"This is torture......"
Blake couldn't agree more. With the school cancelling and kicking everyone out of the building well before lunch, one would think that all the students would be nothing if not thrilled. But the nervous taps of feet and frequent gaze shifts told him Amelia and Cameron were just as apprehensive as he was.
Amelia lifted her phone off the rock next to her, stared at the screen for a good ten seconds or so, and then set it down.
"Anything?" asked Blake, even though he already knew the answer. Amelia responded with a silent shake of her head.
Cameron looked between the two of them with furrowed brows. "What now?"
"The ambulance took Amelia's phone number as a contact, you know, when they took Jenna and June," explained Blake.
The befuddlement did not leave Cameron's face. "Why Amelia? What about her parents?"
Blake and Amelia exchanged a glance, realizing that the latter's brother had been standing too far back in the crowd to have seen what happened. Not only that but Blake and Amelia both stayed longer to exchange info with paramedics, while everyone else, Cameron included, was escorted out of the building. The two met Cameron in the nearby park but hadn't yet explained what happened in that hallway.
Blake still remembered it all too clearly, and the unsettling memory force a tiny shiver onto his back.
"Blake......it's just like what happened to mom."
"Wait, what? What do you mean?"
"She was...she coughed up blood too."
"Hold on, when did this happen?"
"Last, last night."
"Why did you tell me?! This morning, something was wrong. I didn't ask...you should have told me, June."
His hand was already on his shorts, and soon his hand was taking hold the denim with tightened fists. More than anything, he was frustrated with himself.
Good thing Amelia recanted the whole story to Cameron, since she'd been close enough to hear the exchanges.
"Oh my-" Cameron stopped himself before he could finish that statement. His furrowed brows and gaped mouth said it all even prior to his question, "And she didn't say anything about all that? Not to either of you?"
In silence, both Blake and Amelia solemnly shook their heads.
"We agree on that." Amelia let out a heavy sigh.
Blake did also, but he had no interest in showing as much. Mostly, he was frustrated with himself. He knew this morning, during their walk, that something was off. June told him as much. But he didn't press her further, nor did she reveal what really transpired last night with her mother. Why was that? Was she...losing trust in him?
I know I keep secrets from her. Maybe she's doing...no, she wouldn't. That's not June.
A jerking motion caught Blake's attention. Only afterwards did he hear a melodic ringtone as Amelia pressed a couple of buttons on her phone before she brought it up to her ear.
Both Blake and Cameron leaned forward in their spots; the former held his breath momentarily and waited for something concrete.
"Oh; hey Mom."
Blake puffed out some air. Not the call any of them were hoping for, he was certain.
"Sorry, no. I was thinking it could be a different call."
All three of them glanced at one another for the briefest of moments, knowing exactly what everyone else thought.
"They told you it was cancelled for the day?"
Blake could only imagine the conversation happening at this point. Or, at least, he thought he did until he noticed a very surprised look emerging on Amelia's face.
Cameron looked just as confused as Blake felt, but without knowing what was said on the other side of the line, they couldn't make a lot of assumptions.
"Yeah, yeah......okay......oh, woah."
Blake knew Amelia would fill them in before long, but his curiosity about this unknown conversation continued to grow with each passing second.
"We're at the park, the one a couple of blocks from school?......no, Blake's with us."
Why was his name mentioned, he wondered? He about asked by starting to mouth it out, but the look on Amelia's face changed suddenly. She almost appeared taken aback, as if she could not believe what she'd just heard. With her jaw slightly gaped, she shook her head and said to the phone, "No, he's not. He's fine."
Blake had an idea of what had transpired on the other end of the line, but still, he told himself not to make assumptions right off the bat. Amelia continued to keep a disbelieved look on her face as she spoke more, this time with a slight stutter.
"Wendy's fine. B-but June......she got coughed on by Jenna. A-and Jenna collapsed after coughing blood on June, and I guess June's mom was sick last night or something-"
Amelia could not even finish her current sentence, as in the same moment she pulled the phone just a short distance from her ear. A couple of seconds later Amelia brought the phone back towards her face and tried to speak, but for some reason could not. And then finally, it seemed, she could breathe in and talk again.
"No, no, Mom, Cam and I are fine! We didn't knew what was happening until it already happened! Well, Cameron didn't know, but I did, and I promise neither of us got close! Blake didn't either! We're all fine though, I promise."
Blake could only imagine what was going on right now. Amelia and Cameron's mother Sheila was certainly interesting. She was a hard worker and very devoted to her religious beliefs, but she could be overprotective of the twins at times, and often acted the same way towards other kids also. Not always him, not that he minded much.
"Yeah, okay, Mom, we'll be fine." Amelia's sudden interjection into the silence pulled Blake back into the conversation-of-sorts. She paused when Blake faced her again, but then she spoke once more. "Yeah, I love you too. See you soon." Moments later Amelia pulled the phone away from her face, pressed a button, and set the device down on the seat next to her on the bench. Both Blake and Cameron had gazes fixated upon her by the time she noticed them.
"Care to share?" asked the latter. Blake rolled his eyes at the delivery but said nothing.
Amelia did not seemed bothered, however she did let out a big puff of air. "Um, so...school's cancelled for the rest of the year."
Neither of the boys could hold onto their disbelief or gasps of shock, even Blake was surprised by what he heard.
"So close to the end of the year?" he asked.
"That's what Mom said."
"What about final tests?"
"I don't know."
Blake tried thinking of another question to ask, but Cameron chimed in first. "What was all that about him and June?" He subsequently pointed to Blake with his thumb.
Amelia answered with just a tinge of exasperation in her voice. "She asked if Blake was sick, then freaked out when I told her about June...I told her we were fine, but I don't know how convinced she was."
"Sounds about right for your Mom to react like that," Blake noted. A quick glance at Cameron allowed him to see the embarrassed nod from his friend.
"Anyway, Mom's gonna be here soon to pick us up," said Amelia. "I think she said in about ten minutes."
"Wow. That's fast," Cameron piped.
Blake stood up from his seat on the rock, and grabbed his backpack at the same time. Amelia did not respond, but Cameron's brows furrowed with confusion.
"Hey, where are you going?"
"I'm going to head home," he explained to his friend. "Your mom might fret over me being sick or something. And by that I mean she'll do anything she can to convince herself that somehow I might be sick too. I don't want that kind of lecture right now."
Cameron opened his mouth for a brief protest but after some consideration, shut his lips and simply grumbled. Amelia didn't even fight the explanation, however, just sat and nodded her head ever so slightly. Blake knew their mother all too well, he knew it, and so did they. She was indeed protective of the kids in town, her own in particular. But strangely enough she didn't show those same mannerisms when it pertained to Blake. Not that it bothered him much, but he always thought it was a bit odd of her, especially since she had no problem with him hanging out with Amelia and Cameron so often.
"Anyways..." He spoke up finally after realizing he'd paused a while. "Mom might be home now. If she is I should probably tell her what's going on."
"Unless she got the call too," Amelia said.
"Yeah, yeah, unless she got called too..." Blake gave his friends but a curt wave as he turned away from them and headed for the edge of the park. He wouldn't be out of sight until he reached the corner and turned down the sidewalk. Soon as he approached the houses there, he picked up the pace, so that his legs almost propelled him into a jog. The excuse about Sheila seemed like a good alibi, but it was only to hide the real reason for his desire to leave his friends.
A strange hiss from afar garnered his attention almost immediately. He saw it easily amidst the cloudy atmosphere: a four-legged figure wreathed in gaseous shadow, slinking and jumping across rooftops as its gaze followed his every move. And it followed him too.
Soon he spotted another shadow, its size more comparable to that of a coyote, much larger and taller than the first one he'd seen. It stumbled less often and gave off amore malicious aura than the other.
Blake watched as two more appeared in his sights while he picked up the pace. Once he was only a block away from home, he bolted forward with all his ferocity. The shadows following now had to catch up to him, while he reached for his keys. He thrust them into the lock and opened the front door of the house.
The door slammed shut with a loud bang but Blake did not care. Without a second thought he threw his backpack on the floor and reached for the scythe right he left it, in the corner behind the door. He took hold of it with both hands in an instant and backed up.
His heartbeat pounded in his ear, and he waited for something, anything, to happen. Blake held his breath as long as he could, and thought hard about what might happen, or what he could do.
Mom's car wasn't here. But she could get home at anytime. The shadows can go through walls, but not as easily as they can move through open air. He wanted no surprises, and so positioned himself in the center of the open living room. During a slow rotation, Blake scanned every inch of the surrounding walls and floors.
Can this thing break tables and stuff? He fretted inwardly while continuously spinning around in the open space, constantly looking back and forth between the scythe and the room.
A strange noise stopped him in his tracks. It was something like sludgy water flowing down a drain. And both his ears picked up the sound. After a glance downward, his gaze slowly lifted up, and before long his chin followed suite. A short snout wrapped in shadow, bearing two limbs affixed with sharp claws, phased through the ceiling with effort as though it attempted to pull itself through the wall. The creature's gleaming silver eyes and body pulled through as well and stared right at him. Blake ran out of the way as the shadow beast fell onto the corner of the coffee table with a pained screech.
When Blake spun around the Shadow stood on all fours and began its advance towards him. He already clutched the scythe with both hands tightly when it leaped right for him. He tried swinging it but could not do so in time and instead managed to only hit the creature with the staff. It crashed into a nearby wall but Blake still grunted with frustration.
You're swinging too late! he scolded inwardly. Okay, okay. Try to anticipate its attack and push harder with the hand closer to the blade!
He had no idea how to truly wield something like this, but at this point he knew there was no choice but to figure it out, and fast. The shadow stood back up but Blake now had the time for finding a good defensive position. However he was not prepared for the gurgling sound to his right. Another Shadow tried phasing through the door.
Blake returned his focus on his current assailant, just as it sped right towards him. The moment it made its move, he already made up his mind and preemptively prepared himself in a swinging motion. With the right hand closest to the curved blade made contact with the creature's left shoulder. The momentum carried the scythe the rest of the way as the creature's sliced body disintegrated right on top of him. His breathing faltered a moment, but his focus lay more on his surprised delight.
"Oh! I did it!"
A gurgled sound from behind stopped him, and Blake spun about with a start.
"Oh, cra-!" An attack from the other Shadow cut off his sentence, though he managed to stop it with the staff. He didn't fall backwards, at least, and instead pushed against the Shadow with all his might. The creature jumped back in the same instance, but Blake wasted no time as he lifted the scythe high into the air, and swung downwards.
The shadow jumped out of the way; the stationary coffee table did not. Blake flinched once the blade made contact with the wood. The furniture received a major crack as a result, and two of the legs bowed out from the stress of the strike. Meanwhile Blake stood in a frozen stupor, not at all expecting what just happened.
Did...can this thing-?
The brief pause in stunned silence prevented Blake from noticing the creature lunging for him, and they both tumbled sideways. The blade of the scythe stuck into the floor, which left Blake defenseless as the shadow snapped and growled at his face.
Blake could barely keep it above his chest, and its legs stretched longer than his arms. Small claws raked his left arm, and the pain radiated like a heat wave across his arm and chest, so much so that he felt the slightest warm tingle of blood trickle across his skin. Small claws from the rear of the creature nicked his side, a stinging annoyance at best that still bled at a slow rate. The jaws of the shadow snapped a mere inch or so in front of his face; he swore he felt the creature's breath, a faint but foul odor that made his face wrinkle with discomfort. The shadow opened its jaws in a long hiss while its claws once again dug into Blake's shoulder, amplifying the pain.
"Get off!" Instinctively he kicked with both legs as hard as he could. With a startled screech the creature flew up, grazed the ceiling and landed on the back of the couch with a gentle yet painful thud.
In the exact same moment Blake struggled to his feet and reached for the scythe. The moment he grabbed the handle and pulled to remove it from the ground, the nerves in his arm flared up. He winced and groaned, but could not manage to get the blade unstuck.
In his periphery Blake noticed the creature shaking as if it had been dazed, before it crouched for another attack. As it leapt, he kicked out his leg. The shadow squealed when Blake's foot made contact with its body and stopped the assault.
Suddenly something else began to wrap itself around Blake's injured shoulder and back, nearly throwing him off balance. He realigned himself with the stationary staff, and watched as a lizard-like Shadow with a length nearly two-thirds of his height wrapped around his arm and plunged dark teeth into his arm.
Blake yelped as a surge of pain coursed throughout his entire body. But so did the anger. Without a thought, Blake threw a clenched fist right into the creature's face. It let his arm go and released a shrill hiss in the same instance he used the leverage he needed to yank the scythe right out of the ground. With quick thinking and confidence, Blake spun and cut the lizard Shadow right in two. He didn't watch the dark form disintegrate and instead immediately turned toward the other Shadow he'd kicked away. It readied itself for another spring, but Blake and his blade were faster. It could not run in time from his strike, and he watched as the severed legs disappear before its body followed suite.
He wished for rest, but the fiery pain did not ebb; he barely managed those two last swings as it stood. Not only that, a fierce burn ran along his entire spine. It was not exceptionally painful, but annoying enough that he took notice. Blake held the scythe before him, spinning about this way and that. His eyes scanned every inch of the living room, from the cracked coffee table to the moved couch, the closed shades over the windows to the droplets of blood littering the wooden floor around him. The burn did not vanish or even fade, but he also saw no sign of any more Shadows. His heart pounded so loud he felt his own pulse in practically every finger the longer h clutched the scythe. He just, waited. And he waited.
And he waited......
Seconds turned to minutes. Minutes, to hours, it felt. It was still daylight, but some of his surroundings soon obtained a very pale orange glow around the edges. Yet still nothing else happened.
The burning sensation now was not as intense as before. Still...Blake was on edge. The more time went on, the more his priorities shifted. He still maintained awareness of his surroundings, but the pain had become very bothersome. The status of the living room had changed, what with the blood and the table being the most obvious abnormalities, that he grew ever concerned about how he would explain this to his mother...except by now the focus centered on why she was not yet home.
Before long, night began its next cycle. And still Alisha had not yet returned.