Kayn of Ankh
The silken texture of the grass beneath her body along with the warmth of the sunlight that seductively caressed the length of her bare legs was magic. She lay next to him in the grass as they quietly observed the sky above. His hand seemed to be always just out of reach. Kayn wanted to hold his hand so badly it was torturous. Her hand was just about touching his but not quite. His fingers brushed a path across her fingertips as if to say in the exquisite beauty of the moment, “I will always be right here.” She would open her eyes long enough to know it was not reality and then close them again, willing herself with all her strength to live in that moment with him.. She had to at least make an attempt to slip back into the dream, even though she knew in her heart, it was hopeless.
The days that passed had begun to melt together into weeks and months, creating a twisted mosaic of memories in her mind. Her dreams travelled a tortuous path between what had actually happened, and what could have been.
The agony of Kevin’s loss to Triad had been almost unbearable. Kayn’s entire life she’d never been without his constant companionship. Her best friend had been lost to her just as their feelings were evolving into love. They hadn’t even had the time to bask in the glorious joy of first love. They had been pulled in opposite directions by fates twisted and, as she’d discovered, sick sense of humor.
Frost, always close by, kept his emotional distance. She’d catch him staring at her. She knew he was searching for a hint of Chloe.
Kayn had become part of a trio of newcomers. Melody had been taken from Trinity. Zach had been left behind by Triad. They were to become the sails on her ship of salvation. The three would need to carry each other through the impending storm of the testing, towards enlightenment.
The weight of the devastation was too much for her mind to carry. Her heart fought to accept the loss of her remaining family members and the loss of that one person on this earth that she’d always assumed she could never lose ...Kevin.
Kevin of Triad
During his sweet sleep, there was an angelic creature and in her eyes a look of joyous elation that filled Kevin’s mind with anticipation of her possible existence in the real world. This freckle-faced vision with her wild mane of untamed blonde curls nightly left an unexplainable ache in his soul. In his dreams, she would appear to him as a mirage of hope. He could feel the love in her heart, for it seeped through her very essence into the air between them. She lay next to him in the grass as they quietly observed the sky above. Her hand seemed to be always just out of his reach. Kevin wanted to hold her hand so badly it was torturous. Her hand was just about touching his but not quite. Then her fingers brushed a path across his fingertips as if to say in the exquisite beauty of the moment, “I will always be right here.” This mystery girl haunted Kevin with her laughter during his countless restless nights of unrest. Was this girl simply a figment of his imagination? He could never seem to remember her name during the daylight hours. It was as though her memory would fade upon arrival of the sun. In those very first moments after he opened his eyes each morning, the girl that haunted his dreams was all he could think about. Then she would fade into a place in his mind where she would remain hidden until the next time he dreamt of her.
His memory had been erased. He knew this because he didn’t remember anything before the Triad. Maybe, she was someone that he used to know. All Kevin of Triad knew was that he looked forward to sleep because when he went to sleep he could see her. He would wake up knowing that as long as he was capable of having such beautiful dreams, a part of him must still be good.
Beautiful Goodbyes and Warm Welcomes
With their unspoken words of love still echoing in her ears and aching in her heart, Kayn knew she had to be brave. He was gone. This was where their roads separated, right at the beginning. It wasn’t fair. It felt like she’d said goodbye to Kevin only moments earlier. One last kiss, a final embrace and he was gone. Kayn stared at the concerned faces that hovered around the tomb she’d been healed in. She noticed a few unfamiliar ones. There was a dark featured boy and a girl. She knew her. It was that girl from Trinity who’d joined her energy with Kevin’s, so they could find each other in the in-between. She’d given them the opportunity for one last goodbye.
Kayn sat up in the tomb. She looked at the girl with the shoulder length, wavy, chestnut colored hair and said, “Thank you.”
She replied, “My name’s Melody.”
Kayn felt an immediate connection with this girl. Melody extended her hand in a kind gesture. Then she grinned, giving Kayn a gentle tug. She helped her to her feet. Kayn looked around. What in the hell? The tombs were laid out in a line in the back of what appeared to be an empty storage container. Where was she?
Lexy gave her a hug and then Lily. Frost stared at her for a second. Their eyes met and then he walked away. He felt empathy for her. She’d seen it flash across his pained expression. They each gave her their apologies for the loss of Kevin. She followed the group down a ramp and into a large dusty parking lot. Where was she? She turned around to look back and saw that they’d been in the back of a big rig. A light breeze danced across her skin. He was really gone.
Markus walked around the corner and startled her. He pulled her into a very fatherly embrace and whispered in her ear, “I’m sorry Kayn. There was nothing we could do. They knew about him. Triad has Kevin, his mother, and brother, from what I hear.”
She understood why Kevin felt he had to go with Triad. She wasn’t sure if it had been a choice or if he had been taken. It made no difference. He was gone. He would have wanted to have some sort of control over what would happen to his family. Her mind could comprehend his logic, if it had in fact been a choice. Her heart couldn’t fathom the fact that she would have to do this without him. She closed her eyes, allowing the embrace to carry on. She needed it. After a few moments of calm, Kayn pulled away from Markus. She needed to know everything, the whole sordid tale. She had to yank the band aid off of her heart, while it was still raw.
Kayn stared into Markus’s solemn eyes and said, “I know my brother and Jenkins are dead. I need to know how they died.”
Melody was the one to speak first, “Your brother was higher than a kite and covered with toothpaste... right?”
Kayn said, “That would have been him. He was grazed by a drugged arrow. He got out of the room. Jenkins convinced me to stay. I knew Matt would have wanted me to stay.”
Melody said, “He was a funny guy and an incredibly brave one. A bunch of Triads attacked us; he died trying to save us.”
Kayn smiled when she thought of Matt attacking a bunch of Triads to save complete strangers. He had given his life in a final heroic gesture. She was proud of him.
Her eyes glazed over with tears as she said, “Did he suffer?”
Melody answered, “He jumped on one of the Triad’s backs to stop him from strangling my friend. He was thrown against the wall; his neck was broken on impact. His death was instant. He didn’t feel a thing. He was very brave.”
Kayn nodded and smiled through her tears. She looked at the group and said, “What about Jenkins? Does anyone know what happened to him?”
Markus said, “I did it, myself. I had to; they would have sent a Correction for him. I know you thought you were helping him by telling him to hide in the attic, but if I hadn’t found him he would have died as violently as your family did. I explained the situation to him. I told him his daughter was with him. She was still there with him. She didn’t want to leave him alone. He was in too much pain. By the time she decided to leave, she couldn’t remember how. That’s what usually happens. I told him that they would be able to leave together. He agreed to go with her, without hesitation. She was wrapped in his arms as they left. It was a beautiful goodbye.”
Kayn began to tear up, but her tears were not created in sadness. They flowed because she was overcome with joy. She’d heard a little girl at the hospital, but she had disappeared. Kayn hoped she’d moved on. She had heard Jenkins thoughts. Most of them, even after ten years, were of his little girl. His daughter had drowned and he’d never been able to forgive himself. He had never been able to move past that day in his heart. They’d been together once more in his final moments. It was the most beautiful goodbye, a perfect release from life for Jenkins. That was exactly what she would have imagined.
Kayn nodded and said, “Thank you, Markus.”
He smiled at her and appeared to be relieved that she understood. Kayn understood so many things now. Her mind felt like it had expanded to ten times its size over the last couple months. She knew she would see her brother and Jenkins again someday. She prayed their next life would be a happy one. There was someone she hadn’t met. A boy stood quietly beside Lily. He was staring at her.
Markus announced, “Ladies, meet Zach. He used to be Triad. We have our three new clan members for the testing. We have one year to train you. Ideally, it would be three or four years, but that isn’t how it worked out. We’re going to have to run with you three, until you are eighteen. There’s going to be many tedious days of driving ahead for you three. You will have to be trained while on the move. We can’t risk running into the other clans and losing one of you. It’s important that the three of you attach to each other. You’re going to be together all of the time. We have to leave now. The other clans won’t be far behind us. Everybody wants our Miss Brighton.”
Lexy had a handful of round rose quartz stones as she exited the now empty big rig. She chucked one at Frost and another at Lily. They caught them in mid air.
Lexy said, “I’ll hold onto Grey’s until he’s back with the gassed up Motor Home.”
Kayn thought Motor home? They were going to be travelling in a motor home? That was strange.
Kayn said, “Are we just going to leave that big rig in the parking lot?”
Lily squeezed her shoulder, and whispered, “It’s not ours. A friend borrowed it. We needed somewhere to house the tombs. We had to heal and escape at the same time. The owner will find it here in perfect condition.” The huge motor home approached, crackling through the parking lot with a cloud of dust trailing behind it.
Lily said, “There’s our ride now.”
The door opened and Grey hollered, “Let’s put some serious miles between us and them.”
Kayn walked up the few steps into the enormous pimped out motor home. Grey directed her towards the table. She shimmied into the corner to make room. Melody shifted herself into the seat beside her and then Zach slid in.
Grey opened the cupboard above their heads and said, “Board games, drawing material, etc are up here. Video games are in the drawer over there. The bunks are in the back. We take turns sleeping and driving. That black dual cab truck outside is also ours. There are six laptops, a larger television set and more video games. Those are in the open room with pillows all over the floor at the very back, just past the bathroom. We took the bed out of that room, it just wasn’t fair and we fought over it. We all sleep in bunks or on the floor in that back room. There are snacks in the fridge and in those cupboards around the stove. No need to freak out over the sleeping arrangements. The bunks are really comfortable. We stop at motels every third or fourth day while on the road. Be quick in the bathroom. There is only one of them.” Everyone had found a place to sit or stand and the motor home began to move.
Markus said, “I only have a few minutes with you guys. I’m leaving with the other half of our group. If you have anything to say, now is the time.”
Melody looked at Markus and said, “Thorne will come after me.”
Markus replied, “Healers are a precious commodity. Does Trinity have more than three new recruits left, excluding you of course?”
Melody responded, “Yes, they do.”
Markus looked at her and said, “I’ve known Thorne a long time. We may not have to worry. He knows there’s only a year before the next scheduled testing. He may opt to keep his people out of sight.”
Zach had been standing in silence. He was visibly upset. Kayn wondered what he had to be upset about. Wasn’t leaving Triad for Ankh supposed to be a good thing?”
Zach looked at Markus and said, “Triad has six. Well, six of them before I was left behind. Why would Tiberius leave me behind?”
Markus smiled at Zach. He reached his hand across the table and placed it on top of Zach’s. He said, “Son, if he has six recruits already, he’s running low on tombs. One of those tombs will have to store the bodies of Kevin’s mother, and his brother Clay. Once they’ve been placed in a tomb, to store their bodies, the tomb has to be taken out of commission. They can’t be removed until after the next testing. If they are healed and removed before that time, they have to go into the testing. Tiberius will not risk a weak link in his group. The whole group goes into testing and has to come out together. If anyone loses their sanity completely, they become lost in the testing. It’s game over for the rest of the Triad. It’s important that the group of six is able to attach spiritually. They have to be compatible emotionally. They have to blend together into a unit. If he left you behind, it was because he wanted you to have a chance to survive. He must have known you wouldn’t have a chance to survive with Triad. He must have known you were incapable of being as dark as you needed to be. You could have taken out the whole group in testing.”
Zach looked at Kayn and said, “Was Kevin dark enough to be in Triad?”
Kayn replied, “No, he wasn’t.”
Markus piped in, “Tiberius will wipe Kevin’s memory. He knows Kevin has the same abilities as he does. Kevin is his grandson, and he already has abilities. There is a whole year before the testing. He has a whole year to brainwash his grandson. That makes his odds of survival much higher than yours.”
Kayn listened to the conversation numbly. This wasn’t happening.
Zach said, “Why didn’t he just wipe my memory?”
Markus said, “The reason is obvious. You liked him, Zach. He must have liked you. Tiberius doesn’t have a lot of people that actually like him. He did you a giant favor. Aren’t you happy to be here?”
Zach replied, “Of course I am. I never felt like I was supposed to be there. I can’t explain why. I just felt like I was with the wrong people.”
Markus looked at Melody and said, “How about you?”
Melody said, “I made a choice. I knew there was no going back. I want to be here. I never wanted to leave you in the first place.”
Markus said, “Alright then, Triad already has six people. They might not want to risk coming after Kayn again. She definitely would not be compatible with that group. Also, his grandson Kevin is too close to her. It might mess with the memory wipe.”
Grey added, “Anytime more than three people are in a tomb that is created for one, it is an enormous strain on the healer’s abilities. It takes a very old and experienced healer to create the energy to transport three people. This next year is going to be a shitty one for the Triad healers. One tomb is housing bodies, and six extra people will be doubled up in tombs in order to train in the in-between.” The motor home moved off of the smooth road, there was a crackling sound underfoot again. They were parking.
Markus stood up and said, “I won’t be seeing you kids for a while. Become best friends, learn to love each other. You three are going to be spending an insane amount of time together. I have faith in you.” With that he turned around and walked out of the door. Kayn heard the rumbling sound of the motor, and they began to move again. Grey strolled over to the fridge and grabbed some glasses. He poured peach cider into each of them. Kayn wasn’t sure she wanted to drink anything but she didn’t want to be rude. Kevin was gone, she was feeling a bit exposed. Grey handed a very overfull glass to each of them. He then poured one for himself, and sat back down at the table.
Grey grinned raised his glass and gave a toast, “To the newest of the Ankh. May you kick ass and take no names.” Kayn had no idea what he meant by that. They all raised their glasses and then awkwardly attempted to clink their exceptionally classy pink flamingo plastic wine glasses. Kayn took a big gulp of the peach cider. She was surprised- it was delicious.
She said, “May I ask who picked out these delightful pink flamingo wine glasses? They are absolutely amazing.”
Grey chuckled, “That would be me. Do not mock my flamingo wine glasses.”
Kayn casually said, “How can one mock these flamingo wine glasses. When, they are so obviously awesome.”
Grey said, “And that is why Miss Brighton and I are going to be best friends.”
Kayn smiled and said, “Miss Brighton is a way better nickname than Frog sticker girl.”
Grey replied, “There’s a really cute story behind the frog sticker girl nickname, but I’m afraid it’s not my place to tell it.” The motor home rode over something with a thud and they all maneuvered with the motor home to avoid spilling their cider.
Frost hollered from the driver’s seat, “Sorry about that, road kill. Already dead road kill.” Grey shook his head and took a giant drink of the cider in his hand.
Melody took a sip of her cider, glanced at Grey and said, “You could have mentioned you were Ankh.”
Grey stared into her eyes and said, “I’m sorry, my thoughts and lips were preoccupied.”
Kayn chuckled, “I’m obviously missing something?”
Zach grinned and said, “I think I understand. You have to read between the lines, Miss Brighton.” Kayn smiled as she clicked into what they were talking about. She glanced at Melody and raised her eye brows.
Zach looked at Kayn and teased, “Miss Brighton. That nickname makes you sound like a naughty librarian.”
Grey chuckled, “Exactly.” He finished his drink and jumped up to grab another one.
Kevin used to call her Brighton. She called him Smith, and he called her Brighton. She was not going to cry. She was not going to cry. She knew she would see him again. It was only a matter of time. Grey held up a cider in front of her. She nodded, and he refilled her flamingo glass. He sat back down at the table directly across from her. Grey took her hand in his. He leaned across the table and kissed the back of her hand.
Grey apologized, “I’m sorry we lost Kevin. He was a great guy. We all liked him.” Kayn gave him an extremely unmotivated half smile. She stared at the plastic flamingo wine glass, tracing the rim with one of her fingers. It still didn’t feel real. Here she was sitting in a motor home drinking cider out of flamingo wine glasses, while he was having his memory wiped and lord knows what else.
Zach inquired, “This Kevin guy was your boyfriend?”
She glanced up, realizing that he was waiting for her reply. Kayn explained, “He wasn’t just my boyfriend. We’d been best friends since kindergarten. It’s a long story but his grandmother was a psychic. He heard my already dead twin sister Chloe screaming for me to run on the night of my Correction. That night triggered his abilities. Then these guys helped him along. They took both of us into Ankh. It was too good to be true.”
Zach looked at Melody and explained his need for knowledge, “Kevin turned out to be Tiberius’s grandson. They took Kevin and left me behind.”
Melody replied, “Isn’t that a karmic kick in the ass?”
Kayn nodded at Melody and almost smiled. It was a seriously messed up karmic kick in the ass. Kayn allowed Grey to continue to hold one of her hands. Grey reminded her of Matty. There had been death, and loss. There had been two new additions to the clan. This was a lot to absorb. Kayn reached over with her free hand and took Grey’s wicked pink flamingo glass from in front of him and downed his cider. He gave her a strange look, and then placed his free hand strategically across his lips to stop himself from smiling. She noticed the rise of his cheeks under cover of his hand but didn’t say a word.
Melody looked at Kayn and said, “Trinity came for you. We didn’t know about Kevin. Your gifts are supposed to be a pretty big deal. What can you do?”
Kayn replied, “That’s what they keep telling me, but I can’t do anything yet. What if I can’t ever do anything special?”
Grey squeezed her hand and said, “I have faith in you, Brighton.”
Zach added, “I can’t do anything either. I know how you feel.”
Grey stood up and poured himself another drink and placed it on the table. Kayn attempted to grab it. He smacked her hand and scolded, “Simmer down, Brighton. Getting hammered tonight will only postpone the inevitable. You have to feel the pain in order to get past it. I also don’t want to spend all night holding your hair while you ralph in the toilet. You three, go choose a bunk. Not the top bunk on the right. That’s Lexy’s bunk. The one directly underneath it is Frost’s. The rest of us are pretty flexible. Most of the time, I just sleep wherever I happen to fall asleep. Lily usually sleeps in that back room. Go relax; I’m making chili dogs for dinner.”
The three of them wandered through the motor home. It was quite spacious. The hallway became very narrow around the bunks. The bathroom was pretty tiny with a stand up shower. Kayn smiled as she thought about how difficult it would be to puke in that toilet while the motor home was moving. She followed the others past the bathroom. The back room was very cool. There were large pillows all over the floor and shelving on one side. They all sprawled out on the pillows.
Zach said, “If this is where Lily sleeps I’ll just sleep back here. I would hate for her to have to go looking for me in the middle of the night.”
Melody smoked him in the face with a pillow, and he began to chuckle. She teased, “Like that would ever happen.”
Kayn had to close her eyes and make an effort to stop the tears that kept threatening to start. She was without Kevin for the first time in her life. What was she going to do? She couldn’t do this without him. Her heart felt so empty. She sat up and covered her face with her hands.
Zach shuffled over to sit beside her and said, “You haven’t even had the chance to cry for him, have you?” He took her in his arms and the river of tears began to flow in a wild, uncontrollable stream down her face.
Melody moved over, joined in, and hugged them both. The three of them sat wrapped in each other’s arms. Strangers, bound together in a new life. All of them began to cry for different reasons. They had all lost something that mattered today. All equally emotionally exhausted, they fell asleep in each other’s arms.
Kayn stirred to the sound of Grey’s voice, “Wake up you guys, dinner’s waiting.”
Kayn rubbed her swollen eyes, still spent from her tears. Grey’s eyes were glistening with tears for some reason. Why was he upset?
Zach said, “What’s wrong?”
Grey replied, “You three remind me of Me, Lexy, and Arrianna. Nothing’s wrong, it’s just the opposite. I think for the first time in forty years, everything is exactly right.
The moments we take for granted
They drove for what felt like days. The three of them had no idea where they were going to end up. On the fourth day they awoke to the scent of the ocean drifting in through an open window. Kayn was personally excited for a day that held the promise of more than just open road and scrabble. She quickly brushed her teeth and got dressed. The three of the newest Ankh shoved past each other as they raced down the hall towards the welcoming scent of bacon.
Lily said, “Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes. Eat quickly; we’re going to spend the whole day at the beach. It’s time for a break.”
Kayn shoved open the motor home’s door and wandered outside. She breathed in the fragrances of the trees mixed with the salty ocean air. They were parked in a campground. There was a rickety looking picnic table out front.
Grey poured and passed them each a coffee. He said, “Settle an argument. This coffee is made with a coffee press. Tell me it’s not the best coffee you’ve ever had?”
Lexy was sitting at the picnic table. She sighed, “I can’t taste the difference.”
Frost was sitting beside her. He winked at them and said, “Neither can I. Sorry buddy!”
Kayn could tell they were messing with Grey. They all took a sip of their coffee.
Melody said, “It’s very good, Grey.”
Kayn added, “Yes, it’s absolutely amazing coffee.”
Zach sat down across from Lexy. He winked at her and said, “It’s alright.” Zach was trying to make up for their murderous introduction.
Frost sighed, “Well, that is three against two. The coffee tastes normal, it’s all in your head Grey.”
Grey started huffing around having a hissy fit. He hissed, “You people wouldn’t know class if it hit you in the face.” He stormed into the motor home and dramatically slammed the door.
Kayn took another sip and thought, Says the guy who picked out the plastic flamingo wine glasses. Everyone started to laugh and she remembered that her thoughts were not her own.
Lexy said, “Brighton, I like you.” She smiled at Kayn and Melody, and then grimaced at Zach like he smelled funny. She stood up and went inside after Grey.
Lily stuck her head out the door and scolded, “Frost, was that really necessary?”
Frost chuckled,” A little bit.” He winked at Lily. She shook her head at him and closed the door.
Kayn got a kick out of the sibling relationship that Frost and Grey appeared to share. They ate an enormous breakfast and piled into a black truck. They drove down to the shore. Grey rolled the windows down presumably to smell the scent of the ocean. He was all about the little things. She felt bad that the others had wrecked one of Grey’s little things this morning. Grey often spoke about embracing the blissful moments in life. He had been one of the emotional life rafts during her first days without Kevin by her side. He told her to try to find one moment of beauty in each day. He was right; there was always a moment in every day to embrace life’s beauty. Some days it was difficult to find, but not today. This was one of those moments. She felt her hair moving in the salty ocean breeze that flowed through the open window. There are so many small things that you disregard as an adult. Adults rarely take pleasure in the rainbows found in bubbles and in allowing their imagination to run amuck. She could still remember her mother asking her to try to keep her feet firmly planted on the ground.
Frost had four surf boards strapped down in the back of the truck. Grey, Zach, and Lexy each grabbed one and ran down to the water. They stripped off their clothes, tossing them along their path towards the water until they were only in their bathing suits. She wanted to go to, but there was only one surf board left. Frost probably wanted to go.
She glanced at Frost and he said, “What are you waiting for? Grab a board.”
Kayn smiled at him and grabbed it, running down the beach after the others. She tried to awkwardly struggle out of her clothes using only one hand. She decided to just put the board down. She glanced back to see if anyone had witnessed her geeky moment. The others had all found a spot on a towel with their books on the beach. Kayn entered the water and ran to catch up with the others. How difficult could learning to surf be?
Grey found Kayn’s comical exploits into the realm of the coordinated people absolutely hilarious. He chuckled, “Small children learn how to surf.”
Kayn choked on the salt water in her airway for the eight millionth time and said, “Small children that are secretly ninjas.”
He patiently said, “You have to be willing to fall off the board and get back on a hundred times if that’s what it takes.” It was a surprisingly deep comment. He added, “Just relax and have fun. Eventually you will get it.”
By the end of the day Kayn was able to admit that surfing was clearly not going to be one of her gifts. Surfing was one of Grey’s and Lexy’s favorite pastimes. Zach learned how to surf rather quickly. He looked like he was having the time of his life. Kayn walked back in alone. She was absolutely exhausted. The others had gone for a walk. She grabbed one of the towels that sat folded on the cooler and spread it out on the sand. Then she grabbed a juice out of the cooler and drank the whole thing. She lay down on the towel in the warmth of the afternoon sun’s rays and took a nap. She slept much longer than she had planned. When she awoke, the sun was hovering low in the sky. Kayn sat up on her towel and shifted to sit in the sand.
Kayn sat on the shore and wiggled her toes back and forth slowly. She had always enjoyed the warm, calming feeling of the sand. It slipped as a silken scarf of liquid sunshine across the surface of her skin. Kayn took one hand and ran it over the surface of the sand, and it shifted as though it had been moved by a light breeze without her hand making contact. Her life now had no room for feet being firmly planted on the ground. She had to allow her mind to take off in flight and accept the impossible. She had to embrace life as a toddler. In a child's world, every breath of life is a mystery; everything has the possibility of being magic. She smiled as she imagined that the sun’s last rays were flames from a distant dragon. Kayn understood that she was an immortal toddler of sorts. She stared at a crab as it tickled a path in the palm of her hand.
The shade of the sky changed ever so slightly in her peripheral vision. She raised her eyes from her toes to the horizon, to witness the sun’s last dance in the daylight as it began to descend slowly, magically into the distant sea. Exotic pastel hues of orange and fuchsia were now painted across the fading expression of the day. It was a calm yet isolating vision to take into her heart, for it made her feel exceedingly small in the grand scheme of things.
A shadow signaled his presence beside her. She raised her eyes to see who had joined her. Grey held out his hand towards her, and she took it without question.
Grey said, “I have something incredible to show you.”
He pulled her to her feet and they walked together into a tidal pool. The scenery was even more breathtaking than it had been only a moment before. The sun had now set the sky ablaze with glorious hues of orange. She squinted to focus in the brilliance and thoughts of distant fire breathing dragons lit up her imagination once again. Grey was the makeshift replacement for her brother Matt. He seemed to see her the same way. She was a younger sister to him. He began to pull her along so fast she could barely manage to keep her footing in the shifting sand. They ran to reach the warm surf as it attempted to elude them, leaving the others lying exhausted on the shore. They stopped thigh deep in the surf.
Grey whispered, “Do you trust me?” He covered her eyes with his damp hands.
“That depends on your state of mind. You do seem reasonably sane today.” Kayn laughed nervously as she attempted to pry his hands away.
He chuckled, “I said... Trust me.” This time it wasn’t a question, it was an order. She stopped squirming and took a deep dramatic breath.
Grey said, “What can you feel right now? I want you to take it all in: the water lapping against your legs, the caress of the sand between your toes. There will be a stretch in some places where you will not be able to rely on what you see. You will have to trust in what you know.”
“I know you would never hurt me,” Kayn whispered then began to sputter laughing as a crab climbed with tiny sharp tickly legs across one of her feet.
“That’s good,” Grey chuckled as she squirmed a little in the surf.
Kayn began to giggle again. She whispered, “I think I have crabs.”
Her eyes were still covered by Grey’s hands. He chuckled and with his slight accent that always made her smile he said, “Indeed you do.” She felt him brush one off of her thigh as it attempted to scale her leg.
She heard the rich tone of Grey’s accent again, “What do you smell Kayn? What do you taste?”
Kayn stated, “I smell the ocean, a fishy scent.” She licked her lips, “I can taste salt.” The salt from the surf was tangy on her tongue, and it made her smile. She felt something sticky slapping against her thighs. She felt squeamish. She stated, “For the record, Grey, I frigging hate seaweed, it’s disgusting and slimy. It creeps me right out.”
Grey chuckled, “Suck it up princess. Keep your eyes closed or you’ll wreck the surprise.”
She sighed and didn’t attempt to open her eyes to sneak a peek. She could feel the kelp wrapping around her legs as the water shifted between her thighs. So gross...this is so gross.
“What dangers do you think you could encounter standing in the surf like this?” Grey’s voice questioned. Kayn crinkled up her expression. Her nerves were practically twitching from the slimy seaweed that now clung now to her legs. Come on Guru Grey, get to the bloody point.
She answered, “I don’t know, Jellyfish, Sharks... Or perhaps a giant rogue wave?”
Greys voice replied, “Right... What could you do about any of them right now?”
“Get the hell out of the water,” Kayn laughed nervously. She swayed as a random wave almost made her lose her footing. The sand slid away quickly under her feet. The ocean floor shifted beneath her as if she were standing on a moving escalator. Kayn heard Grey chuckle. She was willing to bet he had almost lost his footing as well.
Grey said, “You can’t see, Kayn. Do you remember what direction you have to go to get out of the water?”
This isn’t a relaxing game anymore. Kayn squirmed uncomfortably. Her nerves were jangling. She was all consumed by the disgusting seaweed that entangled her.
Grey’s voice was serious this time. He said, “Is the tide coming in or going out? Try to feel the water as it moves against your legs.”
“I’m not sure, I wasn’t paying attention,” she replied honestly. She felt Grey pet her wet hair. It felt like a condescending act. It has been a bloody long day. Grey, I’m too exhausted for deep thought.
He spoke again, “The point is ...While you are busy enjoying the beauty of a moment your mind needs to take in the other small details.”
“I will pay attention next time,” Kayn promised. She broke into a smile under his fingers and forced them up a bit with her grin.
Grey took his hands off her eyes. The sun was disappearing in the horizon. It was now almost complete darkness with a small explosion of glowing orange, followed by a pale sliver of color that appeared to sink under the surface of the water. A ripple of light travelled across the span of the ocean towards her. The last reminiscence of where the sun had been only a moment before. It was incredible. This was an experience she surely would have missed, had Grey’s hands not been covering her eyes until that precise second.
“That was amazing... Thank you,” Kayn whispered as she watched the sliver of light ripple across the water almost as though it was trying to reach across the span of the ocean towards the two of them. It disappeared as she blinked her eyes, and the surface of the water became an endless, dark, empty-looking void.
Grey splashed her in the face. He repeated her personal thought aloud, “Guru Grey. What in the hell, Brighton?”
She sputtered as she breathed in a face full of ocean. She kept forgetting to sensor her thoughts. She always had some kind of comical internal dialogue going on. He swam away from her, chuckling aloud. He always played the pesky older brother role to a tee. Almost as well as Matty had, her mind darted into the past. Kayn immediately shut it off at the first twinge of pain. She chased Grey through the surf with legs weighted by the water in an attempt to get close enough to give him a decent splash back.
She mocked, “Feel the water, Kayn. Embrace the seaweed, Kayn. Be one with the ocean. What do you smell?” She jumped on his back. He dove underwater to get rid of her. She had an older brother; it was going to take a hell of a lot more than that to get rid of her.
Grey came to the surface sputtering, “You have a grip like a bloody koala, Brighton.” She laughed and hung on as Grey started to trudge his way to shore while giving her a piggy back ride.
Grey teased, “Let me go, Brighton. You’re going to force me to embarrass you.” The rest of the Ankh stood on the shore. They were waiting for them.
Lily hollered, “Quit messing around, you two. We’re all tired. It’s time to go.” Zach and Melody were standing beside Lily waiting for the stragglers to make their way to shore. Kayn grinned at the trio as she tightened her grip in Grey's neck. He started to chuckle aloud and she knew he was about to do something.
Grey said, “You asked for it, Brighton.” He tugged on the string on her bikini. She felt it drop off of her chest. She had to let Grey out of the choke hold and grab for it before she lost the top of her bikini. Grey dropped her into the water and took off running ahead of her laughing. She landed with a not so elegant splash in the surf.
“You douche,” Kayn called after him. He was already running away from her, belly laughing. She had to stop for a second in order to retie her bikini top. By the time she made it to shore, Grey had already shaken the sand off of a towel for her.
Grey grinned and said, “Peace offering?” He chucked it right at her face.
Zach, obviously in awe of Grey’s bikini top removing skills, said, “That was amazing. You have to teach me how to do that.”
Grey glanced at Melody and innocently said, “Want to volunteer for bikini top removal training?” Melody shook her head and walked away without answering. Grey had been mercilessly flirting with her.
Grey pointed at Melody as she walked away from him and said, “She wants me.”
Kayn smiled at him as she pulled on her jeans and her wet clinging t-shirt over her still-damp bikini. She took a second to breathe. She could appreciate the solitude of the beach at night. The soothing repetitive sounds of the waves mixed with the faintest amount of light from the slivered moon. Kayn searched her line of sight for Frost. She found herself doing that a lot. Perhaps the part of her that was Chloe needed to see him. The sight of him felt like wrapping herself up in a security blanket. He had been doing his best to avoid a conversation with her. There he was; she could see him carrying the cooler from the beach to the back of the truck. He unlocked the door and climbed into the passenger seat up front. He shut the door. She couldn’t see him anymore.
Her hair in a damp ponytail, she ran behind the others to the truck and scooted into the back seat beside Melody. She was already fast asleep, her head resting peacefully on Zach’s shoulder.
“Poor girl, she’s tuckered right out,” Grey observed. He started the truck, and they drove back to the campsite. Kayn glanced out the window at the wide open spans of the darkened shoreline. It began to dissolve with the coming of the night into the endless sea of black.
“What shall we do tomorrow?” Grey asked the group.
Kayn had to admit this was what she loved about being Ankh: the ability to do the stupid things she had only ever dreamed of trying for fear of getting hurt. They could still get hurt. Then they could be healed, and all was peachy again in the land of the durable people. Kayn looked at the back of Frost’s head in the front seat. Why was he ignoring her? Maybe it hurt him to talk to her because she wasn’t Chloe. He glanced back at her as if he heard her thoughts. Kayn quickly turned away from him. Kayn could sense that he was still watching her. She continued to watch the sea of blackened night whirl by her window as a hypnotic mobile of sorts until her eyelids began to grow heavy. She succumbed to the mental exhaustion and slipped off to join Melody in restful slumber.
She awoke the next morning in her bunk with the faint recollection of being carried from the truck to her bunk by Frost. She must have been dreaming the next part. Frost would have never kissed her forehead. That part was probably just a dream.
In the days that followed, they would venture down the crazy unbucket list that the newest of the Ankh had complied. She had some very cool memories of cliff jumping into the water. They swam out to a dock and danced to the music that floated across the lake from someone’s house party. One by one as the opportunities presented themselves, they did them.
Melody and Lexy played the bucket list games with no fear at all. The healer ability was obviously the coolest ability to have. Kayn could move a fork in the real world. She had moved larger objects while training in the in-between. If she was scared, even that ability didn’t work, but if she was angry then she could whip objects around like a damn superhero. It was a great feeling. It was the only time that she felt any control over this crazy rollercoaster ride that she had made the choice to board. The in-between was her favorite place to be. She wanted to go back there.
The group carried on trying to learn a crazy list of strange and dangerous skills throughout the summer and into fall until the beginning of winter. Frost continued to avoid her. It was finally time for her to go on her first job with the clan. Kayn Brighton was eighteen.
The Simplest of Things
Moments… there are always moments where a decision has to be made. In mortal life there is always a choice. One road or another? The ultimate choose your own adventure story. In the clans, there is only one option, and that is to do whatever your clan’s oracle tells you to do.
Kayn’s steps crunched through the icy snow. She smiled as she watched her breath escape into the crisp evening air. She sat down on the cold wooden bench outside the clinic. Gentle flakes of white powdery snow began to float from the heavens above. Kayn loved to watch Grey’s face in moments such as this one. He never forgot to enjoy the simplest of things. He practiced what he preached. It made them all want to enjoy those moments with him. He smiled and kept his eyes open as the flakes caught in his eyelashes. He blinked as they melted instantaneously from the warmth of his breath as the twirling waves of his moist heat travelled up from his parted lips towards his eyes. Kayn found herself trying to emulate him. She went one step further and stuck out her tongue. The flakes melted instantaneously; it wasn’t quite cold enough outside for them to remain. She had now been to places where her bubble gum froze inside of her mouth as she tried to chew it. Places where when your nose ran it froze solid on her skin in seconds. It was a place like that where Zach learned that peeing in the snow was an incredibly inept idea. She smiled at the memory. Kayn stuck her tongue out as far as it she could in an attempt to see the flakes that rested on its tip. Realizing she was cross eyed as she attempted to look at the tip of her tongue and she probably looked hilarious, she slipped her tongue back in between her lips.
An instant of happiness was worth so much more to her now than it ever had been in her eighteen years before. Last week it had been her eighteenth birthday. She had been sealed to the Ankh on that day forever. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected. A million scenarios had passed through her imagination over the last months. A happy you are stuck with us forever gift. The sky opening up and she would get shot with a brilliant laser beam, and instantly be made into some kind of super hero. It had passed by without one word, until today when she had been told she was allowed to come with them on a job for the very first time. She didn’t know what to expect. Frost was grinning at her from the other side of the chain link fence. She knew what he was thinking. She was behaving like a child. He was openly amused by her behavior. She had a strange flash of a memory; it was of his face through the rungs of a fence. She shook it off. Sometimes she could actually see the longing in Frost’s eyes. He wanted to join them as they re-enacted moments from their childhood. Kayn wondered for a moment if he could remember how it felt to be young and enraptured by every little thing that the world had to offer.
Frost said, “Enough horsing around you two, it’s time to be serious.”
Tonight would be her first official duty as Ankh. She wondered how many of these jobs she would have to do before she stopped attempting to catch snowflakes on her tongue.
Frost began to speak, “This job is a basic one. They do not actually test the blood here in this clinic. They test in the next town over at the actual hospital’s lab. The transporter of this blood is going to hit a deer and get into an accident. He’ll roll the vehicle down an embankment. We have to intercept the wreck, make sure he is dead and burn the vehicle. I was told some of the details as to why this must happen. All you need to know is that he must not reach his destination. He was supposed to die six months ago, and someone intervened. Melody and Zach, I know you have done this kind of disposal job before. Kayn, do what you are told and don’t worry about anything else. Watch and learn.”
Kayn wanted to know about this stranger, whose minutes were numbered. Did he have a family, was he a nice person? Why did he have to die today? What was it that Frost wasn’t telling them? Why were they expected to go along with the orders with little to no explanation?
Lexy whispered, “He is a man whose life needs to come to an end due to maintaining the balance of things.
Lexy had heard her thoughts. Kayn felt panic surge within her. She didn’t want to do this. She needed to get away from them all for a second to clear her head. This was a human being. He was a normal guy; he wasn’t an immortal, or a demon.
Kayn whispered, “I need to go to the bathroom.” She slipped through the sliding doors before anyone could stop her.
Both Melody and Zach knew the drill. They had both been in other clans before becoming Ankh. They also knew that they had all wanted to attempt to stop the first one. Melody made an attempt to follow Kayn.
Frost grabbed her arm gently, “Let her go. There’s no easy road to acceptance.”
Kayn walked by the nurses’ station and dove into the bathroom. There were two stalls. A couple nurses came in to talk at the sink.
“Tell me he’s single,” one voice whispered.
“He is the biggest sweetheart isn’t he,” the other one laughed and then continued, “No, his wife is pregnant, due next month. He has the cutest little boy on the planet.”
“Of course he does,” the other one chuckled.
Kayn heard the bathroom stall next to her open up and close.
A female voice teased, “If he were an asshole, he’d still be single.”
“If he were an asshole, I would have already had a perfectly unsatisfying, and totally pointless relationship with him,” the other voice sparred.
Kayn wondered if they were talking about the man with only hours to live. Somehow she knew that they were. She washed her hands at the sink and looked up as the nurse came out of the stall and smiled at her as they washed their hands together in silence. Kayn looked into the mirror at her reflection. This isn’t a choice, Kayn. It’s not a choice. She exited the bathroom and smiled at the man on her way by him. He gave a warm smile back. Her heart tugged in her chest. She joined the other Ankh outside in the gentle cool of the snow-powdered sunset.
“Are you okay?” Melody mouthed to Kayn.
Kayn smiled back in response, deciding not to reply. Anything she chose to say to state her ability to deal with this situation would have been untrue. Nobody that had a soul would be okay in this moment. She had a cloud of guilt that hovered around her repeating if you know someone is in trouble you should warn them. You are supposed to stop terrible things from happening not create them. You are a good person. Kayn kept attempting to make eye contact with Grey who avoided her gaze now.
Then when that failed she attempted to make contact with Lily who walked past her and opened the truck door, “Come on we need to go.”
They all hopped into the truck and sat for a minute. Kayn searched for Frost’s eyes again. He gave her a glare that said Don’t you dare. He looked prepared to muffle her mouth with his hand. The man walked out of the building with a hum of the sliding doors. Everything inside of her was screaming for her to stop him from getting into his car. She didn’t say a word, knowing she had no choice in the matter. The look on Frost’s face said he wasn’t messing around. The man pulled out in his own vehicle. Kayn heard the crunching of snow and grabbed the handle. Then after clenching it for a second she let it go, releasing her grip on it. She understood there would be no point in attempting to stop him. She knew that much. They followed him in silence and pulled over as they hit the wooded area to sit and wait for a bit.
“This feels wrong,” Kayn whispered to Melody. Melody turned away from her and looked out the window.
“It always does,” Melody replied without looking back towards her. She added, “It will all make sense later.”
“Okay let’s go,” Frost abruptly blurted out, breaking the calm. They drove until they saw a trail of smoke from the side of the road. They all hopped out of the truck into the snow. It had already turned to slush under the cover of the trees.
Frost spoke, “Listen, this job needs to happen very quickly before anyone else drives by and sees the smoke from the accident.”
Lily stated, “I’ll stay here with the truck. You know, in case any complications arise.”
Kayn followed Frost as he climbed down the steep embankment. They group of them grabbed the branches of trees and ferns to keep themselves from sliding down the hill. She could see the vehicle, smoking and crushed. You could not even tell what he had started out driving. Kayn thought, Maybe he is already gone? Maybe they won’t have to kill him?
Frost looked at her and ordered, “Don’t touch anything… trust me. If you do, what happens next will not be pleasant.”
“What are you going to do to him if he’s still alive?” Kayn whispered.
He answered, “I’ll have to break his neck. It has always been the most efficient way to kill someone quickly. It will look like it happened in the accident.”
I’m just going to break his neck. No big deal. It seemed absolutely absurd to talk casually about ending someone’s life.
Frost whispered, “Then the car needs to be completely engulfed in flames. This has to happen long before the ambulance comes. We don’t want them to touch anything. Everyone take your glove off and put it in your pocket. We have to make our point quickly.”
Kayn watched as everyone pulled their gloves off without hesitation. She reluctantly tugged her own white leather fingerless glove off of her hand.
She whispered, “Why are we going to burn him?” Kayn looked up as her heart pounded a panicked rhythm in her chest. She could see Lexy staring at her with a look that almost read as concern.
Lexy whispered, “There’s a chance that more people will have to die if this doesn’t happen quickly. Just breathe hun, this is not on you.”
Zach walked over and put his arm around her. He pulled her close to him and whispered in her ear, “Just watch, try to pay attention.”
Kayn shut her mouth, swallowed, then breathed deeply. She wanted to look elsewhere and pretend this wasn't actually happening. She didn’t want to be a part of this. She turned around and placed her eyes against his shoulder.
Zach whispered, “It will all make sense, but only if you’re watching.”
Grey said, “I’ve got the fire handled, if you have him handled.”
Kayn, unable to help hold her tongue, whispered to Zach, “Isn’t there another way?”
Frost heard her and whipped his head around to meet her accusing eyes. He said, “I’ll tell you what, sweetheart; let’s just ask him what he wants to do? Let’s give him a choice.”
Kayn hated it when Frost used that particular condescending tone. She wasn’t stupid. She just had this apparently foreign thing called empathy. She watched Frost as he took those final strides towards the vehicle alone.
Frost leaned forward into the vehicles window and shook the man a little,” Hey buddy, you okay?”
The man came to and moaned,” I’m stuck in here, I can’t move. I thought it would be a long time before help found me down here.”
“It depends on how you define help,” Frost replied calmly.
The man grew silent, his instinct for self preservation obviously triggered by Frost’s strange response.
“We don’t have a lot of time. I’m terribly sorry. I’m going to have to skip the pleasantries and get right to business. Let me show you something.” Frost took the switchblade out of his pocket. To the mortal’s horror he stabbed himself through his own hand with his knife. Frost’s symbol of Ankh on his palm exploded with light. This triggered the rest of their hands to light up the landscape like fallen stars. The man eyes widened a touch. He began to flail and thrash wildly, his arms free but his legs crushed beneath the dashboard. The man with moments left had to give it one last shot. He screamed with all of the fight he had left inside for someone to help him. They all looked at each other knowing the question that would inevitably come out of his mouth now.
He stammered, “What in the hell are you people? Are you aliens, or something?”
“Or something,” was Frost’s reply.
Lexy reached out and touched Frost’s shoulder. He touched the wounded man’s shoulder, sending some of Lexy’s healing energy throughout his body to take away his pain.
He held up his hand and it was fully healed. Kayn watched the wounded man as he struggled to accept his impossible situation. A look of peace travelled through his eyes as he whispered, “I’m going to die, aren’t I?”
Frost answered, “I am going to give you a choice. I know you’re scared. I understand how crazy this must sound to you. It is of the highest importance that you make an attempt to absorb the gravity of what I’m about to tell you.”
The man’s panicked breathing calmed. He seemed to understand the importance of this moment in time.
“Tonight when they bring you to emergency, everyone you come in contact with will get sick. Some of them will even die. Your family is going to come and see you while you are in surgery. You’ve been exposed to a virus. Your son dies within the first twenty four hours. Your pregnant wife will die by the following day. She will take your unborn daughter with her in passing. The child in your wife’s womb is tremendously valuable, more valuable than you can possibly fathom. She has an important role in future events. That unborn child will go on to do extraordinary things... miraculous things. If you choose life, I promise you that nobody will ever know that it was you who started this epidemic. You are only a carrier. You will have no symptoms. The choice is your life, or your family’s life. Everyone you love and many more will die or you die, right now. There is only a minute to make up your mind. We will abide by whatever you decide.”
The man looked into Frost’s eyes and then towards Kayn. She stood behind the group. Her eyes clouded with tears for she knew what this man was going to say.
Without one single moment of hesitation, he whispered, “Me...I choose it to be me.”
“You won’t feel a thing. Nobody will ever know what happened today. To your family this will look like a random accident. Your life next time around can be easier... It might even be better than it was this time.”
“No, it couldn’t possibly be better,” the man whispered. “This time was perfect. I would do it all again, even if I knew this was how it would end.”
“That’s what I like to here. You were blessed, be at peace.” Frost replied. He touched his brow with his palm, lighting up his symbol. The man’s eyes closed. They opened again, and they were vacant of his being. Kayn knew his soul had already been delivered to the in-between, leaving only what was left of his broken, empty-looking human shell behind. Frost snapped his neck without ceremony. The man lay slumped in the driver’s seat. Kayn sobbed not because she was upset. The man’s last words about his family and his final moments had such peace and beauty. She reached in to grab the picture of his family off of the visor to remember him by. This selfless man deserved to be remembered.
Grey smacked her hand away, “Everything in this car burns, and anyone who touches anything in it.”
Kayn turned to look at Frost. Wait a minute. Grey was going to have to burn Frost?
Frost said, “Just do it.” He held out his arms. They had come in contact with the driver’s skin.
Kayn looked at Grey and then at Frost in a panic. He wasn’t going to burn Frost, was he?
Grey said, “You ready buddy?”
“Never for this part,” Frost said meekly, “but it’s not exactly a choice, now is it?”
Grey whispered, “Sorry.” His hands hovered a few inches above Frost’s skin for a second, and brilliant flames of orange engulfed his muscular arms. Frost’s skin began to bubble, and melt away from the meat. A pitchy sound of anguish spilled from between his parted lips. His eyes rolled back in pure agony. He collapsed to his knees on the frozen forest floor. Kayn staggered backwards in shock. Grey walked over and lit the car on fire. The interior was instantly engulfed in flames. Lexy knelt in front of Frost. She touched either side of his face gently. The raw exposed skin on his arms immediately started to heal.
She embraced him for a second, “Shhh, it’s okay.” His wounds began to heal. They scabbed and closed up. Lexy was starting to look a little faint.
Lexy whispered, “Sorry, I can’t keep going. Not unless you want to carry me up that hill.”
There was a quite ominous slant to the hill. Kayn hadn’t noticed how steep it was on the way down. Her mind had been elsewhere.
Melody reached for Frost, “I’ll finish healing you."
Frost said, “We have to go hun, and I’m okay, see.” He showed her his now perfect skin.
Kayn stood frozen in the moment. Her heart pounded beneath her rib cage. The sound of flickering flames mixed with the vile scent of the noble man's flesh as it burned. She watched as his mortal shell floated away in the pungent billowing smoke. It disappeared into the sky above. She knew that she would never forget the scent of burning flesh, and how selfless that man had been today. How selfless, dare she think the name …Frost had been. Someone had to fix things that fell through the cracks. A kind, decent man had died tonight. His demise had a purpose, a clear purpose. It had saved his family and who knows how many more families from being touched by a glitch in fate’s design.
She followed the others silently. She climbed the slippery slope by grabbing branches and ferns. Struggling, she pulled herself upwards. She could picture Lily sitting there with the engine idling. Kayn could hear the vehicle’s engine purring. She was trying to think of anything else. Anything but what she had just seen. Kayn’s hand clasped a fern and the exposed root from a tree. It created an almost perfect handle. She dug her heels into the dirt and rock that slipped beneath her feet with icy trickery. She was actively ignoring the scent of burning human flesh. This night would mark her brain. She now knew what burning human flesh smelled like. Kayn suspected this scent would stay with her always.