CHAPTER NINE: WHO ARE YOU?
Nine months had passed since the incident with Dexter and Zenox. It was the month of April, and the school year was going well. My grades managed to stay above average all year, which was good, considering that I hadn’t slept much since that day in the park when we fought using our powers for the first time. The moon still haunted me at night. I would stay up every night, waiting for the moon to sing its lullaby again. However, it remained silent night after night.
Gary, James, and I had explained our injuries to our parents as being from skateboarding accidents with our other friends. It was hard to believe that we weren’t killed after sustaining that kind of damage. Soulpower really was as amazing as Tyler had said. However, I didn’t have Soulpower. What happened to me that day at the park? What was that energy that filled me? I had considered visiting Tyler to ask him, but I was afraid he’d think I was crazy.
Another mystery was how nobody else seemed to notice that such a disastrous showdown had taken place right in the midst of the town. Surely, the incident should have been reported to the police or news … there were plenty of bystanders who had witnessed it … but life went on as if nothing had happened. I had heard on the news that the damage in the area was due to an unknown cause, but nothing else. Oddly enough, this lack of attention was disturbing, but the three of us had decided to just use it to our advantage. The fewer people in the loop, the better off we probably were.
Gary and James mentioned Zenox a handful of times during the school year. As for myself, Zenox was put on the backburner of my thoughts as the school year went on. Nothing had come up since then that seemed Darknae-related, so I chose not to think much of it anymore, although Zenox’s words still lingered over me. The three of us knew that something would eventually need to be done.
While sitting in my math class, I observed the lines of equations that streaked horizontally across every page in my textbook. There was an aesthetic beauty in the processions of numbers and mathematical symbols, arranged neatly in orderly fashion. The underlying answers in each math problem added a sense of mystery, like locked doors featuring hidden, rustic keys. In that sense, math was fascinating and enigmatic, which appealed to my artistic tendencies and inspired ideas for my pictures.
While I was drawing lines connecting various numbers in my textbook to form progressive patterns, the teacher called on me to solve a problem he had written on the dry erase board. At the front of the room, I picked up the marker and started solving it. Everyone knew I was the slowest thinker in the class, so I never felt rushed. All those years of no sleep slowed down my thought processes, and the medication probably didn’t help. In fact, my doctor had recently increased my dosage, which was probably why Zenox didn’t bother me anymore. The pillars of medication were strong and robust, keeping the ceiling of my sanity from caving under the relentless precipitation of Darknae and depression.
The last forty-five minutes of the class breezed by quickly. Finally, the bell rang, setting us free to lunch. Lunch was my time to be with all of my friends. I loved being around them all, especially Gary. He seemed to be the only one who understood me and my insecurities. For some reason, I always felt safe around him. James also was a good friend, but a little too immature to give a good sense of security, although his upbeat attitude was essential to me.
James, Nick, and I met on the way to the cafeteria and took our place in the lunch line. The menu was hanging overhead, and James was studying it.
“Aw, not meatloaf!” he said. “It tastes like rubber here.”
“That’s what everything in this school tastes like, bro,” said Nick. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a comb, and began to slick back his hair. Nick practically combed his hair seven or eight times a day in school, and always wore the most fashionable clothes. The girls usually drooled over him, and I had to admit myself that he was very handsome.
The line moved up. I grabbed a tray from the stack, then started slopping random things onto it. James, who was carefully analyzing everything he put on his tray, looked over my shoulder and shook his head.
“Seriously,” he told me, “you can eat anything, and lots of it. I don’t know where you put it all! I thought I was an eating machine, but you’re a black hole!” I smiled, feeling flattered.
Gary joined us for lunch after James, Nick, and I took our seats at the usual table. He and James talked about the first few baseball games of the MLB season, and listening to them made me feel good for some reason, even though I didn’t really know much about sports. I think I just enjoyed listening to them talk about things that made them happy.
Stephanie was walking through the cafeteria with her food tray, and walking next to her was her boyfriend, Patrick, who was on the high school football team. I saw Gary watch them for a little bit, and it almost looked like he was disappointed about something. I knew Gary had tried hanging out with Stephanie many times after the conversation we had with Tyler about Soulpower, but she seemed avoidant. James had said that Stephanie was probably weirded out by that conversation.
The sound of a food tray being placed on the table caught Gary’s attention, and he turned to see Abby sitting down next to him.
“Hey,” she said with a smile.
“What do you want, Abby?” Gary muttered.
“I want to sit here,” she told him. “It’s a free country.”
“It may be free,” said James, digging his fork into the questionable meatloaf, “but this crappy food went up in price again.”
“Well, I guess I wanted to talk about something, too.” Abby put her arm around Gary, who winced. “Like the school dance coming up.”
There was a pause during which glances were exchanged. Nick looked at Abby with a handsome smirk.
“Oh?” he said. “Do you need a dance partner, Abby?”
She looked at Nick for a few seconds, then cracked a small smile.
“Maybe,” she said.
“I’m going to show off my smokin’ moves there,” said James smoothly. “You’ll see me in action, Krystal!”
“Don’t anticipate much,” Gary whispered to me. I smiled.
“What smokin’ moves?” said Abby as she sneered. “The best move I’ve seen you do was on roller blades.”
“Roller blades?” I asked curiously.
“You should’ve seen it!” Abby chortled. “One leg went one way, and the other went the opposite way!”
“Ha ha,” said James indignantly. “That was an accident, and it hurt!”
“You may think you’re the best,” said Nick to James, “but I’m the smoothest dancer around.”
“So, baby brother,” said Abby, wrapping her arms around Gary. She gave him a squeezing hug that turned his face purple. “Are you going to the school dance?”
Gary broke out of Abby’s hold and gasped for air. I looked at him, eagerly awaiting his answer.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t have anyone to go with.”
Abby looked at Gary and me.
“You should go with Krystal,” Abby told him. “You two have been friends for a while now, right? It’d be good!”
“Uh.” Gary scratched his head. I could feel myself beginning to turn red.
“Hey, looky there,” Abby teased, “Krystal’s blushing!”
Gary looked right at me, and I immediately felt extremely embarrassed. For some reason, I began to smile uncontrollably, blushing like a ripe apple. It was an inconvenient reaction, yet I couldn’t prevent it.
“Well,” said Gary, scratching his head again. “I don’t know if she’d want to. She’s not the type to do things like that.”
“I think she’ll go,” said Nick. “Right, Krystal?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said quietly, looking down.
“Really?” Gary asked.
“Yeah,” I repeated, smiling.
Abby stood up, looking satisfied about something.
“Alright,” she said, grabbing her food tray, “that’s all I wanted to say. Bye, ya’ll!” She walked away from the table and headed over to the group of girls she usually sat with.
“Your sister knew all along,” Nick told Gary.
“Knew what?” Gary asked.
Nick just grinned. James was staring into space, not touching his food. I turned around to see what he was looking at, but didn’t see anything that stood out.
“Gary,” James eventually said.
“You’re sister’s kinda annoying.”
“I guess, but she’s my sister.”
I looked down at my meatloaf. It smelled good, and I didn’t think it tasted like rubber when I took a bite.
The school day ended, and I wanted to go home and draw some more pictures. A lot of kids took the school buses, but I preferred to walk and take in the scenery since it wasn’t that far of a trip. When I walked through the door into our living room, I noticed that Jack and Laura weren’t home. In the dining room, a small piece of paper resting on the table caught my eye. It turned out to be a letter from them, saying that something had come up at work and they wouldn’t be home until late. They also apologized for not telling me and how they were notified at the last minute.
My heart sank a little. The two of them were hardly ever home. Even when I was first adopted by them nearly four years ago, they had numerous business trips and meetings that were mandatory. I crumpled up the note and threw it away.
I went around the kitchen, rummaging through the cabinets, found some ice cream cones, and stacked half the box worth of cones to make a long stick. I stood the stack upright on the table and ate it from the top down, eventually kissing the table when I got to the bottom. Dusty crumbs littered the tabletop, which I used to draw a face in with my tongue, then had a staring contest with the face. After winning the staring contest, I cleaned up and headed upstairs.
The door to my room was wide open, and I tossed my backpack haphazardly onto the pile of clothes, books, papers, and other random accessories strewn across my floor, then thumbed through my organizer to find my English and social studies homework. My desk was piled with papers and folders, so I pushed everything onto the floor to make room for me to do my homework. My drawing pad was in my drawer, so everything else on the desk was unimportant.
My homework was completed in under an hour, and I put it back into my organizer for the next day. I looked over at my bed, which I hated. Ever since I started having those dreams, I forced myself to stay awake.
A powerful vision snapped in front of me, making me jerk a little. They had been becoming more frequent. Not only that, but they were now hitting me with a pronounced impact, as if something was jolting my brain or rattling my soul. Were my symptoms getting worse? Even more unsettling was the fact that Gary and James didn’t seem to be having any more visions. I wanted to ask them, but I didn’t want them to worry about me.
While sketching, I was able to get lost in the creativity, and that form of escape was probably what made it so therapeutic for me. As my pencil moved across the drawing pad, the residual feeling of the recent vision seemed to persist, and my hand became numb to the gliding sensation of graphite over paper. I hadn’t noticed the slowing of time, the acceleration of my hand as it drew, and the incessant fluttering of an unsettling torrent that caught fire inside my heart, spread through my limbs, and spilled into the room. Draw, draw, draw, draw … even as the walls dissolved and the floor fell away into the ground beneath, I had to draw and draw and draw.
The picture was finished. When I reentered the realm of reality, I stared down at the paper in front of me and examined the doodled piano that looked like it had been done by a small child. Red crayon was used to depict blood dripping from the piano keys. Still holding my pencil, the feeling in my hands came tingling back as I saw the red crayon on the floor next to me, and I figured I must have used it at some point just then to put the blood on the piano. I was rather unsatisfied with the picture, and couldn’t understand why it looked so mediocre compared to my other recent work. I looked at the clock, then back at the crayon on the floor, then at the red part of the picture. Nearly forty minutes later, I looked away from the picture and back at the clock, then stood up and left my room.
I went downstairs to the living room and looked out the sliding glass door that led to our pool in the backyard. I remembered that dream I had about the little girl with wings on the other side of the pool … just who was she? Why was she in so many of my dreams and visions?
I opened the sliding glass door and stepped into the warm sun, which reflected off the surface of the water. My bare feet burned on the sunbaked cement, but I didn’t think anything of the pain. The faint smell of chlorine mixed with the smell of cookouts and springtime. Distant sounds of laughter and fun came from all directions in the neighborhood as people took advantage of the beautiful weather. At the pool’s edge, I kneeled down and swished my hand around in the water, watching the ripples spread across the surface. Standing back up, I shook my hand dry and headed back inside.
As I lied on the couch, I looked at the huge scar on my left hand. It was frustrating not knowing how I got such a big scar on my hand, or just a small one on my face. Did people think they were ugly? Nobody had once mentioned the scar on my face to me. They were just being nice, I thought.
I walked back up the stairs toward my room, running my hand along the wood grain railing, which was still smooth. Suddenly, the doorbell rang, sending chills down my spine. I stopped just before the top of the stairs, wondering why the doorbell had made me feel uneasy. I made my way back down the stairs, then looked at the front door. The silence was heavier than usual. When the doorbell rang, it sounded empty. Instead of the doorbell sounding like someone was coming by for a visit, it sounded as if someone was stalking me.
I was picking up threatening vibes from the door, and I waited for it to ring again, but nothing happened. An ominous feeling squeezed through the cracks around the door and wafted around me. It was Darknae, and it was toying with me. I felt the same empty, cold feeling that I had experienced several times before. The thought that Zenox was right outside my door with his sinister grin made me shiver. Zenox himself didn’t frighten me, but Darknae did.
Slowly, I made my way over to the door. I gripped the doorknob tightly, then flung the door open. Zenox was there.
“Krystal.” His creepy grin seemed to frost my skin.
“What do you want, Zenox?” I asked, my voice quiet and weak.
He stepped forward, and I backed away as I watched the Rionah Darknae enter my house. The evil emissions from him painted every surface of my home with a cold energy.
“I want to destroy Luminae.” The way he spoke was ghastly.
I swallowed hard as he reached slowly into his jacket pocket. For a moment, I thought that he was going to brandish his evil sword, Shadow Blade, and cut me down. When he removed a piece of paper instead, I was almost too eager and curious to take it when he handed it to me. It was folded up, and I wanted to look at it, but I wouldn’t dare take my eyes off Zenox.
“Who are you?” Zenox asked me.
There were no answers I could give. The question was so simple, yet so vague and unexpected that I had no ability to answer him. His smile picked away at me, like millions of spiders plucking apart the threads of a sweater from the inside out. I could feel myself unravelling.
Through the silence of me not answering, Zenox quickly approached me, moving so quickly and effortlessly that my reflexes were unable to react at all. I was frozen in place, paralyzed by Darknae.
“Why do you still see visions, Krystal?” If he had been a living human, I’d have been able to feel his breath on me being so close, but I was now under the impression that the man before me was not a regular person. However, all I felt was the leeching effect of his presence. My body trembled, my voice hid, and a vision flickered in front of me again. His grin twisted as it grew bigger, making me think that he knew I had seen one. He stepped back, finally taking his eyes off me. “It seems you do not know. This is unfortunate.”
My voice came wallowing back, allowing me to ask, “What’s unfortunate?”
He never replied. In a cloud of black smoke, he left. I felt the folded paper in my hand that he had given me. Automatically, I unfolded it and saw that both sides were blank. The paper itself looked old and worn. As my breathing slowed down, I realized that my heart had been pounding. A cool breeze came in through the open sliding glass door that I thought had been shut, and when the wind touched my face, I realized that I had been sweating.
Zenox knew where I lived. He knew my name. He could appear at any moment and take my life. Why was it, then, that he asked me who I was and why I still saw visions? The fact that he didn’t know should have made me feel less alone for not knowing the answers myself, but there was still a crippling sense of loneliness that engulfed me.
For the next few hours, I stared up at the ceiling, pondering all the things that didn’t seem to make sense. Darknae, the moon, the piano, the horse, the little girl, operating rooms, and my blurred visions … none of it fit together. I was being faced with one mystery after another; all of them were hitting me from different directions at the same time. I wondered if non-crazy people were able to figure these things out. I wondered if I was confused because I was just crazy. Flies started to come in through the open sliding glass door.
I played with the piece of paper Zenox had given me. It looked and felt like very old paper. It was covered in a yellowish tint and the edges were worn out. Above all, it was blank. Flipping it over numerous times, I found nothing. I even held it up to the light to look for a watermark or something, but no luck. Deciding that it wasn’t dangerous, I took it up to my bedroom and set it on my desk next to the poor doodle of the bloody piano. Then I went back downstairs to the couch where I continued to listen to the flies enter the house until Jack and Laura came home.
“How was your day, Krystal?” Laura asked at the dinner table.
“Fine,” I said timidly, pouring Italian dressing onto my salad.
“Nothing interesting happened at all?” Jack asked.
“No,” I lied. “Nothing.”
“Well,” said Laura, “Jack and I have to go on a business trip this coming Monday and we won’t be back until Thursday.”
I think they waited for me to say something, but I had nothing to say at all.
“It’s to Oregon,” Jack added, apparently to make me interested. “And this time, we want to know if you’d like to come with us.”
I wanted to tell them yes, but then I thought about all of the things going on. Chills ran through me as I imagined Zenox standing around the corner and listening to us, and I suppressed the shudders the thought gave me.
“No,” I muttered, poking at my mashed potatoes and making the gravy spill over and run into my T-bone steak.
“You’ll be okay by yourself?” Laura asked. “It’s a four-day trip.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said as vision flashed, making my fork slip out of my hand and land in my food. “I’m a big girl.”
“Well, in that case,” said Laura to Jack, “you’d better let the company know that we won’t need that third ticket.”
“Yeah, okay.” Jack wiped off his mouth with his napkin. “Hey, Krystal, you’ve never been on a plane before, have you?”
“Not that I remember,” I said.
“You’ll have to go somewhere with us sometime,” he said. “They aren’t that bad.”
“Hmm, sure,” I mumbled. “May I leave the table?”
“Go ahead,” said Laura.
I got up and took my dishes to the sink. Then I trudged upstairs to my room and landed on my bed. The evening sun had set, and I was going to have to spend another long and lonely night awake.