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Chapter Sixteen: Natalia

"How's she doing, doc?"

I tried to open my eyes, but they were heavy with sleep. "Her vitals are good but nothing about her conditions has changed in two days. We're concerned."

I curled my fingers into the palm of my hand before stretching them back out. They were stiff almost as if the joints were rusted. "Will she wake up?"

"Your guess is as good as mine."

I cleared my throat. My eyes refused to cooperate, but I was going to make my consciousness known. "J..."

My hand was snatched off the bed. "I'm here."

My eyelids fluttered up and down. I was currently fighting to stay out of the darkness poking at the back of my mind. I couldn't retreat to its comfort. Not yet. "Mark...?"

"He's safe. You're both safe."

I wrapped my fingers around Jesse's hand. "Where...?" I cleared my throat. It was dry and cracking as I spoke. I could've used a nice, tall glass of water. "Where am I?"

Jesse ran his hand through my hair, tucking a few strands behind my ear. "All that matters is you're safe. I want you to focus on getting better. I need you to do that for me. Please."

I relaxed my fingers, releasing Jesse's hand from my grip. The darkness in the back of my mind invited me in with open arms, ready to take me away from the pain and discomfort of the real world. I didn't hesitate to join. Unconsciousness was easier than the real world, especially now that I knew Mark and I were safe.

But it seemed the universe had another plan for me. I was slowly taken into a dream instead of the complete darkness of unconsciousness.

I was standing in a dark hall with a single, uncovered light bulb hanging overhead. There were two people standing next to me and one directly in front of me. I picked up on another person lingering in the shadows out of the way, but I wasn't worried about them. The one in front of me was a man I was very much afraid of. He had this air of authority to him that caused anyone to straighten up real quick and I was no different.

"Welcome to your own personal hell."

I turned my head toward the people beside me. My mom and dad were staring straight ahead without making eye contact with me or the man standing in front of them. Mom? Dad?

My throat was grabbed by the authoritative man. He didn't squeeze it but instead just held my throat in his hands. "Who are you communicating with?" he screamed at me.

Tears involuntarily formed in my eyes. "She's stronger than me. I couldn't keep her out," said Melinda's scared, dainty voice.

Obviously, I was inside Melinda's mind at this exact moment, a new experience for me. I'd ventured into other people's dreams while asleep but never their alert minds. That was something I usually could only do while awake and in control of my powers.

The man raised Melinda up so he was looking her dead in the eyes. "We're very upset about what you did to our officers in the forest." He turned Melinda to face my family. "They'll pay for your transgressions."

My mom was tearing up and my dad locked his jaw, but neither one looked over at Melinda. They were trying to be strong for me, but I saw them breaking. Everyone breaks at some point.

"Stay where you are. Do not come for us," spoke my mom. My dad turned his head to hide the tears sliding down his cheeks.

Melinda was spun around to face the man once more. "You and I both know you can't stay away."

Suddenly, all of the oxygen molecules were sucked out of Melinda's lungs. She struggled to catch her breath as she tried to inflate her lungs with the sweet oxygen molecules swarming around the room. She reached out psychically to me for help, but there was nothing I could do for her. No matter how much I pushed, my powers would not reflect in the room. I was either too far away or too weak to help.

"You're killing her!" I shouted, hoping the man could hear me.

The oxygen finally returned to Melinda. Her lung's inflated and deflated quickly, retrieving as much oxygen as possible. "Come find me, great Telepath." He punched Melinda, knocking me out of her mind.

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