sooner you learn to trust,
the sooner you'll meet your true enemies."
(The Purple Book Of Fear)
We still sat on my bed when the first rays of the early morning sun announced the new day, and me, I was taken aback by what Danny told me.
"... So, you see... they're not afraid of YOU... not in the first place, anyway... They're more, like, afraid that you could make that prophecy come true..."
"Whoa..." I interrupted what I had just heard, just because I was not at all sure if I really had, at all. "Wha... what prophecy?"
"Well... I don't know what it says, of course... but I overheard the guy who kept me in that dungeon talking about it to someone else."
"Gosh..." I almost whispered, feeling my body being covered with goose pumps once again. "But... why on earth do you think that I could possibly hate you after what you just told me, Danny?"
Only minutes ago, he had practically begged me not to hate him after what he had to tell me, but - honestly - having heard all the things he's been put through and my heart broken several times with every single detail he had added, the last thing I could possibly think of was hating him. On the contrary... looking at his beautiful, slightly worn out face and his sad blue eyes, I felt the strong need to protect him from whoever was after us out there. And the love that I felt right then was the strongest and most powerful love that I had ever experienced in my young life, the kind that literally electrifies every single one of your muscles, just to leave you with enough strength to challenge whole universes.
Now, he lowered his face, and the look with which he blankly stared at the covers, now, stabbed my chest once more.
"One day," he suddenly started speaking with his voice as fragile as thin ice, "that guy took me off the chains, blindfolded me and led me somewhere else. It was warm there - they must have had fires burning, but I can't really say. He forced me down to the floor to make me kneel there, and then they questioned me."
"Questioned you?" I asked from under my breath. "About what?"
"About you." he answered, lifting his eyes to lock with mine. He was crying by now, but his shaky voice bravely continued its story. "They asked me all kinds of stuff - like what you like and dislike... what you're scared of... how you're getting along with your parents..."
"So?" I asked him, softly covering his cheek with my right hand as he started sobbing and an open stream of tears won their fight to finally flood his eyes completely.
"So what, Justin..." he somehow managed to say. "I told them. Everything they wanted to know!"
I took him in my arms, again, as tight as I could, and when he leaned into me, I heard him whisper "I was so... fucking... scared! Please forgive me, Justin!"
"There is nothing to forgive you, Danny!" I whispered back, stroking the back of his head and gathering all my strength to fight my own tears. I had to be strong, now. Not only for me, but also for him! "You did nothing wrong, you hear me?!" A soft nod told me that he did. "I love you Danny. I really do, with all my heart... and nothing in the world will ever change that. Okay?"
I heard him taking a deep breath, before I felt a soft, loving kiss on my neck.
"I love you, too, Justin. Forever... remember?"
"Of course I do." He lifted himself up from out of my embrace, again, and I met his face with a warm and caring smile. "... and I still can't stand the thought of you being chained and abused..."
"I wasn't... abused, I mean... Actually, the guy was quite okay..." He still sobbed a little, though he bravely attempted to regain the power over his tears and wipe them from his face, now.
"OKAY?" I almost blurted out. "What's 'okay' about being kept in chains? Did I miss your new fetish here?"
"'Course not," Just for a second, he have me a cute, insecure grin. "I just mean that... well, he didn't abuse or harm me, did he? In fact, he almost acted as if he'd... care, or something... always told how everything was gonna be alright and stuff..."
My brain started working the moment he leaned over to kiss me. 'It's alright.' I heard that well known voice reverberate in my head. 'Believe me, Justin, everything's going to be alright.'
"Darryl..." I hoarsely whispered, my absent eyes blindly fixed on the empty bed on the opposite side of the room.
"What?" Danny asked back.
I pulled him closer into my tight hug as if to protect him from someone who wasn't there. The freshly showered smell of his naked skin obviously provided me with an energy and determination that I hadn't felt inside myself for much too long.
My skin trembled with realization and hate. Every muscle practically burned with rage. And my mouth coldly answered Danny's question.
"You'd be surprised who I'm sharing this room with..."
My eyes narrowed and determination rose up in fierce, raging waves inside me. Darryl! The only person I had come to completely trust here at Hoverton. My room mate. The boy I'd had most intense and passionate sex with only a few hours ago. It was only too obvious, now, that his weird behaviour afterwards wasn't so weird after all. He had used me. And - what was even worse - he had been lying to me all the time! All those weeks in which I had suffered and even feared to loose my mind... All those times when he had taken me in his arms, comforting me... telling me how everything was going to be "alright" again...
"So, uhm... what are you thinking? What are we gonna do now?" Danny asked me, making my mind snap back to reality in an instant.
I was holding him tight, my arms closely wrapped around his torso and my hands slowly moving along the definitions of his chest and belly as I placed a deep, passionate kiss on the smooth skin of his right shoulder.
"I guess..." I answered with a determination that must have surprised me more than him, "It's about time for me to stop being the victim in all this!"
"Then what exactly..."
I interrupted him, my voice so low that I'm sure he wouldn't have heard it if I hadn't whispered the words right into his ear. "If they are so scared of me fulfilling whatever prophecy you heard them talk about, then I'll give them what they're asking for!"
"Why does it sound like you're planning to do something unhealthy?" Danny's voice clearly held more than just a little concern.
"Maybe it's cause I am." I answered. "They finally got me to the point where I just have to fight back. And I think I already know where to start..."
Danny gave a deep sigh, and after that an awkward silence fell over us.
"I'm scared." he finally whispered, almost breaking my heart with the sad tremble in his voice.
"I know, Danny." I somehow managed to answer. "Me too."
It took some time for both our heartbeats to calm down, and I felt nervous and shaky like a newbie when I slowly let my hands slip down through the waistband of his boxers.
There would be enough time to worry when we woke up. Danny was alive! What better way was there to celebrate that than showing him how much I really loved him?
"Where's Darryl?!" My voice was louder than I had actually intended it to be, and I wasn't sure if it gave away the nervousness that made my legs and the tightly clenched fists in my pocket shake equally.
"Now, look who's here!" I was greeted with a knowing smirk that swept me with an even larger wave of anger than the one I'd come here with already.
"Save that bullshit for Jehova's Witnesses, Matt!" I spit out through my tightly clenched teeth. "Where... is... your... brother?!?"
Matt's face stayed unimpressed. It was only too obvious that he knew what had happened between Darryl and me , because his mean grin even widened at my rage.
"I'm sorry, Jerry..."
"It's JUSTIN!" I interrupted him sharply.
"Like I'd care..." He shrugged and rolled his eyes. "Look, Jason..."
"Justin!" I muttered angrily.
"... you're a cute guy - for a fag, that is - and personally, I think it's really sweet of you to drop by..." His superior grin took no effort to disguise the fun he had, teasing me. "But let's face it - Darryl doesn't wanna see you! So why don't you do us all a favour and move your recently fucked ass out of here?!"
I took a deep breath, trying to force some control over the new rush of rage that came dwelling up inside me. Surprisingly enough, it worked pretty well. I felt my clenched muscles loosen up a bit. In fact, I even managed to regain an almost casual expression.
"Gee, thanks for your help, Matt!" I was pretty proud of the warm smile on my face. "If Darryl doesn't wanna talk to me... well, then... maybe YOU could tell me some more about this prophecy that I heard about?"
I knew that I was shooting blindly here, but this was probably the best shot I had. Besides, I wanted to see Matt's reaction to the subject. At first, it seemed as if he wouldn't react at all, but then - all of the sudden - the look on his face turned icy, and his left hand shot forward to grab my hair from behind and fiercely pull my head back.
"Now, listen... Why don't you go back to your room, have a nice cup of chocolate and mind your own fucking business?"
He raised his right hand and placed it on my cheek. I felt a sharp, stinging pain when his fingernails entered the flesh of my chin and slowly started to scratch their way down. God, it hurt!
"NOBODY can stop the prophecy from being fulfilled - not even you! You understand?!?" His eyes stared into mine with an amount of disgust and superiority that I had never seen in anyone's face before. My breathing sped up big time, and it took me all my strength to keep myself from literally gasping for air. Then, suddenly, he let go off my face and before I even had the chance to come up with a single straight thought, he used his still tight grip on my hair to toss me down to the wooden panels of the floor. Head first, I felt like falling down in slo-mo - except for the fact that my reflexes and movements seemed to operate even slower, so that I could clearly see the panels getting closer and closer without being able to somehow protect me from the forthcoming crash.
When it came, my ears deafened for several numb seconds, and the hallway around me suddenly seemed shaded and unstable. Only slowly, my view cleared up, and when my hearing set in again, I heard a harsh, Mickey-Mouse-like voice that quickly turned into Matt's.
"... AND STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM MY BROTHER, FAG BOY!" was all I could make out, before the fierce slamming of the door caused a sharp and stinging pain in my forehead, but I had definitely heard about enough from him, anyway.
When I finally managed to maintain some kind of sitting position, I ran my still nervously shaking fingers through my hair and face and wasn't really that much surprised to find my left hand smeared with several red lines from the fresh scratches that Matt's finger nails had left my cheek with.
"That jerk's scratched me bloody..." I whispered to myself, slightly shaking my head in disbelieve, before I carefully rose up to my feet and wiped the floor dirt off from my clothes as good as I could manage.
Not without a last, hateful look at the door to Matt's dorm, I turned to walk down the hallway. Who did that asshole think he was?! And what was it that he was so obviously afraid of me finding out? With every step I took, my determination to find out about this ominous prophecy grew stronger. And so did my anger. Anger at Matt. Anger at Darryl. Anger at everyone who had obviously decided to turn my freshman year at Hoverton into hell on earth!
By the time I took the last few steps towards the front door, I felt like I would explode any second, now, and my hatefully hissed "Fuck!" was accompanied by the door flowing open to my push.
Once I was outside, I descended the stairs in front of the building and made my way through the cold and humid October wind. Brown leaves flew up around me - some of them even circling me once or twice - but I hardly noticed anything other than the adrenaline rush that my rage swept me with. I knew perfectly well that Matt's little "warning" had in fact been an open declaration of war. He just HAD to be aware of the fact that I would find some other way of talking to Darryl. After all, even if he should try to avoid me at breakfast and lunch, we still had a couple of classes together, and getting him to talk to me before or after one of those shouldn't be that much of a problem.
I was almost halfway through the park (which I had to completely cross on my way from Matt's building to mine) when I heard that creaking voice from somewhere threateningly near my right shoulder. It was nothing more than some sort of suppressed little cough, but definitely enough to make my heart skip at least one beat and send an ice cold shiver through every inch of my body. I hardly even dared to turn my head in that direction to see where it came from, but when I finally did, a deep "phew" sound left my mouth - partly from relief, and partly from disapproval.
"What exactly do YOU think you're doing there?!" I asked in the sharpest tone I could come up with.
"Tzuh..." he answered matter-of-factly, demonstratively turning his head away from me as if the plan was to punish me by pretending not to take any notice of my presence - which must be a pretty hard (or otherwise plainly dumb) thing to try if you were a raven sitting on the other one's shoulder!
"What?!" I shot at him, a little more forceful but with slight signs of a suppressed grin on my face.
"I'm not talking to you!" he told the lawn and trees to my right.
"Oh, give me a break, will ya?" I was more than just a little stunned by his pouty statement. "YOU're not talking to ME?!?"
"And why's that?" I asked with a bemused but nevertheless curious smile.
"You trrried to kill me." He was still addressing some nearby bushes instead of me.
"Yeah..." I simply stated with a casual shrug that uncomfortably forced him to shift his weight in order to not fall down. "And YOU killed Danny. AND you tried to kill me!"
"No, I did NOT!" His head swung around to face me, and his voice had a strangely hurt tone to it. "I ssaved yourrr life! Morrre than once!"
"Don't you rrrememberrr the night yourrr boyfrrriend died?! If I hadn't been therrre to prrrotect you, you would have died, too. Afterrr all, they want YOU dead. NOT him!"
"Yeah, right... and that's why you scared HIM out of that window, isn't it?!"
"Ssee, Jusstin? Therrre'ss no usse in talking to you... You don't even TRRRY to lissten..."
"And that's why you just don't... right?" I asked, my amused grin back in the corners of my lips. He really was one funny bird...
"Exactly!" he snapped back as if we were a couple fighting about some stupid principle, "That's why!"
"Then what've you been doing for the last few minutes?" Once I remembered that I didn't really have any proof for him being the cause of Danny's death (and that he would have had enough chances to try and harm me if he really wanted to), I was getting into this little "verbal slam".
"Wassting my time, obvioussly." he answered, spread his little black wings and took off from my shoulder.
"Hey..." I called after him, slightly confused by him just giving it up like that. "What if I did believe you?"
"Then therrre'ss a lot I have to tell you when we meet the next time, Jusstin!" he called back down to me.
He continued his flight, anyway, and only seconds later, he had already risen too high for me to see him, anymore.
He left me standing there in the middle of the lawn like a complete fool. Thank god there was no one else around - the confused and bewildered look on my face must have been priceless...
When I got back to my dorm, Danny was standing at the window, staring down at the park. He must have seen me coming, maybe even witnessed my encounter with the raven if he'd been standing there long enough. But if he did, he didn't mention it to me.
"Hi, Sweety!" I softly said, wrapping my arms around him from behind and cuddling into him. Like I had offered him, he had put on some of my clothes - black jeans and an also black long sleeve shirt to go with it - in which he just looked perfectly adorable. Unlike last night, his full blond hair neatly framed his cute face and, thanks to my favourite shampoo, smelled like fresh fruit.
"You hungry?" I asked him, placing my chin on his shoulder to look through the window with him.
"Yeah..." he answered dreamily. His slim, beautiful body comfortably moved to my touch, and his left hand reached back over his shoulder to run through my hair, as if he tried to make sure that I would never loosen my embrace.
"That's great," My voice calmly reflected the loving grin on my face. "I just happen to know that nice little cafeteria around here."
"Oh, really?" When he turned around and flung his arms around my neck, the same teasing grin looked back at me.
"Absolutely." I assured him playfully, "They're really cheap, but their chicken sandwiches are phenomenal."
Without any further words, he leaned in and kissed me. Needless to say that it took us several timeless minutes to finally get going.
The cafeteria was as crowded as every night - after all, it was 8 pm, already - but somehow, we still managed to find a table for two in a not so crowded, a little far-off corner.
"What can I get you?" the waiter - some grumpy second year student with a black muscle shirt that showed off the big letter "V" which was tattooed on his right upper arm - asked us, as soon as we had taken our seats.
"Gee, that was fast..." Danny grinned, which caused the guy's lips to tighten in a successful attempt to not say something unfriendly. He eyed Danny up and down as if he had some catching disease.
"Yeah, whatever..." he finally answered in a tone as friendly and welcoming as his face. "Anything else, SIR?"
Danny's mouth opened in response, but, knowing my boyfriend, I knew better than letting him shoot back with some of his nasty sarcasm.
"Look," I verbally shot between them, "just bring us two chicken sandwiches and two pepsis and we'll be fine... Okay?"
Obviously, though, he didn't seem to like my order, either. I received the same hostile look as Danny, and I couldn't help but ask myself if taking down our orders necessarily required his approval of our faces.
"Chicken is out!" he finally stated with a careless shrug, before he pointed at Danny and added "Why not take HIM if you want one?"
Both our jaws instantly dropped in disbelieve, and if I hadn't seen the astonished, speechless look on my boyfriend's face, I would probably have believed that I had just imagined that guy's rude remark.
"Listen, apeman..." Danny was the first of us two to regain his ability to speak - which, unfortunately, did not mean that he had recovered enough to also think about what he said, first. I flinched, almost in physical pain at the name he had just called someone whose muscles clearly outweighed the both of us, when a well known voice unexpectedly came to our rescue.
"JAKE!" Strangely enough, he slightly cringed at the sharp sound of Tiff calling out to him from three tables away. "Is there a problem?"
She made her way over to our table and threw me a warm smile with a wink, before she turned to the waiter, again. He eyed her suspiciously, then crooked some kind of lame fake-smile.
"Nope." he answered. "No problem here."
"Swell!" she cheered, her voice dripping with both hostility and irony. "Then why don't you just keep on doing... well... whatever it is that you normally do..."
His lips tightened, and when he leaned over to her, I could clearly hear him whisper "Thin ice, lady! Thin ice..." before he turned and left the scene.
As room as he was out of sight, Tiff loosened up and showed me one of her broad smiles, acting like nothing happened.
"Justin..." she said, "it's great to see you here!"
"Well, good to know that at least one person thinks so." I muttered back but returned her smile, anyway, as she popped onto the vacant seat next to me and curiously eyed Danny.
"So, then..." she chatted on, "Won't you introduce me to your friend here?"
"Sure. Danny, this is my friend Tiffany. And, Tiff, this is Danny - my boyfriend, you know..."
Maybe I just imagined it, but, just for a second, I could have sworn that her eyelids nervously flickered and a somewhat dark shadow brushed over her face. Even after that, her still wide smile seemed different, somehow, just like her whole attitude seemed strangely tense, now.
"You are..." she breathlessly whispered in Danny's direction.
"What is it?" Danny blurred out. "Am I already some kind of celebrity around here?"
He shot Tiffany an amused but warm smile, which - much to my surprise - seemed to unease her even more.
"I need to talk to you, Justin." she just said, and then, after a quick, somewhat uncertain smile in Danny's direction, added "To the two of you, I mean... but not in here."
"Uhm... sure..." I answered, accompanied by a reassuring nod from Danny. "But what...?"
"Not here!" she cut me off mid-sentence, "There's too many of them in here."
My feeling that whatever Tiffany had to tell us was not only important but also highly interestin grew, as she led us through the crowded cafeteria and out to into the deserted campus. As soon as we had reached the park, she lowered her speed to some more relaxed level, and none of us said a word until we reached a bank on which we sat down - Danny and me cuddling close together to at least partly prevent each other from the cold wind that already announced a fierce winter.
"Justin..." Tiff finally said, slightly hesitating as if she didn't exactly know where to start, "I know I should have told you earlier, but... uhm, well..."
Danny shifted uncomfortably in my arm as he straightened up a bit. "Look, maybe I should leave you two alone. Looks like you've got some serious talking coming up here, and I don't wanna be a crutch or anything..."
"No, please..." Tiff quickly assured him. "I think it's kinda important that you heard this, too. Really, Danny, it's okay."
With a reluctant nod, he let himself slide into my emprace, again. Both our eyes were fixed on Tiff, eagerly waiting for her to drop the bomb. Maybe it was just my imagination, but the wind seemed to get colder and more demanding by the minute.
"It's not that easy to tell you all this now... so, please, just let me get through with this as straight as possible, okay?" Danny and I nodded in agreement. "I haven't really been honest to you about some things, Justin... at least not as honest as I should have been, and I... I mean, uhm..." She closed her eyes to gather enought strength to continue. "Your presence here at Hoverton is no coincidence."
"What...?" I wanted to ask what she meant, but she lifted her hand to stop me, and I understood.
"Don't you think it's a little odd that your father always tried to make you go to ANY other College but this one, but when you finally outed yourself and found Danny, he practically INSISTED on you coming here?"
I sat there, awe-struck, my right arm still almost mechanically brushing up and down Danny's back.
"Who told you..." I whispered, out of breath as if I had just been running for my fucking life, "How can you... POSSIBLY know that, Tiffany?!"
"That's, uhm... one of the things I was questioned about..." Danny answered in a hardly audible voice. " You know... in that dungeon, where they..."
A silent sob interrupted him, leaving his sentence unfinished, while Tiff's head bowed down and she instantly turned uncomfortably red.
"He's right, Justin." she admitted. "I am... I WAS one of 'them'... That's how I know..."
"Oh..." I started, not really sure what to say or how to react to her confession, yet. "Then... Who ARE they?"
"They're Hoverton's only brotherhood... the 'Descendants of the V'... Actually, they're more like some kind of secret cult..."
"Okaaay..." I slowly nodded my head, even though I didn't really understand anything she tried to tell me, yet. My mind almost overturned with thoughts and memories of little things and situations I had long forgotten, because they had never struck me as important as they did, now, somehow. 'Face it, son... you're NOT going there! End of discussion!' I remembered my father snapping at me, the night I had told him that I chose the college he had attended, too - actually thinking that it would make him PROUD or something. This memory was closely followed by another one of him sitting in his armchair, giving me what now seemed like a fake smile and saying 'You know, son, maybe you really SHOulD attend Hoverton College. It really is one hell of a place for a kid your age.'
Regardless of the fact that he pretty much knew how much I really hated being referred to as a 'KID my age', I always thought that he had only agreed to my choice for Hoverton because he had sensed the perfect occasion to get me away from Danny, about whom I had told my parents only about a week earlier.
"Justin...?" My thoughts had quite obviously drifted off until Tiffany switched my reality mode back on.
"Sorry." I mumbled.
"Tiff..." Danny said quietly from beneath my arm, "I know that we don't know each other at all and stuff, but... can I ask you some kind of personal question?"
She nodded. "Sure... Justin's friends are mine, too. And, after all, I've already heard SO much about you that I almost feel like knowing you for ages." She threw me a wink, before she turned back to Danny with a warm and honest smile.
he continued. "In a way, that's what my question is about..."
I felt him shifting uncomfortably. "You said that you were...
well... a member of that brotherhood, and, uhm... I just wonder...
What's that all about? I mean, that prophecy... and what do Justin
and I have to do with all that...?"
She bowed her head in obvious shame of having to admit that she had once been part of a group that had kept Danny hostage and almost even killed him. "Back in the eighties, Hoverton was run by a headmaster called Victor Vaughn."
"The V..." I whispered.
"Yes, Justin, the V." she confirmed my astonishment. "Everybody at the college knew of the rumours about him messing around with occult forces, but, of course, they were never really confirmed. They said that he had gathered a group of students around him in some kind of secret circle."
"The Descendants?" Danny asked, and she nodded, again.
"As I said, the 'Descendants of the V' were nothing but a rumour... some lame joke to scare freshmen with. Everybody used to crack spooky comments like 'Watch your step or THEY'll get you!' or 'Beware THEM!'"
"Now, THAT sounds familiar..." I muttered.
"The further the rumours spread, the less people, like, really believed them. But all that changed one day, when a teen couple went missing. Straight, of course. They didn't return to their dorms after gym class." She took a deep breath, obviously to gather strength for what was still to come. "Three weeks later, the girl suddenly turned up again. She was in serious shock and almost hysterically refused to speak at all, for several days. Of course, the police looked into the case and, pretty soon, they found some kind of occult laboratory in some deserted part of the dungeons underneath the college building. After that, it didn't take them long to find out that in that whole chamber, there were only one single man's fingerprints - those of Mr. Vaughn."
I tugged in a sharp and excited breath, but Tiff continued her story, uninterrupted.
"The boy never turned up again, and since the girl claimed that she didn't remember a thing about where she had been or what had happened, the charge against Vaughn had to be dropped."
"But the laboratory..." Danny began a question that Tiffany finished even before he had the chance to complete it.
"... was strange and weird, yes... but, unfortunately, its existence didn't proof any connection to whatever happened to those kids."
"And people at Hoverton just accepted that?!" I couldn't believe that - even if there had been no real proof - anyone was able to just stand there and tolerate such a most obvious crime. I was some kind of reliefed to see her shake her head in reply.
"Of course not. Everybody was out of their minds.. especially all the parents. One night, a couple of weeks later, some of the parents gathered together and directly confronted Vaughn in his home down in the village."
"Did they...?" My breathing stopped for several seconds when Tiffany silently nodded in answer to my question.
"One heated word followed the other," she went on, "and at the top of the climax, Vaughn began to laugh at them. He said that, no matter what would happen, the seed of his 'new generation' had already been sewed, and that nobody would ever be able to stop him, anymore. He went, like, completely insane, you know... started shouting and cursing around, until one of the fathers suddenly flashed a knife and stabbed him... right there, in front of all the other parents' eyes."
"Jesus..." Danny whispered in awe.
Tiffany stopped her story and gave me a quizzical look, as if to check whether I could take all the rest, too, or not.
"Now, that's funny." I said after a while. "Wouldn't you think that his 'Descendants' should have lost their faith in him after that?"
She shook her head no. "On the contrary. After the stabbing, all the parents agreed to burn down the whole house with the corpse in it, so that the police would never be able to figure what really happened... well, at least, they didn't find any fingerprints... To his descendants, Vaughn had always been some kind of occult father figure, but through his death, he became something even worse..."
"What do you mean? What did he become?" I was as excited as probably only the best of the best suspense movies can get you - only with the exception that this wasn't a movie but plain, fucking reality.
"His death made him a martyr." She replied awkwardly. "A martyr and a prophet. The Descendants worshipped him more than ever before, and although their existence was publicly more and more forgotten - or ignored - through the years, their circle grew bigger and bigger. All those members from the old days still devotedly support them by transferring money and sending their kids here to someday fulfill the one big task Vaughn has left them with."
"Well, okay..." I managed to say after some long and awkward silence. "So, Tiff... Now, don't get me wrong, but... Well..." I didn't really know how to ask the question that had kept whirling back and forth in my head ever since she had started to tell us her story. I knew I just HAD to, but it wasn't easy - especially, since I wasn't really sure if I would be able to deal with her answer.
She sighed. "You want to know why I was a part of that brotherhood, and why I'm not anymore, don't you, Justin?"
"Yeah..." I answered, pretty much relieved that I didn't have to ask her myself.
"My father used to be one of the 'original' Descendants back then, and he's been talking about sending me here ever since Junior High."
Suddenly, a lightning flashed across the sky, and even though I got pretty much blinded by its afterglow, I could have sworn that - just for a split second - I saw the shadow of a robed figure, standing motionless before one of the park's trees, its arms folded in front of its chest. Tiffany must have seized the flash's light to discover the sudden change in my expression. Quickly - like a chased rabbit - she spun around to pinch her eyes at the tree that mine were still fixing blankly.
"What's wrong, Sweety?" Even Danny, who had let Tiff and me do the talking for quite some time, now, straightened - no, SHOT up in an attempt to see what I wasn't even sure to have been there in the first place. "What did you see there?"
"Nothing." I answered, hesitantly. "Just the tree, I guess."
I didn't feel the need to upset them, and besides, when my eyes adjusted to the darkness again, I could really see nothing more than an old pine tree, watching over the park like a somber guardian.
"So, Tiff..." I decided to just skip my little phobic hallucination and get on with our conversation. "...you've always known that you'd end up here, someday, but... how can you possibly have been one of THEM? I mean... you're a freshman, like me, right?"
"Of course I am." She nodded her head confirmingly, giving me a shy little wink. "We have classes together, remember?"
I nodded. And I closed my eyes for a second to tug in a sharp breath, trying to focus... No, I did definitely NOT just hear some branch cracking underneath a footstep not too far behind me. It was just my mind going all Dean Koontz on me, again. No need to be concerned. Get a grip, Justin, will ya?!
"...started in High School, when I first met..." Tiff answered my question and passed an uncertain look from me to Danny and back, as if she wasn't sure if it would be okay to mention the forthcoming name in his presence. "... Darryl."
At that point, another flash enlightened the scene as if to put special emphasis on the mentioned name.
"Who's that Darryl guy, anyway?" Danny asked, and I suddenly remembered that, although we had almost completely exchanged stories, I hadn't gotten to mention my roommate's name to him, yet. Now that I thought about it, I realized that I had mostly avoided talking about him, at all. I guessed that was because now that I knew that Danny was still alive, I felt some kind of guilty about having had sex with another guy... leave alone the shame that I felt about how he had used and told me off, afterwards. I still didn't know how to fit him into my (still much too vague) picture of what was going on here at Hoverton, but there was one thing that I knew for fucking sure: Whatever side I was on - he was on the other!
Somewhere far away, I still heard Tiffany filling my boyfriend in on Darryl having been my roommate and all, but I didn't really focus on that part of the conversation. I had gotten so deeply buried in my thoughts that the next flash from the sky hardly even made me blink, and in fact, even Tiffany's sudden scream passed me by unrecognized. It was Danny's tight grip of my right arm, with which he quickly pulled me to stand up from our park bench, that made me snap back to the dark and windy reality, .
"Justin..." he whispered, "I... I'm scared!"
It took my eyes several confused seconds to get accustomed to the night, again, and when they finally did, one look around made my throat clench with fear, too.
About twelve or fourteen hooded figures (the exact type that I had hoped to only have imagined standing at that pine tree a few minutes earlier) surrounded us in a tight, dark circle. They stood about twenty feet away from us. Without a move. Without a word. And without a chance for us to get away.
We were trapped.
"It's THEM, Justin..." Tiff whined in awe, "Oh my God..."
And that was when it started. Not with a big bang like those major movie flashbacks or anything... at first, it was nothing more than a slight rumble in my stomach (you know, like the one that you feel when you haven't eaten anything for days), but with every second that passed by, it grew stronger... fiercer... and, somehow more... demanding! A slow-motion wave of rage crept up through my chest and, finally, into my head, numbing away every single clear though to leave me with pure, unfocused hate and overwhelming aggression. A deep, hoarse voice, which was too far away to come from another person, but, at the same time, too near and reverberating to just be the voice of my subconscience, rose up inside of me, shooting phrases and direct orders through my whole body with an electrical force that made my every muscle vibrate from its monstrosity.
>DO IT!< it seductively hissed inside me, dying to push its way to the outside - and God only knew what would happen if it succeeded. If it broke loose...
What the hell was going on with me? I tried to ignore my ever stronger getting urge to let myself be soaked into what felt like a dark, emotional wormhole, but I couldn't. I felt like... no, I KNEW that I was going to give in to it, eventually. Loosen up my restraints. Let it take the lead. Give up.
One of the hooded Descendants slowly lifted his arm to silently point a finger at Tiffany, who instantly grabbed her throat and started coughing, but even though I saw it right before my eyes, it somehow managed to pass me by almost unnoticed.
The rumble in my stomach had already turned into a fierce growl, and the hissing of that monotonous, yet painfully screaming voice in my head made my nerves vibrate with every syllable, its intensity constantly sucking at my grip of reality and pulling me further and further away from it. Like in one of those drug movies, in which everything is shaded and painted in colours that don't belong where they are, I saw Tiff's feet leaving the ground untill, only seconds later, she was hanging in the air, about 10 feet above the ground, her face red from gasping for air and her hands still desperately fumbling at her throat, trying to rip off what was invisibly taking her breath.
>DO IT...< The voice repeated once again. Only this time, it didn't just come from inside my head, but from deep within my body, sending electrical spasms through every single one of my very bones. I wouldn't be able to hold it back any longer, and actually... I didn't WANT to, either! Fuck the Descendants! And fuck my fear! All I wanted to do - all I desperately longed for, now - was spread my arms as wide as I could, close my eyes and surrender to what I knew would make me... complete.
>GIVE IN!!!< it thundered through me as I felt the first bolts of pure, untamable hate tense my muscles tight enough for me to cry out in pain. >DO IT, JUSTIN... NOW!!!<.
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