Failed NaNo Friday: Headlong Part Three
“Ken, he’s been stuck in there for six hours now, in the dark. He’s hurt. He’s confused. We need to try to help him.” Cora was pacing, repeatedly running her fingers through her still damp hair. She’d let Ken talk her into sleep and then a shower while he and Stacy took turns guarding the door that used to lead to the kitchen. And she did feel better for it, but she couldn’t stand waiting outside any longer, not knowing what was probably happening behind the door. She’d barely exchanged three words with Ward since they’d met, but she knew all too well what he was going through, and no one deserved to have to deal with that alone.
“Cora, I hear you,” Ken began in his I-know-better tone, “but he was violent, and he’s probably worse now. We’re not equipped to restrain him without hurting him. We need to wait for…” he trailed off as footsteps approached on the porch. When Lucas stepped through the door, looking wrung out, Ken fell into such an obviously staged casual pose that Cora couldn’t help rolling her eyes.
For his part, Lucas burst out laughing. When he had his control back, he grinned and waggled his eyebrows at the two of them. “You, ah, working on the door there, Ken?” Following his gaze, Ken flushed when he saw the obvious signs of what he’d done six hours ago: the hammer propped against the jamb and the collection of small pieces of scrap wood jammed underneath the door as makeshift wedges. He put on a stern face and opened his mouth, but Lucas cut him off. “Hey, it’s cool. I don’t need to be asking any questions about any secret ninja witchcraft stuff.”
Ken turned even redder. “We are not witches!”
Lucas’s grin widened, and he winked as he backed across the room. “So, just ninjas then. Gotcha. Mum’s the word.”
As Lucas disappeared into the hall Cora wondered Where was he all night? Then realization hit her and she was chasing after him. “Lucas, wait up!”
Lucas stopped at the door to his bedroom and leaned casually against the wall. His face was serious, though. “What can I do for you, Cora?”
Cora stopped at the foot of the stairs and grabbed the top of the post with both hands. “Lucas, where did you go last night?”
A little sarcasm slipped back in with his reply, “A gentleman never tells, my dear.”
Cora shook her head. “Badly phrased. Did you see Ward last night?”
He nodded. “Yeah. I dropped by his place pretty soon after I left here, and we hung out for a while. Why?”
“Did he seem… strange?”
Lucas suddenly looked around uncomfortably. “Cora, where’s Gunner?”
Cora leaned forward intently. “I haven’t seen him since last night. Why, did Ward do something to him?”
“What? To him? No. We just talked. It, ah, turns out Gunner is Ward’s older brother, and they don’t get along, but I don’t think he would have done anything, no.”
Cora’s eyes narrowed. “Then why did you just get so nervous?”
Lucas rolled his eyes. “Because I’m tragically genre-savvy. Saying ‘Yeah, girl, turns out your boyfriend is my best friend’s older brother, but get this, my man Ward says your main squeeze is a sociopath,’ is a one way ticket to ‘He’s standing right behind me, isn’t he.’ It’s called ‘class,’ dear. And speaking of class, my aforementioned main man is way too classy to have done anything sneaky to Gunner, bad blood or no bad blood.”
Cora nodded and grimaced. “Normally I’d just take your word for that, but Ward wasn’t himself last… Wait, what do you mean, ‘sociopath?’”
“His word, not mine. He says it’s always like it’s been this week with… with us. Says Gunner comes on all charm and cool at first, then when he gets bored he gets mean, and eventually he just vanishes down the road again, and if you’re lucky you didn’t lend him your car or your…” Lucas trailed off, obviously searching for a replacement for the word he didn’t want to say.
“Heart.” Cora finished. “Well, that’s not good news for anyone.” She stopped and shifted uncomfortably under the weight of what she knew she was about to ask.
Lucas capitalized on the silence as he so often did. “What’s going on with Ward, Cora? What do you know about who he was last night?”
Cora sighed and closed her eyes for a second, gathering herself. “Ward needs help, Lucas. You can help me help him, if you’re willing to get involved with our secrets. But it won’t be pretty.”
Lucas stepped toward her, scowling. “Does Ward need help because he got involved with your secrets, Cora? Did you guys drag him into something?”
“Yes and no, in that order. I don’t know how it happened. If we’re lucky he’ll be able to fill us in when he’s out of danger. I’ve told you all I can tell you unless you’re going on.”
Lucas sighed and rubbed his tired eyes. Then he dropped his hands to his sides and nodded solemnly. “I’m in. Now what’s going on?”
Cora stepped around the post and held her hands up in front of her, as though in prayer. “Not just yet. Hold your hands up like this.” Lucas raised an eyebrow but did so. Cora then clasped her hands around his and held them tightly. “Repeat after me. I, Lucas Martin…”
“I, Lucas Martin…”
“…will keep the secrets that Cora asks me to keep, listen to Cora when she tries to tell me something important, and generally not be a jerk.” Lucas bit back a laugh and repeated her, and she smiled but did not release his hands. “And I, Cora Lessing, will try to keep you from getting in over your head, not keep secrets from you for no reason, and generally not be a jerk. In the light of order, let it be so.” She nodded at him by way of prompting, and he repeated the last sentence.
“Good,” she said, releasing his hands. “Let’s get you a cup of coffee while I give you the short, short version.”
Five minutes later they sat at the kitchen table. Lucas was experimentally sipping a cup of instant coffee and Cora was wracking her brain for a way to explain quickly the broad strokes of what he would need to know. “You know the word ‘chaos,’ right?” She waited for Lucas to nod and continued. “Only what you know is small-c chaos, the absence of order. The same way that cold is the absence of heat. What we’re dealing with is big-c Chaos, which is a force all by itself. True Chaos is capable of literally anything, but it burns itself out quickly. The world just won’t accept it for long. But when it goes, things are… different. When a person encounters Chaos, it drives them insane if it doesn’t kill them. But sometimes, and we don’t really know why it happens when it happens, sometimes people survive, and manage to keep, or rather regain, their sanity. And those people wind up with… secrets. Like me, and Ken, and Stacy.”
“Ninja witchcraft secrets?”
“Essentially. We can all do… tricks, I guess. This is coming out all wrong.” Cora shook her head in frustration. “I’m distilling too much and it’s coming out stupid.”
Lucas set down his coffee and held up a hand placatingly. “This is just the short short version, so let’s focus on what’s up with Ward, hmm? I’ll ask more questions later.”
Cora nodded. “Okay. Ward showed up last night, hostile and raving. I know it doesn’t sound like him–from the little I’ve been around him, I’d say it’s not like him. But it happened. I suppose he could just have gone crazy, but I have reason to believe that he survived a brush with Chaos and was suffering the aftereffects.”
Lucas dropped his hand. “Is he all right? What did you do with him?”
“We… we trapped him, Lucas, and soon we’re going to have to go in and see if he’s all right. That’s where you could help us out. You know him better than any of us, you have the best chance of getting through to him if he’s still confused.”
Lucas looked over at the door from the kitchen into the living room. “Is this connected to Ken’s sudden home improvement project?”
“Yeah. We trapped him behind the kitchen door and then Ken wedged it shut.”
Lucas shook his head. “I know I’m going to regret saying this, but, you do realize that we’re behind the kitchen door, right?”
Cora let herself smile a genuine smile. “Not exactly. Come with me, this is really cool.” Cora led Lucas, still holding his coffee, back to the living room the long way. Ken was still leaning on the wall. “Ken,” Cora said, “Lucas has agreed to go in with me and look for Ward. Would you open the door?”
Ken looked sour, but he nodded and set to work. As he knocked wedges free, Cora pulled a pair of flashlights from her backpack, then zipped the pack closed and shrugged it on. Lucas just took a long drink from his coffee and waited. Ken finished with the hammer, set it aside, and cleared an errant chunk of wood from the door’s space. “Lucas,” he said, “I assume Cora’s told you that we’ve got certain talents. Well, this is mine.” After a beat, Ken swung the door open. Where the kitchen should have been, there was instead a dark empty room. Bare, smooth concrete floor and ceiling stretched as far as the light let them see, and there was no sign of any wall.
Lucas sighed and drained his coffee.
“I… I wasn’t expecting this reaction, Lucas, I’ll be honest,” Ken said.
Lucas just shook his head and walked up to the door. He set his coffee mug down just on the edge of the carpet, then used the hammer to push it across onto the concrete. Then he stood up and walked out of the room. After a few seconds of confused anticipation, Ken jumped aside as an apple bounced out of the door, unseen until it cleared the threshold. Lucas stepped through after it, shaking his head. “I was really hoping you guys were just crazy.”