Reality Check



DISCLAIMERS: There is no copyright infringement intended in any way, shape or form. The characters in this story are from my own rather warped imagination and are mine, mine, mine! Not that anyone would ever possibly want to but just to cover all bases, this story cannot be used or sold for profit in any way. Hope you enjoy the ride!

NOTES: Special thanks to Inga, RG, SH, AB and Arkonia for their assistance, and to U for telling me about a visit to a Fright Fest.

"Sounds like a bad country song, doesn't it?"

"What's that?"

"I gave myself a broken heart for my birthday." The blonde woman punched down the pen's top with her thumb repeatedly in an unconsciously nervous gesture, and looked at nothing in particular as she played with the writing instrument hovering over her diary.

Leah sighed gently as she watched her friend stare into space. Megan was obviously lost and one look at the other woman's face showed the lack of sleep she'd had through the night. "Meg, it's been months. And, you know it's what you had to do."

"Yeah," Megan replied, as she thought about that for a long moment and decided not to walk down that path right now. "It's just kinda weird, I started this diary with all of that mess and my birthday, now I'm filling it up and putting it away on her birthday. Kinda like a circle, you know?"

Megan blew out a breath. "Don't you ever want to just lock your heart away and never bring it out to play again?"

"Sure, and then a gorgeous woman walks by. Next thing you know, my tongue falls out and blammo, my heart chases her down the sidewalk." Leah wiggled her rear end slightly and grinned. "Or, what about that new reporter at the paper? Oo La La!"

"God, you are too much," Megan snorted at her friend's antics. "You know, they've given her the cubicle right next to mine. Want me to introduce you?"

"Oh, think she'd talk to a measly part time journalist?" Leah asked. "I mean, I'm not the big time full feature reporter that you are, ya know."

With an internal wince, Megan thought about the real reason she'd been given that promotion to full fledged features. It was after a scandal breaking expose on the ne'er-do-well ex-Mayor's involvement in a drug ring.

Her mind wandered slightly to the person who had dropped the story into her lap. Saxon. The tall, dark haired woman who still somehow found a way to enter so many of her dreams.


Just the very name brought her scent, her strength, and her beautiful eyes to mind. A security consultant by design, crusader by accident - after hitting brick walls at the police department, she had managed to provide enough proof to Megan to ensure that the Mayor was brought to his knees by the public, via a series of newspaper exposes.

Unfortunately, it had always been a bone of contention to them both that he had somehow managed to crawl away before he was brought to justice.

"Hey, you in there?"

"Sorry, guess I was daydreaming," Megan returned. Very quietly, almost unheard under the low hum of the TV in the background, she queried, "Do you think I'm a total fool, Lee?"

At this, Leah's heart lurched and she instantly moved to kneel in front of Megan, grasping the other woman's hand with both of her own. "Honey, you're not a fool. You have the biggest heart I've ever known in someone and you can't help who you fall in love with. You're wonderful. You're a catch and a half and you don't even know it."

Thinking about that for a few seconds, Leah knew that even if the answer was out there, she certainly didn't know it, and she too didn't understand the actions of a woman she could have sworn, until a couple of months before they'd broken up, loved Megan beyond reason.

Even with the odd happenings and secrets that her friend's lover seemed to weave around her, Leah would never have predicted how drastically things would change. "I don't know," she conceded. "She was a fool, that's for sure."

Wanting desperately to cheer up her friend and roommate, Leah searched for the right words to lighten the mood. She leaned forward and had to catch her breath as Megan's normally vibrantly eyes scanned over to stare dully into her own. Her smile faded and she reached out a hand instantly. "Meg..."

With Megan's unbelievably sad green eyes looking at her, Leah found words where none had existed a few moments ago. "Meg, you needed to move on. Look at all the times you never knew where she was, when she didn't care to tell you. Hell, just didn't care and then being out with someone else when she was supposedly sick. You deserved better and you deserved more."

"I just wish I hadn't been so sure that she loved me. I really, really thought she did. But, if she had, how could she be that stupid?" Megan reached out to close the diary slowly. "If only she'd had an explanation or ... " She sighed deeply and sat back in her chair with the padded explosion of a pillow's release. "Something. Anything."

"What's that saying, if you let someone go and they come back, then they're yours and if they don't then it wasn't meant to be?" Leah asked gently, starting to feel as if that sea of friendship had far too many hurricanes to weather recently.

Trying for levity, even with the brimming tears, Megan tried a tremulous half smile, "I thought it was, if they don't come back, hunt 'em down and shoot them?"

"You're not from Arkansas, so that doesn't count," Leah chuckled, slightly heartened by the attempt at a joke. "Plus, you're an optimist at heart and you know it. So, if it's meant to be, then don't worry she'll be back."

"Not an optimist with my own life, that's for sure." The bleak mood began to settle its crusty pall again.

"Hey," Leah tugged on her friend's hand, "You could be Bill Gates and set her free, then when she came back just upgrade her and charge reinstallation fees."

Megan couldn't help the laugh that was coughed out of her. "God, Lee, that's bad. Don't quit your day job."

"Don't worry!" In one easy move, born of a natural athlete, Leah slapped her thighs and stood before her friend. "Come on, bud. I have the perfect thing!" She held out her hands, waiting for Megan to accept her offer.

"Thanks, Lee, but I'm really not in a mood to go anywhere."

"Ah, but you have to be in a mood for this. You don't have a choice. Come on, get up!"

Smiling slightly, Megan shook her head. "Thanks, but I'm gonna just hang out."

Throwing out a lure she was sure couldn't be passed up, Leah tried again, "Please? My sister and I were going to the Spookfest at the park but she canceled. I can't go alone and I have to do a review for the paper."

Megan chuckled. "I am NOT going to a Spookfest!"


"I cannot believe you talked me into coming to this, I must be ... " Eyes wide, Megan screamed as one of the bushes they'd been walking past erupted suddenly and careened in her direction.

Already six feet away and breathing suspiciously heavily, Leah chuckled nervously. "See, told you this was a good idea!"

"Oh yeah, sure! Great idea!" Megan replied as she walked backwards a few steps and leaned to one side to try to see where the 'bush' had gone. It seemed to be just a bush again, a large clay pot at its base and not a leaf out of place.

"That was really cool!" Leah supplied.

"You're not the one whose heart is still kicking and screaming to get away!"

"Oh come on, Meg. You can kick the butt of anyone here and you know it," Leah replied, referring to her friend's affinity for kick boxing, as well as other defensive skills.

"That's different. I've never used it in an attacking manner and I don't intend to start," Megan responded, her brow furrowed slightly.

Sighing internally, Leah felt like kicking herself for mentioning something that would take Megan's mind back to her ex-lover on a night when she was trying to get Megan's mind off her romantic problems.

Unfortunately, Megan had met Saxon at the Women's Center, when the blonde had been teaching a class in self defense. Saxon had been teaching kick boxing, and found an incredibly gifted and willing student in Megan. It was a fact that Megan owed a considerable portion of her kick boxing prowess to her ex-lover. Leah had even tried to join in the exercise but could never attain anything close to the level that Megan had.

"Yeah, I know. Just one of the things I love about ya, kiddo." Leah's hand reached out and tousled Megan's blonde locks.

Perking up slightly, Megan replied, "What? That I can kick your butt?"

Leah grinned. "Well, that too!"

Megan let out a weak chuckle and smiled at her friend. "So, how about you walk next to the bushes from now on then."

"Oh sure, sacrifice me to the things that go bump in the night!"

"Well, you didn't seem to be diving right in to help me when that bush attacked," Megan teased.

"I was uh ... reviewing strategies," was Leah's rather lame response.

That brought a solid laugh out of the blonde. "Right! Strategies, my rear end!"

"Okay, okay," Leah chuckled. "That was pretty scary, I admit. In fact, this whole thing is so much scarier than the last one I went to a few years ago."

"No kidding, the makeup on those vampires at the entrance was incredible. I could've sworn those pointed teeth were real."

"Well, you know... some people actually get their teeth done that way to make them look like vampires," informed Leah.

"No way!" Megan protested as she spotted a haunted house and pulled her friend in that direction. "They do not do that. That'd be crazy!"

"I'm serious! They do, really."

Thinking about that for a few moments, Megan looked up and shook her head. "Can you imagine biting your lip with pointed teeth?"

Grimacing, Leah looked over at her friend and replied, "Wow, that would hurt big time."

Megan caught an almost furtive movement out of the corner of her eye and automatically looked in that direction curiously. All she could see, however, was a food stand, cleverly decorated as a huge pumpkin. It was odd, though, almost a sense of the familiar and she continued to scan the area.

Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but Megan had a lingering sense of someone watching. Examining the food stand, she couldn't see anything out of the ordinary and chalked it up to post bush-scare jitters, bringing her attention back to Leah. "Sorry, what?"

Glancing over curiously, Leah asked, "Something up?" She looked around as she waited for Megan to answer.


Leah stopped and looked at her friend, one hand reaching out to touch Megan's arm. "What?"

"I just ... naa, thought I saw someone I knew, that's all." Megan smiled as she shrugged her shoulders and wondered out loud, "What's next?"

Leah wiggled her eyebrows. "Thought you'd never ask! I see the perfect place." She pointed at a rickety looking building a few hundred feet ahead. Lights flickered on and off in the windows they could see and a weather vane drooped on the top turret of the building.

Another tower on the building was canted to one side, further along a bell was visible in the belfry and Megan couldn't resist the comment that poked out its head, "Wonder if there are vampire bats in that belfry?"

A sudden scream from behind a stand of trees drew Megan's attention and as she moved instinctively in that direction, a running woman became visible. Dark jeans and a red shirt flew by, quickly followed by first the amazingly realistic burr of a chainsaw and then a horribly masked figure, dressed in rags, and carrying a decent facsimile of said chainsaw.

Megan laughed as the woman made a sharp cut move worthy of a professional football player and ducked behind the pumpkin food stand Megan had been looking at before to hide. "Good one!" she praised the hidden woman as she watched the chainsaw wielder continue on his way, not knowing he'd missed the person he'd been chasing.

Then she chuckled as the woman peered around the corner of the pumpkin, as if to check and see if it was safe, and then blushed deeply enough for Megan to see as several of the food stand's customers clapped and laughed at her antics.

"Uh, Meg... "

Her attention back on her friend, Megan felt something brush her shoulder and moved a hand to flick whatever it was away. Just as her hand brushed her shoulder, she turned her head to look and see what was there.

Therefore, her next action wasn't totally unexpected by her best friend, which is why Leah tried to warn her, but it certainly wasn't expected by the actor dressed up as Frankenstein who ended up flat on his back in the middle of the brick pathway.

"Oh my god! I am SO sorry!" apologized Megan, as she knelt down by the obviously shocked man. She tried, ineffectually, to push the rubber mask back on his face from where it had slipped and finally gave up, lifting the mask fully off to peer under.

Sheepishly, Megan told the uncovered, and very youthful looking face, "I really am so sorry. I'd just been scared by those bushes back there... and I don't " Megan's arm pointed back the way they had come, towards the completely benign bushes, and helplessly continued, "I'm really, really sorry. I had no idea."

Trying to catch his breath, more from the surprise than the impact of hitting the ground, the young man looked up at the deceptively strong young woman who had just flipped him right over her hip and quipped, "Guess it's good I didn't try to bite your neck, huh?"

Rewarded, and somewhat dazzled, by the woman's smile of relief, the young man started collecting his scattered manly marbles and let out a deep sigh, glad that nothing seemed injured beyond his pride.

Megan glanced over momentarily to Leah as her friend picked up the fake Frankenstein-like hand glove that had started the mess and then queried of the young man, "Are you okay?"

The young man sat up, pointedly ignoring the offers of aid, and smiled his best 'I am not embarrassed' smile at the two women. "Ju..." The croak spoiled his attempt at being brave and he cleared his throat to try again, "Just fine, thanks."

"Are you sure?" Megan worriedly asked him.

"Yeah," he answered, as he looked around for his belongings.

"Here." Leah offered the glove she had picked up with a tight smile. "What's your name, or should we just call you Frank?" she asked, her normal sense of humor intact.

"Tim," he replied as he took the glove from Leah.

The spectacle had attracted a few onlookers; most of whom assumed it was part of the park's entertainment and quickly drifted away when nothing much happened. Still, Megan was well aware that the young man's pride had taken a severe hit and that he needed to get moving soon or that blush that had started to creep down his neck would soon light up the park.

Putting one hand on her thigh, she pushed and stood smoothly, and then held out a hand, to help him up. "Please, Tim?" she pleaded, feeling incredibly apologetic for her actions. "I mean, I put you down there. Least I can do is help you up, right?"

Unable to resist the entreaty in the woman's face, he grasped her hand and couldn't help but be impressed at the solidity of her stance and grip. Very soon he was on his feet and dusting himself off.

As she handed his mask over, one hand resting on his arm, Megan ducked her head slightly to look at the still shame-faced man. "I really am sorry. I sooo overreacted. You're sure you're okay?"

"Yeah, I'm good," he replied, a blush still staining his cheeks. "I gotta go get this stuff back on."

As Tim walked away, without even a glance back, several onlookers watched him and one or two even followed. The few that remained looked over at the two women in consternation and then moved on to their own fun.

Leah tried to contain the laughter that bubbled up inside but the contortions of her face gave everything away. She danced away from her friend as Megan tried to swat at her.

"Stop that!" Megan demanded, although she couldn't help the abashed smile on her own face.

"Whew, glad you don't use that kick boxing offensively. Let me tell you!" Leah teased.

One hand moved to cover her mouth as Megan thought that one over. Luckily, her instinctive response had been simply to remove the threat, rather than attack it and she was incredibly glad that Tim hadn't been hurt at all. "I feel so silly. But, I just reacted like I've always taught."

"Yep, you sure did," Leah agreed, grinning. "Come on," she said as she grabbed onto Megan's free arm. "Let's go check out that haunted house."

With one last look at the retreating Tim, they turned to head to the haunted house they had been going to. A scratched and dirty sign was affixed to the iron gates, it read "Carver Manor". One of the gates creaked almost menacingly as they passed through it into a graveyard that was, apparently, the front yard to the house.

Clever lighting made the path both lit and yet filled with enough shadows to make things very interesting for any handy bushes or Frankensteins that wanted to scare people.

As they followed the meandering path, they could see that coffins had been haphazardly strewn around in the graveyard, and in more than one a dead body or skeleton still remained. They could see several people ahead of them and they took their time, carefully watching the coffins and surrounds for any type of movement when a very high pitched noise made them both look up.

Suddenly, Leah waved her hands over her head and ducked. "Whoa! What was that?"

"What?" Megan asked, confused, and then looked to the side as she thought she saw what Leah was looking for. She was thinking that she must have been imagining things when the high pitched noise returned for a short burst and they looked at each other.

"Bats?" Megan offered.

"There better not be bats here!" Leah cried. "They get caught in your hair and ugh!" She shivered in reaction to the thought and looked up.

Megan followed her gaze. "Bet it's part of the house. Clever, if it is."

"Oh, yeah, real clever," Leah grumbled and then sprang into Megan's arms with a squeal.

Surprised but well up to the task, Megan caught her friend. "What?!" she demanded, even as she glanced down to see an arm retreat into a broken casket by the path. "Wow! They're hell bent on scaring us, aren't they?"

"Something grabbed my leg, did you see it?" Leah turned in Megan's arms, only to find the graveyard back to its normal state. "Did you see it?" she asked.

"Yeah, it's okay," Megan replied, still holding onto her friend. "Just watch out for the bodies from now on."

Noting Megan's grinning face, Leah grimaced and looked back at where she'd been standing very carefully. "Hmph! Won't fool me again!"

"Sure you want to test that theory, bud?"

Keeping her eyes firmly on the path and immediate area, Leah replied, "No problem!"

A minute later, they were at the doorway to the house, Megan turned and was amazed at how the layout had been so thoughtfully prepared so that you could never really see that many people around you. "They've really done a great job, haven't they?"

"Oh yeah," Leah grumpily replied, still annoyed at being caught unawares. "Just great. And to think I have to check out at least three of the houses or the paper won't print the review I need to write."

Smiling, Megan pushed her friend ahead. "Let's get this one seen then, huh?"

They approached the open doors and could see that the knockers on the heavy wooden doors appeared to be gargoyles. Within a few steps, they were inside and into a large entryway. A set of richly carpeted stairs stood off to the side, but two large statues were toppled over them to block the path so that there appeared to be no way up to the next floor.

Several doors could be seen but only one set stood open into what appeared to be a dining room. After trying two of the closed doors and finding them locked, they walked slowly towards the dining room, taking in the oddly shifting paintings on the wall and laughing as one of the paintings morphed from a smiling young couple into less than pleased older couple obviously arguing over the television.

Megan glanced over at the rest of the paintings and one in particular caught her eye. In a beautifully carved wooden frame, a beautiful black horse reared, the breath from its nostrils clouding the air. Mane and tail were detailed beautifully, as if you could reach out and stroke them, and hooves glinted in the moonlight.

But, it was the rider who really inevitably drew her in. The inherent power in the figure almost pulsed from the painting. A sheen of long, black hair, which almost perfectly matched the color of the horse, curtained the face but the hands gripping the reins had long, thin fingers and the leg she could see was covered in a dark fabric of some type that clung to the muscles as if painted on.

Megan traced the leg from booted foot up to the thigh, where it eventually disappeared under a coal-black, heavy cloak. Her attention rapt on the figure, her gaze moved up the body and she suddenly had an intense longing to pull back the dark curtain and face the person hidden there.

Not completely understanding why, she took a step closer, as if nearness would give her a clearer view of the figure and somehow allow her to almost step into the picture. A foolish thought, she realized, even as she did it, but the painting still pulled at her for some reason.

Something inside her knew that if she could find a way to touch that figure, to see that face, it would be ... As her mind worked in the background to try and put a name to what she was feeling, she took another step closer and, almost involuntarily, her hand began to reach out.

Without warning, lightning lit up the picture in wave of intense white. Megan had been concentrating so keenly, that the sudden brightness was almost stunning. Blinking to clear the aftershock, she looked back at the picture and gasped, bringing her hand back in a sudden recoil.

The horse was now mostly skeleton-like. Patches of hide clung to the bones in ragged pieces, but mostly white bone and some sinew was all that could be seen, along with the mane and tail, which were wildly disordered. The background was now bare trees, which appeared to reach towards both the onlooker and the main figure in the painting, still in black.

But, of course, the figure was also changed. Through now bedraggled and silver tinted hair, a gaunt face stared back at her. The eyes were pinpoints of a ghoulish blood red and a shroud of sadness seemed to haunt the figure.

Megan felt an ache inside that had more than a hint of bitter cold to it as she examined the changes and it was with an incredible reluctance that she finally acknowledged that Leah was speaking.

"... was incredible. You know, I've seen this kind of stuff before but some of these look like they could reach out and grab you."

Megan suppressed a shudder at that thought and then leaned into the sudden warmth of the hand that her friend placed on her back. "Did that kinda look like ..."

"Sax?" Leah finished for her. "It did a little before it changed, but the dark hair will do it every time, I think," she concluded. "Remember how you thought that you used to see her everywhere for a long time after you two broke up?"

Nodding, Megan recalled how often she thought she'd seen her tall lover turning a corner, entering a doorway, stepping into a car and many other places after they'd broken up. It was, of course, just an imagination full of wishful thinking she had finally realized but had been an intensely odd form of pseudo contact that she'd garnered some strange comfort from until she had finally taken herself to task and stopped looking.

As Megan's mind took a trip down memory lane, a huge grandfather clock against the wall chimed loudly, causing both of them to jump slightly and then laugh at each other's unease.

"Man, we're jumpy," Leah commented.

"No kidding!" Megan agreed as she moved away from the now dark paintings with one last glance. In a matter of seconds, she stood at the doorway to the dining room to admire the beautiful chandelier hanging over the table. Even covered in webs, it seemed to have a beautiful inner glow about it. "Wow," she breathed.

"What," Leah asked, as she came up behind Megan and followed her gaze. "I'd hate to have to clean that off," she supplied practically.

That brought a smile to Megan's face and she stepped all the way into the room. Shadows hung about the corners of the large room and a blanket of dust covered the long table, which she couldn't resist dragging a finger through. It was with some surprise that the dust didn't move and her finger stayed completely clean.

"Ooh," Leah crowed. "That's cool. Spray on dust!"

The journey back to reality helped to calm Megan's still rapidly beating heart. "I'd love a behind the scenes tour of this. It must have been an incredible feat to put together, don't you think?"

"I wish I'd thought of that," Leah answered. "If I wasn't on a deadline, I'd try to set one up. I'll have to see if I can do that next year."

A loud creak from one of the shuttered windows drew their attention, and then movement from above as the chandelier began to shake violently. Before they could step out of the way, a driven gust of air hit their backs and they both turned their heads to see a door at the end of the dining room begin to slowly open.

Leah turned back just in time to see one of the corner shadows separate itself from the wall, arms began to rise under a cloak, and the face turned to look at her. The pale face and slicked back hair would have been enough, but the pointed tooth smile and blood red lips spurred her to even quicker movement as she shoved Megan towards the now open door. "Go, go, go!"

Confused, Megan began to move at her friend's urging but did turn back long enough to see a figure start to rise into the air and come in their direction. That was all it took.

Safely through the door, Megan pushed it closed behind them both with a loud bang only to find herself barely able to see anything in the near darkness of the room they now stood in. An odd chitter and almost constant slithering sound filled the room with near explosive intensity.

She reached out a hand to find the wall and jerked it back as soon as she felt something move under her fingers. Her gasp drew Leah's attention.

"What?!" Leah demanded.

"Something's on the walls," Megan replied, rather more calmly than she felt.

"No way," was the reply. Quickly followed by, "Ew! Please don't tell me that was a bug."



At Leah's less than thrilled response, Megan chuckled soundlessly to herself and took a step towards what appeared to be a sliver of light. It was only a split second after her foot hit the moving and crackling floor that she drew it back in surprise.

"What was that?" Leah wanted to know, blindly reaching out in the blonde's direction.

"Hopefully not bugs," came the very unwanted reply. "Come on, let's go," Megan urged, stepping once more onto the floor.

Leah put a foot down and grimaced as the ground cracked and wavered under her weight. "Oh geez, this is gross!"

On almost tiptoe, Megan worked her way across the room. One hand was firmly grasped by Leah's and she pulled her friend across the room. The chitters and slithers seemed to intensify as they slowly moved across, the darkness dictating their pace. "Wonder what this is," she muttered to herself.

"If it's bugs, I'm gonna sue!" replied Leah, as she caught the murmur.

"For what?" Megan queried.

"I don't know! Cruelty to bugs!"

"Why don't you reach down and pick some up to see?" Megan supplied, with a chuckle.

"No way!" was the instant response.

Grinning into the darkness, Megan cringed with each step but managed to guide them to the little beacon of light without mishap.

The light turned out to be the next room. Cut at an odd angle, it was a long hallway. Several suits of armor, each on a dais, lined both sides of the hall. Ancient crests hung high above, most with a ferociously snarling creature or attacking bird of prey featured, oddly lit by flickered candles set behind opaque glass lamps on the walls.

It was an almost pleasantly feudal scene from a European country visit until the smell of musty ... something assailed both of their senses.

"Yuck," Leah held onto her nose.

Trying not to breathe deeply, Megan pulled her friend along, still joined at the hands. Grimacing, they approached the first set of suits of armor and she suddenly realized that the looming shadows along the walls were not simply shadows. They were actually deep recesses into the walls, but the flickering, dim light didn't really show enough to see what was inside.

Trying to keep an eye on everything, she ran an eye over the closest sets of armor. The two figures faced each other, one held a wicked-looking halberd and the other a broad sword. Both weapons looked frighteningly real and Megan looked for any type of movement as they inched forward.

Almost skipping past the first set, she felt an almost overwhelming sense of being watched and let go of Leah's hand to turn abruptly to ensure nothing was following them.

"What now?" Leah clamored.

Nothing moved. It was a moment that almost felt as if nothing breathed as goose bumps began to pimple on Megan's arms.


a kiss of breath, perhaps of death, touched her cheek and she turned her head to see a hand pushing open the lid of a coffin that had been secreted inside the closest recess.

Another rattle drew her attention and a shadow cleaved itself from the wall and began to lurch in their direction.

Megan turned her head at the sharply grinding sound of metal on metal met her ears. One of the suits of armor was beginning to move, the weapon it held glinting unsteadily in the light.

The blonde went with her instinctive response and turned to run as she caught movement from one of the other recesses. Not even bothering to look back, she could have sworn that she felt a waft of air trace down her back.

"Incredible! I could've sworn that guy was gonna hit you with that sword!" Leah announced on a slightly ragged breath as they quickly climbed a flight of stairs at the end of the hallway and stepped onto a landing.

"Is that what I felt?" Megan asked, hands indignantly placed on her hips.

"Probably, are they good or what?" Leah crowed.

"Oh yeah, really good!" replied Megan, sarcasm evident in her tone. "I have a mind ..." she paused when she saw the entry way they had just come through was now concealed. "How do they do that?" she asked nobody in particular.

"Sliding doors?" Leah helpfully provided.

"I guess," Megan replied and then turned to survey their next challenge. The narrow landing was actually better lit than most of the rooms so far but that only served to enhance the fact that brightly colored mummy cases stood within easy reach of anyone passing by. The exit seemed far away.

"Oh boy. Wanna run?" asked Leah.

Megan looked over at her friend in surprise. "Going to put that in your review?"

"Ooh, brat! I won't tell if you won't."

"Deal!" Laughing, Megan had already started to run before Leah had an idea of what she had planned. She could hear Leah's mutters of protest over the creak of opening cases and stopped only once she'd gotten to the exit door.

Behind Leah's still running figure, she could see several lumbering figures in various stages of emerging from the mummy cases. Filthy bandages were wrapped around them, although some had pieces hanging off as if the wrapping was pulling away from their bodies.

As one of the mummies reached out towards Leah, Megan pushed on the door through to the next area and held it open as her friend ran by. Quickly following, she slammed the door shut - a lasting impression of an outstretched hand firmly set in her mind.

Leaning back against the door, Megan chuckled at the glare that Leah was sending her way. "Hey, not my fault you're slow."

"Cute, Olson. Cute," Leah muttered, using her best friend's last name for emphasis. "Now I know where not to turn when the bad guys are chasing me!"

Megan tried not to snicker, but it slithered out anyway and she had to deal with Leah glaring at her for several long moments before she relented. "Sorry. You know I wouldn't really let 'em catch you."

"Yeah, yeah. You know, Is it just me or this thing really kinda scary?"

"It's really very good. If the rest of the houses are like this, I hope they have paramedics on hand for the heart attacks," Megan commented.

"You've got that right. Geez, when that sword whipped by you, I thought I was going to have one of my own," Leah shot back.

"Everything is so detailed, and well thought out. I mean, we've hardly seen anyone else inside the house or heard them, and we know there are a lot of people here because we saw them."

Leah pondered that in silence and had to acknowledge that her friend was right. They had entered the park with lots of people, yet it seemed that once they had walked through the gates of the haunted house, they really hadn't seen anyone. "Well, if the rest of them are like that it'll be a miracle, but one I'll definitely have to write about."

Megan nodded in agreement. Having done her own stint as the obituary and review writer, along with other odd jobs that needing doing around a paper.

"Should be nightmares after this place," Leah paused as if trying to dredge something up from the recesses of her memory. "You know, I think I remember reading something about the people who own this started out somewhere in the east."

"Like where, Salem?"

"Oh, bunch o' laughs, aren't you?" Leah countered. "No, eastern Europe, like Romania or somewhere."

"Ooh, there's a handle for you. Relatives of Dracula run Spookfest!'"

"Well, you never know!"

"Lee! That sounds like a headline for that Weekly World Stupid Gossip magazine."

Leah grinned nastily. "They probably pay more money."

"Probably." Chuckling, Megan pushed away from the door and looked around the rather quiet room they now stood in. It appeared to be a normal bedroom, with a small bed covered in a bland bedspread, a night stand, chest of drawers, large wardrobe and one small window. She moved toward the window only to bounce back as the shade rolled itself up with a loud snap. "Geez!"

"Reporter attacked by window shade!" rang out.

"Really bucking for that job with them, huh?"

"Bitch!" teased Leah.

"So..." Megan began to ask just as the bedspread began to peel away from the bed.

Leaning over to look at an angle, Leah tried to figure out how the trick was being accomplished as she noted Megan moving closer to the bed on the periphery of her vision.

"Holy ... "

Megan turned to look at her friend and found her jaw drooping slightly as she could see a figure forming beyond Leah's stunned body. Even though her mind knew it had to be a hologram, it was more sophisticated than anything she'd ever seen in any amusement park.

The body began to fill in as a cold, clammy blanket started to settle on the room, partially fueled by the fog that was now creeping stealthy fingers across the floor.

The bedspread ended its movement and a depression began to form in the middle of the bed. From the depression began to emerge a body, starting with the fingers and moving down the outstretched arms towards the head.

Megan's head whipped to the side as she saw something coming down from the ceiling towards Leah. Pushing her friend out of the way, she swatted at the arm reaching through the ceiling somehow and tried to figure how to get out of the room.

"How the heck do we get out of here?" Leah voiced.

"Quick, check the walls. Bang on them, there's got ..." Getting an idea, Megan ran to the wardrobe and, ready for anything, opened it up, stepping back as she did so. She let out a relieved breath as the exit stood before her, hidden inside the wardrobe. "Lee, here, come on! Sneaky damned things!"

Ducking under an arm that was swinging from the ceiling, trying to grab onto anything, Leah looked at the wardrobe, shook her head and stepped inside muttering, "Spooky."

"Got that right," Megan agreed as she followed her friend into the empty wardrobe. "Glad I read 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' when I was a kid."

"Well, apparently someone else did too," Leah commented as she tiptoed out of the wardrobe and found herself in the landing that loomed over what appeared to be the original entry way. Down a couple of side steps, the main stairway stood. Oddly, they were clear of the statues that had been blocked them before and the exit beckoned serenely.

"In for a penny," Megan supplied, as she began to walk down, keeping a very wary eye on the statues.

Surprisingly, they got a reprieve and only the glowing red eyes of the gargoyle statues, and perhaps a low growl, hurried them along their way outside.

"Ah," Leah commented as they exited the building into an area that was completely different than where they entered. "Look, we're not in the same place. It wasn't the same set of stairs, no wonder the statues were in different places."

"You're right," Megan pondered. "Weird that they put that much detail into this, isn't it?"

"Someone sure is detail oriented, that's for sure," Leah agreed. "What did you think of that one? Have you ever seen anything like it?'

Megan needed no time to think that one over. "Never. That was pretty incredible." She thought for a few seconds and then continued, "Those paintings and that ghost, it was fantastic. I've never seen anything close to that realism. I'd love to find out how they did it."

"That behind the scenes tour is sounding more and more interesting, isn't it?"

"How about a drink?" Megan asked. There were several people in line at the closest drink stand, but they decided to wait anyway. It took a few minutes to pick up something refreshing at the creepy tree shaped drink before they were able to sit down and relax for a few minutes.

General chatter governed their conversation for a few minutes, as they sipped, and then mostly people watching took over. They laughed as they saw the chainsaw man try to have the same luck as he'd had earlier and chase someone else, but the woman just stood her ground and looked at him like he was crazy.

"Not in the spirit?" Leah wondered.

"Well, that other woman was definitely in the spirit!" Megan chortled.

Leah agreed with a laugh. "Lot of people here, really. Who the heck designed this place?"

"I'd love to know that one myself," Megan responded. "If any of the rest is as good as the house we were just in, they'll be packed for their entire run."

"Speaking of which, ready to move to the next one?" Leah queried, slurping up the last of the soda.

Only minutes later, they were looking up at the wonderfully decorated entrance of the next haunted house. Leah stopped and read the sign. "Uh, don't you want to go in this one alone? I mean, Entombed sounds sort of ... I don't know ..."

"Scary?" Megan replied, more than a hint of teasing in her voice.

"Well, yeah."

"Come on, scaredy-cat. You're the one who brought me here." With that, Megan pulled on her friend's arm and they walked through the doorway.

It was an interesting sight; the wide double doors appeared to have been partially ripped from the walls and yet somehow managed to swing slightly in a non existent breeze, as if someone had just brushed by them. Megan's quick inspection of the doors seemed to show no way that should happen but it still did. A sign stood crookedly to one side, it read, "Hacker's Mortuary."

After the doors, they turned a corner and the passage immediately opened into a hallway, easily wide enough for four people to stand side by side. However, beyond a fleeting glance of a dark figure exiting through the doorway at the end of the hall, there was no one else to be seen.

Lights flickered, as if they were tempting fate to stay on and it was eerily quiet where they stood. Surprisingly, they were the only two people there. There were so many people in the park and other people had to be in this haunted house, that it seemed odd to be alone.

That thought had just run through Megan's mind when a piercing shriek echoed around her, she couldn't help the start that twitched her muscles and made her heart pound a bit. It unnerved her enough that when a ghost of a freezing breath passed by her she inhaled sharply, and then looked around for invisible tendrils that seemed to feather touch her hair. She wafted a hand above her head as if to brush them away but felt nothing.

"Jesus! Let's get out of here," Leah exclaimed, unintentionally echoing Megan's thoughts exactly.

However, when they turned in unison to leave, they found the entrance gone and a flat wall in its place. Looking at each other with quite some surprise at exactly how that happened, they both shook their heads and turned to look at the end of hallway. There, the only apparent exit stood waiting for them, shrouded in mostly darkness.

Bunching together for comfort, if nothing else, they stepped towards the doorway and then stopped at the buzz of something beyond their sight. It seemed to be breathing, as if someone was waiting for them in the dark and it took a few moments before sanity reigned again.

"Okay, we're being silly," Megan announced. "It's supposed to be fun, let's do it!"

"Right," Leah agreed, rather weakly. "This is fun, remember fun."

Nevertheless, it was with a less than firm approach that Megan approached the doorway. Peering around the corner, she sighed at herself and waved her friend closer. "Come on, nothing here."

Wondering at her own sanity for suggesting this particular piece of 'fun', Leah followed and it wasn't long before they both had moved much deeper into the house.

Oddly, it seemed easier to Megan to laugh at the attempts of 'inhabitants' of the house to scare them for the first few rooms. They were hurried along by hulking figures that followed them until they left one room and another had them looking around curiously until they noticed a wall that seemed to be slowly closing in on them. They finally moved on when the wall began to break open and hands reached through as if to grab them.

In the next room, however, Leah quietly expressed admiration for the person who had decorated it. It appeared to be madness personified; scrawls on the wall, written in potentially dried blood, held mathematical and scientific significance and covered every piece of wall it was possible to fill without having a ladder.

Books had been thrown about, as if dumped in haste from the bookshelves that usually held them. Parts of, what appeared to be, bodies were in glass containers and some of them were smashed, even the smell of formaldehyde seemed to taint the air. And, all of it seemed to have been effortlessly put together to keep the viewer away from the various parts and yet feel as if they were in the middle of it.

Looking over at the remains of what was almost certainly a brain in one of the smashed jars, Leah spoke up, "Hey, be glad you didn't try the monkey brains at that Frightful Feast. I swear they were the real thing, they tasted horribly. Think they came from here?"

"Cute, but the eyeballs were bad enough, thank you," Megan replied sarcastically as she inspected the room. "That can't be real glass, right?" she asked about the glass jars, more to herself than anything, even though Leah moved to also get a closer look.

"Can't be. I know they make it hard for us to get close to that stuff but what if someone did, law suits anonymous," Leah supplied.

"Exactly," Megan agreed, more to steady herself from what she knew was irrational fear that seemed to be dogging her steps than anything else.

She gave the room one more glance, the only sense of calm was the desk. Perfectly put together and not a thing out of place. The desk lamp shone serenely on papers and an oddly shaped item that drew her closer, wanting to get a look. Until the leather bound chair began to slowly turn and she saw the horribly dry skin of a hand that rested on an arm of the chair.

Backing up, she grabbed at Leah's arm, ignoring the yelp of surprise, and pulled her towards the exit. Yet, they remained to watch the completion of the chair's turn. A horridly deformed and almost desiccated figure began to rise from the chair. Megan could hear the crackle of dried skin and bones, unused to the movement they were making, and without further ado, dragged her friend into the next room chased by what could have been ages old laughter.

"Good God, remind me never to do this again," Leah exclaimed. "No way that I'd bring a kid to this!" she continued, and then glanced over at her friend who seemed glued to the floor. "What?" she asked as she turned.

"You have got to be kidding," Megan protested in a whisper, her eyes huge as she took in the next room. Metal appeared to line the walls and the temperature had dropped significantly. On one side, small metal doors were recessed into the wall but several of these were hanging or on the floor and the view inside was of bodies or parts of bodies that appeared to have been separated from their owners forcibly.

One of the bodies began to move slightly, as if life had been somehow injected into it, and Leah exclaimed, "Oh man, come on, let's go." Then she jumped as one of the small doors began to jiggle and an irregular pounding began on the other side.

However, Megan's eyes were still on the very wide opening to the next room where ghostly fog swirled around bulky forms that seemed to be suspended from ceiling. "Please tell me there's another way out," Megan begged, ignoring the whine she knew was in her voice.

Tugging her friend along with her, Leah replied, "It can't be that bad. Let's just get out of here."

Dragging her feet, Megan reluctantly entered the cool chamber, which was completely blocked by bodies in various states. She tried not to look at the bodies too carefully, they were hanging both upside down and normally, and she found herself shivering as the cold and slimy skin touched her hands.

Not willing to experience that feeling any longer, she began to use her t-shirt covered shoulders and upper arms to move the bodies out of the way. Going even so far as to pull down her sleeve as far as she could and tuck her hand underneath.

Suddenly, though, Megan found herself drawn to one body, it looked oddly familiar and the blonde found herself stepping closer to get a better look, despite herself. The detail, Megan realized, was remarkable and once she mentally removed the blood that appeared to be congealing along the side of the face, and then filled the gaping hole where part of the skull should be, it was painfully and shockingly clear to her why the face had looked familiar.

Her blood seemed to suddenly run cold as the fact that an unbelievably creepy copy of her own face was staring back at her spiked into her chest. As if she had stepped out of her body to clinically examine the figure, she realized that the only difference were the eyes. They were black as coal but that only served to expand the unease that had settled over her like a smothering blanket of darkness.

Her breath caught in her chest and she took a half step back to take in the entire figure when she bumped into the arm from another of the bodies and the hand seemed to almost gravitate to her towards her face. Flinching, she slid away from the hand and bounced into yet another body, which began to make a terrible screeching noise every time it swung back and forth on the hook.

Totally spooked, Megan stuck out an arm to move that figure out of the way and then another, and more, until she finally was standing by a wall, shivering. Her breath shot out rapidly in short cloudy breaths in the cold room and the sudden quiet almost rang in her ears.

Suddenly, a warm hand curled around her wrist and she almost coughed up a lung as it seemed her body tried to exhale and inhale at the same time.

"Whoa! Sorry!" Leah apologized, seeing the obvious distress on her friend's face. "What's wrong?"

Finding that her voice seemed to have deserted her, Megan just closed her eyes and concentrated on the heat of the body that had moved closer to hers. Her own body's warmth seemed to have been leeched away by the room and she leaned in closer to Leah to take some comfort.

"Hey," Leah said gently, her hand moving against her friend's back in soothing circles. She grimaced, realizing that her friend truly was very upset. "You okay?"

Finally starting to calm down, Megan looked at the ground as she tried to put together how she'd managed to get herself in such a state. But, it wasn't until she managed to get a deep breath that the stress seemed to begin to dissipate. She let out that breath very slowly and finally found her friend's anxious gaze.

"I ..." Megan breathed. Collecting herself, she started again, "I know this is crazy but there was one of these things that looked like me and ..."

Seeing her friend at a loss, Leah smiled gently. "Meg, this is a huge operation put on by experts. Probably millions of bucks involved. They probably have loads of stuff they do or maybe ..." She paused before offering the next explanation. "Maybe your imagination got away with you a bit?"

"No!" Megan protested and thought about it for a few seconds. She really had not wanted to go in the room, the fear she had tried to rid herself of for years had raised its ugly head and just maybe ... just maybe it had affected her reasoning? But still, that body - the one that had looked like her. Why would her mind do that?

Looking around, Leah finally found what she was looking for and said, "Hey, look at that one over there. It kinda looks like me, right?" Finding Megan unwilling to look up, she lifted an arm and pointed. "Really, look. It has the same hair, about the same height. Maybe they do something to reflect our faces, that really would be creepy."

"No, I tell you, it looked just like me. I'll show you!" Megan proclaimed.

It was a few minutes later when Megan had to concede defeat. There were plenty of bodies and it was easy to lose your way in the swirling, cool fog and the dark areas that seemed to twist you around so easily.

And, to her considerable chagrin, they had found other faces that could seem to be people they knew, when viewed in the right light, or darkness.

As they searched, they had even seen two other groups scream and grimace their way through the room without hardly stopping, one woman almost crawling along the floor to try and not touch the clammy and very cold 'skin'.

"God, I'm so stupid. This is supposed to be fun and here I go getting all nuts on you." Megan turned to her friend. "I'm sorry, Lee, but can we go home?"

Wanting to help her friend but knowing that she still had another house she had to look at, Leah attempted a compromise. "Tell you what, once we get out of here, what if I go through the other one I need to go through as quick as I can and you can wait outside for me?"

Relieved beyond measure, and not afraid to show it, Megan breathed a huge sigh of relief which billowed before them both. "I'm sorry," she apologized again.

Leah smiled and shook her head ruefully. "Believe me, if I'd known it was this scary, I don't think I would've signed up for the story. I'm going to make sure there's a heavy warning for kids, that's for sure."

"Yeah, can you imagine how scared they'd be?"

"Maybe they go a little easier if they see kids," mused Leah. "I'll have to call someone here tomorrow and ask. Come on, kiddo. Let's get out of here." She tugged on her reluctant friend until Megan finally began to move.

With Leah's presence, the lead chunk of upset in Megan's stomach began to dissipate a little bit. However, the bitter chill she felt throughout her bones remained and she couldn't help but look at the faces of the bodies as they pushed through the heavy figures with a lingering sense of dread.

Megan knew it was juvenile and ridiculous, but a tiny part of her still believed what she'd seen and it kept her step that much quicker as they fought their way through the room.

Relief at breaking through the last wall of bodies and seeing the exit was profound, for both of the women. In Megan it manifested with a hand reaching out to grasp the door jamb as she stood in the doorway, a bent head and closed eyes.

It was a profound sense of release. A sudden silence that felt like a deafening pressure in its intensity. After long moments of simply breathing, she opened her eyes to find Leah's worried eyes watching her.

"This really shook you up," Leah observed kindly.

Blowing out a breath between pursed lips, Megan felt a little of the unease flow out with the expended air. "I... I think it was just the face thing. Geez. My imagination is really working overtime, I guess."

"Well, I'm guessing we've got to be getting close to the end. How about we move on?" Leah suggested.

"Yeah," Megan agreed, as she looked into the next room, which was more like another hallway. At the sound of voices in coming from behind, she half turned before deciding that she had had quite enough of that room. Resolutely, she pushed away from the wall and took a step forward.

Both walls of the hallway appeared to be shiny, but the inky black behind them betrayed nothing. It wasn't until they were both several steps in that something changed.

With a wet slap, something hit the wall to the left and an explosion of light revealed a bloody hand sliding down the separating glass. An equally bloody face stared back at her and then the mouth opened to first mouth words and then pick up in volume with requests for help.

Another hand joined the first, and soon, several figures were on both sides of the hallway. The cacophony of noise from the different tones and requests was totally jarring, as were the wounds and general appearance of the people asking for help.

Quickly moving along, the two women almost stumbled out of the hallway and through a swinging door to find a dichotomy awaiting them.

It was a garden. Beautiful flowers bloomed, their scent enriching the considerably warmer air. Benches lined the pathways to either side in each direction and the sense of normalcy after the ride they had just been on was almost absurd.

As if it were a painting being filled in as Megan watched, the colors sharpened and reality returned for her. The sounds of other people talking, laughing and even screaming could be heard. Footsteps, music, everything you should hear - it was all soaked in by the emotionally depleted woman.

Megan felt her world begin to right itself. "Whoo," she let out.


"Oh yeah. They really need a warning for that one," Megan offered. She extended her hand and could still see a faint wobble, from the chill that still pervaded her insides or the scare, she wasn't sure and didn't truly care. All that she cared about was that she was out and had absolutely no intention of going back into another house.

"You want to wait here?"

"No," Megan hurriedly replied. "How about we get away from here," she went on as one of the statues in the garden caught her eye. Stopping abruptly, she was bumped forward half a step as Leah ran into her.

"Get some brake lights, would ya?" grumbled Leah, but she could see that Megan was already concentrating on something else.

Tortured came to mind as Megan looked over the statue. Carved in, for all the world, what appeared to be marble, a body of a naked woman bent over as if in agony. Fine strands of hair reached to the nape of her neck and one hand was curled around the back of the neck, as if to protect or shield.

Muscles were bunched and stretched, as if ready to tear and fight with each other. The other arm artfully hid the intimate parts of the lower body and only the swell of a breast could be seen.

It was an amazing piece of work that resonated inside Megan to cause an ache that made her want to reach out and soothe the pain of whoever created the figure.

A glance around the garden proved that this wasn't the only statue in a similar state. Another, about ten feet away, was of a screaming man. His eyes wide and vacant, his lips pulled back in a grimace and his hair wild beyond imagining.

"I really doubt I'd want to meet this sculptor," quipped Leah.

"It's brilliant, really," Megan argued. "Very scary, but brilliant."

"Yeah, well, plenty of brilliant people go crazy. Just remember that."

Leah's no nonsense tone brought a tiny quirk to Megan's lips and she felt her world begin to spin the right way again. "You're right, but if you find out who did these, let me know, okay? I might want to do a piece on them if they're legit, this is fantastic stuff."

"When I call for information tomorrow, I'll ask." Leah had to smile to herself, getting Megan's mind on a good story was the fastest way to get her mind off just about anything.


Moments later, they stood by a trellis which indicated the end of the garden. Megan looked around for a good spot to sit and wait for her friend. A copse of trees by a closed ride seemed to be a good location and she pointed as she said, "How about over there?"

"Sounds good. Sure you don't want to come along?"

"No way. I'm going to just sit here and relax, watch the screaming women run by and all that."

Laughing, Leah took a step away and stopped. "You sure I can't persuade you?"

"Yep! Shoo! We can stop by the frozen yogurt joint on the way home, how's that?"

"Ooh, good plan! Diana's working tonight." Eyebrows wiggled in the gloom.

"When are you two just going to get together?" Megan sighed.

"When she comes to her senses and realizes she's madly in love with me?" Leah bantered.

Waving her hand in a dismissal motion, Megan chuckled, feeling much better than she had since they had entered the first house. "Get out of here and try not to get lost."

"Yeah, yeah. Just 'cause I have to have a compass watch doesn't mean I can't find my way."

Megan watched Leah walk away with a fond smile on her face. She had been truly blessed with a friend that she'd done some growing up with and managed to stay close to for what felt like her entire life.

Truth was, they'd long ago decided that they were meant to be friends and nothing else, and had both moved forward to see each other through some times that they'd rather forget. And, although times had found them in different places sometimes, they never forgot the other.

Musing about her friend brought her back to relationships in general and her apparent failure to find something lasting. However, she had barely any time to think on that when she heard a noise from the path behind her and turned to look.


The moon chose that moment to hide itself behind a cloud and the lighting was only bright enough to light the brick pathway, and not much else. Megan shook her head, her blonde locks sifting the faint freeze as they moved, and then turned back around, berating herself for being so jumpy.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Megan turned again at the odd sound. It was metal on metal or something that was making an almost ringing noise that squeezed its way down her gullet, reminiscent of fingernails on a chalkboard.

Still, she could see no sign of what was causing the noise, and suddenly it was as if the rest of the park was simply ... gone. As if time were frozen and she stood inside a crystal moment of clarity.

She didn't remember standing, but now stood part way down the pathway, the brick unforgiving under her feet. Her eyes scanned the shrubs to either side, but the greenery blended into the shadows of the dim light and provided no help to her.

A step forward. "Is someone there?"


It was no more than a blink, a split second in time but it was apparently enough for the situation to instantly change.

A figure now stood squarely on the same path she inhabited. A hood obscured most of the face, allowing only the pale skin of part of one cheek to bask in vague radiance.

A cloak of the darkest night swathed the figure in its folds, making it impossible to determine pretty much anything about the person under the cloth. Until the head rose and the half of the face was indistinctly illuminated, it was enough.

Enough to know that a woman was there, waiting. Standing. Somehow menacing.

Taking the offensive, as unsure as she was, Megan spoke to the figure, "Look, I'm not interested in games, okay? I'm waiting for my friend and if you think you're going to chase me around the park or something, don't."

A cruel smile sliced across the woman's face, white teeth caught a random ray of moonlight that peeked through the clouds and Megan inhaled sharply at the elongated incisors.

"I'm serious. I'm not interested. Go find someone else to chase." A voice from the depths of somewhere beyond Megan's understanding answered her.

"Oh, but I've been waiting for you."

Gathering a bit of resolve, Megan replied, "That's nice, but I'm going to go sit on that bench and wait for my friend. I will complain to the management if you try something. So, please go. There are plenty of others that you can scare and play games with."

"I'm not interested in playing games, Megan."

She had started to turn away but the use of her name caused Megan to jerk to a stop. She blinked in confusion. "How do you know my name?"

"I know everything about you."

"Wh... what?" stammered Megan. "Who are you?" she queried

"Your fate," came the inevitable reply.

The inner core that was the strength of Megan bristled and shot to the forefront, she stepped towards the woman. "Look, I don't know who are but this isn't funny."

"No," the figure replied, its head shaking from side to side, causing crazy shadows to appear and disappear on her face. "It's as serious as a funeral."

"What is your problem?"

The woman put one hand on her cloaked hip. "Should I be obvious and say you?"

"Who are you and what do you want?" Megan demanded.

"Ah, my name. My name. Such power in a name sometimes, isn't there? At least, that's what they used to think a long, long time ago."

Megan listened to the woman ramble and tried to figure out the most expedient way to end this confrontation.

"They used to tell me that I was a beloved child. They'd say, 'Carina, you're so pretty. You're going to have so many suitors after you.' and I'd twirl and smile." A hand reached out to swirl the cloak about her legs. "But, I was set to marry a very boring man that my father picked ... no, sold me to."

The bitter tone in Carina's voice gave Megan a slight shiver. "Is there a point to this?" she asked.

"Oh yes. More than one point, I should think." Carina smiled cruelly. "Before I could be sold off, I met Aroldo, and my life ended and began again."

"I see." Deciding the woman had to be at least a little insane, Megan decided retreat was the better part of valor and began to take a hesitant step backwards.

"Did you like my present for you in the Mortuary?"

Uncomprehending, Megan shook her head and ceased her movement. "What are you talking about?"

"Oh, I saw how scared you were, Megan. It was wonderful. Did you like the black eyes? I thought they were a wonderful touch. I'm so pleased you got to see it."

It hit with the force of a ton of bricks, and Megan struggled to find a way to catch her breath. "It wasn't my imagination, that body looked like me! Why?"

The woman's head tilted to one side. "All part of the game. I thought it was rather flattering, didn't you?"

Megan could almost feel the blood draining from her face. "You're crazy," she whispered.

The woman moved closer, matching the steps Megan had taken. "Tut, tut. You're not afraid of me, are you?"

Megan probed a little. "The statues in that garden, they're yours too, aren't they?"

"Not just a pretty face, are you?" Carina replied. "You know, I almost missed your reaction to the face because of the fun I had with the armor."

"The arm... I don't understand. Why?"

"Oh, that was all just fun. You see, this is all mine." Carina gestured to indicate the park. "All of it, now that Aroldo is gone. And, I love All Hallow's Eve, my very favorite holiday, actually."

Carina turned an almost charming smile on Megan. "I know all about you, Megan. I even tried to get your paper to have you write the review, but I got your friend instead. I was going to have fun with her but then you showed up too! Well, I just couldn't pass up that opportunity, could I?"

"Stop this!"

The hood listed slightly to one side and revealed more of the woman's face. "It's too late. We're already destined for this." Lips as rich as old blood moved with the words.

"What ... destined for what?"

"You and your partner have made enemies, Megan."

"My partner?" Megan was terribly confused. "Leah? She's my friend ... Look, you obviously need help and I'm going to report this." She resolutely turned away, heart pounding in her ears.

Carina's lips thinned in almost a grimace of a smile and a name hissed from between them, "Saxon."

That brought Megan's head up and around with an almost audible snap. Her already elevated heart beat stepped up another notch. "What about Saxon?"

"Tsk. You and she should have both checked into some things in more detail. Should have found out what else the Mayor was into before you went about being so righteous."

Like a Rubik's cube, things suddenly began to slide into place. "The Mayor's long gone," she offered weakly as she once more turned to face Carina.

"Ah, yes. Further gone than you can imagine. You see, he failed and partially exposed things he shouldn't have, and they made him pay."

"Are you saying he's dead?" Megan asked, not sure if she really wanted to know the answer.

The thin smile was back. "Ohhhh, something like that."

The jolt of fear down Megan's spine caused her legs and arms to twitch, she took a step back and moved to take another. But, somehow - impossibly - the other woman now stood within arm's reach. "Who killed him?" she blurted out.

A soft, almost childlike expression came over the woman's face. "Do you know how nice it was to have one of us in that kind of office, Megan? How many good things he could do for us?"

"What are you talk... who is us?"

"Us!" the woman replied, as if Megan should know exactly what she meant. The tip of her tongue ran between one incisor to the other and then her attention was caught by the glint of light off something metal in the other woman's hand. "How do you want to die, Megan?"

'Oh, this cannot be happening,' thought Megan, a lance of fear slamming into her stomach. She turned to run but her arm was suddenly caught and held in an amazingly strong grip. Grimacing against the pain of the fingers digging into her muscles, she pulled and found herself inexorably moving in quite the wrong direction.

Responding to the threat, Megan gave into the pull, surprising her attacker, and punched her palm and curled fingers sharply towards Carina's face. Meeting flesh, she heard the other woman's sharp cry, pulled away and then began to run.

It was the sound of the flapping cloak that alerted Megan to the danger. Then it was gone as she found herself completely smothered by an inky blackness that opened up long enough for Carina's surprisingly cool hand to reach in and grasp her throat.

As Megan watched, the metal she had seen previously in the other woman's hand refined into a terrifying knife as it got closer. Megan tried to pull away as the serrated edge crept towards her.

Then, without warning, she was suddenly free and falling. Her balance completely overwhelmed by the release of the opposing force she had been fighting against. She fell in a hard lump against one of the metal lamp posts that lined the path.

Holding a hand to her ringing head, she could now see that a tall, silhouetted figure now stood in front of her, a barrier between the crazy woman and herself. It was a figure that Megan would know in the darkest night and her heart lurched with the first words spoken.

"This is between us, Carina!" rang a voice, familiar to Megan.

"Oh no, dear Saxon," replied Carina, as she pushed herself up from where she'd been thrown. The hood of her cloak fell back to reveal a face of porcelain beauty. "She pays too."

"You'll have to go through me first," growled Saxon.

"Oh, that can be arranged, dear one." Carina's smile held a distinct edge of insanity. "Daddy always told me to pay back my debts."

"Your sire," spat Saxon, "Was nothing but an underling who had delusions of grandeur. It wasn't my fault he was stupid and made too many mistakes."

"Saxon, Saxon, Saxon." Carina's head shook from one side to the other with each utterance of the name. "I got tired of chasing you around, you know."

"You caught me once, why didn't you finish it?"

"Ah," Carina sighed almost sadly. "I thought I had, but you kept that stupid white knight outfit that you always wore inside, didn't you?" She stood slowly, unfolding from the ground in stages. "It wasn't supposed to be that way, you know. You were supposed to become one of us. Fight the evil fight and all that."

Bewildered, Megan fought the intense urge to lose her Frightful Feast in the bushes as she tried to stuff down the pain in her head long enough to figure out what was going on. Making the mistake of shaking her head in an attempt to clear it did nothing but cause her to groan out loud.

"If she's hurt, you're going to pay," declared Saxon, flexing her legs at the knees.

"She'll be more than hurt by the time I'm done," Carina threatened, her face a terrifyingly sweet counter to the words she voiced. "You both caused this."

Megan tried to push herself away from the offending post that she was now leaning against and blinked to clear her slightly off kilter vision. As she moved, she glanced up to see Saxon's head turn slightly and then snap back as Carina made her move.

A slice of dim light from one of the park's lamp post's made the snarl on Saxon's face that more ferocious as it glittered off her slitted eyes and made odd shapes out of her visible teeth.

Flat on her back, with more than a little wind knocked out of her, Saxon grasped Carina's wrist and struggled to keep the descending knife at bay. One leg lifted at the knee to gain leverage and she pushed up and over in a tangle of limbs.

As Carina struggled to keep herself from being subdued, the knife went flying end over end, occasionally catching a sliver of light and winking back before it flew into one of the shrubs.

Finally, after long moments of battle, the combatants crouched and looked warily at each other.

Saxon maintained her flesh barrier between Megan and Carina, then spoke first, "You've done enough damage. Leave before it's too late."

Finally managing to stand, the lamp post being used for aid, Megan saw the first truly serious look she had seen cross Carina's face.

"It's already too late," whispered Carina as she once more launched herself.

This time, however, she headed straight for Megan, instead of Saxon, and the blonde's addled mind moved her limbs but not at the speed they needed to. She stumbled back a few steps, knowing deep inside it wouldn't be enough as Carina's outstretched hands curled into claws as they hurtled towards her.

Still, Megan gathered enough of her muddled mind to use her abilities to fall with the approaching body, get her legs between them and use every ounce of strength to push Carina away from her.

Before Megan could even push herself up, there was a howl of rage, and then a collision of bodies several feet away, followed by what could only be the distinct crack of something very important breaking.

Megan leaned up on one elbow as she watched Saxon's form rise from the ground. As the other woman stood, rays of hesitant moonlight began to peek once more from behind the thinning clouds and tentatively dotted Carina's prone figure with wan touches.

Horrified, Megan looked from Carina's blankly staring eyes to Saxon's incredibly defeated demeanor.

"I'm sorry," Saxon's whisper barely touched her ears.

"Is she ..." Megan found herself unable to finish the question.

Saxon merely shook her head, sick inside at what she saw on Megan's face.

"Wha... " She stopped when she realized that Saxon was holding her arm carefully against her side. "Are you hurt?" she demanded to know, pushing herself slowly up and using the post to help her stand.

"No ... It's nothing," Saxon answered.

"We ... we need to get help," Megan replied, her gaze unwillingly pulled towards Carina's body.

"It's over. For now."

Megan's eyes roamed over the figure of her ex-lover. Incongruously, her mind told her that Sax had lost weight and looked terribly tired before she savagely told it to shut up and asked, "For now? What in the hell just happened?"

Saxon watched Megan move back to lean against one of the other posts and close her eyes for a moment, as if to cleanse them of the horror she'd just seen. The acid eating her insides moved deeper. "Are you all right?"

A sense of the incredible raised its head inside Megan. "Sax, I have a headache that would make a whale cry, I was just attacked by some crazy woman who blamed me for the mayor's ousting, you show up to save the day after months and months of being completely gone and now the woman is dead."

Megan raised a hand to cover her eyes, and then slipped it down over her mouth before letting it fall limply by her side. "Where ... God, what am I gonna do?"

"I'll handle it," Saxon replied, and almost stepped back at the bonfire that caused in Megan's eyes.

"You'll handle it?" Her voice rising in tone, Megan continued, "You ran away from me, from us and show up to save my life. How are you going to handle it, run away again?"

"Meg ... "

"No! No excuses!" Megan ignored the throb of pain caused by her raised voice.

"Just the truth," Saxon countered, shifting her shoulder slightly.

"The truth, am I supposed to believe that now? After your lies, after ..."

"Meg, please. I had to leave," Saxon responded wearily.

"Had to leave." Megan's headache began to thud in tempo with her heart.

"Yes. I never lied to you, I swear it. They threatened to come after you. Carina, the others."

"What?" Her hand curling around the cool steel of the lamp post, Megan held on for dear life. "What others?"

"Others, like her. Like ... When I found out they were going to go after you, I went ... I had to do something. I disrupted everything I could. Made me their target, made them chase me."

Brows furrowed, Megan tried to take this in. "Why should I believe this?"

Saxon felt that barb hit right on target. "Because of what you just saw. Because, Carina stopped chasing me and I realized she was coming back for you."

"Because of the piece on the Mayor?"

"Yes... No. Because of me too."

"Saxon, what are you talking about?"

"Carina, she ... wanted to hurt me. Aroldo ... Harold Braxton or whatever his name was originally, he was her sire."

"Her father?"

"Basically," Saxon admitted, her eyes half closing. "He screwed up, paid the price and she wanted revenge."

Realization hit. "You watched me after we split up, didn't you?" Running a hand over where she had hit her head, Megan winced a bit when her probing found a sore spot.

Saxon nodded slowly. "I wanted you to be safe." She saw the other woman's wince. "We need to get you checked out and make sure you're okay."

"I'm fine," Megan insisted, needing to know some answers before anything else happened. "And when I saw you with that other woman that night? You told me that you were sick."

"Stephanie. She was helping me try to get information on them. I tried to tell you the truth but you wouldn't believe me and I saw ... "

"The chance to get rid of me?" The bitter tone in Megan's voice wasn't totally unexpected.

"The chance to keep you safe. If they could believe that we broke up and you had nothing to do with me anymore." Saxon pleaded with Megan with her eyes. "Never to get rid of you. Never."

"I don't... "


Megan jumped, startled as Leah's voice interrupted what she was going to say. She looked back to see her friend starting up the path and then back at Saxon. As she was about form a sentence when all the words emptied from her brain, like sand through an hour glass.

Impossibly, Carina's body was gone.

Only the furrow in the grass from where her body had been betrayed the previous few minutes.

Panicked, Megan reached out a hand for the apparently puzzled Saxon and grabbed on hard as cool flesh met cooler flesh. "Don't go," she pleaded.

Saxon shook her head, using the connection of their hands to keep her firmly in place as she looked around for any sign of Carina. Fortunately, she knew that the other woman was likely to retreat and lick her wounds before trying anything else. Unfortunately, she knew that it wasn't over, not by a long shot.

"Meg, wha ... " Leah stopped in her tracks at the sight of the tall woman who had hurt her friend so much. She immediately noticed the joined hands and her eyes widened slightly. "Well," she recovered. "This is a surprise."

"Leah," greeted Saxon.

"Do I want to know what's going on?" Leah wondered aloud.

"I ... don't think so," replied Megan, who was the immediate recipient of a hand squeeze.

Megan looked back at Saxon and blinked, the odd lighting of the area made the tall woman's eyes almost glow with a sheen of red. By the time the blinking was done, everything was back to normal and after a second's pause, Megan said, "I think maybe Saxon has some things she needs to tell us."

"She does?" queried Leah.

"Yeah, after we make sure she's okay, I definitely think she does."

"I think we need to make sure you're okay," countered Saxon.

"Let's just get out of here for now," Megan requested.

As they turned to leave, Megan could see a thin mist begin to slide into the area they had just had an incredible incredible experience in, slithering into the space where Carina's body had been with furtive steps. Once more, moonlight covered the area, leaving a peace where she felt none should be.

It was terribly surreal and yet there was no doubt what had just happened. In a stretch of a few minutes, the world had changed. Along with that, she would start a new diary tonight and new chapter in her life. Where it would lead, Megan had no idea. However, there was one thing she did know.

It was more than time.

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