Chapter 2

The Lightning

5:00 P.M. – Back at the Picnic Meadow

Crack! Amber sat up with a start.  She immediately glanced towards the sky.  “Oh…my…gosh!”  Her face distorted with panic as she dragged the picnic basket out of the way. “Wake up, Kash!  Wake up!  We’ve got to get out of here.  Now!  Move so I can fold the blanket.   Thunderheads are forming!”

Kash rolled over, sat up and lazily glanced towards the sky.  “Whoa!  We’d better get going!  You’re not kidding!  Where did they come from?”

“I don’t know, just hurry!”

“How long were we asleep?”

“Only a couple of hours I thought,” Amber said, panicking.

Kash glanced down at his watch.  “It’s 5:00!  It’s too dark for 5:00 in the afternoon.  What happened to the clear, peaceful, pleasant day?”

“I don’t know, just come on!”

An evil wind had abruptly kicked up, bringing with it massive dark clouds at an unearthly pace.  By the time they reached the car the sky was almost black.  Amber took the blanket and threw it in the back seat of the old Chevy.  “What have we done?  We’re miles away from a Double-Down!  What are we going to do?  It’ll blast right through the car and kill both of us!”

“Maybe we can find one in there?” Kash said hopefully, pointing towards the thick grouping of trees a short distance away. “Leave everything here.  We’ll get it later.   Maybe the trees will divert the lightning until we can find one.  Run for it!  I’ll be right behind you.”

Amber immediately started running towards the forest, with the hope of finding something that might serve as a Double-Down.  Before they could even reach the edge of the thicket, the clouds had transformed into indigo whirlpools that swirled towards the earth bringing with them a heavy rain, making it difficult to see.

Their two bodies darted hastily in and out of the trees at a reckless pace.  “I’ve never seen it rain this hard—this fast,” Amber yelled back towards Kash as she ran.  The ground was rapidly becoming slippery, and the wind was getting stronger.

In the distance they heard another crack of thunder.  The lightning was a forbidden stalker, but it did provide some illumination for the darkened, unfamiliar terrain.  Crack! The earth shook with the sharp impact of energy.  The lightning was picking up its pace and intensity as the legends had described.  It was methodically marching forward; heightening the electricity in the air and was unmistakably moving towards them in a relentless pursuit.  Its mindless goal was to catch her and claim her for its own.  It was her against nature and her time was running out.

In this dimension Kash was typically the one who kept her safe from these potential dangers, but he hadn’t seen this one coming.  After all, he was the Splitter, which gave him privileges and powers of insight, and anticipation and stamina beyond an average man.  “This stinking mud is going to ruin my shoes!”

“What?  Are you nuts?” Amber called back, “See if you can focus!  I need your help to find me a Double-Down before it’s too late.”

“I’m looking, but it’s hard to see through this rain,” Kash yelled.

Amber’s usual strong, graceful movements were becoming erratic and sloppy, as the ground grew more and more slippery.  Amber was nearly 45 years old, though her bloodline would maintain her body around the age of a 25 year old for many years yet to come.  Ever since she was 35 she began aging in reverse, which is typical for every Trekker until they hit 55; one of the bonuses of Inheriting.

“Can you see anything yet?” Kash called out as he recovered his balance from a misplaced step.

“Not yet,” replied Amber in a raspy, breathless voice. “There’s not much time left.” Her wet, silky-black hair flipped from side to side, mirroring the quick sweeping movement of her head.  She anxiously scanned the densely wooded landscape for a burrow deep enough to block the lightning’s attraction to her.

“What’s that?” Amber whispered to herself.  She squinted her eyes and strained her neck in the direction of a faint red glow that had flickered in the dark for a split second.  All of a sudden there were several of them in a sequence, only a few feet apart that disappeared before she could really see what they were.  “Is there someone there?” she called out.

“What?” answered Kash as he wrapped his arm around a nearby tree to help support himself during his next turn.

“Nothing…just…I just thought I saw…something,” said Amber, wrinkling her brow and shaking her head with a hint of uncertainty.

The increasing wind carried less of the sound of their voices between them with each passing minute.  Kash was yelling consistently now as he tried to communicate with his wife, who was running ahead of him.

“I can hardly see you, let alone a Double-Down!”

A few yards away Amber noticed a hollowed out log as she ran past it.  “My only hope of survival is to find a print.  You drop back.  It’s safer that way and at least I can move without worrying about you.  Hide under that log and I’ll see you when I re-enter!”

“I’m not deserting you like a coward,” snapped Kash.  He felt helpless about his inability to meet Amber half way in her struggles.  It wasn’t that he didn’t want to, he couldn’t!  She had to do this alone.

Kash resentfully turned his attention towards the log.  When he changed direction, it was too fast for the stormy, wet conditions and he stumbled on a muddy clump of grass, losing his footing again. This time he was thrown forward, headfirst into an uncontrollable slide towards a steep drop to the jagged rocks in the deep ravine below.  He started grabbing at everything he could reach, cutting his hands on the wet, sharp blades of grass and sticks as they slipped through his fingers.  If he could only hang on to something solid it might stop him from being swept over the ledge.  With any luck he could handle at least this situation by himself without drawing Amber’s attention away from her search.

Amber was still in pursuit of the footprint that seemed less and less likely to appear.  By now she had moved several yards ahead of him and was frantically scanning the ground to see if she could make the discovery before it was too late.  She glanced back towards Kash and saw him sliding out of control, headed towards the cliff.  She knew there might not be enough time to save him and save herself, but she couldn’t stand the thought of him being hurt.  Her love for him replaced her instincts for self preservation.

Kash saw that Amber had become aware of his situation.

“Don’t worry about me,” he yelled as he continued to slide towards the edge, “I’ll be alright.  You’ve got to find a print, before the…”

Another deafening bolt of lightning struck only a few feet away from them, muffling the rest of his words.  The shock slammed Amber against an old oak tree that appeared to have been hit by lightning before.  Kash’s eyes grew wider as he anticipated his own impact on the rocks below at any moment.

Amber pushed herself away from the drenched, entangling shrubs and out of pure reflex she clenched her fist in a Half-Parallel, igniting a burst of energy so bright that the whole world seemed to disappear.

“To Kash,” she blurted out.

Kash, having no warning, was temporarily blinded.  He couldn’t see anything except leftover silhouettes that created ghostly images in the darkness as his vision returned. Without any normal explanation, he came to a complete stop at his wife’s feet, inches from the crumbling edge.  She had appeared out of nowhere! Terror struck his heart because he knew she had wasted precious time to save him.

“Are you crazy?”  Kash shouted. “Saving me could be the death of you.  Go! You’ve got to go!”

Kash crawled back to a safe distance as Amber tried to see through the pouring rain.  Out of the corner of her eye she finally spotted the familiar, bright, fluorescent-blue glow that was her ticket to safety.  Her shortness of breath mirrored the shortness of time remaining and fear was beginning to raise its ugly head.  The print was at least 30 feet away across a clearing, yet the ability to see one at all in the midst of the storm sparked a small glimmer of hope in her.

“I see one!”  she shouted. “Maybe I can make it…”

“Hurry!  The next bolt will hit you!  Go!” He knew the likelihood of her reaching the print was slim if she ran for it, but maybe if she could lock in a transfer she could still make it!  “Hurry Amber, hurry!”

Amber spun around and ran as fast as she could towards the footprint.  She wiped the rain from her eyes so she wouldn’t lose her bearings and miss the small, glowing target on the ground that was critical to hit.  The wind was pushing her beyond her normal ability to run, making it very difficult to remain standing.  She had positioned her arms for transfer when a blinding flash of red light filled her vision.  Without warning she ran head-on into something that hadn’t been there the moment before.  She was knocked backward to the ground, completely out of breath with a stabbing realization that she must have only a few seconds left.   As she laid there stunned in the muddy trail, she saw a pair of feet directly in front of her.  Her eyes followed the long body upward until an angry, older man could be seen in full view.  He had a mean laugh and was enjoying seeing her crumpled on the ground, struggling in the mud.  His chiseled features had a familiar feel to her.  His straight, graying hair was neatly trimmed; not a single hair out of place.  When he turned his head there was a patch of pure white hair behind his left ear the shape and size of a nickel.  He reminded her of her grandfather, though she couldn’t recall ever really seeing him before.  He was dressed in the most unusual clothing.  The shimmering hue of the fabric adjusted itself to reflect his movements and the dancing light of the atmosphere that whirled and shifted around him. His countenance appeared dark and radiated a cruel, gloomy feeling that carried the putrid odor of decaying flesh.  It was as if his presence had sucked all of the oxygen out of the air, leaving nothing for her to breathe, except the stench that came from him.  He appeared blurry, like he was half in her world and half in another, completely dry and untouched by the wind and rain.  His arms were in a Half-Parallel, but how could that be?  How would he know what a Half-Parallel was?  She was the Trekker.  Only she and Kash knew!

Amber heard the stranger call out, “To the print!” and another blaze of red light filled the air.  Before she could sit up the stranger re-appeared over the blue, glowing footprint, threatening her only hope for survival.

He can see the print!” she thought to herself, “It’s exactly as Mattie said!

He glared back over his shoulder one last time, positioned his arms in a different Parallel and without an ounce of regret or concern for her safety, said flippantly, “Second corridor Missy!” stepped on the print and was gone.  In spite of the noise that surrounded them, both she and Kash could hear him laughing as he dissolved into the dark, swirling storm taking her last means of escape with him. There were no other prints in sight and the lightning would complete its morbid duty, striking her at any moment.

Kash began screaming, “Get up and run! Run!” though he knew it was too late.

Suddenly the storm stopped as if time stood still just for them; just for a moment.  Simultaneously they rose to their feet as though they were performing a scene they had rehearsed over and over again.  As they faced each other from across the clearing, the rain continued streaming down their faces.  Their soaked, heavy clothing hung from their tired, torn frames. Their eyes locked on each other as a terrible silence fell over them, surrounding them in a bubble of calm.  It was the “Dome of Silence” they had read about in her Book of Ancestors.  They both thought it was a myth; a fairy tale passed down through the generations of time.  It never crossed their minds that it could possibly be real!

They both knew this was the last time they would see each other and it felt like their spirits joined together in one last embrace from across the field.  Kash could see the tears streaming down Amber’s face, each one radiating a peculiar blue glow independent from the falling rain.  He’d never seen her cry before; not once in all the years they had been married.

“I love you with all of my heart,” she said in a gentle, strangely amplified voice that echoed in the still.  She was oddly calm and seemingly unafraid.  Her incandescent, blue eyes were on fire and Kash could see them clearly through the heavy precipitation.  “Tell Mattie that I love her and I’ll see her again. Teach her who she is and remember the book if you run into trouble.  She is the only one left now and it must not die with her.”

Kash gazed longingly at her, hoping for a miracle.  “Amber…I…”

Amber interrupted him, sensing the time was short.  “I’ll find a way to…” Crack!  A fatal bolt of yellow lightning struck Amber from behind and in a burst of green light she was gone.  Gone forever!

Kash dropped to the ground.  He could hardly breathe from the terror he felt inside.  The storm instantly began to dissipate now that it had accomplished its deadly task.  The rain slowed to a gentle, rhythmic pattern, tapping its own melody of regret on Kash’s back.  He felt dizzy, nauseated and completely alone as he buried his head in his hands and sobbed.

“What am I going to tell her?” he repeated to himself over and over again in a condemning mantra.   “How can I explain how foolish we were to get caught in the thunderstorm?  Why didn’t I see it coming?  This is going to kill Mattie!”

There had always been a deep bond between Mattie and her mother.  They looked so much alike, and it was as though they had always shared the same consciousness in everything they ever thought or did since Mattie was old enough to walk and talk.  He tortured himself with the thought that she may hate him for the rest of her life or worse, would refuse to learn who she was and what her heritage had bestowed upon her.  He replayed everything in his head over and over again like a looped movie scene trying to change its horrifying outcome to a better ending, yet the reality was always the same. Amber was gone.

A throbbing pain filled his chest, his stomach knotted and his thoughts darted back and forth to a dozen questions he could hardly bare to entertain any longer. “How could this have happened?  How could I have been so stupid?  Why didn’t she flash to the footprint instead of running?  Could she have bypassed the stranger if she had?  Why was she crying?  Am I dreaming?  Please let this be a dream!”  The reality of his living nightmare came rushing back to him.  He knew it wasn’t a dream.  She was gone!

For a brief moment his thoughts returned to the deadly stranger and rage filled his heart.  It was a welcome relief from the pain that engulfed him to feel the anger inside instead.  Thinking of the unwelcome predator who destroyed his greatest treasure and the most amazing woman he had ever known brought a different range of emotions and strength that only comes with the distasteful desire for revenge.

Like Amber, Kash had also seen and heard the stranger and had detected a brief whiff of the sickening odor before he vanished.  He would never be able to forget his face or the sound of his cold laugh as he mocked his sweet wife in her darkest hour. Disturbingly, the old man was familiar to him, too.  He began searching his memory for clues as to who the deadly intruder was and how he could have appeared and disappeared so abruptly.  He found nothing accessible within his experiences to answer the endless stream of haunting questions burning in his mind.

Chapter 3

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