CHAPTER TWO

The entire house creaked with the breeze. It wasn't very large, and rather ugly with it's peeling white paint and slouching planks. Of course it was bound to lean, for it had been built on poor land and was sinking into the swampy ground. The porch was dipping noticeably, but someone still felt it was fit to keep a rocking chair in one corner. Heavily shading pine trees surrounded the entire perimeter of the house and blocked out most of the early morning sunlight. Nonetheless, all shutters were closed tightly, save for a couple that no longer fit in the slanting windows anymore and just swung freely.

The owner of the house sat in the rocking chair on the porch, pushing lightly off the ground with every rock of the groaning runners. Should one look closely at the chair, they would see dripping rain stains and mold in the dark corners, indicating that it had been sitting out in all manner of weather for a very long time.

A small, brown vole scuttled between the owner's feet, but she didn't mind. Her thoughts were elsewhere. Life surged around her, this she knew. The birds in the trees, the rodents on the forest floor, the insects in the logs… They all shared her house; living in her attic, in the planks, in the walls. But it was all so quiet right now as she rocked back and forth with her eyes closed, only listening to the creaking and groaning.

The backyard was a wild, overgrown mess of weeds and straggling plants. Buttercups grew inside a skeleton, and a spider was busy making his web in one of the empty eye sockets that had been cleaned out years ago by the other insects. The owner of the house never went in the backyard anymore, or thought of it, for that matter. There were just too many horrific memories that she couldn't cope with.

She would rather sit on the front porch and stare into the magical loveliness of the misty forest, or the little summer heather garden just in front of the steps that would stay beautiful no matter what else died or was teeming with weeds. She loved the garden so much when she was a young woman, that she had named her daughter after it. Although the owner was now old and wrinkled with age, her daughter had not aged a day, and she was grateful for that.

"Mama," the little girl whispered in her mother's ear. The owner of the house opened her old eyes slowly and gazed upon a five year old child with long, light brown hair and sparkling hazel eyes.

"What is it, my girl?" the old woman asked, continuing to rock, slowly.

"Mama, there are some men coming," the child said, skipping softly down the front steps.

"I know," the owner rasped, sluggishly. She could hear faint voices on the lean, dirt path to her house, and watched three of them appear from behind the confines of a rather bushy evergreen tree.

"Miss Geraldine," the short, dark-haired man addressed, nodding politely.

"Good morning, Toby," she replied, patiently. She spoke with the voice of one who knows all yet tells nothing, which sometimes comes with the wisdom of such the age she was. "Roy," she said, nodding to Toby's companion. "Who is this handsome young man you have with you?"

"His name is Daniel Forrester," Toby answered. He looked at Daniel, who had a troubled expression on his face. "Daniel, this is Miss Geraldine Adler."

Daniel leaned toward Toby and asked in a low voice; "Is she dead?"

"I hate how you must refer to us as dead," Toby muttered under his breath. "But she is not one of us."

"One of you…" Daniel uttered, contemptuously.

"Yes, you are one of them now aren't you, boy?" Geraldine said, overhearing him. "And you will learn that it is not bad to be one of them, either. You have a purpose to be here, do you understand?"

"I'm sorry," he mumbled. "I'm not having a good day."

"You're quite the pessimistic one," the old lady observed, speaking so quietly that Daniel had to strain to hear her. "Instead of brooding on the life you once had, think of the one you're beginning right now, because it's going to be a long one and you're going to have to learn to like it. Now, don't talk for a moment, and just enjoy the quiet forest. Do you hear it? There is life all around you, and you will come to love it and see it for what it truly is, as I have. Normal people cannot take the time to understand it's feral beauty and unpredictability. With your new life, you will soon forget about the old and learn the tremendous importance of why you are here."

"I don't know why I'm here," Daniel replied.

"Do you know why your murderers were after Lauren?" Geraldine asked, patiently.

"My murderers…" Daniel shook his head. "No! But she didn't do anything wrong… How do you know her?"

"Let me explain, Daniel. She knew them, and they were after her because she was going to reveal them for what they were. Now, this may be hard, but just listen to me, carefully. Lauren was part of a - dare I say - evil sect that manipulates spirits through a hypnotic calling. If a spirit is called by them, it cannot help but do what they tell it to do.

Lauren evidently told you nothing of this, possibly because she didn't know the seriousness of what she was getting into, and soon feared for her life. At first, all she wanted was to talk to a deceased loved one, but soon she discovered the Callers for what they truly were, and that what they were doing was messing with things they could not possibly comprehend. When she threatened to turn them in, the Callers warned her that if she did indeed do this, they would kill her and all those she loved.

She ignored their warning. I believe you came into the picture when you accidentally and most fortunately came across a couple of Callers who were plotting her death."

"Why did you bring me back, then?" Daniel half-mouthed, trying to take in what he was hearing.

"Spirits like yourself have been manipulated, Daniel. You are in danger of it, and so are Roy and Toby," Geraldine continued. Roy nodded in agreement. "Lauren is still fighting for you, do you understand? And you did not save her. The Callers are still after her. We need your help. We need all the help we can get. We need you to help Lauren, to hopefully connect with her and to protect her. But also, I need you to protect Heather."

"Heather?" Daniel asked, faintly. He seemed completely overwhelmed by all that was new to him, and fear was apparent in his confused eyes.

"You have been brought to me to protect my daughter. She is a spirit, and only a spirit can protect another from a calling," the old woman replied.

"I can't," Daniel said, fretfully. "I don't know how. How can this be possible? Lauren… I have to see her! If she's in danger-"

"You must be patient. This is no time for irrationality. You will go to Lauren in due time. As of right now, the spirits are in extreme danger and should not come in any human contact. I will not allow you to take such a risk," Geraldine explained.

Daniel was about to protest when a little girl poked her head out the front door of the leaning house.

"Are you Daniel?" the child asked. He nodded. "I am Heather. Are you going to protect me? My mama told me you were going to stay with us and protect me from Callers. Like a guardian angel. Right? Or a big brother." She pushed the door open enough to be able to run through and grab Daniel's hand with her own. "Come inside," she said eagerly, pulling on his arm. "You can meet Kayla."

"Kayla?" Daniel asked, looking to Geraldine, then quickly giving a false grin to Heather.

"Just follow her, dear boy," the old woman said, calmly.

Daniel followed Heather reluctantly through the door, leaving Roy, Toby and Geraldine alone.

"Thank you both for finding him," Geraldine said.

"No problem," Roy grunted. "It's strange… That was the first time I actually heard the whole story about Lauren. I guess she's got herself into all of this now, eh? She will be lucky to survive."

"Sh," Toby hushed him, cautiously. "Daniel may overhear you. Keep him thinking there's a chance, all right? Because there is. But if he loses hope… He doesn't understand how important he really is to this battle."

"I thought it best not to overemphasize it," Geraldine said, thoughtfully. "He has enough to worry about, already."

"Right," Toby agreed. He looked at the sky, then turned to Roy. "We should be leaving."

"Of course," Geraldine said. "I can't keep you here longer than you need be."

"Good luck with the kid, Miss Geraldine," Roy said with a flick of his moustache. "Goodbye."

"Farewell, Roy," she responded. "Toby; be safe. You've taken up a dangerous mission."

"I will, Geraldine. Don't you worry," Toby assured her. "Roy, I'll get back to you later."

"You can count on it," Roy said.

Geraldine watched as Roy and Toby went their separate ways, one walking through the trees; the other disappearing down the path. She smiled slightly, set her tired head back on the chair and began to rock back and forth mechanically.