Maybe they’re gone, Emma thought happily.
Taking deep breaths to calm her nerves, she descended the stairs slowly and groaned. The animals were still there, crawling or trotting or sliding or flying – or performing whatever each animal’s preferred method of locomotion was – all over the place, but something was wrong. Her parents were sitting normally on their leather couch, seeming perfectly untroubled.
“Dad! Mum! Don’t you realise that there are animals everywhere?” Emma said, trying to knock some sense back into them. They both turned to her, their expressions amused.
“Animals? What are you talking about, Emma?” her mum asked both worriedly and amusedly.
“Animals! In this house! In case you didn’t know, there’s a dirty great snake slithering around your feet!” Emma shrieked agitatedly, fretting about the state of her parents’ sanity.
“Snake?” her father scoffed, looking down at his wife’s feet. “You’re telling rubbish lies, Emma.”
Emma’s jaw dropped as a rat scurried over her mother’s stomach without her flinching at all or even making any movements. Couldn’t they see the animals? Were they invisible to her parents?
It was utter chaos in the house, with animals found everywhere Emma turned. How was it that her parents couldn’t see or hear or feel these animals?
Maybe this was all in her imagination… In fact, now that she thought about it, maybe the past week and a day had all been in her imagination. Honestly, all this business about Death and creatures from other planes sounded extremely far-fetched. Maybe she was having strong hallucinations.
Josh came downstairs leisurely, also appearing as though he hadn’t seen any animals. Except one.
“Emma, did you let in that blue jay?” Josh asked sternly, his eyes following the bird as it fluttered through the room.
Both Emma’s mother and father’s eyes shot up to the point where Josh was looking, but obviously they couldn’t see anything because their expressions were blank.
“Kids, we’re taking you to a psychologist,” her dad announced, and then suddenly they were whisked away to the mental health clinic.
In the waiting room, Emma was pondering all that had happened.
How come Josh could see only one animal out of all of them? And how come her parents saw absolutely nothing? It was crazy.
Luckily, her parents first wanted her and Josh to visit a psychologist to figure out if they were just telling tales, rather than sending them immediately to the loony bin.
They sat in silence in the waiting room, until someone broke it by calling out their names.
“Emma May Slim and Joshua Felix Harry…” the name-caller turned over two pages, “…Darius Nathan Eli Yansten Henry Mills.”
Emma and Josh got up together to follow the woman dressed in white who was leading them down a narrow hallway that smelled like flowers.
“What’s with the long name?” Emma asked.
“My middle names are the first names of my male ancestors, all the way back until the traitor Septerus brought shame to our family.”
“Uh-huh. And how did he do that?”
“I don’t know,” Josh said, shrugging, “but I don’t really care. At least that guy prevented me from having, like a hundred middle names or something.”
“How many do you have?” Emma asked curiously.
Josh scrunched up his face, counting. “Fifteen. I gave you my initials the first time we spoke inside your house. They go: F. H. F. T. E. D. S. W. A. V. D. N. E. Y. H.” Josh looked rather proud of all his middle names.
The woman opened a door for them and Emma thanked her before the two of them entered. Doctor Richards was sitting calmly behind his desk, indicating both Josh and Emma to sit in the comfortable, cushioned chairs.
“So, your parents tell me that you’re claiming to see animals everywhere,” Doctor Richard began as a way of introduction.
“Oh, well, it’s actually Emma’s parents who told you that, but not mine… and all I saw was a blue jay! I don’t know why Emma’s going crazy,” Josh defended quickly.
“I’m not going crazy! I know what I saw was real! It was like magic,” Emma said, trying to hint to the doctor what had happened.
“Like magic, eh?” Doctor Richards, letting Emma know that he had picked up the hint. “That’s a funny way of putting it… Why don’t you describe in detail what happened?”
Emma did exactly that. She described her bike ride, all the mean comments she threw at the animals, the time they rung the doorbell and she slammed the door in their faces, the time when the blue jay tapped on the window, the way a whole load of animals just came in the house as if it were their home and the scene downstairs. At the end, Josh was staring at Emma as if she’d gone mental.
“Josh, stop staring at me like that,” Emma said quietly, frowning at him.
“Er, you, young man. What did you see?” Doctor Richards directed this question towards Josh.
“Me? I saw the blue jay tapping at the window. Then I left the room, and when I went downstairs I saw the blue jay flying around.”
“And I also saw it!” Emma added, in case it was important information.
“And her parents saw absolutely nothing,” Josh said flatly.
Doctor Richards leaned back in his chair. “This is curious. Very curious. Such an event like this would seem extremely improbable… I think that you, Emma, and you, Josh, have had a shared hallucination. I’ve never heard of something like that before but I’m sure if I research it…”
“But why would Josh only see one of my hallucinations? Actually, it wasn’t even a hallucination! I’m a hundred percent sure that what I saw was real. Maybe Josh and my parents are the ones going crazy because they couldn’t see what was right in front of their eyes.” Emma stopped herself from rambling anymore, since what she was saying sounded stupid even to herself.
“I really can’t be sure what has happened at the present moment, but after some investigation I will be able to figure out the craziness of this all…”
“Great, can we go now?” Josh asked rudely. He obviously wanted to keep calling his mates.
Doctor Richards scrutinised Josh through his glasses. “You know, your parents…”
“Emma’s parents,” Josh corrected.
“…paid a lot of money to have this session. We’re going to make the best of it.”
Josh already looked bored.
“So, what are the important things happening in your life?”
“There isn’t much to say, really,” Emma lied, not quite meeting Doctor Richards’ eyes. “Er, my friend’s friend creeps me out… I’m not doing well with school… Josh, who is my roommate, annoys me a lot…”
Josh punched her arm and she rubbed it.
“You’re not doing well with school, you say? Please explain,” Doctor Richards requested.
“I’m just getting bored with schoolwork. I don’t really pay attention in class anymore; I just think about stuff. And I don’t do any homework or assignments. Then when the teachers give me detention for not doing the homework and assignments, I don’t go to it.”
“What do you think about when you’re in class?” Doctor Richards pried.
Josh burst into laughter, as his mind was corrupted and he was thinking wrongly about what Emma’s thoughts were.
“I’d like my thoughts to remain private,” she told the psychologist, ignoring Josh’s immaturity. When he didn’t object, she continued. “Although I would like to say that I think about problems and how to solve them, not whatever you think I think, Josh.”
“And you, Josh?” Doctor Richards, turning to the laughing Josh. “What important things are going on in your life?”
“Nothing,” Josh replied simply.
“Nothing?” Doctor Richards repeated, his eyebrow raised.
“Nothing at all,” Josh confirmed.
“That’s… not a lot.”
“No, it’s not,” Josh said, shaking his head. Emma punched him for being rude to Doctor Richards or Marcus or whatever he wanted to be called. Then they sat in silence for a few seconds until Doctor Richards just gave up.
“Alright, just go,” he said. “I think we’re done here. I’ll call you back next week to tell you what I will have found out about shared hallucinations.”
Josh’s expression brightened when he learned that he could go. He and Emma rose and left the room.
“That was quick,” Emma’s mum remarked as they approached her.
“He… didn’t need to question us too much,” Emma said.
The ride home was rather scary. Josh and Emma sat in the back of the car, each staring out of their own window at the horrible weather. Storm Bomb was probably tearing through Pineville. The powerful winds shook powerlines and made trees go crazy, while the tumultuous rain drenched poor people stuck walking. Lightning flashed every few seconds, sending booms of thunder roaring across the sky.
They pulled up in the driveway and Josh and Emma ran the short distance from the car door to the house’s door. When Emma’s dad finally stopped fumbling with keys and managed to open the door, Emma and Josh rushed in, shivering and already soaked from those few seconds that they had been exposed to the harsh storm.
They grabbed towels and dried themselves off before making their way up to the bedroom. Emma flicked on the TV, eager to see what damage Storm Bomb must have caused to other areas of Queensland.
“Storm Bomb has ripped through south-eastern Queensland, resulting in ten SES calls so far! Fallen powerlines, small trees uprooted… the destruction is everywhere!” yelled the man on TV, who had obviously braved Storm Bomb to add credibility to his report.
“Indeed, Steve. We’ll get back to you in a few moments, but now, let’s cross live to Edwina Hearting, who’s following the rampage of a small group that no one seems to be able to stop,” the Barbie newsreader said.
Edwina simpered when it was her turn. She was in a car, a microphone held to her mouth as she babbled away. The camera turned away from her and zoomed out the window while Edwina kept talking.
“Thanks, Margaret. Police have found a strange situation today; a group of no less than twenty-four women are running amok through the streets of Pineville, causing about as much destruction as Storm Bomb, though on a smaller scale.”
The camera showed the Glaces walking through the streets, emptying rubbish bins all over the road, smashing windows of cars and ripping signs and posters off the walls of shops. Unsuspecting passers-by looked at them in surprise and then ran away to save themselves.
“This mischief-causing group has been active since Thursday, apparently. Police have tried to negotiate with the women, but they don’t seem to want to listen. They have also been threatened, but they aren’t going to stop anytime soon.”
Emma’s eyebrows were raised, and so were Josh’s. These Glaces really were wreaking havoc on Pineville, but Emma was sure that if there were enough police they would be stopped.
She was wrong.
The camera zoomed in more as about thirty police came running up to the group, handcuffs and guns brandished. The Glaces simply charged through the wall the police had made, kicking them in the crotches and biting exposed skin.
“Oh, ouch,” Josh commented, looking very interested in the news.
“We’ll be back to see how authorities are progressing with the Glaces. Let’s get back to Steve Martin, who’s in one of the towns which were hit the worst by Storm Bomb.”
Steve Martin talked a bit more about statistics and then images were shown of several towns that looked like a hurricane had hit them. Then a weather map of Australia was shown, focused on Storm Bomb, which was passing through Queensland. It looked like Pineville Views had only gotten touched by the edge of the storm.
Josh turned to Emma.
“We didn’t really need to bring anything inside, did we?”
Emma shrugged. “I guess not. It was just a safety precaution. Come on; let’s play Go Fish. I’m bored out of my mind.”
Tuesday’s school was very eventful.
Emma, as usual, was thinking about nothing but her deal with Death. She really had to get a move on finding out who the escapee was, but now that she had formed somewhat amicable relationships with Josh, Lester, Callum, Rein and James, she had no idea what to do. How in the world was she meant to know whom she needed to get?
As she contemplated her problem during Music, her eyes wondered over to the window and then they widened.
It was that bloody blue jay!
Emma knew it was the same one as yesterday because it was tapping on the window just like it had before.
However, she breathed with relief when the student closest to the window shooed away the bird and it moved without objection. It couldn’t be the same blue jay, because the other one was persistent and stubborn, and nobody else but Josh could see the talking animals.
So Emma let her thoughts branch out again.
Then came the rainbow parrot. It tapped noisily at the window and Emma knew that this one really was one of her enemy animals because nobody acknowledged its existence.
Emma tried to ignore it – she really did. But how could she when it just stood there, staring at her with its beady, black eyes?
She stared pointedly at the teacher, who was explaining how to make chords on the piano sound richer. Sound came in one of Emma’s ears and flew out the other, but it didn’t matter; all she wanted was to forget about the parrot.
She just couldn’t, though! She could pretty much feel its icy stare burning her skin and trying to reach her eyes. Eventually Emma tore her eyes away from the teacher and had a stare down with the parrot, which made an inaudible bird noise that Emma could only see when it opened its beak. The parrot’s stare never wavered, and neither did Emma’s, until the teacher interrupted their contest.
“Emma, what are you doing?” Mr. Curry asked, looking irritated.
“I…I…” Emma shut her mouth, knowing she was making herself look even more stupid than she had already appeared when she was staring at the bird (which was invisible to everyone else).
“What were you staring at?” Mr. Curry inquired. “What could possibly be so interesting that you would divert your attention away from me?”
Everyone in the class turned to the window where the parrot was. It didn’t move, but no one else could see it anyway.
“Make sure to listen to me and look at the board in future, alright?”
“Yes, sir,” Emma replied, nodding.
From then on, she fixated her eyes on Mr. Curry, never giving in to the almost irresistible pull of the parrot’s eyes. It was as if her eyes had one end of a magnet embedded in them and the parrot’s eyes had the other.
At the end of the class, when the bell rang for lunch, Emma pretended to drop some books on the floor and bent down to pick them up.
“Be sure to lock the door when you go out, okay?” Mr. Curry said, exiting the room.
“Okay,” Emma promised, gathering up her books. When she was sure that the teacher had left, she stomped over to the window and pulled it open.
“What now?” Emma hissed, straightening her pile of books.
“Nothing,” the bird cawed.
Emma tried to make her eyes bore into the parrot’s eyes in an intimidating way, but the bird seemed unaffected.
“You want nothing except my pain,” Emma sighed.
“Nothing except your pain,” the bird repeated to confirm what she had said.
The bird hopped in before Emma could slam the window closed. And when she tried to slam the window after the bird hopped in, it wouldn’t even move. She poked her head outside the window and saw the two men dressed in black standing below her window.
Emma had a reckless plan. She needed to find out who they were; it was extremely important. But she needed to keep eye contact, because whenever she didn’t, they disappeared!
The bird cocked its head at her curiously as she started to swing her legs out the window until she was just sitting on the window ledge. Her breath came out ragged, but at least the men still hadn’t vanished.
She grabbed onto the pipe beside her for dear life, wishing she had something better to hold onto. She then made her legs hold onto the pipe tightly. It was at that moment that she wished she had continued gymnastics; it would have allowed her to climb down the pipe easily. Since she had quit gymnastics, though, she had the upper body strength of a potato.
Keeping her eyes on the men the whole time, Emma unwrapped one leg from the pipe and felt around the wall with her shoe for a hole in the bricks, of which there were plenty. When she found one, she unwrapped the other leg and did the same time.
Then she slowly and carefully descended the pipe using holes in the bricks for her feet, her eyes never straying from the men.
“EMMA SLIM!” a teacher yelled and Emma yelped in surprise. She let go of the pipe by accident and lost her footing. The ground raced towards her, a swirling sea of green grass.
Oomph! She hit the ground in a crumpled heap at the feet of Mr. Curry.
“What in the world were you thinking?” he shouted at her.
She got detention.
Not that she would go to it.
Her next lesson was a single period of Sport, which she shared with Jack Adams, James and Julia. She avoided Julia the whole time, preferring James much more. Even though he was quiet the whole time, she still liked his company.
They played soccer for the whole period. Emma got really into the game and had the time of her life, chasing after the ball and even scoring a few goals for her team.
Her team cheered with elation as she scored a third goal. Jack, the goalkeeper, looked miffed at missing the ball by a centimetre and allowing his own team to fall behind even more.
Then something ruined Emma’s happiness.
A great eagle, which no one else noticed, sped towards her like a rocket, streaming through the air easily. She screamed and braced herself for the attack. It poked her skin sharply with its beak and scratched her with its claws. Emma shrieked and ran across the field, knowing perfectly well that the eyes of everyone in her class were following her.
She felt the claws of the eagle tugging at the skin of her arms mercilessly. Emma tried to retaliate by swiping at the air blindly but her hands never came in contact with the eagle.
“Slime! What the heck is wrong with you?” Jack yelled amusedly.
Emma replied only with a low groan. More animals had come to the scene and were charging towards her, but they’d promised not to harm her. Although, now that she thought about it, who could really trust a group of stalking animals?
The snake coiled around her ankles tightly, making her lose her balance as she fought the eagle and a dog at the same time. She keeled over forwards and fell to the ground, before turning over so that she could see all the animals attacking her.
Ants bit at her stomach and Emma screamed in agony; these weren’t your everyday ants that you found crawling around the pavements. Their bites stung worse than a flame and throbbed endlessly.
She didn’t realise that James was by her side until he touched her arms and the animals froze where they were. Then, slowly, they all began to deteriorate at the same time. The eagle’s wings crumbled and fell off, the rabbit’s ears actually exploded and the ants all evaporated into wisps of dark smoke. James was doing funny things with his hands; he was obviously her saviour.
The pain the animals had inflicted on her disappeared without a trace when all the animals were gone. Breathing heavily, Emma sat up.
James took one look at the faces of all their other classmates before pulling her up and marching her away from the field. Everyone was too stunned to do anything.
“You – you made them disappear,” Emma stuttered, finding it difficult to keep up with James’ wide strides.
“That, I did,” he replied.
He turned to her, stopping in his tracks. “Magic, of course. How else could I do that?” He laughed at her as if she were a clueless child.
“B-but… you saw them! You saw the animals! And no one else can!” Emma’s words came out in a rush.
“They were just hallucinations, Emma. Somebody was forcing images into your mind.”
“But I felt and heard the animals, too!”
“Then they were controlling a lot of your brain, warping and making it believe that the hallucinations were real.”
“And… and… how did you see my own hallucinations?”
“I knew you were seeing things that we couldn’t, so I channelled my magic to your brain,” James explained.
“You’re magical! You’re a freaking magical person!”
James raised his eyebrow. “If you want to put it that way.”
Emma backed away. This obviously wasn’t the reaction he expected from Emma, for his face took on a confused expression.
Then Emma ran.
The weather had cleared enough for the soccer game, but as she ran across the road, the clouds gathered again, as if they sensed Emma’s inner turmoil and wanted to represent it with another storm.
James… he had to be the man she was looking for! He was the man who had appeared in the dreams that the pendant had given her, which was now pulsing madly beneath her shirt. He surely was… right? Emma couldn’t think of anyone else. He was rich and he was magical, the two things that made you a suspect of the person who was part of the defying family.
Gasping for breath, Emma stopped running at a random street. She didn’t even know why she had been running. She didn’t want to kill James – she so, so, so didn’t want to, but she had to! It was for the sake of her parents’ lives. Maybe she was being selfish by choosing her mum and dad over James, maybe she wasn’t. It didn’t really matter. Emma had made a deal with Death, and when you make a deal like that, you really have to keep your end of the bargain.
But she wanted James to live. He didn’t deserve to die… he didn’t deserve it at all.
Emma looked around her, the tears in her eyes threatening to spill over. She examined the houses in this area. They were large and grand, evidently owned by rich, posh people. One house caught her eye. The word “Syrani” was branded across the front wall in giant, brass letters.
“Mills, Slim, Syrani,” one of the teachers called out. “You’re late! Where are your permission slips?”
This was Rein’s house! It was amazing that she had stopped exactly where his house was.
Without hesitation, she crossed the lush green lawn and used the brass doorknocker, banging it three times on the oak door. Rein’s house was slightly creepy, with its dark exterior and strange carvings.
Rein opened the door, to Emma’s surprise.
“Why aren’t you in school?” Rein asked suspiciously, right before Emma fell into his arms, sobbing.
Before she knew what was happening, she was seated in one of Rein’s chairs in his amazing bedroom, with Rein standing over her.
Emma shook her head and cried even more. She felt like a pathetic, distraught baby who couldn’t even handle the trivial problems of her life, except her problem with James was not at all trivial.
She couldn’t kill him.
“Please, Emma. I can help you,” Rein said kindly.
“No, you can’t,” Emma choked out.
Rein left the room to get something for Emma. She sniffled away in her chair, glancing around the room. Photos of Rein and his family littered the whole room, so that each time Rein came into his room it would be a trip down Memory Lane.
There was also something very curious on Rein’s desk. It looked like an hourglass lying down, one side filled with a black gas and the other filled with a white gas. There were two tubes coming out from each end. Curious, Emma got up and sniffed the tube that was connected to the end with the white gas. It didn’t smell like anything she could recognize, though it smelled pleasant. Taking the tube on the other side, Emma inhaled deeply. Its scent was exactly identical to the smell of Cameron’s smoke.
Rein entered and Emma turned around sharply. Rein’s eyes flickered from the hourglass thing on his desk to Emma’s accusing expression and he dropped the bowl of ice cream he’d been holding. It shattered beside his feet.
“Tell me, Rein, why aren’t you in school?” Emma asked slowly.
“You never told me why you aren’t in school, so why should I tell you why I’m not?” Rein retorted, but his voice wavered slightly.
Emma ignored him. “What is this… intriguing contraption you have here?”
She picked up the little sniffing thing and Rein flinched.
“Be careful with it!” he warned.
Emma raised an eyebrow. “Tell me what it is first, Rein, or it might just… slip through my fingers…”
“I-it’s something that converts Death Attraction to…”
Rein’s mouth stopped. Emma’s eyes narrowed.
“Into what, Rein?”
Rein shook his head, closing his lips tightly.
“Into what, Rein?” Emma repeated thunderously.
He sighed, giving in. “Life Attraction.”
Emma gasped and the conversion apparatus actually did slip through her fingers. Down it went, until it hit the floor. The glass cracked and fell apart, releasing the two gases inside. They mingled in the air and turned grey.
“It’s… you. It’s not James, it’s you…”