Authors: Jordan Dane
Griffith Park Zoo
Gabe didn’t realize how tired he’d been until he lowered the hood to his old truck and blew out the candles he’d worked by—except for one. Cupping a hand near the flame so it wouldn’t blow out, he carried the monster candle to where the girl slept.
Rayne. Her name reminded him of springtime and music and a life when he could dance in the rain—the last time he felt safe...and loved.
Under the flickering light of a candle, he stood over her now, gazing down as she slept on her stomach. Hearing the rhythm of her breathing relaxed him, and with her eyes closed, he could stare at her all he wanted. He could’ve stayed there, watching her sleep, but that would only be torture over a life he could never have. He knelt and pulled the blanket over her shoulder.
With his truck ready to run, Gabe knew she’d soon wake up and leave. She had a brother to find, and despite how much he wanted to help her, he couldn’t. He didn’t have a choice. Even if she asked for his help, he’d have to say no. Yeah, he’d come off looking like a major jerk wad and he’d totally deserve the tag.
It would be better for her to get pissed at him for refusing to help than to drag her into his screwed-up existence. Gabriel backed away from where she slept and crawled into the flatbed of his truck to shut his eyes for a while. Before he blew out the candle, he looked at the girl’s face. Maybe for one night she’d keep the nightmares away.
Before he spotted a way through the fence of the condemned parking garage, Lucas saw a dark van hit the gas as he crossed the street. The headlights were blinding as the vehicle barreled for him. It swerved at the last second and screeched to the curb. Shadows moved behind the windshield. When a door slid open, an interior light came on and Lucas saw two men jump out. He didn’t stick around to see what they wanted.
Lucas didn’t yell for help. He didn’t have to. He let his mind reach out—to her.
I got company.
Yeah, we see.
What she said almost stopped him cold.
This time, she’d heard him, too. Lucas didn’t know what to think, but he had no choice now. These men were Believers. Every instinct in his body told him so.
Around back. Look for a hole in the fence,
she told him.
Head for the garage roof. That’s where we’ll be. Stall them.
Stall them? Lucas knew he couldn’t stall these guys for long. They were too fast and in better shape. Whatever came next, he would lead them to her—
None of it felt right, but he did as she said. As he rounded the corner to a long city block, he spotted a section of cyclone fence that had been cut and bent. He hunched a shoulder and shoved his way through the opening without slowing down. His skin stung where the metal raked and slashed his back and an arm, but Lucas didn’t stop.
He ran up an entrance ramp and got swallowed by shadows, feeling his way to her. Every step he took, he heard the men closing in on him, but he didn’t look over his shoulder. He focused only on her, even with his legs burning and his lungs heaving for air.
Lucas took every shortcut. He ducked and hid when he could and changed directions in the dark to stall, but he couldn’t shake them. When he got to the garage rooftop, he had nothing left—and worse, he didn’t see the girl. She wasn’t on the roof. With nowhere else to go, he turned to face the three men who had chased him most of the night. His body covered in sweat, he gasped for air and could hardly stand from the stitch in his side.
“Hold it...r-right there,” Lucas yelled and held up a hand. “You’re surrounded.”
“You little sh-shit.” The tall guy spat.
The three men looked like cops or ex-military with their buzz cuts, G.I. Joe muscles, right down to the Dockers and polo shirts they wore like uniforms. The tall one looked in charge and apparently had no sense of humor. When he waved a hand, the other two grabbed Lucas by the arms. He shoved his weight and kicked, but the men were too strong.
“Call my s-sister Mia,” he panted. “Tell her...I can’t go b-back to that hospital.”
“Well, you’re right about not goin’ back there, but I think we need to get somethin’ straight.” G.I. Joe glared and clenched his jaw. “I bet you think this is a big misunderstanding.”
Lucas stopped struggling. The guy stared at him and never blinked. Not once.
“But you need perspective on how things are gonna be,” the man said. “And I know just where to start.”
When the guy stepped closer, Lucas flinched and shoved back. Still, the man never blinked.
G.I. Joe grabbed him by the throat and said, “First, you’re gonna pay for making us run.”
Lucas felt the pain of the first punch and saw stars. The rest made him numb, as if the assault were happening to someone else. An agonizing slow motion he couldn’t stop. City lights and faceless shadows made a hellish merry-go-round until everything came to a sudden stop.
When Lucas saw shadows appear on the parapet wall, he turned to look as the guy threw a punch. On impact, he lost his balance and stumbled backward when the men holding him had let go. Lucas fell to the ground and hit his head on the cement, hard. The shock sent stars shooting across his eyes, and a blinding headache drove shards of pain down his neck. He escaped by letting his mind drift away. He felt weightless and free of his failing body.
“Why did you let go of him, assholes?” G.I. Joe yelled.
“Because of them,” one guy said, raising his arm.
Lucas heard the muffled exchange between the men and saw a blur of movement as G.I. Joe looked over his shoulder to where his man pointed. He didn’t have to see straight to know who had joined the party. Lucas sensed the girl strongest now, in the twilight between hurting and merciful oblivion. Fighting the blackness, he had to see her. He raised his head and looked. Even with the men standing over him, he found her shadowy silhouette that seemed to come out of nowhere.
She wasn’t alone.
Standing on top of the garage parapet wall, she stood shoulder to shoulder with the others—the voices Lucas had heard. Every one of them had brilliant blue auras. They were like him. The white noise of their whispers got louder and sounded like the buzz of a beehive until the words became clearer as he connected to them. One word stood out and stayed with him—
—a word he hadn’t felt in a long time. When he gazed into the faces of the others, none of them looked afraid. They glared at G.I. Joe and his men as if they were intruders, trespassing on their turf.
“Back off,” the man said. “This is none of your business.”
“It is, actually. He’s very much my business.” The girl crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. “He’s mine.”
“You have no idea who you’re dealing with,” the man threatened and pulled a gun from the waistband of his pants.
“I could say the same.” The girl didn’t flinch at the sight of his weapon.
When a slow smile spread across her face, she jumped off the parapet wall and moved closer. The others followed and tightened their circle around the men, who were outnumbered, but the gun kept G.I. Joe in charge until the girl stepped in front of the others.
“There’s no need for violence,” she said with her voice low and disturbingly calm. “You don’t want to harm this boy...or us. Nobody has to get hurt.”
The man had a smirk on his face that faded fast. He stared at the girl until his breathing became shallow and strained.
“What are you...?” When the man stopped, the gun in his hand shook. The tremor inched up his arm as if it crawled under his skin, a living, breathing thing. “Stop doing wh-whatever you’re doing...or I’ll sh-shoot.”
“I can’t let you do that.” She cocked her head, an innocent gesture, and time froze.
Lucas sensed the struggle between the girl and the man. He half expected to hear the blast of the gun, but that didn’t happen. In a shocking move, when G.I. Joe couldn’t control his tremors, he dropped his weapon. He held his hand as if it hurt, and with eyes wide, he backed off in a sudden panic.
Two blond-haired boys stepped in front of the girl and confronted the men. The boys were little and skinny and they looked exactly alike. Lucas thought he saw double. The moon captured the color of their hair and reflected it, giving the twins an odd glow. Their faces made them look like angels, but their eyes and their defiance told a different story.
The boys were...
Lucas couldn’t hold his head up anymore. With his headache getting worse, he collapsed and stared into a steel-gray sky dotted with fading stars until he closed his eyes and gave in to the dark.
Not even the sound of the three men yelling kept him awake.
Griffith Park Zoo
Something woke Rayne. Whatever it had been, it lingered on the fringes of her mind, a memento of her restless sleep. She opened her eyes and stared at a corrugated metal ceiling. The pale glow of morning filled the shed and had replaced the shadows that she remembered from last night. It took her a moment to realize where she was. Gabriel must have finished working on his truck. The candles were out and the hood down. She would’ve stayed under the warm blanket, but when she didn’t see him, Rayne sat up.
That was when she heard it, the vague noise that must’ve stirred her awake. A moan. A gasp. Something jarred the truck. When she heard a miserable cry, she threw back the covers and ran toward the back of the vehicle. The tailgate was down. Gabriel had fallen asleep in the bed of his truck.
The nightmare had been his.
Rayne crawled onto the flatbed, but as he thrashed and cried out, she wasn’t sure what to do. She’d read that waking someone in the middle of a nightmare might be traumatic, but letting him suffer didn’t seem right, either.
“Gabriel. It’s me, Rayne. You’re having a bad dream.”
“Hellboy. Come,” he mumbled. “What is it, boy?”
She touched his arm to wake him, but when she did, he grabbed her with a tortured expression on his face. He looked trapped in a nightmare. Staring into his haunted eyes, Rayne knew he’d be beyond her reach, but when a whine and the faint click of a dog’s paws on the concrete floor outside the truck made her jump, her fear shifted into overdrive. She heard Gabe’s ghost dog and felt its presence as if she could reach out and touch it, except that she couldn’t. Her eyes followed the sounds, but she saw nothing.
“I’m warning you. If you get near me, I’m gonna mark your territory. Back off, Casper.”
Rayne felt like an idiot, talking to nothing and telling nothing to back off. She didn’t know what to do, but Gabriel took that decision away from her. He got up and leaped off the truck as if he were on a mission. Rayne kept her distance, but she followed him.
She had a bad feeling.
Gabriel headed for his sleeping bag with his eyes wide open, as if he were fully awake. He grabbed his sketch pad and a charcoal pencil and sat cross-legged on his bedroll. Out of breath, he panted and stared at nothing, seeing past her and everything else. He rocked back and forth, still in the throes of his misery with his hand racing across his sketchbook.
He drew what he saw in his mind—
without looking down.
“Gabriel. Are you...awake?”
In unfaltering strokes, he filled the blank page. Sweat trickled from his temple and he winced as if the effort of drawing pained him. Rayne inched closer. With shaking fingers, she brushed back a strand of his dark hair and trailed a finger down his flushed cheek. Nothing woke him.
“That’s my sketchbook. It’s private.”
Gabriel’s words repeated in her head as she watched him draw. He looked possessed by a vision only he could see. Stopping him now would be out of the question. Rayne fixed her gaze on the page, eager to see what had been so important to him. A terrified face of a scared boy with long dark hair and pale eyes took shape on the paper. She dropped to her knees to look over his shoulder. With his drawing almost finished, she’d seen enough. Rayne gasped as she realized what Gabriel had done.
The face of her missing brother stared back and a huge hand had him by the throat. Lucas looked scared.
Griffith Park Zoo
“Gabriel. Listen to me.” On her knees, Rayne held his face in her hands. She stared into his glazed eyes as he sat on his sleeping bag with his sketchbook in his lap.
“What did you see? Tell me.” She gave him a gentle shake, hoping he’d wake up.
“What...h-happened?” Gabriel finally fixed on her, but he looked dazed. He slumped in exhaustion and leaned into her arms. Rayne held him, totally confused by what she’d witnessed, but she needed answers. For Lucas.
“I need you to talk to me.” She hugged him tighter and whispered in his ear, “Please, no lies this time.”
“What are you talking about?” he mumbled as he pulled away from her. “Omission isn’t lying...exactly.”
Rayne grabbed the sketch pad and held up the drawing of Lucas.
“Tell me about him. What did you see?” She jabbed a finger at the page. “It looked like you had a vision.”
“No, that’s...nothing. I have dreams, not visions. I draw. No big deal.”
Gabe turned away, unable to look her in the eye. He had a wall of secrets, and she had a feeling his sketchbook visions were only part of the things he wanted to keep from her. Somehow she had to find a way to reach him. Gabriel was definitely a puzzle she wanted to piece together, but after seeing what he’d drawn, Lucas needed her more.
“Gabe, you don’t understand. That boy you drew, that’s my brother, Lucas. He’s missing.”
“What?” He grabbed the notepad and stared at what he’d drawn. “Are you sure? Maybe I just suck.”
“That drawing, it’s practically a photo. You’re a damned Michelangelo. You don’t suck.”
“But I don’t know your brother. How can I draw him?”
“You tell me, van Gogh.”
“You shouldn’t do that.”
“Van Gogh was a Dutch Postimpressionist, totally different from an Italian Renaissance painter like Michelangelo.”
“Art history? Really?” She stared at him in total disbelief. “Don’t go Rain Man on me. Please...I need you to focus.”
Rayne tossed the art book down and held his face again. She forced him to look into her eyes. “Right now. Close your eyes and remember what you saw. Don’t leave anything out.”
After a long moment of strained silence, Gabriel did as she asked. He shut his eyes and talked. Some of what he told her didn’t make sense. He talked about Christmas lights and pirate treasure where X marked the spot. By the time he ran out of things to say, his vague recollections weren’t much help, except to make her more worried. Lucas had been scared. That showed in the drawing. Gabe didn’t know why Luke had a beefy hand at his throat, and he tried to downplay that part, to make her feel better, but it didn’t.
“That’s it,” he said. “That’s all I remember. Whatever I saw, it wasn’t like a video. I only get impressions. I could be way off base.”
Rayne wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.
“These visions of yours...the dreams? Are they...?” She held back, not wanting to say what was on her mind, but she had to. “Are your visions what’s already happened...or are they something in the future, things that can be changed?”
Gabriel heaved a sigh and raked a hand through his hair.
“I have no idea. Before you, I didn’t even know any of these kids were real. Now I don’t...” He didn’t finish. Gabe picked up his sketchbook and flipped through the faces, stopping on the scariest ones as if he were reliving what he’d seen. Rayne wanted to hug him, but he looked rapt in misery that no one else could fix.
He shut his eyes and sighed. “Why didn’t I know they were...real?”
“I don’t know, Gabriel.” She touched his cheek, fighting a lump in her throat. “But I gotta find my brother. Will you help me? You’re the only one who’s
Gabe did a double take and stared at her way too long. When he didn’t volunteer to search for her brother, heat rushed to her face and she narrowed her eyes.
“Luke’s in trouble. You saw that and I believe that you did. I need you, Gabriel.”
“I’m the last one you need. Trust me.” He shook his head. “What about your family? Why haven’t they gone to the police? Can’t the cops help? They got guns and uniforms and stuff.”
She thought about telling him her complicated story and sharing that Luke had escaped Haven Hills, but she didn’t know how Gabriel would take it. A kid on the loose from a mental hospital would give him plenty of reason for not getting involved and saying no.
“I can’t go to them. It’s a long story.” Rayne flashed back to her sister’s face. Mia had cops on her church’s payroll and an agenda when it came to Lucas. Calling the police would be a waste of time and only draw attention to what she really needed to do—find Lucas and talk to him without Mia.
“I don’t know what you expect me to do,” Gabe said. “Sleep until I create another masterpiece? I can’t control this stuff. And I’m...not exactly doin’ it on my own.”
“What are you talking about? I saw you draw Lucas. You were
” Before he detoured into another lie, she remembered something else about his nightmare. “Who’s Hellboy?”
“What?” Gabriel glared at her as if she’d slapped him for no reason. “Where did that come from? Hellboy’s a comic book hero.”
“Yeah, for normal people, but that’s the name of your ghost dog, too,” she argued. “Where did you find him? Scooby-Doo-gatory?”
Gabe didn’t answer. He needed convincing.
“When he torched you, he yanked you into
territory, didn’t he?” She touched his arm. “I saw Hellboy at the tunnels. And while you were dreaming, you called his name and he came running like a good boy. I heard him whine, Gabe. He scared the hell out of me, but I know what I heard and didn’t see.”
Okay, that sounded weird even to her, but from the look in his eyes, Gabe had grown tired. Dodging questions had turned into an Olympic-caliber event for him. She didn’t have any proof and her accusations were totally absurd. All she had left were her instincts about him. Something about Gabe made her think he came from money. The way he spoke, his quiet confidence, the art stuff he pulled from nowhere, even his weird humor and how he stacked his clothes—something clicked that he wasn’t a typical runaway. Everything in her bones told her he was a good guy with one helluva story.
Besides, she had no one else.
“Will you help me, Gabriel?”
When he looked her in the eye and clenched his jaw, Rayne stared at his lips, willing them to say what she wanted, but that didn’t happen.
“I...can’t,” he said.
When Gabe got up and headed for his truck, Rayne felt gut punched.
* * *
The girl had ripped him up inside. Gabe couldn’t look into Rayne’s smoky eyes, glistening with worry and hope, and let her believe that he’d be the answer to her problems. He was no one’s answer—
He got up and pretended to mess with his truck.
Finding out that the faces in his sketchbook were real had heaped the icing on his stupid pity cake.
What a loser!
All this time he thought his nightmares were a punishment he deserved—a parting gift from a father who only saw him as a freak and his personal failure—something to be fixed. It hadn’t even occurred to Gabe that the kids in his dreams were real, because hiding out had become his life. Now that he knew those faces weren’t conjured from his own demons, he’d have a choice to make—risk everything to get involved or turn into a guy who only cared about his own ass.
Rayne’s brother, Lucas, had definitely stepped into something nasty. Gabe had held back what he’d seen, for her sake. Lucas had been terrified, not just a little scared. And the guy with a meaty hand at her brother’s throat might’ve taken out his anger on him. Right before Rayne woke him, Gabe felt pain before his connection zapped out.
But something even more disturbing hit him—something he hadn’t told Rayne.
During the dream, some of the faces that he’d already drawn flashed in his mind. He hadn’t remembered that until he flipped through his sketchbook again. Maybe those kids were trying to tell him something. What if Lucas wasn’t the only one in danger?
What a screwed-up mess!
Given his situation, cops were out. Even if he got involved, without Rayne knowing, he could make things worse.
Time and effort. That was what it had taken for him to find a quiet existence, living off the grid where he wasn’t on the run. What he had wasn’t much, but he lived with his choices because they affected only him. Now that he knew about Lucas and these other kids, sitting on the sidelines felt wrong. But if he got involved, his troubles could bring on a new level of hurt to kids who already had it bad.
Gabe didn’t know what to do. Only one thing seemed clear. He had to let Rayne go, even if he looked like a jerk for not helping her.
“I could use a lift for me and my bike,” she said, low and soft. “Are you still offering?”
Gabe didn’t see her come up behind him. He couldn’t turn around. When he heard her voice, his guilt barometer hit the red zone. Smacking him upside the head with a baseball bat would’ve hurt less.
“Yeah.” He shut the tailgate to his truck. “Look, I know this won’t mean much, but—” he looked over his shoulder “—I’m sorry. I hope you find him.”
Rayne didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. Nothing she could’ve said or done would make him feel any worse.
An Hour Later
Cut into the side of a hill covered in vines and weeds and scraggly trees, a shadowy tunnel entrance gaped its dark mouth to swallow an old railroad track that led into it. This section of downtown L.A. had been a busy warehouse district.
Now not much went on. That was why they used it.
“I’ll catch up. You take Benny,” Rafe Santana told Kendra Walker as they unloaded the stolen van. “I gotta ditch the wheels.”
Rafe had more in mind than getting rid of evidence. With the new kid still unconscious, that meant the others had to carry him the rest of the way and they’d be distracted. He wanted to make sure they weren’t followed.
“Be careful,” she said as she touched his chest with her hand.
As she rounded up the others and hauled the hurt kid to where they could take care of him, Rafe looked down to see Benny hadn’t left.
“But I wanna stay with you,” the kid argued, tugging at his shirt with his face scrunched tight.
Rafe knelt in front of Benny.
“I know you do, but I need you to take care of my girl.” He spoke low when Kendra and the others got out of earshot and he brushed off the kid’s T-shirt with his hand, a shirt he’d given him that was too big for the ten-year-old.
“Now, go on. Git,” he told him.
The kid didn’t say another word. He kicked at the dirt and made a big show of hating every step he took, but little man did as he was told. Rafe jumped back into the van and drove it miles away from the tunnel entrance. When the cops found it, the stolen vehicle wouldn’t lead back to them.
Rafe ran to catch up with the others. Alone in the dark, he looked over his shoulder until he felt satisfied no one followed him. Until he met Kendra, he didn’t know that L.A. had miles of abandoned tunnels under its downtown streets. At the turn of the century, she told him, they used them to connect different sections of Los Angeles to downtown, but when superhighways got built, the old railroad and car tunnels were abandoned. They even filmed movies under the streets of downtown.
The Matrix. Planet of the Apes.
Kendra knew stuff like that. She was real smart.
Once he got deep in the tunnels, Rafe picked up his pace and used a shortcut. He had a small flashlight with him, but he rarely needed it. Using it meant his night vision would be messed up. He followed familiar metal railways and climbed rusted spiral stairs to catch up to Kendra and the others. The musty, dank smell used to stink to him. Now it didn’t.
In the dark, the mysterious painted murals on the chipped brick walls were unmarred by graffiti, reminding him how old the tunnels were. Sometimes he’d sit and look at them alone, like they were his private museum. Rusted old machinery, encrusted in dust and cobwebs, had been abandoned long ago. He liked them, too. They were landmarks for him to know which way to go. Some people would be afraid, but to him the tunnels were home.
As he got closer to Kendra, he sensed something wasn’t right up ahead. Something moved, out of place. A smell he hadn’t counted on.
He’d quit second-guessing his nature long ago. He trusted it.
“Argh!” A little voice growled like a tunnel beast, and a small shadow leaped from behind a fallen brick wall. The giggling gave Benny away. Rafe pretended to be scared.
“Oh, man. You really got me, dawg.” He grinned. “You waitin’ for me?”
Benny jammed a tiny shoulder against his leg and gave him a bump. Rafe never had a little brother. He never had a use for one until Benny came along. The kid wouldn’t have lasted on the streets of L.A. alone. The way Rafe saw it, he had no choice but to let the kid hang with him. Taking care of Benny, he didn’t feel like such a loser.