A Call in the Darkness
I said before that dreams are the lifeblood of my kind. Laying there in that bed, the four of us safe and happy and relaxed, I was awash in a subtle mix of dream energies. It was so refreshing and recharging, like cleaning out your computer and fully letting your smart phone get full battery.
And for those of you who haven't been keeping track so far, just because there were four boys in my bed doesn't mean we were doing some sort of dog-pile sex thing (no offense Cody and Nick, I know that you're wolves not dogs). So while we were lying in pairs, next to our respective boyfriends, it doesn't mean that we were making out. I have to admit though, the dreams we all were having did have that subtle tang of horniness to them.
How can I tell, you ask? I guess that it's not been fully explained. Okay, according to what you call popular myth and folklore, vampires subsist on human blood, or vitae. Literally the power of life itself, that flows in every part of you. That's easy enough to deal with. There's tons of movies about vampires and such, not to mention the classic novels and TV shows and such. Any way you slice it, the concept is pretty simple. Vampires suck blood out of their victims and live off that.
Well, my kinain live off the power of dreams. Far less intrusive and destructive (and desiccating) to the donors and to be honest, you normal humans just trade your dreams into the collective unconscious of the universe, what we call the Dreaming. Well, maybe trade is not the right word. It's more like you bleed it. Those of you that actually do dream, and I mean good dreams, not like planning on building a large structure or changing the underlying social structure and calling that a "dream," your body and mind and soul generate the energy that we call Glamour. Unfortunately, your kind usually cannot use this tremendous power you generate. It's sad in a way. Glamour is so much more than just magic. It's how dreams distill into reality. It's the energy that drives people to try and make art, to create beauty. It's the force of raw creation.
So basically, we changelings harvest the energy of these dreams. We drink in the beauty and energy of your dreams and do our best to try to stimulate this energy in you, not because we need it, but because it makes your life better when we can help you make it. It's weird. It sounds like I'm calling all of humanity cattle. I don't want to give that impression. Changelings inspire humanity because, well first off we got nothing better to do, but mostly because your dreams are so potent, we just can't understand why you can't use it like we can, or like the Mages can, or like the werewolves can. Maybe this so-called "great destiny" my parents keep alluding to has something to do with that.
So anyways, yeah, we were all having interesting dreams. The details aren't all that clear, but there was a sense of the sensual to some of it, a lot of running in some other parts, at least one of us was dreaming about flying (it's such a distinct dream that you can always tell when someone's doing the flying bit. Almost as distinct as the naked/only in underwear in a public place dream), and I know I felt one person dreaming about fire, but not in a good way. That was like a very wild and bad dream. For some reason, it made me sad. Profoundly so! That's another thing I should say just now: dreams are about emotion and desire as much as intellect and reason. They don't always make sense, but if they are true dreams, they are potent, in more than one way.
My cell phone rang. Odd things cell phones. No physical connection to anything yet they are the fastest way to connect to anyone over long distances. I should say that I don't use it much. I often forget to carry it. Or plug it in at night to charge it. Either way, it was getting louder and louder, so I had to wake up, despite having a great dream myself. What was I dreaming about? Strangely enough, about riding unicorns with Kay back in Cerulean. Just chasing the wind ("that's all they said that life requires," according to John Mellencamp, right?) and being happy with life in general.
So I half climb over Kay, who for once is sleeping like a total log. I mean he doesn't even twitch while I'm just leaning on his chest and reaching over to where the cell phone is making that stoopid singing frog sound. I thought it was a pretty cool retro ring tone at first, but now it's just annoying as hell. "A ring ding ding da ding ding da ding dang! A ring ding ding da ding ding da ding dang!" I flip it open and look at the number on the tiny screen before bringing it over to my ear. It was Juan's home number. I lay back down as I bring the phone to my ear.
"Hola. You are Roberto?" the voice on the other end said. It was an older female with heavy Spanish accent, so I assumed it was Juan's mom.
"Yes, I'm Robby. Is this Mrs. Castillo?"
"Jes. He asked me call jou. Can jou comes de emergency room? Juanito has been hurt."
I sat up quickly, tossing the sheets back off Kenny a bit in the process. "Is he okay?"
"He has been hurt. He asks for jou."
"What hospital are you at?"
"What's happening," Kenny asked, pushing up to his elbows next to me. At least one of the wolves looked up. I "uh huh-ed" my way through the directions about where the hospital was. Lawrence General Hospital, one town over and down on I-495.
"Please hurry. He wont talk de la policia until he talk wit' jou."
"We'll be right there." I slapped the phone closed and rolled over my boyfriend. "Mom! Dad!"
"Robyn, what's going on?" Kenny said, half a step behind me.
"Juan's been hurt, he's at the emergency room at Lawrence General."
"Geeze. I'll get Nicky and Cody up."
I knocked on my parent's bedroom door and opened it quickly. "Mom! Can you take me to Lawrence General?"
"Robby, it's 2:30 in the morning. Why do you need to go to…"
"Juan's been hurt. His mom called. Can you take us?"
"Get dressed, Robby," Dad said, getting out of bed. "I'll take them, Ann."
"You think I'm staying behind?" she asked, slipping her feet out of bed as well. I ran back to the room in time to see Kenny pulling his shirt over his head. Cody and Nick transformed back and were instantly fully dressed. Wish I knew that trick.!
"You thinking what we're thinking," Cody asked, stretching his arms over his head.
"That Juan was ambushed? Yup."
"Then we're definitely going in packing," Kenny said.
"More than that." Nick said. "We need to be a little more creative in how we get there. I'm thinking that someone will be watchin' the hospital parkin' lot."
"You have a better way to go 13 miles fast without using a car?" Kenny asked. Nick smiled. Cody looked over with this curious expression.
"You might say that. It's 13 miles to the hospital following the roads, I'm sure, but going in a straight line it's probably lots less than that. Nick and I can run that far in under 20 minutes."
"Nosir! That's like running the Boston Marathon! In half the time!"
"We do kind of have an unfair advantage when it comes to running," Nick grinned. He shape shifted suddenly, taking the form of a huge wolf, much larger than the shape he was in while he and Cody were sleeping. He looked wicked strong in the front in that shape , like a wolf version of a body builder.
"We can cover the ground faster than the car and we can travel in the Umbra, so we wont be seen," Cody said. "Grab what you're gonna grab then hop on. And, uh, hold on tight but don't rip my fur out."
"Dad," I said, hopping out into the hallway in one bound, reminding me once again that my Satyr legs are a force to be reckoned with. "We'll meet you down there, okay?"
"At the hospital, we'll meet you there."
"How the hell? Robby, is there something you're not telling us?"
"That's a two way street, Dad. Trust me, we'll be there ahead of you. Just meet us there."
I ran back to my room, seeing Kenny sitting up on Nick's back. He tossed me a pair of lightsabres, two hanging off his own belt loops. I slipped into my shoes without socks and pulled my shirt on over my head. I slipped my Red Sox's hat on and slid one of the sabers down the back of my shirt. The other I intended to keep in hand, just in case. Cody switched to the same shape as Nick and I climbed on, careful of his thick fur.
We charged off into the Umbra, Cody and Nicky running much faster than I'd have thought possible. I actually had to snag my hat when the wind of our passing tried to steal it. I tugged it down tighter and just leaned closer to Cody's head, like a jockey on a racehorse.
The Umbra is always moonlit. I don't know how or why, despite the many times I've been there. What I do know is that anything man made less than 30 years old doesn't show up there. It's like it has to be physically old before the spirit world echoes it. I guess that there's something to be said about the spirits of a place. We traveled through old sections of Canterbury, riding wolf back, and got out to beside the river rather quickly. Kenny, being Eshu, knew the path to where we were going instinctively and guided Nick. Cody and I simply followed them. We made so much better time not having to deal with a lot of the newer buildings around town and simply ignoring things like traffic and fences and property lines.
We arrived at Lawrence General Hospital in just over 15 minutes. Getting there by car would have taken at least twice that. The river crossing was a tricky bit until Kenny and I just cheated and used hopscotch on Nick and Cody. The landing could have been better, but I think our werewolf buddies liked the idea of running in the air. We dismounted in the Umbra and took a moment to reconnoiter. We also took a brief moment to give Cody and Nick the spare lightsabres we had brought, pumping the weapons with a quick burst of Glamour. If something chimerical attacked (like say a Redcap or a dragon) they'd have something chimerical in hand to meet it with. We'd already learned the hard way that wolf claws can't touch chimerical creatures in the Umbra. We were going to be prepared this time.
And damn it all if that run through the Shadow didn't even make either of them tired. Even with Kenny and me on their backs, they weren't even lightly winded by that. I was very much impressed. I think the two of them were just happy to be helping out. I should also say we didn't get wet at all. Rain doesn't really happen in the Umbra, at least not that I understand.
Well, there was no sign of an ambush anywhere around the hospital. The werewolves did something called "peeking" where you peer into the physical world from the Umbra. They found no evidence of anyone lying in wait. We crossed back to physical reality and entered the emergency room. It must have looked kinda weird, even for Lawrence, to see four teenagers walk into the sliding doors with painted sticks in their hands. We barely got wet as we reverted to the real world. And since we didn't have umbrellas or raincoats, with the downpour outside, that must have gotten us our fair share of odd looks, too.
"Excuse me! You'll have to leave those things outside," the nurse at the ER check-in desk said, standing up to emphasize her authority with her girth.
"We're looking for a friend of ours," I said, not impressed with her stature. Hey, if I start backing down to every adult that I come up to, I'd never get anything done. Besides, I was genuinely worried. "Juan Castillo. Is he hurt badly? His mom didn't give out a lot of details on the phone."
"No one by that name has been admitted."
"Are you sure?" Kenny asked, and I swear to you I saw him do the fart/cough/sneeze all at once thing. He was playing it cool, using a bunk to help fuel his cantrip. Doubtlessly, he was probing her thoughts.
"The only person we have in the ER right now is a drunk guy from Ipswich who ran into a row of mailboxes and a small stand of birch trees down near Andover."
"Thank you, you've been very helpful. We weren't here," Kenny said, waving his hand at her like he's Obi-Wan Kenobi or something. He quickly nodded to the right and we silently walked out of the ER.
"Somethin' screwy's goin' on here," Nick said.
"Why would his mom call in the middle of the night about Juan being hurt if he wasn't here?"
"Because it wasn't Juan's mom that called you," Cody said. "We've been tricked, and for a reason. Have you heard back from any of the people you tried to warn today?"
"Only a few, and no one else in our group."
"Why would he send us so far out of town?"
"The real question is, what's going on in the opposite direction to where we ran off to," Kenny said. "I fear something dreadful has happened."
"But what?" Nick asked right away. He whipped out a cell phone and started dialing someone, I assumed Joey. Cody looked around and I could tell he was deep in thought. He also looked worried. If someone did attack Joey, who was in exactly the opposite direction from our little jaunt tonight, then Joey was all alone. He was also the closest thing to a family the wolves had left. Kenny whipped out his cell phone as well, dialing his father. I had left my own cell phone back home, so I didn't have a way to dial my parents to tell them it's a wild goose chase.
Cody noticed my distress almost at once. He grabbed me by the arm and lead me to a payphone, just outside the ER waiting room. With what can only be described as a cool move, he pushed up the receiver handle from underneath, uncradling it and bouncing it off the back of his wrist in my direction. I snagged it out of the air, unconsciously.
"What number?" He asked. I recited Mom's cell phone number, having this feeling that Dad would be driving. Cody quickly tapped in the number. Then, simply laying his hand on the side of the phone, he closed his eyes. To my surprise, the call seemed to go through. I let it ring almost twenty times, but no one picked up. I turned still waiting for Mom to accept the call when I noticed that the end of the phone cord was loose from the side of the phone box, and that Cody was holding the end of the cord. He was being the physical connection to the phone itself.
I hung up at thirty rings. If she couldn't hear it at thirty rings, I figured, she either wasn't going to hear it or she didn't have the thing with her. "How did you do that?" I asked, as Cody looked up from his intense concentration.
"I just asked the little pattern spiders inside the phone for a favor. They've been so bored lately that they were only too happy to help out." He grinned slightly. Then his face got serious. "No luck reaching your folks?"
"Nothing. She probably didn't grab the phone when they left the house." I looked over to where our boyfriends were busy talking to people on their cells. It would be a while until we could reach my parents. "Thanks for trying, Cody. I want you to know, I really appreciate all you and Nick have done to help out."
"Master Joey tells us that Garou run in packs of mixed tribes for a reason. And not just to benefit from each others powers and gifts. Nicky and me want to be part of your pack. Not because we think that you're just powerful and influential. Or because you're one of us, you know, gay. I just think it's cool hangin' with you."
"Is that how Nick feels?" I couldn't bring myself to call Nick "Nicky," at least not yet. That seemed too personal. He was a friend, and one that was becoming a close friend, but just the way that Cody said "Nicky" sometimes sounded like when Kenny calls me Bu or Rob or Babe. Or Goat Pants, but that's a different story. I mean, sure, he'd been in my bed, but it was just, idunno, something a little more intimate to call him Nicky. Perhaps that's just something between your one and only. Never having had any other sexual relationships in this lifetime, I really had nothing to compare it with. I mean, gimme a break here, I'm only 13.
"He speaks for himself," Cody replied. "Ask him some time. But I think he'll agree."
"I sure hope Joey's okay. Even with the Toothpick, he's only one guy out there, all alone."
"He's not as alone as you think. Some of your people have set up camp near the beach house, and we have frequent visitors. Since the alliance you guys made, Black Rocks Caern has been a busy place."
"Other werewolves too?"
"A few. Some came up from Boston to help out. Daniel is over at least once a week when he's not out to sea. Him and Keith. And there's a few others that come by, including this Australian kid who's kinda like your parents."
"I guess. He just calls himself a channeler. He can heal and make himself stronger for a short bit. He looks thin as a rail but he's tough as a horse, and almost as fast when he wants to be."
"Wow! That sounds awesome."
"Yeah, but he's a total net freak," Cody grinned. "Which I guess is okay. Helps keep information flowing."
"Hey, I used to be a total net freak. Still am I guess."
"It's not a bad thing," Cody said. "He's actually pretty cool."
Nick sauntered up to us. It's just this really casual and relaxed way he walked. Then again, if I had a tail half the time, I'd probably have a swagger in my step as well.
"Joey's okay. He's got people watching out for trouble," Nick said, offering me his cell phone. I smiled, accepted it and quickly dialed my folks up. It was good to hear that while I'd been so slack in my duties, during the whole fencing tournaments and such, that Joey'd been busy building up his defenses, especially after the attack that nearly killed him. I felt a blush of shame thinking about that as I listened for someone to pick up at the other end of the phone. After thirty rings I hung up and dialed Dad's cell phone, hoping I remembered it right.
Kenny bounded up to my side, watching me intently. Nick and Cody were speaking to him about something but I wasn't listening in. Why weren't they answering? Dad almost never went without his cell phone when he was out of the house. Being on call to so many political figures as a spin doctor, he was constantly getting early morning calls and taking conferences with people and talking to newspaper reporters and such, arranging so many things and issues, helping to write speeches and stuff. I don't pretend to be political myself, but my old man was so on top of things he often knew what was going on before the politicians he worked for did.
That's just another thing about my parents I was having trouble dealing with. They knew so much about what I might be able to do, or about what the future held. They had so much communication going on between them that it was almost scary how they just got things done without being overt about it. I'd lately just been so comfortable in a home filled with magic and Glamour that I'd neglected to fully appreciate the truth of it all. I mean, they gave up everything to be here for me. They gave up their entire home and the life they were born to in what's supposed to be a magical utopia in the future. All for some unknown future historical event that they weren't even privy too.
And I'd neglected them in other ways. I spent a lot of time with Kenny lately. Not that I was guilty about that, but I wasn't home with them as much. We didn't have a whole lot of family time, I guess, not since my chrysalis, since becoming aware of my changeling nature. I resolved to make amends there.
Geeze, I had a lot of things to get done, I guess. Consolidating the search for Korbesh, making things right with my parents (including telling them everything about Kenny/Kay Neth and me), getting ready to go back to school in the next few weeks (still had three books on my reading list to get to), my quest to get on the Olympic fencing team, I had a lot of things to do and look into. Along with the whole looking for the truth of that weird map and exploring the trod Capricus found. Things never get easier.
And we still had to appear at court tomorrow.
"We're missing something here," Cody said, as I folded the phone up and handed it back to Kenny. "We should see if Juan is okay."
"I'll call him," Kenny offered, hitting the right speed dial combination and waiting for a signal to get through. I looked over to Cody. His forehead was twisted in thought.
"Okay, suppose he just wanted you out of town for some reason?" Nick said. "Why?"
"To attack someone?" I guessed.
"Maybe. He doesn't strike me as the kind to need some ruse like that to get you to go someplace, though."
"Well, that's true. He'd prefer to be direct or just go and attack and then fade away, leave us guessing." Nick had something, though. Knowing how Korbesh acts, he wouldn't bother with the wild goose chase. He was either setting us up for an attack away from the prying eyes of others and decided that fighting four supernaturals instead of just two wasn't such a good idea, or…
"Juan's fine." Kenny noticed the looks of concentration among us as he walked back to us, slipping his cell phone into his pocket. "He's a little pissed at being woken up at 3 AM, but he'll live. He's gonna check on Bethy for us. And he's gonna call Donna Trag, give her a head's up." He gave me a slightly raised eyebrow. Cody made several attempts at speaking before he finally said something.
"Let's look at it this way. Assuming Korbesh wants you here, why?"
"Not just out of town?"
"The message from the phone call was specific, right? You were sent specifically here?"
"Right. To the emergency room here. Lawrence General Hospital."
"Because it's a specific location and it's got a sense of urgency to it," Kenny answered. "But we pretty much ruled out an ambush here."
"There's a lot of ground between here and your house," Nick agreed.
"A lot of wet ground. Looks like the storm is picking up again," Kenny noticed. The thunder had abated, but the rain still fell.
"We've pretty much ruled out attacks in the other directions. Everyone we've warned so far is safe. So keeping you here or getting you to come here is important somehow." Cody's words caught me off guard. Between him and Nick, they had pieced together the possibility that we could have been attacked if we hadn't gotten here by non-conventional means.
And then another thought occurred to me. Those conventional means to get here amounted to my parents' car!
"Kay, call my Dad's cell phone again," I said, sinking onto a stone bench out next to the ER entranceway. I felt my face just go ashen, totally drained. I had never even considered that something might happen to them. They're Mages, for Christ sakes. But on my request, they were hurtling down the highway to help one of my friends, and they might very well be in danger.
Now, a lot of you are going to say that this is all just a huge set up. That the preceding paragraphs, dialogue and angst is all leading up to something dramatic and painful. That you feel maybe like I'm just setting you up for a fall.
You'd be right, and I am forever saddened by the fact that I have to tell things as they happened.
"Still no answer," Kenny said, coming to sit beside me. "You're worried?" He knew me well enough that he didn't need to ask, but he did, just to get me talking. My bottom lip felt a meter thick and like it was dragging on the ground.
"We can follow the highways back, try and stop them before something happens," Nick said, trying to inject some hope.
"Yeah," Cody responded, smacking my shoulder. "Sitting here isn't helping anything. Let's go!"
"I just feel like we're being so manipulated here," I said, standing. Kenny hugged me, letting me know he as fully there for me. "Kay, I have a bad feeling about this."
"Hey, c'mon, Hero. Keep it together," Kenny said, looking me in the eyes with his own awesome eyes. "We'll find them." But there was a tremor in his voice. Something that both of us felt. He was seriously worried, too.
We mounted up on the wolves again, charging up to the highway and loping about in the side of the westbound lanes. Given the time of travel from Canterbury and the fact that Dad has a heavy foot on the gas pedal, I guessed that they would be coming along any minute now, my Dad's unmistakable gray Dodge convertible should be easy to see. We passed the point I guessed they'd more or less cross our path at.
No sign of Dad's car. We ran on (well, the wolves ran, Kenny and I mostly hung on for dear life), searching for signs. It must have been quite a sight, two kids on the back of two gianormous canines, racing the wrong way on I-495 with the moon in the sky, a light drizzle soaking our skin and fur. At that point though, I didn't care.
We passed the next town exit up from Lawrence, Andover. Still no sign of my Dad's car. Kenny kept trying the cell phone. No luck. We rode on.
We got to the next exit, the route 213 connector to Methuen. Still no sign of my Dad's car. I was beginning to wonder. There are about five or six ways they could have taken to get to Lawrence. The interstate was just the most direct, fastest route. I assumed that they had taken that way since we were in a hurry. My mind, in a desperate search for possible answers, considered the possibility that they traveled along one of the other routes.
We rounded a large corner and came up to one of the first Canterbury exits. The hills had been carved open here, and bare rock lifted to either side of the roadway, even as it curved. And my heart stopped. Red, yellow, and blue lights were flashing all over. I felt everything totally drain out of me. All sense of time, of color, I barely breathed, but could hear my blood pounding in my ears in slow motion. I know my fingers tightened in Cody's pelt. Judiciously, Nick and Cody steered to the left and climbed up a slight hill so we could hide in the forested side of the road, on top of some rock formations covered with graffiti tags.
And as we looked down, what I saw made my blood freeze in my veins. There were fire trucks, with their attendant firemen putting hoses and equipment away. There were four Massachusetts state troopers directing traffic around the area, and I imagine doing whatever investigations that they have to do for auto accidents, their police cruisers casting eerie blue flickers around the area, putting a psuedo-strobe effect onto everything. I also saw two ambulances there, their lights gently pulsing in red. There was also a wrecker there, loading a mangled yet familiar gray Dodge. Near the ambulances, two gurneys stood out, with police and fire officials and EMT's standing around. Both of the gurneys had white sheets draping forms underneath. And there were red spots bleeding through the sheets in places. No one was in a hurry.
The world went totally colorless to me then. I sat back, barely able to breathe. Kenny was there, I remember seeing him. I remember Cody talking to me and Nick saying that he'd go down to investigate. I even remember feeling wetness on my cheek that wasn't from the rain as I sat there, more or less rocking back and forth.
Because I had more or less just sent my parents to their deaths, and there wasn't a thing I could do to help.