Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Four Hundred and Eighty-eight : New friends


Thursday morning — 6:30 a.m.

London, England

The Royal Ballet

Laughing, Sissy covered her mouth with her wrist. She was sitting next to a girl named, Piper. Born only two days before Sissy, Piper was the best ballerina in their year. And she was funny. They were sitting in the dining hall finishing breakfast.

Sissy had never had a lot of friends, so Piper’s easy humor was delightful. Right now, Piper was imitating herself when she first saw the Instagram account. Even James Kelly, who was sitting next to Sissy, was laughing at Piper’s description. Piper made clear from the first that she’d begged to be assigned to show Sissy around.

“Look at them,” Piper said. She nodded her head toward another table where people were taking sly looks in their direction. “Poor buggers, they’re all dying to get an invitation to the party you’re putting on here.”

“I don’t think we’re putting on a party here,” Sissy said.

“Oh?” Piper looked so disappointed that Sissy’s eyes flicked to James Kelly. He lifted a shoulder in a shrug.

“Why don’t we see what we can do?” her agent, James Schmidt, asked from his spot on the end of the table.

“You mean Ivan would come here?” Sissy’s voice rose with delight.

“I don’t see why not,” James Schmidt said. “I’ll call him while you’re in class this morning.”

Piper gasped. Her hands flew to cover her mouth full of braces.

“Ivan’s coming here?” Piper said in a reverential voice.

Piper leaned back as if she was going to faint. Sissy laughed.

“He is so handsome, don’t you think?” Piper asked.

Sissy grinned at Piper.

“Well, of course you do,” Piper said. She lightly hit her head with the palm of her hand. “Dumb Pip.”

Piper leaned forward and looked at Sissy.

“Did you marry him?” Piper whispered.

“Not yet,” Sissy said with a laugh.

“You’re like ballet royalty,” Piper whispered.

James Kelly cleared his throat and knocked Sissy’s elbow. Sissy looked up toward the front where some people were talking. She shot James in a “What?” look and shrugged. Piper truly gasped at something happening at the front of the room.

“What?” Sissy mouthed.

“Prince of England,” James Kelly said under his breath.

“Who?” Sissy asked.

“Prince of England?” James Kelly asked, in the same low tone. Sissy shrugged and James grinned.

“What do I do?” Sissy asked.

If he comes over, you address him as ‘Your Royal Highness,’” James Kelly said, in her ear. “You don’t have to curtsy. He doesn’t love to be touched by strangers and he won’t take a selfie with you, even for your Instagram account. If he extends his hand, you can shake it. If he wants a photo taken, he’ll indicate that he’d like to have one taken. Follow his lead. Do not freak out.”

James squinted toward the front of the room.

“He has a photographer with him,” James Kelly said, in the same low tone. “Don’t get your hopes up.”

“Mine are up!” Piper whispered. “Will you marry me, dearest Prince?”

James nodded to acknowledge Piper. Laughing, Sissy lifted the cup to take a drink of tea.

“He’s coming this way,” Piper said in the same reverential whisper.

The prince came up to their table and James Schmidt was on his feet.

“I apologize for disturbing your meal,” the Prince said.

On Sissy’s right, Piper was swooning.

“It’s a little embarrassing, but my niece is very interested in dance, ballet in particular,” the Prince said. “Her mother asked if I might bring her over to meet you.”

“Me?” Piper asked.

The Prince looked at Piper and tried to determine if he knew her. He opened his mouth.

“It’s a pleasure to see you, Your Royal Highness,” James Kelly said, standing up.

“Jimmy!” the Prince said. “How the hell are you?”

The men shook hands and chatted back and forth for a moment.

“I see that you’re in good hands,” the Prince said in Sissy’s direction. “Sissy?”

“Your Royal Highness,” Sissy stood from her seat. “Uh, sir.”

Sissy curtsied and then remembered that James Kelly had said that she didn’t need to.

“If you don’t mind,” the Prince started, “I wonder what kind of a name is Sissy?”

“One that my brother made up,” Sissy said. “Sissy for sister, you know. I don’t like my birth name very much.”

“Yes,” the Prince said, and then added his entire name. “Mine. I understand.”

“I see,” Sissy said with a smile.

“As I said, my niece would very much like to meet ‘the ballerina from the Internet,’” the Prince said. “I have also been instructed to ask you if you’re going to have one of your wonderful dance parties.”

“We hadn’t planned on it,” Sissy said. “I was just going to come and see the schools.”

“We’re looking into it,” James Schmidt said.

“Jimmy, will you let us know when something is decided?” the Prince asked.

Jimmy nodded.

“Please keep my office in the loop. If we can help, we’d be delighted to help,” the Prince said. “My grandmother is very interested in this public dancing. She thinks it’s ‘neat.’”

He shrugged.

“Now for my third mission,” the Prince said.

“Which is?” James Kelly asked.

“I’ve been told to assure you and Mr. Schmidt that the Royal Ballet is genuinely interested in having you study here,” the Prince said. “We would hate for the recent uncomfortable situation to make you believe that the Royal Ballet is in any less than thrilled that you might study here.”

Sissy blushed. Unsure what else to do, Sissy curtsied. Embarrassed, she sat back down. James Kelly grabbed her arm and pulled her back to her feet.

“He’s asking if you would take a photo with his niece,” James Kelly said in her ear.

“Oh,” Sissy said. “Okay. Sure.”

James Kelly escorted her over to where a tiny girl was standing. Sissy was struck by how much this little girl reminded her of Rachel Ann. Sissy longed to pick her up, but she was sure James wouldn’t let her. Shy, the little girl didn’t say a word to Sissy. They took a picture with Sissy and the little girl, and another with Sissy and the Prince. The Prince stuck out his hand and Sissy shook it.

The entire thing took less than five minutes. Sissy was back in her seat and was pleasantly surprised to see that someone had warmed up her tea.

“So you think everyone hates me now?” Sissy whispered to Piper.

“Hates you?” Piper asked. “Adores you, is more like it. Look at the older girls.”

Sissy peeked over at the older, more mature girls. They stared at Sissy with open hostility.

“I think they hate me,” Sissy said.

“Who cares?” Piper asked. “You got to touch the Prince!”

Sissy laughed. A few minutes later, Piper dragged Sissy up to see her dorm room. Piper finish getting ready and they raced to her dance class. Before Sissy knew it, she was standing at the back of a classroom and the teacher was starting the class.


Thursday early morning — 4:10 a.m.

New York City, New York

“Yes, of course,” Nadia said into her cell phone. “Yes.”

While listening to someone speak, she opened the door to Ivan’s room and went to the bed. She sat down on the bed.

“I think so,” Nadia said. “Just a second.”

Nadia shook Ivan’s shoulder.

“What has happened?” Ivan sat up in bed. His hand went to his chest. “Sissy?”

“Sorry, Jammy,” Nadia said into the phone. “Just woke him. Give me a second.”

Nadia nodded to something James Schmidt had said and put the phone to her chest.

“Sissy met one of the Prince’s this morning,” Nadia said.

“So?” Ivan asked.

“He wanted to know if you were having a dance party,” Nadia said. “Jammy thinks that it might be a good way to shake off all of this Russian thing.”

“But these schools,” Ivan said. “They are the ones who have put my Sissy in such danger.”

“He says that he’s heard from the Paris Opera Ballet,” Nadia said. “They’ve assured him that they were genuinely interested in Sissy. The Royal Ballet has said the same thing.”

Ivan rubbed his eyes to buy some time while he thought about what she was saying.

“Nothing from Russia?” Ivan asked.

Nadia snorted an angry laugh. Ivan nodded.

“What does Jammy want?” Ivan asked.

“He’s wondering if you would come to London for a party tomorrow night and maybe one in Paris on Saturday,” Nadia said. “Jammy thinks that Teddy and Nash should come because the Instagram account is their idea.”

Ivan looked at the wall for a moment before looking at Nadia.

“I will go,” Ivan said. “You?”

Nadia nodded. She spoke into the cell phone and hung up.

“I knew you’d want to,” Nadia said. “I’ll send Sandy an email about Nash and Teddy.”

Ivan nodded.

“Jammy’s booking our flight,” Nadia said. “We will have to leave this morning to make it all work. Can you get out of teaching today and tomorrow?”

“I think so,” Ivan said. “I will call and explain.”

Nadia nodded to Ivan and got up to leave.

“Nadia?” Ivan asked.

Nadia turned around to look at Ivan.

“We will need security,” Ivan said. “Good people.”

“Leave it to me,” Nadia said.

“Thank you,” Ivan said.

He waited until she left the room before picking up the phone. He dialed a number that he’d been given.

“Yes,” Alex Hargreaves said.

It always surprised him how they always seemed to be wide awake.

“I am leaving for London, probably in a few hours,” Ivan said. “I’d like to talk before I go. In case, as you say, something happens to me and I’m not able to return.”

“Why don’t I call Jammy?” Alex asked. “I’d bet we can charter something for you. That way we can talk in private on the way.”

“Yes,” Ivan said. “We need protection, too.”

“Easy enough,” Alex said. “This is the right choice.”

“Thank you,” Ivan said and hung up the phone.

He stared at the wall for a moment before forcing himself to lie down. The next few days were going to be difficult. He would need his sleep. He stared at the ceiling for what felt like an age. The next thing he knew, Nadia was waking him for their trip.


Thursday morning — 8:30 a.m.

Denver, Colorado

Abi looked around the table in the main kitchen of the Castle. Delphie was sitting across from her. Dionne, Jeraine’s mother, was sitting to her right. Yvonne, Tanesha’s mother, was sitting across from Dionne. Maresol set a pan of breakfast tacos on the table and sat down next to Dionne. Blane jogged into the kitchen in time to get a couple of breakfast tacos. He sat down next to Yvonne.

“Sorry I’m late,” Blane said.

“We’re just getting started,” Abi said with a smile. “Do you mind if I speak while you eat? I have a lot to tell you.”

Mouths full, the women mostly nodded at Abi. Blane shot her a bright smile.

“Is Sam coming?” Abi asked.

“He was a breakfast with Aden to talk about the business,” Delphie said. “He mentor’s Aden once a week. He should be …”

Sam ran in the room. He grabbed and extra chair from the side. He set the chair next to Delphie and sat down.

“We were just starting,” Abi said.

“Oh good,” Sam said. “I’d hate to miss anything.”

Abi gave him a soft smile. Sam was such a good hearted human that he was hard not to like.

“We are here to talk about the Fire of Hell,” Abi said.

“Isn’t it the ‘Fires of Hell’?” Delphie asked.

“No,” Abi said. “The one is Leadville is one of many Fire of Hell. Together, they are called the ‘Fires of Hell.’”

“Tricky,” Yvonne said.

“Right,” Abi said.

“What are they?” Dionne asked.

“You know that the continents drift,” Abi said. Yvonne shook her head. Abi held her right hand flat and a blue ball appeared. “If you can imagine that the land we are standing on is a kind of crust floating on liquid ball.”

A flaky crust appeared on the ball suspended in Abi’s hand.

“Now take that ball and spin it.” The ball began to spin. “The earth is not unlike this ball. Gravity, the earth’s rotation, even its placement in space causes these pieces to move.”

The flaky crust became the usual outlines of continents.

“In at least four separate occasions, the crust has formed a larger land mass.” The crust of Abi’s ball floated into one large land mass and then separated again. “As you can imagine, it take a really, really long time.”

Abi looked at each person and they all seemed to be with her.

“Now, if we get rid of this crust,” Abi said. “Gilfand and I found ten of these Fires of Hell. We don’t believe that we’ve found them all. These holes go from the surface straight to the center of the earth.”

Abi pointed to the holes on the ball rotating in her hand.

“Are they vent holes?” Maresol asked. “Like in a volcano?”

“Vent holes are where things come out of the earth,” Abi said. “The vent holes are static, meaning that gasses, lava, and the like only come out of the holes. These Fires of Hell are similar in that things can come out of the holes, but things can also go inside. They work both ways.”

“In some areas of the world, people have stuffed these Fires of Hell with bodies, garbage, waste of all kinds, even dirt,” Abi said.

“Why would they do that?” Delphie asked.

“Why do humans do anything?” Abi said with a shrug. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“Is it?” Sam asked.

“I’m not sure,” Abi said. “Probably not. It is something we will be looking at.”

Abi glanced at each them to see if they were following her so far. They seemed to be right with her.

“Have you heard of ‘Old Faithful’?” Abi asked.

“I have,” Yvonne said. “Rodney and I went to Yellowstone right after we moved here.”

Everyone smiled simply because Yvonne remembered something. Blane got a little teary eyed.

“Old Faithful is a kind of geyser,” Abi said. “In this case, it’s called a ‘cone geyser.’ Water from the surface falls through cracks in the rock to become heated by a superheated liquid earth. In the case of a geyser, the pressure builds up until it blows out the hole.”

Abi nodded.

“That’s not what we’re dealing with,” Delphie said.

“No, it’s not, but it’s similar,” Abi said. “The land is floating on a bed of hot lava. As the land moves, the holes punch through the crust. So one way they track continental drift is by tracking the hole that Old Faithful makes in the earth.”

Abi waited for questions. When none came, she continued.

“This thing in Leadville is … unique,” Abi nodded to Delphie. “When Delphie told me about it, I went to visit the site. Delphie and Blane both told me that some invisible force in this Fire of Hell trapped Delphie. But look at what we’ve already talked about.”

“That doesn’t seem possible,” Yvonne said. “If this is some natural phenomena, it shouldn’t affect Delphie.”

“That’s exactly right,” Abi said. “There is something else going on here.”

“It’s got to be Levi,” Sam said.

“Sam and Delphie have told me about Levi Johanssen,” Abi said. “And, I don’t want to discount your experience with him. The problem is that this thing had trapped a lot of souls in a small area. Souls were trapped there long before Levi was born.”

No one said anything for a moment.

“What does that mean?” Dionne asked.

“It can mean a lot of things,” Abi said. “It could mean …”

“Levi said that he was ‘awakened’ when he went to the Leadville cemetery,” Delphie said in a vague voice. Her eyes were fixed on a spot behind Abi. “He said he’d never known such power existed in the world. The moment he felt it, he knew he was free. He was … sure that he could not die.”

Abi nodded. Delphie’s eyes flicked to look Abi.

“What is it?” Delphie asked.

“Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?” Abi asked. “What could ‘awaken’ a psychopath like Levi Johanssen?”

“Trapped souls,” Blane said.

“What if it’s just one soul?” Abi asked.

No one said anything for a moment.

“What?” Maresol dared to break the silence.

“It’s just something Gilfand and I have talked about,” Abi said. “This particular Fire of Hell seems to have the properties of collecting souls, right?”

Their heads moved up and down in a nod.

“What if it collected something like a serial killer?” Abi asked. “A God who induces people to become serial killers, something like that. Think about it. Not only did Levi Johanssen kill at will, but he collected souls like our Delphie. What if this thing gets people to kill for it and gets souls?”

“It sounds very farfetched,” Sam said.

“It is,” Abi said. “No question. That’s why I have asked each of you to be here. We need each of your gifts to get through this.”

Abi nodded and looked at each of them again.

“Maresol — we need your nurturing ability; Dionne — we will use your medical know how. Blane — we will use your understanding of the human body and soul, well, and your connection to Olympia. Sam — we will need your clear head and deep love for Delphie. We may also need your knowledge of Leadville. Is it true that Jacob owns a mine there?”

“The Marlowe Mine,” Sam said with a nod.

“We may need it before this is through,” Abi said.

“And me?” Yvonne asked softly. “Why am I here?”

“You are the daughter of an archangel,” Abi said. “You have already survived horrors that would break the spirit of almost any human being. In the darkest of situations, we will need your light, your beauty, and your power.”

Yvonne gave a slight nod.

“Are you in?” Abi asked.

No one said anything for a moment. Yvonne put her hand, palm down, out to the middle of the table. Dionne put her hand over Yvonne’s hand. Blane was next and Maresol put her hand on top of Blane’s. Sam’s beefy had came next.

“Delphie?” Abi asked.

“It’s too much to ask,” Delphie said. “I cannot allow those who I love the most to put themselves at this risk.”

“You’re not asking,” Abi said. “You’re saving the world.”

Delphie looked at Abi and blinked.

“Has this thing ensnared another soul?” Abi asked. “How many will die from this one and his thirst for power?”

Abi nodded.

“Are you in?” Abi asked.

Delphie paused for a moment and put her hand on the pile.

“I’m in,” Abi said.

She put her hand on top of the others.

“We are now a team,” Abi said. An electric shock came out of Abi’s palm and shot through the palms of everyone’s hand. “We will fulfill our destiny to save this world together.”

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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