...of my short story that kept dragging on and on. =} I finally finished it last night, but I ended up adding over 2,000 words, so this post is going to be on the (very) long side. The semi-finished product actually has a bit in common with Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness, although it's less disturbing (I think).
I'm pretty sure this starts where the last section left off, but I'm not 100% sure.
The first thing I noticed when I opened my eyes the next morning was the total lack of color in my bedroom. This struck me as odd; while I didn’t typically have bright colors plastered all over everything, neither did I paint everything in varying shades of gray and black. Then I realized that the colors themselves had not, in fact, changed at all. It was the light coming from the ceiling that overpowered all other color and light. The light was all colors, even colors I had never seen before, and yet it was colorless; it illuminated, showing me things I had not known about, and yet it hid. And it was coming from the light fixture in the middle of my ceiling.
I rubbed my eyes, blinked a few times, and looked toward the light again. It was still very much there. I quickly found that if I looked at it too long, it blinded me momentarily, so I kept my eyes averted.
“What do you have that you have not been given?” I felt, rather than heard, the voice speak these words.
“Er… is that a rhetorical question?” I asked timidly. My room shook, and I cowered under the covers. Suddenly, the light vanished and my room stopped shaking. I risked a peek from beneath my sheet. The colors in my room were back to normal, so I sat up. Something heavy dropped into my lap. I picked it up gently and realized that it was the compass I had seen in my dream. My heart jumped into my throat. Great; I now had the item a bunch of demons were looking for. I grabbed my phone and dialed Heath’s number. He answered after four rings.
“Trish… it’s seven in the morning on a Saturday,” he groaned.
“Yeah, I know. I have it, Heath. I have…”
My room went dark and clammy then. I started shaking.
“Trish?” Heath asked, finally sounding somewhat awake. “Trish, are you there? Hello?”
My throat constricted, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up.
“Help me,” I croaked, and dropped the phone. It fell to the floor and the battery popped out. I began to sweat a cold sweat as my lampshade swayed back and forth slowly. I clutched the compass to my chest and instantly thought of Psalm 23. I began reciting it aloud.
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
The lampshade swayed faster. I swallowed noisily.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.”
The glass of water by my bed shattered.
“He restores my soul. He leads me in the path…”
I felt an icy pain in my chest, which effectively cut off my recitation. I couldn’t breathe; my mind started shutting down.
There was a knock on my window. The pain eased a little and my head cleared. Heath was standing outside my window in his pajamas. He was shouting something, but I couldn’t hear him.
All at once, the pain and darkness and clamminess ceased. I could hear Heath. He was shouting Psalm 23 at the top of his lungs. I jumped out of bed, taking care to keep the compass close, and opened my window, at which point Heath stopped shouting.
“…in the house of the Lord forever,” he finished quietly. “What was that?”
“I don’t know. Whatever it was sure wanted… the item,” I replied. Heath’s eyes slid to the compass.
“Here. I’ll take it. It’s dangerous, and if anything happens, I want it to happen to me, not you. You know I’m stronger and…” He flushed and looked away. I nodded.
“I see your point, but you forgot some things. You don’t have dreams like I do, so you don’t always know what’s going on. And you’re kind of… um… well, you like to pick fights,” I pointed out. Heath grinned sheepishly.
“I know I do. But see, I just had to rescue you, so don’t you think it would be more efficient if I had the… object?”
Although I didn’t want to agree with him, I had to. It was true; he had to come rescue me, a fact which I resented somewhat. I began to give him the compass, but then a thought struck me.
“You really are Heath, right?” I asked doubtfully. He shrugged.
“Would a demon recite Psalm 23?”
“Well, no, but still…” Heath had leaned his forearms on my window sill, so I grabbed one of them and squeezed hard. He jumped, and I let out a sigh of relief. There was warm, solid flesh and bone in my grip, and it didn’t have the unwholesome feel of demons. I let go of him.
“Okay, you can have it… but guard it well. I have a really bad feeling about this,” I warned, and handed over the compass. Heath held it close. We stood silently for a moment, until he shifted slightly.
“I should probably go… my feet are cold and this is kind of awkward, and I don’t know what my mom will say if she sees me outside in my pajamas,” he said. I chuckled. Heath’s pajamas were pajamas in name only; they consisted of an undershirt, boxer shorts, and no-show socks. I could see that he was already shivering.
“Right. I’ll see you later, then,” I decided. Heath nodded and jogged away, and I shut my window.
Everything seemed pretty normal for about a week after that. We didn’t see our doubles the next week, and we all got over our colds quickly.
The next Sunday, though, strange things started happening. My sister woke up several nights the following week screaming from nightmares. My dreams were all dark and convoluted. My mother reported seeing people sneaking around the yard. She thought they were just the usual young neighborhood hoodlums, but I guessed otherwise, even though I didn’t say anything about it. Heath looked very tired. Josh was worried about this; he told me that Heath was hardly sleeping and that the gashes on his side were probably infected.
Josh and I pulled Heath aside after school on Friday to ask him about it. He didn’t want to talk at first; as a matter of fact, he wouldn’t even look at us until I dressed him down a bit.
“Heath, look. The three of us have to do this together. None of us is strong enough to do it alone. Please tell Josh and me what’s going on so we can help you,” I told him, somewhat severely. He thought for a while and finally nodded.
“Okay… um, can we walk?” he muttered. His eyes darted toward the entrance to the school. Josh and I looked there and saw our doubles coming out. We all hurried away in the opposite direction.
“I… I haven’t been able to sleep recently,” Heath told Josh and me reluctantly. “Every time I go to sleep, I have these terrible dreams, so I don’t get any rest. I have the… item… with me all the time because I’m afraid of what will happen if I leave it, but at the same time I have to admit that I’m afraid of what will happen if I’m found with it. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never been this scared before in my life.”
By the time he finished, we’d reached my house. He bent over suddenly and scrabbled at his chest. Josh and I grabbed his arms and kept him upright.
“They’re here,” he rasped, and gagged as if he had been hit in the throat. “They’re coming for it… he’s coming…” He passed out, and Josh had to drag him into their house. Oddly, no one was home. I went next door to my house and let myself in. My sister was sleeping at her desk. I tried to wake her, but she was completely unresponsive. My heart started hammering. I could feel something malevolent approaching, so I got out of my house, locked the door behind me, and sprinted back to Heath and Josh’s house. Josh pulled me inside and slammed the door.
“He was right—they’re coming,” he whispered, locking the door. I peeked out the window before Josh closed the drapes and saw our three doubles coming across the street.
“Quick! Check the windows and make sure they’re all locked,” Josh directed, and I jumped to obey. The moment we finished, there was a knock at the door. We looked at each other, frightened, and Josh grabbed my hand and tugged me toward Heath’s bedroom. Once we were inside, Josh locked the door with shaking fingers. Heath was sprawled on his bed, out cold, but the moment Josh tried to get the compass from him, he woke up with a gasp.
“Where are we? What’s going—” Josh smothered Heath’s questions with a pillow. Heath quickly realized what was happening and quieted down. Josh dropped the pillow and we all huddled on Heath’s bed.
There was a thud, and we knew our doubles had broken into the house. Heath groaned and clutched Josh’s and my arms. His eyes rolled back in his head and he started sweating. He was strong—unnaturally so. I think it made Josh nervous, because he pulled back slightly.
“I think… I think I’ll guard the door,” he stammered. Heath’s grip tightened. I bit my tongue to keep from whimpering because of the pain. I knew it was nothing compared to what Heath was experiencing.
“No! Keep the circle,” Heath gasped. “They’re coming… I feel them…”
Josh moved to take my hand, but I went for Heath’s chest. I could see the compass hanging from a chain around his neck, and I guessed that if all three of us were touching it, the pain would be easier. The second I touched the compass, though, Heath screamed. I pulled my hand back, startled, and Josh snatched my arm away.
Heath’s door exploded into a billion pieces. I felt the shrapnel bite into my back. It was agony. I turned my arms so I could hold Heath and Josh’s forearms. The pain lessened somewhat, but a new pain, a cold, slicing pain, began in my chest. A shudder went through our circle and I knew that Heath and Josh felt it too—especially Heath, no doubt.
Our doubles entered the room then. Heath’s fingernails bit into my skin, and my blood began creeping down his fingers.
Give it to us. I heard my double’s voice in my head. Give it to us and your trouble will be over. Give it to us…
Heath screamed again. This time his voice sounded completely inhuman. My mind started to cloud. Maybe it would be easier just to give in…
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me!” Josh shouted. My mind cleared, but I still couldn’t remember the rest of the psalm.
“Your rod and your staff comfort me.” Heath’s voice sounded raw and painful, and it surprised me out of my mental murkiness.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows,” I added.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever,” we all said together. Our doubles wailed, high and strident.
“Give it to us! Give it to us!” they howled. Heath’s death grip on my arm lessened. I held his arm tighter to keep him from leaving the circle.
“Christ to shield me today,” Josh began.
“Against poison, against burning,” I continued.
“Against drowning, against wounding,” Heath whispered.
“So that there may come to me abundance of reward.” Josh kept the chant going and Heath and I followed.
“Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me.”
“Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.”
“Christ on my right, Christ on my left.”
“Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise.”
“Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me.”
“Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.”
“Christ in every eye that sees me.”
“Christ in every ear that hears me.”
“I arise today…”
“Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity…”
“Through belief in the threeness…”
“Through confession of the oneness…”
“Of the Creator of Creation,” I finished, and let out an involuntary gasp of pain. With one final jab, our doubles vanished and Heath’s door reassembled itself. We all held our breaths, afraid of what would come next.
We waited in our circle for almost ten minutes before we could relax. When we finally did relax, a bright light shone on us.
“Well done, my friends,” a voice said. The compass floated free of the chain around Heath’s neck and drifted to the center of his room. “You have endured the test. You will accomplish great things in this life.” The compass vanished in one last flash of light.
“Well, I guess if I can take that, I can take anything,” Heath quipped. I turned to look at him. His voice had returned to normal and he appeared healthy again, if somewhat tired. We all let go of each other and realized at the same time that we had been healed of all the wounds of our ordeal. There were no cuts from Heath’s fingernails on my arm, and there were no gashes on Heath’s side.
“Yeah. I guess so,” I agreed. Josh nodded wordlessly.
“Um… maybe we should go do our homework,” he said, after a short, awkward silence. We got up and went into the living room, where we had dropped our backpacks earlier. Everything was back in order; it was as if nothing had happened. Heath and Josh’s mother was pottering around in the kitchen. Josh plunked himself down in a chair and started doing his homework. Heath sprawled on the floor and I curled up in a corner of the sofa. I began doing my homework, but I couldn’t concentrate. I didn’t know why until I happened to glance at Heath, who was staring directly at me. I shifted a little bit and wiggled an eyebrow at him.
“What are you looking at?” I demanded. Heath grinned.
“What do you think?”
I opened and closed my mouth a few times before I shrugged, unable to form a response. Heath laughed, irritating Josh, who glanced up and scowled at him.
“Are you doing anything… oh, at about six tonight?” Heath asked. My jaw dropped before I could stop it.
“Um… no. I don’t think so. Have you talked to my dad?”
Heath nodded an affirmative.
“Well, then… I guess… well, I guess I’m not doing stuff by myself tonight,” I stammered. Heath’s grin widened.