Chapter 1 — The Moments Before She Sleeps
The humming of Kayn’s blood as it coursed through her veins seemed to sing along to the steady, almost tribal, beat of her feet as they pounded rhythmically into the dirt. A veil of earth flowed behind her; she resembled a flaxen haired angel attempting to outrun a cloud. The cloud of dust seemed to follow her for a moment or two longer than it should, with not one whisper of wind in the afternoon air. The smile that spread over Kayn’s lips while she trained showed that her heart was overflowing with so much joy that it could not be contained beneath a serious competitive demeanor. Watching Kayn run was a beautiful experience. People would stop by the track after school simply to watch her before beginning their long walk home.
Kevin left class quickly every single day, rushed to his locker, and fumbled with the lock in a desperate attempt to get up the hill where he would watch Kayn train. There was a method to his madness for his best friend had a twin sister he had been addicted to the mere sight of since kindergarten. To anyone else this would make no sense but Kayn was his friend; Chloe was his fantasy.
Kevin shoved past the herd of students trying to pry through a single doorway. He was accidentally shoved by a girl up against the wall; his bag dropped and his books fell out. His organizational skills had always left something to be desired. In the congested school hallway, after taking a moment to collect his papers, he zipped up his bag and continued his quest for his one moment in the day to be in the presence of the unattainable Chloe Brighton.
Kevin ran up the hill and unceremoniously plopped himself in his usual spot in the grass. There Kayn was, kicking up dust like a champ. He would time her next lap. Kevin clicked his watch as his best friend flashed by him. Kevin smiled at her even though he was certain that she had not even noticed him sitting there yet. Kayn just oozed happy vibes when she ran; it was contagious.
Her body, lean and freckled from exposure to the sun, glinted with sparkles in the sun’s rays. Kayn did love that coconut sparkle tanning spray. Kevin grinned as he thought about the list of strange little rituals that his best friend had on her daily to do list. At the beginning of her run she did look magical, all glittery like that, but by the end that glitter tanning spray would cause the track’s dust to stick to her whole body in an extremely comical way.
Kevin had always thought that Kayn was beautiful, but of course that was something he would never say to her. Kevin knew that Kayn would probably be creeped out if he ever uttered words of admiration in her direction. He knew that Kayn had always thought of him as nothing more than her best friend. It sure is a beautiful day, Kevin thought, as he looked up at the vibrant blue sky.
As Kayn took off her blinders, allowing herself to appreciate the sun’s rays gently whispering across her skin. She experienced a feeling of pure joy that was transcendent. Kayn kicked up another cloud to outrun as she rounded the corner. Then came that pleasurable jolt of electricity that surged through her brain, ignited her soul, and set her afire with insurmountable joy. This moment in her run had always left Kayn with the feeling that she had been given a gift or anointment of physical power. Her adrenaline rippled a winding path of pleasure underneath her skin.
Kayn hit the straight stretch feeling such unimaginable, euphoric, physical ecstasy that she felt baptized by the sweat trickling down her forehead to the sides of her face. Kayn Brighton was alive in that moment in a way only a runner could comprehend. Kayn was thankful for that moment and every single time the experience had overwhelmed her as it had today; her soul felt stronger.
Every nerve ending was humming, “Faster, Kayn, go faster.” Kayn was an athlete born to push the limits of her body, programmed to be a powerhouse. Runners were a breed of their own; they had their incredible days and their horrible days in competition. Every day on the track, trail, or wherever a runner chose to run was always a feeling of spiritual completion.
“Don’t Call Me Baby,” by Madison Avenue was cranked in Kayn’s ears. She kept pace to the beat, feeling powerful and strong. Kayn grinned and made eye contact as she ran past her best friend Kevin, signaling her acknowledgement of his presence.
Kevin sat listening to his music, plucking the long, green strands of grass out of the ground by their roots. He glanced up the next time he saw Kayn approaching and waved, displaying a giant toothy grin—a funny thing that he had done since kindergarten to make her erupt in laughter. She passed Kevin and acknowledged that she had seen him sitting there being a goof by shaking her head and smiling with her eyes.
Kayn started walking to cool down her overheated body. Her heart began to thump and pound in her chest like an act of defiance to her now walking feet. Kayn licked the sweat from her upper lip, tasting its salty, pleasurable reward. She took her track dust covered hand and wiped her forehead to keep the stinging sweat from her eyes. Kayn wiped the sweat on her shorts noticing the streaks of dirt mixed with sweat and wondered if she had a streak of dust across her forehead.
Kayn turned in one fluid movement to greet Kevin, whose grassy scent signaled his arrival by her side. His giant grin told her that her face was most certainly covered in dirt, but he didn’t mention it to her. She loved how he always looked like he was coming to congratulate her after she had won the Olympics or something equally spectacular. Kayn yanked the earbud from one of her ears.
“Holy crap,” Kevin yelled. “That’s your best time this year. You are going to kick serious butt at the finals next month.”
“You know my earbuds are out, Kevin; I can hear you.” Kayn spoke quietly.
“Oh, you think you’re pretty cool because you’re fast. Well, young lady, plenty of people are fast, but how many people can do this?” Kevin retorted. He did a strange dance move involving a twirl and some kind of running man move as he laughed at her mortification. “Please, stop,” Kayn said as she surveyed the track and surrounding area for witnesses.
Kayn Brighton was a pretty girl, but she really had no clue how beautiful she could be. Her naturally curly, wheat colored hair hung damp with perspiration in a messy pony tail. Kevin often had thought that with Kayn’s pretty face gently speckled with freckles and her cute nose streaked with mud, she resembled an Amazonian sized forest nymph.
Kevin jogged beside Kayn now in order to keep up with her and was struggling because she walked with long, model height strides. He used to be the most adorable little boy on the planet, but there was a point where he stopped feeling adorable. That was when his best friend Kayn had surpassed him in height by the end of seventh grade. As a joke, their mothers had been planning their wedding since the second grade so that was a complication that they had not anticipated.
Kevin had been in a painfully awkward, acne covered stage for at least three years now. He was still adorable, although possibly only to Kayn. However, she did notice that Kevin’s skin was looking pretty clear today. Kayn smiled at him as he valiantly attempted to jog as fast as she was walking.
“You are awesome. I mean that, and I’m totally not saying that to butter you up so you’ll put a good word in with your sister,” Kevin said with a grin that spread from ear to ear. She loved him to death, but she had been letting him down easy for ten years now. She gave him a pat on the shoulder and then flung her arm around him.
She slowed down to a casual stroll and sweetly said, “There’s just this one problem, muffin. My sister is way too advanced for you.”
“Right. That’s what you say to all the guys stalking your twin sister,” he countered with a grin at the cleverly creative way of calling her sister slutty[a].
Kayn choked back a laugh and said, “Yes, as a matter of fact it is exactly what I say to every single one of them.” With a sugar-filled tone in her voice Kayn added, “I was forced by the numbers to come up with a token line that I just say to all of them. It just saves time, darling.”
Kevin’s face crinkled into a dimpled grin and he shook his head feigning his distaste. He retorted in an almost flirty voice, “I can’t believe that after all these years I am merely a number to you, Kayn.”
She displayed a giant smile at his attempt at innuendo. She would have been flattered had he not kept the conversation directed toward her twin sister. Kayn gave Kevin a friendly pat on the shoulder and said, “Just do yourself a favor; take a hint before she pushes your sanity right over the edge and you become nutty and obsessed like her last boyfriend.” Kayn slapped him on the butt and added, “At least have the decency to warn me if you ever find yourself feeling like you want to wear my sister as a skin coat so I can get you some help.” Kevin let out a small yelp and jumped from her slap and shot a dirty look back in her direction.
Kayn took on a fake serious tone and said, “How hard could it possibly be to arrange an intervention or a creepy exorcism or something to help you regain your sanity? I would hate to have to visit you in a padded cell somewhere.” She sent him a sweet, innocent look and waited for his inevitable comeback.
“You’re really very funny, Candy Kayn. Maybe you should have a comedy show or something,” he shot back at her.
“It would be way funnier if it wasn’t totally the truth,” Kayn challenged.
Kayn’s twin sister, Chloe Brighton, was the perfected version of her. She was stylish and always the picture of popularity and perfection. People described her with words like captivating, stunning, and provocative. Kayn, on the other hand, was blandly described as cute, funny, and a good runner. It didn’t seem very fair; however, she loved her sister with blind acceptance. They had always been extremely close but definitely did not hang out in the same crowd now. To be honest, Kayn had no crowd at all; it was really just her and Kevin.
The only boys who ever had shown an interest in Kayn were usually after her sister Chloe. Kayn, being a tad less worldly than her sister, would always fall for them, thinking maybe this time the guy actually liked her. Kayn would talk to them on the phone for a while, then inevitably they would ask to come over to hang out or maybe do homework together. Kayn would invite them over and right when her heart would begin to flutter with the romantic possibilities of a goodnight kiss or how incredible it would be to have an actual boyfriend, it would happen. They would make their intentions obvious by saying something like, “Because we are such good friends could you introduce me to your sister Chloe?”
Friends…it was a simple word, a word that Kayn had begun to hate at a very young age because of her sister Chloe. That one simple word had felt like the wind from a breath that would blow out every single candle she had kept lit inside of her heart her whole young life to date.
Kayn would be blatantly lying if she said that the constantly repeating scenario didn’t breed some resentment toward her sister. Still, she would never let it show. Not once had she ever freaked out at her sister for stealing her imaginary boyfriends or simply for being completely morally bankrupt.
Kayn had learned at a very young age that Chloe didn’t follow the same ethical or moral codes that most people followed. Kayn had this thing called a conscience which included guilt and a little voice in her ear that repeated until she chose to listen to it, “Don’t do it, Kayn.” She was pretty sure the voice talking to Chloe said, “Do it,” every single time and there was really no need for sentiment or morality in Chloe’s universe.
The giant self-contained universe that seemed to revolve completely around Chloe was simply amazing. One could stand with mouth agape for hours simply listening to the stories of horrific events that Chloe had caused during a 24-hour period of time. It was as though her sister were in her own little snow globe completely by herself and life surrounded her. Once in a while someone stirred up her water, but it simply revolved around her like everything else did, never really touching her or swirling her around to lose a second of her control. Chloe was completely unaffected by the world around her and stood unwavering through life’s currents.
Kayn couldn’t get really get mad at the boys who fell for Chloe because she truly believed her sister had the mythical powers of a siren. Chloe was alluring, enticing, and seemed to have catnip for men on her somewhere. Kayn often had felt like patting her down and checking her pockets. She wondered how all of this game had ended up in one of the babies and not the other. They were in the same womb after all and it didn’t really seem fair.
Kevin, the one guy whose opinion she cared about the most, was even holding a candle for her sister and he had known her his whole life. Kevin threw out comments on a regular basis saying they could not be more different and how he could not believe they were twins. Put Chloe in a ten-foot radius of Kevin and he couldn’t tell you his own name.
Chloe has mad skills in the driving men insane department, thought Kayn. As she stopped walking and looked behind her, the track was empty; yet she shivered a little feeling like someone was watching her. She watched as a gust of wind seemed to run a trail down the track behind her stirring the dust up into the air. She needed a rest. I overworked myself today, she thought as she shook her head, thinking, It’s smoking hot out and not windy at all. Kayn turned her attention back to Kevin who seemed deep in thought as well.
“Did someone walk over your grave?” Kevin whispered in Kayn’s ear, breaking the silence. Whenever anyone had shivered around them it would bring up the quote that was the token statement Kevin’s grandmother always used when someone shivered in her presence. Kevin’s granny would always say a sneeze was a ghost walking through you and that you shivered every time someone walked over your grave. The retort would always be, “But I’m not dead, Granny.” Granny would answer with, “If only you knew how irrelevant the word dead actually is.”
Kevin’s grandmother had always acted as though she had a direct line to the spiritual world and as spiritually enlightened as she was, when she uttered those words it made it extra creepy.
Sometimes his grandmother would spend hours just talking to Kayn about her dreams. Granny Winnie was a quirky, warm, funny woman that loved her from day one. Kayn hated to admit that most of the time she was on Team Granny because for some reason she seemed to absolutely despise Chloe. Granny Winnie couldn’t even breathe when Chloe was in the same room. Granny would pretend to gasp for air or make some kind of foul stench related statement referring to Chloe and on occasion be believable enough to cause a “perfect in her own mind” Chloe to smell her own armpits. Chloe, being completely void of respect for her elders or pretty much anybody else, would refer to her as a crazy old bat or a witch. Often Granny Winnie would call Chloe out on an evil deed or two as if she could read her mind.
Strange weather we’ve been having lately, Kayn thought, as she watched the clear blue sky change in a matter of moments from completely cloudless to a powder of fluffy white clouds. She could smell the scent of the fresh cut grass; it was almost overpowering to her senses. It was so potent that it was a little strange that she hadn’t noticed it until right this second.
The pair walked quietly for a second more when Kayn looked down at her feet; as she shuffled through the grass the sounds seemed to amplify. She could hear the grass rustling under her feet; it crackled loudly and whispered softly in her steps. Something feels off today. Kevin’s feet came into her line of sight. She raised her eyebrows at him and pointed to his untied shoelaces. Kevin bent over in front of her, fumbling quickly to tie his shoe before she could think up a smart-assed comment about him trying to kill himself. Too late, Kevin thought smiling; it was almost like he could see the little light bulb above her head light up with a funny dig.
Kayn began to speak as if she were reading his obituary. “I can see the paper now; it would read something like this: Kevin Smith was a wonderful boy, so smart and good looking but a little clumsy. Had he simply tied his shoes he never would have tripped down the stairs and found himself impaled on a janitor’s broom. Remember kids—tie your shoes—safety first.”
“Have I told you yet today that you’re an asshole?” Kevin stated as soon as she finished her version of his obituary. Kayn didn’t have a comeback. She glanced behind her and then from side to side. She couldn’t shake the unnerving feeling that something was coming.
Kevin leaned in to Kayn’s ear and whispered, “You sure you’re okay because you’re starting to creep me out a bit with this cagey behavior.”
Kevin’s warm breath in her ear made Kayn shiver again and she replied, “No just over tired I guess.”
“The way you’re swinging your head around, young lady, is frankly a little creepy,” Kevin said, raising his eyebrows in her direction in a moderately concerned fashion. He twirled around in a circle and added, “Nobody is coming, I swear.”
“I know,” Kayn answered, “I’m feeling a little off. Maybe I’m coming down with something.”
“We should be more worried about you ending up with a nasty case of whiplash than me impaling myself on a janitor’s broom.” Kevin flung his arm around her shoulder and gave her a buddy-like squeeze. “You go have a shower, muffin; you’re kind of sweaty and sticky. What do you do…cover yourself in honey before you go for a run?” Kevin chuckled, as he smelled his hands and groaned, “Eww, that’s not honey.”
“There you go talking all dirty again, literally; it’s kind of hot, all this talk of toxins and waste.”
“What were your boyfriends’ names again, Kayn?” Kevin retorted sweetly.
“You should call up your invisible girlfriend and ask her what her name is, love monkey,” she said, as they had a grinning face off.
“I have a girlfriend, Kayn. Her name is Chloe. She just doesn’t know it yet,” he smiled; he couldn’t help himself—he knew it irritated her to no end.
“Do you know what the difference between you and a stalker is?” she replied sweetly.
“Do tell, oh wise and mighty stalking connoisseur,” he sighed.
“Whether or not you’re wearing my sister’s stolen thong underwear right now,” she said, wrestling Kevin down and trying to look down the back of his shorts to see if he were wearing Chloe’s thong.
“Hey, hey, simmer down. You don’t want me to yell rape, do you, Candy Kayn? And I happen to be going commando, so pulling off my shorts is not a great idea today,” he chuckled, fending her off.
“Gross, Kevin.” She backed away laughing.
“Hey, I’ll have you know that I have been going commando since my first wedgie in fifth grade; once they grab for underwear and don’t find any, they get very afraid and back right off.” He chuckled.
Kayn doubled over in fits of giggles. “I may actually pee myself!” she managed to gasp through bursts of hysterical laughter.
“You learn lots of little things that help you maneuver through geekdom unscathed if you’re crafty, you know,” he said as they started walking together again.
Sometimes she wished that he would make some kind of move on her, just so they could see if there were more between them. She never could say it or try anything out of fear of rejection because she could never take that from him. He had to know logically that Chloe would never go for him, not in a million years.
Kayn was starting to grow tired of the fact that more and more of the conversations they had were centered on her sister. She shot a slightly disapproving look at Kevin and said sweetly, “Let’s stop talking about Chloe all the time. Frankly, I’m sick of it.”
“Shush,” he said as he put one finger directly over her pursed lips. “You know not to speak of her voodoo powers.”
The phrase “Chloe has a boyfriend” was similar to a swear word in their house. She found herself running like she were on fire from every boy she had ever attempted to date. They would be sitting in cars outside of the house in the middle of the night making sure she was really at home.
Sometimes a random guy would break into their house to steal things that belonged to her. In the beginning the police thought Chloe must be doing something to bring this on herself, but after she went in for a couple interviews at the police station and full grown men couldn’t help but fawn all over her, they understood what Kayn already knew.
“We shouldn’t be joking about this stuff. The situations with Dave, Mark, and Ian—they were all pretty harsh,” she said in an almost whisper. He turned and gave her a strange look that said, think about what you just said for a second, and they both broke into a fit of giggles.
A giant stinging slap followed on her spandex running short covered butt. There was her sister in all of her glory smiling at her and giving a slight acknowledging glance toward Kevin. He turned ten shades of red as though she had whispered something dirty in his ear. He’s completely pathetic, Kayn thought, shaking her head.
Chloe threw an arm around her, then jumped away saying, “Eww, yuck, gross, you’re all sweaty. Listen, you backstabbing witch, I’m not feeling that hot today. I’m on my way home. Do you need a ride?” She said it sweetly and of course, Chloe always wore a giant, beautiful, show stopping smile, like every moment of her life was one strange, endless, beauty pageant.
She had a sarcastic sense of humor that Kayn never took seriously. “Nope, I’m fine; just going to go and shower up and go to Kevin’s for dinner,” Kayn replied.
Chloe leaned over and kissed her sister’s sweaty cheek, quietly whispering, “Yes, go have that shower.”
Chloe sighed, “I’m grounded again for no good reason so I will see you later.”
“Shocking,” Kevin whispered as they walked away.
Kayn was sure that sometimes Chloe got grounded on purpose to get a break from her social responsibilities. If there were a world record for groundings in a three-year period, her sister had it.
“Bye, Kevy.” Chloe yelled behind her as she flounced away.
“Yup, voodoo powers,” Kevin whispered to Kayn.
“I heard that, you little stinker,” she yelled back.
Kayn smiled at Kevin, casually adding, “I bet when you thought of sexy nicknames she would call you in your fantasies, little stinker wasn’t one of them.” She couldn’t help herself; he’d left it wide open and she was on a roll. Kevin turned around and socked her in the arm.
She stopped, turned around, and said, “Seriously, you hit me. I can’t believe you would do that.” She glared at him and feigning pain rubbed her arm looking genuinely upset.
“I was just kidding. I didn’t actually hurt you, did I?” Kevin whispered.
He knew he had been had when Kayn’s serious look crumbled into a grin and she said, “Woman abuse,” she smoked him on the arm twice as hard.
“What woman? I don’t see a woman anywhere around here. Oh, you mean you?” he countered as he rubbed his still throbbing arm. Kevin pretended to be looking around for a moment.
“I will butt you out like a cigarette, little man!” She made a fist for a joke duel.
Kevin scowled at her. Oh, no—the look. Game over. Whoops, she knew she had gone too far. It was all fun and games until she made one too many short jokes with Kevin.
“I am not little,” he stated, almost stomping toward the covered entrance to the facility.
“Okay, how about vertically challenged,” Kayn said innocently. She was digging her own grave and she knew it. Kevin could argue for hours. He could debate something forever and wear anyone out.
“I might look short to an Amazonian like you,” he countered.
“Touché,” she said smiling. She did know better than to push it anymore because if he kept it up, the laughter she had been trying to suppress would escape.
“I am still growing,” he said as his voice cracked a little. Kayn doubled over laughing. She couldn’t help it with the well-timed voice crack. “Can you please be done laughing now,” Kevin said as they walked into the fitness center.
“I’ll see you outside in fifteen minutes, you sexy stud,” she whispered, sultry as a porn star. Kayn was still grinning as she pushed through the door to the girls’ changing room.
“Quit mocking me, Amazonian woman,” he yelled dramatically.
He smiled, wishing she would start using that voice all of the time. He actually felt a stirring of dare he use the word lust for her.
As she entered the changing room, Kevin’s last joking retort bounced off the amazing acoustics of the concrete and tile floor. Her feet were throbbing a bit from her shoes and the tiles felt icy on her hot feet. In a matter of months she had already worn her shoes out from running. It had to drive her parents completely crazy to have to replace her running shoes so many times in a year. She decided she would wait awhile before telling her mom. She dropped her shoes. The thumping sound on the tiles echoed and seemed to bounce from wall to wall.
Kayn was just dying to sing in the shower but was afraid that someone would walk in on her. She pulled her tank top and bra off and looked into the mirror. With a clear view of the room around her she could see that nobody else was there. She was alone. She thought of Kevin waiting. Then she remembered that there was a coffee machine in the lobby by the pool. Kevin was probably having a coffee and watching the girls swim team; he was fine.
Kayn stripped down and stood naked in front of the mirror for a second. She pulled her hair out of her pony tail and it fell in damp loose ringlets across her bare shoulders. She tilted her head to one side and posed seductively with a smile as she surveyed her reflection.
Kayn Brighton was not hard to look at and she knew that she was a pretty girl. Maybe I should start wearing makeup to school, she thought. It frustrated her a little, being the funny kind of dorky twin. Her face was freckled and tanned from hours upon hours of training in the hot sun. In the winter time all of her freckles went away and her skin was porcelain white. I could look just like Chloe if I wanted to, Kayn thought, sucking in her cheeks and then plastering a giant pageant style smile across her face.
Kayn walked toward the shower stalls. She stopped and glanced over her shoulder at her reflection in the mirror. The conversation with her sister flashed through her memory. Chloe was feeling sick today; that’s what was going on then. Kayn quite often had sympathy illness whenever her twin wasn’t feeling one hundred percent.
Kayn turned around, pulled the plastic curtain to the shower, and leaned in to turn on the water. It began to tap dance against the bottom of the stall and when it was just the right temperature she stepped inside. She smiled as the water beat against her weary muscles and she began to lather herself up with the nice scented pump soap. Today was her lucky day; a fresh full dispenser of soap, shampoo, and conditioner. She didn’t even have to reach down and find her own in the bottom of her gym bag.
With her favorite running song still going through her mind, she started humming a few bars and then began to sing the words. Just then she heard the door open and she went silent. She hurried through, rinsing herself off, and towel dried her hair. She ran her brush through her hair and put it back in a ponytail. As she passed by the mirror again, she wondered if Chloe ever felt like she wanted to be more like her. She quickly blew off that completely nutty thought.
Kayn was five minutes younger than her sister Chloe, but her twin acted five years older. Kayn had no voodoo powers with men; she was awkward and definitely had no game at all. She wondered if she asked Chloe how she did it, if she would she teach her something…anything to have someone ask her on a date before she was eighty years old.
Kayn had to admit it bugged her that Kevin obsessed about Chloe, not that she seriously liked him or anything because that would probably not be a good move friendship-wise; there was that ominous word again…friends.
Kayn towel dried her back again, feeling trickles of water from her still damp hair trail down her back. She stood in her underwear and thought, Do I really like Kevin? Kayn shook the thought out of her head and whipped her clothes back on. She grabbed her bag and hurried out the door, hoping he wasn’t too frustrated waiting for her. She forced open the door with an over-exaggerated grunting sound.
Kevin was sitting on the railing waiting patiently and looking up at the sky with his mouth agape in a totally comical way. Kayn walked up beside him and teased, “Trying to catch flies?”
“Always,” Kevin sparred with a dimpled grin and quick wit.
“What are we looking at?” Kayn said as she stared up toward the heavens and made the same open-mouth face of awe.
“Come with me,” Kevin laughed. He grabbed her hand and they started to walk toward the field. It felt like they had done just this same thing a thousand times. Kevin lay down in the grass and she lay beside him.
“Oh, wow I get it; look at how fast the clouds are moving. I noticed that earlier; it’s almost creepy. I wonder if there’s a storm coming or something,” Kayn thought aloud.
As Kayn lay peacefully in the grass, suddenly a sharp pain seared through her core. She grabbed her stomach, sucked a deep breath in and gasped, “What the hell was that?”
“You okay, Kayn?” He sat up and touched her arm. Kayn winced again and doubled over, her insides afire with another strange penetrating pain. Kevin placed his hand on her stomach, watching her face calm. The pain disappeared again as quickly as it had begun. He looked at her and stated, “You probably need a big glass of water, maybe some dinner?”
She stood up, trying to shake off a feeling of impending danger that had been replaying in her mind. With the pain suddenly gone, she said, “Yeah, that’s probably it.”
“Did you skip lunch again?” he scolded with a disapproving look on his face.
“I do believe that I did not eat lunch today.” There was a very simple explanation for the sharp undefined pain that she had experienced. Kayn was often practicing at lunchtime and would forget to eat. She felt the urge to look behind her again. She looked around in every direction trying to shake off the uncomfortable feeling that had been plaguing her all afternoon. Something in her mind was still saying, Be careful, Kayn.
She shook it off again, remembering that the last horror movie that she had watched with Kevin days earlier had taken place at a lake. There they stood by the turn off to Lakeshore Drive. It’s all in my mind, Kayn thought. She started to laugh a little at her seriously overactive imagination. Kevin had looked a little concerned earlier, but he now had obviously recalled the hillbilly cannibal movie that they had watched the week before. He kneeled in the grass and picked up a handful of it and he smelled it.
“Just what I thought,” he said looking seriously concerned now.
“What is it?” she asked.
“It’s hillbilly urine; we had better get home before they come to eat us,” Kevin said, pointing toward home proving if there was ever any doubt that he had no acting ability at all.
“Let’s get out of here, you geek,” Kayn said shaking her head at him and smiling.
“Okay, let’s go to my house. It’s got to be like five by now; dinner’s probably on the table,” Kevin said and smiled again. They looked at each other and smiled and started running through the field before the trails. This was the ritual race home they’d had since they had first been allowed out of their yards alone as children. Kevin, always sneaky and knowing with fair play there was no possible way to beat Kayn in a running race, shoved her over per usual and she fell with a gentle thump into the grass.
“Cheater,” she yelled, out of breath as he kept running away from her. She lay sprawled dramatically in the grass laughing. Kevin was laughing hysterically as he covered a good twenty feet. “Cheater,” she yelled again and slowly rose to her feet spitting out the freshly mown grass from her mouth. She would let him win; it was good for him to win sometimes. Kayn could take one for the team today, especially to see him this happy.
Kevin let out an obnoxiously loud cheer as he vaulted over the fence to his yard. He raised his arms in a silent fake fanfare and took a bow. He had never once won graciously in the whole ten years of their friendship.
Sure enough, they walked inside Kevin’s house to the amazing smells of his mother’s cooking. Her stomach started to grumble the second that they walked inside the house and the delicious aroma filled her senses. Kevin’s mom greeted her with a giant bear hug and said, “Hello there, beautiful. Go wash your hands and I’m not going to ask you why you are both just covered in grass.” Kevin’s mom raised her eyebrows curiously and added, “We are at the table ready to eat so hurry up, you two.”
She glanced into the mirror and pulled the grass out of her hair letting a little smile escape as she washed her hands in the bathroom sink. She started giggling as she thought about how bad it looked when two teenagers of the opposite sex showed up covered in grass. Well, anyone else—with them platonic wrestling would be completely normal. Kayn was sure that if her dad walked in and they were wrestling on her bed he wouldn’t even flinch.
Kayn sat at her usual spot at the table with his family. They mirrored her own strange personality wisecracking jokes and talking loudly about their day.
She loved everything about the Smith house, from the mismatched frames filled with family photos in the dining room to the extremely outdated green shag carpet in the living room. The living room was completed with a mismatched, yet cozy, couch set with two fluffy lounging felines that could always be easily seen from the dining room table. It were as if the cats were stuffed because she swore they never moved.
Kevin’s granny sat at the end of the table, her wispy white hair wildly untamed. Kayn could easily picture Kevin’s granny as a beautiful younger woman. There was a black and white picture in the hallway. Beautiful didn’t quite explain granny in her youth, for she had been enchanting. With rich red curls that had framed her narrow, aristocratic face, Winnie had looked as thin and frail as a fawn; but there had been something dark and treacherous in her eyes. Granny had worn the same shade of dark blood burgundy lipstick even then. She always wore lipstick ten shades too dark and her teeth were worn, yellowed from age, always seeming to have something stuck in them. If she got some false teeth it would make her look ten years younger, but she didn’t seem to care in the least.
She stared at Kayn the whole meal without speaking a single word to her. It was very unusual. Kayn couldn’t help herself; she said, “Is there something wrong?”
“You feel something wrong, don’t you?” Granny whispered. It was as if she were afraid of the words that might slip from her lips.
“Kayn had some stomach pain earlier; she’s probably coming down with the flu or something,” Kevin answered for her.
“Maybe,” Granny Winnie said as she glanced back down at her plate looking like she had more to say but choosing not to speak. Then she looked up and directly into Kayn’s eyes with unmasked sadness and said, “Always listen to your instincts, child.”
As Kayn was preparing to leave, Granny stood up and made her way over to Kayn, hugging her so tightly that she had to squirm away in order to breath. She leaned in and whispered something in Kayn’s ear, “You survive. You fight hard.”
Kayn once again felt like she had received some kind of warning, but blew it off deciding that she wasn’t into a three-hour conversation with Granny about spiritual things right now.
Kayn excused herself to go to the bathroom. She tried to call home on her cell. It went straight to voicemail. Chloe was probably on the phone; heaven forbid she should ever have an emergency and need to talk to her own parents.
Chloe had a cell phone, too, but was always grounded from it; yet they still let her talk on the landline which meant nobody else could get through; heaven forbid, someone spend two dollars on an extra line or call waiting.
She sat on the toilet trying her mom’s cell; she was obviously going to be a few minutes late tonight. Then she put her phone down after leaving a message and sneaked down the hall to Kevin’s room for a quick prank or two before she went home.
Kevin’s mom gave her a bag with some fresh eggs in it for her mom. It was starting to get dark so Kevin’s dad offered to drop her off at home. She thanked him with a big hug as she got out of the car. The air smelled amazing, like cherry blossoms in full bloom. It had been raining while they were having dinner.
Kayn stepped out of the car, into a puddle, and twisted her ankle. Of course, she thought. Soaked foot, eggs and school bag in hand, she limped up the steep driveway toward the front door. The door was partially open which was not normal. However it was a little windy out and quite normal for the door to be unlocked, so maybe it was left ajar, flung open by the wind?
She turned around to see that Kevin’s dad had driven away.
Kayn felt off, apprehensive, as she walked toward the door that seemed to have a life of its own. The door shifted from cracked open to shut in the wind. She looked at her cell phone. It was a quarter after eight. She thought they were playing a game on her, leaving the door open and lights off to freak her out. Chloe was probably hiding around the corner. Practical jokes were the norm in her household.
It was almost dark outside. She stopped again for a second time, feeling uneasy for some reason as she walked up the long gravel driveway. Her heart felt tight and her chest felt hollow as she paused again. The surrounding giant trees made it extra dark in her yard. The slivers of light flashed through the trees as they moved in the wind.
They lived in a beautiful area but very isolated. Kayn shoved her cell back in her pocket and pocket dialed Kevin by accident. She stepped toward the darkened doorway’s threshold and paused for a moment again before pushing the doorway completely open.
“I’m home,” Kayn yelled as she walked in the door, kicking off her shoes and dropping her school bag. She tried clicking on the front hall light; it was burned out or something. Kayn had seen lights on upstairs as she walked up the driveway so she knew the power wasn’t out. It’s just a burned out light bulb, she thought.
As Kayn tried to pull off her wet socks, she tried to balance on one leg, but a small stab of pain from her freshly twisted ankle caused her to put her hand against the wall in order to balance herself. Her hand slid off the wall and she struggled to pull her second soaking wet sock off. She massaged her ankle for a second and noticing it was swollen, said aloud, “Great, there goes the track meet.”
“Kevin’s mom gave us eggs,” she said, speaking in almost a whisper, suddenly aware that she seemed to be alone in the house. Where would they have gone this late? Her mind began to sort through the possible scenarios.
“Mom…Dad?” she called out from the front doorway.
Kayn was answered by silence, and then touching the wall, she felt the stickiness on her hand. She held her hand up to the faint sliver of light streaming through the trees that made it to the doorway. There was blood on her hand, a lot of blood. Ripples of adrenaline crawled through her body. She felt as if thousands of spiders had run across the surface her skin.
Kayn froze for a split second, paralyzed with fear, shivers of terror crawling across her flesh. She started to gingerly step backwards out the door. She saw movement in the form of a dark figure in the hallway.
She heard her sister’s voice scream, “Run, Kayn.” It was raw, primal, and shrill. She turned and ran, bringing the eggs with her. There was someone right behind her; Kayn could sense him there.
She knew there was no time to look behind her. Kayn ran with no rhyme or reason in the direction that she was pointed in. She slipped in the wet grass, turned around somehow, and then she saw the opening to the trails in the distance. It seemed to beckon her toward its mouth.
The neighbor behind them was closer than the neighbors on either side of them, making the trails a somehow logical yet illogical split second decision. Kayn wasn’t able to think or breathe and her basic animalistic instinct for survival was guiding her.
She had let go of the bag of eggs halfway across the back lawn, throwing them behind her, hoping to slow her attacker. Kayn sprinted toward the trail’s opening, its entrance overgrown with foliage. She burst through the branches which had partially hidden the familiar pathway. The branches of the prickle filled blackberry bush tore at her flesh as she pushed through. The pain heightened her survival instinct which now possessed her. It was only that which drove her forward.
Kayn barreled into the overgrown trail, forcing her way through where she instinctually remembered the trail had been. She had played in these trails as a child and she knew every hiding spot possible. There was no time for strategies or thinking; the crunching of leaves and twigs in the pathway behind her told her he was close; far too close to do anything but react.
Kayn slipped in the mud again, skidding yet not falling. She ignored the stinging of her knees, thrusting her body with a violent jolt as if starting a run on the track. Kayn had now lost that precious half a second lead; it had allowed her hunter to close the space between them.
Her heart pounded in her chest like it would burst right through her skin as her tired legs propelled her body through the winding bike trail. The rocks and clay mud cut her bare feet. The twigs and branches whipped at her legs and the prickle bushes sliced at her flesh.
“You have to run faster, Kayn, run faster,” her sister’s voice screeched inside of Kayn’s terror driven mind.
Kayn heard the branches crunching behind her; the dark figure’s rhythm, as steady as the rhythm of her running. He was so close behind her that she could feel his breath on her hair and neck as he panted. He was almost touching her. He was so fast, inhumanly fast; she needed a rush of adrenaline to edge her ahead.
Kayn could see lights from someone’s house peeking through the trees. She was going to make it, she thought, as her bare feet pounded over the rocks and twigs slashing at her ankles and legs; she was almost there. She drove herself forward knowing she had only a half second lead from the hunter that pursued her. She was almost to safety…just over the creek. Her bare feet hit the small wooden bridge…she was almost there.
Kayn felt the elation of victory as she was about to burst through the bushes when she felt hot fire plunge into her back. Her eyes widened in terror as the knife plunged into her again; its blade seared a molten trail of excruciating pain through her body. A sweaty hand muffled her gasp of shock as she sunk to her knees in disbelief.
Her captor’s arms were slick with perspiration; like a python, they constricted around her neck crushing her larynx. Screaming and pleading for her life would now be impossible. He continuously brought her to the brink of strangulation and then shook her awake, harshly reviving her.
Kayn tried to close her eyes; maybe he would believe her to be gone. He would leave her in the trails to bleed alone, allow her to slip peacefully away, becoming one with the forest floor around her. Instead every time her eyes slipped shut she felt the slicing, searing pain of his knife again and again in her stomach and chest until her eyes opened wide with terror. The next pain stole Kayn’s breath causing blood to sputter from her mouth. She gazed ahead of her and through the trees which were glimmering in flashing flickering light; she saw a figure in the distance.
Help me, oh, God, please help me; see me, please, I’m right here, Kayn’s mind screamed. She could see his shadow on his patio through the trees in the luminescence of his porch lights; he was so close. A man was on the back porch having a cigarette.
He punched her stomach or cut her…she was unable to distinguish one kind of brutality from another…only that something was searing a hot excruciating fire through her stomach. He’s killing me…please, her soul pleaded as her vision blurred from her tears. Kayn couldn’t speak; she tried to scream; her throat crushed, the only sound she could make was a gurgling as she choked and sputtered out her own blood.
Why, why are you doing this to me? Her mind cried to the stranger who breathed quickly with joyous excitement and stimulation in her ear. She felt the competing rhythms of their pounding hearts, her back against his chest. She saw the twigs and rocks on the forest floor around her. Kayn could smell damp moss and the scent of tree sap and the sweet metallic taste of her own blood.
On her hands she could feel the warm stickiness that she bled out into the dirt, trickling down her arms as it escaped from her body. Her clothing was heavily soaked in her essence that moistened the earth around her.
He let her go for a second; she landed on all fours and tried to crawl away but she couldn’t will her body to move forward. She couldn’t breathe. She was on her knees taking small shallow breaths, clawing at the ground. His hot repulsive breath and quiet laughter was in her ear again and then he began whispering things that Kayn couldn’t understand. His hot sweaty body was behind her pressing against her back. She felt her stomach churning, revulsion mixed with blinding pain.
She tried one last struggling movement to get away from his grasp, and then suddenly felt some horribly blinding pain across her head and face. The lights flickered and then went out.
In the woods lay a bleeding angel in all her glory. Her arms posed gracefully above her head and her hair soaked in the mud, blood, and feces in which she lay. Dying, fading into the other realm, her form was christened by the rain as though the trees had begun to weep upon her for the brutality she had endured.
There was someone waiting in the trails; a dark presence lingered nearby waiting for her to regain consciousness.
Kayn awoke in frigid darkness. The pain that pulsated through her seemed to recycle in waves until it began to slowly dull and became a tolerable numbness. She struggled to open and focus her eyes. She could smell a familiar scent; it smelled overpoweringly sweet but somehow like metal. Kayn could taste the sweet repulsive flavor of it in her mouth; it made her want to vomit.
She was lying in mud and she felt hot stickiness behind her. She suddenly remembered what that taste had been. It was her own blood that she could taste inside of her mouth. Kayn could barely breathe. Shuddering, she began to remember the brutality that she had endured. Her mind began feeding her slivers, flashes of inhuman violence. Her mind numb and confused from blood loss clicked through scattered memories from her childhood.
Help me, please, her mind pleaded into the forest through the tapping sounds of the rain hitting the branches above where she lay. They seemed to be shielding her and as her vision came into focus she imagined the lush green branches above as giant arms. They protected her, covering her from the elements allowing her one last peaceful moment. They are beautiful, she thought. Her mind wandered through mystical visions of the majestic cedar trees alive and somehow capable of offering her protection.
The suddenly peaceful smile on her face that had been contorted by pain signaled his essence back to her. Her vision came into focus and again this time the trees crackled and mocked her. You’re going to die, you silly bitch, they seemed to chant. They waved their branches, howling, as the wind whistled through the trails which had suddenly grown icy cold. Kayn’s mind snapped back to reality; she had lost a lot of blood…none of this was real.
A man stood by that same tree whose imaginary arms had shielded her from the rain, still waiting, veiled in mist. The change in temperature had caused the forest floor to come alive with a dancing mist that seemed to add a thickness to the tapping sound of the rain drops. The tree he leaned casually on had damp bark and his fingers were beginning to prune. He stood up removing his hand and wiped it on his pants in disgust.
Writhing in the mud, Kayn willed her body to move; her fingers clawed at the ground around her until she was spent. She lay in stillness for a moment, feeling like a half dead animal waiting to be finished off by its hunter. She concentrated on each breath…in and out…a little air. She was alive. It felt like she was breathing through a straw and somebody had pinched the end.
The streams of light from the moon that had been dancing through the dark stormy clouds had now disappeared, leaving only a cold dark night with no final visions of beauty. Kayn longed for some light but was left with only the flickering of blurry dark images. She couldn’t see anything in the absence of light and began to panic again, for she could feel her grasp on her life being absorbed into the mist. I’m so scared; I don’t want to die; please help me, her soul sobbed. The only answer was the crackling quiet sound of the rain.
Kayn couldn’t see anything at all now with her vision clouded with tears, so she had to stop herself from crying. Her head pounded with the blinding pain that had abruptly returned. She could sense that he was still nearby watching her. His dark shadow loomed in the distance as it had in the hallway of her house.
Please, please, no more, Kayn begged in her mind as he came closer to her, standing a few feet away from her now, watching with his head tilted to one side. Her heart was begging, please don’t hurt me anymore.
Kayn was trying to wriggle but no movement came from her now. She willed herself to grasp at the moist cold earth with her fingers. She was unable to move at all; now her body was nothing more than a broken shell. How cruel for her mind to still see; to still desire life at this point. Kayn looked into his eyes and pleaded through her mind again, why are you doing this to me?
She was so cold her body gave an involuntary shudder. Kayn realized then that she was naked, completely exposed to the elements. Why was she naked? Her eyes were full of tears again; she felt instant, almost overwhelming shame.
Kayn could still feel the sticky heat behind her as her blood drained from her body, soaking into the dirt. The pain in her head began to numb as the lights through the trees began to flicker again.
The dark mass of her violator suddenly appeared beside her, leaning in so close that she could smell his putrid breath, moist over her face. Every hair on her body was standing on end. The electrical power between Kayn and the man in the dark was like a charge. He ran a finger over her exposed breast saying, “You were never to be born; this situation had to be corrected.”
Kayn saw his knife glint in the light from the moon. It was raised above her chest. Yes, she thought, let it be over now. She shut her eyes as the knife sliced into her chest. Kayn opened her eyes again with acceptance; she felt no more pain. She stared deeply into his eyes as hers filled with tears.
He tried to regain his composure and with a voice thick with emotion he said, “To this life unto the next.” He slowly began to cut some kind of symbol on the skin on Kayn’s chest above her heart. She lay limp in his arms, still conscious of what was happening, yet free from the pain and fear now. He pulled her close to cradle her naked body in his arms like a baby, rocking her broken, violated flesh in his arms, stroking her blood soaked hair. He began to sob as if he were repentant in some way for how he had tortured her.
As her vision flickered one last time, the man was gone; it was her mother looking into her eyes.
Her mother’s eyes were filled with so much love that it seemed to release her from her pain and fear as it had when she was a small child. Her mother cradled her as a baby, rocking her back and forth. She was safe now in her mother’s arms. She was at peace. Mommy, her heart sang, you’re here to save me.
The warmth of her mother’s love enveloped her tortured soul. She looked into her mother’s eyes. She touched Kayn’s face and started to sing a song that she had sung to her every night when she was very small.
Sleep, sweet sleep till the morning
Just dream away and close your eyes
My love you’ll be safe until the morning
Sleeping in my heart, all through the night
Although bad dreams come to scare you
My love will scare them all away
The lights flickered, the pain went away, and her mother was holding her, singing “Sleep, sweet sleep.”