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   Chapter 1 Training the Walker Cassie Wilson Book 2

Training the Walker: Cassie Wilson Book 2 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 34988

Updated: 2018-03-14 10:57


Chapter 1

Cassie awoke ten minutes before her alarm was set to go off. Instead of getting up, she lay in bed, staring at the ceiling and thinking things through. She was six when she realized others didn't see the same things she did; teachers with scales and long curling forked tongues, her vice principal, Mr. Babbin's tusks, the librarian's feathered ruff. While her parent's blamed an over active imagination, her grandfather believed her and told her never to let anyone know of her strange sight.

Over time, Cassie managed to master the art of the blank face when confronted with these oddities, never giving herself away as she ignored the myriad of strange details that made up her daily life. Harder to ignore, were the people who, when their skin touched hers, made her see someplace…else. Luckily, there were fewer of them and as the contact was usually merely accidental and done in passing, Cassie could ignore the sight and keep moving forward until her vision went back to normal and she could once again see what was actually in front of her face.

Then a few weeks ago, her grandfather showed up, lugging three large wooden boxes with him and asking her to keep them safely hidden. Once they were arranged in a stack, covered with her pink and blue embroidered silk shawl and used as a tall television stand in her bedroom, he left. Curious about the boxes, she investigated and found that none of them would open, that they each seemed to be nothing more than a carved block of wood with lines making the solid blocks look like boxes.

"Until the brass plate appeared, " Cassie reminded herself, her eyes tracing the shifting shadows on the ceiling. Spotting something gleaming metallic on the front of the top box and knowing nothing metallic was on the box when it was brought in, Cassie investigated. A small brass oval was affixed crookedly to the front. Etched into it was the word 'primo'. When Cassie twisted the plate straight, it folded down to reveal a winding key, like those found in an old fashioned music box.

When she wound it, the box did indeed play music and displayed a tiny ballerina in a small scale, yet quite elaborate ballet. After playing through, the box closed up again, winding to a halt and disappearing into thin air before her very eyes, leaving only two sealed boxes and a multitude of questions behind.

"With no one to answer the questions, " Cassie said to herself, tilting her head to look at the two remaining shawl covered boxes. Despite everything that happened since the last box opened, no brass plaques appeared and they remained inert lumps of wood. She overheard some of the 'others', what she called the people who made her see strange places when she touched them, looking for what they called guides. They claimed the guides changed their appearance, but always came in a set of three identical items. She was certain the boxes were guides, even if only two of them now remained.

"Although it didn't exactly offer guidance, " she recalled. While the ballerina in the music box performed a dance that mimicked what Cassie was at the moment going through, it didn't exactly tell her what to do.

"Just sort of inspiration, " she conceded. The dancer did a pretty little dance, suffered injury and then forced herself to dance again, recovering from her injuries and becoming more than what she was before. The plaque appeared once Cassie already suffered injury and was trying to figure out what to do about it.

"Shouldn't something called a guide appear before you get hurt so you can avoid getting hurt in the first place?" To her, that sounded more logical, although she wasn't entirely certain logic could be applied to something that started out heavy and then suddenly disappeared into thin air. There was no one she could safely ask about them. At the moment she wasn't sure she could safely admit that she knew about the guides at all.

Her parents were out of town, in Madrid if their message was to be believed. She wasn't quite so certain she believed the message, as she found a box filled with notes in her mother's handwriting, prewritten and claiming all sorts of destinations. She also wasn't quite certain what help they would be since they seemed to need reminders to remember she even existed.

"And grandfather's note said they wouldn't return until he told them they could, which means my parents could be anywhere. Of course, I'm not really sure they are my parents, " Cassie said softly, still unsure how she felt about that. When she found the pre written notes, Cassie also found a note taped to their bathroom mirror reminding them of who she was, that they were her parents, and that she lived in the house with them.

"And grandfather is one of the 'others', " she half whispered so that her mouth moved to form the words, but almost no sound escaped her lips. "Sort of, maybe, " she said, giving the words a little more volume. At the moment she wasn't quite certain what to think about that either, let alone how she felt about him being 'other'.

"He's not exactly one of them, " she said to herself, unable to sit still any longer. She hugged him loads of times over the years, but never saw anyplace else when she touched him. Her alarm was still a few minutes from ringing so she turned it off and slipped out of bed. According to Oliver and Ina, they didn't actually know who he was or really that much about him either, but they knew he was technically one of them.

"And he's only been Abraham for the last hundred years with people trying to figure him out for millennia, " she reminded herself as she went to the bathroom and then dressed in her workout clothes.

That was what they told her when they caught her yesterday and finally realized she was what they called a Walker. She wasn't too sure what a Walker was other than they were able to open gates of some sort leading to other… places. Although she managed to open two gates remotely, she still had no idea where they led or what they really were.

"Except that I can apparently go through the gates and I can send other people through them." She frowned. While she could see the benefits of being able to send people like Erra and Enki through the gates, sending them hopefully far away from her, she wasn't certain walking through them herself was a good idea. The gates only stayed open as long as she matched the hum of the gate, harmonizing the resonance as the book she found called it. She didn't know if she could open the gate again from the other side or what was even on the other side.

"And none of this actually proves they are ancient gods, " Cassie said to herself. All of the 'others' called themselves by the names of ancient gods from different pantheons around the planet. Ina claimed to be Inanna the Sumerian goddess of love and war. Oliver was really Oghma, some sort of ancient Scottish or Irish deity. While she wasn't ready to accept their claim, she was also keeping that thought to herself at the moment.

"No need to antagonize people who believe they are ancient gods, especially since they can go invisible. And since they promised not to tell Enki and Skadi that I'm a Walker, they are sort of on my side, " Cassie reminded herself. Despite the fact that she was still a little unclear about what a Walker was, everyone else seemed to know and hold very definite opinions about them.

While Oliver and Ina claimed a live and let live policy, which meant they wouldn't kill her unless she did something to force them to kill her, Enki and Skadi both wanted her dead merely because she existed. She wasn't quite certain what Walkers did to them in the past, but whatever it was ended with something called the Purge. Everyone thought the Purge killed all Walkers until she showed up. Cassie wasn't certain how she survived the Purge as she would have been a baby at the time and had no memory of it.

"And with grandfather gone, there is no one I can actually ask about that either." Cassie shook her head and took a deep breath. "Abraham, " she corrected. Thus far Oliver and Ina figured out she was a Walker, but they knew little else about her, including the fact that she called Abraham, grandfather. Somehow it seemed safer to keep as much information as she could to herself.

"Although I might have to give away some secrets in exchange for training." The thought of training reminded her of her after school class and butterflies began to dance in her belly. She was taking Oliver's Tuesday/Thursday self-defense class. After Erra, apparently some sort of Babylonian god of destruction, appeared and attacked her in a parking lot to see if she was a Walker, Cassie decided self-defense classes were a good idea. She also decided learning Latin and archery were good ideas as well, but those she did at home. The self-defense was learned in Oliver's studio, Intelligent Fitness.

"And I'm not supposed to hold back in class anymore, " Cassie remembered. In an effort to stay under the radar, Cassie pulled her attacks, looking as if she wanted only to learn defense. Ina, her sparring partner now expected her to do her best when they faced off.

"Unless I'm snowed in, " Cassie said, still not sure she was ready for such a full on class. Biting her lip, she picked up the television remote instead of beginning her normal morning routine. She clicked on the television and scrolled through the channels until she found local news with weather and school closings. The day before, an early winter storm dropped almost a foot of snow on them. As Wednesday faded, more snow appeared. Cassie didn't know if it was enough to give her a second snow day and possibly postpone her class.

While more snow accumulated after her visitors left, it wasn't enough to shut the city down for a second day. Roads were plowed and school was back in session. "So ready or not, no reprieve."

Cassie clicked the television off again and stretched. She went through her warm up exercises, practicing the moves she learned in Oliver Dana's class. Normally she held back in class, only giving her all in defensive maneuvers and holding back on anything that looked like an attack. To make up for it, Cassie practiced every morning at home, putting everything she had into the practice and even using a practice dummy, she named Herman as her opponent.

Today, Herman was spared his daily beating as Cassie wasn't sure what to expect when she arrived at Intelligent Fitness after school. While she wanted to be ready, she also didn't want to be exhausted from her morning practice. Normally, when Cassie finished her routine, she went on a run, an ever expanding pack of survival gear on her back. With the snow still on the ground, Cassie decided to skip the run.

"Besides I need the extra time to shovel the driveway, " she told herself. She allowed herself to cool down and drink some water. Then, she grabbed the snow shovel, cleared her drive and uncovered her hatchback so it would be ready when she had to leave for school. By the time it was done, Cassie was chilled and hungry. She warmed up a little as she cooked and then ate her oatmeal, topping it off with maple syrup and cream. Belly full and warm, Cassie took her shower and got dressed for school.

After cleaning up from breakfast, Cassie checked her bag to make certain she had everything she needed. Most of the information she was hiding from random visitors was either hidden in the window seat under extra blankets and pillows, typed into her laptop or in her notebook hidden in a secret compartment in her desk.

Oliver and Ina were the only ones she'd given recent reason to look into her and after their visit yesterday, she doubted they would be returning in her absence. She convinced Enki and Skadi that she wasn't who they were looking for and convinced them to look for someone at least a year or two older than she was so she doubted they would pay her any more visits.

'And the energy they all put off messes up computers so they might avoid the laptop, especially if they were trying to go unnoticed, ' Cassie thought. She wasn't quite certain what damage they did to computers, but knew of the energy, not only from their overheard conversations, but from the feeling she got when they were too near. It was like standing too close to a lightning strike and all of the hairs on the back of her neck and her arms stood up.

"Who thought that would be my early warning system." Cassie said as she donned her winter coat and slung the strap of her bag over her shoulder. "Who would ever think I'd need an early warning system." She stepped out onto the front stoop and locked the front door behind her. Cassie moved to her idling car and got inside, her mind still wondering what the day would bring.

Cassie left herself plenty of time to get to school, planning to drive slower than usual to avoid complications. She still had five weeks before her eighteenth birthday and with both her parents out of the country and her grandfather missing, she was well aware she was an unattended minor. Getting into an automotive accident would possibly point that out to the authorities and cause more trouble.

"Of course I could just sit still and not say anything, " Cassie mused as she inched along the main road into town, seeing other vehicles whose drivers weren't lucky enough to make it to their destinations dotting the side of the road. "As long as I wasn't hurt." At some point her grandfather put some sort of blocker on her and while people registered that she was there and took up space, they didn't really see her.

"Unless I talk to them or fall on them or they are 'other', " she reminded herself as she pulled into the school parking lot. She thought of Kelly Larsen, head cheerleader and The Evil Queen of Elkdale High School. Her favorite pastime, at least until about a month prior, was to torment Cassie. Then Cassie spotted a charm dangling from a chain around her neck. Cassie snapped the chain and as soon as it was removed, Kelly forgot Cassie existed. Cassie shivered as she pulled into a parking space and turned off the engine. Despite everything else that happened, watching Kelly forget about her ranked as the creepiest thing she ever saw.

Seconds before Kelly was venting her rage, mere inches in front of Cassie. When the chain snapped, something in Kelly snapped too. She stood as still as stone, her eyes dilated and then went back to normal. When they were back to normal, she forgot why she was standing there and no longer remembered Cassie existed even though Cassie was still standing only inches from her. She shivered again from the …unnaturalness of the situation. She asked Oliver about the charm and he told her it was used for clear sight, letting someone see past the blocker. He also told her to forget about it.

'But Ina said those who worked with Walkers, but had no skills of their own used to tattoo it on their skin, ' Cassie mused. She sighed. As usual, she knew enough to be curious, but not enough to find definitive answers.

The first bell ringing called Cassie from her memories and she grabbed her bag from the passenger's seat, slipped out of the car, locking it behind her and sliding her keys into her school bag. She rushed into the building, along with all of the other stragglers and after a brief stop at her locker, managed to make it to homeroom before the final bell rang.

All around her the other students settled. Mr. Evans took attendance by checking the seating chart for empty chairs and left them to their own devices once everyone was marked present. Cassie heard whispers of conversations swirl around her as she doodled in her notebook. As always, no one spoke to her unless she spoke to them first. Today however she had too much on her mind to really register the people around her. It felt almost as though she was moving in a separate, but parallel world.

She thought about having Oliver and Ina in her kitchen as the others worked on homework, chatted with each other or listened to the morning announcements over the intercom. It was scary having them in her space and a large chunk of the time she thought they were going to kill her. Once she realized they weren't going to kill her, at least not then, she served them a cake she made and had an actual conversation with them. As she was always worried about saying the wrong thing, Cassie rarely had a conversation with anyone, only occasionally asking a question or two of someone for something like directions. The blocker on her ensured no one else struck up conversations with her. In addition, while she began cooking for herself when she was still quite little and over time created more elaborate meals and deserts, she never shared them with anyone.

'And Oliver liked the cake, ' she thought, pleased to have at least a little outside validation. Even though her creations always looked like the pictures in the books and to her palate tasted good, she knew she was biased. 'And it was nice to share with someone, ' she thought. Even though she was unsure what to expect when she went to Intelligent Fitness after school, Cassie found herself smiling.

'They aren't exactly my friends, ' she reminded herself. Thoughts of food made Cassie think of her grandfather and she pulled her calculus book out of her bag. As the morning announcements

boomed through the intercom system, Cassie took her grandfather's letter from between the pages. Her fingers lightly traced the question he wrote on the envelope.

Are you getting enough to eat?

In one form or another it was the question he greeted her with every time he saw her and Cassie wondered if it was because he worried that the blocker he put on her would make her parents forget to feed her.

Cassie slipped the note out of the envelope and unfolded it. She found the note when she went looking for her grandfather, worried that Enki, Skadi and Erra wanted to kill her. Her face was throbbing from the back handed blow Erra struck her in his attack and her body was bruised from the kicks he pummeled into her when she fell to the ground.

At her grandfather's store, Imports Unlimited, located right across the street from Intelligent Fitness, Cassie found the place ransacked. His apartment above was likewise torn up as Enki's minions sought the boxes he already hid with her.

He was gone, and his black bag was missing, proving he fled before whoever arrived to search the building. Cassie didn't know where he was, but she was relieved he got out before they arrived and was safely somewhere else. Cassie read through the letter.

'I know you have questions, ' the letter began. 'And you have every right to answers. When I return I will give you the answers you deserve, I promise. In the coming weeks, you will no doubt see strange and troubling things.

They are real.

Let no one know you can see them.

Those who believe there are Walkers who survived the Purge will know that any survivors would have been babes in arms. Most believe all were wiped out. Those that believe in survivors will expect a certain set of events to unfold as these children enter adulthood. They believe I will play a part in these events. It is why they are looking for me.

Draw no attention.

Let your instincts guide you.

The others will not return until I call them home. I will see you before they do. The time went faster than I thought it would, and I love you more than I ever suspected I could.

Burn this note.'

Cassie couldn't yet bring herself to burn the note, and was uncertain whether the instincts she was following were the right ones. She folded the note again and slipped it back into its envelope, sliding it into her calculus book and putting the book back into the bag.

"I've certainly seen some strange things, " she muttered to herself as the bell rang, sending everyone from homeroom to first period, her voice lost in the bell and the shuffle.

In English class, she saw Eric. He smiled and laughed with his friends and never noticed she existed. 'Of course, no one notices I exist, ' she reminded herself, trying not to think about the way he smiled at her after she accidentally brought herself to his attention by falling on him. She knew if she touched his arm or accidentally bumped him in the halls he would see her again, remember that she existed.

'But he'd forget the next day, ' she reminded herself, remembering the little sting of hurt she felt when he forgot her, when his eyes once again slid right past her. 'Maybe I could ask Ina and Oliver how the blocker works.' She thought about it a moment, recalling the sharp glee in Ina's eyes at the thought of fighting her all out. 'If I survive class.'

Her morning classes flowed past in a steady wave of predictability. She took notes, listened to lectures and finally found herself in Geography, her last class before lunch. While Kelly Larsen was studying all of the girls to see who Eric might actually like, her eyes slid right over Cassie without noticing her. 'Eric might no longer notice me, ' Cassie thought as she slid into her seat. 'But Kelly no longer sees me either, so I guess the scales are balanced.'

Cassie was willing to concede it was a good trade off. She was willing to not be noticed by the attractive quarterback if the head cheerleader stopped attacking her. 'Besides, I have way more to worry about, ' she thought as a familiar presence strolled through the open door. She was the only one who noticed and she quickly averted her gaze, bending to pull her notebook from her bag.

Enki strolled into the classroom as Mrs. Garner, the Geography teacher, pulled a map down from one of the many rolls stationed at the front of the room. As she began to discuss how glaciers and their movements affected the landscape's topography, Enki leaned against the wall and crossed his arms, his dark chocolaty eyes scanning the room.

'He is not there, ' Cassie reminded herself, the way she reminded herself not to see the other strange things she actually saw. 'At least he's quiet this time, ' she conceded. That made him much easier to ignore and Cassie focused on the lesson. 'I wonder why he's here, ' she mused as she jotted down notes.

After determining Cassie wasn't a Walker, he and Skadi left the school. Skadi occasionally returned as she worked with Mr. Babbin to ferret out other possible candidates to investigate for Walker –like abilities, but Enki never returned. She knew from an overheard conversation about her that he found something about her interesting, but lately he seemed more interested in finding a way to break into Oliver's studio without his permission than in studying her. Class continued and Enki maintained his uncharacteristic silence. This was the longest she saw him where he didn't mock or tease the oblivious people around him.

'Who would have thought the silence was even creepier, ' she thought. 'Maybe Oliver and Ina went back on their word. Maybe they told him.' A shiver of fear ran through her. She felt his eyes studying her and Cassie dropped her gaze to her notebook instead of looking at her teacher. The note she scribbled down was more loops of ink than actual letters, but she doubted anyone would notice.

Class ended and Enki remained in place as many of the students streamed past him, eager to get to their lunch break. Cassie moved forward with the rest and on impulse, as she moved past Eric, she let her hand graze his arm. While she was fairly certain it was selfish and wrong to constantly remind him she existed just because she wanted to be seen, she had a hunch having someone who could see her at the moment might prove beneficial. Lately, she seemed to be having a lot of hunches and as she moved past him she wondered if this was part of the instinct her grandfather told her to trust.

'Part of the reason they stopped thinking I could be a Walker was because people saw me, ' Cassie justified. 'If Enki is starting to pay attention to me again then having someone see me is good, and when I touch him, Eric always says something to me, ' Cassie thought as she continued walking. 'At least so far.' She was willing to admit twice was a pretty small sample to go on, but at the moment it was the best she had. Two times noticing her and twice making a point to say something to her were certainly better odds than she had with anyone else in school at the moment.

Cassie continued on to her locker. Once there, she spun the lock, opened the door and exchanged the books from her morning classes for those for her afternoon classes. As she reached for her lunch bag, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned expecting Eric.

Instead, she got Enki.

"Cupcake, " he said using the pet name he gave her when he thought she couldn't hear him.

"Excuse me?" she said frowning at him.

He smiled. It was more predatory than amused. "Sorry, I didn't catch your name at the book store, but saw you reading a book about cupcakes, " he replied. He let his hand linger on her arm and as his skin shifted from touching cloth to touching her skin, she suddenly saw someplace else.

It was a marshland, the air thick with humidity and the stench of rotting vegetation. The drone of insects was loud and she could see a reed choked river slowly flowing past. When sparring with Ina, Cassie learned how to push the visions aside and focus on the physicality of the present to see past them. She wiggled her toes and felt the grain of her socks against her skin, the cushion and slight give of her shoe's insoles. She felt the weight of her school bag on her shoulder. Using the physical, she pushed the images to the side although the fetid green stench remained, filling her senses.

"Okay, " she said slowly, not quite certain what the appropriate response would be for the situation. As he looked to be in his twenties, it was clear he wasn't a student. In general, random adults didn't wander around the school's halls. "Are you looking for someone?"

"Cassie, hey, " Eric said walking over. He eyed Enki, clearly able to see him. Enki dropped his hand from her arm.

"Eric hi, " Cassie replied smiling, relieved to smell only the normal hallway scents.

"Heading to lunch?" he asked looking Enki up and down. For his part, Enki's eyes went cold and hard, his smile tight and mean.

"I was actually, " Cassie replied. She looked back to Enki. "What was it you were looking for, sir?" she asked politely.

"The office, " he said. "Or more precisely, the vice principal's office."

"The office is that way, " Eric said pointing down the hall. "Can't miss it and I'm sure someone there can help you find Mr. Babbin."

His sharp smile widened a fraction in response. "Thank you, Eric, " Enki replied, practically biting off the last letter. He moved off and Cassie shivered.

"Who was that, " Eric said watching his back as Enki continued down the hall in the direction Eric indicated.

"No idea, " Cassie replied, fairly certain Enki could still hear her. "I ran into him when shopping about a month or so ago. He actually sniffed Sarah, it was weird."

"Sniffed as in…" Eric made loud sniffing sounds.

Cassie nodded. "It was behind her back when she was at the counter."

"Weird, " Eric said. "I wonder what he is doing here?"

"I don't know, but I'll warn Sarah at lunch, " Cassie told him. She picked up her lunch bag and pulled it out of the locker. She shut her locker and the two of them began walking to the cafeteria. Enki disappeared around the corner and she wondered if he would actually go to Mr. Babbin's office or if he would go invisible and continue to lurk.

"Hey, are you doing anything this afternoon?" Eric asked as they approached the cafeteria doors. "After practice a bunch of us usually go for pizza."

"That sounds like fun, " Cassie said. "But I can't today. I already have plans that I really can't get out of."

"Oh, " Eric said, nodding. "That's cool, maybe some other time then?"

"Definitely, " Cassie replied. Eric smiled broadly at her, clearly pleased with her response and Cassie found herself smiling back even though she knew he would soon forget this conversation ever happened.

"Great, " he said. They entered the cafeteria and one of his friends called out to him. Eric left to join them and Cassie slid into her accustomed spot at her table in the back.

"Hey, " Carley said as she said down, not looking up from her phone as her fingers busily texted someone.

"Hey, " Cassie replied settling into her seat across from Sarah who was already reading as she ate her lunch one handed. Today's reading material was the autobiography of Madeline Albright.

'I guess she finished the pirate themed romance novel, " Cassie thought as she opened her lunch bag. She knew that Carley and Sarah were more accustomed to her presence at their table rather than actually seeing her, so she didn't bother with further conversation. Instead, she took out the various components of her lunch and began the assembly process.

As Cassie disliked soggy bread, she long ago figured out that assembling her sandwich just before she ate was the best way to go for school lunches. She lay down her napkin, and took out her two bread slices. She quickly layered the roast chicken, left over from the night before, the fresh spinach, slices of crispy bacon, thin slices of tomato and then used her plastic knife to spread the jalapeno cilantro sauce on the top slice of bread. She put the sauce smeared slice of bread on top and cut her sandwich in half. She took out the spice cookies and raspberry lemonade and put all of her empty containers back in the bag.

As Cassie picked up one half of her sandwich and began to eat, she looked around. Eric was looking at her and she blushed realizing he must have witnessed her assembly process. Usually no one paid any attention to her so she didn't worry about how strange she might look. He saw her notice him and smiled before turning back to his friend Parker.

As Cassie returned to her lunch, Enki strolled in through the wide open door. She caught sight of him and looked away as he began scanning the room. He walked further into the room and no one seemed to notice.

'Invisible again, ' Cassie thought wondering what would happen. 'I could always start talking to either Carley or Sarah if he looks like he's getting suspicious, ' she decided remembering that the reason she touched Eric in the first place was more of an emergency precaution. 'Not that it's a hardship, ' she told herself with a smile.

Enki spotted Eric and walked over. No one noticed as he stood behind Eric, clearly listening in on the group's conversation. Cassie darted glances over to the table. As Eric still did the same, she figured it wouldn't be as noticeably strange.

'And Enki won't think I'm looking at him, ' she thought.

After a time, Enki moved from the table where the football players dominated to the table where Kelly and her cheerleaders held court. As several of the cheerleaders were dating football players she often wondered why there wasn't more mixing and matching of the seating arrangements, but as she only observed from afar, Cassie could only guess at the reasoning.

Enki stood listening for a while at the cheerleader's table. When Cassie looked towards Eric, she could see him standing behind Kelly, listening to her as she dispensed pearls of wisdom to her entourage.

'Oh no, ' Cassie thought, taking a bite of her sandwich as Enki decided he was through eavesdropping and began to stroll in her direction.

"I must commend you Cupcake on your choice of dining companions, " he said as he stood next to their table and listened to the three guys at the end discussing some sort of war themed video game.

'Enki is not there, " she reminded herself casually taking a sip of her drink.

"Your group seems to combine intellect and violence. Reading, writing and causing things to explode, a big step up from vapid and idiotic. And your method of keeping the sour faced blonde at bay by sitting a room away from the object of her affection must send the Squirrel into titters of high drama."

Cassie knew that Enki often called Mr. Babbin Little Squirrel, the way he referred to her as Cupcake. She concentrated on taking a bite of her sandwich and wondered if he had a fondness for giving nicknames or if he just never bothered learning anyone's actual name.

Enki looked over his shoulder at Eric and then back at her. "Although the young man does rather ruin the effort by constantly casting longing looks in your direction, clearly marking you as the brains behind his brawn. Either that, or he can't turn away from your lunch. It is clearly a cut above the others, although I'm certain whatever is under that brown sludge-like substance has its charms."

Cassie finished the half of the sandwich she was eating and reached for her drink. She took a sip of her drink and wondered if he was going to talk at her the rest of the lunch period. She wasn't certain how long she could pull off ignoring him especially as there was little conversation at her table. Cassie felt the half a sandwich she consumed morph into a ball of lead in her belly. While she hated bringing herself to anyone else's attention, she thought now might be an exception.

'Carley is in my English class. I can ask if she remembers when our next reports are due, ' Cassie decided as it seemed a better option than reaching across the table and letting Enki see her touching Sarah to get her attention. As she turned towards Carley, opening her mouth to ask, a loud crash sounded from the doorway. Everyone in the room turned towards the sound and saw Mr. Babbin standing next to a knocked over trash can looking sheepish. The round metal lid with its swinging intake door hitting the tile floors was the source of the noise.

'He does not have tusks, ' Cassie reminded herself automatically as he righted the trashcan and cast a dark look at Enki. 'Apparently, Mr. Babbin wasn't expecting a visit today either.' Cassie turned back to her lunch and found her other half of a sandwich disappeared along with one of her spice cookies. She frowned and looked around wondering where the items went. They were nowhere to be seen.

"Oh, poor Ratatoskr, something the matter, little squirrel?" Enki said mockingly. Cassie heard his footsteps walking away and risked a glance at him. In one hand he held her missing half sandwich, in the other a cookie.

'At least it didn't disappear into thin air, ' she thought as she reached for one of her remaining cookies, surreptitiously watching Enki leave the cafeteria with half of her lunch and fighting the urge to roll her eyes.

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