Chapters 1-5

Chapter 1

I didn’t know what was worse; the drool that had formed a line down my chin and into my hair, or the huge circular impression I felt in the middle of my forehead. Note to self: never fall asleep with your face mashed into your large bejeweled watch face. Well, unless you feel like making some strange new fashion statement that is. Typically, I would be contemplating whether the less than fashionable indentation on my face would help distract peoples’ attention from what I lovingly referred to as my reverse white tiger striped hair, had I not realized that drool and imprints were the least of my problems. I was alone. Very alone. Normally this wouldn’t really bother me. However, before I apparently passed out, it was still daylight and my supposed friend Violeta was sitting across from me.

Again, this wouldn’t have been a problem had we been at home, in our apartment, instead of in a usually crowded and noisy dining hall. At this moment, neither Violeta nor any other college-aged body was visible within the darkened area that surrounded me. At first, I was feeling more than slightly irritated that not only had my friend just ditched me without any apparent effort to wake me up, but also that no one else bothered to wake me up before closing the building down.

Then I began to feel it creep over me. That eerie feeling that inched its way up my body until the hairs on my arms and the nape of my neck stood on end. My eyes darted back and forth, seeking any kind of verification that I really was alone. The only shapes I could make out were the masses of tables and chairs, nothing remotely human. Still, my skin flushed covering every inch of my body in a sticky layer of sweat despite the cold stagnate air in the building. The metal legs of the chair created a high-pitched shriek as I stood up. The sound alone was enough to send my heart up in my throat. I clamped my lips shut, refusing to vocalize the fear that was rapidly creeping over me as I inched backwards towards the doors keeping my eyes focused on the darkened room around me.

I wanted to scold myself for internally shaking, but as the darkness pressed down around me and I found it more and more difficult to be rational. I almost felt like I was suffocating, as if the breath was being slowly pushed out of me and incapable of returning. I found myself panting more than breathing and my hands shaking as I pressed my palms against the glass doors behind me. I expected them to refuse to budge and further enhance my newfound claustrophobia. However, they slid open with such ease that I almost tumbled out of the entrance. I would have landed on my backside had I not managed to grasp the door handle while my feet finished their frantic scramble to find balance.

Instead of softly closing the door to avoid any unnecessary sound, I simply let the door go and backed up. The edge of the door slammed against the even harder metal frame sending out a sound that filled the empty air. Well, if no one knew that someone was out in the middle of the campus before, they did now.

Then again, it didn’t seem like there was anyone around to hear it. The moon hanging overhead shed light on the empty campus. Just like the dining hall, there were no signs that anyone was around. The cool air didn’t carry any sounds with it, even though I knew it should have.

Needing to escape the eerie feeling that still clung to me, and the sense that someone was watching me, I began following the sidewalk. My heels clicked against the cement, the sound echoing around me. At times, it almost sounded like it was mocking me and my unwarranted fear. The further into the campus I wandered; the more deserted the place felt. I knew this wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real. I couldn’t be this alone on a campus that held thousands. Maybe it was a dream. Perhaps I had never really woken up and I was still using my arm and the table as a pillow. But if I was dreaming that meant he was here. He was a figment of my imagination. The thing that seemed to follow me throughout every nightmare and the one thing that made them as horrible as they were.

“Tall, dark, and crazy where are you? I know you’re here…. somewhere… I think,” the words were a whisper, a silent calling, as I stared down the cement walkway that stretched before me. I could feel doubt begin to enter my thoughts, sitting in the corners of my mind and chastising me for even entertaining the notion that I was still asleep. That I was trapped, yet again, in another one of my nightmares. But what if I was awake, wouldn’t that be worse? What if I was just losing my mind to the sick games it was playing on me? The problem was I couldn’t be sure anymore. The worlds of dreaming and waking had become almost mirror images of each other, a seamless flow between the two that left me constantly wondering if I had ever really woken up or was lost in a dream.

Even though fear told me otherwise, I was getting to the point where I didn’t really care. All I wanted was to be at our apartment listening to my roommates argue and fight over essentially nothing. At least then, I would know I was awake and normal and able to forget this messed up dream nonsense. Quite honestly that’s all I wanted; to be able to make the most of my time at college. Not be up all night because I was afraid of something that wasn’t even real and then pass out in class from lack of sleep.

I made a right turn heading down the path that led to the parking lot. I was half way there, almost able to make out the shape of my car, when all of the street lamps started to flicker and go out. There’d been instances where a single light had suddenly gone out as I passed it, but not all of them at the same time. If not for the moon, I would have been plunged into almost total darkness. Chills raced up my spine again making me shiver. I could hear bushes rustle in the distance, branches swaying, their leaves hitting one another as if something stirred among them. Against my natural instinct to run, I turned to look behind me only to find nothing. Well, nothing but a squirrel running with whatever food it had scavenged out of a trash can. So that’s what this had come to, being afraid of a squirrel?

The next sound; however, gave me reason to fear. It was a laugh, distant but clear. A laugh, that held not one ounce of humor, only pure sadistic pleasure. It was enough to finally send me running towards my car, as if it would save me. But, like every cliché dream sequence, running is pointless when your enemy can just magically poof in front of you. You’d think that my mind would at least give me the chance to play the “run and hide” game or, you know, just play fair and not work against me.

I caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye. At first, there was nothing more than a dark blob, a shadow that seemed to move towards me. The closer he got, the more he started taking shape. The moon highlighted his white teeth and created an eerie glow in his dark eyes. There wasn’t enough light to see him clearly, but I could still tell he was smirking. I could imagine the way his lips would curl upwards, slowly revealing more of his too perfect teeth. When the realization hit that he was actually coming towards me I came to a dead halt. My body froze but my mind went into overdrive. What was I going to do now? If I ran could I make it past him? Where would I go? How far could I run and how long would he follow? My heart was hammering again. My palms slick with cold sweat. My eyes locked onto him much like someone watching a train wreck. I knew I should look away. I knew I should be trying to get away and yet I couldn’t.

“When are you going to get it in your head that you can’t run?” the way he said it reminded me of a parent chastising a small child. He shook his head slowly, “Then again mutes never were known for their intelligence.” My fingers twisted into fists, I wanted to shoot back some snarky comment, anything that would fight back the fear coursing through me. But, like always, my lips were frozen, locked together as if they’d been glued. What was he doing to me? Better yet what was I doing to myself? This was my dream after all, so really it was me holding myself back. Me putting myself in a place of terror and vulnerability I wouldn’t have been in if this was real.

I should have been driving my knee into his crotch or shoving his face into the ground, just like my brother had taught me. Instead, I was just staring at him, willing my body to move even if it was just to scream. He took a step forward, slow and deliberate. He was taking his time, enjoying every second of it. I could only imagine the look of fear that he saw on my face. My eyes too wide, my lips pulled down and slightly parted. I hated him…. No I hated myself for this. For the swirling fear that should have been anger. For the wide eyes that should have been narrowed to slits. For the downturned lips that should have been smirking with confidence. For the frozen body that should have been in my full control.

Movement pulled my eyes down. His hand was slowly reaching outward, the fingers curled and ready to grasp something. He paused when he was mere inches from my arm; a look up showed that his eyes were studying the distance. For a second I thought I saw indecision pass across his face as his lips pulled down at the corners. His eyes slightly narrowed and with a quick breath, his hand closed the distance and grabbed my arm. His fingers bit in, leaving visible indents in my flesh. I was more than a little certain he was about to leave me with a nasty bruise.

My eyes flicked up to his face, wondering just what his next move would be. But instead of looking at me, watching me like predator their prey, his eyes were fixated on my arm. They traced the line of blood, studied the nails that were partially embedded in my flesh. It was almost like it fascinated him, surprised him. His eyes were wide, his mouth slightly agape, and before he could let the realization sink in that he had finally hurt me, the tables turned. A weight lifted off of me and for once my body was free from the paralyzing fear that had consumed it.

Without thinking, without realizing until it was over, I let my legs close the distance between us. With a quick move, I swung my elbow out and pulled my wrist back to my shoulder until he was forced to let go. He didn’t even have time to process what had happened when my body shifted to the side and my leg swung out hard. He was on the ground the second my foot hit his knee. Then he laughed. It sounded more like a condescending chuckle, and yet it sent my feet making a dash backwards, trying to put as much distance between us as possible. He lifted his head until his eyes met mine, a wide sneer on his face.

“So we’ve finally made it from timid little angel to feisty little demon. It’s cute, really. That look of determination on your face. As if, you could actually do something. But, like it or not princess this is my world. And you’re not even close to being able to control it.” He was off the ground and striding towards me again. This time my feet were able to keep pace keeping the distance between us.

“Of course,” it was shaky but I managed to make my voice mimic the condescension in his. “That’s why I just knocked you flat on your ass. Because you’re the one in control. Let me guess. You let me do it?”

“Why don’t you stop slinking away and we’ll find out just what I’ll let you do.”

“Or you can just admit your full of shit and leave me the hell alone.”

He stopped and fixed his eyes on me. It was hard to make out exact details, but I could see his brow furrow. The smirk faded into a frown as the muscles in his body tightened. Not knowing what was coming next, I continued to back up, not once taking my eyes off him.

“Stop!” his words were a harsh command that broke the silence around us. But I didn’t, I kept going blindly backwards hoping my path wasn’t leading me to a dead end. I could feel the shiver of fear, the numbness of the cold it brought, but this time I refused to let it control me. Instead, I did what I said I wouldn’t do as he lunged at me. I turned and ran.

I’d almost made it to the road, the desolate and empty road, when his hand clamped onto my shoulder. I was sent spinning around with enough force to make me lose my balance. This time I was the one on the ground. I didn’t crawl. I didn’t scream. I didn’t even beg.

Instead I looked him in his eyes. Eyes that now had a faint rusty red glow to them. The look in them was wild, fierce, and a fitting match to the curled, snarling, lips on his face. Without a word, without a taunt, he lifted his hand. The nails were longer, sharper, more like claws. And those claws made a move straight for my jugular.

A scream lodged in my throat as I watched his hand and body move closer. I tensed waiting for impact, hoping that this is what had to happen for this to all be over. Then everything faded.


Darkness. All I could see was darkness and all I could feel was the sharp pain in my arm. Then it hit me. The clatter of silverware, the chattering of voices, the impatient sigh that could only belong to….

“Jade, are you alive?” I could have sworn her voice was harsher than normal, more aggressive than it should have been. I lifted my head up sharply, my breathing hard and panicked. “Do I even want to know?” She fixed her eyes on me, watching me like I was science experiment.

Before I could answer, before I could even think, I found myself looking down at my arm. I had to peel my left hand from around it, and immediately regretted doing so. My heart beat spiked even higher when I saw the visible trace of blood. How did that even get there? There was no way this was possible! No way!

Then I looked at my left hand, saw the thin layer of blood that coated the tips of my nails. God what an idiot I was. I must have grabbed my own arm in my sleep. That’s probably why he grabbed me in my dream. It was nothing more than my body trying to make sense of what was happening to it. What I was doing to it.

“Hellooo…?” Violeta dragged out the word, letting the sound of it pull me back to reality.

“Sorry. I’m just… I’m still not awake yet.” I mumbled. I was working hard to calm my breathing, with my eyes shut tight and my hands folded in my lap. There was a mild hope that the jeans I was wearing would absorb all the sweat pooling in my palms.

“Well that’s obvious.” She ended the last word on a snort and tossed her, more than a little fake, blond hair over her shoulder. At least I assumed that’s what the swishing sound was. Apparently, it was more important that my nightmares were interrupting her lunch, not that they were tormenting me.

“How… How long… was I… out?” I had to take my time, choose each word as if it needed to be precise. Not that it did, I just didn’t feel like sounding as though I’d been running a mile. As it was, my words were almost lost in the breaths frantically trying to enter my lungs.

“I don’t know.” I could just see her doing her dainty little shrug as if that was a sufficient answer. “You should hear yourself when you sleep though. You make the funniest noises.”

With my breathing better, I opened my eyes and looked at Violeta. “I’m so glad I could be of entertainment value.”

“At least I’m honest.” She lifted an eyebrow, before turning her eyes towards my uneaten food. “May I?”

I opened my mouth to protest, but sighed instead. “Go ahead. I’m going to go see what Lexus is up to anyway.”

“I don’t think that Lexus needs you checking up on her. Why don’t you just go back home and sleep? Or you know at least wash the drool off your face.” She pointed towards my lips before taking a huge bite of what was supposed to be my lunch.

“I’m not checking up on her. I just… I just need to get moving. Do something… Plus its either bug Lexus or study. And while I’d love to pass psych, that’s not the most appealing idea.” I grabbed my purse and stood up, my mind briefly flicking back to my dream.

“You could always hang with me.”

“And watch you eat for another hour?”

“Just because you’re teeny tiny and don’t need to eat…”

“I was kidding!” I shook my head in disbelief. “Look I’ll see you later.” I could hear her yapping away, probably still bitching about my comment as I walked away. Normally I’d care. Normally I’d be trying to debate on either smoothing over the issue, or causing more drama than necessary just because she always overreacted. Of course, I’d just end up letting my mouth decide for me, usually regretting the choice I made later. But I didn’t have the energy, much less the focus, for it this time. Hell I didn’t even know if I had the energy to make my way to the gym where I knew I’d find Lexus.

I was so done with letting this petty problem take over my life. Part of me just wanted to fly away, and leave these nightmares and everything else behind. But the other part, knew I couldn’t. Not when there was so much here for me. Plus you can’t run from yourself no matter how much you’d like to. Instead, I shifted my focus over to class work and attempted to recall an undeniably long list of brain functions and sensory information intake.

Chapter 2

I found her hanging from a chin up bar, her short frame dangling higher above the ground than most others would have. Her eyes were fixated straight ahead, where Sebastian was. Like Lexus he was holding himself up on a chin up bar, although with white knuckled hands. I sighed shaking my head. Here we go again.

Sweat was pouring off both of them. Trails of it were dripping off their faces, pooling on the floor below them. The rest of it was soaking their clothes, in large wet splotches. While it wasn’t as obvious with Lexus, I could see their arms shaking as they pulled their weight up till their chins touched the bar again and again. Every time they let themselves back down, I thought that their arms would just give out and send them to the floor. However, they kept going, each chin up slower than the last. The only thing that didn’t look tired was the fierce look in their eyes, as they stared each other down.

“Having fun?” I tried to break the silence, see if I could get any reaction out of them. If they even heard me, they didn’t show it. I sighed and made my way over to the nearest piece of empty equipment I could find, a stationary bike.

The battle to see who would give up first continued for at least another minute before looks of defeat entered their eyes. Lexus nodded at Sebastian as she lowered herself back down to her starting position. She was ready to give up. He nodded back, and relieved, let go of his hold on the bars. He tried to land on his feet, but crumpled to the floor in the pool of sweat beneath him instead. Lexus grinned and with a couple of grunts lifted herself up once, twice, three times more before jumping down landing neatly and firmly on her feet.

“You’re kidding me.” Sebastian ran a hand through his sweat soaked hair and glared at Lexus.

“And you’re an idiot if you’d think I’d let you beat me.” Her infamous cocky smirk crossed her face as she draped a towel around her neck.

“I would have if you didn’t cheat.”

“Keep telling yourself that.” She winked at him before sitting on the floor next to my bike. I could hear Sebastian grumble to himself as he shifted his glare from her to the chin up bar, as if it had betrayed him.

“Did you get here in time to see your brother get his ass handed to him?” Lexus had started to towel off her forehead, but stopped to bat her eyes at Sebastian before turning to smirk at me.

“Is that your only goal in life?” I asked, trying hard to stifle a laugh. It would have worked better had my foot not slipped off the peddle at that moment nearly hitting her in the shoulder. I wondered, and not for the first time, exactly how and when this little rivalry had started. I couldn’t remember a time when they weren’t showing off, trying to outdo one another in every way possible.

“To destroy your brother’s manly ego?” She pitched her voice to sound like an innocent child. As if, there was anything innocent about her.

“To show up every guy you meet.”

“I do not!”

“That’s why you spend all day in the gym? And use every opportunity to challenge someone to a competition?” I gave her a pointed look, making sure to still keep the smile on my face. After all watching Sebastian, my almighty overprotective brother, pout was quite entertaining. So I couldn’t really blame her.

“I’ll stop when they finally come to the realization that I’m better than them.” Despite the smug look on her face, and the flippant shrug of her shoulders, there was still a joking tone in her voice. After all, she may be cocky, but she wasn’t that full of herself. At least I really hoped not.

We sat in silence for a few moments as they let their bodies cool down. My mind began to wander, the lack of sleep making it harder and harder to stay on one coherent thought line. Maybe that’s why it took Lexus vigorously shaking my arm before her words even entered the fringes of my consciousness.

“Earth to Jade….” She shook my arm again before waving a hand in front of my face. “Scratches. How did you get them?”

“These?” I turned my right wrist so the palm of my hand was facing up. “Must have done it in my sleep.” I pulled a Violeta and shrugged. Lexus took hold of my arm and studied the marks. “It’s not a big deal really!”

I pulled my wrist back, taking a moment to study the long, thin marks myself. Movement out of the corner of my eye had me peeking over at Lexus, who was giving Sebastian a questioning look. I swear if telepathy were real, they’d be having their own little conversation right now. Of course based of their body language, the nod of the head, the eyebrows that were pulled down, they didn’t need telepathy.

“Jade’s right, it’s not a big deal… As long as it doesn’t get infected, swell up, and turn into a flesh eating disease that requires amputation anyway.” Sebastian gave me his impish grin before struggling to his feet, using the equipment as a crutch.

“And if it does I’ll forever blame you.” I replied.

“You mean the way mom is going to blame me.” His face suddenly turned serious, the laughter gone from his eyes.

“For what?”

“You need to start taking better care of yourself. That scratch may not be a big deal, but your lack of sleep is. Your dark circles look more like bruises. Your skin is paler than normal. And you look like you can’t focus for more than two seconds. Have you even gotten more than a couple hours of sleep since the semester started?”

“Thanks for the confidence boost.” I snorted. “It’s been hard to. Guess college sets off insomnia for me.”

“Well it needs to unset. Maybe you could try some sleeping pills, or -”

“No!” For some reason the idea of a long deep sleep scared me. It meant more time for dreaming. More time with him (err me?) in my head. “I’ll get it sorted out. So stop worrying. Either that or you’ll end up with white in your hair like me.”

“I don’t think I have to worry about that.” He gave me a wry smile.

“What are you too perfect for greying hair?”

“I think I’d look dashing with white hair!”

“Dashing?” Lexus and I both questioned with similar looks of disbelief. Great minds do think alike.

“Critics.” He crossed his arms and shook more sweat from his hair.

Lexus propped herself up and stared at the distant clock. “It’s almost 3. Why don’t we get you to class before you’re late? I have to go to the library anyway.”

“Since when did you memorize my schedule?” I asked.

“Since I became your stalker?”

“Well that would explain a lot,” I mused placing a finger against my cheek, and holding my chin, as if I were thinking critically. “Like why I find you randomly in my closet, stealing my clothes.” I raised my eyebrows and gave her a long look before turning my eyes down to the shimmery silver hoody that sat folded on the floor beside her. She made a little sputtering sound as she started to defend herself. I pushed myself up off the bike and motioned for her to get ready, while pointedly ignoring her protests. It wasn’t like I actually cared that she’d borrowed it. Well I would care if it came back smelling like gym socks, but in that case I’d just shove it back at her and make her wash it.

Our debate continued, with only a brief interruption to say goodbye to Sebastian, until we got near the buildings that held the library and the lecture halls. Here the path split forcing us to head in different directions, which also meant I was separated from my nice, soft hoody still draped over her shoulders.

I was hoping that the rest of my day would go like that: nice and soft. I could get through it easily and part with it by going home (to reclaim my clothes). Of course, that would have been too easy, far too predictable.


I started picking and pulling at my jeans, attempting to push some of the wrinkles out of them. How the hell did skinny jeans so tight that it required some pretty serious squirming to get them on and off, bunch up the way they did? It was beyond me and I complained about it constantly. Of course, no one could figure out why I didn’t just wear normal straight leg jeans. It was another conundrum. Until you factor in that skinny jeans always hit the right spot on my ankles. Other jeans trailed on the floor and tripped me, making that annoying swishy noise that seemed to mock my genetic deficits.

“Jade,” I heard the exasperated sigh before I heard my name. “We need to talk.”

“I know.” I slumped down into the chair defeated, but still refused to make eye contact. This was the first time. The first time I’d ever been brought into a teacher’s office after class.

“Is something wrong?”


“Are you sure?”

“Will just answering no get me through this faster? Because we both know that a ‘yes’ will only get me another ‘are you sure’ or its equivalent.”

“I’m trying to help you, not scold you.” He stopped briefly, taking the time to clean off his glasses. I watched him from under my lashes. Not in a “flirting” way, more in an irritated “I just want to go now” way, like I would ever try to get with a professor! “You have so much potential, but you aren’t reaching half of it. Just the essay draft and research you handed in shows as much.”

“Sometimes potential isn’t enough.” I knew the answer because I’d been lectured by Sebastian before when he’d insisted on teaching me martial arts and I’d tried doing the bare minimum in resistance to the whole thing. Of course, I was about ten at the time and my attitude was just starting to peek out. Combine that with an overprotective, smothering brother, and you’d have a recipe for rebellion. Now it had more to do with a sleep-deprived haze that had me just not caring about anything. Besides, attitude hid the disappointment and shame I knew I should be feeling.

“Exactly.” He brought his hand down on the desk. The impact almost sent a picture frame tumbling over. “You have to use it. If there’s any way that I can help you-”

“I don’t need help.” I closed my eyes and took a breath. “I appreciate the offer, but I can do this by myself.”

“You do realize that I’m a licensed psychologist that has years of experiencing helping people, right?”

“And you also realize that I’m 18 and not 12. Do I know everything? No. Do I fully know myself? No. Can I handle my own problems? Yes I can… eventually.”

He was silent for a few moments, his glasses gingerly clutched between two fingers. “What are you here for exactly? Do you know what you want to do?”

“Research.” My answer was immediate. “I want to do psychological research.”

“Research is a very commendable field of psychology. Psychologists wouldn’t have half of the information they need to provide care to patients without it.”

I nodded my head in response.

“And how do you think you’re going to be able to do research hours on end when you fall asleep every five minutes? How good are the design for your studies going to be? How cooperative and understanding will the participants be?”

“From what I understand a researcher that designs a study shouldn’t be the one to administer tests due to bias. Therefore, your last point is mute. As far as design goes…. Well like you said you saw my essay draft. You know I can string together an argument and research… even half asleep.” I was beginning to sound like one of those students. The ones that everyone hated because they got A’s without really doing anything, much less struggling. Of course, my grades were closer to a B- and I was struggling like hell to finish tests. I pushed myself back up in the seat, trying to straighten my back.

“I’m sleep deprived. I have dreams that keep me up most nights. It’s not some kind of adjustment issue or roommate feud. I live with my friends and I could drive home in under twenty minutes if I wanted. So, unless you can get into my subconscious and pull out my ability to dream, there’s nothing you can do. Don’t you think I’ve tried everything I could come up with? I’ve researched every area in dream studies, meditation and relaxation techniques! I don’t even know why I’m stressed because nothing in my dreams even reflects my reality.” Well the reality that I was stressed about anyway. My dreams sure as hell took me to a place much like reality though. Now I was leaning forward, looking directly at him as I spoke. He shuffled around a few of the papers on his desk until he uncovered a stack of cards.

“I know this info should be on your syllabus, but just in case you missed it, here.” He held out a white business card, the logo for the college emblazed in the corner. “Sometimes asking for help isn’t a bad thing… so if you need it.” He moved his hand closer. I had a feeling that if I didn’t take it, he’d end up throwing it at me. So I took it. And shoved it deep into my purse.

“Go.” He made a playful shooing motion with his hand when I gave him an expectant look. “I’ll see you in class next week.” His slightly narrowed eyes were fixed on me. Did he think I was suddenly going to skip? I may have fallen asleep during his class, but at least I always went.

I shook the thought off as I gave a rushed goodbye and hurried out. The sun was part way below the horizon by the time I heaved the outside door open. With it came an autumn chill that made me shiver and wrap my arms around myself. Sadly though, it was really only a couple of degrees cooler than what the building had been. Apparently the staff didn’t understand the concept of heating and cooling or how to adjust it based on the season. Perhaps it was really a good thing though. The cold was a shock to my system, keeping my brain from slipping into hibernation mode. It also gave me the incentive to make a fast-paced march to my car, where I had control over the heat. Granted it would only be for the two or three minutes it would take me to get home, but even those few minutes of heat would feel amazing on my goosebump-covered skin.

What felt even better was the fuzzy pajama pants and tank top that I slipped into the moment I got home. I was tossing my clothes into the hamper when my cat jumped out from behind the curtain and streaked through the room. She immediately began mouthing off, meowing insistently until I picked her up and let her curl against me. She head butted my chin, rubbing her face against it as she purred. Stroking her back as I walked, I made my way over to my desk chair and sat down, finding it easier to balance the cat when sitting.

“Gabby, shhh. I get it you missed me, but we can’t have everyone in the building listen to you.” I giggled, trying to rub the cat hair from my lips and nose where it had floated up. “And I was late.” I added when her knowing eyes lifted to meet mine. Her tongue flicked out to lick my face a couple of times before she moved down to rest in my lap. I continued petting her, using the needy animal as a distraction from any of the work that currently sat on my desk. My eyes briefly studied the neatly stacked textbooks and notes before I turned my attention back to the fluffy mass that was sprawled across my lap.

As if it were a ritual, I began murmuring to Gabby, telling her all about my (atypical) day. Whining about the professor pulling me into his office. Contemplating my fears and worries over my dreams. Her ears flicked backward as if she were really listening to everything I was saying and could understand it. Thankfully, she couldn’t. Even more thankfully, she couldn’t tell anyone if she did. However, it still made me feel better to have her as a type of living diary, where my words were put out there but not kept. The feeling of her warm little body against mine and her breathing consistent and predictable, always helped to calm me down. Especially when she would curl up closer, bury her head against me, or suddenly spaz out just to distract me on the rare occasion that I cried. It wasn’t as though I couldn’t go to Sebastian or any of my other friends or family, but that there were some things that they didn’t need to know or deal with. There were things that I just didn’t want to admit to or bother them with.

The door to the apartment opened, cutting short my rant as I heard Lexus calling out my name.

“What’s going on? You look more serious than normal.” Lexus frowned at me as she made her way into my room. I wanted to shrug it off, just tell her that it was nothing, but I knew she wouldn’t buy it.

“Apparently I’m going into the right field because my professor thinks I need my head examined. You know the usual.” I tried to laugh it off making it as unserious as possible.

“You got held after class?” The crossed arms and raised eyebrows told me it didn’t work. She’d immediately guessed what had happened. She had the scolding mother look on her face as she tapped her foot and stared me down. Sometimes I wondered if she and Sebastian were my real parents the way they hovered over me and scolded me when I messed up. I heard the door open again, this time it was Violeta returning from… well honestly I didn’t think I wanted to know. Either way, I hoped the interruption was going to release me from the fury of Lexus.

“Having a powwow are we? Why wasn’t I invited?” she pouted as she made her way into the room, squeezing past Lexus. I swore that she was trying to block Violeta, but Lexus was way too small to get away with it.

“Boring college stuff.” I offered.

“Really! How stupid do you think I am?” Violeta placed a hand on her hip and looked down at me. I could see Lexus out of the corner of my eye repeatedly open and shut her mouth. I glared at her before turning to Violeta.

“It’s nothing really, just a nosy professor.” I was hoping that she would just take that explanation and be happy. I really didn’t want to spend time detailing how everyone thought I was losing it and needed help. It’s hard to feel sane when everyone insists you’re not.

“Well if you’re not going to tell me the truth I’ll just go get something to eat. Is it too much to ask for you two to be even somewhat honest with me and include me without being forced into it?” Violeta began to storm off towards the living room, hands balled into fists.

“Why do we keep her around?” Lexus stared after her, a look of disgust on her face. Instinctively, I reached out and smacked Lexus on the arm.

“Play nice.” I ordered as I set Gabby down and followed Violeta. I was beginning to get hungry anyway. Especially since someone decided to eat my lunch.

“What do you want?” Violeta snapped at me, the second I entered the kitchen. She was pawing through the nearly empty cupboards, looking through some of them twice as if the selection would magically change.

“I thought that we could figure something out… together. I’m thinking takeout. You?” I opened the drawer that held all the menus we’d been collecting. The more I looked in there the more I felt like a real college student, or a bachelor.

“It’s not like we have anything good here anyway.”

“Oh how about Chinese?” Lexus asked, taking the menus from my hands.

“Again? How predictable can you be?”

“Says the chick that uses food as the answer to everything. Especially when she’s upset.” Lexus tossed the menus down on the counter and faced Violeta. The way she said it, I couldn’t tell if she was joking or just being a bitch. Her lips were turned up into a smile, but her eyes seemed to be begging Violeta to respond.

“Why don’t we just go to the grocery store? Then we can pick out what we want and make it here.” I hoped it was a solution that they would go for. Or, that it would at the very least steer them in a less confrontational direction.

“You know what I want? Steak! Nice, rare, bloody steak.” Violeta’s eyes seemed to glow as she spoke. How did she ever stay healthy eating like that? Just the thought of bloody meat made me want to gag.

“I swear you would take down a cow and eat it right there if you could.” Lexus moved to grab her wallet, flipping through the measly cash inside. I could feel Violeta about to say something back, so I cut her off.

“Groceries it is then!” I grabbed my purse, the keys to my car, and opened the door. Both of them gave me identical “what-the-hell” looks. I motioned towards the open door like a model on one of those gameshows until they finally gave in and followed me out.

We moved through the store slowly. I was too out of it to really pay much attention to the constant bantering going on between the two. It was just same arguments that had begun in the car, transferred over here. Except this time with physical objects and a constant stream of “how about this” and “I don’t want that”. Instead, I put my focus on pushing the cart and moving forward. While they argued back and forth about what to have, I grabbed anything that looked remotely interesting, hoping that we would end up with something in the end. I had to admit though; the banter was a welcome noise. Predictable, normal, if a little irritating.

I let Violeta and Lexus unload the groceries, paying more attention to the magazine covers than the two of them. I wondered how they did it. The celebrities that is. How did they live with all the lies and misrepresentations about them that were spread to the public? Did it ever influence them? Who they were? Or even who they became? I heard Violeta give a shocked little snort that had my head turning in her direction, and away from my thoughts. She had her hands in the air near her face and a look that very clearly said “it wasn’t me” on it.

“Jade…?” Lexus asked. Confusion tinged her words. “Is there something you want to tell us?” In her hand, gingerly clutched, was a pregnancy test. The pink box glared at me with undeniable brightness. My mouth gaped opened, my jaw suddenly slack.

“I did not put that in there!” I finally managed to say.

“If you didn’t then who did? Because it wasn’t either one of us.”

“I don’t know, but it wasn’t me. Was it?” Were they playing a prank on me? Was I really so lost in my own head that instead of grabbing food, I’d grabbed a pregnancy test? It was one of the few things in the store that in no way resembled anything edible, but apparently I’d put it in the cart anyway. Wanting to move as far past my mistake as possible, I grabbed the test from Lexus and chucked it into the candy racks.

“Let’s just pretend that didn’t happen.” I nearly begged them. The two broke out into fits of laughter, in one of the few times that they agreed about anything. I thought that Lexus still looked concerned though. Her eyes had a hard questioning look to them, but I didn’t want to question it. It wasn’t like there was anything going on anyway, except for me slowly descending into LaLa land.

Chapter 3

The next few days passed in a blur, each leaving me more haggard than the last. The dreams persisted; the only change in them was their increasing intensity. Every time I woke up, I’d find a new scratch or bruise that would match the events that transpired while I’d slept. And every time I would have to try to explain them away to Lexus and Sebastian. Violeta appeared to be oblivious, as usual. At first they believed me, but the more it happened the more they began to question me. I felt like I was under a microscope as they watched over me more and more. And each new day, I felt more and more like I was going crazy, like I would lose my mind completely if this didn’t end.

I was sitting at my desk, trying to keep my eyes open as I read the same passage repeatedly. The words were so dull, so boring, that they were only acting as a lullaby bringing me closer to sleep. It’s what I got for trying to use a textbook as a way to stay awake. With a frustrated sigh, I slammed the book closed and cradled my head in my hands. Not even bothering to think about the makeup I still had on, I rubbed at my eyes hoping that I could just wipe away the sleepiness that clung to me. Instead, I yawned and found my eyes closing.

Suddenly my head was jerking upright, my heart beat spiking. That had to be the one of the worst feelings outside of physical pain. On the plus side, the way my head would fall forward as I fell asleep was enough to keep me from actually falling asleep. For some reason my anxiety was kicking up. But, it felt like it wasn’t just from the adrenaline racing though my system from my sudden waking. I had to get up, I had to do something to calm my body down. Not wanting to wake up Lexus or Violeta, I shimmed out of my pajamas and put on my shorts and a t-shirt.

As quietly as possible, I slipped through the apartment and out the door. I grimaced when the lock seemed to stick and I had to apply extra pressure. A faint echoing bang resounded as I finally closed it, but I was certain that my roommates were too out of it to hear. I made my way outside shivering in the cold breeze that had suddenly picked up. The chill was all the more incentive to run. I started out with a slow steady jog down the driveway and towards the sidewalk. Even though, I felt weakened by my lack of sleep, my legs were strong and sturdy beneath me. Guess that’s why Sebastian had spent so long persuading me to run daily.

I imagined all my problems staying behind, waiting for me to join them in the apartment building. Instead, my legs carried me away, slowly putting distance between me and everything else. The world was lost in a rushing blur as I sped up. My feet pounded the pavement, pushing me forward.

The world looked so much different at night. Shadows darkened all the color that had once dotted the small city. I had to force my eyes to stay focused in front of me before I started imagining things lurking in the darkness, thankful that I was going too fast for most things to register in my vision.

I was panting by the time I made it around the block twice and back to the stone steps of the apartment building. I sat down not caring how un-lady-like it was for me to have my legs spread wide and my arms over my head. There was no way I was letting my skin stick together from the sweat that had yet to dry. Plus, it was a good position to stretch my aching muscles without having to stand. The thought of getting back to my feet had me seriously considering spending the night under the stars instead of heading back up the all those stairs. Damn Lexus for wanting to get the apartment on the third floor.

I’d been stretching the muscles in my side when I heard the door of the apartment building open behind me. I didn’t give it a second thought as I slid over to allow room for the other night owl to pass. But they didn’t pass. Again I shrugged it off, figuring it was just a smoker whose roommate or partner had banned them from stinking up the place. However, I didn’t smell tobacco or any other kind of smoke. There were no sounds, no shuffling of feet or rustling of clothing. I couldn’t hear their feet moving toward the first step. Dread washed over me.

I was awake! I was not sleeping. If I turned around it would just be some weird tenant. Maybe I had a freak stalker that was watching me. Or Lexus. That was it! It was Lexus watching me, waiting to chew my head off for leaving home this late. I turned around fast, ready to call her out for being so over protective. The words I had prepared to use stuck in my throat.

Looking down at me, smirking, was a red eyed version of him. For once, he wasted no time and instead immediately lunged forward. He sent us flying backwards, my skin grating against the pavement. I should have known how to get out from under him, but my lack of breath left me punching and kicking like a child.

The frantic motion of my body forced his focus from attacking to deflecting my blows. His claws were out ready to strike once he got the opening he needed. I couldn’t let him get it, even though my arms felt like they were being shredded, line after line carved into them. Even though he’d managed a hold onto both of my wrists, which left them blood stained and punctured. I still fought against him, using my arms as shields to hide my face and chest.

With a growl, he leaned back and used the force to slam me against the ground. My head was pounding, my ears ringing, but I refused to give in. Instead, I let our proximity work to my advantage. He was holding my hands in such a way that I was still able to grasp a fist full of his shirt. I drew him close. If I couldn’t hit him, that meant he couldn’t hit me. With my head buried against both him and my arms I waited.

What I didn’t expect was for him to bite me. Sharp pain shot through my right arm as teeth sank into the flesh. His head shook, much like a dog with its kill, forcing the teeth deeper and deeper into my arm. Something surged through me, a mixture of pain, fear and anger. Anger won out allowing me to tap into strength I didn’t know I had and with all my being I willed it to help me. More than that though, I willed for me to help me. This was my dream. I should be in control. I should be able to stop him.

Thunder boomed in the distance, lighting raced across the sky illuminating the red that stained us. His eyes glowed, burning into my mind. When he finally removed his mouth, I could see blood stained saliva dripping from his jaws. Without warning, he was thrown back, his body tumbling backwards, landing sprawled a distance away from me.

Suddenly I felt weaker. The world seemed to move around me as I wriggled forcing my body onto its side. I used my hands to claw forward, dragging my body slowly upright. My hair had fallen from the bun it had been in. Now layers of sweat soaked black hair blocked my vision. I could hear the grass crunching beneath him as he moved, the sound of feet hitting the cement. He was getting closer.

I wasn’t giving up and yet I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was too weak to stand, much less put up any sort of fight. So I closed my eyes. I listened to the pounding of my heart. Felt the adrenaline move through my veins. The energy that was stored in it.

His hands grabbed my hair, yanking my head up. I hissed in pain and readied myself for whatever was to come. I channeled every emotion, every feeling, into something I could use. I had to fight. Within seconds the skies opened and rain poured down around us. Through the drops I could see his face twist. His nose scrunched up, his eyebrows pulled down furrowing his brow. I took the moment of confusion to my advantage and did the only thing I could.

Putting all the weight I could manage on my arm, I swung my leg outward and much like I had done before, sent him to the ground. His leg shot out, hitting me in the chin as he dropped my hair and my head sank to the ground. Clumps of black and white hair were stuck to his fingers.

Pain. He hadn’t made another move, and yet I was in utter agony. Pain, hot and sharp, worked its way up my arms, as if something was pushing against my wounds. I began screaming, unable to handle what my body was going through. My eyes closed tight. The pressure created white specks that danced across my eyelids, in no way helping the headache that was pounding deep behind my eyes.

“Jade! Jade!” there was a set of screams that mixed with my own. “Dammit it Jade wake up!” A force shook me, rattled every inch of my battered body. I began fighting back, my arms and legs flailing useless against the invisible force. Until I hit something. Something both soft and hard.

My eyes sprang open to find Lexus standing over me. The world began taking shape again. I could hear the cars rushing past. Saw their headlights shine into my eyes. Somehow I was still outside, laying on the pavement near the stairs.

“What happened?” Her voice was hard and shrill. Even with only headlights, and the street lamps several feet away, I could tell that all the color had drained from Lexus’ face.

“I don’t… I don’t….” I couldn’t find the words. I didn’t want to find the words. I didn’t want this to be real and above all I didn’t want to look at my aching burning arms.

“Tell me! You have to tell me.” Her hands moved up to cup my face and forced me to look into her frantic eyes. I shook my head feeling tears well up. A light rain drizzled down overhead, soaking everything. Even as my eyes stared off into the darkened sky, I could see Lexus turning her head. What was she looking for?

Her hands moved again, this time to hook beneath my armpit. As if I weighed nothing she lifted me to my feet and slung my arm over her shoulder. Slowly, and painfully, she dragged me forward. I tried to keep up, but her pace was too much for me. He may have slashed my arms only, but he may as well have cut open my entire body. Every inch of me felt weak and sore, almost as if each of my limbs had a heavy weight placed on them. The stairs nearly were the end of everything as my feet struggled to move up each one.

It felt like hours had passed by the time we finally stumbled through the door to the apartment. I dropped onto the sofa like a dead weight the second she began to lower me down. Lexus moved through the apartment with purpose, yanking open the bathroom door. I could hear her rummaging around, the bangs and crashes sounding like they were coming from a great distance instead of being in the next room.

For the briefest second I thought I saw the door of Violeta’s and Lexus’ room open up. However, when I moved my gaze to look directly at the door, it was closed and Violeta was nowhere to be seen. I wondered if we’d woken her. I wondered if she’d take the dreams more seriously now.

My hands trembled by my side, constantly knocking into the sticky damp skin on my thighs. I couldn’t look down. I wouldn’t make this more real than it was. I told myself, they were just scrapes. I’d only been sleeping walking and probably just fell, scrapping my arms up. There were no gashes and definitely no bite marks. Lexus was just acting like this because it was the first time I’d been outside of the apartment sleep walking.

A tan blur sped across my vision. Gabby. I could hear her meowing. She sounded frantic. Almost like she was the one that was hurt. In the corner of my vision, I could see her coming closer. She’d started to jump on the couch beside me, but Lexus had just gotten back with first aid kit in hand. She shooed Gabby off before taking a seat next to me. I kept my eyes trained on Gabby. She was pacing furiously. Her eyes never left me. I wondered if she thought I’d suddenly die if she looked away.

I tried to reason with myself. Reason with the shock that was slowly setting in, but the amount of work Lexus seemed to be doing was making it hard. Scrapes shouldn’t require liquid stiches. Or that much gauze. Or cause that much pain. Or take that much washing to get all the blood out. I’d been making a valiant effort to calm myself, and bring everything back to reality, when Lexus had to open her mouth.

“Is that… a bite mark? That’s it; you have to tell me what’s going on!” Like outside she forced my face her way. Her eyes were hard, and every muscle in her body was taut. “Now!”

“I… I…” the words stuck, as my eyes tried to look anywhere but at her.

“Your life is in danger. It doesn’t matter if you want to believe it or not. The only way anyone can help you is if you tell me what’s going on.” Her hand gripped my arm tighter and I grimaced. After several seconds of stuttering and sputtering like an absolute idiot, I finally gained my composure back. In a rush of speech, that I didn’t know how she could possibly understand, I explained everything, or at least everything I could. How there was a man that stalked me in my dreams. How I didn’t know who he was, or even what he fully looked like. How every scratch, bruise, and cut I got happened in my dreams. How this had been going on for months now, each time getting worse, more frightening, more nightmarish.

Her face got paler and more serious with each detail I utter. Before long she was off the couch, grabbing the cellphone she’d left on the counter and began texting furiously.

“Don’t bring him into this.” My voice was uncharacteristically whiny.

“I have to. He’s your… brother, after all. He needs to know.” She set the phone down on the coffee table before moving over to patch up my right arm. Feeling safer from Lexus’ wrath, Gabby moved closer and jumped onto the couch. Her face pressed into my side gently.

Minutes ticked by as Lexus prodded and bandaged my wounds. I knew it was coming however, the series of bangs on our door still made me jump. The anxiety that had finally began to dye down, was now racing through me again. Lexus muttered under her breath, something like “about time”, before rushing to open the door. Instead of letting Sebastian in she pushed him into the hall and closed the door behind them. I was amazed she kept him out. The second his eyes landed on me I could see the worried look cross his face, which normally signaled overprotective mode.

Their voices travelled through the door, muffled yet loud. I couldn’t really make out what they were saying, but it had to have been a heated argument. My focus shifted over to Gabby. My hands ran through her soft fur, caressing her head, and scratching her ears. She hadn’t seemed like she’d calmed down yet. Her tail was high, no longer swishing like it normally did. And her ears were perked upright, turned towards the hall door.

“So do you want the good news or the bad news?” Sebastian tried to joke as he entered the apartment, followed closely by Lexus.

“Neither.” I sighed.

“Well the good news is that we think we know what’s going on and where to get you help… The bad news is that your future as being a model is over.” A smile tried forming on his face, but turned into a grimace. I tried to laugh, tried to smile back, but it was too shaky to be believable.

“Seriously? Something just tried to kill her, and you’re making jokes?” Lexus had her arms crossed and lips set in a hard line.

“Come on,” Sebastian held out his hand to me, ignoring the fury of Lexus. “We have to go.”

“Where?” I asked.

“You’ll see.”

“Seb I’m not just leaving because you tell me to. I deserve to know what’s going on.”

“I promise we’ll explain, but we might not have time for that. You trust me right?”

“Of course, you’re my brother. Why wouldn’t I?” I scoffed.

“Then you’ll trust me when I say we have to go.”

Chapter 4

I don’t know how long we’d been travelling. All I remember was Sebastian and Lexus leading me towards my car, and gently shoving me into the back. Gabby had climbed into the backseat with me, snuggling close to my side. I couldn’t figure out why she was there with us, and honestly I didn’t really care. She was family, a part of my life that I didn’t want to part with for long. Somehow having her come along on this journey only felt right. The car had sped down road after road, for miles on end. At first I’d been able to stay awake, too afraid to go back to sleep, but after several hours of driving through the dark countryside with unending trees and hills whipping by exhaustion won out. I must have been completely dead to the world, as I have no recollection of the car stopping. Nor do I remember ending up in Sebastian’s arms, cradled like a small child. When I’d finally woken up, my head pounding and every inch of me sore, we were in what appeared to be a forest. Trees surrounded us from every angle, with no hints of civilization anywhere. There was no road or path that we were following, unless it was hidden from my sights.

My head gently bounced against Sebastian’s shoulder, although with my headache it felt like a hammer being pounded against my temple.

“So sleeping beauty finally wakes.” Sebastian looked down at me with a wry smile, but continued to walk on.

“Do not compare me to some dead beat princess that sleeps all the time and can’t seem to do anything for herself.” I complained. After a little wriggling around, Sebastian finally stopped long enough to put me down. Of course, it was followed by a slew of “Can you walk?”s. My legs were wobbly and it took me several attempts before I found my balance, but I still refused to let him carry me. If I couldn’t even move by myself, that meant I really had gone downhill.

“Where are we?” I asked. I noticed that Lexus was several feet ahead with Gabby.

“We… The… The car ran out of gas. I thought we could make it further than we did. But we’re not far away from where we need to be.” He explained, or at least tried to explain, I felt a weird feeling wash over me. Not the eerie feelings that my dreams brought with them, but something else. Almost like someone was in my head. I didn’t give it a second thought though. I had to stop entertaining such ridiculous notions.

“Where’s that?”

“You’ll see.”

“I am so sick of that!” I felt my temper spiking. I may have trusted him, but that didn’t mean I liked being left in the dark.

“Please.” His eyes were begging me to stop. So for the first time in a while I clamped my mouth shut and followed him. Waiting seemed to be the only way that I was ever going to find out what was going on.

We continued on for a couple of hours. I didn’t know how they figured out where they were going, or even where we were. There were no identifiable markings anywhere in the area. I was beginning to think that they’d gotten us lost in a sea of trees, when buildings began taking shape on the horizon. The closer we got the more I could make out some large stone like structures. I couldn’t even begin to fathom what they could be. The outsides seemed to be worn and destroyed. Walls had crumbled and collapsed, leaving holes in the exteriors. However, it didn’t seem like we were going towards them. Instead we veered off until we got to a small building on the outskirts of the town we’d been approaching.

The house was drab and dreary, more of a rundown shack than anything. Grey, though most likely a faded white, paint peeled from every inch of its walls. Small shrubbery lined the edges, blooming with brightly colored flowers that stood in sharp contrast with the house behind it. Why here? I figured we’d be going to… well I didn’t know where, but I’d been picturing a large building perhaps with bars on the windows. Maybe a nice asylum with padded cells. Anything, but this little house separated from everything around it. I didn’t know what could possibly be beyond that door. Possibilities flooded my head. A psychic, maybe it was a psychic. Please don’t let it be a crackpot psychic.

They fumbled with the door, tried knocking for a few moments before attacking the lock. Gabby twined around my legs, meowing at me. With each high pitched sound she made, I was reminded about why I had given her that name. Ignoring the pain in my arms, I scooped her up and held her close. She’d fend off any psychoes inside right? Nobody would hurt a cute little kitty.

When the door swung open, Sebastian ushered us inside without a word.

“Are the owners going to mind that you just broke into their home?” I asked shuffling into the living space. Unlike the outside, it wasn’t run down looking, but rather a magazine cut out. However, that didn’t mean it was interesting. In fact it was about as neutral as you could get. Tans and browns were about the only colors present outside of stark white. I wondered if anyone even lived here. The place was spotless. No personal touches, no photos. The only thing outside of furniture and a few décor items was a book. One lonely little book, that sat on the coffee table.

“Well he would if it wasn’t us.” was Sebastian’s only reply.

“I’ll go outside and keep watch. Scout the perimeter a bit. You tell her… everything.” Lexus told Sebastian, making sure to emphasize the last word. He nodded at her as his hand snaked around to rub the back of his neck. He waited for her to leave before motioning to the couch.

“Sit down,” he said. Finally, I was about to get an explanation. Of course, I didn’t know if it was going to be one I wanted to hear, given the stipulation of having to sit down first. But, I obliged. Gabby nestled into my lap, her eyes trained on Sebastian. He began pacing back and forth, his eyes looking anywhere but at me.

“Now this will sound a little insane-“ He began.

“Because everything you say is so sane normally,” I couldn’t help but add.

“Please… There’s… there’s something after you.” His voice was hesitant, his eyes flicking between me and the path he was making in front of him. The fingers on his right hand reached outwards to grip his fisted left hand, silently cracking the knuckles.

“And what exactly would that be?”

“Well, the only thing it could be… a psychic demon.”

“A psychic… What?” Did I not say earlier that there better not be psychics?

“Demon. Some call them dream walkers because they, well… they can enter your dreams. Although I’ve never heard of one able to do that,” he motioned towards my arms.

“Let’s say I believe you. Why exactly would it be after me?” I shifted on the couch, wrapping my arms tightly around Gabby. The material felt rough on the backs of my shoulders.

“Well see that’s the other thing. We’re not from the human realm…. Actually, we’re not in the human realm now. There was-“

“Human realm? As opposed to what or where?” My eyes widened, before turning to narrowed slits, as the realization of what he’d just said hit me.

“Jadenel. We’re in Jadenel.”

“Uh-huh…” I nodded, but every muscle in my face was tight. My lips pursed in a thin line, and my eyes hard and watchful. I was waiting for any sign that this might be a joke. Some kind of elaborate hoax that he was pulling on me.

He gave an impatient sigh as he rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. His lips turned downwards into a tighter frown and his hands stopped twisting around each other to push his hair back. The fingers lingered, giving his hair another few run throughs before his hand dropped to his side.

Suddenly he strode forward as if with renewed purpose, although his eyes looked conflicted. As though he were unsure about what he was going to do. Not missing a beat, he reached down and plucked Gabby from my firm embrace.

“What are you doing?” The question left my lips before I could even attempt to filter it. Or at least control the harshness of its sound.

“Do it. Now!” he put Gabby down in the center of the room. At first I thought he was talking to me, and I was going to ask what he meant, until I saw his eyes were fixed on Gabby. Was he really talking to the cat? I mean I did it all the time, but I wasn’t expecting a response or reaction. He clearly was.

“Come on! It’s the only way she’ll listen.” Sebastian kneeled on the floor, his eyes peering directly into Gabby’s. Gabby shook her head and meowed loudly, as if to say hell no.

“What? What do you-“ Sebastian began until Gabby grabbed a mouthful of his shirt and pulled. “You can’t be serious?” He sighed. With a few grumbled remarks, he stalked off towards one of the doors behind me. When he came back, he was carrying a blanket with a plaid design on it. I watched him, mildly curious about what he was doing until he threw the blanket on Gabby.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing to my cat?” My voice rose as I pushed myself off the couch. I wanted to go over to Gabby and snatch the blanket off her, but Sebastian brought his hands down on my shoulders.

“Just wait,” he ordered. I bit my bottom lip and crossed my arms. This better be worth it. At first nothing happened. I was doing nothing more than staring at a cat-sized lump under the blanket. Then it started to shift. The fabric rippled as the lump got bigger and bigger, until it was about the size of a human. In fact, that’s kind of what it looked like; a person hiding under the covers. My mouth had slightly fallen open as I tried to process what was going on. My hands itched to pick up the blanket and reveal what was going on beneath it. Just as I was preparing to make a move the lump shifted again, and a head popped out from under the blanket. And it wasn’t the head of my cat.

Instead, staring back at me with wide eyes, was a boy. More appropriately a man that looked close to my age, and yet had the innocent look of a child. His tawny brown hair was a complete mess that stuck up at all angles. The most astonishing thing, besides his sudden appearance, was the pair of tan cat ears that poked out of his messy hair. I let out a surprised yelp and stumbled backwards, forcing Sebastian to let go of his grip on me.

“What did you do? What did you do with my cat? Where’s Gabby?” I cried out when I’d stopped moving backwards. My eyes couldn’t leave the sight in front of me.

“That is your cat. Except he’s a neko, not a cat… And his name is Gabriel.” Sebastian placed his hand back on my shoulder.

“That… that…” I stopped trying to talk, to vocalize the fact that, that was NOT my cat. Under no circumstances could that be Gabby. Cats don’t just suddenly turn human. They don’t. They can’t. I could feel my head shaking back and forth as my hands reached up to cover my face. My breathing hitched in my throat, while my mind tried to come to terms with what was going on. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t figure it out. Sebastian’s fingers curled tighter into the flesh on my shoulder.

“Jade. Are you okay?” his voice was thick with worry. I nodded behind my hands, my eyes still shut tight trying to block out the image I had just seen.

“I’m fine… I just need a moment, okay? I need to think. I just need to think.” I removed my hands from my face and took a deep breath. As best I could, I tried to put a neutral expression on my face and faced him. “Can I… Can I just have a moment?”

“Of course.” He nodded quickly, relief flashing through his eyes. With a look back at Gabby… Gabe… the thing beneath the blanket, he led me down a hallway and to a bedroom I assumed to be a guest room. The bed was average sized, and like the living room there were no personal touches. There was however, a large window facing the backyard. With a few words indicating that he’d check on me soon, Sebastian left the room. The door was partially open, but I knew he wouldn’t actually be able to see in.

I began pacing in fast steps, hoping the movement would distract me from my racing thoughts. I had to focus. I had to get a grip. I had to think. But I couldn’t. Emotions overwhelmed me, smothered me.

I was scared because I didn’t know what was really going on. I was so confused. None of this made any sense. I was angry because if Sebastian wasn’t screwing with me, he was hiding things from me… a lot of things. Above all I was frustrated. Frustrated that I couldn’t do anything. That I wasn’t in control of whatever this was that was going on.

There was something else too. A feeling that flooded through me and sat uneasily alongside the panic. It felt right, almost euphoric, yet smothering and painful. Like a pressure being applied from the inside. Pressure that wanted to be released and if it wasn’t would make me even more insane. I’d felt it ever since I had woken up, but it was getting stronger by the second.

I had to do something. I had to make sense of all of this, but I couldn’t. Not here, not with Sebastian constantly watching over me, smothering me. Both he and Lexus were worried about me. And while I appreciated the concern, it wasn’t helpful. I needed normal. I needed space. So I did the only thing that sounded logical. I opened the window and ran.

Chapter 5

My feet pounded beneath me as I maneuvered through the trees and foliage. I was thankful that the house was backed close enough to the surrounding forest that it didn’t take long before I was out of sight. I was just hoping that Lexus had chosen to stay towards the front of the house. The last thing I needed was her see me. I kept going forward until I was certain that I was far enough away that they’d never be able to spot me among the trees. At that point, I made a sharp turn towards the right, hoping that I could circle around and find the place we had come from. Of course, without having been even remotely awake during most of our journey there was no way to know if I was going in the right direction. I just held out the hope that the trees would have to eventually split and lead me to a road. Even if I didn’t find the car, all I needed was a road. Some sign of civilization that would bring me back home.

Not for a moment did I believe that we were in a different realm. Hell I didn’t even think I believed anything he had said. Of course I didn’t know if it was because I couldn’t or wouldn’t. It was so outlandish, so strange. The rational part of me tried explaining it away by repeating that it was nothing but a prank. A big elaborate prank to shock me into seeking real help. Sadly, I wouldn’t put it beyond either of them to go to the extremes just to make me see that things were worse than I’d believed.

I was stubborn. I had no problem admitting that. I also had no problem admitting that I would avoid considering something internal, or personal, as serious until there was no way of denying it any longer. I’d rather hobble around on what could be a broken leg than waste time going to the emergency room and finding out it was a sprain. I’d rather force myself to get work done when it was possible that I had the flu, than wasting time by lounging around when it was just a bad cold.

So a scare tactic was sometimes the way to get through to me that I had to just shut up and do something rather than silently suffer. But this was going too far. And I wasn’t going to be fooled. I wasn’t going to be manipulated into seeking help that I knew would only waste everyone’s time. They may have thought they knew what I needed, but they didn’t. I did. And what I needed was normal. Something I wasn’t going to find in that house, in the middle of nowhere.

I fell against a nearby tree, panting. I was well beyond the house at this point, having sprinted to get where I was. I knew I shouldn’t have used that much energy and just walked once it felt safe. However, knowing when that was, was impossible. My legs shook, not wanting to hold the weight of my body any longer, but I only pressed my back more firmly against the tree. If I sat now, I wouldn’t be getting back up for a while. Instead I looked up at the green leaves forming a canopy above my head, focusing on the lights and shadows that were cast everywhere. How could this not be Earth? It looked so similar, so familiar. If this was some weird fantasy place shouldn’t the trees be pink and purple? Or moving? Or talking? Or…

My mind filled with the possibilities of what it meant to be in a different realm until my body felt stronger and more solid beneath me. It was then that I shoved my inner ramblings aside and put any pent up energy into moving forward again. I had the strangest feeling of something watching me. I kept whipping my head to each side trying to find any signs of movement, but there was nothing there.

I took it as incentive to keep moving. But each twig that snapped beneath my feet had me jumping and shaking. I knew it was pointless and stupid, but the emotions that swirled through me didn’t care. They had no time for any sort of rationality. Even if that rationality would end up saving my life. So I kept going. Faster and faster until I was panting again. But I didn’t stop to rest. At least not until the sun had begun to set and my legs were about to give up on me.

It was then that I slid down to rest between the roots of an old tree. How much farther was it? How large was this damned forest? The thought of having to spend the night outside, alone, was unpleasant. I wondered if they’d even realized I’d left yet. Were they out there trying to find me? Could they find me? What if I was so lost here that I couldn’t be found? It was both a pleasant and a horrid thought. The one thing I did know was that I should stay where I was. Going further into a place that I didn’t know, when I couldn’t see, was not a good idea.

My wounds made it hard to even attempt any sort of comfortable position. The rough bark of the tree felt ten times worse than the couch fabric had. I could just imagine some of the broken skin being ripped back open as I shimmed from one position to the other.

I thought I had found the most comfortable position I was going to get when I heard whispers. It sounded like a voice calling out my name. The words were soft, enticing, and sent a shiver down my spine. I would have immediately jumped to the conclusion that I was dreaming, yet again, if it wasn’t for the fact that the voice sounded female. Actually, it sounded almost like Violeta.

I leaned forward, straining to hear what the sound actually was. While the whispers floated my way they never turned into anything more, and I settled back into the tree. I didn’t care what was out there. Nothing, nothing, was worth searching for in the darkness that was quickly settling over the area. Eventually the sounds stopped and hours passed. Without the physical exertion of walking my mind was freer than ever to wander into places I didn’t want it to go.

I was trying to find productive ways to waste my time when a piercing scream had me bolting up to my feet. The sound came from my right, through the thick cluster of trees I had chosen as my campsite. Every hair on my body was standing on end as the scream came again. Without thinking, I ran forward, trying to place the exact location of the screaming. The sound was getting louder, closer, when it suddenly turned into piercing wails.

I moved even faster now, adrenaline kicking every one of my senses into high gear. There was a break in the wailing as I burst out of a section of trees and into a meadow. There, kneeling on the ground was what looked like a woman. Her hair was falling down her naked back, coming just short of her hips. She almost glowed in the soft light emanating from the moon overhead. Especially the light hair that covered her. The light, platinum hair, that I knew too well. Her face turned upwards as my footsteps moved me closer. Violeta.

I could see her face now. Her eyes were wide and wet. Tears streamed down her face, moistening her cheeks and upper body. Her hair was the only thing that even remotely covered her body. Even though I didn’t want to, I could see the streaks of red that marred her arms, chest, and stomach.

“Ja… Ja… Jade.” She was stuttering, having a hard time getting any words out through the sobs that racked her body. I was hesitant at first, but instinct drove me to her side.

“What happened to you?” My hands fluttered over her uselessly. I wanted to help, to heal her wounds and yet I didn’t even have the resources to clothe her. Instead, I pulled her close, ignoring the blood that soaked my clothes in warm, wet, splotches.

“I…. I… don’t know… He…. He… was looking for you… and… and… you weren’t there… so…” her voice trailed off. “I think… he’s still here… waiting.” Now her face was close to my ear, the whispers I heard earlier matching her voice perfectly.

“Who?” I pulled back to study her face. And she smiled. She actually smiled.

“Who do you think?”

“I don’t know. Violeta who did this to you?” I tried to move further back to really study her, but her hand snaked around to grab my hair. She shoved her face against the side of my head, her breath warming my neck and ear.

“Me,” she breathed. I could feel her shift beneath my hand. The skin on her back rippled and expanded. The bones jutted further out until they felt like tiny knives pressing into my flesh. The smooth skin suddenly had a layer of downy hair covering it.

“Get away from her!” The shout came from behind us. Sebastian. He’d found me.

“What is that?” Lexus? It sounded like her, but more gruff. I tried to turn to see them, but instead came face to face with the monster that had once been Violeta. The face was no longer entirely human. The eyes were a deep piss yellow that glowed from deep within their sockets. Where her mouth had been, was now an oddly elongated snout that looked neither animal nor human. On its head were pointed, cat, like ears that had settled into the mangy hair flowing from its head.

Its mouth opened to show rotting teeth as its moist fetid breath sprayed all over me. It smelled like decay, like rotting meat. And while my head may have been in its grasp, my hands were not. Awkwardly, I let my left hand reach forward to grab its lower jaw, forcing its face away from me. My other hand was pinned between us, unable to move without sending pain shooting through my body.

It growled low in its throat and maneuvered until it was able to stand, dragging me upwards with it. The hand holding my hair suddenly released but only long enough to get an iron grip around my throat. It towered over me allowing it to lift my feet off the ground and hold me high in the air. My throat burned as I not only struggled to breathe, but also tried to fight back. My legs were useless, kicking harmlessly in the air. My hands grabbing at its arm only served to irritate it more.

It turned its’ head long enough to take note of Sebastian and Lexus rushing our way, before striding off towards the forest at the opposite end. My body dropped lower, my feet hitting the ground and dragging behind us. Without any other options, I swung my foot out, trying to hook it around a tree.

The first attempt failed, leaving me with nothing but a sharp pain in my shin and possibly a fracture. The second time however, I was able to hook my leg around a small but sturdy tree. This tactic didn’t stop her permanently, but it did force her to slow down long enough to untangle me from the tree. It was then, when the pressure on my neck increased. When I felt that at any moment, she was just going to break my neck and run, the pressure suddenly released. At that moment, the feeling that had been growing inside of me found an external release that sent her flying backwards, letting go of me entirely. The weak dizzy feeling came over me again, just like in my dream, but I didn’t let it stop me this time. Instead, I turned and ran straight for Sebastian and Lexus.

They were a distance behind us, undoubtedly having trouble keeping up with the beast, but it was a distance crossed easily enough. I had just reached them when growls and footsteps came from the wooded area behind me. Sebastian shoved me behind him and continued forward. I saw his hand go down towards his side, where a sword currently rested. He drew the sword from its sheath, blade shining in the pale light. I was waiting for Lexus to do the same, but instead she held out what reminded me of a throwing star. Except bigger. A lot bigger. There had to be at least three times as many wickedly sharp edges many with barbed points on it, as on any other throwing star I’d ever seen.

We could hear the sounds come closer. Footsteps pounded the ground as it barreled towards us.

“Jade do you have any idea what that was?” Sebastian turned his head slightly toward me, expression hidden in the darkness.

“That’s what I was going to ask you. This is your world after all.” I replied. Great he didn’t even know what this thing was.

“Well this is your world too.” I thought he was smirking. Was he really smirking?

“Lexus do you know?” I turned toward her, hoping someone would have an answer.

“No clue. It doesn’t look like anything I’ve ever seen.” Lexus continued backing up, bringing us with her.

“We should stay here in the open, more room to move around and see it coming,” I couldn’t help but remark as we continued backwards. I could see Lexus and Sebastian share a look, but didn’t know what the look meant. Despite not being able to see their faces clearly, I could at least tell each one had their eyebrows raised.

“It’s not like running is going to do us any good. Not with how fast that thing runs… and that was while carrying this,” I explained motioning towards my body.

“Like you’re so huge that you’d slow down something that size. How many times have I told you, you don’t need to lose weight. You’re just-“ Lexus began in her scolding voice.

“Is this really a discussion for now?” Sebastian asked.

“Says the guy that tried making a modeling joke when his sister had her arms ripped to shreds.” Lexus replied. All the while they argued the sounds grew closer. I thought I could see movement among the trees.

“Speaking of injured. How the hell did you get away from that thing?” Sebastian asked.

“I don’t know. One second it had a hold of me. The next, well it just went flying back. All I remember was trying to get away by hooking a tree with my leg. And I don’t think that creates invisible force fields.” I stopped talking when they shared another look. This one didn’t seem to be as surprised as the last. Why did I have a feeling there was about to be a lot more unexplained stuff going on.

“Be careful with this. It’s sharp. And I’ve already spent enough time bandaging you up.” Lexus remarked as she turned to hand me what looked like a small hatchet, with an incredibly sharp blade.

“Wow, thanks. I feel so safe now.” I said weakly studying the small hatchet. In comparison to the sword and weapons Lexus had, I might as well be holding a spork.

“I would tell you to go and hide in the forest until this is over, but we all know that won’t happen. So stay back. Don’t get involved in this unless you have to.” Sebastian said. I gave a little snort and mumbled something about him still trying to be “the bossy big brother”.

“I’m just trying to-” Sebastian began as the creature tore into the meadow, rushing towards us. Its eyes were locked onto me. Even with the two standing in front of me, I was still the focus of its attention. Its hands were outstretched, fingers clutching at the air just waiting to grab onto me. Hatred filled its eyes and contorted its face even further.

Sebastian rushed forward, sword down. He swung it towards her in a graceful arc meant to slice its throat. It ducked under the sword, moved its arm out, and caught Sebastian right in his middle. He went flying backwards gasping for air. Lexus wasted no time in sending her wicked looking throwing star flying outwards. The speeding disc embedded itself into the side of the creature. Another smaller disc went flying out, this time striking its upper arm. The creature howled in pain and stumbled slightly. Its movement wasn’t deterred for long even as it tried uselessly to tear out the blades. They only seemed to imbed themselves further, digging deeper into what flesh it had.

Sebastian was getting back to his feet now, hand clenched against his ribs. Lexus moved forward, closing some of the distance between her and the creature, but it was only distracted for a few seconds. Yet again, its gaze was on me, fixated as it rushed forward. Lexus threw another disc as Sebastian managed to maneuver himself in front of the creature, blocking me from its path. He managed one hit that grazed its torso before he was thrown backwards. This continued like a dance. Lexus would throw a disc, Sebastian would block its path only to be knocked out of the way, until Lexus managed to get behind the beast. The entire time it had made sure to protect itself from ambush until it knocked Sebastian over and watched as he struggled to his feet.

Lexus leaped forward, using the creature’s distraction with Sebastian, to grab onto the creature and maneuver herself to settle onto its back. The creature reared, its good arm reaching backwards to grab at Lexus, trying to remove her. Lexus made an effort to shove another blade into the creature’s chest, but the movement knocked her off balance. The creature grabbed her arm and swung her around. It had a death grip around her throat, much like it’d had with me. As Lexus’ body moved in front of the creature, her feet made contact with Sebastian as he moved to strike. Again he was knocked backwards briefly.

Blood sprayed from the wound on its arm, painting the ground and Lexus in brilliant scarlet red. The hand clutched even tighter as Lexus’ face began to turn blue.

“Lexus!” I shouted. I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want to get in the way and seal their fate, but I had to do something. I had to find a way to protect her. Wind howled in the distance and rushed past me. Behind the strands of hair covering my face, I saw the creature fly backwards in a gust of air. Lexus dropped to the ground, only feet away from it. Sebastian took the moment to stand over the creature and drive his sword deep into its torso. The struggles it made to get up were cut short, and then it stopped moving altogether.

The body gave one last convulsion as the hair, muscles, and snout began to shrink and disappear until I was once again looking at Violeta. Sebastian stumbled back.

“I guess I forgot to mention that part.” I said. My body felt weak and I slid to the ground. Lexus made her way over to the body slowly, studying it in disbelief.

“How did I not know?” She questioned.

“None of us knew. Technically, we still don’t know. Don’t know what she is or why she’s here,” Sebastian said.

“Xavier might know. At least if we can ever find him,” Lexus said.

“Speaking of Xavier, we need to get back to the house.”

“But what about her…” I motioned towards the body.

“We might be able to find something at the house we can use to carry her back. No one is in the shape to do it now,” Lexus replied giving the body one last look before making her way through the tall grass to me.

“Is anything going to happen to the body if we leave it? I sure as hell don’t know what might be out there.” I motioned at the surrounding area as I clambered to my feet.

“There is a chance something might get to her. But they’d have to have low standards to eat something that vile.”

“Lexus,” Sebastian scolded her.

“I’m not apologizing. You didn’t have to live with her.” She replied.

“Part of me wants to say I hope they do. The other part feels horrible that I could think that way. I’m kind of rooting for the first one though since she did try to murder us.” I chimed in. And I did. I felt so conflicted about the whole thing. On one hand there she was a person, a human being. Sort of. On the other hand, she had not only been lying to me, but was out to kill me. How could I have sympathy for a homicidal monster?

“You know if you hadn’t run off to begin with you wouldn’t-“ Sebastian began as he took a step towards me. Lexus gave a loud sigh before walking away into the forest. I followed her, hoping to leave behind the rant I knew was coming.

“This isn’t over yet! We will talk about this.” I heard him call from behind us. Both Lexus and I made identical “uh-huh” sounds as we continued. I turned to look back at Sebastian to find him limping after us, his face grimacing in pain.

I was going to get it when we got back. I could just hear the whole lecture now. Thankfully, we still had to get home first and that took just long enough to help him cool down. We were well into the next day, the sun beating down on us through the leaves, when we finally got to the house. I think we were all tired, sore, and ready to collapse by the time we made it through the front door.

I would have immediately collapsed on the couch too, had a worried cat boy not been sitting there. His tan ears turned slightly downwards, the way cats did when they were upset. He was fidgeting around, picking at his hands, moving positions, bouncing his foot one leg crossed over the other. But when he heard the door open he was on his feet and bounding towards us.

“You found her!” Without another word, he was at my side, wrapping me in a tight hug. I froze in place, my muscles tightening in response to this strange being. He pulled back, his smile gone. Mumbling that he was sorry, he backed up and bit his lip. I felt a little tug of sympathy as I watched him. He wasn’t like Violeta. He wasn’t a monster. Yet the idea of a cat shifter felt strange and wrong. I was having trouble reconciling the two realities, this oddly engaging creature and my very mouthy cat.

“Did you think we wouldn’t?” Lexus asked.

“No. It was just taking so long. And anything could be out there.” He replied. His eyes downcast, focusing on his hands that he’d just shoved into the pockets of a pair of ill fitting jeans. Guess they had found clothes for him. Of course, everything looked too big. The button down shirt hung loosely and the pants sagged slightly. From behind him, the tip of a long tail, pointed at the floor and flicked back and forth. Not only did he have cat ears, but a tail too? A sigh escaped me as I shook my head slightly. This was not going to be easy.

“Did you always know about hi-“ I began to ask Lexus.

“Gabe. Yeah I knew.” Lexus interrupted. “Even if I hadn’t been told, I could have smelled him out. Nekos have a weird scent to them.”

“Speaking of scent what happened to you...” his voice trailed off and his nose twitched a little in my direction. I thought he was going to add something else, but his mouth clamped shut. Did he think I would yell at him for speaking to me?

“Not much. Just something that smelled like death trying to kill me,” I said. Gabe said nothing in return, but looked even more concerned as we stood there in an awkward, tense silence.

“Why don’t you lay down and rest. In fact we all need to rest,” Lexus ordered. “And this time, actually stay in your room,” she added as she grabbed my arm and led me back to the room I had escaped from. I winced from the pain her firm grasp caused to my damaged arm, Lexus wasn’t exactly gentle. I could see that Sebastian wanted to protest. Always the protective big brother, but he probably just wanted to regain the opportunity to scold me himself. So I hurried after Lexus until we were inside the room.

“Don’t think you have to worry about that this time.” I slumped down onto the bed, the mattress firm beneath me. Did a person really live here? I couldn’t imagine anyone willingly having such a hard, uncomfortable bed. Maybe that’s why no one was around. They’d found a decent place, with decent furniture.

“With you… I never know. I’m going to get Sebastian tucked in so I won’t have to listen to him complain. If you need something-“

“I know, just yell. And don’t tell me what you’re planning to do with my brother. That’s not an image I want in my head before I go to sleep…. is it even safe for me to sleep?”

“For one thing. Eeew! Two, it should be. I don’t think it can get you here. Not unless it followed us to Jadenel.” She stood in the doorway, arms still crossed at my insinuation.

“The thing from my dreams, it wasn’t… it wasn’t her… Violeta… that thing, was it?”

“That was giving you the dreams? No. Only psychic demons can do that. And that was not a psychic demon. They don’t shift. And they normally aren’t that stupid… Yeah, yeah. But can you blame me now?”

“No,” I sighed. I wasn’t too keen on talking ill of the dead, but I was a fool if I didn’t admit that she had a point. She’d always known something was off with Violeta. And I’d always ignored her. Violeta may have been dramatic and clueless, but she had still been my friend, or so I thought.

“Trust me. You’re safe now.” Her expression softened, something that was a rare occurrence. “I’m leaving the door open for now. I might check on you in a bit before I stand watch.” She slipped out of the room, leaving the door open just enough for a sliver of light to pass through.

I wondered if they really didn’t trust me to stay here. I couldn’t blame them though. It wasn’t like I’d given them a good reason to with me going all horror movie cliché and running off into the dark forest alone. But this time I wasn’t going to be as stupid. This time I couldn’t deny that the things they’d told me were true.

Dreams were one thing. Something that could be explained and blamed on my messed up head. Scratches could be explained. Being told I was in another realm could be explained, if they were lies. A cat turning human… well it could be an elaborate prank. But a monster attacking me, shifting before my eyes. There was no faking that. There was no rational explanation for it besides that there was a lot going on that I had yet to understand. If I hadn’t seen, and felt, her shift I could’ve explained that away to. At least until she tried to kill me. Sebastian and Lexus may try to scare me, but they would never go so far as to risk me getting hurt.

So while I was scared. While I didn’t want to admit that there was a whole world I knew nothing about, and that everything I had known was a lie, I couldn’t deny it any longer.

I’d been resting my eyes, still too wound up to sleep when I heard the door creak open. My head turned towards the sound, but I saw nothing. Without warning my heart began pumping harder, the pressure nearly rattling my ribcage. At least until I heard a soft mew. I leaned painfully, over the side of the bed and peered down to see Gabb… Gabe. He was standing just inside the door, his body low to the ground. When he saw me looking at him, he shrunk down even further.

“You do realize that is cheating right?” I asked. Groaning I pushed myself up and slid until I was sitting on the edge of the bed. “Were they making you check up on me? Is that why you were there?”

He shook his head and then nodded.

“So you were like a spy? Keeping tabs on me when…” A sudden realization hit. Not that Sebastian didn’t trust me, or was so paranoid that he’d sent a cat to watch over me, but that Gabe had always been there. When I was changing, when I was showering! I’d confided in him and revealed secrets to him that I would never have told anyone. My face flushed and the muscles tightened as I narrowed my eyes. “You little perv. Oh god, you were always watching me. If you were a she like I’d thought, that’d be bad enough, but-”

Gabe jumped up beside me and started shaking his head violently. His eyes were wide. Once he was certain I was watching him, he lay down and buried his face in his paws then looked back up at me and reburied his face.

“You weren’t watching me, like at those moments,” I guessed. This time he nodded almost as vigorously as he’d shaken his head in denial. “Well that makes things a little better… You do know that if you tell anyone any of the things I’ve admitted to you-“

Gabe gave a high-pitched meow and shook his head. Tentatively he stepped forward until he could reach out and rub his head against my side.

“Really is cheating,” I playfully chastised as I rubbed his back. His body immediately began vibrating with purrs running through his throat. I continued to pet him until my eyes felt heavier and heavier. Eventually I had to lay down, my head sinking into the pillow. Gabe curled up against me, head resting on the very edge of the blanket.

My eyes only closed for a second when I drifted off to sleep.

Next Chapter: Chapters 6-10