From the other side of the door, I eavesdrop on their heated whispers. Several words I can’t make out, but I know the conversation has to do with me and Camp Genki’s mysterious purpose.
“--dn’t have gotten here herself. She’s terrified.” It’s Zakk’s voice.
“She could be from there, dude,” Dace sniffs. “Not like it hasn’t happened before.”
I don’t know where “there” is, but Kamiron hasn’t had time to tell them about any of the things I’ve told him, so--
“--marks. You weren’t there when I found her.” Kamiron’s voice trembles with horror. “So much blood, she could barely stand. She was convinced someone named Hunter was . . .” The end of his sentence bleeds into the next one, “. . . Didn’t see anyone, but something was off. I heard it.”
There is a heartbeat pause before Dace speaks, his tone anxious: “Heard it, or heard it?” Kamiron’s response is lost to me, but I hear Dace swear. “Christ, Chameleon. I believe you, but this is just cra--”
“Don’t even say it,” Zakk interjects. “You know why this property was chosen. You know about Lake Andy and what it is. It’s not so far-fetched.”
“We’re missing the point.” Hamilton’s whisper fades in and out, and I strain to hear more. “The fact remains--someone did this to her, someone out beyond Lake Andy. No one’s been there in so long that it’s no leap of faith to assume some psycho abducted and tortured her. Question is, what are we going to do about it?”
“Can we do anything?” Dace counters.
The tiles squeak, as if someone is shifting his weight. “We
can help her get home, at least.”
“You make it seem like that’s a stroll down the street, Chameleon. People don’t just leave Gen. Hell, they don’t just appear out of nowhere, either.”
Someone replies to Dace, but I can’t make out who or what he’s saying over the loud thumping of my heart and the blood rushing to my ears. What kind of a place is this?
“--No choice. Dace, you know what to do. Ham, find out what--”
They drop silent when I open the door. Shyly, I step into the living room, tugging the hem of Kamiron’s green shirt down my thighs. They avoid looking at my skinned knees and the old injuries that crisscross up and down my legs.
“Have a seat, Shari.” Hamilton, his thick brown hair still damp from his shower, pats the cushion beside him. For the first time I notice that the hair along his right temple is shaved, displaying the earrings that crawl up his ears. Silver skulls, cobalt crosses, ebony thorns. Self-conscious and aware of their curious gazes and the fact that they don’t know I’ve heard them, I lower myself onto the deep vermillion couch. Hamilton smells nice. Masculine. So different from the sickly sweet aroma of rot, a rot that lingers even after--
“This must all be confusing for you,” Zakk eases onto the matching loveseat across from me. Dace joins him while Kamiron sinks onto the cushion beside me, close enough that I can feel heat wafting off his skin. “But it’s equally confusing for us. People don’t just pop up here at Camp Genki. There’s an electrified fence that surrounds the property--”
“Why? What would you need to keep out?”
Dace slouches, propping his dirty tennis shoes on the aspen and glass table between us. “Keep in more like.”
“You say you’re from Atlanta,” Kamiron continues, ignoring Dace and side-stepping my question. I give a slow nod. “Perchton is the closest city. There is a mental hospital there. Sometimes--”
“The loonies escape,” Dace finishes.
My heart cowers in my throat. “Y-you think I came from an insane asylum?”
A pregnant silence greets me.
Oh, God. They think I’m crazy! My lungs can’t seem to get any more oxygen and my thoughts spiral together so fast I can barely follow. Nothing I say will convince them otherwise--the more I insist I’m not, the more crazy I’ll seem. A vice clamps down on my windpipe. What do I do? The first chance they get, they’ll ship me to the asylum and I’ll be trapped and no one will even know where to find me and I’ll never get home. I have to get out of here before they--
Pressure enfolds my right hand. Squeezing and slackening. Squeezing and slackening. I look down to find Kamiron’s large palm swallowing mine. The sensation of his skin chaffing my fingers steadies me and I realize Zakk is calling my name. I drag my gaze to his mouth, reading his words since the bellow of blood rushing in my ears chokes all sound.
“Calm. Think serene thoughts--like exploring a meadow. Sunlight trickles through a canopy of lush greenery, the wind is warm and gentle as it caresses your cheek . . .” Zakk continues to describe the meadow, filling it with fauna and flora. Scent and song. The longer I listen to his soft voice, a voice that wraps around me like silk and velvet, the more relaxed and peaceful I feel. The panic ebbs like a tide until nothing remains but a placid pool.
Until, that is, I listen in on Hamilton and Kamiron’s side conversation.
“Sometimes, but only glimpses. Horrible things, amigo, but about the mental hospital? Nada.” Hamilton’s accent marks him as a Southerner--Texan, I think--but when he lapses into Spanish, I get the feeling his family originated from Latin America. He continues after a brief pause. “She didn’t come from there. I’d have seen by now.”
I face Hamilton, taking him in. Kamiron and Zakk are attractive, but Hamilton has the sultry looks of a top model, the body of an Olympic swimmer, and the sexiness that only bad boys possess. His hair falls past his shoulders in deep brown waves complete with natural auburn highlights that women pay hundreds of dollars to replicate. It would almost make him too pretty if not for the shaved half and assorted earrings. The punk style suits the aloof vibe I get from him, yet Hamilton’s appearance, his accent, and his persona, pale in comparison to his eyes--unmistakably violet. Unnatural and mesmerizing and . . . remarkable. I have to stop looking or I feel I’ll fall into his gaze. Instead, I scour his neck, clearly exposed by his sleeveless white tank. His skin, only a shade or two lighter than mine, is clear of any brand.
“What are you two talking about?” I demand, afraid and unnerved by their behavior. “What is this place?”
It’s Kamiron who answers while Hamilton continues to stare at me, the look on his face both confused and horrified. “Shari, Hamilton is . . .” Kamiron’s hesitation draws my attention. His gaze, like all of them, centers on my every expression. “He’s telepathic.”
“He can read minds,” Dace chimes in. “Knows your thoughts?”
My head swivels back to Hamilton, examining his peculiar eyes, the full mouth that dips into a slight frown. I search for anything that reveals I’m the butt of a bizarre joke. Are they mocking me because of my naiveté and confusion? Or do they think I’m just gullible?
Or could it be that I’m the one who’s stumbled upon a bin of loonies? I picture them quarantined in the mental hospital, talking about psychic powers while a bored-looking nurse passes them tiny pink pills that “make the voices go away.”
Hamilton’s sudden burst of laughter startles me. “Guess you got a point there, chica.”
My jaw drops and a blush steals across my cheeks. Oh, God. He really can read minds!
Hamilton, smile still wide, nods and tries to explain. “I don’t mean to embarrass you. Trust me,” he sobers and shares a glance with his fellow bunkmates, “It’s not something I wanted. It just happened. Each of us has had to come to terms with our . . . ‘talents.’ That’s what Camp Genki’s for--to help kids with extrasensory perception--ESP.”
My fingers curl into tight fists to stop my hands from trembling. “You mean all of you can read minds?”
“No, just Ham,” Kamiron clarifies. “We all do something different.” He motions to Zakk. “Z over there is a clairsentient. It basically means he can ‘feel’ things about other people.”
I remember how Zakk stood over my body, hands outstretched. “But you never touched me.”
“I don’t have to in order to get a reading. I can sense anything from emotions to disease. It’s like a vibration in my subconscious. In turn,” his smile blossoms like a warm sunrise, “I can ‘broadcast’ emotions I feel to affect other people.”
It suddenly dawns on me. “Earlier, when you were talking about the meadow--”
“Exactly. I broadcasted feelings of relaxation to you to ease your panic. It also works with healing.”
“That’s why Kamiron wanted you to see me.”
Zakk dips his head again.
I turn to Kamiron. “Then what do you do?”
He blushes and looks down at his large hands. “I’m telekinetic--move things with my mind.”
I raise an eyebrow. He sighs. Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out a set of keys and places them at the center of the table. He leans back and stares at them. For a moment, nothing happens but then the keys start to move--slowly, at first, but they pick up speed until in a flurry of chiming metal, they fall off the table--only to hover a few inches from Dace’s feet. Dace bends over and plucks them up, tossing them to his friend.
“You’re getting better,” he notes. Kamiron snorts and wipes
the thin film of sweat from his forehead.
“I can’t move big objects like chairs or tables as easily,” he admits, “but I can close or open doors with no problem.”
My mouth, which already lolls on the floor, opens even wider. “That’s incredible!”
Kamiron shrugs, his blush darkening. “It’s nothing, really. My secondary ability is clairaudience.”
“I can hear things. Not--not physically,” he rushes, seeing skepticism cloud my eyes. “More like impressions of sounds. Mostly when something is wrong. I have a knack for that.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s a sound, like a note that’s off-key, that creates a discord,” he says slowly, wrestling for the words. “The more discordant, the worse the problem. Like tonight--I heard what sounded like someone pounding on an out-of-tune piano. It was so powerful I had to follow the echoes of the sound. That’s when I found you.”
My heart races a million beats a second. “You didn’t hear my scream for help?”
“Not ’til much later.”
I am quiet for a moment, trying to take everything in without becoming overwhelmed. In light of the evidence of their gifts, I can’t help but believe them but it’s still too strange.
Any stranger than being pursued by a demonic hunter from another realm? If they belonged in a nut house, it would only be after I was committed. Out the corner of my eyes, I glance at Hamilton to see if he picked up on my thoughts but he is careful to keep his expression neutral. I sigh and my attention falls to Dace. He smirks at me, waiting for me to ask.
“I’ll bite. So, what can you do?”
“Remote viewing. In other words, I can see sites, information, or events that are an impossible distance away or hidden from physical view. Ironic, considering my piss-poor eyesight,” he snickers and pushes up his square, wire-framed glasses. “Say,” Dace gaze sharpens in sudden interest and his eyes look impossibly blue, “You wouldn’t happen to be familiar with the Fed’s Stargate Project, would you? It started in the seventies and lasted until the mid nineties.”
I have no idea what he’s talking about and he reads it from my blank expression. His shoulders slouch. “Of course not. Forget I said anything.”
“Do you have a secondary talent?”
“No,” he replies at the same time Kamiron says, “Yes.” Dace gives Kamiron a pointed look and reiterates, “Nothing else.”
I want to pry for more information, but I get the feeling it’s a closed discussion. Kamiron nudges me to get my attention. “Shari, tell them what you told me. Tell them what you remember so far.”
I try not to notice their curious stares and instead look at my hands, counting the knicks and cuts beyond my bandages. How much should I share? While I feel like they mean well, I still don’t know what’s going on or whom to trust, and I can’t afford to make the same mistake I made earlier with The Darkness-That-Hunts. I know it was only pure luck that I survived.
I close my eyes, fighting through intangible memories for something more concrete. The fog obfuscates most my memories, but there is enough. My voice is soft and hesitant as I explain what I remember. Sleepwalking. The night terrors. Fearing to sleep. The Darkness-That-Hunts with his horizontal pupils and golden eyes. Awaking to find myself in a rowboat on a lake in Appalachia. I don’t mention the note; I don’t talk about the horrible tableau of torture and depravity that sometimes flashes through my scrambled memories like lightning bolts. I don’t mention the unsettling impression that I’m supposed to be doing something.
“So you dreamed of a man hunting you who found you, took you to a place called Ater, and then you woke up to find yourself here?” summarizes Zakk.
My nails dig crescent moons into my palms. He makes it seem so simple, like a bad dream. Was it just a realistic nightmare? The mere delusions of a disturbed girl? “In a nutshell, yes.” Warily I watch them in the silence that follows. They each look away, off in their own thoughts. Whether or not they believe me I can’t say.
I certainly wouldn’t believe me.
The springs of the couch squeak as Kamiron rises and holds out his hand to me. “You look like you’re going to collapse. You’ll sleep here, ok?”
“But how will I get home? What if I sleepwalk, or he abducts me again?”
“I’ll make sure that doesn’t happen,” Kamiron volunteers.
“We all will,” Hamilton adds. “And we’ll find a way to get you back to Atlanta but nothing can be done about that tonight. What’s most important is that you get some rest.” He turns to Kamiron. “She’ll sleep in our room.”
“I have an empty bed,” Kamiron protests.
“It’s better if she’s with us,” Zakk cuts in, “We’ll have a greater chance of making sure she doesn’t sleepwalk and anything that tries to come for her will have to get through us first.”
I glance at their determined expressions and, while I still feel trapped and uncertain, I’m comforted by their dedication.
“Alright, Z.” Kamiron pats my shoulder. “Get some rest, Shari. We’ll figure this out.”
“Thank you for all your help,” I mumble, scuttling after Hamilton as he leads me towards the shoji screen that opens up to the room he shares with Zakk and Dace. I hope they don’t come to regret it.
I wake with a vicious start, my mind a jumble of jagged images and emotions, the most poignant of which is dread. I can’t shake the impression that I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. That time’s running out and once it’s gone the horrors that will be unleashed will make the world tremble . . .
“Hey, it’s okay--you’re alright. You’re safe here, remember?”
My eyes adjust to the darkness. Wooden blinds shut out the moonlight, but a small nightlight by the closed shoji screen glows pale blue and provides enough light to find Hamilton, dressed in a white tank and black pajama pants, squatting beside the twin-sized mattress. The lumpy forms of Dace and Zakk, both huddled under thick blankets to fight the chill of the air conditioner, reassure me. I listen to their deep breathing until my heart settles.
“Was I talking in my sleep?”
Hamilton shakes his head but in his eyes, which look indigo in the blue light, I read the truth. Heat floods my cheeks. “My thoughts woke you, didn’t they?”
His smile is gentle. “Afraid so, but está bien. I’m used to it. I bunk with these guys because I don’t hear them, but majority of people I do hear. I’ve learned to turn down the noise level.”
I sit up, wrapping my hands around my knees. The gray sheet collects at my waist in a twisted heap. Part of the matching comforter tangles around the bedpost near my feet while the rest pools on the floor. “What did you hear?”
“In your case, I see more than hear. I get flashes, general impressions. Bodies hanging from chains. Black crystal. White crystal. A blond woman with a mark, some kind of brand, on the back of her neck . . .”
It takes more effort than usual to swallow. “I don’t remember what I dreamed, but that sounds like Ater.”
Grunting, Hamilton rises. “Mind if I join you?”
I shift to make room for him and try to smooth the rumpled sheets. “What time is it?”
He checks the alarm clock on his nightstand. “About four thirty in the morning.”
I groan and lean my head against the headboard. “I’m so sorry for waking you up--”
“Don’t mention it.” He grabs the comforter from the floor before stretching out beside me. “I’m not like the others, Shari. You can only describe what you remember to them, but I can see it from the thoughts you broadcast.” He drapes the comforter around us. “To be honest, it’s a miracle you can even sleep. You’re more brave than you give yourself credit for.”
Warmth blossoms deep inside me. It’s comforting to sit and talk, to have someone treat me as if I’m not crazy or possessed by demons. So what if he’s telepathic?
Hamilton moves slowly, keeping his eyes on me as if I will bolt like a frightened squirrel. Careful of my injuries, his arms encircle me and he pulls me down on the twin mattress. I find myself molding to the planes of his body, comforted by the heat of his soft skin, the unyielding pressure of the wall at my back, and the blanket that covers us.
“I’m scared to go back to sleep.”
He rests his chin atop my head. His wavy hair tickles my cheek. “I’ll stay like this, then. If you start to have a bad dream, I’ll see it and wake you up. Deal?”
“And if I try to sleepwalk?”
“Well, ma’am, I hear tell y’aren’t supposed ta wake up no sleepwalker,” he relates, his exaggerated Southern drawl slow and solemn, “Reckon I got no choice but ta sit on ya ’til y’waken all natural-like.”
I snort, unable to suppress the smile that spreads across my face. “Don’t underestimate me and my right hook, Texas.”
His laugh is a quiet rumble I feel first in his chest before his breath tickles my ears. “Georgia, I’d never underestimate you.”Hamilton holds me tighter and I’m grateful for the first sense of safety that I’ve felt in a long time.