The Taylight Zone - Anthology Three

06 - Time Out of Mind - Dreamtied

Part One

"I don't know. It seems like an awfully long way." Diana eyed the paper dubiously. "They have first night celebrations right here in Portland, honey, why go all the way into New Hampshire?" Isaac sighed, gesturing behind him into the resteraunt. "ALL these people said Portsmouth is the place to go. That or Boston.""Well, you two are not going to Boston." "I know that. That's why I'm looking at Portsmouth. We can buy the buttons now, they're only ten bucks, and be there all night. We don't even have to drive back afterward, we can get a room there.It's only an hours drive, and it's supposed to be THE thing." He watched her carefully. She was frowning, but it wasn't a serious frown. "Mom..." She looked up, rolling her eyes. "Yes Ike, you have another attempt?" "I am 18 you know. I can just go, without your permission. " Her eyes arched upward. "Oh so? Then why ask?" "Because I want Tay with me." "Sweetie what if it snows? You don't know how to drive in snow." He flipped the page on the paper, and pointed triumphantly. "Forecast is clear" Sighing, she glanced from one hopeful face to the other. "Tay, you really want to do this? Spend New Years Eve with just Ike?" He nodded enthusiastically. "Nothing personal, but yeah, it's gonna be cool... so can we go??" His grin was infectious, and she found herself returning it. "I'll tell you what. Keep an eye on the weather. Tomorrow morning, if it's still calling for clear, all the way through to New Years Day, you two can drive into Portsmouth. Fair enough?" Both boys nodded, grinning at one another. "Fair enough."

Taylor's sleep faded slowly, some sound on the edge of consciousness bringing him up. What was that? Snuggled into downy blankets, he was loath to surface much more. Whatever it was, it didn't need him. He turned over,sliding one bare leg against silky softness. What was it his mother called him? A sensualist? Sensations........he sighed, enjoying this small bliss, beginning to drift into sleep again, ignoring the small niggle of anxiety in his stomach. Nerves? Excitement. Going away for New Years with Ike. A thrill of something like fear needled into him then, pulling him awake. Fear? What did he have to be afraid of? Sighing, he turned over, lacing hands behind his head, staring into the shadows. As his eyes followed the shifting patterns on the ceiling, the sound came again. Soft whimper, followed by a choking sound.Was someone sick? Was that what had awakened him? Shrugging off the blankets, he got up and padded out into the living room area of the suite, listening. Yes. There. Quiet, but there. His glance fell on the sliders, giving out onto the frozen December night. Clear black sky, icy diamonds of stars. Again that cold thrill of fear. "The hell?..." The thought echoed as he tiptoed toward the common bathroom, following the crack of light under the door. "Sounds bad..." He knocked softly, and the answer was a soft moan. "Zac?" Frowning, he gently pushed the door open, eyes falling on his brother, collapsed over the bowl. "Whoa, Zac...." Shaking his head he knelt next to him, slipping an arm around him. "Not good, buddy, not good at all." He held on to him, waiting it out, some kind of weird relief twisting in his gut. If Zac was sick, he should stay here, not go out and party. His eyes flicked up to the window above the shower. Still diamond stars on a black velvet sky. Sighing, he looked back at Zac, who seemed to be over the worst of it. Reaching up, he handed the boy a swatch of toilet paper, and climbed to his feet to run him some water. He held out the glass, Zac's weary gaze falling on it. "Don't swallow any of it Zacko, just..." Their fingers brushed and Taylors words died in his throat. Zac's fingers were icy, bluish, frozen, and when Taylor looked up, he saw the wizened face of an ancient. "If you know what's good for you..." The voice grating as shards of broken crockery. "If you want to live, don't go." "Go where?" His question born of fear, no desire to know. "Do you want to live? Or do you want to die?! Alone, and in pain, where nobody will ever see you again?!?!?! Do you want to die?!?!" The things voice was a screech,and Taylor felt his breath sob in his throat."You'll stay right here...." Eyes wide, he backed away from the monstrosity that had been his brother,. "Dreaming. I'm dreaming." Nodding, he reached up and pinched himself viciously, nodding satisfaction at the lack of sensation. "Dreaming." His eyes went back to the window, and he saw thick snow falling. Snow! Yes!! Relief flooded him, and he shot a triumphant glance back to the brother thing.Gone. It was gone. He wasn't standing any longer in the door to the bathroom. He was stretched out, safe and warm, in his bed. Beyond the window, snow fell softly. "Safe....what a dream though." Smiling slightly, he let sleep take him down again.

Taylor leaned over Ikes shoulder, as the oldsters words flowed over him. Smiling, he bit his tongue to keep from laughing. He could barely understand the man, so strong was his old time Maine accent.
"Won't it be faster this way?" His ever practical brother indicated the road map in front of him. "It'll take at least a couple hours to go this way...." The old man laughed, and tapped the map. "You boys been to these parts have you?" Taylor shook his head. "No, never." "Well, if you was to go this way, you'd get there quick and painless'd see nothing. If you was to go this way, sure it would take you a little longer, but you'd get a good look at the countryside. All done up for Christmas, winter in New England..." "You really love it here, don't you..." Isaacs voice was warm. "Ayuh, sure do. Never lived anywhere else but for that four years in the service, never wanted to. You take the long way boys, and see some sights." Smiling, Isaac nodded, and gathered up his maps. "Thanks for your time. I think that's a good idea, we'll do that.C'mon Tay, I wanna see if Zac's up yet." Zac....unease flickered in the back of Taylors mind. The dream had stayed with him, and it had been a bad one. Frowning thoughtfully, he followed his brother back up the stairs. "Ike?" "Hmm?" "Didn't it snow last night?" Isaac turned, face quizzical. "Snow? Nah, Tay, look around, it's just like it was when we went to bed. Clear as crystal." Taylor frowned for a moment, hovering on the edge of memory. "Funny, I thought I saw it snowing..." "Nope, bud, y' must've been dreaming."

"Geez, you look terrible!" Ike's exclamation met no surprise from Taylor. Zac did look bad, but somehow, he'd been expecting it. "Maybe we should stay, huh Ike?" Ike paused, taking in Zacs pale face, and glazed over eyes."I mean, if he's sick..." "I don't know maybe......" Diana stepped in then, pressing a glass of water and an Advil into Zac's hand. "Here baby, take this. No,there's no reason for you boys to stay. He's going to be fine, it's just a bug." She ran her fingers gently down Zac's back, and he sighed, wincing as he swallowed the tablet she'd given him. "You guys don't need to babysit me, Tay. " Taylor caught his breath, stepping back involuntarily. Zac's voice was rough, grating. The voice of the dream. "Tay, you okay?" Zacs eyes narrowed. Taylor almost looked scared. "Yeah Zac, don't want us to stay with you?" "No, what for?" "I dont know...." "No, you don't haveta stay with me, look out...." He climbed past his brother, and staggered off into the bathroom. A moment later they heard him throwing up. Taylors eyes fastened on the door. "We should stay, he's really sick..." Diana snorted, moving to follow Zac. "Don't be silly, it's just an upset stomach. You boys get going, and have a good time! Call me when you get there!" She vanished into the bathroom and shut the door behind her.

Isaac grinned listening to his brothers voice. Alone, with no listening critical ears, they'd tried their hands, or voices , at a goodly number of songs on the radio, songs they'd never have tried had anyone been listening. "Damn Tay, you got that, y'know..." Taylor broke off, laughing. "Yeah, weird, isn't it?" He picked it up again, some old Zeppelin song, amazed that he could wind his voice around it. This was cool, just the two of them. They'd never taken off together, just them, before. At least, not for any length of time, and the freedom was indescribable. He couldn't believe he'd wanted to stay back at the hotel. The song wound down, and Taylor took a breath, cheeks flushed. "Man that guy can sing!" "Man, so can you, you were with him the whole time!" Laughing, Taylor gestured grandly toward the radio. "You're up bud....let's see what you got..."

Isaac glanced at his brother, dozing in the passenger seat, and smiled. Let the conversation ebb, even for a moment, and he'd be asleep. Typical. He shrugged and reached to turn the radio up. Tay could sleep if he wanted to.

He gazed at the passing countryside, as he drove. It was pretty, no doubt about that, but it seemed dismal to him now. They'd left the last town behind, Sanford, he believed it was, and since then had seen only scattered homes amid a white wilderness. The yards were dotted with snowmen, and christmas decorations, and he had to admit it had the feel of a holiday greeting card. But so lonely....

He smiled at the sight of a child, boy or girl not evident under layers of brightly colored winter wrapping, rolling a snowball bigger than themselves. "Gonna be a killer snowman..." He smiled, tempted to just pull over and watch. "Probably would think I was weird..." He laughed softly and drove on, as gradually the houses thinned out on an already lonely road.

"Ike!!!" Taylors voice, choked and urgent, broke his revery. ."Ike, lemme out now!" He took in his brother, face white, lips tight, and pulled over immediately. "Holy shit,Tay...." Taylor was out of the car in an instant, hanging onto the door for dear life. Isaac climbed out and walked around, slipping an arm around him. Taylor clutched him, grip panic tight, gasping breath, struggling. "Tay, just stop fighting and let go, you'll feel better. If it's what Zac's got, its useless to fight anyway." Taylor shook his head, swallowing hard, feeling the sudden nausea begin to back off. "No, no s'okay, s'goin' away." He let his brother hold him, breathing in deep lungfulls of the cold air. "S'goin away, I'm not sick, it was a dream...." He turned then, hiding his face in his brothers shoulder. Isaac hugged him gently, feeling him tremble. "Must have been some dream, Tay. You feel like getting back in the car? You can tell me about it." Taylor nodded, scooping up a handfull of the pristine snow, and pressing it against his face. "Man, that sucked." He climbed back into the car, sighing. "I'm really sorry, Ike." "Oh, that's okay. Could've been worse. You coulda hurled. That would have sucked." He grinned, and was rewarded with a faint return smile. "Tell me what you dreamed, Tay...." Taylor nodded, and relayed what he could remember. Lost in the woods, that same venerable ancient Zac thing, warning him that he would never escape with his life. In the bright snowlight of day, it seemed silly to him, and he grinned sheepishly. "Ike, I'm just retarded, ignore me" "I gotta admit, Tay, it sure doesn't sound worth the panic. But dreams are funny that way...uh oh." He pulled the car over, and fished his directions out. "After you go through Sanford, follow the road until you come to an intersection." He looked up. "Look like an intersection?" His voice took on the Maine tones of the old man who'd given them the directions. Taylor grinned, and nodded. "It does indeed, yuh, that's an intersection alright." Isaac's eyes lit as he continued the exchange, bending his tongue around the unfamiliar dialect. "There will be a general store. That look like a general store to you Tay?" "Yeah, well it looks like store. I don't know if its a GENERAL store...but it's a store, yuh." He grinned. He was foolish. Ike was foolish. "Well, it says we have to turn at the interesection, after Sanford, where the store is." "Okay, well, that was Sanford, back there, right?" "Yuh, that was Sanford" " So, this would be the place, so Ike?" "Yeah?" "Turn." "Well......" Ike dropped the accent, and looked sheepishly at his brother. "I'm retarded. I didn't write down which way. But I do remember it had a direction in it." Taylor sighed. "Ike....well that's okay. That street over there says Hubbard rd. This one over here says West Lebanon Rd, and west is a direction, so I guess we turn right. You really should write things down." Ike nodded, but he didn't look certain. "I could have sworn he said to turn left, but there was definitely a direction involved." Taylor glanced down the road to their right, and felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle, as all of the spit in his mouth suddenly dried up. His voice was suddenly strained. "Ike, no, maybe it's the wrong intersection, just keep going." "Tay, it's the right one." "Ike!!" He shouted, and jumped at the sound of his own voice. "Don't go down that road! Just don't please, I don't want to go down there." Ike's eyes widened. "It's just a road, Tay....look. I'm sure it's the way we're supposed to go. I'll turn and if we don't find civilization right off, we'll turn around" "Just keep going Ike!" Sighing, Isaac shook his head. "You're going all freaky on me. It's the nightmare you just had isnt it? All those Stephen King books coming back to haunt you. Look..." He pointed down the winding road, where several houses could be seen, smoke whisping from the chimneys. "People live there. It's just a road, and it's the road we're supposed to take. Now will you just take a deep breath, let the dream go, and stop it please?" Taylor was trembling, in the grip of an instinctive terror he couldnt understand. "No, Ike, no, I can't go down that road." His voice shook, and he felt his eyes filling with tears. "Please let's just keep going. There's another intersection, I know there is." "Taylor....." He thought about it. The kid was obviously scared to death. What would it hurt to drive a few miles further, just to show him that this was, indeed, the right way? Still, he didnt' want to take a chance on getting lost. True they had plenty of time, but driving around backroads in Maine all day really didn't thrill him. It had only been a dream. Tay would calm down.

"Taylor, just lock your door. No big bad boogeyman is going to jump out at you. Besides, it says it's only a few miles before we'll be right in the middle of town." Taylor sighed and sank down lower in his seat. He didn't know what was wrong, but dread was suddenly heavy on him.

"There Tay, look. Town."
Taylor scowled. He felt a little better now, but he still wanted out of here. Something about it just made his nerves jumpy. "Not much of a town Ike, what, ten houses? And how come there's no people?" "Because it's cold outside,Tay, they're all inside." "Look, there's clothes hanging out, what kind of people hang clothes out in December?" "I don't know, people in Maine?" "How come there's no snowmen? Or no kids?" "I don't know Tay, but it's pretty isn't it? Looks just like Christmas card." "Yeah, right." Taylor failed to see the charm in what appeared to him to be a deserted clump of houses in the middle of nowhere. Laughing a little, Isaac drove on, expecting each turn in the road to deliver them into the center of town.

"Ike, turn around and go back." "What? Tay....." Taylor'd had it. They'd driven forever, and there was no sign of the road ending. His nerves just couldnt take it anymore. "Go back, go out to the main road, and ask directions in that store. Just get out of here, I can't take it anymore." "Tay..." "IKE!! There is nothing here! We went the wrong way! Now will you just....." He stopped, swallowing suddenly as a wave of nausea hit him. "Tay?" Taylor held up a hand, signaling his brother to wait. Swallowed again, and felt it backing off. "Okay, okay...." His voice was faint, breathy. "I really need to get out of here, Ike. Just please turn around." Isaac eyed him carefully. "Are you getting sick Tay? Or what is this?" "I don't know, just please TURN AROUND NOW!" Ike nodded, and pulled into the next driveway, glancing up at the house. A sprawling mess of a place, the words "Seven Elms" straggled across the small building connecting house to barn. Raggedy looking place, faintly creepy. Almost looked condemned, but smoke rose from the chimney. "Tay, want to stop and see if they have a phone here?" Taylor shook his head, jaw clamped shut. Ike had swung into the drive, and the nausea had flooded him again. It was taking all of his control not to throw up. He swallowed it back, and waved his hand back out onto the road, not daring to speak. Ike nodded, eyeing him carefully as he backed onto the road. "Tay, tell me if you want me to let you out." Taylor nodded slightly, panic now joining the sudden sickness.He was going to throw up, he knew it. But he couldn't get out of the car, not here. Some deep intuition told him that to leave the car, to leave Ike, would be fatal. They hadn't gone five feet when the nausea overpowered him and he began to gag.
"Damn it, Tay!" Ike pulled over instantly. "Get out of the car!" He jumped out, and went around to his brothers side, yanking the door open and hauling him out by his coat. "What're you thinking?!" He held on to him, wondering how long it would be before he got it too. "First Zac, now Tay....." Sighing he waited, a faintly creepy feeling stealing over him. Taylor suddenly felt very insubstantial in his arms. "How weird....."
Gradually, as the sickness spent itself, Taylor pulled himself away a little. Grimacing at the taste in his mouth, he scooped a handfull of snow, trying to clear it. He was dizzy, and hot, could feel sweat breaking out on his face. "I gotta sit down for a second, Ike". Isaac nodded, and watched as his brother kicked snow over the mess next to the car, and staggered a few feet off the road, to sit down on a rock. He watched him sink his hands into the snow, then press them to his face, trying to cool down. "Geez, he's really sick...." Sighing he stepped back to the car, reaching for the six pack of coke in the back seat. Maybe sipping one would settle things down a little. He tugged the can from the plastic rings, and started to straighten up, staggering suddenly as a wave of disorientation swept over him. Hot, it was so hot......As quickly as it had come, the feeling was gone, and he stood up again, stretching. Well, he was lost that was a given. Had definitely taken a wrong turn back at the store. Laughing a little at himself, he climbed back in the car, looking around for just a second. He had an uneasy sense that he was forgetting something. Still the area was deserted, nobody in sight, nothing suggesting itself to him. The snow was pristine and untouched. Shrugging, he climbed back into the car, and started back up the road, the empty countryside seeming to laugh behind him.

Taylor rubbed snow into his face, sighing gratefully as the cold hit his hot skin. "Sick now, oh good...." He sighed, thinking it figured. Finally a chance to do something different, and he was going to be too sick to enjoy it. God, he was so hot. He looked up at Ike, and felt his breath stop in his throat, thrill of terror so keen it almost drove consciousness away. Ike was gone. The car was gone. Where was he? Where would he have gone?! "Ike!!" His voice fell flat, swallowed up in the lush green that surrounded him. Green?? Green?!?! It was winter! What the hell......

He sat down again, hard, head spinning. "Okay, I"m hallucinating." He batted at a mosquito, buzzing in his ear like a jet. "It is winter, the car is right there, I'm just too sick to see it right. I'll walk that way and bump right into it. Ike is right there." He stood up again, peeling off his coat. He knew he was imagining the at least 90 degree heat, but he couldn't help it. He'd pass out if he didnt' get some layers off. He'd gone all the way across the street, when he realized that the car just wasn't there. Stopping, still absently swatting blackflies and mosquitos from his face, he tried to think. He knew it was winter. He knew it. This incredible heat, lush growth, it wasn't real. It couldn't be. He was in trouble, he had to do something. Strangely, the feeling of sickness had receeded, and his head felt clear. Clear enough to understand that something terrible was going on. The voice of his dream came back to him, then, the warning. "Oh God....." A stab of pain lanced through his head, and for a moment he felt a wash of pure hate, and words in his mind, more a bark than a voice. "Say that word around here!!" Gasping, terror beyond imagination filling him, he stared around him. Nothing. Nobody. His eyes lit on the house in front of him, and went huge. No longer shabby, no longer appearing condemned, but buttoned up tight. Windows down, shades pulled, door shut. "Not going there, no way..." He backed away from it, turning back down the road the way they'd come. He'd just walk back to the main road. All this weirdness would end if he could just get back there, he knew. Tying his coat around his waist, and stripping off his sweatshirt, he started back up the road, the desire to run heavy in him, stalled by the voice in his mind. "NO, dont run, dont run, if you run, they will chase you and if they chase you they will catch you and then its teeth and claws and oh, oh, oh no just DONT RUN!"
Shuddering, his eyes filling with tears, he made himself walk, and forced himself not to pray.

Behind him, from an upstairs room of the house they called The Seven Elms, eyes followed him out of sight, before turning away from the window in despair. "I tried to warn you. I tried to warn you, why don't you ever listen?" The boy in the house decsended the stairs slowly, quietly. It wouldn't stop him. It never did. It always turned out the same. Still, once again, he would try. He let himself out the side door, and slipped into the underbrush, silent as oiled smoke.

Part Two

Zac's sleep was restless. Dizziness, aching, nausea, it had been so hard to get comfortable, and now that he was finally asleep, his dreams wouldn't let him rest. "Zac, you have to pay attention.." The voice wouldn't be quiet. "I'm sick, leave me alone!" Deep in a dream, Zac pulled away from the hand that seemed to be holding him back. "Zac listen to me! Look at me! I'm trapped down there, you have to help me Zac, you're my brother!" Zac looked up into the face of an old man, face a mass of wrinkles, hair scraggly, nearly gone. "No I'm not, get away, let go of me!" "Zac, listen.!" The old voice grated through his head. "Ike just left me there, but he doesn't know it. Look...." The hand pointed out the window, and Zac saw the blue december sky give way to lush green woods. His minds eye showed him Taylor, pale and sweating, eyes darting back and forth, coat tied around his waist. "He looks scared." "He does Zac, he is scared. He's afraid he'll die down there. Zac, you have to get him out." "Me?" "Nobody else can do it. I didn't know before. I didn't know Ike could hear me. I didn't know you could hear me. I've been down there forever. Forever and ever. If you don't get me out, you'll never see HIM again..." The hand showed him the woods again, his brother, sick looking and lost. "Well where's Ike?" "Look...." The scene out the window changed, to his brother, driving, singing with the radio. "Where's Tay?" "He left him, but Zac he doesn't know he left him. It's got at him, made him forget. You need to wake him up Zac, you need to get him out of it. He has to remember." "Remember what? I'm sick, don't you understand?" His head thumped miserably and he felt his stomach turning over and over. "I know you are Zac, I know..." He felt a touch then, on his hair, so much like Tay..."But he needs you Zac, I need you. Ike doesn't know what's going on. It's made sure. You have to tell him. I can't tell him, it won't let me. He can't hear me until someone brings him up out of it. It doesn't know about you, Zac. It doesn't know about you. Please....I have to go now. But you have to tell Ike. Wake him up Zac, make him see. He left him. Left me...." The man didn't fade. He was just gone, leaving behind him only a terrible sense of urgency. He could see Ike through the window. "He won't hear me..." A brief smell of greenery,a nd a faint whisper. "Yes he're stronger than you think and so is he. Now wake him UP! Do it NOW!!!" He jumped, almost waking, and his eyes flew to the window. "IKE!!" Not thinking, some part of his mind flung its mental voice in his brothers direction. "IKE!!! You left him down there! You left Tay, Ike WAKE UP!!" All of the old mans urgency channeled through him, and his thought words, undirected and formless, flowed into his brothers concsiousness.
On the road to Portsmouth, Isaac Hansons eyes flickered for a moment, and the car swerved across the center line. The horn from an oncoming car startled him, and he swung back into his own lane, as a voice suddenly filled his head, pain blinding him as the car lurched to the side of the road, and he slammed it out of gear, hands flying up to clutch his head. "Zac stop it!!!" The cry was mental, his lips never moved, instinct acting immediately. "Stop it it hurts!"
The shout ripped Zac from sleep, sending him bolting upright in bed. "Ike, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..." The link between them, fired up and hot, never wavered, and neither boy questioned it. Their voices purely psychic, transmitted in an instant. "Zac where is he?! Where is he?!" "I don't know, you left him! He told me you left him down there, you have to go get him, Ike, something..." Taste of fear then, hot and coppery, "something wants him. Something HAS him, we have to get him out, Ike."

"Zac, I don't know what happened. Something...." His mind reached out, seaking, finding almost at once, a mind that slotted into his own. "Taylor!" He tried to focus on it, fighting waves of dizziness., Fog then, clouding his mind, what was he doing? Sitting here thinking weird thoughts in the snow. He had someplace to be.....
"Ike! Ike pay attention!" Zac's voice again, then a weird double voice, from someone else. "Ike, it wants to stop you. It wants me to stay, you have to fight it. It doesn't know about Zac, keep talking to Zac, he'll keep you up out of it. You have to help him. You have to help me...." The voice faded, and Isaac felt something click, in his head, a door suddenly latched open. "Zac." "Yeah, how are we doing this?" "I don't know, just keep doing it. I'm going back, what's going on?! " Zac lay back in bed, swallowing against nausea. "Ike, I don't know what I can do, I'm sick...." "I know you are, Zac, I know you are." The third voice then, still sickeningly doubled. "Don't let it know you're there, Zac, don't let it know......" Fading again.
Knowledge, bitter and terrifying seemed to be filling Isaacs head. Images of voids, whirling nothingness, timelessness. Something dark, stealing light, stealing goodness, stealing power. And it had his brother. It had tricked him into leaving him there. Well, it hadn't counted on Isaac and Zachary Hanson, no it had not. Nodding grimly, he focused on Zac again. "You still with me, bud?" "I'm here" "Don't go anywhere" "Not ever." "Okay." Ike pulled the car back onto the road, and headed back the way he'd come. "I'm going back for him. Don't let go, Zac." "No. Never...."

Taylor swallowed with difficulty. It was so hot, he was so thirsty. His mind, hiding behind some self protecting mechanism, refused to admit the impossibility of his situation. He knew it couldn't be summer. He knew something was very, very wrong, but his own self preservation wouldn't let him look at it. He had to do something, and the only thing he could think of was to walk back up the road, however many miles it was, to the store at the crossroads. That the store might not even be there was something he refused to think about. He trudged up the side of the road, swatting the insects from his sweaty face, eyeing the small animals that played in the overlush ground growth. He'd never seen anyplace so impossibly green, it was almost grotesque. And hot, it was so hot! He glanced up as he walked, eyeing the houses along the road. Doors closed tightly, windows shut and blinded. Why didn't anyone have anything open? He didn't see any air conditioners or fans, it must be sweltering in the houses. "Where are all the people?" He whispered the words through parched lips. "God, maybe someone would let me use a phone, or get a drink" He licked his lips and kept on, trying to ignore the high, sickening thrum of terror in the back of his mind. "There won't be a phone, look up."
The voice startled him, and he jumped back, looking around wildly. "Calm down. I'm not here to hurt you. But you won't see me yet, not yet. Look up. No phone lines. No electrical cables. You're not in Kansas anymore, Toto." Feel of laughter in his mind, and he answered unthinkingly, the same way whoever it was was talking to him. Purely in his thoughts. "Who are you. Where am I?" "I'll tell you who I am when it's safer." 'Where am I? What is this place?" Nothing. The voice, if voice there had been, was gone. "Great I'm just crazy. Hearing voices, seeing summer in the middle of winter, God knows where I really am..." He caught his mistake too late, as another vicious spear of pain sliced through his head, and the same malevolant voice shouted behind his eyes. "NO!". Shaking his head, trying to clear his vision, he gave up and sat down against the wraught iron gate of a small cemetary. Cooler here, lots of shade trees. There was an attractive house, up on a hill behind it, and it looked as if the front door was open. Maybe after he'd rested a bit, he'd go up there.

"Bull". His gaze lingered on the word, etched onto the face of a gravemarker in the shape of an urn. "Bull..." The word, for whatever reason, cycled in his overtaxed mind. "Bull...." He stared blankly, eyes tracing the textures and curves of the monument, as his mind began to shut down, sleep, amazingly enough, beginning to take him.
He'd nearly dozed off competely, when the object of his glazed fascination, the word Bull, suddenly slid out of his view. "What??" Yanked into alertness, hearing the scrape of stone on stone, he saw the urn suddenly spin, and from beneath, a sudden barking growl, animalike, and vicious. Jumping up before conscious thought had even begun to kick in, he ran, up the hill, toward the house.

The boy in the woods watched, every ounce of energy in the shouted thought. "No, no, don't run. It's not real, don't run...."
Futile, the thoughts bouncing off their intended targets almost iron mental sheilds, he watched Taylor take off, again, for the house on the hill. His unveiled eyes saw the illusion begin, the shuttered windows suddenly screened open and welcoming, curtains in the breeze, the sealed door flung wide, smells of cooking issuing forth. The deserted, overgrown yard, mowed velvet, woman hanging laundry, children throwing a ball. "Please. Not again...not again..." Shunted aside, the thought fell , unheeded. "Can't hear me, he can't hear me....this can't happen again. I have to stop it this time."

Part Three

Taylor ran blind, unthinking. A house. If he could just get to the house, instinctive symbol of safety, of home. Whatever it was couldn't get him if he got to the house. Blinking around stinging sweat, his eyes caught the image of a woman. "Oh my god people!" He sped up, heart pounding, head throbbing. Tearing eyes never saw the ball bouncing toward his feet, and one running foot came down on it, sending him sprawling, crying out in spite of himself. He impacted hard, breath knocked out of him, panic increasing a hundredfold. "Oh God, it'll get me!" The bolt of pain through his head this time barely made an impression, so great was the pain in the rest of his body. He struggled to his feet, stumbling headlong into the woman, who had approached, unheard. "Oh my goodness, honey, are you alright?" Her arms went around him instantly, tone solicitous and concerned. He shook his head, gesturing wildly down the hill. "No, no, down there...." Gasping for air, chest burning, vision beginning to blacken, he clutched her arm desperately. "In there, something....." "Sssh, shh, now there's nothing there. Look." She turned him gently, showing him the blameless lawn that led to the road. "There's nothing there, dear. You come with me..." His breathing began to slow as she lead him to the house, calling to the two children who's ball had been the obstacle that had tripped him. "You two finish hanging this laundry, while I.."

"Don't go with her."

The voice, breathy and hoarse, cut her off, and she stared, shocked, at the apparition before her.
. "She can't help you, Taylor. Don't go in there."

"You...." The woman hissed, increasing her grip on Taylors arm. "You have no business here. This isn't for you. You go!" The boy standing there shook his head, unkempt hair falling in his eyes. "No. Taylor, don't go with her. It's all fake. All of this. Just a mask. Don't go with her. Come with me, I'll help you. I'll help you f...." He stopped then, face contorting, and the woman snorted. "You see? He's crazy, dear. Shouldn't be out alone. You come on up to the house with me. We'll get you a drink, get you cleaned up. Come along now."
For the briefest of moments, Taylor hesitated, something about the boys eyes drawing him in, and he felt the lightest touch, soft stroking, at the back of his mind. He took a step toward the boy, pausing as he felt the womans hand tighten on his arm, almost painfully. He flinched, and glanced up at her, catching a flicker of something in her eyes, something dark, and empty, gone in a moment, leaving the taste of fear in his mind. Thoughts of spiders flitted through hhis head for a moment, unconnected. He pulled away a little and turned back to the boy,recoiling, horrified, as the boys eyes and nose suddenly began to bleed. "You see? You see, you should never have come here!" The womans voice, shrill and edging on furious, directed at the boy. She turned Taylor around , slipped an arm around his shoulders, leading him, perhaps too quickly, toward the open kitchen door. He looked back at the boy, something in his mind screaming, half heard, as the thin comfort of the womans touch, and the smell of familiarity, drew him in.

"Ike, Ike what're you doing?" Zac curled on his side, mind tuned to his brothers. He'd caught a rush of fear, and frustration. "Ike, what is it, answer me!" Sudden flurry of images in his head, snow, mud, the car stuck on the side of the road. "Oh Ike, you got stuck??" Ghost of a voice then, Ike sounded so faint. "No, I'm unstuck. But I'm back at the beginning of the road. You have to help me, Zac..." "Back at the beginning?" Another spate of images, the car creeping through blue whiteness, shadowed with evergreen, cold. Sudden flash of lush greenery, and then the image of the store at the crossroads. "Ike, what happened?" "I don't know..." Taste of exhaustion, weariness. "I just found myself here again. I'm going back down. Help me, I'm tired...." The voice in his mind blinked out, and the image faded. Sighing, he turned on his back, unthinkingly sending any kind of help he could. "It won't be enough, Zac."
The voice sent him bolting upright. "You need to be together, all three of you. I didn't know about the links, if I'd known, I never would have been trapped there. You can defeat it, you can get me out. But you have to wake up Tay. You have to connect with his mind, and he has to understand what's going on. It's tricking him, confusing him." Zac felt his stomach churning, dizziness distorting his vision. "Who are you?" "It's a long story Zac, but I'm someone who got trapped down here a long long time ago. I'm trying to help you. You two have to stay together, and you have to reach Taylor" "I don't know how." Zac felt tears in his eyes. "I don't know how to do this..." "Yes you do Zac, yes you do. Just let instinct guide you." "But I'm sick...." Mental tone turned sulky. It wasn't fair that they were making him do this when he felt so bad. "I know you are. I'm sorry. You can do it though. You're the strongest Zac. If you'd been here, it would be you it wanted. You have to pull them together. They can't do it without you. You'll lose Taylor to it, and you'll lose Ike to what he blames on himself. Get it together, Zac, they need you." The touch to his mind, somehow so familiar, gone then, as he lay there, thinking.

Ike slammed his hand onto the steering wheel, incoherent sound of rage bursting from his throat. How could he be here again??? How?? It was as if something were specifially shunting him back out. He'd gotten stuck, and it had been hell getting out. Finally, at the height of frustration, a man had come out of the house on the corner, bundled against the December cold. "Here boy, here's what you need.." He'd dumped a goodly amount of what appeared to be cat litter onto the snow behind the stuck tires, and then stood back. "Y' want to rock her, boy, rock her." Ike had stared, amazed. "What?" "Not from here, are you." "No, no, and my brother......I have to go get him." "People from away shouldn't try to drive in this. Here, move aside." Ike had stepped back, as the man got in, and sure enough, had rocked the car, back and forth, back and forth, slowly inching it back onto solid ground. "Now, son...where are you headed?" Ike pointed down the road. "Down there....I have to pick up my brother. " The man gazed down the road, eyes narrowed. "Not much down there, you folks from away have friends down there?" "No, no, it...I don't know. He felt sick, he got out of the car, and the next thing I knew...he was gone. Or I was...." The man eyed him carefully. Strange things had gone on down that road as long as he'd lived here. Shrugging, he gestured to the car. "Well, good luck. Be careful down there." Ike had nodded, and climbed in, noticing the look of sadness on the mans face as he watched him out of sight. He'd gone creeping down the road, terrified he'd get stuck again, some part of his mind taking note of all the "for sale" signs on the houses lining the edges of the road. Soon enough they'd thinned out, and desolation began. He came around a curve, caught the beginnings of the edge of the village, an impossible splash of green and yellow brightness, and had suddenly found himself back at the corner, looking at the store.
Refusing to think about it, he'd immediately turned around, and started back down the road, only to find himself, once again, back at the beginning.
Exhaustion was heavy in him, the constant terror stricken adrenaline rush taking its toll, his eyes struggling to close. He could feel Zac there, hear him, but God, he was just so tired. "I need to regroup. Zac..." "Yeah...." Faint, so faint. "I just need a minute." "Yeah..." He shut his eyes, just for a moment.

"Mom! Mom stop..." Zac was
annoyed. His mother had been fussing at him fairly continuously, and he'd just had enough. He pushed her hands away from the blankets, and scooted back a little. "I'm okay, you're driving me crazy...." "Zac..." She sighed, exasperated. "You are not okay. I want to have them send up some soup for you...." The thought of food nearly made him gag, and he shook his head rapidly. "No, no food, mom, you go eat. I'm okay, I'm just gonna go back to sleep." The part of his mind, so newly awakened, hummed and buzzed, distracting him. Ike, what was going on with Ike? Was he ASLEEP??? He couldn't be.... ", alright?" Oh for...what was she saying? "What mom? Mom, please...." He took her hand, forcing himself not to shout at her. "Please, I just want to go to sleep." He made himself smile, knowing if he looked anything like he felt, she wouldn't be buying it. "I don't want to eat, I can't....I just am so tired...." He let his eyes close for a second, and felt her hand stroke his brow. The urge to bite her suddenly surged in him and he turned over, burying his face in the pillow. If she didn't leave him alone soon he was going to go postal. He heard her mumble something , and the snick of the door as she left the room. Sighing in relief he turned over again, wincing at the pain in his head. "God I feel awfull...." He reached a little, looking for his brothers. No Taylor, but Ike was there, faint....indistinct. "Holy God, he's falling asleep..." "Zac, you have to go help them." His half closed eyes snapped open. "Tay?" "Sort of, yeah. Not the Tay you know. Zac, you have to go help him. It's almost too late." "God, I'm hearing voices...." He pulled the blankets back up around his chin. "You're not real, I'm sick...." He felt, more than heard, the voice chuckle, and that curious mental stroke started in the back of his head again. "I know you're sick, Zacman, and I'm sorry. But I need your help. Look at Ike, he's just all done. He's so tired, and It is getting to him. You need to join together to be strong enough to fight it. It was just me.....but things are different this time. This time It could get Ike too.....they need your strength, Zac. " "I don't know where they are." Zac had climbed out of bed, and into his clothes, without even realizing it. "I need you to show me where they are." No longer questioning, that new/old talent firing and snapping, filling his mind with knowledge, he had no more doubts. "You'll know, Zacman, you'll know. But get out before she comes back." Nodding, Zac tugged on as many layers as he felt he could walk in, and without looking back, slipped out the door. His head was spinning and aching, his eyes burned, everything hurt, and he came dangerously close to throwing up in the elevator, but when all was said and done, that singing thrum in the back of his mind felt pretty good. Felt right somehow. He'd be okay. And whoever that was had been right. He did know where to go. He stepped into the chill of the afternoon, took himself to the road, and stuck out his thumb.

"Here sweetheart, you drink this. You're so hot....." Taylor accepted the water gratefully, rubbing his eyes. "Does your head hurt, honey?" He nodded, thinking that was quite an understatement. "Could I make a call, ma'am? My brother, I guess he drove off...I'm kind of stranded." "Oh, call me Lou, dear, of course you can. The phone's right over there." He glanced over to the table, puzzled. He'd have sworn there was no phone there a minute ago. Shaking his head, feeling a cold chill wash over him, he stood up and headed for the phone, weariness threatening to overwhelm him. His gaze drifted out the window for a moment, as his hand touched the phone, pausing as something nagged at him. "Phone lines, there are no phone lines out there, Taylor...." A whisper in his mind, there and gone. Shaking it off, he picked up the phone, held it to his ear, smiling a little at the familiar dial tone.

"Is someone coming to pick you up, dear?" He nodded and sat back down at the table, still rubbing his eye. The headache was getting pretty bad. "Yeah, my dad is." His brow knit a little. Something about the conversation hadn't made a whole lot of sense to him, but he just couldn't connect. Whatever, they were coming to get him. "Why's it so hot here?" The woman smiled, nodding. "August in Maine is always hot. Why?" He frowned, glancing back out the window. "August? But...." She reached out, resting the back of her hand against his forhead. "Honey, you're burning up, are you feeling alright?" He shook his head. "No, no I'm not. I just don't understand what's going on. I'ts not August, it's December! Christmas was last week..." His voice trailed off as his eyes took in the lush green of the yard beyond the kitchen windows. "You poor baby, it's that fever doing it to you. Christmas last goodness. Here..." She reached above the refrigerator, and pulled down a bottle. "Can you take Advil?" He nodded absently. Had the fridge been there when he came in? The whole kitchen seemed more modern. "God, I really am sick.....must be what Zac has....." He reached his hand for the Advil, glanced into his palm, yelped, and dropped them, sending the yellow tablets tumbling, bright against the blue tablecloth. For just a moment, he'd seen little spots of blackness, holes in his hand, it had looked like. Blinking, he eyed the innocent looking tablets. "Later, I'll take them later....I...I'll be fine." He dropped his head into his hands, hearing Lou's little "moo" of sympathy. "Would you like to lie down, honey? What's your name?" He nodded, and mumbled out his name. Lying down sounded wonderful. "Well, you come with me, I have a guestroom upstairs. " He followed her, eyes moving to the window again. Something in his head kept yelling at him to get OUT. He saw the children playing catch on the lawn, laughingly keeping the ball from a largish mutt. A dog? Had there been a dog before? He watched a little closer, shaking his head again as, for just a moment, the figures of the children mutated, becoming smaller, misshapen. He blinked again, and the scene returned to normal. "Oh God..." He groaned softly, and felt the womans arm slip around his shoulder. "Oh, now, it's going to be fine. " She led him up the stairs, turning to gaze at him sharply as he suddenly froze, hand on the bannister. "What is it Taylor?" He shook his head. For just a second it had felt as if he were going DOWN stairs, rather than up. "Nothing. I don't know. I really do need to lie down." She smiled, nodding, and led him to a small room, simply furnished, and beamed at his pleased look. The room was wonderfully normal, he thought, white lace curtains blowing in the breeze through the screened in window, scent of lemon furniture polish and clean sheets. "Here love, you just have a sleep, and I'll wake you when your ride comes, alright?" He smiled, sleepiness overcoming him. A voice suddenly spoke in his mind. "They don't know where you are,Taylor, you didn't tell them. You don't know......" His smile vanished, but the thought ran before he could catch it. What had he been thinking? Sighing, he curled up on the soft bed, wincing for a moment as something that felt like a rock, dug into his hip. He reached down, hand contacting only soft quilts, and shrugged. Whatever, it had been, it was gone. Just something in his pocket most likely. The pillow was soft, and fresh, the breeze felt good. Within moments, he had drifted off.

It watched, by no means all seeing or all knowing, though It enjoyed thinking It was. The boy, something wasn't right with the boy. He was seeing through It's carefully constructed illusions. What was going on? Just outside It's focus, something tapped and nagged. Some other presence. Some other shine? Boys? More boys? It's boys? The shine in this boy, the radiance,the power. It had been here forever, disturbed only by the timeless cycle of arriving. Myriad times it had happened, always the same. What was different this time? It saw the boy now, curled asleep on the basement floor, head pillowed on a stone. For a moment the illusion had slipped, but it was intact now. The boy felt neither the dirt floor, the stone under his head, or the rats clawing at his legs. The boy thought he was safe and clean, in a bed, in a house. Satisfied, missing entirely the figure of the boy in the woods, It turned It's attention outward, to the other boy. The boy in the car, just beyond It's realm. Ah, beyond It's realm but not beyond It's influence. That boy was the problem. he kept coming back. Why did he keep coming back? To get It's boy? To get THE boy? No, no, that mustn't mustn't happen. Couldn't be. Unused to confusion, It wavered. The boy should not remember. He should not keep coming back. No matter. He had a shine too. Not as bright as His boys, different from His boys, but still strong. It could take him into itself, yes it could. Greedy, It reached......

Ike's head snapped up, had he been falling asleep?! "Oh God, don't go to sleep. You have to find Tay." His head was aching fiercely, the spike of pain behind his eye close to unbearable and faintly nauseating. "God, getting sick...." Sighing, he started the car, and flipped the heat on, the warm air soothing. That the car was cold, and warm air an impossibility, never occurred to him. He sat back again, rubbing his head, struggling to think. Tay. He had to get Tay. "You have to go beyond the barrier, Ike. Behind the barrier. You can get through. You can. You just can't let It stop you." He shook his head, dismissing the voice. "Hearing things...oh yeah good." The pain in his head, in the way. "Why did he wander off anyway? Put me through this..." He didn't realize, but IT did, that the pain was making him weak, letting It in. He didn't recognize the annoyance at Taylor as an outside influence, but in the darkness, It capered and gibbered gleefully. This boy would be Its as well. There was something, something still stopping it, the boy still maintained most of his own awareness. A corner of the mind IT could not get into. But It was patient. It had time. It set Its being to an illusion, watching with satisfaction as the boy took in the shimmering, wavering light just outside the car, delighting that It's plan was working. Delight became outrage, as the boy dismissed the shimmer. "Trick of the light. Pretty." And leaned back, closing his eyes again. What was in Its way? What?!

Zac huddled in the corner of the seat, miserable beyond belief. The pain in his head was horrible, blinding, and the riding was making his already upset stomach even worse. Waves of nausea had begun almost as soon as the man had picked him up, horrible, unmanning nausea that made him want to throw himself to his knees and beg God to make it stop, or kill him. He'd gagged half a dozen times, bringing nothing up, hiding it easily by turning his back. The man driving never noticed. "Ike, Ike, come on, where are you?!" He reached hard, feeling the pain surge, ignoring it. His brother was there, he could feel him, he could see him, leaning back against the seat, half asleep, but Ike couldn't seem to hear him. Something seemed to be around him, in him, something black, something less than black, nothingness. Nothing was there, and it was all over his brother. Fear and anger rose in him, and a fierce protectiveness. "Get away from him...!" He sent, unthinking and powerful, and recoiled as a sudden presence screeched through his mind. "GET OUT OF HIS HEAD YOU LITTLE SHIT!!" Jumping, crying out involuntarily, Zac pressed too tightly against the door, his parka'd elbow hitting the handle.Before the startled driver could respond, the door had opened, spilling the boy out onto the road.

"Taylor." He looked down at the sleeping boy, hating to wake him. "Taylor. You have to wake up, Taylor. Now. While It's occupied." He reached down, hesitating only fleetingly before touching him, contact, skin on skin, sending a shock through him that nearly grayed him out. Recovering, he opened his eyes to see Taylor staring at him. "Taylor." "Yes..." Wary gaze tainted with something approaching understanding."Taylor, look around you. Look, and see what's here." Taylor looked, eyes taking in the cozy room, the sundappled floors and walls. "No, Taylor, no. Look and SEE. See what's really here." Taylors gaze shifted back to him, searching his eyes. 'You were down in the yard. You tried to stop me." He sat up, his mind clearing a little. "There's something wrong here. I can't remember what it is, but there's something......" "Yes, Taylor, there is. You have to look though. You have to get It's veil off your eyes, and see what's going on." The boys hand reached out, touching Taylors face, turning his head away, to the room. "Look. Look, and..." He reached then, mind touching mind, stripping away the fog of illusion. "...really see." Taylors eyes widened as he took in the murk of the dark basement, stomach twisting at the smell of rot, drawing back in horror at the sight of the rats, perched on his boots.

"Holy god, child, get out of the road!" Hands grabbed Zac, lifting him from the pavement. Vaguely aware of motion, he blinked watering eyes, struggling to catch a breath, chest burning. Hands released him and he stumbled, barely catching himself before sinking onto a snowbank, head in hands, still gasping for air. "Are you alright? Did anyone hit you?!" The man's hands had his shoulders again, shaking him slightly. "No..." He croaked it out, feeling the burning subside. "No, just...quit shaking me, no..." "Just knocked the wind outta ya?" Zac nodded, swallowing against the nausea that had resurged. "Yer lucky nobody ran you down like a bug! That's interstate 95, you don't want to make a habit outta falling outta cars there!" "No...." He laid his head on crossed arms, attention too divided. Ike, he could see Ike, something was after him, Tay, where was Tay, scared, Tay was scared, "Oh, God what's going ON?!" He'd have cried out, had he the energy, but all that came was a whisper. The man he'd been riding with clapped him on the back. "Come on then, if you're alright, and let's get where we're goin." Zac shook his head, feeling his churning stomach suddenly go deathly still. "No...I can't..." He swallowed again, wanting to warn the man. "I'm gonna..." That was as far as he got before everything suddenly came up at once. Sickness of overwhelming intensity washed over him, consciousness dimmed to a pinpoint, and the link with Isaac went down, as if it had never been.

It danced madly, furious. What, what, what was that?! Who dared?! Who dared to interfere?! That boy. That boy in the car. It would have that boy. It had to eliminate the interference. There. There. Signature line of energy. That had to go. It would go. The boy was weakening, freezing to death. It had him that tightly, if It could just get into that one last corner of his soul, It would have him. Soon, soon, that link with whatever it was would go down. It waited, illusion at the ready, as the boy in the car drifted closer to unconsciousness. Then, then OH!! Yes! With a snap, the line connecting the boy to whatever was helping him went down. It felt the boy rise up, heard the thought "Zac?!" and moved in, slipping neatly into the vacant space. Capering, nearly drooling with glee, It wormed its way in. Beyond the car, the shimmer became a person.

Ikes eyes blinked open for a moment, the new/old feeling of Zac in his head suddenly flashing bright, then going out. Out? "Zac?!" Alarm sudden and hot, coppery fear in his mouth. "Zac?!" He reached for the keys, fell back, unsure, as something touched his mind. Something soothing. He sank against the seat back, eyes closing again. Everything was okay, he just needed to rest. His eyes, closed to slits, opened again as motion caught his attention. What was that? Rush of cold air as the car door opened, warm scent filling the car, soft rush of breath, warm on his cheek. "I'm sorry, can you help me?" His eyes took in the girl, cheeks red with cold, eyes sweet. "Funny, I know she's talking. I swear, her lips arent moving..." "I broke down, I'm so cold, I need to get warm..." Sweet scent of flowers on her breath as she pressed against him. Unthinking, senses taken over, he drew her closer, eyes captive in hers, her touch in his mind as seductive as the touch on his skin. Her hand, in his hair, on his face, lips on his, soft, sweet. Something tugged at him briefly, something that seemed to want to pull his attention away from this amazing sensation. "No..." He pushed it away, unthinking, unknowing, caught , as warm hands touched him, everwhere at once, body and soul.

Part Four

Taylor cried out in disgust and pain, shoving the rat from it's perch on his foot. "Jesus Christ!!!" He jumped up, wincing as his head gave a huge throb, and stopped, leaning against the wall. "What the FUCK is going on??? Who are you? What..." "Stop." The voice was calm, weary. "Come with me, you need to get out of here now. Before It notices you've seen through it." He reached out a hand, Taylor pulling away as if faced with an open flame. "No, just go, I'll follow you." The boy was gratified at the wariness in Taylors face. He was waking up to the situation, coming too. The shock was letting go, and with it, It's influence. He dared, for the first of an ageless time, to let himself hope.

Zac rode in silence. He felt better, the bout of vomiting had helped. But now something else was wrong. He couldn't find Ike. He tried, tapping and tapping and tapping, but Ike wouldn't reach out and take his end. "I'm dialing into a dead line, Ike, where are you??" The thought was frustrated. He knew his brother was alive. He could feel him. He could feel Tay. But he couldn't reach either of them. Ike had some kind of wall around him, unbreachable no matter how he tried. He'd gotten through once, felt the familiar click of his mind with Isaacs, and then had felt himself rudely shunted out. What was with that? "I'm just too tired for this." He sat back, sighing, smiling faintly as the man driving reached over to pat his shoulder. "Whatever it is, buddy, it's gonna work out." Zac reached up and squeezed his hand briefly. "Yeah. I hope so." His gaze shifted back out the window. He was getting close. He could feel it.

"Oh my god..." Isaacs voice misted out on a breath. He pushed the girl away a little, looking up into her face, taking in sweat dampened tendrils, blushing cheeks. Her eyes glowed, and she smiled sweetly. "You don't want me to stop, do you?" Her voice whispered in his mind, lips unmoving. Her hands were everywhere, clothing long since shed. "No..." Again the slightest whisper, as he pulled her back to him, inhaling her scent, feeling himself tremble. Was this really happening to him? Was she really doing what he thought she was doing? Hands, his and hers, everyplace, velvet skin, silken hair, her hands in his hair, his mouth on her nipple, some kind of bliss, nothing he'd ever experienced before, overshadowed only by the feel of her mouth on him. It was getting hard to breathe, teased to the edge, eased back, brought forward again. "Forever..." He never realized she could hear the thought "Let this last...forever..."

The boy studied Taylor. He understood every single feeling. After all, he'd had them. "Do you understand? This is the closest I've ever come to ending this, please....." Taylor looked up, eyes intense. "Step out into the light where I can see you." The boy complied, moving from the shade of the hill onto the sun dappled road. Light speckled his hair, spun gold, and glinted off ice blue eyes. "Do you see? Do you?" Taylor nodded. The boy looked like him, an image from a mirror, reflected over and over, until it was no longer recognizable. Older. Darker. Weary, the mask of youth an illusion fast fading. "How did it happen?" "I don't know. I, you, got out of the car forever ago, a moment ago, it's happening now, it happens all the time, none of the time. Here, there is no real time. You, I..." "We?" The slight amusement in Taylors tone made his heart leap. Yes, there was still strength here. "We, then. We got out, we got trapped. We've been here forever, we've never been here. But I'm so old, and so tired, and it has to end. We never got out. We never saw the others again. I miss my family, I miss my brothers, my mom, my friends, my life! I want to die every single day!! This has to not happen this time! I try, every time that car drives down that road, I try to stop it, to change it. Every time, I learn something that I didn't know before. I know now what we have, what you have, what you've always had, you and them. You can hear them, feel them, and they can help. But It want's them now. It want's to keep Isaac away from here, but at the same time, It want's to keep him. And he's dying, Taylor, and he doesn't even know it. He never did before. He never came back before. He's dying. And Zac. If IT feels Zac, it will want him. We can't let them in. They will come, Taylor, they will come to get you out. But you can't let them. Send them back, they'll be here still, here..." He reached out and touched Taylors temple. But they won't be within It's reach." Taylor nodded. He understood. He wasn't sure how, but he did. "And you?" "Me?" "If I get away, if I never get trapped....." The visage of youth faded before his eyes, replaced with the image of the ancient. "I came to you, once before. LOOK, and see what there is. This, Taylor, is how long I, YOU, have been trapped here, while the world goes on without you, while the people we love suffer." "You'll die." "And we will live. Now help me." Taylor nodded, and the ancient was replaced with the boy. "Then show me, show me how to reach them." The boy nodded, and reached out, that curious mental stroking Taylor had felt before. "Like this....."

Zac's eyes glazed as he reached. Tapping. Tapping. Nothing. He could feel Tay, but Tay couldn't feel him. Not yet. Something in him knew that was coming, but it wasn't here yet. But Ike? Where was Ike? He reached again, as far as he could. "Man, Ike? What're you doing? Why're you blocking me?" Frustrated, he crossed his arms against his chest. "This sucks...Ike..." Suddenly, the scent of flowers. Flowers? A flash then, scent of sweetness stronger, cloying, and the feel of something soft, under hands. Heat, sweat, breathlessness...and something else. Something too intense for him to place, sexual gratification beyond the experience of a 12 year old. Hands. Familiar, but not his. "Ike. Ike, I got you.....what is that you're touching?" He looked around for a moment, confused. He was still in a manure truck, headed down a rural rt in Maine. Of the smells in the truck, cowshit, pipe smoke, Coast soap, the scent of flowers had no place. "It's Ike. I'm smelling and feeling what he's....." He closed his eyes, concentrating harder, surprise almost shocking him back up out of the link. "Oh my god, there's a girl! Where'd she come from?! " He looked closer, slipping out of the corner of his brothers mind he'd stumbled into, and for a moment saw reality. No girl, no heat, no flowers. Just his brother, unconscious, in a car in the winter, slowly freezing to death. "Oh, man, IKE!!" He sent the thought out with everything he had. "Ike wake up! This is some way weird illusion thing, wake up!!" Shifting back to Ikes point of view again, he suddenly realized what his brother thought he was touching. "Eeew Ike! Fergodsake, Tay's missing, and you're doing THAT???" But something had gotten to his brother, hadn't it? He could see it, feel it, blackness, nothingness, all around him. And Ike was dying. Snapping his eyes open, he turned to the driver. "How much farther is it?!" The man patted his hand soothingly. "Just around the bend up here, and you'll see the store." Zac nodded, closing his eyes again, rushing back down the link to his brother, seeing what Ike was seeing. Soft hair, warm skin....lots of skin. "Oh man, what a time to have sex education, and from my brother!!! This is not good, not good, this is way weird... no, this is gross"
Switching back to the reality view, the non-illusion, he quietly searched for the whatever was doing this to Ike,quietly roaming his brothers mind. He saw an area of dark, an area of non-light, that patch of black nothingness moving through Ike's mind , insinuating itself in him, taking him. He tried again to reach Isaac, that one small corner that was still his bother, to get him to respond, but still no answer. "Line's busy, he's busy, no girl there, man, whatta fantasy this is... no blood going to his brain, that's the problem"
He felt the patch of darkness tickle at *his* mind, caught his breath, frozen. What was it? What was it?! Darkness, nothingness, and was cold. And it wanted him. "No, no way, no way no how is this freaky shit happening to me." He was tired, and cold, his head thumping, stomach once again queasy, and his patience was at an end. Fear drained away, leaving an angry weariness.
"Get outta my head, you freak!" Without thinking, he shoved It out, feeling an ice spike of pain between his eyes.
He felt It, curiously reaching out for him, felt evil there. Evil, and....stupidity? Ignorance? "It is, it's not smart, it's stupid! It's stupid! We can beat this..." He shoved again, and the spike between his eyes settled in to stay.

"That's it, son, there's the store" The driver pulled into the parking lot, and reached into the area behind the seat. "Here." He handed Zac a pair of wool mittens, huge enough for the boy to put two hands in one. "You'll need these. And take this too." The mittens were joined by a scarf. The man knew he shouldn't let this boy, obviously sick, obviously from away, out in the snow. But he also knew he had to. Years living here had taught him. Sometimes things just had to be. Zac's eyes searched his for a long moment, perhaps finding some comfort there. He leaned across the seat, hugged the man quickly, and jumped from the truck, heading across the road as fast as he could. The man watched him head down the Lebanon road, until he was no longer in sight, and shut the engine off. He climbed down and walked into the store, heading for the coffee pot, and, as so often happened to folks around here, within moments, the strange, sick little blond boy, had been forgotten.

Zac hurried down the road, feeling the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. God this place was horrible. He knocked harder on the door to his brothers mind, feeling him slipping away, growing colder and colder, less responsive
"Man, he's gonna die, where is the car???"