The clash of metal on metal comes to an abrupt silence. Cracks of gunfire no longer tear across the battlefield. All manner of life ceases movement, even the trees hold steady in the wind. Soft whispers of encouragement and grumbles of doubt reverberate in my soul between each palpitation of my heart. Rain walloping on my helmet echoes in my brain like distant drums. My hot breath curls into the frigid air, forming wisps of steam. At that moment, I am surprised I can breathe at all. The thick, blood-soaked mud holds my hands and knees captive in the Earth. It hurts to move. Curious eyes - thousands of them – stare, waiting to see what will happen next.
His eyes are filled with a bright, cobalt blue flame that burns with his every breath as he waits for my answer. Most people shake with fear in his presence. If I were smart, I would too, but I’m not scared.
I’m pissed. I’m pissed that I’m here. I’m pissed that I’m cold and tired. Mostly, I’m pissed because I have no sure fire way of beating him. He's stronger, faster and more experienced than me. Never mind he’s the god of the Underworld, and I’m only a teenage girl who’s barely scraped the surface of what I need to know to ensure a victory. But I can’t think about all of that now. I only have a moment to plan my next move.
Do I stay on my knees and let him win? If I do, then Earth, the Otherworld and the Underworld will no longer exist as we know it. That would be too easy. If there’s anything I’ve learned these past few weeks - nothing is easy. The hundreds of bodies lying lifeless next to me are a reminder of the countless innocent lives that will be lost. Unless I do the one thing I don’t want to do, the one thing that would put an end to everything. But the day would be saved, and the three worlds would continue as if nothing happened. Maybe that’s what is really pissing me off.
Just attempting it will probably kill me, and he’ll still win. Even if I pull it off without dying, he could still kill me. There’s no guarantee with either option I’ll live to see the result of my sacrifice. But I can’t keep stalling, trying to make up my mind. The longer I take, the more anxious I become. One thought keeps fluttering in and out as I make my decision [and I’m sure it’s the same question you’re asking yourself now] - how the hell did I get myself into this position?
To answer that question, I guess I’ll have to start from the beginning. No - I’m not going way back to my gross, slime-encrusted birth like some drawn out, cry-me-a-river, chick-flick. We’ll jump ahead eighteen years after that.
It had been a seriously bad day. I woke up late, missed my bus to school (not that I wanted to go to begin with), Mazy Bishop had my lunch dumped all over my brand new shirt while my peers were thoughtful enough to shout Dirty Desi over and over again, as my very small group of friends looked on in horror. Okay, so my small group of friends only included Melissa. She was all I needed anyway. Having lunch dumped on me is an improvement even though it irked me because I was wearing a brand new, sky blue t-shirt, and it happened to be spaghetti day. No way was that stain ever coming out. Why couldn’t they have done it when I wore my normal thrift store hand-me-downs? But in retrospect, it was better than the usual. Usually, people, meaning Mazy Bishop and her drones, would just call me “Dr. Doolittle’s daughter” or throw dead animals at me, so I welcomed the lunch. Food at least doesn’t stink to high heaven. I seriously hate Marysville High School.
As if life wasn’t challenging enough; I have been cursed with a mother who is a paranoid schizophrenic, a grandmother with Alzheimer’s and a grandfather who just mumbles to himself when he isn’t reading his bible or watching re-runs of Matlock. I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if I didn’t have the challenge of chasing my grandma down one isle of the grocery store while my mom is hiding in another isle because she thinks someone is following her. Oh, and lord forbid if my mother, Tabea, hasn’t take her medication the day we walk by Ellis Lake. My mom sees a duck or something and we’re stuck there for hours while she sits talking to it. If that wasn’t embarrassing enough, it would seem my arch nemesis, Mazy, seems to have a really good “freak” radar. Every public melt down, every psychotic break, she’s there to report back to all the kids at school about what a nut case my mother and grandmother are.
The only thing keeping me going today is knowing it’s Friday. Tonight my best friend, Melissa, and I are going to hop the bus to Sacramento to go see the newest horror flick. Melissa and I are suckers for blood, guts, gore and pointless violence. The higher the body counts, the better. Yeah, we could save time and go to the movie theater in Yuba City where all of the who’s who hangs out. The theater is only a hop, jump and a skip over the bridge from Marysville, but as I am sure you can gather so far, we are not the cool kids. In fact, the cool kids torture us, so we avoid them at all costs. Steering clear of the public humiliation about our cheap, thrift store clothes, our ugly looks or my crazy mother and Melissa’s drug addict father, we take the bus 40 miles to Sacramento. Plus it’s nice getting out of Marysville sometimes. There isn’t much to do in a town of only eleven thousand people, unless you count going to Wal-Mart and asking the male employees where the tampons are or taking a box of condoms to the fitting rooms asking to try them on. That is always good for a laugh.
I just had thirty more minutes of biology left until freedom. The last class of the day always dragged on for what seemed to be forever. Mrs. Mahoney’s monotone, dry voice describing the urinary system is about as painful as plucking your toe nails out with a rusty pair of tweezers. Mrs. Mahoney rambled on and on about kidneys and adrenal glands. As if that wasn’t painful enough, I started to feel strong stabbing pains in my stomach. It felt as if needles were being shoved into my belly button. Every passing second seemed to increase the pain.
My mind started racing, thinking about if I were going to die, was my appendix about to burst, or maybe the school lunches finally did their job and were going to send me to an early grave? One could only hope. With every wave of pain, I got more light headed, and a hot flash would rush through my body. I convinced myself I was probably getting my monthly curse. Not waiting to be excused, I stood up to go to the bathroom when Mrs. Mahoney put her hand on my shoulder, shoving me back down in my seat.
“And where do you think you are going, Miss Gower? I don’t believe I heard a bell ring.” Through the pain and dizzy spells, I couldn’t make a peep as I tried my damnedest to answer her.
“Desi, are you okay?” I heard Melissa say, but when I turned to look at her, a hot flash hit so hard, you probably could have cooked an egg on me. Before I could recover from the instant fever, I felt a sharp, crippling pain shoot from my chest, dropping me to the dirty linoleum floor, screaming for dear life. Melissa flew out of her desk, sending it flying across the classroom, almost taking off the heads of three students in the process. I grabbed the leg of my desk, using it to pull me in the fetal position. A violent sharp prick hit me in my left temple, and everything went black.
When I thought my day couldn’t get any worse, it did. I couldn’t win for losing. I opened my eyes to a white blinding light and a harmony of beeping resembling a fleet of garbage trucks backing up all at once. My eyes burned as if someone had thrown a handful of salt in them. My noggin rocked with a splitting headache that must have registered a ten-point-zero on the Richter scale. As I slowly sat up, a familiar voice rang in my ears. It had to be Melissa. Her squeaky high pitched voice could raise the dead on a normal day, and with the headache I had right now, it sounded as if she inhaled a tank full of helium.
“You better lay back down. You hit your head really hard, fer real.” Melissa had the bad habit of saying “fer real” anytime she wanted to convey her seriousness. It could be really annoying at times, especially if we were discussing religion or politics. Everything out of her mouth would be ‘fer real’ this and ‘fer real’ that. Though Melissa held a spot on honor roll and a steady four-point-o grade average, it often left me wondering if her vocabulary extended beyond that.
“What happened?” I asked her as I tried focusing my eyes onto her face. The only thing I could really make out was the light shining off of her piercings. Rings and barbells decorated every main feature of her face; nose, lip, eyebrows, and ears. You name the facial piercing, she had it.
“You passed out. You were burning up and shaking pretty bad, so Mrs. Mahoney called the ambulance. I must admit, I always thought it possible for Mrs. Mahoney’s voice to send someone into a seizure, I just never thought I’d see it firsthand.”
“Like you have room to talk about voices?”
“Hey now, at least I have pitch.” Melissa scrunched her face. I think it was meant to be a mix between a pout and an angry face, but it looked more as if she had just sucked on a really bitter lemon.
“That you do.” I replied, rubbing my forehead. My ears were ringing, my chest felt similar to a six-hundred pound gorilla sitting on it, and my bones ached right down to the marrow.
Any other time I would have jumped right into a debate with Melissa about who, between her and Mrs. Mahoney, had the title for unique voice, but right now I thought my head would explode if I moved any more than absolutely needed.
“I called your mom ‘bout thirty minutes ago, so she should be here soon. You should lie down and relax until she gets here…fer real.”
“Oh man, really? You called my mom?” I laid back down on the not so comfy hospital bed. The blanket was thin and the pillow case stiff. The crumpling sound it made as I laid my head on it was enough to make my brain feel like bursting right out of my eye sockets.
“Uh, yeah. What was I supposed to do? Your mom is the only one they’ll release you to that has half a brain.”
“Wait, where am I?” I asked her, totally forgetting that I was sure to get a sarcastic comment back.
“You’re at the hospital, d’uh. Dang, how hard did you hit your head? Ooh, maybe you will have brain damage, and we can get out of the biology test next week. I’ll tell them I’m your nurse so I can’t go because I have to feed you your daily allotment of baby food.” Melissa gave her best evil ‘mwah-a-ha’ laugh. What made it even better is it worked with her whole black-on-black Goth wardrobe.
“I know I’m at a hospital dork, but which one?”
Oh good. My brain damage couldn’t be too serious. If it were, they would have taken me all the way to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. I only knew that because my mom freaked at the laundromat one day and hit her head pretty hard. Of course Mazy had to be there to see the whole thing. Why Mazy was even at a laundromat in the bad part of town when she probably had a maid to do her laundry is beyond me. The stories that flew around school the next day were amazing. They ran from my mom trying to rob the laundromat, to her killing fifty people inside the laundromat. It is funny, the things people will believe.
But, that’s not the point here. The point is, they had to send my mom down to UC Davis, but it turned out to be nothing serious. Head wounds always bleed way more than they are worth. She left a few hours later with a few stitches and a referral to talk to her psychiatrist, Dr. Rydel. Still being in Marysville was a sign of hope that I hadn’t hit my head hard enough to damage anything. Lord knows I didn’t want a life of eating baby food and drooling on myself. My family already had enough people on disability due to brain issues.
“You really should just rest. You still aren’t looking good. You’re about as white as me…fer real.” Melissa said with a concerned motherly tone.
“What’s up with you “miss I don’t care about anything or anyone”?” It took all the strength I had to roll my head as I made stupid air quotes. I always hated those. People always looked ridiculous doing them.
“Yeah, well, don’t worry. I’m just practicing for when I get out of here and make it big in Hollywood. But if you’re not going to lay down, got any theories on what lies Mazy is going to make up about your seizure?”
“Who knows? It’ll probably be something along the lines of: I overdosed on my mom’s meds or something else just as stupid.” No sooner had the words come out of my mouth when they were followed by the day’s lunch. Corn does not taste any better the second time around.
“Hay-o!” Melissa snatched the pink, kidney shaped bowl from the rolling cart a nurse probably left in the room. Melissa’s quick reflexes proved useful yet again when she was able to catch my chunky stomach discharge before a single kernel hit the ground.
“All right, that’s it. Lay down…fer real.” Melissa ordered.
As much as I wanted to sit there and make fun of Melissa for letting her “I-don’t-care” attitude slip up again, I really did not feel good. My whole body throbbed from puking, and I just wanted to go back to sleep. I closed my eyes and tried to get somewhat comfortable in the way too hard hospital bed. It’s as if they glued a whole bunch of plywood together and threw on some felt fabric over it, calling it a bed. I could only imagine this is what a coffin is like and that’s probably why they made them so hard, prepping their patients for death.
As I drove out the thoughts of death, my mind began to wonder about what happened. Mazy had all weekend to think of new and humorous ways to add my impression of a fish out water to her list of tortures. I imagined all the jokes and name calling I would hear on Monday. Everyone in biology saw the whole thing, and rumors were surely going to fly around school like mono after prom. Before I knew it, I’d fallen fast asleep.
I awoke with a sudden jolt and someone was pulling me out of my hospital bed, ripping the IV’s out of my arm.
“C’mon, Dee, we have to go, now! Get up! C’mon, Dee! We have to get you out of here before they come.”
“Wait…what? Mom, what are you doing?"
“Dee, we have to go now! There’s no time to talk. We have to go now!”
I frantically searched for Melissa to aid me against my psychopathic mother. Melissa was nowhere in sight. Melissa never left my side. Her missing alarmed me more than my mother trying to pull me from my sick bed.
“Where’s Melissa?” I screamed as my mom continued to tug me out of the room by my elbow.
“Don’t worry about her right now. We have to worry about you. Dee, you have to trust me.. It’s not safe anymore.” The hospital’s staff stood there watching. Eyes were on us, staring, as the drama unfolded between my psycho mom and me, right dab in the center of the hospital corridor.
“Mom, have you taken your meds today? No one is coming! Let go of me... now!”
As I tried to pull from her iron grip, her fingers dug deeper into my arm, pulling me tighter into her. Never have I seen my mom so frenetic. If I didn’t calm her down soon, it would end with her getting committed again, I’m sure. Relief came over me when I spotted a doctor coming toward us. I thought for sure he would be able to save me from having to hurt my mother in order to free myself from her and save her from another seventy-two hour watch. He could give her the medication she needed to relax and rejoin the land of the sane.
You can imagine my disappointment when he asked if everything was okay. I couldn’t help but stare at him in amazement. Anyone in the hospital at that moment could hear and see that everything was definitely not okay, yet a man who spent eight years in college had to ask. Seeing no way out of my predicament, I had to use my big guns. I would surely pay for it later, but I had to contain my mom before she hurt me or herself.
“Does everything look okay? This crazy lady is trying to kidnap me!” I tried giving a tug to get out of my mother’s grip, but it proved pointless. I felt guilty for a brief moment for saying my mother was a crazy lady, but she left me no choice.
“Nurse! Call security!” the doctor yelled as he snapped his fingers at a young girl standing behind a desk. The poor girl’s eyes were wide with confusion as she fumbled around with the telephone on the desk.
With one swift move, my mother delivered one heck of a back-hand slap that sent the doctor flying across the room, smashing into the wall. My mom is five-foot-seven with a pretty muscular frame. Having to try to restrain her in the past, I knew she could be fiercely strong for her size, but I never thought she could make someone fly through the air as if they were nothing more than a paper airplane. It left me believing she had been holding back on me all these years.
My mother adjusted her grip on my arm and pulled me down the aisle of the hospital. Those too fearful to get involved stared with wide eyes. I blindly followed my mother, but my head wouldn’t budge as I stared back at the doctor who lay on the floor, shaking his head.
I nearly knocked my mom over when she came to an abrupt stop at the end of the hallway. Surprised, I turned my attention away from the doctor to see what made my mom stop so quickly. In front of the elevators stood three security guards.
Two of the guards resembled any Joe Schmoe security guard in their dark blue slacks, light blue shirt and a plastic, painted badge on the breast pocket. One was short and extremely overweight. He seemed as wide as he was tall and looked like the kind of guy you would find at a strip club bothering all of the dancers, flashing his tongue out to them among other things. Not that I have ever been to the strip club, but I’ve seen a ton of movies with characters like him. He just looked like a pervert.
The other guy stood slightly taller and in a lot better shape. He wasn’t fully buffed out, but he wasn’t a string bean either. The third one stood out to me as odd. He didn’t seem to be a normal guy. He stood in front of the other two goons puffing his chest outward like a gorilla. He definitely had to be the ringleader of their hospital security gang.
I laughed in my head as I imagined them in their uniforms going around tagging signs with spray paint that said HSG. The one in front towered over my mother and me at 6’4, muscles almost bursting the seams of his tight, light blue shirt. He must have bought the shirt three sizes too small to make him appear more muscular than he really was. His eyes were a cold blue that reminded me of Alaskan glaciers as they glared at me for a second, then swiftly turning toward my mother’s direction. The look in his eyes changed from cold to freezing when he saw my mother crouching before him. If I didn’t know any better, I would have sworn I heard my mom give him a low animalistic growl. It was obvious the other two were just for show of numbers and had nothing to offer in a fight. The tall guy in front had to be the one who always did the real dirty work.
“Good to see you again, Tabby. Where are you going in such a rush?” the guard said with a cocky look on his face.
Who the hell is Tabby? I thought to myself when it dawned on me he was talking to my mother. I never heard anyone call my mother Tabby before. My mother started to slowly push me behind her, as she crouched slightly lower. I could sense she knew this guy, and he wasn’t good news.
“Stay behind me Dee, and don’t move.” My mother whispered.
There was an urgent tone in my mother’s voice I had never heard before. The lump in my gut told me this wasn’t just another one of my mom’s crazy episodes. It was all real this time. Someone was coming, and we needed to get out of the hospital before they did. I looked around in hopes of seeing someone coming to our aid. All the nurses and doctors just stood and stared at us. Hopefully there was a nurse I couldn’t see calling 9-1-1.
“Yes Adesina, stay behind your mother dear. I don’t want you getting hurt.” the guard said with a smirk. His cold, murky black eyes never broke their stare with my mother.
Who the hell is this guy? No one ever calls me Adesina. How does he know that’s my first name when I never use it? Even my hospital wrist band said Desi on it. My mother hadn’t called me Adesina. Without question, I ducked behind my mother, holding onto her arm as if she were a magic shield that would protect me from the boogey man.
“Don’t you dare talk to her! I know what you are here for, Derek. You will not get her. Not my daughter! Go now before you and your friends get seriously hurt.”
“Ah, now Tabby that is no way to treat an old friend, is it? Trevor just wants to see what the girl can do is all. We will not hurt her…much.” The glare in his eyes sent a bolt of electricity tingling down my spine, making every muscle in my body tense. My adrenaline started pumping out of control. I don’t know what the guy, Derek, wanted with me, but I did know I didn’t want to find out.
“C’mon mom, let’s just get out of here.” I whispered as I tugged on my mom’s arm, trying to get her to run with me the other way. My mom just focused on Derek. Her head was bobbing from side to side as she appeared to be searching for the best angle for her attack. I tried tugging her one more time, but her body didn't budge an inch. After a brief moment, her body began slowly coiling downward. If I hadn't felt it, I probably wouldn't have even noticed.
“Now Tabby, step aside and hand over the girl before this gets ugly.”
“Over my dead body, Derek. You go back and tell Trevor and all your little friends at the Convent they’ll need to send a lot more Seekers than just you three!” my Mother snarled, never raising her voice above a faint whisper.
The sound of her voice was different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was different about it. It wasn’t my mother’s normal voice talking, but something else talking. With my heart pumping all over the place and my palms getting sweaty, my gut told me to run, louder with every passing second. You didn’t need to be a movie buff to see where this was heading. But nothing in this world could have ever prepared me for what was about to happen.
In the blink of an eye, my mother ripped her arm from my hands. I opened my eyes to see her whole body pounce six feet into the air toward Derek. In one fell swoop, he caught her by the neck and slammed her down on the ground.
“You’ve weakened over the years, Tabby; I expected better from you.” Derek said as he reached for a gun strapped in a holster on his side.
“Yeah, well I figured you’d learn by now, Derek.” My mother said as she delivered a kick right into his head, causing him to stumble back and drop the small hand gun onto the floor next to my feet.
I quickly picked up the small gun by the trigger guard with two fingers, holding it away from me as if it were a smelly, loaded diaper. I had never handled a gun before, and I had no clue what to do with it, but I knew I didn’t want it anywhere near me or getting back into Derek’s hands. I wasn’t sure if Derek would have actually shot my mother with it, but it would be stupid finding out the hard way. The only thing around I could hide it in was a trash can next to the elevator doors. Without thinking, I pushed the flap of the trash can open and dropped the gun inside. The bang from inside the garbage can deafened and scared me to death as a large hole blew out of the side of the can. The gun had gone off, and the bullet exploded out of the can, past Derek’s head and plowed into the wall behind him.
Derek’s eyes quickly found mine hiding behind my fingers. His face told me he definitely was not a happy camper. I guess he didn’t appreciate being shot at even if it were an accident. Derek picked my mother up effortlessly, throwing her ten feet down the hallway on her back. His black eyes never broke eye contact with me as his large frame starting moving quickly toward me. Before I could think of what to do, my mother jumped in front of me, slapped Derek’s face and knocked him into the closed elevator doors. I had no idea how it happened, but Derek’s face started gushing blood out of four evenly spaced claw marks my mother’s hit left behind.
Just then, the two other guards jumped on my mother’s back, hitting her with everything they had. I wanted to jump in and help my mother, but I couldn’t. I just stood and watched in horror as the fight played out. Fists and hair were flying everywhere. Loud growls covered the sounds of the landing punches.
For a moment it appeared the three guards had my mother beaten, but she pushed her body up off the white hospital floor, threw one of the guards off her back into the wall and delivered a perfect elbow blow to the fat one.
“Run, Dee, Run. Get out of here, now!” my mother screamed before head butting Derek square in the nose.
I couldn’t move. My head said “listen to her Desi...are you stupid? Run!” But my feet wouldn’t move, no matter how hard I tried. Glued in place by what I was seeing, my mother actually holding her own against three large men. Part of witnessing her go toe to toe made me proud. Something finally pulled me the opposite direction of my mother’s battle royalè with the security guards.
I pulled my head around to find Melissa running next to me, pulling my elbow. I had no idea where she had even come from. She wasn’t in the room when my mother dragged me out. I wondered, as Melissa and I ran down the hallway to get to another exit, who in the heck Derek was, how he knew my mother and what he wanted with me? There was no time for questions though. I may have not known what the heck was going on, but I’d seen enough movies to know, when it’s time to run, you don’t stop running for a minute.
We finally made it out of automatic doors when a large white van skidded to a halt in front of the hospital. Something told me this wasn’t good. Melissa ran right toward it, when the van’s sliding side door opened and three figures dressed in black jumped out.
“Melissa! This way!” I yelled as I started running to the left of the hospital building. Melissa starting yelling as she ran behind me, but I couldn’t make out her words over the sound of my own heart pounding away. Two of the black figures from the van ran into the hospital. I looked back for a second only to see the third figure dressed in all black make a bee line straight toward me. I tried running harder, but with every step I took; it seemed my brain would pound right out of my head. Still sore from the very embarrassing seizure I had at school earlier, instinct overrode pain, telling me I couldn’t stop. I had to keep running.
With every other step, I looked behind me, making sure Melissa still ran with me and the person in all black didn’t grab her. I made it a few blocks away from the hospital when I noticed she was gone, but the figure was still gaining on me. I could only hope she ran off in another direction in an attempt to confuse the person chasing us. If so, it was a better plan than what I had.
Downtown Marysville has a lot of abandoned buildings and alleyways. I was pretty sure I could find a place to hide for a while or at least until whoever was chasing me gave up. Only one thing stood in between me and a hiding spot.