The Bookworm Blog!


Graduation by Serafina Zanes

This fawesome Midnighters fanfic was written by Sara Zanes for the “Write the beginning of Chasing Midnight” competition over at Chasing Midnight Werewolves. Pretty fool, right?

Chapter One

 

Rex Greene fidgeted uncomfortably in his ugly red polyester robe as he stood listening to an unbelievably boring speech on the bleachers in the back field of Bixby High School. The valedictorian whined on about how fondly they would always remember this school, and Rex had to stop himself laughing, focusing instead on the teasing tassel hanging from his unbelievably uncomfortable hat. It was blurry, just a few inches from the thick lens of his glasses, and his eyes were squinted half shut anyway, against the obnoxious noon brightness in the cloudless Oklahoma sky. So instead of reflecting on how “Bixky High had provided a friendly gateway into society,” he thought about Melissa and Jonathan. 

The last he’d heard of them, they’d been crashing with an old friend of Jonathan’s in Philadelphia. Jessica was with them, presumably, one hour out of the twenty-five, and Rex envied even that. Instead of boldly going where no midnighter had gone before, he was stuck in the middle of Bixby Oklahoma in 98 degree weather, being told how vital the last pointless four years had been.

Melissa had sounded the same as ever, if marginally less bitter as she continued to gain more control over her powers. Rex had never gotten along with Martinez, so most of the time they’d spoken over the last six months was two-second hellos at the end of the weekly phone calls. Even he’d sounded happy, free, while Rex, Rex was still stuck in Bixby High, scratching at his graduation robe and wishing he was anywhere but there. 

                                                                                                                                               –

 

Bixby looked different, Melissa decided. Or not different. Bixby looked the same; small, empty and boring, but not as evil. When she wasn’t stuck here by force, it had lost its sinister edge.

Now it just looked like a pathetic little town, almost comfortable in its boring unchangedness. Unchangedness. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve, Melissa counted to herself. Lucky thirteen.

Beside her, Flyboy bounced around in his seat, tapping on the dashboard, crossing his legs, cracking his knuckles. He was killing her superiority mellow, but Melissa was almost able to forgive him. They were on their way to break Rex out, with a mission for him. For that, she could forgive Jonathan Martinez his jitters. It was his girlfriend, after all.

In the backseat, the twins were sitting quietly, Tech reading some quantum physics textbook or something, turning pages drying, snorting occasionally, and once or twice laughing out loud. Laughing out loud at quantum physics. Melissa shuddered. She was almost afraid to introduce him to Dess.

Next to Tech, Connor was staring out the window, no doubt seeing something far more interesting in the familiar Bixby skyline than anything Melissa could. She was more than a little bit edgy about introducing Connor to Rex. If Rex could barely handle Flyboy, she could only imagine how he’d react to another seer. Or, she could imagine it pretty well. He’d freak out.

She hadn’t mentioned the twins in the last call, or talked about the fact they were coming. Well really, they hadn’t even known they were coming until about two days ago, around when they met the twins, by which point Jonathan’s friend had managed to get his phone service switched off and Melissa had discovered that there weren’t phone booths on the street anymore.

So they were showing up unannounced.

Melissa passed the familiar silhouette of Bixby High School, intending to drive past it, cruising for Rex’s house, but she noticed a large group of people on the school field. She felt a small moment of pride for noticing this; because it was exactly the sort of thing she usually lost sight of in her old psychic haze. She had controlnow. But back to Bixby High. Melissa was pretty sure they didn’t play football this early on a weekday, and besides, the bleachers were covered in people wearing white and red robes, and an audience sat in front on folding chairs.

“Flyboy, what day is today?” she asked suddenly, startling the car.

“Ummmm…June thirteenth?” he confirmed, squinting off in the distance and counting off on his fingers. “Wednesday.” He decided.

“Dammit.” Melissa swore, remembering Rex’s countdown the last few times they’d talked. Wednesday June 13th.  Graduation day.  Rex had been joking about starting his life with an anti-darkling graduation.

“Wanna watch Rex and Dess graduate?” Melissa asked, turning into the parking lot.

Dess was calculating the time left in the graduation ceremony based on the angle of the sun above and a complex formula based on the precise latitude of Bixby High and some base sixty divisions. There were exactly 923 seconds until the time they’d marked as the end of the ceremony, though the long-winded principal was pushing it now. Dess sighed impatiently. She could handle fifteen more minutes of Bixby High, at least.

Dess scanned the crowd for her parents, sitting near the back looking unbelievably proud.  She was graduating early, earlier even than most people who graduated early. It wasn’t even technically legal for her to graduate this young, but she’d simply run out of math and science classes to take, and Bixby High School was happy enough to get rid of her once her parents signed the stack of underage graduation forms.

In the last week she’d gotten a pile of acceptance letters, even scholarship offersfrom MIT and Ivy League and all those colleges that really smart people went to. No doubt they’d be as polluted with idiots as Bixby High was. But just the idea…

But before she went to any fancy college, she was finding Jonathan and Melissa and tracking down some polymath friends.

Speaking of Jonathan and Melissa…no way. No way. No way. NO. WAY.

Yes way.

In the back row, a few rows behind her parents, Jonathan Martinez was standing, scanning the crowd, Melissa was next to him, headphone-less at Bixby High School for what must be almost the first time. A little behind them stood two high-school age guys with a distinct familial resemblance, one a little taller with rough-cut black hair and the shorter one with closer cropped reddish hair. The red-haired one asked some sort of question to Jonathan and Jonathan made a gesture toward Dess and one across the bleachers (they were in height order) at Rex.

What are you doing here?Dess mouthed at them, but they ignored it. The taller, black-haired one was studying her, while Jonathan and the red-haired one pointed towards Rex, whispering. Melissa was scanning the audience.

Dess looked anxiously back at her parents, remembering that Jonathan and Melissa had been reported as running away from home, and her parents had gotten retroactively suspicious of her friends. Them showing up at graduation wouldn’t really help.

But Dess didn’t care. If they’d come back to Bixby, especially bringing two new friends, they had something interesting. And Dess could use something interesting.

The principal finally started calling out names to collect diplomas and Dess twirled the spiral of her newest darkling-proof necklace, Theoretically Cannibalistic Monstrosities.

Seeing everyone again was surreal to Jonathan Martinez. The crowd of people graduating were… strangers. He’d never been as close to the people at Bixby High as the ones back in Philadelphia, and a missed year had made them even farther away. While he’d been driving across the country, these people had just been waiting in Bixby and getting different haircuts.

Even in the crowd of strangers, he spotted Rex and Dess straight off, looking pretty much the same as they always had. Both were squinting against the strong Oklahoma sun.

“Which ones are they?” Connor asked Jonathan.

“That’s Dess, the polymath,” He said, pointing to her in the second row. “And that’s Rex, the seer.” He said, pointing again to Rex in the top row. Tech moved out from behind them to get a look at Dess, who was asking some kind of silent question and playing with her necklace.

“Rex Greene.” The principal announced, and Rex stepped forward in line. The morbidly obese school official handed him the cheap leather envelope with his diploma in it, fresh back from the Bixby Kinko’s.

Rex shook the man’s sweating hand, cringing inwardly, but grinning at Bixby High for maybe the first time. He could leave. He could leave.

Forget his father, forget everything. He was free. He didn’t have to do anything. He didn’t have any lame legally-required education hanging over his head. He could leave.  

Looking across the crowd, scanning disgustingly proud parents and pathetic students, he saw a sliver of a familiar face. Taking a deep breath, Rex blinked. For the first two weeks, he’d seen her everywhere.  Every time he spotted his shadow, he’d thought it was Melissa, silently following him just like she used to; with headphones blaring, sweatshirt hood pulled up, gloved hands in pockets, her sunglasses glinting in Bixby High School fluorescents.

Rex blinked again. Squinted. Melissa was still there. He looked again. Another familiar face beside her in the crowd—Martinez.

                Crap. This was real. Melissa was really here.

 

Chapter Two

 

Unfortunately, while Rex was having the epiphany that Melissa was really truly here, the next for people in the alphabet had graduated, and they were now pressing up behind him, impatient to get on with the carefully rehearsed movements back to the bleachers. Good old Timmy Hudson was right behind him, gathering up just enough courage to roughly shove Rex into movement. Rex, on the other hand, whipped around and growled at him, baring his teeth, and Hudson backed off.

Rex moved along anyway, rushing back to his carefully assigned bleacher spot, marked off on both sides with masking tape. And he’d thought he was impatient before.Clenching and unclenching his fists, Rex Greene waited for graduation to be over.
Dess shuffled impatiently, in line behind the three people alphabetically right before her. Feeling about to jump out of her skin, she chipped away at the black nail polish of her thumb.

“Desdemona [insert last name].” Finally. Dess stepped forward, practically grabbing the diploma out of the principal’s meaty hands, lightly shaking his sweaty palm with the other.

Dashing back to her seat, she checked the time again. Her name was near the end of the alphabet—just a few more minutes of closing crap.

However, the second she got off those bleachers, when the closing crap ended, she was swarmed by her mother, her father, and both of her grandmothers, neither of whom she’d even known she was there.

Across the crowd, she saw Rex meet up with Melissa, Jonathan and the two strangers, Rex looking the happiest she’d seen, well, ever, as did Melissa. Dess bit her lip from within her tight net of relatives. Sadly, there was no escape right now.

She waved a little as they glanced over. Rex mouthed a single word at her.

Midnight.

A handful of excruciating minutes later, the ceremony was over. The graduating class threw their hats away, Dess just pulling hers thankfully off her head and ducking through the crowd, looking for Jonathan and Melissa without having to encounter her parents.

No luck; her proudly grinning mom and dad, complete with the toothless smile of the white-haired grandmother she hadn’t even known was coming.

Amid a crowd of praise and complements, Dess resigned herself to waiting until midnight.

Rex, on the other hand, dashed off the bleachers, pushing his way easily through the student body, using his height and bulked-up Halfling size.

As fast as he could, he ran toward Mellissa and Jonathan, slowing down as he emerged from the crowd, because running while wearing graduation robes looked extremely lame (as did pretty much everything else in those stupid robes).

Slowly, and grinning the widest he had in years, he approached Melissa, instinctively stopping just short of her. She closed the distance herself, jumping up to pull down his shoulders towards her, holding him close.

Jonathan and the two strangers exchanged awkward glances.

After a long moment, they finally broke apart.

“Who’re they?” Rex asked her, nodding to the twins.

“I’m Connor.” The red-haired one introduced, in a smug tone that tended Rex toward disliking him on first impression. “And this’ Tech.” he said, nodding to his darker-haired brother, who looked vaguely annoyed at being spoken for. Rex nodded grimly at both of them.

“What about talents?” Rex asked, seeing the strong Focus that clung to both of them, making their faces a blur through his glasses.

“Seer and polymath.” Melissa answered. Rex responded with dread. Seer? He could just guess which one that was. The annoying one, because Tech would be a pretty likely nickname for a polymath. God, that was just what Rex needed.

But what was the point of bringing them all the way to Bixby if they just had talents they’d already known about?

“But that’s not the weird part.” Martinez interrupted, pretty much anserwing Rex’s mental question.

“Yeah.” Melissa took over. “We had the samples we brought with us.” She said, pulling a bundle out of her pocket. Inside was a handful of generic grey gravel, but to Rex’s eyes two or three of the rocks glinted with Focus. They’d brought them in, some control and a few stolen from Darkling Central Apartment, to test kids for a seeing talent. “And he picked out all the right ones, every time.”

“Because he’s a seer. What’s weird about that?” Rex asked.

“Because then we went to the lore test.” She explained, referring to the flat rock they’d brought from the snake pit that was marked with a couple of lore symbols, which Rex had written down for them as a key to the test. “And he came up with totally different symbols than you.”

“What do you mean?” Rex asked suspiciously.

“I mean, you told us about a record of some darkling hunt, and he came up with something totally different.” She said.

“So…he’s making crap up.” Rex said in an obvious tone. He didn’t want to hear about this bogus little seer lying through some test.

“But he got the other test right, every time.” Martinez interjected.

“So, I don’t know, he was faking—those rocks were a different color or something. Or he’s got a weaker talent and can only see Focus, not lore.” Rex theorized wildly, watching his own argument get thinner and thinner like stretched-out chewing gum.

“Or…” Martinez offered. “Different seers can see the lore differently. Maybe there’re different types of seers or something, and you can only see what’s written by ones who’re they same type as you.”

“I was as suspicious as you.” Melissa said. “So we made him write all the symbols down with pen and paper, and we recognized some. Ones that he couldn’t have seen before. He’s definitely a seer.”

“So what’d he draw?” Rex asked, because it was obvious, not only from the fact that they’d come to Bixby, but from the way Martinez was biting his tongue and fidgeting more than usual.

“A lot of stuff.” Melissa started. “More than just talent symbols—I didn’t recognize him, which is part of why we wanted to show you. Something about how to trap darklings—how they made the secret hour in the first place, how they folded stuff into it.”

“And…” Martinez hinted angrily and impatiently.

“And,” Melissa continued. “he drew the flamebringer symbol.”

For the first time in almost a year, Dess waited for midnight.

She sat on her bed at eleven, fully dressed, with the lights out, the only light coming in through her window. For the eightieth time in the last half an hour, she glanced at the clock. Dess sighed. What she really needed was something to do with her hands.

Weapons.

Darkling activity had been incredibly, pre-Jessica low since the rips were closed. Slithers were all she saw anymore, and even they were rare. Rex had spent a few months being paranoid before even he loosened up and admitted that the darklings weren’t resting up for some huge plan.

So Dess had a stack of clean, unused, unnamed weapons in her closet.

Which is one of the reasons her parents were banned from her room. The cannibalized forks, hubcaps and curtain rods wouldn’t be the easiest things to explain if they found them.

Digging through the piles of dirty and unwanted clothes, Dess found what she wanted. A thin, relatively short curtain rod (or maybe it was for a shower, she didn’t really care) carved with symbols and wrapped with wire.

Grinning, she pulled it out, hefting it as a spear, and named it, just as a blue curtain of stillness descended over the world.

Tech waited with Connor on Rex Greene’s dead front lawn. In the blue hour, the twists of rippling weeds and grass were frozen at their un-mowed knee height. The two of them stood there, in the middle of the mini-field with the grass frozen in mid-breeze around them.

Connor looked impatient.

“Think we should go in?” he asked.

“Not really, unless you want to walk in on Melissa’s reunion with her boyfriend.” Tech answered with a little grimace, which Connor returned.

“Don’t want her to eat us.” Connor concluded. Melissa was scary enough when she wasn’thappy. Happy Melissa was downright serial killer-esque.

“So…” Tech started after a short pause. “Think we’re going to see that other polymath next?” his tone was casual, but holding disguised excitement. Connor rolled his eyes.

“Double math-geek. I’m afraid. I’m sure we’ll get to your little girlfriend next.” He teased, and Tech went a little red.

“Come on, I haven’t even really met her yet.” Tech countered.

“Yeah, we’ve just gotten a couple weeks’ worth of constant stories about her.” Connor replied, relenting with a chuckle and a knowing look.

“What’s up with Jessica and Jonathan though?” Tech asked, changing the subject rapidly.

“He left after graduation, probably won’t catch up for a couple days.” Connor explained.

Jessica had offered for them to go ahead, covering more ground by driving all day and not having to let her and Jonathan catch up and double back at midnight. Now that they’d reached Bixby, Jonathan and Jessica could just fly for the entire secret hour without having to do even more doubling back.

“Probably take them another week or so—about a hundred miles to go.” Connor calculated roughly. The exact number, a string of quick calculations of leaps and altitude and speed and minutes, jumped to Tech’s mind, but he bit his tongue. Connor got fed up with polymath stuff pretty quickly, so Tech picked his unnecessary fact battles wisely.

“Do you hear something?” Tech asked suddenly.

Slowly, comically they both turned around. A sleek, giant cat, like a panther, was strolling ominously toward them. It paced carefully, slowly, each muscular shoulder flexing under velvet-black fur with each step.

“Darkling!” Connor yelled a warning, just as the panther rose to its hind legs, leaping towards them.

In mid-leap, it collapsed spasming and then falling limp like a rag doll. Blue sparks danced over it, sinking into the frozen grass.

In the darkling’s place stood a teenage girl, with chin-length black hair that glinted indigo in the blue light, wearing a black leather jacket that glinted with silver buckles and ten different silver chains (a fact Tech’s polymath brain supplied automatically), all over a black skirt that ran to black-and-white striped tights, and chunky, steel-toed boots. She wielded a long silver pole with a round ball at the end. It was coiled with wire, lore symbols carved along it. She smiled.

“This’ Misunderstood Supernumerary Mathematician.” Dess announced. “Which describes me pretty well too.”

Chapter Three

Haven’t seen a psychokitty in ages.” Dess commented to an awestruck Connor and Tech. 

“Dess, quit scaring the kids,” Rex warned, the kind of thing he’d never have said a year ago. A year alone with Dess and his darkling senses in Bixby had changed him, a little. Dess rolled her eyes. She hadn’t changed much.

“Connor. Tech. Everyone,” Melissa introduced, just to be sure.

“What talents we got?” Dess asked, interested.

“Seer,” Melissa said, pointing. “Polymath.”

Dess smiled like it was Supernumerary Mathematician Christmas again.

“Polymath. Fawesome,” Dess answered. The others looked blankly. She rolled her eyes agin, grinning. Losers.

“Come on. I want you to read some lore for me,” Rex said, gesturing Connor and the others inside.

The room was crappy as ever. Dust, junk, and boxes, all frozen in the blue time. In front of the TV, Rex’s dad sat, stiff, his mouth and eyes open and glassy. Connor and Tech watched it all like kids rushed through a carnival house of horrors. Dess just averted her eyes.

Rex’s room had gona from messy crashing-place to full size museum in the last year. Bookshelves, constructed and salvaged, rimmed the walls, covered in artifacts and lore and books and tridecagrams and metal.

“Alright. Read this for me,” Rex started, and Dess got bored already, wandering the edges of the room. Connor and Tech stayed huddled in the middle. Melissa fell back on the bed, running her hands through her short hair. It’d grown out of the buzz, a little, so now it was more fashionable crop than inmate shave.

There are few things on earth more boring than being a polymath sitting around watching two seers look at lore and scribble down symbols.

For Dess, this was usually the sort of thing she considered Hell.

Unless, say, you had another plymath to talk to. Even if he was, admittedly, looking a little shell-shocked and clinging to his brother.

“Never seen a psychokitty before, have you?” Dess asked the other polymath, this Tech. He was looking around, wide-eyed, shoulders hunched in his dark blue pullover sweatshirt. He shook his head.

“Don’t you guys have any weapons?”

Tech shook his head. Dess was outraged.

“No weapons at all? No clean steel? No tridecalogisms?”

He shook his head.

“What’s a tridecalogism?” Dess just about exploded as Tech asked that question. What hadMelissa, Jess and Jonathan told these kids? Then she smiled, getting the glint in her eyes that scared people who knew her well enough. This was going to be fun.

“Tridecalogism…” she started pulling off both of her named steel thumb rings (Zombification and Electrocution, her two favorite means of death), “is a thirteen-letter word that means thirteen-letter word.”

The next day around noon, Rex Greene led Connor into the Clovis Museum, passing dusty cases full of lore-inscribed arrowheads. The open excavation wall loomed on one side, and directly in front of them was Rex’s Rosetta Stone, a giant slab of rock covered in lore symbols. If Connor really could see some other, secret lore, this was the place to test it.

Last midnight, he’d consistently come up with slightly different versions of the lore than Rex. They told the same stories, it seemed, but in different words, different points of view, different accounts, maybe like the books of the Bible.

Rex wanted to see what he could do at Lore 101. Already he was plotting taking the other seer down to the Snake Pit.

Rex surveyed the museum happily. After Jonathan and Melissa had left, he’d gotten a part-time job at the museum, and thrown himself into excavations, labeling, dusting and organizing. Without the curator’s knowledge, he’d slowly turned the place into Midnighter Lore 101.

Connor looked around disinterestedly.

“God, this place is lame,” he said. Rex glared. “Seriously.” Connor still wasn’t getting the hint. “About as pathetic and small-town as everything in Bixby.”

Rex might agree. That didn’t mean Connor could say it. Connor who’d been running around with Jonathan and Melissa while Rex took finals, who’d only been a seer for less than a year, who hadn’t studied the lore all his life, hadn’t gotten captured by darklings, didn’t know how hard it was to be a halfling.

Rex shoved Connor up against a wall, his hand to Connor’s throat.

“Think you’re big-time, don’t you, little seer? Pathetic. Little. Human.” He spat.

“I’m not afraid of you.” Connor choked. Bad move. Rex reached for him with the darkling senses he’d learned to control over the last year.

“But you’re afraid of Midnight. You’re afraid of all those little slithers and darklings and psychokitties coming to get you every night. You’re afraid they’re going to come in the blue time and snatch away your poor, innocent little brother.”

Rex bared his teeth. Connor shivered and choked, and Rex Greene the halfling let him down. Connor gasped as his Converse slid back on to the dusty linoleum floor.

“Trust me.” Rex said. “You should be afraid of me.”

And he kept walking, strolling over to the case that contained the flat slab of the giant lore stone. Reluctantly, slowly, warily, Connor followed.

“Top right corner, what do you see?” Rex asked after a minute.

“Flame-bringer symbol.” Connor answered quickly. Last midnight Rex had taught him some of the more basic symbols; the ones for most of the talents and a few others.

It went on like this for a while, Connor sketching symbols he didn’t know the names of into a notebook Rex’d brought.

At four o’clock, museum closing time, they looked over the pages, examining them fully for the first real time. Reading their meaning.

“We have to tell Jonathan.” Rex said, possibly the first time he’d ever thought or said such a thing.

As it happened, Jessica Day and Jonathan Martinez reached Bixby Oklahoma about halfway through the secret hour that night. they’d flown all through the blue time the previous night, covering a decent amount of ground, not stopping to sightsee, flying the entire hour, almost falling down as midnight ended.

The secret hour came again, and they flew less quickly, Jess full of reluctance about coming back to Bixby, knowing her family were just miles away but she’d never see them. The rip was completely closed up by now.

They flew over the Bixby junkyard on the way into town. In the blue hour, it was a city of metal, shining skeletons of buildings and machinery, the steel glinting in the light of the dark moon. A winged shape caught her eye.

“Look!” she said, gesturing with her and Jonathan’s intertwined hands. He panicked a little, from being knocked off balance, and suspecting darklings.

“Where?” he asked, whipping around and pulling them down to the ground so much as he could.

“Pegasus.” She said simply, and Jonathan looked down, the pair of them gently floating to the ground in the junkyard, separating.

The once-magnificent horse that had crowned the top of the Mobil Building during Jessica’s sophomore year was rusty and burned, blackened by the strike of lightning.

Blue-tinged rust turned red and flaked off under Jessica’s fingertips as she brushed them against the familiar curve of the wings. Her eyes filled with tears.

A lightness filled her. Jonathan had come up beside her, holding her hand securely with his.

“It’s going to be okay. We’ll find a way.” He reassured, and she tried to believe him, looking up into the eyes of her boyfriend, who was now two years older than her, not just one.

“I’m serious. This thing with Connor, it’ll be the breakthrough.” Jessica Day turned her head away, focusing blurry eyes on the metal wings of the Pegasus sign.

They made it to Dess’ house, the meeting place arranged when Jonathan had called from the small, no-name town he’d stayed in for the day, just before the secret hour ended. Melissa must have felt them coming, because she, Rex, Dess, Connor and Tech were waiting together on the lawn.

“We found something.” Rex said even before Jonathan and Jess landed. “In the lore.”

“What?” Jonathan asked just as the secret hour ended, color flooding Bixby, Oklahoma. He spun around to Jess just as her hands dissolved under his, and she was gone with a sweet smile.

“It’s about how the darklings first made the secret hour. They had to fold things into the blue time, one by one, the elders jumping in and out and bringing the others with them.”

“But if darklings could go in and out of the secret hour whenever they wanted, why all the stuff about the rips? Why wouldn’t they just come out and hunt whenever they wanted?”

“They used to. But even then they could only come out through places where the secret hour existed. And there were usually midnighters to fight them off. And somehow, eventually, there weren’t enough elders, and they lost the power, and got too cautious.”

“What’s your point, Rex?” Jonathan interjected into the rambling history lecture.

“His point,” Connor took over, “is that wehave the power. And that the darklings could go back and forth. They could bring stuff into midnight, but they could also bring it out.”

It felt like the secret hour again, except only Jonathan’s organs knew it, and they’d jumped up at midnight gravity without the approval of the rest of his body. Heart in his throat, stomach in his lungs.

“But…” Jonathan objected a second later. “We don’t have a darkling.”

“No.” Rex Greene answered. “But we have a halfling.”“

Chapter 4

They did the ritual two days later, standing in the street in front of Rex’s house. Connor held a convenience-store notebook, full of copied lore symbols and numbers, and a box of sidewalk chalk. Rex took the sidewalk chalk, barely acknowledging the other seer.

It was 11:59.

Rex took a piece of chalk, bubblegum pink, and began copying the lore symbols, wincing in concentration as he interspersed them with The Aversion.

A year ago, he couldn’t even think it, let alone write it. Practice made perfect.

Made you stronger.

Next to him, Melissa chuckled dryly.

“Whatever doesn’t kill you…” she reminded his thoughts, and took the chalk from him, penciling in the rows of 13s herself. Rex moved to stop her, but realized it was probably best this way. This would wear him out either way. He didn’t need to waste his concentration.

Blue flooded the street, leeching color from the chalked-in circle.

Jessica Day appeared on the crest of the hill, a good twenty yards away, where they’d brought her last night. Jonathan had been leaning against the streetlight there, and now he leapt up, and they low-gravity-bounced down to the circle.

“What do we do?” Jess asked, sounding like a five year old at a doctor’s appointment.

“Get in the circle,” Rex directed. Jonathan went to go with her, and Rex shook his head. “We don’t know what’ll happen. Just Jess for now.”

 

Connor also stepped out of the circle, watching the scene. Tech and Dess were off to one side, talking in tridecalogisms. Listening to them gave Connor a headache.

“C’mere.” Rex directed, and Connor stepped forward with the notebook, the two of them going around the circle, sketching symbols.

“How is this supposed to work again?” Connor asked, because every answer he got made less sense.

“It’s preparation. We don’t know if it’ll do any good, but Dess said we should do it, and it can’t hurt.”

“So there’s really no purpose to all this,” Connor confirmed, flipping a page in the notebook.

“Pretty much none. When it all gets down to it, it’s up to me.”

This part Connor had heard about already. Rex had to tap into his darkling side, and they knew it was going to be dangerous. For the past year, he’d been trying to suppress it. Now, he had to use it.

 

Rex Greene took a deep breath, threading the 39 links of the silver chain linking his wallet to his belt buckle through his fingers. It hurt, but not the way it used to. More like a loose tooth you kept pushing. A dull ache you couldn’t leave alone.   

Connor was looking at him. Flyboy was too. Jess, with hopeful eyes. Melissa, looking scared for him. Dess and Tech, mildly amused. Everyone was staring at him.

Rex took another deep breath.

And another.

And then he reached inside his mind, to the dark little corner where the darkling lived now. Down to where he’d forced it.

You’re not strong enough, a voice hissed to him, you’re weak. You’ll fall to the beast. You can’t do it. You can’t save Jess. You can’t even save yourself.

Rex took yet another deep breath. His mind was a swirl of hunter and prey, hunts and Aversions and technology and blue.

And in there, was a skill. A memory of the time when they’d created the blue time. An arm in his mind he could reach with, and pluck things straight out of time.

 

Rex stood there for a long time, both fists clenched tight, knuckles white. Connor and the others watched, waiting, as the dark moon swung across the sky, and Rex didn’t move, just letting out the occasional, hissing, rattling breath.

 

Jessica Day screamed. It hurt. Everything. Like she was being torn in a million different directions at once. She reached her hand out of the circle, reaching out for Jonathan, who grabbed her hand, and turned on Connor.

“Do something!” he shouted.

“What the hell am I supposed to do?” Connor shouted back. He had no idea what was going on. Rex was still a human statue, eyes screwed shut, and Jess was doubling over in pain, screaming.

 

Melissa stepped forward, taking Jessica’s hand. Agony poured through her head, and she ground her teeth, biting down as hard as she could.

She turned to Jonathan, blood dripping from her lip.

“What’s happening?” he asked.

Melissa shook her head.

“I don’t know.”

 

A rushing sound filled the street. A roaring.

Midnight was ending.

 

Blackness fell on the scene, colors returning. The blue disappeared, replaced by streetlights and pale stars.

Melissa spun around, the hand that had been gripping Jessica’s closing on air, palms biting into her fingernails.

Jonathan Martinez was crying.

And laughing.

In the middle of the street, Jessica Day was crouched on her hands and knees, couching and choking.

“That was…” She broke down in a fit of coughing. “Psychosomatic.” 

            THE END

 

 

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