TALE 7

VILLAINS BY FIRELIGHT

(8 / 8 Completed)

1
(02/25/2013)

            Ethan parked near the sawhorses that blocked off lower Worthington St and broke the rings one at a time with his Ice Shard spell, each one exploding in a vibrant bright light of their respective color, and then decided to go to bed early. He hoped breaking the rings was enough but he had the lingering feeling he would meet those girls again someday.
            However, as he walked into the Bartlett House his thoughts of that were instantly disrupted when he found Cameron Carrier sitting at the family table dressed in a Greek robe complete with sandals, a leaf crown, and sunglasses which she had to wear he supposed, sitting next to a woman almost exactly like her only about ten years older. Ethan thought perhaps Cameron was going as one of those blind Greek prophets and her older twin who wasn’t blind was dressed in an elegant and regal short sleeved gown of red and white with a metal crown making her what he suspected was a young Queen Victoria of England.
            They were seated around by his middle generation cousins, Anne, Bernadette and Jane, all having a sneaky, quiet conversation that turned utterly silent the moment he appeared.
            “Don’t you all hate each other?” asked Ethan.
            “Nice to see you too,” Cameron replied.
            Ethan sighed and said, “I am really not interested in playing this game right now.”
            “You sound like you’ve had a rough night.”
            Ethan sighed again and turned to her. “What the hell do you want, Cameron?”
            “Still pining over Claire Winters?” asked Cameron.
            “No,” he replied and he made a tossing gesture with his hands even though he knew she couldn’t see it. “I tossed her away like a used cup.”
            “Because she’s screwing Bryce Cunningham?” asked Cameron with a half-smile.
            “Any particular reason you’re such a fucking bitch?” he replied.
            “Don’t you talk to her like that,” said her twin.
            “Maybe I’m bitter,” Cameron replied with the same half-smile.
            “Maybe you’re just a bitch,” he replied.
            “What did I just say?” asked her twin.
            “You’re not like other rich men, are you?” asked Cameron.
            “Just what the fuck makes you think I’m rich?” he asked and he walked over, leaned down on the table and looked at his family who had said nothing and stared at him blankly. He turned to Cameron, close to her face and said coldly, “The family has the money and, in case you don’t know this, the only people who hate me more than Robert Le Sueur and you are the other Bartletts. They’ll admit it if you ask it to their face.”
            Cameron’s twin crossed her arms and gave him a look of sheer contempt.
            “I didn’t know that actually,” Cameron replied to Ethan with an indifferent shrug. “You do live a mansion and you do have your own personal cook. Not exactly poor, Ethan.”
            Ethan groaned, leaned down onto his arms for a moment, and then raised himself back up. “I live in the loft like a tenant and I cook my own food which I pay for. Once in a while I get invited down and it’s always a bitter uncomfortable experience surrounded by rich, spoiled bitches just like you who would rather see me dead than a member of their family. Just like you.”
            “You’re such a gentleman,” said Anne with a cold, indignant expression.
            Ethan turned his head. “Drunks who drive over their competitors do not hold the social high ground over me, Anne.”
            Cameron’s twin looked at Anne and smiled. “Enjoy victory while it lasts, Marie,” Anne told her simply before taking another drink of her wine.
            Cameron was frowning straight ahead. “I’m nothing like them,” she told him.
            Ethan laughed. “Whatever you say,” he replied and she sneered and didn’t respond.
            The door opened from behind and Lucy and her friends, minus the slutty looking one and Lana, came walking in. When her eyes saw him she immediately walked right up to him. “Ethan!” she told him in a hard voice. “We need you! Now!”
            “Just because sex with cousins is legal does not mean I’m into it,” he replied.
            Lucy slapped him across the face, startling Marie and Cameron and amusing the others. “Not fucking funny, boy!” she hissed.
            “It was just a joke, Lucy,” said Marie.
            “No one asked you, Marie,” Lucy replied.
            “Lucy,” said Ethan softly, “Don’t you ever hit me again.”
            “And you call me a bitch,” said Cameron.
            “You both are,” he replied. “Two spoiled brats who think they walk on water and that it is an honor to be in their presence.” Ethan cracked his neck and decided if she tried anything he was going to slap her across the face hard enough to knock her right off her feet. “Now, Lucy, you slapped me across the face so the fact that I’m not bitch slapping your spoiled ass—”
            “Don’t you talk to my daughter like that, you little bastard,” said Bernadette.
            “She slapped me across—”
            “I don’t care if you sliced your testicles off,” she replied. “You ever talk to my daughter like that again and—”
            “I’m going to bed now,” Ethan announced. “I’ve had very long night and I don’t have any more patience to spare.”
            “Lana is in trouble, Ethan,” said Lucy.                                                             
            “So.”
            “I think something bad happened to her.”
            “So.”
            “I’m not kidding.”
            “So.”
            “I’m not kidding.”
            “I’m not either,” he replied at last and then shrugged. “If you ever grow past the mental age of five you’ll be thankful she’s gone. She’s not your friend.” Lucy crossed her arms and the Hispanic girl and Trisha looked around nervously. “I just want to go upstairs, make a quick bite to eat and drop off. I’ll need my sleep because tomorrow I think I might go with Darcy to volunteer with the flood relief effort thing she’s a part of.”
            “Exactly what makes you think I give a shit about that?” asked Lucy. Ethan frowned at her, startled by her oddly aggressive nature. She was often mean, usually just throwing out a sideways comment here and there, but he had never seen her nearly that openly vicious. “Ethan,” she said with a sigh, “We got a text saying she was in the Engelstad.”
            “I wish I could say it was nice knowing her.”
            “Just look at the fucking text, asshole,” she said and she showed Ethan her cellphone.

*          *          *

they took me in englestad and going to kill me get ethan

*          *          *

            “She’s probably out in a meadow somewhere naked and hoping to seduce me,” he replied.
            “I seriously doubt that,” said Lucy.
            “Well, if only I cared—” she grabbed him by his shirt and yanked him close, her eyes overflowing with rage “—this is a side I haven’t seen of you, Lucy. It’s not intimidating at allbut it is kind of interesting.”
            “I have no idea what’s going on,” she told him as if he was interested. “All I know is that Lana put something in the back of the church—what does that face mean?” She shrugged it off and pushed him away. “Look, some weirdoes dressed as vampires in jock jackets appeared and I think they kidnapped her.”
            Ethan looked over at her with a very cold expression. “What was it exactly?”
            “What was what?”
            “What the fuck did she put in the back of the church?” He grabbed her hair, making everyone jump, and pulled her close. “I’m not going to ask you twice, you fucking cunt!”
            Bernadette threw herself to her feet and cried out, “Get your damn hands—”
            “Shut up!” snarled Ethan and Lucy looked into his eyes. “Was it jewelry? Rings?”
            Lucy was not afraid in the slightest but Ethan doubted it was because she was brave. He suspected she was just misguided enough to believe he would never actually hurt her. “Let go of my hair, Ethan.”
            Ethan let go, feeling incredibly furious. “I am not going to help you or your bitch friend.” Lucy’s friends looked very nervous but Lucy just put her hands on her hips and looked at him calmly. “You have any idea what happened in that church tonight?”
            “You have any idea how little I care?” she replied and reached up to touch his face like she was consoling a child. He slapped her hand away, becoming even angrier. “Let me explain to you what is going to happen.”
            “Let’s start with what I’m going to do,” he replied. “I’m going to a deep intake of breath—” he did “—and then I’m going to tell you to fuck off.” She slapped him across the face again and he turned, took a step toward her and a plate hit him across the head hard enough to shatter.
            “What just happened?” asked Cameron.
            Ethan looked over at Bernadette who was glaring at him and then back at Lucy. “I’m going to go to bed now,” he said and he felt his head to find blood there.
            Lucy grabbed his face and turned it so he was looking at her. “Look, Ethan, you’re nothing but a guest in our house and so is your cute little birdie. You like him around? You don’t do what I want, and when I want, I’ll make sure he suffers for it.”
            “You seem rather upset considering Lana thinks of you even less than you think of me.” Lucy’s eyes darkened. “You use Lana too, don’t you? She does most of the thinking and takes the responsibility so you don’t have too.” Lucy’s eyes grew even darker.  “I bet her lawyer mother is helpful as well.” She then looked at him with such an incredible amount of loathing that it actually changed his opinion of her. She was nothing like he originally took her for. “Are you going to pay me or something?”
            “I’ll pay you with the kindness of not having your ass ejected all the way back to California and your bird not cooked as Wednesday chicken.”
            “Do you honestly believe I think it’s an honor to be living with a bunch of cunts like you?”
            “Watch your goddamn mouth!” cried Anne.
            “My God,” said Marie, “You are all so incredibly mean to him.”
            “This doesn’t concern you, Carrier,” said Bernadette.
            “I find it all rather funny, myself,” said Jane.
            “You’re saying it right in front of me,” Marie said. “I just—I just can’t believe how much you hate him.”
            “What the hell does that mean?” asked Anne.
            “Oh come on, Anne,” said Marie. “He’s one of you. I know why I hate him but why do you?”
            “It’s cool, Marie,” said Ethan. “It’s just my family’s way of telling me how much they secretly care about me.” They all looked at him with a cold, aloof expression. “Hey if you think this is bad you should see how my California family treats me.”
            “Just because I’m appalled at how they treat you does not mean we’re friends, Bartlett,” said Marie.
            “Oh for fuck’s sake.”
            Lucy grabbed his face again and turned him back. “Ethan,” she said, “If you don’t do this for me, I will make your sure your little friend ends up as our Thanksgiving dinner.” She sounded very much like she meant it.
            “You would really eat a talking being?” he asked.
            “I never said I’d eat him. I just said he’d end up as dinner. Maybe a homeless man is hungry for hawk.” She then adjusted his shirt a bit. “And let’s not forget all the other things I can do to you. Money is very important to my family and you’ve been staying here for free for how long? Oh and what did you do to those poor boys back in August? The past has a way of haunting people out here in Bartlett Bay.”
            Ethan laughed and, still smiling, said, “You have no idea.”
            “Are you going to go or not?”
            His smile left his face. “I think you’re bluffing,” he said.
            Her eyes were like two daggers. “Try me,” she said. “I know you’re pretty damn fearless and I know we could cut you out of off all this and you’d walk. Margaret doesn’t think you or anyone would ever abandon such wealth but you would. The one thing you do care about, however, is your bird and as long as he’s around I own your California ass.”
            Ethan swallowed and lowered his eyes. He really, really wanted to hurt her if for no better reason than to wipe that look of perceived invincibility off her smug face.
            “That’s what I thought.”              
            “Just go,” said the Hispanic girl unhappily.
            Ethan took a deep breath, holding back his rage, and said, “Alright,” he said. “I’ll take a look but I guarantee nothing—”
            “Fine!” she hissed. “I suppose that will have to do!”
            “—but If you touch my bird I will make you wish you were never born,” he told her.
            “I’m shaking.”
            “Lucy,” said Ethan, “This may surprise you but I’m not a very nice guy and what you are doing is really pissing me off.” He wanted to break her nose for just threatening him and if he got the opportunity to do so in the future he would take it. “Do not ever threaten my friend again.”
            “I’m shaking,” she said again.
            “Ethan,” said Bernadette with a smile that mirrored her child’s. “It is not wise to threaten my daughter.”
            He rolled his eyes and turned to Lucy. “You do understand what I’m saying?”
            “I’m shaking,” she said once more and then gave him a wide smug smile. “Now are you going to do this thing for us or is Mickey going to be on a plate this Thanksgiving instead of on your shoulder.”
            “I already told you I’d go and it’s only because I think you’re dumb enough to actually do that.”
            “Dumb enough?” she replied with a smile. “Smart enough to have you where I want, slave.”
            “I’d turn your face into steak tartar if you ever did something like that,” he replied and he meant it but when she looked into his eyes it was clear she did not believe it and she only smiled in response. “Just stay away from my fucking bird.”
            “Just go fetch already, you fucking dog,” she said and she waved him away.
            Ethan sighed and started back to his room. As he walked by Cameron she said, “They really do hate you, don’t they?”
            “Don’t talk to him,” said Marie.
            “Just listen to your aunt, you Le Sueur cunt,” said Ethan and both she and her aunt’s jaw dropped in surprise.
            “Jesus,” said Cameron as if she was actually hurt by that. “I was just saying.”
            “Don’t pretend you give a shit about anyone but yourself,” said Ethan as he went up the stairs feeling depressed.
            He had kind of liked Lucy before, having taken her for almost honest, but her real personality was much more antagonistic than he could live with. He wondered if it would be better if he just took his bird and just kept on driving west.
            “Fuck this night,” he added as he opened the door to the loft.

2
(02/28/2013)

            “You going to slay a dragon?” asked Marie as he walked by her with his equipment on, his left hand resting on the pommel of his sword.
            “I’m sorry, are we friends now?” he replied. The equipment had not changed: the sword, the two semi-automatics, the magical satchel, the same shirt he wore under his clown suit, the black vest, the gloves, the black pants and the long, black jacket reaching down to his ankles.
            “Is that how you want to play this, Bartlett?” she asked him coldly.
            “I don’t want to play at all. Don’t talk to me again and don’t waste my time.” He turned and walked out of the doors toward his car, ignoring the grinning Lucy not far away. “Fucking bitches,” he said and he threw open his door, tossed his sword and dagger into the passenger seat, and drove away.
            Halfway down Edmonton west toward Worthington he realized he still had his family sword in the trunk. He wondered if perhaps he should just throw it back into the church basement where it would remain lost or perhaps melt it down and turn it into a metal dildo. He was no member of this family and almost every day it seemed they found new ways of showing it to him.
            He turned right up Worthington past the powerless empty diner and spared a glance back across Edmonton through his rear view mirror at the Merrick Hotel located across the street opposite the diner. It was oddly large and nicknamed the Cathedral for the disturbing gothic look that permeated all five floors of widely spread building. Much of its appearance was very uninviting but it was generally successful for some reason and was easily high enough to remain unharmed by the flood.
            In Ethan’s quick glance he saw the black silhouette of a large man walking across the windows, Owen Merrick himself judging by the size, holding an electric lantern and skulking through the dark rooms.
            “God, what a weirdo,” said Ethan as he turned away. The more he thought about Owen Merrick the more convinced he became of two things: he was too damn quiet and that Christine Taylor, a sweet and outgoing girl, was just about the single worst match imaginable for him in matrimony.
            He put it out of his mind as he drove through the insanely quiet and dark street and turned east down Charlotte. Halfway down he noticed an opening in the fence by a parked black car with its headlights off. He shrugged, parked the car across the street, grabbed his blades and stepped out.
            He sighed, unhappily shut his door, locked it, and then walked toward the other vehicle. He gave it an admiring glance as he tied on his blades, rather impressed by it.
            It was a black 1970 Plymouth Barracuda with a cherry red interior. It was on, he could hear the engine purring like a kitten, and it sounded so quiet and perfect it was like the vehicle had been built only yesterday. He wasn’t sure how he could tell, some significant but indefinable difference in the engine’s sounds perhaps, but he felt certain it was all original parts.
            He cast his Torch spell inside the vehicle and saw no one was inside. He shrugged, uncast his spell and walked around the back toward the woods.
            The car suddenly jerked into backward motion and he jumped forward on sheer instinct, rolled onto the grass on the other side of the street unharmed, and the car stopped with the passenger window staring in his face, and that was when he saw the driver.
            There was a ghost of a woman in the driver’s seat, transparent as always, wearing a wide white headband with straight, long dark hair and at least the upper half of a white sweater dress reaching up to the base of her neck with short sleeves just long enough to reach just passed her elbows. She turned to him, her pretty model-like face almost exploding with rage, and then drove off violently fast toward Worthington St without turning the lights on.
            Ethan pulled out his right pistol and even before he fired the car zigzagged in a disturbing manner, one that should have thrown it out of control, to avoid him shooting out the tires. He fired several times, hitting the car in the back harmlessly, and then it disappeared over the bridge and was out of his sight into the darkness.
            “God when will this night fucking end!” he cried as he put his gun away. He went back to his car, drove it off the road and hid it amid some trees on the other side thinking the entire time it wouldn’t really protect it but it was better than nothing. Then he went back across the road and slipped through the hole cut out of the chain link fence.
            Then he stepped through the trees into the darkness of the Engelstad once again.
            There was a trail just past the tree line and every now and then as Ethan walked down it he saw something that had fallen; a cheap white high-heeled shoe, a bracelet here, a bright green glove there, a half torn jacket and once a bright red woman’s wallet. Ethan picked it up, looked it over, and saw it was empty and tossed it away. He sensed what it was easily enough: a trail of things left by people dragged down a path no one dared follow.
            Then Ethan casually spun around and punched a figure in the face hard enough to send him stumbling backward. The figure laughed, clutching his nose, and looked at him with a bemused expression from an extremely pale face. He was a boyish looking kid wearing a white t-shirt and jeans with the bottoms rolled up over his sneakers and a 1950s purple letterman jacket.
            “A little jumpy, aren’t you, Slugger?”
            “Nice costume, Edward Cullen,” said Ethan. Even in the darkness of those woods the boy’s face was visibly so pale that he looked like a corpse. Then when he lowered his arm Ethan saw his nose was clearly broken even though the boy did not seem remotely affected by it. “Doesn’t that hurt?”
            “Who exactly are you and why exactly are you here?” asked the boy as if he had not heard.
            “Who cares,” Ethan replied.
            “Not exactly the answer I expected.”
            “Yeah, that’s nice.”
            “You must be Ethan, Slugger. Lana mentioned your name. Thinks you can kill us.”
            “I can,” he replied earnestly. “I can but I’m not Ethan.”
            “Yes you are,” he said and then he smiled again. “You are not related to James or Julian Bartlett by any chance, are you?”
            “Do I look rich to you?”
            He smiled wider and said, “They call me Slick, Slugger. Do you want to see your girlfriend? She’s right down the road.”
            “She is not my girlfriend and sure, why not.”  Slick then casually started walking down the trail and Ethan walked behind him finding Slick to be oddly unafraid of him despite the fact that he was obviously armed with real guns and blades. “Like your costume, by the way. What is it this year? 1950s star baseball player virgin with no date to prom?”
            Slick stopped, turned around and faced him with a very hard expression. “You take that back,” he said.
            “No,” Ethan replied calmly.
            The boy took a deep breath, his hands turning into hard fists for a moment he was so enraged, but then he calmed and smiled in a way that didn’t touch his eyes. “I like you, Slugger, but I wouldn’t try my patience too much tonight. It’s been a rather strange evening.”
            “Couldn’t be stranger than mine,” Ethan replied.
            “Oh I wouldn’t say that,” he told him with a smile and then he turned back.
            Slick said nothing else as he led Ethan down the path which at a three forked intersection he turned left without any thought as if he walked that same road every day of his life and then continued until he found a two direction fork where he turned a left again and then suddenly Ethan saw a huge bonfire out in the center of clearing with Lana Creed standing right in front of it. Surrounding Lana were seven other boys wearing letterman jackets, most of which held baseball bats. One held an axe.
            Lana was extremely disturbed, her hands shaking, and looking at each of them in stark terror. Ethan did not know why but for some reason it took several minutes for him to recognize her.
            “Look!” she cried miserably in a voice that sounded more of a rural sort than he recalled, “I-I don’t kn-kn-I don’t know anything! McCaffrey did not take me when he went and I did not know until now anything ever came of it!” She was breathing quicker, her breasts seeming to grow every time she inhaled.
            “I don’t believe you,” said a blond man with a pompadour standing right in front her. Slick ignored Ethan and walked up toward the blond man.
            Lana was crying and said, “McCaffrey went out into the woods with some of my friends and they vanished! That’s all I know!”
            “Listen, Pigs—”
            “How could you all kill that girl?” cried Lana. “How could you?”
            Ethan noticed one was holding something big but he couldn’t see it clearly. He was a creepy, slender boy with short, slick dark hair combed almost straight back, wearing jeans and a white polo-shirt. When he moved to show Lana what he was doing Ethan saw it clearly to be the body of that slutty friend of Lana’s, her shapely sexy body unmistakable. His fingers were jammed up between her legs and his fire lit profile showed he was grinning joyfully at Lana’s expression.
            Lana’s friends’ head been removed but Ethan he did not see it anywhere.
            “The time for kindness is over!” cried the one called Vinnie. “The women coming out of that church have—” he jerked toward Slick as he tapped him on his shoulder “—what the fuck do you want?”
            “Fellas,” said Slick, “We have ourselves a visitor—” he looked back with his arm extended in a grand gesture and frowned “—somewhere.” Ethan had slipped among the trees a moment before. “Slugger?”
            Seven of them turned around but the one holding the headless body stayed exactly where he was. “So tight,” he told Lana. “Want to share?” She began to weep in response.
            Ethan was startled to see that some of those boys were covered in vicious, possibly even fatal wounds. One of them had a disgusting mess where his left eye should be, along with a disturbing and obviously mortal cut in his neck and the one with the axe looked like someone had hit him with it several times and yet somehow both of them were still standing. Ethan could see the gaping wound into his body and even by firelight he could tell it wasn’t faked.
            “Time to die, Ethan,” said Slick as he picked up a baseball bat from the ground nearby and then casually moved toward the trees where Ethan was hiding. He pretended to look left in the wrong direction then jerked toward the right where Ethan was. “Gotch—” Ethan stabbed him in the stomach with his dagger, twisted it violently, and then gutted him “—Jesus please-us, you fucking, fucking, bastard!” he finished.
            Slick then dropped his bat and stumbled back a bit before he lost his balance and fell over. It clearly was not in pain because he began pulling his guts back into his body the moment after as casually as if it was something as annoying as cleaning up a paint spill.
            Ethan sheathed his dagger, the blood slipping off magically, before it touched the sheath and then pulled out his left gun. “Slugger, you’re not that cold—” Ethan fired into his forehead and he dropped to the ground. Then he turned and fired once at the one with the axe who was creeping toward him holding the weapon in both hands.
            The bullet went through his forehead too and sent his brains out of the back of his head, causing Lana to let out a loud, long shriek of horror, but he didn’t even slow down.  “You’ll have to do better than that, Tex,” he said with a smile.
            Ethan holstered his gun, pulled out his sword and started forward. A hand grabbed his leg and, without hesitation, chopped off Slick’s head and pulled his leg loose.
            “Well this one is pretty goddamn mean,” said the one with the axe.
            “Listen, greasers—” Ethan’s face fell as his mind clicked with what Haley said. All of them except one, an average looking boy with a proper 1950s haircut, smiled a bit, and the one who had been holding the corpse dropped it and stood up.
            “My reputation precedes me,” the boy with the axe said with a wide smile and then made a mock bow. “Buzz Bentley Jr. at your service,” he said.
            “You’re ghouls.” They all glanced at each other and then back at him with a blank expression. “How exactly did you all become ghouls?”
            “We only tell stories to people we like,” said Vinnie and Ethan sensed something and looked back to see Slick’s head had reattached itself at the bone.
            “Oh don’t be angry, Slick,” said Ethan when he saw his glare. “It’s not like I took off something you use.”
            “You can’t kill us, Errol!” Buzz told him with a smile, Ethan easily able to see the tunnel his bullet made through his head.
            “I can still cut you to pieces and incinerate them individually.” Vinnie’s face shifted down to worry. “Any of you assholes want to see if I can’t you come right at me.” They hesitated. “You’re not the first monster whose only way to die is—” he shot a lightning bolt into Slick’s face as had stepped toward him when he thought he wasn’t looking “—unconventional.” Slick felt his charred face for a moment and frowned at him.
            Buzz looked at him for a moment, weighed the odds, then shrugged and charged.
            He was like an animal, almost insane, swinging crazy fast but with a great deal of untrained competency. Ethan knocked his axe aside, shouldered him onto the ground, and then sliced Slick across the chest as he rushed at him. He would have started chopping them both to pieces but several of them charged as Slick fell over so instead Ethan charged right back.
            They weren’t particularly talented but they weren’t afraid and they were athletic enough to avoid being to cut to pieces in combat. He sliced hug gashes through them as they came, nearly cutting the blond one’s face in half, but nothing was brutal enough to stop or slow them down.
            The largest one raised a shovel over his head when Ethan was forced to turn his back but before he could try and swing there was a flap of black feathers and he dropped the shovel and clutched his face screaming, “My eyes!”
            “Not so fucking funny now, is it, asshole?” hacking the one with the missing eye and fatal throat wound and he then threw his knife at Ethan. He missed, the knife flying into the bushes, and Ethan rushed up to him. He jumped back just in time and Ethan sliced him across the neck right below his original wound but much deeper and almost right to the bone.
            He gasped and charged away from him.
            “Got your back!” cried Mickey as he flew up into the air.
            Ethan rushed away from them, stumbled a bit from the pain of being nicked at various places with bats, and then was back up. He saw the ritual shaped like a ring around the bonfire keeping Lana by the bonfire and he casually cut across it with the sword, felt the stinging little sparks of magic shoot off as it was destroyed, and moved up beside her.

3
(03/04/2013)

            “James?” asked Lana softly.
            “Who the hell is James?”
            “James Bartlett,” she told him. “You look like you could be his brother.”
            “I thought you looked familiar,” said Vinnie as he felt a huge cut across his femininely beautiful face.  Facing the bonfire Ethan could see his eyes had the glazed look of a corpse. “Another one of those goddamn wheels running this goddamn city into the goddamn ground and playing up like they’re goddamn kings.”
            “Well goddamn that,” Ethan replied. The others were looking at him with various wounds, all of them having gone at him at one point or another except an average looking one with an ugly wound on his back who seemed more interested in Lana than him. They did not approach him again or even move and simply stared.
            “Alan,” said Lana and the average one looked at her. “Call them off. We’ll get the police and I’ll vouch for you and you won’t get a very bad sentence if you help us. I’ll tell them how you didn’t hurt me or kill this girl and I’ll drop the kidnapping charges on you.”
            “You might want to offer your mother’s services if you’re going to try to give them a bullshit deal,” Ethan told her.
            “What could my mother do?” asked Lana earnestly.
            “I’m sorry but it’s far, far too late for that,” Alan told her sadly.
Slick tried to speak but no sounds came out.
            “Pigs,” said Vinnie. “You’re not doing anyone a favor by hiding what you know. Tell us what we want and we’ll go away.”
            “I don’t know where it is, Vinnie,” she told him. “I can’t state it to you any more clearly than I have: I—did—not—go—with—him!”
            Ethan took a deep breath feeling the multitude of bruises everywhere on his body. “Who the hell are you guys, anyway?”
            “They’re just a bunch of punks from Bay City High,” said Lana. “They call themselves the Black Cats and think that because they’re part of a good baseball team they’re special.”
            Ethan looked down at the headless body of that pretty slutty friend and looked up at the boy who had been playing with her. He smelt his fingers and gave him a smile.
            “You look kind of tired, Ethan,” said Buzz as he approached with his axe resting on his shoulder. “You think you can keep this up all night?”
            “Not a problem,” he replied and then two of them slowly started toward him carefully; the creepy slender boy with the corpse and one that was a tall, gangly boy with curly light brown hair and very light blue eyes. The curly haired one was wearing a light blue polo shirt, khaki pants, and nice shoes, his hands rubbing together gently as he walked. He looked incredibly prim and proper but his eyes showed something much less so.
            “I’m going to kill you, Ethan,” the curly haired boy told him. “And, I’d like to add, I’m going to do it really, really slow.” He reached behind his back under his letterman jacket and with each hand pulled out a decent sized meat cleaver. “You spoke of dismemberment. I’ll show how it’s done.”
            “I always knew you were sick, Sanford,” said Lana softly.                               
            He smiled but it didn’t touch his eyes. “I’ll have some left for you, Pigs,” he told her.
            “You’re still pining over Maggie—”
            “You shut your goddamn mouth!” he snarled. “You ice that shit and you ice it now! Maggie Schroeder is long—”He raised his weapons to block when Ethan rushed him, almost stumbling into the fire when Ethan maneuvered him to where his back was to it.
            Ethan knocked a clever aside, sliced Sanford across the chest, and then when he swing again Ethan parried that clever hard enough to knock it out of his hand. He swung again with his right clever, screaming in rage, and over swung. Ethan then knocked him backward into the fire during the second he stepped off balance.
            The other was then on him and swung his bat at Ethan as hard as he could. Ethan raised his sword to block the creepy one’s swing but he didn’t have it quite right and the bat slipped free and went across Ethan’s shoulder with enough momentum to come close to breaking it. Ethan grunted, knocked the bat aside, stabbed the ghoul through the front of his chest out through the back and then ripped out his blade violently enough to drop him to his knees.
            There was a loud, long pain filled shriek from Sanford as he was incinerated. Whatever they were, ghouls or not, they were highly flammable and he burned for only a few moments before his cries stopped and only for a few moments more before his entire body turned to ash without a remote trace of remains to be seen.
            Ethan thought he saw his spirit slip out of the fire for a split second but there was no way for him to be sure.
            “Oh dear God!” squeaked Lana.
            “God has nothing to do with it,” Ethan replied.
            “You killed Steve!” cried the one with one eye.
            “I think,” Ethan replied as he felt the pain of his shoulder stretching all over his torso, “That with time and therapy I might just recover.”
            The ghoul on his knees screamed, threw himself to his feet and swung his bat as hard and violently as he could. Ethan ducked the swing just barely, the bat going too wide, and in a quick space of the window it created Ethan stood up and sliced off the ghoul’s head. It came off bloodlessly and almost perfectly vertical but before it had landed Ethan grabbed his body while still on its feet with his left hand and almost casually pushed into the fire.
            Ethan then turned and faced the others coldly, both hands holding tightly onto the blade, the fire behind him turning him into a black silhouette. They surprisingly did not come after him.
            “Who are you?” asked Vinnie.
            “I’m what comes when all the heroes are dead and gone,” he told him and that was when he heard a strange squish-crunch sound. Everyone paused for a moment and then looked down in unison.
            The ghoul’s severed head had landed close to the neck of Lana’s dead friend and the squish-crunch sound they heard was it attaching itself to her body. The neck was a nasty mess on all sides but he, then a she, was almost instantly mobile and already scrambling to its feet. It was screaming silently in horror, no more vocal than Slick had been, but there was a difference and all of them were stunned by it.
            The ghoul began to change, the head and shape shifting around like a movie effect into a slender, woman’s head and face that matched the body below it. The ghoul’s hair pushed out of her head growing long and luxurious and then curled, tied itself up behind her, in an elegant 1950s style that somehow reminded Ethan of Natalie Wood in Rebel Without a Cause somehow.
            The skin of the body smoothed out from top to bottom, became that dead white pale and perfectly flawless, and then both breasts lifted up and became perkier, which should not have been a problem considering the girl was just a teenager. The muscle on her body tightened as the fat faded from her, becoming lean and athletic, and then the clothes shifted as well: another letterman jacket, a little too big as if it were her boyfriends, a tight black shirt covering her neck and reaching to her waist where there was a black skirt that clung to her hips and reached down passed her knees. Her feet became covered in cute little saddle shoes.
            “Well that was unexpected,” said Ethan.
            “You son of a bitch!” mouthed the ghoul holding her neck together with her hands, managing to wheeze out a very little bit of air. She was very attractive, trapped between the genetics of the boy she had been and the girl whose body she stole, close enough to the very center to be taken for a member of either family. “I will murder you for what you have done to me!”
            “How? By beating me to death with your purse?” Several of her friends burst out laughing.
            “You evil bastard!”
            “You act like you don’t have a choice in this,” Ethan told him and he gestured to the fire. She looked at the fire and then at Ethan. “What is it going to be, little girl?”
            “I like your new breasts, Louie!” said the big one in a slow oafish way, his left eye somehow uninjured under the multitude of pecks and scratches.
            “Shut up!”
            “Who are you?” asked Vinnie again.
            “Death,” Ethan replied. He stuck his sword into the fire and all of them looked at him nervously.
            “Leave!” cried Lana. “Please just leave us alone!”
            “You used us!” Louie said with a little more voice. “You used us to come back!”
            “No she didn’t,” said the one she called Alan. “She has no idea what’s happening. For her it was like it was just yesterday.”
            “Finally one of you gets it!” cried Lana. “I don’t know any of your stupid secrets or your stupid magic rituals! I’m just a nobody girl from Connecticut!”
            “So is he!” said the big one with a deep laugh as he pointed at Louie.
            “I told you to shut your fucking mouth!” cried Louie.
            Ethan suddenly frowned and looked around. “Where’s the asshole with the axe gone to?”
            “Buzz?” asked Lana and then she looked around too.
            Then they heard heavy thuds coming toward them from the south
            “Oh shit!” cried Ethan as a huge lumbering shape suddenly erupted out from the darkness, too big to be anything but a troll, aiming straight toward them. Buzz was behind it and pointing at Ethan with his axe. It wore just a pair of raggedy pants, carried nothing, and, like all trolls, looked very, very hungry.
            Ethan ripped his blade from the fire and sliced at the nearest ghoul, Vinnie, who made a move to grab Lana. The blade went across his arm, cutting it only slightly, but on impact the flame-hot end set it on fire. He screamed as he fell to the ground, the others trying to put out the fire with dirt while Ethan grabbed Lana’s hand and charged across the meadow to the trees away from the troll.
            “Run little doggies!” cried Buzz in an ecstatic voice. “Run for your lives!”
            The troll was gaining fast because of its enormous strides and Ethan knew he could not hope to defeat it and the ghouls at the same time. He turned when it very quickly got within thirty feet and fired an ice shard from his left hand right into its left knee where stuck like a sticker from a plant. It instantly shattered as the troll completely ignored it and continued to charge.
            “Fuck!” cried Ethan as he sprinted into the nearby trees. Lana caught his left hand and held on with a terrified death grip.
            Ethan sheathed his sword as they moved through the trees to a nearby trail, the laughter of the greasers fading behind them. As soon as they touched the trail he led Lana in a straight lined charge down it.
            “Stop!” cried Lana as she tried to pull him off the trail. “It’ll be able to follow—” She shrieked when the troll burst out onto the trail after plowing through the trees and brush like they were nothing.
            Ethan turned and fired a lightning bolt from his right hand into the troll’s face as it towered above them. It screamed, clutched its eyes, and while it was distracted Ethan and Lana sprinted away.
            The trail suddenly turned north toward a small clearing where Ethan and Lana almost ran into three more trolls who were all sitting around a large unlit fire pit not far from the bottom of a thirty foot tall cliff face. They saw the two humans instantly and all stood up, all three wearing the same kind of ragged pants as the first troll but two of them had sleeveless vests as well and one had sandals. All of their clothing was made from some kind of leather that could very well have been from human beings.
            He looked back to see the other troll’s giant shape lumbering down the path toward them clutching its eyes. Ethan quickly grabbed Lana and threw her toward a nearby branchy tree. “Up!” he cried quietly.
            The trolls began to argue among themselves who would eat who and the first troll, distracted by having his eyes attacked and the other trolls talking, forgot to look for them and ran right past them.
            Lana looked at Ethan worriedly as he quickly drank down a healing potion. “I’m too fat to climb!” she whispered.
            Ethan blinked, confused by that statement, and then put his hands around Lana’s slender waist and lifted her up to the nearby branch. She caught onto it, climbed up gracefully, and, despite her fear, smiled down at him in pleasant surprise. There was something very different about that smile, something genuinely sweet, but before it made sense to him she turned and continued to climb up easily. Ethan moved up after and soon they were both high up into a series of branches twenty and thirty feet in the air.
            The trolls looked around for them, not looking up at all, utterly confused at their disappearance. Ethan and Lana moved carefully through the trees away from the trolls toward the cliff. It wasn’t hard to move from tree to tree across their intertwined branches and Ethan quickly saw that one of them near to the cliff reached almost to the top and he felt certain they could climb up over it to safety.
            Mickey landed on a nearby branch, looking at him worriedly. Ethan put his finger to his lips and pointed at the trolls. Mickey then tilted his head and gave him a “no shit, Einstein,” look in response.
            Lana suddenly let out a shriek as both feet slipped off the tree she was on. Her hands shot out and caught onto random branches and tightened instantly into death grips while her legs flailed about below her wildly at the space of thirty feet down. Ethan quickly grabbed one of her hands and yanked her up and she looked into his face in a way that was unexpectedly bizarre.
            Ethan genuinely didn’t recognize her for a moment: she was like a completely different person.
            Then he looked back and below and saw all four trolls looked up at them hungrily.

4
(03/07/2013)

            “Fuck!” He pointed to the next tree. “Go!”
            Lana moved to the next tree and Ethan moved across the branches after as quickly as he could while trying to propel her forward. The trolls threw themselves into the last tree the humans were on the moment he had stepped off and it shook violently enough to have thrown him off had he still been on there.
            “There!” cried Mickey. “In the wall!”
            Ethan looked forward through the trees and saw across the stream of light from the nearly full moon there was a little cave nearly at the top of the cliff face near the trees. It looked like a niche at best that they could barely fit into but it was a much straighter and quicker move versus trying to climb to the top of the branches of a tree while trolls were knocking into it.
            “I can’t get in there—” cried Lana as she carefully moved through the branches.
            “You want to fucking die!” Ethan replied as he moved after, pushing her along even faster. The tree shook violently as the trolls got on either side of it, pushing it left to right, trying to rip or break it loose. Lana screamed, moving to the next tree, and Ethan followed just as the tree broke and went falling over.
            “Daaaammn!” cried a troll in a loud, booming voice.
            “I can’t fit!” screamed Lana as she reached it.
            “The hell you can’t!” cried Ethan. “Get the fuck in there!”
            Lana slipped into the niche cave, which was deeper than it looked, her legs quickly disappearing after, and Ethan then followed. Almost the very moment his feet left the tree, the trolls threw themselves in sheer berserk rage at it and broke it right off its foundation. He felt it go down behind him, his legs dangling out behind him.
            Lana grabbed him and helped him into a small round cave where turned around, got up and looked back down out of the hole at the trolls.
            He was suddenly reminded of a creature from Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock known as a Gorg. They looked kind of like them when they weren’t animated statues like in the Cave of Blue Light but they weren’t cute like the king, queen and prince of whatever world the Gorgs came from. They would tear him to pieces and eat him raw if they caught him.
            Then he saw one pick up a rock as the others were still staring down at the tree. Ethan quickly ducked into the hole just as the rock went flying at the cave where it missed the entrance by a few feet and shattered into a thousand pieces.
            Ethan cast his Torch spell into the center of the room and looked around to see he was in a round eight foot stone cave with just that small entrance. Lana was in the far corner, her arms wrapped around herself, shivering and scared. “What now?” she asked.
            “We wait,” he replied. “We wait till—” Another rock hit the cave wall above their entrance and he sighed. “We wait till daylight.” He slipped down, took off his sword, and rested it on his lap. “Hey Lana, I’m curious. Why do you think you were fat all of a sudden?”
            “Because I am fat. Why do you keep calling me Lana?”
            Ethan turned his head toward hers and with his left hand made a gesture like the opening of a window and as he did that the bauble of white light from his Torch spell moved to the left out from between them. “And exactly just what should I call you?” he asked.
            “Judy,” she said with sudden wariness. “My name is Judy Aberdeen.”
            Ethan frowned, put the sword down and crawled up to her. She tightened up when he approached, scared, but was surprised when he grabbed her hands and looked at them. “No ring,” he said and there was another explosion of rock above them. Ethan uncast his spell hoping the trolls might think they were gone and let go of the girls’ hands. “Where’s Lana?”
            “I don’t know any Lana. They wanted me to—” there was another hit and outside Ethan could hear the trolls arguing “—to help them with their monster.”
            “Monster?”
            “I don’t know what it’s called, or where it comes from or even have the most remote idea of what it is,” she replied. “All I know is that it lives underground and has purple eyes.” Ethan swallowed and felt a heavy lump go down his throat. “Sometimes I dream about it,” she added in a distant, disturbed voice. “Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat and I think that it’s watching me.” He sensed her eyes trying to find him in the dark. “It’s silly. It can’t really exist even if I believe it so in my heart.”
            Ethan was caught between a shrug and a nod which turned into a laugh and then leaned up against the wall directly across from her under the opening. “Fuck me,” he said with a laugh.
            “You think I’m crazy.”
            “Not really,” he replied and then he asked, “So how exactly how did you end up in front of that bonfire?”
            “Those horrible little monsters jumped me while I was grocery shopping and kidnapped me. I don’t—” she paused possibly to shake or head or something “—I just remember getting dumped into the back of my mother’s car and then waking up in front of that fire a few minutes before you came.” She tried to find him again, her arms moving about in the darkness reaching for him. “Why do you keep calling me Lana?”
            He recast his Torch spell but at a much lower light level. “Look down at your chest.” She did and then squeaked the instant she saw her breasts. “Surprised?”
            “What in God’s name am I wearing?” She put her hands on her breasts and then moved it down over her stomach. “I’m—I’m—I’m skinny!” Her voice came out in a squeak. “How did I lose all that weight in like a day?”
            “You didn’t. Lana was just never fat.” Judy just looked at him for several moments blankly. “You’re wearing her body.” She swallowed, uncomfortable, and looked away. Ethan uncast his spell and said, “They wanted something from you, Judy. What was it?”
            “They wanted a book of ritual spells—” Ethan felt his eagerness rise and she sensed it somehow by the way he scooted in the darkness “—which I don’t have. The one I do have I can’t give it you. It’s not mine to give.” She shook her head, her eyes filling up with tears. “Old Man McCaffrey had the book they want and he was fond of me. Those boys seemed to think that I knew where it is but I don’t. McCaffery is gone and he never told me anything. He disappeared and now those boys want to hurt me.”
            “Calm down—”
            “I can’t be in someone else’s body!” she cried and she stood up, banged her head on the ceiling, and went back down with a cry. “I need the light!” she whimpered and he gave it to her. She held out her left arm out and looked at her forearm and then began to cry. “My scar is gone!” She looked up at him. “Where is my scar?”
            “It’s wherever your body is,” he replied and she began to cry harder. He sighed and uncast the spell again. “Look, Judy, did they mention something about three rings or three girls?”
            “Yes,” she said. “They said they had three enemies who were girls who were going to steal their monster away. They need that ritual to defeat them, control the monster or something big when those girls come looking for revenge.” She began to breathe quickly. “I’m scared, Ethan!”
            “I know,” he told her.                                                
            “They killed that poor girl! Why would they do that?”
            “To scare you into cooperation,” Ethan replied. “Is Lana inside of you somewhere? Do you feel a voice in your head or some shit?”
            “I don’t feel any different!” she replied and then she oddly calmed down. “I—actually feel kind of good.”
            “Look, Judy, I—” he suddenly grunted as a rock hit the entrance, shattered, and sent a decent sized rock painfully down onto his head causing him to bleed. Ethan then scooted across the room beside Judy and cast his speak with familiar spell to reveal Mickey sitting casually on a branch in orange light that filled the little cave.
            “Grand,” said Judy in awe.
            “I need you to do something for me,” said Ethan.
            “Sure,” Mickey replied. “What is it?”

*          *          *

            Mickey felt rather unimpressed with Ethan’s plan.
            “You’re totally screwing with me,” he told the orange image of Ethan sitting on the ground beside that human female. “That will never work.”
            “Trolls are pretty fucking stupid,” he replied.
            “Please don’t curse,” said the girl beside him.
            “Are you fucking kidding me?” cried Ethan.
            “Alright, alright, just turn this shit off.” Ethan did, the image fading, and Mickey stared at the trolls for a moment, shrugged, and then flew down onto one of their shoulders. It didn’t seem even remotely aware that he was there.
            He called out to the other troll, “Hey ugly! You throw that rock like a pussy!” He then walked around behind his hair to hide from the other troll which the first also did not notice.
            “What you say to me?” snarled another troll to him.
            “I said nothing!” said the troll Mickey was on.
            “I called you a pussy, pussy!” cried Mickey.
            “Why you dirty no-good shit eater!” cried the other troll.
            “How dare you!” cried the troll Mickey was on as if he had actually said it.
            Then the two of them suddenly rushed forward and slammed their fists into each other as hard as they possibly could. Mickey flapped away quickly, utterly stunned by the fact it worked, and landed behind another troll on a branch very close to his head.
            “Hey sissies!” cried Mickey. “Maybe you ought to try fighting a real troll for a change!”
            The two trolls stopped in mid-punch, turned slowly to look at the other troll for a minute, and then charged at him. Mickey leaped off the tree just in time to avoid being caught in the branches as the tree was instantly knocked over by the three trolls slamming into it. As it went down the trolls went with it, their legs all flying up into the air at the same time.
            Mickey landed on the shoulder of the only one still standing who was concentrating so deeply on the hole Ethan had gone into he didn’t seem to know anything. The moment Mickey landed he turned and saw two female trolls shoot out a cave down near the end of a cliff’s wall, one wearing something like a tube top dress and the other nothing, charging into the fray.
            “Oh shit!” cried Mickey and he quickly flew up into the air to safety.
            The female with the dress jumped the distracted troll and the one naked troll took a flying leap out onto the others slamming onto them like a boulder. Suddenly all five trolls were engaged in an ugly, violent fist fight and the humans seemed utterly forgotten.
            Mickey landed on a branch of a still standing tree and looked over at the hole to see Ethan leaning onto the rim of the hole like a counter with a big grin on his face. Mickey sighed and said, “There will be no living with him from now on.” He then looked around very carefully, the woods deeply bothering him for reasons he could not discern clearly, and then settled down for a long wait.
            Whenever it looked like the trolls were stopping their fight he went off and did the same trick again and it utterly baffled him that it worked so well.
            Unfortunately, it didn’t distract them enough for Ethan and the girl to escape. As soon as one was left alone for a minute it would turn and start to mess with that hole again. If they saw one of them, which happened once, they forgot they were fighting each other and became consumed with hunger.

*          *          *

            Even though after a while it seemed the trolls were starting to get even angrier the hours still went by without Ethan or Judy being seriously injured and it became routine. They sometimes went after humans, sometimes each other, and whenever something was thrown into the cave, usually a rock, Judy shrieked and clung to him. One time a bush came in and scraped Judy across her arm badly enough that he gave her a heal potion for it and though it was the only time either was injured it wasn’t the only close call.
            Once one of them stuck their hand in but Ethan stabbed him in the palm with his dagger until he pulled back out with a startled cry. He would have reached back in harder but Mickey convinced another troll that he called him a “goblin sucker” and, looking through Mickey’s eyes, he saw more crazed fighting over that outside.
            Somewhere early the next morning the trolls took their fighting into the distance and it became quiet enough to talk casually.
            “I really am in someone else’s body,” said Judy and Ethan looked back at her from his spot leaning against hole while looking out. It was getting bright but it was not bright enough to see her clearly in the cave so he lit his torch spell in the center of the cave when she asked him to. Darkness would make no difference anyway. If there had been a tunnel leading to safety the trolls probably would have been waiting there all night. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone,” she said with tears running down both sides of her face. “You have to know that.”
            “I know,” he replied.
            She straightened her back and ran her hands over her stomach. “I’m so skinny,” she whispered. “Am I pretty too?”
            “Yeah,” he said and when he knelt down to say more she threw her arms around him and wept into his shoulder for several minutes. “It’s okay, Judy,” he told her and he gently put his arms around her. He did not really think it was “okay” exactly but he felt certain she had little or no control over what had happened to her.
            “I feel disgusting,” she whispered. “I also feel—like myself. I don’t know what to do, Mr. Bartlett—”
            “My name is Ethan.”
            “Ethan, I feel extremely guilty!” she cried. “I didn’t ask for this and I don’t want it! I just—” she started to breath quickly, her breasts rising up and down sensually each time “—I always wanted to be pretty! I’m guessing by this outfit I am!”
            “Pretty damn good looking, yes,” said Ethan and he took off her arms and went back to looking out of the hole. The trolls were fighting about fifty feet away amid the ruins a dozen trees and countless bushes.
            “Ethan, I feel like I made a wish and my wish came true at the price of this girl’s life and body!” He looked back and saw her face was in fact overflowing with guilt. “I don’t know what to do!”
            Ethan looked back at the trolls and saw one of them slam another other across the face with one giant, bloody fist and then held up his arms in victory. “I win! I—” one of the females kicked him in the groin and he crumpled over “—Mamaaa!”

5
(03/11/2013)

            Ethan laughed, slipped down back into the cave and leaned up against the rock wall beside her. “So who were those greaser assholes?” he asked her.
            “Some jerks I went to school with. Like I said they call themselves the Black Cats and are supposedly into ‘black magic.’ Can you please make that brighter?” He made his spell grow brighter and when Ethan looked at her face he was again amazed at how different she looked from Lana. She was like a sweet twin sister, her lovely face filled with compassion and sweet insecurity. “I’m a little older so I’ve already graduated. They’re still in school.”
            Ethan blinked a few times. “They’re still what?”
            “In school,” she replied and she held out her arms. “It’s not getting any warmer.”
            Ethan was surprised it took her that long for her to bring it up. He took off his jacket, wrapped it around her, and she looked up at him gratefully. “You went to school with them, you say? Like, recently?”
            “Uh—yeah?” She looked around nervously and snuggled into his jacket for warmth.
            “Okay, uh—” Ethan laughed “—oh fuck me.”
            “Please don’t curse. It’s unbecoming.”
            Ethan laughed again, looked up at the sky turning brighter for a moment out from where he sat and then asked, “What were these boys like, Judy?”
            “Oh they all acted like they were just such big wheels,” she told him. “Every single one of them walked around like they ruled that school, especially Vincent Edwards. They were rumored to do awful things but they were all baseball stars with potential scholarships so they got away with everything. One girl actually accused Louie Lawrence of rape but since she was kind of a school punch no one really believed her.”
            Ethan took a deep breath and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his left hand. “What year did you graduate exactly?”
            “Last year,” she replied.
            Ethan took another deep breath and continued to rub his nose. “And what year was that?”
            “1957, silly,” she said cutely and she wrapped her arms around him. “Are you alright?”
            Ethan nodded. “It’s just that was a little while ago.”
            “It couldn’t have been that long ago. They all look exactly the same.”
            Ethan felt extremely sorry for her and he put his arm around her, pulling her close. She smiled and seemed both surprised and touched by his action. “I would take you to breakfast after we get out of here so we could have a long talk about this but Hurricane Sandy kind of closed down everything around here.”
            “That sounds nice except for the hurricane part,” she told him and she leaned her head against his shoulder. “Maybe we could go see a movie soon. I know the Melody Theatre was playing Prince and the Showgirl and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral last month.”
            “There was a Melody Theatre in Thousand Oaks, California once,” he said with a shrug.
            “I worked there as a summer job,” she told him. “We called the owner Mr. Melody and he owned the theatre since 1917 before the talkies came.” She kissed him lovingly in the cheek. “Thank you for helping me, Ethan.”
            Ethan looked at her. “Judy—”
            She lowered her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said instantly. “I shouldn’t have. This is somehow a prank with magic. I’m—I’m not really very pretty am I?”
            Ethan laughed, stretched fully up against the wall and said, “Judy, I can assure you this is no prank and the Melody Theatre isn’t playing the Prince and the Showgirl or Gunfight at the O.K. Corral anymore.”
            “They just came out,” said Judy. “Also, Mr. Melody keeps the popular ones there forever. He still has a copy of Gone with the Wind.”
            “Judy,” said Ethan, “It’s been a little longer than I implied.”
            “How long? Those jerks really do look the same so it couldn’t have been very long.”
            “They’re not alive and thus they don’t age. Why they’re still dressed the same I can’t say but they are not the same.”
            “They did seem a little colder.” She swallowed and looked worried. “Is it 1960 yet?” she asked.
            Ethan took out his cellphone and turned it on. The sound of it turning on made Judy’s eyes widen and he turned off his Torch spell and she scooted up even closer against him, her right shoulder pushing up against him in a snuggle-like manner. “Oh grand,” she said when looked at all the boxes floating on the screen lighting up the cave.
            “Nice, eh? Look at the date.”
            “2012?” She looked up at him. “You think I’m going to believe it’s been over fifty years? Aren’t we supposed to be on the moon and have flying cars by now?”
            Ethan laughed. “You’re in someone else’s body , we’re caught in a cave blocked by murderous trolls,  there is an undead 1950s all-star baseball team hunting us and the time is the part you don’t believe?”
            The two of them smiled at each other. She bit her lower lip, smiled up at him for a moment, and then looked down. “So this is a twenty-first century watch?”
            “Not really,” he replied. He pulled up his app of the Ms. Pac-Man game and when he showed Judy how to play she was almost instantly addicted. She slipped over into a corner and became enthralled and instantly calm. “Nice,” he said.
            Then the phone rang and she shrieked, accidentally tossing the phone into the air. Ethan caught it, saw the name “Least Hated Cousin” had appeared, mentally reminded himself to change that, and then put the phone up to his ear. “What’s up, bitch,” he said. Judy’s eyes bulged when she heard Lucy’s voice respond out of the phone.
            “So, asshole, where’s Lana already?”
            “She’s, uh—” he looked at Judy who looked worriedly back at him “—lost her memory. She doesn’t remember anything personal but does have lots of general knowledge still. She knows what a car is but not what her car is, get it?”
            “You think I’m a complete idiot, don’t you?”
            “Yeah, that, and a bitch and a whore.”
            “Listen, you fucking asshole!” cried Lucy. “I want you stop fucking around and find my fucking friend! You got that?” Judy’s hand had gone to her mouth in surprise.
            “I really did find her but I’m trapped in a cave guarded by trolls right now. I’m using my familiar to get them to fight with each other so they don’t kill us.”
            “You are such a fucking retard,” she replied.
            “Fine, don’t believe me.” Ethan handed the phone to Judy. “Talk to her,” he said.
            Judy swallowed and put it up to her ear. “Uh, hello?”
            “Lana? You sound funny.”
            “I, uh—” Judy took a deep breath “—look, I don’t know what is going on. Who are you?”
            “You’re not Lana! Who the fuck are you, bitch? Some cunt whore spreading her legs for my asshole cousin for the price of a quarter?”
            Judy squeaked miserably and quickly handed Ethan the phone. “That wasn’t nice, Lucy,” he said.
            “Good act but Lana doesn’t pretend she’s not a whore by talking in a virginal cutesy voice.”
            “I’m a whore?” Judy replied. “Like, I make my money off selling my body to men, whore?”
            “Slut if she prefers,” replied Lucy who heard her. “Look, Ethan, just tell Lana I need to speak to her about her mother when you finally get around to doing your fucking job.”
            “My mother?” Lana wrapped her arms around herself. “Oh my God, I have a new mother.”
            “Whatever,” said Lucy. “Ethan, you best fix this. That’s all I can tell you. You better motherfucking fix this problem and you better do it right now or I swear to fucking God I’ll make you wish you were never born.”
            “Goodbye Lucy,” he said as he turned off the phone and leaned back. “Welcome to your new life, Judy.”
            “I don’t have my virginity anymore,” she whispered softly. “I’m not dreaming.” She looked at him and tears filled her eyes again. “I’m really someone else now.” She swallowed. “Oh God what do I look like?”
            Ethan cast his Torch spell, took a picture of her with his camera, uncast his spell and showed the picture on his cellphone to her. “That’s you.”
            Judy looked at it for a long time, her eyes wide, and then looked into his face miserably. “I’m gorgeous.” Tears ran down her face. “I didn’t ask for this, Ethan! You have to know that!”
            “I know that.”
            “You’re not upset? Why aren’t you angry or worried or calling me names?”
            “It’s not my style,” he replied. “Besides you clearly don’t know enough about magic to pull off a body switch. Neither do I for that matter.”
            “I’m so worthless!” she whimpered and she curled herself up into a ball in the deepest corner of the cave. “Everyone says so!” She began to cry. “All I ever do is screw up and hurt people! I’m just stupid, ugly Pigs Aberdeen whose own father couldn’t love her!”
            Judy was starting to depress the hell of Ethan. “Look, Judy, you really—”
            Suddenly a giant gray hand flew into the cave and Ethan instantly starting stabbing upward at it as hard as he could with his dagger. The hand remained in there for no less than ten stabs, almost as a dense as a tree trunk, but the cry of rage came long before the owner of the hand came to realize the pain he was feeling came from its location.
            “It stiiiiings!” cried the troll as it pulled its hand out.
            “It’s because you’re a big fat pussy!” cried Mickey in his high pitched voice imitating the troll accent.
            “Why you no good son of a bitch!” cried the troll and the cave shook as a troll was suddenly shoved into the rock wall. Judy grabbed onto Ethan as a life support as he casually looked up to see the sky had turned a brighter, lighter blue.
            He smiled, unwrapped her arms and then calmly stood up and leaned out. Almost all of the trolls were fighting again even as the sun was starting to rise. “Good God they’re stupid,” he said out loud.
            “You are just such a big fat sissy bitch monkey!” cried Mickey as he flew around behind one of the trolls. Ethan shot the one he had called out to with a lightning bolt startling it into even great rage.
            It turned its head, screamed and threw itself at the other troll as hard as it could. They went rolling onto the ground violently punching each other.
            “Wow,” said Ethan. “Just wow.”
            By that time almost nothing was left standing in the area, every tree and bush either knocked down or crushed, and every troll was battered, bruised and bloody, having picked up rocks or tree branches and then swung them around at each other like they were brass knuckles or clubs.
            “I’ll kill you!” cried one of them. “I will fucking—” a female kicked him in the groin again and he fell over “—Mamaaa!”
            Ethan and Mickey laughed.
            The fight continued on and Ethan leaned looked out of the cave again. “Fun,” he told Judy. “It’s like we’re in the Hobbit.”
            Judy appeared up beside him with a wide smile. “I love that story!” she cried. “I love the Lord of the Rings too!” She looked down and watched them batter each other. “Are trolls really this stupid?”
            “If they weren’t stupid they would rule the world by now,” Ethan replied and he fired a lightning bolt at another one of them, hit him right in the head, and when he turned he assumed the troll behind him was responsible and punched him in the head. “We’re lucky for Mickey and this hole. Otherwise we’d be very dead.”
            The trolls all caught themselves in an extremely violent arm lock some thirty feet away and all fell down in a clump and quietly tried to out-strength each other, their faces darkening in their exertion. “How do you kill such a creature?”
            “It’s not easy,” he replied. “That lightning bolt would have, at the very least, knocked a large man unconscious hit in the same spot. Bullets won’t go through them, magic like mine is virtually useless, and heavy axes only barely hurt and only if you hit them in just the right spot. The knee is good and then when the fall down you whack them on the skull or the throat. If you’re strong enough and your weapon is sharp and heavy enough you can get through to the brain and kill them in one good hit right through the eye. Otherwise you got lots of hacking to do and preferably not from men like me. You want powerful, giant body builder types who know their way around a pick or an axe.”
            “You mean like a lumberjack?”
            “Exactly,” he replied. “That’s actually how we Americans figured it out; lumberjacks coming home late at night in the old days when we used axes and not machines. Europeans tended to set up traps where they knew they would come. Pit traps with spikes were popular, but all that did was make them run away. Walls with spikes or made of stone confused them and usually kept them away. Cannons worked but who the hell other than the military had cannons. Miners found success using the pointed ends of their picks and there have always been monster hunters who came up with their own methods. I read a translated monster hunter manual by a great German monster hunter once and it was extremely useful.
            “Of course for all the good it did if it wasn’t for this hole and my bird they would have single-mindedly hunted us down until we were caught and eaten.”
            “But they’re so stupid,” said Judy again.
            “Very much so,” he said and he pointed to the rising sun. “Point of fact.”
            The trolls continued to fight for more than ten more minutes before one of them sensed it. He saw it out of the corner of his eyes, screamed out the word “sun” and the others turned and looked into the east.
            “You did this!” cried one.
            “No!” cried another. “You did this!”
            “You both did this!” cried a female.
            The sky turned brighter and the sun fired through the distant trees creating long beams of sunlight across the cliff wall. They let out long, loud, simultaneous shrieks of horror that distantly resembled the word “no” as those beams touched their bodies.
            There came a multitude of crack sounds not unlike that of a stone plate breaking as it was slowly being bent. Their skin and their hair began to turn an unpleasant bone white color as they froze in their positions and over the course of less than a minute there was dead silence where they were frozen in their horrified final positions.

6
(03/14/2013)

            “Oh yeah,” said Ethan. He casually put back on his sword and climbed casually up the stone wall onto the cliff’s top. He found little difficulty in climbing up and looked around a flat rising slop to the north. “You coming?” he asked her when he looked back down at her.
            “Uh—” Judy looked down at the wrecked trees down below and then up at him “—it’s a bit—uh, well—”
            Ethan went down onto his belly, reached down and took her hand. She nervously clambered up out and then after using him partially as a ladder managed to climb up. Once there she clambered to her feet, looked around the woods as she stretched out her arms and took a deep relieved breath. “This place is so beautiful,” she whispered and then then when her eyes caught onto something in the distance and they became filled with horror. “Oh God we’re in the Engelstad!”
            Mickey casually landed on Ethan’s shoulder and yawned. “I didn’t want to upset you,” Ethan told Judy. “This is my familiar and pal Mickey by the way.”
            “Hello Mickey,” said Judy happily.
            “Sup,” he said with a smile and then turned to Ethan. “I’m tired and hungry. I demand food.”
            “All in good time,” said Ethan and then he started down the slope back down to the ground. The cliff to the west sloped down to a point where it reached flat ground and then rose back up in a form of another wall both north and west at the base of some giant set of hills that stretched off in both directions into the distance.
            “Where are we going?” asked Judy as she followed him down.
            “To get some booty,” said Ethan as he turned east at the bottom and walked back along the stone wall toward the trolls. Once there he casually cut off their clothes with his sword and began carefully searching through them one at a time.
            “Are they dead?” asked Judy.
            “No, just helpless until nightfall when they turn back. I’d break them if I had a sledge hammer, energy and all day long.”
            “Those clothes are really gross,” said Mickey from one of their arms.
            “How do they even make clothes when they’re so stupid?” asked Judy.
            “No one knows,” Ethan replied as he found nothing in one set of clothes and then went to the next one. “Their intellect is probably not equally balanced. They’re as smart as us in some ways and much stupider in others and in many ways they are far sneakier than any normal human which may make them even smarter than us in some ways.” He reached into one of the females clothes and found something. “Jackpot.”
            “What did you find?” asked Judy, who covered up her chest with his jacket as tightly as she could, even more uncomfortable with her breasts being shown off in daylight.
            Ethan turned around and held up an old and large brass key. “How Tolkien is this?”
            “There is no way they made that key,” said Judy.
            “No, this is just something they stole. Trolls steal everything.” Ethan looked down at the very old, medieval looking key fit to a human’s hands and wondered what its story was. It had some kind of crest on the back of it signifying some medieval sigil or family crest but that was so rubbed clean that it was unrecognizable.
            Ethan turned and walked down along the wall a hundred feet further to find the cave the two females had erupted from located directly in the cliff wall. It had some kind of makeshift manor house door slammed into place covering only a small portion of the cave entrance still lying wide open and from within was a powerfully disgusting smell of mixed feces, urine and rotting meat
            Judy grimaced and stepped back the instant she came near and Mickey casually flew onto her shoulder. “I think I’ll just wait out here with the girl.”
            “Fine,” Ethan replied. “I’ll see you when I get out, traitor.” He pulled out his sword, shot his Torch spell down into the cave and disappeared within.
            The large round cave had a disturbing level of filth to match its smell. The sleeping corner was filled with trash, cans, beer bottles and that took up seventy percent of the cave. The right half had a pile of feces standing literally ten feet high and a near spa-sized pool of nasty black urine beside it. It was the nastiest thing Ethan had seen in a while and inside the smell was so powerful he could semi-taste it in his mouth.
            “That’s a big pile of shit too, Mr. Goldblum,” he said in agony, the back of his hand over his mouth while he forced back his gag reflex. He turned to the prize, the corner where the things the trolls thought valuable were placed in a rather large unorganized pile which because of their unpredictable nature anything could be buried there. Once it was clear the cave was empty he sheathed his sword and approached the pile.
            Pretty but useless things were what he saw at first: flashlights that looked silver, various parts of cars, mostly hub caps and hood ornaments, lava rocks, which they must have thought were valuable because they were shiny, and endless amounts of camper equipment. “Who the hell is dumb enough to camp in these woods?” he asked out loud as he moved things around to find a large old wooden chest buried in the pile. It had that same symbol on the key also scratched to the point being unrecognizable beyond its similarity. Ethan quickly put the key in its lock where it fit perfectly and turned easily, a distinct and loud clack sound coming from within as the chest unlocked.
            He then he lifted it up and looked down inside.
            Ethan sighed unhappily as he saw even more useless stuff. Shinier camper equipment mostly, all filled to the brim. “Crap,” he said as he tossed each thing out. “Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap—” he stopped near the bottom, eyes wide, and reached down. “Well fuck me in the ass with a chainsaw!” he cried.
            “I beg your pardon!” cried Judy from outside.
            “I’m just really excited about today. It just got a whole lot better.” It was a gold bar, one of three in the box, the front of which was stamped:

*          *          *

CSA
0
0
2
3
969
Fine
1863

*          *          *

            Ethan stared down at it stupidly for several minutes, eyes wide, and a voice from the past crept into his mind. It was on the tip of his memory to recall who it was who had spoken to him but it didn’t come.
            I intercepted a Confederation treasury, Thomas, said the voice excitedly. I want to unload it quietly and I know you can do it.
            Just do it right and pay back what you owe, he had replied.
            I don’t owe anyone anything, Thomas, the voice replied. I’m not giving one cent of my treasure to those trash bankers.
            Technically it’s the South’s treasure but if that’s your plan you best hide it and for a long time. I know you own money to the Gurneys and the Kurtwoods and either would kill you if you’re hoarding what you owe but aren’t paying up.
            I am not sharing this treasure with anyone, Thomas! said the voice and then it started to fade. Ethan shook away the fleeting near-memory, put the Confederate bars of gold into the bottom of his satchel, and then found something else directly below.
            He quickly grabbed the book with both hands, flipped it open to find real and genuine magical spells, and let out a loud, long laugh of happiness.
            “What’s so funny?” asked Mickey. “Did you just see your dick?”
            “No, you evil little bastard! I found a magic book!” It was an old black book with gold trimming, probably not real but may well have been what gave the trolls the idea that it was valuable or it could have possibly just been sitting in the chest when they stole it. At the very bottom of the chest it was utterly untouched by the grime of the cave and had probably been hidden in there for decades. It was called Goodwin’s Magical Enchantments and it was incredibly valuable.
            Ethan knew the name Arthur Goodwin historically as he was a major proponent of magic, one of John Dee’s apprentices in the late 16th century England, but unlike John Dee his interest was purely in enchantment and he made his own rather successful strides in the industry of magic specifically there.
            Unfortunately all of his known books were said to have been confiscated by the Umm which was enough any magical book valuable for, as history had shown, no magical knowledge that went into the Umm ever came out again.
            Ethan checked the book again quickly, certifying it was real then checked the rest of chest but found nothing else of interest and then walked out carrying his prize in his left hand.
            “A magic book,” said Judy when he came out.
            “Hey, don’t stop petting me,” said Mickey.
            “Seven enchantments I don’t know,” he said. “The apprentice of John Dee has left his mark.” As he started walking back the way he thought they had originally come Judy moved up beside him.
            “What happens now?” asked Judy.
            “I learn some new enchantments and feel better about the really shitty night I just had.”
            “I meant me,” she replied. “I’m in someone else’s body. What do I do?”
            “Is that why you had such a complete personality change?” asked Mickey.
            “Yes,” she replied unhappily.
            Ethan had checked her magically at least dozen times over the night when she wasn’t looking and he did it again in daylight while they walked. There was nothing magical about her so whatever happened to her was permanent. Her mind was not altered; she was not shape-changed into anything; she was Judy in Lana’s body as if she was born with it.
            The thought that she might be Lana screwing with him crossed his mind but he doubted it. She didn’t have a high degree of control.
            “You don’t remember anything,” he told her simply. “I’ll take you home and you can tell your parents your memory was erased by some thugs and I couldn’t fix it.”
            “I’m so sorry,” she told him. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
            Ethan nodded and then realized he had already lost his ability to find the path back that they took, nothing at all looking remotely similar in daylight, but a half of an hour later of traveling he heard the sound of running water and maneuvered in that general direction. He sent Mickey up into the air and through his eyes he saw a waterfall and a river and suspected it to the Orange River.
            Mickey came down onto Ethan’s shoulder and said, “They used some kind of magic ritual, you know. When I arrived the lines on the ground were glowing purple and Lana was having some kind a seizure before she snapped out of it. The bonfire appeared behind her when she stepped forward.”
            Mickey didn’t understand magic so it as no surprise he didn’t know what he was looking at. While Ethan could see out of his eyes he could not see his memories so there was virtually no way he would be able to get a good understanding of that symbol from Mickey.
            “There was a spell under that fire?” asked Judy.                              
            “I’m betting it’s the one that put you in that body,” said Mickey. “Looked kind of like a star in a circle.”
            “They all look kind of like stars in circles,” Ethan replied.
            They continued west for another hour and then came to a river below a ledge located not far from a gigantic waterfall. At its bottom were a nasty bunch of rocks which flowed into more pools which all connected to the river in front of him.
            “It’s the Orange River,” cried Judy above the sound. “It should lead back into town.”
            “Yeah,” Ethan replied loudly and then they casually followed the river for a couple more hours until they came upon the bridge on Charlotte St. On their right on the opposite side of the Orange River they passed a series of tents with red crosses but the few people over there, all staring at them coldly, said and did nothing.
            As he reached the bridge he saw some red graffiti on its underside that caught his attention and he read it out loud. “Here was Peter Bartlett found dead. May he burn in Hell so says the Lord.”
            “Is he related to James Bartlett?” asked Judy. Ethan didn’t answer her as he helped her up the slope to the street. “You are too, right? You really are one of those Bartletts?”
            “James was my grandfather but I wasn’t raised here,” he said as they crossed the street. “He was kicked out for standing up for a little girl his brother Julian raped and—”
            Judy grabbed his arm and turned him toward her, her face angry for the first time. “Wait a minute!” She said angrily and he looked at her. “Are you going to stand here and tell me Johnson Benedict Bartlett sided with Julian over James?”
            “Yes.”
            Judy let go of his arm. “I hope he rots in Hell,” she hissed. “Julian Bartlett is a sick, inhuman little monster.”
            “Was.”
            “Good!” she hissed. “I hope he rots in Hell too!”
            “You’re not alone in that sentiment,” Ethan told her as they started along the grass on the opposite side of Charlotte St.
            “Charlotte Street hasn’t changed much,” she added after a moment.          
            “Everything else has,” he replied and he went over to where he hid his car and unlocked it with the key.
            “Grand!” said Judy. “This is just grand! Is this really a car from 2000 something?”
            “1969 Corvette,” he told her as he opened the door and slipped inside.
            “Grand,” she said again and she slipped in as soon as he unlocked it and buckled herself in. She smiled at him pleasantly and looked around the car with a curious, sweet smile.
            “They had seatbelts in 1957?”
            “I babysit for a wealthy man who had a Nash with them,” she replied happily.
            “I’m going to see if I can catch some grub,” said Mickey after internally debating it for a moment. “I’ll meet you at home.” Ethan opened the door and he flew off without another word.
            Ethan then shut the door, turned on his vehicle and carefully backed out onto the road. He then headed straight back toward Edwards Grove right back where he recalled exactly where Lana’s house was. “I live in Edwards Grove!” cried Judy happily the very moment they went past the lovely stone arches into the beautiful neighborhood filled with Victorian homes. “Am I rich?”
            “Pretty damn close to, yeah,” he replied and he smiled a bit at her happy, child-like expression.

7
(03/18/2013)

            Her eyes went wide at the cars and the people around her. “Everything is so—wild and different. Look at that car. Does it fly?”
            “No, cars do not fly,” he told her. “The world is not the world of the Jetsons.”
            “What are the Jetsons?”
            “It’s a cartoon show about the future from your time’s perspective. It has flying cars, jetpacks, huge cities on poles and shit like that.” He glanced out of the window at the pretty neighborhood and realized just how incredibly tired he felt. He honestly thought he should have passed out on his feet by then.
            Judy bit her lip a bit then looked over at him. “You’re kind of a flutter bum,” she told him with a strange smile. “Did you come to my rescue because we’re dating?”
            Ethan shook his head. “My cousin threatened to kill Mickey if I didn’t go find you.”
            “But Mickey is so sweet.”
            “Bartlett Bay is just filled with assholes,” he told her, “and is he really?”
            “This city has always been a bad place,” she replied and looked away sadly.
            Ethan parked his car at the curb in front of Lana’s house and saw Lana’s father outside putting down new garden gnomes with that perpetually sad expression on his face. He was wearing a dark green polo shirt, khaki pants, and a beige jacket and looked to Ethan very humble for a man of his means. “That poor, poor man,” said Ethan.
            “He seems really sweet,” said Judy. “Is he my gardener?”
            “Actually, he’s your father.”
            “Lana’s father,” whispered Judy and she looked at him through the window with a sad expression. “He looks so kind.”
            Ethan realized that he genuinely liked Judy Aberdeen a great deal. He didn’t know what to do about her, or if anything could be done at all, but it was clear she was innocent in everything. He had a hard time imagining her hurting anyone; even a bad person.
            Her new father looked over at them, saw Ethan, and looked nervous. “That poor, poor man,” Ethan said again.
            “When I was seven my father had enough and left,” Judy told him sadly. “He said he was embarrassed to have a fat, ugly cow for a daughter. I know now it was just an excuse to be free of us but it deeply hurt me and still does. I could never lose weight because I was just one of those girls who were just built that way.”
            “Your father sounds like a real cocksucker.”
            “My mother became a drunk and blamed me for her ruined life.” Judy looked over at him. “Do Lana’s parents hate her?”
            “Lana—” Ethan shrugged “— was an extremely violent sociopath. I don’t really know what they really think of her.”
            “Oh.” She looked at the father who was still staring at them nervously. “He’s not coming toward me. Should he care that his daughter has been out all night with a handsome young man?”
            Ethan laughed at that for several moments. “Lana’s a man eater,” he told her and he opened the door and stepped out. “He should be more worried for the young man than her.” Judy came out a moment after, took off his jacket and wrapped her arms around herself looking extreme self-conscious. Ethan casually rested his arms on top of his car and called out, “Mr. Creed.”
            Mr. Creed put down his garden gnomes and approached carefully. To Ethan he looked like a nice version of the 1950s husband trapped with a nightmare version of a 1970s feminist. He truly pitied that man who appeared completely and utterly unequipped to deal with the women in his life.
            “Mr. Bartlett,” he said gently. “H-how may I help you?”
            “I found your daughter by the Engelstad—” his eyes went wide “—she’s lost her memory.” He looked at her and she bit her lower lip. That caused confusion in him and he looked back at Ethan with a worried expression. “Yeah, it’s true. She remembers shit like a car is a car but not what her car is, get it?” He nodded slowly. “I got to go. If you have any questions—”
            The father shook his head slowly. “I’ll have to—talk to my wife about it.”
            “You poor, poor man,” Ethan told him and then he took out a small piece of paper and pen from his satchel, wrote his name and number on it, and handed it to Judy. “Call me if you need me, okay?”
            Judy nodded and held the paper tightly against her chest.
            Ethan smiled at her and turned to Lana’s father. “You take care of her, okay?”
            “Take care of her?” The thought of taking care of Lana seemed completely preposterous to him.
            Ethan looked sadly at him for a moment. He knew no one could be close to Lana but he heard from Darcy that even though Mr. Creed had succeeded much better with his younger daughter all the men in his life considered him incredibly whipped by his wife and eldest daughter, each imagining somehow in his place they would have come out infinitely better. He was also, according to Darcy, a very, sweet man and she believed him to be a genuinely good person. Despite that, it seemed clear to Darcy that his wife and eldest daughter were so incredibly disgusted with him they couldn’t have cared less whether he lived or died and that made Ethan very sad.
            “Is she—is she okay?” asked Mr. Creed.
            Ethan nodded slowly. “I think she’s better than she’s ever been.” He smiled sadly. “Take care of her, Mr. Creed,” he said again and he got into his car, checked and made sure his magic book was still in the back, and then took another glance back over at her. She was looking up at her father almost as nervously as he looked back down at her. “Well this is a less than perfect illusion,” he told himself and then drove off.

*          *          *

            Judy Aberdeen had not lied once to Ethan but she suspected he didn’t believe her. Considering how completely insane her story was, who possibly would?
            She could easily remember the last day she was herself.
            All her life she had wanted to be a nurse and the day after she had been accepted by a suitable school she was jumped by those eight boys while grocery shopping for her mother and herself. She could still feel the concrete at her back, still see the fruit and vegetables spilling out of her bags, and still very easily recall the pain of the punch to her stomach to silence her screams as they dragged into the back of her mother’s red 1946 Ford. Her mother wasn’t with her because she didn’t like to shop and was on a drunken bender again.
            The boys drove her to the woods and she was alone. She had no father, brother or boyfriend there to protect her or even to mourn her when she was raped and dead. She wasn’t even sure her mother would.
            They dragged her out to an opening somewhere past that evil chain link fence and then beat her with baseball bats. They didn’t say anything, didn’t respond to her question, and when Alan tried to stop them Sanford hit him across the back with a baseball bat hard enough to almost break his spine. Alan was the only one who didn’t participate and just as she was begging him for help she saw Louie bring the bat down on her head.
            Then there was nothing.
            What happened between that moment and the one when she was standing in the front of that magic ritual in Lana Creed’s body was an utter blank and could have been less than a second for all she could tell. Buzz, who looked like he should have been in a morgue rather than walking, tossed a lighter casually onto the runes behind her and a bonfire blazed to life so close to her back it almost burned her hair off.
            There was some kind of spell there and it prevented her from leaving the circle. Then when Buzz killed that girl and Louie tossed her head into the fire they didn’t need the spell because she was too scared to move.
            Judy knew what they wanted before they asked. They knew enough to know she was involved but not enough to know she had wanted no part in it and had left long before she could end up burdened by the knowledge they sought. She was eternally grateful for Ethan because, shortly into their conversation she began to feel, with a large degree of growing certainty, that they didn’t believe her and were soon going to ask her a lot less politely.
            And so there she was, after one crazed night of insanity, wearing the body of a teenage girl who was skinny, beautiful and rich and probably everything else she had never been on the outside. That, in combination with Lana’s apparent internal personality and the near sixty years of missing time, Judy felt completely and utterly incapable of pretending to be Lana Creed.
            Judy walked up to Mr. Creed instinctively expecting him to sense it instantly.
            When she looked up she saw he didn’t and was looking back down at her so nervously it was profound. He was her father, at least he believed he was, and he should have been fearless of her. He was a man after all and what man was scared of his own daughter?
            “Are you mad at me?” she asked him.
            Mr. Creed blinked as if that was the most amazing thing anyone had ever said to him. He even smiled a little and touched her shoulder gently. “No,” he said softly. “I’m-I’m not mad at you at all.”
            Judy smiled and he smiled back and that filled her with such surprising warmth she hugged him tightly. This surprised him even more, so much so that he was stunned into not moving for a second. When she was done she kissed him in the cheek. “Thank you, Daddy.”
            “You really don’t remember anything,” he said as he looked at her in a way that seemed relieved beyond measure and he touched her face in a kind, loving way that made her so happy she hugged him again.
            “Where is my—my room?” she asked as she and he walked up toward the door.
            He smiled as led her inside the door looking for words. “I—it’s—” he turned to her and smiled in a tired way “—upstairs. That door right there.” He pointed to a white door up at the top of the stairs.
            Judy looked around the house, utterly flabbergasted at how rich and beautiful it was, and then kissed him in the cheek again. “Thank you, Daddy,” she said again and she slowly went upstairs looking at everything. She turned back halfway up and asked, “Is it alright if I sleep for the rest of the day? Do I have chores or something?”
            Mr. Creed smiled in that same way. “No, its fine, Lenny.”
            Judy liked that name. It felt like it was hers even though the name “Lana” wasn’t, suspecting somehow he never called Lana Lenny before. “Thank you, Daddy,” she said again and went up into Lana’s room.
            The room was insane.
            Judy had her own private bathroom, a television, which was giant, clipboard flat, and crazily science-fiction black and sleek missing all knobs, and she had a huge bed, a full length mirror, and a closet, which was open and overflowing with clothes. She looked through them, her eyes wide at all the dresses which, though she could not be sure, she suspected were expensive designer brands. “Grand,” she whispered to herself, thinking about the ugly one story shack she had shared with her mother.
            She heard a sound of something in her room’s personal bathroom, looked over at it for a moment hearing only silence, and then slipped inside. It appeared empty at a glance but after babysitting almost long enough to be considered profession she knew the sounds and tricks of almost any small child and she pulled open the drapes of the shower to see a very pretty, young girl around the age of seven with dark hair and bright blue eyes wearing badly placed makeup looking up at her with eyes filled with absolute terror.
            “I’m sorry!” she squeaked. Judy smiled kindly and helped her up and she looked even more terrifed by that. “Please don’t hurt me!” she whimpered. “I didn’t mean to play with your makeup! I just—you never come home this early after staying out—” tears ran down her face without control smearing the badly placed makeup“—don’t cut my face, please!”
            Judy was startled by that fear and absolutely horrified by what she said. All her life she loved children and wanted some of her own before she thought it impossible to find a good husband, which she suddenly realized right at that moment had changed considerably since she had become Lana. She had and still wanted to be a pediatric nurse, to help hurt children, and seeing a little girl scared she would slash her face disturbed her to her core.
            She picked her up and held her tightly “I’m not going to hurt you,” she told her softly and she felt the girl calm down and she ran her hand through her pretty hair. “I will never hurt you,” she told her and pressed her cheek against her head.
            The girl pulled away and looked up at her. “You’re not Lana,” she said simply.
            Judy looked at her sadly, feeling guilty in that strange way that didn’t connect with personal responsibility. “Lana lost her memory,” Judy told her. “La—that is-uh- I don’t remember anything—”
            “You’re not Lana,” said the girl again. “You’re too nice to be Lana. Lana told me she would slice my face apart if I ever tried to become prettier than her or played with her makeup or clothes. She would make it look like an accident to fool our mother but she would do it. She’s done it before.”
            “I’m sure I didn’t mean to—”
            “She broke my arm and then stuck a knife between my legs and said she would make me a whore if I ever pissed her off again.”
            Judy swallowed and felt a heavy lump sink down her throat. She couldn’t breathe for several moments as questions went through her mind. Who was this girl? Who could hurt someone like that: a sweet little girl who just wanted to wear makeup and be like her big sister? Judy suddenly felt sick and dirty being in Lana’s skin.
            “What is your name?” asked the girl.
            “Judy,” she told her sadly. “Judy Aberdeen.”
            The girl smiled in a way that was incredibly cute but also dark. “I won’t tell anyone—” she kissed her in the cheek “—Lana.”
            Judy nodded and, despite everything, suddenly felt really good. She had always wanted a sister but her mother had never found another man who could stand her long enough to ever get married again. The girl smiled up at her lovingly and Judy realized suddenly that the helping of that little girl combined with the evil nature of Lana Creed would actually allow her to be friends with her family and lived untroubled.
            After all, they would never look for the old Lana Creed and there was also a kind of comfort in knowing people, such as her sister, would be made happy instead of sad while she was in Lana’s place.
            “What’s your name?” Judy asked.
            “I’m Sarah Creed,” she told her and she wrapped her arms around her neck tightly in a deep hug. Judy smiled sadly, hugged her back, and then led her up to the chair in front of the mirror. Judy’s new reflection, that of a gorgeous blond girl with the same vibrant blue eyes as the girl’s, looked back at her through the mirror and her jaw dropped for a moment. The little girl sat on the chair and looked at her dumbstruck expression in the mirror. “You’ve never seen her face before, have you?”
            “I saw a photograph of it on Ethan Bartlett’s phone-watch.” She put her hand over her heart, over the tops of her scandalously uncovered, sexy breasts, and felt it was beating very quickly. She could justify getting thin, a coma could do that pretty well, and she could delude herself into thinking she had a pretty body by becoming thin, but she knew no amount of weight loss would reform her face to one pretty enough to compete with Grace Kelly.
            Sarah kissed her in the cheek when she saw her worried expression. “It’s okay, Judy. Also, they call Ethan’s thing a cellphone.”
            “It’s real,” she told her and looked into her reflection. She put her hands on her face and looked at her model-like face with sensual narrow sapphire eyes that had replaced what once had been piggish and brown. “I’m really wearing the body of an eighteen-year-old girl in 2012.”
            “Sixteen.”
            “Sixteen?” She looked down at her breasts and looked back up. “I’m still in high school and I have this body?”
            Sarah hugged her and Judy looked at her sadly. “I like you better,” she told her. “You’re pretty on the inside.” She swallowed nervously. “Am I pretty? Lana said I’m ugly and fat.”
            Judy felt tears slip down her cheeks. “You’re very pretty and you’re not fat. You might actually be prettier than Lana, or I am, or—whatever. I don’t really know yet but I—” Judy felt incredibly uncomfortable “—I really don’t know.”
            Sarah touched her tears and looked incredibly relieved. “I was worried you were tricking me but Lana can’t make herself cry.”
            Judy felt if she delved any more into Lana Creed’s personality she would go insane.  “Would you like to me braid your hair or teach how to put on makeup? I mean I might be a little rusty in this time period but—”
            “Yes!” Sarah hugged her tightly. “I really, really would!”
            Judy hugged her back and for the first time since becoming Lana she felt emotionally good. She was extremely tired but she didn’t want to make her new sister sad or angry so she began braiding her hair intricately.
            When her new father saw it later that morning the expression on his face was one of being almost in tears due to happiness.

8
(03/21/2013)

            Ethan sat down on a bench in Walton Park surrounded by trash. Hurricane Sandy didn’t destroy too much of the place, only knocking over a few small trees that weren’t very strongly planted anyway, but the trashcans that were there were all full and not nailed down so their contents ended up strewn everywhere.
            He wanted to buy breakfast but he didn’t want to get it at home and he wasn’t sure how far he would have to drive to find an open restaurant. He was debating what to do and where he could go when he saw Nora pacing ahead of him wearing a long black jacket over her front with her arms wrapped around her chest tightly. “Hey Nora,” he called.
            She turned, looked into his face with those dark almond eyes in an unreadable way, and said, “Hi Ethan. You, uh—busy?”
            Ethan shrugged. “Nope.” He gestured for the spot on his right and she quickly walked up to the bench and sat down beside him. “So last night kind of sucked.” Nora instantly began to weep, tears running down her cheeks. “Oh shit, Nora, sorry, I-ah shit.” He groaned and leaned his head back over the top of the back of the bench. “I am really no good at comforting people.”
            “What am I going to tell my mother?” She pulled open her jacket to reveal her large breasts barely held inside her costume. “Look at these!”
            “Okay,” he said.
            “Will this ever go away?” she asked softly. “Am I going to be a flat, ugly little girl again?”
            “Oh my God, you like it!” he cried and she instantly looked away. “Hey, don’t get me wrong, you’re fucking hot but, well, women, even lesbians, don’t generally see breasts and asses the way guys do. Flat-chested chicks are the only ones who can become athletes because breasts like those weigh a ton—.”
            “I just want to know what the hell I could possibly say to my mother!” she replied angrily.
            “How the hell would I know? ‘Hey, Mom, check out how awesome my rack is?’ ” Nora stared at him dumbstruck for several moments and then laughed.
            In mid-laugh she grabbed Ethan’s face and kissed him deeply, surprising him for the quick second it happened, and then pulled back. “Oh I’ve always wanted a body like this, Ethan. I wanted to be sexy like those hot busty women like Christina Hendrix and Salma Hayek and that Italian woman, uhhh—”
            “Monica Belluci?”
            “Yes! Her! Bodies like that are what American men want and what American women, white women usually, use to get far with. For every super talented Lucy Lui there are dozens of talentless busty white counterparts cruising on their tits and ass.”
            “Salma Heyek is not white.”
            “You know what I fucking mean!” she hissed.
            “The world has never been fair when it comes to that,” he said and then he thought about it for a moment. “You know, I wonder if that’s part of it. You both wanted the same type of body and both of you got it. Those ghost girls were incredibly satisfied with what you all turned into and I suspect so were the three of you.”
            “I was sexy before,” she replied, “but not like this. I’m like a dream now.” She laughed and put her hands on her hips and straightened her back. “It was totally worth whatever happened.”
            “You wouldn’t say that if I hadn’t been there.”
            “I know. I really should find a way to thank you.” Her smile turned mischievous. “So, as a man, do you think I’m sexy?”
            “I’m afraid so,” he replied. “You know I’d like to say we’re deep, thought filled individuals who look far into the soul of our mates for a true companion but we’re really just a bunch of dirty pigs sniffing around for the best looking girl we can find.”
            “And we girls are lying, scheming, untrustworthy little bitches who use that to our advantage every single time.” She looked into his eyes, took a deep breath, and then slipped onto his lap facing him with her chest almost against at his face. “So do you think this is permanent? I know my mother won’t be happy if it is. She doesn’t like me to be sexier than her.”
            “It’s permanent.”
            “That makes me very happy!” she told him and she jumped off, grabbed him by his left hand and dragged him to the nearby restroom. She opened the door, tossed him inside, and then shut the door behind herself. “My body is more than just shapely. I’ve become an athlete. A fitness queen.” She grabbed him and kissed him and Ethan could feel her body against him more than he could see as the room was dark and with no power it remained lit only by small square windows above them. “You saved my life, Ethan Bartlett,” she told him. “I would like to thank you for it.”
            “And I’d like to thank you for not being a small child like almost every other girl I’ve saved.”
            She grabbed at his clothing and pushed him up against the wall. “Everything that happened to me tonight was totally worth it,” he told her as he dropped her costume.
            They kissed again and it was a deep, long and sensual kiss.

*          *          *

            “Any particular reason you have such a smug self-satisfied look on your face?” Margaret Bartlett asked the moment Ethan stepped in the doorway, his new magic book in his left hand, the Bartlett family sword in his right, the blade of which rested on one shoulder and Mickey, who had been waiting outside, sitting casually half-asleep on the other.
            “Why didn’t everyone just bang a hot Chinese girl?” Margaret’s eyes went wide. “Relax, I did it for a good cause.” He grinned. “Pleasure.” He laughed at her darkening frown. “Guess who just got a girlfriend by the way.”
            Margaret shook her head, dumbstruck and horrified. “You disgust me.”
            “You’re love is so utterly overwhelming.”
            “Are you not ashamed of this behavior?”
            “Why? Because she’s over ten?”
            Margaret’s eyes filled with unfathomable shock and then rage. “How dare you say that?” she nearly shrieked.
            “How dare he do it!” snarled Ethan aggressively enough to silence Margaret for a moment. “You know damn well what Julian has done and I don’t particularly enjoy being held up to a standard that he and none of your children or your grandchildren are ever held up to.”
            “You do not know my family.”
            “I know if someone wants to act like a Bartlett they better start by molesting children and crippling the people they don’t like.”
            She looked him straight in the eyes and with a straight face and voice said, “You are completely ignorant, Ethan Bartlett.”
            “Are you delusional or are you just retarded?”
            Margaret’s eyes darkened for a moment but then softened and she changed the subject. “I thought we agreed on no guns,” she said.
            “I like living far too much to follow that,” he replied. “Just pretend you’re telling Peter he can’t have a gun in my exact position, a position that will almost certainly equal death without them, so that the ludicrousness of your stupid comment manages to get through your incredibly thick skull.”
            “You seem upset,” she replied. “Tell me what exactly happened last night, Ethan?”
            “Well Margaret,” he said. “It has been quite a night. Really shitty till this morning actually.” He put his book under his arm and held up a folded up piece of paper. “I got a girl’s digits and gave some out too.”
            “What happened?”
            “I’m too tired to explain it all,” he said as took his book back into his left hand. “Let’s just say it was seriously screwed from the moment I left Darcy Hamilton’s house until the moment I left the Engelstad.”
            “Half the town is yelling about how you all had a party at the Old Charlotte Street Church. They say someone drugged everyone at the party and that supposedly three girls were possessed of all things and you would not believe what they say about the Tan girl specifically.”
            “That she now has double Ds? Yeah, I know.” He grinned.
            “What happened exactly, Ethan?”
            “It was just an awful set of events.  Firstly, that Claire Winters turned out to be a bitch—”
            “Enough with the language!” she hissed and then added, “But good. I don’t want you around those southerners.”
            “Yeah, it was awful, but now I’m back to being me.”
            “Well?” She looked at him for a blank moment. “Continue?”
            “It’s hard to say without sounding ludicrous,” he replied. “There were three girls that did get possessed by magic rings believe it or not, I fought with them in a big ass magic fight with Johnny Le Sueur after I was thrown down three floors into a dark and evil basement where I saw two giant purple eyes and the corpse of John Bartlett—”
            Margaret slapped him so suddenly and so hard that if she had hit him where his teeth were she very well might have knocked several of them loose. The impact sent him stumbling aside and Mickey flapping up into the air in quick startled movements as he was completely and utterly awakened form being half-asleep. “What the fuck was that for?”
            “Don’t you ever joke about him! He was my son, Ethan!”
            “I fucking avenged him, you goddamn hag! Where did you think I found this?” He held up the family sword and her hands covered her mouth in startled horror. “Fuck you, Margaret!” His teeth were red from blood that he could taste in his mouth. “Fuck you and fuck your family!”
            “It was part of his costume,” she whispered. “He went as his ancestor, Walter Kent. Then he disappeared.”
            “And I just bet Viscount Emingforde would think that it was just so goddamn cute of him.”
            “Ethan—” she reached for him, tears in her eyes, but he stepped back “—Ethan, where did you find him?”
            “Where the fuck do you think?” he cried. “He was under the church with a half dozen other people no one gives a fuck about. Here’s your goddamn heirloom back.” He tossed it down and as he started across the foyer Mickey flew back onto his shoulder.
            Margaret’s knee-jerk violence strongly reminded him of his father and infuriated him to the point that it required all the will he had in him to resist slapping her back. When he reached the stairs he looked back and saw her pick up the sword and, cradling it close, began to weep. The sight of it made his insides twist.
            Even though he was alive his own mother never loved him. He knew that because she told him so regularly and that his twin sister, who had died in childbirth, was the one she truly loved. When he was young she told him he strangled his twin with his umbilical cord and called him a murderer but his maternal grandmother had actually gone so far as to get the medical documents to prove that wrong. His fraternal twin had no cause for being stillborn the doctor could point at but even so his mother would almost daily look him straight in the eyes and tell him he should have been the one to die.
            Lucy caught Ethan on the stairwell as he was walking up. “So what happened with Lana?” She looked at his face and smiled. “She hit you?”
            “Just get the fuck out of my way,” he said as he brushed her aside.
            Lucy frowned up at him as he walked by. “You’re an asshole,” she said.
            “How astute of you,” he replied as he went toward the loft.
            “You’re out of this fucking place!” said Lucy. “I’ll have you on Fisher Street begging for change and blowing perverts for quarters!”
            “God, what an incredible bitch,” said Mickey when he reached the door to his loft.
            “Agreed,” he replied and, finding the door unlocked, he pushed it open. Then, after pointlessly locking it behind himself, he stepped up to his room and looked around. He let out a long and incredibly tired groan.
            The family had gone through the loft and utterly demolished everything. His television, Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 had all been broken by some kind of hammer and all of his games and DVDs were snapped in half and lying in a heap. The little room he used for enchantment was equally destroyed, all the basic ingredients he dared to keep out were spilt everywhere with broken containers and the little wooden table with his enchanting runes had huge cuts into it. His bed was almost entirely covered in chilly and various other sloppy food ingredients.
            “They broke my blu-ray of the Owls of Gahoole!” cried Mickey.
            “You know,” Ethan said as he unbuckled his sword and dagger from his belt. “Things aren’t supposed to suck this much when you’re a hero.” Ethan lied down across a small couch, which since it belonged to the family it was left untouched, and stretched out his legs and tried to sleep. Mickey immediately flew onto his face. “I will buy another copy of the Owls of Gahoole on Blu-Ray when Best Buy reopens.”
            “Thanks,” he said and he flew off.
            Ethan groaned, placed his blades on the ground and slept with everything else he had on. He had been dreaming of 19th century New Orleans in a romantic manner very regularly since he met Claire Winters but after that last meeting at the Charlotte Street Church he never did again.
            It felt like his first good night’s sleep in years. Not just because of his release from Claire but also because he decided that it was time to leave the Bartlett House for good.

 

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