CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED and THIRTY-EIGHT
Tuesday night — 9:35 P.M.
“Ready?” Jacob said to Delphie.
“Ready,” Delphie said. Jill nodded.
With a nod, Jacob and Delphie ran into the barn.
“Oh my God,” Delphie gasped when she saw Ava. “Jacob!”
“Create the vortex!” Jacob said. “Do it now!”
Delphie created a white energetic vortex to keep the creature off them while they worked. Unable to see Ava clearly, Jacob began climbing a ladder attached to the barn wall. He was halfway up the wall when he backed down a few rungs. Trying to determine what held Ava in the air, he lingered on the ladder for a moment before jumping down.
“What happened?” Delphie asked.
“The ladder is electrified at the top,” Jacob said. “He must have expected Seth.”
“Can you…?” Delphie started to ask.
With one hand, Jacob used his kinetic capacity to suspend Ava’s weight. There was a loud clanging sound as the creature bashed against Delphie’s vortex. With his other hand, Jacob unhooked the leather strap from Ava’s wind pipe.
Clang! The creature bashed against Delphie’s vortex.
Jacob removed the dowel from under Ava’s elbows. The dowel bounced on the beams until it dropped to the ground.
Clang! The creature bashed against the vortex.
“Seth!” Jacob screamed. “NOW!”
With his weapon in his hand, Seth ran into the barn.
“The gun won’t work. All metal goes right through him,” Jacob yelled.
Seth holstered his handgun.
“You have to catch her,” Jacob said. “We’ll only have a moment before it’ll attack. Stay with Delphie.”
Still supporting her weight, Jacob undid the straps holding Ava’s wrists to the beam. Ava’s body dropped and the creature attacked. The full force of the entity’s malice broke through the vortex. Unable to support Ava’s body and fight the creature, Jacob had to let her fall. She dropped into Seth’s arms with a thud. Jacob repelled the creature long enough for Delphie to pull the vortex around herself, Seth and Ava.
“Seth! Take her to Jill,” Jacob rushed the creature. “Go!”
Jacob’s entire attention turned to the creature. Unlike the last time, Jacob didn’t have supplies: no salt, no fire, nothing. He had to face the entity on his own. But this time he had two advantages: he’d fought this entity before and he’d weakened its power the last time. The creature seemed unable to retreat into its semi-vapor state. Jacob pushed the creature out of the wretched barn and into the open field.
For every blow he ducked, the entity landed two more. For every blow he dealt, the creature slipped through his grasp. The creature’s keepers, the ancient Native American shamans, joined him in the battle. They fought shoulder to shoulder against the evil creature. Moving in, they created a tight circle around the creature. It flew straight up. Screeching, the creature flew over their heads toward the barn.
“DADDY!” Katy screamed in horror.
Jacob raced around the side of the barn to where the children stood. Charlie and Teddy stood like soldiers as the creature moved in. Katy, Noelle and Nash cowered behind them. Seth sat next to Jill while her entire focus was on Ava’s neck.
“NO!” Seth screamed. Jill and Seth jumped to their feet.
The creature raised a hand to strike at the children. Pulling his handgun, Seth emptied another clip into the creature. Unfazed, the creature grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. Jill moved forward and reached out toward the creature.
With all her might, Jill struck with every sensation she could muster that was the opposite of her healing power. The blow seemed to strengthen the entity. The creature dropped Seth and turned to her. Its foul mouth turned up in a smile before it jumped to attack Jill.
“MOMMY! NO!” Katy screamed.
A pillar of light rose from behind Charlie and Teddy. Through Katy, Noelle and Nash formed a laser of light. Running from inside the barn, Delphie joined the children to direct the light.
The creature screamed in pain but the light held strong. The creature attacked the light with its talons and was repelled. Pushed back, the entity ran into Jacob. With the assistance of the laser of light, Jacob kept the creature away from the children. After checking Seth, Jill crawled back to Ava’s prone body.
Screeching, the creature took to the air. It flapped its wings over the small group. Swooping in to strike at the children again, the entity was attacked from above by an enormous, beautiful serpent like-being. The force of the serpent’s attack caused Jacob to fall back.
The creatures fought in the air. The purple serpent ripped a vicious tear in the creature’s wing. The creature plummeted to the earth. The serpent followed it to the ground.
They reengaged on the ground. The entity swiped at the serpent. Enraged, the serpent creature blew a stream of fire at the creature. The entity fell backward. It tried to take to the air but with its damaged wing, it fell to the earth.
Jacob and the Native American shamans surrounded the fight. The entity jumped to its feet, tripped then fell onto its back. The shamans drummed and chanted in unison. The earth opened and a dungeon appeared deep within the earth. The shamans’ voices raised in chant. The serpent gave another stream of fire and, the evil entity fell into its earthen dungeon.
The shamans stopped. The ground shook and the dungeon slammed closed. The tremor knocked the small group to the ground. As if it had never stopped, the purple serpent took to the air and passed over the helicopter before sailing off into the night.
After all the chaos and noise, the only sound was the wind and the helicopter
“What the… what in the hell was that?” Charlie whispered.
“Which one?” Nash asked.
“I don’t know,” Teddy said.
“What did you see?” Nash asked.
“A dragon. I swear it fought that evil creature,” Noelle said.
“I saw a dragon and a… I don’t know what,” Teddy shivered. “Charlie?”
Charlie nodded. He helped Noelle and Nash up then held out his arms to Katy. For his own comfort as well as hers, he lifted Katy into his arms. She let him snuggle her.
“All safe?” Jacob asked.
“What did you see, Jake?” Charlie asked.
“I saw the earth right itself,” Jacob said. “My mother used to say that for every natural evil there is at least one beautiful light.”
“Only humans who have to decide between dark and light. Everything else is born that way,” Delphie said. “Yes, that was a light.”
Jacob took Katy from Charlie and went over to Seth, Ava and Jill. Seth had taken off his leather coat and wrapped it around Ava. Holding her hand, he hovered over her. One of the flight crew arrived with emergency blankets and news. The police, paramedics, and Ava’s parents, were on their way.
“How is she?” Jacob asked Jill.
“She’s going to be fine,” Jill smiled at him.
Ava opened her mouth to say something.
“Shh,” Jill said. “Your voice is injured. It’s better if you don’t talk. She needs a hospital now.”
Tears streamed down Ava’s face and she shook her head.
“Your parents are on their way,” Seth said to Ava.
“Jill? The children have a full night ahead,” Delphie said. “Let’s get them on their way.”
Jill got up from the ground. She winked at Seth and went to the children. Seth took Jill’s place at Ava’s head. He leaned down to kiss her face.
“How did you make that cool light?” Teddy asked Noelle.
“I was so scared that I grabbed Nash,” Noelle said.
“Katy was going to run to her mom,” Nash said. “I grabbed her to protect her.”
Nash and Noelle looked at Katy sitting on Jacob’s hip. Katy laughed like she’d made a funny joke. Noelle laughed with Katy. They began to walk back to the helicopter.
“Scrappy Doo,” Charlie whispered to Nash.
“Katy?” Nash nodded conspiratorially. He nudged Teddy and nodded to Katy, “Scrappy Doo.”
Teddy laughed. Jacob slipped his arm around Jill and walked back to the helicopter.
“How are you?” she asked.
“Battered but good. I may need your magic touch,” Jacob raised his eyebrows suggestively. She blushed. “You?”
“Happy for Ava,” Jill said. “She’s head over heels for Seth. Do you think he’s the same?”
“I don’t know him well enough to know,” Jacob said.
“But their future?”
“Bright,” Jacob smiled. Most women would be overwhelmed by the horror, filth, and evil terror of the last few moments. But his Jill’s only focus was on love. He kissed her head. “Why don’t you go with the kids and Delphie? I can get back with Seth. He’ll need the company.”
“I saw the car too,” Jill smiled at him.
Jacob laughed. He helped her into the helicopter then lifted Katy in after her. Katy ran off to sit next to Noelle. Standing back, he waved to Zack and watched the helicopter rise. He jogged across the field. When he approached he heard Ava’s whisper of a voice. He was about to turn away when he heard:
“Joystick Jake,” Seth laughed.
“High school.” Laughing, Jacob shrugged. He looked up to see Seth and Ava kissing.
“Would you mind…?” Seth asked.
Jacob shook his head and walked down the hill toward the mansion. Seth bent over Ava.
“You’re going to be all right now,” Seth said.
“Please don’t leave me,” Ava whispered. Her voice came with a deep rasp. He had to put his head next to her mouth to hear her.
“We don’t have much of a choice,” he said. “Your parents will be here to care for you. You need peace, quiet and time. You have to grieve… Beth, this horrible experience… it takes time and peace. I can’t give you that now.”
“You haven’t found him,” Ava whispered. Seth kissed her face.
“I barely found you,” Seth said.
“But you did,” Ava said.
They heard a siren. Across the dark field, they could see the flashing lights of emergency vehicles racing in their direction.
“You won’t forget me,” Ava said.
He shook his head.
“You’ll wait for me,” Ava said.
He nodded. He looked up to watch the Brighton police cruise come up the old driveway. He was about to get up when Ava grabbed his hand. She eyes searched his face until their eyes caught.
“You’ll find him,” Ava said.
“I’ll do my best,” Seth said.
“I love you,” she said.
Seth smiled. She chuckled
“You love me,” she said. “You just can’t say it. It’s all right. Bonita told me.”
He touched her face and stood up to meet the paramedics running toward him. Jacob ran up the hill to stand with him while they worked on Ava. They had loaded Ava onto a stretcher when a Denver Police helicopter landed in the muddy field. Ava’s mother and father ran to her side. Police officers swarmed the area. The Chief of Police came to stand next to Seth.
“Good work, O’Malley,” the Chief said. “New Mexico State Police confirmed the residence. You were right. There’s an entire room of photos and detailed logs of murders. We’ll be able to recover the rest of the bodies next week.”
“Go home,” the Chief said. “You’ll need to make a full statement, your friends too. IAD’s going to want a piece of you for disobeying a direct order. Then I’m going to need you to find the bastard who did this. But for now, I’m giving you a few days leave.”
The Chief leaned into him.
“I know how much she means to you,” the Chief said. “This is going to be a circus. Her father’s up for re-election in November. He’s going to have the press crawling all over this thing.”
Seth ground his teeth with disgust.
“That very face is the reason I want you at home. You’re too valuable to me, to this investigation. I can’t have you thrown out for scowling in the background of the press conference,” the Chief said. “I’ll see you Monday morning bright and early, my office. Agreed?”
Seth scanned the Chief’s face then nodded. He watched them load Ava into the helicopter. He and Jacob walked to his car.
“Bugatti Veyron?” Jacob stroked the leather seats. “Having a mid-life crisis?”
“My agent made me buy this,” Seth said. Seeing Jacob’s amused face, he added, “After the Oscar.”
“Oscar made me do it,” Jacob laughed. “That’s what they all say. Did you take high speed driving classes too?”
“I am a cop,” Seth said. “Comes with the badge.”
“That’s what they all say,” Jacob repeated.
Laughing at Jacob, Seth pulled out onto the highway. He put the bubble on the roof. They drove to Denver at a sedate two hundred miles an hour.
Wednesday morning — 4:35 A.M.
“How was it?” Aden asked. He helped a sleepy Noelle down from the helicopter. She raised her arms and he picked her up. “You’re getting to be a big girl.”
“Too big for snuggles?” Noelle asked. Her round sad eyes ripped at his heart.
“Never too big,” he said.
He kissed her head. Noelle rubbed her head against his shoulder and fell asleep. With his other hand, he helped Nash and Charlie down from the helicopter. He waved to Zack and Teddy then followed the exhausted children into the Castle. They went into the dining room where breakfast was just getting started. Valerie waved at the children then went back into the kitchen.
“How did you do?” Delphie asked.
The kids shook their heads at her.
“Why don’t we get something to eat?” Delphie put her arm over Charlie’s shoulder. “Sandy made some scones and we have eggs. We want to hear all about your adventure. Where’s Teddy?”
“He’s staying with his Dad while his Dad’s in town this week,” Aden said. “He’ll be back this weekend.”
“That’s good,” Sam said. “I was afraid they might have kept him at the prison.”
“Oh no,” Nash’s face was horrified at the idea. “No. He’s with his Dad at Mrs. Alex’s house. We’re supposed to go there for a barbeque tomorrow night.”
Sissy came running down the stairwell to them. She hugged her brother Charlie.
“You’re safe!” Sissy said. She hugged Nash for good measure. “What happened?”
“We went to three prisons and talked to hackers, guys just older than us,” Nash said. “Then we met with the big guys…”
“Big guys?” Sissy asked.
“Jonathan James,” Charlie said.
He sat down at the table. Nash sat down beside him.
“And the Kevins,” Nash said.
“Your hacker heroes?” Jacob came into the room carrying a pot of coffee. “Minnick and Poulsen?”
Aden set Noelle down next to the boys. Valerie came in carrying a plate of scrambled eggs.
“Is Mike coming?” Delphie asked.
“He’s painting,” Valerie sat down next to her.
“They aren’t my heroes anymore,” Nash shook his head. “They’re idiots.”
“They gave away their life for something stupid,” Charlie scowled. “Like Razor.”
Charlie jumped up from the table and ran upstairs. Aden got up to follow him.
“I’ll go,” Sandy said.
She kissed Noelle’s head, hugged Nash and then followed Charlie up the stairs. Charlie ran the entire way to the apartment and into his closet room where he threw himself on his futon. Sandy arrived a few moments later. She sat down on the floor and touched his back. Knowing nothing she said could touch his pain, she sat with him while he cried.
“I’m sorry,” she said finally. “I wish things were different. I wish Razor was still here with us. But I can’t make that happen. Nor can you.”
Charlie rolled over to look at her.
“I sat there listening to those doofuses talk. ‘I was bored.’ ‘I just wanted to see if I could do it’,” Charlie said. “And they fucked up their life just like I did.”
Sandy gave him a soft smile.
“You don’t understand,” Charlie said. “I should be the one who’s dead. It’s my fault that Jeffy’s dead.”
Sandy hugged him close. He cried into her shoulder.
“Jill told us about the barn,” Sandy said. “What a terrifying night.”
“I just keep thinking that Razor and Jeffy had to deal with that horrible thing. Alone. By themselves,” Charlie said. “I feel so stupid and…”
“I can’t really know how you feel, Charlie,” Sandy said. “But I can tell you that I understand. When Dad took me from… my life, I felt weak and stupid. For a long time, I wanted to go back… just because it was what I knew, what was familiar to me.”
Charlie fell silent. Sandy never talked about what had happened to her. He knew if he made even one sound, she’s stop talking.
“When everything happened, and… everyone knew about… me,” Sandy sighed. “I felt stupid. I still feel stupid. Everyone knows who I am. When those mothers at Noelle’s tea told me I was a prostitute and I’d tricked Aden, I… I was torn between feeling like they knew the truth about me and…”
“Knowing it was a lie,” Charlie said. “I feel like that.”
“I have to believe that as long as I can think and as long as I’m strong, I can restart my life,” Sandy said. “Razor and Jeffy don’t have that chance. But we do. You can be whatever you want to be. You can study and go to college and do all the things Razor and Jeffy missed out on. Or you can just keep going like you have. It’s your choice.”
“But how? How can I do anything but…?”
“Jill helped me,” Sandy smiled. “We met Heather and Tanesha on the same day. They helped me find myself. Seth and Dad, they supported me becoming me. That’s what I can do for you. I know Aden and Nash and Noelle and Sissy and everyone in the house wants to help. Together, we’ll help you find the real Charlie.”
Sandy touched his chest.
“And we’ll give him a chance to become… Charlie,” Sandy shrugged.
Charlie grabbed her in a hug.
“I love you Charlie,” Sandy said. “I’m so glad you’re here. I can’t wait to see what you do with your life. It’s going to be great.”
“Razor and Jeffy didn’t even have a chance.”
“I know,” Sandy said. “That’s why it’s all the more important that you make good on the chance you have.”
Charlie hugged her again.
“Come on,” Sandy said. “Let’s get you cleaned up. You’re exhausted. Delphie and Jill want to check each of you to make sure you’re okay after last night’s adventures.”
Sandy stood up and held out her hand. She pulled Charlie to standing and hugged him.
“How did Katy make the bright light?” Charlie asked. “The light made it possible for that thing to be captured.”
“No one seems to know,” Sandy said.
“Can I use your bathroom?” Charlie asked.
“Sure,” Sandy said. She followed him down the hall to their bathroom.
“Jake must have some idea,” Charlie said.
“Mr. Jake said he thinks it was Noelle and Nash,” Sandy said. “They were uniquely sensitive to the creature and also capable of destroying it. Go on, now. I’ll wait right here.”
Charlie nodded and went into the bathroom. Every bit the teenage boy, Charlie took his time with his shower. Nash and Noelle were already upstairs when Charlie emerged from the bathroom. Aden clapped and Charlie laughed.
While Charlie went to find Delphie, Sandy helped Noelle and Nash get ready for bed. She stopped in to see Charlie before leaving them to sleep.
“We get chances Charlie,” Sandy said. “They come up every once in a while. We just have to figure out what to do with those chances. What are you going to do with this one?”
Charlie gave a sad shake of his head.
“Give it time,” she kissed his cheek. “We’ll get there together.”
She stopped by Noelle and Sissy’s room to find Noelle sound asleep. Nash was out as well. She gave Sissy her lunch then sent her on her way to work with Sam.
“The kids are asleep,” Aden said. “Rachel is safe and fed.”
“Sissy’s at work,” Sandy said.
“We have an hour, what would you like to do?” Aden asked.
He laughed at her smile. In one swift movement, he lifted her from her feet and carried her into their bedroom.
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