I scrolled through the news with my eyes half open waiting for sleep to catch me. It was still early, only about 9 pm, but it’d been a long day – and so had yesterday.
“Is it the anti-supernaturals?”
“Witch like his father : Cause for the bombing?”
“Aleccas Keeper: Proof the supernatural extinction is a lie”
“Petition to support fairies!”
“Ridgevalley passes law against magic usage next week”
The amount of clickbait articles already online was almost sickening. Especially since no one seems to know what really happened. Nikolas tried to explain it to me, but Salandra blew up is still confusing.
I set my phone aside and buried my face in my pillow with a drawn out sigh.
I could feel them in my room – whispering, reaching, worrying. They never stopped doing that, worrying. They’re not even actual people these ghosts. They’re just imprints of people that have yet to fade.
One of them exhaled a word that resembled a little too closely my name.
After the explosion, everyone who’d died appeared and started to wail. This horrible screaming that knocked me out. The majority of them have already disappeared, but there are a few stragglers who stay to whisper warnings and to cry in corners.
Joel disappeared this morning, but Veronica appears sometimes to grip my arm and plead silently. Mom disappeared a few hours in. This was probably a sweet relief for her – something she’d been waiting for. She gets to go see dad.
I sat up on the bed, rubbing my eyes tiredly. I felt them stir in the room. I felt them cry and wail silently. I’d gotten good at tuning them out. They were just shadows in the corners of my eyes, but the mass deaths were making even shadows difficult to deal with.
I massaged my temples and slipped off my bed. Some water ought to help.
Nikita is up too.
She’d said she was going to bed at 7, after she got a call from Nikolas. Guess I’m not the only one who can’t sleep.
I sat down beside her, the ghosts calming down and retreating to the walls.
She was hugging the side of the couch, looking into the empty space beside her solemnly.
Silently brooding isn’t her style though. I didn’t have to do much, I barely had time to get comfortable.
“I’m worried.” She grumbled. “Niko tried going after the people who kidnapped our grandpa. He was teleporting on a moving car. He could’ve gotten hurt! God why does he have to be…himself? Can’t he just be a good little brother and let his sister cover him? He’d come live here and never leave the house. I should get a leash to make sure he doesn’t.” She trailed off in her grumbling.
“You could try, but…”
“Ugh, I know. Getting Nikolas to just sit down and listen to me for 2 minutes is a demanding enough exercise. I don’t even know where he is right now! I asked him if he was going with the Dragons – at least it’s kind of safe over there – but he said no. And that’s it! Wouldn’t tell me where he’s bunking. Doesn’t change how much I tell him Niko I have a roof! He just can’t bear the idea of living with his sister. Oh how horrid! I just want him safe and close.”
“Isn’t that what Xavier wanted?” It might’ve been a bit harsh considering it was all still fresh, but it was the best example I had at the moment.
Nikita gaped at me, before her face fell.
“You’re right. But how do I do it, without overcrowding him?”
She sighed. “I guess I lied. I know Niko could probably take care of himself way better than I could in a situation. He’s kind of a natural at that. Plus he has some good knees. I just want him close that’s all. And I don’t understand how he doesn’t feel the same way. He’s got something figured out that I don’t and I’m…I’m just lonely.” She exhaled, slowly turning away.
I crossed my arms, leaning back into the couch. “Yeah.”
“Sorry you had to waste an hour’s drive to get here.” Candice rolled her eyes at me, arms crossed and nose up.
“Yes I didn’t actually expect you to make the drive,” Crystal chuckled.
I looked at both in mild surprise. How could I not? They said they had trouble waking her up, and they find my reaction misplaced? It is true that I’m out of the loop on a lot of things concerning Ashlynn, but you’re going to have a hard time convincing me this was a normal situation.
In truth it was more than just being out of the loop. Up until a few months ago, I didn’t even know I had a daughter. It’s all still very new, so I don’t want to overstep boundaries.
Or so I thought.
“It wasn’t a waste of time at all, and quite frankly I’m surprised you’re not more worried.” I snapped at Candice. She grimaced in reply.
“We’re not worried because this isn’t the first time it’s happened. This is normal for Ashley.” Candice said, using her own personalized nickname – that Ashe had confided in me that she didn’t like. Though, I like to assume it’s just the person that uses it that she doesn’t like.
I chastised myself for my thoughts, reminding myself not to be dragged into a petty verbal exchange. As nearly all conversations with her ended as.
Candice continued. “It used to happen to her as a child as well.” She said, talking to me in annoyance that I wasn’t aware of this information. “She’d be asleep for hours on end and wake up from her nightmares. But she always woke up.”
I felt like stooping to her level, I felt like pointing out that I’d know this, if someone hadn’t decided that Ashlynn didn’t need a father. If someone hadn’t let a petty grudge get in the way of me getting to be a father for 15 years.
Then maybe I could’ve helped her, instead of letting Ashe live through her nightmares like they had.
I reminded myself again that it wasn’t my place to judge. That maybe there was more to the puzzle than I could see. Candice had never been the type to overshare.
“Why is she having nightmares again then? She wasn’t in the last few months.” I pointed out.
Crystal nodded thoughtfully. “She hasn’t had one since we bought her that watch. It was just a watch at first, but she said it helped her fight her nightmares and after that… well she hasn’t had one till today.”
“She didn’t have a watch on. Did she take it off?” I asked. I glanced at the door to Ashlynn’s bedroom. It was past 3am and the girl had been tired. Way more tired than someone should be after sleeping for 10 hours. Her grandparents had ushered her to bed before we had a chance to talk alone. We haven’t said our goodbyes yet though, and I’ll make sure to before I leave.
“Oh that’s curious I hadn’t noticed. It would be her grandpa’s watch. She lost the one we bought for her and we haven’t bought her another one yet.” Crystal said.
“A watch wouldn’t affect whether she has nightmares or not.” Candice cut in abruptly, almost spitting in my face. “And if it does, then it’s purely psychological. In which case, maybe keeping the watch off is a good idea, so she can face whatever inner demons she has.”
“I don’t think it’s that simple.” I shot back levelly. “Her power too – her ability to astral – that’s not normal. Can’t this be a factor?”
“The power she claims to have wasn’t there before. That’s only new of this year. She didn’t have this ‘power’ when she was younger. There’s no correlation.” Candice snapped. “You’re a cop, not a scientist. And a bad one at that.”
“Yeah for a scientist, you have trouble seeing the bigger picture. Your daughter is clearly suffering, as a cop I should arrest you for negligence.” I said, mimicking her quoting emphasis.
“You come in my house and you INSULT me? Who do you think you are!? It’s a privilege that you get to see her at all, get the f-”
“Woah WOAH!” Crystal jumped in. “Can’t you both act a little bit your age? I think it’s getting late for all of us. Maybe it’s time everyone went home – or to bed.” She said, looking pointedly at Candice. Yeah your house, more like your parents house.
I turned to Crystal – agreeing with her. I didn’t come here to bite my ex’s head off. I came here for Ashe.
“Can I say a quick goodbye first?”
Crystal nodded. “Of course, of course.”
“You’re way too lenient, I’d tell him to go fuck himself for that attitude and to suck on a-” Candice’s phrase went unfinished as Crystal carried her away.
I lightly knocked on Ashe’s door, and it opened rapidly, a beaming, slightly tired, smile welcoming me in.
It still shocks me every time I see her. 15 years that I missed. I keep thinking back to those 15 years – what was I doing? I don’t know the whole story, because I never fully pried, but it seems it took 15 years for Candice to finally admit I was the father. Ashlynn had been wondering and asking for months, almost on a hunt for the answers, and finally pried it out of Candice. She forbade contacting me – because of course Candice would be petty like that, but Crystal reached out.
It was hard to swallow at first, but when I saw her for the first time I could see it. Well…yes if I looked long enough I could see traits of my mother in the shape of her eyes and chin. But I…felt it? Not that she was my daughter necessarily, but that I wanted her to be. And to know that she was…
“I overheard a bit.” Ashlynn admitted, as we sat down on her bed. “And I agree with you. I think this might have something to do with my astral. I barely remember my nightmares, but the manifestation of the curse that I saw in astral, I really get the feeling that it’s an important part of my nightmares.”
“That’s a curious thing. Do you know how long you’ve been cursed? Because if you had, since, let’s say, birth, that could explain why you’ve been having nightmares all this time.”
“It could! The hows and the whys are still a big mystery, but it could help solve this one. Which means if I beat this curse, I won’t get anymore nightmares.” She grinned.
“What do you know about curses?”
“Well Crystal gave me a book. It was really methodical on how to make a curse and how to use it and it was really insistent on how it’s not only an incredibly feat to cast but also impossible to undo. Only the caster can undo it.”
“So you need to find the caster.” I concluded.
“Exactly! There’s only one lead right now though, and it’s the cat. Tomorrow I was thinking of going to talk to Nikolas about it. He’s the one who warned me about the cat. I can tell him what I learned and he can do the same. An exchange of information if you will.”
“Sounds like a plan, and on my side I’ll see if anyone knows about an easier way to get rid of curses.” The police department had a lot of magical artifacts that they confiscated; there might be something there to help.
“Thanks dad.” Ashlynn said, reaching over to hug me.
I relaxed into it, hugging my daughter back. I’m a father, and it still surprises me that I’m so lucky. She’s an incredible girl. It’s a miracle that she came from Candice.
“Hey, you know you can say no to Candice right? She’s your mother, but you don’t have to sit through her analyzing you. You’re not a test subject.”
“I was hoping it could help me understand what was happening to me, but she doesn’t share much. Or at all.” Ashlynn shrugged.
Yeah tell me about it.
“Heyyy, maybe you could sleep over?” Ashe said, her eyes lighting up with a mischievous idea. “It’s getting really late. Probably dangerous to drive. You could crash on the couch. And then I could hitch a ride with you back to Ridgevalley?” She tentatively asked, knowing my answer already.
I would love to bring her back to Ridgevalley. She’d love it. She feels restricted in Cloverfield – it’s a small town and she really wants to visit where I work, and well get to know me more I guess. I told her no at first, because it’d been too early – and Candice was on my case 24/7. She hates the idea of Ashlynn following me to Ridgevalley. I’m guessing it’s because she’s insecure in her position as parent. A fact, that probably shouldn’t, but makes me grin a bit.
After that, well, the explosions and the trial happened. Ridgevalley just isn’t safe. Though at this point, nowhere is really safe, and the fact that one of the bigger Hans headquarters is right here in Cloverfield makes me uncomfortable.
It’s not that I couldn’t protect her – though Candice is convinced I couldn’t – it’s that…
“Cause well you said I could come visit after the trial…I know there was a bombing recently, but this is a great opportunity don’t you think? The calm after the storm? And I’m sure the town has calmed down and well if you’re worried about Candice, I’m 15 and this isn’t her house. I just need to convince Crystal and that should be easy! Please?” Ashe tempted, sensing my hesitance.
My reasons for saying no weren’t standing strong. We hadn’t actually had a single real father-daughter time. It’s always been me calling or visiting Cloverfield. And If I tried to take Ashe out on a walk, Candice would throw a fit, or Philip and Crystal also needed to go to that exact same park. We were due for a whole day just to ourselves. So I can continue to get to know my daughter better.
“Alright.” I grinned.
I wouldn’t be able to stay in the house, but there was a motel here that I could crash at for the night and I only needed to come into work for a few hours tomorrow.
“Really? Yes! This is going to be great!” She exclaimed, shooting her arms up.
Yes it is. “We better get some sleep.”
“Goodnight dad.” She said with a calmer smile.
On my way out I noticed her watch, set on her nightstand, and the earlier conversation came back to me. I looked at Ashe, who simply smiled curiously.
I plucked her watch and sat back down beside her. “Why did you take it off?”
She gently took the watch, stalling for time. “Because I wanted to prove that I didn’t need a watch to get a decent night’s sleep.” She snorted at herself. “That worked out well.”
“If it helps, you should wear it.”
“I wanted to see if I was…strong enough.” She admitted.
“Ashlynn, strength isn’t a matter of toughing it out. It’s about knowing and using the right tools to make it easier.” I said.
“That’s…another way of looking at it.”
“Wearing this doesn’t make you weak, it makes you smart.” I added.
She smirked, clasping the watch back on. “Gosh, I really prefer that point of view. You’re right.”
Just one big flash of red, repeating again and again behind my eyes.
I squeeze my eyes shut.
And then I realize I’m awake. I forgot I was even sleeping.
I try to force my eyes open, feeling groggy and worn.
The loud thunk of metal hitting the ground made me jump.
“And that’s how you land! Superhero style!” The robot exclaimed, striking a pose as the boy beside him ended his fall in a roll.
“It’s not really fair. You’re heavier, so you’ll always hit the ground faster.” He teased.
“Pardon me, this is light metal. There’s more hollow than metal in here.” Oscar retorted. Nato barked, making me jump again.
Nikolas spun towards me. “Hey! Zac, you’re awake! Took you long enough!” He scrambled to his feet and came to join me. “How are you feeling? That dart was pretty intense you’ve been out for almost half a day.”
“What?” I looked around getting more confused by the second. “Where are we?”
“Ah yes, nice isn’t it?” Niko said, taking a step back to let me take the place in. “It’s ours! Well for now. It’s Tyzel’s actually, but he’s dead.”
“Who-oh.” I got on my feet, rubbing my head.
“You look like you want some water.” Oscar said. “I’m going to go boil some.”
“Just normal tap water’s fine Oscar, the place isn’t infected.” Nikolas snorted.
“It’s okay, I’m the only one who can see what a dump this is. I’ll make sure you all survive.” Oscar declared, heading for the kitchen.
“Want a tour? Let’s give you a tour! And get your legs working again. That’s the kitchen over there, obviously, and this is the living area.” Nikolas said.
I let myself get dragged. “What happened? Last thing I remember was…getting nearly killed by a truck trying to save your grandpa.”
“That over there is I think some kind of dance area or exercise. I think Tyzel did dancing with my sister, figures he had to practice I guess.” Nikolas gestured at an area. “Oh yeah, well I took a nap and then the cop cars noticed us on their way to catch the van and called reinforcements. Sebastien picked us up.” He said, leading me up the stairs. “We stopped at the hospital, where they said you’d wake up eventually, and that eventually could be outside the hospital.”
“How long exactly was I out for?” I gaped.
“I don’t know maybe, 8 or 9 hours? This area is pretty empty here, but Oscar and I have been using it to test our jumping abilities. Your mom is dead so I didn’t really know anyone to call for you. I also don’t remember your home address.” Nikolas made an awkward grimace.
“What? You didn’t memorize it?”
“Believe it or not, I had more important things to do at the time. But yeah, and I could’ve brought us all to the Dragon’s den, but…yeah you know us. Made for a big gang.” He said, gesturing down the hallway. “I’m assuming this was Ty’s room. Jesse’s in there now. Kid is out like a light, has been for the last 4 hours. So, in the end it just hit me you know.” He said as he continued.
We climbed another flight of stairs where he gestured at the walkways. “This was going to be Oscar and I’s level 2 before you woke up.” He turned to me walking backwards as we climbed the stairs to the rooftop. “At the funeral, when I talked to Ty he told me about this warehouse, and he told me where the key was and that I was welcome, so here we are! Lots of open space, no overwhelming people, or that hospital smell right?” He finished, opening the door and letting a gust of night air hit us both.
The view was breath taking from here, like an electric shock.
“It’s probably just a temporary stay, you know till they go through all the dead people’s affairs and their properties go back to the banks and whatnot. But until then, this place is ours to do as we wish. Now granted there’s only one bed, and one couch, but Oscar can plug himself in the wall. And I’ve been doing a lot of talking here, are you still waking up?” Nikolas asked.
I moved to the edge of the roof. “No, no I’m pretty awake.” Being here, away from our apartment, another day where my mom isn’t here…under all these stars, it’s almost like it was finally hitting me – and hard.
“It’s a pretty temporary solution I know, but you’re free to stay just like you’re free to go back home.”
Home is – is dead…bleh I can’t think straight right now. But going back to the apartment didn’t and still doesn’t seem like a real option.
“Also, I have to apologize. I know you came to the funeral for me, and now… you’ve lost your mom.” Nikolas said, which had me widening my eyes. Of all people to apologize for this…
“No, don’t apologize. Salandra’s the bitch behind this. She’s the one who needs to drop her knees and beg for goddamn forgiveness.” I practically growled, the anger suddenly flaring inside me.
“I couldn’t agree more. I can’t understand her actions and I don’t think I ever will.” Nikolas nodded.
“She’s really fucking alive isn’t she.” My hands formed fists on their own.
“Better safe than sorry I say.”
“We need to find her. Can you go see where she went with astral?”
“I already did, she’s with the Hans, just like my grandpa is.” Of course he did. It’s Nikolas, of course he’s already checked. “The dart they shot you with had the Hans logo on it. Well a version of it. I’m with you on this Zac, but I need to get my grandpa out of there first. He’s much more important.”
“But if we see Sal on the way…” I tempted.
“We can give her a piece of our mind.” He replied, and I felt more satisfied about the situation. “The Dragons are still doing the coup they had planned against the Hans, it’s in 3 days when the big city meetup happens about supernaturals. The purpose changed though, they’re going to save James and I’m going to help them. I’m sure we could use your help…”
“Count me in.” I replied instantly. Nikolas grinned.
“Perfect, teleportation is going to come in handy. And we make a pretty good tag team.”
“I have to admit, while we did really struggle we weren’t that bad going after your grandpa. Like our timing didn’t completely suck.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Hey, also about you staying here…” He said.
“Sounds like fun.”
“Right? We could have some marshmellows right around this campfire too. Of course we’d need to buy marshmellows for that, but you get the idea. I really like this building. Too bad it’s temporary, cause you know Tyzel was building rooms in.” Nikolas enthusiastically began.
“Really? Wait did he build the kitchen?”
“Yeah and he was building a bathroom too. Come on, we can jump scare Jesse too while we’re at it.”