I’ve decided to post a 10k word version of this chapter. This a 2nd draft. Not to make excuses in advance, but far from a professional edit/proof read copy. One character, one chapter, from a 15 chapter book with a dozen characters. Not a short read!

December 2011

The first thought Shelby had when she woke up in her king-sized bed, the wall next to the bed needed to be cleaned. She had forgotten about the coffee cup that had fallen off of the nightstand last week during a heated argument with her boyfriend. The glass mug did not break, but instead bounced twice and rolled underneath the bed, eventually coming to a standstill out of sight, and out of mind. The battle had raged on for nearly the entire weekend, ending only because Gabriel discovered something interesting to watch on television. Last Sunday evening was not the first time that Shelby had been grateful to be far less important than everything else in her boyfriend’s life, otherwise, she would never get a minute of rest from his endless rantings.

Peeking from beneath her blanket cocoon, Shelby did not need to roll over towards his side of the bed to know that Gabriel had either not come home last night, or slipped out during the night. Her feelings on the matter were well beyond disconcerting, and far too enigmatical to attempt to process. After all, if Gabriel was not home, then he was not there to yell and scream at her. Although he always made sure to find, and possibly schedule, enough time to telephone Shelby for just that.

For several minutes, Shelby barely moved, instead she began a mental inventory of old cobwebs, brown coffee stains, and the accumulated dust and debris on the floor by the nightstand. Then the revelation, she must do something about the bedroom and the rest of the house soon before the house became overrun with something much worse, and even less clean.

Shelby could not wait any longer to pee. Regrettably, she stepped from bed, wearing a long-sleeved Pink Panther nightshirt and purple booty socks. She quickly scooted her way across the hall to the upstairs bathroom, kicking a pile of dirty clothes and sending them sailing along the hardwood floor with her.

Shelby had been sleeping for almost twelve hours, and she felt like the flow of urine may never stop. Stepping from the toilet to the large white porcelain sink to wash her hands, she could not help but take inventory of the woman in the dirty bathroom vanity mirror and commented to herself in a soft passive voice.

“So this is it,” she whispered.

She paused, glanced over her right shoulder towards the bedroom, and then continued.

“This is depression,” she said.

Shelby remained in front of the mirror for several minutes, examining her cheerless face, swollen eyes, and her disheveled unwashed hair. Gabriel had never hit her or abused her physically, but she would have preferred to be kicked or beaten. Anything would be an improvement over this current hell she had come to know as her life. Even though she lived in a five-bedroom house, with at times up to four other people, she lived alone and completely isolated from the world. She had become a prisoner in her mind and had recently begun to compare her situation to that of some lonely soul shipwrecked on an island, or wandering the desert waiting to die.

Shelby opened the medicine cabinet and stared at the row of small brown plastic bottles, each prescribed to one Ms. Shelby Candelaria. Using her right index finger, she poked a few of the small ugly bottles and examined several of the small red and yellow warning stickers. Each bottle screamed death in the language of the enemy, the language of pharmacy.

First closing her eyes, Shelby slammed the door nearly hard enough to break the mirror. She could hear the bottles fall over behind the glass. Dragging her fingers across the glass door, she looked at herself in the mirror for a second time, the look on her face changed dramatically. Although a very beautiful young woman, Shelby no longer felt attractive, but instead ugly and withered. She could not remember the last time anyone had told her that she was pretty, or had given her a single compliment. Gabriel’s idea of being kind, telling her that she was lazy, stupid, or needed to lose more weight. Her passion and will to fight back long gone, Shelby now chose to handle everything amicably, a skill Shelby had been forced to learn and practice during her current toxic relationship.

With thoughts of cruelty racing through her mind, Shelby could not keep herself from looking down at the new bathroom floor scale that Gabriel had recently purchased just for her. The last time she had placed her small shapely feet upon that soulless digital creation, Shelby had gasped, then quickly leaped back to the tile floor for safety. The LED had flashed 110 pounds, a weight that she had not achieved since the eleventh grade, and had absolutely no desire to achieve at the age of thirty-four.

“I used to be pretty.”

With her left foot, Shelby kicked the scale back behind the white porcelain toilet before looking back to the mirror.

“Who…are…you?”

Again Shelby looked over her right shoulder towards her cell phone, and then back to the mirror before her. With her left index finger, she began tracing the small mole below her left eye. Her physical beauty would not be enough to shield her, and Shelby began to shake as she realized that it was happening, once again the Gabriel trigger had been pulled, and her emotions began to rage inside like an animal shaking the bars of a small, and frail cage. She placed both of her small hands to her face, momentarily covering her nose and mouth with her small fingers, but it was no use, the flood gates would open regardless, and nothing could stop the inevitable.

Placing her palms on edge of the sink, Shelby began to cry, something she did every day. Sniffling out of control, she sat down on the edge of the bathtub with her head on her hands, trying to understand how this had happened, how her once happy and fantastic life had spiraled beyond her control to a life of darkness. Just five years ago Shelby had been in school, only to drop out just six months short of earning a Master’s Degree in Psychology. Gabriel had pleaded with Shelby, practically begging the young lady into taking some time off from her classes to help him with his kids, promising repeatedly that she would be able to return the following semester. Of course, Gabriel broke that and every other promise that he ever made to Shelby. It was all just another lie in a very long line of lies and ugly betrayals. Within a few months of Shelby dropping out of school, her primary care doctor, a woman referred to her by Gabriel’s Mother, recommended that she begin taking two different antidepressants, and a third medication for sleep. Two months later, the same doctor added an additional two medications, one for stomach problems, and the other for pain after Shelby began having tension and migraine headaches. Dependency upon the medications followed shortly, and it did not take long for Shelby to lose all of her passion and motivation. Piece by piece and lie by lie, with the help of Shelby’s first addiction, Gabriel chipped away at everything in her life that was good and decent. In the end, everything that made her happy or gave her joy had been replaced with something unclean and painful. As hard as Gabriel had worked to stifle and contain Shelby, the man had gotten in well over his head, and did not realize the depth to his girlfriend’s strength and power. Day after day Gabriel did everything possible to cause Shelby pain, and it was this insufferable pain that had ignited the spark in her mind, a secret place, hidden and unknown to Gabriel, and anyone else who did not have Shelby’s best interests in their heart. The result of the spark, a conspiracy of one. Four weeks prior Shelby created and executed a well-designed plan to reawaken her brain by detoxing herself from all of her prescription medication. The beautifully contrived scheme had been completely successful, and as of three days prior, Shelby was clean from all of her pills, something had seemed far from reach just five weeks ago.

Thirty minutes had gone by before Shelby’s head stopped spinning and she ran out of tears, her breathing heavy from not being able to inhale through her nose. Wiping her tears with both palms, she looked at the tattoos on her left hand. Years ago three of her fingers had been beautifully detailed with three rings, including her index, ring, and pinky finger. Each ring appeared to be just an outline. Every bone from those three fingers, along with some of her hand, and all of her left arm had been tattooed with the finest of skill using only black ink. Shelby had died earning her tattoos, now only to find herself dying once again, but this time there did not seem to be an end in sight, and she’d never felt so hopelessly lost. With thoughts of death and dying in the front of her mind, Shelby could not stop what was next; she could not help but think about how terribly much she missed her mother. Sadly, her mother had passed away several years ago from injuries sustained during an automobile accident; shortly after she had first begun dating Gabriel. Although never a racist woman, her mother had grown up during a period of racial unrest throughout the city, and the entire nation. Shelby concluded that her loving mother must have been considering those life experiences when she stressed to her daughter the difficulties and challenges the couple would be facing, her daughter being of Italian descent, and Gabriel being Hispanic. Shelby’s mother had continually asked her to stop seeing Gabriel, right up until the day before her untimely death. Shortly before her passing, the two women had conversed about men and relationships. Something her late mother had said that day while they enjoyed lunch together still echoed in her head.

“Shelby baby…a real man is a man who will wipe your tears…you must not settle for this man…don’t settle Shelby… please do not settle!”

Switching back and forth between English and Italian, her mother had said these words over and over the day before the accident; as if she was already pleading with her daughter from her own death bed. Shelby had definitely not yet found the man her mother had promised her. Not only would Gabriel not wipe her tears, but crying only made him angrier. Sometimes both of his teenagers would join in on the pain, teasing her at will, even when their father was in the same room. Instead of scolding, or even correcting his children, he seemed to encourage their wicked and cruel behavior.

“Death would be better…I don’t underst…” She said.

Cutting her words short, Shelby looked through the open bathroom door towards the bedroom and shivered. Once again, she could not shake off a terrible paranoid feeling. A movement caught her eye, and she glanced over her shoulder towards the medicine cabinet. Holding her breath; she froze, her eyes fixed on the mirror, and the reflection within it, a reflection that should not be there.

First closing her eyes; Shelby steeled her mind as best she could, then stood up and looked at the vanity mirror, followed by the mirror on the opposite wall. She had lived with Gabriel for four years and until now hadn’t noticed this one thing, something very unsettling. The mirror over the bathroom sink reflected the image from the mirror on the opposite wall, which reflected the image from the mirror in the hallway outside of the bathroom. The three mirrors worked together perfectly to reflect from the hallway into the bathroom, or vise Versa. As she looked down the hallway towards the living room, once again the line of sight ended with a large mirror. A theory began to take form.

“Damn,” she said.

The reflection from the mirror in the living room gave merit to her hypothesis, that using the proper line of sight from the front yard, someone would be able to peer through the living room window towards the large hanging mirror and be able to see down the hallway and into the bathroom. Shelby couldn’t help but wonder if this might explain the shadowy movements that she’d been catching from the corner of her eye; and her overwhelming sense of not being alone, particularly after sunset when the mirrors would be most effective.

“Ugh…disgustoso,” she said in the Italian Language.

Calculating that only a stalker would find pleasure in such a hobby, the young woman shrugged off several possible nasty possibilities, each more disturbing than the first. Not wanting to think about such dark and unclean things any longer, she took a deep breath and sat back down on to the lid of the toilet, carefully unrolled a small puffy pile of toilet paper, then proceeded to blow her nose several times in the most ladylike fashion. She’d been having problems with nose bleeds since last year, and immediately inspected the tissue for blood. At times she feared that she might be dying, or something much worse; dying slowly with absolutely nobody left to care for her.

Thoughts of being completely alone, and living within a world of lies and betrayal seemed to immediately usher in the cause of the young woman’s pain and suffering.

“Merda,” she said.

Shelby gasped and nearly jumped from her seat when her cellphone buzzed in the bedroom. She ran across the hallway and looked at the caller information: Gabriel Salas pulsed on the screen. The room turned cold and began to spin once more, forcing the young woman to brace herself with her left hand against the edge of the bed. Momentarily, Shelby was sure that she would throw up, right there on Gabriel’s side of the bed; a thought that brought a small grin to her thin pale face. She didn’t need to answer the call to know exactly what Gabriel would ask her: where are you and what are you doing?

“Damnit! Che cazzo,” she said.

Shelby had unintentionally allowed the clock to run down, and her quiet time was over.

“Times up…I can do this,” she said.

Shelby cleared her throat.

“He…hello Gabriel,” she said.

Her weak and timid voice squeaked, barely audible through her cellphone. In contrast, Gabriel’s loud voice seemed to cut right through her, his words inflicting more than enough damage to keep her in a place of helplessness.

“Where are you…what are you doing,” Gabriel said.

Shelby closed her eyes, breathed deeply, then opened them once more very slowly. In her mind, she had heard Gabriel say, “Where are you…what are you doing…you stupid…little…bitch!” Her brief sense of hope crashed, falling far out of reach.

She answered, “I’m here in the house Gabe.”

Sniffling terribly, Shelby considered running back to the bathroom for more tissue paper but her feet would not cooperate. Out of options, she grabbed one of the dirty shirts from the floor under her right foot, held it up to make sure that it was one of her boyfriend’s shirts, grinned, then used it to blow her nose.

“Nobody’s there…just you right…why are you sniffling,” he said.

Shelby could hear the tension in Gabriel’s voice, and her raging fear drove her suddenly from his side of the bed. She looked around, halfway expecting the man to jump out of the closet, waving his arms like a madman, screaming at her for not sitting and obeying like a good dog. Holding her cellphone with her left hand, she ran her right hand over her head, slowly pulling her hair back behind her left ear so that she would be able to hear Gabriel’s next verbal attack.

Shelby answered, “I’m all alone.”

As Shelby said these words, her dark reality smashed into her mind. She heard a loud pop and felt the accompanying sinus pressure as her head filled up with fluid once more, forcing her to quickly inhale through her mouth as tears streaked down from each of her eyes; now bright green like the cold Atlantic Ocean.

She spoke again, “The kids are still at your mother’s…and…and I think I’m catching a cold.”

Shelby wiped her tears and grimaced, hating herself for making such a stupid mistake. Knowing it was coming, she momentarily held the phone towards the ceiling and braced for the inevitable.

“Damnit,” she whispered.

Shelby placed the cellphone back to her left ear just in time to hear his cruel words. She knew what was coming, something cold and heartless from a stranger; not the same man who used to proclaim his love for her.

“You’re fucking sick again…what the fuck Shelby you’re always sick…what’s wrong with you…why…why…why…why do I stay with you Shelby….huh…can you tell me why?” Gabriel’s words were cold and matter of fact.

Holding her hand over the phone’s receiver, she spoke to herself in painful desperation.

“Non posso farlo,” she said.

It was at that moment that an idea came to Shelby, a flicker of hope in the back of her mind. Yesterday she had discovered something fantastic, yet slightly terrifying. After placing her cellphone on speaker, she could hear all of the ambient noise from Gabriel’s location. During the brief telephone conversation, someone had been whispering to her boyfriend, apparently giving him information or instructions of some kind. Shelby hesitated, struggling between feeling terribly small and being so very close to igniting another spark within her beautiful mind. Something a very close friend had once said to her echoed within the confines of that hidden secret place that Gabriel would never catch a glimpse of. At a very young age, and during their first date, the young man had told Shelby.

“Shelby…you are stunning in every way possible,” he said.

Not yet eighteen years of age, Shelby had not been able to translate her date’s cryptic words, and simply brushed them off as attempted flirtation. The friendship blossomed, and years later she asked him what he had been referring to, and the young man answered without hesitation.

“Shelby you are beautiful in every way. For me though…you are spiritually stunning first,” he said.

She shrugged off the memory flash and looked at the cellphone in her hand. For the very first time in her life, the thing in her hand did not look like a phone, but some kind of dark and menacing creation, intent only on causing as much pain and tragedy as possible; not unlike the man on the other end of the call.

“Babe I’m gonna put you on speaker while I’m cleaning up the bedroom…is that okay,” she said.

“Surrrrre Shelby…like you’re gonna clean something,” Gabriel responded.

Light-headed and dizzy, Shelby cringed as the blood drained from her head.

Gabriel continued, not caring or bothering to pause even for a second to listen for a response, “You know my mom plans to come over this weekend…you need to clean the house Shelby…to…day.”

Shelby trembled with fear, and her palms began to perspire. She could smell her own body odor from under her shirt, but forced this new revelation out of her mind, at least for now.

“Okay, Gabe I will…I promise I’ll start right now,” she said.

With the phone on speaker and the volume turned up, Shelby placed her ear to the speaker, straining to hear something; anything besides her cruel boyfriend. She searched desperately for the necessary words, a question or phrase that would trigger a revealing.

Finally, she said, “Gabe do you need me to pick up anything from the store for this weekend?”

“Fuck really,” Gabriel answered.

She could hear her boyfriend inhale deeply as if he was about to explode.

“Shelby…what did I just tell you,” Gabriel answered.

“Clean the house,” she responded timidly.

Shelby was on the edge of beginning to cry once more when she heard the man whispering. A surge of adrenaline hit her bloodstream like a supercharger, and she almost dropped the sweaty cellphone. The man’s voice; easily discerned as not being her boyfriend’s, whispered quietly but deliberately to Gabriel in the background.

“Tell her about the dogs…the dogs…make…sure…she goes downstairs,” the stranger said.

A brief silence. And then the stranger whispered once more, “Tell her now!”

Gabriel spoke next; his loud voice scared Shelby and once again she nearly dropped the phone. Her entire body was shaking, and sweat dripped from her nose to the hardwood floor.

“Shelby,” he said.

Then a pause.

Gabriel finished his sentence, “Shelby I put the dogs downstairs last night. There’s a hole in the run and they got out.”

Another Short pause.

“Make sure you check on them,” he said.

Gabriel had amped up his voice for the words, make sure you check on them. Shelby heard the other man’s voice once again, an ugly gruel voice like something from her last nightmare. Something about the man’s voice seemed very familiar, making her think that she either knew him or had met the man at least once before.

The quiet stranger spoke again, “She’s going with you tomorrow night…don’t forget…say it.”

Shelby’s heart raced, pounding like a drum within her chest. Her head felt incredibly heavy and sluggish from what seemed like hours of crying.

“Shelby…are you listening,” Gabriel said.

Gabriel’s voice seemed terribly loud and demanding, similar to what she expected a drill sergeant must sound like during Basic Training.

Shelby responded, “Ye…yes.”

She could hardly speak, terrified that her boyfriend would discover her revelation. Thoughts of what he might do to her flashed through her mind, and for a moment she considered turning the speaker off. Sweat was running down the inside of her nightshirt, and her thoughts of fear were once more replaced with thoughts of body odor.

“Tomorrow night we’re going to my mom and dads for dinner Shelby…Are you listening,” Gabriel added?

“Yes,” Shelby said.

“Do…not…forget what I said…and,” Gabriel added.

“Okay,” she said.

As she spoke the one word, Shelby’s thought processes connected to those of her boyfriend’s, something that had not happened since before her pill addiction. Before Gabriel could finish speaking she glanced up from the bed through the bathroom door, and directly at the medicine cabinet.

“Take your pills, Shelby,” he said.

Click!

The cell phone screen flashed.

CALL ENDED

Not only was Shelby not surprised that Gabriel had ended the call without waiting for her response, but she was relieved that he had chosen to be his consistent disrespectful self without the need for further equivocation. His level of complete disregard towards her did not have boundaries or limits, and she no longer cared.

Shelby sat starring at her sweaty cellphone, trying to wrap her mind around the astonishing events that had just transpired. She did not believe that her boyfriend was gay, on the contrary, she knew in her heart that Gabriel had another woman; or more than one other woman. She had found the indubitable evidence many times, and she no longer believed that he was trying to conceal his affairs in the least bit. Just one more slap in the face, and one more sign that her boyfriend had absolutely no love or respect for her.

“Ahhhhh!”

Shelby yelled as she balled her small hands into fists, looking left and right for something to break or throw. There was no use, she would only have to clean it up, and besides, she knew that Gabriel would notice if anything went missing; thereby checking the trash cans to verify her story if anything had been broken.

Shelby quietly added one last word.

“Prisoner,” she whispered.

Shelby might have sat on the edge of the bed, lost in her thoughts for hours if she had not heard the dogs howling in the basement. The dogs knew that she was terrified of them, and on several occasions had tried to bite her. Never in her life had any animal not befriended and loved Shelby until now, and she had invested an incredible amount of time and effort to try and win both, or even one dog over, but to no avail. Finally, she had given up last year when the larger of the two Pit Bulls had attacked her. Gabriel, both of his kids, and his son’s girlfriend refused to come to her aid, and instead simply laughed and made the situation worse by teasing the dog. Gabriel’s son had thrown several rocks at the infuriated animal, one of which had hit Shelby in the back of her leg. She had always believed that he had done it intentionally, and could still see the wicked sneer on his cold face, his face not unlike that of a stranger with malicious intentions.

Deciding it was past time to act, Shelby shimmied into a pair of faded blue jeans, a black tee-shirt with the word Coach stretched across the chest, and her favorite black throwback Converse Sneakers.

Hesitating between the master bedroom and the bathroom, Shelby stared down the hallway towards the living room. Although a short distance from where she was standing to the stairs, something in the back of her mind would not allow her to take a single step. She could still hear the eerie voice from the conversation with Gabriel, and everything about the man’s words screamed danger. It was at that moment that Shelby looked to her left, and into the bathroom towards the medicine cabinet. She needed help, something to get her through this terrible challenge.

“Just one,” she said.

Shelby’s brain begged her for help. The addiction that had taken over the past few years of her life screamed with the answer. She could take just one pain pill, just one and then nothing more. Shelby turned towards the bathroom but did not take another step.

At that moment the neighbor’s car alarm went off, the siren screeching from three houses away; loud enough to stop her from stepping into the bathroom.

“Fuck you,” she yelled.

First slamming the bathroom door closed, she immediately turned and began walking down the hallway towards the living room. The house seemed dirty and cluttered, far worse than she remembered from before going to bed the previous evening. Shelby didn’t slow or stop as she passed through the living room and dining area; instead of walking straight through the kitchen towards the stairs. She had already made the decision to not take notice of the dirty house and kept her eyes focused on the portal ahead.

The five-bedroom house had been built in the 1950s, but was in good condition, although unkempt and dirty from an almost complete lack of care and maintenance. Gabriel’s kids had graduated from high school almost a year ago. His son was one year older but had been held back once during the eighth grade. During their Junior and Senior years, Gabriel allowed his son Adam to move his girlfriend into the basement with him, something Shelby had tried her best to speak out against, but even back then she was outranked by everyone including the teenage kids. She was almost bursting with joy but pretended to be sad when the kids stopped coming home last summer, apparently bored with making her life miserable. Damaged from years of abuse, the basement had not yet recovered from the young residents’ disrespectful ways. Several of the walls, and both downstairs bedroom doors needed to be repaired; scarred from kicks and punches. Not even once since Shelby had known Gabriel, had he ever punished his children for anything, not even when the two little hoodlums had been caught spray paint tagging a neighbor’s garage door.

Shelby found the door at the top of the stairs closed, something she had never seen since moving into her boyfriend’s house four years ago. She turned away from the door, surveying the kitchen and dining area for something out of place, anything that might provide a clue or an answer. Even without the answer to the riddle, Shelby had knowledge of how these things worked; she had been educated in such matters. Although not visible to the naked eye, something was terribly wrong, something had been invited; something that should not be here had been knowingly invited into her home. Her emotions were building once more, all of the tragedy from the last five years combined with being alone. Not one shoulder to cry on, and not one ounce of empathy or understanding from the pretenders she had surrounded herself with. Shelby was reawakening, and the discernment process had begun. Absolutely nothing would keep her eyes from opening, and her mind from seeing.

Without warning, another revelation smashed into her mind: pain layered on pain, stacked on top of more pain. An endless barrage of the mental anguish brought on from the medication detox. With nothing to push back the tidal wave of emotion, Shelby could not stop her reality from flooding back in from the back of her brain. Real-life had returned and cared little for Shelby’s situation or her state of mind.

Gasping and covering her eyes with the palms of her small hands, Shelby tried desperately to push everything back, just a little bit so that she could breathe.

“Oh my God…damn…it,” she said.

Shelby realized for the first time that the kids had never referred to her as family. She had shouted it to the world, forever claiming Gabriel and both of his children. Not only had they not claimed her, but she had been a secret, something kept at a distance, like the hired help that prays desperately to be part of the family.

“No,” she said.

The little scream echoed through the house. This could not be true, she was depressed and still dealing with the death of her mother, even the doctor had told her this; explaining to Shelby the necessary grieving process. And her boyfriend, yes her loving boyfriend; did not pull a single punch, telling her repeatedly that she was crazy and needed a psychiatrist.

“You’re fucking crazy Shelby…you need help. Look at you…just laying in bed all day. Stop crying and get up. Did you take your pills!”

Even Gabriel’s mother had joined in last Christmas during a conversation with her son. Shelby had overheard every word while she was in the next room.

“Have you taken Shelby to the doctor honey? The poor dear needs help, she’s not right in the head Gabe. She’s becoming so…so paranoid.”

At the time, Shelby had a strange perception that Luna had made the remarks just loud enough for Shelby to overhear the clandestine conversation. Shelby dismissed the idea after realizing that by thinking such things, she would be validating Luna’s painful accusations.

Shelby turned back to the door, the thin wooden barrier standing between her and the dogs. She had to focus, put her pain aside and get this job done. If she could do this one thing, then moving on to another task would not be such an unclimbable mountain.

Shelby placed her right-hand flat on the door and closed her eyes. There was a time when this would have been easy for her, even routine. Within moments a connection would be made, revealing the other side of the portal. Although making fast progress, very little of the young woman’s extrasensory perception had returned, and those advantages would have to wait.

“Niente,” she said.

All she could see was darkness, everything was cold and black. Then, a loud scraping sound against the other side of the door. Shelby’s senses spiked, and she knew something was waiting, waiting for her less than two inches away; only the thin door separating her from them.

For several minutes, Shelby listened to the dogs, trying to come up with a plan, anything to avoid her boyfriend’s temper. Finally a solution, she would let them out into the back yard, but first making sure that the dogs could not get out. She did not want anyone getting hurt by her boyfriend’s dogs. She had always loved and trusted Pit Bulls; knowing that the breed’s bad reputation came only from a small percentage of dog owners that did not have any business owning dogs, owners such as Gabriel.

Shelby walked to the double doors that opened to the patio, hesitated, and finally opened the door on the left. She slammed the door immediately when the smaller dog snapped at her arm, it’s snout catching between the two doors.

“Damnit! Che cazzo,” she yelled!

Shelby sat on the floor with her back centered between both doors; began to reach for her cell phone, then immediately realized that her phone was charging in the bedroom.

“Lo sapevo. Lo cazzo sapevo,” she said angrily!

Shelby kicked several times at one of the kitchen table chairs, sending the wooden chair flying beneath the heavy glass top table. Much like bowling pins, the first chair knocked two more chairs across the wooden floor; past the bar and nearly the entire way into the living room.

A small smile began to form on Shelby’s lips, but then quickly faded away as she looked at her shoes with disbelief, her eyes locked on the filthy Black Converse Sneakers.

“When,” she whispered.

Shelby was shocked to see that her shoes were dirty, as were her blue jeans, socks, and especially her fingernails; something she had always held to the highest of standards.

“I’m disgusting,” she yelled to herself!

Shelby had not showered nor changed clothes for nearly one week, and until this very moment, had absolutely no idea of the severity of her depression. One again, a tsunami of reality and memories began to smash against her recently detoxed mind. The combination of painful truth, heartache, and loss, created yet another wave, a wave of intense fear and craving. Her mind began to race back down the hallway to the bathroom, the medicine cabinet, and the small brown bottles of pills. She could easily end the pain and suffering right this minute. The answer was right there, just down the hallway in the bathroom. Yes, the answer was in the pills, just a few pain pills and everything would go back the way that it was, and she could sleep the rest of the day. She wanted so desperately to cry, but something restrained her tears, something or someone would not allow the gates to reopen.

“No…Never again,” she screamed!

Once more, a car alarm screamed, sending a barrage of noise throughout the entire neighborhood, freezing Shelby’s mind and body. She listened intently, waiting for another sign but nothing followed. The overwhelming knowing could not be dismissed, for better or worse, something was coming.

Shelby sat unmoving, her dark brown eyes locked straight ahead towards the large window facing the street. Although her anger raged within, she could not help but romance one particular memory from years past. She had walked away from a handful of elite college scholarships to pursue a life of ballet just after highschool. She had scored thirty-three on her ACT, landing in the ninety-eighth percentile, the only one of her small graduating class to do so. In the end, her natural ability and love of dance had not been enough, and Shelby had fallen short at the Seattle School of Ballet, forcing her to move back home to her parent’s house in small-town Nebraska.

Several minutes had passed and Shelby had not moved, her eyes transfixed on her dirty shoes. Again, her anger began to rage inside her damaged mind and body. Again, unanswered questions held in check behind her lips. How did this happen? When did this happen? Where am I? Where is the real me? Something was coming, and nothing would stop it now. One by one household objects began to fall away, piece by piece everything within her field of vision flickered and vanished, until nothing was left except for her tired body. The only sound that she could hear was her own rhythmic breathing. The only thing that she could see was light. Everything else, all of the world, had fallen away as if the entire universe had vanished. Within a few heartbeats, a change began to take place, a vision formed before her eyes, and everything was clean. Hot sunlight warmed her skin. A light summer wind lifted her Chestnut Hair over her smooth brown shoulders, and she could smell fresh cut flowers. Smiling, Shelby looked at her washed feet and giggled joyously, small blades of grass poked through a layer of sand and river rock. Hearing the sound of running water, she looked side to side. Instead of a river, Shelby found herself standing before three small white rectangular buildings, perfectly featureless and lacking a single window or door. Everything seemed to come to a standstill, and for the first time in her life, Shelby could not feel what day of the week it was.

Within moments, another change began to take place, something as enchanting as the woman it was happening to. Shelby gazed with astonishment as the three tattooed rings on her hand began transforming in the most fantastic way. What had been three plainly tattooed rings on her left hand just moments before, had now sparkled with a life of their own.

“È tempo,” she said softly between giggles.

She could not pull her eyes away as the requisite writing came to life within each ring. The script, although extremely detailed and beautiful, was completely alien to the young lady who’s hand it had magically appeared on. Although familiar, she could not translate the language.

Without warning, an angelic voice whispered, “Shelby…go home.”

The voice was lovingly soft and reassuring, giving the young woman a feeling of security and belonging, something she had not experienced since her mother had passed away.

Once more the voice of an angel, “Shelby vai a casa,”

The soft voice was not that of a stranger, but of someone very close to her. The voice belonged to Shelby, and at that moment she knew what was coming. Knowing there was nothing that she could do to slow or stop the inevitable, the young woman attempted to brace herself for the impact.

“Ahhhhh…,” She yelled, grimacing with pain as Shelby slammed back into her body. The impact was hard enough to crack the window within the door just inches above her head. Completely dazed, and unable to do anything except breath for several minutes, she rested on the kitchen floor, listening to the chattering of birds just outside. Five minutes turned into ten minutes, still nothing but the sound of crows, and the uncharacteristic wining of Gabriel’s dogs on the patio. Both animals were crying and carrying on like never before.

Shelby turned, placed both hands on the door to steady herself, and then slowly stood up. Sharp stabbing pain in her stomach almost sent her crumbling back to the floor, and she nearly vomited.

A sudden thought turned to words.”I’m starving,” she said quietly.

As Shelby turned back around to face the dining area, she found herself staring at the kitchen clock. Until this moment, she had forgotten that the kitchen had a clock. She remembered buying the sunflower clock at a small market years ago during a road trip to Juarez Mexico. The friend she had traveled with suggested that they stop at a small market just outside of Santa Fe to do some souvenir hunting. Shelby found a small shop with a variety of sunflower decor, including the wall clock hanging over her kitchen cabinets, although sadly, now hidden under a layer of grease and grime. She closed her eyes as her mind filled with heartache. Now, more than ever, she felt an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame for how she had treated her friend; a man, unlike any other man she had ever known. An immediate question filled her mind, “Why did I walk out of his life?”

Knowing the power and importance of words, Shelby spoke to herself very softly, promising to make things right with her friend, “I’m so sorry…someday I’ll tell you…I promise.”

Suddenly, she remembered the last thing he had said to her, minutes before she walked away from him; every word and syllable came back to her.

“Shelby…I will always be here for you,” he had said softly while looking deep into her eyes.

Although friends since Highschool, their relationship had remained platonic right up until their final hours together. During the course of that friendship she had developed very strong feelings for the man, and now more than ever, she found herself needing to know if he felt the same way.

The house fell silent as both Shelby and the crows finished speaking at the same time. She did not hear the dogs, either outside, or downstairs, and that raised a high level of concern. She walked to the door and placed her ear against the slick wooden surface. Nothing, not a sound from the other side. The area behind the door was small, with stairs leading down to the left, and a door leading outside to the right. The door Shelby was standing in front of opened by sliding to her left, disappearing into the wall between the kitchen and the stairs. In one fluid motion, she unlatched the lock and slid the door one inch into the wall. The landing was dark, lit only by the sunlight passing through a single window in the heavy door to her right. The curtain, designed with a black and white pattern of various flowers, was old, faded, and unwashed, another victim of homeowner neglect.

Shelby slid the remainder of the thin wooden door into it’s hiding place. Completely stunned and bewildered, she said, “Where are the flipping dogs?”

She looked downstairs, and then at the light switch. The switch was on, but upon looking up towards the ceiling, she discovered that the socket was empty. At that moment, an overwhelming stench smashed into her brain.

“Oh my…ugh…that’s bad,” she managed to say while holding her nose and struggling to breathe through her mouth.

Shelby smelled the dog feces and noticed the tracks at the same time. She calculated the dogs had been in the basement, but somebody had let them out before closing the door; unfortunately not until after they had tracked their own poop up the stairs. The filthy footprints triggered a red flag in Shelby’s mind. She knew the possibilities associated with such unclean conditions, a sudden thought pressed forward, “unclean bring unclean.” Something she had been taught by her mother at a young age. Hoping that she was wrong, she pressed on. “Must be the kids… I just missed them,” she said half-heartedly.

First straining her ears for a response, Shelby yelled down to the basement, hoping for a sign of life, “Hello… Adam… Dez…Hey…Ninos!”

Nothing, not a sound came back from below.

“Desiree… Adam are you downstairs?… Hello hello hello,” she yelled once more, still hoping, and not wanting to give up.

The smell was bad, too bad to ignore. Peaking through the curtain first to make sure the screen was closed, Shelby opened the door to the backyard. Both dogs ran to the door and extended their front paws as high as possible, trying to get a look at whoever was standing behind the heavy protective barrier. The screen door doubled as a security door and had been designed to withstand intrusion, including large four-legged pets that weighed over one hundred pounds. An average screen door would not have lasted a single day, but the heavy black steel door remained nearly unblemished.

“Nice try…you can’t wheedle me with all that sweet talk you little monsters,” she said.

Shelby was not fooled, she knew from experience that the playful attitude was an act, and neither dog could be trusted even for one second.

Looking past the dogs, she could see the dog run and nearly every foot of fence in the backyard. Nothing seemed to be out of place or damaged. In the back of her mind, she knew something was wrong, terribly wrong, and completely upside-down. Cringing, she thought about the creepy voice whispering into her boyfriend’s ear during the last telephone conversation.

Both dogs had returned to what they had been doing, running back and forth along the fence between the yard and the alley. They had worn a path into the thin grass from two years of chasing everything that moved through the alley. This included people walking their dogs, bicyclists, and any automobile that dared to drive past the house.

Seeing that Gabriel’s dogs had both food and water, she made the decision to leave them be, and focus her attention on the basement. First stepped back into the kitchen, opened the junk drawer, and grabbed a small flashlight. First testing the light to make sure that it still worked, she clicked it on, and then immediately switched the flashlight back to the off position.

A quick furtive glance at the Sunflower Clock showed the hands hadn’t moved and were stuck at 11:11, undoubtedly due to the batteries being dead for years. Shelby couldn’t help but smile as she realized that the long-frozen hands had to be within minutes of accuracy; reflecting the current morning time.

With thoughts of, ” time to finish this”, Shelby immediately began descending the staircase, moving as graceful as a ballerina across a waxed stage. She chose each step carefully as not to make a trace of sound. Having lived in Gabriel’s home for several years, Shelby knew the house very well. Without understanding why, she had committed to memory each and every creak, squeak, and peep the old staircase would offer. The stairs were the only area in the house that still had carpet, everything else had been torn out several years ago, almost immediately after she moved into her boyfriend’s home. Gabriel had promised to install new carpet throughout the basement, but four years later, still nothing but dusty white concrete, and she was now thankful for his lack of motivation.

Pausing cautiously on the last step, completely silent and nearly invisible, she waited, straining each of her senses. The basement seemed unnaturally cold for June, and for a moment Shelby thought that she could see her breath hovering in the darkness. Triggered by the unclean environment, unanswered questions began to take shape in her mind.

Thoughts such as, “who are these people and why did they want her to remain here?” Most importantly, “how…did they manage it?”

Although not vain or full of herself in any way, Shelby was well aware that she wasn’t like everyone else. She had been educated since childhood, prepped by select members of her family for a path of enlightenment and spiritual growth. All of these preparations considered; she had somehow been distracted from her path of illumination and transformation, led astray down a road of blindness, eventually contained and imprisoned. Fortunately, her enemies had underestimated her resilience.

Momentarily losing track of time, Shelby remained on the bottom of the staircase, trying to answer her own questions before taking another step; before committing to the cold basement.

No answers, just more questions for her mind to battle with. “It’s all bad…it’s all wrong…it’s right there…but I can’t see it,” she thought to herself.

Using senses numbering far greater than six, Shelby reached out into the darkness, down the hallway, and through the next doorway. Behind that door was the laundry room, and the source. She could feel the thing that tirelessly waited for her, and it forms began to slowly take shape in her mind. She couldn’t help but wonder why somebody had gone through so much time and preparation just for this moment. Either way, she needed more information, she needed to discern the invader in its true form. Forcing a revealing was a complicated and delicate process, and must to be handled with great care if she was to survive the ordeal.

Shelby was well aware that it was all a trap. “Make sure she goes downstairs,” The man had whispered. It had almost worked, but she would not make it easy for them.

Another trigger, all of the pain from the last four years flooded back, everything these people had done to her. Within seconds a tsunami of clean and loving memories washed the tragedy away. Shelby could feel the mental partition begin to waver and fail. Like a wall built from hate, manipulation, and medication, the bricks were falling, no longer restraining her beautiful mind. For a moment Shelby thought that she heard herself growl in the back of her throat, something raw and primitive.

” Patefactus”, Shelby whispered one word.

Shelby arrived at a conclusion and a decision. Right here, on this step, she would do what she used to do, what she had been taught to do, what she had died learning how to do. No longer would she be weak and frail. From this moment forward she would call upon her resilience. She would speak the words. She would speak something into existence.

Closing her eyes and relaxing her mind and body, she prepared for the next step; not simply from the stairs, but a leap from the stairs and into the darkness. The connecting process began immediately, wiring Shelby’s brain to her surroundings, harmonizing the young woman to each element of the basement. Nothing escaped her new state of hyper-awareness. A smile formed on her lips as the hair on her arms and neck began to wave-like feathers, and a light-hearted giggle escaped her lips. She quickly began to split her mind between two tasks. First; remaining connected to her surroundings and finishing the revealing. And second; searching for help. The projection would carry her from the house and into the city. She desperately needed to find him and make an immediate spiritual connection, otherwise, she may never leave the dirty basement.

With each passing moment, Shelby could feel some measure of her strength returning. Making a fist with her left hand, she held that small fist to her lips, and then closed her eyes.

Her eyes still closed, she spoke softly into her small hand, “Ostende mihi,” causing the tattoos on her left index and middle finger to flash momentarily. Willing to sacrifice her scotopic vision, Shelby uttered the final syllable, then opened her fist.

**WHOOSH**

Her fingers remained outstretched towards the concrete wall on the far side of the room. The immediate effects of her words were certainly both bewitching, and perfectly dazzling. If by chance she would have had an audience, it would have seemed as if the young woman had made a wish upon a dandelion made of fireflies instead of pollen. The result was breathtaking as hundreds of tiny sparkling orbs shot forth from her opened hand throughout the gloomy room, each one seemingly with its own purpose and desire. The tiny explosion of orbs spread throughout the entire room, many of them finding their way to the laundry room, speedily passing beneath the tightly closed door with an agenda. The exquisite particles of light were fearless, and would not be constrained by any portal or being, either from this world or another.

Within seconds the wall to her left began to shimmer, with each pulse becoming more transparent, quickly revealing that which waited for her just paces away. Throughout the next room, each and every object glimmered, completely bathed with what some would certainly compare to pixie dust. The temptation to become a pixie notwithstanding, Shelby looked to her left just briefly, only long enough for a mental snapshot; and then forced herself to redirect her gaze anyplace else besides the filthy laundry room. The ephemeral effects expiring, within seconds everything faded back to its natural state; leaving her once more sitting in darkness, an island of beauty, poise, and elegance, surrounded by a sea of unclean.

A Highly Emotional Person since birth, Shelby now struggled with the Empathic Connection she’d just made. She couldn’t help but feel some measure of sympathy for what she had just witnessed through the laundry room wall. Very few could possibly begin to understand the reality of the situation. Quite simply; a person or persons had violated the balance of The Universe by manipulating something into this world with the sole purpose of using it as a weapon against her. Once again, the question was, “why…why would they do this?”

Knowing that she was all in and must continue to remain unfaltering at all costs, Shelby continued with the necessary words, her voice compelling and formidable.

“Detectus,” she slowly whispered, each syllable uttered with precise clarity, not unlike that of a foreign language instructor.

Shelby blinked twice and her eyes began to shimmer slightly. Drops of sweat ran down the inside of her nightshirt, tickling her from armpit to waist. First licking her dry lips; “Manufestatus,” she spoke once more, again with syllabus perfection.

Finding a patch of concrete free of dog feces and urine; Shelby knelt on the hard floor, sat down on her heels, then shifted her body so that she could work with both of her hands. She had always enjoyed this critical, and powerful step of The Revealing. For reasons unknown; something about it had always seemed intimate, even sexual in nature, something she had not experienced for nearly two years. Sex with her boyfriend was a forgotten thing of the past. Even in her current state of weakness and desolation, she could not lower herself to the level of Gabriel’s other woman. Her mother had raised her to be a lady, and what lady shares a man with another. Momentarily appreciating her own shapely body, Shelby smiled, very happy with the fact that he would never touch her again. “Hmmm…….nevvverrrrr,” she whispered to the darkness.

Then, with thoughts of, “hmmm……..I’m still very cute,” she pulled her hair back with both thumbs, adjusted her upper body in a cute womanly fashion, then reapplied all of her natural poise. Well aware of the level of danger she would be facing, she didn’t want to rush the next step. From this point on, there would be no such thing as a “little mistake.”

With her left-hand flat on the dirty basement floor; Shelby began to speak, and then paused. Once again: Another sign of the moment. Under normal healthy circumstances, she would have done the math long ago, easily turning one plus one into two. Instead; with her brain in a state of detox and clean up, she hadn’t known the answer until this very moment. The unclean state of the basement, particularly the heavy layer of dust covering the entire floor, would help to expedite the inscription process; something that would have been quite difficult under cleaner circumstances. Fortunately; she hadn’t listened to either her boyfriend or to herself, otherwise a broom and dustpan would have been applied long ago.

Shelby placed her left hand on the concrete and spoke briefly in the native language of both herself and that of her late mother, “cominciamo,” she whispered with another little grin, a wave of confidence flowing through her.

Still poised just as before with her rear end sitting on her heels, and her knees resting on the basement floor, Shelby would begin the process of forcing something into revealing itself. That which had been summoned and invited willingly into the house would now be challenged by a thirty-four-year-old. She felt neither apprehension nor fear.

As she pulled her hair back with her left hand, the three rings sparkled to life once more. Smiling once again with her progress, she began to trace a small symmetrical pattern with her right index finger on to the dusty white floor. A combination of both images, an inscription, the finished pattern was no larger than a vinyl record album. She spoke again, this time much slower, each syllable pronounced with crystal clear precision. Well practiced within her arts, Shelby had already prepared herself for the next incantation.

With exquisite poise, “Quod sit lux in tenebris constituta revelare,” she said, each word as smooth as silk.

Once again Shelby’s green eyes shimmered in the darkness, and she nearly threw up on herself seconds after the next surge of adrenaline hit her central nervous system. Her energy was screaming, soaring from her mind as she gave it direction and purpose. Speaking once more, this time much faster, she released the final incantation.

“Et lux in tenebris revelare quod celat!”

**BANG!**

The ear-splitting sound echoed through the basement like a sonic boom. Just as Shelby uttered the final syllable two things happened. One: Something quite similar to a flash of lightning. And two: An incredibly loud bang, not unlike a sonic boom. She’d prepared herself by closing her eyes tightly, but she had not expected the deafening bang, which brought a brief flash of fear across her face; not unlike being slapped unexpectedly by a large hand in the dark.

Shelby could see an image in her mind, an image so terrifying and unimaginable that she would never attempt to describe it. For a moment, she almost wavered, something that would have been suicide, or worse.

But in the end, she had forced the revealing of what hunted her, and it would never forgive or forget Shelby and what she had done this day. She had a new enemy, and that enemy would track Shelby for the remainder of her life.

Shelby breathed deeply, exhaled, and let it all go; sending everything that she had left in hopes of an answer. She was beyond exhaustion, her rage and adrenaline beginning to fade. Her stomach knotted, and she began to cough and spit. It was no use, too exhausted to stop the inevitable, she began to spit up on to the floor, covering the inscription with brown liquid. “Ughhhhh…that…is nasty,” she said.

Suddenly, a humorous thought, “I should have brought one of my ex-boyfriend’s shirts with me for just such an emergency!”

The event had taken her to the edge of death, and she collapsed on her back against the stairs. Pluckinga few bits of debris from her lips and face, Shelby smiled and whispered to herself, “thank you so much for leaving the carpet on the stairs.”

Wave of memories filled her mind, images of the last time she’d died. Abandoned in a dirty shed for days, nobody caring to check on her after she’d been poisoned by someone close to her. She recalled every detail. The filthy table she’d been placed on, dusty boxes of tools, and the hundreds of dandelions just outside; especially the one that she’d made a wish on just before closing her eyes.

As she laid on the staircase; her thin and frail body damaged from lies, false love, and betrayal, a peaceful thought pushed every other thought from her beautiful mind, “I’m ready.”

“Not one tear,” she whispered.

A response, “Shelby,” whispered deep within her mind.

“I’m here…I’m right here,” she responded, a combination of thought and feeling..

She closed her eyes.

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