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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Conclusion

the man who wasnt thereThe following morning, they all meet up at Brian’s house for breakfast to discuss what happened the night before.

“Opal was killed, but a skillful surgeon, who happened to be there—and one of the chosen—saved her child, Olivander. Luminous nearly turned his back on the babe, but his eldest daughter insisted that he care for the child. It was no fault of the baby that his mother was evil. As he grew, he developed some miraculous gifts, not the least of which were prophetic dreams.”

“How do you know all this?” Brian asked. “I didn’t get that much from Luminous.”

“Virtuous did a lot of talking over the last few days. He was most concerned about your Rider. He had a theory about that too.”

“I’ve been wondering about that,” Andre said. “It seems way too weird that we found that incantation with no real explanation. We assumed it was the Peddler.”

“When the Peddler was in Meru all the time,” Marissa said with a grin.

“It was Luminous, as I’m sure you’ve guessed. He knew one day that Opal would try to come back. Rather than letting that happen, he left clues in various places. It wasn’t until Cliff compiled everything, donating it to the historical society, that his secrets were revealed. He hoped that we would find his information and bring him back so he could fight Opal. Which he did. None too subtle, perhaps, but certainly final. The drawings we found were done by the Olivander, the Dreamer, drawn after the fact, of course.”

“This is making my brain hurt,” Chase declared. “What I wanna know is what’s next? Are we always going to be battling some hidden evil, or will we get to live normal lives from now on?”

“I’d never call my own life exactly normal,” Annabelle said. “But it’s certainly been quieter than yours. We had the odd crisis, but never anything this serious. I don’t know why your generation is plagued so much more with these things.” She shook her head sadly. “If I could take the burden from you, I would.”

Brian looked at the group of people to whom he had grown so close over the last year. “I don’t know about the rest of us, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Even if someone walked up and said they could take this job from me, make my skills go away, I wouldn’t do it.”

“Why not?” Marissa asked. “It’s been nothing but trouble for you. You’ve nearly died more times in the last year than I can count.”

“Someone has to, Marissa. There will always be evil in the world, of one kind or another. I’m proud of how we’ve come together and fought against it. Even if nothing else ever happens to us, we can look back at this time and know we made a difference.”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” Marissa replied.

“So, what now?” Sweet asked. “Do we just go back to being the class nerd or the jock or the social pariah? Where do we fit in now?”

“Wherever we want,” Brian replied. “I don’t know about you, but I’m not scared to be me anymore. I’ve battled elementals, saved the girl I love from demons. I’ve been possessed and survived. I’ve dodged swamp wraiths and thrown my coffee in the eye of an ice storm. Do you think that the high school cliques scare me anymore?”

Everyone laughed.

“You’ve got a point, Brian,” Ginnifer said. “When you’ve done what we have—which we can never in a million years tell—the things that used to be intimidating, don’t matter anymore.”

The adults finally called it a day, deciding to go their separate ways for relaxing naps. The teenagers gathered in Brian’s basement once more. Sitting around the ping pong table with cans of soda and bags of chips, they talked about everything that had happened.

“What about the heightened senses,” Jordan asked. “Are you still on a Rider high?”

“Not like I was, but I can still see, hear and smell things better than before. I don’t think that will ever go completely away. I have to admit, disconcerting as it is, it came in handy.”

Jordan kissed his cheek and he smiled almost sadly.

“I was wishing to be a normal teen just a few days ago,” Brian said. “But now, I don’t want the drama. All that angst and wondering if the girl I like is interested in me. I’m just as glad that we come in pairs, destined to be together. It takes all the stress of dating out of the equation.” He stretched, putting an arm around Jordan. “Yup, got me the best girl in the world and didn’t have to work to get her.”

Jordan rabbit punched him, making him gasp. Laughing, she gave him a kiss. “But you have to work to keep me happy. Just because it’s preordained doesn’t mean you can be a jackass.”

“I will never purposely be a jackass,” Brian promised. “I can’t be held responsible for the occasional judgment errors.”

“Like telling me you were Luminous?”

“Ah, lass,” he drawled. “But I was, just for a moment. Right before I kissed you.”

“You said that you kissed me.” She tensed up, ready to smack him again.

“He initiated it,” he admitted. “Your kiss is what brought me back. He’s gone for good, Jordan. I promise. Andre can confirm, no more Rider.”

“He’s right, Jordan. The Rider is completely gone. No more worries about the man who wasn’t there.”

“Thank God,” Jordan said. “Because I really hated that guy. He had shit taste in women.”

“That he did,” Brian said, kissing her. “But I don’t.”

THE END

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 55

the man who wasnt thereIt’s finally over and they managed to vanquish Opal. Luminous lingered for a little while, but Brian is back. Tired and hungry, they order pizza and head to Brian’s home to relax. His grandmother is there watching Elise.

“It went well?” Brian’s grandmother asked repeatedly.

“Yes, Mom, it went very well. We’re just so tired. We’re going to eat our pizza and go to sleep,” Maribelle told her, giving her mother a hug.

Annabelle Girard held her daughter close. “I’ve never been so scared. I was afraid we’d lose you all.” She went around the room, hugging and kissing each of them. She would have made a second round, but the pizza arrived.

The boys laughed when they saw that there was a whole pizza for each of them. The others shared. Not to be daunted by the challenge, Sweet and Brian ate every slice of their large pizzas.

Beyond tired, everyone went right to bed. Brian didn’t even remember falling asleep. He was marginally aware of his grandmother checking on him while he slept, but the rest of the night, he was oblivious to everything. He was so tired, he didn’t even care if he dreamed.

The next morning, he woke to the smell of good food cooking. The scent of his grandmother’s signature cinnamon bread swirled invitingly around him. He dressed and trotted downstairs. His friends and their parents arrived, each bringing a special breakfast treat to share.

They gathered around the table and were about to give blessing when there was another knock at the door. Brian, who was closest, hopped up. Chase walked in with his Aunt Cynthia and his mother. They all greeted Dora, hugging her gently. Brian gave her his chair and Annabelle got her a small plate of food. Chase served himself and his aunt before sitting on the floor next to Brian. They shared the coffee table in the living room.

“Your mom looks good,” Brian said.

“Yeah. We’re gonna be okay. We’re going to move in with my grandparents for awhile. Mom’s determined not to go back to our house. Honest to God, I can’t even think about it either. I’ll still be at school, so it’s not like I’m leaving.”

“Good. Cause I’d miss seeing your goofy grin every day.”

Chase laughed, throwing his napkin at Brian.

When breakfast was over, the children went outside to play with the dogs, who had popped over for a visit, leaving the adults and teens together.

“Now,” Annabelle said. “I want the full details. I know all hell broke loose, I could feel it. I may not be in fighting form anymore, but some things you never lose.”

“You’re the chosen one from your generation?” Brian was surprised to find that out. “I had no idea.”

“Yes. I’m surprised you never picked up on it. It’s not like I ever tried to keep it a secret.” She smiled, running her fingers through his hair. “But your grandpa and I never had to face what you have.” She hugged her grandson, kissing his forehead. “Oh, you’ve had us so scared!”

Once she’d calmed down, they talked about what they’d felt or observed. They were most interested in what happened to Jordan, Brian and Meru.

“It was like she stepped into me,” Jordan explained. “It was cold and dark, the place I went when she took over my body. She didn’t shut me completely off. I think she wanted me to see what she was doing to Brian. She had some sick reason to punish him and torture me.”

“So Opal was a witch? I wonder how that happened,” Marissa said.

“I have a theory on that,” Annabelle said. “There are often, even among the chosen, those who are hungry for power. They’re ambitious and will stop at nothing to get more. Mr. D. exploits that. He’s a master at temptation, seducing someone with their own desires. My guess is that Opal was one of those.”

“What a shame,” Jordan said. “There were vestiges of her there. I caught glimpses of her memories of her life with Luminous. They were good together.”

“But they were never in love,” Brian said. “Unlike you and I, they didn’t bond. Luminous was in love with another woman, but he couldn’t have her. She was married to his best friend. She died in the fighting. Opal killed her. That’s what he meant by losing the love of his life.”

“Man, that sucks!” Chase said. “He sure had a shit ton of kids for a man who didn’t love his wife.”

“Interesting thing about that,” Brian added. “This was a slave territory. Luminous was a preacher, but he was also the son of a wealthy man.”

“So, some of those children were born on the wrong side of the sheets,” his grandmother said. “Men!” She rolled her eyes, shaking her head.

“Enough about Opal and Luminous,” Jordan said. “I want to hear about Meru!”

Dr. Meru smirked, sitting up straight. Hands on his knees, his dark eyes glittering excitedly, he explained.

“My family line is full of spiritualists and shaman,” he explained. “We have the Druid blood line because of the people who settled from the British Isles, but there was magic in our blood before that. Virtuous Meru, as he was known in this country, was my many greats-grandfather. He was a descendant of prophets, priests and kings. I’m not sure why he was here, though I know he was a freeborn man. How he came to be in this area in 1713, I don’t know. I hope to find more about it later. In any case, he arrived near the height of the fighting. Skills he never knew he had, kicked in when Opal and Luminous fought. He didn’t interfere, by then it was too late. He knew Opal had to die in order for the others to survive. He proceeded as I did, drawing a magical symbol on the ground and cast a spell. You have seen first hand what happened afterward.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes 

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 54

the man who wasnt thereDr. Meru takes action against Opal, doing his best to destroy her crypt. The others help him. Once her attention is off the parents, they join the battle. Opal leaves Jordan’s body and Brian is able to attack her directly.

Brian jumped off the roof, curling into a ball as he struck the ground. The air left his lungs with a loud oof. Once he was out of the way, Meru advanced on Opal. She bled from half a dozen wounds, her mouth and nose were sealed. Her skin glowed from within with thousands of flickering colored lights. Meru squeezed his hand into a tight fist. The bonds around her tightened. Opal tried to scream, but couldn’t. Writhing against the vines, her screams turned to moans.

Meru slammed his fists together. Opal groaned, shuddering as she staggered. Yanking his fists apart, Meru tore her body in half. It fell in tiny, black pieces, scattering like ashes. A whirlwind formed, whipping the bits of Opal into a tight cloud. It swooped up, whirled and slammed into the top of the mausoleum. The building shook as the earth rumbled.

“Get down,” Brian commanded, controlling the mini-tornado with his left hand.

Meru flung himself off the top. The others fell to the ground. The earth groaned and growled, vibrating hard and fast. Seismic waves undulated the ground, shaking the mausoleum to dust. With an acrid puff of dust, it collapsed to nothing but a cloud of dust and debris. Bright flames burst from Brian’s hands, catching every mote of dust from the accursed building. Within seconds, it was consumed. Only a blackened pit was left.

Brian collapsed. Jordan crawled to his side. He was breathing, but his pulse was thready. Picking himself up out of the churned dirt, Claude stumbled to where Brian lay.

“Is he all right? Is he hurt?” Miles asked.

“Just exhausted, I think. Let’s get him in the house. Is anyone badly hurt?” Claude called.

A short triage showed that no one was seriously injured. There were a few cuts, bumps and bruises, but nothing more severe. Together, the men carried Brian into the house and put him on the kitchen table once more. The women scrambled around searching for ingredients in Dora’s well stocked cupboards. Jackie brewed a restorative tea while the others cleaned his many wounds with herbs steeped in holy water.

Brian came around a few minutes later, sitting up slowly as he looked around the kitchen. “Where is she?” he asked slowly. “Where’s Opal?”

“She’s gone,” Jordan said. “You and Dr. Meru totally destroyed that evil bitch!”

Brian hung his head. “So, it’s happened again. Once more, I murdered my wife.” Cradling his head in his right hand, he burst into tears.

They stared at him in stunned silence. Only the wind outside and the clock ticking on the wall made any sound. Jordan’s mouth dropped open, her eyes filling with tears. Her hand crept over the table, fingers twining with his. He raised his face, tears creating clean spots in the dirt and blood.

“Brian?”

“Nay, lass. Luminous. Brian is no longer here. I can’t feel him.”

“Where is he? Where did he go?”

“Opal took him. Brian dwells with her now.”

Jordan’s eyes grew wide. She clutched Luminous by the shirt, yanking him over to her. “You’d better have a way to get him back!” she yelled. “You bring him back! Bring him back!”

Luminous pulled her close, kissing her passionately. Jordan hit him with her fists, pushing him away.

“Don’t you dare touch me! How could you let her take him?”

Luminous grinned, blue eyes twinkling. He started laughing.

Jordan screamed, shoving at him. “That’s obscene, laughing at me with his voice. Kissing me with his mouth. I want him back!” She hit him again, landing a punch squarely in his gut.

Luminous laughed louder. “Y’all help me before Jordan flat out kills me. Babe, it’s me. It’s really me, I swear. Luminous is gone. They’re both gone.”

“Oh, you bastard!” She reached for the knife rack, intent on grabbing one, but Chase stopped her.

“Please don’t, those are Mama’s favorite knives. She’ll have your hide and mine if you kill Brian with one.”

Brian slid off the table, approaching Jordan warily. He took her hands. “Forgive me. When I first opened my eyes, I could feel him. It took a little bit for me to shake him off. I swear, I’m the one who kissed you. I promise.”

Jordan flung her arms around him, holding him tightly. “Don’t ever tease me like that again! I thought I’d lost you!” Weeping, she clung to him. “How could I get you back if they took you?”

The others drifted into the living room, giving them a few minutes of privacy. Claude checked Meru to be sure he hadn’t been injured. He was tired, but hale and hardy. They talked quietly about everything except what they had just experienced. None of them wanted to relive the horror of the last hour. Brian and Jordan joined them a few minutes later, arms around one another.

“I’m starving,” Brian said. “I’d kill for a feta and pineapple pizza.”

“Pepperoni for me,” Sweet said. “Double meat.”

Talking about pizza orders gave them a good way to bypass the subject they knew they needed to discuss, but were in no frame of mind to do. Still talking about pizza orders, they compiled a list and phoned it in. Chase, Marissa and Dwight volunteered to go pick it up. The others went to Brian’s house, since it was the closest.

Filthy and exhausted, they dropped on the furniture and floor of Brian’s home. His grandmother served beverages, waiting for an explanation.

“It went well?” she asked repeatedly.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes 

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 53

the man who wasnt thereDwight attacks the Rider on Brian’s shoulder, and it drops off, only to grow and become Luminous Cayce. He faces off with Opal, who has come out of the tomb. Unfortunately, Jordan gets too close and Opal manages to grab her.

A black bladed knife appeared in her hand. “Take another step, Luminous, and I’ll end her.”

He paused, considering the situation. “As you wish, Opal.” He stepped back.

“Are you f**king kidding?” Brian had revived. “What’s wrong with you?” He advanced on Luminous. “That’s my future wife that your evil dead bride has at knife point. Do something!”

“I am truly sorry,” Luminous said, grasping Brian by the shirt.

Before they could stop him, his spirit slid into Brian’s body. Opal did the same with Jordan and the two faced off. The blue flames reached for the sky, now encircling only them. Chase no longer controlled the flames, they swirled and danced at Jordan’s will. Moving apart, the two circled each other, looking for an opening.

Jordan’s hand shot out. Black goo landed on Brian, burning his skin. He laughingly shook it off. Though it left red welts behind, he didn’t seem to notice them. He hurled ice crystals at her, but she raised a shield of flames. The ice melted and Jordan threw it back, water droplets sharpened into tiny darts. Dirt rose between them and the pin shaped water drops were buried before they reached Brian.

Back and forth, they flung spell after spell, summoning the elements, countering one another. With Opal’s concentration on Brian, the adults shook off her influence. They let go of their children and stared at one another.

“What do we do now?” Harold asked. “This could go on for ten years. They’re equally powerful.”

“No,” Meru said. “She draws power from her resting place. We must destroy the mausoleum.” He raced forward, running to the dark edifice. Summoning earth, he built a mound tall enough to bring him to the top. He pulled something from his pocket and started writing on the roof.

Jordan’s arm halted midswing. The flames she was casting fizzled and dropped to the ground. Earth encompassed her feet, crawling slowly up her legs. She tried to move, but couldn’t. The dirt rose to her shoulders. Opal sprung from her as the dirt closed around Jordan’s throat.

“Brian, NO!” Jackie yelled. She hurled an air bolt at him, knocking him back.

Gasping and coughing, Brian lost his balance. Dropping to his knees, he lost control of the dirt. Following his last command, he covered Jordan. Maribelle sprang forward, water drenched Jordan. Air followed, blowing away the mud. Shivering and choking, Jordan fell to the ground.

Brian scrambled toward her. “Jordan? Babe, I’m here! I’m so sorry.”

“Get the bitch,” she whispered, pointing where Opal had retreated.

The ghost watched the action on top of her mausoleum. Others had joined Meru. He continued sketching, chanting. Teens and adults surrounded the structure. Marissa sang, her voice pure and clear in the chilly night. Andre joined her. They didn’t shape words, only sounds. It was the notes that held importance now. Anyone who could carry a tune, joined them. The air filled with their song.

Opal’s face twisted with fury. Screeching, she rose on a pillar of fire which carried her to the top of the mausoleum. The surface shocked her when she stepped on it, but she shook it off. Taking another step, she screamed, this time in pain. Her feet came to rest on the stone, unable to move. Flaming vines twisted around her legs and torso.

Meru finished his drawing. With a hop, he landed in the middle of it, head to the sky. His voice joined the song, winding power words throughout. Ribbons of color formed in the air. Strands of musical notes, each a different color, wove intricate patterns around him.

The mausoleum shuddered beneath him, but he continued to sing. Opal couldn’t move. The flaming vine held her, but now the multi-colored notes hammered at her, covering her body like splats from a paintball gun. Wherever they hit, a tiny indentation formed. The skin beneath hissed and smoked. The vines tightened. Opal screamed again, fainter this time.

The strands of notes attacked the mausoleum, diving into cracks and chinks in the stone, expanding like ice, they went to work. Tiny cracks grew into larger ones as Meru continued to sing. Brian rushed forward, placing his hands on the wall of the building. The others on the ground, joined him. Concentrating on the colors, he pushed with his mind, driving them in like blows from a hammer. The walls cracked and crumbled under the assault.

“Keep going,” he yelled, scrambling to the top.

Opal was completely covered with colors. The vines burned brighter, scorching her skin, but she fought as hard as ever. Here and there, the colors turned black, the vines faded. The areas grew larger. Soon, one hand burst free, pointing at Meru. He stopped singing, dropping to one knee.

Brian reached Opal, knife in his left hand. Luminous’ ring burned with blue fire. With a swing of his knife, he severed her arm. It fell at their feet, a pile of blackened bones which he crushed beneath his foot.

“I told you not to touch her, you bitch!” He stabbed into the flames, twisting his blade.

Opal roared, black goo gouting from her mouth. It burned where it touched him, but Brian didn’t falter. He stabbed her again, wrenching up before turning the blade again.

Meru regained his feet. Taking his stance once more, he sped up his incantation. This time, multicolored flames shot from his hands, forming bonds around Opal. Brian stabbed her again. When she screamed the flames jumped down her throat. More wrapped around her head, closing her mouth, sealing it.

“Get back!” Meru bellowed.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes 

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 52

the man who wasnt thereMarissa manages to get Brian’s seizure to stop. They run outside to find that the other boys have been pinned down by tree roots. Brian frees them and advances into the circle around the mausoleum, yelling a challenge.

Brian stood tall, shoulders back, head raised in defiance. His face held another aspect, more mature, weathered. “You wanted my attention, you’ve got it! Be not mistaken, I do not give my attention lightly and you will not enjoy this. Let it be finished.”

A ghostly figure emerged, becoming more opaque as it rose from the depths. It shimmered and coalesced into a solid form of a woman. Her body was draped in a pale gown that was gathered beneath her breasts. Her belly was covered in blood and it had seeped into the fabric of her gown. Her beautiful face held a deathly pallor. Her masses of dark curls were gathered on top of her head.

“Welcome, my love. Did you miss me?” Her voice dripped insincerity.

“Be gone, you evil witch.”

The woman stepped forward, fingers tracing the line of his jaw, winding in his blond curls.

Brian pulled her hands away, stepping back from her. “I hoped never to see you again.”

“Why, darling, what a way to speak to me after all this time. You can’t tell me you didn’t miss me a little bit.”

“The only thing I missed was having the life sucked from me.”

“Oh, my God,” Jordan gasped. “It’s his wife!”

“Whose wife?” Dwight gasped as he ran up next to her.

“That’s Opal, Luminous Cayce’s wife. The one who died in the battle. The one he said he was forced to kill. That bitch! She’s a witch and she’s after Brian!” Taking a running leap, she soared over the thorns, flattening them as she vaulted over. She landed on the other side, crouched and ready for battle.

“She’ll kill you!” Dwight yelled, following her.

“Like hell!” Jordan ran forward, iron stiletto in her left hand, a silver one in her right. She stopped a foot away from Opal in a fighter’s crouch. “Get away from him, you bitch!”

“Oh, who’s the kitten?” Opal crooned, stroking Brian’s jaw.

“Don’t touch him,” Jordan yelled.

“Darling, you can’t hurt me. Besides, he wants me. Can’t you see?” She gestured languidly to Brian. He stood still, slightly dazed, obviously aroused.

Jordan took a swipe at Opal with her iron knife. A wound opened in the ghostly woman’s arm. She laughed, shaking it off. The line closed, scabbed and fell away like dust.

“What a clever girl you are.” She turned to Brian. “Take care of her, darling.”

Brian advanced, eyes confused, face set and blank. Part of him fought the control Opal exerted, but he wasn’t quite strong enough to do it on his own. He reached for Jordan, big hands grasping. Suddenly, his legs flew out from under him as Dwight tackled him. The other man straddled Brian, fists pounding his right shoulder and above, in the curve of Brian’s neck. Not all the blows landed on Brian, some of them were aimed at what was apparently thin air. However, they connected with something. A dull thump sounded with each blow. It flashed dully with each hit.

Groaning, Brian quit fighting Dwight. “It’s me! Help me up!”

Dwight lifted Brian to his feet.

“Thank you. Now, let’s see about this bitch!”

“First,” Dwight said. “We’ve got a Rider to dislodge.” He held out his hand to Jordan. “Silver.”

Opal had retreated, watching the events unfold. The parents hadn’t moved, but they muttered something. The words made Jordan’s skin crawl. Opal’s smile shifted when Dwight poked the air near Brian’s right ear. The silver stiletto disappeared about an inch.

“Reveal,” Dwight commanded. “If ever we needed you, Rider, it’s now. Reveal yourself!”

Opal backed up another step, arms sweeping behind her, lips snarling. The adults chanted louder, spreading out to encompass the action a few feet away.

“This is your fault!” Dwight yelled. “Come out now, you craven, selfish, coward!” He poked harder, hand reaching toward Jordan.

She was already at his side, silver skewer in hand, she plunged it in beside Dwight’s. Both iron spikes joined the silver.

Brian screamed, staggering. Dwight caught him. Jordan steadied him. His friends ran forward as their parents closed ranks. Each pair grabbed at one of the teens. Chase slid through, placing himself between Jordan and her parents. Shielding her and Brian with his body, he summoned a wall of cold, blue fire. Their parents halted, puzzled by the sizzling cold.

Chase’s hand flew out, casting something in Brian’s direction. With another shriek, Brian went limp. A shimmer of movement on his right shoulder revealed the creature lurking there. It hopped off, limping. One by one, the skewers dropped to the ground, covered in dark blood. The figure grew larger, standing tall as he moved to counter Opal, who had stepped closer to them, despite the fire.

“You again,” he said, his voice a chilling blend of Brian and Miles’ voices.

“Hello, darling,” she crooned. “Happy to see me?”

“Hardly,” was the cool reply.

Opal stepped closer, her voice hypnotic and silky. Jordan was mesmerized by the beautiful woman. Dwight was occupied with Brian. Chase fought with their parents. No one saw Jordan take a step too close to Opal. The mottled arm shot out, grabbing the front of her shirt. She pulled Jordan before her like a shield. The hapless girl stood meekly, just as Brian had done. Whatever influence Opal wielded, it was stronger than all of them.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes 

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 51

the man who wasnt thereWanting to get away from the crowd, the Circle members decide to meet up at the mausoleum where their ancestors are buried. Unfortunately, something has happened to the adults. They seem to have been possessed. Instead of going to the cemetery, they head to Chase’s house. Brian and Dwight head to the cemetery, but when Brian has a seizure, Dwight knows they have to join the others.

“Our folks drove us to Chase’s house. Why didn’t Brian answer?”

“He’s in a bad way, Jordan. I’m on my way. Lost at the moment. Where am I? Bloody hell. Help!”

“Where are you?”

“No earthly idea.”

“Dwight’s on the way over,” Jordan said to her . “But he’s lost. I’m shit with directions.” She held out the phone pleadingly.

Chase took the phone and gave Dwight clear and easy to follow directions. Within minutes, he pulled up. Brian’s seizure was still going. By now, he was drooling.

“Did he eat or drink anything?” Jordan asked.

“No, nothing. It started in the cemetery. I figured maybe you’d gotten your wires crossed and come here. I guess you had no choice. What are they doing?”

“No idea. Help me get him in the house,” Jordan commanded.

“Isn’t it locked?”

“Chase is here.”

It took all of them, but they got Brian up the steep steps to the front door. Chase let them in and they carried Brian to the kitchen, laying him on the table.

“Let me look,” Marissa said. “Boys, go keep an eye on our parents. We’ve got this.”

“You sure?”

“Positive. If anything happens, Jordan will kick ass and take names.” She gave Chase a quick kiss.

The boys left. The girls assessed Brian’s condition. The seizure hadn’t stopped. The drool had become foam.

“Someone’s torturing him,” Marissa said. “Think, dammit!” Taking a few deep breaths, she made herself stop shaking. “Okay, symptoms. Foaming at the mouth. Seizing. Arched spine. Can’t check the pupils as the eyes are rolled back.”

“What do we do?”

“Wing it. I’m not sure what this is, but I think it’s magical not chemical. He was careful what he ate and drank. He didn’t have anything at the party, like the rest of us. Okay, improvisation time. Jordan, I need a couple of your spikes, one of each, please. And some of the blessed salt. He should have plenty in his pockets. And holy water. A pot.” She reached above them to the pots that hung over the butcher’s block. Fortunately, the stove was gas and hadn’t been damaged when the grove blew up.

Marissa poured the holy water and a teaspoon of blessed salt with cumin into a pot and set it to boil. Jordan stirred the mixture with her spikes while Marissa searched Dora’s cupboard for Valerian.

“I want it for the seizure. It’s calming. I don’t know if we can get him to drink this, but we’re going to try.”

She added a measure of the herb in the water. It boiled for a minute before she poured some off and blew on it. With a silver spoon, she dipped some out and put it to Brian’s lips. He spit it out, gagging on it, but she gave him more. His seizure increased. Marissa held him as he thrashed, muttering an incantation. The girls helped to hold Brian, but he was bigger and stronger than all of them. Jordan invoked air and held him firmly with invisible bonds.

“Keep holding him. He needs the rest of this.” Little by little, Marissa spooned the salty water into Brian’s mouth. When it was gone, they waited and watched.

With a shiver, he relaxed. His eyes returned to normal and he quit gasping for breath. Jordan approached, touching his face and neck gingerly.

“Are you okay now?”

“What the hell happened? One second, I’m in the cemetery. Now I’m in Chase’s kitchen?”

They explained as he tried to stand. Wobbly and weak in the knees, he was determined to get outside.

“There’s no telling what’s going on.”

“How do you think this happened? They didn’t eat or drink anything. We were all really careful.”

“Someone very powerful,” Brian said. “If they got to me, they can get to our folks.”

“Why not us?” Marissa asked.

“Because we’re not considered as big a threat,” Jordan said. “For once I’m glad of their narrow minded chauvinism. It gives us an edge.”

They ran outside. Marissa screamed. The boys were all face down on the ground, pinned by tree roots. She tried to run forward, but Jordan and Louisa caught her.

“My turn,” Brian growled. Stepping forward, he entered the circle and strode purposefully toward their parents.

Tree roots jumped up, trying to snare him, but he tied them in knots with a swipe of his hand. Another flick of his fingers and his friends were released. They rose to their knees, the roots receding rapidly. The girls ran forward to stand by their future mates. Jordan tried to follow Brian, but a wall of thorns sprang up, blocking her path. She didn’t know if it was from the Evil, or if Brian had done it to protect her. Either way, she didn’t fight it, but retreated slightly.

“I’m here,” Brian bellowed.

The air in front of him shimmered and glowed. Like water cascading over stones, the walls of the mausoleum appeared. Where the other was white marble, this one was black. The vines covering it were vivid red with putrid green leaves. The ground around it shifted and the doors swung inward.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 50

the man who wasnt thereThey spot a strange looking couple at the ball. There are several more strangers, already circulating. The people there seem to be under a spell, and they discover that the punch is tainted. Brian realizes that the band members aren’t who they seem to be either. He gives the leader a five dollar bill full of blessed salt, and isn’t surprised when the fellow overreacts to its touch.

“No, sir. Sure won’t.” Brian walked away and the band started playing.

“What was all that?” Chase said, watching the band leader.

“Had a feeling about something. I gave him some salt. He didn’t much like it, but he didn’t act like a demon either.”

“We’ll keep an eye.”

Brian’s discomfort increased. Though he dribbled salt around the dance floor and rubbed it on people as he passed, he could tell it wasn’t having a lot of effect. He signaled the others to regroup. They met in the middle of the dance floor. He hadn’t seen the strangers for several minutes and that had him somewhat concerned, because he wasn’t sure they were really gone.

“I think we need to get out of here,” he said. “Maybe divert them away from here. Too many potential hostages.”

“Where to?”

“I have an idea about that. Let’s meet up at the family crypt.”

“In the cemetery? In these shoes?” Jordan said. “No worries, actually. I have better ones in the car.”

They left in a hurry, heading to their cars. Brian and Dwight stayed behind for a few minutes, making sure that the strangers knew they were leaving. Even if he didn’t see them, he knew they were still around. Brian wanted their exodus noticed. If these people had a mind to slaughter innocents, he wanted to get them as far away as possible. He and Dwight made a big show of leaving, with luck, drawing the attention of the creepy couples. They could feel half a dozen pairs of eyes on them as they walked out.

“You sure about this, my friend?” Dwight asked.

“Not at all. Got a better idea?”

“No. But I want it on record that I don’t like it.”

“Neither do I, but it seems the logical place to go. They’d love it if we went to the bad crypt. I’m not willing to endanger us that much.”

They drove into the empty, silent cemetery, heading down a narrow gravel track to the vault. When they arrived, they looked around for the others.

“They should have been here by now,” Dwight said.

“Did you see them in the parking lot?”

“No, their cars were gone. I have a really bad feeling about this.”

Brian did too. His hackles rose and his ancestor’s ring burned cold on his left hand. He could see the stones glowing. Reaching into his shirt, he pulled out his amulet. These stones glowed too. They pulsed in time with his heartbeat.

“Call Jordan,” Brian gasped, handing Dwight his phone.

“You okay, mate?”

Brian couldn’t answer. His head slammed against the headrest, his chest arched and his eyes rolled back in his head. The ground rumbled. Tombstones jittered and danced, uprooting and toppling over. The ground roiled as Brian continued to shake.

Dwight made the call, but got voicemail. Horrified, he opened the doors and pulled Brian’s stiff body across the center console and into the passenger seat. He couldn’t do anything about the apparent seizure, but he could get them away from the mausoleum. He had a feeling he knew where the others were. With a few false starts, he got his bearings in the unfamiliar town and headed to Chase’s house.

Jordan walked out of the community center and headed to her father’s car. Her clothing and shoes were in the back. She changed quickly, watching her friends do the same. Brian and Dwight still hadn’t come out and it had been at least five minutes.

“Time to head out,” Miles said.

They got in the cars with the adults driving. When they came to the main thoroughfare of town, instead of turning right to go to the cemetery, all the drivers turned left.

“Dad, what’s up?” Jordan asked.

He didn’t respond. Instead, he sped up, flying down the narrow highway at 90.

“Dad? Speak to me!”

He said nothing. Her mother was equally unresponsive. Diving into her bag, Jordan pulled out her phone. Her father’s hand shot out, grabbing it. He hurled it out the window before Jordan had a chance to react. Moments later, they pulled up at Chase’s house. The others joined them a few seconds later.

The adults got out of the car and went to stand in a circle around the far end of the clearing. By the paint on the ground, the teenagers knew that was where the mausoleum stood.

“Can we call someone?” Jordan asked.

“Dad took my phone,” Marissa said. “And Mom took Chase’s.”

“Dad threw mine out the window,” Jordan added.

A short consultation revealed that they’d either left their phones at home or had them taken away. Jordan assessed the situation and ran to her father’s car. The door wasn’t locked and she quickly pulled it open. As she’d hoped, her father’s phone sat in the hands free dash attachment. Snatching it up, she dialed Brian. It rang and went to voice mail. She called back. The third time she called, she got an answer. It wasn’t Brian.

“Dwight here. Problems all round. Where are you?”

© 2017 Dellani Oakes 

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 49

the man who wasnt thereThey all arrive at the ball, dressed to kill—especially Jordan. She’s got silver and iron stilettos in her hair, as well as quartz and lapis lazuli as jewelry. Brian came armed with holy water, blessed salt and a couple weapons. He’s still feeling the influence of the Rider, but asked Dwight to sock him in the shoulder if he gets out of hand.

Brian laughed. Music started, a song that he’d loved since he was a little kid. It was something his grandmother used to sing. She would dance him around, holding him on her feet, while she sang it. He went over to Jordan.

“May I have this dance, Miss Barrett?” He held out his hand to her.

With a surprised smile, Jordan accepted. “Why, Mr. Casey, I’d be delighted.”

The band started singing To Love Somebody written by the BeeGees. Although he wasn’t a very good singer, Brian could carry a tune. He held Jordan close, singing along with the band. “You don’t know what it’s like to love somebody the way I love you.”

Jordan held him close, swaying to the slow music. This was how it should always be, them together like normal teenagers at a dance. Afterward, making out in his car, maybe getting carried away in the back seat. She grinned, snuggling close.

When the song had finished, Miles beckoned them over. “I almost forgot. When you and Jordan were out, I went by to see Grandma and I got this for you.”

He held up a small, worn leather bag. Tipping it into his palm, he showed them a ring. The band was white gold, set with the same eight stones Brian had in his medallion.

“Grandma said this was his wedding ring. Slip it on your left hand.”

The ring was too big for Brian’s ring finger, so he slipped it on his left index finger. Almost immediately, he felt a tingle. Fingers of doubt scurried up and down his back, lodging at the base of his spine. Movement by the front door alerted him and he turned.

A couple stood framed in the doorway. They weren’t locals, that much was obvious by their clothing. He was tall, muscular, dressed in a black tailcoat, a white shirt, blood red vest, with matching tie, and black top hat. His face and hair were as black as his coat. She was nearly as tall, spare, sleek haired. The woman looked like something out of the Roaring Twenties. She wore a long sheath dress covered in black and silver spangles. A long strand of black beads circled her lean throat. She carried a cigarette in an ebony holder. She was pale with bright red lips. She caught Jordan’s eye, smiling. Jordan shivered. Something clutched at her chest, was it fear? She couldn’t be sure. Her lips moved in a silent warding spell. The woman flinched, turning slightly away. Jordan’s smile was predatory.

“Who are they?” Dwight asked from behind him.

“No idea,” Brian replied. “But I think trouble just arrived.”

“We spent the better part of the day warding this damn place,” Miles muttered. “How the hell did they get in?”

“Public place,” Heath replied, teeth clenched.

“They could be a distraction,” Claude said. “Spread out. Look, but don’t engage.”

Smiling, they wandered off. Andre and Louisa kept the black clad couple in sight while the others walked around, dancing and shmoozing. They spotted two other couples they didn’t recognize. Of course, having strangers show up to the ball wasn’t all that unusual. The fact that all the couples wore anachronistic clothing and didn’t seem to fit in, was.

Not long after the arrival of the strangers, Brian noticed that the other guests were glassy eyed, complacent. They hardly spoke, they didn’t smile. They wandered around as if they were asleep on their feet. He passed the word among the chosen. Wondering what had caused such a sudden change, he inspected the refreshment table. The food was fine, but the punch had a strange aura to it.

“Don’t drink the punch,” he told his friends. “They’ve done something to it. I’m going to walk around with salt.” He handed a small flask to Jordan. “That’s holy water. Put it in the punch. May not do much good at this point, but it’s better than nothing.”

She wandered over, casually pouring the water into the bowl. It fizzled and steamed for a moment, then settled down. She slipped the bottle into her purse and walked back over to Brian.

“Done.”

The band didn’t seem to be affected by the punch. In fact, they seemed so unconcerned about the lack of audience response, Brian had a look at them. They had an aspect rather like the strangers who had walked in. He couldn’t put into words what disturbed him about any of them, but he couldn’t close his eyes to it.

Brian walked over to the low stage and whispered to the band leader. “Hey, could you play something for my girl and me?”

“Sure,” he said in a bored tone. “If we know it.”

“She likes the old stuff, like from the Seventies. Could you play Gold Dust Woman by Fleetwood Mac?”

The leader flashed a half smile in Brian’s direction. “Sure thing.”

Brian handed him a folded bill. Inside, he’d left a small amount of salt. The bill was so balled up, the band leader unfolded and smoothed it. Becoming immediately alert, his dark lined eyes caught Brian’s.

“You think you’re funny, kid?”

“Sorry?” Brian acted like a dumb kid, holding his hand to his ear as if he couldn’t hear.

“Don’t mess with me. You know what.”

“Just wanna hear a song, man. But if you don’t wanna play it, gimme my money back.”

The man snatched the five dollar bill away, stuffing it in a jar on the stage. “We’ll play the damn song. Just don’t give me dirty money again.”

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 48

the man who wasnt thereSomething is seriously wrong with Brian. After nearly killing Marissa’s father, he runs off, only to disappear. Dwight finds him perched in a tree like an angry jungle cat. He climbs up after Brian.

“Can’t sit up here all night, my friend. Your lady will be waiting.”

Brian didn’t answer, but his eyes flickered.

“She loves you and you love her. Don’t piss her off by missing your first major date. This is a big one, Brian. Almost as important as prom. If you screw this up, you’ll be still be a virgin at forty.”

Brian didn’t say anything, but he focused on Dwight.

“I know there’s a lot going on inside, mate. More shit than we can possibly imagine, is spinning around in your head. I’d be out of my mind by now. But you’re not out of your mind, you’ve got that spooky shit Rider on your shoulder. And chaotic and weird as your behavior is right at this moment, we need you. So at the risk of getting my lights punched out by a crazy fella in a tree, who seems to think he’s freaking Tarzan, get down. Pull up your boxers and twirl them in a knot because we don’t have time for this shit.”

Shaking his head, Brian gazed at Dwight. Recognition was slow, but eventually dawned. “Why am I in this tree?” he asked as he watched Dwight jump.

“No idea, mate. Come down. You need to get ready to go. And don’t worry, I’ll be there along with your lady love.”

“Thank you,” Brian sighed as he got down. The Caseys stood on the porch, watching the events unfold. “If I get this messed up at the dance, do me a favor.”

“Anything for you, my friend.”

“Punch me,” Brian said. “Right here.” He pointed to his right shoulder. “As hard as you can hit me, just smack the ever loving shit out of me.”

“You sure?”

“Absolutely, undeniably sure. I may try to take your head off,” he cautioned. “But hit me anyway.”

“I will do my best. Do you want me to knock you out?”

Brian thought about that for a moment. “I don’t think you’ll be able to. One hit should do, but feel free to hit me twice if you think the situation warrants it.”

“I shall do as you ask.”

Smirking, Brian shook Dwight’s hand. “Excellent.”

Dressed and ready for the ball, Brian waited for his parents and their guests. He and Dwight were riding with Andre and Louisa. Jordan was catching a ride with her parents and the others were car pooling as well. They parked close together and headed into the community center in pairs.

Chase was already there with Marissa and her family. They met up, trying to be casual, giving the place a subtle recon.

“Everything looks all right,” Jordan said. “How does it feel?”

“Fine, so far,” Brian replied. “Let’s just try to relax and have a good time. How often do I get to take my girl out and show her off?” He winked, spinning Jordan under his arm. “You look beautiful, by the way. In fact, I’d say that you bypass beautiful and go right to stunning.”

Jordan wore a sparkling royal blue halter topped dress with an open back. The skirt circled her ankles, pooling like water. Her shoes were strappy silver sandals with a three inch heel. Even with the extra height, she barely came to Brian’s shoulder. Her thick, walnut colored hair was in a sleek French twist, decorated with four spangled sticks. She told her friends they were really cleverly concealed stilettos. Brian laughed, nuzzling her neck.

“Trust my woman to come armed to a dance.”

“Two are iron, two silver. I thought I should have my bases covered. The sparkles are chips of clear quartz. My necklace and earrings are lapis lazuli.”

“You prepared better than I did,” he confessed. “I’ve just got pockets full of salt and holy water.”

“And a knife strapped to your back as well as your baton,” she replied, feeling under his coat.

Brian laughed, spinning her in a circle. “God, I love you. Don’t make me wait much longer, Jordan.” He buried his face in the curve of her throat.

Dwight clapped him on the shoulder, hard. It wasn’t a punch, but it was designed to get his attention. “Don’t make me hit you, mate.”

“Thanks.”

Jordan and Marissa met up, gushing about the other’s outfit. Louisa and Ginnifer joined in, leaving the boys to their own devices.

“She looks stunning,” Dwight said. “Pity Kiersten couldn’t be here.”

“Yeah, I thought she was coming?”

Dwight hung his head. “I called and asked her not to. Selfish of me, but I can’t let her come. She’s pregnant,” he whispered. “Mum and Dad don’t know. I would never have agreed if I’d had any idea just how formidable a foe we’re fighting.”

“No, man. I get it. Protect your woman.” Brian nodded. “I wish Luminous had, had that choice.”

“Did he say what happened? How Mr. D. possessed him?”

“No. It’s got me worried, Dwight. What if I lose it like he did?”

“You won’t,” Dwight promised. “You’ve got a beautiful woman by your side.”

“So did he.”

“Yeah, but you’ve got me to punch your lights out if you go off.”

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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The Man Who Wasn’t There – Part 47

the man who wasnt thereMiles hears Jordan and Brian arguing. Rather than letting it escalate, he intervenes and tries to explain to Jordan what Brian is going through. He tells them to put their personal feelings aside to deal with later, and focus on what’s probably going to happen that night. They decide to have a picnic by the river.

“You can smooth the ground with a swoosh and can’t control flames to save your life.”

Brian chuckled. “Dirt’s easy. Dirt won’t set my house on fire. I’m comfortable with dirt. Dirt won’t ignite my hair or give me blisters or sizzle my sack.”

Jordan burst out laughing again. “Sizzle my sack,” she giggled.

They had a good time over lunch and spent the better part of an hour playing with the water. Jordan was quiet adept at making water spouts. Brian was good at creating waves. They stopped when they nearly made a couple of kayaks capsize. Brian kept them upright while Jordan got their antics contained. Giggling, they cleared up their mess and went back to the car.

The Harvest Ball was set for 7:00 and Jordan demanded the rest of the afternoon to prepare. Brian, who wasn’t female, had no idea why she had to have so much time.

“I want to be beautiful tonight. Just because we’re going to vanquish a demon doesn’t mean I don’t want to look good.”

Brian brushed her cheek with his thumb. “You look beautiful all the time. You don’t need a fancy hairdo or dress to make me want you.”

His voice dropped to a deep husky range that was completely foreign to him. It made Jordan shiver. His kiss was far more friendly than she wanted. Realizing that this was more than just Brian, she pushed him gently away.

“Another time, when you don’t have an Ethereal Rider, I’d like this attention. Right now, I feel like I’m being spied on.”

Brian understood, but she wasn’t sure the Rider did. Rather than putting him in an uncomfortable position, she went home. He wasn’t overly surprised to see the adults having a meeting without the teenagers.

“We asked Cynthia to take Cliff’s place,” his father told him. “She agreed. Dora has already said she doesn’t want to go back to the house, so Cynthia will have it fixed up and move in.”

“How’s Dora doing?”

“Shaky, but well,” Maribelle said. “We live with the very real knowledge that what we do is extremely dangerous. We knew there would eventually be holes in our ranks.” She sniffled, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.

“What’s the game plan?” Brian asked.

“We don’t want to involve you kids,” Harold said, face grim.

“That’s unavoidable, Mr. Pennybaker. No offense, but you’re down by two. That alone is cause for concern. And I’m the one with the dubious honor of playing host to the Rider. If he is the Peddler, he needs to be around. Whatever’s in that mausoleum wants out.”

“How do you know that?” Harold sneered. “Did you see it in a dream?” The contempt and disbelief in his voice were quite obvious.

Brian gave him a level stare. Mr. Pennybaker shifted nervously as Brian continued to stare, saying nothing. Taking a deep breath, he decided to answer the rude question.

“Remember the part about having the Rider?” He gestured toward his right shoulder. “It knows things which it passes along to me. I don’t want to know them. I don’t want him there, but what can ya do?” A barking laugh left his lips. His eyes didn’t share the joy. “It wants out. It wants to eat our souls. Just for fun, let’s say it starts with yours. Do you have any clue what happens to you when a demon sucks your soul out of your body?”

Mr. Pennybaker said nothing. His body shook and he gasped for breath. Opening and shutting his mouth, he gulped and grimaced, turning red in the face. A vein stuck out in his forehead as his face turned blue. Brian looked on placidly, just a tilt of his head indicated that he was doing anything. Suddenly, Harold Pennybaker collapsed on the coffee table, smacking the wood with his chin.

“How did that feel, Harold?” Brian bent over the prostrate man, face less than two inches from Harold’s ear. “Did it feel like your blood was being sucked out through your pores? Could you feel your spleen heat up, trying to explode? How did you like the fire in your groin or the excruciating pain up and down your spine? Because that!” He poked Harold’s cheek with his index finger. “Was nothing compared to what that demon wants to do—with all of us—including your precious, virginal daughter!”

Brian left suddenly, storming out of the house, slamming the door. Miles and Heath went after him, followed by Meru and Dwight. They rushed out the door, but couldn’t see Brian anywhere. In those few seconds, he’d disappeared. His car sat in the driveway, so he’d gone on foot.

“Where would he go?” Miles asked.

“He might go to our house,” Heath replied.

“Or to Chase’s,” Meru speculated.

“Or neither,” Dwight said, pointing up.

Brian sat in a tree several feet above their heads. He crouched in the thick of the branches, perched like a predator. Miles fetched Claude, hoping that the doctor would have some brilliant idea to get Brian down.

Nothing any of the men said made any difference. Brian refused to come down. Dwight solved the problem by climbing the tree. He sat across from Brian, offering him half a candy bar. Brian took it, nodding his thanks.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes 

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