Marin knew that she needed to snap out of her trance but what did she have to go back for. The bear at her side coughed his insistence. Sinking her fingers into his fur, she sighed. “You know, this place isn’t real. That means you’re not real. Not in a way that means you can boss me around.”
The bear bumped up against her side causing Marin to stumble. “Knock it off. I don’t want to go back and fight with Lindal. She’s so mad at me for sneaking out to go to the movies. I mean … what’s the big deal. I see other seventeen year olds in these trances, and they go to the movies all the time.”
As Marin dropped to the ground, leaning against one of the large trees in the landscape of her secret world, the bear nuzzled her face before giving her cheek a big wet lick. “Gross… what’s with you, brother bear? And why can’t I find your home?” Marin wiped the spit from her cheek, and examined her friend. The animal had been with her for so long, but any name she tried to give him seemed to upset the animal. He seemed to like Brother Bear, but all other names made him roar and begin to pace.
The bear had showed up in Marin’s secret world the first time she accidentally fell into a trance. He was nothing more than a cub, small and crying in the tall grass. No matter how hard she tried, Marin couldn’t find his momma. Losing his companionship would be devastating, but Marin always tried to feel where he belonged. She didn’t get along with her aunt, Lindal, but at least the woman would be able to find the animal in the real world and help him get home. That’s if Marin could ever sense where his home was.
She shook her head, began rubbing behind his ears as the bear got comfortable at her side, placing his head in her lap. “You know I would rather stay here with you. You’re my only friend.”
Marin had spent the few days in her secret world finding all the lost object she could. Her eyes sought out hidden objects, her ears listened for cries for help, and her hands took in the essence of anything she could reach out and touch. The last object, a wallet, had been lying forgotten under a park bench. Leather with ridged designs etched into the material, the wallet had held pictures and quite a bit of money.
She knew that her secret world was made up of all the places she had ever seen in her trances. She could hear the Ohio River cutting through the Tri-State area she called home. The house she lived in with Lindal was located just outside of Ashland, Ky. Close enough for Marin to feel like she could reach out and touch the Ohio and West Virginia borders. That’s if Lindal ever allowed her to leave the house.
The bear suddenly lunged to his feet, and began to pace. Marin looked around her landscape of apple trees and blue grass. She could hear frogs and crickets, smell the honey suckle in the air. Nothing seemed out of place. Nothing but the agitated bear that suddenly took hold of her shirt in his massive jaws and pulled her to her feet. After bumping her with his head, he plopped down on his haunches and waited, his head cocked to the side.
Marin slammed her hand down on her hips and looked to the sky. She needed to get the information about the wallet back to Lindal, but that didn’t explain her furry friend’s attitude. Taking a deep breath, Marin moved close and ran her hands along his fur. Closing her eyes she allowed her senses to run free. Still, nothing came to her. It was as if the bear didn’t exist. As if he had never belonged anywhere. She found the lost in her trances, so why couldn’t she sense anything about her friend.
Shaking her head, Marin wrapped her arms around his neck. “I will find your home one of these days.” Her voice came out as softly as the summer breeze ruffling her hair.
Stepping back Marin took a deep breath, and tried to mentally prepare herself to face Lindal. Rubbing her hands along her jeans Marin sent out a mental push as she whispered, “I’ll be back, Brother Bear. One day I’ll find your home. I promise.”
“Well, it’s about time. Do you know how put out I’ve been? You spent the last few weeks lazing about in one of your trances while I worry. Do you think this will change my mind? You can’t go out in public unprotected. Your abnormal abilities mean nothing to your safety. You will be attacked just like your mother. Like I want to go through that again. Maybe this is about seeking out danger. Whatever it is, you will stop hiding in your trances. You will-” Lindal’s voice continued to list all the things that Marin wouldn’t do but she was too shocked by her surroundings to listen.
Marin felt the uncomfortable twin mattress at her back, smelled the antiseptic and bleach in the air, and worst of all … she saw the tubes and monitors hooked up to her body. “Where am I?” Oh, she knew what it looked like, but why would she be in a hospital?
“I couldn’t keep caring for you by myself. I refuse to let you die before your time. After the third day of hand feeding your unconscious body, you stopped swallowing on your own. I got these people to do the dirty work for the last few weeks. Having to come in and make sure no one messed with your weak mind while you slept was still a hardship but I don’t care how many comas you put yourself in, I refuse to allow you to test me like this.”
“It was a trance. I didn’t put myself in it. It just happened. I-”
Lindal leaned over the bed rails, her face taking on a lovely shade of red. “Don’t you lie to me girl. I know all about your abnormal issues. That is why we do your exercises. There were ten hidden objects in the back yard that morning, and you located them all. This was about the movies, like I would ever allow you to watch something about dragons and magic. You already question me enough. But to have you running around unprotected, your weak mind open for others to mess with? I won’t have it. Do you want to end up murdered like your mother?”
“No, I swear. The exercises aren’t enough. It’s getting too hard to fight the pull to fall into a trance. When I get stressed I-”
“Are you saying that speaking with your aunt is stressful? That you’re too good to listen to what I have to say? I put up with you, feed you, and allow you to live with me and this is the thanks I get. We’ll see about this.” Lindal her face now a nice purple shade, her body shaking and her fists clenched, stalked from the room.
Marin felt her body start to relax as her aunt cleared the doorframe. She hated fighting with Lindal. The pull of her trances increased in strength when Lindal ranted. Oh, Marin hadn’t lied. It had become harder over the last few months to fight off the pull of a trance, but she could push herself out of one eventually. Once she managed to locate one or two lost objects, she could push herself back to reality.
Holding up the arm connected to a tube of liquid, Marin admitted – if only to herself – that she may have overstayed this time. Worse than fighting with Lindal was the thought of having the only family she had left mad at her. Marin hated the silent treatment more than any rant Lindal could come up with. She hated being stuck in that lonely house with no one to talk to. Still, a few weeks in her secret world had been worth the hospital stay. If she didn’t fear that Lindal would pull the plug – so to speak – Marin would allow fall back into the trance pulling at her attention. Instead, she focused on the hospital room and sought out the hidden and lost. She needed to get released, to comb out the rat’s nest growing on her head, and shave the forest of hair from her legs. Marin felt like she hadn’t seen a sponge bath her entire stay. Yuck, her mouth felt like a dried out milk carton with a fine layer of chalk. All else could wait. First she needed a shower and a large glass of water.
Marin read the newspaper that she had requested and that Lindal had slammed into her lap, after shoving her into a wheelchair. Where were the chipper candy stripers? The put out transporter, or as Marin thought of them … patient pushers? Even a nurse ratchet wannabe would be better than a pissed off Lindal. How in the world had Lindal convinced the hospital to keep her for three more days. She was sick of being poked and prodded, tested for every physical ailment under the sun.
The news was usually damn depressing, but Marin still wanted to know what was going on in the world she longed to be a part of. She read about the pie eating contest. The pictures of blueberry covered faces causing a chuckle to escape her mouth. There was something about a shooting over in West Virginia, which killed her amusement. Two dead, a man hunt, and questions over police ineffectiveness due to reduced presence in the area.
Marin remembered reading last week about budget cuts and layoffs for police departments in the Tri-state area. How could they prevent something like this shooting if they didn’t have the necessary manpower?
Flipping the page she found more about the pie eating contest and the local festival being held in downtown Ashland. Cotton candy, funnel cakes, carnival rides, craft stands, and more… Marin wanted to bounce in her seat. Festivals were excellent opportunities for her. People misplaced all kinds of stuff at fairs, carnivals, and festivals.
“Lindal… maybe I could keep the trances at bay if we went to the festival downtown. I could locate all kinds of stuff. I could-”
That was it. No. Nothing more. No reasoning, no replacement ideas, just No. Marin did her best to suppress her emotions, not to react. Taking a deep breath, she tried to convince her aunt. “If I want to stay out of my trances, then I need to be able to look for something harder to locate than your car keys. I need-”
“I have already come up with an alternative.”
When Lindal fell silent, Marin swallowed her curiosity and went back to her newspaper. Lindal would tell her when she was ready. Questions now would just incite rants and punishments, and leave Marin and her curiosity unanswered.
Marin walked into Finder’s Keepers, her nerves on fire. A week of waiting and finally she had answers. Lindal woke her up at six a.m. with a threat and a promise. Marin could work at Finder’s Keepers – if they were willing to take her – but only in the office. If she stepped out of line, or willingly slipped into her trance world when it wasn’t needed for her job, Lindal would make sure she never left the house again. They lived on a few acres of land but it was lonely. No visitors, no pets, and no escape. Sure, Marin could move out. She would be eighteen next year, but she didn’t have the internal shields that she should have been born with. Shields that would protect her mind, keep her safe. Lindal was the only family she had, the only one willing to protect her from those in the world that would mess with her mind. It wasn’t magic. Lindal had made that clear.
There were those that could use their own senses to confuse others, but only if you didn’t have shields to block their evil. Her mother had ventured out without protection, without internal shields, and ended up on the wrong end of a mugger’s gun. Lindal was harsh and abrasive but her rules were made to keep Marin safe. She hated the restrictions and her aunt’s gruff demeanor, but she understood and tried to respect the rules.
“Honey child, ya appear to be in the wrong place.” The woman’s purring voice broke Marin from her thoughts. An Amazon Beauty, dressed to kill, with the world’s smallest pug under her arm stood in front of Marin, seductively leaning up against the receptionist’s desk. Even her slight southern accent came across as purring.
Marin didn’t know how to answer. She looked around the office full of antiques and finely pressed workers. They ran around in suits filing their papers, chatting in small groups and straightening ties and skirts worth more than the hope diamond, and preparing for a day full of what Marin could only guess would be high class clientele. Even the pug looked highbrow. Ready to run back to Lindal, Marin swallowed the lump in her throat. “I-”
Before Marin could say more she spotted a man with more pose than the entire office combined. Dress pants pressed to in perfect lines, the silk of his shirt hanging in such a way to show off the strength of fine contours full of muscles and potential. Even his dress shoes were impressive, with a clean shine most only had while coming out of the box for the first time. But it was his eyes that froze her ability to speak, shining with a mixture of colors she had only ever seen in the mirror.
From across the room his eyes appeared to be the lightest of blues, but standing next to the Amazon and her pug, his eyes shown with an opal-like shade. They were lighter than her own but close enough to leave her in wonder.
Managing to look down at the taller woman, he glanced at her then turned those eyes Marin’s way. “I am Antonius Slade, though most just call me Anton. If you will come with me, we can get your test underway.”
“Anton? I don’t wanna rile anybody, but with ten new Finders to show around. Ya don’t have time for another pischouette under foot.”
Marin didn’t know what a pischouette was but she didn’t think the term was complimentary.
Anton managed to smile with just one corner of his mouth. “That will be all, Makayla. We can talk about training assignments after Miss Yarthine takes the test.”
“As ya like, Sugar.” With that Makayla turned and swayed her way out of the waiting area, and went to perch on someone else’s desk.
Anton turned to Marin, his posture falling into relaxed lines. “If you will come with me, my dear, we can evaluate your abilities. Your aunt managed to convince me, even though the age limit is twenty-one.” Marin followed him down the hall and into a meeting room as he continued to talk. “I prefer to work with Finders that have gone through their Transition. After your twenty-first birthday you will know which of your gifts will stabilize and which will grow. No offence, but most your age are unable to use their heightened sense.”
Anton moved to the large meeting table, piled high with charcoals, sketch pads, and a few pens. Marin twisted her fingers, chewed on her lips and estimated her chances of getting out of the room before he turned around.
“Is there a problem, my dear?”
Damn… too late. “Well… usually I use canvas and oil paints.” She then rushed on, her words running together. “I’m sure this will work.” Marin felt sure that she could still use a sketch pad. It had been years, but hopefully the basics were still there. It would make her trance harder to get down. With paint and canvas, her body knew how to depict what she saw, felt, and heard… all without the need to come out of her trance.
“Hmm… I believe I will have Makayla run out and get the supplies you are in need of.” Anton cocked his head to the side, before nodding to himself. “Yes. That will work nicely. For now, I will have you start on the written portion. My second in command, Cedric, will bring in object that will test your senses. Usually we use wine in the taste portion of the test, but the other three objects will still work. I will work on locating something to replace the wine. Even someone that has never had a glass can tell what fruit was used in its production. As well as a number of other attributes. Just get comfortable and Cedric will be with you momentarily. After we test your senses, I will ask you to work a Find. I will give you an object with the essence of someone, someone the police would appreciate speaking with.”
Marin watched Anton leave the room. Did he not realize that Makayla was dangerous in that southern way where you only see the smile on her face? You completely miss the knife going for your heart. Marin never wanted to get on Makayla’s bad side, but that looked like a lost cause. Especially if Anton kept sending her on errands for Marin’s needs. Yep. Anton would just make this a hostile working environment.
Marin tried out a few of the seat, picking the most comfortable one, and started looking through the art supplies available to her. She wondered if Lindal was allowing her to take this test because she believed that Marin would fail. Taking a deep breath, she rolled her shoulders and prepared to ace whatever test they threw at her. By this time next week, Marin would be working as a Finder. No matter what.
Anton watched through the glass doors to the conference room. He couldn’t believe how well this girl was doing. She had a mastery of all five senses that he had never seen before. At this point, only her age held him back. Even with the last test where she would work a Find for them, he could see her potential.
Cedric had given Marin some toast with grape jelly, while she sat blindfolded. The blindfold wasn’t necessary but it did deprive her of one of her senses. They had decided to see just how good she truly was. One bit and she had managed to name the food, as well as all the ingredients involved in their productions. White wheat toast with jelly made from concord grapes grown in the Yakima Valley in Washington. She was doing Direct Finds while eating her toast. They didn’t need such a complete answer but if was too amazing to interfere. Anton had stepped back and watched as Marin continued to tell them the brand of toaster oven used, what she could feel about the person working the toaster, and feel of the wind through the tree as a farmer harvested the wheat to make the bread. When she started talking about the rain in Washington, Anton had stepped from the room. He wanted to forgo the last test and just hire her now.
The woman from his dreams had told him to keep her close, and working for him was pretty damn close. If her aunt’s request had been the only swaying factor he had to consider, the answer would have been now. Marin’s aunt had been making appointments, sitting in his office, or just hanging out in the waiting room every day last week. Still, he had held firm. Then he had a dream where a hooded woman pleaded with him to watch over Marin. That pushed him to allow this test, but no more.
Watching Marin work, he wanted to sign her, give her a bonus, and plead with her to work overtime. With her skills they could take on twice as many clients. That’s if the last part of the test didn’t freak her out.
Makayla slammed the easel in her arms down beside him, allowed the bag of paint supplies to fall to the floor. Without another word she stalked away, which was completely unlike the fiery southerner. No polite rant, and her stalk lacked its usual sexual sway.
Chuckling to himself, Anton focused back on the conference room as Cedric finished up and made his way to the door.
Cedric stepped into the hallway and quietly shut the door before saying, “This is a bad idea.”
Anton crossed his arms, his head slanting to the side. “You do not think we should hire her?”
“Hell, yeah we should hire that girl. I don’t care how old she is. But asking her to work on the same Find that we had the other applicants work on is a mistake. We could be scarring that girl for life.”
Anton pinched the bridge of his nose and turned his back on the conference room. “You are right. I know you are right. That does not change the fact that we need information.”
“I know, I know.” Cedric paced in small circles, glancing into the conference room every few other turn. “I got it. We can ask her to look at just part of the crime scene evidence, and to … I don’t know … ignore the bloodier parts of her trance.”
“That is not how a trance works and you know it.”
Cedric stopped pacing, and focused on Anton. “Then we hire her and ask her to skip the Finder’s Trance. If she does a Direct Find, she should get less than if she slipped into a trance. But after watching her work, anything she gets will be more than the police currently have.”
Anton knew this was a bad idea. He should just hire Marin and be done with it. He should ignore his need for information and send her home for the day, or maybe he should go ahead and show her to the empty office that he was ready to put her name on. Going against his better judgment, Anton handed over an evidence bag and watched as Cedric went to initiate the last test.
Marin could feel her eyes bulging out of her head as she watched Cedric move towards her with a clear baggie that held a very deadly looking gun. Before she knew what she was doing, Marin was scooting her seat away from the conference table. She had worked dozens of Finds but one look at the weapon and she could feel her sense trying to pull her into a trance. She stood up as Cedric placed the gun on the table. Before he could say a word, she opened the bag and held the grip firmly in her hand, allowing her need to slip away to take over.
Instantly, Marin knew where she was. She remembered the news article about the gunman that had shot up the Huntington Bestbuy. The alarm blared overhead as she watched blood seep from a man’s chest wound, his eyes beginning to glaze over. Blood splattered in every direction as the gun went off once, twice, three times. Her own body jerked as she watched the bullets slam home into a teenage stockboy and what Marin could describe as a soccer mom. Marin watched as the stockboy tried to drag his body to safety, only to receive the third bullet.
She didn’t know where the rest to the customers and store employees were hiding but she hoped they managed to stay out of sight. Marin would have searched the room for their hiding places but her eyes refused to move away from the small pair of cleats, barely seen behind the isle to the gunman’s left. Marin wanted to jump up and down, she wanted to scream, do anything to keep that evil man’s attention away from small feet.
It was harder than usual to make out facial characteristics, but Marin pushed. She ignored everything but the man holding the deadly weapon. She could make out a scar on his neck and a tattoo on his right bicep. She knew where he purchased the gun, where he was when he loaded the bullets, and what he drove while carrying his firearm.
Marin was focused on the man’s build and his walk as he searched the store, when the alarm suddenly cut off. That’s when they heard it. A small whimper came from the owner of the small pair of cleats, causing the man to whirl around and Marin to jump into his path – as if she could change what would happen next.
She watched him stalk across the room trying to remember if there were three dead or four, if the article had said anything about wounded or kidnapped kids. Marin threw her hands into the air but as the man got within touching distance her perception of the room changed, allowing her to watch as he took hold of one tiny ankle to pull out his prize.
The child was screaming for his mommy, gazing at the woman dead on the floor. The gunman tossed the crying burden over his shoulder and ran from the store. Marin followed just in time to watch a rusted pickup truck race from the parking lot as a gun flew from the driver’s window. She didn’t know if the license plate was a fake. Just incase, Marin quickly memorized the letters and numbers, determined to give Anton as much information as possible.
Anton and Cedric had been working together to change out the canvas Marin worked on every time she froze and glanced around as if searching for a place to paint. They had quickly figured out what to do after her first pause. She had glanced around, but with no new canvas to work on, Marin had begun painting on very expensive side table meant for refreshments during meetings.
Marin’s eyes were wide as she sat staring at the gun in her hand. Before Anton could move or say anything, she dropped the gun and proceeded to throw up with wracking sobs.
Cedric handed her a wet face towel as she began to quiet. Marin whipped her face with the cool cloth, and Anton felt sure that she would want to pass on the job when she said, “I need to see that car.”
It was the last thing he expected, and Anton decided that showing her to her new office could wait. The car had been seen on the video tape and found abandoned three blocks from the abduction sight.
Cedric took her soiled face towel and handed her another. “Are you sure you want to do that? We don’t know what else you might see. If could be worse than the handgun.”
Marin squared her shoulders and nodded once. “I want to help. Want to get to that kid as soon as possible.”
Her hands were shaking but Anton could read the determination in the set of her lips. Her emotions were hidden, even though he could read emotions better than he could read facial features. He didn’t understand why, but pushed his curiosity to the back of his mind and focused on how best to use his new asset. Marin had more talent than all of his resent hires combined.