In Our Image – Volume 3 Chapter 4

My ceiling got really boring after about the first twenty minutes of staring at it and, looking for practically anything to do to pass the time, I found myself laying on my stomach on my bed while trying to sink a ping pong ball into a plastic cup on the opposite side of my room.

It wasn’t easy, but I was in it for the long haul–a tub of at least one hundred and fifty ping pong balls sat on the floor next to my bed, half empty with its missing contents scattered about my floor, and I hadn’t given up yet. Holding up what I hoped would be my lucky ball in front of my right eye, I stuck out my tongue and aimed, lobbing it forward.

The ball sailed through the air in a beautiful arc, coming down straight over the opening at the top of the cup, before shifting ever so slightly, bouncing off of the rim and rolling unevenly under my dresser, where it would most likely spend the rest of its life.

“Ugh.”

Rolling over onto my back, I caught a quick glimpse of my familiar ceiling once again, before shutting my eyes and cutting off the sight for good. Laying a hand on the cool sheets of my bed and feeling for my phone, I eventually located it (under my right calf, although for some reason I didn’t feel it) and checked to see if anything interesting was going on.

Nothing….

Laying the phone back down on my bed to disappear among the sheets, I sighed, accepting the fact that, for the first time in a long time, I was officially bored.

Usually, I’ll occupy my free time with my friends or, when they’re not around, by playing games and watching movies. Today, for whatever reason, I had absolutely no desire to pop in a movie and devote myself to two-plus hours of blockbuster action scenes and bland romantic subplots, and none of my games were calling out to me. Surprisingly, even my social media activity seemed to be MIA, which left me without many options in the home-entertainment department.

And then, of course, there were my friends, who had all decided to hang me out to dry and do their own thing for the night. I’d texted Asher earlier about doing something, but from what he said, he and Ayame were heading to a library or something to do “research,” whatever that meant.

And then there was Miller, who couldn’t hang out because of some “family business,” he had to attend to, which probably consisted of him video calling his parents in whatever foreign country it was that they lived in. Unfortunately, I guess those kinds of things take all night, which knocks him off of the table.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I did consider finding and hanging out with one of them, anyway, but ultimately I thought better of it. Miller probably doesn’t get to have extended conversations with his family too often, and I didn’t want to interrupt that, and while I would have loved to see what Asher and Ayame are like at a library together, it seemed to me like this was something they wanted to do alone.

And so, there I was, bored out of my mind, throwing one-star ping pong balls at a small plastic cup for close to an hour.

For maybe another fifteen minutes, I laid on my face, thinking about what a waste of my evening that was, before I actually got up and decided to do something about it. With a small push, I rolled myself out of bed, grabbed my phone (somehow already stuck between two sheets) and grabbed one final ping pong ball. With a flick of the wrist I launched it forward, hardly even aiming, and sent it nearly in a straight line towards the cup. Miraculously, it went right in, before bouncing straight back out and joining the pile of plastic balls already on the floor.

Well, good enough for me, I thought, before slipping on my sneakers and heading out of the bedroom door. Setting off at a brisk jog, I traversed the halls of my house, dodging statues and trying unsuccessfully to avoid tripping over rugs, before coming to a halt in front of a large oak door on the third floor. Pushing it open, I was met with the smell of grass and moss, which I took a deep breath of.

Walking forward and opening the second door, which was made of thin metal and led into the newly-installed terrarium, I stepped into a different world.

The room was probably the size of mine–maybe bigger, and sported a small pond in the corner, complete with lily pads and a variety of reeds, all hand-picked by my mother. The air was filled with insects, from houseflies to dragonflies, which buzzed around my head at varying speeds.

And, in the center of it all, sat Frogger, resting his sweet little head on a mossy rock, taking what was probably his sixth nap of the day. Although I had wanted to play with him a little before heading out, I decided it was best not to disturb him and settled with giving him a loving tap on the head.

“Sweet dreams, Frogger.”

With that, I went back into the hall, and took the stairs to the first floor, walking across the main hall and reaching the front doors, where Wilson was standing in wait, as always.

“Hey, Wilson,” I said, giving him a nod which he quickly returned. “I’m going out for a walk. Tell mom and dad I’ll be back later tonight, if they ask.”

“Of course, miss,” he responded, giving me a brief, mechanical bow, which I dismissed quickly.

“Alright, see you later!” I said, and was out the door, heading down the path that led to the main gates.

After making my way through two of my mom’s gardens–I swear, more and more of them crop up every day–I made it to the gates, and exited through them, making my first appearance in the outside world since school. A soft breeze rustled my hair, and I walked slowly forward, taking in the moving air that was such a nice change of pace from the stagnant, plastic air of my bedroom.

Although I knew I wanted to walk around, I had no idea where I actually wanted to go, but I figured that that wasn’t really a problem–it was a big neighborhood, and I was sure that if I just walked around, I’d find something to pass the time with.

And so, after looking both ways, I crossed to the opposite end of the street, and began to move.

For the most part, I simply walked around, checking out side-streets I had never been on, window shopping, even taking part in a three-on-three pickup basketball game. It was a nice evening, the warm sun beating down even as it made its sloping descent below the horizon, a gentle breeze blowing across the entire city, and almost no one in sight as the sky slowly deepened in color.

In short, I was glad I’d decided to leave my room.

After an indeterminate amount of time–my phone had died in the first leg of the walk, and I hadn’t seen any clocks since–I found myself circling around the neighborhood, eventually making it to a public park which, although it wasn’t too far from my house, I had only been to once or twice.

Surprisingly, almost no one was out and about, which gave me free reign of the public space, a power which I exercised by sitting on a prime bench located beneath a large maple tree that provided both the perfect amount of shade and a view of sloping hills of the land.

As I sat there, watching the leaves sway , shifting the shadows they cast on the uneven ground slowly, I decided that I hadn’t had such a bad day. Sure, all of my free time at school had been devoted to hasty practice for the upcoming local ultimate frisbee tournament, and of course there was the legendary ping pong ball fiasco, but I had also had a fun game of basketball with some nice girls, and a fun walk around the city.

And, I remembered, there was the thing with the sword in the morning.

Somehow, in the constant flux of excitement and boredom of the day, I’d nearly forgotten about it, but the attempt now rushed back in full force. After all, it was a pretty easy memory to recall–after weeks of trying to make the sword appear again, with no luck, a random attempt this morning had resulted in the telltale tingling in my hand, this time coupled with a surge of pressure in my chest.

Even though he didn’t outright say it, I don’t think Asher believed my claim which, although it annoyed me, I couldn’t exactly blame him for. Ever since the swords disappeared, he had been constantly reminding me that there was a good chance the swords appearing was a coincidence, something tied in with the zombies that we couldn’t do again, which I guess made a sort of sense.

But I don’t think he really believes that, and I know for sure that I don’t. That feeling of familiarity when I held the dark sword in my hands, the way they appeared right when we needed them–there was no way all of that was a coincidence, and I’m sure that, somewhere deep down, Asher knows that.

Still thinking about the sword, trying to remember exactly what it looked like–which proved to be much harder than I would have expected–I glanced down at my hand, curling and uncurling my fingers. The memory of that morning still fresh in my mind, I closed my eyes, and tried again.

Think, Cat, I thought to myself. How did you make it appear last time?

And, without really realizing it, my mind took me back to the dark basement where we fought the undead. Although I was aware it was a memory, everything felt much more realistic than usual–Asher next to me, his eyes filled with resolve, the dull pounding of Ayame and Miller working on our escape and, most vividly, the silent, unyielding gaze of the warriors in front of us.

I looked at Asher, and he looked back at me. Together, we charged.

And that was when the tingling started up, beginning in the center of my palm and working its way outwards to the tips of my fingers. Unlike the time I had taken Asher’s sword out of his hand, the tingling was light, almost pleasant, as if someone was taking a feather duster and giving my hand a good dusting.

Here it is.

Hardening my focus, I turned all thoughts to the sword–at least what I could remember of it. I thought of my first swing against the zombies, of the well-worn hilt that molded immediately to the shape of my hand, the spikes that, somehow, I’m sure it had.

The feeling intensified, and I exhaled, trying to maintain my focus as the familiar pressure started to form in my gut. Asher wouldn’t have believed it, but I could practically feel the sword forming in my hand.

Then, I felt the laugh.

I’m going with felt, because heard isn’t exactly the right word for what I was experiencing. Rather than having anything to do with sound waves hitting my eardrums, the laugh was something I felt deep within my core, something that bounced around in my bones shook me from the inside out.  

My concentration shattered, and the buzzing in my hand cut off immediately, the thin impression of the sword I had formed shattering and leaving me, for lack of a better term, empty handed. But, where on sensation stopped, another began, and the feeling of laughter continued, moving its way into my head as it transformed into a dark chuckle.

Then, I suddenly recognized the feeling–although, the last time it hadn’t been a laugh, it had been a chirp. Back before the zombies attacked, I’d had a similar feeling with the bird calling out from the tree, even though it hadn’t made a single sound.

Back then, I had followed the feeling. locating the source within moments. I wondered, could I do the same thing here? Should I?

The question was a good one, but I wasn’t given much time to consider before the decision was made for me, as a moment later another wave of laughter washed over me and, without any indication as to how, I knew where it was coming from.

Whatever it was that was reaching out to me, purposefully or not, it wasn’t far–if my feeling was right, the source wasn’t any more than a block away. For a moment, I glanced back up at the leaves, catching a glimpse of the blackening sky, and wondered if it was a good idea to follow the laughter.

A moment of silent deliberation, and I had my answer. Yes, there was a chance that whatever I found could be dangerous, just like the bird was, but I knew that I had to take the risk. Whatever was out there, it had to have something to do with the supernatural stuff we’d all been running into lately, and I had to see what it was–for myself, and for my friends.

My resolve bolstered, I stood up, and set off immediately towards the source of the laughter which, though it had faded significantly, I still felt in the background of my thoughts.

In the end, all it took was a few minutes of walking straight down the street and taking a right, a bit more walking and another right, and I was there. To my surprise, the feeling had led me not to some super-secluded area, but to a normal-looking house, sitting comfortably next to its neighbors in the dark. Not noticing that all of the lights were off and ignoring the idea of a trespassing violation, I stepped through the gate, and entered the backyard.

That’s where I ran into the laughter, face to face.

The first thing that took me for a spin was the fact that it was just a normal guy, crouched in the center of the yard, supporting himself on a faded swing set with one hand and clutching his face in the other, that entered my vision.

The second was that he was on fire.

Or at least, it looked like he was on fire, which is pretty much the same thing. Even though he had his back turned towards me, and it was getting darker by the minute, it was easy to see the thin tendrils of smoke rising from his shoulders, dissipating in the cool air of the night.

Even easier to see was the blazing red aura that had engulfed him, making him shine like a light on a Christmas tree. His skin, I also noticed, had taken on a slightly red tint, although I couldn’t be sure that that wasn’t either natural or caused by the blood-red, full body halo, and I checked it as a “maybe” on the mental “Is that supernatural?” list.

Looking closer I could see that, although he was relatively stationary, maintaining his position crouched next to the large lawn fixture, his entire body had begun to shake, starting off as a small shudder, and growing as I watched into a full body convulsion that nearly sent him falling to his side.

I didn’t know what I was looking at, or what to do, and so I took a step forwards, hoping to get a better look at the man, maybe see what was going on. That, simple enough, was a mistake.

The man must have had extraordinary hearing, as even the small squish of my foot on the lush grass of the lawn was enough to send him reeling, turning around so quickly that he actually did fall over, planting his face in the ground and letting his arms come to rest at odd angles.

Then, he stood up, supporting the weight of his body on unsteady legs, letting his arms swing around freely, uncontrolled, and smiled.

It was dark, and as he took a step forward, I caught the light of a small fire spark to life and wink out in the moment the bottom of his bare foot made contact with the earth. His smile grew broader and, this time, I took a step back, as the figure approached me, smoke continuing to rise into the air, his eyes burning the color of hot coals.

He continued forward and, this time, I found myself unable to move.

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