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Authors: G.P. Ching

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BOOK: Return to Eden
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"Sounds frightening." Gideon handed the binder back to her.

Katrina shrugged. "They used to do experiments here in Illinois to try to make it happen, but my professor says they shut down the particle accelerator last year. The only place that can do it now is CERN in Europe. If they do create a black hole, I guess we’ll have a few extra microseconds before it absorbs us."

"Nice." Gideon leaned back until his head hit the wall behind Mallory’s bed and stared at the ceiling. "You know, it says in the Bible, ‘You were made from dust and to dust you will return.’ Particle is another word for dust."

"So do you think they’re on the right track? Will they eventually find the God particle?" Katrina positioned her book and binder in front of her on the bed and began filling out note cards to study from.

"No," Gideon answered softly. "I think what they don’t realize is that anyone can mix clay, but it takes a potter to make the vessel."

Katrina looked up from her note cards. "That’s deep."

It was Gideon’s turn to shrug. "You should study."

Returning to her notes, Katrina reviewed her materials in earnest but paused when she realized she’d been rude.

"Gideon," she said.

"Yes."

"I hope it all works out for you and Abigail. Regardless of what I said before, true love is always worth the risk. At least I think it is. I can’t say I’ve ever had it to know."

"Thanks," he said. "Now get some studying done. I’ll be right outside the window."

He transformed into the red cat and bounded over her into the cool evening rain.

 

Chapter 8

Mara and Henry

 

Mara emerged from the bathroom in the outfit that had magically appeared while she showered. Taupe riding pants hugged her legs and tucked into tall black boots. A white blouse and red riding jacket completed the ensemble. Her raven hair fell in a tight braid over her shoulder.

"You do know I’ve never been riding before," she said.

Henry broke from a trance-like state near the window and gave her his full attention. "I’m sorry, Mara. I was working. What did you say?"

"You were working?" Mara's mouth dropped open and she pointed a hand toward the window. "Just now? Ushering souls to the beyond?"

He nodded.

"But you’re still here. I thought you had to be present with the, um, deceased." The word deceased weighed heavy on her tongue now that she met the definition.

"One of the benefits of being Death is that I can project myself into the earthly realm without actually leaving the In Between. It’s necessary. People die all over the world, every minute of every day."

Mara took a cautious step closer to him. Considering the level of intimacy they’d shared the night before, it seemed odd that she felt nervous now. "What’s happening to the people who die now or who died when we were at prom?"

"Part of me is there with them, while another part of me is here with you."

She stepped closer, searching his eyes for any sign that he was joking. "How does that work? Isn’t it confusing being in two places at once?"

Henry rubbed his chin. "I’m not sure how it works; it just does. Always has, since the time I won the job."

"You won this job? What, like in a poker game?" She’d moved in close enough to hook her fingers in the folds of his riding jacket. It was red wool, like hers, with gold crested buttons down the front. The texture felt strangely familiar, as if she'd done this before, like they’d known each other longer than they had.

He slipped his hand into hers. "That is a story for another day. For now, we ride."

Mara stood her ground. "Wait, I want to know. How did you become Death?"

Henry frowned and shook his head. "I can't tell you. It's against the rules."

"You can't, or you won't?"

"Can't. I physically can't. It's a restriction on my station."

"Huh. Like vocal handcuffs?"

He nodded.

Searching his face, she didn't think he was lying. Why would he? "Okay," she said.

He led her from the bedroom, down a magnificent flight of stone steps, and through a marble foyer to the outdoors. Henry's castle was built on an English hillside. A well-manicured garden gave way to a rolling green landscape. Beyond, a variety of full-grown trees marked the edge of a dark wood.

A skeleton in a powdered wig and red uniform waited in the yard, a pale gray stallion on his left and a black mare on his right. Henry approached the gray, rubbing its muzzle.

"This is my stable boy, Tom," Henry said. The skeleton extended his hand to Mara who shook it politely, aware of how the bones collapsed inside her grip.

"I should take the black one?" Mara asked nervously. She reached up to touch the mare but flinched when the horse shifted her feet.

"Necromancer is quite gentle. She won’t fight you. Tom can assist you if you need help getting on."

Mara rolled her ankle and plugged her pockets with her hands. "I’m not sure this is such a good idea. Shouldn’t I have a lesson or something first?"

Leaving his pale horse, Henry tilted his head and approached her. His hand shot out, passing through her chest as if she were a ghost. "What’s going to happen, Mara?" he asked, retracting his hand. "None of this is physical."

She patted her sternum with her hand, solid enough.

"Remember what I showed you." He tapped his temple. "Build your reality."

Rubbing the spot where his hand had passed through her, Mara decided he was right. She had nothing to lose. She might as well make the most of it. She hooked her foot in Necromancer's stirrup and willed herself into the saddle. Effortlessly, she floated into place and lifted the reins.

"Very good," Henry said. "Now, we are going hunting, so you will need a weapon. I prefer a blade." A scythe appeared in his right hand. He folded the handle and hooked it to his back from a harness that conveniently appeared there.

"A scythe? How cliché." She laughed.

"And what will you be using?"

"What are we hunting?"

"A golden buck."

"A buck." Mara tapped her chin. "I think bow and arrow." She concentrated and the bow built itself within her hand. The arrows appeared one by one in a quiver she slung over her shoulder. "How come when you create something it’s like poof and it’s there, but when I create something it forms slowly, like my school’s antique printer is churning it out line by line?"

"Centuries of practice." Henry grinned. He mounted his steed. Unlike Necromancer, Henry’s horse danced under his weight, snorting and fighting against the tug of the reins.

"What’s your horse’s name?" Mara asked, rewarding Necromancer's patience with a pat on the neck.

Henry licked his lips. "Reaper."

Mara laughed. "You’re kidding."

He shook his head.

Hooking her bow onto her back, she lifted the reins. "How do we begin?"

He flashed a wicked smile. "Follow me into the forest. Try to keep up. The first one to slay the golden buck wins."

"It’s on like Donkey Kong." Mara raised an eyebrow in his direction.

"Hah!" Henry prodded Reaper forward. The stallion sprung into a gallop toward the forest.

Mara’s heels slapped Necromancer who flowed gracefully into a run, although not quite as fast as Reaper. She followed Henry to where the trees started. Quickly, the forest thickened, the canopy blocking out the light from above. Tendrils of mist curled through the underbrush.

"Henry!" Mara called. He was too far ahead to hear her. Kicking Necromancer harder, her eyes darted to the shadows between the pines. Pounding hooves. Snapping branches. Necromancer panted with exertion. Reaper banked left and disappeared behind the thick trunk of a sycamore. Mara reached the turn but couldn’t find Henry anywhere. She slowed her horse to a walk, searching the gaps between the trees for signs of Henry’s passing, a hoof print or broken twig.

Alone in the ever darkening forest, Mara tried not to panic. She turned Necromancer in a half circle, thinking she’d return to the castle, but the forest looked the same in every direction. A cobweb covered branch swept across her cheek and she jerked in the saddle. Necromancer pranced nervously at the shift in her weight.

She’d seen a movie once with a forest like this one. What was it called?
Fun and Games
. It was about a psycho carnie who went crazy and killed a bunch of teenagers in the woods with a chainsaw. Woods exactly like these.

Mara’s heart pounded in her chest and her fingers grew strangely cold. Funny, her heart could still beat considering her body was dead, or undead as Henry had called it. She turned her horse in another circle, hoping to spot Henry. Instead, the grinding sound of a chainsaw made Necromancer shift right and bob her head. Mara screamed.

The man she remembered from the movie was a few yards away. In tattered clothing and a clown's mask, he advanced through the trees. An engine sputtered to life and the whirring metal of a chainsaw echoed. He raised the machine above his head and charged her.

Quick as hummingbird wings, Mara snatched the bow from her back and sent an arrow cruising toward her attacker. It dropped harmlessly to his feet. She strung another one, concentrating on the arrow. Closer. Louder. The chainsaw's steel teeth revolved toward her. She released, guiding the arrow with her will, straight into the man’s head.

Bull's-eye! The arrow sunk through the man’s eye socket.

The stranger paused for a beat, then ripped the arrow out. Necromancer reared up, knocking Mara to the forest floor. The whinny the horse released ripped through the forest. Necromancer leapt into the woods, leaving Mara crawling backward beneath the whirling steel.

With everything she had, she screeched, "Henry! Henry!" Arrow after arrow flew from her bow until the man was covered in them. He kept coming. The chainsaw lifted over her head, lowering toward her panicked body.

Pounding hooves distracted the masked man. Mara kicked the hand holding the chainsaw up and away from her, rolling out from under the blade. She jumped to her feet, ready to run. She didn’t have to. Henry’s scythe cut the clown in half, sending his bloody torso into the underbrush.

"Get rid of it, Mara!" Henry shouted.

"What do you expect me to do?"

"You created it. Unweave it. Send it away."

Mara froze. Was it possible that her memory of the movie had created the thing that almost killed her? She concentrated on the pieces, picturing them sinking into the earth, cotton candy caught in the rain. In moments, the clown and the chainsaw were gone.

"It almost killed me." Mara’s hand pressed into her chest.

"You almost let it," Henry snapped. He looked disappointed.

It was too dark. The mist was creepy and the reaching branches reminded her too much of gripping hands. She turned her face toward the canopy and concentrated on a patch above her head. A ray of sunlight broke through, warming her skin.

"Better," Henry said.

She whistled and Necromancer came running. Mara bounded to her and leapt onto her back. More changes where in order. To find the golden buck, Mara was sure they needed a golden forest. With visions of Christmas in her head, she twisted the trees into gorgeous sculptures of gold and silver. Fluffy flakes of snow drifted from the sky at her will. In minutes, the forest became a magical world that sparkled like a winter wonderland.

Henry raised an eyebrow in her direction.

"Now this is a forest worthy of the golden buck."

"I’m impressed," Henry said. He opened his mouth, presumably to say more, but stopped when a huge gold deer bolted past them into the trees, its branched antlers glinting in the snow.

Henry launched Reaper after it, sweeping his scythe out and to the side so that the handle locked into place. Mara swerved Necromancer left, digging in her heels and hoping to cut the buck off up ahead. She loaded her bow from the quiver she’d refilled, tying off the reins and guiding the mare with her knees. At the first glint of gold, she fired, her arrow landing in a gold tree of her creation. Racing to the right, she heard Reapers pounding feet and another set of scurrying hooves. Then he was ahead of her, his scythe swinging toward the buck’s neck. Mara released her arrow. It cut between Henry’s thigh and elbow and plowed into the buck's neck, only a second before the scythe sliced the deer's shoulder. The beast fell in a shower of blood to the snow covered earth.

Stowing her bow, Mara snatched up the reins and pulled Necromancer to a halt. Reaper trotted up beside her, Henry straight-backed and exuberant in the saddle.

"You’ve won!" Henry said, motioning toward the carcass. "You really are a fabulous rider."

The golden buck's stately antlers poked awkwardly into the snow. Eyes glazed over, its blood flowed crimson against the collecting white.

Mara's chest felt heavy. "This sucks. Why did we have to kill it? He was so beautiful." She wiped a rogue tear from under her eye.

Henry shrugged. "If you don’t want the buck to die, bring it back, Mara. This is your party." He smiled ruefully.

Mara startled at the thought, but didn’t hesitate to picture the buck whole again. It was harder than with the trees, slower. After several minutes the proud buck raised its head and galloped into the forest.

"Next time we use paintballs," Mara said.

Henry folded the handle of his scythe, storing the weapon on his back. "Deal."

 

Chapter 9

Abigail

 

Abigail strode out her back door, passed her greenhouse and raised bed garden, and entered the maple orchard. In their late spring splendor, the trees spread bright green branches above her but she didn’t stop to enjoy them. She traversed the hill to the privet at the edge of the wood and ducked through the gate that now hung open on rusty hinges.

For June, the weather was unseasonably cool, but it wasn’t the temperature that had her crossing her arms over her black slip dress. She rubbed her shoulders. The magnificent garden she’d planted, grown from the seeds she’d collected with her late husband, Oswald, was dead. One hundred years of work rotted brown at her feet, overgrown with native weeds.

BOOK: Return to Eden
11.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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