“What do you mean, ‘another time’?” Derik all but shouted. Then he threw his hand up to signal a stop, and I saw him compose himself. Just barely. He took a deep breath and lowered his hand. “What does that mean?”
Though I wanted to ask the same question, I managed only to deepen my frown.
But the woman answered him, “It means exactly what it sounds like. She traveled through time to get here. From the past, I believe. How far, I am not sure. But it was no accident, I am quite certain.” She looked at me thoughtfully. “Something that seems completely common to us, would be tremendously frightening to someone who had never even heard of these creatures before, let alone experienced such an attack. To come from a world where they do not yet exist is extraordinary. But what is more amazing to me is one of them traveling to your time. Why would they do that?” She paused. “You were fortunate to have such a heroic protector, Little Haylee. Otherwise, I fear you would not be here now.”
Those words finally broke my silence. “You know so much. What about him? Did he survive? Do you know?”
The woman lowered her eyes for a moment. “Alas, I cannot see that... I saw only what you have seen. I am sorry.” She met my eyes.
I nodded and looked off to one side, blinking tears away. When I was certain they would not fall, I gave a sniffle, and asked, “How do you know all you do? Glenna’s been by my side since I woke up. She didn’t know all the details before that.”
The woman looked at me a little sheepishly then. “I do apologize. For time’s sake, I got all of this information when you were first seated before me. I broke through your mind’s defenses. Which wasn’t very hard, by the way. You really need to work on that, but we can figure it out another time. In any case, it seemed a mere second or two for you, when it was really a tiny bit longer. I simply looked through your memories, found what I needed, and retained them as if they were my own. Once again, I apologize, but it was much quicker than having you tell me your story.”
“It felt as if my eyes had gone a little too long between blinks,” I replied. “But, yes, it had felt like just a second had passed.” I paused, before adding, “I really don’t like the idea of someone fishing around in my head, but I guess I do understand in this situation.” Though I still did not know just how to feel about it, I did have the strange knowledge I could trust this old woman. And somehow, at the same time, I knew I could trust Derik, and the rest of the group in general. I took a deep breath. “Okay, so I traveled through time, into the future. But how?” I asked.
Derik interrupted, “It’s that easy? You just believe. Just like that?” I saw anger in his face, anger mixed with some other emotion I could not place. “Are you that naïve?! Will you believe anything?! I can’t be – ” He stopped himself.
I took the chance to interject. “No. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t believe, couldn’t believe it. But these aren’t normal circumstances. This is just fucking messed up, that‘s what this is. I’m sorry,” I said to the woman, who simply bowed her head. “But, also, it feels right,” I turned toward him, my hands pressing against my stomach. “And, somehow, I know it is.” I stared into his eyes, and he blinked down at me.
He turned, raking his fingers through his hair, and groaned. He pulled his hands down over his face, and I vaguely heard a string of obscenities. Then he swung back around, dropped his hands to his sides, and sighed forcefully. “Fine,” he said, not looking at anyone in particular.
I could feel how wide my eyes had gotten and tried to look less shocked. Not sure if I had succeeded, I asked, “Fine, what?”
He shifted all his weight to one foot, placing his hands on his narrow hips (oh, I really needed to stop that). Turning toward me, he held up three fingers. “I figure I have three choices. One, you’re crazy,” he pointed at me, “and she’s crazy.” He gestured toward the other woman. “Two. You’re not crazy, just a little confused. She’s completely bogus and now has you confused but convinced.” He paused, considering.
I leaned toward him. “And three?”
He sighed, dropped his arms once more, and looked me straight in the eyes. “Three. Neither one of you is crazy, and she’s not a fake. Three, it’s all true, and I have no choice but to go along with this unbelievable idea.”
His eyes were still on mine, and I asked, “And which one is it? Do you believe?”
He studied me for a moment, then looked up toward the ceiling. “God help me, I do,” he said, the frustration evident in his voice.
I smiled. I don’t know why his believing meant so much, but it did. So I sat back in my chair, afraid to look at him, and tried to face the older woman.
“That was much easier than I expected it to be,” she said, a surprised smile on her face.
“Don’t push it,” he replied, and, though the words themselves were grumpy, the voice was much lighter than it had been. “So what now? Is there more?”
“Yes. Now we answer any questions our little Haylee may have and tell her everything there is to tell about the world today. After that, I have a few concerns of my own. You do have questions, do you not?”
I nodded. “How? How was the time-travel possible? I mean, I have so many questions running through my head right now… I have to ask myself where to start. The beginning makes sense. I already know some about the, uh, the Pale Ones, but how did one get to my time? Why was he there? There was no one else around… He couldn’t have been after me. So, why then and – Oh, God.” My hands had gone to my mouth, and I sat for a moment in silence. “Aunt Bethany,” I said, in a very small voice. I could feel the tears forming and tried to blink them away again. One escaped, and I wiped the back of my hand across my cheek. I swallowed hard, before speaking, “It killed her, didn’t it?”
The woman’s face tightened with sadness for me, “I believe so, yes.”
“I am not certain. It seems only reasonable to assume they were after something in particular. And, based on what I have seen through your memories, I believe they were after someone. You,” she said, solemnly.
“Me?” I sat there for a few moments, thinking. Then I realized, “This whole thing is my fault? She died because of me?” I didn’t know what to say after that. I simply sank further into the large chair.
“No. It’s not your fault,” I was surprised to hear Derik’s voice, to hear him defend me. He went on, “If they came for you. And, come on, that’s a pretty big ‘if.’ If they did come for you, that wouldn’t be your fault, but theirs. They made the decision, not you. They, and they alone, are to blame.” He crouched down by my chair. “Do you understand?”
I slowly turned to him, eyes level with his shoulders, then moved them up to meet his. I stared into them for a second, before nodding.
Then he continued to surprise me. His mouth turned up just the tiniest bit, but I could see a smile. He actually smiled at me. “Good,” he said. He stared back at me for another moment, then frowned a little. He looked away and cleared his throat. “Now, you must have more questions. So, get on with it.” He had sounded not harsh, but almost breathless.
I looked down at my hands, realizing I was rubbing them together nervously. “Um,” I said, trying to think, for I was suddenly having a hard time doing so. “I, uh, already know a bit about how people have developed abilities in order to fight the Pale Ones, or at least survive. That every ability is unique, for the most part. Um, but where did they come from? The Pale Ones, I mean.” I looked back and forth between the two of them. Neither looked at me. I heard the woman sigh and looked back to her.
“There remains the mystery. We are not certain of their origin or exactly when they came to be. Mostly because the so-called experts are so divided on the issue. Many believe they are originally from another planet, others think they were always here, just hidden somewhere. The ones who believe in the planet theory, think they must have run out of resources in their own world and come here to colonize. The other theory, which is what they themselves claim, suggests they have been feeding off of us for centuries, and until more recently they were too few to worry about. However, they grew too numerous to remain in hiding, came out into the open, and tried to overthrow us. Of course, they did not count on evolution. As their numbers rose, our abilities did.” She paused. “I’m not sure which theory is the truth, or if either of them are. Hardly anyone lives to tell of their encounters with them,” she looked at Derik, “do they?” He simply shook his head. “And they do kill nearly everyone they come across.” She looked back at me. “You have a question?”
I had been wanting to interject for some time. “Yes, sorry. You mentioned they feed off of us? What did you mean by that? You don’t mean blood, do you? They aren’t vampires, are they? I mean, vampires don’t exist, right?“ Then, more to myself, “God, what am I saying. If these things exist, why couldn’t vampires, and why couldn’t they be vampires?”
“Blood, no. But still they feed on us, so they are very much like the vampire of myth. Perhaps the myth comes from them, I do not know. But they live off the life of others. They themselves are very much alive but only because they sustain themselves on our life force, our essence, so to speak. They drain us of life, and we cease to be. They do it through a touch, skin to skin, and it can be quick or long and drawn-out. Quickly is often better, for it is less painful. They have abilities comparable to our own, except each one of them has the same abilities. They take life from life and can give a small portion of it to inanimate objects. These objects, a rock or piece of scrap metal for instance, will take on life and look just like the creature they wish it to be. It is always a deadly animal. Sometimes a venomous snake or spider, other times a scorpion, or something else. Never are they large, like a bear or cat, always small but fatal.” She paused.
“So, they all have the exact same abilities, as if they were the same person? Or organism, or something?” I asked.
“Or something,” Derik said, shortly. At some point, he had moved to another part of the room, into complete darkness. But I was imagining him leaning up against the wall or some piece of furniture, arms folded across his chest. “And I don’t think you’re far off on the whole vampire thing. No pointy canines used to suck the blood of their prey, no red eyes, no coming back from the dead, that sort of thing. But…”
“But pretty damn close, right?”
I felt him move, push himself away from that wall, or whatever. “Well, they might as well be called vampires. They are demons, of a sort.” I felt him raise his eyebrows. Wait, how could I do that? He was circling around the room, almost pacing. Is he nervous? He suddenly stood still. “You were going to ask what their other abilities are?”
I blinked and looked around, trying to pinpoint his location. His demeanor had changed as suddenly as he had stopped moving. I felt disoriented for a moment, then said, “Uh, yeah. There are others, then?” I was having trouble focusing.
The woman answered, “Yes. They have several other strengths. For one, they can sense when another of their kind is near. We aren’t sure if it is through scent or some sort of psychic connection, or something else entirely. And when one is isolated from the others for some time, they have an uncontrollable reaction when another comes near. The younger ones have much less control over this, while a few of the older seem able to control it completely. Oh, and you’ve seen how big they are. They could give our Derik here a run for his money, and have often enough. Derik’s the one with the most experience with them, in fact. Everything we know about their abilities, we have learned from him. He has been invaluable.” She smiled over my head.
I turned to see Derik standing a few feet behind me. He could not have been there when he last spoke. “I gotta hand it to you. You’re kinda sneaky,” I said, dryly. I felt slightly irritated with him, but did not know why. “I’m sorry, but is there another chair in here? He’s making me a little uneasy. He’s already so much bigger than me and now he’s all hidin’-in-the-shadows, and whatnot. Just a bit unnerving, what with him talking, and me not being able to see who’s talking, then him slinking up behind me. It’s just a tad…” I shuddered a little for emphasis.
I heard a scraping sound, then a clatter, and a chair knocked against mine. He slumped down into it, smiled, and said, “I don’t slink.” He was grinning, when he turned to the woman.
I looked at her, and she too seemed amused, though by what I was unsure. She cleared her throat, “Anyway, their other strengths are slightly less impressive. Just everyday kind of abilities, really. Above average physical strength, sense of smell, eyesight, that sort of thing. They can see better in the dark than we can, but their eyes are sensitive to bright light. Which, of course, is one of the reasons you are far more likely to be attacked during the night than by day.” She paused again. “Hm. Anything else, related to the Pale Ones?”
“Well, you said they feed on our life-force. What does that mean exactly? Our spirit, our energy? Our souls?” I was shaking my head almost indiscernibly. “And is that all they need to survive? They don’t eat anything? Food? Or drink anything? I guess I don’t completely understand.”
Derik adjusted in his seat, and said, “Whatever it is that keeps humans alive, whatever it is keeping them here and coming back. That is what they feed on. It is an energy, whether derived from food or innate, or both. No one knows for sure about the spirit or soul. That’s one of the many reasons they are so feared. Humans are afraid they are capable of taking their souls, capturing them. They think maybe they were sent here as punishment from God. The unworthy are fed upon and sent to hell, one way or another. Others believe God sent them as a test of faith, or simply believe they are another way of trying mankind’s survival skills, or they’re nature’s way of weeding out the population. Which I must say, if that’s the case, it’s worked quite well,” he said, sardonically.
“And is that what you believe?” I asked him.
“You want to know what I believe?” He raised his eyebrows at me. “I believe it doesn’t really matter why they’re here, just that they are, and that they only live to kill, to feed, and because they feed. And they enjoy it.”
“I kind of got that feeling myself. Not just that they enjoy the kill, but the hunt, and the fight, as well. They also seem to enjoy stalking… making you scared before you really even know they’re there….” I was getting lost in the memory of the thing in the woods. The cold… the chase. The fear…
“Stop that.” I glanced toward the voice and saw two dots of light reflected back at me.
I started, and the shine disappeared as I blinked my eyes. Squeezing them shut, I shook my head. When I opened them, he was staring back at me. “What?” I asked, realizing I sounded as though I had just been running.
He frowned at me and seemed at a loss for words. “Uh, I… I just said to stop. You can’t… be doing that.” He seemed to regain his ability to put thoughts together, and said, “You were slipping away into your mind somewhere. Reliving the other night, I suspect. Don’t.” He turned away.
Dazed, I simply sat there, staring at the side of his head. My eyes slowly trailed down to where our two chairs met, and I could feel the crease forming in my forehead. He must be right. It did feel as though I had been reverting back to that night. And that would certainly explain why I had seen the same animal eye shine after I heard him speak. I must have been visualizing that thing as I looked up at him. He had helped me clear my head… But why had he seemed angry with me? I was feeling very tired, and I rubbed my eyes, as I turned around in my chair.
“Perhaps we should finish this discussion another time,” the woman said. I had nearly forgotten she was there. “You must be exhausted. The words alone would make a person weary. Of course, I would like to speak with you again. Would tomorrow be to your liking?”
After a bit of a delay, I nodded. The woman rose, indicating for us to do the same. Derik scraped his chair on the floor, and I heard him moving it back to another corner of the room, as I stood.
“Thank you both for seeing me,” she said, pleasantly.
I blinked up at her. “Oh. No, thank you,” and I stared at her for another moment.
“Are you coming?” Derik’s impatient voice came from behind me.
Blinking once more to clear my head, I turned, “Mm-hmm.” He was already opening the door, and I had to shield my eyes from the light. As I reached him, I remembered, “Oh! I’m sorry… I forgot to ask your name,” and turned back.
The woman smiled brightly. “Sabella.”
Sabella. That seems right… Derik cleared his throat loudly, and I turned to see him walking through the door. Again, I glanced back. Sabella blew out a candle just as Derik stepped over the threshold. I was still looking over my shoulder, as I half-stumbled out the door. It swung shut before I could see her blow out the second one.
For a moment, I stood close to the door, an eternity of red before my eyes.
I turned to see a number of people rushing to look busy and Derik disappearing down the stairwell to my right. Glenna was smiling down at me, “So? All is well, I hope… Your questions have been answered?”
“Most have, yes,” I replied, “though I have many more.”
We began walking. “Understandably,” she said, soothingly. Everything she said was soothing. I yawned, and she replied, “Yes, you must be exhausted, indeed. I will take you back to your room. If you like, that is?”
I was still in a bit of a daze but realized she was looking at me. “Oh… yes. That sounds good.” Why am I so tired?
Glenna led the way to a room toward the other end of the hall, the one in which I had awoken. “Go ahead and sleep for awhile. You’ve been through quite an ordeal. I have a few things I need to tend to, so just think of this place as your home,” she said, pushing the door open.
I paused before continuing through. “Thank you,” I said.
She smiled, “You are very welcome,” and placed her hand on my cheek before turning to go.
Closing the door behind me, I found my cot, afraid of taking someone else’s. I lay there for several minutes, my mind reeling, despite my weariness. Was I dreaming? Would I still be in this place when I woke up? If so, was I going crazy? I mean, could I really rule that out? And if I wasn’t crazy, then what in the world was going on? How could I possibly go to sleep?! I thought, as I closed my eyes and fell asleep.