1998 – Providence, Rhode Island
Margaret had her eyes on the road. Most of her attention was even in this world. As always, a small portion of her awareness was dedicated to watching for Outré energy. So two mismatched auras in a black SUV whizzing past them in the other direction stood out like laser beams in a dark theater.
Their auric flavors were steel and gentle repose. Margaret assumed that meant a Myrmidon and a Reaper. Those two auras speeding toward the Roe in the darkest hours of the night couldn’t be a good thing. She checked on the kids in her rear-view mirror. Tyler was asleep, head on the window. Lucky kid. His sister was alert and looking around.
“You felt them, didn’t you?”
Anette was spooked, but she nodded.
“I’m pretty sure they were friends. Or at least, not enemies. Sometimes that’s good enough. Given the direction they’re headed, I’m willing to bet they’re headed to find me as well.”
Anette looked Margaret over as best she could. “You’re not like us, but you seem to know about us. What are you?”
“I’m a lot more like you than you might realize. I just have the ability to hide it.” Margaret spied a place she could turn around. “What you’re doing we call ‘aura sight.’ It’s how we recognize one another.”
“Dad’s taught me that much.” Anette replied simply. She wasn’t being the typically confrontational teenager, merely supplying information. Margaret was impressed.
“Well, in case it comes to a fight, you need to know what he didn’t tell you.” Margaret took a deep breath. Each and every person who knew her secret was yet a more mind that could betray her, willingly or under the tender ministrations of her enemies. She let the breath out slowly. “I have the ability to hide my aura. Yours too if you stay close. So if Sandmen show up, stay as near to me as you can without tripping us up. And help me keep your brother nearby as well.”
Anette processed the idea for a moment, but seemed to accept it. She kept her thoughts to herself as they retraced their route. Eventually she asked, “Is that what you did to us when we first got to your place?”
“Yes, sorry. I know it’s a bit of a shock the first time.”
“Shock? It felt like you’d punched me in the gut and stuck me at the bottom of a pool of heavy water.”
That was extremely vivid. Margaret met Anette’s eyes in the mirror. “You’re normally pretty perceptive, aren’t you?”
The teen shrugged, “I guess.”
“Hone that ability, it will serve you well. Having your aura dampened hits us sensitive ones hardest of all. I truly am sorry, but given what’s going on, it seems the right thing to do.”
“It’s fine. I’m just glad it finally makes sense.”
“We’re here.” Margaret didn’t see the black vehicle anywhere, but she felt their auras nearby. Coming around the diner, she saw the fresh tracks into the forest. Whoever was here knew where to hide the cars. That narrowed the options down considerably. Driving the Rodeo down the same track, Margaret parked next to an empty black Range Rover. Anette woke Tyler quietly. Together, the three of them snuck back to the trailer home.
The visitors had let themselves in.
“That better be Zahara,” Margaret mumbled. “You kids get behind me.”
They complied silently. Margaret allowed her power to form a mist over the door while she reached for it. If you weren’t specifically focused on the door, your mind would not have paid any attention to the fact that it opened for three people. Keeping it shrouded, Margaret loosely closed it in case they had to exit quickly.
The front room looked empty. Margaret focused and picked out one aura crouched behind the island counter separating the kitchenette from the front room. A second weaker aura was in the small bathroom. Neither was dream-related. As she had with the Torgersen kids, Margaret dampened their auras. She heard a light gasp from the bathroom.
“You might as well stand up, I know you’re there.”
Zahara stood slowly, a carving knife in one hand, a smaller steak knife in the other. She was ready for a fight. “Margaret! I’m glad it’s you.”
“Who else would it be? Though with all the commotion tonight, I don’t blame you for having my knives out. But unless you’re going to make me a sandwich, put them away.”
Setting them down within arm’s reach, Zahara motioned to the short hallway. “The Sandmen showed up and tried to grab a young reaper, just like you said. I didn’t know where else to bring him. We couldn’t reach his family.” She took a few steps and knocked once on the door, “You can come out.”
Shyly, he crept out. He was pretty obviously trying to keep a brave face on. Margaret noticed Anette’s sudden interest. The crunch of tires on gravel immediately cut off any introductions.
“So that’s why you don’t pave the lot,” Zahara commented wryly.
“Bingo. Everyone, into the back. Hide your bodies, I’ve got your auras dampened.”
The new boy looked confused, but followed orders. Margaret quickly grabbed her robe from behind the bathroom door and pulled it closed over her clothes just in time. The unlatched front door rattled under a firm knock.
Margaret took a second to answer, mentally timing steps from the bedroom to the door. She resisted the urge to give in to shouting a cheesy, “I’m coming.” Standing outside were Agents Drommen and Dospiewacz. They were regulars in the diner. She didn’t like Drommen much, he was arrogant, and never ate the pudding he ordered. He also called her ma’am. He used the title as an insult, as though she was old and stupid. His partner was the quiet type, but not quite as obnoxious.
Margaret hoped her momentary pause came across as middle of the night confusion. “Boys? Diner won’t open for several hours. Did you forget something at your table?”
Drommen shook his head. “No ma’am, there may be trouble in the area. We followed a suspect’s trail right to your door.”
There was the snide “ma’am.” She hated him all over again.
Margaret knew better than to play utterly stupid. “You mean that kid?” She pointed down the road. “He told me some story about the government chasing him. I worked a long day at the diner, and didn’t have time for whatever shinola he was trying to sell me. I gave him ten bucks and told him where the nearest bus station was. Last I saw, he took off that way.” She pointed up the road away from Providence.
They both looked where she pointed, but Dospiewacz looked back and around. He wasn’t focused on any one point, Margaret pegged him as the more sensitive of the two. She knew they weren’t picking up any Outré auras, she was too good and had too much practice for them to get past her obfuscation. But now that she was looking, Zahara had left a trail right to her door. Thankfully, she had taken the boy back into the woods, so the trail did actually leave as well.
Problem was, the Outré trail would lead them right to the SUVs.
“Thank you, ma’am. We won’t bother you again tonight. If we don’t find him, we may come back to the diner first thing in the morning to see if you remember anything else.”
Oh good. Threats.
She hoped Zahara had been eavesdropping. Hoping she had heard everything, then Margaret needed to stall to give her a chance to act. “Since this is the second time I’ve been pulled from bed, can you tell me what the kid did?”
“At this point, probably nothing. But his parents belong to a subversive group and we’ve rounded them up for questioning. We have orders to bring the boy in as well, just in case.”
“Subversive? What, like a secret cult? Is he dangerous?”
“Highly unlikely ma’am. Most likely just a teenager in a bad place.”
Margaret managed to not let her vision track Zahara’s shadow moving across the yard. Clucking her tongue, she kept at it. “Poor kid. If I see him, I’ll invite him in for a slice of pie or something. You got a number I can call if I see him?”
Drommen pulled out a plain white card with a phone number on it. “Call this number, explain you found a boy Drommen was trying to help. They’ll get in touch with us.” He tapped Dospiewacz on the chest, “Let’s go.”
At that point, Zahara ran across a patch of light in front of the diner. She was headed the way Margaret had lied about sending the boy. Drommen saw her first, “I’ll get her. You get the car!” He sprinted off after the Myrmidon, instead of waiting for his partner’s answer.
Dospiewacz watched his partner go. Turning his barely-focused eyes to Margaret, he said, “I know the boy is here. I’ll be taking him now.”