
            The hit seemed rather brutal to Walter for just a tree branch. Any worse a hit would have cracked his skull wide open but to Walter it seemed rather severe considering the speed they were riding at. He himself had hit a branch going just as fast or faster and with nowhere near that kind of brutality.
            “Did you see that, Walter?” asked Norris as he put pressure onto his wound. He was older than the king by nine years and Walter by twelve, an average looking man already mostly bald at twenty-nine with a short dark beard that looked distinguished. He looked at the blood on his hand and then at Walter. “That branch moved of its own accord!” he told him.
            “That’s ridic—” there was a loud crack and they looked up at the tree in startled unison. It was an ugly, gnarled bluish-gray thing and even had a kind of face. The eyes and mouths were only knotholes in the tree but they somehow were placed in such a manner that it made it look like it was screaming in abject terror. “Where are the servants? The guards?” He looked around through the tall, unnatural trees around them. “Where is anyone?”
            They had just lost an entire hunting party of over fifty people.
            The Darkwood had somehow swallowed them all: one moment they were in an ordinary English greenwood and then the next, what? Something happened and it was like they were suddenly somewhere else.  It was impossible but out in those woods nothing seemed impossible: the trees loomed high above them, some of hundreds of feet high, and the mountains in the distance were on no map Walter had ever seen. There were odd and creepy sounds unnatural to any English forest and suddenly what had before sounded so preposterous suddenly seemed not only plausible but very real.
            He found his hand resting on his sword as he looked around. Everyone was armed: nobody peasant to king would ever dare walk into the Darkwood unarmed. “Norris, do you get the sudden feeling we’re being watched.”
            Norris looked slowly up at the tree that hit him worriedly as if he thought it was what was watching him, focused on the blood spread across the single outstretched branch that he had hit, and then turned and looked around them. “I do actually,” he said. “Have you heard the stories they say about these woods? I’ve truly never much liked them.”
            “They were a whole lot more fun when we weren’t actually in here,” Walter replied.
            Everyone in England had heard those stories; witches, fairies, trolls, goblins, giants, dragons and so forth but it was a specific story of a jet black unicorn that had drawn them there. Their king had lost his son and heir that very year after just two months of life and he was in a despondent and temperamental mood. He had commissioned a ship called the Mary Rose which promised some cheer but since it had yet to be completed it did nothing to presently relieve his mood. In June, his birthday month, someone had come up with the idea of an adventure.
            The black unicorn had been spotted from time to time in a small forest northeast of Oxford called the Darkwood. Unicorns were universally known as the finest of all horses not just in England but the world and the black unicorn stallion was the finest among them: the King of Horses they called him. The man who had such a steed would easily be the envy of all the kings of Europe: the first unicorn rider since the days of the Roman Empire
            They had spotted their unicorn almost instantly, Walter one of the first to do so, and they gave chase through the woods with the king was at the head looking absolutely ecstatic. There was nowhere it could go that they could not follow, it was a horse and they were on horseback, but suddenly the woods seemed to grow around them and then in an instance, like a flash of lightning, the entourage seemed to vanish all around them along with the unicorn.
            Walter knew not where the others were. He only knew that wherever he vanished to Norris had somehow come with him. There was something else unusual though.
            “Did you get the impression the unicorn was laughing at us?” asked Walter. Norris again lowered his blood soaked cloth from his forehead and looked at him like he was being idiotic. “I swear to God I did.”
            “Walter,” said Norris, “I heard laughter but it obviously did not come from a horse.”
            Walter was just in front of him as they made chase. He wondered if he should say something about the look the unicorn gave. It had tilted its head back, looked at all of them with a clear look of amusement, and then gave a big, wide toothy grin. It was so quick it could have been imagined, anyone focused on its rump would have missed it, so it probably was only Walter who supposedly saw it, and the high-pitched laughter that followed could have come from any one of them because it did sound human.
            Walter found himself not believing in that line of logic. He wasn’t prone to having wildly imaginative visions and his instincts told him that there must have been a greater reason other than speed or rarity no one had ever caught a unicorn in over two thousand years.
            “Gentlemen, why are you off your horses?” Walter looked over to see Charles Brandon appearing on his own horse out of the trees alongside them opposite the face tree wearing a dark brown leather doublet with yellow under the arms and thighs and heavy black boots. He was a dashingly handsome man with light brown hair and a full beard with dark eyes who as a former playmate of the king’s elder brother and whose father was killed in person by Richard III on the battlefield, was well respected and loved by the king and thus considered well above Walter in the king’s eyes. Like the king, he was a man of athletics and action, mastering many of the sports that gave him a powerful muscular build women loved and men envied which Walter was perceived to have lacked. Most people considered the two of them as different as night and day.
            “I hit a tree, Charles,” said Norris.                                   
            “An ugly tree—” there was a loud crack and they all looked up at the face tree for a surprised second. Brandon shrugged it off, not caring. “We need to find the king immediately. Do either you have any understanding of where is he?”
            “None,” said Norris as he remounted his horse.
            “He was ahead of me,” said Walter as he went back to his own horse. “I blinked once and the woods had suddenly swallowed him, the hounds, and everyone else.”
            “Delightful,” said Brandon sarcastically. He was unhappy but Walter was more so.
            If the king was never found who knew what Queen Katherine would do to them. She was a good queen and Walter trusted her without question but she also loved the king in earnest and love could make people crazy. Brandon would be just fine, no one would doubt the good friend of the king, but Walter was hardly as confident for himself. He was a considered a bungler and a fool and was not nearly as popular in the court. How hard would it be to roll over on him and somehow make everything all his fault? The king’s almoner Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was rising high in the court through his connection to the king and Walter honestly feared that man was capable of anything especially if he grew to believe Walter had just threatened that rising power with idiocy.
            Walter reached up to his horse’s saddle when he heard a near hysterical laughter not far from them. “What was that?” asked Brandon.    
            “Laughter, Charles,” Walter replied and Brandon gave him an unimpressed, displeased look. “Well it is.” The laughter came again briefly and Walter stepped away from his horse and walked toward it.
            “Where are you going, Kent?”
            “I’m just going to take a look,” Walter told them as he turned around a giant tree.
            “I would not go out there, Walter,” said Norris just as he disappeared from their sight.

4
(10/25/12)

            Walter stepped into a grove and the very first thing he saw was a doorframe dropped in the very center. It was carved from stone as if by some ancient people but the door itself was a big red door just like one of the ones in front of a manor house on one of his family’s estates. A servant, dressed in the red uniform with the Tudor rose on his shoulder, was reaching into the doorway and laughing. Walter recognized him as a young, slender and quiet man with short mousy brown hair named Thomas Samuels.
            Another burst of laughter hit Samuels and he bumped the door and spread it wide open before Walter. Even though it could have only possibly lead to the other side of the grove it did not.
            Walter faced infinity and stars, a sky lit up at night except straight ahead through that doorframe in broad daylight. It was like eternity stood before him: endless and unfathomable, the distances stretching beyond his mind’s control and understanding, everything unexplainable and yet somehow fully understood like in a dream only somehow made flesh in waking reality.
            He saw a black sun rising into the sky, horses riding men, the moon growing a face and bleeding from the eyes while laughing in that high-pitched unicorn’s voice: the world was spinning all around him, the winds of madness blowing wild and strong in every direction.
            A powerful vision killed the others: a great queen of shadow and darkness stood out upon a mountainside with her arms outstretched and lines of shadow reached out from her hands to the valley below into soldiers that were part of some great and violent battle beneath her. Their battle shifted, changed by the queen, and they were suddenly her puppets dancing to her tune.
            And then the visions cleared because he suddenly realized there were things out there beyond the door. How long had they been watching him, he could not say. He might have been staring into that doorway for twenty seconds or twenty years for all he knew, time seeming to have slowed down beyond his comprehension. He didn’t know what they were or where they came from but he understood their voices quite clearly and they slowly started to rise in volume and potency. They promised him things, oh such wondrous things: things he had always dreamed of but forgotten.
            Walter slammed the door as hard as he could before he was tempted, having no idea how he got so close, and the voices shut off out of his head like someone severing something from his body. “Good God in Heaven!” he cried as he shook his head, tears pouring out of his wide, horrified eyes. It instantly began fading like a dream and for that he was eternally grateful. He had already forgotten exactly what they had offered him beyond the vagueness of that it was something he always desperately wanted although he suspected the full truth of it would come back to haunt him in his dreams. He turned to the servant and said, “Samuels, did you see that?”
            Samuels turned his head and the pupils of his green eyes had changed to become diamond shaped in a manner almost but not quite like a cat’s. “Oh I saw,” he told him with a wide wicked smile. “I saw very clearly Walter Kent of Dartmouth.” He reached for him and Walter jumped back and pulled out his sword.
            “What is the meaning of—” Brandon saw Samuels’s face “—my God.” He didn’t see his eyes’ abnormality, he was too far away for that, but he did not miss the clear look of madness on Samuels’s face.
            Samuels’s smile widened in such a manner that appeared unnaturally large making almost all of his teeth fully visible. “So it’s your God now, Brandon?”
            There was something in his look, something almost out -worldly evil, but Walter didn’t believe it was that exactly. He didn’t really believe in evil as a separate entity from man at all, despite what priests say, though he did believe in evil intentions and evil men. “Samuels—” he said and the servant’s head jerked toward his with a dark, hate-filled expression“—you need to reflect on how you speak to your masters.”
            “Oh how the Black Fool stands for the honor of the great Charles Brandon,” he said in a disgusted voice and his eyes narrowed. “They laugh at you, all of them and even the servants, and you will never be one of them. You’re the king’s fool away from court and nothing but a laughing failure all can humor themselves with, and they will never come to respect you.”
            “I know,” Walter replied and then Samuels’s right hand jerked out and caught him by the neck. It was like a lightning bolt across the sky, it was that fast, and his face filled with more unbridled loathing than Walter had ever seen combined in his seventeen years of his life. “A problem, Mr. Samuels?” he hacked out.
            Brandon was finding Samuels less and less pleasant to look at. “Let go of him, Samuels—”
            Samuels silenced him with a look, shook his head, and then looked back at Walter. Then he blinked a couple of times, looked calmly down, and saw Walter’s sword sticking into his side. He looked back up at Walter and then, almost casually, lifted him up off the ground with his one arm.
            “My God,” said Brandon again and he and Norris could only stare. Samuels was far too slender and frail to lift a grown man in such a manner yet somehow he did.
            Walter twisted the blade with his right hand while holding onto Samuels’s wrist with his left. The wound did nothing, his feet staying elevated, so he kicked at Samuels violently with them hoping he would lose his grip. He did not and in fact did not even seem remotely effected by any of it.
            Brandon pulled out his sword and at the sound of a blade leaving its sheath Norris snapped out of his daze and followed suite.
            Samuels tossed Walter to the ground like a doll and did it with such force that Walter rolled for several feet after impact. “Come gentlemen,” he told the others. “Let us dance together.”
            There was the sudden deafening sound of a gunshot in the air and Walter saw it had hit Samuels in the right shoulder. It seemed to have done nothing and Samuels slowly and casually turned his head to the right. “And the king,” he said mockingly. “King Henry VIII. How well does your hunt fare today, Mr. Tudor?”
            Henry Tudor was dressed casually in a gray doublet and hose with heavy boots right out in the open with his rifle. He was a large, powerful man, his hair and beard fire red, and he was as athletic and handsome as he was royal, seated fearlessly on a grand dark stallion at the edge of the woods. He was admired by many, men and women alike, and not just as a king and a man but also as a scholar, the notable mentorship of the humanists Desiderius Erasmus among his many other teachers, which made his intellect as admirable as his physique.
            Walter wasn’t sure he was all that exactly even though that was what everyone had been telling him all his life. There was always something about him that struck Walter as weak or controllable in his core but he doubted it would ever become a problem against his better qualities one of which was that he was not a coward.
            “Why aren’t you dead?” Henry asked in an unimpressed voice as he placed his rifle away and took out his bow.
            “Oh I am dead,” said Samuels and he started walking forward. “I’m the ghost of a dead Yorkish rebel your father murdered.” Henry fired an arrow into his chest but even as a direct hit it didn’t stop or even slow him. The others followed their king and fired their bows but it did just as little with each successful shot. “Or maybe I am an assassin. Maybe I was sent by Edward Plantagenet straight from Hell to do to the Tudors what they have done to the Plantagenets.”
            Brandon and Norris quickly dismounted and pulled out their swords again. Samuels was getting dangerously close to the king but Henry did not back away and instead dismounted and pulled out his own sword.
            “No!” cried Walter, his voice coming out in gasps instead of sound, and he scrambled to his feet. “Don’t let him close!”
            The king swung and Samuels ducked the swing, jerked forward and caught his arm like a snake biting. Brandon stabbed him in the side and Norris went straight toward his back.
            “Wait!” cried Walter, his voice actually coming out, but Norris didn’t and the blade went right through Samuels’s back. Luckily, the king saw it in time and jerked aside quick enough to avoid being stabbed.
            “Oh dear God!” cried Norris.
            “In the back, Lord Norris?” said Samuels with a laugh. “You so bereft of gentlemanly behavior has left me ever so sad.” His smile faded and he fell to his knees. Norris pulled the blade out and Samuels dropped face forward onto the grass like a rock.
            Norris knelt instantly. “Forgive me, Your Highness!”
            Henry gestured for him to rise solemnly. “I forgive you, Lord Norris, but—” his face turned very dark “—if you had so much as scratched me I would have had your head cut right off.”
            There was an awkward pause.
            The three of them suddenly burst out laughing and Walter himself smiled when he thought about it. The king was probably the kindest and most generous man Walter had ever heard of, even to the point where his advisers had routinely halted his generosity. He found he couldn’t believe such a man would ever kill a good friend over a mistake.
            Their joy stopped when Walter moved up to them and the king and Brandon both gave him a look like he had just invaded their privacy. “Your Highness,” he bowed weakly, every part of him in pain, and he looked around. “Has anyone seen my sword?” They frowned at him and then looked away.
            Walter felt a deep unhappiness sink into him. Why did the king have him around if he wasn’t exactly what they and Samuels said he was? He felt his throat, which was in great pain and covered in bruises, and he looked back at the king. He realized then that he truly did not even like the king even though he was told he had no choice but to love him. Was what he had just done brave or was it just stupid overconfidence? He wondered if one day Henry would get himself hurt, killed or even worse.
            The others mounted their horses. “Find your sword already, Fool,” said the king. “We have others to find.”
            “Your Highness,” said Brandon, “Forgive me but do we not need to remove you from these woods immediately. They are clearly more dangerous than we previously anticipated.”
            Walter picked up his sword and looked over at the door only to find it was suddenly just an empty door-less stone frame. “It’s gone… Where has it gone too…” It couldn’t have vanished but it did. The proof was right in front of him.
            “Should we, Charles? Are there not other gentlemen, servants or my dogs needing to be found and is there not of course Kent—” Walter jumped, startled by the king’s sudden crying out of his name. “Did I not say to get back on your fucking horse?”
            “Yes, Your Highness.” Walter sheathed his blade, rushed up to his horse and climbed on.
            The king looked him over, fully and completely disgusted with him, and then rode on ahead. The others rode after but then as he was about to follow he suddenly heard something behind him and looked back.
            Samuels had stood up and was casually walking off into the woods covered head to toe in his own blood. “I’ll see you again someday, Walter Kent,” he said as he pulled out an arrow. “On my honor.”
            “Well I’ll make sure to kill you when you do,” Walter replied and he rode up to the others.
            They looked around until sunset and found many but not all of who was missing. Other than Samuels, at least seven servants, a dozen guards, all their horses and two of the king’s prized greyhounds vanished without a trace. Once sunset hit the king accepted his loss and was forced to abandon them although he didn’t want to.
            No one, not even the king of England, dared stayed a night in the Darkwood.
            On the way out Walter looked back up at the sky and saw a castle in the hills in a pass: a frightening black silhouette against the darkening orange sky.

5
(10/29/12)

            Ethan threw up his arm instinctively and the throwing knife went right into his forearm. Another one followed instantly, hitting him in the shoulder, and a third hit him in the thigh. The vision had felt real but not anymore: not compared to actual pain.
            Michelle screamed once she ran out of knives and threw herself into her sister, almost knocking her over, her hands grabbing at her waist. “Give me the gun, you bitch!”
            The ghost became more opaque and Natalie turned back to herself. “What’s happening to me?” she shrieked as she scrambled away from her sister.
            Ethan ripped out the blade from his shoulder and thigh at the same time, two simultaneous strings of blood flying out with them. He screamed in rage, the eyes of Thomas Samuels from five centuries past shooting across his mind like an explosion, and then he pulled out the one from his right forearm.
            It was in England! his mind shrieked through his pain. How can the same fucking castle be in England and Connecticut! The way everyone had spoke was not quite right but had translated into his modern mind through Walter’s own understanding and that somehow confirmed it wasn’t just a dream because in a dream they would just talk the only way he understand. It was real and the castle was there in England thousands of miles away all the way across the Atlantic Ocean.
            Michelle punched her sister in the stomach as hard as she could, causing Natalie to bend over and vomit; the hit was that hard. Then she grabbed the gun with one hand, shoved her sister into the ground with the other and spun around.
            Ethan jerked forward into the cave, the first shot missing him completely, and then rushed around the corner into the blue light just as the second shot went off. It scraped the side of his neck but did nothing more, a barely noticeable sting drowned under the suffering he was already feeling.
            “Get back here you fucking pig!” she cried after him, her voice echoing down into the cave.
            Ethan pulled out a Heal potion and drank it quickly as he stumbled down the tunnel. The magic he had felt outside permeated the air of the inner cave and as he proceeded deeper he recognized it but it was from no vision where that recognition came from. It was the very same magic as that came from the orb he had found in the tower.
            The blue light grew steadily brighter and stronger until the moment he stepped out of the tunnel into a large grotto and saw the source of the light were giant bright blue runes on every wall and ceiling all around him. His path led from the tunnel across a high wall and ended with only a single stairs down from the center of the path leading down to a watery lower level. Beyond that level, toward the back of the cave, was another tower.
            “Oh fuck me,” he whispered.
            Such subterranean towers were from a race of people commonly believed to have been an unnamed lost tribe of Native Americans nicknamed “morlocks” after the H.G. Wells story because they were known to have lived underground and were blind. A separate line of thinking suggested they were descended from Vikings, their stone structures too European to be anything remotely like the Native Americans from that area, and when Ethan looked at it he could see easily enough its resemblance to Europe.
            It was an almost perfect cylinder, stone, with a winding external staircase wrapping up and around all fifty feet of its height, where he saw at the top a glowing blue woman floating above in the air, her arms outstretched with faded lines of bright magic stretching from her body to each rune.
            That was as far as he got before he felt at least a half dozen people suddenly start casting attack magic.
            He cast Magic Armor from one hand and with no chance to parry so many spells all at once he cast his Magic Shield spell from the other. An orange-tinted transparent kite shield appeared over his left arm out in front of himself and the spells shot from the grotto from various levels and positions all hitting it hard: a green lightning bolt, a yellow fireball, a purple ice shard and two acid balls one red, one blue the very last of which shattered his shield and sent him stumbling backward.
            He was amazed at how well his spell worked. He had no other magicians in his life so he had never been able to test the spell properly. He had read that with the average magician would only absorb two to five spells directly without a chance for it to recover or be recast and if that had been true for him his chest would have been melted, burned or possibly exploded.
            Ethan leaped behind the nearest object he could find, a giant statue that looked vaguely troll-like, but before he could do anything about the magicians Michelle appeared at the edge of the tunnel. She raised her gun and Ethan immediately fired a lightning bolt from his left hand into her gun arm.
            She stumbled backward, the gun falling to the ground, and shrieked, “You son of a bitch!”
            Ethan cast another shield over his right arm and then rushed back out across the open path of the grotto toward her. Spells fired through the air, hitting his shield multiple times, but one person fired ahead of him, hit the wall with an acid ball and a little of his left side was hit with burning magical liquid.
            He dove for the gun but Michelle grabbed it first and slammed it across his face. The armor protected him from that somewhat but it still hurt.
            Ethan caught her arm before she could aim, forced the gun up and it fired, echoing in a deafening manner all around him as it hit the ceiling harmlessly, and then he punched her in the stomach. She stumbled backward and Ethan caught the gun as it fell from her hand.
            “Enough!” cried a woman’s voice that boomed and shot through every inch of the cavern. A blue burst of magical energy shot from above out of sight over from no doubt over where the blue woman was, and hit the statue of a troll. Ethan looked back but it was a mistake.
            Michelle punched him across his face as hard as she could, hard enough to effectively go through his armor, and then grabbed the gun. Ethan did not let go so she spun around him, holding it from behind, and she punched him in the back as hard as she could steadily and competently. He threw himself back hard and slammed her into the wall.
            She cried out, wrapped her free arm around his neck and bit him at the vertex of the neck and collar as hard as she could. It went through his armor because it was steady pressure opposed to a single hit and it was agonizingly vicious for such a young opponent. She did not release her iron grip on the gun for a single instant and she dug her all five of her sharp rat-like nails of her left hand into the back of his neck above her bite.
            He felt a lightning bolt being cast and he tried to toss Michelle between himself and the spell but he was an instant too late and the green lightning bolt shot across the room and hit him in the shoulder. Michelle pulled the gun free and slammed it across Ethan’s head.
            He elbowed her, spun around, fired a lightning bolt past her as she stumbled back, and hit someone standing by the tunnel entrance. A man screamed and stumbled backward off the ledge down to the lower level out of sight. At the same instant Michelle aimed her gun and screamed, “I got you Bartlett! I got you!”
            “Turn around!” cried Ethan, his right hand sparking orange as he held a readied Lightning Bolt spell, and she raised her gun directly toward his head, her eyes focusing carefully and completely ignoring what he told her. “I’m not fucking joking, kid! ‘They have a cave troll’ !” She sneered and would have pulled the trigger and ended his life but then she felt the ground shake behind her and finally did look back.
            The statue had begun moving and seemed to have come alive; a huge mound of flesh in the form of a ten foot tall black furred troll with long stringy hair reaching down past its chest with longer arms than legs reaching nearly down to its ankles ending with oversized hands. It’s oddly little head had tiny beady black eyes on a small face with a giant round nose and it was both stout and round at the same time, every troll alive seemingly both extremely muscular and obese at the same time, but it was not a real troll despite its realistic appearance.
            It had no mind: Ethan could see the blank indifference in its face and the casual way it walked revealed the simple fact it was nothing more than magic’s version of a robot known universally as a golem.
            Michelle panicked and immediately fired into the troll’s chest as it reached for her. It was the wrong move and it still would have been even if the troll wasn’t a golem because bullets do almost nothing against them. Their body was like extremely good armor and only armor piercing rifle rounds could do anything other than irritate them.
            It grabbed her hand, gun and all, and squeezed. Michelle shrieked at the top of her lungs, her voice ear-piercing and miserable and filling every inch of the cave.
            “Not her, you idiot golem!” boomed the blue woman’s amplified voice.  “The man! Kill the man!”
            The troll-golem let go of her hand, which looked mashed into an indefinable lump with the gun, and Michelle fell to her knees. She let out another loud, long scream and then bent over defeated.
            Ethan looked down at her for a moment and then up to see a man in black robes standing at the grotto’s tunnel entrance holding a rifle, part of his neck and face crimson and covered in boils from the burn of Ethan’s lightning bolt. He was a pale man with buzzed dark hair wearing an angry, loathing-filled expression on his average face. He raised his gun to Ethan and there was a gunshot.
            Ethan jumped instinctively but then realized he was unharmed and the robed man’s rifle had not actually fired.
            The man’s head had jerked back as a bullet had gone through his forehead and he stood motionless and dead on his feet for several seconds before he fell down backward like a pushed over cardboard cutout.
            Darcy moved up beside him holding a pistol in both hands. “I got you covered, Bartlett,” she told him. “Go in there and do whatever it is you do.”
            “Okay,” Ethan said with a smile and he rushed under the incredibly slow golem troll’s grasp, out to the tunnel’s edge and snatched the rifle with his right hand as he made a magical shield with his left.
            Five people cast spells at him as he rushed toward the stairs down. Above, the blue woman remained elevated in the air unmoving but lines from her shot out from her body to the other statues all over the room.
            There were seven others that had all come alive just as the troll had. There was a giant snake to his left, its body as thick as a man’s thigh and emerald green, a giant spider ahead and to the right, its back section as big as a hairy black beach ball, two hobgoblins with scimitars below in the water which were just human-sized smarter versions of normal goblins, and a two more trolls around the base of the tower.
            They moved toward him but they moved too slowly: rather typical of golems.
            “Damn it, damn it, DAMN IT!” cried the blue woman.
            Ethan held the rifle in both hands but moved sideways to keep the magical shield in front of him. The casters hid as he slipped unharmed down the stairs into the water which was only about half a foot deep, its depth clearly visible because of the giant runes at the bottom which illuminated it like a pool.
            “Olly olly oxen free,” said Ethan as he walked across the water toward the tower.
            Someone slipped out of their hiding place but a gunshot behind Ethan made the woman scream and jump back. “Bitch!” screamed a woman. “You fucking bitch!”
            “You’re not getting out of here alive!” said a man at the top of the stairs. Ethan couldn’t see him but he had a good idea where he was.
            Ethan pressed his rifle butt against the hobgoblin golem that had come too close and pushed it over casually and continued forward. When he reached the bottom of the he tower’s stairs he pointed the rifle upward before proceeding.
            The man’s voice said, “Now you’re no killer, son—”
            “Yes he is!” said the blue woman. “That’s Ethan Bartlett!”
            The speaker had stopped in the middle of the stairs between the wall and tower and had just then suddenly become visible to Ethan, his eyes filled with worry. Ethan casually glanced at him, a man in the black robes with his hood down to reveal another average looking man aged thirty to forty with dark hair combed straight backward and sunken kind of eyes. Ethan did not recognize him but it would probably have made very little difference if he did.
            “No wait—” Ethan fired into his chest and he grunted, stumbled forward down the stairs and fell past Ethan over the side where he landed face first onto the rocks below and ceased moving.

6
(11/01/12)

            Ethan held up his shield and blocked the incoming spells as three people rushed down the stairs and lobbed their spells at him. The spells were blocked perfectly, only two of them able to cast around the corner directly at him anyhow and they were not in a quick enough succession or powerful enough to cause his shield to break or even waver.
            After a few moments they stopped, tired, and Ethan raised the rifle. He fired into the man on the left, who slumped over instantly, and the woman behind him shrieked and scrambled away but accidently stepped over the edge and fell over. She screamed all fifteen feet down to the ground where she hit hard and became silent. The third attempted to flee upward without attacking but he stepped out into Darcy’s line of sight and she fired twice into his chest and he dropped down to the pool below.
            “Well this is turning out to be a fun afternoon,” said Ethan. He went higher up the stairs and saw Darcy in the pool raising her gun. “Don’t do—” she fired twice at the blue woman and huge explosions of powerful magic filled the air causing a burst of magic induced pain in his head “—that.” Unsurprisingly, it did nothing to the blue woman. The bullets bounced off, were absorbed, or something; there was a lot of magic in the room and no doubt some of it went to protection.
            “You never know until you try,” said Darcy as she rushed up the tower. She put one hand on the backside of the spider and pushed it off the stairs and rushed up to him. The two of them shared a quick smile, feeling something like a spark suddenly seeming to connect them, and they started moving up the stairs together.
            None of the other golems had reached the stairs except two of the trolls and they were far too big to climb so they just waited below. The others were slowly making their way over but were not nearly fast enough to catch up  to them. Many golems were slow but it seemed then that those were just incredibly slow and Ethan suddenly felt certain that the glowing woman above, whoever she was, was not able to fully in control them.
            “I am going to kill you, you little bitch,” said the blue woman calmly.
            “You and everyone else,” said Darcy as she moved up behind Ethan.
            “I swear to God you will come to regret this moment,” said the blue woman and Ethan and Darcy’s gun turned bright blue.
            “Don’t fire!” Ethan told her and he tossed his gun away and pulled out his sword. “They enchanted our—”
            A man jumped down from above with a machete and Ethan jerked back down the stairs. Darcy instinctively moved back easily giving him space and the man missed Ethan entirely. Ethan then casually knocked his weapon aside and stabbed him in the chest. The man cried out, lost his footing, and fell off the stairs.
            “He just killed Rudy!” a woman shrieked. Ethan rushed up and found her not far up and swung right at her. She ducked his swing, his blade hitting the tower wall hard enough to knock off some stone, and she tried to climb back up. She tripped on the stairs, fell down at against the edge and went rolling off the side of the tower. Ethan saw her fall to the water below but she landed wrong and died on impact.
            “I knew we couldn’t trust you!” cried a man from the top.
            “You’re blaming me for Bartlett?” said the blue woman angrily. “Did you blame Agatha and Sheldon for him as well?”
            “You said we’d be safe, nigger!” cried the man.
            “No,” said the blue woman simply. “Your masters told us both this would be safe and so sure they were of this fact that they refused me all the assistance I asked of them!”
            It was at that moment Ethan realized the blue woman was the witch-doctor that he seen by Marty’s tree house and he knew their fight was going to be very ugly. He continued up the stairs uninterrupted and saw as strange a sight to behold as any he could imagine.
            The tower’s flat rooftop pressed against the back of the cave wall where there was some kind of intricate rune covered shrine of rocks that was glowing so brightly it was almost painful to look at. The center of it was the focal point of all the magic in the room, a single rock shaped like an egg placed down on its wide end covered in odd black runes Ethan couldn’t look long enough at to discern what they exactly were.
            There were two figures in black robes on each side of it, their arms outstretched, each holding up an unknown but very potent enchantment over the blue woman; whatever it was Ethan could not say but it was clearly too powerful for them to dare let go of. In between them was the ghost of the pilgrim girl held up into the air, and all the power of that rock flowed out into her, then to the four people around her, then over to the blue woman at the end of the tower’s roof and from her out to the runes. Up close he could not discern the woman’s features. She looked as if she was simply made of blue light which was bright enough to make it even more difficult to look at then the shrine.
            She was holding something in her hand but he could not see what it was.
            “You evil nigger cunt!” cried one of the men looking worriedly over at Ethan. “He’s here! He’s fucking here! He killed Agatha and Marty and we can’t even break our spell to flee!”
            “Lovely,” said the witch-doctor who spun around to face the group. “Is there anything more you would care to explain to our killer—”
            “Naomi!” shrieked the man. “He’s going to kill us!”
            “Wow Naomi,” said Ethan cheerfully, “Is this why you needed the Tall Man?” He sheathed his sword and pushed Darcy down the stairs gently.
            “You know it is,” she replied simply. “Had I a proper arsenal of men and monsters you would certainly not be alive to gloat.”
            “Fair enough,” he replied earnestly. If the Tall Man had been there he would have certainly been killed or forced into retreat if he were very lucky. The statues really weren’t working properly because she was clearly controlling them, and everything else, through the ghost and the ghost must have been fighting her.
            “Why won’t you just die?” asked one of the women in robes.
            “The question women ask me all the time.” Ethan pulled out his dagger.
            “Oh God no!” a man shrieked and looked at the glowing rock behind them and then at him. “You can’t be serious! Oh God tell me you are not serious!”’
            Ethan threw the enchanted dagger and then dove under the tower’s lip. What he was doing was crazy but it was less dangerous than killing someone in mid-spell or giving that witch-doctor enough time to come up something he couldn’t handle. In the end it seemed the best way to deal with her quickly was to end her source of power by breaking the morlock device.
            It would seem rather suicidal but magical devices’ destructive powers were far less dangerous than a powerful chain of runes if they had multiple parts and all giant magical devices did because no human being was physically capable of enchanting them all in one single piece. They built them instead a part at a time and then when finished strung them together to create the fully functioning giant device which could be broken piece by piece later without causing chain explosions like simple runes. The crystal in Sheldon Martin’s house had exploded like a bomb but then it only had one part that contained all of its power. Only the stone Ethan aimed for would break and that should leave the remaining parts, including its major sources of power, untouched and still enchanted.
            All the same the explosion above him was of such an insane level of power that all four casters were shot through the air, across the grotto, and into the cavern walls with enough impact to break every bone in their bodies and more. It happened in the burst of a single instant that was over before the bodies even hit the wall.
            Ethan stood up straight, blood leaking out of his nose and ears like red waterfalls with a headache that made him think of being hit in the head with a baseball bat. “That hurt a little,” he said.
            “Oh my God,” said Darcy after seeing him who, without magic, was completely unharmed. “Are you okay?”
            “ ‘Tis but a scratch,’ ” he said jokingly and he walked up the stairs to the tower top to survey the damage. At the top he saw that his dagger did hit the egg rock right in the side and it did destroy it but all around the runes still glowed powerfully, the majority of the magical morlock device unbroken and functional.
            He was immensely overwhelmed with the power he was looking at. Nothing was broken but that one part which was little more than the magical equivalent of a gun barrel filled with only a tiny fraction of what was all around them. It was of no consequence anymore because in all honesty he doubted anyone alive knew enough of morlock magic to ever hope to rebuild it and noting that level of power Ethan felt certain it was for the best.
            The pilgrim girl was fading quickly, her magical cage broken, but before she was gone she turned to Ethan, smiled in a way that was overflowing with gratitude with her last glance and whispered, Thank you… into his mind. He turned from her and looked up at the blue woman.
            The blue light was gone and he could see for certain she was indeed the witch-doctor from the tree house; a skinny elderly black woman wearing a simple thin white dress covered in sweat. As the power began to fade and she began to lower back down Ethan felt her suddenly and viciously forced it all back into herself. She let out a quick scream of rage more than pain and within seconds the power that surrounded made her look like the center of a large purple ball of electricity.
            “Why is she not dead like the others?” asked Darcy as Ethan pulled out his dagger from the dull gray rock and sheathed it.
            “Not even fazed a little, are we,” said Ethan as he pulled out his sword. “She’s protected by her magic some—” he poked the sword into the electricity and screamed as it went flying down his sword onto his hand “—son of a bitch!”
            “What is happening to her?” asked Darcy.
            “I don’t know,” he replied. “I can’t see through her magic as well as—” Ethan heard a sound that made him think of meat being squeezed and looked at the purple electricity. It seemed like it was slowly being absorbed into Naomi’s body and as it began to clear he noticed the thing in her right hand was something sharp and pointy but he still could not tell what it was.  “—weird.”
            Ethan cast his Ice Shard spell at her but the magic didn’t form and was absorbed from his hand out into the electricity like orange wind being sucked from his hand into a vortex.
            As the electricity faded further Ethan could then see that the sound he heard was in fact coming from her body: the sound of her flesh shifting and moving unnaturally. He saw her arms, legs, and torso growing and he heard loud and distinct crack sounds from the bones themselves as they grew under her flesh. Her eyes hardened as her body took a younger, stronger shape and her skin became very smooth. Her face seemed to turn very dark, her eyes filled with intense rage and hate as she continued to squeeze magic into herself.
            She was willing herself younger just like Tori Randal and Jessica Downs had become only it was brutal and forced and very painful looking. Her quickly growing muscularity pressed against her dress as did her younger breasts lifting up and stretching the skinny, small old woman’s dress to its limits. It ripped over the arms, at the back and the bottom. She had to feel every second of it, like someone slowly ripping her apart.
            Yet during all that time she never cried out again and her eyes never left his.
            It ended very suddenly, a small burst of magic filling the air, and Naomi dropping to her feet with the body of a teenage girl with the physique like that of an Olympic athlete. She immediately screamed in pained rage, stood up and ripped off her dress with her left hand and tossed it down.
            “You are a dangerous, irritating man, Ethan Bartlett,” she said in a young woman’s voice, her hair for some reason having grown longer and was hanging around down to her shoulders in large black curls. She was gorgeous as a young woman and perfectly proportioned and utterly fearless: Ethan could see it in her eyes.

7
(11/05/12)

            In her right hand she held the instrument she had used, a glass-like section of the orb from the tower by the woods. She held it up to let him see that it was paper thin, covered in runes on the inside, which he thought would be impossible to make if he had not seen with his own his eyes. She watched his expression carefully, looking for whatever she could find there, and then tossed it down to the ground where, drained of its final use, it shattered to a thousand pieces.
            “That worked out pretty well for you, Naomi,” said Ethan. Darcy said nothing, flanking Naomi instinctively on one side as Ethan moved around to the other. Naomi sensed what they were doing and kept her back to the edge and the two of them at her sides where she could watch them both.
            Ethan felt a magical void all around him after her spell. The spell she had used had sucked all magic temporarily out of the air and neither could cast anything. She sensed he knew that because she said simply, “If you think I’m going to die easily just because I don’t have access to magic you are mistaken.”
            Naomi looked ready to spring at either them should they try something but she was unarmed, naked, outnumbered and had only been young for less than a minute after she had been through a self-induced ordeal closely equivalent of torture. How dangerous could she possibly be? “Who are you?” asked Darcy softly, watching her cautiously.
            “I’m the Queen of Death,” Naomi told her. “I know who you are, Darcy Hamilton and I really know you, Ethan Bartlett.” Darcy looked at her for a moment holding the blue colored gun in her hand but then put it away into her jacket after a moment. “Smart girl.”
            Ethan took one step forward.
            Naomi’s left hand caught his sword arm like a snake biting prey and she quickly punched him across the face like three lightning bolts extended from her right arm. Blood burst out across his nose, his lips, his teeth but he did not stumble back because she did not let go and would have continued to pound into him into the ground before he had a chance to do anything but Darcy moved.
            Naomi kicked her in the stomach, sending her back across the tower top and then brought down her fist on Ethan’s arm. He dropped his sword, startled at the efficiency of her hit, and then she slammed her forehead square in the face and let go of his arm to allow him to stumble away from his weapon.
            She spun from Ethan and Darcy went through her defenses and sent one of her fists across Naomi’s face and a second into her stomach. Naomi took the pain in a way in such a way that amplified her rage but she had such iron-control it only strengthened her abilities. She punched Darcy in the stomach hard and shoved her down onto the tower top onto her back.
            “You are a bitch!” cried Naomi and then she smiled, blood covering her straight white teeth. “Not bad for a rich white girl though. Usually you just end up crying about the time I break your manicure.” Ethan moved for the sword and she kicked him in the stomach and then uppercut him across the face hard enough to knock him down. “Did you think we’d all be ladies in towers?” asked Naomi with a smile.
            “I had certainly hoped not,” he replied with a bloody smile as he clambered back to his feet. “You are much more—”
            Naomi threw herself forward, faster than anybody he had ever seen, and hit him three times in the ribs with each hand. Had she been a powerful man she would have shattered them, she didn’t, but what she lacked in strength she made up in speed.
            She suddenly grabbed his shoulders, kneed him in the stomach and then shoved him back against the rock shrine, his head flying back with impact nearly causing unconsciousness, and then she casually threw him down onto his hands and knees and kicked him in the side as hard as she could. “I like the way you hit!” he cried with an incredibly pained laugh. “I feel like Pam Grier is kicking my ass!”
            “How is it you’re still talking?”
            “It’s because you hit like a pussy.”
            Naomi laughed genuinely for a second then jerked around and threw herself into Darcy who was just a foot away from Ethan’s sword. The two grappled violently, equal in speed and close to each other in skill.
            Ethan jumped to his feet, causing more pain he knew he was capable of feeling, and moved at them. Naomi snarled when she saw him and quickly ripped herself free and punched Darcy as hard and as quickly as she could. Darcy caught her again just Ethan got to her and she tried to break loose, couldn’t, and suddenly Darcy shoved her over.
            She screamed, hit the stairs below, bounced off and then there was a splash followed by silence. Ethan and Darcy looked over to see her lying back first in the water below.
            Darcy turned to him. “Didn’t anyone tell you that women who know how to fight use speed,” she said. “You have to be fast to hit that kind of woman.”
            “Well sorry I wasn’t trained by Ike Turner,” he replied and they both laughed. He took out a Heal potion, drank it, and then tossed her one. She watched him heal, awestruck, and then quickly drank the one he gave her. “So that was fun, wasn’t it?”
            “The fuck it was!” she replied as she felt her smooth, healed face with both hands and smiled. “That psycho bitch nearly killed us!” She tossed him the empty vial.
            Ethan caught it and shrugged. “Feels like home with mother,” hereplied and he grabbed his sword and sheathed it. “Kind of nostalgic, really.”
            “A bad childhood had we?”
            “You have to have a childhood for it to be bad,” he replied simply and he started walking down the stairs. “Well I had fun. Let’s go get some junk food. Perhaps Duchess or maybe Kentucky Fried Chicken or even just Mandy’s Diner?”
            “Outback Steakhouse,” she told him.
            “Good choice,” he replied. “I’ve been eating at Duchess lately because I grew up in California and there are none out there.”
            “You seem pretty damn calm,” she told him. “I’ve never seen a man shrug off getting his ass kicked by a woman before.”
            “You can’t win every fight.” Ethan jumped off the last few stairs into the water and looked around. He had found where Naomi hit the stairs on the way down, she left some blood there, and both of them had seen where she landed in the water.
            Ethan found he was not the least bit surprised she was gone. “Shit,” said Darcy and she quickly walked across the floor to the edge of the watery level where there was a hole in the floor out into the ocean which was probably where the water came from anyway. “The bitch swam out.”
            “I’m not surprised.”
            “Not surprised? She fell off a fucking fifty foot tower.”
            “And she quite probably broke a few things,” said Ethan as he looked down at the hole in the water where he could see some daylight way down at its bottom. “If there is one thing I’m sure is that this one will not die easily.” He looked around at all the statues which had returned to their normal place and condition and all the runes were fading. “At least this place won’t ever be used again.”
            “What do you think we should do about her?”
            “What can we do?” he replied. “She’s gone now and who knows when she’ll reappear. If she does I’ll kill her if I can, she knows that, just as she knows that we’ll never talk to the police about this because there are too many damn questions and they can’t do anything anyway, but, then again, maybe she’s got what she wanted anyway. Maybe she’ll disappear and relive her life somewhere far away from here and we’ll never see her again.”
            Darcy scoffed. “Do you really believe that?”
            “Hell no,” he replied and started up the stairs out of the water toward the tunnel out. “She’ll pop up again and it will probably be very soon and very, very ugly.”
            They walked down the tunnel side by side and Darcy looked up at him. “Do you think she became prettier than me?”
            Ethan smiled but then suddenly he thought about Claire Winters. His smiled turned sad, still not comfortable with that feeling, and looked back to the grotto for one last look as the blue light faded, probably forever. He saw something that made cold sweat break out all over him.
            Two gigantic violet eyes stared at him from an opening into a tunnel high above the ground twenty feet right of the tower. They were there only for an instance, narrow cat-like and each the size of manhole covers, but when he blinked they were gone.
            “You didn’t see that up there, did you?” asked Ethan. He had a very unpleasant feeling gnawing up at him from his core and spreading out to every inch of his body. They seemed somewhat similar to Samuels’s eyes only more extreme and, like too many things in Bartlett Bay, there was something painfully familiar about them that he could not place.
            “See what?” Darcy looked up at the tunnel where he was looking, saw nothing, and looked at him. “What did you see?”
            “It was—” He laughed, shook his head, and wondered for a moment if he just imagined them.
            It could have been the result of that burst of magic from the destruction of that morlock magical device causing hallucinations; he had read somewhere that a magician could have those if too much power hit them too quickly. He wasn’t sure he believed that but he soon realized that no matter what he believed the best result was not simply to get away from it and fast because if it was fake, there was no need to worry, and if it wasn’t, well, whatever it was he did not have enough left in him to fight it that day.
            So he put his arm around Darcy’s neck, she did the same around his side and the two walked back down to the tunnel together. “It was just a pair of evil looking eyes, Darcy,” he told her and they smiled at each other, like two very old friends having suddenly met again after separated for a long time. “Let’s just get some food and relax.”

8
(11/08/12)

            “Give me your other gun!” hissed Michelle as she held her mangled hand against herself. It was healed by one of Audrey’s Heal potion but it clearly still hurt very badly and had not turned back to working condition.
            Natalie pretended to look at the gun she was holding but was in fact looking at her own hand. She had never in all of her life truly examined herself. She had been trapped in a pit of fear and felt all her life unexplainably incomplete and nothing, ever, had held any true interest in her beyond not feeling those two feelings. Suddenly everything had changed and she felt a strange, odd fascination for her own body which she thought most girls would be over with by the time they were her age.
            “Natalie!” hissed Michelle. “Gun! Now!”
            Natalie looked at her for a moment and then took her other hand and reached into her jacket and put her hand over her heart against her skin on top of her breasts. It beat so strongly in her chest but had it not always done that? She thought she was actually quite old but only for a moment because her body wasn’t old. Her skin was smooth and perfect and she was shaped so differently than she expected but she didn’t honestly know what she expected. Everything felt wrong and right at the same time.
            Trapped… Trapped in the dark…
            Tears started running down her face as she suddenly thought about her sisters, mother, and the commune for the first time. How many years did they all spend out there being pushed or prodded in whatever direction Mother wanted? Ethan had not done anything to Sally, it was extremely clear he was not to blame for any of that, even if he was being an asshole, and yet Mother would have had them slowly torturing him as if it would alter history itself. The others believed men were no different than any monster out of the woods at night just as they believed whatever Mother told them was God’s written law and there were never any men around to dispute what she told them.
            “I want my father,” whispered Natalie.
            “What did you just say?” asked her sister.
            “No you can’t have my gun, Michelle.”
            Michelle held up the ruin of her hand. It was clear that even with magic it would never work as it did before and she was the archer and musician of the family and it was her primary hand. “He took my hand, Natalie! Now give me the gun or at least shoot him for him!”
            “Ethan Bartlett did not to this to you. Mother did.”
            “What did you say about Mother?” Her eyes went wide with shock. “What was that?”
            “You heard me.”
            A voice in the distance could be heard clearly. “Let’s just get some food and relax,” it said.
            “It’s him! The fucker lived! Give me the gun! Give it to me NOW!”
            Natalie stepped away from her and looked over at the cave entrance. The thought of Ethan Bartlett suddenly filled her heart with such unfathomable gratitude that she would give him any part of herself, her body or her soul, if he were to simply to ask for it. She did not question her feelings because she knew the singular only reason that could possibly make her feel that way.
            “I am whole because of you,” she whispered.

*          *          *

            “If you think you’re going to end up with Claire Winters you’re wrong,” said Darcy suddenly. “I’m friends with her cousin and she’s already screwing Bryce Cunningham.”
            “Seriously, is that name made up?”
            “No and I’m not joking,” Darcy replied bitterly. “She’s a spoiled southern belle who thinks she can do whatever she wants whenever she wants and everyone will always forgive her because she’s so pretty.”
            Ethan did not like hearing that from Darcy because from her it was far harder to deny. “Aren’t you also extremely spoiled and beautiful too?” he asked her.
            “I still don’t mistreat my friends or boys that I like. I heard about you two, the way you were looking at each other, practically in love at first sight. You know how rare that is?”
            “Pretty fucking rare,” he replied.
            “Yeah, well, she doesn’t know that,” Darcy replied. “She’ll go off and fuck Bryce Cunningham or anyone else for that matter despite the fact you two have something wonderful and unique. She’ll come back, tell you all about it, and rip out your heart and then when you get mad expect you to forgive her because that’s what everyone does for her.” Darcy laughed in a cynical way and stopped him with her hand. “But you’re not going to once you learn what I’m saying is the truth. You’re not the forgiving type.”
            “She and I felt something crazy wonderful, Darcy,” Ethan told her. “We’re connected and she wouldn’t cheat on me and I won’t cheat on her. I can’t explain it but you have no idea how powerful this feeling is and I know she felt it too. For me it’s like I’ve been looking for this woman my entire life.”
            “I feel sorry for you,” she replied and started walking.
            “I feel sorry for me too,” he told her as they stepped around the turn of the tunnel into daylight. “You know it’s not really my style to play this kind of slow thing with women but—”Natalie suddenly threw her arms around him and kissed him deeply.
            “Yeah, I can see that.”
            Natalie was filled with incredible passion and he wanted her of course because she was incredibly beautiful. She wrapped her arms around him, pressing her body against his, and he held up his hands behind her back like he wanted to strangle something. He truly could not believe he was actually about to turn her down.
            Darcy saw that in his face and found it incredibly amusing. “I think I’m starting to really love you, Ethan Bartlett,” she told him.
            “You’d be the only one,” he replied.
            “You’ve given me back my soul,” said Natalie into his ear. “I’m alive and whole all because of you. You can have me anyway you want.”
            “Fuck you, fate,” he said miserably and Darcy laughed.
            “You don’t want me?” asked Natalie sadly.
            Ethan pushed her aside. “Natalie—” he saw Michelle standing in the cave niche holding a knife in her good off hand “—I do want you but I have someone I’m seeing and I’m not a liar or a cheater.” He looked over at Michelle. “You’re not going to let this go, are you, Michelle?”
            “Why are you still alive, Bartlett?”
            “I don’t know. Cause I’m cute?” She raised the knife and he lightning bolted her arm and she dropped the knife to the ground.
            She let out a loud, long shriek of rage and pain that didn’t end for several minutes. “Look what you DID!” She showed him her mangled hand. “LOOK WHAT YOU DID TO ME?”
            “Mother did this to you and she did it to Sally too!” hissed Natalie. “She turned us into tools to be used and then tossed away at her leisure! She doesn’t love any of us!”
            “How can you say that?” cried Michelle. “He is a pig! They’re all pigs!”
            “Of course she says that,” replied Natalie. “She wants us angry and distrusting of men and other women so we only listen to her.”
            “You fucking traitor!” hissed Michelle.
            “Traitor to what?” asked Ethan.
            “Shut up, pig!”
            “You’re wasting your time,” said Darcy.
            “She’s right,” said Natalie. “She’s been trained to believe blame and responsibility can be passed on in a literal fashion. Our mother used to pass it onto me for their confidence but now that I’m leaving another girl will have to take my place. It’ll be your turn now, Michelle.”
            “You run away and Mother will never forgive you.”
            “I’ll never forgive her,” said Natalie and tears filled up into her eyes. “She’s wasting our lives, Michelle! How many years have we spent hearing her rhetoric of hate instead of living? Have you ever gone shopping with friends, been to a dance, acted in a school play or even gone out to a movie with even one of the sisters? There’s a whole world out there, Michelle, a whole lifetime of experience and happiness that you and all our sisters will miss just because ‘Mother says so.’ ” She said the last in a bitter mocking voice.
            Ethan saw it did not connect with Michelle in the slightest. She was too far gone into whatever world the bellator women had created for themselves. “Who do you think you are?” she asked Natalie.
            “I’m Natalie but once I was a girl who lived in Salem Massachusetts when—” her eyes went wide “—when other stupid, manipulative females had stolen eight months of my life and killed both of my parents.” Tears ran down her face and she was seeing something that Ethan suspected was a vision like his of King Henry VIII’s hunting party.
            Darcy’s eyes were distant as if she was seeing something as well but Ethan felt nothing.
            “This is so—“
            Walter… a voice whispered from somewhere and he looked around as if expecting to find the speaker standing right beside him.
            “—weird.” He put his hand on Natalie’s shoulder and she looked up at him. “What is this Cave of the Blue Light exactly?”
            “I don’t remember,” she said sadly. “I think I will soon enough, though.” Her face hardened. “I think you will too.”
            “Well it doesn’t matter anymore because I broke it. I broke it good.” The two smiled at each other and in Natalie’s face Ethan saw incalculable relief.
            “You’ve lost your mind!” cried Michelle. “You help me kill this pig and come home with me and maybe, just maybe, Mother will find it in her heart to forgive you!”
            “The only forgiveness she has is for herself and her own errors,” she replied and she reached for Michelle. “Let me help—”
            “Don’t you touch me, traitor! If you want to leave, leave! I don’t need you!”
            “Are you sure?”
            “I said get the fuck away from me!” Natalie stepped back, shrugged and then slipped out between the rocks of the stone cage and then jumped out thirty feet down into a place in the water where she somehow knew it was deep enough. She then casually began swimming toward the sandy shore under Beechwood House.
            “You—” Michelle’s eyes went wide as if she did not expect that to actually happen “—you bitch!” Darcy jumped after and Ethan after her. “You PIGS!” she shrieked at the top of her lungs. “YOU ARE ALL PIGS!”
            It wasn’t a hard journey, only about a hundred feet or so and though it was raining there was little wind and they were all good swimmers. They each walked out of the beach soaked and covered in rain and Ethan turned to them. “Well that sure was fun,” he said. “Now if only I was single.”
            Darcy gave him a sly kind of half-smile as they began to walk toward the nearby Fisher St and Natalie slipped up against him quietly and wrapped her arm around his side.
            “Well what are you going to do now, Natalie?” he asked as he followed Darcy up the beach.
            “I’d like to go find my father,” she told him. “I want to have at least one real parent and a family.” Her eyes became distance. “After that I’ll stick around here for a while and see where all these strange visions take me.”
            Ethan nodded. “I’ll think I’ll stick around too. Hey, according to Darcy, I may be single soon.” Darcy smiled but it was a cynical joyless smile.
            “If you do will you come and find me?” asked Natalie.
            “Yes,” he replied earnestly. “Yes I will.”
            Darcy’s cynical smile widened. “You’ll be single sooner than you think,” she said as they stepped out onto the asphalt of the tail end of Fisher St. “Bryce Cunningham is real and Claire Winters is stupid enough to believe you’ll forgive her anything.”
            Ethan sighed. “I really hope that’s not true,” he said even though some large part of him did. He still could not understand why but he almost desperately wanted to be free of whatever it was that he was feeling.
            “You’ll come to regret putting your faith in her,” Darcy told him. “There is a reason only men call us the fairer sex.”

 

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