Screamcatcher-Web World Excerpt

            I’m late! Jorlene Pike swung the front door open and leaped out of her apartment only to collide with a body. Their faces met with a hard clack, doubling her over in pain. Her purse slipped from her shoulder and hit the porch deck.

            She bent to pick it up; the other figure also crouched and fumbled for it. She knew right then it was Choice Daniels. Another unexpected visit. I’d like to make time right now but I can’t.

            “Jethuss, Choice, if you were any closer to my door….” She picked up the purse and threw her arm into the strap “….you would hath been made of wood.” Her jaw hurt. She had some trouble forming words. “Were you trying to thspy on me through the peephole?” She took quick inventory of her teeth with her tongue–all were there, but her chewing gum was missing.

            Choice straightened, fingering his jaw. “If you were paying attention, you would have noticed I was just getting ready to knock. How come you’re blasting out of here so fast anyway?”

            She tossed her hair to the side and annunciated. “I work, remember? And right now I’m late.”

            “Oh, yeah.” He looked at his watch. “You are late. We can take my bike and get you there faster.”

            She had no desire to straddle the saddle on his motorcycle at this time in the morning when the streets were wet. She’d been on the back of it before and it wasn’t too bad, her arms clasped tightly around his hard body—the scent of his neck, when pressing her face into it. There you go again. Reminding me.

Marching past him, she headed for her Jeep Cherokee at the curb. As she dug in her purse for her keys, Choice’s plodding steps followed her.

            “Okay, you’re late,” he said. “But you owe me because you said you were going to let me spend the day at your grandpa’s shop. That’s why I stopped by. I have to get something for my brother’s birthday, so what better place to do it than White Feather’s Novelty Store?”

            She hesitated for a beat then continued on to the driver’s door of the Cherokee.

            Before she could stick the key in the door, Choice had his hand on the handle. He pulled it a couple of times. Now he’s putting on the chivalry act. Of course, the door wouldn’t open.

            She waggled the keys at him and arched an eyebrow.

            “Aw, c’mon. Won’t you even think about it?”

            “There’s nothing to think about,” she said, unlocking the door.

            “If you say so.” With a mischievous smile, he licked his lips. He gazed at her and sniffed. “Is this yours?”

            “Look, just….” She winced. He had a smear of cherry flavored lipstick on his upper lip. Impact transfer.  She pulled the door open. “Wipe your mouth off. You’re wearing me.”

            He rolled his tongue over his lips. “It tastes mighty fine since I know where it came from. Sure you don’t need any company?”

            She ignored the question as she stepped in and shut the door. A twist of the ignition key and the car hummed to life. She looked back at him. Choice stood in the middle of the street, a look of abandonment plastered across his face. He looked pathetic, like a stray cat peeking up from the bottom of a cardboard box. It wasn’t that he didn’t pass in the looks department. He had a hunky body and a chiseled face, but he also had a fourteen year-old mind hardwired into an eighteen year-old body. And when it came to chasing after Jorlene “Jory” Pike–as he had for the last three years–Choice sorely lacked in the dignity department, much less the romance department where he had no more finesse than a tornado hurtling through a trailer park.

            She buzzed the window down. “Do you have any money, Choice?”

            “A hundred bucks. I’ve been slinging gravel for my uncle the last three days. You think I’m kidding? I told you I’d buy something.”

            “It’s not that you have to buy anything. I was hoping you’d found a real job.” She checked her dash clock. “Ugh, now I’m really late. All right. Get in!”

            She unlocked the passenger door. After he fastened his seatbelt, she threw the car into drive and flicked on the wipers.

            Out of the corner of her eye, she watched him study every item in her car–the candy wrappers in the center console, the crack in the dash panel, the small disco globe swinging from the rearview mirror. It wasn’t the first time he’d been in her Jeep, but he always noticed those little things. On other occasions, he’d used them as conversation pieces, just to start a dialogue. He was sweet and endearing at times, but he could wear on her nerves.

            “Got some new CDs, eh?” He absently fingered a few plastic cases. “Still having the nightmares?”

            “Uh, yeah.” The question surprised her as they hadn’t talked about it for awhile. “I had a whopper last night. I didn’t really fall asleep until an hour before the alarm went off. That’s why I’m running late.”

            “I could tell. Your eyes are still red from crying. You can always talk about it if you want, but if you don’t feel like it, just remember, time heals.”

            Yeah right. Time was sure having a hard time healing the sudden death of her parents. It had been thirty-four days and twelve hours since her parents’ car took a too-wide turn on Cloud’s Reach Pass and plummeted over the cliff edge. It had made no difference that her dad had been trying to get home for an anniversary party that he and Jory’s mother had planned for months. They’d never made it.

            Jory screwed up her face, thinking about it. “It’s like a really good film that got mixed up in the editing department at some studio,” she said.

            “What is?”

            “Everything. It’s like somebody cut out a really sweet section of the story and put in a horror scene.” She sniffled and then blinked back a tear. Jesus, here I go again.

            “Yeah…closure takes a long time.”

            She bit her lip. “I hate that word. Don’t ever say that word to me again.”


            “Because it’s not true.”

             Albert Pike’s White Feather Novelty Store was a single story log cabin building that sat on a quarter acre flanked by multiple-story glass office buildings. It gave the impression that the store had been shoe-horned onto the property. Red geraniums planted in antique horse troughs sat on the long porch, while red and yellow wagon wheels leaned against rickety porch beams.

            They arrived in front of the store and Jory parked at the curb. She locked the Jeep and strode up to the double-glass front doors, primping in her reflection before she swung one open for Choice, letting him take the lead. Once inside, she passed through a swinging door to step behind a glass display counter that stretched from the front of the shop to the rear. After stashing her purse inside a small cupboard behind the counter, she looked around for her grandfather.

            Her gaze fell on her unplanned guest. You are so sweet, but insufferable.

            Choice stood with his feet bolted to the main aisle where he had stopped, awestruck. Much of the inventory consisted of Native American tourist brick-a-brac–toys, apparel, books, posters, blankets, boots and moccasins. A small tack wall, holding some saddles, took up the rear corner of the shop. Hygiene items, camera film, medicines, snack food, tanning lotion and maps occupied the first island at the front of the store. Moving toward the rear of the shop, items got progressively older and more Indian in nature and craftsmanship. Dozens of quart and gallon jars of multicolored sand sat in neat rows supported by pine shelves. Potions and herbs took up small niches. All of the jewelry and semi-precious stones sat in neat rows inside the floor-mounted glass counters. She couldn’t guess what Choice was thinking as his eyes panned back and forth, taking in all the sights. She’d seen it all dozens of times and never told him of its existence. She didn’t need a stalker at work.  

            “This place is awesome!” he finally said. “Where’s your granddad?”

            “He’s probably in the back room. You don’t have to stand there. Check out the inventory if you want.”

            Choice walked off toward the rear of the shop, his focus pegged on an archery and slingshot rack.

            Jory heard the faint noise of a toilet flushing in the back room. A moment later, Albert White Feather Pike stepped out into the counter aisle. His small, black eyes caught sight of Jory, prompting him to rush to her, which was still slow motion. She adored the way his arms and legs would scissor in sync, making him look like a tiny windup soldier. She met him halfway–as she had done for the past six months–and put her arms around him in a gentle embrace. Her chin rested on the wispy snow-white hair atop his head.

            “It is wonderful to see you again, Granddaughter,” he said against her shoulder. “I have fresh coffee in the back room and I have already dusted the shelves.”

            Her grandfather always opened the shop for her, sometimes very early in the morning. He would read and wait for her arrival, like an expectant child waiting for a surprise toy. Since her parents had died, his need to be with her had intensified. Although he never mentioned the subject of her parents passing, he always waited for her to express any pains or emotions about it. He had a good ear and wise advice.

            She sighed. “The wild black cherry tea hasn’t helped much. Whenever the vision comes, I jerk awake and imagine the scene all over again.”

            Albert pulled back from her and placed his gnarled hands on her shoulders. “Perhaps the wild lettuce will let you remain in slumber through the dark spirit passage.”

            “Grandfather, I don’t think the herbal medicines are working. Maybe this is something that has to pass with time.”

            Choice clopped up to the counter. “That’s what I was trying to tell her. Closure takes time.”

            “What did I tell you about that word?”

            “I was just agreeing with you.” Choice looked at the small man. “It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Pike. I’ve seen you before at one of Jory’s stage plays at our high school about a year ago, but we weren’t introduced.” He gave Jory an annoyed look. “I’m Choice Daniels. Jory invited me to help out today.” He waved his hand, gesturing at the store. “This shop is dope, and I mean that in a good way. That’s an awesome long bow you have in the corner.”

            Albert looked him up and down. “It was one of my own when I was a young man such as you. So you are the boyfriend of my granddaughter. I cannot see a tribe in your face, since your eyes are like the sky on a cloudless day.”

            “He’s not exactly a boyfriend,” said Jory. “Just a friend.” She felt awkward saying it.

            “I’m black Irish,” said Choice. “At least that’s what my parents tell me. Jory and I just hang together.”

            “Hmmm…you are black, you hang and you are Irish,” said Albert. “That must be a good thing, and we could talk about that all day. But to other matters…”  He took Jory’s hand and pulled her down the counter aisle until they arrived at a large, black velvet board screwed to the wall. Two dozen webbed hoops hung on tiny hooks, their bottom portions trailing feathers and stringed beads. Some of the hoops were circular, while others had teardrop-shapes. Of course, Jory knew that these were the dream catchers, and was familiar with some of the tribal legends associated with each variation. Albert pointed to the board and began to explain. Choice, who had followed them, sidled up to the counter to listen.

            “It is said that Iktomi, the great trickster and searcher of wisdom, appeared to an old spiritual leader in the form of a spider. Iktomi, the spider, picked up the elder’s willow hoop, which had feathers, horsehair and beads on it and began to spin a web. He spoke to the elder about the cycles of life and the many forces–some good and some bad—and how it was important to listen to the clean, good forces and to avoid the darker ones that could hurt and lead you astray.”

            “The big spider was the teacher, then?” asked Choice.

            Jory rolled her eyes, having heard the legend before.

            Albert’s eyes became slits. “Yes. When Iktomi finished the web, he returned it to the elder and said ‘The web is a perfect circle with a hole in the middle. All of the bad forces, visions and dreams enter onto the web where they are trapped and held. All of the good forces find their way into the center and slip through, to travel down the feather and bead path, arriving upon the sleeper. If you believe in the Great Spirit, the web will filter your visions and give you pleasant dreams. The bad ones will never pass.’”

            “But, Grandfather, said Jory, “the dream catcher was used for babies and small children to comfort them. They were used above cradleboards.”

            Albert seemed not to have heard her words, having focused on Choice. “And when the sun rose the next morning it would wash all of the bad spirits from the catcher, cleansing it for another sleep cycle. It was always made to fall apart and wither after years of use so that it would never be filled up with the dark things.”

            “Damn,” said Choice. “What’s it made of? Little sticks and strings?”

            “They were made for adults too,” said Albert, looking at Jory. “The hoop is made from the twigs of the red willow, formed and dried. It is woven with the thread from the stalk of the stinging nettle. The very old ones have sinew for web. The beads are a decoration, and only one gemstone is used to show that there is only one creator in the web of life. Long ago, the government of this country outlawed the use of real eagle feathers, so most are made from feathers of other birds.”

            Choice nodded and waved his hand at the board. “Then they’re just copies?”

            “Not these,” said Albert. “I made many of them as a youth when no such law existed.”

            “You’ve got the real deal then,” said Choice, his eyes roaming over the board until he looked up toward the ceiling and saw an enormous dream catcher hanging from a rafter. Jory had seen it before. It was as large as a basketball hoop, trailing long, elegant feathers. But it appeared that it hadn’t been cleaned or dusted, which gave it a brittle, antique appearance. It looked like thick strings of gut or leather had been used to fashion the web. A few talons and claws hung from individual strands, a marked difference from the construction of the others.

            “Where did that one come from?” asked Choice, indicating the large catcher with the flick of his eyes.

            Albert steadied himself with a hand on the counter to look up, his voice a mystic whisper. “It is the oldest one, the one passed down from the ages, from the time just after the great turtle. It was not meant to be used, but only copied. It is the one that carries the design for all to learn from…the one you would say is the…I have not the word for it.”

            “The prototype,” said Choice. “The original.”

            “Yes,” said Albert. “It was considered a treasured heirloom. I cannot say whether it was used to capture the bad spirits or not or whose hands and tribe it passed from. I only know it is the greatest grandfather of them all. It represents all the nations of all the human beings.”

            Albert lifted one of the smaller dream catchers from the board with delicate fingers and extended it to Jory. “Granddaughter, I make this a gift to you. May you find protection in it with the blessings of all our ancestors. It will drive the devil spirit from your thoughts and give you peace.”

            Jory gave him an endearing smile. “It’s really generous, and it’s not that I don’t appreciate the offer. But, Grandfather, you have to understand that the ways and teachings of the old ones are so very lost in today’s culture. I don’t think I have the proper faith to make it work.”

            Albert grunted. “You are saying it is an embarrassment to carry the blood of your family tribe and you find suspicion with things that are held dear and sacred.” He glanced at Choice. “It is a shame that the tribal youth of today–the Ojibway or Chippewa–have no time for the chants and songs, nor do they understand the words in the old stories.”

            Choice nodded.

            Albert looked at the large, front panel windows and out into the street. “This is an age of bending metal, cutting down the trees of the forest, fouling the waters and blackening the earth with soot and chemicals. The sound of the flute song and drums has disappeared, along with the dances and animal pantomimes. Today the music is born of electric violence and its words are lost in savage mutterings and howls. The world–the great circle upon which all creatures great and small live–is an angry, dying spirit.” He looked back at Jory. “That is the today you speak of, precious granddaughter. You have lost touch with your origins. The spirit cries out for your return. You have only to give heed to that calling. It’s never left you.”

            “Well, you’ve got me convinced,” said Choice and gazed at Jory with soft eyes. “You owe it to yourself, girl. You should try this out. Nothing else has been working for you. And your granddad’s right. You are Chippewa, and a real one at that.”

            “You see,” said Albert. “Even a black Irish white man can understand it.”

            She felt like she was being tag-teamed. It was true that both of them had her best interests at heart, but what would she gain by sleeping under a flimsy tourist charm designed to trap nightmares? This was the twenty-first century–not the Black Hills a hundred and fifty years ago. Yet she felt she could at least compromise.  

            “I suppose so,” she said and extended her hand to take the dream catcher.

            “Wait!” Choice said, placing a hand on her wrist. He looked at her grandfather. “Mr. White Feather Pike…I have an idea that we might see eye-to-eye on. I have a proposition for you that involves taking care of this problem once and for all. Maybe we can go to your back room and talk about it?”

            Albert cocked his head. “If it involves the welfare of my granddaughter, then I am willing to listen.”

            “Oh, it does.”

            Jory watched, awestruck as Choice hiked up his leg and slid over the counter, landing next to her grandfather. Her grandfather seemed neither surprised nor angered by the display. The two walked to the back room and disappeared behind the door. A latch fastened. She had a feeling that whatever those two were up to was bound to have her reaching for Tums or aspirin for the rest of the day.

                                                           *                    *                  *

            “I’m still upset with you,” Jory said as she put her key into her apartment door. “You lied to me.” Well, what else could she say? He’d played the sympathy card to the hilt and now she felt obligated. Choice Daniels is a manipulating little tool–but a nice one–maybe.

            “I just lied about it being my brother’s birthday. I didn’t lie about the money.”

            She shoved the door open and picked up the snack sacks. He followed behind with a case of Dr. Pepper and another package wrapped in brown paper. They met in the kitchen and put the items away, except for the wrapped package. Choice pulled some drawers open and gave her a sheepish look.

            “You’re not going to put it up now, are you?” she asked.

            “Why not get it out of the way?”

            “Third drawer on the right. Nails and hammer. Before you do that, arrange these snacks into several bowls and set them out on the living room table.”

            “All right!”

            Jory’s cell phone rang. She flipped it open, saw that it was her best friend and answered, “Doing, Darcy?”

            “Calling you, stretchy girl. Are we still on tonight?”

            “Sure, no problem. If you have any favorite eats, bring ‘em on. I’ve got cheese puffs, Zingers, and pretzels.”

            “Oh, sounds good. I’ve got a box of games I’ll bring too. Maybe something you haven’t seen. Oh, and not to forget a few DVDs that I picked up at the store. You okay? You sound tired.”

            “I had a rough day. All the aspirin’s making my ears ring. I did make some good commissions on some Arapaho rugs—three of them at once.” She walked into the living room, glanced over her shoulder and lowered her voice. “Darcy, Choice is here. He did some favors for me today.”

            “It sounds okay, unless you want to chase him out.”

            “I just hope you don’t mind. He might…stay.”

            “Just as long as he hasn’t got any ideas about threesomes, it’s okay with me. He’s not such a bad sort, but I’m not the one he’s all gaga for.”

            “It’ll be all right. I’ll see you when you get here.”

            Jory clapped her phone shut and headed for the bathroom. “Taking a shower,” she said over her shoulder. “Help yourself to the fridge, if you want. And stay away from this door.”

            “I’m not a peeper!”

            Jory picked up a change of clothes from her bedroom, then ran the bathroom water. She’d decided on the lavender jogging suit and a pair of high-top Nike shoes. Once in the shower, she let the warm spray hit the back of her neck. She massaged the soap and conditioner into her scalp. Darcy had kept her promise to spend the night. Most of her girlfriends had made the same trip, so many that she had to rotate them in shifts. No one wanted Jory to be alone, and last night she had spent the evening friendless because no one on her visit list could make it. Some of the younger girls were still in high school and it was hard for them to sleep over on weekdays. Darcy was sixteen and worked as a dental assistant at her parents’ office. Tonight was Darcy’s visitor night.

            After her shower, Jory dressed and stepped out into the living room, toweling her hair. The sound of a few grunts and hammer blows came from her bedroom. When she went to investigate, she found Choice standing on the bed in his socks, twisting the large dream catcher for the proper angle. It hung directly over her headboard.

            “I still wish you wouldn’t have done that,” she said. “I feel bad about taking commission on it.”

            Choice jumped off the bed and turned to admire his handiwork. “Hey, it’s for the right cause. I figured bigger was better.”

            She rounded the bed and looked up at the charm more closely. In place of the beads and single gem seen on the other examples, this one had large yellow teeth and talons attached to it. The eagle feathers were real and enormous.

            “I had it close to my face,” said Choice, “and the thing smelled pretty funky—like a dead smell. It must have real animal guts in it or something.”

            The feathers ruffled for a moment. The teeth clinked and the hoop slammed against the wall. Outside, a thunder crack shook the house, rattling the bedroom window. It looked like a second storm front was moving in on the tail end of the last one. More rain and overcast.

            “I still don’t know how you got my grandfather to sell it to you. It’s been in the shop for as long as I can remember.”

            “I just told him that I never had the chance to buy you a nice graduation gift.”

            “Yeah, but a hundred dollars, Choice! I would have been happy with a gumball.”

            “It didn’t cost a hundred. I’m on the payment plan. Grandpa said he could use the extra cash to get you white man’s counseling. So you see? We both got what we wanted. Hey, you look nice.” His eyes stripped her.

            Jory entered the small kitchen, trying to keep her temper in check. Right now, a glass of her grandfather’s blackberry tea sounded like the perfect prescription for what ailed her. But sedation was a coward’s way out of this mess, and wasn’t it her who had invited Choice to the shop in the first place, which set the whole thing in motion?

            She wondered if she had enough pre-made Spanish rice to feed an extra mouth when she put it in a pan to simmer. Chips and salsa were no problem, and she had the extra snacks. She set out some plates, cups and silverware. The sound of racing engines reached her ears from the living room, telling her that Choice had found the remote. It sounded like a NASCAR channel, which was all right as long as he kept the volume down.

Jory stayed in the kitchen, and after twenty more minutes of getting the food ready, when she heard a knock at the door. When she answered it, she found red-haired Darcy standing on the porch with some plastic containers in one arm and a huge sack in the other. She was not alone. An older guy whom Jory had seen before at the movie theater stood behind her girlfriend. Jory didn’t count eighteen year-old Lander Cunningham as a trusted friend, since he often hung around the video arcades in search of underage girls. His hands were always filthy, permanently stained from grease and oil. A large box rested in those greasy hands, she noticed.

            “Hope we’re not too early,” said Darcy and stepped in. Lander shuffled behind, his head down, ball cap pulled backward over his head. He set his box down and sat on the couch an arm’s length away from Choice, who also knew Lander, but only in passing.

            Jory pulled Darcy into the kitchen, keeping her voice hushed. “I can’t believe you brought that guy. You’ve just paired us up. That’ll encourage Choice.”

            “Jeeze, take it easy. I figured three was pretty awkward. This evens it up. Nothing’s going to happen anyway. You know that. Lander doesn’t feel me up or anything—he only kisses because he knows I’m sixteen.”

            Jory rolled her eyes. “How do I know that? Doesn’t Lander have a record or something?”

            “He hot-wired somebody’s car once. It was just a gag. He really is a good mechanic, though. He fixed my Suzuki’s heating problem last week and didn’t charge me anything.”

            “Nothing but a date, I’ll bet.”

            “So what’s the harm? He never gets out and away from that boozin’ dad of his.”

            Jory felt like saying, I can see why, but turned up the fire on the Spanish rice and stirred the pan.

They had what was supposed to be a sleepover meal for two on the living room coffee table fifteen minutes later. Darcy dug in her purse and came out with a DVD that was titled There’s Something about Mary. It figured it would have to be a romantic comedy, one that Jory had seen at least three times before. But the guys gave it their vote, confessing they hadn’t seen it. Darcy set it up. As it played, Jory took small nips out of her food, occasionally glancing at Choice, who seemed to be enjoying the flick. During an embarrassing zipper scene, he laughed aloud and gripped his knees to rock back and forth on the sofa.

Jory waited for the movie to end before she cleared the table, meeting Darcy over the kitchen sink. Glancing over her shoulder, she could see Lander passing a flask to Choice, who ducked to take a sip. Outside, the thunder pounded like a kettle drum. The first raindrops hit the roof, sending the noise reverberating through the vent system.

            “You need to cut loose and party down some,” said Darcy, washing out a plastic bowl. “It’s almost like you’re afraid to be happy. ‘Normal’ isn’t going to happen if you keep thinking abnormal is all around you.”

            Jory wiped the counter down. “Maybe you’re right.”

            “Good,” said Darcy, pulling a white stick-shaped object out of her cleavage. She waggled it in front of Jory’s face. “I brought a blunt, just in case.”

            “You’re not that right. Besides, Lander gave that to you and you don’t even know what it is.” Jory plucked it from her hand and tossed it into the wet sink, then broke it up with a fork.

            Darcy slumped. “If you change your mind, let me know—I have another one. In the meantime, I have a surprise…”  She walked into the living room, opened a box and yelled, “Twister!”

            Twister. New games she hadn’t heard of before? There was no way seventeen year-old Jory was going to play Twister with two semi-strange guys in her living room, sober. It took her a few belts from Lander’s flask to numb her mind and ease her nerves. She turned on the stereo and dialed in a metal station, which risked the wrath of the neighbors. Before long, she actually began to enjoy the game in a silly sort of way. Her cotton jogging suit allowed her to twist herself into a pretzel, and at times she laughed and fell over when she lost her balance. Choice wasted no time in trying to encircle her with a series of moves that groped, nudged, hugged and rubbed. She laughed and shoved him hard off the play mat several times. Darcy and Lander ended up in the most provocative poses, and Jory suspected that Darcy had brought the game as an excuse to maul the lanky mechanic. After two hours, the guys begged off, complaining of groin strains. The foursome collapsed on the couch, huffing. Darcy put another DVD into the player. This time a horror flick.

            The movie trudged along with little or no plot, coupled with a ridiculous amount of splatter scenes. The actresses screamed on cue with maniacal energy while the boys who were charged to protect them ended up torn to shreds by every monster imaginable. The idiocy of the film was not lost on Jory, and she screamed with hilarity, sometimes drowning out the others. Toward the end of the film, a neighbor rapped on the door, inquiring if there was a domestic disturbance going on. Jory assured the neighbor that the excited howls he heard came from laughter and not from someone dying.

            With the snacks gone and fresh out of way to continue the party mayhem, Jory called it quits at two in the morning. Suspecting that Lander and Choice were drunk and past the point of perfect driving reflexes, she invited them to stay and sleep in the living room. She broke out her guest blankets and pillows and plopped them on the sofa.

            “We can’t sleep alone,” said Choice, feigning sheer fright just as lightning lit up the living room. A thunderclap pounded the apartment walls three seconds later. “Especially after seeing Massacre Maidens.”

            “Yup,” said Lander, grinning drunkenly.

            Jory knew where this was going. “Okay, but you’ll sleep on the floor. Darcy and I get the bed. And there won’t be any sneaking in under the covers because you’re so scared because of Massacre Maidens.”

            Choice surrendered palms up. “That’s the best deal we’re going to get.”

            They collected the bedding and followed the girls into the bedroom. Jory threw the comforter back and spanked the pillows. She and Darcy kicked off their shoes and hopped into bed.

            Lander stood transfixed, staring up at the large dream catcher hanging over the bed. “What’s that thing?”

            “Therapy,” said Jory. “Choice, hit the light.”

            “Okay, but you wanna know something? Sleeping in your clothes is not good for them. You should slip into something more comfortable.”

            Jory gave him a playful scowl. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Now flick that light off!”

            Choice hit the switch and moved to Jory’s side of the bed, where he flopped on the floor. Lander took up the other side. Jory could hear the hiss of the downpour outside gaining in volume. The thunder rolled on and on. A lightning bolt flashed against the window, capturing the room in a skeletal flash. Above her head, the dream catcher swayed on its thin wire. The tiny charms clicked against each other, sounding like a macabre wind chime. She could almost feel the static electricity in the room, along with an icy draft. She pulled the comforter over the top of her head, determined to fall asleep.

            Jory wavered between consciousness and unconsciousness for a long while. Some part of her wanted to surrender to a deep, relaxing sleep. Yet another part of her didn’t have the courage to face the nightmare that was sure to come. She finally let go and fell into the netherworld.

            When the inevitable scene came to her, she gripped the covers, white-knuckled. It played out like a video, with her as the sole audience member. The silver Lexus locked up its brakes, skidded and plowed through the guardrail. It seemed to hang in the air for a very long time before the hood nosed over. The car picked up speed in a downward plunge. She could plainly see her parents’ faces through the front windshield, their mouths agape, eyes bulging. Jory screamed for them in the dream. It took so long for them to fall, that in the next moment, their faces relaxed before the canyon bottom rushed up to meet them. They joined hands—a fatal embrace—the pose that they were found in. Then the impact came, their bodies thrown forward into the metal, glass and rock.

            Jory pulled the comforter down and cried out with a long, pitiful wail.

            The room exploded with a jarring thunderclap. Jory pushed herself upward with a spastic jerk. Darcy screamed. In the next second the window blew inward, spraying shards of glass. The comforter flew off the bed and hit the wall. The mattress was knocked askew. An icy spray of raindrops blasted into the room while the drapes–shredded and torn–flipped crazily in the torrent. Jory leaped from the bed to land on a body that was just pushing up from the floor. She rolled off, hitting her head against the wall.

            “Where am I?” It sounded like Lander’s voice below her.

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