The Bridge

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					            The b ri d ge

a podiobook/pdfnovel by cs jones

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Synopsis of The Bridge
The Bridge is a 26-episode series written and performed by
CS Jones. It contains strong language, adult themes and
scenes of intense graphic violence. It is considered neither
child-friendly, nor work appropriate.

At a certain point in one's life, the desire to rebel begins to
ebb. Little rewards take up the space where our dreams used
to be, and before you realize that you have given something
up, you have already begun to hate it. You hate the memory
of it, the foolishness of desire, and you reward yourself for
your jaded maturity.

Nathaniel Florence and his sister have stood on the
precipice of dreams and disaster and have chosen a path that
will either destroy them, or make their deepest wishes come

As the siblings work towards understanding, they begin to
question the nature of their own pain, whether it is
atonement they seek- the desire to be forgiven- or simply
the right to be justified in their actions.

Somewhere along this path of vengeance and atonement lies
the secret of the Bridge.

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List of Episodes

1.    The Kitten With Wings
2.    American Vikings
3.    Blue Fire
4.    Oubliette
5.    Rainbow Calamari
6.    Don't You Play?
7.    Windowsill
8.    And They Eat Cats
9.    Thank You Celery
10.   Tea Stains
11.   Silver from Judas Bones
12.   A Short Celestial Voyage
13.   Falling Farther Than Water
14.   Yes But Not How
15.   Damn Yankees
16.   The Partition Develops
17.   The Moon Pulls the Tide
18.   Idioms
19.   Honeymeade is a Good Tonic
20.   The Bittersweet
21.   The End of the World
22.   Committing Sacrifice
23.   Pomander Egg
24.   The Partition Closes
25.   Roxor Soxos
26.   The Paths Between Leaves

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.   01-The Kitten With Wings
    A loud bell rings out, startling a flock of white birds from the roof of the gymnasium.

    There are always a few high school students whose parents expressly forbid them from attending certain
    school functions. These could be holiday parties and activities, the pledge of allegiance, sporting events,
    dances and even pep rallies, citing religious or political beliefs. When given the choice to attend the end of
    school pep rally or run laps, Hiroyuki Takei and Nathaniel Florence had both chosen to run laps.

    Nathaniel professes a deep religious conviction, insisting his mother would never understand. Takei
    mumbles something about the American Chapter of the Buddhist Republican Socialist League's Third
    Amendment, second paragraph, line three. Their heat-addled homeroom teacher simply nods, ignoring the
    details of the explanation.

    After informing them that they will be running on the honor system with the other misfits, she quickly
    escapes to the comfort of the air-conditioned gymnasium.

    The honor system seems to last for about five minutes. When it becomes apparent that nobody from the Pep
    Rally is going to actually come out of the gymnasium to check on them, they wander off to hang out with
    the skater kids in the parking lot.

    When the bell rings, signaling the end of the rally, the crowd in the parking lot disperses, most of the
    students wantonly ditching the last three periods of the day. Takei and Nathaniel race each other to the
    track, where the other misfits are also not running. Although the bell has rung, the gymnasium is still
    packed, the very building shaking from the power of school spirit.

    Takei and Nathaniel pause on the broad grassy berm that surrounds the perimeter of the high school.
    Freshly blooming trees are spaced out along the little hill, dropping occasional petals in the breeze. For a
    prison, this part of the high school actually seemed peaceful.

    Nathaniel collapses on the grassy hillside. He lets his arms and legs flop out around him like an only half-
    naked version of the old Leonardo daVinci sketch. His gym clothes are soaked in sweat, and his face is
    flushed from exertion. He tries to summon up the name of the drawing, but fails. "Vesuvius, Ventruvious...

    "Vitreous Man," says Takei's breathless voice above him. "Vesuvius was the name of the volcano that
    destroyed Pompei, Italy." Hiroyuki Takei, or Takei as he prefers to be known, rests his hands on his knees
    and surveys the school grounds with a profound sense of disgust on his face. He might as well have been
    looking at a garbage dump.

    "Vesuvius Man sounds better,” Nathaniel says. "What did those other words mean?"

    Takei glances down. "Ventruvius? Volucious?"

    Nathaniel nods.

    "They don't mean anything, man. You just made them up." Takei sits Indian style and turns his gaze
    towards the students pouring out of the gymnasium and over the edge of the soccer field.

    "So what does 'Vitreous' mean?" Nathaniel asks, pulling up handfuls of grass.

    "Well, basically it means you can see through it. You know, vitreous rocks, and shit. For example, the goop
    inside of your eyeball is called vitreous fluid. “

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“Wow. So daVinci's drawing was basically a “See-Through” man.”


“So that's why they show his insides. You know, Tak, for someone so smart, you really skip a lot of class.”

Takei growls up at the blossoms falling around him. “I kissed her. I had to skip.”

Nathaniel nods vigorously. “All the more reason to be in a good mood.”

Takei shakes his head as if his love is a dark and evil secret and the particulars of it are possibly the
broadest and most slippery avenues to the coldest, deepest hells filled with spiders, razorblades and sentient
stuffed animals.

“I just hate this place,” Takei mumbles. “If I have to listen to one more airhead remind me what the name
of our school is one more time, I'm going to find the shallowest puddle I can and drown myself in it."

Nathaniel laughs and flings the handfuls of grass into the air, letting them tumble in the breeze among the
petals from the trees. "But it's Spirit Week, Takei! Where's your sense of school pride, you excessive son of
a bitch! Give me a "C!" Give me an "O!""

"Give me a break!" Takei grunts. "I say we ditch the rest of the day and raid 'Tousen's liquor cabinet." He
extends his hand and snags a falling petal. He holds it in his forefingers, examines it briefly, and grinds it
into juice.

Whenever Takei calls his father “tousen” instead of “dad”, or even the proper Japanese “Otousen,” it is
usually a bad sign. Despite being multilingual, Takei only diverts from the English language in order to

"I don't get it. Did she taste horrible when you kissed her? Like maybe she's been eating out of the
rubbish?" Nathaniel asks with eyes wide with innocence.

His friend only glares at him.

"It's either that or hemorrhoids," Nathaniel shrugs. "And if it is hemorrhoids, I win, because hemorrhoids
automatically ruin any chance at intimacy. I can just imagine it: You and Erin, lying in bed. She says,
'What's that horrible smell?' And you reply, 'Oh nothing, it's just my asshole. It turned into a nuclear
dumping ground sometime this morning.' You just can't argue with my logic, can you?"

"Anybody tell you that you're weird, Nathaniel? Not just weird, but really, totally, bat shit weird?"

"Ah-so,” Nathaniel mimes the wise old man from the Samurai show he and Takei usually watch after
school. He puts his right fist into his left palm and says in the same sage-like voice, “Confucius say, 'You
must be worried that Miss Thomas is not going to like the size of you fortune cookie.'"

Takei sighs. “Confucius is Chinese, you idiot. And so are fortune cookies.”

“It doesn't matter; he still has good advice. Like, Confucius say: 'Man who walks through metal detector

“Yeah, okay, real wise.” Takei looks sick to his stomach. “I can't believe I just kissed her like that.”

Nathaniel sits forward and digs his fingers into the grass. His eyes focus on a group of girls in the direction

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his friend is glaring. A grin crinkles his lips and a decidedly evil light fills his eyes. "Takei, you are now
seventeen years old. I think you're old enough to be able to talk to girls your own age. Go ask Erin if she
wants to go to the lake after school."

Takei's scowl deepens.

"Ask her if she wants to go right now. Ask her if she wants to have sex in the teacher's lounge. Be fearless!
Girls respond to confidence like that." Nathaniel snatches a blossom out of the air and then lets it fly away

He and Takei watch the blossom float away until it is lost once more with the others. If there was some sort
of spiritual significance implied in the action, Takei couldn't detect it. He only sighs dramatically and glares
murderous thoughts at the grass.

“”After all,” Nathaniel points out, “she didn't exactly run away screaming when you kissed her. Somebody
ran away, though, when the bell rang. Hm... Oh yes, it was you.”

"Tell you what," Takei hedged. "I'll ask Erin to the lake if you ask Kami Lentz." He figures this will work
well enough to shut Nathaniel up for a little while.

Nathaniel, who watched the petal disappear with an almost Zen-like wonder, cocks his head quizzically.
"Come again?"

Takei nods down to the cluster of people gathered around the girl's side entrance to the gymnasium. "You
ask Kami. I'll ask Erin."

"You mean the way kids do in third grade?" Nathaniel grins and digs his fingers into a patch of grass. "It
wouldn't be the first immature thing I've done today." He stands and cups his hands to his mouth. "Hey
Kami!" He waves his arms as a tall, pretty blond girl turns her head. "Kami!" he shouts again. He waves
her over.

Takei scrambles to his feet. "What the hell are you doing? That's the most popular girl in school."

"You made a deal, ace." Nathaniel grins without any glimmer of apology. He looks down to find Kami
approaching with a small horde of girls en tow.

"She's bringing all of them, Nathaniel! You know guys like us aren't popular enough to asks those girls
out!" Takei growls audibly. “ A year ago, when you were still the new guy, it might have been different,

"Knock it off, Takei. They'll hear you. Just remember that girls can smell fear."

"Well, shit." Takei yanks another blossom from the air and grinds it up in his fingers, trying to look as
casual as possible. "Do I look stoned?" he whispered.

Nathaniel nods. "Yes. Of course you do."

"You bastard," Takei spits under his breath, feigning what he hopes is a smile. “I hope you get murdered by
a pack of wild dogs. I hope one of the dogs is a doctor so he can bring you back and they can kill you again
and again and again.”

The girls walk along the springy track that surrounds the school's soccer-slash-football field and saunter up
the side of the berm to where the boys are standing. Takei recognizes all them as the school's elite. In a
school of only a few thousand, recognizing and casually avoiding the most popular students is a

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prerequisite for slipping in under the radar of ridicule.

Kami, the tall girl in the center, is flanked by Sabrina and Amy, both brunettes who wear their long hair
without bangs, parted slightly to one side, and tucked behind their ears. Nobody is foolish enough to
mention it, but it is apparent that both of these girls idolize Kami. Their hairstyle and clothes all match,
right down to the colorful butterfly barrettes that keep their hair in place.

Nathaniel catches sight of Erin Thomas, lingering in the back, and realizes that out of the entire group, she
is the only girl that really seems to disregard any attempt at fashion. He wonders if this is why Takei is
attracted to her.

"Hi," Kami smiles. Her flock comes to a rest around her, most of them talking animatedly about things that
Nathaniel holds no interest in. "You called, right?"

The girl Nathaniel recognizes as Amy folds her arms. "'Shouted' is more like it." The sound of Amelia
Praille's nasal voice, coupled with a slight breeze fingering the folds of his sweaty clothes causes Nathaniel
to shudder involuntarily.

"I apologize," he says. "I didn't have my cell phone on me."

One of the girls next to Erin in the back, who is busy with her own cell phone, speaks up. "You can use
mine after I finish this text message."

Amy groans loudly. "He said he didn't have his with him, stupid."

The girl looks up at Amy and blinks at her. "That's why I said he could use mine. Stupid." The girl glances
over at Takei and Nathaniel and grins unabashedly at them. "Hey Takei. Hi, Nathaniel."

"Hey Paige," the boys chime.

"Ah, anyway," Nathaniel continues before Amy has a chance to interrupt. "I was wondering what you and
your friends are doing this afternoon. Are you and Miss Amy free?"

Takei glances up in alarm, but Nathaniel seems to be unfolding some devious plan, one that doesn't involve
asking Takei for permission before taking extensive risks.

"I am so busy," Amy sniffs, putting extra emphasis on the word 'so.'

"Tak was thinking about hosting a highly immoral and possibly dangerous end-of-school party, but I don't
know if he's interested now that you can't go. Takei, you should find somebody cuter, like Erin back there."
Nathaniel wink at Kami, who stifles a giggle. She pretends to inspect her fingernails and avoids Amy's

"Whatever," Amy mumbles. "Who'd want to go to a stupid party with you losers?"

"I would," Paige cries, still engrossed in her text message.

“Yeah, I bet you would,” Amy sneers.

"Only if you bring Simon," Nathaniel says, ignoring Amy. "What about you, Miss Thomas? Kami?
Sabrina? Any of you have boyfriends that can bench-press more than Simon?"

A few of the girls giggle outright. Amy does not.

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"Come on," Paige jokes. "You can take Simon." She smiles smugly to herself, and tosses her hair to the best
effect of the wind. Her long, glossy black braid falls over one shoulder, but the breeze catches her blood-
red bangs and pushes them back over her eyes.

"Nah, I'd rather take Kami," Nathaniel admits. "Unless of course you just want to watch Simon murder me.
I'm pretty accommodating."

Paige laughs, blows her bangs out of her eyes, and calls him a wimp.

Nathaniel shrugs dismissively at the accusation. "So what do you say, Kami? Who could possible object to
your attending a drunken orgy at the lake tonight?"

"Hello!" Amy raises her hand. "I object. The last thing Kami needs is to be seen traipsing around with you
in that beat-up excuse of a truck."

Paige claps her phone shut and arches an eyebrow at Amy. "I happen to think Nathaniel's truck is fucking

"Ew," Amy shudders.

Nathaniel sees his chance. He softens his eyes and moves a little closer to Kami. "Go with me. If you say
no, Paige might rape me right here where I stand and if that happens, I'll never forgive you."

"Careful," Paige warns, snaking through the little crowd. "I happen to know for a fact that Amy's car has a
huge back seat. I, eh, speak from experience. If you know what I mean."

Amy glares at Paige, then at Nathaniel.

"I didn't say it," Nathaniel protests, raising both hands.

If Amy was a cartoon character, Takei is certain that her head should have exploded. Amy's mouth opens
and closes a few times as if she is about to say something. He thinks she looks vaguely like a fish, and tries
not to laugh. He feels a tug at his sleeve.

Paige has materialized next to Takei's shoulder. She motions to Erin with her eyes, and without waiting for
a response, drags him through the gaggle of girls, letting the tension between Nathaniel and Amy keep
everyone else spellbound. "Ask her if she wants to take a walk," Paige whispers into his ear.

Takei is mortified.

"Don't act like that!" Paige hisses. "You've been ogling her the whole time we've been standing here."

Takei swallows. Paige gives him a gentle nudge down the slope- he windmills his arms and bumps into
Erin. While Amy and Nathaniel argued over Kami, Erin watched a flock of small birds cartwheeling in the
air above the far goal post. Takei knows this, he realizes, because Paige was right. He had been watching

"Sorry," he mumbles. He grabs her arm to steady her, but lets go quickly, expecting some sort of reaction.
Erin, however, seems engrossed in the birds.

"Are you all right?" he asks.

Erin looks up at him slowly. "How far away from the ocean are we?"

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Takei shrugs. "Two or three hundred miles, I suppose."

"Are those seagulls?"

Takei holds a hand up to shade his eyes from the sun. "I can't really tell from this far, but they could be." He
glances at her nervously. "Wanna take a closer look?"

Erin nods. Takei looks over his shoulder, feeling as if he should give Nathaniel a half-wave before leaving,
but his friend is too busy trying to break free from the strangle-hold he is receiving from Amy. Paige, of
course, is already detached from her matchmaker status and is now busy taking a picture of the mess with
her cellphone. Takei shrugs them all off.

Erin is already at the bottom of the slope, balancing on the concrete curb that lined the track. Separated
from the friends she usually travels with, she seems more aloof. Aside from Paige, whose style teeters on
the fringes of pop-punk goth and preppy, Erin is one of the pieces of the popular girl puzzle that simply
does not fit.

She dresses the way that other smart, shy girls dress. Her skirts are oftens longer than the popular girls
would wear, but this only means they meet the school's conformity code of "one inch above the knee and
no higher."

On the other hand, her rounded toe buckled shoes and frumpy cardigan are items that should have instantly
singled her out for savage harassment from the likes of Amy and Sabrina. Takei wonders briefly if he has
ever seen Amy and Erin hanging out together without any of the other girls around to mediate.

"Have you ever been to the ocean?" she asks him, balancing on one of the track's white lane lines on the
heels of her shoes.

Takei nods. "I'm from Hawaii."

"Oh yeah. I forgot. I keep thinking that since you're Japanese, well, you know. You don't really talk about
Hawaii that much."

"Dad's Japanese. Mom's from New Zealand. We moved around a lot." He makes to shove his hands into his
pockets, but realizes quickly that he is still in his gym shorts and therefore has no pockets for his restless
hands. “So we lived in Hawaii until about a year ago.” He presses his sweating palms against his thighs and
nods to the end of the field.

Erin nods in return, and they walk away from the violent affair of Nathaniel versus Amy.

"So they both seemed to like Hawaii, then?"

Takei glances up from his shoes. "Huh?"

"Your parents. They must have liked Hawaii if they decided to raise you there."

"So I've heard," he says, instantly regretting how tight his voice sounds. He decides to switch the direction
of the conversation before he makes a fool of himself. "Have you ever been to the ocean?"

"No." Erin's eyes follow one of the birds in a long, graceful loop. Her head moves along with the bird's
trajectory. At any moment, Takei can imagine her leaping from the ground to give chase, and not simply to
fly alongside the bird for the sheer pleasure of flying.

"Like a cat with wings," he murmurs abruptly.

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The girl's face blossoms into a grin. "A what?"

"A cat. Maybe a kitten, I don't know. But, you know, with wings." He struggles with the curious look she
gives him. "Most people look at birds and think, 'Oh, wouldn't it be great...'"

"If I could fly with them?" Erin finishes his sentence for him. "And you're thinking different? Like maybe
I'm thinking about fried seagull?"

"Or barbecued, I dunno." He grins shyly, still self-conscious. He doesn't know how much of a smile he
should show to her at this point. He can name plenty of people who he was once attracted to that he longer
finds attractive because of how a smile can distort a face. What if he smiles and she thinks he's hideous? "If
they are seagulls," he amends quickly. He flattens the line of his mouth, grins at his stupidity, and gives up
trying to police his expressions.

Erin pulls her books close to her chest and turns on one heel. She walks backwards, each heel landing
perfectly in the center of a white lane line. "If your eyes are so bad, how can you see my wings?"

Takei frowns as his eyes followed her feet. "My eyes aren't necessarily bad," he says. He struggles, wanting
to explore the little bit of ground he and Erin seemed to be gaining, but something strange is tugging at the
intelligent stands of his brain. "And they do look like seagulls," he mumbles. Acutely aware that his eyes
have somehow shifted from Erin's feet to Erin's shapely knees, Takei takes his glasses off and begins to
polish them with the edge of his tank-top.

"So they are seagulls?"

He shrugs hopelessly. "That's the problem. You can always hear the cry of a gull before you can see it,
before you distinguish it visibly, you know. These birds..."

"...aren't making any sounds at all." Erin agrees. She turns around and slows her pace for a moment to
match his step. Takei shoves his glasses back onto his face and they watch a few of the odd birds spinning
around in the sky together.

As they watch, one of the birds tucks its wings back and hurtles earthward. As it passes another bird, the
two seem to merge for a moment. Something rises into the air. Something else falls towards the ground.

"Did you see that?" Erin asks.

"Looks like it attacked that other bird." Their eyes follow the falling non-gull to where it strike the earth. It
lands without bouncing on the track behind the far goal post. Within moments, half a dozen of the birds
tuck their wings back and aim for the ground.

Erin and Takei run for the fallen bird.

At this distance, it is plain to Takei that the birds he is seeing are definitely gull-like, but now he can sense
that their unnatural silence is not their strangest trait. Before he and Erin can reach the bird, it is completely
surrounded. Between the immolation of white feathers, the two of them see bits of red being fought over.

"What the hell is wrong with these birds?" Erin cries. She flings her books aside and tears through the
cluster of silent gulls, kicking at those too stubborn to move, and swinging her fists at those that try to

Takei takes her by the arm and drags her away, stopping briefly to gather her books. "Let go of me!" she
yells. "They're eating that bird!"

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"Let them!" Takei growls. He flings her arm aside and shoves her books at her. He points at the feeding
frenzy. "Those things aren't gulls. I don't even think they're birds!"

Angrily, Erin looks back. For a moment, she can only glare. Her primal instincts eventually take over, and a
purely natural fear causes her to back away from them. Takei edges in front of her. He stares at her until she
looks at him.

His eyes are no longer as furious as before. They are concerned, and possibly a little frightened. "Seagulls
don't have red eyes," he explains. "At least not the size of jawbreakers. And they don't kill and eat other
seagulls. And I don't know of any bird that has a serrated beak like that."

Erin slumps and leans against his arm, regretting that she had shouted at him. "I'm sorry," she says. "I didn't
mean to get so upset. It's just that I've always wanted to see a real seagull." She pulls a crumpled wad of
napkins from the hip pocket of her skirt. "I saw them from the cafeteria at lunch and I wanted to going to
feed them my sandwich."

Takei takes a deep breath and rests his hand on her shoulder. She seems so small and breakable, but he can
feel her body heat rising from under her sweater. Breakable but magnificent. "If you promise to stay away
from those things, I will drive you to the beach myself and we'll feed some real seagulls an entire loaf of

"A whole loaf?" The concept of that much bread must seem extravagant to her.

Takei remembers Nathaniel's advice and decides to push it even further. “Okay,” he sighs with mock
resignation. "A dozen loaves, then. How's that?"

Erin grins up at him, the same way she had grinned up at him this morning when he had acted so rashly. He
wants to kiss her, wants to run his face through her hair and bite her naked shoulders to see if she would
giggle or bite him back, but an almost inaudible rustling of feathers makes them both turn.

They find it hard to look away from the spectacle unfolding before them. Takei marvels at how he is able to
remain so calm while something so strange is happening. He chalks his resilience up to years spent
watching violent television. These things that look like seagulls unnerve him, but he feels confident that he
can destroy them with his racing cleats if need be.

“They look like the missing link between dinosaurs and birds,” he says.

“Yep,” Erin agrees simply.

Takei studies the red, glassy eyes, the jagged beaks, and wonders why the only sound the creatures make is
the rustling of their feathers. Most carnivores, birds especially, fight over their food, screaming, squawking,
clicking, making some sort of verbal show of dominance.

These things, whatever they might be, are interested only in devouring their fallen comrade. Takei wonders
if Erin feels the same way that he feels now- torn between an overwhelming desire to flee- and an
irresistible urge to move closer.

From a scientific standpoint, it is a fascinating predicament. They might be seeing an entirely new species.
But why here, and why now? Why do they behave this way, and if they are cannibalistic to such an extent,
how have they managed to survived long enough to become known to man?

"Hey!" yells a voice behind them. Erin and Takei look back to the school and notice Kami's flock closing in
on them. Amy is dragging Nathaniel by the neck. The tall girl, Sabrina, stalks towards them with a raised

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fist. "What in the hell are you doing to her?"

Suddenly aware that they are still leaning against each other, they quickly separate and launch into an
animated explanation of the evil cannibal birds at the same time. When they are finished, they stare at the
others, who by now have gathered close enough to wonder if they even want to be seen talking to them.
Kami, her flock, and even Nathaniel seem to be rendered speechless.

Only Paige, thumbing another text message, seems to be unruffled. "What the fuck are you two crack heads
babbling about? I don't see any birds. I certainly don't see any evil red-eyed cannibal birds."

Takei and Erin turn around slowly. There are no evil red-eyed cannibal birds behind them.

There are no birds behind them at all. They look at each other. They look at their friends.

Paige presses send on her phone. "Alright!" she says. "Who's driving? We need to stop by my house so we
can pick up my bikini and raid Thomas' beer freezer! I am so getting drunk on the way to the lake. Amy?
Give Kami her boy back and drive me home. I've got the sweetest blue suede two-piece that you're gonna
wear tonight, and if you keep complaining, I'm going to start another rumor about you being my lesbian
study-buddy. Come on, everybody! We're going to the damn lake!"

The crowd disperses with Paige dragging Amy by the neck with one hand and answering her cell phone
with the other. Takei and Erin watch their friends retreat until they are alone again. They edge closer
together, shoulder to shoulder. "You look first," Erin says.

"No way!" Takei grimaces. "You look."

Erin punches his arm. "You're the guy! You look!"

"I don't really believe in all that chivalry stuff," Takei replies airily, and folds his arms.

"The hell you don't!" Erin shouts. "Look or I'm gonna stomp on your little toe!"

Takei grumbles something unintelligible and peeks over his shoulder. "Nothing," he reports.

"Really?" Erin puts her hand on his shoulder and stands on tiptoe to peek over him. Takei wills his knees to
stay strong, and not melt.    Just as he is reminding himself to breath, Erin's eyes grow wide and she

Immediately, Takei grabs her around the waist. He turns around, holds her against his back, his free hand
clenching into a fist. There, just beyond the goal post, in the center of the springy track that circled the
field... is nothing.

Erin giggles and tugs at his tank-top. "Gotcha."

Takei lowers his fist and turns around. "You nearly gave me a heart attack, you know." He gives her a
smirk, but glances around a little warily.

"Do you think they'll come back any time soon?" she asks.

"I dunno."

"I kinda hope they do. It would be awesome if we discovered a new species of bird right here in our own
back yard."

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"Aren't you scared?"

Erin shrugs. "Maybe." She smiles at him, and for the first time, neither of them feel particularly nervous
about being so close to the other.

"So," she says. "Are you going to give me a ride to the lake, or do I have to hitch a ride with the lesbians?"

Takei pales a little. "Well, a deal's a deal," he says, a small remainder of nervousness tickling the back of
his spine. They turn from the goal post and begin for the school's parking lot.

Lost in conversation, neither of them notice that the dozens of birds have settled in the tall trees between
the cherry blossoms and the blue sky. The strange birds lick at bloody beaks and stare at the departing
teenagers in red-sphered, white feathered silence.

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02-American Vikings
“I can't believe you're drinking in my car!” Amy wails. “And what's with the bottle of ginger ale? You
opened it, but you're not even drinking it!”

Paige downs her third beer, belches loudly, and tosses the bottle out of the window. “Who needs ginger
when you've got malted hops?”

Amy sneers. “Sometimes you're seriously repulsive.” She shakes her head with exaggerated sadness. “What
are you going to do if we get pulled over by a cop?”

“First,” Paige says whilst opening another beer, “I'm going to cross my arms like this and squeeze my
boobs together, and then I'll start tonguing the ginger ale bottle. Since the ginger ale comes in a brown
bottle, the poor donut munching fool won't know the difference.”

She takes a long pull from the bottle and slouches into the passenger seat. “If you took your shirt off too, he
wouldn't even care. Probably just ogle for a bit, and then tell us to drive safe.”

“Some of use believe in a little thing called modesty. In which teeny bikinis are only be revealed within ten
feet of a clean swimming pool.”

“Or within ten inches of frat boy with a ginourmous... trust fund? Hm?” Paige holds her right hand out of
her window and tilts it forward and backward, ”flying” her hand alongside the car.

“So what are you going to do if a female cop pulls us over, Einstein?”

“Well,” Paige muses, “If there are any female cops out here in this hick town, driving up and down this
lonely country road, they're probably hard butch type, so I guess I'd just do the same thing. Except you'd
definitely have to take your shirt off. Even if she's on the fence, we can turn her if we work together. You
see? You just can't argue with my logic, can you?”

“You were dropped on your head as a child, weren't you?” Amy sighs. “Sometimes I wonder why I still
hang out with you.”

Paige shrugs. “Maybe because I'm always blackmailing you by telling people that we're lesbians.”

Amy's face turns white. “You fucking what? You meant you're telling people that we're not, right?”

“Oh, come on,” Paige laughs. “The only reason you hang out with me, or even Kami for that matter is the
simple prospect of sweet hot monkey love.”

Amy is gritting her teeth and refusing to respond, so Paige presses the still-cold portion of her beer bottle
against the exposed skin of Amy's arm.

“Christ!” Amy shrieks. The car swerves back and forth for a few seconds before Amy eases back into the
proper lane. “What the hell is wrong with you? Why do you always have to torture me like this? And can't
you talk about something other than freaking lesbians?”

Paige finishes her beer and flings the bottle out the window.

“And stop doing that!”

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“Relax, babe. You're driving like a maniac.” Paige leans back between the seats and reaches into her denim
beach bag. “Do you want a beer?”

Amy frowns, chews on her lip, but she nods. “Yeah, I guess.”

They drive in silence for a few miles, sipping their beers and staying between the lines both literally and
figuratively. This far out of town, there isn't much to see besides the tall pines that line the road.
Occasionally, a crop of large, moss-covered boulders breaks up the monotony.

Paige lets her eyes wander through the shadows that stretch between the pines and the shafts of sunlight
filtering through them.

Amy takes a tiny sip and nestles her beer down between her thighs. She checks the mirror for police or
Christians. “So what's the deal between you and Nathaniel?” she asks.

“What do you mean?” Paige rests her arm on the window and lets her hand fly on the wind again.

Amy shrugs. “You just sounded awfully quick to defend him.”

“You were just as quick to attack him.”

“Yeah, but that's because I hate him. He dresses like a vagabond, he drives a crappy old truck, and he's
weird. I mean, he started a fencing club. How gay is that? Kami doesn't need to be seen around a guy like
that. It would totally ruin her popularity. Why do you and Simon even hang out with these people?”

“Kami worries a lot less about being popular than you think she does.” Paige's hand dives low and then
ascends sharply, diagonally, as if her hand is thinking of escaping, flying away on one five-fingered wing.
“As for Nathaniel- he dresses that way he because he hates large corporations. What a rebel. Trust me,
Amy. Two weeks into college and you'll see that he's actually pretty cool compared to the rest of the people
you're likely to meet.”

“Yeah, well, college is still another year off.”

“Then let's take a roadtrip. I'll take you to Seattle or Portland. One weekend will totally change the way you
see this quaint little hick town. And Nathaniel.”

Amy shoots Paige a dirty look. “And there's nothing going on between you two?”

“Just because I think he's cute and talented and has a bright future doesn't mean I'm going to dump Simon,
and go jump his bones. Simon and I made an agreement a long time ago that the only people I can have sex
with is you and Kami. I just have to videotape it for him.”

“Oh my god, Paige.”

“Yeah, I know. I figured that since you have the hots for Kami, though, I'd take her off the list. I mean, if
you found out that I was banging Kami while I still had a boyfriend, well, I know I'd be pretty devastated if
I were in your shoes. It's my little way of saying I care, and that I'm better for you than Kami.”

Amy grimaces. It would be so easy to drive the car into a tree right now. “Sometimes I seriously wonder if
you're joking around or not.” She takes a safety sip of her beer as she checks the mirrors.

“Slow down,” Paige murmurs, straightening in her seat. “We're almost there. Turn down this road, and stay
on the left-hand side.” As Amy drives, Paige points out the road, a small, narrow, grass-lined gravel road
missing most of its gravel. A large boulder sits to one side, an orange X spraypainted across its ancient face.

                                                The b ri d ge

“Are there potholes on the normal people side of the road?”

“Nope,” Paige says. She checks her reflection in the visor mirror to make sure she hasn't turned into a
vampire in the last few minutes. Her makeup is fine, so she slaps the mirror shut and searches for her
sandals. “I just like pretending I'm in Japan or in England sometimes.”

Amy rolls her eyes, but obliges her friend. They drive for a few minutes down the old dirt road, which,
contrary to Paige's claim, is full of potholes on the non-British side.

“I do say, chap!” exclaims Paige in a poorly executed Cockney accent. “I do believe this is the worst bit of
road we've seen in the colonies.”

“Jolly good we've got summat decent to drive about on this 'over side,” Amy chimes in. Now that they are
off the main road, she allows herself a longer drink. Paige allows herself a tiny smile. When Amy isn't
being a prude, she is actually quite fun to be around.

The pines begin to thin and are replaced with scrub oaks and wide patches of tall green grass that is
destined to turn yellow before the week is out. The road slopes down into a copse of oaks and the right-
hand side widenes out into a broad wash of hard packed dirt. The little area is full of dry, half buried river
rock and sprinkled with dandelions and tall purple flowers.

Nathaniel's truck and a few other vehicles are already parked near a shady patch of trees. Nathaniel, Takei,
and Simon are dragging chunks of wood down to a smooth patch of sand near the water's edge.

Lacey, whom Amy often deems the quietest girl in the bunch, is pouring some sort of green colored fluid
from a red gas can into an empty party cup.

“It's always the quiet ones.” Paige chuckles.

“Why?” Amy asks. “Is that stuff diesel? I always though diesel was the same color as regular gas.”

Paige shakes her head. “Diesel is either clear or pinkish. That,” she said, indicating Lacey's cup, “is racing
nitro. Her grandpa owns an import shop in town. Poor Kami and Erin don't stand a chance with her around.
If there's one thing a guy can't resist, it's a pretty girl that likes to burn things. Keep her away from the
alcohol, and whatever you do, don't tell her its flammable.”

She climbs out of the car and slides into her dollar store flip-flops. “Hey!” she waves. “One of you boys
want to help me with this cooler, or are we going to move the party over here?”

Amy leans over the passenger seat. “What about the beer in your beach bag? I'd ask if you wanted the bag,
but you're already half naked anyway.”

“Save it for the ride home, of course.”

Simon and Nathaniel wander over to Amy's car, brushing bits of sand and bark and moss from their shirts
and shorts. Simon leans down and gives Paige a quick kiss on the neck as he slips a finger under one of the
ties of her bikini.

“How was the ride, babe?”

Paige elbows him playfully in the ribs. “Help with the cooler first.” She places her hand over his wandering
fingers, holding them in place, and steers him toward the back of Amy's car. Amy opens the trunk for them.

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“Christ,” Simon mutters. “How the hell did you guys manage to get this thing in the trunk by yourselves?
You got some boys hiding in the back seat I need to know about?”

Paige smacks him on the butt. “We used our brains, dummy. We put the cooler in first and then stacked the
beer in afterwards.”

“Did you leave room for the ice?”

Paige opens the cooler, picks up a chunk of sparkling ice and slides it down the front of Simon's shirt. Since
his shirt isn't tucked in, he tries to step backwards, to let the ice fall free, but Paige steps closer and holds
her hand against the bump, smearing the ice over Simon's belly.

“No ice,” she says, “but we did find some really cold rocks.”

“Nice babe.”

“It was easy, really! You just get Amy to hold them between her knees for like three seconds and bam,
frozen.” She grabs a fist-sized rock from the ground and grins devilishly at Amy. “Seriously, watch!”

“Go to hell, Paige.” Amy scrambles, dodging Paige's attempt to put the rock between her knees. She finds
herself hiding behind Nathaniel, which infuriates her. “Fucking stop it! Bad Paige!”

Simon rolls his eyes and nods for Nathaniel to follow him. They heft the cooler and begin for the pile of
smashed-up trees.

Nathaniel turns back to Paige and Amy as they walk. Paige nonchalantly continues to goose Amy's butt
with the enormous rock. “You didn't happen to see Kami or Sabrina in town before you left, did you?”

Amy shakes her head. She pries the rock from Paige's hands and attempts to throw it at her friend. “No.”
Paige dodges the rock, cackling like an old woman.

“They haven't shown up yet,” Nathaniel frowns. “They might be lost.”

“That's too bad,” Amy smiles, and drags Paige away from her rock.

“Yeah,” says Paige. “I guess you won't be able to get your filthy boy hands on Kami after all, Nathaniel. I
know she wouldn't stand Amy up like this.”

Amy and Nathaniel reply in unison, “Shut up, Paige.” For the first time ever, they manage to smile at each

Nathaniel and Simon set the cooler down a short ways away from the bonfire. Judging from the amount of
fuel Lacey is pouring onto the stacked wood, Paige prudently drags the cooler several feet further away.
“Try not to blow yourself up, okay Lacey?”

Lacey glances over and smiles. Most people wouldn't have recognized the expression, since her somewhat
anemic personality tends to wear only one face. Paige recognizes the slight twitch as a broad, guilty grin.
“Oh, I'm not going to light it. I was going to ask Simon.”

“Have Nathaniel do it. He's been abandoned by the goddess and has naught to live for.”

“Really, Paige, you can stop talking at any time.” Nathaniel takes the empty cup of nitro from Lacey and
stuffs a wad of paper towels into it. He plucks Lacey's lighter from her hands.

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“Why are we starting the fire right now?” Amy asks. “It's not even dark.”

“Because we're Americans,” Lacey replies stoically. “Americans enjoy burning things and drinking to

“So do Vikings,” Amy sneers. It is no secret, at least among the girls, that Amy and Sabrina consider Erin,
Lacey, Meagan and even Paige to be “in-crowd” interlopers.

Until their sophomore year, Kami, Amy and Sabrina had been a trio. Amy and Sabrina tolerated the others
because Kami did. When Kami wasn't around, there was little reason to behave civilly.

Meagan and Erin are both Havard-bound braniacs, and Lacey has been practically mute since kindergarten.
Paige was the one who had gathered them all together and practically forced them all to be friends. Since
that first day, Amy has never been more popular, or more angry with the world.

Nathaniel motions for everyone to stand back. He lights the paper inside the cup and tosses it into the
center of the piled wood. Instantly, a giant fireball erupts into the air, accompanied by a frighteningly
tangible wall of heat.

“Holy shit!” Amy cries. “Are you guys freaking crazy?”

Paige brushes a strand of her crimson bangs out of her face and opens another beer. “I'd like to see a Viking
do that.” She glances at Lacey and shakes her head. Despite Lacey's inherent blank expression, Paige
detects a sort of evil glimmer there, something more than just the blaze of this bonfire reflected in the quiet
girl's eyes.

Amy stands further away from the fire than the others, anguishing in a sort of isolation she has never been
able to name. She folds her arms and glares at the giant fire as if it is some sort of alien menace.

Nathaniel, who seems utterly uninterested in the fifteen foot high inferno he has so casually birthed, peels
off his shirt, kicks off his shoes, and wanders towards the water. He locks eyes with Lacey just long enough
to return her lighter.

In the wintertime, the area they are parked in, and are currently incinerating multiple trees in, is usually
four or five feet underwater. Although commonly referred to as “The Lake,” their swimming hole is little
more than a large elbow-bend in the river where the water slows to a crawl and rises ten degrees in
temperature by noon.

There is a broad stretch of sandy, pebbly beach that would soon be filled with other vehicles and people,
but since there is no shade to be found in that place, the early arrivals have set up operations nearer to the
jumping rocks.

Their jumping rocks are piles of giant granite slabs that jut out at strange angles and stretch out over the
water. There are many places to jump, and many places to break your tailbone if you didn't know the right
spots to jump from. Higher up on the rocks, little crosses and rosaries and withered bouquets mark the spots
that aren't safe to jump from.

Moss covers most of the rocks near the bonfire. The native oaks, much more magnificent than the scrubs
further up the hill, crouch low about them. Their massive gnarled roots wander desperately, pulverizing any
stone foolish enough to hinder their quest for water.

Like the rest of the river, their swimming hole is clear and deep. Nathaniel climbs a tall rock and jumps into
the glassy pool, a swift but considerable fifteen foot drop.

                                                The b ri d ge

“That looks like a great idea,” Simon murmurs. “Are you getting into the water today, babe?”

Paige nods because her mouth is full of beer and she cannot speak. She holds a hand up, motioning for
Simon to wait until she swallows her beer. “Shall I grab you a beer before we go?” she finally asks.

“Sure,” Simon drawls. He is a military brat that spent much of his life stationed in Florida. Not the
glorious, fast paced Florida of the action thrillers, but the slower, more Nascar-oriented version up in the
panhandle. Still, his accent and his muscular physique are infectious to the local girls, and it is often
suspected that Paige keeps him as a pet just so she can listen to him talk.

“Might as well grab one for Nathaniel, too,” Simon nods his head in the direction of the water. He takes his
shirt off, folds it carefully, and rests it on top of his shoes. “I can't believe Kami agreed to meet us here, and
then just stood him up like that. He's a little bummed, ya know?”

“You talked to her today?”

Simon nods. “She and Nathaniel walked up to me while I was cleaning out my locker. They told me they
were starting the festivities early out here, and that you and Amy was gonna get drunk and set up the
webcam. Make some money on the internet, or something. I don't know.”

Amy sneers at him blatantly, showing off a sharp, almost vampiric incisor.

Paige chuckles and tipped her beer back. “I'm still working on the drunk part, but Amy knows I'm ready to
go any time.”

Lacey raises a hand. “Sabrina has the webcam, though. She's giving Kami a ride because Kami has the
USB cords for it at her house.”

“Oh, fuck you guys,” Amy shouts. “I hope you all get gonorrhea and die.” She looks around for someone
else to stand next to, but the options are bleak. Erin and Takei are sitting on a tall rock near the largest
clumps of warning crosses, having an animated and obviously private conversation.

Meagan is discussing her Ivy-League submission essay to some nerdy girl that Amy doesn't know, and
probably doesn't want to know. Even though college is a year away, Meagan has already completed
extensive research into the theories of the collective consciousness displayed between certain tribes in
Africa and in South America.

Amy has no clue what her own paper is going to be about.

“Come on, Amy!” Paige grabs her by the hand. “I'll go naked if you go naked.” She loops Amy's arm over
her head as if dancing, and turns her back towards the other girl, shaking the strings of her bikini.

Amy resists the urge to sucker-punch Paige in the back of the head. The devil woman is always doing
something like this, though. Whenever Paige realizes that she has pushed Amy too far, she intentionally
pushes harder, but at the same time exposes herself wantonly to attack or humiliation.

Amy takes hold of the knot and pulls. She doesn't untie the strings, but rather grasps the knot as a whole
and yanks Paige against her body. “I don't think your boyfriend is ready for that much action,” she whispers
in Paige's ear. She slaps Paige on the ass and shoves her at Simon. “That girl needs to cool down before she
puts the bonfire to shame.”

Simon is more than willing to oblige. He scoops his girlfriend up into his arms with an “Aye-aye, captain!”
delivered at Amy. Within moments he and the squealing Paige are taking the fifteen foot plummet into the

                                               The b ri d ge

“I'm going to need another beer,” Amy sighs. She strips down to the blue suede two-piece that Paige had
forced her into. As much as she hates showing it off without a very good reason, she has to admit that she
does look good in it, and the sun feels amazing on her skin. Once a week, she and her mother and sister
drive to the city and visit the tanning salon after shopping, so her skin isn't as horrendously pale as Paige's.

She piles her clothes on a rock above the dirt line and pulls four beers out of the cooler. Why she bothers to
grab one for Nathaniel, she cannot say. Maybe an hour spent battling an all-out lesbian assault from Paige
is her limit. She doesn't feel up to battling Nathaniel right now.

Amy walks to a narrow cleft between two tall rocks. Sand is packed between the roots of the trees and the
rocks and makes a chaotic little set of natural stairs. As she walks, she tries to keep the eye contact with
Lacey and Meagan to a minimum, while trying to appear as if this is not is actually she was doing.

God, how she hates them all. She slips her sandals off and pushes them to one side of the stairs. Nathaniel,
Simon and Paige are engaged in a water-fight near a shallow area on the far side of the pool. Nathaniel
skirts toward the drop-off, and pulls himself up the side of a broad, flat rock with a study root.

He climbs until he is a good twenty feet above the water. Pushing off hard with both legs, he quickly curls
into a ball and lands near the edge of the drop-off where Paige and Simon stand. He misses the submerged
shelf of rock by less than a foot, but succeeds in splashing both Paige and Simon in the face.

“Reckless idiot,” Amy grumbles.

They wait until his head rises above the surface and both of them begin to splash him in face, Paige of
course, splashing with all of her might. Nathaniel chokes and slips off the rock shelf, sliding back into the
water again with a gurgle.

Despite herself, Amy laughs.

She hears a scratching sound on the rocks above her head. Pressing her knuckles against the the rock walls
for support, she tightens her grip on the beer bottles and glances up. Amy loves wildlife. The appreciation
of nature had been the entire reason she had agreed to come with Paige.

However, instead of seeing a lizard, or even a bushy grey squirrel perched above her, she sees a large white
bird the size of a house cat less than a foot away from her face. It's head is cocked curiously to one side.

An abnormally large red eye blinks at her so slowly that it suddenly feels as if time is somehow caught in a
jar of cold honey, crystallizing into some irreversible state she has never known before. At first, Amy is
simply spellbound. She has never seen a bird with eyes so large, with such a redness to them. It makes her
imagine that the glassy orbs are filled with blood. The bird opens it's jagged, toothy beak.

It does not make a sound. There is no cry or chirp, no whistle or click. Instead, a thick syrupy ribbon of
steaming hot blood dribbles between the serrated, fang-like jags of its odd beak. The blood clumps and
gathers on the mossy rock wall like melted chocolate. The fluid is so viscous that it simply rolls over the
surface of the moss without permeating it.

At the precise moment that Amy realizes she is screaming, she also realizes that she is falling, and for
some horrible reason, she notices that as the blood spills from the bird's mouth, its eyes are becoming
hollow, bright, draining away to leave paper thin orbs that reflect butterflies, leaves, the sunshine, and even
her frightened face with a resounding crystalline clarity.

Then the orbs crinkle, sucked up into their sockets like a pair of stricken lungs. With a queasy bubbling
sound, the orb-sacs suddenly blossom out again, once more bloated with fluid, the surface of the sphere

                                               The b ri d ge

now shiny, oily, ready to burst.

Amy closes her eyes and waits for the pain, for the shattering of glass and the puncturing of skin. She falls

To her astonishment, she hears a splash at her feet, several quick, soft thuds, and an overwhelming shock of
cold washes over her. She feels cold, strong hands on her skin.

“Amy! Amy, are you alright?”

She find herself cradled in Nathaniel's arms, which are far stronger than she ever expected. He tucks her
against his chest and vaults up the stairs to where Lacie and Meagan were sitting. He placed her on an
outstretched beach towel. Quickly and efficiently, he checked her arms and legs for cuts and bruises. He
lifted each limb, watching Amy's face for any sign of pain.

“You know you're not supposed to move people when they have an accident,” Meagan begins, but
Nathaniel cuts her off sternly.

“Get out of the way. You're blocking the sunshine.” With one hand, he probes Amy's scalp; with the other,
he gently opens her eyelids. Frightened but seemingly coherent eyes meet his. He holds both sides of Amy's
jaw and gently tilts her neck forwards and backwards, from one side to the other. Meagan shakes her head
in disgust.

After checking her pulse, Nathaniel sighs with relief and sits next to her in the dirt. “She's okay. Pupils are
normal and the whites aren't blood shot. Her pulse was going pretty fast, but she's calmer now.”

“You could have paralyzed her!” Meagan shouts at him.

“She's not even sprained, woman. Tell me- have you ever seen someone become paralyzed?”

“That's not the point, you idiot! Are you qualified to tell me any different?”

 “Yes,” Nathaniel laughs. “I am, and I made sure she was safe. There's no concussion or otherwise, so take
your sunshine back and shut up already.”

Meagan seems ready to murder him.

“Still,” he amends. “We shouldn't move her for a little while. Okay?”

“Okay why?” Meagan asks.

“Okay because I say so.” Nathaniel seems unwilling to surrender any more ground to this upstart.

Paige and Simon climb the stairs and join the crowd. Noticing Amy's situation, Paige scoops up a towel and
tosses it over Amy's body. “I'll go get your shorts, kiddo,” Paige turns to Nathaniel as if to say something,
but instead clamps her mouth shut and continues walking.

Simon gives Nathaniel a broad smile. “You're a goddamn lifeguard, ain'tcha?”

Nathaniel blinks. “Uh, yeah. How did you...”

Meagan scoffs. “That's not a qualification for anything other than CPR.”

Simon rolls his eyes, and speaks over her. “You swam twenty feet, leapt out of the water, snatched this girly

                                               The b ri d ge

up and were checking her pulse as you were carrying her up the stairs. And you did it all in like five or six
seconds.” Simon scratches his head. “I mean you just came up outta the watter like a goddamn dolphin. I
ain't never seen nothing like that in my life, man, and that's the whole damn truth.”

Meagan throws her hands up in resignation, and sits down roughly on a cooler. “Nobody listens to me!”

Squirming, Nathaniel stares down at his shorts. He ignores Meagan ans speaks directly to Simon. “It
probably wasn't that fast. In an emergency, things just seem to happen a lot quicker or slower than they
really are... uh, happening.”

He glances down at Amy's feet. “Could you check the soles of her feet? I didn't see what happened to the
bottles she was carrying.”

“Aw, I call bullshit, Nacho.” Simon shakes his head and grins. “When you caught her, you done caught
them bottles up too, and ninja-chucked them into the sand.” Simon strikes a pose like a ninja throwing
metal stars. He pretends to shoot Nathaniel, all the girls, and “accidentally” tosses one of the imaginary
ninja stars into his own face.

He roars and covers one eye, mortally wounded for as long as Lacey and Meagan's friend will continue
laughing at him. Meagan ignores him, and instead glares at Lacey and her friends. Simon dances around
and punches Nathaniel on the shoulder. “They're a little shaken, but they sure didn't break, you modest

Amy opens her eyes and stares up at the leaves and the sun. She is aware that there were people crowded
around her, and that Nathaniel has carried her up the steps to where she now lays. She can hear the
conversation, and she even feels Nathaniel's hand brushing moss from her thigh.

For some reason, she cannot shrink away from him. Amy wonders if it is possible that she is partially
paralyzed. She detects no outstanding pain, and is quite surprised to note that she can feel the contour of the
ground, the sun, even the towel that Paige had draped over her.

Amy raises her hand to her face and stares at it front and back. I'm in shock. She thinks she understands
now why she wasn't moving. She closes her eyes, and is instantly greeted by the sight of an imploding
crystalline orb, oily rainbow wrinkles coming out in tiny, stark, blood-lined relief. Eye-lungs draining;
serrated beak vomiting chocolate.

“She saw it! I saw her see it!” Erin and Takei scramble down the rocky slope to the little camp, just as
Paige returns with Amy's clothes. Breathless, Erin points a finger at Amy. “You saw the damn bird, didn't

Amy's eyes open and she sits up quickly, a body sitting bolt upright in a morgue. Nathaniel flinches, nearly
jumps away from her. “I saw the damn bird!” Amy cries, and latches onto Nathaniel's hand.

Suddenly, Amy, Erin and Takei are in a heated conversation that the others find difficult to follow. The
        seagull, blood, serrated,
words seagull, blood, serrated, and Nobel Prize seemed to be repeated often. Those not deeply engrossed
in this three-way discussion, namely everyone else, exchange glances and share a collective shrug.

“Well, you two seem to be awfully cozy all of a sudden.” The talking suddenly stops. Nearly a dozen pairs
of eyes swivel over Nathaniel and Amy's heads and finally notice Kami and Sabrina standing only a few
short steps away and toting a heavy-looking ice chest.

Sabrina seems more than mildly irate, but Kami's grin insinuates a bemused interest. “Did the two of you
kiss and make up?”

                                               The b ri d ge

Nathaniel is acutely aware that Kami is referring to his own self and Amy, who happen to be the only two
people sitting on the ground. He notes that they were also sitting quite close to each other, and Amy seems
to be holding one of his hands in the center of her lap with both of hers.

His hackles rise. Bile creeps into his throat. Nathaniel is about to protest, but Amy climbs to her feet, using
his shoulder to pull herself up. “Holy crap, Kami-Sabrina, you shoulda seen it! There was this giant bird
with these jagged teeth and it was drooling blood all over the place and I freaked out and I slipped on the
rocks down there and Nathaniel just jumped up out of the water and he carried me up here, but he didn't see
the bird- you didn't see it, really?-but Erin saw it and so did Takei, and tell them, Erin! See, yeah! They saw
it! The ones at the school, and those eyes! Oh my god, it had these eyes that were like crystal balls, only
they were full of blood, but it all drained out, when it went 'ahhh!' Like, it drained out all over the rock like


“'And,' Natalie saved her ass, 'And'.” Simon grins, and flicks Nathaniel in the side of the head.

“Damnit, Simon!”

Amy nods again. “He jumped right out of the water like uh. a fishy-boy-lad or something, like whooosh!”

“Merman,” chorus Simon, Nathaniel, and Takei.

“Ha!” Simon laughs, and reaches down to pinch Nathaniel's nipple. “Merfag.”

“You... son of a...” Nathaniel grunts, and punched Simon as hard as he can in the leg. “You're the merfag!”

Simon drops, laughing, and continues to spout more mer-hate that now includes Nathaniel's mother.

“Whatever,” Amy kicks Simon in the stomach and continues her story, waving at the boys as if to say that
the three of them should be completely ignored.

“And then... yeah.” Amy pokes her index fingers together and smiles the disturbing smile that crazy people
give you when they're trying to convince you they're not crazy.

Kami looks directly at Paige. “How much has she had to drink?”

“One beer.”

Kami's eyes widen. “Keep talking.”

                                               The b ri d ge

03-Blue Fire
Once everyone has been fed plenty of meat and the campsite contains a dozen or more cars, the sun decides
to set, the party decides to begin, and Lacey decides to fill another party cup with nitro. This time around,
she sets her sights on the ironically named Blaise, a tall, frosted haired basketball player.

“Sweet,” Simon chuckles. “All that dork talks about is sex and his dad's gun collection. I'm gonna laugh my
ass off if Lacey sets him on fire.”

Nathaniel glances around. “Maybe we should clear a path to the water, huh?”

“Fuck no,” Simon spits. “I hope she burns his ass down.”

With a considerably larger pile of knocked-down wood and hacked-up limbs now stacked over the remains
of Takei's cooking coals, Blaise is lucky to survive the lighting of the nitro with only a mild reddening of
the skin. Raucous cheers drift up from the crowd. Blaise gives a loud whoop, and downs a bottle of beer
with an almost violent intensity. Seeing this, Lacey makes herself scarce.

A loud chorus of gunshots ring out over the shouting and laughing. Takei scowls at this. “Stupid rednecks,”
he mutters.

Simon punches Takei's arm in retaliation. “Screw you too, half-breed.”

Takei laughs half-heartedly. “Bring it on, white bread.”

Takei, Simon, and Nathaniel lounge on the same broad diving rock they had jumped from earlier in the day.
Now that the sun is set, the temperature of the water has dropped swiftly. Even if somebody was drunk
enough to want to go swimming in the chilly water, they sure as hell weren't going to start with a fifteen
foot drop into the inky blackness.

Through the powers of drunken reasoning, the trio has decided it is their moral obligation to guard the rock
and make sure that nobody dies a pointless death. They are determined to do a good job, at least until they
got bored.

Although the moon is full, there are thick clouds above them that for some reason seem to sit only just
beneath the moon, and nowhere else.

While Nathaniel and Simon sit closest to the party, feet dangling over the lip of the rock, Takei is sprawled
out just above them on a narrower strip of granite. He stares up woozily at the halo of fierce stars that shine
between the clouds which obscure the moon, and the trees stretching up from the Earth.

The flames of Lacey's bonfire reach much higher than the jumping rock, so Takei can see only two things
when he looks from side to side. To his right, a lattice of darkness carved deep by the trees. To his left, a
hot wall of flame. He feels like getting his hands on a bottle of whiskey and perhaps going swimming.

Nathaniel leans back on the rock. “Are you done moping yet?”

“No,” Takei grumbles. “Fifteen more minutes.”

“Come on!” his friend laughs. “It's not like she left because she hates you. Most good girls don't make a
habit of staying out all night.”

“No shit,” Simon agrees. “It could be worse. I gotta break shit off with Paige by nine o'clock in the

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morning. I might as well find a nice rock and give myself a home-style vasectomy before she gets a hold of
my boys. Believe me. It'll hurt less.”

Nathaniel winces, not even attempting to disagree. “Have you checked on her lately? How's she doing?”

“Oh, fine, yeah. She's all passed out in your truck.”

“So it looks like I'm the only one cool enough to still have a date.”

Simon scans the crowd, leaning dangerously over the edge. “I'm beginning to wonder about that. Miss
Kamilla's been gone for a good ten minutes.”

“Doesn't matter,” Nathaniel scoffs. “At least I got one girl already drunk and passed out in my truck. And at
least one of us has some place comfortable sleep.”

“If we drink enough, I'm sure we'll just sleep wherever we pass out.” Simon stands and kicks Takei in the
leg. “Get up, fag. Let's go pick a fight with them West Valley kids. I think I saw one of them getting frisky
with some of our girls just now. I mean, I really don't care, but you just don't piss on my end zone and tell
me it's Gatorade.”

Nathaniel stretches where he sits. He nods his agreement. “Seriously, Takei. When the cat's away...”

“...The mice will play?” Kami appears below them, balancing on a small swell of grassy hill that climbs up
the side of their rock. She has two bottles of beer in each hand, the necks held between her fingers. Several
larger bottles filled with clear liquid are held against her chest. “What kind of game are we playing, and
who gets to be the cat?”

“Aha!” Simon reaches forward, waves away a beer, and snatches one of the larger bottles. “We were just
talking about you.”

“Well, meow, then.” Kami hands Nathaniel a beer, but keeps the second large bottle away from him.
“Takei, Erin just called, and informed me that she'll be here at about eight or nine in the morning,
depending on how 'pee-em-ess-y' Amy is when she wakes up. She said she wants to know what to bring for

“Eggs,” Takei grumbles. “And mouthwash.”

“Don't tell me,” Kami replies. “Do you need to borrow my cellphone?”

“No, I've got mine in the truck.”

Kami stands on her toes, leans between Nathaniel and Simon, and stretches to give Takei a beer. “Just use
mine,” she insists. “Erin's phone is out of batteries, so you'll have to call Amy's.”

“It's okay,” Takei protests. “What's Amy's number?”

“I don't memorize phone numbers. Just scroll through the names until you find 'Paige's Bitch.' But don't call
'Lesbo Number Three,' because that's Amy's home phone, and her parents will get pissed.”

Takei slides down the rock face with a wry grin. “Are all of you guys in on the joke or what?”

Kami cocks her head to one side and looks at him with eyes so full of innocence that she has to lying.
“What joke?”

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Paling, Takei accepts her phone. He sits between Simon and Nathaniel and slides down the rest of the rock,
landing gently on the grassy swell next to Kami. He stalks through the crowd for a quieter bit of woods,
mashing the buttons of Kami's phone with his thumb.

“He seems a little intense,” Kami observes. “He's not pissed off at her, is he?”

Simon shakes his head. “He's always like that.”

Nathaniel uses the rock and the palm of his hand to coerce his bottle cap off. He takes a long drink. “He
just behaves himself in front of Erin so she won't think he's a jerk. You should have see him earlier today,
when...” he pauses as Kami's shoulder slides against the bare skin of his thigh.

“And have you been behaving yourself in front of me? Jerk?”

“Behave how what?”

“Thank you, ladies!” Simon breaks in. “At least let me climb off the rock before the fucking begins.”

“Very funny,” Kami scowls. “I'm here for the shots.” She holds up the remaining bottle. “You should go tell
the lesbo that she needs to do more shots with us.”

Simon spreads his hands sympathetically, but the gesture is lost as he nearly drops his bottle. He performs a
somewhat decent recovery and pretends like nothing happened. “Baby went to bed, man. Drank a little too
much milk.” He cradles the liquor to his chest but holds out his free hand. “Beer me and I'll match you guys
shots for a bit.”

Kami squints up at him. “Where are you going this late at night? No offense, Simone, but you're a little too
fucked up to drive. Are we going to have to beat you up and steal your keys?”

“Actually,” Simon replies, and pulls a beer from Kami's hands. “I've got a designated ambulance to cart my
drunk shit home.”

“Who'd come out here at this hour to give you a ride?”

“Eh,” Simon shrugs. “My brother and his girlfriend. When I got home from school today, I found 'em
packing up all my dirty magazines and shitty underwear and whatnot. Bro was like, 'Have a good time, get
drunk, puke a lot.'”

Kami frowns as she fumbles a few shot glasses from the pockets of her baggy cargo shorts. “You're
leaving? When are you coming back? Does Paige know about all this? What did she say?”

Simon leans back against the same chunk of rock that Takei had been laying upon. “Let's see. Yes, I'm
leaving. No, I'm never coming back. No, Paige doesn't know, and the last thing she said to me before she
passed out was 'Don't kiss me; I might throw up on you.'”

Kami snickers at this, squints her eyes and purses her lips at Nathaniel. “Don't kiss me,” she says dreamily.
“I might throw up on you!”

Nathaniel kisses her anyway, and then they both pretended to vomit in Simon's general direction.

“Aw, now that's what I'm talking about,” Simon snorts, dodging the imaginary regurgitations. “Paige ain't
got no sense of adventure. No romance.”

“So how are you going to break the news to her?” Kami pours shots for herself and Nathaniel. She hands

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Simon an empty shot glass and nestles against Nathaniel, using his legs as arm rests. She leans back and
rubs against his chin with the crown of her head.

“That is something which I do not know, but like I was telling Nat and Tak, I got until nine AM tomorrow
to find out. Maybe I'll just call her from the crab boat up in Alaska, a couple weeks after I get there. Maybe
a couple weeks after I retire. Or just before I die of old age. Maybe I'll have somebody call her for me a
couple weeks after I die of old age. Or maybe I'll send her a letter and post-mark it for the year three
thousand.” Simon pours an over-flowing shot and grins lopsidedly.

“Well, I'm sure your brother would be pleased to know that you're well on your way to puking drunk.
Would you like Kami to pour your next shot?”

“I'm not that drunk. There was a rock poking me in the ass or something.”

“Why do I have to pour his shots?” Kami asks. “You're no good to me if you're too drunk to make out with

“Don't worry,” Nathaniel assures her “I won't puke on you unless you really want me to. Simon just thinks
it's gay for guys to pour shots for other guys.”

“This coming from the guy who is dating a lesbian?”

“What?” Simon cries. “It's totally homo in a not-hot way. And besides, Lesbo Number Two, she's your best
friend.” He leans over to Nathaniel and whisperes loudly. “Dude, when I leave you should totally get 'em
both drunk, and be all like, 'Woo, threesome!'”

“Not going to happen,” Nathaniel shakes his head. “Aside from the fact that they are best friends, I've got
this whole little sister thing going on with Paigelyn. I don't even joke about it.”

Kami elbows him in the ribs. “Yeah you do. You did it today. Paige was talking smack about something, so
you started whining, 'Come to the lake with me Kami, because Paige is gonna rape me, waah!'”

“Well, it suited my purpose at the time. And it got you to come out tonight, didn't it?”

“Whatever. I just came to see if you looked good in board shorts.”

Nathaniel growls and buries his face into her neck. Kami giggles and wrestles against him, baring her teeth.

“Knock it off before y'all commit some serious alcohol abuse. Y'all are spilling shit all over the place.”

“What, like you?” Nathaniel laughs. “That's like the pot calling... the kettle...” His voice trails off as he
loses himself somewhere between Kami's chin and clavicle. “Something,” he murmurs, as the fingers of
Kami's free hand dig into his bare leg.

“Dudes!” Simon protests. “Shots first! Necking second.”

Nathaniel and Kami fall against each other, laughing drunkenly. “That totally rhymed,” Kami giggles.

“Yeah, yeah,” Simon sighs, and raises his shot glass. “Alright, ladies. Here's to cowardice, young love, and
under-age drinking. God bless America!”

“God Bless America!” Nathaniel and Kami shout, and they drink.

Below them, a portly freshman stumbling dangerously close to Lacey's inferno gives a drunken roar from

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the bottom of his sizable gut. “God frackin' bless America, woo!” A deafening chorus of assent flames up
around him, along with gunshots, breaking beer bottles, and apparently, another cup of nitro on the bonfire.

The stumbling freshman chuckles at his handiwork. “That's totally pro, man.” He sits down abruptly next to
the fire and falls backwards, arms flung out to his sides. At the precise moment that his empty party cup
hits the grass, several things happened all at once.

Nathaniel, Kami and Simon raise their beers to chase away the foul taste of their liquor shots; an exuberant
and grinning Takei returns with Kami's phone; and a rolling web of freakishly blue lightning ripples
soundlessly overhead.

It does move the way normal lightning moves, arcing between two highly charged pockets of cloudy
energy, and flashing in and out of existance in the space of a quarter of a second.

This lightning began at the edges of the horizon and travels inwards, ring-like. The epicenter gathers so
slowly that it silences the entire campsite. Even the earthbound freshman grins up at the sky stupidly,
murmuring the word “pro” again.

Dozens of wide eyes watch the football field-sized wave of lightning gather to a bright pinprick in the sky.
It is above them only slightly, converging somewhere several miles away.

The pinprick bursts, and carves a new star in the sky. The trees are illuminated. The world is illuminated. A
single halo of blue light rings the flare suddenly, tilting on a wobbly axis. It spins slowly at first, as if it
may suddenly slip from the brilliant star and fly off on a tangent of limitless destruction.

It seems almost magnetic, bound to the tiny crackling star, The halo thrums with energy, throttling and
trading arcs of light with the little nova, spitting out strange silken bands of light. The blue ring suddenly
stabilizes, audibly clicking into place, like a giant washer in some unfathomably huge machine.

The ring becomes a blur, and a blinding white light erupts from the earth, piercing the gathered light of the
little sun and its azure ring.

The massive bolt throbs with power and violently draws the crackling blue energy downwards. It slips from
the false sun and plummets to the earth. The lightning fades. The little sun, now spent, remains aloft, but
burning blue and black. The darkness that rushes in seems much darker than before. A long, breathless
moment passes, and then the thunder comes.

Most children know that lightning and thunder don't arrive to the observer at the same time- at least not
audibly and visibly. For every second that you count between the lightning and the thunder, a mile
supposedly exists between you and the storm center.

To simply call the resounding shock wave 'thunder' would be on par with comparing an inter-continental
ballistic missile to a drinking straw with a spit-wad inside of it. It is earth-shattering, forcibly tangible to the
core of all entities present, and seems to last forever.

Nathaniel's blood has drained from his face. He holds Kami tightly to his chest. Simon collapses. He feels
as if a giant hand has descended from the heavens to smash him against the equally unforgiving granite

All across the campsite and along the river for miles, people have dropped like marionettes whose strings
have been simultaneously cut. Only Nathaniel remains unmoved. Kami's body falls limp in his arms. He
holds her close until the thunder passes and he feels her stirring once more.

“Are you alright?” Nathaniel whispers into Kami's ear.

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She nods, but seems uncertain.

“Don't get down from this rock.” He guides her towards a shallow dip in the granite behind the low ledge
Takei had lounged upon earlier.

“What was that thing?” Kami asks, shaking. “Was it some kind of bomb or something?”

“No.” Nathaniel shakes his head. “Just an early end to my vacation, it seems.” He glances about the mess
of leveled teenagers who are groaning and beginning to stand again.

Most of them mumble incoherently to each other, blinded by the light and deafened by the sound. The more
belligerently intoxicated individuals shake off the blow quickly and make an active show of reloading their
guns. Shots ring out, but sound pitiful in comparison to the god-like thunderclap.

Takei, who had collapsed near the fallen freshman, looks up and makes eye contact with Nathaniel.
Nathaniel motions with his hands. Stay low. Stay quiet.

Takei nods and eases back down.

“Nate!” Simon hisses. “Are you trying to get your junk shot off?”

As if to illustrate his point, a wispy pine above them shakes gently from the impact of a stray bullet.
Nathaniel ignores it and Simon. He folds his arms and watches the people scurrying beneath him. He
reminds Simon disturbingly of an angry school teacher.


Takei looks up, his eyes darting around briefly. “Yeah?”

“In about a minute, these idiots will stop shooting. When they do, I want you to get Paige out of my truck
and then you and her both get up here.”

A sudden gust of cold wind screams through the trees. “Never mind the wait,” Nathaniel grimaces. “Go
now. Hurry.”

Takei nods and stumbles over the freshman as he tries to stand. He climbs to his feet again quickly and
begins to run. The freshman sits up, a dazed expression on his face. “It's cold, man.”

On the other side of the inferno, Lacey, Sabrina, and several of the other girls from Kami's flock are
crouched in a copse of trees, shivering in their swim wear.

“This is just wonderful,” Nathaniel growls. He twists around and frowns at Kami and Simon. “Things are
about to get a little strange, guys. Just stay low, and don't let anybody see you.”

“But, dude,” Simon begins.

The intense look in Nathaniel's eyes shuts him up quickly. He has never seen Nathaniel make this face
before. He doesn't like it.

Kami bites her lip and curls her knees up against her chest. Her eyes are focused on something behind
Nathaniel. Simon sees it too, suddenly, and his jaw drops, eyes illuminated by a vivid blue light. Growling
audibly, Nathaniel turns, and begins to move swiftly.

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He leaps from the rock, landing next to the freshman. He grabs the portly boy by the collar of his striped
Polo and drags him towards Lacey and the others.

“Holy shit, dude!” The freshman is laughing hysterically. “The freaking fire's fucking blue! Dude! Dude,
check it man!”

“What's your name, kid?”

“Trevin, man. Look at the fucking fire!”

“I know about the fire, Trevin. I need you to shut up right now, okay?”

“Okay.” the freshman nods, suddenly incapable of challenging the almost murderous look in Nathaniel's

Out of the darkness, a gunshot rings out. The projectile misses Nathaniel's face by inches. A drunken
teenager stumbles forward, and Nathaniel recognizes the red-faced Blaise, whom Lacey had seduced earlier
into relighting the bonfire.

Nathaniel drags Trevin roughly towards Blaise. “Drop the gun, or I'll bust your head open with this

“Whoa!” Trevin cries. “Don't do that, man. Just look at the pretty fire, okay? It's blue. There's no need to be
clubbing folks with other folks, right?” He squirms visibly under Nathaniel's steel grip. “Maybe we could
all like, I dunno, chill out and like smoke a bowl? I totally got like plus ten on the mad buds, y'all.”

As he stumbles forward, Blaise's foot catches on a rock. Both Nathaniel and the freshman are fairly certain
that the wasted basketball player did not intend to pull the trigger of the pistol he carried. Unfortunately,
that good-natured certainty does nothing to stop the .45 slug from leaving the barrel of that gun, or prevent
that bullet from streaking in painfully slow-motion toward's Nathaniel's face.

Nathaniel raises his free hand and knocks the bullet from the air.

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“Leave me the fuck alone,” Paige groans. “I'm too drunk to have sex, okay?”

Takei blanches, but grabs her wrist, knowing full well he risks bodily damage by doing so. Paige, however,
complies and slides sleepily from the front seat of Nathaniel's truck. “God, Simon. You always get horny at
the wrong time.”

“It's me, Takei. I'm taking you to Simon right now.”

“He sent you to get me for sex?” Paige lands woodenly on her feet. She leans against the open door,
pressing her forehead against a strip of cool metal. “He's such a pervert.”

Takei pulls her away from the truck without waiting for her to finish rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Paige
trots along behind him, whining incoherently.

“Actually,” Takei explains, “Nathaniel sent me. There's something weird going on. Lights in the sky, and...”
Takei voice trails off.

Paige collides with back and swears softly.

“It's so blue,” Take whispers.

“Blue, you say?” Paige's eyes abruptly snap open and lock onto the source of Takei's bewilderment. Lacey's
inferno, now much taller, and a very pretty shade of blue, is the first thing she notices. The second is an
array of bright orange lights scattered throughout the trees like a dozen sunsets slipping from the dark

“Where is Nathaniel?”

“We were all sitting on the rock,” Takei begins to explain, but his eyes wander back and forth between the
bright orange lights and the impossibly blue fire. The darkness twists inside his head, growing more gray
than black, but somehow darker than before.

A gunshot rings out, shaking Takei's attention. “Those stupid idiots are still shooting.” He tightens his grip
and pulls Paige towards the rocks. “I think Nathaniel's trying to keep us from getting shot, but...”

“He's trying to do something, all right,” Paige shakes his hand off. She races ahead of him and bounds up
the side of the rock in a never before seen display of near-freakish athleticism.

“Why up here?” Takei calls after her, his eyes glancing back at the fire as he climb. “That's a tiny ledge. It's
not going to block a whole hell of a lot.”

Paige reaches the top and leans over the side of the rock to pull Takei up the last few steps. She holds a
finger to his lips to shush his questions, and then turns to look at Kami and Simon.

Kami is crouched down next to Simon, peering over the ledge at a patch of trees. Simon lays on his back,
staring at the sky. Paige glances up and laughs bitterly.

Above them, enormous ribbons of pale but colorful light shimmer and pulse through the air, just above the
clouds. Each of these enormous ribbon seem to be wider than a four lane highway. As they pulse and
shimmer, they grow brighter and wider.

                                                The b ri d ge

Simon, who had seen the Aurora Borealis in Alaska as a child is at a loss to explain exactly what he is
seeing now.

“Hey!” Paige waves a hand in front of Simon's eyes. “Snap out of it, baby. Where the hell is Nathaniel?”

Simon looks at her dumbly. “Huh?” he mumbles.

Kami points toward a cluster of trees on the other side of the bonfire. “He's arguing with that guy over
there, the one that Lacey was goofing around with earlier.”

Paige turns and squints. “What are they arguing about?”

She sits next to Kami, shoulder to shoulder behind the cover of the narrow ledge of granite, and nods for
Takei to sit next to her. Paige pull Kami down from her crouch to a more comfortable sitting position atop
Takei's colorful beach blanket.

“I can't tell, but I think Blaise almost shot him. He's so drunk.”

Takei mutters something about the possibility of getting shot again, but Paige ignores him and shares a
glance with Kami, suggesting she might do the same.

“Who's drunk? Nathaniel or Blaise?”

“Blaise. Well, I guess both, a little. After the lightning, it was like he just became instantly sober. Nathaniel
did, I mean.” Kami narrows her eyes slightly. “You know, like that time we got pulled over and we were so
drunk and you went all insta-sober and that cop totally believed you? You remember?”

“Yeah, I remember.”

Kami looks down at the crowd huddled beneath the trees. “It was just like that,” she says quietly.

She can see Meagan and Cielo and Sabrina hiding behind a cluster of trees, all staring at Nathaniel. Behind
them stands Lacey, who seems to be staring at Nathaniel with her mouth agape, frozen in the act of

“Did he say anything to you guys or has he been down there the whole time?”

“No,” Kami replies. “He just went over there. He told us to stay up here, out of sight, and told Takei to go
get you. He said something about his vacation being over.”

Paige laughs. It is short and bitter, unlike any sound that Kami had heard from her friend. It is unnerving.
She follows Paige's gaze as it moves upward, at the sky. The bright waves now cover almost all of the sky
not hidden by trees. The stars and the moon are now totally obscured, as if the atmosphere of the planet is a
giant lens, now smeared by some god-sized greasy thumb.

The low thick cloud that had been sitting below the moon earlier, now looks small, lonely, and much lower
than before. Simon suddenly notices Paige staring blankly at the little cloud. He watches as she clenches
and unclenches her hands into tight fists as if she is trying to squeeze the air with her fingers. Which, of
course, she is.

“God,” she whispers softly. “God damn it.”

The orange lights, which Takei is now certain are somehow growing with a certain approach, are not the
first things to arrive at the swimming hole. Another freezing blast of air rocks the trees and whips Lacey's

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pillar of blue fire into a frenzy. Lattice-like shadows criss-crossed over the lights, and the screaming begins.

Accompanied by a thousand white birds with red, crystalline eyes, is a score of dark, beastly shadows
which bound through the trees. They flood into the clearing with a sound so similar to rattling bones that it
chills Kami right down to hers.

Kami watchs as Nathaniel knocks Blaise over with the boy he had been holding by the collar. She watches
as he shoves the both of them between Lacey and Sabrina. She watches as light and shadow somehow fold
over his empty hand, and then unfold a split second later. She is left speeckless.

In his previously empty hand, Nathaniel now holds a long, curved sword which gleams brightly despite it's
black blade. It reflects Lacey's fire and the creeping shadows both. By some anomaly of physics, the
darkness reflected in his blade seems painfully luminous to Kami's eyes, as if it is somehow capable of
swallowing all of the light around her the same way the sun threatens to reduce the visible spectrum of the
world to a burning haze of whiteness.

Takei, Kami, Paige and Simon watch as one of the rattling shadows arcs towards Nathaniel, it's shape both
man-like and feral. Nathaniel stands immobile until the enormous wraith is in his breath. The black sword
flickers, casting broad swathes of radiant blue about the clearing, illuminating every blade of grass, every
twirling leaf, every feather of every bird, every oily detail of the bony shadows.

The blue fire reflected from his blade passes over the girls clustered in the trees beside him. It causes the
whites of the eyes of Lacey, Meagan and Sabrina to blaze with such a brilliance that Kami can see the
tiniest of veins, the flecks of black and color in every iris in stark certainty, even though she is more than
twenty feet away from them.

All of this screams into her mind in less than a tenth of a second, but would never be forgotten for as long
as she lived. A blossom of crimson explodes before Nathaniel's blade, and the world becomes awash with

“Nathaniel!” Kami whispers.

It sounds to Takei as if she had been about to scream his name, but the breath had been sucked out of her
before she could do so. In the darkness, he can feel her shaking. He on the other hand, feels
overwhelmingly numb, gripped by an urge to move in order to prove to himself that he is not dead.

“Why can't I see?” Simon mutters drunkenly.

Takei panics and tries to move off of the rock, but finds himself pressed up against something. He recoils,
wiping his hand against his chest. He backs away from it until he feels Paige's hand on his back.

“Quiet,” Paige says. “All of you just keep quiet.” She fumbles through Simon's pockets for his lighter and
strikes the wheel a few times. A bright, watery blue flame illuminates her face.

Takei glances around at the rock, looking for what he had touched before he realizes that the trees are gone.
Abruptly, he realizes that everything is gone. The diving rock is still below them, but even the ground
beneath the rock seems to have vanished.

A pale blue light shimmers before him. It seems close enough to touch. He reaches for it and again his
fingers collide with an oily resistance.

Kami tries grasping for a similar wisp of light. Her fingers find the air more tangible than she expected. In a
moment of panic, she strains against the unseen force.

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Takei suddenly realizes what he is seeing. He points to the wisps of blue light that stretch and retract as
Kami pushes. “It's a bubble. Those are reflections.” He traces his fingertips along the surface of the

“It's an oubliette,” Paige mumbles.

“A what?” Takei reaches about, testing the walls and the ceiling. He pushes and prods and leans against
them, finding them almost rubbery. He mashes his hand against the surface of the wall and finds that he can
almost grip the substance, if it were not so slick with moisture.

Paige grabs the waistline of his board shorts and jerks him down roughly. Takei sits so suddenly that his
teeth clack together. “Stop it!” she cries. She snaps the lid of Simon's Zippo shut, canceling the light and
the ghostly reflections.

Takei opens his mouth to speak, but has no way of knowing where to begin his questions.

“Please,” Paige says. “Don't touch it again, okay? It's an oubliette, an oubliette, alright? Don't touch it,
okay? Alright?”

“I'm sorry.” Takei recoils at the tinge of panic in Paige's voice. “Did Nathaniel...” he gestures around
dumbly, realizing he cannot be seen in the darkness. “Did he make this thing, this oo-bell-bubble...”

Takei is cut off in mid-sentence. Beyond the bubble is the sound of dozens of people, all of them
screaming. Everyone but Simon seems to stiffen at the noise.

Paige sucks in a deep breath. “No, I did it. I can make... I don't know. God damn it.”

Despite the darkness, Kami can tell that Paige's shoulders are slumped, that she is chewing her bottom lip,
that she is trying to think of something to say. After three years of high school, Kami has come to consider
Paige to be one of, if not her best of friends. She reaches out and rests a hand on Paige's knee.

“All of this has something to do with last June, right?”

“You could say that,” Paige replies. She sighs. It sounds as if she is about to cry. “God, I don't want to do

The sound of her shoes scraping against the rock fills the little bubble as she fidgets.

“What happened in June?” Takei asks. He doesn't like hearing people cry. It makes him feel uncomfortable.
He reaches out absently and strokes the wall of the sphere.

“Stop touching me!” Paige shrieks. “It's like you're grabbing my goddamn womb!”

“Shit!” Takei cries. “I'm sorry. What is this thing? What the hell is going on?”

“It's a... it's like a...” Paige growls in frustration. “You wouldn't understand. Just stop, alright. Everybody
just stop and let me think.”

The silence lasts only until the screaming beyond the the bubble begins again. Paige covers her ears and
rocks back and forth. “Stop, stop, stop, stop...” she whispers.

“That's when Nathaniel showed up, isn't it?” Simon asks. His voice still has a drunken slur to it despite how
hard he tries to cover it up. Nobody needs a lighter or a flashlight to know he is still lying down on the
rock. “Last June, during that freak snowstorm that buried half the damn town.”

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“Yeah,” Kami says. “Now that you mention it...” Her voice trails off and she pulls Paige's shoulder closer
to her. Paige is silent. Her hands still cover her face.

Simon laughs, the sound of it a skin-crawling juxtapose to the horrible screaming that filters through the
darkness. “I feel like I'm in an episode of Scooby Doo. I keep expecting Farmer Giles to show up with a
lantern and a shotgun and invite us into his spooky old mansion by the swamp. If this turns out to be some
greedy land developers, I won't be surprised.”

“Last time I checked,” Kami whispers, “People on Scooby Doo didn't pull swords out of thin air and cut
people in half with them. Or whatever those things were. Jesus, Simon.”

Simon finds his lighter where Paige dropped it. He flicks the wheel a few times and a soft blue flame
emanates from the beaten zippo to light his face. “The fire's cold,” he says. “It feels like you're burning
when it touches your skin, but it's really freezing you.”

He passes his hand over the flame slowly. Even in the dim light, everyone can see white frost build on his
skin, and wisps of smoke-like steam rising and condensing on his fingertips. “You see?”

“You'll get frostbit, you idiot,” Paige mumbles, her eyes peeking through her fingers.

Simon holds the zippo up by the hinged lid so everyone can see the frost building up on the jacket. “As
scientifically interesting as this may seem to the all of you, I could care less about June last, flashy swords
or them goddamn demon birds. For all I know, one of you coulda slipped a sheet of blotter acid into my
beer when I wasn't looking.”

He drops the still lit zippo onto the rock and lets it burn. Simon sighs, assuming that he isn't about to
receive an answer from Paige or anyone else present. “Come on, y'all. If you let me out of this bubble I'd be
glad to take my chances out there.”

“You'd die,” Paige replies simply.

“And how in the hell would you know that?” Simon scoffs. He leans back on his elbows and stares at the
reflection his lighter makes on the skin of the black sphere. He prods the darkness with his sandaled foot.

“I made this oubliette to protect you and Kami and Takei. It's like a quantum bio-shield, okay?” Paige
raises her knees to her chest and wraps her arms around them. She sniffs- she had been crying, Takei
realizes guiltily- but then she clears her throat.

When she speaks, she seems much calmer than before. “If Nathaniel wasn't able to get everyone else to
safety, there's a good possibility that they're all dead.”

“That sucks,” Simon slurs. “Fucking bio-shields, huh?” He nudges the walls of the oubliette again. “You
mean you can really feel this shit?”

“This isn't a joke, Simon!” Kami kicks his zippo off the rock. The inky blackness that slips back around
them seems warm, somehow comforting. “Look,” she says calmly, as if to a very slow child. “The last time
this happened, I thought I was dreaming, but now I realize...”

Simon's laugh interrupts her. “Well then, I'm probably dreaming right now. Me and my guilty conscience
are dreaming up all this crazy bullshit right now, and furthermore...”

Kami and Paige hear a thick sharp sound that Kami can't quite place, but Paige instantly recognizea as that
of a fist hitting a face.

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“I don't give a shit if you are drunk or dreaming,” Takei shouts, “but dreaming about me is too damn

“Shit!” Simon howls.

“Takei!” Kami shouts.

“Still think you're dreaming?”

“Fuck you, dude!” Simon tries to fend off Takei's blows, but fails miserably.

“This isn't a goddamn dream!” Takei punctuates each of his words with a solid reverberating blow to
Simon's body.

“What the hell!” Simon curls into a ball, and swings uselessly at Takei, clipping Kami in the arm.

“Dammit, Simon!” she cries, and she returns the punch.

Simon scrambles back until he is pressed up against the walls of the sphere. “What the hell are you guys
beating up on me for?”

“Cause you're an asshole!” Kami shouts.

Paige kicks at him until he is no longer touching the oubliette, but she also holds her hands up to prevent
Takei and Kami from attacking him any further.

“Stop it! Stop fighting.”

Takei is breathing hard, obviously livid. “He needs to take this shit more seriously.” He turns to Simon, or
at least to the panting and groaning noises that sound like Simon. “Erin and Amy are driving alone right
now next to where that lightning hit,” Takei explains angrily. “Did you forget where the damn road is?”

“It's not my fault!” Simon shouts back. “My parents drank when they were pregnant with me! I have
fucked up dreams, alright? This is fucking bullshit!”

Suddenly, a swarm of bright orange lights illuminate the skin of the black sphere. The little group find
themselves illuminated by an amber haze. Simon's nose is bleeding. He looks scared and angry, and more
than a little confused. Takei scrambles to his feet, wondering if he looks as bewildered as Simon does.
“What the hell is this now?”

All around the sphere, distorted shapes appear, silhoutted by the orange light and bent into odd streaks by
the curve of Paige's oubliette.

“People?” Simon asks, climbing to his knees.

Takei estimates that there are at least a dozen figures surrounding them. He wonders if they the things that
had attacked Nathaniel and the girls, or are they someone or something else? Could the government have
arrived to the scene so quickly?

He tries to think about whether or not he has heard any rumors about any military installations here in these
mountains that could possibly be responsible for the lightning and the strange lights.

Takei's head swims with possibilities, but settles on none. He is not especially superstitious, and has a deep

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mistrust of the government because of his father's job. His fists are balled tight. He finds it difficult to

He doesn't know what to expect, and this uncertainty causes him more fear than he ever anticipated feeling
in a stressful situation. “Paige?” he asks, surprised at how calm his voice sounds. “Can these things break
through your bio-blette thing?”

“No,” she replies, and stands.

Paige pulls Kami to her feet and stoops to pick up Takei's beach blanket. She wraps the colorful cloth
around her shoulders and takes long, slow breaths. Both Kami and Takei search Paige's face, but Paige does
not look back at them.

Simon sinks back to the rock, mumbling obscenities under his breath.

Takei relaxes his guard, but only slightly. “What are they? If I have to fight my way out of here to get to
Erin, I'd like to know what I'm up against.”

“Critical Response Formation Delta Epsilon 5-10. Two hundred Scribes, five hundred troops, two or three
proctors, maybe a general.” Paige settles her face into a mask of calm, folds her hands, raises her chin, and
eases her shoulders back. Somehow, she manages to appear as powerful and regal as an oak in her beach
blanket and bikini bottoms.

“They can help us find Erin and Amy,” she says. “If they are alive.“

“And these people...” Kami stutters. “Are they...”

Paige rests a hand on Kami's arm. “They are the elite guard if the imperial house.” She regards Kami and
Takei in turn, slowly and steadily. Any trace of weakness or frustration has vanished. It seems as if Paige
has become an entirely different person.

“I'm sorry we've gotten you involved in all of this, but please understand that you are involved. All of you.
Unless you remain incredibly calm and trust me, you'll probably die. But you are my friends, and that
counts for a lot. Please don't forget that.”

Paige raises her hand and makes a loose fist. A spark of over-bright orange light crackles between her
fingertips, and the inky blackness of the oubliette slips away. “Welcome,” she says, “to the Bridge.”

                                                                       Episode Five of The Bridge
                                                                                                is rated explicit
                                                                                   by the itunes rating system
                                                                       for adult language, excessive violence
                                                                         and sub versive “Liminal” messages
                                                                       the listener's distrection is not advised

                                               The b ri d ge

05-Rainbow Calimari
Amy brushes a hand against her forehead. She is disoriented. It takes a moment for her to realize that the
warm wetness she feels upon her hand is blood. She opens her eyes, dimly aware that they had been closed,
faintly aware that until now she has been unconscious.

Her head swings to one side, and she is surprised that the act is not accompanied by the sort of blinding
pain she expects. Once, when she was nine, she had jumped from the swings in the playground and
slammed her head into the domed jungle-gym. Debilitating flares of red and white had accompanied her
every move for days.

The amount of blood soaked into the dashboard and seats seems strangely disproportionate to the pain that
dances about her head. Her fingers find a gash just above her right temple. She winces not from the pain
but from the surprising lack thereof. The gash is long and deep, and the blood has already begun to matte
her hair.

Amy glances around, letting her vision bubble back into a semblance of clarity. When it finally does, she
immediately wishes she had stayed unconscious.

Her vehicle is ruined. Her steering column is twisted forward, the dashboard of her beloved car is ripped
out and lying on the hood in pieces. The windshield, of course, is smashed out and glass is everywhere. The
roof is crumpled up at a bizarre angle and the foam and fabric lining flutters gently in the fingers of a slight
but steady breeze.

These images, as disturbing as others would come to find them later, pass utterly unnoticed for the moment
by Amy.

Erin, smeared in blood and cradling her left arm, stands on the hood of Amy's car. Erin's sweater is tattered
and stained with blood. Her long, honey brown braid is half-undone. Little strands of her hair catch the
breeze and twist lazily about her, each one a wriggling viper of impossibility.

Impossibly, Amy's vehicle sits upon the edge of a cliff. From where she sits, Amy can see a spillage of
thick stars choking the night sky. Impossibly, at the edges of her vision, jagged veins of blue and pink and
violet rustle listlessly, steering her eyesight towards the edge of the drop off.

Amy unbuckles her seatbelt and reaches for the handle to open her door. She tries reaching for it several
times before she forces herself to look down and accept the fact that her door is twisted out and upwards
like the windshield and the roof and the dashboard. A dark image of a gaunt, leathery figure flashes through
her mind, triggering a powerful recoil and her gag reflex.

She slumps out of the front seat and onto the ground, wanting to see nothing more extraordinary than the
beautiful, normal dirt. Still, she finds her head tilting of its own accord until she is again staring openly at
the jagged ribbons of colorful light. When did my head turn? I didn't look up, did I?

The wriggling lights travel over her head and down the side of like cliff like a giant ring which has
burrowed through the earth. Several feet away, just beyond the front tire of the car, she spies a soft
crumbling of dirt, like the garden trails left by moles. A faint shimmering radiates from the furrowed earth.

Erin's footsteps on the hood of the car ring dully in Amy ears. Amy does not want to look up, but she does.
A broad sky of blue and green and magenta stretches above Erin's head like a glossy dome of sea foam
crystal, streaked with long, pink cirrus clouds, curving high and far into the atmosphere.

Spreading out beyond Erin's shoulders is the strange rift, flowing downwards through the sky. From where

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Amy crouches, the ring of colorful tentacles resemble strange angelic wings sprouting from Erin's back.
Beyond are stars, dark trees, and the rest of the world that she knows.

Amy watches the strands of light weave in and around each other. The blue, pink and violet ribbons coil
and spin like fluttering snakes caught in some unearthly wind. At the ends of these writhing lights are the
tattered, wispy fringes of the world.

The fringes are ragged and torn, stricken with moth-eaten holes and the occasional violent tear. On one
side, the fabric shows the worlds as they are, full of light, and in their own way, life. But she also notices
that the fabric of reality is paper-thin, silky, and the other side of each tattered wisp reveals a devastating
blackness festering with faint bloated stars that resemble nothing of anything she has ever seen before.

“Dear God,” Amy groans. “I think Paige must have slipped something into my beer.”

“It's pretty, isn't it?” Erin asks, still cradling her left arm at an awkward angle. “Our world, I mean. This
world is pretty too, but once you get used to the colors it's kinda plain.”

“Oh Jesus,” Amy murmurs. “Your arm is broken. I'm in shock. I need to get it together.” She slaps herself
in the face. “Shake it off, Amy. Focus.” She climbs into the driver's seat and begins to sift through the
debris. “Have you seen my cellphone?”

“Here,” Erin replies.

Amy glances up in time to catch her cellphone, which is streaked in Erin's blood. “Oh, God, that's blood.
You're bleeding.”

“It doesn't work,” Erin informs her. “Nothing electrical works on this side of the rift.” Erin looks up at the
strange sky. “Do you see the green lights up there? I think they could be causing an electromagnetic

Amy looks up, but finds herself wanting to vomit. The sky seems impossibly high and low at the same
time. Ribbons of strange clouds and lights criss-cross the dome of the heavens, some unfathomably high,
others seemingly within reach.

Her cellphone drops from her shaking hands and she shrinks back into her seat. “I don't feel so good. I
think I must have...” she touches her scalp again. “That's right, I hit my head.”

“I hope it doesn't hurt too bad,” Erin says, crouching in front of the busted out windshield. “I'm going to
need your help. Do you think you can help me, Amy?”

Amy nods, but does not dare to look up. “Yeah. That's how you wake up, right? You just play along with
the dream and the second you try to interact, you just wake up. That'll work.”

“That would be nice,” Erin nods her head at the back seat. “I need the plastic lining from the bottom of
your gym bag.”

“Okay. What are you going to do with it?”

Erin sweeps the broken glass from the hood with her foot and sits cross-legged near a chunk of ravaged
dashboard. “I'm going to make a make-shift cast for my arm.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

Amy empties her gym bag and peels the bottom lining out, surprised at how gratifying the act of

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vandalizing school property is to her. She works quickly, wrapping Erin's arm inside the thick sheet of
plastic. She ties the jury-rigged cast together at intervals with strips of cloth torn from her gym clothes.

This is all a dream, she reminds herself as she rips another strip of cloth from her grass-stained gym shirt.
We'll be fine when I wake up. My clothes will be just fine.

Amy fashions a sling from a swimsuit wrap that Paige had left in the back seat. As she slips it over Erin's
head and adjusts it, it suddenly occurs to her that she might not be dreaming.

“You're pretty good at this stuff,” Erin grins, and tests the weight of her arm in the colorful sling. “You're
mom's a nurse, right?”

“Eh,” Amy blushes. “My mom's a neurosurgeon. My dad's the nurse. They work together, though.

“Must be tough on your brothers.”

“They don't mind, but they did mention something about leaving me in Mexico if I ever told anyone at
school. If anyone asks, I said nothing.” Amy frowns at the pang of sadness she feels from missing her
brothers. She shoves it from her mind and forces herself to look up at the gaping hole in the sky. “Our
world is prettier,” she agrees.

Despite her injury, Erin manages to crawl through the absent windshield and slide into the passenger seat.
“I don't suppose you know what happened here?” she asks.

Amy shrugs. “We're facing south, and something tried to eat my car. I think that pretty much sums it up.”

“South, huh?” Erin asks. “How can you tell?”

Amy points at the stars. “Can you see that group of three stars right next to each other?”

Erin nods. “Orion's belt. Ah, I get it. Orion and Ursa Major sit on opposite sides of the sky, and Ursa Major
points at the North Star, which means that Orion is in the southern sky. I didn't know you knew about

“I don't,” Amy admits sheepishly. “I just remembered seeing that constellation when I was on the coast, and
it was on the south end of the beach. I didn't even know it was called Orion.”


“But I know about the Big Dipper.” Amy leans forward. “I saw it earlier tonight. I bet if I climbed out
there, I could...”


“Why not? We have to climb out there to get back anyway, right?”

“I don't think we should,” Erin grimaces. “Watch.”

Amy follows Erin's eyes down to the fingers of her broken arm. It takes her a moment to realize that Erin is
wriggling her fingers. Amy slumps back in her seat, almost hard enough to knock the wind from her.

“Okay,” she says. “My parents are the medical experts, but I at least know that you shouldn't be able to do

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“I know.” Erin leans back in her seat. “Almost at the edge of the hood of your car is the boundary. It's a
dividing line between this world and ours. Once you cross it, though, the pain comes back. It all comes
back- the smells, the tastes, it's incredible, like waking up from the dead and realizing that water is the most
delicious thing you've ever tasted. But the pain comes back the strongest. It's like being on fire and
suffocating, like I'm being crushed, or...”


“Yeah,” Erin says, looking significantly at the colorful sling that held her arm.

Amy smiles slightly. “This is the first time you've broken anything, isn't it?”

“Yeah. How did you know?”

“Six ribs when my stupid fucking horse sat on me in fifth grade.” Amy rubs absently at her sides. “It felt
like God was trying to erase me.”

She shakes her head to dissolve the specter of that memory. She twists and looked towards the back
window. “Did you see if there's anything back that way?”

“From what I can tell, it's another cliff,” Erin replies. “I couldn't see how far down it goes. There's a straight
drop off on my side, and I wasn't about to climb over the roof with my arm like that. I was thinking about
walking along the edge on your side, but then you woke up.”

Amy glances through her door. “I've got about two and a half feet. It's a wonder I didn't tumble off the edge

“Can you see the bottom?”

Amy cranes her neck, not wanting to leave her seat. “Looks like a bunch of broken rocks and shit.”

Erin giggles.


“You remind me of Paige sometimes. Whenever you swear, I can't help but think of her.”

Amy grimaces. “She's a bad influence,” she states flatly. Deciding it is time to change the subject, she
climbs from her seat and edges along the side of the cliff to see what lies behind them.

“Can you see anything?”

“No.” Under her breath, she adds a “damn it,” and hopes that Erin is unable to hear her.

“I heard that!” Erin calls a little too cheerfully. Amy chokes down an overwhelming urge to break the girl's
other arm.

Instead, she sidles back towards the front of the vehicle. “I'm gonna climb across the roof.” She savagely
ignores the wriggling rainbow calamari that seem to be eating away the edges of this reality and the next.

“Don't get too close to the boundary,” Erin cautions. “That cut on your head looks pretty nasty.”

“I'll be fine.” Amy braces her foot on the front tire of the vehicle, but quickly changes her mind when the

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car begins to roll forward. “Shit!” she cries, and dives back through the windshield. She jerks on the
parking brake. The car lurches violently and slides over some gravel, but stops.

“That was close,” Amy grins, dizzy and out of breath. Perhaps the cut on her head truly is as bad as Erin
seems to think it is.

She glances up and smiles warily at Erin. Erin's face, once disturbingly serene despite the situation, is now
pale and curled into a rictus of pain.

It is the last thing Amy remembers seeing before the coagulated blood on her forehead bursts and the world
turns angrily black.

For what seems like forever, Erin finds herself incapable of doing much of anything else other than
hyperventilate, scream, and watch Amy spout gallons of chocolate syrup from the hole in head.

It splashes on the ruined dashboard. It splashes on the bits of broken glass scattered everywhere. It splashes
in places that Erin would not believe possible for blood to splash when she removed items of her clothing

Erin feels a wave of choking bile climb up her throat. With an arm that felts heavier than twelve dead
hippopotami, she fights back and scrambles into the back seat. Almost immediately, a wave of numb relief
spreads throughout her burning arm. The nausea instantly subsides. She melts into the seat, delirious at
how quickly the pain simply ebbs away.

After checking to make sure that she hasn't wet herself, her common sense comes screaming back as
brutally and speedily as the pain of her broken arm had vanished.

“Amy!” she cries. She scrambles to her knees, ignoring the bits of glass that dig into her skin as she does

Every time she leans forward, Erin is assaulted by the sharpened iron taint of wet blood. Movement is a
swirling miasma of lights and colors both creeping from shadows. A wave of sensations scream out
horribly unsubtle reflections and refractions of the world and reawaken her pain anew.

She closes her eyes, grits her teeth, and slips her right arm under Amy's. Erin clamps down with as much
strength as she can muster and wrestles Amy into the back seat. For a long while, she lies immobile,
drinking in the miserable bittersweet relief with Amy's body sprawled awkwardly atop hers.

“Paige is going to get jealous if you don't get off me,” she finally murmurs. For some reason, her voice
seems abnormally loud in the small, confined space.

Amy, whose silent, ashen face is a near mask of dried blood, does not respond. She doesn't scream, she
doesn't weep, and she doesn't even bother to breathe. As far as Erin can tell, Amy is dead.

                                                                        Episode Six of The Bridge
                                                                                              is rated explicit
                                                                                   by the itunes rating system
                                                                       for adult language, excessive violence
                                                                         and sub versive “Liminal” messages

                                   The b ri d ge

                                                      the listener's distrection is not advised

06-Don't You Play?
Lacey's pillar of icy blue fire claws at the sky. The rocks of the fire pit are now
covered in frost. At the center of the blaze, a long shard of luminous white crystal
continues to grow.

Nathaniel's blade hovers, reflecting broad beams of images. He can see everyone
reflected in his blade. Lacey and her simple commoner friends. The portly
freshman and the unscrupulous basketball player, both inebriated. Simon and
Kami on the rock, both now convinced that he is insane.

Takei and his sister.

The shadow rattles closer. He watches as light and shadow somehow fold over the
edges of the diving rock, driving the night into an even deeper darkness.

The shadow arrives, laughing.

Nathaniel's black-mirrored sword flickers once. The haze in the air before him
splits open. A spray of black fluid stirs the dust at his feet.

Trevin and Blaise back away from the tall, gaunt smear of darkness as it flutter-
crashes past them. Trees quiver with a leathery whisper, a hot hiss of liquid and
the rattling of bones and rusted chains. Bright red eyes peer out for a moment,
blink and vanish, leaving strange, almost palpable red trails in the air like bright
brush strokes of neon blood.

“Get behind the trees!” Nathaniel shouts to the freshman. He grips the long,
obsidian blade in one hand and uses it to point out a small copse of scrub oaks
which are partially surrounded by tall boulders. Lacey, Sabrina, Cielo, and several
other girls are already crouched inside the little hollow.

Nathaniel clenches the fingers of his free hand together into a fist, pivots, and
slashes a shimmer of black.

Trevin hears the sound of metal striking flesh. Bone. There must also be some
sort of metal there, he discerns, as Nathaniel's blade makes a second swift pass
back across the shadow, producing a shower of wet blue sparks. Nathaniel's fist
drives upwards and the shadow, once shimmering, feathery and less substantial
than smoke, rattles to a tangible halt.

The creature is tall, with long, skinny limbs and red eyes that seem to burn in its
very sockets. It towers over Nathaniel. Even doubled over, bleeding wildly and
wailing a miserable snuffling noise, it is the single most unnerving thing Trevin,

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Blaise or the girls have ever seen in close contact.

It can't be human. It's limbs are far too long, far too skinny to be human. It looks
vaguely human, but it smells like leather, burning oil and blood. It hums like a
jungle cat but whimpers like a beaten dog.

Trevin thinks of the octopus he had once seen in a walk-in aquarium on vacation.
Whatever this is, it has the octopus beat.

Nathaniel grips the creature by its face. Red eyes blink wildly, spiraling into
points before blossoming back out again. It remind him of a bird he had seen
earlier that morning on the hood of his older brother's car.

Is it wearing a mask? Trevin squints, trying to see better, but Nathaniel stabs the
spidery wraith in the belly and wrenches it down to the ground. Three broad lines
of crimson burble and spit along the length of it's long torso. As the creature hits
the ground, it begins to thrash again, violently flickering once more into it's
feathery, shadow-state.

Its movements seem bizarre, blurry and wildly unpredictable. The sprays of blood
from its wounds seems so wild that Trevin idly wonders how much blood he's
going to have caked in his sandals and between his toes. I'll just clean them in the
lake, he reasons.

Blaise screams, turns, and tries to flee as the flailing creature collides with his
legs. A sickening spray of blood splatters up the back of Blaise's neck upon
impact. The blood provides a startling juxtapose against his frosted buzz cut.
With his eyes and mouth so wide with hysteria, Trevin wonders how the star
basketball player's eyes simply haven't fallen out of his head.

The panicked Blaise turns as he falls, shoving Lacey and Meagan perhaps a bit
rougher than Trevin would have thought appropriate, no matter what the
situation was. Meagan tumbles, skins a knee, an elbow, her palms. Trevin catches
Lacey by the wrist and pulls her along to keep her from falling. They dodge
Meagan and dance to the side, leaving Blaise to revel in his fit of falling and

Nathaniel moves around them in short, precise movements. He runs the pommel
of his sword up the side of Blaise's head, rendering him unconscious. The frosted-
haired basketball player drops to the ground with an almost grateful look on his

Nathaniel steps over him and stomps his foot down hard on the ribcage of the
giant leathery shadow-man. As it begins to curl again in pain, Nathaniel's blade
flickers once more. The creature's head drops to the ground and rolls over to

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Meagan, tumbling gently to a rest in a glossy pile of her long brown hair.

Meagan screams, flinging the creature's head away from her. The terrified girl
scrambles to a low crouch, looking desperately for somewhere to hide. She flings
her head from side to side, plastering the bloodied length of her hair against the
side of her cheek, her long, slender neck and her chest. She feels the urge to
scream again, but she can't even manage to breathe.

Her eyes meet Nathaniel's. Meagan blinks once, and is suddenly still. Her lungs
suddenly work again. She draws a long breath, trying to see deeper into
Nathaniel's piercing gaze. Her breath makes a tiny cloud in front of her.

“Sit down,” he tells her. Meagan drops, a ragdoll with nothing to hold her aloft.

Nathaniel glances at Trevin and Lacey, but before he can speak, another rattling
wave of raven's feathers crashes through the limbs of a small oak. A flash of dull
grey metal whistles out, and the rest of the tree crumples with a crackle that
sounds like gunshots.

The shadow burrows through the tangles of branches, in and out of the trees.
Nathaniel meets it head-on with his strange obsidian sword. He lashes out,
slashing cleanly through the muscles of the rattling smoke. Blood sprays the dirt
in a long crescent arc as the shadow crashes to the ground.

Massive arms and legs flail, blur, and strike out at the cluster of pines Nathaniel
has guided it into. Small branches snap. Swathes of bark are scraped clean to
reveal a bony whiteness underneath. The rattling of metal and the high-pitched
whine bursting from the bleeding and whimpering creature's torso urge Meagan
back into her ball. Tighter this time. Eyes closed.

Nathaniel glares at Meagan's curled-up figure and his nostrils flare. Mesmerized,
Trevin wonders what the glare could possibly mean. He barely notices Lacey
attempting to pull him farther away from Meagan and the others, towards a dark,
cozy patch of rock. He is anchored, watching Nathaniel move among the

The black blade shines and beams like midnight and it's darker, more perfect
reflection. Even the bright crimson blood of the long-limbed shadow-men seems
to darken quickly on the surface of the blade.

Twirling his blade in his hand, Nathaniel rounds on the slashed creature and
delivers two swift blows. First, a shallow dip to the back of it's leathery neck to
sever the spinal column. Second, to a spidery right limb who hands seems to be
glowing with a dim purple fire. A splash of blue sparks accompanies the sound of
rattling chains.

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Trevin studies the fallen shadow. He can now see that they are wrapped from
head to toe in strips of worn, grimy leather. Heavy chains are wrapped around its
torso, and travel up and down the length of its limbs. Multiple hoops insinuated
the restricted positions the creature could be forced into. Indeed, the left elbow of
the creature was for some reason locked to a hoop at its waist.

Suddenly realizing that he has a moment to move, Trevin shakes himself loose of
his fascination with the creatures and nudges Lacey. Together, they grab Meagan
and drag her deeper into the trees, further away from Blaise, Nathaniel, and the
two giant, bone-thin monsters.

Nathaniel nods his approval. “Stay here. Let me worry about the Protolith.” He
sounds as if he is asking them to stay out of the rain. He smiles awkwardly. “You
should drag this idiot back there, too.” He kicks Blaise in the leg.

Trevin nods and scrambles forward, his eyes darting from the rattling noises in
the trees, to the bleeding and twitching monsters that lay on either side of Blaise's
unconscious body. The freshman grabs Blaise by the collar of his polo shirt and
drags him into the little copse of trees as quickly as he can. When Trevin is close
enough, Lacey helps to pull Blaise the rest of the way.

A short, but heavily saturated trail of blood follows in Blaise's wake.

This trail of blood stands out in stark relief against the bleached river rocks and
dirt. Lacey's bonfire, still a pillar of azure flame, has reduced the world to an
uncomfortably well-defined monochrome.

The bands of shimmering light in the sky still pulse and flicker. One shimmers
brighter than the rest and briefly illuminates the clearing in a more natural light.
Grass is still green. Rocks are still gray. Blood is still everywhere.

Nathaniel's smile is gone. He looks at Trevin. Trevin swallows. Nathaniel takes a
step closer to Trevin and Lacey, leans his head closer to them and says, “Stay here
or you die. “

“Yeah,” Trevin murmurs.

Although Nathaniel is barefoot and wearing only shorts, he jogs over the pine
needles and rocks with a practiced ease. A flickering creature creeping closer
beyond the blue fire skitter-clacks to one side. Nathaniel pivots on his heels as he
runs, and flings the sword above him in a powerful arc.

Trevin never saw the attack that came from the side, but Nathaniel, his blade
high in the air, leaps gingerly over a flash of gleaming steel. A second Protolith

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appears from nowhere, swinging a long, dull chunk of sword metal at Nathaniel's

The sword is crude, but longer than Nathaniel is tall. The blade itself is nearly as
wide as his chest. A direct blow from this piece of devilry would spell a bloody
end to whatever it strikes. In the hilt, Trevin discerns the vague shape of inter-
twined rings of spinning colors, like some sort of gyroscopic mechanism.

Nathaniel lands softly and skips a single step closer to the tall creature, who
clutches at the wound Nathaniel has inflicted upon it during it's moment of
attack. The Protolith attempts to step away from Nathaniel, but the agile young
man simply moves his blade, entangling the exposed fleshy part of the Protolith's
limbs against the cutting edge of his black sword.

There is a small spray, but mostly, the blood just bubbles like water from a
spring. It spatters down Nathaniel's arms and chest, across the knee and foot of
his outstretched leg.

Nathaniel leaps, drives a foot on the Protolith's knee and wrenches his sword
loose, slashing the creature's arm and neck into ribbons with one swift flourish.
Blood sprays against the dirt even before Nathaniel's bare feet land beside it. He
wrinkles his toes, closes his eyes, and launches himself again at the first creature.

The Protolith is a rattling shadow, nothing but whisps of smoke and bone until
Nathaniel reaches it. The creatures lurches forward to meet him in a flurry of
feathers, dragging it's own massive blade with it- a blade which clatters heavily
to the stones when Nathaniel severs the hand that holds it. The chains, now loose
of a limb, flail and roar through the air as the enraged Protolith attempts to strike

Nathaniel pauses, skips a step to the left, and deftly dodges a crooked flash of
rusted iron. He parries the chain aside, and runs the Protolith through the center
of its face-plate. The shriek of piercing metal as the blade passes through the
creature's head finally confirms Trevin's suspicions.

Another shadow appears. And another. A blast of cold wind accompanies the new
arrivals. The trees shiver and shake. The screaming simply will not stop.

Thousands of white birds fill the sky, spinning around and around the impossibly
high column of Lacey's azure inferno. Trevin recognizes the birds from the hood
of his brother's car this morning. Their eyes had been so red.

Nathaniel doesn't wait. He attacks, managing to cut one of the Protolith partway
through it's neck, but the blade sticks fast against the bone and refuses to come
loose. Nathaniel jerks the creature around, letting it shield him from the closest

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group of newcomers. Momentarily free from attack, he slams the creature's body
to the ground, braces the hilt of his sword against the dirt and stomps on the
wraith's head until the blade passes through it's neck and comes free.

Several of the weaponless Protolith dash forward as soon as they notice that
Nathaniel's sword is out of his hands. The closest one lashes out, leaving a
crackling trail of purple fire in the wake of his fist. Nathaniel pivots to the side
and grabs the creature's wrist just as it travels past his face, stopping the blow
almost instantly.

A smoldering, orange light flickers in Nathaniel's free right hand. He balls his
hand into a tight fist, letting thin shafts of crackling light leak between his fingers.
He draws the creature close with his left hand, and slams his right into the
creature's shoulder. With a wet crunch, the sound of something thick and organic
being torn, and ribbons of more blood, the creature's arm is ripped from its body.

Nathaniel re-grips the wriggling arm and dodges two more attacks, skipping
backwards while the disarmed creature screams and brackish blood spurts from
it's riven socket.

Although the Protolith are wearing face-masks that muffled much of the sound of
their screams, Lacey is suddenly thrust back in time to a childhood incident in
which a handsome older boy at the lake had scrambled his foot in a boat
propeller. The screams are very similar.

Trevin, who has only seen such carnage in movies and video games, is so
enraptured by the spectacle that he barely notices Lacey clinging to his arm.

Within moments, Nathaniel and the screeching fighter are encircled. The white
birds wheel above them, swooping down to snap at the mutilated bodies on the
ground. The tall creatures ignore the birds and advance. They don't form a ring
around Nathaniel and fight him one at a time like the villains in the freshman's
kung-fu movies.

The shadows swarm all at once, from every conceivable angle. Nathaniel weaves
in and out, sidestepping and redirecting blows using his one empty hand and the
arm of the dismembered Protolith, which he continues to brandish. His free hand
occasionally blazes with the strange orange light again and again, each pulse
accentuated by a scream or the sickening crackle of bones. His face is covered in
blood and sweat, his hair is plastered to his scalp and neck, but his eyes remain
emotionless, empty, like the orbs of a great white shark as it devours it's prey
without any consideration of mercy or regret.

These Protolith, it seems, are not immune to fear. Those without weapons begin
to converge once more near Lacey's blue fire, which still burns high enough to

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completely dwarf the tall, gaunt specters.

Purple trails of firelight swarm around Nathaniel's body, leaving odd geometrical
patterns and strange shapes in the air. Nathaniel's own orange light deftly weaves
in and out of them, leaving his own array of shapes and patterns.

A few exchanges of blows is enough for Trevin to realize that the strange beams of
purple and orange light are actually becoming beams of solid energy as they leave
the wielder's hands, and that they remains solid for at least a few seconds before
fading away. Nathaniel's crackling orange light cannot pass through the purple
light of the Protolith, nor vice-versa.

The freshman also notices that purple fire of the creatures, though wider than
Nathaniel's, dissappates much quicker. Nathaniel's light, on the other hand,
doesn't seem to be fire at all, but more akin to the rays of a golden afternoon sun
as seen in a plume of dust.

"What the hell is he?" Trevin whispers to no one in particular.

Lacey, whose eyes have been closed, says nothing, and buries her head into
Trevin's shoulder.

Sensing a shift in the dynamics of the situation, Nathaniel abruptly changes his
tactic. He makes several wide arcs in the air, creating a lattice of light. He opens
his fist, grips a cross section of his glowing pattern, and draws it back. Before the
closest Protolith can react to this new development, a blinding light bursts from
Nathaniel's hand, and the broad lattice of orange lights streaked through both of
the specters, cutting their tall leathery bodies into chunks of meat and bone.

The swath of orange light crashes into the trees behind the crumbling shadows,
slicing the wood apart as well. As far as Trevin could tell, the glowing pattern
simply sped off into infinity, leaving an avenue of chaotic destruction in it's wake.
Trees crumble heavily to the ground, jagged edges stabbing into the dirt and
others toppling haphazardly in every direction.

Nathaniel's hand crackles with spitting arcs of orange electricity. Calmy, he wipes
his palm across his bloody chest until the light flickers out.

None of the remaining Protolith move. The limb he had torn from the one fighter
he lets drag in the dirt and the pine needles as he face the shadows, subtly
shifting his feet as he anticipates the next attack. The white knob of bone that had
once fit into the creature's shoulder socket gleams dully, and little specks of grit
cling to it in places.

The only sound in the little clearing comes from the crackling of the fire, the

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flapping and rustling of the thousands of white birds above them, and from the
still-mewling armless Protolith. A few rattling gasps come from the failing bodies
strewn about the rocks and dirt and grass and pine needles. The screaming at
least, had stopped.

Nathaniel looked around the campsite, hopeful that none of the bodies that litter
the clearing belong to any of his friends or kids from town. Aside from Trevin and
Lacey;s group in the little copse of trees, it appears to Nathaniel that everyone
else has fled. He hopes this is true.

He turns his attention to the one-armed Protolith.

Now on it's knees, the creature grasps at the hole on it's shoulder in a vain effort
to staunch the heavy flow of blood. Long, hair-like tendrils of something black
and oily wriggle around his fingers. It's attempts to scream now resemble a pitiful
rise above a mere wheeze.

Nathaniel approaches the beast, ignoring the others who stand in wait near the
fire. He drags the specter's arm behind him, rolling the bloody stump in the dirt.

"Oh shit," the freshman's jaw drops. “He's not gonna...”

Lacey, whose eyes had been open long enough to watch the trees fall under
Nathaniel's attack of orange light, closes them again and moans softly. "I think
I'm gonna be sick."

"Don't be," the freshman replies. "Whatever those things are, they aren't human.
There's no use feeling sorry for them."

"What do you mean?" Meagan, sits up from her fetal position and stares hard at
Trevin. She climbs to her feet and grabs the freshman by the shoulders. "Can't
you hear the damn screaming?"

Trevin shakes his head. "It's a fucking machine, lady. That sound you're hearing
is just an engine going ape-shit because it's been jacked up." He points at the
piles of wrecked body parts surrounding them. "There's metal rods and wires and
shit all over the place, but I don't see any guts or anything. Do you?"

"What about the blood?"

"Oil and lubricants."

"The flesh?"

"Synthetic material.” Trevin points at the closest Protolith, whose wounds are

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nearly black with the creeping tendrils. “See the little threads that shoot out
whenever he cuts something up? I betcha a thousand bucks that they're trying to
reconnect. That's why he's chopping them up like that and spreading them out, so
that even if they can reconnect, their endoskeletons can't fit back together."

Meagan's eyes bear into him uncomfortably. Her expression passes through a
dozen emotions. Fear. Betrayal, hurt, relief, suspicion, anger, more fear. "How do
you know all this stuff?" she asks, jerking away from him as if he were one of the

The freshman gives her a look that could have been easily translated as
something along the lines of "Are you completely retarded?" but then he simply
shrugs and says, "Don't you play video games?"

Trevin turns back to Nathaniel, who now stands directly before the mewling, one-
armed creature. Nathaniel calmly raises his free hand and begins undoing the
metal clasps that holds the Protolith's metal face-mask to it's head. The creature
makes futile attempts to stop him, but Nathaniel slaps away the creature
remaining hand as if he were swatting a fly.

There is a hiss of escaping air as the last clasp comes undone, but there was no
puff of steam or and other cloudy expression to join it, as the freshman had
expected. The creature's face mask simply falls away, hitting the ground with a
dull, uncomplicated thud.

Meagan, who was by no means a lesbian, had never met a man she could consider
beautiful. In her non-lesbian opinion, women were supposed to be gentle on the
eyes, but men had no such requirements.

Perhaps it was her mother's influence that led her to believe that a man was
attractive if he met three simple requirements: a man needed a job, a vehicle, and
he shouldn't be too fat or too skinny. The latter two, her mother had counseled
her, were important because a skinny man who neglected himself could also
neglect her. Likewise, a portly fellow lacked self-control and would most likely
need to be babysat for the rest of his life.

What Meagan saw behind the mask in that instant completely ruined the last
seventeen years of her meticulous maternal upbringing. All thoughts of her
mother's sage-like wisdom dissolved and were replaced by the cherubic face
looking up defiantly at Nathaniel.

Strands of long blonde hair fell loose from the leather cowl that still wrapped the
back of his head and neck. At first, the hair tricked Meagan into thinking that she
was looking at a girl. Adding that to the youthful bloom of his cheeks and the
fulness of his mouth, she was shocked to see that the face of this creature was

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also weilding the downy growth of a few day's beard along his jawline and also
across it's upper lip.

"My God," she murmured. "He's beautiful." He heart suddenly caught in her
throat as Nathaniel reached forward and stroked the flaxen hair of his one-armed
enemy. He smiled sadly and tucked a glistening strand behind the beautiful
creature's ear.

"Leave the shell," he whispered. "I'm going to kill you now."

The comely beast spat a brief but caustic reply in a language that sounded
something like a cross between Russian and Latin. It was spoken harshly, but the
voice that delivered it was purely angelic. Before she realized what she was doing,
Meagan was on her feet, struggling to move closer.

"Meagan!" Lacey cried. "Stay down!" She scrambled over the freshman and
latched onto her friend's arm.

Entrance, Meagan pushed forward, her eyes darting back and forth between the
sultry eyes of the fighter and the fingers of Nathaniel's right hand as he gripped
and re-gripped the wrist of the fighter's severed arm. "Don't hurt him," Meagan
whispered through grated teeth. "Leave him alone!"

"Damn it, Meagan!" Lacey cried. "What the hell is wrong with you?" She placed
herself in front of Meagan, vainly attempting to hold her back. Unfortunately,
Lacey was a small girl, and Meagan, captain of the volleyball team and a shining
track star, barely noticed Lacey's presence.

Abruptly, Lacey felt something brush up against her back. She yelped and spun
around, believing completely that Meagan had attracted on or all of the
enormous monsters to them, that the very next thing she was going to feel was
the crushing weight of a giant steel blade cleaving her body in half.

Relief and confusion washed over her in waves when she realized that all of the
monsters were still gathered around the bonfire, that they were still ignoring her
and Meagan completely.

"What the..." she began. "What touched me?" In that brief moment in which she
allowed her mind to wander and her mouth to speak her concerns, Meagan
collided with her, hard.

Lacey spun forward, and suddenly stopped, her hand spread out before her.
Clearer that glass and softer than silk, a strange wall of light had caught her in
mid-fall. Meagan pressed up against her, crushing Lacey into the heavy and
invisible fabric.

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She slid sideways against the barrier of Nathaniel's invisible oubliette and hit the
ground. Lacey watched, somewhat disgusted, as Meagan hit the barrier and
began to claw at it ineffectively.

"He a human!" Meagan screamed. "You can't do this! It's murder!"

Trevin stood and helped Lacey to her feet. They stared at Meagan , silently
agreeing with a shared glance that although there was nothing they could do to
stop her from screaming, they were somehow safe.

Considerably more sober that he had been before the attack, the freshman
rubbed his mouth and let his eyes wander over the frightened highschoolers that
were clustered in the trees behind Blaise, who was still unconscious.

He recognized Sabrina Matthews, with the long brown hair, Courtney Finn, who
had taken a rather unflattering picture of him for the yearbook, Cielo Andreoni,
who had an incredibly sexy mouth when she wasn't talking. An hour ago, he
would have gladly given his soul to be surrounded by so many half-clothed girls,
but something inside of him had finally awakened.

He clenched his fists and turned back towards the raging pillar of blue fire and
the tall figures before it. The freshman didn't care if they were machine or
human. Whatever they were, they were a threat. Without anyone realizing it,
Nathaniel had erected an incredible shield to protect them all, and had fought
alone against overwhelming odds.

Trevin did not flinch when Nathaniel let out a violent cry and and crumpled the
skull of the beautiful beast with it's own glistening shoulder bone. He accepted
the reality of the action with a newfound sense of truth in his soul that he had
never known before.

Meagan crumpled to the ground and leaned her head against the wall of the
barrier. "He was human," she murmured. "So beautiful."

Nathaniel dropped the severed arm next to the body of it's slain owner and
walked slowly to retrieve his sword. He ignored the other remaining creatures,
and did not even bother to acknowledge their abrupt silent depature.

He wiped away the brackish blood, bent the light and shadows along his arm, and
the the sword vanished, swallowed up and stored somewhere within the recesses
of his soul.

Once the last of the creatures had slipped back into the shadows, Nathaniel
released a small pulse of light from a loosely clenched fist that flickered briefly

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and faded away, taking his oubliette with it. Meagan teetered back and forth for a
moment until she regain her balance. Suddenly aware that whatever had been
restraining her was now gone, she climbed awkwardly to her feet.

"You make me sick," she spat at Nathaniel. "I always knew you were a loser, but I
never thought that you'd do something like this. You're a murderer. A butcher."

Nathaniel said nothing. He sat on a rock and put his elbows on his knees.

"What!" Meagan shrieked. "Say something! You want to murder me too!?"

"If you don't shut the eff up," Trevin growled, "I'll murder your damn face off.
This motherfucker just saved your stupid shit, you idiot. Why don't you wake the
hell up and show some fucking gratitude?"

"Fuck you, you fat fucking freshman!" Meagan rounded on him, her fisted
clenched and her lips curled back around her teeth. "Who the hell do you think
you are?"

"Please, Meagan!" Lacey stood next to Trevin and held his arm to keep him still.
"Calm down and listen to reason!"

"No," Nathaniel said abruptly. His face, half-buried in his hands, regarded them
all with tired eyes. "Meagan is right."

The bewildered group focused on him intently, unaware of the orange lights
twinkling between the branches of the trees.

Nathaniel stood, unfolded the light and shadow, and drew his sword. As a vibrant
pattern of light erupted from the shadows and hurtled past Meagan, Nathaniel's
blade flashed and split the beams of light in twain. They careened into the sky,
bursting apart.

"You called me a murder and a butcher," Nathaniel spoke gravely to Meagan. "I
won't argue with that. But understand this before you speak again.

"One day, you're going to be attacked by somebody who wants to drink your
blood and clothe themselfs with your skin."

Two more of the orange patterns streaked through the trees. Nathaniel flicked his
sword twice, sending waves of bright black energy to meet them. They struck the
oncoming patterns and reduced them to so much luminous glitter that washed
over the crowd in waves, like a thousand lit candles decorating the scene or an
endless cloud of sunshine flavored junebugs.

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It was the most beautiful thing that Lacey had ever seen.

Suddenly, the small clearing was filled by humans- soldiers by the look of it, in
strange armor that looked both like S.W.A.T gear and the archaic garb of Roman
Centurians. Most of them brandished blades like Nathaniel's; other were in the
process of forming new orange light patterns.

Upon seeing the clearing devoid of the tall beasts, the patterns abruptly winked
out, and the overwhelming mass of soldiers knelt about Nathaniel, one fist
pressed to the dirt, the other pressed firmly over their hearts.

"On that day," Nathaniel told Meagan, "You you better hope you know enough to
fight back and do a little butchering yourself."

He rested the unsharpened edge of his black blade on his shoulder and held
Meagan's gaze. "The next time somebody wants to kill you," he said, "I might just
let them."

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