“C’mon, swing! Swing!”
“C’mon, you can’t be hesitant to strike at me. If I’m an enemy, you can’t lose that second it takes to think about it.”
“stay on the balls of your feet, keep those knees bent… and swing at me!”
“you have to remember to dodge those ones, look at my shoulders, see it coming and compensate. Now hit me, come on, lay it on, don’t worry, I can take it!”
Raph leaned on the doorframe to the dojo and sighed. April stood akwardly, feet apart, knees pointed at each other, her mouth twisted in nerves and concern as she stared at the bo in her hands. Donnie sat on the floor, a dazed expression on his face, rubbing his head. His own bo lay on the ground next to him.
“I’m sorry, Donnie! Are you alright? You said you could take it!” April looked torn between taking another shot at her bo-combat instructor and helping him up.
Donnie gave her a lop-sided smile, “it’s my own fault for underestimating you, Ape. I guess I had it coming…”
April grinned, “so, does this mean I’ve learned something?”
Raph snorted from the doorframe, “you learn any more today and Donnie’ll be in a body cast.” He took a swig of his coke.
“you’re doing great, April,” said Donnie as she helped him up. “I think we’re done for today. I gotta ice my head. You can leave the protective pads out so they can air. Cool off in the shower if you want.” Donnie grabbed a small towel from the floor and mopped the sweat from his brow.
April took off her padded helmet and made for the shower.
“she’s gettin’ good…” commented Raph as he made for the couch, today’s entertainment having hit the showers.
“you’re telling me. I’m gonna have one helluva bruise tomorrow. I hope splinter’s ankle heals soon, I feel safer in front of a computer monitor.”
Their sensei was currently taking the month off on account of a sprained ankle received during his last training session with April.
Raph lounged on the couch, idly flipping through channels. It had been an all-around uneventful summer, as far as evil overlords and power-hungry mutants went. It was early september and the summer heat was still in full volume. The sewers of the city remained, as ever, a cool haven to the blistering temperatures outside. Donnatello was still having his own personal issues about his short affair with a vampire. Although still fresh in the family’s minds, the encounter seemed like a lifetime ago, although in truth only four months had passed since Donnie’s amorous companion had hopped on a plane and exited the country.
Boredom, as it often did, went a long way to contribute to Raph’s usual moodiness. Donnie was fiddling with one gadget or another, Mikey was perusing the used-book shops in the area for rare cookbooks and poetry collections (Raph had no idea how he could stand the heat in his large boots, overcoat, scarf and fedora) and Leo was, as usual, meditating, under the careful scrutiny of their sensei.
Raph snorted at the daytime-talkshows. Flicking off the tv, he muttered “goin’ fer a walk.” Before leaving the den, hearing Donnie’s distracted “uh-huh…” as a reply.
His feet travelled of their own accord, knowing since childhood the passageways to walk and those to avoid. It was damp and dark, but cool in the passageways and Raph knew every bump, rise and fall of the tunnels. He could easily picture the concrete metropolis above him, and trace his own route through the busy streets. It was quiet, and lent the atmosphere to him that he needed to simply let his mind wander.
He was thinking idly about April’s legs when a soft echo bounced up the tunnel toward him. It was faint, almost a sigh.
Raph stopped and stood still as a statue, allowing his senses to expand around him and tune him into his environment. a steady drip was coming from somewhere and he could hear the faint white noise of the traffic above him. He was about to shrug it off and continue, when another, somewhat louder sigh travelled up the tunnel to caress his ears.
It suddenly occured to him that there might be a person trapped in the sewers, injured and unable to move. Filled with visions of a damsel in distress, he hurried down the tunnel, following yet another soft sound.
“hey… is there someone there?” he called out softly.
“I am…” the soft, almost child-like reply trailed off.
“are you hurt? Where are you?”
“waiting…” came the sing-song voice, which seemed to echo in his mind as through his ears.
“where…” he stopped as, in the indistinct layers of shadow and darker shadow, he saw a ragged, hunched figure. Her shoulders were shaking and long, tangled hair obscured her face. He could see her hands, however. They were covered in blood.
“christ, are you alright?” he hastily stepped toward her.
“I am now…” she began laughing. It was a grating, screetching sound that abraised his ears.
She suddenly stood up and faced him and… *holy shit she has no eyes they’re gone her mouth is full of blood and her teeth are sharp and god she’s smiling she’s smiling at me god help me she’s reaching toward me she’s-*
the tunnel was empty.
Raphael walked into the den, a dazed expression on his face. He silently walked to the couch and slowly sat down.
“yo, bro!” Mikey’s cheerful salutation came from behind him. His energetic brother neatly vaulted over the back of the couch to land next to Raph. He immediately thrust large, hardbound book underneath Raph’s beak, “check it out, dude! It’s a Thai cuisine book, adapted for the U.S of A.! it has a list of ingredients that might be hard to get in the U.S., then lists alternatives for them! I’ve been looking for this book for, like, six months!! It’s. . . hey, Raph, you okay?”
Raphael shook his head and looked up at Mikey, “what? What do you want?”
“I dunno. . . you look kinda, I don’t know, spooked or something. You feeling alright?”
“mike, do you believe in-“ Raph stopped himself abruptly. He stood up.
“do I believe in what?”
“nothing. Forget it.” Raph headed toward the kitchen.
“what were you going to say? It’s okay, you can tell me,”
“I said forget it!” Raph snapped.
“okay, sure.” Said Mikey, opening his book once again.
“what’s his problem?” asked don, who wandered in, coffee mug in -hand.
“ah, who knows? He’s just in another snit.”
“there’s a pen in your coffee.”
“hey, I was looking for that! Thanks, mike. I thought this coffee tasted kinda funny. . .” Donnie contentedly made his way back toward his computer, absently sticking the pen back into his half-full mug.
Raph tossed and turned. The icy feeling that had clutched his stomach hours ago when he’d seen that strange vision in the tunnel hadn’t left him. It was 11:45 at night and sleep still evaded him. Just what the hell had he seen? He just couldn’t believe that it was a ghost. All that supernatural crap was pure bullshit. It was all just a bunch of idiots and new-agers running around, waving their arms at swamp gas and shadows.
that sigh of breath, her shrieking laugh had seemed so real. . .
No. No way in hell. He was just seeing things. *god,* he thought to himself, *I must be really desperate for a fight if I’m making up villans in my head. Sheesh, a lady with no eyes and sharp teeth? What a load of. . . * he shuddered as the image of the horrid woman came back into his head. So grotesque. . . maybe he was coming down with something. That must be it. he’d have Donnie take his temperature in the morning. With that thought in mind, he finally drifted into darkness. . .
He lay in his bed, staring at the ceiling. Hey, wait a minute, was he asleep yet? a breeze drifted through his open doorway. It came again. . . that small sigh. It surrounded him, built around him. The air became thick. He suddenly felt hot, it was difficult to breath, as if something heavy was on his chest. . . oh god, she was here. . . she was kneeling on his plastron, her weight on his lungs, suffocating him. In the empty spaces where her eyes would have been were two glowing points of hellish red light. She grinned, and blood came gushing from between her pointed teeth, splattering across his plastron.
He tried to heave her off him, but he couldn’t move. He tried to cry out, to implore the aid of his brothers, but no sound came from his throat.
Her flesh was deteriorating, becoming grey, hanging from her bones. She took the sides of his head in her skeletal hands and leaned down toward him. . .
Raph gasped, his eyes popping open. He sat up and looked around him, taking in deep breaths of air. The room was empty. He heard sounds of Mikey puttering in the kitchen and the soft tones of Leo and splinter talking coming through the closed curtain over his doorway.
It was just a dream. Just a bad dream.
He looked down at his plastron. No blood. Nothing. He felt the sides of his face. No scratch marks. That dream had been so vivid, it had to be brought on by the flu, or something. He shook his head in an effort to clear it of the horrid image.
He walked out to the living room and sought out Donnie, who was hunched over his keyboard, muttering to himself.
“friggin’, fraggin’. . .”
“stoopid, durnitall. . .”
“huh? Oh, hey, Raph.” Donnie swiveled around in his chair to face Raph, “what’s up?”
“do you have a thermometer?”
“like, a medical one?”
“sure. Feeling alright?”
“well, I guess I’m feeling kinda funny. . .”
“siddown.” Commanded Donnie as he hopped up and trotted off to retrieve the thermometer. He came back shaking the thermometer thoroughly to bring the mercury to the bottom. Before Raph could so much as gurgle, he shoved the uncomfortable glass instrument into his mouth, under his tongue. Donnie idly whistled while he checked his watch. After a minute, he removed the thermometer.
“well? what’s it say?”
Donnie shrugged, “well, it’s not particularly high. I’m no doctor, but it looks fine to me. lemme take your pulse,” Donnie grabbed Raph’s wrist, staying any protest.
“well, your pulse seems to be a little high. Have you been doing any exercising this morning?”
“I just woke up, einstein.” Raph muttered.
“well, can *you* think of anything that might bring up your pulse?”
Raph paused. He certainly could think of something. . . “well, I had this funky dream. It just creeped me out a little.”
“well, that’s probably it, then. Dreams can be surprisingly vivid sometimes, and it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not. I’ve had nightmares myself that’ve really gotten me worked up. I wouldn’t worry about it. was there anything else?”
“well. . .” he stopped himself just as he was about to reveal his strange vision in the tunnel. Donnie’s reaction was predictable enough. Eye tricks in the dark sure made more sense than eyeless ghosts. “no, nothing else.”
“then you’re officially discharged. You can get out of my chair, now.”
Raph rolled his eyes and stood up. he walked into the kitchen where splinter and Leo sat.
“Donnie tells me she did real well yesterday. there may not be much more we can teach her, without your supervision.” Leo spoke enthusiastically about April’s training.
“Ms. O’Neil is certainly a quick leaner. Though she could certainly use more confidence in herself.” Splinter smiled at Raph as he plopped down at the table and toyed with a fork. “how was your sleep?” for a split second, splinter’s smile faltered. The aged rat blinked once and his visage was once more safely in place.
“fine.” Raph muttered.
Leo looked curiously at splinter, then at Raph. Mentally shrugging, he continued his lively analysis of April’s improvement in the field of the martial arts.
The day passed uneventfully for the family. Evening came, and April showed up in her sweat pants and a tank top, ready to work up a sweat. Raph sat against the wall of the dojo, watching as Leo, supervised by splinter with back-seat driving courtesy of Donnie, ran April through her warming-up excersises. Raph sat quietly, trying to force his mind to empty itself, as splinter was always urging them to do. Again and again, though, the image of the rotting face and pointed, bloody teeth returned to him, seeming to laugh at his vain efforts. He didn’t notice as splinter periodically glanced his way, lips pressed tightly together, brows furrowed.
Raph half-closed his eyes, allowing the world to become indistinct. He watched as April practiced, each move carefully calculated. Raph was surprised at how graceful she could be when she really tried. This was a woman who, on more than one occasion, hopped up on chairs to squeal whenever she saw a sewer rat. Her lips were pressed together in concentration, loose strands of her brown hair caressed her face. Her hair… it was looking a bit stringy. He hadn’t noticed before, but it seemed thinner than usual. Her skin also seemed a little grayish in the light. He mused that she seemed thinner, too. Maybe even unhealthily so. Did she have an eating disorder? He looked at her hands. they seemed knobbly, as if the skin had shrunk to fit the bones, her nails had grown long and chipped.
She suddenly turned toward Raph and her eyes, red, glowing holes in her face.
*dear god. . .*
she screetched and launched herself at him.
Raph gave a startled gasp and stood up quickly.
April, Donnie and Leo all gave him puzzled looks.
“hey, Raph, are you alright? You look pale.” April walked over to him and reached out a hand to feel his forehead.
He batted aside her wrist before she could touch him, “I’m alright. Just a little tired.” He noticed that Leo and April had both managed to work up a sweat that hadn’t been there a moment before. “hey, how long have you guys been practicing?”
Donnie cocked his head to one side, “we’ve been at it for an hour and a half, where have you been?”
“an hour and a half?”
Donnie checked his watch, “yeah. I think you fell asleep. You know, ape’s right, you do look a little pale. I guess you were right this morning.”
Raph nodded silently and made his way toward the door, staring at the ground as if it had asked him a rather difficult question.
“might want to take some asprin, or something. Have Mikey make you some tea.” Donnie jogged after him, “or, you know what, take some echinasea, I hear that stuff’s great for you. oh, and some zinc. And some vitamin C. hey, I think April got us some of that ginko baloba stuff last spring, I think we still have so-“
Raph turned around so abruptly that Donnie almost collided with him, “Donnie, could you possibly just shut up? I’m going to bed.”
Donnie planted a fist on his hip in what Raph considered a very gay fashion, “look, I’m just looking after your wellfare. No need to get huffy.”
Raph grunted as he headed toward his room.
“you know,” said Donnie, not to be deterred, following him, “excessive sleep and tiredness is a sign of depression. You should really-“
“Go. . . away. . .”
Donnie snorted, spun about and walked off. *probably to go bitch to Mikey about me. asshole.* thought Raph. In his heart he knew he didn’t really resent Donnie, or his concern for his health. For some reason, he felt more irratible than usual. What the hell was happening to him?
He flopped down in bed and stared at the ceiling. For some reason, he was reluctant to close his eyes, even though it seemed as if weights were attatched to his eyelids. No, he wouldn’t sleep. Wouldn’t want to have another wacked-out dream. Perhaps he’d just rest his eyes for a few minutes. Yeah, then go watch some late-night tv. Just close his eyes, just for a second. . .
He stood in a graveyard. *shit.* he thought *I’m dreaming again.” He pinched his arm. He felt the small spark of pain, but his surroundings didn’t shift. He slapped his face, and felt the heat on his cheek. No effect. What the hell was going on?
He looked up. the moon and stars were hidden by dark clouds. Despite this, his eyes could make out his surroundings. A thick mist curled about the tombstones, making indistinct shapes that would loom, solid and threatening at the edge of his vision until he turned and saw only the shifting fog. He began to walk, in no direction in particular. He looked at the names on the gravestones. Although he could recognize the letters, for some reason he couldn’t bring them together to form a comprehensive word. He saw the word on the cold stone, but it would evade him, as if the entire place were taunting him. As he walked, he approached a single grave around which no fog curled. Although it was small, and plain compared to the surrounding stones, it seemed to dominate his vision. Of all the tombstones, it was the only one he could read. It said simply, “Amy” and the date 1895.
Suddenly, a force pushed him from behind, and he found himself falling into an open grave, and into a plain, open casket. He landed, and the lid swung shut before he could react. He heard the sound of dirt hitting the lid, as the meager slivers of sky he could see through the slats began disappearing. He banged his fist on the lid, kicking furiously with his feet.
“HEY!!” he yelled, “HEY! I’M ALIVE!! I’M IN HERE! STOP! STO-“ his voice froze in his throat as he reaLized that he wasn’t alone. A cold, icy hand slid over his arm, and across his plastron.
“I’ve been waiting for you. . .” the voice slid across his ears like a shroud being pulled aside, “now we can be together. Now you can be mine. . .”
in a sudden panic, he flailed wildly against the cold body beside him, though for all his struggling, her wiry arms held him tighter, like twisted branches of a cold, dead tree. “what the hell do you want with me?” he cried, as he continued to thrash.
“I just want us to be together. Everything will be alright now. . .” her voice was soft and light, even as he sharp nails raked up the inside of his leg.
“GET THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!!” he yelled. He was suddenly hot, the air in the tight space swiftly being used. He felt a weight on his chest, crushing him, crushing his lungs. He gasped and choked. He was suffocating. He was dying, and all the while the ghastly creature caressed him as one would a lover.
“NOOOOOOOO!” he wailed.
“Raph, it’s all right! hey, Raph! Can you hear me?”
Raph’s eyes snapped open. He looked into Mikey’s concerned face. Behind Mikey stood splinter, Leo and Donnie, all three turtles with identical looks of worry and confusion on their faces.
Raph sat up and slid away from mike, glancing around wildly. “jesus, it was a dream.”
“yeah. Must’ve been a doozy.” Cracked mike.
“yeah.” Panted Raph, recovering his breath, “it was.” He rubbed his eyes “what time is it?”
“it’s five in the morning.” Answered Donnie. “we all heard you yelling in your sleep.”
“yeah. Sorry.” Mumbled Raph as he stood out and staggered past his worried family “’m takin’ a shower.”
His three brothers stared after him.
“what. . . the hell. . . is wrong with him?” said Donnie.
Mikey shook his head.
“you should all go back to sleep.”
They turned toward splinter.
“but what if something’s really wrong?” asked Mikey.
“if that is the case, then I will take care of it”
“yeah, but-“ protested Leo.
“go back to sleep. We will sort this out later.”
the three turtles reluctantly shuffled out.
After he was sure there was no chance of eavesdroppers, he slowly sat himself down in the center of Raph’s room. He closed his eyes and exhaled. He allowed his mind to empty of its concerns, his worries for his sons, his training regimen for April, his impatience for his sprained ankle to heal, and all the menial, little things that nagged at his mind. He let his senses spread around him, taking in every nuance of his surroundings, both physical, and ethereal. As he entered the dark place that was usually a peaceful haven, he reaLized, unsurprisingly, that he was not alone there. Something lurked, just beyond his range to reach it, taunting him, like the swinging, bobbing apple on a tree that darted away from his hand as he reached.
“what do you want?” he allowed the question to travel before him, and reach the presence, even though he could not.
a small sigh sounded in his head, echoing about the recesses of his emptied mind. The light sound slowly rose into an unbearable, high-pitched screetch. Desperate, splinter tried to withdraw his mind. The presence reached for him, he suddenly felt pain lancing through his face.
Gasping, he opened his eyes, fighting off a wave of nausea. Grasping his walking stick, he hauled himself upright. He felt heat on the side of his face. Puzzled, he raised his hand to his furred cheek. When he withdrew it, blood covered his palm. Something had *scratched* him. He shook his head. What the hell was going on?