Authors: Jordan Dane
“Let’s do this.”
With the dog staying tight to his side, Gabe put his knapsack on the ground and gazed up at the stars. He slowed his breathing until the beat of his heart throbbed soft and steady in his ears. Under the vast inky-black umbrella of the night sky, he felt the first wave of assault on his shoulders and his belly. It almost doubled him over in pain. His muscles went taut as a slow-brewing rage swallowed him whole. Flashes of his past stoked the fires of his anger. His father’s cruel voice became an undercurrent to his darkest memories when he hid under the covers as a kid, hearing his parents argue late at night when they thought he couldn’t hear them.
They only argued over one thing—
He hated his father for what happened. That hatred sparked a fire in him, but as his rage spread, it always came back to him. That was when his anger kicked into high gear. When the blame came full circle, he felt it in every muscle of his body. He was stoked and ready for what would come next.
Hellboy yelped and circled at his feet with a contagious excitement. Gabe didn’t have to open his eyes to know the dog sensed his mind probe. The first time had been by an accident triggered by Hellboy, but since then, each incident allowed him to push the envelope on his newfound ability.
When Gabe felt every molecule in his body break apart and drift—as weightless as the gray, velvet ash swept by the wind off a cold fire pit—he welcomed the unsettling experience and let it happen. When he couldn’t contain his rage any longer, he let it blast out in a million pieces. Within seconds, he felt his awareness shift to a trusted and familiar place where he felt whole and calm again.
He saw through Hellboy’s eyes after his mind entered the essence of the animal’s spirit.
When his two legs felt as if they’d turned into four—and the earth rose up to meet him—Gabe let go of his humanity and imagined Hellboy’s animal instincts to be his own. An addictive rush of adrenaline swept through him, and with that feeling, his sense of hearing and smell heightened to an acute awareness, but the feeling carried a message of danger that hit him hard.
Hellboy had understood that, and now he did, too. Something felt different.
Channeling through his dog, he forced his consciousness to reach out beyond where he stood—beyond Hellboy. Pushing his limits, Gabe tested his abilities, feeling stronger and more whole every time he did. In an instant, the dog linked to other creatures of the night like a catalyst, making Gabe’s stomach lurch as if he rode a fast-moving roller coaster barreling down a dark track. His arms turned to wings and he felt his body soar across the night sky when he spotted movement below with the nocturnal eyes of a predator.
Still anchored through Hellboy, he catapulted to a great horned owl and felt the essence and power of swift, silent death as the bird stalked a creature in the brush. He sensed the rush of the hunt as the gray ghost swooped low in the dark and extended its talons to snatch its prey off the ground. He felt the tug and weight of the weasel as it struggled to pull free of the claws that tore open its back.
“Oh, sweet Jesus. This is unreal.”
Tingles surged through his body and Gabe felt the chill of the blue fire off Hellboy. It whipped through his hair like gusts from a preternatural wind, and his breath turned to vapor from the cold. Connected to everything at once through his dog’s spirit, he gorged on the rush of his consciousness hurling from one creature to another. He didn’t feel like a messed-up loser on the run. What he experienced through Hellboy and Death made him special.
But when he focused his mind on finding Lucas and using Death and other animals to search, unexpected flashes replaced the owl’s hunt in his mind—disturbing imagery that interfered with everything. The whole thing felt wrong. Tonight something sinister lurked in the darkness of his extrasensory world and ambushed him. A head-splitting ache behind his eyes sent a jolt through him.
“Ah,” he gasped.
When Gabe collapsed to his knees, Hellboy yapped and licked his fingers, not leaving his side. Gabe winced and grabbed his head with both hands as stabs of bright light blinded him. Even the wind carried punishment. Every gust shot needles across his skin that he felt under his sweatshirt and down his back.
He had no idea where his mind had taken him and felt powerless to control what he saw. He only knew it was important—something he needed to witness and feel. This time it hadn’t been a dream. He wasn’t asleep. He had one foot on either side, straddling the precipice between the living and the dead. The owl and its prey were gone, replaced by another face that came into focus with crystal clarity. A girl he’d never seen before. Strange, disruptive visions had happened before, but nothing like this. Gabe had to move.
He forced his legs to work and stumbled like a drunk through a growing darkness, barely able to see as images battered him. In a blind stupor, he found his rucksack and tore through it by feel. He grabbed his sketch pad and charcoal pencil and collapsed to the ground. Without looking down, Gabe stared into a vision only he could see and drew what came to his mind.
But memories of his own dark past flooded his head, too.
Psychic obstacles forced him to sift through his vision and draw what he sensed would be important. He filtered through the hallucinations and struggled to separate Death’s message from his past as his hand raced across the paper. In unfaltering strokes, he filled one blank page and flipped over to add more as he rocked in place. His breathing came in rapid pants and sweat trickled down his spine.
When he sensed that the vision had run its course, he stopped drawing and the pain of his blistering headache left him exhausted. Gabe held up the sketchbook and let the lights of the city shine on the pages. This time he’d done two drawings. One of a girl and another he didn’t understand at all.
“That’s...weird,” he muttered.
As he gazed down at what he’d sketched, a voice made him jump—and Hellboy burst into swirling blue dust that dissolved as it hit the ground.
“What did you see, Gabriel?”
With a shocked expression, Rayne stepped out from the shadows and kept her distance. Her voice sounded shaky and she looked scared...
This time, even if he wanted to, there’d be no need to lie to her.
Rayne had seen
“What the hell was that?” Rayne couldn’t control the shake in her voice or the chill over her body that even deadened her toes and fingertips. “I mean...I don’t even know what to ask. You caught fire, but everything turned...cold.”
She’d seen Gabriel turn into a human torch before, but what remained of her rational brain made her doubt what she’d seen. Maybe Gabe’s ghost dog had more to do with the weirdness than he did. She sort of believed in ghosts. Why couldn’t dogs hang out in the afterlife? But now, after standing close to Gabe when everything went to
the magnitude of his transformation scared the hell out of her. It rattled her insides and sent a biting chill racing over her skin.
Gabe wasn’t normal. Not even a little bit.
“I want to ask about wh-what you saw...and look at what you sketched, b-but...” she stammered. “I gotta ask. What...are you?”
The minute those words came out of her mouth, Rayne knew she’d hurt him. She saw it on his face, but she couldn’t help it. She had too many serious questions that his jokes or vague answers wouldn’t satisfy. He’d scared her so badly this time that she thought about running down the hill and never looking back, but Gabe had drawn Lucas’s face.
That kept her standing there, shaking in her boots like a lump of Jell-O. The blue kind.
“I don’t...know exactly.” Gabe didn’t look her in the eye. He said the words so low that she almost didn’t hear him. When he turned toward her, she backed up a step.
“I know you must be scared over what you saw, but...” He took a deep breath. “I won’t hurt you, Rayne. This thing I do, I feel it inside me, but I’ve never hurt anyone or anything by doing it.”
“And the visions? The faces you draw?” she asked.
“Like I told you, I thought they were only harmless dreams, not visions. But this time when I focused on Lucas, it felt different.” He got excited as he tried to figure stuff out. “I wasn’t asleep and the connection I had with him felt stronger, like it wasn’t one-way. He linked back to me too, Rayne. I’ve never had that happen before. I don’t know if it came from him or me, but something weird happened. You were right. I have...visions, I guess.”
She stared at him for a long time, not sure what to believe, until she broke the silence.
“What did you draw?”
When he stepped closer, it took all of Rayne’s courage not to back away. He handed her his sketchbook, flipped to the page of his first drawing. A girl’s face, someone she’d never seen before. She looked asleep, lying on the bare chest of a boy. Only a part of his chin showed, but that glimpse had been enough to trigger Rayne’s memory. She turned back a page to see if she was right.
“What is it?” he asked, looking over her shoulder.
“I think this is Lucas.” She showed him two pages, bent so he saw both. “See how his lip is cut...and that bruise on his chin and the wound on his arm. The marks are identical and his arm is bandaged in the same spot.”
“Oh, wow. You’re right.” He flashed a quick smile. “Guess it worked.”
Gabe winced. It looked like he would clam up again. Sharing didn’t come naturally, that was for sure.
“I came here...to look for your brother.”
“Yeah, I kept my focus on him and I guess I got a glimpse. I’ve never done that before. So cool.”
“I thought you weren’t gonna help me,” Rayne said. “That you didn’t care about him.”
“Yeah, well. That’s what I needed you to believe.” He jammed his hands into his pockets. “I got...stuff goin’ on, that’s all. But it doesn’t mean I don’t care what happens to your brother...or you.”
“Yeah?” Rayne fought to keep a straight face.
“Yeah.” Gabe did his best shy boy.
“If you were plannin’ on helping me on the fly, does that mean you’re in?”
“Don’t read into this, Rayne. I still got problems. I could be an epic fail for you and Lucas.”
“I think he’s already there, Gabe. I need to find him.” She took a deep breath. “Whoever this girl is? She’s with Lucas and maybe she bandaged his arm. At least he’s got someone. He’s not alone.”
“Yeah, maybe, if my drawings are real, but we don’t know that.”
Rayne looked at his sketch again.
“What’s this? You did another page. This is strange. Did you actually see this?” She held the page up to the city lights to get a closer look. “It looks historical, like you tripped out on a time machine. What’s with the missing chunks?”
She pointed to a detail in the background that looked like an old train engine with people in vintage clothing, but there were blotches cut out of it. Even though the damage seemed deliberate on Gabe’s part, that didn’t make sense.
“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “I get flashes. Impressions. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out. I had to draw it separate. It seemed important, but it could be nothing. When I see stuff, it gets jumbled. I have to make choices on what I draw.”
She could tell Gabriel wanted to help, but he looked frustrated.
“Sorry. I know this sounds crazy,” he said. “You’re trying to find Lucas, and all of this could be nothing but a major waste of time. I don’t even know what I’m seeing exactly.”
“It’s more than what I had.” She touched his arm. “I’ve got to believe you’re seeing my brother. You’re tuned in to him. Whatever’s happening between the two of you, I think you need practice. You’re like a radio on static. All you need is...channel tweaking.”
“I don’t think my problems can be fixed with a tweak.” He shrugged, not looking her in the eye again. “My static runs deep. I came with it. It’s not goin’ away.”
“Please. You’ve gotta help me. I have no one else...no one that understands, anyway.”
Although Gabriel narrowed his eyes, this time he didn’t say no. He nodded and heaved a sigh.
“I don’t know what I can do, but I’ll give it a shot,” he said. When she smiled at him, he shook his head. “I’m not doing you any favors. Believe me. I’ll do what I can do, but if I tell you I’m out, you have to respect that. No questions asked. I’ve got my reasons and it won’t be because I’m being a jerk. At least, not on purpose. Agreed?”
He held out his hand to seal their deal.
“Oh, hell, yeah. Agreed.”
With a grin, Rayne closed the distance between them and hugged Gabriel. A handshake wouldn’t do. Feeling his arms around her sent a different kind of tingle down her body, from the prickles in her scalp to the tips of her toes. Gabe’s strange power over his ghost dog and his link to the dead had nothing to do with it.
“The other day, when I saw you catch on fire at the tunnels, I felt something,” she said, still in his arms.
“Like what? An urge to run out for marshmallows?”
“I’m bein’ serious.” She fixed her eyes on the glittering horizon. “I got a rush of memories from my past, people who have died. It felt real, like they were with me. Did you have anything to do with that?”
Rayne pulled away and looked up at him. She felt crazy even bringing up the weird connection she had experienced to her family, alive and dead. Memories from her past had collided in her mind as if they’d been real and happening in the present. Given the intensity of the sensation, she couldn’t let it go without asking him, but she didn’t feel like telling him about both her parents being dead, either.
“I don’t know, Rayne. You’re the only one who’s ever been close enough to see me do this.” He stared off toward the city, and the glow of it touched his face. “But with Hellboy being on the wrong side of the dirt, and me linking to him on the Fringe side, who knows?”
“What happens to you when you channel through him?” she asked. “I mean, you look so...angry, like you’re about to explode. Like it hurts.”
He had a hard time looking her in the eye. She wasn’t sure he’d answer her.
“Not sure I can explain how I stir it up exactly. Guess I really don’t want to.” He shrugged. “Physically, I don’t think much happens, but inside it feels like—”
“Like every molecule of my body is blasted apart and they float. It doesn’t hurt when
part happens, just the opposite. It’s a total rush.”
“I get that way with chocolate.”
Rayne had no clue, not even when he explained how his awareness blasted like a shotgun from creature to creature, alive or dead. He could zone in on one, or feel the essence of all of those experiences at once. A total mindblower. Rayne’s eyes grew wide and she forgot to breathe until he finished.
“That’s...insane,” she said. “I mean, not that you’re crazy. I’m no one to judge. I have trouble bein’ in just
head, but that sounds seriously...awesome.”
“Yeah, it is.” He grinned.
Rayne smiled. She felt closer to Gabriel than she ever had before. This time it felt as if he’d trusted her with a fraction of his truth. Could she trust him with more of her story? It might have been a perfect moment to explain her situation and tell him more about Lucas and Haven Hills and Mia, but she was afraid of losing him. Their alliance was still fresh. When she thought about her dysfunctional family, it reminded her that Gabriel had secrets, too. Out of the blue, she blurted out what had been on her mind since she saw where he slept.
“Why are you living at an old zoo? Are you running from something?”
Gabe stopped grinning, and it took him such a long time to answer her that she thought he wouldn’t.
“I promised to help you with Lucas, but there’s stuff about me that’s off-limits,” he said. “How I live and why? That’s
business.” He’d said it plain. No anger.
Rayne understood dark corners and secrets and things too personal to share. She wasn’t sure she could let go of the mounting questions she had over Gabriel, but she could definitely give him space.
“If for some reason, I take off and clean out my stuff at the zoo—no explanation, I’m just gone,” he said. “Please don’t hate me.”
In shock this time, Rayne stared into his eyes before she wrapped her arms around him again. She held him tight until she felt the warmth of his skin through his sweatshirt. This time she wasn’t scared for Lucas or herself.
This time she was afraid for Gabriel.
* * *
Mia had run out of luck searching for Lucas on her own. Given the years between them, she hadn’t been as close to Luke as Rayne. Stepping into a parent role and legal guardianship when she was only eighteen had been a lot to handle, but she’d done the best she could. Now she had new worries.
Her last call to O’Dell, she could tell by the cold tone in his voice that he had stopped buying her excuses, and he quit returning her calls when she tried reporting in. He’d lost faith in her, the last thing she wanted or needed. Everything had escalated beyond her control. With Lucas missing, unwanted attention could make things worse for her—and now she knew Rayne would be a wild card.
Mia had only one option left. Balancing her duties at the church, she decided to follow her sister when she could slip away from work, and gamble on Rayne’s devotion to Lucas and her mile-wide stubborn streak.
Rayne had spent the day on her Harley, taking a tour of her past with Lucas and visiting old family haunts while Mia drove her Lexus sedan at a safe distance and tailed her. She didn’t have to read lips to know that Rayne questioned everyone she met about Luke. As the day went on, she got more and more discouraged, judging by her body language.
Mia felt sorry for her. Rayne’s growing desperation showed, and seeing the places she visited had been hard on Mia, too. It reminded her of what they’d all lost and how fractured they were as a family. She could understand Rayne not trusting her. She’d made mistakes when she was too young to know better, but Mia didn’t see how she’d ever make up lost ground.
As night came, Mia almost gave up on tracking her sister’s moves, but when Rayne rode her Harley onto the grounds of the old L.A. zoo before midnight, that got her interest. With headlights off, Mia followed her onto Crystal Springs Drive, a dark, winding road that led to the old zoo entrance. She had to admit that she got off on the adrenaline rush of sneaking around in the dark.
This time it felt as if she’d finally done it.
With such a clandestine location, she felt sure Rayne would meet up with Lucas here. Maybe Rayne’s search had finally turned up something, but when Mia got to the upper parking lot, near the old front gate, Rayne’s taillights had vanished. Her bike wasn’t anywhere to be seen. There had only been one way into the park. Where could she have gone? Her sister had either figured out she had a tail and got cagey or she’d taken her bike off road where Mia couldn’t follow her.
“What the hell are you up to, little sister?” she whispered as she gripped her steering wheel. “Why did you come here?”
Mia stayed parked in the shadows for a long while, waiting for Rayne to show up again. When that didn’t happen, she gave up and drove home. She felt sure she’d stumbled upon an unexpected piece of the puzzle and she wasn’t about to let Rayne’s meddling jack with her plans. She’d be back and better prepared. Whatever or whoever had brought her sister to Griffith Park, Mia was determined to find out Rayne’s secret.