Excerpt from my WIP Snowmobiling Story / Camp NaNoWriMo Project

*Desperately needs a better title! Even a better working title!

Have a look at a section of this YA fiction I’m working on for reluctant readers, and tell me what you think!

———————–

I heard once that when someone gets hypothermic, they take all their clothes off and dig a hole. No, seriously, that’s — well, it’s something that Penny read in an article online and then told me about. I didn’t get an urge to burrow or anything like that, but I got to a point where I just wanted to lie down and take a nap, and I didn’t much care anymore where I did it. But I knew that’d piss Penny off, ’cause she was waiting for me, and it was a stupid idea to lie down on the railroad tracks no matter what. My dad would kick my ass if I did that.

No, I don’t talk about my dad that much. He’s not home a whole lot. He’s not even really my dad, okay? Just like my sister isn’t really my sister. He works driving transports, so he’s always going across country or down into the States. The money’s good, so you’d think we’d be doing better, but after my mom got divorced she ended up with a whole bunch of debt, and he had some too from before they got married. They had a cheapo wedding, too, although I don’t know why they even bothered to do that. Should have just moved in together and been done with it, in my opinion. No offense, if you don’t think people should just live together, but it’s honestly cheaper than having a big party just to show off.

When my dad does come home, it’s all about showing off. Mom’s got to show that she’s got it all handled, and that means I have to keep my nose clean, not argue or leave messes, shit like that. It sucks. Why should I have to be someone other than myself? I mean, heaven forbid I leave some dishes in the sink when my dad’s home — I do it when he’s not home, too, and the world doesn’t end.

On the other hand, he’s been around since I was a kid, and like I told you before, he’s pretty cool at teaching me some stuff. He was with me when I shot my first buck, showed me how to dress it and got the rack mounted for me for my birthday that year.

That same year, I heard about this thing where you can put a penny on a railroad track and when a train goes by, either the penny gets flattened completely, or it’ll derail the train. Either way, it sounds pretty effing cool, so I took a penny to try it. I hung around for a while, waiting for the action, but it got boring, so I just left the penny there and went back later, after I’d heard the train go by. It didn’t crash, but the penny was squashed.

You know what’s even cooler than getting a penny flattened by a train? Getting a loonie done the same way.

Yeah, I don’t understand why I’d want a train to derail, but when you’re a kid, it’s just something neat and different. I get it now, why it’d be bad. At the time I was all into explosions and loud noises and stunts and shit. So I take a loonie out of my mom’s wallet, not knowing that my dad saw me do it — I thought he was just watching hockey and drinking a beer — and I go out to the train tracks again.

So the first thing I get in trouble for, after I get back, is stealing. And it was just a dollar! Man, can you imagine what he’d do to me if I got caught taking a twenty? Or one of his beers? That’s why I wait until he’s gone on a road trip again, heh. He doesn’t keep count when he’s gone.

Anyway, he kicks my ass for taking money without asking. And then he wants to know what I did with it. I’m just a kid, I’m freaked out, so I tell him. Dad hustles me back to the train tracks, holding me up by the back of the neck so I’m practically on my tiptoes the whole way, and we get the loonie back.

Then we stayed there, waiting for the train to go by. While we’re there, he starts telling me about this one time that he saw a drunk guy walking home on the tracks lay down or pass out, and got his legs cut off by the train. It didn’t even slow down. I didn’t ask whether the guy lived or died.

I did feel like puking, though. My dad’s a good storyteller. I can kill and gut a deer, no problem. I went all that way after getting kicked by a moose and I didn’t whitey even when I wanted to. But you get my dad describing something gory, and I tell you, my stomach just turns over. And you can totally tell how much he’s loving it while I’m turning white and trying not to listen.

“Adam,” he says, looking at me seriously. “There’s a reason why most of the time, houses aren’t built next to the railway tracks.”

Of course, that’s a lie. There’re houses up here that are right close to the tracks. Okay, so there’s a backyard between the house and the rails, but still.

He starts telling me about what a train derailment is really like.

“The cars knock together and push each other to the sides,” he says. “So it’s not just turning over to one side, there’s cars to the left and cars to the right. And as soon as the first ones stop moving, the ones behind them jump on top, ’cause they don’t have any other place to go. If those are passenger cars, you got people inside getting flung all over the place, getting cut by broken glass and squashed under iron wheels and trapped between the seats. They can’t hear themselves screaming ’cause the sound of metal screeching is too loud, but when it’s over, then they’ll hear each other. And if they’re really lucky, someone nearby will hear them and call 911.

“But if there’s a house or a car that’s too close to the tracks,” he goes on, pointing at the spots. “The train pulverizes it.”

That’s the exact word he used. Pulverize.

“It’s going so fast, and it’s made of steel so it’s heavy, that it knocks into whatever’s in its way and smashes right through. If there’re chemicals or gas or oil, and there’s a leak, the steel makes sparks and that causes an explosion. So whoever might have survived in the house or the car, if he lived through getting hit, gets burned alive by the fire.”

Yeah, at this point I’m just about puking.

“This is why you don’t put shit on the tracks to derail the train, understand?” He’s shaking me now, just enough to get me to look him dead in the eyes. “This is why you don’t play on the tracks, or lie on the tracks, or mess around anywhere near the tracks. You get me?”

Then he points behind me, and holy shit, there’s a fucking train coming. I nearly crapped myself. You’d think you’d hear it coming, but you don’t, not until it’s almost on top of you. We weren’t even standing on the gravel, but I could feel the wind coming off of it. You know how you can imagine grabbing one of the handles as it’s going by slowly, through an intersection? Well, outside of an intersection, it goes just a little bit faster. Scary faster.

So I’m walking down the tracks now, years later, knowing my dad will kick my ass again if he catches me, and kill me himself if I even just sit down for a minute, and I’m starting to wish I’d just taken the goddamned trail, when it happens.

Unfuceffing believable.

Coming toward me, way down the track, there’s a freaking train.

————————–

The premise of this novel is that a young man is out snowmobiling and ends up in trouble, first by encountering a moose, then by bogging down his machine. His experience only gets worse from there, with a events pushing him further from home and safety, and into more and more dangerous circumstances. I’m aiming for 50,000 words, currently at 35,389 at the time of this post, with 7 days to go.

Crystal and Wand is coming this spring — want a taste?

You’re invited to sink your teeth (or fangs) into this selection from my upcoming novel, the third and final instalment in the Talbot Trilogy, a paranormal romance / urban fantasy that’s not for the faint of heart.  

First, the blurb . . .

Lovers reunite, and are torn apart. Bloodthirsty fiends battle for control of an army of the undead. With the community of Talbot frozen under layers of ice and snow, the domination of the vampire coven seems certain, but in the eye of the storm, the witches and the vampire hunters search desperately for the means to bring an end to the violence that threatens to take over more than one small, sleepy town. Will Rayvin and Charlotte be able to work together, combining their skills in magick, to prevent the loss of more innocent lives? 

And now, the excerpt:

He swiveled her stretcher around and rolled her into another room nearby, connected by a sliding door. Here, she saw a massive bed covered in white silk sheets, fur rugs and tables covered with candles. There was even a mirror on the ceiling. She recoiled, tugging feverishly and uselessly against her bonds.

Instead of taking her to the bed as she feared, he pulled again to the right, and stopped her in front of a bank of six small flatscreen TVs. The views changed every ten seconds or so, until he tapped a few keys on a small black keyboard. Then, each TV focused on the hospital lobby, where Grant and Malcolm sat glaring at each other below the hidden camera.

“I have eyes and ears all over this hospital, Rayvin,” he told her seriously. “I knew you were here the minute you showed up. I honestly kept expecting Grant to figure it out and come charging down here, but guess what? The wolf-man’s got a stuffy nose!” Jason snorted and pressed another few buttons.

The lower right flatscreen changed to a time-stamped view of the lobby, reversing its recording until Charlotte, Marcy, and Siobhan were walking backward into the room and facing the men. Here, Jason paused the video. He drew up a black leather office chair and sat in it, his arms folded.

“Where do you suppose they were going, Ray?” He mused, tilting his head back and forth. “You don’t think Malcolm de Sade, the dethroned and disillusioned, spilled a little secret to your band of allies, do you? Something about the Talbot Classic Theatre?”

Rayvin pulled so hard at one of the cuffs that she felt her skin chafing under its padding.

“I don’t know why you all think I’m so stupid. I know, Rayvin. I know about the vampire hunters from that stupidly named Society. S.H.I.P.—really? That makes no sense at all.” He got up and walked around the viewing screens. She heard a refrigerator door open, and when he came back around, he was sucking on a bag of plasma like it was a slushie.

Her stomach clamped at the sight, which made a little more of her own blood leak out and the after-pains surge once more.

“You’re really very tempting, you know. The smell of fresh blood is driving me nuts. You don’t mind if I eat in front of you, right?” He flopped back into his chair, clicking buttons again. The camera zoomed into the women’s faces, frozen on the screen. “You’re now wondering how I know about all this. Don’t worry, in a few minutes you’ll find out. I have a very reliable source.”

“So they’re walking into a trap, aren’t they?” Rayvin found her voice at last. “The Classic. You have people waiting for them there, don’t you?” It was really more of a statement than a question, but Jason nodded slowly in answer, still sucking on his snack.

She wanted to tell him something brave. She wanted to defy him, announcing that Marcy, Siobhan, and Charlotte wouldn’t fall for it, that they’d sense their enemies before the trap was sprung. Grant would sense her peril at any moment and come to her rescue. But the words dried up in her throat, and her eyes welled with tears. She turned her face away, willing herself to get back in control.

“Okay, I think that’s it.”

She heard Jason toss the empty plastic bag into a wastebasket. He turned her stretcher once more, so quickly it made her dizzy again, and pushed her back past the fish tank and his nurse shark, all the way to the hallway.

“I’m tired, Rayvin. You’ve got me up past my bedtime. I interrupted my sleep to play host for you, but I need to go back to dreamland for a bit. Thank god for the short days of winter, eh?” He chuckled, whisking her down another hallway. This one was lined with cinderblocks and unpainted wooden and steel doors. “I’ve watched enough movies to know what mistakes to avoid as the villain, but at the same time, I understand why the dastardly fiend needs to draw out the moment rather than ending it quickly. There’s so much pleasure in just relishing satisfaction, you know? So I’ve got my cameras ready, because I’m really exhausted and I can’t keep my eyes open much longer.”

He brought her to a stop next to a door marked “Boiler Room”.

And then he pulled a knife out of his pocket.

“It’s been more than ten years, Rayvin, since you paralyzed me and left me to rot in my chair.” Jason leaned over until his face was even with hers. He whipped off his patch to let her see the whole of his ruined eye. “And a couple of weeks ago, your boyfriend maimed me for the remainder of my after-life. So I’m thinking Code of Hammurabi. Remember, from Intro to Law?”

He shifted her body with one hand, reached under the blankets with his knife, and forced it deeply into her lower back. She shuddered and shrieked, the pain in her womb eclipsed by the agony of her muscles and tissue shredding. He sawed back and forth, cutting at her spine. She arched her back, trying to get away, screaming.

Something inside her gave way, snapping apart, and then for the second time in four hours, she blacked out.

———————

Want to know more about the Talbot Trilogy? Follow the links below!


MistMidnightThe prequel novella: Mist and Midnight 
 Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Chapters, B&N

Stalked by a cruel and relentless vampire, Charlotte is on the run. Fleeing the city, the powers of magick her only protection, she couldn’t afford to fall for the hot modern prospector Pike Mahonen. Can she avoid temptation in a small town, to keep them both safe?

WindAndShadowBook One: Wind and Shadow — Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Chapters, B&N

Rayvin Woods, photographer and natural witch. She just wanted to start her life over again after a series of misadventures. She didn’t count on rekindling a lost love when she came home to Talbot…or battling a malevolent vampire and his coven for her life.

Grant Michaels, police officer. He thought Rayvin was a murderer. He will do whatever it takes to protect the community he loves from danger…but will he learn to trust his heart, and the word of a witch, before it’s too late?

Malcolm de Sade, cunning vampire, imprisoned underground for a year by Charlotte Fanning and Pike Mahonen (“Mist and Midnight”, Midnight Thirsts). His accidental release unleashes his hunger and ambitionon a small, sleepy town…

BloodFireBook Two: Blood and Fire — Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Chapters, B&N

What chance does one witch have against five vampires? Alone, not much. But Rayvin’s allies are gathering… The battle between good and evil supernatural forces heats up in the long, cold November nights of the former mining town. But how will Rayvin’s motley crew of spellcasters and shapeshifters cope when they discover the threat they face is even greater than they imagined?

Stay tuned for the Book Three: Crystal and Wand cover reveal, release date, launch party, and celebratory giveaways!

Paper Routine — my entry to the CBC Canada Writes Short Story Contest

Excerpt:

“You’re such a good girl.”

He used to think that it was funny, in a bitter-sweet kind of way. I was sixteen, or it was my birthday, and I had never been kissed. Never had a boyfriend. I didn’t wear makeup, and my usual outfit consisted of a baggy sweatshirt and torn blue jeans.
I was sixteen, and I had a newspaper route.
That was how I met him.
He would come out of his garage to see me, the old man, or from the side door of his brick bungalow. I would pull up to the house on my bike, open the painted door to the old milk box, painted pale yellow to match the trim around the doors and window, and inevitably, he would come out. Sometimes, I saw him watching for me from the kitchen window.

“If you ever have a fight with your parents and you need a place to stay…”

I had decided on the newspaper route two years earlier. It seemed like an easy way to make some spending money, while getting exercise. The only downside was meeting the deadline every day, and delivering admail every second Friday. Otherwise, it was an easy gig. Aside from the odd grumpy dog, or the embarrassment of seeing someone my age who clearly wondered what the hell I was doing delivering newspapers when I should be shoveling burgers or peddling clothing like others in their teens, I liked it.
It was my half hour, or more, of peace after school each day. Time to daydream, as I walked down the four block route. I had a residential road with many retirees, like him, who had beautiful gardens and well-kept homes. The better ones were on the east side, facing the lake. They often had docks, and maybe one or two had beaches. I would imagine owning one of them, but I could never decide whether it would be better to back onto water, or onto the bike trail that ran along the old railway to the west. The bushes were high enough that those backyards had privacy, but I knew there were pools back there.

“Why don’t you bring your friends over for a pool party? I’m not going to try anything, you know. You probably think I’m some kind of dirty old man. But I’m not.”

He was lonely. I could see it in his eyes. The stoop of his shoulders under the brown cardigan, or the grey. He had a sense of the dramatic, too, which I enjoyed, in a way. The way he would stand in his garage, perfectly still, as the wide metal door slowly levered open in one big piece. Or, how he would slowly open the door as I popped the newspaper in the mailbox. His back would straighten as he smiled at me. I didn’t feel entirely comfortable, but neither did I feel threatened. We’d chat. His eyes would light up as he asked about my day. And I would move on after an appropriate interval. I had made a lonely old man feel better.

“What are you doing biking in the rain? Put your bike in here, I’ll drive you.”

I knew my boundaries. The first few times he offered to drive me down the block, I politely declined. But there came a day, one early spring, when the clear sky turned to sleet, and with freezing hands and damp hair I accepted the ride. After that, when the weather was bad, allowing the old man to chauffeur me became a relief. Not often, but enough. My parents thought it was sweet.

“I really like talking to you. You make me feel young again.”

I no longer remember our exact conversations, but I remember his house. There was a billiard table in the basement. The kitchen had yellow cupboards, and the living room was tastefully decorated, very clean, and there were doilies. He was married. His wife, he’d told me, had not been affectionate toward him in years. I knew, somehow, that this was not something an old man should be sharing with a young girl.
But, being polite, I said nothing.

“I’m going to miss you, you know.”

Tall, gangly, my body often felt more boyish than feminine. I’m not sure when I allowed him to give me a hug. It might have been as simple as a squeeze on my shoulder when he gave me my bi-weekly newspaper money. Certainly, when I got my driver’s license. But when I made my last delivery before a week’s break, while I went on a field trip to the States, he hugged me tightly. I knew I had a place in his lonely world and that I made him happy.
I shouldn’t have accepted his next offer.
I knew I shouldn’t have, that my parents would not have approved and would still be shocked that I did.
Sixteen years old, never been kissed. I was greedy for the world.
One of my customers on that route had been an Olympic boxer; he’d shown me his gold medal, in pride of place on a glass shelf in his professionally appointed basement exercise room.
One of my customers caught me talking to myself as I daydreamed aloud, but aside from a raised eyebrow, never bothered me about this curious habit.
One of my customers offered me five hundred dollars to take on my field trip.
Five hundred dollars.

The old man drove me to his bank, my bicycle left safely in his garage, and as I stood by his side, withdrew the money in the form of traveller’s cheques. So I could have a comfortable, enjoyable trip. I didn’t need it. It was a gift.

“I can’t keep this.”

Wary of neighbours, not wanting anyone to think the wrong thing, the old man had never closed the door while we were inside. How could I take this money? I knew it was not the right thing to do, but still, I kept it.
In truth, having the extra money, which I had not earned and did not deserve, made my trip much easier. I didn’t have to worry about keeping enough aside for each meal. I was able to buy souvenirs. I bought him a small hanging ornament made of painted clay, and a hook to display it. It was a little thank you to him.

He laughed when I gave it to him.

He had tears in his eyes when he gave it back, some time later.

Was it weeks?

“I can’t keep this,” he told me, softly. His hands trembled as he gently placed the ornament I had bought for him, using the money he’d given me, into my palm and closed my fingers over it. “I look at it, and it makes me…want you.”

I didn’t know what to say. So I let him talk.

Writing difficult sections

I worked my way through a section of my new novel, piece by piece yesterday, stopping frequently to accommodate the demands — I mean, needs, of my five year old daughter. I think the breaks may have helped, though, because each time I came back to the part I was struggling with, I was fresh. I am in new territory, having moved past a previously drafted scene, and entering the high middle of the story. Here is the result; the part I struggled with came after the asterisks:

Her eyes closed as his mouth covered hers, yielding to the hand that cupped her face and tilted it back. Her fingers touched his chest, exploring the contours of the warm muscle hidden under the soft flannel work shirt, and heat blossomed between her thighs as she felt his heartbeat quicken. He moved closer, settling into the space between her legs as their kiss deepened. Rayvin released the wall, abandoning herself to his embrace and the pleasing shivers coursing through her body. Her skin tingled and flamed under his touch. She angled her head to open her mouth more for him, seeking his tongue with her own. Surrounded by the warmth of his light, she took as much as he was able to give, running her hand up the worn leather of his jacket to fist in his hair, encouraging him as sensation pulsed in compelling rhythm from deep in her centre. She savored his response, forgetting everything but the way he was pulling her tightly into his body, changing the angle of his head to plunder her mouth more fully, teasing her tongue with his own as his hands worked their way down the sides of her body, thumbs gently tracing the roundness of her swelling breasts under her sweater, following the curve of her waist to the hem of the garment, until she rocked against him and gasped. He released her mouth, looking at her for a soul-shattering moment of honesty and hunger and burning intensity, before ravishing her neck with burning kisses, using tongue and teeth to taste every inch of flesh from the sensitive lobe of her ear to the juncture of neck and shoulder, pulling her sweater away to reach further down. She couldn’t breathe, but could only hold him closer, putting one leg around his thigh and rock against him in a primal, instinctive move that she was powerless to resist. He was taking her, and she was willingly following – or was she pushing him, and he the follower to her desire? His hand was on the bare skin of her waist, gooseflesh rising in the contrast between the heat of his touch and the cold of the air. She wanted to feel his fingers move higher, was already imagining what it would feel like when they circled her nipples, wanted to push the jacket away and mould his own perfect body with her palms, wanted his mouth on her skin, could see them moving together, naked and sweaty with passion, driving each other to the limits of their bodies and beyond –
“Ahem.”
They sprang apart. Father Jonas, hatted, scarfed, and mittened in anachronistically baby blue, was standing a few feet away, turned in profile. A small terrier, in matching baby blue knitted sweater, had lifted its leg against the lamppost, and was watching him with disinterest as it urinated. The minister’s face, however, was clearly struggling between amusement and disapproval. Grant stepped back, coughing slightly, and buttoned up his coat. It wasn’t quite long enough to cover the bulge noticeable in the crotch. “Evening, Father,” he nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets.
The older man nodded abruptly, cleared his throat again, and clicked his tongue at his dog. “Any more news about those animal disappearances, Corporal? Some of my congregation are quite upset at the loss of their pets, and others are fearful of their own going missing.” He turned slightly, cocking a brow at Michaels. “I hope our tax dollars are going to good use in this matter? Whoever might attack an innocent creature of God might turn on children, or the elderly, next.” His eyes flicked toward Rayvin, before he turned to walk away. “Violence of this sort must not be tolerated in our community, my boy. We must all be vigilant.”
Rayvin was surprised to hear a low growl coming from Grant’s throat. She saw him clench his jaw for a fraction of a second. “Hold up, there, please. Patrick -” He strode forward to catch up with the minister, who halted for a moment to wait. They paced slowly down to the corner, speaking in hurried, harsh whispers. Finally, the blue knitted cap tilted once, in what might have been a nod. He continued on his way, while Grant turned back with a look of grim satisfaction on his face. And froze.
Rayvin was gone.

* * *

Rayvin was halfway home before she realized that she still didn’t have the necklace for Andrea.
“Damn, damn, damn,” she cursed herself, striding quickly up the steeply graded hill toward her block. She stopped, considering her options. The bleak light of the waning moon was swiftly disappearing behind scudding clouds, driven by a steady wind that had changed from refreshing to chill; the streetlights provided small islands of illumination which only served to make the darkness between them more total. Se did not feel safe, but she did not detect any threats around her. Certainly not of the power and intensity that had overcome her in the restaurant.
And damn that Grant Michaels! What was she thinking, kissing him? She’d practically thrown herself at him, after all that self-talk about keeping her distance, and in front of a witness who was no doubt on the phone right now, like the gossip he’d been when she was young. Rayvin’s nails bit into the flesh of her palms as she increased her pace, ignoring the burning in her thighs. Sweat trickled in a cold line down her back. Stupid man. Stupid woman, letting her hormones lead the way. She hadn’t made that kind of mistake since high school. She remembered the consequences of that little diversion quite well. So not only would she now have to be on guard against a vampire, she also had to watch her own emotions. She could not afford to be distracted. This time, the consequences would be a hundred times worse.
A cold gust sent icy fingers down her neck; she hunched her shoulders, breathing heavily as she trudged uphill. Her face felt hot. Her senses on high alert, her heart skipped a beat when, rounding a corner, a pair of ghoulish faces wriggled and danced before her. It took her a minute to recognize the cheap Hallowe’en decorations, dangling on fishing line from the bare branches of a birch tree. There was another layer to the problem — Samhain closing in fast, more conventionally Hallowe’en. It looked like the neighbourhood was expecting trick or treaters in a few days, though she hadn’t yet noticed any children. She shuddered, looking over her shoulder and hugging her jacket more closely. She didn’t want to think about the horror that could happen on that night, of all nights, if she couldn’t pull herself together and focus on the problem.
If this was a movie, she reflected, she’d already have a plan of attack, or a group of friends to help out. Then again, in a movie, the heroine would never do something so stupid as go for a walk alone, in the dark, with a monster on the prowl. She almost wished that she had waited and accepted the ride home from Grant Michaels. It was so cold, she could almost see her breath; her fingers were numb, though she could feel the beads of sweat on her forehead before they were kissed away by the north wind.
That night with Jason had been like this. Really dark, really cold, the scent of snow on the air. She didn’t want to remember. Gritting her teeth, Rayvin attempted to dodge the memories as she walked. She didn’t want to think about the past, but the visions were coming back in spite of her efforts to block them.
There was the old bus bench, for the now-defunct transportation service. That was where she had met Jason for their date.

She hadn’t wanted a guy coming to her door to pick her up; she is an independent woman at seventeen. She’d never had a boyfriend, or a real date for that matter, but her life is not going to be a cliche. Rayvin had chosen to wear her favourite pair of black jeans, a tight-fitting black turtleneck, and a delightfully thick blue woollen shawl she’d scored when rummaging around the Salvation Army store downtown, with Andrea. Rayvin had also managed to find gloves and a beret in a checked pattern, shot through with a blue that closely matched her shawl. She had left her hair down, and liked the way that the blues set off its red, auburn, and golden tones. She had even, at Andrea’s insistence, put on a little makeup, applying a hint of eyeliner and a dusting of shadow. She looks good, and she knows it, but it is still gratifying to hear Jason exclaim as he approaches, “Wow! You look gorgeous — sophisticated.” He is wearing his hockey jacket over a cream crew neck sweater, dark blue jeans, clean running shoes. He lifts his brown flat-peak ball cap off his forehead, feigning the need to get a better look at her. She knows it is silly, but she feels flattered, just the same. It is nice that a good-looking boy thinks she is pretty. At that moment, it hurts a little less that the guy she really prefers wouldn’t even talk to her. She preens as he whistles, uncrossing her legs and standing up to accept the rose he offers. Who cares if Grant Michaels isn’t interested, she thinks, inhaling the faint scent of the flower. She smiles at Jason over its red petals. The muted glow of the setting October sun softens the edges of the world, and for once she feels almost completely happy.

Lost in the ghosts of her past, Rayvin’s pace slowed. She dawdled at the playground at the next intersection, crossing the street to sit on a damp wooden swing. Fog was gathering from the shrubs and empty trees that bordered the small square lot; a few lights shone from neighbouring houses, friendly yellow glows that offered some comfort. This was the place where she’d first seen Grant, when they were children. It was also the place where, on the way to the movie, Jason had taken her hand and tried to kiss her cheek.

“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I’m sorry, I — I’m not used to this.”
He smiles and squeezes her hand, walking backwards in front of her. “I refuse to believe that you’re shy.”
She hangs her head, embarrassed. “Actually, half the time I don’t even know what to say to people. I start to speak and a frog comes out, my voice is all rough and sounds stupid. So I guess I am shy, a bit.”
“Well, you don’t have to be shy around me. I like you,” Jason offers, halting them both and coming closer. “I like you a lot. You’re so beautiful, way more than any other girls at school. Some guys are jealous that you’re out with me tonight.”
“Really?” Rayvin perks up. “Which guys?”
Jason puts a finger to his chin, considering. “Oh, man, you want a list? There’s Devon, Chris, Harley, Paul, Grant–”
“Grant has a girlfriend.”
“Naw, they broke up a while ago.” He moves in closer. Their chests are almost touching. She can smell the end of an expensive cologne on his skin. Mouthwash on his breath. But more, Rayvin feels his energy. It makes her shiver a little. Naturally, he misunderstands and puts his arm around her, thinking she is cold. She forces herself to relax under the gentle pressure of his embrace. He doesn’t know about her gifts, he is just trying to be nice. She is supposed to like being held by a boy, isn’t she? So why does she want to push him off, put a lot of distance between them, and end the date right now?
She decides to play it cool; she is probably over-thinking the situation.
“Really? Well, that’s too bad for her, he’s a great guy.”
“Yeah, he’s the best. Hey, you don’t like him or anything, do you?” Jason drops his arm and peers at her in the dusk. Rayvin is grateful for the lack of light, hiding the blush she can feel heating on her cheeks.
“I just know that you guys are friends, and that he’s always really nice. Let’s go, or we’ll miss the start of the movie.” And please, please just leave it at that, she begs inwardly, tugging on his hand.

Rayvin couldn’t remember why she’d even accepted his date in the first place. Her breath was starting to show now, in little puffs of smoky condensation, as she gently moved back and forth on the swing. In the daylight, you could see the highway bridge from here, with the walking path on its southern side. It crossed a dried riverbed that was a combination of rocks, shrubs, and muddy marsh; it flooded occasionally in the spring but was relatively dry for the rest of the year. She watched as a car drove over the bridge, its headlights washing the road with a broad cone of pale yellow light, briefly illuminating a couple locked in embrace. Rayvin let the swing still, alone in the dark and the cold. The wind moving in the skeletal trees was a faint sigh. The mist rose nearly to Rayvin’s knees, blanketing the smallest shrubs, the teeter-totter and the bottom steps of the long metal slide; shadows moved and drifted at the edges of her vision. Her fingers were so cold on the metal chains of the swing, she could barely move them. Dimly, as though from a great distance in her mind, she felt another hand touch hers. Someone peeling her fingers away from their hold on the swing, clasping them in a firm, yet gentle hold that chilled her to the bone. Slowly, she turned and looked up.
Memory swam up and took hold of her again, meshing with the shock of recognition that lasted only a moment as the man pulled her to her feet.
“Jason?” she whispered, unbelievingly. Was this real?

During the movie, which is more violent than she’d cared for, she’s disappointed and more than a little pissed when Jason removes a flask from his inner coat pocket and adds some of the contents to his pop. Then, to her intense disgust, he opens the circular plastic top of her drink and gives her a dollop as well. It smells like rum.
“Why did you do that?” she whispers, refusing to take it from him.
“Come on, relax,” Jason whispers back, grinning. He leans against her, putting his arm around her shoulders again. “You’re way too tense.” He winks, taking a liberal sip with the straw.
And then she understands. “You know, Andrea’s mom always tells me that I expect the best of people. She tells me that it’s not a bad thing, but that I need to be prepared to also meet the worst. And I have to tell you, I understand completely what she meant.” Rayvin shrugs his arm away, looking at him. “How much have you had to drink tonight?”
“Enough to have some fun…if you came out more often, you’d know that.” She catches the flash of a sneer across his face.
“Excuse me?”
“You know what I’m talking about, Miss High and Mighty, always thinking you’re too good to come down to the level of the ordinary people.” He laughs softly, his eyes narrowing. “People think you’re a hermit, you know. You never come out of your cave. This is how we have fun, Ray. If you want to have a good time in Talbot, this is it. If you’re too good for it, then no-one will ever want to talk to you, or ask you out again. Or maybe you like being alone all the time?” He leans in closer, pressing her back against the arm of the seat. She turns her head, but that is a mistake. He puts his lips close to her ear. The alcohol on his breath makes her head swim. “You think I haven’t noticed the way you look at me, the way you look down at me, and my friends? You’re gonna get cross-eyed, looking down your nose all the time the way you do.”

Rayvin’s head was swimming. Memories were coming at her, faster than she could process them.

Rayvin pushing him out of the way, leaving the theatre proper; Jason catching up to her in the lobby and grabbing her arm.

The hands on her arms felt too real to be part of her memory.

“I figured, enough was enough. You’re so hot, you drive everyone crazy, and all you do is walk around like you don’t even care. No-one else thinks they’ve even got a shot! Wait until I tell them I got you — I’ll be their hero.” Rayvin grows cold as she realizes that Jason isn’t drunk, not in the slightest. Her mother, long ago, might have termed it ‘warmed up’. He is still in complete control.

Rayvin’s fear was paralyzing her. Why was the smell of his cologne still so strong?

She breaks his grip and tears out of the lobby, blinding running down the street. She knows he is following her, has seen him running at track and field with Grant, on the basketball court, in soccer…she cannot outrun an athlete.

Rayvin’s eyes were open, but blind. The harsh breathing was not hers. The hands gripped her to the point of pain, pinning her arms to her sides.

Past the movie theatre, the stores are closed, and the street turns into local highway. She hears his pounding footsteps, outstripping the frantic beat of her heart. He is gaining. Maybe, if she can get to the bridge and over it, find a place to hide —

Cold breath raised goosebumps on her skin, as sharp nails dug into her sides. With a flash of insight, Rayvin wrenched herself back to reality. The physical sensations she was feeling were not in her mind. She shook her head, blinking, as her neck was nuzzled by something icy and foreign. Her gasp halted the movement, but the man held her even closer as he raised his head to look into her face.
This had to be a bad dream. She was still lost in time.
Jason.
She struggled briefly, not understanding. Jason was paralyzed, but he was standing right next to her. Jason despised her, but was holding her like they were lovers. The past and the present had meshed in some sick, twisted way that made her question her sanity.
And then, in the next moment, a flash of bright light illuminated the playground, accompanied by the low growl of an engine. Rayvin fell, whatever support she had been experiencing abruptly vanishing. The engine died, but the light remained, blinding her once more, until a familiar silhouette strode forward and crouched before her, shielding her eyes from the worst of the brightness.
“You left so fast, you forgot this,” Grant said, holding up a small golden charm on a matching chain. “Are you all right?”
Lying on the cold-hardened sand, bewildered, Rayvin stared up at him. “You followed me?”
“Well, yeah. It’s not safe to walk home alone right now, you know.” He offered a hand. Rayvin ignored it, rolling onto her knees before standing. “Why won’t you let me help you?” She heard the hurt and exasperation in his tone, which were harder to dismiss. Brushing the dirt from her clothes, she took a deep breath, thinking about how best to answer him.
“I think you’re right,” she finally responded, looking at him directly. “It’s not safe to be out here alone. And I didn’t mean to offend you just now. I’ve been on my own for a long time, I’ve had to take care of myself in a lot of ways. I’m not used to someone offering to help me.”
“And I know I haven’t made it easy for you, in the last twenty-four hours.” Grant paused, putting the necklace back into a small plastic pouch. He held it out for Rayvn to take. “Or for the last ten years. Maybe we should talk about that. I don’t want to fight. There’s been enough of that already.”
Rayvin exhaled. Whatever she’d just been through, mind trip or not, his presence was healing her. His gaze, his aura, told her that he was absolutely sincere. And that he was interested in her, in more ways than one. Her own body responded immediately to this discovery, a warmth spreading out from her centre that erased the lingering traces of an icy touch. Part of her hesitated, but another part wanted to take the chance. Maybe he was right — ten years was long enough to hold onto the resentment, hurt, confusion. If she was going to be able to save Andrea, she had to clear her conscience. That was the logical course. That could be her justification.
He held out his hand again.
Illogically, she just wanted to be with him.
“Let’s go to my place.” Rayvin offered, taking his hand. “But I don’t have any coffee.”