Ezra kicked and squirmed, struggling to breathe. He needed air. He managed a strangled groan as the writhing tentacles bound his legs and arms. He couldn’t move. He was utterly helpless.

The tentacle around his throat tightened further, cutting off what little air he’d been getting. His mouth opened in a silent scream. Tears stung his eyes. He was going to die. There was no escape. He’d always known he wouldn’t live a long life, not with his condition, but he’d never expected death to take him so suddenly.

He’d never gotten to tell his mother how he truly felt about her. He’d never gotten the chance to say that her words had hurt him – that they’d cut him more deeply than any knife could. He’d never been able to tell her that, although he knew she meant well, he never felt she’d truly loved him. As darkness closed around his vision, he realized that he never would.

Would she mourn his death? Ezra didn’t know. Perhaps, she wasn’t capable. He’d never learn, now, why she’d chosen him over Connor. So many words he’d never said to her out of what? Fear over the answers he’d receive? It seemed a trivial thing now. Then, again, anything would seem trivial in the face of death.

Something he can’t explain…

Bertram frowned at the computer screen. What did he think of these claims of hallucinations? What could he say to that? Keenan was paranoid. Everyone knew that. Rory was traumatized by his ex-wife. They all knew that too. That left Chris…

He broke off the train of thought and glanced over his shoulder. Was that the door? “Beth?” he said, stepping away from the desk to peer into the corridor. He gasped and staggered back.

“Don’t think you can run, boyo,” the man said, following him into the room.

Bertram’s heart was hammering in his chest. All his senses said this man was there! He couldn’t just see him. He could hear him – smell him! The man who’d killed his brother! “Stay back,” Bertram rasped, grabbing his side arm.

He blinked and… the man was gone. Bertram blinked again and set the weapon down. Trembling, he stepped across the room. Nothing. Not a sound. He peered out of the room and held his breath when the knob turned. It opened and he sighed in relief.

“Bertram?” Beth said, blinking. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah,” Bertram said, nodding. “I – I just have one thing to finish up. Then, I’ll come to bed.” Beth smiled at him and nodded. Bertram sighed and strode back to the computer. He typed three words. “We met tomorrow.” That was all he needed to say.

Hold me close. Tie me down, sir.

“Are you all right?” Sera asked. Keenan seemed especially tense tonight. Frowning, she sat down beside him on the couch.

Keenan sighed and covered his eyes with his hands. “Three times now, members of Shynian Intelligence have had these… really frightening visions. Chris saw a wolf, Rory saw Carmine and… I saw Isaac,” he said.

“Why should seeing Isaac be so terrible?” Sera said, tucking a lock of hair behind Keenan’s ear. “You aren’t afraid of spirits.”

“I… did something to him,” Keenan said, his voice faint. “At the time, I didn’t see any choice. I still don’t see any choice, but… I feel horrible!”

Sera sighed. “Is there anything I can do to help?” she asked. She hated seeing him like this. Whatever had happened, she was certain Keenan had acted in a way that he thought was best.

“Just,” Keenan said, his voice cracking, “Just hold me?”

Sera nodded and put her arms around Keenan’s shoulders. He rested his head on her chest and sighed softly. As she felt the tension slipping away, she smiled faintly. Once he’d calmed down, he’d be able to think more clearly and see the real problem. Just what were these horrible visions? Where were they coming from?

the door out of the fairy-tale stands wide open

Rory sighed softly as he shut the door to his youngest daughter’s bedroom. Finally, she was asleep. He knew that the change had been hard for all the children, but she seemed to be having the worst time. He turned and headed back towards his own room.

He froze when he heard the front door open and then close again. He scowled. Ed and Al weren’t due back until the next day. He padded down the corridor, to the entryway. “Al?” he whispered, as he stepped into the foyer. “Ed?”

He gasped when he saw who it was. “Carmine?” he breathed. His heart was pounding in his chest. She turned to face him. The familiar glare – the one she’d given him whenever he’d done something that displeased her – was on her features.

“Rory,” she growled. She stalked towards him. “Give me back my children. If you don’t give them back, I’ll take them back.”

“No,” Rory gasped, stumbling back. He fell on the steps and tensed. Without even thinking about it, he brought his arms up, protecting his head. He felt the breeze of her hand and dodged.

The familiar growl of anger cut off and then, he heard a step on the stairs behind him. Gasping, he whirled around. Emily, his older daughter, was standing there, her eyes wide with shock. He spun back to where Carmine had been, but she was gone.

“Daddy?” Emily breathed. She hurried down the steps and hugged his shoulders. “Did she hurt you? Are you all right?”

“I – I’m fine,” he rasped. He swallowed thickly and then looked at Emily again. “Did you see… where did she go?”

Emily shook her head. “She just… vanished,” he said. “Just when I saw her, she vanished entirely.”

the fairy-tale trapped in its own image

Chris was in the middle of paperwork. He’d never realized just how much paperwork was involved in running an intelligence team. He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. His sigh was answered by a deep growl. Frowning, he looked up.

Hearing the growl again, Chris stood and moved towards the door of his office. There, in the middle of the bullpen – standing on Hollis’s desk, no less – was an enormous wolf. It turned its head towards Chris. He gasped softly and took an involuntary step back as the creature advanced on him. It looked exactly like he’d always imagined the big bad wolf would. It was his greatest fear – one drawn from the nightmares of his childhood.

He shivered at the thought. Then, the wolf lunged forward. Chris let out a scream – a shrill, terrified, girlish scream – and squeezed his eyes shut. He tensed, waiting for the beast to bear him to the ground and rip his throat out.

Nothing happened. Trembling, he opened his eyes. Llewellyn stood in the doorway, staring at him. There was no sign of the wolf. “Are ye well?” he asked, his ears lowering in an elven show of concern.

“I… guess so,” Chris said. He exhaled and shook his head. “What in the name of all that is was that?”

He is not something he is imagining

The house was silent – the kids were sound asleep. Then there was a thump. Keenan frowned as he looked up from his writing. “What in the name of all that is?” he said, his brows furrowing. Setting aside his writing. He stood and padded out of the office.

His brows furrowed as he heard something down the corridor. Something was glowing in the kitchen. He was sure he hadn’t left any lights on in there. It was more thumping. He moved down there and then gasped.

There – in the center of the room – stood Isaac. That wasn’t possible. He was dead. Keenan was absolutely certain of his death. The problem was, he was just as certain he was standing there.

Keenan stared at him in shock for a moment. “Isaac?” he breathed.

Isaac turned to face him. His hands clenched into fists. His face turned thunderous. “You,” he said, “I won’t forgive you for what you did to me!”

“What I did?” Keenan rasped. Then, he was gone. Keenan gasped. Was he… real? A ghost? It had to be something, though. Hallucinations didn’t thump. Right?