Taking Back Forever, p.21Karen Amanda Hooper
Dakota and Harmony were sprawled across the ground. Dakota’s neck was bent in the most awful and unnatural way I’d ever seen. Harmony was covered in blood. Krista was on her knees between them. After the initial paralyzing shock wore off, I ran to Harmony.
I felt Harmony’s neck. “She still has a pulse!”
Krista's arms were stretched wide, touching Harmony with one hand and Dakota with the other. She let go of Harmony and shuddered as she moved Dakota’s wrenched neck back into natural alignment. She looked up at me with tears streaming down her face. “What do I do?”
I didn’t know what to say. My hands were trembling from shock. I just stared back at her, knowing the thoughts that were going through her mind.
“Which one do I save?” she pleaded for an answer.
Tears fell from my eyes. “You can’t save Dakota, Kris. He’s gone. If you bring him back, you’ll give up your own life.”
“He’s not gone yet.”
I didn’t believe her. The way his head had been positioned beside his neck instead of on top of it could only mean he’d been killed by having his neck broken. She was in denial.
“Kris,” I murmured, not sure how to verbalize my horrid thoughts.
Carson was suddenly beside us. I had no idea where he came from.
“No,” he said, cradling Harmony’s head in his hands. His eyes landed on Dakota and his nostrils flared. “No way. Why was he here? He has no part in this.” His voice hitched. “He’s my best friend!”
“Which one?” Krista yelped to Carson. “Please just tell me which one to save. I can’t choose.”
I glanced between them, speechless, then down at Harmony, realizing my hand was still pressed against her neck. Except no pulse throbbed against my fingers.
“Tell me which one!” Krista screamed again. “I can’t let them both die!”
I shook uncontrollably.
Krista placed her hands behind Dakota’s neck and closed her eyes.
“You can save him,” Carson told her. “I know you can. You can save both of them.”
Nathan squatted behind Krista and pulled her hair from her face. “Dakota is gone, Krista. To give up your life for his would be detrimental to the survival of the kindrily. We need you. Harmony needs you. You need to focus your efforts on her.”
Krista strangled back a sob and pressed her lips to Dakota’s forehead.
“No!” Carson yelled at Nathan. “He’s not dead. He can’t be dead.” Caron’s head drooped and he murmured, “He’s my best friend.”
Anthony joined us. “Everyone to the hospital, now.”
Shiloh had already backed up his truck and opened the tailgate.
“I’ll take them,” Nathan said. “It will be faster.”
“Are you sure?” Anthony asked.
“You can’t take anyone to the hospital until I’m there to freeze time.” Without a word, Nathan threw his arms around Anthony and they were gone. Nathan reappeared seconds later, scooped up Dakota’s body, and vanished again.
Faith petted Harmony’s face. “Hang in there, sis.” She stood and put her hands on her hips. “Dylan is on his way to deal with Gregory when he comes to. Carson, can you stay to help him?”
Carson nodded, but then said, “No. I need to be at the hospital with them.”
Nathan reappeared and lifted Harmony from Carson’s hands then traversed with her. Krista stood, wrapping her arms around herself and shaking. Carson sprung up and hugged her, whispering in her ear.
Nathan reappeared and I worried because he looked pale and weak.
“Go with Nathan,” I told Krista. “I’ll ride with Faith and Shiloh.”
Nathan didn’t need to waste his energy traversing with me. Krista needed to be at the hospital much faster than I did. I still didn’t know who or what killed them, but I suspected Dedrick and maybe River. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know the details.
Carson handed Krista over to Nathan and she sank against his chest. His green eyes had never looked so defeated as they did the moment before the two people I loved most dissolved into the darkness.
DO OR DIE
The great thing about being in spirit form is watching whomever you want whenever you want. No big surprise that I kept my attention on Gregory.
“Go,” Dylan told Carson, shoving him toward his car. “We can handle Gregory.”
“You and Amber against Gregory?” Carson eyed Amber skeptically.
She patted Molokai’s head. “Her bite is worse than her bark.”
“Besides,” Dylan said, “he’s out cold, secured and bound, and anything I tell him to do, he’ll do.”
“What if he’s immune to your power?”
“We can handle it,” Dylan insisted. Dylan’s eyes rippled with light. “Go to the hospital, Carson.”
Ordered by Dylan’s power, Carson turned, climbed in his car and drove away.
Gregory stirred, groaning and slowly trying to move, but his focus landed on his restraints and he stilled.
“Finally. There they are,” I said, hovering close to his face and wishing he could hear my thoughts while I was in spirit form. “Those warm obsidian eyes I’ve missed so much.”
He peered through me, squinting up at Amber and Dylan. His voice was as choppy as the waves of Playa de Santa Maria. “Did I kill her?”
A jolt of grounding energy burst through me. My soul was struggling to reconnect with my body. I turned to explain what was happening to Dakota, but he was gone. I let the second jolt of energy yank me away to the hospital.
My body lay on an operating table. I looked awful. Dakota was on another table beside me. Krista stood between our bodies, her arms extended wide, one hand touching each of us.
A scrub nurse was frozen near the corner of the room. Outside in the hallway a doctor was paused mid-stride. Anthony stood in the doorway with his hands opened at his sides.
Dakota’s soul materialized next to me.
The protective sister in me wanted to grab him and turn him away before he saw the scene in front of us and realized what was going on. But he was in spirit form, and so was I. I couldn’t grab him. I couldn’t protect him.
“Hey,” Dakota said, looking me up and down. It’s hard to describe what soul looks like. I see the person as if they were human, but not solid skin and bones. Spirits are light and energy imprinted with the physical features of the last body in which their soul took residence. Sprit forms glowed, pulsed, and changed color. Dakota was radiant, but I knew he would be.
Confusion washed over his ethereal face as he glanced at the ceiling and sterile white walls. “What’s…we’re in a hospital?” His focus landed on our unconscious bodies on the table. “Hey, that’s us. Wait. Are we...?”
“We’re straddling,” I told him.
“Straddling?” He looked around again, realizing that Anthony was freezing time, and that Krista was pouring healing energy into our bodies on the hospital tables. “Oh, shit. We’re dead?”
“Not yet. But we’re as close as it gets. We’ve got Krista on our side. That helps, but she won’t have enough life force to save both of us. Not on her own anyway.”
“What do you mean, not on her own?”
Krista turned and focused on my body. My clothes were still on, but my shirt was soaked with blood. Krista’s hands swept up and down inches from my torso.
“Should I stitch up her wounds?” Nathan asked. Krista’s eyes remained closed. “No, that’s the easy part, but Faith needs to cut that shirt off of her. It’s probably covered with bacteria.”
I turned to face Dakota. “This is it. Do or die in the most literal sense of the phrase. Only you can decide if you want to live or pass on.”
“Decide?” He floated forward, hovering over his body. “I look pretty dead. I don’t think I have a choice at this point.”
“Your light is still transparent. If you were dead it would be translucent. Part of your soul is holding onto your
“This is incredible,” Dakota said in awe. “I mean, I’m almost dead, but I’ve never felt better. I feel so powerful, so free, so...”
“Alive?” I chuckled.
“Yeah. Why is that?”
“Serious design flaw they can’t seem to fix.”
“They. He. She. It. Whatever. Bottom line is your spirit isn’t bogged down with all your human worries and pains. As good as you feel right now, it intensifies times infinity in the Higher Realm.”
“And I can go there?”
“If you choose to, yes, but you can also stay and fight to live through this.”
He stared at his body again. “What will happen in the Higher Realm? Will I be able to stay there?”
“No, the universe will send you back in what will simultaneously feel like an eternity and a heartbeat.”
“But I won’t get to choose how or where I come back?”
“Sadly, no. You aren’t an Element.”
“But Mikey came back and he wasn’t an Element.”
“He was Maryah’s twin. I think that might’ve had something to do with it.”
“What about Carson?”
“Same thing, I’m guessing. Product of Gregory and me. Maybe Maryah’s help too. She adored him in his first life—swore he was gifted. Same thing with Krista. All of them were loved by Mary, by Maryah.”
“I should have become better friends with Maryah.”
I snickered. “Maybe.”
“But I could have more time if I fight to live, right?”
“What if I don’t make it?”
“What if you do?”
He studied me. “Your light is transparent. Are you going to fight?”
“Of course. I have to kick Gregory’s ass for stabbing me.”
Dakota weaved slowly between his body and Krista. He brushed up against Maryah, then studied Faith as she bounced in place at the foot of his table, praying. “I don’t know what to do,” he admitted. “I like this feeling. I feel free, but I also feel like I finally matter.”
Regret tugged at my soul. “What do you mean you finally matter? You’ve always mattered.”
“You’re obligated to say that. You’re my sister.”
“I’m not obligated to say anything.” I swept past Shiloh and hovered between Faith and Dakota’s spirit. “You matter, Dakota. You have always mattered and you always will.”
“If you were me, which would you choose?”
“Life. I always choose life when given the chance.”
“Why? You said the Higher Realm is so amazing.”
“It is, but...how can I make this more understandable for you? What do you enjoy more, books or movies?”
“I love them both, but I think I love books more, comic books, anyway.”
“Perfect. Then imagine that you started reading the most interesting and fascinating comic book ever created. You fell in love with some characters, you hated others. Endless plots unfolded and every one was an emotional page-turner. You couldn’t read fast enough because you had to know what was going to happen next. You felt like the world would end if you didn’t find out how the story ended. But then you get to the end and there was no end. The author didn’t finish it. You don’t know if good or evil won. You don’t know if the guy got the girl. You don’t know any of the answers to all of your important questions. No idea what happened to all the characters that you were so enthralled with.”
“That would suck.”
“Exactly. And that is the system of life. In the Higher Realm, you get the choice to either forget about the comic book you’d been reading and start a new one, with no memory of the other one you read. Or, you retain the story you loved, but still get assigned a new one, with no idea or say in whether it will be better or worse than the one you were so invested in.”
“Unless you’re an Element. Then the fantastic story continues forever.”
“But you’re not an Element. Your choice would be a much harder one.”
Kindrily members moved and talked around us. Nathan was helping with scientific medical methods while Krista continued her supernatural approach, but sadly, Dakota’s light was becoming more solid.
“Why would anyone choose to give up a story they loved?” he asked.
“Because most likely there were also parts they hated. Most people have loved deeply and been hurt deeply. They carry that love and pain with them. Some realize they’ll retain horrific memories, guilt, or sins they don’t want to carry onto another existence. Sometimes completely erasing a story ensures the reader they’ll never regret their decision because they’ll never know they had a choice in the matter.”
Carson blurred into the room. He grabbed Dakota’s hand. “How is he?”
Dakota watched Nathan shake his head.
“But for me, most of the souls I love are you guys.” Dakota opened his glowing arms and motioned at the hospital room. “You’re all Elements. If I retained, I could find you in a few years and tell you who I am. You’d take me in and we’d be together again.”
“What if you aren’t sent back for a thousand years? What if by some unforeseen circumstance all of our names have changed? What if you couldn’t find us?”
“A thousand years?” Dakota gaped. “It can be that long between lives?”
“Non-Elements have no say in it. The universe decides.”
“That’s one messed up system.”
I shrugged. “For most, yes it is.”
“Do you think it would be easier to erase?”
“I can’t answer that because I’ve never chosen to erase.”
Krista opened her eyes and breath whooshed out of her. “Trying to keep both of them alive at the same time is draining me. Dakota was internally decapitated, but I transfused his skull back onto his spinal cord.”
Carson’s nose crinkled. Dakota’s light pulsed.
“Is she serious?” Dakota asked me.
“Sounds like it.”
“Would I even want to live after an injury like that? What if I can’t walk or talk?”
“What if you can? Only you can decide how much strength lies within you, Dakota.”
Dakota studied my body. “Are you going to live?”
“I’ll do everything within my power to survive.”
“Am I going to live?”
I focused on his solidifying light. “Only you can answer that.”
FORGIVING THE UNFORGOTTEN
“I’ve stopped Harmony’s internal bleeding.” Krista’s eyes were cradled by circles that were almost black. “But there was a lack of oxygen to her brain that caused severe damage. It took me almost two weeks to heal Maryah from the same injury.”
I thought back to my recovery from the attack on my family and me. I was clueless to the fact that Krista was the one healing me. She sat at my side every day for hours as I lay in a coma, battling with death as it tried to carry me away.
But Krista never let go of me. She won the battle.
She healed me and gave me a second chance at life. I said a silent prayer that she would be able to do the same for Harmony and Dakota.
“Exactly who did this to them?” Anthony asked Shiloh.
“There were four plus River. I’m assuming they broke him out of jail because he looked like he didn’t want to be with them. Dedrick escaped on the plane with a bald guy and a red-haired woman. The black-haired one died after Dakota shot her. Gregory stabbed Harmony.”
No one said anything. Anthony and I both stared at Shiloh as if trying to believe such a horrible thing could be true.
“Gregory stabbed her?” I gawked.
Even lying unconscious on the hospital table, her skin stained with blood, Harmony still looked tough and fearless. Any second I expected her to spring up from the table and demand to see Gregory.
“Will she live?” I asked Krista.
Krista’s voice was so weak and ras
She wiped her brow then swayed on her feet. Carson instantly caught her and held her against him. “Take a break, Turtle.”
“I can’t.” Krista sighed, resting her forehead against Carson’s. “They need me.”
Carson smoothed her hair from her face. “You’ll be no use to anyone if you drain yourself completely.”
“Speaking of drained,” Anthony said, “we need to wrap it up here. I’m not sure how much longer I can last.”
Shiloh glanced around. “Do you need any supplies, Krista?”
She shook her head.
“We’ll send Dylan if we need anything.” Nathan leaned against the wall beside me. “We’ll have to transport them to the house in vehicles. I don’t have enough energy to traverse right now.”
“No problem,” Shiloh said. “These tables are on wheels. Let’s roll them out.”
Krista’s eyes were closed and her head was limp. Carson scooped her into his arms. “I’ll take her with me.”
We arrived at the house and so much was happening it was hard to keep track: bodies being unloaded and carried in, car doors slamming left and right. Louise was waiting at the door, ordering Anthony to put Dakota in their room and Harmony in mine and Nathan’s. She mumbled something about those rooms having the strongest healing energy.
“Krista?” Louise whispered as Carson carried her over the threshold.
“Just drained,” Carson told her.
Louise nodded and waved them in.
I rounded the corner to the family room and stumbled backward when I saw Gregory sitting on the sofa.
“It’s okay,” Dylan assured me. He pointed to some kind of spiked handcuffs around Gregory’s wrists and ankles. “He’s not moving.”
Gregory lifted his head and looked directly into my eyes. His long black hair had slipped out of its ponytail, and he no longer had snake eyes, but everything else was the same: his face, his muscles, even his black t-shirt and blood-stained boots. My jaw clenched as I fought back fear and rage from the memory of what he did to my family and me. He blinked a few times, like he was confused by seeing me again, but then he stared at the floor in silence.
Taking Back Forever by Karen Amanda Hooper / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes