1998 – The One-Eyed Roe
Protesting brakes screech-sliding across gravel kicked off the cacophony. Two screams zig-zagged up Margaret’s spine as they joined the squealing tires. The foundation-shaking crumpling of the trailer home wall as a bumper ripped it from the frame reigned supreme as the most penetrating sound of the night. By the time her home had stopped shuddering, Margaret was wide awake and hunkered down on the far side of her bed.
“I TOLD you you were going too fast!” a little boy’s voice cut through the sudden silence.
“Shut up Tyler. Dad said we have to get to Margaret!” answered a terrified older-sister voice.
“What if you dropped the house on her?”
Margaret searched for their auras while they bickered. There… faint tendrils of black entropy swirling around two youngsters. Reapers. Really young Reapers. The boy couldn’t have been more than nine or ten. Grabbing her robe, she pulled it on over her sweats as she hurried to learn what calamity had just claimed her house as a casualty.
Throwing open the screen door and stepping out, Margaret immediately sized up the teen girl and her younger brother arguing in front of a rusty Isuzu Rodeo. The corner of its front bumper was still embedded in her trailer.
“WHAT’S GOING ON OUT HERE?”
All of the fight drained out of the children. Margaret decided to cheat a little. She clamped down on their auras. She knew that to an untrained Outre, it would feel like their connection to reality was being siphoned down to nothing.
Though the look of fear and distrust stayed on her face, the girl also screwed up her courage and stepped in front of her little brother. “Our dad, Nils Torgersen, made us memorize your address. He said, ‘If you’re ever in serious trouble, and you cannot reach your mom and me, go to the little trailer behind the One Eyed-Roe. The lady there will help you.’ … “
She looked like she wanted to say more, but didn’t know what else she was allowed to share.
“The only question I am going to ask out here where there might be ears,” Margaret nodded, “is whose truck that is?”
“Our uncle’s. He left it at our house last week. I didn’t steal it. See? I have the keys.”
Margaret looked at the truck. It was the middle of the night. The sky was dark. And the vehicle was mostly hidden behind the diner. She didn’t think anyone would notice the collision from the street. Actually, if anyone came around to investigate behind the diner, they’d have bigger problems. She nodded, “Okay. Inside so you can tell me the whole story.”
The kids avoided her poofy chair. It was amazing that years later, most Outre subconsciously avoided that chair. The siblings sat near each other on the couch. Margaret was quietly amused that they made a show of not sitting too close, lest it look like they actually need one another.
“Start with your names.”
“I’m Anette, this is my brother Tyler.”
“A pleasure to meet you both.”
“Thanks,” Tyler smiled. “What’s your name?”
“Call me Margaret. Go on, tell me what happened.”
Tyler looked like he was about to say something, but Anette steamrolled over him, “I’m not really sure. We were asleep. I heard shouting. Our mom dragged Tyler into my room and told us to hide in the panic room until things were quiet.”
“If I remember,” Margaret interrupted, “Theresa isn’t like your father, is she?” She had to know what the kids knew.
“Well aside from being a mom…” Tyler started.
Anette cut him off again. “She means a Reaper.” Turning to Margaret, Anette shook her head. “No, our mom is normal, but she knows about it all. I think she knew what the trouble was all about tonight, but she didn’t say.”
Margaret nodded. She let part of her consciousness drift up into the sky. There was something anxious in the air. “You’re a far ways from a panic room, what happened next?”
“We were sneaking down the back stairs, when I heard a man’s voice say, ‘Auras on the move! Get up there!’ I figured if they could detect us, the panic room was a trap with one door.” Anette was really scared. Margaret tried to nod encouragingly while she let part of her mind drift. “I knew then we had to get away like dad told us. I pushed Tyler out the little window in the stairwell and followed him out.”
“I hurt my butt landing.”
“Hush, Tyler. Not now…”
Margaret’s floating consciousness found the disturbance while Anette talked about sneaking into the back door of the garage. There was concentrated dream energy swirling in the nearby areas of the dream realm. These days that usually meant coordinated Sandman activity. Margaret focused on that, finding it slightly more pertinent than the kids knowing where the keys to their uncle’s truck was kept. Margaret sensed no fewer than six active minds drawing upon the realm’s energy. Trying to gain any more information while she was conscious would have made her noticeable. Slowly, she let her mind focus back on the girl’s story.
“As I was backing out of the side drive…”
“You took out one of mom’s flower beds…”
“…with the truck’s lights off so we weren’t seen,” she corrected angrily, “Dad was filling the yard with death energy. It was dark and cold.”
Margaret nodded. To Tyler she said, “It sounds like your dad was using his power to cover your escape, making it tough for them to sense your auras.”
“I know,” he snapped instinctively.
Neither looked like they’d admit it, but they were scared. “Does that truck have four-wheel drive?”
“I think so.”
Tyler wasn’t about to let his sister get away with that. “You don’t know. You don’t even have your temps yet!”
Margaret raised a hand to stall any brewing argument. “Give me the keys.” Anette handed them over. “I know a place in the woods we can hide it if we can get it there. You kids can stay with me for a few days. If your parents are on the run, I may not be able to reach them. If your dad thinks you’ve come here, he’ll eventually think to call and let us know when the coast is clear for you to come home.”
“Do you have a Nintendo or Playstation?” Tyler asked hopefully, “Cause we don’t but I want one.”
Margaret got them up and moving, it’d be easier to keep them hidden if they were physically near her. “Nope. Instead I got dishes-to-do or a waitress-station. You pick, but you’re working in the diner while we wait. Let’s go move that truck back into the woods.”
Once the truck was hidden, she helped them make temporary beds in the living room. When it was clear they were still too on edge, she cheated a little and sprinkled some sleeping powder into some milk for them. Holding the packet of powder made reminded her of the day her niece had stashed a bag of Sandman gear in the trailer “just in case.” Margaret fought back her own buried emotion as the kids finally started dozing.
She didn’t have time to wallow just now. Dragging her Cobra Cordless back into her bedroom, she started her calls.
“Zahara, it’s Margaret… Not well… listen… the Sandmen just went after a Reaper family… no… Nils.” She listened for a few moments, then finished with, “Just be careful and let people know.”
Each call was roughly the same. Everyone answered, everyone was warned, everyone instructed to call others. Wondering if the night’s Sandman mission was limited to the Torgersen family, Margaret lay down across her bed and let her mind slip back into the dream realm. This time the trip had her full attention. Up over her ocean and into the shared astral layer, Margaret carefully surveyed the ripples of dream activity.
Still active… but farther away.
She flew toward them. Just as she could hide her aura in the physical world, she could hide herself in the astral. Making sure she was completely undetectable here in this shared mindspace, she neared the activity. It was still six minds tied to the dream realm, all drawing upon it. Agents.
Margaret knew that she would be detected the instant she tried to actually enter a mind, so she hovered above the activity looking for any symbology that might give her a clue. She didn’t have to wait long. Up through all six minds a cacophonous blast of discordant sound blasted into the dream.
It had to be. There weren’t any others nearby. But Valerie didn’t have any children. She and Brad had only recently married. Like a shadow sneaking up on her, the clues insinuated themselves into Margaret’s mind.
Brad was normal.
Just like Theresa Torgersen.
Ever since her niece’s final mission, Margaret had known the Sandmen were collecting Outre for some sort of experimenting. What if they were collecting the mundanes who loved them?
“Hell.” Margaret’s consciousness instantly returned to her body and she sat up. “Hell. Hell. Hell.”
Beep. Dial. “Geoff, they’re concentrating on Valerie and Brad right now. I think they’re going after Outre with mundane lovers. You and Jess need to go into hiding now.” Click. No time for questions. Margaret knew one more family that fit the pattern.
She had to warn the Jansens. She tried their number, but it rang and rang. No answering machine picked up. Laying back, she hoped one of them would be sleeping. She hated intruding on people’s minds, but emergencies were different. Once again cloaking herself in the dreaming portion of the astral realm, Margaret flew along until she sensed familiar energy. Dropping down, she faced the challenges inherent in entering a Reaper’s mind at this distance. She was less worried about getting through his mental protections than she was about being trapped if he suddenly woke. Steeling her will, she plunged in.
Luckily, like most Reapers, Eirik hadn’t built up much mental protection. Reapers just didn’t operate in the realms of the mind like Oracles, Temptresses, and Sandmen. Ignoring his ocean, Margaret flew towards his mainland and searched for the construct he would have built to guard his inner self. On a mound deep within his dark forest she found it, a fortified castle bailey.
In the heat of the moment she almost busted in. Tempering her urgency at the last second, Margaret knocked loudly on the gate. When there was no response, she poured a bit of her own power into a second round of knocking to make sure she was heard. “Eirik,” she called, “It’s an emergency.”
He materialized out of a black shadow. Margaret almost snorted at the typically dramatic Reaper appearance. “Why do you come here unannounced?” His heavy accent echoed around her.
Margaret stepped closer and retreated to her kindly-old-lady routine to diffuse the situation. “Because the Sandmen grabbed Nils and Theresa. I’m pretty sure they are trying to take Valerie and Brad as we speak. And I’m reasonably certain that you and Della are on tonight’s list.”
“Because neither Theresa nor Brad is Outre… nor is Della.”
He dropped all his spooky posing, “Shit.”
“Yeah, so gather your family and head to the hills for a while.”
“No… I mean shit as in, ‘shit Atli’s not home’ shit.”
“Where is he? Can you get to him?”
“He’s at a band retreat in Providence.”
“That’s closer to me than you. Does he have an aura?”
“Yes, I’ve already started his training.”
“Then I’m pretty sure Della will be the target. You get her to safety. I’ll get to Atli and keep him hidden until this blows over. Where has the band retreated to? And is there something I can say to him so he knows you sent me?”
“Classical High School near downtown. Just tell him you’re a friend of Gestur’s and that I said he should cut his hair.”
“I’m going. Be careful Eirik. Call me when you’re safe.”
Margaret returned to her body quickly. Sitting up, she grabbed the phone again. Silently blessing the recent development in cordless technology, she also pulled out some better traveling clothes.
“Ida Lynn honey, I’m sorry for calling so late. My little nephew’s been rushed to the hospital. Can you run the diner for a few days? … Thank you so much… You’re a dear. I’ll bring you back something like I always do.”