Ammon

Visitations 5-04

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Hours later, I stood on the porch, gazing at the empty driveway. The space where my father’s car belonged, where its presence had always reassured me when I needed it to, was devoid of any such comfort. After my mother had left, being able to see my father’s car whenever I woke up had become… important. I used to bolt out of bed in the middle of the night and run to the window, just to show myself that I still had a parent, that one of them still cared enough to stay.

Sometimes, it wasn’t enough. Some nights, I had to go to Dad’s room and sleep in his bed. I had to touch him, had to know he was there for myself. The only way I could rest on those nights was to put my hand on his cheek, feel his beard under my fingers. Then, only then, could I relax enough to sleep.

Tonight, I was having that feeling again. That feeling of being abandoned. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t. Dad had to help Rose with her father. I knew that. I would never try to feel upset about that fact. And yet that feeling of worry, like I wouldn’t see him again, kept rising up in me, like bile in my throat.

It made me anxious. I wanted to call him, wanted to chat and find out where he was and how it was going. But I’d already done that twice throughout the afternoon, and I didn’t want to drive Dad crazy. God, I needed to get rid of this selfish feeling. Why did I hate the idea of him being out there so much? Sure, tomorrow was my birthday. But a woman’s father might be dying. Have some perspective, Flick.

An hour. I’d give it another hour and then call to see how things were going. I could wait that long, right? Hell, make it an hour and a half so the kid and I could watch another movie.

Not that he’d seemed all that interested in the ones we’d already watched. Most of the boy’s attention had been devoted toward getting me to essentially recite my life story to him. He wanted to know everything, from the name of my fifth grade teacher (Mr. Bisby) to my first crush (also Mr. Bisby), and more. Every question I answered just seemed to make a dozen more spring up in the kid’s head.

I’d excused myself to come outside while he was finishing up his dinner, some spaghetti I’d put together. For some reason, I’d felt like the walls of the house had been closing all day long. This house, my home, felt very different without my father in it. It felt dark, and smaller than I remembered.

The gate past the driveway that led into our backyard squeaked. My eyes turned that way, and I frowned. Through the darkness, it felt like there was something on the other side of that gate, something watching me through the tiny crack between it and the attached fence. If I squinted just right, it seemed like I could just sort of make out a pale face gazing back at me contemplatively.

A trick of the light. Really, it had to be my mind playing tricks on me. Still, I glanced at the door behind me to make sure I wasn’t being watched before stepping off the porch. My hand strayed to the weapon sheath at my belt automatically as I walked to the gate. With each step, my brain kept telling my heart that we were jumping at shadows and being ridiculous. My heart’s response was mostly a lot of pictures of decapitated girls and wild gestures toward the stacks upon stacks of books about Stranger attacks that were in the Crossroads library. My bladder was anxiously waiting its turn to weigh in on the situation.

At the gate, I hesitated. For a long moment, I simply stood there, facing the wooden barrier. Slowly, ever so gradually, I reached up to unlatch the tiny hook that held the gate closed. My other hand touched the canister that held my staff, and I held my breath while giving the gate a firm shove.

Nothing. The space between our house that led into the backyard was empty save for the enormous pile of firewood that had sat there for as long as I could remember. Other than that, there was nothing in sight. Nothing to jump out at me, nothing to be afraid of. I had been jumping at shadows after all.

Shaking my head, I turned around and almost ran directly into a small figure standing directly behind me, silent and motionless, staring. A startled yelp escaped me, and I jerked backwards reflexively, my heart in my throat, pounding furiously. It took me a second to recognize the figure. “Jeeze, Ammon!”

“That’s my name,” the boy announced, head tilting to gaze up at me. “What’re you doing out here?”

“I was just…” Feeling embarrassed, I shook my head. “I thought I saw a cat or something. I thought it might belong to you or your aunt. Do you guys have any pets?” I tried to move the conversation onto him. As interested as he had seemed in my life, the kid had been equally tight-lipped about his own.

“I used to have a lot of pets,” Ammon confirmed easily. “But I had to leave them to come here.”

Blinking at that, I relatched the gate once more. “You had to leave them?” My mouth started to open to ask if they were renting the house next door or something, but I remembered what my Dad had said about interviewing someone. Don’t supply the answer for them. Ask the question and see where it goes.

His small blond head bobbed up and down earnestly. “It was a really long trip. I couldn’t keep track of them all. And I didn’t want to choose which ones to bring, so I left them behind.”

“Aww, I’m sorry you had to do that. Losing your pets can be hard.” Wincing at the thought of the ill-fated rabbit I’d had once, I tried to make him feel better. “So what kind of animals were they?”

His gaze met mine evenly, his expression blank. “I don’t understand the question.”

My mouth opened to respond to that, but a chill ran through me. “I uhh, let’s go inside, kid. It’s getting cold out here.” Ushering the boy back into the house, I trailed after. At the door, I looked around once more, unable to shake the feeling of unease. If anything, it kept getting worse. With a sigh, I locked the door, twisting the deadbolt before turning to face Ammon. “So, what movie should we watch next?”

******

Midnight. I was officially seventeen years old. As the near-scalding hot shower water pounded down on my back, I gazed at the drain and let my thoughts wander. I daydreamed absently while giving my hair a thorough scrubbing. The anxiety from the day, the confusion over finding out that Seller was my ancestor and wondering what connection he had to my mother, the concern for my father, all of it and more just swirled through my brain without rhyme or reason. I was thinking about Seller, and that somehow turned into thinking about the twins, which turned into thoughts about Ammon and his curiosity. Everything, every thought just competed for attention in my mind. I tried to let it go, tried to relax and just enjoy the shower. Yet something just kept nagging at me. Something in the corner of my mind would not let up its cries for attention. I’d thought that taking a long, hot shower after getting Ammon tucked into bed would help, but if anything I felt even more anxious. I was nervous, almost scared even. The tension in my back and arms was getting worse under the hot water, not better.

Finally, after almost an hour, I gave up. This wasn’t working. Twisting the knob off, I stepped out of the shower and grabbed a nearby towel. As I dried myself off, my eyes lifted to the door and I paused.

Didn’t I lock that?

After dressing in what I admit was a bit of a rush, I opened the bathroom door and eased my head out to look down the hall toward the guest room where I’d left Ammon. His door was shut, and I couldn’t hear anything aside from the sound of a couple cars driving by outside. Probably some people heading home from the bar that was across the street from the bowling alley.

Shaking my head at my own imagination, I walked past the guest room, moving quietly to avoid waking up the poor kid inside. Bypassing my own room, I started downstairs. Even if I hadn’t recently gained the ability to stay up roughly twenty-three hours a day, I still wouldn’t have been able to sleep while Dad was still out with Rose. I’d watch some television for awhile, maybe poke through the kitchen and see if we still had that brownie mix that had been in the cupboard before I went to school.

All of the lights were off as I made my way downstairs. It was very nearly pitch black, though that hardly mattered. I knew this house perfectly. I knew everything in it. I could literally navigate it with my eyes closed, so the tiny amount of light coming through the closed curtains was more than enough.

At the bottom of the stairs, I turned to the living room, walking straight in with a quick left to avoid the coffee table in front of the couch. Circling back that way, I found the familiar fuzzy sofa itself with one hand before plopping myself down into it. My questing fingers found the remote, and I sat back while lifting it to stab at the power button with my thumb.

The television came to life, illuminating the room to reveal half a dozen people standing around me.

Jump scares in movies and games fucking suck. They’re awful. Believe me, jump scares in real life are about a thousand times worse. A not-so-tiny yelp escaped me as I jerked, my hand dropping to my belt.

It was too late. They were on me. Strong, firm hands caught each of my arms, shoving me back against the couch. A man for each side, their figures appearing massive in the faint and distorted light from the television that cast their features in terrible and mysterious shadows.

Another caught hold of my legs as I kicked out, dragging them up onto the coffee table. As my mouth opened to shout, the guy holding my left arm in a vice-like grip put his other hand over my mouth.

The remote was pulled from my hand by another figure, and the television was shut off. Darkness returned briefly before the light switch was flicked on, illuminating the room so suddenly I had to close my eyes momentarily.

Opening them once more, I found myself staring at the person holding the remote. Ammon.

Wait. The people holding me down, I knew them. They were my coworkers from the theater over the summer. The one using both arms to hold my right arm against the couch was Pete, the senior from my old high school who had helped me clean one last time before I had confronted our boss. The guy whose right hand was covering my mouth while his left held my other arm trapped was Rosco, the grumpy old projectionist. Bradley Joseph, the would-be film critic that manned the ticket booth, was holding my legs. Other co-workers, other people I had spent the summer with, crowded in close. There were even more people than I’d originally thought. It looked like all my co-workers were here.

“I’m not tired,” Ammon informed me, his voice strangely calm considering everything that was happening. I thrashed against the grip of those holding me down, my shouts for them to get the hell off me muffled by the hand that still covered my mouth, making it harder to breathe. And through all of this, Ammon simply stood there and continued. “So I want to play another game. A better game.”

I was lost. Confused. Scared. Horrified. All of it, everything. I was still struggling to get free, but there wasn’t a lot that the power of ‘never get tired’ could do against three full-sized men practically sitting on me.

Ammon stepped closer, setting the remote down. His eyes were bright with enthusiasm. “See, I think I might like you. Maybe. But I’ve gotta be sure. I have to find out if I really do, if I care. I wanna know what that feels like. You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to feel things.”

How long he’d waited to feel things? What the fuck? What was going on? Why were my coworkers here? Why were they holding me down? What was Ammon doing? Why did it seem like they were listening to him? What the hell?! All of that and more prodded me to fight harder against the hands holding me in place. Not that it accomplished anything, but at least I could keep struggling futilely a lot longer than they could hold me. These guys were strong, but I knew for a fact that I could outlast them.

Ammon smiled humorlessly. His small hand reached out to pat Rosco’s, and the man removed it from my mouth. As soon as the obstruction was gone, I demanded, “Ammon, what the hell do you–”

My words were cut off by a hard slap. Ammon’s hand had shot out, connecting with the side of my face so hard I briefly saw stars.

When my gaze cleared up, the boy was frowning as he shook his head, looking at his hand in disappointment. “Nope. Darn. I was really hoping I’d feel sad about that.” Making an annoyed face, he finally heaved a sigh. “Oh well, I guess we have to try something worse.” Tenderly patting my arm, the kid added, “Maybe if you get really hurt, then it’ll turn on. Maybe if you’re crying. Do you think you’ll cry if they hurt you? You spent a lot of time with them. Would being hurt by them make you sad? Will seeing you be hurt by them make me sad? Is that how it works?”

“Ammon, what… damn it, let me go!” I raised my voice, trying to snap my former coworkers out of whatever spell they’d been put under. Because at that point, that was was all it could be. A spell or some Stranger ability. Nothing else made sense. Nothing about Ammon made sense.

And I was in very deep trouble.

“My name is Ammon,” the kid announced to the room before pausing. His gaze met mine. “You should all make her cry.”

In the corner of the room, the window behind Dad’s recliner abruptly shattered as a figure leapt through it. I barely caught a glimpse of movement before a spray of blood suddenly appeared in the middle of Ammon’s chest. A knife had embedded itself there, and the boy stared down at it in surprise before slumping down.

As he collapsed, the hands holding me loosened. The figure in the corner moved again, so fast that it was barely a blur. They caught hold of poor Rosco and shoved him away from me one direction to knock down several people there before planting a hand against both Pete and Bradley, shoving each of them so hard even one-handed that each flew back a good dozen feet, plowing into the people there as well.

I was yanked to my feet by a firm grasp, and before I knew what was happening, we were halfway to the front door.

“Wait!” I jerked back around, stumbling as my eyes took in the sight on the floor of my family’s living room, looking for the dead boy with the knife in his chest.

He wasn’t dead, and the knife was no longer in his chest. Ammon was sitting up, staring at the bloody blade in his hand. His shirt was torn, and I could see the wound in his body already sealing itself up. He raised his gaze our way, eyes narrowing as he began to speak. “My name is–”

Strong hands grabbed me off the floor, and then the world blurred around me as I was carried out of the house and all the way down the street within the span of a few seconds.

Then we stopped almost two blocks away, and I was released. Stumbling a little, I took in a breath before letting it out again. “Thanks, Sell–” I started while turning toward what I thought was the man who had come back to check on me.

It wasn’t him. It was a girl. She stood a few feet from me, face illuminated by the nearby streetlight. She was clearly at least half-Asian and partly something else. Native American, probably. Or maybe French. I wasn’t entirely sure. I guessed her age at maybe a few years older than me.

What I was sure about was the feeling that my brain was screaming at me about. She was a Stranger. With a capital S. I knew it. Instinctively, I just knew she wasn’t human.

Taking an immediate step back, I grabbed for the weapon canister at my belt. “You’re a—you’re–”

“A vampire,” the girl replied evenly. “Yeah. And you’re a Heretic. But you have bigger problems than me right now.”

Distractedly, I glanced down the street. “Ammon… what—I don’t understand. What did he do to them? Mind control or something? But how? I mean, he’s not… that’s like a… a Stranger power. But he’s not, I didn’t sense…” I paused. Hadn’t I? I’d been uneasy around Ammon the whole time. He was a thoroughly creepy kid. Had that sense of unease been something more?

But that didn’t make sense, because one glance at this girl and my brain wasn’t subtle at all about things. It screamed Stranger at me, blaring every possible alarm.

And what had Ammon been talking about? Why would he care if I was hurt? What did that–

My brain stopped. I realized the worst part of what was going on. “Dad.”

The girl—vampire in front of me gave a single nod. “That’s your bigger problem. Come with me. I will get you to him. Trust me, you don’t have time to lose right now. I know what that school told you. I know what they think, what they’re teaching you. Now I’m asking you to forget it. Because your dad needs you to. You cannot get to him in time without help. I want to help you. I want to get you to him. But you have to let me. You have to trust me, at least long enough to save your father.”

“Save him…” My heart pounded. “What—what did Ammon do?”

“It’s not about what Ammon did,” the vampire informed me. “It’s about what he told your father to do.”

“What he told Dad to do?” I echoed slowly, staring at her. Scenario after scenario kept playing its way through my brain.

She nodded once. “He wanted you all to himself. He wanted to get rid of your dad. So he used his power and told him to drive that woman out to a motel. There he was supposed to wait until one in the morning, kill her, and then call the police and turn himself in.

“It’s twelve-forty now. We’ve got twenty minutes to stop your father from being arrested for murder. So either trust me and let me get you there in time, or drive yourself. Either way, choose.”

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Visitations 5-03

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In the end, it was Ammon who brought me out of my momentary shock. The boy bumped up against me, pushing past a little bit to look out the door as well. “Who is it?” His voice was cranky.

For a couple of seconds, both he and the man in the emerald suit looked at one another. Then Seller raised his hand, extending it to the boy with an easy smile. “Ah, I didn’t know Flick had a brother.”

“He’s not my brother,” I replied automatically. Ammon sent me a clearly annoyed look at that. Was he offended or something? Eh, who knew what went on in the mind of a little boy. Dad had said that he kept asking about me, so maybe he thought my denying any kind of relation so fast meant that I didn’t like him or something. Which… No, Flick, be fair. You don’t even know the kid. I kept telling myself not to judge so quickly. The kid came off as creepy, but he was probably just raised that way.

Shaking that feeling off, I continued. “Ammon lives next door. We–” I hesitated, then stepped around the boy. “Give me a minute, Ammon, I’ll be right back. The gentleman here and I need to talk.”

“But my nam–” The boy got that far before I firmly closed the door behind me, leaving him inside.

“All right,” I started while motioning for the man to join me on the sidewalk in front of the house. After giving a quick glance toward the home next door where my father was, I continued. “Look, there’s some things we need to talk about. It’s more than just this year book. Maybe a lot more.”

I saw his eyebrows raise behind the dark shades that he had returned to his face. “Is that right?” His voice was neutral. “You wouldn’t be angling for an invitation to the Garden, would you? Because I’d normally be all for that, but Hannah—ahh, Avalon doesn’t seem to hate you nearly as much as she hates most people. So that ain’t–”

“It’s not about that,” I interrupted firmly. “It’s about you, and my vision. The one the Edge gave me.”

The man’s head turned a little, clearly absorbing that. His voice was quiet. “What exactly did you see?”

I started to answer, but then glanced toward the neighbor’s house and changed my mind. “Not here. Not right now. Look, uhh, meet me at the…” I tried to think of a decent place to talk to Seller in the middle of town. “The bowling alley about four blocks that way.” Pointing, I added, “I’ll be there in an hour.”

“I dunno,” the man sounded doubtful. “Deal with Avalon was to pick up the book, fix it, return it. That’s all. I’m not usually in the business of charity, so if you’ve got some kind of extra problem…”

“Just meet me there!” I insisted, lowering my voice to a hiss to avoid attracting attention. This was a quiet neighborhood. “Please, Seller. You care about Avalon, I know you do. Trust me, she’d want you to do this. It’s important. I just don’t want to get into it right here in the middle of the street.”

He hesitated, but in the end the man in the emerald suit bowed his head. “Bowling alley, one hour. Fine.” Raising a hand, he pointed at me. “But don’t be late, Miss Chambers. I may care about Avalon, but that doesn’t mean I’ll give you more than one chance with this. If you’re not there, I will leave.”

“I’ll be there,” I promised, then turned to head back into the house. “And I’ll bring the book.”

******

Fifty-seven minutes later, I stepped into the bowling alley. Lunch had passed quickly, particularly after I insisted that we take the pizza over to my dad and Ammon’s aunt. Knowing that I was about to duck out on my father left me less willing to wait for him to come back, so I had brought the food over there with Ammon insisting the whole way that we didn’t have to do that because his aunt hated pizza.

Which was weird, considering how quickly she had gone after it when the food was presented. She had eaten like a starving woman, putting away half a pizza all on her own. Clearly the boy was wrong.

With another sharp pain at the act of lying, I’d told my father that I was going to go take a walk around the town, that I missed it and wanted to see things again. He’d been fine with it, though he made me promise to be back in a couple hours so we could go shopping to prepare for my birthday the next day.

Ammon was a different story. It took work to extricate myself from the boy. I had to promise that we’d watch a movie and play a game or something when I got back. That poor kid, I couldn’t imagine how lonely he had to be to become so obsessed with spending time with a girl almost twice his age.

Finally, however, I’d made my way out of the house and to the meeting point pretty much just in time. As I came into the bowling alley, it took only a handful of seconds to spot Seller sitting at one of the tables on the other end of the room. His suit stood out in stark contrast compared to what the rest of the relatively few people in the place were wearing, though he didn’t really seem to mind. Most of his attention, from what I could tell, was centered on the enormous plate of nachos in front of him.

“These,” he announced when I drew nearer to pull out a chair, “are fucking amazing. Why didn’t anyone tell me bystanders made such good food? They’re rubbish at a lot of things, but this…” Making a noise of approval, the man lifted a large chip that was thoroughly smothered in cheese and took a bite.

“So glad you approve,” I replied dryly before setting my bag next to me on the floor. Unzipping it, I took out the yearbook. “Here,” Passing the book to him, I added, “Try not to get cheese all over it.”

Wiping his hand with a napkin, Seller took the book, snapping it open to the first page. While he was examining it, making little thoughtful noises under his breath, I couldn’t help but stare.

It was him. I’d only seen the man once in that vision, but his face was burned into my memory. This was my ancestor, the one my Heretical vision had been centered on. He looked different now, of course. More confident, more capable, not to mention more fashionable. But it was definitely him.

“Are you gonna say something, or just keep staring?” He asked without looking up from the book. “If you’re looking for a conversation piece, why don’t you start with what role I played in this vision of yours?” He finally glanced up to meet my gaze, but I couldn’t read his expression past the sunglasses.

There were ways I could take this. I could be evasive. I could wait until I had more information. I could do any number of things. Hell, I’d seen so many movies and read so many books that went to great lengths to avoid being completely straight forward with something like this. It was like there was some kind of universal rule against just telling someone what you knew or suspected right off the bat. No, there had to be a huge lack of communication that led to horrible misunderstandings first.

Well fuck that, I don’t intend to live my life by narrative convention. Instead, I met the man’s gaze as much as I could and spoke plainly. “You’re my ancestor.” Watching his reaction, I added, “You’re the one my vision focused on. You and the headmistress, back with the trolls or orcs or whatever they were. The monsters that had you in the cage. You abandoned them. You ran away. You were a coward.”

At first, he said nothing in response to that. The man simply sat there, forehead creased ever so slightly with thought. A single strand of otherwise immaculate black hair stood out from the rest, catching my attention as the silence continued on for several long seconds before he finally spoke. “Yes. I was.”

Before I could say anything else in response to that, Seller continued. “Luckily, people aren’t locked into one choice for their entire lifetime. It’d be a pretty bad fucking tragedy if they were, especially people like us. Our lifetimes are a hell of a lot longer than Bystanders, unless you get horribly murdered. Point is, you get a lot more chances to choose. Choose right, choose wrong, whatever. Things change. I made some bad choices, did some bad things. Still do. But I ain’t the man now that I was in that vision. I’m not gonna say I’m good, cuz there’s some shady shit in my past. Hell, probably got just as shady shit coming up in my future. But I’m not that guy. Just like you won’t be this same girl you are now in fifty years, a hundred years, two hundred years. We change. That’s life. Change or die.”

“I know you’re not the same,” I replied. “Or the headmistress would’ve killed you like she promised.”

He chuckled low. “Yeah, we had a few run-ins before things settled down a bit. Still not exactly friends, but we can talk to each other, even exchange favors. Especially when it comes to Avalon. I guess it’s sort of like being her divorced parents, except that Gaia and I never actually did anything that close.”

The next question hung in the air between us. He knew I was going to ask it, but he waited patiently. Finally, I spoke the words we both knew were coming. “What do you know about my Mom?”

“I can’t say much,” he started. My mouth opened to object, but he held up a hand to stop me. “Just stop for a second, okay? Let me explain. You know about magic, the whole enchantment thing?” When I nodded slowly, the man continued. “Let’s just say it’s possible, very difficult, but possible, for a sufficiently powerful spell to actually enchant an idea, an explanation, a story, that sort of thing.”

My head shook in confusion. “I don’t get it. What do you mean, enchant an idea?”

“Not really an idea,” he amended. “More like the words. Specific words, specific conversations. Like, let’s say I really wanted to stop everyone in the world from singing any more fucking Bieber songs. I get a bunch of other powerful people who think the same way I do, and I put an enchantment on those songs. From that point on, no one who wasn’t a part of the spell or excluded from it would remember the lyrics. And anyone who was excluded or a part of it who did remember them would be incapable of telling them to anyone who wasn’t. I don’t mean it would be hard, I mean it would be physically impossible. Even if the other person knew that little Canadian fuck was a singer and that I knew all the songs, I wouldn’t be able to tell him anything. As long as the spell was active, it would be impossible for me to actually tell anyone who wasn’t excluded from it what the lyrics were.”

I stared at the man. “So you know my mother, you know what happened. But there’s some spell that stops you from explaining any of it to me directly because I wasn’t excluded from it?” When he gave a single nod, I let out a long, low sigh. “Okay, fine. What if you and someone else who already knew everything were to talk about it and someone like me just happened to be close enough to overhear?”

“Good try,” he replied with a shake of his head. “But it’s not that easy. If you were close by while two of us were talking about it, you wouldn’t actually hear anything. The magic wouldn’t let you.”

Rolling my eyes in spite of myself, I muttered, “Of course, because clearly that would’ve been too damn easy.” Then I took a moment to think. “Someone else got around that, I think. He said he couldn’t talk about it directly. He didn’t explain it like you did, but he did get around it by giving me an idea of where to look. That’s how I found the picture in the first place, the one with my mother in it. Is there anything like that you can say? Anything that might lead me to answers without violating the spell?”

Seller considered that for a few seconds. His head turned away, a slight frown creasing his forehead as he thought. “Anything I can tell you that would help…” He murmured the words before nodding. “All right, let’s see. Generally speaking, if a student at that school of yours were to get into trouble, especially if they had a habit of it, there’d be records of it in the Security office. Records that, for obvious reasons, are secured against tampering. You know, just in case Johnny B. Rebel learns enough magic to try changing his record while he’s in school. If someone was looking for unaltered records about disciplinary actions against some troublemaker, that’d be a good place to check.”

“The security office?” I blanched a little. “I doubt they have an open door policy for students.”

Seller shrugged. “I didn’t say it was gonna be easy, kid. You asked for possibilities. That’s one.”

“Thanks, I… I’ll figure it out.” I managed to reply without sighing too much. “What about the book?”

He waved it at me. “Now this I can help with. I can’t explain anything you see in it, but this is extra magic, some spell that was done later to alter the records. It’s not part of the big one. Give me about twenty-four hours and I’ll get it undone for you. Like I said, I can’t explain what you’ll see, but I can undo the alterations and give you the book back.”

“Twenty-four hours?” I echoed before resisting the urge to sigh yet again. That was longer than Avalon had thought it would be. “All right, I’ll meet you back here tomorrow at this time. I’ll probably have more questions. Especially about you, and this Garden, and… everything.” I had plenty of those questions now, but I wanted to take the time to plan out what I was going to ask. Plus, I felt kind of weird about leaving my father alone with Ammon. Which was just ridiculous. He was a little boy, and he’d been alone with Dad for weeks now. My brain was doing weird things to me.

“Right,” Seller tucked the book under his suit jacket, where it disappeared from sight without leaving a bulge. “Right here tomorrow at this time. I’ll bring the book, and see what I can do about answering those questions.”

Stealing one of his nachos, I munched on it briefly while staring at the man. It really was weird seeing him like this, when my first impression had been so… different. Had he been close to my mother? How distantly related were we? Did he know Professor Pericles, the man who had supposedly delivered my mother at birth? How much did he actually know about any of this? All of it? Pieces? Hardly any? It was impossible to tell, since he was apparently prevented from talking about it.

Magic clearly had as much potential to be annoying as it did to be amazing.

******

I was still thinking about that whole magic thing as I strolled up the street a short time later toward my house. The hamster on the wheel of my brain was running himself ragged trying to think of ways that I could safely get into that security office and see what was in there without anyone finding out. So far, I was coming up blank.

As I approached the house, Dad emerged at a quick walk. He had Ammon’s aunt with him, the two of them heading for our car. I raised a hand. “Hey, what’s the rush? Where’re you guys going?”

“Sorry,” Dad’s voice sounded weird. “We have to go. Rose’s father is in the hospital.”

“Oh, oh, the hospital. I’m sorry,” I stared at the older woman, whose face looked fairly blank for someone whose father was in the hospital. Maybe she was in shock. “Is he gonna be okay?”

“We have to go,” Dad repeated. “Her father is really sick. We’ll probably be gone most of the night.”

“Oh…” Disappointment reared up in me, and I immediately felt ashamed of myself. The woman’s father was obviously in bad shape. “I get it. Go ahead, I’ll uhh, I’ll watch the kid.”

“You watch Ammon,” Rose agreed. “You’re a good babysitter. We’ll check in.”

The two of them got in the car, Dad barely taking the time to hug me rather distractedly before they set off.

Well, that was… weird. Not that I blamed my father for being distracted. If the poor woman’s dad was in such bad shape, obviously she needed help to get there. And maybe there was no one else who could possibly stay with her through it.

Still, it had been awfully abrupt. I couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit upset that my father was going to be gone through one of the two nights that I was home. But every time I let myself think that way, the guilt rose up and I pushed the thought away.

Finally, I turned, only to find Ammon himself standing on the porch, staring at me again. “Oh, hey there, kid. Guess it’s just you and me tonight, huh?”

He smiled faintly. “Yes, Flick.” His voice was chipper. “Just you and me.

“I’m gonna have fun.”

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Visitations 5-02

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Stepping back into the real world, a world where the crowd of people (Well, if you counted a family of three and a couple teenagers skateboarding as a crowd. It was still Wyoming) who bustled around me were all completely normal human beings had been an odd sensation. Even after such a short time away, the world away from Crossroads already felt less familiar. Even the cracked pavement beneath my feet seemed awkward and different to walk on. The smells especially, god, the smells. Everywhere I turned, new smells that I had never noticed before being away from any city for over a month stood out. The garbage lying next to the can, the rotting sandwich abandoned near the drainage ditch, everything stood out more than it had before. I noticed so much more that had previously been lost in the background. All of it crowded my brain for attention, almost overwhelming me at first.

That and the temperature. I noticed the cold a lot more than I had before. After spending a couple months on the island where it was either the perfect temperature under the shield or very warm outside of it, stepping into Wyoming weather in late October was a real wake-up call.

Thanks to the portal created by Professor Dare, I had emerged from the restroom of the bus station about forty miles away from my hometown. All I had to do was take the ticket that the professor had given me, step up onto the bus that had been steadily making its way cross-country along with the rest of the sleepy passengers while showing my ticket, and take an empty seat. If anyone noticed that I hadn’t been on the bus before this leg, they didn’t say anything, and if my father looked at my ticket, it would look as though I had just traveled over a thousand miles on this bus. As far as he would know, I had been traveling all night long. More lies. The necessity of it wasn’t lost on me, but it still hurt.

“Flick!” Forty miles later, the voice of my father called over the sound of the bus’s loud engine settling as we pulled up to the stop nearest my house. Turning my head, I saw the man himself standing outside of the bus, clearly too impatient to wait for me to get off before getting my attention. He waved, and I couldn’t help the laugh that came as I waved back. God, he was so… enthusiastic. His boundless energy and optimism in spite of everything that had happened, everything he had seen, was infectious. My father was a big bear of a man with a thick somewhat graying beard and hair that was almost as long as mine. He looked like a mountain man, yet his face was kind, his eyes intelligent and bright with obvious curiosity and love of life.

He was my dad, and it took until I was seeing him in person again to realize how much I missed him.

After gathering my bag and making my way to the front of the bus, I waited my turn before stepping down to the pavement. That, apparently, was as far as my father’s patience extended, because I barely had time to start to lift a hand in greeting before he was right there reaching for me, intent on snatching my body up into a tight hug that would crush me against his chest.

Without conscious thought, I sidestepped the rising arms, turned to catch one wrist in my hand, and applied pressure while twisting it. Simultaneously, my other hand moved to grab the false cell phone case at my belt that held my staff. My fingers got as far as unsnapping it before my brain caught up.

“Oh!” Quickly, my eyes wide, I released my father’s wrist and took a quick step back. My face burned as I pushed the snap of the case back down. “Crap, Dad! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, are you okay?”

Grimacing, my father rubbed his wrist, eyeing me ruefully. “Jeeze, kid,” he teased. “If I’d known you were gonna learn Kung Fu, I would’ve tried harder to get you the birthday presents you wanted.”

Relieved that he didn’t seem hurt, though still feeling horrified about what had just happened, I stepped in to hug him tightly. Only once we had embraced did I retort, “Lucky I didn’t take up archery then.”

I felt more than heard his light chuckle through the hug that he refused to let go of. “You didn’t mention you were taking any self-defense courses, kid. Not that I’m complaining, but what brought that on?”

The question made me flinch a little. And so the lying to my father’s face began. At least I could tell as much of the truth as possible. “It’s mandatory at the school. Everyone learns self-defense.” There, that was absolutely true. No lie in the statement at all. Now all I had to do was hope that Dad didn’t ask–

“Huh, that sounds different. Why would they make that a requirement?” His tone was gently curious, without any hint of disbelief or accusation. Even then, however, I couldn’t help the slight flinch that came. Damn the infamous Lincoln Chambers curiosity. Not that I had much room to talk, considering I’d inherited all of it.

“You know, the Headmistress is just really into health, exercise, and being able to take care of ourselves,” I tried to answer a little evasively. “She wants us to be safe.” Yeah, as safe as possible while hunting down the evil monsters that secretly preyed on humanity itself. Simple, Dad.

“Well, good,” he announced before finally releasing me from his embrace. His hand came up to rub through my hair. “Sounds like they’ve got the right idea. I should’ve had you start taking courses a long time ago. Your mother wanted you to, you know.” There was a slight hint of pain in his voice in spite of his effort to hide it, and I noticed the way that he subconsciously rubbed the finger where he still wore his wedding ring. The ring he steadfastly refused to take off even now, a decade after his wife had left.

“She did?” I asked, looking up at the man while trying to sound more surprised than I was. If Mom really had been part of the Heretics, then maybe it was instinct that she would want her daughter to know how to fight. Or maybe it was just the sheriff in her.

Dad nodded easily, his eyes lost in the past for a moment. “Joselyn wanted you to enroll in all these courses. She had flyers and…” He shook his head then, a long sigh escaping him. “I dropped the ball there. Sorry, kid. Your mom, she’d be… pretty pissed off that I never got you into any of that.”

Anything I might have said stuck in my throat. My opinion of my mother was so messed up at the moment that I couldn’t find the right words. There was obviously something heretic involved with why she disappeared to begin with. Not knowing exactly what happened was messing with my emotions. I wanted to continue hating her as much as I had for the past ten years, but the uncertainty made that hard. Was it her fault? Had something happened to force her away? Did she leave out of some attempt to protect us? Did a Stranger recognize her and do something awful? I didn’t know, and not knowing was horrible, because it meant that I had no closure. Every time I got mad about her leaving, I imagined her being attacked and hurt by monsters that she couldn’t protect herself from and the guilt that rose up completely overwhelmed the anger. There was just too much that I didn’t know. I felt lost.

Dad was frowning as he touched my chin, clearly noticing my hesitation. “You okay there, Flickster?”

Forcing a smile, I nodded. “Sure, I’m fine. It was just a long trip, you know.” Shrugging, I added, “And don’t worry about the self-defense thing, Dad. I’m learning plenty right now.”

“You sure are!” He announced with a loud belly laugh that attracted the attention of the few people who were passing by. “You’re pretty damn quick for someone that just started taking lessons this year.”

“I’ve got good teachers,” I murmured quietly before prodding him. “Come on, can we go? I sort of didn’t bother to pick up anything for breakfast.” On the heels of that confession, my stomach growled.

“Why does that not surprise me?” Shaking his head in obvious exasperation, Dad nodded while waving his hand toward the waiting car. “Come on, let’s get you fed. While we’re at it, you can tell me all about this bad ass teacher that’s showing my little girl how to be a real life Ninja Turtle.”

“Uhh, wouldn’t that require being an actual turtle too?” I questioned with a raised eyebrow.

“Hey, you’ve been gone for two months!” He retorted. “I dunno what they’re doing with you out there.”

******

We stopped by the pizza place on the way home and picked up a couple large pies. Dad kept asking if I’d gotten enough sleep on the bus, mentioning that I could take a nap if I needed to. Telling him I’d slept plenty was another reminder that I would have to figure out what to do to make him think I was actually sleeping through the night for the next couple of days. The last thing I wanted him to do was worry that my not sleeping meant something was wrong. And I couldn’t exactly tell him the real reason.

At least my appetite hadn’t been reduced. It was all I could do not to open the boxes up and start eating in the car on the way to the house. The smell was just so good. It was that familiar scent that made me fully realize that, for the next couple days at least, I was home. I was really home. Things were normal.

Once Dad got the car parked, I stepped out of the car, holding both of the boxes high above my head while striding to the familiar front door. “I got my lunch, what’re you planning to eat?”

“Oh, that’s your lunch, huh?” Dad chuckled, crossing around the back of the car while hitting the button to lock it. “Ammon might have something to say about that.”

Blinking over my shoulder at him while crossing the grass, I echoed, “Ammon? Who—oh the kid.” Remembering what he’d said about the new neighbor, I shrugged. “You got him mowing the lawn yet?”

“Ammon doesn’t mow the lawn,” Dad replied, sounding a little odd. “He’s special.”

“Special?” I stopped by the door while looking back at him again. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Before he could answer, the door behind me opened with a creak, and an unfamiliar voice spoke, “Hi!”

Startled, I turned that way so quickly I almost dropped the pizzas. I hadn’t been expecting anyone to be inside our house. “What–” I started before my eyes caught sight of the kid standing in the doorway.

He looked weird. Okay, well no, not exactly weird. At first glance, there was absolutely nothing strange about the kid. He had a wild nest of blonde hair not all that different from my own, he was thin and maybe a little dirty. But nothing too unusual for a young boy that looked like he was about nine or ten. His clothes were perfectly ordinary, and his eyes seemed earnest with a hint of mischievousness.

And yet, even as my eyes cataloged everything that was normal about the kid, my brain refused to completely believe it. I couldn’t explain it aside from comparing the situation to looking at one of those magic eye pictures, where you don’t quite see whatever the special image is, but you can tell it’s there.

Before I could figure out what was wrong, or if I was just being paranoid after spending so much time at Crossroads, the boy piped up, “You must be Flick!” The grin on his face was infectious. The kid was like one of those adorable little child actors from the movies. He radiated so much innocence and charisma it was almost unnatural. “My name is Ammon! You should come inside with me.”

I proceeded into the house, still holding the pizzas. “You want a couple pieces of this, Ammon?” I asked while heading for the kitchen, where I set down the boxes before grabbing a few plates. When I turned back, only the kid was standing there in the doorway. “Oh, hey, where’d my Dad go?”

“He had to talk to my aunt,” the boy replied easily. “They’ll probably be busy for awhile.”

“Your aunt, huh?” I echoed while stepping back into the living room to put my bag on the nearby armchair. “That who you’re staying with?” I was curious about where his parents were, but I restrained myself from asking, considering my own parental history. Still, I couldn’t completely shake the strange feeling that looking at him gave me. It was a sort of tingle under the skin that wouldn’t go away.

When I looked back at him, the kid was just sort of standing there, staring at me. It made me feel even more creeped out. But he wasn’t technically doing anything wrong. Just… staring with this weird sort of smile, like he didn’t know that he was doing anything strange. When the boy finally did speak, his tone was dismissive. “Yes, I’m staying with my Aunt Rose. You should come into the kitchen with me.”

Turning on my heel, I walked back into the kitchen with the boy before moving to put pizza on the plates that I had taken down. “You like pizza, Ammon? Three-meat or Hawaiian? Just so you know, the second one’s mine so we’ll have to thumb wrestle for it if you take too much.”

“I’ll have whatever you have,” the boy replied simply, still not taking his eyes away from me. I wondered if he had blinked at all since I’d seen him. Trying to remember, I continued putting food on the plates. “Dad likes the meat one, so we’ll leave that for him. You think your aunt will want some?”

“Who cares?” As dismissive as the words were, his tone was clearly curious. It was like he honestly wanted to know who would care whether his aunt was hungry or not. But that was… no, that couldn’t be what he meant. My paranoia after everything I’d seen at Crossroads was clearly getting out of hand.

“I think your aunt might care,” I pointed out mildly. “We’ll save a little for her.”

“Maybe,” he replied doubtfully before gesturing to the seat next to him. “You should sit down with me.”

I did so, bringing both of our plates. “Do you know what my dad wanted to talk to your aunt about?” It was kind of weird that he hadn’t said a word to me before stepping over there, but maybe he wanted to give me a chance to talk to Ammon. He had said that the kid had been kind of obsessed with meeting me. Knowing my father, he might just want me to meet the boy so he could ask me if Ammon was really as creepy as he thought he was. That sounded like the sort of thing Dad would do. He liked to get my unspoiled opinion. Hell, this aura of creepiness and somewhat spoiled attitude might have been what he meant when he said the kid was ‘special.’

In response, the boy just shrugged. “Maybe. I don’t know what they’re talking about. But they’ll be awhile.”

Before I could ask how he knew that they were going to be busy if he didn’t know what they were talking about, the doorbell rang.

“Whoops, hold that thought,” I set my plate down and straightened up.

“You should ignore that,” the boy stated flatly.

I stopped, looking at him. “I should ignore that?”

He nodded. “You should sit back down and talk to me. They can wait.”

“They can wait,” I replied… before shaking my head. “Dude, that’s not how things work.”

Ammon blinked (so he did blink after all!), looking confused for the first time. “Uh, what?”

Shaking my head, I straightened from the table. “You can’t just leave people standing at the door ringing the bell. What’s your aunt been teaching you?”

“My name is Ammon.” He spoke the words sharply, like it was some kind of mantra. “You should sit down again.”

“Don’t worry, kid, I’ll be right back.” Giving his plate a nudge toward him, I added, “You should eat. Lemme just see who’s there.” Turning, I started for the front room.

“But my name is Ammon!” The boy’s voice was louder, his confusion more apparent. “You should stay!”

“Don’t yell in the house, Ammon,” I advised. “It’s bad manners. Now just eat your food, I’ll be back in a second, I promise.”

Leaving the strangely confused boy behind, I walked into the living room and opened the front door, blinking at the sight on the steps. “Uhh…”

“Flick?” The man standing there on the porch wore an emerald green suit over a black dress shirt. His sunglasses were so dark I wondered how he could see out of them. “The name’s Seller. I saw your pops go next door, so I thought I’d get that book off you while we had the chance. Should take me a couple hours to–” He stopped himself, frowning at me. “Are you all right?”

“Could you take off your glasses?” I asked quietly.

Raising an eyebrow, the man obliged, taking his shades off before looking back at me. “Is everything all right then? Han—Avalon said you were quirky, but she didn’t say anything about you having a thing against sunglasses.”

I was silent. My eyes wouldn’t leave his, even as I struggled in vain to speak, to find the right words. Nothing came. My brain had completely locked up.

The man on the porch was the man I had seen in my Heretical Edge vision, the man who had run away and abandoned the headmistress.

Seller… was my ancestor.

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Interlude 1 – Ammon

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The boy in the dark blue ski cap that failed to entirely contain the nest of wild blond hair stood in the candy aisle of the convenience store. Nail-chewed fingers ran carefully along the brightly colored wrappings as he hemmed and hawed over his choices. Occasionally, the boy consulted the crumpled dollar bills clutched tightly in his other hand as though checking to ensure that more had not spontaneously appeared to spare him from being forced to choose between his treasured treats.

Faced with the reality that magic money wasn’t about to manifest itself, the boy finally chose a single candy bar. Turning on his heel, he walked to the cooler section where the sodas were kept. A man in a hooded raincoat turned away from his own intense perusal of beverages long enough to give the boy a long, penetrating stare. He said nothing, content to simply glower menacingly.

Paying him no attention, the boy took the time to collect a bottle of orange soda from the cooler in the back before proceeding to the counter where a girl barely out of her teens watched him curiously.

“Hey, it’s kind of late. Do your parents know you’re out here?” The girl, whose nametag read Denise, asked in the uncertain tone of those who aren’t entirely sure that they’re properly treading the line between paying just enough attention to something wrong and actively being busybodies.

“Yes, ma’am,” the fresh-faced boy, who couldn’t have looked older than eleven, answered promptly and politely. After setting his chosen purchases on the counter, he lifted a hand to point out into the parking lot, where an old sedan sat bathed in shadows. “They didn’t want to come in. It’s been a long drive.”

Glancing toward the car, Denise paused before shrugging as she picked up the candy and soda. Running them past the scanner, she asked, “Family moving or something? That’ll be two ninety-three.”

Brightening at the question, the boy piped enthusiastically, “Gonna visit my sister!” Face shining with excitement at his own words, he laid the three dollar bills from his hand to the counter.

“She in college or something?” The girl asked him while casually slipping the three bills into the register. The machine spat out a receipt as she added, “You need a bag for these?”

Before the boy could answer either question, he was interrupted by a shout from behind him. “Hey, bitch!” The man in the raincoat stood there, hand clutching a small revolver. “How about you pay attention to a real customer, huh? Let’s start with emptying that register into a bag and go from there.”

Eyes wide with sudden terror, Denise immediately began to comply. “Okay, okay. Look, see? Money in the bag, no one’s touching anything wrong, just hold on. We’ve got money right here, you can have it. Just don’t hurt anyone? It’s just you, me, and the kid here. No one’s gonna stop you. Take the money and go.” Voice shaking, the girl dropped all of the register’s cash into the small sack and held it out.

“You get it, kid.” The raincoat-man demanded, jerking the gun toward the boy briefly. “Bring it here.”

Obediently, the boy accepted the bag of money from the petrified clerk and carried it over to where the man was waiting. It was snatched from his hand quickly, and perused briefly before the man smiled in satisfaction. “Pleasure doing business with you, bitch.” He turned then and started for the door at a run.

Denise had just breathed out a sigh of relief as the man reached the exit. However, just before he would have passed out of their lives forever, the boy spoke up. “Hey, wait a second, Mister.”

Spinning on his heel, the man with the gun stared back at the boy. “What the hell do you want?”

Smiling pleasantly, the boy replied simply, “My name is Ammon.”

Both thief and clerk stared at the boy in joint disbelief. The man with the gun worked his mouth a couple times, taken so far aback that he forgot to be angry for a few seconds. “Good… for you?” Finally, his emotions caught up. “What the fuck, you wanna get shot, you stupid little shit?!”

“No,” Ammon answered honestly. Then he turned to point. “You didn’t take her money though. What if she has a lot of it? It’s better if you take that money too.”

“Wha—hey!” Denise blurted, her eyes wide. “What the hell—I don’t have that much money.”

“No… no, the kid’s right.” The man nodded slowly, abandoning the door to return to where the counter was. “Come on, empty your pockets. Empty ’em now, you little bitch. You holding out on me, huh?!”

“Here, here!” The girl scrambled to pull a wallet form her front pocket. “See? Two dollars and some change. That’s it, that’s all I’ve got, okay?” She quickly tossed the bills down. “Take it, just go, please.”

Snatching the bills off the counter, the man shoved them into a pocket while sneering angrily. “Watch your mouth, bitch. I’ll go when I’m good and ready, not when you fucking tell me to.”

“Cunt,” the boy piped up from where he was standing with a voice that would almost have sounded helpful if it wasn’t for the actual words that he was speaking. “You should call her cunt, not bitch. Bitch isn’t that bad. Cunt probably makes her feel worse. It’s better if you use that one instead. That sounds more like what a real bad guy should say.”

Eyes bulging a bit, the girl blurted, “What the hell do you think–”

“Shut it, cunt!” the man bellowed. “Shut your fucking face before I put a couple new holes in it.”

Looking from the man to the confused and frightened clerk, Ammon spoke again. “You should hit her. It’s more interesting if you hit her.” After pausing briefly, he added, “With your fist, not the gun.”

Denise tried to jerk away, but the man’s fist caught her across the face. With a cry, she fell backwards into the wall behind her where the cigarette packs were stacked. Several fell as she jostled the shelves, bouncing off the counter and to the floor while the girl cried out. “Stop it, what’re you doing?!”

“Maybe… maybe that’s enough.” The man decided, breathing out. “Just stay there, I’ll leave and–”

“No,” Ammon interrupted. “You should hit her again. No, kick her. Kick her in the stomach. Hard.”

The poor girl barely had time to protest that time before the man had crossed behind the counter. Winding up his foot, he lashed out hard enough to knock the air from her lungs, the scream that tried to come fading into a sharp, pathetic little wheeze under the force of the harsh kick.

Smiling, the boy walked around the counter. He stood there, motionless for a second before squatting down onto one knee. Slowly, he reached out to brush a finger against the girl’s cheek, catching a tear of confusion, pain, and fear that had fallen there. Gazing at the damp spot on his finger with a look of open wonder and curiosity, he nodded before straightening. “You should do it again.”

“No, stop it, just sto–” The girl had gained enough air to protest weakly.

Whumph! The man’s foot hit her hard once more, turning her words into a squeal once more.

“Again.”

“N-no, plea–”

Whumph!

“Again.”

“Plea–”

Whumph!

******

A short time later, the girl had been beaten so thoroughly that it would have been difficult for even close friends to recognize her. Her consciousness faded in and out, and she had long since stopped protesting. She simply laid there and cried, each harsh blow reminding her of her helplessness.

Advising the man who had been a simple robber to stand aside, Ammon knelt there and touched the girl’s face. She flinched from the contact, a whine filling her ruined throat.

“Shhh,” the boy consoled her. “See, we’re done. That was interesting. I had fun, but I’m bored of that game now. So it’s over.” He brushed his fingers over the girl’s bloodied and bruised cheeks, moving up to her swollen eyes. Under his touch, the flesh mended, the swelling went down, and the girl’s face rapidly returned to normal. “It’s time to play a new game. You get to win this one.”

“Wha… what…” Recognizing that the pain was fading, Denise opened her eyes. Seeing the boy there, she flinched backward. A whine of fear, of terror at the very sight of the boy, rose from her.

Smiling pleasantly, the boy spoke as politely as ever. “My name is Ammon. You should stand up.”

Truthfully, the boy had no idea what kind of thoughts went through the minds of his toys the moment he spoke those four words of introduction. In this case, as in all others, the outward effects were obvious. Upon hearing the statement of his name, the girl’s whine halted instantly. She fell silent, then obeyed the rest of his words, slowly rising to her feet as though it had been her own idea. Her fear most likely remained, buried deep in the girl’s mind. Yet the words Ammon spoke after deliberately introducing himself to her were as impossible for Denise to deny or resist as the physical laws of the universe.

He wondered if she was one of the ones who still held onto her own thoughts, her own personality. Some were like that. Their opinions, fears, thoughts, everything simply locked away inside their own mind, incapable of resisting or even affecting their own body, prisoners to his whim. Others were more like empty vessels once his power took hold of them. They gave no resistance, and seemed not to react at all to the things he made them do. It was a discrepancy that aroused his curiosity, and he would figure out what caused the difference someday. It would just take more experimenting.

After standing, the slightly glazed look left the clerk’s eyes and she tried to throw herself at the door, scrambling in open desperation to escape the hell that the store had rapidly become.

“You should stop,” Ammon spoke quickly, before the girl could get further than a few steps. Instantly, she halted, though a whine of confusion at her own actions crept out of her.

Turning to the man, Ammon held his hand out. “You should give me your gun.” Without complaint, as though it had been his own idea, the man passed the weapon over. He was one of the empty ones, one who barely reacted to anything the boy told him to do.

Taking it, the boy walked over and extended the gun to her. “You should take this and shoot him in the back.” he informed her while settling the weapon into her palm. “Use every bullet. See? I told you you get to win.” To the man, who was already reacting, he said, “You should stop and turn around.”

Both moved as though the boy’s words had been their own choices, their own thoughts. The man turned to face the coolers, standing passively while the clerk raised the revolver. The gun shook slightly in her hand, but she took very careful aim. While the boy watched eagerly, curiosity painted on his face, the girl pulled the trigger. The gun bucked in her hand, and the man screamed as the first bullet hit him. The deafening sound returned as the second shot was fired, then another, and another. By the end, the man’s ruined body lay in a pool of his own blood mixed with the various liquids pouring from the shattered drink coolers, and Denise held an empty revolver.

“There’s no more bullets, you should drop the gun.” The boy’s calm voice instructed, and the weapon bounced off the floor a second later. Smiling, Ammon walked to where the dead man had fallen and reached down. His hands patted a bit until he found a wallet, from which the boy produced a credit card. With that in hand, he started for the exit while addressing Denise. “You should come with me. This part’s gonna be really interesting.” On his way out, the boy’s hand snagged a package of duct tape.

Without looking back, he walked through the door. The girl trailed after him, mumbling to herself about how right he was and how very interesting all of this happened to be. Rather than sounding confident about that, however, the girl’s voice was confused. She was clearly trying to convince herself, and remained uncertain about why she was following his instructions. Uncertain, yet incapable of true resistance. Her mind was clouded, overwhelmed by the power that broke down her own thoughts and opinion, supplanting them with his words of instruction.

Bypassing the waiting car, Ammon walked to the gas pumps in the middle of the lot. The girl followed after him, still trying to explain to herself why she was doing what he said. The logic went around in circles, and she hardly seemed to notice. Her mind fought and struggled against his control, that inner personality trying so hard to break free. Yet she continued, trailing after the boy right to the pumps themselves. “What… why am I… why are we…” She tried to get answers from him, but the words wouldn’t come. She couldn’t force a full question, let alone anything resembling a denial, past his control.

Humming to himself, the young, innocent-looking boy pushed the borrowed credit card into the slot. After taking the nozzle from its stand, he pressed the button to select the fuel grade, then turned to face the girl. “Okay, you should sit down right there. You like sitting right now.” He pointed to the ground in front of the pump.

Slowly, the girl sat, eyes glazed over. “I like sitting right now,” she echoed a bit mindlessly.

Humming to himself, the boy carefully pushed the gasoline nozzle close to the girl’s face. “Now you should open,” he instructed. Once her mouth was open, he inserted the gas nozzle. “Right, now hold it with both hands, okay?” He waited until she put both hands on the nozzle to hold it in place.

While Denise sat holding the gas nozzle, Ammon took a moment to extract the duct tape from the package. Whistling an off-key tune, the little boy proceeded to carefully and deliberately use the entire roll, duct taping the nozzle first to the girl’s hands, then around the back of her head to keep it in place. Finally, he put even more tape around the nozzle itself, securing it carefully to the girl’s mouth so that it couldn’t be spat out. By the time he was done, the tape covered every part of her mouth that the nozzle itself didn’t touch. She couldn’t have escaped even without the strength of his ‘suggestions.’ She was trapped there, incapable of avoiding what was coming.

“Okay,” Ammon announced. “You should sit right there and not try to go anywhere, but I’m done with you now.”

Those words, the statement that he was done with her, made the girl blink twice. Her head rolled back, and then she straightened with a sudden look of terror. She screamed a denial, a plea, but the words didn’t escape the tape that covered her mouth. She struggled, trying in vain to yank the nozzle free, but it wouldn’t budge. The tape held fast against her efforts.

“Watch this,” Ammon waited until the girl’s frantic, horrified eyes were on him, then reached down to the nozzle. Grasping the handle, he found the trigger and pressed it. A muffled scream from the girl was interrupted by a violent choking sound as gasoline was pumped straight through the nozzle and down her throat.

Stepping back, the boy watched for a moment. The girl struggled, twisting and screaming in muffled, trapped terror while she continued to choke on the gasoline being pumped into her. Tears of shock and denial flooded her face as she sobbed brokenly, desperate for help that would never come.

He watched until she stopped struggling, until the still-pumping gasoline had done its job, drowning the girl. Then the boy turned on his heel and walked away. His dirty sneakers crossed the parking lot until he reached the station once more. Humming, he went inside long enough to retrieve his candy bar and the bottle of orange soda before returning to the lot. Barely sparing a glance toward the crumpled form in the middle of the gas pumps, he walked to the waiting car and opened the back door.

“Okay, I’m back!” The boy announced while hopping in.

In the front seat, the elderly woman, the latest in a long line of oh-so-helpful people who had agreed to give the boy a lift, shook as though forcing herself out of a horrible dream. “Y-you killed… they’re dead…. they’re dead…”

Sighing, the boy leaned forward and repeated his mantra. “My name is Ammon.  We should go now. It’s pretty late.”

The woman’s shaking stopped as the power of his introduction reaffirmed its hold. “We should go now,” she repeated. “It’s pretty late.”

As the car pulled out of the lot, leaving both bodies behind, Ammon took a long swig of his orange soda. Then he relaxed, sagging back in the seat with a contented smile. “Coming to see you, sis,” he said to himself. “We’re gonna have so much fun.”

He meant what he said. It would be fun. After all, it was a special occasion. It wasn’t every day that someone found out that their mother had had another child with a different man. Meeting a long-lost sibling was clearly the kind of situation that called for a cross-country road trip. Even if that trip was to a place as boring as Wyoming. And even if it meant ignoring the specific orders of his father, a man he generally obeyed.

He just hoped that Felicity Chambers turned out to be as interesting as he hoped she was.

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