pencils.and.paper.roses

United States of America

Director
NERD
Hopeless romantic
Equally hopeless Fangirl™️
16
Early senior
Queen
The Lumineers
Bird lover
Fascinated by Great Britain
Love M. Night Shyamalan movies
In love with Rami Malek
❤️

Message to Readers

I hope you like this story! :D I put a lot of time into it. But it's REALLY long, so if you don't finish it/don't want to finish it, I understand. :)

Hide and Seek (full story)

January 1, 2019

FREE WRITING

1
PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS THE ORIGINAL STORY THAT SIMON SAYS IS A SEQUEL TO. DO NOT READ SIMON SAYS UNTIL YOU'VE READ THIS STORY IN FULL. THANK YOU! :D

Chapter One

“Willow, why aren’t you dressed yet? We’re leaving in half an hour!” Willow’s mother told her, exasperated. Willow pulled herself up off of the couch reluctantly. She was not looking forward to this trip. She’d been informed 2 months ago that they would be traveling to Des Moines, Iowa to help her aunt with her wedding. Having never really met her aunt, except once at a birthday party for someone else she didn’t really know, she was happy for her. But she didn’t see the point in going to the wedding at all, though she was a junior bridesmaid.
     Despite her annoyance, Willow went upstairs to her bedroom and pulled on a t-shirt and a pair of leggings. She brushed back her short, wavy brown hair back behind her ears and stuck her feet into a pair of flats. There, she thought, looking at her reflection in the mirror. That should satisfy Mom. “Did you brush your teeth?” her mom called. Oh, come on! She threw her hands in the air, heading to the bathroom.
…………………
“Carson, would you stop it!” she said to her brother, who was sitting in the backseat of the car next to her. He was making obnoxious noises and poking her in the side every 2 minutes as they drove from their home in New Orleans to Des Moines. He looked at her and stuck his tongue out. Why was he like this? They were twins, yet she was the bookish one who enjoyed reading and school, while he was very loud and didn’t much like school. How could twins end up so differently? It confused Willow profoundly.
     She leaned against the window and rolled her eyes. “Carson!” she said again. “Carson, leave your sister alone,” her mother said. Carson stopped poking her, but continued to make noise. Willow turned and grinned at her 7 month-old sister, Rhiel. Rhiel grinned and waved her tiny hands at Willow. Willow laughed and turned around. She pulled a book out of her backpack and began to read to pass the time.
………………………………
Before she knew it, it was dark outside and she couldn’t see her pages. She looked up in surprise. Hadn’t they only left the house a little while ago? She glanced at the clock in the front seat. Holy cow, it was 7 o’clock! She turned around to glance at Rhiel again. She was asleep and drooling. Willow put her hand over her mouth to muffle her laughter. She was adorable.
Willow turned back around and leaned forward. “Dad, when are we stopping? It’s 7 already and I’m getting hungry.” Her father looked at the car’s clock. “Oh, you’re right!” he said. “Honey, are there any good places to eat near here?” he asked his wife. She consulted her phone.
“Well, there’s a few fast food places pretty close by. I’ll pull up the directions for you.” She plugged her phone into the car’s stereo and the voice of the GPS immediately blared through the car. Quickly she reached out and turned it down.
   It was about a 5-minute drive to the nearest Wendy’s. “Alright, Rhiel,” Willow said softly to her sister, unbuckling her car seat when they arrived. “Are you hungry? Ready for some food?” Rhiel woke up slowly, opening her eyes and wiggling in Willow’s arms. “It’s alright, don’t move too much,” she said to her. She climbed carefully out of the car and handed Rhiel to her mother. “What are we getting to eat?” she asked. “Probably the Four for 4 meals,” her mother responded, gently bouncing Rhiel.
“Sounds good.”
     They walked in and discovered that it was almost completely empty. It was just them and the 4 workers. “Go pick some seats, guys,” her father told them. She and Carson headed to the middle of the restaurant and grinned. Despite their extreme differences, there were definitely things that they both did and agreed on; one of them was that they loved to sit right in the middle of whatever building they were in.
     Several minutes later, their parents came back with Rhiel and trays of food. “Mom, let me take Rhiel for a minute,” Willow said, holding her arms out. “Thank you, Willow,” her mother said, gratefully handing the baby to her older daughter. Then she began to dole out the food. “Chicken sandwich, fries, nuggets and a drink to Carson,” her mother said, handing the items to Willow’s brother. “And Willow gets a burger, fries, nuggets, and a Frosty.”
    “You can just set the stuff on the table, Mom.” Willow said. Her mother did so, then took Rhiel back from Willow. “Do you want to feed her, Willow?” her mother asked, smiling. “No thanks, you can take her,” Willow laughed. One time when Rhiel was about 4 months old, Willow had tried to feed her sister, and she’d ended up with a shirt covered in spit-up and baby formula.
     They ate their food, discussing ridiculous things that had happened on the ride there. Of course, Willow had missed most of them, as she was reading her book almost the entire time. Apparently Carson had told some weird jokes and Rhiel had gotten a horrible case of hiccups that cracked them all up. “I can’t believe you were totally oblivious, Willow! It was so funny!” Carson said jubilantly. Willow rolled her eyes. Carson’s idea of funny was different from hers. But honestly, she could see why Rhiel hiccupping would be funny. Such a tiny baby making such a loud noise was a comical thing to behold.
     Willow finished her food and went to throw her trash away. But as she reached the trash can, she noticed a strange, tall man with a shaved head standing outside the window looking in. He seemed fixated on her. Chills ran up and down her spine and she walked back to her family, putting him out of her mind.
 
Chapter Two
When she nervously went outside to get back in the car later, she glanced around and saw no sign of the man anywhere. Thank goodness for that, she thought. She strapped her seatbelt in and looked back out the window. Then to her horror, she saw him right outside the door of the building! She’d just left the building a second ago, and he hadn’t been anywhere; it was impossible! She turned back around and took a deep breath. You’re just seeing things, Willow, you’re just seeing things, she assured herself. She left her books in her bag this time and payed attention to what her family was doing.
     She didn’t know why. Maybe to see Rhiel hiccupping again. Unfortunately nothing happened this time, and she fell asleep before she knew it.
     She was woken up to Rhiel crying 4 hours later. “Oh, Rhiel,” Willow said sleepily. Her twin was still asleep, and her mother was close to it. She sighed and unbuckled her seatbelt. She turned around to face the back of the car and stroked Rhiel’s head, talking to her gently. It was the only way to calm her. Finally Rhiel stopped crying, and Willow turned back around.
     It was getting light out by then, and she watched the sunrise through the window. “Dad, we’ve been driving all night, how close are we?”
     Her father didn’t respond for a minute. “Oh, Willow. It’s you.” He said, seeming a little out of it. “Sorry, I’m so tired. We’re uh, about 2 hours away, I think. It won’t be much longer.” Willow leaned back and pulled a sketchbook and a box of colored pencils out of her backpack. She sketched Rhiel in a wedding dress aflame with colors. Weirdly, she enjoyed to draw her baby sister doing everything from sitting at the dinner table to going skydiving. It was a satisfying hobby.
     Willow continued to draw, this time drawing her brother sleeping in the seat next to her. He was drooling and his head was tipped forward, which made for a hilarious picture. After she laughed to herself, she flailed about for something else to draw. Soon, something came to mind: the man she’d seen at the Wendy’s. She shivered at the thought and began to sketch. When she finished, she had a perfect image of what she’d seen. It was almost scary how accurate it was.
     Finally she put away her sketchbook, having lost her desire to draw, and sat back. This trip had turned out not to be quite as boring as she’d expected.
 
Chapter Three
Carson had woken up and begun to be obnoxious again. He cracked Rhiel up by making weird faces, but when he sent a snot rocket in the direction of Willow’s book, their parents had made him call it quits. He’d sat, annoyed, for the next 10 minutes before pulling out a book of his own. They read in silence for another 45 minutes before they pulled into the parking lot of a hotel. They looked up from their books at the giant building and smiled. “Whoa!” Willow said, her jaw dropping. It was the biggest hotel she’d ever seen. “Is this where we’re staying?”
     “Yup,” her father replied. Carson pumped his fist in the air, grabbed his books and such, and headed to the trunk to get his bag of clothes. Unlike Willow, Carson had chosen to pack all his entertainment materials into the back pockets of the seats in the car.
     They headed into the hotel, bogged down with their luggage. “One room, please,” Willow father said to the desk clerk. “Preferably with several beds.” So they received a key to their room and went up to drop their luggage off.
     “Oh heck yeah, it has a pool!” Carson announced, rather louder than he probably should have.  He got a look from his mother.
     “We might go into it later but not quite yet. First we’ve got to go help your aunt with the wedding.” Willow’s spirits drooped a bit. She’d actually forgotten the reason they had gone on the trip. She set her backpack on the floor next to the door and sat down on the bed, looking around as she did so. “Whoa!” she said. There were large beams on the ceiling, and there was a divider between one bed and the other.
     “Will we be able to get a place for Rhiel to sleep?” Willow asked. Her father nodded. “They should be coming up with a fold-up crib anytime soon.”
     Finally, they were all unpacked, Rhiel’s crib unfolded, and the door relocked. They headed out of the hotel and toward the car to reload. Riding along in the car again, Willow reopened her sketchbook and showed her brother the picture she’d drawn of him sleeping. His reaction was hilarious; he looked like a fish out of water and snatched the sketchbook out of Willow’s hands. “How dare you!” he said, flipping through it. “Did you draw any other stupid pictures of me?”
     Suddenly he stopped and turned the book toward her. “Whoa, when did you do this one? It’s amazing!” She looked over at it and got goosebumps again when she saw what it was: the picture of the man from the restaurant. She snatched the sketchbook back. “I-it’s nothing. Just something I drew the other day when I was bored.”
“You drew something that good just because you were bored?”
“Yes!” Willow snapped. She turned away, feeling inexplicably worried.
 
Chapter Four
They arrived at their aunt’s house with about an hour to spare.
“April? You here?” Willow’s mother called as she opened the door. “Hey!” their aunt called, rounding a corner and entering the foyer. She hugged her sister. “I’m so glad you’re here! And all the kids! They’ve gotten so big!” Willow forced a smile, then turned and rolled her eyes. The whole “they’ve gotten so big” thing was starting to really bug her.
     “Willow! How are you? You keeping your grades up in school?” She asked. School? What was wrong with this lady? It was summer! But she nodded anyway, if only to keep the mood from souring for the rest of them. 
     Then Diana turned to Carson. “Carson, the single boy! How are you doing with no brothers to keep you company?” Carson laughed. “It’s pretty annoying.” Diana laughed too.
     “And Rhiel! You weren’t even born when I last saw this family. And now here you are, big and adorable!” she pinched Rhiel’s cheek, and Rhiel looked confused.
 “Come on in! Let me show you the house!”
     So they followed April around the house and looked in all the rooms. It was truly an enormous house, with at least 5 large bedrooms, a few sitting rooms, and even a small kitchenette in the finished basement. When they came back upstairs from the basement, the last room on their house tour, Willow’s mother expressed her amazement. “April, this house is amazing! How did you ever get it so cheaply?”
“Oh, it isn’t mine. I’m just renting it for the reception! We’ll also have a few people staying here until after the wedding.”
     Willow found that somewhat surprising. The way her aunt was dressed suggested she’d be able to afford to live there.
     Right after they finished their “tour”, the other set-up volunteers and chefs began to show up. “Alright everyone, let’s meet in the dining room for your debriefing!” April announced. The group gathered around the table in the dining room.
     “So, we’ll be heading down to Forenta Park in about ten minutes to set up the chairs and the aisle, and then for those of you who are in the wedding party,  we’ll be doing the rehearsal about 3 hours after that. You won’t need to dress up for the rehearsal. Now, who is here for food prep and production?”
      Several people raised their hands. “Okay. You guys will stay here, and you can start frying, or roasting, or whatever you’ll be doing. Is everything clear?”
 There was a chorus of “yes!”’s and “Got it.”s.
“Perfect! Let’s all head out for set-up now.”
     The group dispersed and the majority of them headed outside to their cars, including Willow and her family. As she walked out the door, a man brushed past Willow. “Oops, so sorry,” he said, not very sincerely. Willow stared at her arm where he’d bumped her…or rather, not so bumped her. He’d gone right through her!
     She looked up at the man, who was looking back at her. Willow suddenly got shaky. It was the same man from the restaurant, the one who’d been watching her through the window! She went pale, and turned around. Then she looked over her shoulder. He watched her for another few seconds before walking away. Willow looked down at her hands, which looked as though an earthquake was happening inside them. She went back inside, sat down on the stairs and buried her head in her hands. Who was this person? Why was he following her everywhere? And most importantly, how had his arm gone through her? It was impossible!
     “Willow, are you okay?” a voice said. Willow looked up and saw April looking at her. She forced a smile.
     “Yeah, I’m alright. Just a little bit of a headache. I’ll be fine.” Her aunt nodded. “Do you want some Aspirin or anything? Gotta make sure you’re all ready for the set-up and rehearsal later!” Willow shook her head, and her aunt left. Should she tell someone? She didn’t know if she should. For all she knew, she was just imagining this creepy person. She shook her head and headed out to the car to join her family and go to the park for set-up.
………………………….
“This looks so great, everyone!” April said with a huge smile on her face. They’d just finished setting up the chairs and the aisle and bringing the piano for Willow’s father, who would be the pianist for the wedding. Everyone looked around and admired their handiwork, grinning just as largely as April was. “Okay, let’s head back to the hotel until the rehearsal so we can get ready, and then come back here.” The family returned to the car and went back to the hotel.
   Willow still felt uneasy, and had decided not to tell anyone. She was pretty sure she was just hallucinating, for some reason. Maybe it was the heat.
     “Can you grab the key from my purse and go unlock the room for us, Willow?” her mother requested. “I’ve got to go change Rhiel and you brother needs to help your dad with the stuff in the backseat.” They’d left the set-up with a few gifts from their aunt as a thank-you for helping with the set up. “Okay,” Willow replied, leaning forward. She pulled their room key from the outside pocket of her mother’s purse and entered the building. She examined the key out of boredom while in the elevator on the way up. When she reached their room, she noticed something on the floor in front of the door.
     It was a small UPS box, addressed to her. Why am I getting a package? Willow thought. I don’t do any online shopping and I haven’t won anything recently. Plus, shipping companies don’t usually ship to hotels.
     She examined the shipping label. There was no return address. Weird. She entered the room and sat down on the bed to open it. It felt strangely light, she noticed as she turned it over to rip off the tape. She opened the flaps and discovered…packing material. She took it out and discovered another layer, and another. She took out more and more before finally getting annoyed and dumping the contents of the box onto the bed. She sifted through it and found only a small piece of folded paper. What the heck is this? She thought exasperatedly.
    She unfolded the paper, revealing only 4 words: I am not imaginary. Willow sat back on her bed. Why on Earth would she be getting a package with a random, four-word note while at a hotel in Des Moines? She shook her head, crumpled up the paper, gathered up the packing material and box and tossed it in the trash. Just then, her mom came in the room holding Rhiel. “What was all that?” she asked, glancing over at the trash can.
“Nothing, just some trash I forgot to take out of my backpack before we left.”
     Willow’s mother looked a little skeptical, but she let it be. Soon after, their father and Carson tromped into the room, carrying 4 bags. “We have arrived!” Carson announced. He tended to be somewhat overdramatic upon entering a room. Willow rolled her eyes.
 “Willow, do you have your rehearsal dress over there?” her mother asked. Willow looked through her backpack and found it near the bottom. She pulled it out and held it up. “Yup, got it right here. I’ll go change.”
 
Chapter Five
“I now do NOT pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss your bride.” The preacher said jokingly.
     The guests laughed. Willow applauded with everyone else from her mother’s side. “Okay, now that we’ve got that done, let’s go eat! We’ll be meeting at Centro for the rehearsal dinner.” The Des Moines natives cheered, and the rest of the group pulled out their phones and looked up the restaurant.
     They all got excited after they found out what it was, and they quickly went to their cars to drive there. Once they pulled up, they oohed and aahed at the elegant look of the tables and the building in general. Willow and her family were seated near the head of the table close to her aunt and soon-to-be uncle. They ordered their food and ate, then everyone split out to their separate cars. But before Willow’s family reached theirs, Willow was taken aside by April.
     “Willow, your dress for tomorrow is still at the reception hall because they had an amateur seamstress that ruined it, so can you ask your parents to let you come with me to the reception location and get it? I had to go collect it this morning before everyone arrived.” Willow nodded.
     “Sure, I’ll be right back,” she replied. Her parents, of course, said yes, so Willow rode awkwardly with her aunt in her car, answering her question about school, her home, and her family.
     Finally they arrived at the hall, and her aunt stopped at the door. She leaned down and picked something up “Um, it looks like this showed up here for you,” April said, handing Willow a small package. “I’m not sure why it would come here instead of to you, but it did! Now, let me go get your dress. Just hold on one minute.” She left Willow standing by the door while she went inside and upstairs. Willow sat outside on the steps of the building and opened the package.
     Ugh, not another one of these, she thought when she realized what was in it. It was a single slip of paper with words, the same message this time: I am not imaginary. She rolled her eyes and stood up to go get rid of the paper, but as she did, she noticed something that made her sit back down, shaking.
     The man was there, on the sidewalk in front of the building. He was staring at her just as intently as he had when she first seen him at the Wendy’s. She couldn’t help but notice how piercing his eyes were, almost as though they could see into her soul, and she couldn’t tear her own away. “You aren’t real,” she whispered, thinking out loud. “You are imaginary. You can’t be real.” But the man shook his head almost imperceptibly just as her aunt walked outside with her dress. “What did you say, honey?” April said, and Willow jumped a foot in the air. Her aunt noticed and asked her “Is something wrong?” Willow decide to tell her. “Yeah, that-“ she started to point toward the street, but she paused when she saw the spot where he stood. He wasn’t there! The spot was entirely empty. Willow went pale and shook her head. “N-no, everything’s okay. You just scared me.” She stood up and headed to the car, quickly followed by her aunt.
…………………………..
Willow laid in the bed in the hotel that night, tossing and turning. She was going over everything she knew about the man, and also everything she didn’t know. Apparently, every time she saw him, she would get a package with a note in it shortly before or after. If she opened the package, would she still see him? Why did he always disappear as soon as she looked away? And why did he always disappear before someone else could see? She rolled over and closed her eyes, determined to put the man out of her mind and go to sleep.
……………………………..
She woke up the next day with the goal of not worrying about the man at all. She ate breakfast with her family and played with Rhiel for a while before she had to head to the reception hall for preparation. She brushed her hair and tried as best she could to brush it behind her ears so that it would be easy to work with later. Then she went with her mother to the car. Carson and their father would be riding with their grand parents to head to the set-up area.
     She sat and got her makeup done while chatting with her cousin, who was also a bridesmaid and would be walking down the aisle one spot before her. Then she put on her dress. It was a lovely light blue strapless dress that went down to just above her ankles. It certainly didn’t look like anything had happened to it like her aunt had told her. Then they headed to the park where the wedding was going to take place. She walked down the aisle behind her cousin and stood up next to her mother. She smiled and clapped as April became the wife of her new uncle. But through all of this, the man stayed in her thoughts.
 
Chapter Six
Willow decided to make a bold choice. She didn’t know if it was a good idea, and it probably wasn’t. But she would go through with it regardless.
     While her family was inside, watching her aunt and uncle dance during the reception, she slipped out of the building and sat on the steps just as she had the day before. She waited and watched the street and she closed her eyes. Nothing happened.
     She was disappointed, but she also breathed a sigh of relief. The man hadn’t showed up. She stood up and turned to go back inside. But just before her hand touched the doorknob, she knew he was there. Willow turned back around very slowly and kept her eyes to the ground. He was standing right in front of her. “What do you want?” she whispered as loudly as she dared. She willed herself to look up slightly. He was actually quite normal looking, it was really just his eyes, the eyes that never left her face.
     The man stayed silent, but the piercing gaze seemed to intensify. “Why are you here?” Willow said, trying not to show her fear. “Because of you,” the man said. Then he turned around. Willow blinked, and he was gone. She leaned against a pillar next to her, having lost the ability to stand up straight. She felt dizzy. What was happening? She slowly went back inside and sat down with a cup of water.
……………………..
Willow stood at the sink in the hotel that night, brushing her hair. “Mom, have you ever had something happen to you that completely terrified you?" Willow asked. Her mother looked at her strangely. "Umm...probably," she responded. "Why?"
     Willow flailed around for a good answer. "I, uh...I'm writing...a story. Yeah, I'm writing a story. My English teacher told me that if I wrote a story over summer break I could get extra credit for next year." Her mother narrowed her eyes as though she didn't quite believe her, but she complied.
     "Well, when I was about 10 years old, I came across a note in the basement. It said "you're next" on it, and I was absolutely convinced that it was meant for me. I was terrified. But then when I showed my family, my sister said it was just from a prank she tried to play on our brother, and he'd never found it. It was actually a bit funny after the fact, but when I first found it, it was pretty terrifying.” Her mother smiled, remembering her ridiculous fear.
      "Ah, those were good times. Anyway, does that help you?" Willow nodded, although it really didn't help her at all. "Yeah, that's good," she replied. "I think I'll do a bunch of short stories, and that can be the first one." She put down the brush, having finished with her hair, and left the bathroom. She sat on the bed. Well, that wasn't productive, she thought. There's got to be some way to find out more about this man.
     Willow had been shaken to the core, and she intended to figure out why. She decided to see if her mom would let her go to the library in town the next day and do "research" for her "story". Of course, what that really meant was checking through newspapers, journals, and past books to see if she could find information about the man. The only problem: He didn't have a name. Not one that she'd given him, not one that someone else had called him (because of course, he always disappeared before anyone else could see him) and not a name that she'd seen somewhere, because no one else seemed to know that he existed. It was a large dilemma. She decided to stop worrying about it for the rest of the night, since it was all she'd be doing the next day, and go play with her family.  She got up and grabbed her backpack to get her swimsuit. The rest of the family was downstairs in the hotel pool.
……………………..
"Marco!" she shouted. "Polo!" her brother called back. Ugh, how was Carson so good at this? They hardly ever went swimming back home!
     "Marco!"
"Polo!”
     He wasn't far! She dove forward, and her hand struck something. "Dang!" her brother said. "Ha!" Willow shouted triumphantly, opening her eyes and tossing her hands in the air in victory. "I win! I'm queen of the world!"
     Her brother shook his head. "How are you so good at this? We never swim at home!" Willow couldn't help but laugh. How were they so good at it?
     "I was just thinking the same thing about you!" she said through her laughter. "I guess we're even." she climbed out of the pool for a minute and wiped her face off with her towel. Then she took a sip from the water bottle she'd brought with her.
"Let's play a different game now," her brother suggested.
      "Sure," Willow agreed. "What game do you want to play?"
"What about underwater Hide and Seek?" he said.
     And just like that, all the joy and carefreeness of the last hour was knocked out of her. She'd begun to think of the whole thing with the man as a terrifying game of Hide and Seek. So when her brother mentioned it, it brought all the thoughts and memories and feeling from the last few days back. "Actually, I think I'm done for now," she said. "Oh, come on Willow!" Carson said. "Come back!"
      "Carson, I'm done," she said, more sharply than she'd intended. She took her feet out of the water and went to sit over by her parents.
 
Chapter Seven
Willow ate breakfast the next morning and asked her mom to take her to the library. "Research for my story," she told her. She'd agreed quickly, and they'd left their family to their own devices for the rest of the morning.
     Her mom sat down by the fiction section near the door when they arrived and told Willow to meet her back there in 2 hours. So Willow went to the nonfiction section first, to deter her mom's suspicions, just in case she was watching or anything like that. Then she went over to the news and periodical section. She checked articles in only the past five years. She felt that it would be the most helpful section.
     But how would she look for a person she couldn't identify? As far as she knew, the man didn't have a name. She decided to look under "Des Moines" first, rather than anywhere else, since that was where it had all started.
     Then she realized something: It wasn't where it had started. She vividly remembered a time about 6 months ago when she was in the courtyard with her friends. She'd noticed a man with bright eyes watching her from a distance. But at that time, she hadn't thought much of it. She'd just looked away, ignoring him. She shuddered at imagining herself doing that. How had she ever done it? Regardless of the memory, she went to the section marked "Local" and began to look through the newspapers: The Register, The Tribune, and the CITYVIEW.
     She started with the Tribune; since it was the biggest one. She flipped through page after page of sports headlines (apparently the Des Moines hockey team had won 12 of 14 games that season), political notes, and birth announcements. She was beginning to get very bored.
     Finally, after going through all of the Register and half of the Tribune, she gave up. This had turned out to be a useless visit. She hadn’t expected it to be overflowing with information about a person that she couldn’t even identify, but she had expected to find at least a vague reference. She put all the newspapers back onto the shelves with the help of a young librarian who had noticed her struggling with the weight of all of it and then went back over to where her mom was sitting, immersed in a mystery novel. “Let’s go, Mom,” Willow said. “This wasn’t helpful.”
“How so?”
“I didn’t find what I was looking for.”
They drove back to the hotel in awkward silence. When they arrived at the hotel, Willow’s mother veered to the right. “I’m going to the restroom, okay hon?” Willow nodded and headed up to their room. But when she reached the door, she was filled with horror. There was a small shape in the doorframe.
     Oh no, no, she thought. She took a deep breath and slowly walked forward to retrieve the object she knew was a package addressed to her. She didn't enter the room this time, and she sat just outside the door to open it. She opened it slower than the last two, knowing this time what it contained. This time the note's words were different: You know why I’m here. She sat back against the doorframe. How would she face this? Then a new thought struck her: What if her mom found it?
Willow could only imagine how confused she would be. She stood up slowly and twisted the door knob. As soon as she opened it, she shrieked. The man was standing right in front of her!
     “You know why I’m here.” He said in the eerie, whispery voice. “No, I don’t,” Willow tried to say, but her voice seemed reduced to a whisper. She was unable to speak normally. “Why are you doing this?”
You know why,” he said.
“But I don’t!” Willow said. She turned around and tried to run, but instead crashed into her mother.
     “Who were you talking to?” her mother asked after the initial shock of the collision.
 “I was just talking to myself,” willow said. She desperately wanted to tell her, but felt that it was better to keep it to herself. She knew by then that the man was real, and that she was the only no one else could see him, or so it seemed, since he always disappeared by the time someone else showed up. But why her? Why then? Her questions were endless.
     “Where’s your father and Carson and Rhiel?” her mother asked, bringing her back to reality. Willow looked around the room. “I dunno,” she said. Then she spotted a note on the nightstand.
I’ve taken the kids to lunch. Carson was complaining about being hungry.
     “Looks like they left,” Willow said after reading the note. “Do you think we should go meet them? I mean, I’m kind of hungry too. Research does that to a person.” She was rambling, and she knew it. But she wanted to get away from the hotel as quickly as possible after what had just happened. “Might as well,” her mother replied. “Did they say where they went?”
Willow looked over the note again. “Nope,” she said. “Try texting him, see if you can find out.”
      So Willow's mother pulled out her phone and sent her husband a text message. They waited for 10 minutes before finally getting a response. It was a somewhat cryptic note saying: Escape the confusion, discover the solution. Her mother sighed. "Guess Carson and your father are in the middle of another of their riddle battles," she said. "He doesn't send things like this otherwise." Willow knew that it was her father (her mother was right about the riddle thing, plus it didn’t really sound like one of the notes from the packages), but she still felt uneasy. Riddles had become a feared thing for her after the packages had started to arrive.
     “I guess we’ve just got to guess,” Willow said. Her mom nodded. “My guess is that they probably went to Maxie’s,” She said. “It’s pretty well-known around here.”
     So they got back in the car and went there. It turned out that Willow’s mother was right on both counts: They had gone to Maxie’s, and Willow’s father and Carson were in the middle of another one of their riddle battles.
     The girls took a seat before Willow’s parents turned to them. “Kids, since some of you-“ here their mother stopped and looked pointedly at Willow- "Were not looking forward to this trip, we've decided to make it a little more fun for you." The parents smiled at each other. "We're going to make it into a vacation!" Willow forced a smile for her family's sake, but inside she was screaming "What? No! Why can't we just go home already? Please let us just go home!" As selfish and somewhat awful as it was, she almost wished for something to happen that would cut the trip short.
     As her parents and Carson chattered excitedly about everything that they would see and do on the trip, Willow sat quietly. Did this mean that the man would continue to follow her and appear everywhere? She continued recalled the time when she'd she had seen him at school. That told her that it happened back home too, so clearly his appearances was not were not restricted just to Des Moines.
     "Are you okay, Willow?" Carson said, looking at her rather strangely. "You look like you're about to hurl!" Willow had to laugh. "I'm alright, Carson," she said. "Just lost in thought."
 
 
 
 
Chapter Eight
The family was back in the car after finishing their meals, and they were on their way out of Des Moines. Their next stop was Keystone, South Dakota. “We’ll see Mount Rushmore and the Badlands!” their father sang joyfully. He was clearly very excited about their change of plans.
Willow pulled out her sketchbook and drew a picture of Rhiel climbing a mountain while wearing a backpack that was twice as large as she was. It made her chuckle, and it was a rare moment of happiness within her constant fear and worry about the man. She shuddered and banned the thought from her mind. Then she sat back and watched the scenes passing before eventually falling asleep.
…………………….
Willow was being followed. She ran from room to room, only to end up back where she started. So she ran endlessly in circles, which whatever was chasing her always in close pursuit.
Finally she fell, too exhausted to keep going, and she screamed.
     Suddenly she woke up to darkness. Why was she moving? Then she remembered: she was in the car, and they were on vacation after going to Des Moines to help her aunt with her wedding. It must have been nighttime by then. She shook her head. Get ahold of yourself, Willow, she thought. You can’t do that. She looked around the darkened car to see how many of her family members were awake. Her brother and her dad, who was in the passenger seat, were both asleep. But surprisingly, Rhiel was not. She was awake and playing with the rattle that was always in her car seat. "Rhiel, what are you doing awake?"
"Huh?" her mom said. Just going off of that, Willow could tell that her mom wasn't very awake either; she knew when it was her being talked to. "You're fine, Mom," Willow said. "I was talking to Rhiel."
"Rhiel's awake?" her mom said.
"Yeah," Willow replied. "I don't know how, considering it's..." she leaned forward to get a look at the clock. "...11:09. But she is."
     She twisted around in her seat to look at Rhiel. She seemed very focused on something in front of Carson. Suddenly her mother screamed and slammed on the brakes! Something went through the car, and Willow shrieked too.
     The car came to a full stop, and everyone in the car was jolted forward. By then, Carson and their father were both awake, and Rhiel had begun to cry. "Mom, what just happened?" Carson said. He didn't sound sleepy at all, and with good reason. But Willow had begun to get a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. She slowly turned around and looked past Rhiel. And she was right.
     The man was standing behind their car, which had apparently gone right through him. He had been the blur that she saw a minute ago. But unlike every other time she’d seen him, he was facing away from her. Willow suddenly realized that her mom was undoing her buckle and getting out of the car. “Mom, no! Don’t!” she shouted, unstrapping her seatbelt and lunging forward. But instead of grabbing her mother’s arm like she’d intended, she banged her head into the back of the seat in front of her. She shook herself off and climbed out of the car after her mother.
    “Oh, my goodness I’m so sorry, are you alright, sir?” her mother rambled. “I can’t believe I just did that. I’m so, so sorry. I promise I—“ her mother stopped when she reached the man. “Sir, how are you still standing?” she said bluntly. The man turned, and, to Willow’s incredible shock, he smiled. His eyes looked completely normal, a very sharp contrast to the piercing brightness that they usually had. “I’m fine, ma’am,” he said in a normal tone of voice. Willow barely restrained her jaw from dropping. “All is forgiven.”
“B-but, sir, I…I just hit you with my car! How are you alright?”
“I’m quite strong, I’ve survived quite a lot.”
Willow’s mother shook her head. “Well, if you’re sure, I’ll let you be. What are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?” she motioned to the emptiness around them. “Oh, I live nearby,” the man said, pointing. “I was just out for a walk. Couldn’t sleep, you know.”
      “Okay then,” Willow’s mother said. “Let’s go, Willow.”
She began to walk back to the driver’s side door, but then she turned back around. “Sir, what’s your name?”
     “Silas. Silas Shar.”
 
Chapter Nine (Mini Chapter)
Willow went back to the car, climbed in, and buckled her seatbelt, her mind racing. How had that just happened?
     So his name is Silas Shar, she thought. Doesn't seem very fitting. But it helped her a lot. Now that she had a name, she could search for him in all the cities they'd be visiting.
      She flipped to the page in her sketchbook that she'd drawn the picture on and wrote "Silas" in the bottom corner. Then she put it away and pulled out a notebook with lined paper and began to write something down.
…………………………..
Silas watched the girl and her mother drive away. Willow, the girl’s name was. He would have to remember that. He turned around and disappeared.
………………………..
Soon she had a list of various things she’d learned.
     Everything she knew about the man was on the list, and she planned to go to each library in each city that they stopped at and look though the newspapers and such for his name. Am I stalking him? She thought. But she shook her head. If anything, he’s stalking me.
     She enjoyed the rest of the ride, with her mind put to ease temporarily.
 
Chapter Ten
It was another 4 hour drive to Keystone from their location, so the family stopped again about halfway there for a meal. This time it was a sit-down place that served…everything. “Try and get something you can have leftovers from!” their mother said. So Willow decided to split a large plate with her brother, and they had leftovers, just as they were told. Then they were back on the road.
     Finally they arrived in Keystone, and they got another hotel room. Willow was nervous about it after the last one, but she shuddered and moved forward. Besides, he’d showed up that day and he didn’t tend to show up more than that (not that she wanted him to). She went into the room and tossed her backpack onto the bed, quickly followed by her brother and his stuff. "Carson, can't you find something to keep all this in?" she said after he put his stuff on the bed. His items included books, paper and pencils (he liked to draw, but not as much as Willow) and several handheld games.
     "Nope," he said. "Not everyone can be perfectly organized all the time!" He was taunting her, and Willow knew it. She liked to have her room organized with all her clothes folded, all her objects organized, and everything in its place. The only exception was her drawing area, where there were crumpled papers and pencils that needed sharpened scattered across the desk and the floor. In addition, there was a CD player and several CDs. It was the only space where she allowed it to be quite so messy.
     She shook her head. “Really, Carson.” He grinned and nodded, and Willow rolled her eyes. Then she turned to her father.
     “Dad, what are we doing first?” she asked. He shrugged.
“I don’t know yet,” he replied. “Probably Rushmore. But we’ll do that tomorrow. I thought we might just hang around the hotel for a bit, take a break from all of what we’ve been doing recently.” Willow nodded. “Sounds good to me.”
     Then Willow’s mother came in holding Rhiel. “Oh, you’re all here already!” she said. “That’s good.” She set Rhiel down on a pillow and then sat down herself. “Boy, this has been exhausting, hasn’t it?”
     Willow looked up. “What do you mean?” she asked her mother.
     “You know, having to figure out where we’re going, keeping you three out of trouble, apologizing to that poor man we ran into…” her mother blushed. “I still can’t believe I did that.”
     “Well, he seemed fine,” Willow said. For reasons I can’t figure out, she thought, slightly annoyed. She sat back. “But anyway, Dad said we’re probably staying here for the day instead of going to do things, so you can get a chance to rest.”
     Her mother nodded. “I’m fine with that. I need a break from everything anyway. Like I said, this trip has been exhausting.” Willow nodded back in agreement, then leaned back on the pillow of the bed and opened her next book. She’d finished the first book in the series, The Missing by Margaret Peterson Haddix, the day before, and was eager to move onto the next one.
     2 hours later, she closed the book to take a break only to discover the room empty. She looked around and found a note from her brother: We went downstairs, bookworm. You need to come meet us so we can leave for the restaurant.
     She smiled and shook her head. Her brother was so obvious about things. Then she put her book back into her backpack and went downstairs, where her family was in the lobby.
     “Finally!” Carson said as Willow walked out of the elevator. “We’re going to some place called Cruizzer’s, Dad said.”
     “Sounds good to me,” Willow said. “What do they serve?”
“Pizza!”                            
     The family went out to the car and Willow buckled Rhiel into her car seat. “Oof! Mom, I’m not in my seat yet!” she cried as her mother started forward. Rhiel laughed.
     Once they arrived at the restaurant, they all got a menu and looked it over to decide what they wanted. It was a bitter battle between Carson and Willow over whether they should get quadruple cheese or chili dog pizza. “Why the heck would you even eat that?” Willow said when she heard that Carson wanted to order chili dog pizza. “Seriously, we need to get it with just cheese.”
     Finally their father proposed a simple solution: the restaurant served individual slices, so why not do that? The kids agreed, though Willow ended up ordering sausage-topped. “Tic tac toe?” Carson offered. It was a simple pastime they enjoyed doing often. Willow played him 5 times before he finally beat her. Then their food arrived, and they ate happily.
     Then they were back in the car. They returned to the hotel and slept well, then the next morning they were back in the car. “On to Mount Rushmore!” their father announced, and the family cheered.
     During the 25 minute drive, Willow sketched a dog and then flipped through her sketchbook for a blank page. When she came across the picture of the man again, she shuddered. “Willow, are you cold or something? How?” her brother asked.
      “I’m okay,” she responded. Then she looked out the window and saw what they were coming up on. “Whoa, look outside! We’re here!”
 
Chapter Eleven (Mini Chapter)
They walked through the National Park and looked at Mount Rushmore for hours before their legs finally got tired and they took a break. Willow plopped onto a bench with her sister in her lap and took off her backpack with paper, pencils, and water.
     “Are you as exhausted as I am, Rhiel?” she asked, walking her across her lap. Rhiel began to babble in baby talk like she was responding, and Willow laughed. Then she set her down again. “Mom, can you take Rhiel?” she asked. Her mother nodded.
     Willow left her family and went to the restroom. But just as she entered, she nearly ran into someone she knew. “Aunt April! What are you doing here?”
“Oh, Willow! Hi!” April seemed rather nervous. “I, ummm…I’m here to meet someone. Right after you and your parents and Carson and Rhiel left, my boss called and told me that I had to meet the new trainee at the Casey’s General out here to help them around, show them the ropes, and all that, you know?”
     Her aunt smiled nervously, and Willow frowned. No, actually she didn’t know. Her aunt worked at a Casey’s General Store? Her boss told her to come all the way to Keystone, when in reality she lived all the way in Des Moines? No, she didn’t know. But she nodded and forced a smile anyway.
     When she returned to her family, her mind wasn’t on what they were doing next, but on her aunt. Why was she there?
 
Chapter Twelve
They were back in the car the hotel again, and Willow was sitting in the backseat waiting for her brother to return (he wanted to get a piece of paper he’d written stuff for the library on) and get in the car before they went to the library so Willow could do more research for her story. She was looking over her list again to be sure that she didn’t miss anything.
Then they were back on the road toward the library.
     Willow looked up in awe at the beauty of the place when she walked in: the huge shelves, the large tables and chairs for reading. She was a little disappointed that she wasn’t just there to read. “Willow, I’m going to the kids section to keep Rhiel entertained and your brother is going to the comics section, okay? Let me know when you finish up.”
     Willow nodded and headed for Nonfiction and Periodicals, list in hand. Since she had a name this time, she checked the computer catalog first. Silas Shar, she typed. Thousands of results for “Silas” showed up (a violin player named Silas Wilson, an athlete named Silas Turlen, a high school student named Silas Lohr), as well as hundreds of results for the definition of “Shar”. Her heart sank. This would take all day! But she took a deep breath and began.
     She started with “Shar”, wondering if it would give last name results. She didn’t find anything about the man, but she did discover that “Shar” was the Arabic word for “evil”. Accurate, she thought, bemused. Oh, the irony.
     After clicking several ‘Shar’ results, she switched to ‘Silas’, ignoring any results that had a last name with them. Finally she reached a news website that mentioned someone named Silas Shar and clicked it. Success! She thought when she saw the images, and caught her breath. She skimmed through the article, but began to really read after the first paragraph.
Silas Shar evaded capture for the third time after attempting to kidnap a 7-year old girl in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. The girl, Raina Wintrich, reportedly informed press that “he appeared behind me and it scared me bad.”
Similar reports were given by witnesses of the crime, Mr. Jacob Garfield and Raina’s father, Carl Wintrich. “I was calling Raina, and when I saw what was happening I went running, see, but then as soon as I got there he disappeared!” Wintrich said.
Shar, who is a member of the organization known as the Seekers, has attempted the abduction of several other children of varying ages. However, all of the children were short-haired brunette girls. Chases by the police ensued each time, but none succeeded in bringing him in. Search parties were sent out immediately after each event was reported.
     Willow sat back in her seat in revelation. So that was why he was there. He wanted to kidnap her!
Suddenly her mother walked up behind her. “Willow, you close to done?” Willow jumped a foot in the air. She clicked out of the page and turned. “Yeah, I’m uh, I’m pretty close to done. I think I found what I need.” She stood up and stood next to her mother. “Good. We’re starting to exhaust the board books section in Children’s.”
     The pair went to the entrance of the library, where their family was waiting. “You get what you need, Willow?” her father asked.
     “Yup,” she responded. “I don’t think I’ll need to visit any more libraries.”
“Alright!” Carson congratulated her. Then he changed the subject. “What’s for dinner?”
    “We’re going to a place called Ruby—“ their father began. Just before he finished, he was cut off by Carson tripping on a rock and falling forward, right into a mud puddle. Rhiel, who was watching all of this with amusement, began to giggle uproariously, and it made Willow laugh too. Soon they were all laughing, even Carson as he lay sprawled in the mud.
………………………………
The group was sitting in the car, waiting for Carson to return. Willow was updating the list of details and attempting to commit it to memory.
     Suddenly she realized that she’d forgotten something earlier that day. ”I’m going up to the room, I’ll be back in a second,” she told her parents.
     “Oh, come on!” Carson said, passing her in the hallway. He had left the room just as she entered it. She went in and checked underneath a bed. Ah, there it was! She pulled her flashlight out from under the bed skirt and headed out of the room. But as she left the doorway, she tripped over a large box in the doorway and realized what it was as she was falling. Not again, she thought, resisting the urge to stay on the ground.
     He’s here.
 
Chapter Thirteen
     She picked herself carefully up off the ground and turned around. She didn’t even bother to open the package this time. She already knew what it was. She shuddered and stepped forward to meet her fate.
     “I know you’re here,” she said as loudly as she dared. She glanced around and continued. “And I know who you are. I know your name.” The man suddenly appeared in front of her, eyes as piercing as ever. They almost seemed to glow.
     “Do you, now?” he said in a strangely normal voice. He chuckled and shook his head. “I do know your name,” Willow responded boldly, stepping forward. “Silas Shar. Evaded capture by the police 3 times. You’re a member of The Seekers.” Silas raised his eyebrows and clapped lightly.
     “Impressive. But I happen to know far more about you than you know about me.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
     Silas proceeded to rattle off a list similar to what Willow had just announced. “Willow Rosell. Age 16. 11th grade B+ student at Lincoln County High School. You had a summer job at Chik-fil-a last year.”
     Willow scoffed, but her face paled. “You could find all of that out if you Google my name online.” She thought for a second. “Who was my roommate at summer camp in Maine 3 years ago?”
“Natasha Rinwell. This is all too easy.”
    Suddenly they heard footsteps coming around the corner. “Willow, come on! What are you even doing?” Carson called down the hallway. Silas leapt forward and grabbed Willow’s arm.
     “Hey, let go of me!” Willow cried. Then she got a sudden shock as she looked down at her arm: she couldn’t see him or herself. Oh, that’s right, she thought annoyedly. He can go invisible, and I guess he made me invisible too. Ugh. That would make things a lot harder for her.
     “Carson! Carson, come here!” she shouted when she saw that her brother had turned the corner.
“He can’t hear you,” Silas informed her, still gripping her arm tightly. “The invisibility keeps your voice silent to others.” Urgh, of course it does, Willow thought exasperatedly. She tried again to wrench her arm free, but failed and instead twisted it painfully.
“Stop fighting.”
     “Why should I?” Willow retorted bravely as she was dragged along. “Give me one reason.”
“I can’t do that. It’s against protocol.”
     “And it’s not against protocol to follow a kid around for months without her noticing, and then finally show up, try to kidnap her, and scare the daylights out of her?”
“No, actually it isn’t. As I’m sure you found out, the Seekers do exactly that.”
     “Gee, sure sounds humane,” Willow said sarcastically, still trying to pull free. Silas sighed and shook his head.
     “I suggest you stop talking now. We’re leaving the building. Now, I will let go of your arm. But after I do so, you will not run away. I will simply find you again.”
     “Like I said earlier, why should I?”
“You don’t want to know what will happen if you don’t comply.” He said menacingly.
     Willow gulped and reluctantly agreed. She rubbed her arm in relief after it was released. Then they left the building.    
 
 
Chapter Thirteen
With her face tight and pale, Willow realized what was really happening. She was actually walking down the street with her archnemesis! Well, maybe that was a little more than she meant. Worst fear was probably more like it. She dared to turn her head the slightest bit and look at him. His eyes looked normal, which always came as a shock. But his face looked angry. That was probably normal, she thought.
     Suddenly they rounded a corner and entered a small coffee shop that only contained two other people: the barista and someone that made Willow’s jaw drop. “Aunt April!”
……………….
Willow had sat in shock for a full five minutes before her voice returned. “You?” she had whispered to her aunt, enraged. Her aunt had simply nodded. “Ever since the wedding. My name is actually Diana, and I’m only posing as your aunt for your siblings’ sake. I had to bring you to the location of the wedding for the Seekers’ purposes.”
Willow shook her head. “I can’t believe this.” Then a thought came to her mind. “Did my parents know?”
     Diana hesitated, then slowly nodded yes. Willow’s jaw dropped. She stood up and turned toward the door, but her arm was quickly caught again, this time by Diana, and she sat down again. “You don’t want to know what will happen if you don’t comply.” Silas repeated his words from earlier, and Willow shuddered. “So what now? What are you planning on actually doing with me?”
     “You’re going to the Head.”
“Who. Is. The Head? How do you expect me to do anything you say without telling me what they do?”
     Suddenly a person with gray hair and glasses walked up to them, wearing an apron from the coffee shop and carrying a cup, indicating that he worked there. His name tag read Stan Lee. “I’ve got a medium coffee, cream and sugar for Diana?” he said. “And what’s this Head? Don’t we all have one?”
     Diana forced a smile and took the drink from his hand. “Thank you, sir. The Head is just some…business stuff. The boss, you know.” The barista raised his eyebrows, but he grinned and answered back “Oh, sure, sure. The boss.” as he walked away back to the counter, voice going dreamy. “I remember back in 1958…” Silas turned to Diana, somewhat exasperated.
“Seriously? You ordered coffee?”
    Diana shrugged and raised her eyebrows, swallowing the coffee she’d just sipped. “Well, I’m just waiting here in a coffee shop for you two to show up, what you expect me to do?”
Silas closed his eyes and shook his head. “Lord, what I put up with for this job.”
     Diana cackled lightly, and Willow rolled her eyes. “Hello? Is anyone going to answer the question?”
The adults turned sharply toward her. “Do you want to find out or not?” Diana said, instantly switching from the calm, laughing woman to a cold-voiced person Willow would never have imagined she could be. She nodded timidly. “Then I suggest you stop asking questions. They’ll only get you farther from the answers.” Willow shuddered and was quiet.
     Suddenly Diana’s phone buzzed, and she picked it up. An official alert in red letters announced: The criminal known as Silas Shar is in the area. If he is sighted, DO NOT let on and inform the police immediately.
     Diana smiled and turned her phone toward the man. “Guess you’d better be careful. And why don’t I ever get any credit? I work too!”
……………………
The adults sat and discussed business like they worked for a regular company. Willow was amazed by how normal they acted when they actually worked for an organization that kidnapped children. It was ridiculous. And though she wanted to interrupt them and shout “Get on with it!”, she restrained herself, knowing the consequences would be dire.
     Finally, after an hour of waiting (or in the case of the adults, talking), they left the shop.
 
Chapter 14
They were walking down the street again, this time with Diana. Willow’s face was again pale. They reached a bus stop and stood next to the shelter until a bus arrived. “What?” Willow said incredulously, unable to hold herself back any longer. “I’m not going any farther! I can’t just leave without my parents knowing!”
“Actually you can and you will,” Silas said calmly as he stepped onto the bus. “You wouldn’t want to make a scene, now would you?”
“Well, that’s a stupid question! Of course I want to make a scene! I’m being kidnapped!”
Silas turned to her, and his eyes flared. Maybe they really did glow, Willow thought. “How sure of that are you?” he said threateningly. Willow tried to respond, but she couldn’t make herself open her mouth to talk. She stepped forward and followed the two adults.
……………………
How could she let herself do this? She should have tried harder to escape, to run away when Silas first caught her. How her family must be worrying! And they couldn’t file a missing person report for another 23 (at least) hours.
     Why had she pursued the mystery when she could have just let it be? Maybe then the man would have gone away, she never would have found out the truth, and she could have just gone back home and lived a normal life.
……………....
The bus rolled to a stop after 15 minutes, and the threesome headed off of the bus. Willow had contemplated going behind the adults and trying to stay on the bus after they got off, but decided against it when the ominous warnings she’d received returned to her mind. And now she was walking along behind her kidnappers.
    Outside the bus, they walked past several official- looking buildings and a bank before walking into…a hair salon? Huh? Willow thought, confused. A hair salon?
     Diana walked up to the front desk, where the clerk smiled. “Do you have an appointment?” she asked. Diana smiled back and said, “Why, you can’t get an appointment at a hair salon without a head.” The woman nodded and opened the gate, leading Diana, Willow, and Silas to a door in the back of the building. Well, that explains that, Willow realized as they walked through.
     They found themselves in a hallway, where the clerk left them to their own devices. Silas took the lead this time, weaving through hallway after hallway until they reached a guard, who stopped them briefly. “Shar, Silas. I have her,” he said. The guard nodded just as the clerk had and let them forward through a door that led to a large office.
 
Chapter Fifteen
A man sitting in a chair behind a desk looked up toward the group. The nameplate in front of him was titled “The Head”. “Ah, Silas, Diana. Was the mission successful?” he said. Silas reached back and shoved Willow forward into the view of the man. She turned and glared at him before looking back at the man, whose eyes widened when he saw her. He glanced at a photo on the desk and gasped. He looked at Willow, then back at the photo. Finally he stopped and leaned forward. “It’s you,” he whispered, awed. “It is truly you.”
“Who am I?” Willow said, thoroughly confused.
     “Ah, the universal question.” The man smiled. “Who am I? For you, Willow, the answer is rather simple.” He sat back in the chair.
“You, my dear, are—“
     The Head was interrupted by the sudden bursting in of a group of policemen. “Hands up, everyone! Now!”
     Silas leapt forward and grabbed Willow’s arm just as he had in the hallway at the hotel, as well as Diana’s. Willow felt the strange sensation of being invisible. Suddenly she was jerked forward by the hand she knew was there, but couldn’t see. “Ow!” she said, rubbing her elbow that had just been banged on the corner of the doorframe. Of course Silas wouldn’t notice or care, since he could go through anything. How did they find them? Willow thought desperately. There was a sudden response from Diana, but her mouth never moved! They followed us here, she said.
     Suddenly feeling a little dizzy, Willow shook her head. She was pulled through the hallways they’d gone and back through the salon that was their cover. Finally they were back outside in the open air.
     The area was strangely empty, and Silas didn’t release them this time. They walked slowly out of the shade of the overhang above the salon and surveyed the area. Yep, not a single other person in sight. But Willow heard the slight murmur of people and she knew that there was someone, somewhere.
     Should she lash out, try and get away to the police before Silas and Diana could take her away?
     She decided she would. She jerked her arm, causing Silas’s hand to slide down to her wrist. This meant that she could simply slip her hand out of his grip had he not tightened it after realizing what she was trying to do. But Willow was ready this time. She twisted her arm around, causing her captor to nearly fall over. She pulled her arm away.  
     After she’d gotten away, she felt herself become visible again and the people on the rooves of the buildings (so that was where they’d gone, Willow realized) began talking loudly, exclaiming about what they’d just seen. She rushed back toward the salon, where cops were pouring out by the dozen.
…………………….
Willow was back with her family. She’d given up trying to explain to everyone what had happened to her; no one understood. “She could be delirious,” the police detective who’d returned her told her parents. “She’ll need lots of rest.” After that info was given, they immediately cut their trip short and headed back home, this time on a plane for less travel time.  Sure enough, it was only a 2 and 1/2 hour trip. Before she knew it, Willow was at home in bed.
    Ironically, she realized, something had happened that had cut the trip short, and she was glad for it. She drifted to sleep, thoroughly exhausted after everything that had happened.
 
 
Chapter Sixteen
Willow woke with a jolt. Where was she? Then she remembered and relaxed, releasing the breath that had built up in her lungs. She was at home after their cut-short trip to Keystone. The man named Silas Shar along with her aunt had kidnapped her! And now she was home in bed because the cops had told her parents she might be delirious.
     She glanced at her clock. It was 8:48 PM. Her family would have already eaten and put Rhiel to bed, but she was starving. She climbed out of bed and went downstairs to the kitchen. “Willow! You’re awake!” her father said, jumping up from the table when he saw her walk in. “Are you okay? Did you get enough sleep?” Willow nodded. “But man, I’m hungry. What did you guys eat for dinner?”
     Her father glanced at his watch and raised his eyebrows sheepishly. “Oh shoot, it’s almost 9! We actually haven’t really eaten yet, we just gave Rhiel some food and then occupied ourselves until right now.” He glanced around. “Speaking of everyone, where is Carson?”
     Willow shrugged. “Dunno,” she said. “I’ll check his room.” “No, you stay here, sit down. You need your rest after that trip.” Her father left the kitchen, and Willow sighed, putting her hands up in defeat. Her mother, seated at the table, smiled. “Are you doing okay, hon?” Willow nodded, sitting across from her mom.
“Just really hungry.”
“Oh, let me find some food. I’m pretty hungry too, and the guys probably are too.”
    Her mother stood up and walked to the fridge just as her father meandered back in. “Well, he’s not in his room,” he said. “He’s got to be around here somewhere.”
    Willow furrowed her brow and thought. Where did her brother tend to go a lot? Oh, maybe he was in the basement. She stood and went down the stairs cautiously. “Carson? You here?” she called. No response. She walked back upstairs and racked her brain for anywhere that he could be. He couldn’t go outside that late. He wasn’t in his room. He wasn’t in the basement. Her father had checked the rest of the house. “Carson!” she shouted, hoping to catch his attention. But there was no response, and she was starting to get nervous.
     “Carson, where are you?” she tried again, but silence still met her ears. She went to Rhiel’s room, as he liked to sit with her sometimes (nothing was there except Rhiel dozing in her crib), and then back to his room and checked again. She checked the bed in case he was asleep. This time she didn’t find him, but something else. “Oh, no,” she whispered. It was a note, not from Silas, but a ransom note! “Why?” she thought out loud, horrified.
     Bring what you treasure to the place you treasure if you want him back.
Completely shocked, Willow fell backward in a dead faint.
………………………
She woke up in her bed again, this time with a very clear knowledge of why she was there. Carson…
     She climbed out of bed quickly and jumped down the stairs to the living room, which was full of policemen. She thought. She walked up to the nearest one and asked “Do you know where he is? Or anything at all?”
    The cop shook her head sympathetically. “We’re doing all we can, hon. Is he your brother?” Willow nodded, and the cop nodded back. “We’ll tell you when we’ve got something.”
     Willow nodded again. It seemed to be all she could do by then. She sat down on the couch next to her parents, who were answering questions from a detective about Carson. The detective noticed Willow and looked her over.
     “Does he look much like you?” he asked her. Willow considered. “Kind of,” she replied slowly. “He’s a little taller than me, and his hair is a darker shade of brown. His eyes are blue…” she continued as the detective wrote down the details she gave him.
“Well, you’ve helped us a lot. Thanks for your time, young lady.” The detective said to her when she ran out of facts. He rounded up his team and they left, leaving what remained of the family sitting on the couch. Rhiel babbled and waved her arms, too young to realize what was happening.
     “Are you sure there’s nothing we can do about it?” the children’s mother asked their father. He shrugged helplessly. “Not that I know of,” he said, sounding defeated. “All we can do is wait.”
    Willow sighed. There had to be something to do! Her brother drove her nuts, but they were great friends. Suddenly a thought sprung to mind.
No, no way. There’s no way on Earth I’m doing that. I just got away!
    She went back to bed at 11:30, but tired as she was, she couldn’t sleep. All she could do was argue with herself.
 I can’t believe I’m considering this!
I bet it could help. It’s what they do for a living...
Willow, stop it! Are you going nuts?
It might help get him back! Don’t you want your brother back?
Duh! But not by doing this!
Well, do you have any other ideas?
     She was tossing and turning for hours. When she checked her clock again, it read 2:28 AM. Finally she made up her mind and tiptoed down the stairs to the computer. Suddenly she stopped. Why was the light on?
     Oh, thank goodness, she thought. It was just her parents, sitting on the couch in the living room. But, luckily for Willow, they were asleep. She released the breath she’d been holding and walked over to the laptop that sat on a table in the corner of the room. Opening it, she tried to remember what she was looking for. Ah, that was it. Willow tapped the keys for a full minute to find what she wanted. She grabbed a piece of paper and pencil and wrote it down. Then she carefully went back upstairs, being sure to be as quiet as she could.
    Another stroke of luck hit her when she discovered that her mother’s phone was on the kitchen table, rather than in her pocket like she’d expected. She took it back to her room and sat on the bed, staring at the paper on which she’d written the information. Finally she dared to turn on the cell phone and enter in the numbers she’d gotten from online. Should I really do this? She thought, hesitating. Before she could chicken out, she hit the button labeled CALL and put the phone to her ear. She waited for 5 seconds before the other side stopped ringing. “Hello?” she whispered. There was no response, but she knew someone had answered. She laid back on her pillow. “Silas?” she said, and then paused. “It’s Willow, and as much as I hate to say it…I need your help.”
 
Chapter Seventeen
“You…need my help?” the other side said incredulously. “Why?” Willow forced herself not to hang up. “My brother. He’s missing.”
    “Is that so?” Silas almost sounded sad. “Well, we didn’t do it, if that’s what you’re asking. The Seekers only had one purpose.”
     This statement about its purpose, of course, brought all the questions she’d had back to her mind. And what did he mean by had only one purpose? But she shoved them to the side in favor of getting Carson back. She made her voice cold. “Look, if you’re going to help, come. But don’t come if you’re not planning on helping. I’d rather live normally.”
     She hung up the phone and set it on her bed, wanting to actually sleep before morning arrived. However, not two minutes later, she got the feeling that something was in her room, and she opened her eyes to find Diana standing over her, grinning like a maniac. “Hello!” she heard, but her mouth didn’t move. Willow screamed and jumped back, nearly knocking over her lamp in the process. Diana burst out laughing at the sight of it and nearly fell over herself. And despite the usually even-yet-angry look that was typically on Silas’s face, he was holding back laughter too. “Holy cheese, people!” Willow exclaimed. She didn’t find it funny at all.
     Diana laughed even harder when she said that, and Silas laughed somewhat. But Willow was annoyed. “Look, are you planning on helping or are you just here to laugh at me? And how did you get here so fast?”
     She wiped a tear out of her eye and managed to stop laughing long enough to tell Willow, “Yes, we’re helping. Or so I was told,” before laughing again. Willow rolled her eyes, nodded, and tried to calm her still-racing heart. She glanced over in Silas’s direction, and he nodded, looking to the sky in exasperation.
     “Yes, we’re attempting to help. If Diana stopped laughing, we might actually be able to. It’s quite annoying to have her do this every mission.”
     “Why’d you bother to bring her if you think it’s annoying?”
“For her power. It’s necessary when traveling.”
     Willow was profoundly confused. “Power? What power?”
Silas looked confused as well. “You mean you didn’t know yet? You didn’t figure it out?”
     “Figure what out? In case you hadn’t noticed, I spent the entire time trying to escape. That doesn’t leave room for observations.”
     Silas shook his head. He seemed exasperated with everything.
“Everyone who works in the Seekers has a power, the reason they were recruited. As you’ve obviously found out, my power is that I can turn invisible and phase. The invisibility can also mute the powers of others, should I choose to let it. Diana’s is teleportation and telepathy. Therefore, we’re the top agents and are put in charge of most missions. But, annoyingly enough, we’re assigned the same mission more often than not.”
     Willow was less confused, but not surprised. After Silas discovered her, she’d learned that weird things like that were not exactly uncommon, but rather terrifying. “Well, that explains a lot,” she said. “But that only answers one question I have.”
    Silas held his hand up, interrupting her. “There’s no time for explanations and stories right now. We need to get to the point. Why are Diana and I here?” That brought Willow back to reality.
    “Well, like I said, my brother’s missing. He got kidnapped, and I want you to kidnap him back. I found a note in his room that said ‘bring what you treasure to the place you treasure if you want him back’. But I don’t know what that means? What do we treasure? Where’s the place we treasure? You’re the one who left creepy notes outside the door of every hotel we stayed in, so that’s your area of expertise.”
     “That was Diana again.” The man responded, sighing. Diana grinned. “It sounds like a pretty typical note. It’s probably just some fool who wants money and decided you and your family were a good choice. Though of course I can’t imagine why; the Seekers had different plans than this person probably does. Do you have the note?”
“No,” Willow admitted, crestfallen. “The police took it with them when they came to investigate.” Diana sighed, having listened to everything that had been said. “That makes this harder. And this isn’t what we usually do.”
    Suddenly another question came to Willow’s mind. “Why are you not trying to ‘whisk me away’ or whatever?  I didn’t think about it when I called, but now that you’re here…”
    Diana shrugged, as clueless as Willow, and turned to Silas. He seemed embarrassed by the sudden looking to him, but he managed to answer. “Well, for one, we aren’t on a mission, so there’s no real reason to do so. For another, you called us, not vice versa. And I can’t tell you the third reason. Diana doesn’t even know.” 
     “Uh, yeah, I don’t,” Diana said, a little annoyed. “Why can’t you say so?”
“For reasons of my own,” Silas snapped. Diana retreated, going silent. There was a silence.
    “Sooo…what are we doing about Carson?” Willow asked, hoping to bring the conversation back to the original subject. “I guess we’ll get on with that now,” Silas replied. He nodded at Diana, who took the wrists of both of the others. They instantly left Willow’s room and were in a world of color. Hundreds of images flew past Willow’s vision, often blurring into one another. Finally they ended up in a large, gray-walled room, and Diana released their arms.

Chapter Eighteen
“Did it work?” she asked through her telepathy, breathing hard. “You know you can talk, right? We’re somewhere alone.” Silas said. “You’re getting very tiresome.”
     Diana drooped a little, and Willow turned to Silas, still reeling a little from the shock of being somewhere else so fast. “You don’t have to be so hard on her,” she said. “Just because you have different styles doesn’t mean you have to squish her sense of humor. And I saw you laughing earlier, so don’t deny that you think it’s funny.”
     Silas opened his mouth to talk, but closed and opened it several times before finally stopping, face slightly red. Then Willow turned to Diana, who’d brightened after Willow’s speech. “Where are we?”
    Diana looked around the room, up and down. “I actually don’t know,” she said sheepishly. “I just chose a place that was didn’t have people in it. So for all I know, we’re right outside the house we were just in.” Willow face palmed herself. Well, that wasn’t helpful, she thought. Diana looked embarrassed.
    “I guess we should probably think about what we’re doing,” she said. We need to figure out what the stuff the note is talking about is.”  
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Diana said. She leaned against a pole thoughtfully.
     Silas spoke up. “How high is the crime rate in your city?” Willow looked shocked.
“It’s New Orleans! It’s pretty dang high!”
     “Let me rephrase that. How many children disappear?”
Willow thought for a second. “I don’t know for sure,” she replied. “Probably about 5 throughout 6 months. But at least 2 of those are runaways.”
     “Lovely. Do you know who took them? Is there a place where you can find the records, things of that nature?”
     “Well, one kid disappeared because of the Seekers.” She paused and glared at Silas here. “I don’t know about the rest of them.” 
She frowned for a second. “Shouldn’t you be the one who knows stuff?”
    Silas returned her earlier glare. “Do you want our help or not?” Willow went silent, indicating her defeat. Then Silas turned to Diana. “Can you find the place where the records would be?”
     Diana nodded, her eyes beginning to glow. “Police station, probably.” She took their hands and they went back into the world of color. It took longer this time to find the right place. What took so long? Willow thought when they landed. She knew by then that Diana would probably respond telepathically. I had to check their thoughts to be sure it was the right place, Diana thought back. Willow nodded. So where are we?
Police station, Silas thought, looking around. Where do we look?
    The gravity of what they were actually doing suddenly hit Willow, and she forgot not to speak. “Wait, the police station?” she said aloud. “We’re in the police station? Oh, my parents are gonna kill me, why did I even do this?” She buried her head in her hands. Willow, be quiet! You’re talking out loud! Diana thought, glancing over at her. She came over quietly and put her hands on Willow’s shoulders. You’re questioning all this, right? Willow nodded.
     It’s understandable. But you contacted us, and you want to get your brother back. So you need to just trust what we’re doing. It’ll all work out in the end.
Willow sighed. I don’t know if I can do that, but I’ll try.
     Diana straightened up and thought, We’ll probably find the records in the main office, so we’ll need to be invisible. Silas nodded, took their wrists, and they all went forward.
………………………..
Willow’s heart was racing. This was undoubtedly the craziest thing she’d ever done. But then, that week had been the craziest of her entire life, including the failed camping trip her 7th grade class had gone on. Suddenly a thought struck her: Was this the kind of thing that would put you into jail? She dismissed the thought, replacing it with her brother and returning her mind to reality.
…………………....
They had reached the main office, and Willow took a deep breath. You two stay here, Silas told them. It’ll be too hard for three people to find what we need. Diana and Willow ducked behind a file cabinet, and Silas released their arms, disappearing from their view. They sat in silence, barely daring to breathe. Then Willow had a thought. If you don’t know why Silas hasn’t taken me yet, why don’t you try and find out?
     She hadn’t expected Diana to respond, so she was surprised when she got an answer. Some things aren’t meant to be told, she thought back. If he doesn’t find that to be something he wants told, that’s how it is. You know?
The explanation made sense. Yeah, I get that, she thought. I guess you’ve got a point.
     Silas returned about a minute later. I’ve got the files, he thought to them. He took their wrists, Diana’s eyes lit up and they teleported back to the original gray-walled room. The adults sat down against a wall when they arrived this time. “Hard to use our power for so long,” Diana explained. “Oh,” Willow replied. She took the files from Silas’s hand and opened them to see what was there.
     She passed Raina Wintrich, the girl from the article, listed as a Taken and Returned victim. A woman named Lauris Kin took a 12-year old boy named David Wills as far as Mandeville, Louisiana before being caught.
     She read the information of all the kidnappers as well as the children taken. Finally she found a person who fit the criteria of what she’d thought of: They had more than one charge, and both were boys around Carson’s age. They left a ransom note both times. “What about this person?” she angled the folder toward the adults. Silas took the folder out of her hand and looked it over. He raised an eyebrow. “It could be them,” he agreed. But Diana shook her head, her eyes glowing faintly. “It’s not him. He’s in prison right now, courtesy of Police Captain Parr. He won’t be out for another 3 years, minimum.”
     Willow sighed. Then she brightened. “Could you use your power to find the person that took him? Wouldn’t that make this go a whole lot faster?”
      Diana brightened too, and she tried. But she gave up after a moment. “It won’t work right now. I think I’ve used it too much today, and they’re too far away.” Willow sat down next to them, defeated. They sat in silence until Willow finally spoke. “What now?” she whispered.
    There was no response for a second. She leaned forward and saw that Diana’s eyes were closed. “She fell asleep,” Silas said quietly. “Probably the exertion. The powers are quite exhausting to use, and this happens more often than you’d think.” He yawned himself and closed his eyes. Before Willow knew it, she was the only person in the room who was awake.
    She sighed deeply and leaned back, banging the back of her head on the wall in the process. She closed her eyes too and drifted off.
………………..
Willow woke up to an empty room. “Hello?” she called. No answer. Where had they gone?
     The room looked the same as when she’d fallen asleep, except that Diana and Silas were missing. She stood up and looked around the room. Diana? She thought. But there was nothing. She sat back down on the floor, her annoyance escalating. What the heck were they doing, going off and leaving her there with no way to get out of the room? “Of course Silas would do that,” she said, voicing her thoughts.
     She was mad now. She hadn’t really trusted them in the first place, but to get Carson back, she’d allowed them to take her away from everything again! And what had they done? They’d abandoned her!
     Suddenly Diana appeared halfway across the room, followed by Silas. Willow jumped to her feet. “Where have you been?” she shouted angrily.
She would have said more, but Silas held up a hand to stop her. “We found your brother.”
     Willow’s eyes got big. She started to ask something, but she was cut off again, this time by Diana. “We don’t know who took him yet. My power hasn’t worked on them. We think they’re blocking it or something.”
“Well, why didn’t you take him and bring him back then? Why did you just leave him there?”
     “Because we didn’t have time. We barely managed to get out ourselves. Whoever’s got him has extremely high security.”
     Willow’s expression fell. “How did they find you with your powers?”
“We don’t know,” Silas responded. “We think that they’re Powered as well, stronger than either of us, and they somehow sensed us. Diana couldn’t figure it out.”
    Willow sat back down on the floor, disappointed, but Diana pulled her back up. “What are you doing? We’re going back out to get him!”
     She pulled her hand free. “That’s all well and good, but I have so many questions. You lost any trust you’d gained when you left me here. So—“
     The girl was cut off by an exasperated Silas. “Willow, look. Your brother has limited time, and believe me when I say that. You remember the note that was left?” Willow nodded, wondering how that was relevant if they’d already found him. “It was very cryptic, to say the least, but we figured out what it means after we encountered several guards.”
“Well, what does it mean then??”
     “The second part, about a place, that was just to throw you and your family off. The first part was what really mattered.” He paused here and looked Willow straight in the eyes. “They want you, Willow. You’re the thing that’s treasured.”
 
Chapter Nineteen
Willow leaned on the wall behind her in complete shock. “They want me?” she whispered. “Yes, you,” Silas said. “I’m sure they have their reasons, though they’re probably wildly different from the Seekers’ goals. But they must have a reason.” Willow nodded.
     They sat silently for a moment. Then Willow spoke up. “I’ll do it. Take me there.”
“What? No!” Silas spluttered. “You can’t do this!” He sounded desperate.
    “Why not?” Willow challenged, leaning forward. “I’m willing to do whatever I have to do to get my brother back. That included bringing you two in, which, I fought with myself for 4 hours over, breaking into the police station, and giving myself up. Now take me.”
     Both adults sighed, and Silas nodded at Diana before looking away with a pained look in his eyes. Diana reached forward and gently took Willow’s hand. Less than 30 seconds later, they were in an empty corridor. 
     Quick, hide, before they see us, Diana thought to Willow. Who? Willow thought back, ducking behind a wall.
The guards.
     Willow suddenly got the feeling that there was something behind her, and she raised her arm quickly. The back of it collided with something. She turned around and her eyes went big: It was a guard! She leapt back, letting Diana take over. She sparred with the man for a second before he suddenly fell over and Silas appeared behind him. Willow jumped. “I thought you stayed back!” she said. He shook his head.
     “Couldn’t.” he stated simply. Willow was confused, but raised her hands as a gesture of whatever you say.
They continued down the corridor, miraculously avoiding 2 more guards. Finally they reached the end of the corridor, where there were 2 separate doors. “Which door do we go through?” Willow asked. Diana shrugged. “Let’s split up. Silas, you go that way, we’ll go this way.”
     But Silas shook his head. “Let’s switch that up. Do it vice versa.” Willow and Diana nodded, not really caring which way they went, and they split up.
     After a moment of walking, Diana suddenly stopped. “There’s someone here,” she said aloud. “I don’t know who it is, but someone’s here.” Willow’s heart sped up. “Do you think it’s Carson?” Diana’s eyes flickered, and she shook her head. “I…I can’t tell. There might be more people this way. Keep your eyes peeled.” Willow did as she said.
     They didn’t come across any more guards, but they did find several more doors. Diana and Willow glanced toward each other and each opened a different door. Both were empty. Then Diana reached the door at the end, which led to another corridor. Willow sighed. Does it ever end? She thought. She turned to ask Diana if they should turn around, but discovered that she wasn’t there. She tossed her arms in the air. “Come on!” she shouted, not caring who found her by then.
     Suddenly she heard a faint voice calling. “Who was that? Is someone there?” Willow’s head whipped toward the sound. Carson? She began to walk down the corridor toward the voice. “Carson, is that you?”
    “Yes! Yes! Who is that?”
“It’s Willow! Where are you?”
     “Willow! I’m in like, a room with just a window-hole, but I can’t go through it! There’s a door but it’s locked and I’ve tried to get it open so many times, but I couldn’t.”
     A window-hole that he couldn’t go through? Weird. “I’m coming, Carson, I’m coming! Keep talking and I can follow your voice!”
     Her brother complied, and she continued down the corridor until she found the room he was talking about, and she saw him through the window. Strangely though, the door wasn’t locked, and she walked right in. When she did, Carson ran toward her and hugged her tightly, and she hugged him back.
     “Willow! Oh, Willow, how did you get here? How did you find me?”
“It’s a really long story. Right now we just need to get out.”
     When she said that, she realized that getting out would be a problem since Diana had gone and disappeared on her. Suddenly Carson screamed and jumped away from Willow. He pointed to something behind her. She turned around, and she shrieked.
     “Gosh, Diana! Do me a favor and quit doing that!”
“No time for talking. We need to leave quickly. There’s 10 guards from 5 different directions coming.” Silas said shortly from behind Diana. By then Willow had learned that they were usually right, and she reached for Carson’s hand, then Diana’s. They disappeared into the world of color.
 
Chapter Twenty
They returned to the gray room, and Carson pulled his hand free as soon as they landed. “What just happened?” he shouted. “Calm down, Carson, it’s okay,” Willow said, putting her hands on his shoulders and attempting to calm him down.
     “Calm down? How can I calm down?” he yelled, crossing his arms. “I got kidnapped, and now I’ve moved from one place to another in a split second because of a person, and you want me to calm down?”
“Yes, actually we do,” Silas said. “If you don’t calm down, we can’t explain anything to you.” Willow nodded at Carson at that. Carson nodded back and breathed deeply. His heart was still racing, but he would try, if only for his sister.
     “Okay, I’m calm. Now explain, ‘cause I am so confused.”
They explained everything that had happened and how the powers worked. “Wait, wait, wait,” Carson said, holding up a hand when they told him about how they’d taken Willow the first time. “You were serious when you told us someone took you and went invisible? That whole story was true?” Willow nodded.
“’Fraid so,” she told him.
     “And it’s these two?”
Willow nodded. Silas lit his eyes up, disappeared, and then reappeared.
     “Then why are we sitting here with them right now?” Willow’s brother shouted and stood up, panicked. Willow took his arm and pulled him back down. “It’s okay, Carson.” She shot a suspicious glance toward the adults. “Though I’ll admit I’ve wondered the same thing. I was told that it’s because they aren’t on a mission, but I don’t know if I believe them.”
     Silas rolled his eyes in annoyance and clasped his hands together. “Look. I can’t tell you. If I tell you, nothing will work.”
“What do you mean by that, though? What won’t work? And why?”
     Suddenly a person appeared in front of Diana, and the entire group jumped up. “You!” Willow shouted. “Where did you come from?”
     “You!” Carson shouted, seemingly recognizing him. “How did you get here?”
The person in front of them smiled maliciously. “Why, I’m the Head. I have ways of transportation that you could never imagine.”
 
Chapter 21
The Head turned to Silas. “Now, I have many questions for you all. Many of them are for you, my top agents. So, Diana, you’re going to take us back to my office, and if you don’t do as I say, you will suffer, all of you.”
     Diana gulped, took the hands of those around her, and transported them to the room where the police had nearly caught them. The Head brushed himself off, clearly used to doing such things, and sat in the chair behind his desk.
     Carson, however, was shaking and trying to avoid his bug-eyes. “I’m never gonna get used to that! And now this guy’s here again, and he’s creeping me out!” he whispered to Willow. She nodded back sympathetically, then frowned. Again?
     “Well. This is a situation I never thought I’d be in.” he motioned to the adults, then to Willow. “My two top agents, standing with the result of their mission while I sit in front of them, disapprovingly. Now, how do you think this came to be?”
     Silas and Diana stood like little children being lectured. Neither of them responded. The Head turned to Willow, who was standing with her brother and looking slightly confused. “You, Willow, were the mission. Your brother’s kidnapping was simply to catch your attention and bring you here.”
     At that, Diana and Silas looked up simultaneously. “You took Carson? I thought we only wanted his sister!” Silas said incredulously.
“It was you?!?” Willow stepped forward, madder than she’d ever been at Silas or Diana. Carson nodded, pale-faced. “Why? Why did you take him?”
     The Head sat back in his chair.
“Why, have you not figured that out yet? Has the purpose of the Seekers not become clear to you?”
     “No!”
“It was to find you, my dear. That was always the purpose. You’re what we’ve been searching for all these years. This picture, you see”- he held up a photo of Willow- “was taken from the future by one of my better agents when you were 3 years old and you had just been recognized. Shame we lost her, she was a good agent. Anyway, if you didn’t know our purpose, I’m going to assume you also don’t know why either?”
     Willow was reeling from the revelation, but she defiantly shook her head. “I don’t know if I want to know,” she said. She glanced at the others. Silas was staring daggers at the Head, wearing a look that clearly said don’t you dare. His eyes were also glowing, a sign that he was attempting to use his power on the Head and evidently failing.
     The Head smiled viciously. “Let’s have Silas tell you, why don’t we?” Silas’s eyes stop glowing and grew large with fear. “No,” he said quietly, worry in his voice. “It will change everything for her. For everyone.” The Head’s smile grew larger.
     “Well, that’s just going to have to happen, isn’t it? This is the moment I’ve waited for for 10 years, where she discovers her fate and accepts it. She will embrace it.”
     “You don’t know that for sure.”
“Tell her.”
     Silas appeared to be trying to restrain himself from something and was failing. The Head’s eyes were glowing now, and Willow realized that he must be Powered too.
     “Willow, this won’t be good. I’m warning you now,” Silas said. He opened his mouth again as though he was about to speak, eyes pained, but no sound came out. The Head’s eyes glowed brighter, and the words were forced from Silas’s mouth.
     “You were told that the Seekers’ purpose was to find you, but you didn’t know the reason. Everyone who worked for the Seekers was Powered. But only one agent -me- knew the real reason why every agent was Powered.” He looked her in the eyes for only the second time since they’d met, with his own full of anguish. “Look at my eyes,” he said, leaning forward. Willow did so, and she saw that they were blue like anyone else’s, but they had a ring of silver around the iris.
     “Yours are the same way, but the ring is gold. They’re like this because you’re Powered too. And the only way to find a Powered is with another, because they can sense each other. But it isn’t a natural thing, Willow. It’s hereditary.” He closed his eyes.
     “You’re Powered because you’re my daughter.”
…………………
How could this be? Silas was her father? It wasn’t possible! She was the blood child of her family, and Carson’s sister. No one was adopted. Suddenly something clicked.
     They’d done ancestry tests when the kids were about 10 years old, and Willow’s had come back wildly different from her family’s. It had been a strange phenomenon, but it all made sense now. Why Carson looked so different from her, why she liked and dislike things no one else in her family did. They’d always attributed it to natural differences, but she knew the truth now.
…………………
Willow’s eyes suddenly went far, far away. “What?” Carson shouted. “No way! Willow’s my sister and I’m not Powered!” But Silas shook his head bitterly.
     “She’s not your biological sister.” He said. He turned to the Head now and relayed the story.
Silas looked at the child in his arms, carefully observing her eyes. When she opened them he saw the gold ring around the iris, and his heart raced. She had a Power too, even stronger than his. He looked at his wife, the only person that knew the truth. Her eyes were glossy, but she nodded. “Please, let me hold her one more time.” She asked. She took the baby, and held the baby close. “Be safe, Willow. Even if I never see you again, I will be with you always.”
     She handed the child back to her father, who disappeared from her view. He left the hospital and went to a home nearby. He knocked on the door. The family who lived there was expecting a child soon, and he needed to ask something of them.
     After they spoke for a moment, he asked his request. “My daughter has a secret, one even I cannot tell you. This is a large request, but will you take her in and keep her safe, away from me? If I am near her she’s at risk. Please do this for me.” The family was surprised, but they did it. As of 2 weeks later, Willow Annelise Shar became Willow Annelise Rosell.
The face of the Head, who had still been grinning evilly, now darkened like storm clouds.
     “You knew where she was all along?” he whispered dangerously. Silas nodded, head low, not caring about the consequences. “I couldn’t risk anything.”
     The Head was silent for a moment before finally speaking again. “You are a bold man.” He stood up slowly from his chair and advanced on the man standing in front of him. “But you will be bold no longer.” His eyes glowed and he stepped forward. However, unlike the other times, Silas did nothing. Suddenly Willow stepped forward as well.
     “Don’t,” she said. Carson was staring at her. “Willow, your eyes…” he whispered. She realized that they must be glowing. “Don’t do it,” she repeated forcefully. The Head and Silas both looked at her.
     “Why shouldn’t he?” Silas asked her simply. “I kept the secret your entire life, and now you’re finding out in the worst way possible. You were never supposed to find out.”
     Willow only stared hard at the Head, daring him to do something. ”For reasons of my own.”
      Silas’s eyes brightened and darkened simultaneously after hearing Willow’s words, and a grin spread across the Head’s face. “See? Do you see how she simply accepts it? She’s not fighting, or holding herself back. She simply allows it to be.” His eyes began to glow again. “But what will she choose to use it for?”
     The girl narrowed her eyes. “Not you, that’s for sure.” The Head’s smile disappeared. “Come.” He said, willing her to do so. But Willow stayed in place, eyes still bright.
“No.”
     “You will.”
The rest of the group was watching in awe now. “How is she resisting?” Diana whispered, accidentally voicing her thoughts. The Head turned his full attention to Willow. “What is this?” he said, bewildered.
     “I don’t know,” Willow said. “All I know is I won’t end up like the members of the Seekers. I won’t allow myself to turn, to become one of you.”
    Everyone’s eyebrows went up, even Willow’s, though she was the one who said it. Where did I pull that from? She thought. She looked around; Diana’s eyes glowed lightly. Thank you, she thought. Diana nodded and Willow turned back to the Head. “Stop.” His eyes dimmed as she said it, and he looked confused.
How are you doing this? It’s impossible! My power will be drained!”
     This time Willow smiled. “Well, that’s just going to have to happen, isn’t it?” she said, echoing his earlier words. Her eyes glowed brighter and brighter, while the Head’s dimmed with every second that passed. Finally he had regular eyes again, with even the Powered ring of silver gone completely. He gasped before finally falling to the ground, knocked out.
     Willow’s eyes returned to normal. She collapsed into a chair and smiled weakly at the adults. “I see what you mean now,” she said. “This is exhausting.”
 
 
Chapter 22: It’s Finished
It was over.
     After Willow had taken the Head’s power (that was her power, they discovered, as well as dimming powers if she wanted to), Carson called the police to come collect the Head. They’d left before the police arrived.
     “Why?” Silas asked Willow when they were in a safe place with the others out of earshot. “Why did you save me from him? I didn’t deserve it.” Willow considered, not answering until she was sure.
     “I don’t know,” she said slowly. “You helped find Carson. And with as many wrong things as you’ve done, I think you did the right thing there, and when I was born. Telling me who I was, giving me up to keep me out of his hands. I can only imagine what my life would have been like if you hadn’t done that. If he knew the truth.” She met his eyes. “Thank you for that.” Silas nodded and looked away.
     “I’m truly sorry for everything I’ve done to you. ‘Scaring the daylights out of you’, as you so elegantly put it, taking you, the threats. Bringing you to the Head the first time. But it was just following orders! I wouldn’t have done it otherwise, any of it. And I’m sorry.”
     Willow looked to the sky. “I can’t forgive most of that. At least not anytime soon. But I can let you off on the smaller things, because you helped Carson, and because of what you did when I was born. A life for a life, you know.” The man’s eyes were pained for a second before returning to normal.
     “I understand.” He responded simply. Diana came over as they said that. “We need to take them back. Their parents are going crazy with worry,” she informed Silas, more seriously than normal. “Carson, let’s go,” Willow called. “They’re taking us home.”
     The group joined hands and they were transported to the Rosell’s front yard. They faced each other for the last time. “I guess this is it,” Diana stated. The rest of them nodded. “Goodbye,” Carson said, more than happy to leave these strange people. He walked to the front porch, but stopped at the steps, waiting for Willow.
     Willow stayed for a moment longer. How was it that she would miss the two people who had done what she would have never expected? It was a strange feeling. She couldn’t make herself talk, so she simply waved in farewell. Silas nodded back. “It’s finished.” He said, meeting her eyes one more time. Then they disappeared.
     The girl walked back to the front porch and entered the house. “Mom? Dad?” Carson called. The children heard their parents stand, knocking their chairs over in the process, and rush to the front door. They embraced their children, tears streaming down their face. “We thought we’d never see you again,” they said.
     Willow understood what they meant. She’d had the same feeling. But she knew now that wasn’t the case, and she smiled, hugging them back.

Epilogue
Willow’s life was mostly back to normal. She still had to keep her Power a secret from her friends, even though no one could sense it. She told her parents about everything that had happened. She also told them what the secret was when she was sent to live with them, and they took it all surprisingly well. “You handled it perfectly,” they told her. After that, she had lived a relatively average life.
     But every so often, she’d notice a pair of glowing eyes from a distance away, and she would smile. She would wave in its direction, and the eyes would become a person briefly, smile, and nod before disappearing again.

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