"You were right!" exclaimed Benjamin. "Did you hear what she wrote? Her thoughts..." he trailed off, than began again. "If we can use this, this..."
"Hatred?" suggested Red.
"Disgust," corrected Benjamin. "Hatred is too strong of a word for this girl. But it's quite close, my dear. She really is put off by this town."
"Do you believe that the town could be what we use to gain control?"
"I believe that we can use her disgust toward the town of Aver to gain her understanding."
"Explain," ordered Red.
"Well, we need the girl to get what we want...what the Elders want. Don't you think that she could help us carry out the Elders' orders?"
"You think she'll follow?" Red asked.
"I think she'll lead."
"If she were by our sides while we fulfilled our mission, there's no telling what we could do!" exclaimed Red.
"Exactly!" Benjamin agreed excitedly.
It was quiet for a long moment but then footsteps broke the silence.
"You didn't tell me Myriam would be coming!" hissed Red frantically.
"I didn't know!" whispered Benjamin.
"What do we do?"
"Hide the book!"
A shuffling sound, and then silence, all but the footsteps. They seemed to be coming from down a long hall. The footsteps stopped, and a new voice sounded.
"Good evening Red," said a woman's voice.
"Good evening Myriam," said Red, a fake enthusiasm covering her voice. "It's been ages! How have you been?"
"I've been well," said Myriam, her voice tight. "And you, Red? How have you been?"
"Fine, fine," said Red.
"Hello Myriam," said Benjamin.
"Well, hello Benjamin. So nice of you to join us," said Myriam.
"What brings you to Hallow?" Red asked.
"We have been wondering how you two have proceeded with our orders."
"Oh, yes, of course," Benjamin said. "We've found a girl."
"Yes! A very promising one at that," Red assured her.
"And what do you plan to do with this girl?" asked Myriam.
"We plan to have her join us. She has a certain...quality that we are sure will be essential to our mission," Benjamin explained.
"And how exactly do you plan to persuade her to join us? You're not communicating yet, are you? The time has not come. Communicating is not acceptable." Myriam's voice turned hard at the end.
"Of course we plan to communicate, but we shall not meet her until the time, Myriam. You and the other Elder's have made it clear that we may neither see nor write to our subject." said Red.
"How will you communicate then?"
Benjamin answered hesitantly. "Ruby James can...hear us speak when we are in this room."
"And you don't consider that direct communication?!" asked Myriam.
"It is not direct communication," Red answered. "She cannot speak to us, she can only hear us."
"Trust us, Myriam. Don't think of it as communication. Think of it as early planning."
"Who are you to tell an Elder what to do?" hissed Myriam.
"My apologies," Benjamin said quietly.
"We will be checking in on you two," Myriam warned. "I must be leaving. Good bye."
The footsteps faded away and Red spoke again. "Where's the book?"
More footsteps -- Benjamin walking -- and the shuffling sound again. Benjamin's footsteps silenced and he spoke. "Here it is. Open it to that page again, Red."
After a brief silence, Benjamin spoke. "Amazing! It's like she's handing us the tools we need to persuade her! Listen to this: 'I'm sick of Aver! There is no reason to live in the town. I want to leave and never go back.'"
"She's perfect," whispered Red. "We just need to intensify her feelings."
"Then she'll be able to lead the mission."
The voices slowly faded and I woke to the green tinted sunlight intruding through the tent's material.
I slowly opened my eyes. "What a weird dream," I mumbled sleepily. It had seemed so real. Like there really were people talking about me...like I really could hear them.
I pushed the dream out of my head and unzipped the zipper to my section of the tent. "Mom? Dad?" I said.
No answer. I stood up and walked to the main entrance of the tent. I put my tennis shoes on and stepped out of the tent into the cool morning air.
"Mom? Dad?" I called. They still weren't answering.
"Mom! Dad!" I called more loudly. Still no answer.
I began to feel panicky, visualizing images of horrible things that might have happened to them. I tried to calm myself down with less scary possibilities.
"They went on a morning hike, that's all," I whispered to myself. "Nothing to worry about, Ruby. Just don't freak out."
Despite my efforts to calm down, I began to walk in the general direction of the main campground. I was hoping two things as I made my way through the woods. The first, that I would see them walking back toward our tent, and the second was that I didn't get lost. I checked behind me every so often to see if I could see the tent from where I was standing, and made landmarks to find my way back.
I looked back for about the ninth time and realized that I'd walked further than I'd thought. I couldn't see the tent. In fact, I couldn't see any of my landmarks. It was then that I heard the whispers.
"Benjamin," I heard a voice say. I instantly recognized this voice. It was the woman named Red from my dream. "She's awake. I wonder if she hears us."
"She can," assured another voice--Benjamin. "She can hear us whenever we're here, whether she's asleep or awake."
I pressed my hands to my eyes, hoping to wake myself up. "Wake up, Ruby!" I whispered frantically to myself. "Wake up, wake up, wake up!"
"Did you hear that!" Red exclaimed.
"Yes!" Benjamin enthused. "We can hear her too!"
"What will we tell the Elders?" asked Red, and the excitement vanished from her voice. "We told Myriam that she couldn't speak to us."
"Well, we didn't fully understand the power of the room until now," said Benjamin. "Perhaps we can persuade the Elders to agree that we can use this to our advantage. Even before the coming time!"
"Perhaps," agreed Red.
I stood completely still and removed my palms from my eyelids. My heart raced as I looked around the woods. No one was there. The only sounds I heard were the birds chirping and the voices in my head. Then, the voices stopped, and I waited.
After a few minutes, the voices began again. "She's not speaking. Should we try to talk to her?" asked Red.
"Yes," said Benjamin. "She might just be confused. It's not everyday that you hear voices in your head."
"Maybe it's not everyday for you," corrected Red. Then, she spoke again, this time directed toward me. "Hello? Ruby?"
I didn't know what to say. If a person hears voices in their head, they're crazy. If a person communicates with the voices...would that be a whole new level of insanity? I kept quiet; hopefully this was just a way that my brain was coping with the panic of mom and dad being gone.
I slowly began to walk again, searching.
"I don't hear anything," said Benjamin.
"Ruby?" said Red. "Hello, Ruby? Can you hear us?"
I tried to ignore the voices as I continued my search. It was difficult though, especially when they said my name. It seemed to bring on a whole new level of panic whenever they did.
"Mom!" I called as I stumbled through the forest. "Dad! Where are you? Hello?" I began to lose hope. I felt lost, with no landmarks to guide me, and I still didn't see the tent. I felt as if I were traveling in circles. Large, never ending circles. Hadn't I seen that tree before? What about that stump? I know I saw that mossy rock.
Gradually, I lost the small amount of hope that I'd had when I started my endeavor and I slowly lowered myself to the ground. I folded my arms over my legs, baring a fetal position and looked at my surroundings. There must be a way to get back to the tent, or even to the campsite, but I whenever I felt close to either one, it seemed that the whole forest shifted and I was walking the opposite direction as before. Something was different now: the voices had stopped. I breathed a sigh of relief but was caught mid-breath when they started again.
"Ruby," Benjamin said. "If you can hear us, please acknowledge that we're here. It's rude to ignore someone, dear. We just want to talk."
What have I got to lose? I thought to myself. I'm lost, I'm hearing voices, I can't find my parents...
"Hello? Uhm...Benjamin and Red?" I mumbled, feeling completely ridiculous.
"Thank you, Ruby!" said Red.
"You must be so confused," Benjamin mused. "Do you have any questions, Ruby?"
"Well..." I tried to choose the most urgent one that I could think of. "Do you know where my parents are?"
Benjamin chuckled. "They'd never left your campsite, Ruby."
"What? They had to have left. I looked everywhere."
"No," said Red. "They're still there. If you go back, you'll find them."
"But...I know what I saw! They weren't there!"
"Well, how about your trust us. If they still aren't there when you go back, then we were wrong. But what difference would it make?" Benjamin suggested.
"How am I supposed to get back?!" I yelled, exasperated. "I'm lost. Okay? Do you understand? Lost!"
"Don't fret, Ruby darling," soothed Red. "You'll find your way back. Just follow the signs."
"What signs?" I laughed, half crazed. "Oh. No. Wait, I see one there! I-75 North."
"Well, we don't know what the signs will be," said Benjamin, completely ignoring my sarcasm. "But you'll see them, trust me. Or hear them. You might even smell them. You'll know what they are when you find them."
I sighed and picked myself up off of the ground. "Sure," I mumbled. "I'll just follow the nonexistent signs. Great idea. I'm already crazy, why not start seeing things too?" I babbled to myself as I walked through the forest, barely paying attention to any of my surroundings. Sometimes Benjamin or Red would say something, making me notice things I hadn't before.
"Do you see anything?" Red asked me after a few minutes.
"Nothing out of the ordinary."
"Feel anything?" asked Benjamin.
I was about to say no, but at that moment, a gust of wind came through the forest and pushed me to the right and into a tree. "Woah," I breathed, rubbing the arm that the tree scraped. "Uhm...a really strong wind."
"Go the direction it came from," ordered Benjamin.
I turned to the left and walked that way for a while, once again only paying enough attention to be sure that I didn't trip. I began to wonder how crazy I could be. If I felt that wind, could this all be real? I'd run into a tree and gained a scrape. Could it just be coincidence that the wind had come as I spoke to the hallucinatory voices in my head? Or could it be that I was subconsciously making myself back up as if something had pushed me, just because my brain had told me to? Or was there some possible explanation that I actually wasn't crazy; could there really be people named Benjamin and Red who lived in a place called Hallow? Could it really be possible that I was somehow connected to them, resulting in just a rare ability, and nothing other than that? I racked over all the questions in my brain, all of them spinning around. I began to feel dizzy and off balance.
Luckily, Red spoke, pulling me from my thoughts. “Ruby, do you see anything? Hear anything?”
“Er…”I mumbled, trying to find something that could be a sign. “No not y—“something caught my eye then. Could that be my mom?
“Ruby!” the shaped called out. “Where are you, honey?”
“Yes!” I said, excitedly. “My mother!” And I ran as fast as I could while still remaining on my feet. I got to her and hugged her tightly. “Mom!” I said excitedly.
“Ruby Elizabeth!” she said, her voice hard. “Where were you?”
“I was…hiking.” I fibbed quickly. I certainly wasn’t going to tell her about Red and Benjamin—not yet at least.
“Well ,wait for your dad and I next time, honey,” she said, relieved now.
We walked back to the tent and I sat in my section after I ate lunch, thinking about all the strange things that had happened today. Surely it couldn’t get any more odd! I pulled out my diary and began to write, falling into that same trance-like state as last night.