WFOL 2024




CHAPTER 8, part 2

by Linda S Barth

Please note: There is occasional use of strong language and some depictions of violence in Chapter 8, Parts 1 and 2 that might be disturbing to some readers.

~ ~ ~

“Make sure you trip the lock on that door! We don’t want anyone joining us, not from up there anyway.” Kady barked her command as she waited for Catherine at the bottom of the wooden steps that led from the warehouse’s sub-basement. Then, her mood shifted like lightning cutting through a storm and she chortled. “Like you don’t know the drill!”

Catherine carefully made her way down the stairs, second-guessing the restraint that had kept her from shoving Kady to the filthy floor as she’d descended in front of her. She had been willing to risk being shot; only the need to keep the girl from enacting whatever deadly plans she still concealed had prevented her from taking the chance.

Her thoughts flashed back to the last time she’d been here, when she’d helped deliver vitally needed medical supplies as the plague ravaged the tunnel community. This place had once been a conduit for healing; now it was a portal for destruction. But why had Kady brought here, miles from where the teenager had conspired with Alonzo?

“What are we doing here?” Catherine let her gaze sweep their surroundings, hoping her feigned uncertainty would goad the girl into bragging about her plans. One glance at Kady’s face told her she’d made a very foolish mistake.

“Don’t pull that condescending crap with me. I really hate it!” The girl glared at Catherine. “So, I wouldn’t do it again if I were you.” She slowly raised the gun toward Catherine’s face, holding it steady for several excruciating seconds, then pointed at a tunnel stretching out toward their left. “You know exactly why we’re here. Now, move!”

Catherine hesitated, surprised Kady hadn’t indicated the opposite direction, the one that would bring them to the home tunnels.  Why was she leading them further and further from what seemed to be her intended targets?

As she walked slowly in front of her captor, she searched for the right words. “I’m sorry, Kady. I didn’t mean to disrespect you. That was a mistake.”

“Damn right it was! Now shut up and keep moving.”

Catherine let a few minutes pass in silence, then glanced back, speaking softly so as not to further antagonize the girl. “I just assumed – from what you said earlier – we’d be going the other way.”

“Well, you assumed wrong, didn’t you? I bet you’re just dying to go home and see your mate.” A cackling snort of laughter set Catherine’s teeth on edge. “Oh, you’ll see it soon enough. We’ll just hang out in my old neighborhood for a while. It’ll be nice to see the place one last time.”

Catherine summoned a visual map of the outlying tunnels. Unless rare access was needed to the warehouse above, this area was never used, never visited. There were no sentries nearby, little chance of encountering anyone who might see them, anyone who might be able to help. How did Kady even know about this area, let alone refer to it as her old neighborhood? No one lived there.

Sudden realization robbed her of breath.  No one lived there – now.

The nightmare unraveled in her memory – sudden abduction, brutal threats, herself as bait, the waning strength of her self-control, forced to become an inescapable lure, to witness the horror of battle…and then the blessed relief of knowing they were safe as Vincent ferried them across the lake toward the sanctuary of home.

If what Kady said was true,  how had she managed to live safely in such close proximity to a madman and the few but deadly lost souls who clung to him? How had she escaped their notice?

Unless she hadn’t escaped it. Unless she hadn’t wanted to.

She had to know.  Slowing her pace almost imperceptibly, she looked back over her shoulder. “So, you lived here at one time?”

Kady sighed heavily. “Didn’t I just say that? Yes, I lived here for about ten years actually. Home, sweet home.’

Catherine frowned slightly. “And no one ever found you? How is that possible?”

Kady glared at her. “It’s possible because that’s the way we wanted it to be!”

“Oh, so you weren’t alone then.” Had the girl been one of Paracelsus’s disciples, someone whose existence the tunnel community had never discovered?

Kady gritted her teeth, irate at having let herself nearly walk into a trap.  She would make sure Catherine paid the price for her arrogance.

“And we’re not going to be alone now either! It’ll be here soon. We’ll just wait until it shows up.”

 Catherine’s heart pounded. “Until who shows up?”

“Didn’t I just tell you I don’t like it when someone talks down to me?” The girl’s voice was a snarl. “You know exactly who I mean, bitch! Your freak of a boyfriend! Now keep moving!”

Catherine ignored Kady’s order and stared down the length of the tunnel before them. “How do you know he’s going to find us?”

“Either you’re deliberately taking one hell of a chance insulting my intelligence again, or you really are an idiot just like the rest of them. This is how.” She reached forward and with a lightning fast slash of her knife, sliced off a swath of Catherine’s hair.

Catherine lunged backward, eyes wide, and watched as Kady scattered the strands on the stony floor.  “It was just a chunk of your hair. Next time, it’ll be a piece of something else. Something that will really hurt bad.” She grinned at her prisoner. “And we both know what happens when the freak senses you’re scared or in pain…”

Catherine felt anger rage through her. Despite her resistance, her captor finally accomplished exactly what she’d intended to do. There was no doubt that Vincent would soon find them.  But that didn’t mean she couldn’t do everything she possibly could until then. 

She feigned a loud sigh. “You’re right. But, Kady, you can’t expect to overpower someone like Vincent, even with a knife and a gun. Whatever you’re intending, I don’t think it’s going to work.”

“Well, then you’d be wrong.” The girl sneered at her, then waved the gun toward a haze of light just barely discernible ahead of them.  “Go! But be careful.  I don’t want you to get hurt. Not yet, anyway.”

Catherine hesitated.  It was happening again. A creature of madness using her to lure her beloved toward an unspeakable fate. She couldn’t do it. She wouldn’t.

“If you don’t do what I tell you to,  I won’t wait. I’ll shoot you right now!”Kady prodded her hard in the back with the barrel of the gun, and Catherine stumbled forward through an opening in the tunnel wall. 

Even though she tried with all her strength, she could not suppress a jolt of terror. They stood on a ledge high above the shore of a lake, its dark water lit by the guttering flames of torches protruding from the rock-strewn sand.  As if hypnotized, she leaned forward. It was still there. The small wooden boat tethered to a razor-sharp rock, as if waiting to ferry them to a different destination.

This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be true. Catherine turned to look into the girl’s glittering eyes – and suddenly she knew. There could no longer be any doubt.

Kady smiled at the dawning realization on Catherine’s face. “You remember what’s across the lake, don’t you? We’re almost home.” The smile wavered for only a moment. “Well, not my home anymore. The freak saw to that when it killed my father.” She jostled Catherine, then grabbed her arm hard. “Oops, careful there. We need to wait for your mate before we go any farther. Sit!”

Catherine carefully eased herself to the floor of the ledge and leaned back, feeling the cold dampness immediately seep into her clothing.  Kady’s father? It seemed impossible, and yet…

Kady tilted her head as she sat next to Catherine. “I bet you have some questions for me!” She seemed to revel in the ever-growing look of shock on her prisoner’s face. “But I think you’ve already answered some of them for yourself, haven’t you?”

“Your father was Paracelsus?” Catherine whispered.  “But that’s not true. He didn’t have any children.”

Fire flared in the girl’s eyes. “Don’t you say that! He had me! I was his daughter and he loved me!”  Hot tears flowed from her eyes and she swiped them away. “Maybe he was my stepfather, but that didn’t matter. We are the same! Nothing can change that.” She waited for Catherine’s response, a defiant look on her face.

Catherine took a deep breath. “And your mother?”

A soft, faraway look ghosted the girl’s face. “I don’t know if you ever met her. But you saw her work, her art. She was a genius. They both were. My dad taught me everything he knew. And so did she.”

The girl raised a hand to her face, then gripped the skin along her hairline, digging into it with her fingernails. To Catherine’s mesmerized horror, Kady slowly pulled the fleshy remains from her own face, then dropped the mask in Catherine’s lap.

“Oh, that feels much better.” She sighed in satisfaction. “I have to admit I’m not as good at this yet as Mom was. But now that I’m home again, I can be myself. And besides, it’s only fair to let you see my real face. I look a lot different, don’t I?” 

She snickered. “On the chance the Feds find me – which they won’t – how are you going to explain who I am when I don’t even look the same as before?  Doesn’t matter, really, ‘cause it’s only gonna convince them even more that you’re a liar. A really crappy one who can’t even keep her story straight.”

“Kady,” Catherine began slowly, quietly. “No matter what, you have to know I won’t let this all play out with fighting back.”

Kady stared at her with a look that blended reluctant admiration with deep scorn. “And how do you plan to do that? Are you going to call for help? Do you think someone’s just waiting nearby?”

Catherine’s eyes flickered, as she fought the urge to search the shadows for that unattainable possibility. “No, that’s not what I think, but –” 

“Oh, my goodness, what’s going on here? Catherine, what has happened to you?”

“Mary!” Head spinning, Catherine blinked hard to clear her vision in the murky light, desperate to discover a miracle. “I can’t see you! Where are you?”

A booming laugh reverberated off the wet walls. “She’s right over here with me, girl!”

Catherine pivoted. “William! Help me! We have to stop her!”

“I’ll help! I brought my crossbow!”

Catherine opened her mouth to call out, then froze, suddenly knowing eerie silence was the only response she would get.  She stared at the nightmare that was Kady, as the girl shrieked with laughter.

“I told you that both my parents taught me everything they knew! Maybe you should have believed me.” She reached toward Catherine, snickering as the woman flinched, then snatched back the mask. She looked at it lovingly before rolling it into a ball and stowing it carefully in her jacket pocket. “At least there’s a few things I still have left of them.”

As she tried to ease her rapid, shallow breathing, Catherine looked at Kady’s hands, one still clutching the gun, the other only a flick of a wrist from wielding her knife. There was no chance of overpowering the girl. Catherine felt the last vestiges of hope begin to die. She had to accept she was no match for the deadly potential of weapons and the undeniable proof of madness.

But she would not surrender. She would not wait for Vincent to walk into a fatal trap.

She raised her gaze to Kady’s face. She had to keep her talking, buy enough time to determine the options left to her. But before she could say a word, Kady leaned forward and tapped the gun hard against her forehead.

“What are you thinking about? Hope you’re not wasting your time trying to figure out how to escape.” She shook her head. “Not going to happen.”

She tilted her head and blinked her eyes as if considering topics for a casual conversation. “Oh, I’ve got it. Let’s see – now you know who my father was. I’d tell you more, but you probably already heard plenty from those liars.” Her face hardened in an all too familiar sneer, then like a kaleidoscope, swirled into a soft smile. “Aren’t you wondering about Mom, too?”

With a silent breath of fragile, renewed hope, Catherine nodded. “I think I know who she was, Kady. Your mother was Tamara.”

Kady nodded, waiting for Catherine to continue before saying anything more.

“I heard a great deal about her – what a brilliant artist she was – but we never met. I’d like to learn more, if you’d like to tell me.”

Kady rolled her eyes. “I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to tell you, you idiot.” The oddly vulnerable smile still softened her face. “She really was brilliant – an amazing artist – but she was a wonderful mom, too…” The smile vanished as quickly as it had appeared. “And she killed herself after your freak murdered my father!”

Instinctively, Catherine began to reach out a soothing hand toward the girl, then quickly withdrew it. “I’m sorry for everything you’ve been through, Kady. I truly am. I lost my parents, too. I think I know how you feel.” She paused, gauging the reaction of her words.

The tiniest spark glimmered in the girl’s eyes, then it died to darkness. “You don’t know how I feel! Was your father murdered? Did your mother kill herself?”

Catherine shook her head. “No, they both were ill. But I miss them just the same. I miss them with all my heart, every day of my life.”

Kady’s gaze swept out over the edge of the ravine toward the home she knew she would never see again. “I do, too,” she whispered.

“Maybe you’d feel better if you tell me more about your life with your parents, about the good times.”

Catherine held her breath, hoping her ploy would work. She knew without a doubt that Vincent was nearby. She could sense him in her heart, her soul. If she could distract Kady even for a few seconds, then maybe they’d have a chance…

Following well-honed instincts, Kady’s head suddenly twisted as she surveyed the area around them before jumping up and darting to the tunnel entrance. She stared out into the passageway, then dropped back down next to Catherine, all traces of vulnerability turned to stone. “It’s not here yet, but it will be, won’t it?”

Satisfied at Catherine’s reluctant nod, she made herself comfortable again on the cold, moist floor. “The freak better hurry up. I’m getting bored. If it doesn’t show up pretty soon, I might have to provide some more incentive.” She slid back her sleeve, letting her knife’s blade gleam in the muted light. “Now, where were we?”

Catherine felt her heart race as the minutes passed like hours, while Kady unraveled the twisted story of her life.  When would this be over – how would it end – and where would it leave them all? She forced herself to concentrate on Kady’s confession, desperately hoping to hear something, anything, that might be used against her.

“So, of course, Thomas had to go. He was really screwing with my plans, and I hadn’t put up with Alonzo’s crap for all that time just to see everything destroyed by some senile old loser.”

Kady’s words drew another shudder from Catherine. “Kady, you didn’t –”

“Of course, I did! He was whining about not wanting to take his meds, but I convinced him it would be so much better if he did.” She smiled in satisfaction. “Better for me, of course. All I had to do was swap them out for something that worked a whole lot better, and that was it!”

She beamed with pride. “Mom wasn’t just super good with costumes and make-up, you know. She taught me all kinds of useful things. Things I haven’t even had a chance to show you yet!”

“And you will never have that opportunity.” A voice like rusted steel rasped close to her ear and she felt her hand entrapped in an unbreakable grip. Crouched beside her, he tore the gun away and hurled it over the edge of the ravine.  But as he looked more closely at her, his face took on a quizzical expression. As if surprised at her youth, he hesitated. “Who are you?”

Catherine’s cry of warning came much too late.

For a heartbeat, the girl had frozen, her face a mask of disgust and fury.  Then she swung the knife hard, embedding it in Vincent’s calf, slicing downward and twisting it viciously before yanking it from his flesh. With astounding force and speed, she plunged the blade into his other leg,  just below the knee, twisting the shaft brutally before pulling it back.  Satisfied for now, she leaped to her feet, just out of his reach.

Vincent staggered to his feet and reached out toward his attacker, then stumbled, and with a harsh gasp of pain collapsed to the rocky floor in front of Catherine. Levering himself up on one elbow, he sheltered his beloved and stared up at the girl as she stood with the bloodied knife’s blade held high, taunting them with its promise of destruction.

She grinned at her victims. “See? I didn’t really need the gun anymore. Not when I have this.” She waved the knife back and forth, as if conducting some silent macabre music. A few drops of Vincent’s blood ran down her arm. “Just another skill I learned from dear old Dad!”

She tilted her head at Vincent. “Just think – we could have been brother and sister if he’d gotten his wish.” She let out a loud whistling breath. “Wow, dodged a bullet on that one, didn’t I?”

“Your father?” Vincent shook his head hard, trying to ignore the searing pain in his legs. “Your father was…Paracelsus?”

Kady rolled her eyes. “Wow, right the first time! You’re a lot smarter than your sicko girlfriend!” She narrowed her gaze at him. “Yes, he was my father. The man you murdered.  And now you’re going to pay for what you did.”

She raked her gaze from Vincent’s face to his body and back again. “You’re even more hideous and disgusting up close than I realized.” She sighed exaggeratedly as she shook her head. “You’re a monster and she’s just as much a freak as you are. Now, what am I going to do with you?”

She raised her eyebrows and widened her eyes as if coming to a surprising conclusion. “Oh, right, I’m going to destroy you both!”

She quickly backed up a step as Vincent tried to push himself to his feet, then smirked when he collapsed again against Catherine.  “Just cool it, freak. I’m not finished with either of you yet. We’re still missing one last member of our little group. Want to know who?”

Catherine pressed a hand to Vincent’s face, trying to warn him to follow her lead. “Yes, Kady, we want to know.”

“Okay!” She grinned. “I’ll give you three guesses.” When they remained silent, she coaxed them with a goading leer. “Oh come on, you know! No? Okay, here’s a clue. An eye for an eye. Get it?”

Fury began kindling on her face when they refused to respond. She started to pull back her foot, intending to kick at Vincent’s wounds, then clearly thought better of it. Instead, she attacked with words. “It’s your father, freak! You took mine. I’m going to take yours. Then, I’m going to kill you.” She glared in Catherine’s direction. “I’ve got other plans for her. Maybe I’ll tell you all about it just before we both watch you die.”

A low deep growl began, echoing in intensity off the chamber walls. For just a moment, Kady appeared startled, then she quickly regained her poise. “You think that’s going to scare me? Keep it up and I’ll stab you again. Or maybe I’ll stab your mate. I would have done it already, but I don’t want either of you to bleed out before we meet up with your father.”

“I won’t let you –” Vincent’s voice broke on an agonized groan when Kady darted forward, then immediately scampered back again.

She glanced down at the tip of her boot, covered in his blood. “Just when I thought you couldn’t get more disgusting. Yuck!”

Blood continued to seep through the fabric of Vincent’s trousers, worsening with a surge as he again tried to struggle to his feet.

“Vincent, no! Don’t move!” Catherine tried to hold him against her chest. She looked up at the girl. “Kady, please, let me help Vincent. You can get away. We won’t try to stop you. You still have a chance!” Catherine did not regret for a second the pleading tone in her voice. “This has to end!”

The teenager shook her head, staring incredulously at Catherine. “But I don’t want it to end! This the best thing that’s happened to me since –”

“Since you decided to kill everyone you feel has wronged you?” Vincent’s voice was frayed with pain. “Kady, Catherine’s right. It’s not too late. Please, let us help you.”

“I don’t want your damned help!” The girl’s voice rose to a shriek. “You can’t tell me what to do! Alonzo tried and I’m only sorry I didn’t kill him when I had the chance, just like I killed Thomas! And you’re gonna be next! Nothing can stop me! Nothing!”

For a few seconds she paused, tilting her head as if listening to a voice only she could hear. “It doesn’t matter,” she muttered. “Plans can change. It’s all good – they’re still gonna die. Now, later, whenever.” She gazed at Vincent and Catherine, her eyes calm and unblinking and took a single step closer.

They were all pieces of a fragmented nightmare.  A bloodied blade ready to slice into a beating heart. A wounded defender struggling, failing. A valiant attempt to protect a beloved.

A shifting in the rock wall behind her. A figure emerging from the darkness.

“You hurt my friends. You hurt Vincent and Catherine. And Thomas. He was my friend, too.”

Kady whirled toward the voice, then sneered at the newcomer. “Oh look, it’s The Rat.” She smirked at him. “Come to rescue your friends?”

Mouse nodded. “Followed Vincent. He didn’t know.” His eyes were sorrowful as he looked at his fallen friends before returning his gaze to Kady. “Heard what you said. Can’t save Thomas now. But can save Vincent. Can save Catherine.”

“I don’t think so.” Kady spat in his face, watching with amusement as surprise and disgust transformed the young man’s resolute expression to something darker, harder.  “Time to say good-bye to your buddies, Rat.”

She lunged with the knife, fully expecting him to be too awkward, too uncertain to react with enough force or speed to defend himself. When he slammed his fist into her upraised arm, knocking the blade from her grip, her face contorted in shock and rage.

With swift and deadly grace, she swooped downward to retrieve her weapon, but when she came at Mouse once again, her feet began to slide on the wet stone. She had just enough time to flick her gaze downward. The wetness was a deep, rich, copper-scented red.

She flailed backwards, almost out of reach, and time seemed to pause just long enough for one final sneering thought. The freak’s blood. What a colossal cosmic joke!

Kady opened her mouth, perhaps to at last cry for help, perhaps to offer one final curse. But whatever words she might have uttered were smothered by her screams as she fell to the jagged rocks on the lakeshore below.

Mouse wiped his face with the sleeve of his jacket and leaned carefully over the edge of the precipice, then turned to face his friends.

“It’s okay now. She’s gone.”





CABB logo: crystal and rose




CABB logo: crystal and rose







by AM

“Local temperature is 89 degrees with a heat index of 102. Stay inside if you can. Drink plenty of water and remember, don’t overdo it. It’s a scorcher out there today, folks”.

Catherine cursed the weatherman as she wiped the sweat off her forehead.  “Great. What a perfect time for the air to go out.”

The thought of going outside made her cringe. It was Sunday, so her office would be locked.

“I need to get out of this heat. I’ve got it!” Catherine giggled as she had a wonderful idea.

She went through recycling looking for something she could use.

“Nothing,” she said, frustrated.

She hurriedly changed into a comfortable t-shirt and jeans and hurried to the nearest store. She would’ve run if it hadn’t been so hot.

She sighed with relief when she stepped foot into the cool store.

She picked up some water guns.

No, too violent, and would be frowned upon, she thought as she put the guns down.

She went searching for safer things.

Balloons? No, leaves a mess to clean up.

Her eyes lit up when she saw them. “Spray bottles!!! Perfect!! Hmmm. There’s 50. That should be plenty.”

She grabbed up all the bottles and headed to pay.

It seemed like forever before she headed back to her apartment with her treasures. Instead of going directly to her apartment, she headed to the tunnels. It wasn’t long before she ran into Eric.

“What’s in the bags?” he asked

“It’s a surprise, and I need you to do me a favor. Could you gather all the kids and bring them here?”


“Oh, and Eric?”

Eric turned to look at her.

“Bring as many buckets of water as you can.” She winked at him.

He returned in record time with all the tunnel kids, each carrying two buckets full of water. Catherine passed out the spray bottles and helped fill them up. Once all the bottles were filled, boundary lines were drawn, and safe places declared, they were ready.

“On your mark, get set, GO!” Catherine yelled.

The fight began in full force. Laughter, shrieks, and happy screams echoed through the tunnels as the children chased and sprayed each other. Catherine found herself in the crossfire several times, but laughed as hard as the children. When bottles emptied they were quickly refilled, and the fun continued. Soon adults came to find out where the happy noises were coming from. Some smiled, shook their heads and went back to their previous activity. Some helped by refilling empty buckets. Others just couldn’t help joining in the fun. Catherine noticed Vincent walking towards them.

“I need to borrow that,” she said to Kipper.

He smiled and handed her his full bottle. She placed the bottle behind her back, walked calmly up to Vincent, and sprayed him in the face.

His look of shock made Catherine laugh. Vincent calmly watched the children play for a few minutes before casually picking up a bucket that was a quarter full. He turned to Catherine.

“Vincent, you wouldn’t dare.”

“Perhaps, but then how would I return the favor?”

With that, he dumped the bucket over her head. The children erupted with laughter to see Catherine soaked.

A tapping on the pipes made them all stop. Dinner.

Groans quickly spread among the children. They reluctantly started handing the bottles to Catherine.

“Vincent, why don’t you keep them for the next time?”

The children’s eyes danced with glee. Vincent put the bottles in the buckets and handed them to the children to carry.

“Would you join us, Catherine?” Vincent asked.

“I would love to.”

Vincent took her hand and they followed the children to dinner.