UA7: Brothers in Spirit

UA7: Camp Little Eagle 2: Brothers in Spirit

Chapter 1: The Lost and the Found

"What just happened?" Ronny asked in a voice that sounded hollow to his own ears. The darkness that was spread out before him sparked a fear that he might be suddenly entirely alone.

"I think that when Obie opened the door, the wind must have blown that big mirror over the fireplace off the wall." Donny said uncertainly, blinking to clear his vision or, in fact, retrieve any vision at all.

"That would explain the crashing sound, but why did the lights go out too?" Jason K asked tremulously.

"It's not just the lights. It looks like the power is out to the entire camp." Arlo stated reasonably.

"I don't know about any of that, but I get the feeling that Teddy was expecting whatever just happened." Dylan said frankly.

"Do you know what's going on, Teddy?" Jason K cautiously asked into the darkness.

"Not really. I mean I had a dream... well, except for I wasn't asleep. I saw something end. I can't really remember what it was, but I know that it was awful. It's going away. I can't remember it anymore." Teddy rambled.

"Did you dream about what's happening to us right now?" Jason K asked curiously.

"No. I don't think so. I think what I dreamed was kinda like the opposite. I dreamed about what the world would be like if none of us was here when we was supposed to be... what happened later because of it was really bad." Teddy fought to explain, then thought to add, "But since we're here, none of that happened. The dream is about something that never was... and now it never will be."

"Is anyone near Ryvan? Do you know if he's okay?" Another voice timidly asked.

"Kole? Is that you?" A voice quietly responded.

"Yeah. I'm right here. Don't worry, buddy. I know that you can take care of yourself. I just wanted to make sure that you're alright." Kole hurried to explain.

"Kole... I can hear you." Ryvan tentatively whispered.

"Good... Wait. What? You can hear me? How?"

"I don't know, but I think it happened at the same time that everything else did. All of a sudden I could hear... which is great... except that now I can't see."

"Yeah, well, neither can I. Hang in there, Bud. We'll figure it out." Kole quietly assured him.

"Does anyone know where they keep the flashlights or candles or anything? I thought the lights would have come back on by now, but it looks like they're not going to." Ronny asked nervously.

"Something's really wrong here." Obie said slowly.

"You mean, something besides the wind, the crashing sounds, and the blackout?" Donny asked exasperatedly.

"Yeah. Besides that." Obie muttered absently, then continued on to explain, "There are emergency lights that are supposed to come on in the main room when the power goes out. I've seen it happen before, a bunch of times. They should have come on as soon as we lost power."

"They just finished building this cabin today. Maybe they haven't got that part working yet." Dylan said reasonably.

"Maybe not, but from what I've seen of this place so far, I don't think that they'd let us move in if they knew that anything wasn't completely working. They seem really responsible like that." Paul said seriously.

"Yeah. And if the power's out, why hasn't anyone called us or stopped by to check on us? They've got a team of people working here whose only job is to make sure that we're okay." Obie seamlessly added.

"Maybe they don't know that anyone's living in this cabin yet." Arlo suggested reasonably.

"Yeah. But another weird thing is that not one speck of light is coming in from outside. I can't even see where the windows are." Kole added anxiously.

"I'm not from here, so I really don't know how light it usually is or isn't around here at night. But what I can tell you is that I was standing beside the fireplace when everything went dark. I've been feeling around and I can't find it." Dylan said seriously.

"It sounded like that big mirror broke when everything went dark. If you're not careful feeling around blindly like that, you could cut yourself really bad." Ronny hesitantly warned.

"I think it's okay. I haven't found any broken glass yet. Actually, I haven't found anything at all." Dylan finished uneasily.

"Is the new guy still here? The one we opened the door for?" Donny asked curiously.

"I'm right here." An unfamiliar child's voice timidly responded.

"Who are you?" Donny asked cautiously.

"Everyone calls me Jinx."

"What are you doing here?" Obie asked curiously.

"The guy in cabin one said you had some empty bedrooms and that since I just got here, that maybe I could move in here with you." Jinx answered uncertainly.

"Someone sent you over here all on your own? That doesn't sound right." Ronny said slowly.

"Yeah, well, they were really busy trying to do something with some honey or molasses or something like that. A couple gallons of it, it looked like. It was kind of a mess." Jinx said awkwardly.

"Why would they have gallons of molasses or honey in cabin one?" Donny asked slowly.

"I think I get it." Ronny said in prelude, then asked more gently, "Jinx? Did you cause the power to go out?"

"I don't think so. At least, it wasn't on purpose, if I did. Sometimes things just... go wrong around me." The younger boy reluctantly admitted.

"Is that how you got the name Jinx?" Dylan asked cautiously.

"The nurses at the county hospital came up with that the day when they stuck me with a needle and all the fire extinguishers in the building went off, all at once." Jinx said uncomfortably, then added more quietly, "They ended up having to evacuate everyone out of the whole hospital and find other places to put them until they could get it all cleaned up."

"So, do you think that you might have somehow blown the power out for the whole camp?" Donny hesitantly asked.

"I don't see how I could. I knocked on the door. It opened and I said, 'Hi' and then all of a sudden there was blowing and breaking and then everything was black and quiet. It all happened at once. I don't know what caused any of it." Jinx quietly explained.

"Does anyone have any ideas of where to find a light? Because I'm really tired of standing here in the dark." Ronny asked irritably.

"I'm trying, but I can't find anything. I've been looking for the furniture to try and get my bearings that way but I haven't come across anything yet."

"Guys, just so you know, I can't find the door, either. I answered it when Jinx knocked and I was standing right in front of it when everything went dark, but now it's not there." Obie said in a slightly trembling voice.

"All of you sound like you're right in front of me, just a step away, but when I reach out, there's no one there." Ronny said in bewilderment.

"I would not wish to alarm anyone, but I feel that I should submit for your consideration the premise that we may no longer be in your waking world, most commonly thought of as the realm of the living."

"Randolph? Is that you? Are you alright? You sound funny." Donny asked with concern for his friend.

"My apologies, I tend to speak a bit more formally when I am particularly vexed or dismayed." Randolph said repentantly.

"It might also have to do with him using his own voice to talk to you."

"Randolph? You sound like two different people, but both of them sound like you... but not like each other. How do you even do that?" Donny asked in puzzlement.

"That is a rather long and convoluted tale that may be difficult to explain..." Randolph reluctantly began to say.

"Randolph's a ghost." Arlo interrupted.

"Arlo is correct. Since we met, I have existed, housed within his flesh, using his voice when I speak to you. But now, for whatever reason, I am once again a separate person. I appear to be myself again." Randolph said uncertainly.

"A ghost?" Donny asked slowly to confirm that one point before moving on.

"My apologies for not telling you the whole truth about me sooner. You're my first friend here and I didn't want to take the chance of chasing you away with mysticism and supernatural hokum." Randolph said repentantly.

"Don't worry about that. I totally get not being able to tell someone you just met every detail about your past." Donny hurried to assure him, then quietly added, "Besides, I don't think anyone has ever worried about what I thought about them before. It's kinda cool."

"Guys? Do you think you can maybe worry about that later, once we can see each other again?" Ronny asked hopefully.

"If we are, indeed, in the realm beyond, the realm of spirits, then perhaps we should seek out a source of fire. Flame is said to be able to penetrate the veil between the realm of the living and the spirit realm." Randolph carefully explained.

"Can we start a fire in the fireplace?" Paul asked anxiously.

"We can't even 'find' the fireplace." Donny said frustratedly.

"I don't know how everything works, but Arlo or I might possibly be able to make some light for you." Randolph cautiously offered.

"Me? What can I do?" Arlo asked dubiously.

"The light of your spirit is unusually bright in my experience and, if I may say, quite alluring. It is what drew me to you, like a beacon in the night. Your spiritual light has been quelled since I've been keeping company with you, but now that we've separated, you should be able to emit your light fully again." Randolph slowly explained.

"Aren't ghosts supposed to be able to glow too?" Paul cautiously asked.

"Although I'm not able to glow to the degree of Arlo, I will, of course, endeavor to do my best." Randolph easily offered.

"If you tell us what to do, maybe the rest of us can help somehow." Jason K timidly suggested.

"I will do what I can, but please be aware that I have had little desire to draw attention to myself, therefore I have had no occasion to develop the ability. The little I know, I have stumbled across accidentally over a long period of time." Randolph said regretfully.

"This sounds like something that Jerico would know about. Is there any way we can get to a phone and call him for help?" Paul hesitantly asked.

"If you think about it, we can't even find cabin seven, and by all the logic in the world, we're standing right in the middle of it." Dylan said irritably.

After a long moment, Randolph quietly said, "I'm ready to try."

"Go ahead. Just let us know if there's anything we can do to help you." Donny said supportively.

"You may rest assured that I will." Randolph promised, then went silent as he concentrated.

"I can almost see you, Randolph. Keep going... Just like that." Donny said encouragingly as he began to detect the slightest outline in the darkness.

"Actually, I'm Arlo. Randolph is beside me." Arlo struggled to say while maintaining his concentration.

Two figures slowly became more and more visible in the darkness. The first was pale, just a shimmer of a form, known to most present as Arlo. The second was more bluish in color and was barely visible at Arlo's side. The boy appeared to be a bit frail and notably more timid than his companion.

"It's working. Keep going. I can see the fireplace." Ronny said suddenly as the faintest outline of the fireplace materialized before them in the darkness.

"Can someone get the fire started? I don't know how long these guys can keep the light going." Dylan asked anxiously as he strained to see anything in the minimal light.

"We had one of these in my old cabin, but I never messed with it. I don't know how it works or where anything is." Ronny reluctantly admitted.

"If it's the same as the one in cabin three, I can do it." Ryvan said confidently as he quickly stepped forward.

"Hurry up! It's fading away!" Kole suddenly exclaimed.

Before anyone could react, the fireplace was gone. Arlo was no less illuminated than he had been a moment before and right beside him, Randolph was now casting his own distinct light.

"Where did it go?" Kole asked in bewilderment.

"I've got a better one for you. Since when is there a tree growing in the middle of your common room?" Ryvan asked in puzzlement as he strained to see anything in Arlo and Randolph's combined light.

"The floor changed too, it's leaves and dirt now." Obie said suddenly.

"Can you hear that? It sounds like we're outside." Donny said softly.

"Um, there goes the tree. It faded out and disappeared just like the fireplace did." Ryvan said slowly.

"I can hear the rain hitting the tall grass all around us." Donny carefully added.

"I can't tell for sure, but I think I can see drops of rain hitting the grass by Arlo. The funny thing is, I can't feel any rain hitting me." Paul said slowly.

"I don't care about the rain. How do we get back to the cabin?" Dylan asked seriously.

"Do you have any thoughts, Jinx?" Ronny asked cautiously.

"I promise, I don't know anything but what I told you."

"Don't forget that Teddy was working his little butt off trying to get all of us here to have a sleepover." Dylan added.

"What do you say, Teddy? Do you have any idea of why we're here... or where here is, for that matter?" Donny asked seriously.

"I don't know much. I have a feeling that something's coming that's too big and too bad for us to get through the way we are now. If we're not ready, some of us might die... or worse." Teddy said ominously, then continued, "The Clan is about to face a lot of messed up things and we need to be ready."

"They're all amazing and important and stuff. What can we do to help them?" Ronny asked incredulously.

"Not much." Teddy admitted.

"The cabin one guys know about this, anyway. They're already planning to be the Clan's support and recovery division." Arlo quietly interjected.

"That's right. What do you expect us to do?" Dylan asked cautiously.

"In one dream, against one enemy, I remember that we don't do anything and it turns out fine. But in another, we have a different enemy who plays head games and tries to divide us, knowing that with each of us working alone, we won't be strong enough to fight back." Teddy said seriously.

"Divide us? I may be new here, but as near as I can tell, all of us are from different cabins and friend groups. We're already about as divided as it's possible to get." Donny stated reasonably.

"Maybe that's what's special about us. If we can come together, maybe we can show them the way." Obie cautiously suggested.

After a long moment, Arlo finally reasoned, "But you're saying that if we can become a team, then maybe we can help to unite everyone else."

"Right. If we can get ourselves together we can help the non fighters to defend themselves and stand united and protect the ones who are too small to fight. While we're handling all of that, the Clan will be free to focus on more important things." Paul said seriously.

"You know what? I've heard enough. Count me in. I'm on board with helping cabin one support the Clan. I'm with you on being united and becoming a team. But for right now, I'd really appreciate it if someone would tell me what we're supposed to do next, because that I don't get at all." Ronny said irritably.

"There's not just one answer to that. The future hasn't happened, it isn't completely written yet. There's just a few unfinished versions floating around that I can get a peek at and maybe warn you about things that could happen. In the meantime, we have to make ourselves ready to fight." Teddy said in a trance-like voice.

"You're not the same Teddy I met in the office, are you?"

"I'm still me, but since the Frisbee thing, I know more things than I used to. It feels like maybe I knew some of this stuff a long time ago and just all of a sudden remembered it again." Teddy said with difficulty.

"Does any of that tell us what we need to do next? Because standing around here in the dark isn't doing anyone any good." Ronny asked irritably.

"Ryvan's able to hear. That's a good thing." Kole hurried to remind everyone.

"Can Ryvan really hear? Or does it have something to do with the place that we're in?" Arlo asked speculatively.

"It's a... means to an end." Teddy said distantly, as though he was speaking words that he didn't fully comprehend.

"Yeah... That means that it's the place causing everything and Ryvan's going to go deaf again when we leave here." Paul said uncomfortably.

"And Randolph won't have his own body anymore, either." Donny regretfully added.

"Perhaps we may find a way that I might continue to exist as myself." Randolph said encouragingly, obviously not holding much hope.

"Yeah, well, until that happens, maybe you should just plan on staying with me, where you know you won't have to worry about getting banished or exorcized or whatever other horrible things Jerico wants to do to you." Arlo said darkly.

"Arlo, can you come over here and crank your light for a few seconds? I'd like to try something." Paul anxiously asked.

"Sure. What have you got?" Arlo asked cautiously as his soft white glow increased by a notable amount.

"It's weird. When I was feeling around in the dark, I didn't feel anything, but then I could see that something was there when you lit it up. So I'm hoping that if I try to touch something while it's being lit up, that I'll actually be able to touch it."

"That could work." Dylan said with surprise.

"It's worth a try." Ronny added supportively.

"Get ready to grab." Arlo alerted them, then began to glow in earnest.

As everyone watched, the fireplace began to fade into view.

"Randolph, would you dim your light for a few seconds?" Donny cautiously asked.

"Yes. As you like." Randolph said as he went from full illumination to a faint glow.

As Randolph's luminance subsided, the fireplace of cabin seven became more and more pronounced.

"That's what I thought. Randolph's light shines on a different time and place from Arlo's." Donny said speculatively.

"Let's see if this works the same as the fireplace in cabin 3." Kole said as he hurried to the barely revealed fireplace.

"I won't be able to keep glowing this brightly for very long." Arlo cautioned him.

"I just have to hold down the safety, twist the knob, and hit the starter. It'll take about two seconds" Kole said simply as he confidently moved into position.

After a long moment, Dylan finally asked, "Is there a problem?"

"I can feel something there, but my hand is passing through the controls. I can't move them." Kole said quietly.

"Perhaps you could try projecting your own light whilst attempting to activate the controls. From what little I know of it, that is how disembodied spirits of the dead are sometimes able to move things in the world of the living." Randolph cautiously suggested.

"How do I do that?" Kole asked irritably.

"From the stuff I read about it, your light, your spirit, is inside you, it's like your ghost. You don't have to make it shine more, you can't. But it's more like you bring it up within you and push it forward. You adjust the brightness by how much you expose to the world." Paul said instructively.

"Yeah. That's just what it feels like." Arlo quietly confirmed, then added, "It can be a little scary, but don't let that stop you. Once you've done it, it feels kinda nice."

A sphere of golden light started to grow from within Kole, just barely peeking out, changing the illumination of everything around him.

While Kole was working on manifesting his own light, others were doing likewise with varying degrees of success.

"Hurry and turn on the fireplace before you lose the light." Paul said urgently.

"I'm on it." Kole said past gritted teeth.

As everyone watched and held their collective breath, the gas fireplace began to glow with an eerie blue/gray flame.

"Good! For a minute I thought you weren't going to be able to get it started." Donny said with relief.

"But what good does it do? We're still lost in the dark." Ronny asked reasonably.

"Not completely, we're not in total darkness. At least now we can see each other in the light from the fire. We're better off than we were two minutes ago." Dylan explained.

"Dylan? Your face isn't bandaged anymore." Teddy said hesitantly.

After a tentative touch to his cheek, Dylan quietly asked, "How does it look?"

"It looks fine! Like you were never hurt at all." Teddy rushed to assure him.

"I haven't seen you without a bandage before. You look... completely normal to me, like you were never hurt." Ronny said frankly.

"I was shot in the face. I don't know what you're seeing, but I don't think it's real." Dylan said seriously.

"Is this all a dream?" Jason K asked uncertainly.

"It seems like it could be." Arlo confessed.

"Whose dream?" Donny asked seriously.

"Hang on. Let me check something." Ronny said, then pulled the neck of his shirt out so that he could take a peek inside.

A hint of greenish-yellow spiritual light shone inside his shirt for a long moment before Ronny finally said, "Yeah. It's me."

"What's you?" Donny cautiously asked.

"This is my dream." Ronny explained.

"How do you know that?" Donny asked suspiciously.

"Because, in my dreams, I have a guy's body." Ronny said simply.

"I can't see any difference." Obie said honestly.

In response, Ronny lifted the front of his shirt for all to see.

Even though the greenish yellow light he was casting was meager, that combined with the blue gray flames was adequate to display the smooth expanse of a perfectly nice and wholly unremarkable teenage male chest and belly.

"I'm guessing that it doesn't usually look like that." Kole ventured to say.

"I wouldn't know." Donny said honestly.

"No. It doesn't." Ronny assured them.

"If you've got your dream body, why don't the rest of us have our wishes granted too?" Obie asked seriously.

"Ryvan can hear, Dylan got his face back, and Randolph has his own body." Kole slowly responded.

"Why didn't I get my wishes granted?" Obie asked sternly.

"You got your dead brother back, didn't you? Did you have another wish that you wanted more than that?" Donny asked simply.

"No. You're right. I got my wish. Amos is alive. I don't want nothin else." Obie said with an air of finality.

"If we've been given gifts, what do you think they're going to expect in return?" Kole cautiously asked.

"If it goes the way things like this usually do, we'll probably be faced with an easy path and a hard one, and of course we'll already know that the hard path is the right one but we'll have to agonize over the choice before we finally just go ahead and do it anyway." Paul said unenthusiastically.

"If we're here for a reason then what are we supposed to be doing now?" Jason K quietly asked into the silence that followed.

"I don't know everybody's. I think we each have to figure that stuff out for ourselves. Mine is that I have to learn how to tell apart what will be, what can be, and what should never be." Teddy finished darkly.

"If you can dream the future and stuff, I can see why you're here, but why am I being included in any of this? I don't have special gifts or powers or anything like that." Donny said frankly.

"When you're with a lot of people, how often do you end up being in charge of them?" Ronny asked curiously.

"I'm not around groups all that often but if no one else is doing it, I can take charge if I need to." Donny reluctantly admitted.

"I thought so. You're cute. You're kinda charming. People automatically like you and want to trust you. That sounds to me like something that you could use to help the Clan and cabin one when they need it." Ronny said frankly, then added with a smile, "It might not be laser beams, but it could still be useful."

"What about you? Any idea of what special ability you might have to be included in all of this?" Donny asked in a feeble attempt to shift the focus away from himself.

"I guess when you cast your net wide and try to get everyone to follow you and do the things they need to do, there might be a few people who feel like they don't belong. If there's anything special about me, it might be that I could show them that they don't have to be exactly like everyone else around them to be included; that being an individual isn't bad or wrong." Ronny said speculatively.

"I could see you being ideal for that." Donny said with a smile at his roommate.

"Hold on, guys. All we've got is a five year old's daydream to explain what's happening to us." Dylan said in a tone of warning.

"I'm almost eight." Teddy grumbled.

"I'm sorry, Teddy. That's a big difference. I didn't mean to put you down." Dylan said repentantly, then turned to the group and continued, "I just don't automatically turn to magic and psychic visions to try and explain it when the power goes out."

"I do not know if it is truly magic or some natural science of which I am woefully ignorant, but I assure you that I am a ghost and that, for whatever reason, we have found ourselves in, what appears to be, a spiritual realm." Randolph said seriously.

"I'm hard wired for things like this. I can't help but believe in it." Arlo confirmed from Randolph's side.

"What do you see, Arlo?" Teddy cautiously asked.

"Be careful asking that. I've learned to see what I'm expected to see." Arlo warned.

"What does that even mean?" Dylan asked impatiently.

"Growing up, when I'd tell people about what I could see, they would call me a fool or a liar. As I got older, they started calling me insane. Eventually I learned how to focus on one reality and block out any others. I'm used to ignoring what's right in front of me if I know that the people around me can't see it. I've been conditioned to do it without thinking." Arlo anxiously explained.

"Can you make yourself see the other reality now?" Teddy cautiously asked.

"I'm used to seeing reality on top and this place underneath. Being inside here, I can't make myself see out of it. I don't know if I can." Arlo said anxiously.

"Actually, what he sees or doesn't see isn't the problem. What we need is some way to be able to prove to the rest of us that there is another reality." Donny interjected.

"I don't know if we'll be able to do that. It may come down to it that the people who believe will have to make the decisions that are best for them while the unbelievers will hopefully do their best to keep enough of an open mind not to stop us in our tracks."

"Guys, before we start picking sides, I should tell you that I lived on the streets of Chicago for a long time. I've seen enough Obia and Lukumi to know that magic does exist." Dylan said in his defense.

"Then what's the problem?" Donny asked curiously.

"It's not the magic, not really. I just feel like we're being handed a set of easy answers that don't really answer anything." Dylan said honestly.

"Like you're being asked to believe in something unbelievable?" Paul asked reasonably.

"More like I'm being asked to pledge my oath of loyalty to something that I don't even begin to understand, much less believe in." Dylan fought to explain.

"I don't know of any way that I can prove what's real and what isn't. To be honest, I'm not sure about everything myself." Donny said seriously.

"But we don't have to believe everything... we don't have to believe anything. We can prepare and improve ourselves just because it's the right thing to do. That way, when bad things come, we'll be ready to face them at our best." Ryvan said encouragingly.

"But how can you be so sure that bad things are coming?" Dylan asked cautiously.

"Bad things are always coming." Kole said before Ryvan could.

Ryvan earnestly nodded his agreement.

"How are you going to do when we get things put back to normal and you're deaf again?" Dylan asked Ryvan seriously.

"Dude! Way to ease into the subject. Harsh!" Donny said in offense on behalf of one of his newest friends.

"No. It's a fair question. None of us knows how long this is going to last so it's important for us to be prepared... 'us' mostly being me and Randolph, from the sound of it." Ryvan said honestly.

"So, what are you going to do?" Dylan asked again.

"It seems to me that it's because we're in this spirit place that I'm able to hear at all. I think I'm going to work on building and controlling my spiritual energy as much as I can. I want to see if I can make it manifest in different ways and learn how to control it. With any luck, I might be able to use some of those spiritual skills in the 'real' world." Ryvan said seriously.

"Can I help you? I mean, since I don't really have a plan... like, at all." Kole asked hopefully.

"It's probably going to take a lot of hard work and concentration and may end up not doing anything useful. But doing it together should be better than each of us doing things by ourselves."

"Yeah."

"Guys? There's something wrong with the fire." Paul said tentatively.

After a long moment of inspection, Donny cautiously said, "It looks fine to me."

"It's like a picture of a fire. It's putting out light but not heat, and the flames aren't moving." Paul slowly explained.

"Has anyone else noticed that even though you can see the fire, you can't see anything else in the room from the light of it?" Kole asked curiously.

"Except that we can see each other." Obie immediately countered.

"Yes. But shouldn't we be able to see the rest of the room in the firelight? What about the fireplace?" Kole asked reasonably.

"Randolph? This sounds like your area more than anyone else's." Donny said frankly.

"Although I have existed as a ghost for well over a century, most of that time I was drifting without thought or purpose. Only in joining with Arlo was I able to recover my awareness. Of course I will be willing to help however I can, but I'm afraid that I have very few answers to share with you regarding spiritual matters." Randolph explained with evident regret.

"Understood. What can you tell us about the fire?" Dylan asked curiously.

"From what I have witnessed, flame seems to permeate both worlds. I have heard that it is sometimes possible to see from one world to another through the flames."

"Really?"

"I have never done so. I always harbored the fear that should I try, I might become lost in the spectacle of the flame and simply stop existing."

"I guess if you were all spirit, that could happen." Paul said uncertainly.

"In addition to scrying through the flames, creatures of great power are said to be able to create portals within the flames to travel to other realms."

"Then why don't we ever see them?" Obie asked skeptically.

"That's a good point. If that's all there is to it, there'd be demons all over the place." Dylan agreed.

"If I am reminded of other stories detailing the attributes of flame, I will be sure to tell you, but that is all I can recall at the moment."

"Thank you for sharing with us." Donny said sincerely.


"Whatever this is, I'd say that it isn't natural or accidental." Paul said into the silence that had fallen over the group.

"How do you mean?" Ronny asked curiously.

"I've always been interested in the spooky stuff and because of Uncle Aubrey and Jerico, I've been paying extra attention to it lately."

"What are you thinking?" Donny asked curiously.

"Some of it is the stories that parents tell their children to help try and explain why the world works the way it does."

"Is it like the spooky stories where someone is following a path and finding out that one day that it leads somewhere that it never did before?" Jason K asked curiously.

"Be careful of your goodies on the way to Grandma's house." Donny said with a smile.

"Yeah, but no. Like that, but also with something about it that's so big that it goes against the laws of nature." Paul said seriously.

"Some cultures have stories about villages lost in time, where everyone fell asleep for a hundred years. Could it be something like that?" Arlo cautiously asked.

"There are other stories where everyone in a town disappeared, all at the same time, and were never seen or heard from again." Dylan quickly added.

"Those could be the same story except in one the people found their way back and in the other one they didn't." Obie said seriously.

"Because of the frozen flames, that might mean that time froze all around us and that when we get back to normal that it'll still be the same hour, minute and second that we left. No matter if we're in here for days or weeks or even months." Jason K said with increasing excitement.

"I do not find the prospect to be quite as joyous as you apparently do. Existing without existing in a realm without day or night to mark the passage of time is maddening. The only sounds are shrieks and howls in the distance. Everything becomes odorless and tasteless. You can see flames, the inner light of certain special individuals, like Arlo, and sometimes, under the right conditions, you can see into the waking world through shadows and reflections." Randolph carefully shared with them.

"How did you get through it?" Donny asked with concern.

"While I would like to claim some great virtue or intestinal fortitude, the honest truth of the matter is that I continue to exist because I haven't disappeared yet. I don't have any monumental insights into the matter, only the good fortune to have found you before I gave up my last hope and ceased to be."


"Ryvan, can I ask you a kinda personal question?" Paul asked distractedly.

"Yeah. I guess so." Ryvan answered hesitantly.

"Do you know why you're deaf? I mean, do you know the medical cause of it?"

"Yeah. I guess my mom drank and did drugs and stuff when she was pregnant with me and because of that, I had a few birth defects. At first, they thought that I was going to be really messed up mentally, but I just ended up being deaf."

"Did they say what was wrong that caused you to be deaf?" Paul persisted.

"They said that the parts of my ears associated with hearing never developed in me. They couldn't do corrective surgery because there wasn't anything there to correct. I was born without auditory nerves and the related organs." Ryvan carefully explained.

"Do you know if they ever thought about transplants or anything like that?" Donny asked curiously.

"They talked about that. They said that even if they found everything I was missing somehow, which they didn't expect would happen, there wouldn't be anything to connect them to. I guess I've got to face it. I'm not wired for sound." Ryvan finished regretfully.

"But now that you're here you can hear us?" Paul asked to confirm.

"Yeah. I guess so." Ryvan cautiously agreed, then explained, "I've never been able to hear before, so I can't be sure that what I hear is the same thing that you hear. But I understand what you're saying when you speak, so I'm willing to call it good and leave it be."

"If you've never heard before, then it seems like you'd have to 'learn' what the different sounds are before you could understand what we're saying." Arlo said speculatively.

"What are you getting at, Paul?" Dylan slowly asked.

"I'm just trying to make sure that I'm understanding everything. Like, maybe if we understand all of what's happening to us, it'll help us figure out where we are and how we got here."

"Have you come up with anything?"

"Nothing that you'll want to hear about."

"So you've come up with something? What is it?"

"Have any of you thought about... what if we're dead?" Paul asked disjointedly.

"No. Why would you think that?" Dylan asked seriously.

"Well, we're here with a ghost and Ryvan can hear, even though he's physically not able to. According to what Randolph was saying, the light we see is spiritual..." Paul trailed off, not knowing what more to say to defend his supposition.

"I don't know what to tell you. I believe that I'm alive, but I don't have any way of proving it." Dylan reluctantly admitted.

"Randolph? Can you think of any way we could prove it to ourselves one way or another?" Arlo asked curiously.

"Like Dylan, I have no proof to offer that couldn't be dismissed as being part of our shared fantasy. I believe that you are all alive, but I have nothing else to offer in evidence." Randolph finished regretfully.

"Does it matter?" Kole asked simply.

"If we're dead? Yeah!" Dylan said somewhat frantically.

"What are we going to do if we are dead?" Before anyone could answer, Kole continued, "What are we going to do if we're not?"

"If we're dead, anything we could do probably wouldn't matter." Ryvan timidly ventured.

"We turned on the fireplace, that might mean that we can move and change things in the real world. If we can change things, we matter." Kole said firmly.

"I guess that's true." Ryvan said uncertainly.

"Does anyone have another plan?" Kole asked simply.

"Another plan? Do you mean that you have a plan to begin with?" Jason K cautiously asked.

"Yeah. Getting stronger with our gifts and becoming a team so that we can help the camp and the Clan." Dylan said seriously.

"Randolph? Would you mind if I touched you?" Donny asked cautiously.

"Why? If I may ask." Randolph warily responded.

"I'm just trying to understand the rules of this place. If I can touch the others, it doesn't really prove anything but if I can touch you..."

After a moment, Randolph cautiously asked, "What will it prove?"

Donny timidly smiled, then quietly said, "Just that I can touch you, I suppose. Nothing else."

Randolph adopted Donny's timid expression, then moved to be within reach.

As Donny reached up to gently cup Randolph's cheek, Randolph reached out his hand to mirror Donny's position.

Their eyes locked, daring each other to stop... or to continue, perhaps both at the same time. Finally, in the same moment, Donny and Randolph touched each other.

A strange look crossed Donny's face as he gently caressed Randolph's cheek with his thumb.

"Is something wrong?" Dylan quietly asked.

"No. I just thought that Randolph's cheek would be soft, it looks soft... It's actually kinda prickley." Donny finished with a tender grin.

"Is that acceptable to you?" Randolph cautiously asked.

"Yeah. I like it." Donny shyly admitted.

"But you can feel each other?" Dylan asked to confirm.

After a moment to consider what he was feeling, Donny finally said, "Yeah. He feels completely real to me."

"I'm not sure if that means that you're both spirits or if you somehow have real bodies in this place." Paul said frankly.

"Randolph, you said that as a ghost that you couldn't smell or taste anything, is that right?" Dylan asked slowly.

"Yes. It's not that I missed it, since it was mostly like being lost in a dream, but I noticed because it was something outside myself that could have helped to prove or disprove my existence." Randolph cautiously explained.

"So I guess that means that one of us needs to try and taste something." Dylan said as he looked around at the others in the faint firelight.

"That's easy." Obie said confidently, then walked to Dylan and gave him a firm kiss.

The mildly interested looks of the group slowly transformed to various expressions of surprise.

"Um, yeah. Easy." Paul muttered absently as he continued to watch.

When Obie finally backed away, Donny quietly asked, "Were you able to taste anything?"

"Yeah." Dylan confirmed, then added, "I'm not actually into guys all that much, but... it was sweet... in a lot of ways."

"So what does that mean? I mean, as far as us being real or not?" Paul asked seriously.

"The only thing it proves is that we're not dead like Randolph was. He couldn't smell or taste anything. We can." Dylan said reasonably.

"Would you mind?" Donny asked Randolph quietly.

"Would I mind what?" Randolph asked in puzzlement.

"If I kissed you so that we can see if we can taste each other, since you're the one who couldn't taste before." Donny carefully explained.

"Please try to understand that such things weren't done in my time." Randolph said regretfully.

"Not where anyone could see it, anyway." Dylan responded cynically.

After a moment to consider the words, Randolph cautiously ventured, "Who's to say who did what behind closed doors?"

"So does that mean that you'll let me?" Donny asked hopefully.

"Is the only reason to determine how alive I am?" Randolph asked tentatively.

"No. That's not the only reason. It's also because I want to and with everything that's going on, I may never get another chance." Donny said seriously, then continued by softly asking, "Would you mind?"

"That being said, I think, perhaps, that I would not mind at all." Randolph said with a quiver in his voice that betrayed his nervousness.

Those who had been able to witness both kisses couldn't help but notice that Donny had virtually duplicated Obie's kissing technique, mimicking his firm, self-assured style.

"You know, when I used to dream about being 'one of the guys' this isn't exactly what I imagined it being like." Ronny said to the others as the kiss continued.

Finally, Donny pulled out of the kiss enough to quietly ask, "Was that okay?"

After a long moment, Randolph was finally able to say, "Never, at any time, in my previous life, did I ever experience anything like that."

"So you liked it?" Donny asked hopefully.

"If one were to believe in such a thing as destiny, then it is conceivable that this exact moment may be why I have continued to exist." Randolph said somewhat breathlessly.

"I'll take that as a 'yes'." Donny said warmly.

To Be Continued...

Editor's Notes:


Not that I did much in the way of editing this chapter, but I have certainly enjoyed reading it

I can see how difficult it is for everyone here.

My hope is that something has happened to improve things for everyone.

This is certainly new teratory, and that in itself is better.

I hope this will continue.

Darryl The Radiorancher