Track One

What I see isn't anything like the nightmare that Paul witnessed.

"Huh. You see anything, Pablo?"

"Haze, fog. It's like your description of the Overworld before it resolves into anything recognizable."

"Drat." I see a perfectly ordinary small town. People, shops, a school — it looks like one of those one-room schoolhouses you only read about in stories. Fine, maybe it's big enough to be a two-room schoolhouse. Still, it's a small town, a port town. There's a dock . . . or would that be a pier? Denver doesn't exactly have a port. Anyway, several boats are docked alongside it. It all looks so . . . normal.

"Rene?"

A moment later, our Spirit brother appears. "You beckoned, ma chère soeur?"

"Can you see what's on the other side of the portal?"

He peers at it. It may or may not be a tunnel in the space-time continuum; Charles and his brainiacs are still trying to figure that out. In this case, it's just a window and not a tunnel. Probably. Finally, Rene shakes his head.

"Fog? Pea soup? It's hard to—" I grasp his hand, and he blinks. "What the hell did you do, Andi?"

"So you see something how?"

"Oh, yes. A quaint little town. Fishing village, maybe. Looks like it could be New England, maybe. It doesn't really look European."

I maneuver Rene so he's standing behind both Pablo and me, then drape Rene's other arm over Pablo's shoulder.

"Well, this is fun," he says mischievously.

"Shut up, Rene," we say in unison, and then I add, "Can you see anything now, Pablo?"

His wide eyes and flare of his qi answer me before he says anything. "Yeah. How?"

The look I give him is one that would translate roughly to I'm concerned about your sanity, dear.

"I know it was a long, long time ago, but it was not in a galaxy, universe, or dimension far, far away. Surely you can't have forgotten how Rene helped all of you see my first conversation with Moira?"

"Oh, right. The one where you decided the best way to fix the split soul you and Madeline had was to die. How could I possibly forget?"

"Sarcasm does not suit you, dear. That's my specialty."

"I want to know why we're watching uninteresting people in another dimension be boring."

I look over my shoulder at Rene. "Because Paul opened a portal to this humdrum little place and saw something horrific enough that Charles has had to wall it off."

His eyes meet mine, and his expression could rightfully be called blank . . . except for his eyes. I can't exactly read his aura because he's a Spirit — all qi, all the time, even when he manifests on the physical plane, making him entirely aura — and the reading of said aura is unreliable at times. His eyes say plenty, though.

"Yeah. Almost as bad as what Maddie suffered. And I don't think the girl was much older than Leon was when I first met him."

He nods. "What's the plan? Shall I call Maddie?"

I shake my head and sigh. "Talia says not to go with my instincts. That was my first instinct: gather the Wolf Pack, go in, kick major ass. Instead, we're going to rely on our calm, cool, and collected Captain Homicide Detective, I think."

"Then we watch," Rene agrees.

I turn back to the portal and observe the people. It's a bit like watching a TV show with the sound turned off. The look-see portal lets me . . . well, us . . . see the other dimension, but we can't interact with it. We can't hear them. They have no way to know we're watching. An uncomfortable thought follows toe upon heel after that one: They have no way to know we're watching unless there's someone with my abilities and my power and my experience in that dimension. No. Even then, they'd have to actively be looking for the telltale signature of Andrea Yazzie the Warrior in the portal.

"Look! There! I know where that is," Rene exclaims. "It's the end of Long Island. Well, sort of . . . if someone dropped a few extra blocks on the end."

I consider that for a moment. "Hmm, our physical proximity to Long Island here at the school might account for why Paul latched onto this dimension. Energetically speaking, it would practically be the next house over. Not even a different neighborhood."

"Those kids are assholes," Pablo murmurs as he watches the scene play out.

If I had to describe what we're watching, it would just be a day in the life of a small town. The flow of qi and the flare of auras help me understand the relationships among the townsfolk better than Pablo and Rene, but even I don't see any indication that this town is heading toward the horror my son found. There are typical teenagers — some nice, some not, some at the farther ends of the bell curve than others. There are adults with all manner of adult problems and dramas. I feel sorry for the little girl whose mother is the town drunk, but her . . . uncle? Yes, they look enough alike to be kin. He apparently cares about her.

And then we're dropped into a new episode — things are different, time has passed, but even though people are upset that the lovely old woman died, it still seems . . . ordinary.

At least, until people start waking up from what are clearly nightmares. No one has such disarrayed qi while they're sleeping unless they're dreaming about terrible things. And yet . . .

"Can nightmares have that kind of effect on someone?" I ask, pointing at the newspaper man. I don't know. Memories can last, yes. But the man seems to be in a lot of physical pain.

"Yes," Pablo whispers. "Yes, they can."

All of us in the Pentad know what kind of nightmares my husband has had. After Rosalia and Juan had been murdered, before I met him, they were terrible. After Denise was beaten into a coma by a mob who thought she was a mutant — I saw the effects of those. The ones he had for months while he avoided me after his undercover assignment to crack open a child pornography ring were bad, too. Then there were the dreams he had after returning from Quetzalcoatl's dimension. And our Maddie has her share of nightmares that sometimes came to life in her waking hours before the Pentad was formed, and even occasionally afterward.

I nod. Yes, we've all had our nightmares. Some of us have healing factors high enough that we've never gone through the physical pain the newspaper man seems to be in. Of course, it doesn't help that something had blown in his windows overnight, shattering every pane and letting in the rain. That's going to have an effect on a body without a higher-than-average healing factor.

But other people are also waking up with just as much horror spilling out of their dreams and into their waking lives.

Why these people? It makes me curious to know what they were dreaming about, but that's never been a gift I had access to. Maybe Tommy would be able to find out, but I can't.

"What . . . the . . . fuck??" Pablo is merely voicing what we're all thinking.

The whole town is splattered with that looks like blood and gristle and gore . . . from the road up by the schoolhouse to the fancy Inn at the other end of the town.

"Before you even ask, sister, even I haven't seen anything like that," Rene offers quietly.

What's odd — although maybe not — is that it's the people who woke up from the nightmares that seem most . . . interested? Intrigued? Curious? While the rest of the town goes about cleaning up the mess, almost as though it's just another Tuesday, the dreamers are more interested in . . .

I shake my head. It's hard to tell what's driving them. But they do seem to be the ones poking their noses into actual police work. The fact that there looks to be only one LEO in town would account for no one stopping them. The sheriff is up at the Inn.

Well, now. There's an interesting dynamic in that family. Dysfunctional would be a good word for it. One of the dreamers is there but just observes what's going on. Given how screwed up that family looks, I can't say I blame her.

But the other three dreamers, the three men, have gathered at one of the farthest intersections in town.

"Woman's footprint, I'd say. Maybe a teen," Pablo opines.

"Damn, I wish we could hear what they were saying." I guess I'm just frustrated and confused.

"I wish they'd hold still so I could at least try to read their lips!"

Rene shrugs. "I'm not having any better luck, Pablo."

We watch as they follow the path of destruction beyond the town and to the end of the island. The blood stops a fair way before the bridge; it doesn't look like the carnage started on the other side. The bridge is too clean. Detective Garcia is looking at the other end of the bridge, however. Ah, Pablo . . . ever and always the homicide detective. I see why he's interested, though. It's not often you see a Ford F150 embedded in the side of a building.

"Given how deeply that vehicle is buried in the building, the driver had to have been flooring it," Rene says. "The skid marks are unusual, though. It's as though the driver didn't know the buildings were there."

I shrug. "I know nothing about other universes and the people who drive there. I just know there are a lot of good old boys around my town who drive them, and they make trouble for Ninja. The Jesus Fan Club has given up their love of the Silverado, and now all drive Fords, too. And we all know how much they want Ninja gone."

Pablo gives me an odd look. "Still? The mutant registration laws were repealed before the kids were born. They're still harassing you about that?"

I return his look. "Hello? Where have you been since we got engaged? Maybe the better question might be 'who are you, and what have you done with my husband the detective?' Sure, they got a big smackdown when the FBI busted up their little terrorism cell, but the good old boys still hate everyone who isn't a good old boy." I shrug. "I'd like to find this Jesus and ask him to do something about his fan club."

"He's weeping," Rene says dryly.

"You know where he is?"

"No, why would . . .? Andi, it's an expression. 'Jesus wept'? Surely, you must have heard it at some point in your life."

I can't tell if Rene is messing with me or not.

"Maybe. And that's not the point."

"I think I've lost track of the point," Pablo admits.

I sigh. "I believe that we need to have a nice long talk about our delightful idiots in Colorado, but perhaps not until we get home."

While one of the dreamers is looking at a depression in the ground that might be the start of the carnage, another one engages in a conversation with someone who comes across the bridge from the other side.

Personally, I'd say the small crater in the ground is intriguing. Logan probably has the strength to slam someone into the ground with enough force to create that kind of mess, but it would take me two or three good swings to make a divot that deep. Not that either of us would smash someone into the ground. Oh, wait. Sure we would: William Stryker or, in my case, anyone in the Aryan Knighthood. But even then, that doesn't look person-sized, even if someone over there was powerful enough to slam a person into the ground.

"Trying to figure it out, huh?" Pablo asks.

"Yup. It just looks off, you know? Even assuming there's someone over there as tough as Logan — and I'll grant that it's possible — the depression doesn't look human-sized or human-shaped."

"Put things into different proportions then. I'm not saying you'd go around slamming puppies against the ground, but you're not as strong as Logan, so your evil twin would probably slam a German shepherd against the ground . . . what? Three, four times?"

I shrug. "Depends on the reason, but given the trail of destruction, I'd have to go with 'death' as the reason. So . . . yeah, three or four times seems about right but, reasonably speaking, there should be some evidence of, well, something behind me. And there isn't. Plus, that's not a German shepherd or even human-shaped divot."

Pablo nods. "I was thinking something a little bigger than your mountain lion friends. Maybe a teenage deer? Hell, even a teenage person."

I stare at him, remembering all the times he's come home from a crime scene. "You think my evil twin lives in that universe?"

"God, Andrea, I sure as hell hope not."

I hold his gaze a moment longer before nodding.

By this time, the woman from the Inn has joined the men, although it looks like she's trying not to be noticed.

"Stubborn folks," Rene remarks. "The young guy from across the bridge is pretty obviously telling them to go away, though with a large helping of politeness. The older guy with him? Not someone I'd want to do business with these days."

I look at the tableau on the bridge. "Ew. Definitely not. With an aura like that, I'd escort him out of town — and by 'out of town,' I mean all the way to the Kansas state border. Not that Kansas would deserve him, either." I look at the older doctor type more carefully. "He's probably the kind of person Maddie would have dealt with when she was involved in her father's business before I was even born. Well, maybe he's a little father down the food chain, but you know the type."

"Unfortunately, yes."

Then there's another reel change . . . except in this one, it seems like days and weeks just flash forward in little vignettes. Worst TV show ever. Some of it's pretty strange, some of it's merely ordinary, most of it's confusing as hell. The scene slows down at a church, just for a few minutes, to focus on two men talking in the back during some sort of service.

I can't hear what the man is saying — I recognize him as the father from the Inn from several scenes back — but when he's angry and when he starts talking . . .

"What the fuck? Did you guys see that?"

They both look at me like . . . right. Like I'm Andi the Crazy Person. I'll grant that there have been times when I wondered about my own sanity, but since the hellions were born and my powers stopped growing at an exponential rate — not that a simple arithmetic rate is a consolation — I feel like regular ol' Andi the Magnet for Weird.

"Okay, then. I'm going to say you didn't. Just a weird blip . . . or something . . . of the qi. I can't feel it, only see it from here. But, well, it looked plenty strange."

They both shrug as they go back to watching whatever this show is that's playing out. Things are speeding up again.

"Whatever you say, dear."

I introduce my elbow to Rene's ribs for that.

"It reminds me of the telenovelas my mom used to watch," Pablo says.

There are a few mores scenes, and then everything abruptly stops and stays on this scene, as if holding it there for dramatic effect. Then it picks up again in slow motion . . . the sheriff backing away from three pairs of sneakers tossed in a pile of what could possibly be human remains that have gone through the pulse setting on a food processor. Then she leans her head against a tree.

Who can blame her? I want to vomit.

"Holy Mary, Mother of God," Pablo whispers. Even Rene shudders — a man who's seen more of the worst humans can do to other humans, including the aftermath of Maddie's kidnapping, than both Pablo and I put together.

Thankfully, there's another scene shift, this one bizarre only because it's so ordinary — just a piece of paper lying on a table showing the transcript of a Mayday call from one of the fishing boats.

The light shifts . . . a new day perhaps? But now there's an evidence bag of photographs on an office desk: Evidence Number 256-58-MI, snapshots from family album.

We get to watch the two fishing boats plow into the dock in the storm. Given the weather in that other world, I'd say the captain of the first boat is a miracle worker. That must be Captain Fisher. The rest of the scenes are jump cuts as lightning flashes, rain pours down, and winds practically lift people off their feet.

Two teachers chatting . . .

The newspaper man working and getting up to answer the door, finding his sister there . . .

There's a flash of qi in the darkness between scenes. It's unusual, unexpected, and utterly bizarre.

The female dreamer on the phone, frustrated . . .

A second flash of qi in the darkness, this one brighter, more menacing.

The screen on her phone and all the windows around her splinter like spider webs . . .

The diver dreamer on the docks and underwater with the dockmaster, working on the boats . . .

A third flash of qi that's so bright, so blinding that I have to shield my eyes.

The other dreamer, the one from the beach, running and finding the girl from the beach in the street. We watch as darkness — if darkness could be made into a living thing — wraps around the girl, through her, tightening wispy tentacles of darkness around, through, in her . . . before there's a spray of blood. Then the living darkness slices through the dreamer.

"Dear God in Heaven, what the fuck is that??"

This time, Rene and I only shake our heads, but then I say, "Kind of reminds me of the creepy-ass shit that sucked the bad out of Ji-Ji back in Flagstaff in . . . 2012, was it?"

"Our adventure at the Safeway? Yeah, that was 2012, but I was knocked out by then. Didn't see a thing. Ugh. Well, until I woke up and saw your guardian spirit."

"I thought we agreed never to speak of Raven again."

"It misses you."

"Not funny, Rene. And don't forget that I can hurt you, even if you are a Spirit."

"Sorry, mom."

This is not a funny situation and yet . . . Rene tries to ease the horror.

The scenes flash by quickly now, first with the diver dreamer in the diner as the darkness causes the side of the building to implode. It's formed raptor claws and pulls him out of the building and into the street. It swings him in the air and slams him down on the ground. Hard. And again. Then into the streets, into the sides of buildings, and then slams him so hard into the ground that he's buried far underground. Alive.

That could explain the divot by the bridge in an earlier scene, couldn't it?

The newspaper man in the doorway watching as the darkness grabs his sister, shaking her so hard she literally flies apart.

How is that even possible? My mind is having a hard time believing what my eyes are seeing.

Then the darkness sees him, and it bares its teeth. Dear Gods, Buddhas, and Spirits! Nothing has that many teeth! All of them sink into him.

The woman with the shattered phone and splintered windows sees what we see — that those lines of broken glass have become darkness, spiderwebs made of the blackest darkness. Then the blackness flies from the windows, flies across the room, flies through her like wires would slide through soft butter.

I swallow hard. I must witness; it's my duty as the Warrior. That's what I tell myself, anyway, so I don't turn to bury my face in Pablo's shoulder.

Then, once more back at the diner, the darkness reaches in through the broken wall to grab a young girl — the teenager Paul saw — and crushes her like I'd break up a clod of dirt or sand.

I think I almost hear something . . . but that's impossible.

For several long minutes, there is blessed peace and nothing but a gray fog on the other side of the portal.

Next up: Track Two

© Kelly Naylor