I sniffled, sounding like an idiot. I looked up, terrified of seeing the burning red thing again, but I did it anyway because holy mother of Jesus, the driveway we’d just pulled into led to a huge, beautiful house. No, no. I could only call it a mansion.
Three stories of beauty. The house was white with a dozen windows framed in dark green shutters. The grass was perfectly cut and green and everything was just perfect. There were colorful flowers lining the house and green vines wrapping around the rails on the stairs. It was there on purpose, obviously.
A car was already parked outside. It was a red convertible. I wasn’t sure what it was called but it looked shiny and expensive.
“Thanks, Nico,” Carter said, handing who I guessed was Nico a couple of fives. Before I knew it, I was out of the taxi and walking really fast toward the mansion.
Carter was following behind me very quickly. “What are you doing, Wendi?”
I stopped at the bottom of the stairs and gasped. It was even better up close. “Carter, why didn’t I know you were rich? It would have been very nice to know that earlier this morning when I was talking to you on the phone, you were sitting somewhere in a mansion.”
He came up beside me and grimaced. “I just moved here. This place is much smaller than my old house, so, it’s not much to brag about. Besides, I didn’t feel like you’d be too impressed at this house. It’s just a house.” He looked at me. “We should just go in.” He reached for my arm and I flinched a little. I guess I was a little paranoid. But I let him grab my arm anyway.
This time there was no tingling in my arm. I didn’t feel like fire was being inserted into my arm. I just felt Carter pulling me gently up the stairs. And into the house. The huge, huge house.
He pulled me through the house, rushing now, almost as if he were trying to avoid someone. And I believe that someone might’ve been his mom, because he sighed wearily when she saw us going through the living room.
“Hey, Carter,” she said slowly, eyeing me. “Who’s your friend here?”
Carter looked at me and bit his lip. My heart sped up a little. “This is Wendi, Mom. She came over to study for our history exam coming up tomorrow so we decided to come here.”
His mother nodded and gave me an uncomfortable smile. “Welcome to our home, dear,” she said as politely as it seemed she could manage. “Help yourself to anything you’d like, and I mean anything, including makeup remov—“
“Well,” Carter interrupted, casting a hostile glance at his own mom. “Time is precious and we don’t have much of it to study so I’ll see you around, Mom.” He pulled me out of the living room and up a set of stairs.
I looked at the pictures on the wall as we went up the stairs. There was Carter, in most of them, standing apart from his mother, and I guessed his father and his two siblings. In each one. It confused me, but I didn’t have much time to be confused at the pace we were going.
He pulled me into a room on the third floor—man, a third floor seemed luxurious—and closed the door quickly behind us. “Thank God,” he said, letting go of my arm and leaning against the door. “I can’t stand them sometimes. They just go on and on.”
That reminded me—his mother had mentioned makeup remover, and I remembered my mascara. I’d made two mistakes so far today: one was crying in public, and the second was forgetting that makeup runs. I slapped myself in the forehead. “Carter, can I possibly visit the bathroom?”
He smirked and pointed at a door on the other side of his impossibly huge room—really, I mean impossibly huge; it was as big as the living room at my own house. “There it is. Oh, and my sister tends to keep her stuff in my bathroom, so if you see any pink stuff or perfume, just remember that it isn’t mine and I’m not weird.”
Right. Not weird.
I thanked him and fought the urge to cover my face as I rushed to the bathroom. I probably looked scary with streaks of black running down my face. And my fears were confirmed when I looked in the mirror.
Shutting the door behind me, I decided I was going to have to get to work. This whole gothic streaks thing wasn’t going to work. I went through his drawers and cabinets—yeah, I get that it was wrong, but his sister’s stuff was in here, maybe makeup. But all I could find was remover.
Five minutes later, I walked out, feeling naked. I had no makeup whatsoever. And the way Carter was gawking at me, I probably looked pretty bad. I had put my hair in a ponytail, too, so it wouldn’t get wet when I washed my face, so yeah.
I probably looked pretty bad.
I looked around the gigantic room. There was a huge bed with a black comforter. The carpet was grey. There was an enormous stereo against the wall. A massive flat screen T.V. A few iPods on a colossal black dresser, along with notebooks and notepads.
No posters or picture frames hung on the wall. But there were formulas and equations written in red all over the walls. I recognized the quadratic formula. And a few others I won’t mention for reasons of boredom.
“So,” I said, not quite sure how to react to the room. “How about you teach me a little about this whole seeing thing, huh?”
Carter didn’t seem as eager now to teach as he was before I’d started crying earlier. I realized I ruined that, but I couldn’t help it. The thing was being tortured, it had a look of such intensifying pain that I couldn’t help but cry.
I was such a wimp.
He didn’t answer my suggestion, so I sighed. “I’m sorry about earlier,” I said softly. “I shouldn’t have even cared about that burning guy. He was just in pain, and I hate to see pain on anyone’s face, you know? Especially pain like that. It was too much to see. I didn’t understand it. But since I saw it, I’ve been bracing myself for more. I can’t avoid it forever. I have to face my fears sometime or I’ll never—”
Carter held a finger up to shush me. “Are you really apologizing for having a soul, Wendi?” His face was red. “You’re apologizing for having a heart?” He narrowed his eyes at me. “Never, ever, apologize for being a kind-hearted angel.” He looked away.
I hid my smile. An angel? That was hardly true. But I didn’t argue with him because he looked a little miffed now. I felt bad. I shouldn’t have brought it up. “Sorry,” I said quietly.
He sighed wearily and ran his fingers through his hair. My heart pounded. You’ll have to remember, Carter was amazingly hot, not in a beach boy way, but in a movie star/singer way. You wouldn’t understand unless you saw him. “You know,” he breathed, “maybe I should start this whole teaching deal.”
We both sat on the floor against the wall in his room, side by side, watching a transparent figure walk across his room. It stooped at one point and fiddled with its foot, and I guessed in its world, it was tying its shoe.
I glanced at Carter, who watched the see-through figure, deep in thought. His hazel eyes seemed distance, the corners of his lips pulled downward.
Well, this was fun. Just sitting here next to someone not fully present. I let my mind wander.
What if you can talk to them? I thought.
What would they say?
Do they act like humans?
Can they even talk?
Question after question echoed through my mind. Maybe I should try to talk to them, I thought. It wasn’t a bad idea. What could possibly go wrong? The very worst was not being able to touch them. Right?
I stood up and walked over to the clear figure. It watched me, or at least faced me, so I knew it saw me. I heard Carter say, “Wendi? Wendi, what are you doing? That’s not safe!” But I ignored him and muttered, “It’ll be fine.” And I continued walking.
Carter was further explaining why it would be totally unsafe to try to come in contact with the figure, but I tuned him out. How much could he possibly know about this? He was as old as I was, he couldn’t be that experienced in something.
So I kept walking.
And soon, I a foot away from this creature. I slowly reached out to it. It mirrored my actions and I grabbed its hand. To my astonishment, it was solid. And the being’s hand was just as warm as I was.
As I watched, it seemed that it really was mirroring me, because instead of seeing right through a faint outline of a human-shaped thing, I was now seeing myself, staring at me in wonder.
Carter’s yells became somewhat distant. I could still hear the warnings, but they were muffled now. I wasn’t sure what had happened—that is, until I looked at where my hand touched the other me’s hand.
My hand was transparent. As was the rest of my body.
I stood there and gawked at the other me, as it did the same. Maybe it hadn’t realized that this could happen before now.
Then I looked back over my see-through shoulder at Carter, whose eyes were wide with horror. His lips were moving and I just made out these words: “...may never go back...”
I started to panic. May never go back? I tried to speak, but my voice was gone and I no longer had a mouth. I didn’t know how the hell I was even seeing, much less breathing.
Carter made his way over to where the other me and I stood. I wanted to reach out, I really did, I needed support, but I didn’t want to suck him into this scary world I was apparently trapped in. What was scarier, if that was possible, was that he looked straight through me. He couldn’t even look me in the eye.
I HAD NO EYES.
I wanted to cry now but no tears would come. I had nothing on my face. There were no features. I was totally useless.
Carter watched me with panic in his eyes. His voice was louder, now, but still muffled. “Just let go of its hand,” he said, sounding like he was under layers of covers trying to talk. “Then, I think you grab it’s hands again, just like before.”
I looked at the other me, and it looked at me. It backed away, but before it could learn to use my human body, I grabbed its hands and cringed as I felt myself being pushed back into the barriers of my own body. Once I had total control over myself, I ran across the room and sat against the wall, trying to calm myself. I was shaking violently.
“If you’d just listen to me—” Carter started to say, but saw my condition. He came over, sat next to me. He held me for a while, talking softly as he tried to calm me down.
My mind was going insane. It was trying to comprehend what had just happened but it ended up drawing a huge question mark and scribbling nonsense from confusion.
I had to stop thinking about it. I just listened to Carter, hoping it would help me calm down. “...It was as scared as you were. I tried it once, when I was little, and it scared me senseless, but...”
It wasn’t working. I was still shaking and my heart was still racing. Something in Carter’s voice was raking itself across my screwed-up mind. I was desperate, but strangely, Carter seemed more anxious than myself. It was just another secret he was keeping. Just another fact I didn’t know.
For a while, I just sat there in his arms, listening to Carter’s voice, but not his words. He talked, but I found that there was no meaning to what he said. To him, maybe there was. To me, I found refuge in the vibration of his voice from his chest.
I wasn’t sure what time it was. I opened my eyes, and I found myself, still wrapped in Carter’s arms. He was asleep.
Apparently, this kid didn’t have a clock in his room. But I remembered that I had a phone, so I pulled it out. My stomach hit the ground. It was 1 A.M. And there were 7 missed calls. I scrolled down the list of missed calls and my heart sank.
I was so screwed. She probably had already called the police, the S.W.A.T. team, and the military to look for me. I figured I should probably go call her, even if it meant hearing her yell at me over 1: not coming home when I said I would, 2: not calling her, 3: worrying her to death.
Carter snored a little. I gently moved his arm and got up, slowly and quietly walked to the bathroom, and dialed my mom’s number.
The phone barely even rang before I heard a frantic, “Wendi?”
“Yeah, Mom, it’s me.”
And that was the reply to trigger the bomb. I tuned in and out of her little tirade, only catching some of the stuff she said, like, “Do you know how worried I’ve been? It’s one in the morning, Wendi!” and, “Probably out smoking and doing drugs and getting drunk with your friends, right?” and, “God, Wendi, did you at least wear protection?”
After a good ten minutes of asking me questions that she wouldn’t let me answer, she calmed down. “Just tell me where you are, and you might as well stay there the rest of the night, if I approve.”
Yes, that is something to say to your hormone-crazed teenage daughter. But I wasn’t like that, really. “I’m still at my friend’s house, Mom. I fell asleep while we were studying, I swear, and so did he—”
That was a mistake. She was suddenly interrupting me, yelling again. “He? He? You never told me he was a he! What have you really been doing, Wendi? Huh? Are you going to answer me? I bet I know what you’ve been doing, and I am not happy with you! Do you know that even with protection—”
“Mom!” I shouted, which wasn’t a good idea seeing as it was 1 in the morning and most likely everyone was asleep. But it shut her up. “First off, he’s new at school. He didn’t have any friends, and I decided that I’d be his friend. We’re both pretty friendless, Mom. Secondly, as I’ve mentioned before, we were studying.” I dragged the word out so she’s understand, since she thought that maybe it meant getting drunk and having sex all night. “Besides, even if I did want to—and believe you me, I don’t—don’t you think I have enough dignity to do it with someone special? Or maybe when his mom, brother, and sister weren’t home? You can’t just look over these important facts, Mom.”
She was laughing. Why was she laughing? “God, you take after your dad way too much, child,” she giggled. This whole mood swing stuff was really confusing me. “So his family is home?”
“Then stay there. I trust you. But you’d better believe I’m meeting this ‘friend’ of yours myself, do you understand me?”
“Yeah,” I repeated.
We said our goodbyes, and I hung up and slid the phone back in my pocket. God, these things she made up. They were seriously ridiculous.
I checked my reflection, and I was surprised at how I didn’t look like I’d just waken up, save for faint lines under my eyes. As I glanced in the mirror, I saw the reflection of a clear figure walking across the bathroom, and almost screamed.
Could I ever turn this power off just for a while? I found it intriguing, I did, but seeing what the world calls a ghost at 1 in the morning, well, it was a bit unnerving.
As you can probably guess, I hightailed it out of the bathroom and back into Carter’s bedroom, where he was now laid out on the floor. I smirked and sat on his bed. What was I supposed to do now? I played a game on my phone for a few minutes, but it got boring. I tried counting the number of colors in Carter’s room. I counted six.
Then, Carter started mumbling in his sleep. “No, she’s innocent,” he sighed. I smirked, but I had to wonder who he was talking about and what made her innocent. And who was he talking to?
Carter’s face was tranquil. I envied him, being able to sleep without waking himself with worries and stress. He probably had nothing to worry about. He could see past the barriers the Earth put up, and he didn’t even freak out when he saw them.
I wondered what he was like when he first saw one of those beings. How he reacted when he first came across a demon.
If there were demons, shouldn’t there be something good to balance the scales? There weredemons and Neutrals—that’s what I’d call them—so the scale would be tipping to the evil side.
“She doesn’t know what she’s doing,” Carter sighed in his sleep. His face was no longer calm, but now he wore a pained expression. He was suddenly cringing, like someone had punched him.
I was about to get up and wake him to see if he was okay, but right then I saw a burning figure towering over him. Suddenly my heart was racing. The demon was glaring down at him with its black eyes. Then it turned and looked at me.
Its face was contorted in pain. Years and years of pain and torture, and everlasting burning, engulfed in the flame of punishment. It was a tortured soul, it wrenched my heart. But I looked into its cold, dead eyes. And I saw that it was tortured itself because it tormented others for its entertainment. Just as it was doing to me. Now. Brutalizing me with its own pain.
I realized I was crying. God, why was I crying? My mouth let out a loud sob, my body curled itself into a ball. And the demon kept watching, a smirk on its burning face.
It was happy to see my pain. It didn’t deserve happiness. But it didn’t change the fact that it was burning and destined to burn forever. To live—or whatever you could call it—in pain. For all of eternity. Did anyone –no matter how evil they were—truly deserve such a horrible fate?
I watched the demon closely and suddenly not only was fear and pity rising inside of me, but also pain. I didn’t know where it was coming from. Maybe I was having a heart attack. But I didn’t have any symptoms—
My entire body felt like it was engulfed in flames. The pain, it was blinding. I couldn’t see.
I closed my eyes and yelped. The pain was gone as soon as my eyes were closed.
Was I dead?
No, no, I couldn’t be. There were voices, and a hand on my forehead. The warmth of the touch made me shiver because I was freezing now, like I had never known or felt warmth.
“God, Carter. She’s burning up! Do you know what happened?” It was a woman talking.
Carter hesitated. “No,” he said, but I was pretty sure he knew.
“Why is she crying? No, better yet, why is she still here at 3 in the morning?”
I opened my eyes, confirming to myself that I wasn’t dead. I knew where this conversation was going. Carter’s mother was interrogating him, though I could’ve guessing that without seeing it.
Carter saw my eyes open, but his mom didn’t. “Well,” he said, “we were studying, and I started telling this story about the Civil War, and I guess she got really bored and fell asleep.” God, I wished my lies were as thorough and thought-out as his.
“Oh, and you expect me to belive that you two didn’t—”
“Look, Mom!” Carter said quickly. “She’s awake!”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Cates,” I said. “I was supposed to go home in time for dinner, but I fell asleep. Poor Carter was just trying to tell me about the Civil War, but I guess I got tired and dozed off. I’m incredibly sorry.” We were sitting in their huge livingroom.
Carter’s mom’s angry expression softened. “Yes,” she said with a smile, “my son can sometimes get so caught up in telling a story that he’ll completely leave our world and he’ll be talking to the people in that story. Some years he’ll spend weeks living in them and daydreaming and—”
“Mom,” Carter groaned.
Mrs. Cates rolled her eyes. “Wendi, does your mom know where you are?”
“Yes, actually,” I said. “I explained the whole situation to her already.” I grimaced, remembering her assumptions.
She smirked at my expression. She probably already liked my mom, just because they both thought alike. “Alrighty then. I’m going back to bed, now, because tomorrow is Friday and I need enough energy to make it to Saturday. Like I said before, Wendi, help yourself to anything in the house and,” she looked pointedly at Carter, “no funny business.”
He rolled his eyes as she walked up the stairs. Then he turned to me. “What happened?”
So I started explaining from the beginning.
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