“I never knew fear before I met Becca.” The words echoed in my mind, from an unseen source. “Um, what?” who’s voice was that? And who or what was Becca? I closed my eyes to try to focus my mind. “Bobby is that you?” I asked the words out loud not the least bit concerned about what my travel companions thought of me or my sanity.
“Open your eyes, little girl,” said another voice. a shrill female.
I opened my eyes to the fight of fog. “Where are we?” Pennsylvania? Silent hill?”
“Still on the backroads,” Leo replied from behind the wheel.
“So we’re nowhere?” I asked.
Adam put his arm around my shoulder. “Go back to sleep.” His voice dropped, and his eyes went wide. That was when I knew Adam saw what I saw.
In the middle of nowhere, a second vehicle was fast approaching our truck. it looked like a stereotypical white van, the kind favorited by kidnappers, rapists, and killers. “It’s going to ram us!” I screamed.
Adam put his arms around me, bracing for impact as the van slammed into our truck’s bumper.
The usually calm and collected, Leo, muttered a swearword under his breath. “this is bad.”
“Can she hurt us?” I asked, hoping for a comforting response.
Instead, Adam turned my head to face him. “How do you know it’s a she?” he asked in an accusatory tone.
“there’s something in my head; I can’t tell if it’s male or female, but it keeps telling me to beware of someone named Becca.”
Leo sighed, taking his foot off the gas pedal. “I’m going to try to make contact. At the very least I’ll be able to determine what she is.” He repositioned his hands, gripping the steering wheel firmly. “You might want to hold on to something.”
Before I could ask any further questions he slammed on the break, causing the truck to jerk forward so hard it flew up on two wheels. I expected the van to run us off the road, but that’s not what happened.
The van passed through us in what felt like slow motion. With a lack of immediate pain and death, I felt safe enough to open my eyes. The two vehicles were passing through one another. It was as if we were on two different planes of existence.
I saw a blonde woman with rainbow streaks in her hair. she turned to me, her eyes covered by retro over-size sunglasses. “fly away little Raven, you have miles to go before you sleep.” The white van pulled ahead of us, leaving behind a trail of what I could only describe as starlight. It was a bright mix of blue and purple, with speckles of white. but the white specks were growing larger. “Leo?”
Leo looked genuinely stressed. “She’s forcing opening the dimensional wall!”
I filled in the rest. “She’s trying to force us back the mortal highway.”
Leo nodded, gripping the gearshift. “I’m shifting to neutral, but you’ll want to hang on to something.
There was a flash of light. Before I could even move, our truck landed on a busy freeway, facing the wrong direction. I screamed.
“Not helping!” Leo said, more annoyed than anything.
Opening my eyes I could see that although ALL of the cars were swerving dangerously NONE of them were actually hitting us. It was like we were protected by a bubble of electricity.
“I’m going to jump the median, point us in the right direction.”
“Because you and Adam are already dead?
“unless you’d like to be.” It took Leo only a few seconds to cross the barrier, leaving a trail of metal and plastic in his wake.
Now that we were facing the correct direction I was able to make out the signs. We were in New Jersey. I felt slightly calm, until I looked over the median, to the side of the road we’d just been. I saw a massacre. For whatever reason I crossed myself, asking God to help those poor souls.
Yeah, I kind of forgot who I was riding with.
Leo made a sharp turn, barely making the offramp of the next available exit. “I think that woman, Becca, is a timelord.”
“A timelord?” I shouted over the roar of the engine. “Like Dr. Who?”
“Or James bond or any other character who changes their face the way most people change pants.” Leo parked the truck under an overpass. We were just far enough from the scene of the accident, to allow us to disappear into the shadows. “We can talk more on the hike.”
“Of course,” Adam said, as he opened the passenger-side door. “We’re not abandoning these innocent people.”
We hiked back to the scene of the crash, climbing up the sidewall, though the mass of trees. With the sun already set, all I could see was fire and smoke. Leo and Adam moved quickly, disappearing into the carnage. The two seemed to already have a plan. I wish they’d been polite enough to share what info they apparently already knew.
Visually I counted sixteen vehicles; a few pileups, a few flown off the road. My vision flickered between frames; fire, metal, trees, and blood, but not from the crash. I was seeing a place miles away, in a place full of exotic plants the color of darkness. What the?
My mind shot back to the scene of the crash, just in time to see a little girl grip my leg. She was crawling on the ground, covered in blood and soot. “Mama?” It was my daughter’s voice. But this was not my daughter.
I took a step backward, then another and another. with every blink I saw more of the foreign scene; grey stone, multicolored leaves, and vines? What am I supposed to be seeing? With the last step, I fell, hitting my head on a metal railing with a loud clang.
My ears were ringing. I instinctively tried to grip my head. My hands felt larger, stronger, but the moment I tried to move, I realized my hands were pinned to the wall. I was back in my brother’s body and he was someplace very unpleasant. Bobby where are you?
I could hear my wife and daughter screaming. But my head was pinned in place, forcing me to look at the dirt crusted concrete ceiling.
“Uncle Bobby’s awake,” my toddler shouted. “I just saw his eyes!”
“Raven are you in there?” My wife asked, her voice breaking with tears. “Can you hear us?” Annie had survived warzones, this was the first time I heard such a sense of fear and lack of hope.
One thing was certain, they weren’t in the crash. The destruction of the new jersey turnpike was just a diversion. But for what? Did the mysterious ‘Becca’ have my family captured in a sewer, a jungle? It could have even been a zoo.
I needed to be certain.
I forced myself to blink, faster and faster until I was back in my female body. As Raven Miller, I stood up. My head was pounding, my vision was blurry. I was in a horrid amount of physical and emotional pain but I knew I had to keep going. I couldn’t save my family from New Jersey.
I needed to get to where they were and to do that, I needed to let go of Raven Miller. “I pray to you, father, for guidance, for strength. please protect my soul. In God’s name, I pray. Amen.”
Gripping my head, I blinked my eyes trying to find the little girl I’d seen earlier. She was the key, I knew it. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Leo pulling victims from cars; playing the hero. The beautiful angel with the rainbow hair, he was speaking to a hysterical, sobbing woman. The woman was covered in so much blood I couldn’t tell her age or ethnicity. She cradled what appeared to be a dead baby in her arms. It might have been a severed limb. Either way, she was covered in blood but not ash.
I needed to find the little girl covered in black ash.
“Raven!” Adam shouted.
I could see him running towards me. But I know where I have to go. I can see a black mini-van laying on its side. It’s glowing with flames that are quickly spreading to nearby trees. I walk towards the fire. Adam is still screaming at me but he can’t stop me.
He can’t save me. I’ve found my daughter, my place, my home. The fire is so welcoming, reaching out to me with arms of bright orange flames. Time stood still. For a moment I could see a figure made of light. “Dad?”
The figure reached his hand out to me. “Are you brave?” the figure asked in a digital voice. “A-Alone we are brave.”
Alone we are brave? I could feel electric volts of agonizing pain. It was like I was burning from the inside out. The fire was eating my clothes, my skin, my flesh. I closed my eyes, while I still could. The scene glowed in front of my dying eyes; pink, purple, blue, the brilliant galaxy shades slowly lost their color as my world fell to darkness.
“I think he’s waking up!” It’s my wife’s voice. “Bobby!”
I was back in my brother’s POV. And hopefully this time I was here to stay. My muscular arms were still pinned to the wall by ropes, but my head was held in place by something much smaller. I needed to force myself to look around.
Craning my neck, I could see where Alice and Lola were being held. Alice was handcuffed to a pipe. But it was clear she hadn’t gone down without a fight. Lola, my innocent little toddler, however, was locked in what appeared to be a dog carrier.
I could hear her whimper in fear. “Lola?” Bobby’s voice, my voice was weak. There was something cutting deep in his throat. “Sweetie, are you ok?” With every breath, I could feel warm blood streaming down my neck to my collarbone.
Lola crawled to the front of the cage, pressing her innocent face to the metal bars. “I’m here, I’m ok!” The little girl appeared frightened at her next phrase. “If you can free your neck, I think you can escape.”
What was in my neck? I leaned forward, trying to move my head as far forward as it could go. I could see a spike, then another. But it didn’t feel like I was being stabbed, it felt like I was being choked. This thing was removable, I just need to figure out the puzzle. I already knew that the answer would require bloodshed. My only hope would be if I still had Raven’s powers, in Bobby’s form. If that was the case, I might be able to call upon the law of equivalent exchange. “Lola, are the ropes alive?”
“Does it seem like they’re made of plants or something else?”
“The things around your arms?” her voice went timid. “They look like plants from the Little Mermaid.”
“Ok…” That didn’t tell me much but I would still attempt what I was planning. Everything has as a spirit or a soul. There was a good chance my plan would still work.
“Are you mommy or unce Bobby?” Lola asked in a squeak.
“Let’s find out.” I focused on my left arm, shifting my powers to my hand. I could feel the blood flowing to my fingers. My hands moved, wiggling, taunting, offering. ‘Guardian plants, please heed my call.’ I wiggled my fingers again. Bobby’s arm was healthy, strong: a perfect vessel. ‘This body already holds two souls, I can easily handle another.’
The walls started to shake. I could feel the cold green leaves wrapping my fingers like bandages. And then I felt thorns. the plant was testing me, so I paid it no mind. “Take my arm, it’s yours.”
I closed my eyes, keeping my mind focused. I needed to make that arm look as irresistible as a chocolate truffle wrapped in a hundred dollar bill.
I could hear Annie, stifle a scream. But I trusted she would bite off her own hand to keep our daughter safe.
Lola whimpered, but quickly shifted her little body. I hoped to God she was facing the wall.
No, that was Bobby’s heart talking.
I knew my daughter was brave. She was mine. I stole Lola! I cut her from the belly of her whore mother! She was always meant to be mine!
I flung my body forward, smacking my face against the concrete floor. I was free; my legs, my neck, my right arm…
Then there was the matter of my left arm. My shoulder was burning, part of me truly didn’t want to look.
I could hear voices in my head. hundreds, if not thousands of voices, like insects buzzing. “We are one.”
I stood up with confidence. Bobby’s towering body felt even stronger with the vines melding with his flesh.
The arms made of vines whipped the wall near Annie’ freeing her hands. Annie stood up on shaky legs. “We need to get out of here.”
“But, where are we?” I asked as I turned Bobby’s arm, to get Lola’s cage open. With the new arm, I was feeling confident. I was like a video game character with multiple lives, with the arm being my first line of defense.
Annie reached for Lola, scooping the little girl up in her arms. “I think this is a sewer. But where? I have no idea.”
“Are we locked in?” I asked, looking around for a ladder or a door.
“No, I-I don’t think so,” Annie’s voice was breaking with emotion. I had never seen her so afraid. “But I can’t tell how long we’ve been down here.”
Lola looked up with her innocent eyes. “Four.”
“Four?” I asked.
She nodded, reaching into her pocket. In her hand was a pocket watch. There was no way a child so young could even tell time.
“Where did you get that?”
Annie froze, nearly dropping her. “Bobby, or Raven,” she spoke frantically as she adjusted her grip on our daughter. “Whoever you are, please tell me you have a plan.”
“I do.” I leaned against the wall. If anyone knew how to get us out it was the plants. Because this was Becca’s plan all along. She wanted me to solve the puzzle, using only what was in the room. And I did. I sure as fuck did. “Come on plant arm, I know you want out of here, too.”
I could feel the plants crawling up the walls, finding cracks and corners that could be moved. I felt like one of those dolls made of silly putty; every movement of the plants pulled on my actual nerves and tendons until I felt like I was about to scream out in agony. We made a map. “I know where we are.”
There was no entrance or exit because this was a place between worlds. We were inside a relic.
I glanced my eyes to every wall; six in total including the ceiling and floor. This could work. I focused my spirits; Bobby’s stretch would push the floor, my magic would push the ceiling, and our new plant friends would take the rest. “One two three- push!”
The walls shook. It felt like I-we were making progress. I could see a crack of light from the ceiling. Was it the sky? I would never know because as soon as I saw it, I lost focus.
Gravel rained down upon us. “It can’t be broken from the inside,” said a digital voice. The sound came from everywhere, like a PA system with no visible speakers. “You were foolish to sacrifice your mortal body.”
“Fuck you! Face me, Becca!” I shouted. Bobby’s voice was a roar.
“Your family is lost as they always were, always are, always will be.” The room shook as the voice started to laugh. “Y-You H-have Los-st.”
No, this can’t be possible.
“Oh, it is,” said a clear female voice. She was standing behind me. I turned around to see the blonde woman with rainbow-streaked dreads. “You damned your family to hell. And now you belong to me.”
“To you? Why?”
“You’re back with your mommy, where you always belonged.”
“Then let them go! You have me: two of your strongest children in one body. Do what you want to me, but let my wife and daughter out of this fucking place!” I felt like crying but if this was really my mother, she was the last person to whom I wanted to admit defeat.
“No, I think I’ll have you kill them, starting with Annie.” She walked to where Annie stood. “You went with her because you saw her as the mother you always wanted.” Her voice echoed as the two melded into one form. She was a beautiful woman with grey dreads, youthful skin, and shimmery dark eyes, the perfect combination of
Lola kicked and screamed until she fell from the woman’s arms. She ran to me, wrapping her arms around my leg. “Uncle Bobby?”
“I’m going to attack the walls again.”
Lola shook her head in terror. “I want Mama! Where’s my Mama? Mama!”
I wanted so badly to tell her everything would be ok. But that would be a lie. We were not going to survive this.
If we were inside a relic, we were someplace. We could be found. I gripped the walls, focusing all my physical strength, all my magic until I could no longer feel the breath in my lungs. My vision went white.
I was beyond the point of no return.
My life flashed before my eyes. I saw my childhood spent caring for my dying father. Running away from home, finding my place as a nurse at the veterans’ hospital.
And finally Nate. “Hey, Kiddo.” He stood before me in a military dress uniform.
“Hey.” There were tears in my eyes. We were back in the ICU room. The wall was cracked where the hole has been. It was as if the wound had been healed. “You’re the last person I expected to see.”
“In a uniform. That’s what I mean.”
“And I wasn’t expecting you to meld your soul with your brother, and an alien plant.”
“What do I look like right now?”
“You mean who?” Nate took my hand, lifting it to reveal Raven’s hand. “Your brother is safe.”
“Ok,” said Raven’s voice. “That’s good at least.” Standing closer, I could feel Nate’s chest. Where I touched him, a hole started to form. It was like his body was made of water. I could see his heart beating, his lungs inflating and deflating. But it was all just an image, a reflection.
“In another life, would you have married me?” Nate’s voice was becoming a digitized echo.
“I would have run away with you. Even when you were sick, I had this dream of leaving with you. We would steal a car and just drive off into the desert.” It was the truth. That was all I wanted, to be happy.
Nate’s spirit started to fade. “You were always my dream girl.”
“I want to die.” I was ready to die. Everything I had done in my life had led to my current level of shit. I was going to run forever, fight forever- for what? To honor my father? To save my soul? “I don’t want any of this.”
Nate reached up to touch my face. “You may need to wait just a little longer.”
Cracks started to form, as the room started to degrade. No, it was opening. I felt like Alice in Wonderland; I was a shrunken doll inside a box. Light flooded the opening, to reveal a strange sight.
I could see a battle going on between Leo and the Becca. The view I had made the action look like an Imax movie. Holy Crap.
Leo’s wings were on full display, as he attempted to fight her in the sky. But Becca was teleporting. And every time she vanished and reappeared she looked different. She was changing costumes. Each form was of similar height, weight and I recognized them all. Each one was someone who I survived or defeated.
And they were kicking Leo’s ass.
Becca punched with abnormal strength. And in every form, she was able to pull out a weapon exclusive to that individual; magic wands, baseball bats, needles, guns. Some weapons were easier to dodge than others.
She was faster than Leo. But Leo had more power. He could block and put up shields.
But where was Adam? Was he protecting my brother and my daughter?
Bobby appeared in the scene, his body fully powered with the alien plant arm and what appeared to be my light magic.
The battle played out like a puppet show. I reclined on the floor of whatever container I was in, to watch the show.
Leo and Bobby were attempting to keep Becca in one place.
Bobby was a tank, taking hit after hit. The best way to describe it would be the star power-up in the Super Mario games; his skin was shimmery, his body radiating with power, and he appeared to be completely invulnerable.
But where was Lola?
Her name isn’t Lola.
“Who said that?” I stood up, looking around the small space. The voice was soft, female.
Her name was never Lola. She was never your baby.
I rubbed my nose, nervously. “Where are you? Show yourself, Gia!”
Why so you can take even more from me? You act so righteous, like a perfect little angel; a good witch.
It was clear I was hearing Nate’s dead wife only in my head. I always told myself I was an angel, a guardian. What I did with my powers, I did honor my father. But my father was not an executioner. That was all on me. I fell in love with a married man. He was dying of cancer, with a disloyal wife. But I chose to murder her. I chose to punish her because he couldn’t. Even if he had survived his illness, Nate would not have wanted me to kill her. And now my soul was in purgatory. All I could do was wait.
I always told myself I was an angel, a guardian. What I did with my powers, I did honor my father. But my father was not an executioner. That was all on me. I fell in love with a married man. He was dying of cancer, with a disloyal wife. But I chose to murder her. I chose to punish her because he couldn’t. Even if he had survived his illness, Nate would not have wanted me to kill her. And now my soul was in purgatory. All I could do was wait.
Leo was shouting. “Where is she?”
The blonde woman crossed her arms over her chest. “It’s written in the stars, that our game of cat and mouse will go on until the end of time.” Wings of orange and gold flames started to emerge from her back. “So, you’ll forgive me if I just flip the game board.” With a single motion, the sky filled with a massive fireball-like explosion.
I fell on to my stomach, holding myself in the fetal position.
Was this the end?
I closed my eyes, expecting to burn to death, after all, I knew full well what that felt like.
I felt warm, like a heater. I assumed the fireball was just far away, but then I felt a hand upon my shoulder.
“Hey,” said a calm male voice.
With my hands over my head, I could barely hear him.
The hand started to shake me. “Wake up, sweetheart. You gotta wake up.”