Chapter 16 : An Encounter with the Nameless One

It wasn’t as if Brandi had any sort of confidence in her powers. All she knew was that something was coming after her, and in her head that something had changed from one thing to another. Like Tom, the boy she had met and liked in New York who hadn’t even noticed that she existed. Her uncle’s illness that was slowly causing him to wither away. Her friendship with Teresa, that she was trying so steadfastly to restore. Her mother’s new interest in Nicholas.

Brandi closed the window in her room and took a seat on the floor, wondering what her father had learned growing up where he had, because as far as she could see the effects of the environment seemed far more insipid than she had first thought when she had gotten there. Now, she could almost count on one hand all of the trouble that had befallen her and all of the people who had come out to counter her. Not that she believed in conspiracy theories. Only that life had a way of making things seem even more coincidental than they had appeared at first.

Like the two dragons that danced outside her window. She was almost certain that for kids in China, they still held some significance, something that she would have previously wandered at, as she passed through the streets of Chinatown. Now, far away from the action she could barely think on it. Barely see the connection.

Passing her hand along the side of her bureau that her mother had said had once belonged to her father she saw a carving that reminded her of the Chinese symbols for yin and yang. Using her finger she pressed her hand into it, thinking about how similar it looked to one of those hankos that Japanese teachers used in place of their signature.

She was almost sure that someone like Mr. Chen would have something like it and she told herself that when next they met, she would ask him about it.

Not thinking too much about the insignia, she pulled back when she felt a sudden heat, and saw that the skin on that part of her flesh was growing dark. How was that even possible, if this bureau had been made so long ago. Surely such heat, or spark was something that would be unheard of, she said to herself, getting up to retrieve some of the healing salve that her mother had given her for her abdomen.

Maybe, something said behind her, as the room began to spin and Brandi found herself once again on a journey back in time.

#     #     #

But when her body hit the ground this time, she discovered that she had fallen on something that resembled sand. She pushed out her hand and let the grains fall through her fingers. It had been a while since she had last seen the beach, much less been able to feel the grainy texture of sand.

She blinked, pinched herself and licked her hand. Thinking that all of this had to be nothing more than a dream. But the sand was real. She found herself crunching down on them as if they were pieces of black pepper and she wiped her tongue in her t’shirt, trying to get the salty, acrid taste out of her mouth. She sputtered, coughed and then ran to the water to rinse her mouth.

How could she have been so stupid? she wondered, thinking that a pinch would have sufficed. Beside her a crab, clicked its claws as it observed her. She watched as its colour changed from red to green to blue. She rubbed her eyes, thinking that maybe she was seeing things and then she shrieked, remembering the sand and not too long after, she was back in the sea, washing her eyes out. This time though, forcing herself to keep her eyes closed because sand, saltwater and clear eyes were not a good mix.

“Merde. Really!” she said, reaching her arms up in the air as if begging the heavens to take pity on her because she was doing something foolish. Something that maybe she could be excused from.

Another crab crawled closer to her and then after a while, she found that at least ten of them, sat close by, clacking their claws as if they had seen something humorous. As if she was providing them with some sort of entertainment. She passed her hand in the water, this time collecting some in her palms and threw it over then. How dare they choose to make fun of her. To see her plight as something bemused?

“Life is better served with laughter and mirth,” the first crab said, staring up at her.

Brandi dusted her hands off in her pants and moved herself back further. Was she also hearing things? she wondered, looking from one to the other.

Again, the crab edged closer. Spoke. “You are here Brandi because there is no time like the present. Nothing greater than to see and be seen.”

The crab drew back, waiting for her to acknowledge what it had said, before all the crabs drew together and formed another body. This time, though, it was a rusty colored cocker spaniel and it wagged its tail.

Brandi stood up, knowing that this was the present time, which didn’t have anything to do with her. “Were you the one who called me here?”

The dog barked, racing up towards a clearing that Brandi realized led to a house when she got further up the path. Looking across the wide expanse, she wondered how something so small could create something so grand.

“To the human mind everything else is always a mystery,” the dog said, after issuing another bark. Then the dog’s body changed into that of a human, who after walking up to the verandah, threw on a robe that hung loosely on the back of a deck chair. Standing there, it extended a hand and drew Brandi closer, eyes almost sparkling. “Yes, I am the one who called you here.” Her hands cupped Brandi’s. “I needed to know if you have what it takes.”

Brandi’s hands dropped. Her mind racing as the woman’s red hair fell onto lithe shoulders and the robes’ straps tightened. While Brandi clutched the pendant, thinking that just having it had made her position more secure.

Beside her, though, the woman leveled her gaze and as their eyes met, she shook her head. “No, not necessarily. But every man, and in your case woman, is called to fulfill her destiny.”

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Chapter 15: Kinship

Maybe if Roger had been more forthcoming and truthful, he would have told Brandi that, at some point or other, he had met her father. That once, they had even been friends. But revealing that he unlike her, could travel the bounds of space and time, he presumed might have seemed unfair since she was only now just getting the hang of it.

Retreating down the driveway, he tried to think of another reason for Nicholas being there, besides his apparent need to protect Mrs. Daniels. He had after all done a shoddy job of rescuing Brandi, making sure that she was safe. Yet, it wasn’t like Roger’s intervention had gone any better. The bracelet snatching had only been an after-thought, like Lucien’s play on time.

He looked up at the clock, wondering if he should tell her about his father. How he had failed at his job. And now Roger had to save not one but two Daniels. He shook his head, thinking that things were coming to a head too quickly and if they didn’t make some type of plan soon – to help her a avoid the past – the future would be doomed to repeat itself.

At the corner of the street, one of the lights flickered on and Roger looked up at the sky, thinking that the nameless had been right to save him. To let someone of his clan carry on his father’s name. Pulling up the zipper, he took comfort in finding his father’s jacket and carrying his baseball. Sometimes when people died, they said that remnants of them could be found in the ordinary things that they loved. He took comfort in that thought, and the fact that he’d see Brandi at school tomorrow. Even though, he was almost certain that she would pressure him for answers, now that her mother and Nicholas had chosen to open up.

What would he tell her? he wondered. And how was he going to explain that his father had deserted hers, leaving him to rot in a dungeon, decades earlier. He looked up at the sky, cursing himself for forgetting his watch. There would be no sure way to explain that his family were a bunch of nomads. That they often changed direction to suit the wind, and moved whenever feelings of fear and danger threatened to overthrow them. He whistled, ruffling the strand of hair on his head as if they were feathers, the way his father had done when he was younger. But he was no a coward.

He would stick with her through thick and thin, that had been his promise to them, his assurance to her. That whatever happened he would be on her side. He rubbed his fingers together as if, trying to suppress the cold and pulled a pack of chewing gum out of his pocket. While his stomach groaned. Tangled. Truth be told, the people in his clan weren’t brave. Not like in Brandi’s. But he was trying to be different. To change things.

Because the nameless one would appear to her, and show her all of the things that he had somehow hidden. Or just, failed to mention, and then she would know what his father had done, by choosing to leave a realm that wasn’t really meant for him. Then she would know that he had trapped her father and sealed Brandi’s fate.

Roger sank down onto the concrete as if he was trying to find something that he had lost. But there was nothing there. All that he possessed were the deck of cards that he kept in his pocket and the clothes on his back. Clothes he could make change into anything because like Brandi he possessed the touch.

He alone could show her what she was meant to be. Perhaps even destined, but she alone would be the one to choose. To accept the battle.

The wind picked up and he dragged himself over to the grass and shuffled the deck of baseball cards that some say (for them) predicted the future. Who would you be if you could choose to be one of the greats? he thought, laying Joe DiMaggio, Hank Arron and Albert Pujois face down. He shuffled the rest of the cards and added Chipper Jones, Babe Ruth and Mariano Rivera. Uncertain as to which one lady luck would prescribe, when the wind blew and he came face to face with Jackie Robinson.

One of the African American players whom he head learnt, had had it tough, starting out. No. He scratched his head, as another Hank Arron also revealed itself. Brandi wasn’t going to be a wanderer like her father, he thought, re-shuffling the deck. Ashamed that he had allowed Lucien get the upper hand. Only this wasn’t a game.

And she was nothing like her father, he thought because she has everything to live for. He would show her. Because like her, he was doing something that his father could not.

Roger nodded, wiping his eyes, pretending that it had only been the dust. Knowing that this thing between them was only a part of the deal. And he had to make sure that she chose wisely. Not because he truly cared. Or because she seemed lost. With or without him, she would have to learn that life was fraught with risk. Challenges. And if she still chose to be a seer, then he would have to make everything that much harder so that she eventually decided against herself.

Roger stuffed the cards back into his pocket, no longer caring about its order or the sanctity of a reading because Brandi wouldn’t be made to see the cards. Wouldn’t be made to choose, he assured himself, brushing his hands in his jeans and getting up. Ready to make his way home. With or without Nicholas’ help, he would see to it, because revelations were a thing of the past. Something he wouldn’t have to consider because on any journey that she pursued, they’d be doing it together.

Writing : Using A.D.D. to Get more Substance into your Fiction

In the process of getting things done all that’s necessary is a focus on action, dialogue and description or A.D.D. With this technique any writer can add substance to their work and engage their readers. But don’t just take my word for it, read widely and learn from other writers, how it is done. (In this article, I’ve highlighted a few novels and added an excerpt of a scene from They Walk the Night.)

Take for example the novel, The Silent Wife, which took me about three or four days to complete. Of course going over it again at a slower pace, I can see how the actions of the various characters appear genuine and unique for each of them, because this author draws her readers in from the get go. In it’s most simplistic terms the novel is about a woman who doesn’t ask for anything from the guy she’s with, only to lose it because he has developed an interest in someone else.

True to life, these characters seem to step off the page, begging for recognition because their actions are as truthful and real as that of any other ordinary individuals. (Spoiler Alert) Take for instance Natasha, the young woman who gets involved with a married man and has the audacity to ask him to leave his wife. A woman who we can almost feel sorry for as the story progresses, because what she wants doesn’t seem to be much of anything, and yet it is denied her, which of course is what makes the novel a good piece of fiction and a great read. Because we are presented with the whole picture, actions, motivations, choices. Don’t believe me, take the time and read the novel for yourself.

So let’s break it all down. A stands for ACTION. Remember, something must happen in your novel or story. Every writer knows this because we are attuned to  conflict. Or like one of my friend’s used to say,that  she was always attracting other people’s drama. Well whatever you call it, it is the key ingredient in any story. Take Brandi and Teresa for example, if you’re following my updates of The Way of the Seer. These two friends (Brandi and Teresa) fall out with each other because one of them (Brandi) believes wholeheartedly in having special powers, so much so in fact that she desires them. Her friend, Teresa on the other hand, who may be wiser and more conscious of the way of the world, tries to talk her out of it. Thus conflict ensues and the story begins with Brandi’s journey to find herself and hopefully learn more about her absent father.

So, how about you? What’s your short story, poem, novel or article about? How can you gain the reader’s interest and get them to follow what you have to say? Are there vampires, werewolves or goblins? Or is there something else that will excite them as they read your tale?

D is for DIALOGUE. Remember that everybody has something to say. Or at least everybody must say something meaningful and that dialogue has different uses. (So we can be learning about the characters, advancing the story forward, adding mood/music to the scene etc. For more info, check out This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley. These are three of the five things he points out in his novel.) Who are your main characters and what do they say? Can you make their dialogue unique, so that the reader can tell who is talking what, if their names were omitted? Say your words out loud. Do they seem plausible? If so keep them, if not attempt a re-write or get a second opinion.

Or take some of the text that is spoken in your favorite tv dramas or novels and play with them. Ask yourself if your character(/s) was in such and such a predicament what would they say. One show that I enjoy listening to or watching because of their banter is The Good Wife. In some small way, their play on words often makes things interesting. Besides this, there are many great novels where the text is both relevant and useful. I think short stories have this down pact, because whatever is offered is necessary. Of course film and poetry are different mediums that use language or diction to their advantage. So that dialogue is there for many reasons, one of which is to move the story along.

Remember, your characters must be conveying something and it shouldn’t all be just exposition. Try reading a first person novel like Now is Good or Wrecked and a third person novel like The Coldest Girl in Coldtown or Viral Nation. See how different authors use dialogue in their stories and how the type of narrator affects what is being said. Think for example the distance the narrator is from the reader and how that voice or distance shapes the story. Taking for example Viral Nation, which could be more of a novel where a cast of characters sort of tell the story versus Now is Good, where the main character, Tessa is looking at her life. Seeing both sides can help you decide on what’s best for your story.

And last, but not least, we have DESCRIPTION. How good are you at describing what happens  to your characters or setting the scene? Read, read. Write, write. A lot of what we do, can be improved by habitual practice (something hinted at by Octavia Butler in her discussion of talent versus the practice of craft. Sitting down and writing she insists can happen if you agree to sit and write, day after day. Like a well-oiled machine, you can train yourself to get better). Natalie Goldberg calls it “continual practice” in her novel, Writing down the Bones. I think as writers, we need to be more observant. And sometimes if we are lucky our brain is busy storing stuff away for future use, something that we are not always aware of. Description can come to mean setting, the layout of our scenes and the care with which we describe what is going on. Or even something as minuscule as paying attention to our characters and making sure that the things we say about them in the beginning of the story, doesn’t conflict with something that appears later on. So read widely and learn from what you read, on how to improve your work and become better, because you never can tell where that mark of inspiration will come from.

And just in case you need a little hint of how all this can be achieved: here is an excerpt from the novel, They Walk The Night (which ended up becoming Rebecca Trainer: Mind Reader. It inspired this site). Maybe it can help inspire you to read more and learn how to use A.D.D to your advantage.

Here is the beginning scene of chapter four, where Special Agent Jody Watkins – a city cop who is chasing after children with special powers, who can read minds – is being interrogated after she narrowly escaped a scuffle Rebecca Trainer, that almost ended her life.

CHAPTER FOUR

Jody looked around the sparse room that she had paced countless times before. Her eyes focused on the dark screen. It was strange, because she was seated in the suspect’s chair, as two of her colleagues paced the interrogation room, that seemed smaller than she remembered it. She pulled at her collar and rubbed sweaty palms into jeans, thankful that they had chosen against handcuffs. All-the while she wondered about the identity of the person behind the bullet-proof glass.

Maybe she would only receive a minor reprimand, she thought. If they believed her story.

“I need you to go over what happened again?” the taller male cop said. He looked down at her as if she was a rookie; his eyes moving from her to the statement.

Agent Watkins sighed. Balling her hands into fists. “That’s what I’ve been doing for the last two hours,” she said, without looking up. “Why don’t you just tell me what you’d like to hear. And I’ll say it.” She closed her eyes, thinking that the day couldn’t get any worse. Everybody made mistakes.

She pulled back and sank deeper into her chair, the sound of the bullet leaving the chamber echoing around her. Why had she opened fire? she wondered, pulling at a stray braid that had come loose. She could still see the look of determination etched on the girl’s face.

“Agent Watkins, this isn’t play school,” the shorter female cop said, laying a hand on her shoulder. “You said that she came in to report an assault. What we would like to know is what changed? And why? Why would this girl, Rebecca Trainer decide to turn the gun on you if you were only trying to help?” The woman looked at the statement, sheepishly. “Was she provoked?”

Sure, Agent Watkins thought, before shaking her head. “I didn’t provoke her.” She shook her head. “The girl just insisted that the landlord had threatened her and I told her that her accusations were unsubstantial.” She indicated to the orange form and straightened her skirt. “No one knows where she got that scar. Or busted her nose.”

The other female cop lifted her hands and looked at her partner who frowned. “So you didn’t believe her?” She pulled out a seat. Sat down. “Others have said that there was something there. What did you know that was different?” she asked, shoving the files over to Jody.

“I can’t tell another cop how to do their job,” Agent Watkins said. The woman wasn’t a friend or someone she could trust.

The two cops eyed the mirror. They were at a standstill because Agent Watkins refused to budge.

What could she tell them? Jody wondered. She barely knew the girl. “Talk to Tron,” she said. “He gave her to me.”

The two city cops eyed her and the male one said, “He’s being dealt with.”

Hair on the edge of her arm perked up and she felt a sliver of regret. It was almost as if she had done something wrong. She could feel the guilt rising. But she pushed it down. Now wasn’t the time for the truth.

The female cop turned to look at her again. This time, though, her gaze was slow. More certain. “What we’re concerned about is you. Why did you move her?” She paused. “You could have used any of these rooms. But instead you chose to take her to your hovercraft. What are you trying to hide?”

Agent Watkins cleared her throat. “We’ve taken this charade far enough.” She stood. “If there’s anything else, contact my lawyer.” She dropped a business card onto the desk. “You’re three years my junior and you’re telling me, how to do my job.” She unclipped her badge. Let it clatter on the table.

“Sit down, detective,” another male voice boomed from the speakers. “Nobody is trying to tell you how to do anything,” he said. “If you’d show a little more tact we wouldn’t be wasting time and manpower behind an operation that should have required fewer officials.”

Special Agent Jody Watkins grabbed the edge of the table to keep herself from falling. That voice sounded familiar. She grimaced. Tried to reflect. Cases like these were in-house matters. Things that were outside his purview. Her husband had no reason to be here. She wiped her brow with the back of her hand and tried to count to ten.

The side door opened. Two men, the District Leader and the Captain, stepped inside. “You’re dismissed,” the captain said, motioning to the two city cops who had been assigned to the case.

They bowed at the district leader in his purple robe and then glanced quickly at Jody. They had heard that she was connected, now they knew the extent of it. Silently, they followed the captain back into the squad room.

“Must you be so harsh with everyone?” he asked, kissing her cheek. Chuckling as she pulled away. He raised his hands in the air and stepped back, knowing that she would be suspicious. “I am here merely as an observer of justice,” he said, looking at her; waiting for the lines on her forehead to soften.

“No, I know you,” she said, forcing a smile. “You follow your own instincts.” She examined his face. “What concessions have you agreed to?”

Let me know what you think. Or ideas for future posts…And thanks for reading.

Chapter 14: Parents Just Don’t Understand

Mrs. Daniels was sitting outside on the porch when they reached the house. Watching her inquisitive gaze, Brandi looked down at her shoes, and tried to think up some excuse for her absence. Something that her mother would agree with.

But, that was before Nicholas exited the house, and took a seat opposite her mother. Brandi’s lips moved silently, as if she was speaking to herself. By the scowl on her face, Roger guessed that the pep talk was anything but friendly. Or upbeat as she glanced at him. Ushering him up the narrow driveway, where her bike usually lay, and yet she didn’t even register its absence. Almost forgetting that if anything, her mother was the one, who would have the need to be angry or dismayed because she hadn’t been at home.

Indicting to the jacket she wore, Roger tugged at his own shirt, trying to get her to notice the revealing nature of the fabric. But Brandi brushed his fingers away and then after a moment’s hesitation and her mother’s accompanying stare, she pulled it close. Remembering that a few weeks earlier, she had been the one who had coerced her into buying it.

“You should be in bed,” Mrs. Daniels said, getting up from her perch on the rocking chair. Her skepticism about the stranger, did nothing to abate her feelings of misplaced trust and anxiety, as she blew her nose into a handkerchief, and then surveyed Roger, for some assurance that he should be there. And wasn’t intruding.

Perhaps, conscious of the questions his presence raised, he took a step forward and extended a hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Daniels. I’m Roger Barnes.”

She looked at him comically and offered a fake smile, as Nicholas put out a hand to stop her. But she embraced the boy anyway. “You must be confusing me with somebody else, my friends call me Stein. Gertrude Stein,” she said, her eyes peering at Roger’s. “What are you doing with my daughter?” Roger released himself from her embrace and took a step back. It was as if this wasn’t how he had envisioned their meeting. Twisting his neck, he pulled at a stray curls at the back of his head and looked up towards the heavens.

“I wanted to make sure she got in safely,” he said, as Mrs. Daniels straightened her shoulders and wrapped the shawl more tightly around herself. Her face angling towards Nicholas who came closer, taking away the narrow space between them that would have served as an exit.

“Oh, really,” Nicholas said, grabbing his arm and poking his skin. “Don’t you have parents or some kind of curfew?”

Roger shook his head, angling to get a look at Brandi, who stood a few feet away and looked rather distant. Backed against the side railing, Roger shoved his hand into his pants pocket, wondering what he could say to stop them when his fingers brushed against a baseball. He retrieved it, and wiped his brow, no longer feeling stifled and hemmed in, as his eyes met Brandi’s. She was watching him, as he clutched the ball. Watching as the storm abated and the furrowed eyebrows started to even out and his breathing became a little more calm. Was she testing him? he wondered, plastering on a smile and becoming almost jovial. As if in response to their arrogance, he was saying okay, bring it on.

Behind them, Brandi cleared her throat and moved closer. “It’s nothing for you to concern yourselves with. We have world Literature with Mrs. Jenkins, if you must know. And tonight, he saved me from being stuck in another dimension.”

Nicholas scratched his brow, shifting his weight from one side of his body to the other, realizing for the first time that there was something odd about the boy and the ball. Something that he should have remembered. But for whatever reason his mind was drawing a blank.

Mrs. Daniels nodded, not sure how to take this. Even if she was the queen on a game of chess about to be sacrificed, she wasn’t going to show her hand, or take things at face value. She touched her daughter’s head and neck, trying to ascertain the extent of the fever before Brandi pulled away. “Thanks for that then. She seems okay.”

Brandi shifted her gaze awkwardly, not wanting Roger to think that this was an everyday occurrence. It wasn’t as though people came to their house willingly. Or casually. She dropped her silent phone onto the center table and raised her head. “Honestly mum, Teresa was the one who invited me out. Roger is just a back up. An escort,” she said, winking at him, until she saw his features fall.

Nicholas looked from on to the other suspiciously while her mother folded her hands and examined the dead phone. “Okay,” she said, sighing, not even bothering to turn on the phone and check for herself as Brandi moved silently towards the front door. She removed the jacket and handed it to him.

After a moment, she turned back as Roger accepted his jacket and made a motion towards the stair. “Oh and in case any of you are wondering, Roger’s also my guardian.”

Mrs. Daniels slammed her fist down on the table and Nicholas grunted as if he too was a parent. Her parent. Someone who had something to say on the matter. “And yet, you allow her to go out by herself and face that doom.”

“No, I did nothing of the sort,” Roger said pulled away, unprepared for the attack. The hostility brewing in the older man’s eyes as the scene from the diner came to him unbidden. “You should be the last person to talk about my action.” He stuffed his arms into the jacket. “Because your actions in the diner didn’t save her from being discovered. I am here, only to help make her into what she will become.” He edged down the stairs, waiting for them to raise any further objections as Mrs. Daniels pulled her daughter to the side and Nicholas glared, like a fire-breathing dragon who could demolish anyone.

“Says you, the boy who lacks history and connections.”

Roger turned back, unfazed, as if he had been called worse. Shaking his head. “Honestly I would have thought at least that you’d be glad, because our families have a shared history.” Nicholas looked at him doubtful before he pulled out the baseball glove and offered it to him. With thin fingers, Nicholas followed the lines of the family tree and saw that indeed there was some connection, before he offered the glove to Mrs. Daniels who did the same. Taking her time to sift through the names and discover their familial connection.

Then she looked at her daughter, wondering if any of this was new to her. But from her features, she knew that she had already know and that like with her father, Mrs. Daniels was the one who was now in the dark.

“What do you propose to do? Do you have some sort of plan?” she asked, leaning onto the railing, suddenly feeling tired and strained.

“She will meet with the nameless one,” he said, his eyes on Nicholas. “Unless you’d prefer another run in with Lucien.”

Mrs. Daniels raised an eyebrow as if this had been something that they had discussed and then slowly she nodded her head. It would be futile to go against the Foundation, she thought. Unnecessary to lose her daughter.

“Of course,” Roger said, as if reading her mind, collecting the baseball glove with his free hand. “Nobody’s losing anyone on my watch. Please consider Brandi a free agent. No one can touch her, until she turns sixteen.”

Mrs. Daniels nodded, as though this too had been discussed. But her face still seemed strained. Exhausted.

“You should tell her what you know, because Lucien has already found a way to use her friends.”

Brandi’s face turned scarlet as her mother’s eyes devoured hers. “Like I was saying earlier, Latoya’s not my friend and I didn’t injure her.”

Nicholas pulled out his phone and scrolled through the Foundation updates as if anything that happened was known to everyone within the circle. He scrolled through the pages, becoming more and more engrossed, until he looked up and saw mrs. Daniels leaning on his shoulder, her eyes almost pleading, and brimming with tears. “Then whatever the connection, you’ve definitely done something wrong, because Lucien is the least of your worries,” Nicholas said, placing a hand on her arm. “Unless you’ve already met the nameless?”

Brandi’s eyes narrowed and she shook her head. Not too far off, Roger sucked in a deep breath as the trees around them began to rustle and shake. Mrs. Daniels shrieked and went towards the door as if something about this frightened her. “Maybe we should do this inside.”

“Inside?” Brandi looked around at them, as if they all held a little piece of the puzzle that was quickly becoming her life. “What is it that you’re not telling me?” she asked, hands on her hips.

“Someone will show you the past,” Roger began, before Nicholas could cover his mouth.

“But that’s not the crux of it,” he said, running a hand through his hair. “In the end, you are the only one who can decide how things will go. Who can be saved.”

Brandi looked at him, not really following because she had no idea about who she would have to choose from and how she would be able to make the final decision. “How am I supposed to decide?” she asked, looking at each of them one by one.

Her mother gave her arm a reassuring squeeze. “By conquering your fears and discovering your enemies,” she said, turning and going towards the open door. Nicholas nodded, following her inside. Their fingers joining even before they crossed the threshold. Standing there, Brandi could do nothing but contemplate their union which with every passing day was becoming less and less of a mirage. She could almost see it progressing further in her dreams, and she shuddered, as Roger gave her a plaintive smile.

“Catch you tomorrow,” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t worry, there are worse things.”

Like what? Brandi wanted to counter, but held her breath. She didn’t need another person hating her or doubting her reactions she thought as he turned to leave. “Yeah, see you in school,” she said, instead, not even concerned about the nameless one or her opponent because something else more piercing was rising within her. Thoughts of her father.

Chapter 13: The Way Back Home

Suddenly Brandi didn’t feel like dancing. Or going out. Instead, she imagined what it would have been like if she had just stayed home and counted her blessings. Besides, she was too young to die, she thought, remembering the image of the woman who had tried to pry her hands away from her scorching partner. Not that she had wanted specifically to save Roger, but maybe like her, he still had family. People who were looking forward to seeing him again.

And she didn’t want to perish. No, not in some alternative universe where the people wore ballroom gowns and had their own personal numbers.

“Wait, what number are we?” Brandi asked, breaking out of her reverie, as seven – the number of the other couple – stayed fixed in her mind.

Roger held onto her hand, touched his lips. “We’re fourteen. Why?”

She looked up at him, feeling all of the air being sucked out of the room and grabbed her wrist. “That means we’re next.” He shook his head, not really believing her.

“Next?” The words left his lips slowly. He looked baffled, as she glanced at the clock, wondering how many more minutes they would have before their luck ran out.

She touched the pendant. A memory emerged.

The one where Teresa had slammed the ball into the volleyball player, and caused the cheerleader at the top of the pyramid to fall. She stared at the DJ, eyes more intent as she realized that the girl moved with a slight limp. Brandi scratched her head.

Because back then, Latoya had been the one in the limelight. The one who had enjoyed showing her exuberance at football and basketball games. A smile spread across Brandi’s face because even though Mrs. Redman had not seen it fit to enter her into junior competitions, she had coached them about being graceful and effortless in their movements, since judges were often spiteful and exacting.

Brandi moved closer to the center, no longer concerned that Roger had lost. Or that Lucien had appeared. They could win, she thought, as the DJ – Latoya – moved forward, at a more leisurely pace. Her left leg, just as swollen as Brandi had remembered it, when she had gone to the nurse’s station to collect her irate friend.

Walking and standing was one thing. Dancing would be another, she presumed; bowing graciously as Roger looked around the room.

She glanced at her watch and then looked at the other one on the wall. The difference between the two was seven, which meant that she was right. They were number two. The second couple to be sacrificed for whatever it was that this game entailed.

Latoya opened her hands and looked at her, weaving an almost quizzical expression. “I know you were hoping for the locomotion,” she said, as if reading her mind, “but this is a slow dance.”

Brandi nodded as the sea of people disappeared, leaving only them, Roger and Lucien. Her eyes narrowed, certain that they could do it, whatever it takes.

As if to caution her, a thought rose, like the hand of Nicholas that had stopped her at the cafe before she ran through the side door. Nothing is as it seems, it said, as the pendant reclaimed its place around her neck. Was it trying to tell her something? she asked herself. Warn her perhaps that her current course of action was the wrong one. She looked towards Roger to see if he was the one who was sending her the message. To hint at some disaster. But his face remained impassive until he eyed Lucien. His countenance becoming more firm and determined.

No. Brandi paused, stretched her hands and squatted, as if she needed to become more limber. More capable and confident. She adjusted her bun and allowed Roger to take possession of her arm as she held her breath, and then exhaled.

“I can do this.”

Whether it was fear or that sense of dread you encountered before undertaking a great feat, Roger offered her a different view, as he strained to get a better look at her and shook his head. “You don’t have to do this. Not with her.” And as if on cue, the music started up and Latoya embraced her partner. The smile she gave Brandi, jarring. No, you don’t have to.

So she turned away, wondering if the similarities between the DJ and Latoya were real. Or if they had just been another part of her imagination, that was making her see the people one moment, and then miss them the next. Her grip tightened. She leaned into Roger and whispered. “Have you noticed anything strange about the DJ?” Following her eyes, his gaze shifted.

“Yes.” His face clouded. “Isn’t she a friend of Teresa’s?”

Brandi looked at him, wondering if he was just as delusional. Or crazy. Because Teresa’s friends were nothing like this. That. And besides, she would never let herself  get hung up on revenge. She inched forward, the tip of her shoes, grinding into his toes as if she they were a pestle in a mortar.

He grimaced, yanking his leg back, doing his best not to scowl. “Is she Latoya?”

Brandi nodded and bit her bottom lip, hiding from him, the fact that she and the ex-cheerleader had arrived at the party together.

“So, how do you think she knows Lucien?” he asked, seeming somewhat less concerned about the earlier friends angle, as he rubbed an imaginary mustache. Brandi shook her head as a silver bracelet glistened on Latoya’s arm and she felt a slight shiver run down her spine.

“Honestly, I have no idea, but nothing is as it seems.” They watched as Lucien dipped the girl and then the two of them laughed.

Neither one of them moved, until they realized that the judges were going for their numbered cards. Brandi picked up the pace, her eyes going to Roger to alert him about the bracelet, but he seemed more wary, also edging away. So she would have to dance. And make it to the end to ensure that they were safe.

“You’ll have to out dance her before we run out of time,” he said, indicating to the clock.

“I know.” She pushed down on his arm, as if he was giving away everything that they had learned. The charms sparkled as they moved closer. She looked at Latoya, wondering where she had gotten the bracelet, as Roger shook his head. “Roger, move closer.”

He attempted a dip and then a wide twirl. Latoya stood just before them, her arm outstretched as if she was getting ready for a bow. “I hope you lose,” she said, bumping into Brandi with her waist.

She pretended to be seriously hurt, dropping Roger’s arm. “Now,” she said. “Get the bracelet.”

Roger grabbed Latoya’s wrist and yanked it off. “Funny how we both want the same thing. And have the same idea.”

Lucien shrank back as if he had just been hit. While Latoya dropped to her knees and fanned the flames with the edge of her dress.

“You won’t be so lucky next time, son,” Lucien said, tipping his hat and making a quick escape. He glanced at Latoya, showing only regret, as her screams rose and she tried yanking on her braids which seemed to be getting tighter.

“Can we save her?” Brandi asked, her fingers knotting together as she cupped her ears. By her side, Roger’s head shook.

“No, unfortunately, she already made her choice. Now she must live with it.” His arms opened and he collected Brandi, transporting her back to their own time, as a wormhole opened up near her home and they were thrown onto the grass.

She got up and hugged him. “How did you know, how to do that?” she asked, forgetting all the other discord and the night’s events.

Roger dusted off his pants as if it had only been an after thought and she had been the real hero. “You’re getting better at thinking on your feet.” He appraised her. “Now how about me getting you home.”

“Sure,” she said, her face still slightly confused. She hadn’t meant to injure anyone, and now thanks to them, her, Latoya was stuck in some abyss probably thinking about some personal injury that had been done.

Roger placed a hand on her arm, after observing her slow gait. “Remember it wasn’t your fault. No matter what, we do what we have to do.”

She gave him a wary look, wondering if he’d ever tire of the assignments and the tests and whatever it was that he was trying to teach her. Her hand making a slow, lazy trail from the pendant to the scar that she could still feel under the thin fabric of her dress. She squeezed his arm. Around them, the wind picked up and he offered her his sweater. Thankfully, she accepted it and burrowed deeper as if it was some alcove, that could keep her hidden from everything.

But at the corner of the street, she spied a house that resembled hers. Her shoulders became rigid while her backbone remained erect as she spied the faint outside light. Standing there with Roger, she prayed for her mother’s absence, because she had had enough disappointment for one night. And she could do without more scolding.

At her side, Roger smiled broadly and then bowed, like a gallant knight offering  his arm to the queen. “Don’t worry yourself, I’ll explain everything.” He promised, as she sighed, already knowing that her mother would be too much for the likes of him.

Chapter 12 : If You Can’d Dance, then You Won’t Live (entire)

Brandi grabbed Roger’s arm as the judges glanced in their direction, giving them nods of approval. It had been months since she had last taken a step in Mrs. Redman’s class, but here, after a few deep breaths she relaxed her shoulders and leaned into her partner. Trying her best to think about the music and the costumed people who seemed to belong more to this time period than them. Roger leaned closer too, as if trying to suppress a giggle. She gave him a furtive glance, demanding silence. Seriousness.

Shrinking into himself, he glanced nervously at his feet, while she attempted to guide them. “I take it, you’ve done this before?”

“Yes,” Brandi said, clearing her throat as his hands moved from around her neck to capture her shoulders. She stiffened. Her eyes going into the space just above his head.

He relaxed as they switched positions. “Good, then I don’t feel so stupid, about standing where you once stood,” he said, as if offering her some new joke.

Brandi frowned, wondering if he was trying to tell her something about what had happened to him, and how he had ended up being her guardian. But the distant expression on his face told her otherwise. Besides, he was the guy who read about baseball for fun. She had seen him do it during English class, when he suspected that no one else was looking. Now though, she wondered if he didn’t know anything about music. Or any of the musical greats. She shook her head, thinking briefly about Teresa, her eyes following Roger. There was no other way to explain their connection. Especially since the last trip she had taken, like this, had happened while she was sleeping. Her brow wrinkled. Was this some sort of astral projection? she thought, hearing some old 60’s music start up.

“Don’t worry. It’s only the monkey,” Roger said, making some weird gestures with his hands. “Watch me. Or follow the crowd.”

He smiled as a group of women beside them squealed, their arms going up and down as they moved from side to side. Then he grabbed Brandi’s hands. “Come on.”

For a few seconds, Brandi watched him, wondering which one was more ridiculous – the group of screaming women at their side or Roger, who was actually acting like a real monkey. She made a face, forgetting herself. Slowly, letting out the air that had collected in her lungs, she copied his movements. Her body loosening up on its own. Was this really what the 60’s had been like? she asked herself, trying to remember some of the crazy dances her mother had shown her, after her dance sessions. There had been the pony and the swim, if she remembered correctly. Her mother, she was almost certain, had been even more adept. She glanced at Roger. A guy like him would have nothing on the pony, she thought, moving closer.

Likewise, he ambled towards her, too busy doing his own routine to notice her changed expression.

So she leaned in closer and challenged him. “Can you do the pony?”

Roger’s hands stopped, as he gazed across the room. The others changed their moves to match the new music. He looked down at Brandi, becoming even more suspicious, beads of sweat dropping from his face as he became a little more serious. “No, but, can you?”

Like a dance instructor Brandi created some room and performed the steps. “Right, ball, change,” she said, making sure that his eyes were directed at her feet. “Left, ball, change.” The black dress showing the crisp exactness of her execution as Roger’s eyes moved momentarily to assess the jerky movements of the man beside him, whose number read seven.

Taking a deep breath, Roger followed her slowly, as the disco ball changed from red to blue to silver. Watching Brandi move freely across the floor, he wondered what she might have done to get them there, because she seemed to be able to control the music. Unless, she had no idea what she was doing and didn’t know that changing plaines was forbidden for seers.

He put a hand up, is self-defense and asked, “Have you figured out how to get us out of here?”

Brandi shrugged. Certain that their arrival there hadn’t been her fault. “No. This has nothing to do with me,” she said, biting her bottom lip. Looking up at him, she wondered if he knew more than he was letting on, because surely someone, at the other party, would realize that they were gone.

Teresa. She would ring the alarm.

With her free hand, Brandi tried to pull at the number that was stitched to her back. But Roger dissuaded her, because the people around them were suddenly closing in. Making their space even smaller.

“The Hitchhiker,” he said, his feet going numb, as her eyes darted towards him. “And I challenge you to do the Hitchhiker.”

Brandi eyed him cautiously, as the music changed and the other dancers became a little more erratic. Were they hailing a cab? Or trying to get a lift? she asked herself, as the woman next to her put a hand on her hips and followed the now familiar gestures.

“Oh, crap,” Roger said, as a guy backed into him. He groaned, running his hands through his hair. Brandi wanted to smile at his confused look, but she was too busy learning the moves. Could it have been any worse? she wondered, as the man next to them collapsed.

Roger turned, realizing that he wasn’t the only one who was a lousy dancer. At the left side of them, the man’s dance partner reached down to help him up.

Roger pulled back, grabbing hold of Brandi’s arm as the overhead lights became brighter. The DJ stepped up to the mike and motioned towards the odd couple. “Seems like we have our first casualty,” she said, her sequined dress, shimmering in the limelight. Her voice boomed louder than the music as Brandi peered at her, because her voice sounded familiar.

Then the DJ bowed and cheered. “Hats off to the lovely couple.” The spotlight came on, captured them as the other couples parted.

“Death by flaming shoes.”

Almost instinctively, Brandi ran towards Roger who shielded her eyes as the couples’ shoes caught on fire and then their bodies evaporated.

A warning bell sounded and Brandi looked at Roger perplexed. She had never experienced anything so tragic before, her fingers tightening around his. Color drained from Roger’s face as a man with a red baseball cap moved towards them.

Following her lead, he squeezed her hand and lifted her chin. “You’re the only one who can get us out of this.”

Brandi’s face folded. “You can’t be serious?”

He nodded. Looked at her, his face calm. “Yes, this is not a test,” he said, forcing her to take in the entire room. And then, as if reading the rules that had been on the strip he reminded her, “To the Seer of the Past, you can see the past and the present but you cannot change time.”

Brandi sighed, remembering the flaming couple as her eyes met Lucien’s. Some things it seems are just meant to be, she thought, nodding at Roger, knowing that having Lucien there wasn’t a good sign.

Around them, the other couples joined hands and Roger took Brandi’s hand. “Act as if nothing strange has just happened,” he said, feeling the temperature in the room increase. “Act as if everything is normal and can be fixed.”

Brandi nodded as her eyes met those of the woman on the stage. She flashed a smile, and Brandi wondered if what she was doing was eliminating the competition, as the DJ, Latoya waved a hand in the air, as if to say, see you on the other side.