I woke from my dreams so suddenly, I nearly fell out of bed. I was shivering and breathing heavily. Upon glancing around the room, I realized it was now light enough for me to see the rows of cots. The sun had risen, and many of them were empty now. The candle across the room had either died or been blown out. I lay there for a moment or two, catching my breath, and got up when I decided I wouldn’t be able to sleep even if I wanted to. So, I slipped back into my worn sneakers and made my way toward the hallway. I glanced briefly back to the spot I had rubbed on the window the night before, then slowly pulled open the door. My heart was still racing, as I slid through and closed it quietly behind me.
The hall was crowded at this time of the morning, and I stood there with my back against the wall, watching people pass by. Nearly all of them seemed to be in a hurry, rushing from one place to the next. They acknowledged each other with a quick “Hey,” a nod or a slap on the back, until they took notice of me. Then many of them went on without a single indication of anyone else sharing the hall, while others stared open-mouthed as they passed. When someone further down the hall catcalled, I blushed and averted my eyes to the floor, and I heard someone else laugh. I was about to hightail it back into the room and planned on staying there throughout the day, when I caught sight of Derik moving in my direction. He looked past me, and barked, “Get back to work, Jaxon!” and the laughter died down immediately. When he stopped in front of me, my hand was frozen to the door. “She wants you trained. Come on.” With that he headed back down the hall.
I stood there for a moment, baffled, then ran to catch up. “Trained? What do you mean, trained?” I asked.
He eyed me with open disdain, which made me even more uncomfortable, and said, “You’re obviously in terrible physical shape and can’t defend yourself properly.”
I stopped dead. “Wha – ” I started in frustration. “What do you know about me?” And I continued after him. “Wait a minute!” We had made it to the dimly lit, deserted stairway, when I caught up again.
“How dare you assume, just by looking at me, I can’t defend myself! Haven’t you ever heard of not judging a book by its cover?! Sheesh! Not to mention it’s rude,” I mumbled this last part, starting to question my sudden outburst. Then, I continued, “I can defend myself wh – uh,” the air left my lungs as he effortlessly pushed me up against the wall. I was too stunned to struggle.
“It shouldn’t have been that easy to take you off guard,” he said. “If I can, what’s stopping them from doing the same thing?” His gaze was intense, and I found myself unable to look away. He eased his hand away and finally lowered his eyes. “She also wants to train you herself in psychic self-defense, and now I too can see you’re in need of it.” He cleared his throat. “Follow me to the basic training room.” He started down the stairs again.
Blinking after him, I followed with the distinct impression I was going to need to avoid stairwells when in this man’s presence. The two combined continually unnerved me.
Derik led me to a room midway down the hall. I made note of the cacophony of voices coming from the cafeteria as we passed it, and my stomach growled, but I ignored it. “Sabella asked me to do the training, but I don’t have time today. So I’ve found someone else. She’s just as good,” he said, as he opened the door. There stood the woman from the cafeteria the night before. “Nate, this is Haylee. Haylee, meet Nate.” She stared back at me coolly.
I gulped and hoped no one noticed. She was even scarier up close, but thank God she wasn’t smiling. I knew if she smiled, I probably would run back to my bed and hide. “Uh, hi,” I managed.
“Hello,” she replied, and I could see the beginnings of that smile.
“Um.” I looked at Derik. “Uh… could I talk to you for a moment, please? In the hall?” He just shrugged, and I led the way.
As soon as the door was secure behind us, I said, “You’re joking, right?”
“I don’t know what you mean. Did I say something funny? I don’t think learning to defend yourself is a laughing matter,” he said. He was serious.
“Nate.” I indicated over my shoulder. “She hates me.”
He looked at me incredulously. “Now who’s judging? You don’t even know her.”
“I know enough. And she hates me. I have no doubt,” I said emphatically.
“That’s just ridiculous. She’s the best trainer we’ve got, and you need someone good.” He turned to open the door.
“But she’s not the best. I can tell by the way you said it. ‘She’s the best’… besides you.” He started to interrupt me. “And Sabella asked you to do it.” I was nearly pleading with him now.
He paused with his hand on the door. “I don’t have time,” he said and began to turn the knob.
“Haylee! There you are. I have been trying to find you,” Glenna called, as she approached. “Sabella is asking for you. Alone,” she added at a look from Derik. The smile on her face remained pleasant.
“Fine,” he said. “Nate, it looks like the session’s been cancelled.”
She stepped through the door. “Oh. Well, that’s a shame. I was looking forward to working with you, Haylee,” she said, with a full-blown smile.
I nearly gasped, as she brushed past me. She turned. “I guess I’ll see you later, Derik,” she said, suggestively, and sauntered down the hall, swaying her hips.
I couldn’t help sneaking a glance at Derik at that moment, but he managed to look irritated, as usual.
“She seemed heartbroken alright,” Glenna said. “I do not know what you see in that woman... Come along, Haylee. We mustn’t keep her waiting.” Ah, Glenna… My hero.
She didn’t see the harsh expression on Derik’s face because she had turned her attention back to me. “Has anyone checked those bandages?”
I shook my head. “No. I’d nearly forgotten they were there.” I looked down at my arms. “Honestly, they don’t hurt anymore. They feel fine.”
She gave Derik a look similar to the one she had missed from him. “Still, they should be looked at.” Then she smiled warmly at me. “Why do we not go to the infirmary and change them. It’s this way,” she said, guiding me with her arm around my shoulders.
“Uh. Okay. You have an infirmary?” The tension of the last few moments was forgotten.
She led me down the hall. “Well, we call it that. It is just where we keep bandages and medicines, you know, examine and dress minor wounds.” She turned toward a door on our left. “Here we are.”
As we went through the door, I glanced back to where we had left Derik, and he was gone.
“Go ahead and sit there.” She indicated toward an actual examination table.
“Where’d you guys find this?” I asked, as I scooted up onto it. My feet were dangling about a foot from the floor.
She rummaged through a cabinet. “It has always been here. Ah, there it is.” She turned toward me.
“It was already here? In this room?” I knew a lot of school buildings in the area had been set up similarly, so it could be a coincidence. However, I was absolutely sure this had been my middle school.
I glanced around, in awe. “This was the nurse’s office,” I said, more to myself. Then, “I know this place.”
“Are you alright?” She frowned at me, as she began unwinding the cloth from my arms.
I was still taking everything in, when I replied, “I think so…” then nodded, “Yes…” Looking back at her I said, “What are the chances of you setting up in my old middle school?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Well, we took what we could get. We were very lucky to find something built so sturdily, something fortifiable and large enough for us to take in those in need. Such as yourself. Or those who have nowhere else to go, such as Derik or Nate.” She paused. “Hm.” She was holding my arm up.
“What?” I looked down. “Maybe they weren’t as bad as I thought.”
“No. They were quite deep.” She studied my arm more closely. “But they have healed quite quickly and nicely. You may not even have any scars by the time they are through. Maybe you are a quick healer.” She smiled at me.
“Is that an ability?”
“It could be. They sometimes manifest late. All show themselves differently through different people.” She held up her finger. “Maybe, just maybe, yours only began to manifest once you crossed over into our time. Possibly because you did not need them in the past. We have always thought we as humans have had the potential for an ability from the beginning. But until the Pale Ones came along, we had no need of them. Their presence flipped some kind of switch in us. Well, in most of us.”
“So, it’s possible I’ll develop more?”
“Possibly… though this could be the extent. Like I said, it varies from person to person.” She rubbed a cold ointment on my skin. “Sorry I can’t be more reassuring. There, all done. I think you will do fine without the bandages now. But I would not suggest trying to heal any mortal wounds,” she laughed but her eyes held a hint of seriousness.
“Don’t worry, I won’t… at least not on purpose, I suppose… Thank you.” I examined my arms myself. “Huh. That’s just cool.” What had once been deep lacerations were now no more than a few scratches and slight pink marks. “Do any of the others heal like this?” I looked up.
“Only Derik and Nate,” she replied, hiding her expression by putting things back in their designated places.
“Oh. So does that prove the mate theory then?”
She turned to me. “Who told you they were mates?”
“Uh, Merritt and Karroll? Well, actually just Merritt.”
“So you have made some friends, then? That is good. And you could not find any two better. Though Merritt can be a bit of a gossip, Karroll keeps him in check.”
“So it’s true?”
She sighed. “I suppose. Only the two involved really know for sure. Other than Sabella, that is. But she would never tell. That would be against her rules, or the rules of the universe, maybe. But everyone believes they fit. They complement each other in some ways, keep the other in line, balance each other out. Their main abilities are similar, superior fighting skills and great strength….”
“But there’s something about her… Right?”
She looked at me for a moment. “Yes. Something.” Then she sat in a chair across from me and was silent.
“Glenna? Can I ask you something?” I fidgeted a bit.
Smiling, she said, “Of course. Anything.”
“Um, is it considered rude to ask what someone’s ability is?”
“That would depend upon how one asked, I suppose. Do you wish to know the nature of my ability?” she asked, insightfully.
“I admit, I am a little curious.” I folded my hands in my lap and sat up a little straighter.
She tilted her head a bit. “How would you say you are feeling at this moment? Do you feel calm, at ease?”
I thought about it. “Yeah. Actually, I really do... It’s kind of odd,” I frowned, “but I always seem to feel that way around...” My eyes widened a little. “Are you doing that?”
Glenna looked amused but still managed to give the appearance of modesty. “Yes. That is my ability. I can make those around me calmer, but it works best through touch. So, if someone is particularly distressed, I try to touch them. I do not know how it works, only that it does.” She gave a little shrug. “Of course, it also helps that I too am calm. If not, it sort of defeats the purpose, so to speak.”
“Wow. That’s amazing. I think that kind of ability would be especially helpful.” I found myself almost daydreaming of having such an ability, or one like it.
“It does help ease the tension from time to time.” She smiled at me, and we were silent again for a few moments.
Then I remembered her reason for “saving” me from Nate. “Oh. Shouldn’t I be going? Sabella wanted to see me?” I began scooting off my seat.
“I am sorry. I lied. She doesn’t need to see you right now. Later, yes. But not now.” She gave me a guilty look. “I just heard you arguing with Derik and thought you could use a little help. Plus I agreed with you. Sabella asked him to train you for a reason. She always has a reason, and he knows that. He never puts training off on someone else, not even Nate. I do not know what has gotten into him these last – ” She quickly glanced at me. “Never mind. He should have done it himself. That is all.”
“You saved me.” I smiled briefly, then replaced it with disconcertion. “She hates me. I could practically feel it drilling into me in the cafeteria last night. She scares me.”
“To tell the truth, she scares me a little bit too. But she has been here a while now. Everyone trusts her, including Derik, and she has done nothing to prove that trust wrong. And, frankly, I have so much faith in Derik – though he can be a dope at times – I trust anyone he does. So, do not worry about Nate.” She patted my knee reassuringly.
“Well, I trust you and, somehow, Derik, though I find him extremely intimidating and oh so irritating, so I guess I can give her a shot, too.”
She smiled at me curiously. “Well, okay then, what do you say we get you some food?” and she stood.
When we opened the door someone rushed by. We stepped through and were almost run over by another person. Glenna stopped him, a boy who looked to be about fourteen but was already much taller than me. “Philip, what is going on?”
“It’s spreading now! A bunch of us are going up to see.”
“What do you mean, spreading?”
“Haven’t ya’ heard? The plants. Late yesterday one got all green. Now it’s spread to some of the others. Tomatoes, I think they said. They might even have the starts of a tomato on ‘em by now.” He ran on after a couple of the younger kids. At that time, a group erupted from the cafeteria, mostly adults, though some teenagers joined them. Everyone was talking at once and rushed toward the stairs.
“Maybe we should take a look as well,” Glenna said.
As with the day before, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the sunlight. When they did, I saw the throng of people gathered by one of the gardens. I followed Glenna, as she pushed her way through. The appointed gardeners were doing their best to keep everyone back, so they wouldn’t inadvertently destroy their food source. I looked past them and saw a patch of green amid the under-grown plants.
“How did this happen? It started yesterday? When? They were not like this when I was up here last,” Glenna inquired.
The gardener nearest her answered. “We noticed the first plant right before nightfall.” He pointed, then swept his arm. “And the rest were like this this morning.”
“It’s amazing,” I heard from somewhere behind me.
“It’s a miracle,” someone else called out.
Then the crowd was full of chatter, hypotheses I couldn’t make out.
“What the hell is going on?!” This voice could be heard above all the rest. Everyone stopped at once.
“Derik!” Glenna called. “Come here. You must see this.” She didn’t look away from the plants.
He made his way through the crowd. But, unlike Glenna, he didn’t have to push through, everyone simply made way. For me, having no real idea of the import of this greener development, the power of this man was more impressive. The apparent respect these people had for him had more of an impact on me. Of course, the fact that he was carrying his shirt rather than wearing it could have had something to do with my reaction. His eyes met mine, held them briefly, and I was suddenly very aware of the heat up there.
He focused his attention on Glenna and frowned. She stepped back to give him a better look. For a moment, he just stared, then his frown deepened. “When did this happen?” Glenna told him everything the gardener had told her.
After another moment, he glanced over the silent crowd. “Why are you all just standing there? You’ve all got things to do.” And with that, the silence was broken, and everyone filed back down the ladder. I had to admit, that was quite effective, and I was impressed by their ability to keep order as they went.
When most of the roof was clear, one of the guards approached Derik. “I’m sorry, sir. If we had known so many were coming to the roof at once, we would have barred their entry. There were just too many.” He struggled to keep his face expressionless, but did not succeed in hiding his apprehension of Derik and his curiosity in me. His eyes kept trailing past Derik, as he apologized.
“Anything could have happened with so many up here in the open. I wouldn’t put it past them to try something, even during the day.” He had ignored the guard’s wandering eyes for as long as he could. “Traiten! Have you met our guest?” He yanked me forward. “This is Haylee.”
The guard looked back to him. “No, sir, I haven’t.”
“Well, now you have and can get back to your post.”
“Yes, sir.” And he nearly ran to the far corner of the roof.
Derik turned back to the garden and said to me, “You are far too much of a distraction. Glenna, we need to talk.” He glanced at me. “Alone.”
“Alright, Derik. I have a few things I would like to discuss with you as well. Haylee, go on down to the cafeteria, and I will come get you when it is time to meet with Sabella.” Derik narrowed his eyes at that but said nothing.
“Okay,” I said, and headed down the ladder.
Glenna and Derik weren’t far behind me and headed to a room at the other end of the hall. I went downstairs, but once again had very little appetite. People still stared at me as I walked by but most were in deep conversation about the tomato plants. Yeah, I know, sounds a little off, but it meant something, or so I gathered from the snippets I caught.
I ate quickly and pondered whether I should wait there or go back upstairs, but decided on the latter as I could feel more eyes upon me. So, upon leaving the cafeteria, I chose to go to the stairwell at the other end of the building. At that time, I had no reason for doing so, or thought I didn’t. However, when I heard voices at the top of the stairs, I realized I would be exiting the stairwell right next to the room Glenna and Derik were occupying. Now, I had no intention of eavesdropping, but their voices were just loud enough to make out through the partially open door.
“So you really think that’s the cause?” asked Derik’s voice.
“Possibly. I do not know. It fits the timeline, but I did not actually see anything with my own eyes…” Glenna replied.
“So you don’t have any proof.” He phrased this as a statement, and I could almost see him crossing his arms smugly.
Glenna sighed. “No. But you must admit, it sounds reasonable.”
“Reasonable? I don’t know but it makes me wonder even more what the Amara have to do with it all.”
“That one has me stumped as well…” she trailed off. “So will you please do as I ask?”
“And what’s that?” I could tell he was playing dumb.
“Derik, don’t. Just could you take it a littler easier on her please? She is not from a place where they exist – ”
“Oh, they existed alright… They were picking humans off one by one, even then. They just hadn’t let themselves be known yet… Not till they were strong enough in numbers,” he interrupted, distractedly.
“Well, they do not exist to us yet in her time. She is not used to all this yet.”
“She’s gonna have to get used to it very soon!”
“I know. But just be nicer. I knew you could be mean sometimes but I do not know what your problem is in this case. What’s different now?”
“She’s too much of a distraction to everyone. She’s in the way.”
“Too much of a distraction, hm? Are you sure it is not you she is distracting, Derik?”
Tense silence oozed through the crack in the door. And I could feel my fight or flight reaction kick in. I crept past the door and thanked God I was wearing well broken-in sneakers, when I didn’t break that silence and risk it crashing down on me.
“I’ll take it easier on her,” he said, finally.
“And you will train her yourself? You will not drop her on someone else? Especially not Nate?”
There was another pause.
“No.” I could still hear the irritation tinged with anger in his voice. “I will train her myself.”
“Good,” she was saying, as I slipped into one of the other rooms. “I was hoping you would see to reason.”
From the other side of the door, I could hear Derik heading down the stairs and felt the tension leave my shoulders.
With that done, I let my natural curiosity pull me further into the room. It was dimly lit though not as much so as the ones used for sleeping. Thick sheets or drop cloths were draped over what must have been furniture. I picked up one dust covered corner and pulled it back. Even the delicacy I used didn’t keep the dust from rising. I felt a sneeze coming on and acted accordingly. In my eagerness to cover my nose and mouth, I dropped the cloth, which stirred up more dust. As if that would stop the tickling sensation! And it did. For a moment. As soon as I lowered my hands and breathed a sigh of relief, I sneezed. Let me say, my sneezes are not of the delicate one-sneeze variety. They can be quite loud and often come in sets of two or three. This time was no exception.
“Ah-chew!” I paused after the third, my hands in position in case of another attack. I listened for evidence that someone had heard, but there was only silence, so I lowered my hands. I could see the edge of a school desk peeking out from the cloth and moved it some more. Several more were shoved in the corner behind it. The kind with the chair attached.
“Huh,” I said aloud, as I studied them. I turned slowly in the center of the room and caught sight of something tall and rectangular in the other corner. I was hesitant in approaching it, because it was close to the windows. But the window was fairly well covered. I was much more careful in folding this cloth back and was shocked by my discovery.
“How did this get up here?” Again I spoke in a hushed tone. An upright piano stood before me. I remembered the music room being in the basement when I had attended Midworth Middle School and wondered if it was the same one I had practiced on. I opened it up and gently brushed my fingers along the keys. The temptation to test them was almost too great, but my fear of being found was far greater. So I replaced the cloth and, vowing to return, walked stealthily over to the door. I peeped through and, seeing no one, slipped out. I made my way to the red door at the center of the hallway, leaned against the wall across from it, and waited.