Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 17

Where am I?” Gwynivara lifted her heavy eyelids, and all she could see was a dark, stone ceiling. Her body felt totally drained, and her mind struggled to regain its focus. The last thing she remembered was fleeing from a menacing adversary and a chaotic scene. She didn’t remember falling asleep, so she had no idea where she was waking up. Her strength slowly returned, her mind began to race, and her natural curiosity compelled her to find out what happened.

A very hoarse voice croaked, “You’re alive, and you’re home!”

That voice sounded so familiar to her, but its scratchy tone made it so hard to decipher. Whoever he was, he sounded sick. That thought instantly made her think she was in a hospital, but the man stated clearly that she was home. She thought furiously- she knew that voice! Suddenly, a light bulb went off in her head. She felt almost sure it was…but it couldn’t be…She bolted out of bed and whipped her head to the right. Sure enough, it was Emorick! He barely had his eyes open, but he craned his head towards her and smiled weakly.

Gwynivara’s heart skipped a beat, and her impulses wanted her to dart over there and give him a big hug, but when she tried, she found herself bound to the bed. She then realized that she had an IV bag in her, so she gingerly took it out, threw it aside, and dashed to his bedside. “I’m so glad you’re okay!” She almost hugged him, but she hesitated. He wasn’t moving much, and he emitted this overwhelming aura that something was still very wrong.

Emorick made a skeptical face but didn’t express his doubts. Instead, he asked her, “What are you doing here?”

“Well, um…” Gwynivara didn’t know how to explain it to him, especially since she had a hard time understanding it herself. She started off with what she did know, “So, you saw that the new police force has been infiltrated by pawns of the origin. We figured out that they’re trying to spread the disease faster, and our theory became clearer when they set the quarantine building on fire. Some of the victims escaped, but instead of dispersing and creating more monsters to infect more people, we intercepted them. One of them was Chief Forsythe’s daughter, and she has us pretty convinced that he is ignorant of his crew’s true intentions. There’s no way that those dirty cops are bringing the creatures back to the police headquarters, so they must be storing them wherever the origin is hiding. So, we made a goal of tracking the beasts, and Cody helped me realize that the best way to do that would be…” She hesitated at this point. She had no idea how Emorick would react to her plan. She would hate to see the look of disappointment on his face if he viewed her tactics as foolhardy, but he stared at her expectantly, so she knew she had to tell the truth. “…tracking devices.”

Emorick’s initial reaction was surprise. “Wow! Well, that certainly would work, but the only way we could could our hands on it would be to…” He saw her face twist in guilt, and he remarked, “You didn’t!”

“We did!” Gwynivara’s face flushed from her mortification. “We stated a hippie protest to distract the military supply store workers while Kierram found it in the aisles.”

Gwynivara fully expected to hear a lecture about her recklessness, but instead, to her astonishment, Emorick laughed as heartily as his body would let him. “You got guts, kiddo! It’s a miracle you didn’t get caught!”

“We did!” Gwynivara revealed. “The orderly that survived the incident at the Public Health Center is now a cop, and he threatened to kill Kierram. I couldn’t let him do that, so I channeled my Venenatus Sanguis to shoot electricity at him!”

Emorick appeared pleasantly shocked to hear this. “You did that?”

“Kierram started to teach me,” Gwynivara admitted. “We wanted to send data gathered from the tracking device to your orb to track down the origin.”

“That’s impressive,” Emorick complimented, which really rallied up Gwynivara’s spirits. “Only really strong people can fully control their Venenatus Sanguis. It takes a hell of a lot of focus and energy.”

“That’s why I’m here!” Gwynivara felt so vindicated to hear this information, but she witnessed Emorick using his enchantments without collapsing, so she thought it prudent to ask, “How do you do it without fainting?”

He weakly replied, “Black coffee helps.” He let out a guttural cough, and Gwynivara’s heart sank a little. She waited so long for him to get a little better, and now that he showed some progress, she couldn’t bear the thought of him regressing back to ill health. He feebly told her, “Your plan is solid. Keep up the good work!”

She knew what this sounded like, and she refused to accept it. “No! You’re better now; It’s your Rebellion; you’re in charge again!”

“I can’t…not right now…” Emorick coughed again. “Take care of Kierram for me, okay?” He glanced over to Gwynivara, who’s eyes were brimming with tears. “Don’t worry about me! Our people need you right now, go to them!” He noticed that she couldn’t or wouldn’t move, so he mustered the strength to tell her. “That’s an order!”

It registered to Gwynivara that the Rebellion general had indeed given her an order and she had to obey his command. “Yes, sir!” He weakly smiled at her. She requested, “Please get better!” Emorick’s fingers made the okay sign, but his face still showed a lot of doubt. It was hard to leave his side, but she knew she had to. As soon as she got out of his eyesight, she wiped the tears from her eyes. She walked down the hall trying to think only positive thoughts about Emorick’s recovery. She had to- she had a job to do!

Riley sat at the island in the kitchen and looked at notes while he ate pancakes when Gwynivara walked in. “Oh good, you’re awake!”

“Sort of!” Gwynivara poured some coffee and took a sip right away. She wasn’t used to black coffee and shuddered a little. “Now I’m awake!”

Riley laughed, and then he suggested. “You must be famished! I have some extra pancakes- help yourself!” Gwynivara didn’t feel hungry, but she couldn’t recall the last time she ate anything, so she thought she ought to eat something. As soon as sat down and took a bite, she realized that she was starving and starting wolfing down her food. Riley raised an eyebrow in surprise but smiled in amusement. “No need to ask if you like them!” Her mouth was too full of food to say anything, but she nodded in agreement. Riley chuckled.

At that moment, Cody walked into the kitchen in a sort of daze. He seemed surprised to see people in the room and looked tempted to shy away, but Riley greeted him, “Morning! Want some pancakes?”

“Alright.” Cody slumped into a chair next to Riley. Gwynivara, who was already up to get seconds, made him a plate and served it to him. Riley and Gwynivara dove right in, but Cody sighed before taking a bite. Riley and Gwynivara started at him inquisitively. Cody apologized, “Sorry! I just feel so blue today!”

Riley reacted jokingly, “A depressed teenager- how cliché!” Cody gave him a slightly offended look, so he changed tactics, “Alright, let’s hear it.”

“Well, it’s just…I…” Cody stammered. “Okay, so I think I have a crush on Rebekah!”

Gwynivara inquired, “So, why does that make you sad?”

“Because I’m a bum!” Cody lamented. “She’s a beautiful girl, why would a girl like that want me?”

“Oh, sweetie, we all feel that way when we like someone!” Riley said sagely. “We never feel like we’re good enough. But don’t sell yourself short! You have a home here, so you and her are in the same boat. But you’ve got the hero aspect going on. Tell her all about how you selflessly rescued a marine officer and she’ll be all over you!”

Cody looked nervously skeptical about that idea. “I don’t know…”

“You don’t have to propose to her!” Riley responded. “Just be her friend. Most romances start out that way.”

“Really? Okay…” Cody’s mood seem to embolden a little. “I can do that!”

“Of course you can!” Riley replied. “Now, go on, eat up!”

Cody gave him a look of admiration. “You’re a father, aren’t you?”

“How’d you know?” Riley asked.

Cody shrugged. “That’s just how I always pictured it’d be like to have a normal dad. Your kids are so lucky!”

Riley’s usual swagger diminished a little. “My son wants nothing to do with me.” Cody reacted in astonishment, so Riley explained, “I spent my whole life trying to pretend to be something I’m not. Once I turned forty-five, I realized that while I was doing good on pleasing everyone else, I spent the first half of my life unhappy, so I told everyone the truth. They all got upset, and my wife took our son and left. My son still won’t talk to me. He’s too ashamed to have a gay dad.”

“That’s terrible!” Cody exclaimed. “Who cares who your parents date- as long as they’re happy! I wish that was my biggest problem! My mom’s boyfriend won’t stop beating her, and no one cares! I called the cops a few times, but they never arrested him. She would lie and say nothing happened every time! The rest of my family would just let it happen, saying it was her choice to live like that. He almost killed her the last time! I couldn’t take it anymore and ran away. I’d rather live on the streets than deal with that. Your son has no idea how lucky he has it!” Riley was clearly touched by his speech, but he couldn’t speak. Cody suddenly felt awkward, so he clumsily tried to change the subject, “Great pancakes!”

“Thank you!” Riley said gratefully.

Gwynivara watched this scene unfold and got a little choked up herself. Before she could react, Beranadette walked in. “Hey guys, we’re ready to…Ooh, pancakes!”

Riley informed her, “Sorry, hon! Gwyn got the last ones!”

With a mix of betrayal and amusement, Bernadette stared at Gwynivara, who chomped on the last bite mockingly. The two women locked eyes for a while, but soon both burst out into laughter. Bernadette told them, “Everyone’s ready for the officers’ meeting.”

Gwynivara responded casually, “Everyone? Does that mean Kennith came back?”

Bernadette and Riley shifted uncomfortably, exchanging worried glances. Bernadette slowly revealed, “Kennith isn’t coming back.”

“He’s dead?” Gwynivara’s heart plummeted. She never liked him, but he was an officer and one of her people, so the thought made her incredibly sad.

“No,” Bernadette stated ruefully, “It’s much worse than that…”

Advertisements

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 16

Concentrate!” Kierram’s voice echoed through the training room as he gave Gwynivara direction. She stood before him with her eyes closed and her hand clasped tightly onto the lustrous orb. “Send all of your energy to what you want to happen.”

“I’m trying!” Gwynivara’s voice cracked a little when she spoke.

Kierram gently instructed, “Ignore any thought that says you can’t do this! Take a deep breath and really feel it in your core!”

Gwynivara took a deep breath and turned off her thoughts for a moment. She listened to her heart pouding, and after a while, she could feel a vibrant fore pulsating through her veins. She sent her entire focus on everything going to the orb, which she held in her left hand. That entire arm tingled as it quickly flowed to the purple glass. Suddenly, the orb lit up and became very warm very quickly! She opened her eyes as it emitted a couple of sparks. Automatically, she opened her palm and dropped it. Kierram caught it before it hit the ground. “Sorry!” Gwynivara was alarmed from how breathy her voice sounded, and then she realized that she felt pretty physically drained.

“Are you okay?” Kierram’s eyes swept over her left arm, looking for marks. Gwynivara had to take a deep breath, but she nodded. Kierram let her catch her breath and saved her from the effort of speaking by checking for injuries himself. He brought her left hand to his eye level and examined it. Once it seemed like she was breathing normally again, he asked her, “Is that what you were trying to do?”

“No!” Gwynivara shamefully admitted. “I was too busy trying to send energy to it that I forgot to tell it what to do!”

“Don’t beat yourself up! You made something happen, and that’s a start.” Kierram assured her, which made her smile gratefully. Gwynivara noticed that Kierram still had her hand, and he rubbed his thumb across her palm. “It’s still warm! You’ve got a lot of potential there. Be careful!”

“Well, obviously!” Gwynivara sassed him, grinning while she did so.

“Okay, wise guy!” Kierram playfully threw her hand back at her. Gwynivara chuckled, and Kierram had a very toothy smile. Gwynivara relished in the fact that his mood was light enough to render such a reaction. It was quite the change from when they first met, and she hoped that it would last, especially because he had such a great smile. At that point, she became very aware of how close they stood to each other. She would have stepped aside for anyone else, but for a reason she couldn’t explain, she stayed rooted to the spot. She thought it should feel awkward right now, but it actually felt very natural. For a brief moment, they didn’t move or think, they were simply gazing at each other.

The spell was over as fast as it came. The training room door opened, and officers began to pour in. They stepped apart in order to assume their roles in this upcoming meeting. Gwynivara silently wondered what just happened, but she quickly dismissed it, reasoning that this sort of enchantment involved a lot of high emotions, which will always leave a strange effect in people. She saw Bernadette’s eyes flash a shade of twinkling, which made her decide that practicing before meetings were a terrible idea, especially today’s session. The Rebels would soon embark on a dangerous mission, and she needed everyone’s mind on its serious nature.

Once the majority of the officers had assembled, Gwynivara noticed something different about the group. “Where’s Kennith?”

The other officers looked around to confirm that Kennith had not shown up. They looked to each other for explanation but answered with a shrug. Riley flipped through the notes on his clipboard and told her, “Officers have been trickling in all night. Jose came in a few minutes ago actually.” Jose nodded to acknowledge the accuracy of this statement. “Let’s see…nope. I don’t have a record of Kennith returning. He could still turn up.”

“While we’re out, keep an eye out for him,” Gwynivara ordered. “If he doesn’t return within a couple of hours, form a search party.”

“I take it we’re going on a mission?” Bernadette inquired.

“Yes,” Gwynivara replied. “To pull it off, we’ll have to evaluate our newcomers and recruit as many officers as possible. After that, we’re gonna need a hell of a lot of disguises…”

Inside a military supply store, one worker sat behind a glass case of guns and played solitaire while another worker perpendicular from him sat behind a cash register while reading a newspaper and eating a donut. The shop is small, but since it was totally empty, every time one man flipped a card or turned a page, it echoed. The man playing solitaire gave a bored sigh. As the man with the newspaper flipped a page, he noticed a moving mass out of the corner of his eye. At first, he dismissed it and kept reading. After it registered in his head that this was an unusual sight, he lowered down his newspaper and squinted his eyes to see what it was. He could tell it was a group of people, but he couldn’t see who they were or what they were doing. He told his coworker, “Hey Ed, can you take a look outside?”

The man playing solitaire seemed confused but complied. “What the hell?” He could see that they were coming closer, and once he got a better clue of what was going on, he reacted repulsively, “Oh no!” He flung his cards down and stepped out from behind the counter just as they burst in.

A group of hippies chanted angrily and held up protest signs as they filled the store. The man with the newspaper barked, “Hey! You need to leave! This is private property!”

Bernadette responded, “No way, man! You’re encouraging violence and destroying the planet!” The rest of the Rebel officers vehemently agreed with her.

The disguised officers spread across the front of the store, shaking displays and knocking items down. The two clerks were so distracted by their chaos that they didn’t notice Kierram sneaking through the aisles and searching through the shelves. After a minute, he found the box he was looking for. He stashed it inside a wooden guitar case and dashed back to the crowd. He shouted, “Make love, not war!” The rest of the officers began to shout that too and started to pile out of the store.

Gwynivara expected them to head back to the Rebel headquarters without much fuss, but she knew trouble could be lurking around any corner. What she didn’t expect was to encounter it as soon as she left the store! A police officer pointed a gun at them and commanded, “Freeze!” Everyone stopped and put their hands in the air. The policeman radioed for backup, and the Rebel officers waited calmly. They had been prepared for this to happen eventually, and even though they didn’t know it’d be this soon, they weren’t too worried. “You dirty hippies are under-!”

“We didn’t do anything wrong!” Gwynivara interrupted him. “We made our point and left. There’s no law against that!” The other officers expressed their agreement with this point.

The policeman eyed them suspiciously, but after a moment, he reluctantly stated, “Fine. You’re free to go. But if I hear you guys causing trouble in this town again, your asses are all going to jail.” He picked up his radio and ruefully said, “Dispatch, this is two-four-five. Go ahead and cancel back up.”

As the Rebels started to leave, another police car showed up. The policeman immediately jumped out and brandished a knife. “Freeze! Don’t move!”

The other officer remarked, “What are you doing? I just canceled backup!”

The policeman ignored him and circled the bunch like a bird of prey closing in on their hunt. “All of you, hands up!” Everyone complied, but worry began to set in as his behavior became more and more unhinged. When he passed Gwynivara, she instantly recognized him as the surviving orderly! She now understood what sparked his behavior at the moment, but it didn’t help much. She thought furiously of a way to get out of this situation before he eliminated the threat on behalf of the origin!

The mad officer noticed that Kierram only had one hand up. “Put down that guitar!”

“Screw you!” Kierram spat.

The rogue policeman’s lip curled, and he brandished his knife, ready to strike. Gwynviara had always felt protective of her people, but something about seeing Kierram in harm’s way woke up her primal instincts. Before he could strike, she stepped out and seethed, “Leave him alone!”

The policeman, amused by her audacity, strolled over to her. “Sup babie! Allow me to introduce myself- I am the law! What I say goes- ya dig?”

“That man is also the law.” Gwynivara pointed to the other policeman, who looked too scared and confused to move. “He let us go, so you need to leave!”

The malicious officer stepped up to her face and growled, “I’m not going anywhere!”

Gwynivara could see his face twisting in thought. She inferred that him being this close to her allowed him to see past her disguise and stirred up some memories for him. She couldn’t let him identify her, and with fresh rage still pulsing through her veins, she acted swiftly. “Yes, you are!” She felt the heat of the moment surging through her body, and she quickly sent it to her fingertips. Purple sparks beamed electricity at him, sending him flying backwards! The Rebel officers were shocked, but the other policeman as well as the spectators who had gathered couldn’t even fathom what just took place! Gwynivara suddenly felt drained and almost collapsed. Kierram and Bernadette caught her, and everyone ran away before anyone else tried anything on them.

The green skinned woman awoke suddenly from her sleep. She immediately dug inside her dress pocket and pulled out a green orb. She needed confirmation! When she saw the orderly policeman unconscious and laying on a newspaper stand with papers scattered everywhere and electricity still popping up on his body, she knew that this could only mean one thing. Outraged, she let out a blood-curling scream!

Gwynivara jerked out of her sleep and let out a gasp. Bernadette covered her mouth and whispered, “Shh! We’re almost there!”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 15

No one spoke for several moments. Just when the tension reached its thickest, Bernadette cut the silence by shouting, “God, I hate that man!” Everyone’s attention shifted over to her as she ranted, “What he’s done to our people is bad enough, but this is his child! How could he? How could he? Was he hoping to get his baby murdered?”

“No way!” Rebekah refuted her claim.

Bernadette felt a twinge of guilt and apologized, “Look, sorry kid! I know that’s not something you wanna hear about your parents, but-.”

“No, it’s not that,” Rebekah explained, “If he was guilty, I’d be the first one to throw him under the bus, but my dad was a regular Dudley Do-Right. He joined the police force to save lives, and it always got under his skin when someone got away with murder. He’s been like that all my life. I mean, for the last year and a half I’ve been in quarantine, and even though I haven’t seen him, I know he’s still the same way. He’s so obsessed with finding the cure ‘cause he misses me so much. The only time I ever heard him wanting someone dead was to the thieves who took the research from the Public Health Center. They had some insight about where the disease came from, and it all went missing! Daddy said with so many people dying from Venenatus Sanguis that when he arrested the people behind the theft, he’d charge them with murder and seek the death penalty. My dad’s a good man. All he wants to do is help.”

Everyone looked stunned by her revelation. She seemed to be honest and would have no reason to lie to them. Kierram remarked, “No wonder he put us on the most wanted list! He believed the orderlies’ story about what went down that day.”

Riley pondered, “But if Chief Forsythe is so adamant about finding a cure, why did the fireman say he ordered the quarantine escapees to be returned dead or alive?”

“He didn’t,” Gwynivara concluded. “Chief Forsythe is grief-stricken and has tunnel vision. The origin sensed his vulnerability and took advantage of it. He created this new police force out of desperation. He has no idea what they’re doing or what they’re capable of! That just makes these henchman that much more dangerous!” She turned to the newcomers, particularly focusing on Rebekah, and informed them, “This Rebellion’s mission is to find the cure and to stop the individual who’s responsible for creating it. You’re free to live your life here, and you have the support of people who have the disease too and know what you’re going through. You have a little more freedom and a lot less judgment. You’re welcome to stay until we find the cure!”

John commented, “Thank God! We can walk around more!”

Max added, “And no more experiments!”

“Experiments?” Gwynivara questioned.

Max explained, “They fed us different drugs, not cures, more like mood stabilizers and ways to ease the pain.”

“None of it worked,” John put in. “They made me feel worse.” The other quarantine victims agreed.

Gwynivara felt horrified by what she learned just now. She couldn’t believe that the quarantine medical team would experiment on their victims without their consent! She didn’t want to picture any of the negative side effects that they had to endure, so she turned her focus onto what was happening at this moment. “Well, I know you’ve all had a long night. Every night for a long time, right? We’ll get you guys situated in rooms, and we’ll go over the rules in the morning. Don’t worry, there’s not a whole lot! Riley here has the inventory of all the available spaces. If you need anything, come find me. I’m Gwyn, by the way, and I’m in charge, for now. Anyways, get some rest, and we’ll see you all in the morning!”

The newcomers gathered by Riley, who immediately took to having an organizational role. Gwynviara felt pleased by this. She also enjoyed seeing the rest of the Rebels heading to their rooms unprompted. A few lingered to introduce themselves to the quarantine victims, and that made her smile a little. She decided to head to her room to plan out the day tomorrow. She didn’t count how many additional people now resided here, but she would need to find out what kind of part they would play whether it would be volunteering at one of the shops or if anyone was suited to become an officer. She was about to walk out until Cody came up to her. “What’s going on, Cody?”

Cody told her, “So, I noticed a daily inventory sheet of the arsenal, but I couldn’t get it open. Do you have the key?’

It had never occurred to her that Emorick had kept the weapons locked up in his room until now. It made sense, but she remembered Riley bringing swords to them when they were battling the beasts, so she assumed the public had access to them. “Hang on.” She went over to Riley and gently interrupted his flow by tapping his shoulder. He switched his attention to her, and she asked him, “Do you have the key to the arsenal?”

“Oh, no. I put it back in Emorick’s pocket.” As soon as he answered her, he returned his attention to the commotion in front of him. Gwynivara realized that retrieving the key would mean seeing Emorick’s body barely clinging to life. This wasn’t something she wanted to see again. She wanted to preserve the image of him feeling strong and happy, and she had really hoped that he’d be awake and coherent the next time she saw him. But the Rebellion certainly couldn’t go through any length of time without access to their weapons, so she resolved herself to the fact that she would have to see him in that grave state.

Cody followed behind her as she headed to the first aid room. He conversed, “If Rebekah wrote to her father every day, how come he didn’t put a stop to all of the horrible things that happened in quarantine?”

Gwynivara mulled it over for a moment, and she came up with, “She either didn’t tell him everything to protect his feelings, or the truth was too horrible for him to accept.”

“Do you think having the police chief’s daughter here will make it more dangerous?” Cody probed. “I mean, Chief Forsythe will totally freak out when he realizes his daughter is missing!”

“Her presence here is no more dangerous than having three most wanted criminals!” Gwynivara replied. “Not unless she has a tracking device…” Suddenly, inspiration struck her. She had a plan that seemed a little far fetched, but she would have to consult an expert to see if it was plausible.

Her attention immediately swayed to Emorick’s limp, unconscious body. “He still hasn’t woken up?” Gwynivara asked the medic watching over him.

The medic’s full attention had been on Emorick, so her sudden company jerked him out of his torpor. “I saw some movement from his eyelids. I think he’s trying to.”

“Of course he is!” Gwynivara responded. “He’s a fighter!” Even though her voice portrayed confidence, her gut wrenched seeing him in this condition. She felt like if his health were getting better that he would have shown more improvement than this. She didn’t dare mention this opinion, hoping she was wrong. “I need to get a key from his pocket.”

“Oh, okay.” The medic moved out of the way for her.

It was weird to dig through someone’s pocket like that! It felt like she was invading his privacy by doing this, but what choice did she have? She felt something round, smooth, and cold to the touch. She pulled it out of his pocket, and she realized that it was the orb. The memory of its ability was impressive enough, and a chill went down her spine just thinking about what omnipotent powers it could contain. She almost put it back, but an overwhelming instinct compelled her to keep it. She didn’t understand all that it did, but she did recall that he played an important video related to his investigation of the origin, so she reasoned that as acting leader of the Rebellion, she must hold on to it. She quickly dove into Emorick’s pocket and retrieved the key as she slipped the orb into her pocket. “Got it! Let’s go.” She nodded to the medic, who nodded back. After this silent goodbye, they headed out. Cody and Gwynivara made more small talk on the way to their rooms, but she didn’t remember any of it. Her mind stayed transfixed on the orb in her pocket, and the wheels in her head were turning about its potential.

She handed Cody the key and said goodnight. As soon as he closed the door, Gwynivara knocked on the door next to his and entered without getting an answer. She couldn’t wait. She had the strangest feeling, and a nervous excitement bubbled at the pit of her stomach. She had apparently walked into Kierram laying on his bed staring at the ceiling. He got up and could sense the peculiar mood that Gwynivara was in, so he inquired, “What’s going on?”

“How hard would it be to find a tracking device?” Gwynivara asked him.

He seemed a little taken aback by her question, but at the same time, he knew she wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, so he considered it carefully. “It’s not really in commercial use. The military are the only ones using them, so Fort Croga would be the place to look. Maybe a military supply store. Why? What are you-?”

“Could you connect one to this?” Gwynivara took the orb out of her pocket and displayed it on her hand so that Kierram could see it.

Instantly recognizing this object, Kierram nodded. “Yes it could.”

“How does it work?” She stared at it curiously. If she hadn’t already seen its ability, she would think that it was merely a beautiful piece of glass. She knew better though, and it was important to the mission to find out how to use it.

Kierram told her, “You have to hone your Venenatus Sanguis enchantments into it.”

“Can you teach me how to do that?”

“Absolutely!”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 14

What are you talking about?” Alarm bells went off in Gwynivara’s head after Riley announced such an ominous predicament, but the details were too vague for her to take any immediate action. She needed more details, but Riley seemed too rattled to speak. After his instincts got the words out, he started to shut down. Gwynivara could tell that something traumatic had happened, so it was imperative that Riley got the words out. “Riley, what happened?” Riley couldn’t speak; he just shook his head. “Are people hurt?” Riley was practically shaking. “Who’s attacking them?” Riley tried to utter an answer but couldn’t. Gwynivara knew time could be of the essence, so she lost her patience with him and shouted, “Riley, talk to me now!”

Riley’s common sense snapped into place. The Rebel officers were all rapt with attention as he revealed, “The policemen! They set the quarantine on fire! I hid in the bushes until it was safe. As soon as I knew they couldn’t see me, I ran here. Half the building was in flames! Before I got too far though, I heard…”

He had trouble finishing his account, so Gwynivara leveled with him, “Riley, I know it’s tough, but if you really believe we need to go help, you gotta keep talking! So far, I’m inclined to let the fire department handle it.”

“The firemen said…” Riley exclaimed, “There were too many victims escaping for them to contain them all. Dozens of quarantine residents are missing, but someone said Chief Forsythe considered them a threat to public safety! The police were ordered to bring them back dead or alive! But they were laughing- like ‘Why would we bring them back alive?’ They’re offering a reward for their capture, so even the public is looking for them!”

“Wait, wait, wait!” Gwynivara reacted. “Chief Forsythe ordered the quarantine victims to be found dead or alive, and then they ask for the public’s help?”

“My god!” Bernadette commented. “They just gave the whole city a license to kill!”

“Let’s go find them before they do!” one officer declared. Most of his colleagues agreed and were ready to go.

“Wait!” Kierram called out to them. “We can’t just run out there while everyone has a blood lust! Do you forget that we’re all on a list of quarantine evaders? Then me, Bernadette, and Gwyn are on a most wanted list! They’re probably expecting us to go help the escapees! This is probably a trap!”

Kennith sneered, “So, we’re supposed to just let them die? What kind of marine were you?”

This cut deep for Kierram, and he chested up to Kennith, who didn’t back down. Gwynivara stood between them and yelled, “Hey! Hey! Hey! Stop it! This isn’t helping!” Kierram and Kennith begrudgingly stepped away from each other. Once they separated, Gwynivara addressed everyone, “Kennith did bring up a good point- Kierram was a marine.” She turned to Kierram and asked, “What would you guys have done if a unit was in trouble?”

Kierram looked surprised to get asked this. Gwynivara knew that his past, especially his military experience, was a touchy subject for him. She hoped that he wouldn’t explode from her asking him to share some of his memories, but she genuinely felt he was the best person to get advice from at this moment. Without Emorick’s keen insight, Kierram probably had the most knowledge of how to survive in a crisis of this level. Kierram thought back to his days as a soldier and after a moment, he told them, “We would look at the maps and pinpoint areas where the enemy might ambush us.”

One officer mused, “We don’t really know where they would all go, but anywhere we could think of, they will too. Maybe we should take a look at the maps and figure some back routes.”

Another officer added, “We also need to figure out a way to smuggle dozens of people to our headquarters without anyone seeing where we’re going.”

“Do we have any maps?” Gwynivara asked the officers.

“Tons!” Kennith ran to a small closet and retrieved half a dozen different maps. Gwynivara felt grateful for his change of attitude, but she still detected a sense of urgency in his manners. He quickly plopped the maps in front of her as if he wanted to plan this out as fast as possible. Something about this incident really rattled him! He had always had an abrasive attitude, so to see his swagger disappear like that actually worried her. She paid astute attention to him as he explained, “We were marking down where we found Venenatus Sanguis attack victims to see if we could triangulate an area for the origin, but it got to be too much, so we haven’t been keeping up with it.”

Gwynivara unfurled each map one at a time to see which one would be most helpful. She came across one map that had various factories, stores, and charitable organizations with footnotes on what was there and how to get it. Bernadette explained, “That’s a resource guide. It’s how we got supplies for the Rebel Headquarters.”

“Makes sense.” Gwynivara had always been curious about that, and although it felt satisfying to get that question answered, she didn’t think any of this would help at the moment. Before she put it away, something caught her eye. She noticed a bakery factory with a label that read: ‘Trucks, easy to hot wire.’ Suddenly, inspiration struck her. “I’ve got an idea!”

A young woman ran down the street paying no mind to the puddles she had been sloshing through. She paused to catch her breath, and in the distance, she could hear splashing behind her, which made her cringe. She knew they weren’t far behind her! If she could hear them, they could hear her, so she knew she had to get out of the rain. She spotted an alleyway between two restaurants, and the one on the left-hand side had a fire escape staircase whose landing was solid enough to provide some cover. She dashed to it and hid amongst the trash bags next to a dumpster bin. She didn’t move a muscle or make a sound hoping they would just overlook this area and continue their hunt somewhere else. She sat still and listened, ready to hear them pass by. She knew then she would have mere seconds to run…

But run to where? she wondered. She couldn’t stay in Great Dismal Falls with her father being who he was. She was too recognizable, especially with the red hair. It mirrored his image too closely to be a coincidence. Going back to quarantine wasn’t an option, she refused that idea! But if she kept running, sooner or later, she would get caught, and she didn’t think she would survive this time. She heard footsteps drawing closer, and dread began to fill her body. Then, she heard footsteps coming from the opposite direction. At first, she thought danger would seek her out from both directions, but as the second set of footprints grew closer, she sensed something different about them. They were softer, slower, and something else that she couldn’t quite put her finger on…

She heard the second set of footprints stop close by, and she dared to take a peak. She saw two women in delivery uniforms searching the alley with a tall, empty crate. The pale skinned woman pointed directly at her hiding spot just as she heard the dangerous footsteps grow closer. The two ladies tipped the crate down, and one of them hissed, “Get in!” She didn’t know why, but her instincts told her to trust them. She sped to the crate and slid inside in a flash. The two women tipped the crate back up and quickly sealed it up. She could hear her hunters approach just as the women finished, so she held her breath and silently prayed that the two ladies would drive them away.

Gwynivara could see who the girl was running from out of the corner of her eye. She could see that they were policemen, but the uniforms were different than the normal ones. They were lighter colored and more of a thinner material. They also had a much smaller utility belt, and if it wasn’t for their badge, she would’ve guessed they were security guards! Gwynivara and Bernadette lifted up the crate and ignored them as the two policemen approached. One of them bellowed, “Excuse me!”

Gwynivara and Bernadette continued to work, but Bernadette responded gruffly, “Little busy here, boys!”

The policeman who spoke before told her cordially, “And what kind of gentlemen would we be if we let two ladies do such heavy lifting on their own? May we?”

Bernadette and Gwynivara shrugged and let them help load the crate onto the truck. The other policeman grunted, “Oof! What’s in these things?”

“Fresh fruit for the pies,” Gwynivara fibbed.

They opened the back of the truck, and the four of them wedged this crate between the others. Bernadette remarked, “Well, thanks for the help.”

The first officer handed Gwynivara a business card. “We’re looking for some fugitives who escaped from quarantine. Give us a call if you see anything.”

“Hard to believe anyone with Venenatus Sanguis could get past you!” She hid her grin as she tucked the business card into her pocket.

The second policeman proudly assured her, “Don’t worry! We have special training and can spot them from a mile away!” Gwynivara could tell it took all of Bernadette’s will power to not bust out laughing. They simply tipped their caps at the policemen, who said goodbye to them as they got into the truck. After the policemen left, Bernadette hot wired the truck, and they drove off.

Bernadette parked the truck in the back of the factory with a few others. When Bernadette and Gwynivara opened the back of the truck, Kierram, dressed as a dock worker, helped them carry three crates off of the truck. He took a crowbar and opened each one up. Two men and the red haired girl crawled out. They seemed scared and very confused, but there wasn’t time to explain anything. Kierram opened up a manhole cover and directed, “Get in.” The three quarantine fugitives had no choice but to trust them and followed him down.

The young girl followed the others through the dank and watery sewer tunnels. The journey seemed to go on forever, and she didn’t have the faintest idea where they were going. She desperately wanted to ask, but she didn’t want to disturb the quiet, figuring it was part of their cover. Finally, the three people in uniform stopped at a point they recognized. They climbed a metal ladder, and she was surprised to see that they were outside of a graveyard. The three uniformed people looked all around, and the man concluded, “It’s clear! Let’s go!”

Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram led the three people they rescued through the graveyard, which Gwynivara knew made them nervous. “Don’t worry,” she assured them, “we’re going to a safe place for people like us! We’ll explain everything when we get there.” She knew that wasn’t much information, but she hoped that it quelled their curiosity for the moment. She very much wished she could start explaining everything just as Emorick had done for her, but the air was still buzzing from the mass quarantine evacuation. Even though the area they were in seemed empty, everyone agreed that the smartest course of action would be to get everyone to Headquarters where they knew for sure they were safe and then explain it all. She felt bad for being so cryptic and quiet, but she knew what waited for them on the other side would make it all worth it.

The three quarantine victims seemed very nervous as they entered the crypt. In fact, one of the quarantine victims whispered, “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

Gwynivara could understand his concern. It seemed like a dead end from their vantage point. She was surprised to hear the girl retort, “If they wanted to kill us, they’d be better off sending us back to quarantine!” Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram chuckled, and the two men relaxed a little more. As they headed towards the back of the crypt, Gwynivara was proud of the teen for her tenacity, although she vaguely wondered where she got her sharp mentality from at such a young age.

The three quarantine victims were sort of impressed by the secret door, but they grew nervous again when Kierram shut the door behind them. Their only light was from a torch, and the old, stone staircase didn’t offer much comfort. Bernadette shouted the Celtic protocol, and Gwynivara could tell that the three quarantine victims didn’t feel at ease when Riley answered back. No one said anything as they descended down the staircase. The three newcomers clearly didn’t know what to expect when they reached the bottom, but Gwynivara smiled as they reached the curtains. She knew the look on their faces would be priceless, and she wasn’t disappointed. When she pulled the drapes, a mix of current rebels and newly rescued ones greeted them with applause and cheers! Gwynivara beamed, “Welcome to the Rebellion!”

Everyone could see the relief flood the newcomers’ bodies upon their reception. Whatever they had been expecting, it certainly was a warmly lit hall with dozens of friendly faces! Although they knew they were safe, they weren’t sure how to react next. Riley helped break the ice by grabbing his clipboard and asking them, “Can I get your names?”

“Jerry Kwan,” the first man replied.

“Max Magnar,” the other man replied.

The girl replied, “Rebekah Forsythe.”

The people who heard her gasped, and Riley seemed so shocked that he almost dropped his clipboard. Gwynivara didn’t want to believe it at first, so she decided to clarify what they all suspected. “Forsythe? As in Chief Forsythe?”

“Yeah,” Rebekah confirmed. “He’s my father.”

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 12

Gwynivara quickly stepped aside as a few men ran up with a cloth, hand-held gurney. They hastily holstered up his limp body and carried him down the stairs. Gwynivara glanced at Bernadette, who stood completely still with her eyes wide open. One the opposite side of the landing, Kierram sat on the edge with his head hung low. Gwynivara still felt devastated by this attack, but she realized that it was especially hard on him. He deserved to know the truth. She handed Cody the torch and sat down next to Kierram. He didn’t acknowledge her presence, but she didn’t expect him to. The way he had his head bent made his hair cover his face, but through his bangs, Gwynivara could see tears welling up in his eyes. She put a sympathetic hand on his shoulder and revealed, “Your dad is still alive.”

“For how long?” Kierram wiped his cheeks with his sleeve, and without thinking about it, Gwynivara wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him tight. She could tell he wasn’t used to receiving affection and didn’t know how to handle it, but he didn’t fight it. He let the tears just flow at this point. Gwynivara felt her own eyes watering. She hadn’t known Emorick for that long, but they already had been through so much. He made this rebellion possible, he saved so many lives… he saved her too. With her own family far away from her, she had started to feel like she had found family in him. She couldn’t bear the thought of anything happening to him, and the thought made her start bawling into Kierram’s shoulders.

This moment of tenderness didn’t last long. Bernadette shouted, “Guys, we got company!” They raised their heads up to find a panther-like monster crawling towards them! Gwynivara, Kierram, and Bernadette were ready to strike, but Cody was first to act. He hurled the torch at it, and it roared out in pain as it caught on fire. Bernadette used its distraction to create a ball of light and threw it at the beast. It disintegrated, but, oddly enough, they still heard creature noises. Bernadette concluded, “There’s more downstairs!”

“Sounds like a lot of people were upset by what happened!” Gwynivara remarked as she heard a lot of them getting fought off by people downstairs.

Kierram grabbed the torch, and with some concentration, he conjured up some fire and re-lit it. “Come on, let’s go help!”

They rushed down the stairs to see dozens of different beasts lurking in the hall! A few people were fighting them off with whatever make shift weapons they could find, but only a small amount of creatures were destroyed. Bernadette, Gwynivara, and Kierram could only fight one at a time, and they were outnumbered. Luckily, Riley showed up with two handfuls of swords. People grabbed them immediately and the fight became more even. No one could tell just how much time had passed, but soon the hall became quiet again. Gwynivara scanned the room and saw a lot of beasts’ bodies as well as people who, like herself, were trying to figure if the coast was clear. “Is anyone hurt?” Everyone looked around thoroughly, but no one came up with anything. The whole group took a collective sigh of relief.

“That’s a miracle!” Riley commented.

Gwynivara spoke up, “Speaking of miracles, how’s Emorick?”

Everyone rushed over to the first aid station, but Niqun somehow blocked the large entrance with her small body. “No! We don’t have room for all of you! We need to keep working on him!”

“That’s my father!” Kierram objected. Niqun let him pass.

Gwynivara and Bernadette quickly followed. Some people in the crowd objected, so Gwynivara addressed them, “We’re officers!” Some of the other officers rushed forward, so Gwynivara requested, “Can you guys help Niqun stand guard?” They felt their role was important, so they complied earnestly.

Gwynivara watched as a couple of first aid medics sew up his wounds and patched him back up. Cody was also in there answering their questions. “No, it was more like a dagger.”

“Did you happen to grab it?” one medic inquired.

Cody replied, “No, he took it with him. They got an urgent page, so they needed it.”

“A page?” Gwynivara turned to Cody with a tone of vitality, “The people who attacked him were police officers?”

“Yeah,” Cody confirmed. “They were a couple of the new Disease Safety units. Apparently, they only carry knives.”

“They were gonna bring you into quarantine ‘til Emorick stepped in?” Bernadette surmised.

“Quarantine?” Cody puzzled. “I don’t have Venenatus Sanguis!”

Everyone in the room turned to stare at him. Gwynivara didn’t know everyone who lived in the Rebellion, but it was her understanding that only people with the disease resided here. She couldn’t think of anyone else who would even want to live in a place where they could get it! But if he didn’t have a Venenatus Sanguis…Gwynivara probed, “Why were those police after you then?”

Cody recalled, “They had this giant dog-looking thing on a leash. They saw me sleeping under the playground, and they didn’t see that my eyes were kinda open. Then, all of a sudden, they took off the chain! Luckily, I carry a baseball bat with me at all times. Well, when you’re homeless, you gotta do it for safety. Anyways, I managed to beat that thing to death! I was too busy dealing with the dog to notice what the other officers were doing though, and one of them tried to stab my back! But Emorick stopped him! They were wrestling to get control of the knife, and I managed to get him off him with my bat. The other officer came out of nowhere and stabbed in the chest! That’s when they got the page and ran.”

Everyone who heard Cody’s story reacted with shock and appall. Kierram said in disgust, “The new cops are purposely infecting people with the disease? That’s sick!”

Bernadette added, “Whoever the origin is, they successfully infiltrated the police department. I do think Chief Forsythe is acting of his own will, though that’s not really much more reassuring. This new division doesn’t care about people in quarantine, they’re helping to spread it! That’s horrible!”

“Not to the origin!” Gwynivara put in. “For whatever reason, this individual wants to destroy the planet using Venenatus Sanguis. Quarantine would contain most of the beasts that form, and even though some could get out and spread it a little, if the origin wants the disease to spread more rapidly, they would have to purposely infect people. So, they find vulnerable people, people who are outside and not surrounded by witnesses, and they unleash the creatures.” Bernadette and Kierram nodded in agreement. After she got the thought out, something else occurred to her. “But they work for the police now. You can’t exactly stroll down the sidewalk in an area as crowded as downtown with a beast like that! So, where are they bringing them?”

A lightbulb went off in everyone’s heads, but Kierram was the first to say it outloud, “If we track down where they’re hiding them, we’re likely to find the origin!”

Before they could say more on the subject, the medics finished up their work on Emorick. They turned to Gwynivara and the others, and one of the medics informed them, “We’ve done all we can do. He lost a lot of blood, and he’s not responsive. But, with some rest, he should recover. However, the handkerchief that Cody used to clog the burst artery would have to have been completely sterilized to prevent infection. It came from Emorick’s pocket, and it was handled by a homeless person. Plus, we don’t know how clean the knife’s blade was, so we think the potential for infection is high. We can treat minor infections, but if he gets an infection in his blood stream, we can’t help him. However, if we take him to the hospital, there’s a chance that his identity could get discovered, in which case, they would take him to quarantine. So, basically we have to pick the risk we wanna take. Keep him here where we know he’s safe but risk his health, or we take him to the hospital where he would be more likely to stay healthy but only if he doesn’t get sent to quarantine. What do you wanna do?”

Gwynivara, Bernadette, and Kierram all turned to each other for answers, but it was such a difficult choice that no one could give a recommendation one way or the other. Cody helpfully threw in his opinion, “I was gonna take him to the hospital, but he told me to take him here. He said he would only go to the hospital if he wanted to die. I mean, I know I just met him, but I feel like if he were awake, he would tell us to keep him here. He risked so much for me, so I just wanna do right by him. I think he’d be mad if he woke up in a hospital.”

The other three agreed with him. Gwynivara asked the medic, “You said with rest, he should recover?”

The medic nodded. “Yes.”

Gwynivara reasoned, “So, it makes sense to me to keep him here for a while, and if he shows signs of an infection, then we bring him to the hospital under an assumed name and pray that no one figures out who he really is. What do you guys think?”

Bernadette and Kierram agreed with Gwynivara, so the medic told them, “Okay. We’ll have a different medic keep an eye on him all hours of the day.”

The two medics sat by Emorick to immediately begin monitoring him. The rest of the officers walked in, and Kennith asked them, “What’s going on?”

Kierram answered, “My dad should make it, but if he gets an infection, we will have to take him to the hospital.”

The other officers were relieved to hear he was alive, but no one liked the idea of Emorick going to the hospital. One officer commented, “We’ll send prayers and positive vibes that he doesn’t go there!”

Another officer suggested, “So, should we find this young guy a room?”

“Poor kid!” a third officer remarked. “I don’t like to hear children getting the disease!”

“I don’t have it,” Cody stated.

The other officers’ tone changed to distrust and a little fearful. “Then he’s gotta go!” Kennith reacted.

Bernadette pointed out, “Cody saved Emorick’s life, and he doesn’t have anywhere to go!”

The second officer sided with her, “He’s homeless, who’s he gonna rat on us to?”

“The police,” Kennith brought up. The other officers hadn’t thought of that and agreed with Kennith’s point.

Cody denied that, “No, two cops tried to kill me. I’m just as wanted as you guys, so I got nothing to gain from turning you in.”

Kennith’s demeanor softened a little. “Look, I’m not trying to be a dick, but Cody’s also not safe here. He could get killed by a creature. Or bit. We’re trying to prevent it from spreading, right?”

“There’s a chance of that happening anyways,” Bernadette opinionated. “They tried to infect him before. And Emorick risked his life to stop that from happening! He would want him to be safe. I think he should stay.”

Kennith debated, “He’s safer out there! What if the origin comes and wipes us all out? What would he do? He doesn’t have to live a life of seclusion like we do. He should be free! I think he should go.” The other officers agreed with him.

“Well, it’s not up to you guys!” Kierram spat.

“What are you talking about?” Kennith folded his arms defiantly.

Kierram explained, “My dad said that if something happened to him, Gwynivara was supposed to take over his position. That means until my father wakes up, Gwyn is in charge!” Everyone turned to look at her, almost in shock of the truth. Gwynivara was too stunned to speak, but inwardly, she knew Kierram was right- she was now in charge of the Rebellion!

Rebels of Darkness, Chapter 11

We believe these individuals to be armed and dangerous!” Chief Forsythe held up a picture of Gwynivara and Bernadette in their maid outfits as well as Kierram in his fedora. “If you see them, do not approach them! Find the nearest phone and call nine-one-one. Be assured the Great Dismal Falls police department has stepped up its patrols for the safety of its citizens! Go about your business as normal, but keep an eye out for these criminals! I’ll take your questions now.”

A flurry of reporters threw questions at him, but Chief Forsythe ignored them until he called on someone. The reporter he pointed to asked, “You mentioned earlier that these three were responsible for the death and serious injuries of five doctors, but reports show that they were attacked by Venenatus Sanguis creatures. Is it your opinion that the three fugitives have the disease?”

Chief Forsythe mulled it over for a second, and then he replied, “At this point, we cannot make that determination. The creatures in question may have come these individuals, however, the amount of chaos that ensued as a result of their escape may have triggered the emotions of other unreported cases. Either way, we have a team of specifically trained to hunt these people that are set to patrol for the first time later today. With the extra manpower, we’ll round up all of these lawbreakers and put them in quarantine where they belong. Next question.”

Another reporter asked, “Chief Forsythe, do you have any clues as to the identities of these individuals?”

“Our team is working hard to identify the individuals in question. We will contact the press with any new developments. That’s all the time I have. Thank you.” He turned away from the reporters and walked into the police station, which still had visible damage from the earthquake. The reporters chased him down and continued to barrage him with questions until Chief Forsythe slammed the door in their faces.

Gwynivara turned off the radio in disgust. She sat on her bed and rubbed her face in frustration. Bernadette walked in without knocking and shut the door behind her. Gwynivara didn’t look up at her. She now felt ashamed that her behavior garnered her some pity and compelled someone to check on her. Bernadette sat on her bed and tried to make eye contact with her, but Gwynivara turned her head towards the bathroom door. She felt like crying but refused to let the tears come out. Bernadette calmly told her, “Stop trying to be strong all the time! If you keep it all pent up, you’ll create another beast! What’s wrong?”

Gwynivara knew that she was right, but that made her feel a little guilty. “What’s wrong? I got someone who had a knife in her back and could’ve died worried about how I’m doing!”

Bernadette softly chuckled, and then she assured her, “Believe it or not, I’ve been through worse!” Puzzled, Gwynivara looked at Bernadette questioningly. Before she could ask about it, Bernadette went on, “We can talk about that later though. Talk to me! Let it all out!”

“Well…” Gwynivara took a deep breath. She didn’t know where to begin. She decided to go with the freshest wound. “Chief Forsythe has our picture out all over the media! I mean, I realize we’re all technically criminals, but now people know what we look like. Someone will recognize us, so I guess we can’t go on patrols anymore.”

“That’s not true,” Bernadette refuted. “You’d be surprised how easy it is to hide in plain site.” Gwynivara looked skeptical, so she added, “No, seriously! My father is…um…was rich and somewhat famous, but no one has made the connection. Change your hairstyle and lay low, and you’re instantly invisible! Besides, I’ve heard that you’re already good at changing your identity. It’s not that different.”

Gwynivara’s curiosity peaked after hearing this. She had so many questions reeling in her head about Bernadette’s past, but she had already indicated her disinterest in explaining her history, so she forced herself to table the notion for the moment. Gwynivara knew she was probably right about patrolling, and she was intrigued about the methods of execution. Again though, she had to table the notion. She knew Bernadette would insist on talking about her feelings and wouldn’t let the subject go until it was all out, so she decided to get it over with. “Did anyone tell you about my dreams?”

“Riley did,” Bernadette replied.

Of course he did, she thought. His story probably was what prompted her to visit. “No one believes me. They don’t think my dreams are anything more than pure fantasy.” She paused and added, “I don’t need anymore reminders of that!”

“I wasn’t gonna say that!” Bernadette refuted. “Dreams can be a powerful window into the subconscious. It’s a part of your brain that tries to sort out problems you conscious brain can’t. I would still share what you learn from them, but if you want them to take your insight seriously, I just wouldn’t present the dreams as real.”

“But the dreams are real!” Gwynivara objected. “If I don’t tell them the whole truth, then it’ll feel like lying! I could be leaving out important information that could lead us to finding the cure! I have to tell them everything!”

“How do you know it’s real?” Bernadette’s tone wasn’t judgmental or argumentative but more of observant wondering.

Gwynivara felt she had a valid point. She hadn’t really questioned how she knew it was real before but accepted it as fact. After evaluating it, she noted that she never got out of her bed, so she obviously hadn’t actually been there in real life. She didn’t personally know the woman she saw, and the only reason she knew any of her men stemmed from the fact that they had tried to kill her. She didn’t know any of them enough to have a psychic connection either. Actually, she remembered that she didn’t even believe in that stuff. She could now understand Riley and Kierram’s reactions. It didn’t have much logic to it, and they may have even pondered about her sanity. She told Bernadette, “All I have for proof is is this strong feeling in my gut. But I understand what you’re saying. I really don’t have any solid proof. I guess I figured that the feeling was strong enough that people would take my word for it. I won’t mention my dreams until I have more proof.”

Gwynivara could tell that Bernadette didn’t believe in the idea of her dreams being real visions, but she knew Gwynivara’s conviction was so strong that there was no point in arguing. Instead, she smiled and then changed the subject, “You must be starving! I know I am! Let’s go grab a bite to eat!” Gwynivara agreed and they left for the kitchen.

As they walked down the hall, they saw a small group of people gathered with plates in the activity room, so Bernadette exclaimed, “Ooh, someone’s cooking something!” They went inside, and the people who had gathered scooted over to make room for them. It was a tight squeeze, but no one seemed to mind. Gwynivara didn’t recognize the people there, but they all seemed very cordial. Even though the group ranged in ages and cultures, she felt like she was attending a family gathering. After everything she had went through lately, she definitely needed this! Despite all evidence otherwise, Gwynivara had a gnawing feeling that this was too good to be true. She shook the feeling off and forced herself to enjoy the moment.

From the kitchen, a male shouted, “Food’s ready!” The people gathered were excited, and Gwynivara couldn’t wait to meet the cook. To her astonishment, Kierram walked in carrying a wok of steaming food! He met her eyes and also seemed stunned. For a moment, they just stared at each other. But before they could process the moment, they heard the hallway behind them fall deadly silent!

The dinner guests turned towards the hallway, and they saw everyone taking cover. They felt confused until they heard Niqun shout, “Tha coigreach an seo!” The dinner party gasped, snuffed out the lights, and hid under the table. Gwynivara whispered, “What’s happening?”

Kierram answered, “Do you remember when I trained you on door guard duty? If you shout ‘An bhfuil tú ina chara?’ and they don’t say ‘Is cara liom!’ back, you shout-”

“Tha coigreach an seo!” Gwynivara remembered. With horror, she realized, “An intruder!”

They strained their ears to hear what was happening, but they couldn’t hear a thing. Bernadette observed, “It’s too quiet! Something’s wrong!”

Gwynivara responded swiftly, “Well, whether Emorick likes it or not, we got work to do!”

They quietly crouched down and tiptoed out of the door. The hall was dark and eerily quiet, and they couldn’t hear anything happening near the stairs. They crept close to the curtains, and Bernadette spoke in a barely audible whisper, “Niqun, are you hurt?”

She whispered back, “I’m fine. He’s still up there.”

Gwynivara couldn’t tell if the man had heard them or not, but right after Niqun spoke, he shouted, “Hello? Is anyone still there? Please, we need your help! It’s dark, and I can’t do it alone!”

Without speaking, Gwynivara could tell that Kierram was ready to fight off the intruder, and Bernadette seemed seriously skeptical. Gwynivara detected as sense of urgency in his voice that sounded genuine, but she didn’t totally let her guard down, just in case. She grabbed a lighter and relit the torch. Bernadette and Kierram gave her a panicked look, so she told them, “If there’s an enemy, I wanna see who I’m facing!”

As they accepted her explanation, the man hollered, “Are you someone who can help us?”

Gwynivara put a foot on the staircase. She felt like her nerves were on fire, but she had to investigate. If danger laid on the other side of the staircase, she wanted to face it right then and there so she could corner him and give the others a chance to escape. If the intruder wasn’t an adversary, she felt mystified as to who else it could be. “Who’s us?”

He replied, “My name is Cody. I don’t know who this is, but he told me to come here.”

Gwynivara took the torch and slowly climbed up the stairs. Kierram and Bernadette immediately followed her, ready to fight as backup if Cody attacked her. Gwynivara probed, “If he told you to come here, why didn’t he give you the password?”

Cody answered her, “There wasn’t time!” They got closer to the top, and they saw Cody for the first time. He was a skinny, pale boy in his late teens. He wore overly baggy clothes that had numerous dirt stains, and coupling that with the troubled expression on his face, the three of them let their guard down a little as they didn’t totally think he was a threat anymore. They still held a little caution as they listened to his claim, “He’s badly hurt and told me to take him here! Please help him! He saved my life! I don’t want him to die!”

Gwynivara saw a hand on the ground, and she now absolutely had to see who it was. When they got to the top of the stairs, their hearts stopped. His body was limp, and blood poured out from his chest! Gwynivara’s mind wouldn’t accept what she saw. Without thinking, she instinctively shouted, “We need medics now!” She heard people downstairs scrambling, but she couldn’t think about them. She raced to his side to feel his pulse. She couldn’t accept that his life could be in danger, she absolutely wouldn’t! She closed her eyes, and with trembling hands, she put two fingers to his neck. With her her heart pounding, she got the result…

Heaven’s Headquarters

“How did I get here?” Ethan, a man with silky brown hair, green eyes, and a slim physique, realized he fell asleep on an elevator. He doesn’t recognize this elevator, which has ornate, gilded walls, and he’s mystified as to how he ended up inside. Last thing he remembered, he was walking down the street. He suddenly realized that the elevator had no buttons! The elevator kept going up, and Ethan had no idea where he was going, so he started to worry. Suddenly, the elevator stopped and the elevator doors opened. Ethan stepped out cautiously.

Ethan walked into a reception area and looked around to figure out where he was. The walls and floors were cloudy white. There wasn’t much else there except a lot of doors and a pearly, circular desk at the center. A perky, blonde secretary popped up behind the desk and watched Ethan. Ethan, not knowing what else to do, went up to the secretary, who had a name plate that read: Hailey. Before Ethan could ask her anything, Hailey chirped, “Welcome to Heaven’s Headquarters! Please fill out these forms.” She slid a white clipboard with a couple of crisp papers on it to to him.

Ethan felt totally confused. He had no clue where he was, and yet this woman seemed to have been expecting him. “Forms?

Hailey simply explained, “Yes, to show us what would make your eternity the ideal level of blissfulness.”

Ethan started to think that he either got too drunk at dinner or else someone had slipped something into his drink. Either way, he thought that maybe he had blacked out and had booked some spa getaway in his haze. That didn’t seem like a smart idea, so he tried to clear this up with Hailey, “Look, I’m not sure how I got here, but I gotta leave. I got work in the morning, so-.”

Hailey interrupted him, “Work? No, you don’t work in Heaven. It’s your time to relax.”

Ethan got a little annoyed by this. He knew that companies often had their secretaries try to save their sales, but she didn’t seem to get it, he really didn’t have time for this. “Relax? I got a big presentation in the morning. So, can you-?”

“Listen,” Hailey looked him square in the eyes and talked in a very serious tone at this point. “you’re not going back to work. Or your home or anywhere else. You’re dead.”

Whatever response he had expected to hear from her, it wasn’t that! The ease he felt from what he thought was a logical conclusion to this situation had vanished, and if he hadn’t booked a luxurious hotel in a drunken haze, then he didn’t know what else would bring him here. The fact that she mentioned that he was dead now sent him to a panic. “Is that a threat? Are you holding me hostage?”

“Oh boy!” Hailey sighed. She coolly hit a pager button on her office phone and spoke into it, “Peter, can you come to the Pearly Gates please?”

A handsome man with a nice suit and a clipboard in his arm appeared next to Hailey instantly. Ethan had to blink. He couldn’t explain how the man, who he could only assume was Peter, could appear from nowhere unless it was some kind of theatrical ruse to scare and confuse him. Peter glanced at Ethan and then regarded Hailey, “Who’s this? Let’s see…ah, Ethan Miller. I told you already that he is most definitely welcome here!”

Hailey calmly revealed, “I know, but he hasn’t accepted.”

Ethan, in addition to feeling a little scared, grew frustrated by the lack of answers. He had a right to know what was happening! He spouted, “Who are you?”

Peter smiled gently and introduced himself, “On Earth, I’m known as Saint Peter.”

Ethan rolled his eyes. He didn’t believe that was his real identity, and he resented the task he now had of figuring out who these people were. He remarked to Peter, “Saint Peter, huh? What are you guys, the mob or something?”

“Wow!: Peter seemed bewildered by Ethan’s response, but he kept his composure. “You weren’t kidding about this man! Better send him to the Big Guy.”

“Who? Where are you taking me?” Ethan decided he wasn’t going to let them take him anywhere and prepared to put up a fight.

Peter snapped his fingers, and Ethan instantly disappeared! Ethan reappeared in a huge office. It seemed to be empty except for the same cloudy walls and floors and a big, wooden desk with a computer on it. Whoever “the Big Guy” was, he wasn’t in the office right now. Ethan looked all around him in utter confusion “Okay, what the hell just happened?”

At that moment, a very tall, clean shaven man with gray hair and a light gray suit walked into the room. The man reproached him gently, “Sir, we don’t swear here.” Ethan jumped at his sudden approach. The man kindly instructed, “Go ahead and have a seat.”

A cushy chair appeared before the desk right behind where Ethan stood. He reluctantly took a seat. He needed answers, and he figured that they must lie with this man. “You’re the “Big Guy?”

The man replied, “I’m known by many names. A higher power, Nirvana, Inner Peace, Mother Earth (somehow)…but you probably refer to me as God.”

“Oh, you’re God? Yeah right!” Ethan wondered what was wrong with these people. They were either giving him their nicknames or else he had come across a very delusional cult.

The man seemed unruffled by Ethan’s disposition. He probed, “What makes you doubt me?”

Ethan couldn’t believe that this guy had really believed that he was God! He had to put him in his place, “God isn’t some businessman! He has a really long beard and a robe…”

The Big Guy chuckled, “You mean like this?” He snapped his fingers and, to Ethan’s astonishment, hechanged into Ethan’s description of God. “Yes, this look was all the rage when the Bible was written, but we’ve made some updates since then.” The Big Guy snapped his fingers again and changed back into the outfit he previously wore.

Ethan still didn’t totally accept their claims that he had died or that he was speaking to God, and he didn’t want to feed into that delusion. He had to try to get home. “Look, I don’t wanna be here, in ‘Heaven,’ I want to-!”

“No?” the Big Guy remarked. “Would you rather be in Hell? It’s not as fun as rock stars make it seem. Here, have a look.”

The Big Guy turned his computer monitor around to face Ethan. An automated voice greeted him, “Welcome to Hell Dot Com! I’m Jaime, your virtual host. Let me give you a tour!” The screen changed into a red office with a blonde man in a pepper-gray business suit sitting at a dark, wooden desk. “This is Lucifer’s Chamber! He decides how cruel of an eternal punishment a sinner gets.” The screen changed into a room with some fiendish monsters standing in front of some sharp rocks. The monsters smile and wave to the camera. “This is the physical pain and torture chamber where sinners go to receive a Hell of a lot of, well, pain and torture.” The screen changed to a completely empty room with a small green couch and a wide screen television “This is the viewing room where sinners are forced to watch their worst nightmares over and over again.” The screen changed to small, run down town. “This is Sinners’ Living, the living quarters of sinners. Their homes turn into whatever they would consider the most unbearable living conditions.” The screen changed to a door with the number 666 on it. “This is Area Six Six Six, where the most evil sinners go. It is so gruesome that we cannot display it on the web.” The screen changed to a room full of what looks like operators and telemarketers. “This is the communications room where our “devils” tempt ordinary people to commit a sin.” The screen changed to a picture of an empty reception desk. “That ends our tour of Hell Dot Com. We are currently seeking a Hell Secretary if you’re interested. See you in Hell!”

The Big Guy turned the computer off and swiveled it back so it faced him. Ethan now felt very much perplexed. Ethan supposed that the Big Guy thought that this presentation would convince him that he had died, but he wasn’t buying it! “I can’t be dead! The world couldn’t go on without me!”

“You don’t think so?” The Big Guy reacted. “Well, I can show you that’s not true either. Oh Joseph!” He pushed a button on his phone to summon him. A young man with a gray suit and a white tie, black hair, muscular build entered and looked to the Big Guy to await his instructions. The Big Guy directed Joseph, “Show Ethan his world without him. I gotta go. I’m helping my son throw a party tonight! Hope to see you there!” The Big Guy winked and disappeared.

Joseph grumbled, “Thanks a lot, now I’m going to miss that party!”

Ethan could care less about this man’s desire to go to some party. He didn’t know what they wanted with him, but it seemed like he had no choice but to play their game. He scoffed, “So, who are you? Saint Joseph?”

Joseph forgot about the party and pleasantly answered Ethan, “No! My name is Joseph Love. I was a soldier in the Revolutionary War.”

Whether it was real or not, Ethan grew curious about Joseph’s back story. “Oh, you got killed in battle?”

Joseph told him, “No, after we won, my friends and I had a party and I died there.”

“How’d you die?” Ethan asked him.

“I don’t know.” Joseph shrugged.

This notion triggered a thought, and again, whether it was true or not, Ethan was owed an explanation. “Wait a minute, how’d I die?”

“No one in Heaven is supposed to know,” Joseph educated him. “If they think about their death, they’ll never stop dwelling on it. Though the last thing I remember is swimming, so I think I drowned. But who knows! Anyways, you think the world can’t survive without you, huh? Who depended on you?”

Right away, Ethan came up with, “My fiancee, Diana Shaw. She’s in love with me, so there’s no way she’ll survive without me!

Joseph’s mouth twitched, but he hid his grin. “Is that right?” He snapped his fingers, and they both disappeared.

Ethan and Joseph reappear in a gourmet restaurant that is mostly full of delighted patrons. With all of these magical entrances and exits, Ethan now thought he was in a dream or having some kind of coma vision, so he decided to stop fighting the acceptance of whether or not this was real and just rolled with it. The only way he was going to get through this was to show these people that he told the truth about the world needing him to stay around. He inquired, “Can anyone see me?”

“Nope,” Joseph answered. “Where’s Diana?”

Ethan scanned the restaurant and sees her at a table. His heart fluttered when he gazed at her beauty. She was unlike anyone he had ever met before. Her strawberry blonde hair was done up in a bun and she wore a chic red dress, which made her look even more devestatingly beautiful. For a moment, Ethan wondered what she had been doing there. It took him a while to see that Diana was sitting with a very handsome man that he could only hope was a new boss. If he wasn’t invisible to them, Ethan would have confronted the man. All he could do was stand next to her, listening to her dialogue. Diana confessed, “This the first date I’ve been on since my fiancee died three months ago.”

Ethan stared at Joseph questioningly. “Three months?”

Joseph apologized, “Sorry, Heaven doesn’t have a real concept of time.”

The man admitted to Diana, “I have to confess when I befriended you at work, I always hoped that you would break up with your fiancee. I mean, he’s the greatest guy I know, but I had such a crush on you for a long time! I only hope that I can give you as much happiness as Ethan did.”

“I think you will.” Diana told him. “I have to make another confession. I loved Ethan with all my heart, but ever since I met you, my heart was torn between two men. I know that he would’ve wanted me to move on and be happy.” Ethan wished she could have seen the cross look on his face! She went on, “I could really see myself have a future with you. I think I could be falling for you!”

The man beamed upon hearing this, but he still felt like he needed to ask, “Are you afraid of moving too fast?”

“Ethan will always be a part of my past, but you are my future!” She reached across the table and stroked his hand, smiling lovingly at this man. He held her hand and returned her sentiment.

Ethan blew up, “That bastard! This whole time he was trying to steal my woman! I’ll kill him!” Ethan tried to strangle Frank, but his hands went right through him.

Joseph stood next to him and reported, “A few things. First of all, remember you’re not supposed to swear. Second, you’re invisible, so he can’t see or feel you. And lastly, I doubt the Big Guy will let you into Heaven if you actually did kill someone. I know you’re hurting, so I’m gonna pretend I didn’t see that.”

Ethan still looked frustrated, but he knew that Joseph was right. He sighed, and then he remembered why he was there. “Okay, so maybe she’s move on, but my parents will be devastated!”

Joseph didn’t seemed convinced. “If you say so.” He snapped his fingers, and they disappeared from the restaurant.

Joseph and Ethan reappeared in his parents’ living room, a very neat and clean space with a lot of comfortable furniture. Mrs. Miller was knitting on her flowery couch with her orange cat curled up beside her and a faint smile on her face. Mr. Miller entered the front door with a broad grin. He announced, “Good news, honey! I got a huge promotion!”

“Oh really?” Mrs. Miller reacted merrily. “That’s wonderful! What’s your new position?”

Mr. Miller proudly told her, “You’re looking at the new manager of the Animal Buffet Pet Food factory!”

“Manager? Oh honey!” Mrs. Miller got up and gave her husband a huge hug. “Ethan would be so proud of you!”

Mr. Miller agreed, “Before he died, he kept trying to get me quit drinking and work harder. If only he could see his old man now! Now we can stop using his inheritance he left us to pay bills and really treat ourselves! Maybe we can visit Cally in France!”

“That would be wonderful!: Mrs. Miller rejoiced. “And instead of selling these blankets to supplement, our income, I’ll give it charity! Oh, I’m so glad we’re going to be alright! I dreaded what life would be like without him, and I’ll always miss my baby boy, but I’m so glad we will be okay without him! He is probably looking at us now, smiling.”

Ethan was frowning. “Now they don’t need me? They even said it! Ugh! My fiancee has moved on, and my parents are happier than ever with me being gone!”

Mr. Miller suggested, “Let’s go out to a nice restaurant to celebrate!”

Mrs. Miller reacted, “Wow, this will be the first time we’ve really dined out since Ethan died six months ago!”

Ethan turned to Joseph, “So, every time you snap your fingers, it’s been three months on Earth?”

“I guess,” he replied. Then he addressed Ethan seriously, “So, your fiancee and your parents can live without you. Are you ready to admit that the world doesn’t need you to go back?”

“No!” Ethan denied it. “My sister must need me! We were best friends-how could she live without me?”

Joseph laughed, “Let’s find out together, shall we?” He snapped his fingers, and they disappeared.

Joseph and Ethan appear at the end of a lecture in a large university classroom, and the professor spoke entirely in French. Joseph told Ethan, “Hold on, I can get subtitles.”

Ethan seemed a little relieved, but his mind was elsewhere. “Cally went to another country to study? She probably had trouble making friends so wanted to get a fresh start in France. She was really shy, I was trying to help her with that. She must be so lonely and miserable here!”

Joseph smirked. “Sorry to disappoint you, but she doesn’t look so sad.”

They found Cally pretty easily. She looked a lot like Ethan except she had golden brown eyes and curvy, womanly figure. She listened to the lecture with a lot of interest. After the lecture concluded, Cally gathered her things and walked out of the classroom alone. Ethan pointed out, “See, alone and miserable!”

Cally soon got joined by a handsome young, handsome blonde French man. “Bonjour Cally!” His subtitles read, “Hello Cally!”

Cally smiled big and greeted him, “Salut Jean! Ça va?” Her subtitles read, “Hey Jean! What’s up?”

The young man replied, “Oui, ça va. Et toi?” His subtitles read, “I’m good. How are you?”

Cally replied, “Oui, ça va. Où est-ce que tu vas?” Her subtitles read, “Yes, I’m good. Where are you off to?”

He shrugged, “Chez moi.” His subtitles read, “My house.”

Cally invited, “Je vais aller au café. Tu veux venir avec moi?” Her subtitles read, “I’m going to a cafe. Do you want to go with me?”

He emphatically replied, “Mais oui!” His subtitles read, “Yes, of course!”

As the young man and Cally leave the class together, Joseph pointed out to Ethan, “She asked a guy out. Sounds like she got out of her shyness!”

Ethan was flabbergasted by this development, but he wouldn’t admit defeat. “Hold on. Let’s see how well she does on this supposed date.”

They followed Cally and her date to a small bistro down the street from the college. The young man and Cally sat outside and studied a menu. Joseph sat down and lounged casually but Ethan watched them anxiously. Her date asked, “Qu’est-ce que tu veux manger?” His subtitles read, “What do you want to eat?”

Cally decided, “Un croissant et des thé.” Her subtitles read, “A croissant and some tea.”

The man laughed, “C’est toût?” His subtitles read, “That’s all?”

Cally replied, “Oui. Qu’est-ce que tu vas manger?” Her subtitles read, “Yes. What are you

going to eat?”

He told her, “Je pense que je vais manger un sandwich et un chocolât.” His subtitles read, “I think I’m going to eat a sandwich and some hot chocolate.” He motioned to the waiter. “S’il vous plaît, Monsieur!” His subtitles read: “Please, sir!”

The waiter promptly came to their table and asked, “Vous desirèz?” His subtitles read, “What would you like?”

As Jean repeated their food choices they just made, Joseph nudged Ethan. Ethan responded, “What? I’m trying to read!”

With a hint of mischievousness, he replied, “Just checking on you.” Ethan groaned and returned to reading their subtitles.

The waiter brought Cally and Jean their food, and as they happily munched, Cally inquired, “Qu’est-ce que tu faire avec ton vie?” Her subtitles read, “What do you want to do with your life?”

Her date answered, “Je suis acteur.” His subtitles read, “I’m an actor.”

Cally replied honestly, “Ah bon? C’est cool.” Her subtitles read, “Oh really? That’s cool.”

The young man asked, “Et toi?” His subtitles read, “And you?”

Cally told him, “Je veux être employée de bureau. C’est quoi mon frère a fait.” Her subtitles read, “I want to be an office worker. It’s what my brother did.”

He responded, “Qu’est-ce qu’il fait maintenant?” His subtitles read, “What does he do now?”

Cally revealed, “Il est mort.” Her subtitles read, “He is dead.”

Her date said sadly, “Je suis très desolé!” His subtitles read, “I’m so sorry!”

Cally didn’t seem upset by this. “Ne suis pas. C’est parce que de lui je suis ici.” Her subtitles read, “Not me. It’s because of him I’m here.” She paused for a moment, and then she confessed, “J’aime toi beaucoup!” Her subtitles read, “I like you a lot!”

This made the young man smile broadly. “J’aime toi aussi. Est-ce que tu es ma copine?” His subtitles read, “I like you too. Will you be my girlfriend?”

Cally gushed, “Oui, bien sûr!” Her subtitles read, “Yes, of course! Cally stood up and leaned close to her date, giving him a kiss. He gladly kissed her back.

Ethan was furious, and Joseph rubbed it in, “Wow, not only is she not shy, but she’s gutsy! She made the first move!”

“She’s using my death as a way to pick up men!” Ethan scathed. “Well, I guess she’s okay with my death too!”

“Ready to give up yet?” Joseph grinned and stared expectantly.

Ethan retorted, “No! Let’s go to my old work. They’ll miss me for sure! I just hope they didn’t move the company to somewhere that requires more subtitles!” Slightly disappointed, Joseph dully snaps his fingers, and they disappeared again.

Joseph and Ethan reappeared in a row of cubicles, and it was apparent that the office was in the middle of a huge party. People were dancing, drinking cocktails, laughing, and conversing animatedly. They wore much more formal attire than usual with the exception of nametag stickers. Joseph remarked, “Sure doesn’t look like they’re depressed!”

Ethan’s face fell. “We’ve never had an office party before! What’s going on?”

At that moment, the best dressed man there, Gregory, turned off the music. Everyone paid attention as he prepared to speak. “I just wanted to take a moment to remind you all why we’re here and we’re celebrating today. Exactly one year ago we lost a brave hero. Ethan Miller died tragically. He was certainly an asset in his life, but he proves to be an even greater influence through his death. His actions have inspired us to be the company we are today. Profits have soared higher than ever, thanksto his philosophy! So, let’s all have a toast!” He raised a champagne glass over his head. “To Ethan!”

The rest of the office raised their drinks and toasted, “To Ethan!” Gregory turned on the music back on, and everyone resumed the party. Ethan told Joseph, “Don’t even ask. I’m not ready yet. Just because the company doesn’t miss me and is more profitable than ever since I died doesn’t mean my coworkers don’t miss me.” Joseph looked skeptical but said nothing. He let Ethan listen to his coworkers chat.

A man named John commented, “I hope this party makes Ethan proud!”

“You know it does!” Gabriel replied.

A younger man named Paul inquired, “Didn’t I replace him?”

“You didn’t replace him. No one could replace what he did,” a woman named Esther put in. For a moment, Ethan got his hopes up, but then she went on, “ But essentially you took over his duties when he was gone.”

Gabriel told Paul, “You were the only one that was not intimidated by taking his old cubicle. No one thought they could fill his shoes. Lucky you did! The company is doing so well now!”

“Thanks guys!” Paul swelled with pride upon hearing this. “Hey, John! Isn’t that the girl you like over there?”

John noticeably blushed, “No!”

“Yes it is!” Esther almost shrieked with delight. “Look at Sarah standing by herself. Go ask her to dance!”

“Oh, I couldn’t!” John dismissed the idea passively. Everyone could tell he really wanted to go for it.

Gabriel urged John, “Do it dude! Or someone else will!” Although he didn’t want Gabriel to flirt with Sarah, he was still really nervous. The others kept encouraging John to go ask Sarah to dance. He hesitated, but eventually they convinced him to go for it. They watched him from a distance. When she said yes, and they all cheered. As John danced with Sarah, the group changed subjects and talked about their favorite cocktails.

Ethan looked absolutely crestfallen. Joseph put his arm around either and leveled with him, “Your fiancee moved on. Your parents are doing well. Your sister turned out fine. Your coworkers are flourishing. Is there anyone else you want to see, or can we finally go back to Heaven’s Headquarters?”

Ethan inwardly knew that he was losing this argument, but he refused to believe the whole world had moved on without him. He didn’t want to die, so he decided to fight for his life. “I’m not a quitter! Someone in this town must miss me!” Joseph groaned but snapped his fingers to take them away anyways.

Joseph and Ethan popped inside a pub where they see a group of Ethan’s friends toasting to a victory with cocktails. Ethan folded his arms in annoyance. Joseph snapped his fingers and they disappeared.

Ethan stood outside in his old neighborhood. He noted, “I see someone bought my house!” He watched a mother load her infant into a car in the driveway where he used to live. The mother waved hello to the across the street neighbor, who was dressed in a suit and obviously leaving for work. One of his next door neighbors was working on a garden while the other watered his lawn. Ethan walked down the street and saw everyone getting ready for their day. They all seemed so untroubled, which made Ethan pout. Joseph snapped his fingers and they disappeared again.

Next, Ethan and Joseph watched his dentist smiling while working on a patient. Joseph shook his head and snapped his fingers to make them disappear.

After that, Ethan walked down a street that was full of shops and restaurants, listening to several conversations. When he realized no one was talking about him and everyone seemed to be in a pleasant mood, Ethan shook his head despondently. Joseph snapped his fingers to make them disappear.

Ethan then watched as travelers at the airport. People went to baggage claim, headed towards their gates, got food and drinks at a nearby coffee stand, and waited for their friends and loved ones on vacant seats. He desperately listened, truly hoping to hear one person mention him. Finally, one traveler asked another, “Did you hear about Ethan?” Ethan looks hopeful. When the traveler said he hadn’t, the first traveler revealed, “He’s directing a new movie in L.A.” Ethan was heartbroken to hear this. Joseph snapped his fingers to make them disappear.

This time, Ethan watched as the mayor gave a speech about public safety. The crowd appeared enthused. Joseph looked at Ethan, who is walked away from the scene with his head down. Joseph quickly followed him.

Joseph caught up with Ethan at a graveyard and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. Sniffling a little, Ethan admitted, “I get it. I guess no one misses me.”

“That’s not true!” Joseph disputed.

Before Joseph could say more, Ethan ranted, “Clearly the world is better off with me not in it!”

“Don’t say that!” Joseph reacted with complete sympathy but genuinely disagreed with him.

Ethan argued, “It’s true! If it’s not true, then you wouldn’t have shown me all this!”

Joseph assured him, “You were missed! But you needed to die! I can’t tell you why!”

Ethan didn’t believe him. “Whatever. Maybe Heaven can cheer me up.”

Joseph gently asked, “You ready to go?”

“Can I have a minute?” Ethan requested.

“Of course,” Joseph relented. A cell phone in Joseph’s pocket rang, and Joseph exclaimed, “Hey, it’s J.C.!”

“Who?” Ethan’s curiosity perked up even though he was severely depressed.

“The Big Guy’s son.” Joseph answered the call. “Hey!” He paused while J.C. spoke, and then he reported, “Yes, we’re almost done. How’s the party? George Washington did what?” As Joseph talked on the phone, Ethan gazed forlornly at the graveyard. Suddenly, something caught his eye. He can’t explain why, but he was compelled to look at a statue with a huge angel on it. He ran over to it. Joseph kept chatting, not noticing that Ethan was reading the epitaph on the grave he was drawn to. “Sounds like a great party!” He paused again when J.C. asked him something. “Yeah. I’m watching Ethan! What do you mean, where is he? He’s in the graveyard and…oh shi-! Shoot!”

It was too late. Ethan read, “Here lies Ethan Jacob Miller, who sacrificed his body to save his sister’s life. Even in death, he encourages his loved ones to live life to the fullest. God rest this brave soul!” Ethan closes his eyes, remembering.

His memory flash-backed to Cally and Ethan coming out of a restaurant, laughing and conversing pleasantly. As they strolled down the street, a man came up from behind them with a gun and pushed them into a nearby alley. Ethan and Cally are pushed to the ground by the gunman. They stand up and face him. The gunman growled, “Hand over all your money!” Ethan handed over his wallet, but Cally did not move The gun man ordered, “Gimme your money too, you dumb girl!

Frantic, Cally sputtered, “I don’t have any money, so I didn’t bring my purse! I don’t have anything!”

The robber directed, “Give me your jewelry then!”

Tears forming, Cally cried, “I don’t have any jewelry!”

“Ugh! Quit playing me, bitch!” the mugger was losing his patience.

“I don’t have anything, honest!” Cally was now in tears. The gunman let out a roar of frustration. He aimed his gun at Cally and fired. Cally winced, expecting to get hit. Ethan threw his body in front of her and took the bullet! The weight of Ethan’s body knocked Cally to the ground. Cally howled, “Ethan!”

Someone on the street yelled, “Was that a gun? Call nine one one!”

The robber ran off as witnesses poured in to see what happened. Cally turned Ethan’s body around to face her. She looked at his wound in horror and is horrified to see Ethan’s labored breathing. Cally pleaded, “No! Ethan! Don’t die! You’re gonna make it! Hang on!”

In betwenn breaths, Ethan told her, “There are some things worth dying for! I don’t want anyone to be sad for me. They’ll show me they care by having fun and achieving their potential. Tell Diana not to become an old maid! Tell Dad to quit drinking and get ahead at work! Tell everyone we know to live life to the fullest! Cally, you’ll be getting a lot of money. Use it to go to school in France like you’ve always dreamed of! Don’t cry! It’s my time! I love you, sister! Tell everyone!”

Ethan stopped breathing just as the paramedics came. As they put his body on the gurney, through thick tears, Cally swore, “I’ll tell everyone! I promise!” She cried hysterically as the paramedics took her older brother away.

Back in the graveyard, Joseph came running up to Ethan, who was in tears. Joseph asked, “Are you okay?”

Ethan nodded and wiped away some of his tears so he could speak. “You were right, I needed to die! Everyone moving on was honoring my last wishes! I inspired them! I wouldn’t change a thing!”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Joseph inquired, “Ready to go now?”

Ethan stated firmly, “Yes.” Joseph was about to snap his fingers, but Ethan stopped him. “Wait! I got an idea.”

Ethan took over the empty reception desk at the entrance to Hell. He used his office phone to call the Big Guy. Ethan conversed,“Whew! What a busy morning! A group of Somali pirates’ boat went down, that’s a lot of paperwork! No really, I’m loving this! I get a lot of satisfaction sending evil people where they deserve to go! Oh, someone is coming, gotta go! Thanks again for everything, Big Guy!” Ethan hung up the phone and waited expectantly. A portal appeared and spat out the gunman who murdered him! Ethan smiled triumphantly at him. “Ah, Mister Gun Man! Thought you could out gun the SWAT team, huh? Wow, you’re a lot more evil than just murdering me! Please go straight to Area 666!” Ethan pulled a lever and flung him away. He then put up his feet and sighed happily.