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       Created Darkly, p.3

           Gena D. Lutz
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  I couldn’t remember the last time I had to do such a mundane, everyday task as pick out my own clothes. I would imagine that my own thoughts proved how entitled I’d become.

  Out of nowhere, an idea seized me that might solve the problem of not being able to help Kristina find her sister. The idea was simple and would only require a few modifications on my part. I looked once more at my reflection, this time with a smile.

  I will be seeing you very soon, Kristina.

  Chapter Four

  I stared at the phone on the wall, willing it to ring. My butt and legs were numb. I’d been sitting there for several hours, keeping strict vigil. My cell was next to me. Either way, I wasn’t missing a call. I’d stationed Jude at the front window to keep an eye on the mailbox and front porch, just in case someone delivered another ransom note, if that’s what you’d call it. The first note hadn’t asked for a thing. That was the problem. I didn’t know what those people wanted.

  Jude popped out of nowhere. “You really should get some sleep.”

  His body appeared to be chopped in half. The top part of him seemed to sit on the kitchen island, while his bottom half disappeared through the cabinet.

  “Why are you here? You’re supposed to be keeping an eye on the front of the house!” I didn’t mean to be so bitchy, but I was freaked out about my sister.

  “It’s been hours, Kris. Look, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll keep an eye on everything. The phone, house…you name it. Torra needs you sharp and rested. You’re no good to anyone, dragging ass like this.”

  I looked at the clock on the microwave. The brightly lit numbers told me it was three o’clock in the morning. I gave the phone another frustrated look. If my sister’s kidnappers hadn’t contacted me by then, chances were, they wouldn’t until later in the day, so I decided to take Jude’s advice. He’d always been more sensible than me, anyway.

  “All right, you win. I’m going to bed. But just for a few hours.”

  Jude smiled, letting out a sigh that was the equivalent of a human breath. Ghosts couldn’t actually breathe, but I guess old habits die hard.

  “That’s good enough for me.” He was relieved.

  It amazed me, how much Jude had become a part of my family over the last few years. He really did care about me, and I could tell that under the surface, while he was scrambling to make sure I was okay, he was close to freaking out.

  I thought back to the first time Jude appeared to me. It happened three years ago. I remembered the date, because he was the first ghost to appear to me without a dire need for vengeance. He looked confused and scared, like the newly deceased usually did; however, he also looked lonely and vulnerable. I asked him about his death, but he refused to tell me anything about it.

  That wasn’t the case with any of the other apparitions that sought me out. Their deaths had always been the first thing they wanted to discuss with me. Not so with Jude. His only request was companionship. He’d become my dearest friend and a pivotal part of my family unit—a unit that consisted of Torrance, Jude, and me. And he still refused to tell me how he died.

  My weary bones spilled from the barstool. Both of my legs and my butt tingled as my bare feet hit the floor. I hadn’t left my post since I sat down. Not to get a drink of water or to use the bathroom…nothing. Better believe, I was paying in spades for the neglect I had put my body through in those unproductive hours.

  For a moment, Jude and I stared at one another, both our faces baring the pain we were feeling. It sucked big, fuzzy tennis balls, not being able to help Torra, and after witnessing the mirrored anguish riddled across Jude’s face, I decided then and there that if we didn’t hear anything from the kidnapper by the afternoon, I was going to hit the pavement for some answers of my own.

  I walked across the kitchen half-dazed. When I stopped in front of the refrigerator, it took me a second to remember what I was there for. I moved my tongue around in my mouth; it felt furry and gross. Yuck. Oh yeah, I need water. I pulled out a bottle and took several gulps. After I was finished, I grabbed another bottle off the shelf and pushed the door closed. Bathroom and then bed were next on my to-do list.

  Jude was still standing inside the kitchen island, watching me. If you could believe it, he actually looked paler than usual. When he appeared to me, I always saw him in full color, and his clothes somehow changed from day to day. I could tell if he was stressed or angry, embarrassed—the wide scale of emotions—by his coloring and facial expressions. The only differences he had between holding an ethereal form and a corporeal one were that the color of his ghostly flesh was a bit unfocused and duller, and of course, I could walk through him. So because of our familiarity, I knew in an instant that something was wrong.

  “Is everything okay? You don’t look so good.” Before he could answer, I held up my hand. “Don’t tell me it’s nothing. I want the truth.”

  Jude dropped his head and then said something unexpected. “I think I’m turning into a poltergeist.”

  I couldn’t help laughing. “That’s impossible, Jude. A poltergeist is evil and dark. You are full of light and love.”

  He kept his head down, not looking at me. He didn’t seem to find my laughter amusing, which was odd, since we shared the same sense of humor. Could it be that he truly believed he was turning into a poltergeist?

  “Why would you think that?”

  He lifted his head and tugged at the hem of his shirt. His messy curls bounced around his pointy chin. “While I was keeping an eye out the front window, I noticed a strange man jogging towards the house.” He paused.

  “And then what?” I asked.

  Jude threw his hands up. Out of nowhere, a plate on the counter went crashing into the wall, right next to the phone.

  “See what I mean?” he yelled, looking at the broken plate. “And that guy stepped into the yard, and I knocked him on his ass!”

  I looked at him, and then over to the spot on the wall where the plate had crashed. That kind of behavior was not like Jude. He never raised his voice, not to mention, moving anything with his energy. Damn.

  Jude’s chest moved in and out, like he had just finished running a marathon, and a look of pure anger crumpled his face.

  “All I could think was that guy could be one of them, and then something happened to me. I felt energized, powerful even, and somehow, I let all that power go. Then it hit the guy.”

  Jude was in a daze. He kept shaking his head in little spurts, trying to shake off the confusion and the anger. I could tell he was gradually coming back to his senses. I watched as the wrinkles on his face relaxed and smoothed, eventually fading away.

  “It happened…again,” Jude whispered, looking back at the shattered pieces of china on the floor. “First the man, and now this!” He began to hover back and forth, like he always did when he was nervous. “See, I told you. I’m turning dark. I’m a poltergeist!”

  Waves of confusion overtook me. I felt faint. I let loose a rigid breath and set my water bottle on the counter next to the fridge. That was a lot to take in. Especially right on the heels of Torra’s kidnapping.

  “I’ve been around you for years, and you’ve never shown any signs of darkness. So for now, we’re going to blame all this craziness on stress. We’ve certainly had our fair share of it,” I explained as calmly as I could, which probably wasn’t calm at all.

  With a smile, I walked over to the island where Jude hovered and opened my arms. “Come here, you big baby.” I didn’t have to ask twice. “I will help you work on your self-control issues; I promise. Hell will freeze over before I let anything bad happen to you.”

  We couldn’t physically hold onto each other, but what we could do was share energy which passed through us the same way it did when he’d patted my hand earlier. After a few seconds, Jude moved back.

  “I love you, Kris,” he choked out between small laughs.

  “I love you, too, Jude.”

  The sound of flying objects pelting my front door had me whirli
ng around.

  Jude flew in front of me with his hands spread wide. “What the hell was that?”

  I had been waiting so long for something to happen that I welcomed the odd sounds coming from the door. Impatient to see what was going on, I walked straight through Jude’s body. By the time I made it to the door, Jude was already at the window, peering out of it.

  “I don’t see anyone,” he said, “but there’s something in front of the door.”

  I eased the door towards me a few inches. After nothing happened, such as a monster barreling through it or a man on the other side holding a gun on me, I felt safe enough to open it the rest of the way. Jude had been right. Two cloth bags closed tightly with ribbon were sitting on the Welcome mat. Upon closer inspection, I saw several tiny, green marbles spread all around the bags and across my porch. No doubt, the source of the pelting noise. I guess it was the kidnapper’s way of knocking. I took the bags into the house and closed the door. I crossed my fingers in hopes that whatever clue was inside would lead me to my sister.

  I reached for the sack closest to me. I yanked at the red ribbon and it fell open.

  “What is it?” Jude asked, leaning in close to inspect it.

  “It’s a key.”

  I picked up the large skeleton key. It was around six inches long and had intertwining eternity symbols at the top. The key was black, but worn. It looked old. Underneath the key, there was a note. I snatched it up and read it.

  Follow this map at eleven o’clock tonight. It will take you to a hidden door. Once there, use this key to gain entry. Under no circumstances are you to be seen by anyone. Further instructions will be waiting for you before you enter. If you fail to follow any of these instructions, SHE DIES.

  My hand shook as I read the note. There was a hand-drawn map scribbled on the bottom of it. It was hard to make out the different streets and directions he wanted me to take. It was as if a young child had drawn it.

  I set the note down and put the key on top of it. I grabbed the other sack. That one had a blue ribbon cinching it closed. It was a bit smaller than the first one. I pulled the ribbon, letting the ends fall open. Inside was a plain white cloth; it folded over itself a few times, making a square. I picked it up and unraveled it. After peeling away the last layer, a gold locket was revealed. The locket looked as old as the key, but in better condition. I opened the smooth, gold oval face, which was about the size of a silver dollar, and a small note popped out, falling onto my lap. I snatched it up and looked inside the locket. It was empty.

  Take the necklace with you.

  Chapter Five

  I couldn’t sleep. Tossing and turning, I beat my pillows with my fist. Nothing seemed to work. I was worried sick about my sister. My arms twitched, and my legs screamed to move. I had an all-consuming urge to jump from my bed and take off in search of Torra. But Jude, with his rational thinking and his sane reasoning, had kept me rooted to the mattress. How that ghost could ever think he was heading down a path of darkness astounded me. He was the kindest person, ghost or not, that I had ever met. His fears, in my opinion, were unfounded. Just as soon as I found Torra, and then mercilessly killed the bastard who took her, I would prove to Jude how ludicrous the possibility of him being evil truly was.

  Three hours later, I woke with damp eyes. My tears apparently had a mind of their own during my fitful rest, taking advantage of my lax guard. I’d been holding every one of those tears back, believing that if I didn’t let any of them fall, I wouldn’t have to feel the full spectrum of my suppressed feelings over what happened to Torra. Emotions were a bunch of sneaky little pests, popping up whenever they pleased. I wiped the tears from my face and sat up. I frowned as I looked into Jude’s eyes.

  “What is it?” I asked.

  It was déjà vu. Jude looked sad and tired, almost defeated, just like the first time I found him three years prior.

  “How long have you been sitting there?” I pushed the covers down and knelt beside him at the foot of the bed.

  “Not long. It’s almost time to go.”

  I looked over at the clock on the side table. It was nine thirty. I’d planned on leaving the house at around ten.

  “I always have time for you, butthead.”

  He lifted his head, those curls I loved so much tumbling onto his face. “You have to promise me that if I do change into a poltergeist, you’ll send me far away from you.”

  I hopped out of bed, surprised by how refreshed I was feeling after so little sleep, and opened my closet. “You’re being silly. That’s not going to happen.”

  Jude started to pace back and forth behind me. “I’m serious, Kris. I need your guarantee.”

  I was starting to get annoyed. But if a single promise was what Jude needed to feel better, one that I would never have to follow up on, then so be it. “Sure, Jude. If you go all evil-ghost on me, I will do what I have to. That’s the only guarantee you’ll get from me.” Even though I knew the possibility of Jude going dark was nonsense, I still couldn’t promise that I would kill him for good. I loved him too much.

  Jude stopped pacing and looked at me. “I guess that’s all I can expect from you.”

  “You’re a smart one. Now, are you coming with me?” I asked, rifling through all my shirts in search of something black. I was going on the mission in stealth mode.

  “I was planning on it.”

  His mocha eyes searched mine. They looked so lost. I wished there was more I could do to make him feel better about his new and odd ability to move things. I figured dragging him along with me that night would at least keep his mind occupied on other things, and selfishly, I wanted—no, scratch that—needed his company.

  “Good. I really want you to come.”

  I removed a black tank top from a hanger and tossed it on the bed. I had plenty of shirts in black, but not many options when it came to my pants. I preferred to wear jeans, so I had about fifty pairs of them.

  I looked down at the floor of my closet. I saw three pairs of flip-flops and two pairs of sneakers. I smiled when I saw my purple dragon slippers. I had them since I was a teenager; they were an anchor to my youth. The two dragons stared at me cross-eyed, with their tongues hanging off to the side. I reached over and slipped them on my feet, wiggling my toes against the cottony comfort.

  “You’re going to wear those?” Jude asked, sneering at Char and Flame.

  Yes, I named my twin dragons.

  “I’m only wearing them while I figure out what I’m going to wear tonight. They comfort me.”

  “You’re weird.”

  “Tell me something I don’t know.”

  I pulled off the white t-shirt I’d slept in and tossed it to the floor.

  “You’re cute, but I have no urge to see the woman I consider my sister naked. I’ll be in the other room.” Jude chuckled and disappeared.

  I yanked the black tank top over my head and watched him disappear. Before I’d gotten the shirt all the way on, Jude popped back through the wall, right next to my head. I jumped.

  “Come here real quick,” he said with a buoyant expression. There was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes as he popped back out of sight.

  Yup, he was definitely back to his normal self. Ignoring him, I opened my bottom drawer and began rifling through my jeans. Not to be ignored, Jude’s head pushed through the wall again. Startled, I stepped back, knocking my heel against the metal bed frame.

  “Fu…dge. That hurt. Stop doing that!”

  “I found something. Get in here,” he ordered, then vanished.

  “Fine, you win!”

  Throwing up my hands, I turned towards the door. I was wearing only my black tank top, boy shorts undies, and my twin dragons. If my state of undress bothered the ghost, he would just have to deal. Reaching over, my fingers grabbed a hair-band from the dresser as I passed it. Pushing all my hair back off my face, I secured the thick, dark locks into a high pony-tail at the top of my head. It swayed back and forth as I walked the short distance
between the two rooms.

  When I turned and entered through the doorway, a blanket of sadness settled over me. Longing burned inside my gut as I took in the sweet smell of Japanese cherry blossom permeating throughout the room. Torra wore that body spray scent all the time. My face tightened from the unexpected emotions it evoked, and after swallowing back tears, I found myself standing, stilled, in the middle of her bedroom. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d stepped foot in there. My sister was adamant about her privacy being respected and rarely invited anyone into her sanctuary.

  “Come take a look at this,” Jude said, interrupting my thoughts.

  I looked over to see him floating in front of the closet with his finger pointing inside it. I rushed over and peeked in.

  “I don’t get it.” I looked around. All I could see were clothes hanging off the wooden closet rod and several pairs of shoes that were lined up, nice and neat, pushed together on the floor. “What exactly am I supposed to be looking at?”

  Jude pointed to the side of the closet. “Push against the wall.”

  I did as he asked. “What the…?” The wall made a clicking sound, and then cracked open.

  “I found it when I pushed through the wall. It’s odd that I’ve never seen it before. I’ve been all over this house.”

  I jerked on the fake wall. It opened easily. I looked inside the hidden alcove, waiting for something to pop out at me. When nothing did, I stepped inside the closet to get a better look. Inside the outer closet, there were summer sandals, ballerina flats, and high-heeled shoes that ranged in color from white, purple, and pink, all the way to red; her clothes, she arranged the same way. In her hidden space, however, she had a couple pairs of combat boots, well-used sneakers, and several leather cat suits, which were all in black.

  What the hell was that about? First I found out that she had been training at the Center, and training for what, I had no clue. Then I found a smorgasbord of cat burglar attire hidden in her closet. I was flummoxed. I was beginning to think that I didn’t know Torra at all.

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