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 Trippin' the Astral Plane for Dummies

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Scipio Zelin

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PostSubject: Trippin' the Astral Plane for Dummies   Tue Jan 31, 2012 8:05 pm

It's hard to know where to begin explaining where I've been these past several weeks; I can scarcely believe it myself and I was there. Well, part of me, anyways. It's all very esoteric and complex, especially for someone who's barely left the East Coast a handful of times up until last year. Stepping into other planes of existence where time has no meaning hadn't really made my bucket list. Getting adjusted to the real world has been a problem; I'm having a hard time with knowing what is real and what isn't. No, that isn't right. I'm having a hard time remembering what has actually happened in this world and what hasn't. Now I'm not even making sense to myself. Perhaps I should start at the beginning; it might sort out my jumbled thoughts and make some sense of what I accomplished and, ultimately, failed to do; finding my daughter.

Part One-Passing On

I stepped out of my body with the expectation that I may never make it back; it was worth it should I be able to recover my daughter and allow her to live a normal life. I at least owe her that for all the trouble I've put her through over the years. My nana continued offering me last minute pieces of advice as we sped through the spirit realm, pointedly avoiding various pitfalls she had revealed to me over the past several weeks.

"When you step into the void, there will be a light off in the distance. A warm, intoxicating light that is a beacon in the coldness and emptiness you will find yourself in; do not look at it. It will draw you in like a moth to the flame."

"What happens if I get drawn into the light?", I asked in a frustrated tone. Talk about your last minute pointer; this seemed to be one hell of an oversight to have glossed over up to this point.

She somehow managed to produce a sighing sound, even without a corporal body, and answered, "My dear boy, you always asked too many questions. If you end up in the light, you will not be able to return here. If you cannot return here, it's highly doubtful you will have been able to send Susan back through the portal. Concentrate on your goal; the void has a way of making you forget yourself. Have you been practicing that memory exercise like I told you?"

I too, managed to sigh despite not having a throat. This annoying ability to act frustrated in spirit form must be hereditary. "You know damn well how often I've been working on it as you've been hovering over my shoulder for the past month making sure I'm doing what I'm supposed to do. You know what would be a huge help? If you would just tell me why I'm doing this, not to mention all the other questions I've asked that you managed to sweep aside."

She completely ignored my question, as usual and continued, "Do you have your athame? I fear you may be forced to use it."

I slid the ghostly shape of a small dagger from my coat pocket and slashed it about in front of me. "Next you're going to be asking me if I'm wearing clean underpants. Of course I have the damn dagger; I ought to start using it on you. I might get some answers for once." She had insisted that I enhance my athame with a spell supposedly popular with priests that handle exorcisms; the blade of the knife should be able to cause intense pain to ghosts and other denizens of the spirit realm. Theoretically, anyways. I hadn't attacked any random ghosts so far, probably out of fear it might be my second cousin or great-great uncle of sort.

"Good. We're here."

She suddenly pulled up short at a seemingly random spot. At first, I could detect nothing. Her crash course in traveling the astral plane had short on information, but definitely useful in a practical sense; a sort of what not to do in condensed format. Tripping the astral plane for Dummies, she probably would have called it if she had been aware of that inane book series that populated an entire section in Barns and Noble. She had wanted me to spot different portals in order that I knew what to look for and how avoid them. One could get lost for eternity, she had said, and frankly, I didn't have that long. I was really taking a chance already, planning on being separated from my body for more than a few days when all I had managed up to this point was a few hours.

"Where is here?"

"Look again," She stated simply, then spun about, her shape still barely a disembodied blob of light, hovering in the space before me. As I focused on her trajectory, I finally saw what she wanted me to see. It's hard to explain as vision doesn't exactly work the same in the astral plane as it does back on Earth. Things do not have a solidity of mass; they exist in almost a conceptual format. While you may think of that as seeing through walls, it's a little more complex than that. You tend to see an object in all it's manifestations and changes, at every angle, all at once. Focusing the image in front of you is the trick; I would say certain people have an innate ability to see things as they truly are. It's probably why Caleb is able to see spirits clearly while I generally have to settle for unfocused blobs of energy and light. Perhaps some sort of focused lens, like eye glasses, might fix the problem. I'd have to speak to Caleb about that if I ever got back.

As I finally took in the gateway or portal she had led me to, I was a little bit underwhelmed. For something as ominously named as the void, that according to my Nana, even the old ones, the god like creatures that existed outside of time itself avoided like the plague, it seemed pretty mundane. In fact, it seemed like very little at all. You could only truly see it when you looked at it head on; otherwise, it blended into the background noise of the astral plane. As we slowly approached it, my opinion quickly shifted; it was much bigger than I had first imagined. The closer we came, the sheer size of the gate swallowed up the background until all you could see was the darkness of the gate, almost as though it was absorbing the light around it. It would have taken my breath away, had I needed to breathe.

"I want you to know, we don't have to do this. We could try and formulate another plan. Your friends are rather powerful wielders of the source; it's possible that..." my grandmother trailed off without finish her thought, sounding worried and nervous for the first time I can remember.

"If she's there, she's been in this realm for almost a year. Can we really afford to wait any longer. If I hadn't been so wrapped up in my problems and been smart enough to...no, if my fellow circle members can do anything, it will be to help me back. I'm not going to risk anyone else's life for this." I stared back at her glowing form, spinning nervously about in front of me. "I have faith in your plan," I said, hopefully exuding a confidence I'm quite sure I didn't have. "There it is again. What is that?" I asked, as I suddenly noticed that strange form that had been following us from a distance for weeks. I had creeped closer than I had ever remembered and I could almost make out it's features, or lack thereof.

My Nana spun about, then zoomed through me several times as if to try and push me away from it. "You don't need to worry yourself with that. All you need to know is to avoid it at all costs. Don't let it touch you and you should be fine."

"What is it and why has it been following us these past few weeks? Is it looking for you, or for me?" Once again, she had refused to answer a basic question about something that was apparently dangerous. Perhaps she didn't want to ruin my mental state before embarking on this journey, or maybe she just didn't like answering questions. Either way, I wasn't going to be deterred this time. I softened my tone and tried a different tact, "I know it's hard, but it would be nice if you would treat me like an adult for once." I wasn't sure if shaming guilt directed at my grandmother would work, especially on such a maestro of emotional manipulation, but it was worth a shot. I wasn't sure if it was the burning need to know what had been trailing us for so long, or just an excuse to delay stepping into what was likely to be the lion's den. Probably both.

I could almost hear the wheels turn in her incorporeal head as she floated about, deciding on what to tell me. She finally decided to throw me a bone, no doubt because she most likely wasn't sure that I'd ever make it back. "Fine, if you must know, that, dear boy, is Death."

"Death? You mean like a grim reaper? What...it scoops up wayward souls like some sort of astral plane janitor?" I asked, trying to lighten up the mood. I tied to focus on this suddenly more sinister shape, but I couldn't. I wasn't sure if being a total cipher was a bug or a feature of it's existence.

"No, Scipio, I mean Death. I don't know that there are any grim reapers as you say; most likely an old wives tale. You remember how I explained that the old ones that have it out for Susan exist outside of time? They were created before time existed. They can be everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. They not only know everything that has been and everything that will be, but everything that might have been...to a point, I suppose. The type of mind necessary to process all that information...well, it's far beyond human comprehension. Death is somewhat similiar. Death is similiar but it is not the same; the old ones shun it as a pariah, as does every other intelligent creature. No one knows when it was created, it just is. Generally, Death shows up at specific times to help along the souls that are ready to pass on. I don't know why it's following us; I've never heard of it acting like this and I really don't want to find out. It may perhaps be interested in your ability."

"My ability? But, I'm hardly the only one that can walk through the astral plane. I'm not even very good at it. Surely, there are lots of others..."

"...and how many others have you met in your travels these past months? Other than your strange friend Caleb?"

She had me there. I hadn't encountered another soul like myself. Perhaps this was far more rare than I had assumed? With all the ghosts, vampires, and shifters, not to mention new witch potentials popping up seemingly every week in Ravenhurst, perhaps I underestimated the strangeness of my condition.

"Besides..." she continued her little lecture, "...Death can be anywhere at all times. It could be doing many other things right at this very instant. In fact, it would have to be, what with it's services being required seemingly every second. Perhaps it finds you amusing. Pray it continues to only observe from afar. Now...back to the matter at hand. Are you ready? We've already wasted a lot of time and I don't want your body weakened any further before you pass over. This whole discussion on that thing over there will be moot if you don’t make it back."

I tore my eyes away from Death, thinking I would probably be seeing it soon enough. How prophetic that thought turned out to be.

"Yes, you're right. I'm just wasting precious time. You will take care of my body while I'm gone?" I asked, somewhat nervously. It had been a shock to see her manipulating my corporeal self this past week, almost like watching a gruesome puppet show. I'm sure my grandmother wasn't exactly excited to be inside the body of an old man; the plumbing is completely different.

"The seal has worked perfectly these past trial runs, so I don't see any problem. Obviously, the only issue is being able to maintain the energy..." Taking a page from Caleb's encounter with a obsessive ghost, I had a henna tattoo seal placed on my body that would allow my Nana to take charge of my body while I was gone. I had chickened out in getting a real tattoo; besides, at my age, it would have mostly been embarrassing. However, the temporary one had worked just as well and would fade to prevent any unwanted visitors in my body should I make it back to the real world.

"Okay. I just need to tell Lexie I'll be gone a while."

"You haven't told her yet?"

"I didn't want to worry her too much. She has enough going on." I lifted the small mirror in my left hand up to my ghostly face and opened up communication with that witch on the other end. "Lexie? Can you hear me?"

"Where have you been, Skip! You've been silent for 20 minutes now!" Lexie whined into my thoughts. It was definitely not a good time to tell her exactly what I was doing.

"It took a little longer to get here than I thought and I needed to concentrate fully. Listen, I'm going to be gone a few days. I've arranged that my body will be able to do what it needs to do to function. Don't be alarmed if I get up and, you know, use the restroom and such. I should be back soon enough, hopefully with Susan in tow." My Nana didn't want me to tell Lexie about our body swapping arrangement; she really did hate answering questions.

"What?! What do you mean you'll be gone? You can't be gone more than a few hours or you'll...why didn't you tell me this before you left? I didn't sign off on this. Come back here so we can work out some other plan. There has to be another way..."

"Calm down. I have it all planned out; everything will be fine. Trust me on this. I need you to make sure nobody disturbs me for the next few days. Can you do that?" I asked, in a soothing, cheerful voice back through our conduit of the mirror. I'm not sure if I should be proud or disturbed of how well I was learning lie since I arrived in Ravenhurst.

I could tell she wasn't happy, but she finally relented and said, "Alright, I'll do what you ask. But if you don't come back in a few days, I'm calling the Circle to pull you back out!"

"That's fine."

"You know, Keliah is going to ask where you're at."

Crap. I had completely pushed Keliah out of my mind. With such single minded focus on the prize, I had decided to deal with our problems later. She is immortal; it's not as though time was a problem for her. However, it was beginning to look like later wasn't going to happen. She promised me that she would find Susan, so she would understand why I did what I did, right?
"Just tell her I'm away for a few days and I'll be back soon enough. Seriously, don't worry. I'll be back before you know it." Or I would be lost forever in an unending void; one or the other, really.

"Be careful, Skip."

"I will." I placed the mirror back into my pocket and turned to face the void once again. It was now or never and I knew if I waited any longer, I'd lose my nerve. I nodded to Nana and said, 'Wish me luck,' then charged headlong into the darkness.
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Scipio Zelin

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PostSubject: Re: Trippin' the Astral Plane for Dummies   Tue Jan 31, 2012 8:05 pm

"I don't understand why they would place their supposed greatest threat into the one place they can't go. Wouldn't it have been easier just to completely destroy Susan?" It was hard talking and moving through the spirit world, especially as quickly as my Nana was moving. I had to admit, though; in the past several weeks, I had really moved from turtle to hare as far as mobility. She had insisted that I learn how to not rely on my previous instincts as a living breathing man; it was slowing me down. Slowness in the void might mean death. I still wasn't sure why, because she would never answer any of my direct questions.

There was that sigh echoing in my consciousness. She really had a talent for making me feel foolish. "My dear boy, don't be foolish."

See what I mean?

She continued, "Aside from the obvious reason that a weapon as dangerous as her would want to be kept away from any of the other old ones to use against each other, there are several very good reasons why she would be placed where she is. First of all, while they have the ability to snuff out any one of our physical bodies as easily as you might step on an ant crawling across the sidewalk, they do not have the ability to destroy our souls. The best that can be done is trap them. Souls can be more trouble than they’re worth outside a body than when they are trapped in the physical realm. They can be placed into new vessels which can make them much more dangerous than when they were simply human.”

We zoomed past a group of spirits apparently frolicking in a group, then made a detour around a gateway to another realm as I did my best to keep up with her glowing figure. My head was starting to pound which told me that I had been in the astral plane for at least 2 hours at this point; my tolerance had been growing these past two weeks. My personal best had been 6 hours, followed by the worst hangover this side of an ill advised Mad Dog and Boone’s Farm drunken bender. That, however, is a story for another time, especially since I don’t particularly recall that night.

“Vessels? What do you mean by that? Do you mean other bodies?”

She reached the halfway point in our journey, then shot past me back the way we came as I struggled to keep pace. “It’s nothing you need to concern yourself with. The fact of the matter is they chose a rather clever solution to dispose of our Susan; they probably expected that should she ever be recovered, the time spent there would have destroyed her mind and made her ineffectual.”

“Destroyed her mind? What exactly happens there? What aren’t you telling me?”

“I’ve told you already; most of the recorded cases of other humans entering the void for longer than several days resulted in powerful delusions about reality to the individual and in most cases, eventual insanity...” She quickly changed course and shot through my chest as if to catch my attention. “…which is why you must continue your memory exercises and remember to complete your task as quickly as possible! There are worse things in this world than death.” Just as quickly, she resumed her pace back towards the cottage and my stationary body.

Worse things than death? I shuddered inwardly as the image of Lilly’s cold, lifeless body lying among the shattered remains of our Mercedes flashed through my mind. How true those words were.


Memories of What Might Have Been


I floated through the gateway and was quickly swallowed into the cold and silent darkness. I fought the urge to look back for a few moments, knowing all I would see was empty void, but I still looked. It’s a strange and disconcerting feeling to be basically transported from one location to another, regardless of how mundane it actually was. There were no fireworks, no electrically charged air, not even a strange membrane to pass through. I was in the astral plane speaking to my grandmother’s spirit one moment, the next I was in the void.

Floating there in nothingness is the most lonely I’ve ever felt. I imagine it’s similar to a sensory deprivation tank; there was no light, no sound, no anything that could be sensed. Not even the consistent cadence of my heart or the sensation of my chest filling with air. It was beyond what I would think death feels like; it was like not existing at all. My mind began to race, questioning my existence at all. Steady there, Skip, I had to tell myself. Decartes was right; I think, therefore I am.

Reaching into my pocket was a struggle with not being able to feel myself nor see myself, but I managed it eventually and somehow extracted the mirror from my pocket. I could feel that; the mirror, once pulled to where I assume my face would be was like a beacon of reality. I could see my goal clearly; a white BMW 328, seemingly suspended in the blackness. Susan’s car! The divination spell was continuing to function properly in this realm as my Nana had insisted would happen. I was skeptical, but, thinking back, it would have been a really short search had it not worked out. There were no landmarks or markings for me to begin my search in this place. It’s moniker was quite accurate; there was nothing here. Unlike space, which is full of floating objects, debris, minerals, distant stars and galaxies, the void seemed to be defined by the fact that it was completely empty. No, that’s not entirely true; Susan’s car was here somewhere which meant that Susan should be as well.

I had a hard time believing that a human could survive in this place, but my grandmother was quite insistent. This place existed outside of time and space which created a sort of stasis for anything that was unlucky enough to drop in. Nothing ever aged, spoiled, or died in here. Nothing ever changed.

While that idea raised all sorts of philosophical questions, I was not here to discuss Parmenides’ theory on eternal reality and how that squared with Kant’s concept of a priori conceptualization. All that mattered to me was that Susan would be alive and well enough when I found her. If she had not changed at all, so much the better.

I moved as quickly as I could, hoping all those hours spent racing through the astral plane with my Nana would be enough to get me where I needed to go in time. It’s hard to gauge exactly how long I traveled; I had no landmarks to discern the distance I had traveled and no time piece to express the time. Time was supposedly meaningless here, anyways. I’m not sure how that squared with reality if I was able to get back, I mean, WHEN I was able to get back. My grandmother had been rather sparse on details how that worked; perhaps the path used to get out of the void determined the true amount of time lost back in the real world. Needless to say, I had a lot of time to debate these questions in my head as I followed the internal compass of the divinatory spell trapped within my mirror.

While I can’t remember how long I traveled, I do remember the moment I saw the light. It was a speck, a figment of a mind that was turning inward on itself, I thought at first. However, the longer I traveled, the larger it began to grow. It was beautiful in its simplicity and I began to stare at it like a starving man might a steak dinner, completely ignoring my Nana’s last warnings in here. Did I really care if I lost myself at this point? I was in darkness, and here was light. It began to grow, larger and larger as I stared until it consumed my entire vision, blinding me as it spread warmth through my body. I was warm and safe; happy for the first time that I can remember.

“How long is this going to take?”

I turned to stare at my father’s beefy face as I barely made out his question over the din of the cheering throng we were smack in the middle of.

“Dad! Are you kidding me?! USC just scored! They’re going to tie up the game! This could go overtime!”

He just grunted and resumed staring down at his watch as the crowd around us continued their earth shattering cheer for the dramatic reversal that had happened in the game. I had never been to the Rose Bowl before; hell, I had never been to the west coast before. Father was quite adamant about my finishing up my studies during this time, what with me being the heir apparent of the company.

“Look, Dad! It’s Vic! He’s waving at us!” We were only a few rows from the USC bench and I could see my brother turn towards us and wave his thick arm towards us. I think he even winked. Father pointedly ignored it. He was still bitter about my older brother defying his orders to stay in New York for his B.A. and heading off to California in order to play a “child’s ball game” as he referred to it. Well, he would get over it eventually, I thought. I frantically waved back to my brother, grinning ear to ear. The exuberance of the crowd was infectious; it was the most exciting sports event I had ever been to. This stadium was listed to be holding over 100,000 screaming fans, but somehow, it felt even larger. Vic turned back to the game as his team attempted a bold move, going for the 2 points and the win instead of taking the extra point kick.

If things were rocking beforehand, I felt as though the stadium might literally collapse when USC scored on a pass and went up 18-17 on Ohio State. People were high fiving and hugging as though their first child had been born. The strange droning of USC’s fight song somehow managed to sound out through the pandemonium which apparently was the last straw for father.

“That’s it. I’ve had enough of this. I’m heading back home,” he growled into my ear as he pulled me closer by the nape of my neck. “I expect to see you back home by no later than Sunday for church.” He tossed empty bag of peanuts to the ground, then paused once more to yell in my ear, “Tell your brother congratulations.” Then he was gone, bouncing his way through the raucous crowd like one of those running backs down on the field. I frowned, but only for a moment. I was free for at least 4 days and left to my own devices in Los Angeles! Vic had said there were parties lined up win or lose, but I bet they were going to be a lot more fun now that they looked as though they were going to win.

As if to punctuate my thoughts, the Ohio State quarterback went down in a heap of USC linemen and with that, the players rushed the field to drink in their victory before the crazed throng of fans. I was practically carried down on the rush to get to the field and managed to slip back up the stairs and into the archway. I hated crowds, but I couldn’t be happier for my brother and his team. They had suffered a humiliating defeat last year in ’74 against the same team. This was a perfect end to a pretty successful college football career.

I met up with my brother outside the locker room. He gripped me in those tree trunks he called arms and practically broke my back as he gave me a bear hug, his perfect teeth practically flashing in my face as he laughed at nothing in particular. “We did it! Those sons of bitches never knew what hit them!” he shouted as he spun me about as though I was a ragdoll. He set me down and slapped me on the shoulder in a manly gesture, a gesture that practically toppled me to the ground. The boy didn’t know his own strength, I thought. I’d be feeling that one tomorrow and probably the next day.

“You were great!” I shouted as I ruefully rubbed at my shoulder. “Is it true about you going into the draft?”

His giant smile spread across that wide face somehow grew larger and he nodded, “Oh yeah…coach says I have a great chance. He said Pittsburg has expressed interest.”

“The Steelers?! Part of the Steel Curtain? No shit?” I practically screamed as I gave his shoulder a return smack, only getting a sore hand in return. Vic was seemingly carved out of marble, resembling some Greek hero from the Iliad. He was about as solid as marble as well, I only then realized as I flexed my fingers, trying to get feeling back into said hand. “That would be great! I’m supposed to be transferring to Wharton at UPenn! We’d practically be neighbors!”

He threw his head back and laughed, then stared at me with a bemused expression. “I don’t know about all that. I kind of like it in L.A. I met someone.”

I raised my eyebrows as I gaped at him. “I bet you’ve met lots of someones.” With my brother’s physique and prowess on the football field, he had no shortage of dates back in High School. “Is it true about California girls?” I asked jokingly.

His face took on a serious expression, but only for a moment as he continued. “I’m serious. Her name is Patricia. I want you to meet her tonight. I wanted to get your opinion on…you know.”

I probably resembled a fish at this point, eyes goggling and mouth hanging slack. He had never asked me for my opinion on any woman he had been dating; they had seemingly been interchangeable to him. Nothing had gotten in the way of his goal to play for USC. This must be serious.

“Of course…I’m sure she’s great.”

He laughed at me as he hit me in the shoulder once again with the force of a mule’s kick. “She’s something else, let me tell you. Wait here, I’ll go track her down and we can go get something to eat. I’m starving!”

As he ran off, I smiled and shook my head. This was a first, Vic asking me for approval. Vic never asked me for anything. Wait a minute, I thought. He really never did ask me for anything. This was all wrong.

As I looked around me at the drunken crowd, milling about and regaling each other with the excitement of the game, I noticed it getting brighter all of a sudden. A piercing light began to blur everything around me and the sounds, smells, and vision of a balmy January day in Los Angeles slowly began to fade away until I was left staring at a distant white light surrounded by void. I was back in the empty darkness, staring at a far off white light.

That’s right, I told myself over and over again. Vic never went to USC. Father put his foot down and he settled for a local college so that he could continue being groomed to take over the company. I never attended Wharton or achieved a B.A. in business. And dad most definitely wasted his time at a pointless “child’s ball game” in his life. We never attended that Rose Bowl game back in 1975; I did watch it with Vic at a bar as he progressively got more and more drunk, picking a fight with everyone who passed, including me, until I had to carry him back to the house. That was a miserable, depressing night.

What the hell just happened? That experience was far too real for me to have made up all in my head. I’m not that creative. Was this what my grandmother was warning me about? I quickly turned my gaze back to the white BMW on my mirror and did my best not to stare into the light again. She had warned me that you could get lost in that light, like a moth to the flame. Did it create memories that I wish had happened, or was it some bizarre alternate reality where I actually got along with my brother? I didn’t know and I was quite determined not to find out again.

Keep your head down, Skip. Keep your eye on the prize. Get in and get out. I continued moving along the path my mirror was guiding me, perhaps with a little bit more urgency.
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Scipio Zelin

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PostSubject: Re: Trippin' the Astral Plane for Dummies   Tue Jan 31, 2012 8:06 pm

“So…if these old ones exist outside of time and can be everywhere at once, shouldn’t they already know what’s going to happen? How is it even possible to defy and defeat them in that case?”

I hefted my ceremonial dagger, the athame, in my right hand, feeling its weight as I twisted it back and forth. While not detectable to any normal human, I could see the strange dark sheen across the blade that had been created by the spell I just completed. I’d had a lot of false starts with this particular spell, what with it being very much outside my specialty, but it seemed to have worked this time. This spell should enable my dagger to cause intense pain to spirits in the astral plane now; all I needed was a target to practice on. And turn into a sadist. I sighed as I stared down at my handiwork; there wasn’t an effective way to test this out without being a complete asshole.

“It’s fine,” the voice in my head soothed, as if to answer my unasked question about the blade. “I can tell that you did the spell correctly and it will do what you need it for. Spirits will purposely avoid you if you flash it; even I can feel the power of it.” It was still somewhat distracting to have my Nana speaking to me inside my mind; I had considered getting one of those Bluetooth earpieces so it didn’t look like I was completely insane, but I think I’d rather be thought of as crazy than be one of those people that walks around with a Bluetooth earpiece. When I’m king, they and the people who drive slowly in the fast lane will be the first groups to be liquidated.

I cleared my throat as I continued, “Do you ignore my questions just to annoy me or is it because you don’t know the answers?”

My head was suddenly echoing with my grandmother’s patented annoyed sigh. “Scipio, have you always been this difficult? Not to mention dense?”

“Probably. But the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, grandmother.”

“I’m still trying to figure out what branch you fell out of. Your problem is that you’re thinking like a human. Time does not flow for them like it does for us, nor do events. Whereas once something has happened for us, it’s now history. For these beings, there are many, many potential past histories, not to mention just as many potential futures. Trying to sift through all these variables would be impossible for one of those new fangled computer machines you’re always playing with. I would imagine they have just as much difficulty trying to keep everything together.”

“Wait…so is there a true timeline, or are all these potential futures and past as real as the one we’re in?”

“They’re as real as what we’re experiencing now.”

“So, why do they care so much, then? Surely they aren’t being killed in every future. Can’t they just switch to the future that doesn’t result in their deaths?” It seemed logical to me, anyways.

“No…because their deaths would occur simultaneously in all realities. Don’t ask me how because I can’t answer that. I just know that it is.” Another sigh. “And before you ask, yes, we have records of these beings dying. Eons ago, they had great sport in fighting each other, often times the losers were destroyed. I suppose when you’ve existed forever, the idea of final death is the only thing that can excite you. Their numbers aren’t nearly as large now and the ones that do exist tend to live vicariously through the lives of the creatures they manipulate.”

We’re living in their personal ant farm, apparently. That was a depressing thought. “Wait…I thought only Susan was supposed to have this talent or ability to kill them. Is there some other method for killing them? A weapon, perhaps, like Excalibur?” For a moment, the idea of ancient gods slashing at each other with swords flashed through my head.

“No. There is only one way that I’m aware of. The void. Once they pass through the gateway into the void, they cease to exist.”

“I know I sound like a three year old…but why?”

A youthful, girlish laugh echoed through my brain. I wasn’t sure why her voice changed from what I was used to growing up when she laughed, but she somehow sounded younger. It was somewhat amusing to imagine my grandmother as a young girl in a backwards village in Siberia, playing along the banks of the Tura River, maybe even with her brother, the famous, or perhaps infamous, Rasputin. Then again, I’m not sure whether Russian peasants were allowed to have a good time and laugh. Even now, that place is depressing.

“My dear boy, I have no idea. There are theories, to be sure. Some say they sprang from the void itself when the universe was crafted. That they are an unpleasant accident of creation, much like the leftover scraps tossed away after cooking dinner.”

Or maybe the inevitable bugs that pop up in a program. Interesting. Perhaps these Old Ones weren’t nearly as powerful as I had imagined. They could be as much a cosmic accident as I am.


Shadows of Power


"Come on dad! That's not what you're supposed to carve! You're supposed to put your name." I glanced over my shoulder at the source of the petulant voice was being directed my way. Susan was standing there, arms crossed, giving me her glacial stare, which I had to admit, was getting better and better each day. She was really taking after Lilly.

I stared at the tree trunk, where I had just carved in Dad & Susie with my pen knife. "Ahh...I see. I'll be sure to add a dy and make it daddy."

"Nooooooo!" she whined as she dropped her arms to her sides and rolled her eyes with exasperation. "Daaad...I'm almost twelve years old. I'll be a teenager in another year," she added with a glint of pride in her eyes. She was growing up so fast; it seemed like only yesterday she was crying her eyes out as I carried her away from that deviant pervert, the mall Santa Claus. I'm sure to her, it felt like eternity. After all, she was almost a teenager.

I laughed and said, 'I think it's just fine the way it is. Besides, when the forest rangers try to track down the perpetrators who damaged their tree, I'll be off the hook."

A light, girly giggle erupted behind me as I flipped the knife shut and spun about to face my interrogator. She was looking more like her mother every day. "okay...we've officialy marked our spot. Are you ready to start making some s'mores?" I asked as I stepped over towards the campfire. Our gear was stowed for the night, dinner was officially over, and the two tents had been set up. We had two tents this trip as she was almost a teenager and needed her own space, although I had little doubt I wouldn't be joined halfway through the night when she was scared by a scurrying raccoon. Then again, maybe this would be the trip that she established her independence from stodgy ol' dad.

"Can't we practice that trick you taught me?" she asked, making her puppy dog eyes with a pleading look. She really was looking more and more like her mother every day. I sighed and sat down on a mossy rock and said, "Okay. Remember...this is serious stuff. You need to promise me you'll only practice this when I'm around. I don't want you hurting yourself."

This was answered with another eye roll as she said, "Okay...I promise." However, her too cool for school nonchalance was quickly overpowered by her excitement at what we were about to do. She sat by the fire across from me as she practically bubbled with excitement. "I'm ready. What do you want me to do?"

I took a deep breath as I concentrated on the source emanating through the forest and began to gather it inside me. "Alright Susie...close your eyes and begin concentrating like we talked. Clear your mind and relax. Do you feel the energy all around us? Good...now begin to draw it inside you, ball it up in that small place in your belly...okay, good." I could sense her absorbing the energy and doing exactly what I asked. I had to admit; she was a natural. She was picking up wielding the source much quicker than I ever did; still, she was very young and I really needed to make sure she didn't do anything rash. She certainly didn't know her own limits yet.

"Okay...now reach out with that energy like I showed you and try and connect with the flame. Slowly now, don't force it. The fire element will connect once it recognizes you...that's it. Very good...okay, now, imagine a small ball of fire separating from the burning logs and raise it up above the flames."

I began to send energy her way, observing her tentative extension of the source around and eventually into the flame, until a small ball of flame slowly rose from the campfire and hovered there above us both. She turned a wide eyed stare at what she had done as a sly smile began to spread across her face. She stared at me and was about to speak when I could feel her tenuous grasp on the element quickly dissolve. Suddenly, the ball shot towards me and about singed my eyebrows as it veered off at the last minute slamming into the tree trunk behind me. I quickly extended my own burst of energy towards the potential forest fire and connected with the element and quickly snuffed out the flame. Staring at the scorch mark on the tree, I could barely make out our names anymore. Was her aim a coincidence, or did it have some other meaning? Before I could develop that thought any further, I heard Susan whimper behind me as she slumped downward and began to cry.

"It's okay, honey, that was really good. It’s very difficult to maintain control. It takes a lot of practice in order to keep your concentration. Trust me…I had plenty of misfires when I first started." Many, many misfires; and I had been a good ten years older than her when I was brave enough to take on something as difficult as elemental manipulation.

"I almost hurt you! I lost control... I...I don't know what happened..." she managed to choke out in between sobs as I patted her softly on the back.

"But you didn't hurt me...I'm fine. That's why you need to only do this when I'm around. I think you've had enough practice for tonight. You know what would improve your mood? S'mores."

She pulled her head from her legs and wiped at her reddened eyes with her sweatshirt sleeve as she tried to smile. She said in a small voice, "Okay. Can we use extra chocolate?"

Wait a minute...I did go hiking with my daughter many times, but I never realized my magical potential until I arrived in Ravenhurst. I wondered at that; was our favorite stomping ground, Hickory Run Park close to a ley line similar to the one in Ravenhurst? Perhaps that was why Susan always insisted on going there. I closed my eyes for a moment as the blinding flash of light began to seep through, and when I opened them, I was back floating in the empty void, the shimmering light taking up a quarter of my vision.

It was getting harder and harder to keep the visions from seeping into my subconscious. Every time I lost concentration, I was trapped in another memory that never happened. The ones that were closest to reality were the hardest to pull myself out of. Or the ones that involved either Lilly or Susan...those were the worst.

I hate to admit it, but the memories that were the strangest were beginning to appeal to me as well. They were something different to distract my mind from the crushing emptiness of the void. For example, I probably stayed in the memory where I was a re-education counselor for the People's Republic of America for far too long. I think it was the novelty of being able to speak Mandarin. Either way, those visions were the easiest to escape if I truly wanted. My memory exercises of who I was and what I had experienced made short work of them. The problem was, escaping a memory of being human and alive to float aimlessly through nothingness was starting to look less and less appealing.

I had died so many times in these memories that I had pretty much lost count. At first it was horrible; much like being trapped in a nightmare. Ironically enough, however, it was starting to be the only thing that was making me feel alive at this point. A majority of those deaths involved a vehicle accident of some sort, sitting beside my Lilly. Her face was different in some of the memories as was the vehicle and location, yet she still always felt familiar. Perhaps I was always meant to be with her in whatever form either of us assumed in whatever reality we might have existed. If these memories were accurate, it looks as though I should have died with her on that rain slick highway years ago.

I averted my eyes from the light and stared back down at the mirror to try and gage my progress towards the car. I stared down with alarm, shocked as there was no longer any pull. Did the damn spell stop working? I shook it in frustration, as though it might start up again as though it was an old engine in a model T. Nothing. I was this close to tossing it as far as I could when I suddenly realized why it had stopped working. Not more than a few yards in front of me, sitting in the void unmoving, the silhouette reflecting off a backdrop of that blinding light, was a BMW 128i. I had finally reached my destination.

I placed the mirror back within my pocket and began my tentative approach of the vehicle I had purchased a few years back. Aside from some dirt and the small dent in the driver’s side door that occurred on the very same day we picked it up from the lot, it looked to be in perfect condition. Susan had literally broken into tears when we came back from lunch to see that dent; personally, I thought it was kind of funny. I told her it gave the car some character and would make it easier to spot in the parking lot from now on. She never had gotten it fixed; I wondered about that, considering the fastidiousness required to keep a car looking like this while parked on the street outside a university. Perhaps it was a reminder to remain vigilant of her surroundings, or perhaps I was looking too far into the deeper meaning of a tiny, insignificant dent. Either way, the resell value shot due to the car now floating about in an inter-dimensional void. Yes sir, it’s in fine shape, but it’s trapped in another plane of existence where time and space have no meaning…what does the Kelley Blue book value show for that situation?

I began to move a bit faster, y heart in my hand, as I thought I saw a shape in the driver’s seat. It wasn’t moving, but whoever it was could be asleep. I could scarcely get my mind to admit that I may have actually found Susan and didn’t want to say anything, even to myself that might jinx the situation. As if reading my mind about jinxes, I had to stop short as my path was suddenly blocked by a large, shadowy figure. I had no idea where it had come from; there were no noises in this plane, but it hadn’t even appeared at the corner of my eye or in a dramatic cloud of smoke. It was just there, solid and unmoving. I gave it a onceover, trying to make out who or what it could be. The being was much larger than I, perhaps 12 feet in height had we been standing on solid ground, but appeared to be human like. I could make out a set of arms and legs as well as head shrouded with what could have been some sort of cloak, or perhaps its hair. It kept fading in and out of focus, as though fighting my retinas against seeing it as it truly was.

Suddenly, a hissing sound began to run through my head, much like you would hear trying to find a radio station in the middle of nowhere. It began to grow into a cacophony of strange noises, as though it was trying to find the correct frequency. I sure hoped it wasn’t a country station; I had suffered enough in this place. After a few moments, the sounds ceased completely, then a strange voice, high pitched and alien, as though the speaker wasn’t used to communicating in this fashion, began to speak into my head in the same manner as my communication with my grandmother had worked.

“Scipio Zelin. You should not be here.”

Well, it apparently knew my name. Either my reputation had preceded me or it could read my thoughts. The likelihood of the former was rather slim, unless this thing happened to be one of the bartenders I stiffed back in the days of my drinking habit, so it was much more likely it was inside my mind. Could it read everything, much like a book, or could it only skim the top surface? I chilled at the thought of it reading my measure and finding me wanting.

“Who are you and how do you know my name?”

“We know all about you. We cannot allow you to leave.”

“We? Who are you…” my thought trailed off as I realized I was surrounded by these creatures, whatever they might be. Where the hell had they come from so fast? A quick mental calculation added up 12 of them, forming an impromptu net, hovering above and below as well as side to side. I was effectively cut off from any escape routes, unless I could move faster than they could. Considering that they appeared to move faster than I could even detect, that wasn’t looking too promising. Dammit…all this way for nothing! I bared my teeth in anger as I stuffed my hand into my coat pocket, rummaging about for the hilt of my blade. I wasn’t going down without a fight. What this tiny ceremonial blade was going to do against the massive creatures all around me wasn’t exactly clear, but the mental exhaustion of the trip and the thought of failure so close at the finish line wasn’t the best mindset for thinking clearly.

“Take him to the light,” I heard echo in my head, quickly followed by what sounded like murmurings of agreement among the massive shapes. As I finally grabbed a hold of my blade, tough to do when your sense of touch is severely hampered, I felt a hot tingling sensation on my shoulders. It was on me already! I stared up into its large, shadowy face as its grip tightened on my collarbone with its massive hands. Without thinking, I wasted no time and struck upwards with my blade, screaming out in a mixture of confusion, anger, and fear when I felt my arm strike something solid, almost instantly followed by an ear piercing shriek that about deafened me. I looked up and saw my hand still wrapped about the hilt of my blade which had now anchored itself within the eye socket of the creature before me. I was too stunned to follow up as it wrenched backwards and raised its hands to its damaged face. The screaming and howls of pain continued unabated in my skull as I held firm to the grip of my weapon and allowed the creature to back off. In fact, all of them seemed to suddenly back off, leaving a nice healthy distance between themselves and the weapon in my hand. The murmurs started up in my head again, sounding agitated with a trace…was that fear?

And then they were gone, leaving only the echo of one last cry of pain, bouncing about in my skull. I stared about me with suspicion. Had they decided I wasn’t worth it? That I was too dangerous? Were they looking to ambush me when I had my defense down? Did they even exist, or had I been here so long I was hallucinating? I stared down at my hand, still clutching the athame, and decided that the tingling I was feeling mixed with the dark, slick, liquid dripping from my palm was probably proof enough that what I had experience was real. I held my hand closer to my face, letting the bright light from behind illuminate it more clearly. Yes, it appeared to be blood of some kind. Unless I missed the memo about ghosts being able to bleed, those things were definitely not lost spirits.

After I finally stopped shaking, I carefully placed the dagger back into my pocket and wiped my had dry on the hem of my coat. Only then did it begin to sink in; I had somehow touched a solid creature in my astral form. I stared back down at my hands once again with a jolt of surprise; they looked far more solid than they had when I entered this place. What was happening to me? Was I changing, or was it just this realm that I found myself in? I shook off the panic slowly forming in my mind and refocused towards my goal; Susan was in that car just a few yards off. She had to be.

I closed the distance to the driver’s side door and reached down to yank on the handle; the door was unlocked. As it swung open, I poked my head inside the care to yell out “Susan!” I was greeted by a rumpled coat wrapped about the seat. Not surprisingly, it remained silent. I had failed after all; she wasn’t here.
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Scipio Zelin

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PostSubject: Re: Trippin' the Astral Plane for Dummies   Tue Jan 31, 2012 8:06 pm

“Are you saying we don’t have don’t have a conscience, Skip?”

I glanced over to my interlocutor once more as I considered her defensive tone. She was a lovely girl with a pale, flawless complexion, delicate features filling in a wide, round face, punctuated by the piercing gaze of the bluest eyes you’ve ever seen. She possessed a confident air and countenance despite her waifish and ever so slight frame, a French accent only adding to her allure and hinting at an exotic, European upbringing. She was a throwback to another, more serious time not caught up in Facebook updates and reality television shows. Had you passed her in the street you would have been forced to stare at her uniqueness and the way she didn’t quite fit in with her surroundings. You probably couldn’t place it, but you would be sure there was something special about her. And you’d be right, because Deputy Keliah Angelis of the Ravenhurst police department was a vampire.

“Actually, that’s what you inferred to me last night. I personally don’t think of conscience as an actual entity, like a grasshopper telling you what’s right and wrong. I consider your conscience to be the rules you were bought up with and how you apply them to your psyche.” I tore my eyes away from her and concentrated on the end of my cigarette and calmed myself by taking another long drag, letting the smoke drift out of my nostrils into the cold, Washington night. I didn’t want to keep staring at her, but it was hard not to. A man could get lost in those eyes of hers. “I would think the unnatural extension of life and apparent immortality would throw all those rules into confusion, since man was never meant to live that long. In fact, I would think that would be the most serious problem of your kind. Remembering what it is to be human.”

I was babbling at this point and hoping she wouldn’t call me out on it. I had no opinion on vampires up until the past several weeks as I considered them about as real as Santa Claus or the East Bunny. What I did know was that the idea of whether a vampire had a conscience or a soul was very much weighing on her mind. I imagined it had been for many, many years. It showed in those eyes of hers; the pain of living beyond her loved ones, the frustration with struggling against her desire to feed on the living, and the fear that when she did finally die a final death that there would be no heaven waiting for her. While I couldn’t relate to those last two emotions, I was currently struggling with the first as Susan, my only daughter, was presumed dead at this point.

She stiffened at my comments and answered, “Who’s to say how long a man shall live? If it was unnatural, we would not exist.” She softened for a moment and turned to stare at the ground, a case of self awareness that she was trying more to convince herself than me about her fate in life. She continued once again, “It is a problem. In some cases, some of the old ones are no longer such. Besides,” she asked rhetorically with a shrug, then turned the full effect of those eyes back towards me, “…are we even human? Am I?”

I flicked my cigarette into the darkness and turned to face her, seeing the sadness and the loneliness reflecting back at me. Without thinking, I reached out to embrace her and planted my lips on hers. Her lips were ice cold, yet her mouth was suddenly willing, ravenous and hungry for human contact. We kissed for what felt like eternity until she pulled back and stared up at me, her expression unreadable. Why had I done that? That was unlike me; I was lucky she hadn’t slapped my face and hauled me off to jail. Yet, her reaction told me that my rash act hadn’t been unwelcome.

She slipped her small, chilly hand in mine and tugged me back towards the small room I was renting at the Red Dragon Inn. I closed the cheap plastic shoji screen behind us and turned back towards her. Without a word, she had her arms wrapped about me, pulling me down with exceptional strength into a passionate kiss. I began to pull off her jacket as we edged back towards the bed when she stopped suddenly and made a strange gargling noise. My mouth was suddenly filled with a metallic taste and I pulled back my mouth from hers. I opened my eyes and could see her staring at me with a confused and pained expression, then slowly began to sink towards the floor. I held her small body as it collapsed to the ground, staring in horror at what appeared to be a shorn off table leg sticking through her back and blood quickly beginning to soak my coat sleeves.

I looked up at the silhouette hovering over the both of us with a mixture of shock and embarrassment. Lilly glared at us, her eyes a mixture of disgust and anger fighting past the opiates that generally clouded her mind. I could see her white knuckles clutching a large mallet in one hand and pointing down at me with the other.

“My God, Lilly! What have you done?” I stared back down once more at Keliah’s motionless figure, then pulled myself back to my feet with the aid of the small writing desk to my side.

“I should be asking the same question!” she screamed at the top of her lungs as she menaced me with the mallet. “How could you consort with that…with that thing! That abomination!” She moved quicker than I had seen in years to slap me hard across the face. “You’re so weak! Don’t you understand? She was using her powers on you! And you just went along with it! With the thing that murdered Susan!”

I flinched back at the blow and leaned against the desk, holding up my hands defensively. “She didn’t do anything of the sort! She was trying to help us find her! How could you…” I couldn’t bear to stare down again at the bloody mess curled up on the carpet.

“Snap out of it, Scipio! Think! Why have we found nothing these past several months we’ve been here? It’s because of them. They’re everywhere in town. They’ve been hiding everything from us, hoping we would just wander away like must have happened so many times before!” She was pacing back and forth now and eyes wide, unkempt hair flapping wildly behind her as she raged. “This whole town is in on the conspiracy! We’ve been getting to close to the truth! She meant to turn you against me!” I slumped against the desk, my whole body shaking uncontrollably. Lilly had never been the same since the accident; the doctors said it was a miracle she was ever able to walk again. It had almost destroyed her back, much of vertebrae fused together now after hundreds of surgeries, the pain only softened by powerful drugs. I stared back at her face, wan and emaciated, the sin pulled tightly against her skull. I had done this. I had ruined that beautiful woman with my stupidity and carelessness.

Five years ago, I had climbed into my Mercedes with my lovely wife and quickly shattered my entire life. Aside from practically crippling both of us, I had snuffed out a young girl’s life. A college student who’s only sin was trying to make the drive home from the university without staying at a motel. When the tests came back to show my blood alcohol level three times the legal limit, there wasn’t much anyone could do. I was arrested and tried for involuntary manslaughter once the hospital had fixed up most of my injuries. Everyone turned their backs on me; the university cut ties, even my family was too disgusted to offer much support. After spending all the savings we had as well as mortgaging the house and suffering through a lengthy trial, I was able to narrowly avoid spending time in county prison. However, with the added medical bills and the inability to obtain another teaching position, we were ruined.

“Lilly, you need to calm down.” I said with an unsteady voice. “We need to…” My voice choked off as I stared in horror at the gaping, bloody hole exposed in Lilly’s long neck. She gasped as she tried to speak, feebly clutching at her throat as she collapsed onto the ground. It was so sudden, I didn’t have a chance to do anything but gape as I watched Keliah crouched over Lilly’s body, mouth pressed against Lilly’s neck. My stomach turned as I could hear the slurping sounds Keliah made as she fed on my wife. I turned away, unable to look at any of the bloody carnage occurring right at my feet.

“Oh my God…I’m going to be sick…”

I felt a hand on my face and I slowly opened my eyes to stare down into those pale blue eyes. Keliah’s face was smeared with blood and a feral expression had taken over her usually unreadable countenance. With a soft voice, she began to speak, “Scipio, I had to do it. She was going to destroy me.” She gestured down at my wife’s body, the eyes wide with the shock of her sudden death, staring up at the ceiling. “I didn’t mean to…I just…” she gripped my chin and turned my face back down towards hers. “She hated you so much. You didn’t deserve that, regardless of what happened. You deserve something better. Please…”

As I stared into those beautiful eyes of hers, I slowly began to relax. She was right; Lilly had hated me ever since the accident. She even blamed me for Susan’s disappearance. Her mind had been lost a long time ago; in fact, Keliah had probably done her a favor. She was in a better place now. I leaned in to kiss her, tasting the blood on her lips and smiled.

NO NO NO NO!

I shut my eyes tightly as my mind raced in a million directions. Lilly never came to Ravenhurst with me because I killed her in that accident, I never went to jail because Victor had gotten me off the hook with the authorities because of his ill fated political run, and Keliah never did…Did she? Did she ever use her powers of mental control on me? How would I know, really? What if she had manipulated me in a subtle way that I couldn’t detect. Was it possible that everything I felt for her was an illusion? Forget about that, I told myself. It’s not important. What is important is finding Susan. I repeated that over and over until slowly, the bright light began to seep through my eyelids and I was once again staring into an empty car, wondering where to go from here in my investigation.

Lost and Found

The memories were starting to invade my mind regardless of whether I looked into the light anymore. Perhaps it was exhaustion, both my mental state here in this realm and the physical body lying prone back in my bed in Ravenhurst. I wasn’t sure how long I had been here, but it had obviously been far longer than planned. We had prepared for many things, my grandmother and I, but neither of us could have known exactly what the Void would do to my mind.

I continued my thorough search of my daughter’s car as best I could, trying not to let my mind wander. Every time I lost concentration for a moment, I was lost in a memory once again. Focus, Skip, focus! Susan is counting on you and you cannot let her down again. The front seat was wrapped with many coils of thick chain, several padlocks lying scattered on the floor pads below. I was beginning to get a better picture of what had happened here. Susan must have been incapacitated in the mines after her two friends were disposed of, then carried back to her car. The perpetrator had chained her to the driver’s seat quite thoroughly, in case she woke up before the deed was done. The car was then transported into the void, leaving her trapped floating in space, unable to move. My fists clenched in anger as I imagined what she must have gone through. The car was directly facing the light; she must have been forced to stare at it when she was sent into this place. What had she experienced? She was in her full body, so there was no protection from the memories that would have bombarded her. Would it have driven her mad?

I shook off this dreadful fear as I examined the padlocks that were presumably locked onto the chains to hold their prisoner. The shackles were open, but there was no key in the body of the lock. Unless Susan was a budding Houdini, it appeared to me that someone or something had ventured into the void to retrieve her from the car. Being they had not torn the locks in two, they had been prepared to open them. How had they been unlocked? Did whoever enter the void to retrieve my daughter have the keys or some sort of lock pick? Did they not need keys?

I was wasting too much time here, so I quickly stuffed one of the padlocks into my pants pocket and rifled through the center console and glove compartment. Aside from the usual car manuals, a flashlight, and a large bag of M&Ms, there wasn’t anything of use in the front seat. After a cursory look in the backseat, wrinkling my nose at the crumpled up McDonald’s bag, I found nothing of interest. I pulled the trunk lever and pulled myself around to the back of the car. If I was going to find anything of use, it would be in here.

The trunk swung open smoothly, activating the small light within. Not that it did much good, as the trunk was completely packed with several large duffel bags, a folded three person tent I had purchased for her a few years back for her camping trip with her high school friends, and an expensive looking suitcase that took up half the trunk space. Flipping over the tag, I was able to make out K. Ling written out in neat handwriting. For such a small girl, she certainly had a lot of things. I took a hold of the handle on the large suitcase and slowly extricated it from the rest of the contents. You would have thought they were physics students with the expertise they were able to pack up that small trunk, or at the very least expert players of Tetris. It didn’t help that the bag seemed to weigh a ton, even in a plane of existence that didn’t seem to possess gravity. I tossed it into the void, offering a brief mental apology for my littering, then turned back into the space to continue my search.

Susan’s backpack was trapped between several sets of trekking poles and plastic bags containing hiking boots, the faded brown polyester marred by hundreds of small marks and scrapes, having been tossed onto countless campgrounds and once down the hillside of Pine Creek gorge. I remembered how upset she was when her lucky bag was seemingly lost, and how long it took for us to get to the bottom to retrieve it before the wildlife found her cache of beef jerky. I carefully extracted it through the mess and began going through the pockets, almost instantly finding what I was looking for. Her diary was what you would expect; a thick, compact book with a dark leather cover and a small latch to keep it closed. She had been a very consistent diarist ever since she had been given the book on her twelfth birthday by my mother. A small USB drive dangled from the top, connecting by a small strap to the top of the case was a new edition. She had eventually run out of room in the paper portion but didn’t want to give it up, so she had rather ingeniously began writing out her thoughts on the laptop I bought for her for Senior year in high school, then saving it onto the small drive. Much like the backpack itself, she never went anywhere without that diary of hers. As a child, she carried around this ratty stuffed animal she called Hop Hop until it finally fell apart. I couldn’t help but smile as he turned the backpack over to see if the faded top half of a stuffed frog was still sewn onto the side pocket. She had a hard time of letting go of the things she truly cared about.

Focus, Skip, Focus!

This was hardly the time to reminisce; I needed to find what I could and get out of her as quickly as possible. The longer I stayed, the less likely I would ever escape. I shoved the book into the space between my back and waistband, then quickly rifled through the remaining items. Other than several hiking maps for Oregon and a few paperbacks, it was pretty bare. She had always been fastidious and orderly; not to mention highly secretive and protective of her privacy. She didn’t completely take after her mother, I thought ruefully as I placed the bag back into the trunk and slammed it shut.

“Honey, it’s starting to rain! Quit fooling around back there and open the car!”

I looked up from the trunk of my Mercedes and could see Lilly dancing about from foot to foot as she furiously rubbed at her arms, trying to stay warm. “Are you sure you don’t need to go to the bathroom before we leave, Lil?” I quipped as I stepped over to her and wrapped my arms around her. She laid her head against my chest and sighed contentedly for a moment. She liked to think of me as her personal heater due to her ability to feel a chill at high noon in the Sahara desert.

“Mmmmmm…you’re warm.” She looked up at me, the edges of her full lips curling into a mischievous smile. She made a show of sniffing my breath, then reeled back, pulling away from my arms. “Are you drunk? How many martinis did you have?”

I held her tightly as I chuckled, “Oh…I think I lost count after the 5th one. I’m fine. Come on; let’s get out of this cold night and into bed.”

She wrinkled her nose at me and made a show of disgust as I held her fast, then began to giggle as she leaned back into my chest and slid a hand across the crotch of my trousers. “Five martinis…you’re not going to be any use to me tonight.”

I lifted a hand to her chin and tilted her head back, then placed my lips to hers. They were cold, but willing, a tongue darting here and there as we embraced in the frigid winter night, briefly forgetting about everything but the touch of each other.

I pulled back slowly and ran a finger across her cheek, “It all depends on what incentive I have.” I briefly broke eye contact to stare up at the dark sky. It was really starting to rain; the snow should be here within the week, I thought to myself, then looked back down and fumbled for my keys, hitting the unlock button. “Let’s get out of here before you scandalize the neighborhood,” I said as I opened the passenger side door and shooed her in with a playful swat at her butt.

I shut the door the moment she was inside and ran around to the driver’s side door and…NO NO NO NO!
I shook my head violently, holding my eyes shut until the blinding white light began to penetrate the edges of my lids. I didn’t want to experience that accident again. I couldn’t watch Lilly lying lifeless on the highway amid the broken glass and twisted steel. Even more so, I couldn’t bear to see another reality where Lilly survived with me. Those were somehow worse, in that I never wanted to leave them. Then again, what was I fighting for, exactly? What was the harm in leaving behind all the death and pain of my current life, a world full of vampires and magic, and exist in a world where the only thing I had to truly worry about was prostate cancer? Why did I still care?

Because that would be giving up, I told myself. I may have been a drunk and a poor father, but that was only because I gave up on life. I drowned my sorrows every night just to relive the past so I didn’t have to face the future. The future was unknown and frightening, promising more pain and loneliness. However, I failed to see that it was also full of something that makes up for all those hardships; hope. I could save Susan, I could repair our relationship, I could do something important in of the autumn of my years. Apologizing for my failings wasn’t enough; I had to redeem myself.

I shook off this funk as quickly as it was established and began to concentrate like I had practiced with my grandmother. I felt around inside for that thread that still tied me to the world until I could visualize it in my mind, and then I began to follow it along its pathway. I began to pick up speed as I zoomed along my lifeline back to my body, back home, feeling the memories attempting to invade my mind start to fade into the background the further I moved away from the light. Faster and faster I moved, elated at the feeling of racing through space and suddenly hopeful that Susan’s diary would provide some clues as to who may have pulled her out. She used to block out an hour each day to write down everything she was feeling or had experienced; surely the players involved in this mess who had the ability to enter the void would have shown their hand to her at some point. I was still making plans in my head as to how I would track her down when I slammed into the equivalent of a brick wall.

I don’t know how long I was out, but I eventually recovered my senses enough to realize I was now floating in the darkest part of the void once more. I had made it back to where I started. I reached back into my muddled consciousness to try and remember what I was supposed to do next. What had nana told me to do? Right; I have to contact her so she can open the gateway. How do I do that? I was effectively blind, deaf, and dumb once again, floating in the truest definition of void, and was doing my best not to lose my mind in panic. The thread, I said to myself. That’s it. She is listening; I needed to try and send a message over the connection between the two realms and hope she was listening.

According to my grandmother, the silver thread that connected my consciousness and my body was extraordinarily special. Generally speaking, it was impossible to establish connections between two planes of existence as they normally existed with different and conflicting rules. One of the few known methods to bridge the gap was through the connection of body and soul for those that could astral project. She had told me it was why we were so rare; an unexplainable anomaly, most likely a cosmic error much like those old beings that Susan was supposedly destined to destroy one day. Either way, it was my ticket home, if anyone was listening into the tin can on the other end of my silver thread.

I began the vibration of the thread on my end, sending it along and hopefully outward towards our world. After what seemed like an eternity, the vibration returned to me and I could faintly hear a familiar voice in my head. “Scipio! I was worried about you. Did you find Susan?”

“No…someone got to her before we did. I’m sorry, I failed.”

“You did what you could, dear boy, much more than anyone could have expected. This is good news, though. It means that she is most likely still alive. Anyone willing to expend the kind of energy needed to pull her out values her highly.”

“I found her diary. I was hoping I might find out more about who she had been in contact with before she was trapped here.”

“Good thinking; I knew I was right to trust in you. Listen, we don’t have much time; Lexie is sending energy your way, but your body is fading fast. We have to get you out of there now.”

“I remember what we discussed; are you really prepared for this? Perhaps we can…”

“No. It’s my time. I have been prepared for this moment for a long time now. Your window of exit is very short; I need you to do react the instant you feel the gateway open.”

“I’ll be ready. Grandma…thank you for…well, for everything. I wish…”

“I do as well, Scipio, I do too. You will find Susan, I’m sure of it.”

“Is this another one prophecy you’re not telling me about?”

“No Scipio…I just have faith in you. See you on the other side.”

With those final words, the vibration ceased and I was once again alone. There would be time to mourn and react when I made it out of this place. I just had to stay ready or else her sacrifice would be for nothing. I didn’t have to wait long, because suddenly, I could feel the void shift. It was subtle, almost imperceptible, but a tiny speck of light suddenly revealed itself. I didn’t even think, I just reacted, buoyed by all the hours I had spent practicing and moved along the thread towards the salvation. The sky opened up before me as the familiar sounds of the astral plane began to hum in my ears. I was free; I was outside the void.

“Scipio, or do you prefer Skip? I’ve been waiting a long time to meet you.”

Had I been inside my body, I most likely would have jumped right out of my skin when that booming voice began to echo. I was outside of the void alright, but this was a case of jumping out of the frying pan and straight into the fire. Hovering above my form was that familiar dark form that seemed to be more an absence of space then an actual being, that mysterious spirit my grandmother had warned me to not go near. My heart sunk as I struggled to remain calm, completely at a loss for what to say. What are you supposed to say when Death comes calling?
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Scipio Zelin

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Join date : 2012-01-30

PostSubject: Re: Trippin' the Astral Plane for Dummies   Tue Jan 31, 2012 8:07 pm

"Can you hear me, Scipio?"

The voice echoed through my head like a stadium announcement; the reverberation reminding me so much of the Yankee stadium P.A. system that I almost expected to be asked to rise for the 7th inning stretch. It wasn’t ideal, but it was certainly more coherent than it had been over the last several hours, sounding much more like my grandmother and less like an adult droning nonsense in a Charlie Brown special.

"Not only can I hear you, Nana, I can actually understand you this time."

"Good...I was beginning to worry you would never pick this up. Considering it's the only way you'll be able to contact me from the void, it might throw a bit of a crimp in our plans."

"The sarcasm…it isn't helping. But hey, at least I heard that as well."

"Okay, we'll practice this more tomorrow. You seem to have picked up the basics. I’d rather you work on the step back; you seem to be a touch slow."

I sighed as best as I could without a throat or a voice; when you're a floating spirit of your consciousness, it's a bit harder than it sounds. I was several miles outside of Ravenhurst and my physical body while my grandmother and I were made some last minute tweaks to her plan. We were only going to get one shot at pulling Susan out of the void, so we had to be perfect. So far, despite my apparent slowness at picking up the various skills she needed me to know, it looked like we were still on schedule.

"Alright, alright; I'm on my way." I concentrated on the thread connecting my current incarnation with my physical body until we were one. Once a connection is opened, there's not much in your way. It's much like being on a high speed train times infinity. In mere moments, I slammed back into my body, traveled into my psyche, then popped up from my prone position on the bed gasping for air. I'm not sure why, but I always felt like I was drowning when I returned to my body.

As I sat there, trying to regulate my heartbeat after a trip into the astral plane, I could hear my grandmother's voice already speaking in my head. Luckily, the reverberation was gone. It apparently only sounded like that when we used the thread. I wondered why we couldn't continue to communicate as we had been once I arrived in the void, but I didn't bother asking. She would have just made a big show of sighing and commenting on my slowness as a student. I'm sure it had something to do with crossing through different planes of existence; maybe the telepathy cell tower didn't carry that far.

"That was better than last time; I worry about your initial reaction time more than the speed of travel. When I give you the signal and open the gate once again, you need to move immediately. You don't have time to sit around and twiddle your thumbs."

"I'm hardly twiddling my thumbs," I said with exasperation. I suppose shouldn't have been too upset; she was trying to shove years and years of experience down my throat in a fraction of that time. It was a wonder I was able to pick up as much as I had so far; so much for that old saw about old dogs learning new tricks. I asked in a more concerned voice, "Exactly what are you planning to do? You keep glossing over that part. It's not dangerous, is it?"

That youthful laughter that always threw me off coming from her mouth echoed in my head. "No, my dear boy; I've been dead for some time now. I can hardly die again, now can I?"

"What aren't you telling me?"

The playful laughter died out as she seemed to consider my question. "To create the kind of temporal displacement in the void, we're going to need a spirit to pass on to the other side. The void represents the great unknown, even for those of us who are dead. Most spirits linger because of a great tragedy that they were unable to overcome; they’re more of a memory than possessing an actual consciousness. Then there are those like me who have chosen to stay because of unfinished business. When a spirit finally chooses to move on, it provides a brief moment to hold open the gateway for one that knows what they’re doing."

"A spirit that knows what they’re doing. You’re referring to yourself, aren’t you?"

She sighed heavily and continued. "Of course I mean me. It’s a very complex process; I can't just pull any old spirit out of a hat and have him hold the gate open for you and Susan, now can I?"

I blanched as I realized what she was admitting. "But...you mean, you're going to..." Just when I was granted the gift of making up lost time with my grandmother who was taken from me far too soon, I was going to lose her again. There really wasn’t any fairness in the universe. Well, I’d make the most of what time we had left. There were still so many questions I had to ask her.

She said in a soothing voice, "Scipio, my time has long since past. I've only lingered this long because I knew I would have to help your daughter in the future. I didn't expect to see you again. I thought that...well, in our divinations, you didn't show up. I'm glad it was you and not that little shit of a brother of yours."

I laughed despite it all and found myself quickly leaping to the defense of my brother. "Victor isn't that bad...he's a very good father and he's done a good job keeping the company growing...and you're right. He is a little shit most of the time. But how did you know I would have a daughter? How could you be sure about anything you foresee in the future? From my experience, it's almost impossible."

She was silent for a while, as if debating whether to tell me the truth. "Well...you’re right. Judging the variables is extremely difficult. As I've said before; certain things seem to be destined to happen regardless of outside forces, but even then there are those things that take you completely by surprise. Your birth is a prime example of things not going to plan. According to our divinations, you should have been a girl, Scipio."

"Huh?" Well, that would explain my keen fashion sense.

"Everything pointed towards you being the next witch in our family line, but I somehow misread the signs. One of the problems with our lineage is that male witches tend to lose control of their powers over time and it starts to affect their minds. My brother Grigori is a perfect example. When you were born, it threw all our plans out of whack. We weren’t prepared, especially with the preparations we had made. Luckily, all signs pointed towards your future daughter being exactly what we were waiting for. It’s a shame I never got to see her in the flesh."

"Wait...what?! I'm going to go insane?" It was almost too much information at this point; my mind was already spinning out of control.

"It's...well, it's definitely possible. I bound up your abilities when you were a baby so you didn't have to deal with this. I didn't want you having to go through what my brother and the men before him had gone through. I thought it would be safer for you."

She almost sounded remorseful and apologetic for a minute. Almost.

"Did you do the same thing to father?"

"No...he never had the talent. It skipped a generation."

"It can do that?"

"Sure...although, your mother was from a long standing family of witches. I wasn't too worried about the future with that." I could almost see her look of self importance, probably patting herself on the back for a job well done.

I was starting to feel lightheaded and I was pretty sure it wasn't the energy expended on astral projection. "What?! Mother was a...she was a witch?"

"No, my dear boy, she came from a family of witches. Never really showed any talent for it, but it was in her blood, much like your father. He was supposed to produce a daughter, but it never happened. Obviously, it all worked out eventually."

"How did you arrange dad to end up with a witch? Did you cast some sort of love spell?"

She was silent for a while. "Let's just say, your father never had a chance. Besides, your mother was a lovely girl. It was a very good match; she brought out the best in him."

A chill ran down my spine as a new specter of doubt began to weigh my mind. "What about me, grandma? Was Lilly...was her family..." I couldn't even finish the question.

The silence was deafening. I could almost picture her kicking herself for revealing too much. That was all the answer I needed.

"Let me guess, a long standing family of witches."

"It's complicated, Scipio. It's...look, I can’t say anymore, but from everything we could foresee, she loved you very much. Don't ever doubt that."

"Can’t or won’t? What family did she come from?"

I half imagined the sound of crickets in the background as my chronically verbose grandmother suddenly had nothing to say. It’s funny how that works; I’d wanted her to shut up for the past several weeks.

"What FAMILY did she come from?" I repeated in a low, dangerous tone.

"They were from England ...the Shiptons. I…I’ve already said too much," she answered curtly as though she was being put out. However, I could sense a mixture of nervousness in her voice, perhaps even fear.

I was silent for a moment, digesting all the information I had just been bombarded with. It was as though my entire life had been upturned again. My wife was a witch or at least from a family of witches? Was that possible? How could she have kept that from me for all these years? I shook my head ruefully as I answered my own question; probably about as easily as my own daughter had managed. It was probably right there in front of me, staring me in the face all this time, but I refused to see it. With what I now knew about families with our ability, was it really a surprise at all? If anything, it filled in a lot of holes. Lilly had told me her parents had died shortly before I had met her. Even at our wedding, her side had barely a handful of people, most of which were friends. I sighed as I stared up at the ceiling. There was no point in trying to process all this information; I had a mission to accomplish that, should I fail, would render all of this moot.

"Thank you," I said softly.

"I'm sorry, Scipio. I just...I was trying to protect you."

"I know. I would have done the exact same thing."


A Date with Death


I weighed my options as I stared up into that leering face, the reflections of light barely highlighting the slight features through the darkness that seemed to make up its ever shifting form. Could I shoot past it? Perhaps if I rode the silver thread, I could build up enough speed...

"No, Scipio. You're not nearly fast enough," Death answered as if it was reading my mind. While that wouldn’t have surprised me, it was also just as likely that the fear and desperation was flashing across my face like a neon sign.

I croaked out, my voice that hardly sounded like a stranger’s, "Skip. Actually, I've grown accustomed to Skip."

The greedy smile broadened impossibly wide across its darkened face. "You prefer Skip, then? That is very refreshing. I would have expected you would want me to call you Dr. Zelin. Most of your kind hold tightly, like a life preserver, to their banal little titles as though their standing in the world would impress me.” Death shifted closer, its face eye to eye with me. “I have been waiting a long time to talk with you. I'm sure you have heard this before,” it continued as I felt something brush across my back, “but a creature as special as you are do not come along very often."

"Creature?" I yelped, bridling in offense to this...thing, referring to me as though I was some new species of insect to be studied and dissected.

It laughed in a familiar way, one that I could not place. "I apologize...Skip," It rolled my name around on its tongue as though memorizing the pronunciation for future reference. Anything suggesting a future while talking with Death was oddly encouraging. However, that hope was quickly deflated as it began to speak again in a bemused, condescending tone. "I always forget how proud you humans are; so quick to offense at your pride being hurt. Always wrapped up in the idea that you are all special little snowflakes, somehow immune to your own mortality. Well, Skip, everyone accepts their fate…eventually.” It paused to rise up and tower above me, shaking a disembodied limb as if to shake a finger at me. “While I have enjoyed watching your progress, I am you have been a very naughty boy. The living were never meant to travel into the void and they were certainly not meant to return to talk about it." My mind raced at the overt threat as I worried about the unspecified consequences of my act; perhaps being dragged into some sort of hellish nightmare realm as punishment. Why hadn’t my grandmother warned me about this!

"Ummm..I…well…I didn't really see anything warning signs or anything…I mean, frankly, it was pretty much a waste of time…would…would you just accept a heartfelt apology and just forget about the whole thing? I won’t tell anyone…besides, I really have to get back…my daughter’s life depends on it..." I babbled lamely, as I made a move to edge around his suddenly expanding form.

Suddenly, I felt my body constricted and squeezed tightly, as if by a vice. Had I breath in this form, I would have been quickly been suffocated by the pressure. "Nice try, but I am afraid I cannot let you return to the land of the living. You have seen and know too much. Please understand, Skip, this is nothing personal.." I began to feel tired once again, as though I was slowly losing the energy to remain conscious. Energy! He was draining me dry. If I ceased to maintain my astral form, my body would surely die, especially since my grandmother had moved on.

"Wait...please..." I gasped as I struggled to hold my form together. It was becoming harder and harder as it continued to suck the literal life out of me. My vision began to fade as was the rest of me, when suddenly I felt the pressure release. Had I earned a reprieve?

"I know, I know; I've heard it all before. You have a family and so much left undone. You can't possibly die now," it whined in mocking tones. Despite the fact that it was true, I had to admit, it probably had heard that particular sob story before. My heart sank as I began to feel the pressure increase once again. Was this it? Had I come all this way for nothing? What would happen to Susan if I...

"However...perhaps upon further review, I may be able to make an exception." A beacon of hope flashed in my mind; with all I had suffered, I was practically willing to agree to anything at this point.

"What do you want from me?"

I stared hopefully into that disturbing lack of face as he explained the deal he was proposing. I didn't like it. Death continued, giving me the details of how I wouldn't be sacrificing anything other than a few weeks of the rest of my life. I still didn't like it, but did I really have a choice?

I grimaced and tried to block out its form as I said grudgingly, "Alright. I accept. Do you need me to sign something? In blood, perhaps?"

It guffawed loudly, echoing through the plane as it slowly backed away. "Of course not; I know you're a man of your word, Skip. Besides, nobody cheats death. At least, not in the long run."

"What about you? You're not going to change the details halfway through this, are you?"

Its features shifted in a vaguely familiar expression of pained exasperation, as it answered indignantly, "Of course not. I, too, am a man of my word."

"You're not exactly a man, now are you?"

The grotesque smile spread across its face once more as it said, "Not at the moment. Nevertheless, I will stand by the terms of our agreement. Do not worry, my new friend, it won't be nearly as bad as you think." It paused as it began to drift off to add these parting words, "In fact, you might enjoy it." With that, he appeared to dissolve into the sky until he was no more. Much to my horror, that nagging familiarity had finally clicked in my head after he left me to my own devices. I knew where I had seen those expressions it was making; I’ve been seeing them every morning in the bathroom mirror when I wake up. Was it aping my facial tics to annoy me or was it purely a copy cat where human emotions were at play? One thing was assured; I would definitely not enjoy it, when Death came to cash in his chip.

Epilogue

I stared at my computer screen with frustration and disgust as Susan’s diary password prompt continued to mock me with the same flashing message I had seen thousands of times by now, “Error. Incorrect Password. Please try again.” Sighing, I leaned back in my sturdy wooden chair, hands enfolded about the back of my neck and stared up at the ceiling. I had been tempted so many times to hand over this program to my friend Xomar to see what his security contacts could do about getting me inside, but every time I had decided not to. I probably shouldn’t even be reading it, let alone some anonymous geeky hacker violating Susan’s inner most thoughts and desires. Perhaps it was a foolish of me, but I had decided I would not violate her trust again.

It had been a week since my unsuccessful trip into the void and I was still feeling the effects. This may surprise no one, but the human body was not meant to exist without its soul for long periods of time. When I finally reentered with my consciousness, it took me days to get used to the flesh once more. My body felt like an ill-fitting suit; it was about as itchy as well. I about scared Lexie half to death when I woke up, screaming at the top of my lungs. She had been at the bedside, waiting for my return per my grandmother’s instructions, feeding energy into my slowly dying shell of body. The first thing I remember was staring at her bulging eyes as she screamed back at me in fright. We made quite a pair; I’d hate to know what the neighbors might have thought of the incident. After berating me for not trusting her with the truth of what we had planned, she wanted to know everything I had discovered. I did reveal the journal to her, but very little else. Aside from the shock of what I had experience, there were painful memories she didn’t need to know.

Ever since arriving in Ravenhurst, secrets seem to have become my stock and trade. There were so many secrets to protect, not just about Susan and my unfortunate encounter with Death, but about Lilly as well. I had finally confirmed my grandmother’s confession; it had taken some serious research and a few favors, but she seemed to be connected to the Southill Coven, very powerful family well known in our circles for their expertise at divination and prophecy. Circles within circles; everything seemed to point back to that blasted prophecy from the 17th century which seemed to pre-determine the fate of my daughter.

I was relieved to discover that the information I had uncovered about Lilly hadn’t changed my mind about our time together one bit. If there were greater forces at work bringing us together; so be it. I can’t imagine having found anyone that would have made those twenty years we spent together any happier. I’ll never be sure whether she truly felt the same about me, if it was just a duty she had to perform, but I really didn’t think it mattered. All the joys and small tragedies that we shared, the times she put up with my raging moods, took care of me when I was sick, the thoughtful messages she used to surprised me with at work on occasion. If that wasn’t love, then what is, really? My situation with Keliah was a far more thorny subject and one I didn’t have an answer for. At least not yet.

“So…this is Scipio Zelin. How…disappointing,’ a melodious voice suddenly echoed through the room. I had to catch myself before my chair tossed me headfirst onto the wooden floor of my room, then spun about to see who had invaded my space. Much to my amazement, a gigantic, majestic figure of a man stood towering above me. He appeared to be over ten feet tall, yet somehow his presence was even larger, practically encompassing the entire room. I let out a gasp as I stared up into his face; it was more beautiful than anything I had ever seen before, his perfect skin emanating a radiant glow. I was totally overwhelmed and had to take hold of the back of my chair to keep from falling to my knees.

“Who…what…I mean…” I babbled incoherently for a moment, still unable to tear my eyes from this perfect specimen standing before me. A pleasant and bemused smile spread across his face, displaying a dazzling row of perfect teeth. He seemed pleased at my stupefied confusion as though there was any other way I could have possibly reacted to his majestic form. As I began to recover from the shock, I began to study his face a bit more intently and noticed a slight disfigurement that marred the perfect vision. He was wearing what looked to be a small crystal plate across one eye, the edge of a thin scar barely peeking out of the bottom. What a shame, I thought to myself. That such a face as that be ruined by…wait a minute. A missing eye due to what appeared to be a piercing wound? Perhaps by a small, ceremonial dagger in the shaky hands of a astral projecting professor way in over his head? No…it had to be coincidence, right?

His smile faded as he noticed what I was staring at, a slight grimace played along his lips as he self consciously reached a finger to tap on the plate covering his damaged eye. “Admiring your handiwork, I see. It’s quite the tragedy that such an insignificant piece of cosmic debris could inflict this injury on me, but even a virus can bring down a king. I assure you, this was a fluke, never to be repeated by either you or your daughter.”

I tried to swallow, but suddenly found my mouth as dry as a desert. “But..but...how is that possible? That incident in the void…it barely happened a few weeks ago…”

He sneered with his straight, full lips as he leaned in closer, focusing a glittering eye on me. I suddenly felt as insignificant and worthless as I ever had in my relatively short existence, his presence overpowering my senses. “Your puny little mind doesn’t have the ability to understand what you did back there. You’re like a monkey with a hand grenade, slamming it on a rock in hopes of comprehending its complexity.”

Well, then. Mighty and magnificent he might be, I was really starting to tire of all the insults and condescension flung my way. I pushed away from the desk and onto my feet. “Who are you? What are you?”

He considered me for a moment, that dazzling eye darting back and forth, then deigned to answer, “Why…a god, of course. At least to your pitiful excuse for a race of barely evolved apes. I’ve been known by many names; Odhinn, Horus, Quetzalcoatl just to name a few. I’ve worn many faces depending on my whims, ruled and dominated more worlds and civilizations than you can possibly comprehend. Now, I find myself in this sorry excuse for a hovel talking to the livestock.”

Okay, he was just being an asshole at this point. I found what little courage I had left and took a step towards him, practically shouting, “Are you going to talk me to death? I will apologize for nothing; I was protecting myself. If anyone is to blame, it was you for laying your hands on me. So go ahead, do whatever it is you’ve come to do.” I paused for a moment in the middle of my death wish as my perception of the situation took an unlikely turn. I almost missed it; it was such a small move, practically imperceptible to my eye, but it was there. He had flinched backwards as I approached. It was a small move, but it told me all needed to know. “You can’t touch me, can you? You, with all your grandiose words and god like powers, I’m still out of your reach. So, why did you come then? To try and threaten me with endless droning monologues about how awesome you are?”

The transformation was instantaneous; suddenly, the beautiful man towering above me was a dark, bird like beast, expanding impossibly large within my small cottage, the walls seemingly shifting out of focus until all I could see, sense, or smell was the awesome power directing all its anger at me. My knees gave out as I tumbled to the floor in sheer terror, edging back until my back was pressed up against my desk. I shut my eyes tightly as it began an assault on all my senses, hissing with fury, “You arrogant little man! Yes, it is true I cannot touch you at the moment; a situation that may not remain indefinitely I might add. But I can touch everything around you. Your brother, your nephew and niece, your friends at the university, I can take them all! I can raze Ravenhurst from the Earth! Anything you hold dear, I can destroy until you’re begging me to end your pitiful existence!”

I lay there for a moment, curled up in a fetal position and wondering at how I had managed to survive as long as I had with such poor decision making skills, when the energy directed my way began to subside. I cracked an eye open and looked up with relief to see the terrifying beast been replaced by his more pleasant shape. He stared down at me, a sneer playing on his perfect features, no doubt at my craven reaction. Apparently, I wasn’t immune to all his powers and he wanted me to realize this. Point taken, I would say.

“However, I have no desire to do these things. Playing with your kind was fun at one time, but I have tired of that game. All I want is to be left alone. I’ve come to ask you to forget about all that you have been told about the prophecy and leave your daughter well enough alone.”

“No.” I said simply as I began to straighten up once again, staring up at his face with what I hoped was a determined look.

He practically started, turning an incredulous eye at me as he blurted out, “No? I offer to forgive your offenses to me for a small favor and you refuse me?”

“You’ve asked me to do something that I cannot. I swore that I would find Susan and nothing will stop me now; not even a god. I don’t know how accurate this prophecy is nor do I care; I want no part in any of this battle between cosmic forces. I just want my daughter back, safe and sound, so she can live as normal a life as she can.”

He inclined his head back, as if seeing me for the first time as he said simply, “You’re a very strange man, Scipio.”

I threw up my hands as I asked, “What does it matter what I say, anyways? You’re supposed to be able to bend space and time to your whim; why don’t you already know what my actions are? Shouldn’t you have been able to see that already?”

He remained silent for a moment as if shocked by the question. “It’s not that simple. It’s far more complicated…”

“…than a pea sized brain like mine could hope to comprehend with all the energy I spend not pissing my pants. I get it; you’re great and powerful. Why are you so concerned with what I think or do?”

He moved closer as he seemed to almost deflate in size and soon we were face to face. “You’re an anomaly in the universe. For now, your future is completely unknown to me; it’s a black hole of uncertainty.”

“So, you have no idea what I will do, then? Nor are you sure if this prophecy will really result in your death? That must be frustrating situation for a being such as you, unsure about the future or your own mortality. Why, it must almost make you feel…human.”

He snarled at me, flashing his dazzling white teeth in my face, then rose back up to his more impressive size. “You are truly fortunate that I cannot foresee your future, else we would not be having this conversation. I see what a stubborn, foolish little creature you are; there is nothing left to say. You best pray that the situation does not change.”

I stood there silently, having no wish to anger him further. I had enough problems as it was; now I had managed to add an angry god to add to that list. Besides, what good were prayers at this point? Should I pray to some unknown powers that did not care whether I lived or died? My grandmother told me she had faith in me to find Susan; perhaps it was best to start there. I had placed my faith in her ability to get me back home, now I needed to repay that trust. I turned back to my desk and took my seat once again. “I’ve found prayers are a cold comfort; I’ll be putting my faith in myself and those around me. If that is all, I hope you will excuse me, for I have a job to do.”

A small chuckle trickled out from behind me, slowly expanded into a booming laugh. “Your kind is so unpredictable, full of false pride far beyond its ability. I had forgotten how much fun you humans were. Very well, Scipio, I will leave you to your…job.’ As I turned once more to stare at him in surprise, he tapped a finger to his eye patch and said with a malicious smile playing at the corners of his mouth, “I’ll be keeping an eye on you.”

“Skip? Are you alright in there? Who are you talking to?”

I blinked, then turned towards the door to answer my roommate. “No one…sorry Lexie; I was just talking to myself again.”

“Crazy old man…” I could hear her mutter as she stomped back into the living room. He was gone of course; vanished before I had been able to open my mouth. It was better that she think I’m a crazy old man than draw attention from a malevolent god; she probably would have started flirting and asked him out. Worse still, I could have seen him accepting, just to screw with me. I sighed as I turned back to my small laptop screen, hoping that I had seen the last of his kind, at least for a while. There were enough supernatural beings running rampant in Ravenhurst; we hardly needed more of them. Then again, while they seemed to be a mixture of arrogance and cruelty, a true bane on mankind’s existence, I had to admit; at least he had a sense of humor about it.
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