New Type

Lucas woke up hearing voices but couldn’t see anything.

“This is definitely one of the NEW TYPE. Look at these genetic markers. His resistance to disease is much higher than average.”

He tried to speak but couldn’t manage it. The voices continued.

“Those are quite remarkable. I will fill out the order and send him upstairs.”

“Do not bother. They are uninterested in anyone older than 25 cycles.”

“But those genetic . . .”

“It does not matter. They reject anyone older with no exception.”

“What do we do with him, then? Just dispose of him? Such a waste.”

Dispose? That sounded ominous. Why couldn’t he see?

“No. We will try to breed him. If that does not work, we can extract his genetic material and graft it to a younger candidate. No waste.”


“Let us look at the next specimen.”

Footsteps receded from him. Soon he was alone with no idea what was happening to him. At least, he had thought he was alone until the surface he was laying on began to move. A table on wheels, perhaps? Being pushed somewhere? He soon lost consciousness.

* * *

When he became aware of his surroundings once more, he found himself lying on a large cushion. He could see again. Other cushions and pillows were scattered around the rather sizable room, but no other furniture was present. The walls were a tan color, and there was light without any identifiable source. After scanning the room, he was surprised to realize he wasn’t alone.

A woman was sitting against the far wall and staring at him. Several pillows were arranged around her, leaving only her face visible. It was then that he realized he himself was naked. He quickly grabbed a couple of nearby pillows to cover himself with. His flabby body had him feeling rather self-conscious. Carefully, he shifted to face her while remaining seated and covered.

“Sorry. I don’t know what happened to my clothes.”

“Just stay over there.” Her voice was firm, but he detected a hint of anxiety.

“I will, I will. How did I get here?”

She glared at him but said nothing.

“Before this I was . . .”

“You can’t remember, can you?” It almost sounded as though she was gloating.

“No. Now that you mention it, I had a weird dream and woke up here. I can’t remember anything else.”

“You probably heard them talking, not a dream.”

“Who are they?”

“Don’t know. Haven’t seen them. Just hear them now and again.”

“What do they want?”

“How should I know? As far as I’m concerned, you could be one of them.”

Her irritation finally cowed him into staying quiet. And she was right. Why should she trust him? He was a stranger.

Time passed in silence. He turned so that he wasn’t directly facing her. With nothing else to do, and the woman uninterested in talking, he laid down and curled up facing away from her.

“Hey!” The woman’s voice woke him.

“What?” He muttered in response.

“You snore.” She hadn’t changed positions.

“Sorry.” He sat back up. “How long have you been here?”

“Long enough to have lost track of time.” She still sounded wary but not as openly hostile.

“Do you know why I’m naked?”

“I think they want us to mate. But before you get any ideas, you’re not my type.”

He considered responding in kind, but even though it was true, it seemed petty. “Understood. My name is Lucas, by the way.” He hoped sharing his name might put her more at ease.

“Don’t care. As long as you stay over there.”

So much for that idea. Noticing that there were no obvious doors, he began to wonder how they got into the room initially. Even where the walls met, the corners were rounded and showed no seam, as if the room had been created as one piece. “Is there any way out of here?”

“One of the wall panels slides open. There doesn’t seem to be any mechanism to activate it from this side. I’ve looked.”

“So we’re trapped.” He wanted to get up and walk around. Even with the padded floor, he was starting to feel stiff from sitting for so long. However, without a better way to cover himself, standing meant subjecting the woman to his body, so he stayed where he was.

“Do we get food?”

“Periodically. It’s edible, at least.”

“And . . . Uh . . .”

“Over there.” She pointed to a third wall. “Just warn me before you use it.”

Out of frustration at the situation, he shouted at the ceiling. “Hey! Hey! Could we at least get some blankets?”

“What are you doing?”

“Well, if they do want us to mate . . .”

“I already told you.”

“No, no. I just mean, if that’s what they want, they’re probably watching us. I figured I’d ask.”

“Oh. Not sure they’re listening, but it can’t hurt, I suppose.”

When some time had passed without any response, he assumed she was right. Either they weren’t listening, or they didn’t care.


Her voice surprised him; she hadn’t said much of anything unprompted.


“My name. Rachel.” She wasn’t looking at him.

“Oh. It’s nice to meet you, Rachel, though I wish our circumstances were different.”

She nodded an acknowledgement but said nothing else.

As silence descended once more, he turned his attention to his memories. It was disturbing that he couldn’t remember anything about his life before waking up here. His name and his age were the only pieces of information connecting him to his past.

Part of wall suddenly vanished, startling him. A person with a shaved head and wearing a white robe entered through the opening. In their outstretched arms was a tray of food on top of two folded blankets.

“Who are you? Why are we being held here?”

The person showed no reactions to Lucas’s questions. They placed the blankets and food on the floor just inside the opening and then stepped back. Instantly, the wall was restored.

Awkwardly, Lucas made his way to the blankets without standing up. Wrapping one around himself, he tossed the other towards Rachel and turned his back to her.

“Thank you,” she said after a few moments. “You can turn around now.”

On the tray, there were several slices of brown bread and a large bowl of something that looked like vanilla pudding or mashed potatoes. None of it looked very appetizing, but his hunger became acute.

“I can’t believe they actually gave us blankets.” Rachel had moved closer. “By the way, that creamy stuff is very bland, but it hasn’t caused me to get sick.”

The sat down on opposite sides of the tray and began eating. It was tasteless, but the texture of the food in the bowl did resemble pudding, so it was inoffensive. They ate in silence. Neither of them wanted to seem too eager, but Lucas guessed she was probably just as hungry as he was.

As they finished, Lucas tried once more to start a conversation. “I think I heard them say something about not wanting anyone older than 25, and I’m in my mid-30s, but you don’t look that old.”

“I’m 26. But I think they’re only interested in women for breeding purposes. That was the impression I got during my exam.”

“You said earlier that I wasn’t your type . . .”

“It’s true, but that was a bit harsh. I’m sorry. I just didn’t want you getting any ideas.”

“No, it’s okay. Strange, naked man wakes up in your room. I’d be surprised if you weren’t anxious about it. I just wanted to let you know that sex doesn’t interest me. I don’t know if you’ll believe me, but there it is.”

Rachel considered him for several moments. “Well, I’m not sure I believe you, but thank you, I guess.”

Without warning, glowing red numbers appeared on the wall that had opened earlier: 8:00:00. Immediately, they began counting down. It seemed that had eight hours. A little less now. But what happened after 8 hours? “Any idea what that means?”

Rachel shook her head. “I’ve never seen them before.”

The lights in the room dimmed so that it was difficult to see details. He could still make out Rachel’s face, but only barely. A disembodied voice came from somewhere overhead.

“You clearly understand speech, so we will explain the situation. You have eight hours. If mating does not occur within that time, you will be reassigned.”

“What does that mean?” Rachel asked, but there was no response. “What do think ‘reassignment’ means?” She directed the question to Lucas this time.

“I couldn’t begin to guess. You were here before me, so you know everything I do.”

They sat for awhile, each of them avoiding looking at the other.

“I’m going to lie down and try to sleep,” Lucas said eventually.

“You don’t want to talk about this?”

“What’s there to talk about? Neither of us is interested in having sex with the other. We don’t know what will happen in eight hours, so there’s no point in dwelling on it.”

“So you’re not going to try to convince me?”

“Do you want me to?”


“There you go. Even if we could muster the desire, we can’t let ourselves be threatened into having sex.”

“You’re right,” Rachel agreed. “I guess I expected you to talk me into it.”

“That wouldn’t be fair to you. Let’s just try to rest.” He laid down under his blanket, and she followed suit after moving away.

Her disgust at the idea of having sex with him didn’t upset him. He didn’t assume it was about him, just as his lack of interest had nothing to do with her.

Worrying about what might happen next made for fitful sleep, but he managed to get a few hours. The numbers on the wall indicated there was less than an hour until ‘reassignment.’ Looking around, he saw that Rachel was already awake and sitting against the wall.

“Did you sleep?”

“No,” she replied. “I don’t know how you did. How are you so calm?”

“I’m not. I’m terrified, but I don’t know what to do about it.”

They didn’t say anything for the rest of the countdown. He couldn’t guess what Rachel was thinking, and he was occupied trying to come up with some sort last minute escape plan. Their captors were listening, and probably watching, so coordinating anything with her would just give them warning. The person who had brought them food hadn’t appeared to be armed and didn’t look particularly strong, so maybe if Lucas surprised them when they came, he might be able to overpower them. It wasn’t much of an idea, but he couldn’t think of anything else.

When the timer ran out and the wall opened, he readied himself to jump at whoever walked in, but he hadn’t been prepared for what arrived.

Two figures stepped into the room. They were roughly human shaped, though much taller at over seven feet. Their arms were twice as long as they should be given their height, and their skin was completely smooth shinning with a warm yellow light. They weren’t wearing any clothes, and Lucas couldn’t make out any facial features on what he thought must be their heads.

There was a scream, but it took him several moments to realize he was the one screaming. Both figures walked towards him. They reached out to grab him and stand him up. His fear and confusion prevented him from resisting.

As he was guided to the opening, the screaming in his head died down enough that he could hear Rachel’s voice.

“. . . a little more time. You don’t have to take him. We will mate!”

He managed a weak smile at her and shook his head. “Don’t. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Good luck, Rachel.” Then he was taken away.


Standing at just over six feet, the grey object looked like a vending machine but with some differences. It had a coin slot and an area for dispensing items; however, the front was not a glass window but an opaque, grey surface, just like the sides. There were no markings anywhere to serve as clues as to the object’s function. Only a low hum and a dim glow coming from somewhere inside indicated anything remarkable about it.

A man walked into the alley where the machine sat. He lit a cigarette and leaned back against a brick wall. On the other side of that wall, the man’s wife lay dying in a hospital bed. The alley was far enough from the hospital’s entrance so he could smoke.

As he was lighting a second cigarette from the butt of the first one, he noticed the hum. Maybe it was the quiet of the night, but the machine sounded louder than it did when he first stepped into the alley. Walking to the front of it, green lights had appeared which spelled out: MAKE A WISH.

Was this a collection box for that charity? It looked more like one of those smart refrigerators, but there didn’t seem to be any way to open it. Noticing the coin slot, he fished around his pockets for any loose change. In his back left pocket, which he never used, he found a quarter. Feeling lucky, he put the coin into the slot.

Immediately, there was a rattle in the change tray. Sure enough, the quarter was there. The front of the machine began flashing: YOU MUST FIRST MAKE A WISH.

This felt like a cruel joke. Who would put a machine like this near a hospital? Trying to profit off of getting people’s hopes up. But he didn’t think he had anything to lose. There was really only one thing he wished for: he didn’t want his wife to die.

When that thought crossed his mind, the words changed: HOW MUCH IS IT WORTH TO YOU?

His wife meant everything to him; he would give all that he had to save her life.

The letters changed once more: PLEASE DEPOSIT A QUARTER.

Again, he put the quarter into the coin slot.

* * *

A small item fell into the dispensing area. Pulling it out, he discovered it was a small box containing a single pill. Very small letters on the package read: Give to patient with water.

A different alley. A different time.

A woman, who looked to be in her early thirties, peered into the dimness and caught sight of the grey machine. She stood in front of it, and, after hesitating, she reached out and gently brushed it. As she did, the front sprang to life, spelling out in green letters: MAKE A WISH.

“You’re real. You’re really real.” She backed up against the wall behind her and slid down until she was sitting on the pavement. “Of course, you had to be real. I know that. I just find it hard to believe I finally found you. I’ve been looking for so long.”

If the machine understood her, there was no indication. It’s front continued to show the same message.

“I’ve wondered if you know what you’re doing or just following some program. Do you care what happens to those who do make a wish?”


“So either you aren’t sentient, or you’re not going to tell me. Even if you were sentient, I wonder if you would know who I am.”

For years, she had thought about what she wanted to say if this moment ever came. Now that the machine was in front of her, she had to confront the possibility that her words didn’t matter. Still, even if it was only for herself, she pushed on.

“My husband found you many, many years ago. I think I’ve lost track of how much time has passed. Has it already been a century? He made a wish at your prompting.”

The words changed: NO REFUNDS.

“Does that mean you do understand? I wonder. But no, I’m not looking for a refund. I just want you to know what happened.”

She paused to take a few deep breaths.

“The pill you gave my husband worked, obviously. Everyone said it was a miracle, and it was, for a time. I was supposed to die; instead, my husband and I got to stay together. It was a mixed blessing, however.

“Soon after I recovered, he lost his job. Then the bank foreclosed on our home. All of our worldly possessions were gone. We lived for a time in a van I had gotten before we met. I would like to say we had each other and that was enough, but it’s not true. After several years of struggling, he gave up.

“Instead of me dying and leaving him, our positions were reversed.”

A few tears welled up in her eyes. As if they offended her, she angrily wiped them away.

“Don’t know why I would cry now. All of this happened so long ago.”

After taking another minute to compose herself, she continued.

“Before he died, he told me all about his wish and the details of the machine that had saved my life. In his suicide letter to me, he apologized for saving me only to subject me to a miserable existence.

“It was stupid of him. I never saw our additional time together as miserable, but he couldn’t stop seeing himself as a failure.”

She took a few more breaths trying to keep the tears at bay. During the silence, the words changed again: APOLOGIES.

“I’m not looking for an apology. You gave him what he asked for, and he paid the price he said he would. I don’t blame him or you. Neither of you could know how he would fare under the pressure of the price he set. What he never knew, what I only learned after his death, was that his wish – that I not die – seems to be permanent. I have spent decades looking for you because I am trapped. Immortality, especially without him, is a dismal prospect. I was hoping you could help.”

Green lights danced on the machine for a moment, and then spelled out: MAKE A WISH.

“Thank you. I wish you had never granted his wish.”


“I have never been more sure of anything.”


“My life. It is worth my life.” Maybe that was cheating, but it was also true.

The lights flashed longer than they had before. Finally: PLEASE DEPOSIT A QUARTER.

Letting out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding, she placed a coin in the slot.

* * *


He fished around his pockets looking for a coin. Unsurprisingly, he came up empty. When was the last time he had carried any cash? His second cigarette at its end, instead of lighting a third, he decided to go back and spend what time she had left by her side.

Bailey’s Trial

Julia stayed out of sight, and Sarah remained in the living room with Marie, but David insisted on following Bailey back into the lab with Rebecca’s body. Bailey knew they couldn’t refuse; after all, there hadn’t been a chance to independently confirm that the charm had actually been lifted. Of course Rebecca’s housemates would want to keep an eye on them.

The first step was to heal the wound in Rebecca’s chest. In this respect, it was easier with Rebecca dead; there would be no need to fight living tissue and force it to mend. They simply had to restore its integrity so that it could contain life again. A small feeling of panic began to well up in Bailey, but this was one bit of magic that they hadn’t rejected, thus it was easy to push it back down.

David stood around looking nervous and helpless, so Bailey tried to distract him.

“How long have you known her?”

“Well, I came to this house almost a year ago. That’s when I met her. And everyone else.”

“You didn’t know anyone before coming?”

“My guide knew Thomas. The two of them arranged for me to come.”

“Your guide?”

“My master? Sort of. It’s a person seekers study under.”

“Ah. What tradition . . . Crap.”

“What’s wrong?”

“I slipped. Nothing irreversible. Don’t worry; I won’t let anything bad happen to her.”

David nodded, but his concern was still palpable.

“So are you two a couple?” Bailey hadn’t intended to ask the question, but his emotional investment made their curiosity overwhelming.


“You seem to care a lot about her. So I thought . . .”

“She saved my life a while back. It was a bottle very similar to this one. That’s how I recognized it.”

“That makes sense.” Bailey wasn’t convinced that there wasn’t more to his concern, but they didn’t want to push it.

“What about you? We’re you and she partners?”

Bailey hadn’t expected the question, but they couldn’t very well object now.

“Once. It feels like a long time ago. Pretty sure those feelings are in the past. Especially after all this.”

They both fell silent. Bailey was relieved as the work was getting trickier and required more focus. They considered telling David how Marie felt about Rebecca, but it wasn’t their place. David would have to navigate that minefield on his own. Bailey wanted nothing to do with it all.

“Okay. The preparations are done. Give me the bottle.”

David handed Bailey the bottle containing Rebecca’s soul. Rebecca had discussed all of this with Bailey once. Even though they hated this realm of magic, Bailey had listened attentively at the time because it was something she was excited about. That was enough to interest Bailey. The soul needed to be coaxed back into the body. Since it was the soul’s original body, it should be relatively easy.

None of that really mattered, though. Nausea and panic hit Bailey with wave after wave. The only thing they could hear was the voice of their former master screaming. Every step of the process was excruciating and threatened to incapacitate Bailey. They repeatedly whispered Rebecca’s name to maintain focus and fight through every step.

After the soul was back in the body, it needed to be secured so that it wouldn’t simply drift away. The sense of terror intensified and each part of the process took five times as long as it should have. Bailey was terrified of manipulating the magical forces, and even more terrified that they would fail. There was no one else who could help Rebecca. Just when Bailey thought they might collapse from stress, it was over. They slumped into a chair next to the body.

“Now we wait for her to wake up.”

“How long?”

“Minutes? Hours? It’s hard to know. Why don’t you tell Sarah and Marie it worked.”

David nodded and left the room.

As soon as he was gone, Rebecca’s eyes fluttered open.


“Hey, sleepy head. That was quite a stunt.”

“Where’s Phillip?”

“He refused to intervene, so I saved your ass.”

“Oh, no. Bailey. I’m so sorry to have put you through that.”

Bailey lightly touched Rebecca’s arm. “Don’t apologize. It was the least I could do after putting you into that mess. More importantly, did it work? Are you free?”

“Yes. But you . . .”

The door opened, and David, Sarah, and Marie all came in the room. They crowded around Rebecca, who was struggling to sit up. In the general commotion, Bailey slipped out.

Back in the living room, they used the portal to the kitchen. Once there, they called out to Julia, who appeared soon after.

“It worked. Well done. You didn’t want to stay to celebrate?”

Bailey shook their head. “She and Marie have things to talk about. Figure it’ll be hard enough getting rid of Sarah and David.”

Julia’s look suggested that she thought there was more to it but wasn’t going to ask. “So now what?”

“I was hoping you’d let me leave.”

That seemed to surprise Julia. “You want to leave?”

“I think it’d be for the best.”

“Bailey, if I can ask, why didn’t you tell us you were a mage?”

“The charm prevented me.”

“And after the crystal suppressed it?”

“It . . . It’s complicated.”

“Okay. But there is room for you here. I’m sure Sarah, David, and Rebecca would agree.”

“I appreciate the offer, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Julia was quiet for a moment. “I’ve been alone. And that can be okay. But I’m learning there is something to be said for belonging somewhere.”

Bailey offered a weak smile. “Maybe some day, but not now.”

“Well, I’m not going to stop you from leaving. You have to figure out your own path.”

In spite of themself, Bailey threw their arms around Julia in a meaningful hug. The other mage was clearly not used to such displays, but awkwardly returned the embrace.

“Please remember you have friends here if you need us. I mean it.”

“I will. Thank you, Julia. For everything.”

Neither of them said anything else on the way to the front door. Bailey left without looking at Julia so that the other wouldn’t see the tears rolling down their cheeks.

Reunions (part four)

Rebecca opened her eyes to find herself in a familiar room. At first, she was convinced it had to be a nightmare. This scene had invaded her dreams more than a few times over the last decade. However, the memory of meeting Bailey and the note they had given her attested to the fact that this was all too real.

She wanted to sink into the bed and jump out of it all at once. The room looked very much like it had when she had last been here, when she was preparing to become the Elder’s vessel. It was quiet and clean, as though the place had been kept ready for her return. There were no restraints, so she was able to sit up. That’s when she discovered her clothes were gone, replaced with a simple white shift. Her first and only goal was to get out before anyone could arrive. Halfway to the door, however, the sound of the handle turning sent her diving back under the sheets. The person who came through shut the door immediately and walked over the bed before sitting at the foot.


She knew the voice better than her own. Peeking out from the covers, she saw Marie staring at her.

“Rebecca? Are you okay?”

“Marie? What is going on?”

“You’re home. Finally. I’m so relieved to see you again.”


“Don’t worry about that right now. I’m just glad you’re back. I don’t know why you left.”

“Peter . . . He . . .”

“Peter is gone. As soon as we found out that he had threatened you, he was expelled from the community. If only we could have found you sooner and cleared all of this up. You didn’t need to be alone for so long.”

Rebecca looked at Marie with uncertainty. Had it all been a mistake? “So when Peter came to take me . . .”

“We didn’t send him. We didn’t know where you were. Or where he was. Now that you’re back with us, we can protect you from him.”

“And Phillip?”

Marie sighed. “Phillip’s betrayal couldn’t be ignored. We don’t know why he frightened you into leaving. He remains, unspeaking and disgraced. Rest assured, he also poses no threat to you.”

“But . . .”

“I know you have many questions. A lot of time has passed. Still, you are back and safe. I thought this room might make you feel a little more comfortable.” Marie stood and walked closer to her before bending down to embrace her tightly. Rebecca froze at her touch, but the other seemed not to notice. “I have missed you. Get some rest. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”

Before she could respond, Marie turned and walked out of the room. Except it wasn’t Marie. No matter how much time had passed, Rebecca didn’t think she could ever forget the Elder’s touch.

*     *     *

When Rebecca became conscious again, she kept her eyes closed for a little while. The thought that she might really be back in her old room frightened her, though refusing to look wasn’t accomplishing anything. Eventually, opening her eyes confirmed that it hadn’t been just a horrible nightmare. The Elder now inhabited the body of her oldest friend and had gotten Rebecca back.

Thoughts of escape flitted through her mind, but she knew she wouldn’t be allowed to leave again. The only thing she could do was to find out what the Elder wanted from her. Whatever it was, she expected to hate it.

Quietly getting out of the bed, she made certain that her shift was on straight and walked over to the door. To her surprise, the handle moved easily under her touch, and the door opened without a sound. Any glimmer of hope that the unlocked door might have given her evaporated as soon as a figure stepped in front of her from the side.

“Mistress. The Matron is otherwise occupied at present and will visit you later. She asked me to look after you in the meantime and provide anything you might need.”

The man’s face and voice seemed familiar, and after a few moments, a name rose to the surface.

“Marcus, right?”

“The Mistress honors me.” He bowed his head slightly.

“Marcus, knock it off. We used to play together as children. There is no reason to be so formal.”

His look gave the impression that he was trying to decide if she was serious. After coming to some sort of conclusion, he replied.

“Mistress, you’ve been gone a long time. Perhaps you have forgotten your importance, but we have not. You will have to forgive us if we treat you with the deference you deserve.”

Less formal, but clearly uncomfortable, he stood quietly. She didn’t have the energy for this fight on top of all her other worries.

“Fine. But when it’s just the two of us, keep it to a minimum. Please?”

“I will try.” He smiled, but it felt uneasy.

“So did Marie tell you to keep me here? Or can I go for a walk?” Before she could do anything else, she needed to figure out how short her leash was.

“The Matron thought it might be best if you rested, but she did not order it.”

“Why do you call her ‘Matron’? Why not ‘Elder’?”

That question took him by surprise.

“Mistress . . . Rebecca, you are to be the Elder. For now, she is merely filling in until you can take your position.”

“Oh.” That was unsettling. Was this really the plan? Or did Marcus just assume she would join with the Elder now that she had come back? Panic began to well up, but she forced it back down. “Well, some fresh air would be nice, so I think I will go for a walk.”

The shift was a little less clothing than she was accustomed to wearing, but she thought it might help her fit in with the rest of the community. As she headed downstairs, Marcus fell in step behind her. She was free, as long as she had a chaperone.

Outside, a few people were standing and chatting with one another while others walked with purpose on some errand or other. The faces may be different, but the village seemed largely unchanged. Any time they walked near any of the groups socializing, the talking stopped as the people stared at her. She smiled and nodded, but the feelings of awe – maybe even adoration – that emanated from them made her want to flee. That was impossible as long as Marcus was hovering over her. So she began trying to ignore the others as much as possible. Any feelings of belonging that she once had were gone; she had been away too long.

The walk was making her feel worse, so she decided to go back to her room. As she was turning around, a figure that she recognized disappeared around a corner. Without thinking, she ran after it. Marcus gave a surprised shout, and she could hear him chasing her. Upon turning the corner, she collided with Phillip. His head was shaved, and he wore a plain brown robe, but there was no mistaking him.

It must have been the years, but he no longer seemed as large and imposing as he once had. His face couldn’t hide his shock, and he seemed to be looking for some place to run. She grabbed ahold of his arms.

“Phillip! It’s me. Rebecca. I need your help.”

Still looking like he desperately wanted to be anywhere else, Phillip shook his head. Marcus caught up to them, and Rebecca turned toward him. Phillip took the opportunity to begin running away. She tried to chase him again, but Marcus prevented her.

“Stop. Let him go. If anyone catches him with you, he is likely to be punished again.”


“Because he made you leave and kept you hidden. I’m actually surprised they didn’t drive him away like his brother. Don’t make it worse for him.” Marcus sounded like he felt sorry for the older man.

Phillip was already out of sight. “Okay. Let’s go back.”

“Good idea. I wouldn’t want the Matron to think I had run off with you.” It sounded like it should have been a joke, but there was real terror in his voice. Rebecca began to wonder just how much had changed during her absence.

A Crisis of Leadership (part three)

The rest of the day passed very slowly. When Marie came by, Rebecca told her that she still felt worn out. That allowed her to stay alone in her room. Yet she had nothing to do to occupy her time. For awhile, she tried to sleep, but sleeping for nearly two days left her with too much energy to be able to keep her eyes closed. Instead, she spent hours practicing her simpler spells.

Finally, after night had fallen, there was a soft tapping at her door. When she opened it, she saw Phillip looking around nervously. He quickly entered the room and closed the door behind him.

“Okay, I have everything arranged. There will be a car outside waiting to take you to the airport. Here’s your ticket. Also, I was able to get you a debit card with a couple hundred dollars on it. It’s not much, but it’s all I could manage in such a short time. I will try to send you more when I get a chance.”

Her head was spinning. It felt almost like talking to Marie when she got on a roll.

“Car? Airport? I don’t want to leave. I just don’t want to be the Elder’s vessel.”

“This is the only way. If you stay, you’ll have no choice but to go along with the Elder’s wishes. Your only escape is by leaving.”

“But this is my family. You are the only people I have in the whole world.”

“If you stay here, you won’t have anything. I saw how you fought against my father’s possession. Remember that feeling? That will be the rest of your life.”

“I don’t want that. But can’t I just refuse to join with the Elder?”

Phillip’s look told her how naive she was being. “The Elder’s wishes are known to the whole clan. They won’t let you disobey.”

He was right. Marie’s reaction when she expressed reluctance was proof that he was right. It was foolish to think she could stay. But to leave . . .

“You don’t have time to think about what to do. If you don’t go now, you may not get another chance. You’ll have to live with my father crawling around inside your body.

A wave of nausea went through her. “Fine. Let’s go.”

Moving cautiously, he led her downstairs and out the front door. Once outside, they walked towards the gate at the edge of the compound. Just past the last building, he turned to her.

“I’m going to go ahead and make sure the car has arrived. Wait here until I return. And stay hidden.”

She nodded. Once she was alone, doubts began to creep back in. She had grown up here, the outside world always at arm’s length. What would life outside be like? How would she manage? The more she considered it, the more certain she became that it was a mistake. Seeing Marie wandering around outside seemed like a sign.

“Marie? What are you doing out here?”

The other girl jumped a bit when Rebecca first spoke, but calmed down as soon as she spotted her friend. “I could ask you the same thing. Why are you not in bed?”

“I . . .” Should she tell Marie? Maybe she should stay. But if she was going to leave, shouldn’t she at least say goodbye?

Before she could answer, another voice came out of the night. “And where might you two be going?” Peter. Malice was evident in his voice.

“Nowhere. Just out for a walk.” Lying to him was so much easier than lying to Marie.

“Is that so?” He looked at Marie.

“Oh, yes. Of course. I thought Rebecca could use some fresh air.” Marie might not know what was happening, but she had never liked Peter. If Rebecca wanted to lie to him, her friend was happy to play along.

Even in the dimness of the evening, Rebecca could see Peter’s snarl. “I don’t believe you.”

He didn’t use any obvious spells, yet Marie crumpled to the ground. In spite of herself, Rebecca cried out and began to rush to her friend’s side.

“Stop. You will tell me what you were doing out here.”

“I . . . I don’t have to tell you anything.”

Peter’s snarl grew. “Yes, you do. And if you don’t, I will force you to do so. Truthfully, I’m hoping you’ll make me force you.”

A cold terror took hold of her. Once again, she felt helpless before this man. The threat he posed was greater than she could comprehend, and she had no defense.

Something struck Peter in the back of the head, causing him to pitch forward and fall face first onto the ground. From behind him, Phillip emerged holding a rather solid looking tree branch.

“You have to go.”

“But Marie . . .”

“Now. I will take care of the girl. Go. Hide. Don’t come back. Ever. You must avoid discovery. Get on the plane and never look behind you.”

“But I . . .”


The force of Phillip’s voice propelled her to the gate of the compound. She could see a car’s headlights and approached it.

“You my fare?” It was a woman, probably in her 40s.

“Yes,” Rebecca mumbled.

“Airport, right?”


“You don’t have any luggage?”


“What is this place? Do you live here?”

“Not anymore. Let’s just go.” Tears ran down Rebecca’s cheeks as she climbed into the back seat.

A Crisis of Leadership (part two)

When Rebecca opened her eyes, the first thing she saw was Marie’s face. The girl was hovering over her as she lay in her bed. At first, Rebecca could not remember why she was so tired.

“You’re awake!” Marie exclaimed. “You slept forever. How do you feel?”

“Tired. What happened?”

“Don’t you remember? You channeled the Elder. I told you you could do it. It must have worn you out, though.”

The Elder? Her memory was slowly coming back. Marie kept talking.

“Now that the Elder is going to return, and you’re going to be his vessel, you’re the most important person in the clan. Lots of people want to talk to you. But I can tell them you’re not ready for that yet. Still, we’ve only got nine days to prepare, and there’s lots to do, so you won’t be able to put them off forever.”

The words were coming faster than Rebecca could follow them.

“Marie. Marie!”

Her friend finally stopped and took a breath.

“What do you mean, I’m going to be the Elder’s vessel?”

“Isn’t it exciting? The Elder agreed to come back and lead through you. You’ll basically be the leader of the clan.”

“I don’t want it.” The words slipped out before she realized what she was saying.

Marie frowned. “Of course you do. Everyone already loves you. And now you’ll get to be even more important to the clan. I’m actually a bit jealous.”

Because Marie was looking at her so intently, Rebecca forced a smile. “You’re right. I’m just tired, I guess.”

Marie returned her smile. “Of course. You get some sleep. I’ll make sure everyone leaves you alone today. Rest up.”

“I will. Thanks, Marie.”

The other girl nodded as she slipped out the door, leaving Rebecca alone with her thoughts.

What would it mean to be the Elder’s vessel? Would he just talk to her? Or would he possess her again? She couldn’t go through that experience – that violation – another time. It was for her clan, her family, but it was too much. Surely they would understand.

That thought consoled her as she drifted off to sleep.

When she woke again, light was streaming through the window, indicating mid-morning. The last time she had been awake in the early afternoon, so nearly an entire day had passed. She felt better, rested and alert. One of the perks of serving as a medium for the clan was her own room, instead of sleeping in the communal room for single women, which meant fewer interruptions in her sleep.

She rose from the bed and walked over to the closet. She selected a simple dress and took off her night shirt in order to put it on. As she was changing, the door opened and closed behind her.

“I’m up, Marie. No need to check on me. Still, thank you for letting me . . .” After the dress was on, she turned around to see Peter standing in front of the door, smiling in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. Shock and embarrassment caused her face to flush. “Oh! Peter . . . I . . . Sorry, I thought Marie had come in.”

“No need for that. I just wanted to come by to congratulate you on your new position. And to offer what assistance I may.”

Shock gave way to apprehension. “Thank you. I’m just getting used to the idea myself.”

Peter took a couple of steps towards her. “I am curious, if you don’t mind me asking, how you managed to arrange this? Assuming that was really my father, I wonder what you said to him to go along with this power grab of yours?”

Rebecca backed away from Peter and bumped into the bed, involuntarily sitting down. “I didn’t . . .”

Approaching even closer, Peter’s smile grew even more unsettling. “It’s okay, Rebecca. It is a brilliant plan. I applaud you. You are a much more impressive and resourceful woman than we gave you credit for. You have my full support.” Standing over her, he reached down and brushed her cheek with the back of his hand. She didn’t think anything could feel worse than being possessed by the Elder, but this did. It felt like her soul was being crushed. Her flinch was instinctual, but Peter seemed not to notice it.

“I should warn you, however. My brother is angry. Say the word, and I will stay by your side to protect you.”

“I . . .” Rebecca faltered. She wanted him to leave, but couldn’t find words to make that happen. “I . . .”

A knock at the door saved her from more stammering. “Rebecca? It’s Phillip. I was hoping we might talk.”

“Send him away,” Peter whispered.

Rebecca grabbed the reprieve she’d been offered. “No. I should speak with him.”

Peter stared at her for several moments, and she had the impression he was weighing the pros and cons of striking her, but he eventually relented. “Of course,” he tipped his head towards her. “But I do hope you’ll consider my offer.”

“I will. Thank you.”

The knock came again. “Rebecca?”

“Come in!”

Peter turned to the door and greeted Phillip with a laugh. “Good morning, brother. Rebecca, if you will excuse me. Perhaps we might continue this conversation a little later.” Without waiting for a response, he swept out of the room while Peter stared after him.

After the door closed, Phillip turned back to Rebecca. “I hope he didn’t bother you.”

Relief had flooded through her the moment Peter had left, but she tried to keep it from showing. “No. He was imply offering his help.”

“I can imagine.”

Peter had told her that Phillip had been angry about the situation, but she saw no evidence of that now. He had always been kinder than his younger brother, but she didn’t know what he was thinking. Did he think she had planned all of this as well?

“Anyway, I came to see how you were doing. Marie said you seemed rather worn out from the other day. Have you managed to recover any?”

She nodded. “None of this was my idea. You know that, don’t you?”

“Is that what you’re worried about?” He chuckled softly. “No. I don’t think this is your doing. This is exactly the sort of thing my father would do. In fact, I didn’t want you in the middle of all of this. Peter demanded we use you to consult the Elder. If anyone is responsible for this situation, it is him.”

“I . . . I don’t want to do this.”

“I know. I just said I didn’t think it was your idea.”

“No. I mean, I don’t want to do this. I can’t. I don’t want to be the Elder’s vessel.”

“Oh.” Phillip fell silent for awhile.

Rebecca stayed on the bed and was grateful that Phillip had remained by the door. The room wasn’t large, but it was enough to allow for some distance between them.

“Are you certain?” The suddenness of his question startled her.


“Are you certain? About not joining with my father?”

“Oh. Yes. I . . . I just can’t.” A wave of nausea hit as she thought about the Elder possessing her.

“What are you willing to do to avoid it?”

“Anything.” She said the word without thinking about it. Then she remembered the feeling of Peter touching her cheek and regretted it. What might Phillip ask of her?

“Very well. I need to arrange a few things. I will return after dark. Say nothing of this to anyone. I will find a way for you to escape this fate.”

Before she could ask a question, he was gone. She wanted to trust Phillip; he had never treated her badly. Peter’s touch, however, had taught her a new kind of fear, and now she didn’t know what to think.

A Death in the Family (part 3)

Thomas knocked on the door. Urgency made him want to rush, but he forced himself to stay calm. There was still time.

The door opened revealing Rebecca behind it. “He followed Julia, just as you said.”

“Good.” Thomas nodded. “Are you ready?”

The glare Rebecca gave him was pure ice. “You have been asking that question far too often lately. Considering how little you’ve told me about what is going on, I think I’ve been very accommodating. The least you could do is stop questioning my competence.”

“Fine. Let’s go.”

Thomas turned to walk toward the stairs and nearly crashed into Jason.

“Where are you rushing off to?”

Jason was his equal in many ways, but too carefree for his own good. Thomas envied him, but resented him, too. He never took anything seriously.

“We are trying to prevent something bad from happening.”

“Such as?”

“No time to explain right now. Maybe later.” Over his shoulder, Thomas called back to Rebecca. “You know where David is?”


“Good, then…”

“David?” Jason interrupted. “If you’re going to see him, could you give him this?” Jason held out a white crystal that was a little longer than his hand. It glowed brightly.

A feeling of dread spread throughout Thomas. “What is that?”

“It’s the special power crystal you asked me to make for him.”

“Why doesn’t he have it already?”

“Took longer to make than I expected, but it’s done now. Why do you look so upset?”

“Rebecca! Show me where David is. Right now!”

For a moment, Rebecca said nothing. Maybe she was taken by surprise. Maybe she was getting ready to chastise him again. His urgency, however, had boiled over, and there was no time for niceties. David needed that crystal. Now.

“It’s one of Julia’s pocket spaces. An outdoors one. Hard to pinpoint, but use this. It should help.” She handed him a glass vial with a strand of hair in it. “I need it back.”

Thomas nodded and began to focus on the hair. Julia was better at this than he was, but a piece of his target helped make up some of the difference. After a couple of minutes, he had a link to David. Another minute, and a portal opened. He grabbed the crystal from Jason. “Let’s go,” he commanded, and stepped through. Rebecca followed and immediately held out her hand for him to return the vial.

They found themselves in a grassy clearing at night. About fifty feet away, a figure was holding up a hand that was wrapped in flame. It took a moment before Thomas recognized David, but before he could say anything, a creature leapt from the night, wrapped itself around the younger mage, and dragged him to the ground.

A sense of terror knocked Thomas to his knees. He hadn’t been able to find the source of the danger no matter where he looked, and now he knew why. Mage devourers were impossible to detect with magic. Now that it had David, Thomas knew of no way to get it off him. What was worse, he didn’t know how to stop the creature after it was done with his first victim. David was supposed to stop it somehow, but Thomas didn’t know how that might be accomplished. It had something to do with the crystal Jason had made. That he hadn’t given to David.

“Cool.” Jason walked up next to Thomas. He must have come through the portal as well, though Thomas hadn’t seen him arrive. Before Thomas could reply, Jason had snatched the crystal and began walking toward David and the devourer.

“Jason! What are you doing?” Thomas tried to follow him, but couldn’t manage to get back on his feet.

“Probably what you should have asked me to do in the first place.” Jason’s voice was matter-of-fact with no hint of accusation. He kept walking. As he neared the downed mage, the devourer let go of David and immediately sprang at Jason, who didn’t even try to avoid it. The crystal in Jason’s hand began to glow brighter and brighter. The explosion knocked everyone back.

Thomas must have lost consciousness. When he came to, he heard crying from a little ways off. Looking around, he saw Rebecca stirring a few feet away. In his terror and confusion, he had forgotten about her part in this.

“Rebecca. Did you …?”

“Yes. Now quit yelling. My head is killing me.”

Another survey discovered the source of crying. Julia was holding a body in her arms, rocking back and forth. It had to be Jason. He stood and walked over to her. The body had indeed been Jason. There was no sign of the devourer anywhere.

Julia looked up at him, her eyes red from grief. “You did this. You killed him.” He knew that, if she had more control over her emotions, she would have destroyed him then and there. Instead, she turned back to the burnt out husk of the only person she seemed to care about.

A Death in the Family (part 2)

There was a penetrating chill in the air. A simple spell would have kept it at bay, but David was reluctant to use magic away from the protection of the house. The run in with astral beetles – which felt like years ago but was actually only a month earlier – had taught him a level of caution that years of training had not managed to instill. 

Still, despite his newfound appreciation for discretion, here he was chasing after a mage he barely knew and who, he’d been told, did not want to be found. She had a master-level command of spatial magic, and he had no idea where she might be headed. He didn’t even know why he’d followed her, except that his Guide, Samuel, had also ingrained in him a responsibility towards others. And he would want someone to come after him, if the situation were the other way around.

Ever since he had been invited to join the house, he knew he had a role to play in keeping it safe. Going after Julia had felt like his responsibility, but now that he was actually looking for her, he found he had no idea what he was really doing. David wanted to live up to Samuel’s faith in him, but he was no longer sure of himself.

The world abruptly shifted. One moment he’d been walking down a city street, then the next step he took was on a grassy field. The artificial light was gone; only the stars overhead provided any break from the night. He looked around, but there was no indication of civilization in any direction.

“Who are you? Really?” A woman’s voice reached him from somewhere close by. It sounded like Julia.

“What’s going on?” He was trying to stay calm. A spark flicked from his hand, but he shoved the impulse away. He needed to understand what was happening before he reacted.

“Me first. Who are you?”

“Fine. I am Searcher David, led by the Guide Samuel down the path of the elements.”

“Quite a mouthful.” The voice kept shifting directions, like the speaker was running around him. “But not really what I was asking. Why did you come out here?”

“Julia? Look, I just wanted to make sure you were alright.”

“Bullshit. Who sent you? Thomas? He brought you into the house. He must have, otherwise we would have been consulted. Or did someone else send you? To come after me?”

“No one sent me. Thomas brought me into the house, but I haven’t even spoken with him since I got here.”

There was no response. David wasn’t even certain Julia was still there.

“Okay? My turn.” He hoped his voice wasn’t shaking. “What is going on? How did I get here?”

More silence. Was she thinking? Or had she left him in the middle of nowhere?


Still nothing.

“I’m going to cast a spell just to give us some light.” After giving his warning, he wrapped his hand in cold flame. Julia stood about twenty feet away, staring at him.

“I don’t believe you.” Her expression was unreadable, especially in the dim light, but her voice carried more distrust than he had ever encountered before.

“Then just send me back. I was trying to help, but I don’t need to be here. I’ll leave you alone, just put me back in the city.”

“Why shouldn’t I just leave you here?”

“I haven’t done anything to you.”

Julia’s demeanor suddenly changed. She seemed to forget about him and was paying attention to… something else.


“Shh!” She interrupted him and pointed off to his right.

The light wasn’t bright enough to reveal anything, so he intensified it. At the very edge of illumination, he could see it. At first, it seemed to be a long snake with far too many eyes that appeared to be hovering in midair. Then he caught a glimpse of long legs holding its body up, three feet off the ground. It looked like nothing he had even heard of, but it terrified him at a fundamental level. After a moment, it skittered back, disappearing once more into the darkness.

“We need to get out here,” David whispered toward Julia. Before he could do anything else, the creature grabbed him from behind, wrapping him like a constrictor, its legs folded back into its body. He could feel his clothes dissolve where the creature touched him. The weak acid deadened his nerves just after he felt suckers latch onto his skin. As a scream filled the air – it could have been from Julia or from him – he felt magic drain from him, followed by his consciousness.

A Death in the Family (part 1)

“So do you know what Thomas is up to?” Rebecca watched Sarah closely for any reaction, but the other woman was unfazed by the question.

They were sitting in Rebecca’s room, drinking tea. Rebecca genuinely liked Sarah, but she was still cautious around her, the result of living on her own for too long. In that respect, she knew that she and Julia were alike. But Julia was even more closed off, and the two had rarely spoken to one another.

“Honestly, I don’t. What makes you think he is up to anything?”

“Just some questions he’s asked me.”

“Oh? Like what?”

Before Rebecca could find a noncommittal response, yelling could be heard in the hell outside her door. Both women leapt to their feet and rushed out into the hallway. Julia was standing at the bottom of the stairs that led to the floor above.

“. . . should never have come here! I can’t believe I ever considered trusting you!”

“Julia. Please listen to me . . . ” Thomas’s voice came from up the steps though he was still out of sight.

“No! I’m done listening to you!” Julia spun around and walked over to Sarah and Rebecca. “Did you know about this?” She pushed a piece of paper into Sarah’s hands. On it was a short list, and Rebecca could see one item in particular: “Julia has not died.”

“What is this?” Sarah asked.

“I found it in Thomas’s room.” Julia’s voice was angry, yet fear permeated it as well. “You don’t know anything about it?”

“I swear, Julia, I don’t.”

Rebecca nodded her agreement with Sarah’s denial.

“Then I recommend you get out of here before you wind up on one of his lists.”

Thomas appeared at the bottom of the stairs, but he didn’t say anything. As soon as she saw him, Julia stormed away. She crashed into David, who was just coming out of his own room, and knocked him down. Without stopping, she headed down to the main floor. The slamming of the front door reverberated throughout the house.

Sarah held up the piece of paper in front of Thomas, who had joined them outside of Rebecca’s room. “What is this, Thomas?”

“It’s personal. She took it from my room, a violation of the rules.” As always, his voice was subdued and betrayed little emotion.

“Perhaps, but you admit it’s yours, and it does seem troubling. Convince me it’s not.”

“Could we discuss this privately?”

David had gotten up and joined Rebecca in watching the exchange between the two senior mages.

Sarah shook her head. “They will have questions, too. Unless you want to let suspicion fester, best we talk in front of them.”

“Very well,” Thomas sighed. “Looking around the timeline, I find it useful to leave myself notes so I don’t lose track of when I am, of what is future and what is past. No one is supposed to see them.”

“And this is one such list? Julia found it?”

“Yes. I have safeguard in place to keep everyone out, but her talents with space are greater than my own. Obviously.”

“So you know she’s going to die int he future?”

“No. The future isn’t fixed. But it might happen.”


“It’s not clear. Soon, though.”

“Why didn’t you tell us? Or at least tell her?”

“I… She… I don’t have any specifics. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. And you know she doesn’t like others interfering with her life. I was trying to find a way to help her without upsetting her.”

“Well done, then.” Sarah thought a moment. “If she’s in danger, it might mean we all are. You should have…”

“No. No one else is in danger. I checked.”

“You can’t be sure of that. If you want this house to work, you can’t keep these kinds of secrets.”

“I don’t need you to tell me. . .”

“You put me in charge of this house. This is my responsibility.” She paused a beat. “Or are you forcing me out?”

Thomas opened his mouth, then closed it again. He went back upstairs without saying anything else.

Sarah turned to the other two mages. “I’m sorry about all of this. I promise to sort it all out. Let’s all take some time to get a little perspective, then meet again later to discuss everything.”

“What about Julia? Shouldn’t we go after her?” David’s concern was obvious.

Sarah shook her head. “She doesn’t want to be bothered when she isn’t upset. I doubt she wants any of us following her now. Better to let her cool off.”

David nodded and headed back to his room.

“We’ll talk later?” Rebecca asked.

“Yes. Promise.”

Rebecca accepted that and went back through her own door as Sarah walked away.

Several minutes after the hallway emptied, David’s door opened again. He quietly crossed over to the stairs leading down and followed Julia out of the house.

The Hallway

The lock had been surprisingly easy to pick. The apparent affluence in the neighborhood had led him to expect much tighter security, yet he had the door opened in less than 30 seconds. Now he found himself in a long hallway with wooden floors and light colored walls. In fact, as he looked at it, it seemed too long for the house. Having taken a few steps, he looked back over his shoulder, but he could no longer see the front door. He hadn’t turned any corners, and yet the way he had come in was simply gone.

He walked back to where he was sure the door had been. Now there was just a blank wall, a dead end. Probing it, he could find no secret panel that might be concealing the entrance. The only option he could see was to continue on, so he turned back around and began walking again.

The hallway continued to present him with oddities that he couldn’t explain. Sudden turns appeared when it first looked as though the hallway continued straight ahead. Doors disappeared when he got closer to them. Several minutes passed without coming upon anything of note, and he knew that something was very wrong in this house.

Any thoughts of robbery had evaporated; now his only concern was escape, but there was no obvious way to accomplish that. There were no remarkable features in the hallway, no decorations or adornments. And no other path to take.

After going around one corner, he saw a man walking toward him. He looked for a place to hide, but there were no such places. It turns out he needn’t have bothered; the man, who was talking to himself, walked right past him without even looking up.

Deciding that getting out was more important than staying hidden, he called out. “Hey! Excuse me?”

The man stopped and turned around. “Oh. Who are you?”

“I. . . I am lost. I was hoping you could tell me how to get out of here.”

The man smiled absently. “Sure. Just keep following this hall. It will lead you to the front door.” Without waiting for a response, the man turned and walked right through the wall.

He knew he’d been walking away from the front door since he arrived, so he couldn’t possibly be heading towards it. More confusing was that a person just walked through a solid wall. He knocked on the wall, and there was nothing hollow sounding about it. He had no other choice, so he continued walking. A few more steps, and he found himself in front of a door, one that didn’t vanish. Grateful to finally have found the way out of this endless hallway, he opened the door and stepped through.

Into a dimly lit room. Just a few candles on tables provided any light. A woman with blue hair sat in an armchair and looked at him, or at least in his direction.

“Hello.” He voice was pleasant enough.

“Hi. I was . . .”

“If you’ve found your way to this room, you are likely very confused.”

“Yes, I . . .”

“If you need to speak with a living person, one will be along . . . sometime. For now, allow me to explain your predicament.

“You do not belong in this house. If you did, you would never find your way here. Unless you are Jason, in which case,” her voice took on a resigned tone, “you already know the way out.

“You should know that there was some discussion about what should be done to the random trespasser. At least one of us, the person who designed the hallway, wanted a rather lengthy and gruesome punishment. She was overruled, however, and a compromise was reached. Unfortunately for you, part of the compromise is that I can’t tell you what the punishment is. What I can tell you is that you must keep moving. There is a way out, but only if you keep moving. Good luck.”

The woman winked out of existence, and he stood there staring at the chair she had recently occupied. All of a sudden, he was blinded by lights, and it took him a minute to realize it was just the overhead lights coming on. Looking around, he saw the man who had passed him earlier in the hall.

“Are . . . are you really here?”

The man chuckled. “Yes. Sorry I followed you. Sarah’s little speech is fun to listen to, especially when she mentions me. I just wanted to hear it again. I realized you were headed here, so I just tagged along.”

“Sarah? The woman I just saw?”

“Yep. She’s really quite good at this stuff.”

“Okay… she said I had to keep moving?”

The man gestured across the room. “That door over there. Normally, I’d tell you to run, but you seem like a nice sort. Truthfully, a brisk walk or light jog is sufficient. It moves kind of slow.”

“What does?”

As if that was a cue, growling and scratching could be heard on the other side of the door by which he had entered the room.

“That. You should really go now.” The man just stood there with his absent smile still on his mouth.

He quickly made it to the far door and opened it, finding himself once more in the hallway. Walking quickly, he could hear snarling behind him. Terror overcoming him, he ran for awhile, but he couldn’t keep it up and had to return to walking.

The only real indication of the passing of time was the ache in his legs. When the pain became nearly unbearable, the growling grew louder and he pushed through the agony. Eventually, his legs became numb, and he couldn’t remember a time when he hadn’t been walking.

He never caught sight of the beast behind him, but the sounds of its pursuit were always there. Just as he was about to collapse, he stumbled into another door. Opening it, he found himself outside in the sunlight. Hours must have passed while he had been inside. The fresh air and sun gave him a new burst of energy, and he broke into a run to get as far away from the house as possible.