Chapter 10

Julia stood there, under the moth infested light, watching Luke and Cassie walk away. "Leave me, why don't you," she muttered under her breath, a grimace outlined by the light shimmering off Julia's white teeth.

Audrie took her tall companion's arm and gave it a squeeze. "We'll go cook up our own fun. And unlike them, we don't have to step on anyone's toes to achieve that. Right?"

Julia gave her companion a half grin. "Right." A fuss sounded ahead. She gave an audible sigh. "Sounds like my man."

Audrie rolled her eyes. "They didn't have to go far in order to find trouble this time."

Julia tugged on Audrie's arm gently. "Let's see what they've gotten themselves into." Strolling, they calmly came upon the scene. The goth girl looked like a drowned cat.

"Just leave me alone!" Natasha howled, her dressed soaked with ice water that Luke had emptied from the pitcher in his hand. "Both of you! FUCK OFF!"

Luke laughed, malice gleaming in his eyes. "Figured you'd need a cold shower, considered you probably necked with every guy at the camp!"

Natasha took a step forward, seized the pitcher from his hand and whacked him on the head with it. "I haven't necked with every guy at the camp, not by a long shot! You're just jealous, Luke," she said, throwing the pitcher down, denting it. "I can make out with the pretty boys and you can't because you're so damn homophobic."

Julia could swear he was about to burst a blood vessel in his face, his normally fair complexion turning a frightening crimson under the greenish light. Natasha's aim was good, she hit a really raw nerve this time.

"I wouldn't ever do such a thing!" Luke growled, his voice gnarling under the anger, teeth grinding and rattling. "You just like insulting me."

Natasha shrugged. "Fair is fair," she said nonchalantly, wiping off her hands.

"No wrong shall go unavenged," Cassie growled, her eyebrows furrowing. "Never."

"I don't doubt your philosophy of "an eye for an eye," Cassie," Natasha said, arms crossed in an air of defiance. "But if you think I'm going to let you get in the last word on this, you're absolutely fucking wrong."

"Not on this one," Cassie growled back, furthering the confrontation. "Watch your back, you'll never know when we'll strike back," and with glowing eyes reminiscent of embers left over from burning coals, she turned around, slowly, never taking her eye of her quarry until respectable distance had been set between the two.

Natasha shook her head in disgust. "If she wants to kick my ass so badly, she should do it in full honor in front of all, not cravenly stab me in the back." She turned, to see Audrie and Julia still there. "What do you want?" she snarled maliciously.

Audrie was about to say something, but Julia interrupted. "Trust me, we're not involved in this," she said, putting her hands up in defense.

"Whatever. I don't believe you."

"I couldn't blame you," Julia offered back, trying to keep on a neutral side. "Audrie, let's go."

And it was only yesterday you were pulling my hair, bitch? fumed Natasha to herself.

"Looks like the dance is over," Kelsey said to her two friends, Jessie and Dylan.

"Yep. Look, there's Julia and Audrie," he said.

"And Natasha," Jessie pointed out. "Oh oh, I smell trouble."

"She looks like she's about to breathe fire on the next person who dare flinches," Dylan noted.

"Must have been another run-in," said Kelsey.

"Where's Luke and Cassie, then?" asked Jessie, getting on her tiptoes to see above the crowd. "I don't see them."

"Natasha looks like the confrontation must have been recent," Dylan said. "They must be somewhere near."

People started running past them, in the direction they were walking. "What's going on?" Jessie asked.

"A fight?" Kelsey answered.

"Between who?" Dylan questioned. One of the combatants yelled at the other. "Oh shit!" and he ran towards the melee, rudely shoving everyone aside. "YOU SON OF A BITCH!" Dylan screamed at his target, unseen in the throng of people. The resultant punch made everyone wince.

"Ouch...." Kelsey said, making a terrible grimace.

"I have a bad feeling about this," Jessie said in a cautious voice.

"Yeah, Luke's coming into school with a black eye, I bet you," Kelsey stated. "That jerk..."

"Had it coming," Jessie finished. The people crammed the fight scene as if they were in a mosh pit, jammed in like sardines. The crowd shouted, urging the contestants, cheering, booing and working itself into a frenzy.

"Ugh, fights are fun until you realize a friend is involved," Kelsey concluded. "Let's go."

The crowd dissipated, the fight was over. "Hey, Kelsey, hey Jessie," Audrie greeted. "That was one hell of a fight."

"I can imagine," Jessie said, shaking her head.

"Julia, where's Luke?" Kelsey asked.

"In deep trouble alongside with Dylan and Kyle," she said. It was hard to see her face in the dim light, but a distant lamp cast a glimmer that reminded one of silk.

"That would explain why he jumped into the fray," Jessie said, referring to Dylan. "He's so easygoing until one of his friends is involved."

"And then, it's curtains for the offender," Audrie finished. "Luke's pretty banged up."

"Kyle looks worse," Julia continued. "Luke really mauled him. Like a tiger."

Kelsey shuddered. "What's Luke's beef with him?" she asked, her voice tinged with anger.

"Luke's into all this 'macho' crap and how all men should be 'strong, heterosexual Christian MEN!' Know what I mean?"

"Um, not exactly, but I can see what you mean when you use him as an example," Kelsey replied.

Julia grimaced. "He's certainly not the poster boy."

"See, in pursuit of the 'strong, heterosexual male' ideal, he never factored in the stronger gay man. That's why they don't let homosexuals into the military!" Jessie said, trying to humor the grave situation.

"God it's too bad he bats for the other team!" Audrie despaired. "He has one hell of a body!"

"That's because you have a crush on him," Julia replied, which made Audrie's fine cheeks blush.

A chorus of laughter. "I suppose the fact they managed to tear each other's shirts to bits in the brawl didn't help," Jessie mentioned.

"He makes Luke look so skinny," Julia said. "And Luke's hardly stick boy."

Probably first hand knowledge there... Kelsey thought, a mental image of them hanging out, his shirt off. Her stomach churned at the thought. Stop it. She returned her attention from tall, dark and beautiful back to the conversation.

"It was an accident waiting to happen," Audrie added.

"Luke gets a little too hot headed and self righteous for his own good," Julia added. "It makes me so angry."

"You two sound just like the married couple," Jessie teased. Kelsey felt her face go ashen; hopefully the shadow of the eave would hide her paling complexion.

Ugh, Kelsey thought. Stop it! she chastised herself. Forcing herself to remain composed as if nothing happened, Kelsey warily let herself back in the realm of the reality.

"Goodnight," Audrie said, waving.

"Goodnight," Julia added, prepared to leave with Julia.

"Goodnight," Kelsey and Jessie said, in unison, watching them walk away. Jessie turned to face Kelsey. There she goes. She felt sadness wash over her heart.

"This has been a screwy day," Jessie sighed.

"I have this funny feeling that we've managed to walk onto the set of a soap opera," Kelsey mentioned, running a hand through her hair. "Don't you think?"

"No shit," Jessie replied. "I'm wiped. Let's go."

It was that awful feeling under her stomach that plagued her at night. At first it was merely bothersome, but soon it felt worse and worse until she could bear it no longer. She had to go relieve herself, now. Julia sat up, twisting around to put her feet on the floor, slopped into her flip-flops, and rose.

"Where you going?" Audrie whispered.

"To the restroom. I'll be right back."

"Okay." Julia left the cabin, shivering in the chilly night air, her flip-flops clattering down the dirt path. "Brr." She walked in the restroom, welcome of the draft-free enclosure. The toilets were rather nice, all the graffiti had been painted over but a few marks had been etched in since the beginning of the retreat. The sinks were in front of the toilet stalls, a bright fluorescent lamp above illuminated the entire area very well.

She couldn't explain the bad feeling in her stomach, she pondered as she went into one of the stalls to relieve herself. She tried to think of perhaps what it might be--flashback? someone she passed? a cat? But explanation eluded her. She flushed, washed her hands, and stepped out into the night air, trying to drone out the bad feeling she couldn't rid herself of.

Needless to say, she was very startled when a hand grabbed her, covered her mouth, and dragged her into the bushes. "Hello, pretty," a masculine voice oozed. "I've been watching you this whole time. Why don't we make ourselves a night, toasty place? Eh?"

Julia flailed her arms, but the attacker wrapped his arms around her, preventing her from struggling, and threw her on the ground, preparing to get down himself. Oh shit! He's going to rape me!

But the attacker couldn't make his way down, for a strong hand yanked him away. Two silhouettes battled, the larger one finally blocked a blow and gave a very, very hard kick to the other's groin, leaving him howling in the dust with cries from Hell itself. The larger man gave him a final kick, growling, "It's not nice to assault ladies."

Dylan.... Julia realized. "Dylan," she hoarsely coughed. The larger man turned around, rushing to her side.

"Julia? Julia!"

She couldn't keep a straight face for long, and started crying. Being his customary gentleman self, Dylan assisted the traumatized girl. "Julia, we better get to a well lighted place. I don't know where the other one is."

"Other one what?" Julia gasped between tears.


"Wha---oh sh---how could---"

"Julia, calm down, it's alright now," Dylan said, helping her walk back to the restroom. Sitting outside on one of the benches, Julia cried on his shoulder. He rubbed gentle circles on her back, continuing as the sobbing decreased in volume and intensity.

"Dylan?" she sobbed.

"Hmm?" he asked, his voice rumbling through his chest like a big cat's purr.

"I don't understand why," she whispered.

Dylan made a sympathetic face. "I don't know why, either," he said, reassuringly. "But he was not justified in his actions."

"What's going on?" a third voice asked. Dylan glanced over, to see Kelsey. "Julia?" she asked, concerned.

Sad blue eyes peered under tear ridden lashes. "Could I explain the long story later?" she whispered, her voice gone hoarse from the fright and tears.

Dylan waved her over. "Remember the stalkers?"

Kelsey's eyes bugged. "What? Oh goddess, don't tell me they---"

Dylan put his free hand up. "Not quite." He glanced around again. "Listen, could you take Julia into the bathroom while I go notify security?"

Kelsey nodded. "Okay."

Dylan got up. "Thank you. Now go." He left into the darkness, leaving Kelsey and Julia alone.

"We better go in," Kelsey said, offered a hand to Julia and helping her up. She shoved the door open with her shoulder, and leading her to one of the benches outside of the shower stalls. "You look like you're about to pass out."

"I feel like it," Julia whispered back, her face pale and ghostly. Kelsey sat beside her, wondering how someone could decide to play out a sick fantasy on an innocent girl like Julia. Goddess help him should she get her hands on that son-of-a-bitch....

She looked over when she felt someone touch her shoulder. Julia looked rather tired, her eyes drooping with exhaustion, her head laid trustingly on her shoulder. Ceding to impulse, Kelsey put her arms around the shaken tall girl, to which Julia responded to by ceasing the fight to keep her eyes shut. Rocking her gently, she hummed soft tunes, relieved to feel the tension drain from the girl's body.

"It's okay, little one," she whispered very softly into the silence of the night.

It was that vision again, Julia realized. The hand reached out for hers, but this time, she managed to grab hold. "Oh God..." she sighed, the panic melding with a sense of relief, the touch of connection sparking a primeval reaction within her soul, instinctive like a babe reaching out for its mother.

"We got each other now," the voice said, trying to pull Julia out of the murk.

"We got each other now," Julia remembered saying in her dream, as the red background faded to black and she felt herself being held, the most contented feeling in the world....

Chapter 11

She wasn't sure how long she was asleep, but someone dared to disturb her beauty rest. "Julia," someone called out. She fluttered her eyes. "Wake up."

"Wha---hmm?" she asked. "Whoa, I nodded off there."

"The security people are here," Kelsey said, taking an arm and helping Julia to her feet.

"Ugh, I just want to go back to bed," Julia complained, rubbing her eyes and trying to shield them from the glare of the evil fluorescent lights.

"Soon," Kelsey replied, giving her a pat on the back.

They slowly made their way out of the restroom, three-fourths asleep and therefore unsteady on the feet. Outside, the security team waited for them in their motorized golf caddy.

"Where've you been, Julia?" Audrie asked worriedly under the cloak of darkness. "Making out with Luke?" she teased.

"I hate men," Julia ferally growled, collapsing in her bunk. "See you in the morning."

"Where the hell were you? Julia?" Audrie asked, concerned. She left her comfortable bed and crawled next to Julia. "What the hell is going on?"

"Nothing. I'm tired," Julia grumbled. "I'm going to sleep," she growled in a commanding tone, rolling over not to face Audrie.

The small girl continued despite her protests. "You're bullshitting me. You've been gone for the past few hours."

"And you've been counting?" Julia hissed.

Audrie shook her head. "No, I just had a really bad feeling when you left. Couldn't sleep."

"Okay," Julia relented. "One of the stalkers made a move, but Dylan stopped him before he could do anything to me."

"I hope he isn't in any more trouble than he already is."

"No, he's okay," Julia rest assured Audrie.

"What's going on?" another sleepy voice asked; it was Cassie's.

"Nothing, go back to sleep, Cassie," Audrie told her friend. Turning to Julia, she whispered, "Keep it down."


"So Kelsey happened to come down after, and Dylan went to report it security."

"I hope you didn't sit out there like sitting ducks..."

"No, no," Julia assured her. "We waited in the restroom."


"I have no idea how much more paperwork I'll have to deal with in the morning," Julia grumbled. "Could I go back to sleep?"

Audrie patted her arm. "Sure thing. Goodnight."

"What the hell is he doing here?" Dylan angrily growled, pointing to the two punks.

Kelsey gave him a surprised look. "That's the one who attacked Julia, wasn't it?"

"Yep," Dylan growled. "If they won't discipline the son of a bitch, I WILL!" he roared, taking a step to confront him when Kelsey grabbed him by the arm and restrained him.

"Don't?" Kelsey pleaded. "There's enough shit flying around without vigilante justice."

"Back the train up!" Jessie exclaimed, confused. "What the hell happened?"

"Attacked Julia?" Natasha joined, having glued together a few snippets of the conversation. She usually didn't follow them, but for some reason she decided to play it safe this morning and not walk around vulnerable.

"Oh goddess," Jessie said.

"He's been stalking her the whole damn time," Dylan complained. "I guess they released him."

"What a bunch of bullshit," Kelsey growled. "What's up with that?"

"Probably that stupid 'insufficient evidence' crap," Dylan despaired. "He's an accident waiting to happen."

"That's just creepy," Jessie said. "Good thing we're going home today."

Kelsey gave her a nod of agreement. "I don't want to be at a camp where they can stalk and get away with it."

The familiar tall girl was walking towards them. "Dylan!" she cried.

"Speaking of Julia," Jessie drawled, "here she comes."

"Good morning," the tall beauty addressed the four. "What's up today?"

Kelsey shrugged. "Nothing much. Big breakfast and then we all go home." The incidental timing of her stomach rumbling produced a chorus of kind laughter among the other four.

"Speaking of breakfast, the line is forming," Jessie pointed out. "Wouldn't want to miss the most important meal of the day, would we?"

"Hell no!" Kelsey roared, the two racing off to the stairs of the dining hall to see who could make it there first, Natasha following them at a distance, leaving Dylan and Julia alone.

"I want to thank you for saving me last night," she whispered to him.

"Always ready to assist a friend in a time of need," he replied, his low voice a low, pleasant rumble.

"I know I haven't been the nicest to you, I've said some rather insensitive things this weekend," she apologized.

"It happens. Can't dwell on it forever. Julia, you are a good person."

She gave him a dumbfounded look. "I am?"

"In here," he said, placing a fist over his heart, "yes you are, for you mean well."

"Well, um, thanks," Julia said, caught without words. "I..."

He smiled. "Hey, it's okay." She leaned over and gave him a hug.

"Thanks Dylan," she whispered in his ear.

"You're welcome." They released arms, and he said, "Here's my email address, in case you want to keep in touch."

"Um, okay," she said, watching him get a piece of scratch paper and write it down. "Thanks."

"We better get in line for breakfast or there'll be none left," Dylan said, pointing to the long line before them. "Unlike home, they don't care if you eat or not!" he said, laughing.

Julia shrugged. I'm sure his mom gets upset if he doesn't eat.

She knew she was going to miss Dylan; never mind he was gay and not a Christian. Boarding the bus, she saw Luke sitting down and patting the space next to him, indicating she should sit there. She opted for a space a few seats back.

"Julia, what the hell is going on?"

"You should be careful of whom you befriend."

"Oh yeah?" he retorted. "At least I'm not the one befriending gay atheists here."

Bad move. Julia got up and scooted towards the back, Luke following. "What the hell is going on with you?" he cried out, flailing his arms. "You came here as a pious Christian girl and you left befriending the sinners!"

No one missed the angry ice coals in Julia's eyes when she whirled around to look at him. "Out of my sight. We'll talk about this later."

"Why? So you can get the edge?"

"Fine, I'll humiliate you in front of the whole fucking bus."

There were a few quiet words up until that point; after Julia let that slip, none. This was serious. Luke stood there, looking rather dumb blocking the isle.

"Luke, up here," the frazzled gray haired teacher, Mr. Elden, growled, pointing to the seat across from him.

"But I did nothing!" he protested vehementelly.

"I don't need you two arguing the whole way home. Now get up here."

Luke whirled around, tension coiled his his arms, legs, and torso, as he flopped into the bus seat across from the teacher, his face contorted into a scowl. "I don't know what her problem is," he kept muttering to himself. "Must be rag time."

Cassie decided to support her good friend and joined him. "What's going on between you two?"

"I don't have a clue. I'm going to blame that faggot, though..."

Luke decided to press the issue right when they got off the bus at school. He really didn't want to lose her, but her soul was at stake and it would be better to lose her friendship than her soul, right? Right. God forbid, she might turn into a lesbian practicing witchcraft!

"Julia, we need to talk, now."

"Fine then," she snipped back.

"Julia, what is going on? Why do you hate Sean and Trevor?"

"Your two basketball buddies? Which one's the one with the dark hair?"

"That would be Sean."

"I told you to pick better friends. He stalked me the entire time we were there."

"He wasn't stalking you!"

"Oh yeah, sure. Then why did he attack me Sunday night?"

"I was with you most of the night. Except when you ran off with Audrie---I knew I shouldn't have left you out of my sight!"

Deciding to play it melodramatic to increase the effect, she craned her neck in the sky and scratched her chin in the air, as if contemplating something. "Or maybe it was Monday was dark and everyone was asleep."

Luke's brows furrowed. "What the..."

"I had to pee, and your buddy, Sean decided to attack me. If Dylan wasn't there, I...." she couldn't say the last words. She knew she'd break down and she was too angry at Luke to want a hug from him.

"That son of a bitch! Why didn't--"

She interrupted him. "I warned you plenty of times." She heard a familiar rumble, and turned around to see her ride drive off, annoyed. "There goes my ride down the street."

"I'll take you home."

"I don't want to talk to you."

"Fine then," he said, huffing his breath, walking away pouting.

"Where am I going to get a ride then? Kelsey's still here. Maybe I could twist her arm---I feel so bad, though."

Kelsey was about to get into her truck when she saw Julia was still there. "Do you have a ride?"

Julia shook her head. "No, he drove away."

"I can give you a lift," Kelsey offered.

"Could you? I'll be forever gracious," Julia replied, walking over.

"No problem," Kelsey said, moving her stuff to make room for Julia's luggage. "Here-- she took and loaded Julia's luggage.

"Thank you," the courteous tall beauty replied. She walked over, opened the door, and got in.

"Sorry it's a little cramped," Kelsey apologized, "but I have to be able to depress the clutch."

"Don't apologize to me," Julia replied. Kelsey turned the ignition, to hear it miss.

"Shit," she cursed, turning the key again to hear the commuter pickup rumble to life. "The timing belt needs to be readjusted."

Julia nodded. To be honest, she didn't know anything about cars---it wasn't "feminine" to know such things. Therefore she felt rather helpless and vulnerable when it came to car talk. That's why women had husbands, to fix cars and know practical knowledge like what to do when the toilet is stopped up in the wee hours of the morning. Deep inside, she confessed she found cars and other "masculine" activities to be of a rather fascinating nature, but she didn't dare speak it, in fear of being frowned upon, or worse.

"Where do you live?" Kelsey asked, rousing her out of her thoughts.

"West of the tracks, just beyond the river," she said. "Take Olive west until it ends at Harding Street. Turn right there..."

Kelsey thanked her. "I tend to have a rather short attention span, so could you continue the directions when we get there?"

"Okay," Julia said. "It does get a bit confusing if you've never been out there."

"I knew I needed a map in this truck," she chuckled. She shifted the truck into reverse, backed out, shifted into first, then raced across the empty parking, halting at the exit, looking over her shoulder. Seeing she had a little room, she went ahead and crossed two lanes of traffic into the left hand turn lane and coasted to a stop, blinker furiously blinking.

The way one drives is a reflection upon the subconscious, Julia had noted years earlier. Her father tended to drive under the speed limit and miss many turn opportunities. He called it being "conservative" in his driving habits, but she suspected he was actually timid on the road. Such an apparent contradiction, Rhett Williams loved people and had managed to climb his way to the top of the corporate ladder locally...

Kelsey was aggressive behind the wheel, but a controlled form of aggression, letting it fester where she felt it was safe enough to do so. It wasn't all that bad really, Julia's mother drove much more aggressively. Julia suspected her mother was frustrated being a housewife, for she was a smart and sharp woman. All in the name of Christianity.

The dormant voices reappeared in her head. All in the name of Christianity. And God said women must submit to their husbands---Rhett wanted her home to take care of us. So she did. You have a problem with that? She winced.

"You okay?"

"Dandy," she said, laughing. Damn voices. "Turn right here," she said, when they hit a red light at the intersection of Olive and Harding."

"What next?"

"You want to get in the left hand lane, and take Harding up to Mallard, and turn left. You'll want the right hand lane there."

"Okay." The light turned green, Kelsey shifted into first and applied the accelerator, spray turning. "Get off my tail, asshole. Thank you," she said, peering into her rearview mirror, facial muscles twitching. "Sorry, I hate these jerks on the road."

"I can't blame you," Julia said. It felt right, being in her company, an unspoken truce that should not have been so quickly reached. She didn't dare trust Luke this fast. He's a guy. Guys think about...well, that three letter word that starts with s---"s-e-x." She peered a blue eye at her companion, who was quite intent on her driving. Perhaps it was because of all the traffic whizzing by them at kamikaze speeds. "This isn't Mallard," she said, correcting Kelsey when she got ready to turn onto the wrong street.

"Thanks. C'mon, let me in..." The truck lurched as she made her move back into flowing traffic out of the turn lane. It stalled, sending the harried girl into a panic, grabbing the key and turning it, the truck sputtering to life. Hitting the accelerator, the tires screeched under the demand. "Shit happens," she said, trying to laugh it off.

"I was pondering if it really did happen, but after this weekend, I can conclude firmly that it does," Julia nattered.

"This past weekend was beyond weird. It was just plain insane," Kelsey concluded in plain English. "The fights. Natasha falling off a cliff. The stalkers. I'm sure I didn't name off everything, either."

"The rope bridge," Julia added.

Kelsey's face erupted into a lopsided grin. "Something that traumatic has to rank up there, doesn't it?"

"This is Mallard."

"Thanks." She took the turning lane, and waited for the green arrow to start the Mini-Indy 500, as drivers would race around the dotted lines denoting the lanes during the turn.

"The rest comes pretty fast. After crossing the river on Mallard, the first street to the right is Geary. Turn right; the first street on the left is Royale. Turn left, second house on the left."

Kelsey nodded, and after a few long moments on the bridge, they reached Geary. She took the turn a tad fast, and almost hit the oncoming car. "Shit!"

"It's a nasty turn," Julia confessed. "Here's Royale."

She managed to turn onto the narrow street just in time. "2nd house on..."


"Gotcha." She pulled into the driveway. "See you tomorrow."

"See you tomorrow, Julia. Bye." The tall girl hoisted her luggage out of the back of the truck, then Kelsey reversed out of the driveway and drove away. She watched her turn right at the stop sign, disappearing behind their neighbor's house. She slowly turned her head, trying to reacquaint herself with reality. Her father stood at the door, arms crossed.

"Who drove you home?"

Chapter 12

"That was my friend Kelsey," Julia explained.

"Never heard of her," her father said, his face blank, not indicating casual curiosity, annoyance that she didn't catch her ride home, or if she was supposed to get a ride from Luke instead.

"That's Shana's older sister." Surely he'd know the tiny little spitfire from church.

"Ah, yeah," he affirmed, opening the door for Julia when she came up to the steps, then following her inside. "You better be careful of the Slevins. They're rather wacko. Their mother is convinced there is a ghost in the house."

"What if there is?"

"Hogwash," he laughed. "I'm sure they're harmless, but you never know."

She passed her mother on her way to her room. She was on the phone, writing stuff down. She felt dissapointed when she didn't turn around to acknowledge her daughter was home. Oh well. I wonder what's going on in the email war.

She booted up her computer, to hear a funny sound come from the floppy drive. "Oh shoot--what do I do? F1 for setup, ESC to boot. I have no clue how to set up, so I'll try ESC--" she cringed as she pressed the ESC button. The floppy drive ground and groaned, but then Windows loaded. "All okay? Weird. Perfectly fine with me."

She double-clicked the Dial Up, and the modem began making its customary beeps and clicks. It announced a connection was dialed up, so she opened up Internet Explorer, went to her web-based email server, and checked her mail. "Wow, that's a lot of mail," she blurted when she saw her inbox full. "Time to clean out the mess. Open the earliest message."

Flame wars were to email lists as animosity was between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland: an inevitable part of life. The group was a gathering of conservative Christians in the first place, and when one of the list members accidentally mentioned 'him and his husband' sponsored an event at their local church, they smelled blood. Many e-mails were sent to the list concerning him; she was certain he got many more privately.

The list divided itself into four groups: the rude homophobes, who lacked any vocabulary beyond cuss words and anatomical description; the Bible thumpers, who rattled off Bible verses faster than one could blink. The third group was the ones who believed in the "ex-gay" programs---they wrote to the list saying there was help for "diseases" like that. The fourth were in full support of the scapegoat, crying out that true Christians can and should commune with their lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters. Sadly, they were a small minority.

The LGBT supporters said to attack the gay man was contrary to the spirit of Christ and love. The Bible thumpers were quick to scream that the New Testament didn't support that lifestyle, hanging it on the infamous verse from Romans. The ex-gay supporters pointed out that the spirit of love was to free him from this "abomination." The rude ones demanded he be kicked off the list.

The Bible thumpers agreed, citing Bible verses about keeping the sacred house clean. The ex-gay supporters disagreed. They said he needed their support to overcome his "addiction." The LGBT supporters said he needed their support--to be loved, not hated, nor told he had to change to be loved. The Bible thumpers retorted that Christianity was about changing, to break away from old, worldly habits.

Many nasty, crude, and plain malicious e-mails had been circulating the list. The lurkers dropped out, for it was a nasty war. She opened the last email, from the moderator.

Subject: removal

The moderator has removed you from the list due to complaints from list members.
The reasons given:

1. Disruption of this list
2. Violation of clause 8 of the rules of this list.

Before this weekend she would have been very happy to see that abominable agent of satan gone. But now, she couldn't look at the message without a certain sense of sadness. An image of Dylan flashed in her head---it was no longer an image of a devil with pointed tail and horns. It was a real manifestation of a human, just as human as she was, in fact. Struggling to find a place in society, and now had to go find himself a new place to lurk. She never thought of the whole ordeal as cruel until now. She had in fact written a message to the list condemning him; now she could only look at her outbox and resent the cruel, careless words she fired off in a moment of self-righteousness. What did this make her? The man never hurt her---he had set up a fundraiser to feed the hungry in Appalachia. The only way she could respond was to hurtle an insult at him. Who the hell do you think you are, Julia? God himself? No! Then do not pass judgment!

Mother Slevin made her children have the lights off at nine in the evening. "You don't want Father to think we're here, now do we?" Kelsey bitterly recalled. She rolled over, to see the clock strain to hit ten. She was sick of living with her mother's parinoia day and night. How many times did poor Jessie get greeted with that damn kitchen knife of hers?

"Kelsey, I'm scared," the high-pitched voice of her little sister echoed in the room.

"Another nightmare?" Kelsey sighed, rolling her eyes. "Good grief, what is Mom feeding you for dinner?"

"Daddy called this weekend."

"I hope you're kidding me."

Shana managed to crawl into bed next to her older, taller sister. "No," she whispered. "Said he was watching us. Then described how quite the tomboy you still were."

"Crap. He's been watching me. Anything else?" She could feel her sister's breath. It certainly stunk enough--- "Shana, you been flossing your teeth?"

"Yeah," she said.

"Then you're not doing a very good job." Kelsey then turned over, desperately wanting to ignore her bratty little sister.

"You should come to church Wednesday! They're having a grand ol' fair!"

"Fair?" she asked, with disinterest.

"Yeah! We get to aim at Pastor Mark's head with a water balloon!" she cried out, with youthful exuberance.

"That must be fun," Kelsey said, not really giving a care.

"You should come along!" her little sister prodded.

"I can't, Shana," she reminded her.

"Why? What are you doing?" she poked Kelsey.

"You know I don't believe in that stuff."

"So?" her little sister asked. "That doesn't mean you can't join in the fun! You should! Really! That'd be so cool! C'mon, Kelsey..." she whined.

"Uh, let me think about it." That should shut her up.

"Okay!" her sister said, eager hope in her voice.

"Goodnight." Maybe now I can get some sleep.

The terrifying dreams came again for Julia. It started out with the voices---Old Mother Fundamentalist, who was personified as a stern angry old woman with a sharp, bony chin who thrived on chasing one with a big wooden spoon with a long handle, and Old Mother Caretaker, personified as gentle, grandmotherly lady, the type which one would anticipate a yummy chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven from.

"I don't know why you sympathize for that hell-bound sinner," Old Mother Fundamentalist growled. "By associating with the sinner you taint yourself."

Old Mother Caretaker got in the way. "Didn't Jesus hang out with the sinners? He got jibbed by the Pharisees in the same manner Julia got jibbed by you."

"But---" Old Mother Fundamentalist protested, but was interrupted again.

"She's finally seeing the spirit of Christ and you're angry? You speak so much of the Spirit yet attempt to hinder its manifestation in her? What is this? Hypocrisy!"

The stern old frau furrowed her brows, thin white wisps above her eyes. "I do not hinder the Spirit!"

"You sure act like it!"

Julia screamed at both of them to shut up. They departed the scene, leaving her alone, in a void. This is what happens when you chase your conscious off, a quiet voice whispered. The darkness faded to the familiar coppery red, where a hand stuck out. "Help me..." the voice pleaded.

Julia lunged at the hand, catching it. "I got you," she replied, keeping a firm hold on her hand. She couldn't see beyond the sickening red mist, but a call for help could not go unanswered.

Out of the void, Frau Fundamentalist reappeared, wooden spoon in hand, crossing the invisible threshold that kept Julia from her victim. She drew the spoon back and repeatedly lashed the victim, emitting tortured screams of pain. She tried to get closer, to rescue the victim from the predatory Frau, but by the time the vicious lady was finished, there was little left of her victim, save a lot of spilt blood.

She could do nothing but scream....

....Sending her catapulting up in her bed, breathing hard and eyes bugged out. "Omigod," she gasped. "Oh my God," she gasped, madly rushing for the bathroom, turning on the lights and furiously splashing water over her face. "Oh my God..." she wheezed.

"Julia?" her mother asked, footsteps in the hall. "Julia, you okay?"

She turned to face her mother. "Nightmare. Sorry."

Her mother rolled her eyes, then disappeared. Whose hand keeps reappearing in my dream? Julia wondered.

[ Chapters 13-15 ]

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