Chapter 1 - Just a dream

Nightmares started a few weeks after my eighteenth birthday with vividly disturbing dreams featuring people I have never met in bizarre situations. Sometimes I was them, and other times I was observing them.

I woke with a start to another bright and sunny southern Californian day. Lazily stretching on my soft, lush bed, I looked around my pristine room filled with books and the latest gadgets.

Sarah and Thomas Bailey, my parents they really spoiled me with gifts, care and attention. They were a typical example of a traditional all-American family with values instilled in them by their parents, my grandparents, who were still alive and well living not too far from us.

The doors flew open without knocking, and like a hurricane, my younger sister Julie ran into the bedroom singing "good morning", jumping on the bed next to me. As usual, she was full of energy, but today, she was extra excited as it was her 18th birthday.

Julie was only two months younger than me, so obviously, she was not my biological sister. Still, because we are of such close age, our parents always said that we are twins even though we don't look similar at all.

She made impressions everywhere she went with her petite 5'5 frame with beautiful shiny black hair and piercing blue eyes. Our mother always took pride in Julie's looks and got her all the best high-fashion clothes. Julie had a narrow waist and sizeable d-cup breast giving her a figure of a perfect lingerie model with a very sensual face and lips that just invite kissing. No wonder mother signed her up to almost every pageant she could find since Julie turned five.

Julie was one of the most beautiful girls in my school, and from a rich and powerful family, there was no end of potential suitors obsessing with her, but she only had eyes for me. For as long as I can remember, she was in love with me. Playing the part of twins, we spent a lot of time together. As we grew, our love started to change, and with a change to our hormones, that love became more physical in nature.

I was Julie's biggest fan, and growing into a strong young adult sparked my sexual interest. There were other girls as well that I felt attracted to, but Julie was at the top of the list and not just because she was smoking hot. Having grown up together created a strong bond between us. As the hormones kicked in, Julie held a number one spot place of my masturbatory fantasies.

Since I did a lot of sports which won me a lot of athletic trophies for the school, my body developed to a muscular five-ten frame. Not being one of the tallest guys in school but clearly the strongest, with my looks and the fame, there was no shortage of girls following me around. They made my life a living hell. Having resolved that I want Julie to be my first, I forced myself to avoid the other girls. This meant that I was always horny, so I busied myself with just about anything to try to get sex out of my mind.

It is impossible to live in a house with attentive parents without them noticing the increased sexual interest between the two of us. Before we did something stupid, our parents sat us together and had "the talk" with us. They are both smart and accomplished people, worldly and well-travelled. This situation was something that they considered as a possibility back then when I was adopted. In principle, they didn't object to it as we were not genetically related. There were the rules, however.

The main rule was that we could not have intercourse until we were both eighteen. This is the time we would become adults and can legally make decisions on our own. This also reduced any embarrassment to the family should that come out. We could, of course, hold hands, kiss and show affection to each other in many non-sexual ways but only in the privacy of our rooms and never in public. If we wanted to be together in public, we would have to move out and live on our own, elsewhere in some other town where we couldn't be recognised as brother and sister. The rest of the talk was the advice and encouragement. Given this unique situation, our parents thought it best for our family to stay whole. If we were careful, it was a win-win for all of us.

Those were reasonable rules. Out of love and respect for our parents, if nothing else, Julie and I decided to follow them to the letter. It made it a little tricky in the school to show a level of indifference to each other, but since everyone thought we were twins, it all worked out without suspicion. After Julie turned down a few guys with an explanation that our family is ultra-religious and she is waiting to finish university before she gets married, word got around, and guys stopped approaching her; she was off-limits.

Nobody teased Julie either as most of the guys feared me, her twin brother, school champion in wrestling with a black belt in Judo. One day a small gang of guys surrounded Julie in a corridor, touching her inappropriately. Her classmate Mary alerted me to it, so I ran up a flight of stairs and attacked them; they had no chance. The school camera system recorded everything, and the guys were expelled. My dad was always very protective of us. He made sure those guys' families went bankrupt. He did not want any of that trash in our little town and have spread the word in a local business community. No company would do business with them lest they bring upon my father's wrath.

That event sealed it for Julie. Not only was she in love with me, but I was also her protecting brother and a hero. She spent that night in my room hugging me tight, which made it very hard for me in more ways than one. By her small involuntary movements rubbing herself against me, I knew she shared the sentiment.

Grandfather Bill inherited his company from his father, and my dad took on the rains when grandpa retired. The company was over a hundred years old now. It was one of the world's largest freight and logistics companies owning a few dozen container ships, hundreds of trucks even a couple of cargo planes. The company was also a military contractor responsible for supplying the troops outside of the standard army channels. For example, when US soldiers were deployed somewhere as NATO peacekeeping troops, the company would supply them with all non-military equipment, food and the like.

My father met my mother through the company. When he was a teenager, he used to help grandpa with the office, he loved ships and trucks, so it was all great fun. At one of the company events where all VIPs were invited together with their families, his eyes were drawn to Sarah. She was the most beautiful girl he ever saw; it was love at first sight. Seeing that, my grandfather and his then friend and now my other grandfather played the matchmakers. My dad and mom were put together, and the liaison encouraged. Soon enough, they started dating, and two powerful families merged.

My mother was the only child, raised as a princess born with a silver spoon, but she showed no interest in the business. Her father's company was even bigger than the logistic company. It owned ore mines and water rights all over the planet. Mostly they dug for precious metals, but the most money came from precious stones. The company owned many diamond mines in Africa alongside places like Russia. In contrast, most precious metals came from China.

Since I was the only male child in a generation and I actually showed an aptitude for business and science, the hopes of the family were high for me to take up the reins of the company someday. The fact that Julie and I seemed to be heading to the altar made it all wrapped up in a neat little bow. Everyone was happy; there was a chance for the next generation of family leadership for the company.

All this was about the legacy rather than money. Both companies were privately owned by my family, and nobody outside knew precisely how much money they made. It was a lot, much more than anyone could spend, but we lived reasonably, luxurious, not an opulent lifestyle.

"Happy birthday Julie," I said, kissing her lips, giving her a tickle. She giggled, climbed on top of me, hugging me tight, sharing small kisses; I hugged her back. She felt so soft, warm and sensual smelled beautiful after her morning shower. Feeling her up like that would give me a massive erection if I didn't already have my morning wood. We rolled like that in bed, cuddling for a few minutes before she playfully slapped my ass.

"Come on, get up, lazy boy, you'll miss breakfast", she said, getting up, dancing away from the room. Getting out of the bed, I quickly did my morning exercise activating all the major muscle groups, followed by a quick shower in my ensuite bathroom before dressing and coming downstairs for a family breakfast, which for our family was a regular, mandatory event.

The usual chatter accompanied breakfast. Spending time with the family was always my favourite time of the day. The only thing missing from it feeling complete was Karen, my older sister. She was away at the university, eagerly expected this weekend for Julie's birthday party.

After breakfast, we all sat in our respective cars and drove off. Julie and I left for school in separate cars as usual.

It was Wednesday, and Julie had to wait for a few days till her party, but tonight we planned to go out and celebrate with our school friends. Julie loved mysticism; she had many books on the subject. Upon learning that a circus was in town, she kept bugging everyone to come with and visit the fortune teller, the famous lady Davina as the flier said. We all kept chuckling, rolling our eyes, playfully mocking her. Still, it was her birthday, and she was entitled to a wish, so, reluctantly, we agreed.

Being seniors and ahead with our studies and exams, there was little to do at school. We used that opportunity to talk with our friends about what is next, who is going to university, who is staying, and how we will keep in touch. Julie and I planned to go to some far-away university, just didn't know where yet. Our grades were great, and our family money ensured that there will be a place for us wherever we decided to go. We tried to figure out where everyone else was going, to avoid those places lest someone recognises us. We wanted a fresh start as a young couple rather than brother and sister.

After school, we all piled up in our cars. As a group of seniors, we headed up to the fairground. Most of the cheerleader squad was there, and so were my sports buddies, some of them dating the cheerleaders. Hence, it was like a big couples event. We goofed off with various games, and after taking a few rides and eating enough cotton candy, all of us headed up to have our fortune read.

Lady Davina's gipsy trailer could take only one customer at a time. We queued up chatting and laughing as, one by one, everyone got in to have their fortune read. At twenty bucks a pop, it was a good bit of change for some quick work, if one could even call it that.

As I got in, the candles fluttered; I looked around with great curiosity, never having seen anything like that. If I was going to entertain this charade, I might as well get my money's worth and play the game. Sitting down on a chair opposite the gipsy woman, our eyes met, and we stared at each other. A minute or so later, lady Davina asked to see my hands. She studied them for a while with what looked to me like intent with a hint of surprise. Letting go of my hands, she spread the tarot cards in front of me on the table, asking me to pick one. I did, and she turned it over. It was a card with a black cat. She sighed heavily, turned the card back, removing the deck.

Turning around, she dug through her drawers, finding a dusty old wooden box. Inside it was a small package wrapped with brown cloth of some kind from which she took a single black candle, placing it on the table in front of me. She took my left hand, and before I could react, she pricked my finger with something sharp. With a sound of surprise, I jerked my hands away from her while signing to relax. Curiously, I watched what she does next. She wrote something on the black candle murmuring unintelligible with the pin she used to pierce my finger doing that.

Placing a candle next to the other candles, she took a thin wooden stick, lit it on a nearby white candle and brought the fire to the black one. Instantly as the black candle lit, the other candle extinguished as if the fire was sucked inside before she turned to me.

"Listen now, this is very important; to get your fortune, you must be here at 1:13 tonight, not a minute later."

"What do you mean? I don't understand", I said, confused.

"You will get your answers tonight. Follow the cat", she said cryptically, getting up from her chair and shooing me out of her cabin.

I left confused; whatever I expected to happen was not this. Naturally, I didn't believe any of that mumbo jumbo, it was a little too much theatrics for my taste, and on top of that, the old woman pricked me. I looked at my finger but couldn't find the wound. I touched around, but my finger felt undamaged as if I dreamed all this. Serves me right for playing those silly games. Putting it all out of my mind, I joined my friends laughing, we headed on to try the rides.

By the time we got home, I had forgotten the whole fortune teller incident, just remembered having a good time with my friends. After taking a long shower, I just crashed on the bed, Julie following me. She was officially eighteen now, and we could make love, but we just limited ourselves to some passionate kissing and heavy petting. We both wanted our first time to be special, and since we waited for years, we could be patient for a little while longer. Hugging each other tightly, we drifted off to sleep.

I sat at a wooden table in a rundown apartment eating cereal with several other people that I knew somehow but couldn't place. It was me, but it was not me. I looked and felt different. The furniture looked old, not just worn out but old style as if antique, except that it was not finely made. It was cheap and bolted together with rusty old nails. I heard meowing next to me, and a black cat looked at me expectantly. I gave it a small bowl, pouring some milk into it, placing it down next to my chair. Cat lapped it up as I ate, then rubbed itself against my legs, purring.

Startled, I opened my eyes, groggily turning around while Julie hugged me, drifting back to sleep again.

The whistling sound of a coming train filled the station. I sat on a brown wooden bench waiting for it, keeping a brown travel briefcase on my lap. Right next to me sat a black cat, watching the trains coming in and out. As if prompted by some higher intelligence, the cat jumped off, heading towards the train, looking back at me as if asking me to follow. Somehow, it knew that this was the train I was waiting for.

I stirred in my sleep again, woke up, then, with a heavy sigh, turned again and drifted back to sleep.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, the sound of a grandfather clock resonated in a small room. I sat on a carved chair looking at the antique clock, my eyes following the pendulum, tick-tock. The place was too quiet. There was no other sound apart from the hypnotic ticking. My eyes followed the faded golden round pendulum left, right, left, right as it ticked away. A meowing sound came out of nowhere, and I looked down. Next to the clock sat a black cat watching me intently as if waiting for me to do something. Tick-tock, the sound continued. Mesmerised by it, I felt sleepy. A single deep chime came in, filling the room with its reverberating sound, then the clock stopped. I looked at its face; it showed 1:13. Hearing another long meow, I saw the cat get up and start leaving; without thinking, I followed.

I opened my eyes with a feeling of dread, looking around, heavily breathing, the memories of the day came rushing in. "What just happened" I muttered. It seemed to me that somehow my dreams mixed with yesterday's events, all so vividly. Laying on the bed, I played back the past such dreams, surprised to find that a black in all of them; I just never noticed it before.

Distraught by the revelation, I got out of bed, making sure I do not disturb sleeping Julie and made it for the kitchen downstairs. I poured myself a glass of fresh orange juice and just sat there, trying to work everything out in my head. I got lost in my thoughts when I clearly heard a meow and jumped. I could swear I could see a black cat going out of the kitchen. Was I still dreaming, I wondered?

What was it that woman said? I tried to remember 1:13 and not a minute later, but it was already too late. I could see it was quite bright outside. I checked the living room clock, and it was half-past midnight. Looking through the window, I saw no clouds and a full moon shining bright, stars illuminating the clear sky. At that moment, I felt as if I already decided and was just now realising it. Quickly I dressed, grabbing my car keys, got out and drove to the fairgrounds.

The city was asleep, streetlamps illuminated the quiet alleys, mine was the only car outside. As I approached the fairgrounds, everything was pitch black except that one place, the fortune teller's trailer. As I parked up, opening the car door, I could swear I saw a black cat jump out of it, heading towards the cabin. Shaking my head, I made my way slowly. I knocked and opened the squeaky door. Seeing the black cat jump in, I followed.

Opposite me was an old woman. Her long white hair flowed around her wrinkled face. She wore some old drab clothes. I thought she could easily be a hundred years old. I tried not to stare at her, seeing that she was almost blind. One eye was completely white with cataracts, while the other was still functional but barely. Behind her, the fortune teller emerged, asking me to sit down.

"My grandmother would like to have a cup of coffee with you", she said, bringing two cups and an ancient copper cezve emanating a strong smell of coffee. I have only read about Turkish coffee, and I must admit that as a coffee lover, it sparked my interest. I waited patiently until she poured it for both. We sat there quietly, sipping, looking at each other wordlessly. It was strong, far too strong. I could feel the little grains of ground coffee beans getting in between my teeth. As we finished, I observed the old woman taking her cup, reversing it on a plate, so the cup bottom was up; I mimicked her. The fortuneteller came in again, taking her grandmother's cup and giving her mine.

The old woman murmured something to the fortune teller in a language that sounded familiar, but I couldn't place it. I was quite sure I have never heard it before. The old woman turned my cup again and, with her one good eye, peered inside murmuring to herself for a while, finally saying something to her granddaughter. The fortuneteller disappeared again and a few minutes later returned with a medium-sized box. Inside the box, wrapped in an old cloth, was an ornate silver combination box that required a puzzle to be solved to open. The old woman kept moving pieces until the box clicked. Removing the cloth wrapping inside was an old Russian nesting doll. Peering at the doll carefully, the old woman sang some old tune quietly, carefully moving the pieces in various directions like one would do to open a safe. Layer after layer peeled off until finally, the last layer contained yet another small cloth-wrapped object; it was an egg.

Taking the egg in her hand and turning it towards the lights, she inspected it before tapping it gently against the table till it broke. Inside was a silver necklace with an ornate round locket. There were intricate small engravings on the locket, looking like some sort of writing in a script I never saw before.

The old woman pulled out a needle and put it on the desk next to the locket, asking for my hand. I knew where this was going already, and I was not excited to get my finger pricked again, but I was too invested by this time. The whole situation was so bizarre that part of me wanted to see how much weirder it can get. The other part of me was starting to suspect that I was still sleeping and that this was just a dream; it all felt too surreal. I gave my hand to the old woman. Holding it firmly, she pierced my finger, squeezing one drop of my blood on the locket. Both women waited with an expecting expression on their faces as if to see if something was going to happen.

My blood spread around the tiny grooves of the metal, and suddenly it snapped open. Both women jumped a little, looking at it in disbelief and awe; I thought I sensed some fear as well. Inside the locket was a round burgundy-coloured coin that looked like it was made of some sort of a gemstone. I have seen many precious stones in my grandfather's showroom, and this was unlike any of those.

The old woman talked to her granddaughter, and she translated. She asked me to take the coin and examine it. As I took it in my hand, I could feel some vibration like electricity on my fingers. It was a pleasant feeling; I turned it around and scrutinised the coin. Both women looked pensive and unwilling to touch it. On one side, it had a head with a superimposed triangle and on the other side of it was a bolt of lightning.

The woman explained that the coin is for me alone, and I must never show it to anyone and always keep it safe. Never under any circumstances should I let anyone else touch it. She explained that the locket was protected by ancient incantation in a language no longer spoken. Once closed, the locket will open only to the blood of its owner. It was designed to safeguard the coin. She continued to tell how the locket was in her family's possession since age immemorial, passed from mother to daughter for generations, and now it was mine. I could feel her relief at getting rid of it.

"You seem to be happy to get rid of it," I said. Both women looked at each other frightened, then the old woman spoke while her granddaughter translated.

She told me a story that she heard from her mother. The same story was passed on for generations as the locket moved hands.

Centuries ago, a blood promise was made to a god to safeguard the locket, but a woman's greed made her steal it and ran away, breaking the promise. As a result, the greatest of curses befall her bloodline, poisoning it for all eternity. It was decreed that the family must carry the locket in punishment until the owner reveals himself.

The story tells how the locket will recognise its rightful owner by his blood. Only for him it will open, and if accepted, the ancient blood promise will be fulfilled, and the curse lifted.

The women that stole the locket was once a high priestess. She read the front part of the incantation. The back of the locket contained the curse, so evil it can not even be spoken. Of all the things in the world, this locket is the one that could never be taken away from its owner, or unspeakable tragedy would befall the bloodline of the thief and destroy everything he touched.

Centuries ago, the woman said her family lived off the land, raised the children, and lived happily. Still, since the curse, they were made to wander the earth as gipsies in search of redemption, all the children born to her bloodline were to be female, and so it was for many centuries. If they stopped in one place for a long time, the evil would start to spread, bringing terrible disaster, chaos and death. Only on a night like this could the curse be lifted during the full moon, right at the witching hour exactly in the middle of the night.

For centuries they tried to break the curse by destroying the locket with terrible results. If they tried to burn it within a full moon's cycle, the person would be burned. If they were trying to break it, the person who tried it would be broken within the lunar month. If someone stole it, invariably within a lunar month, the thief would bring it back, begging for it to be returned. For her family, this locket meant only one thing, pain.

I thought that this sounded too much like a fairy tale, but I was too caught in the events of the story and wanted to learn more.

The old woman explained that she never saw the coin before and doesn't know its purpose. They only knew that translating the inscription from the ancient tongue, the name of the coin is "the gift of Perun". Now that she saw it open in my hand for the first time, she thought it was some sort of a powerful amulet as it was made of a "Godstone". The legend has it that only the children of God are allowed to touch the Godstone. Anyone else touching it would cause a terrible plague. It is believed that the black death was caused by someone touching the Godstone.

With visible trepidation and pleading eyes, the old woman asked me if I accepted the gift. I thought to myself, what is the worst thing that can happen? Mostly in disbelief and very curious, I said "yes".

Both women relaxed with a big sigh. I could see the relief on both of their faces. She thanked me with visible gratitude, taking a gold coin with the shape of the sun off her necklace. She placed it on my hand, and murmured some blessing, then retrieving the burning black candle, which was almost completely melted, she put it on the desk.

A black cat jumped next to the candle and meowed, looking into my eyes, then the old woman blew out the candle, and it was dark.