Timeline: April 17, 2005

Honoré had been in hospital following the tragedy that killed her parents. She remembered a man in black entering her room and standing near the monitor that was regulating the pain medication, but then he had disappeared when the chaplain arrived.

His visit was short and despite his religious background, Honoré couldn’t help but feel grateful he’d arrived when he did. She was still too weak to leave, especially after the grueling questions she had to ask about the attack that had ultimately left her parents dead and her here in the hospital. Yet, she knew she had to, and soon. That man would be back.

And just when she needed help the most, that’s when she met Hamilton. Of course, she didn’t know he was a friend at first.

The attack had left muscles in her back severed, or at least badly cut up, preventing her from being able to walk or even sit up without assistance. So when she felt a weight suddenly spring onto the bed and press her legs down, it was all she could do not to scream. She strained her eyes down to see what it was, but she was lying flat and couldn’t see past the small mounds of her breasts.

Then she felt little footsteps creeping cautiously up her leg. And it felt heavy, those little feet felt like they had thirty pounds behind them! Each step pressed painfully down upon her leg as it walked a few steps, paused, then walked some more.

Slowly, the monster came into view. It was a cat! Just a little, domestic house cat. Looking at him, Honoré saw he couldn’t have been but ten pounds, not thirty. Cat feet simply seemed to have the ability to transfer all the weight of a kitty onto a single paw somehow. Long black whiskers twitched as he sniffed and big yellow eyes seemed to search her face. Then the black-furred kitty sat on his rump (now positioned squarely on her diaphragm, which made it a bit more difficult to breathe).

And he spoke to her. Hi there!

She just stared at him. “I must be hallucinating. Or dreaming. They don’t allow cats in hospitals. And cats don’t talk.”

He sniffed the air dramatically and feigned taking offense. Of course they talk! he scolded. And I should know, shouldn’t I?

Anyway, he said huffily, you called so here I am.

“I called you? No I didn’t. You’re not a cat. I don’t even know what you are.” Her eyes widened, and panic combined with an almost unreasonable rage started to rise in her. “He sent you, didn’t he. The man in black.”

You should never argue with a cat that can reach your morphine drip button, he advised.

Now see here, Miss. It occurred to Honoré now that not only did this cat talk, but it had a British accent. You did summon me. I might have taken a bit to get here, but it seems to me you weren’t yourself till lately. But now I’m here and since you can hear me, we’re bonded. He said it simply as if it was an obvious, unchangeable fact.

She opened her mouth and then closed it again. “You have a British accent.” Honoré shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I still don’t understand. Why did I summon you? When did I summon you? How did I summon you? I don’t remember…” The frustration she felt at the whole situation began to overwhelm her again, and her eyes filled with tears.

Don’t you worry now, young Miss. The small cat nudged her with it’s little muzzle and licked her nose. They aren’t going to hurt you anymore. And now you’ve got me to look after you. I’ve taken care of everything. Now let’s get you on your feet so we can get out of this place before that dark fellow comes back.

“But my back. They cut up my back really bad. I can’t even sit up, let alone walk.”

Now now, I said I’d look after you, didn’t I? I’ve gone and fixed you up already. He hopped to her pillow and encouraged her from there. Sit up then. It’s all right.

With a frown, not quite willing to believe what the cat said, Honoré cautiously tried to sit up. To utter amazement, she did, and without the slightest twinge of pain. She sat there for a moment, then with a brilliant smile she scooped the cat up into her arms and hugged him tight. “Thank you, oh thank you. I don’t care how you did it, but thank you!” She kissed the top of his little head, and then a thought occurred to her. “I’m sorry. I don’t even know your name.”

Me either, he said. At least, I don’t have any proper English name. Why don’t you give me one?

“A proper English name? What name do you have?”

His response was a faint swirl of scents that smelled somewhat like a cat. Does that help?

“I’m afraid not,” Honoré said with a smile. She took the cat in her hands and held him out so she could get a look at him. “You look like a… Hamilton. That’s a good and proper name for a good and proper British-sounding cat.”

Hamilton purred. I like it! Hamilton. Yes, that will do nicely. Now, what do you say? Shall we get out of here?

“Yes!” Honoré set Hamilton down and moved to get out of bed, but then stopped. “There’s only one problem. Well, two. I’m connected to all these machines,” she said, looking at the tubes sticking out of her arms (and thinking of the catheter), “and I don’t have any clothes. The police took what I was wearing as evidence.”

Let’s not worry about the wires and tubes. Just pull them out. We’ll be gone in a moment and we can worry about your clothes once we’re some place safe, he advised.

Honoré’s answer was to start pulling. When she was done, she jumped down off the bed. “Let’s go.” She was self-conscious about the gap in the hospital gown she wore, and tried hard not to reach behind her to hold it shut.

With some effort, and Hamilton’s help, she was able to evade the staff and disappear into the night. It was to be the last time she saw Baltimore for a long time.

The mall was Lyla’s idea. She’d said she needed a return to civilization after weeks on the Appalachian Trail to replace some personal basics that were just too worn out. They’d left the trail yesterday and thumbed their way down the road until they got to Springfield. There, they’d spent the night at a cheap motel and got cleaned up, then Lyla said she needed to find some underwear and other necessities so a trip to the mall was in order.

She’d headed off to find some new underwear and things so she left Ramiel to wander a bit while she took care of business. It hadn’t taken him long at all to find what he needed, so for lack of anything at all interesting to do in the place, he’d wandered into the bookstore.

Meanwhile, Honoré had had been on the road for weeks now, with her ever-present traveling companion, Hamilton. The little black cat seemed to have a knack for not being noticed, and managed to remain close by even in places pets weren’t allowed — most of the time. It seemed that the little fellow could hardly resist a chance for attention and massages, so he tended to hop into Honoré’s arms at the most unexpected times.

Having no place to go, she’d fixed in her mind the image of the kind man to whom she’d given her lucky penny. And, for lack of knowing what else to do, she had been trying to find him for all these weeks. It was a monumental task for anyone to find a drifter like him, but fortunately, Honoré had a slight edge. While she had no way of pinpointing where he was, she did have the ability to make “lucky” guesses. In fact, she was almost certain she’d find him at a little speck of a town in Connecticut named Cornwall Bridge, that mostly had significance because it had a bed and breakfast right off the Appalachian Trail. Unfortunately, she’d missed him by two days, or so said the helpful innkeepers she’d spoken with.

Honoré found her way into Springfield, Massachusetts. She was down to her last ten dollars, and she’d lost the battered old road atlas the kind trucker had given her. She hoped to find a bookstore at the mall, and hoped even more that she’d find a replacement at a steeply discounted price.

She tried to walk through the mall, her head held high, but she knew mall security was watching her. She was a bit scruffy, a bit dusty (she could use a bath), and not exactly dressed for success. Still, she had every right to be there.

Honoré eventually found the bookstore and slipped inside, heading straight for the bargain books. To her delight, she found a road atlas. It was a couple years out of date, but she didn’t care. Highways and towns didn’t just get up and move.

At that moment, someone knocked some books off a shelf. When Honoré turned to look at the commotion, it was like someone flipped the excitement switch in her head.

She’d found him! Ramiel, the man who’d been so kind to her. She couldn’t believe her luck. Honoré walked towards him, skirting the displays and the pile of books on the floor to stand behind him.

“Hi!” Her smile lit up her face, almost banishing the fatigue and worry hounding her. “I can’t believe I finally found you.”
Ramiel turned around, closing the book he was browsing through, with a look of surprise forming as the dusty figure came into view. “Found me?”

“Yes! I’ve been trying to find you, following you along the Trail since… Well, for just over a month.” She paused for a moment, the look of happiness in her face starting to fade. “Don’t you remember me? I gave you my lucky penny.”
He took a moment to look her over. In his mind he imagined the girl without the mess and muck on her. It was her.

“Ah, yes.” He removed a necklace from around his neck. It was a thin, delicate chain with a single charm dangling from it. The penny had been cleaned and edged with silver. Lyla had given him the strangest look when he asked her to arrange it for him. She had said it was stupid to keep it, but there was just something about this one that made him want to keep it. Perhaps it had been how sad the girl looked, how it seemed she was giving him something very precious to her.

He placed the chain over the girl’s head, gently moving her hair out of the way so it did not snag on it. “You appear to need this more than I.”

“I…” Honoré was surprised to see what he’d done with it, and even more so that he gave it back. “I didn’t try to find you to get this back. Do you remember what you said to me, after I gave it to you and you kissed me on the cheek? You said that if I ever was in trouble and needed help, you’d help me?” Well, he said he owed her one, but that meant a favor and if there was ever a time when she needed to call one in, it was now.
Did I say that? Ramiel wondered with a mental sigh. It sounds like something I would do. “Yeah I guess I did say that. Huh. So you tracked me down. That is impressive. After all we make it difficult to follow us.” Having placed the book of Mysteries once again on the shelf, he circled around, taking in the full filthyness of her.
Without saying anything, he reached out to take a strand of her hair in his hand and rubbed it between his fingers.

“Hmmm.” He let the hair fall back into place.

What is he doing? She stood there nervously, not quite knowing what to do.

“Ok, let’s go then. I will assume this has something to do with your missing choker, you were wearing one right? Amethyst or something. But I can not talk about it with you looking like that. I have a feeling there is a pretty face under that dirt, and I simply have to see it. So you hungry?”

With that he headed toward the exit.

She stood there and stared after him for a moment. “Wait. Wait! I have to pay for my book.” Honoré rushed over to the register, but there was a line up. She bit her lip in impatience, then abandoned the book on a nearby shelf to run after Ramiel.

They found Lyla in the Victoria’s Secret store, having just completed a purchase. She had a couple bags in hand when she noticed Ramiel approaching with another woman in tow.

“Ramiel,” she said by way of greeting. “Great timing! I’ve just finished here.” Lyla leaned so she could see past him to get a look at the girl following him.

Lyla herself was perhaps a couple inches taller than Honoré and looked like she could be a supermodel or successful actress. She shared many of Ramiel’s finer features — the line of their nose was similar, and the jaw. They had the same eyes that were so dark brown they almost seemed black. Of course, Lyla’s hair was black where Ramiel’s was beyond platinum blonde to the point it could be called white.

She had also already replaced the very clothes she’d worn to the mall. Now Ramiel noticed she had on something new. Lyla had new black boots with deep treads and a tall heel. It looked more like fashion than prudence but he supposed they would work well enough on the trail. Her legs were bare and smooth and were topped by a grey denim miniskirt. She wore a black tube top that had a silk-screened image of a skull set within a heart-shaped design with the words, “Walk the plank ye rotten scoundrel” in grey.

Lyla smiled and raised one eyebrow. “Who’s your friend?”

Ramiel looked the outfit over and gave her the raised eyebrow of questioning. “Uhuh.” Turning his focus to the figure behind him, he said, “This is, ummm, so sorry, what is your name?”

“Honoré,” Honoré said, now very conscious of how shabby and unkempt she was. “Honoré Lafitte.” She glanced around, wondering where Hamilton had gotten himself to but the cat proved elusive.

“A very pretty name.” He returned his attention to Lyla. “So I am taking her back to the room, but first we will pick up some food. You take her shopping while I get lunch. Pizza? or Chicken?” He put on his best naughty smile, hoping to remind her of the last time he asked that question.

Lyla glowered at him briefly, then her smile returned. “You choose, Ramiel.” The idea of a bit more shopping put her in a good mood, despite being reminded of Ramiel’s little trick of a few days ago. She still didn’t know how he got that door open.

“What a pretty name,” Lyla said to Honoré. “I’m Lyla.” She held out her hand to Honoré to greet her.

Self-consciously, Honoré wiped her hand on her jeans, and returned Lyla’s greeting. “Thank you,” she said with a faint blush. Hamilton, where are you?

I’m close, miss! I’m afraid my unerring sense of smell led me out back. It seems the cafe was throwing out perfectly good cakes and I thought I might save them from and unpleasant fate. I’ll come find you when I finish, he assured her.

Please don’t eat too much this time, Honoré said. We may actually be able to stay in a hotel tonight, and I don’t think they’d be too happy to find kitty barf stains on the carpet. And how many times have I told you you can call me Honoré, or Rey?

Yes, miss.

A little smile curved Honoré’s lips

“We’ll catch up with Ramiel shortly,” Lyla told her. “Ramiel wants me to take you shopping. I think he must like you, because he knows I don’t do that for just anybody,” she said with a grin.

“He likes me?” Honoré’s voice showed she didn’t quite believe Lyla. “I gave him my lucky penny back in Baltimore. Maybe he’s just being nice because of that.” She reached up and touched the penny pendant hanging around her neck. “He doesn’t go running around collecting strays, does he?”

“No, he doesn’t,” Lyla said. “You probably got him at just the right time. You made a good impression the first time and with him, that’s everything.”

The surprise showed on Honoré’s face for only a moment. “Thank you for the offer to go shopping, but I can’t. I’ve got ten dollars, and that’s it. Nothing else but pocket lint and a McDonald’s receipt for Hamilton’s filet-o-fish from two days ago. Greedyguts ate the entire thing before I had a single bite,” she muttered halfheartedly. “All I got was a couple of fries.”

“Hamilton must be your pet,” she stated. “Now come along. Ramiel didn’t tell you to go buy yourself new clothes. That’s for me to do, if you don’t mind shopping on a bit of a budget.”

Honoré found herself being swept up in Lyla’s wake. Rey had no experience in any of this, and mutely agreed to most of Lyla’s suggestions for clothes. In fact, Lyla noticed Honoré seemed surprised she was being asked what she thought.

The only time Honoré made her opinion known without being asked was when they were paying for her skirt. The saleswoman asked if they wanted to get a necklace to complete the outfit they had put together, and showed them a selection of fashionable chokers. Honoré refused with startling vehemence, turned, and walked out of the store.

Lyla quickly paid for the clothes and followed Honoré out. She found her sitting on a bench near the store, fists clenched, literally shaking with anger. When Lyla asked her what was wrong, Honoré said through clenched teeth she didn’t want to talk about it right then.

Gradually, Honoré got her temper back under control, and picked up the small Victoria’s Secret bag. She looked at the simple white cotton bra and panties, decorated with a narrow strip of lace embroidered with tiny yellow roses. “Thank you, Lyla. For everything.”

Lyla looked at Honoré a moment. Then she laughed. “You’re a strange cat, Honoré! Come on. Let’s go find Ramiel!”

Ramiel had absolutely no idea what the girls would want to eat, so he had purchased a little of everything. The girls spotted him waiting patiently by the exit, reading a book. A familiar looking book to Honore, since it was the one she had seen him looking through in the book store. Seeing them appraoch, Ramiel put the book away and picked up the several bags of food he had.

“You guys ready? The food is getting cold.”

Hamilton? We’re leaving. She looked around. They’ve bought us food. Smells like chicken, pizza, and a couple other things. Honoré hoped the mention of food would get his attention, even after eating who knows how much cake.

I’ll be there shortly! came Hamilton’s reply.

Around the corner trotted a little black cat, tail high and chin up. He ran up to Honoré and hopped into her arms, much to Lyla’s amusement.

The walk back to the motel was a short one. Ramiel said very little during the trip. Back at the room, he opened the door and let the girls go in first. Honore could see it was a normal room for a hotel with a king sized bed, a bathroom, and a window with not much of a view.

Ramiel closed the door and moved across the room setting the food down on the table. He plopped down in the chair,” There are clean towels in the bathroom. It is your choice of which you would like to do first, shower, or eat.”

Indecision warred on Honoré’s face. She was so very hungry, but the opportunity of being truly clean for the first time in weeks won out. “I think I’d like to clean up before eating.” She gave Hamilton a scritch between the ears. “But first, my manners have been sorely lacking. This is Hamilton. He’s a very well behaved cat. Most of the time.” She rubbed under his chin with a grin. “Hamilton, this is Lyla and Ramiel.”

“Meow,” replied Hamilton. Unfortunately, his ability to speak mentally was limited to his favored Witch.

“How cute!” Lyla said. She reached over and gave his head a brief scrub.

Ramiel smiled. ” Go on and get clean,” he told Honoré.

He looked at the black cat that had jumped on the bed as Honore raced to the shower. “Nice to meet you Hamilton, hungry?” Ramiel rumaged through the bags until he found what might be appetizing to the cat. He pinched up some chicken and put it on a napkin, placing it on the bed next to Hamilton.

It was not long before Honoré was refreshed and clean, and ready to eat. Ramiel had moved over to the bed, lying back on some propped up pillows.

“Well that is much better. Go ahead and eat, it should still be warm enough.”

He waited and let her eat some before speaking again. “So is it the choker that brings you to me? Or something else, what made you follow us for so long a time?”

Lyla joined Ramiel on the bed. She lounged lazily and propped herself with an an elbow upon Ramiel’s lap. She watched Honoré from there.

Honoré set her plate and cup down, and gathered Hamilton up into her arms, like a child reaching for a comforting toy. She hugged the cat as she finished chewing the mouthful of food. “It’s not the choker, so much as what happened to me because of it.”

Ramiel saw that haunted, sad look that had clung to her like Spanish moss on a tree slowly starting to return.

“I come from a long line of grifters, and my parents saw nothing wrong with raising me in the family business. My mom was kind of interested in all that New Age stuff, and they decided to try and build a specialized set of cons around that. Fake love potions, curses, seances, all that stuff. They weren’t doing too well at it, until the day before my eighth birthday.

“A man in black came and met with my parents. I don’t know what they talked about, but the man really scared me. The next day, on my birthday, they gave me a beautiful necklace.” She looked at Lyla and Ramiel briefly, but then cast her eyes firmly down at the comforter on the bed. “And that was the last thing I remember clearly. The past ten years have been nothing but a blur, punctuated by… I don’t know if they’re memories, or things that my parents planted in my head.

“They, my parents, were making me do things. Bad things. I saw myself doing a ritual where I spilled a vial of blood on a model of a car, and then used a hammer to smash the car to pieces. The next day, my parents were given an envelope stuff full of money and newspaper clipping about a businessman who died in a horrific car crash.

“Another time, I got beaten because something I made didn’t work the way the man wanted it to. My parents just let him do it, stopping him only when he went to hit my face.” Honoré hugged Hamilton tightly, pressing her face against the top of his head. “It’s all like that. Except for when Ramiel and I literally bumped into each other in the grocery store two weeks before my 18th birthday.” Tears started to roll silently down her cheeks. “Your face, and the kiss you gave me on my cheek are the one of the few things I want to remember. You were so kind to me. Nobody’s ever been kind to me without my having done something for them. That’s why I gave you my lucky penny when you said you and your friend were down on your luck. It was the only way I could think of to thank you.

“The day of my birthday, the man in black showed up, demanding payment from my parents. My parents claimed they still had time, but the man said they’d broken the deal, and held up two pictures.” Honoré finally looked up again and looked from Ramiel to Lyla and back again. “It was pictures of you two.

“The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital, with a police detective standing over me. He asked me if I remembered what happened to me, and got really upset when I told him I didn’t. He told me that my father murdered my mother, tried to kill me, and then blew his own brains out. The doctors said it was a miracle I’d survived. Most of the muscles and tendons in my back had been slashed. They had me on a morphine drip, and I couldn’t sit up without any help, let alone walk.

“And then the night of my 18th birthday, the man in black appeared out of nowhere in my hospital room. He was standing next to the monitor that controlled the morphine. I’m afraid to think of what he would have done if the hospital chaplain hadn’t walked in with a cupcake and candle as a makeshift party for me and scared him off.

“Later that night, that’s when Hamilton found me. He healed me, and helped me escape from the hospital. When we left Baltimore, I remembered what you’d said. That you owed me one. I don’t know why, but something made me think that you’d be able to help me,” she looked down at Hamilton, “help us.” Honoré, caught up in her memories, forgot how strange her story was. She was just glad that there was someone she could tell it to who wouldn’t think she was off her rocker – or at least she hoped that was the case.

Ramiel sat up so quickly, he dumped Lyla out of his lap. “The Dark Man,” was all he said. He was looking at Honore and Hamilton as though he was seeing through them, he was lost in thought. His expression was intense, and not as friendly as it had been though the anger was not directed at Honoré or her companion.

“Did you hear that Lyla, her parents were working with the Dark Man, and unfortunately she does not remember much of it. Damn, we are always just short of finding anything out about him.”

“Wait, what happened to your choker then, it came form him, do you remember anything at all about him, what he looked like, anything?”

“I don’t know what happened to it, and I didn’t ask the police. I certainly don’t want it back.” Honoré frowned. “I’m sorry I can’t be more help. The only thing I can remember is that he was dressed in black, and he terrifies me.”

Lyla had sat up after being so unceremoniously dumped from her position leaning on Ramiel. She had a doubtful look on her face as she questioned Honoré. “No offense, Honoré, but your story is a little hard for me to believe. You said yourself that your memories are essentially suspect. How can you know if anything you remember from then is real? How do you know you didn’t kill your own parents and ran from the police?”

Honoré stood, spilling Hamilton onto the bed. She retrieved her backpack and took a small black covered book, the kind artists use for sketches and painting. Pulling a handful of newspaper clippings out from between its pages, she practically threw them at Lyla. “Here’s how. It was all over the Baltimore newspapers.”

The headline on the top clipping read “Local Man Murders Wife, Maims Daughter, Kills Self”, with pictures of Honoré’s parents and herself prominent on the page. The other clippings all had similar titles, or were follow up articles. One of them described Honoré’s condition as being upgraded from critical to serious but stable, and that she wasn’t expected to ever be able to walk again, based on her injuries.

“I did not kill my parents. Hamilton would never have…” And with that, she clamped her mouth shut, realizing she was about to reveal the truth about her and Hamilton’s relationship.

Should I tell them? she asked him. Tell them what I am, and who you are? I know she’s testing me, but I don’t know what to say to get them to believe me.

You’ll have to trust somebody sometime, Hamilton wisely intoned. He seemed ready to tell her something else when he was interrupted.

Lyla ignored the papers and gave her a feral smile. It was almost as if she approved of Honoré’s discomfort. “And you believe the paper? I don’t.

“I know who killed your parents and hurt you. It wasn’t your father. It was the Dark Man. The sooner you accept that, the sooner we can get to work.

“I know you want someone to hold you close and tell you everything is okay,” Lyla told her. “I know that more than anything in the world you just want to feel safe.

“Well, I’m sorry. That’s not going to happen. The world isn’t safe. Ramiel and I have barely even seen the tiniest part and we’ve seen such… horrible things. Terrible things I can’t even begin to describe to you. Things normal people shouldn’t ever have to experience or think about. Normal people have no right knowing what we know.

“And it’s the same for you, isn’t it.” It was a statement. Lyla wasn’t asking. “Now you’ve seen things done to you that you can’t explain, things that shouldn’t be possible.

“You’re a part of this world now, Honoré,” Lyla said in a softer tone. “We’ll probably never feel safe and comfortable except for those rare moments that we can steal for ourselves. I’m sorry.”

Lyla slid off the bed and stood up.

“Don’t be so hard on her Lyla!” Ramiel looked at Honoré. “She is right though. This “world” is a nightmare. Maybe it is best that you do not remember the past, just focus on the future, and what you can do about it.”

Honoré was surprised at Ramiel’s defense of her, but it made her smile. “You’re after the Dark Man too, aren’t you. Well, I can help you. I’m a witch. A hedge witch, so Hamilton tells me. He’s my familiar.” And then she waited to see what their reaction to her announcement was.

Lyla pulled a small black purse out of her backpack, dropped a little black cylinder into it and snapped it closed. She then slung it over one shoulder.

“You mean a witch like in the movie, The Craft?” Lyla asked.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that movie,” Honoré replied, nervous at Lyla’s actions, “so I can’t say. I use rituals to do magic.” She glanced over at Hamilton for reassurance. Were the witches in that movie bad people?

Hamilton looked quizzically back at her. Movies bore me. I didn’t see that one. Sorry Miss!

Ramiel said, “Having a power does not make you bad, it is the person and what they do that make the difference. It is the same with anyone, some people are good others are not, and it makes no difference if they have abilities.”

“You are not the only one with unique gifts.”

Lyla looked at Ramiel quizzically, but she said nothing.

Honoré picked up her plate to resume eating. “I know my abilities aren’t unique. There are other people out there who can do what I do.” She was about to shovel a forkful of chicken into her mouth when something Ramiel said struck her. She looked at Ramiel in surprise. “You heard what I said to Hamilton?” she asked.

“Heh, guess I presumed you feared others would think you were bad because of your abilities. Because the answer to your question is yes, they misused their power to do bad things.”

“Oh. Well I wouldn’t do that. Or at least I’d try not to. Hamilton and I have talked about that kind of thing a lot.” Honoré looked at the food on her fork and set it down on the plate, having lost her appetite. “He’s really quite smart, and very proper. Well, most of the time.” She put her plate down, and picked up her cup.

“Ramiel, why were you so nice to me back in Baltimore? And why are you being so nice to me now?”

Lyla knelt to look at Hamilton more closely. He rubbed his head on her hands, begging for petting.

Ramiel said, “I don’t know, it may seem funny, but back then that penny seemed like all you had. So by giving it away, you gave away something of great value to you.”

“Now you have gone through a lot of trouble to find us, so why not be nice? If we are going to be helping each other we might as well be friends, right? Before you ask, no I do not make a habit of this, and don’t take this the wrong way, but if you have tracked me for this long, you’re not just going to go away.”

He leaned back on the pile of pillows and stared up at the ceiling. “Guess I have a soft spot anyway, thanks a lot Master.” The last sentence was not directed at anyone, unless there was someone floating on the ceiling.

Honoré frowned, and was going to say something but was distracted by Lyla. “Lyla, what are you doing?”

She looked up from the cat. “I’m petting your pussy cat.” She smiled innocently.

Honoré’s frown deepened. “How did you know what it was that I wanted?”

Lyla stood and smiled, adjusting the purse strap on her shoulder. “I have a knack for certain observations. I mean, when we first met you looked like a person who’d had a hard time. In that situation, who wouldn’t want to feel some kind of assurance?

“Anyway, I hate to leave the two of you like this, but I really do need to go out and take care of a few errands. I should be back well before dawn,” Lyla said with a smile.

Honoré felt like she was being… handled. And she wasn’t sure she wanted to be left alone with Ramiel. The way he’d looked at her before made her nervous. I don’t know, Hamilton. This doesn’t feel right, she said to her familiar, her unease obvious in her “voice”.

It sounds to me like they are afraid to be too forthcoming. They know you’re a witch, he stated, but that doesn’t mean they know what that means. Perhaps they know just as little about themselves. Furthermore, I don’t sense Ramiel intends harm to anyone. Yet, it does smell like there is some tension between these two. Almost a nervousness, I think. I can tell you that I sense a good deal of power about these two. Yet each seems oblivious to its presence, just as all humans are.

I think we could help them, he stated. I bet I could follow Lyla. She’d never know I was there. Then, if there was trouble I could let you know about it. Meanwhile, maybe you could get Ramiel to open up a bit more with Lyla out of the room.

Alright. You be careful, okay? Honoré reached out and gave Hamilton a quick scritch between the ears, then gathered up the newspaper clippings.

Ramiel moved out of the way so Honoré could pick up her things easily. He moved to intercept Lyla, cutting her off just before the door. “What do you mean back before dawn? It is too dangerous to be out alone.”

Lyla reached up and touched Ramiel’s face. She remembered very well her recent injury but one could not live in fear of being hurt. “You know I’ll be careful. This isn’t Cornwall Bridge and we aren’t on the trail of the Dark Man here. It’ll be okay.”

“We are always on the trail of the Dark Man.” He mirrored her touch. “I know I can not stop you, so do your best, huh? Stay alert and be back to me before dawn.”

Honoré looked at Lyla and Ramiel, and remembered what she had encountered when she had followed them to Cornwall Bridge.

Lyla nodded and smiled but she looked serious. “I’ll be very careful.” After he let her pass, she opened the door and stepped outside. But something held her back. She stopped and turned suddenly and seized his face in cupped hands, stood up on her toes and kissed him. The kiss was warm, soft, and sensual. It still left them both tingling in their extremities and slightly blushing.

“That’s for saving my life back there,” Lyla told him. “I never thanked you properly.” Before Ramiel recovered, she stepped hastily away and hurried down the corridor lest she might be able to finish what she meant to do this evening.

And unseen by Ramiel or Lyla, Hamilton silently and stealthily disappeared after her.

Ramiel was silent as he plopped down on the edge of the bed and the door clicked shut behind Lyla. His eyes were wide with surprise when he looked at Honoré.

“So, umm, ahem.” He cleared his throat. “Right then.” He got up and disappeared into the bathroom, leaving the door open behind him. Honoré could hear the slashing of water. Within seconds, Ramiel walked out as he dried his face on a towl. It was obvious that what had jut happened between Lyla and Ramiel was not common. In fact, it seemed as though she’d never kissed him before.

“So, you’re a witch, huh?”

She nodded. “Does that bother you?” she asked as she put her journal with the clipping back into her backpack. Honoré sat cross-legged on the chair, holding it in her lap.

Ramiel slid back onto the bed, laying on his side, arm bent at the elbow so his head could rest on his hand. “Nope. I do not see why it should. I am familiar with witches, though I honestly have never met one, nor do I really know what they do.

“So you want protection, right? Then here are my questions. First, why is it that you believe I can protect you? Second, what can you do in return? Are you wanting to hunt down the Dark Man? Or would you rather forget him entirely and go on with your life?”

“Why are you after him?” she asked.

“He killed my mother.” His face had lost emotion when he spoke. “He keeps killing. Everywhere we go we find more bodies. He has to be stopped and I am going to be the one to do it.”

“You’re powerful, Ramiel,” Honoré said, “and so is Lyla. But the two of you can’t do it alone. That’s where I come in.” She hugged her backpack tightly. “You and Lyla need me, and I need you. The three of us, we can help each other. Safety in numbers.

“The Dark Man wants me. Whether dead, or worse, I don’t know. You want to find him and stop him from killing more people. Sounds like a good idea to me. Help me learn how to protect myself, and I’ll help you find and stop him.”

“You certain you want in on this nightmare?” He sat up and moved to the edge of the bed. ” Oh, I can keep you safer than you would be on your own, but I do not know the ways of a witch. But hey maybe we will run across some more on this journey. You will no doubt learn as you grow, and if we find someone who can mentor you, then you could learn even more.

“The most I could do is say I will do my best to keep you safe. It would be a lie to say it will not be a fight, and that you might even die, but I will do my best.”

She smiled. “I don’t expect you to teach me magic and rituals. I have Hamilton for that, at least for now. Most of what I know, he taught me.” The smile faded. “As for the nightmare, I’m in it whether or I want to or not. I’d rather die knowing I was trying to stop him, not sitting huddled in a room somewhere, waiting for him to find me.”

“Well I will not kid you, Lyla and I are not saints, but we are not demons either. After our zombie run in we need all the help we can get, so we are glad to help you. Though do not get too used to motels, we spend most of our time on the trail.”

“So what do you want to do now? Or do you have some more questions for me?”

“Zombies? What happened?” Honoré’s eyes widened.

“We were attacked in the last town we were in. It was a difficult fight, but we learned from it. Never let a zombie get close enough to grab you. If you encounter one, stay out of reach, or run.”

“Was that in Cornwall Bridge? I arrived there two days after you left.” She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “The innkeepers were really nice to me. There was a guy at the motel, though, who was a real jerk.” She’d wanted to cause him some trouble by hexing his credit card, but Hamilton talked her out of it. “And the only magical beastie I’ve met is Hamilton. Well, that’s not quite true. I’ve met a number of spirits, and talked to some ghosts.”

Spirits and ghosts, I wonder if she could talk to mom? “Have you ever tried to talk to your parents? Or do you not care since they used you?”

“I haven’t been back to the house since that night,” Honoré said. “I can’t summon ghosts or anything like that. I can only talk to them if they’re in the area I’m in when I go into my trance.”

“So you go into a trance, and then you can talk to them, hmm. What else can you do? Do you have any fighting capability?”

“Nothing that’s based on any formal training, I’m afraid. I was able to fight off a guy who tried to mug me,” she said, “and I appear to have a knack for being able to use just about anything as a weapon. Not that well, but I seem to know which end of the broken bottle to hold.” She chuckled. “Seriously, I know enough not to get me in trouble, and I have no delusions about what I can or cannot do. I was raised a grifter. Fighting’s not my strong suit.”

He stood up and stretched. “Lucky for you then, fighting happens to be a specialty of mine.” His long, near platinum hair danced around him. “Well, what do you want to do now? I have a little money. We could go out if you wanted.”

“To be honest,” Honoré said, her cheeks taking on a slightly pink tinge. “I don’t know. I don’t ever remember going out to the movies or anything like that.” Her eyes dropped to her hands. “I don’t remember having any friends.”

“Well then, ” he said with a sly smile, “let’s go out, because this will be a rarity. I even promise to behave myself, unless you would rather I be naughty. ” His smile held the edge of a jest in it, but at the same time Honoré was sure there was truth to his words as well.

Her smile returned. “Somehow, I think behaving yourself would be more of a challenge, and I’d like to see if you are up to it.” She picked up her swiss army knife and looked at it with a wistful smile. “I wish I was able to stick around in one place long enough to earn enough money for a proper athame.” She slipped the knife into her pocket, along with the last of her money.

“You think so huh? Maybe, maybe not, but I will be good as you like.

“So we have had dinner. How about dessert and maybe a movie? Or would you rather go to a bar?” He checked his wallet to see how much money he had, and put on his coat.

“A bar? No,” she shook her head. “I just turned 18, and I’m not really interested in drinking. Maybe a movie. Or some ice cream?”

“Ah a movie, it has been a long time, and I do have a big sweet tooth. “

It was a quite walk as the sun melted in a multi-tone haze in the sky. It turned out that the mall was the closest with a theatre, and as luck would have it, it served ice cream as well. “What are you in the mood for? Comedy, tragedy, romance, mystery?”

Hamilton, Ramiel is taking me to a movie, so we’re not at the motel anymore. Is everything okay where you are?

“Anything but horror or tragedy tonight, please.” She looked at the movie posters. “I don’t recognize any of these movies. Or any of the actors.” Anger at the lost decade of her life made her lips and eyes narrow.

Rather than speaking her familiar sent her a sensory sight, sound, and smell image of what he was seeing. He did that quite often, perhaps as if to remind her that he was indeed a cat. And of course, sometimes a quick glimpse through the cat’s eyes was more informative that something filtered through his own words.

So for a moment she felt the invitation to see for herself. From the perspective of about a foot off a cobble-stoned surface of a rustic sidewalk she could see Lyla sit down at a small table. Due to pleasant weather, a late-night coffee shop was serving outside. A plethora of delicious scents filled her even as figures swathed in colors moved about on the street and among the tables of the cafe. Lyla said something to her waitress and then while the waitress moved away, she searched for a small book in her purse and then began to read. Hamilton couldn’t see the title from his position.

But his quick eyes did see the curve of Lyla’s lip as she watched someone out of the corner of her eye.

Then a silver Porsche convertible rolled up on the street directly in front of Lyla. A man perhaps in his early thirties got out of his car and helped is blonde date out on her side. As they walked by Lyla, Hamilton saw the man turn his head toward Lyla. That surely was to be expected with a woman as lovely as she of course. Yet Hamilton noticed that Lyla returned his gaze and there was something else in it. Something like… a challenge.

I wonder who he is. Honoré turned her attention back to Ramiel. “What do you think we should see?”

Ramiel took Honoré to the movies and they enjoyed a pleasant, quiet evening. They were safely back at the hotel to relax and close out the evening. Hamilton was waiting for them in the lobby. Lyla had eventually gone with the man in the Porsche and he couldn’t follow at that point so he’d returned home. Since room had two beds it didn’t seem like space would be a problem.

Lyla made a very late appearance once again. It was nearly four in the morning when they heard the faint sound of the door opening and closing, and then the shower running for a while. The next morning, Ramiel noticed Lyla had curled up on top of the covers next to him and fallen asleep, leaving Honoré to have the other bed to herself.

The next morning, they decided to head back to Pittsfield and then the Trail again. It was time to try to find the Dark Man again, and Lyla was sure that she had little chance of finding him this far from his primary traveling route. First they made some stops and Lyla made sure that Honoré was well equipped with her own camping gear (lightweight like her own gear) and more new sets of clean clothes.

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