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DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH

PROLOGUE

It was Wednesday.  Rayanne looked at the clock on the white hospital wall--11:01 p.m.  Her mother had died precisely three hours ago.  Ray’s two little brothers were sleeping on the bench across the hall from her having cried themselves into exhaustion.  The strange lady that had come to take them away was still talking to her mommy’s doctor.  They were right inside the room next to her, but they didn’t bother to lower their voices.  They’d already checked on Ray’s two little half-brothers to make sure they were sleeping, but like everyone else, they assumed that because Rayanne couldn’t talk, she also couldn’t hear.  So, Ray listened to their conversation as she fiddled with the strange silver ring on the chain around her neck that her mother had given her only a few hours ago.

“What will happen to the children now that their mother is gone?”  the lady-doctor wanted to know.

The other lady smiled a little bit and said, “Well, the two boys will be fostered out immediately and will probably be adopted well before Christmas.  But,” she continued looking real serious and kind of sad,“the young girl is just too old for adoption.  Nine year olds aren’t, er, in demand, I guess is the only way to say it.  And with her being mute and all, well the odds are just stacked against the poor mite.”

“Yes,” the doctor sympathized, “poor baby.  I never could figure out why she can’t talk.  All the equipment is there, but it’s like she’s afraid to use it.

“Well, whatever the reason, the fact remains that she does have a disability.”

“So what does that mean for her?” the nice doctor asked.

“The child will probably be sent to a foster home for tonight and then moved to the county home tomorrow morning.  That’s the way it usually works in cases like these.”

“I see.  Well, I wish there was something I could do to help.”

“We all do, Dr. Morton.  But we can only do so much.”

Rayanne stood up and moved to Steve and Kev’s bench.  She couldn’t stand to listen to that strange lady lie about how much she cared what happened to any of the children.  Ray had always been able to tell when someone was lying.  Her mother said she was special, that she had a lot of magic and that someday she would be very powerful.  But Rayanne didn’t want power right now, she just wanted to go home.  She wiped the tears from her dark green eyes onto the back of her favorite sweater.  Steve started to whimper a little so she smoothed her hands across his thick coal black hair so like her own and soothed him with a lullaby.  The words and the melody filtered through her mind and she could almost feel them, as if they were solid objects.  And Steve didn’t seem to mind that he couldn’t hear the words because he settled back into a quiet slumber.  Rayanne smiled when she thought about it.  Neither of them ever seemed to mind the fact that she could not speak.  They never questioned their ease in communicating with each other without words.  It was just the way things worked.

“Rayne,” Kevin, the youngest, whispered as he pulled on her sleeve, “I wan’ go home.”

Rayanne smiled at the childish nickname and reached down to ruffle his curly brown hair.  She put a finger to her lips and then pointed at Steven indicating for Kev to be quiet and not wake his brother.  When he nodded his understanding Rayanne picked up the three year old and spun him around in the air.  He giggled softly when she sat him back down on the ground and lifted his arms up for another ride.  Rayanne complied and sat him back down again.  They went on like this for a few more minutes until the strange lady came out and told them it was time to go.

The lady took Kevin by the hand while Rayanne was left to carry a still sleeping Steve out to the car.  The chilly October air made Ray shiver a little and hug Steve tighter for warmth.  Candy bar wrappers, toilet paper and chewed up bubble-gum littered the parking lot--signs of the recent trick-or-treating in which none of the Stone children had participated.  Not that Kevin was old enough anyway, but Steven was five and a half, plenty old enough to have some fun on Halloween.  But circumstances being what they were, Rayanne Blake, and Steven and Kevin Stone were in the cheerless hospital waiting for their mother to finally go to the “better place”.  That’s what their mother had called it anyway.  A place where there was no pain, no sickness, and no death.  It sounded like a place that her mother was lucky to be.

********************

Steve woke up just before they arrived in front of a large, two-story brick house.  It was dark, but Rayanne could tell that the place was big, big enough for all of them to live in together.  The porch light flipped on as soon as the car pulled up the long, winding driveway and two people about their mother’s age stepped off the porch to greet them.  The woman was very tiny.  She didn’t look that much taller than Rayanne, but Ray was very tall for her age so that didn’t say a lot.  She had shiny brown hair which was pulled tightly back into a bun at the nape of her pale neck.  As she bent down to introduce herself Rayanne caught a glimpse of a really big diamond ring on her left hand.

“Hello, there,”  she said with a smile in her voice.  “My name is Pam.  What’s yours?”

Steven, never one to be shy, took the hand she extended and said in his best grown-up voice, “Hi.  I’m
Steven.”

“Well, hello, Steven.  And who are you two?”  she asked looking at Ray and Kev.

Kevin giggled and said, “I’m Kev.  She sissy.”

The woman laughed softly and said, “Does sissy have a name?”

“Her name’s Rayne.  She can’t talk,” Steven supplied for the woman’s benefit.

“That’s terrible,”  the woman, Pam, said and Ray knew she really meant it.  “Well, let’s go in shall we?”

Once inside Pam introduced her husband, Nick, to everyone and the strange lady got in her car and left.  Nick chatted to the children while Pam went and got their rooms ready.  He asked them about their favorite colors, what television shows they liked to watch and other stuff like that.  Then when Pam came back he went to bed and Pam tucked all the kids in tight.  Kevin and Steve shared a room while Rayanne got the one across the hall from them.  When everyone was all settled in, Pam wished them a goodnight and turned out the lights.

When Pam walked into Rayanne’s room at eight o’clock the next morning, she found three small bodies instead of one snuggled beneath the blankets.  Ray had one boy snuggled against either side of her, her arms wrapped around their shoulders protectively.  It nearly broke Pam’s heart to disturb the trio, but Rayanne had to get washed up because Ms. Donahan from Social Services was coming by to collect her in 45 minutes.  So she did what she had to do to get the children clean and fed by 8:45 a.m.

While Rayanne was brushing her teeth she happened to hear voices in the hall.  “Can’t we keep her, Nick?” Pam pleaded.

“Pam, honey, you know we can’t afford three children.  We’re lucky to keep the boys as it is,” Nick tried to reason with her.

“But you didn’t see them together this morning, all huddled together in that bed as if they were one person instead of three.  That girl is the only thing those little boys have left in the world, Nick, and they’re all she’s got.  We can’t separate them at a time like this.  We just can’t!”

“We have to, Pam.  Now is the best time.  The boys are young, they’ll forget eventually.  And the girl seems pretty tough, she’ll manaage I’d say.  I know what a soft touch you are, sweetheart, but we cannot keep that girl.”

“You’re right, Nick.  I know that, but I still don’t like it.”

“Neither do I, honey . . .”

The voices trailed off as the couple moved down the hallway.  Rayanne stared into the bathroom mirror and tried not to cry.  Last night that strange lady had said about the same thing, but she hadn’t wanted to believe her.  But Ray knew that Pam would never lie.  That meant she would never see Steve or Kev again.  Who would soothe their minds when they were angry or sad?  Who would show them how to talk to the trees in the summer or how to listen to the wind?  And most of all, who would tell them about their mommy and the “better place?”  A single crystal teardrop slid down her cheek as she continued to think of all the important things the boys would never learn from their mommy or their sissy.  Rayanne watched the droplet splash into the sink and she imagined that it was her heart shattering into a thousand pieces.  Then she looked back up at her reflection and promised herself that no matter what, she would never hurt this bad again.  She would be like the diamond Pam wore on her finger, so cold and hard that the pain would never touch her again.

Downstairs, Ms. Donahan was waiting in the living room.  She’d brought a bag of clothes for Ray and some toys for the boys.  Ray slipped on her wool coat and slung the bag over her shoulder.  Pam was holding Kev in her arms and Steven was standing solemnly in front of Nick, his big brown eyes filling with tears.  I love you , she felt as hard as she could at both of them, we’ll be together again someday.  I promise.

As Ms. Donahan led her to the car, Rayanne could hear Steven yelling, “Let me go.  Let me go!”  while little Kev cried, “Rayne!  Rayne!”  Those were cries that Rayanne would remember for the rest of her life.

********************

The county home was worse than the hospital.  Rayanne shared a room with nine other girls all about her age.  They made fun of her because she couldn’t talk.  They pulled her long, dark hair and called her nasty names.  They tripped her and pinched her and punched her and scratched her as often as they could get away with it.  Which was about every day for eight months.  Then Rayanne decided to fight back.  Diamonds didn’t get scratched, they did the scratching!

********************

PART ONE

“Hey, b**ch, watcha doin’ down here?”  the tall dark-haired boy asked with a smirk.  “Ya lookin’ for some action?”

Rayanne took a deep breath and squared her shoulders.  If there was one thing she’d learned over the years it was how to ignore bullies like Jake and his friends.  If you let them think they mattered in some small way then they would never go away.  So Ray just stared straight ahead as she walked down the crowded alley.  As she moved past the group, however, one of the sleazy-looking girls grabbed her arm and spun her around.  “He asked you a guestion, girl!”

Rayanne’s anger was instantaneous, leaving no room for rationalizations and calm logic.  She grabbed the girl’s wrist at it’s pressure point and turned her arm inward.  Just like her Tae Kwon Do instructor had always said, The least bit of pressure applied at the appropriate place and time are all it takes to render an opponent defenselss.  Ray smiled and hssed softly, for she enjoyed playing with her recently discovered abiltiy to speak, “Don’t ever touch me again, w**re or I’ll snap your f**king wrist in half!  Do you understand?”

The girl whined in the back of her throat and nodded her head slowly up and down until Rayanne shoved her to the ground.  With a last harsh glare at the group of teenagers Ray continued in the direction of the library.  She glanced at her watch in the dim light to check the time--7:34 p.m.  Good.  She still had plenty of time to find what she needed.  She glanced back at the group behind her and it seemed that they had other business to attend to as they were moving in the opposite direction down the alley.  Ray breathed a sigh of relief and jogged the last few blocks to the library.

The library was quite cozy for being right on the edge of the city slums.  It was usually quite dangerous for anyone to be out in broad daylight around here, and pure insanity at night.  But the reality of walls filled with shelves of books in every color, texture and type often had Rayanne staying here well past closing time.  The few security guards knew her and trusted her so she often stayed through the night reading or typing something on one of the computers.  It was better than the sh**hole she called home at any rate.  At least here she didn’t have to fear being robbed, murdered or even raped again.  And the end of her long search was here waiting for her to access it on the information super-highway.

Ray took the stairs up to the third floor, where all the computers were lined against the walls.  At nearly eight in the evening, only two hours before closing, most of the computers were free.  She picked one in the far corner so that she was sheltered by two walls.  She hadn’t survived on her own for 12 years without learning to watch her back.  Plus, every good criminal knows not to trust the obvious.  Just because her eyes told her that there was no danger didn’t mean there wouldn’t be later.  The first rule of survival had always been survival.

A few weeks ago a friendly neighborhood cracker had shown her how to access DMV records.  She used that knowledge now to search for her brothers.  Steven would be 17 years old now so his drivers license would be one of those millions of files.  But Kevin would only be 15, so no records for him.  Rayanne started with what she knew.  She searched for Steven Stone.  No luck.  She searched through all the Stones and all the Stevens and then through all the Kevins, but still no trace of her little brothers.  If only she knew what Nick and Pam’s last name had been.  It was so frustrating to be this close yet so far away.  Ray could feel the back of her throat closing with unshed tears.  She pushed the feeling away and concentrated on the flashing cursor in front of her.  She hadn’t cried since she was nine years old and tears would not help her now.

Rayanne closed down the computer and made her way through the dark to the microfilm room.  Maybe old newspapers could tell her something.  After finding the film she was looking for Ray sat down at one of the machines and started her search all over again.  All the while the fear kept growing inside her that something had happened to her little brothers as film after film revealed nothing useful.  She was about to give up the search and dissolve into a hopeless bundle of tears when a headline caught her attention.  STONE BOYS STILL MISSING.  Ray zoomed in on the article and gasped in shock.  The article said that Steven and Kevin, ages 6 and 4, had vanished from the home of their foster parents, John and Nancy Simms of Chicago, IL, on March 12th, 1987.  The Simms said that their oldest daughter, Janie, who was 13 at the time felt guilty about the accident because they disappeared while she was watching them.  However, none of the family were suspected of any involvement in the boys’  disappearance.

“Bingo,” Ray muttered to no one in particular.

********************

Over the next few weeks, Ray made several trips to the library.  She read anything she could get her hands on about her brothers’ disappearance.  No witnesses.  No suspects.  No case.   Ray even took the bus to the Simms’ large apartment on the upper-east side and introduced herself as a journalist who was compiling a background on all the missing children in the Chicago area over the last 15 years.  It was a good cover story and much safer than the truth.  Ray had never believed in telling anyone her name.  It seemed to give other people a power of familiarity over you and Ray was having none of that.  But whatever the reasons for her actions she got the information she needed.

Janie, the girl who had been watching the boys was three years older tha Ray, but still living with her parents.  She confessed to Rayanne once they were alone in the sitting room that she had felt guilty for wishing the two boys away.  “I was a jealous little girl.  I wanted my parents all to myself and couldn’t understand why they needed more children.  I guess I felt left out.    Anyway, that night, the night they disappeared, my parents went to some kind of party and left me to look after Steven and Kevin.  They started to play rough, like little boys do, and I guess I lost it.  I was a very imaginative little girl, always believing in fairy tales and magic.  So I did the only natural thing--I called on the Goblin King for help.”

“What, exactly, did you say?” Ray asked with a sinking heart.  Her mother used to tell her stories of the
Underground and the Goblin King and Ray had never doubted the truth of their existence.   She feared what Janie was about to say.

“I remember it clearly,” Janie continued, wiping her bright red hair away from her eyes.  “I said,  I wish the goblins would come and take you away right now.  The next thing I knew, the boys were gone.  Of course, I realize now that it wasn’t my fault.  After all, they were only words.”

Rayanne wanted to punch the stupid woman.  Just words!  Ray had spent the first half of her life avoiding the magic woven into the smallest of words.  And those weren’t just any words she had spoken.  Those words were a spell!  Deep breath, she reminded herself.  Your just a hard-a** reporter doing your job.   “Well, I thank you for your time, but I really have to go now,” she said as she walked to the door.  They exchanged a few more pleasantries as Janie showed Rayanne to the door.  But the visit was already over in Ray’s mind.

Well, Ray thought as she waited for her bus, at least I know where my brothers are now.  The only problem was how to get to them.  And if the Goblin King really did have them, then they were probably goblins by now.  But, no matter, she had to try.

********************

For  the next  several weeks, Rayanne read everything she could find about the Faery realms.  She learned about elves, goblins, dwarves, fairies, unicorns, and brownies.  She studied magical theorism, memorized spells and looted occult shops for herbs and crystals and incense and tools.  The learning came easy to her.  She understood what her mother had meant so long ago about magic.  She could see the energy that emanated from every living being.  She learned to read auras.  She began to explore the beginnings of telepathy and finally knew how she had been able to communicate with her brothers without speaking.  Yet, she found nothing that would help her go Underground.

Then, one day her luck changed.  She was looking at a display case filled with crystal balls when it happened.  The card in front of the balls claimed that they were real crystal, but Rayanne could see that they were just ordinary glass.  She was turning to leave the shop when something glittered on the edge of her vision.  In a box by the door was the real thing.  Three inches in diameter, perfectly spherical and one-hundred percent crystal.  It throbbed with energy and without even thinking about it, she slipped the crystal into her front jacket pocket and left the store.

Once back at the dingy little one room apartment that had served as her home for the past four years Rayanne set to work.  She studied every spell she’d collected over the past few weeks and found . . .Squat!  Ray cursed silently at the Fates.  She slammed the book she was holding onto the floor.  And then she yelled.  “Da**it!  There has to be a way!”  She took the crystal from her pocket and stared into it.  She thought about Kevin and Steven when they were still little boys of three and five.  Then she pictured them as teenagers.  Kevin’s curly brown hair had darkened to a rich walnut and his curls had turned into thick waves that framed his freckled face and gentle brown eyes.  He was grown now, nearly as tall as Steven with the same dark eyes.  Only Steven’s hair was as dark as her own and as straight.  His face was more angular than Kevin’s oval one or her round one.    As she continued to fill in the details, the crystal began to glow brighter, shining from its core.  And then a sudden flash of light and Rayanne found herself at the gates to the Goblin City.

PART TWO

“Wow,” Ray mumbled.

She looked behind her to see the sprawling vastness of the Labyrinth.  At least I didn’t have to work my way through that, Ray thought with relief.  She turned back around to gaze up at the massive doors that were the entrance to the Goblin City.  “I’m coming bros.  I’m coming,” she promised aloud.

The very nice goblin wearing the rusty armor let her through the doors without any questions and Rayanne reminded herself to inform the Goblin King about his lack of security.  Nah, she decided, let him find out the hard way.

Rayanne walked through the Goblin City without anyone seeming to notice her existence.  None of the goblins seemed to care much that there was a woman walking through their town holding a glowing crystal in her hand.  A glowing crystal?  Ray hadn’t noticed either until just then and hurriedly stuffed the orb back into the pocket of her black leather jacket.  She pulled a hair clip from her pocket to make the action seem more natural and proceeded to pile her sable hair on top her head and secured it there with the clip.    Then she adjusted her mother’s ring on her index finger, unzipped her jacket and made her way to the castle gates.

“Yeah?  Whaddya want?” a grumpy looking dwarf asked her as she approached.

“I need to see the Goblin King.  It’s an emergency,” she supplied, hoping he wouldn’ t ask to many questions.

And he didn’t.  All he said was, “No can do.  Now go away.”

Ray wasn’t about to argue with some strange-looking dwarf so she just shrugged her shoulders and  walked away--right around to the back castle wall.  She made sure no one was looking and proceeded to scale the wall with an unconscious feline grace.  Her years spent making a living and avoiding the law were pretty useful in the current situation and she thanked whatever force that had had the forsight to prepare her for her present adventure.

Once over the wall Ray made her way to the front of the castle again and decided on a bold maneuver.  She raised the door knocker and slammed it back down again three times.  There was no time like the present to meet the man himself.  But no one answered her knock.  She tried three more times, just for good measure before giving it up as a hopeless effort.  There didn’t seem to be any way to scale the castle wall Ray decided after walking around it half a dozen times.  Last resort.  She took the crystal, which had thankfully stopped glowing, out of her pocket and stared into it.  She had no idea what the Goblin King looked like so couldn’t visualize him like she’d done with the boys.  Instead, she spoke directly to the crystal, both with mind and voice, “Take me to the Goblin King.  Now.”

********************

Jareth, King of the Goblins and Ruler of the Underground was not very surprised.  He had been lounging in his nice comfy chair in his nice comfy throne room watching the antics of the starnge girl.  He’d seen her through his cyrstal ball as she appeared in the Goblin City, scaled the castle wall and came knocking on his front door.  Her audacity intrigued him.  But, there was no way a mere mortal could penetrate the magical defenses he had around his castle.  Then, Poof!  There was a flash of light, a flare of magic and then the young woman was standing right in front of him.  He wanted to say, ‘Who the bloody hell are you?’  What he ended up saying was nothing.  He let her do the talking.

Rayanne looked around the room.  There was an incredibly sexy man with golden hair and shadowed eyes carelessly sprawled in a big ornate chair.  The chair was very nice--probably carved during the middle ages and refurbished during the renaissance.  And although her eyes told her otherwise, Ray knew that the gorgeous creature must be older than even the throne.  Feeling a bit nervous under the man’s intense scrutiny, Ray decided to cut the heavy atmosphere with the sharpness of words.  “Hello,” she said, relieved to find that her voice sounded calm and confident, “you must be the Goblin King.  Nice chair you’ve got there.”

“The one and only, and ,er, thank you,” the Goblin King replied with his usually arrogant suaveness.  He
had not expected her to say, Nice chair, but he didn not let it show that two simple words had caught him off guard.

“Good.  I’m looking for two somethings that I believe you have in your possession.  I want them back.”

“Indeed,” Jareth was beginning to enjoy this little game.  It was much more fun to be the one who called the shots.  “Perhaps you might tell me what, exactly, it is you want.”

“My brothers.”  How’s that for point blank.  She gave him her fakest smile and said, “Please?”

“How do you know I have them?”

“Are you sure you’re the Goblin King?” Ray knew the man in front of her wasn’t stupid and she was fast
getting tired of this little game.  She just wanted to get her brothers and go back to earth.

“Quite certain, little girl.  But who are you?”  This female was a mystery to him, a human with magic, wit, courage and determination.  A rare find in any race.

“Who I am is not important right now.  Just let me see Steve and Kev.   That’s all I want.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that.  You see . . .”
 


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